Thursday, July 11, 2019

Autocrat - Interregnum

After finding the singular Autocrat track on the Autocrat / Black Knife split so good, I went ahead and contacted the band to try and get a copy of their first release, Interregnum. Drummer Thad Watson got back to me a couple months later apologizing for the delay and letting me know he had copies of the first album and was in the process of potentially releasing the second album on tape. I bought a copy of Interregnum hoping for at least one track to match the strength of "Borges Library" from the split. Early in March, after speaking briefly with Jonathan Scott, the guitarist and vocalist, the tape arrived on my front porch.

The album starts with "The Devil's Dictionary," a mid-faster paced track which has a repeated main riff that is doomy due to the performance of Autocrat. The barked vocals are not reminiscent of the vocals on the split tape. Jonathan here is much more in the vein of a sludge singer than the lower registered clean and sung vocals I was expecting. While there were some screamed sections on "Borges...", the whole track here is mostly screamed. The track is strongest as the main riff switches smoothly into the chorus riff. There are some slight variations throughout to highlight the vocal rhythms but it comes across as repetitive, even with the strong solo section. I'm not sure how much I like the track as an album opener.

The following track, "A Thrown Project" would have been a better opener, with it's moody slow intro and yielding to a strong fast riff to truly get the track going only footsteps into the song. With vocals finding themselves in the raspy bellowed deep clean vocals style which I liked so much from the split, the album truly starts here, for me. Bassist Travis Shelton's performance here is key as well. He finds space in the song and fills it not with intense sweeps or tapping bass solos but with nuanced decisive note choices to give character to the song when it needs it. Third track "Until Thermidor" also shows Shelton taking the opposite direction during the bridge to the solo with a higher-register fill that incorporated melody into a chugging midway through the song. Shelton turns out to be a major influence on the final four tracks and helps these four tracks dramatically.

So what are the standouts for me song wise? It would have to be the final two songs provided. "Black Humo(u)rs" is my favorite track on the record with it's Pentagram-esque opening riff. Jonathan's vocals remind me of Andy Martin of Clamfight with less savage power; the raspy, throaty screams are similar but Jonathan adds some subtle melody and pitch to the vocals. Musically I am reminded also of Revelation and the ever-present Black Sabbath, especially during the elongated solo section where, once again, Shelton is key. The foundation of a solid minute and a half of the song is his, as he wanders through several different bass lines and rhythms to add depth to the song. "Lady of Babylon" is likely the best track on the record objectively speaking. The extensive solo section is a highlight and the track is the strongest evidence for the main influence being Black Sabbath available. 

This has been a difficult release to review for some inexplicable reason. I don't know what it was about it that I couldn't get a handle on. Maybe I'm still thinking the name-drop of Candlemass and subconsciously awaiting a grandiose Epic Doom moment which hasn't come yet. In truth, Autocrat are in a strange place between stoner / sludge and traditional doom. I like the vocals on Interregnum however I don't like how syncopated they are to the songs rhythms. This was not the case on "Borges Library," where the vocals had their own quest to follow over the song. Had I heard this prior to the split I would have been intrigued as to where the band was going to progress towards due to the strong musicianship and songwriting and then have been surprised and rewarded fully with the split. Having listened to the releases reverse, I don't want to say that I'm let down by Interregnum but I was hoping for a track to stand out for me like "Borges Library." "Lady of Babylon" and "Black Humo(u)rs" do to some extent but I'm hoping that the next release continues in the trajectory the band took with their track on the Split.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Blasphematory - Depths of the Obscurity

While at work, Chris Warhead of Abazagorath notoriety dropped me off this new demo tape featuring his drumming talents and Joe Aversario handling the string components and vocal belches. To see the baffled faces of those around me as he handed me the demo was a charm, expressions I would not like to forget. In some ways, Depths of the Obscurity could be the theme from the beginning of this receipt of material. The average man, going about his business, is given a small glimpse into the tendons of the underground system by which projects and bands have grown their name for decades. There is an obscure and known, but not understood, current of connections which at it's fundamental level holds all 'this' together and which no digital mass of mob-predilection can subvert through their social media channels, their instagram accounts, or their promotion engines-disguised as metal news sites. The depths are teaming with activity.

Depths of the Obscurity is as solid of a modern death metal demo as can be found in my opinion. I am reminded of the current crop of filthy death metal bands that have - mostly - set the tone of underground death metal for the past several years. Bands like Necrot, Spectral Voice, Undergang, the first two Horrendous albums, hell a large collection of the Dark Descent discography over the past few years leads us back to this style of death metal. Where Blasphematory dig their grave is similar but with a smattering of Swedish melancholy closer to Grave or Entombed. This combination is not uncommon yet often boring. Incantation is also at the front of my mind as the five tracks are realized. Aversario and Warhead intertwine slight hints of grind too, such as syncopated pinch harmonics in first track "Sepulchres Below" which reflect Aversario's grind background. One of the aspects I like a lot is the drum tone which is slightly trashy and rehearsal quality; a subtle but effective supply of nuanced timbre that is often produced-out on polished recordings.

Aversario is the standout on the demo. His vocals are deep and cavernous, demonic amidst the softened tape output. There is a mixture of guitar techniques on the demo. Songs have strong melodic movements such as the instrumental sections in "Sepulchres Below", "Martyr's Tears", and title track "Depths of the Obscurity," which opens with one of the more convincing introductions to a song I've heard in a long time. Solos are to be found splashed across the foundation walls and there are plenty of nasty tidbits of noise, bunk, and twaddle. There are a mix of slow and fast moments throughout the demo and the variety highlights Warhead's drumming as he effortlessly supports with an array of rhythms and fills. Joe handles the bass across the tracks with a keen ear for providing an underlying low end and not simply following every guitar line giving the tracks a depth and fullness that could otherwise be missing. The energy is nonstop and urgent from opening to close.

I don't know why "Martyr's Tears" is a bonus track. In truth, what IS a bonus track? It's one thing for a repress of an album to have a live version or a demo recording or something clearly not linked to the recording but on a demo, I don't think there is a rigid defined definition. Apparently the online release does not have this track. Personally, the online 'release' matters not one iota for me as far as being a real release. Anyway, this is a solid demo for death metal fans and I don't see a reason why anyone following the crop of current bands with old school mentality wouldn't appreciate the clamor residing here. As an after thought, the format of tape is proving to reign supreme once again as the harbinger of solid death metal bands. A large contingent of the top shelf bands' debut releases have been initially tape offerings. The format is still an important step in a band's rise to status finally culminating in the all-hailed vinyl record that has reclaimed it's spot as the gold-standard for achievement in the genre.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Acer Rubrum #1 - Red Maple

Acer Rubrum - Red Maple
Age: 6 Months

This is a small Acer Rubrum - Red Maple which I dug up last year from the front of my yard.

What initially interested me in this tree is that even though the tree is tiny, there were two small buds low down on the trunk. This gave me hope that I could develop over time some lower branches on the tree which would help thicken the bottom portion of the trunk.

Red Maples make good bonsai subjects; their leaves are small, they are very hardy, and easy to take care of. They grow everywhere and can be found quite easily in nature or grown from seed. The trees produce very copious amounts of seed much like other maple species. During the fall, the trees also produce very nice red foliage and make an attractive specimen.

I did not get pictures prior to this past winter. The small leaves turned a deep red in autumn before falling off in November. The tree was left over winter in my shed at first. After growing some harmless old on the surface of the soil, I moved it outside behind the shed to kill the mold. The mold died but the root ball froze. At this point I moved the tree inside and into a spare refrigerator to thaw out.

I repotted the tree this march to get it out of it's poor soil and into a better mix of soil. Once again I am using the Napa 8822 for this tree. I am putting it in a slightly larger pot to try and influence larger growth through this year and get some height on the tree. In hindsight I probably repotted this tree a little early this year. Next year I will likely wait a bit longer closer to the buds on the tree showing. I raked out the old soil away from the roots to see how the roots grew last year. There were roots growing out of the pot last year so I know that the tree needed to be repotted this spring. Maples and most deciduous trees are best repotted during the dormant season right as spring is forcing them to bud out.

This tree was interested because of the angle it was growing at. I was not sure what the roots would be doing underneath the soil. I thought it might have a single taproot growing to the left of the pot from the stem straight down but instead, there were several significant roots that were spreading out nicely from the base of the tree. It allowed me to cut and prune back the tree quite a bit and still have roots to support the tree.

The fully raked out root spread.
The pruned roots. Notice the small bud facing right.
Repotted the tree into new soil.
April 24, 2019 (Age - 10 Months):

The buds started popping again in late March and I could see the green coming into the apex of the tree (see left). I had stored the tree in my cold, unheated attic after the repot to give it a chance to acclimate without potentially freezing. I kept it watered and misted while in the attic.

