Friday, April 26, 2013

CTP 008 - I: Forestfather - Hereafter

Completed in 2012, Hereafter is a stunning Black Metal opus. Equal parts beautiful and despairing, the five tracks are crafted with a care and elegance rarely found outside of Classical compositions. Inspired by Ulver, Empyrium and pastoral Black Metal sounds, Hereafter breaks boundaries and is a truly original masterpiece.

CTP - 008 - I (QTY = 300 Copies) $10.00

Forestfather began in mid-1998 under the name of Eternal Winter as a one-man band created by Kveldulf Bjalfason, as a death/ black metal band. From 1998 to 2005 Kveldulf composed many songs just for himself, without any need nor desire to keep records of them, let alone publishing them, excepting raw recordings whose goal was to hear the compositions as a whole so far. In late 2006 He decided to record some material to show his musical work, especially to his closest friends. Finally in early 2007, Kveldulf started to record some songs at home with the help of a friend who made the grim vocals. On that occasion were recorded 2 songs, which resulted the first untitled (and unreleased) demo. In 2008 he recorded the instrumental ‘Nostalgia’ along with other songs that will be probably released at some point under different name, since it does not match the current direction of the project. In 2010, Alwentraru (Minchelay) joined the project, as vocalist. With his collaboration, the EP ‘A Tale of Memories’ was recorded, which is still unreleased due production issues. His release date has not been decided yet. Due the aforementioned production problems and a new set of songs composed during the recording sessions of ‘A Tale…’, Forestfather decided to work on the first album with a new line-up, with Michael Rumple (Desiderium, Sul ad Astral) as vocalist and Jared Moran (54R, Filtheater, Uzumaki, etc) as drummer. The final result was the MCD 'Hereafter', completed on October 2012.


Proof positive of the power of online networking, Forestfather is a project long in gestation which was finally brought to light when original member Kveldulf (from Chile) inevitably collaborated with a pair of prolific US musicians, Jared Moran and Michael Rumple, who, between them, in particular Moran, have written and released a wealth of other ventures across numerous genres. In listening to Hereafter, though, you really can't tell that there's any sort of cultural gulf or distance between the members, because the five tracks here flow seamlessly across an emotional, folkish, black metal landscape; dark in a reflective sense but largely built upon crescendos of loss and rustic reverie. A number of styles are distributed equally across the 37 minutes of content, and more importantly the vocal arrangements offer a rather unique mesh of timbres that are simply not something you'll hear on many recordings in this niche.
There are probably four central themes to Kveldulf's playing here that are given even face time through the record. Bright, hazy drifts of chords performed at a moderate pace reminiscent of the mid-period Drudkh records, which are anchored by the most potent bass lines on the disc. Tasteful, folksy acoustic licks that transition rather well in and out of the distorted escalations. Dreamy, shoegaze-like, minimalist melodies that stretch into the highest elevations of rhythmic pitch on the record, while canvasing the other instruments (great example of this is after the 1:00 mark in "Ethereal", which is very true to its title) and creating some of the most haunting and effective instances of the experience. And lastly, there's a more savage, traditional black metal ethos with intense, melodic picking supported by the hammering double-bass lines. This was most impressive in the first half of the track "The Emerald Key", which had patterns that instantly summoned nostalgia within me for Borknagar records like The Olden Domain and The Archaic Course, not to mention Enslaved around that later 90s era. Shimmering, well-plotted, yet as solemn as a wall of granite.

I wouldn't necessarily say that the majority of the riffs here were equally memorable, but each cut has at least a few to distinguish it among the album as a whole, and Forestfather has a number of other distractions to help balance out any tedium I might have felt during the less interesting progressions: the foremost of which is the multi-pronged vocal attack here, in which a number of sharp, clean lines tend to take you by surprise. Far from a common commodity in this genre, Rumple's performance nevertheless sheds the strange Scandinavian soaring of an ICS Vortex for something more dagger-like and unnerving in shape, with some soothing and expressive harmonization that adds quite a lot to the rural imagery conjured up through the chords; not to  mention the crazy screaming in the back-end of "All Tears to Come", which is bloody fantastic. I wasn't half as immersed in the black snarls here, which are really par for the course, but in fairness there are some individual instances where the lines become wretched and ugly enough to really stand on their own. But I'd actually go so far to say that I would have preferred more of the harmonies here, since there are entire swaths of the record filled only by the rasps that don't feel nearly as refreshing.

Bass lines are silk-smooth, really finding their stride during the mid-paced sequences of the album where a groove is established to bolster the sad and pretty high-end picking patterns. The drums also feel fairly loud and natural without becoming obnoxious or drowning out the other performances. A lot are performed with a laconic, rock sensibility befitting the ebb and flow of the guitars, but numerous double kick sections and loud, abrasive fills help to challenge some of this tranquility; and there are some outright blasted components like in the latter half of "The Emerald Key" or in "The Days Ever-Done" which are more or less like a Frost/Pure Holocaust-era desperate charge through a blizzard. But, really, it's a testament to the variation here that even the percussion-less pieces, like the intro and bridge in "The Days Ever-Done" hold the attention through their composition and never give the listener any urge to be anywhere else. There's a dramatic egality across Hereafter, between its calms and storms, which seems meticulously structured without ever revealing any semblance of robotic predictability....

...that's not to say I loved every track equivocally, and was, in fact, rarely blown away here, but there was indeed something pleasant and compelling about the experience which rarely put me to sleep. For a debut, Hereafter is strong and self-assured, the sort of rustic acclimation that many black metal/folk artists seem to strive for without achieving. I felt transported to some woodland riverbank where a rucksack of supplies awaited my arrival, and then departed on a journey worth taking. Forestfather is not particularly 'evil' or sinister as far as black metal goes, nor is it happy and summery, but more like a long autumn afternoon hike when you are standing in the shadows of the trees just as often as a clearing, surrounded by withering foliage. A curious evolutionary nook between folk-era Ulver, Olden Domain Borknagar and the quixotic current flavors of bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Woods of Ypres or Alcest...but certainly not restrained to these, there's really a lot of potential appeal here for anyone who wishes to whittle away his/her sorrows in a campfire headspace beyond the eavesdropping of humanity.

Battlerage - Blood, Fire, Steel

Battlerage... the first thing I noticed about Metal On Metal's roster is the massive amount of bands that have the prefix or suffix or word Rage in their name. Battlerage, Outrage, Ragenheart, Meliah Rage. It's not limited to band names though when a quick sifting through their catalog reveals albums with titles like Purgatory's Rage and Ragenheart (the band's self-titled album). Also related would be Battlerage drummer Francisco Vera's other project Steelrage. So, there is a lot of rage being thrown around apparently. Anyway, Blood, Fire, Steel is the second album from Battlerage, following on the strength - or rage - of Steel Supremacy which came out a half decade earlier. While the band did release some material between a five year wait seemed to do Battlerage some good. Steel Supremacy was a strong debut but the production was a bit half-cocked. Luckily Blood, Fire, Steel is a more polished and professional release in this regard.

