Sunday, January 17, 2021
Friday, January 1, 2021
Monday, December 21, 2020
Coronavirus claims its first victim: my involvement in Sacrificial Blood. Because of Coronavirus shutting everything down, and all the shows being cancelled, and only a few ways to have fun during the pandemic... my wife and I will be having a baby girl in May (forces beyond be willing, of course). I expect that will be around the time when we will see things in the music world shifting back to normal somewhat but I simply won't have the time to be playing shows and practicing on a weekly basis while there are diapers to change, excrement to clean, sleep to occasionally find, etc. Sacrificial Blood has been the best experience I've ever had with a band and it has been an honor to be involved with one of the few current New Jersey projects which represents what extreme and underground metal should be. I wish Mike, Jeff, and Arnie all the best going forward. I'm particularly proud of Cursed. The final product was exactly what I think we had all hoped it to be: a captured essence of our live energy and aggression all wrapped up in no-frills death thrash.
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
A four way split between four bands related only by the A.R.T. Records' label. The 7" releases which are shared here are essentially lost to dusty attics and meticulously organized record holds, and so other than the occasional copy showing up, it may be tough to snag these otherwise. The bands, all active in the early to mid 90's, are from different corners of the United States and materially, display a mix of thrash and death metal with some teaspoons of crossover drizzled into the soup. A small amount of sleuthing work revealed the connections behind A.R.T. Records and Thrashback Records but I'll hold onto that info for another time. As with the previous Thrashback Records releases, this 4-Way Split is done with the same professionalism and attention to packaging. The liner notes, while not extensive, have a lot of great information for those interested in obscure underground metal from this time period. There is some negative space in the layout, particularly on the page with the lineups for the bands. Some bigger pictures could have filled in the booklet there, but it's a minor thing.
This compilation or split or whatever you want to call it is worthwhile for the three Drop Dead tracks alone. Pummeling and powerful death metal, the three tracks, two culled from the 1993 March of Empire 7" and a bonus track recorded for an unreleased full length, are tight, precise efforts in aggression with a thrash underpinning up front, yet also display similarities to the belchy and gory artfulness of the Dutch scene through the addition of a keyboard outro on "March of Empire", the highly melodic solo on "Oppression", and the sopping moist vocals presentation of Kevin Marby. Kris Weiskittel's drum performance is worth noting as the foundation of the band's thrash element. This is evident on opening track "Clouds on the Horizon" as he slips into a typical eighth-note double bass death metal rhythm with snare on the second and fourth beats halfway through the song, contrasting the typical thrash beats previously used in the song. Drew Pearson rounds out the trio on bass commendably. The three songs are all worthy of attention.
Also noteworthy are the Final Judgement tracks, an interesting mixture of Thrash, Death, and Doom metal. The tracks wouldn't be entirely out of place on an early Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride styled album. The Atlanta, Georgia band then are an oddity, seemingly playing in the UK style of Doom Death. Two tracks here are from the 1993 Drastic Dose of Reality 7". "I Do What I Do Not Want To Do" is notable for the bizarre transitions and pauses, a habit which is picked up again at times during "Punishable By Death." Vocalist Chad Cross provides a strong performance with deep bellowing gruff barks of vocals, but is restrained enough to not overwhelm the instrumentals. "Punishable By Death" is their most effective track, but at just over six minutes, it could have been cropped into a more reasonable length. There is a bit too much repetition as the track drags on. "Habitual Sacrifice", another strong track which was intended to be released on a compilation at some forgotten time in the past, is included as a bonus track. The three tracks are strong enough here to make me want to check out their 1994 full length, Desolating Sacrilege - if I can find a copy under $100.
The other two bands, Dry Bones and Godhead, are not the same caliber. Dry Bones is out of place here, but their inclusion acts more like an aperitif. Dry Bones, with clean vocals and politically charged lyrics don't carry the same dark heft as the death metal bands. The band is really nothing more than a Suicidal Tendencies or S.O.D. tribute in many ways, but where the originators managed to maintain an aggression and violence through some of their tracks, Dry Bones doesn't. Some of the songs have solid riffs, but overall I found them mediocre and uninteresting. Perhaps they would be a fun opener to get some moshing going, but that isn't happening in my office at 8PM on a weeknight when I have to potentially shovel a foot of snow tomorrow morning. Godhead closes out the four band release with typical sounding death/thrash. I get bits of the NY and Floridian scene from the Toledo project, but not particularly well produced. "Unspoken Madness" is the best of the three tracks with interesting bass and drum interplay throughout the track, however this release is truly all about Drop Dead and Final Judgement.
Sunday, December 6, 2020
Wednesday, December 2, 2020
A Canadian melodic death metal band with progressive tendencies, Skyless Aeons' newest record, Drain The Sun, displays a youthful band with a lot of promising skill and a strong sense of self-worth who have oriented themselves towards an unpredictable future. This unpredictable future is not, however, bleakness but perhaps something greater than is determinable currently. Nonetheless, Drain The Sun also is evident of youth, a lack of focus at times, and experimentation which, in more mature ears, likely would have been culled and placed in the bargain bin. Unfamiliar with the project as I initially was, I went back and explored their four-song 2016 EP, The Era of Famine. A noticeably jammy post-metalesque affair, the release featured the same lineup as appearing on Drain The Sun. Several listens later, the record didn't come across as particularly exceptional and having heard it upon release, I doubt I would have followed up with the project on my own terms.
