Wednesday, May 22, 2013
There is little to no atmosphere beyond the core instrumentation: no keys, samples, no fogbanks of reverb to witch away the wretched vocals into the distance, and lead guitars are also anathema to their process of song construction. Some might laud this very 'roots' approach to writing, but unfortunately there were pitifully few riffing progressions of interest. Slower, rock-paced grooves (circa Darkthrone) are alternated with some standard blast beat/tremolo picked floods of despondency, while they occasionally implement some more dissonant, open picked guitars that bring you back to Norway in the 90s. The almost 'black metal blues' atmosphere of the opening cut "A Grave in Silence" had me thinking they might have more of a doom/black vibe, and I dug the bass guitar grooves and the dispirited, spacious riffing there, but this was soon eschewed for more familiar chord sequences and very little by way of interesting or memorable ideas.
On the production side, I thought the album was decent. The distorted bass tone manages to stand out even against the louder rhythm guitars, and the drumming is flexible and organic. As I mentioned, there's a primacy to the rhythm guitars due to the distortion, but they don't exactly configure into anything truly threatening or evil sounding due to the lack of eerie melodies outside of a few chord textures. Vocally this is pretty much the run-of-the-mill, wretched rasp we've come to expect from a million bands, but 'The Saint' handles this as well as most, with a few layered snarls applied to evoke added diabolism. As for the transitions and the actual structural dynamics of the songs, I have few complaints...I only wish they were built of more distinct riff progressions which I'd want to come back to. But beyond a few seconds of atmosphere, like the bell that tolls to inaugurate "A Grave in Silence" or the cleaner vocal that heralds "Silence", it's fairly barren terrain.
I remember reading about the group's debut Eye of Sin in 2011, around the same time I was covering the whole Greek black metal scene through chronological reviews, but I wasn't able to track that down and include it, so I can't speak to any changes here. In the end, I found Tales... too void of individuality and ideas to really distract me for long, even if it's by no means an offensive or terribly dull affair. They're not the only Greek group to play it so straight (Ravencult, Dodsferd and Naer Mataron all fit this description), but even compared to these they come up a little short. Didn't hate this, but didn't care either. Recommended only if you've just not gotten enough of this simplistic adherence to the black metal blueprint, but you could fare better in that market.
Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
There's a bit of the 'Transilvanian Hunger Effect' here, in which a lot of songs follow the same general tempo and then seem to bleed into one another, but like that album, I can't say that I found the material boring or redundant in the slightest...simply consistent. A lot of tracks are 6-8 minutes in length, but shorter on average than Abandoned and Forgotten, and each packed with at least a half dozen decent rhythm guitar patterns that allow them some degree of variation. As usual, Sad is more cognizant of Swedish and Norse influences than their Greek neighbors, so the melodies are often built from the mold of bands like Bathory and Dissection, with the strongest resemblance possibly to Arckanum, if not as catchy in their simplicity. The beats are all basic blasts or uptempo trots, without much personality since the focus is so heavily on the guitars and vocals, but there are enough fills to feel like they're not on autopilot. The bass lines offer an added layer of melodic undercurrent to the streaming riffs, but otherwise aren't wholly interesting, which I can somewhat forgive seeing that there's just one guy handling all instruments.
Admittedly, once you've made it past the first few tunes, "Cursed Be the Light" and "Grim Reflection", there aren't a whole lot of surprises, and by the time you hit the finale, "I Bleed a Lake", you feel like you're just treading the same ground as 37-38 minutes leading up to it. But that's Sad. Not a band you're listening to for innovation or a high level of dynamics; albums will differ mildly from one another, but they've always stuck to the same general path and they show no signs of deviation. You know what you're getting before you even you begin listening, and in the case of Devouring the Divine, it's certainly a passable effort. I still think that Ungod is better used in the blackened thrash cult Slaughtered Priest than any of his other projects (Kvele, Necrohell, Insidius Infernus, and this one), but ultimately this is the strongest Sad full-length since A Curse in Disguise, and if you enjoyed any or all of their offerings, then I doubt your feelings will change here. Solid.
