Monday, December 10, 2012

Din of Awakening- Din of Awakening(2012)

Din of Awakening- Din of Awakening

The American Black Metal scene is in the midst of a glorious resurgence, and this reviewer is loving every minute of it.

It's not just this new Atmospheric Black Metal movement(Blackgaze for the haters) or the Black Twilight Circle either.  Outside of these two highly publicized and divisive scenes, American Black Metal is a growing movement that is finally starting to take it's (long deserved) place along side it's "vastly superior" European counterparts.  No longer is it just a few American acts getting all the love and the rest being swept aside as mere garbage.  American Black Metal, particularly the growing number of Raw Black Metal acts, is now a force to be reckoned with, one even the most hardcore of Euro-Elite Black Metal fans can no longer ignore even if they still deride it.  This resurgence has had this reviewer scouring the land for fresh new acts ready to make waves in the scene, and Din of Awakening and their new s/t demo were among the purveyors that caught my attention. 

Hailing from New York, one of the epicenters of the American Black Metal scene, Din of Awakening are a brand new one man project making raw, doomy Black Metal reminiscent of depressive, atmospheric acts such as Burzum and early Leviathan.  Highly minimalistic and suffocatingly raw, Din of Awakening has a few very strong aspects.  The vocals are distant and ethereal, yet very powerful and engaging.  Michal Vincent's throaty, demonic shriek and instantly brings to mind Varg's best vocal performances, and he effectively throws out some powerful guttural growls from time to time for some needed variety. The vocals are basically intelligible however, which all but defeats the bands goals of Green Anarchism in the lyrics.  The guitar tone is also fantastic; drenched in static yet clear enough to come through with power and dissonance.  The song-writing is mostly vintage Atmospheric Black Metal, featuring clean interludes and intros along with highly minimalistic song structures and melodic, depressive riffs that while not strikingly original, are competent enough to be enjoyable.

Too bad there just isn't more to enjoy here.  Din of Awakening is only three tracks, yet only one really stands out.  "Becoming Flesh, Embracing Death" features all the well worn concepts of Atmospheric Black Metal, but is a highly enjoyable track featuring the best clean, melodic interludes on the demo, as well as a killer riff that would do Burzum proud.  It's a dynamic track, but the tracks it is sandwiched between are a mixed bag at best.  "Unbirth" is almost completely forgettable, coming off as an elongated intro at the very most.  The guitar work is fine enough, featuring plenty of depressive melody, but the overall structure is mostly dull and uninspired.  It suffers greatly from the unimpressive drum work on the album; it's so minimalist as to be inessential to the tracks, and the sound of the drums(likely a drum machine) is consistently awful throughout the demo.  Truth be told, if Vincent had not even bothered with drums on the demo at all it might have been better.  "Begotten" is better, featuring some Darkthrone-esque speed and a the most diverse vocal attack with even a bit of a Blackened Death Metal vibe, but it's also on the sloppy side and drags on a bit long near the end with a slow outro that feels inessential, as though it were tacked on to have the track feel more like the two previous songs with their slow, lurching tempos.

I don't want to come off as too harsh here, because Din of Awakening is not a bad demo, and certainly not for the very first release from a very new project.  And "Becoming Flesh, Embracing Death" alone makes Din of Awakening worth the listeners time.  There is great potential for Din of Awakening to become a better, more engaging project overall, but this s/t demo provides too little value to feel essential to anyone but the most die hard fans of Raw or Atmospheric Black Metal.  A solid but unspectacular beginning, with a glimmer of greatness buried just beneath the graveyard soil.

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Monomakh- MMXII(2012)

Monomakh- MMXII

Monomakh are a new project from(where else) Australia, and with MMXII, the projects new demo, is their contribution to the Blackened Death Metal resurgence that has taken place over the last several years.  Yet those expecting cavernous and overwhelming ambient atmosphere or warp speed blasting and war machine riffs are in for a bit of a wake up call here, as Monomakh bring a somewhat unique approach to the sound.  Bands like Incantation and Archgoat come to mind when listening to Monomakh no doubt, but this one piece project offers a fairly fresh perspective on the Blackened Death Metal sound from a country which has already defined and progressed the genre a dozen times over the last decade.

It's not to say that MMXII doesn't have it's share of doom-laden, tremolo picked riffs, occasional ambiance or war torn imagery(the cover art is literally of a battle after all).  It's what with all of these well worn elements, Monomakh brings both a more riff-oriented and diverse song writing template to the table, complete with a slightly greater focus on melody, and a more expansive, busy song-writing style.  Only "Barbaros" clocks in at under five minutes, and both "Kokytos" and "Deathabomination" exceed seven minutes running time.  Yet despite this, neither track ever feels under-developed, self-indulgent or tired.  Monomakh never resort to pointless, boring Funeral Doom or over-the-top keyboards to pad the running time... hell, riffs are barely ever re-used.  Each track on MMXII is jam packed with ideas, yet all of them remain cohesive and brutal from beginning to end.  "Barbaros" in particular is as savage and deadly as they come, starting out with a mighty scream and some fantastic drumming, while the whirlwind of riffs and melodic undercurrents bring to mind an unholy mix of Deiphago and Arghoslent.  Then it ends in a suffocating cloud of demonic plague spores that would feel right at home on an Antediluvian or Grave Upheaval release.

There is this wonderful yet subtle mix of modern, atmospheric Blackened Death Metal/Incantation worship and seemingly out of place old-school 80's/90's Death/Thrash on MMXII that may not quite hit the listener through the first few listens, but the more time one spends with it the more these elements show themselves in the compositions.  "Deathabominations" features plenty of old-school, Thrash-y sections and melodic leads what will remind many of the previously mentioned Arghoslent, as well as fellow Australians Destroyer 666 and Vomitor, yet it's so lost in the minutia of the cavernous production style as to feel organic and like a natural progression of the composition, as opposed to merely thrown into the song for "old-skull credibility." This focused thematic and musical attack is as impressive as they come, and makes MMXII one of the most listenable and powerful Death Metal releases this year.

And as if it couldn't get any better, MMXII is free of charge on the bands Bandcamp page, which makes the wonderful, heavy and catchy as fuck demo a must listen for everyone involved.  MMXII may not blow you away on initial listens(it sure didn't with me) due to a feeling of deja vu, but its the kind of complex, active album which requires multiple listens to appreciate and will eventually worm its way into your skull as it did mine.  Monomakh have come up with a new approach to Blackened Death Metal in a time in which the genre is dominated by clones and imitators, and that is something everyone should be able to appreciate.

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hic Iacet- Hedonist of the Death(2011)

Hic Iacet- Hedonist of the Death

I missed Hedonist of the Death, from Spanish warlocks Hic Iacet, in 2011 despite near-universal praise for the bands debut demo.  Slow to catch on as always, I was never-the-less intrigued by the demo's glorious cover art and promises of Blackened, occult Death Metal in the vein of recent releases from Muknal and Temple Nightside.  Another occult themed Blackened Death Metal band seemed a bit... redundant at this point, but it was hard to say no to that cover art(I mean look at that shit.  I bought the recent vinyl re-release of the album from Hell's Headbangers just because of that album cover).

Luckily in this case judging a book by it's cover didn't blow up in my face(here's looking at you Sleepers in the Rift), and Hedonist of the Death delivers on most of it's promise for occult devastation and disgusting swarms of black locusts.  I would not go so far as to put this demo among the best the genre has had to offer over the past few years, and it's a demo that lacks many of the typical occult bells-and-whistles that their peers have taken to new extremes.  But despite a complete lack of anything that would be labeled "Dark Ambient" or "avant-garde," Hic Iacet still manage to invoke the ancient spirits and create thick, demonic atmospheres through strong, concise and effective song-writing.  Tracks usually run on the short side, avoiding self-indulgent stretches of lazy Funeral Doom or atmospheric keyboard-driven ambiance, and instead focus on driving rhythms and aggressive, simplistic guitar work.  Simplistic, but not overly repetitive either, as even the shortest tracks are heavy with riffs and tempo changes.  "Brevity of Congenital Rot" pretty much sums this album up perfectly: raw, simplistic and highly aggressive, with several killer riffs(particularly the opening riff) and lots of tempo changes that happen organically and not spastically.  The production is also superb, and although I'm normally not a fan of thin guitar production, it works here.  The drums are insanely raw and are devoid of any studio magic, while the bass brings all the needed power and thickness to compensate for the cold, thin guitar sound.  It's not much more than a mix of Angelcorpse, Incantation and Blasphemy, but with song-writing this good it's hard to complain with the final result.