Drain The Sun is definitely an improvement. Skyless Aeons have narrowed the project's aesthetics and expanded the sonic options in a progressive tendency which better marries the music with the lyrical content. The 2016 EP had thoughtful lyrics which concerned themselves with the human condition, the societal implications and tendencies of the human race, and other such philosophical quandries - all in a slightly incoherent abstract and unfocused structure; the music didn't seem to carry the same weight as the subject matter. For much of the EP, we were given a feather-weight and airy accompaniment due to the post-metal guitar tonality wed to bright ringing melodies. The Era of Famine has lighthearted melodic sentiment, similar almost to that of Jesu on Conquerer. This has changed with Drain The Sun. The musical component is far darker in production, tone, and melodic progressions. The jammy guitar movements are sharper and more aggressive. The lyrical content is better structured and more organized as well. The band has also culled the songs down from the roughly nine-minute average of their EP to under seven minutes. These are not small minor improvements, but major rewritings of songwriting habit for the betterment of the project.
Skyless Aeons almost lost me at the first track with the new record, though. "Ascension Towards Nothing" starts slowly, with subtle ebbing clean guitars and low moody bass underneath. Imagine the intro to Fates Warning's "Road Goes on Forever" or "The Eleventh Hour"; the dreary after-everyone-has-left and loneliness has returned atmosphere. The introduction builds nicely, slowly adding drum energy to the mix with cymbals and then tom rolls. At the natural place where the band could have (and should have) shifted into the full force of the song, they simply stop... scrape through a few more chords and then awkwardly, and almost sloppily, shift into a doomier, Cathedralesque riff destroying the immaculate intro's worth. Then the track uncomfortably changes again to a more modern death metal riff.... as if the first false start wasn't enough to piss me off. I turned off the album at that very second. It was just too many poor choices in a row. Off it stayed for a few days before I felt ready to try again.
"Ascension Towards Nothing" - now appropriately titled (maybe that was the point... but it was dumb) - ends practically moments later. "A Consciousness Decays" is awarded my skepticism and sourness as the following track and returns some hope and faith to me. An extremely well structured song that feels shorter than it is, it retains the progressive metal elements apparent in the opening track's intro, however marries them with strong death metal vocals by vocalist Nathan Ferreira and smooth and vivid transitions. The usage of a clean section here is not done amateurishly, giving bassist Steve Oliva an opportunity to stand out, even though his wooden bass tone is easy to discern throughout the songs. The guitar playing by Nicholas Luck is composed, well performed, and meticulously accurate but tonally, gritty enough to hide any temerity which otherwise might peak through.
This is followed by "Go Forth and Multiply" and it's obnoxiously groovy vocal rhythms. It is the album's shortest track by about three minutes. The vocals reek a tough-guy hardcore machismo personality which just saps my patience. Following the impressive display of the "A Consciousness Decays" which grabbed my attention and interest, it is a test of patience again to wait and find out if the track afterwards would elevate the band again. Perhaps being cognizant of the botchy opening of the record, Skyless Aeons pulls their shit together and offers four following tracks in a row which do not bother me. "Age of Regression" and "Dimensional Entrapment" rekindle the progressive elements while maintaining a dark and aggressive weight. The two songs are paired well. Following is "Paths of Desolation", a lighter experience, more of an experiment in guitar textures which reminds me of locals Lionel Pryor than anything else. Drain The Sun closes with the title track. As the opening bass motif is joined by guitars the song slips into some odd whispered vocal sections which make me shudder. The song's strongest moments, though begin with the slower melodically founded central core throughout the ringing culmination and closing.
For me, Drain The Sun, is inconsistent. There are some really good tracks and ideas like "A Consciousness Decays", "Paths of Desolation", and the second half of the title track. There are also clearly moments spread throughout that I could rate if not as blunders at best as clear mistakes in aesthetic continuity. The most maddening thing about Skyless Aeons is that they are on that cusp of either doing something entirely great or fumbling it all. I could see perhaps trying too hard to impress on the technicality end and lose the songs or go the other direction and write more accessible songs and lose their spark of experimentation on a follow up. The CD package is done professionally, and the cover art by Sam Nelson elevates the mature thematic content with reservation and grace. Drain The Sun doesn't put the next Skyless Aeons material too high on my priority list, but a subtle shift in the direction of old school styled melodic death metal ala At The Gates or Sear Bliss and away from modern sounding melodic death metal could be enough to tip my favor long term. A wisp of forlorn atmosphere would go the distance for Skyless Aeons.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
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?
Monday, November 9, 2020
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Friday, October 2, 2020
Saturday, September 26, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.