In Flames - Siren Charms

Posted on Monday, September 29, 2014

You’re inevitably going to see a mega-fuckton of bad reviews when it comes to In Flames’ 11th studio LP. That’s because Siren Charms is unequivocally piss-dripping clown dick. But this bad review in particular comes from a different perspective than most others you’ll read. Most of these people gave up on In Flames a long time ago, at whatever stage one became “considered cool” to start disliking them. Frankly, I forget exactly when that was. Hard to pinpoint in a career littered with transitions. Hell, even I attempted to write off the band at 2000’s Clayman, but 14 straight years of those songs stuck in my head convinced me otherwise. Truth is, up until this point, I’ve enjoyed every step of this band’s career to some degree. In fact, what the majority considers to be their lowest lows just happen to be some of my favorites. Reroute, Soundtrack, their Ferret album… love ‘em all. I’ll even throw a little extra gas on the fire and admit that Lunar Strain and the Subterranean EP are probably my least listened-to of the bunch. It’s just impossible for me to care what anyone thinks. Music isn’t about people for me anymore —the people making it, the people selling it, the people going to shows… I don’t even know what a hipster is— and what genre something is or isn’t matters even less. Look, those even remotely familiar with popular work of fiction The Bible recognize that all music is a gift from Lucifer. All that matters to me is whether it’s good or bad… Holy motherfucking monkey balls is this bad. The fact that this is the band’s major label debut may very well be a coincidence, but what I’m hearing is a radically neutered In Flames. Hate their more recent works or not, one couldn’t deny they at least had energy. Siren Charms is a restrained and timid affair, aimed at a yet-to-be-identified target market. The melodies are lifeless, the songs are dull and vapid, and the only one not holding back probably should have. Clearly Anders Friden has been nursing the idea that he’s a really good clean singer in the back of his mind for quite some time now, and to his credit, he’s pulled it off a time or two in moderation. He completely lets his inner Michael Bolton go here, and it sounds really really fucking terrible. His tone-deafness ruins practically every song, soiling what little musical decency there is. The only true highlight found is the chorus to “Rusted Nail.” (“Just this once…” indeed.) I won’t say the band is done yet, but until a return to some form is acknowledged, I am.
Note: Not that anything could save this piece of garbage, but it didn’t help that the Deluxe Version I bought from the local Best Buy was completely mastered wrong. Every song was abnormally quiet except for the title track. I know nobody buys physical media these days, but did anyone else happen to experience this?

Rating:
-
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Whitechapel - Our Endless War

Posted on Monday, September 22, 2014

Much like a car after a few nasty fender benders, once a band covers the unspeakably horrible Pantera (as traumatically witnessed on 2011’s digital-only Recorrupted EP), it’s never really the same again. But in the case of Knoxville bruisers Whitechapel —a band whose first three albums featured some of the most tactically surgical Deathcore brutality the genre’s haters will ever miss out on— I feel like I at least owe them a test drive. That said, 2012’s self-titled full-length was by no means a smooth ride. In what some felt was an effort to appease the anti-Deathcore majority that comprises what’s left of extreme music print journalism, the group abandoned many of their signature elements in favor of a more straightforward —albeit sterilized— Death Metal style. Sadly, Our Endless War is a continuation of that approach. Tom Petty once said, “Breakdown / Go ahead and give it to me / Breakdown / It’s all right,” but this sextet just isn’t listening anymore. After the intro, this album kicks off with its title track, an angry political number. Now that Whitechapel has addressed the corruption of American politics, I’m sure we’ll start to see these problems disappear before our very eyes. Musically the song feels like a Rocky training montage set to Death Metal, especially when the Italian Stallion would start effortlessly crisscrossing the jump-rope towards the end to emphasize his progress. “The Saw Is the Law” follows in more bouncy and bendy fashion, but for all its rhythmic swagger the song sorely lacks a hook. Still, there’s almost a breakdown at the end, and the bonehead in me just can’t resist Phil Bozeman’s militant machinegun vocal pattern. Next up is “Mono,” which begins with unsettling Slipknot breathing. It ends far better with Bozeman growling “KILL YOURSELF,” but I’m still waiting on that hook. “Let Me Burn” might be as close as I’ll get. The track at least locks into a strong headbangable groove with solid lyrics in tow. Probably the closest thing to old Whitechapel found here. Speaking of solid lyrics, I’m really feeling “Worship the Digital Age.” So much so, I’m considering having “SELL YOUR SOUL AND WORSHIP THE DIGITAL AGE” etched on my tombstone in Comic Sans. (Not that anyone would look up from their game of Candy Crush long enough to read it.) Unfortunately after these back-to-back highlights, the record descends into boring filler. The next three tracks are instantly forgettable, and the standard edition closes out with “Diggs Road,” which has to be the most energetic song about suicide ever written. Believe me, I thought about offing myself during those awful guitar solos. If you score the limited edition, you also get “A Process So Familiar” —more jump-rope filler— and “Fall of the Hypocrites,” which actually redeems itself with a taste of how Bozeman’s vocals used to sound, and a pit riff straight out of Internal Bleeding’s NYDM playbook.
In summary, this is better than I expected, but still a far cry from the brute force of the old days. I miss the heart-stopping breakdowns and I miss Bozeman at his most brutal. Dude once did guest vocals on a Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza cut (“The Alpha the Omega,” which also featured Despised Icon’s Alex Erian) that were so heavy they made my dickhole queef. If you can’t make my dickhole queef anymore, then what’s the point?

