Sunday, August 25, 2019

Burn Down Eden - Liberticidal

[note: insert title before posting]

I went through a brief phase back in 2013 or so where I was the biggest Battlecross fan on the planet for like six and a half minutes.  Around that time there was a minor groundswell of bands just like them that blended thrash with melodeath in a way that hadn't really been commercially successful since the heyday of The Haunted a decade prior, and they all suffered the exact same problem: They had a ton of energy and threw tons of riffs at you but precisely none of them would ever stick.  It's pure "in one ear and out the other" metal, and it got so bad that Battlecross is literally the only band like this that I can remember six years later (after typing that I checked the Similar Artists tab on MA and saw that I voted them as similar to Revocation, a band I made this exact point about last year and now I can't stop laughing at how correct I was).

Obviously I bring that up because Burn Down Eden is similar to the Battlecross type of metal in many respects, but it's not a 1:1 comparison.  The Americans tend to lean harder into the thrash side of the equation, while the Germans here have one foot and three toes planted on the melodeath side, and as such they tend to focus a bit more on hooks and lead lines than riffs themselves.  That may rob them of some meaty intensity, but it gives them a clear advantage in terms of memorability.

Liberticidal's bread and butter is a sort of The Black Dahlia Murder-esque high speed melodeath with technically impressive solos that don't do much to excite people who aren't automatically wowed by sweeping arpeggios.  I also hear a lot of hints of Wintersun in here in the lead guitar department (from the self titled era of course, his is quite free from the excessive bombast that cripples Jari with such alarming frequency), and I've always tended to like bands that take a lot of influence from Wintersun a hell of a lot more than Wintersun themselves (like Brymir and Aephanemer) so you'd think that'd be a good sign..  Just like with the Battlecross type bands, when this is on, it's breathtaking and exciting, but as soon as it's over it feels like you barely listened to anything at all.  The parts that stick out are usually thanks to sheer repetition.  That lead lick in "Grotesque Satisfaction" just goes on and on and on and I swear the song felt twice as long just because I heard that fucking "widdlywiddlyWEE" part a hundred times.

Honestly, their real crime is simply not doing much to keep the album exciting.  Nearly every track on Liberticidal runs for a similar length of time, and that's almost always a clue that the songs themselves are going to be workmanlike and samey.  This is no exception, though they're a lot busier than most songs on albums of this nature.  The sheer number of solos and flashy leads should turn this into a colorful dynamo but instead it all fades into this kind of Dime Store Children of Bodom mush and winds up being totally inconsequential.  Hell, I'm not even kidding when I say that the main riff of "Eternal Youth" is so similar to the one in "Dystopic Endzeit Panorama" that I genuinely thought it was just a bridge riff at first and had no idea the tracks changed.  With the heavy focus on melodies and lead guitar, you'd think that would naturally be Burn Down Eden's strength, but it's really not.  All of that stuff is surface flash, a quick woosh of fire that dazzles for a few seconds and fades just as quickly.  No, their real strength is in the sections where they just buckle down and riff out something really god damned mean while the drums start blasting away.  "Eternal Youth" and "Dammerung" are best for this and are easily the best tracks on the record.

I started writing this with a much higher opinion of the album than when I finished, which is pretty emblematic of the entire problem with this particular subset of metal in the first place.  On the surface, this is an impressive and ear catching, but after a few minutes fades you realize that your ear wasn't caught as much as it was swatted lightly.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Desecresy - Towards Nebulae


I'm not sure if I've ever really made it clear or not, but when it comes to regional death metal scenes, I actually find Finland to be one of the worst.  Weird right?  I don't deny that it's certainly one of the most instantly recognizable, with the frequent influence from doom metal lending to some crushing slow sections and the ever-looming spectre of Demilich over the entire scene pushing everybody to sound like their instruments were formed out of an alien swamp, but I'm going to pick America or Sweden every fucking time if given the choice.  The thundering megalith that is Nespithe is one of the only things out of that entire scene that's really stood the test of time to me (alongside Adramelech's debut and that one Rippikoulu demo) while everything else runs the gamut from "alright I guess" to boring to bad.  I don't really plan on justifying myself further, but hopefully this should elucidate why I'm so fucking lukewarm about the "Timelich" style that's gotten so popular in recent years.

Anyway, enter Towards Nebulae, which isn't an exact representation of the particular strain of death metal I'm talking about, but is pretty close and shares the aforementioned ancestral homeland.  While this is slightly more grounded and less abjectly fuckin' weird than Demilich, it does share some of the same distant, alien qualities that ties Finndeath together.  Seriously, these leads sound like they're being broadcast from GN-z11.  And hey man I like the idea of something sounding completely foreign, but the problem is that any extraterrestrial creativity Desecresy showcases is drowned out by some frustratingly unengaging riffs and some straight up fucking terrible vocals.

The main guy here, Tommi (formerly of Slugathor, probably the closest sonic comparison) has been "the guy" behind Desecresy since the beginning, but it was actually a two-man band for the first four albums.  While I haven't heard any of those albums, I can only assume he's world's better, he has to be.  Tommi here sounds like a cross between Rami Jamsa from Convulse and your dad making fun of the music you like.  He sounds like he was born without a tongue and has a massive underbite and then just whispers really angrily.  There is no power in that voice, and frankly the music doesn't fare much better.  This is about as muscular as a plate of Jell-O, and these grinding, mid-paced riffs that take up a huge chunk of the runtime sound like they're aiming for a doomy overtone like Asphyx or Krypts but instead just land on weak and amateurish.  There's also a bizarre disconnect between the several instruments at play, each one sounding like it was recorded in a different spelunking expedition.  I know "cavernous" is a really overused term in the modern death metal scene but it's pretty much right on the money here.  I know I compared it to sounding like it's billions of light years away, but at the same time it sounds so barren and earthy that it could simultaneously be coming from a dripping cave right underneath your feet.  It's very "watery" sounding, but instead of violent thrashing as you try not to drown, it sounds like you didn't realize you were underwater until you were a few miles down, the music manifesting as a few gurgling blubs that reach the surface long after you try to scream.

Now, that should be cool, but I think I opened this with a brief screed against Finndeath because Desecresy is so emblematic of my basic problem with it.  There's no doubt that it, as a general rule, takes an approach that aims to overwhelm the listener with incomprehensible atmosphere, but in doing so it sacrifices exactly what I love so much about death metal in the first place.  In aiming for such a goal, they completely eschew the raw, pugilistic spirit of the genre itself.  Death metal may be at its best and most interesting when it's completely divorced from thrash metal (Altars of Madness is a classic for a reason), but there's a particular saying about reinventing the wheel that I just can't help but think of here.  Tommi tried to out-clever himself here and removed the very fangs that are supposed to hook you in the first place.  This holistic bleakness pads the gloves of the fist that by all means should be punching me to death, essentially tying big pillows with a cartoon skull on them over Mike Tyson's hands.  These riffs have no fucking punch, is what I'm saying.  Towards Nebulae is nothing but soft edges in a washed out haze.  There was a time in history when the Extremely Online metal snobs pegged Finndeath as some sort of higher form of death metal that transcended itself into something entirely new, and yeah that's true to an extent, but they achieved this by working against their own strengths.  This obviously isn't a hard and fast rule, but Desecresy is just another band I can point to when I find myself needing to explain why this legendary scene leaves me so cold.  If distant watery solos, muddy riffs, and cacophonous percussion is your thing, then hey you might love this.  But for me, I'll give some props to "The Damned Expedition" for being pretty good, but it's with the caveat that it's because it's one of the most straightforward and simple tracks on the album.  Everything else is a weird, incomprehensible mess and it's just not for me.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL: Lamb of God - VII: Sturm und Drang

VII: Turd damning virus

As of now, this is the most current chapter in Lamb of God's ongoing story, and for once we actually have a fairly interesting story behind it.  The short version is that back in 2010, while in the Czech Republic, a 19 year old fan had jumped onstage, apparently something Randy Blythe was decidedly not cool with, and subsequently pushed him off the stage.  This fan unfortunately landed on his head and shortly thereafter found himself in a coma before eventually passing away.  Two years later, when the band returned to Prague on another tour, Randy was arrested for manslaughter.  After spending five weeks in prison, he was released on bail and allowed to return to the states.  Blythe is an international touring artist and needed to keep his name clear so he complied with everything he needed to, returning for his trial and eventually being found morally responsible since he's the one who tossed the guy off the stage, but ultimately not criminally liable since the promoter and venue didn't have adequate security.