The tree now has it's first two pairs of leaves on the apex in it's new pot in my yard (right). I dressed the top of the soil with sphagnum moss to help keep moisture in the soil. The sphagnum also has anti-fungal properties. The little buds lower on the tree have not yet fully formed leaves but are hopefully going to pop soon as I see them extending. I also dropped some slow release fertilzer into the pot now that the first leaves have started to show. Applying fertilzer before the leaves show can 'burn' the tree.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Monthly Blast: February - March

Original Interview: R. Matos interviewing Motorscreamer of Motorpenis in Herege Warfare Productions Fanzine #2 (2009)
0N0 - Cloaked Climax Concealed (2019)

Slovakian outfit 0N0 have manufactured a very interesting product with their experimentation. Cloaked Climax Concealed is their first output in three years following Reconstruction and Synthesis, their second full length. The trio sounds like more than three people sonically; numerous layers of ringing guitars, atonal elements, and vocals creative an immersive listening experience even across only these two tracks. Perhaps the most defining element is the drum programming courtesy of Twisted. It reminds me not of other programmed drums but instead of Steve Shelton's work on Confessor's Unraveled; the usage of unpredictable cymbal hits and unconventional rhythms to back the atmospheric miasma created by guitarists Twisted and Acidmilk is similar to the abnormal approach taken by Shelton throughout the career of the North Carolina experimental doom band. Further emphasizing the importance of the drums is the subtle way in which they are mixed. The identifiable distance between crash and splash in the sound design draws the ear to the constant clattering. I am partial to the second track, "Hidden In The Trees (Sail This Wrecked Ship)" due to the solemn melodic underpinning. Opener "The Crown Unknown" has a conniving and cunning progression which appeals to me less. The vocals of once again, Twisted and Acidmilk - I am guessing one does the low gutteral vocals and one does the atmospheric clean vocals in a post-metal vein such as Jesu - are utilized throughout to highlight the changes in the track's parts which aren't always noticeably distinguishable. 0N0 are doing something really interesting. I feel they fit squarely into the post-metal heading. The usage of death metal vocals alone here doesn't do enough to escape the post-metal / post-rock genre but 0N0 are on a trajectory that could cause something groundbreaking in the near future. As of now, I expect this mostly to appeal to fans who wish they could find post-metal that had low, guttural, death metal vocals.

Abigail / Lustrum - Too Wild For The Crowd Split 7" (2016)

This four song 7" from Japanese street metallers Abigail and Connecticut sleaze metal masters Lustrum is a perfect example of the kind of quality short-plays that squeak through the awareness of so many people. Opening with the Japanese ragers, speed metal reigns supreme in influence here with opening track Thundercunt puts the record on notice for it's kick-drum romp but the highlight of their tracks, and the whole 7", is the blistering "Satan Power, Unholy War" which is about as aggressive, angry, and memorable as a song could be. Replete with essentially one main riff through the entire track with minor variation, Yasuyuki's bass rhythm pulls the track together and gives moments separation by incorporating a walking bass motif at times. Jero's lead halfway through the track is perfectly placed and adds a nuanced harmony against the aggressive track. Lustrum command side B of the 7" with "The Seven Witches of Hell". The track is indicative of the Venom and first-wave Black Metal influences Lustrum make their calling. Highlights are the slick and big transition riff that slows the song down and patiently carries it over the threshold as well as Intolerant One's massive echoing vocals. "Temple of Lust" is a little boring but once again contains Lustrum's trademark riffing style and primitive aggression. The 7" is worth it's cost for sure and is a great addition to any speed metal / street metal / underground metal fan's collection.

Death Fortress - Pulling Ancient Stone (2012)

The two tracks presented here by, at this point in the band's history, sole-creator Joe Aversario are promising and do hint at what Death Fortress has become beyond this period as a one-man project. The most interesting facet for me is how remarkably similar they sound to Astrofaes' debut, which is one of my favorites from the eastern European black metal scene. The demo obviously lacks some of the folk elements - you will not find much folk music in New Jersey compared to Ukraine - but the overall black metal foundations present on opening track "Eternal Enemies" is not far off from the voracious hypnotism of "Fiery Mysticism". The slightly more complex "Pulling Ancient Stone" is willing to integrate slower melodic movements but the faster black metal components which build up the majority of this track also owe much to Ukrainian and Polish Black Metal. The production on this debut demo is rightly raw and underground but showcases a strong bottom end and drum production. The vocals emphasize Joe's intensity in everything he does, as I have known since his time in Dethroned Emperor. He often utilizes both a higher scream and a lower growl at the same time on these two tracks. While the songs are overall very promising in their execution, I can't help but feel that the tape is missing something stand out. Both songs are propelled by the guitar melodies but other than transition riffs, the melodies can be monotonous. Some interesting arrangements nonetheless appear such as the transition section in "Eternal Enemies" with Joe providing vocals over windy guitars and the aforementioned slower movement in "Pulling Ancient Stone" which manifests as an admittedly stereotypical strummed guitar interlude, but I am ultimately left unfulfilled.

Hekseri - The Atrocity (Early Demos) (2007)

This Boston band has undergone lineup changes since the release of this 2007 compilation on Witchhammer Productions and I've not followed them at all and have no idea if they've improved since this tape release. The band falls into a mix of black and death metal with some thrash elements borrowed from the Germans. This conglomeration of early demo material does little to inspire interest in the band, however, and I don't see myself going out of my way to explore the recent releases unless someone is adamant their new material must be heard with some form of fervor and urgency. Hekseri's demo material sounds poor, and is difficult to get through, and does not stand up to otherwise available black metal of the time period. In it's favor, there are some interesting movements and musical ideas but they are often murdered by the overall sound. Examples would be some of the guitar solos and instrumental movements in tracks like "The Atrocity" and "Der Hekenhammer". Production is so harsh on the release that it sounds like a majority of the tracks are backed with a drum machine of some sort but research indicates Seth Greenblatt as drummer during the period of time that the demos were recorded so once again the product leaves a lot to be desired. The overall presentation doesn't offer much information aside from where the material on the tape came from. Vocally, I have no idea who is doing vocals on what so I am assuming it is either Megan Leo or Larissa Glasser but once again.. no information... the vocals are the best element of the music. Deep death metal growls are interchanged with higher-pitched black metal screams and come across as visceral and emotive. For me, there's not a lot here. "Der Hexenhammer" is the best combination of the styles they are trying to put forth and gets my vote as the band's best track.

Josh Lay - Iceman (2016)

This three track release from noise artist Josh Lay explores the moods of famous mob hitman Richard "Iceman" Kuklinski, through an assortment of ambient textures and, in the case of the final track presented, "Iceman", samples from Kuklinski's famous interview with Dr. Park Dietz. While the first two tracks, "Coma One" and "Coma Two" are pure noise, with "Coma One" including repeated samples of breaking glass and animal sounds over long shifting tones, possibly symbolizing the memorable moments in the interview where Kuklinski speaks of tying cats' tails together and watching them fight each other to death, or throwing cats in a local incinerator for fun, the real highlight that is sure to make anyone uncomfortable is the final track. Through it's sixteen minute run time, Lay manages to backdrop Kuklinski's interview with a sound design that includes a number of samples that reference his spoken words. It is well done. The clear immorality and deviant behavior of Kuklinski self-narrated with such analytical indifference when paired with the nuanced tones gives the track even more of an uneasiness. At times, I got shivers, imagining Kuklinski, The Polack as he sometimes was known as, creep up behind me and strangle me. Lay's soundtrack builds a huge amount of tension behind the interview, rising to crescendos as Richard touts his individual murders, emphasizing the moments when he is at his most sadistic; when he is most authentic. It's that framing of authenticity which is perhaps what Lay has done best here, pointing out the existence of evil in the nature of man. This will appeal to fans of noise and fans of mass murderers, horror, and serial killer themed extreme music. Out on Husk Records this time, the original release contained only "Iceman" and was limited to ten handmade tapes in 2007.

Lustrum / Alcoholic Rites - Drunk and In Charge Split 7" (2016)

Rounding out the entire discography of Lustrum which has at this point been covered throughout the past several months and which will be compiled into a single post for posterity, this split with Ecuador's Alcoholic Rites may be the weakest in the Lustrum canon. It's not that Scum Brigade isn't a great song or that Burning Sin is forgettable, but compared with songs on the other Lustrum releases, these two do no stand out as heavily. Scum Brigade is scratchy and abrasive in tone and lacks the usual lo-fi occult clarity that is often the case with Lustrum's other releases. "Burning Sin" fares better of the two somehow. The main influences of Venom, Motorhead, and Hellhammer are still clearly recognizable. Alcoholic Rites is gifted side A and provide two interesting tracks. The first of which is "The Flight of the Black Owl." Alcoholic Rite's is separated from other bands by the mostly baritone vocals of guitarist Devastador. I'm not entirely sure whether this side of the split should be played at 45RPM or 33RPM but it sounds wrong both ways... almost as if the first part of the track should be at 45RPM and the second half at the faster rotation. Opening with a memorable doom-stricken motif and then running into a headlong furious riff that reminds me of the earliest Bolt Thrower material, it's an interesting combination of influences combining Speed Metal and Death Metal. Second track, titled in a uniquely Japanese manner (See: Abigail), "Alkolic Metal Explosion" is a fast two-minute long blitz of the same mixture of tones and sounds. Insane Blast Beat, who is the drummer and not a descriptor of his technique, is a highlight on both tracks. He lends the band an even more primitive styling through heavy usage of the tuned aspects of his kit.

