Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol IX

This week, the flavor text comes at the end, once again. This isn't a joke about the second coming of Luciferum Penis in the dustbin, but it probably should be. 

Luciferum Penis - Black Metal Satanic-cum
Black metal from Italy

This band is growing on me, no pun intended. The simplicity of the two-piece - active drumming and a single guitar - lets them shape dark, mystical vibes. While the band uses the standards - blast beats and tremolo chords - the two are well-connected and having a real drummer on real drums with a basement sound gives him a decent degree of expression in how he plays along like an occult rock drummer, rather than a typical metal timekeeper. The guitarist plays some ominous lines which brood in the dark simplicity of the sound, which adds a nice dynamic to contrast the feelings of single-note and chord tremolo lines, even some bouncy riffs. I enjoy this because it has the vibe of two guys crafting a dark style and dark sound, technically unimpressive but creatively intriguing. Great black metal demo vibe without the cliches.

Lost Flood - Demo
Punk/black metal from Lancaster, United Kingdom

A tough demo to get into, as it is both indistinct and unfocused. It's rough, it's poorly performed, and the mediocrity extends to the mish-mash of unidentifiable, undirected stylings. The roughness gives it a crusty vibe, the riffiness makes me wonder if it's supposed to be like old crust punk/heavy metal from the UK. It doesn't really sound like that though. The sheer roughness and punk/rock take on black-ish metal is reminiscent of early Absurd, but god damn, there's not an ounce of pride in this. There's plenty of feedback and rawness, like one of those shitty bands that thing the harsh hostility of Eyehategod is their thing too, but only manage to sound as horribly grating as Abruptum. A headache, that's what this is.

Through Carnage - Demo
Metalcore/melodic death/thrash metal from Radeberg, Germany

As if melodeathrash-metalcore wasn't already the most mashed potato metal style, in true German fashion this weighs heavily on the heavy/power metal influence in melodeath and even throws in a few folky leads. Perhaps something like a thrashier Trivium, or a softened up version of the neothrash of Casketgarden, without that ATG-like air of desperation. Not quite melodic and poppy enough to be Gothencore, not thrashy enough to be thrash, too core-ish to be heavy metal. As these descriptions tell, the band's style is very indistinct and rather uninteresting. It touches on many styles, has a flair for none, and is so generally inoffensive that it's offensive. Now that's something every metalhead can be bored to death by!

Elforg - Demo 2014
Folk/groove metal from Warsaw, Poland

The grandeur of Polish pagan/black metal is astounding, yet Elforg demonstrate poor judgment of here by playing dinky folk metal backed by simple groove riffs that conjure a feeling of stoner, maybe even southern metal when the violin stops playing. The first song is bad groove/fiddle fodder, the second is more upbeat with chuggy heavy/thrash riffs and some more fiddle which complements a folky guitar lead-in. The problem is, the riffs and arrangements are boring and simple, while the fiddle plays to another tune most of the time - it might as well be a different song. Skyclad is eloquent thrash metal with violins; this is like an amateur playing Machine Head riffs with a violinist.

The Arcbane - Demo II
Melodic groove/thrash metal from Shanghai, China

The second vocal-less demo from this "melodic death metal" band. The band has a vocalist, but so far the demos are only instrumentals, and they're clearly missing the ability of the vocalist to create hooks and lead the music. This is mostly mid-paced, groovy melodic thrash riffs that sound at times like American metalcore minus the hardcore parts, at other points like nu-Gothenburg riffing, groovy melodic stuff stripped of any death metal. There are quite a few guitar leads and solos, again quite melodic. Decent riffs, but no interaction nor flow within the band whatsoever. The production is rough demo-quality, which positively sets it apart from the overproduced, overpolished production this style tends to have. However, the band's timing gets a bit off at times, which feels uncomfortable with the mechanical riffing style. While I like the style the band is going for, the music itself is incomplete and extremely boring.

This exemplifies a common flaw in modern demos: the music present is incomplete, yet there are nine tracks and 40+ minutes of music. The context of a demo is different from the 80s and 90s, when a label might hesitate to pay for studio time if a band didn't have a full album written. Homemade demos were rough, but a studio recording of a decent band pressed to CD or LP could sell enough copies to recoup a couple days of studio time that the label paid for. Some bands made longer demos back then because of this, though most bands still opted to refine and finish fewer songs rather than simply present more. However, this has changed, because labels can't simply sell 1000 copies of an album because it contains decent music, and a band who hasn't established themselves isn't going to find funding for a recording much better than this. The best thing a band can do now is to improve and present complete songs as well as they could, because the quality of music is the sole deciding factor to demo listeners, not the quantity. When the listener has access to a virtually unlimited stream of music, they would be better off completing and improving 20 minutes of music rather than presenting 40 minutes of unfinished music.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vorde - Vorde

