Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Killing Time - Thrashed From The Vault Compilation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Silure / Feretro - Split Tape

Another Nihilistic Holocaust tape release, this one a split between French Silure and Chilean Feretro. As such, it should be satisfying to those who are interested in H. W. Bush-era death metal. The two bands, however, do approach the genre with nods to different influences, with Silure tilting their noisy heads towards Morbid Angel with a hint of Deicide tossed in. Feretro, on the other hand, dredge more from the Death camp with Cannibal Corpse ornamentation. The whole thing, either way, is quite American overall with, to my ears, with only faint whiffs of stench from the other major hotspots like Sweden or the Netherlands. Both bands represent themselves strongly, with unabashed death metal conviction

I made an attempt to reach out to Silure, even though they were, according to sources, going through internal division unlikely to result in amicable continuation of the project. My sources were confirmed when I received an email. "Sorry guy, Silure is over." The three tracks the deceased offers are from their Route De Troche EP. "Le Saut De L'Ange" offers a tribal drum beat to quickly set a barbarous tone. The creative percussive element alone carries the song, recalling the tribal element throughout with quick two-beat poundings on the floor tom or snare throughout the track. Second track "Oxydent" doesn't have a similar percussive theme to fall back on, unless you count the choppy bridge drumming, however strong melodic personality rings throughout, subtly creating tension as the track tightens after a loose flowing solo interlude. Vocally, M-Kha reminds me of Martin Van Drunen with gravelly snarl. Covering S.O.D.'s "Milk" is an interesting choice to punctuate their three-track offering but, given a death metal makeover, Silure do the track both justice while making it their own. Unfortunate the band is no more - the three songs they present offered a lot of promise. 

Feretro, responded right away to my contact. Guitarist and vocals Pedro Velosa supplied some history behind the band's origins in his hometown of Los Angeles, Chile. "Well, the drummer and I started with band in the fall of 2005... Within a year we had a trio line up and a couple of songs and covers of course. Current lineup is almost new, Mauricio joined us on guitars in the summer of 2019, we were playing as a trio but we needed another guitar player due to the musical ideas for what we are working on, so we asked him to play with us and he agreed; and Rodrigo on bass joined us some months ago, we were looking for a new bass player, after the last one left the band for personal reasons, we know him since a long time and we knew he would be a great person to work with, as well as Mauricio... I think this is best line up Feretro has ever had."

Musically, the band mixes the mid to late 80's American death metal with thrash for a genuine and appreciable mixture for fans of old school death metal and death thrash to salivate over. "Primordial Ceremony" opens their offerings and sets the altar with a visceral guitar tone, not over-produced at all, but clear, raw, and entirely natural in dynamic and gruff. The ebbing and flowing of distortion rolls through the slower bulk of the track before Feretro recapitulates with it's memorable tremolo theme. It reminds me of Death's Human in it's attack and tone. The percussion, which isn't quite as taught as that  hallowed record, is set back in the recording, though the tinny snare stands out. Pedro clarified the band's main influences, expanding upon the core US influences. "We had and still have a variety of influences but may be the most important ones, speaking about music more than sound, were Pestilence, Obituary, Sadism, Sadistic Intent, Unleashed, Vioggression, Pentacle, Torchure and Death."

Feretro's rhythmic elements come together naturally and fall in line behind the guitars which are the main focus and most noteworthy musical element. Bassist Rodrigo chases behind the guitar lines adding the requisite low end heaviness while Felipe is animalistic in his drumming, spitting forth primitive death metal and thrash beats to support the weight of the songs. Second guitarist Mauricio is not present on these tracks, which were assembled by Gabriel S. of Nihilistic Holocaust. Pedro explained how the split came together: "I haven’t heard about Silure before Gabriel talked me about the split. We did a trade with Gabriel when we released our last e.p “Deathsolation” and a couple of months later he told me he was looking for a death metal band for a split with Silure and he wanted us to be there, we had no new material recorded and he needed something quickly, so finally we agreed to use the songs of a Cd-r promo which contains two songs from the e.p “Exhume rites of horror” and two from the last one “Deathsolation”.

With Silure's existence truncated, this split - for me - is really about the Feretro tracks, which are solid old school death metal with zero regard for modern sensibilities. Feretro's goals, in a musical regard, I fully support. Pedro's concern for preserving the culture of old school underground and extreme metal is just as laudable. "All of our works have been released on physical formats, I don´t like CD-r neither, but love good tapes, the thing is that we do believe this is the way it must be, in that way you can not only listen to the music, as in streaming, but also you can read the lyrics, observe and analyze the inner art (not only the cover), pictures, credits. I mean, it’s not only music it’s a whole work, sometimes everything is related, as king Diamond’s works for example, and it deserves to be on physical format to be truly appreciated and totally understood".