Paganfire - Play Loud and Fuck The Rest! Demo (2018)

Why Paganfire aren't a household name by this point in the underground is beyond me. It's true that these prolific Filipino thrashers have adopted a raw and purely underground sound that might not break into mainstream listeners' tastes, however the longevity and old school mentality should by this point have yielded opportunities for the band to expand outward. The music on this promo CDr is collected from various sourced from the past seven years and is evidence of the band's nature; Thrash with death metal moments in the mid-80's vein like Possessed and Death. The sound is overall very good - clear with all instruments audible but rough and ragged. I think the weakest produced instrument is consistently the drums which sound a little bit snappy in the kick. The performance is excellent though across the material entirely. Nonoy Padrejuan has been a pal of mine for several years (I released a live tape of theirs two years back). Best tracks for me are "Bloodsoaked Life", "Bitayin! Katayin! Sunugin!", and "Much of Madness, More of Sin". "Much of Madness, More of Sin" is one of their top tracks for me for it's catchy and intense riffing and harsh almost atonal aggression. If you have any doubts about what Paganfire are about, the liner notes here say it all: This CDr is spread to zines and labels and everyone else in between as a sign of life and as a huge middle finger to all trendsuckers!! Die!!." Love these guys and they should be in every underground thrasher's collection in some manner by this point.

Warlock - Triumph and Agony (1987)

Opening with the seminal "All We Are," Doro Pesch is on display with an incredible vocal performance and one of the most powerful and memorable female fronted Heavy Metal albums maybe of all time. What is so impressive about Triumph and Agony is the front to back consistency. While the B-sides don't quite match up with the first half, it's the kind of consistency which is not lauded enough. Practically every song has a chorus which makes you want to scream alongside the blonde bombshell as she puts the majority of metal vocalist's voices to shame. Let's touch upon the highlights. "All We Are" is the kind of anthem Manowar forgot how to write. With it's universal chorus, bad-ass opening guitar histrionics, and pounding drums the track is a warning that there is nothing ahead but full-on fist clenching and head-banging heavy metal of top tier quality. The strongest period of the record for me is the one-two kick of  "I Rule The Ruins," a moody melody-reliant blazer and "Kiss of Death," which is my favorite track on the record and is far superior to both Fate's Warning's and Dokken's track of the same title. Side B starts off with the rugged "East Meets West" which alongside "Cold Cold World" are the two best of the heavy tracks from the second half. Hear her throat tear at the end of "East Meets West". "Metal Tango" should remind immediately of countrymen Accept. Triumph and Agony is bookended with "Fur Immer," a unique anthemic number at the opposite intensity level as "All We Are". The contrast shows Doro's versatility and ability to both hit the screaming raspy metal notes as well as dial it back into an emotional performance and sound as powerful doing one as the other. For fans of traditional heavy metal, especially the German style and NWOBHM, don't let Triumph and Agony slip through your fingers.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Metal Exploration Journal: Paraguay

2019.02.10: I had been contacted by Daniel Larozza from Verthebral, an old school Death Metal band from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay in late 2017 about a potential US tape release for their debut full length album Regeneration. At that time, I was unable to commit and told him that should they have any live or rehearsal material and wanted to do something in a more DIY style like the other Contaminated Tones live and rehearsal releases, that I would be interested. Daniel contacted me back on the second of April, 2018, regarding a live show they had recorded at a local festival called Old School Attack IV: The Return, asking if I would be interested in maybe doing a tape for that. He said that the recording came out really good and they would love to see it released in some form. Needless to say, I was definitely on board with the project which became a really great live tape release. The contact, though, revealed that I had very little knowledge of the Paraguayan scene as a whole. I think on the surface, the only band I recognized was Evil Force. In truth, with a short list of only about one-hundred and fifty eight bands in the whole country, with most located in the country's capital of Asunción, Paraguay is a country that is given very little attention.

Digging into the country's metal history would be tough for an English speaker, so I asked Daniel who he recommended for me to check out. He told me that the festival promoter of Old School Attack , Carlitos "Kure" Gonzalez, has his own thrash band called Massive Execution and also sings in Toxic Avenger. Speaking highly of Kure personally, he linked me to a video of them playing live. Stylistically, they would be similar to a combination of the Bay area and German schools of thrash. As they blistered through a cover of Slayer's "The Antichrist," it all fell into place influence wise. He also extended me his email. I contacted Kure regarding the Old School Attack Festival, Massive Execution, and Metal in Paraguay as a whole. Yes, he was my only contact other than Daniel, but who better than a promoter of a festival to have a scent for the manifestation of metal in the local and national society?

It took several weeks to hear back from Kure in choppy, yet understandable English. "Hello are you? I'm Sorry for give you an answer so English is really bad!! Tell me what do you need about Massive Execution and the old school attack!!! Greetings from Paraguay." I explained I would send him some questions about Old School Attack festival and Massive Execution. I did not expect an immediate response.

Paraguay has, throughout the twentieth century, undergone a multitude of unfavorable political circumstances. Throughout the early parts of the century, presidents and leaders were turned over at a rate befitting soil tilled with a powerful tiller. Stability, was found by way of violence with the coup of Alfredo Stroessner in 1954. Stroessner maintained political control, supported by the United States for much of the time (See Operation Condor), until 1989. This was achieved with sham-elections, martial law through declaration of a 'state of siege', and through general myriad strong-man tactics. In many ways, the small landlocked nation of Paraguay was a microcosm of the larger political tumult which many of the South American nations found themselves shackled by; large kakistocratic states governing millions of people with no solutions to their woes simply trying to hold it all together at any cost.

A small number of demos were released at the tail end of the El Stronato era - the name given for the period of Stroessner's reign - and it's not surprising that in such an environment, the youth would find freedom and expression in metal's abrasive and serious representation of perspective and mind. In an interview with Rawhide drummer Santiago Bernal in 2013 he said, "Rawhide was born in 1983, during the dictatorship. But that repression fed the musicians to make the lyrics, to compose a guitar riff, the line of the bass / drums. And not to mention the look we had at that time. We listened to everything, insults, offenses and things like that. I was personally arrested three times by the police, where in one of those experiences I was held incommunicado, my family did not know where I was. I had "the pleasure" of knowing the dungeons." (1)

Starting with basic Metal Archives searches, the first recognized metal release was a two-song demo by Metal Urbano in 1986. Only three other releases materialized between the Metal Urbano release and the end of 1989. Two of these were from the aforementioned Rawhide and one from Luque band Batallón. The city of Asuncion was the soil from which all four bands sprouted. These few early demos are the birth of Metal in Paraguay.
Metal Urbano - Demo (1986)

Metal Urbano's pioneering two-song demo tape from 1986 falls firmly in the proto-metal arena, sounding more like Deep Purple's earliest efforts from Shades of Deep Purple or the 70's laced Invasion album from Manilla Road. Their namesake track, an instrumental, is a spacy jam. The true highlight is the second track hard rocking "La Banda de Salvajes," with catchy though typical 70's riffs and punk drum beat. Vocals from guitarist Domingo Perez elevate the track through the incorporation of strong vocal harmonies and a bit of attitude during the the first chorus. For a demo from 1986, this would generally be dismissed when compared to the world scene which, by this point, was already in it's heydey in terms of heavy metal and thrash. What can't be overlooked, is the importance of such a release in the traditionalist climate of Paraguay at this time. Daniel Larozza's thoughts regarding this demo and Metal Urbano mimic this; "They played at the time of dictatorship in Paraguay, they deserve all the respect because playing in a metal band in that time was very hard."
Batallón - Demo (1987)

