Friday, April 16, 2021

Betrayed - The Unbeliever

Betrayed were not Chile's first thrash band, forming in the late 80's, though they are surely veterans of a long-running scene in the South American nation. At least sole original member, drummer, Claudio Tapia, is. It doesn't take a one sheet for discerning listeners to find that The Unbeliever delivers solid if derivative thrash closely in line with the early 90's Bay Area bands. If Victims of Deception is a must-own album in your mind (I prefer the more Heavy Metal sounding Breaking The Silence personally) then you could do far worse. Containing five completely new tracks and re-recordings of seven-tenths of the 1990 full length, 1879 Tales of War, there's something enjoyable here for most blue-collar metal fans. Testament's The Ritual is also a noteworthy reference point, though Betrayed never quite achieve the timelessness of "Electric Crown" or "Deadline." Betrayed are not as rigid in their playing as Heathen, and not as rockin' as Testament. Betrayed don't quite find pockets of space for leads and harmonies the way Skolnick or Peterson do, but the lead guitar playing of JL Olmos and Mauricio Castro is a highlight. 

The five tracks from The Unbeliever EP are well paced, well produced, and professional. The production is not overly sapped of energy through post production; vibrant yet full guitars are natural and genuine revealing subtleties such as pick noise and string scrapes throughout. That this honesty and passion comes through in the production is a major hurdle crossed. "Looters Will Be Shot" is a key track from these five songs, with a super memorable - and wholesome - Thrash Metal chorus warning a response of force towards rioters and looters. "They are greedy, the Bastard Sons... Hey You! Looters will be shot! They are my Enemies, and I will crush them One By One..." This is followed by the similarly politically oriented "Constitution (Of The Oppressors)" which happens to be my personal favorite of the five tracks with it's shift towards a dramatic lead section with big melodic chords juxtaposed between the chug-heavy and staccato body. While the lyrical content suffers slightly, as it is clear that English is a second language for these men, the content is hard-nosed and serious in it's real-world universalism. 

The seven re-recorded tracks, here titled as 'Back to Tales of War' constitute a sizeable portion (three-fifths) of the play time of the disc. These are apparently rehearsal or studio recordings of the tracks from the original release of 1879 Tales of War, which has not seen any international release since it's debut. Interestingly, these tracks, especially opener "Fight For Your Land" and "The First Desillusion" remind me of Coroner and not the Bay Area bands. It is possibly mostly due to Erik Flores' vocal performance here, but some of the riff phrasing is just off-kilter enough to nod towards the Swiss trio. "Human Madness" is a bit of an odd track compared to the others. An instrumental, and significantly more upbeat... I would have chosen one of the other available tracks or omitted. "The Real Me" is equally melodic, but dark enough and containing enough of the band's thrash foundation to be my favorite of these older tracks. 

The Unbeliever is Betrayed's first for a non-Chilean market. Thrashback Records, four years after the original release of The Unbeliever domestically, has given the band some worthwhile attention. The booklet is well done, with the layout by Thrashback's Eric Hoffman, and the inner photos are all top notch as well; a ton of action shots, photo collages, etc. The lyrics are included for the new songs, but not the 1879 tracks; the only drawback here. This is a great little release, honestly. Thrash needs to be something special for me to enjoy it multiple times at this point in my life and Betrayed were able to make each return to his album more and more enjoyable. It's true that it's Bay Area Thrash we've all heard ten thousand times... but Betrayed play it with enough energy and fire to keep this one burning bright, where many other bands sadly find themselves smoldering away. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Royal Anguish / The Risen / Oblation / Deracination / Faithful Witness / Mansoul / Final Prophecy - A.R.T. Records Singles Series Vol. 2

Another Thrashback Records Compilation, this seven-band sampler does less for me than Vol. 1. There are no tracks to compete with Drop Dead's powerful trio of death metal here, and the inclusion of seven different bands makes the compilation feel less focused. That the bands all had planned to release these 7"s on A.R.T. Records in the past might not be enough for some listeners to internalize the reason for this compilation's existence as worthwhile. While saving and digitizing these tracks for posterity is a laudable task, I'm not sure I would come back to much of this material unless it was tangentially related to something else. Maybe I would revisit a single track from The Risen if I was doing in depth research on death metal from Maryland. Perhaps I would come back to Oblation if one of the old members sent me something from a new project to check out. Maybe I would have to come back to Royal Anguish if the early to mid 90's Floridian death metal scene was a topic of discussion. But beside scholarship, this will likely see quite a lot of shelf-time and not a huge amount of play time as a complete album. These tracks, just like Vol. 1 of the A.R.T. Records compilations released by Thrashback Records, were from 7" single presses in the 90's. Unlike Vol. 1, these singles were never released. 

The best of the 7"s compiled here is the that of Faithful Witness and Mansoul. Faithful Witness cuts, "Shadows" and "Trembling of the Spirit" are the best overall off that, however the Mansoul release is easily the most interesting from a criticism / textural perspective. The two Faithful Witness tracks draw heavily on Suffocation and the New York Death Metal scene. There is a generous gargle to their bottom heavy tone, and the swelling speaker fuzz is the perfect compliment to the slow breakdown in "Trembling of the Spirit", a track whose origins are elusive to me, as it was included as a bonus track, and was not on the original 7". "Shadows" is likely the same recording from their sole 1993 self-titled demo tape, just recycled for the split release. I would have loved to have heard the other two tracks from that release. Mansoul's "Justified By Blood" is simply a unique track. It starts off with low-grade death metal and rubbery bass before breaking into a Preces-styled vocal transition. The echoing and angelic vocals of the Preces section get truncated by oppressively distorted guitars with a hint of phasing. The track then moves into a Megadeth-esque thrash riff and so on. The whole introduction is unique and memorable and the shifts in style are unpredictable for the first few listens. 

