Crematory - Antiserum

Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014

Germany’s Crematory is a band that has changed quite a bit over the years. They started out as an Atmospheric Death Metal band, adding Dimmu Borgir-esque keyboards to the standard Death Metal formula. After a short period of this, they morphed into Gothic Metal, incorporating increasing levels of Bauhaus and The Cure into their sound, making them something like a Death Metal version of Cradle of Filth, but without the annoying high-pitched vocals of Dani Filth. Now, they’ve gone through another transformation. Rather than sounding even more like The Cure, it’s something along the lines of Rammstein meets Peter Tagtgren’s Pain. The band is still heavily keyboard-driven, though instead of the massive Gothic synths hitting you in the face, they sound like they beat up Johan Van Roy and stole some leftover stuff from the new Suicide Commando LP from his studio. It’s executed competently, but when a band changes so radically and so abruptly, I wonder just how genuine it is. It’s not like the group has been inactive for a decade and decided to go a different direction now that they’ve reformed. No, this reeks of an attempt at regaining some relevance (though I would also argue that this band’s relevance was negligible to begin with). Crematory was never in the top tier when it came to any of the genres that they played in, often coming to the party late and only achieving modest success. The music is heavily Industrialized, but the new Cyber-Punk direction in the music isn’t reflected in the lyrics. Where a band like Mechina incorporates a lot of Science Fiction into their lyrics and themes, Crematory hasn’t changed that much outside of the obvious musical upheaval. Lyrically, it’s more or less the same old shit in a different package. It’s still angst-ridden Gothic Metal, but with a robotized voice effect added and a whole lot of Techno/Industrial keyboards. There are some nods to the futuristic, but the band really needed to go all the way. Going Cyber-Punk with the music and then dialing it back or not moving forward at all in the other areas defeats the purpose. Where Crematory falters is in this area and it’s symptomatic of a band that changes direction abruptly but hasn’t done so naturally. I did like this album more than their old stuff, but at the same time, there are plenty of other bands out there that do this sort of thing better. Sadly, this is also something that I said about their older music. If you want Industrialized Death Metal with real Sci-Fi lyrics and themes, Mechina eats Crematory alive like a horrifying cyborg great white shark chowing down on some random surfer at the beginning of a horror flick. Antiserum isn’t a predator, it’s a victim. Once again, Crematory has shown up at the party late and the only thing left for them is cheap beer and fat chicks. These guys (and girl) need to give Johan Van Roy back his keyboard parts and return to the drawing board. Change needs to be organic and this clearly isn’t it. Fans will appreciate good music as long as it’s played from the heart and the band clearly believes in it. The music on Antiserum sounds contrived and that’s what kills this for me more than anything else.

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Darkest Hour - Darkest Hour

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014

If you haven’t been paying attention, the haters are having a field day bashing the living shit of Darkest Hour’s new self-titled LP. I haven’t seen an underdog take a pounding like this since Captain America inhaled a warehouse full of Heisenberg and beat Daredevil’s ass blue-black until his face resembled senior citizen scrotum. I refer to Henry & Schleibaum as underdogs because, honestly, what chance did they have at appeasing any fickle fuck whose life is so empty he writes about his CDs? (Sorry, computer files, or however the fuck you listen to music on the Starship Enterprise.) Painted into a corner by a remarkably solid but undeniably predictable career up to this point, they had one of two choices: keep rehashing a tried ‘n’ true Slaughter of the Soul-worshipping formula already stretched paper thin over the course of seven albums, or… they could change. If the last 15 years has taught me anything, it’s that Metalcore bands can only change in a couple of different ways. They can “go Deftones,” which is similar to “going Radiohead” (other street names: “writing a Jupiter,” or “pulling a Codeseven”); they can incorporate some kind of foreign genre (Glam, Gothic, Dance/Electronica) into an odd couple pairing that typically just sounds wrong; or, as in this particular case, the lifelong screamer gives actual singing a whirl. All paths lead to a softer, more accessible goal, and it either works or it doesn’t. Believe it or not, I think Darkest Hour has pulled it off in spades. Let’s face it, they couldn’t go on writing the same record every two years ‘til the end of time. I don’t care how good that same record is, eventually the shit gets stale. Sometimes you just have to bite Holyfield’s ear off. I’d imagine it’s better than getting knocked out. I honestly don’t see what all the critics are so butthurt about here. With album #8, these guys have written some tunes you might actually remember in ten years. John Henry can really fucking sing!! Who knew? I mean, the guy nails it as far as I’m concerned. The standout clean singing on “The Misery We Make,” “Futurist,” “Anti-Axis,” “The Goddess Figure,” and “Departure” creates instant memorability, not to mention staying power. Henry’s style often reminds me of Nicholas Brooks on It Dies Today’s The Caitiff Choir, and yeah, I do mean that as a compliment. Many of these songs still brim with that fiery Gothenberg energy, only now there are different levels they can operate on. Besides, if you want to hear them play only that signature style, you’ve got a mega-fuckton of old records to choose from. I think this is their best since The Mark of the Judas. I may’ve said that before, but this time I mean it. People just didn’t give this one enough of a chance before dragging it into a folder with the other 621 releases they downloaded that day. Either that, or they just can’t get around the paralyzing fear that they might just like something “the kids” are into if they’d listen to it more than once. People suck.
Speaking of which, make sure you hunt down the retinal scan-only bonus tracks, as they are two of the best songs of the bunch. Gee, guys… I’m glad I went out and bought the standard edition the day it came out… dicks.

