Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Subrosa- No Help For The Mighty Ones(2011)

Subrosa- No Help For The Mighty Ones

Often, the joy of discovery is blunted by how much of what you end up discovering is recycled, carbon-copy genre worship with no new ideas and middling intensity. You search and search and search, but for all your effort come up with a few competent and enjoyable, but also pointless and forgettable, albums from bands who won't be part of your listening rotation a few weeks past their initial spins. However, from time to time, the endless search for something new, something powerful and substantial comes along that reaffirms your love for musical discovery. No Help For The Mighty Ones certainly had that effect on me. By taking the basic Doom/Sludge formula and turning it upside down while classing it up, Subrosa have created something incredibly somber, rich and emotional without ever coming off as corny or over-wrought.

Like the wails of a long lost lover roaring from the mist, No Help For The Mighty Ones immediately attacks the gut and twists it into all sorts of uncomfortable knots. The off-key, distant crooning of Rebecca Vernon and Sarah Pendleton hypnotizes you, while the shriek of electric violins jar you back into a cold, harsh reality. The guitars act in tandem with the rhythm section to create the fuzzy, ballsy and oddly warm backdrop for the violins to do their masterful work, rarely moving to the forefront. This might be a turn off for some, but Subrosa pull if off so masterfully it is hard to find any fault with it; the tracks meander on achingly from walls of symphonic noise to accessible Fuzz Rock to haunting, heart-string-tugging classical glory all in the same song. Try not to feel the pain on "Whipporwhill": emotional assaults are a very real part of No Help For The Mighty Ones.

This is an incredibly ballsy album, and considering that three-fifths of the band are quite literally without testicles, it becomes all the more impressive. It takes serious guts to have an a Capella English Folk song on your Doom/Sludge album, yet "House Carpenter" feels right at home on this album, a tale of lovelorn loss and demonic intervention that so beautifully exemplifies what makes this album such a triumph. All throughout the album, the listener comes face to face with truly fearless songwriting and powerful tones, both musical and emotional. No Help For The Mighty Ones is a once in a decade type album, one that should and hopefully will have a profound effect on the genre as a whole. These Utah sad saps have really touched on something here, something glorious, wonderful and real. Not to be missed.

Rating: 10/10

Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Vincent- Strange Mercy(2011)

St. Vincent- Strange Mercy

Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, has always been what a football scout would call a "5 tools prospect." She has it all: talent, songwriting skills, an absolutely stellar voice. She is also a total stone cold fox:

I mean Jesus H. Christ. That is the kind of girl who you fall in love with. But she wouldn't love you back. In the end, she would rip your heart right out of your chest, bite it in half and then spark up a cigarette.

Yet despite all of this incredible talent, Ms. Clark never delivered on it. Most of her musical output has been under-achieving at best. Take 2009's Actor. A handful of brilliant Pop songs mixed in with copious amounts of forced quirkiness and disingenuous artsy garbage(no doubt her time with the Shithead, aka Sufjan Stevens, had something to do with this.) The whole thing felt unnatural, and Ms. Clark seemed forced into a box too small and confining for her obvious abilities. The effort was there, but it was wasted effort on a project not worth the time. It was starting to look like Ms. Clark would never be more than a competent, but mostly inessential, Indie Pop Gurrl who would never compare to her contemporaries. But Strange Mercy finally sees Ms. Clark deliver on her talent, in about the biggest way possible.

Strange Mercy is a lean, mean Pop machine, the perfect vehicle for Ms. Clark's sultry voice, which oozes pure sex appeal while never once sounding slutty or stupid. Thankfully free of worthless ambient Noise, unappealing Freak Folk and forced quirkiness, Strange Mercy is all about the hooks, and boy are there a lot of hooks: not one single song gives you any room to breathe before you are singing along with another perfect chorus or flawless verse. Take "Cruel," a Pop fused Indie Rock tune that will get your ass moving, or the Funky and steamy "Dilettante," which has Ms. Clark winking and nodding as she sings "Your like the party I heard through a wall/Invite me." Strange Mercy has seen Ms. Clark go from fairly standard Indie Gurrl is flat out sex symbol, and it is an aesthetic that works wonders for her and her music. Ms. Clark also knows when to turn things down a bit for more somber, softer hitting moments, like the title track, a haunting Electro-Rock ballad that gives us the best pure vocal performance on the record, or the whisper quiet "Champange Year," a spaced out Electro-Pop chill out from all the Funky Indie Pop that most of the record delivers.