Verdict: Win [7/10] (your sleep will be mine)
Monday, May 20, 2013
I'll go one further: I've enjoyed this album more than the past decade of Rotting Christ material. Granted, the differences are minimal, and if you had Necromayhem/Sakis Tolis handling the vocals full time instead of Gothmog, it'd be difficult to distinguish the two on a cut like "Nine Steps to Hell". But let's not diminish the presence of 'The Magus' Warmpyr Daoloth on bass and keys, or new members Maelstrom on drums (who has played in a shit ton of bands including Dodsferd, Nadiwrath, Ravencult and Abyssgale) or El of Nergal and Soulskinner on guitars and additional keyboards. I mean, when you just look upon the long list of works associated with this quintet, it's no wonder that they're so capable of creating such purism of the past...several of them are the very same individuals who pioneered it. Necromayhem's crisp, staccato picking techniques and slower, majestic note progressions lie at the heart of this experience, of course. A track like "Infernarium" begs the question: what if Rotting Christ had hired Tom G. Warrior to sing on Triarchy of the Lost Lovers? Elsewhere, "L'Evangelium de Diable" and "Artificial Malevolence" manifest immediate, passionate melodies that will stick in my brain for months to come.
The vocals are consistently brutish and ghastly, with Tolis and Wampyr lending their own nefarious timbres in support of Gothmog's guttural might. Bass guitars are actually pretty timid for Daoloth, a man used to driving his own main band with the very same instrument, but the tone booms sufficiently along with Maelstrom's blasting and there's just enough happening with the rhythm guitar harmonies and frilly, spectral lead sequences that I can forgive a lack of corpulent and distorted bass grooves. Synthesizers are total old school ambient screams against the infernal night of "Nine Steps to Hell", while guitars and keys are also used to embed the freakish but subtle effects off the beat, like the squeals in the breakdown of that very same track, peppered over the old school Celtic Frost-style groove. I should point out that the record is structured and pace to maintain the listeners' interests throughout, moving in equal measure through faster and mid-paced numbers, or capturing a wider range within a single piece, i.e. "The Regal Pulse of Lucifer" itself with its morose Gothic pianos in the verse.
There's a fantastic 'Easter egg' at the close of the album ("Fire and Blood") in which the band offers up a tremolo picked metallic rendition of Ramin Djawadi's opening theme for the Game of Thrones TV series, instantly recognizable and proof that these Greeks have great taste in fiction as well as music; but to be honest I was equally pleased throughout by the original material. A few note progressions here or there seemed familiar and 'generic' for the genre, but in general it felt like they were putting some effort into shiny new patterns that would remain sweet on the ears. Layered with all the effects, the multi-pronged vocal attack, and the intense and level rhythmic consistency of the new drummer, The Regal Pulse of Lucifer is unquestionably a 'complete package' whose subtleties don't fade after the first few listens. I've been going over it for about a week now in my car and still haven't stopped smiling. Varathron, Nergal, Rotting Christ, Necromantia and obviously earlier Thou Art Lord fans rejoice.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Sunday, May 19, 2013
In short, I enjoyed the pants off this damn thing. The tone of the guitars is fucking unreal, a bulky and filthy overdrive that manages to sustain its punch in both the more meticulous muted picking (intro to "Vault of the Haunted Mist") and the morbid melodies that the Fumes are deliriously unafraid to implement. A lot of the guitar structures draw upon records like Mental Funeral, Onward to Golgotha or Scream Bloody Gore for inspiration, and you can just hear the crud and worms dripping off these damn axe lines, but they're also capable of embedding some faint spikes of dissonance that create a barely tangible nod to black metal. The
drums, in particular the kicks, are not as bold or brazen as in other death metal dinosaurs, but with guitars this ghoulish, they're still audible enough to evoke that an ubiquitous, earthquake foundation over which the skin tearing riffs can stretch themselves. Distant organs and other effects are often thrown in there to build subtle hints of horror (like in the bridge of "Gravecrusher"), but overall, even though a few of the guitars do radiate a warmer, emotional aura, you just come away from Macabre Exaltation feeling unclean (in the best of ways).
