Friday, April 26, 2019

Enforcer - Zenith

That's a bold strategy, Cotton

I've never actually reviewed them up to this point, surprisingly, but people who follow along on this blog instead of just reading my stuff on MA should know by now that I'm a pretty big fucking fan of Enforcer.  Since I started publishing official Best Of lists at the end of every year, starting for the year 2010, every single Enforcer album released during that timespan has finished in the top four.  Diamonds in 2010 was my #2, Death by Fire in 2013 was my #4, and From Beyond in 2015 was my #3.  They haven't been particularly prolific over this past decade, but their streak of astoundingly consistent excellency has kept them on my radar ever since I first heard them, and I've been waiting with bated breath for this latest offering, Zenith.  How could I not?  They've never even moderately let me down before.

I don't start reviews with big monuments of praise like that unless I'm about to be let down.  I've been doing this a long time, I'm aware of my patterns.

Yeah, Zenith is super frustrating because it's both good and bad, and mostly it's just a massive letdown because the band has almost wholly abandoned what they're good at.  For the uninitiated, Enforcer were god damned six hundredth degree black belts in 80s throwback speed metal.  They didn't quite play that distinctly German sound of early Helloween or Blind Guardian.  Instead they had a weirdly North American flair akin to Exciter or Razor's first album, the kind that never quite veered into thrash but would've clearly been a huge influence if they had actually existed in 1981 like they sound.  Despite that, their ear for catchy hooks and choruses was absolutely unreal, nailing this early trad metal quality of making these songs fast and intense while also being maddeningly catchy.  I always felt like an outsider saying this, but I always felt like they had an understated but notable influence from glam as well.  Dead serious, something like Death by Fire sounds like a hypothetical truce between Metallica and Motley Crue before doing rails of blow and covering a bunch of Raven songs.

And that's where Zenith comes in, because that subtle glam influence that I noted back then has suddenly become the only god damned thing the band wants to do.  This is frustrating because honestly it's not like the band sucks at mid paced anthemic glam metal, "Die for the Devil" is unbelievably ear catching, as is "Sail On".  They're decently good at emulating Def Leppard and Bon Jovi.  The problem is who the fuck wanted this??  What schmuck heard "Death Rides This Night" or "Below the Slumber" and said "man this band is good and all but they'd be a thousand times better if they just stopped being so energetic and focused entirely on catchy hooks and forgot every single other thing about their sound".  Zenith is the sound of a band absolutely slamming on the brakes with both feet and flipping a u-ey so hard that their car comes a few millimeters from tumbling several times.  Death by Fire was faster and meaner than Diamonds, From Beyond was darker than Death by Fire, they seemed to be on track to accidentally inventing thrash metal a second time and then just decided to give up and write Girls, Girls, Girls instead.  This is so frustrating, I can't imagine this being what any Enforcer fan was hoping for after a four year break in the release schedule.

I realize that this is coming off similar to my thoughts on Skeletonwitch last year where my complaints basically amounted to "They changed it so it sucks now", which is a total non-complaint in a vacuum.  I get that, but I feel like the key difference in my complaint is that unlike most traditionalist whiners afraid of change, I welcome change and evolution as long as a band doesn't abandon what they're good at, and that's exactly what Enforcer did here.  That speed and adrenaline is just totally gone here apart from two notable tracks.  That's not to say these songs aren't spirited, because they definitely are.  The band does not sound like they're going through the motions here, even the lamest of these songs (apart from the ballad "Regrets", which is a complete flop) feels like the band put their entire hearts into it.  "Die for the Devil" is genuinely great, and could have been a massive radio smash back in the halcyon years of glam several decades ago, "Forever We Worship the Dark" is a hook-filled monster, and I think "The End of a Universe" has some incredible vocal acrobatics that help it stand out.  But at the end of the day it's just regular-ass catchy heavy metal/hard rock with a few good hooks and great vocals, which is something that scratches an itch now and again and that's about it.  It's just extra disappointing when taken in the context of this band's career as a whole.  In a vacuum, I can say this album is decent with a song or two that really stands out, but when you take into account that this is the capstone of a band that absolutely dominated the decade with an iron fist on the backs of balls to the wall frothing speed metal, this just sounds like them closing out the decade with a pitiful bunny fart.

I will give credit where credit is due though, and that's the tracks "Searching for You" and "Thunder and Hell".  The former is admittedly a total cocktease because the verses are primo classic Enforcer, with all of the fire and speed that made them so superlative in the first place, but the chorus itself is a hard left turn back into the midpaced glam that populates the rest of the record.  It works much better here as a contrast to the blistering verses instead of just being another part that fades into a song that doesn't stand out much on its own, but it's still kind of a disappointment that they couldn't keep it up the whole time.  That's where "Thunder and Hell" succeeds, because that's the one and only track that could've fit right at home on any of their previous albums.  "Thunder and Hell" is 100% what I had hoped Zenith would be.  You could argue that I'm just a lunkhead who wants more of the same since this sounds very similar to previous classics like "Undying Evil" or "Midnight Vice", but dammit man that's the exact reason I fell in love with the band in the first place.  This is what they're good at.  Full speed or no speed man!  Go absolutely fucking wild and damn the torpedoes!

So yeah, this is an incredibly frustrating album.  "Thunder and Hell" and "Searching for You" sound like classic Enforcer and unsurprisingly absolutely smoke, and "Die for the Devil" and "Forever We Worship the Dark" are examples of how their new sound can work masterfully.  But the rest of it is just... not what Enforcer should be doing.  I get it, this album isn't for me, and I don't really like it all that much because it's not what I wanted it to be, and you can say that's a childish reason to dislike something and I'm doing this album a disservice by not being "objective".  But the truth is that that's the real reason we dislike almost everything we dislike, isn't it?  Reviews are subjective by nature and music evokes an emotional response, it's not a fucking math equation that you can spit out true numbers to truly assess.  It's qualitative, not quantitative.  If you want the "objective" analysis of the album, I could just say it's generally midpaced with little atmosphere that focuses on competently written and played hooks with a few random bursts of speed.  But that's a short and shitty review, and the truth is that all of those things need to be taken into the context of what the band had done before, and the hard pill to swallow is that Enforcer is merely decent at this style, and they became decent at one style at the expense of ditching a style they were the best in the world at.  If that doesn't sting just a little bit as a fan of what they had accomplished before, then there's no hope for you.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Nucleus - Entity


Let's flash back to 2016 for a moment, and take a sentence out of my own review for Nucleus's debut, Sentient back when that was new.