Indie Pop has become so ironic over the years, with more and more artists going for "Zooey Deschanel" faux-awkwardness, it is such a breath of fresh air to hear an artist this confident in her music and her lyrics. Confidence. That is the key word here. Strange Mercy is an album from a very confident woman who has finally found her voice. This is such a massive improvement from Ms. Clark's previous work, it becomes difficult to quantify. What I can easily say is this: Strange Mercy is about as massive, as gorgeous and as perfectly made as a Pop album can get. Strange Mercy has completely dominated my listening cycle since the very first note, and will continue to do so for a very long time. It doesn't get any better than this people. Strange Mercy, and Ms. Clark, will dominate your dreams with this one.

Rating: 10/10

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Quick Look Ahead: The Best of 2011

Well I have been doing this thing for the past few months, and for the most part it has been a stellar experience. I have recieved a lot of positive feedback through and lots of anon-ative feedback on the actual blog, which as we all know is super fucking negative... and often brutally retarded. I actually got a "fake and gay," which contrary to what the anon might have thought, I loved. It is sort of an internet badge of honor to have a played out and pointless meme thrown at your shitty blog, one I wear somewhat proudly. Anyway, to those of you who have hit me up via with positive comments, your support is greatly appreciated. And make sure to hit me up via at anytime. I always try and get back to you.

To those of you following the blog, you might be curious as to when I plan on revealing my Best of 2011. Unlike some others, I prefer to wait until after the year is over before revealing my list, so that is the plan as of now. My cut-off date for listening to new stuff will be December 31st, when the new Wrathprayer and Disgorge(US) drop for my listening pleasure. Those will be the last two new albums from 2011 I will be reviewing, and possibly including in my top 40 of 2011.

In the mean time, I will be throwing as many reviews on here as possible, mostly for my top albums of this year so my top 40 list doesn't look so strange... I have a lot of work to do. I will also be mixing in Non-Extreme Reviews in with my shitty Incantation worship bands, so expect lots of different stuff. Be forewarned: the new St. Vincent and Kate Bush are pretty much the best shit ever.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Execration- Odes of the Occult(2011)

Execration- Odes of the Occult

Norway is not well known for it's contributions to Death Metal. Outside of the criminally under-rated Molested, I struggle to name another act from the country of 20 hour work-weeks and very cold weather. But a band like Execration is very likely to generate some serious hype for the country seen as the birthplace of Black Metal. Operating out of Olso no less, Execration are band who have hit their stride with Odes of the Occult, a titan of a sophomore effort that vastly exceeds the bands previous efforts.

Odes of the Occult is an album that is hard to pin down: it is not the most original effort ever in terms of new ideas, but it mixes so many classic sounds together all at once, it clouds the way to the source of influence. Highly dissonant guitar work brings to mind Immolation at their most demonic, while sections of skull crushing Doom bring Asphyx into the picture, before mid-paced muscle riffs draw upon the soul of Bolt Thrower. Musically, everything about Odes of the Occult screams atmosphere, power and pure fucking aggression. The production is flawless, the guitar work equal parts technically complex and brutally substantial and the rythm sections does its job with the efficiency of an experienced serial murderer. The vocals are the definition of a mixed bag: at times the band makes use of a very competent guttural growl, but mostly the listener will be subjected to the vocal stylings a Martin Van Duren/John Tardy impersonator. I am aware that I am of a different opinion than most: a friend of mine describes this vocal style as "a madman with mercury in his throat, trying to scream it out." I describe is as a drunk and angry man with mental disabilities screaming for his Stretch Armstrong. Regardless, the vocals are a turn-off for me, and keep Odes of the Occult from reaching withering heights of greatness that musically it so clearly deserves.

