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.

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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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Embryonic Devourment - Reptilian Agenda

Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I’ve seen Embryonic Devourment play live several times since the early 2000s, so I’m quite familiar with this band. While I’m not a huge fan of Technical Brutal Death Metal, these guys know how to kick some serious ass on stage and I appreciate that. When it comes to Death Metal, any band that can give me neck damage gets my respect. One of the problems I always have with reviewing technical bands, regardless of the genre of Metal, is that the way a band sounds live and the way they sound on a studio recording is vastly different. Seen live, Embryonic Devourment is brutal as fuck, and though they’re technical, their guitar tone is pretty punishing. On Reptilian Agenda, however, the guitars are dramatically dialed back in brutality. The recording has a lot of clarity, but that came at the price of the band’s extremity. On the plus side, you get to hear every note and riff clearly. On the minus side, it doesn’t kick nearly as much ass as it should. When I first listened to this LP, I was disappointed because I remember how the band sounds live and I expected to hear a similarly bass-heavy guitar tone here, too. Even though the group is clearly very well rehearsed and their technical chops are solid throughout these eight tracks, the lighter-weight guitar tone really took a chunk out of Embryonic Devourment’s sound. If you’re listening this album for pure technicality, you’re going to find that in abundance, but one of the key parts of Technical Brutal Death Metal is the “Brutal” element. I wanted this record to beat the shit out of me, but it just never happened. I guess that’s just a good excuse to see these guys live because that’s where they really deliver the goods.

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Mayhem - Esoteric Warfare

Posted on Monday, June 23, 2014

You’ve got to get a tickle out of it when, inevitably, any cumstain that writes a Mayhem review takes that same juvenile cheap shot at all Mayhem detractors. Apparently, we’re all just stuck in the past. We don’t like Mayhem anymore because it isn’t true (almost always read “trve” or “troo” for maximum douchebag effect). Then they call us horrible names, like “purists.” It seems our beef with Mayhem doesn’t stem from all three of their post-DMDS full-lengths sucking raw shit through a straw. Nope, it’s because the calendar doesn’t say 1994 anymore. We don’t despise Grand Declaration of War due to it being anti-memorable, zero-effort noise, it’s because no churches were burnt down. We only call Chimera a plastic, lame abomination because there weren’t any murders or suicides on that one, and our poor reception of Ordo ad Chao has absolutely nothing to do with the album sounding like it was recorded in my ass. It’s because we only want to hear those same 15 songs the band wrote from 1984-1996, and we only want to hear them when people are blowing fire and stabbing dudes in forests. Sorry, that’s just how we are… or more accurately, that’s just how people with no friends who still live with/off their parents assume we are. But things that walking abortions write that piss me off aside, Esoteric Warfare has completely shattered my (lack of) expectations. That is to say, it isn’t bad. It isn’t great, so don’t let any lifelover convince you it is, but it isn’t bad. It actually sounds like a band, as in a cohesive unit, writing songs, which is something that hasn’t pertained to Mayhem since 1997’s excellent Wolf’s Lair Abyss EP. (Strange… I like that one and Dead and Euronymous aren’t on it…) Get this: the drums actually sound like drums! There are —hope you’re sitting down for this one— actual riffs! New guitarist Teloch (Nidingr, NunFuckRitual) has exceptional skill and is not content to coast on white noise in between 4-trick juggling. All of the instruments are audible. I repeat, all of the instruments are audible! That includes Atilla’s trademark vocals. He sounds much better here, but still far away from his best. Twenty years away to be exact. With a voice so bewitching, less is truly more and more is truly less. Alas, I’ve listened to this album over a dozen times and not one song sticks. Still, I have to applaud these guys. It’s taken them 30 years, but they’re starting to nail some of the fundamentals. They’ve remembered how to make songs, now they just have to remember how to make them memorable.
Of course, these finger-on-the-pulse-of-the-working-class critics will see right through me. My real problem with this record is that Blasphemer is gone now. Because, y’know… that’s what single 35-year olds with a mountain of debt, working 45 hours a week, treading water check-to-check are most concerned with… what Blasphemer’s up to.

