Thursday, July 23, 2015
Not that I've been terribly active lately to begin with, but for the first time since kicking off the blog in 2008, I'm actually taking a couple months off to refresh and recharge! Not only that, but to finish up some fiction and game design, and spend more time outside with my son. I shall return in the autumn for a very active month of horror metal, and will still be listening through the reams of promos and new CDs in the meantime, to mark them for my year's end lists (here and on Rate Your Music). Thanks, as always, for reading. - auto
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
The bass lines are often just as busy as anything going on with the dominant, punchy and rapid-fire rhythm guitars. Beats are fast and precise, though they're pretty much par for the course when it comes to this niche within death meal. The vocals probably lose out here, since they're a fairly standard, monotonous grunt which lacks for dynamics beyond the expected, brutal punctuation. But when it comes to string-work, low end or high, Pugh is as practiced as nearly anyone you're going to find in that dense Californian tech death scene or, really, almost anyone in the world. Before I get ahead of myself, that's not to say Acolytes Eternal is comprised of the most memorable songs you're going to be humming to yourself in the shower; in fact, the note progressions whirr by with such a clinical celerity that they often seem to blend into one another. But, then again, that's the style he's working in, and anyone whose grown fond of records from acts like Necrophagist, Arsis, Fallujah or Decrepit Birth will find some familiarity in how Pugh puts all of this material together.
To his credit, there is a strict standard here for melody which accompanies the frenzied 'exercise' feel of the manic fret-work. Rhythmically, the guitars might seem too busy for their own good, but when it comes to leads or harmonies he reins them in so they drift memorably above that pacemaker shattering punch of the lower end. Where the material might have come across as proficient yet soulless, these elements, as in "The Mortal's Harvest" offer another dimension that keeps the mind engaged regardless of how many comparable tech death acts it has experienced. Tempos flit about like bats on fire. Ambient interludes and other tactics help to keep the more exhausting aspects of the music balanced off, and there is very clearly an overbrain at work, cautiously tweaking the entire experience so it feels complete rather than just showing off at every availability.
Is is enough? I would say 'yes', A Loathing Requiem has enough merit and musicality to warrant a listen even if you find yourself jaded with a lot of modern tech death for its focus on production and ability above songwriting. Let's face it, the purpose of discs like this is not to compose a bunch of anthems people are singing in arenas 30 years in the future (though wouldn't that be something?). It's not the age of Priest or Maiden, or even Death and Morbid Angel. This is an individual testing the limits of human endurance and attention-span, without going far too into the over-cluttered territory in which bands like Brain Drill have staked their claims. I didn't find the tunes here as compelling or visionary as Fallujah's The Flesh Prevails from last year, but keep in mind this is just one guy, and a frighteningly talented one. If Pugh's songwriting capacity and control catches up to his proficiency, we'll be in for something unparalleled. For now, Acolytes Eternal is a solid proof of potential...just don't blink or you might miss something.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]
Saturday, July 4, 2015
The guitars have an excellent, grainy level of saturation to them which helps flesh out the tremolo picked guitar patterns in "Lawgiver & The Ghost Sword", but a lot of the time he's playing more open chords that lend the music a more melancholic, heavy/doom atmosphere. Note choices are quite simplistic, but even though they're not constantly ear-catching, they really work within the raw, raucous parameters Dirtmaster has set up. The drums still maintain that demo feel, tinny to the point that even the kick feels a little thin, but they're little more than timekeepers for the rhythm guitars that vainly attempt to penetrate that black, clouded cover to the entire din. The vocals here are nowhere near as crazy sounding as the old demo, and instead focused on a dirtier, gruffer syncopated growl, which functions appropriately within the nihilistic approach to composition. There are a few points where the transitions seem slightly sloppy, which resonates a mildly improvisational aftertaste, but at the very least they always seem to develop into some subtle but epic heavy metal riffing patterns...
