Wednesday, March 5, 2014
As Dejected in Obscurity was to Labyrinths of Horror, so too is Pestilence Empire to its predecessor Berzerker Legions. Against a reliable backdrop of comparable, blasting excess, the songwriter is far more atmospheric, evil, roiling and surgical in its construction, and while that doesn't necessarily manifest into a highly original set of tunes, its certainly their most otherworldly and accomplished recording in terms of both technicality and raw punishment. Tunes like "Pestifer" are possessed of these out-of-left-field dissonant chord structures and sliding weirdness that seem to channel amorphous Lovecraftian horrors while persisting in a churning, nihilistic undertow thanks to the excellent fucking guitar tone. "Malus Invictus" basically takes the unrepentant speed of the prior album and injects some punchier, unexpected riffing twists and a double kick sequences you can feel deep below your chest cavity. The finale, "A Tyrants Hunger" has that sort of peppy and clinical technicality in its architecture that reminded me heavily of the first Decapitated or some of the faster Vader material of the 90s, with some choppy evil old Pestilence death/thrash harmonies.
This new bassist and drummer made it seem all too effortless, and even though the album might still rely a little too much on sheer blasting, Sigtyr had arrived at the perfect counterbalance, which was to make just about everything he played either interesting or malevolent enough to surrender any shortcomings. I'd also add that Smerte sounded louder here, his voice taking on a more cavernous aesthetic where it's clearly bouncing back and forth to contrast the more busied guitars. About the only real gripe I could offer against Pestilence Empire is that it still could really use some outbreaks of whipping, wild, incendiary leads in the Morbid Angel fashion where they would just leave the listener speechless. As it stands, Sigtyr puts so much work into the construction of the guitars that there were points where I just wanted the guy to take off into the stratosphere and I felt like I was still left on the launch pad. They need not even be too technical, just frenzied and messy and thrilling. Otherwise, Pestilence Empire is quite spotless in presentation, I like the dark and moody sound which isn't brickwalled or overproduced, and this remains in my opinion their very best album. If someone wanted to know where to start with the Danes, track down a copy of this and their 2008 swan song Funeral Phantoms and explore what should have been a better known band.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (leading the syndicate of death)
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
With Killerich, you know this thing is going to be a blasterpiece, and to that extent you won't be let down. A lot of faster paced material circa Morbid Angel/Hate Eternal with a fibrous level of distortion that tears out a gajillion tremolo picked riffs, some of which are assembled catchier than I might have dreaded. There is notably less variation than on Dejected in Obscurity, so I felt entirely dependent on the riffing patterns and vocals to carry the material, and thankfully it succeeds, with the caveat that it's not the sort of record I want to spin often or in its entirety. Honestly, I feel similar to a lot of the Panzerchrist offerings, in that the disc is meticulously constructed aggression which simply doesn't rise above its brutality, its genre standards, to walk with the giants of the genre. Just a lot of intense drumming and traditional death metal riffing with a ghastly vocal presence that sometimes gets lost in the barbarism if you're not paying close enough attention. I just find Smerte's attack far more effective over the black/punk or black/rock leanings of his currently active band, but if you listen in you can here he's got a great sustain to his growl and they seem to often throw a few filters on him which gives the album a somewhat futuristic/apocalyptic impression.
Berzerker Legions is quite unforgiving, and not always in a good way, so it suffers for the same reasons records by Diabolic, Krisiun or Malevolent Creation often fall into systemic dispassion...the real lack of a distinguished or resonant atmosphere. To this point, granted, the Danes had only put out two records that weren't exactly bastions of depth in songwriting, but this one further cemented them as third or fourth stringers on the European scene, and it just lacks the character of the better efforts. It could really use some great lead sequences or pulverizing breakdowns to help break up the speed. That said, it's a real neckbreaker and not at all a bad album to pick through if you really value intensity and couldn't care less about subtlety or song diversity. Beyond the intro it goes into nuclear overdrive, nothing nuanced or unique ever happening, just a load of repetition that makes use of Killerich's speed without ever teaching us why he's this fantastic, up and coming drummer beyond his ability to batter away for a half hour. And that's frankly just too much for this to match any of the other Exmortem full-lengths, and coupled with the forgettable cover image of bursting, incendiary bodies, its reasonable why this seems to have been entirely neglected.