Rating:
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Murmur - Murmur

Posted on Thursday, June 19, 2014

While this band’s previous LP, 2010’s Mainlining the Lugubrious, had some tenuous connections to Black Metal, the self-titled follow-up goes off into the deep end almost immediately. This is Progressive Post-Black Metal at its worst (or best, perhaps, depending on your musical preferences). Murmur might have started out as a standard Black Metal band back in 2007, when they formed, but this isn’t Black Metal anymore. Hell, I’m hesitant to even call this racket “Metal” at all. The song structures are weird, the music is overly complicated and every track on this album is clearly written for the subset of fans that wants to listen to music for the technical nuances. When I listen to music, I’m not analyzing the songs for weird timings, highly experimental tonal arrangements or creative picking techniques. I don’t mind some technicality or progressive structures, but this was just painful to hear. It actually made Dream Theater and Fates Warning listenable in comparison. Any band that can do that immediately earns a spot on the list of nominees for the coveted Iron Cock Award for Most Masturbatory Musical Release by a Supposedly Black Metal Band. At the moment, Murmur is the only band on the list, but the year is young so other contenders may arise to challenge them for the giant black iron dildo of shame. If you want evil Black Metal that shreds your soul and leaves you torn and maimed forever, you should stay as far away from this record as humanly possible. Unless you’re a masochist in the musical sense, you’re not going to want to waste your time on this crap.

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Agalloch - The Serpent & the Sphere

Posted on Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is it just me, or has 2014 been a year completely barren of essential Black Metal releases? Seriously… where’s the Black? There hasn’t been a single heavy-hitter from any of the scene giants so far. (I haven’t heard the new Mayhem yet, but I’m sure it’ll suck as every Mayhem album post-Wolf’s Lair Abyss has.) Not that Agalloch should or could ever be pigeonholed as just a Black Metal band. Their inspiring musical palette has always encompassed a wide variety of styles, including Black, Folk, Doom, Prog, Post… it’s more of a Grey Metal, if you will. Still, it’s a tall order not to expect these Portlandian champions of all things dark and dreary to fill the void created since I stopped listening to Try Not to Destroy Everything You Love nine hours a day. That doesn’t exactly bode well for anyone willing to accept the fact that each new Agalloch record seems to be less excellent than its predecessor. Case in point: Pale Folklore — an absolute classic; if you don’t own, you don’t know shit about shit. Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor — timeless; I still listen to the Sol Invictus cover on repeat to this day. The Mantle — godlike; utterly mesmerizing perfection. Ashes Against the Grain — …um… I don’t remember much about it, other than it staying in rotation a lot longer than Marrow of the Spirit or Faustian Echoes did. Now, with The Serpent & the Sphere, the band has delivered their slowest burner yet. A largely instrumental LP at a time when I need Haughm to hiss at me the most. It isn’t terrible. Let’s not kid ourselves, these guys couldn’t write bad music if they tried. It just isn’t immediately memorable or outright sizzling with the bleak ‘n’ grim majestic power that allowed these US legends to stand tall in a field dominated by Scandis. It is awfully damn pretty, however. Beautiful clean guitar passages ring out over an ascendant rhythm section throughout, occasionally giving way to those signature acoustic frolics. It’s as introspective and atmospheric as all get out, but severely lacking pain. There seems to be more Prog than passion this time around. More moodiness than malcontent. Glimpses of perfection do reveal themselves on opener “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation,” and the heart of the album (“The Astral Dialogue,” “Dark Matter Gods,” and “Celestial Effigy”), but even here there’s more table-setting than main course. Of the last four songs, three are instrumentals, the notes of which cry out loud begging for narrative verse! I need Agalloch to spin me that windswept, frozen cocoon of bitterness, rage, and despondency, where no light nor warmth nor hope dare shine through. What I don’t need is a voice as good as Haughm’s left on the shelf for what feels like 75% of the album. The better the band, the higher the expectations, and —selfish or not— mine were not entirely met.

