Wednesday, December 30, 2015

An Empirical Look at 2015's Top Metal Releases

2015 is over, and the many year-end "best metal albums of 2015" lists are an easy way to discover new bands. To get a better sense of the big picture though, I gathered data from 47 different year end lists and put the results of that data into the graphs below. Like last year's article, I'm not pretending that this is scientifically rigorous. But since it combines lists from 47 different authors and polls, this is probably the most representative and objective information available about what are considered to be 2015's top metal albums.

Top 2015 Metal Releases:

This graph shows the top 18 metal releases for 2015, based on what percentage of lists the release appeared on in the data. Only bands clearing the 10% threshold are shown. These 18 bands made up 32% of the top ten list occurrences. In other words, they showed up 151 times out of the 470 potential slots (47 websites with 10 entries each). The top 6 bands made up 16% of the top ten list occurrences.

Ghost's Meliora took the top spot, appearing on 29.79% of the lists. Interestingly, last year, four bands were higher than this percentage and Behemoth's The Satanist appeared on 37.5% of the 2014 lists. This year the leading bands weren't quite so dominant.

Here are the top releases in list format:

Ghost - Meliora 
Deafheaven - New Bermuda
Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls
Tribulation - Children of the Night
Mgła - Exercises in Futility
High on Fire - Luminiferous
Baroness - Purple (Abraxan Hymns)
Cattle Decaptitation - The Anthropocene of Extinction
Horrendous - Anareta
Paradise Lost - The Plague Within
Panopticon - Autumn Eternal
Between the Buried and Me - Coma Ecliptic
Enslaved - In Times
Intronaut - The Direction of Last Things
Lamb of God - VII: Sturm Und Drang
Myrkur - M
Royal Thunder - Crooked Doors
Slayer - Repentless

Top 2015 Metal Sub-Genres:

This graphs shows a breakdown of the same data while looking at the sub-genre of the entries. The numbers add up to over 100% because bands can have more than one genre. In fact, having multiple genres was the most common arrangement this year by a fair margin. This 41.7% is a jump from last year's 30.25% rate for what I've labeled as hybrid genres.

In pure genre terms, black metal was the most popular this year. You'll also notice that non-metal releases were more popular than almost all of the sub-genres. Non-metal releases also jumped from 2014's 12% to 17% this year. As I explain in the methodology below, genres information, including metal versus non-metal, was decided using the Metal Archives.

Top 2015 Record Labels:

1/13/2016 Update: The Prior Version of this Chart Inadvertently Omitted 20 Buck Spin

The third and final graph here shows which record labels were most common on the year end lists. Like last year, Nuclear Blast Records and Century Media Records are basically neck and neck and are the clearly the most dominant labels in these lists. An interesting tidbit from that data that isn't shown here is how labels vary in how many bands contributed to their success. Loma Vista Recordings is here only because of Ghost, where a more diversified label like Napalm Records had nine different bands contributing to their success.

I did not attach label data to non-metal bands because this graph is intended to illustrate the degree of record label dominance in the world of metal. The above 22 labels together took up 60.43% of the 470 available year end list slots. Nuclear Blast and Century Media consisted of 16.8%, down from last year's 20%. The cut off here is at the .85% level to keep the graph reasonably readable.

For those interested in economics, if you were to view the top-ten releases as their own separate market, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index for the above labels would be .0254, indicating a competitive market, and one that is more competitive than last year's.

Notes on My Methods:
  •  Information on genres, whether a band was metal or not, and label data were pulled from the Metal Archives.
  • In an attempt to avoid imputing my own taste biases, the vast majority of the websites were selected from the top google search results (with cookies/tracking disabled) for terms like “top/best 2015 metal” and the like.
  • I excluded mid-year lists, sub-genre lists, worst-of, and “most underrated” type lists.
  • I accessed 47 websites because this was about as many as I could find by using the above method and by adding lists from websites I personally read.
  • No bands were excluded for not being metal. If a list included a band, I included it.
  • Only the top 10 from any list were included. This was done to have some continuity across websites in terms of the weight of their data. I excluded sites with lists of less than 10; this way each website is on equal footing.
  • Since different websites can have in-house tastes, websites with multiple lists were selected only once, and at random.
  • Other than looking at only the top 10, rankings were not considered or averaged. Rankings like these are what is known as ordinal data and typically cannot be averaged in a meaningful way.
  • As a quick example, suppose List 1’s author thinks we had a weak year and would rate their #9 album at 73/100 and their #2 spot only 75/100. We can’t meaningfully compare this with List 2’s author rating their #9 album a 80/100 and their #2 100/100 because we have only rankings, and not ratings.
  • No individual website’s list is reproduced here, neither is the entire dataset.
  • I gathered label data only on metal bands. It’s also important to keep in mind that not every label releases music every year.
  • The list of websites accessed is in the spoiler tag below. Yes we know that many of them are awful websites with even worse taste, but there are a lot of good ones in there too.

God: 12.24.45 - 12.28.15

To Lemmy
"Motorhead was the first band I ever saw live. 2003, Motorhead, Dio, Iron Maiden at Madison Square garden. I wasn't familiar with any of the bands at the time. I went to the show with my friend Ryan who was a couple grades older than me in high school. All I can remember was how nonchalant Lemmy was on stage. He came, he played, he conquered, stoic in front of so many crazy fans. Just Loud, and massive, and the grit could scrape enamel off steel. The total counterpoint to Dio and Maiden that night. I remember seeing them a few years ago and they were still the loudest band I've ever heard. Consistency is a virtue in metal, and Lemmy exemplified it both personally and professionally. I can't imagine metalheads in the future not having some experience or memory of Motorhead outside of the music they left behind. Its almost a rite of passage to see Motorhead. Who will take that place now? There aren't many left. The adage that if Motorhead moved next door, your lawn would die must certainly ring true, because now that Lemmy's moved to the great next door, it seems like all the grass in town has begun to die off. That might be due to the appearance - finally - of cold weather here in the northeast, or the endless rain we've had drowning everything, but I'd like to think that cold weather and rain is also Lemmy's doing. One last big middle finger to all of us, of course, in jest. The world is a far less honest place going forward."

- Orion

"Lemmy lived fast and went further. He lived the lifestyle, and he stayed with it until the end. So many times in his life, others would have stopped, but Lemmy lived rock and roll. He was playing every night last year, and taking two nights off was a big deal. Guys 10-20 years younger than him take a night or two off between each show. Most folks quit by their mid-20s, while Lemmy joined Hawkwind then. By 30, he was out of the band but kept going. Around 40, the whole Motorhead lineup turned over in a few years. Many other rockers quit the lifestyle in one way or another even if they kept playing their old music. Lemmy never quit the lifestyle, playing every night on tour until the end. He rocked in England before the British invasion, and he's the only guy who saw it through and through for the next 50 years.
Live fast and live long."

- Steve

"Lemmy was one of a kind. A man that owned whatever room he was in no matter if it was a massive amphitheater or a tiny room. When he got up on stage with his Rickenbacker it was larger than life. Even with his lifestyle being hard and fast for most of his life he still managed to keep going until he was well into his 60's. He lived for his music, and to have everyone in the crowd experience true rock and roll. Louder, faster, and dirtier than anyone else. The blueprint for ever metal band to come. There will never be another Lemmy, another Motorhead. Celebrate the good times that were had. Play it fucking loud. Have a few beers, shots, or whatever else you want. Do it for the god that walked the earth for 70 years that never compromised on anything."

- Atomic Destructor From Hell (Maximum Oversatan

"As long as I have been a Metal fan Motorhead have been there. I got into them when I was in 4th grade after hearing their praise from like every other band I already liked. My brother and I would stay up late on Saturdays and watch Headbanger's Ball, pretty much from the first time I saw a Motorhead vid on there I was sold. I ended up getting 1916 upon it's release, and it was my BIG album of that summer, though Overkill has always been my fav. They have in one way or another (either musically or attitudewise) been a foundational structure of just about every single band I've ever played in. I've also had the fortune of having 9/10 bandmates who loved them as well. It's typical to say whenever any musician passes that the world has lost a giant, but we really did this time. Lemmy liked to party but he wasn't some pathetic junkie who had 15 mins of fame in the 90's and overstayed his welcome, nor was he a cartoon character in a costume for a joke band who had 15 mins of fame in the 90's but the rest of the world took seriously. He was the true King of Rock N' Roll, and the throne will now remain empty forever. Rock and Metal as productive genres have been dead to me for quite some time now, but this was indeed the final nail in the coffin. There are no more heroes. R.I.P. Lemmy, the world is fucked without you......"

- Mike Keller (Sacrificial Blood, Maximum Oversatan

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Legion of Thor - Complete Discography

This isn't normally something I'd review, but curiosity and duty called and required a listen. The band's genre was reported as being incorrect on Metal Archives, and it stood out, though not for good reasons. I knew the band solely from this comment by admin Azmodes:

"Just FYI, that band is blacklisted for being "NS Deathcore". Now there's a constellation of words I was hoping I'd never see... :ugh:"

As Tom G. Warrior said, "are you morbid?" Morbidly curious, that's for sure. Full disclosure, this all sucks. 