Yet despite my disappointment with the vocal attack, Odes of the Occult remains one of my favorite releases from this year. If not strikingly original, it is as finely a crafted Death Metal album one can expect to listen to this year. An album that really doesn't need many more words than fucking excellent.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, December 19, 2011

Abbey ov Thelema- A Fragment ov the Great Work(2011)

Abbey ov Thelema- A Fragment ov the Great Work

Sometimes, you hear something that leaves you at a loss for words. Maybe because it is so fucking awesome, you can't think of a word to express the level of awesome. Maybe it was so bad, you fear speaking because vomit may be released instead of words. And maybe you are speechless because you don't know what the hell you just listened to.

A Fragment ov the Great Work fits with the latter description.

Slovakia based Abbey ov Themelma are certainly shooting for something new and unique with A Fragment ov the Great Work. Black Metal is certainly part of the equation, but how much of it is a bit uncertain. The album makes heavy use of keyboards and synthesizers, which may not sound all that strange off the bat. Lots of bands Black Metal bands make heavy use of electronic instruments, and electronic music has always fit well within Black Metal. What makes A Fragment ov the Great Work is strange is that this is not a slow, atmospheric and noisy affair: this album is fast, melodic and not all that inaccessible. The synth moves fast and hard, while the keyboards move at a blistering pace. Sure, things slow down from time to time, but not all that often. Guitars also seem entirely optional: some songs feature barely any guitar work at all. About the only standard thing about this album is the two-pronged vocal attack, which alternates from a shriek to a guttural grunt, while occasionally clean vocals come into play.

Trying to find a way to describe this album has been the biggest hurdle for me, but I can no long deny what this album is: Blackend Techno. That might sound horrible, and before I heard this album I would have agreed with you. But A Fragment ov the Great Work is not terrible. In fact, it is pretty damn good. When this album works, it works incredibly well: "Unearthly Theophagia ov a Nonexistent Deity" starts off with a blistering, pulsating beat that combines synth and a drum machine to awesome effect, before a grooving, Medieval rhythm kicks in, which is more awesome than it might sound. The whole album has a cool Medieval vibe, which I normally hate but here works well. At times, Abbey of Thelema take a more traditional route, like on "The Hidden Wisdom & Clandestine Legacy ov the Black Arts," and that song also works: dissonant, complex and with an excellent drum machine sound, the song is a nice change of pace from the Techno-fueled insanity that much of the album unleashes.

It has taken me a long time to review this album, mostly because I had no idea how I wanted to tackle the bands sound. A Fragment ov the Great Work is certainly one of the most unique and original albums I have heard in a good long while, but the album also delivers where many experimental albums fail. And I have no doubt that when Blackend Techno takes over the Rave scene in a few years, we will have Abbey of Thelema to thank.

Rating: 8.5/10

Beherit- At The Devil's Studio 1990

Beherit- At The Devil's Studio 1990

Few albums are as influential and beloved as Drawing Down the Moon. Beherit had created something that no one had ever quite heard before: drowned in a mist of darkness and doom, these Finns did Bestial Black Metal like few others(I would argue the US band Demoncy did it a lot better, although they never got the accolades Beherit did.) But for all of the brilliance of Drawing Down the Moon, Beherit themselves never repeated the success, of even came close. Between 1994 and 1995, the band released two Darkwave albums, a genre which I do not feel qualified to judge, then disbanded. They reformed to released Engram in 2009, but that is an album which does nothing for me. In the end, Beherit were a one album wonder, even if that one album has stood the test of time and remains as relentlessly evil and powerful today as it did in 1993.

Don't let any Beherit fans know about this fact though, as they are likely to crucify you for such an offense: Beherit are a band who before 1994 was the greatest Black Metal band ever, and have not done any wrong. Which is why I am sure At The Devil's Studio 1990 is likely to cause more than a few fanboy freakouts: this album was actually intended for release years ago, but was shelved at some point and only recently rediscovered by the bands drummer. Basically, At The Devil's Studio 1990 was intended to be the bands debut album, but never saw released. Recorded three years before Drawing Down the Moon, At The Devil's Studio 1990 is a much more traditional Bestial Black Metal album, and it certainly is ferocious. It is also basically unlistenable. Sure, Drawing Down the Moon was poorly recorded as well, but at least the low-end was there: At The Devil's Studio 1990 has not discernible bass work, and the kick drum sounds flat and lifeless. Overall, the drums are completely powerless, drowned out by guitars that overwhelm every other instrument, while tired and barely involved vocals can be heard from time to time, if only to disappear under a wave of amp static.