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Aldious - District Zero Tour - Live at Shibuya-O East (video)

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My name is Ychoril and these are my confessions. You may know that I’m a huge Japanophile. I love Japan and all things Japanese. The only thing that turns me on more than a hot Japanese woman is a hot Japanese Metal chick. That said, I watch District Zero Tour - Live at Shibuya-O East like most men watch porn. It has everything I could possibly want in one package: hot Japanese women and Heavy Metal music. In fact, it’s even better than just hot Japanese women and Heavy Metal music, it has hot Japanese women PLAYING Heavy Metal music. Overdosing on Viagra might give me an erection lasting longer than four hours, but so does watching Aldious live in concert. The difference is that while most would turn the volume down to hide the fact that they’re watching porn, I turn the volume up to advertise the fact that I’m listening to Metal. Though the band is composed of five hot Japanese ladies, they aren’t lightweights. This group is as professional and as well rehearsed as any Metal band out there. Fans of Power Metal in the vein of Stratovarious and Iron Savior will appreciate the musical prowess that these ladies display here and on their studio LPs, which is considerable. Guitarists Yoshi and Toki can and do shred as good as any Power Metal band out there, and the rest of the group (bassist Sawa and drummer Aruto) are similarly proficient with their instruments. Vocalist Re:NO (Rino Nikaidou) takes a bit of getting used to, mostly because her voice seems more suited for ballads than for Metal. Previous vocalist, Rami (who departed the band in 2012 due to health reasons), was more in line with traditional Power Metal vocals, and Re:NO’s style had many longtime fans wondering if the bleached-blonde former vocalist for JPop group Suitei Shojo and former KERA magazine fashion model could handle being in a “real” band. The District Zero LP had fans divided, but this live DVD shows that she and the rest of the group can still deliver the goods in a live environment. The band is definitely heavier in concert and their enthusiasm is clearly evident. Re:NO’s stage presence is considerable, and though she is the front-person, she never hogs the spotlight. All of the members, even drummer Aruto, get plenty of camera time. Yoshi and Toki are often in the front, trading guitar solos and shredding away like they were on the Shrapnel Records roster back in the ’80s (for those who don’t remember or weren’t alive back then, Shrapnel was the record label devoted to guitar wankery), though their music never stops being melodic and engaging. And they stay mesmerizing throughout the entire two hours that they play. Yes, Metal fans, this DVD has an entire two hour concert on it, shortened only between encores (there are two) for the sake of time. The musical selection spans much of the band’s career, though the bulk of it is centered around the District Zero LP. They still play older cuts like “Mermaid” and “Ultimate Melodious,” though the vocal arrangement has been altered slightly to accommodate Re:NO’s style. A word of warning: this band is from Japan and everything is in Japanese. It’s also region coded for Japan so if you don’t have an all-region DVD player or you happen to live in an area where Region 2 isn’t your native coding, you won’t be able to view it. As a fan of all things Japanese, I don’t recall ever being without an all-regions capable DVD player, but I know most folks out there probably don’t have one, so a warning is in order before you drop a bunch of money on this. For me, it was well worth relegating myself to eating Maruchan Cup Ramen for about a month while recovering from the financial hit this put on me. Sadly, it looks like I’m going to be eating instant ramen for a while longer because I got this DVD paid off just as the band’s latest LP, Dazed and Delight, was released. Life as a Japanophile isn’t easy - or cheap, for that matter - but releases like District Zero Tour - Live at Shibuya-O East make it all worthwhile.

