Monday, November 28, 2011

deafheaven- Roads to Judah(2011)

deafheaven- Roads to Judah

This is not Black Metal.

I hate to break the news to deafheaven's supporters, or vindicate their detractors for that matter, but in my time with Roads to Judah one of my dominating thoughts was simply: "This is not Black Metal." Nothing about Roads to Judah fits the genre for which it is most commonly associated with, no matter how much justification their fans may try to provide. This is not about the bands appearance, their ideology or their "kvltness": from a purely musical standpoint, any Black Metal that might be found here is negligible at best. The bands over-arching sounds hems much closer to the progressive Sludge of Neurosis and the melodic intensity of Defeater(not to mention the shoegaze-y elements of bands like My Bloody Valentine) than anything Black Metal.

Which is not a bad thing: while not Black Metal, Roads to Judah is still a fantastic record. Haunting, technical and at times very beautiful, Roads to Judah is as fine a progressive Metal album as to be released this year. At times, like the absolutely gorgeous intro of "Violet," Roads to Judah is an emotional experience, one that does not evoke feelings of cold grimmness, but almost a hopeful tone. This in an of itself might be enough to disqualify deafheaven as a Black Metal band, but more likely it is the moments of obvious Melodic Hardcore influence, like on "Language Games," when the band enter a low-key section, complete with clean guitars and a drumroll that would do Defeater proud. The vocal attack is the closest thing to Black Metal here, and I actually find it a bit disappointing, considering how amazing Kerry MecCoy and George Clark were at them with Rise of Caligula, a fantastic Technical Deathgrind band you should check out post haste.

There is something about this shoegaze-ified, people-call-it-Black-Metal-for-some-reason Progressive Metal that keeps me from completely getting in to it: at times, riffs and sections run together, and I lose entire sections of songs, committing them to the Recycle Bin of my memory as soon as they enter my brain. Roads to Judah does not evoke that same feeling in me anywhere near as often as many of these other bands, which makes it such a joy to listen to. It still happens: about a 3rd of the way into "Violet" I had completely tuned the song out on pure instinct, only to be drawn back in later, but compared to say Litugry(a review is... forthcoming), deafheaven maintain a level of interest that few acts within this sub-genre can match. I should not be surprised, considering the connection to Rise of Caligula, but after reading much of the haters perspective on deafheaven, and similar bands, my expectations have been consistently skewed to the negative.

I can't really explain where the band picked up the Black Metal label: maybe it is self produced(in which case, I would recommend the band change their perspective), maybe others are forcing it on them. What I can say is this: Roads to Judah is a damn fine record. For what it is, this album is an emotional, musically complex and consistently interesting. For those looking for some progessive, thought provoking Metal, I would recommend Roads to Judah in a flash.

Rating: 8.5/10

Encoffination- O' Hell, Shine In Thy Whited Sepulchres

Encoffination- O' Hell, Shine In Thy Whited Sepulchres

Lurching from the mist, each step a belabored and murderous endeavor, O'h Hell, Shine In Thy Whited Sepulchres is in no hurry. Much like Death itself slowly creeps upon us all, so too does this album, unabashedly fearless in its sheer slowness. And if a slow and painful Death is what you seek, than Encoffination are more than happy to provide it, so long as you don't ask many questions or have a preference on how you wish to die.

By the logo alone, one can assume Encoffination are influence greatly by Incantation, and sure enough you can find those mighty New Yorker's fingerprints all over this record, mostly in the mostly tremolo picked riffing style and Ghoat's guttural vocal attack. But among Incantation's obvious influence, one also finds Thergothon and to a lesser extent disEMBOWELMENT. So if you are imagining punishingly slow Incantation worship songs with the occasional use of things like bells, organs and ritualistic chanting and moaning, you have imagined O'h Hell, Shine In Thy Whited Sepulchres.

And that is all you can expect from it as well. Each track sounds pretty much the same as the other(which would have been fine if they did not have breaks between each song), with the only distinguishing factors being the use of other sounds. If not for the occasional bells or chants, each song would be mostly indistinguishable from each other, often following similar patterns(slow intro, a slight pick up in speed near the middle, a lurching outro). The album might be slow, but it falls into a rut quickly and never bothers trying to escape: like Death, Encoffination will never stop doing what they do... slowly.

