Monday, July 25, 2016
It starts with a pretty obvious horror sample that I could live without, and then breaks into one of the more straightforward pieces on the disc, with roiling tremolo picked rhythm guitars that channel a mix of Left Hand Path and Consuming Impulse, with dank growled vocals that hover just at the edge of the din, tangible bass tone and harried drumming with lots of energetic fills...when they burst into the early Bolt Thrower grim future breakdown at the mid-section and then piledrive with the double kick drums it feels pretty satisfying, though it's one of the less interesting pieces here. Forward to a tune like "Cycle of Horror", where you've got all these standalone atmospheric bass lines that sound like they're almost side-tracking into some sort of cemetery swing and then plastering it with morbid harmonies, and again those lesser volume, steady growls which feel like you've come across a low key side conversation at a necromancer convention that you're not meant to hear. Or the pure, driving melodic thunder of "Cemetery Inversion" which reaches a glorious, melodic flow in its own bridge.
All told, Rotten Remains is rather well-balanced between its faster and slower sequences, and thus escapes the boredom I feel from a lot of other bands that are doing little more than recycling what they've got in their record collections from 1993 and earlier. That's not to say Carnal Tomb is all that unique, a lot of their riffing patterns are predictable and not always so catchy or evil sounding, but I think if you dwell on a plane in which efforts like Last One on Earth, Onward to Golgotha, Realm of Chaos, Cause of Death, Fornever Laid to Rest, Scream Bloody Gore and the aforementioned Entombed or Pestilence serve as part of some perverse pantheon, then the Germans have clearly promoted themselves beyond pure acolyte status into the strong arm of the supporting clergy, and they've got just enough of an atmospheric snare, and an ability to assess and take marginal risks that they warrant some further attention. Album looks like it sounds, and it sounds like death fucking metal without any other pretensions than to simply 'get it right'.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Friday, July 22, 2016
Solid, if predictable riffs that generally run a similar course until they're cut up into slower, heavy metal pacing and lead sequences. The guitar tone here is roughly in league with Metal Damnation, that is to say superior to the first couple albums, but I found the construction of the rhythm patterns to be slightly less incendiary or exciting. Tunes like "Back from the Fire", with its dextrous opening lick, seem to speculate what it might have been like if Raven in their 80s prime were fronted by Algy Ward's workmanlike, gruff vocal presence, which manifests a lot in Necrovomiterror's timbre, rather than the screaming nasal vocals they were known for. That is certainly my favorite track of the three originals, but even then it's pretty much paint by numbers songwriting which pans out exactly like you think it will as soon as you've experienced the bridge into the first verse. The bass seems to have finally hit the right stride here, with a pluggy little tone always present on the underbelly of the guitar, and the drums sound as tight as ever.
I'm no expert on Italian heavy metal veterans Strana Officina, but I have actually heard a couple of their older releases, including "Metal Brigade", which Baphomet's Blood uses to close out this EP, using actual vocal contributions (i.e. unruly screams) from vocalist 'Bud' Ancillotti himself. The tune is simultaneously the sloppiest and most amusing on the record, with some production differences from the rest that only make it seem a fraction out of place. Still, it's nice that the band pays tribute to someone that most in the world have never heard of, but were certainly some kind of influence on the younger band and possibly the scene that shaped them and peers like Children of Technology. And thanks to the 'exclusivity' of the material on this release, which seems to be a lost art half the time with so many EPs stuffed with live cuts and re-recordings, I'd say that Back from the Fire is not going to disappoint those who know what to expect, and its overall quality is equivalent to at least the band's debut, and even a lot of material from Second Strike. But still a good half decade before they would finally stoke the braziers Satan uses for hookahs.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Friday, July 15, 2016
Searing strikes of a horror score (I can't recount where the sample is from) and then it's off to the race with "Devil's Night", a tune redolent with the scent of old English outfits like Tank who were taking that inner punk by the throat and then layering it with denim, leather, spikes, growing out the hair good and long with handlebar moustache and trading in those Sex Pistols vinyls for some vintage Warfare. There's also a healthy taste of both US and German speed and power metal which help to mold the lead sequences and the brighter overall resonance I came away from this one feeling, like they had found a nice median between old Riot and Motörhead and then sat it down in front of some speakers and blasted an Iron Angel record, which left an indelible impression on the tape itself. The style of riffing really isn't all that removed from the path they were already on, just choppy speed and barking, gruff vocals, but it's just that much more forceful, and the tone of the guitar has a slightly more raw, ripping edge to it that sounds good and crunchy like locusts being ground into the asphalt.