Winds of Change (1999)

Legion of Thor started out as a punk band before later shifting to a metalcore/deathcore style. This album is almost entirely simple power chord punk played over a drum machine, no nice punk basslines or anything fancy. I'd guess the main influences are Skrewdriver and Landser - LoT play a similar, minimal form of hardcore punk/RAC, though this lacks the anthemic feel of RAC. The essence of RAC, as those bands played it, was shouting the message - big choruses shouting a simple phrase, the music focused on the vocalist, since the lyrics are the focus. LoT have none of that. The vocals have no charisma, they're just boring, sharp shouts. They don't lead the music, nothing really does, and the guitars overwhelm the vocals in the mix. I suppose it's about attitude, but it's got a shitty attitude and no character, so what's the point?

2000 (2000)

Legion of Thor's second album is an improvement on the first in many ways, though not much better. The guitar tone is a bit thicker, which conceals the drum machine a little. Still hardcore punk in nature, the guitars now have a metallic flair with muted chugs to accentuate riffs, even some guitar solos. There's even some semblance of hooks in the guitars, though not nearly enough to redeem this. The vocals are up front - gruff shouts reminiscent of Landser. Once again, they fail to lead the music. There's just no charisma here, they don't even attempt the anthemic shouts and sick sing-alongs that are normally highlights of their kin. They don't even go for the signature backing shouts of Oi/street punk/RAC or whatever you want to call it. It's just brash and boorish with no charm to it. I guess this sort of stuff was pushed by ideologically driven labels at the time, just for the sake of having their own music to legitimize their ideology in young minds. I'll just look back on it for the incoherent shit that it is.

Blood, Pride, Pain (2000)

After releasing two albums of the world's most boring hardcore/RAC, Legion of Thor took a quick turn when they seem to have discovered the contemporary NS scene in Germany. Tacky artwork was replaced by a painting from a Games Workshop book on dwarves (take that, symbolically, as you will) and the album introduced by the clanking swords of battle, and outroduced by a folky acoustic guitar bit. It seems they discovered Absurd, Aryan Blood, and Totenburg, perhaps even foreign influences such as Graveland! These elements provide the frame for a new era of Legion of Thor...

...which sounds more or less like their previous album, only the guitarist got a lot better at chugging. Most of this album seems fairly thrashy as a result, a hardcore punk band getting really aggressive on the chugging parts in addition to power chord riffs. Aside from the intro/outro and an infusion of gallops and melody on the second track, this isn't much more than the same old punk band this always was with a newfound tremolo/chugging attack. The drum machine is now programmed with double bass to complement the guitars, and it's better masked in the mix, but it hardly improves the music. The vocalist is still a hoarse barker so devoid of personality that he could suck the hate out of a Skrewdriver anthem. This band still sucks, even though they've found a streak of new blood to imitate.

The 4th Crusade (2004)

After a rapid evolution from simple punk to thrash-tinged metalcore seemingly driven by an improvement in guitar picking technique, Legion of Thor leapt forward to a more modern style with a heavy emphasis on downtuned chugging and palm muting. That is to say, their style started to sound like mallcore. From the harmonics in "Berlin" to the awful System of a Down cover, this band has found a new way to be terrible.

The puzzling thing is that the band still doesn't bring in any of the strong qualities of what they are clearly imitating. The 90s-style metalcore chugging is slurred but has no character, the d-beats have no swing, and the chugs have no groove. They can't even pull off a breakdown, as sad as that is. The songs aren't anthemic or catchy like most RAC, the heaviness feels lethargic rather than energetic like hardcore could be. The performances are tight enough that it isn't an accident, but this sounds like a garage rock band where the only time they seem to be trying to express anything is a handful of squibbly leads.

The persistent mediocrity through four albums shows how this style was manufactured and marketed on ideology, while the music itself was reheated chop suey. Ugh, no pun intended.

Amen (2006)

In case you were ever wondering if NS deathcore was as bad as it sounds... yes, it is.

This is a mix of dirty, slurred groove/death metal riffs and deathcore breakdowns that are puzzlingly reminiscent of punchdafuckup mallcore. The former is like a dumbed down modern Napalm Death, the latter like a retarded Soulfly clone. For all the downtuned chuggy mallcore feeling here, the vocalist is still grunting background noise and can't even work out a hook, nor can anyone else in the band. How the fuck is this band on their fifth album and still this bad? They can't even copy the templates of the shit they're aping - they lack the bounce of mallcore, the groove of any sorta death/groove/grind, the aggression of metal, the catchy hate of RAC. They have none of it, just limp, slurred downtuned guitars and low grunts. This is a band who has repeatedly failed to ape others throughout their "career" and this bad? They can't even channel their hate/angst into their NS deathcore. How the fuck does that even work?

It doesn't.

Feuer & Flamme (2009)

Continuing their evolution into sounding slightly better while still creating shit music, Legion of Thor play a pretty tight and heavy beatdown hardcore/nu-metal hybrid. The latter is purely for the phat chugz, because these bozos still don't have an ounce of radio rock sensibility. They hardly have a sense of how breakdowns work either, diving headlong into long stretches of chugging interspersed with guitar squeals and gang vocals while not being very effective at getting there. Rather than buildup up energy and breaking it down with beatdown sections, this is more breakdown than not, and the contrasting sections don't really make any sense within the songs. Most of a song will be a breakdown, and there will be an odd, out-of-place section in the middle.

The second half of the album has a fair number of melodic metalcore riffs, and while the riffs and songwriting are still poor, it is pretty standout in such a mediocre discography. There's half a dozen songs here which could probably moshed to. Legion of Thor could've been a legit D-list local hardcore opener five years before this album came out.

Wir Wollen Leben (2013)

It isn't every day that I get to soapbox about a bunch of cultural appropriation by a group of German Nazis, but these guys couldn't be any worse at jacking Hatebreed riffs and aping New England metalcore/melodeath. True, I was raised on scattershot melodeath riffs with random breakdowns, but I haven't got the slightest clue what these guys are doing with them, though this has the most variety of their discography. Maybe their imitation of European bands simply reminds me of local bands imitating European bands, but this band's whole discography astounds me as they've been at it for over a decade and still sound like amateurs a decade behind their time.

While they lead the album off with more breakdown-oriented stuff, the majority of this album sounds like every teenage kid I knew who figured out how to play string skipping melodic riffs (think "Slaughter of the Soul") interspersed with tremolo picking, interrupted by breakdowns before a few parts could be sensibly strung together. The songs have no structure - there's no verse/chorus structure, they don't build up to breakdowns, they don't frame the anthems of the hardcore gang vocals, and they certainly don't have the interwoven melodic structures of early At the Gates. Oh yeah, and have I mentioned the random Hitler samples? I think it is apparent that the band have never played for a crowd either, because the vocalist has less charisma than a rusted-out Volkswagen and the drum machine stands out here more than ever, with bonky samples punching through more than the guitars.

As the great philosopher Azmodes once said, "that band is "NS Deathcore". Now there's a constellation of words I was hoping I'd never see..." So please, Legion of Thor, stop stealing my state's culture and playing crappy, utterly derivative metalcore.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Plutonian Shore - Sphere Of Geburah

My experience with Plutonian Shore prior to Sphere of Geburah is their previous very good early Satyricon inspired material from the Alchemical Manifestations split with A Transylvanian Funeral. Here, we get a full length release of material similar, though matured and more vicious. Twisting songs drag the listener through intense black metal landscapes. Tremolo guitar riffs adorn the release like baubles; plenty of detail and subtlety make this a rich listening experience - even with shorter than normal black metal song lengths - that does not immediately relinquish the numerous secrets hidden among what is a lively production. Distant guitars, prominent drums, audible bass, more passion, and clarity without being overly polished effect naturality.

Opening with "Infinite Womb", material draws influences from modern US black metal into the material however without the detrimental tinge of being a copycat of trends. Somewhere between Dissection and early Immortal in riff style, Plutonian Shore should appeal to a wide variety of black metal fans. My only complaint was the dialing back of 'symfonia' compared to what I remember. Modern USBM influences are obvious in the pummeling bombast of the drums. Atmosphere has been thrown to the wind in favor of sheer power. There is an overall immediacy to the album, with plenty of shorter songs, punctuated with a large quantity of ideas. Plutonian Shore have compressed what takes average black metal bands six or seven minutes to get across into half that time without sacrificing the feel of the material. This is evidenced right by the start with "Infinite Womb." Only a couple riffs repeat more than twice giving a decisive feel.

