Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Slutlust - Spread Angel / Interview

Slutlust recently released their killer demo tape, Spread Angel, full of boozed up raucous speed metal mayhem. It's possible this is an entity which we my find has absquatulated from existence in a short while like many demo-bands do, and so, I felt it necessary to get the word from the horse's mouth on what the story is with these brawlers. Haven't heard about any upcoming demos from them since this interview was done.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Crazy Bull - Mold Crow

Crazy Bull, out of Philly, play some hard rocking and driving throwback metal here on their demo, Mold Crow. Though short, lasting only nine minutes, the three tracks are forceful hard rock in the same style as Fireball Ministry with a touch more speed metal influence a la Speedwolf or Motorhead. Short simple songs, memorable rhythms, passionate leads. It's a great combination. "Won't Stop Now" opens the tape adequately with some zest however it's "Wicked Machine" that's the strongest entry to the recorded world. It bears some similarity to DarkBlack's Sellsword album with contrasting harmonies and a darker tone. Hints of doom are evident and sluggishly pull the song into the faster parts. Proteanly moving between the doom metal and hard rock genres, launching into big bluesy leads, and leaving many a loin moist, Crazy Bull are targeted here. "Rok Bullet" grates on my nerves immediately due to the spelling, but it's really just not up to par compared the earlier tracks. Pick this up for "Wicked Machine."

Friday, August 21, 2015

CTP - 027 - L: Tarpit Boogie - Clash Bar Bootleg

Contaminated Tones is excited to release another New Jersey band's tape. This one from Tarpit Boogie (Ex-Maegashira, Midian, Functional Idiots members). I go back a few years with some of the members, so it's awesome to be able to support them in this way. I originally saw Maegashira play with Clamfight at the Clash Bar in 2010 with Iron Man a few days before they came on radio show. Diane "Kamikaze" Farris DJ'd the show. 

Fast Forward three or four years, and I hadn't seen or heard from George or John for some years when I met them at the Clamfight gig at Dingbatz where I recorded the Clamfight live tape. It's awesome how things circle around and I'm glad to know both bands but especially the guys in them, who are some of the more down to earth people I've met.

Get the tape until September 4th for $4. Get both Clamfight's live tape and Tarpit Boogie's live tape until the end of September for $8.

Ignore the August 31st on this...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Morgirion - None Left To Worship

In the grand tradition of supreme extreme metal demos, Morgirion's None Left To Worship has comical cover art (sorry artist Laura Hansen). I mean, yeah hairy bear arm raising a mallet, prepared to crush the rafters of a hilltop church is awesome but when it's drawn with the talent you'd see a gifted child actor in a horror movie scribble on their bedroom wall I'm not as impressed. There are snakes evaporating from the earth, and a mutated goat head with six eyes looming ready to... I don't know... ask for a six-lense set of glasses, demand the local townspeople to trim the hair around it's ears, or some other bizarre goatly request. Also in the underground simmers a tradition of there being no relation between the quality of cover art correlating to the quality of killer music. Evidence is abound all over the place but for starters there's this twenty-page thread on Metal Archives documenting some pretty hideous artwork (I'm not sure how Spectrum of Death or Terror Squad made appearances, but they did somehow) with plenty of great albums showing up among the pages. Ultimately, Morgirion offers sick and twisted black metal buoyed by the lo-fi, some punk splatter, and momentary droughts of melody.

There is a lo-fi element drizzled into the production by virtue of the live recording aspect of the material presented here. There is no feedback, however, and the overall recording has enough clarity to distinguish riffs and notes. Raspy guitars saw through the magnetic filament's contents with respect and authority (I'm guessing from the loudness of the guitar, the recording device was placed closest to the guitars in the rehearsal room). Equally vicious is the saw-throated attack of "D." While I wish his exploits were slightly louder, as a demo, his energy still impregnates the ears with vigor. He doubles on bass well. "J" on drums fills the percussive elements with bombastic fills such as in "None Left To Worship," where the bridges launch into tirades of tremolo notes and blast beats. "B," on guitars, smears small but integral segments of melody into the tracks which appear almost nonchalantly.

