Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ross The Boss - Live at Debonair Music Hall

Back in July, I put together this cut and paste after seeing Ross the Boss on my birthday. It's been laying around so I figured I would post it.

CTP-016-I: Deathfucker - Fuck The Trinity

The next official Contaminated Tones Productions release will be Italy's Deathfucker and their absolutely slaying demo Fuck The Trinity.

I expect die-hards to go nuts for this; death thrash with throwbacks towards classic bands like Slayer, Motorhead, and Death. The tracks are all raucous and vitriolic with a rebellious punk sentiment that carries throughout, even if the riffs, vocals, and other instrumentation is all undeniably old school metal. It's a rare level of maturity to be found on a demo and deserves more than passing listens.

Order HERE

Once again, this will be a pro-tape release. I am proud to finally get this out for Insulter and J.K as it's been in the works for a while since before the move and kept getting pushed back due to financial obligations being what they were. Fuck The Trinity was previously released as a CD demo through Colombian based Trauma Records and as a tape through Thailand based Witchhammer Productions that excluded two of the tracks. It has never before had a proper western release which due to the strength of the material is warranted.

For those that are taking note of my serial numbers, the reason this being labelled #16 is simply because the release that was going to be put out under that number simply has not materialized for several years.

11/11/18: UPDATE Tapes are out now. They just arrived this past week. They look great. 


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Metal Exploration Journal: Ethiopia

With only a single band on Metal Archives, and very little other information out there regarding what is happening within it's extreme music scene, Ethiopia seems like dead space musically for fans of harsher tones and brutality. A quick search yields a single black metal band, Nishaiar, out of the country. My interest in Ethiopian music was initially formed several years back while perusing Awesome Tapes From Africa's page and coming upon Teshome Wolde and Hailu Mergia and a few others doing traditional music from the region. Teshome Wolde's Teshome Wolde and Dahlak Band immediately grabbed my attention with it's oddball rhythms and unexpectedly catchy yet awkward melodies. Hailu Mergia was a different level altogether, with a jazzy free-form mixture of smooth notes and keys. The style of these acts amounts to what world music experts have deemed Ethio-jazz.

November 11th, 2018: Would any of these characteristics make it's way into the singular black metal band that appears to exist in the region? Unsure, and without demoing the material, I bought Gondar based Nishaiar's discography on bandcamp. A single review from a user on Metal Archives gave positive inclinations that the band was on to something interesting in reference to their album from this year, Irix Zerius. I attempted contact through Bandcamp in hopes that I could get some further recommendations and contacts in the scene from the members. While I awaited response, I jammed heavily Nishaiar's albums before I heard back from the band. The four members include Lord of Zenadadz performing vocals, which I assume only refers to the harsher black metal vocals and guitars. Explorer of the abyss handles the bass which is prominent on all four of their albums. Lycus Aeternam supplies synthesized sounds and vocals as well. On drums is the very capable Arcturian Night.

Nishaiar - Era 1 (2017)

Nishaiar's debut, to underplay my emotions upon first listening, should be considered a monumental achievement in extreme metal for a number of reasons. Putting aside the context of being potentially the first black metal album from Ethiopia, being genuinely unique in tone and secondary influences, and tapping into the imagery of an entirely new atmospheric design, Era 1 is simply an incredibly written and paced record that, from the moment the massive guitars in opening track "Logos 1" punch you in the gut, is evidence that extreme metal taps into a deep inner subconscious regardless of cultural background. In short, there will always be those that "get it" and that it doesn't matter where in the world these individuals live. As I mentioned, Era 1, absolutely rules from the start. The best way to describe the overall feeling of the album is to imagine if Varg Vikernes was actually Ethiopian and Filosofem was written with that atmosphere in mind. The tracks are thick, with a dry rumbling guitar tone. "Logos 1" is the main highlight for me, though what really stands out is the strength of the compositions across the whole album. "Idhar" follows the stoic opening track with a more uplifting melodic movement that carries into the light acoustic "Metamorphosis," which cuts into the heavier feeling of the album. "Ozdhar" is starts out with blistering blasting drums and is the most recognizably 'western' black metal track. Lycus Aeternam has an ear for perfect synthesizer usage in the music and his ability to key into the melodic undertones and feel of the tracks is on par with the melodic brilliance which Negura Bunget produced on Om. It is clear that there is heavy influence from purely atmospheric black metal as well as post-black metal and post-rock here, however this nonetheless is a definitive black metal album and demands attention worldwide.

Nishaiar - Universum (2017)

Nishaiar's second album, Universum, hints at the direction that the band would take on future releases to follow while still retaining a large amount of what made Era 1 so phenomenal. Nishaiar has refined some elements of their sound here, namely the atmospheric component, to truly be representative of their Ethiopian homeland through decisively non-western melodic movements that are more likely to invoke images of towering spires from ancient mosques than the burnt out hollows of churches. I see this  as evidence that the dark underbelly and aggression which draped black metal's infamy has not yet truly found a home within this land; that there is a heavier influence musically from the atmospheric and textural elements than there is from the ideological elements of traditional black metal. What this yields is a positive in that the pure beauty in this music affords Nishaiar operating space within a culture that is still not fully westernized and that it could feed more interest to the genre from which Nishaiar has allowed to flow forth from. "Seinphar" is a great example of the black metal elements combining flawlessly with the atmospheric elements. Vocals across the release incorporate traditional singing, harsh black metal screams, and sampled material to create a rich tapestry of moods and sounds. The percussion on Universum is more black metal oriented to my ears, and this is one of the steps forward from Era 1. More songs have characteristics of the black metal genre such as harsh vocals, double bass and blast beating, hypnotic ritualistic atmospheres, and image-invoking melodies. The album is about fifty percent this black metal mixture and fifty percent purely soundscapes, particularly the second half of the record.

Nishaiar - Irix Zerius (2018)
Irix Zerius is the album which first presents Nishaiar's style of Atmospheric Black Metal in it's refined, perfected state. This isn't to say the album is perfect, but that the combination of influences, sounds, and textures is heightened and coalesced to a degree by which the band is singularly identifiable. Should bands emerge in a similar style, Nishaiar and Irix Zerius will be the origin point. The local folk elements, the non-western influenced sounds and vocals, and the vibe of distant lands and cultures are heightened and empowered by the black metal moments and drumming. The album also shows Nishaiar's ability to create a wide range of variety. While songs such as "Kantorum", "Virgonaut" and "Desenmba" highlight the band's black metal background. A song like "Azief," with it's acoustics, Ethiopian chants, and backing vocals are purely outside the genre. "Liademna" as well fits this template. It was difficult to decide on my favorite track on Irix Zerius. I had believed it to be "Virgonaut," which is heavily undulating, with constant black metal drumming beneath the slowly evolving soundscape that spreads across the song but the sheer uniqueness of it's tail, "Bewatar", makes for such an iconic example of experimentation in the black metal genre. The track incorporates a number of vocal and percussive effects that adds to the intensity and drive, while the melodic foundation is curious and passionate, yet stern and serious. Irix Zerius is loaded with fantastic textures and ideas and feelings. The only weakness I find is that as compositions, the songs don't particularly seem to have peaks, or climaxes. It would be nice, for instance in a song like "Ahrien" to have a decisive moment, which is not there. This is true for many songs. Perfected in style, but there is still room for improvement in relation to the crafting of individual, gripping songs. "Bewatar" is the most complete.