"Sphere of Geburah" leads off with a vicious tremolo descending phrase after the devious melodies of "Chains of Being" finally culminate. Plutonian Shore have ensured that each song flows appropriately into each other by differentiating melodies and riffs at the transitional moments between songs. Some songs do have similar sounding progressions but their proximity across the album prevents blurring. This isn't entirely true in regards to the percussion, which isn't as varied or mixed. While some tracks such as the previously mentioned "Chain of Being" and "At The Gates of Daath" have some more accentuated drum parts, and "Fiery Splendor" and album highlight "The Burial And The Liberation" make use of more moderately paced beats, a lot of the album is blasting. Drummer Gorgon shows his talent by way of endurance and the execution of his numerous drum fills but additional unique patterns would have helped some songs stand out more.

"Serpent's Ascension" includes some subtle vocal overdubs. Zvs Gastelum's voice is raspy, rich, and commanding. Most of the album's vocals are in the mid-range of black metal growls, though at times Zvs does reach towards higher screeches to emphasize certain moments in a more theatrical manner. "At The Gates of Daath" begins the final three tracks - two of which are my favorites on this release - utilizing this technique over tense traditional black metal riffing. The album culminates with the masterful "The Burial and the Liberation." A more mid-paced track, it sets a nice contrast to the rest of the album's pace. The dropped tempo lasts for only a couple minutes, as the track does speed up halfway through. Ringing notes, an atmosphere of finality, and foreboding of dread all emanate strongly from "The Burial..." as well as much of the rest of the album. Strong black metal worth becoming familiar with.

Spectral Voice / Blood Incantation - Spectral Voice / Blood Incantation Split 7"

Infected 7" Artwork courtesy of Manifester

This split 7" was picked up at this year's Martyrdoom fest. Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice both bombarded the crowd with their slick versions of death metal. Both bands linger stylistically in the early 90's era of death metal when slowed down doom influenced riffs started seeping out of the woodwork like termites. While both bands here point to influences from the common Swedish brands, additional subtle decorations adorn each band's offering. Also worth noting is how closely linked the bands are in other notable facets: Both hail from Colorado and both have a confluence of similar members including Paul Riedl, Morris Kolontyrsky, and Jeff Barrett.

Blood Incantation rips through "Mephitic Effluvia" like a scavenger through a carcass. Riffs are punctuated by tasty melodic leads. Though not as experimental or narrative, the mixture of tempos, highlights, and deep throaty vocals rekindle memories of hearing Timeghoul's Tumultous Travelings for the first time. This is coated with a gentle natural production that is warm in tone but sharply emphasizes Barrett's masterful fretless bass playing. The sole non-Spectral Voice member, Isaac Faulk, is calculated on drums who prefers to underpin the material offered with recognizable simplicity instead of continuous flair and complexity in the same way Bolt Thrower pummels us with practical percussive attacks instead of overzealous bombast. The whole mash brews a wonderful fermented death metal concoction.

Side B of the split, Spectral Voice, churns eerily and tensely before getting their tracks rolling through the death metal muck. The slow intro might be considered overkill but once the Vastum-esque stomp is enacted "(Slowly) Claimed By Oblivion" grows into a fierce tempest, sloshing bits and pieces of soggy guitar movements into your ear-wall. Ironically, Spectral Voice is the slower piece here, with a healthy dosage of funeral doom poking through, especially near the fifth-minute 'cool-down' where steely guitar tones reverberate through ringing distorted chords until culmination. While "(Slowly)..." may be the more memorable track due to it's atmosphere, I don't think that the Spectral Voice track is quite as complete as the Blood Incantation ritual.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Oshiego - Crossing the Bridge of Siraat

Oshiego is a death metal band which has a distinct flair and is strong in structured songwriting. Riffs are driven by sharp, slightly "exotic" melodies - but rarely harmonies - paired with percussive death/thrash riffs. The style feels somewhat familiar, though unique enough to make it hard to draw direct parallels. Akin to the newer takes on old school death metal from the late 90s/early 00s, this is a good take on it.

Oshiego is old-school in style - the songs are based around ideas of on guitar, then mirrored in instrumentation on bass and drums. Rather than a modern approach, where the heaviness of production provides a wrenching and thrashing percussiveness and is repeated, the concepts originate from melodies on guitar.

The Oshiego trademark is to phrase an exotic melody as a guitar riff, then initiate a call-and-response push/pull with percussive guitar riffs. The melodies and the moods they inflect are unique to this band, but are reminiscent of Atheist's more melodic bits, or perhaps the better-phrased moments of Death. These are paired appropriately with thrashier death metal riffs akin to Master or Carnal Forge. The exotic tonality is easy to equate to Nile, but Oshiego doesn't have the long-winded or aggressively overdone attributes of Nile. Perhaps that is for the better, as the drum machine is met well by the extremely tight guitar and bass playing.

The songwriting provides a necessary dynamic to the single-songwriter/single-player sound. The rhythms here are very tight, and it is apparent that there is one man playing the quad-tracked guitars and bass along to a well-programmed drum track. The contrast to this is that, unlike most bands of the style who repeat 2-3 part song structures (i.e. ABAB-AB or ABC-ABC) Oshiego nest contrasting two-part sections inside of other parts. Rather than simple verse-chorus structures expanding upon that with pre-choruses, transitions, and reprises, the songs aren't chorus-oriented. There are definite structures here, but each of the 2-3 primary parts are structured with those push/pull, call-and-response riffs which emphasize melody and rhythm. This is what separates the band from many of the otherwise comparable late 90s/early 00s not-quite-oldschool death metal bands like Repugnant and Krisiun.

This is a standout album because it is distinct, built outward from the melodies and guitar riffs. While it doesn't match up to the greatest death metal albums, it is a contrast to a trend in death metal of emulating aesthetics and riffing style with no greater purpose. Perhaps it is for the best that it is not overbearing in tone nor atmosphere, because this reflects best on the themes of the music itself rather than simply aiming to strike once. Crossing the Bridge of Siraat is a journey worth taking.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Chronovorus - To Those Who Dwell in Ruin

Chronovorus’ To Those Who Dwell in Ruin is an enjoyable, albeit brief, EP that invokes the tried-and-true atmosphere of Lovecraft. The band’s variety of black/doom metal is very much in the same vein as the mighty Predatory Light. Murky, cavernous, you know the drill. However, Chronovorus really has a much more major sounding vibe than their contemporaries, and thankfully they don’t milk it to the point of being a gimmick.

In this sense, the music tends to break away from the usual moods associated with the style and forges its own unique atmosphere. The obvious meaning behind the band’s name and imagery of Jupiter's sulfurous moon Io; these things doesn’t exactly scream Lovecraft stereotypes, but they still work. Chronovorus’ musical identity follows their aesthetics, a slightly different angle on familiar themes.

Mixing black and doom metal isn’t always easy though, and Chronovorus get tripped up by their own overwhelming sense of doomy languor. This is a bit of a problem because parts of the music sometimes lose black metal’s atmosphere. Take “A Star Oath” for example. It starts the EP off slow. Really. Really. Slow. The EP also closes out with the same exact problem. Given that the first and third track are ambient pieces, this doesn’t leave much meat (a third of the play time is ambient). However, they aren’t exactly filler track because the rumbling vocals and damp noises immerse you in the band’s imagery, making you feel like you are overhearing a subterranean demonic conversation.

Despite the sizable amount of ambience and the boringly slow sections, the EP still feels too short. This is a testament to the strength and identity of the rest of the material. Soaring high melodies on the guitar, lush even bass, and impressively sustained echoey vocal rasps help to temporarily raise the mix out of the muck. In the moments like these, the EP really hits its stride, and these aspects of Chronovorus’ sound ought to be further developed. To Those Who Dwell in Ruin is best when it manages to distinguish itself without sacrificing the core strengths of black or doom metal.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Interview with Yixja of Dalla Nebbia and Mesmur

Dalla Nebbia - Felix Culpa (2015)
Apteronotus: A lot of musicians and bands aim to get signed to a record label, and obviously most of them never will. You’ve done it twice with Dalla Nebbia (Razed Soul Productions) and more recently with Mesmur (Code666 Records). How did the label deals come about, and do you have any suggestions for other bands trying to get their music out there, especially bands with lineups that don’t allow for touring?

Yixja: Well it can definitely be a challenge to find a label these days, due to the sheer number of bands releasing albums and to the fact that fewer people are buying records. And like you mentioned, a lot of labels don’t like to work with musicians who don’t tour. My deals with Razed Soul and Code666 came simply from emailing the labels demos of our music though. My suggestion if trying to get signed would be to take care to be articulate in your contact with the label, using descriptive language to grab the reader’s attention and give them an idea of what to expect when hearing your music for the first time. The biggest hurdle is getting them to first notice you over the countless other demos they’re probably receiving every day.

A: Dalla Nebbia is definitely a band that crosses a lot of traditional genre lines (obvious examples include the soft organ section on “The Banner of Defiance,” and the entire song “Das Gelächter Gottes.”) Do you think that working around genre boundaries is artistically necessary or that there is a risk of going overboard with a jumble of different ideas?