So for once, there was some very real drama going on in the public light.  The entire future of the band was in limbo and their public face and founding member was facing a future behind bars for the death of a fan.  Once the dust had settled, the band had obviously undergone some serious trials in the public eye on a scale they had never experienced before.  This aggressive music has always (somewhat paradoxically to the outside observer, admittedly) been something of a safe haven and a place where people can be themselves without judgment, a place to release this pent up frustration in a healthy way, and now the performance of this cathartic release of negative directly resulted in the death of a fan.  That's actually a very morally and philosophically difficult thing to face, and one that should've led to some serious introspection and an interesting examination of what metal even is in the first place.  There should've been some tough questions to face.  Am I just a naturally dangerous person if I could (however accidentally) kill somebody who looked up to me?  Is what I do as harmless as I had always thought?  Am I blameless and this dead teenager really just a recipient of a stupid prize?  Can I really absolve myself of the blame for what happened?  What does this mean for the scene, the band, the fans, and myself?

What we got was Ashes of the Wake for a third time with one super boring Alice in Chains knockoff added in.

Don't get me wrong, there is indeed some introspection and remorse to be found in the lyrics of Sturm und Drang, because Randy is a human being with emotions and not a meatheaded dumbass like he may seem when in performance mode, but musically almost nothing at all has changed since the lazy trash of Resolution.  Almost all ten tracks here (with the notable exception of "Overlord") are just paint-by-numbers Lamb of God that might as well just be D-sides from their most popular album.  I'm sure I would've found this album to be boring as hell even without the manslaughter trial, but it's extra disappointing to see that the band just returned to business as usual when they finally had an external reason to break from their chains a bit.  If nothing else, if the band was going to continue after this, you think they'd be inspired.  But no, instead we once again get another lazy cash-in with startlingly few real ideas.

I'll just get the interesting parts out of the way first.  "Overlord" is a huge departure for the band, ostensibly being an Alice in Chains style grungy ballad rife with hitherto unseen clean vocals and massive heaps of melody.  The problem is that "Overlord" is much more of an interesting track than a good one.  This is really the only risk they bothered taking on Sturm und Drang, and every other slightly left of center idea like the brief talkbox guitar on "Erase This" and the vocal cameos of Chino Moreno (from Deftones) and Greg Puciato (from Dillinger Escape Plan) on "Embers" and "Torches" respectively come off as meaningless gimmicks.  Otherwise this is just the same as the previous album: Ashes of the Wake without the breakdowns.  I need to make it abundantly clear that Ashes was the worst album of the classic era and the breakdowns weren't the fucking problem, it was the intensely boring songs themselves.  If this was an album full of "Laid to Rest" level songs I wouldn't care at all, because that was the one song that truly worked on that album and laid the groundwork for how good the following two albums would be, but instead this is just "One Gun" and "Omerta" nine times but slightly faster and with "Rooster" randomly shoehorned in the middle.  If anything it's even more disappointing because some tracks start off really well, with "Delusion Pandemic" kicking the thrash up to the highest levels they've been in years before falling into the rut of mediocrity that plagues the album, and "Still Echoes" does the same except with some honest to god death metal influence instead.

There isn't really a good place to put this since the lyrics are just kind of not worth mentioning in the first place, but I'll do my due diligence and point out that "512" is the one track explicitly about his experience in prison, and lyrically it does finally touch on those questions of introspective guilt I asked in the preamble, and while the song itself is boring as shit and the vocal performance doesn't really relay any of the emotions in the words apart from the "My hands are painted red" in the outro, I do commend them for at least addressing the elephant in the room.  However, man am I the only one that finds "Footprints" to be in super bad taste?  Maybe I'm just reading too much into it, but it really does feel tone deaf to have a generic song about kicking ass including lines about screaming "get the fuck out" to an unknown figure and defiantly asking "how did you think this would end?!" on an album directly following a high profile instance of you accidentally killing a guy for being in the wrong place while half of your knuckle dragging fans pinned all of the blame on the victim in the first place.  Randy is a very well spoken and intelligent person, but man he's got to be the dumbest smart guy on the planet.

(Also, another random aside, but has anybody else noticed that they frequently seem to reference feet in their song titles ("Footprints", "Foot to the Throat", "Boot Scraper") and every last one of those Footsongs ends up being meaningless filler?  I dunno, just something funny I noticed.)

Maybe I just want this to be something that it's not, and I mean duh, I want every bad album to be good instead, but Sturm und Drang is just a gargantuan disappointment.  Even with the context of the imprisonment and trial being stripped away, this is a clear filler album just put out as an excuse to hit the road again.  I feel like the band was constantly on the cusp of something truly exceptional here, because the good moments are genuinely promising, but they've really brought back their old problem of every song starting much better than it ends, except now the good parts only last for twenty seconds at the beginning of each song instead of at least managing a full two thirds of the runtime before getting dull.  Maybe their formula just doesn't work anymore, but I think the entire point of this series was to show how creative and willing to take risks they used to be (there's a reason I named the series after the debut, that title wound up being pretty prophetic with how influential they became) before just kicking their feet up and coasting on their established popularity.  They put the legwork in early and then just quit giving a shit, and albums like Sturm und Drang are the end result of that.  The new ideas used to form the entire identity of the albums themselves, now they're just superficial coats of paint slapped on to old ideas they seemingly have no intention of updating.

Maybe the new album that will inevitably be announced on the day this review is posted because I have awful timing will prove me wrong, but as of now, the band has been on autopilot for nearly a decade, and I'm just done caring.


Monday, August 19, 2019

NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL: Lamb of God - Resolution

VI: Urine Tools

Hey hey hey, remember way back in the review for As the Palaces Burn when I told y'all to put a pin in a particular line from "Ruin"?  Well here's the payoff to that particularly insufferable brick joke.

"This is the resolution / The end of all progress"

Nine years before Resolution dropped, Lamb of God accidentally prophecized their own downfall, because it should be pretty clear that each album up to this point has been incredibly distinct.  Wrath was the fast one, As the Palaces Burn was the one that laid the foundation for their iconic riffing style, Sacrament was the one with the atmospheric songs, etc.  Resolution here is the first one without a single new idea and instead is just a wholesale rehash of Ashes of the Wake, which was already their worst album anyway.  All of that lazy midpaced trash that sounded like it was written in an afternoon is back here with a vengeance, and even the three good tracks can't save this album from the trash bin.

I don't even have much to say about this album simply because I've already gone over how phoned-in Ashes of the Wake was and this album is pretty much that exact same album a second time.  There are a few good moments here and there, but it's not enough to save it.  "Desolation" sounds like the second coming of "Beating on Death's Door" and as such is a total fucking banger with memorable riffs galore (seriously that chorus riff is one of the more simplistic ones they've ever written but holy shit is it lethal), "Guilty" takes their Pantera-esque groove and injects it with some honest to god death metal influence (parts of it sound like Anata (specifically the main riff sounds like "Shackled to Guilt") and now that I've pointed it out you won't be able to unhear it, you're welcome), and "The Undertow" isn't quite as inspired as the other two but at least sounds like a good version of one of the weak songs on Ashes of the Wake combined with some of Adler's most inventive drumming.  But that's it, those three songs start the album off on one hell of a high note and then we're treated to nine fucking straight up filler tracks.  The previous two albums really made me think they had managed to keep the songwriting consistent enough to avoid their previously crippling filler problem, but no, they were flukes.

I don't even want to keep writing about this, and that's a shame because I chose to highlight this band in a series partially because each album is so different and has such a different mood.  I was dreading this album simply because it's not different at all, and the fact that it's four-fucking-teen tracks long and features a stretch of nine in a row to close the album on total uninspired mediocrity is just icing on the cake.  The sad thing is I'm not even entirely sure that I believe myself when I say it's just a rehash of Ashes, because it starts off with a two and a half minute dirge that's so deep and brutal that it just sounds like straight up doom metal with "Straight for the Sun" (which is actually pretty ballsy considering how fast and aggressive the previous album was), and it's not like "King Me" doesn't at least try to be super epic, "Insurrection" isn't their first and only track to truly flirt with nu metal, and "Barbarosa" isn't a full on acoustic interlude, but all of these new ideas are just so completely drowned by the total groove metal mediocrity of "Visitation", "Invictus", "To the End", "Ghost Walking", "Terminally Unique", etc.  You'd think this would be a total banger since it's front loaded with all the best songs in the first handful of tracks but then it just flops around like a fish out of water with no real identity for the next hour and a half.  The only song that's even half alright in that stretch of lameness is "Cheated" and even then it's only because it's the fastest one.

This is going to be the shortest one in the series because holy shit I just don't care about it.  "Desolation" is a classic track worthy of any setlist but the rest of it (even the other good songs) are just totally skippable and not worth your time.  I'm gonna get lazy and just stop now.  Fuck this nothing-album.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL: Lamb of God - Wrath

V: hr... wat?

