Thursday, April 24, 2014
Now, I am one picky mother fucker when it comes to punk rock, far more so than with death metal, and almost all my favorite stuff in the genre hails from the 70s or 80s when you could pull out those trite 3 or 4 chord patterns and rock my face off with a distinct, charismatic vocalist. Since then I've leaned more towards the Gothic or post-punk niches due to their propensity for more creative riffing, something that seems to elude the vast majority of 'true punk' bands no matter how much alcohol they can down, how many car windows they can kick in. To me, 'punk' is rather self-defeating when instead of rebelliously shaping music, so many acts are just recycling the same boring riffs we've been hearing over and over since they were stolen from rock & roll in the 60s/70s. But if a band seems dirty enough, passionate enough, and just a little bit out of the box, I'm usually forgiving enough...I'm not sure I can be with this album, because while for all intensive purposes it's meant as a fun, expendable experience, the 2 minute or under tunes are plagued with generic chord patterns that don't seem particularly exciting, and might have been with a little more effort.
I say that with the caveat that: 1), Volition Wound is not at all a 'bad' or annoying first attempt, and 2) I think it works quite as intended by Chris and his companions. There is constantly an audience for these sorts of cruising, cruddy riffs and this might well be celebrated by crusties, skaters and disaffected death mavens the world over. As advertises, it's honest and simple and ugly as fuck, soaked in beer and sweat and so it gets that part of punk or hardcore proper. I actually dig Reifert's growls over the brighter, sunnier punk chords, a cool contrast, but I'm far more into what he does within Autopsy. The bumping bass lines and driving fills here don't add much personality, but plenty of enthusiasm. 18 tunes, 26 minutes, not a lot of depth and none was sought: a pretty straight paean to the forefathers of the style, whether that be the Stooges, the Misfits, the Damned, Black Flag or Minor Threat, and for some this is going to prove enough, but others like myself who want to hear punk music invested with something hellish and unique will have to seek that out elsewhere.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Honestly, it doesn't even seem like this group had an iota of imagination in even conceiving the song titles here, because if they've not been used 100 times before, then they're just paraphrased from those that have. Rhythm guitars are chugged in banal patterns that couldn't have taken more than a few minutes to arrive at (they seem to have run with the first ideas rather than played around with note possibilities), and there was not even a single progression of chords anywhere on the eight songs and 30 minutes which would make me remotely regret just playing Left Hand Path, Dark Recollections or Clandestine once more, albums that seem obsessively creative when compared to this despite being over 20 fucking years old! Drums sound great, and there is effort there with the rampant fills attempting to fill out such minimally competent riffs, but they're incapable of carrying an album to themselves; as for the bass, it seems too busy being teabagged by the guitar lines to matter beyond adding just that subtle level of grit. Speaking of which, the vocals are just more L-G Petrov/Matti Kärki, maybe more gravelly or garbled but not by a large margin.
I'm afraid that just looking and sounding the part is no longer enough, and that I'm on the precipice of not covering these sorts of throwback Swedish death metal acts, until more bands come along that actually do something of note with the inspiration (ala Morbus Chron, Tribulation, Necrovation, etc.) Seriously, this might be the straw that broke my camel back. You could do anything to make this more interesting: a capella vocals, ska parts, pop melodies, you name it, it would seem like less of an affront than persisting in such a safe, sterile environmental. When I saw Gluttony's logo and cover art, I was crossing my fingers for something truly visceral, horrifying and morbid, but this has got to be one of the most contrived recordings to visit my desk lately. Even among the company of doppelgangers like Entrails, Miasmal and Revel in Flesh, this is just so uninspired...or TOO inspired, to stand out. I understand there is no harm intended, and they just wanna join in the fun of their forerunners, but you'd honor them more by taking that groundwork they laid and transforming it into something juicy and palatable. Back to the drawing board, or more appropriately, the zombie clawing board, and try your arms, hands, fingers and throats at something fresh. Not this.
Verdict: Fail [4/10]
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
As for Expulsion, their Cerebral Cessation and Veiled in the Mists of Mystery demos seem to fall in between these poles. This is pretty crude material with riffs that should have been considered average even in their day, and yet it has that general authenticity and innocence which existed prior to the redundancy of their sound. Harshly barking guitars woven into threads of Napalm Death grinding bursts, thrashing mid-paced chops and even a few sluggish grooves redolent of something else British like Bolt Thrower, complete with the mulish little guitar fills at the end of phrases. There's also a heavy doom aesthetic here revolving around some of the slower, drudging riff progressions which remind me of Candlemass if they'd had a primitive black/death metal frontman rather than the operatics of Messiah Marcolin. Thanks to the bloody, hacking vocals here, there is an internal consistency through the demos, but otherwise there might be a little of the disparity we heard on the earlier Tiamat recordings, where the band couldn't quite lay its roots in any one niche, and so explored them all through a dynamic, occult atmospheric blend of seminal extreme metal.
