Monday, August 25, 2014

Nocturnal Abyss - From the Depths of Mörkvod

Nocturnal Abyss is a band steeped in the morbid glory of old black metal. The influence of Darkthrone, Les Legions Noires, and more recent Finnish black metal couldn't be more apparent. This strives for those harsh aesthetics, the ugly picture those sounds painted. It's more than apparent, it's overt. It's a pretty rough line to tread, and it falls firmly on one side.

Noctir's vocals lead the music - they're on top of the treble part of the mix, like a less drawling Meynach, or like later Darkthrone but less froggy. The vocals find a certain voice, not a unique one, but a convincing and sufficient throaty tone that works well for him. Noctir hardly has any competition for nice things to say about this album though. One guy plays all of the instruments, and it seems like the moderate success of the vocals is overwhelmed by the complete failure of all of the instrumentation and songwriting. This basically boils down to the guitars, which strive to be but fail to be much more than the frail backbone that is the rhythm section.

The guitars bask in a mildly abrasive harshness, an unabashedly blank texture for black metal. The riffing wanders between a few different emulations of styles with little direction, no transitions within a structure, and basically no driving structure behind it. One part doesn't build up to the next part, it doesn't flow, there are no directional dynamics to the song structure. It sounds like a series of riffs inspired by other bands linked together with no preconceived intent, no greater structure, and no purpose whatsoever. There is no sense of nuance, no accentuation nor structural variation to give the music movement.

There are stylistic cues that the band hints at, but fails to grasp. Much of the album is slow-to-mid-paced, which sets up the potential for aggressive and jarring riffs like early Gorgoroth. Tonal variations of the traditional wide-interval black metal tremolo riff could build and release tension. Off-kilter tremolo riffs could conjure the weepy Mutiilation sound. Slow could be contrasted to fast, consonant to dissonant, vocals trade the lead with guitar. To be fair, I think Noctir tries that last one and the guitar just sounds so shitty that it doesn't work. The guitarist's phrasing is so sloppy that every riff here sounds like a kid trying to play along with riffs while hitting the notes but having absolutely no phrasing, no sense of nuance, and absolutely no sense of the emotion that was expressed through the original. It's a Mutiilation aesthetic with the emotional depth of pizza thrash.

This is a Soulseek safari through black metal; bred in captivity, presented as wild.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Countress - Ov Sin

Countress is a dark, occult-inspired band reminiscent of Integrity and Doomriders. The dark and straightforward nature of the heavy music screams holy terror, while the simple and groovy riffs are reminiscent of the faster doom-inspired stuff like later High on Fire. The aesthetic is surely inspired by A389-style hardcore, a heavy dose of doom metal, and the extreme side of rock and roll, as Tom G. Warrior described Celtic Frost. Though I name a plethora of apparent influences, the band's style is quite coherent, just hard to pinpoint. That's a good thing.

The songs and album are well structured, they feel natural and jammy, very heavy and groovy. The band knows how to find a groove and work into it - they're so good at this that the dark aspect to the music gets lost pretty easily. Heavy grooves, reminiscent of NOLA sludge, strong enough to make Kvelertak look like wusses. One songwriting quirk does stand out - their tendency to make some abrupt transitions from the more aggressive hardcore style to the groovy dark stoner stuff. While they blend those two pretty well, they haven't quite found a perfect synergy. The middle five tracks find that doom-n-roll style pretty well, which is where the Doomriders comparison comes from. The vocalist even lightens up a bit while maintaining his similarity to Dwid Hellion of Integrity. The first and last tracks, however, are where the band finds their darker side, very reminiscent of Integrity, Ringworm, and Pulling Teeth. These songs are much more intense, harder driving, and perfectly representative of the band's dark aesthetic. The bookending leaves me feeling that the band could have had a much more focused sinister intent here, and perhaps that's something they should explore.

Bottom line, Countress are a good band and this is a good album. It speaks to its notability that it's a bit hard to categorize and compare to other bands. If you like anything I've mentioned in this review, give it a listen, it's worth your time.