O'h Hell, Shine In Thy Whited Sepulchres is a massive step up for Encoffination, a band I have never been crazy about. The production, and the album in general, absolutely demolishes the paper thin, bedroom kvlt shit-fest of Ritual Ascension Beyond Flesh, and at times the band can evoke some truly nasty atmosphere. But riff for riff, there is just not a lot going on here, and while the bands commitment to their sound is admirable, the lack of any unique ideas makes it hard to sit through this record multiple times. Death is coming for us all, slowly and surely, but in my time here on Earth, I don't imagine I will be spending too much of it with O'Hell, Shine In They Whited Sepulchres.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Antediluvian- Through the Cervix of Hawwah(2011)

Antediluvian- Through the Cervix of Hawwah

While much of the bands previous work left me either cold or indifferent(refer to my review of Revelations in Excrement), Antediluvian have left me in shock with Through the Cervix of Hawwah: this is a band with a lot more to offer than I first gleaned from their previous, mostly standard work. As cavernous, blasphemous and suffocating as any album released this year, Through the Cervix of Hawwah represents a massive step forward for Antediluvian. The songwriting is much more distinct, the riffs far more complex and the atmosphere is more natural and less forced then it has ever been. No longer can we call these Canadian plague-wielders mere Incantation clones lost in a sea of static, but a band with serious purpose and the chops to see their will be done.

Clearly, the move from a two piece to a four piece band has brought many needed ideas and improved musical chops to Antediluvian, as Through the Cervix of Hawwah is in many ways a style and identity shift for the band. There is a much greater sense of rhythm and tempo then before: where early releases tended to grind on at full speed, we see a desire for ideas to grow and flesh themselves out, without the forced and noisey pace. Through the Cervix is much more deliberate, and it adds a new level of polish and attitude to the bands sound. The mid-paced, head banging intensity of tracks like "Scions Of Ha Nachash (Spectre Of The Burning Valley)" and "Luminous Harvest" blew me away when I first heard them, and were not something I ever expected from this band.

The production on this album was also a big surprise: an even mix, devoid of unnecessary static to force that cavernous sound and drums that sound polished and balanced is another sign of increasing maturity as songwriters. The expanded technical chops on display are also impressive, as the band sound far less primitive. Some may see this as a bad thing, but with so many bands taking that route, it is nice to hear someone doing something a bit different. Which is not say that Through the Cervix has moved into Technical Death Metal territory, but this album has more in common with Portal or Mitochondrion than Innumerable Forms or Putrevore in terms of riffs. In fact, the comparison to Portal is a good one: imagine Portal without all the bullshit and decent production, and you have something close to Through the Cerix, though in truth this album trumps anything Portal have ever done.

I did not expect such maturity, complexity or creativity from Antediluvian, having pegged them for another in a long line of mindlessly over-wrought Incantation worship bands. But Through the Cervix of Hawwah is something to behold; a band growing up right before our eyes. A surefire contender for the top Death Metal album of 2011, anyone seeking intelligent yet blasphemous Death Metal should be on the hunt for this surprising gem of this year.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Adversarial- Prophetic Plain of Abyssal Revelation(2011)

Adversarial- Prophetic Plain of Abyssal Revelation

For all of its faults in terms of production, Adversarial's All Idols Fall Before The Hammer was arguably my Album of the Year for 2010: the combination of bestial intensity with an undeniable creative edge made it a joy for the active listener, even if the demonic ping from the Asshole of Hell itself at times impeded the experience. I won't defend the paper thin production or abysmal snare sound, but fuck all if All Idols Fall Before the Hammer was not some of the finest fucking Death Metal released the last decade.

Prophetic Plains of Abyssal Revelation is purely fan-service: a repackaging of the bands 2009's Thralls demo, two new songs and two covers(of Incantation and Archgoat). The three Thralls demo tracks have even worse production than All Idols, and the fourth s/t track comes from the same recording. The Thralls demo is all together solid but mostly unnecessary if you have All Idol Fall. Of the three new tracks, only one, "Impending Eternal Blackness," is a new original track, and it is fantastic: Adversarial take the most brutal sounds in Death and Black Metal and mix them in a bloody grinding mess of pain and suffering. But the band have a penchant for deep, complex guitar interplay, making them one of the more fascinating bands in Death Metal today. The production on this track and the two covers is a vast improvement from All Idols Fall: Adversarial seem committed to truly low-fi recording, so a fully even mix may never come from these Canadians brutalizers, but the production is a step up regardless.

While mostly inessential in its content, Prophetic Plain of Abyssal Revelation could be the turning point for those who could not escape the snare sound of All Idols Fall. The bands talent, creativity and massive brutality are undeniable, and with the more consistent and less jarring production sound on the new tracks, Adversarial are in a position to convert the non-believers. For those of us who already believe, this EP gives us much needed satisfaction until the band feel the unholy need to bless us in blood once again.

