Thursday, July 20, 2017

Natrium - Vertigo of Abjection (2017)

This is only my first exposure to Italy's Natrium, but they strike me as the sort of medium weight brutal death which more accurately reflects where the sub-genre was headed in the late 90s or earlier 21st century, rather than where it's all ended up now with its clinical wank fests, mechanical deathcore breakdowns, etc. To be more specific, I was feeling some heavy influence from Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse, almost a median between Pierced from Within and Gore Obsessed, with a lot of faster barrages reminiscent of the heavier Floridian hitters, and an exercise in technicality that never sounds like it's simply being flashy or overly indulgent, just a group of guys that know how to play, know how to play hard, and will show you their chops when the writing warrants it.

Don't get me wrong, you can tell by the frenetic picking patterns implicit in tracks like "Vertigo of Abjection" itself that they're capable of some complexity, and they definitely have a lot of stop/start elements and clamorous riffing and percussion patterns that slightly break the formula of their influences, but you're not going to find cheap knuckle-dragging chug-offs, flamboyant and empty arpeggios flitting everywhere, or any cheap tricks whatsoever...this record is about as straightforward a beating as you're like to receive in its style, all punishment going straight through the punctuality and punch of the palm muted guitars, the truly intense dexterity of the drummer, and the deep and functional growls which reminds me quite a lot of Corpsegrinder's lower grunts in how he spits out syllables, as well as Frank Mullen's guttural depth and breadth. Bass is present at some moments more than others, especially when they go for a poppier, funky tone that stands out the most. I also noticed a little more of an interesting dissonance in the rhythm guitars than usual, not so much that it's in the majority of riffs, but enough to keep it a fraction more compelling.

The drawbacks here are few. Sometimes the vocals get monotonous. The riffs, while choppy, busy and varied enough across the eight tracks to keep you from getting bored, are rarely the sort that feel truly evil or threatening, more just a hyperactive, muscular flexing. The only atmosphere here is that of repeatedly taking a piledriver to your cranium, so you're dependent heavily on the tempos at which the guitars are pummeling along, or the busywork behind the kit which almost had my head spinning off, or the sample of Ripley from Alien Resurrection, which you'll find nestled deep at the end of "Inhuman Commodification". It's a truly blue collar, practical sort of brutal death which might lack some of the spastic, relentless, noodling ambition of a Brain Drill, or the jazzy cosmic escapism of a Decrepit Birth, but should pass muster if you've got a lot of fondness for bands like Severe Torture, Gorgasm, Deeds of Flesh, Prostitute Disfigurement, Horde Casket, and so on. Effective if not exemplary, Vertigo could certainly have gained from more leads or dissonant, higher pitched guitars, and some other means to create a creepier atmosphere, with more surprises waiting in ambush, but it's competent enough in terms of sheer concussive capacity.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Vietah - Czornaja ćviĺ (2015)

I've really dug the rural minimalism used on the Vietah covers, and this one, Czornaja ćviĺ ("Black Mold"), might be the strongest of all, with its central figure disintegrating into the titular substance between the graying sky and bleak vegetation surrounding it. I think it truly captures the earnest sadness on exhibition throughout the music, and provides a window into proper melancholic escapism, which is precisely why I turn towards a record like this. It's a little hard to make such a dreary appearance appealing, but I feel this is a case where that works well. As for the rest of the album, it doesn't quite deviate much from its predecessor, but does so with a few key ingredients that actually worked out in its favor.

The structure here is laid out a lot like the previous album, with four lengthy tracks, immediately throwing up the red flags that it's going to be an uphill battle to succeed. The sound is a fairly stock atmospheric black metal, with slower, drawn own chord patterns that speak more of fell majesty and lost longing than they hell and viciousness and savagery, and this has been a hallmark of Vietah for years. Black metal for wanderers. Hermits. Erudites. You don't come here for 666 posturing and photo bombing horns over your friends' heads on social media...this is for psychic sponges that soak up the decay around them and channel it into diabolic grandeur. Antarctis takes his damn time with you and draws you slowly into each invocation, and this time out he does so with a rawer sheen on the guitars than the clarity of the last, an improvement that I acknowledge, even though I wouldn't say that the actual riff quality is far above its predecessor. It's simply a more potent, primeval feel here without sacrificing the other instruments.