I remember when Wrath first dropped in 2009, I actually kind of hated it.  I thought the vocals were  a huge step down from the previous albums with the introduction of weird tuneless yelling in addition to the usually great roars and shrieks and thought most of the album just kinda flew in one ear and out the other.  Nowadays I only hate it because it broke my titling gimmick in this review series.

Yeah, Wrath is actually one hell of an unappreciated highlight in Lamb of God's oeuvre.  I'm gonna find myself paraphrasing MutantClannfear's review a lot because he really nails it, but to distill it down to one sentence: This is the most legitimately pissed off the band has potentially ever sounded and pretty much every song represents the most extreme edges of groove metal with fuckloads of unhinged intensity.  A common criticism of groove metal in general is that the groove riffs never feel earned, like they need to be used to break up fast sections instead of just grooving the whole time because then they lose their punch.  Discounting the fact that this argument kind of accidentally writes off 80% of doom metal wholesale, Lamb of God takes that criticism and smashes it against the wall by making the grooves themselves the fast parts of the album.  This motherfucker rarely slows down, and pretty much every second is crammed full of riffs, more riffs, a surprising amount of melody and solos considering the band we're talking about here, and a few more riffs for good measure.

I'm probably overselling it a bit, but that's because I feel like I have to overcompensate with this album for reasons I'll get to later, but at the same time I don't think I'm wrong about anything I've said in the preceding paragraph.  Tracks like "Set to Fail", "Contractor", and moments of "Dead Seeds" are absolutely fucking batshit in how fast they are (say what you will about Lamb of God, they were never a particularly "fast" band until this moment apart from a few scattered tracks).  "Choke Sermon" actually sounds like a fucking Megadeth song and if you're mentally raising your hand to tell me that's insane, I'd ask you to shove that hand back up the ass it came from.  I think I finally understand why people insisted on calling groove metal "half-thrash" for so many years, because it turns out that simply speeding it up by 50bpm turns it into fuckin' "Ashes in Your Mouth" and that's fucking rad.  This speed also lays to rest that criticism from before, because holy shit does Lamb of God earn the breakdowns and more mid-paced groove sections this time around.  This is exactly what groove metal is supposed to be, and it's good to know that Sacrament was on the right path by finally eschewing the last of the metalcore influences because they've pretty definitively proved that they know how to make straight up groove metal work here.

Wrath is also deceptively dynamic.  At the time I thought it felt kind of stilted, but now, especially after listening to their discography chronologically, the bits like the acoustic intro track, the gorgeous harmonized guitar solo on "Grace", the stuttery stereo-flipping breakdown of followed by the dissonantly atmospheric outro of "Reclamation", the damn near full on extreme metal of "Everything to Nothing", the bludgeoning beatdown in "Fake Messiah", just... everything sounds like the logical conclusion of the creativity they'd been toying with on the previous album.  There're a lot of different ideas here, and they all sound natural (as opposed to the focus-tested calculation of Ashes of the Wake).  Even those vocals on "In Your Words" that I hated ten years ago sound like a daring experiment more than a boneheaded bad idea this time around.

I just want to take a moment here to highlight precisely how awesome "Contractor" is.  This track got a lot of flak from the cliched "true metal" crowd on MA and such when it came out, and now that the dust has been settled for the better part of a decade, it's almost hilarious how badly everyone misjudged this track.  There were all sorts of criticisms thrown at it for the opening whoop-holler and the lyrics being dumbass bro-sturbation about blowing shit up.  But while everybody was busy scratching their heads and pretending not to know what it was about, they all seemed to completely overlook the fact that it was a pretty scathing condemnation of private military forces populated by maladjusted bullies who peaked in high school gleefully turning Iraqi children into paste.  Blackwater even gets fucking mentioned by name I mean holy shit how do you miss the point that hard?  Lamb of God has come a long way from defending the Confederate flag on As the Palaces Burn.  Beyond the lyrics, "Contractor" is one of the tightest and most well written tracks they've ever penned, running in three distinct movements: the opening salvo of aggression and pretty much non-stop machine gun riffing, the exceedingly slow middle section that crushes harder than Giles Corey, and punctuated by the final act of abrupt chaos led in by one of Randy's all time best screams.  Again, maybe it's just the Pantera fan in me, but "Contractor" is almost a beat-by-beat reimagining of "Strength Beyond Strength", aka The Best God Damned Song Pantera Ever Wrote.  If namedropping Pantera just turned you off, I don't know what to tell you.  Grow up, I guess.

As much as I obviously like Wrath, I'll freely admit it isn't perfect.  "Fake Messiah" and "Broken Hands" absolutely repeat way too much and tend to drag, and they'd pretty much instantly ruin the flow of the album if they weren't separated by the astoundingly good "Grace", and "Set to Fail" is really disappointing in starting off with blast beats and a shitload of aggression before morphing into a decent b-side from Ashes of the Wake.  But really these are just nitpicks.  In the grand scheme of things this is a pretty fucking excellent album.  Every single member (barring bassist John Campbell, who from day one has always been an almost hilariously inconsequential non-entity when it comes to their sound) is on top of their game and all but a few songs are total knockouts.  I love Wrath and you should too, this is everything that "open minded" metal fans claim groove metal should be.

I want to close by scratching an itch here, and that's that you might've noticed several reviews voicing bewilderment/curiosity at this album's comparatively low score on MA compared to everything else they'd done (it's been balanced somewhat over time but the reviews stay forever).  For those of you who weren't here ten years ago, you may have missed the total flogging that the "Contractor" single got, and almost every criticism against it was bad faith nonsense from people who had no intention of giving the thing a critical listen in the first place.  I don't like to flat out accuse my compatriots of acting in bad faith, but when every single review feels it important to point out the squeal in the intro and constantly refer to that first riff as "chugging" or "mallcore" or "just fast palm muted chugging punctuated by random powerchords" which is exactly what a thrash riff is by the way then I just can't help but hop on my soapbox and yell about the flagrant misrepresentation.  Hyper fast palm mutes have never in the history of metal been referred to as "chugging" until that moment, and it was entirely because Lamb of God used a shitload of chug riffs on the albums leading up to this one.  So yeah, between the review-bombing and the vocal hatred on the forums, it became a weird fad to rip on that track, and when the album dropped in full, a lot of that misrepresented vitriol just kinda carried over onto Wrath itself.  I get it, Lamb of God isn't for everybody, but if you're curious about this album and would rather read some reviews before listening for yourself, I feel confident in saying you should disregard everything up until like 2011 when shit finally blew over.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL: Lamb of God - Sacrament

IV: Ant Scream

For a long time, I had considered Sacrament to be my unequivocal favorite Lamb of God album.  Time has softened it somewhat, but I'll spoil the ending a bit and say that this is probably the only album besides the debut where the non-single tracks feel less like filler and more like deep cuts, and that alone puts this a few pedestals higher than the snorefest that was Ashes of the Wake.

I think the thing that stands out the most about Sacrament is that this actually marked a pretty daring departure from the last two albums.  As the Palaces Burn and Ashes of the Wake were very similar albums, and while Sacrament certainly sticks close to a proven formula on certain tracks, they really did branch out and try a lot of new things with this one.  For example, for a band that had made it a habit to always open on something explosive and hard hitting, it was actually pretty ballsy to kick this album off with "Walk with Me in Hell", a starkly atmospheric and relatively slow track that even throws some subtle synths in the intro.  And then to follow it up with "Again We Rise", an oddly anthemic song that works so much better as a live singalong than the fucking embarrassment that was "Now You've Got Something to Die For", that tells me that they were making a statement with this record, and dammit I think they made it quite well.  They weren't going to stick with the formula like they did last time, and that's an ethos they stick with throughout the entire album.

That's not to say they never go back to the previous sound, because they definitely do on tracks like "Pathetic", "Foot to the Throat", and "More Time to Kill", and it's probably not a coincidence that the latter two songs there are two of the only true filler songs (the other being "Requiem", which takes the slightly more atmsopheric bent of "Again We Rise" but is simply less good).  This is probably the album where Lamb of God took the most risks while at the same time being the most accessible they'll ever be.  This is because at this point the metalcore element of their sound is almost totally gone apart from the odd breakdown here and there, instead replaced entirely with Pantera-esque groove.  I know that's a turnoff for a lot of metal fans, but I happen to think Pantera is great and as a result I think this album is pretty good as well.  "Redneck" is probably the best example of this, being the big "hit single" from this album and sounding like a lost session from The Great Southern Trendkill.  It's simultaneously very fast and groovy as hell, and turns into an extremely catchy song that's easy enough to be found on the radio but heavy enough to scare off most non-metal fans.  It's probably the weakest non-filler song on the album but it's still a lot of fun to caveman out to.  Pure knuckle dragging idiocy that I can't help but adore in its sincerity.