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Malus - Twin Trunk Crabapple

Sept 26th, 2020 -  Age: 2 yrs
These two trees were grown from seeds last year and I arranged them in this pot in a twin trunk arrangement. The slight slant to the right gives some visual interest to the composition. 

I believe these seeds were collected while I was on a break at work. There were crabapple trees throughout the parking lot so I grabbed some seeds to experiment with. I'm not exactly sure of the hybrid but it might be a Malus "Cardinal" or something of that sort. I do expect it to have pink flowers in the future at some point. It is currently in a plain Chinese pot.

The picture to the left is the tree before budding out in the spring after being repotted and roots pruned. Initially, I was going to separate the two trees, which sprouted together, but the roots were so interwoven that I decided to keep them together. 
Interestingly, and evidence of the two trees unique origins, they have slightly different new foliage colors with one tree having a reddish tinted bud when swollen and the other a more golden / amber color. This subtle coloration different gives me the impression that as this planting grows, it's best time to show the tree is as the buds swell. I am excited to see if this coloration occurs next year as well. 

The tree will not need repotting next year, which means that it should get a really good solid season of growth. It will definitely need to be repotted the following spring after. It's not entirely root-bound in the pot at the moment but after next year it will be for sure. Malus varieties seem to put on a lot of root growth each year.

The tree throughout the summer grew well and was fertilized with 4-3-3 NPK Espoma Plant Tone. I fertilized in April, June, July, and September, falling off my schedule a little bit with being so busy. What is nice about the organic fertilizer, is that it sits on the surface and works itself into the soil, to feed for a prolonged time. 

Acer Negundo #1 - Box Elder Maple

Acer Negundo - Box Elder Maple
Age: about 4 Months

September 2018: 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.

March 23, 2019 (Age - 11 Months)


After keeping the Acer Negundo through the winter outside mostly, with a stint inside to slowly unfreeze the root ball, I decided to replant it to get it into a better soil that would prevent the plant from being in something as moisture retentive as the potting soil / bark mixture I had it in. I repotted it a week ago.

To keep the tree healthy over the winter, I mostly left it in my shed to protect it from desiccating winds. I occasionally misted or watered the plant when the soil felt dry but because the tree doesn't transpire at all during the winter, I only did this every three or four weeks starting mid November. At one point in January, the root ball had completely frozen. Because Box Elder is such a hardy species, it could withstand the freeze however other trees would potentially die from this. I was concerned that the roots would not handle the constant freeze and refreezing if left in the shed so I moved the small plant into a spare refrigerator inside and I covered the soil with ice. As the ice slowly melted into the soil in the fridge, the tree slowly underwent a thaw cycle. Once thawed, I was able to place it back outside.

The repotting process on this tree was very simple. I raked the root ball out so I could see all the roots. I started with the root ball as in the first image above. Using a small rake or bent fork to look like a rake, I removed the soil. I kept the roots misted to make sure they did not dry out. The root ball had a lot of healthy roots. I pruned the tap-root back slightly to encourage more roots near the base of the tree. I made sure I had some finer feeder roots above the point I cut the tape root to make sure the tree would be healthy. I then replanted into a new pot with new soil. For the soil, I used sifted diatomaceous earth (Napa 8822). The drainage and retentiveness of the 8822 makes it a good soil component. I have also used this with regular potting soil in a 1:1 mixture as well if I want a little more moisture retentiveness.

The tree started leafing out the past few days. After doing the root work, I did not want to risk the tree freezing so I have it in my attic near a window that gets good sunlight throughout the day. The first three photos were taking over a period of three days. The second three photos were taken a week after the third photo, then another two weeks, and then two months later, after I had moved the tree back outside. I am letting the tree grow out this summer to thicken the trunk up.

 August 20, 2019: (Age 1yr, 4m)

After letting this tree grow out the majority of the summer, the result is some nice compact foliage and smaller leaves. If you look at the last of the photos from the previous series, you will see some yellow tips at the corners of the leaves where new growth was sun-scorched after removing from the shaded attic to outside.

As this tree grew, I clipped off individual older leaves as newer leaves grew in to reduce the strength of the growth. This seemingly kept the leaves from this otherwise often-maligned species nice and small. The tree has been in full sun throughout summer. The tree is still growing strongly. I recently applied my last round of summer fertilizer at a strength of 14-14-14. I was surprised at how quickly this tree formed a rough bark on the trunk.