Highlights for me are definitely the title track, "None Left To Worship," where interplay between bass and guitar late in the track generate opportunities to lose oneself in the material quite deeply for a couple minutes. Side B starts out with the powerful "Infiltration of Divine Entity." Probably my favorite track, the back and forth fret mashing intro leads into violent vocals tucked among a series of riff with sparse, yet emphasized, quarter (or half) note rests. The execution of these rests indicate to me this is also probably the band's favorite track to play. There is a bit of late 90's / early millennium Darkthrone blackened punk to be found in the home stretch of the song as well. "The Pulse of Death" and "A Cancer Now Served" sit at the even spots in track list. Both are solid ("A Cancer Now Served" especially), as is Morgirion here in general. This cassette is a good representation of what the underground has to offer. Cool tape all around (even the silly artwork!). I'm checking out their full length immediately.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Unshored - The Unshored

Everyone has been patiently waiting for more vocals in the style of Ved Buens Ende’s Written in Waters, right? Well, whether that’s true or not, the extremely distinctive vocal style here isn’t something you hear every day. But, The Unshored really pulls it off on this debut self-titled album. For those that aren’t put off by the unusually layered baritone moans and their sometimes off-kilter delivery, this is an interesting but flawed work. While the album sounds much too wide to be an obvious solo project, it actually is. Aside from assistance on the drum and bass composition the entire work is straight from the mind of Mike LaRocco. Using genre tags like black, death, and progressive, the music also has some clear doom/sludge influences; which is a broad enough set of influences to give the project the nebulous extreme metal moniker.

In fairness, the album uses a variety of vocal styles, death growls to black metal raps, but the weirder ones are absolutely the most effective at adding color to the music. The sad part is that Mike LaRocco underutilizes the bizarre harmonized cleans, although the first and final track use them to great effect. However, the middle of the album sags like an old horse’s back. The doom/sludge influences often cause the album’s pacing to stall out in overly simplistic repetition. When this composition device first shows up at the end of “Unheimlich,” it works pretty well. But by the time you get through a similar (and long) passage in “Nocturnal Psychosis,” you can see the project’s weak point. Progressive tendencies elsewhere in the music only make these rather dull sections more glaring. Discontinuities between the uptempo “No Vacancy” and the songs before and after it also suggest that the project is still developing a direction.

Given that this is a debut release, and a full-length at that, it’s easy to speculate and play the role of editor. This would have been a really solid and promising demo, or EP for that matter. The first and last tracks are really damn good and make up more than 20 minutes of material! The Unshored’s eclecticism isn’t the problem, the project just needs further refining. In particular, the weaker tracks have less intriguing structures when compared to the pieces like “Unheimlich” and “The Spinning Sphere.” Of course more weird vocals would be great, but aren’t the kind of thing that everyone will appreciate. Definitely worth a shot if you have a Written in Waters itch that Virus is too rockin’ to scratch or if you have a taste for unusual vocal styles.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pandora's Piñata

I'm being honest and serious here - the car accident I was in was better than this.

Look at Western mythology and you’ll notice a lot of horrible creatures come from mixing different species of animals. Minotaurs, centaurs, chimeras, harpies, and now we have the worst of them all - Diablo Swing Orchestra. Mixing a parodied version of swing with touches of power chords in a failed effort to seem metal, Pandora’s Piñata is guaranteed to disgust fans of either genre of music (or any genre for that matter). Diablo Swing Orchestra’s style of swing relies heavily on a dance-oriented feel. This means, like with all dance music, that the primary point of the composition is to have listener focused on something other than the music. Since metal is not dance music, Pandora’s Piñata is existentially worthless. It cannot be danced to. It cannot be listened to. A monstrosity created by mixing different musical animals.

The clear operatic female vocals suggest deep influences from Evanescence. This actually makes a lot sense, because the parts of the music that are intended to be metal are 100% nu-metal chugging. Other vocal styles are splattered on the album, like the teenager yelling “you’ll never see me again” on “Exit Strategy of a Wrecking Ball” (revealingly awful metaphors abound), or the choir of ostensibly full grown Swedes pretending to be Asian schoolchildren on “Black Box Messiah.” By the way, take note of the cutesy alliteration in that song title and in the album title too. This is the degree of immaturity that we’re dealing with.

Glitzy trumpets, a guitar chug on every beat, and obnoxious snare rolls are the mainstay of the composition. But, given the band’s inherent lack of direction, you also have rows like the ostentatious “Aurora” and first five or so minutes of “Justice For Saint Mary” that pretend to be serious with its pseudo-classical approach by removing all pretenses of being metal (another sign that the band doesn’t take metal, or music, seriously.) On “Mass Rapture” there is a sitar getting down with the sickness with punkish whiny teenager vocals. Maybe a theremin synth pad somewhere. Some wicky-wicky guitar doodling over a call and response section on “Honeytrap Aftermath,” which might remind you of Marky Mark. The heavy use of rhythmic staccato throughout the album makes the pain something like treating third degree burns with acupuncture. Every burst of idiocy another irritating needle.