The disc has a cool cover, with some World of Warcraft styled warrior holding heads and an axe and there is fire and chains and cool helmets and very impractical shin guards. The booklet is a whopping twelve pages though two of the inner pages are a Metal on Metal catalog according to the press version I'm looking at. I think it may be considered invasive for a label to use an album's booklet as an opportunity to advertise other releases so I don't know how I feel about the usage in that sense but the rest of the booklet contains lyrics, some additional artwork and a two page panoramic painting with the band's logo. The most interesting this is vocalist Fox-Lin Torres' face on page one. He looks like he is being electrocuted. Lyrics are pretty standard and generic Heavy Metal fare.

Musically, the songs are all pretty simply structures focused around chugging based riffs. There is not a lot of intricacy embedded into the riffs while guitarist Daniel Roman does produce some rather impressive solos and leads. I wouldn't really classify Battlerage as a power metal band in the sense that is often associated with European power metal bands though influence from the earlier era of that scene and artists like Grave Digger or Running Wild is apparent as well as influence from 90's Manowar. The songs are somewhat samey, with each one lacking a whole lot of individual character. You could rearrange basically all the tracks here into any order without affecting the flow of the disc - a flow which seems to come to a trickle near the ending two or three tracks. For the epic track titles and the the imagery, I don't get an epic impression from the tracks at all. Having more than one solo in a song doesn't render a song "epic" and so I don't think you can approach the band from that angle either.

The problem that Battlerage encounter on this album is that while all the songs are good, there is nothing to really necessitate multiple listens. The album is a gerridae. If there is anything worth listening to multiple times on the album, it's the vocal performance of the passionate Torres. He leads the charge here and even one better tracks like "Battlefield Belongs to Me," which is more energetic and contains more varied and interesting riffs compared to sedentary tracks like opener "The Devil's Wings Bring Fire From Hell," or "Black Hordes, Arise!." His vocals are a direct mid-range shout with some snarl. The Chilean accent gives the English lyrics some charm. He is less melodic on this release compared to Steel Supremacy however and I think that affects the album negatively. Best track here is going to be "Wine of the Wicked," which starts with a sample intro and subpar opening riff but picks up once the vocals and verse riff which resolves with harmonies and is driven onward with triplets before launching into one of the better solos on the album.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Life Demise - Forbidden Chants of Morbid Euphoria

Life Demise is a melodic black/death metal band that leans strongly towards black metal. Most of the riffing is a more melodic variation of the riffing found in classic Mayhem and Judas Iscariot, ringing tremolo-picked chords that provide both a moving melody and atmosphere. Seemingly taking their name from the first track of Unanimated's classic "Ancient God of Evil", their influences are quite clear, with more than a strong nod to the melodic black/death scene of the mid-late 1990s. The riffing is also reminiscent of Sacramentum, but the atmosphere is not the misty feel of old Sacramentum, rather closer to Judas Iscariot's "Heaven In Flames", including a similar riff to the opener of that album. It's more oriented with the melodic leanings of atmosphere, but at times steps towards the more cavernous, reverberated production of Sargeist or Drowning the Light.

The band seems to switch between being driven by the sheer force of riffing and letting the atmosphere take hold, perhaps a weakness at times as the moods of the songs feel like homages, but change direction far too often. Within one song, a collage of influences and subtle deviations of one style appear in both the riffing and overall sound, each being pleasant. Due to this, the band is unable to form a cohesive atmosphere and feeling to the album, certainly to the detriment of some solid riffs that seem lost in wandering songwriting. Unfortunately, this is a significant shortcoming as their ability to conjure these different atmospheres is a strength of the band, but their inability or unwillingness to sustain them is a much stronger detriment.

The fourth track highlights their inability to package a cohesive vision. A sad piano piece similar to Vinterland, accompanied by the sound of a crackling fire, the major flaw isn't within the piece, rather that it has absolutely no place in the flow of the album, instead being a significant distraction. The few interludes worked into the songs disrupt the flow, and this separate track really doesn't fit into the piece as a whole at all. Something like this could be integrated into this style of music well, but it is not done so here, disconnecting the first three tracks from a driving black/death finale that does not need this introduction.

Life Demise are an interesting band that I'd like to hear more from, but they need to focus and direct their songwriting and compile a coherent vision for each song that gives these riffs the necessary impact to achieve their potential.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Attacker - The Second Coming

After Battle at Helms Deep, Attacker parted ways with Bob Mitchell and Jim Mooney - they went on to numerous projects with each other - and brought in the excellent John Leone and Tom D'Amico to round out the lineup. Leone's replacement of Mitchell was just what Attacker would need for Second Coming. A much shorter, more direct and simplified album would not have suited Mitchell's vocals which were geared much more towards the more epic and tangled compositions on their debut, regardless of if they were in key, too high and nasally... whatever people found to complain about them. With Second Coming, an album written mostly by bassist Ciarlo, those epic flourishes, sadly, were dismissed and what originally had been a band of long-winded tales about magic, mystery and Merlin became a stream-lined and more aggressive typical 80's metal band. In some ways, Attacker lost a lot of their originality and uniqueness with Second Coming.

One of the most heinous acts which can be attributed to Second Coming was the artwork of the album, two automatic weapons facing each other amidst a background of various western mustaches. Who knows what artist Dan Muro was thinking when he offered that cop-out to the label/band. Luckily, the Sentinel Steel release which I have offers a much more visually appealing cover of a dragon scaling a tower over a sulphorous pool of jell-o. What this has to do with any of the songs, I have no idea. There isn't a single inference to fantasy on the album at all. In a strange way, the original cover actually represents the aggression and attitude of the album more, even though it's about as amateur an image as could be deceived. Also of note on this version of the release is how the track listing has changed. More of note is how in the interesting and informative liner notes Denis Gulbey mentions "And unlike the first album, The Second Coming flows. Nothing is wasted, nothing is out of place." So Denis decided that on an album where nothing is out of place, he would reorganize the entire track listing. I have no idea why. Inside the booklet is an image of the original back cover of the album featuring obvious political cold war imagery - the flags of the USSR and the United States facing each other. Returning to the cover, one notes the weapons used on the cover are an M16 (USA) vs AK47 (USSR).

I don't really see the need for any of the bonus tracks on this release either. They offer nothing really except three of the same tracks but from their demo that came out before Second Coming. Perhaps historically significant, they don't make the album BETTER in anyway. Notable on them perhaps is the louder bass playing of Ciarlo but whereas the bonus tracks on the Sentinel Steel release of "...Helms Deep," include an unreleased track and an actual better version of one or two of the tracks on the album, this doesn't have any of that. Additionally, why offer bonus tracks on an album which was self-described as perfect? I just don't see enough of a noticeable difference in them to be necessary.