For centuries, sailors have used the strong and steady trade winds to navigate across the Earth’s vast oceans. But these winds have also harbored and driven countless violent storms, wreaking disaster in their paths. If you can ignore a very trite metaphor and imagine the band Vorde as an ominous thunderstorm, then the band’s vocals are the trade winds moving it forward. Menacingly towards you. Black metal’s trademark wall-of-sound can often be thought of as fundamentally cloudy. Reverb saturated tremolo-picking partly hides many individual notes and possibly even the overall structure; leaving you with an atmosphere of mass without form. Vorde is a foreboding black metal band that embraces this overall pattern, but with the unusual addition of having the Atilla-esque vocals directing the band’s destination. Vocalist Aziel drives the band through long-sustained syllables and screeches, which distinctively mold each song with a clear structure. The vocal’s odd tone and varied strata of pitches also deeply enrich the harmony on this self-titled album.

Vocal leadership like this happens more often in traditional metal, but it works wonderfully here to direct the band’s raw energy. Thematically, this also makes the album’s approach to violence rather subdued. Sure, the guitars have a bite to them, but it’s often a creeping and sinuous one. At its most extreme, you can even hear this effect in the aggressive riffing towards the end of “Blood Moon.” Despite the swirling cyclone of notes, the vocals continue to push the song forward and dominate the mix. In this sense, the indigo tinted wall of stabbing knives is a very fitting choice of album art. Vorde’s aggression is an almost abstract consideration, one that is secondary to how the vocals color the mood. This isn’t to say that the vocals are excessive or that they are the only thing of value on the album; quite the contrary.

In particular, the album’s strongly sinister mood relies on the band as an ensemble. While taking cues from traditional black metal, the guitar work also has a heavily diminished-scale influence found in many contemporary bands. However, the guitars never quite delve into the usual dissonant riffing that has become so commonplace, and that keeps the album closer to black metal’s roots. Even with the band’s blatantly idiosyncratic style, Vorde doesn’t quite wander into experimental territories. When you also take into account the band’s occasional vintage science-fiction styled synths (which are actually heavily processed bass and guitar), you get a real understanding of how Vorde has such a classically evil sound. Another large part of the mood is the subdued drumming that shows an understanding of how important the absence of blast beats can be in showcasing riffs. Take for example how the percussion controls the intensity throughout “Crown of Black Flame” ranging from a doomy pace with rattling cymbals to steady double bass with strong backbeat.

Vorde’s overall pacing (but not much else) can be compared to musty-ambient projects like Leviathan, but a more malevolent and conservative version. Any hints of melancholy here are reserved, and almost voyeuristic underneath the ominous atmosphere. You can hear this in the intro to “Blood Moon.” Its unsettling feeling is reminiscent of the first Doom game for SNES, in part from the effects’s retro sound, which is much more enjoyable than the game’s MIDI soundtrack. (The song still successfully recreates the experience of futilely trying to crouch behind a barrel of radioactive waste to hide from a cacodemon.)

Vorde’s self-titled 2014 album is also the band’s first full-length album, and this is an extremely promising start. Sure, there are weaker parts, like how “Transformations of the Vessel” becomes tiresome with the too even 123123 of the main riff, which after a couple of minutes may as well be a Morse code distress signal begging for a change in the rhythm. Overall though, this album strikes a wonderful balance of being fresh and creative, but still conservative enough to avoid being whacky. Even without taking the fantastic vocals into consideration this would be a strong release because Vorde captures a kind of foreshadowing mood that you don’t run across too often. Vorde is obliquely evil black metal, a genuine storm on the horizon.

Malphas - The Conjuring

This sounds like an intermediate guitarist's dream - riffs upon riffs, left and right, supported by clicky drums and carried away by dancing keyboard leads before that great keybird in the sky drops them off at the next section. A bit progressive. a bit melodic, a bit symphonic, a bit epic - it's a little bit of everything. I'm not certain these guys know what they want to do, other than wanting to do everything. Everything in modern metal. At once. (ed. the band lists their genre as "Epic Progressive Blackened Death Metal")

The shortcoming of this extremely busy style is that with all the intersecting traffic of guitars, vocals, and keyboards, they don't trade off a clear melodic or rhythmic lead in the songs. There isn't much interplay between the instruments - for example, a guitar chugging while the vocals deliver a line and adding a fancy tail to the riff as the vocals finish. The guitars are omnipresent but tend to simply repeat riffs with no regard for the keyboards and vocals, which feel like they're jumping into something that's already going on when they come in, rather than having the music make way for them to come in. The compositions lack grace. 