It's been a while since I've seen it, but certain editions of this album came with a bonus DVD detailing the making of this album, and due to that I've actually been waiting for the band to finally break up for a long time.  I know the Killadelphia DVD is more infamous for it showing how volatile the band was behind the scenes, with the unforgettable sequence of Randy Blythe picking a fight with Mark Morton while drunk off his ass and promptly getting his lights punched out, but the making of DVD included with Sacrament showed a much sadder side of the band.  After the infamous beatdown, Randy actually swore off alcohol and to my knowledge has been sober ever since (this is actually the lyrical subject of "Pathetic", if you were curious), and his newfound sobriety seemed to hang something of a dark cloud over the band, where absolutely nobody seemed interested in the recording process of this one.  The way the band wrote albums (at least back then) was for everybody to write a handful of songs on their own and then bring them into the studio already finished, where the rest of the guys would learn them and they'd collectively choose the best ones for the album.  This led to an environment where seemingly nobody was engaged with the whole process and turned a naturally organic process like songwriting into an individual exercise to later be culled via a band vote.  I recall them not being particularly receptive to Mark's contributions, because he's the guy who listens to the most non-metal when he's not working with the band and it apparently leaked into his songwriting.  There was some intense debate over whether or not to include one of his songs because they claimed it was a rock song and nobody wanted to hear a rock song plopped in the middle of a metal album.  Ultimately the song was included, and I can't remember which song it was.  It was either "Descending" or "Blacken the Cursed Sun" and both of them follow the lead of "Walk with Me in Hell" so I really have no idea what it is they objected to so much.  The guys were so focused on picking each others nits that they started to say bizarre nonsense that threatened to undermine the very creativity that makes this album so enjoyable.

For better or worse (better, at this point), the band trucked through these disagreements and delivered a solid album with way more ideas than your average Lamb of God album.  From the atmospheric elements of "Walk with Me in Hell" and "Blacken the Cursed Sun", to the new inclusion of several booming clean vocals, to the pure Pantera worship of "Redneck", to the high speed thrash influence of "Forgotten (Lost Angels)" and "Beating on Death's Door", to returning to the old formula and basically writing "The Faded Line" but actually good this time with "Pathetic", there's a lot to like here and I'm very impressed with what they were willing to experiment with here.  Even if the core sound is largely unchanged apart from fewer breakdowns and melodeath riffs, there are a lot of peripheral risks that make this one of their most interesting albums.  Despite being their most varied album, Sacrament is actually pretty hard to talk about because all I can think to do is point to a random track and say what different thing they tried to do, and I've exhausted that avenue already, so I'll just wrap this up now.

Sacrament is good, and easily the best of their "classic" trilogy that encompasses this and the previous two albums.  "Beating on Death's Door" is easily their most underappreciated song and "Lost Angels" isn't too far behind.  It was never their bread and butter, but when they just kick the tempo into high gear and border on thrash as much as they can, they can really strike gold.  "Foot to the Throat", "Requiem" and "More Time to Kill" are the token filler tracks, but that just means this album has nine good songs instead of two, and I'd say that's a pretty fucking huge improvement from its predecessor.


Friday, August 16, 2019

NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL: Lamb of God - Ashes of the Wake

III: Oak Fest Heehaws

I can remember the exact moment the curtain was peeled back on Lamb of God for me.  It was during the brief period I was in a real band when I was in high school, sometime around 2006.  We decided we should learn a cover or two in addition to writing originals just to kind of help us gel as players together, and we decided on Lamb of God's "Hourglass" among a few others.  We all went home to learn our respective parts, and at the next band practice we all announced pretty much in unison "Man, did anyone else not realize before how fucking boring that song is?"  Yeah it turns out that once you strip the drums away (which are always the most impressive part of any given Lamb of God track), the riffs themselves are just fucking dull as hell and completely mind numbing to play, and "Hourglass" is a great representative for such a phenomenon.  I think we all decided on that song initially because that riff about one minute into the song is fucking devastating, but after that glorious twenty seconds, the guitars and bass basically just play straight eighth notes at one tempo for the next three solid minutes and not a single one of us ever wanted to play it again.

Now, obviously I still liked Lamb of God after this moment (as you'll see as the series continues), but it really does highlight one of the biggest problems with Ashes of the Wake.  While it may be their most popular album by a pretty huge margin and is considered a high watermark for the scene, it is boring as shit once you pay attention medium-hard.  In fact this is the one I'm probably most dreading writing about simply because I fucking hate listening to it.

The band was already well popular by this point, but this really sees the band on autopilot, which might sound odd considering it's their most iconic album and features their most popular song, but it's true.  That inspired ferocity of New American Gospel is pretty much entirely gone at this point, replaced with a very calculated sense of obligation.  Almost all of these riffs sound focus tested to an extreme degree.  Whenever it sounds like they're about to really break out into some sort of unhinged aggression, it steps back and starts plodding with super pedestrian groove riffs.  "The Faded Line" is a great example of this, with that neat zippy guitar line right before the chorus barges in and starts stinking up the joint with an uninspired In Flames knockoff riff.  The title track does this as well, with that pure thrash riff that starts up about a minute into the song (what is up with this album and the good riffs starting at the one minute mark and never showing up again?) is absolutely fucking explosive but finds itself bookended by phoned-in nonsense and a really piddly atmospheric section.  "Ashes of the Wake" has potential to be the best song in general since it's loaded with solos (something the band tends to eschew) and contains the best riff on the album, but as it stands its really bloated and faffs about with no real direction far too often, especially in the slower middle section.

It's hard to really describe the problems with the album outside of just calling it phoned-in or half-assed, because that's really all it is.  It's the exact same type of riff structure and songwriting flow that made the good songs on As the Palaces Burn work so well, but apart from a few scattered tracks they all just sound like they were written in an afternoon in a quick attempt to cash in on the success of the previous album (it did come out a mere 15 months later, and it's not like they didn't tour in support of that previous album).  I mean holy shit listen to "Omerta", it's a five minute track that feels like fifteen because it's just mid paced plodding that never gets to the god damned point.  It's also one of the oddly several tracks with spoken word segments, which always feel like pointless add-ons that Randy couldn't be bothered to growl properly.  The opening of "Omerta" is the most egregious since it's completely a capella and even structures the words themselves in such a way that they rob themselves of dramatic tension.  That's such a weird thing to call out, but there's a reason he flips the "If I live, I will kill you, if I die, you are forgiven" part when they play this song live.

The good songs are easy to point out, because there's only really two of them.  I'll give a little bit of credit to "Blood of the Scribe" for having a good amount of adrenaline in it for a few moments, but it mostly falls into the same trap as "Hourglass" where it starts off way better than it ends (the exact opposite problem of what they suffered on the previous album), but it's really not a contest when it comes to what the best songs are.  "Break You" and "Laid to Rest" absolutely tear the rest of this album to shreds, without fucking question.  The former sounds like a lost session from As the Palaces Burn with how frenetic it is, and it's such a welcome feature for pretty much every aspect to shift as often as it does since the rest of the album is so pedestrian and samey.  The tempo is constantly fluctuating up to some of the album's highest speeds, the riffs are positively thrashy at times (this isn't usually their strength, but on this album almost all of the best riffs sound like lost thrash riffs) and Randy utilizes his higher register much more often on this one than any other track.

But really, I'm dancing around the elephant in the room here.  "Laid to Rest" is the band's signature song, the one that found itself on Guitar Hero II, the one they are guaranteed to play at every single show (I saw them like eight times between 2006-2010 and they opened with it every damn time), and holy shit did it earn that distinction.  You'd think Ashes of the Wake was going to be this massive fucking statement based on how monstrously huge the opening track is, because god damn is "Laid to Rest" a fucking statement.  Every single riff is devastating, the song is built in such a way that it just keeps pummeling you over and over again, the chorus is gorgeously destructive, even the "SEE WHO GIVES A FUCK" part is so corny that it loops around to being endearing.  Even the breakdown fucking kills, which is impressive because this album is so loaded with lazy-ass open-string chug breakdowns that feel thrown in as an obligation.  And when it ends and the chorus riff comes charging back in underneath a fifteen second scream?  Just god damn I break my oath to the Volcel Police every time.  The whole song is fucking excellent and is pretty much the anthem for this nebulous "New Wave of American Heavy Metal" that was sweeping the nation at the time.  This is the song that every God Forbid and Shadows Fall wished they had written.