Nishaiar - Igewanda (2018)
Nishaiar's most recent album continues on from Irix Zerius' more amalgamated composition tendencies. Igewanda never really separates itself from the shadow which Irix Zerius cast. The majority of tracks with the exception of perhaps, "Duhanakhar" fit the atmospheric black metal moments into the arrangements as short bursts of intensity to create transitional effect. This gives the album a much more world-music or soundscape vibe than that of a black metal album. In this, it can be said the album continues the progression away from black metal and more towards electronic and chillstep. What I don't find on Igewanda is a single track which, in abdication of the metal influences, matches up to "Bewatar" in impact and memorability for a track that has abandoned the black metal flourishes. This is disheartening. When the most notable component of your atmospheric black metal album is exactly how little black metal there is on it, it becomes time to reconsider genre labels and boundaries. I say this not as a warning, but as an objective statement. The tracks still remain very enticing and just because the band takes a step further away from the heavier material which only a year earlier they had so masterfully crafted doesn't imply they are no longer relevant. Nishaiar are proving that they are seeking a sound all their own, which I must commend. I'm concerned that they peaked with Irix Zerius, though. If they could better combine the more metallic elements of Era 1 and the atmospheres they are working with now, listeners could be in for a real treat.

The response I got back from the band on October 25th was short. Simply put, they want to allow their music to speak entirely for them and are not interested in conducting any interviews or correspondence. This, to me, is a perfectly acceptable stance to have as an artist. After thanking them for contacting me back, on the 28th, Nishaiar did tell me that there are no other extreme metal bands in Ethiopia that they know of. All the articles online that I could find are simple basic cut and pastes of Nishaiar's own description from bandcamp for clicks on their ill-informed articles with little or no information. Disappointed at the lack of future prospects, I await further correspondence from anyone with more information on Ethiopian metal or extreme music.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Plant Material Scounting and High Point Hike

I spent the weekend with my family at our vacation house in northeastern Pennsylvania this past weekend. Mostly, it was a chance to escape from work and technology and finish reading Diderot's D'Alembert's Dream, which I had only a few dozen pages left of. While there, however, I took time out to do some scouting for potential plant material for next spring to bring back home for conversion into bonsai. We had also planned on doing a little hiking at High Point in Sussex New Jersey on the way back home. It was a good opportunity to break out the tree guides and wander around as well. The foliage was just past peak, and most of the leaves had fallen due to the previous day's rain and windstorm. Some still lingered. 

 Because we had so much rain the previous night, the overflow from the lake was very high. The stream that runs through the woods behind the house (left) and separates our property from the other side of the lake was the highest I've ever seen it. Normally, it is a trickle. This weekend it was a torrent. Everything was essentially a giant wet sponge. The uneven and rocky areas of the forest, covered with grass mostly, were treacherous to walk through. It was easy to trip and loose your footing or step in between two rocks and sink down into a deep puddle without knowing it. A lot of trees had come down this summer as well, making it difficult to navigate.

There are several larger Eastern Hemlocks in the area. I managed to find a few potential saplings to collect in the spring. This single trunked tree (right) was the smallest. It's likely two years old at this point.

I managed to find this clumped grouping of two, maybe three - I didn't examine it too closely - Eastern  Hemlocks (left) not too far away from the first. This grouping looks older than the first and is probably four years old. It would make a nice grouped planting or multi-trunk bonsai. I haven't seen too many Hemlock bonsai but I could imagine these being nice specimens.

I'm not sure of the parent tree for these. There is a grouping of three or four trees (right) about five hundred feet away which are loaded with cones but I'm not sure how likely it is that the seeds spread from them, through the forest, all the way to the other side. There is another single tree in the other direction roughly two-hundred feet away which I could imagine being more plausible, but I did not see any cones on that tree. There were, however, three other small saplings in it's shadow that were no more than a few months old.

 What was easy to find were thousands of Eastern White Pine saplings. I was not even going to attempt to determine a possible parent tree for these... they were everywhere, of all youthful ages. In the spot where I saw these two, there were easily forty or fifty small saplings and throughout the area easily over one thousand. These two, however, stood out to me. I liked the trunk thickness and the second strong lower shoot of the larger tree (left). It's growth was more compact and had a lot of strong growing branches from the internodes on the trunk and branches.

The smaller tree had very long internodes on the trunk between the branches however the truck was covered in pine needles, leaving me to imagine that there is a good possibility the tree would backbud and throw off new branches readily if pruned back. This tree had a nice root spread already, with several lateral roots.

 I ran across this magnificent Shagbark Hickory (left) while on the trail next to the lake's overflow stream. We actually have a Shagbark Hickory in our backyard, however this one has some truly unruly and aggressive bark. Places where branches have broken off have curling and peeling bark encircling them, the large slabs of bark run two and three feet long and surround the tree on the floor is a pile of the old dispelled bark the tree has outgrown. I was unable to find any viable nuts from the tree for potential germination. I'm not sure whether the tree would make for a good bonsai tree or not. The compound leaves are large and would be potentially difficult to ramify and reduce. I'm also not sure if the bark would miniaturize, possibly creating a strange sense of scale with large batches of bark on a small sized tree. I did find some nuts in the backyard however I'm not sure whether they were from the Shagbark Hickory or from what is either a Bitternut or Pignut Hickory that is also in the yard.

Sunday driving home we stopped at High Point. Concerned about the light, we decided to hike the short trail to the monument instead of the longer trail that ran all around the ridge which was three miles long. High Point is the highest point in the state of New Jersey at 1803 feet above sea-level. The obelisk which sits atop the site is a war memorial built to honor veterans. When open, the monument can be climbed. The view from the base of the monument is breathtaking, offering a full panorama of northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. The Delaware river, Port Jervis, and the Appalachian mountains are easily visible.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Monthly Blast: October 2018

Diderot, in his dialogue Rameau's Nephew, written sometime around 1761, asks of the eccentric and bacchian musician genius, Jean-François Rameau, whom he shares the dialogue with, "How is it that with a discrimination as delicate as yours and your remarkable sensitiveness for the beauties of musical art, you are so blind to the fine things of morality, so insensitive to the charms of virtue?" Rameau's responds simply, that he doesn't posses or has not been afforded through nature or nurture a sense for right or wrong, that it is simply the way he is. This anecdote speaks to me. So often, fans of extreme music and heavy metal are, from an outsider perspective, viewed similarly; individuals with a great musical sense and understanding whom focus those talents on a genre and interests which, to the outsider, seem to betray common decency and logic.

The narrator represents the outsider looking in, an outsider who is unable to see the morality and virtue in knowing and being the individual one wishes to be. Rameau is opinionated, talented, articulate, and - by all description - a social outcast portrayed to be a clown or jester whom the population laughs and is amused by instead of taken seriously, and yet he comes across as a confident, self-assured, and inwardly thoughtful character. I would rather be the individual no one understands yet admires, than an observer preoccupied with judging others at the expense of my own progression of self. It's no wonder that Rameau often speaks of his station in life as downtrodden and lackluster. True, it is in part self-inflicted by his trickery of his employers, but it also is a conflict of his Being within the social expectations of others.

A big dump of reviews for the month of October. These include interesting releases from noise artists A.Z.A.B and Siege Electronics, some local coverage of bands from Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, as well as a review of Insanity Cult's entire discography. Connecticut's Lustrum find some kind words regarding their recently released live tape as well as Greece's Dødsferd with their upcoming new album that continues their meritorious career.