Bass is a little better here, but still tonally the weakest link of the band. The leads are definitely much improved, taking that undefined feel of the older albums into a more explosive, exciting arena. I also like the stops/starts they toss into tunes like "We Don't Care" which give you a nice chance to recharge, round the mountain pass and go charging back to your destiny. The mix of the guitar and vocal is also a lot cooler, as well as the way the songs are set up. There could certainly be more variation...quite a lot of the tempos feel exactly the same, and they're not changing up note patterns noticeably enough to thrill anyone who isn't in the mood for this brand of raunchy speed metal, but it fills runs out its 37 minute fuel tank well appropriate energy and leaves me feeling like the band has finally caught some fire. Just how much? Stay tuned.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Basic shit here, pavement worthy anthems with only vague degrees of variation to note selections, which are all cast in that bluesy iron of the old British bands in the late 70s, and slathered in the ugly and lower blue collar vocals of Necrovomiterror, who by his name seems more like a natural fit for a band like Blasphemy...but I'm guessing some of the names these guys used were also a nod to the band Sodom from their heyday. Good, violent thrash metal names, for songs that only faintly dip into the thrash-well, and even then only at that niche's most basal. The drums are little more than brute force, effective but occasionally monotonous, driving clatter that merely fuels the licks, which are themselves far from nuanced but generate a similar vibe to that first time I heard Filth Hounds of Hades or Iron Fist. Solos are sloppy and grungy and again, like having molten blues-based hard rock poured into a fiery forge for smelting into these workmanlike, thundering exercises in sounding EXACTLY like they look on their cover pose.
As with the debut, the bass guitar is fairly lacking in the mix, and the tone doesn't really sound good, a page from the Lemmy handbook must have been ripped out when they were formulating the style and direction they wanted Baphomet's Blood to head towards. So that can make Second Strike feel a little on the dry side, but doesn't completely break the deal for me, because this is just something so 'innocently' vile and straightforward. Every lick on this disc was probably written 20 years or more before it came out, and a lot of bands could probably write this entire album's worth of material in an afternoon; yet there's just something retro and refreshing for me which I value more than innovation on a particular effort like this one. Don't get me wrong, this is FAR from one of the best in this backwards speed metal scene, and even this very band has surpassed it, but if anyone were to be listening to this in their car and picked me up, I wouldn't ask them to turn it off or even turn up my nose at what is such a crude, good time. It makes me wish I smoked cigarettes. I don't, but maybe in some alternate reality my other self does. And he's doing it to Second Strike.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Friday, July 8, 2016
This is a longer EP than Sacred Warpath, and thankfully does not rely too heavily on its live content, although that does rear its head in the waning moments of the release. "In Retribution" is the new tune you want to hear, and thank fuck it's actually an appreciable scorching of mean and speedy licks that is arguably the best I've heard from them in about a decade. His voice just sounds enormous and raunchy over the force of the rhythm guitars, more focused than emotional as it was on that previous track. It almost sounds like a slightly more modernized take on a tune that would have been ripe for inclusion on the Expurse of Sodomy EP back in '87, and though not as memorable, and far more mature than a "Sodomy and Lust", it delivers a fairly ominous chorus with a wildly looping little melody that comes flying off the rhythm hook. Just an incendiary effort than I could have hoped, and the highlight of this whole release, though their 'Motörhead' section of this EP isn't so shabby either, beginning with the inclusion of the bonus track "Murder One" from their In War and Pieces album, and then busting directly into a cover of "Ace of Spades", which is far too obvious, but let's face it...