October 19 / November 8, 2019: (Age 1yr, 7m)

A few shots with some fall color from October.

For whatever reason, none of my trees this year had much autumn color. I think it has something to do with watering and fertilization. I hope to rectify that this year. The bark on the lower part of the trunk gained a nice texture over the course of the year. At the beginning of the year, the trunk had a reddish brown hue with small nodules of bark formation. At the end of the fall, the trunk had fully lignified and the reddish twiggy trunk formed a grayish bark lower on the trunk. The top of the trunk retained the reddish hue.

March 11, 2020: (Age 2yr)

Trees are beginning to come out of dormancy so it's a good time to repot.

Interesting amount of roots compared to the repot last year. I cut about seventy-five percent of the roots off to get a nice clean root structure. I also removed roots growing downward and which were high up on the trunk to maintain the proper 'root plane' where a strong impressive nebari will form. 'nebari' refers to the flaring root formation at the base of a bonsai tree. It is regarded as one of the most important design components in the tree.

After cleaning up the roots, I repotted the tree back in it's pot for this coming season.

My main goal for this tree at the moment is getting it into the spring healthy. I will wait to fertilize until I begin to see new growth. Fertilizing now could damage the tree. As I did last year, this tree will remain above freezing for the remainder of the year. Ideally, it will be out in the sun on days where temps are in the forties. 

Sept 26, 2020: (Age 2yr, 6m)

Left: Shortly after repotting the tree had a strong flush of new growth. Through summer, in full sun, the tree put on a decent amount of growth. There was a nice amount of growth in the trunk especially. 

Right: Tree as of today. I have been fertilizing with Espoma Plant-Tone, an organic fertilizer with a 4-3-3 NPK. 
Left: Close up of the textured bark on the lower trunk. 

Right: Next spring, I may cut the tree back to one of these two lower branches. I think the left branch will give more movement and interest. The tree will also need to be repotted. This tree grows roots incredibly fast.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Bloodfiend - Evil Mass of Putrid Decay

There's death metal and there's Death Metal. Chileans Bloodfiend are a prime example of the clear-cut old school, rough and gritty, octogenarian into nonagenarian, capitalized variety. Evil Mass of Putrid Decay should remind partakers of when death metal demos reigned supreme. The two men behind the project are no strangers to the genre. The duo, Abhorrer and Sekker have songs finely honed to maximum effect. Short, concise, precision impacts of congealed blood-soaked riffs comprise the tracks which don't spend much time getting their point across. With six songs in eleven minutes, there's not a huge amount to absorb, but there doesn't have to be since this is so simply primitive and bludgeoning in it's approach. Sekker is involved with the more melodic Excoriate, whose demo I covered a while back

The project isn't far removed from a lot of the New York Death Metal which I'm familiar with. Mortician is an influence as well as Cannibal Corpse. Morpheus Descends pops into mind as another point of reference. There's some grind influence as well and lurking around every corner is a drawn out howl akin to Napalm Death's youth-year outputs. With everything ranging from deep bellowing grunts to higher pitched spits of snarl and snot, there's a lot variety to witness in the vocal presentation which helps the demo along. My only complaint here is that there isn't much separating the individual tracks in terms of pacing, tempo, or melody. Other than the slower "I Want To Eat Human Childss" the release is full speed ahead. The inclusion of horror samples adds to a lingering gore and horror theme.  

It's pretty clear where the band's head is at with this release: quick relentless death metal in an underground tape-trading quality recording and layout. The Visceral Circuitry tape layout is well done in 90's black and white with an appropriately gruesome yet b-quality stench. I think there is some potential here so fans of on-the-rise death metal would be served by investigating Bloodfiend and the associated acts such as Excoriate.  

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Psychotic Waltz - The God Shaped Void

There haven't been many new releases which I was outright interested in purchasing this year when researching what was being offered. The God Shaped Void, Psychotic Waltz's first album in twenty-four years, though, manipulated my interest immediately. After a few weeks revisiting A Social Grace and Into The Everflow and a week or two of digesting the lesser cited Mosquito and Bleeding, both of which I had never given even a glimmer of awareness to, I further reprimanded myself for not spending more time with the band's classic material. It was clear after Mosquito that Psychotic Waltz would not produce a clear-follow up to A Social Grace or Into The Everflow. Their debut and sophomore release, to me a strange union of Voivod's Killing Technology / Dimension Hatross and Fates Warning's The Spectre Within / Awaken The Guardian, remain black sheep of sorts in the early 90's progressive thrash scene. Even a single listen to "Halo of Thorns" is enough to ruminate on whether A Social Grace is the pinnacle of the movement and where bands such as Watchtower or Coroner were heading.