What makes At The Devil's Studio 1990 even less appealing is that the actual music involved in really not all that interesting: without many of the progressive and Doom-ish elements of Drawing Down the Moon, Beherit are incredibly typical... and incredibly boring. There is nothing here that compares with Blasphemy, Profanatica or Sadistik Exekution, at least nothing you can make out through the atrocious production. Beherit certainly made the right call trying to move the genre forward with later releases, but at the bands inception they were not much to speak of, and neither is this album.

At The Devil's Studio 1990 is likely to make a lot of fans very happy, but for those who do not obsesses over this band, this capitulates inessential. Lost in horribly broken production is a collection of so-so Bestial Black Metal songs from a band whose legacy is built upon the back of a single incredible album, and who cannot seem to damage this legacy, no matter how many piss poor compilations and Darkwave albums they seem to produce.

Rating: 4/10

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cruciamentum- Engulfed In Desolation(2011)

Cruciamentum- Engulfed In Desolation

It has finally come.

There has not been a bigger hype train in, um, obscure old school Death Metal than the one moving England's Cruciamentum. The Convocation of Crawling Choas demo made serious waves in 2009, as the bands suffocating, Incantation-esque Death Metal fit perfectly with what was hot in Death Metal at the time. But on this years split with Vasaeleth(which I reviewed previously), one could hear a not too subtle stylistic change, and not just in the vocals: there was a greater sense of groove and several chuggier riffs that to my ears sounded like Bolt Thrower.

Engulfed In Desolation
continues that sound, with four tracks of rock solid old school Death metal that evokes the masters of New York Death Metal as well as Crucimentum's fellow Brits Bolt Thrower. You know the drill then: tons of skull caving riffs, liberal use of insane blast-beats, and a bass sound that quite literally moves you. Crucimentum are some of the finest riff smiths out there right now, and just picking one brilliant riff on Engulfed in Desolation is a Herculean effort.

It is a tad unfortunate that Crucimentum feel the need to hammer those riffs into your skull long after it has already been pulverized to mush however. If Engulfed in Desolation is not without sin: these songs are seriously too long. It is not a surprise that the best song on the album, "Thrones Turned To Rust," is also by far the shortest. Cruciamentum do not make dozens of riffs: they make five to seven utterly perfect ones, then abuse your face with them. The problem is, when the songs are in excess of six minutes long, you get diminishing returns. The final track, "Unsanctified Temples," is a whopping eight minutes long, and I wish I could say that it needed to be. In truth, most of it is made up of repeated riffs in an effort to create atmosphere, when Engulfed in Desolation is at it's best when cutting the shit and ripping your arms off. This album is a nuclear bomb trying to act as a tranquilizer dart at times, and it just doesn't work.

But when Engulfed in Desolation goes for the throat, it works. Cruciamentum are a band with a lot to offer, who had a lot of success very early, and are still trying to find their sound. I am in love with the fact that the band take less from Incantation with this album, and when the riffs are working they work. All this band needs is time, experience, and a little bit of self-editing to reach song-writing Nirvana. They are pretty close as it is.

Rating: 8.5/10

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Vomitory- Opus Mortis VIII(2011)

Vomitory- Opus Mortis VIII

When it comes to Swedish Death Metal, a scene which I am well known for mostly disliking, Vomitory are an act I can get behind. Blood Rapture and Raped In Their Own Blood remain the defining Swedish Death Metal albums for me personally, and the band have never released an album I could not listen to. Which is a big reason why Opus Mortis VIII is such a tough listen: after two or so decades of producing consistent quality, Vomitory have struck out with their newest effort.