A.Z.A.B & Siege Electronics - Expulsion Unit (2018)

This collaborative effort between noise outfits A.Z.A.B and Siege Electronics is a textural nightmare. This is good. The album feels like it leans towards Siege Electronics' style more than A.Z.A.B, as the main components of the songs are distinctive samples and sounds, unlike the more static-focused A.Z.A.B. It's clear to me that to enjoy this, requires interest in harsh noise and power electronics. The five tracks clock in at over thirty minutes of ear-raping. Opening track "Nefesh" is a nuanced and subtle, almost gentle example of the genre before the record truly sets off with "Samson Option Pt. 2." Sampled and mutated vocals speak over a rotating rhythm and screeching rusty swinging accents. Finding the foundational rhythm is difficult until it fades into existence during the last thirty seconds. "Our Own Truth (Universal Deceit)" is the first track that comes across as a planned and executed idea. The main motif or sample undulates throughout the song, as two voice-textures contrast each other, one calm and spoken and the second full of anger and distorted. It's an example of a track which represents the genre on a higher level when the simple but symbolic structure is realized in such an effective way. It's an easy track to lose oneself in. "Exist To Decay (Criminology Illumination)" opens with a sample of someone talking about growing up on the streets and being violent and assaulting people. It sets up the track, a twelve minute layered creation within which the protagonist voice fades out a third of the way into the song repeating "And they say crime exists." The rest of the song is a mixture of feedback, static, tones, and a vocalist growling. This section of vocals, while integral for hearing the voice of the collaborators, is the weakest texture presented on the album, thus rendering the longest track, my least favorite. The release ends with "Samson Option Pt. 1." Not sure why they would put Pt. 2 first on the album, however what is noticeable is that there are some similar textures in the material. Deep beneath the static is some remarkable nuanced tonal products that are given a peak at during common breaks in the static. These breaks act like windows to the beauty within. On this record, "Our Own Truth" is the highlight for it's textural maturity.

Destruction - Bestial Invasion of Hell (2018, originally 1984)

This remaster of Destruction's first demo, Bestial Invasion of Hell by Vic records is, if anything, a good reason to invest in grabbing one of the most important early releases in German thrash metal. Destruction's first demo was among an early grouping of bands including Sodom, Holy Moses, Poison, and Iron Angel to help pave the way for what would later be termed Teutonic thrash. Classic Destruction tracks like "Mad Butcher" and "Antichrist" sound urgent and fresh. The clarity helps discern all the subtle impurities in the sound, like the slight off key moments between Schmier and Sifringer throughout the album that gives the present thrash a dark evil essence or the under-represented leads buried in the mix in favor of the main riffs. I remember initially hearing a copy of this many years ago but never being able to hear the leads very well. Patrick Engel who handled the remastering expertly took the source and found a way to benefit the original material in displaying the grit and rawness of that moment in time through careful attention to not fiddle with too much. The influence of German Heavy Metal is present in the riffing style across the album but Destruction clearly show a migration towards the Speed Metal influenced thrash style the Germans would become recognized for. This is a nice release to include in a collection; the booklet has a bunch of rare images as well as liner notes from all three members, Schmier, Sifringer, and Sandmann. As an aside, I find Schmier sounds very much like Snake of Voivod fame vocally and I never noticed it until re-listening to this demo after so many years. An old school classic for sure and a release that anyone interested in Metal should be familiar with.

I find something very soothing in the art. Maybe it's the colors!

Dissentience - Mask of Pretense (2018)

This Pennsylvania band has been mulling over whether they want to be serious or not for apparently four years. Their demo was released back in 2014 and they are now promoting a new EP touted as being a unique take on the thrash genre. Not familiar with the band, I investigated their demo first. It is clear they are talented and skilled musicians though stylistically I'm underwhelmed. To me, they don't sound unique at all but instead very typical melodic death metal with cleanish vocals reminiscent of the early 2000's metalcore, screamo sound but with a thrashier edge, especially a song like "Bury Your Dead". Some tracks are a bit harder with more guitar noodling but there are plenty of breakdowns and chugging to be had. Final track "The Fallen," is the least dreadful track. Am I clamoring to hear the EP after this... not really. So has the band improved in any notable way in the four year gap? Absolutely. Is Dissentience doing anything truly unique now within the thrash genre? Not at all. For one, the problem is that the band isn't playing thrash and sound more influenced by modern technical death metal than original era thrash. Large swaths of the album sound influenced by the likes of Necrophagist or progressive death metal from bands like Gorguts. The band is at their best when they slow down and show they can write more than just blistering riffs heavy on hammer-ons and pull-offs. I think "Disinter" is my track of choice but mostly because I found moments of the track to best craft compelling melodies underneath all the flare on the surface. Overall the band has steadily improved musically. Conner Valentin and Jimmy Vitale are impressive on guitar. Sean Langer is solid on bass in support of the rhythms Nick Scherden on drums carries across the album. Valentin on vocals is average in the role, managing a raspy growl that is take-it or leave-it. The production of the album is clear and pristine and affords easy separation between all the instruments. It also saps a lot of energy and old school death metal feel. I guess I should be getting used to this by now but I prefer my death metal a bit dirtier and rawer than this.

Dødsferd - Diseased Remnants Of A Dying World (2018)

Immediately Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Alcest come to mind with this however I also get some hints of influence from other places such as Primordial and Burzum. Dødsferd do the style very well on Diseased Remnants Of A Dying World, with the right amount of visual stimulation, catchy hooks in the right place, and small burst of harsher and faster elements to bring energy to the mostly mid-paced songs. The production is crisp and clear with each instrument being rendered with enough focus in the mix to stand tall while not smothering other instruments in the interim. I believe the drums could have been more up front for just a bit more extra impact. Vocals are, as is traditionally the case, mixed most audible and stand out against everything else, especially during the harsher black metal rasps. Often, Wrath, who handles both the guitars and vocals admirably, switches between a bellowing yell and the rasps, providing a measure of variety that really helps keep the songs feeling fresh. One thing missing from the album are distinguishable riffs - the record is reliant on sweeping melodic movements with bass in close pursuit - which would offer a more aggressive element. One song that does happen to invoke this is "Loyal To The Black Oath," which gets my vote for best on the album, as it hearkens back to Opeth in their prime on My Arms Your Hearse or Still Life. The slightly more complex riffs that adorn it's near-ten minute run time paired with a wailing Wrath on vocals is enough emotion to stand above the other tracks. Dødsferd craft well written structures and melodies in their effort to generate longer compositions that will maintain interest and form enticing imagery through sound. I will, however, claim that what Dødsferd do on Diseased Remnants of a Dying World is not quite enough to rise above the best that I've heard from this corner of the Black Metal genre. This one is out in December... worth a listen for fans of any of the above mentioned acts.

