Ea - A Etilla

Posted on Monday, July 28, 2014

When I see an album come into my queue that’s one track and just a hair under fifty minutes in length, I think one of two things: “Oh fuck, the label decided to combine all of the tracks together so you can’t listen to each song individually” (this happens more often than you think…), or in this case, “That’s one fucking long song!” Yes, A Etilla is one long track. That leads to the automatic second part of this, which is the question, “How painful is this going to be to listen to?” Russia’s Epic Funeral Doomsters, Ea, have been writing songs in excess of twenty minutes for quite some time now, having started in 2005 and, after four previous LPs, have honed their craft to a fine art. This might be one long track, but it’s never boring. This is an epic-length song that goes somewhere. It’s akin to listening to a combination of Turn Loose the Swans-era My Dying Bride and a Dark Ambient band. They have a heavy, more Death Metal-inspired style when it comes to their vocals and guitar tone, but with a far more integrated and developed sense of atmospherics. Instead of plodding, boring music that has been artificially stretched out, A Etilla is constantly changing. The music is dark, ominous and heavy - all of which are essential in creating awesome Doom Metal. The band uses ancient sacred texts as the basis for their lyrics, and to a degree, their music is like a spiritual journey. I’ve always found things like this to be fascinating, mostly owing to my interest in ancient mystical texts, occultism and forbidden knowledge. Of course, I’m one of those crazy kids that was playing D&D, reading H.P. Lovecraft and drawing pictures of Cthulhu in the third grade. As you can imagine, I was one of the “weird kids” that would be a Ritalin zombie in today’s school system. Ea taps into the area of my brain that likes the mystical. They use Ambient passages and choir parts to great effect, breaking things up and then segueing into a new sections, all the while keeping things moving. By the time the song is over, you’re almost exhausted because it takes you all over the place, from punishingly heavy guitars to ethereal Gregorian choirs. If you’re into Atmospheric Doom/Death Metal, they’re definitely a band to check out if you haven’t already done so.

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Pact - The Infernal Hierarchies, Penetrating the Threshold of Night

Posted on Friday, July 18, 2014

Pennsylvanian Black Metal horde, Pact returns with their second strike, The Infernal Hierarchies, Penetrating the Threshold of Night, and it was definitely worth the wait. I liked their debut LP, The Dragon Lineage of Satan, but that was marred by a sub-par production (particularly the drum tone). The music on their debut was some sick and evil Black Metal, but it just wasn’t presented properly. The Infernal Hierarchies, though, corrects that and you get Pact screaming forth blasphemy in the way they were meant to. This LP is essentially a 45 minute ass kicking that only stops damaging your neck and head at the end of the last song. Pact reminds me of the older school of US based Black Metal in that their sound has a substantial amount of Death and Thrash Metal built into it. It harkens back to the era when groups like Demoncy, Profanatica, Masochist and Necrovore were the only bands that were legitimately Black Metal in the US during the early ’90s Death Metal boom. The production on this album probably has a lot to do with it, showcasing a more bass-heavy guitar sound. It’s pretty punishing, which is good thing in my book. The Infernal Hierarchies is a very intense record and if there’s a flaw in this beast’s armor, it’s that it’s fairly relentless in the mauling that you get. There isn’t much breathing room because the caustic and brutal music bludgeons you hard, slows down briefly to measure you and then bludgeons you again. I don’t consider that much of a flaw, though. When you’re looking for music that kicks your ass and leaves you broken and scarred, Pact delivers the goods more reliably than UPS.

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Doom:VS - Earthless

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014

If you only hunt down one Doom Metal album this year, make it Earthless. Holy fuck! This record is excellent. For those unfamiliar with this oddly-monikered act (if memory serves, it’s pronounced “doomus,” with a trve kvlt “v” instead of a “u,” just don’t ask me about that colon or the random capitalization), it’s the side solo job of Draconian guitarist/main songwriter Johan Ericson. As big a fan I am of Draconian, trust me when I say Johan saves his slowest, heaviest riffs and saddest, deepest melodies for Doom:VS (see Bill Steer, Carcass). I thought the project had been eternally put on ice given the 6-year absence since 2008’s Dead Words Speak, so it was a pleasant surprise just to see this one in print. Then to actually hear it… god damn! As much as I enjoyed its aforementioned predecessor, Earthless towers over it significantly. It’s just one of those instantly gratifying records that grabs you immediately and refuses to let go. Slow music, but by no means a slow-burner, Earthless is utter fucking Doomgasm from beginning to end. It’s like scratching a mosquito bite for 50 minutes, as a tag-team of crushing riffs and mournful melodies continually shovels dirt on hope’s rotting bloated carcass. Catchy, depressing, beautiful — in my heart, this is what Doom Metal is to me. But let’s talk about what really takes this beast next-level. The vocals. Whereas Ericson manned the mic exclusively on Dead Words Speak, this time he has enlisted the talents of Saturnus frontman Thomas Jensen to handle all harsh vocal duties. And my oh my, handle them he does. If you’re even half the fan of this man’s voice as I am (check out Saturnus’ “Starres” to hear the best Doom chorus ever: “FOR ME!!! FOREVER!!! FOR US!!!”), you’re in for a treat. You get more of his deep growl here than on the last couple Saturnus records combined. Ericson —a fine vocalist in his own right— still contributes some clean vocals —the shakiness of which, at times, being all that keeps this LP from total perfection— but by sharing some of the grimelight, he has taken Doom:VS from worthwhile to otherworldly. His morose musical mastery and Jensen’s trademark powerful roar/poetic spoken bits are a match made in purgatory. For those who wish that both Draconian and Saturnus were just a little bit heavier and perhaps a little less Gothic, Earthless is your Doom come true.