Rating: 8/10

Review Round-Up: Gardens of Golgotha

I am back, but my time was well spent listening to many different albums. Album with different names anyway, since about half of them sounded like Incantation. And I got to thinking: how the hell am I going to write so many reviews about the same fucking sound?


Be Lazy.

So here are a number of short reviews describing my feelings of each album, with the pre-text that they all sound a lot like Incantation

Gorephillia- Ascend to Chaos
An album lacking any originality, charm or heart, this cleanly produced, lifeless Incantation fellatio is an insult to the listeners tolerance for blatant genre worship. There is not one thing found on this album that you cannot find anywhere else, and often other places will offer a better product. Devoid of atmosphere and energy, this EP is 5 tracks(and one predictable Intro track, which is a trend that is wearing thin on me) of pointless drivel. The final track, "Tower of Bones," provides the only juice.

Rating: 4/10

Cryptborn- In The Grasp Of The Starving Dead

In The Grasp Of The Starving Dead is also far from original, but the little things keep it floating and delivering some decent listening. Cryptborn mix some Finnish Death/Doom into their Incantation-style songs, and the fuzzy guitar production gives everything the correct sizzle. A touch of Rippikoulu is a nice touch indeed. The production is properly low-fi and brutal, but also uneven with the vocals mostly lost in the mix. And this is still some very typical stuff, if plenty competent.

Rating: 7/10

Grave Ritual- Euphoric Hymns From the Altar of Death

This was one of my favorites for the past few months, even though it is fairly basic Incantation worship. The main reason is the energy and atmosphere are in full supply here: each riff is played with blasphemous conviction and the muddy production elicits the feel of a cold coffin shivering with the struggles of its now active occupant. There is nothing of groundbreaking importance to be listened to, but the effort and bleakness of the album is worthy of your time.

Rating: 8/10

Corpsessed- The Dagger And The Chalice

This EP also impressed me, for many of the same reasons that Euphoric Hymns of From the Altar of Death. The Dagger and the Chalice is filthy, mucky and evil sounding to the extreme, and this young band have fantastic confidence in their sound. The vocals are a particular delight: they are not merely imitating Craig Pillard, and instead seek to bring some uniqueness to the band. Again, nothing groundbreaking or original, but damn tasty regardless.

Rating: 8/10

Blessed Offal- Blessed Offal

Blessed Offal offer a doomier, more Finnish sounding alternative with their standard Incantation grooves, similar to Cryptborn in a way. But Blessed Offal are clearly a more talented and inventive band. Blessed Offal is slow, suffocating and purpose driven to ruin your sunny day. A fine EP from a band clearly on the rise. The production is a bit clean for this sound, but not as sterile sounding as Ascend to Chaos by any means.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Antichrist- Sacrament of Blood(2011)

Antichrist- Sacrament of Blood

Lost to the Sands of Time until it finally found its release this year, Antichrist's Sacrament of Blood is a blistering, demonic mass of Satan worshiping Bestial Black Metal circa 1994. For whatever reason, Sacrament of Blood remained unreleased for sixteen years. I did a little research as to why this was, but found nothing: an acquaintance of mine who has shared correspondence with members of Blasphemy said that real life got in the way at some point and the band never got around to releasing the album. And it is interesting to think about the possibilities had this album been released on time: it was recorded in during the infancy of Bestial Black Metal, and the band hailed from the same horrific crib as Blasphemy(the hellish landscape of British Columbia). Would history have looked as kindly upon this as they did upon Fallen Angel of Doom?

But what could have been means little now, and Sacrament of Blood is a slab of filthy misanthropic noise that feels right at home no matter the era of it's release. The sheer Satanic aggression on display here is truly impressive: each track is short and leaves little room for things like breathing or humanity. Antichrist are here to kick down the door of the local coven, rape the nuns and burn the fucker down, and that is exactly what they accomplish here. The riffs are the highlight: plenty of tempo changes keep things interesting, and few albums will create as many sudden explosions of head-banging this year. The vocal attack is impressive and varied, even if the reverb is a bit on the obnoxious side. It is also worth noting that the entire album was recorded live in a single day, which considering the very even mix and the nasty guitar and bass sound, is massively impressive.

There is a real Crust Punk vibe to the entire thing: it feels like one should be sucking down a beer in some basement while watching the band go through their set and after the show going out back and smoking a joint. Sacrament in Blood is not trying to suffocate you with overly done atmosphere or open portals to Hell in your kitchen. The band are trying to kick your ass and have it be as much fun as possible. In a scene that has become incredibly serious, self absorbed and frankly internet hip, Sacrament in Blood stands out aesthetically from the rest of the pack, and pretty much shits all over many of the super-serious, Occult-and-HP Lovecraft obsessed bands peddling their Blasphemy worship out there today. Only Morbosidad seem to have the same vibe, and no doubt the guys in Morbosidad would have loved this had it been released in 1994(and should be loving it now).