It's a bit shocking however that despite the very simplistic riffs and song-writing on Hedonist of the Death that Hic Iacet don't sound tighter here.  The album is not obnoxiously sloppy by any stretch, but it's not like the material here is nearing Spawn of Possession levels of complexity.  At times the guitar players struggle to keep up and the drums and the whole group will stutter a bit . Part of the appeal of Hedonist of the Death is the simplistic, raw and primitive song-writing, but one has to wonder if the band took maximum time to get these songs 100% solid or rushed the album out.  Or perhaps this was a conscious decision by the band, though having only recently formed in 2010, it seems more likely the band were not as tight as they wanted to be when they released Hedonist of the Death.  And judging by the bands new upcoming material and it's lack of anything resembling sloppiness, it seems even more likely that the band were not yet completely comfortable playing with each other on Hedonist of the Death.  The sloppiness of this demo didn't really bother me personally, but it bares mentioning for those discerning listeners who don't care for anything less than perfection.
Hedonist of the Death is immensely charming, listenable and above all fucking heavy.  It's a stripped down, no frills take on Occult Black/Death that works due to fundamental song-writing which places riffs and timely tempo changes over abstract ritualism.  Truth be told, I actually prefer the abstract ritualism and avant-garde tendencies of their peers, but Hic Iacet have certainly carved out a somewhat unique take on the Occult Black/Death sound, even if it doesn't sound like it from the initial listens.  It's easy to appreciate the bands approach, and as the band grow together as musicians, I have no doubt that Hic Iacet will produce some pretty amazing stuff in the near future.  As it is, Hedonist of the Death is a stellar beginning, and highly recommended.
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Spawn of Possession- Incurso(2012)

Spawn of Possession- Incurso

Since we last saw Spawn of Possession in 2006 with Noctambulant, the landscape of Death Metal has seen a drastic change.  Let's step into the Way-Back Machine, to a different era with a different sound.  It's not quite the TARDIS, but it will do.

When Spawn of Possession were in their heyday during the early part of the century, Death Metal was a genre where pushing the limits of speed, technicality and tempo were the standard, not the exception.  Bands like Necrophagist, Augury, Lykathea Aflame and Anata were the modern Titans, and most Death Metal fans( at least the ones I knew) worshiped at the altars of Suffocation, Gorguts, Atheist and Cryptopsy.  Death Metal didn't just flirt with Jazz and Classical music, they were starting to become attached at the hip.  Rampant experimentation was commonplace, and the sheer technical prowess of the musicians in these bands rivaled musicians in any genre.  Death Metal was becoming a bit of a thinking man's genre, much to the chagrin of old-school purists, who quickly and loudly decried the end of Death Metal.

But the times have changed, or perhaps more accurately reverted.  Those temples to the likes of Suffocation and Gorguts have long been sacked and torn asunder.  Now the land is once again filled with monuments to Incantation, Angelcorpse and Entombed, and Death Metal has largely returned to the sounds of the late 80's and early 90's.  Experimentation still exists, but even these bands have roots in classic, well worn sounds long ago established by a group of aging musicians, whose bands now seem to be reforming left and right(Purtenance, Dominus Xul and Uncanny have all returned from the grave very recently).

Now, I'm not going to argue about whether this is a good or a bad thing(in this writers opinion, it's both), but it is the reality of the current Death Metal scene.  And needless to say, it's strange timing for Spawn of Possession to return with their first new material in six long years.  It begs the question: does anyone care anymore?  Recent forays by many current Technical Death Metal band closer to the sound Spawn of Possession helped establish have been at best sub-par.  Artist like Obscura, Anomalous and Archspire have not done much to help set up Spawn of Possession's glorious return to the realm, and with Old-School Death Metal now so trendy, how could these members of the Old-New-Guard do much to make an impact?

Incurso does make and impact though.  Boy does it ever, mostly by reminding everyone that the "Death Metal" part is still more important than the "Technical" part, no matter how brain-meltingly technical an album is.  And trust me, Incurso is just that: inhumanly precise,  Jazzy and wonderfully complex.  Tempos and riffs shift at light-speed, tearing across a galaxy of immeasurable complexity, eviscerating quasars and spewing their luminescence across the galactic horizon.  The bass work is, as to be expected, is beyond compare: Erland Caspersen dominates this record, and the intro to "Spiritual Deception" is just incredibly awesome thanks to his effortlessly technical style.  The rest of the instruments follow suit, and there is little doubt that the members of Spawn of Possession are some of the finest musicians on the planet.

Still, there are a lot of amazing musicians out there, and just because you can play doesn't mean you can write.  But it's the writing on Incurso that makes stand head and shoulders above many of the bands modern contemporaries within this style of Death Metal.  For starters, Incurso stays brutal, heavy and aggressive through-out.  Sure, things get Jazzy and melodic, but the album never stops being heavy and nasty from a song-writing perspective.  Spawn of Possession also find a way to keep things drenched in a layer of atmosphere, effectively using dissonance, melody and even the rare electronic or keyboard segment to give the entire album an air of cosmic creepiness.  "Apparition" makes the most effective use of these elements, and it proves to be one of the most atmospheric and creepy songs on the album, evoking a chorus of alien horrors in a chapel made from the dead husks of ancient moons. From a technical and song-writing perspective, Incurso delivers where releases from bands like Obscura and Fleshgod Apocalypse have failed miserably.

The same issue I had with the unquestionably brilliant Noctambulant rears it's head once again on Incurso however: an obnoxiously clean guitar sound that takes more from the album than it gives back.  I understand why this happens: if you work this hard and this long on writing some of the most complex riffs in existence, you want people to able to make out each note without losing any in a sea of reverb or distortion.  But some of the very best Technical Death Metal albums in history, if not the best, featured a filthy and nasty production sound: Nespithe, None So Vile, Effigy of the Forgotten, Onset of Putrefaction.  Even Spawn of Possession's first full length album Cabinet was no where near so clean or sterile sounding.  Thankfully, Incurso is not quite as slick sounding as Noctambulant and the drum triggers are far less obnoxious, but Incurso is clean enough to be occasionally annoying

That said, beyond the guitar sound and the ugly cover art(I really cannot stand these Dan Seagrave-inspired covers so many Tech Death and Brutal Death Metal bands use), Incurso is a wonderful return to form for Spawn of Possession.  Death Metal as a scene has no doubt changed since they left, but quality Death Metal will always be the rule that we all go by.  Without a doubt, Incurso is an album of unquestionable quality, brutality and complexity.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Great Old Ones- Al Azif(2012)

The Great Old Ones- Al Azif

How strange it is that one of the most influential creative forces that has helped shape Metal in all it's forms would  be a long dead horror writer from Providence, Rhode Island with one of history's truly great ironic monikers.  H.P. Lovecraft and his cosmic, esoteric Cthulhu Mythos is among the most referenced subject's in Extreme Metal's historically limited lyrical pantheon(also featuring a little cloaked man with horns and various naked, mutilated women), yet seems to carry a certain air of class about it.  Anybody can write a song about Satan or goats or gore, but in order to Lovecraft-up your lyrics, it means you had to actually read what is now considered classic literature(though Lovecraft was only mildly successful in his own lifetime).  Pretty classy, and the main draw behind The Great Old One's newest album, Al Azif.  Though French, The Great Old One's sound is distinctly American; specifically, the new breed of atmospheric, Shoegaze-and-Doom influenced Black Metal popularized by the likes of Weakling, Wolves in the Throne Room and Krallice.  Being French and all, you would hope that The Great Old One's would have some fresh new ideas to bring to a very trendy, very popular genre, other than the whole Lovecraft thing.

Well... no, not really.

Frankly, Al Azif comes and goes, leaving little in the way of extra-dimensional terror or cosmic infestations.  Hell, it barely lifts a tentacle as it plods along at typical Depressive Black Metal tempos and thick, admittedly inviting Black/gaze/Krallice riffs rule the day.  This is just very typical, very mild stuff The Great Old One's are showcasing as dynamic, progressive Atmospheric Black Metal.  Song's follow predictable progressions, usually alternative between a soft intro followed by lots of fast bits, with softer compositions popping in just on time to break the monotony before the fast stuff starts again... usually for excessively long play-times.  Memory fails when trying to find a single highlight in the haze, and the haze itself is pretty bland: more a smokey, smelly mess then a true thickening of the air that causes the lungs to struggle against inhaling it.  The only aspect of the album that stands out in anyway is the wonderful production: I'm a big fan of the thick, static heavy approach to Black Metal, and it does work here, if only to provide the lone bright light in a sea of dimness.  Al Azif struggles to give the listener much of anything: riffs, atmosphere, or even delivering on the promise of it's subject matter.