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Hatriot - Dawn of the New Centurion

Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2014

Less than a year after Steve “Zetro” Souza unleashed his return to Thrash Metal onto an unsuspecting world, Hatriot is back for a second strike. Much like Heroes of Origin, Dawn of the New Centurion is a solid piece of venomous Thrash that draws heavily on Zetro’s previous bands (Exodus, Legacy/Testament) for influence. Dawn of the New Centurion, though, is a much more diverse LP than its predecessor. Instead of being like a machinegun and hitting you fast and furious for 45 minutes straight, this goes from fast and brutal to darker and more atmospheric, incorporating some melodic guitar-work and slower tempos into the mix. The varied approach works pretty well for Hatriot, giving their songs more identity and breaking up things so you don’t get lost in a blur of blasting drums and chainsaw riffs. The slower, heavier tracks are the ones that stand out to me the most, offering memorable riffing and also some of the best guitar soloing on the LP. Lyrically, Dawn of the New Centurion is once again pointedly political. Some of Zetro’s political positions might be unpopular with a certain segment of the population (such as his pro-Second Amendment song “From My Cold Dead Hands”) but when you consider the band’s name (Hatriot is a play on the word “Patriot” after all), that he’d unload with both barrels shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The only problem with writing a political song is that after the situation changes, the song becomes somewhat irrelevant. There’s no point in calling for the release of Pussy Riot (the jailed Russian Punk Rock band referenced in the song “Superkillafragsadisticactsaresoatrocious”) after they’ve been freed, for example. There’s a timeliness about it that gets lost as the years go by. It’s as good an incentive as anything to keep the band producing new and more relevant material, though. While I’m still not a huge fan of Zetro’s vocal style, I have to admit that he’s stepped his game up since leaving Exodus. I never felt that he was a good fit for Exodus, mostly because he was never able to come out from under the shadow of Paul Baloff. With Hatriot, though, he’s the star of the show and he’s delivering the goods. If you like Thrash, this is the real deal. It’s not Exodus but it still kills posers dead.

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Three Sixes - Know God, No Peace…

Posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2014

I don’t get a lot of physical CDs to review anymore. These days essentially everything arrives in the form of an emailed download link, either from the record label, a PR company, or the band itself. So, it’s always a pleasant surprise to see the yellow card in my PO box that lets me know a package awaits. The one this CD arrived in was big enough to contain the entire Nunslaughter discography, but so light that I thought it might have accidentally been sent empty. For reasons unknown to me, the band chose to send it Standard Post, which set them back nearly $9. Cutting away the outer paper wrapping revealed a re-purposed Priority Mail box. Opening that, I was greeted with a massive amount of crumpled up newspaper and what at first appeared to be a hollow Holy Bible - I thought that because it literally says “HOLY BIBLE” on the cover. If it hadn’t been so extremely lightweight, piquing my curiosity, I might have just re-closed the box on it and thrown the entire thing into my outside trashcan. That’s kind of a risky move on the part of the band and/or label. Pressing on, I unwrapped the ridiculous amount of plastic film and opened the “Bible,” now noticing the subtitle: Book of Three Sixes. Inside the gigantic (2.25 x 7 x 9.5 inches - who has room for that?) faux-book were a couple large bags of air taking up nearly all of the space, plus a fully packaged CD, band photo, bio, stickers, etc… Without the cardstock “book” wasting so much space and weighing down everything, this could have been mailed First Class for $2.50. Even exactly as it was, Media Mail would have only been $3.17. Yes, I fucking checked the prices. Examining the CD itself, of course I found the Disc Makers logo, as expected. If you ever want to pay twice the going rate to have physical media (CDs, DVDs, etc…) manufactured, and would like someone to hold your balls through the entire process, Disc Makers is the way to go. It’s like lighting cash on fire without the fun of watching it burn. Whenever I see a band or label waste so much money (over $6 per package in postage alone, plus the small fortune that the extraneous not-actually-books must have cost, and however much they let Disc Makers overcharge), I am forced to assume the worst about them. I’m therefore kind of happy, and in another way sad, to report that the music here is fucking terrible, only matched by the horribleness of the vocals. I suppose that this is some sort of an attempt at Industrial Metal, which makes the confusing cover of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” stand out, but only as possibly the worst track, which is quite an accomplishment. This album is physically painful to listen to, with very occasional extremely brief instrumental moments of okayness, and somehow manages to utterly miss every mark in all conceivable ways, except one: At least they hate religion. In the interest of fairness, the recording itself is very well done, but that’s like wrapping up a well-intentioned turd in expensive paper.