Speaking of which, there are more light flourishes of keys here than on the third record, and in mid 90s Burzum way, or Lifelover on Konkurs; they help to add a strange sense of grace to the slogging epic-Bathory pace of the 10+ minute cuts. In fact, Czornaja ćviĺ attains a lot more atmosphere all around. The drums splash a little harder, which fits this rhythm guitar tone better, and the whole mix seems more resonant and resilient, like its crashing off the sides of valleys and peaks before arriving in your ears. The snarled vocals, although still very sparse and minimal, also seem more fluid with their surroundings. The record does have a tendency to focus on very slow, churning, roiling riff patterns, with some of the higher strings struck for ambiance over the chords, and also a little more of that primeval Hellhammer of their older material returns with some of the straight chugged sections. Overall, though, I think it rewards this patience more than on Tajemstvy noczy. Not enough to really justify the longer compositions, but we at least end up with a slightly superior, solid and dependable experience through the murk and fog and depression.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Friday, July 14, 2017

Vietah - Tajemstvy Noczy (2014)

Tajemstvy noczy ('Sacraments of Night') is the third Vietah full-length seeing a vinyl reissue through I Hate records of Sweden, and it continues the Belarusian's solidification into a professional and consistent one-man black metal force, without adding any sort of dramatic mutations or progressions to the style he honed over the earlier albums. Surely, this is the crispest, cleanest of recordings he had released to its point, with a great rhythm guitar mix, audible if subversive bass lines that cling loyally to the procession of chords, and a more subtle but effective use of drums which don't seek to supplant the melodies with brutality, but to remain a driving background element to support them, thus allowing for a more hypnotic, rustic sense to the repetition rather than a thundering blast furnace you expect out of a lot of traditional North European black metal.

Vietah is no stranger to longer tracks, with a handful populating the previous releases, but for this record it's the rule and not the exception...four tunes, 41 minutes, each ranging from 9-12 minutes individually. Now, I've gone over this many times before, that bloating up a song structure is by no means any sort of guarantee for success, and I'll say up front that Tajemstvy noczy suffers a little from this, since the riff composition isn't always so fresh or inventive that it sticks to you, and there are not nearly enough dynamics happening within the bounds of each of these behemoths, nor any sort of meandering randomness, epic ascension/descension, or any other distraction. They remain all too consistent in pacing and in being purely riff-driven works that exist on a dry, level plane, without creating a lot of tension or emotional impact. That's not to say they're all scrap-worthy, since a lot of the guitar patterns are of the caliber you might have expected on an earlier 21st century Satyricon disc, but there's no real escalation here, or any surprise lurking anywhere.

But that's not in itself a massive flaw, since there are points where the album really does work, in particular the closer "Kałyhanka dlja njabožczyka", which is no more complex than the other tunes, but has a much warmer, more addictive flavor to the melodies that most effectively captured the melancholic intentions of the material, and didn't seem to have any sort of lull in my enjoyment. I do feel that Antarctis could work a little more on the range and rasp of his vocals, here they are sparse and workmanlike, not unlike Satyr but less venomous or vibrant; but the songs might be better suited to a protracted sort of scream, or echoed effects that create a greater sense of urgency, suffering or poignancy. As it stands, everything is a little safe and dependable, and that's ultimately the reason I didn't feel like this one was as cold and affecting as its predecessor Smalisty žah. Still, it's a solid effort, and if Vietah can dial up its atmosphere, take a whetstone to its guitar lines, and maintain this level of production, then the next level could really be attained.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Darkthrone - The Wind of 666 Black Hearts (2016)

Do you long for those old tapes of yourself jamming in the garage or basement and laying it all down with a cassette or perhaps even a poorly-implemented 4-track recorder? Are you such a purist that only the rehearsals will do, that every band has officially sold out after its first demo or album? Do you like to hear the roots of black metal with none of the frills, none of the polish, none of the studio wizardry it took to pull off some of the genre's most successful records? The Wind of 666 Black Hearts has a lot of this in mind, and Peaceville Records is banking that enough of you will find at least a collector's item out of these Darkthrone rehearsals over two 12" records, priced reasonably enough as far as these bound-to-be collectibles are vomited out onto the market.

This is the majority of A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Under a Funeral Moon, or at least 10 of their 14 tracks, but in a cruder rehearsal form that lacks some of the frostbitten force you will have come to know from the studio incarnations. Raw, Hellhammer-spawned guitar lines moving at a moderate clip, back when that was their thing, back when they had switched out of death metal mode into a style that was quite new and fresh for the time, the same style that they would become royalty for over the ensuing decades. The guitars lack some of the coldness of the LPs, and the drums are even more tinny and crashy and amateurish, the vocals a paint-peeling rasp that appear less than you'll expect them to. Leads are an unwholesome mess. I did like that you could hear the bass, it gives the jamming a nice low end anchor and some contrast with the rawer rhythm tones, but on the whole I'd say that, at much as I love these songs on the albums, they seem a little less potent and atmospheric in this format, and I say that even as someone who is constantly dragging out such old demos and gladly ignoring their flaws in the name of nostalgia.

