Monday, June 29, 2015

Myrkur - Myrkur

Part two in a series covering the unexceptional metal of failed indie rockers of uncertain origins. 

Myrkur is a post-rock/black metal crossover which relies heavily on poor production and distortion to mask a pop singer's attempts at what is little more than Sigur Ros with sloppy tremolo picking. The music has an ethereal sheen from her choirs, yet it lacks a lead vocalist, or any sort of lead instrument. The vocals are arranged like a bright, airy synth used for atmosphere, and add little more. The drum machine sounds straight out of new wave dance music. The guitar work is uninteresting and sloppy, especially the leads, and it sounds like a cheap distortion pedal with a thin tone. Despite this imbalance, they are given prominence in the mix as much as the vocals, masking the most important and only competent part of the band. In a way, that makes sense because the gimmick of this band is that it is "black metal," but it doesn't work out because the music is nothing more than the wimpy ambiance-basking that it aims to be. This isn't a powerful, charismatic lead vocalist - this is a limited vocalist whose skills are limited to sounding pleasant and hitting notes while filled out by choir-style harmonies and lots of reverb. The final track, a solo vocal piece, highlights that her voice is thin and weak, normally hidden behind distorted guitars. However this is just a post-rock crossover gimmick. A better, more distinctive vocalist would have had the presence to make this more than aural wallpaper.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Brutal Hand - Brual Hand / Unchain The World / Purgatory's Rage

I had originally written reviews for all three of Brutal Hand's albums to be posted on Contaminated Tones and, with sincere hope, guide some fans to this American Heavy Metal band. The problem was that I wrote those reviews literally a year ago after the generous donation of Jimmy Herrera sending me their two early albums. After listening over and over to all three of the albums - Metal on Metal offered Purgatory's Rage to me via download and I went ahead and bought the killer release after a few months of listening to rid myself of those god damn voice overs they were putting on their promos way back when (no longer apparently) - I've been won over not only by the material present but by the persistence of the band. Jimmy implied that though there has been little information provided as to the current situation that there will hopefully be more material coming in the future. I get the impression that there is a rumbling amongst these guys creatively that forces them to keep coming back to put material out, albeit in a slow decisive manner.

While I hope this is the case, I can't provide proof and so a rumor begins amongst the few that care for progressive underground metal where the bands don't rhyme with 'ween easier' or 'blowpeth'. I am in desperate hope, however, that the rumor proves true. Listening to the self titled debut, Brutal Hand, is a rare experience in the metal annals. With equal mixture of hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive elements, it's carries the weight of a record to be listened to over and over for a long period of time while at the same time retaining the essence of underground sensibility and local production. You could see this band at a local show, not knowing who or where they came from, and be amazed. And yet, ironically, it is true that bands such as Brutal Hand are forgotten almost as quickly as they are downloaded into the mental labyrinth of our brains and the digital structure of our hard drives. They deserve more. Brutal Hand's style may cause ennui up front so hold out on making an immediate judgement. Their brand of metal is similar to the 90's era of Fates Warning in that it skirts metal and progressive rock at many junction points. Brutal Hand is essentially a giant open-palmed hold-yer-horses type of listening experience when you get down to it.

Looking back at my hand written review (my notes essentially for this article) of Brutal Hand's Purgatory's Rage, I declared that Brutal Hand elicited the inquisitive listening experience I reserve for exactly this type of material. Is it Power Metal? Doom Metal? Could it be best described as plain ole Heavy metal? It's really somewhere between all of these and yet Brutal Hand sounds like none of these. I blame this conundrum on their penchant for hard rock mentality. In my review of Brutal Hand's debut I even claimed that the excellent "Room to Breathe" was Mr. Big-esque and I described their sound as skirting arena rock, - likely to be taken as a deterrent by many brainwashed genre-hugging metalheads - Heavy Metal, and Modern Metal. The albums are eclectic, wide open, and often subtly temporal. Whatever the facts are in regards to Brutal hand's music, the simplest characterization is that their three albums are a kick-ass rocking force. Take that for whatever you want. Prepare yourself for strong melodies, ballads with a sense of tragedy, and some unbelievable musicianship.

One of the keys to Brutal Hand's material which appears across all three albums is the penchant for not sitting on riffs when they don't have to and riding riffs perfectly when they can. "Focus" off their debut is a perfect example. The verses combine a steady bass-guitar beat with strong memorable vocals. The same vibe appears on Purgatory's Rage in highlight track "Dying Sun,"  and it was here when I started to hear Hagar era Van Halen influences which made me reexamine at the entirety of the material again. Initially it was Freddy Ferell's vocals which drew this comparison but I started to hear more similarities over the listening span. While Brutal Hand's material doesn't offer the killer production of 5150, the quality is just as top-notch writing wise. "Best of Both Worlds" is similar to the previously mentioned  "Room to Breathe." The ability to ride strong riffs is further emphasized with "Darkness" off Unchain The World in which the introductory bass riff repeates for most of a minute, and in which the verse is precisely monitored and breaks into a killer keyboard-led bridge after thirty second segments. The comparison really indicates a single noteworthy characteristic: maturity.