Malphas are like a talkative youngster who aspires to be a great storyteller. The right words may be contained in the story, but their tale is more distracting than alluring. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Winds of Genocide - Usurping the Throne of Disease

Winds of Genocide is a crust punk band playing something roughly like death/black metal. They have a high-distortion aesthetic, throw in a blast beat here and there, and have an incomprehensible roaring vocalist. While there are some thrash/death riffs scattered throughout the album, nearly every song seems unable to find where to go with them - everything simply transitions back to the churning storm of noisy crust. The strongest moment on the album is the title track, which builds an ominous, brooding melody in true Bolt Thrower fashion, building up for their best minute, then awkwardly transitioning through two more different buildups, both faster, and eventually settling into what feels like a completely different song with a hopping beat alternating with a blast. It feels like they put Bolt Thrower songs in a blender and pulled out mismatched parts. Sure, the intros from "Embers" and "This Time It's War" are great, but it sounds weird that they tried to fit both into one song.

Enough about that one track, simply because it is the standout. The rest of the music suffers similarly from poor structuring: charging forward with a powerful riff but falling back on their habits of plodding along in a crusty grind. Not a single song feels like a complete statement from beginning to end, they either trail off or simply shift back into the mundane. Very poor songwriting and structuring are the band's foremost problem. The abrasive production gives everything a feeling like it is grating and grinding along, and perhaps it is intended to wear the listener down through attrition. It feels like the same unsuccessful steps are taken over and over again in every song. Despite having some good riffs mixed throughout, they feel like chrome rims and a shiny muffler on a beater car.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ara - Devourer of Worlds

Ara delivers an avalanche of dissonant riffs and deathcore grooves with all the weight and grace that the natural disaster brings. If heaps of riffs shoveled into the furnace are the type of thing you like, then this is probably made for you. However, I don't consider a pile of boulders and dirt to be an artistic achievement, I'd rather see a single rock sculpted into Michaelangelo's David than a thousand unshaped rocks crashing down. After all, any chump with high explosives can cause an avalanche, an the media tells me that everyone has dangerous explosives these days. No puns intended, with regard to the album title, listening to this album just feels like sifting through a pile of rubble in hopes of finding a gemstone.

Once you find yourself trapped under this rubble, you'll feel some of that dissonant, chaotic churning native to caverncore, but without the reverb that a genuine cavern offers. Riffs of all shapes and sizes are piled together with dust between them - spastic, angular tech riffs, breakdown-like deathcore grooves, and angular death metal riffs which lose their velocity when crashing into the disorganized pile. There's a decent variation in rhythms too, natural when a hundred parts come crashing together and get smashed into random sizes. Big riffs, small riffs, fast beats, slow beats. They could be used to build castles, but they're just a pile of rubble on this album.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol VIII

The flavor text of this week's dustbin comes at the end, because the last demo provoked thought about the nature of the dustbin. 

Legionnaire - Legionnaire
Heavy metal from Finland

Their logo looks like Enchanter's and their medieval name is shared with a Liege Lord song, can I judge this tape by this cover? Yes! Legionnaire invokes the mid-80s, a little past the NWOBHM when imaginative heavy metal bands channeled the grandeur and glory of fantasy into an evocative sound. Reminiscent of the Liege Lord and Brocas Helm's debuts - that triumph and that medieval vibe - mixed with the twin guitar harmonies of NWOBHM and German speed metal. The vocalist is relaxed and narrative yet pleasantly melodic, he reminds me of Kevin Nugent of Legend and Clutch Carruthers of Tysondog, and a bit of Liege Lord's Andy Michaud minus the high shrieks. These guys love their twin guitars and galloping beats as much as I do. I really like what they're doing, but the recording leaves something to be desired- it has a damp practice room sound which lacks the natural shimmer that this music has.

Yeah, I mentioned Liege Lord three times in that paragraph. We love Liege Lord here at CTP, and if you don't, you might be on the wrong page. 

Fiend Candle - Funeral Dimensions
Bedroom "black metal" from USA/Germany

I'm impressed! This manages to be unbearable in three different ways! Track one, 7+ minutes in which an inept guitarist repeatedly stumbles through the same three notes and trails off before starting over. Track two, ever turned a radio on with the volume up and no reception? That blast of distorted static cuts in and out before over a drum machine and guitar fizz with more reverb than the entire Dark Descent catalogue. The last few minutes are lousy somber synth strings. Track three is the nightmares of Guitar Center employees, a kid who picked up a guitar and starts slowly pecking out scale fragments with the treble and distortion turned all the way up, then keeps attempting "expressive" bends which are horribly out of tune and phraseless. Exemplary of this ambient "depressive" crap, it is nothing more than a solitary personal expression of how worthless the creator is.

The Arcbane - Demo I
Melodic death metal from Shanghai, China

Well, not quite melodic death metal, as this demo doesn't have vocals, but it falls well in line with later melodic death metal. The roots of of hard rock and heavy/power metal are on full display, turned "death metal" by basically downtuning the guitars. The music is like later-90s Swedish melodeath, cleaned up of most of the influence of death metal and instead focusing on a groovy style with prominent power metal-esque riffs and a ton of solos. Unfortunately, this is nearly the most sterile, inoffensive "melodeath" one could find - there's none of the punk influence in Carcass, none of the aggression and force of metalcore, and it really doesn't translate the power metal influence that a band like In Flames did. It's basically easy versions of softened-up Arch Enemy riffs pressed into a hard rock song structure.