There are no real fault here, other than the vocal reverb and the rather corny samples that will evoke Goregrind more than Bestial Black Metal, but those are small things in the face of the overall package. My final score is not indicative enough to point out that you, as a fan of Bestial Black Metal, should be getting this album right now. Truly required listening, with an attitude and approach that hopefully a few bands will imitate in the future.

Rating: 9/10

Ritual Necromancy- Oath of the Abyss(2011)

Ritual Necromancy- Oaths of the Abyss

At this point, we may never escape the the cavernous, blasphemous miasma of Incantation. After just reviewing the most recent Dominus Xul album, I can turn right around and review the new album from Portland, Oregon newbies Ritual Necromancy. To be honest, I could spend the next week reviewing albums that sound almost exactly like the seminal New York Death Metal act. The whole thing has gone officially over the top, and Oaths of the Abyss fits right into the endless sea of imitators as neatly a coffin fits into a grave.

Oaths of the Abyss is not devoid of charm or redeemable qualities: the stiflingly thick production is particularly impressive, and the atmospheric waves of static and churning riffs creates a strong hypnotizing effect. This is the production sound Portal was shooting for with Swarth but failed to obtain, which is a major part Oaths of the Abyss appeal. The rest depends of(I am saying this again, and likely again in the very near future) how much you like Incantation and their recent sea of imitators. Do you love Vasaeleth, Antediluvian, Father Befouled, Grave Ritual, Dominus Xul, Vorum, Grave Upheaval, The Wakedead Gathering, Cemetery Urn, Ignivomous, Impetuous Ritual... ugh. Do you see where I am going here? Oath of the Abyss is perfectly competent and effective, but at this point it is hard to justify the existence of this album.

Here is the thing: Ritual Necromancy are not better than most of the bands I just mentioned, and they have few of the progressive elements that the forward thinking members of this movement have. Oaths of the Abyss is as straightforward and joyless as any album released this year: there is no spark of creativity of adventure here, but instead a methodical snuffing out of all light and hope. There is something to say for that, but it is a mission that only takes me so far. I very much enjoyed Oaths of the Abyss; this is a sound that appeals to me on a base level and one that still has not worn out it's welcome. But one cannot objectively look at this album, one that has already been written before, and consider it anything more than a chant of worship.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dominus Xul- To The Glory Of The Ancient Ones(2011)

Dominus Xul- To The Glory Of The Ancient Ones

There is something to be said for doing something first, or in the case of Dominus Xul, doing something second first. Well before every other band on the planet was worshiping Incantation, Dominus Xul released The Primigeni Xul(I Condemn My Enemies) all the way back in 1998. In many ways, they were the first Incantation worship band, so it makes perfect sense for the band to reform in 2011, the Year of Incantation, and release their first new material in 13 years with To The Glory Of The Ancient Ones. And just like their first release, To The Glory Of The Ancient Ones is a slab of rock solid, professionally played Incantation love.

To the untrained listener, it might be impossible to tell the difference between a Dominus Xul track and an Incantation track, as all the hallmarks are here: cavernous, demonic riffing, a sense of Doom-laden dread, Satanic aesthetic, and the fantastic vocal performance of Caludio Salinas, who does one of the finest and most powerful Craig Pillard impersonations I have heard in a long time. The somewhat clean and clear production is curious, and is really the only thing that stands out about this album. It really isn't too much of a hinderence to the quality of the work, it just isn't the norm right now and makes an impression. It all adds up to rock solid and well played Occult Death Metal that is all the rage right now amongst the elite of the Death Metal crowd.

Which begs the question: how much longer will this sound retain it's dominance? I hate a debate with a acquaintance of mine: I say the whole thing really kicked into gear back in 2008 with Dead Congregation's Grave of the Archangels. He said the fad started a few years earlier in 2005 with, sure enough, Dead Congregation's Purifying Consecrated Ground. Regardless, the reign of Tech and Brutal Death Metal as the choice of the elite Death Metal fan has been over for a few years, and the static choked offerings of bands like Vasaeleth, Encoffination, Father Befouled and countless other acts are what the "in" kids are listening to. But how much longer before all this worship wears thin? Before another band takes Incantation's place as the Demigod of Death Metal?