The God Shaped Void is very much a continuation of Bleeding and to a lesser extent Mosquito with songs relying on less intricate rhythm parts and only soaring to lofty heights of technical complexity at brief bursts. This is especially true of tracks such as "All The Bad Men" or "While The Spiders Spin." At many points, the album's most rewarding material is reliant on melody instead of riffage in much the same way as songs like "Haze One" or "Need" were on previous albums. There's only a few examples on The God Shaped Void where riffs take center stage, such as the solo rhythm during "In The Silence", the most inspired section of the album for me. The album instead relies on typically modern metal components - big thick power chords, slow chugging guitar motifs, and the inclusion of different textural elements such as the flutes on "Demystified" to carry interest. This is emphasized the by the smooth and polished guitar tone of Dan Rock and Brian McAlpin compared to the raw aggressive guitar tone associated with A Social Grace and so I don't see the album sitting well with those keen on the pro/ag-gressive thrash elements of A Social Grace or Into The Everflow. You can count me in that group. 

Devon Graves' vocals are a major factor for me in terms of the album's enjoyment. In one hand, his performance is impeccable and professional, the consummate front man bringing theatricality to the album where it otherwise would come across as flat and uninteresting. On the other hand, there is a lot of vocal effect usage and layering which in a way hides the personality I enjoyed so much on the early albums. Graves' vocals are quite 'in the box' both harmonically and rhythmically as contrasted against the much freer style evident through Mosquito. In part, I don't blame Graves for this; there is only so much room to roam when you're fenced into standard hard rock formats, as these songs are. Gone are the allusions to John Arch's imaginative melodic vision. By comparison, his flute solo in "Pull The Strings" is one of the more enlightened moments of the record, and hearkens back to the experimentation of "Another Prophet Song" and it's tabla percussive elements or "Butterfly" and it's own bizarre foray into Hendrix's "Purple Haze". 

There are only a few tracks which do anything for my daily metal requirements. The first of these is "Back to Black." It retains the modern elements which are carried through the album, but is heightened by a particularly well maneuvered and flowing bridge / chorus. Even though the underlying solo rhythm is standard hard rock fare, the leads over it are enjoyable. "Pull The Strings" is also somewhere in this category, even though it is better evidence of Psychotic Waltz's progressive sensibilities. My favorite track on the record is the closing salvo "In The Silence." It's a slower, moody track which has an underlying driving rhythmic sensibility. Also a highlight for me is the thematic content. Lyrically, the album is well written and for me may be the most enjoyable element. Songs such as "While The Spiders Spin", which focuses on our addiction to technology and paints this major modern issue against the traditional motifs associated with drug addiction, or "In The Silence", questioning our place in the cosmos in the past and in the future, are some of the themes I particularly enjoyed Waltz's take on. Others, such as "All The Bad Men" provide me some material worthy researching (Operation Nightshade?). Other tracks pursue the hopeless situations humans have put themselves in both personally and socially. It's all done with a thoughtful subtlety and nuance.

This is all to say that the album isn't what I had hoped for sonically. The album is high quality modern metal with progressive elements that will appeal to a large portion of fans of progressive metal, but the album is unlikely to get much airtime from me over other 2020 releases, or even other Psychotic Waltz albums. Even limited to only releases by Californians I can name at least two releases from this year which will surely get more playtime - Necrot's Mortal and Cirith Ungol's Forever Black (Another return from the grave record which may be my favorite release of the year). Ultimately, one of the best results of The God Shaped Void for me was revisiting their earlier albums and rediscovering deep cuts like "Out of Mind", "Freakshow", or "Haze One". What is most disconcerting for me is that while there have been such a large influx of bands going after the experimental thrash and progressive thrash elements in the past several years, Psychotic Waltz, a progenitor of the style, have only tangentially provided a frame of reference for their impact on the movement with The God Shaped Void.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Vessel of Iniquity - Void of Infinite Horror

Vessel of Iniquity's debut full length, Void of Infinite Horror shares much with the Vessel of Iniquity EP, however takes a slightly more refined and focused approach to differentiating individual tracks. On the surface, this gives the five tracks a variegated feel, a more complete album experience. In truth, there isn't a significant change in the amount of slow to fast moments, but there is a shift of awareness in how best to utilize them within the saturated noise-black-death metal mixture which lone puppeteer S.P. White is pulling the strings at. The result is a better paced release with it's extremes more heightened allowing for a better semblance of actual tracks, instead of experiments in noise and ebbing melody. In some respects, then, Vessel of Iniquity as a project lost something and gained something; gone is the youthful extreme miasma and welcomed is a mature approach to a genre often lacking focused songwriting. 