The tracks from the Royal Anguish / The Risen split 7" are average at best. "Retrospect" also appeared on the Killing Time compilation, and so is an immediate deduct for me. It appears to be the same exact recording and the additional track, "Shocking The Priest" doesn't do much for me either. Royal Anguish, through the tracks on these compilations have not won me over, even though they were a staple in the mid 90's in the Floridian scene. The Risen inhale their smoke from the polluted Northeastern death metal out of New York and New Jersey, going so far as to name their track, "Mortal Decay". There is no comparison quality wise, though, to the classics Dawn of Misery or Grisly Aftermath or pretty much most of Mortal Decay's catalog, really; the track is acceptable, but forgettable. The Oblation / Deracination 7" tracks, however, are solid death metal. Oblation's "Dead Unborn" is worthy of inspection with a unique main riff, and faster parts reminiscent of Scream Bloody Gore or Leprosy. Deracination's "Death by Fire" is a cool track with a thick Swedish guitar tone. 

The CD also includes two Final Prophecy tracks from a 7". While I guess it's reasonable to include these since they were also released as singles, I kind of liked the whole theme of 7" splits as further tying the release together. "Through Eyes of Fire" is not substantially different enough for me from that which was included on the Killing Time compilation. "We Must Die", however, is new. Thrashier in sound and style, and with less brutal death metal vocals than the other tracks, it both stands out and is odd man out. So for a release which really shows a mixture of death metal bands of different influences and scenes, I'm not sure where/if the track fits in well. I would have preferred a dredged up 7" of death metal from the crypts from the A.R.T Records back catalog. For example, A.R.T. Records released a demo tape from a Christian themed death metal band from Kentucky called Corpse, which would have been cool to include. Absent the two Final Prophecy tracks, Corpse included, it would have pushed this compilation over an hour long, but may have been a better fit against the other Death Metal tracks. I like the Final Prophecy material, but I just haven't been able to enjoy it given the context I've been served it within.

This release should conclude Thrashback's Singles Series. The two releases as a whole are interesting and both have some worthwhile material for what surely is a rather small overall audience. Regarding these types of compilations of obscure material from bygone bands: I can't help but feel there are miscalculations regarding how much interest there truly is in these kinds of releases. For scholarship purposes these are essential volumes; before long these 7" singles and odd demo tapes will surely disappear into boxes, storage units, and the crevice between record shelves and backerboards, never to be seen again. So this compilation - and Vol. 1 - do serve a purpose, even if that purpose is infinitesimally relevant. From a purely entertainment perspective I think it's more likely that average listeners want re-releases of albums long out of print. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Dehydrated - Psychopathological Years

Compilations such as this one from Atomic Vision Productions are about as necessary as they come. The release spans less than two years of actual releases and includes the 1992 Dehydrated demo, the 1992 Suffering of the Living Mass demo, and the tracks from a 1993 split CD called Burnt from what Atomic Vision Productions claims is "A real death metal legend from Slovakia." While copies of Dehydrated's first demos are available on collector sites at reasonable prices (at least for thirty-year old obscure demo tapes) it is more than likely that few will be willing to shell out fifty or sixty dollars for two tapes to own the rarities. That said, the music available here should have fans of old school death metal shelling out that price. Dehydrated have etched into the eighteen included tracks a timeless type of death metal; forks-in-eyes, blood down the cheeks, coagulated chunks of missing flesh type death metal. Preoccupations with intellectualism and cosmology are replaced with bursts of gutty vomit and cut-scenes of gangrenous exploding corpses. And through the all the viscera is a surprising awareness of songwriting structure often left for dead in similar period demo tapes. 

The first nine tracks are from the Dehydrated demo tape. More simplistic and raw both structurally and technically, there are still standouts. "Cannibalizmus" is a favorite, with neatly twisting motifs. While it's difficult to pinpoint direct similarities, I feel a good comparison for the first demo would be something like Darkthrone's Soulside Journey. In much the same way, Dehydrated wind awkward churning melodies and atypical rhythmic patterns coated in an otherworldly resonant guitar tone. Pegas' drumming is less inventive than Fenriz's on Soulside Journey, however this allows for an easier, primal, and less philosophical feeling to the music more in line with the previously cited focus on blood-and-guts-and-flesh, as opposed to the cosmic themes of my comparison. Another unique track which stands out is the band's (maybe) namesake, "Dehydration". Slower, brooding, with a high-register opening riff, and plunky underlying bass line from Palo, it's two minutes introduces a doom-drenched tense and stressful element to the mix of their death metal. There are blitzes of grind mixed in and also hints at a respect for the best elements of thrash. It also is an omen for the possibilities that would later show on their second demo and the demo turns weird hereafter with "Vyhrabem Mŕtve Telo" incorporating a bizarre moody atmospheric vibe. 