Opus Mortis VIII makes a bad impression right off the bat with it's production, which sounds far too clean for me. Part of what made Blood Rapture such a masterpiece was the production: filthy, vile and wet , like the basement of a cannibal serial killer with a massive porn library and a lack of tissue paper. Opus Mortis VIII just doesn't invoke the same images, and instead comes off like a much cleaner, less violent affair. And that is exactly what Opus Mortis VIII is: all talk, no actual violence. This album feels slower, and is more melodic, than any of the bands previous albums. This album sounds much closer to the Entombed/Dismember style of Swedish Death Metal that leaves me very cold. The slower paced, Doom-ier elements on "Shrouded in Darkness"(easily the best song on the album) are actually pretty cool, but for the most part Opus Mortis VIII is a sickeningly standard affair.

Opus Mortis VIII is almost self-aware in it's own generic, focus group Death Metal status. Everything about it is cleaner, more presentable and less threatening than the band has ever been: from the stupid album art, to the generic song titles("They Will Burn" might have been awesome in 1989, but now I am sure As I Lay Dying would use that in a song about other religions), to the songs themselves that no long have any balls. I realize that I am talking about Vomitory here, a band who have been releasing same-y albums for most of their career and will never go into a more experimental direction. But what made Vomitory so awesome was their energy: they may have been one of many mass murderers marauding about Sweden in the early 90's, but they rose above a crowded scene through sheer force of attrition.

Opus Mortis VIII is an album from a band that is tired. Their zeal for slaughter has subsided, and the rigors of making this music, which we all know is a recipe for at most lower middle class status and Tinnitus, have taken their toll. This is the album of the old man, on his last legs, still churning along in hopes of one more payday so he can rest his weary head. Opus Mortis VIII is merely a product, machine made for mass consumption. The joy of the kill is dead.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Liturgy- Aesthethica(2011)

Liturgy- Aesthethica

So far, my forays into so called “Hipster Black Metal” have left me incredibly confused about two very important things:
  1. Who the Hell is labeling these bands as Black Metal?
  2. What the Hell about these bands are so irredeemably terrible as to generate such vitriol against them?

And so far, both off those seemingly important questions have remained unanswered. It is a predicament that has left me with only one real option: listen to a lot of “Hipster Black Metal” and come up with my own damn opinion: an opinion that up until my time with Liturgy’s Aesthehtica has been a very positive one. After Liturgy’s Aesthethica, my cool has been damaged. Aesthethica helps me understand my second question a little bit more.

Lets get the positive out of the way right off the bat, because there is some positive to be found. There are some really, really cool individual riffs on this album. The dudes in this band clearly know how to play their instruments and clearly love dissonance as much as I do. Liturgy are not afraid to experiment and do not fear creativity, two qualities that is not common enough in today’s Metal scene. A lot has been made about the bands views on Black Metal, and issue I am not going to bother discussing, but I will say this for Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and Co.: they are fearless, and Aesthethica is a monument to the bands fearlessness.

It is also a testament to the bands arrogance and pretentiousness. Aesthethica is wealthy with ideas and barren of anything to keep these ideas from being utterly useless. Imagine a leg with no tendons; a book without a binding. Aesthethica feels like a recorded jam session: impromptu, herking and jerking to and fro, occasionally thrilling but mostly filled with throw-away material not worth remembering outside the heat of the moment. It is not hard to draw parallels between Liturgy and The Dave Mathews Band, which might be the most “insane-like-a-fox” thing I have ever had the (dis)pleasure to type. But the more time I spent with the amorphous blob of something vaguely Black Metal that is Aesthethica, the more that comparison makes total sense. Also, both bands feature some of the most horrid vocals ever recorded, which just makes the whole situation that much sadder.

And as with every one of these albums I have reviewed so far, I have a hard time with classifying this album as Black Metal. Is shrieking vocals and tremolo picking all that is needed to slap the Black Metal label on a band now? Aesthethica does have it’s moments where is sounds kind of like Black Metal, but the often cheery arrangements evoke a very positive sound. “Returner” sounds more like a Converge on anti-depressants, while “Glory Bronze” starts with an upbeat intro that for some fucking reason reminded me of Green Day played at inhuman speed. That song later heads into one of the most Black Metal sounding arrangements on the album, but the intro of the song could be a Weezer hit if the band slowed it down from warp speed. Yeah, I did just write that.