Unchain The World and Brutal Hand are the rarer of the trio of records and, in my opinion, contain better individual songs. Brutal Hand leads off with the doomy "March of the Condemned," a sluggish trek to the gallows. While the early songs on the release are strong - "1314" has moments and The Tenant" as well and fourth track "Brutal Hands" is, as previously mentioned, killer material, it's at seventh track that the trio of "Brutal Hands", "Red Lightning", and "To Hell In A Limousine" leave the largest impact, especially for those looking for those lost Heavy Fucking Metal tracks to throw a loop in so called connoisseurs claims they know everything out there. "Brutal Hands" is the gateway track to the album for me as I picked up on it first, and it leaves the feeling of gritty southern rock and hard rock. Brad Bowles' vocals are awesome and after the mediocre "In The Heart of the Young," he runs rampant on "Red Lightning," which is the fastest track here. It's a let-loose Heavy Metal track. The same could be said for "To Hell in a Limousine," one of the more evocative images I've seen in a song title in quite a while, which borrows a lot of stylings from Judas Priest's Stained Class era to my ears. Final track "Focus" has great moments, such as the Maidenesque chorus section, mizzled throughout an otherwise dull culmination.

Unchain The World, though, was a huge step forward for Brutal Hand in terms of writing and overall sound. The production on the debut was amateurish compared to the mixing of Unchain The World. It's immediate from the first rung of the ladder that Unchain The World is a different beast. The overall vibe is somehow darker and there is a fine atmosphere lingering beneath Joe Hendrick's bass-heavy rhtyhms and Ed Herrera's guitar playing. It's difficult to pinpoint but it's the combination of distantly mixed drums provided by JImmy Herrera and wispy keyboard flourishes that open a tap of unique fluidity that floods the tracks. Starting with "Heart of Stone," the album starts off strong but the first glimpse of the power weilded is "Darkness," which yields a driving and persistent mass. "Out of Time" would fit well on Crimson Thunder if Hammerfall were just slightly more downtrodden and, well... not Hammerfall. "Burning Sea" is another powerful ballad with Ferrell mimicking Bruce Dickinson's proclamatory vocal style rather well. The top track here though is the title track, "Unchain The World," which is about as anthemic as Manowar riding horses made of sewn-together parts of random deathcore musicians into heaven to do battle with God.

Purgatory's Rage is a different beast of a record compared to the previous two aided by the strength of Metal on Metal records and the experience of the two previous records. As usual, excellent artwork from Jowita Kaminska and well presented booklet compared to the foldout design of Unchain the World and Brutal Hand. Once again there is a paradox with this record. The loudest instrument is the bass - which is fine with me as a bassist, especially considering the really great playing of Joe Hendricks - which provides most of the driving force of the record compared to a rather oppressed guitar tone. The keys often end up with a similar timbre to the crash and splash cymbals which on poor speakers and systems could be a confusing jumble. Listening on headphones here is ideal, as separations in mixing become more noticeable. Purgatory's Rage is a very consistent album, more-so than the eponymous record and Unchain The World. The middle run of tracks is very strong in it's pacing beginning with "Dying Sun" and ending with "Earth."

Front to back this is a great listening experience. "Dying Sun" as previously mentioned is definitely the highlight here for me though "Karma" is powerful as well. Even now listening back as I finish this review up I'm discovering stuff I've not noticed before such as the killer lead guitar work and Deep Purple styled keyboard flair in "Stand on It". "Sandra" acts as an excellent ballad mid-way through the album. "Blame" channels Iron Maiden with a big chugging gallop throughout the song's instrumental section. "Earth" is a super tense track and makes the best use of the dense atmosphere Brutal Hand have summoned. I'm not a big fan of "Fire Son" because of the over-zealous usage of the keyboard theme. "Metal Rules" is a fun track but nothing to gawk about.

At this point in time it's going to be tough to find the first two albums anywhere. I wouldn't spend a whole paycheck on them but they're worth a Jackson (while he's still on the bill) if you get the chance. Used bin prices are definitely worth spending on them and I wouldn't let either of them pass by in that situation. Purgatory's Rage is a decent addition to an order from Metal on Metal but you'd probably want to sample a few tracks previously. No one wants to find themselves up the wrong alley. This is music for seasoned listeners looking for a new and unique sounding release to dwell on. The accolades you'll reap from Brutal Hand won't be from some friend exploring your record collection and being amazed that you have them; you'll be rewarded from a more solitary listening experience with these underrated records.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ghost Bath - Ghost Bath / Funeral / Moonlover

Ghost Bath is a post-rock band from North Dakota who gained a fair amount of attention/notoriety by pretending to be from China and playing some sort of awful depressive black metal that sounds like Deafheaven, but even worse. Spawned out of their frontman's noisecore band "I, Apparatus" it's not surprise that Ghost Bath explore concepts such as "what if Orchid songs were eight minutes long?" and "will hipsters ironically buy junk because it's Made in China?" which have earned attention from Pitchfork, Vice, and other publications that cover trends in metal. In recognition, Ghost Bath have earned an entry in the Hall of Shame.