Verdict: Win [7/10] (waiting for a new age)
Monday, March 3, 2014
This isn't quite so dense and opaque as Labyrinths of Horror, sacrificing a fraction of the morbidity for a more dynamic sense of pacing; but it strikes a lot of the same nerves with the guttural belching. I felt that the guitar tone here was a little less impressive, but at the same time thinner and cleaner and better suited to let the syrupy bass lines through in the mix. The wails and slides of the brief solos add an entire new level of vile contrast, and the drums are a lot scrappier and give the whole disc a more calamitous appeal (the last album Mike Nielsen would record with the band). Backing vocals have changed slightly to a more indistinct bark, which I didn't care for as much as those on the first album, since they gave it a bit of a grindcore spark that was really unnecessary, but these aren't exactly an obstacle or distraction; they play a somewhat insignificant role when competing with the growls or shifting riff patterns. Dejected in Obscurity also benefits from a wider level of variation than its predecessor, they fiddle more with the listener's mood and expectations while remaining consistent through the faster paced material which plays like a blend of older Morbid Angel and Poland's Vader.
Not an immortal record, exactly, just another 'good one' from the later 90s that you might not have heard, because it has no real gimmick or selling point beyond the fact that genre completists will enjoy its purity of purpose. You can tell here that these Danes were probably really into the more malevolent West Coast thrash mayhem in the 80s (Slayer, Dark Angel, Possessed) because they really lay on that sort of intensity and excitement thickly, which was so formative to Florida's budding death metal evolution, which definitely had a hand in Exmortem's stylistic choices. I would say this was one of their worst records, and it's still entertaining, which says a lot for just how damned consistent they were until their eventually disbanding in the following decade (and century). The cover's a little bland, and the production doesn't really stand out beyond a reasonable level of concussion and clarity, but those seeking some genuine 90s death metal thrills without needing to join the 'Cult of the Old New' should add this to their radar, along with just about everything Exmortem ever recorded.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (into the gory cave of darkness)
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Denmark never really had a unified 'scene' aesthetic, unlike the Scandinavian sects of Sweden and Finland, so this doesn't precisely sound like Panzerchrist or Corpus Mortale beyond the obvious similarities in growls, guitar tunings, and general unfriendliness of the genre. Labyrinths of Horror is possessed of this rich, ripping guitar tone which can run with most of the Swedes, but the total nihilism of the main vocals and mindless blasting that often breaks out here has more in common with the US scene, specifically Florida and New York, some ungodly union of Obituary and Incantation. There's also quite a bit of Dutch inspiration, particularly via Pestilence or Asphyx, largely in the backing vocals which take on the grotesque pallor of Martin van Drunen (with a little John Tardy for good measure). Really, though, this debut shows the Danes at their most 'innocent' and straightforward. Labyrinths is an entirely riff-driven, ugly death metal record with about as much subtlety as a trash bag of human body parts left stinking behind the slaughterhouse. Doesn't take a huge leap of logic to realize what happened there, and what will happen to you if you were to fuck with these guys...guttural, slimy, evil, and eschewing melody for pure, punishing viscera.