Haiduk - Exomancer (2018)

Haiduk have been covered before here, referring to 2012's Spellbook, which was impressive on some levels and not impressive on others. Exomancer has appeared six years yonder from that outing. The main concern I had back then was the lack of attention to atmosphere and songwriting as a whole. Haiduk are best described as like a hornet's nest, a description which not only describes the guitar tone which multi-instrumentalist Luka Milojica achieves. His compositions are a bevy of energy and activity surrounding an small central structure. This is the case for large swaths of Milojica's output (See Demonicon's "Vordus" for a prime example). Exomancer once again follows suit and so I now am convinced that Haiduk sounds this way because Milojica can not play in any other manner. The unique sound and tone which Haiduk has portrayed now on these three albums can be viewed as simply what Haiduk is. Understanding this, objectively I view this album in a different and favorable light. First, a word on the vocals, which are not Milojica's strongest instrument. The deep throaty rasps are sparse, and for this reason sound out of place when they pop into existence. The lyrics often take the form, then, of short poetic psalms. For example, "Evil Art" has in total four words for the vocals. Once again, this is a feature of Haiduk which is simply a given. The real highlight is the guitar playing, specifically how it drives forward the pacing and momentum of Exomancer. Intricate riffs which slowly churn into new variations are backed by stringy twangy chords. The endlessly flowing parade of hammer-ons and pull-offs and tapped out notes march onward. Melodically, the album is solid, with truly unique and mesmerizing progressions of chords and lead work piled high. Songs often have three or four separate guitar lines running around together to create a layer of subtle tonal nuances. The tempos are, across the entirety of Exomancer the same quick rush. It would be difficult to carry the buzzing guitar riffs Haiduk employ at a slower or faster tempo. This lack of tempo is one of two faults in Milojica's style. The second fault is the lack of dynamics due to the requirement of each song being reliant on the tirade of guitar notes. There is little room to allow for other instruments to be highlighted. One thing that is not created is any type of atmosphere, which, if managed, takes Haiduk forward greatly. The programmed drums are passable but not ideal here. An interesting and unique listen that is not like much else out there. Luka has improved his songwriting considerably here. Best track for me is either opener "Death Portent" or the very speedy and tight "Death Ripple."


Insanity Cult - Insanity Be My Kvlt (2014)

Insanity Cult's first demo, Insanity Be My Kvlt, though a super lame title, is not an entirely lame release. For one, the demo truly sounds like a black metal demo in production with thin, tinny guitars, slightly under-produced drum tones, and some interesting choices of mixing such as hard panned guitars. Sacrilegious's vocals are both black metal screams as well as lower pitched death metal growls which adds a level of variety. Opening track, "Son of No Father" is has an interesting build up section three-quarters through within which we are gifted with totally natural guitars and unhidden string noises. "Hymn To A Forbidden Truth" has some interweaving guitar lines - which maybe draw out too long - as well as some clean vocals that recall Akerfeldt's brief moments of clean vocals from the "Eternal Soul Torture" demo track that appeared on the Morningrise rerelease. Much like on the opening track, the last of the three songs, "The Autumn Years" also floats on unique melodic choices and has a strangely triumphant feel. For a demo, there is some creative thought and uniqueness here which could perhaps lend inspiration to others.

Insanity Cult - As My End Unfolds (2015)

Following the interesting yet not truly impressive "Insanity Be My Kvlt" is Insanity Cult's debut "As My End Unfolds." Some of the songwriting nuances and originality expressed on the demo are available here. Off-speed clean guitars in songs like "The River Princess" show experimentation and 'spooky' clean vocals such as those a minute into "Hymn To A Forbidden Truth" are a direct link to the demo. What is more prevalent are the strummed riffs and reliance on melody over rhythm to drive songs showing a shift towards the influence of the modern atmospheric black metal style. Many of the songs here have the same faults that Insanity Cult's recent album has in terms of watering down the variation and not giving enough separation between different riffs and songs. Sacrilegious, the band's vocalist, does  a great job imbuing the tracks with a sense of integrity and emotion, more-so than on their more recent releases. There are some overly drawn out and amateurish writing moments like the hard transitions in tracks which don't seem to align with anything. I could see this album appealing to fans of modern black metal that enjoy the early Opeth albums which were similarly heavy on acoustic interludes.

Insanity Cult - Of Despair and Self Destruction (2017)

Very little of Insanity Cult's initial qualities can be found on this sophomore record. The biggest issue presented is simply the lack of depth across the various instruments. Unlike the previous record which had some nuanced elements, Of Despair and Self Destruction is tired and forced. Mundane guitar melodies that we've all heard before are presented against sleepy drums and a bass that does nothing to add variety or juxtapose the guitar lines. I found some hornets building a nest on my driveway this morning and I absolutely soaked them with yellow-jacket killer. We need a human sized can. And for fucks sake, don't start your black metal album with a five minute long mundane clean guitar intro. Vocals fall in line with the going-rate of black metal raspy monotonous screams that occasionally pitch upwards to a wailing cry. In Insanity Cult's case, the vocals are tied so strictly to the meter that it dries up any passion that could eek out an existence. This seems mostly to draw from the Eastern European influence of black metal which is now popular. There are no actual riffs present as well to add aggression to the mix. Nothing is memorable as well. Just pitiful.

Insanity Cult / Isolert - Towards The Great Dissolution (2017)

Insanity Cult's tracks on this split with fellow Greeks, Isolert, follows the formula built on Of Despair and Self Destruction. Their two tracks top out at fifteen minutes long, with "Existential Entropy" running over ten minutes. The recording is slightly rawer than the album tracks, with a less full range compared to the better produced Of Despair. Opening track "Thorns of Solitude," is unremarkable until roughly the three minute mark where the normally melody-focused material gives way to a nicely executed minute-long guitar lead. Vocalist Sacriligeous' screams are monotone and do not provide added interest to the music. The ten minute long "Existential Entropy" is a black metal run-on sentence, just meandering and uninspired repetitions of parts that do not hold interest. Isolert's additions to the split are more evocative and passionate in contrast. "Dreams of Emptiness" is a take on the first three post-Soulside Journey Darkthrone albums which also includes gang chanted vocals and well-orchestrated changes in pace and tone. "I Hide My Soul Inside The Trees," has a smaller Darkthrone component and a much more pronounced atmospheric black metal influence from bands such as Drudkh. The track culminates with an awesome guitar solo.  For me, Isolert here is the far superior effort.

My ultimate conclusion on Insanity Cult is that there is very little worthwhile material to investigate here. The debut demo, available for free is a viable listen but I found very little beyond this to be worth my time. There is a lot of monotony and a lack of defining individual songs that are must-listen. I was however impressed with the Isolert tracks on the split and I thank Insanity Cult for the introduction.


Kommandant - Blood Eel (2018)

Kommandant are a band who've been supported in the Northeast by way of Signature Riff for many years now. I have managed to see them live at least three or four times by this point. Their live show is a unique spectacle, portraying a propaganda rally or political rally, with vocalist Marcus Kolar leering at the audience over a podium. Musically, their scathing brand of black and death metal fit the imagery well, yet was never enough to get me to full invest. Blood Eel is the band's first album in three years and has some major highlights but also a few large blunders. The album's four-minute long intro builds a ton of tension however, the title track which follows never seems to start. The drumming maintains their militaristic atmosphere however I feel like instead of an intro and a first song, Kommandant threw at me two intro songs before actually starting the album with third track "The Struggle." What is highlighted in "Blood Eel," however is the melodic style which makes Kommandant a unique musical entity: grandiose movements which mimic the effect of apocalyptic war-marches across radiation-scoured landscapes. Another issue I have with the album is that the lyrical material based on the song titles is not of the same direction as Kommandant previously approached. Songs with titles such as "Victory Through Intolerance" or "Hate Is Strength" have been replaced with "Ice Giant" and "Blood Eel." I'd be interested to see the lyrics for the album. The album has two stand out songs musically, these being final track "Moon... The Last Man," and "Ice Giant." "The Struggle" also has it's moments however suffers from what I would call a lazy incorporation of the chorus. "Moon..." is my pick for the best track here. Snare-heavy blasting and tremolo riffs create a massive militant/industrial mono-mood. This bookends a masterful central instrumental that slows down the song and builds on a simple shifting melody. Marcin Widel and drummer David Swanson both contribute vocals, with Widel taking control of the black metal rasps, and Swanson handling the clean, spoken words. The track culminates in a furious blasting drum section accented with their signature drum-line toms. Kommandant have yet to truly impress me and Blood Eel, though powerful at times, does nothing but extend the fence I'm sitting on farther.