    Batallón's 1987 demo tape, paired with the first Rawhide demo, constitute Paraguay's first truly metallic sounding releases and laid the groundwork for the major trending style of thrash in Paraguay's early metal years. Death Metal and Black Metal would not take hold until the early 90's in minor forms. Batallón's demo is no slouch; technicality is in surplus. Opening track, "Corrupcion," aside from being indicative of the context within which Batallón were writing, sets the stage. Wild lead guitars and vicious lead vocals in a higher nasally range (not sure if the vocals here are from Jose Bogarin or Domingo Perez) bring to mind Aspid or a poor man's Energetic Disassembly. I believe that second track "Bajo Tierra (Serpento)" is the better of the two tracks while Daniel Larozza is adamant that "Corrupcion," is the better track. The third song is an instrumental which is not bad but is missing some structure which vocals would give. It has some impressive moments musically throughout. The biggest issue is purely production wise. The tape rips I can find for this do not do the songs justice - the whole thing needs a remaster.  
Rawhide - No Espreres Piedad (1987)
I am unable to find a copy of this demo other than the title track on youtube. Sound is rough but follows closely the style on the Batallon demo; thrashy, with speed metal and heavy metal motifs.
Rawhide - Caceria Humana (1989)
It is immediately apparent with Rawhide's 1989 Caceria Humana that the thrash metal sound had taken hold in Paraguay and could be executed with the same level of power and aggression as the rest of the international scene. While the band's 1987 demo, No Espreres Piedad, was seemingly on par with Batallon's demo in terms of sound, the second demo truly sets a standard. A close comparable being Sodom's Obsessed by Cruelty, with a hint more Bay Area technicality, the highlights include extremely audible and excellent bass playing from Jerry Groehn, a primitive and violent drum performance from Santiago "The Beast" Bernel, and the best production standards of any metal release up until this point, at least as good as the average US thrash demo. There is a nice variety given to separate each song. Title track, "Caceria Humana" is an early highlight on the demo. Opening with a big epic introductory setup and running through a torrent of riffs, it culminated with a mixture of solos that sandwich a running bass line. "Apocalipsis" follows with an acoustic opening melody line that heaves into chugging thrash riffs. Eponymous track, "Rawhide" is an easy choice as end of the album highlight. Classic riff structures sure to force headbanging and madness.
Kure from Massive Execution had gotten back to me with some answers to my questions in July. Communication wasn't the best, but in the spirit of speaking for Metal in Paraguay, Kure provided some key information regarding where it all stemmed from for him and likely many other older Hard rock and Metal fans in Paraguay. "I do not have words that are not gratitude and praise for bands like Corrosion, Metal Urbano, and Rawhide, without doubting they opened the way ... I am very fanatical of such bands ... even of Batallon, they are from my city, and it was the first band that I went to see live. The appreciation towards them is very special !!! Walter, his drummer is my neighbor and the deceased jose q was the vocal was my cousin!!

"The Old School Attack is a festival that has earned a special place in the national scene ... we always try to give both the bands and the fans the conditions they deserve and always come out in the best way, until today only Paraguay bands have participated but we are with the idea of ​​bringing bands from outside for this festival..for other events of ours or altogether if we already did concerts with guests from other countries (Skull Fist, Nocturnal, Dekapited, Massive Power, Enforcer (Chi) among others ... if we had public from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia at the time !!! On the difficulties you can always talk about constant support .. we have been lucky enough to always have a good answer but it is not a constant currently within the underground scene in our country ... you can talk about a certain division even though there are many fans!!!

"Currently there are many bands that are growing and being recognized even outside the country, the best known and with 3 albums released with the tamp Kill Again Records is The Force, I could consider at the same height to Evil Force that was presented A couple of months ago in the evil confrontation fest of Chile with bands like Demolition Hammer, Angel Witch, Tryptikon, among others !! I recommend listening to Ariman, Sacred, Khyron, Master of Cruelty, Caceria, To Arkham, Necrocult, Invaders ... then I will pass more bands !!! I tell him that apart from Massive Execution I am in the band Toxic Avenger with whom we have an ep and a lp released!!"

2019.03.23: Carlitos ' Kure' responded back to some more of my questions. I asked him about the prevalence of thrash in the Paraguayan scene: "For a long time, thrash metal was very much the sub genre that hit hardest in our scene ... today it remains strong and many bands manage to get out or be massive inside the metal but the other genres have advanced a lot also and in each one of them there are excellent bands!!!

On his other band, Toxic Avenger: "We can talk about the different bands whenever possible !!! as for Toxic Avenger we are together as a band since 2012, we have a demo and a long album and we are starting the recordings of the second album !!!"

I asked him again about the first show he saw with Batallion: "battalion was the first band I went to see, largely because my cousin and a neighbor were part of the band and the show was steps from my house ... the show was exactly on 09/21/1993 ... but In my case I was already listening to rock and metal bands since 1991, that was the step towards the shows !!!"
Evil Force - Banging On The Pentagram (2016)
Perhaps the best known band from Paraguay is Evil Force, who have been working at their craft since 2005. Their most recent full length, "Banging on the Pentagram" was the first widely available album from the band, being released on Germany's Witches Brew Label. The band displays a close proximity to the traditional metal stalwarts that have influenced the majority of South American Heavy Metal bands. Iron Maiden is a clear influence from the opening minutes, as well as Slayer, especially Show No Mercy era, in the vocal presentation and Razor, in the riff architecture and melodic undertones. Containing several members past and present of Carlitos' Toxic Avenger, there is a connection. The album opens with the impressive self-titled track showcasing excellent guitar playing and a mixture of the band's influences. A track like "Southern Armageddon" is exemplary of the band; Thrash, mostly Bay Area inspired, with Heavy Metal or NWOBHM melodic movements and an emphasis on lead guitar work and technical execution on all fronts. It's the best track on the release in my opinion. Bass playing and drumming is highlighted in the production perfectly allowing the standout playing of both drummer Evil Fist and bassist Bernie Marecos (to my knowledge) to be heard clearly. The album is a bit monotone and would succeed better with some variety in the melodies and tempos. One thing that I see with Evil Force that I really like is the relative seriousness of the lyrical content. There are no songs about pizza parties, skateboarding, high-top white shoes, or childish zombie attacks; once again in line with the original thrash bands of the early to mid 80's. Evil Force do no do much to truly find that original element musically, but for thrash fans, I can't see anyone really knocking this album at all and most likely the old school homage will be appreciated.  

(1) (google translation)
Please email me if you are from Paraguay and are involved in any way with the metal scene there and would like to discuss your band, zine, label, etc. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Kaarmekristus - Kuolen Musta Virta

Finland's Kaarmekristus has been active recently with a tape release in 2017 and a CDr demo in 2018 which surprised me as I once again revisited Kuolen Kusta Virta. Back in 2015 Ophiuchus had sent me the demo tape, and I have been listening on and off coming to some opinion on the material over the course of two years. Why it's taken me a long time to develop an opinion is partly due to occasional conflicting opinions on the music as well as just simply being overly busy outside of endless reviewing. I felt it best to wait to review the tape. I have been in contact with Ophiuchus since the debut demo tape and have felt somewhat protective over reviewing the material. Knowing how personal Ophiuchus has made the process - hand-dubbed tape runs, all instrumentation done by himself, lyrical content that is a window into his deep personal beliefs, entirely DIY off-line presence - I wanted to approach everything from a similar level of respect and acknowledgement which I don't always afford modern acts. It's done me well. The patience I took to come to know the previous two releases has been somewhat instrumental in my own overall opinion on lo-fi black metal and what music can represent to it's creator.

Not much has changed between Cosmic Satan and Kuolen Kusta Virta. The raw, lo-fi, underground production of early Black Metal is still on display with skillful usage. The ambient, yet aggressive rhythms are once again at the forefront, this time with additional melodic focus and movements. Ophiuchus' vocals are once again deep growls and and snarls layered with reverb. The guitar tone is a tinny static distortion with little low-end. The bass and drums are integral in melodically driving songs along while the more subtle shifts in emotion are left to the guitar. The drums sit far back in the mix with the vocals, with the kick and cymbals most prominent. The production is strongest when played loud to compensate for the lacking low-end and allow the kick drum to 'punch' through the mix. Played at a lower volume, the tape is not impressive sound-wise. Burzum is a close go-to comparison, especially the rawer material, or some of the early Polish acts like Arkona.

Production has never been entirely the strong point with Kaarmekristus, though. I have been drawn to the project simply for the enticing and expertly written songs. Kuolen Musta Virta is no different. I am still not entirely sure where between Cosmic Satan and Kuolen Musta Virta the two-song Saturnaalinen Siunaus falls, but the tracks here are more in line with Cosmic Satan in style, being 'laid back' or 'conversational' in quality, as opposed to exuding hatred and anger the way that Saturnaalinen Siunaus' main song did. With four songs, all slightly different, the tape runs at a meager twenty minutes, however that is enough to execute. Ophiuchus has, up until this point, preferred to offer shorter length releases that shine a lunar glow on each ritualistic track individually. I'm a proponent of shorter songs and releases when everything presented is given the spotlight.

Opening with "Tie (A Road)" Kuolen Musta Virta starts out extremely strongly on all fronts. The song has a big, swelling build-up with long ringing notes and then launches into consecutive false starts. The song eventually truly gets going though. The main body of the material is based around a somber mixture of notes and ringing guitar notes. A tremolo melody line is added that gives a more monumental air to the track at the four-minute mark. I have come to really like the track. Initially I thought the multiple false starts detracted from the intensity which naturally explodes during the first fast riff. I go back and forth between still feeling this way. "Matkani Kosmoksen Syvyyksissa (My Journey Into Depths Of Cosmos)" follows with a descending main chord progression through the majority of the song. In this way, it is the most minimalist of the entire demo.