Dank, necromancer gutturals aren't exactly pronounced above the guitars, but they really create this sense of suffocated accompaniment to the more intricate picking, like a ghast that gets trapped after some sinkhole opens in the local graveyard. I suppose Macabre Exaltation does scratch a similar itch to a lot of the more 'cavernous' retro-death metal released in the past 5-years, and I think its lineage of influence is quite clear, but Cadaveric Fumes is ultimately an exercise in how to properly compose such material without becoming dull, predictable or repetitive. You won't always guess what is coming next. The track lengths and riffing styles offer sufficient dynamics throughout the four metal cuts, and it feels like some unburied treasure. This is just that awesome. So if you haven't heard it yet (and considering the limited press of its tape incarnation, that is likely the case), make a correction, especially if you're into Krypts, Vasaeleth, Innumerable Forms, Portal, Abyssal, etc.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
Saturday, May 18, 2013
The rhythm guitars have an enormous but ripping tone to them which can support both the drudging cemetery dirt of the low-end chords and the band's uncanny sense of harmony which pervades the exotic, immediately memorable tremolo picked progressions and grooves of "Entranced by the Wolfshook". A truly absorbing piece, and my favorite among the three on the EP, despite some stiff composition from its neighbors. The vocals range between broad, echoing van Drunen growls and raving lunatic barks and howls, but then the band will also tear into these manly mid-ranged cleans. I know its an unusual blend, but I often felt the music was like a collaboration between Incantation, earlier Samael and Mastodon, especially when those open vocal intonations arrive in the bridge of "Entranced...". Hell, the EP's finale, a nearly 11 minute behemoth called "The Great Unifier", is like a perfect hybrid of atmospheric blackened death-sludge, which effortlessly storms between blasted streams of dissent and sodden breakdown grooves. It's quite good, DAMN good, and eschews the normal sense of unnecessary repetition often associated with fattened track lengths.
Bass guitars don't seem to be a factor in this sound, but the richness of the rhythm guitar carving is so dense and atmospheric, simultaneously ethereal and crushing that the ears will only rarely need to wander from them, and usually to the vocals. The drums of HzR are vital and propulsive, though, and the substantial periods of tribal-based tom smashing lend the album much of its mountainous, Cyclopean flavor, a more esoteric and externalized sense of being than you usually get from Bölzer subterranean peers. It does not suffocate; it exhales. This music does not sound like it's being performed in a cave, but from the hills and heights, challenging the sky to swallow it, and it takes on a beautiful/ominous contrast, a mythic quality that glues the listener to a sizable swath of relistens that he/she might graze on its magnificence. Transcendental, memorable, earth-shaking and night-slaked ideas. Varied enough without losing consistency. Very eager to hear if Bölzer can pull off this level of expression on a full-length; but, for now, Aura is ample fulfillment.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
Friday, May 17, 2013
The darker Aggressa gets, the better the results, but unfortunately the verse riffs to cuts like "Break Down the Walls" or "Torture and Pain" feel like your standard British fare circa Priest, Venom and Motörhead had already mastered well before this. Mid-paced stuff with some lighter palm muted picking that will then erupt into a more punkish chord anthem, but I can't say there was a single series of notes here that in any way surprised me or had me drooling to listen further. The leads are frivolous, noisy middle fingers that arrive unceremoniously where you'd expect them. There's a particular charm to the lewd and churning tone with its primitive distortion levels, and the singer's angry enough to pull off his own charisma, coming off with a bit of punk/crossover/splatter vibe. But you're just not getting the sort of memorable chorus patterns you'd expect from this period. Kind of a bar band atmosphere being created; sure, you'd look up from the bottom of your cup/misery, and perhaps even throw the blokes the horns, but it's not about to replace Kill 'Em All or Sign of the Hammer in your stereo, or even make it onto your stereo. The drums are ratty and crashy sounding, the bass lines rarely interesting even when bouncing along on their own (the intro to the "Phantom Stage Diver"), and both contribute to this sort of 'diamond in the rough, OF the rough' mentality popular in today's underground, where people are constantly trying to unearth more underground materials like this.
