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.

Rating:
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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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Loudblast - Burial Ground

Posted on Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Although Loudblast is huge in their native France, their releases have been ridiculously hard to find in the United States. The last time I remember seeing any domestic release from this band here in the USA, it was the Century Media compilation, In the Eyes of Death, which also featured Unleashed, Asphyx, Tiamat, and Grave. That was in 1991! It’s been a long time since I’ve heard Loudblast, to say the least. Back in the early ’90s, I pretty much devoured anything that was extreme in Metal music. I’d grown tired of Heavy Metal because so much of it was Butt Rock masquerading as Metal. My diet became Death Metal and brutal Thrash because it was dark and evil sounding and I craved that in my music. I purchased any compilations that l could find from labels like Century Media, Nuclear Blast and Roadrunner to hear new bands because the Internet didn’t exist as it does today. I remembered Loudblast pretty clearly because they were one of those bands that I could never track down, even though I had managed to purchase releases from every other band that was on that Century Media compilation. I was a voracious consumer of evil music and I spent every spare dime on Metal, with my collection focusing on obscure and hard to find stuff. For a band to elude me for so long was an anomaly and finally having a full-length Loudblast LP to listen to feels like a bizarre accomplishment. Thankfully, I’m not disappointed. The band has changed a lot since their days of playing straight-forward Death Metal. Burial Ground, their latest album, is still heavily influenced by old Death Metal, but they’ve become far more melodic and Thrash-influenced over the years. It hasn’t diminished their impact, but it has added an additional layer of memorability and even some atmosphere that their old stuff was lacking. The only issues that I had with this LP were with the production, and a lot of that has to do with my personal feelings on how a Metal album is supposed to sound. I like loud guitars, and Burial Ground could have used slightly louder guitars and also a thicker, more bass-heavy guitar tone. The guitars seemed to be constantly at war with the drums for attention, and I found that to be distracting because when the drums were in blast mode, they made the riffs harder to discern. Another distraction for me was the bass drum sound. It’s like a light switch and I hate that. A bass drum is supposed to have a deeper tone, but so many bands want to make it sound higher pitched than the snare. This is particularly annoying when the drummer goes into blast mode. When the double-bass kicks in, it sounds like a hyperactive kid messing with a light switch. Production issues aside, this is a pretty sick LP. I was wearing a neck brace for a week after listening to Burial Ground, and neck damage from headbanging is the hallmark of a great Metal album. If you like your Death Metal on the Thrashy side with memorable riffing, sick guitar solos and corrosive vocals, this is an album to check out.

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Cannibal Corpse - A Skeletal Domain

Posted on Monday, January 12, 2015

I’ve delayed the review of Cannibal Corpse’s 13th full-length album for a multitude of reasons. There’s the whole slavery thing. Got to put in 40 hours a week to ensure that the money from my employers gets properly transferred from one master to another. Then there’s that sloth/gluttony angle. Most days I’d rather be reading Marvel comics through a haze of pot fog in post-masturbatory, stuffed-crust nirvana. But those are pretty cheap excuses. First and foremost, I just haven’t been able to get into the record. I’d hoped that repeated listens over an extended period of time would remedy the situation, but who the fuck am I kidding? Cannibal Corpse is a first-listen band if ever there were one. Not even 50-plays-per-day exposure to lead single “The Murderer’s Pact” on MusicChoice’s Metal channel has warmed me up to said track alone. Look, I love this group and wanted to love this LP, and considering they’d been on such a roll of maximum-quality releases over the last decade… well, I had to be sure the problem wasn’t me. Sadly, for once it isn’t. The legends are simply on auto-bludgeon here. It isn’t so much the music. Webster, Mazurkiewicz, Barret & O’Brien are able to drop jaws on their worst day. As is often the case with Death Metal, it’s usually on the vocalist whether the end result flops or flourishes, and given this is the biggest Death Metal band in the world, that’s a ton of weight squarely placed on George Fisher’s barbarically broad shoulders. Proof that even one of the best —not to mention most easily recognizable— growlers on the globe can have a bad outing. Then again, terms like “bad” and “flop” may be somewhat harsh. “Unenthused” probably sums it up a little better. Corpsegrinder just doesn’t sound all that into it this go-‘round. It’s evident from opener “High Velocity Impact Splatter” —with its chrous of… you guessed it… “High velocity impact splatter”— that he’s in robot mode. Granted, it’s one monstrous angry-sounding robot, but the vocal patterns suffer nonetheless. When a guy screams repeatedly to “Fire up the chainsaw!” (see “Kill or Become”), and the listener at no point during the song feels even mildly motivated to fire up the chainsaw, something is amiss. But at least this cut is memorable in its own way. The same can’t be said for the majority of the album, which goes in one stabwound and out the other. Perhaps it’s time for a vacation. Satan knows they’ve earned it. At the end of the day, these guys are still the master butchers. A Skeletal Domain just isn’t going to make it into too many DM lifers’ Cannibal Corpse top fives when it’s all said and done.