"I don't tend to look towards a band's future all that often, but I can see them being the type of band who really pulls it together on the sophomore effort."

I uhh... wasn't exactly correct.

This is a bummer, because I want to love Nucleus.  I love that Chicago has a band that has real name recognition on a national stage, I love that these dudes are all my age and absolutely crushing it harder than I ever could (which is less impressive now that I'm creeping up on 30 but cut me some slack), but man have they proven themselves to be frustrating to me.  I thought their debut was good and showed a lot of promise, but in hindsight I think I overrated it a tad purely out of fear since I bump into these guys at shows all the time and they know who I am (well, really just Dano but hey).  Now that I'm just a total hermit who only leaves the house to buy toilet paper and fast food, I feel a bit more confident in just admitting that Entity is a disappointment.

Nucleus seems to be a rarity where their full lengths are always their weakest offerings.  The Colony and Hegemony are excellent EPs that rightfully earned them all the hype they had rolling into their debut, which wound up being pretty flawed and only really standing out during the slower, more crushing moments (the best track, "Cube", was featured on Hegemony as well), only for them to follow that up with the Fragmented Self split with Macabra which showed them absolutely honing in on their strengths and delivering three monstrously punishing tracks.  I was hoping that was a sign of things to come for Entity, since that split finally saw them sounding like their own band instead of a Demilich/Timeghoul worship act, but here we are, another full length where they leaned in extra hard on the Demilichisms and lost their identity again.

While the debut sounded like a blend of that weird Finndeath of the early 90s with Demilich and Adramelech mixed with the early definition of American technical death metal like Nocturnus, Entity seems them erring further towards the Finndeath side and again coming off as pretenders to a throne that can never be usurped.  We already have Demilich, we already have Tucker-era Morbid Angel, we already have Gorguts, we have plenty of spacey and dissonant death metal already and Nucleus isn't standing out nearly as strongly as something like Blood Incantation in the realm of modern bands doing this sort of thing.

That's not to say they or this album are bad necessarily, just kinda safe for a weird DM offshoot, if that makes sense.  Fans of this "Timelich" style are going to love this, but for me, I just wish there was more to it than by-the-numbers Timelich.  Entity is a step up in some respects from Sentient, but it's just kinda inverted.  The debut struggled to keep my attention during the fast parts but had some menacing midpaced sections that absolutely crushed my spine.  The sophomore has much better and more interesting fast moments (and far more frequently as well), but there are very few single moments that shatter my skull like in "Swarm", "Cube", or "Extirpate".  This is much more Gorguts-y on the whole as well, which might sound weird since I just said this is also more Demilich than ever before, but really those two bands mix together so well that it's only a natural combination of influences to have.  This whole album is very dissonant and chaotic, and it works for what it is, it's just not as exciting as the last album.  There are great moments here still, for sure.  The three minute mark of "Arrival" is fucking scary in how destructive and explosive it is, "Mobilization" opens on one of those pummeling Suffocation riffs that I loved so much from before, and I adore the creepy acoustic/bass-heavy intro of "Approach".  But the standouts themselves are kinda few and far between, and the album instead tends to sit on something of a plateau throughout the runtime.  And admittedly, if those midpaced moments actually are heavier than the debut, then I might not even have noticed purely for how distant and fuzzy the production is.  It certainly helps the album feel chaotic and alien, but it doesn't do any favors in the realm of actual heaviness.

I've probably made this sound worse than it actually is, and that's my own failing.  This album isn't bad, it's solid, it's just less than what I was hoping for and I can't help but let that cloud my judgment I suppose.  This is only a marginal improvement from the debut, and that's only because the part that was lacking before is improved while the part that was a standout before is now unremarkable.  So now, across the board it's a slight step up, but at the sacrifice of notable standout moments.  Simply put, it's not a very exciting release.  And that sucks.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Warforged - I: Voice

This album gave me respiratory failure

Y'know, it figures I just finished a review ranting about how Artisan Era has usurped Unique Leader and Willowtip for the Tech Death Saturation Award, and then the very next thing I tackle is a band on their label that doesn't fit the bill at all.

Warforged obviously gets bonus consideration from me purely for being lucky enough to hail from my neck of the woods, but luckily they're an example of a local band doing Chicago proud for once.  Their debut here is clearly meant to be the first part of a saga of sorts given the title, I: Voice, and I can say with certainty that I'm going to keep my ears open for any followup.  Voice is very long at 72 minutes, and it's very dense with a whole lot of shit going on, but it's all done very well and the album ebbs and flows enough for the epic length to never become truly overwhelming, try as the music itself might.  Quiet ambient keyboard/acoustic passages occasionally break up some absolutely monstrous black/death throughout the runtime, and while these guys may not be masters of infectious riffing, they excel when it comes to atmosphere.  Voice is just an endless deluge of confusion and misery, and the disorienting, angular wonkiness of the music keeps the listener on their toes. 

The melodic techiness that their label specializes in is certainly prominent in parts (check the midpoint of "Beneath the Forest Floor") but it's not really their forte.  No, like I said their true strength lies in overwhelmingly crushing atmosphere, and special mention has to go to Adrian Perez's vocal performance.  This guy is absolutely fucking venomous and delivers one of the most menacing and caustic vocal performances I've heard all year.  Seriously this guy's shriek is out of this world, and I'm willing to peg him as the musical highlight.  With how the music cycles in and out of quiet and loud, he shines the brightest in both segments since he also handles the keyboards and piano when they invariably show up during the quiet passages.  Nobody in the band stands out as a slouch though, but the rest of the guys are merely serviceable towards the end goal ravenous devastation instead of being the driving force like the vocals.  Musically this hits many of the same notes as some of the more atmospheric tech death bands like Fallujah or later era The Faceless, or maybe something a bit more overtly black metal (those vocals I love so much tend to sit in a mid/high register instead of the traditional deep death metal growl, though he's capable of those as well) like Enfold Darkness.  Regardless, it's massive sounding and absolutely punishing.