Musically the album is pretty much a straight forward release. Opening with "Lords of Thunder," I think any listener will immediately recognize that this will be a significantly less round-about album and much more straight forward. Lords of Thunder reminds me of Battle Axe off Slauter Xstroyes' Free the Beast - memorable, catchy and heavy enough to render even the most masculine pair of nuts a pulpy mess. Notable tracks are also "Zero Hour" which exhibits a strong chorus, memorable lyrics and a great bridge with subtle inverted chords, "Revelations of Evil," the most epic track on the release, with a softer bass intro with an Arch style vocal phrasing similar to the famous intro to "The Apparition" or, to a lesser extent, "Fata Morgana," that pummels quite effectively and works great as the final track on the album - an appropriate switch in the track lineup. "Desecration" gets a lot of attention as well in reviews offered with the lyrics in the booklet. I'm under the impression that this entire album may have been influenced by the direction that Helstar was taking on Remnants of War as there is a distinct similarity in the chug-based guitar lines and listening to the usage of guitar leads and fills to end riff phrasing I'm reminded of tracks such as "Conquest" or "Suicidal Nightmare." There are a handful of tracks which have some more tremolo riffing on them, and all are relatively fast but nothing particularly light-speed paced.

Overall, I feel that "Second Coming" is a stronger album than Battle at Helms Deep but I honestly like their debut better even with the more amateur vocals of Mitchell, and the less consistent track listing. As an album, this has a great production, is heavy hitting and is right on that fine line between thrash and traditional metal which is often blurry at this point in time. For me, this is the iconic example of what was once called Power Metal - powerful, fast and heavy but not all out thrash. I think it lacks a bit of the originality of "...Helms Deep," and though there is nothing wrong with any of the tracks - they are all great - I feel that their debut had way more memorable moments.

Friday, April 19, 2013

God IS Dead: Neo-Sabbath and Osbourne's Power Grab


On the same day that Black Sabbath released their new single, "God is Dead?," I instead found myself browsing the used racks at the local big-wig record store on a necessary run to get a gift. Having no knowledge of the new Sabbath track spreading rounds on the internet, the first decisive purchase from the used bin happened to be a copy of Seventh Star, an enigma of an album which was originally intended to be an Iommi solo album which, instead, was released under the Black Sabbath moniker after pressure from the record label. With all the talk of where Black Sabbath would continue after the unfortunate passing of Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath could have made any number of decisions. They made quite a handful of bad ones. But to finally hear new Black Sabbath music - notably as officially Black Sabbath - with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals just leaves this large lump in my chest.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's Black Sabbath procreated with two vocalists that get absolutely no credit though appearing on albums that lack only the notoriety of the early Ozzy and, to a lesser extent, Dio albums. Surface listeners are familiar with Sabbath as an Ozzy entity. There is simply no way to deny this and while the two Dio albums are absolutely famous and well known, there seems to have been forces at work - most likely by Ozzy's own management once a solo artist(Sharon) - to prevent Black Sabbath from being recognized as something separate than an Ozzy project. These efforts continued well past his time in Black Sabbath and even past his prime as a solo artist as evidenced by his 2009 lawsuit on rights to the Black Sabbath enterprise. This worked on a certain level, particularly with the media but ask long-term metal heads who is Sabbath and the resounding answer is Tony Iommi. Listening to this new track however, I can't help but feel that this "Black Sabbath" sounds not at all like the Sabbath of the Ozzy years, or the Dio years or the "forgotten years" albums of Born Again, Seventh Star, Eternal Idol and Headless Cross (my second favorite Sabbath record).

It sounds instead like a cross between No More Tears and moments of the last Sabbath record, "The Devil You Know." So I wish to preemptively address all that will undoubtedly claim that "Black Sabbath is back!" and "Sabbath Reborn!" and all sorts of media-created hype-headlines. To claim that this current formation is anything other than the brainchild of Sharon / Record Label is ignorance. With Ozzy and Iommi settling out of court on the ownership of the Black Sabbath name  there is no way that Iommi would have been able to offer fans the truly sensible and, in my opinion, most elegant option of selection either of the "Forgotten Years" vocalists to take up position in front without serious contesting by Osbourne. The Heaven and Hell moniker simply would not work without RJD's legacy, voice and posture behind it even if Black Sabbath is for all purposes Iommi's. Prevented from using the Black Sabbath name by possible future litigation, calling the project "Seventh Star" or "Headless Cross" or whatever would not draw. People would have no idea it was even Black Sabbath. Iommi was forced to use the Black Sabbath name with the trade off that Ozzy would once again front the band that is generally regarded with Metal's founding.

It's unfortunate. Ozzy can do nothing but sully the name at this point. An Iommi, Butler, Ward/Apice with Martin or Hughes or Gillan reunion would have done Sabbath's legacy much more than simply offer the possibility of another masterful album. Hell, even a collaboration between all of them would be incredible. Instead, we are left with an expired Ozzy vocal experience, requiring technological auditory cosmetics to cover up what amounts to another marketing ploy, similar in vein to Ozzy's TV show or Ozzfest - a festival which honestly, always seemed as a venue for Ozzy to control and headline even after being obviously past his prime. I will retain all hope that there may come a time when Ozzy will relinquish the name to Iommi without legal challenges. I feel there is something to be learned from the irony of an excellent album intended NOT to be a Sabbath album by Iommi being labelled as a Sabbath album while a forthcoming release featuring a vocalist who can on longer sing, can no longer perform and should, in my opinion, have no stake in Sabbath after his dismissal due to drugs in 1979, somehow through legal means can be plastered with recognition due others. As mentioned elsewhere on the web. The current song sounds like it was written for Dio. I wonder how true this is. It can not be argued that the Ozzy era albums hold special place in metalheads' hearts - they hold a special place in my heart as well - but Black Sabbath deserves to be more than a method for Osbourne to retain his validity.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Isänmaa - Yli Peltojen, Vetten Ja Tunturien

I'm sure that the metal world is littered with projects formed as proof to ex-band mates that they made a mistake in dumping a member out on the curb. Immediately the age old tale of Megadeth and Metallica comes to mind which, in the end was really more of a coming of age tale. Something makes me think the circumstances surrounding Isanmaa's creation after Kimmo Luttinen was evicted from Impaled Nazarene form a more dangerous and less teen-angsty fable. As it is, all listeners have to take from this coup is a single hard-nosed, bitter and resentful demo entitled Yli Peltojen, Vetten Ja Tunturien which, in it's quick and direct attack is an enjoyable artifact for those deeply mired in the ins and outs of the Finnish black metal lineage. What I take most of all from this release, is in response to brother Mika Luttinen's portrayal of the reasoning behind the exit of Kimmo from Impaled, is that there is more behind the story then what we are hearing. Mika cites that Kimmo "changed our style pretty much after the release of Ugra-Karma. It was his vision of how we should sound, and the rest of us weren't happy at all. It is useless for a band like us to try to be a copy of Danzig or fucking Paradise Lost." There is no sense of that desire in this release which is as fast, blistering and purely black as anything Impaled had been to that point.

