Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aeternus - ...And So The Night Became


There are classic albums and then there are masterpieces. Albums which grow grand with age and more glorious and supreme even against an ever increasing catalog of excellent choices. Somewhere out there amongst all the music I've ever listened to in the past eighteen years an incredibly small number of albums have become mainstays in my listening, beacons of perfection to the dross and mediocrity, examples of pristine inspiration and execution. For almost all bands, after years and years of striving, they never create anything resembling even an average-quality album. Some bands, with the right combination of artistry might assemble a work which surpasses most, becomes an inspiration... an example of the fineness of a genre, something more than average. And then out of the depths of obscurity arises a crafted heirloom more than the musicians involved and the context surrounding it. Within black metal a lot of albums claim these titles and more... many of which are classics less for their music and more for that context. I can't speak for them but one black metal album has outlived, surpassed and decimated all others in all areas.

Re-release Cover.
Where Beyond The Wandering Moon literally wandered around for parts of the album,  finding the trail and hidden grottoes deep amidst the dark flora across several excellent tracks such as Vind, Sentinels of Darkness and Sworn Revenge, ...And So The Night Became became a connected soul within that cimmerian world. With lunar guidance and celestial fates beaming down, Ares, Morrigan and Vrolok ceased to be individual members of a band, blending and morphing into a single mindset and lone essence. If the overtones here are of the essential elements which Black Metal requires, and those odors are plentiful, robust and pure, it's the more subtle fragrances which emanate. They've drawn me in since the beginning with this album. Fundamentally for me, there is this overwhelming sense of grandeur and royalty here. Aeternus, through music have created the architecture of regality. It is evidenced in tracks like "Warrior of the Crescent Moon" and "Ild Dans." In the fearlessness of "As I March" and "Blodsverging."

There are parts of the songs present here, which simply defy simple round-about descriptions. The five minute intro of "There's No Wine Like The Blood's Crimson," is a marvel. It builds into this epic exploratory emotion within, and when the main riff to the track kicks in, you can begin to create a world around you. It's the tentativeness of riding up to the dark gates of Satan's castle. It's the hesitation of being in an unwelcoming environment without any chance of return. You are thrown headlong into a Gothic nightmare, the kind Bram Stoker wrote about in the final pages of Lair of the White Worm. You can imagine somehow being surrounded by ancient walls and blood-soaked parapets, drenched in the rain of an endless storm. The echo of downpours - the ceaseless double bass - and the crash of thunder - massive fills on the toms. You've opened the door, expecting some respite from the madness and yet, you step through the threshold into "As I March." The field is coated in dew. The enemy is in sight and you are rushing them with spears and swords leveled at their faces. There is an uncanny slowness to the whole thing, a respect on the parts of all involved in the skirmish. You are not there for any Lord or King. It is the battle you crave. You call your liege the ground you were born from, you claim your allegiance to the blood you endeavor to spill.

Aeternus craft imagery with ease. The lyrics encapsulate the primitive and the refined elements of both opposites, dredging the soul to rediscover emotions long since forgotten by mankind - a more simple way of thought and yet, a more complex way of understanding the world. They proclaim only the desire to return to the mud and the grave, to be once again one with Her; blood to the rivers and flesh to the mountains. The arrangement and exquisite acoustic playing on tracks like Warrior Of The Crescent Moon, When The Crow's Shadows Fall and closer Fyrndeheimen hearkens to the early Empyrium albums but where Empyrium reveled in bringing the Pastoral to the forefront, Aeternus here drag forward a yearning for that aforementioned simpler life and yet the hopelessness that we can never return to such glorious times. We live in a world of ephemeral respect and momentary delights and we have ourselves to blame. The album shows us what could have been, where society could have gone. Less cryptically, the album shows us where Black Metal can go. It can retain all the aggression, all the hate and passion and yet be sentimental and reach into us and grab the emotions we all feel.

And yet, where Aeternus have excelled on this album truly is in the scale of the songs. There are no black or white tracks here. No one track serves it's own purpose. "As I March" opens into the reverence of "Warrior of the Crescent Moon," with it's softly mixed synths careening across layers of exquisite melody and rumbling verses. The vocals are pained and frantic. And though in many places the tracks are linear, with little repetition of parts, this creates the feeling falling forward forever through the mountains and glens and into dark caves and torch-lit cairns populated by robed priests with sheepskin cloaks and intricately carved horned helms drawing the star's light into them and glowing with ages of ritual use. "...And So The Night Became," then romps through the mid-paced "Blodsverging," the album's weakest track if it could be considered so. It still highlights vocals and melody which are such strengths of this album.

"When The Crow's Shadows Fall" begins with ancient melodies and a bittersweet lead before taking flight into one of the album's fastest and most intense tracks. It's song the grandness of death, the honor once afforded fallen warriors, the finality of courage. I've listened to this album many times and still get chills when I sit on the floor, with the lyrics in front of me and absorb every drum beat and every wail. It is the best way to appreciate this one - head down, mind open and pores soaking in each snap of the snare and every swirling keyboard passage. This is especially true on the final two tracks of the album. "Ild Dans" is to this album what "Sunwheel" may be considered to Drudkh's Autum Aurora or "Heathen Tribes" on To The Nameless Dead - and I sense a slight melodic similarity in that regard early in the song. It's an uptempo dance, a bright dawn, a sweet scent during hard times, dark nights or sweeping across a rotting battlefield. So much of the album is a dichotomy such as this, harshness paired with melody and aggressiveness paired with something gentle.

One of the most spine tingling moment is the end of Ild Dans where gates open, doors unlock and keys are turned to present an epic vista of Valhalla before the ears. Clean vocals, mixed with harsh vocals over acoustic guitars mixed with the heavier distorted tone. It's the wonder of ...And So The Night Became that these moments appear and fall much like the life of a hero, often ended too short and before respect can be shown to their actions. You must relive these moments again and again to feel satisfied and even then, you need to return to them soon afterwards to feel them again. And much like this short section the title track is a marvel. It takes everything proposed musically and puts it in context into a single soundtrack. The song is a true album climax. Two minutes in you are walking up to meet your greatest foe and the battle has commenced. You fight for your king and fellow countrymen. Aeternus have wrapped their wings around you, like a black angel, and are lifting you into the sky as you relive your life in the form of a medley of images. You are dying in service to your honor and as you are laid to rest in the Longship and the waves crash around you, you watch yourself burn.

And as ashes we return. ...And So The Night Became is a grand story. We are born, we fight, we triumph and we fail. "With horned wings and cold minds, The dwelling and feeding, it is complete. Now we rise."

Bound By Entrails - The Stars Bode You Farewell


Bound By Entrails' third full length album, "The Stars Bode You Farewell," has received the kind of praise across the internet that made me excited to check out the album but also somewhat pessimistic that this would be all hype, especially considering my temperate opinions on their previous album, "The Oath To Forbear and the Burden Of Inheritance." I do appreciate the shorter title for this album though. Unfortunately the album starts with carnival music and I immediately am turned off by the lackadaisical feel and happy-go-lucky attitude of the introductory piece. But oddly enough, there are hints of that same feeling tossed throughout the album and so, in hindsight, perhaps that Big-Top innocence and weirdness is welcome here as "Stars..." is really a cornucopia of sounds and textures much like the circus is a cornucopia of hairy women and clown cars driving up elephants' trunks and whatnot.

So when the opening song, Threshold Of Fear, enters a whimsical keyboard solo and the cymbals clatter into harp movements, I'm taken back to the sideshows and the fire-eating the first track invokes. The overall feeling is of more recent Arcturus in many places, Borknagar's acoustic album "Origins," during the clean vocals and even the last two Opeth albums at times when Bound By Entrails mixes the harsh vocals with some of the semi-heavy moments in songs like Swansong. I think the closest description would be that of Ihsahn's recent album After. Both projects include all kinds of instrumentation and vocal styles. The guitar tone even sounds similar at times when Chris Hansson or Cory Llewellen or Brett Wehmeyer slides away into a riff and you get that classic 'zipper' effect. I almost rarely make an attempt to wonder what bands REALLY influence people so there is no digging deeper here. Especially when you're talking about something as avant-garde as Bound By Entrails aims to be. The eclecticism is meaningless to me.

In many ways this isn't the type of album I enjoy and though I can't see myself listening to it over and over, I do see why it's received so much praise and remarks such as "It was quite difficult to review, as comparisons to other bands didn't do the band justice, and perhaps it took a very long time to fully realize that I was hearing a virtually unheard of masterpiece..." or the indelible mark in a history of exaggerations such as listening to this album is as glorious as hitting the lottery as a little kid. Let's be blunt, this is not the Golden Ticket. That album has yet to be written and this is not it for me especially with some awkward transitions such as two minutes into Search for Sunken R'lyeh when a grand sweeping lead unravels into post-power metal. There are plenty of times when drummer Tyler Platt sounds like Animal from the Muppets just banging on cymbals and stuff when he could be doing something more counter-intuitive and dynamic. The vocals and drums are often paired together and syncopated similarly as well. The harsh vocals of Brett can also be monotone at times but they are evocative and the clean vocals at times can sound stretched.