Ghost Bath (2012)

This starts off with what sounds like a catchy, melodic post-punk/gothic rock song, but what a tease it is. It soon reveals itself to be little more than crappy post-rock with cry-yodeling over it, assembling an overall aesthetic of "depressive black metal" while avoid black metal aside from a couple faster strums with double bass. The odd-numbered tracks are this style, the even-numbered tracks are dinky piano pieces with a timid lack of dynamics, the left hand tapping a chord while the right hand plays fragments of melody over them. Poorly composed, or "minimalist" if you're trying to excuse it being crap.

Funeral (2013)

Ghost Bath mixes the post-black metal style of Deafheaven with depressive black metal style focused on lengthy atmospherics and sad-sounding non-metal interludes. Tremolo-picking, blast beats, atmospheric synths, and lots of reverb - you get the idea. The band's style is characterized by moody interludes: clean guitar in "Silence," piano in "Sorrow," and organ in "March." I could tell you about that boring shit all day long, but I'm here to make a point more concisely than this 64-minute album.

This isn't a black metal band. They lean on eight-minute songs loaded with tremolo picking and blast beats like crutches, but all of the movement within the songs - hooks and the transitions - are phrased differently, as mood-reflecting hooks. Sad, mopey stuff, with varying instrumentation to achieve one texture. Aimless hooks repeated for two minutes and presented as interludes, or surrounding Orchid-esque screamo bursts bloated into eight-minute songs - either way the music is all about the moody licks. This is an indie-rocker Joy Division/The Smiths wannabe who can't write a chorus, can't sing, but can step on a distortion pedal. Just a melancholy frame without a picture in it.

This is an aesthetic with no purpose beyond that.

Moonlover (2015)

While we've known all along (at least I have, from the initial submission on Metal Archives) that Ghost Bath isn't actually from China, that ruse might be permissible if you understand that these post-rockers' planned a couple album in advance to have an excuse for giving a song a really fucking stupid name like "Happyhouse" - what the fuck? Ridiculous Engrish is a famed hallmark of black metal - if you are a false don't entry! Stupid names and song titles are an infamous hallmark of depressive black metal, post-rock, and whatever other shit Pitchfork et al cover these days. I should probably write more about this dumb publicity stunt (a paragon of boundless self-expression) because that's the only reason anyone has paid attention to this band, but I'll try to put myself in a better place for rest of review. Do Happyhouse have open door?

The band has made two major strides since their previous full-length: First, they improved their production, which most notably buries the awful cry-yodeling vocalist a little. Second, they streamlined their songwriting and album structure, cleaning up the heavily fragmented, interlude-laden form of their previous album, or at least more neatly packaging it in seven tracks. The songs are more structured, but feel no more purposeful, just arbitrarily organized as they have been mulled over once more.

Still, the music is primarily fixated on simply channeling a vibe, bouncing between post-rock/metal and Deafheaven-worship to deliver little more than a vague wave of sadness. There's no narrative feel to the songs, they don't have a greater story to tell. This is like someone who sits around moping, yet can't explain why. They lack either introspection or presentation to tell a story rather than create a collage of influences. Some parts stand out, such as the melodic gothic/post-punk stylings in "Death of the Maiden" - something which kicked off their debut EP too. Perhaps they could find a comfortable way to borrow styles for entire songs in order to make a coherent statement, rather than being the black metal equivalent of the kid with eleven different bracelets around his arm.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Thantifaxath - Sacred White Noise

Prefaced with a noisy cluster of tones, Sacred White Noise greets the listener with an unbelievably striking 24-note melody that serves as an excellent introduction to the album’s queasy sound. This melody, although rigid, is far too unforgettable to be called angular. The mesmerizing main theme in “The Bright White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel” actually has three measures in 6/8 time followed by one in 3/4. Don’t worry though, even if you can barely count, every last note will be branded into your psyche. Many of the album’s riffs have a similar flavor to this, memorable despite the uncommon ways they divide up the measures before pummeling you with entrancing tremolo picking.