This is the thing I understand the least about Al Azif: why even bother going with a Lovecraftian theme if all you are going to write are typical, generic Blackgaze songs that Leucosis and Ash Borer did better last year?  Truth is, I know little about Lovecraft as a writer, but it seems to me the man had a really cool vision.  The whole idea of cosmic horror and esoteric, ethereal old spirits slowly devouring our souls and minds sounds pretty fucking twisted, especially considering the age in which Lovecraft wrote these stories.  If your concept band is going to make a concept album about this kind of shit, it better be as demented and perverse as the concept itself.  Compare this tripe to Brown Jenkins, another Lovecraftian themed Atmospheric Black Metal band(now essentially called The Ash Eaters), and it's like comparing an infant wearing a Cthulhu mask to the real thing's massive, tentacle cloaked member.  We could compare this also to the works of Thergothon or Catacombs, but it's pretty much the same result.  Al Azif might as well be titled Al Franken or Al Capone, because in the end there will be no "visions of R'lyeh" to haunt your dreams after listening to this chore.

Al Azif is not a poorly played album.  It doesn't sound bad, in fact it sounds utterly fantastic.  And it really isn't even a poorly written one.  It follows all the established guidelines of the genre to their well-tread ends, on time and with gusto.  It's that none of it feels unique, memorable or intense in anyway: everything is a blur, and the twisted chants of the star cult are completely obscured by the dime-a-dozen Blackgaze eclipse wonderfully suggested on the albums (brilliant looking) cover art.  The rites of Cthulhu this is most certainly not.

Rating: 3.5/10

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Putrevore- Macabre Kingdom(2012)

Putrevore- Macabre Kingdom

Late in 2010, I discovered Putrevore's debut album Morphed From Deadbreath, and it was love at fist listen.  Tearing itself from the primordial ooze, drenched in slime and embryonic diffuse, Morphed From Deadbreath was a Precambrian beast to be feared.  Firmly entrenched in the Rottrevore school of down-tuned, gut-bucket brutality, it was a worship album that felt more like an extension of the sound than mere imitation.  Rogga Johansson and Dave Rotten, two titans in their own right, had created the single most impressive love-letters to a sadly under-utilized sound I've ever had the pleasure of being skull-fucked by, and it left me wanting more.

But like all primeval, primordial beasts, evolution must take it's course.  Since we last left Putrevore stewing in a pit of bile and muck, much has changed: the claws have become sharper, the teeth more serrated, the hunting techniques more advanced.  Macabre Kingdom is the definition of a nightmarish predator: massive and hulking indeed, but also in possession of a frightful, instinctual intelligence that sends shivers down one's spine.  Rogga and Rotten have brought their collective experience to the project, writing songs which offer a more diverse pallet of Old-School sensibilities and good ol' American brutality(not bad for a Swede and a Spaniard) than Morphed From Deadbreath.  Rottrevore's trademark sound, revisionist Swedish Death Metal cut free of cheese-tastic melody and guitars tuned to "Black Hole" mixed with strong Proto-Brutal Death Metal elements, remains the core of Putrevore's sound and Macabre Kingdom's devastating assault.  But the two opening tracks, "Mysteries of the Worm Part I and II," give clear indication that this is not more of the same.  Rogga brings his patented Swedish Death Metal vibe to the entire package, but shows a strong understanding of the material by never over-doing it: melody slinks below the torrential riff storms and Rotten's incredible guttural vocal assault, and occasional guitar solos add more to the material than detract from it.  Also present is a healthy dose of Incantation style tremolo picking and Doom-laden devastation, perhaps a bit token for the current era of Death Metal, but executed beautifully here.

That would be more than enough innovation for any band from one album to the next, but Rogga and Rotten must not have been content with even that, and sought to push Putrevore's sound further into new directions.  "Mysteries of the Worm Part II" fit's right in with the modern Occult Death Metal scene, featuring atmospheric keyboards and dark, serpentine riffs that would give Antediluvian nightmares, while "Awaiting Awakening Again" grooves and rumbles like Bolt Thrower and Grave after blowing through two thirty-packs.  Macabre Kingdom doesn't really maintain a consistent tone throughout the album, and instead goes for an all-encompassing view of Death Metal as a whole; it's past and it's present.  There really is something here for everyone, and the fact that Rogga and Rotten can keep the whole album focused and utterly uncompromising over all eight tracks is a monumental achievement.  Rogga has always been known as a "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" kind of guy through his various SwedDeath worship acts, but Macabre Kingdom feels like a coming out party for the gifted guitarist: he deftly and expertly dances between styles and riffs with impressive dexterity and real understanding of the material and the sound.  I never would have guessed that a Putrevore album would be Rogga's most impressive and multifaceted performance, but that's exactly what has happened.  As for Rotten, there is little to be said: this is arguably the most impressive guttural vocal performance on an album since Antti Boman first blew the world's collective dome with his inhuman vocalizations on Nespithe.

I can't imagine Putrevore will remain in the periphery of Death Metal any longer with this release.  Morphed From Deadbreath was brilliant but very niche, as only hardcore fans of the already generally obscure Rottrevore would get much from it.  Macabre Kingdom is truly an appropriate title: the vast appeal of this album will, if justice be served, crown Putrevore as one of the best projects the modern Death Metal scene has to offer.  May they rule with an iron, gory fist.

Rating: 9.5/10

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Father Befouled- Revulsion of Seraphic Grace(2012)

Father Befouled- Revulsion of Seraphic Grace

Whether he is summoning pestilential spirits in Black Funeral, divining the bloody remnants of the unborn in Prosanctus Inferi or merely eviscerating the weak in Father Befouled, Jake Kohn is an easy man to figure out: all brutality and death all the time.  Perhaps not the most breathtaking career, but one that has endeared him to the Ross Bay Cult-types and aging Death Metal fans who still think that Technical Death Metal is killing the genre.  Of all three projects, Father Befouled(which he joined after the band formed) stands out as the most "brass-tacks": while Black Funeral routinely delve into dark, creepy ambiance, and Prosanctus Inferi are so brutal and fast as to be alien, Father Befouled... sound exactly like Incantation.  Revulsion of Seraphic Grace is the bands third full-length album of what essentially amount to Incantation-derivatives, as doomy and subterranean as anything Incantation have released, if not anywhere near as classic or intense.  And in fairness, Father Befouled have never tried to be anything but an Incantation clone.  Artwork, song-titles, lyrics; all none-too-clever nods to the Old New Yorkers and their revolutionary and now endlessly imitated style.  So perhaps it's unfair to judge Revulsion of Seraphic Grace as anything but a worship album, a send up to those ancient monsters whom gave life to many a nightmarish soundscape.  If we judge it on this criteria, then were does it stand?

It stands, but barely.

It's not all on the album: Incantation worship has grown painfully stale at this point.  The market has been thoroughly flooded with albums that sound exactly like this, to the point that it's value and listenability has dropped to almost zero.  I'm personally so sick of Incantation worship, it's starting to make it hard to listen to the real thing.  But even taking Incantation out of the equation and merely comparing Revulsion of Seraphic Grace to previous Father Befouled albums, it still comes off as trite and de-fanged.  Compared to 2010's Morbid Destitution of Covenant, Revulsion sounds positively pussy-footed: the production is the bands cleanest and weakest to date, while the tired and breathy vocals are now loud enough to be annoying rather than scenery.  The songs are also universally slower and LONGER, including the ridiculously boring "Triumvirate of Liturgical Desecration," which crawls like a leper with two broken legs across pine-tar for almost 10 minutes.  Such self-indulgent song length for what amounts to a tribute album is just completely unnecessary and even worse, god-damn boring.  Morbid Destitution of Covenant kept things short and simple, allowing for maximum slaughter at maximum efficiency, which is why it remains a favorite among Incantation-worship albums.  For moments at a time, Revulsion delivers some punishing riffs, but the album begins and ends in a blur of "why bother" which is difficult to shake.

At this point, it's hard to imagine we will get much of anything different from Father Befouled: it's what their fans want and it's what these guys want to play.  The cycle is in place and no one is really interested in breaking it, including me.  Death Metal doesn't get much more dank and rotten than it does on Revulsion of Seraphic Grace, so the question becomes: is dank and rotten enough?  Or more importantly, when does dank and rotten just start to mean it stinks like a dead cat by the roadside?

Rating: 5.5/10

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fuck Computers

So my video card melted.