Primitive - Raw Primitive Black Metal
Black metal from Brazil

Finally, a shitty demo band that doesn't lie to me! I really appreciate it. This is another one from Cvlminus, who releases 20 CD-Rs of wretched shit like Fiend Candle. However, this band executes the basic components and assembly of black metal. The aesthetic of unwavering ticky drums, two-string tremolo riffs with lots of distortion, and screams with a ton of reverb is pretty hard to not physically accomplish, yet to so shamelessly and directly churn it out is like hanging wallpaper and declaring it to be an artistic expression because you like the pattern. This is merely the latest generation of increasingly mediocre imitations which strives to distinguish itself with unabashedly derivative and appropriated outward aesthetics.

Fundente - Demo 2014
Melodic heavy metal from San Juan, Argentina

Extremely melodic, poppy heavy metal which demonstrates a degree of honesty in a dry and bare, yet engaging recording. The songs are simple, and despite the prominence of big pop melodies, the band doesn't use the recording to add any sheen of polish - a single guitar and single vocalist with occasional backing. The first song has a great riff akin to Queensryche's NM 156 and vocal lines that remind me of... erm... Green Day's "Basket Case" in their upbeat melodic pop style. The third track has a bit of an alternative rock vibe going on, but these guys mostly have their hearts on simple melodic metal. While the music isn't anything special, I appreciate this demo because it has an unusual feeling to it. It is a modern 80s-style band which doesn't use two common tools to enlarge the band's sound - there's almost no reverb in this remarkably dry recording, and there are no vocal harmonies nor layering aside from an occasional backing line, same for guitars other than the solos being overlaid.

The value I find in digging through the dustbin is exemplified by Fundente - not every listen is something special, but the different approaches, different results, and varying degrees of success and sound require me to consider what goes into good music. The appreciation of music isn't simply a sliding scale from good to bad, examining what goes into and comes out of it helps me understand and appreciate the bands who do everything the best. In the case of Fundente, it took me a few listens and a few revisions to examine what made the band's sound unusual to me. The lack of reverb contrasts this vintage style to the reverb-soaked retro of the Witches Steel demo from last week, and the lack of layering and harmonizing contrasts the sugary overproduction of Olathia. While this band's sound is bare, a rarity in this day and age, there's no studio trickery to do them favors, and an honest, undoctored recording of a band is a rare thing that makes me appreciate what bands do, even if they're not all that good. 

Inner Maze - Under the Black Ice

Inner Maze follow the path of later melodic death and groove metal - lots of chugging guitar grooves which mix The Haunted, later In Flames, and Pantera with a bit of the lofty, atmospheric melodies of later Finnish melodeath. 

The guitar phrasing is very staccato: first, the rhythms are mostly phrased around muted chugs which give the music a jumpy feeling similar to groove metal and metalcore. Second, the leads are choppy strings of melody which have none of the mystical feeling of old Swedish melodeath, though the clean passages bring a bit of this feeling into it. Despite that, the band completely lacks the grace of the ultimate progenitors of their style, Dark Tranquillity. Their style is reminiscent of the German melodeath bands that emerged at the tail end of the 90s and into the early 00s, such as Burden of Grief and Behind the Scenery. 

Aside from that, the really jumpy, chuggy playing adds an element of groove metal, almost metalcore, though there's little direct hardcore influence in this. The first half of "Distress Maelstrom" puts the chug-n-squeal thing right out in front, and I just don't like that style. The barked vocals are consistent and blend in quite well, though nothing special. They do shine through a bit on "Zoloto" and they remind me of Enter Chaos, perhaps a bit of Arch Enemy. A rather uncommon tone. 

While this isn't bad, it isn't really enjoyable. I feel like I'm picking up similarities to second-rate melodeath bands because of how the band tries to get too groovy and misses the mark on the original strengths of melodeath as well as on the grooves themselves, which simply aren't catchy and memorable. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gates of Eternal Torment Sold Out

Well, the title says it all. Gates of Eternal Torment's Imprisoned Beneath The Ice Of This Cold Black Void is sold out. No plans to re-release this incredible artifact of raw black metal. This was a personal release, which was meant to be shared with the few individuals that seek out lo-fi tomes of solitary inner-scorn and depression. Those that hold this in their hands hold five-plus years of material recorded across the continent in many different places and pieced together one painstaking moment and a time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Shredhead - Death is Righteous

Original size of the promo artwork.
This doesn't get a headline because the
press kit is as shitty as the production.
I've started reviewing this three times and each time I can't get over how, despite using elements of music I like, this is simply the most unpleasant thing I've listened to since Lonesummer. I'm done with it, this review is three aborted attempts strung together.