Alas, the songs just aren't nearly as poignant or timeless as those on Sumerian Cry or The Astral Sleep, and so I'm just sort of left appreciating the material for its stark simplicity and hopefulness of transforming into something more. There are a few points at which the songs sound like barely brushed up rehearsals, and others where they delve into a solid, morbid chord progression somewhere around Autopsy or Treblinka in architecture, with crud coating the rhythm guitars and ugliness aplenty, which even the sparse acoustic guitars cannot effectively pierce. Cool for collectors and completionists that had yet to add these to their catalogs, since to my knowledge they haven't been released before (with the possible exception of online rips), but I can see why this probably didn't generate much interest in the first place. I'd also say, that if you're not opposed to a richer production and songwriting more similar to fellow Swedes Cemetary or Lake of Tears, their 1994 full-length Overflow might not be a bad place to start instead. I was never really into that, nor am I feeling these more primal origins, so I can't highly recommend any of it; their material with the other eventual bands was more my style.
Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]
Monday, April 21, 2014
Thank fuck, it is alright! We're not talking an inconceivable amount of effort here, but somehow that ghoulish countenance present in Speakmann's growling seems to get a hellish injection from the playful derivation of Rogga's riffing, which is more or less his usual hybrid of d-beat and Floridian fluidity. Sulphur Skies is far from brilliant, mind you, but had it been written as the third Master album in the 90s, or just some other random record from that period, I think it might hold a sort of cult classic status. Most of the tremolo guitar patterns are rather predictable, but there's just that marginal level of genuine evil in their construction that is so often lacking from the more boring cadre of nostalgia bands. With twelve tracks, I could certainly have done without about 4-5 of them, and would rather the rest had been strengthened up. All are relatively concise at around 3 minutes each, and feature a few rhythm changes and diabolic leads, but the quantity could have been shelved to tighten up even an EP's worth of material with more quality riffing and this could have been something really special among the crowded rebirth of the 90s so prevalent lately.
Got no issue with the sound of it...the vocals just have that usual gut ripping quality to them, unmistakable for any other vocalist in the field. Bass lines are thick, the whole record feels really visceral like a killer stalking his prey, and perhaps more importantly, there's no mercy when he catches up. Riffs and leads are stricken with a rawness that doesn't eschew clarity, so Sulphur Skies sustains its violent ethics even when churned out at the highest volume. I would not have minded some more variation in the songwriting, but then I could say the same for most efforts both these guys have involved themselves with in the past, and it's the reason I usually pick out a few tunes and then find the rest skippable. But, to this album's credit, it's definitely a fun enough ride that you won't always want to escape in the middle of the experience...it takes you right back to those crucial early 90s when death metal had an air of excitement and danger about it, and I think that is what both parties intended when they got together to record it. Well enough done, but if they put out another it'd behoove them to sink a little more time and effort into sculpting a genuine new classic.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Contragenesis' production is perhaps the best thing about it, with these caustic, crushing flows of riffing fuzz that cascade across a number of low end, tremolo picked harmonies that are so fat sounding I can barely comprehend how they manage to fit them over the dextrous drumming without the amps exploding. Loads of low end grooves round out the pacing, and just about every time they set up some bristling new progression they manage to mold the listener's imagination back to excitement with some sort of endtimes aural dopamine drug that constantly refreshes you, no matter how tired you might be of hearing the subterranean death metal craze of the new 'teens. Vocals capture all that cavernous resonance of a Craig Pillard or Ross Doland, and while that's probably not the sickest or most distinctive of styles so many years after the originals were first spawned forth, they do such a good job mixing these to the guitars and drums that it they sound fucking monolithic. The bass does tend to blend too much into the rhythm tracks, and the frilly little leads peppered sporadically among the compositions could be a little louder and in the face, but otherwise Contragenesis is one of the best sounding throwback death metal gems in my entire collection...