I don't have many bad things to say about this, only nitpicks.  Like the riffs themselves aren't super engaging and tend to just chug really fast or noodle around the middle of the fretboard, but when coupled with the destructively complex percussion and harrowing vocals it all blends together very well into a monumental atmospheric statement.  And I guess there aren't any true standout tracks but this is clearly meant to be an album experience so it doesn't really matter.  Even my usual preference for short albums takes a backseat here since they pace themselves throughout the gargantuan runtime extremely well.  The whole thing is a knockout, and there isn't much about it I would change. 


Monday, April 22, 2019

Inanimate Existence - Clockwork

Shoulda been a dreg drainer

The Artisan Era seems to have swiftly taken over as the label du jour for frantic and noodly tech death.  Ten years ago when the genre exploded after seemingly everybody decided at once that Necrophagist was the best band ever and we all need to sound like them right now, you could guess with like 99% accuracy that any given tech death album was going to be released on Unique Leader or Willowtip.  Now that I've been getting back into the style after many years of burnout, I can't help but notice that both labels seem to have begun focusing on brutality more than tech outright.  To help fill the void of this particular niche that once saturated the death metal scene to a near toxic degree, Artisan Era seems to have been the one to have taken the torch, currently championing some of the hottest noodlecore bands in the market right now (both good and bad) with Inferi, Augury, Virulent Depravity, Equipoise, The Odious Construct, and many others, including our subject today (a band poached from Unique Leader, oddly enough), Inanimate Existence.

These California boys apparently have a pretty impressive career behind them already, one that I'm completely unfamiliar with since they started right around the time I grew bored of their style, so my first impression of them is actually their fifth offering, Clockwork.  While it's a good record, it does suffer from being somewhat faceless.  These eight songs are all insane, full speed ahead monsoons of blasts and riffage with a fat injection of obscene amounts of melody, but they fall into the common trap of failing to present many lasting hooks and memorable songs.  Instead we just get forty unremarkable minutes of decent melodic tech death that fly by inoffensively enough.  I like the specific niche within the scene that they occupy, sounding very similar to Decrepit Birth or Gorod with how much overt melody they cram into all of these songs, but they don't stack up to those titans by any means.  Their main hook is the soaring, Mithras-styled lead guitar lines that pretty much never stop, with occasional jazzy breaks here and there but they're all short and unobtrusive.  And hey man, that's a good hook, Decrepit Birth showed out how it can be a god damned artform, but despite their bountiful career at this point, it doesn't seem like Inanimate Existence has quite mastered it.

Unfortunately that's really about all there is to say about this.  There isn't a whole lot of substance beyond "decent tech death" and that's a shame.  Apparently the lyrics are all centered around the philosophical idea of absurdism, which I think is endlessly fascinating and Albert Camus is one of my favorite thinkers of the last century, but unfortunately simply due to the nature of the music here you'd have no way of actually knowing that without looking at the lyrics separately.  So it's a cool idea that's hidden entirely by the bland but well performed blastery and weedlywees.  I think the closest thing to a standout track here is something like "Ocean" or "Apophenia", but honestly it's hard to tell because everything sounds pretty much the same.  Like I said, it's very faceless and inoffensive production-line tech death with little else going for it.  Inanimate Existence is a solid band and Clockwork is a solid album but that's really all there is to it, nothing beyond that.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Lord Weird Slough Feg - New Organon

Welcome home, Philosopher Cavemen

I'm not gonna lie to you guys, I was really fuckin' stoked to hear this one.  Yeah that may be a surprise considering how much I disliked their most recent album, Digital Resistance, but it's true.  A lot of things haven't necessarily been falling in Slough Feg's favor over the last decade.  In the last ten years they've only managed to release three albums, one of which sucked, one of which had some good songs but some really bad ones that brought it down (Ape Uprising!), and thankfully at least one that was really good (The Animal Spirits).  In addition to their new slow pace of releasing albums, they had the unfortunate honor of helping introduce the metal scene to one of the most talented drummers on the scene today only to completely underutilize him.  Harry Cantwell is incredible at what he does, but in order to hear any of his skill you'll have to look towards Bosse-de-Nage or Succumb, because in Slough Feg his was moderately quirky with his off kilter rhythms but that was it, only fully letting lose in his other bands.  I was always hoping he'd shine on a future Slough Feg album, but sadly he dipped out shortly after the last album.  So now the band is left here in a weird time, immediately following an underwhelming album, immediately following the departure of an invaluably talented bandmate, and they responded by... just kinda disappearing for half a decade.

But they're back now, and they've reached pretty far back into their history to deliver to us New Organon.  Surely one of the first things you've noticed is that they've gone back to using the lengthened version of their name, now officially "The Lord Weird" once again.  This in itself doesn't really mean anything since the two eras can barely be separated thematically.  Slough Feg has always been all over the place in that regard.  You're never sure if an album is going to be about the future (Traveller, Hardworlder, Digital Resistance) or the past (Twilight of the Idols, Atavism, Ape Uprising!, The Animal Spirits), generally speaking, and that's not to say that individual songs on each album won't stray from whatever lose theme they're working with anyway.  The point is that somehow they always sound "primitive" regardless of whether they're spinning yarns about ancient myths or fantastical science fiction.  I guess they always remind me of a Harry Harrison book I read many years ago, Deathworld.  The basic premise is that it's the far flung future, and there's a colonized planet absolutely infested with hostile flora and fauna that spend every second of every day attacking the technologically advanced human settlement, and the only people who have managed to fully adapt to the toxic hellscape are the semi-nomadic outcasts who have learned to live off the land and live in harmony with the strange creatures that inhabit it.  The protagonist of the story tries to bring the two lifestyles together in some way to maximize survivability, and likewise Slough Feg is this weird, roving hermit of a band who seems to have all of these bizarre forward thinking ideas and visions of a weird, horrible future, while at the same time understanding the land itself completely and thriving as a primitive group of hunter-gatherers. 

This all comes up partly because I'm bad at organizing my thoughts, but also because I just don't know how else to describe a track like "Headhunter".  The album starts off with this groovy, rollicking thumper of a track that hearkens back to their late 90s era, with the only notable difference being Mike Scalzi's voice being much more throaty and hoarse than before.  It is so refreshing to hear a song with this much fucking life in it after the mostly drab experience of the previous album.  Despite my usual coded language, I mean it plainly this time.  This is exuberant and exciting, but it's not fast or aggressive or anything like I usually imply when I use words like that.  New Organon is a very laid back and midpaced album, with only "Being and Nothingness" and "Uncanny" truly breaking into higher tempos.  This is Slough Feg's niche, nobody else really seems to take these walking gallops and trot them out with nearly as much spirited efficiency.  They've always been good at this, and I think Mike's outspoken desire to let this album happen at its own pace was a huge boon to the final product.  Digital Resistance was by no means rushed, but it did feel like it was done mostly on autopilot.  New Organon on the other hand is inspired and lively. 