I suppose Shredhead see themselves as some sort of groovy new thrash + everything hybrid. The music is a mix of hardcore/metalcore into some really simple thrash metal that borrows some aggressive riffs from thrash/death metal bands. That's a rather drawn-out, cookie-cutter genre description, but this is basically a band with a couple different cookie cutters, not a band with something to express that is worth hearing. The recording has the dynamics of a brick wall, which makes it extremely unpleasant to listen to.

Shredhead are just as boring as their name suggests. I listened to a promo of one of Rogga Johansson's bands before this, and Shredhead are even more generic and less inspiring. I can't say enough how bands like this are the bane of my existence - boring thrash bands that have thick production and copy enough existing thrash to repeat what I've heard while offering absolutely nothing worth listening to in their own writings and arrangements. 

True moshcore - this makes me want to punch someone. 
This band cranks out dictionary-definition thrash metal that sounds like Pantera hatefucked a post-grunge band and their kid is just coming of age in a mallcore music video. These guitar tones are nu-metal chunky, the music aimlessly aggressive/angry at nothing, and the polishing of generic metalcore production is making their balls drop. This is grade-A mallcore to make you Jumpdafuckup if Machine Head isn't a dirty word to you. 

Shredhead do the public the good favor of having a terrible name, one which matches the shitty thrash-metalcore they blare with ridiculously percussive production. This is underground thrash metal for people who think Machine Head is cool. It has the dynamics of Terror and it hammers away for the whole running time. This is hardcore thrash metal/metalcore for people who think Skeletonwitch is a bit too extreme. Aside from borrowing a handful of death metal riffs to step it up, I couldn't imagine how a bunch of Israelis found this level of canned aggression to pump out. This sounds like a nasty mosh pit after you've been punched in the face. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol VII

The dustbin of demos is an homage to the unheard bands of the metal underground, or perhaps just a token listen to the ones that sucked. 

Silverbones - Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Heavy/power metal from Italy

100% Running Wild worship, leaning towards the earlier pirate-era as they don't quite have the grandoise of "Blazon Stone" though they certainly try. Big power metal melodies and gallops are the foundation of their style, and really pretty much all of the style. The vocals lack power and fall a bit flat. They're pretty deep in reverb to add some depth, but their lack of fullness is really emphasized when a second vocal line comes in and makes them sound genuinely grand. The chants and backings are quite nice though. Very entertaining, you'll enjoy this if you're into Running Wild's style, but it's clearly a second-rate homage - second to Sweden's Blazon Stone. (Steve)

Hellripper - The Manifestation of Evil
Speed metal from Scotland

Speed Metal's resurgence casts a long shadow these days and Hellripper, while definitely in the shadow of bands such as Midnight and Speedwolf, have everything needed to cause severe whiplash. In many ways I get the same chills with this as I did with Bark at the Poon - killer songs, especially "Total Mayhem" and "Trial By Fire" which appeal to my first love of early 80's power metal. The riffs are sharp, the vocals are outlandishly theatrical and even though I'm inside, I had to go put on a leather jacket to listen to this and feel proper. Awesome. (Orion)

Witches Steel - Witches Steel
Heavy metal from Germany

Old heavy metal worship - in the vein of later NWOBHM, Heavy Load, and the first Mercyful Fate album. Intentionally old fashioned in the most German way possible - retro yet with some touches which reflect influences from a bit later. Sounds like an unpolished, yet well-done 8-track recording with the guitars up front. The riffs scream the influence of Accept and Tokyo Blade. The vocalist is like a poor-Ger-man's Andy Michaud (Liege Lord)  - his singing is wild, yet little power and control translates through the recording. Some charismatic swings up and down in tone and fades in volume sound cool and old-timey with the heavy reverb, but he is still limited by barely being able to hold a note. All in all, enjoyable but forgettable heavy metal worship. (Steve)

Olathia - Demo
Metalcore from Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Olathia borrows much of their riffing style from melodic heavy metal of the 80s, yet the vocal arrangements and songwriting are a mix of radio metalcore and alternative rock. The metal riff is used as a hook, then the guitars sit back beneath a confusing barrage of several different vocal styles, from an Evanesence-esque croon to metalcore screams to a melodic wail to a rasp that sounds almost like Children of Bodom. The cliches of 90s alt rock soft/shout and the metalcore sing/scream all play in, and the guitarists manage every cliche of the last 25 years. While there's no shortage of hard rock and metalcore bands who seem to write songs solely shooting for the skies of radio play, this band really exemplifies how this type of purposeless band simply tries to shoehorn as many radio-rock cliches into a song as possible. Listening to this is like being force-fed a whole variety cheesecake. (Steve)

Dread - Tenth Circle
Death metal from Zagreb, Croatia.