Aesthethica represents the dark side of unbridled creativity: when self-absorbed and self-serving experimentation destroys self-editing and common sense, it often creates something that can’t stay grounded because it is too insubstantial. Aesthethica stands up to listening like a whisp of smoke stands up to a stiff breeze, and leaves about the same impression on the world around it. I give Liturgy points for their effort, but Aesthethica is the kind of wasted musical effort that comes about when the only people the band are trying to impress are themselves.

Rating: 5/10

Heresiarch- Hammer of Intransigence(2011)

Heresiarch- Hammer of Intransigence

Torrid storms of punishing, golf ball sized hail and the sonic screams of victimized demons being raped in Hell is all one can expect from Heresiarch’s debut EP, Hammer of Intransigence, a title which would be almost hilariously appropriate for the product on display if it weren’t so painful. The weak and the lame shall be obliterated under the heel, and the strong will merely live long enough to suffer for their endurance and foolish hope for survival. Blood will pool underneath your shapeless, mushy remains, and your final thoughts will be of pain.

Too bad Hammer of Intransigence isn’t more fun.

While no non-sense brutality is always a nice thing, New Zealand’s Heresiarch are a force of massive destruction that leaves no actual room for anything else but frankly ridiculous chaos. Hammer of Intransigence is a mostly unoriginal piece of dime-a-dozen Death Metal, drawing from Deeds of Flesh, Angelcorpse and Bolt Thrower without grabbing any charm along the way. Points must be given for not ripping off Incantation, but merely exceeding an already sad expectation will not win anyone any medals. For all of its Hell fire and brute strength, Hammer of Intransigence cannot break free from the chains of conceptual inadequacy.

There are certainly some redeeming qualities on display here: the band are tight, know what they want and play with a clear zeal for Sadism, and the spectacle this album makes of mass annihilation is something to behold. But unlike the bands this group clearly idolize, or even unlike the bands that sired Heresiarch(fellow New Zealander’s Witchrist and Diocletian), this group just can’t help but destroying themselves along with everything else around them.

Rating: 6/10

Nuclearhammer/Begrime Exemious- Heretical Serpent Cult(2011)

Nuclearhammer/Begrime Exemious- Heretical Serpent Cult

Nuclearhammer and Begrime Exemious are two names I have picked up as I perused the various forums, blogs and distros in my ever eternal search for music. Both bands have built up a solid reputation across the internet, which we all know is the final authority on what good Metal is, so when I saw these acts had a new split, Heretical Serpent Cult, I thought this was a good chance to check them out.

And once again, the old school curmudgeons that stalk the internet’s various dank and lifeless holes are rewarding old school sensibility and image.

Forgettable and basic, Heretical Serpent Cult is as generic and lifeless as the albums title. On one hand we have Nuclearhammer, who unabashedly steal ideas from Blasphemy and Archgoat at every turn. Devoid of any personality or creativity, Nuclearhammer blast through the first half of this split like a barely functioning jackhammer, beating on the eardrums without any reward for your endurance. The band even throw a Taxi Driver sample at you on the opening track “Storms of Wrath,” which while adding a certain irony to the bands utter lack of creativity, is just as generic as the bands plagiarized and lifeless sound.

Begrime Exemious make an even worse impression. While Nuclearhammer might be pointless, they are at least tight and nasty. Begrime Exemious can’t even play as a band: sloppy, listless old-schoolish Death Metal that lacks any attitude or real brutality. Clearly influenced by early Floridian Death Metal, Begrime Exemious are a scattershot and inorganic mix of Obituary, Morbid Angel and Deicide. Everything about Begrime Exemious’ side of the split is offensive to the ear and so poorly played, it is a wonder the band were ever allowed to record for any label. No doubt the fact the band are perceived as “old-school” is likely the bands only leg to stand on.