Rating:
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My Useless Life - Negative Memories

Posted on Monday, June 16, 2014

When I see a band with a name like My Useless Life, I hope and pray to our lord and master, Satan, that it’s dark and bleak Black Metal with suicidal/depressive lyrics. All too often, I’ve been burned and the band turns out to be one of those Emo/Angst-ridden Mallcore bands that whines about how miserable their existence is because mommy and daddy bought them an iPhone 5S in the wrong color. Lucifer only knows what would happen if someone saw that the color of their iPhone clashed with their $300 Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, $1500 Mac Book Pro and their $900 iPad Air! Why, someone’s life might be completely ruined! The horror! (Insert sarcasm where appropriate.) Granted, listening to a bunch of whiny 20-somethings technically qualifies as suicidal/depressive music because it certainly makes me want to commit suicide. And murder. Not necessarily in that order, though. Luckily, My Useless Life is as dark and depressing as I’d hoped. The band hails from Sacramento, California (not exactly a hotbed of Depressive Black Metal, I know…), and this is their second LP. I missed their first album, 2012’s On the Edge, but this new one is really good and makes me want to seek out the debut. The music on Negative Memories is sorrowful and melodic, skirting the edges of Doom at times in terms of speed, though it lacks the heaviness that would put it with true Doom Metal. It doesn’t possess me to want to slit my wrists or jump off of a cliff any more than normal - I average ten to twelve suicidal thoughts a day and I didn’t notice any upticks in my desires to end my life while listening to this LP - but it did put me in a nice deep blue funk the way old Katatonia does. My Useless Life has a good grasp of melody and atmosphere, using various means to achieve that melancholic and dreary feeling you get from each of their songs. Another plus on this record’s already impressive list of good qualities is the fact that all of the songs are excellent. Each one has its own identity, but at the same time, they all fit in with the general dark and sorrowful vibe of the LP as a whole. It’s rare that I hear an album where all of the songs fucking rock, but Negative Memories pulls it off well. This is definitely one to check out.

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Ghost Bath - Funeral

Posted on Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In Chinese, a “Ghost Bath” is when you kill yourself by drowning. With a name like that, you’re not going to get happy music by any means. I’d heard that this band was Depressive Black Metal, so I kind of expected them to be more like Burzum, incorporating grim and suicidal atmospheres by way of droning guitar riffs and repetitive song structures. This is not the case. The closest we get to Burzum is the vocalist, 多诺万, wailing away like a banshee. Funeral is a strange listen to say the least. The music is melodic and unsettling, but I’m hesitant to call it depressive or very dark. There are lots of acoustic guitar parts and melodic solos interspersed throughout the length of this album, and while it’s well played, it lacks the dark atmosphere that you need for music like this. It’s like walking through a graveyard at night, but with reasonable lighting instead of stumbling around with only moonlight to guide you. You might feel a bit unsettled by the gravestones all around you, but you don’t have the terror of the unknown that you’d get if you were out there in the dark. A part of this lack of atmosphere stems from the music, but the vocals also play a significant role. The screeching that passes for singing on Funeral is disruptive. Some bands experimented with this style of vocals back in the early ’90s, but dropped it after a while because the sound took away far more atmosphere than it ever added. When you’re trying to build a grim or melancholic ambiance, nothing shoots it down faster than the wailing vocals. Part of it has to do with the pitch, which is extremely high, contrasting negatively against the lower tones in the rest of the music. I’m not saying that they should ditch their current singer, but a serious rethinking of how he delivers the vocals is definitely in order. Funeral did have some interesting moments, though. Aside from the detractions, this was a fairly well executed LP when it came to the music. If they can sort out the vocals and add some darker atmospherics to their sound, their next release could be pretty deadly.

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Impaled Nazarene - Vigorous and Liberating Death