The real gold of this compilation, however, comes from the tracks pulled from the Suffering of the Living Mass demo. Each song is memorable, unique, and barbaric. "Toxoplasmosa" opens with a crawling guitar line before switching gears to a slow doomier middle section. "Intraoseal Fibrom" mixes the fast grindy bits with slower death metal bludgeonment, crawling and mechanized guitar runs, and a climactic final twenty seconds which ends too soon and leaves you wanting to see the band expand upon the most Swedish influenced riff of the entire anthology. What also stands out is how unafraid Dehydrated is to skirt convention at times, such as the more experimental moments of "An Advanced Stage of Infections Contagion In Abdomen Cavity". With the band often veering away from standard riffs, and even tonality, there is a consistent freshness. Each listen offers new rewards, even to veteran ears. What could sound out of place or mundane on another bands record, sounds natural and invigorating for Dehydrated. The stylistic tendencies of Suffering of the Living Mass continues to the final four tracks from the Burnt split. The songs here are slightly longer, but no less compelling. "Intraoseal Fibrom" is repeated with a better production, however omitting the defining guitar lead over the last twenty seconds. I would be curious to know why the band removed it. 

With an hours worth of material, all worthy of multiple listens, there should be a copy on it's way to you already. For me, this release satisfies all the criteria which would force me to seek out the remaining material and albums. While I do not have hope for their most recently released albums having the same charm, the same atmosphere, the same old school fetidity, I do believe that their 1997 full length and previous EP are likely to be worthy of my ears. I will be seeking those out. Start here, though, with Psychopathological Years. Dehydrated prove to have been years ahead from the start. The fact that none of these tracks appear on their full lengths means that anyone interested will miss out on very high quality death metal. Vrana at Atomic Vision Productions has also put together a masterful large 8" x 11" full page layout. This is a tape deserving of space on your shelves. The Suffering of the Living Mass version of "Intraoseal Fibrom" is essential. This tape will get deck-time for sure. 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Death Invoker - Necromancy, Damnation, Revenge

The necessity of tapes exemplified! Death Invoker, a Peruvian horde, have gone through some lineup changes, but the intent remains the same - relentless extreme metal in the style of the classics. "I met Unholy Perversor in 2003 in a Metal store. Then we got contact and spoke from time to time to play raw, bestial and classical extreme Metal. Everything finally started once we met Beast of Holocaust on 2005." In 2019, Unholy Perversor self-exiled. "Just he decided to go off from Death Invoker (and even his other band), because of personal decisions. So, I took guitar too, in addition of bass/vocals. Now Death Invoker continues as a duo. We have already recorded for 4 productions with this duo line up." That duo is rounded out by drummer Bestial Lust, since 2007. "The only fact is that we summon elder spirits of extreme Metal and unleash our necromantic noise, trying to put our own characteristics. Once we were called "Morbid and Unholy Peruvian Metal Bestiality", “Necromantical Metal of Death, “Necromantic Deathrash”, etc." 

Necromancy, Damnation, Revenge was originally released on 7", however Death Invoker were forced to omit the opening track, "Divination Through Death Spirits". I received some explanation on this from main man Morbid Devastator. "We recorded "Divination…" originally for the 7EP, but it was excluded because of factory issues. At first, the EP would be released in Europe and the label asked for twenty minutes. But there were troubles. Finally, the EP was released in South America and the label and factory asked for fifteen minutes. So, we decided to take out “Divination…” which in fact was the newest, longest and the last (song) we had recorded at that time." Thankfully, Nihilistic Holocaust has solved this problem by releasing this excellent material in totality. 

I hear the influence of mainly early Slayer, Sepultura, and Sodom but stripped of all semblance of complicating technicality. The production is ancient, and underground sounding, at times even emitting a Celtic Frost value. The major difference comes in the throat of bassist and vocalist Morbid Devastator who prefers a gruff lower growl than the wailing high pitches of Araya or mid-range rasps of Angelripper. This deeper vocal performance combined with lots of echo and reverb should be reminiscent of Blasphemy, or Mystifier. Maybe some of the Greek scene pokes through as well. I ear-checked my impressions. "In general, ancient and raw Metal as: Sarcófago, Sepultura, Vulcano, Sextrash, Kreator, Sodom, Destruction, Venom, Possessed, Death, Slayer; just to mention the classics, in addition of other raw noises from the entire ancestral Metal legions."

There is a subtle occult atmosphere to the tape, set in motion by the longish two-minute intro. The intro, which Death Invoker deemed important enough to remain in full on the 7" - important enough that it would have been worth omitting a full track for - sets an appropriate tone, with wailing distant moans and synths rumbling on in the foreboding melody of D#, F, A at first and then C and F. Maybe slightly longer than needed, but a solid introduction to the previously omitted track, "Divination Through Death Spirits." In truth, though, it is "Witches Hammer" that stands out to me as the most classically influenced track present and reminds me of Slayer more than the other two non-intro offerings. 

The layout does not provide any hints as to the lyrical content, so I asked Morbid Devastator about this facet of the band. Regarding my favorite on the album, he alluded to the historical treatment towards those deemed witches. "'Witches Hammer' is related to the so called blasphemous acts of the so called witches, and punishment they suffered, although this, an eternal curse was unleashed." Elaborating further, "Death Invoker takes obscure events of history to be used as a manifestation of dark stuff along human life. In addition to death mysteries, ancient rituals, abominable mythology, obscure damnations, Metal apologies and morbid hallucinations." 