Dominus Xul are clearly cashing in now and striking while the iron is hot, and To The Glory Of The Ancient Ones feels right at home amongst the endless sea of Golgotha's. It is played with much more professionalism, experience and conceptual strength than many of the new worshipers on the block, but worship it remains. How much enjoyment you get from this will be based on how much you love Incantation, and as an unabashed fan of the might New York Masters, To The Glory Of The Ancient Ones tickles all the right nerves, if even only in the fleeting sense.

Rating: 7/10

Decrepitaph- Profane Doctrines Unburied(2011)

Decrepitaph- Profane Doctrines Unburied

Like the ash laden dust of long lost tombs getting caught in a frozen wind, Decrepitaph come crawling from the caves of the long dead, bringing with them the delights of the rotted and suffering deceased. Profane Doctrines Unburied is a suffocating miasma of lost and angry spirits hitting with the full force of the demons that terrorize their every un-living moment. Few albums this year, or ever for that matter, are so skull crushingly heavy and loaded with suffering. This California two-piece of Sinworm and Elektrokutioner(already too brutal for most people) have been summoning the undead of old school DeathDoom at a blistering rate, with three full lengths and a dozen or so demos , EPs and Splits since their horrendous creation in 2005, and all this practice has paid off with Profane Doctrines Unburied.

The production is the thing that stands out the most, in that everything sounds musty, old and decrepit. The guitar tone is incredibly thick and choked with distortion, and the stumbling pace of the bowl rumbling bass remind one of the shuffling steps of a monstrous undead abomination. The bass drum sounds like it is made of freshly butchered meat: a wet thump of a hammer coming down onto the brain cavity of a hapless victim. This attention to detail is impressive, and the songwriting takes maximum advantage of the sound of the album. Each track is written like the slow, deliberate steps of the undead: with a flesh devouring purpose. Only occasionally, like the opening flurry of "Convulse In Eternal Agony," to things speed up somewhat. But expect no blast-beats here: heavy influenced by the sounds of Finnish DeathDoom, Profane Doctrines Unburied takes its time to inflict its damage on your soul and ear drums. The solo work is also fantastic: off-kilter, sloppy and with a guitar sound as close to a wailing banshee as you have ever heard, the solos are creepy and used to brilliant effect, particularly on the song "A Suffocating Evil."

It is hard not to be massively impressed with Profane Doctrines Unbruied. While it won't win any awards for originality or inventiveness, the album is incredibly polished and focused: Decrepitaph know exactly what they want to do and implement their ideas to almost complete perfection. The occasional dragging song length or over-use of riffs is a small price to pay for the near perfection that Profane Doctrines Unburied gives the listener. If the dead rise in our lifetime, this will be the Clarion Call that leads them on their endless rampage for flesh and freedom from their pain.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Miasmal- Miasmal(2011)

Miasmal- Miasmal

I almost didn't review this album.

Full disclosure: I was never a big fan of the traditional SwedDeath sound. Dismember, Grave, Entombed, Unleashed... they put me to sleep. They lacked much of the brutality, technicality or progressive elements that made American Death Metal so amazing, but also lacked the pure insanity and suffocating atmosphere of Finnish Death Metal. SwedDeath has always sounded stale, boring and lifeless, and it doesn't help that every band from Sweden seemed to sound the same. The lack of variety and ingenuity from the Swedish Death Metal scene has made it my least favorite of the major scenes.

is quite literally a monument to the many accomplishments of Swedish Death Metal: every riff, idea or lyrical concept ever touched upon by any Swedish Death Metal band in history is located within this album. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here, searching for any originality: these Gothenburg(GAH!) Swedes cannot be bothered to come up with anything on their own.

It really is a marvel of scene worship: Miasmal has not one original idea. Not a single one. I have listened to a lot of pointless worship and drivel over the years, but Miasmal takes the cake of complete unoriginality, shits on it, then marries it and spawns a dozen cute little cakes of unoriginality. The whole thing is one gigantic fucking blur of Sweden, with no songs, arrangements or riffs that ever stand out or leave a lasting impression. The vocals? Exactly like one would expect. The guitar sound? Buzzsaw... yawn. Drum triggers? What the fuck are those? It is all so predictable, I am literally dumbfounded by the whole thing. How the band ever released this album without getting slapped with multiple lawsuits is completely beyond my ability to comprehend. Inoffensive and utterly forgettable, Miasmal is one of the few albums I have ever heard where I wonder why it even exists.