Alternative rock with growls and downtuned guitars is still alternative rock. Despite considering themselves a death metal band, this is basically a lightweight Lamb of God wannabe that can't find a groove. The music is pretty much a gruff shuffle of string-skipped riffs and simple breakdowns that can't even break out of a simple chug. It's got no groove, it's not heavy, it's hardly even aggressive despite harsh vocals and downtuned, distorted guitars. It's alt-rock which appropriates some aspects of a death metal sound and goes nowhere with them. (Steve)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Repulsion - The Development of Early Death Metal, and How Grindcore Started Grinding

The development of death metal was a process refined by a small network of bands who regularly recorded rough demo tapes starting around 1984. Despite being scattered across many countries and having no commercial support, these bands built off of and pushed each other to further extremes. This article observes the progression of Genocide, later and best known as Repulsion, as the band's core members joined Death, and later notes how Napalm Death quickly progressed into the grindcore style shortly after Repulsion and the influence returned back to Repulsion. 

November 1984: Genocide's "Toxic Metal" demo

Genocide's only demo with drummer Phil Hines, a hardcore punk drummer from the band Dissonance. Hines works the torturously slow groove which starts the song and contrasts that with a d-beat to pick up the pace while not playing all that fast. It's a stark contrast how the d-beat was the fast, aggressive beat of hardcore punk at the beginning of the decade, and a slow, groovy contrast to blast beats by the end of the decade. The fastest part of the song is the Slayer riff at 1:30, then some Slayer-style solos - the drummer loses power on the kick drum when trying to play faster during the second solo.

Phil Hines died on Christmas in 2006 and a memorial remembered him as a hardcore punk drummer. RIP

Summer 1985: Repulsion meets Death

Scott Carlson (and later Matt Olivo) join Death for a few months, and Kam Lee introduces them to the blast beat. Scott is Death's first bassist. He records five rehearsal tapes with the band between May and August, with Olivo joining for the last. Kam Lee leaves the band, Carlson and Olivo return to Michigan to reinvigorate Repulsion, and they all make history as being the first of many lineups to leave Death.

October 1985 Genocide's "Violent Death" demo

Carlson and Olivo return to Michigan and death metal legend takes hold. Not only do they find a drummer who is twice as fast as their old one, but they learn of the guy when they read about his arrest for grave robbing in the newspaper. He allegedly stole the head of a woman named Helga, who was the prosecutor's grandmother, but got off easy because he was underage. That's the story behind the Repulsion song "Helga Lost Her Head" - that's the stuff of death metal legend indeed.

More unbelievably, they found a drummer twice as fast as the last guy. Dave Grave lays a d-beat under the slow intro riff, now sped up, and plays faster during the other parts. A fast d-beat underlays the first solo, and he gets into some real blast beats during the second solo. The contrast of fast and slow is very strong here, with the fast sections being a rapid kick-snare beat. Matt Olivo's soloing is more controlled, more resembling scale runs than the cat-in-a-blender Slayer squealing. The drummer's ability allows for the Slayer riff to speed up before that solo, which provides a lot of contrast that Phil Hines could not. Still, the riffing and blasting have not yet met.

January 1986 Genocide's "The Stench of Burning Death" demo

Repulsion gets nastier and thrashier and continues to increase their speed. This time, the slow intro is gone - the song starts straight into the fast break out of it, and the drums play a nearly constant blast beat all the way through, The primitive rhythmic contrasts are replaced with a moment where the drums cut out, and the rest is straight blasting. The one remaining guitar solo is skillfully fast, the scale runs more controlled, yet the overall speed increase keeping it just as chaotic. The morbid, multi-paced death metal turns into relentless ripping death-thrash and begins grinding along with a sick drummer.

June 1986 Repulsion's "Slaughter of the Innocent" demo (better known as the "Horrified" LP)

The slow intro returns with the d-beat, the fast drumming gets faster, the production gets dirtier and nastier. The bass track is distorted and doubled, which gives it a gut-churning feeling like no other. While the thrashy crunch of the previous demo was nice, this is simply dirty and disgusting music that needs this sound. The guitar solo is faster and more chaotic than ever, it leads straight into a break, which rips right back in and ends the song.

This is where grindcore gets the grind. These are unmistakable blast beats, a monster of a drummer pounding the kick and snare as rapidly as possible, the guitars roaring in a dirty blur, and another layer of guitar-like distortion added to the bass. This laid the foundation of grindcore - first released on LP by members of Carcass, acknowledged by Napalm Death, loved by Impetigo - this is as close as one band ever got to inventing a genre.

Another band who pioneered this extreme style was Napalm Death. Here are two versions of the same song from a few months apart. 

December 1985: Napalm Death's "Hatred Surge" demo

Moderately-paced crust punk with moderately-paced drumming. The band clearly had an aggressive edge here, but they hadn't yet pushed the boundaries of their style.

March 1986 - Napalm Death's "From Enslavement to Obliteration" demo

While the same song by name, this song is a completely different beast. 42 seconds in, that blast beat makes this a completely different type of music. It goes from frustrated to furious. Napalm Death have named Repulsion as an influence, and this seems to be around the point in time they heard them. In contrast to Repulsion - this makes a heavy use of speed and dynamic contrasts like the earlier Repulsion demos did, and they pick their spot for the blast beat very well. It seems Repulsion influenced Napalm Death, then Napalm Death influenced Replusion in turn, all observed in a series of four demos in six months.