Yixja: I don’t think working outside of genre boundaries is “artistically necessary” in general, but it depends on the project. I’ve always enjoyed metal bands that blur the lines between genres, and even some non-metal bands like Mr. Bungle and Estradasphere that ignore genre lines completely. But whether or not there’s a risk of going overboard depends on the goals of the project. We didn’t want to be limited by the constraints of traditional black metal, but at the same time wanted to preserve a certain consistency of atmosphere to the music. The organ section of The Banner of Defiance and the glitchy electronic direction of Das Gelächter Gottes fit within the musical narrative we were trying to create on the album, and though they may seem unusual for the black metal they were really not much of a departure in tone and mood. And yes, for us there could absolutely be a possibility of going overboard, in taking a stylistic turn that doesn’t work for the song or album. Even with the eclectic nature of our influences, Felix Culpa has an overall gloomy tone, shifting between melancholic and angry, and a surf rock break in the middle of a song inspired by the Jonestown massacre would probably not be appropriate.

Mesmur - Mesmur (2014)
A: Along that same line of thought, why was Mesmur formed as a new project rather than incorporating those ideas into Dalla Nebbia?

Yixja: I’ve been a big fan of the death doom and funeral doom genres for quite a while, and I’ve had interest for some time in attempting to write music in this style. Opportunity arose when we had a period of Dalla Nebbia downtime, as we waited for Zduhac to finish some vocal parts. It began as simply playing around with some ideas on the side, but the songs for Mesmur’s debut came together very naturally and quickly, and even though death/doom influence has been a part of Dalla Nebbia’s sound from the beginning these songs felt like a completely different animal. Dalla Nebbia’s drummer Alkurion was immediately on board for the project, and after the songs Osmosis and Lapse were written musically and we had contacted Chris G about joining as vocalist, we decided this material would work best if we kept the new project somewhat constrained by genre conventions, rather than the more “free” stylistic approach of Dalla Nebbia. There is still some amount of experimentation, and I’d say that the songs each have their own personality and character, but for the most part they don’t venture very far outside of the death/funeral doom realm.

A: Does that fact that you are collaborating with other musicians influence how you go about writing? By that I mean structurally, like leaving some extra repetition for a vocal section to go over or having a straightforward section to allow another musician to punch in.

Yixja: Well I’m focused 90% on the instrumental part of the music when I write, but I do keep in the back of my mind a general idea of which parts NEED vocals to work, and which parts should remain instrumental. Sometimes this vague blueprint changes once Zduhac gets his hands on the song though, and occasionally this can mean adding or cutting repetitions of sections. When I program drum and bass parts for the initial demos I either leave it simple, or I put in my suggestions for the parts, and then Alkurion and Tiphareth improve on them with their ideas. Same goes for the violin parts on Felix Culpa. I had some synth violin parts in place when Sareeta went to work, but she elaborated on my ideas, and in some places arranged brand new parts that I would have never come up with.

A: Suppose you have a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection, plus the killing jar. What do you do?

Yixja: Great question! I know many people are opposed to the killing of animals for any reason, but I think it all depends on the context, and the kid’s attitude. If he is reveling in the killing of the butterflies, and lighting up when he talks about that part, then he may need psychological help. If he’s doing it out of a genuine interest in science and a desire to learn about nature, then I say more power to him. If the latter is the case, he sounds about like me as a kid. And at least he’s not hiding the jar and lying to himself and others about what’s occurring.

A: In a prior interview you had mentioned that a lot of the songs on Felix Culpa were written before 2013. Which songs were written more recently, and have you noticed any changes in your songwriting as the project has developed?

Yixja: I don’t think the writing has changed very much through the course of putting this album together, but there were definitely changes in the songwriting from our debut to Felix Culpa. The first Felix Culpa song we wrote was Abandoned Unto Sky, and we could have included it on the first record if we wanted, but we decided it didn’t fit the feel of those songs. That song and the second one we wrote, Lament of Aokigahara, sort of served as a general template of where we wanted to go on this album. The last ones finished were Paradise in Flames, the title track, and The Banner of Defiance. Generally speaking, in place of the acoustic guitars and ringing melodies of our first album, Felix has more of a focus on dense layers of atmosphere, fluid dynamics within the songs, and emotional content conveyed by consonant and dissonant harmonies. I tried to keep the focus and approach consistent during the writing of the album, even though I worked on other things here and there between the time the album was started and completed.

A: Do you think that Dalla Nebbia’s lineup would benefit from having any additional members or instruments or do you prefer the flexibility of having guest appearances like those from Sareeta and Aort?

Yixja: I prefer to have a core lineup of guitar/bass/drums/keyboard/vocals and work with guest musicians beyond that, to give us the flexibility to go in different directions on future material. I really enjoyed working with Sareeta, and believe she added a great deal to our sound, but at this point I can’t really speak for what we’re going to do on future recordings, and whether violin will continue to be appropriate. If there’s a place for violin in future material, I guarantee Sareeta will be the first person I talk to about it.

A: You’re a big King Crimson fan, if you had to choose between Robert Fripp’s guitar work and Adrian Belew’s, who do you think has an approach that you relate to more as a musician?

Yixja: As you can probably tell from my playing, I relate most to Fripp’s calculated, mathematical approach to guitar. That being said, I especially love when Fripp and Belew work together in tandem, whether it’s the polyrhythmic noodling of their 80’s albums, or something like The Construkction of Light, where their parts lock together like pieces of a puzzle. To be honest, there’s not a KC period I’m not a fan of though.

A: Thanks a ton for doing this interview, do you have any parting words or are there bands that you’d like to recommend/namedrop?

Yixja: Hmm, bands to recommend… I’ve been listening to Gris a lot lately, as well as the Russian atmospheric death/doom band Mare Infinitum. I’ve also been really into the one-man Italian act Chiral, which kind of reminds me of the best parts of Lustre and Falls of Rauros, but with some really experimental instrumentation like harmonica and trumpet. Anyway, the interview has been my pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Twist Ending - Musica Di Morte (2014 Demo)

Twist Ending's Musica Di Morte demo is a brilliant mashup of punk infused death thrash and Italian giallo film samples. The perpetrators here are likely familiar faces: Vanessa Nocera (Razorback Records, Wooden Stake) handles the guitars and bass, Gregg Metzger of Lincoln Love Log fame provides drumming, and Stevo (Impetigo, Church Of Misery) handles non-sample vocals where necessary. The horror movie influences of Stevo and Nocera are in beautiful full bloom. We are gifted a rather sneakily addicting raunchy listen which is very memorable thanks to the samples but also the appropriately scuzzy riffs.

Hearing the immediately familiar theme from Black Belly of the Tarantula open the tape was a relief. I'm not as educated as I likely should be in the 60's and 70's Italian giallo genre but this is one film which I have seen. It really helped draw me into the vibe the tape attempts to portray. "Tormentula (La Tarantola Dai Ventre Nero)" opens the demo with a crooning sample of the movie score before disappearing into edits of narrations from the movie over the promulgation of mid-paced death thrash riffs. Stevo spits more than growls the vocals throughout the demo, and does so here as well. "Shadow In The Gallery" is probably the most metallic of the tracks, as the short preface leads into a crossover thrash riff which completes the rest of the track aside from twenty seconds of children's' humming at the end. Fourth track is a total mash up of samples, no metal or punk material at all.

The best track here is definitely "Evil Iris, Summoner Of Misery." From the very beginning we get a plunky bass line from Nocera and steady drum beat with samples underneath perfectly paired. Samples overlap segments through the rest of the song, which repeat the catchy riff, now with a flanged distorted guitar layering. There is a very definitive garage-metal vibe to the instrumental aspects of this release which uplift the samples to a higher vantage by imbuing them with grit lost when not accompanied by images. At the very least, Twist Ending have motivated me to check out the movies sampled, but I expect I'll be returning to tracks from this for the foreseeable future. Great demo. Love the look of the cover and the blood red tape with black imprint is a detailed touch. Nice tapes are predictable from No Visible Scars though, so be sure to grab this one there. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Pulsar Colony - Cosmic Manifestations

This is an odd album. Despite having an engaging composition, the choices in tones and overall mix make it a fairly unrewarding experience. This isn’t an issue of everything being too raw or the kind of album that reveals itself over time, it’s just incredibly bland. Pulsar Colony’s Cosmic Manifestations is the audial equivalent of stuffing your mouth full of sandy cotton balls. The guitar tone teeters between practice amp and VST plugin, and the programmed drums take a massive toll on the album’s atmosphere. The percussion is an especially weird point because the 2013 release Equilibrium Zone has Matt Friend on drums, and is much more effective than the dry clicking we get here. Cosmic Manifestations has a sprawling and intricate architecture but all we get are the blueprints.

