Friday, September 19, 2014
Synopsis: raw, fuzzed out guitars playing with a mixture of involved, folk inflected Euro melodies and more Eastern-themed embellishments, dowsed in the gnarled rasp we so often associate within the raw black metal medium (in particular I was getting Nocturno Culto vibes, but bloodier in many spots, maybe a little Famine too). Tunes are kept rather tight at about 5 minutes, rather than running off the tracks entirely, and they're varied up with breaks in the percussion over which the band spouts a more atmospheric mesh of dirty to clean vocals. The bass lines aren't the most corrosive, but they are voluminous, constantly ascending, descending and generally strutting their stuff interestingly enough that I'd probably enjoy hearing them without any of the other instruments involved; though they contrast wonderfully with the hustle of the guitars. The drums are peppy, loose, and with a lot of clank and crash at precisely the right moments where they would heighten their impact. Riffs are like this mesmerizing labyrinth of scales and melodies, but occasionally they'll bust out an old school, tinny blasted sequence where they fragment off into the dissonance and dark drama of the parent genre (as in "Crux"). The performance is quality all around, and simply more interesting than the lions share of their peers who have stuck to the same predictable patterns circa Norway and Sweden in the mid 90s.
If I were to go out on a limb I'd brand this a combination of 21st century Darkthrone with the first few albums by the Lord Weird Slough Feg, and yes, this is as fantastic as that sounds. A lot of charisma being distributed over only about 17 minutes of music, yet structurally consistent to the extent that I couldn't choose one track over the other as a favorite. The riffing feels inventive simply by nature of its volition to shuck the trends that might otherwise confine it; not that they're coming up with their own scales or theory but just entertaining the idea of something , with almost all the atmosphere created in the various guitar effects that crop up, plus that fundamental contrast of filth and eloquence concocted through the selected rhythm tone and stylish execution. These two Englishmen have themselves a wonderful sound here that I can only hope they take even further...the duration of the recording provides possibly its only restrictions, because you definitely feel like if they opened this all up another 30 minutes you'd be getting an even broader palette of tempo and experimentation, possibly even with more exotic instruments. Anyway, this is easily recommended to fans of Peste Noire, Lugubrum, or really any of the bands I've mentioned in the first 'graph.
Verdict: Win [8.75/10]
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Vocals are the standout, sharpening Brian Johnson's raving into a vorpal edge by tempering them with traces of Rob Halford's screaming capacity, Udo's air raid belligerence and then painted over with a thin sheen of Ronny James Dio's higher inflection and lyrical meter. I never get tired of these singers who understand that it takes more than a crystalline range to deliver an ass whooping...the personality is instantly realized, the EDGE; even if it's nothing new, and you don't feel distanced from any sense of highbrow attitude...this guy's voice is perfectly fit for the scrapyard, the assembly line so many of us slave away in until our shift's over and we can get a beer. The tunes are divided pretty evenly between savage Teutonic semi-power metal Dio/Priest/Accept ragers like "Hawk Eyes" and the title track, mid paced melodic NWOBHM stuff like "Riding High" which wouldn't have been out of place for a Praying Mantis, Saxon or Def Leppard, and then some bluesier, rock tapping infused pieces like "Tornado" which hearken more directly back to AC/DC but endow it with drooping balls of iron. There isn't a single tune on the whole album that doesn't feature some prominent, catchy hook, even when they feel like they've been partially lifted from obvious classics like "Balls to the Wall", "Dirty Deeds", "Breaking the Law", and so forth.
Production is punchy but appropriate, with guitars in perfect syncopation, but Dag Hell Hofer's throat is just so raw and ugly in nature that it helps contrast the instruments to they never feel too polished. But I'd probably compare the mix most to a band like Saxon during their later 80s-90s period. I did find the bass lines to often lack much of interest, where they clearly could have walked along beneath such a simple riffing palette with some catchy grooves, and the drums obviously aren't meant to create an earthquake, they are mostly just the standard hard rock full court press with solid fills and never any attempt to congest the spaces between those chords. In fact, the whole rhythm section is so taut and compacted that it actually highlights the vocals and blazing, Scorpions-like lead guitars even further than they might have been with a more raw and ripping tone, or more splashy use of cymbals.