Though the original version of this is nigh impossible to find at this point, this CD version by Primitive Reaction offers the original material with an additional bonus track which is distinctively different from the five original songs from the original '96 tape. The artwork is somewhat bland here but then again, so was the tape artwork with just simple lettering. The booklet contains the lyrics which, to me look like a midget being slammed on a keyboard which produces only vowels and the letters L, K and N. Simple layout, simple release. It echoes the music fairly well.  I believe there is little else to identify here and it would have been nice to have been offered just a little more with this release.

Five short, immediate tracks of black metal ferocity. Opening track, "Isanmaani," levels any doubts about what style, what genre, etc Kimmo is interested in creating. It's got heaps of attitude. My favorite track on the release is without a doubt second track, "Sinä Luot, Tuhoat," which is borderline speed metal taking cues from Sodom and tracks like Ausgebombt which ride on a simple back and forth rubbing out of notes and riff repetition. Here the material is overlapped by fuzzy deep guitars such as on Aeternus' Beyond the Wandering Moon but with a slightly more digital signal. Vocally, Kimmo sounds like a rabid aboriginal creature. The inclusion of a short burst of layered melody midway into the track complicates the song just enough to not sound dull. The fade out is a bit of a disappointment after the energy built up in the just-short-of-two minutes track. The third and fourth place tracks emphasize black metal hallmarks of subtle melodic flourishes, subdued melancholy and downplayed rhythmic variation. In short, they are as are so many other black metal tracks though these offer just a bit more emotion and passion than is often expelled.

The final two tracks are highlights as well. "Siva (Tuho)" is the fastest on the album, near indefinable speed with grunted and deranged vocals, evoked from deep within and literally spit out in a messy vitriolic fashion. The track offers an awkward break before refrain. "Aamutahti" is the bonus track here and is atonal and unsettling. It has prominent keys which perhaps is a reason why it was discarded from the original release. The guitars are still similar and the style is the same but a droning keyboard is a welcome textural differentiation at this point. The keys create psuedo-melodies and illusionary sounds. For a twelve minute release, a lot of material is here to discuss, especially when placing the release in the context as a response to Luttinen's exclusion by force or otherwise from Impaled Nazarene.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Penetration - Return To Sodom


What did he just say? So were the thoughts after hearing Penetration's live rendition of their sure to be breakout hit, "Women are Cunts." You don't get thrash this serious anymore. Not that this is serious in any real way but Penetration make it serious through sheer force of will. I saw Penetration with Evoken (always awesome live), Black Anvil and a handful of other bands. Penetration was the highlight of the night for me other than Evoken. Some specific memories: Guitarist / Vocalist Jesse Bartlett is the sweatiest man alive, who is this drummer!? and why have I not heard of these guys. It turns out that drummer Dave Tedesco I had seen a while back at the Meatlocker with his band NJDOTS. That show I remember being about as violent as you could get. I still have no idea where a wooden chair and table came from at the time but before the end of the night, they were destroyed utterly and laying in pieces on the floor. I'm sure someone had splinters in their arm as well.

Tedesco is from New Jersey while Bartlett resides

in the norther part of New York near Buffalo.              
The whole presentation of the band points way way back to the mid 90's when thrash bands had awful painted covers, were lifting lyrical inspiration from satanic black metal and war metal bands and when you had no idea that a thrash band even existed of any real quality. Penetration's cover isn't at all awful - I actually like it a lot - but it's not as sharp as you would have found in the 80's. The inner foldout of the four page booklet has some black and white art including a cool comic-drawn piece featuring creatures possibly stolen Wizards, one of my all time favorite movies. Oh and the lyrics, a vat of incredible linguistic gems worth recanting at your next family function. Nothing is sure to rouse the spirits of those around you like "Dump your load for explosive penetration; Die!" or perhaps "I search for a bride; I'll fuck her cunt." Everyone's favorite grandmother would love to join in a cheerful group chorus of "Submit to the new sensation; Fornication; Spread your legs for fucking; Penetration!." When all is said and done, you can end the night sipping cordials and reciting, "We quench our thirst with wind; and fornicate with animals." In fact, I was slightly upset that "Forced March," doesn't contain the word penetration anywhere in it's lyrics. I guess five out of six ain't bad though.

But this is an awesome six tracks of furious thrash similar to Demolition Hammer and, obviously, early Sodom and Kreator. Right from the start of first track "Air Penetration Raid," we are granted a militant thrashing march that never lets up throughout the release. Out of control leads are all over the place and the whole release sounds like it is about to cave in on itself. In contrast to Penetration's previous 2008 release, Victory or Death, Bartlett's vocals are far better mixed on this release and it really solves a major problem I had with that release. He does not sound out of place on this release with deep growls instead opting for a much scratchier and forward vocal style. "Ritual Decapitation," highlights what this album does incredibly well: welding loaded bombs full of riffs onto brackets of atypical drum patterns. Multiple places of two-step blasts occupy large chunks of this particular track, separating it from others. "Neverending" has a strong marching, persistent feel once again accompanied by excellent drumming.

"Neverending" and "Forced March" do little for me other than create a worthy background for headbanging and folding my laundry however I find it extremely difficult to sort my whites through "Women are Cunts" and "Return to Sodom," a track that is as much Carnivore as it is Sodom. With "Women..." the main intro riff is just so harsh and abrasive it might make some women agree with the sentiment. The song is a beast regardless of it's lyrical content which I'm sure some may find offensive. Other attributes of Return to Sodom worth mentioning are the incredibly beefy, yet natural drum tone done absolutely perfectly and engineered by drummer Tedesco himself as well as the thick, massive guitar tone that would make most thrash bands fall onto their knees and prepare for penetration. I think all that can be said about this is that Penetration are a band to check out if you've been dying for some relentless, brutal and memorable thrash. Mission accomplished.

Arkham Witch - Legions of the Deep

Legions of the Deep, Arkham Witch's sophomore effort, is about as wildly inconsistent an album as a band could write. In one sense, it's incredibly varied, with Arkham sounding like three different witches throughout the entirety of the album. While this trio of sisters may have worked well for Shakespeare, I don't think the variety bodes well in the case of Arkham. For me, the band is best when they are echoing the Heavy Metal styling of bands like Running Wild, early 80's Sabbath or Manowar, influences which all seem to appear and disappear across the album. The second biggest influence is obviously that of Doom giants like Candlemass and Witchfinder General. With a couple thrashers tossed in, there are roughly three of each style of track. The thrashier numbers don't seem to work for Arkham or their Witches. While Legions of the Deep is in no means a dismal failure, it's by no means an immediate classic or contender for best of lists either.