This is one brief insight into the history of grindcore, but a significant insight into how death metal and grindcore evolved in their early years.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Hipoxia - S/T

Hipoxia is a Spanish doom/sludge/drone metal band, but actually, forget about that for a second. Let’s just get this out of the way, the first track on this album has a beer keg being bludgeoned with a hammer as part of the percussion. Yes, and as unfathomably cool as that sounds on paper, it’s even better when it’s actually happening in the song. With all of the diverging paths that sludge bands may venture off into, the entire subgenre’s boundary lines can also be, unsurprisingly, sludgy. Hipoxia’s self-titled full-length is a great example of the artistic freedom that can be pulled out of sludge’s murky sub-genre blurring. Most importantly though, Hipoxia uses that freedom to hammer out a good album.

Hipoxia seamlessly mixes a filthy style of plodding doom metal with sludge, and even has some touches of Neurosis. Neurosis may at first glance seem to be an odd comparison, particularly because Hipoxia’s hawkish death growls tend to place the influences mostly in the death/doom tradition. However, the long song lengths, squeaking feedback, richly swelling guitar tones, and grand melodramatic uses of tension like we hear closing out both “Children of Winter” and “Disembodied Metamorphosis” are all fairly suggestive. This may just be sheer coincidence, but when you also consider the overall tribal feel on “Children of Winter” with its rich use of tom drums, the influence is more than plausible.

While the band blends a lot of different moods, there are no drastic or incoherent switches. It’s a gradual seesawing of different proportions of ideas that are always churning together. Aggression, power, and doom all rolled up into one mass; Hipoxia shows off a lot of ideas in this four-song 50-minute album. After a few listens though it's clear that some ideas have been slightly stretched. All of the crunchy slower riffs take their intended toll, and since none of them are bad it happens in a subconscious kind of way. You may find each part of the songs enjoyable; but towards the end of the album when your shoes feel cemented to the floor, you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve been listening for too long. This relates to the idea of Hipoxia’s murky nature. You can’t really point out any filler here, but parts of the album could have been more concise without necessarily losing any of the long enveloping notes. Those longer notes also explain how the band has the drone tag, the tendency to bathe in tones as much as melodies, grooves, or riffs.

This is a very impressive release in terms of genre-synthesis and creativity, especially when you consider that this is the band’s first full length. Hipoxia’s self-titled album combines the proud grandeur of Neurosis, aggressive sludgy filth, and pensive doom/drone all at once without ever forgetting that bands imperatively need to forge their own identity. Keep an eye on Hipoxia to see if the band releases a sophomore album, things should only be getting better.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol VI

This week, sifting through the dustbin results in two worthy finds. First, we have an ambitious, but incomplete heavy-black metal hybrid which shows some promise. Last, we have a black/viking metal band which worships hallowed halls in the north and the Mediterranean, a bountiful find in picking through the dustbin. The other three deserve to disintegrate in the dustbin. 

Nan Elmoth - Demo II
Black metal from San Luis Obispo, California, USA

A dark, bassy live-sounding recording of a black metal band which explores epic heavy/doom as much as they do black metal. Ambitious and lengthy songs contrast and old-fashioned, triumphant Gravewurm-style riffing with a tremolo-heavy black metal style. The band adds another unique dynamic with a female singer with the rasps and growls. There are quite a few intriguing elements within here that are a bit lost in unwieldy song structures. It seems the intent here is to channel massive Graveland-style epics, but they aren't really able to stitch together the parts they have into complete songs.

Spectral Procession - Spirit of the Mountain
Atmospheric black metal from Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

A band which uses repetition and reverb to drown their utterly boring and eventless black metal in a shallow sheen of "atmosphere." A few riffs are borrowed in-part from stronger practitioners of black metal, yet their resolutions and purpose completely lost in translation to this boring drone. Vocals are kept to the back of the mix and they simply fade into the background even moreso than the rest of the music. Completely aimless and uninteresting black metal basking in mediocre tones.

Solfrost - Season of Mourning
Black metal from Talsi, Latvia

Cavernous, low-end-laden sadguy black-ish metal. Retains the basic forms of black metal while trying to express some of the emotional range of early Katatonia and more melancholic breeds of metal, Traces of buried melody provide a buried-yet-audible driving aspect to the music. Despite this, the repetitive, reverb-drenched sea of tremolo and echoing rasps dominate the style of the music. While this has a deeper, sweeter tone than most black metal, it has twice as much reverb than most and feels flat and wimpy as a result of that being used to inflate its character.