On paper, it all sounds great. Compelling melodies meld into one another with smooth transitions. Rhythmic strumming occasionally breaks up the pacing from the wall of sound tremolo picking to create a kind of experimental sound. Synth, lead guitars, and rhythm stack together and the vocals pop in at the right times to provide some extra focus. But, it all still sounds rather shoddy. With all of the attention that went into the narrative composition, the poor execution makes little sense. Despite the creative layering, the different instruments don’t even actively change dynamics to fit the composition. It really aggravates the sensation that the mix is too flat and dry. “Flat and dry” is problem for any band, but for a spacey/atmospheric band it’s a major issue. And, on a seventy-four minute album (bonus track included) with sprawling songs structures, it's rather devastating.

Nothing here is atrocious but some particularly questionable moments include the distracting flange effect and sleepy vocals on “The Dimensional Wolf of the Ginnungagap Singularity.” The bass tone too often booms over the mix instead of supporting the sickly guitars. Still, while Cosmic Manifestations is difficult to enjoy, it still has the strong composition and spacey atmosphere niche going for it. The thing is though, the divide between execution and composition is somewhat of a fiction. You can only get limited enjoyment out of how something could have sounded. It means that this ends up as an underwhelming release whose flaws major enough to hide the underlying quality. Normally in this situation you’d think about how this means huge improvements are on the way, but this is Pulsar Colony’s fourth full-length! It’s well past time to sort things out and invest in the project. The music deserves it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Martyrdoom IV - Congregation of the Extreme: Festival Journal

It's been a week. We've all been able to allow the ringing in our ears to cease and come to accept our future tinnitus diagnoses. I've spent the past week re-listening to practically every set from the festival and dwelling on my experiences and thoughts. While Maryland Death Fest continues to shift more and more into a European style mainstream metal festival and the metal community continues yearly to proclaim their disgust at festivals excommunicating artists and bands based on perceived extracurricular activities, Signature Riff's flagship Martyrdoom festival stands stalwart ready to host those not bothered by political correctness propaganda, not interested in seeing washed up 80's heavy metal acts, and not willing to shell out money to stand in a giant open space where the power of riffs become distant drones and thuds yonder. For the fourth year in a row New York City via Brooklyn welcomes underground metal monoliths with class, dignity, and respect allowing the listeners and fans the ultimate opinion.

Originally intended to be a regular one-off show for Father Befouled and Encoffination, the original installment quickly ballooned into having several international acts make the voyage to play in year one. Year two saw an attempt to increase the festival's scale again, going to a three-day event. Perhaps trying to grow too much too fast, Martyrdoom III recoiled, with a return to Signature Riff's safehouse of St. Vitus Bar and a more successful festival overall with appearances by Mournful Congregation, One Tail One Head, Sargeist, and more. This year, six nights - five at St. Vitus, a preshow at Acheron, and an aftershow at Lucky 13 Saloon - of perpetual pummeling by some of the best in the world sets up future renditions to be as strong and draw just as many, if not more, maniacs to the black-doored metal-mecca of NYC. By the end of this year's Martyrdoom I'm convinced that my festival tradition is changing. Martyrdoom is officially my yearly festival.

Thursday started out unpredictably. I had work early and was informed that I would be getting shifted to manage a new department. So, Martyrdoom's genesis for me was a major change at work. Thursday night's lineup at The Acheron was just what is normally prescribed for these sorts of moments: utter and complete oldschool death metal of significant quality. The expectations were high with Vastum headlining the night. For the first time in my life I found a parking spot directly across from the Acheron and walked into the well decorated bar. With deep sea diving man staring down at me flanked by old portraits of unknown souls I murdered some time by gulping down a beer and, as I do every time I visit Acheron, devouring the heavenly creation they call their "bacon wrapped hot dog." I was severely miffed when the bartender cut short "Centurian War Games" when it came on shuffle. "It's not intense enough for tonight," was his response. "Rules change when Manilla Road is on shuffle," was my retort. I hold that to be true in every situation. Doors opened at eight.

To this day, I believe I will never use a bathroom as dreaded as the stage left Acheron chamber. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to leave a soaking wet mop and bucket in the space behind the toilet evidently uses a totally different bathroom. The smell in that cell exists in a different plane of olfactory misery. It smelled like year-old urine, cheap air freshener, and sewage. It was still not as awful as walking into a stall at Maryland Deathfest eight years ago and noticing that someone defecated on top of the toilet tank, but there was some semblance of humor in that for me. There was nothing visually hysterical about the smell present in that bathroom.

Coagula opened the set. These Bostonians were absolutely impressive for an opening band on a festival. There is no doubt in my mind that Martyrdoom lineups are entirely worth catching front to back. Coagula through Bömbers, every band was worth watching. It's rare that this is the case on a multi-day festival.

Coagula's sound is best described as a strong mix of Asphyx and Bolt Thrower. Swedish elements were frequent as well. These forces were strong the whole evening. Playing material off what I was told by their bassist and vocalist Sam to be a very quickly made rehearsal demo, they were a real surprise. Standout songs from their set were "Earthbound," with masterful hammer-on / pull off flairs and especially "Age Of Eden," which mashed an atypical-for-their-style melodic theme with the more traditional death metal without failure. Even some samples of marching music made it into their set. I was psyched I got to see them. Their demo tape, 2015 Rehearsal Demo, is sick also; powerful riffs, deep throaty vocals, intense memorability. Worth the five dollar investment for sure for a tape through the band and definitely the free download off their Bandcamp. It will get many spins over time for me.

Infernal Stronghold is a Philly band that seemingly appears all over the place. I've seen them several times before including a show recently opening for Peru's Witchtrap. They've got a notable hardcore punk influence in their sound and often engage the audience with dissonant surprises. Their short abrasive songs were the exception this night. I've never been a huge fan of the general style, but Infernal Stronghold do it very well and are a blast to watch live with a usually active audience. This was the tightest and most engaging of the two or three times I've seen them. They had a lot of energy. At one point guitarist / vocalist Eddie got his hair caught in the headstock of his own guitar and simply ripped it out and continued playing midsong. I love watching that kind of stuff. I'm not sure if I would drop them into the black metal genre they self describe as but it doesn't really matter when you do whatever you do well, like Infernal Stronghold...

Trenchgrinder sounded exactly as you would imagine them to sound. Once again Bolt Thrower is a huge influence - possibly the only influence - and they do it very well. As their set started the fog machine turned on and smoke billowed towards the ceiling. Drop tiles appeared to almost be on fire as smoke crawled across the ceiling. It was a nice touch for a band whose songs are generally about lighting shit on fire, bombing shit, flamethrowering shit, shoot shit, and general war-shit. The smog proceeded to build through the first track. Vocalist Owen Rundquist had some technical difficulties until the second track allowed a microphone switch. By then a definitive haze had permanently settled into the room and I'm surprised the sound engineer - I don't know her name but she did a phenomenal job with the sound for the pre-show - was even able to see the microphones and cables on stage. Their set proceeded without incident afterwards. It was easy to find headbanging moments in their tight and precision set. Trenchgrinder show themselves to be seasoned performers. My only criticism is that the last two tracks in their thirty minute set dragged a bit due to a lack of differentiation in the material. I would definitely see the band again but would likely hold off until after a new release to see a slightly adjustment in set list.

Vastum, in my opinion, are the spiritual reawakening of death metal. It's not just their hour long set of absolutely pummeling violent death metal that impressed me, though. It was all the intangible aspects of their live performance. The fog lingered from Trenchgrinder's set, yes... but apparently enough smoke to barely see your own hands was not an obscured enough atmosphere. Mist poured out of the smoke machine like water from a firehose until everyone was severely doused in a cloak of thick and heavy gloom. Red backlighting provided the only illumination and the wattage only allowed silhouettes of Vastum to be visible. Guitarists Leila Abdul-Rauf (also of Hammers of Misfortune fame (also see Sabbath Assembly)), Shelby Lermo, bassist Luca Indirio and vocalist Daniel Butler were shifting forms throughout their set. I couldn't see drummer Adam Perry at all.

This set the stage for a set made extra dangerous due to Daniel Butler's reckless stage performance. Not content to simply stand on stage and growl and scream into a microphone, Butler spent about half the set throwing people around in the pit, jumping off stage into people, knocking everyone into the loose equipment laying about the floor, and generally attacking the audience. He singlehandedly produced the festival's most violent pit action. I left with a welt on my forehead. Butler's command of the audience was similar to a Baptist preacher/healer. Butler often would grab the hair and heads of those at the front of the stage, scream and growl into their face, shake their heads around a bit and then push them back into the audience as if he were curing them of a great evil. He was. Daniel was curing them of whatever bad death metal had entered their lives in the past year.

Their set consisted of the entirety of Patricidal Lust plus one other track I'm not sure of. It's tough to truly describe their style. D-beat death metal with unpredictable transitions and accent blasts against a Swedish death metal foundation might be accurate but there is a large amount of doom death influence such as Deathevokation and Asphyx and apparently crust influence. It wasn't overly crusty to my ears. It reminds me of Undergang when I caught them also at the Acheron a while back. Their set was basically one long highlight, as Patricidal Lust is a definitive death metal record. If I had to choose a single song, "Enigma of Disgust" would have to be it. A simple listen is a good example why. Vastum could have headlined one of the nights of Martyrdoom. Perhaps the fifth installment will award them an appearance on the Vitus stage.