This is a band that was HEAVILY inspired by Lemmy in both songwriting and bass playing, so after his untimely passing, there was no chance of something like this being neglected. It's a serviceable send-up, but nothing out of the ordinary. The band then breaks out into a rehash of more songs that have already appeared through their catalog...."Kamikaze Terrorizer" off the eponymous 2006 LP, and "Waterboarding" off Epitome of Torture, and then it dawns on me that this is really just a sampler of Sodom's material from the last decade...the choices are good, of course, but even though some of the recordings might be unfamiliar, it's almost like a micro-compilation, and that stinks. There is yet ANOTHER inclusion of "The Saw is the Law" live, and also "Wachturm", but by then all of my dreams were dash, my hopes deflated, and my Pepsi flat. What started off so great just took a nose dive, but with the caveat that "In Retribution" is a fuckin' grand time and with that and "Sacred Warpath" already planting its hatchet in my brain, I have positive expectations for Sodom in the very near future.
Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Have to say, the title track is a solid one, a mid-paced melodic piece which is moodier than usual, with a lot of warlike rolling drum fills and an atmosphere that made it feel like it could have been some environmental/culturally aware outtake from Nuclear Assault's Handle With Care album. I found Tom's voice here to be exceptionally raspy and brackish, he does reach a little deeper to his normal, gruff bark, but it's kept a lot more bloody and subtly screaming which only adds to the mournful nature of the tune's subject matter. Acoustic guitars and a pure, driving melodic bridge with a dependable lead definitely further the notion that this was meant for a more 'mature' and measured style than "The Saw is the Law" or "Agent Orange", and it's pulled off well enough to spin through it a number of times, and part of me wonders if the Germans were at that time planning for the next album to take Epitome's well-rounded approach to an even more emotional range, but I felt like this particular track was the equal of anything there at least, even if there are no money shot riffs.
The live material is headed off by a spurt of a "Surfin' Bird" cover and then erupts into a neck breaking rendition of "The Saw is the Law", an obvious choice, but there's a bit too much clip and unevenness to the chugging that Tom's bass seems enveloped by the rhythm guitar, and that's a distraction. The production on "City of God" and "Stigmatized" is much the same, but they both feel a little denser and angrier and it ultimately leads to a better reaction, though some of those same flaws in the recording do come through. This is no Mortal Way of Live but it's never a bad thing to hear such a revered, ancient thrashing entity still delivering beatings from a stage. Unfortunately, once "Sacred Warpath" appears on Decision Day there's just not going to be any reason to keep this thing around unless you're a steadfast collector of all things Angel Ripping, so I'll pass on paying it any attention in the future, though it's not an entirely worthless release like so many others of its ilk.
Verdict: Indifference [5/10]
Friday, July 1, 2016
I'll state outright that Satanic Metal Attack is not the band's best work, but it was a critical part of arriving there. Crude, galloping licks the likes of which derive directly from two decades prior, you're going to hear a smattering of simplistic guitar patterns here that rum the gamut from Destruction to Kill 'Em All to very early Slayer, but specifically recount the Canadian primacy once mastered by bands like Exciter and Razor. This entire album was crafted with a motorcycle wheelie mentality in mind, a Mad Max-like spurt of testosterone, dust and vitriol slathered in sloppy harsh vocals. This is far more in the strain of a Venom than the more punkish fundamentals of Motörhead, with some dexterity and finesse to the rhythm guitars, although they are certainly predictable and basis in structure. There are other horror samples used to break up the momentum, even one from Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, but almost every song among the eight here moves at a similar clip with the exception of the neck jerking mid-paced thrash riff moments that messily try to evoke a lot of old East coast hardcore or Toxic Waltz, or the slightly more uppity speeds the band spits out that enter Rigor Mortis s/t territory (as in the depths of "Kill the Monk").