Like what he does with the harmonics and chords at the end of "Lawgiver...", where the riffs really adapt an early Varathron-ish Hellenic black/heavy metal aesthetic worthy of a Robert E. Howard short story, before escalating into a pretty evil sounding death metal riff which is frankly the most creepy sequence of notes I've ever heard from Hail. This brand of fell majesty continues well into the second track, "De Revolutionibus Orbium Colestium 666", which occasionally sounds samey to the first, but is broken up by some little dissonant wisps of notes and a more doom-like sparsity by the middle of the track (around the 5 minute mark). The vocals get really vile and mocking at that point, and I just love what he's doing with the atmospheric guitars, using the vocals as grisly percussion. When given ample time to work their horrors on the listener, Dirtmaster seems to just excel at these passages, and while there is some room for improvement and to make the tunes catchier in general, Lawgiver is a genuine, dark glimpse into a musical future that hopefully won't take 12 years to manifest.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]
Friday, July 3, 2015
The cover of this new MCD release is indeed surreal and compelling, but I can't claim that the music quite lived up to it, even though it offers visual cues to the songs. These guys vomit forth tracks with amusing titles such as "Lava of the Cavernous Cave" or "The Great Semen of Satan's Mantis", and I'm not sure whether or not they were intentionally going for a laugh, or it's just a translation issue, but where some might see that as a flaw, I found it personable. As for the material itself, it is comprised of extremely loud, ghastly vocals which veer between the genre's traditional rasping and some hoarser, disheveled elements that actually sound like a human being regurgitating toxic waste. The vocals are so echoed and stand out so much from the other instruments that they can prove a distraction, however when they disappear you can hear the clashing clutter of the drums, especially the cymbals, and the wildly aberrant leads (like in the closing of "The Great Semen..."). The riff structure of the rhythm guitar is rooted in speed, thrash and punk as most trad black metal of the Bathory lineage, and not a lot of the chord progressions really stand out, but then I'm not so sure that's the point of them, but rather to contribute to the wishy-washy, hostile lo-fi atmosphere.
The third track, "Evocations in a Crypt at an Ominous Forest" is the darkest sounding of the three, because it lacks the firmer riffing qualities and is instead feeling almost improvisational with its crashing percussion and mix of acidic and melancholic guitars. Unfortunately, I didn't find the musical choices on the guitars as creepy as I'd have liked, and the vocals just seem to run away with the whole recording. So far as I can tell, the band has only had one member, the Dirtmaster, and he lives up to his handle by composing aural atrocities that only a small slice of even the black metal audience are going to find merit with...at LEAST on this demo, because the Lawgiver and first full-length have better sounding production that doesn't detract from the sinister intentions. So Bestial Storms of the Abyssal Pit is really meant to suit its purpose as an artifact of this musician's career, and appeal strictly to those who enjoy the rawest, most loosely structured demo recordings of black metal's past. And to that extent, it maintains enough of a crude charisma to satisfy the purpose, but if prompted I would far rather listen to the other Hail recordings.
Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]
Saturday, June 27, 2015
All that said, Dominhate is not a bad record. These guys play with a little conviction, generally dwelling in that mid-paced headbanging range which might reflect a mixture of modern Exodus and Tankard, with the real roots of those bands' 80s legacies showing through like fading hair dye. The vocalist has a heavily accented inflection which to me seems like an Italian alternative to the mighty Gerre, some genuine vicious qualities that give it an immediate character along with that accent, and just the right amount of gang shouting or reverb to help keep it interesting as it howls across the rhythm guitars. Speaking of which, they're punchy and meaty and varied enough to maintain an interesting flow through the album, though they often break out into these pretty bland progressions that are only made interesting by the more surgical harmonies the duo applies at the end. This is yet another band where the rhythm section seems to do little more than its own job, and as such I really felt like the bass-lines and peppy drums rarely broke out beyond the riffs, which take center stage throughout the majority of the record whenever the front man isn't exuding his wildest lines. But that's alright, because the leads and rhythm structures keep it fairly rounded and interesting.