As a whole, Sacred White Noise successfully straddles the line between being weirdly progressive and traditionally black metal. Thantifaxath’s approach is harsh (especially the maniacal vocals), yet they maintain a strong balance by never delving into technical exercises, pure angularity, or dissonance worship. This puts the band in the same general family as later-era Enslaved, but in a dark corner of the musical map somewhere in the wide gulf between Dodecahedron and “The ConstruKction of Light” era King Crimson (and yes this means there is “bass you can hear” and it’s pure bliss)

Sacred White Noise has an incredible sense of flow. The song structures are engaging and even the segues from one song to another reveal that Thantifaxath clearly sees the big picture. Sacred White Noise is a proper album, not merely a collection of songs. Another interesting facet of the band is how much of an elegant sense of horror they have, think The Axis of Perdition but more implicit. Precise pick slides, the tinny childlike vocals on “The Bright White Nothing…,” the pale choir transition from “Where I End…” to “Gasping in Darkness,” and the mournful gypsy-esque violins - all enough to make your skin crawl. The element of fear also really helps keep the album from coming across as too sleek, despite how heavily produced it is.

While the band has a fairly heavy reliance on time signature or rhythmic shifts as the pillars of song structures, everything always comes together in a fantastic, and unexpected, way. This is because the band really overcomes metal’s tendency to slack off on the melody in favor of rhythmic (or arrhythmic) chugging. Hell, even the instrumental sections share this work ethic, having worthwhile and nuanced melodies that tie into the atmosphere without merely regurgitating the same notes. Despite the band’s weirder riffs and prog tendencies, Thantifaxath never loses sight of the overall mood and always clutches onto a powerful atmosphere. Sacred White Noise is more refreshing than sticking your head out of the window into a blizzard, listen to it. Now.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Le Complot des Lépreux - Histoires de chutes

Lepers, rats, and snakes - oh my. Le Complot des Lépreux is a band that clearly aims for visceral reactions on this EP. Between the disgust from their disease-laden imagery and the admirable raw aggression, Histoires de chutes stabs directly into black metal’s nerve center for filth. The cheat-sheet description of the band could be something along the lines of Peste Noire meets 1349 with a drum machine, but this still an embryonic release by a fledgeling band. The biggest downfall here is in the production. It isn’t that the band needs to be cleaner, but the end mix is rough to the point where you end up feeling like you’re missing out on what the music ought to sound like. The bass end in particular is weak, which makes the guitars thin and the drums similarly malnourished. The band tried to fix this by adding some boomy super-low frequencies to the kick drum sample, but your sound system will have a huge impact on how well this works.

Despite the band being in need of someone with a better ear for mixing drums (whether they be real or programmed) the drum machine is arranged quite well. Sure, there is some clickiness but it ends up being a tradeoff since the beefy double kick is clear beyond what an acoustic kit can normally offer untriggered, and the rumbling will make you want to shake until you burst a few capillaries in your eyes. But, when you think about the band’s ethos as a whole, the clinical percussion does feel a bit incongruous with the raw savagery of the vocals and the guitars. For the most part, this is really a charming quirk rather than a flaw, although some bits (like the industrial styled snare rolls) don’t really work out of context. Compare this to the delightfully uneven volume and popping vocals - you can tell just from the timbre that this is a naturally violent and loud vocal style. The relatively lucid French vocals are so intense that the band probably wouldn’t stop playing, or even notice, if the microphone stopped working. A solid way to spend 23 minutes, hopefully the band will offer more.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol XVI

Many of the bands who are willing to label their works as "demos" in 2015 tend to be black metal, as the culture of black metal is rather friendly to demos. In other breeds of metal, bands tend to overestimate their incomplete works by labeling them as EPs and albums simply because their recordings are deemed clean enough. Because of this, it seems a lot of what comes up in the dustbin is black metal. The first one this week could certainly be called an EP, but the band presents it as a demo. There's also a duel of crappy NSBM RABM later on, and neither is particularly good. That's just what turned up in the dustbin in recent weeks. 

Achsan - Purification
Blackened death metal from Israel

Sounds like 2005. Blackened death metal in the vein of Belphegor, with layered vocals in Glen Benton's style with Deicide and Vital Remains around that time, though they come out less intense and seeming a little too overdone, like later Behemoth. It has all the hallmarks of black-tinged death metal of the early-mid 00s - eerie ringing leads, stuttered chugs, blast beats and tremolo. It is fairly well produced to keep that dirty and dark edge while not being overly muddy, cavernous, nor clean. It's certainly influenced heavily by that new-school-of-old-school, and it's not bad, it's just completely indistinct.

Stige - Where Darkness Prevails
Black metal from Italy

Stige is a strikingly bland and indistinct black metal band. There are fast parts that seem like an even simpler take on early Bathory, there are triumphant mid-paced marches with a pagan influene, and there's a sampling of other black metal styles. Everything feels like a blank template of a riff - the Bathory riffs are two-chords rather than three and they lack phrasing, the pagan-sounding riffs lack proud, folky, triumphant melodies and cadence. The title track comes close, but it still doesn't break the impression that this is little more than grey wallpaper. 

Ewigreich - Hass & Verderben
Black metal with RAC influences from Germany

Black metal with a strong RAC/heavy metal influence, very similar to Absurd's first album, but no clean vocals. The influence is more than overt, and the cover at the end highlights what Eweigreich fails to include in their own songs - hooks. RAC relies on being immediately catchy, yet simple, to let the lyrics do the talking. The only thing memorable about these songs is the obvious attempt to ape Absurd in practice, but the failure to do so in essence. It could be greatly improved by simply turning down the overloud drum machine, though.