CTP - 019 - I: Gates of Eternal Torment - Giving Nothing Back It's Voice

Giving Nothing Back It's Voice
is laden with melancholic melodies, raw cold black metal, and deep bellowing vocals while at the same time emitting an odd luminosity and brightness. Currently the digital album is available on the Gates of Eternal Torment bandcamp. It's been eight years since the release of Imprisoned Beneath The Ice Of This Cold Black Void. That release has been sold out for years. Firthornn and I have stayed close acquaintances throughout that time since we share a lot of interests and perspectives so it is an honor to once again put out his remarkably personal music. 

Out Now: Purchase

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Radiation - Plutonium Overdose

Vrana is a man obsessed with all things nuclear and atomic. From his label, Atomic Vision Productions to his band Radiation, a thrash trio producing copies amounts of clicks on any local Geiger counters, there is a definite recurring theme present. Plutonium Overdose is a fast-and-bash effort. Five songs in twelve minutes crammed onto a 7" platter and ready to produce the type of energy required for a viable thrash release. There are few compromises present. All five songs are rippers with deafening bombast and unrelenting attack. Aided by a clear production which highlights all the instruments, the production, while underground sounding and raw, is still professional sounding. There's not much to complain about if you are a fan of classic Teutonic thrash from early Kreator, Destruction, and of course Sodom. Naturally, there's some seepage of other scenes into the reactor, but even so, the influences here are stable. 

It's immediately apparent from opening track "Atomic Age" that Radiation have removed all frills from their stripped down attack. Sharp drum chokes accent transitions to give a sharp and violent pace to the track. Traditional thrash beats and double bass rhythms grace in between. The guitar tone is that of an old reciprocating saw on high speed. Bass is properly modulated to fill in the background with depth and heft. The Drumming is chaotic and reckless. It's all a perfectly respectful amount of abandon. "Towards a Shining Blaze" is borderline Aura Noir-esque thrashing black metal. Vocals are often barks and deeper grunts of spittle which slicken the tracks. "Orbital Bombanfall", an instrumental, is rigorous in it's back and forth between fast driving chugs ala mid-period Bolt Thrower and slower riffs more akin to Agent Orange Sodom. 

"Sword of Damocles" is my pick for best track. It combines the fast, thrashing foundation of the band with simplistic shifts in melodic tension that stand out amongst the other tracks. The chorus is the key to my ears. It jumps up a step and a half from the Eb root note to an F# root note building a hefty aggressive sense of drama and impending doom. The track is a winner and goes straight into my favorite's playlist. Even though the overall EP length is expectedly short it is sure to please fans of the German school of Thrash or blackened Thrash overall. It's not breaking any barriers, not breaking any trends, but it will likely break a few necks. A no-nonsense 7" that will nest nicely into any metal collection.  

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Vessel of Light - Last Ride

I've never quite understood Dan Lorenzo's trajectory after The Downside and Damnation. While the last Hades albums' progression made sense to me, and were in many ways good records, his solo material always seemed to lack a certain... seriousness? Edge? There was always an unpleasant tang of gimmick jumbled in with the inside joke tracks and I will never understand the decision to include three other band's songs with a hype up track on Cassius King. Lorenzo's audacious ambivalence for convention is in every way a NJ attribute. That is for sure. So, I do not expect another Resisting Success - how could I? - but I've always hoped. Dan Lorenzo's collaboration with Nathan Opposition in Vessel of Light is a recent project, but the material presented, at least on this years Last Ride, explains a lot of what I've not understood about Lorenzo's progression in other projects. The doomier setting, somewhere between Sahg and Alice In Chains, gives insight into the thrashless tone of his solo records. There is, of course, the formative influence of Sabbath present, as well as stoner bastions like Down. Vessel of Light is not as gritty as any of the Down material, but a shared architecture can be found nonetheless. Perhaps the best comparison would be locals King's Destroy - particularly their 2013 album, A Time Of Hunting

Long time followers of Lorenzo's storied and illustrious career will recognize the entourage. Bassist Jimmy Schulman, Lorenzo's long-time wingman, has followed him into the project. Lorenzo just drags him wherever he goes, it seems, but Schulman is a naturally gifted bassist and effortlessly suits the material. Drummer Ron Lipnicki, another Lorenzo henchman, also has moved into one of the project's bedrooms, kicking N. Opposition out of the percussion role, leaving him to handle the vocal element singularly. Though I'm not familiar with previous records from Vessel of Light, Last Ride is a very professional sounding affair. The guitars carry the jagged resonance of seasoned tweaking. Lorenzo does not spend much time, unfortunately, gracing us with guitar solos or leads on this album and his position is mostly of a rhythmic affair. A few good wailings and unadulterated shredding, which he is capable of, would have provided highlights in some songs. Schulman's bass, though, is a highlight for me, as it adds depth and subtlety to each track and I spent at least two listens only listening for his bass lines. Lipnicki's drumming is interesting and varied throughout, especially in a track like "Carving Station". I do wish there was more punch to his kick drum during the slower beats on the album.

