Abigor - Leytmotif Luzifer (The 7 Temptations of Man)

Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2015

Though Austria’s Black Metal stalwarts, Abigor, have been around for a long time, it’s only after their reformation that I’ve really been into their music. I liked their old stuff well enough, but I always thought that they were one of those bands that could have been better. I was a huge Summoning fan (and still am), so I always gave them the benefit of the doubt because Silenius was a member of the band, even when what they were playing seemed derivative of the Norwegian scene at the time. Still, it wasn’t until Abigor reformed and started going down the Industrial Black Metal road that I started paying more attention to what they were doing. Leytmotif Luzifer is their fourth LP since reforming and it sees Silenius and Protector of Summoning appearing on it as guest vocalists. The return of Silenius was something I didn’t expect, mostly because I remember that he was asked to leave because the other members felt that he wasn’t into what they were doing anymore. He and Protector are only guesting, though, so they don’t bring any of their Summoning style into the music. This LP isn’t about epic bombast. It’s a very different animal in that respect. They do, however, bring a considerable amount of caustic and evil sounding vocal-work to the album. When you consider that the music itself is already dark and nightmarish to begin with, it only makes things all the more hellish when you put them together. It’s at times ambient and atmospheric, and at other times, twisted and brutal, ebbing and flowing like one of the rivers twisting through the underworld, bringing death and misery with its currents. It’s certainly an interesting listen because it’s a constantly moving and churning experience. I don’t know how many guitar tracks are here, but it must be a huge number. There are so many layers of guitars that it creates a complex and dense web of sound that has a demonic atmosphere that you’re not going to find in many Black Metal releases out there. If the act of going to Hell had a soundtrack, this LP is it. Though I was given the “digital” version to review, I recommend tracking down the physical version if possible. It comes in an A5 sized digipak format and the artwork and layout for it is excellent. This one is well worth picking up if you’re a fan of dark and evil Black Metal. From the music to the packaging, this is a top notch release that I heartily recommend.

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Bridear - Light in the Dark / No Salvation

Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fukuoka’s Bridear isn’t the most prolific Japanese all-girl Power Metal band. It’s been roughly a year since they released their debut LP, Overturn the Doom, and though they’ve played a bunch of shows, they haven’t really produced much new music. This EP is their latest release, and as the title of it implies, there are only two songs here. While I wasn’t really impressed with their full-length album, I have to say that I really enjoy listening to this EP. The band has changed considerably over the last year, and while the lineup is still the same, they’ve gotten darker and heavier. They always had something of a Thrash influence in their music, though you only heard bits and pieces of it on Overturn the Doom. On this release, it hits you in the face almost immediately. The riffing is Thrashier, sporting a heavier guitar tone and more aggressive playing. They also added a raspy Death Growl in as a counterpoint to Kimi’s soaring clean vocals, reminiscent to what was done by Doll$Boxx on their Dolls Apartment LP. The net effect is two songs that rock harder and appeal more to someone like me, who enjoys darker and more brutal forms of music. The production on Light in the Dark / No Salvation is also noticeably better, with a more powerful sound than before. Everything has more impact and I think I got more neck damage from one song on this EP than I did on their entire full-length album. If I have a complaint about this, it’s that it’s too short. Unless I have this on repeat, it ends just as I’m really getting into it. As a teaser for a full-length LP, though, it’s perfect. It gets me hungry for more. I have no idea when their next release is going to be, but I’m definitely going to buy a copy when it comes out.