This album is a great example of restraint. Though all the musicians are excellent and shine across the album in many different ways and areas and in combinations as various as the leaves on a tree, none of them seem preoccupied with showing off or being the center of attention. The band is very much on the same page with what their goals are. There are moments when everyone goes off into excellent leads and the showmanship for me is more prevalent in this restraint. It doesn't sound 'wanky.' Thanks guys. Also, since I haven't mentioned the poor guy, Mark Eppilhimer's bass playing is an excellent showing. Though he plays behind all the other stuff, when I listen in good headphones, there are a lot of awesome subtle things going on with his bass lines which I, as a bassist, find fun to listen to. In many places he moves songs.

So some highlights for me. I find myself drawn to the less extreme tracks as that's what the band does better in my opinion. "Sawnsong", "Apprehension" and "Bemoaning The Lamented," that last which also exhibits some of the center-ring acrobatics that the album exudes at times. They grow and move and are wonderful to listen to. I also really like the first of the longer tracks, "With Vernal Impunity,"for some reason. It has this great Chopin style piano piece three-quarters of the way through and a chaotic ending with all sorts of different instruments getting time to do leads. Final  song, the fifteen minute "Ghosts of Our Former Selves," is rather long but it's made up of large segments of variations and so it doesn't seem too monotonous and boring or too adventurous and numbing. The lyrics are all well written, probably mean something to someone and probably could mean something to many others - I'm just not going to try deciphering all the ins and outs. I do like the lyrics to "Apprehension," even if at times it seems like something a gothic kid might write as a poem before leaving for college.

So where does this leave me as a comparison to the first album. Well, I think that Bound By Entrails sounds much more consistent on this album. I think they are finding a style for themselves, creating a far more unique and mature album compared to their last album which in many times sounded like forced aggressiveness. There is far less of that here so when they really 'go all out' it's hits more. The album does sound better in terms of production though it still could maybe use some mastering work or slight mixing to kick out some of the low end frequencies cause some instruments to lose their space in the mix. No cover track on this album either which seems to mean that they felt they had enough material here to fill a full album's worth of time. The previous album was forty five minutes long including the Emperor cover and a six minute live track. This album is a full sixty-four minutes of originals. Perhaps that's a bit too much... It's tough to listen through a full album that has a lot of highlights and low-lights and still feel like you want to go back and listen again.

Often times I'm reminded this whole album could be the soundtrack to some weird Cirque Du Soleil show revolving around some little kid losing a hat in the jaws of Glaaki and climbing inside only to find he is in a wonderland of misty forests and ceremonial Pagan Riverdance advertisements. After listening to this album at least ten times I'm still looking for that damn hat. It's really that icing on the cake that album is missing perhaps. There are so many excellent things going on, so many glorious textural experiments successfully navigated and heaping loads of unique and artful arrangement without that one standout aspect. Nothing ascends above the others. There's a boy in this circus who bought a hundred balloons and feels himself floating but he can't tell which balloon he likes the most and he keeps getting further away from finding his goddamn hat.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

News - 11/27/2012

Check out the new review of Diseased Oblivion's "Portals of Past and Present" from Goul's Crypt blogspot and the new review of Okketaehm's "Stones," from Orthodox Black Metal. Thanks to both sites and reviewers for their reviews and opinions!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Odem - Rape Your God And Pray For Reprieve

Odem. This is the last of the slough of Daemon Worship promos I've received and, perhaps because of this, I'm just slightly burnt out on this whole exaggerated black metal style. Honestly, it's almost a parody at this point. I can't see how anyone could listen to nothing but this style of black metal all the time. The only reason I've maintained my sanity through the whole ordeal of these eight or nine releases has been time in between to cleanse my ears with copious amounts of Manilla Road and Fates Warning, heaping piles of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost and gorging myself on holiday dinners. I had done a rough listening of this album, taking some notes such as "band has preoccupation with sharp objects" and "carnivalesque melody in the right side guitars." There were some things worth picking out on "Rape Your God And Pray For Reprieve," this Russian band's first full length.

As evidenced on all the other DWP releases I've reviewed, the musicianship is phenomenal and the production is classily polished yet aggressive. Compare it to any of the previous releases I've reviewed from this throbbing label: Israthoum, Dodsengel, Bestia Arcana or Necrosadist... Production-wise they are all on par with the recent 1349 releases, the last Absu releases - at least back to Tara - or Watain's Sworn to the Dark. I don't know how this happens when bands from far reaches of the world all have similarly produced albums. Slightly different guitar tones, sure, but the high level of engineering and sound design for these releases is extraordinary. If there is one thing about all the DWP releases it has to be that the label is very much focused on presenting releases that are beyond the bedroom black metal sound. I can respect a label that has set boundaries in terms of production for it's releases. So here, the guitars sound a little bit more reptilian. The vocals are more subdued than some of the other releases - especially the Israthoum release - which works because they are not nearly as unique as other bands on the roster. The drums are well played, interesting and varied. Bass is robust though difficult to pick out at times.

It's black metal. Get it?

I hear a lot of influences in the album. Immortal is prevalent on several tracks such as Nails as the Weapon of Hatred and Tortured By Razors. I hear death metal influences from Incantation on tracks as well and perhaps this coupled with the black metal reminds me of Adversarial, particularly on fifth track Immersion. Emperor shows through often as does early Absu. Odem are not afraid to experiment at times such as with momentary lapses of tradition in the guitar leads department, meandering atonal layers and trysts into different textures such as three-quarters through Tortured By Razors. You pair all this together and highlight Antaeus with a cover of Blood War III and you have a pretty solid album musically though I can't say any particular song stands out to me, it's not an offensive listen.

Lyrically, something I did notice, as mentioned earlier was an obsession with sharp objects - nails, spikes, hammers, scalpels, cutting, piercing... the list goes on. Other times the lyrics are combinations of words and thoughts that make no sense and  made me laugh outright several times. I think my favorite combination of nonsensical lyrics were off the seventh track, simply titled "VII." It's not everyday that you see black metal bands playing with barbie dolls so when vocalist KH remembers his childhood and compares it to his present day interest in industrial chemicals and machinery it's only understandable his lyrics would sound like a sadomasochists user manual for building a replica dollhouse. "...dense ordinariness personification… Oxides of humanism in a phallic perfection… Candles made of infants’ fat… 'these dolls have no eyes!' says a cripple-child…writhing in sardonic repugnant miasmas..."

Overall, enjoyable and intense though at times a bit lackadaisical compositionally. The elements work nicely together though transitions are often times off the cuff and spontaneous necessities instead of being placed with care and conviction. It's alright though... Odem have made a solid debut with quality in many areas. I expect that with experience and maturity we could see this duo make their Motherland proud.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Whiplash Interview - 11/21/2012

The always humble, always energetic and extremely popular Tony Portaro was kind enough to grant me twenty minutes after their set list to answer some questions. After I let the poor guy stop sweating and breaking down their equipment he offered his take on all kinds of stuff, from their recent South American tour, to a new album being in the works, all sorts of New Jersey Metal stuff and, of course, a few laughs. Outside, the whole thing started off with Ron Paci of Sardonica. It was awesome to hear Ron and Tony reminisce about old times and watch Tony get lots of hugs from friends and fans.
Ron Paci (Sardonica): Holy crap man...

Tony Portaro (Whiplash): That was fun.

Ron Paci (Sardonica): So good to see you guys. Once in a lifetime show right there bro.

Tony Portaro: Thanks.

Ron Paci (Sardonica): That was beautiful.

CT: Is this the first time you saw them?

Ron Paci (Sardonica): No! No! I've known them since I was fucking sixteen!

CT: Awesome.

Ron Paci (Sardonica): I've seen Tony play all his life... We both played in a studio called Iron City right across the street from the Capitol Theater in Passaic when we were young. Whiplash had the fucking room here, we had the room here. Remember?

Tony Portaro: Yeah.

Ron Paci (Sardonica): That was fucking unbelievable.

Tony Portaro: A lot of people came through that studio. Yeah... even when they uhh... Gary Holt from Exodus popped in at a rehearsal.

Ron Paci (Sardonica): Exodus! Yeah he was the... bro remember!? Gary Holt from Exodus came over... He wanted to buy my guitar. I had that Randy Rhodes Jackson... it was like O311... yep Gary Holt... there were a lot of people.

CT: Anyway... everyone pretty much knows the history of Whiplash from New Jersey so... quick history for people that don't.

Tony Portaro: Ok. Well we got back together in 1984. It was Tony Scaglione and I, who met through the local radio station WSOU. That's William Paterson College (Actually Seton Hall - CTP) radio station and we were in two separate bands... he was in Jackhammer and I was in Whip... ahh... I was in Toxin... We were introduced by Gene Cory (sp?), the Metal Maniac DJ at the time. I went to Tony's rehearsal with his band Jackhammer and they didn't have anyone singing so I decided to grab the microphone even though I never sang before and... uh... two weeks later they gave me a call and said "look we want you to sing in our band." So I said, "Alright, I'll do both bands." So that... lasted a little while and then I decided - Tony and I both decided - to form a new band and just clean house and Tony and I ended up getting Tony Bono on bass so it's the three Tonys. And then we recorded the first album, Power and Pain, before we even did one live show and our first live show was in '85 in San Franscisco at Ruthies Inn where Metallica used to hang out all the time and they were there and Exodus was there in the crowd. We headlined and Possessed played with us and Death Angel and they - Possessed - let us use their whole backline so it was really cool. It was great to be a part of the scene in San Franscisco Bay Area when it just started.