Only collectors and purists need apply here, especially if you want to hear the band with the lineup that included Dag and Zephyrous. This isn't just some dumpy compilation of pre-released album tracks being plucked at random and sold back to you, I'll grant it that, so there is some nostalgia in that it shows the band in the buff, at its most 'vulnerable' if these corpse-painted Scandinavian deviants could give a fuck about vulnerability. That said, I can think of no honest reason why I'd ever spin this over the 15+ good to great to perfect Darkthrone discs I've already got in my collection, all of which benefit from a better production and atmosphere. This is just such a sincere, raw band to begin with that an even more primal package like The Wind of 666 Black Hearts can't do it much justice, the songs lack that haunting and impressively defiant feel that I experienced when listening to them back in the dawn of the 90s, and it offers little more than history.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

Monday, July 10, 2017

Darkthrone - Burial Bliss/Visual Aggression 7" (2017)

This 7" should prove a tempting little collector's item for those interested in it's B-side in particular, a cover of Celtic Frost's "Visual Aggression" which was recorded with the former Darkthrone members Dag Nilsen and Ivar Enger, before the band was rendered down to the two-piece formation we've so come to know and love. To my knowledge I don't think this has been released on anything before, not as a bonus track on any of the full-lengths, not even on the myriad of compilations, worthless or worthwhile, that the band's labels have ground out through the years. It's paired up here with a mildly rawer take on "Burial Bliss", a track from their latest full-length Arctic Thunder, which I have surprisingly not yet reviewed, though that will be remedied soon.

So I'll cover this in reverse..."Visual Aggression" is a rough track, but far more potent than you'd expect from the era in which it was released, more formidable than your average lost rehearsal track or cutting floor demo, and probably wouldn't have been out of place on their death metal-oriented debut Soulside Journey. Now, it's no secret that Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost were a huge influence upon the Norwegians, both their formative death metal era and A Blaze in the Northern Sky, which could be described as a frostbitten Hellhammer taken to extremes, so to that extent this version of it is played almost too closely to the original, with the only mild disparity coming through the vocals and the bulkier mix of the guitars; but it's a nifty little piece of history regardless of whether one is going to listen to it much with the original available, and nearly any of Darkthrone's more interesting and awesome original tunes.

As for "Burial Bliss", I have to admit that it's possible this is my preferred mix for the song, a pure barbaric mid-paced crusher which is aesthetically flush with "Visual Aggression", just a little more bloody and rough-edged than the one they settled on for the full-length. It's not an amazing piece in of itself, but travels at a workmanlike pace that likely pleased a lot of fans of the old Panzerfaust or Total Death era Darkthrone, grim as fuck with no surprise twists anywhere in its five minutes. In terms of being consistent, it's actually one of the better songs they could muster to partner up with the cover, so as a result the 7" makes a lot of sense. That said, it's really not worth much if you're not in the market to collect...the cover doesn't justify itself beyond pure tribute, and the original, while a little harsher than on Arctic Thunder, is also not unique enough to go out of your way for. But if you collect everything they release, and yearn for those old, primitive days, it's borderline satisfactory.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Selcouth - Heart is the Star of Chaos (2017)

There are few real instances of originality left in metal music, to the extent that even when you hear that band that sounds 'original', you can attribute that to an unconscious smattering of influences from half a dozen other weirdo bands that you knew from a decade ago. To a degree, I could say that about Finland's Selcouth, the eclectic construct of several members of another band called Khanus (who put out a pretty nifty EP last year called Rites of Fire, which I have also reviewed on these pages). Sure, if you're familiar with the Norse post-black metal/progressive outlets like Arcturus, Virus, Ulver, and especially Solefald, there will be a few aesthetics carried forward, and yet even beyond that I would say there is plenty about Heart is the Star of Chaos that feels strikingly unique within the envelope of bizarro left-of-center metal hybridization into which this debut will be signed, sealed and delivered.