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At the Gates - At War with Reality

Posted on Monday, January 26, 2015

The expectations surrounding At the Gates’ first new record in 19 years were insurmountable, inescapable, and downright unfair. I say insurmountable because no Death Metal band short of Carcass can (or should be able to) just flip the switch and pick up where they left off two decades ago. I say inescapable because these Gothenburg OGs seem to be unanimously beloved by the Extremiverse —myself included— and justifiably so. I say downright unfair because the 1995 LP they just so happen to be following up is heralded by said countless minions as the single greatest album in the history of human existence. I’ve been waiting a long time and am psyched to finally be able to proclaim with assuredness: IT IS NOT!! Don’t get me wrong, I do love Slaughter of the Soul. I wore out the cassette in less than a year’s time. But it is not the best Death Metal album of all time. It isn’t even the best Swedish Death Metal album of all time. It’s not even the best At the Gates album of all time! (Take your pick of the first three. The Red in the Sky is mine.) It was probably the best Death Metal album of 1995… but it’s a little too front-loaded (yeah, constantly rewinding Side A is how that aforementioned cassette got worn out so quickly) for that #1 ranking. I think the main reason for its widespread success —aside from those first four songs— was that it was a safe Death Metal record for US teens from Jesus-plagued homes. No Satan, no gore, just razor-sharp angst. Angst that would resonate with those teens who would go on to form 600,201 Metalcore bands from 2000-2005. But that’s another discussion entirely (and another I’m in the minority on). Enough talk of the past. Let’s focus on the gift of a new At the Gates record in 2014. The good news — it sounds like an At the Gates record. They haven’t tampered with the formula one iota, and who could blame them? It literally sounds like the album that would have come out immediately after Slaughter of the Soul. The bad news — it literally sounds like an album that would have come out… in 1997. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. After all, the ’90s did mark the last time I was actually happy. The problem is this move presumes that the last 20 years of overwhelmingly brutal rape of the At the Gates sound hasn’t occurred yet. And holy fuck has it ever. This isn’t entirely the band’s fault. Who copycats their style is totally beyond their control. But At War with Reality suffers from an uneventful sameness. It doesn’t provide enough separation between the students and the masters. Of course, the students don’t have the real Tomas Lindberg, and his voice sounds as ear-piercingly perfect as ever, but somehow the album is still a chore to sit through. Case in point: on Mondays I get to do deliveries for my employer, and the work truck has a CD player (hail Satan!). When this baby came out, I listened to it for my entire route. It must’ve played half a dozen times or more. That night/the next morning — not a single note stuck in my head. Repeated spins since then have been slightly more rewarding. The album does have a handful of “hits,” so to speak. “Death and the Labyrinth” is a solid high-energy opener, while slow-burning standard edition closer “The Night Eternal” has pre-encore set-ending potential. The title track is unequivocally the best overall song, with melody-rich “The Circular Ruins” and headbangably anthemic “The Head of the Hydra” taking silver and bronze. Unfortunately, much of the in-between can only fall under the category of filler by AtG standards.
Look, living up to this hype would’ve been impossible, and just making this comeback after hanging it up on such a high note took a lotta god damn guts and I applaud these legends for it. I have a feeling the best is yet to come concerning the second chapter of this illustrious career.

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Deep Mountains - Lake of Solace

Posted on Friday, January 23, 2015

When I initially researched China’s Deep Mountains, they were described as Folk/Black Metal. Having heard Tengger Cavalry, another band that is described as Folk/Black Metal, I was kind of expecting something similar. Deep Mountains isn’t even close to sounding like that. Even calling them Black Metal is a bit of a misnomer because Lake of Solace is more in the Post-Metal vein. It reminded me a lot of bands like Empyrium and some of the others that are on Prophecy Productions (Dornenreich, Finnr’s Cane). The Metal is in there somewhere, but the music is on the passive side, consisting mostly of mellow acoustic guitar passages and ambiance. I was a bit disappointed that this wasn’t somewhat darker and heavier, but Lake of Solace was still an intriguing listen. From what I understand, the members of the band really have no lineage in Metal. They’re a collective of musicians that played other forms of music prior to getting together and forming this band. From that perspective, it makes sense that this LP doesn’t follow any of the traditional Black Metal formulas or conventions. There’s some Burzum-esque minimalism present when the electric guitars kick in, and some raspy wails for vocals, but for the most part Deep Mountains isn’t a band that dwells firmly in the realms of Metal. Suffice to say that they’re occasional visitors, but they don’t stay long. Whether that lack of Metal foundation in their music is important or not is pretty subjective. I’m not a purist, so seeing a band take Neo-Folk and adding Metal influences to it doesn’t offend my sensibilities in the least. In fact, I think this album might have been somewhat boring had they not added the Metal parts into it. If you’re a Metal fan looking for something different and more experimental, Deep Mountains is an unusual band and Lake of Solace is a very interesting listening experience.

