Monday, March 25, 2013

War From a Harlots Mouth- Voyeur(2012)

War From a Harlots Mouth- Voyeur

Those of us in the underground, Extreme Metal community have gotten pretty damn good and filtering through the endless garbage that invades the scene from all sides without every really having to listen to any of it.  We have all developed a comfortable routine of check-marks, usually a mix of general broad guidelines and personal preferences, that allow us to avoid ever having to confront a single artist which may in anyway offend our sensibilities.  We form safe, secure barriers around ourselves and let the shit that's flying from the fan bounce off it, allowing only the diamonds in the rough through the force-field.

Germany's War From a Harlots Mouth was one of my many "instant fuck-offs" the very second their existence became known to me.  Between the bands absolutely stupid name(which remains embarrassingly bad), their affiliations with dozens of shit artists, and well...

Looking like that, I instantly wrote them off as Hot Topic overhead tunes for 13 year old scene queens who like to "mosh and fuck shit up" between classes at the Junior High School.  I am, after all, and Extreme Metal sophisticate whose pure ears are better suited for brilliant, mind-altering music such as XXX Maniak and Cock and Ball Torture.  A band like War From a Harlots Mouth was, I thought, below me.

Consider me properly fucking learned, for the bands most recent release Voyeur has reminded me one shouldn't judge a book by it's cover(a lesson I should have learned after Morbus Chron tricked with with their gorgeous pink cover art...).  Don't mistake this for endless praise: Voyeur is not where near the best album I have ever heard nor does it feel particularly essential.  But for an album which gives off such a Devil Wears Prada-esque vibe from it's asinine cover art and, well, the fact that the band is called War From a Harlots Mouth(ugh!), Voyeur is a damn solid little 40 minute album which, like a good book with a worn and tattered cover, needs to be cracked open to really enjoy.

WFaHM(even the abbreviation annoys me) have stumbled on a sound which certainly stands out from the vast majority of modern Metalcore bands, mixing the aggressive, tech-and-sludge of Gaza with the dissonance, off-kilter riffing of bands like Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega and Abyssal...and lots and lots of obnoxious and same-y sounding chugs(more on this later).  It's a pretty cool style, one which I haven't heard any other artist attempt and one which certainly stands out in a sea of "me too" Unearth-clones.  These styles might seem clashing, but throughout Voyeur WFaHM finds cool, interesting ways to make it work.  "Vertigo" features some very cool dissonant leads over quiet, ambient compositions to match some vicious blast-beats and some very heavy, aggressive Sludge sections, while "Terrifier" actually starts off with a good breakdown before unleashing a torrent of blast-beats and hyper complex riffing which instantly brings to mind a Sludge-y Ulcerate smoking bowls in a Louisiana dive bar.  "Terrifier" is particular is a great song, creating a really strong and atmospheric sense of unease with some truly evil sounding compositions, while "Of Fear and Total Control" is a more subdued and melodic track that also has some very strong atmospheric undertones, using some Black Metal-esque sections for maximum effect.  When Voyeur works, it works really well and shocked me to know end when I first spun it front to back.

And this whole thing is driven by the fantastic production sound, which is both incredibly professional without being in anyway too slick or sterile.  The guitars and bass are Leviathan-sized, completely crushing anything and everything beneath their massive weight.  The drums are obviously triggered, but they sound great, with very little to no "clicking" on the kick or the snare, which is a death-knell for most modern Metal of any genre.  Obviously supported by time and money, Voyeur is one of the best sounding Extreme Metal albums I listened to in a long time, keeping all the punch and static without giving up on clarity and balance.  It's a brilliant piece of sound engineering that helps elevate Voyeur to new levels that perhaps the music couldn't quite reach on it's own.

Yet for all it's strength, Voyeur suffers from a lack of concrete ideas to support the WFaHM ambitious style.  Around the track "Temple," Voyeur quite literally grinds to a halt creatively and in some seemingly desperate scrambling begins to recycle it's own compositions for the second half.  It's not a completely unimpressive second leg, but it is mostly forgettable, heavily handicapped by the incessant chugging which begins to infect it.  There is quite a bit of chugging throughout the album, but it reaches a fever pitch in the second half, ending with the sleep-inducing "Scopophobia," which when it isn't chugging features an atrocious clean vocal section and riffs pretty much stolen from "Of Fear and Total Control."  In truth, there is such a thing as a "good chug" (see "Terrifier"), but if your tolerance for chugging is low, then even the best elements of Voyeur will leave you cold, so be forewarned.  It also doesn't help that vocalist Nico Webers is abysmal, belting out his weak, uninteresting Hardcore growl for most of the record.