Here in the New Jersey / New York area we have these things called really bad drivers and really horrendous traffic. This is especially true driving into Brooklyn from New Jersey or Staten Island. Road work on practically every highway, at all times of the night, which seemingly never produces anything other than miles of traffic cone forests prevents any real predictable drive times. Thus, Friday night I got to Vitus right as Vorde was finishing their set. I've seen Vorde before, though.

The first band I saw in full Friday then was Discordia, who were the sophomores on the night's lineup before the seasoned bands stepped up to the plate. I enjoyed their set, even when vocalist Mixtli had thrown his voice out after his passionate performance. The band does second wave black metal well, with a lot of tremolo riffs, well arranged and memorable riffs heavily in the style of Immortal, and - once again - a high energy vocalist with a disregard for his own vocal chords. Though the other members didn't exactly produce a lot of stage energy or interest from me, Mixtli's veloceraptor screams and screeches elicited smiles from the crowd. He regained his vocal snarl during the final two tracks.

It was at this point that I released that Vitus was offering Warsteiner tall-boys for the same price as PBR tall-boys. Vitus also offers a bunch of draft options like Brooklyn Lager, IPA, their Vitus Lager... but open-topped cups are not a great idea with the unpredictable nature of the audience at a packed metal show. I saw at least four or five people get drenched in the five days as mosh pits coalesced from the audience around singular men and women trying to abdicate the area with their beer intact. Cans are definitely the way to go in this setting. Another astute observation is that it appears that metalheads generally speaking are as much into the quality of their beer as they are the quality of their metal. Over the course of the weekend, there was a definite shift in beer drinking from the usual PBRs to the more tasty and full-bodied Warsteiner.

Signature Riff has been a champion of Kommandant from the start, most recently putting out the band's split 7" with Aosoth. My third time witnessing them was not as impressive as earlier appearances. Their stage set was not fully set up. Yes, Marcus Matthew Kolar still had his podium. Yes, the band was still flanked by stoic gas masked additional drummers. Yes their set was still very much a sight to see. They didn't have their additional banners and accouterments, though, so the overall symbolism and aesthetic was diminished a bit. Playing a festival with several other bands which do the theatrical elements of their set well such as Gonkulator and Mortuary Drape helped Kommandant. By the end of the festival, theatrical elements of all the bands felt less like a gimmick and more like a necessary component to their sound and music. Kommandant - even without their full set - still raised the bar.

Their abrasive style and thick suffocating guitar attack reminds me of Marduk's World Funeral or Emperor. Kommandant is at their best when they gently experiment with moaned vocals and other vocal dynamics to separate them from a crowded pack of black metal artists. Their set was tight and theatrically attractive even if I spent a good portion of it trying to peek out from behind a seven foot- three hundred pound giant. Included were their portion of the previously mentioned split 7", "Drums of War," and "Der Maschinenraum," which has always been a favorite of theirs for me with it's ominous intro guitar riff. I think catching the band when they headline or co-headline would be best, as they would likely have their regalia and banners set up to give the full stage performance.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
Mgla played both Friday night and Sunday night. Both nights absolutely packed Vitus bar. I don't think I've ever seen so many people crammed into the venue. Friday night was more congested. I watched them from the right back side of the room and could barely see anything. My buddy left after two or three tracks due to being too crowded. They played a lot of material off their most recent album Exercises in Futility. I thought the sound for their set was better on Sunday, thought that could be because I wasn't squashed between people. Both nights they played what sounded like the same set. I thought the guitars were mixed a bit too low both nights but what stood out were the definitive Eastern European black metal melodies. The band has a lot of influence from that region's scene. I was only familiar with a couple tracks and I recognized the second part of Exercises in Futility so that wound up being my favorite moment of their set. I've heard their earlier records are their best so I'll be checking out Groza for sure to see what all the hub bub is about. Sunday I watched several tracks then wound up taking with a friend back in the bar for a while. Their set was still audible and actually just as enjoyable as background music.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
Headlining on Friday night was Sweden's mighty Necrophobic. Initially, I was amazed at how many people left after Mgla. A good third of the crowd had vanished leaving Necrophobic to play to a much more comfortably sized audience. Vocalist Anders Strokirk, recently reunited with Necrophobic, expertly commanded the stage and crowd. They were exciting to watch, even having been awake since five-thirty in the morning for work. I started to nod off near the end of their set until they launched into "Before the Dawn," and then ultimately, "The Nocturnal Silence."

Necrophobic's musicianship was impeccable. Guitarist Frederik Folkare - of Unleashed fame - and bassist Alex Friberg were on point all night. My only gripe is that a second guitarist may have helped fill out the sound a little bit more. Even with original vocalist Anders back in the fold, they played a very evenly distributed mix of material. I was expecting a couple more tracks off of The Nocturnal Silence than what was played, as I'm mostly familiar with that album and Darkside. Still, the new material off 2013's Womb of Lilithu fit well with older tracks like "Darkside" and "The Nocturnal Silence." No "Where Sinners Burn," in the set was disappointing for me, as I always felt the culminating track off their debut album was an iconic track, but I was overall pleased with being able to at least see Necrophobic, and I think that the response they received was strong enough to warrant a return in the future. Watch their entire set below courtesy of (((unartig))) - along with a bunch of other sets from Martyrdoom.

Saturday traffic getting to Vitus was EVEN WORSE. Additionally, with Paroxsihzem and Nightbringer having dropped off the bill, there was some question as to what the lineup would actually end up being. Ultimately Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation opened the night who I missed. This was unfortunate as their split 7" is awesome and Spectral Voice's demo tape - which I grabbed at the festival - is also disgusting. Gonkulator came on third with Sabbath Assembly taking over Paroxsihzem's original set time. Pink Mass came on at some point. There was some discussion of Kill or Omnizide playing the TBA set but that never materialized. I unknowingly asked Carl Warslaughter while waiting to piss if he knew who was going to play the TBA set and he mentioned they were asked bu they were all too drunk to play! Classic. The whole thing was a mash up that ended up resulting in a perfectly acceptable night either way.

I jammed into the venue just in time to catch Gonkulator, a team I've never heard of before, with a stage set up to look like some sort of satanic mad scientist's lair with an altar straight out of 1965's The Human Duplicators. Their shock-splatter presentation began with a longish ritualistic drinking of 'the virgin's blood' with the audience, twisting knobs on the altar-machine, and howling chants. Once drummer Charlie Infection found his drum-throne, Gonkulator splashed through short-quippy tracks in as sloppy and disgusting a method as possible. With the previous nights being occupied by serious bands, and the rest of the nights being inked with serious bands, Gonkulator's comedic approach was a great mid-fest refresh. Metalheads do have a sense of humor.

After the introductory segment, "Hail The Baron," opened their set, with a gracious crowd involvement. They proceeded through several grinding tracks with a swampy murky soundtrack behind them to add to the atmosphere of their performance. Included was a severely slowed down cover of "A Hell On Earth," by Discharge. They played a few tracks off their recent album, Reborn Through Evil. "Joseph - Son of David" was a highlight for me due to sheer awfulness and for the very audible lyric "he never ate her pussy," which predictably elicited a chuckle from my immature mind. Overall, their entire set was just under twenty minutes, making it the shortest set of any band of the festival.

I was extremely surprised by Sabbath Assembly. They were very much the odd-(wo)man out on this festival. With all the other bands being of the extreme category, Sabbath Assembly confidently presented a heavily traditional doom influenced set. I was initially trying to figure out exactly who they reminded me of and started running through names like Slauter Xstroyes, Cirith Ungol, Candlemass... and then I realized they sounded exactly like Hammers of Misfortune (see Vastum*). I double checked and sure enough vocalist Jamie Myers had done her time on vocals and bass for the California cult favorites. I spoke with Jamie briefly after the bands set while picking up their recently released self titled album. I agreed with her that the differentiation from the rest of the bands was a blessing in disguise for them, as it concentrated the interest of a specific segment of the audience to their material.

Guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia) is impressive as a stand alone musician but paired with bassist Johnny Deblase and drummer David Christian the trio creates an occultist atmosphere and vibe with heavy psychedelic influences. I was not expecting how consistent their material sounded with all the various styles they weave into their sound. They opened their set with the percussive "Risen From Below," which much like Kommandant, featured additional drum syncopation. "Ave Satanas" was my favorite track initially while listening to their set, starting with a thrashy guitar intro and moving through anthemic chorus sections. The similarly titled "I, Satan" was also intense. Overall, the performance of these inconnus turned out to be one of the my top five of the whole festival.