CT: You're part of the Bay Area thrash scene without actually being from the Bay Area 'cause you're all from Jersey... (Tony says goodbye to some friends)... Everybody knows you because... Jersey guy right?

Tony Portaro: Yeah... I actually grew up in this town, Clifton, went to highschool here and then moved out for a... tchh... probably ten years or more and just recently ended up moving back so... it's great to be back in the scene with Dingo's and Dingbatz and, you know, it's probably the best sound system in North Jersey. You know? We love the place. We live here. We're here like twice a week so...

CT: It's a really powerfull sound. Like for a club, it hits you in the chest. It's good.

Tony Portaro: And the soundman, I mean, he knows that room inside out and not only that room he's just really good all around and we brought him to South America with us for this last tour last week.

CT: How many shows did you do in South America? Because you've played a couple... a bunch of shows this year down there.

Tony Portaro: We did five on this trip. We did two in La Paz and Cochibamba Bolivia then we flew down south to Buenos Aires , Argentina and back north to... ah... Arequipa and Lima, Peru. Five shows. Nine flights in ten days. So it's a lot of travelling.

CT: Flights are probably long too because there's a lot of space between everything.

Tony Portaro: A lot of them were. Definitely... Once in a while we got an hour and a half flight when we were in the same country but... but it is like an eight hour car ride or bus ride. You know? If you try to do that it would just be...

CT: Unbelievable...

Tony Portaro: Yeah... It'd be rough.

CT: So comparing, after having played down there five times in this past year and then you come back into... stateside... show wise... is there... there's an unbelievable difference between the amount of fans...

Tony Portaro: There is. Yeah. You know, you go down there and your music is like on mainstream radio. You know? So... it's much more popular and it just seems like there's a lot more respect and... they just love the music and appreciate... respect is probably not the word... it's more like appreciation. They just really appreciate the Heavy Metal and Thrash stuff and everyone comes out to the show and they just go bezerk. Like in Chile I didnt... we left the stage and - at the end of the show - and we're walking - the crowd had emptied out - and we were walking through the venue and I look down and I'm like "what is that?" I'm asking the promoter and we look down and there's clumps of hair all over the place and - all over! - and they just, in the moshpit, rip each other's hair out, they go so crazy... I've got pictures of it on my cell phone.

CT: That's nuts!

Tony Portaro: It's incredible.

CT: So... you're on stage tonight... you played a slightly shorter set from what I've seen you play recently - you seemed to cut stuff out - you basically played a lot more older heavier stuff. Usually you play some clean guitar stuff and some things like that so... how do you decide what songs you're going to play?

Tony Portaro: Well this time... Dingbatz is always good to us. You know? And they let us pick the bands that we want to open for us so it's all up to us and we had taken the next to last slot because that's really like a prime slot but we got a lot of our friends bands on like Sardonica... Mindswitch... Pyramada... not just because they're friends. They're talented bands too you know? We wouldn't just pick anybody off the street or anyone that was just our friend. These are talented musicians and uh... that was a big part of it but... you know we don't want to... eat up all the time and take it away from these guys too. You know? And being that Pyramada was on last we wanted to squeeze our shit... set short so the place wasn't empty and they only got twenty minutes left to play before the place closes. You know we're pretty cool like that. We're not going to dick you around and play an hour and a half set and leave you with nothing at the end. And the guys in Sardonica will tell you. I promised the gig about a year ago...

Ron Paci (Sardonica): Yeaaaah, we talked about it a year ago

Tony Portaro: ...when I couldn't get you on... we had a full bill last year and Sal asked me to get on and we couldn't do it but I said I promise you the next time we play at DIngbatz I'll put you on the bill and I didn't forget it and...

Ron Paci (Sardonica): He kept his promise man.

Tony Portaro: Yep.

Ron Paci (Sardonica): Had an awesome night. 'Been great.

Tony Portaro: Was cool.

CT: I saw you were wearing an Old Bridge Metal Milita t-shirt on stage... I'm from Old Bridge...

Tony Portaro: Ahh nice!

CT: looking back because you've been in the scene forever. What's your connection with Old Bridge Metal Militia if it's more of a direct personal thing or is it just an homage to being from New Jersey? I know a lot of people are... support Old Bridge Metal Militia just be... not so much because of the history of the group but more because they are a New Jersey based metal group.

Tony Portaro: Well you know... like... going back to the question you asked before when I said how popular metal was outside the United States... our strongest markets are in Europe and South America, but here in the states, you know, it's... we really appreciate the people that are keeping metal alive and Old Bridge Metal Militia has been doing that since the early 80's so... It's an honor for me to wear their brand on my chest and... I walked out the house today saying... my girlfriend was like "what shirt are you going to wear tonight on stage?" and I said I'm going to wear my Old Bridge Metal Militia shirt! You know, so she's like "Cool!" haha... So I know Frank White was here and he's from Old Bridge too, he's been taking... photographer that's in the scene since those days too - early 80's... and uh... and uh... that was really cool to see him too and we actually arranged a photoshoot for Sunday with him so that's gonna be pretty cool... but he did take a lot of pictures he told me of me on stage with my Old Bridge shirt so hopefully... and one of the guys was here tonight so that was pretty cool so he's gonna go back and tell Chris (Chris Homeny, current man behind OBMM - CT) and it should be pretty cool.

CT: Quickly, because you have a pretty decent cataloge of releases, I would say your most popular releases are the first two... Power and Pain and... looking back at those two releases... when you look back at them now... do you think those releases have left a, you know, somewhat of a legacy across your stuff after that you kind of feel you have to live up to them or... I know you're the kind of guy that you just do what you want (last year Whiplash played several totally clean songs when they opened for Morbid Saint - CT)...

Tony Portaro: You're right... I did for many years just keep doing what I wanted to do but those were the two most popular albums and... uh... I'm trying to give the people what they want to hear now. That's why we're back to a three peice and I'm back to singing again, you know. They really wanted me to sing so that's why I'm doing it...

Female Friend: Good night guys - I'm so sorry (to me for interrupting - CT) - Tony you were awesome...

CT: No problem!

Tony Portaro: Thank you.

Female Friend: I always leave with a memory from your show. First it was the fractured nose and black eye... tonight I have a noggin.

Tony Portaro: Oh no! Haha.

Female Friend: Yeah it was a beer bottle tonight.

Tony Portaro: Oh man...

CT: You put out an album in 2009 (Unborn Again) - a newer album - look at that compared to your older stuff... what about writing and making that. Did you put some stuff on that that you thought was more towards trying to... throwback to the older stuff that people really liked without... you're not compromising anything... it's your style.

Tony Portaro: Yeah. We did try to get back to it. I don't know if we reached as far as I really wanted to. You know. Hopefully as we move forward... we have the new music we're working on now that is a collection of songs that's going to be called Old School American Way. And I hope it gets even closer back to the Power and Pain and Ticket to Mayhem style but uh... and its... we're recording like, we started yesterday doing drum tracks and we're going back in again Friday and Saturday so I hope it pans out like that but if... and you've seen the show today, we did a lot of those older songs because the fans want to see them and because we kept the set down to like forty-five minutes or an hour we left out the mellower... picking stuff because we wanted to give a nice swift punch to the face kind of feel, you know. And when you have a short set like that we really didn't want to break it up although we could have used a couple of those songs to catch our breath cause when you do those fast ones one after the other it takes so much out of you.

CT: You went to Berklee...

Tony Portaro: Yeah...

CT: ...College of Music. Not a lot of thrash metal guitarists from that time had any real proper training I guess you could say. Did you feel that... Do you think that had an impact on the way that you wrote your stuff? Or uh... I mean, your riffs are kind of atypical on those albums compared to a lot of stuff at the time.

Tony Portaro: Yeah... That's a great question and you're definitely right. I'm a firm believe that everyone should really know theory. You know. And I noticed that a lot of people that don't know theory, everytime they write a song it sounds just like one of the other songs they wrote and that all their songs end up sounding the same but if you know theory and you can read music then you can see the music and then when you're writing you can see... like... "Oh, what if I try this instead," and you can imagine the notes on the paper and the graph and just try stuff that most people probably wouldn't even think of. But when you can see the music and you know theory it just gives you so much of an advantage to do a wider range of stuff. I'm really a strong believer that everyone should know what they're doing. You know.

CT: Do you have any plans to say, transcribe your entire... your stuff... like put out a tablature book or a music book?

Tony Portaro: I don't think I have the time to do it but... uh... it would be nice but I do occasionally record some tutorials on like... and show people how to play some of the stuff because alot of people play Power Thrashing Death the wrong way so that inspired me to start doing tutorials and teach them out to do it right. Cause some bands have recorded that song... on albums! Doing covers of it...

CT: It's all wrong?

Tony Portaro: Yeah. Haha. Not playing it right.

CT: Would you ever give guitar lessons?

Tony Portaro: I used to... years ago... but again, I don't think I have the time to do it now.

CT: So. Talk about some of the lyrical stuff on the albums. A lot of... you know you got some pretty typical like bludgeoning, you know, thrash numbers and stuff but then there's also some hidden stuff in there anecdotally with some of the songs like Killing on Monroe Street...