The album's got excellent artwork by the always talented Jowita Kaminska, this time portraying gaunt looking citizens from some unnamed off-the-beaten-trail New England town staring down a squid-bat-gargoyle creature spawning off the local coast. The booklet is jam packed with expanded artwork revealing the full vista from which the cover artwork found itself cropped from. Snow giants, red haired witches and rats the size of Russian prison dogs gaze out at a  distant aquapolis, glowing under a full moon's lunar luminescence. Band photos reveal a band that has a sense of humor, and just really loves the genres that they admit they steal from. There's no hard feelings or trying to be secretive about it either. They wear the stuff on their sleeves. Why wouldn't you though? It's also cool to look in a booklet and see local a locals like Argus and Overkill (obviously a ton of bands have been influenced by Overkill) represented.

The album really has four highlight songs with second song, "At the Mountains of Madness," being give or take depending on what you're really into but I really think it's a great track with nods to Pentagram. Opening track, "David Lund," is a hard hitting doomy cut with moments similar to Briton Rites' awesome For Mircalla which came out last year. Perhaps not as busy, the foundation of this song are memorable doom riffs. Iron Man's I have Returned could be another comparison. Vocalist Simon Iff? - I have no idea what the purpose of that question mark is, but apparently if you put it after your name it makes you mysterious or something - is a treat on this album as he utilizes a few different styles across Legions. On this track he sounds like Phil Swanson, best known for his work in Hour of 13, who also sang on that Briton Rites album while on "At the Mountains of Madness" he sounds more like a looser, more soulful and less vicious version of Metal Inquisitor's El Rojo. The first of the album's best three tracks appears three in. "Iron Shadows in the Moon," aside from having a really awesome title, is a great Sabbath-on-the-cusp-of-Dio-era track with easily memorable riffs, a patented bridge / refrain section and highlight solos. Originally I thought this is where the album would really start to pick up and be phenomenal, as all things were leading to increasingly quality tracks. Unfortunately the album's biggest clunker, "Infernal Machine," craps all over that possibility.

Just like "On a Horse Called Vengeance," which also employs sub par thrash tendencies and boring riffs, "Infernal Machine," is obnoxiously amateur sounding. I guess the band felt they needed a heavier, faster track or something but it's not necessarily faster by any means and the continuous pumping of the main riff, a riff that wouldn't be at odds fitting in on a Lamb of God album, just kills "Legions of the Deep's," momentum. Followed by the awesome Running Wild placeholder, "The Cloven Sea," is damn good fun, it's another shorter track and even the vocals are tilted to sound like Rolf. There is very little to hate about this track and just when I thought that "Infernal Machine," was a flop or a dud track, we get "On a Horse Called Vengeance." I think it's the seventh track that steals the bottle though as "Gods of Storm and Thunder," is a hard-rocking Accept flavored track with Deep Purple undertones that is sure to raise glasses to the ceilings in bars. Perhaps the chorus, which I really like, is used as a crutch a little too much, and perhaps the instrumental section in the middle is samey as the other tracks, but it's just a perfect mid-album bruiser.

I honestly don't get much out of the last three tracks. Granted title track "Legions of the Deep," sounds like pirates and being on the open sea which is perfect for the album and "Kult of Kutulu," has a lot of energy and grittiness and "We're From Keighley," is a cool home-crowd anthem all the tracks also have some flaws. "Kult," has a really dumb chorus that sounds like the Munster's theme song, Though not an inherently negative comment, "Kult" and "Keighley" both have a hardcore punk tendency. "Legions" has a sample thrown into the track about two minutes into the song from somewhere - apparently it's from a radio play. It also has a sailor's song sung about a minute later with vocalist Iff? and Leo Stivala of Forsaken fame pairing over sounds of waves to really hammer home the whole ocean / sea / exploration of things that can't be known themes going on across the album. The inclusion of an acoustic cover of The Lamp of Thoth's Blood on Satan's Claw fits well with the top-tier tracks on the album and implies the band is really at heart a Doom outfit.

While there are some real slamming Heavy Metal and Doom tracks here that would warrant getting this album, the five or six tracks that do little for me may lead to some second questioning. At the cost of importing this release for those of us in the USA, I doubt we'll see the band making inroads here for a while. I say dump the thrashier parts and focus on the Doom and traditional Metal tracks - they do them so well that it really is hard to explain why the band even goes that route as well. On an album that runs close to an hour's worth of material, leaving off the ten minutes of thrashy material would have created a much more consistent and enjoyable release, regardless of those that claim the tracks add variety or whatever. They don't show the album at their best. Thinking back, I was unimpressed by their track on Metal On Metal's compilation, "For Metal," which also took this thrashier vein. A track like "Iron Shadows," or "The Cloven Sea," appearing would far better represent the band.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

One Master, Morgirion, Haxen, Bog of the Infidel and Grue Live at Cherry Street Station

Cherry Street Station hosted a group of black metal bands on a Saturday night, with a unifying theme of the occult, headed by One Master. As I walked in, I was greeted by the smell of incense and a small group of people that included quite a few band members, as it was early. The venue is intimate with a bit of space due to the merch/setup area being tucked away and the bar being separated, and it brought in a solid crowd for this type of show, with some people in and out throughout the night.

Grue consisted of two men wearing robes, a guitarist/vocalist and a drummer. Their style was reminiscent of more recent Finnish black metallers who emulate/worship the second wave. Melodies playing in a typical black metal riffing fashion, impressive drumming, and a nice feel that's not very dissonant but has a distinct black metal feel. It takes a bit of a stretch to make a comparison, but they reminded me a bit of Perisynti. Quite entertaining and enjoyable

Bog of the Infidel is a five-piece band that mixed black metal with melodic death metal and a bit of power metal flair in the solos - their lead guitarist had more Manowar patches than I could count, though he really needed some better clothing as his ass was hanging out for most of their set. There were clearly quite a few influences coming out at various times here - both black and death metal ranging to thrashy and melodic varieties, even some American heavy/power metal in the solos. The mix was a bit too busy and noisy to get a clear picture of what the band was capable of, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Haxen played fast black metal at a relatively constant pace. I'm a bit foggy on remembering exactly what they sound like since both them and Morgirion were very fast and vicious. I recall Beherit worship, a few classic black/heavy styled parts, and some more fast, relentless black metal. Good stage presence too, considering how little of a stage there was.

Morgirion were very fast and sharp, playing a style with lots of blast beats and a fair amount of dissonance. They were very fast pretty much all the way through, with a very full sound as a three-piece, led by a very good bassist who was an energetic and enthusiastic frontman. A bit more tasteful and less mechanical than blast-happy bands like 1349, they were relentless, but not to a fault. Great show, I'd love to see them again.