I parked literally in the middle of nowhere.
I left before Revenge on Saturday, knowing I would be seeing them Monday with less people jammed up against my appendages. I also missed Pink Mass, wherever they were positioned in the set. Pictures of their live show looked pretty wild with wild beast-hair donning moshers. They apparently played twice actually, also materializing after The True Werwolf. Ultimately, leaving early Saturday for the after party at Lucky 13 Saloon was a wise move. Even getting there an hour before the first after-show band went on, I had to park a good ten minute walk away down a forgotten dead end street. I arrived at the bar, peeled back the big old church doors and stepped inside into what, I imagine, Heavy Metal heaven to be. Mercyful Fate blared out from the long-bar's speakers, horror movie posters and show flyers plastered the walls in an immovable reflection of the patch emblazoned leather and denim jackets and vests of the clientele, scantily clad tattooed dancers slithered across the bar top with ease to collect their dollars while gyrating to King Diamond's high pitched banshee cries. My second thought was how Lucky 13 Saloon is essentially a parody of the heavy metal subculture in many ways. I imagine that Lucky 13 Saloon is what little grandmas imagine in their minds when someone mentions "Heavy Metal Concert". In hindsight, I don't believe it's entirely inaccurate nor to be taken negatively.

I managed to get my twenty-dollar after show ticket with no problems or wait. Within twenty minutes, the line for tickets suffocated the bar making drink-gathering and refilling an impossible task. I accrued a single beer and found some space in the empty concert room segment in the back of the bar. I walked over to the single merch table set up and - because I had no idea who the bands playing the afterparty were - was super excited to see One Master merch. We've covered the band on Contaminated Tones before (Steve with a live review and myself with a review of their Live in the Castle of Quiet demo). I bought a shirt while introducing myself to Valder in person which Ryan (Doctor Messiah) complimented me on the following day at vitus. "Nice shirt!," which I heard, but didn't get to respond to. Nice shirt indeed! The True Werwolf had a limited edition t-shirt print which will surely go for shitloads of money in several years. I killed time speaking with Nick, one of the guys who books Millcreek Tavern in Philly. One of his friends also joined the conversation momentarily, while sipping absinthe. If I had known, I would have gotten some absinthe instead of the beer with my precious moments at the bar. One Master went on first.

To say One Master was amazing would be an understatement. Valder really knows how to look imposing. Musically, One Master is just as imposing. They initiated their set list with "At The Hour Of Saturn," the first track off their lauded 2015 full length, Reclusive Blasphemy, and filled the rest of their set with material from the album as well. Initial high-pitched tremolo picking from the opening melody portended the endless highlights that adorn their art and, thus, their set. Reverb soaked, Valder's vocals were in full force, stinging long after their amplification. Continuing with material off Reclusive... "A Cursed and Dismal Mind" followed with its big doomy introduction and immediately recognizable tormented guitar harmonies. Having been one of my favorite tracks off their live tape before hearing the awesome full length rendition. The relentless "Intolerance" followed with "Infernal Silence" closing their stern set. The familiarity was nice, compared to other bands which I enjoyed, but had no idea of what their songs were. Another of the festivals highlights.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
The True Werwolf was a band I was not familiar with. Even with Werwolf's (Lauri Penttilä) involvement with Satanic Warmaster, Armour, Horna, and a band called Orlok - which has no connection to Countess yet nevertheless intrigues me), I had never come across the project. I wish to no longer be not familiar with them after the awesome hour long black metal miasma. I was concerned that my attention would drag through another black metal set at the ripe one-thirty in the morning start time. My fears were alleviated with their first track. Their classic black metal approach in many ways emphasized a rock and roll subcurrent found in bands like Venom and Motörhead. Other songs reminded me of Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger and subsequent releases. Unfortunately, not knowing a lot of their material was a little bit of a damper but being able to track down "His Kingdom," which was one of the highlights for me was awesome. The end of their set consisted of a bunch of covers that went over really well. Killer riffs. Live the track comes across as way tighter than the album version. Finding The True Werwolf's material seems to be a bit rough so hopefully after a couple years of seeking it all out, they'll play again and I can really go nuts.

Totally irrelevant, yet adding a lot to the vibe was a super drunk passed out dude who spent the last twenty minutes of The True Werwolf's set on the floor snoozing. I caught the exchange with the woman behind me on my audio recorder. Saturday night was overall my favorite night of the festival, especially for the after party. I left after The True Werwolf. The hour drive home was spent recycling some of the awesome moments throughout the show while listening to Coast to Coast AM as I do often after shows on the way home. I got home as George Noory was beginning the last hour of the show.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
Sunday was my only sleep-in day. After waking up at three oclock, I ran a couple small errands and slept an extra hour before leaving to pick up a carpooler in Carteret. Traffic was not as heavy and we caught the last few moments of opening act Sangus' set. Basically, I got the impression that Sangus is big dudes playing big 'stupid' death black metal. They had a really good sound, tight, with a lot of stage presence. Vocalist Vovk maintained a bloody face throughout the set, rubbing blood from the stage floor on his face. Good start to Sunday's lineup. I'd see them again.

Dark Descent Records sent Phobocosm over to represent what is quickly becoming one of the most successful labels in the underground. The quality of bands such as Phobocosm are hard to argue with. Their performance was not without issues though, as guitarist S. Dufour had some early equipment issues. Once solved, though, Phobocosm pummeled with a generous mix of Immolation and Incantation bred death metal. A mix of slower parts and faster parts kept me interested. Not familiar with any individual songs by the band but I'll likely pick up Deprived with my next Dark Descent order.

I did not watch Black Anvil - I'm not into them at all. They seemed to get a good response from the crowd though. Demonomancy, however, grabbed my attention from the start. They mix the blistering black metal war-metal stomps and marches of Bestial Warlust with severely sedated death doom sections not unlike Disembowlment. Songs included elegantly titled tracks such as "Baptism Of Serpents Conceived In Martyrdom" and "Impious Revelation (Bestiality Prevails," among other verbosely titled portions from their Throne of Demonic Proselytism full length. I was somewhat surprised that they didn't get as much crowd enthusiasm as I felt they deserved. I know I found myself headbanging steadily through their set, and I'm normally quite tame with my expressions (unless you're Liege Lord). Observations throughout the festival showed zero interest in moshing. A lot of people were keen to watch, headbang, drink their beers, and clench their fists in adoration. Without intending to sound pretentious, it would be fair to assess the Martyrdoom crowd was composed mostly by high-minded individuals focused on absorbing the music, (except those two girls that got into the hair pulling match...), picking up some merch, and enjoying the company of friends. For some bands, this possibly worked out in their favor, though maybe not so much with Demonomancy, who would have benefited from some crowd-violence. The gurgling bass tone provided by Sin Desecration was a highlight for me, as a bassist. I commended them on an excellent set and bought the last copy of their album they had. 

Mgla followed, who I already spoke about earlier, and then the mighty Mortuary Drape who played both Sunday night and Monday night. Mortuary Drape played the same set both nights however their set on Sunday had a slightly better sound as Monday guitarist Daniele Cagnotto sounded less audible on his leads and vocalist Wildness Perversion encountered some brief moments of notable feedback. Drummer Marco Binda had some issues with his foot pedal or something also which took a couple minutes to fix. All this aside, Mortuary Drape provided a memorable set for me.

Their stage set up was the same as when they played Sonar at Maryland Deathfest X, with the purple amplifier coverings and podium cover. The stage set helped hide Wildness Perversion's - and the same could be said of Kommandant's vocalist as well - penchant for not doing a whole lot other than singing and making hand gestures. Most of the energy was provided by bassist S.C., who appeared to really being having a blast playing, and performing, as he interacted with the headbangers up front naturally. Sunday, I stayed off to the side mostly but Monday I headed stage right to get closer to where more of the stage action was going on. I spent a little time stage left to get some pictures, where there was more standing room.

Mortuary Drape remind me a lot of Mystifier with more traditional metal elements. Their songs are often weirdly composed, as evidenced by "Obsessed by Necromancy," and it's stubborn chugging movements and accented verse riff or "Mortuary Drape," which includes similar stunted riffing patterns. Iron Maiden is invoked with the bass intro to "Crepuscolar Whisper." Other tracks which stood out: "Necromancy" and the set closer, "Abbot," which saw some heightened thrashing in the pit. I would have loved to see a different set on Monday, as it would have demanded attention for both nights of the set.

Monday was a rough day overall. I got home Sunday night at two in the morning and had work at five-thirty in the morning. I crashed afterwards and slept until about six in the afternoon. After picking up my buddy, we got to St. Vitus as Kill had just started their set. Kill experienced some major guitar amp issues with guitarist Jim Voltage's amp head having to be replaced mid set. Afterwards, though, their set was good, especially last track which I believe was "Inverted Funeral." I had expected a bit more from the band to be honest. Their black thrash style was a nice difference from the other bands of the weekend up to that point. Unfortunately, they couldn't capitalize with the technical issues. I'd like to give them a second chance if they make it back to the northeast sometime soon.