Really, though, this is all about the 'spirit' of the medium, which the Swedes do absolutely nothing to mock or belittle, something shit 'comedy' acts like Steel Panther could take a lesson or two from. Heavy metal is not a fucking joke for some of us, not just a convenient stereotype we use to distance ourselves from the rest of civilization. And it never was. I find it so refreshing to have outfits like this one and Enforcer and their ilk doing no disservice to the style they celebrate, which for a more jaded audience has long since been trampled on by increasing aggression and disaffection in both lyrical themes and musical timbre/technicality. To an extent, a record like Storm of Blades can never be perfect...it knows that, it knows it is 30+ years late to the party and for much of the world there is just no turning back. Even the band's name is retread from a relatively unknown German act active from about 1978-84. But it proudly flashes the middle finger anyway with a well written, archetypal effort that I just can't imagine anyone couldn't have a good time with this. Simplicity for the sake of craft. I haven't delved heavily into all of their older records but this is certainly the most fun I've had listening to them to date. Even my nine month old smiles and bounces around to this one when it hits the speakers.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Monday, September 15, 2014
But since that point...six years of steady declination, first with Sounds of a Playground Fading, a watered down and 'safer' alternative to A Sense of Purpose (which was already plenty accessible and kid friendly with the Korn-like artwork), and now with Siren Charms, as structured a squamous midlife crisis turd as they've ever escorted out the studio doors, and I'd be hard pressed to think of a past album I enjoyed less...maybe Soundtrack to Your Escape, or Come Clarity, but I'd have to go back and re-listen to them, and after forcing myself through THIS a requisite third time (with alcohol stirred into my coffee), the mood does not strike me to do so. Siren Charms is a record that not only gives credibility to the voices that have been shouting down this band for whatever reason (changes in sound, general visibility and appeal), but compounds their complaints by channeling some of the most shallow, redundant grooves and banal plastic pop-rock oriented songwriting you've ever heard outside fucking Abba (who are exponentially better than this on a bad day). Disclaimer: I have no problem with a band evolving or devolving its sound in whatever direction. If In Flames put out a record that sounded like Seven and the Ragged Tiger, or Thriller, and it was GOOD, then I would be the first on board and let the naysayers choke on my exhaust.
This is not good.
UN-good. You keep waiting for the money shot and it stays softcore, with your eyes affixed on its shaved bottom as it thrusts halfheartedly for the camera crew. Let me slightly abridge that...there are two, possibly three minor 'positives' to the experience. The electronics used throughout the disc, like in the intro to opener "In Plain View", gave me the false impression that the album might explore the sort of retro future synth stuff that I've been heavily into lately, which I admit might be a pretty cool blend with some solid melodeath riffing (bands have done synth stuff in this niche before, but not quite in the way I'm picturing). Where these lines appear, they're sort of cool, but there just aren't enough of them to feel like it's a fully realized idea, they are simply intros or distractions. Secondly, as much as I'm not interested in hearing Anders' whining, cleaner vocals, he has actually succeeded here in smoothing over his pitch and delivery so they don't feel quite so ragged and screamy as they have since Reroute to Remain where he started leaning in this direction. I'm just saying, if N'Flames was truly to become N'Sync, now he just needs the dance moves, because he could get by on his voice with the support of another four boys. Finally, there are a handful (less than a handful) of riff passages on the disc that don't deserve my complete loathing, because they approach A Sense of Purpose levels of memorability at the very least, with that same style of processed nu-thrash.
Otherwise, the album is one for the dogs. The band spends so much time trying to build a strong chorus that they can barely stick one...even on a tune like "Through Oblivion" where it does carry some emotional poignancy but it always feels half-formed, like they were going to induce another melody or twist in there and it just doesn't happen. There is far, far too much fucking restraint on this album, to the extent that I almost found myself pleading for Anders to RETURN to that dirty and whiny voice, only because it felt more passionate. This just feels heavily overdubbed, punched in laconically in-studio and generally scrapped together, whether it's the vocal placement or the riffs, a few of which have nice, gently layered harmonies in a cubicle, corporate pop metal sens. There are some tracks like "With Eyes Wide Open" which are downright embarrassing, like they were trying to write material for a long lost Boston album for the ladies and the lighters. And without exception the groove/nu metal riffing substrate is lamentably bad, without even an inkling of a stylish idea or a pattern of chords that at least makes you want to genuinely shake your ass.