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Those Who Bring the Torture - Piling Up

Posted on Monday, November 17, 2014

When it comes to Death Metal’s perverse and unholy backyard barbecue, there are those who bring the potato salad and Those Who Bring the Torture. Yes, I know that joke was stupid, but reviewing anything from the mighty Rogga Johansson is never an easy task. One has to get things off the ground however one can. You see, Rogga is in 72 bands that all put out 18 albums a year. I don’t know exactly how many that is, but I know it all equals 9. Fortunately for this writer, Those Who Bring the Torture records are slightly less daunting than most of Johansson’s similarly-veined endeavors. Despite the menacing moniker, this is actually one of the man’s more accessible outlets. No, that’s not another bad joke. Just listen to the first riff of album opener “Under Twin Suns.” That’s a hook with a groove you could almost rap to! Okay, so maybe it isn’t that accessible, but it certainly seems as though Rogga saves all his best melodies for this particular project. Of course, that’s not to say TWBtT isn’t still Death… the Rogga way. This prolific Swede knows no other means. However, tracks such as “The Gateway,” “In Orbit,” and “Towering Structures of the Damned” are graced with a slick melodic sensibility that doesn’t often reveal itself on most Paganizer or Ribspreader cuts. Elsewhere, “Incomprehensible” has an air of melancholy and dejection that’s almost Doom-like in essence, despite the song’s speedy double-bass-driven energy, while “A Dead Cold Space” achieves nearly the same vibe through a Punkish slant. If I had to pick a weak spot, all that’s really available is album closer “Turrets of a Forgotten Castle.” Not a terrible tune, but somewhat of a lumbering Thrashy clunker that doesn’t quite fit in with the flow of an otherwise powerful album. Then again, everything this guy does is pretty damn awesome in its own right. Just not always the easiest material to expound upon, as it’s typically the same brand of standard-issue sickness Johansson so effortlessly deals with the quickness of a veteran Vegas Blackjack dealer (talk about “piling up”). So, if you hunger for a side of something a little different with your helping of more-of-the-same, Those Who Bring the Torture might just be surprisingly filling.

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Slough Feg - Digital Resistance

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mike Scalzi has been in and around the San Francisco Metal scene for a long time. He’s played in a number of groups over the years, but Slough Feg (also known as The Lord Weird Slough Feg) has always been his main band. I started listening to Slough Feg shortly after I saw Mike play a show as part of Unholy Cadaver (this was prior to the band changing their name to Hammers of Misfortune). John Cobbett is a good vocalist and guitarist, but Mike Scalzi is a better front-man. He impressed me enough with his stage presence and playing ability to check out his main band and I’ve followed them ever since. For those who have never heard the music of Slough Feg, they’re best described as Heavy Metal in the traditional sense. They draw from old Hard Rock and early Metal for inspiration, though they do incorporate some occasional Celtic melodies and Progressive Rock structures into their brew. Slough Feg does have a fairly accessible style (especially on this LP) and their melodic guitar-work and clean vocals would have been fairly radio-friendly had this been the early ’80s. It’s still some rocking stuff, though. If there’s one thing Mike Scalzi knows how to do, it’s make a fun record. The songs on here are mostly upbeat and though the message behind the album is serious, it never brings down the otherwise celebratory mood of the music. If you’ve listened to Slough Feg for any length of time, you realize that there’s always a message in there somewhere, and Digital Resistance is no different. A lot of the songs have an anti-technology edge to them, though not in a Luddite sense. The guys in Slough Feg don’t want you to abandon technology, they just want you to think about what it does to you and to the people around you. The lyrics make quite an interesting read, and for a Metal album there’s a lot of depth there. While those obsessed with all thing grim and dark will probably despise this LP, it’s one that I enjoyed quite a lot. It isn’t quite as much fun as seeing the band play live, but it’s pretty close.