Omnizide followed who were a bit generic. They opened their set with Chopin's March Funebre played gently over the public address system. Their black death approach wasn't bad. They were well rehearsed, ran into no technical issues, and had a good sound. I just couldn't get into them and didn't really latch onto their material. Vocalist Mikael Nox (Craft) was on point, with powerful vocals and a good stage presence. Their material was mostly faster, with some slower moody parts occasionally. They were basically the middle of the road as far as the festival was concerned. In my mind I was watching the no man's land of the festival; a band for everyone, and for no one. They weren't pure black metal mayhem, they weren't ultra fast blasting war metal, their slow parts were not as slow as some of the other bands... the fact that they were followed by Revenge didn't help their cause.

Photo by: Mathieu Bredeau
Revenge prefaced Mortuary Drape on Monday night. I had seen Revenge once before but I can't remember where. They were vicious. The dual vocalist approach of one low-gutteral vocalist and one higher register vocalist works really well with their war-metal material. With Chris Ross aka Vermin handling the higher vocals, and live bassist Tim Grieco aka Haasiophis handling the lower vocals, they rummaged through the audience's mental faculties with tracks such as "Pride Ruination" and "Mass Death Mass." The drumming ability of James Read through all this transfixed me. I could watch that guy play drums all day. I would say he was the most impressive drummer of the entire festival but I have to give that award to Malthusian's Johnny King by a hair. The endurance necessary to play Revenge's material is insane. Revenge was easily the best band on Monday and the smaller weeknight attendance made me glad that I decided to watch them on Monday instead of on Saturday when the crowd was thicker. Listening to their endless assault of riffs and attack of percussive technique would be less rewarding as a sardine. Mortuary Drape closed out Monday night.

Tuesday amounted to one big Norwegian party. But first, Bell Witch tickled my experimental interest brain-spot as I walked into Vitus early Tuesday. A single drummer, a single bassist, and a wall of sound to rival Manowar. I was upfront, my legs and stomach vibrating like a poorly balanced tire. Bassist Dylan Desmond quested through myriad bass techniques and pedal effects, mailing his tone through an Ampeg head and finally through two Orange amplifiers. From angelic fingers, his bass notes were rendered into gravity bombs as they swooped through empty air. Once again, as a bassist, I loved every second of what I saw. Both Desmond and drummer Jesse Shreibman contributed vocals. I wish I saw some merch from the band but either I missed it or they didn't have any.

The first Norwegians of the night were Studfaust. I guess I have to mention Faust on drums. There. Did that. Studfaust were fun! I thought that their rock and roll style was a good complement to the rest of the weekend. They would barely fall into the black-n-roll category being much more a heavy metal band maybe similar to 90's Helicon with raspier vocals. Compared to Blood Tsunami, Faust looked to be having a ton of fun playing the Studfaust stuff which was mostly laid back compared to what he's capable of. Some of my favorite tracks of their set, which was mostly taken from their recent Where The Underdogs Bark EP were "Hell Is Full", the comical "Erection of the Egoist", and the party anthem "1980's Ladies," which vocalist Tore Bratseth (Old Funeral) had a lovely woman from the audience come up and sing with him on. It was a lighthearted set, made more fun with Tore's song introductions and facial contortions which often married Axl Rose and Sebastian Bach. They closed out their set with a cover of Twisted Sister's "Shoot Em Down."
Andy Cunningham clenches his lower jaw
as he does his best German power metal
guitarist impression.

Initially Blood Tsunami were going to play immediately after Studfaust, but instead Ireland's Malthusian were moved to the fourth slot of the night. Their deep powerful death metal was a welcome reminder of the extreme metal foundation which Martyrdoom has been founded on. Malthusian were similar to some of the other death metal on the bill, such as Demonomancy with less black metal influence or Vastum with less grind influence. The other major separating factor was the gargantuan drumming of Johnny King. Incorporating a lot of toms and, dare-say I tribal, drumming elements into his technique gave Malthusian a decidedly unique movement to their material.

Evident in the whirling miasma of guitars, held together by the structured drumming in opening track, "The Gasless Billows," which also opens their recent Below The Hengiform EP, was just how brutal death metal can be without resorting to being unlistenable. This was followed with the creeping "The Mother's Blade" from their 2013 demo. "Mother's Blade" was my favorite track of their set, as it highlighted nuance, melody, and composition while simultaneously ripping the audience apart. They closed with "Forms Become Vapor," once again from their recent EP. I think it was ultimately appropriate to move them before Blood Tsunami, even though I enjoyed their set more. Malthusian, while excellent musically, could have been a bit more engaging to watch. Aside from the requisite headbanging, we could have been watching classical musicians with distortion pedals.

So Blood Tsunami followed, once again with Faust on drums. Also making another appearance was Peter Michael Kolstad Vegem (Pete Evil) who admirably performed bass duties in Studfaust. His responsibilities in Blood Tsunami: Guitars and Vocals. The band performed without bassist Carl, who apparently wasn't able to gain entry to the US due to what likely was some form of myriad bureaucratic bullshit. Dor Amazon rounded out their lineup as the second guitarist. Blood Tsunami were fun to watch, mostly because of Pete Evil being quite mobile and energetic. Their thrashy material was enjoyable live and I could see myself going to see them again live, as their material was entertaining on-the-spot. My favorite track was the one that Peter forgot the title to called "Killing Spree," which opened with a "Raining Blood" influenced riff. Overall, however there weren't many individual standouts from their forty-five minute setlist.

Closing out the whole Martyrdoom festival was the highly touted set by Abbath and his Motörhead cover band, Bömbers. Tore Bratseth from Studfaust provided the guitars expertly. I think what made this set extra special, besides the fact that it was Abbath doing Motörhead covers, was that with all Lemmy's recent medical scares, to hear Motörhead songs in person, performed perfectly, and sounding just like Motörhead is an affair which a lot of people know we won't have the opportunity to experience forever, as dreadful as that sounds. Knowing that there is someone out there who will carry the torch, even if it is as a cover band, is settling both to fans and maybe even to Lemmy himself in some strange way. No one expected that within a day from the festival ending that the news of Phil 'Philthy' Taylor's death would pervade newsfeeds, facebook walls, and heavy metal blogs the world round.

Abbath was perfect as a Lemmy doppelganger. From the crunchy bass tone produced from his Rickenbacker to the adjusted iconic opening lines of "We are Bömbers, and we play Rock and Roll too!" were soul-warming. Throughout, his smirks and puckers imitated God's own tendencies. Perhaps Abbath was missing the hat this time but no one noticed. Opening was "Bomber," with a rousing crowd participation. Followed were classic after classic: "No Class", "Killed By Death", "Orgasmatron", "Iron Fist", "Stone Dead Forever", "Metropolis", "Overkill", "Stay Clean", "(We Are) The Road Crew", "Motörhead"... Other tracks tossed in included "I'm So Bad", "Shoot You In The Back", and "Over The Top." Everyone knew all the songs. Everyone knew all the words. Bömbers' performance was a testament to the Motörhead legacy. The  subtle details such as Abbath attempting to recreate the classic howl of 'the loudest voice in any road crew!!!' from the No Sleep Til Hammersmith rendition of "(We Are) The Road Crew," are what really made Bömbers so enjoyable for me. Screaming 'stand up straight!' during "Metropolis" was a rush, as it seemed like only Abbath and myself were aware of one of my favorite Motörhead moments. "Ace of Spades" predictably and necessarily closed the whole set. 

Abbath simply saying "...anyway," to a concertgoer yelling "Blizzard Beasts," made me chuckle deeply and I think emphasizes just what kind of an intimate setting Martyrdoom IV offered. Ultimately, Martyrdoom was six straight days of underground metal pilgrimage in a way that other festivals just don't quite match up to. The overall vibe of a smaller packed venue had every band appearing to be important to watch - which they were. For myself, every day I found myself adding at least one or two bands to the list of material to delve into. I came home every night with some records, tapes, or merch which I bought off the bands directly, instead of spending a few hundred at distros and having little to give to the bands. The whole feeling was that of a much more intimate group of fans and die-hards. The reasonable food and beer prices were neither exploitative or exploited. Parking was easy to find every night in the local streets and not a stress at all. 

From a local's perspective, there's no reason why anyone wouldn't want to attend one or two nights of Martyrdoom if underground metal and extreme metal are your passion. Making Martyrdoom a week-long trip or vacation is totally doable and with mid-late afternoon start times plenty of exploration time is available to check out landmarks and sightseeing in New York City. Because of the area, prices for hotels and food might be a smidge more expensive than would be found elsewhere but the rewarding surroundings are worth taking advantage of. I also really like the decision to move Martyrdoom from late June to November. Martyrdoom Festival is really the essence of underground metal. The choice of bands, choice of locale, and after and pre-show parties make it a must-attend. I know I am looking forward to next years Martyrdoom already.

If anyone has some better pictures of Malthusian or
Bömbers and would be willing to let me use them, that would be much appreciated! Of course, I will link to websites or give credit.