Lustrum - Plays With Madness (2018)

This live recording of Connecticut project Lustrum featuring members of One Master and Morgirion, both of whom have been covered here before, is pretty much a perfect starting point for "getting" what Lustrum is attempting. It's not far removed in spirit from Hellhammer or Venom with a tinge of more modern acts such as Midnight. On the debut demo, the vocals were similar to those in One Master, with large echoing snarl across the tracks however that is not present on these live tracks, instead a much drier delivery is given which allows some of the between song banter to come across clearly and to much amusement. It also gives the recording the feeling of the first-wave black metal bands. There are some truly awesome tracks present here. I love "Too Wild For The Crowd," which almost sounds like if The Rods went black metal. "Temple of Lust" rumbles through several riffs and a definitively minimalist punk-infused drum beat. "Into Shit of Nights" and "Wolves of Heresy" are also on my radar as two songs with catchy unique riffs and flow. "Wolves of Heresy" I remember from the debut demo. The tape ends with my favorite from the release, "Motorsex," which is ultimately just a bastardized remake of "Bomber" to my ears but still kicks ass. This is a fun live tape and gets to the soul of what makes a band like Lustrum enjoyable and rewarding. It's not often something is sleazy, rockin', and bad-ass while maintaining a devilish, blackened, and grim atmosphere. These guys got it right with Plays With Madness. Available on tape from Eternal Death. Cover of the tape is also really cool with a stylized rendering of an image of the live drummer and bassist with a Seventh Son of a Seventh Son Maiden backpatch playing blackjack in a casino - the kind of cover you won't find anywhere else for sure.

Witching - Witching (2018)

From Philadelphia, Witching pumps out some sludgy doom seemingly influenced by Black Sabbath, Eyehategod, and Electric Wizard. The closest pure comparison is Maegashira's excellent The Stark Arctic, however Witching never obtain such imagery or atmosphere. Melodically, the band follows closely with what Electric Wizard were doing on Let Us Prey or Come My Fanatics but the attitude is much more in line with the sludgier and succinct Eyehategod but without the sharper rhythmic focus. Jacqui Powell's vocals don't immediately come across as womanly, though there is a feminine tone during moments such as the clean vocals on "The Demon" or "Burning Girl." Powell's vocals are a key aspect to the mostly mundane compositions. Most times, tracks amble onward through big and deep waves of chords however a few key moments point towards the potential for Witching to truly do something great with their sound. The ending moments of "I'm Still Here" offer an intricate guitar dual harmony that is quite refreshing at that point into the second song. "The Demon" plunges into what isn't a rip off of "Supernaut" but... is pretty close to a rip-off of "Supernaut", and the whole transition sounds cohesive and ends the track perfectly. The closing track, "Desert," is a nice summary of the whole album stylistically. The five tracks clock an appropriate twenty-minutes of time. Strong debut release for Witching, but I'd like to see if they can find their own style within the genre. I think Powell has a strong sense of vocal dynamics and how to place herself in the songs but if the band is going to rely so much on the big slow-rolling chord movements, they need to be more compelling. The recent "False Martyr" single, was a step in this direction, combining both the sludgy overall style, stronger melodic movement, and - what really stood out - moments of atmosphere that create imagery. That track is better than the material on their debut.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sacrificial Blood: Upcoming November Show and News

We've had a busy October. Friday we finished our shows for this month with our good friends Sapremia and Blasphemous at The Fire in Philadelphia. There are some ravaging live videos from the show recently posted on the Sacrificial Blood Facebook.

There was also a recent review of the show we opened with Natur and the legendary Satan written by Ian Weber. He hosts his Metal Meltdown radio show playing the best variety of hard rock and heavy metal music that Brooklyn has to offer, every Sunday from 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm EST / 11:00 am - 1:00 pm PST on 920 WON: The Apple via Live365 (Official) (Live365 Broadcasting) - His review:

After spending the summer and early autumn attending so many cool shows, I went East in Brooklyn (Greenpoint, Brooklyn that is) to catch the legendary Satan (Band) at the Saint Vitus Bar. They're still going strong and I know doom metal worshipers NATUR, who are direct support this recent tour with them, are helping them out. Despite it being a chilly Friday night, over 200+ people showed up to support the NWOBHM legends. The show had a stacked lineup, and by the time I got there, the evening was about to get started with a local band called Sacrificial Blood. I had heard of them on record but was surprised how heavy they were live. Their sound is a cool mix of Morbid Saint (Official) inspired death metal, with touches of Seven Churches era Possessed. They were great. These guys are death metal in its rawest form: no frills! Check them out!

The next band many stuck around for was New York's NATUR who if were to be described in one word, the word would be "amazed". Playing a hybrid of classic metal, doom, and hard rock, these guys will decimate you. If they ever come back, I'll certainly be there. I highly recommend them if you're into Iron Maiden, Official Motörhead, and Saint Vitus.

Finally it was time to hail Satan (Band)!!! With a great turnout of about 200+ people, they delivered a full hour and a half headlining set playing all of their classics, as well as a handful of new songs which fit right in. I had heard good things recently about Satan (Band) live, and on 10/12/18, they sounded phenomenal. I'm not sure if there are any bands out there who play with as much passion and power as Satan (Band). At 64, Brian Ross can still work a crowd and belts out that signature voice of his, untouched by time. He very well may be the most underrated in his profession. Brian Ross's voice is aging like fine wine and the band played a great show. As long as the underground supports heavy metal, Satan (Band) will keep rocking this world and all the others.

 Our next show is in New Jersey with Earthling, Traitor, and Fiakra.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Acer Negundo (Box Elder Maple) - Fall 2018

Acer Negundo - Box Elder Maple
Age: 4 Months

This small box elder maple started this summer as a small sapling in the front yard growing wild. I initially thought it to be a Red Maple, but after five sets of ever-morphing cotyledon the tree's leaves finally fully formed into the identifiable three-leaf box elder leaves so often mistaken for poison ivy. Unlike poison ivy, box elder maples have opposite leaves while all poison ivy forms have alternating leaves on the stem. Close inspection of the trunk at this point shows small buds where the earlier leaves fell off. I may potentially get some new branching there in the spring. Currently the tree has about six sets of fully formed leaves. I'm not sure with the weather dropping in temperature if the final set that is budding will form. Currently, I've stopped watering the tree, because the soil has remained moist and has not dried out for several weeks. Soil in this pot is basically a mix of organics and small bark chips for drainage. I plan to repot in the spring into a more suitable mixture.

The true leaves have not yet begun to turn autumn colors but I expect that within the next week or two, with the colder temperatures we expect, that the tree will begin to lose it's leaves. My over-wintering plans for this tree is, once it loses it's leaves, to place it in the back shed where it will stay out of the wind and elements. My watering schedule will likely be every other week. I may attempt to slow water it with a block of ice or snow on top of the mulch. I've heard this is a good way to allow the roots to stay slightly wet throughout the winter, while still keeping them cold and in a dormant stage until spring. I am hearing we may have a mild winter, however, and if this is the case, I will likely give a small amount of water every other week.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Norwegian Spruce Seed Extraction

When my Wife and I traveled to upstate New York to celebrate her birthday with hang-liding and hiking, we stayed in a little cottage set back in the woods on top of a mountain not far from Sam's Point. There was a tremendous Norwegian Spruce (Picea Abies) on the property which I took a liking to and collected some cones from under it's spreading crown to bring home in hopes of extracting seeds from them for next spring's growing season with intention to grow as a potted bonsai.