Listening to Heretical Serpent Cult has me wondering about the state of Death and Black Metal in 2011: is creativity and originality truly dead? Does all it take to make a record nowadays is your ability imitate older bands that are exponentially better? I understand that everything has already been done, and I also get that originality is not always good. I can get behind blatant worship as well as anybody(I have listened to Putrevore’s Morphed in Deathbreath an ungodly number of times), but what I cannot get behind is a total lack of personality. Heretic Snake Cult has about as much personality as Kobe Bryant on Valium. A truly horrifying, and boring, vision

Rating: 3/10

EDIT: Well, I knew it would happen eventually. I made a mistake, important enough to bare mentioning: this split features four covers, three by Nuclearhammer(three original tracks) and one from Begrime Exemious(five original tracks). I stand by everything I wrote in this review 100%, but it was pretty dumb for me to forget to mention that the split featured covers. Rather than merely edit the review and try and cover up the mistake, I am gonna own up to it with this edit, as a reminder of my hubris... or whatever.

You can find an edited version of this review on Metal-Archives.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sonne Adam- Transformation(2011)

Sonne Adam- Transformation

Like ritualistic chants from an ancient and powerful cult, Transformation comes from a dark, dark place. Pulsating with evil, thriving on blood sacrifice and devouring all hope and light in its path, Transformation is a truly atmospheric force of occult devastation. These Israeli's have created and album and crafted a sound which feels familiar without really emulating any Death Metal band before it. An album steeped in the old school yet fresh and modern feeling, Transformation is a rare album indeed, and one that delivers on multiple levels and through multiple listens.

No album I have heard this year would sound more appropriate during a reading of Satanic Rites than Transformation. Everything about this album is meticulously designed to create an atmosphere of hatred and death, yet it never feels over-wrought or forced: the entire album is organic and powerful from the first note to the final, torturous moments and it never relents. It's easy to come up with a list of influences evident on this album: Incantation, Thergothon, disEMBOWELMENT, Autopsy, Morpheus Descends. Yet none of these disparate influences really describe what exactly Transformation sounds like, as Sonne Adam have developed a truly unique sound; one that invokes pure blackness and true Satanic worship. Even the song titles, such as brilliant tracks like "We Who Worship The Black" and "Take ME Back To Where I Belong" are crafted with the express purpose of layering as much blasphemy and demonic wrath on the listener as possible.

The fact that Sonne Adam have so easily evoke atmosphere without layering on tons of static or that Transformation doesn't sound like it was recorded under-water is what makes it so fucking impressive. Unlike say Portal or Ritual Necromancy, whose entire atmosphere comes from production and not composition, Sonne Adam create a suffocating and soul crushing atmosphere through song-writing and creative design, despite a strong and modern production(courtesy of Century Media no doubt). Transformation is far from clean, and there is no extra fluff or drum triggers, but the mix is even, all the instruments sound fantastic and the whole thing feels professional. Transformation proves that quality, atmospheric Death Metal can still be recorded in a studio, by bigger label professionals. The vocals are also a real treat: while pretty much just a mono-tone low growl, they are incredibly clear: unlike the vast majority of Death Metal vocalists, Dahan is easily the most understandable I have heard... well, ever. No doubt the professional production quality and perfect mix has something to do with this, but Dahan's pronunciation is pretty much perfect, and gives Dahan the vibe of a preacher, spreading his heretical word across the land.

And what heretical words indeed. It is rare for me to discuss lyrics in my reviews, mostly because they are not worth discussing. The vast majority of Death Metal vocalists have such trouble with pronunciation, and the production is often so uneven, they might as well be saying "RRRRRRRRRRRRRR" or "OOOOOOOHHHHHHHH". But with Transformation, Sonne Adam's brilliantly dark lyrics add another level to the listening experience. "Take Me Back To Where I Belong" features my personal favorite moment on the album(both musically and lyrically):

It's a day of celebration
Death erases all that was before
And those who fought for alternation
Be served as king before before their human forms
This is the time of procreation
And I shall teach the way of the Sadus god
All the cult is by my side
Together we shall rise to claim the throne

You can look forward to being able to clearly understand every single word, and it is a joy indeed to hear such well constructed and evil Death Metal poetry in all its unholy glory.