Again, there's really no place to put this, but it's worth mentioning that they definitely got the production right on this one.  Instead of the mix being a muddy slush of excess gain that sounds like it was recorded on a cell phone, Ashes of the Wake is exactly as tight and heavy as the songs themselves.  As far as I'm concerned this album has two true claims to fame despite all of the lazy bullshit on it: "Laid to Rest" is an awesome song and at least they got the production right this time.  I'm never going to bring up the production again because every single album from here on out sounds exactly like this one.

And yet, Ashes of the Wake drops the ball super quickly afterwards because it's almost nothing but lameass filler from the second track until the end.  I didn't even point out how much "Now You've Got Something to Die For" sucks, but it really needs to be mentioned that it truly does suck.  What a lazy and uninspired excuse for a crowd singalong.  The day they retire it from the setlist is the day I'll consider paying money to see them live again.  The few scattered moments of excellence that pop up in "Blood of the Scribe" and the title track plus the lone other good-the-whole-time track, "Break You", just can't overcome the lazy weakness of the rest of the album.  Lamb of God cemented their legacy on this album, but it's a shame because god damn this is their first truly bad one.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL: Lamb of God - As the Palaces Burn

II: Unescapable Trash

Before I say anything else, can I just say that "Ruin", despite being one of the band's better songs, is a really shitty opening track?  Man it just doesn't give off the feeling of an opening track.  Sure it sets the tone for the album, but it starts off with its weakest riff, neither easing the listener into the experience nor smashing them in the face at full force.  It just immediately smacks you with a really lazy and mediocre riff and that's just a terrible way to start things off, even if the song gets continually better as it goes, featuring one of their extremely rare (at the time) guitar solos and one of the fastest breakdowns in the genre.  And hey, the "chorus" section is startlingly catchy as well.  Keep an eye out for that part and specifically the line "This is the resolution / The end of all progress".  Put a pin in those nine words, they're going to be very important later.

Anyway, As the Palaces Burn is Lamb of God's second album, and is very clearly the album where they found their niche.  I love New American Gospel, but I'd never pinpoint it as a starting point for somebody who wants to understand what the band is all about.  Their debut is a mess of sloppy noise that accidentally coalesced into a devastating monument to modern brutality, but it was As the Palaces Burn where everything truly came into form.  This is the album where the Pantera-isms came to the forefront, where their own distinctive riffing style blossomed, where the songwriting started becoming more "normal" and less of a winding stream of consciousness, where Randy's vocals took on that deeper register they're most known for, it all truly started here.  What makes this special as opposed to "just another Lamb of God album" isn't necessarily that it all started here, it's that it's just unrefined enough to still sound like a young band coming into their own.  There's a sort of charm to that.

I struggle to explain exactly what I mean when I mention their distinctive riffing style, simply because I'm not a guitar player and I don't understand music theory beyond the most basic idea of what an accidental is, but there's a very specific key or scale that they seem to always use.  It's very prevalent in the opening riff to "11th Hour".  In fact, almost the entire remainder of their career is foreshadowed in "11th Hour".  Anybody who understands what the fuck a diminished phyrgian locrian hullabaloobian scale means, please tell me what the fuck it is that Lamb of God is always playing in.  They seem to have a very specific scale that is instantly recognizable but I lack the technical term for it and it's been driving me crazy for decades.

One of the most notable flaws of the band that truly begins here, that will (spoilers) absolutely become their achilles heel in the future, is that they very quickly morphed into a "hit single" type band.  That manic consistency of the debut is wholly gone here.  I don't know exactly how calculated it is, but from here on out it becomes very clear that each album will have two or three excellent standouts and then a bunch of filler.  As the Palaces Burn tends to fare a bit better than some of their future works, but there's no denying that half of this album is a total bore, and those five meaningless tracks are all right in a row.  "Ruin" opens the album on something of a whimper but it picks up a hell of a lot of kinetic energy, establishes their talent for hooks, and culminates with an absolutely devastating breakdown that seems to fly past at 200+bpm.  It's followed up by the title track and "Purified", two of their most underappreciated songs.  The former is a total barnburner, wasting zero time with intros or buildup and opens with a hockey stick to the teeth, and "Purified" stands as their thrashiest song without a doubt (it even has a guest solo courtesy of Chris Poland).  That verse riff still decimates me, and the intensity is maintained throughout.  "11th Hour" is the worst of the good songs, but it's still solid enough.  It's very much in line with what The Haunted was doing at the time, with a very meaty dose of Pantera-esque groove.  Chris keeps the intensity high with his frantic drumming, but this is the track that knocks the tempo down a few pegs from the blistering triad at the start and it never really recovers.  This is clearly meant to be a more atmospheric and melodic take on that pissed off early 2000s metalcore that they championed on the first few tracks, and while it never goes into the overtly theatrical shit that Killswitch Engage did, they're obviously doing something very different here.  The track is saved from the weak chorus with the dumb *dweeuhnuh DWEAOWHNUH* guitar line by the back half which brings back some of that cataclsymic heaviness showcased in the back half of "Ruin".

Then the next five tracks happen.  From "For Your Malice" to "Blood Junkie", you just get "11th Hour" five more times and it gets real tiring real fast.  I've been a fan of this album for like fifteen years and I still can't differentiate any of those songs between each other.  There's a reason the only tracks that get trotted out live are the first handful and the closer, because this entire middle stretch is just filler in its most cynical form.  I can only imagine that the guys wrote "11th Hour" first and then decided that they really liked it, probably got a good reaction when they played it to friends or at shows before the album was done or something, and just figured it'd be safe to keep doing that song forever.  Even the fast moments on "Boot Scraper" and such feel mid paced and sluggish, not even Adler's spastic drumming can keep them interesting as a whole (instead he's the only interesting component of them).  I can say this is probably the first time the lyrics themselves are worth noting though.  I haven't really brought them up before because they're kinda inconsequential and just an excuse for Randy to make crazy mouth sounds since he still wasn't really enunciating his words at this point, but in a desperate search to find anything cool about this stretch of boredom I did discover that "In Defense of Our Good Name" contains some weirdly icky shit about southern pride and how slavery was bad but we should probably stop holding it against the people who for some odd reason can't seem to let go of the Confederacy.  Nah, I know you guys are from Virginia and all, but don't be proud of that particular part of your heritage.  Keep singing about how humanity is shit and the church is a lie, leave the socially conscious lyrics elsewhere.  You really suck at picking your targets apparently.

I did a quasi-track by track thing up there because it's really worth noting how quickly the album dips after the fourth track, but it's not a total split.  I mentioned the closer up there for good reason.  "Vigil" is, potentially, their best song throughout their discography.  They (probably not coincidentally) closed their first two albums with their slowest tracks, showcasing riffs that landed on some middle ground between Sabbath and Obituary, and of the tracks that take this approach, "Vigil" is clearly the better one.  The acoustic intro is a new thing for them, and it's capable of tearing the roof off any establishment once that monstrous doom riff (and yeah, it's a legitimately punishing doom riff instead of simply slower metalcore like they often are in the slower sections) smashes in.  I'm sure you've probably noticed that I've been praising "the back half" of songs pretty often, and that's no accident.  At this point in time, Lamb of God was very good at picking up steam as they went, with each new riff building upon a previous one until the resulting katamari steamrolled the listener with alarming lethality.  "Vigil" becomes positively fucking feral in final two minutes, throwing back to the total chaos of New American Gospel.

There really wasn't a good place to put this other than as a tacked on addendum at the end here, but As the Palaces Burn has another glaring flaw apart from the five track stretch of mediocrity, and that's that the production is bafflingly terrible.  Between this and Metallica, 2003 really must've just been the year of bewilderingly bad production jobs from people that absolutely should've known better.  This was produced by Devin Townsend of all people, somebody who clearly knows how to make metal sound good, but for whatever reason, either at his behest or the band's, As the Palaces Burn sounds like a low quality secondhand dub.  I can only assume what they were going for here was a sound that could be described as "raw", but man there's a really clear difference between the raw sound on New American Gospel where it was coupled with raw and unsifted songs, and the much more calculated and finely tuned riffwork here being completely butchered by talented people trying to make it sound shitty on purpose.  This is one of the few modern metal albums where I really think it's worthwhile to just skip the original product and get the remastered version they released for the 10th anniversary, it's at least a thousand times better considering the tightness of the songs themselves.