Rating:
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Sinister - The Post-Apocalyptic Servant

Posted on Monday, July 07, 2014

Let me apologize in advance for sounding like a broken record when it comes to Sinister. I haven’t checked the archives, but I’d be willing to wager that any review I’ve done on them in the last decade hits the same spots more often than Tom Glavine in his prime. For instance, I most likely always mention that their obscenely underrated 1998 masterpiece Aggressive Measures is in my Top 3 Death Metal albums of all time (the other 2, if anyone’s curious, are Grave’s Into the Grave and Morbid Angel’s Covenant, in no particular order). Then I probably go on to poo on the media in general for failing to recognize the greatness and longevity of Sinister’s career with the same fervor as they do other groups with a similar tenure. Then maybe something about lineup changes, solid production, Aad Kloosterwaard being a bad motherfucker, etc. And then finally I boast about how good the album is. The critique never changes because Sinister never changes. The only question going into one of their releases is exactly how awesome it’s going to be, and with The Post-Apocalyptic Servant, these Dutchmen just may have penetrated their own Top 3. This LP absolutely fucking slays from start to finish. Blistering intensity, Aad’s best vocal performance in years, and outright sizzling with early-’90s Floridian energy throughout, this beast just doesn’t let up. Something tells me they’ve been listening to The Bleeding quite a bit in Schiedam. Just check out that string manipulation on “The Macabre God” and those basslines on “The Masquerade of an Angel.” Then there’s the Deicidal feel to “The End of All That Conquers” and —speaking of Covenant— the Azagthothian hooks that punctuate the verse riffs on the standout title track. Kicking and growling since ‘88, these guys have earned the right to borrow from the elder gods because they’re one of them, and the band from the early ’90s they resemble most actually turns out to be themselves. The classic vibe of Cross the Styx and Diabolical Summoning (my #2 from them while we’re at it) is successfully recaptured, albeit with enhanced chops via the new personnel. For furthermore proof of this ’90s state of mind, score the Limited Edition for spot-on renditions of Morbid Angel’s “Fall from Grace,” Paradise Lost’s “Deadly Inner Sense,” and… …Agent Steel???

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Cradle of Filth - Total Fucking Darkness

Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2014

Wow. Time travel is possible through compact disc, people. Believe it. The year was 1994 (technically Total Fucking Darkness came out in late ‘93, but shit took a while to circulate in the good ol’ pre-internet days). I had been into extreme music (i.e. stuff heavier than Slayer and Sepultura) for over a year and was already starting to play in my own Death Metal band. Life didn’t suck yet. (I mean, it did… but I only remember the good times.) The Norwegian Black Metal scene was really catching fire (HA!) and while those corpse-painted miscreants were making headlines, the buzz surrounding this new band from the UK was huge. You could cut the electricity in the air with a broadsword. This demo was a big fucking deal. I was never lucky enough to score an authentic copy, but old friend/co-Adversary founder Tom Benford had one, and his Dani Filth-inspired, high-pitch banshee wail would come to define band practice in those early days. To this day, even those who despise Cradle of Filth sing the praises of the band’s 3rd demo. Listening to it for the first time in two decades… I mean, I get it… but I don’t get it. It’s good —especially for an early ’90s demo— but it isn’t “the greatest demo of all time” as so many have proclaimed throughout the years. (For me, that honor easily goes to the legendary Sadness by Avernus.) Cradle of Filth was more of a Death Metal band in 1993. They used keyboards, eerie melodies, and Doomier structures to set themselves apart, but Dani had more of a straightforward growl back then, only breaking out his soon-to-be-trademark shriek once or twice at best. The highlights here include “The Raping of Faith” and “The Black Goddess Rises.” For my money, I’ve always preferred the far more refined version of the latter that appeared on the highly-anticipated-at-the-time debut LP The Principle of Evil Made Flesh. Granted, I am an unashamed Cradle of Filth fan. Other than Thornography and their last three piece-of-shit full-lengths, I celebrate the group’s entire discography. It’s most likely the embryonic rawness and rough edges of a band some feel got too big that endears Total Fucking Darkness to so many black hearts. As a piece of history and a memory lane stroll, it has unequivocal value —not to mention a slew of bonus material from the fine folks at Mordgrimm; I’m counting 12 tracks on the 2LP version and I only remember the original cassette having 4 or 5— but hardly the first thing I’ll reach for when craving a Filth fix.