Rating:
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SS-18 - Nuklearpteryx

Posted on Friday, January 09, 2015

There are those who are going to see the “SS” in the beginning of this band’s name and immediately write them off as NSBM, but please don’t make that mistake. For those still reading, this is not NSBM. The band’s name, according to what I’ve read, comes from a Russian nuclear missile. Naturally, the band’s lyrics are heavily influenced by war, mostly the nuclear kind, but they do stray into other forms of destruction and chaos. Musically, I thought that this was going to be in the Blasphemy vein, but the music is actually a lot more interesting than that. There is still some of that War Metal style in their sound, but the band incorporates other influences, going from the primitive and abrasive stuff on “Firewing” to a more atmospheric style on “Battalions of the Last War,” occasionally interspersing Ambient or Industrial bits to spice things up. These additions add a lot to the band’s sound because they come out of left field, introducing additional layers of complexity. It takes a song that sounds primitive (such as “Dead Reality”) and makes it more interesting musically. I definitely recommend checking out this band because they don’t easily fit into one category. This LP has a surprising amount of diversity, though sometimes it isn’t noticeable it right away. It took me several listens to pick up on some of the nuances, but that’s a good thing. If you get more out of an album over repeated listens, it’s more rewarding. Unfortunately, like many other Russian Black Metal bands/labels, they’ve made this limited to 418 physical copies. Hopefully, there will be a digital version available or somebody else will re-release this later because the music is really good.

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Dead Congregation - Promulgation of the Fall

Posted on Thursday, January 08, 2015

A number of people have been pushing me to listen to Greek Death Metallers Dead Congregation for a while now, and while I’ve looked around for their music, my local indie record store never seemed to have any. Either they’ve sold out immediately (distinctly possible) or the buyer just never stocked it because it wasn’t “kvlt” enough (kind of unlikely because these guys are pretty “kvlt”), but their releases have been pretty hard to come by in my neck of the woods. Listening to Promulgation of the Fall takes me back to the early ’90s era of Death Metal, to the period when bands like Incantation, Pyrexia, Immolation, Imprecation, Vital Remains and many others were the norm when it came to the more brutal side of the genre. Dead Congregation has a style similar to that era of Brutal Death Metal, and while it’s hardly original, it’s rather refreshing to hear a band that is both brutal and possesses a dark atmosphere at the same time. If there’s one thing I love in Metal music in general, it’s atmosphere. It has to have that special “feeling” for me to get into the music. If a band can capture that, it elevates the music to a different level. Dead Congregation has that “feeling” and it gives their brand of Brutal Death Metal an aura of darkness and oppressiveness. Musically, this would appeal the most to fans of the previously mentioned Incantation, Immolation and Vital Remains as well as fans of old Morbid Angel. The music has the darkness of the more brutal bands, but also the sometimes atonal riffing that marked Trey Azagthoth’s guitar style, lacing the brutality with a taint of technical playing that serves to inject some diversity into the song structures. As far as production goes, the sound on Promulgation of the Fall is pretty murky. It adds a lot to the atmosphere, but it makes things hard to discern sometimes when the vocals and the guitars go into the same tonal range. Also, the snare drum sounds like a trashcan lid. It isn’t bad enough to always call attention to itself, but it does become noticeable at times, distracting from the otherwise engaging music. The detractions are pretty minor, though. While I’m hesitant to bestow the title of “the future of Death Metal” upon them, I’d rather see them have the title than the overly technical bands that want to cram 5,000 riffs into a three minute song. If you like evil sounding Death Fucking Metal, this is it.