For a brief moment, I lifted my blinders and discovered quite the surprise in Voyeur.  And my final score isn't really indicative of the enjoyment I got from it, but Voyeur feels like an incomplete album which is missing many key elements for brilliance or even consistent competency.  Yet for it's fault Voyeur is a fucking heavy album, sounds great and has some atmosphere and intensity to it, enough so that it's worth listening to.  So does this mean that I will no longer judge bands by their name?  By who they associate with?  By their physical apperance?

This...or the...Apocalypse?  Really?  No thanks.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, March 18, 2013

Vassafor- Obsidian Codex(2012)

Vassafor- Obsidian Codex

For the weak, I have a message: get the fuck out.  Obsidian Codex is simply too much for you.

Those looking for an album which in any way caters to the casual or accommodates the uninitiated simply need not apply for this review or Obsidian Codex, the latest masterwork from New Zealand two piece Vassafor.  The long running project, which formed in 1997 but has had a very irregular release history, have crafted a masterpiece so thrilling and mesmerizing that working through it's incomparably dense facade becomes a journey in and of itself.  In fact, describing Obsidian Codex and it's 96 minute running time(you read that right) as a "journey" is about the best description I can formulate: Phil Kusabs and Ben Parker(known as VK and BP) take us on a musical adventure which features terrifying abominations, hellish landscapes and twisted black forests inundated with freezing snow, where moments of beauty and emotion are few but present, the driving force that keeps us on the path to this massive quest's ultimate conclusion.  It is in no way an easy album to enjoy; it will pummel and suffocate all who challenge it, and test the endurance of anyone foolish enough to take it lightly.  But it's also one of the most worthwhile musical experiences to be found in Extreme Metal of any genre.  Obsidian Codex is simply a masterpiece removed from needless classification beyond "awesome."

Stylistically, it's not hard to pick out the genres and artists which influenced Obsidian Codex, but everything here is put together in such a way that those influences feel like they are being transformed by Vassafor, molded and shaped into effective new tools for the song writing mechanism, beyond the well worn instruments that have been continuously reused for the same purpose again and again.  At the most "brass-tacks" level, Vassafor could be described as "Occult Blackened Death/Doom," but such a classification simply misses the mark that the band has set with this album.  The atmosphere is thick to the point of solidification, the creepiness of the compositions is so spine chilling that ice forms on the flesh and the unshakably somber moments, driven by smothered melodic leads and some deeply emotional compositions, brings about occasional moments of truly subdued beauty; a fallen angel, wings broken and flesh cleaved, laying amongst the ash and crying silver tears.  Of course, Obsidian Codex has plenty of good old brutal, bestial and even Thrash-y moments that reminds you that Mr. Kusabs has played with the likes of Blasphemy and Diocletain in his long musical career.  And you can note that all of these elements are right in the very first actual song on the album, "Rites of Ascension," and continue to appear throughout the album, culminating in the truly epic monster known as "Nemesis," which starts with a short but incredible woodwind intro(unsure of the exact instrument) which sets the tone for a 23 minute epic of unparallelled  proportions.

I've often complained about extremely long songs, and "Nemesis" certainly fits the bill of an incredibly elongated piece that runs the risk of going disastrously off the rails.  But that's the glory of "Nemesis" and the other epically long tracks on Obsidian Codex: they are perfectly fleshed out with a combination of ambiance and ideas that they never grow stale or lose the listeners interest.  Tracks dance between tempos and riffs with perfectly calculated brilliance, showing a level of song-writing which transcends what most artists could even hope to achieve.  "Sunya(Void  Paradox)" maintains a driving, aggressive rhythm throughout, showing a more take no prisoners approach to song writing that instigates furious bouts of relentless head-banging and stands in stark but effective contrast to the more Doom-y aspects of the record, while the aforementioned opening track "Rites of Ascension" features some truly horrific yet oddly haunting compositions which give off an unhinged and ritualistic intensity.  And the final real track, Makutu(Damned to the Deepest Depths)" starts off with a tribal, ritualistic drum pattern before morphing into an unholy fusion of Blasphemy and Portal.  And it ends with a slice of Sludge, yeah Sludge, which just adds icing to an already maggot ridden, gory cake of true nihilism All of these tracks are well over the 7 minute mark, yet never fail to entrance for a single moment.  It's almost stupefying.