Not a lot of atmosphere, and the riffing progressions are not necessarily the most memorable nor the most malevolent in composition, so it's clear Exmortem did not have a debut on their hands which would rival icons of the first wave like Left Hand Path, Realm of Chaos, Altars of Madness, etc. Intelligent, viral lead outbreaks are also not really a part of this picture, it's all too 'working class'...this butcher isn't working the leanest cuts of meat for an upscale banquet, he's just hacking into whatever is unfortunate enough to happen along. But at the same time, there's a particular timelessness to the meaty rhythm guitar tone, the spankish drum production and the overly ominous, deep Craig Pillard-esque growl which still makes me pull the covers over my head and pray for the killer to pass me over and kill the person in the next house. Alright, I'm exaggerating...I'd just shoot the bastard, but it's difficult to imagine even a handful of bullets putting this grisly beast down. Labyrinths of Horror isn't unique, it's not innovative, it's not melodic, it's not the best album by Exmortem and it doesn't care. In fact, there's nothing 'labyrinthine' or complex anywhere, which is the worst you could say for it. Simply a mouldering heap of rot, flies buzzing all over it, rats pulling at scraps as you gaze on in horror of how a living, loving, laughing being could become just yesterday's meat. You know you want a bite.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (recommending amputation)
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Fat, sluggish bass-lines anchor a series of monolithic, sprawling chords that run an aesthetic range from depression to extinction, often transforming into more 'uptempo', roiling death metal tremolo patterns that feel like someone lost something in your intestines and is fishing through your guts to find it. Feedback erupts with no hesitation, and the vocals cycle between black hole gutturals and bile-swishing snarls, and the drums crash along with a grim certainty that belies speed and technicality, which is all that is truly required of them. They will implement some spoken word-like passages and effects which give Procession an entirely contemporary feeling, this is not the doom of antiquity but of 20th century industrial societies running amok, and it exudes that same sort of helpless feeling you might feel when paging through photographs from WWI or WWII, just like the blasted out buildings in the booklet intend. There are only four tracks ranging from 8-14 minutes in length, and not a whole lot of variation between them, but the production is just so raw and megalithic that it recounted the reaction I had to British bands like Bolt Thrower or Godflesh, only filtered through the glacial pacing of a Winter or Disembowelment.
Though most of the guitar patterns are pretty unoriginal and predictable in composure, The Nihilistic Front seems to exempt itself from the usual tired response because they just sound so goddamned heavy that it makes such vapid structure seem whole again...or fresh...or new. I cannot look at or listen through this album without feeling like I got exactly what they intended, exactly what I deserved, and I think that makes it an easy recommendation for death/doom purists who want soul-wrenching, unforgiving and utterly without hope. You won't hear any subtle brilliance, or spy any lights and the end of tunnels, rays of sunshine spotting the cloud-cover...just endless fucking soot pumping out of smokestacks, settling on your skin and making you choke your life out. Don't listen to before you've got a birthday or wedding to attend, or any sort of important life event to which you need to wear a smile and a warm embrace. Instead, listen to this afterward, when you finally realize that all hope and happiness is naught but a fleeting, hollow proxy for the realities of the universe...emptiness, all-consuming darkness and despair, and civilizations cranking on cyclically to their cancerous ends. Apologies in advance.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (eject us from this world)
Friday, February 28, 2014
Not the case for The Satanist, which has been for me the first instance in which Behemoth truly lives up to the surrounding hype; an album that is not only phenomenally well-written, but bolsters production standards that crush the fucking sun. Not a major stylistic deviation from their last few discs, but the plotting here at long last seems to translate into an actual slew of songs that I feel like listening to repeatedly, which is more than I could say for stuff like Evangelion, which possesses a proficient, punishing quality that seems to plateau at 'good', eluded by 'greatness' and only ever broken out when I want a reliable, indistinct bludgeoning. The Satanist is just such a more well-rounded experience...blast beats are weighted off against genuine moments of poignant atmosphere and restraint. Individual tunes are distinguishable from one another, and after hearing one I couldn't quite put my finger on what would happen in the next. The death and black metal genre tropes which have shaped Nergal's career are more evenly balanced, and the robust production aesthetics and the precision instrumentation have just never sounded better. While The Satanist is still not a perfect outing, and leaves some area for further expansion, it oozes conviction from every pore. We all know Darski had a rough spell health-wise, but that this is a testament to his survival gives it all the more impact. Coming back stronger and superior is after all a chief virtue of Satanic self-enlightenment, and so I'm not at all surprised he chose the absurd profundity of its overt title.