Click on this image to feel better...

Can you believe that 18 musicians worked on this? Even in the most disciplined cults you’ll still hear stories of people escaping or disagreeing with the leader. Everyone involved must have been bribed heavily in order to put their names on this because it is bad enough to completely write off everything else they will do musically for the rest of their lives. Pandora’s Piñata is the third full-length from this ill conceived gimmick, but it’s clear that the band was out of ideas immediately after the phrase “swing metal” was uttered. This is the kind of music a bunch of drunk musicians might play at a party as a joke, too drunk to notice that the decade long joke was never funny.

“Justice For Saint Mary” ultimately closes the album out with a techno remix version of melodies from earlier in the song. It’s as if the band was trying to remind everything, just one more time, that they can’t write music and are capable only of mixing ideas of different genres. Every last second of this album is unbearable and entirely devoid of any artistic merit. I have never heard anything worse in my entire life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tyrant's Hand - Dystopia

Tyrant's Hand is yet another of Armon Nicholson's projects. This slab - Dystopia - takes the form of death metal in a more melodic - but not so melodic as to be Gothenburg - strain. The black metal nomenclature has appeared in descriptions but that's like putting a 'Made-in-the-USA' tag on Ikea furniture. Notable about Tyrant's Hand is that unlike Yfel and Licrest, there is a live component to Tyrant's Hand which leads me to also mention that this is also, as far as I know, the first time Armon had paired with someone to utilize real drums. Bob Hodgins offers a safe, professional percussion layer to the four tracks offered here. The implication is that the recording of this EP was done relatively early in the duo's history, as it's tight, controlled, and not loose at all indicating that not a lot of time was spent maturing the brew. It's missing some of the spontaneity that sometimes sneaks it's way into the capturing of material that's become run-of-the-mill for the performers.

Looking at the production itself, this is quite balanced. No one particular instrument stands out more than the others. The drums are probably hidden back in the mix more than I would prefer in most death metal. That ultimately sits with me, considering giving them a more pronounced role would just emphasize how bland some of the drumming parts are. The guitars are muffled during a lot of the record but occasionally, such as near the end of "Absolute Butchery," stand out when more melodic or riffy moments rear. The opening minute of "Bloodshed" is a good example of how the guitars don't take an extreme tone in either direction. Armon's vocals are decent, nothing to complain about; a typical death style growl / screech (greech?). Once again, as with the other Armon projects, the CD doesn't offer much information but an insert with some credits. Apparently politically motivated lyrics exist here, which I'd love to read, but they don't manage to protrude in any form of comprehension in either the music or the insert. The cover art of Dystopia appears to show bombed out Warsaw at the end of the German blitzkriegs of World War II - if my historical knowledge is up to snuff.

The album is generally mid-paced. While opener "Darkness" is slightly faster, we are not in the range of "blistering speed." My biggest gripe with the album is the songs all have extraneous repetitions to riffs in them. In "Darkness," for example, a riff a couple minutes in which would be best served acting as a bridge in some sort to the slower breakdown section instead becomes a repeated non-sequitur. "Absolute Butchery" take about a full minute and a half before turning into something. Trust me, the other two songs have unnecessary components as well. The noteworthy segments here include a culminating melodic foray in "Absolute Butchery" of a slower arpeggiated section where notes ring out with a somber tone, a pull-off laden headbanging riff in top track, "Long Live The New Flesh," and - at least in my opinion - a great immediate urgency initially in "Darkness".

Live reviews claim the duo has a "crazy thick and delicious sound," so perhaps the best impression would be to see the band live. Overall, this is sturdy, but I don't know how important hearing it is. As always, Armon does offer it for free download on bandcamp so if anything here interests you, easy and free listening is at your point-and-click-whims. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Ramlord Interview

Met up with New Hampshire's Ramlord for an quick interview after an excellent show in the very lovely Somerville, Massachusetts. The lineup was intense, the weather was sweltering, and the interview took place inside of a car (because I was worried about wind ruining the audio and apparently enjoy making people endure the heat.)