I mentioned the albums 96 minute running time, and that will automatically create a barrier of entry for many.  Truth be told, I could see why a lot of people simply wouldn't like this album, or even hate it.  Obsidian Codex is one of those albums where the creative direction of the artist is encapsulated to the point where it offers no leeway to the listener, a "my way or the high way" style of song-writing which some will find dull, others obnoxious or even offensive.  Even the ambient tracks go for several minutes, and the album leans heavily on them to help intensify the already dense compositions.  And while the production is fairly accessible, especially by the standards set in this particular genre, and many of the riffs invitingly familiar to fans of bands like Diocletain, Antediluvian or Mitochondrion, Obsidian Codex is an album defined by excess and disregard for the listeners time or sanity.

Yet for all of Obsidian Codex's excesses, for all of it's density and disregard, its an album built mostly on accessible, inviting riffs and enjoyable variety.  Every track feels intertwined, yet all of them also feel distinct and unique when compared to each other.  And while this album was clearly meant to be experienced front to back in one single sitting, each of the actual musical tracks on Obsidian Codex stand on their own feet and can be enjoyed and replayed independently of each the whole album experience.  This is perhaps Obsidian Codex's greatest triumph, and a true rarity in this particular genre, where the whole album experience is the rule and playability is more often than not the exception.

I hesitate to use the word "perfection" here, but in many ways Obsidian Codex is the perfect album: 
perfect in it's atmospheric and thematic presentation, perfect in it's execution and musical competency, perfect in it's song-writing and production.  Obsidian Codex is the ultimate realization of a single musical vision being shared by two musicians who are working as a single, cohesive creative force.  It's an absolutely stunning album, one whose flaws are so few and far between that mentioning them is simply pointless beyond the need to be typed here; hyperbole be damned, Obsidian Codex is unlike anything I have ever heard.

Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chasm of Nis- Redolent of Spheres(2012)

Chasm of Nis- Redolent of Spheres

Justin Blake Smith has quickly become one of the more prolific performers of putrid, pestilential putrescence in the American Death Metal scene.  As one of the main forces behind Encoffination's brand of sinfully slothful down-tempo Death/Doom and Father Befouled's well oiled Incantation worship machine, JBS has also had a prolific solo career with acts such as Hills of Sefiroth and Vomitchapel.  But his newest project, Chasm of Nis, is by far the most interesting and dynamic project yet.  In today's modern Death Metal scene, Chasm of Nis might not be as original as it would have been just a few years ago, but it still brings a somewhat fresh perspective on Occult Blackened Death Metal.

Redolent of Spheres doesn't too a lot to separate itself from the myriad of highly atmospheric, low-fi Star Cult provocateurs that are quickly saturating the genre, but it does just enough to stand out.  Featuring only two real tracks(it also has a cool intro and a completely pointless outro that borders on offensive), Redolent of Spheres doesn't have much time to make an impact but makes the most of it.  Comparisons to Portal, Antediluvian and Grave Upheaval are almost mandatory here, and they do fit.  JBS brings many of the same aspects to the table: lurching, ritualistic tempos, deep guttural vocals(which suddenly sound powerful and interesting, after being completely pointless on the recent Father Befouled, which makes me think it's a production issue), and a hazy production which suffers from some unfortunate distortion that occasionally gets obnoxious.  But Redolent of Spheres does bring a bit more to the table, namely in a distinct and surprising influence which stood out to me almost immediately: some of these riffs will being to mind Demilich, and in the best way possible.  "Œnemic Subjugation" explodes right out of the gate with ferocious blasting and a strange, dischordant and chaotic lead with a guitar sound as close to Nespithe as I have ever heard.  It's incredibly awesome, and after a moment of sleepy miasma, it returns again and expands in a way which is really exciting.  "Archaiciasis Ænfernal" is an even more dynamic track, which runs the gauntlet of Portal, Grave Upheaval and Demilich with fluidity and song writing chops.  It's a killer track, filled with creepy underpinnings of melody and some truly demonic atmosphere.