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Babymetal - Live Legend 1999 1997 Apocalypse (video)

Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2015

Babymetal has only one full-length album to their credit, but they now have two (soon to be three) live videos out there. The thing about Babymetal is that each concert video that they release is considerably different. Even though they only have one LP, part of the draw that these DVD/BD releases have is that there are non-LP songs on them. I don’t know enough about Sakura Gakuin (the parent idol group that spawned Babymetal as a sub-unit) to know if they’re covering songs from their main group or if they’re doing covers of other groups. I do know that one song that they regularly play, “Kimi To Anime Ga Mitai” (which translates to “I want to watch Anime with you”), is a cover of a song by Kiba of Akiba. As with the I-D-Z Apocalypse video, this is a lot of Babymetal to sit through. Legend 1999, the first show on this BD (it’s the first DVD if you get that particular version, but you need an all-region player to view it - the BD has both shows on one disc), is essentially a “birthday show” for Moa Kikuchi and Yui Mizuno (aka Moa-Metal and Yui-Metal), who are the two younger members of the group. They were both born in 1999, which is why the show is called “Legend 1999,” and since their birthdays came first, it appears before Legend 1997, which is the birthday show for Suzuka Nakamoto (aka Su-Metal). Both of them are prominently showcased, with each one getting a solo song before the duo joins forces for “Onedari Daisakusen”, the only LP track to not feature Su-Metal on lead vocals. Su-Metal returns later, getting a solo song of her own (“No Rain, No Rainbow”, another non-LP track) before the three reunite for “Catch Me If You Can.” One thing I noticed was the lack of crowd interaction between the group and the audience. There’s no real connection between them in the traditional sense. In a very real way, the stage show is more like a play than a concert. Instead of between-song banter or crowd interaction, we get prerecorded narration performed by an unnamed female that we never see. The narration is a bit hokey side (with accompanying graphics that are just this side of stupid) and the whole thing comes off like a strange children’s story written by a deranged Satanic whacko and starring the three members of Babymetal. If you understand Japanese, it’s okay for a few laughs and it does keep things moving. It’s a good show, but by far the better of the two is Legend 1997, the birthday show for lead vocalist Su-Metal. Though there are fewer non-LP songs, the show is more elaborate, the crowd is larger and they’re definitely more into it. The production values are also noticeably higher, with a lot more theatrics than with Legend 1999. The show begins with a strange ritual that involves Moa and Yui offering up neck braces to a giant statue of the Virgin Mary that dominates the background of their set. The neck braces seem to be symbolic of the amount of damage your neck is about to receive because it always shows up when they play the song “Headbanger!!” (sometimes spelled phonetically as “Hedobangyaa!!). After the ritual concludes with Moa and Yui disappearing, Su-Metal rises up from below the stage and the show begins with a remixed version of “Headbanger!!” that features more Dubstep elements as well as robotized vocals. Once things get rolling, the show