Imagine if you will a bevy of grooving bass lines, distorted or smooth, jazzy lounge-lizard pianos and nuances, carefully threaded and mute-picked electric guitars, and a percussionist who can seamlessly cultivate all these various strains into a cohesive, tribal, rhythmic whole. Now atop this sundae of sonic eccentricity, place a vocalist who is both burly and fragile, clear and crackling, expressive and emotive and oftentimes hypnotic, like an unconscious amalgamation of Czral and David Bowie, but don't stop there...harmonize him with all manner of breathy intonations, add in an equally intriguing female singer who has a nice, modern acid jazzy nightclub vibe about her but can curve all that into a snarl when the talons come out, slightly reminiscent of Monika from the underrated Atrox. Mix the results so that no two songs quite sound alike, but all of them weave together like dyes onto a lucid canvas upon which dreamy, haze-like states are being translated directly from musical brain patterns into actual, audible sounds. I know of no real other way to accurately describe this Selcouth record, it's essentially an reverse explosion of shattered fragments back into an introspective mirror, a chaos made congenial by its weavers' ability to reign it all into a drugged warmth.

It's bloody fucking awesome...

and it's all about the details haunting almost every moment of the recording. Those frenetic little guitar licks driving the 'verses' of "Querencia", or the pluggy, bemused but strangely threatening bass-lines crawling and scaling along beneath the lush keys and strings "Of Hopes and Lost Treasures". Or even when the band lets its 'extreme metal' (ooooo) roots through in "Below Hope" and then STILL manages to weird them out to oblivion and back. I can't say that every single lick or vocal line is equally poignant or impressive, but considering what a wide span of influences they bring forth, from the old and cheesy operatic Gothic auras to the nuanced, almost improvisational jazz beats and textures, this debut is nothing less than a monster of creativity, a Frankenstein of mind-fucking experiments in rock, rampaging across its cosmos, yet never so out-of-control that the mad scientists which created it lose their leash on the lightning that gave it life. Certifiable, and certifiably cool at the same time.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10]

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Antichrist - Sinful Birth (2017)

Being that the Antichrist debut album was one of my favorite metal recordings of the last decade, I was naturally chomping at the bit for its inevitable followup, slavering over the tracks I could scope out in advance of the actual release, and feeling entirely too satisfied by what I was sampling. Now that Sinful Birth is in my paws, and I've gotten past the whole 'it's probably not going to be as good as the first one' hurdle, I can honestly tell you that I've spun this sophomore a dozen full times in only a handful of weeks, and I'm happy to report that it takes the aesthetics of its predecessor and splays them out into an even more dynamic, threatening form with enormous replay value without sacrificing even a fraction of the intensity and entertainment meted out through Forbidden World.

This is essentially a pure, undiluted window into what an alternate timeline brand of blackened, sickening speed/thrash would have sounded like were it released back in the mid 80s. That's not to say it couldn't have existed in our own continuum, because the influences are worn upon its bloody sleeves like so many dripping spike-bracers. Slayer, Venom, Possessed, Kreator, Bathory, and Kill 'Em All era Metallica all stroll into a bar together to watch a band called Dark Angel performing Darkness Descend, and then some unholy, drunken amalgamation of those bands' rosters go back to a nearby jam space and try to replicate and record what they the process managing to one-up just about everything I loved about their individual sounds. If I hadn't already been exposed to hard rock and heavy metal since an age shortly after I could potty, a record like Sinful Birth would have made a convert out of me every. damn. time. Vicious, unforgiving, like trying to balance on the edge of a razorblade through almost its entire playtime, and possessed of an absolute disregard for just about anything that is currently cool, polished, or comfortable.

That's not to say it's the heaviest fucking metal you're going to hear anytime soon, but Antichrist, more than any other throwback thrash band, really feel like it belongs to the era it draws upon for its inspiration. These guys aren't trite, or trendy, nor are they sloppy. Buzzing guitars flurry past at a rate of nearly ZERO forgettable riffing progressions, with something even more exciting than the verses always waiting within their eaves, and leads that perfectly match the unhinged, frenetic pacing. A drumming performance that is arguably the MVP here...stacked to the roof with bruising beats, crazy fills, and militant cadences often used to escalate something like "The Entity", which is almost like a John Carpenter composition filtered through electric guitars and savagery. The bass lines might seem like the rear-guard to this formation, and they do their support duty well, but you can constantly hear them pounding and thumping away right up front in the mix and it just generates even more of a hellish, pugilistic atmosphere to a record that only lets up when it wants to surprise you, like in the melodic bridge of "Black Pharaoh" which sounds worthy of top shelf Deceased and would probably do even King Fowley a proud.