Pallbearer - Foundations and Burden

Pallbearer is a post-rock band from Arkansas that relies heavily on a textural, atmospheric feeling that instantly sets the tone of their music. They take a similar textural approach to Baroness - not so much defined by what they're playing, but that it's played through fuzz pedals into Orange amps - but rather than catchy rock and roll songwriting, they drag through ten minute songs at Electric Wizard levels of boringness. Overlong and tone-basking, a pleasant background aura for directionless music. Similar to Deafheaven, they're a post-rock band who borrow aesthetics of metal  but fail to fully incorporate them, which is more of a nuisance than of benefit to their horrendously overlong songs. The rhythm guitar rarely riffs, it drones throughout with a rumbling tone. The lead guitar and vocals are similarly used - neither catchy nor leading, but as post-rock-style textural elements. Tactless harmonies are piled on like fries at Five Guys, interspersed with weepy late 90s gothic/doom metal melodies. It's like atmospheric metalcore when bands "evolved" past the scream/sing novelty and replaced it with low-end rumble/high-end atmosphere. It's basically the same thing as djent with different tones - showcase the low tone with a pointless rhythm, use the high-end for atmosphere, but with focus on atmosphere instead of rhythm. It's an interesting concept and it gives it a healthy shimmer, but it's more like a party-store prop covered in glitter than a sequined item from a mid-level department store. Now that I mention it, Lord and Taylor would be an ironic/cult name for a hipster black/doom band. It'd probably have the same appeal as listening to Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine at the same time on Beats by Dr. Dre. Gotta have that bass. See how I trailed off there? No real purpose, no real structure, but it'll push the right buttons in your mind if you like to hear about atmosphere, a lot of genres, a couple indie-favorites, and an attempt at humor. If you get a buzz playing atmospheric metal from YouTube in the background, give this a listen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

CTP - 020 - L: Crypter - Cutthroats From Hell (Live MDF / Sidebar)

Maryland Deathfest XII - A bunch of shit bands are playing the main Edison lots and a block away, at a local watering hole, an associated free show at Sidebar was going on. Crypter were the second band on. They delivered a brand of fierce and raw first wave black metal in the vein of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost laced with that special brand of underground vitriol that emanates with unadulterated energy. It's captured here.

$3 preorder until 8/31. $5 afterwards.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Atavisma - Where Wolves Once Dwelled

Dirtier than a crusty herpes covered pair of shit smeared lips wrapped around a dusty dildo, Where Wolves Once Dwelled, Atavisma's debut demo, will appeal to death metal die-hards that just can't find enough pleasure in the sounds of gurgling vocals and guitars as thick as quicksand. As if there wasn't enough unholy death metal demo tapes out there to pick up, add this to the list and luckily, this one is easily available and ready to be sucked dry. The trio, based in France (as is label Nihilistic Holocaust) get a lot of noise from the lack of numbers but they also capture more discerning ears when they incorporate disgusting lead melodies into their brand of sewage. In many ways, this reminds me of Mandatory's Where They Bleed with the super swampy guitar tones and powerful riffing. Still, an adept attention to songwriting is at play and should live up to the scrutiny of fans. With bands like Horrendous getting a ton of attention with their recent releases, the primordial ooze is bubbling here with the possibilities of a similar - though hopefully less polished - trajectory.

Where Wolves Once Dwelled opens with the boiling "The Savage One," slowly pummeling and writhing along. Vocalist - unnamed on the insert as are the other two members - is capable of some excellent guttural vocals and uses the talent all across this demo. They are perfect when paired with the ugliness of the material here. The remind of Undergang, Timeghoul or Iniquity on Serenadium. Atavisma's love of Swedish death metal is shown in "Forsaken" and "Nature's Warfare," the shorter of the four tracks. Grave and Entombed - to no one's surprise - are present in many riffs without being pure rip-offs. The title track is the highlight for me, opening it's length with some clean yet sinister guitar plucking before launching into a twisting doom tinted riff. The song is the ugliest, but also most complex with an extended instrumental section where once again clean guitars mimic the intro but are accompanied by tense drumming to create a dense malevolent mist.