takes on a more streamlined appearance, focusing more on the on-stage action as opposed to having long interludes where you have to sit through some hokey narration and a slideshow of weird children’s book Satanic imagery. This show also cuts to the crowd more often, giving you a good idea how many people are there and even showing glimpses of the “Mosh’sh” area (a section of the floor officially set aside for the pit, something you don’t normally see at a Japanese arena show). This led to an unintentional bit of distraction from the music because there’s a guy in the crowd dressed in a Pikachu outfit that stands out like you wouldn’t believe. It’s essentially a spot of bright yellow in a sea of people wearing darker colors (mostly black). I found myself looking for the guy every time the cameras cut to the crowd, and it became something of a game akin to looking for Waldo in those stupid “Where’s Waldo” books. The show ends with another ritual, this one involving Su-Metal being crucified and the giant statue of the Virgin Mary falling apart behind her as flames shoot up from the stage. It’s one part J-Pop, one part Death Metal, one part Kiss concert and 100% enthralling spectacle. Both shows were elaborately choreographed, with Moa and Yui engaging in a lot of complicated dance moves, allowing Su-Metal to focus on delivering the lead vocals. As powerful as Su-Metal’s voice is, her lack of stage presence is fairly obvious. Moa and Yui aren’t much of a vocal presence most of the time but their dancing and on-stage dynamics help to minimize the fact that Su-Metal isn’t a great front-person. The theatrical nature of the shows makes crowd interaction minimal, but I’d like to see Su-Metal develop as a front-person more. She has the potential to be a strong presence, but at this point, she lacks that charisma. Another thing I noticed was that the backing “band” was a bit odd. There are two groups of people that comprise the Babymetal backing band. The first is composed of a bunch of guys dressed like skeletons and they’re just there for show. The guys in the skeleton outfits don’t actually play anything. They’re just there to look like a backing band. They flail around and pretend to play, but if you watch them closely, they’re not actually doing anything with their instruments. The second group of band members, dressed like ghosts, actually does play their instruments. It seemed odd, but when you look at the whole thing as theater, it’s all part of the show. Having seen both the I-D-Z Apocalypse and 1999 1997 Apocalypse videos, I’ve seen the group gradually progress from being a novelty side-project to being a fulltime band that’s as much of a big deal as their parent group, Sakura Gakuin. That said, the show that I really want to see is the one that hasn’t been released yet. As good as the material on this video is, the Budokan concert is the one to check out because Budokan arena in Japan is the Holy Grail of places to play. You can’t say you’ve been successful unless you’ve performed there, and when a Japanese group does get to play there (appearances at the Budokan Arena are by invitation only - you can’t just book a gig there), their shows are always more elaborate and special. I had hoped that this release would have the Budokan show on it, but unfortunately I’m going to have to wait until 2015 for that. If you’re a fan of Babymetal, though, 1999 1997 Apocalypse is still a worthwhile (though expensive) purchase.