At the end of the day, As the Palaces Burn is a mixed bag.  It has some bona fide scorchers with tracks like "Purified" and "Ruin" and even some genuine outside-the-box creativity for the band in "Vigil".  But the atrocious mix and at least five and a half songs of indisputable filler on a ten track album makes it a bit of a hard sell.  It still ends with a positive score because the good tracks are definitely worth listening to (the good half of the album are all live staples for a reason) and it's noteworthy for being the album where Lamb of God truly started forging their own identity in the burgeoning metalcore scene, but I'd be lying through my teeth if I said it wasn't massively flawed.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL: Lamb of God - New American Gospel

I: Leering Spacewoman

I have something of a proclivity for review series, y'all know that.  I've run through quite a few and have even started a few that I haven't bothered to finish across like ten years.  Usually when I do a discography-focused one, it's because I have some sort of intimate connection with the band, and Lamb of God is no exception, though it's for slightly different reasons than you may expect.  Just like with Mastodon, I was a really big fan in high school, but if anybody has been able to pick up/remember my age, I was in high school during the boom of Myspace bands and the eventual domination metalcore and deathcore in the American metal scene.

And I hated all of it.

I originally had like three more paragraphs detailing my journey to discovering that being a teenage elitist that only liked classic bands and instantly despised anything that had harsh vocals or lacked solos was stupid and arbitrarily restrictive, but I realized that it dragged a lot and wasn't really important in the end.  Just know that Lamb of God was the band to break that prejudice for me.  For many people my age, they were their first "extreme" band.  I wouldn't go quite that far for me since I did already like Slayer and Kreator's work in the 80s, but they were probably the first distinctly "modern" band that I really liked, and certainly the first in that loose collection of metalcore-tinged bands that was being called the New Wave of American Heavy Metal at the time.  And now, in 2019, with Chris Adler formally resigning from the band and breaking their 20 year streak of stability (two decades with the original lineup is one hell of a feat), I think it's high time to take a look back and see how they've held up, and to simply chronicle their journey throughout their time in the limelight.

And no, I'm not starting with Burn the Priest because I've only listened to the album released under that name like twice in my life.  Maybe I'll make it a bonus chapter or something.

Lamb of God first broke onto the scene in 2000 with this, New American Gospel, an arguably ambitious title because whether they knew it or not, they were right on the cusp of ushering in an entirely new era of heavy music for the country.  Despite that, New American Gospel is really unique in their discography because, unless this is your first exposure to the band, this is clearly very different from the sound they'd become known for in the near future.  In essence, this album pulls double duty being both the first Lamb of God album and effectively the second Burn the Priest album.

At this point in time, Lamb of God was still a very chaotic band.  That's not to say this is really spazzy and technical, because it's not, but this is by far the most anarchic and least structured album of their career.  At almost no point does the band sound like they really know what they're doing, and frankly that's the entire appeal to me.  This is the sound of a relatively young band (though everybody barring Willie Adler, the "baby" of the band being a few years younger than the rest, were all in their late 20s at the time) just flying by the seat of their pants and figuring shit out as they went.  There are obviously moments of well crafted songwriting like the iconic buildup in "Black Label" or the intro of "The Subtle Arts of Murder and Persuasion", but on tracks like "A Warning", "In the Absence of the Sacred", and especially "Confessional" they sound absolutely fucking unhinged.  There is a shitload of hardcore influence on here, and I don't mean the same kind of hardcore influence that many of their contemporaries in the As I Lay Dying or Killswitch Engage camps were showcasing.  This is less about calculated dropped-string open chugs and more about sheer chaotic noise.  It would be misleading to say that specific type of chuggy breakdown never appears here, it's pretty common actually, but the songs aren't built around them.  Instead everything feels like it happens by accident.  This is a very organic album that drowns itself in agony and frustration, with the drums lashing out in violent tantrums at seemingly random times underneath discordant and damn near unlistenable wailing riffs.

That might sound like I'm knocking the album, but I'm really not.  This is going to be an insane comparison, but bear with me: I view New American Gospel similarly to how I view Ulver's Nattens Madrigal.  I know they're very different albums, but they have a common thread between them in that they're nigh unlistenable masterpieces.  This album is, objectively speaking, a fucking mess.  It's a structureless mishmash of disconnected riffs and drums that are far more technical than any of the other instruments, which seem content to take quasi Pantera-esque groove and inject them with massive doses of speed and dissonance.  The typical verse-chorus structure is nowhere to be found here, with each song instead ebbing and flowing with its own self contained energy.  This is said with the benefit of hindsight, but considering where the band would go from here, this became an excellent monument to weirdness within their discography pretty quickly.  This is a very loose album, for sure.  The one thing holding everything together is Chris Adler's drum performance, which is comparatively extremely tight and paradoxically technical.  He throws in little triplet fills all over the place and manages to tie the room together despite being one of the most chaotic elements of the band in a vacuum.  I'm sure if you could hear isolated drum tracks somehow, it'd be almost impossible to tell which track you're listening to, he's all over the god damned place.

But really, there's an elephant in the room here, and it's time to address it.  Randy Blythe's vocals on this are wildly different from what he'd rise to prominence with... and they're actually the best part of the album.  Whereas every album after this he'd feature a very deep roar/shout (more in line with his almost hilariously bassy speaking voice, seriously he talks like fucking Xerxes in 300) on the debut here he features a piercing shriek almost exclusively.  Even when he goes deep, he sounds like he's wailing and/or vomiting.  It's almost black metal-esque in approach, though it's probably more accurate to compare it to the more emotionally brutal hardcore bands of the 90s.  He sounds like a mix of a choking leopard and Chewbacca trying to lose weight for the prom.  This vocal performance is really what I think makes New American Gospel so special, because it recontextualizes all of the nasty riffage into something positively ugly.  Despite the nearly endless praise I've given this album, it's honestly really hard to listen to, and Randy is a big reason why.  Everything is so painful and raw, like he's tearing his own heart out and bleeding all over the floor with each line.  It's well known that he was a bona fide semi-functioning alcoholic for most of the band's early era, and it's also well known that he was absolutely fucking hammered when recording this album.  From what I understand, he recorded all of his vocal tracks in one day, drunk off his gourd, with no breaks.  "Black Label" is famous for having only four real words followed by a bunch of random scat noises that they tried to fit lyrics to afterwards.  "Letter to the Unborn" is also pretty infamous for the lyrics being unknown apart from fan guesses thanks to the band refusing to publish them since they were so personal (though it's known that it's about Randy and his wife at the time suffering a miscarriage).  It adds so much to that aforementioned raw ugliness of the record, Randy being pissed to his eyes during recording and just being super broken and vulnerable at the time.  You don't get that sort of open passion every day, and they never managed to recreate it.

Overall, despite being a tough listen featuring ten tracks of seemingly random screeching noises, I'd actually almost be willing to lay my chips down as this being my favorite Lamb of God album based solely on its consistency.  There are no real dips in quality here apart from maaaaybe "Pariah" and "The Black Dahlia" being kinda inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, though the former has an absolutely blistering climax.  The groove element that would soon become their bread and butter is here, but it's somewhat hidden underneath layers and layers of screaming madness.  "Black Label" has it in spades and "O.D.H.G.A.B.F.E" is presented as an almost Sabbathy dirge of doom riffs, but upon further examination it's just slower groove riffs.  Either way, New American Gospel is the biggest black sheep in their discography, in part because it's stylistically closer to their Burn the Priest era than anything else, and ergo is indisputably their most intense record, replete with thrashy discordant hardcore and arguably grindcore influenced blasts of ferocity.  It's admittedly a hard listen, with an aversion to catchiness and a severely undercooked production underneath a wailing vocal performance.  Honestly though?  I wouldn't change a single thing about this album.  It's an accidental masterpiece, pure lightning in a bottle that they never came close to recapturing.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Hive - Most Vicious Animal

Too heavy to exist

Let's just do an easy one here.  Hive is a Minneapolis based hardcore band that just fucking steamrolls you for thirty straight minutes with absolutely fucking brutal crust/d-beat insanity.  The guitar tone is monstrously heavy, and as a result there's some deceptive influence from the old Swedeath bands of yore (they were never shy about their punk influence, after all), but this is pretty straight Entombedcore of the more hardcore variety.

Though I may be primarily a metal blog, this shouldn't be taken as a bad thing.  Hive is fucking gargantuan, and I like them for the same reason I liked Enabler so much.  I realize that any wayward fan of this style of music who might stumble on this review might be pulling their hair out at me comparing them to Swedish death metal and a relatively flash-in-the-pan band from a few years ago who disbanded in shame after it came out that the frontman was an abusive rapist, but I think half the fun of exploring genres you're unfamiliar with is connecting dots as an outsider that longtime scene veterans will totally miss.  Like yeah, Hive is 100% part of the punk scene and has basically zero connection to metal itself, so it'd make way more sense to compare them to His Hero is Gone or Anti Cimex or Wolfbrigade or something, but the concept of punk that was so fucking heavy that I couldn't even comprehend it as something punk was something totally foreign to me until comparatively recently.  So I'll catch myself using quasi-imaginary terms and scenes like "Entombedcore" to describe something that has so much more in common with The Plot Sickens than Left Hand Path, but I think it can be helpful in order to sort of help this style make sense to people like me who do come from a background of dirty headbanging as opposed to politically charged punk rock played at double speed and tuned three or four steps lower than what most of us think punk is.  I don't even know what I'm talking about right now, but I guess what I'm saying is that Hive probably sounds like another band in a flood of hundreds to people familiar with the scene they belong to, but for an outside interloper like me, I can describe it as a blend between Carnage and Discharge and it'll make exactly as much sense, only viewed from a different lens.