This longer track would have been a better opening track for Where Wolves Once Dwelled but the fact it exists here is enough to give me some dirty and ugly thoughts. Even the usage of  'dwelled' instead of the proper 'dwelt' gives just that additional personality which I enjoy, even if it would make an English teacher tear at their eye sockets. As usual with Nihilistic Holocaust's releases, the tape labels are a little skimpy, and not a lot of material is present on the insert which is a little of a bummer but with my only musical gripe being how set back the percussion is in the mix, this is one of those pleasurable items that ends up in my collection and one I would recommend to others interest in quality death metal demos.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Trenchrot - Dragged Down To Hell

Philadelphia's Trench Rot, featuring Infiltrator's Steve Jansson as well as his fellow Crypt Sermon friend Brooks Wilson, set out to leave a dent on a scene which, for New Jersey and Philadelphia is small and lazy. Death Metal at this caliber is difficult to track down in the area and with the exception of some heavyweights like Funebrarum and Evoken and some more obscure, but no less impressive - and no less old school - bands like Sapremia the area is somewhat underwhelming in the category. It seems there are more black metal bands in the immediate vicinity than there are pennies in a dollar. Dragged Down To Hell is the 2013 demo that preceded this year's Necronomic Warfare. Essentially, we are given a memorable three-track blitz of Asphyx, Entombed and Grave. The overall creation sounds a whole lot like Hail Of Bullets and certainly elements of Bolt Thrower appear, especially the intro riff of second track "Trapped Under Treads." In fact, there's a lot of general death metal deja-vu here, whether intended or not.

The intro to opener "Gallery of the Dead" fondly invokes memories of Deathevokation's Chalice of Ages before running rampant in a more generic but enjoyably vicious manner. "Gallery..." is a smoothly moving track and my only gripe is the use of samples at the end which aside from being a pet-peeve of mine, are unnecessary as the song slowly drifts out of earshot. "Trapped Under Treads" continues in a similar manner but some additional make this a less generic experience. The breakdown section is excellent as it displays the killer static tinged bass tone of Steve Geptik as he slides in and out of some pummeling half-beat groove. The verses also mimic Diatribes era Napalm Death - a period of their career which goes unnoticed by the metal community at large it seems. The last track, the title track, "Dragged Down To Hell," doesn't hit me as hard, even with a tasteful middle eastern flavored solo. It's still good material but I prefer the other options here. This is a powerful and well paced Death Metal demo displaying balance and refinement - something I expect in projects involving Steve and which is displayed in both Infiltrator and Crypt Sermon. Worth attention for Death Metal gurus, as it will probably incite a need to check out the debut.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lysura - II

I couldn't think of a single thing I could give a shit about in Indianapolis. I don't like racing, I don't like football and I don't expect there to be a hockey team there any time soon. I even looked up every band in the city just to make sure I wasn't forgetting anyone. I wasn't. Other than Gates of Slumber - who to me are a bottle of Corona in a vast beer paradise of infinite other options - I didn't even recognize any other bands (a lapse in knowledge which I will be sure to close in the coming days) and so, Lysura, now promoting this second demo simply titled II with shows this summer and past spring - including one at St. Vitus in May which I think I went to but I don't remember - seem to be doing a good job at making The Circle City notable in the metal world. Their brand of black metal, doom and death metal cooked to a light crustiness rides the wave of bands combining the slow elements and sludgy overtones with black metal riffs but joins the parade near the rear of the pack, with the local cowboy club, senior citizen checkers group and police chase car.

Slower moments, especially the end of first track "Seasons In Exile" do well to contrast the different influences without sounding like a mish-mash. Tremolo picked melodies over churning plunky bass licks and screamed vocals are on display in "Tome of Surreption" as well. The second track, with brief clean guitar sections strewn about the composition, is still what I would call a faster track, and chugged accents find niches to crawl into during these areas. The two songs are equal lengths, but focus on different aspects of the band. "Seasons In Exile" provides a more temporal experience through the usage of slower riffs, melodic movement and texture whereas "Tome of Surreption" is more immediate and aggressive. Guitarist Max Otworth doubles as vocalist and in scratchy yelps akin to Carcass' Jeff Walker and Arsis' James Malone is really the harshest aspect of Lysura. Production wise, the guitars and bass are somewhat thin and gentle and drums of Eric Barnes, though well played like the rest of the instrumentation is just somewhat underwhelming in largeness.