As per usual, there are a ton of ideas at work here.  From the bluesy heavy rock of "The Apology" and "Exegesis - Tragic Hooligan", to the searing metal assault of "Uncanny", the groovy throwback jams of "Headhunter" and the title track, and you're going to think I'm crazy here, but I think you could simply change the instrumentation of "Coming of Age in the Milky Way" and it could pass as a 50s doo-wop single or a lame 60s hippie song or some hybrid thereof with minimal raised eyebrows.  Slough Feg is so fucking good at everything they do here, and it showcases their incredible ability to sound both new and old simultaneously.  The whole album has a very 70s feel, throwing back to a time when heavy metal wasn't even really a thing yet but they managed to accidentally invent it anyway by playing in 2019, 1972, and the Paleolithic Age all at once.  It's so strange that they're objectively decades late to the party, playing almost three decades into their career, and still sounding like they both somehow invented the whole style and have the only definitive vision of where it's going.  It's like some bastardized New School Proto Metal or something.  I don't know, I love it.  Most of New Organon sits in a very comforting groove, making the few fast tracks hit all the harder.  And they're so good at riffs and hooks anyway that it stays engaging regardless of the tempo. 

If there are any flaws, they're fairly minor.  "Sword of Machiavelli" and "The Cynic" just kinda happen without much consequence, but the latter is saved by the band's trademark dizzying soloing.  The album as a whole kind of loses steam as it goes on, but the A side is such a stunner that it barely matters and the back half has grown on me a lot in the few days and already countless spins I've given this.  "Uncanny" is kind of awkward at first because Adrian sings it instead of Mike, and... well there's a reason Adrian isn't the singer.  Even so, his nasally voice has grown on me as well in the context of the song proper and the song was an instrumental highlight right away, before I had gotten accustomed to his voice in the first place. 

Without a doubt, Slough Feg are the Weird Lords again.  This is by far their most metallic album in a decade and it still retains their trademark Thin Lizzy-esque blues rock swagger that they've spend the last few albums honing.  This isn't their best album by any stretch, but that's also taking into account that they have at minimum four albums I'd score above 95% already.  Basically this is the exact kind of thing that legacy bands should be doing in this day and age.  Yeah they're a lot younger than Judas Priest or something, but New Organon is a great example of reaching back to a your roots without being a dry rehash of something you've already done.  There is only one truly unworthy song on here, and the rest of it ranges from good to great.  "Headhunter" and "New Organon" are easily right up there with any of their previous classic tracks, and "Uncanny", "Being and Nothingness", and "The Apology" are barely a hair behind.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Itheist - Itheist

Deathsmell Omega

There's nothing exactly wrong with Itheist's self titled debut.  It's suitably intense and chaotic, exactly the kind of thing that works extremely well when done correctly.  And hell I can't even say with confidence that this is done incorrectly, but that's also sort of my biggest problem with it.  Apart from moments of face melting intensity like "Guardian of Baphomet", the lion's share of the music contained on Itheist is just really safe.  Not like, safe for mainstream consumption obviously, this is far too extreme for that, but very safe for somebody who is familiar with this style of music already.  No joke, the press junket literally says "the new album brings together blackened melody with dissonance, creating a unique style of Extreme Metal", which is just.. what?  No, there's nothing unique about just doing what Deathspell Omega has been doing for 15 years now.  You're not special, you nerds.

But even with that said, I like this album.  Itheist is a shameless DSO clone and that's okay!  I don't understand this pathological need for metal bands to just fucking lie about how unique they are all the time, as if there's some rule that anything that isn't a new idea is automatically lesser.  It's fine to wear your influences on your sleeves.  It's fine to just rip off one or two bands if you're actually good at it.  Sure, the best bands in any given subgenre are generally innovators in some respect but it's by no means a requirement.  If you don't have any new ideas it's totally okay to just pay homage to your heroes.  If you're good songwriters and understand what makes their music work in the first place, whatever you produce will turn out just fucking fine, I promise.

Case in point... well, Itheist.   This is chaotic jangleblack in the vein of DSO with some hints of more death metal influence like Portal or Ulcerate or something, but overall it's really obvious where most of their ideas stemmed from.  But because they're good songwriters and understand why DSO is such a good band, the songs come out just fine, exactly like I said they would.  Maybe it's missing the point to get so hung up on a few sentences in a promo blurb but this is just fucking endemic to metal bands and it drives me up the wall.  Grab any track here and you'll hear whirling, tumbling dissonance with drums that sound like they're falling down a mountainside, and it'll qualitatively rank somewhere between "servicable" and "good".  Really my only complaint here is that other bands have done this better, but that's not particularly fair if we're viewing this in a vacuum.  With all context stripped away, this is a brutal, disorienting album with like sixty riffs per song and wild, flailing drumming, and that's just a blast to listen to.

The problem is that nothing exists in a vacuum, and when you take this with the context of the metal scene at large, you can't help but just spend your time thinking of a better band you could be listening to.  On the whole though, Itheist is a wild ride that keeps things entertaining and menacing despite a runtime that seems like it just never ends.  Try not to zone out and you'll find something worth enjoying, but it's really hard for your eyes to not glaze over after three or four tracks.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Crestfallen Queen - Queen of Swords

Suicide Queen

This one was a bit of a surprise, considering most promotional materials I had seen kept on throwing out words like "progressive" and "psychedlic" and "rock" and whatnot.  This seems to be marketed as something similar to the wave of occult rock that blew up and promptly fizzled out a few years ago like Blood Ceremony and Year of the Goat.  There's nothing wrong with that style, I think both of those bands are fine and I've been very vocal about how much I fucking adored Jess and the Ancient Ones before they just went full hippie rock, so I was actually pretty excited to give Crestfallen Queen a spin.  Metalheads love retro throwbacks, and it'd be pretty fun to hear a throwback to a style that's barely as old as half of the shit in my refrigerator.