"Muum Siipeni Palavat (My Wings Are Burning)" has an interesting melodic movement shifting between two riffs throughout most of the track until the middle section enters a song which reminds me of a lo-fi take on the melodic experimentalism of Taake or Thestral. It is dreamy but strong. It is a memorable track for this reason. I also like the lyrics to this song, particularly the final few phrases, "And what higher I get, that strong my wings are burning, and eternally I will burn too." It's a rough translation to English, both original Finnish and the translation accompany the tape in the J-card, a nice touch proving how important the lyrical content is for Ophiuchus. Final track "Monumentii (A Monument)" is a bit less focused than the others and for this is kind of passes me by when I listen to the tape. It is the sole track I would consider filler but it still has some strong elements like the snare rolls mixed throughout.

Kaarmekristus / Ophiuchus - has a strong sense of what he wants to accomplish and what he feels Black Metal should represent. His songwriting is strong. The effort he puts into the project is greater than a lot of bands that walk this planet and somehow get notoriety. For these reasons, I truly enjoy this elusive project. With all the focus now on the Lords of Chaos movie, I have been going back and re-reading parts of the book. Euronymous was adamant that Black Metal be more than merely music, that it represent something dark, personal, and evil. Kaarmekristus may not be 'evil' in the manner which Euronymous intended, however it is extremely personal and individualistic. In my opinion, that is more important and what truly separates Black Metal ideologically from other genre's in which the music and content is a sum of it's parts. The singular philosophy and creation of Kaarmekristus is that of one man, and one mind. It is a more faithful homage to Black Metal than most and Kuolen Musta Virta is a good example of what and how Black Metal can still be.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Ordinul Negru - Faustian Nights

Ordinul Negru has been the artistic endeavor of Fulmineos for the past fourteen years. Based out of Romania, and having a background of work with other bands, Fulmineos has been prolific in the Romanian scene for the past decade. Faustian Nights, released this past year, is evidence of a highly evolved and focused artistic mind. Not only is the album a perfect blend of numerous styles of Black Metal, but the precision song-writing allows these styles to never overtake one another, fashioning a refined, mature, and educated record. Faustian Nights comes across as thoughtful and patented; calculated usages of black metal technique that boil over into a porridge of well-honed flavors and taste; a recipe which, passed down through generations, finally found the hands of a palate that could improve upon the original combination of ingredients.

"Ordinul Negru was a side project established in 2004," Fulmineos explains, "in order to explore the primitive raw side of black metal, merely working with analog equipment without digital processing of the sound, in the vein of old rehearsals and lo-fi albums from Moonblood, Vlad Tepes, Belketre, Ulver, Mutiilation, Infernum, but then over the years it evolved constantly... Every album has its own story, with experiments into different topics and sounds, like using keyboards, or not using them, using some old tape-delays or different rooms for reverb effect in order to enhance the atmosphere of various instruments... The new album it is certainly a good step forward, and it was received very well, it is like building bricks…the new one certainly took the reactions for the previous album and got it higher…and now because we are at the end/beginning of a new year, we saw that it was included by many publication among 2018’s best albums, which is a great praise for us. We worked for three years to craft it, so we are contempt (probably content -Orion) that the audience connects with our concept."

The consistency of the album doesn't hint at any difficulty in writing or composition the songs but apparently, the process was initially more difficult than the album lets on. "We had two previously songs composed immediately after releasing “Sorcery of Darkness” and we became a live band, but then it became very difficult due to my obsessive quest for a vision to define the album, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for me only to compose something to have to release, everything it has to make sense and to resonate through an astral vision, so I continuously scraping songs after rehearsing or playing them live as a test and then not feeling that that are part of the story…but then like it has happened in the past in an weekend I writed three songs that I felt it will become the core of the album, and then Putrid helped me out with some riffs on another song and Orthros composed also a new song, so we worked them out and began preproduction. Urmuz added his ideas over what we were doing in the preproduction phase and that was it."

When "The Apocalypse Through A Hierophant's Eye" first starts I was immediately is reminded of the opening to Candlemass' "Solitude," but I am corrected in my comparison by Fulmineos himself. "I was never a fan of Candlemass, in fact I don’t think I know any song from them, sorry…not a big fan of heavy doom metal." The style portrayed here includes the classic traditional second wave and more modern black metal sound to the bass heavy influence of the geographically local Polish scene which I've covered here in bands like Furia and Gorcyz. But the melodic movements are very Doom-esque or even Greek. Perhaps the single best comparison would be Primordial circa The Gathering Wilderness. There is also a stylistic connection to Negura Bunget. I'm not surprised at this. Fulmineos deciphers the mixture of influences with some additional surprises thrown in, "I saw many times described in reviews that we are influenced by the second wave of black metal, especially from Norway and for me it’s a surprise, because it’s not the case, or maybe unconsciously from our background with what we grew up... I would say that the “modern’ production and sounds of  Satyricon, Ulver, Behemoth, Wolves in the Throne Room, Mgla, Chelsea Wolfe, Nachtmystium, Woodkid, Radiohead, Marilyn Manson, Deathspell Omega are what inspires us today."

The production, handled by a bevy of talented individuals, really brings home all the layers of instrumentation, "It was produced in two environments, DSPro studios were we recorded guitars and vocals with our friend Attila Lukinich and in Consonance Studios where our drummer, Putrid recorded the rest of the instruments, mixed and mastered the material; we preferred to do everything in-house because we are very hectic about our sound, so it was important the translation of our ideas to be as accurate as possible into the final product." Production and Mastering was partly led by Edmond Karban and Cristian Popescu, otherwise known as Hupogrammos and Sol Faur of Negura Bunget. The two are responsible for a large portion of the production, mixing, and mastering. It's nice to have friends like these. "We grew up in the same neighborhood of Timisoara, so we know each other since childhood when we discovered music and that’s how everybody connected in the late 80s/early 90s so we always were passionate about music, trips into nature or at  music festivals…these days Putrid plays with them in Dordeduh and most of his recording stuff is in their studio, so it’s a natural and normal relation of collaboration, they have good experience and they helped or were involved since the beginning of my “official “musical journey in 1997 when I released the first demo with Argus Megere. We worked on many albums together, I have learned many things from them and it’s good to have them around helping out in studio or even in live environment."

There are some interesting additions to the contemporary black metal arrangement as well. Cari Tibor offers piano parts to "Sol Omnia Regit". Karban also adds an important layer to the final title track, "Faustian Nights" with his tulnic playing, an irrevocably Romanian inclusion that helps generate the epic atmosphere on this track. It all creates a multitude of emotive ascents and descents across the songs which give the record an expansive feel. For me, it's difficult to find black metal done so well. "I love this evocative style of music, I am not a big fan of “all albums” from a band, but I like astral hours in an album or a song, moments that chills you out so maybe that is the reason that we compose lines like that…but as I have said I think the nowadays black metal it didn’t lost the ability to write good songs…these days I hear all around me "Come unto me Barzabel” chants or guitar lines from “Exercises in Futility” or a stellar drum sound from Frost on  “Deep Calleth upon Deep” and the examples are many…"

Lyrically, the album is as interesting as it is musically. There doesn't seem to be a running concept through the album, but rather a focus on cosmic and occult metaphors. "There is a central theme in the lyrics of the “Faustian Nights” but it not a conceptual album, it’s about the hidden meaning and symbols, the path that we want to follow and about inspiration characters, deities or events that makes us a part of this universe and balance our existence." My favorite couple lines of lyrics are "All alone on my own path, in twilight's even I wander..." from "Approaching The Door of Damnation" and "The past becomes the light to follow the flame, and the spirit to barricade the beauty inside." To me, these songs speak towards inner reflection and strength. "The first line was written by S (our former vocalist) but I can say that both of this extracts transpose the reader/listener into something that is beyond ordinary everyday life, it’s something personal…like in a way black metal was defined, as individualism and a misanthropic system in quest for defining a way of life."

Faustian Nights plays out over the course of it's run-time with ease and a sense of itself that is rare. At times intense, calm, proud, miserable it encompasses a swath of emotions and attitude. Often, bands focus and execute one or two emotions strongly but to flawlessly swirl so much into a single album is masterful. It's difficult for me to pick a favorite track on Faustian Nights, as there are so many moving phrasings and movements. Perhaps the best moment of the album though is the huge bass / drum interplay in "Killing Tristan". Top notch black metal from the heart of the Romanian scene. Fulmineos, Urmuz, Orthros, and Pudrid's efforts here will be getting a ton of play from me for the foreseeable future. This is a perfect jumping off point into numerous musicians and bands worth investigating but I'm going to be focusing on the rest of Ordinul Negru's discography first.