To be sure, Void of Infinite Horror retains the harsh forceful black death metal blast-beat madness. This is evident from the starting block; hyper-speed black death metal blasting lifts the listener into a state of transcendence as soon as "Invocation of the Heart Girt With A Serpent" begins. In four minutes, we are afforded time to seek order from the chaos, to find melody where there is none, to pick out moments and heighten them. It's a Where's Waldo type of experience. There are nuances; some higher pitched screeches and wails, several seconds of an empty respite towards the song's tail end, drum fills... but where the self titled EP's blasting hid slower motifs beneath, there are no patient rolling cadences to be found here; it's the only track where there isn't a noticeable languishing component present. 

Second track, "Babylon", takes the opposite approach, playing with contrasts in speed. "Babylon" initially reminds me of Incantation's slowest moments with added atmospherics. It is also similar to "Choronzon" off the EP in it's overall impression. Here, however, the riff itself is slow, the drums are precise drawn out bludgeoning with intervals of space between them. This new rhythmic ground for Vessel of Iniquity to tread on puts S.P. White's creativity on display. The song is atmospheric and memorable; it's the first track which really stands out to my ears. Though a short blitz appears halfway through, the song's overall focus is patient, fetid, and of boroughs unexplored. Followed by another slower composition, "Void of Infinite Sorrow", the album inches forward with a smooth drift at it's heart.

"Mother of Abomination" brings back the speed and blasting up front while the atmosphere slowly pulses and throbs beneath; the juxtaposition is key to Vessel of Iniquity's attempt to tame the chaos. It is as if we have been given a listening test. Will you be overwhelmed by the up front brutal cacophony or will you acclimate to find the song hidden behind the chaos. The album closes with "Once More Into The Abyss," an ambient styled track of echoing and effected tones wavering in and out darkly. The song phases into a harsher tribal vibe before closing out the album. 

Vessel of Iniquity may ultimately be plowing the grounds which bands such as Diocletian have previously tilled, however the quality and breadth of atmospheres present on Void of Infinite Horror does bring something - if not entirely fresh - ripe to the genre. White proves himself to be masterful at giving each track a slow element and a fast element. If the percussive element is blasting away, there is a slow tidal melody hovering not far below in the mix. If the song is rhythmically sluggish, a fast element is incorporated at some point to highlight the slower parts, maybe in a brief period of blasting percussion, maybe in a quickly phasing static harshness - static always appears as a 'fast' texture - which is layered on top the other wise slower elements. In a way then my description of the band as being "funeral doom but opposite" wasn't far off when I reviewed the demo; the band are still rooted in something slow, even if there is a usage of hyper-speed elements to emphasize this. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Thecodontion - Supercontinent

Millions of years ago, sea creatures first stepped onto the alien surface of land, shed their fins, grew appendages suited for the fathomless depths, and took steps towards the infinity of land creatures which now grace our suburban yards, concrete jungles, and whatever sliver of untouched nature which still remains. Thecodontion is that moment in time, that first step towards a new world. It is not totally unheard of to have bass only projects in the black metal realms, such as the excellent Loudun La Maudite by Arphaxat from 2008, but it's not common enough to be taken as a serious long-term arrangement format. Thecodontion are proving that a bass only project can be as dynamic, artistic, and sonically encompassing as a traditional arrangement. Their newest album, Supercontinent, is what it's name implies: a massive chunk of matter to inspect, explore, and analyze. This isn't unexpected, as the two Italians behind Thecodontion are keen to admit that they've never shied away from intellectualizing this ancient sounding format which they are revealing for us.

"The idea of having those ancestral, prehistoric lyrical themes was connected to the idea of making guitarless extreme metal. Those things have been developed simultaneously," states vocalist and rhythmist Giuseppe Emanuele Frison, aka G.E.F. Rhythmist? "Basically I write the rhythm parts (main bass, drums), then G.D. writes the other bass parts and leads/solos. When G.D. writes lyrics, I talk to him about the metrics and the parts where I would sing, so he adapts his lyrics to these needs. These are some guidelines, sometimes we also use old riffs we have put aside or old ideas. Anyway, having a good organization when it comes to songwriting is pretty important, it makes it easier." I dig deeper into the forces at play when the vocalist doesn't pen the lyrical content, "I'm aware it's pretty unusual haha, generally lyrics are written by the vocalist. Anyway, we always used this method - even if it's a bit unusual, as I said - and we didn't have issues or problems of any kind. Generally I suggest the parts where I want to sing and G.D. adapts his lyrics to my needs, but it's not too complicated. When I have the full lyrics I decide the metrics: sometimes it can happen that some verses are a bit too long and I have to modify my way of singing, but again, it's not an actual issue."