I have heaped a lot of praise on this album, and for good reason: Transformation is a masterpiece, a modern day Death Metal classic, deserving of all the accolades it might receive. No other Death Metal album this year has left such a permanent mark on me, or my listening rotation, than Transformation. This album also represents a greater purpose: that professionalism is not dead in Death Metal and that production does not have to be lo-fi and static choked to be atmospheric and demonic. Quit reading this review, and get this album. The dark Gods are calling to you. Answer them.

Rating: 10/10

Friday, December 2, 2011

Double Review: Noisear- Subvert the Dominate Paradigm and Defeatist- Tyranny of Decay

Noisear- Subvert the Dominate Paradigm

Defeatist- Tyranny of Decay

Over the past few years, Grindcore had been a genre of segments: on one hand, we had the purist Grindcore inspired by it's roots: Rotten Sound, Magrudergrind, Wormrot and others were doing it they way Napalm Death used to do it back in 1989. On the other, we had the progressive elements of the genre, toying with dissonance, technicality and time signatures: Discordance Axis, Pig Destroyer, Fuck The Facts. It has become a shit tossing war of fanboy attrition, as the two sides bicker over where the genre needs to go from here.

That question has been answered with Subvert the Dominate Paradigm and Tyranny of Decay: they will be smashed, molded and melted into one. Both of these albums represent the future of Grindcore, one grounded in the genre's past while at the same time embracing it's future. New Mexico's Noisear and New York's Defeatist have both released incredibly impressive albums, mixing the purist, crusty Grindcore of Rotten Sound with the hyper technical and dissonant guitar work of Discordance Axis to create a new kind of Grindcore. And boy does it fucking rule.

Of the two albums, Subvert the Dominate Paradigm is the stronger record. In fact, Subvert the Dominate Paradigm might be the finest Grindcore album of the last five years. Each of the thirty songs(minus the last song, "Noiseurption," which is mostly Power Electronics) are perfectly crafted pieces of this new kind of Grindcore. The basic riffs, song structure and tempo are classic Grindcore: fast, brutal, crusty and reeking of Punk Rock attitude. But Noisear often break into burst of technical, hyper dissonant riffing that brings to mind Discordance Axis and Fuck the Facts at their most inhuman and enraged, and the band often toy with Jazzy and complex song structure, if only for a few fleeting seconds, before going back to the Grind with a furious vengeance. The vocal attack is also incredible: varied, pissed off an bubbling with pure shit spewing hatred, the alternating high shriek and low guttural growl is as impressive as any you will ever hear. This synthesis of two styles is incredibly fun to listen to, and kept me on my feet for the entire album, wondering what Noisear were going to throw at me next.

Tyranny of Decay does not lack for truly awesome moments. Defeatist are the more traditional of the two bands, and this 12 track LP does feel dirtier and crustier. Defeatist are not quite as technically sound as Noisear, but they heap the rage on by the truckload(and in the end, that might be the most important thing). At times very Doom-y, and occasionally bringing to mind a more primitive Immolation, Tyranny of Decay is a force of sheer destruction. Its technical moments are less pronounced, but when they hit, it often creates a sea of dissonance that would make Ulcerate proud. I also prefer the overall production of Tyranny of Decay: Subvert the Dominate Paradigm has a very even mix and a ridiculously perfect snare sound, but Tyranny of Decay feels nastier and more filthy in an early Rotten Sound kind of way. On the other hand, the fairly mono-tone, screamy vocals of Tyranny of Decay are not the album's strong suite.

If this is the future of Grindcore, then a bright future it shall be. Both of these albums, but particularly Subvert the Dominate Paradigm, represent an aesthetic synthesis that I wish other genres would at least attempt(I am looking at you, Death Metal), and continues to prove that for sheer unbridled creativity, Grindcore is the superior genre to just about any other form of Extreme Music. I love the proclamation of Subvert the Dominate Paradigm's title: Noisear(and Defeatist) have done exactly that: taken the dominate ideas in Grindcore today, undercut them, and then popped a squat and took a shit on them.

Rating: Subvert the Dominate Paradigm: 10/10
Tyranny of Decay: 8.5/10