At any rate, much of the album is still a locomotive of seamless blasted structures which weave together the resonant tremolo picking and mildly dissonant chord choices, ominous octave chords sliding around the underbelly of hellish beats and Nergal's powerful if not entirely nasty sounding growls. If you were worried that the advance snippets of "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel" somehow lacked the intensity you'd come to expect, tracks like "In the Absence ov Light" or "Amen" make short work of the assumption like a hurricane whipping through a field of origami blossoms. The bass tone on the album deserves particular praise, it's just so fat and voluptuous and only ever loses some presence when the band is blasting full force, but there is just never a moment where the compositions feel 'empty' or lacking...layers of rhythm guitars or wailing and blustering lead passages always arrive, or tempo shifts where that fat, fat low end starts pummeling into your imagination like an infernal juggernaut. The ambient orchestration that both sets up "Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel" into those enormous riffs, and returns, even more horrifying in the bridge, was the perfect touch to balance out what are occasionally average chord choices. In fact, I wish this had occurred more often through The Satanist than it did, but thankfully the record is ridiculously effective regardless.
Lyrically, it's not a departure from anything else Behemoth has done in the last 15 years, but as with the mix on the bass, the vocals are just gruesome and over the top. You can feel the guy barking his guts out as he drives all the evil ego-tripping home. He sounds revitalized, recharged, and though I doubt the purpose of an album like this is 'fun', that is ultimately the effect of such a visceral, convincing performance. Their albums have always had that sense of entertaining intimidation. 'Look how fast we can play! Look how great we look! Look how comfortable we are in our wicked skins!' But then I'd put on one of the better efforts from Lost Soul, Calm Hatchery, Decapitated or almost anything from Vader and smirk at how much more I preferred their songwriting capabilities. Suddenly, Nergal and company belong amongst that crowd. Not that they weren't already a more smashing financial success, enjoying a level of popularity flush with Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, but I can no longer safely relegate them aside to the ranking of 'overrated', or dismiss them like a snob. This is a genuinely excellent album, both in appearance and sound, caving in my skull nine times straight and making everything before it seem like the warmup. There is still a distance to go before I can hail a Behemoth disc as a masterpiece for all the ages, but The Satanist at least flirts with that idea, and inspires belief beyond barren praise.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (in euphoria below)
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The title is, I believe, an old term for 'slumber' or 'dreaming', and it's remarkable how the musical decisions (and obviously the cover art) capture this state of unconsciousness with a wonderful contrast of tension and trepidation. Acoustic guitars are used throughout the record as if a backdrop to some slowly building horror, as catchy as involved as any of the electrical-charged emissions they run us through once reverting back towards that sort of curious antique-Morbid Angel-meets-Autopsy aesthetic they cultivate through the gruesome, unhinged vocal growls and the hectic nature of the guitars. Though aggressive, Sweven is laced with note selections of an even more melodic texture than the debut, shifting between brazen, bristling death metal progressions and a sheen of bright blackness in some of the tremolo picked passages, with a clean and harmonized tone that continues the band's juxtaposition of the otherworldly and organic. Tasty licks like the spooky thrash harmony in "Aurora in the Offing" or the atonal, almost bluesy open picking in "Ripening" are constant, and I never felt like anything was repeated over the substantial 53 minute experience.
The drums sound fantastic, from the restrained but effective blasting to the excellent balance of cymbal crashes that emphasize the atmosphere; crucial since Morbus Chron doesn't exactly saturate the sounds with psychedelic keyboards or effects beyond those that the core band might tear out on stage. The bass is somewhat relegated to a muddy, supportive flow, which is partially the point, but due to the heavily melodic focus of the riffing it definitely stands out enough, and considering the sheer variety of riffing techniques over Sweven it's thankfully consistent. But perhaps the greatest sounds on the album hail from the aforementioned acoustic tones, beautiful in a cut like "Solace" which is pregnant with the ringing of what sounds like deep piano tones that lend it some gravitas. This is such a perfectly implemented component of the album, not only on the shorter instrumental pieces but also when used to set up some morbid, harrowing metal track that it makes a lot of other metal bands who eschew the use of cleaner guitars seem like they're really messing out. It's not 'cheap and folksy', and it's not just something they use for an intro and then abandon.