The difference between me and most promo reviewers is that I don't just lazily regurgitate high scores and barely switch up words from the promo blurbs and pass it off as anything resembling actual work.  I fuckin' tell it to ya straight.  And let me tell ya here, the word "rock" only barely applies here.  This is motherfucking heavy doom metal through and through and I'm kind of astounded that they aren't marketing this stronger for fans of actual metal. 

Queen of Swords does take a few minutes to really get going, with the pointless intro track going on for far too long and the following title track taking about a minute to really pick up, but once it does you just get clobbered with a skippy galloping riff that smacks more of Candlemass than anything else.  I mentioned Jess and the Ancient Ones up there, and that's really a good point of comparison for this.  The title track does indeed fall into the more psychedelic rock based trappings of its parent genre in the back half, but instead of the flittery "Jefferson Airplane except about witches this time" thing that was so popular back then, it feels more like JATAO binged on the first four Sabbath albums before entering the studio.  Of the six tracks on the album, only four of them are full songs instead of brief interludes, and I'll begrudgingly admit that most of them tend to take their sweet fucking time getting to the point, but the atmosphere is so sublime and well crafted that it's really kind of a minor nitpick.  Everything builds wonderfully and climaxes in an extraordinarily satisfying way.  It's a slow burn more than instant gratification, constantly ebbing and flowing between psyche rock and 70s doom metal that never stops being entertaining.  The vocals are a huge strong suit as well, modulating between soothing coos and rough Janis Joplin-esque hoarse groans, with even a few scattered flat out harsh vocals (check out "Lethean Bed").  They're a perfect complement to the agonizing instrumentals and just helps the whole thing wash over you in total despair.

Like with most things, the relatively succinct runtime helps things stay focused and prevents the longwinded songs from becoming a chore.  Only having four full songs that average around eight and a half minutes keeps the album digestible while still indulging in their undeniable skill of slow burning atmosphere.  And even then, one the occasions where they do let loose it just makes them hit all the more powerfully.  Seriously, that tumbling main riff of "Ghost Warriors" sounds like a meaner, sludgier take on "Children of the Grave" and who the fuck doesn't want to hear that?  Whether they're aiming for tripped out psychedelia or crawling, punishing doom metal, or even the sombre doomdeath of the final track Crestfallen Queen absolutely delivers.


Sunday, April 14, 2019


After a short sabbatical thanks to a combination of real life suddenly demanding much more of my time and me spending too much free time playing Octopath Traveler, I'd say it's time once again to take out a huge chunk of my backlog and just get some shit out of the way.  Y'all know what this is so let's just get on with it.

Othuum - The Astral Horror 
Traditionally I seem to start these features off with an album that I had planned on reviewing in full next in the schedule but for whatever reason just couldn't seem to formulate more than a few sentences for, and this is no different.  And it's a shame because I really like this one here, it's just been a total roadblock to write about.  Othuum specializes in massive, oppressive doom metal, but there's actually some air of levity to this Lovecraftian soundscape.  For as big and heavy as this is, there are enough dare I say "pleasant" melodies scattered throughout that keep this from being a total downer, and the deep, clean vocals help it sound large and epic instead of simply large and menacing.  Unfortunately that's all I can really think to say about it.  It's big and slow and heavy but also pretty inviting and that's about all there is.  It's good, just really hard to talk about at length apparently.

Chevalier - Destiny Calls
Chevalier has been making the rounds in the underground lately, and I can totally see why.  Raw and energetic speed metal throwbacks are prime to be huge hits with the Extremely Online types who spend all day scouring bandcamp for new releases just as much as they would be with crusty old schoolers who never quite got over the fact that 1988 ended.  But the unfortunate fact is that I didn't like the Call to Arms EP two years ago and I don't like Destiny Calls now.  I don't know why, I wish I could explain it.  All of the ingredients for great metal are here but for whatever reason these Finns have just never done it for me.  Maybe it's the fact that the lo-fi production is less of a cool throwback and more of an irritating way to turn riffs into indistinguishable fuzz, maybe it's the fact that the vocals are kinda wild and tuneless but don't quite have the charisma of early Helloween or something, maybe it's the fact that the snare drum is louder than everything else by a magnitude of sixty, I don't know.  This has all the base components that make speed metal enjoyable, but it's all bungled just ever so slightly enough that the little quibbles add up to me just never wanting to bother listening to it.

Angra Demana - Triptych of Decay 
I was excited for this one because I've been trying to stick as many pins into my metaphorical metal globe as possible, and I can say with absolute certainty that I'd never heard an Iranian metal band before.  So yeah I was a little disappointed when I realized the main dude behind Angra Demana had actually relocated to Austria by the time of this EP, but hey.  The point is that the music itself here is quite rad.  Triptych of Decay is only three tracks and under twenty minutes, and it's become quite clear to me that I struggle with writing for short releases, but I can confidently say that this is some high quality black metal.  I've seen the project labeled around the internet as "ambient black metal", but that really only seems to apply to their debut from six years ago.  In the intervening years, Radman has apparently binged on Immortal and Inquisition, because this is riffy and nasty as hell.  Atom Krieg from Darkmoon Warrior handles the vocals here, and he has a deep, throaty croak similar to the aforementioned two bands up there, albeit obviously much less of the bullfrog droning that makes Abbath and Dagon stand out so much.  Maybe it's a bit more accurate to compare him to Shatraug or something, I dunno.  Point is, this is pretty standard black metal (at least the kind with an emphasis on riffing above atmosphere and repetition) but it kicks a good load of ass.

Godhead Machinery - Aligned to the Grid 
I've given this like six spins and I still remember nothing from it.  I've sat here with only that sentence typed out for about three tracks now and I still don't have much to say about this.  It's black/death metal with a heavy emphasis on brooding atmosphere but nothing much really seems to happen.  It never really picks up or hits really hard, nor does the atmosphere ever really evoke a real mood or crush you in that way either.  I'm seven tracks in right now and all this is making me think of that this is why I took like an eight year hiatus from listening to anything from a promo mailer.  Just total, uninteresting mediocrity from start to finish.

Our Dying World - Expedition 
This is another one that just sorta stumped me and found itself in the "Definitely Going to Be in the Draining the Dregs Feature" file after like a half a listen.  This is an American metalcore band and there ya go, you know everything you need.  If there's anything that's a little bit different about these guys its that they tend to completely eschew clean vocals and therefore wind up playing pretty much just standard melodeath of the Slaughter of the Soul variety, albeit less intense and less interesting.  Basically this just sounds like an album full of verse riffs from As I Lay Dying's better albums, so there's nothing particularly bad here but there's also nothing particularly interesting either.  I like that the album is short and succinct, I like that it doesn't mess around with the poppy post-hardcore elements of their parent genre, but it's all outweighed pretty heavily by the fact that it's just not very interesting or entertaining.  At least if it was shitty it'd be easier to talk about how shitty it is, but as it stands this is just kinda blah and that's it.