Having freshly moved in to my brand new shitty apartment, complete with poorly painted walls and doors put in backwards, I endeavored to get my out-dated rig set up and ready for late nights of writing reviews in a drunken stupor.

And then my video card melted.

So as of right now, I'm mostly out of commission until next Friday, aka pay-day.

I shall return.  The Curse lives on.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

So, Who Wants To Come Over And Help Me Move?

Just a quick update to let readers know that I will be away from the blog for a few weeks while I get moved to a new dank, pest-infested pit of unholy suffering... also known as an apartment.  Between moving preparations, school preparations, work and listening to an ungodly amount of Kate Bush, I just don't have the time at this moment to write terrible reviews about Old-Skull Deth Methul bands.  But once I've finished gathering twigs and dead animal furr for my new nest. expect the Curse to be back in full swing.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review Round-Up: Raw as Fvck in the VSA

This whole review thing can be a real pain in the ass.  For one, you always need to be on top of the newest releases, yet because of this annoying little thing that keeps forcing me to do things like go to work and bathe, I never have any time to review them. I think it's called "real life" or something, and I'm not too fond of it.  Unfortunately, homelessness limits my Wi-Fi options, otherwise I would sleep in the alley behind the grocery store and listen to obscure shitty Black Metal albums all day, stopping only occasionally to fight off the packs of feral cats.  We all can dream...

The Rain in Endless Fall- Weald of Introspection(2011-2012)

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, The Rain in Endless Fall is the second project of Lord Vast and Grond Nefarious, also of Wylve and the masterful Blut Der Nacht.  With a more Depressive Black Metal slant, The Rain in Endless Fall are not as powerful and primitive as Blut Der Nacht, but it's still a solid project.  Grimm yet oddly melodic, Weald of Introspection does offer some uniqueness in its structure: the opening track "Ashes Left of a Flame That Once Burned Within" is the true song, the final three tracks making up a solid grimm outro of acoustic guitar passages and the hypnotic whispers of rainfall.  It's still pretty standard stuff, but well played and perfectly produced to satisfy your cravings for cold, thin, frozen Black Metal.

Rating: 7/10

Wylve- Wylve(2012)

And here we have Wylve's debut s/t demo, which isn't all the different from the stuff done by The Rain in Endless Fall: melodic, atmospheric and raw.  There is a bit more speed here, but it's all about the repetition and cold, frozen atmosphere.  It's also the cleanest material this duo have produced, but whether that's a good or a bad thing depends on personal preference.  Truth is, neither of this projects hold a candle to Blut Der Nacht, but then again few bands in modern Raw Black Metal do.

Rating: 6.5/10

Grinning Death's Head- Golden Dawn(2012)

Grinning Death's Head have been teetering the line between primitive, skull fucking Black Metal and sloppy, unlistenable Crust Punk better then just about anyone else since their 2008 debut demo, and Golden Dawn isn't much of a departure from the bands previous material.  Brain-injury may result from the raw, incomprehensible production, but sifting through the static waves of pain reveals a deep under-current of crusty, filthy riffs and ruinous, tortured screams.  Songs are simple and catchy, breaking bones and rending flesh with an effective mid-paced tempo, but I imagine the production will scare away more then a few listeners.

Rating: 7.5/10

Torture Chain- Time is But a Doorway to the Incinerator(2012)

If one band in modern Black Metal can make a claim to being the next Darkthrone, my vote would go to Torture Chain hands down.  Easily one of the finest projects in Black Metal today, Torture Chain are a defining modern act, and Time is But a Doorway to the Incinerator is 23 minutes of frozen bliss.  Equal parts unchained aggression and spine-tingling melody, Time devastates the very air, turning into a toxic, flesh-melting mist.  It's all heavily inspired by Norwegian masters as the aforementioned Darkthrone, Mayhem and even a bit of Emperor, but it also brings a bit of that American spirit to the song-writing with it's  crusty, powerful guitar sound and full-throated vocal attack.  Time is easily the bands best material since the nearly flawless Humbling Isolation Terror, and a must listen

Rating: 8.5/10

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nightbringer/Acherontas-The Ruins of Edom (2012)

Nightbringer/Acherontas-The Ruins of Edom

Considering that I have been voraciously devouring anything and everything American black metal luminaries Nightbringer have put out since the day Lucifer Trismegistus first viciously carved the sigils of Satan unto my unsuspecting mortal form, it is needless that amid a sea of terrific releases I was anticipating this year, this was high upon the list.  Nightbringer is, quite simply, one of the greatest American black metal bands currently still in operation, utilizing vile yet grandiose riffing that takes the usual chthonic atmosphere of black metal to a far more dangerous level.   Acherontas too, is no mere acolyte in the scene, crafting darkly melodic overtures that draw heavily upon the riffs of such Swedish legends as Dissection and Necrophobic, while adding a more dissonant aspect that puts them firmly in the “Orthodox” black metal camp. 

The resulting split could in some sense be considered a display of consistency on both bands’ part, yet I could not help but feel that for me personally, it represented the hitting of a creative rut that most great bands eventually stumble upon in their careers.  The split opens on the Nightbringer side with a cavernous, ritualistic dark ambient piece that serves as an effective, haunting introduction to Mare, the first true metallic track on the release.  In the tried and true spirit of a Nightbringer song, tremolo-picked melodies whirl (dare I say waltz?) like possessed dervishes over a blood-soaked mountaintop, equal parts nocturnal and blistering, while blasting drums simultaneously hammer away at the foundations of your sanity. 

The race towards perdition eventually slows down and culminates in a paean of dark triumph, providing a satisfying conclusion to this blasphemous assault.  While Mare was undoubtedly the most enjoyable piece on the split for me, in the end it still felt like an inferior rehashing of the scorching style they had perfected on Apocalypse Sun, albeit with every element that made the latter release great toned-down and condensed into more accessible form.  The song’s relative predictability and straightforward song structure ended up only making me crave the more mystical, jarring realms of their past releases, despite it being in all regards a solid track.

That being said, the second Nightbringer track would prove far more lackluster in form.  The Grave-Earth’s Son drags itself into nonexistence with its lack of song dynamics and plodding pace.  While similar, slower numbers had worked well for Nightbringer in the past through the sheer majesty of their melodic fervor, Grave-Earth’s Son simply just sits there and stews in menace, but ultimately doesn’t deliver the conclusive bite that would have made the song stand out for me.  While certainly not lacking in the trademark Nightbringer atmosphere, the song proved to be a narrative to nowhere, not aggressive or purposeful enough for its own good. 

After another long dark ambient interlude that, while serving its purpose effectively, felt anticlimactic as the epilogue of a below-average Nightbringer performance, it’s finally Acherontas’s turn to spread their miasma over hallowed ground.  And they do so, in great form.  Layil is a monstrous track that takes the mystical diabolism of Vamachara and adds a degree of dissonant urgency not unlike what we have heard in French luminaries Deathspell Omega’s work.  The riffs are relentless in their shifting nature and pummel the listener like molten meteorites.  Yet they never become too convoluted for their own good, and ultimately serve as mere conduits for a powerful atmosphere of unearthly blackness.  The track eventually pulls itself into a subtle yet beautiful melodic riff that draws this symphony of darkness to a close.  In contrast to Naas Alcameth’s monstrous howls however, Acherontas’s vocalist seemed rather meek, especially in the context of Layil’s more bombastic nature.  This minor irritant only slightly detracted from my overall appreciation of the track. 

Alas, the moment of triumph is all too ephemeral, as the Acherontas side draws to a close with yet another ambient outro that seems all too anticlimactic.  In the end, The Ruins of Edom falls prey to its own lack of ambition, yet is framed in a grandiose manner that belies the rather brief moments of triumph within its enclosure.  While the release does contains its flashes of brilliance, I cannot help but feel that so much more could have been accomplished through this unholy alliance.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Witchrist- The Grand Tormentor(2012)

Witchrist- The Grand Tormentor

New Zealand's Witchrist first caught my attention with their debut LP Beheaded Ouroborous: a vile progeny or the corpophagous swarm, slithering and sulking beneath the black, dead soil, searching for the sickeningly sweet scent of Death.  It was easily one of the most impressive and enjoyable debuts I have ever had the pleasure to listen to, and left me craving for more.  How surprised I was then that The Grand Tormentor was able to sneak up on me: it hit the distros and blogosphere before I even knew what was happening.  Needless to say, once I got my hands on the album, I was salivating at the chance to be enveloped in the bands next nightmarish evolution.