I can't emphasize enough just how important this small group of Scandinavian pioneers has become amidst the insipid ambitions of so many of their peers...sacrificing the security of numbers for an adventure into the possibilities found only on the borders of classification. Morbus Chron, Obliteration, Tribulation and Necrovation are to me the bands that will be remembered long after the Entombed-a-thon, which has widened its gyre now to swallow a lot of American grind/hardcore bands in addition to its local practitioners, at last subsided. While it might not be incredibly memorable during individual moments, Sweven creates a constant swath of mood and subtle malevolence which I can't imagine would fade if I listened through it in 10 years. A truly timeless production which does not neglect a sense of dread and the unexpected once the listener closes his/her eyes to consume it. I liked the first album a little bit better, but at the same time I think this one will cast a much wider net. Was very near my album of the month, will certainly have a presence on many year's end lists, and cements the Swedes as one of the most legitimate and talented acts on a Century Media roster which seems to be half-intent on returning to substance and quality (or piggybacking on the retro death metal bandwagon, but if that results in this, so fucking be it).
Verdict: Win [8.75/10]
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
You'll recognize the use of microtonal riffing if you've experienced last year's Discontinuities, only rather than repeating that album, he's interpreted the technique into a more unpredictable, angular geometry that throws you curve balls in almost every track on the album. Songs are divided into harsher passages of insectoid, bristling dissonance, or springier and cleaner riffs set off against distorted dementia, with the tempos fluxed between the faster black metallic rushes of his prior works and a slower, creepier miasma of impenetrable doom that is compounded by the fresh intervals being picked and strummed. I couldn't even begin to accurately compare this to anything outside of Jute Gyte's own body of work, but strange word puzzles like 'Philip Glass being filtered through the unwashed demos of the stranger LLN bands' seem to pop into my imagination as I'm listening. That this is a difficult experience goes without saying, he's never been all about the comfort of music but rather in seeking that comfort through unusual circumstances, and yet there is certainly a consistent set of traits (certain rhythm guitar tones, drum tracking) that fasten these Chains into a fairly cohesive album...or at least as cohesive as any strain of madness I've encountered.
Probably my favorite tracks were "The Inexpressible Loneliness of Thinking", which was like having a few gallons of effluvia dumped upon my head after being pumped through an Escher-designed sewer sytem, and "Endless Moths Swarming" which becomes so bonkers nearing the bridge that it's almost comical. In fact, this sense of black humor permeates the entirety of the disc, but not for cheap laughs, for unbridled horror. It would also be remiss to not mention how damned excellent the lyrics are...it's pretty early on in 2014, and I've often enjoyed Kalmbach's words as much if not more than the compositions they represent, but these are superb even among the esteemed crowd of his past releases, and the best I've read so far this year. On the flip side, there are definitely a couple riffs here that simply aren't ugly enough to live up to others, so there's a sense of clashing and contrast which doesn't always subdue the listener levelly. I also thought his raving snarled vocals were superior to the death grunts, as you can compare in the first tune "Semen Dried into the Silence of Rock and Mineral", but it's strange to say that these are the most sanity-tethered components of the album, which is just this tornado of disjointed nightmares whipping across the plains of Missouri. Recommended with the lights on, but without...you're on your own there, friends.
Verdict: Win [8/10] (solitude may rust your words)
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
If anything, Kindly Bent to Free Us bridges Cynic back towards a slightly more mechanistic variety of winding, dingy metallic grooves that counterbalance the soothing Beatles-esque vocal harmonies; a clean and tidy style which can sustain the natural variety, experimentation and ambiance with which they play. I mean, there is still nobody who truly sounds like Cynic...they are a league unto themselves and will live or die by their willingness to either succeed or cede to what they've previously offered, and I found this the least impressive of their long players, with the caveat that it undeniably provides a few curious listens through. The drums and bass are superb, the guitars busily constructed if not entirely catchy, and this is probably a more technical and 'metal' direction than Traced in Air, though it shares the same proclivity to lapse into these somnolent passages of cleaner guitars that sound like 90s prog rock lite. A number of the songs like "Moon Heart Sun Head" sounded like Yes or Watchtower being filtered through later 90s era Queensryche or Jellyfish, and a cloying haze of 'hippie enlightenment' seems to hover over their composition, but it's still a case where you can never quite predict the blueprint of an individual track, only that the vocals will remain consistently melodic and not too catchy throughout the 42 minutes.