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Godflesh - Decline & Fall

Posted on Tuesday, January 06, 2015

For me, the album that I compare any Industrial music to is Godflesh’s Streetcleaner. If there were any LP that, to me, defined dark and heavy Industrial, that was it. Nothing has been able to top it. Even the almighty Godflesh was never able to exceed the sheer evil and hellish atmosphere that was Streetcleaner. Years and tons of experimental releases later, Godflesh broke up. Now, they’re back with a new EP, that, according to the marketing, was a return to form. Decline & Fall was going to be a release that would recapture the oppressive feeling and atmosphere of the old days, and the early hype seemed to indicate that this was going to be more focused and less experimental than anything they’d done since Slavestate. Hearing that, I just had to check out this EP for myself. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations. Of course, the caveat here is that I’m comparing Decline & Fall to the legendary Streetcleaner. If none of their other releases could live up to Streetcleaner, it was doubtful that this was going to do it either. The best I was hoping for was a solid EP that was more in the style of Streetcleaner. On its own, Decline & Fall is odd sounding. Listening to it, I couldn’t help but notice how similar it was to the new Triptykon album. The guitars have that Celtic Frost/Tryptikon tone and vocally, Justin Broadrick sounds a whole lot like Tom Warrior. The music is pretty punishing, but it still lacks the dark and brutal feeling that I remember from Streetcleaner, which is what I was hoping to find, if nothing else. This EP almost sounds like what would happen if Tom Warrior and the gang decided to do a bunch of Tool covers, but without the sinister atmosphere that Triptykon is known for. Hopefully, Godflesh’s new full-length LP, A World Lit Only by Fire will be a full return to form for them. Decline & Fall is a step in the right direction, showing a more focused and mature sounding band, but without that atmosphere, they’re still missing a key ingredient in their sound. I’ve heard that the atmosphere is starting to creep back into their sound, and my fingers are crossed that this is a good omen.

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Bloodbath - Grand Morbid Funeral

Posted on Monday, January 05, 2015

Much like every instrument Anders Nystrom and Jonas Renkse have ever picked up, and every song the duo has ever recorded together, the publicity stunt regarding the new Bloodbath vocalist was played perfectly. Subtle clues were given, and months of guesswork and speculation followed. A team of NASA scientists were assembled, along with a field research unit that included Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr. Gabor Mate, and the guy that invented the Etch-a-Sketch. (A waste of tax dollars some were quick to accuse, but this is only the greatest Death Metal band of the 21st century we’re talking about!) With the data painstakingly analyzed, all signs seemed to point toward former Grave vocalist Jorgen Sandstrom. Okay… a solid choice based on his monumental performances on Into the Grave and You’ll Never See… but would he be able to live up to feats of long ago? We’ll never know, because the announcement finally streamed through the interverse, taking the stunned masses completely by surprise. The replacement wasn’t even a Swede! The new Bloodbath singer would be… Nick Holmes? Really? Okay… a solid choice based on his monumental performances on Lost Paradise and Gothic… but would he be able to live up to feats from long ago? Umm… yeah. He does, and seems to do so with relative ease. All skepticism and doubt are instantly annihilated upon first listen, and with Grand Morbid Funeral, a legacy of dominance is further forged and a legend is reborn before our undeserving ears. Regardless of your opinion of recent Paradise Lost output, I’m not sure anyone could have expected ol’ Holmesy to sound this brutal so late in the game. Perhaps his comrade’s endeavours in the mighty Vallenfyre ignited a healthy competitive flame? Whatever the case, Old Nick is in classic early ’90s form here. Tearing through the lyric sheet of soon-to-be classics like “Let the Stillborn Come to Me,” “Total Death Exhumed,” “Mental Abortion,” “Unite in Pain,” and the ominously paced, “God of Emptiness”-flavored “Church of Vastitas,” Holmes attacks with a morbidly gruff-yet-understandable serrated edge, earning the praise of many a longtime devotee of the most super of all supergroups. One fan and close friend of mine even proclaimed Holmes, “the perfect singer for Bloodbath.” A compliment of no equal, and with no disrespect whatsoever to the legends that have manned the most prestigious of microphones in the past, one I’m hard-pressed to refute while listening to the album. Of course, with the Godz among men —brilliantly listed as “Blakkheim” and “Lord Seth” in the credits here— creating the always-flawless musical backdrop, perfection is merely protocol. Dare I presume that having a member of their beloved Paradise Lost —a major influence on early Katatonia— on board has even inspired them to sneak a Katatonic melody in here and there? Only something for mortals to ponder. Eternals do what Eternals wish. Alas, there is one somewhat ill-fated decision here that prevents Grand Morbid Funeral from entering the halls of absolute Death Metal perfection. Of course I’m referring to the closing title track and the guest vo… y’know, I can’t even call them “vocals”… the guest mouth-noises from Autopsy’s Chris Reifert. A noble gesture given Reifert’s legendary early ’90s status, but not since the mighty Black Bolt has a voice caused so much destruction. Bloodbath has a scant few less-than-magnificent songs under their bulletbelts —the unmemorable Unblessing the Purity EP springs to mind— but this is their first completely unlistenable track. Let the record show it is by no fault of their own, musically speaking.