Rating:
-
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Battleaxe - Heavy Metal Sanctuary

Posted on Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It’s been ages since I’ve heard Battleaxe. They were a band that had cult status here in the US, but they never got beyond that point before they broke up. Most Metal fans here never heard of them. I had some knowledge of them because I loved obscure Metal releases even back in the early ’80s. I’d spend my hard earned allowance on tapes whenever I could, amassing a fair sized collection of Metal albums in the process. Most of the bands in my collection at the time were oddball releases that were chosen mostly by how cool the cover art was or how Metal the band name sounded, owing largely to the fact that none of my friends at the time listened to anything heavier than Journey. It was a hit or miss way of finding new bands, but without it, I would have probably never heard of half of the groups that I regularly listened to back then. Like many of the bands from that era, Battleaxe has a sound that most modern fans wouldn’t even consider Metal. Listened to with a modern ear, stuff like Battleaxe, Witchfinder General, Saxon and many others would be classified as Hard Rock. The guitar-work is hard driving, but still possessing melody and plenty of catchy hooks and rhythms that get your head banging right away. Dave King, the sole remaining original member, hasn’t changed much when it comes to the band’s sound. In this case, he would have been a fool to mess with the formula, because the main draw is this band’s NWOBHM bloodline. He’s modernized the lyrics a bit, but for the most part, this could have easily been a remastered recording from 1985. For me, this LP was a nostalgia thing. I still love listening to old-school Heavy Fucking Metal once in a while because it reminds me why I started listening to this kind of music in the first place. Heavy Metal Sanctuary still has that Hard Rock/Heavy Metal style infused with some Punk energy that I remember from the days of Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden, old Saxon and many others from that period. It’s a bit on the campy side, but this is a very fun listen. Fans of NWOBHM, ’70s Hard Rock or early Metal (Dio’s Holy Diver, early Metal Church or Judas Priest) will get the most enjoyment out of it. If you’re looking for brutality and soul-tearing evil music, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

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Fallujah - The Flesh Prevails

Posted on Monday, September 15, 2014

This is my first encounter with Fallujah, so I attempted a fair amount of research going in. Unfortunately not much of it was helpful. The online critics seem to be split right down the middle. People either worship the ground this quintet shreds on, or despise them with a passion reserved for rapists, thieves, and Bryce Harper. All I really knew for sure was that these young San Franciscans are named after a city in Iraq and signed to Unique Leader (which these days usually means super-tech/ultra-brutal Death Metal with sweep harmonics that sound like Mario and Luigi getting big on mushrooms). Low expectations abound, I dove right in, and roughly a dozen spins later, I’m pleased to report The Flesh Prevails is nowhere near as horrible (or as otherworldly amazing) as the semi-retarded internet minions proclaim. Fallujah essentially sound like The Contortionist playing Progressive Death Metal. They bludgeon with the ferocity of Behemoth one minute, and float on cosmic waves of mellow introspection and synthesized ambiance the next. Luckily nothing is over-the-top. The brutality and navelgazing space travel never overpower each other, while the guitarists and bassist manage to noodle without forcing the listener to tune out. The songs are given room to breathe —at times perhaps a bit too much— and the clever use of synths, along with the occasional inclusion of clean male/female vocals, serve to keep both heavy and calm arrangements emotionally weighty. If there’s one major drawback, it’s a low memorability factor. With the talent level through the roof, plus a commendable attention to detail in songwriting, this really ought to stick with you more than it does. Other than the dizzying Emperor-gone-Tech-Death heights of “Sapphire,” it’s difficult to pinpoint many true highlights. That said, The Flesh Prevails is a record capable of being appreciated for its vibe alone. It’s beyond well-played, easy to get lost in, and hits multiple pleasure centers in the brain simultaneously.