It sort of saddens me that each consecutive listen to this evokes an even further negative reaction, so it might just be best if I don't revisit it next week, or the one after that. I like a lot of the subtle processed effects and nuances which either lead into the tracks or supplement their depths, more than the riffs, vocal hooks and choruses themselves, and that's not really a good sign. I kept pining for a joygasmic song like the ill-titled "Elves Beam Out" or "Integral Birth" but they're just nowhere to be found, even though Kindly Bent is very clearly clogged with efforts to capitalize on similar motifs. In the end, I had to console myself that this was merely a 'good' Cynic record for a few spins, but very quickly forgotten about when I break out any of their earlier works I own. It's also unlikely to generate any of the divisive buzz that surrounded their reunion earlier this millennium, since there is no real surprise or advancement upon what they've already produced. A shoe in for the appreciation of prog metal nerds who care more about smooth sailing and the showcasing of musical talents, but the older material went beyond that into a realm of obsessive, explosive passion that seems to be replaced here with a little bit of studio gloss and familiarity. Good, but never 'good enough' for a creative outlet like this which inspires such high standards of divergent sonic exploration.
Verdict: Win [7/10] (absorbed into a fossil site)
Monday, February 24, 2014
This is for all intensive purposes a full-length record at around 64 minutes, with six songs all over nine minutes in length, but in this case it's a brilliant tactic which allows the listener to settle in to the current of each 'river' and ride it down- or upstream to its fellows. What keeps the three musical entities coherent is the heavy use of atmosphere and synthesizer orchestration throughout, so that there's a seamless feel to each of the tunes which are alternated in the track list (two apiece). Naturally, the Tempestuous Fall material is slower and more rooted in doom/death aesthetics than its peers; a mix of death gutturals and soaring clean vocals exhibit Dis' arching range over the medieval theatrics of the keys and percussion. Whereas The Crevices Below is still the stuff of subterranean majesty, despite being so expansive and busy with blast beats, driving chords and sweeping symphonic arrangements, you still get the impression you're at the foot of some underground castle, at the knees of some troglodyte liege who raves at you with a combination of slightly higher pitched gutturals and deeper bellowed vocals which ricochet off the stone and earthen borders of his domain. Midnight Odyssey then lives up to its more 'open' nature, beautiful and skyward and without restriction, ever his most varied creative outlet and the one which seems to have survived the purging of the others...
And thank the stars for that, since Firmament remains one of my favorite metal records of the last decade and its successor was not far beyond. Regardless, Dis Pater has seen fit that each of the three projects complements one another more than you might have suspected if you were just to compare the raw recordings each has put out in the past, to the extent that there is some degree of blending amongst them. In other words, while there are differences in style and architecture, he could have probably released this strictly under the banner of Midnight or Crevices and gotten away with it, especially the former since it's quite clear he's bent on evolving that sound over the course of distinct releases. But that's why Converge, Rivers of Hell works so bloody well, why it so effortlessly transports you from the shores of Hades to the euphoria of Elysium. Had the production been wildly jarring between projects, it would feel disjointed and distracting. As it stands, the split proves a fitting finale for The Crevices Below, and even Tempestuous Fall (the one outing of his that I wasn't initially impressed with). Catchy, dense, drifting, textured, absorbing overtures to classicism and tragedy, accessible and yet uncompromising. Perhaps the greatest living musical tribute to its subject matter, and a guaranteed refresher to anyone's appetite for whatever Midnight Odyssey comes up with next. I only regret I didn't cover it sooner.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (in conveyance of the dead)