Lustrum - Opening The Portal of Lust

Having reviewed almost the entirety of Lustrum's discography in quick reviews, their 2011 debut demo, Opening the Portal of Lust must not be forgotten and should be valued at more than an afterthought. It is, likely, their best release both in terms of the content as well as a listening experience. While the three splits they've done all facilitate strong material, the songs as tracked on this demo are an essence unto themselves, even more-so than the live tape which, though capturing the energy of Lustrum's attack, does not elicit the same defined strike as these properly recorded tracks. Early Bathory and Venom as well as hints of the earliest and rawest incarnations of Sodom helps Lustrum's compass steer the band towards as ideal a tone for this demo as could be chosen. There is a subliminal attitude that rolls through Opening The Portal Of Lust that is finely honed; an attitude of machismo and borderline-cockiness that suggests, "of course this is awesome." Necessarily, the five songs are perceptually urgent and seem to disappear quickly to demand the listener to pay attention.

Opening with "Until The End", a perfectly structured and written piece as is discoverable, Lustrum, to what would have been uninitiated listeners, effects an aura of confident obscurity through the now defining mix of The Intolerant One's reverb-soaked vocals and massive specific rhythms. Though a slower overall track, it highlights the faster "Wolves of Heresy" which follows. "Wolves of Heresy" defines the foundational black metal and thrash influences of the band leaving no doubt that Lustrum is serious about portraying the evil and maliciousness that resides in their art and not just rabble-rousing. "Temptress (Pact of Satan)" is the most Venom-esque, almost coming clear off the rails during verses but realigning during the chorus and locking further in gear during the middle instrumental section. Either "Buried in Silence" or "Flesh of the Serpent" are the weakest track, yet big rests and pauses are riveting sliced into "Buried in Silence" and "Flesh of the Serpent"'s grandiose culmination is not to be ignored.

Listening to Venom's "Black Metal" at midnight in negative temperatures while driving to Pennsylvania this past weekend, I was amazed at how perfectly the track was composed. It's often ignored in discussions that Venom were not only masters of imagery and shock but also of simple, basic, high-impact songwriting. Lustrum have taken their notes. Songs are replete with transitions that are natural, effective, and Powerful; the big chords that ring through "Wolves of Heresy"'s chorus and pull the listener into the bridge, the highlighted breaks in the verses of "Buried Silence", or the tight alternating melodic movement of "Until The End". If there is one aspect which is missing here, it's the inclusion of the leads and solos to add some compositional elements and depth to the songs. Even without these details though, the songs are powerful enough to hold their own and be engaging through sheer force.

Putting Lustrum, and particularly this demo, into perspective would be hard outside of recent memory. In 2011, the black-speed metal movement was peaking and Lustrum came of age as Midnight released their debut album Satanic Royalty, Speedwolf released Ride With Death, and a slough of other up and comers were getting mainstream traction. While it's important to note that Opening the Portals of Lust was in no way original at this time, perhaps missing the title of progenitor of the black-speed metal revival in the US by four or five years, what Lustrum did was highlight the more black-metal attitude of the movement compared to the more speed metal angle.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Monthly Blast: December - January 2019

With December being so outrageously busy, I have combined December and January into a single Monthly Blast to start the new year. Enjoy!

I was recently reading an article written by Walter Pall, who is a well known American bonsai artist, in regards to a question of semantics relating to whether to call American bonsai ' American bonsai' or "bonsai in America" or something altogether different, due to stylistic difference and whatnot. I saw a parallel with this critique to the way in which critics, fans, and scholars discuss metal:
 "Japanese bonsai is about discipline, knowing rules, respecting rules, respecting masters, respecting the old ones, not sticking out your head, not trying to be something special, something different etc.. This has made Japan successful. But in art it is a burden. Japanese bonsai is generally not treated as an art form. It is a well defined craft. This is changing right now in America as well as in Europe. In the Eastern view a good artist is one who does what he was taught so well that his master could have done it. In the Western view an artist is one who tries very hard and successfully to find something new, to be different, to excel, to be a rebel."
In the Metal realm, we are confronted with similar issues in identification, qualification, and criticism. There are often similarly two schools of thought found in Metal fans and critics. One follows this 'Japanese tradition' of "discipline, knowing rules, respecting rules, respecting masters, respecting the old ones, not sticking out your head, not trying to be something special, something different" and we find this predominantly in black metal, death metal, and thrash metal where many older metal fans and nostalgia-ists (nostalgists) simply classify 'good material' as that which falls in this realm of unbroken formulas and rules inspired by other accepted artists in the style. The second school is that in which "an artist is one who tries very hard and successfully to find something new, to be different, to excel, to be a rebel." We find this often in heavy metal, progressive metal, and doom metal - fans and critics that are not afraid to consider the potential in a wholly unique band or mix of styles and, though influenced by the original artists, often look for something new.

It's not that there aren't examples otherwise. There are as many different perspectives on what constitutes good art as there are individuals that have opinions. It is not uncommon to meet these two types of people that feel their judgements, based on these schools of style, are correct. What the similar issues in both mediums - Metal and Bonsai - points out is that there can only be subjective appreciation on an individualized level from these vantage points and that understanding the critics' preference in style can inform whether their opinion should be considered. Objective criticism must come in the form of looking at technique and purpose. If the goal is to create a raw lo-fi black metal album and the production is clean but the guitar tone is thin and weak: failure in technique and purpose. If the goal is to create a long slender literati style juniper and there is too much trunk flair and branching which is otherwise lovely: it's a failure in purpose and technique.

Disintegration - Demo (2016) / Cruel Slaughter (2018)

Richmond, Virginia based Disintegration features Leland Hoth of Vorator on drums, Ryan Zell of Antichrist Siege Machine on Vocals, and Drew Brooks on guitars. The band is lacking a bassist however it doesn't seem to reduce the voracity or bludgeoning effect of this death metal / grindcore outfit. The two demos together span a whopping eleven minutes and in that time a lot of potential is realized. Short, spastic songs with death metal riffing and grunting growling vocals is the key across both demos. Think Repulsion slowed down twenty percent. "Worthless To The Cowards" stands out as a pummeling minute and a half long crusher on the 2016 Demo. On the first demo also is a Verbal Abuse cover. Two tracks, "Cruelty" and "Proxy War Eternal" appear twice. Cruel Slaughter is better produced with a deeper and fatter sound to the guitars. The two new tracks are not quite as enjoyable for me as the two older tracks and have one too many noodly riffs. This is evident in "Celestial Bodies" which, I felt would have been better reduced to just the swinging death metal main riff motif. "Nailed Again" is the best of the new songs here, sticking to the catchy repetitive nature which I prefer in songs this short. "Cruelty" is a fourteen second blast of noise but the longish "Proxy War Eternal" will be Disintigration's standout track for most. It is well arranged for impact with smartly placed transitional hooks and a never-ceasing driving percussive attack. For what it's worth though, "Worthless To The Cowards" is still my personal favorite. Would like some screaming solos mixed in but without the bass to add low end I can see the conundrum. Really cool band for fans of short, blasting, grind and death metal. Both demos are sure to please fans of early Napalm Death and Repulsion. 

Forsaken Peddlers - Songs of Fate and Freedom (2014)

After the split of Fatum Elisum, Hugo, Alexandre, and Christophe fell back to working together as Forsaken Peddlers. To my sensibilities, the change isn't unsurprising. The shift from the long, drawn out songs and subtle melodicism of Fatum Elisum to the traditionally melodic, yet equally extensive framework and narrative requirements of Forsaken Peddlers is not too far of a stretch. The group, already very capable of the longer playing time of songs and cognizant of the need for a constantly interesting yet logical progression in structure shows their merit on this four-song album. The biggest difficulty for me, and an issue which was also covered by Metantoine when the album came out is the sameness present across the tracks. Where I disagree with his assessment is in Alexandre's vocals being grating. I felt that they added a somber layer to the otherwise lacking atmosphere of the record. My complaint wasn't in tone but in usage. The lack of lyrics provided with the release makes it difficult to truly follow the songs contextually but nevertheless I felt there were simply too many vocals on Songs of Fate and Freedom. Being fond of French philosophy and history, I would have loved to have been privy to the lyrics. The album opens with "The Brave," which patiently draws the listener into the heavily distorted guitar-based production after a short vocal prelude over bass and drums. From there, big chunky rhythms recall similarities with Fatum Elisum as well as Hugo's main project Ataraxie, but with a traditional doom flair. "Forsaken Peddlers" has become my favorite offering here. It offers some differentiation with the poetically sung middle section replete with clean guitars however the lack of a guitar lead or solo out immediately out of the section is a loss. The verse melody in this eponymous track is the strongest on the album but it's potential is not fully realized, in my opinion. "All Shall Fall" is noteworthy for Alexadre's passionate and sincere vocal performance during the higher parts but it feels that as the album gets into the last two tracks the tempo is actually falling and thus dragging the songs along. Forsaken Peddlers is a great project that can be much more with some careful adjustment of tempos and thoughtful inclusion of details such as harmonies, leads, and solos.