So with all of that rambling out of the way, the actual meat of the review is going to be very short, because I should've made it clear by now that Most Vicious Animal is rooted in a scene I'm only peripherally familiar with.  From the metalhead perspective, I can best describe this as "Discharge but way heavier and meaner with a Dismember-esque guitar tone blended with some of the slower parts of early Nails records".  So what we get is twelve tracks, and like nine of them are comprised almost entirely of short bursts of aggression and d-beats with a handful of longer tracks that turn the pace down and replace the speed with sheer fucking brutality.  "Deceiving Days" is one of these slower ones and it's also easily my favorite song on the record (probably entirely because it's the most metal-adjacent track with those monstrously heavy grooves).  Overall though, those gratuitously heavy chugs that spring up from time to time are used as complements to the abrasive crust punk that populates most of the record, and the whole package winds up being wildly appealing to metalheads like me and at the end of the day that's all I can really say.  This bridges a gap between two fandoms, and there are oodles of bands that do that, I know, but just like how Enabler was a random band that introduced me to a style that I didn't really explore at the time, Hive simply has the advantage of cosmic luck on their side in being one of the first bands I really gave a whole lot of time to in the style.

I'm spending too much time trying to justify why I'm even covering this, when the answer is truly as simple as "This fucking rules and you should just go buy it right now".


Thursday, August 8, 2019


I have so many fuckin' releases I've been sitting on.  Let's just do this.

Frust - Recurring Dreams 
This Austrian one-man project has been sitting as the "One I'll do next, for real" for months now, and I keep passing it up to write about other stuff.  It's not because it's bad or anything, it's perfectly fine actually, but like most Dreg Drainers, I just struggled to really think of anything to say about it.  This is labeled as "post-black" metal but it's really not in the conventional sense.  Instead of long, expansive, winding tracks with loads of atmosphere, this is just kind of the God is an Astronaut of black metal.  What I mean is that GIAA is post rock condensed into digestible 4 minute songs, and Frust isn't much different.  There's plenty of shifting between cold harshness and ethereal clean guitars, but it tends to keep the percussion pretty busy and all of the songs are rather short, with the average length (barring the nearly eight minute closer) probably landing just short of four minutes.  The blasts of aggression are actually god damned vicious despite the guitars being very buzzy, and the more atmospheric clean parts tend to sound more tribalistic than anything else.  It's pretty busy, all told, and it works very well as a slightly different take on the style.

Deceitome - Flux of Ruin 
This is basically just old school death metal with no frills and no new ideas.  Bands like this are a dime a dozen nowadays and I really don't see any reason to hold Deceitome in higher regard than any other random extreme metal band.  It's cool to get another band from a less renowned country (Estonia this time) but this is just a short EP full of Entombed style riffs and tone with a very direct approach despite the occasional Immolation-esque twisty riff.  "First Cause, Funeral Rites" stands out a bit for the constant tempo shifts keeping everything properly disorienting and chaotic, but man I've heard so many no-name disorienting and chaotic death metal bands in the last several years that I'm not going to be able to remember a damn note as soon as I move on to the next album here.  I probably sound like I'm just writing this off, and that's not exactly fair, because this is perfectly good for what it does, but holy shit the fact that the scene is still content to churn out album after album of this exact same sound is so fucking tiring at this point and I can't believe we're still doing this with no intention of trying something vaguely new.

Chine - Like Vultures
The world doesn't need any more Swedish melodeath, but Chine is actually a pretty fun addition to the saturated scene simply because they have a bit of a playful bounce to their riffs despite eschewing the typical Gothenburg sound.  The whole "midpaced non-riffs with Iron Maiden melodies" thing never shows up here, instead taking a more typical (albeit digestible) death metal approach and filtering it through something bit more on the poppy side.  The main riff in "The Scavenging Elite" is so fucking infectious despite its braindead simplicity that I've found myself returning to this EP more often than I probably should have.  Hell, "A Line in the Dirt" almost sounds like a logical midpoint between Slipknot and Meshuggah and it's still a raucous good time.  This is dumb, stupid, idiotic caveman metal with very little of the savagery that implies (like Jungle Rot or something) and instead just feels like dumbass bro-metal with a little extra bite.  So I can't necessarily say I recommend this for fans of dirty death metal like the previous entry, but I can't help but be charmed by the devil-may-care attitude of this stuff, so I find myself enjoying it.  It does have an issue with all four tracks being fairly similar (even down to the runtimes) so I can't necessarily say this shows a lot of promise in the songwriting department either, but it's a fun little romp and I don't dislike it.

Widow's Peak - Graceless 
A big chunk of this DTD feature is going to be short demos and EPs, if you haven't realized already, and these Canadian techmeisters are no exception.  Graceless is another short debut six-tracker, and this one is very much in line with the sensory overload twenty-riffs-per-minute tech death that was all the rage ten years ago.  This is very much reminiscent of Hour of Penance, Archspire, or Decrepit Birth, all of which are great bands, but Widow's Peak here just feels like an imitator to a throne.  Right now, everybody knows Archspire are the tech kings ever since Origin fell off, and this is the kind of usurper that shows up and declares their intentions five seconds before being pancaked with a cartoonishly large mallet.  These guys aren't bad by any means, but like many others in the style, they're just one of many and don't really stand out for any reason.  It's hard to explain what makes the best bands in the tech death niche so good, but Widow's Peak is right on the cusp of whatever that intangible is.  A track like "Headless" has some excellent groove thrown in there and that makes it stand out as the highlight, but most of it is just incessant blasting and riffs that might be great but are so thoroughly buried underneath a deluge of cymbal crashes and vocals that never shut the fuck up that you'll never really hear them.  A wise man once said "Nobody listens to Dying Fetus for the tech parts", and Graceless is pretty much twenty solid minutes of Dying Fetus tech parts.  There's potential here, but right now it's a bunch of sound and fury and they really need to step it up if they're ever going to carve out a real foothold in this mountain they're trying to scale.

Reptilium - Conspiranoic 
Man what is up with all this conspiracy themed shit I've gotten this year? Backstabber, Kremlin, a few others I haven't mentioned yet, and now Reptilium from Ecuador.  I don't even know what else there is to say about this, it's just cookie cutter BDM with djenty guitars and guttural growls and pretty much nothing else worthwhile.  What makes this one bad instead of simply forgettable is that the riffs themselves are all just boring as shit.  It's just non stop chugs the entire time.  And it's not like it's slam where that's kind of the appeal, there's obviously an attempt to be more techy and high minded through the manic drumming and non stop vocals, but the riffs themselves, the very basis of what metal is in the first place, is just lame and unimaginative.  It reminds me of my first car, just chugging along for a few minutes before breaking down.  It's actually at this point in writing that I realize that simply calling this brutal death metal is something of a misnomer, because the super djenty guitar tones and frequent breakdowns actually makes this closer to deathcore than anything else.  All of the tropes are here, from the unenunciated gurgly vocals to the frequent drops and breakdowns and slams, it's just flat and stupid and static and not enjoyable.  This particular style doesn't have to be particularly dynamic of course, but this particular release is just plagued with very samey sounding songs (by the third track I'd already counted at least four or five times the band dropped out entirely to let a vocal line finish before being followed up by a massive slam).  I suppose this is just a logical midpoint between slam and deathcore, and I know plenty of people who adore this niche, but man I just can't stomach this unimaginative dreck.  Even at only fifteen minutes long this is too much for me to handle.

Hellraiser - Heritage 
Alright let's shift gears for a bit, because that's several short releases from extreme bands in a row.  Let's look at some more traditional stuff out of Italy.  Now we all know what Italian power metal sounds like, but I'm actually going to cut Hellraiser some slack here because they don't even have a keyboard player, which is like the white fucking whale of this scene.  So yeah, this doesn't rely on any crutches that bands of this ilk often rely on like flashy keyboards or overblown symphonics.  This is just all riffs all the time, and that's a nice change of pace when it comes to this geographical scene.  Unfortunately, that's not really enough to make this worth recommending.  Despite some gnarly riffage in "Plagues of the North" and some primo Diosabbath worship in "Delvcaem", this is all in one ear and out the other.  I find myself kinda bluescreening when it comes to trying to write about Heritage because so little of interest really happens throughout the 52 minute runtime.  There's good solos and some thrilling vocal acrobatics (which are pretty reminiscent of Tobias Sammet) but the vocals themselves don't really gel with the music all that often, feeling more like an aftereffect slapped on to make it "whole" because instrumental albums don't count or something, I dunno.  This is just the quintessential type of album that really doesn't do anything to justify its own existence in a genre that's so wholly saturated with mediocrity and has been for decades.  I realize that's kind of an unfair criticism but really, why listen to this when I can just listen to Edguy instead, ya know?  At least Tobi manages to craft some maddeningly infectious tunes every now and again.