The one contentious element I've seen thrown about the intertronz are Steken's vocals, which seem to spoil the experience for some listeners...but not this one. The guy sounds absolutely volatile, oozing sinister and awesome serial killer lyrics all over the guitars, with a timbre that I could really only compare to vintage Don Doty excesses vomited out over Tom Araya's syllabic structures. Raving, barking mad, the antithesis of most thrash and death metal bands that place it safe with overbearing, overproduced gutturals and barks that sound like they're practically automated. No, Anton Sunesson is the real goddamn deal, a front man that I can instantly distinguish from the herd, and even though he doesn't exactly have the widest array of tricks in his repertoire, he doesn't need them, because this violence sounds sincere, and that ultimately lends Sinful Birth its timeless quality of dirtnap speed/thrash godliness, and if you don't agree I will gladly tear your patches off your sleeves and throw you in front of a train. Okay, I wouldn't do that, in reality I'm a pussycat, but listening to Antichrist MAKES ME WANT TO, and that counts for something. A lot.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10] (the hunger is too strong)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Damnation - Resist (2000)

By the later 90s, death metal had been inundated with so many more accessible traits via heavy and thrash metal that it might have made a lot of sense for an underground group like Damnation to boost their signal, but to their credit the only thing they really cleaned up here at all was arguably the production values. More than any of their albums prior, Resist feels like a gestalt of the Floridian extreme death that went into the band's older albums, primarily of the Morbid Angel or Malevolent Creation variety, with a few Deicide rhythms, but it also maintains that mild sense of atmosphere and experimentation they had used before with the admission of a few scant ambient/instrumental passages to flesh out the faster, harsher fundamentals employed.

The record is essentially a lot of jerky, tremolo picked rhythms with a lot of stop/start patterns that are capitalized on by the drumming, which is likely the most intense and audible across their career. The vocals follow the David Vincent style of intonation, harsh and guttural, nihilistic barks, but with the advantage of being a good decade later than our inauguration to that style, so they're a little more muscular in nature, though the patterns are often quite as sloppy, vaguely following the rhythmic patterns beneath them, giving their implementation a little more of an unhinged, asylum aesthetic which actually suits the music well. Never before have I heard the Damnation guitars this clearly, and while the wealth of the progressions they write are nothing terribly nuanced or special, they really dig into those strings here, with some of their most involved and rapid fire patterns, not to mention some of the best, wild lead lines they'd used to this point. The bass guitar also keeps a pretty solid presence in the mix, though it does get buried beneath the snare, fills, vocals and rhythm guitar whenever they are all firing off together into one of the more intense sequences.

Resist does lack some of the suffocating atmosphere of the sophomore Rebel Souls, and I also feel it comes up slightly short of that album in overall memorability, but note for note they are pretty close, with this, the band's swan song depicting their most intricate guitar work with a carnal clarity. The riffs do possess a variety I had not heard before, with a little bit of a clinical thrash element there in the intro to "Absence in Humanity", and some other tracks which reach slightly outside the comfort zone. Dark, ambient passages like "Voices of an Unknown Dimension" help lend a sense of evil and gravity to the track list, though the electronic and sounds used seem a little claptrap and cheesy, and most of them are embedded into the metal tracks without much of a strong purpose. The simple fact of the matter is that Damnation were a band reaching for something, and while they arguably got there in the 90s, they had more to their material than the already dulling proto brutal death and gore being pimped; a fusion of old school aesthetics with a slight regional spin. No, they weren't writing on the level of Vader or Behemoth or other countrymen, and it makes some sense that they got lost in the shuffle, but overall they had a good run as a solid second tier act which can still evoke a little darkness if you listen to them in the proper mindset. Rebel Souls and Resist were a pretty convincing one-two punch combo for such an unknown.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Spellbound - Nothing But the Truth (2015)

While their first two records could hardly be dubbed impressive, Germans Spellbound have consistently proven to be purveyors of a fairly rare, lost art among the thrash crowd. That is to say, the full-package, dynamic songwriting style that birthed some of the largest names in the genre, Metallica at the foremost, but this was a skill often mirrored by other West Coast acts like Testament and at the very least attempted by bands worldwide, from Australia's Mortal Sin to England's Xentrix, to several of the Germans' countrymen, even if the faster, nastier Trinity of Teutonic Thrash held sway in that particular court. To be more specific, the composition's goals consist of big hooks, verse/chorus interplay, meticulously crafted leads that could hold their own with the rhythm riffing, enough of a neck jerking energy to keep them well within the genre's parameters, and approachable standards which held more of a mass appeal than the dirtnap speed and thrash existing on the niche's edge.