Khors - Beyond The Bestial (2018)

Ukraine's Khors is an unheralded stalwart band in the genre, getting very little attention regardless of their proximity in connection to Astrofaes, Hate Forest, and thus Drudkh, as well as Nokturnal Mortum; the heavy hitters in the Ukrainian black metal scene of Kharkiv. Undeniably, Khors is a much more progressive and poetic angle at black metal. Incorporation of clean vocals, piano and keys, melodicism, and arrangements all serve as evidence for a focus on songwriting and craft and less preoccupation with atmosphere. Beyond The Bestial runs at thirty four minutes of solidly defined and thought out musicianship. The first three tracks are originals with the final three being re-recordings of Mysticism era tracks. Every song flows evenly and smoothly with heightened moments and climaxes in songs accentuated with lead guitars from guitarist Jurgis. Khorus' bass playing is another key ingredient in the sound of Khors; big powerful bass rhythms set the foundation for the keyboards (Mihaylo Kujba as session member) and the guitars to have free movement. The best track here for me is the rerecorded "In The Cold Embrace of Mist" but if I had to pick one of the newer three tracks, it would be "Through The Realm of Unborn Stars" for the excellent middle instrumental section. I also really did like the instrumental, "Frigit Obscurity of Soul" but the lack of vocals made it feel a little empty compared to lusher previous tracks. My biggest complaint is that the tracks can feel monotonous; a lot of similar rhythms and movements. The constant use of keys underneath the album washes out some of the dynamics that could have been present with a more limited usage as well as softens much of the moments that would otherwise be better served with a more traditional black metal arrangement for intensity. The lack of intensity is a problem. Looking back at Mysticism, the keyboard usage was similar but did not overshadow the intensity as much. There is no track here like "Mysticism" that is hard hitting. Being able to go back to Mysticism and compare is proof of this. 


I came upon Husk Records while following up on material Lustrum had put out up to 'Plays With Madness' which I reviewed last month. Lustrum was in the process of putting out a split with a band called Black Knife on this little micro-label. I contacted the label to get an idea on when I could get a copy of the split. Label owner Josh Lay is the guitarist and vocalist of Black Knife. He was kind enough to give me some recommendations on the stuff he's put out on Husk Records and send over some goodies.

Abigail / Black Knife - Split 7" (2017)

Japanese legends Abigail appear with Black Knife on this split 7" that contains two tracks from each band. Both songs are exclusive to this split. Abigail are given the opening two slots with "Satanik Evil and Souls" and "Maniac." Fast, thrashing black metal comprises both tracks with Yasuyuki Suzuki's crazed scratchy vocals piercing the raw production that would be expected from Abigail. Maniac is more speed metal in riffing style, but both tracks contain some heavy metal flourishes such as the solo sections in both tracks. If you've listened to Abigail, likely since the only potential chance to not stumble upon one of their numerous split releases or demos is if you only listen to your church choir, you have a good idea what you're getting. Black Knife propose "The Devil's Rock and Roll" and "Out On The Streets... and Ready For Hell". Both songs are strong contenders to compete with Abigail: raw, catchy, powerful sleazy rock and roll tracks injected with energy through black metal vocals. It's tough to say who shows better on this album but I actually really enjoyed the two Black Knife tracks here and I think they get my vote against the Japanese madmen. This is a quick blistering split 7" that can help clear out that inner calling for some sleazy extreme metal and rock in a hurry.

Autocrat / Black Knife - Split (2018)

This release stood out from the description on the label page that Autocrat would appeal to fans of Candlemass. I had to pick up the release. While Doomy, Autocrat are not quite in a Candlemass style, sounding more like Saint Vitus or the less complex moments from Revelation's discography. They aren't quite epic enough and have a slightly sludgier riff basis. Either way, the singular song here, "Borges Library" rules hard. Big chords and nice guitar harmonies give the feeling of a band heavily influenced from the NWOBHM school. Vocalist Jon has a really wild style, at times deep and bold as if giving a proclamation to his subjects and at other times harsh and mad like a crazed king. Black Knife fall into the general descriptor of punk and thrash and black metal with an emphasis on punk. The two songs from Josh's project here are energetic and raw. Power is contained in the simplistic rhythms and vocal presentation. First of the tracks, "Dying To Kill You" sets off on a pummeling journey with little regard for nuance; pummeling drums and bass bash around savagely. "Full Moon Suicide" takes a little time to get going, meandering through grunts and growls until falling into a speed metal / punk rhythm that is easy to follow and headbang to. Raise a beer to this tape meant for the underground. It's easy to like Black Knife but Autocrat is clearly the more rewarding listen.

Black Knife / Lustrum - Split (2018)

This split CD has four tracks from Black Knife and three tracks from Lustrum, all three Lustrum tracks appeared on the live album, Plays With Madness. Black Knife once again unleash punk-infused blackened speed metal. The tracks are succinct but identifiable. "Beyond the Mortuary" is the best of the four, with drummer Edweird being key to the introductory section riding cymbals hard to drive the track into the pause-transition to the first verse in which Hellwulv's (Josh Lay) vocals are the standout, a rough rasp with some lower growls mixed in as well. The inclusion of keys round out the track with a horror-inspired atmosphere nicely. Of note also is the eponymous track, "Black Knife", a catchy rock-and-roll track at it's core, which originally appeared on Black Knife's original EP. The bass playing from Bast is particularly pronounced in the track. The Lustrum tracks, "Into Shit Of Nights", "Too Wild For The Crowd", and "Motorsex" pair well with Black Knife. Their blackened sleaze is replete with the curling snarls of The Intolerant One and first-wave inspired black metal riffs. Mostly, the songs highlight memorable motifs. "Into Shit of Nights" opens with one of those too-classic for it's own good riffs before breaking loose into a pummeling second half of double bass. "Too Wild For The Crowd" is a track I loved from Plays With Madness and it charges full rawness here. The chorus demands crowd involvement! "Motorsex" is exactly as advertised. Motorhead rip-off worship done properly. A cool release. I wish there was a lyric sheet attached. Some of the audible lines are worthy of a tyrant.

Jason Schuler - Jason Schuler (2010)

Schuler's mixture of drone and noise with subtle electronics is not far removed sonically from Sunn O)))'s Black One or Earth's seminal Earth2, but without the heavier dosage of doom elements and without the impression of sheer massive volume, this Eponymous tape is much less intense and reserved for use as a background filler or meditation aid. It's not that the four tracks are not without merit. The slow shifting movements of sound are pleasing textures which, through sensory adaptation to find the rhythmic swells and awareness of the deep seated melodies, can be richly rewarding. I found the second half of the first side of the tape - research telling me this would be the second of the tracks - to be the most engaging with a more ominous, ringing, harsh ambulatory dirge to drag the audience into an unpleasant experience of tension. The track is backstopped by a singular ringing pitch which is burdened with a horny sounding wavering drone atop. The second side of the tape is more atonal and ominous, especially the first of the two tracks. It is the soundtrack to an empty abandoned factory at night; a texture-mirror of industrial decay in sound; the creeping slowness of time on durable yet organic substance. I like the tape and I would be interested to investigate Jason's work more after this first foray into his material. Some form of information in the J-card would have been appreciated, but the overall presentation is acutely beneficial none-the-less. Drone, noise, and experimental ambient on tape is the way to go.

Swamp Horse - Subtle Dementia (2012)

Noise / Electronic / Ambient with a horror vibe due to the heavy electronic and what sounds like a theremin playing a role. The two tracks are very different from each other yet share a certain sense of movement nonethless. The packaging on this is rather nice, with a colored 7", sticker, patch, as well as separate print out with information in the sleeve, which looks to have been produced in a long run of print and cut, evidenced by the bleed over onto my copy. The overall impression is very DIY. The men behind this effort are Morgan Rankin and once again Josh Lay. The two tracks top out at just over six minutes in total play time and neither has any semblance of a title from the layout provided. Track one has a definitive horror movie tone to it with a seventies Italian vibe. The synths are the key, adding grit in the form of off putting melodies, this is repeated with nuanced variations being layered behind the high pitched and occasionally buzzing driving theme. The rhythmic foundation is a more airy keyboard chord progression. The second track is more reliant on noise. The main surface of the song being layered wind samples and water of some sort, perhaps a brook... it ends up sounding like the wheels of many horse-drawn carriages in a mucky street. A high pitched synth addition finally gets included, however I think the synth here draws attention away from the otherwise interesting rhythms generated by the textures behind it. Swamp Horse manufacture two interesting tracks on this 7" that will appeal to horror movie soundtrack fans that are keen on noise and electronic music.