Norwegian Spruces are fairly recognizable in the wild when large. Their needled leafstalks will often droop from weight on older trees with old growth branches. They are a very large growing tree, reaching heights of almost one-hundred feet. Also noteworthy are their cones, which are the largest cones on any spruce variety. They often reach lengths of up to seven inches in length. Their origins are in Europe, however they've become naturalized to large parts of North America.

Collecting the seeds from these cones can be a simple process, as the cones are often found littering the ground under the tree's canopy. Find cones that are brown and appear recently to have fallen from the tree. If cones are on the tree and in reach, you can take cones direct from the tree, but ensure they are brown, not green, and that the cone-scales have begun to separate from each other. It takes a full year for cones to mature. Green cones have not yet reached an age to bear seeds. The cones which I collected were not uniform in seed quantity. The first cone I de-seeded contained about thirty seeds. The second cone, the cone photographed, contained about fifteen seeds. This cone was a little shorter than the other cone, but from the same tree.

I prefer to meticulously remove the seeds from cones, as opposed to other methods I've seen which involve drying them and slamming them on a table or heating them up and shaking them so the seeds fall out. I find that it's far less wasteful and more respectful of the specimen. Additionally, getting more seeds from the cone means I have a much greater opportunity to get successful germination rates. If I only managed to remove ten seeds, and my germination rates for the batch of seeds is low, I may only get several seeds to grow. I also find going through the cone scale by scale relaxing and meditative in a way. Before I started the removal process, I let the cones dry out for about two weeks. This ensured that the seeds would be dry and it would also be easier to work with the scales. Some other species require a dry period so that the cones simply open at all. Pitch Pine, for example, is extremely difficult when the cone is not dry.

The first step is to simply remove the top part of the cone. In my experience, there are not often many seeds in the top part of the cone with Norwegian Spruces. Most of the seeds are in the middle section of the cone. I simply broke off the top with a pair of pliers. Every cone is different, some are easier to work from the bottom up, others top down. I disposed of the top of the cone in a plastic bag which I put my other scraps in. This bag contains all my non-seed remains of the cones and other material. I empty this bag in a spot in my yard where potentially missed seeds will then maybe grow. I can then transplant these saplings later.

Each scale is attached to the central part of the cone very strongly. I use my finger to grip the cone as the plier is in the image to the right. Showing the process with the plier in place of my hand so that it is clearly visible. With my finger gripping the scale, I gently move the scale left to right, so that it pivots at the point where it is attached to the central cone-stalk. I continue to shift the cone-scale back and forth until it becomes loose and I can detach the scale from the stalk. The stalk is extremely fibrous and difficult to damage. When the cone is completely dry, these fibers become brittle, and break easier at the junction point.

Once you've remove several of the scales, the seeds should make themselves visible. You will see them poking out from behind other scales, laying on the inside of newly revealed scales, and simply see them fall or drop out of the cone from being disturbed from above. The hardest part of this process is removing the scales to reveal the seeds. As the scales are removed, the cone-stalk will be all that's left behind. When dry, it becomes pointy and sharp and will have to be broken off as you continue to remove more and more scales.

As I continue to remove the scales one by one, the seeds, which take the form of small samaras - or keys - reveal themselves on the inside of the scales. The seed itself is a small hard ellipsoid capsule near the base of the scale and the cone-stalk. The seeds are often loose by this point in the process from having dried out. Normally simply turning the cone over will let them fall out.

You can see three seeds on the left, as they were laying in the cone as I remove the scales. To the right, I have show a single scale, with the location of the samara on the scale as it would exist inside the cone. There are two samaras per scale however it's very common to only have one or even no seeds. On scales where a seed is stuck to the scale, I use a small exacto-knife to pop them loose from the scale. Occasionally, the samara will dislodge and leave only the seed. In this case, I simply discard the samara and keep the seed.

A single samara (left). Each samara contains one seed. The darker section of the samara is the seed. The lighter "wing" of the samara is simply to help the seed get carried distances in nature. Wind will blow the samara quite a distance should the samara exit the cone while it's high up on the tree. The wing is very fragile and easily disintegrates between the fingers.

The seed (right) is resilient. The seed is hard and protected by a shell that prevents it from germinating until the time is right as well as preventing damage to the important part of the seed inside. These seeds are the entirety of the cone's purpose: to nurture, store, and protect the seed until it is time to disperse it for potential growth.

Each species has it's own distinctive samara and seed. Norwegian Spruce seeds are medium sized. Pitch Pine samaras are slightly larger with wavy wings. Regardless of the species, the cone's purpose and structure is the same.

For storage, I use small plastic containers which I label with the species and year collected. There's no time-table for these seeds to go bad. They should last several years in storage in a cool, dry, dark place. This process of storing seeds works for practically any seed for any plant. Collection methods differ slightly depending on the type of plant, but the storage of all seeds is the same. It is very important that the seeds be dried out or dry to prevent them from becoming moldy.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Driven By Impact - Driven By Impact

Driven By Impact is, unfortunately, about ten years too late to the melodic death metal craze. These Germans are on par with many other metalcore bands that have managed to come across my ears and by this point, even though their self titled debut, Driven By Impact, easily checks off all the boxes on the punch list of what could make decent melodic death metal, it still sounds dated. There aren't any single glaring issues for me with this record and if we were to jump in our time-car and sneeze back several years when the sub-genre was at it's height, and if I were to be as close to objective towards Driven By Impact, the album would receive average marks on almost all fronts and result in the ultimate conclusion of "this melodic death metal album is done well and would appeal only to those that care about melodic death metal." It's not a strong enough album for someone who normally does not like the subgenre to find enjoyable. I dare-say that Driven By Impact could be an example of all the things that people that don't like melodic death metal find meaningless.

Breaking down the overall sound of the band, the basis of most of these songs relies on underlying  melodic movements as opposed to riff-based structures. An exclusion to this would be large segments of "Place of Gore," which is more groove-based. Floating on top of the chord progressions are intricately fashioned metalcore riffs that while fundamentally generic still offer some interest through incorporation of some atonal or unsuspecting contrasting harmonic events. "Arise From Ashes" or "Experience in Red" shows how Driven By Impact allows notes to hold out over underlying chords to create momentary unpredictable melodic changes. In some ways, this gives the band a much more progressive sound, perhaps nodding towards a band such as Into Eternity. All of the string instruments are tied to the melodic structure first and foremost. This restricts in some ways the ability of the music to create truly inspired sounding moments where individuals rise above the melodic prison cells the band often finds themselves in. Were instruments given more space to explore their own potential, such as the bass does during segments of "Place of Gore," the album would come across more maturely and patiently composed.