Miasmal has left me wondering what the fuck to do. I have no real grounds to grade this album: after admitting that Swedish Death Metal bores me, it would be obvious that Miasmal would put me in a coma. Why bother? Or more importantly, why bother reviewing something you know you will hate? I can sum it up like this: if you live for Swedish Death Metal and hate originality, than Miasmal is the greatest accomplishment in the history of music: the genetically pure synthesis of everything you love: the Dream of the 3rd Reich. For the rest of us, Miasmal represents another eulogy to originality in Death Metal today. Truly, a triumph and a tragedy rolled all into one.

Rating: ?/10

Monday, November 7, 2011

Double Review: Morbus Chron- Sleepers In The Rift(2011)/Morbid Blood- Reborn In Death(2011)

Morbid Flesh- Reborn In Death

Morbus Chron- Sleepers In The Rift

I could not think of a more appropriate time to write my first double review then after listening to these two new LP's. On one hand we have Spanish Death Metal band Morbid Flesh, and on the other we have Swedish Death Metal band Morbus Chron. Both bands play a very similar style of Death Metal, one that hems closely to the very roots of the genre: early Obituary, early Death and most obviously early Autopsy. The sound is unmistakeable: blast-beat free and decidedly Old-Fucking-School. So what is the difference? Only one is worth listening to.

Sleepers In The Rift, the first LP from Morbus Chron, fits the aesthetic perfectly while at the same time being utterly worthless. Inoffensive, safe and completely listless, Sleepers In The Rift goes through 9 tracks in the most painfully uninteresting way possible while mindlessly ripping off Severed Survival for it's entire 34 minute running time(which feels much longer and elicits more yawns and feelings of total disinterest than any album barely over half an hour ever should.) Add in a vocal attack which brings to mind a mentally-disabled and dangerously drunk John Tardy(a fully-functional Tardy is unbearable enough) and you have a recipe for a headache and a shitty album. The phrase "all style, no substance" was made for an album like Sleepers In The Rift, which is an embarrassing symbol to the obsession with Old-School credibility and 13 year old metalfags who talk like they saw Death in Florida just after they released Scream Bloody Gore. Only in this time when scene credibility matters more than competency or creativity could an album like Sleepers In The Rift ever find a legitimate audience.

Reborn in Death is everything that Morbus Chron failed miserably to accomplish with Sleepers In The Rift: each riff has power and heft that smacks the listener right in the head like the pick-axe of an inbred psychopath, while the ferocious vocal attack alternates deftly between a solid and very old-school sounding guttural and one of the more unique, and awesome, high vocals I have heard in a long time. The drums carry weight and smash against your ear-drums, and the grim and Doom-laden atmosphere creates a feeling of impending and ever encroaching death. Imagine a faster, more technically active Decrepitaph, and you have some idea of what to expect for a portion of Reborn in Death. Despite being an incredibly young band, with only demo before releasing their debut LP, Morbid Flesh show a comprehension of Death Metal that is hard to deny. While using early Death, Obituary and Autopsy as a baseline, Morbid Flesh jump around almost the entire early history of Death Metal: "Gulag(Cracked Bones)" has an overwhelming Altar of Madness feel, while "Impaled Ratzinger" brought to mind early Suffocation at certain points. Meanwhile, Morbus Chron fearfully stick to Severed Survival and never let go, living in dread terror that any semblance of originality or uniqueness will draw the ire of quick little fingers behind a keyboard.

I wish I could say something positive about Sleepers In The Rift, or mention a specific song as a highlight, but after a dozen listens I was tuning it out on instinct: in contrast, I have listened to Reborn in Death almost two dozen times for the sheer enjoyment of it. Reborn in Death is more powerful, more adventurous, more technically proficient and flat out more interesting. Throughout the whole process, Sleepers In The Rift had only one thing over Reborn in Death: a superior album cover. Score one for aesthetic, hype and internet credibility, score a whole hell of a lot more for good music.

Rating: Sleepers In The Rift: 4/10
Reborn in Death: 9/10

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Antlers- Burst Apart(2011)

The Antlers- Burst Apart

Following up on perfection is impossible.

That was the task that Brooklyn Indie Pop purveyors The Antlers had when they had to release a follow up to 2009's Hospice. Hospice was, for all intents and purposes, perfect: one of the most powerful, inventive, heartfelt and sincere musical releases of the decade, a literal and hyperbole-free tour-de-force. With it's heart wrenching sincerity and inescapable hooks, Hospice represented a massively high plateau for the band to try and reach with any follow up album. Burst Apart was doomed from the very beginning.