Posted on Monday, June 09, 2014

In the most shocking turn of events this decade has seen to date, Finnish goat-worshippers Impaled Nazarene have completely changed their style on album #12. It’s true, folks. Their first record in four years finds them swapping their trademark Blackened Punk Metal for a contemporary fusion of Occult Rock, Shoegaze, Prog, and full-on Djent, with just a sprinkle of Appalachian Southpaw Jazz. Longtime followers of the band’s 24-year career will undoubtedly be taken aback by the inclusion of a 36-piece orchestra and the new positive outlook found on numbers like “Peace & Love or We (Won’t) Riot,” “Paying Bills = Awesome,” “Seatbelts Save Lives,” and “Sex Can Wait (I’m Worth It),” not to mention the group’s puzzling albeit heartfelt re-imagining of Phil Collins’ “Why Can’t It Wait ‘til Morning.” Equally questionable is frontman Mika Luttinen’s decision to forgo the microphrone altogether in favor of Finland’s oldest-known percussive instrument, the fukkiinukkiisukkiidukkii, which is entirely handcarved out of the bones of dead faggots.
HA! Just kidding. Had you going for a second, didn’t I? Come on, people. This is Impaled fucking Nazarene. Steelvagina is still their god and Sir Mikaakim Sluti666 Penetrator is still the killer of trolls. (He shoots those fuckers, no remorse.) It’s fast, it’s loud, it’s intense, it’s profane, and it’s a critic’s worst nightmare. What can I possibly say about an Impaled Nazarene album that hasn’t been said before? If you’re familiar with the band, you already know what you’re getting. Not a ton of guesswork involved with songs called “Flaming Sword of Satan” and “Pathological Hunger for Violence.” And if you aren’t familiar with them (aka: you don’t rock hard), either kill yourself or get the fuck started. Take your pick of any album. They’re all pretty much as interchangeable as the 13 tracks on offer here. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. While it’s uncertain if Vigorous and Liberating Death will have the same staying power 20 years from now that classics like Ugra - Karma, Suomi Finland Perkele, and Latex Cult still have today, it’s a worthwhile addition to their boisterous canon and well up to par with their last handful of LPs. It’s nice to see a legendary act not fixing what isn’t broken instead of kindly bending over to free us from what it says on the tin. Hail Planet Nazarene or feel the wrath of the Goat. Let’s fucking die.

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Demilich - 20th Adversary of Emptiness

Posted on Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Some people say that I look back upon the short-lived career of Demilich with rose-colored lenses. I’ve heard people tell me that the band was more hype than ability, and that Nespithe wasn’t even that good of an LP to begin with. Of course, these are the same people who get extremely offended when I say that Sunbather by Deafheaven isn’t Black Metal, and that, regardless of how many critics think it’s the future of extreme music, I don’t see what’s so great about a record full of angst-ridden, Alt-Rock infuse hipster bullshit. Demilich might be known more for Antti Boman’s extremely low-pitched “Swamp Thing with a sore throat” vocals than for anything else, but in terms of their music, they were ahead of their time. Before bands like Necrophagist, Embryonic Devourment or Origin, there was Demilich. Technical Brutal Death Metal didn’t exist as a genre of its own when Nespithe was released in 1993. That didn’t come until much later. Now, I’m not a big fan of Technical Brutal Death Metal. I think that the bulk of it is needlessly overcomplicated and it’s borderline musical masturbation more often than not. I do, however, make allowances for Demilich because they were trying to be different in an era when everyone wanted to be either Entombed or Morbid Angel (depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean they were on). Their music was dark and twisted, and though it was technical, it had an atmosphere that was unique at the time. This 2CD release is a compilation of all of the band’s history, dating back to their original demo material through the last recordings made during their brief reunion. If you’re like me and you already own Nespithe, the additional recordings are definitely worth it because not only do you have their one and only LP, you have their full discography in one collection. You can track the band’s evolution, and though the music does sound a bit uneven in places although it has all been remastered (including Nespithe), it’s still an interesting listen. The newest recordings are the best sounding, but the older tracks still sound pretty good in comparison. Fans of Technical Brutal Death Metal will probably get the most out of this compilation, though old-school Death Metal fans who remember Nespithe will like it, too. If there is one thing that keeps this from complete awesomeness, it’s the fact that Demilich wasn’t around long enough to have an extensive discography. Many of the songs are repeated several times, having been recorded and then re-recorded again over the years. Each version sounds a bit different, but ultimately you’re hearing some stuff over and over again. Still, as a fan of the band, I didn’t mind that too much. I went in knowing what this was, but I still wanted to hear it anyway. I know that a full-length album with new material is probably never going to happen (though the band has reunited several times over the years), but a release like 20th Adversary of Emptiness keeps me hoping.