Tony Portaro: Well that song... I was on the way to rehearsal studio in Passaic and... back in the early days... and I seen this black dude running down the road and then all of a sudden this mob of people are chasing him... like twenty or thirty people are chasing after the guy. So uh... and it was on Monroe Street in Passaic so that's where I came up when I came up with the title "Killing on Monroe Steet," and we ended up writing that song. Yeah I have some old titles in the early days like Spit On Your Grave and stuff like that but then it twisted around to Respect the Dead so... we took like every angle and worked with it.

CT: What's your favorite song to sing... Lyrically?

Tony Portaro: To sing... ahh...

CT: The most fun to scream into the microphone.

Tony Portaro: Well I don't know if I really have one that I like to sing the most but umm... to sing and play... a real challenging song is "This," from the Thrashback album. And uh... because it's so challenging it's so much fun, you know, when you nail it live and I love the lead in that song too so... and I think it went over great tonight too... we pulled it off without a doubt. So...

Leather Jacket Dude: Hey! Great show man!

Leather Jacket's Friend: Great show, Tony.

Tony Portaro: Thanks a lot!

Leather Jacket Dude: Are you related to a Matt Luongo?

Tony Portaro: ...Yeah...

Leather Jacket Dude: You are!?

Leather Jacket's Friend: I used to drink beer with him in high school once in a while.

Tony Portaro: Ohhh. Haha. Cool... Alright.

CT: So... ah... You said you're going back into the studio. So... uh... What's the future I guess? What are you planning on doing next with Whiplash? Is there gonna be... I guess there's gonna be another album... Do you have any idea when? What's the timetable for that?

Tony Portaro: Yeah... Old School American Way. We're recording... we have about nine new songs but right now we're only gonna put five or maybe six on it and we're re-recording like five of the songs from the first two albums with the new lineup that I have. So umm... that's going to add up to about ten songs there and we include a couple live tracks from tonight cause we recorded multitrack... so

CT: Oh cool.

Tony Portaro: It's possible that if we see something or hear something that we really like from tonight we might throw that as a bonus track or something on there.

CT: One... I guess that last question... off topic... completely... what's the strangest comment you've ever gotten... about your facial hair.

Tony Portaro: Hahaha. Ohhhh... That's a tough one. Haha I'm not sure... I didn't know where you were going with that. One of my favorite comments though aside from the hair is Frank Blackfire... from Sodom... he always loved my guitar sound and the way I played and in his German accent he would always say, "So clean yet so heavy," which I thought was so cool, you know. Because I don't play with very much distortion... I like that attack... you know... so I use like an overdrive... but I don't know on the facial hair! I guess it's only been like the last two or three years that I really grew a bear this long so I probably didn't get too many comments up until now.

CT: Well I guess that's pretty much it. I'll let you go back inside because I know you got a lot of friends here and stuff and I'll let you get back to them but, thanks for taking the time.

Tony Portaro: Thanks! Thanks a lot

CT: Looking forward to seeing you again.

Tony Portaro: Some really good questions too. I appreciate that.

CT: I try and make things interesting. I don't want to, you know, get these redundant questions, you know.

Tony Portaro: That's cool.

CT: I know that's boring for you guys.

Tony Portaro: No, that's awesome. I really appreciate it. Thanks for supporting Metal!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

CTP 007 - I: Master Fury - Circles Of Hell

Contaminated Tones is extremely proud to announce it's first Pro CD release, Master Fury - Circles of Hell. This compendium of Master Fury's long since sold out, and rare first and second albums is the first time this material will be available on CD. Born in the 1970's in Trenton, New Jersey, Master Fury existed in some form for over a decade before finally putting out their first album, Hell Party (1988), a Speed Metal hammer to the skull and Circles of Hate (1989), the refinement of crushed body bits and uncontrollable aggression. 

Both albums have gotten some much needed auditory updating and are ready to work their way into the cranium and tear the skull apart from the inside out. Currently accepting pre-orders for this album and those interested in distributing this release should get in touch pretty quickly. The planned release date is mid-December for this.

Order: $10.00

Email to order:

No trades on this release. 


12/31/2013 Aristocrazia Zine

After having talked about Black Chalice and Lamentations Of The Ashen in recent weeks, let's keep on examining the releases of Contaminated Tones Productions: the label is this time engaged in a search that delved into the archives of metallic history in order to recover some twenty-five years old material. The object of this operation is Master Fury, U.S. trio formed in the late seventies which released two albums between 1988 and 1989 and split up shortly after. The covered release, "Circles Of Hell", encloses all the music contained in their two albums, "Hell Party" and "Circles Of Hate".

When the compilation begins with the songs taken from "Hell Party", the roots of the Master Fury's music becomes immediately obvious: songs like "Crash", "All Men Are Blind" and "Riot" exhibit the rawness of early Venom and the fury of early Sodom, as well as the refined delicacy in songwriting that was always present in this kind of releases. Classic Thrash-Speed hits our ears while we are listen to "Semper Furious", "Flat Against The Wall" and "Road Hog": the music is aggressive, rude, dirty, fast and recalls the early Exodus, Razor and Whiplash. These words can complete a simple and effective description of what was contained in "Hell Party".

The songs are short, immediate and without space nor time for any kind of nicety, or technicality: some solos without frills, some occasional hint of eighties-derivated melodies ("Time Is Right") and then again thrashing, rough riffs with the sole purpose of being as loud as possible.

Despite only a year passed between the two releases, we can immediately perceives a leap forward when the opening song of "Circles Of Hate" ("Die In You Sleep") begins: the genre references remains the same, but the production is cleaner and the compositions are more mature and varied. The performance is aligned to the classic Thrash of the middle eighties, and in songs like "Lies", "Circus Of Hate", "Corporate War" and "Life's A Bitch" you will easily recognize influences from Metallica, Slayer, Testament, Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, and so on.

The average running time of each song becomes more consistent, the compositional schemes are more elaborated and aware (thanks to the good effect of a less raw recording), and occasionally some dark mid-tempo also come out: all this makes the material more intriguing than the simple blind and bestial fury of "Hell Party".

Thrash fanatics, collectors and metal archaeologists: go on and recover this age-old piece of music (now limited to three hundred copies) that had remained buried in the bowels of the eighties. To close my review, I think the better words are the ones written on the back of the "Hell Party" tape's artwork: if not completely satisfied with the contents of this product, go jump off a bridge and die!

09/20/2013 Pure Grain Audio

You have to love labels like Contaminated Tones Productions because without them a lot of cool stuff would fall to the wayside and never be released. As of late the label has been slowly but steadily putting out some of the more interesting things in the underground and this release is no exception.

Master Fury is a New Jersey-based thrash metal band that released a couple of albums, split up, and recently reunited. That said, this new release, Circles of Hell, is a compilation of their two previous albums, Hell Party and Circles of Hate, that were released in 88 and 89 respectively.

The band are extremely tight sound-wise with a non-stop, full speed thrash attack. Think Slayer, Overkill, and even early Megadeth and you'll have an idea of what to expect. The band never let up and the record is a fantastic listen for anyone who's a fan of 80s-era thrash. The only thing that may be off-putting for some is that production-wise Circles of Hell is quite rough. Most fans of early thrash, however, should be fine with it as most early recordings we love have similar a production value.

Overall this release is a solid, yet raw compilation of two albums by a band who never got the recognition they deserve. Thrash fans owe it to themselves to seek this one out before it goes out of print... because it's a good listen!

09/08/2013 Goul's Crypt

When you say thrash metal most people think 1980's USA. There are the essential giants like Slayer, Overkill, Testament and Metallica, and the hidden and forgotten gems like Holocross, Heretic, Powerlord and Master Fury. Formed in 1986 they only ever released 2 albums, the rough Hell Party album from 1988 and the barbarous Circles of Hate album from 1989. They went on hold for an unknown number of years and then had a brief reunion in 2010, but it wasn't before 2013 we would see another Master Fury release, the two albums compiled on Circles of Hell by Contaminated Tones Productions.

Master Fury has a very abrasive sound. Their approach to thrash metal is on the chaotic side of things and more focussed on speed and coarseness than anything else, making them probably one of the fastest bands at the time. Through the metallic din of Master Fury's aggressive guitars the amazingly precise riffs shine. Where Hell Party thrives on a coarse, simplistic thrash recipe building up to and colliding in the final mosh-inducing track "Riot" the second half of the compilation, the Circles of Hate album, takes a more technical and commonplace approach to the genre. The early material is distinguished by the near constant speed with which it is furiously provided. On Circles of Hate Master Fury were progressing as songwriters and were more comfortable with slowing down once in a while in order to build up momentum for a particularly epic solo or building atmosphere.

The band seems to have always favoured a trio-lineup consisting of the guitars and vocals of Digg Rouze and various bassists and drummers. As mentioned above Master Fury evolved as a band even if their was only 1 year between the 25-minute Hell Party and the slightly longer Circles of Hate. On tracks like Corporate War and Life's a Bitch they give way for their crossover tendencies fuelled by ferocious d-beats and gang-shouts, a style that wasn't at all present of Hell Party. I could imagine a song like Road Hog off of Hell Party being an early example of the Motörhead/Venom-inspired punky speed metal that has recently made a comeback, and there are more examples of songs that fit the bill as really good metal songs, but with the production being so muddy and deranged it's hard to make out anything other than a few riffs here and there, making the tracks hard to tell apart.