The production on the album is acceptable however not what I would consider exceptionally heavy or crushing in any department; typical of this style to my ears, with modern chunky guitar rhythm tones. It's really nothing worth even talking about because it's such a standard tone for an album of this style. One instrument that truly does stand out happens to be the vocals of Eugen Rutz. They stand out as the sole instrument that doesn't quite gel or add to the overall music. If I had to point at something that holds Driven By Impact back, it's Rutz' vocals. Often low-end growls with a rasp, Rutz doesn't create enough dynamic to match the sweeping melodicism of the rest of the band. His growls are often detrimental in sections where a higher scream or harsher vocal could imbue some extra passion and texture to the songs. Without an identifiable vocal performance, the rest of the album doesn't merit multiple listens for the average fan. Rutz is not a bad vocalist, he just doesn't fit well with Driven By Impact.

Some songs of note. The transitions in some songs seem manufactured digitally such as in third track "Burning Bridges." This track also has the weakest drum performance with some odd kick rhythms that seem to fall off the beat. "Experience In Red" has the albums worst introduction with a lazily written and obnoxious repetitive riff before being somewhat redeemed during the middle section of the song.The "Prologue" sucks and they shouldn't have included it. It sounds like a boss battle song from a third-rate Nintendo game. I did like that Driven By Impact comes with the lyrics in the booklet, however I don't like that the lyrics aren't very inspiring or original on deeper inspection. The first three songs on the album are all standard fare songs about depression, suicide, death... topics which offer little new insight to anything and are tired at this point. Driven By Impact aren't bad, but they need more to separate themselves and make their music shine beyond the typical and generic in this genre. Cheers to them for sending me a physical copy of their album though instead of a digital promo - it just makes me feel that they take their music seriously.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Monthly Blast: September 2018

Briton Rites - Demos 2009 / 2012 (2018)

I've been a big fan of Howie Bentley and pretty much everything he's created from his music in Cauldron Born and Briton Rites, to his fiction and novels. He's also entirely sincere and friendly all the time. I just love the guy. There - I said it. These demos are taken from several places. The two tracks that appeared on For Mircalla, "Carmilla" and "A Meeting In The Woods", are off the preceding demo from 2009. The opening track "In Hell I Will Rule" is from a compilation released by DMR, the label releasing the Swords and Steel short story compilations which have featured Bentley several times as well as other notable artists such as the late Mark Shelton, Bryon Roberts, and Scott Waldrop. There is also a previously unreleased track called "The Wizards Pipe." Compared to the album material, the quality here of the two newer tracks, is on par. The production is on point and the song writing and riff machine which Bentley is has not taken a step back. What I love about the Briton Rites material is how representative of the Doom moniker it holds itself to be. It's basically if you were to provide a random person on the street and tell them 'this is Doom Metal' they would nod their head in validation and say "I get it!." It's about as pure as refined gold. Once again all the tracks feature Phil Swanson on vocals. "The Wizard's Pipe" is a highlight for me and stands up to the best tracks on For Mircalla. Swanson's vocals on the outset are, for lack of a better description, hazy and smokey and revert to his unique crow by the middle of the track. The song also showcases the seemingly free-form genius of Bentley's student bassist John Leeson who fills in gaps with huge runs of bass notes on demand. I daresay the two demo versions of "Carmilla" and "A Meeting In The Woods" are better than the album versions. The guitar tone is more crisp and less muddied and simply gargantuan. I can't seem to turn up my stereo loud enough. When "A Meeting In The Woods" plays anywhere in the world, I intuitively clench my fists, wrench my face into a snarl, and bang my head. It has to be in my list of top ten Doom Metal songs of all time. This compilation is a free download from the Briton Rites bandcamp. Don't be a snot-nosed dweeb; there is no reason to not have this downloaded at least four times for no good reason. Buy For Mircalla. It demands ownership.

Countess - Ritual Of The 7 Priests (2018)

I know I have refrained from reviewing singles in the past but Countess gets a pass because it's Countess. This reworking of a much older track is a perfect addendum to what Orlok and Countess have been doing lately; reworking and re-composing older tracks from the band's extensive discography. Orlok told me there's no real reason as to why they have been re-recording them; "We just have been playing these songs live again and quite differently from the original versions, so we thought it would be cool to record them again and release them." He added also that it's "nice to have some new stuff every now and then between albums." So where does this version of "Ritual of the 7 Priests" compare to the original that appeared on The Return of the Horned One? For one, the song has been shortened and the spoken/yelled invocation section from the original replaced with a timely keyboard melody courtesy of Haxa. The trumpeted sections that drew out the original too long have been cut as well. What we are left with is a more mature, refined, and clean composition that remains true to the original version of the track. Orlok's vocals on the new recording are less frivolous and sharp. The rest of the track musically, is more driving. The details like the guitar solo at the end of the track which remind me heavily of Bathory, and the previously mentioned keyboard elements are utilized expertly to enhance the track. Mortuum's drumming is extremely tight and minimalist in a Phil Rudd manner. Ultimately, this is a single worth checking out whether you are already familiar with Countess or not; the clarity, composition, and execution are of a quality that puts the focus entirely on whether the listener enjoys Countess' absolutely unique take on Heavy Metal. In my opinion, this is an ideal track to begin a foray into the band.

Deep Energy Orchestra - Playing With Fire (2018)

A group of jazz and world musicians creating quite interesting soundscapes and textural combinations. Deep Energy Orchestra's main brain is jazz bassist Jason Everett, who plays fretless bass across Playing with Fire and shines throughout the four tracks on display. He often takes a back seat to allow for phenomenal tabla playing, or Selvaganesh's drumming, or Trey Gunn's guitar playing, or some of the most abnormal vocalizations I've heard on a record. Opening track "The Return" is evidence of these abnormal vocalizations which solidify this record as something totally new and unique in my listening experience - and one of the reasons I enjoy world and folk music. While the deeply spiritual sounding melodies and instrumental can easily be the focus, these vocal moments are truly what I enjoyed the most oddly. I wasn't sure if I was listening to something from a tiny obscure musical style never before witnessed in the west or a country auctioneer rattling off prices. The guitar playing and percussion is phenomenal here, and Radhika Iyer's violin playing is captivating. A great listen for those with an interest in world, fusion, and jazz instrumental music. Top track is the desert-like "Resolve Improv Caravan" but really all the tracks had a lot of interesting moments.

Exorcismo - Exorcise and Steal (2018)

After several listens, I found Exorcise and Steal, from the Brazilian thrashers Exorcismo, to culminate into a solid modern thrash album that should be on the radar of anyone into old school thrash. Exorcismo falls somewhere between a Bay Area thrash band and the German bands around the late 80's early 90's. Destruction specifically comes to mind, as I felt similarities between Exorcismo and an album like, Mad Butcher or Cracked Brain. Where Exorcismo offer some change is in the vocals of drummer Denis Violence. Violence's snarl is on the lower end of the spectrum, as opposed to the higher youthful rasp and pitchiness of Marcel Schirmer. He almost reminds me of Barney Greenway's more growling yell from the mid-90's Napalm Death material. It's a good sound though, as it portrays the band's material as more serious and in spirit with the original thrash movement compared to what we were seeing sprout from what was deemed the New Wave of American Thrash Metal a few years ago. Guitarists Anderson Razor and Carlos Ragner handle their duties adeptly. Some interesting moments surface on the album such as interesting clean breaks in "Disgrace and Terror" that have been composed into the solo section. "Ready To Violence" is my highlight for the record, with a frantic intro. The rest of the track is composed of twists and turns and a ton of riffs. Exorcismo do a great job utilizing interesting and unique transitions and once-and-done bridge riffs to get them through songs and into section written specifically for circle-pits or specifically for headbanging. The band seems very much aware of where to place what. They never repeat themselves too many times or allow songs to stagnate. Not a bad record worth some spins for the die-hard thrash fans out there but if I'm being honest, I could see the album boring those who are more difficult to please in terms of thrash.