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Electric Wizard - Time to Die

Posted on Monday, October 27, 2014

I’ve grown to appreciate Electric Wizard over time. When they initially burst onto the scene, my first impression was a small band hiding behind a big sound. I don’t feel that way anymore, but let’s be honest, how often have you reached for Come My Fanatics in the last 17 years? Dopethrone might be a different story for most, but the album they started to win me over with was Witchcult Today. Again, not at first —you can reference this very site as we speak for an embarrassing, poorly-written review by 28-year old douchebag-know-it-all me— but I’ve warmed up to it a lot since then, especially timeless anthems like “Dunwich” and “Torquemada ‘71.” Factor in how much I enjoyed 2010’s Black Masses —maybe the least filler of any LP in their discography— and Time to Die becomes the first Electric Wizard record that I’m actually psyched for beforehand. Well… it’s yet another testament to the bucket of lukewarm fecal matter that is my luck… Oborn & Buckingham sure picked a fine time to phone one in. Not sure if it’s emotional jetlag after a somewhat nasty split with Rise Above Records, or if there just isn’t much left in the tank, but most of Time to Die flatlines in unspectacular fashion. What’s unfortunate is that when an Electric Wizard song is bad, it’s bad for SOOO LOOONG! The opening tandem of “Incense for the Damned” (10:42) and the title track (7:49) feels like a hookless eternity. “I Am Nothing” is a far tastier slab of the group’s signature speaker-destroying beefiness, but even this awesome song drags on a few minutes longer than it needs to. I’m just not hearing much focus or inspiration. When these guys (and gal) lock into a memorable groove with their massive sound, they’re unstoppable. It simply doesn’t occur too often here. Oborn’s vocal performance seems especially half-hearted throughout, sounding borderline comatose on the sloppy “Funeral of Your Mind” and “We Love the Dead.” Buckingham may have saved her best riffs for “SadioWitch” and “Lucifer’s Slaves,” but by this point it feels like a lost cause. They’ve flat-out laid an egg here, and just when 35-year old douchebag-know-it-all me was starting to root for them. Oh well… time to throw “I Am Nothing” on a mixtape and move on with my “life.” Better luck next time, Wiz.

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Septicflesh - Titan

Posted on Friday, October 24, 2014

Being somewhat swept up in the nostalgia surrounding the long overdue reissues of their first two albums, I kinda forgot that Septicflesh is still an active kicking ‘n’ screaming unit. This is their 3rd full-length since hooking back up in 2007, but I must confess to it being the first thing I’ve checked out from them in aeons. I don’t know how or when I lost touch with these Greek atmospheric Death merchants, it just sorta happened. Obviously I loved their first two LPs, and the amazing “Woman of the Rings” cut from The Holy Bible compilation, but at some point thereafter I remember hearing something they put out that I didn’t like, and I must’ve just shut that door and forgot to reopen it. Regardless, it’s wide open now, and what I’m hearing is blowing it off its fucking hinges! I don’t typically fall for highly orchestral endeavors when it comes to Extreme Metal, but that’s only because I’ve never heard it taken to these heights until now. Septicflesh has outdone themselves with this symphonic masterpiece. The orchestras are woven into the attack on such a meticulous level, as elegance and extremity co-exist in perfect harmony. A concept album of sorts, one gets the impression that every fiber of this quartet’s being was painstakingly strewn into every note and arrangement here. It’s just about impossible to get me to sing along with a choir —I fucking hate choirs— but it’s almost involuntary as I’m enveloped by these grandiose structures. (“Once you were sentient beings…” dammit!) Speaking of vocals, it’s time for everyone to show Spiros Antoniou a little love. This guy has always had a Death roar that I could pick out of an auditorium of 999 growlers, and 24 years later he sounds as brutal as ever. And speaking of singing along, I’m not minding Sotiris Vayenas’ occasional clean backing vocals, either. (“From the silence of a deadly horror… Burn… Burn… Burn…” There I go again!) This is just an expertly crafted opus with song after song entrancing and captivating the listener. It’s difficult to sum up with words, as this one has to be experienced to be truly appreciated (and experienced in depth, I might add; I didn’t like this right away and I’m glad I sat on it as long as I did). The more you listen, the more it possesses you. To be truthful, the record does wane somewhat toward the end —the last three tracks don’t quite match the brilliance of the first seven— and the bonus disc of all-orchestral variations is pretty much worthless, but that doesn’t make this any less essential.