One Master were the headliners for a reason - they're really good at what they do. If you're unfamiliar with them, think of the riffing of Under a Funeral Moon mixed with the hypnotic sense of Burzum and the ritual feeling of Unanimated's most recent album. The band was very focused, appearing very serious and having fun as well. Their first two songs were extremely loud, something I noticed despite earplugs, and admittedly they couldn't hear much of anything, which made their sharp performance even more impressive as the few slips were quickly corrected for. The loudness was up there along with the impact of the band's performance, which had a certain feeling of determination and direction propelled by their style and concept around the occult. The band's four-piece lineup had two new members and one filling in (though he fit into the band and matched up right along their frontman), and they were tight, rough but not sloppy, very befitting of the music. An excellent band that I'm looking forward to seeing in Connecticut again.

This show was a great concept to gather bands around, all five bands were excellent choices, and it turned out to be a very nice evening.

After Oblivion - Stamina

After Oblivion's 2012 release, Stamina, rides on the heels of a couple of EP's which I'm sure impressed tons of people who believe that Chuck Schuldiner is still alive somewhere out there in much the same way that there are handfuls of near-geriatrics who believe Elvis still lives or that there were about nine hundred people in the state of New Jersey who voted for Jeff Boss with the believe that their vote was meaningful in any way other than a self-ridiculing and posturing action to get a rise out of friends. The issue is that, as several people have mentioned across the spectrum of reviews, is that to blatantly attempt at riding the legacy of one of the integral individuals of Death metal sets one up for failure and creates a situation where you are only compared to that incomparable entity. Not only does After Oblivion prove they are incapable of writing songs even a third as memorable as anything Death wrote after Human (which is where the brunt of their influence seems to lie) but instead of making an attempt at writing some original material that draws influence from the legacy of their idol, they alienate several groups of listeners that might have found After Oblivion a great band to embrace and grow with. How much can you progress if you've set yourself up to be a clone of something so specific such as "the later era Death albums" as their profile proposes.

The album cover is an obviously drastic representation of what Schuldiner was obsessed with in the later years of his career - his well documented stance on pro-life. The fetus, still alive amongst a dead landscape crisscrossed with fragmentary fissures and the not-so subtle album title just hints at what lyrically is on display, whether conscious or not, in songs such as "Deliverance" or "Vultures." I approach this all cautiously, because I am not planning on engaging in a discussion on this topic in a review of some band from Bosnia and Herzegovina. After Oblivion continues to reap the wheat sown by Schuldiner years before by lifting song titles and notable phrases to fill in lyrical gaps. I find this really fascinating because what is happening here is that After Oblivion are continuing to add context and depth to material written before they even existed as a band or even thought the thoughts their lyrics are focused on. After Oblivion are in a sense engaging in a sort of reverse revisionism where they don't rewrite history but revise it like a footnote in the sixth edition of a long-out of date book.

This is all a shame really. Because After Oblivion are incredibly talented individuals. Incredible technical ability is as obvious as their influence. The mix perhaps doesn't do the band any favors in terms of humanizing their skill though. Drummer Marko Gacnik sounds more like a programmed entity instead of a human playing with incredible skill. The triggered drums mixed with the thin guitar tone equalize half the voices on the album. Bass player Haris Hasancevic is particularly impressive though when he isn't simply copying the rhythm lines of Adnan Hatic and Jasenko Dzipa. The album would have fared much better with a significantly heavier guitar tone. Adnan Hatic is credited with Producing and Mastering the album. He probably should have consulted with someone on the mix. The one instrument that sounds really great on the release however are the sporadic moments of clean guitars which are crystal clear, vibrant and lush. Adnan's vocals are obviously in the higher register of screechiness practiced by Schuldiner on the last four Death releases but a more precise comparison would be Tim Baker of Cirith Ungol, as far fetched as that may seem.

While the vast majority of the tracks are totally mediocre a few notable high points present themselves across Stamina's nine tracks. "Breeding Perdition" is the first moment when the acoustic guitars are clear and wonderful. The production on them is such that I am really left believing that Adnan actually wanted the guitars to sound so thin as an attempt to sound like Sound of Perserverance. Obviously as a producer and engineer he knows how to mic instruments. "For The Rebels" includes one of the stranger moments of the release with a short interlude of truncated guitar chugs and snare hits. The thinness of all these tones, the clackety drums, scratchy guitar tone and minimal low end is obvious here as well as in the intro to the title track, "Stamina" which propels one of the albums' worst moments, when beautiful natural sounding acoustic guitar is accompanied by the sound of a screwdriver being slammed against the kick drum head. It's actually the kick pedal, I've been told, but I don't believe it until I see it in person.

The most egregious error here, and a lesson which After Oblivion will hopefully learn, is that riffs, no matter how complicated, sound like crap if they are all based on the same premise and same rhythmic patterns. A lot of the rhythms on the album are what I, as a bassist, call pedal-tone riffs. Chugging on the open strings with intermittent single notes thrown in and occasional flurries of fill material to round off phrases before sections change. After three or four tracks I was pretty much burnt out already on this. For me, one track was enough to hear everything on the whole album. It just so happens that track was not on this album but on the Compendium of Metal Vol. 5 sampler which featured the opening track to Stamina, "Deliverance." It was obvious from a single track that After Oblivion were a one-trick pony. They don't have to be though. With their talent I would love to see what they could do with a beefier production and more originality. At this point, I doubt that they should worry about their influence showing and try and create something unique and memorable. That's what Chuck did throughout his career and why his legacy is undeniably secure.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Attacker - Battle At Helms Deep


Having known Mike Sabbatini for at least six years (Arctic Flame rehearsed in the next room over from Attacker before our rehearsal space was bought, knocked down, and turned into a TD bank) It's surprising for myself that I've only recently gave , much of their material the time it deserves, especially since Attacker have played a large part in New Jersey metal for a long time. In the case of Battle At Helms Deep, however, this is an album I've been listening to for a long time, since way before expecting to ever actually be on a first name basis with Mike. I'm not surprised, however, that it doesn't get a lot of attention since by 1985, most of the focus had shifted in the States away from thrash, a sentiment echoed by bassist Lou Ciarlo (ex-Hades) in the liner notes of this particular version of the release. Metal Blade apparently had few resources to get the band on tours with other appropriate acts and when a chance came to get on a billing with Fates Warning after their debut, lineup changes with guitarist Victor Arduini forced that opportunity to turn south.