Sadly, The Grand Tormentor merely reacquainted me with the evils of high expectations.  The album didn't even sound like the Witchrist I knew and loved: instead of the horrifying stew of Archgoat, Incantation and Beherit I was expecting to dine upon, I instead received a pile of ground Bolt Thrower-meets-Asphyx chuck, raw and covered in flies.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but also not what I signed up for either.  Truth is, The Grand Tormentor is a perfectly fine album in it's own right.  The production is wonderful: powerful and static-riddled, each riff landing with sledge-hammer force.  The songwriting also holds up to scrutiny: an easy mix of groove and Doom that will no doubt satisfy big fans of Bolt Thrower and Benediction.  Needless to say, it's got riffs: "Cast Into Fire" is short. groove-laden and heavy, and will no doubt get heads banging and mosh pits thundering, while "The Tomb" will draw many favorable comparisons to Asphyx with it's slow,   monstrous pace and underpinnings of creepy melody.  The Grand Tormentor works well for what it is.

And this is also my biggest issue with the album: The Grand Tormentor is a pretty massive departure from the bands previous work, so much so that I just can't get behind it.  It may not be objective, but then again music is never truly objective: the value of personal preference is vastly under stated when it comes to the analysis of any album, and disingenuous attempts to curtail it's importance are frankly obnoxious.  I simply cannot get into The Grand Tormentor precisely because it is such a massive departure from a direction I vastly preferred.  Gone is the atmosphere and dessicated bleakness of Beheaded Ouroborous, replaced with groovy-riffs and monotonous guttural grunts.  Many have complained about the bands new vocalist, known as Void, because he lacks the range and rawness of the bands previous vocalist Impecator(these two must have been tortured as children with such names...).  I am not one of these people per-se: Void is a very competent growler, and his style fits perfectly with the bands new direction.  My issue with his vocal attack comes from my problem with the band new direction more than his performance.

It's true, "Occult" Black/Death like Witchrist played on albums like Beheaded Ouroborous and Curses of Annihilation has become pretty trendy in Death Metal.  There are a veritable sea of bands dabbling in occult mysterious and impious practices right now, and I can understand any band wanting to separate themselves from the scene.  But why jump from one trendy sound to another?  There are just as many "Old-Skull Death Methul" bands rehashing played out Bolt Thrower and Asphyx riffs as there are grimm, lo-fi C'thulhu Cultists mucking about, so I really don't understand the change.  And at least the "Occult" Black/Death movement is a new one, born from a revival of classic Death and Black Metal perhaps, but none the less a new phenomenon.  Everything about The Grand Tormentor(no doubt a reference to Benediction's The Grand Leveller) feels watered down, from the musical approach to the artwork to the song titles.  The Grand Tormentor will no doubt appeal to a larger audience, but it's also missing something that the bands previous work had in spades: personality.

Much like recent albums from Undergang and Cruciamentum, Witchrist have toned down their evil in favor of a more accessible, well-worn sound.  And like those recent releases, The Grand Tormentor is a solid album for what it is.  And what it is exactly is a large step back, away from downward progression into true nihilism and instead into well tread paths of various beloved forebears.  Competency can only get this album so far, but those who are looking for a head-banging good time should seek out The Grand Tormentor.  For me, I'll wait for more intoxicating whispers from the dark.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Review Round-Up : Dissonant Fields

It's been a while since I've done a review round-up, but I found myself dealing with four separate albums that shared way too many similarities of influence: Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Ulcerate.  So rather then be all redundant and shit(you guys all hate that), a few mini-reviews seemed in order.

Azoic- Gateways(2012)

It doesn't get more fresh then this: a brand new duo from Iceland(though both members have plenty of experience), Azoic have released a damn fine debut with Gateways.  It's not exceptionally original: if you have heard anything from Deathspell Omega, Ulcerate or Blut Aus Nord(or just about any current "Orthodox" Black Metal band or modern "Atmospheric" Death Metal band), you have heard much of what Gateways has to offer.  The strength of the album comes with the details: the production is thick and warm, featuring brilliantly ethereal vocals and a rich, full guitar sound.  Gateways consistently mixes up the intensity and tempo, and it's fairly effortless in it's atmosphere while remaining highly technical and aggressive.  It may be little more then the sum of it's influences, but Gateways works and works well.

Rating: 8/10

Beyond Terror, Beyond Grace- Nadir(2012)

I just don't get this album.

Beyond Terror, Beyond Grace were once one of the better young Techgrind acts around, and seemed well on their way toward joining the elite of that genre.  Then comes this massive shift in sound, and a massive down-shift in quality: Nadir is not a bad album per-se, so much as a just terribly boring one.  Nadir feels like a practice recording, a band toying with a massive change is style and getting the feel for the genre.  These moments have their place, but not on a major release.  Nadir has a few individual riffs and moments where things pick up, but the tempo remains consistent most of the album, the production mix is atrocious and the vocals do not fit the new style in anyway.  Nadir is an ugly, incomplete-feeling album that struggles to find a voice in a crowded, trendy genre... a rehearsal recording dressed up as a full-length album.

Rating: 4/10

Dodecahedron- Dodecahedron(2012)

No album has been more polarizing for me then Dodecahedron.  The part of me that craves adventure, creativity, originality and personality wants to love Dodecahedron for the experimental, genre-bending tornado that it is.  While featuring a dozen or so obvious influences, particularly Deathspell Omega, Dodecahedron never becomes reliant on these influences to justify itself.  From the first note to the last, the album pushes as many boundaries as it can, and quickly as it can.  Mixing elements of Death Metal, Black Metal, Prog Rock and Post-Rock, Dodecahedron is the kind of album that would normally get me all hot and bothered.

Unfortunately, Dodecahedron is equally as limp-wristed as it is progressive.  A strange complaint perhaps: it seems likely that this Netherlands five-piece weren't really trying to crack open too many skulls or slaughter too many innocents with this album.  Yet this particular reviewer still laments the total loss of aggression and intensity in the search for genre-decimating technicality and progressiveness, and it makes Dodecahedron a major missed opportunity for me. It also doesn't help that the vocals are... well, bad.  Anaal Nathrakh bad.

Rating: 6.5/10

Esoterica- Idololatriae(2012)

Like Azoic, Esoterica are another oven-fresh two piece(US based), and their new EP Idololatriae is fairly solid.  It's a very similar album to Gateways, though it also features the strongest modern Blut Aus Nord vibe of all the albums featured here.  It's another slab of thick, warm and technical Atmospheric Black/Death that isn't strikingly original, but works for what it is.  "Dilated" in particular stands out as a dissonant wall of noise, though this track also stands head and shoulders over the rest of the album.  Solid and acceptable.

Rating: 7/10


Deathspell Omega- Drought(2012)

Since their shadow looms large over this entire post, it seems appropriate that we touch on the brand new EP from the masters themselves.  They need no real introduction: Deathspell Omega are without a doubt one of the defining Extreme Music acts of this, or any, generation.  Whether every note fills you with intense love or sickening hate, Deathspell Omega have always held great power, regardless of how many times they made drastic, explosive changes to their sound.

Until now anyway.  Drought is an appropriate album title: it's dry all right, in both new ideas and evil.  Imagine Paracletus, merely devoid of any real Black Metal sensibilities, and you have Drought.  It has far more in common with the progressive, Proggy Death Metal of acts like In Mourning or Fallujah then anything else, complete with a butchered production sound.  At times, through sheer force of musical prowess, Drought begins to show some life: regardless of genre, the members of Deathspell Omega are some of the finest musicians in the world and Drought proves it unequivocally.  Yet it was always the song-writing that made Deathspell Omega truly great: a black fog of un-life, filling the air with electricity and suffering beyond compare.  Drought evokes none of these images, drenched in Prog and unimpressive melody, seemingly trying to get by on technical prowess and nothing else.