Vikings - Far Beyond My Dream
Christ this one is bad.  I was already predisposed to hate it since y'all know how I feel about rightfully obscure nobodies who broke up decades ago getting back together now that we're in an era of crippling nostalgia that gives everybody a second chance whether or not they deserve it, but these guys do nothing but prove my point.  Musically there's nothing that really stands out one way or the other, it's just bog standard heavy metal that's neither fast nor slow, epic nor raw, thrashy or doomy, there's just nothing.  It's like an AI network was trained to listen to bland mid-90s trad/power metal bands and spit out riffs with the "offensiveness" meter set at zero.  The real problem with the immediate listening experience is just how god damn laughably bad the vocals are.  They alternate between basically just talking in melody and Warrel Dane levels of hilariously bad projecting.  When the chorus hit in the first song I legit started laughing, it's just no bueno.  There's a really lame and dull ballad about halfway through the album, and on first listen I had to check and see how much time I had left in the album so I could move on to something actually worth listening to, and was stunned to realize it's only the third track.  This shit just drags on and on and on and on and on and on and on and

Schattenfall - Melancholie des Seins
I've been pretty vocal about how I'm not really much of a fan of atmoblack, but I can give some serious props to Schattenfall.  Instead of just being longwinded and dull, these are lengthy dirges of misanthropy that are equally effective as both melancholic background noise and as engaging blasts of agony.  The black metal parts are plenty good on their own, but honestly I think the band's true calling lies more in the ambient interludes that comprise the "Einsamkeit" tracks peppered throughout.  They have black metal in them as well, no doubt, but they tend to focus more on droning, thumping atmosphere than the more distorted and kinetic metal tracks.  The atmosphere shines regardless though honestly, and overall this is very good, just difficult to write about.  It never gets particularly angry or hateful, just despondent and agonizing, and I like that a lot.

Nocturnal Witch - A Thousand Pyres
I've got two different black/thrash releases to tackle here today.  This first one here is out of Germany, and just like one of their more famous countrymen in the scene, they sound an awful lot like Desaster.  They sound a bit more like their early era when they were more overtly black metal with hints of thrash here and there (like Hellfire's Dominion or Tyrants of the Netherworld) than some of the more mid era stuff that had a lot more thrash involved (admittedly I haven't kept up with the band so lord knows what they sound like nowadays), but if you're a fan of those albums like I am then this'll be right up your alley.  Nocturnal Witch isn't a total knockout though, as it seems to kinda go in one ear and out the other most of the time.  There are some great tunes here (the intro to "Eclipsing the Light" has definitely stuck with me) but for the most part this one has been consistently losing time to the other similar band I got in the latest batch.

Bastardizer - Dawn of Domination
The other similar band being this one.  Considering the previous band sounded a lot like their fellow countrymen, I expected these Australians to be reminiscent of Destroyer 666, but in actuality they don't really bring death metal anywhere near their sound here.  This is pure thrash with scratchy black metal screams and a filthy, gritty guitar tone.  So really this cribs more from Toxic Holocaust than anybody else, but that's not really a problem since they're one of the few bands that made it through the rethrash boom with their reputation intact, there are much worse bands you could emulate.  There's touches of the usual suspects like Abigail and Nifelheim as well, but their true strength lies in their more punky influences.  One of the very few complaints I have about this album is that it just kinda takes a few tracks to really get cooking.  The first handful of tracks are good for sure, but once "Demons Unleashed" starts I just can't help but notice that all of a sudden there are much more d-beats and punk influence, and from that point on they just deliver banger after banger.  So obviously there's a comparison to Midnight to be made as well, but despite all the names I've dropped here I really do think Bastardizer stands on their own quite easily.  Out of everything I'll talk about in this feature, these guys have easily gotten the most play time.

Tanagra - Meridiem
I really wanted to like this.  The EPK touted Tanagra as for fans of Caladan Brood, Blind Guardian, and Iced Earth, but after listening to this that turned out to be super misleading.  Maybe this just shows me as being very narrow minded, but most of this makes me think of Kamelot more than anybody else.  This certainly doesn't have the grand bombasity of Blind Guardian or the sharp riffing of Iced Earth, though arguably it at least gets the atmosphere of Caladan Brood close to correct.  Meridiem is a very mellow album, and it's the exact kind of prog/power metal that people like to call "complex" or "layered" or "classy" or whatever, but for me it all just translates to "dull".  Most of the songs are very long and sombre, with depressingly few moments of real drive.  It cycles through a lot of ideas and never really falls onto the crutch of needless repetition, but with the vocals being that Roy Khan style of lullaby cooing and the riffs being completely inconsequential backdrops for the melodies and occasional shredding, there's just very little for a caveman like me to care about here.  This just takes forever to end and always sounds like it's about to get interesting but the moment never comes.  Protip: Never start your ostensibly metal album with an 11 minute track that has no riffs in it.

De Lirium's Order - Singularity
Apparently these guys are kind of a big deal for being the grandfathers of modern tech death from Finland (you know damn well Demilich doesn't count unless you're a nerd who refuses to update your understanding of the term), but somehow I don't think I've ever even come across their name before now.  Which is kind of a shame, because Singularity is a pretty decent release despite some weird choices.  Since I've been dropping names this whole time, I might as well do so again and say that this reminds me a lot of Anata or Gorod, who regular readers of mine may know I think kick a comical amount of ass.  In terms of off-kilter riffing and infused melody, De Lirium's Order is right on par with the Beasts of Bordeaux.  Where they really differ is in their much more overt jazziness in tracks like "Surfaced" or "The Billion Year Contract", and their frequent inclusion of frankly offputting clean vocals.  I get that it helps the band's unique factor to insert cleans in a genre that tends to keep their vocals harsh and secondary, and the vocals themselves are good, but they seem almost tacked on as an afterthought.  It's not really a gamebreaker or anything, but it's enough to hamper my enjoyment somewhat.  Regardless, I know for sure now that I have a new backlog to run through, because my complaints about this album are honestly just nitpicks, and overall this is one of the better albums to show up in my inbox.