So Battle at Helms Deep, a release which contains some classic US Heavy Metal tracks such as "Slayer's Blade" (which I sampled for my radio show promo back when I was on air) and the excellent "Disciple" make this an album which, while perhaps not essential listening for everyone, is an obvious recommendation for anyone exploring that mid 80's era of US power metal. Also worth pointing out is that with the renewed lineup of Attacker, it's definitely worth checking out the back catalog of the band since they may be popping into a local dive near you at any time and, as I've seen the band at least three times so far in the past couple months, their live show is worth seeing especially considering some of their upcoming shows in the area are with Liege Lord and Hellwitch.

I'm listening to the 1999 version of this album released by Sentinel Steel, a New Jersey based label that while never doing much local promotion, has maintained importance internationally as an important distributor. It's a great release and includes tons of additional info on the album including some great pictures in the booklet and it also includes what I expect to be the intended original cover along which is not nearly as awesome as the infamous portrayal of an incredibly frightened Sylvester Stallone versus the three legged roach dragon while Dick Clark looks on from the parapets. Also, Attacker at one point were also called, for at least one show, Allacker. What I found also really fascinating is that just like Dave Reynolds of Metal Forces also thought that the demo tracks of the three classic tracks off Helms Deep were better than the album versions due to having a bit more grit.

I don't think it is apparent on a track like "(Call On) The Attacker," but it's definitely noticeable on "Slayer's Blade" and "Disciple" particularly in the kick drum sound which is much more powerful on the demo. It's not that the sound on the album is weak though. While the kick drum lacks a bit of the punchiness the rest of the production is really great and it flatters the best attributes of Attacker's writing sensibilities - namely the twin guitar parts and Bob Mitchell's nasally, wailing and passionate vocal performance. Today, we would never be so blessed with such an original sounding guitar tone. There is definitely emphasis on the mids and treble and little low-end on the guitar tracks. Second track "Wrath of Nevermore" shows how well the mix gels with acoustic guitars clearly audible and the bass pronounced and a major rhythmic focus.

The album is not without it's faults however. As pointed out by Reynolds in his Metal Forces review, arrangements on newer tracks could have been refined to sound more decisive and less dialed in. For example, "Nevermore" has a particularly long intro theme that repeats severely with no variation, "Downfall" suffers similarly and, though a bonus track, "Trapped" is excessive, even though it is bookmarked by an awesome intro and killer solos and leads. A lot of the songs do have a loquacious nature. The best tracks are more punctual and succinct. "Kick In Your Face," is also a problem for me. It's the only track on the album which thematically has nothing in common with the other tracks. While the album in most respects is perfectly happy to fight dragons, battle warlocks and slay monsters, Kick Your Face is a cliche Heavy Metal anthem with sub par lyrics. I don't feel particularly manly touting that "beer drinkers, hell raisers and headbangers wanna cheer."

The anthem, now dead to most metal fans, however at that point was a necessary addition to an album so I can't take too much stock in it's inclusion. I would have much rather have seen a trimmed down and perfected "Trapped" as an inclusion on the original track listing. Though it's a track I am always in favor of skipping, "Kick In Your Face" goes over well live as do almost all the tracks on this album which Attacker oftentimes pull from their bag of tricks. Battle at Helms Deep is classic US Heavy Metal for a reason. A majority of the tracks here are memorable, killer songs with great guitar leads, great riffs and vocals which send us back to when metal was just as often about being unique as it was about being heavy and aggressive.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Plutonian Shore / A Transylvanian Funeral - Alchemical Manifestations Split

Sleepwalker's Forbidden Records is slowly starting to make a name for itself it seems, mostly on the back of it's owner's project, A Tranylvanian Funeral which accounts for a significant portion of the label's releases. Three of these are split releases similar to Alchemical Manifestations, the latest split - but not latest release; an accolade to be placed on A Transylvanian Funeral's newest full length album Gorgos Goetia -  featuring Texans, Plutonian Shore. The two black metal projects fit at home together on the disc rather easily - both are based on the west coast, both are newer projects forming within the past few years and both have done more splits than a porn-star gymnast. Plutonian Shore even managed to do a four way split DVD. These guys love splits.

The disc - this was also released on tape - is pretty cut and dry. I believe this is a professionally pressed CDr as no evidence of replication is present and the disc has a greenish tint to the data surface. The printing is done nicely though I have no idea what the number 2628 stands for in the middle of the cover artwork. I assume it's Sleepwalker's debit card pin number. The disc has the same design on it minus some of the background detail of the cover and I think it looks more cryptic and occult than the cover. Images of the bands reveal that Devastation, Plutonian Shore's drummer (who also plays for the excellent Preteen Deathfuk) has a great sense of smell. His facial expression is of disgust obviously from catching a whiff of unwashed black metal fans at a concert.

Musically neither band is in exceptional in any particular aspect. Plutonian Shore has the best track on the release, "Consecrating The Flesh," a live recording which presents the band in a positive manner in regards to their ability live. "Path to Amenti," is also a live track which exhibit's the band in a far more generic and boring sense. I would have left this off the release if I were them. I guess they felt that only four tracks, three if you exclude their cover of Rotting Christ's "The Fifth Illusion," wouldn't have been enough material. Their six tracks still occupy less time than A Transylvanian Funeral's quartet. The band overall isn't bad. They are competent musicians. Amethyst on keys and "incantations" whatever that means, is a major component of their sound and the band have a definite symphonic slant to their fairly generic black metal assault. They did a great job on their cover of "The Fifth Illusion," though and, unlike the original which is a bit weak in power, their version is full and sounds great. Vocally not as much passion as Necromayhem on the original though and I think the original still has more character going for it.

I would say that A Transylvanian Funeral is more consistent than Plutonian Shore, who experiment a bit more and take some more risks. I thought all four tracks were enjoyable, even if the obvious main influence is Darkthrone's Translvanian Hunger. What I thought Sleepwalker did the best was incorporate audible bass into the mixes of his tracks which really helps to give it a persistent momentum. Clean vocals appear on some tracks which gives A Transylvanian Funeral some uniqueness. The tone color would be best described as a 1930 German propaganda speech and it sounds really bright and textural under the music. "Moonchild," was my favorite of the tracks here because the opening melody is creepy, bitter and more of it's own style. The vocals weren't as interesting as either "The Supreme Rite of Transmutation," or "Night Hags," the previous track which had better rhythmic variety in regard to the lyrics. "Light Cast out," started off being another Darkthrone-esque track but halfway through the song falls away to reveal a section where just the guitar drones on with the bass providing the melody progression which was a highlight of the release.

