Friday, July 1, 2016

Baphomet's Blood - Satanic Metal Attack (2006)

You could do worse than to kick off your debut album with a Nightbreed sample, and that's precisely how the Italo speedsters Baphomet's Blood entered my life with their bombastic and no fucks given Satanic Metal Attack. It's no secret that a lot of bands out of Europe have a legacy of offering tribute to the metal of old, specifically that of the 80s in which most of the heavyweight genres and niches were born, and the speed and thrash metal of that era had already been sent up numerous times by the arrival of the new millennium, but I'd say that as the formative works, or 'originals' of these genres grow further and further away, the hearts tend to grow fonder and gravitate straight back towards them. These days the nostalgia farm is in full harvest, with a lot of rotten crops to go along with the delectable, but I'd say this band were kind of at the vanguard of this newer wave of atavists, and who can forget (or forgive) all those awesome pics of these guys decked out in there in sleeveless tees with flying Vs and all kinds of great poses.

Not me.

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)

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Baphomets-Blood-official/116241875112834

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Fates Warning - Theories of Flight (2016)

I suppose I'm a little beyond concern as to whether or not Fates Warning will ever be a truly 'great' band again. Their 80s power metal streak will always remain a monumental component of my collection, and their subsequent shift into pure progressive metal/rock territory on records from Perfect Symmetry to Inside Out will forever stand as a finer example of stylistic evolution that would help launch about a thousand other bands into similar waters throughout the ensuing decades. These days, if they can simply write coherent tunes and avoid the slump of quality and creativity they suffered from about 1995-2000, then I suppose I'm content, and like Fates Warning X or Darkness in a Different Light, Theories of Flight is a disc that will keep them afloat for several years to come, even if it's not helping them reach any new shores.

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]

http://fateswarning.com/

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gojira - Magma (2016)

Gojira has always been a band that flirted on the margins of the accessible in heavy music, basing a lot of their songwriting upon a foundation of simplistic, eager chugging rhythms and clear nods to once fashionable niches like the dreaded 'nu metal'. What clearly separated was their ability to elevate this sort of riffing component to a realm more transcendent, poetic and majestic, breathing new life with a combination of great studio production that really let them feel out those chords and mutes; and of course the almost hymnal nature of Joe Duplantier's grating yet melodic vocal tone, which is almost like the offspring of Pink Floyd's hypnotic, drugged, and harmonic quality with Neurosis harshness. But I think Magma, the Frenchmen's sixth full-length, is an example how regurgitating very basic riff cycles can only take you so far, and the record suffers slightly for this.

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)

http://www.gojira-music.com/

Friday, June 24, 2016

Whitechapel - Mark of the Blade (2016)

Mark of the Blade is at once a celebration of many of the bases touched upon by previous Whitechapel albums, and sort of a mixed bag that signifies they're not quite sure where they want to go or who they want to be right now. That's not to say it's a bad record, necessarily, because even as someone who has rarely enjoyed any of their output, I thought that this hit enough of a quote of entertaining moments to dub it one of their better efforts. But the bulk of the material here definitely seems like it's simultaneously exploratory and constantly looking backwards, trying to flesh out ideas they might not have taken to their natural conclusions in the past, yet not willing to go far enough to make them stick.

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]

http://www.whitechapelband.com/

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sad - Utter Nihil Worship (2016)

Long and forever a fixture of the Hellenic black metal underground, Sad is a band arguably mired in convention to the extent that there is no possibility of them escaping the shadows of the more eclectic, ritualistic or melodic acts of their region, a fact that I'm sure suits Ungod and Nadir pretty well. The emphasis here has always been on pursuing purist, Scandinavian-rooted raw black metal in the tradition of groups like 90s Darkthrone and Horna, where just about all variation on an album will come strictly through the balance of tempos and the minor production details, but little else in terms of lyrical matter, riff construction or stylistic shifts. They've released some solid fare like 2007's A Curse in Darkness and their album previous to this one, Devouring the Divine, but understandably have not flagrantly publicized themselves or revolutionized their material to the extent that they really stand out.