Master Fury already perfectly sum up their material with their name. Furious, fast as fuck thrash. The extremity of the albums put Master Fury somewhere in the grey area between thrash and death metal that had a couple of years prior been completely dominated by bands like Death and Possessed. Master Fury may not be the authors of the most original or memorable kind of thrash metal, but if you feel like getting your skull pounded by uncompromising riffs, powerful drumming and screaming vocals The Circles of Hell compilation is as good a way get your needs fulfilled as any. The combination of the two tracks celebrate an above-average band, though their material never quite achieves true classic or gem status. 7/10 guitars.

08/30/2013 Metal Core Zine - Interview

Master Fury Interview: "When I found out and got a copy of the Master Fury of the re-release of this band’s 2 releases, which were never on cd I had the label put me touch with singer Donald Rouze and kick back and enjoy the interview."

07/17/2013 Metal Core Zine

MASTER FURY/Circles Of Hell (Contaminated Productions) Holy shit this totally crushes and destroy. This is a re-release of this thrash metal band’s 2 releases way back when…think the 80’s ha ha. This is just prime time thrash metal at its finest. Just raw unholy thrash metal that still sounds fresh after all these years and Jon you put one hell of a release and you got 2 albums on one disc which is extra cool. This band if from NJ home of such killer 80’s thrash bands like Hades, Whiplash, Bloodfeast, Blessed Death and you add this band to that list. Just a pure thrash metal masterpiece.

05/30/2013 Burning Salts Zine

Are you like me? Are you addicted to speed? It can be a real problem getting that fix especially that fix that satisfied the need for speed. Yeah I'm talking about that drug – that is if that drug is metal played fast, loud and obviously heavy. Master Fury from New Jersey by way of Wisconsin feed that need for speed. Contaminated Tones offers up the bands discography on one CD with all thanks and applause going to the label because I seriously doubt there's much of a chance at snagging an original of one of the two albums present here Hell  party or Circles of Hate.

Really there are no complaints here other than why had I not heard of this band before. The tinny production does get matched by some of the bands grooves – if you play these songs loud enough the bass shines through and that tin-thin sound wears away into violence fury and masterful speed metal. Hell Party is a dirtier record and offers the dirty portion of this compilation album. The lead guitar a lot of the time on the Hell Party tracks likes to shred off sometimes seemingly out of place but it's all in the insanity to give the songs the fury and mayhem they already have but it just makes it that much more in your face.

The late 80s were not the greatest haven for thrash metal let alone most metal. Many thrashers of note were experimenting Metallica were creating ten minute long songs. Slayer was not at top form, Testament was adding some slower more contemplative thrash. Exodus arguably were doing Pleasures of the Flesh and Fabulous Disaster which are again arguably good records. Death Angel failed miserably after The Ultra Violence. So point being thrash was struggling after really only a brief period. Sadly bands like this that produced some good good shit went unknown because the record labels supporting thrash were already jumping ship.

The other portion of this compilation Circles of Hate has a pretty appropriate title. While jamming the album I kept thinking this would make for a bad ass circle pit live. The cuts are still fast but a bit more chunky and groove oriented kind of familiar like a bastardization of the prowess of Testament's New Order and the smash smash gallop of SOD. Now in the 2013's and recent years we have the ole retrothrash where bands that sound pretty much exactly like Master Fury are making records that just sound more produced. Forget that if you want to be retro, don't studio produce the hell out of your thrash records.

I'll give warning though, spinning all 16 cuts of this record is taxing on your head it can induce some dizziness or just the need to thrash and mosh so make sure your listening area is secured appropriately. I can't gripe too much and say oh man – those were the days considering I wasn't even a teen in the late 80s but I go back to the gripes I was making bands like this just never had much of a chance sadly. But thankfully we have fine folks to resurrect the releases and have cool cover art make the music easier to access. I've found a lot of good records through this ethic – a good example would be the somewhat recent reissue of that pre-Master band called Death Strike and a hunk of their material – that was some grade A speed, just like this. Thrash, hail kill. - B.W.

05/07/2013 From The Dust Returned

Reason #116 that small/independent label compilations of underground bands are infinitely superior than larger label collections/anthologies of 'made' bands: because they actually give a shit. And because THEY give a shit, YOU'LL give a shit. Generally when I receive discs like Circles of Hell, be they reissued discographies or demo/rarity gatherings, I make a beeline for the liner notes to read up on the band's history, and in this case, was treated to a great anecdote of the Contaminated Tones label owner, who originally encountered a Master Fury cassette in an old, dusty shoebox and fell in love with it; inevitably inspiring him to get in touch with the former New Jersey trio and discuss a re-release of both their albums. How do you not smile at that? As someone who, when old enough to finally drive, used to head out with friends to comb the used record shops in Boston with his paper route money for whatever metal and hardcore obscurities he could find, how do I not choke up on nostalgia?

Now, granted, none of that rummaging turned up any Master Fury material for me to enjoy, so I'll admit that, apart from seeing the band's name in a list or two, or possibly hearing a video on YouTube in recent years when I was researching deep underground thrash for any unknown gems I might add to my lists, I had no substantial exposure to this ex-Jersey trio. But I'm glad that has changed, because both of their albums are every bit as energetic, earnest, entertaining, and innocent as you'd expect of a hopeful speed/thrash outfit in a time when the stuff was exploding in the mid to late 80s. Okay, perhaps 'innocent' is a bad adjective for something so innocent and face-shredding as Master Fury's songwriting, but there's a peculiar, particular response I've always had to metal like this. Fast, relentless guitars playing with an intensity that made them seem like they were racing against the studio engineer's work shift before the power went out for the night; frenetic lead bursts being thrown to the wind; rampant, angry drumming with spurts of proto-extreme metal technique; and maniacal, over the top vocal charisma. Yes, that same reaction I had to Kill 'Em All or Show No Mercy when I were but a fingerling. Or Sentence of Death. Bonded by Blood. Reign in Blood. Metal Inquistion. Pleasure to Kill. Finished With the Dogs; hell, even Witchery's "The Reaper" much later.

Say what you will about the budget production values, or the lack of total innovation here: Master Fury manifests that same ardent spades, at least a dozen times across these two collected works. Thus it would be impossible for someone of my background to not begin thrashing around like a gremlin dunked in a public swimming pool after midnight. Circles of Hell definitely draws some comparisons to Whiplash, another Jersey trio, who performed with a similar brake-for-nothing abandon, interspersed with fits of flashy musicality that seemed to hint at 'contender' status against the West Coast and German scenes in dominance by the end of the 80s. But really, apart from their similar love of acceleration and uncouth, rabid vocals, the two groups do not entirely overlap. Master Fury definitely has a lighter sense of humor at times, even unintentionally, like the bridge of "Time is Right" where Queen-like anthem leads tear out over a volley of hyper punk rhythm guitars, or "Riot", which starts out with a speed metal spy aesthetic reminiscent of Wrathchild America, but trust me: they're still extremely aggressive.

Hell Party (1988). Definitely the rougher of the two recordings, possibly due to the transfer, I read that this had some limited involvement from Rich Harter (of Harter Attack, another lost Jersey thrash act). This shit hits like a barrage of old Metallica meets Whiplash/Nuclear Assault, with meticulous rhythm guitars that are often adorned with the frivolous leads I mentioned above. The boxcutter guitar rhythm tone is by far the most powerful element, but the bass and drums pop through, and the vocals, which feel like an ungodly East Coast alternative to the late Keith Deen (Holy Terror), retch and bark like a crate of salacious imps just imported from some preschool in Hell. In what might be seen as an 80s thrash tradition (at least in some circles), this album opens with an instrumental, which to be honest would have been even better with vocals, but quickly sets the pace for most of the material here. And that might be one of my only real issues, that you don't get a great deal of variation in the songwriting. They blaze, and blaze some more, with only a few points like "Riot" where it mildly changed up. On the other hand, the songs are concise and engaging, you never really get bored, only exhausted, and ultimately the speed metal excess here is pure spectacle.

Circles of Hate (1989). The more mature, gestated of the pair. While I won't say that I enjoyed it more than its predecessor, I appreciate that they varied up the material, with slower riffs churning off against the inevitable blitzkriegs of dexterity. I felt that the lead harmonies in tunes like "Die In Your Sleep" and "Son of Man" were catchier and better plotted than the first record. The vocals are still quite nasty, but at times he has dialed down the feral edge so that you can better understand what he's saying. The riff selection is more surgical, but I do have to admit, ironically, now that they've got a few slower progressions in there, I found those to be among the least interesting on both the albums (with the exception of "The Way", which had a great, airy, eerie breakdown melody comparable to something like Excel). At any rate, Circles of Hate clearly was a step ahead in terms of ambition and refinement, which made sense at a time when a lot of similar bands were also coming into their own. The musicianship is better, the lyrics and themes just as relevant as anyone else out there, and its the sort of record, that, had there been less saturation of the style by the end of the 80s, might have made some greater waves in the underground press.