Unburnt - Arcane Evolution 
These Canadian death/thrash/black/whathaveyou duders are pretty much the exact reason I started Draining the Dregs in the first place.  Like... come on man what can you really say about this?  I think part of the problem here is that this just sounds like a complete rehash of Goatwhore and none of the reviews I've skimmed of this EP have seen fit to mention that, which is kind of baffling because holy shit it's so obvious.  Goatwhore is a good band but there's no doubt in anybody's mind that they have only released a few genuine bangers across their career.  Unburnt here sound like any of the tracks on A Haunting Curse or Carving Out the Eyes of God that aren't "Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult" or "Apocalyptic Havoc".  So basically this sounds like four decent filler tracks from a decent band prone to loading albums with filler.  The riffs are pretty much the exact type of chuggy balancing act of death and black metal and even the vocals are a dead ringer for Ben Falgoust.  The press junket for this album (that every other review just fucking regurgitates, come on guys do some actual work) namedrops more modern bands with a semi-mainstream foothold like The Black Dahlia Murder, Veil of Maya, and Dimmu Borgir, but pretty much none of them are accurate apart from maaaaaybe Veil of Maya since half the band comes from Odium, a melodeath band with some obvious influence from the midwestern djentcore pioneers.  But really, Goatwhore is the only point of comparison here, and that's not even a matter of me having a narrow view, that's just exactly who this sounds like.  Maybe it's not fair to keep harping on this point, but I think the reason I'm doing it is because I've made very clear that I like Goatwhore but have a real problem with how much filler they release, and Unburnt here is just 15ish minutes of Goatwhore filler and the only fucking thing I want to hear at this point is for them to take more influence from one of their total rippers instead.

Kneel - Interstice
According to itunes, I've actually listened through this album like six times before now, but I honestly remember nothing at all about it.  Typically that'd be one hell of a bad sign, but honestly listening to it now I think it's pretty rad and I have no idea why I neglected it as hard as I did before.  Kneel is a one-man project from Portugal, and while it isn't necessarily overflowing with new ideas, Pedro here delivers one hell of a solid slab of metal infused hardcore.  The yelling vocals and frequently punky riffs and frequent chugging breakdowns plant this pretty firmly on the hardcore side of the equation, but there's a lot of molten metal fury in here.  I can also peg some likely influence from Dillinger Escape Plan and SikTh with all of the squealing dissonance and off-kilter mathcore techiness (check the intro to "Occlusion").  In all the whole experience is just an exercise in total chaos, and like any good fan of aggressive music, I fucking love this sort of total incoherence coalesced into something beautifully mangling.  I think now that I'm actually writing about it I can see why I've forgotten about this album despite apparently spinning it so often, and that's simply that it's a bit too much too quickly.  It's honestly not even really a negative quality, it's just sensory overload presented in such a way that it comes off more brutally heavy than whizzy and disorienting.  At only 36 minutes this really shouldn't be too much, but I think my tiny pea-brain can only take so much of it.  Either way, that's more a fault of my own than the release itself.  Any fan of punishing grooves presented in wonky, angular attacks should take to this like bees to honey, and it definitely one of the few things in this feature that I can recommend without a real caveat.

Giant Dwarf - Giant Dwarf 
Let's do another gear shift, too much extremity can wear on even my own senses.  So here we find ourselves with some heavily fuzzed out psychedelic stoner rock from Australia, though I feel like you could've guessed that yourself based entirely on the cover art.  Despite this not being my usual stomping ground, I actually dig this quite a bit.  This has just enough dark heaviness to appeal to fans of Mastodon and Sleep but feels more at home in the hazy opium dens occupied by Kyuss and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats.  There are some odd moments and instruments thrown in here, like a sitar and the most on-the-nose reference to their homeland with a didgeridoo.  The problem is that each song flows together so well that I can't even remember which tracks these odd moments even show up on.  This is probably the album's chief flaw, because it's pretty solid stoner rock/metal that I can definitely get behind every once in a while, but it's kinda short on highlights and works much better as an experience than an actual collection of songs.  Even then that's not really a flaw as much as it's something you need to consciously remember when listening to it, but the fact that these guys obviously have a lot of cool ideas and they're all kinda lost in the shuffle is a bit of a disappointment.  As a result I tend to think the album is a bit front loaded, with the one-two punch of "Golden Walrus" and "Black Thumb" are easily the best tracks on display.  You can't really go wrong with anything on here though, it's pretty nice the whole way through and I can definitely see myself coming back to this fuzzed out swamp of swing beats and overbearing incense smoke.

Cathartic Demise - Cathartic Demise 
Another self titled release, this time from Canada, and boy howdy this is another great one.  This is the other one (along with Kneel) that I can definitely say is great and worth a listen without any sort of lingering qualifier.  Cathartic Demise is just all riffs all the god damned time.  They're listed on MA as "Progressive Thrash Metal", and that's true to an extent, but I view them more like Satyrasis or Skeletonwitch or something where there are so many other influences that it feels disingenuous to only mention thrash in their genre tag.  The other big one here is death metal, and that manifests most strongly in the percussion, which is a total fucking salvo of destruction.  All three tracks on this debut EP culminate in a devastating whirlwind of riffage, with progressive passages here and there that flow so seamlessly that you can be several minutes into a lengthy tapping section without really noticing (like the epic closer, "Solar Returning").  I know there's kind of an unspoken thing that releases in this feature must not be very good if they're not getting a full review, but Cathartic Demise is proof that that's not really the case.  This is just three tracks that barely scratch the 20 minute mark so there really isn't all that much material here, all told.  The tracks are indeed dense and loaded with manic riffs and gruff yells that straddles the line between catchy and chaotic nearly perfectly, but this one sentence is all you really need to understand it.  Just check it out if you like the namedropped bands above, because I see some great things in this band's future.

Absent/Minded - Raum 
This has been pretty positive overall so let's end this with two scoops of lame shit.  Absent/Minded is apparently four albums deep at this point but you'd never guess because this is so fucking amateurish and dull.  They're touted as "sludge/doom" or "post-doom" or something along those lines but you'd figure that would mean they're doing something really heavy or really creative respectively, but that's not at all the case.  Just check out the first track, "Deep Roots Aren't Reached by the Frost" to get the gist of the whole album.  It starts off with two solid minutes of kinda watery acoustic shit with loads of delay like some kind of Explosions in the Sky type deal, but once the actual metal portion starts it's just laughably weak.  This guitar tone is so wimpy.  It sounds like it's supposed to be this oceanic riff that just crushes your spine but it's delivered by such a shitty 60w Line 6 practice amp tone that it falls flat the fuck on its face before it even really gets a chance to try.  The vocals shift between spoken word whispering and incredibly weak growls, and the music so haphazardly flops between post rock, funeral doom, and black metal tremolo riffing that even Opeth is shaking their heads at how cut-and-paste this hackjob is.  Every song is long for the sake of it, nothing sounds natural, and, worst of all, it's just fucking boring.  Despite the light weakness of the album its greatest crime is simply being mega fucking dull.  Absolutely nothing happens and I'm going to half ass the rest of this sentence purely so I can stop listening to it.

Wykan - Brigid: Of the Night
Well in fairness this isn't as terrible as I remembered it being on first listen, but it sure as hell does fail to grab your attention for long stretches of time.  The core of this is really Weedeater type stonery doom metal with deep, gurgly growls for vocals, but they do switch it up at times with some drawn out Pink Floydian prog sections and occasional full on black metal blasting.  So when you take those base influences you do actually get a fairly interesting Sabbath-cum-extreme-prog vibe that I can't say is too particularly common, but the songwriting still leaves a lot to be desired.  The first track spends way too much time in the spacey prog section before it actually gets going, and from there it kinda flops around like a fish out of water for a few minutes before kinda petering out.  The middle of the three tracks, "Breo Saighead" is probably the best one just because it stays interesting the whole time, but overall the whole thing just really needs some more time in the oven, because this is a lot better than I remember it being when I first heard it a month or so ago but definitely fades from memory pretty quickly.

And that's all I have to say about that.