Rating:
-
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Xaos Oblivion - Black Mountains Spirits

Posted on Friday, September 12, 2014

This is the solo band of Demonic Slaughter and Abusiveness member Xaos Oblivion and, of all of his projects, this is probably the most experimental. It still falls firmly within the realms of Black Metal, but it goes a lot of places that his other bands don’t, incorporating weirder song structures and ambiance into the music where the others stick to the more established guidelines. This is not to say that Xaos Oblivion is the Black Metal version of Primus. This band isn’t nearly as experimental as Sigh, for example. It pushes the boundaries of Black Metal enough to qualify it as unusual, but not far enough for people to claim that it isn’t Black Metal anymore. I happen to like Xaos Oblivion because it goes further afield than Demonic Slaughter or Abusiveness. Black Mountains Spirits has an interesting atmosphere to it and that comes from it being slower and more deliberate. There’s a lot of restraint on this LP, and while some might criticize the band for not going for the throat where they could, I thought that the more measured approach helped establish a darker, more twisted atmosphere than they would have gotten had they went with the more orthodox style. The additional complexity also keeps things from getting monotonous over the longer song format that this band has. Compared to Demonic Slaughter and Abusiveness, the songs are almost double the average length in some cases. If you like your Black Metal to be a bit more adventurous than the norm, but not so far out there that the music degenerates into weird shit for the sake of being weird (Sigh, Ulver, Arcturus), Xaos Oblivion is a band you should check out.

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Hour of Penance - Regicide

Posted on Thursday, September 11, 2014

It pains me to bestow any negative criticism upon my dago Death Metal brethren, but this just isn’t my Hour of Penance anymore. I mean that both figuratively and literally, as the only remaining member from the era when I worshipped at this band’s altar —2003’s Disturbance and 2005’s Pageantry for Martyrs— is lead guitarist Giulio Moschini (who joined in 2004). While The Vile Conception (‘08) and Paradogma (‘10) were both solid efforts, capable of being appreciated for their malevolent sonic ferocity and sheer technical prowess alone, the former marked the decline of each successive release becoming far less memorable and increasingly more boring than its predecessor. 2012’s Sedition proved to be ultimately forgettable, and the process of reviewing Regicide has been like trying to write about sand. It takes about 99 seconds for any one of these tracks to become a complete blur of wall-of-noise sound that’s just about impossible to stay focused on. 36 grams of coke, 6 Red Bulls, 18 Adderall pills, and the occasional shot of Primitine Mist wouldn’t be enough to prevent me from tuning this record out, but at least I’d be dead. Maybe if I were ten years younger and had only been into Death Metal for a couple months, this might be some mind-blowing shit. But I’m not ten years younger, have been into this Death Metal band alone longer than a decade, and this album honestly put me to sleep on more than one occasion. The million-mile-per-hour drumming never stops, the million-note solos on top of million-note riffs never stop, and the million ways of barking “I hate Jesus” aren’t enough to save this record from the fact that it has no actual songs. It’s all well-played and brutal as fuck, and might possibly fare better as indistinct background noise for life’s meaningless activities, but that’s nowhere near good enough for me. I need the music that can turn life’s meaningless activities into the indistinct background noise. Lately, what Hour of Penance is putting out sounds less like music and more like a subway train racing through its underground tunnel. Regicide is where I get off.

Rating:
-
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Burial Hordes - Incendium

Posted on Tuesday, September 09, 2014

When describing a band like Burial Hordes, I almost always get into an argument regarding their musical style. It all comes down, in most cases, to whether one considers the term “Black/Death Metal” to mean “a mixture of Black and Death Metal” or “Death Metal influenced by Black Metal.” For those who consider it an influence issue, the proper definition of the music on Incendium is Death/Black Metal because this is clearly a case of a Black Metal band being influenced by Death Metal. The music is Black Metal in style, but there are a number of areas where the band was shaped by old Death Metal. The vocals are an early giveaway, with singer Cthonos using a guttural Death growl that is brutal but still relatively understandable. He does a good job of it, too, going for a more inflection-laced style that gives the vocals feeling and also adds a lot of diversity that a monotone growl (a-la old Incantation) would have lacked. Also evident is the fact that the guitar tones have something of a Florida Death Metal sound. This is one of the reasons I like Incendium. It added a lot of depth to the sound, along with a dose of heaviness that something more treble-heavy would have lacked. One thing I would have liked the band to further explore was the inclusion of more atmospheric elements. The songs “Scorned (Aokigahara)” and “Incendium” were dark and atmospheric, giving them more of an identity than the others on this LP. They were by far my favorite tracks of the eight on display here. The rest were solid, though, and they show a band that knows how to kick ass like professionals. If you like your Black Metal a little more on the brutal side, this is a band I heartily recommend.