If there was a major complaint, it would reside in the song structures. Throughout, on almost every song, the movement and pacing is essentially the same, with a short musical refrain followed with N. Opposition following shortly with opening verses. While there may be shifting of the location of bridges, and some short instrumental spaces, the patterning could become irksome for someone actively listening for deeper musical elements. I felt some tracks, like "Torture King" were wordy. Structurally, this became an issue for me and it carried into my enjoyment of the thematic elements. Initially I was not sold on the lyrical content, unable to poke my finger through the architectural issues. In fact, I still am not entirely invested into the predominance of serial killer and sadist themed songs but objectively I really can't find much to be sour about. Each song's lyrical content fits well with the tone of the track. A song like "Disappearing Pact," one of my picks for best track on the album, with it's quicker tempo and lighter mood plays well with the narrator's expectation of finding hope in suicide. 

Similarly, a track like "Carving Station" is notably darker and heavier, like it is dragging a weight behind it. As Opposition somberly describes his character's motive operandi, the big thick chugging rumbles on. The track also marks the spot in the album where I felt Lipnicki really started to shine. The songs throughout are generally well matched with the lyrical content and with the persona which Opposition takes on as well. While on most songs and choruses, he channels Layne Staley, there are times when he shuns the emotionally distanced demeanor in favor of something darker and deadlier. I think the vocal style may unfortunately hinder fans of more epic doom or traditional doom from truly welcoming this record though, as both of these underlying vocal styles is unlikely to sit well with elitists. "Awaken in Dreams" is one of the more unique tracks on the record, sporting a quiet mellowed section that breaks up the B-sides. Closing track, "The Death of Innocence" closes the record appropriately for me. I get the feeling of the ending credits rolling, the theater emptying, until only one person remains, their killer having already disappeared into the night. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Skorbvstr - Sakte Fort Veldig Kraftig

Rarely does an album capture a moment in time the way in which Skorbvstr's Sakte Fort Veldig Kraftig has managed to subdue the slippery atmosphere of 2020. No evidence is needed to lend credence to the claim that this year has been bleak, raw, harsh, and solemn; a trudging timeline of frustration and maliciousness; a water torture-esque pattern of bad news; Black Metal through and through in many ways. After several listens to the album, and at least one listen driving through torrential rain, that my impression matched the purpose of the single individual behind Skorbvstr, no less a victim of this year's misery and bitterness than any other, is evidence of the the power of emotional transmission achievable through Black Metal. In an interview with OccultBlackMetalZine, "I wanted to capture all of the feelings this insane year has brought upon the world. Cold. Raw emotion. Tension. Isolation. Despair. Monotony. Darkness. Uncertainty. Sickness. The cold and raw emotion comes through pretty clearly in the overall sound."

I mentioned to the sole force behind the record the gem-like scarcity of an album achieving it's aims. "Thank you for that high praise. It’s not for me to say if I captured anything perfectly or not so I’m glad you feel that way. This has just been such a fucked up year so I felt like it wasn’t too difficult to channel those emotions. I have released a few other albums this year with various projects and it’s been quite frustrating to not be able to play many shows or get together with my bandmates very often. Watching everything get canceled and spending weekends at the house when I would’ve normally been out at gigs sometimes got the better of me as I’m sure it did a lot of people. Trying not to fall into a depression. I’ve been at this with different bands of all different genres since I was 15 years old playing my first gig in Nashville in the mid late 90s. Looking at a calendar and not knowing when I’m gonna play another show or get together with my bandmates has been incredibly frustrating and something I’m not used to. The most natural thing was to look at doing a solo project or two to help fill the void. That’s pretty much how this whole thing came about. A lot of extra time on my hands and needing to release something and stay productive. The weekend I did this was just one of those times when I was sitting there with absolutely nothing going on so I started drinking and went down the rabbit hole."

Excluding the one-minute long intro, the five tracks are exemplary of the style and the means to achieve the desired outcomes. Each track is singular in many respects with simple melodies repeating to build tension and the desire for change and something new to be introduced. Often, we are given a nuanced textural shift at points in the song, however the minimalist structure remains true. In many ways this is in line with albums like Drudkh's Forgotten Legends, before the total shift away from Saenko's Hate Forest rawness in that project. First track, "En Veldig Tung Og Melodisk Lyd Starter" is a strong representation of the album's overall aesthetic. As it shifts between two main components with long tenuous notes which seem to hold out too long. The ending of the track contains another major textural element of the album; long sharp ringing notes that cut over the atmospheric backdrop of the rhythms. This is utilized to great effect on the final track, "Mest Dystre," in which the main melodic element is carried by the echoing high guitar notes. Vocals are sickly and dripping with dusty sandy spit. Set back dynamically in the mix, there is a definitive rehearsal or demo quality to this which is appreciable. As if they are imprisoned somewhere begging to be let out. Skorbvstr would lose something with a crystal clear, typical production. 