Listen to what Ben, Jan, and Mike have to say about how the band formed, what makes rams different from goats,  legal troubles, nature, and d-beats. These guys put on a hell of a live show and the interview felt like something you'd read in The Grimoire of Exalted Deeds. Enjoy:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Chronicles Zine Issue 1 (2015)

Zines are out there and alive in the underground. It's interesting the quality differences between them not in terms of layout but in terms of actual quality of content. Chronicles, out of Norway, for me, really just destroys the whole idea that "everything can be found on the internet." The content available in this zine is huge in a small, quick to read issue. I applaud Steinar on his efforts here. This first issue is a must have for those looking to delve deep into the histories of the bands present: Ares Kingdom, Pentagram (Chile), Patrons of the Rotting Gate, Blood Mortized, Sol Negro, and Audiopain. There's a lot of other neat things in here though which round out the issue in a way only a fanzine would allow.

The interviews elicit responses from the artists through usage of defined and specific questions that indicate a high level of familiarity on the part of Steinar. For example, asking Chuck Keller specific questions on his relationship with Quorthorn or in depth questions on the themes and imagery of Pentagram's newest release. It all creates an aura of reading something set aside for those that are seeking out more than what you will find in press releases, interviews in mainstream zines, or online in forums.

Also scattered through the zines are quotations about random subjects from older zines. Steinar is clearly an aficionado of the fanzine world. These appear under the title "Truth Be Told." There are a lot of good quotes some that stand out to me: "Black Metal is not really supposed to be a very deep and intellectual form of music..." or "Poland is not too big of a country so too many churches couldn't be burnt." There are also scans of older advertisements and classified ads such as Celtic Frost looking for a drummer, the hilarious Moon Rites interview from a 1997 Norwegian zine, and also some interesting excerpts from a Metallica interview circa 1984-ish.

This is a fanzine fan's zine mostly and for fans of the bands present... it's a must-own. It delivers in the interviews and in the additional filler content. I sincerely hope that Steinar is on his way to finishing up a second issue because this first issue of Chronicles is gold.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Signaling Theory: Judging Bands on Visual Aesthetics

Why does a band's image matter? Well, why does a peacock have enormous feathers?

The answer to both questions can be found in signaling theory. Signaling theory is an idea often used in economics and biology, but we can borrow it for a bit to take a deeper peek into music. Basically, the idea is that we live in a world with imperfect (or asymmetrical) information and misinformation. Which stocks should I buy? Who should I pursue romantically? Which one of these animals should I try to eat? What bands should I listen to? Each of these decisions are based on signals you receive, which may or may not be true, but always influence decision-making.

A key part of signalling theory is how much the signal costs the sender. Cost means any cost, not just money. Some examples: the healthier a person is, the more attractive they seem; a really conspicuous looking peacock is probably really good at avoiding predators; and an unopened bottle of water with recognizable logo is safer to pick up off the ground and drink than one that has "Dave's Water" crudely scribbled on the side. All of these signals cost the sender something, either biologically or economically, and each communicates information.

Everyone has different musical tastes, but these principles still hold true. Bands signal potential listeners (economically, sellers and buyers.) Individuals recognize non-musical signals that communicate information about music. Every aspect of an artist or band's aesthetics, from the name, to album art, and down to the style of the logo tells you something. All of these things cost the band the time of designing them or paying someone else to. To make things simple, assume economical rational behavior:  bands want to maximize their sales and buyers want to listen to the best music possible.

"But I only care about the music, man." 

Don't care about image?
Great. Now drink this.
Music is one of the most subjective experiences out there, but music listeners still make choices that can be explained through signaling theory. Many people will think that an economic or biological look at aesthetics is ripping the artistry out of it -  it isn't. Even for those who want to care only about the music, there is still the question of what music to listen to. No one (not even Autothrall) can hear everything. The types that like to appear open minded will claim image doesn't matter, but get all cagey when asked about how they find new music.

All aesthetics matter though. How do we know that Kidz Bop - 23 isn't the best metal album ever, what about 24? If only the music matters then how come no one in the metal has even bothered to address these two specific and highly advertised albums? The answer is that the words "Kidz" and "Bop" are telling us something about the music style without us even having to listen to it. In the same way that you probably don't know what a poison dart frog tastes like but know not to eat it, you know you won't listen to these two albums. Aesthetics matter to everyone on one level or another, even if some people won't admit it.