It's not a devastating blow to the legacy of Deathspell Omega by any means: it is more slight and forgettable then truly disastrous.  Deathspell Omega have always sought new ground for each individual album to stand, and truthfully Drought is yet again a new direction for the band musically.  It was an album of calculated risks, and when a band takes risks, no matter their talent or history, they are capable of a mis-step.  Drought is a failure, but an admirable one.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hellvetron- Death Scroll of Seven Hells and it's Infernal Majesties(2012)

Hellvetron- Death Scroll of Seven Hells and it's Infernal Majesties

If there is one big positive we can take from the revival of Old School Death Metal over the last seven years(give or take), it would have to be the birth of "Occult Death Metal."  Influenced heavily by New York legends Incantation and Immolation, as well as a diverse group of Death and Black Metal bands from the early and mid 90's,  "Occult Death Metal" remains somewhat of an enigma: it's not really a genre, and the bands who often fall under the label are very diverse stylistically.  The ties that bind these modern acts together are esoteric and misty, but one word always appears in every bio, blurb and review for these acts: atmosphere.  Specifically, a primary focus on atmosphere and emotional intensity over "riff-salads" and guitar solos.  The music these artists create is often lo-fi and organic, in an effort to invoke the old, rotten spirits of the Earth.  And that's exactly what Hellvetron are attempting to do on Death Scrolls of Seven Hells and it's Infernal Majesties: summon the unknown into the light, so that it may devour willing and unwilling souls alike.  Hailing from Texas, Hellvetron fit about as perfectly into the "Occult Death Metal" movement as any artist I have heard.  So much so in fact, that Death Scrolls might just be the birth of a genre: the first real Occult Death Metal album, sans quotation marks.

That's not to say that Death Scrolls is massively different then anything you might have heard before.  The specters of  Incantation, Imprecation and Beherit loom over the entire recording, and modern acts such as Grave Upheaval, Antediluvian, Sonne Adam and Muknal have also touched on many of the dark, twisted themes that Death Scrolls does.  Yet this album does have a claim on being the first true Occult Death Metal album, because the focus is 100% on atmosphere and texture: pulling individual riffs and sections from this light-devouring void of madness defeats the purpose of the compositions, which are built from the ground up to evoke specific emotions of dread and demonic possession.  After a dozen spins of Death Scrolls, I never once found myself even lightly bobbing my head or commenting under my breath about "nice riffs."  That's not to say that the album doesn't have them, or that it's rhythmically spastic, only that everything about the album is nefariously designed to be atmospheric and textured.  The riffs and drums are buried under a mile of reverb, while the tempos remain slow and hypnotically focused.  The compositions are also dense and busy, featuring loud, powerful vocals and extensive use of ambient keyboards and noises, while the bass is overwhelming with it's low-end intensity.  The ambient sounds in particular are my favorite aspect of the album, and with more and more bands making use of them, they still stand out here because they are used appropriately and only for maximum effect.  Death Scrolls is an album meant to be experienced more then merely listened to, which is partly why I don't find it quite as awe-inspiring as many of the albums released by Hellvetron's peers.

Hellvetron have taken the ratio of "pure insanity" and "listenable" and thrown it completely in the direction of screaming nightmares.  Which is not a bad thing, it merely makes Death Scrolls an album with a time and a place to be enjoyed.  If you plan on summoning some ancient atrocity against God in your dank, smelly bathroom, I could not think of a more appropriate album to have ominously proliferating shadows in the swell of incantations and smoke, but beyond these moments(we've all been there), Death Scrolls is just not every day listening.  It's an album that demands being started and finished all in one sitting to really make any impact, so just casually picking out a single track to play for a friend or to throw on a play list is utterly pointless.

Death Scrolls is a fine album regardless of it's limited use: it fits all my personal desires for Death Metal, as it is nihilistic, atmospheric, fresh and strongly rooted in it's thematic purpose.  And no doubt fans of the "Occult Death Metal" movement will greatly enjoy this album.  The atmosphere is effortless, the intensity is sky-high and the evil simply overwhelming.  Hellvetron achieves every single goal it set for itself on Death Scrolls, and my future forays into the unknown in the search for ancient secrets will have a new soundtrack.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

GGUW- Gegen Gravitation und Willensfreiheit(2011)

GGUW- Gegen Gravitation und Willensfreiheit

The opening Gegen Gravitation und Willensfreiheit is little more then the distorted sounds of various animals of unknown origin, clamoring and shrieking in pain and rage, while a thundering drum smashes against the backdrop in pure frustration.  The monster of the sub-conscious perhaps, throwing itself against the weakened walls of one's sanity, breaking down the barriers of humanity in a desperate search for freedom and flesh.  Gegen Gravitation und Willensfreiheit is a bestial experience, one of transformation and emancipation from a cold, unnatural world that we live in today.  It's a Black Metal album unlike any I have heard: it's rawness and repetition are instantly familiar, but it's atmosphere is completely alien and unique.  No album has ever made me feel like Gegen Gravitation und Willensfreiheit has, and the album leaves not only a lasting emotional impression, but a physical one as well.  Gegen Gravitation und Willensfreiheit is full contact art, unsympathetic yet oddly warm and inviting, drawing you in with it's comforting yet imposing guitar sound and emotional, devastatingly sad vocals.

Once the cage to the beast within is opened, Gegen Gravitation und Willensfreiheit envelops you in it's controlled insanity.  Then opening untitled track(all the tracks are untitled) features no more then three actual riffs, repeated continuously with consistent speed and mounting intensity, while an inhuman shriek likely saying nothing at all calls out from the abyss of distortion and blast-beats.  It's a deceptively simple composition, more endurance then skill, but it's incredibly effective and powerful.  The vocals devolve into nothing more then mad wails, choking noises and bellows, and by now the transfixing and hypnotic riffs have put you under their spell.  You feel every ounce of the sadness and anger; you become the beast within.  

The following tracks are somewhat more traditional, yet remain sickening in their darkness and bewitching in their construction.  There is an obvious influence of Depressive Black Metal, yet GGUW do not sound like any Black Metal artist I can really think of, other then perhaps Luciation(though both projects evoke entirely different images and emotions).  All the elements are familiar, but presented in such a way as to be unparalleled in the genre.

If any complaint against Gegen Gravitation und Willensfreiheit can be levied, it's that the album feels somewhat incomplete.  At only three tracks, it features an obvious intro but ends abruptly and without much fanfare.  So does life it seems; it's likely the album feels unfinished because of the recent passing of guitar player Wolfrano Ketzer, who committed suicide in May   Hearing the bleakness of Gegen Gravitation und Willensfreiheit makes it hard not to wonder if the personal demons facing Mr. Ketzer had some impact on the sound and emotions of the album.  This is all speculation of course: maybe this was how the album was intended to feel and I have no inside information on what exactly happened or why.  But Gegen Gravitation und Wilensfreiheit feels like an album written and performed by men who understand suffering, and those emotions come through clearly and powerfully.  In a small sliver of positive news, GGUW will try and forge on without him, a testament to both the internal strength of their members and of a love for making music about anything but love.

I can only hope for more.  Gegen Gravitation und Wilensfreiheit may be short, but it's an album which can be listened to over and over again despite the despondency of it's atmosphere and themes.  It's a small jewel, a tiny masterpiece whose impact far exceeds it's stature.  It calls to the inner monster within all of us, and it cannot help but answer it.

Rating: 9.5/10

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ectovoid- Fractured In The Timeless Abyss(2012)

Ectovoid- Fractured In The Timeless Abyss

Alabama Death Metal band Ectovoid are almost laughably lock-step with the rest of the current Death Metal scene and trends: old-school nostalgia worship, doing what's been done before without bring much of anything new to the table in terms of new ideas of unique concepts.  It's little more then the sum of it's influences: Immolation(especially), Bolt Thrower, Autopsy, Grave, etc. are all present and accounted for, and most of Fractured In The Timeless Abyss's listening time is spent tying all the influences to the different sections, checking off the appearance of each legend.  It's even ripe with Lovecraftian-imagery for fuck's sake, which at this point almost feels like a requirement more then a choice of lyrical concepts.

And ya know what?  It's still pretty good.

For some readers of this blog, this is a pretty crazy statement coming from this reviewer, who probably hasn't made a ton of friends amongst the tried-and-true Old School 'Heads.  And I went into Fractured In The Timeless Abyss wanting to hate it.  It was an album which represents all of my current issues with the current Death Metal scene in spades.  When I say not one new idea, I mean it: Fractured In The Timeless Abyss is in fact locked in a space-time disturbance, in which it is perpetually 1992(a horrifying thought.)  After a dozen spins I could have developed a spreadsheet of "gently borrowed" riffs, ideas and compositions from a dozen different classic Death Metal acts, a good portion of those which I dislike greatly.  This was an album I seemed destined to hate, one to fill me with righteous fury and reaffirm my disillusionment with the current "old-school is the only school" mythology dominating the genre.