Rating:
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Garden of Hesperides - The Frozen Garden of the Hesperides

Posted on Friday, June 27, 2014

According to the information that I have on this band, the sole member of Garden of Hesperides, Vasara, wants to remain anonymous and doesn’t tell anyone his real name or his physical location. Deliberate obscurity has some appeal to it, I suppose, but it isn’t like he’s gonna get mobbed by adoring fans anytime soon. Musically, Garden of Hesperides is minimalistic Black Metal in the Burzum style, but with more atmospherics. It doesn’t rise to the level of old Emperor or Graveland, but the keyboards are fully integrated into the four songs on this LP. It’s on the slow and droning side, but not in the Doom sense. This isn’t a poor choice of styles, but there is a flaw in this particular style that is a tough thing to get around. Inherent in minimalistic music is the fact that there isn’t much going on. It’s the nature of the beast. Minimalism can quickly degenerate into tedium and monotony, especially when you’re talking about songs that are pretty lengthy. The music isn’t bad, but it just goes on and on and on and on. Three of the four tracks are over ten minutes in length, but truth be told, they could have been cut in half and you wouldn’t notice the five to six missing minutes from each one. The Frozen Garden of the Hesperides is a valiant attempt at making interesting minimalistic Atmospheric Black Metal, but as good as Vasara is at creating bleak and somber moods, the music just isn’t engaging enough for my taste. If you happen to like droning Black Metal in the Filosofem-era Burzum style, you might find this album to your liking.

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Death - Leprosy

Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2014

It seems absurdly academic for an absolute nobody such as myself to spew out posthumous critique of the legend that is Chuck Schuldiner’s body of work, but the fine folks at Relapse have given me the opportunity to talk about a Death record in 2014, so I’m jumping all over that shit. You see, I didn’t get a chance to review Leprosy when it was originally released in 1988. I was only 9, and my discovery of Death Metal was still 5 years away (although, I was heavily into Roy Orbison back then, which I’m pretty sure qualifies as Blackened Doom). Besides, Ray wasn’t even doing Metal Curse yet. At that time, he was still frantically trying to get his memoirs about being a roadie for Beethoven published, but couldn’t get any of the majors to bite. Ironically enough, I’m still pretty much at a Fourth Grade-level of writing, so this will be somewhat authentic to the period.
I wish I could say that Leprosy was my first Death Metal album, but I can’t. It wasn’t even my first Death album. I stole Individual Thought Patterns from a Musicland when I was 14, and the rest, as they say, is history. I can’t honestly say it’s my favorite Death LP, either, although I wholeheartedly understand why so many lifers do pick Death’s sophomore outing as tops. It has “Pull the Plug.” Arguably Death’s greatest song, and inarguably one of the greatest songs of all time. However, I like to point out that on my all-time fave, Scream Bloody Gore, every song is a “Pull the Plug.” But that timeless anthem certainly isn’t all Leprosy has going for it. “Left to Die” and “Open Casket” were bona fide “hits,” and the opening 1-2 punch of the title track and “Born Dead” is pretty tough to beat. It just isn’t a perfect LP. No Death Metal band has ever closed their set with a cover of “Forgotten Past,” and I’ve always found the closing tandem of “Primitive Ways” and “Choke on It” slightly less awesome by Death standards. Still, Leprosy is far better than Spiritual Healing —the band’s most unmemorable moment in my opinion— and I probably like it more than Human, but given my unashamed worship of the final three Death albums, it lands at the #5 spot for yours truly. Not like it even matters. You should own all of them or you really ought to fucking kill yourself.
As for this reissue, the bonus material is well-appreciated, but —even for the most diehard fans— perhaps a bit much. If you get the standard 2CD version, you get 10 rehearsal tracks from 1987 (which sound pretty bad). If you get the 3CD deluxe, you also get 15 live tracks from 1988 (better sound and good for at least one spin). Then if you go Bandcamp/iTunes, you get 3 more live cuts. Geez! I love Death as much as anyone, but don’t know if I’ll ever have the time and/or desire to sit around for 3 hours listening to 5 different versions of “Open Casket.” The LP version will always do perfectly by itself. Out of respect for the immortal Evil Chuck, the excess/poor quality of the bonus tracks does not reflect on the rating.

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