Some will take exception as always to the tidy, mechanized production values, but that is the least of the issues with this disc. The cover artwork: bland. The female guest vocals on "When the World Explodes": ridiculous, making it sound like a throwaway Epica/Nightwish/Within Temptation crossover. Who-cares bass-lines and paint-by-numbers metalcore chug-downs. The lyrics are generally very ambiguous accessible emotional crap like 'In the darkest of nights/you are my endless fire inside' or 'Where I have nothing/there's no hate/room to breathe/no envy and nothing to lose'...a bunch of nonsense that the guy will claim is very 'personal' and 'self-affirmation' oriented but was probably written lazily on a napkin at some restaurant on tour. Song titles are almost unanimously cliches that have been done so many times before (with the exception of "Siren Charms" itself), and at its very best, they've only got tunes on this that are 1/4th of what a good modern In Flames track should incorporate. Even if we ignore the band they used to be, when they were constantly on the upswing career-wise, and pretend they formed up in 2001, there are infinitely better songs on Reroute to Remain or A Sense of Purpose. Even the last full-length was an order of magnitude superior and I struggled to remember many of the specifics 15 minutes of hearing them...
I understand Fridén is probably venting his anger that he's not in Killswitch Engage or Ariana Grande's dance partner or something, but I just can't understand how members like Gelotte and Iwers let themselves be continuously booked a berth on this sinking ship. Are the paychecks really all that fat? Perhaps at the next 'minutes in the meeting of the hiveminds of In Flames' the two of you can just get up and each kick Anders in one of his balls, though I have my doubts they are still in place, and put out a proper fucking metal album again with blazing, inspirational harmonies, savage words and riffs that get the heads banging. This album has no heads banging, in any sense of the phrase... impotent, joyless major label tripe that deserves all the excrement foisted upon it. Despite what I said in the opening paragraph, I'm going to have a hard time justifying any curiosity for what comes next.
Verdict: Fail [2.75/10] (another feeling dies)
Friday, September 12, 2014
One of the grayest albums I've heard in ages, it patterns blackened tropes like raucous, distant rasps, blast and double bass drum sequences and roiling tremolo picked guitars into a landscape of utter misery that finds little redemption through melodic construction. What traces might exist are keyed to a few warmer chord progressions that feel like tints of sunlight penetrating a smoggy haze, and even those are smeared into oblivion by the incursion of bleak, dry passages where simple chords ring out through the emptiness, a suffering background cry will erupt or some other element woven into the record's pervasive sense of hopelessness and isolation. Riffs are never even remotely complex or individual, used entirely as means to a painful end and not inspirational in of themselves. Nothing you'd pick out of a lineup, but effective in the context Khrud intends here. The real highlight for me were the purely sweltering ambient segments, often occupying entire tracks, and occasionally affixed with a minimalistic industrial pulse ("Intuneric") which satisfactorily supports the haunting, sewer like resonance of the protracted growls, chords or other instruments of torture used to function as an unsettling, cinematic aesthetic.