This combination of echoing and ringing notes, raw minimalist black metal, and imprisoned vocals speak to a natural proclivity for this style, and not something which was overthought. "I went into this on a Friday evening with absolutely nothing but a vague idea of how I wanted it to sound. No riffs or parts or anything at all. Just the ideas I mentioned above combined with the desolate feelings. I got in pretty deep that night and just stayed in it as long as I could. Obviously everything morphed a little bit over the next couple of days but that’s pretty much it. Once I came up with the idea of all the arrangements being the same and everything being based around one principal note per song It felt like it sort of wrote itself." One principal note sounds minimalist to me. Carrying the minimalist theme forward further is the DIY presentation of the silver-sharpie labelled glossy digipak and plain white CDr disc with plain handwritten labelling. Skorbvstr's Sakte Fort Veldig Kraftig, though, proves that in 2020, the minimalist nature of this annum is perhaps best represented not by hope and socially-conscious messages but instead by the time-tested truisms of malcontent, struggle, and desolation underground Black Metal best conveys.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Sacrificial Blood Update

Coronavirus claims its first victim: my involvement in Sacrificial Blood. Because of Coronavirus shutting everything down, and all the shows being cancelled, and only a few ways to have fun during the pandemic... my wife and I will be having a baby girl in May (forces beyond be willing, of course). I expect that will be around the time when we will see things in the music world shifting back to normal somewhat but I simply won't have the time to be playing shows and practicing on a weekly basis while there are diapers to change, excrement to clean, sleep to occasionally find, etc. Sacrificial Blood has been the best experience I've ever had with a band and it has been an honor to be involved with one of the few current New Jersey projects which represents what extreme and underground metal should be. I wish Mike, Jeff, and Arnie all the best going forward. I'm particularly proud of Cursed. The final product was exactly what I think we had all hoped it to be: a captured essence of our live energy and aggression all wrapped up in no-frills death thrash. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Drop Dead / Dry Bones / Final Judgement / Godhead - A.R.T Records Singles Series Vol. I

A four way split between four bands related only by the A.R.T. Records' label. The 7" releases which are shared here are essentially lost to dusty attics and meticulously organized record holds, and so other than the occasional copy showing up, it may be tough to snag these otherwise. The bands, all active in the early to mid 90's, are from different corners of the United States and materially, display a mix of thrash and death metal with some teaspoons of crossover drizzled into the soup. A small amount of sleuthing work revealed the connections behind A.R.T. Records and Thrashback Records but I'll hold onto that info for another time. As with the previous Thrashback Records releases, this 4-Way Split is done with the same professionalism and attention to packaging. The liner notes, while not extensive, have a lot of great information for those interested in obscure underground metal from this time period. There is some negative space in the layout, particularly on the page with the lineups for the bands. Some bigger pictures could have filled in the booklet there, but it's a minor thing.

This compilation or split or whatever you want to call it is worthwhile for the three Drop Dead tracks alone. Pummeling and powerful death metal, the three tracks, two culled from the 1993 March of Empire 7" and a bonus track recorded for an unreleased full length, are tight, precise efforts in aggression with a thrash underpinning up front, yet also display similarities to the belchy and gory artfulness of the Dutch scene through the addition of a keyboard outro on "March of Empire", the highly melodic solo on "Oppression", and the sopping moist vocals presentation of Kevin Marby. Kris Weiskittel's drum performance is worth noting as the foundation of the band's thrash element. This is evident on opening track "Clouds on the Horizon" as he slips into a typical eighth-note double bass death metal rhythm with snare on the second and fourth beats halfway through the song, contrasting the typical thrash beats previously used in the song. Drew Pearson rounds out the trio on bass commendably. The three songs are all worthy of attention. 

Also noteworthy are the Final Judgement tracks, an interesting mixture of Thrash, Death, and Doom metal. The tracks wouldn't be entirely out of place on an early Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride styled album. The Atlanta, Georgia band then are an oddity, seemingly playing in the UK style of Doom Death. Two tracks here are from the 1993 Drastic Dose of Reality 7". "I Do What I Do Not Want To Do" is notable for the bizarre transitions and pauses, a habit which is picked up again at times during "Punishable By Death." Vocalist Chad Cross provides a strong performance with deep bellowing gruff barks of vocals, but is restrained enough to not overwhelm the instrumentals. "Punishable By Death" is their most effective track, but at just over six minutes, it could have been cropped into a more reasonable length. There is a bit too much repetition as the track drags on. "Habitual Sacrifice", another strong track which was intended to be released on a compilation at some forgotten time in the past, is included as a bonus track. The three tracks are strong enough here to make me want to check out their 1994 full length, Desolating Sacrilege - if I can find a copy under $100. 

The other two bands, Dry Bones and Godhead, are not the same caliber. Dry Bones is out of place here, but their inclusion acts more like an aperitif. Dry Bones, with clean vocals and politically charged lyrics don't carry the same dark heft as the death metal bands. The band is really nothing  more than a Suicidal Tendencies or S.O.D. tribute in many ways, but where the originators managed to maintain an aggression and violence through some of their tracks, Dry Bones doesn't. Some of the songs have solid riffs, but overall I found them mediocre and uninteresting. Perhaps they would be a fun opener to get some moshing going, but that isn't happening in my office at 8PM on a weeknight when I have to potentially shovel a foot of snow tomorrow morning. Godhead closes out the four band release with typical sounding death/thrash. I get bits of the NY and Floridian scene from the Toledo project, but not particularly well produced. "Unspoken Madness" is the best of the three tracks with interesting bass and drum interplay throughout the track, however this release is truly all about Drop Dead and Final Judgement. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Skyless Aeons - Drain The Sun

A Canadian melodic death metal band with progressive tendencies, Skyless Aeons' newest record, Drain The Sun, displays a youthful band with a lot of promising skill and a strong sense of self-worth who have oriented themselves towards an unpredictable future. This unpredictable future is not, however, bleakness but perhaps something greater than is determinable currently. Nonetheless, Drain The Sun also is evident of youth, a lack of focus at times, and experimentation which, in more mature ears, likely would have been culled and placed in the bargain bin. Unfamiliar with the project as I initially was, I went back and explored their four-song 2016 EP, The Era of Famine. A noticeably jammy post-metalesque affair, the release featured the same lineup as appearing on Drain The Sun. Several listens later, the record didn't come across as particularly exceptional and having heard it upon release, I doubt I would have followed up with the project on my own terms. 