It's a bit meaner sounding than the average commercial/trending radio metal of the day, and has more in common with Canadian groups like Exciter or Piledriver musically than Quiet Riot or the Scorpions, but most of the guitars still seem pretty familiar even for '88. I also have to say, even if the bonus demo versions included with the Nuclear Death EP are even filthier and cruder in production, they benefit from a more vivacious, DIY atmosphere to the extent that I preferred them. "Religious Bloodshed", which is likely the most entertaining and smile-inducing tune on the release, with some whacky higher pitched vocals breaking out in the chorus and easily the best guitar riffs, also wasn't part of the EP, so I'm glad they threw that on here as a bonus. Ultimately, though, too many of the tracks suffered from stale riffing. There's certainly a core audience of rare metal connoisseurs and rabid Metalucifer/Abigail fanatics who will eat this shit alive, but aside from its attitude and obscurity, this just wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed musically, which might be why I'd never heard of it. I warmed up a few times to the rawness of the spectacle, but the songs themselves just didn't hook me.
Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Of course, just how 'death metal' this album is/was will vary by perspective. Treacherously little of the morbid tremolo-styled riffs or crushing palm-muted grooves one would expect. Personally I find it to be a more hyperactive mesh of speed and thrash metal with some more-aggressive-than-normal vocals had they been on an 80s record; almost as if you cranked up the celerity of Possessed, welded in some wild licks that wouldn't have been out of question for Dave Mustaine to perform in his prime, and perhaps a hint of other psycho blitzers like Whiplash, (early) Exodus and Dark Angel for good measure. Splatter speed. Morbid Saint and Ripping Corpse might also be decent reference points, but for my money, both of them had transitioned further over into the death spectrum. The drums of Bud Mills, though, could definitely be counted among the Hoglans and Lombardos in their impact on more extreme metal later. But regardless of its precise classification, Death After Death is the sort of invigorated, energizing affair that occasionally eschews rhyme and reason for a crash bang wallop of accelerated abuse that might damn well appeal to thrash/speed purists, proto-death mavens, or even those crossover fans who like a more metallic centrism to the material. It's not incredibly memorable, but it very much puts me back into that mid to late 80s mood (rather than the 90s in which it was dropped).
Calculated, spastic street riffing dominates pieces like "Attack of Archangels", "Morbid Lust", and "Blood for Blood" (coincidentally my favorites here), but the band sounds cruel and raw even when slowing to a mid-paced neck straining sequence. The leads are lunacy given flesh, flashy and spurious but not so gratingly atonal and caustic as, say, Slayer. The drums are definitely capable of sustaining a double bass rampage, and the kicks and snappy snares definitely distinguish themselves in the mix. Bass playing here is pretty busy too, but subjugated by the rhythm guitars, unfortunately pretty standard for thrash of the late 80s/early 90s. What I'm most impressed with are the surgical sounding lead/melody lines embedded into riffs like the one at the minute mark in "Possession", or leading off "Rotting Decay", which coincidentally also has some of the best bass guitar progressions on the record. Interestingly enough composed that I think Insanity lives up to their (rather generic) name, and might have had a more visible career in technical thrash ala later Nasty Savage had they only arrived with this full-length a few years earlier (they were still doing demos for much of the 80s).
I should also say that the vocals here are quite primal and abusive, occasionally with a little growl to the sustained notes, but otherwise like a mix of Don Doty, Nasty Ronnie and Jeff Becerra. Over the top and murderous barking which often sounds like a one-man gang shout. They really don't have much by way of a memorable chorus anywhere, but most of the tunes are at least as exhilarating as a night at the zoo when a predator becomes uncaged and starts mutilating the guests. Insanity also tries its hand at acoustic passages ("In Memory") and exhibit some classical picking/training; feels thinly produced, and a little out of place and disjointed with the metal intensity, but hinting at broader musical tastes. In the end, while I wasn't entirely in love with the album, there are at least 5-6 tunes on Death After Death which are pedal to the metal, balls out ballistic exercises worth pursuing. A marginal cult classic status is deserved, and with the vastly improved cover artwork for the new gatefold vinyl, it might be time for collectors or fanatics for any of the other bands I name-checked in this review to end their negligence and give Insanity a listen. Unless they/you already HAVE, in which case have another golden star.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
From the outset of Crystal Castles' third self-titled effort, you can tell not everything is right. Even before listening, the album art invokes some sense of discomfort. It features a hooded figure shrouded in black except for its maniacal grin--female?--embracing a naked male form.