Gutwrench - The Art of Mutilation (2018)

Back in college, I was playing "Necrosis" from the Wither Without You demo on my radio show. Now Gutwrench's phenomenal debut demo along with their second equally awesome demo Beneath Skin are finally getting a deserved re-release through Vic Records. The Art of Mutilation contains the two demos as well as several rehearsal tracks and another track specific to the compilation. Wither Without You is one of the best of the Dutch death metal demos from the early 1990's and tracks like "Necrosis" contain enough dreary melody to never go out of style. What really highlights Gutwrench's material is something which often gets misused in the Dutch scene in that the band knows when to get techy and when to maintain a more simplistic foundation. Counter to Phlebotomized or Iniquity, Gutwrench followed more in the Asphyx vein and threw splashes of technicality into their material by way of compositional flourishes such as the numerous riffs under the elongated solo section in "Beneath Skin." What is also interesting about the material, mostly that which is on the "Beneath Skin" material is the numerous non-Dutch elements. "Pest Controller" shows the creeping influence of the Gothenburg style into Gutwrench's toolbox and East Coast New York Death Metal gets thrown into the mix in "The God Complex." Even with these disparate stylistic tendencies, Gutwrench somehow manage to never lose the Dutchness in their sound. This is a desirable compilation for those that will never own the original demos. Gutwrench have absorbed the best qualities of their Dutch home scene while squirreling away small stylistic tendencies from abroad to cook up top tier death metal.

Into The Cave - Insulters of Jesus Christ (2018)

Into The Cave's Insulters of Jesus Christ is loaded with songs proposed to the listener with the deep South American death metal thrash background that shouldn't need much explanation. Think Headhunter D.C. and Hellhammer and you're not far off. I wasn't surprised to learn that Into The Cave were from Brazil after getting a few songs through the album. The production is very good and showcases Bitch Hunter's excellent lead guitar work which assaults each track with divebombs, squeals, and generally wild-style solos. The drumming of Erick Fryer is on point as well, while the occasional interesting rhythm shows up, such as that in "Pure Filth From The Grave," he more often than not bashes and smashes his way around the drum kit to drive the songs forward with basic thrash beats in a frantic manner. Vocalist Bestial Vomitor provides a sturdy presence throughout with low, deep growls throughout and grunts smartly placed in tracks. I wish that the bass playing of Dyd Bastard was more varied. He lingers way too close to the guitar lines all the time and doesn't offer much in the way of depth to the songs. While many of the songs are strong but standard South American death thrash, a few stand alone. "Scarlet Queen" is nearly pure speed metal, a death metal take on Midnight. "Heretic" starts off with a slow intro topped with some keyboards for kicks. "Massacre Bestial" is a bit convoluted stylistically after it's opening Heavy Metal-esque intro. My personal favorite from the record has to be the intense "Vomiting Blasphemies," which in a meager two-minutes simply pummels the listener. Overall a really good album that offers a lot with each listen.

Lucifer's Fall - Dungeon Demos 2013 (2013)

Three tracks heavily influenced by the progenitors of doom, Black Sabbath. Secondary influences seem to be mixtures of Pentagram, Pagan Altar, and Cirith Ungol. Of interest immediately is the nature of these Australians, Lucifer's Fall. On this particular demo release, Deceiver offers all the guitars, bass, and vocals with Unknown and Unnamed playing drums. Considering there are guitars and bass and sections of layered vocals, it's clear this demo isn't a true rehearsal demo since there must have been several takes done. Evident from the start is that though this demo is comprised of rehearsal material, the production quality is exceptional. Each instrument in clear and audible. Special attention was seemingly paid to ensure that vocal levels were done properly. This is likely only possible due to previously described situation of recording here. I find it rewarding that Deceiver cared enough about singular arrangement and composition details to go through the extra effort of incorporating everything into a rehearsal demo*. In all honestly, though this is a trio of rehearsals, the overall quality is better than I've heard on many full lengths and I actually like the rawness. Natural production aside, from a composition angle, the songs are all very well put together. "Mother Superior" which builds off an extremely memorable bass line and then runs through a section of layered vocals along with some killer doom riffs, is a standout. Closing track Unknown Unnamed starts with some shouted lyrics in a bizarrely satisfactory manner. Deceiver's vocals throughout the rest of the track are genuinely doom; he attempts to hit higher notes and somehow always seems to sound just barely reaching them. It lends the demo a feeling of authenticity, youthfulness, and confidence that works in this setting. Overall a rather impressive first release from this Lucifer's Fall.

Raw Raze - Thunderblade (2004)

Brazilian band that released two demos in 2004 and 2005 and whose members dispersed into numerous other bands and projects. This short demo, their first release is heavily influenced by Iron Maiden. The intro is a short minute long recording of... thunder. The songs are very simple derivatives of standard traditional metal. The performances of the musicians - Daniel Raze (Vocals), Linsandro Freire (Drums), Vinicius Amorim (Guitars), and Carlos Fintelman (Guitars and Bass) - are adequate but not ultimately impressive. The songs aren't bad in themselves, just don't stand out in anyway. "Fight For Metal" is evident of some amateur mistakes such as the hard transitions from section to section that are too abrupt. There are some noteworthy moments that shine, such as some of the guitar leads and melodies. Raze's vocals are a hair better than average but he does not go the distance. He strains to reach higher notes across the record and his melodies are tightly linked to the other instruments in a way that stymies deeper exploration of the vocals. You can download this for free from the band's website. Mostly what I get out of this demo is the formative importance of Iron Maiden for aspiring musicians within heavy metal.

Xalpen - Wowk Otrr (2018)

This Chilean horde is following up their 2016 debut EP, Black Rites, with a new EP entitled Wowk Otrr which is once again firmly in the second-wave Norwegian style though the rawer production encountered on Black Rites has given way to a more balanced, yet no-less-aggressive production. Vocalist and bassist Alvaro Lillo, who has also offered his services to Watain and others as well as guitarist Juan Pablo Nunez who also supports on vocals are the driving force behind the project. I was Impressed with the overall record. Every song is well paced and stirring, particularly "Ten Hashpen (In Darkness Remains)" and the sublime "Xosh Kassek (Chant To Hosh)," both the highlights of the album for me. With "In Darkness Remains," Xalpen drag the listener through myriad fast and slower movements and subtle melodic shifts. The repetitive nature of "Chant To Hosh" proves the band is capable of working with different compositional structures, both exploratory, threaded and linear, as well as the timeless black metal structural motif of repetitive and minimalist. This minimalism is also worth noting in terms of the melodic usage on the record with several songs hinging on two-note melodic structures which interestingly produce a primitive memorability via simplicity. Also worth noting is "K'terrnenqar Shwaken (The Vengeance of K´térnen)" which is the most urgent and pressing aided by multiple huge short-lived driving bass bridges. Lillo's bass tone is a key presence on the record, taking up a large amount of mix-space with a gravely and booming strength. I did feel that the overall album could have been paced slightly differently, with "In Darkness Remains" later on the EP, as the final two tracks don't do much overall for the record - a track of growls and rasps for two minutes followed by a piano-only outro. I also thought that there were too many vocals at times that didn't give enough leeway for the music to tell it's story as equally. Xalpen is putting out a three song EP shortly. I'd be vigilant for that.