The Plutonian Shore tracks weren't as much my style as A Transylvanian Funeral's tracks were. I don't know if Plutonian Shore will be able to differentiate themselves from so many other bands in that style whereas A Transylvanian Funeral offered some individually unique moments against the Darkthrone worship tracks to where I can say that I would be interested to hear what Sleepwalker has come up with on their newest album which was just recently release about two weeks ago titled Gorgos Goetia. All four of the tracks on this split are also available on their album so I would say if you want to check out A Transylvanian Funeral, just get their new CD.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Rivera Bomma - Infinite Journey of Soul


Christian metal. It gives people shivers. It's a strange dichotomy though when you think about it. Metal has always been about standing up for free thought, sticking it to the man and being a rebel. In a sense, aren't Christian metal bands simply epitomizing this tradition by simply existing within the genre that has so often espoused hatred and violence against their very religion? I give bands that have been doing the Christian metal thing a lot of credit. They are up against a wall in many respects. Rivera Bomma's Infinite Journey of Soul falls into the sub-sub-sub-genre of Christian progressive power metal like a pebble in an ocean; no one knew it happened, even though the project includes the original vocalist for Hades, John Bomma and the pasty skinned yet virtuoso bassist Mike Lepond of Symphony X fame. Personally, I enjoyed watching Lepond get sun-burned under the dim lights of St. Vitus bar in Brooklyn while filling in for Helstar a tad bit more than listening to the third album of these New Jersey gospelheads.

Perhaps outwardly, there would be little indication that Infinite Journey... is a Christian metal album without serious consideration of the album artwork or knowledge of the musical background of "Via Dolorosa," emphasized with an asterisk on the backside of the professional-yet minimal digipak. Knowing the deeper influences of the project though and there is no way to ignore the proselytizing nature of a track like "The Maker" or "In Blood." The disc could be a cool buy simply for the inner foldout picture. You've got John Bomma trying to recruit you for the army, Edward Faust trying to smooth-stare you into his bed and Rod Rivera was the only one told to wear makeup. Lepond... I don't even know what he's up to. He's staring at his bass like it just committed one of the seven deadly sins all over his face. In all seriousness though, it's easy to poke and prod but the disc looks fine and you can tell the band put effort into the details, with professionally photographed group photo, the huge list of additional musicians that helped out with the release and four separate pieces of artwork done for the album.

On first impression, the release runs pretty standard. Intro and outro's bookend an eight track release divided in two by a mid-track ballad, and then again into final quarters with another late snoozer. The album's first three tracks are all heavier expressions though, in the case of "In Blood," it's just sort of a false alarm heaviness. This track also suffers from a chorus/refrain section that borders on pop rock arm dragging weakness and some production flaws with panning and volume adjustment in the mix. The yelping of the song's title in the chorus is also grating. Its a shame the album plummets in quality after this track significantly because the first two tracks, especially my personal favorite, "Empty Desire," really implied that R/B might have something going here since both this track and the opening track - the album title track - both have great vocal melodies, interesting riffs in a modern metal framework and, most importantly, a real passionate delivery by vocalist Bomma. There just isn't much to latch onto in later tracks.

Via Dolorosa is a well performed ballad and it's inclusion was inadvertently fitting for the past week while the whole world celebrated Easter but I'm not sold on it being a fitting track for the CD which the band wanted to sound heavier then their previous two releases. "Angel and Demons," follows this with a pseudo-heavy chugging track which done properly would have been a well placed pick-up after "...Dolorosa," but it just seemed long and boring even though it wasn't one of the longer tracks. The song, like most others, has great leads but the backing riffs under the leads are just typical chord progressions. "Horizon's End," has a cool intro after some awkward child laughter sampled early but it too becomes repetitive. The album offers variety with "In My Dreams," another ballad, this one played on acoustic guitar ("...Dolorosa," is a piano piece).

The final track on the release is the worst track on Infinite Journey of Soul by a significant long shot. It's simply obnoxious. Thirty seconds in the listener is presented with a melody better suited to the Big Top or the radio in a clown car. It is used several times in the track, the now unambiguously titled "The Maker." The vocals are harsh too... the verses are semi-monotone bursts underscored with a deeper, possibly growled sub-dub. The repetition of the lyrics in the chorus, especially Bomma crooning The Maker! Your Maker! The Maker... as if he was inside a first responder vehicle siren and had to affect the clearing of traffic in front of him was the album's worst moment vocally. Maybe it would work if he was inside the Pope's car with Dennis Rodman but it does nothing to improve the disc.

This was a good effort from R/B but with some minor flaws in pacing and major flaws in being enjoyable to listeners that spend their Sundays drinking instead of going to church, I don't see this spreading outside small circles of die hard god-faring Heavy Metal fans. I don't know why so many Christian metal bands can't put out a really strong record. Faith Factor suffered the same problem and I expect we won't see the last of these kind of misdemeanor albums.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Strychnia - The Anatomy Of Execution

The immediate impression I get from Strychnia is that the band would sound like a mashed up brutal death metal band. The oozing green logo looks like something a gore-grind band would get made up for them and the cover of Strychnia's 2011 full length, The Anatomy Of Execution, looked like a left over from any one of the too many deathcore projects skittering across the Garden State. It's just not appealing to my senses but considering the band's composition of members of Condition Critical, a band whom I've never been impressed by even though I've seen them numerous times across the state opening shows, and Legionary, a well honed unit that plays stereotypical extreme metal with no real direction, I'm not totally surprised that the overall aesthetic would be somewhat trendy and clean-cut. Strychnia's style itself could be described as tough-guy death thrash and is really a great combination of the two projects' styling.

The release is well produced, very polished and very well performed. The focus is on the riffs, as hard as vocalist Kevin O'Laughlin tries to retain control of the listener's attention and the vocals sound more like a nuisance than anything else after all is said and done. Very standard grunted/screeched modern extreme metal vocals. Often times vocalist Kevin O'Laughlin will use these different vocal styles even in the same vocal phrase. It's tough to tell whether there was an intended point to using the two styles in terms of composition or was the usage purely an instance of "yeah dude... that sounds sick!" jumbling around in the rehearsal room. Either way, it's soft and creates the opposite effect for me. Instead of providing variety or arrangement complexity, the constant usage of both styles interdependently renders their existence invalid and, possibly, gimmicky. Kevin's performance is passionate and emotive but somehow I still find the vocal lines boring.

Turning back to the guitar parts for a moment, there is nothing really technically incredible about them in anyway. They are a typical mixture of thrash and metal-core as evidenced by the numerous breakdowns played with a thrashier air. Though not generic metal-core or death-core breakdowns due to this bay-area edge, it does little to lift the material and it does nothing to separate Strychnia from other bands. The combination of the extremely polished guitar sound and obviously triggered drums makes the whole release sound professional yet sterile. The audibly and clanky bass is often the most exciting instrument. Like a taught piece of rubber, it's bright and crisp and Mike Dreher handles the duties particularly keenly. Unfortunately, if I pick out any particular tracks I would have a hard time really pointing anything specific out about any particular one. I guess this is one of those instances where you just really have to love this modern style and though Strychnia's Antomy of Execution has all the markings of a professional release, and I don't find it worthwhile, those into the modern take on metal and core would probably find chomping material here.