Signaling Music Style

Walk into a record shop and what do you see people doing? They are flipping through material left and right to see what is there. They filter through the materials and visual cues tell them what might be interesting. There are also contextual clues like word-of-mouth or music showing up on some cool website. But even then, the information about a band had to initially come from somewhere. You can argue that in the digital age, people can sample everything, but no one actually samples everything. There is too much out there, and the first things we usually learn about music is are context, the title, artwork, or musician name. These all indicate what kind of music you may end up hearing.

So back to the theoretical record shop. If someone walked in, put a gun to your head and said "put all of the metal music in this burlap sack" are you going to reply "sorry man, I haven't heard every album in here and can't just a band just by their image?" No, you are going to do your best and make the best guesses you can based on your experience. While no one is holding a gun to your head to find metal, the setup is similar (but less dramatic). You want to find new good music and won't do a perfect job at that. As part of that process, aesthetic signals can point you towards metal or a sub-style of metal. It's almost a waste of time so say it, because inevitably someone will misunderstand the nuance, but imperfect signals are all part of the theory.

Below are four relatively obscure bands and the only information I'm providing about them is album art with a logo, the band name, and the title of the work.

Guess the genre:

Top Row: Mortido - I: Kvlt ov Hate; Rampage - Demo MMIX
Bottom Row: Anexxe Unsung Hero?; Fluid Mind - Demo 1
The contextual cue here is that this is metal oriented website, so I'm probably not getting into the finer points of polka music. You can guess that they are metal bands but, if I make it a matching game you can do better than that. Which is the progressive heavy metal band? Black metal? Traditional heavy metal? The thrash band? If you hate black metal are you going to check out all of these bands?

Signals About Quality

Let's take this out of theory for a moment and see how things work in the real world. Record labels probably have the most at stake when listening to and finding new music. This isn't just the money that can be made by finding the next great upcoming band, but the cost of listening to a boatload of music submissions. As a metal fan, you also have costs associated with music: a limited amount of time to listen to it, and limited money to purchase it.

Have you ever read what record labels look for in submissions? Rules often include:  competent logo, no CD-Rs, a band biography, band photo, and press-kits. These rules exist in part because these are high-cost signals. When a band has professional aesthetics it tells the record labels that the band put in a lot of time or money into the project. This doesn't necessarily make the music good, but the cost of the signal shows devotion and seriousness. The hope is that bands that show more devotion and seriousness will be better bands. Even though what's "good" is subjective, it's not a huge logical leap.

Image matters so much, that three major metal records labels all suggest including band photos with demo submissions:

Let's get even more concrete. Here are some examples how of aesthetic signals influenced Orion, who runs the Contaminated Tones Label, in some reviews:

Antistasis - Ritual of Ancients Demo Review
"As I am apt to criticize, CDr demos are usually poor representations of a band and, for just a little more money and effort, can be improved significantly. At least Antistasis made an attempt here to give some sort of artwork with the release - a sticker stuck on the case acts as a front cover and another decal on the disc offers some artwork there. It's a small effort but at least shows a band trying in some sort. A lack of any information on the song titles or band members or general additional information hurts though."
Metal Law - Lawbreaker
"The album cover is basically all you need to see to know precisely what the album is going to sound like."

Dishonest Signals

Have you ever seen one of those flies with the yellow and black stripes on them? From an evolutionary standpoint, other animals are supposed to think they are bees because they look like bees. If they live around you, you'll notice that they also act like bees. The problem is though, they're fakes. In biology this is called Batesian mimicry, some weak animal pretending to be a dangerous one.
On the left we have a very venomous Coral Snake, On the right, a harmless Milk Snake

Red touch yellow, you're a dead fellow. Red touch black, pat it on the back. (Don't actually pet it. It can still bite and most wild animals don't take kindly to unsolicited affection.)

Does music have Batesian mimicry? This is basically what people believe posers to be, taking metal's imagery and aesthetics but not having any of the venom to back it up. Because strengths and weaknesses are largely subjective and based on experiences, people will often get the gut feeling that some band is pretending to be something it isn't.

Personally, I like to assume people usually have genuine motives. Rather than metal fans being elitists or plagued by frauds, I view these sentiments as the direct result of asymmetrical information and imperfect signaling rather than getting into morality. Still, if you are an eagle with a taste for snake meat, you probably don't like the Milk Snake making things harder for you.