The opening track immediately begins with a nightmarish siren of sorts, perhaps signaling some fel beast coming from planes where reality is unstable. Slowly synths stagger forward methodically, and we hear Alice Glass's voice for the first time. Here she is lulling, but it's not long before her distorted, airy, distant pseudo-punk vocals begin shouting, almost unintelligble, except for one line: "I AM PLAGUE!" Almost as if that is the only part of the song we are meant to understand.
Alice Glass is the unquestionable image of Crystal Castles, adorning most all of its merchandise in offbeat ways. A bloody, Madonna-esque drawing. As two pink, naked succubi with their tongues lolling. That image carries onto the stage, with her torn tights and punk boots, thrifted clothing hanging loosely off her gaunt figure. She drinks directly from a large bottle of vodka in one hand she carries with her frequently, the fiery cherry of her cigarette occasionally flaring up in the dark on stage.
Her performance is littered with her crowdsurfing, while she continues to sing. It's become a fetish of fans to do everything they can to touch her. When she leaps down, there's a sudden surge of bodies forward in the crowd and it's easy to find yourself completely flattened on all sides, like Kirby. There's other assorted hijinks that, perhaps, should stay with those who saw that individual show. Needless to say, Alice is a miscreant.
Ethan Kath, who represents half of Crystal Castles, is less prominent yet equally impressive. He was honored, along with Alice, together, as the #1 Icons of 20 Years at Lollapalooza. Live, he is found usually slumped over, tinkering with his keys and nobs and pedals and switches, typically quiet except to occasionally berate the crowd for not being loud enough.
Interestingly, though Kath and Glass both come from punk backgrounds, their contemporary music sounds decidedly electronic: specifically (III). Certain tracks would make instant dance club favorites, especially one track called "Sad Eyes," whereupon its beginning literally everyone in the crowd started jumping up and down rapidly. A personal favorite for obvious reasons.
Each song is beautifully cut from the same fabric, customized and woven back together into a beautiful quilt of dark, electronic goodness where dark lords command skeletal stormtroopers, as the landscape slowly fades into a pixellated, poisoned point in the distance. Faded black, shot through with purple, blue, pink and blinding white. Banners of false prophets streaming in the wind.
Perhaps the most charming thing to me about Crystal Castles is its refusal to take itself too seriously. Alice and Ethan make a true spectacle of a show, and played almost two sets when I saw them. They're a true treat, and to venture sounding like a fanboy, one of my favorite acts. I often pine to relive the show I saw, a bittersweet feeling.
Post-it note: Doldrums was impressive as the first act, featuring an odd looking frontman who spent most of his time singing using a custom-built suitcase with vocal effects built in it to make himself sound female or terrifying, and anything else he desired. The band is unique and worth investigating.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.314159.../10]
you can't disguise sad eyes
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
That's not to say that I love this album, but it's certainly one of those cases where I admire the consistency and craftsmanship on exhibition. The pacing and construction, for example, of how they build "Descended Lamentations" from a miasma of solemn ambiance and depressive, repetitive clean guitar plucking to a rush of dissonant, crud-encased chords and then even some slower, doom-spawned harmonies in its depths. Or "Convict All Flesh", the 18+ minute piece which opens with similar, sluggish doom guitars and a convocation of snarls and rising ethereal background swells to another fit of corrosive, moderately blasted mayhem. I was a bit letdown again that the quality of these epics played out in a very plane-like nature, where repetition and lack of climactic transitions led to an expanse of flat emotions that were so rarely exciting or anomalous. The architecture is quite predictable and typically shifts between two tempos. But there's enough atmosphere and fine tuning that I never feel groggy or completely uninterested in what's coming next. There are more riffs to experience throughout, and the quality has been tweaked so that about 50% of them are actually interesting, though often looped around a few measures too much for my liking.