I can honestly say I haven't been all that kind to previous projects from JBS, but Chasm of Nis shows that the man has more in him than slow stuff and Incantation worship.  Redolent of Spheres is short and doesn't truly light the world on fire, but it's a highly enjoyable listen which brings just enough originality to the table to stand out in an increasingly over-crowded scene.  Hopefully, the Demilich-esque elements take center stage here, giving Chasm of Nis and even more defined place in America's massive Death Metal scene.  Be sure to purchase the demo here.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Vorum- Poisoned Void(2013)

Vorum- Poisoned Void


It's 2013 and the Old School Death Metal Revival, or Aping depending on your perspective, continues full steam ahead with Vorum's Poisoned Void, a short and succinct blitzkrieg of "Old School is the only School" Death MetalIt's an album, which as to be expected, throws a bunch of different obvious influences at you and does so with aplomb.

Everyone, pull out your check lists:

Does it have blacked, blast heavy bits of furious Death Metal ala Angelcorpse?  Check

Does it have Doom-laden, chunky riffs for skull cracking ala Autopsy or Asphyx?  Check it off.

Does it have tons of melodic solos and leads ala every Death Metal band from the late 80's and early 90s?  Check and check.

Does it have lurching tremolo picked abominations ala Incantation?  You better fucking believe Check.

Does it have vocals which sound like John Tardy or Martin Van Drunen? There's a big fucking Check there buddy.

Poisoned Void is basically text book when it comes to modern Old School Death Metal Worship, moving from influence to influence with speed and prowess, something I have to give it some credit for.  With some many of these recent worship albums feeling lazy and passionless, Poisoned Void remains highly aggressive and energetic throughout, and the bands musicianship is top notch and tight.  On a basic technical level, musicianship and production, Poisoned Void delivers the goods.

Where it simply doesn't deliver is in the song-writing department, as throughout Poisoned Void you are taunted with moments of pure, head-banging, spine snapping, furiously flailing awesome, only to be smashed back down to earth with another redundant bit of generic blasting and riffing which sounds like the same transition from song to song.  Take for example the intro to "Rabid Blood": it's fucking awesome, with some slower tempos and fantastic drumming which shows the skill that the bands talented drummer, Mikko Josefsson, is capable of.  He is one of the highlights on this record, displaying incredible speed and dexterity as well as the ability to play some very complex rhythms.  But like, well, every other song on the record, "Rabid Blood" becomes a generic, time a dozen amalgamation of various played out "old-skull" tropes that never ascend to the next level, and it feels like Josefsson's talents are being wasted here.  It's the same with "Thriving Darkness," a killer intro followed by two brilliant sections which channels early Morbid Angel in all their Ancient glory... before it too falls into a relentless rut of basic old-school stuff that just makes one yawn.  In fact, we should rename Poisoned Void to Awesome Intros, Boring Results, as this proves to be a consistent theme throughout the record.

Not to be too harsh here, for as far as blatant old school worship albums go, Poisoned Void is not bad.  Although it lacks much of the strong atmosphere of Ectovoid's Fractured in the Timeless Abyss, and it's simply devoid of that wonderful spark of creativity and originality that Execration achieved on Odes to the Occult, Poisoned Void is very furious and is guaranteed to get ones head-banging on more than one occasion.  Vorum avoid most of the major prat-falls that can make this style almost completely unlistenable: boring and pointless Funeral Doom segments are thankfully absent, and Vorum prefer to keep things short and violent, with songs rarely going over the four minute mark.  As much as elements of this album infuriate me with it's utterly generic moments, there is just enough here for it to rise above the utter shit that the Old School Death Metal Revival has produced.  It's worth a listen, but when the history of this era of Death Metal is written, Poisoned Void will be little more than a footnote in the annals of time.

Rating: 6.5/10