Alas, Master Fury did not prove to be the next Megadeth- or Testament-in-waiting, but in today's climate of rethrash hysteria and the genuine nostalgia and reconnection of the 30 and 40-something audience, I think there's a great chance more people would appreciate the band. Militant aggression (partly due to Digg Rouze's stint in the service prior to the albums), street savvy, striking musicianship, and an utter lack of compromise; just as radioactive as anything else to emerge from the Garden State. Fans of Whiplash, Holy Terror, (early) Kreator, Sadus, Dark Angel, Razor, Zoetrope, Tankard and Sodom are genetically wired to enjoy efforts like these, so I would not hesitate for a moment to recommend checking out the collection. The production is hardly cutting edge, and perhaps the riffs and choruses weren't half so memorable as many of the other acts coming out in that Golden Age of the genre, but regardless they feel crisp, fresh, timeless, and authentic, which is more than I can say for a lot of the retro peddlers. Circles of Hell is a great value, getting it all in one place like this, because there's not much of a chance the rest of us will be finding it in a shoebox of tapes at the local Salvation's Army...though you never know what the hell else is out there. Start digging. And let me know what you find.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Israthoum - Black Poison And Shared Wounds

Israthoum's "Black Poison and Shared Wounds" is a pretty killer record from the start. The band reminds me of a more aggressive Primordial, or a less militant Marduk or something in the middle of those. The songs are not overly long which, for me, is very refreshing from all the more recent black metal albums that have passed my desk having songs almost all over the five minute bar and are more commonly around six or seven minute marathons. Here, the longest track grazes the five and a half minute mark and four minute tracks are in greater supply. I appreciate the band's more traditional approach of average length tracks as opposed to longer, more involved pieces which take more listens to appreciate and are more absorbable on first listen while leaving some lengthier tracks for later consumption. Maybe I have a hint of ADD or something, I don't know, but I feel as if Israthoum have crafted the songs to carry the immediacy of their message, and are more concerned with that than playing into the black metal typicality of a lot of bands these days. I'm sure a band that's been around since 1991 or 1992 like Israthoum has no interest in following trends and molds.

Israthoum, across the album, present some extremely memorable tracks such as "The Unravelling Traveller", "The Presence, The Baying" and "Procession of Demented." Here they excel at combining haunting, image evoking melodies and aggressive rhythmic primitiveness. It is no surprise that two of these appear as samplers for prospective buyers. At the same time, there are some tracks which don't exactly wow such as Devil Bacchus and Burning the Sephiroth, the latter of which drags slightly through what could be some memorable parts if expanded and the former, a track very much built to be a "standout" track as evidenced by it's placement, Arvath's choice of percussion variety and the inclusion of well placed breaks. Longest track, "A Birthmark of Unexistence" is very good until the final forty seconds. No real need for the riff plugged in at the end there. The album ends strong with "Procession of Demented" and "Eradication Psalm," two of the stronger tracks. Procession of Demented which borrows from Watain in some respects is a clear high point of the album and "Eradication Psalm" may have been inspired by Akercocke's Chronzon or "Shelter From The Sand" off Words That Go Unspoken; this has some of the more interesting arrangements on the album, even if it ends haphazardly to finish off the release.

Highlighting the album is the obvious focal point the vocals. Not only are they very noticeable on the album and given plenty of room in the mix, but they separate Israthoum from many other black metal projects in my eyes. They are not the high pitched screeches or hissing snake tongue vocals. Instead bellowing and urgent commands are hurled at the listener with a confidence only the insane could deliver. Often times, vocals can be an afterthought or a non-issue with black metal but this is an example of a slightly different approach, perhaps a more 'pop' approach in terms of mixing, in that the vocals are such a highlighted instrument. In this case where, as Arvath has said in interviews that the band's message needs to be "expelled and injected into
the world,"(1) the prominence of the vocals and lyrics makes the album seem more afflatus than your everyday black metal album's themes.

Like a lot of the material coming from Daemon Worship Productions, this is no less polished, with excellent overall presentation that would appeal to practically anyone interested in black metal while at the same time retaining enough of the grit to win over more veteran listeners yearning for something with more underground persona. The artwork is very vivid, lively and interesting and fits well with the music presented which is sharp and defined. Being an online promotional copy, I can't speak to some of the finer points of the production but I expect it would be very much of the quality elsewhere on "Black Poison and Shared Wounds."

(1):  Forbidden Magazine interview 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Drudkh - Blood In Our Wells

From 2007...

I am taking the time out of writing a paper for honors history to instead focus on a more pressing matter - explaining the shear incredibleness of this newest Drudkh album. It is appalling how this band is incapable of making anything less than legendary. It is almost as if, God created Mr. Saenko for the explicit purpose of making bands that creat music that is so good that no one is allowed to not hear it. Sadly, few do hear it, but those who have the opportunity to hear albums like Forgotten Legends, Autumn Aurora, The Swan Road, and now, the most recent album, Blood In Our Wells, are able to experience a journey into the depths of music unlike any other. Not only do these albums portray the earthiness which is so desired by many who enjoy listening to black metal, but its not all blasting like many of the scandinavian bands. This album, rather, this masterpeice is as far as i'm concerned, the best black metal album that i can think of. Epic, enchanting, cold attitude with warm, yet raw production, and melodies which James Taylor could be proud of, it creates a feeling of sheer bliss to be anywhere within audible range of it. Aliens come to Earth for the sole reason that, like us, they too NEED music this good on their planet.

The songwriting is superb on this album. Before this album, I thought that False Dawn was the best black metal song I had ever heard however, with When The Flames Turn To Ashes, all illusions are shattered as far as that is concerned. Each song flows, like Ukranian rivers. The production is, as I said, fantastic. Everything is audible, and clear yet the production has its rough spots. Musicianship is ridiculous and perfect. The drumming of Yuri is precise and groovy. When you play this album, the trees tilt toward you, the beasts hide just a little closer, and life as you know it stops until, once your finished, fifty minutes have passed.

One thing which I will comment on is that, as on The Swan Road, there is an increased usage of Ukrainian Folk music on this album. However, this aspect is used, in my opinion, much better than on Drudkh's last album. It is incorporated better. And, if you play the two albums back to back, the ending of Swan Road, Song of Sich Destruction flows wonderfully into Nav, the first track on Blood In Our Wells.

A Couple of standout parts to mention are aside from everything.. The first true guitar solo on a Drudkh release, which occurs in Furrows of Gods, the second track on Blood in Our Wells (second track is actually the first real track since the First track is a intro taken from the movie Mamaj. Solitude And Eternity are both incredible tracks with short folkish intros and incredible depth. Ukranian Insurgent Army is also an incredible track however the best track is by far When The Flame Turns To Ashes. Eruoting into a blaze then dying out once more only to yet again be stoked and brought back to life, this song is a black metal ode to the power and nature of fire. Two acoustic interludes meander while you can hear the fire being stoked with the sporadic inclusion of subtle yet mind blowingly heavy guitar parts that last for a quater of a second and then are gone only to re-emerge 5 seconds later, all the time making you yearn for the flames which return seeminlgy at a different place every time you listen to the song, as if the song is changing every time you listen to it much like a fire changes every time you watch it. Slowly, the fire subsides leaving ashes in its wake.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Innocence, Arrogance and Elitism

I don't know when I realized what I had learned the other night after Morbid Saint, a band that should crush a small backroom at a bar, had an awful sounding performance and the opening band, Infiltrator, totally destroyed all that came early to show support for what should have been an awesome billing. The opening band even impressed a friend of mine whose ambivalence for modern metal would be written and cited and analogized by Homer if the Greek had been alive to know the guy. The turnout at the show was surprising - roughly half the attendees were about fifteen or sixteen years old and the rest were the usual crowd of band members and their girlfriends. For a bar show in the heart of one of Philadelphia's less pleasant areas, that such youngsters were even allowed out was amazing to see. Highlighting this fact was the altercation at the Chinese take-out restaurant around the block where a few friends and myself ran to fuel up during Casket's set. After a handful of somewhat awkward looking kids left, one of the locals brandished a nightstick, touted his prison credentials and hit on what must have been another local underage girl buying pot stickers; an environment completely safe for youthful upbringing.

I've been dwelling on a particular thought for a while - trying to pinpoint the notoriously elusive concept of "Elitism" and "Elitists" and their place within the global and, more importantly, local metal scene which I've been engaged with for years now. It's been hard to really solidify anything really which, for myself, could properly define either concept. On the internet, I've come to realize, the idea of being an elitist really has no concreteness. It's like looking at clouds at believing you could place a heavy weight on them without worrying about it falling down and crushing your skull back on earth. There are no grounds to stand on when it comes to being an elitist on the internet but we've still made attempts to label particularly diaphanous groups, people and users using equally translucent definitions. In most cases, the "Elite" have come to represent ultra-knowledgeable iconic purveyors of underground metal imagery who take square pegs and turn them into round cylinders so that they will fit into the holes in their own philosophies and, therefore, the acknowledged thoughts of a vast majority of the heavy metal electorate.