So what the fuck?  What's my angle?  It comes down to a single word: craftsmanship.  Fractured In The Timeless Abyss is like a finely made table: unspectacular and highly unoriginal, but solid and sturdy.  The guys in Ectovoid are just rock solid musicians, and the band is tighter then a scene-queen's pre-teen jeans.  Vocalist Chuck Bryant growls not only with unholy guttural intensity, but also with impressive clarity and pronunciation.  In fact, not since Sonne Adam's Transformation has there been a more distinguishable vocal performance.  Sure, he wastes it on time a dozen lyrics about "space horrors" and "coffins," but it's still a damn fine effort.  And while Fractured In The Timeless Abyss is miles from what most would consider "Tech-Death," there are some damn complex riffs and leads through-out the album.  Through sheer force of musicianship, production(clear but thick) and generally excellent performances, Fractured In The Timeless Abyss made a solid impression on me.  It also features one of the years best songs, "Chewing Through the Membrane of Time and Space," a tight and tidy slice of Immolation-meets-Bolt Thrower not to be missed.

Fractured In The Timeless Abyss is truly little more then highly digestible, low-brow Death Metal; a rather convincing imitation of true nihilism and inhumanity, wrapped in a gorgeous cover and served ready-made for easy consumption.  It's not a meal I normally partake of, but while the ingredients are little more then clever re-productions of reality, the men who made the meal are damn fine chefs.  It might be the same ol' same ol' I've had a thousand times, but this one time it wasn't too bad at all.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, July 16, 2012

Column of Heaven- Mission From God(2012)

Column of Heaven- Mission From God

Column of Heaven appear to be a new group on the surface, but a closer look reveals the project is really more of a reinvention then a completely new concept.  The band is really a continuation of the now defunct The Endless Blockade, it featuring former members of the project, in both sound and substance.  Both bands play noise-y, dischordant Powerviolence and Grindcore with a healthy dose of Power Electronics and pure vein-popping anger.  Listening to the bands new EP Mission From God certainly evokes the same feelings and intensity that The Endless Blockade did in their hey-day.  That's not a bad thing: The Endless Blockade were one of the best bands in the genre, and their break-up in 2010 was a painful body shot for their fans.  So it's a nice plus that Mission From God also feels like an evolution as much as a continuation: Column of Heaven is a more technical, Grindcore influenced project, something a bit darker and more monolithic then The Endless Blockade were.  This is a new experience worth checking out regardless of the project's history: the music speaks for itself.

Big fans of The Endless Blockade might even be a little turned off by Mission From God at first, considering some key differences between the two projects.  The vocals will be the first to stand out: gone are the more traditional Powerviolence vocals, replaced by a very competent J.R. Hayes impersonator.  This isn't necessarily an improvement, but the vocals mesh well with the Grindcore-focused approach and the labyrinth-dwelling Sludge sections.  The guitar sound is more metallic as well, though it remains crusty and grime covered, and it works with the complex guitar play that crops up across the album.  Column of Heaven will never be mistaken for Discordance Axis, but some of these riffs give off an early Pig Destroyer-vibe; highly dissonant and textured.  All told, it's a more metallic approach to songwriting and texture, but it's more then crusty and angry enough to remain appealing to the Punk crowds.

What hasn't changed from The Endless Blockade is the relentless aggression, hateful speed and mad electronic rampages.  Mission From God is a non-stop barrage of nihilism and disenfranchisement that clocks in at a brisk seventeen minutes.  There is very little fluff or filler, and with most tracks playing into each other, it's a seamless and satisfying album.  "Entheogen": is a cavernous and oppressive torrent of soundwaves, equal parts hypnotic and devastating.  It takes equal parts Man is the Bastard and Godflesh, fabricating a flawless fragment of Industrial Powerviolence, constructed with animosity and malice.  "Pharmakos" jumps between good ol' Violence and dissonant, atmospheric sections that are as intensely creepy as they are strangely beautiful.  It's a track of stark contrasts, a trademark of The Endless Blockade, and in this regard Column of Heaven is a worthy successor.

Mission From God is fantastic.  It's not a masterpiece, nor do I think it stands on the same level as Primitive overall.  It is, however, an album with no faults: everything works and sounds the way it should, being both instantly familiar yet fresh and dynamic.  I've said this before, but it works for Mission From God as well; this is what happens when a group of talented and smart musicians get together and make something meaningful and solid.  The foundations of this album are tempered and strong, allowing for organic experimentation and good old skull-fucking alike.  I have a sneaking suspicion that some old school fans of The Endless Blockade might not like what they hear on Mission From God, but for just about anyone else, this album is essential listening.

Rating: 8.5/10

As if this album were not awesome enough, Mission From God is also available for "pay-what-you-want" download on the labels Bandcamp page.  Stream it there, and throw a few bucks the bands way for the download.  The album will also be out on vinyl soon, so be on the look-out.  I'll put the link below.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hubeskyla - Spencer's Return (2012)

A large sticker adorns the cover of this LP, as you can see by looking to the left. It implores the reader to 'Play it loud and drive fast!'. Not only is this terribly irresponsible by encouraging poor road safety, it also reveals the album for what it is before one has even begun to lower the needle - a driving album. Now, there's nothing wrong with driving albums per se, but in many cases, unfortunately this one inclusive, it leads to an album which is distinctly devoid of real substance.

Hubeskyla to me appear to take influences from a variety of sources - a lot of noise rock, a bit of jazz rock, a small amount of post-rock and just a little sprinkle of the NeurIsisian axis. These are popular influences, and also the sort that need to be done exceptionally well to avoid making music which amounts to nothing more than bland. Once again, I can't help but feel that 'bland' is the correct term for this album. Not to say that Hubeskyla lack good ideas completely; indeed, there are many present here, but they have a habit of taking the odd good idea, mixing it with a whole bunch of mediocre ones and stretching the whole thing out well beyond its welcome. They've tried to make a 45 minute full-length when in reality they barely have enough material for a 20 minute EP.

There are some elements of how they do things that I really like though - take, for instance, the start of the very first track 'Spanish Firebird'. There is no messing around with some empty ambient introduction before they get to business - indeed, there's not more than 5 seconds of swathing ambience before the first riff starts. And it is a riff-based album, clearly - apparently there's no bass used on the album, but this isn't really apparent until one reads the release notes, which state (I believe, my French isn't perfect) 'There are two main barriers to the simplicity of rock and roll: vocalists and bassists'. Unfortunately, somebody neglected to mention that this is often what makes 'rock and roll' interesting and/or fun to listen to. Riff-wise, this is very much based around sharp, jagged, and often triadic riffs, but too many of the riffs simply sound the same due to the over-reliance on tonic triads in their composition. There's also not enough - once again using the first track for an example, its four minutes are filled with precisely two riffs, one of which consists of three notes, and the other of two chords. Although both of these riffs are clearly intended merely as bases upon which the music develops (they are consistently surrounded by guitar effects and short solos), they dominate the music, not due to the production, but due to the fact that the net effect of the guitar effects and solos is roughly equal to 0.

Much of the album is at the same pace, and hence it's a relief when a track comes along that breaks the tepid warmth of the middle pace used. It's for this reason that 'Spencer Smith' and 'Nucleon Drive Experience' are two of the better tracks on the album - the former uses a slightly faster, decidedly more driving riff than is present elsewhere on the album (and still it is repeated too much), while the latter, which is the closing track, has a slightly slower tempo to it which certainly gives it an air of finality, acting as a redeeming factor for the mediocrity of much of the rest of the album - it sticks in the listener's head after listening, and adds a real sense of having been on a journey over the album, even if that said journey roughly consisted of driving round and round in circles in the desert going nowhere new.

Seven of the eight tracks present here don't use vocals, and this really lends an introspective feeling to the album. There's very much a sense that the band are making the music for themselves rather than for anyone else, and the whole album has a slight feeling of an extended jam session, albeit an extraordinarily well-coordinated one; I would've liked to have seen more of a wild, free-flowing element to the album given the room for improvisation in an album of this type. There are a few solos as previously mentioned, but they feel overly-structured rather than original. The one track which does feature vocals, 'Ne Touchez A Rien' (with Emmanuel Colliard doing guest vocals) is more entertaining than the rest of the album for them despite the fact that the vocals amount to little more than spoken word - the change in the general timbre of the music is very welcome at this point, the penultimate track.

I think all has been said at this point which is relevant to the review, and I will reiterate the most important point here - whilst the band maybe had enough good material for a solid 20 minute EP, what's happened here is they've chosen to extend it to an overlong album. And for that reason, I'm afraid I can't recommend it to anyone.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Adversarial/Antediluvian- Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries(2012)

Adversarial/Antediluvian- Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries

Sometimes life is filled so many good things, it's hard not to take all of it for granted.  Eventually, it all becomes a blur, and our instant access to the vast bounties of information and entertainment obscure the little things that make life worth schlubbing through.  Little things like, oh, for example, a mega split featuring two of Death Metal's defining and original acts unleashing sonic devastation and plague-ridden winds of the occult onto your undeserving and worthless ass.