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Aldious - Dazed and Delight

Posted on Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Though they aren’t the longest running Japanese all-girl Metal band out there (Destrose has been around considerably longer), Aldious is among the most prolific. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that the band founder, Yoshi, was able to find a stable lineup early on, and for the most part the band roster has remained unchanged for the bulk of their history. The only major shakeup that they had was when their original vocalist, Rami, had to leave the band for health reasons. She was replaced by former Suitei Shujo vocalist Re:NO and the band soldiered on, releasing the District Zero LP and a subsequent live DVD (District Zero Tour - Live at Shibuya-O East) that showcased the new lineup in action. Just slightly over a year later, Aldious has unleashed their latest LP, Dazed and Delight. Picking up where District Zero left off, the band has diversified their sound a bit more. Of all of their albums, this is the most experimental. Where their previous works were solidly within the realm of standard Power Metal, Dazed and Delight goes places that they never went before. This isn’t to say that Aldious has suddenly become the Power Metal version of Sigh. They’ve just broadened their sound beyond basic Power Metal. I don’t know if this has to do with RE:No’s influence on the band or that they just felt that they could do different kinds of material with her as a vocalist, where Rami was more limited. On District Zero, they proved that RE:No could handle their old material because that LP was essentially in the same style as their previous stuff. You could have dropped Rami in on any one of those songs and she would have fit in perfectly. I don’t know that she could have done some of these new tracks like “Puffy Eyes” or “The Breeze at Dawn,” though. It’s definitely an evolutionary step forward, but the band is still firmly rooted in Metal. Face it, as long as Yoshi is in the band, she’s going to want to shred. It’s pretty easy to tell which songs she wrote because all of them are either heavy as fuck (“The Breeze at Dawn”) or there’s some seriously technical guitar work on them (“Butterfly Effect” and “Dominator”). I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t include “Dark” or “Suicide” on this LP, though. Both of those songs were on singles as B-sides and they are really good. I guess it’s an incentive to track down the singles, but I thought that those songs were album worthy. If you’re already a fan, or if you want to hear a really good Japanese all-girl Metal band, Aldious is probably the first one I’d recommend checking out.

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Bombs of Hades - Atomic Temples

Posted on Monday, December 22, 2014

With a one-and-done stint as vocalist for The Crown behind him, Jonas Stalhammar can now focus all his attention on endeavors closer to his Old School heart. Namely resurrected Swedeath legends God Macabre, and of course Bombs of Hades, his Death/Crust outlet since 2002. Although on album #3, that genre tag can be a bit misleading at times. Certainly not on opener “Fracture,” which is textbook D-beat-to-the bone Crust pudding, but you could almost Go-Go dance to “And Your Flesh Still Burns.” In fact, mental images of Austin Powers and his ’60s entourage flailing their arms downright prevent me from fully enjoying this track, not to mention keeping a straight face. In all fairness, the song isn’t really that goofy, and it isn’t Stalhammar’s fault that I’ve seen way too many stupid American comedies, but I much prefer the more straightfoward Crust assault of “Palace of Decay.” Meanwhile, “Omens” manages to invoke the spirit of mid-’80s Sodom, Slayer, and Onslaught with ease, and all in a ball-hair under two minutes. Unfortunately after this, Atomic Temples hits somewhat of a lull. Aside from a 40-second red-hot burst of Punkish intensity at the 3:32 mark, “Cadaverborn” is a bit of a bore. Then we have “Crawling Wind/The Tyrant Embryo,” which is four minutes of ambient noise with a baby crying, and then comes the title track… which is long. I mean looong. This song is so long, I was able to read Jon Konrath’s Surgical Steel review twice!! In truth, it’s not a bad song. Mid-paced Death and flashes of Speed Metal trade-off amidst a sea of solos until a gentle acoustic intermission provides a backdrop for introspection before the chaos resumes. I just don’t know if a 12-minute song on an irrefutably Punk/Death ‘n’ Roll-rooted album is ever the best idea. The quartet attempts to remedy the situation with a couple quick cuts to close the LP out. “Through the Pandemonium” is two minutes of speedy OSDM fury, while “The Last Gateway” is pure Motorhead worship. Then again, I suppose most Crust is.
In summary, this multi-headed dragon of an album is far more adventurous than 2012’s The Serpent’s Redemption, though not quite as consistent. At the end of the day, I’ve got a pretty fucking awesome 5-song/14-minute EPs worth of material to work with here, and all I’m really doing with my life is making mixtapes anyway.