Now, this is not a 'riff' band. They have a hundred of the things, but they're not individually impressive or varied enough to really make it an album where you'd pick out particular songs to throw on a mix for your new girlfriend. No, Ignivomous once again demands that you sit there and take each molten spray in the face, endless gushing 'gasms of melted matter; but for what it's worth, there is certainly a level of complexity and nuance with what they do...these are busier patterns than your normal cave evil, and the constant threat of leads or end-phrase embellishments keep it interesting. Contragenesis might have lacked some of the surprise and malevolence of its predecessor, but it very nearly compensates in that it's a tighter effort with a meatier tone that sounds ridiculously morbid and voluptuous bursting out the speakers. I'm not sure how long their style will last without some tweaking and progression between releases (there is a little here from the first), but in the meantime this is just a corpulent libation to both Finnish ghoulishness and the darker, more impenetrable side of 90s NYDM which should not be ignored by anyone who revels in such claustrophobic, evil flatulence from below the Earth's crust.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (inimical to existence)
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Blood and Mercury is more or less a 'perfect' collection of the band's pre-full length recordings, perfect in that it spares a lazy arse like myself from having to track them down individually. The Path of Attrition demo (2007), Eroded Void of Salvation EP (2008) and a split track they did with Tzun Tzu are gathered up and presented in chronological order, then topped off with a previously unheard cut called "Corpse of the Redeemer". Nothing unexpected, but low end, grinding death metal with a fibrous, diseased tone to those rhythm guitars which possess an unerring level of anger redolent of war metal bands like Blasphemy, only affixed with the Craig Pillard-like guttural vocals and primal aesthetics more prevalent on the first few Incantation albums. There's a natural dissonance incurred through the tuning and tone alone, but it's not as if the Australians are playing a slew of unusual riffs here, this is all rather straightforward from the blasted side to the more sparing, death/doom passages. Bass lines are engraved into the riff progressions, but there is still a 'hovering' din of the low end over the ripping flesh guitars, while the drums are feisty and energetic but not so polished or soulless as you'd find on a modern tech death recording.
If I were to gauge the quality of songwriting here to that of the debut or its successor, then Blood and Mercury does represent the weakest in their career. There isn't a lot of natural malevolence here, nor are the patterns much more than acceptable for the genre, trying perhaps a little too hard to pass on production alone. Not that I expect a sense of melody when listening through death metal of this style, but sometimes the guitars are too muddied and sporadic sounding to really consider the axis of notation upon which they trudge, so there's a lot of sameness and running on here precluded only by minor production shifts between the releases that make up the comp. I actually found that they progressed in quality, with the tumultous closer offering the more compelling structure with that noisy feedback and distant whispered chanting that arrive in the bridge segue. Death Transmutation wasn't wildly varied, but it was stronger overall, with riffing components that translated into evil signals in my brave and just felt oppressive and so, so ugly. This is ultimately one for the collectors, not as an introduction, but at least they ensured that it was an 'all-in-one' deal and you wouldn't have to further track down a bunch of obscure cuts.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (your flock of wretchedness)
Friday, April 18, 2014
No, riff for riff, this is not the equal of either of its predecessors, nor does it start off particularly promising with "Swoop of the Falcon", but there is enough meat on its bones that retro death metal pundits the world over should find some common ground being tread. Van Drunen's vocals have lost nothing with age, but I would not say that his performance here is among his more memorable...that award still belongs to his old Pestilence material, on which he pretty much created every pattern he'd later re-arrange. I am surprised that his voice has held up this long, he's got such a bloodiness in there which seems like it would have cracked a million times over in 30 years, yet the ugliness persists, the desperation and hostility which is almost like Lemmy Kilminster gargling gunpowder while chomping on an unlit cigar...always about to explode! Rhythm guitars maintain that corpulent fleshiness of the other albums, only a few tunes like "To the Last Breath of Man and Beast" contained groove riffs so unfuckably exhausted that part of The Rommel Chronicles feels more like an obligation than an advancement further along enemy lines...
Many of those grooves unfortunately also remind me of stuff you'd hear on an average Six Feet Under disc, not that it's such a bad thing with Van Drunen taking the helm in place of Barnes, but stuff like "DAK" could have used an added sheen of atmosphere or complexity to help raise the roof. Like a lot of acts these years, Hail of Bullets seem to be increasingly relying on the momentum of their production values alone to mask rehashed ideas, and if that's going to be the case they might have just ended with the excellent sophomore album. On the other hand, lyrically I found this fascinating, since Rommel is one of my favorite historical military figures and perhaps the most competent of the Axis strategists, and when listened to in one lump sum in my car, the disc fucking crushed me on a number of occasions that I still consider it a solid success, even though it really lacks the surprise value of the others, and the riffs are a few tiers lesser in quality. It'd be nice now for the Dutchmen to take leave for awhile, come up with some new ideas and perhaps even attempt to dial up the complexity of what they write rather than just do the same shit time in and time out, which is also symptomatic of Asphyx. Just because you can write the same, progressively redundant riffs and stay 'loyal' to a sound does not mean that you should pursue the course indefinitely...Rommel is strong, but like the figure himself, not invincible.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (on to the next duel)
Thursday, April 17, 2014
The End Upon Us is a great looking EP, with cover artwork that does well to visually ascribe to its musical aesthetics, which are unapologetic in their primacy. Stripped down. Base. Smeared in offal and viscera. Like the unearthing of some dirt tomb where plagued paupers were recently buried alive. You can never quite shake the stench of this from your ears after listening, with voluptuous and bruising bass lines and soiled, smearing chords and tremolo guitars which don't evoke a lot of variation or melody throughout their evocation. The drums seem peppier and able to offer a contrast to the dinginess of the strings, with enough reverb on the fills to lend some atmosphere to the muddy script. Chord progressions are exceedingly primitive and unfortunately don't arrive at any creative ideas; I'm getting to the point where I'm well beyond loving this stuff just because of its purism alone, and when they concede into even more simplistic doom death grooves, it feels agonizingly retread and dull.