Their sixth full length, Utter Nihil Worship does nothing to deviate this course. Tremolo picked, dire melodies threaded above hammering chords and harrowed rasps, with a production to the rhythm guitars that is slightly fuzzier and more ear-bleeding than on a handful of earlier recordings. They set up songs structurally so that you won't be constantly bombarded with the exact same riffs and speed patterns that surround them, but that's not to say that when you break down what they're writing on a fundamental level, that it's anything you haven't heard a thousand times before. Truly, only a small selection of the riff patterns here stick to me, like the opening salvo in "Aprophenia", which would have sounded truly evil if joined with some haunting, ancient synth lines as per In the Nightside Eclipse; or the raw and roiling, melancholic tribal war pattern that introduces "War, Father of All", immediately conjured up nostalgia for the fell beauty that even this ugly genre of music can conjure when the mood strikes alongside the toms.

Beyond those few moments, though, there's just not a lot of excitement. Stronger riffs with cede to those that are decidedly less compelling, and the vocals or general atmosphere of the record aren't vile or memorable enough to overcome it's stylistic loyalty, to a fault. There are occasionally a few nice bass-lines, and the production was well suited to the genre, if a little dry, but the riffs just don't offer much of a thrill if you've heard so many similar efforts before. Utter Nihil Worship is by no means a bad album, it's just going to depend on how 'authentic' of a course you want your black metal to stay upon, or if you've grown jaded. But I have no evidence that there is any other objective here, and if you're solely in the mood for what the album promises in its title, then I can't imagine you'd be all too put out. Utter Nihil Worship did not earn my interest, but Sad does continue to earn my respect.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]


http://hordeavsad.webs.com/

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Blut Aus Nord/Ævangelist - Codex Obscura Nomina (2016)

One of the more esoteric split pairings I've seen lately, there was no way I wasn't checking this out, and much to my satisfaction, it's just as strange and effective a team-up as I might have expected. French veterans Blut Aus Nord are known for a wide body of offerings that range from more traditionally or folk-flavored black metal full-lengths to peripheral release cycles that flirted with industrial-tinged escapism to a fault. Ævangelist is the project which steered prolific US musician Matron Thorn away from the raw black metal musings of his mainstay Benighted in Sodom to a new depth of ugly, atmospheric, compelling death metal which has proven to be among the most unique and alien in an ever-crowding field of cavern core morbidity. How would the two of these groups sound in proximity?

Well, that's not exactly the nature of this release, and I feel both bands distinguish themselves pretty clearly to their own back catalogues rather than rely too much on sounding flush with the other. There is certainly some overlap due to the outsider dissonance practiced by both, but it's almost like a line drawn in the sand where the four BAN tracks end and Ævangelist's 21+ minute opus begins. As for the former, do not expect Memoria Vetusta IV material here, their offerings are more in line with the 777 trilogy, only cast in an even darker pallor redolent of their mid-oughts fare (MoRT, Odinist, etc). An emphasis more on raw industrial or trip hop beats drowned in resonant, gut-wrenching distortion, discordant and unusual effects and guitars, foul whispers and growls, and a general clamor that is in its own way just as oblique and disgusting as any of the harsher recordings they've put out over the considerable backlog. It's almost like a bastard spawn of DJ Shadow and Godflesh, only far more cacophonous and unusual than that union could allude to. Or if the producers of the Silent Hill video game series passed on Akira Yamaoka's eerie proclivities for such beat-driven fare and then greenlit Vindsval and company to 'make it their own' after hearing Sect(s) or The Desanctification. Partly hypnotic, always repulsive.

"Threshold of the Miraculous", Ævangelist's contribution, is rawer still, and spans a much broader gulf of styles within its boundaries than even the four BAN cuts combined. Lots of tinny electronic impulses here, sudden shifts in tempo and instrumentation where the grimy dissonant guitars erupt, and clearer growled vocals than on the band before them. It's par for the course that the band is so disheveled and nightmarish in scope, but I couldn't help feel here that the length of the track was working against it. There were several impressive atmospheric parts, with the French narration and so forth, but a lot of the heavier sequences just sort of randomly appeared and disappeared and it did not gel together as a compelling whole, whereas I've really enjoyed the lest swollen material they've put out on albums like De Masicatione Mortuorum in Tumulis. I was more partial towards the Blus Aus Nord stuff, but even that didn't quite grasp me consistently over its own 20 minute presentation, it was simply fascinating to hear them spew forth those big beats and then slather them in dementia.

