Friday, March 2, 2012

Axis of Light- By the Hands of Consuming Fire(2012)

Axis of Light- By the Hands of Consuming Fire

The shrill wails of By the Hands of Consuming Fire will peel the skin away from your flesh, revealing your inner weakness and filth. It shines a burning, unholy light over you as the sonic waves of madness riddle you with suffering. Not since last years emotionally affecting No Help For The Mighty Ones has an album had such a profound effect on my mood and psyche. Bubbling with sheer rage yet flowing with inner beauty, By the Hands of Consuming Fire represents everything truly awesome about Black Metal at it's most raw and unrelenting.

As though moving through each track if carried by veins and arteries, melody and harmony filter just beneath the thick layers of static and the tortured screams of vocalist Axiom; his unhinged an maniacal rantings worthy of praise alone. But there is also a certain amount of sadness in his voice, a sense of actual loss that you can feel in his super-high-pitched shrieks. This same emotional brevity comes through in the compositions as well. Warped-speed rage and blistering wrath gives way to short lulls of cavernous depression before the rising hate spills over the edges and brings us back to pure anger. Those aforementioned moments of melody and off-kilter harmony stab like daggers from beneath, and bring with them a coating of spiritual poison that seeps into you and suffocates your very blood. By the Hands of Consuming Fire will leave you agitated and very fucking cold.

It's also a step away from being a sloppy, unlistenable mess. The second member of this twosome, Origin, plays all the instruments and does so with lots of energy. Also sloppiness and without much in the way of technical proficiency. The timing isn't always spot on, and the drums have a tendency to miss their marks. Yet all this does is add to the appeal: By the Hands of Consuming Fire is a purely cathartic experience that throws traditional musicianship out the window in favor of pure emotional electricity, and I for one an a sucker for stuff just like this. I'm not as in love with the production. Complaining about production on a Raw Black Metal record is like complaining about the taste of alcohol; quite literally missing the point. But the drums are almost completely lost in the mix, and that lack of pulverizing low end makes this album feel much more high-pitched and screech-y. For some, this might be a major turn off.

But for me, By the Hands of Consuming Fire is anything but a turn off. Listening to this album is akin to shooting cocaine straight into my brain: it leaves me on edge, fried out and full of conflicting desires. And if you are not left totally frazzled and exhausted after this screaming nightmare, then you are truly cold and without feeling... perhaps the person that this album was made for.

Rating: 9/10

Goatwhore-Blood for the Master (2012)

                           Goatwhore-Blood for the Master
Hearing the latest effort by the Louisianan masters of blackened swampcore, Goatwhore, made this February 15th possibly the most eventful Valentine’s Day in my (thus far) grimdark, loveless mortal existence, and while I wasn’t immediately floored by the slightly thrashier approach our favorite bayou crawlers chose on their latest opus, repeated listens ultimately cumulated in an album that I can see myself returning to in aeons to come.

The most obvious contrast that can be made here is to Goatwhore’s previous album, Carving Out the Eyes of God.  While the wicked hooks and punkish attitude of the latter album had propelled Goatwhore at last onto the radar of the metallic mainstream, I felt that the sullen, bitter miasma that characterizes the work of so many Louisiana metal bands (and had characterized all of Goatwhore’s albums up until that point) was slightly compromised in favor of a catchier, more accessible approach, something that diminished its power relative to earlier efforts like A Haunting Curse. 

To go over why Blood for the Master truly excels in contrast however, I must emphasize how it brings back much of the claustrophobic aggression that had characterized Funeral Dirge for A Rotting Sun and A Haunting Curse and integrates it with the superb songwriting of Carving, creating a work that is simultaneously catchy and abrasive in the ears of the listener.  The thrash influence is stronger than ever, with songs like “Collapse in Eternal Worth” and “Death to the Architects of Heaven” filled with palm-muted thrashing madness that grows repetitive, but works well in churning the collective momentum of the record in a forward direction. 

The second-wave black metal influences have also returned in full-force, stronger than they have been since the days of Funeral Dirge.  While the last two records took much of the power chord-laden style of Celtic Frost and interpreted it in a modern context, Blood for the Master sees these swamp dwellers once again making a sojourn to Nordic shores, with tracks such as “Beyond the Spell of Discontent” chalk full of tremolo-picked melodic melancholy that hearkens back to Darkthrone and Gorgoroth’s earlier days.  Yet amidst the cacophony of classic, yet clichéd influences, Goatwhore never loses their uniquely American identity, throwing in moments of sludgy southern attitude, most prominently evident in “When Steel and Bone Meet,” one of my personal favorites off the record.

Despite its unique atmosphere and tasteful integration of antediluvian influences within a modern framework, Blood for the Master was not without its weaknesses.  First of all, Louis Benjamin Falgoust II (a mouthful more befitting of a monarch of the Anciens Regime than a black metal vitriol spewer)’s vocals have certainly declined since the days of Soilent Green’s Pussysoul, and here he sounds more like a tired old man attempting to maintain a (annoyingly “hardc0re”) façade of true aggression than the mutilated larynx of nihilistically-fueled anger a black metal vocalist is supposed to be.  I found that this uninspired approach often interfered with the motifs and soundscapes the band was attempting to conjure, often breaking me out of whatever necrotic stupor a great riff puts me in back into the shitstain of reality.  Great vocalists like Erik Danielsson of Watain, Mortuus/Arioch of Funeral Mist, and Naas Alcameth of Nightbringer only serve to intensify the crushing wall of oppression that is black metal, but Ben Falghoust’s voice is utterly devoid of phlegm, black bile, and hate, and in their current state sound more appropriate for a dickless metalcore act than a great band like Goatwhore.

The songwriting, while still memorable, doesn’t have quite the same staying power as some records in their back catalog.  The songs, all structured in a similar manner and somewhat lacking in dynamics, have a tendency to mesh together as in many inferior black metal records, and there are no massive standouts like Carving’s title track or “Forever Consumed Oblivion” on Blood for the Master.  I mentioned before that the palm-muted thrash picking grows extremely irritating if the album is listened to as a whole, and indeed, hearing them used in an identical fashion over and over again gives the album an artificial, inauthentic feeling that sadly shatters the black metal spell.   Despite these complaints, my desire for a more brutal incarnation of Goatwhore was satisfied quite nicely by Blood for the Master, and I’d recommend this album to any acolyte of heavy metal for its accessible yet potent approach to the genre, as well as to more seasoned black metal hierophants looking for some originality in their collection.

Rating: 8/10