A shame, because I'd be much more compelled if they used this same, impenetrable production and then wrote some resonant licks or leads into it which could cultivate the feel of alien, obscure death metal so missing from many of its nostalgia-addicted champions. Infernal Curse has been at this awhile, but apart from the fact they promulgate an even more deformed visage to the music than some of their better known peers, there's just not a lot here that I felt myself wanting to return to. Again, The End Upon Us has that initial, visual stimulation where the artwork and musical goals seem aligned, but then there is no surprise awaiting you behind each leaning structure, each withered limb, each whorl of blackened miasma sucking on the soul stuff of the intended victims. Even the Hadez cover doesn't sound much different apart from the possible chord placement, and while I've heard much worse, the EP ultimately dissolves amidst the blurred, swelled ranks of its fellow retrogressors.
Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
In all fairness, it really is. Namely, the production has hit another plateau, with the crisp and forceful tremolo picked guitars hitting their stride in most of the band's most involved and ear-sticking melodies to date, while the synthesizers embedded into the atmosphere are mixed with more of an airy grace, using a lot of similar pad/organ sounds as on the earlier material, but seemingly more nocturnal and scintillating. Grief's flaw was never the band's actual musicianship, and they further exemplify their grasp of technique with a firm balance of faster paced, blistering note progressions that erupt into convulsive, percussive palm muted patterns and leads imbued with an exotic Eastern mystique. It All Turns to Ashes might not be stuffed to the fiery gills with solo work, but I like how these guitars are slathered and squealing over the meatier rhythms with a more defiant rock & roll attitude, and yet never steer the listener's attention away from the feisty, brutal momentum of pieces like the mighty "Warstorms" or the title track itself, amongst a suitably varied lineup.
Of course, when you break down the riffs further, the patterns seem like a standard admixture of the lines populating the busier tunes of Cradle of Filth, Marduk, Lord Belial or Dark Funeral around the dawn of the millennium, played firmly and with precision but never truly imaginative or compelling to develop an identity. This dearth of nuance extends to Johnny Letho's vocal rasp, which is likewise pretty commonplace among the Swedish legions, and lacking the more sinister decree of black metal frontmen who leave you with an unmistakable impression that they've been damned below the surface world. In fact, It All Turns to Ashes is really all surface stuff; speed and flash and little depth of malevolence. Just because consecrated ground is set ablaze here, doesn't mean I think these guys have much of a concern for the subject matter beyond the fact that it fits their musical objectives. This is without question their most accomplished effort, likely to sate those who retain an investment in fast, clean, proficient Scandinavian black metal, and the one to check out before any others if you're new to them, but that doesn't preclude the interested party from checking out of their catalog once these particular altars are cinders and the priest have been run off.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
The Swedes always suffered from the fact that, despite their general level of competence and proficiency, they were essentially a retread of many other bands who released music like this when it was freshly infernal and resonant, albums that still spin in the regular rotations of a million extreme metal fans to this day. So if The Devils Deep would have already seemed generic by late 90s standards, what does that make it by the Anno 2011? Clearly there has been no popular retrogression back towards this style. A few other Swedish bands like Watain had championed the more Dissection/Dark Funeral-esque style to some degree of notoriety (more through their inconsistent and confrontational personalities than some of their music), but the genre as a whole had moved on to other territories...depressive black metal, 'blackgaze', or folksy, veiled Nationalism. A disc sounding like The Devils Deep was never in high demand, and yet, there are certain nuances to the material here which allow it to surpass all the older albums through Listenable.
The sound is tighter and sharper than any since arguably their debut, with a lot of those razor-snake riffs and melodies compounded into punishing fruition with another tireless battery of blasted and slower contrasts. I felt like the lead-work in particular here was the best they'd yet recorded, parting a veil to reveal another level of malignancy in composition, and the decision to toss on a few soaring, cleaner vocals is also managed rather well. The level of structural variation here also reached a new peak, though there was still a tendency to lapse into derivative and predictable riffs during blasted sequences which almost make everything else more compelling by association. However, there are at least a dozen sweet riffs in among the lattice of the forgotten, whereas the keyboards have more compunction and resilience. When Grief of Emerald fire on all cylinders here, they can at least stay in the race with much of their competition, and though three of the seven tunes are mere re-recordings from the first two albums, these versions are very much superior. Not a good album itself, perhaps, but The Devils Deep is adequately seasoned enough to taunt that the Swedes were capable of writing one.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (there the blood of the ancient boils)