The bass guitar cruises along but doesn't really register much, and the rhythm tone is a little plain and boxy, with the drums adding a lot of very cluttered crashing. A lot is really left up to the vocalist for added character, along with the gang shouts and sporadic, ridiculous leads, but I'd say the all pull it off to the point that when I listen through the album, I can imagine myself doing 90 down a desert highway in a beat up van spray painted with all kinds of bad graffiti of devils and boobs and sicks and just having a petulant time while I spray my tonsils with warm whiskey that had been sitting in the sunlight on the passenger side for too long. It's a bit of a party, but a peculiar party, and one that should not under any circumstance be replicated in any real world situation unless you have a short lease on your life or a lot of really cool (and brave) friends. Satanic Metal Attack is alright when you're in the mood, but even if you have a lukewarm or lesser response to this, don't panic, because Baphomet's Blood get up to the devil's business with much greater efficacy on future efforts.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (drilled by Satan)
Thursday, June 30, 2016
This record is expansive and modern enough to escape feeling lazy or like a post-midlife crisis, and it's borne on a mix of the band's more tranquil, feely moments with the jarring, jammy metal grooves that almost all trace their roots back to Rush's "YYZ" and other bastions of prog rock aggression that it's purveyors don't seem likely to evade for fear that they'll lose the narrative. Bobby Jarzombek's drumming is a pleasure to listen to, even if this is far from one of his more intricate or experimental performances, he really keeps the momentum going throughout harder hitters like the opening "From the Rooftops" or "Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen", but still maintains that mechanical/electronic vibe that his predecessor Mark Zonder made a staple of the modern Fates Warning sound. Joey Vera is also a standout on this record, with fat and fluid bass lines that would be fun to follow along with just the drums even if you didn't have Matheos' airier melodies or grooves splattered all over it. The riffs themselves keep really busy across the constantly shifting tempos, and there are generally at least two things going on at a time to draw the ear, though when it comes to the sheer riff power these are just not as memorable as stuff Jim has written in the past. But I will grant him that he keeps the stuff somewhat exploratory and unpredictable as in "The Ghosts of Home".
Ray Alder's own contribution here is flawless, but I have to admit that there were times I zoned out and forgot it was him even singing, as if the years have mutated his vocal chords just enough to rob his timbre of some of the character I identified with it when I was younger. That said, a lot of the tunes seem very carefully fit to his voice, and there's no question that it's all plotted in such a consummately professional way that die-hard fans of prog metal from the last 20 years are not going to find anything to really complain about. The problem I have is just that real lack of memorable quality to the songs...even after numerous spins through the disc I just wanted to break out Perfect Symmetry or Parallels...there is no "Through Different Eyes" or "We Only Say Goodbye" to be found on Theories, even if there is more ambition, technicality and variation inherent in the material that they've assembled for this. I think it's a decent effort, an exhibition of proficiency and competence and loyalty to a fault. There is nothing here I could honestly say that Fates does 'wrong', but it just isn't one I'm going to reach for when I need a fix of Alder-fronted mood music, and I'd really like to have a modern Fates disc on the level of the excellent Arch/Matheos debut.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Don't get me wrong, there is more than enough material here for a solid, I daresay even 'great' EP, and much of that arrives in the first four tracks. In particular, "Stranded" is one I'd toss on any mix tape, which does wonders with those chugging patterns as it offsets them with the spikes of higher pitched guitar and a rousing, uplifting, if predictable chorus. I even enjoyed the soothing, cleaner vocal harmonies that came in the bridge. "The Cell" also has its moments with those churning palm mute harmony patterns and the faint melodies they plaster over them, although even this track relies on an extremely primitive groove riff that I didn't feel could contribute much to its overall composure after maybe 3-4 repetitions. But honestly, there is a very consistent opening 15-16 minutes with a lot of subtlety alongside the jackhammering grooves, a few twists and surprises that help augment that banal 'heaviness' forced by a lot of the palm mute focus, very much in the style that they mastered in 2005 with From Mars to Sirius, or its superb successor The Way of All Flesh. Granted, there is no "Oroborus" of "Toxic Garbage Island" among these, but I'd say that the quality does hit the standard of L'Enfant sauvage.