Celophys - Fried Chordata
And we're going to close out today with something unfairly fucking heavy.  Celophys seems to be listed as "stoner/doom" around the internet but I'd argue that I hear more sludge here, though oddly enough without the punk element that defines sludge in the first place.  Fried Chordata is just too caustic and brutally weighty to be stoner to me.  This doesn't focus on pure fuzz and hypnotic repetition of Sabbath knockoffs, and instead pummels you over the dome with riff after massive riff.  This is agonizingly slow and menacing, just browbeating you for forty straight minutes with glacial-paced chords and screams so venomous that it'll cause your eardrums to blister.  This is some straight dangerous sounding shit, managing to be chaotic and unhinged while retaining the deliberate pacing of doom.  It does pick up the pace a few times (notably in "False Lizard and Yeti"), but it's the crushing monolith dirges that got me hooked here.  This is barbaric and nasty, and I fuckin' love it.

And there we have it.  Twelve more mini-reviews to make up for the week or so I took off while wage-slaving myself to the brink of starvation.  Production should pick up again shortly once I'm done playing dorky JRPGs all damn day.  Thanks for sticking around!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Ayakasi Kagura - Zankyo


Hey!  Have you been listening to me bellow for five-plus years now about how fucking awesome Gotsu Totsu Kotsu is?  You should, because it seems like they've been steadily growing in popularity ever since I first heard them in 2013 with the stellar Legend of Shadow.  They're pure excess in the most extreme form, with tumbling slap bass and whirlwind riffs at light speed, they're one of the most magnanimous and iconoclastic metal bands of the modern era, completely shattering the mold of what death metal is capable of without treading a path that dozens of other bands are doing at the same time.  Fuck atmosphere and dissonance, they just play three riffs at the same time and found apparently the only way to have a noodly low end that complements the frantic brutality instead of needlessly showboating with constant soloing.

But hey, now that they're popular enough to finally have their three latest albums on Spotify, are you yearning for something much less popular that hits the same basic idea of "dizzying death metal brutality with a distinctly Japanese flair for showmanship"?  Well look no further than Ayakasi Kagura, a one-man wrecking crew from Ibaraki.

Obviously Ayakasi Kagura reminds me a lot of GTK, but I should emphasize that they remind me of GTK's more "normal" segments.  There aren't any mystifyingly dazzling instrumental moments here, instead it's like an entire album of the opening of "Gokumon" instead of the bridge of "Nadegiri".  That still means this is really good, but it's a bit less adventurous in its brutality.  What Zankyo focuses on more than anything is pure, unrelenting speed.  There are more churning moments here and there, and "Kurotsuka" has a positively doomy riff in the bridge, but every moment is comparatively short lived and ultimately gives way to headspinning blasting and hyperspeed tremolo riffing. That's really the album's greatest strength, because as a fan of warpspeed insanity, this hits all the right notes.  It's not particularly techy either, which isn't necessarily a good or bad thing in itself, but I can't help but admit that I have a soft spot for death metal that rips along at this speed without ever truly losing the base simplicity that makes death metal so morbid and punishing in the first place.  It's like a Deicide album on the wrong table speed, and that's just fucking rad.

Despite that, this is still a decidedly modern album.  There are a few scattered breakdowns here and there that do a lot to help keep the experience from being too one-note.  The man behind the band (whose name I've never seen transliterated so I'm going to just call him Waifu Slayer) is also really fond of Mithras/Sarpanitum styled screaming lead guitar.  Soaring above the manic riffage and absolutely hog wild percussion at any given moment will be these squealing spacey leads, that lend a ton of character to the album.  The vocals are also much deeper than regular old death metal, taking more cues from the BDM scene than anything else, and they're fucking monstrous.

Zankyo isn't a total knockout though, unfortunately.  The two most obvious problems are the length and the production.  52 minutes isn't too long for a metal album in a vacuum, but for this particular style it just gets to be completely overwhelming.  We didn't need fifteen tracks of such maddening brutality, everything starts to blur together before long and as a result I can't help but lose interest after a handful of tracks nearly every time, no matter how good they are.  This is an album best listened to on shuffle simply so you can hear some new tracks in each session before losing interest.  Waifu Slayer could have easily cut five or six tracks off of this and put it closer to 35 minutes for a much more concise and focused experience.  The production is a bit of a mess too.  It's a brutal wall of sound and it works for what the music is, but the levels seem to be uneven and as a result most of the sound is totally dominated by drums and vocals, especially during the (very, very frequent) blasting sections.  The riffs here are all excellent but they're often completely buried under an avalanche of frantic percussion. 

So on the whole, Zankyo is definitely worth checking out for any fan of limitless brutality, and I'm eternally thankful for Waifu Slayer bringing the project back after a short hiatus and getting this album out on Stillbirth Records so I can actually fucking hear it here in the States, but it is undeniably a flawed gem.  Take it in short bursts, otherwise your brain is just gonna fuckin' melt.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Pulver - Kings Under the Sand

Needs more balls to more walls

My ancestors on both sides of my family immigrated to America like 200+ years ago, so thanks to having like five generations of my family born and buried in the same town, I have zero tangible links to my European ancestry.  I've been thoroughly Americanized.  You'll never catch me in a lederhosen with a stein of lager, is my point.  But to my knowledge, if you trace one aspect of my lineage as far back as the records will go, I'm like 90% sure that a good chunk of my family originated in Bavaria.  So I have some ancestral link with Pulver's homeland somewhere a dozen or so generations down my line, so fuck it, I feel like I'm obligated to give them a chance.

I say a chance and not a recommendation because yikes did this need some more time in the oven.

Pulver is what happens when kids get together and start a band before they're actually any good at the practical aspects of being in a metal band beyond simply having big dreams.  Kings Under the Sand sounds like what happens when you master step one of your respective instrument (tune it properly and play in time) and then just immediately fuck off to go writing songs.  Pulver draws a lot of comparisons to Tank thanks to the vocals sounding an awful lot like Algy Ward, but there's a whole lot more to Tank than simply having cool gruff vocals.  Pulver sounds like Tank in slow motion.