Bedroom black metal from Assú, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil

"Oldschool/atmospheric black metal" allegedly, with an unbelievably dull and damp practice room sound. The guitar is quiet, almost no distortion shining through, which really dulls the impact and aesthetic the band tries to embrace. The demo is mostly typical tremolo riffs and blast beats, a little bouncy at times. There are some triumphant progressions reminiscent of early Gorgoroth, but sadly they're buried in the awful sound. There's a real drummer, who seems decent from this very rough recording. While it isn't noisy outside of excessive reverb on the sound of this is simply bad.

Blackened crust/RABM from Hobart, Australia

Red and Anarchist black metal (RABM) is the left-wing answer to NSBM. While the style has its own distinct voice which embodies its views, this is basically another shitty crust punk band, an answer to the plethora of shitty bedroom NSBM bands. A shadow of UK anarcho-punk from 35 years ago which adds titles like "Darkness Falls" and "Evil Prevails" to typical punk fodder like "Fuck War" and "Police Farce." This seems to do away with any sort of catchy and memorable punk in favor of a blur of grindcore and black metal while missing the intensity and experience of both. I kind of get what they're going for from a couple angles, but this misses the point of what they're going at in every direction. It doesn't have the push/pull intensity of grindcore, it doesn't have the energy of punk, and it doesn't have the anthemic pride of NSBM, just the pathetic wheeze of bluffing crust punk without the self-aware rejection of middle-class privilege found in black metal. 

Vulto Abissal - Until the Dark Solitude Take Our Soul

The greatness of Les Légions Noires is contrasted heavily by the failures of the legions of wannabes. Vulto Abissal is a band which borrows some LLN imagery and has some utterly ridiculous pictures of a fat guy with corpsepaint dripping from his eyes and mouth. It looks more like his mouth is overflowing and he's crying than he looks morbid. Pathetic and silly. It's nice of him to let us know exactly what he's trying to ape, at least.

"My mouth is so full that's
it's spilling out and I'm crying."
The sound, I suppose, has an aesthetic vaguely resembling Mutiilation's first album or a late-generation tape dub of a Vlad Tepes. Ultimately it's just a boxy distorted guitar tone from a shitty recording over a drum machine with vocals distorted from the recording. This moron clearly thinks he's emulating an aesthetic by sounding shitty by recording his two parts, guitar and vocals, poorly, but that's the incompetent, childish emulation of the black legions in which fools who pay no attention to how the music is actually composed try to emulate how a degraded tape dub sounds. It's a fucked up imitation of an aesthetic that isn't even done well, never mind the music being shitty.

Maybe the second track being cut in the middle of a line is an emulation of that time Darkthrone did it. Whoever the cranky shouting in the first track is an homage to, I'm sure they think it sounds goofy. The 20-minute synth closer is leagues more boring than the 25-minute synth track on Filosofem.

Limited edition face
one copy b/w splatter
The music is mostly two-chord riffs with two variations of each chord - essentially playing a power chord and moving one finger up, then shifting the hand and repeating. A steady strum, a galloped chug, or tremolo picking, paired with a kick-snare tick of a drum machine which is set to one speed for a song, losing the human element in both components there and seeming completely linear, immobile, and incompetent. This isn't emotionally moving, it's a shallow reflection of the reverie induced by that which is truly powerful music. The title of this should be:

Fail Satanas, We Aren't the Black Legions!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rkinis Raindi - The Tower of Slavery Is Crumbling

No cover artwork here - this was a tape released in Georgia (the country) in 1991 shortly after the fall of the USSR. The title is a rough translation - the original band name/title are written in Georgian as რკინის რაინდი - ინგრევა მონობის კოშკი

Rkinis Raindi is an endearingly wimpy melodic heavy metal band from Georgia which emerged with this album, no coincidence, very shortly after the Soviet Union fell. They managed to produce four tracks with heavy metal riffs borrowed from a seemingly narrow range of influences (Dio and Malmsteen) before turning to even wimpier, less enjoyable keyboard rock on their next album, as well as the last track of this album. I'll say it up front - this album is mainly memorable because there's an amazing and ridiculous music video for the first track. That deserves a review of its own, but anyway...