All told, this was a pretty interesting listen that is worth hearing if you're deep into either (or both) of the acts involved, but not mandatory when they've got much stronger exclusive material. The two 'sides' of the split function in tandem, yet I didn't feel that they both stood out equally. However, I don't think there's any question that Blut Aus Nord and Ævangelist continue to take chances, and their work will ebb and flow to particular audiences based on what eras or phases of their eccentric histories they were most enthralled by. If you loved the 777 trilogy but desired it to go a little further out on a limb, it's probably worth checking this out, even though it's not quite so immersive and doesn't last the duration of spinning yourself straight through all those records in succession. Daniel Valencia's cover work here is also pretty neat.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

https://www.facebook.com/blutausnord.official 
http://www.newobliviongospelmusic.com/

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Arphaxat - Ex Inferis 12" (2003)

Just under 18 minutes of primal, incendiary filth, Ex Inferis was originally released as a demo by the French black metal duo Arphaxat back in 2003, but has now been revived as a 12" vinyl through the same label (Hell's Headbangers) which put out their sole full-length Loudun la maudite in 2008. What makes them somewhat unique is that they used a bass guitar/drum combo slathered with caustic black metal rasps, rather than the traditional roster setup with rhythm and lead guitars. Not entirely unheard of from Europe in those days, what with Necromantia having had exemplified that technique, but this stuff is far cruder, lacking the slow plod, occult atmosphere and use of synthesizers which was crucial to the Greeks' sound.

No, this is about as wretched as you can get for a demo recording with just those two instruments, raw and hostile vocals and absolutely no fucks given. Definitely some parallels to Von, Beherit or the earlier, less pomp-filled Barathrum records, the four tracks here just repeatedly beat you in the fucking eardrums with simplistic low-end note patterns dowsed in so much distorted bass buzz that it sounds like a cacophony angry insects being conducted into taut, bludgeoning swarms. The riffs sort of roil along without much by way of interesting patterns, but that's because the intent here was just to throw off the shackles of anything resembling melody, intricacy or innovation and just being as belligerent and anti-life as fuck. Drums are as obnoxious and splashy as you can imagine without losing the ability to support the guitars, and the vocals are a scathing but otherwise featureless bark which exhibits almost no variation in pitch or lyrical-line development, it's very level in its delivery and again, just no concern at all for diversifying its arsenal.

Sadly, I'm probably making it sound cooler than it really is, because other than a pure flossing of all the gray matter between my ears with its barbed-wire battering production, I don't know that the bass lines really come across as evil sounding, which might have been accomplished with just a few shifts in the note patterns. It's ominousness relies almost entirely on its raw recording, and so a sense of ennui kicks in once it's clear that no surprises or interesting riffs are ever going to occur. Granted, you can definitely develop a hostile, hypnotic reaction to this which doesn't make it completely unpleasant, especially in the bowels of the last track "The Pact", but the whole experience feels just a little too monotonous, and I even feel like the full-length, which took no strides in composition or style beyond this, just sounded a little better, where this is more of an intentional clamor. If you're really into the rawest of war metal, the ugliest of black metal's muddy originators, then this might harbor some curiosity or collectibility for you, but I found it only functioned all too well as intended, as hideous, repetitious, nihilistic noise.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

Friday, June 10, 2016

Paradox - Pangea (2016)

If you had asked me back in the late 80s if I thought I'd still be listening to Paradox in the future, my younger self would have answered with a hopeful but resounding 'probably not'. And yet it's 2016, the Germans are on the most productive tear of their career since they launched Electrify in 2008, and now have delivered yet another exemplary example of how brainy, agile, energetic power thrash is alive and well in an era which has already grown sour on those younger acts who wish to recycle some particular era and sound and do it little more than a hollow tribute. Pangea is filled to the brim with melodic, intricate rhythm guitar weavings which mirror all the finesse of that more technical Teutonic tier which followed in the footsteps of Destruction and Kreator with a little less of the raw savagery of those bands' in their infancy, but lacking none of the intensity. Much more akin to Deathrow, Mekong Delta, and Vendetta than Sodom, but where some of those bands languish in the reunion epoch, Paradox show almost no sign of aging or weariness.