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Vallenfyre - Splinters

Posted on Monday, June 02, 2014

Few Death Metal supergroups short of the almighty Bloodbath —inarguably responsible for the greatest Death Metal songs written in the last decade and a half— impress on the level of Gregor Mackintosh’s Vallenfyre. Anyone who still hasn’t tracked down their spectacular 2011 debut, A Fragile King, needs to get the fuck on that in a hurry. Bump it up to the top of that to-do list, because the Paradise Lost guitarist and his band of (un)merry mates have made this follow-up bigger, better, badder, and beefier, so you’re going to need some lube. Splinters is without question the first utterly essential Death Metal release of 2014. The Doom parts are Doomier, the Grind parts are Grindier, the Crust parts are Crustier, Mackintosh’s growl is growlier, and the guitars… HOLY FUCK!!! Mere days ago I was 100% committed and prepped to declare the guitar sound on the new Triptykon LP as the heaviest ever achieved. No, sir. I’m glad I put Melana Chasmata on the backburner for so long because that honor unequivocally goes to Splinters. Major props to producer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou for sprinkling pixie dust on the HM-2 sound before injecting it with the same kind of Cuban horse steroids Yasiel Puig is on. GOD DAMN!!! Thor couldn’t lift this guitar sound. For the best description of these guitars, look no further than the gent playing them, as Hamish Glencross recently went on record somewhere stating that the guitars sounded like “someone sawing wood.” Apt to say the least. But the biggest overall difference between this monster and the debut, is that this time there is no filler whatsoever. Musically, vocally, lyrically, and stylistically there is absolutely nothing left for the OSDM fiend to desire except repeated listens (and perhaps another round). I certainly don’t want to say that I’m glad Gregor’s father passed away (see A Fragile King review for clarification), but I sure as shit am thankful that Vallenfyre exists. For a project that features members of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and At the Gates, believe me when I tell you that Splinters could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any random classic you’d care to pull from that overstuffed bag of goodies. Flawless.

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Blood Stain Child - Last Stardust

Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2014

A lot of Metal fans see the discography of a Japanese band and wonder why they have an extensive number of singles to their credit. In Japan, things are a bit backwards compared to the rest of the world. In most anywhere else, a band will record a full-length LP and then release a single to promote it. In Japan, the singles come long before a full-length LP. By the time the album comes out, most Japanese fans have heard all of the good songs on it already. Last Stardust is the latest single from Blood Stain Child and if you have any of their previous releases, you’re getting more of what they do best. It’s a continuation of what they did on Epsilon (one of the five tracks here, “Stargazer - X-,” was originally released on Epsilon) and Mozaiq, but further refined. For those who haven’t heard the music of Blood Stain Child before, they’re pretty accurately described as Trance Metal. It mixes Trance/Techno electronics with Melodic Death Metal in a combination that sounds like what would happen if Strapping Young Lad (1st LP era) was brought in to do a collaboration LP with a Japanese Dance/Pop Idol. It is on the commercially accessible side, but it still has a Metal edge to it that no amount of Trance-influenced keyboards can cover up. It’s both intense and furious but also upbeat and catchy. It’s beautiful and violent at the same time, and the band is able to delicately balance things so that one aspect doesn’t dominate the other. It’s a bit odd when you first hear it, but before long, you’re banging your head along with the music and searching iTunes for the rest of the band’s discography. They used to sound more than a little like Children of Bodom on their earliest releases, but as time wore on they started incorporating more Trance/Techno influences into their music. The previously mentioned Epsilon and Mozaiq are the best representatives of their current musical direction. If you’re a fan of Blood Stain Child (or any other Japanese band), I recommend checking the digital sites (Amazon, iTunes, etc.) because unless the band has a domestic release, buying the physical version is going to be insanely expensive. I’m a huge fan of Japanese music, and having purchased a lot of it over the years, I can tell you that a CD from Japan will cost at least twice as much (sometimes more) as a domestic release. I know that a new full-length LP might not be released anytime soon, but I’m definitely interested in hearing it.