The album for me is a departure from demo Thecodontia and EP Jurassic both of which tilt heavily towards the more extreme, death metal bordering on grind end of the spectrum. Jurassic, itself a major advancement overall in showcasing the possibilities for a bass and drums extreme metal band, really impressed me with it's sharpness, brutality, and overall tonal design. It was Giuseppe D'Adiutorio, aka G.D., who first contacted me with the possibility of a review and sent me an early dubbed copy of Supercontinent, which spurred me to have everything they've released shipped to my house haste. But in listening through Thecodontion's short - but impressive - discography what stood out was that even though the material for Jurassic and Supercontinent was written during the same period, the content is strikingly well placed. A track such as "Rhamphorhynchus Muensteri (Wingset)" would not fit on Supercontinent and a track such as "Nuna" or "Kenorland" the two most extreme tracks on their full length, are too slow, rumbling, and melodic to fit on Jurassic. For me, the grind element has largely lapsed on the LP, while the death metal elements have been pressed to new extremes.

Many reviews have categorized the band as war metal. G.D confronts this categorization while explaining the shifting atmospheres at play in their discography. "The demo and EP maybe have some elements of that, the music being a mix of black/death and grindcore with blistering solos, but yes, I think "Supercontinent" is much more on the death metal side of things, or the more complex/atmospheric side of black/death metal like Antediluvian or Mitochondrion at times. Probably calling the band war metal might even discourage some people which dislike the style, not that I'm that a big fan of war metal myself, actually, and I don't think we have that much in common with the bands you mentioned (Bestial Warlust / Revenge), our influences are rather different...but it's just a music genre tag in the end and it doesn't matter much, I think."

G.D further muses on the experimentation at play now and to be further explored: "We wanted to do something rather different than "Thecodontia" or "Jurassic", something which reflected our real influences more - both inside and outside extreme metal (like prog rock or ambient, even hip-hop if you listen to "Panthalassa") - and which sounded like a natural step forward. We managed to do what we had in mind, luckily, I'd even say the final result surpassed our expectations. At the same time, I feel it's important to always move the creative goal forward and that's what we are going to do for future material... We are definitely going to experiment further. The album is just the first step in a certain direction, some stylistic foundations are very likely to stay, but they will for sure be expanded further. I don't like to stagnate musically and we are always evolving. "Supercontinent" is indeed the real musical idea behind the band...but it's not the only! We have some more we would like to explore."

One of the aspects of the project which stands out across all three and which hasn't changed at all, is the incredibly in depth researched lyrical content. My perspective is that the lyrical content is almost militantly scientific in nature. I pose the question to G.D whether such intricately researched scientific lyrical content is meant to be perceived to be a greater attack at the anti-science religious factions than the done-to-death Satanic imagery. "I don't think so, I don't wish to write neither aggressive or offensive lyrics and there is no presumption of holding the absolute truth about creation within them. I'm not a religious person, but I don't judge anyone for being so. I just don't like when it's used as an instrument of oppression and control, but science has sometimes been used for the same purposes as well, yet I won't say that all religion and all science are bad. I think both could co-exist, there is no need to have a perpetual ideological war between these two worlds and the attempt of the one to completely overcome the other." When asked if we can learn anything from our ancient ancestors G.E.F adds, "I don't think that the modern world should learn something specific from our ancient ancestors: our concepts and lyrics try to convey a certain atmosphere, there wasn't an intention to suggest a sort of disgust towards the modern world. I'd say that our lyric and aesthetic aim is purely narrative and it's strictly linked to the music."

Thecodontion note that their lyrical content has had a strange unforeseen casualty - the ears of academia: "There has been some interest indeed: we received a paper from a museum in Germany about a pterosaur similar to the one on the "Jurassic" EP artwork, they even bought a copy of the 7"! We have also been mentioned by an Italian paleontologist on his blog and I'm currently doing an interview with the "Prehistoric Times" zines about the rise of this unusual subject within extreme metal. I'm happy there has been praise for our detailed lyrics, it means I probably didn't screw anything up while writing them!"