I try to live for the little things.

Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries is a culmination of destruction unlike just about anything you have heard.  Both Adversarial and Antediluvian bring their A+ + material here; Adversarial, a weapon of mass destruction and unholy fire, and Antediluvian, a cryptic curse of malevolent evil echoed amongst the ruins, have evolved well past many, if not all, of their peers and become something truly diabolical and wicked.  In truth, this split is slightly more important for Adversarial overall, but this harbinger brings forth the Word of two evils with equal vigor and violence.  Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries is not only essential, it's required in this modern age of Death Metal where merely imitating other bands is sufficient for success.

Adversarial start of this split, and this was the side I was easily the most excited for.  The bands debut LP, All Idols Fall Before the Hammer, was to me a disappointing masterpiece.  It was an album that was brutal beyond words yet as dynamic, intense and intelligent as any Death Metal album in history.  It also featured a production which would have killed a lesser album for this reviewer, and made it impossible for others to enjoy.  Between the non-existent vocals, the weak guitar tone and the utterly ruthless ping-holocaust of the snare drum, All Idols Fall Before the Hammer featured a barrier for entry that kept it from the recognition it, and the band, deserved.  Production will not be an issue for those that listen to Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries, as Adversarial's side of the split, titled "Leviathan," features the best produced material the band has released.  The guitars and bass whirl and twist in the vortex, forming a swirling mass of black matter that blots out all light, while the guttural machinations of vocalist Carlos are not lost in the mist but proudly and freakishly inhuman.  And yes, they fixed the snare sound, a triumph even the most masochistic of us can be happy about.  This isn't just the best produced Adversarial material though.  This is the best Adversarial material period.  Even the brilliance of All Idols Fall Before the Hammer pales in comparison to the inhuman feats of bestial guitar wizardry and supersonic percussion on display here.  Their exact sound is (thankfully) difficult to shoehorn into one genre or another.  We hear some Incantation, Blasphemy, Demilich, Angelcorpse and Immolation, but it all feels fluid and organic.  Adversarial are playing with demoniacal fire of their own design, walking a mythical and dangerous path that few have ever tread.  The bands technicality may not jump right out at you, but multiple listens reveal deeply entrenched complexity and inhuman precision.  Discordant riffs and tight, precise drum work drives each track through their serpentine paths of unhallowed entrancement.  "Spiraling Towards the Ultimate End" is particular stands out, not only as the best track on the split, but as one of the best Death Metal songs I've ever heard.  Equal parts haunting and brutal, the track deftly jumps from slaughter to introspective dissonance, and the two minutes or so of the track will leave you feeling cold and dead inside... and I mean that in the best way possible.  With this track alone, Adversarial have ascended, or descended, into true hellish preponderance.

Antediluvian really didn't need this split as much as Adversarial needed it to announce their grand declarations of genocide.  The bands brilliant debut, last years Through the Cervix of Hawaah, was more then enough to put Antediluvian amongst the elite purveyors of death.  That doesn't mean the band didn't try to out-do themselves again on Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries; the bands side of the split, entitled "Lucifer," is an masters-course on occult ritual and demonic influence via sound waves.  Various personal additions have obviously added to the bands improved technical chops, which are leaps and bounds from their early, underwhelming demo material, but it's the song-writing here that stands out most.  Antediluvian take over-used terms like "occult," "creepy," and "evil" much more seriously then many of their peers, and seek to develop them in new ways that isn't "doing it like Autopsy/Incantation/Entombed" did it.  Sure, their sound is informed by the past, with such influences as Incantation, Imprecation and Beheirt coming through quite clearly.  Yet much like Adversarial, Antediluvian have created their own sick rituals of sacrifice and malice, not merely stolen others.  The skin-crawling dissonance of "Dissolution Spires" or the suffocating, rhythmically intense miasma of "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh(I Am That I Am)" are unlike anything I've heard in Death Metal before: familiar yet alien.

I think it might be obvious which side this particular reviewer prefers.  I take nothing away from Antediluvian here: this band is clearly working on a different level from most of their peers, even in the brilliant Canadian Death Metal scene.  Their twisted, deformed nightmares are impressive beyond words and deserving of endless accolades.  But something about Adversarial, really since I first heard All Idols Fall Before the Hammer(well, the first time I heard it.  My first listen was spent mostly cringing) speaks to me on a deeper level.  Their incredible mix of pure technical prowess and atmospheric, emotional detail is without a doubt something to behold in terror and adulation.  To see these two bands working like this to bring down all we thought we knew about Death Metal, it's equal parts unsettling and exhilirating to think what the future might hold.  What can we, as mere mortals, do in the face of such an all encompassing artistic realization of evil?

I don't think we stand a chance.

Rating: 9.5/10

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Wreck and Reference- No Youth(2012)

Wreck and Reference- No Youth

Deconstructive, ethereal, dripping with a noxious mix of disgust and listlessness, No Youth is this years sound-track of total defeat.  The California twosome of Wreck and Reference have been rolling on a pretty big hype machine since their demo Black Cassette, but No Youth is a different monster entirely.  It heralds the arrival of one of Extreme Music's new titans while exemplifying the limitless potential of a project devoid of barriers, genres and fear.  No Youth is a Universe of sound that expands beyond the horizon into reaches of the void that have rarely, if ever, been tread.  I don't want to use too much hyperbole: No Youth is a triumph of an album and easily one of the best records released this year and this decade, but in and of itself it might not reach the truly hallowed lands of immortality.  What makes No Youth so completely fascinating is the aforementioned formlessness of the album and the fearlessness of the song-writing.  No idea was too big or intimidating for the band, yet the album remains focused, controlled and melancholic. No Youth is the ultimate piece of cathartic expression and flawless craftsmanship.

It's utterly amazing to think that No Youth is an entirely electronic album, considering the massive drone and deluge of static and feedback that comes whirling and whipping from the speakers.  If we are moving into a future of purely electronic music, then No Youth may be a defining release, though the bombastic, explosive drumming on the record keeps it grounded in the real and tangible.  The percussion here is massive and powerful, thundering across the tracks and keeping the often dream-like compositions drowned in hopeless reality.  "Nausea," easily my favorite track on the record, is a perfect example: a slow, Drone intro gives way to an almost oil-and-water mix of slow, ethereal Swans-esque madness driven by thundering Darkthrone-style blast beats.  I can honestly say I have never heard such a dynamic combination of sounds before, and No Youth is over-flowing with these odd, exhilarating moments.

If there is any obvious influence on No Youth and Wreck and Reference in general, it has to be the Swans.  "If" being the key word, but there are a handful of similarities: the utter hopelessness of the vocals and lyrics and the mostly short, concise tracks that still drip atmosphere and anger were both trademarks of Michael Gira's signature project, and both elements are featured prominently on No Youth.  But so is the deluge of static-y, dense Drone/Doom, and at times Wreck and Reference effectively mix both, such as on "Cannot," which dances between somber, dark spoken word poetry to soul-siophoning Doom.  Once again, everything meshes so flawlessly that this seemingly awkward approach to songwriting feels completely natural and focused.  The atmosphere of self-hatred and melancholy remains wholly intact, no matter how ferocious of defeated the music gets.

No Youth is a damn difficult album to talk about: it's easy to heap praise on it, yet tough to pin down  Genre classifications are very hard to come by listening to No Youth, and trying to prepare a listener for the experience is near impossible.  No Youth is an album that just kind of has to be experienced, and the outcome of the experience will be colored by the one who lives it.  No doubt some will find all the sopping wet depression and self-inflicted damage as overkill, or even a bit silly.  Others will be touched deeply by it, and relate with the hopelessness and cathartic intensity of the album.  I can say unequivocally that No Youth is not for everyone.  It's not accessible, rarely melodic and never fun.

It all comes down to craftsmanship and creativity.  Some have one, some have the other and a rare few albums have both.  No Youth clearly has both.  The natural barrier of entry in how dark and defeated the moans and tones No Youth features leads to tough sailing even for the heartened and curious.  No doubt some will be unable to make it into the deeper layers of No Youth.  I can't say that I blame them.  But for the most masochistic, driven listeners among us, No Youth is a can't miss album.  It's an album that doesn't even feel like it ever had any boundaries in the first place, guided only by an unseen hand which dutifully orchestrates the madness and sorrow into a handful of notes and lyrics that evoke a sickened spirit of humanity.

Rating: 10/10