The vocalist is very charismatic, his delivery impassioned yet graceful and almost without the harshness of pronunciation and syllabism. His intonation is excellent and allows the backing harmony to be harmonious in aesthetic, not just tonality. He sounds sweet, almost too sweet for a heavy metal vocalist, though he really fits the metal-going-on-pop-rock style of the band. He's right at home on the sappy soft track which ends the album, at least. The music isn't all that heavy, it's only really metal because the guitar riffs are pretty much borrowed, in template, from Dio and Malmsteen. It's really like a softened-up Dio, or the sappiest stuff Malmsteen did in the 80s. The guitar rhythm and a vocal melody on the first track are borrowed from Holy Diver, but it's still not nearly as "riffy" at that and the keyboards really fill out the atmosphere. The singer sounds more like Bon Jovi than Dio too, he's smooth but he's got no bite. Grace, but not gusto. Perhaps the production loses a bit of the edge, but the arrangements don't help either, as everything is stripped down and the synths are up there along with the guitar, which does very little most of the time. There's still a solid baroque-sounding riff in the third song, and an unexpected Malmsteen-influenced solo that dramatically picks up the pace of the first song, though clearly the guy doesn't have the chops to pull of Malmsteen.

It's still a little enthralling though, how a band came out of the former Soviet Union and quickly produced a five-track tape of decent heavy metal with some amusing exaggerations and a sound that was, at the very least, a little unusual. It's not as riffy or heavy as I prefer heavy metal and it's pretty soft and synthy in points. Despite that, it leads off with a captivating track, an unusually long anthem appropriately named "Tower of Slavery is Crumbling" - no doubt a reference to the fall of the USSR in the year that this was released.

But the real reason I remember this band is the video.

Dustbin of Demos: Vol XIII

Does anyone read the flavor text? Leave a comment if you miss my lazy comments on the nature of demos and reviewing, because I haven't been putting much effort into them lately. 

Chaos Cascade - Demonic Filth Ceremony (Demo 2015)
Black/death metal/grindcore from Germany

A guttural, rumbling cacophony with the gut-churning bass and grind of Repulsion mixed with a war metal roar of incomprehensible vocals and noise. The distorted bass which drives the music is certainly the best part of this, but unfortunately it is pretty much the only thing which drives the music as the rest of it is more noisy nonsense than most Conqueror wannabes. There is a lack of a death metal contrast between the grooves and grinds, there's nothing like the push/pull of Repulsion, just variance in the noise/abrasion levels of the gurgling. Sounds pretty cool at first, but it is tiring by the end of its short running time.

Soul Harvest - Black Metal Primitivo
Black metal Sorocaba, Sao Paulo, Brazil

As advertised. The influences seem to mostly be late-80s Cogumelo-scene Brazilian black/death/thrash mixed with Norway '92-94 sound. The guitar work relies on melodic tremolo riffs mixed with mid-paced thrash riffs, very much influenced by early Gorgoroth. The drumming is good, mixing blasts, double bass, and standard beats. The recording is relatively clean, though dark and dirty - it sounds like a band playing in a basement, but there are no flaws of anything being too loud/dominant in the mix. The music has some interesting moments, but it largely seems to derive momentary success from imitation. Not bad, yet hollow and unfulfilling.

Panzer - Torn Apart
Melodic death metal from Dekalb, Illinois, USA

A lot of melodies, a good amount of bite to the guitar tone, and a pretty good live-sounding recording without much room sound/reverb. It begins with a cold, weepy lead into a thrashy melodeath riff, and each emphasizes the character of the demo - practiced, but unpolished. A wonderful contrast in an era where every guitar track is doubled, drums are triggered, and melodeath is almost entirely sterile and devoid of any sort of death. This sounds like it comes from at least ten years earlier, in a good way. It's very much textbook melodeath, but it has dark tinges and grit. A very American take on the Swedish style, but with few of the overdone cliches that American melodeath came to be known for.

Bedroom black metal from bedrooms around the world

...and I thought their first demo was bad, this one is twice as long and twice as bad. Mostly the same bullshit as the first one, a bunch of noodling and awful bedroom BM with webcam mic vocals. The second track is the real gem. Raw depressive suicidal black metal tries to rip off Pantera's "Walk" and ends up halfway off the drum machine beat. The wretched windy microphone vocals punctuate the bare, sloppy riffing even more. The track is further stretched to over seven minutes by two minutes of literal wind noise, before jumping to static to start the next one. Every single thing here is a complete and utter failure at music. 

Ambient from Killingly, Connecticut, USA

Seemingly some bedroom black metal-derived ambience. A lone synth track basks in its own sound for nearly the whole running time, crawling through new notes as a snail's pace. Nothing accompanies it. It lacks any semblence of composing or creating something - no neoclassical like Dead Can Dance, no neofolk nor folk, not even a tinge of black metal. Just a single synth track basking in its own tone with no semblence of composition. Minimalist new age, perhaps? It sounds like the least interesting third of a Yanni backing track, I guess. 

Lavra - Bluenothing

Another one from the vaults, long out-of-print Finnish doom metal/post-punk recorded in 93-94 and released in 95.