BloodMeal (formerly Corporeal Insult) - Zanferion
Black/death metal from Houston, Texas, USA

This is a horrendous crossbreed of bedroom black metal and rappish death metal with inexplicable noodling and electric taragato solos. The first two tracks are uneventful old-timey black metal, while the remaining four are the true atrocity. Lo-fi death/black somewhere between brutal and melodic with endless ranting delivery of nasal rasps which sound kind of like a D-list rapper hacking up his first cigarette smoke. Monumentally terrible, almost worth a listen because it's so bad.
Side note, the artwork has the band's old name, their online presence has their new name. Neither is worth remembering.

Havukruunu - Usvakuningas
Melodic black/viking metal from Hausjarvi, Finland

Viking Varathron worship? Triumphant, galloping, Hammerheart-worshipping viking/black metal from the school of Falkenbach, blended with an equally significant weight of Hellenic black metal. These huge heavy metal riffs range from the big and brusque black, almost melodic death metal riffs of Varathron to the massive Manowar-influenced riffs and beats of Bathory. The riffs and rhythms provide several different aspects and moods of conquest, from triumph to exploration to celebration. Strong chants and folky leads fill out these grand ambitions. Of course, it doesn't quite match up to these legendary comparisons, but it is by far the best demo I've found in the dustbin, and it has earned quite a few plays in this past week. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Heaving Earth - Denouncing The Holy Trinity

About a month from now, Heaving Earth, the stalwart Czechs, will release Denouncing The Holy Trinity and hopefully draw the attention of, well, everyone. As with most of my listening habits  Heaving Earth crept into my attention in the form of a cassette - the Engulfed split with Australia's Altars. Impressing upon me the vibe of precise yet murky constructs, Heaving Earth are at once familiar and completely alien. Like a slimy garden slug powered by gears and hydraulics opening and snapping nightmarish maws, Heaving Earth approach the listener with both immediate and terrifying brutality but also with an underlying balmy character. It all depends on what part of the mix you focus on. For me, the more than fifty minutes of extremity here could have been cut back and may be a little overkill, however since the still sickeningly awesome "I am Nothing," appears at the eight-spot, my interest is revitalized and it helps adjust my attention again. Heaving Earth have something special here. The passion runs thick through this record from the music through the imagery and anyone that looks at the titles to songs like "Worms of Rusted Congregation" or "Doomed Before Inception" and doesn't get a hopeful shiver of delight for the future of death metal should leave the chamber immediately.

Heaving Earth rekindle the days which old timers still remember. The clear influence of Morbid Angel, particularly in the peculiar rhythmic flows, is present. Other New York death metal influences show strength in Heaving Earth's sound but where Heaving Earth make their own inroads are in the undulations of melody that appear, disappear and reappear at sporadic moments amidst the chaotic machine of blasting, riffs, and technicality. Also noteworthy are the classical elements that slip into the compositions. Each song has moments that separates it from the others. Opening with the atonally blissful "The Final Crowning," Denouncing the Holy Trinity is challenging from the onset. The single, "Doomed Before Inception," is heavy in tremolo lines and a deep, dark foreboding melody courses through halfway into the track stirring flashes of Modest Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain." Most likely this is just a similar menacing progression which projects into the short interlude "And The Mighty Shall Fall," and not intended, yet it's these sorts of moments that make albums more than a sum of their parts sometimes - brief hints of things that might exist to one listener, and not to others. "Worms of Rusted Congregation" could have appeared on Formulas Fatal to the Flesh quite smoothly and is notably slower and more formal but no less barbaric.

The shrill "Into the Sea of Fire" serves as the proper halfway mark of Denouncing the Holy Trinity before "Forging Arcane Heresy," a song I would have preferred to appear after "I Am Nothing," if only because the eternally memorable track would just absolutely decimate me after the most defined break in this album's song list. Just the same as on the split, this track simply tosses me around like a sack of rice ready to be sold at market. The escalating melodies that simmer throughout culminate in the albums most memorable riffs. The track is followed by "Into The Depths of Abomination," which also appeared on Engulfed. It's a little strange that both tracks would once again be placed back to back but the familiarity of the two in this order was so good before, there's really no reason to separate them. After the peaceful interlude, "Where The Purified Essence Descends Ablaze," Denouncing the Holy Trinity's longest track, the seven and a half minute long "Jesus Died" effectively ends the album with an a-grade circle pit soundtrack thanks to strong transition out of the verse section and into the fiery leads.

All five of the members are given ample showing here with the focus on Jaroslav Santrucek and Tomas Halama's guitar playing and Jirka Zajic's drumming. Michal Stepanek gives a commendable vocal performance that doesn't break new ground but fulfills the listener's expectations with deep growls and enough personality to be more than typical. Pavel Satra's bass is quite audible once you pick it out in the mix. This is a genuinely enjoyable and powerful release. It may end up being only a tiny blip on the radar for many reasons but from what I can see, this is really the first noteworthy release of the year based on the releases I've seen planned. It shows refinement, originality, and energy in a genre often lacking these attributes.