I think the overarching problem beyond the songs just not being very good is that this has precisely zero ambition beyond recreating something that was already successful nearly 40 years ago.  It's like these guys sat down with a notebook and wrote down their goals for the band and landed on exactly two bullet points.  1: No influences can extend beyond 1985.  2: Great bands like Iron Maiden and Riot had a mascot, therefore we can't be a great band without a mascot either.  They make it a point to slap this Phantom Hawk character on the cover and title the first real song after him, and offer some sort of backstory to his existence in press junkets, but it's really not unique or exciting to attach recognizable characters to metal albums anymore.  Eddie and Vic Rattlehead and Snaggletooth were all just cool evil looking things that helped bands stand out before you could just look up anything and everything on youtube before commiting to a purchase, so not only have metal mascots lost their functional purpose, but any new band attempting to recreate that trope from metal's heyday is just going to look like a tryhard dork right out of the gate.  Maybe it's a stupid point to harp on what's fashionable in metal, but this is just silly and dumb.  Nobody gives a shit about the backstory to your album art, that's the exact shit that Iced Earth gets made fun of for, knock it off.

Beyond the aesthetic eyerolls, the music itself is just ultra-green and weak.  Calling this album "midpaced" would be too generous, because apart from about half of "Blacksmith's Lament", the title track, and one brief dueling melody in "Alpha Omega" (which boast a top speed of "about a hair slower than 'Sharp Dressed Man'"), Kings Under the Sand is maddeningly slow.  I don't mean "doomy", I mean slow.  It's so fucking frustrating because it makes the album feel so much longer than it is.  Everything is sluggish and lethargic, just dozily plopping along with a pace that I couldn't even favorably call "deliberate".  Obviously not every band needs to take influence from Motorhead (as awesome as that would be) and needs to push the limits of speed for their era, but a big part of why that boom of heavy metal out of Europe in the late 70s and early 80s was so exciting was because everything was so reckless and unhinged.  If you're going to take heaps of influence from Tank and Accept, do yourselves a fucking favor and venture outside of the 100bpm ceiling.  That wild and daring youth that drove these bands to all strive to outdo each other is completely absent here.  Instead of a drunken madman flinging beer bottles against the wall and picking fights in the pub, this is drunken in the sense of a broken and despondent vagrant who hasn't shaved in months lazily stumbling towards an alleyway before shooing a cat out of his favorite piss-soaked blanket.  Nearly every riff on the album emulates that fun era near the dawn of the 80s when the muscular hard rock of the 70s was truly forming into a sound that was distinctly recognizable as heavy metal, but Pulver missed the memo that energy and presentation was every bit as important a part of the package.  Trying to sit through the droning mess of "Phantom Hawk" or "Warrior Caste" is a chore, and I'm amazed that these guys really thought this was the best way to introduce themselves.

And before anybody accuses me of simply wanting the band to be something they're not, I'll concede that you're partially correct, because of course I want every band to be better than they are, but I'll counter with the track "Qarinah", because that one is just as slow and plodding as the rest of them, but that one just fucking works.  The tom-heavy drums just fucking pound their hearts out on this one, and the main riff is so fucking groovy and heavy that the pace complements it perfectly.  "Qarinah" is the sole track with any lingering sense of unpredictable danger.  There's a brief moment around the two minute mark where the pounding riff just drops off for a measure and you're hit with a solid second and a half of silence before it comes crashing through again, and it's just a damn awesome effect.  There's proof here that Pulver can indeed accomplish some cool stuff with this complete lack of urgency, it's just a shame that it's precisely one song that manages to do it correctly while the rest of it has so little attitude.  The very next track, "Warrior Caste", is almost hilarious because it's basically the exact same idea but shitty.  It's like if Eternal Champion had written a song in an afternoon while they were all 15.

Reckless and wild, this is not.  Kings Under the Sand is an incredibly frustrating experience because it just never gets to the point and farts around with warm up riffs and non-starter ideas before just ending on a whimper.  The vocals are kinda cool since they have a unique chainsmoking coarseness to them, but the music surrounding it is so fucking toothless and lame that I just can't in good faith recommend this.  "Qarinah" is a pretty solid track showcasing how this sluggish style can work, but the other seven songs are glaring condemnations as to why it doesn't. 


Monday, April 1, 2019

Sxuperion - Endless Spiritual Embodiment

Sxtiousie and the Blandcheese

Sxuperion apparently has a pretty solid body of work behind him already, but this fourth full length, Endless Spiritual Embodiment is my first brush with the sort-of-eponymously-named project.  I actually know a tiny bit of the guy's work, as I've heard him create some damn solid stuff drumming for Valdur a year or two ago, but Sxuperion here is his baby, where he handles every instrument, every lyric, every note, even the label it's released on.  So yeah there's no doubt that Sxuperion is a vanity project, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a very good one.

One of my low-key favorite bands that I rarely ever talk about is Blasphemy, and I hear a lot of those guys here.  So it goes without saying that this is some form of black/death metal, though it doesn't quite tap the same war metal vein of the aforementioned influence.  Instead, this leans heavily on a form of meaningless chaos, and I mean "meaningless" in the sense of a nihilist philosophy where the world is an uncaring cosmic void of pointless misery.  Endless Spiritual Embodiment is therefore dripping with malice and misanthropy, tumbling wildly through malevolent corridors bleeding black blood.  It's hard to tell exactly which side of the black/death dichotomy Sxuperion favors, because a good case could be made for both.  "Endless Embodiment" is based on a very spacey black metal feel with furious death metal riffage, while "Sacred Chamber of the Enlightenment" strikes with destructive European death metal morbidity atop a bleak black metal atmosphere.  Think of something like a deeper and meatier Archgoat or a colder and faster Blood Incantation.  Sxuperion expertly straddles the line and in turn opens a portal to a realm that, while well tread, is endless in its capacity for extremity.

The vocals are deep and bestial, the riffs are menacing and snarling, the atmosphere is cold and unfeeling, and what ties it all together is ironically a sense that nothing works.  Nearly every song includes a quiet interlude where almost nothing exists but dead air, allowing you to contemplate the absurdity of existence on your own before the tumbling cacophony returns to give you the answer.  The album smoothly swells between these cold voids of contemplative nonexistence and explosions of violent unmusical racket, and I think the album's true strength is that it's never really disorienting despite the chaotic din of cosmic torment.  Life is a hellish kaleidoscope of meaningless absurdity that takes place in a world that doesn't care about you and Sxuperion delivers the soundtrack for this bitter nonexistence.