And that grim foreshadowing has indeed come to fruition, as Burst Apart fails in every conceivable way to match Hospice. Instead of an amazing ode to life and love, we get 10 Indie Pop tracks, no more and no less. The whole thing is a very standard and somewhat lifeless affair. Which is not to say Burst Apart is incompetent: the band understand how to write an instrumental Pop song, and each track is a well made and sturdy piece. So is your table, and I doubt your table got you very excited today. Burst Apart exists, but the question becomes does anyone care?

There are a few tracks that float up above the mediocrity of the whole affair. "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out" is by far the strongest track and is a fantastic mix of lightning fast guitars and ridiculously catchy verses, while "Hounds" has that haunting quality that made Hospice such a masterpiece. But most of the rest of the album is severely nondescript: The Antlers are incognito, much to the listeners chagrin.

Burst Apart is, for lack of a better word, boring. It comes and goes without any real staying power, and even if the band had not released Hospice, it would be hard to find a lot of love for this record. It is not bad, just functional. Like a toothbrush, or your crappy car in High School.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Feist- Metals(2011)

Feist- Metals

There is not a more powerful and distinct set of pipes in all of Indie music than those possessed by Leslie Feist, or know by most as only Feist. Ms. Feist has without a doubt one of the most beautiful and insanely powerful voices to have ever been recorded. But her Siren-like vocals also stand apart from most of her contemporaries for their uniqueness: the slight rattle and throttle she gives every note makes her voice stand out in a sea of incredible female singers. And she has ridden those golden vocal chords to the top of her profession, while becoming one of the most recognizable and beloved Indie stars in the world.

Metals is Ms. Feist's newest release, and it sticks closely to the sound she established with 2007's brilliant The Reminder: lo-fi, quiet and dream like Pop songs that act as vehicles for her voice to soar. Whether it is a bit of horns and violin on "The Bad In Each Other," sugary sweet instrumental Pop in "The Circle Married The Line" or smokey, run down bar themes "Anti-Pioneer," Ms. Feist shows that she can sing the holy hell out of any song, any genre and any emotion. Metals somewhat lo-fi production also does wonder for the album: compared to many of her squeaky clean contemporaries, Ms. Feist is the one who still seems to be recording at the local studio instead of the multi-million dollar music factory.

There really is no comparison to the sheer power of emotion that Ms. Feist unleashes with each note. The only one I can honestly make is to the legendary Joan Baez, although whether that is unfair to either party has been difficult for me to assess. Her voice is one that must be heard, but how much enjoyment you get from Metals will be on how much you enjoy amazing vocal performances. Ms. Feist is a singer who can match the best, but her song-writing is rarely as adventurous as her voice. Which is not to say she is generic: any songwriter who has the guts to write a pop song driven by the banjo(as she did with "1234") is not one who understands the meaning of the word safe. It is more that Metals is very similar to The Reminder musically, and The Reminder was very similar to Open Season. Ms. Feist has been playing with the same instruments and similar arrangements for 3 albums now, and it is clear that she may lack the conviction to take the massive changes that artists like Bjork and Joanna Newsom have been willing to make. It doesn't take much away from Metals, but it bares mentioning.

I was hoping for a slightly more adventurous release from Ms. Feist, but my issues are nearly pointless in the face of the overwhelming beauty of her voice. Metals works because Ms. Feist simply won't allow it to fail: she will merely carry the whole damn record on the back of her Siren Call. We should all be so blessed as to listen to, and appreciate, this voice that will not be silent.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bon Iver- Bon Iver(2011)

Bon Iver- Bon Iver

It must be just awesome to be Justin Vernon.

The figure head and main creative force behind Bon Iver, which contrary to the various promotional photos is not a solo Vernon project but a band featuring Michael Noyce, Mathew McCaughn and Sean Carey(who released a solid solo album this year), Vernon is a huge fucking deal. And the thing is, he always has been: this meteoric rise to the top was destined since high school, when Vernon fronted the band Mt. Vernon, whose music was utterly fantastic and was miles ahead of anything you would expect a band whose members were still taking Algebra 2 classes to ever pull off. He then fronted deYarmored Edison, which released a few critically acclaimed albums before Vernon left for solo stardom. It is debatable how much influence Vernon had on the song-writing process at this time, since the rest of dYE would go on to form the incredible Megafaun, but regardless Vernon used his previous experience as a stepping stone into a log cabin to write For Emma and become the Indie darling he is today while kicking it with Kanye West. The whole process reeks of an ego almost as big as the hype, if not bigger, but then again it takes a serious ego to make an album like Bon Iver.