Lavra blend the echoing atmospherics and melodic hooks of post-punk with the heavy, droning guitar action of doom metal. The guitars drive the music and define the structures through a blend of lightweight doom riffs, clean arpeggios, and a decidedly metal take on post-punk/new wave licks. It reminds me, in a way, of Forgotten Woods' first album in how it is a metal band's take on post-punk, with constant riffing and an emphasis on guitars, while reducing the vocals to an atmospheric overlay on top of the guitars - similarly to how a guitar run through a few effects pedals would be used to create a texture and atmosphere over vocal-driven parts in the original post-punk. A combination of distant clean vocals and hoarse, harshly-recorded whispers provide an interesting complement of textures to the guitar-driven instrumentation. I wish the bass and drums were more involved, but the absolutely absurd amount of reverb used to fill out a rather thin, trebly mix might not be compatible with that. That's just another icon of it being a metal band of those times.

This is certainly an artifact of the mid-90s - a death metal turned atmospheric doom/death band, then rebranded and turned post-punk/doom metal band making a mellow and moody piece of experimental, atmospheric rock with a very gothic appeal. The wispy, reverb-drenched production feels like an artifact of the past, even for the mid-90s, but it is also a large part of what makes this album unique. The need of the performances to fit this oversized, echoing roomfeel is also a contributing factor, and that is what differentiates it from more modern styles of post-metal. The mood captured by the weepy guitar beneath the synths in "E Minor" couldn't capture the same mood without the single-tracked, realistic feel of the guitars, nor could the intro to "Never" which follows it. The space in the mix thrives on the atmosphere of the former, yet remains comfortable in the busier instrumentation of the latter.

This is a very unique album, one which carries the creativity which flourished in early death metal and takes a similarly unusual and self-defining turn into the same type of path which former death metal bands like Tiamat. Lavra take a turn into a rather uncharted combination of styles to create an unusual, captivating atmospheric sound. While it's not the greatest album, it is undeniably intriguing for anyone with an interest in the era and the styles involved. Just do yourself a favor and don't listen to it on YouTube, the poor quality of audio there and out-of-order tracks kind of ruin the experience.

Monday, June 8, 2015

KLV - Niin musta on maa

KLV was a weird experimental band best known for having two thirds of Reverend Bizarre's lineup. This compilation contains a selection of their material from a few finished works to some puzzlingly incomplete jams that serve as a reminder of why the bands other early demos weren't really distributed. The variety of releases here further emphasizes the unusual, experimental, scattershot nature of their music. From gothic/doom/death metal to gloomy rock to d-beat with flutes, it's a rather puzzling listen that feels a little bit more, but not entirely, sensible when it is broken up into segments based on the original recordings. While a highly unusual style, it is somewhat similar to the doom metal/post-punk of their fellow Finns, Lavra.

Tracks 1-3 are from the <i>Valkeus</i> demo tape from 1998. These are the heaviest and most consistent tracks here, playing a style which blends gothic rock with doom metal. There's a strong gothic metal overtone to the lighter parts, at times resembling Sweden's Stillborn with less guitars, at others more like the softened parts of doom/death of the mid-90s. The arrangements meld these nicely and move through them fluidly, perhaps the only good arrangements on this compilation.

Tracks 4 and 5 are from a split 7" with Viikate from 1999, an intro and a longer song. This shows the random and spastic nature of the band quite well, jumping from gothic rock with deep vocals to doom metal to d-beat punk with flutes, even some harsh vocals over d-beats that sound like Absurd. It's like a collection of all the non-metal styles that bands who played death metal in 1992 had started to play in the mid 90s, though fortunately no electronics. It seems that the band was trying to pursue that type of ethereally-tinged dark sound with flutes, deep gothic vocals, harsh vocals, and a spaced-out yet driving rhythm section. The guitar is surprisingly underutilized though, for all the additional instrumentation. No post-punk pedal atmospherics, just doomy riffs half the time, not much the other half.

Tracks 6 and 7 are from the <i>Katso Mihin Kätesi Pystyvät</i> tape from 1997. These are slow and doomy gothic rock songs driven by the bass trading off with the vocals, while the guitar is mostly atmospheric. The chemistry between bassist/vocalist Sami and drummer Jari is very apparent here, and it is no coincidence that this is from the year Jari joined Sami's other band, Reverend Bizarre. Aside from an impressive weeping lead in the latter track, the guitarist feels lost much of the time.

Tracks 8-12 are the earliest material, the <i>Minun Lentoni</i> demo tape from 1996, which appears last because it isn't very good. The 12-minute "Äetsene poige" sounds somewhere between attempted free jazz and a couple guys jamming in a practice room, rarely in unison. The others mix heavy, fuzzed-out doom metal with contrasting clean sections. The arrangements are primitive and rather poor, though the contrasts of dirty and clean guitars/vocals are an interesting aesthetic.

The final track is a gloomy, lo-fi mix of bass, piano, and deep vocals. It feels somewhat unfinished.

The first five tracks were later released as a 12", and that seems to be a much better presentation of the material here. It certainly made sense to include some of it on a CD compilation, but the only material here I would revisit would be those first five, the rest seems to be purely for historical perspective, for the die-hards interested in delving deep into the past works of the Witchfinder, the Earl, and RevBiz.