Lot of chuggy thrash here, but it's slightly more nimble and dextrous in the post-80s-Slayer vein rather than devolving into a more brute metalcore style. I've had mixed reactions to a lot of the modern thrash output from bands like Exodus and Onslaught, but I think this disc fits squarely into that sort of company, with modern analogs in an Evile or Warbringer, maybe a little less Metallica beyond just that beefy precision which was obviously influenced by Master of Puppets in most cases. But you certainly get a German flair here too...whether it be Tankard, or Vendetta's second album Brain Damage, or Destruction, or the latest Accuser disc which was surprisingly good; these guys fit in rather well with their European precursors and counterparts who are ultimately going to be the biggest audience for this particular release. I think the material is solid throughout, if not exceptional, and they might be most memorable when they're doing tunes with more effects in them like "Fashion Swine" or "Ride the Riot". Not an album I'm in love with, but it very clearly shows a level of effort well beyond the lazy pale of trend-jumping nostalgiacs, and those listeners invested heavily into the second tier thrash of the 80s and beyond will find themselves comfortable here; if that bill fits you, then at least give it a spin through.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
There's a little bit of clinical, cutting melody to the guitars which recalls records like Kreator's Terrible Certainty or Destruction's Cracked Brain, but I actually got a strong whiff of Arizona's criminally underrated Atrophy, what with the biting, snarled vocals (also a little Schmier there), the gang shouts, and some of that appropriately saturated rhythm guitar...especially in the title track, which is not bad at all. Another influence I picked out was the Megadeth of the 1990-92 era, specifically the little groovy rocking guitar fills executed at the end of progressions like those in the unfortunately titled "Thrasholution (Thrash is Solution)". The tracks offer a pretty fair variety of breakout speed/heavy metal licks, mid-paced neck strainers, safe but well structured leads and melodies that capture a lot of their inspirations without ever threatening to surpass or innovate upon them. I think the mild reverb and other vocal effects used here due a lot to apply just the right quota of once-future nastiness to the delivery, but at the same time the rhythm section on the album seems to do little more than click with the construction of the guitar, in other words...this is a record driven purely by the guitarists (one of whom does vocals), and everything else just sort of falls in line.
Pantophobia is unlikely to turn heads enough to matter, but as derivative as it might seem in spots, it clearly shows the band's proclivity to do a little research into the bands they were giving tribute. Not all the riffs blaze, but there were enough of them to spark a little fire of nostalgia for back when nearly every thrash album I was buying felt like some pioneering force among my metal collection; when bands were taking the formulae of Slayer, Possessed, Metallica, Anthrax and the Germans and then running with them. I could do without the shitty "Thrash...." song titles (one of which is sadly the titular cut of their previous EP), but it seems like a crop of these bands feel like they have to wear that as a badge or all the fucking poseurs in the audience won't recognize them for what they are. The down side is that the practice ends up painting its users in quite the same strokes. Which is clearly not necessary for Fadom, because they are a solid group with a lot of the right sounds and influences that has no need whatsoever to devolve into pizza party territory. "I get it, I get that you are playing thrash metal, or else I would not have checked you out to begin with." So, apart from a few annoying choices like that, Pantophobia is not bad at all...I banged my head a few times, remembered why I liked this music in the first place, why I continue to enjoy and defend it decades later, and that's how these things go.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Some of the frilly licks and clinical harmonies assembled on the disc might contain small traces of DNA from Teutonic precursors like Mekong Delta, Destruction or even Deathrow, but I also found that this record had a lot in common with West Coast second tier thrashers of the 80s like Defiance, in particular that band's similarly clean and impactful sophomore Void Terra Firma. This is a little more forceful in execution, and the riffing slightly more varied, but the grainier, gut-fed vocals and several of the guitar progressions are cast of a similar mode, or perhaps to that of British hopefuls Xentrix on their own sophomore For Whose Advantage?, or a few lesser known German bands like Erosion or Accuser. Maybe Midas Touch's Presage of Disaster, only less bitter in disposition. But Running Death are arguably even more bizarre, for their proclivity to bust out into weird dissonant rock grooves in the middle of tunes like "Psycho". From the onset of any particular track on this album, there seemed very little precognition as to what exactly was going to happen throughout, and they tend to experiment a little more in the bridge sequences where they'll fly off the handle and experiment more with spurious tempo shifts, melodic harmonies and whatever their imaginations conjure forth. Not to say that it's always as unique as where that might lead them, but they do try.