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Triptykon - Melana Chasmata

Posted on Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A complex beast of a record, I had to sit on Melana Chasmata for well over a month and I’m still not sure if I’m completely ready to review it. I spent a couple weeks on the genre tags alone, deciding to settle on Gothic Metal —because those really aren’t dirty words when Tom G. Warrior’s involved— and Doom — because it’s slow and heavy. Really fucking heavy. I’m talking cement shoes heavy. Seriously, each chord stroke on this album sounds like all life ending (especially through headphones). But musically speaking, it’s difficult to sum up in words. The one thing I do know —which Fischer has even acknowledged himself— is that it isn’t always perfect. Anything this guy’s touched since 2006 has received the automatic Lifetime Achievement Award and I’m sick of that shit. He could record his morning piss and get a 10/10 in every publication in the free world. Don’t get me wrong, I worship at the altar of everything from Hellhammer To Mega Therion, but Monotheist is not a flawless record and neither was the first Triptykon. Great albums, not perfect ones. Melana Chasmata is also a great album. I’d even go as far as calling it the best thing TGW’s done since 1990’s criminally underrated Vanity/Nemesis LP (unless you’d like to count that truly awesome rendition of “Babylon Fell” by Apollyon’s Sun from Dwell’s 1996 Celtic Frost tribute). But it isn’t perfect, so don’t tell me it is because you have a man-crush. I’ll prove it to you. Let’s break it down track-by-track:
“Tree of Suffocating Souls” — a wise choice to lead off with; hard-charging, aggressive, big riffs; Warrior sounds pissed; V. Santura’s backing vox are a little too open-mic-night for me; could’ve done without the spoken bits.
“Boleskine House” — slow and moody; bass so heavy I pee a little every time; Fischer’s clean vox not so bad; Santura’s bark a bit more bite here; Simone Vollenweider’s voice is breathtaking; immortal chug; memorable vocal patterns.
“Altar of Deceit” — brutal mid-paced stomper; classic Frosty bends; classic Warrior grunts; “EW!!”; memorable chorus; more “EW!!”; great song.
“Breathing” — at 5:50, it’s this album’s “You Suffer”; a little speed; a little “EW!!”; great lyrics; headbang break; life sucks really bad; this song doesn’t.
“Aurorae” — a scrap from the Monotheist era; probably should’ve stayed a scrap; TGW’s cleanies again solid; just a flat-out boring song; closing solo can’t save it.
“Demon Pact” — big textures; big dynamics; sounds like Fischer is shouting, “INCINERATE MY BALLS!!”; can’t keep a straight face after that.
“In the Sleep of Death” — solid, brooding cut; haunting melodies; immortal chug; TGW moans, “Emily,” like some half-awake valley girl with the flu; momentruiner.
“Black Snow” — sorry, this song’s too long; great chorus/hook alternates with bouts of drifting filler for 12 minutes.
“Waiting” — more of Vollenweider’s angelic pipes; mmmm; very hypnotic closer, albeit a tad redundant.
So there’s your proof. A spectacular effort. An hour-long musical journey with big ups and deep downs. As emotive as it is dark, and bone-chillingly heavy throughout. Just not perfect.
Note: rating upped one-quarter of a point for the Giger artwork… which is perfect.

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Mechina - Xenon

Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Picking up where last year’s Empyrean LP left off, Mechina is back again, delivering more of their patented brand of Industrial Death Metal. If you’ve never heard Mechina’s music before, they sound a lot like what would happen if Dimmu Borgir and Behemoth were digitized a-la Tron and forced to fight Daft Punk and Skrillex in an epic battle to the death within a computerized arena where no holds are barred and the laws of physics are distorted. It’s pretty wild and crazy to say the least. Parts of it are clearly influenced by the soundtrack to Tron: Legacy (written and performed by Daft Punk) but with a heaping dose of Dubstep and Techno influences added in to the mix. It’s very “futuristic” sounding, and while some may not like the overpowering keyboards and effects, I did find this album to be a very interesting listen. There’s a lot of aggressive music to be found here, which is what I liked the most. It has many atmospheric elements, but it never forgets to kick ass. If anything, the atmospherics add to the ass kicking. It’s like listening to a Death Metal version of an epic fight scene from a science fiction film, maybe the fight scene between Cloud and Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children or something similar. You don’t often get the futuristic vibe in Metal music but Mechina is really good at it. If you’ve heard 2013’s Empyrean LP, Xenon is a step up in terms of production and power. The music is noticeably more aggressive and hard-hitting. The futuristic elements, while omnipresent on both releases, are even more epic and powerful, too. If you liked Empyrean, you’ll love Xenon.

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