Drain The Sun is definitely an improvement. Skyless Aeons have narrowed the project's aesthetics and expanded the sonic options in a progressive tendency which better marries the music with the lyrical content. The 2016 EP had thoughtful lyrics which concerned themselves with the human condition, the societal implications and tendencies of the human race, and other such philosophical quandries - all in a slightly incoherent abstract and unfocused structure; the music didn't seem to carry the same weight as the subject matter. For much of the EP, we were given a feather-weight and airy accompaniment due to the post-metal guitar tonality wed to bright ringing melodies. The Era of Famine has lighthearted melodic sentiment, similar almost to that of Jesu on Conquerer. This has changed with Drain The Sun. The musical component is far darker in production, tone, and melodic progressions. The jammy guitar movements are sharper and more aggressive. The lyrical content is better structured and more organized as well. The band has also culled the songs down from the roughly nine-minute average of their EP to under seven minutes. These are not small minor improvements, but major rewritings of songwriting habit for the betterment of the project. 

Skyless Aeons almost lost me at the first track with the new record, though. "Ascension Towards Nothing" starts slowly, with subtle ebbing clean guitars and low moody bass underneath. Imagine the intro to Fates Warning's "Road Goes on Forever" or "The Eleventh Hour"; the dreary after-everyone-has-left and loneliness has returned atmosphere. The introduction builds nicely, slowly adding drum energy to the mix with cymbals and then tom rolls. At the natural place where the band could have (and should have) shifted into the full force of the song, they simply stop... scrape through a few more chords and then awkwardly, and almost sloppily, shift into a doomier, Cathedralesque riff destroying the immaculate intro's worth. Then the track uncomfortably changes again to a more modern death metal riff.... as if the first false start wasn't enough to piss me off. I turned off the album at that very second. It was just too many poor choices in a row. Off it stayed for a few days before I felt ready to try again. 

"Ascension Towards Nothing" - now appropriately titled (maybe that was the point... but it was dumb) - ends practically moments later. "A Consciousness Decays" is awarded my skepticism and sourness as the following track and returns some hope and faith to me. An extremely well structured song that feels shorter than it is, it retains the progressive metal elements apparent in the opening track's intro, however marries them with strong death metal vocals by vocalist Nathan Ferreira and smooth and vivid transitions. The usage of a clean section here is not done amateurishly, giving bassist Steve Oliva an opportunity to stand out, even though his wooden bass tone is easy to discern throughout the songs. The guitar playing by Nicholas Luck is composed, well performed, and meticulously accurate but tonally, gritty enough to hide any temerity which otherwise might peak through.

This is followed by "Go Forth and Multiply" and it's obnoxiously groovy vocal rhythms. It is the album's shortest track by about three minutes. The vocals reek a tough-guy hardcore machismo personality which just saps my patience. Following the impressive display of the "A Consciousness Decays" which grabbed my attention and interest, it is a test of patience again to wait and find out if the track afterwards would elevate the band again. Perhaps being cognizant of the botchy opening of the record, Skyless Aeons pulls their shit together and offers four following tracks in a row which do not bother me. "Age of Regression" and "Dimensional Entrapment" rekindle the progressive elements while maintaining a dark and aggressive weight. The two songs are paired well. Following is "Paths of Desolation", a lighter experience, more of an experiment in guitar textures which reminds me of locals Lionel Pryor than anything else. Drain The Sun closes with the title track. As the opening bass motif is joined by guitars the song slips into some odd whispered vocal sections which make me shudder. The song's strongest moments, though begin with the slower melodically founded central core throughout the ringing culmination and closing. 

For me, Drain The Sun, is inconsistent. There are some really good tracks and ideas like "A Consciousness Decays", "Paths of Desolation", and the second half of the title track. There are also clearly moments spread throughout that I could rate if not as blunders at best as clear mistakes in aesthetic continuity. The most maddening thing about Skyless Aeons is that they are on that cusp of either doing something entirely great or fumbling it all. I could see perhaps trying too hard to impress on the technicality end and lose the songs or go the other direction and write more accessible songs and lose their spark of experimentation on a follow up. The CD package is done professionally, and the cover art by Sam Nelson elevates the mature thematic content with reservation and grace. Drain The Sun doesn't put the next Skyless Aeons material too high on my priority list, but a subtle shift in the direction of old school styled melodic death metal ala At The Gates or Sear Bliss and away from modern sounding melodic death metal could be enough to tip my favor long term. A wisp of forlorn atmosphere would go the distance for Skyless Aeons.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Killing Time - Thrashed From The Vault Compilation

Often, there is not much substance to a compilation; collections of disparate tracks from unrelated bands with no context uniting them beyond the umbrella term of 'Metal'. However, there are compilations which are deserving of deeper analysis whether it be for historical reasons, such as the Metal Massacre series, rarity and release-specific tracks, such as Born To Metalize or From The Megavault (both 80's comps those), or time and setting specialized comps such as Eastern Front - Live at Ruthie's Inn (necessary ownership and listening for fans of the west coast thrash scene of the 80's). Finding one which serves all three of these purposes is like stumbling upon the compilation equivalent of a pot of gold. Not only is the material offered on Killing Time one of the few places I've seen covering the late 80's Florida Thrash scene which was simply run over by the Floridian Death Metal juggernaut, and not only are there some tracks not available anywhere else or unlikely to be found due to demo and promotional tape rarity, and not only is this a re-release of a long-out of print compilation from the time period, but it is all of these in one. Thus, it is deserving of the attention of those self-ascribed metal scholars who hunt in all the crevices for the flecks of obscurity. 