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Cemetery Fog - Towards the Gates

Posted on Monday, October 13, 2014

Tell me it’s “recommended for fans of Katatonia” and you could probably end up selling me a mason jar of albino midget semen. (At the very least I’m going on YouTube to verify the albino authenticity; wouldn’t wanna get tricked into buying the seed of regular midgets.) I guess I’ll just always be a sucker like that. What can I say? I love Katatonia so much that any new band I see stylistically compared to them, unless there’s a dead giveaway dealbreaker —female vocalist, Christian, from Japan, etc.— I’m most likely going to check the shit out. Sure I’ve been burned before, but I’ve also found some absolute gems. And Finland has certainly come through in that category before (all hail the immortal Rapture), especially if we’re talking old Katatonia, so the buzz surrounding this Hamina duo’s debut EP was simply impossible to ignore. That is, until I finally got to hear it. I won’t say that Towards the Gates is terrible, but holy motherfuck it’s BORING! I think a comparison to old Katatonia is stretching the truth ever so slightly, and at this stage of Cemetery Fog’s brief existence, it’s downright unfair. Old Katatonia was a perfect storm of Paradise Lost’s gloom, early Bathory’s hellfire, and the most sincere aura of melancholy ever achieved. These guys can’t even play their fucking instruments yet (see “Shadow of Her Tomb”). Don’t get me wrong, I do hear the influence. Traces of the mighty Dance of December Souls are scattered throughout “Withered Dreams of Death,” and the clean passage on “Embrace of the Darkness” is haunted by For Funerals to Come, but to imply these attempts are anywhere near the same league is ludicrous. Bad production doesn’t help, and either lose those synths or learn how to use them. Tighten up those guitar skills while you’re at it, and stop loading the songs with lifeless Death Metal filler riffs that no one will ever remember. Sorry to be so bossy, but I hate to let any group with Katatonic potential —let alone one with a pentagram and inverted cross worked into the logo— go to waste. With practice and patience, Cemetery Fog might get there someday, but for now you can file this under “false alarm.”

Rating:
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Aborted - The Necrotic Manifesto

Posted on Friday, October 10, 2014

It dawns on me every time I pop The Necrotic Manifesto in… Aborted has made it. They’ve actually made it. Granted, “making it” in the world of Death Metal isn’t nearly as glamorous or profitable as making it as a surgeon, or as a lawyer, or a politician, actor, athlete, or even as an international competitive pig-fucker… but it’s still quite the accomplishment. When you stop and think about just how many Death Metal bands there are —a staggering amount considering the relatively small (but loyal) fanbase— and then attempt to calculate what percentage of those bands are the best of the best, the excellent, the good, the shitty, the not-good-enough-to-even-be-remembered-as-shitty shitty, etc. The fact that Aborted’s sound is instantly recognizable alone is commendable enough, but that they’ve come to symbolize a seal of the highest quality is something really special. They’re one of the heaviest, one of the fastest, typically one of the most memorable, and they always seem to achieve this massive, absolutely perfect production. Gigantic, loud, crystal fucking clear sound every time out, and they can pull it off live to boot. Not too bad for a group of Belgian kids worshipping Carcass I’d say.
The trouble with Manifesto is that by the time I’ve wrapped up all this thinking, the disc is already on track 7 and I’ve no idea what I’ve just heard. I’m not implying that Sven & co. have phoned this one in, only that it kinda flies by in a brutal blur if you let it. It’s essentially Global Flatline 2, but sorely lacks its predecessor’s still-fresh staying power. There’s a few meaty hooks (“Coffin Upon Coffin,” “Die Verzweiflung”), a few memorable vocal patterns driven by intelligible lyrics (“The Extirpation Agenda,” “Sade & Libertine Lunacy”), and these guys still want to be Carcass, only now it’s big-boy Carcass, and they have the chops to do it. And of course it’s still fast, still heavy, still a million-and-a-half Hellraiser samples, and still flawlessly recorded. It just doesn’t stick the way this band can make it stick. For instance, almost every time I play the Deluxe Edition, my brain tunes everything out until the Converge and Suffocation covers (“Concubine” and “Funeral Inception” respectively). Aborted is the undisputed heavyweight champion of Death Metal covers, and these gems are two of the finest covers in the history of bonus trackdom. Alas, when someone else’s songwriting is far and above the highlight of your album, it’s natural to assume things might’ve been rushed a bit.

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