Again, it's pretty simple stuff, and just as much a low budget horror score as a distinctly 'black metal' experience, so it's not one to invest in with the expectations that you'll be able to trace it directly to the usual Scandinavian suspects. In fact it almost feels like he's mashing up bleaker ambient death and black alloy as a sample set which he can channel through something like a minimalistic early Godflesh, only without the big grooves and charismatic grunts that crafted their legend. To some the effect will be none other than that of staring repeatedly at a decaying wall, one whose entropy is overt rather than subtle, lacking in the nuances of rare lichens or curious cracks leading to secrets beneath the surface. But I think that was rather the point of Blestem, an anathema to the guitar-fed strength of its parent genre, in that it just dumbs down everything into that barren atmosphere of the psyche which responds to the same cold corridors, concrete infrastructures and vapid repetition of the urban waste surrounding us. Sufferscapes. Graystuff. Brooding, meandering grime. With those all too rare glimpses of something greater...a cathedral...a monument...which quickens the heart just in time to flatten it once more into a sulfurous paste.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The atmospherics are still fully intact, mind you, with those roiling layers of rhythm guitar suspended just beneath the haunting synthesizers, but there is a definite sense of 'shit kicking' here that makes you wanna strap on the combat boots and pirouette straight into a delicious d-beating. Somewhere in there you've got the Swedish guitar tone embedded in the songwriting, but like other killer bands (Corrosive Carcass, Repugnant, etc) it just doesn't take center stage to the point that they ever feel like some mere copy of Left Hand Path or Dismember. There's also a Finnish influence circa bands like Convulse and Purtenance, only the first tune is a little more uptempo, and the last, "Torpid Blight of the Spirit" centers on these fiery chugging passages with loads of airy atmospheric embellishments sounding off in the distance, multi-tracked growls and snarls and just this massive nature to it which has kept me listening repeatedly. The sound effects are great, the lyrics awesome, the eerie distortion on the guitars when they're shifting into a more cautious, soundtrack-like perspective, and some really sweet drum fills to help the music feel lively and organic even though it is clearly very much fucking dead.
The only complaint I have for this is that it's so freaking short that I felt slightly unfulfilled, craving a sophomore full-length almost instantly after the first time I ran through the two and a half tunes on the 7". 12 minutes of morbid escape is sometimes just not enough, but if they can put out something of this quality while keeping in mind the variety hinted at on these songs, I feel like the proper follow up to Hallucinating will trump it without much difficulty. In the meantime, if you can find this 7" I'd advice you check it out. As jaded as I've become with the whole death metal throwback scene, with diehard blowhards lauding every single recording in the field regardless of how derivative and/or mediocre it really is, there are still a dozen or so acts in it that are churning out that beautiful festering flesh that has devoured me since the late 80s, and Binah I count proudly among them.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (idle is the nature of fallen man)
Monday, September 8, 2014
Let me clarify that, since that term might not mean the same to myself as other folks. This is not the soothing, pop-glossed sort of catchy, but droning, oddly ebullient passages of rhythm guitars that ingrain themselves into your conscience, dowsing it in their alien landscape while Kalmbach's bass lines seem to develop themselves along busy, industrious, factory floor lines, and his grainy vocal ravings remain rooted in the black metal tradition he has gone Kafka on, peaking with the passionate howls of "Worms rob the honeycomb..." near the close of "The Grey King" (and the disc). There are other traces of that lineage here, in the form of a few hyper-blasted passages in which the rhythm guitars transform into halos of whirring hornets, but Ressentiment works its best where it remains at a moderate or slower pace, with the jangling guitars or simultaneously driving/laconic chords who seep through that strange microtonal tuning. For instance, he transforms the opener from a surge of disheveled higher pitched warp-riffing to a slower roil accented by these incredibly effective cleaner guitar lines, the whole process sounding like one tragic mistake that turns out...isn't. It's that sense of constant collision between the listener's expectations and the direction he's steering his chord and note progressions which keeps the material constantly fresh and engaging, even if it never hinges upon the consonant comfort zone most rock and metal music dwells within. It's 'art metal', but in a finer sense than just splashes of colorful paint...