How many people are there that believe that only the bands listed on Metal Archives are truly metal bands? How many people are there that are afraid to formulate their own opinions on Metallica's Death Magnetic or Megadeth's Risk because they are afraid of the backlash by those within their circle who hold differing opinions? How many, looking for alternate opinions to those commonly held, have turned to and Ray Spinoza to try and out-maneuver the extremeness of friends so that they may be deemed an original thinker? How many people have we met that are willing to agree just to be deemed acceptable in the eyes of someone else? The list goes on and on and unfortunately, I'm sure that those that want to argue against these concepts are the very same that employ the actions behind them. I think it was later on in the night driving home under a particularly weird fog/low cloud ceiling at three in the morning when a lot of this clicked.

I was thinking back to some of the conversations earlier in the night amongst not only myself and my friends but conversations overheard of others - admittedly one of which I was purposely paying attention to. I was able to break the conversations down ultimately into a relatively few categories. One was the category effectively labelled as "bullshit" conversations as Harry Frankfurt would describe them in his 2005 coffee table reader On Bullshit. These were conversations which were sincere, serious and yet jovial amongst friends. Such as myself talking with the guys behind Stench about excrement, aliens and general personal quandaries about how they were doing, what was going on with their music, etc. The second type of conversation was observational in nature and involved almost always the actions of the younger kids at the show such as a conversation about the patches on their jackets, their frumpiness and blissful ignorance. The last set of conversations were something different entirely. It also was a response to the youngsters at the show but it was not observational but rather confrontational and, for lack of a better term, assholish. I overheard some older guy quizzing one of the younger concert-goers on his tastes, his knowledge and his experiences.

It all started to get put together, piece by piece as I was driving home, once again applying some of the experiences to the larger question I had been stuck on - elitism and it's role. Just to clarify before I go on, everything I am about to say happened exactly as I describe it and I'm particularly interested in whether I piss people off by criticizing their actions but I'm going to use random names anyway. Those that read this and recognize themselves anecdotally can bitch but I'm not pointing fingers or throwing punches and my opinions on those individuals isn't for the better or worse and I'm sure I've made some pretty arrogant statements as well so I'm also not saying that I'm some angelic Metalhead. I'm not touting my own horn - those that know me personally know I am not a person to do that.

There was a moment during the night when I began to take more notice of some of the more minor things I normally wouldn't take note of. Maybe I realized that there was some deeper meaning evolving that night but who knows. Once again it goes back to that Chinese restaurant and while we were waiting for them to make our food behind the bulletproof glass the aforementioned group of youngsters were still in the small waiting area. They were all really young, they couldn't have been older than sixteen years old. They looked like awkward middle-schoolers. Two of the four of them had denim kuttes with a whole mess of patches, all ironed on to my eyes - not that that matters - and with no real order either. One of the other kids was wearing a slayer shirt or something and one just had on some striped shirt and was anorexically skinny. I could have fit his whole body inside a CD-r case and still have room for the booklet.

I was paying attention to their conversation because they were talking about Megadeth. They were totally oblivious to my friends and me. The statement that really caught my ears originally was one of the talking about how Endgame was his favorite Megadeth album and that Symphony of Destruction and Sweating Bullets were such awesome songs. It was one of those things where you listen to see if you heard right because to my knowledge I've never met anyone who had thoughts like that. I also don't have any sixteen year old friends. The conversation continued:

    "I think I've listened to all of Rust In Peace."
    "I really like that song Poison Is The Cure"
    "I've listened to most of it."

It's the kind of conversation which reminded me of how old I was. I haven't had a discussion about Megadeth and my favorite Megadeth songs in at least seven years. I've had discussions on more subtle issues in regards to Megadeth such as Dave's refusal to play The Conjuring and his new found religious beliefs, the contemplation that maybe Endgame is a throwback to Rust and Peace because Dave's out of ideas and that the remaster of So Far... So Good... So What! Is better than the original pressing. These little kids made me feel like an elderly man in a wheel chair with a breathing tube wearing diapers and crapping myself. Out of curiosity I cut in, "I think Risk is an underrated album. Same with Youthanasia." The swarm began:

    "Yeah! I like Risk!"
    "Youthanasia? Which one is that?"
    "Risk is probably their best album."

It was a strange development. To their conversation because they all basically outright agreed with me about an album which the vast majority of humankind loathes and hates with the same force and passion as albums like St. Anger or Dance of Death. One of my friends joined in with something to the effect of "Fucking Cryptic Writings man!," - an attempt to foster more laughs for us at them. I found it amusing as well, even if my original comment on Risk wasn't meant to be a condemnation or "troll." While we waited for the food, one of the kids came up to me and asked me specifically about one of my patches:

    "Where did you get that Morgoth patch? I've never seen that patch before!" He was hunched over looking at the patch like a doctor would examine a skin deformity.
    I told the truth, "I bought it in Germany."
    He backed off, staring with an amazed look, probably the same look he'll have when he sees tits for the first time. "Germany!? You went to Germany?"
    "I played Keep it True 7 with one of my past bands. I bought it from a vendor there. It's an official patch from around the time Odium was released."
    He wasn't even interested in the patch anymore. "You played Keep it True!?" All his friends by this time were equally as awed.
    "Yeah. Back in 2007."
    "What was your band called?"
    "At the time I was in a band called Arctic Flame."
    The kid thought for a moment. "I think I heard of that band."

My friends chimed in jest with their usual comments about how the band was awful, that the songs I had written for the band were crap etc. Some back story since I generally don't use Contaminated Tones as a journal or anything and I really don't give out chunks of my own personal feelings I'll clear up some stuff. I played in Arctic Flame from about 2007 until 2011 when I left after the recording of Guardians of the Flame but before the release. I had known during the writing sessions for the band that I would leave after the album was finished since I was unhappy with most of the material on the album. I had hoped that the band would move more in a direction towards something like Omen or Jag Panzer but it was obvious that wouldn't happen. I had other priorities at the time as well - school, finding a job, internships and such - which did factor in heavily but I was dissatisfied with the rotating list of members, the lack of focus and attention to detail in the recordings... But even with all that, I did enjoy my time with Arctic Flame. I still am friends with all the members and I wouldn't want that to change since they are all great guys. I'm really looking forward to their January show with Attacker who is now fronted by a good friend of mine - Bobby Lucas. I had a lot of great experiences with the band and although I do know that the band is considered somewhat comedically by many, I know that the band did not look at it's existence that way and I didn't look at my involvement that way. I'm not ashamed of my involvement with the band at all and with the exception of one track I really liked my material on both albums. Anyway...

Fact of the matter is that there is very little chance that kid had ever heard of the band since Arctic Flame hasn't played a whole lot of shows locally recently and they've been preoccupied writing another album. Ultimately later on, during a totally separate conversation I reflected on the whole idea of image. These kids had at least thirty to forty patches on their jackets. My jacket has five patches and all five of them have stories behind them with experiences I've had. My patches MEAN something to me. I expect that it will take me YEARS to finish patching my jacket because for me, I look at my jacket as something that is symbolic of my own journey through metal. I want my jacket to not only be patched with bands and albums that really mean something to me, but also be stitched with the experiences which I've been afforded by being a metalhead throughout my life.

My Morgoth patch reminds me of my time in Germany, playing the Keep It True 7 warm up gig with Wolf, Onslaught and Ross The Boss. It reminds me of having probably my first hangover and not being able to wake up the following morning. It reminds me of not only one of my first metal experiences abroad but also one of my first real life experiences. My Manowar Hail to England patch reminds me of seeing Manowar play Starland ballroom a year back and playing all of Battle Hymns - an album that for me is one of my absolute favorite albums ever - and just being witness to a band, expecting so much and being still blown away by the power of Heavy Metal. My Judas Priest patch reminds me of Germany when I played Sword Brothers. The Manilla Road back-patch is obvious. I bought it off a guy online who didn't want to sell it. I paid too much for it. I've restitched it a handful of times and my girlfriend of over nine years has stitched it for me as well. I will have it signed at MDF this year when I interview Mark...

The kids at the show were all really enjoying themselves all night. The crowning moment was obviously Morbid Saint though. It was immediately apparent to myself, my two friends and many of the other older people at the show that their sound was god-awful and that they looked bored and uninspired. The kids didn't care at all. They were running around like sheep in a pen, like kindergarteners before the bell, like untrained moviegoers during a fire. There were skinny ones, fat ones, slightly pudgy ones... all exuding the youthful innocence and naivety of captivated youth while the older seasoned individuals who saw Morbid Saint a year ago at the Barbary or seven months ago at Maryland Deathfest stared on intrigued but not impressed. While the children crowd surfed at created a game out of trying to leave footprints on the ceiling fan blades, the rest of us waited impatiently and unresponsively to hear failed recreations of Scars, Cry for Death and Assassin. But the children didn't care. I watched my friend break down in hysterical bouts of laughter as one of the kids, a sea-lion of a boy, in an attempt to join the circle pit wound up literally running in a circle around himself like a dog chasing his tail. Imagine that image, a boy that looks like a sea-lion and is shaped similarly running in a small tight orbit as quickly as possible.

Afterwards, we waited outside for a bit. My friend had to clear up some business with an ex band member so we were there to make sure that it didn't turn ugly. Everything wound up fine though we knew he was still somewhat irked. Whatever. We talked a bit and some of the kids decided to leave. My friend was going on about how the kids had no idea what a circle pit was. For some reason he was really stuck on the issue and, unfortunately for the kids that engaged in the circus that was this mosh, my friend happened to be in a pissy mood at this point. He engaged them, telling them that they had no idea what a circle pit was, and that it was supposed to be violent, not happy go lucky and yada-yada. My other friend and I just shook our heads. Later on I realized that I had uncovered the other half of the puzzle I was missing in regards to elitism.