If there's a single auditory theme running through Supercontinent, it's that the album is best viewed as a cinematic, expressive whole. Listening to only "Kenorland" will not effect the same emotions which "Tethys" will. The album sweeps through numerous landscapes and topographic representations as bass and drum cacophonies. G.E.F. is dismissive in this regard, "I don't know if "Supercontinent" is more artistic and expressive: we just had a different aim, so we had a different approach. For sure it's a more complex album compared to our past releases..." For me, this is selling the band short; Supercontinent is the grandiose expressive monument to prehistoric geography that the band knows it is, and is proud of.

As far as complexity goes, that seems to be inevitable based on the influences which the band draws from: "Our influences are pretty much various. For the rhythm parts I recognize some influences from the Canadian black/death metal scene (stuff like Antediluvian, Auroch, Mitochondrion), but when I was writing "Supercontinent" I listened to a lot of some experimental death metal stuff (especially Chaos Echoes and Oksennus), and I think this is pretty clear if you listen to the album. We also like the intricate riffs by Krallice and the lead parts/solos in Mithras. We also try to get ideas from the stuff we like, even if that music can be far from metal. For example one of our favorite artists is Franco Battiato (an Italian singer-songwriter) and we'd love to make a cover of one of his songs. Let's see if this will come to fruition."

No modern coverage is ever complete without some further prodding. The band has released all three of it's releases on physical formats. Jurassic and especially Supercontinent are beautiful vinyl releases by Repose Records. Supercontinent requires the large presentation in order to see the intricate cover art details such as the tiny thin ripples surrounding the artistic representation of the supercontinent which fills the front pane. A full color insert with lyrics is included as well. How important is the physical element for Thecodontion? Is it as important as the physical fossils which inform our understanding of the past or the solid drilled cores explaining the shifting earth beneath our feet? "The aesthetic and physical aspects of our music are extremely important for us, we do collect music as well (in all formats). Also, our releases have some additive illustrations and this can add something to the record. As human beings, we have five senses, so it's important satisfy not only the hearing - even in music. For sure listening to music on physical format is different, it's almost cathartic and in this way you can comprehend better the atmosphere of an album: it's almost a "ritual". By the way I have to admit that I'm not a total enemy of digital formats, it can be comfortable if you are not at home for example."

I necessarily inquire as to what is in the pipeline for Thecodontion as far as upcoming releases. Having alluded to upcoming split releases in several recent interviews, I pester for more information. " One split is with the UK one man black metal/noise band Vessel of Iniquity, a project we released in the past on our personal label Xenoglossy Productions. Our side has been recorded during the Supercontinent sessions and the split is probably coming out in early 2021. I can't tell much about the other two splits, the songs are finished but we still have to record them, maybe in late 2020 or early 2021. I love the split format, especially when there is a coherent theme behind, either musical or conceptual. My favorite is when there is a similar concept but kind of different musical style between the bands involved."

Thecodontion's Supercontinent is sure to land on the best-of lists at years end. One listen to "Pangea" is sure to draw in anyone with discerning ears for unique, harsh, and brutal death metal. G.E.F's screams are visceral bloody rasps and screeches scarring the wax across the album's best track. Massive looming drums and walloping clunking bass strings rattle across the track like the teeth of some giant herbivore on long-extinct oversized leaves. The vast swampy mass that was every inch of land that existed on the Earth at the time stretching out into burgundy and crimson dusk. The ability to venture across the entirety of the world unimpeded by oceans but opposed at every lumbering step by yet larger and more vicious creatures. Supercontinent taps into the brutality and the beauty of prehistory and presents it to us in a unique configuration which is equally extreme and serene.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

La Torture Des Tenebres - Memoirs of a Machine Girl

It's impossible not to envision Huxleyan and Orwellian themes when focusing on La Torture Des Tenebres' album art which consistently depicts the kinds of futurist dystopian scenes and landscapes crafted in works such as 1984, Brave New World, 12 Monkeys, or Forbidden Planet. Many reviews have pointed to the classic Metropolis, by Fritz Lang, however it would easy to point to other early noir films with angular aesthetics such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as visual simulacrums for La Torture Des Tenebres' futurist direction. More than any others except Orwell, however, the author who stands out most is Gordon R. Dickson, and his Dorsai series for it's equal parts dystopian romanticism and futuristic nihilism. Musically, however, this aesthetic doesn't seem to stand out to me, which is particularly disappointing, because the lyrical content strongly draws upon this bygone era's dystopian style; an era when science fiction still managed to knock at deeper emotional doors than what we often see in our current special effects-focused sci-fi films. The lack of musical effectiveness is truly what hurts my enjoyment of what otherwise is a well intellectualized social commentary.