Jute Gyte is more like the work of a forgotten master, hanging in the corner of the gallery where most with only a superficial interest in the museum can just ignore it. Sort of like the classics he mines to represent the face of the music. You might also think of this as an Erich Zann transcribed into our shared, non-fictional universe (I know, that's a bold assumption on my part). Every few months, Kalmbach revisits that otherworldly muse which guides him, and commits visions of the unknown and obscured straight to the earspace of those daring enough to loiter about the Rue d'Auseil and experience it. On a base level, Ressentiment is resplendent ugliness set to gnarled, visually stimulating poetry, but the twisted mind can invert it right side up to something of both abstract melancholy and fractured beauty, reactions constantly being generated for me throughout the six tracks and 56 minutes of unhinged escape. Does it go 'off the rails'? Sometimes. Was Jute Gyte ever ON the rails? Oh, no. Ressentiment will prove no surprise to those who have come across and appreciated his previous output, but it retains the project's irreverent relevance in a sea of sameness. This album isn't going to convert the crabcore elite or anyone who drowns his/her blue collar sadness in an Alestorm record, but Jute Gyte remains one of our most creative and challenging American black metal extracts.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (silent hammers of decay)
Friday, September 5, 2014
This might not be their best material yet, but it's for sure their most interesting, as they've dialed up those aforementioned Eastern folk influences to include not only a slew of well-executed chants and mantras to back up the predictably guttural barking, but also for some pretty amazing arrangements of cleaner, acrobatic strings as in the intro to "Blessing Mantra". This stuff flow seamlessly into and out of their surgical percussion and riffing progression palette, which essentially scours the annals of bands like Deicide and mid 90s Morbid Angel and then gives them a more clinical spin with these excellent, pinpoint harmonies across the two rhythm guitars. The punctuation of each pattern and fluidity of performance is easily the equal of any on the Polish scene (similar to Hate but much better on average), and yet I also feel like they could have an enormous appeal to fans of the current Californian craze, where a lot of bands have this same balance of technicality and memorable composition. But that exotic mysticism and Middle Eastern ethnic charisma in many of the arching riffs and gorgeous leads also leads me to believe they serve as a proxy for Nile with a lot less of the hit-or-miss turbulence and occasionally blander guitar work that band exudes in its quest to be the darkest and fastest band to ever hail from the East US.
The eight new originals here are simply stunning, busy and compelling. While I can't cite that the licks they rupture are wholly original, the way they position particular rhythm structures comes across like they are at least trying to be, and Fading Reliefs hits that 'special place' between retro obsession and modernity that I like to dub 'real death metal', although to these Poles, nostalgia dwells more in the influence of works like Legion or Covenant than Scream Bloody Gore and Left Hand Path. Once again, I am bludgeoned by the realization that Calm Hatchery is such an unknown, but equipped to write and perform at this level, and have painfully few complaints here. The bass could be a little louder, but it's good anyway; and I didn't care much for the one track that was included twice (the second version in Polish), since it sort of sours the momentum of the album (but it's just meant as a tacked on bonus for their local fans anyway, so no real harm). Anyway, fucking awesome record, with excellent drumming, excellent guitars, and enough depth to cycle through a half dozen spins without anything blending together to the point that you'd become exhausted on it. Buy this, buy everything they've done, and let's get some of these deserving stalwarts of the dead a little more spotlight...even if it would be difficult to make out in the blinding desert sun which inspires them.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Essentially I ask the reader to imagine he or she is listening to a black metal act from the far side of some castle wall or other interposing object, while ambient passages fill in the whorls of wind or other natural embellishments. Only instead of the typical rasp vocal, some decrepit and twisted preacher is addressing a pestilence audience along to the robotic presence of a steady blast beat. You can make out subdued tones of instruments like organs being woven into the harsher tunes, while there are others like "III" which are purely roils of dark ambient textures whose effects lurk entirely in the dark, shadowed corners of the listeners' psyche. Bass lines are audible, and they do often burst into more morbid, evil sounding choirs of vocals more characteristic of the black metal genre, but in terms of structure, De Mysteriis dom Christii is written with the sole purpose of presenting an unbroken nightmare, an antithesis to the normal rock band practices of having the instruments front and foremost and letting the 'riffs' do the speaking. If anything, you could view this as 'riffless' black metal...the patterns are there, sure, but entirely buried by the choirs, synthesizers, and vile chants.