Spry, well-developed thrash pieces with a little bit of that clinical depth and 'edge' that the band picked up for their sophomore Heresy in 1989 but have been meting out with modern, ironclad force throughout the last decade on killer discs like Electrify and Riot Squad. The busier riffing patterns on the album are redolent of Artillery's uplifting vortex of complex power/thrash, with cascades of atmospheric melodies affixed to the meatier undertone, thick and thrumming bass-lines and a drum performance which is just as electrifying as it needs to be, with forceful kicks driving the bottom end and balancing out against the higher pitched tonality which is the guitars' focus. Just a galloping, swollen arsenal of progressions that don't feel exhausted or mindlessly retrospect in nature, even where they tie back to the band's legacy of 27-30 years back. Leads that are carefully threaded over the rhythm guitars in the bridge, seemingly a lost art where many bands seek to smother the most boring patterns they can with wild frivolity. In listening through Pangea, I had a basic idea of where the songs would twist and turn, largely because I've got all their earlier records and listened to them often, but even despite that, it never otherwise felt predictable or lazy at any point here.

Charly Steinhauer still maintains that fragile, mid-to-high pitched voice which sounds more like he's recording desperate scientific research than barking at a crowd, and this has long been one of the factors which stood certain of these bands (Deathrow, too) against their more popular snarling and sneering countrymen. But that engaging level of tech power metal also thrives in their sound, a style not incomparable to Americans like Heathen and Forbidden which exhibits a parallel development from when all these bands were on the cusp of being the 'next' big thing, but fizzled out once the genre was subverted by groove metal, rapcore and grunge in the 90s. Consistent, ambitious, and yet varied enough to form one of those prehistoric concepts: the actual ALBUM worth of songs you might give a damn about. I won't claim that every single measure here is pure ear candy, many of them simply serve the whole as best they can, but there are no duds among this bunch and it's every big the equal of their prior benchmarks like Heresy and Electrify. Awesome. I've listened to this a dozen times already, front to back.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

https://www.facebook.com/paradoxthrash

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Flotsam & Jetsam - Flotsam & Jetsam (2016)

The eponymous record. Inevitable in the hands of nearly any long time musical artist. The obligatory statement of 'self', of purpose or re-purpose, commitment or re-commitment. Arizona's long ailing, but unflinchingly persistent power/thrashers Flotsam & Jetsam waited until studio LP #12 to resort to the tactic, adorning it with a simple logo & skull image that seems to suggest a humbling of tone and expression, which ironically is not at all how this album feels. While it's no question that Flotsam & Jetsam is comprised of and composed of a gestalt of riffing styles and tempos that the band has explored throughout its 30+ years of existence, it's put together really well. To my surprise, bordering on shock, I've gotten more enjoyment and replay value out of this in the last couple weeks than I have any album they've put out since No Place for Disgrace in 1988, and while it's no rival for that classic, it's evidence enough that old dogs don't always need new tricks, just a proper ratio of bite to bark.

One might argue that the album plays it fairly safe, and I can't argue that, but it does so with a solid slew of engaging riffs and well-developed vocal lines and choruses that almost all integrated into my memory even on the first flight through the record. Pounding, mid-paced thrash rhythms capture a lot of the 'gladiatorial' feel you'll recall from No Place, and a few of the tunes were supposedly written in that era, but here they are clad with the clarity and pomp of the guitar productions they've used on a lot of their modern albums. There is the occasional deferral to the meaty groove/thrash that bands like Pantera or Machine Head made viable in the 90s, and that's a minor distraction, but even there the material is handled tastefully, serving as a means to an end that is achieved with glorious confidence, or a neck-pumping exercise to make bands like an Exodus in its prime proud. Workmanlike rhythms are affected with NWOBHM-like melodies that strive and attain a good balance, and the leads whip into their furors with cautious ease, slightly short of remarkable but light and entertaining. The fact they've got a tune here called "Iron Maiden" sort of tapes into the self-referential genre examination which highly characterized their 1997 effort High, but without the disposable mediocrity.

The disc doesn't suffer from the production pratfalls that even their fantastic sophomore fell victim to, but at the expense that it definitely feels a little overly clean, like you'll hear from a lot of the modern efforts from these veteran acts (Overkill, Queensrÿche, etc). That said, it has its benefits, like the fluid thump of Michael Spencer's bass lines or the concrete consistency of the drumming, which is simple but effective at helping hammer out a lot of the record's simpler, 'been there' riffs. The MVP here, however, is Erik A.K.'s vocals, which sound emotional and detailed on nearly every line he spits out over the 55 minutes. The lyrics are often loaded with tireless streams of cliches, but when he hits the choruses in tunes like "Time to Go" or "Verge of Tragedy" he really shows a seasoned patience and mastery of exactly what ranges to strike to drive a tune from just 'alright' to one I wanted to hit repeat on numerous times. He might not have the wailing, brash rage of his youth, but the voice still has a lot of that same character we can remember from Doomsday or No Place and its certainly a far cry better than his performance on the latter's remake two years ago.