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Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden

Posted on Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Perfection. The vast majority of music critics —yes, I’m talking to you, any living human being with a computer— don’t believe it’s possible. A perfect score is considered by most to be an anomaly at best, while others suspiciously find such an aberration downright sacrilegious. I vividly remember some cunt who recently reviewed the new Agalloch saying, “Great albums are, sadly, very few and far between… that is how it needs to be. If, to you, half your record collection is incredible, your standards are too low. You are too easily pleased; you are satisfied with a broad-ranging musical placebo that keeps you comfortable and unchallenged.” This guy then goes on to say that The Serpent & the Sphere (a dead fuck of an album, by the way) is the greatest thing he’s ever heard, yet still can’t bring himself to give it a perfect rating. On a scale of 1 to 6 (?), he gives it a 5.99. Clearly the writing of an absolute pussy who is mortally terrified of the opinion of his peers. For the record, I find way more than half my collection to be incredible — otherwise I wouldn’t fucking own it! If you don’t think the perfect record can exist, then what the fuck are you collecting records for, let alone reviewing them for fuck’s sake?! People who get all their music for free tend to become jaded hypercritics, and poseurs always reveal themselves through their language. Phrases like “I’m glad no one heard me listening to this,” or “not something I’d play with anyone around,” and “I don’t like this band’s fanbase/touring partners/stage presence/looks/producer/album cover/record label,” etc. expose these fashionistas for what they truly are: fake. They just need a scene to be a part of. It’s all about image for these cumstains. They’re aren’t concerned with music, they’re concerned with people. I say fuck people. People only exist to entertain me, and the quality of that entertainment is all that matters. A musician is nothing more than a temporary vessel for Lucifer’s grace to shine through. And I’ll tell you something else, if you really like every song on an album… THEN THAT’S A PERFECT ALBUM, PROFESSOR DICKFACE. It ain’t fuckin’ science, and the critique of art is not art form itself. Eat dick.
Why have I wasted half my Pallbearer review on a futile attempt to fix stupid? Well, just like when a Cleveland Steamer is finished, I needed to get that shit off my chest, but first and foremost it’s because Pallbearer is the epitome of musical perfection. Yes, shudder in your fucking boots, internet. This band has released a perfect demo, a perfect debut LP, and now this absolutely fucking perfect follow-up. Cringe at my words, whores! Every song this group has ever put on record —right down to the fucking Billie Holiday cover— has been flawless. Indefectible. Impeccable. Faultless. Excellent. Paragon. Transcendent. Superior. Thesaurus, bitch! Do I care about them as people? Hell no. Couldn’t even tell you what they look like. Probably couldn’t tell them apart from their fans at a gig. (Not that I go to gigs anymore; see, “fuck people.”) I wouldn’t care if Brett Campbell died tomorrow, but his voice is fucking beautiful. We’re talking otherworldy majestic pipes, and on Foundations, his traditional Doom approach has been refined and honed for maximum emotional effect. Bassist Joe Rowland and guitarist Devin Holt also lend effective vocal performances this time around, enhancing the dynamics further yet. Talk about “unchallenged” and “comfortable” (aka: “vacation” for those of us with real jobs), the crushing heaviness of these riffs soothes the life-broken soul, filling the void with a euphoria on par with the most potent drug imaginable. This band yields sonic melancholy with a seemingly cosmic power in league with the immortal Katatonia. Even this album’s segue/queef —the 3-minute “Ashes”— is so masterfully composed you will remember it forever! My only complaint here is the same as my only complaint was on Sorrow and Extinction — the disc isn’t full. There’s 25 minutes of extra space here that could’ve been filled with more of Pallbearer’s completely perfect music. MORE!! Anyone who doesn’t like this album should be shot in the stomach and left to bleed to death in the sun while his/her family is forced to watch. Read it and weep.

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Mordbrand - Imago

Posted on Monday, January 19, 2015

This is the debut full-length release by Sweden’s Mordbrand, but this is by no means their first time to the dance. The members of this band have been part of the Swedish Death Metal scene for quite some time. They’ve been active as a band since 2006 and have released a number of demo recordings, EPs and splits since their inception. When describing their sound, I found myself using a lot of adjectives that I used to use when talking about the early giants of Swedish Death Metal, namely Entombed, Carnage, Dismember and Unleashed. This comes as no surprise because Mordbrand is very much like those bands, sporting a sound that harkens back to the old Stockholm scene. The guitars have that nice, thick distortion that I remember from Left Hand Path, and also that underlying sense of melody that characterized those classic Swedish Death Metal albums. Imago isn’t a rehash of those LPs, though. It’s more of a refresher course in what Old School Swedish Death Metal used to sound like - and by extension, why we used to think it was so awesome. In a world where Death Metal is defined by hyper-technical riffing and unintelligible guttural vocals, it’s nice to hear a band that can kick your ass all over the place, play punishing Death Metal but still have things like understandable vocals (brutal but you can understand most of what is said) and melodic hooks that keep you interested. Is it the perfect LP? It’s pretty close. It isn’t groundbreakingly original, mostly because you naturally reference Dismember, Carnage, Entombed and Unleashed when describing Mordbrand. That isn’t a bad thing in this case, though. None of those bands are playing this style of music anymore (not even Entombed A.D., though they’re closer to it than they’ve been in ages) so I think of this more as a throwback to the early days of Swedish Death Metal, capturing the basic essence of the scene and taking it into the modern era. It’s also guaranteed to make your chiropractor rich (or in my case, richer).