Scandinavian-styled progressions, with a bit more Sweden than Norway in the melody department, are measured off against feeds of rougher discord, or majestic lamentation. Clearly there's a hint of the until recently trending 'blackgaze' or post-rock to some of the woozier guitar lines, but I was surprised at just how 'traditional' much of the writing felt, as if it wouldn't have been out of place in the second-third waves of the early through mid 90s. The drumming is efficient enough through the tunneling double bass patterns and the steady snares, but I didn't find a lot of character there, almost as if the beats were too subordinate to the whole idea of an existential meditation rather than the vicious intensity we so often find in the genre. The bass guitars are seeped in appropriate ooze, but yet often just wailing away in a tremolo pattern that sacrifices the possibility of further expanding the music's melodic dimensions for pure, anchored texture. Interestingly, the vocals are quite sparse in terms of syllabic delivery. Very often, they're used as just another instrument which grinds off against the nihilistic gray nebula Ash Borer inhabits, but then again, I cannot imagine another style being used here aside from the standard, gnarled rasp.
All told, even if there were a number of minutes where I would find myself checking the clock, I found that I was able to develop a stronger relationship to Cold of Ages than its predecessor. Just not to the extent that I'd flag it to friends as 'you've GOT to hear this', or that I'd reach for it over countless hundreds of other black metal efforts that are more entertaining, revelatory or abusive. The songs are quite long and some might argue 'pretentious' for the number of interesting twists and turns they actually deliver, but if you constantly find yourself with 60+ minutes to kill, you can get lost in its bleak cosmos for a spell; which I'm sure is the point of the thing. Decent US black metal which is likely to appeal to fans of other, like minded 'Cascadian' artists (Agalloch, WITTR). A little less dynamic, maybe, but it beats the hell out of the janky and disjointed diuretics of frustrating groups like Liturgy or Krallice, who only ever feel 'half on' at best.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Definitely conjured recollections of the first few Incantation records, only with a more muscular guitar tone, and vocals that are less abyssal, cavernous and unnerving. And when I say 'muscular', I mean that the amps sound like they're about to bust open under the strain of the chords. Most of the material is either molded into steady, mid-paced tremolo guitars that are either muted or writhing open, but they'll occasionally snap off into a solid blast beat, or a seriously weird and evil groove slightly reminiscent of Demilich. The vocals have a dense, bloody brutishness to them which is not exactly dynamic, but rings out like a pastiche of all your favorite death metal front men from the 90s (Benton, Reifert, Dolan, Vincent, Willetts, Pillard, etc). Drums are a bit poppy sounding, especially against the churning necrobulk of the rhythm guitars, but you can still distinguish them through the speakers. Same could be said for the bass, which blends in all too smoothly with the rhythm guitars to stand against them unless you can hear the fuzzy lines alone (like where they hit a few notes in "Aeons of Spectral Morbidity"). But hey, at least the rhythm guitars sound fat and festering, and the frightening, uncontrolled leads that rip off into the atmosphere add a nice ghoulish necrotouch to the proceedings.
I was impressed by the note selection in the first tune here ("Dimensions of Necromancy"), which is also the strongest, since it played with familiar patterns by imbuing some interesting necrolines, but the further I went into the 4 cuts and 20 minutes, the less impressed I became. It's all very consistent in style, but perhaps too much so, and it becomes a bit difficult to pick out much individuality beyond those messy, cemetery necroleads. The last tune "The Equinox of Unburied Ones" had some cool, down shifted 'narrative' vocals that added a nice chill alongside the growling, but other than that this is all straight-to-the-face-with-a-graveyard-spade, wretched death metal that aesthetically, beyond the voluminous production values, tends to ignore any and all developments in the genre over the last 20 years. Which is exactly why some folks are going to love the shit out of it, but I came off thinking it decent yet unable to hold my attention for very long. At any rate, if an unholy union between Incantation, Bolt Thrower, Autopsy, Demilich and Blessed Are the Sick era Morbid Angel sounds necrodelicious, then give these guys a necrotasting. Their music, I mean.
Verdict: Win [7/10]