And better, by extension, than the long procession of disappointments I've experienced at their hands over these last several decades. To be clear, Flotsam & Jetsam HAVE put out some decent songs in the interim. Albums like The Cold or Dreams of Death had their moments, just precious few of them, whereas this disc is the first in forever where I'd actually play straight through the track list and then do so again, without any desire to skip over anything. That doesn't mean all the riffs or songs here are written equally, and the album still lacks in a few areas where the energy lags, or the lyrics just seem effete that they drag down the music below them, but it's very much enjoyable and if not a classic for a new generation, it's at least a solid enough execution that one can hold out hope that the fires have not now, or may never fully wane for the Phoenix elite.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (a bed of spikes for eternity)

http://www.flotsam-and-jetsam.com/

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Flotsam & Jetsam - No Place for Disgrace 2014 (20...2014)

It's not all that uncommon these days for veteran thrash and heavy metal acts to offer up re-recordings of particular albums, or even to throw together a compilation of hand picked tracks that have been reworked in a studio to give the modern fanbase a taste of what their classic material should sound like when brought up to the standards of their recent fare. Perhaps it's a bunch of songs the band uses live, and they want kids to be able to grab the newer versions to play on their .mp3 players with more compression. Whatever the cause, it generally fails, and also serves to confuse and convolute a legacy best appreciated through experiencing the originals, for all their flaws. That's not ALWAYS the case...for instance, I rather dug Destruction's ironclad Thrash Anthems re-recordings, the songs seemed to work in the context of their modern hits like those found on The Antichrist. But the odds, they are against it.

I consider Flotsam & Jetsam's sophomore No Place for Disgrace (1988) to be their seminal work, unrivaled by anything else they've ever recorded. Maybe they felt the same, since they saw fit to spend the effort re-recording it. Granted, if I had one complaint about the original, it would have been in the production department, since it just doesn't hold up quite like other albums I own from its era. The guitars and bass seem a little thin, and it's lacking some punch. However, the fantastic tracks there easily overcame, and continue to overcome such nitpicking, and that's sort of what I meant above. It's 'flawed', but despite that one of the more memorable second tier US thrash albums of its day and age. I didn't hold out a lot of hope for this remake once becoming aware of it, because this is just not a band that has really delivered consistently, and I expected them to flub it up. They've had a couple good songs strewn about their substantial discography of the 90s and 00s, but they were vastly outnumbered by all of the disappointments. Reviewing this now, after hearing their latest eponymous disc, which I actually enjoy, I think they might also have been trying to fire up some inspiration by revisiting this material...

And to its credit, the 2014 No Place for Disgrace doesn't suck. It's not good, not even really worth the while, but I've certainly heard bands shit all over their histories, when this is just sort of taking a long leak on one. The rhythm guitars are 'richer' and have a little more punch commensurate with their most recent material, and certainly this lacks some of the issues with the original. But it also springs up more...Flotsam & Jetsam just doesn't sound as vital and hopeful as they once were. Part of this is in Eric A.K.'s performance, which doesn't seem as engaging or high pitched as it once felt. He's firing for a wider range on these recordings, and a long-time fan will notice the gulfs where he missed the mark at some of those critical moments. The clarity of several guitars seems to have leeched the speed from a number of the riffs, and this might even have been intentional, I didn't sit there keeping pace with both simultaneously, but the vivacious energy is missing, especially during slower parts like the the breakdown in "N.E. Terror" which feels like a slog, and in which Knudson's voice does seem a little processed (as it does elsewhere here).

Now, there are a few sequences in which the remake does feel solid, as in the intro to "I Live You Die", but even there I don't think I'd choose this over the old one. The drums and bass are much better balanced, especially the latter, which is all over the thing...so I might not have reminded a 'remaster', maybe using this bassist (he had appeared on a prior demo, but only rejoined the band for this and their new album). On the whole, though, this just feels like a band trying to tap into a prior impulse and coming up slightly short. It's not offensive, and a lot of the note patterns come together with that same magic they once did, yet I don't really think I'd ever require another listen to this after jotting down some thoughts. Fortunately, the band has since produced some newer material which is a lot more exciting to me, but I hope there are no plans to give Doomsday for the Deceiver such a treatment.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

http://www.flotsam-and-jetsam.com/