A complete departure from the Iron and Wine-influenced For Emma, Vernon has taken the band in an entirely new direction without any real warning. Synth, electronic music and electric guitars, drums: Vernon bought out the local music shop and jammed it all into the recording studio. Yet it speaks to Bon Iver that despite this new found love all things musical, it remains one of the softest, most sincere releases this year. Ego aside, Vernon just fucking gets it. As here proves here, he can out Dream Pop the Dream Pop-players in one album, with no real practice at is. He remains an idiot-savant for all things hook infused and beautiful. Vernon remains one of the best singers in Indie music: his ability to move effortlessly from a powerful baritone to a charming, if off-kilter, falsetto remains unmatched by any singer in Indie music. This is displayed perfectly in "Minnesota, WI," while the floating guitars of "Holocene" evoke Vernon's criminally over-looked solo album Hazeltons.

I was more than ready slap a 9.5 or even a 10 on this album as it winded down. I was flat out blown away how easily Bon Iver had transitioned from Freak Folk to Dream Pop, and started musing my writings as the song "Beth/Rest" began blasting from my headphones.

I had to pause the record, for I could not stop laughing.

In another absolutely wonderful and wholly misguided effort of the ego, Vernon crapped the bed with "Beth/Rest." The synth will instantly cause you to sing "I can feel it coming in the air tonight..." should be a deadly foreshadowing of the shitstorm that is to come, but when Vernon's auto-tuned moans come groaning over the top of them, it is time to board up the windows and invest in some plastic gloves. It takes serious balls, and frankly a belief that anything you write will be loved automatically, to make a song like "Beth/Rest" and use it as the closing track! It is like Vernon took us on a magical journey we would never forget, only to end at a 65 and over singles bar, complete with slow dancing. No doubt "Beth/Rest" will make it into some High School proms DJ rotation, but for the rest of us this is completely insane and a serious atmosphere killer.

The closing track is a big deal on just about any record, but the way Bon Iver ends is a little inexcusable in my book. This album still has some of the most finely crafted songs of the year, and I would still recommend it to anyone. Just make sure to hit stop before Phil Collins starts his set.

Rating: 8/10

Patti Smith - Horses (1975)

Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine’. Thus opens ‘Gloria’, the opening track from Patti Smith’s seminal debut album Horses. The track itself is actually a cover of a Van Morrison song, originally written for Them, but Smith recreates it – including a reinvention of lyrics to include said opening line – in such an idiosyncratic manner that the song sits quite happily among the rest of the album, well-disguised as a Smith original.

But idiosyncrasy was always one of the main objectives of the then-budding punk movement; a fact which was somewhat forgotten by the better-known English bands after the original rush of ’77. Smith used the lyric as a method of rebellion against the institutionalized religion she felt had been forced upon her; the three-chord progression was the style which came to be known as the ‘punk style’, sure, but by the time the likes of the Sex Pistols attempted to see commercial success past the surprising success of Never Mind The Bollocks, their attempts fell flat – not so much, I believe, due to the lack of another full-length, but more so because the style had had its 15 minutes.

So when the Pistols came stateside, performing just down the road from Patti Smith one night and frontman John ‘Rotten’ Lydon talked about ‘some woman singing about fuckin’ horses’ (or words to that effect), it was evident that they had lost touch with the roots of the movement. The diversity in Smith’s influences is evident throughout this album – for instance, second track ‘Redondo Beach’ takes a bouncy approach akin to reggae, predating ska punk by several years, whereas the first 9-minute epic of the album, ‘Birdland’, is loosely based around a piano ballad throughout.

When she actually becomes violently passionate during a song, therefore, it comes as quite a surprise – the first chorus to ‘Free Money’ comes out of seemingly nowhere, as does the vocal attack when past the introduction to ‘Land’, which for all intents and purposes is the title track. The point is this; although the instrumentation is interesting, sure, the focal point of this album is Smith’s outstanding vocal performance – one which has not since been paralleled in popular music.

This performance demonstrates quite capability the sheer range of Smith’s vocal styles – although upon one’s first listen to the album, one might remember the ‘monkey noises’ during the chorus of ‘Gloria’ and Smith’s tendency to take her pitch sharply upwards at the ends of vocal lines, but equally memorable upon repeated listens are the cavernous vocals utilised in ‘Land’ and the percussive approach used in many verses, which really aids in the appreciation of the quality of the timbre of her voice.

In essence, the variation in this album means that the post-punk genre is here before much of the groundwork of punk itself had been laid down. It may seem strange, a ‘post-‘ genre being spawned before its suffix was fully created, but that is the only way to demonstrate aptly the full level of innovation of this album. This album was, and is, one of a kind. Patti Smith did indeed go on to make more wonderful music with the likes of Radio Ethiopia, but this is by a long shot her best. An absolutely wonderful album.