Sole proprietor of this little corner stand of techno-horror is Jessica Kinney, who I applaud for the seeming ideological perspectives which she espoused in an interview with Mithratemplezine. As someone concerned over how generations of humans are allowing their individuality to be placed under duress without their consent, it gives me pleasure to find these concerns in others. I think underground metal fans - and extreme music fans at large - are more deeply aware of the importance of separation from social constructs which mold thought and habit, even if they are equally capable of self-destructing their own identities in the name of image. Kinney agrees that "a world in which genuine human connection is entirely replaced by social conventions and unbending self-interest" is a nightmare which must be confronted. In this context, the preoccupation with loneliness and depressed states of mind evidenced in her lyrics, falls in lockstep with the themes. Was not the entirety of 1984 a tragic love story? Was not Winston betrayed by the social constructs around him? Have we all not been betrayed by the social constructs around us? 

Memoirs of a Machine Girl is first and foremost a slab of audio experimentation beyond typical genre boundaries and so, for me, it is easiest to classify it as textural in nature. Were there more electronic elements - elements which would potentially aid the futurist vibes the album lacks - it would fall easily into the harsh electronic realm. The lack of electronic textures, and dominance of static and overlays of field and borrowed samples create a wall of white noise which can only be described as harsh ambient. The thematic content, magnified in topics such as loneliness, existential crisis, and depression - Kinney herself has explained that La Torture Des Tenebres "was started as a form of audio-psychotropic for the treatment of psychotic and depressive illness" - add a depressive element which can't help but pigeonhole the project into some sort of Depressive Harsh Ambient category. It's this depressive connotation which would appeal to fans of black metal. Otherwise, I find little in common with the genre as far as music alone is concerned.

Songs are long drawn out blocks of mashed up samples. A wall of static often blurs distinct sounds into incomprehensible mud. Occasionally melodic phrases fight their way through the morass for short bursts of clearance amidst the unsettling clamor. There isn't enough focus on these melodic passages - they become merely a dark cloud in polluted skies forgotten about as they pass. For something so outrageously layered and claustrophobic sounding, I'm amazed when moments fall into place and stand out such as the expansive screaming in the tail end of "Love Pumps Through My Veins as Quickly as you Kiss Me Goodbye" or the children and voices which occupy the interlude in "Somerwhere in Brockville, In a Restroom Stall." There are some excellent choices of sound design present, such as the bombastic and tense ending of "Staring at the Stars to the Sound of Trucks Revving In The Distance," the opening track, where under-water sounding spoken words are paired with horns or alarms sounding in the distance. Kinney's inability to highlight her purposeful choices of sampling and texture are my biggest concern with the project. I'd like more space, without the loss of the harshness and wall-of-sound. 

As alluded to earlier, at no point in the tracks do I feel like I am in a futurist setting. More rigid and angular rhythmic elements would help press this atmospheric form. I also question the usage of the drums or percussive elements which don't add anything to the imagery I view as La Torture Des Tenebres' goal. I really like the potential behind this project. It's one of the more interesting harsh noise / ambient tapes I've heard in a while. I'd like a more concerted effort to capture the retro-future imagery in the overall sound design, since the project relies so heavily on that aesthetic. Instead of being swept into a post-apocalyptic future world of broken machines, vacuum-tube adorned processors, and antennae arrays broadcasting mind-control signals, I feel like I've walked into a David Lynch setting. It's not a bad vibe, at all, but it doesn't complete the necessary whole to raise Memoirs of a Machine Girl to the lofty heights which others hoist it to.  

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Zelkova Serrata #1 - Japanese Zelkova

This tree was gifted to me by a local resident reducing their collection in 2019.

Summer of 2019
Early Spring 2020, before bud-break

Early Spring 2020, after structural pruning

Mid-Summer 2020

Mid-Summer 2020 after pruning

Mid Summer 2020 - Early Wiring to set new growth
July, 19th, 2020 - The tree has some flaws, mainly the super straight low trunk which would only truly lend itself to a broom style, so that is likely what I will be doing. The wiring out of the tree helped me view where the tree's apex should be - the skinny wired branch about halfway up will be the new main trunk line. Next winter, I'll do another heavy structural prune and remove the top of the tree above that point. The tree also needs some root work done to it so, I will be repotting the tree into a shallower growing container.. I will possibly need to ground layer the tree if the roots are really bad or don't work with the currently planned front of the tree. I may eventually Ebihara the roots if I go this route. The trunk is thick enough to hold a screw and board.