Sissy Spacek - Horned Beast (2014)

There is Noise and there is noise. Sissy Spacek is the lower-case noise. With seemingly no structures and no decipherable purpose to what's going on, this double 7" seems like a waste of wax for me. Each side of four sides has been culled from different recording sessions. Side A is quite harsh with blasting drumming, high pitched feedback across all four songs, and a constant barrage of static. Side B is much of the same with less feedback but more bottom end that jumbles up the songs as well. Side C is a single track called "Spree." More on this in a second. " Side D is another 4 tracks that is similar to the tracks on side A in it's egregious lack of formed content. During "Barrier Details" one or two moments peak through to what the band could do if there was even just a slight hint of clarity and attention to tone. "Spree" is the single song here that forms a complete unit. The tracks starts with the workings of instruments being plugged in, and set up, and some basic rehearsal room sounds, although muffled and jumbled. This proceeds for roughly half the track, slowly increasing in it's grating and noise-influenced culmination of piercing amp-horn whistles and effect-pedal cacophonies. There is a set difference. The basic simple structure is given a context within which to work: a beginning, a progression, a climax. If the other tracks were similar to "Spree" in the purposeful positioning of noise, Sissy Spacek would have gotten more enjoyment out of me. The vision afforded the layout of the record, with it's nice packaging, decisive imagery, and minimalist presentation suits the material, which unfortunately is the weakest part of Horned Beast.

The Black Scorpio Underground - Necrochasm (2016)

In my ears, this is a noise project with some subtle hints of black metal. The Black Scorpio Underground make use of unobtrusive wavering static elements at different pitches which define the sound on Necrochasm. The album title is a good representation of what kind of atmosphere is to be found here and the music is not unlike what you would find at the bottom of a deep pit. Remove the Metal elements of Nortt and you'll be on the right track. Some of the songs here include some interesting vocal effects which sound like samples of religious sermons spoken by little girls which I find discomforting and contrasting with the overall soundscapes generated in the engine of Black Scorpio Underground; in this setting, this uneasiness is a perfect addition to the dreariness and dread. Tracks like "She Who Cannot Be Saved" and "Slave" move at a slow boil, with only minor shifts in layers. What The Black Scorpio Underground does well with the tracks that are reliant on the harsher noise and static effects is there is still a sense of structure and composition to them. "Garden of Mutilated Souls" for example, uses static and noise as the primary elements however there is enough differentiation throughout the abrasiveness to allow the listener to latch onto forms and shapes within the noise and surface from the track feeling that they've still listened to a song. This is also the case in "Hall of 1000 Degradations." Personal favorite is "Venereal Liturgy".


Morningstar - Heretic Metal (1996)

This 1996 release from Finland's Morningstar has haunted my CD collection forever and it's not until the past year or so that I've truly come to appreciate it. It is aggressive and violent and catchy and a blast to rampage along with. Heretic Metal's foundation is simple and aggressive Heavy Metal at it's core: chunky powerful riffs that are catchy and memorable. The black metal elements are more apparent at the surface level but there are some songs such as "Eternal Darkness" which are more inline with the second wave black metal stylings. Songs like "Crushing Their Legions", "A Great Revolt," and "War And Victory" are all in this heavy metal / first wave black metal formula. The combination falls somewhere between the forefathers Bathory or Venom and Carpathian Forest's Black Shining Leather. It's difficult to pick out a favorite because I like so many of the songs on the album. "Crushing Their Legions" is a standout in my opinion with a big chunky riff towards the end of the track that demands headbanging and flailing limbs. "Bloody Hammer" is one of the faster tracks on the album and reminds me a little bit of Deathhammer with it's fast, thrashy riffs. "Twilight of the Paradise" launches into a doomy, melodic movement which proves Morningstar has a lot of potential ideas stored in their armor. The lack of their usage is just as respected here; too much instrumentation would reduce the primal aggression that carries the band. Heretic Metal best exemplifies how good something simple, vicious, and barbaric can be within the black metal genre. No cosmic pseudo-atmosphere, no long meandering tracks, no -gaze or -core. Just brutal violent old school black metal. This should be a cult-classic. I tried to dig out the CD - all still boxed up after moving this past year - to get a better hi-res of the original CD cover, but I couldn't find the CD. There is a newer cover that was put out with the re-release but I like the original better; way more original, and memorable.

My Deathbed - Sickness (2017)

Greek depressive black metal band with a steady flow of releases pouring out since last year. Sickness, a demo with two songs, is the first of their releases. Void is the man behind all the material on Sickness. His songwriting style on Sickness leaves some room for improvement and growth. First track, "Alone" is a minimalist expanse of ringing strummed chords with some atmospheric ambient noises in the background. It moves through the somnambulist melodies expected of the genre. Second, shorter track, "Mind's Madness" is more impactful, with a heavier dose of tremolo moments and a more atonal variety of chord progressions. It is in fact more 'mad' in presentation with ascending sections of hammer-on and pull-off motifs plopped around. What is most notable regarding the material on Sickness is the lack of drums or percussion of any sort. There is no driving force behind the music which gives the impression of a lazily assembled session of random noodling. For most I can't see this being considered a viable listen; with little in the way of meter, composition, or structure there isn't a lot to latch onto beyond basic melodies and atmosphere, an atmosphere more created by the lack of composition and subtle sound effects than the aims and arrangement of the music itself. Would drums, a bass, some form of rhythm help My Deathbed be more approachable? Probably. Would it also deflect from what is Void's desire for My Deathbed to be? Possibly. This is one where we will have to wait and see what happens with the music. If this the goal of My Deathbed is to achieve the feeling of procrastination, indifference, and laziness Void, however, has achieved something great.

My Deathbed - Plague (2017)

My Deathbed, from Greece, proceed further with Plague. The most important addition to their sound: percussion! The overall influence of more wailing type vocals is also made known in this release showing an overall progression forward in adhering to what is a determinate depressive black metal style. Plague is comprised of two tracks; the first track is a long, twenty-four minute journey and the second is a short amendment of only two minutes. "And the Black Death Shall Return For Us" makes up more than ninety percent of the release. I at once point read Nathan T. Birk describe black metal as transcendental and understood him at the time to mean repetitive to the point of meditation. I still ascribe this description to repetitive black metal that is not purely atmospheric in goal. My Deathbed, here, fit the bill. The Burzum-esque repetition is present along with the tormented wails of Void. Also noticeable is the production quality increase since Sickness. Void I have not tracked down, but the slightly hazy fuzz of the guitar chords combined with the simple and plodding bass notes push the opening track oddly forward. I recommend being slightly buzzed or stoned in a dark environment to take the track in. The melody is very well curated. Similar to Sickness, the final track here, "Μυρωδιά Θανάτου," is a more atonal and dreadful sounding object. Reverberating higher pitched notes plucked as if pulling feathers off a bird of prey are presented with little if any structural context. This track is the most similar to the two previously known tracks from the first demo. Does it work? I don't know. It's an interesting listen because there are phantom notes which appear from within the dissonance to possible beauty. To my ears, it's unique but I am not a well versed acolyte with depressive black metal.

Ritualizer - Blood Oaths (2018)

Judson Belmont, guitarist for New Yorkers, Ritualizer, shot me an email to check out their new EP, Blood Oaths, claiming similarity to Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest, and Dio. The email included a press kit and all that jazz. While I was interested immediately due to the proximity of the band and that it was traditional heavy metal, I was downright excited when I saw that the woman behind the lungs of Ritualizer was none other than ex-Midnite Hellion wailer PJ Berlinghof who voiced the band's best release, Hour of the Wolf (also vocalist on the Contaminated Tones Released Bitchin' at Champs!). It was great to see she was still singing; she has a powerful set of pipes! Ritualizer are definitely in the traditional metal realm with a hint of thrash poking through. The three songs here are all on the slightly long side, totalling out at over twenty minutes, and don't always need to be. Such is the case with opener "Blood Oaths" which rumbles irrelevantly past the six minute mark. The thrash shows through in the riffing of Belmont. This is especially evident during second track, "Haunted", where the chorus shifts into a thrashy tempo and riffing style before reverting back to traditional metal. PJ's vocals are at times closer to Nicole Lee and border on death metal in several sections in the song and also at other spots across the offering, yet in most cases her main influences of Dickinson and Dio are front and center. She carries the theatrics of Dickinson's style with the clarity and precision of Dio. With the production being so clear and the bass and guitars given the right amount of space in the mix to carry their own tone, it's easy to hear bassist Denis Lavery's slick bass fills and individuality. To my ears, the claims of similarity to Mercyful Fate, Priest, and Dio aren't wholly supported by the three tracks. It's true the influence may be there, but the songs are too complex to be Priest at their prime, not traditional enough to be Dio, and not narrative enough to match up with Mercyful Fate. I think the ideal comparison would be more like Iced Earth circa The Glorious Burden or Demons and Wizards. Final track, "Night Terrors" reminds me of Icarus Witch for some reason. Cool EP. Haunted is the best track here.