The sixteen minute demo packs a lot of memorable moments but more material provided would give a better hint of whether the band can produce a full record capable of holding interest. It's a big problem in this style for me - songs that are too long by virtue of expectation, while extraneous sections and untimely pitter-patter arrive like a maligned coworker at your desk on what was a good day. While I like the idea here, of two songs of the same length, both different in pacing and focus, offering the band a ready-to-go 7" option should a label want to do something of the sort I don't think this is the best of what this band has. It's a little dry, lacking much atmosphere other than the feeling of being live and natural - which it definitely is. It's not particularly evil, or dark, or melancholy and it doesn't seem relaxed or sublime; II really seems to lack any real discernable emotions at all and so, unfortunately, this doesn't match up with some of my favorites in this style of the last couple years, like Velnias' majestic RuneEater or Hivelords' chilling Cavern Apothecary.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sadness - Close

I’m not making this up, but there is a depressive black metal band called “Sadness” and the project’s apish debut release, “Close,” really reminds me of that gorilla that could allegedly use sign language. (Koko is the gorilla’s name.) Here’s why the two are similar: first, let’s compare Koko’s purported reaction to learning her pet kitten had died with the titles from the tracklist on “Close.” Koko, using sign language: Bad, sad, bad, frown, cry, frown, sad. Sadness: Lonely, Useless, Sad, Life would be so beautiful…, suicide.

The most striking similarity is that Sadness and Koko both redundantly use the word sad to say that they are sad. This is revealing because in other words, the artistic complexity here is on par with the direct and awkward simplicity of interspecies communication. Here’s the problem though, Koko the gorilla never actually displayed verifiable marks of understanding language. The signs were prompted by her handler and rewarded with bananas without Koko understanding their meaning. Here, Sadness shares Koko’s shortcomings and is unable to actually articulate emotion and simply provides track titles and music prompted by the depressive suicidal black metal subgenre in a Pavlovian response to the promise of bananas, i.e. modest album sales/praise or even just the sense of completion of an album.

As you can imagine, the music is just as boring, Pavlovian, and unsophisticated as the track titles are. Strum a minor chord 12 or 16 times, then another one, all the while doing some excessively woeful and saccharine minor chord tremolo picking or arpeggio melody on top and you are off to a good start as to how this album goes. In terms of music-geography, Sadness might be palatable for people who felt that Amesoeurs were too heavy and intricate, that Hypomanie were too subtle, or that Xasthur was too ugly. It all sounds very familiar even without being able to point to which particular band’s style is being melodramatically aped.

Beyond being boring, the album is actively irritating in two major areas. First and most importantly are the very very high-pitched vocals in the all too familiar style of ghostly wails lacking any sense of melody or even hints of representing words. These vocals are really the major tie that Sadness has to black metal and they couldn’t be more out of place with the music, as their random spurts loudly distract from rather than adding to the bland chord progressions. The second major issue is how blunt and melodramatic the mood is. This gives off a terribly cliched vibe. Each of the numerous times we hear a soft, sad, acoustic guitar section, it is more like a gorilla grasping at hand motions until it gets a banana rather than a human being communicating emotion through music. Most of the riffs are immature guitar experiments with the minor scale, and poorly played as well.

As a solo project (surprise surprise), the rest of the instrumentation outside of the guitars and vocals are perfunctory. This leaves little to comment positively on. Sure the post-rock riffing and clean guitar sections aren’t abrasively awful (aside from their silverback emotional level) but the triteness so overwhelming that “Close” isn’t even close to being mediocre. All that prevents this from being completely excruciating is that the hackneyed transitions from soft or acoustic sections to generic post-depressive-whatever at least provide for some variation to break up the monotony. “Close” is still quite a grueling chore to get through, much of it is nakedly stark and bland fumbling - just as engaging as trying to listen to a gorilla communicate without the fun of having a gorilla around.