Dustbin of Demos: Vol XII

A dozen dustbins deep. Sixty demos reviewed. A few worth picking through the dustbin for, but most importantly, many lessons in the strengths and weaknesses, the successes and failures of music. Fortunately, there was a good one in this batch. 

The Third Eye Rapists - Hets Mot Allt
Black/death/thrash metal from Sweden

Riffs with a healthy influence of Hell Awaits and early Celtic Frost with gruff shouts and howls to match the latter, perhaps more like later Darkthrone's homages to the era. A bit of a war metal aesthetic at times, but fortunately more dynamic, and the constant dissonant, ominous echo gives it the cavern feeling, though not as suffocating. The production is surprisingly clean - despite the harsh aesthetic, there's no murk to it, just tight thrashing washed in reverb with the atmosphere carefully crafted, reminiscent of Unanimated's reunion album. They seem able to set up a very orthodox poise with their songs, yet it never completely focuses. It doesn't intensify, it doesn't tell a morbid tale, but it rips right from the start. The songs are rather fragmented, but the manic intensity minimizes the abrupt leaps. Leaning heavily on strong influences, this is pretty good, but the band needs to prove they are more than these influences and create a more complete work. (Steve)

Kaarnekorpi - Aaltojen alle
Viking/folk metal from Tampere, Finland

Distinctively Finnish modern melodic metal, pop-sensible but with cleaned up aesthetics of viking/folk metal, on the melodic death/power metal side with hardly any trace of the gruff grandeur of Bathory. Softened up Finnish melodic metal like Amorphis, plus a bit of a shuffle or gallop and folky melodies. Essentially a hybrid of unapologetically poppy female-fronted Finn metal and folk metal with some harsh vocals like Ensefirum. If one tried to cut down Moonsorrow into Queensryche-type pop metal songs with a bit of the aesthetic left, but none of the tact. None of the grandeur which is needed to elevate viking metal, just a superficial glint of it. Sounds alright while listening to it, but it is shallow and forgettable. (Steve)

Blackryse - Welcome to Oblivion
Metalcore from Thessaloniki, Greece

It is strange to hear new bands attempt the New England metalcore style I witnessed forming 10-15 years ago, because many, like Blackryse, seem to miss the mark on both the metal and core sides. The metal riffs here, mostly Gothenburg string skippers, tend to focus on patterns and melodies that may step up the complexity, but completely fail to outline a basic melody or chord pattern that emotes a feeling, a mood, or action. Instead, it just sounds like pointless tick-tocking. The hardcore parts don't impart any groove nor aggression on the music. They hack the aesthetic together, but they simply fall down into breakdowns, rather than setting them up and collapsing the song in a furious fit. The vocals are basically a blank accompaniment, offering nothing a frontman could provide. This sounds like the band copied enough a lot of techniques but had no understanding of why they were put together the way they were. Terrible. (Steve)

Eternal Armageddon - Black Thrash Bastards
Black Thrash from Bangladesh

Eternal Armageddon's Black Thrash Bastards Demo is an energetic ditty, however the material lingers in a formative state with little replay value. These Bangladeshians run through four originals and a cover of Sodom's "Blasphemer" soaking the listener in material which, by local standards might be top-notch however paired against the world's scene, falls short. Iron Maiden influence appears immediately on "Darkness Shalt Reign," an intro track, and then first wave black metal influences appear afterwards. Holding this demo back more than anything on the originals is a lack of contrast, the songs are very similar and not particularly memorable. Asmodeus, Sarcophogous and Blasphemouranter's hearts are in the right place and their monikers have just the right amount of Engrish so hopefully a few more demos help this young band find their sound. (Orion)

Medea - Doomed From Birth
Thrash metal from Sweden

Thrash metal with darker aesthetic leanings like Dark Angel or Slayer, but technically rather tame and unimpressive. The performance and recording are pretty good for what they are - the room sound with real drums and unlayered guitars sound good, it is pretty tight, although simple. There are some melodic Metallica-isms worked in here, but they seem like simple adornments of a band that borrows from others yet doesn't have their own direction. There's no driving force, no intensity to it. It's just lightweight thrashing on cruise control which happens to pass some monuments yet doesn't have a destination. The artwork is cool.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

CTP - 026 - I: Maximum Oversatan / Cain - Unholy Triumvirate 7" Out

After a few months of ordering issues, Buffalo thrash miscreants Cain and Jersey based bastards Maximum Oversatan finally out on vinyl. This 7" features two songs from each band. Killer cover art from the awesome Todd Sullivan and back artwork from the impeccably talented Seth Bennett. This is the real deal. Both bands have dates coming up so be sure to look around your bars, strip clubs, and watering holes for a bunch of rude assholes.

Until June 30th, get this 7" and either the Sacrificial Blood or Paganfire live tapes for $10.