Nothing But the Truth accomplishes all of these to an extent, while rarely cocking up the formula that structures its more successful songs, a trait that sadly eluded the older efforts, which had only a scant handful of memorable cuts at best. The riffing is powerful, albeit familiar enough that a lot of the individual progressions will remind you of this or that and then twist it slightly away from the pure predictability a lot of us dread when listening to today's latest wave of pizza-thrashers. The leads here are very well balanced to offer an emotional payoff without completely outdistancing the blue collar, 'mellow' or melodic, mid-paced thrash rhythms that make up the bulk of the play length. When they pick up the thrust, you're remind purely of the picking patterns made famous by bands like Exodus, Testament or Metallica, but the overall mood here is 'steady wins the race', and that can often give this a laid back feel, sort of similar to New England's own Meliah Rage, only I feel like the writing here is a little more optimistic and immediately sticky on the ear. Reinforcing that comparison are the vocals of David Maier, melodic and edgy in the Hetfield vein which front men like Mike Munro, Chuck Billy and Mat Maurer ran off with.

The guitars sound great on this album, clear for the various leads, melodies and excess rock hero squeals while potent and punchy enough for a pit of intoxicated 40-somethings reliving their glory days, which I'd imagine might be the primary audience for this band, or those younglings who are trying to emulate that demographic. I happen to be among that first crowd, only somewhat less intoxicated on an average day, so I felt the pangs of nostalgia. Bass isn't a strong point here, but enough else is going on that you'll be distracted away from noticing, especially when the dozen or so really strong guitar riffs set off, forcing more replay value than I would have expected from my experience with either Nemesis 2665 or Incoming Destiny. There are a few slight misfires here, like the obligatory power-thrash ballad "Dying in the Dirt" which doesn't quite hit the payoff it wants to, however they aren't quite awful, and easily forgiven by the wealth of improvements they've made elsewhere. If you're into the more accessible spectrum of trad metal-tinted thrash I've mentioned above, or younger bands like Evile and After All, then this one is worth a listen.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Damnation - Coronation EP (1997)

Keeping themselves busy through the latter half of the 90s, Poland's Damnation capitalized on their very solid sophomore Rebel Souls with a four-track EP that sounds a lot like it looks, which is to say that it's blasphemous, savage occult death metal with a Baphomet cover image nearly indistinguishable from many others in its class. That's not to pass judgement too heavily on the music, but it does not seem that the band was aesthetically interested at the moment on building up further momentum from the prior album, which had shown a good degree of growth from their 1995 debut. I suppose I can give it a pass here, but only because they saw fit to record a tune called "Spell Master", and because the material itself does exhibit the ferocity and fortitude of Rebel Souls.

The mix is set at about the same level of epic murk as its predecessor, with the roiling guitars that just seethe along beneath the broader, guttural growls that crown the experience. The drums are tinny and on the lower side of the audibility range here, but it comes together like decent underground Euro death from its day and age, and one can't expect so much more. As for the riff structures, they are generally fast-paced and give off a similar Morbid Angel vibe that they'd done on the full-lengths, only some of the chord progressions used on these tunes most remind me of the Altars of Madness era, which happens to be my favorite from Trey and company. Atmospherics are still used with some sparse use of organ-like synth tones ("Spell Master") or a turbulent ambiance (intro to the title cut), so in that way they keep in line with their vision on the earlier records, and I also found that the lead work and melodic accompaniment here was kept at just the right ratio to keep the material from growing dull, because honestly not a lot of these riffs are that amazing to begin with.

The compositions do feel a fraction cluttered, especially (and sadly) on "Spell Master", but I feel that there's enough going on through the tracks, enough of a vibrant, hellish energy that it doesn't mar the quality terribly. Also, there's a big contrast between the business of the guitars and the vocals, which are almost all delivered with those broader phrasings. The bass tone has a good distortion on it but still seems to bury itself once the writhing guitars are on full thrust, and ultimately I think this EP exhibits the consistency of Rebel Souls, while slightly suffering from the clamor of Reborn... I also can't say I'd listen to it over either of those albums, but like the debut it does a moderate job of putting you into that 90s headspace, before production values were heavily polished and when death metal still maintained a natural, evil vibe to it that wasn't nostalgia-borne, but carried the genuine, black pulse of that formative age. Damnation is no Vader, but they'll do in a pinch if you want to dance on tombstones while you're sloshing your brain with vodka.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]