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Mefisto - The Megalomania Puzzle

Posted on Friday, January 16, 2015

This band has been split up since 1987, and this recording isn’t anything new or previously unreleased. In fact, this compilation was released under a different name (and cooler packaging) back in 1999. That version was called The Truth, but it’s the same music as on here. Mefisto only had two official recordings, both of which were demo tapes. The first one, released in early 1986, was called Megalomania and the second and final one was called The Puzzle, which was released later that same year. Like The Truth, The Megalomania Puzzle compiles both demo recordings onto one CD. The music on here isn’t exactly groundbreaking. It’s old-school Black/Thrash that’s heavily influenced by old Bay Area Thrash, mostly the likes of Metallica, Exodus and Slayer (the early ’80s material, obviously). It has that distinct Heavy Metal lineage that a lot of the early Thrash bands had, absorbing the NWOBHM and taking it the next logical step in terms of extremity. Though not as Punk-influenced as Venom or Bathory, Mefisto has a similar vibe. The music is somewhat primitive in style, but you can tell that these guys listened to a lot of the more melodic NWOBHM stuff because there’s elements of that present amidst the basic riffing and song structures. Of the two demo recordings, The Puzzle is noticeably a better sounding, though they aren’t all that different musically. Having already heard this stuff once before, I wasn’t exactly surprised at what this was. It’s an obscure recording that found new life when Black Metal made a resurgence back in the 1990s. People were looking for old cult recordings to draw influence from and this was one of the bands that got press because someone (might have been Euronymous or Dead) mentioned them in an interview. It’s okay for what it is, but as far as finding a hidden gem, this isn’t all that special. As a historical document it’s interesting, but it isn’t something you need to drop everything and track down. In terms of influence, Mefisto had a cult status in Sweden, but outside of that, you’d be hard-pressed to find bands that listed them as one of the bands that had a lot of impact on the early Thrash or Death Metal scenes.

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Black Cult - Neo-Satanism

Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2015

This band was created as a side project by two of the most prominent members of Croatia’s Black Metal scene (Insanus and Morbid, both of whom were/are involved in many bands), to play Black Metal the way they thought it should be played. That said, I had mixed expectations for this release. On one hand, it’s a project created by two scene veterans who, theoretically, should know what Black Metal is supposed to sound like. On the other hand, these guys come from a scene that isn’t exactly world famous for spawning awesome Black Metal in the same way that Norway, Sweden, and Greece are. Black Cult was either going to be good or shit, depending on what these guys thought Black Metal was supposed to be about. That said, Neo-Satanism is actually pretty good. It’s a throwback to the older era of Norse/Scandinavian Black Metal with lots of nods to old Bathory and the usual suspects (Emperor, Burzum, Darkthrone, etc.) as far as musical influences. The music itself isn’t groundbreakingly original, but at the same time, it does possess some of the old Punk energy that was a hallmark of early Black Metal, particularly when it came to the most ancient bands, namely Venom and Bathory. That energy elevates this LP from being a project that shamelessly apes old Scandinavian bands to a band that actually has convictions. These guys want to play this kind of music, they believe in what they’re playing, and their enthusiasm shows. What’s lacking, though, is a dark atmosphere. The music itself is a lethal cocktail of catchy riffs and corrosive vocals, but seems to lack an aura of menace or pervasive evil, something almost as essential to Black Metal as guitars and drums. I think the root cause of it is the cleaner sound. This could have used a dirtier and rawer guitar tone (preferably one that was bass-heavy) and maybe some more reverb on the vocals. Neo-Satanism has a sound that shows the riffs in razor sharp clarity and I think that clarity came at the expense of the band’s natural rawness. I imagine that if you saw Black Cult perform live, all of these songs would sound fucking insanely dark, but it doesn’t translate as well here. This is a minor thing because I also factor in how much damage this band delivered to my neck - and this album did a considerable amount of it. There is room for improvement in the production side of things, but as far as the music and its execution, this is excellent.

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