At the base of this condemnation of the kids moshing "incorrectly" was a belief that one person knew more about the thing - in this case moshing - than someone else. Sure, it was true in this case but what does that even mean? Knowledge really has no bearing anymore and is confused with such. Prior to the inundation of the internet, knowledge was a mark of elitism and expertise for metalheads. There was little chance that anyone could discover bands from overseas without knowledge of someone overseas to contact for trades. Knowledge was in high demand. Individuals across state lines with contacts through tape trading were one of the few ways of spreading new music. Individuals that actually spent money to buy records and tapes were how other people heard new music and got into new bands. Essentially, those "in the know" were the most important people in the hierarchy of elite within a scene. It took hours of scavenging through fanzines and liner notes just to hear about a band you've never heard of and then you had to know someone that had access to that. It was necessary to build rapport and know people and locations to find products and scenes which new material was commonly introduced

Today, there is no such thing as "in the know." The internet and rapid spread of information renders knowledge a common commodity. Anyone can download anything. Anyone can learn as much as they want with little effort other than time spent reading forums and asking for recommendations. There are thousands of blogs out there explaining things. There are hundreds of weekend-writers and armchair-filmakers creating youtube documentaries for easy absorption by anyone who wants to learn about US Power Metal or Japanese Thrash or whatever. Anyone can search for anything and check out every band from any place with a click of a button. Those that still believe that elitism is founded on the notion of knowledge are living under false pretenses. Perhaps there is still a small amount of clout to those original thinkers within the scene and world, that can still pull relevant and new thoughts out of their brains but I expect that those individuals will also soon be overshadowed by the sheer amount of new thoughts available for picking on the internet.

Earlier in the evening I had struck up a conversation with a guy I met at another show named Jim. He had readily admitted to only recently getting into Heavy Metal and we were talking for a bit. Nice guy. He saw me at this Morbid Saint show and we talked again - mostly bullshit again - about jobs, about girls and what we'd been up to for the past month or so. He seemed genuinely happy to have someone familiar at the show to talk to since he had come by himself. I know the feeling - I oftentimes go to shows alone. It's nice to see someone to talk to. Usually I know at least a few people but for him, with little connections built with those that are regulars to shows it could be daunting to decide to go to a show expecting to spend the night alone with your thoughts. Let's face it, even metalheads are emotional humans. We enjoy company. We aren't, as some may have the masses believe, solitary demons crouching in corners and spitting at all that pass by.

If Elitism isn't knowledge or being able to pack the most patches on your jacket or be able to troll the internet forums the hardest or have the rarest t-shirt or longest hair or being the toughest fucker in the pit, ready to bash in the weak pudgy youths at the slightest offense to mosh-law, where then do we find the elitists? Who are those that exemplify elitism in the purest sense? I think it can be found in those that truly allow metal to exist and occur. It resides in those willing to forgive some ignorant indiscretions at the hands of inexperience. Elitism is the method by which individuals provide support.

I look at the people that I respect the most in my local scene. Vinny from Signature Riff, Kieth from Fallout Zine, Ed from Wendigo Productions and all the people that allow their operations to operate. Those who provide constant coverage in times of need like Zach and Adam in Mortum who always are willing to play shows last minute. These are people who give more than the normal to make things happen. Whether it be money, or time or effort or equipment... metal doesn't live without individuals like this. I look at the bands that play shows and they set up, play then leave and I think of how sad that is. There is no support from individuals like that and these are individuals who will NEVER in my eyes be respected. People that pull out of shows last minute to play somewhere else, people that steal other bands equipment or won't let people use their stuff if something breaks. These arrogant individuals exemplify the elitist attitude as defined by so many but it's a definition that should not be applied to the scum that saturate the scene who expect so much from everyone and give so little back.

I'll also touch on something that also really bothers me which fits in this whole conversation. Eddie Trunk should be tarred and feathered by the Metal community. I don't understand how anyone can watch him, take him seriously or consider him an expert on metal at all. If there was an example of what elitism is viewed as he would be it. He is so full of himself as to have a section on his show where people quiz him on "Metal" and try and stump him. As if stumping him is so difficult. Everything he knows is anything anyone would know that grew up listening to hard rock and Metal in the 80's. He is a classic example of being there at the right time. He interviews the same has-beens every show. His lists and recommendations are awful. But the single most sad aspect of the guy is how people believe he is this big supporter of Heavy Metal and how he pretends to be. He has never once promoted any legitimate Metal concert other than the concerts which he himself serves as host - Overkill shows and Accept shows in the area. He has the opportunity to reach millions of people instantly and have them know about shows that are going on in the area through his show on VH1 Classic and instead, he elects to interview Ace Frehley and his wrinkles. He is a sham and I hope that when his book is released he uses one of the images of me being hoisted up by Amadaeusz at the last Accept show giving him the finger. Pure Elitist self-worshipping arrogance. I saw him at the Accept show and got physically angered. I started shaking, my teeth were clenched my fists balled... it took a lot to not walk up to him and call him out on his leechlike ways.

Think about that kid in the Chinese take out place so amazed at my jacket and consider the larger picture. Something is pretty clear to me. There are a lot of kids out there that are getting into Metal and they have no one but themselves and the lawlessness of the internet (or misguidance of TV sham-artists like Eddie Trunk) to guide them these days. Where will that lead them? They will become products of an age which I believe many view with disgust. The ease of consumption without the ability to digest. These kids have everything at their fingertips instantly. They will have few experiences but a lot of supposed knowledge. They will become elitists in terms of what they read elitism to be but will fall incredibly hard when that accrued knowledge fails to live up to reality. The internet is a rough place usually for youth to grow up. It's a playground in which all the swing sets are coated in a slimy layer of acid, where the slides are fashions not of plastic but of coarse sandpaper, where the floor is not wood chips but bones of past youth crushed in places where the discouraged have trodden and the whole thing exists not under a starry night but in a glass dome of carcinogenic and asbestos particle riddled gas.

They will inevitably leave their dens, armed with knowledge they accrued from months spent surfing the forums that dot the landscape of their home world. Their superior intellect they know will guide them in all situations because they've listened to every album they could download and they've read every article on Swedish death metal they could find. They know that their camouflage is perfect because they've compared it to all the other images of camouflaged vests. They have all the right patches in all the right places so that those out on the front lines will know that they are capable soldiers.

And there they will stand, talking loudly and proud about their opinions and about all the stuff they know. And yet, as the night continues on, they won't realize that they are acting as drunkards act while not being old enough to buy alcohol. They won't realize that their patches don't mean anything because they never left their nest before to acquire a patch that DID mean something. All the knowledge in the world won't help them when the opening bands don't have any material online for them to prepare to. They will headbang out of time with the music and they will make fools of themselves in front of those they are trying to impress. They won't even notice that it is as clear they are amateurs as it is clear to veterans that Morbid Saint sound like shit tonight.

That's all well and good. No tradesman ever is considered a master without years and years of field experience. No tradesman is ever considered highly by co workers unless he is willing to hold the pipe or carry the cables into a job site.

In a sense I am proposing something through all this. We should aspire to teach these children and youth and all those around us what they can not learn without leaving their homes. Elitism is not only the support of the scene logistically. As individuals, we should aspire to create an environment for these youth and amateur Heavy Metal fans that will keep them coming back. The reason that the metal scene in the USA is so poor has a lot to do with the regulars being out of touch with those that revitalize the scene. We are jaded. The sense of excitement on going to shows has worn out for us in many respects. We've seen something louder, faster, more brutal. We've seen pits more violent. We've seen shows that leave us speechless and shows that are so awful that we leave before the show is over. These are all our experiences but yet we continue our support because Heavy Metal means something to us.

For these awkward, excited and rambunctious but ignorant and foolish children metal means something as well. We shouldn't do harm to that meaning through arrogance. Ostracizing them through unnecessary critique, overwhelming force or blatant too-good-for-you-ery does nothing for the scenes we try and hold together, often with duct tape and super glue. I'm not saying we pull our punches. I'm saying that we support the vitality of Heavy Metal by being inclusive to those that show they really want to be a part of Metal. I'm saying we support the people that go through the trouble to put shows together by making kids WANT to come out to shows. We will know those that don't want to be there and for those unlucky souls I say we make an example of them by ripping and tearing them to shreds so that they are too scared to come back but when some kid spent all his lunch money buying patches for his jacket instead of eating lunch, when some kid is out at a metal show on a Saturday night instead of trying to woo a pimple-faced prepubescent classmate, when some kid brings his friends to see Morbid Saint put on a performance of barely lackluster quality in a seedy bar, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge.

Nudge their frail bodies in the right direction, inspire them with experiences, show them that there is more to Metal than listening to Pleasure to Kill alone. Because there is more to it - at least I've always thought so. For some it's a life-long philosophical pursuit and for others it's a way to get away from serious stuff. "Elite" is the kind of characterization that should be associated with individuals of better qualities than being an internet troll or a selfish recluse. Honestly, there should be no confusion that elitism means something very very different than what we've come to believe it to mean.