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Wormreich - Wormcult Revelations

Posted on Friday, December 19, 2014

Formed from the ashes of Blood Stained Dusk, Wormreich is a band that revels in complex and chaotic arrangements. Their brand of Black Metal is heavily influenced by the likes of Deathspell Omega (they even do a cover of “Malign Paradigm” on this album), but with a few twists and turns thrown in to make things interesting. While I knew that they were heavily influenced by Deathspell Omega prior to ever hearing them, I was surprised by how little this band sounds like Blood Stained Dusk. Even when a group changes styles, there’s usually some remnant of their old sound left. That said, there’s very little Blood Stained Dusk remaining in Wormreich’s music now, though it’s debatable whether the band suffers because of it or not. It comes out the most in the keyboard based tracks which serve to break things up enough for you to appreciate all of the technical stuff the band is playing. For those who haven’t heard Wormreich before (and, for that matter, never heard Deathspell Omega either), the music is very hard to describe. It isn’t hyper-technical in the same way that Technical Death Metal and Progressive Metal are. It doesn’t sound like someone is wanking off with their chosen instrument or intentionally making long and meandering music that revels in obscure picking techniques or oddball musical structures. Wormreich, for the most part, sounds like a maelstrom of dissonant riffs that blend together to form a caustic and twisted whole that feels as though it’s ready to fly apart at any second. There’s a lot going on, to say the least. Songs like “Revelation III: Devotion’s Final War” are so multi-layered that just digging through the riffs to figure out what they’re playing is akin to deciphering a cryptogram. The production helps this record a lot, adding a level of clarity that makes the nuances and depth of Wormcult Revelations more apparent. If this had a muddier sound or rawer production, the whole thing would have degenerated into a generic ball of sound that might have worked (Black/Grind bands tend to revel in this sound), but you would have lost a lot. Listening to this album multiple times made me wonder if these guys can actually play this stuff live. I’d pay to see it, and even if it doesn’t live up to what’s on this LP, I’d probably still be plenty satisfied. Even though I’m generally not a fan of overly complicated music, this one kept my interest throughout its 37 minute playing time and I definitely recommend checking it out.

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Dizastor - After You Die We Mosh

Posted on Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dublin, California’s Dizastor is a band that isn’t going to get critical acclaim anytime soon. Most will pan After You Die We Mosh as unimaginative and trivial music that’s essentially the special-ed version of old Exodus performed by a bunch of guys who are a few tacos short of a bargain ten-pack of Doritos Locos from Taco Bell. That said, most of those same people will be right in front of the stage thrashing around like a bunch of drunken lunatics the next time Dizastor rolls into their area and plays a show. To think of After You Die We Mosh as a serious Thrash album is to miss the point. Besides, how the fuck are you supposed to take a band seriously when they have songs like “I’ll Eat Your Children” and “Beer and Baloff Attack” on their album? The answer is that you aren’t. To hammer that point home, the band included five live tracks along with the eleven studio recordings. If you had any doubts about the fact that all these guys just want to do is get drunk as hell and play Thrash, the live tracks put that to rest immediately. Dizastor is a reminder that Thrash (and to a lesser degree, the rest of the Metal scene in its entirety) doesn’t need to be 100% serious all the time. If nothing else, After You Die We Mosh is an indication that, when you see the band play live, you’re going to have a good time. It’s laden with memorable riffs and simple lyrics that implant themselves in your skull and, like the worst form of Pop music, you’ll find yourself singing along to one of their songs at the most inappropriate moments. I’d like to take this time to apologize to that Comcast rep who had to listen to me singing part of “Carpool Drive By” while I was waiting for her to finish doing something. I’m probably responsible for at least a couple years of therapy at this point. As unserious as this is, it’s effective at what it does. Is it the best Thrash LP ever? Hardly. It isn’t meant to be. Is it fun to listen to? Fuck yeah.