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Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls

Posted on Monday, September 08, 2014

I think for most Judas Priest fans, 2005’s Angel of Retribution was the band’s long-awaited return to form, and sonically speaking it’s hard to argue. But how much of that was just pure relief and joy that Rob Halford was back and Mark Wahlberg was finally gone? It also seems, for most Judas Priest fans, some of that joy and relief faded with 2008’s 17-hour concept abortion Nostradamus. However, it’s possible that album was beneficial in clearing out all the cobwebs, because with Redeemer of Souls, the group has truly tapped into the power and the glory of their late-’70s to mid-’80s dominance in a way I’d have never thought possible. Few bands make it to album #17, let alone discover the fountain of youth on it. Even without founding guitarist K.K. Downing, Redeemer sizzles with nostalgic passion and that ultra-memorable, arena-ready, anthemic songwriting capable of hooking even the most hardened of Metalhead hearts. It all starts with the production. This album is intentionally old-sounding, and while I’m sure a few people will bitch about that, keep in mind those same fucks would also be whining if the band had gone all super-slick Pro-Tools deluxe on us instead. I love the production. I think it only adds to the LP’s irresistible time-capsule appeal. Of course, a vintage sound would only be wasted without vintage riffs, vintage solos, vintage hooks, and vintage choruses by vintage Halford, and Redeemer has all that in spades. “Dragonaught” rings the bell with a riff that’d fit right in on British Steel, while the title track screams for vengeance, “Down in Flames” defends the faith, and “Hell & Back” shows a lot of stained class. Songs like “Halls of Valhalla,” “Sword of Damocles,” “Secrets of the Dead,” and “Battle Cry” do lean more toward modern Priest, but just about all of them have a solid chorus, and I believe the term “modern Priest” still has to encompass Painkiller somewhat. But “March of the Damed” is easily my favorite. Just an instant classic that feels like every era of Priest rolled into one sleazy Metallic stomp. Then there’s a song like “Crossfire” which echoes Priest’s pre-Metal Rocka Rolla days, when the young outfit’s shade was much closer to Purple than Black. Then you have the ballad, “Cold Blooded,” which could hold its own with any JP ballad from the old days. Seriously, all that’s missing is the Fleetwood Mac and Joan Baez covers. My only beef comes in lyrical form on the emotive (standard edition) closer “Beginning of the End” — “And so we’ll rise / By the grace of God / His words are carved in stone.” Forget about “Better by You, Better Than Me,” it’s these lyrics that make me want to blow my brains out. Maybe it’s a typo and Halford meant “Bi,” and maybe “God” is some kind of new slang for “hard cock.” All I know is I’ve got no problem with dudes fucking dudes, but Christianity is totally gay. What’s worse is that aside from this obscene and unnatural verse, the song is actually quite touching. Can’t we leave something in the closet for decency’s sake?
In summary, I’m no Judas Priest expert. Truth is, I didn’t even give them a chance until my mid-20s. But I know good music when I hear it, and when Priest songs are good they’re incredibly good. The songs on Redeemer of Souls are incredibly good, too. An impulse grocery store purchase that turned out far more rewarding than expected. I’ll even go out on a limb and say this will be the best Metal album of the year to feature a homosexual Christian vocalist.

Rating:
-
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Frozen Ocean - The Dyson Swarm

Posted on Thursday, August 21, 2014

Frozen Ocean is kind of an oddball, existing somewhere in the gray area between Atmospheric Black Metal and Dark Ambient. I’m not familiar with the band’s back catalog, but from the sound of things, sole member Vaarwel started out playing Black Metal but gradually began incorporating more and more Dark Ambient/Deep Space Ambient stuff into his compositions. That being said, the majority of The Dyson Swarm has more in common with Neptune Towers, Arecibo (aka Lustmord) and the original Cosmos soundtrack composed by Vangelis than anything that could be classified as Metal. The overwhelming bulk of the songs on this album are instrumental, with only two having vocals (“CE-4” and “The Dyson Swarm”). Even then, the vocals play only a small part. The music itself is very atmospheric, having a mellow, trance-inducing effect that is best listened to in the dark or under candlelight. It’s also very repetitive, something that is noticed almost immediately. Having listened to a lot of repetitive Black Metal (usually in the Burzum vein) over the years, I didn’t have a problem with this. The minimalistic song structures do start to wear on you on the longer tracks, particularly on the two that exceed nine minutes. This LP has taken more than a few tries to grow on me, mostly because I have to be in the right mood to listen to it. Fans of atmospheric music or those “Sounds of Space” Ambient releases that you occasionally find in the New Age section of the record store will probably enjoy this the most. If you’re like me and you’re a Metalhead who crosses over into the Dark Ambient scene, The Dyson Swarm is an interesting listen, but it isn’t for everyone.

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