The rhythm guitars have just the right amount of crunch to keep them tidy but not neutered, and the bass is often saturated in slightly more distorted ooze for a great contrast. The drums are perky but simplistic, the strength coming through primarily in the fills of the grooves. Vocals are probably the weakest component of the album, a little lower in the mix than might suit them, but capable of a more vicious metamorphosis in places like the chorus of "Raging Nightmare" where they reminded me slightly of a less carnal Jonas Nilsson from Raise Hell's triumphant Not Dead Yet. Yet, although so many of the components here really work well together, it's those guitars that constantly steal the show, whether they're galloping along like later Crumbsuckers' weird prog-thrash pacing or bursting into a Megadeth-like excess with leads and melodies, they are always resonating in my ears and lending themselves to one of the most credible and replayable albums I've heard yet from the entire Punishment 18 Records roster. Between the deft skill level and that sleek, cubicle thrash appeal that they muster, Overdrive is a winner, but I wouldn't mind hearing how they develop their style into something even more insane or sinister or muscular sounding in the future. Either way, this is a band I will continue to follow, because they capture that precious novelty I felt as a teenager in the 80s, exploring hundreds of paper route-purchased thrash cassettes through the genre's prime.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
I'd hesitate to outright accuse this debut of being the sort of sidewalk-bound pizza thrash we hear so often, young bands recycling a handful of riffs from the 80s and then attempting to resurrect the old aural cues like flies from amber...and yet, that's kind of what this is. Raging Death is about velocity, pure and simple, a slightly more melodic brand of thrash than most of the harder West Coast stuff of the Golden Age, threaded with triplets and riffs that sound like a sort of heavily NWOBHM-soaked Destruction or Necronomicon. Progressions arrive at a fairly fast clip but are almost unanimously predictable in structure, often with harmonies that leave me with an aftertaste that seems like what Running Wild might have sounded like if they were more of a thrash act in the vein of Master of Puppets. The Polish band does not necessarily lack for energy like they do for compelling ideas, but the biggest issue I had was that the rhythm guitars seem to have this volume and bluster which outstrips or outpaces the snappier, thin drums, almost like meat so excessively steamed that it surely peels off the bone, and a number of tunes feel indistinguishable for others, which is obnoxious.
The accent of the vocals definitely recalls a lot of East European and Teutonic thrash of the 80s, somewhere between Destruction and Wolf Spider, with lots of elevated screams and at the end of phrasings, and this is perhaps one of the strengths, because though they could easily be written off as a sort of 'this is how thrash SOUNDED' caricature, they are at least pretty fun, whereas the picking parts, as hard as they might try, seem at best like mediocre plays on Mortal Sin's sophomore album or some other forgotten record that arrived humbly at the point that thrash had already reached its saturation point when it actually mattered the first time. The bass guitars don't pop out on this disc at all, and the riffs and tunes, while not always incompetent or uninspired, simply don't blend in with strong vocal lines or chorus hooks to produce anything more than a samey rush. If you are into any of the other bands that I listed here, or perhaps some of the first two Artillery records, or the debut by Vendetta, then this might satisfy a niche craving, but the mix, presentation and songwriting are just not at a level yet beyond the raw reproduction of an era and aesthetic. I've heard worse, surely, but also a lot better. And speaking of Shirley, traipsing around the graveyard buck naked might not be such a great idea after all.
Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]
Saturday, June 6, 2015
Transitions are often a little abrupt and lack power here, but they've got a nice crunch on the rhythm guitars that serves as a concrete foundation for the melodic avenues they trend towards. I definitely felt a little Victims of Deception here, with a few nods towards the first, excellent Mordred album Fools Game, and a healthy heaping of late 80s Paradox (the German band), which is in itself a rarity. There's a power metal thrust to it all, which ideally might manifest in something like Artillery's brilliant By Inheritance, only the way the Italians build their rhythmic pairings is nowhere near as layered, complex and unforgettable. These guys seem to just dip their toes in the water of what a potent melodic power/thrash album might be, without committing fully, and the little lead fills and other transition bits often feel a little loose and jarring, unable to accumulate into the raw, inspirational power needed. That's not to say they suck, or put in little thought to what they're playing...this is head and shoulders above a lot of the mediocre pizza party thrash that for some reason seems to have carved out a new 21st niche of trendy plasticity, but where I would go into a tune like "Empire of Lies" or the semi-flashy instrumental "Nebuloid" with some degree of excitement, I always came away thinking that were was just a lot of wasted potential, inconsistent riffing...and, well, the vocals...
There are two styles of singing here, one of them a cleaner, accented voice which is is a little limp, if not unpracticed, and the other a more psychotic, meaty barking which sounds like Belgium's After All jacked up on steroids. One of them simply does not equal the other, and while the former does at least offer a little versatility and the ability for Ancient Dome to traipse further into Euro-anthemic territory, the latter feels just so much more appropriate when the riffing gets some punch. Neither is all that distinct though, and I can't help but feel that a more vicious approach would have done the music better, even at its more warm and friendly. Other factors, like acoustics and at least one lower pitched narrative voice seem forced and awkward, attempts to insert a little more variety and perhaps a science fiction narrative that simply do not impress. Drums sound good, and the bass lines are smooth if not adventurous, but what I'm listening to here is about 60% of an excellent album that badly needs some further development to succeed on a world stage. Frankly, there a ton of us closet freaks for Paradox, Scanner, Toxik, Realm, Mordred, and Heathen who would love for a band like this to take off, but despite an earnest attempt, colorful artwork, and a degree of imagination, Cosmic Gateway to Infinity is not going to be that diamond in the void; but it's not exactly space debris either. I don't hear a record like this every day, so there's at least that amount of appreciation.
Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]
Monday, June 1, 2015
The band has not moved forward in any meaningful way in terms of progressing its ideas to a modern context, nor is it writing nostalgia that eclipses or even matches the best songs of Survive, Handle With Care, and Game Over... I might say that they at least 'try', but the majority of riffs here just seem like they might have been scraped up off the cutting room floor 20-odd years ago. "Pounder" itself is your typical mid-to-fast paced rager like what the band would often kick off a record with in the past, and "Lies" is your analog for a classic headbanger like "Brainwashed". If I had to pick the best of the cuts, though, it would be the closer "Died in Your Arms", which is this swaggering, burly tune in which the buzz of Lilker's distorted bass lines owns up to the rhythm guitar chords, the leads seem bluesy, sporadic and atmospheric, and it really doesn't feel like much of what they've put out in the past. The mix of the entirely EP is appropriately dirty, definitely straddling the line between the first and second albums, and I kind of dig that...but by the same token, I wouldn't have minded a massive sounding modern Nuclear Assault that just wrote killer hooks that twisted my head off.
Connelly might seem a little aged in his inflection, but I think for the most part he continues to create that frustrated, constipated anger that made him unique in the 80s. Otherwise, the band sounds pretty much business as usual, had that business been conducted back when it mattered. Again, I can't be too hard on the thing, because at least the tracks here aren't as miserable as the 2005 album, and they do feature a nice balance of tempos sort of like The Plague EP. But this is a band that used to make me want to arm myself with a spiked baseball bat and storm the streets, burning vehicles and beating up Cold War mutants, and there's just nothing kinetic or memorable enough here to invoke that same delinquency from my inner thrasher. The best this is, is 'non-bad', and I guess that's a start, but one that they'll have to capitalize on by reaching into themselves and pulling out that rage, those nights of dirty clubs and cigarettes, the political unrest their music used to address. Pounder tells me that it is a possibility, but doesn't justify its existence to me beyond that simple tease.
Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]