Killing Time: Thrashed From The Vault, released by Florida's own Thrashback Records, is a re-release of a 1992 compilation called Unsigned III: Killing Time. The tracks have all been remastered from original source tape. Unfortunately, three songs from the original were switched out for this release and I'm a little conflicted by this. The replacement tracks - those from Amboog-a-lard, Royal Anguish, and Final Prophecy are all great tracks and worthy of being excavated from the dusty shackles of oblivion, however gone are the original tracks from Unwillful Demise, Blind White, and More, bands which I can't find a single thing about anywhere. So for me, at least, these tracks are lost. The Amboog-a-lard and Final Prophecy tracks are not unique to this release and so, in my eyes, there may be a net-loss ultimately in some bizarre mathematical realm where compilations are judged by the availability of their otherwise disembodied contents. 

For me, the fact that a great majority of these bands were entirely unknown was incredibly appealing. Other than Solstice who several years ago had a resurgence of interest which included local and national touring I had no listening experience with any of the bands. Raped Ape and Tempus Fugit were names I had seen in thank you-lists or old show flyers before somewhere. Otherwise, I was willingly oblivious and had no expectations of the quality of the material present. I'm by no means an expert on the late 80's early 90's Floridian scene beyond the inevitable accumulated historical influences. Being able to build on this knowledge of that period with this type of a release serves a major purpose to these type of compilations which might not get filled in otherwise. The inclusion of a small history for each band, as well as a central foldout of old show flyers is a perfect complement to this. If there were a little more information or anecdotes from the musicians themselves, that would have made the documentation in the booklet more fully rounded out. 

Admittedly, there is some noticeable range in the quality present musically. Kryptic Kurse comes across as a mostly washed out hollow Anthrax clone to my ears or F.O.S.'s offering with too-thin guitars, mediocre riffs, and a vocalist who channels Bobby Blitz too closely for a Jersey guy like myself to find acceptable. Solstice's addition, "Netherworld" is not the best they could have offered for this compilation. Including a track like "Aberration" would have better solidified their place here as one of the most aggressive on the compilation. Instead, they are trumped in this regard by Malicious Damage's "Dead Cells." The final track, Sinful Lust's "Chemical To Chemical" is memorable, though not particularly exceptional in any way. It's a bit too groovy, showing the tendency of this fatal element to ruin thrash. Final Prophecy and Royal Anguish do not do much to impress here, and their video material on the accompanying DVD is the least interesting addition to an otherwise stellar addendum to the release. 

But there are the bands which rise above the rest and deserve follow up as well. Amboog-a-lard, whose track "The Wounded" opens the compilation, are potentially worthy of hoisting into the same rafters as Morbid Saint. Raped Ape are impressive if only for the structurally unique drumming of JC Dwyer who, fifteen years later, found himself appearing on Icarus Witch's Capture The Magic, a record I hold in high esteem. "Crystal Blisters", Elysium's offering meanders into noticeably unique territory for the compilation with a prolonged classically influenced tapping solo skewing the track into stand-out territory. One of the release's best tracks is the inimitable technicality of Tempus Fugit's "Kick The Wind." Twisting meandering riffs and out-of-this-world high pitched vocals give nod to obscurities in the technical thrash realm such as Watchtower's Energetic Disassembly. The track is unique to this comp, and might be the real jewel in the chest, so to speak. Fatal Sin's track is along these lines as well and also a clear favorite. 

Getting to the accompanying aforementioned DVD, which it seems is a common accessory with Thrashback Records releases, we are rewarded with material which is not available online it seems which is rare these days. I counted a handful of easily discoverable clips on Youtube, however there are segments and rehearsal video not uploaded for surface dwellers. The two hour long DVD has old live material and rehearsal footage from Amboog-a-lard, Elysium, Fatal Sin, Final Prophecy, Kryptic Kurse, Raped Ape, Solstice, Sinful Lust, and Royal Anguish. As a historical document, the live footage includes a young Jeordie White, who would become famous as Marilyn Manson's bass player Twiggy Ramirez, receiving an award for best rhythm guitarist at the first annual Slammies. Even more interesting, for me, was footage of Nicko McBrain delivering the Best Drummer award to JC Dwyer of Raped Ape. Raped Ape gets some of the best quality footage - you can see sweat dripping off Mike Pucciarelli's body in some clips - but the most impressive musically here is Fatal Sin. The band, also comparing to Watchtower or even a less death-metal oriented Hellwitch, is more impressive with their two songs not on the compilation. Their live footage here inspired me to go ahead and buy their recently released full discography compilation. from Thrashback Records. Ultimately, isn't that the purpose of a compilation such as this?