As such, it will not be for everyone...not that it's a complete deconstruction of the form but it relies far more on some of the accoutrements of the medium rather than that core instrumentation. That could be a point against it if it weren't so fucking unnerving and effective as this unwholesome screed, but here's the REAL rub...supposedly these guys became 'Roman Catholic Black Metal' a few years back, so it's entirely possible that this record is the most disgustingly wicked incursion of 'unblack' you have ever heard. But probably not fit for a Sunday Dinner with Auntie Grace. We're a long way from Stryper and Mortification here, folks, but regardless whether or not Jesus has now outfoxed the Serpent, De Mysteriis Dom Christii is a compelling experience for its masochistic, projected audience, a disc which ingests all the darkest colors of the spectrum and regurgitates them like a sermon from a crumbling cathedral sinking into a mire of utter darkness and despair. And remember this: I warned you.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Monday, September 1, 2014
Tehôm simplistic, meandering riffs are the key to the experience, never bordering on technical or complex but wonderfully layered into these resilient, shining patterns of malevolence which always hover upon the precipice of suicide and dark humanism. Tunes like "Torches" fulfill the steady rock of the drum beats with these deliciously evil fills, while octave chords occasionally slide about the atmosphere to create a more melodic immersion than one would expect from staring at the stoic, beheaded statues on the cover. Some tracks like "Disobedience" are even sparser and more purely mood-driven than others, and these are where the man's massive, sustained growl fills in the void with its own brand of misery, echoing alongside the peals of feedback and stolid grooves of the bass guitar. "Tzel Maveth" is another beautiful track, one of several which lends this strange aesthetic of a post-industrial nature to the album which occasionally reminds me of band's like Treponem Pal or experimental thrash records like Kreator's Renewal or Coroner's Grin, only if they were wrapped tightly in the opaque cloak of black & roll circa Satyricon's 21st century output and crowned by Tehôm's gnarled, significant roar.
Grape of the Vine is not an immediate album with racy riff patterns and glossy textures scrapping over cheap melodic hooks, but neither is it dissonant to the level of unapproachable. It settles on the listener's shoulders like a fine, black dust of disease, steadily suffocating and offering no real avenue of escape once you've felt its lightless lure. Bass lines could be a little more adventurous, and in truth the rhythm guitar riffs don't stick 100% of the time, since a lot carry the burden of familiarity across 25 years of the genre, but on the other hand, if you're approaching the Mortuus sophomore with the right frame of mind, it WILL absorb you. Snuff out the candles, swaddle you in sulfur-tinted robes and then guide you on a sojourn through some dark places for 50 minutes, well beyond and below the warmth of the hearth-fire, the sputters and exhalations of civilization, in the cold crypts of the unliving. A very well made record.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Friday, August 29, 2014
Organs, acoustic guitars and ethnic ambient sequences all tie into the album's conceptual matter, which I believe relates to Aztec mythology and the God of the Dead. And that's yet another reason this sophomore record is so compelling...which that subject has been broached before by a number of black or death metal bands, who would think it might hail from Germany and in this freaking style (though I believe Lopez might originally be Mexican)? That said, the metal components here are far more uniform. Corpulent bass lines ala the mid to late period Type O Negative, melancholic rhythm guitar chords somewhere between My Dying Bride and the even more funereal sect of the doom metal culture, with loads of organs and other keys which play into that aesthetic even further. But they'll deviate...like the sludgy distorted deep end that sets up "Fire Wings" or the dark ritual ambient piece "Heaven's Blind" with its creepy, repetitious mantra and horrific sound effects. Drums are typically sparse tribal percussion but pick up into solid rock beats once the guitars start slowly pounding out their dismay, and the production on the whole disc is just so loud and involving that you can't help but be swept up into this strange nightmare of opaque, slothlike aggression and anachronistic instrumentation.
To make it even more bizarre, they cover Tanita Tikaram's "Twist in My Sobriety", a tune that was a little more popular in the late 80s in Germany than here in the States. They do a good job of taking the track and personalizing it, like it was being filtered through a funeral procession, with the slow and suffering guitars and organs obfuscating the original's pop qualities, and Lopez crooning in that oh-so-deep voice circa Peter Steele, Fernando Ribeiro or Johan Edlund at their most bleak. It does hemorrhage some of the memorability of the original, but it's an eclectic choice all the same. And that's really the most distinct feature of The Coming of Mictlan. It's influences are hardly hidden among its turgid lamentations, and there are moments where I definitely drifted off to memories of some of the other acts I've listed through the review, but the way they assemble all of this into the one vision is just not something one hears every day. I do wish the guitars were a little catchier, or at the least more evil sounding, since these chord progressions often seem a little bland when beholden to the ambition of the band's concepts and how they mesh together these disparate styles into one. But the production and the unusual aesthetics win out in the end, making this worthy of attention for those seeking some Gothic doom out on the fringe.
Verdict: Win [7/10]