Where it does NOT hit that standard is in the two vapid instrumental tunes, "Yellow Stone" and "Liberation", which have nothing on the excellent "Wild Healer" from the prior album. The first is an oozing, circular, bluesy Sabbath piece with a little bit of ambient accompaniment, which goes just nowhere for me, and the last was a traditional acoustic guitar piece with some percussion that is a pretty boring afterthought to all that came before it. Hell, "Liberation" seems like such a mistake that I thought someone had mixed up the production of the CD. Otherwise, there were some cuts like "Magma" itself, "Pray", or the bass-swerving chug onslaught of "Only Pain" which basically rips its 'surprise' riff off the much catchier "Stranded" that did little to nothing interesting. When Joe is shouting "just wanted to be good" in the middle of that last tune, I was forced to agree with him. "Low Lands" would have been a solid closer for my imaginative EP version of this album, since I like how he works the vocals throughout, and it's constant climbing feel, but even that is just not enough to save this from sub-greatness.
Sonically, I don't have an issue here, since it sounds as crisp, pulverizing and rich as the couple albums before it, but much as the production emboldens the parts of Magma that I do like, it also accents the parts that I don't. The lyrics are alright, but tunes like "Silvera" rely on a lot of nu metal, groove or hardcore cliche like lines and images that don't do as much for the imagination as even the very basest riffing they perform. So, ultimately, was this worth a four year wait? Half of it is a worthwhile followup to L'Enfant sauvage, but the other half seems like the ideas in the Gojira camp have run dry, and the ironic elegant primacy that fuels their songwriting has petered out to a more neutral plane in which their upward creative trajectory has halted. I'll still slap a passing grade on it, because I get enough emotional resonance out of its stronger pieces, but I can guarantee that I won't often feel a compulsion to listen through in its entirety, skipping those instrumentals entirely and giving or taking 2-3 other tunes.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (leave the moment alone)
Friday, June 24, 2016
Production is total brickhouse, with a mixture of thrashy melodeath rhythm guitars that feed into fat-bottomed grooves which themselves teeter between the djent and deathcore niches, without much resolution as to which side of that fence they're going to land on. The bass guitar has this enormous, bouncy tone which you can really feel in your stomach when they bust into the meathead hardcore breakdowns, almost like some heavily tatted GQ dudes are lining up to use your gut as a trampoline for their fists. But they also go for some brief, intimate moments like the intro to "Bring Me Home" where they're attempting to show off their sensitive side, clean guitar sounds and soothing vocals and a progression which almost reminded me of Tool or A Perfect Circle before the requisite clobbering rhythms begin. Tremolo picked melodies are often added as layers beneath the dense, roiling strata of mosh-oriented violence to add a little bit of a post-modern feel to the brocore step that they're often pretty loyal to, and the hoarse and antagonistic vocals of Phil Bozeman definitely sound as angry as I've heard in the past, especially in the lyrics to songs like "Tormented" or "Elitist Ones" where they definitely have a Hatebreed-like social hardcore aesthetic with even a little hip-hop or Biohazard to the syllable choices.
Hell, along with the pork-toned bass in the latter, it's quite funny to the point that I broke out laughing...but you wouldn't wanna get run down by these dudes in an alley regardless. Neither would I. The joke would be over then, as they beat me within an inch of never reviewing a deathcore band again. But yeah, there are lots of little deviations here or there where the aggression will cut out and they'll launch into something which feels progressive by comparison, and that actually creates an air of nuance to what they've recorded here. I can't accuse Whitechapel of not trying to write actual songs, or not trying to better themselves, because I feel like they're doing both. It's whether or not the riffs or the lyrics resonate with me here that matters, and to my chagrin, they really did not. Not for a lack of effort, though, and to their credit, they've done a far better job with this than their shoddy last album, Our Endless War, while still flirting with the more accessible goals of that album and then mixing 'em up with the 'classic' 2007-2010 era and a bit of the finesse of the self-titled disc (which remains my favorite). Hell, my 3-year old was going mental to this shit, jumping up and down on our futon and did a somersault or two into other nearby furniture. So...that there is something. Not a lot. But enough.
Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]