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Belphegor - Conjuring the Dead

Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It’s easy to take this Austrian Black/Death duo for granted. I don’t know of too many middle-aged-and-above Metalheads who flutter with anticipation at the mention of a new Belphegor release. Perhaps that whole scary makeup schtick loses its affect on the withered and souldying as we become slaves of time? (If a band really wanted to frighten adults, they’d have to dress up like IRS auditors.) I’d even be willing to wager that many a fan of this act fails to realize that Helmuth’s been at this for 22 years (23 if you wanna count the short-lived Betrayer) and that Conjuring the Dead marks full-length album #10 overall. Then again, when you have the disc in the stereo and the play button is engaged, all that really matters is the music, and that’s when Belphegor’s extreme sonic power refuses to go unappreciated. In fact, while you’re listening to them, it’s tough to think of any band who’s faster, heavier, sicker, or more brutal. The group converted me from observer to fan with their ‘05/’06 one-two punch of Goatreich - Fleshcult and Pestapokalypse VI. If memory serves, that’s when they began to wholly embrace the brutal Death Metal side of their spectrum (and one assumes that the success of Nile and Behemoth may have aided in the swaying of that decision). And though their last three albums since 2006 have proven to be unmemorable over time, it’s apparent from “Gasmask Terror” that Conjuring the Dead is a fully recharged and reinvigorated Belphegor. A lightning-fast beast of an opener given weight by majestic melodies. The title track follows with a much slower attack, and it could’ve worked if not for the main hook’s resemblance to the Oompa Loompa’s song from Willy Wonka. (“If you’re not greedy you will go far…” Damn you, childhood!!) Luckily, “In Death” follows with riffs that are every headbanger’s dream. This one should definitely be a crowd-pleaser. Not sure if I can say the same for “Rex Tremendae Majestatis.” A decent cut, with all the Nile trimmings, but one that reaches a bit too far for atmosphere at the sake of listenability. The atmosphere they should be chasing is the one of pure dread and elevated tension that follows on “Black Winged Torment.” This is simply Helmuth & Serpenth at their best. “The Eye” is nothing more than an instrumental queef, but a press of the skip button later and we’re greeted by “Legions of Destruction” —replete with guest vocals by Glen Benton and Mayhem’s Atilla— and “Flesh, Bones and Blood” — “FOR-NI-CA-TION 6 6 6!!” Two hellbent highlights worthy of many a repeated spin. The album closes with a far less exciting tandem —”Lucifer, Take Her!” and “Pactum in Aeternum”— that can only be classified as noise gymnastics. Just the guys getting a little cardio in after an LP of extremely heavy lifting. Their best workout session ever? You be the judge.

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Inferi - The Path of Apotheosis

Posted on Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I was initially interested in checking out this band because I’ve never heard anything that is both Technical and Melodic Death Metal before. Technical Death Metal bands are rarely melodic in any sense of the word. Inferi might have been more melodic on their earlier releases, but the technical aspects of their sound are edging out any remaining bits of that. These guys have essentially come down with a serious (and eventually fatal) case of wankerdom. The riffing on The Path of Apotheosis is mostly an exercise in hyper-technical playing interspersed with occasional melodic parts. When they have a melody going, regardless of how complex it is, it’s the highlight of the song. Take, for example, the opening part of “Prelude to a Perilous Fate” - maybe the first thirty to forty seconds of it. The playing on that segment is melodic and interesting. It then turns into a hyper-technical whirlwind of overly complicated and unmelodious riffing, blasting drums and growling vocals. The melodic stuff makes a brief reappearance before the blasting drums and hyper-technical guitar playing reassert themselves. A guitar solo near the end of the song brings some melody back in, but even that is fleeting. This is pretty much how all of the songs on The Path of Apotheosis are. It’s Death Metal with an identity crisis. On one hand, Inferi wants to be Technical Death Metal. They want to wank off with their guitars and play music for the subset of Death Metal fans that desire to hear a Death Metal version of Dream Theater. On the other hand, they also want to be Melodic Death Metal and have atmospheric bits and soulful guitar solos. The two identities don’t coexist very well here, and the music veers sharply between overly-technical and atmospheric Death Metal like a schizophrenic homeless guy trying to figure out if he’s Jesus or Satan. Listening to this album isn’t easy. There are parts that seriously kick ass, but they’re sandwiched between moments that are so needlessly complex that melodies and atmosphere disintegrate immediately. The guys in Inferi need to make a choice between melodic and technical styles because trying to be both just isn’t working very well.

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