Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shotgun Blast: December '16


I can't write full reviews for everything which I listen to and receive. Through the months of November and December I've been slowly emptying out my "promo" folder, which also serves as my download folder, to clear up room for the inevitable 2017 avalanche of promotional material which I will be inundated with. I've been writing blurbs on all the stuff I've listened to in a good faith effort to give some attention to the releases I've been sent. This might wind up being a monthly or yearly thing, a wrap up of the promos I never had a chance to fully review as well as stuff which I simply came across in my travels, purchased for myself, or received as trades or as correspondence. There will be some older stuff here also that squeaked in for some reflection as well, such as the Metal Church debut below which somehow wasn't in my library even though I have the tape packed away somewhere or the early Alcatrazz albums which I had never before listened to and decided to ingest on a whim one day. This column reminds me of the old-school zine sections with endless running tallies of short concise reviews; shotgun blasts of metal particles which hopefully find their target.

Agonia - O Adormecer Eterno (2016)

From Portugal with hate, Agonia bring us black metal with strong funeral doom influence and the requisite ambient and atmospheric flourishes. Blackened Funeral Doom is also an appropriate tagline. More metallic than pure Funeral Doom, Agonia's most recent, O Adormecer Eterno, drags the listener through a mire of common genre tropes successfully. Nortt would be an appropriate point of reference. There is little mold breaking yet some songs do offer unique components such as the rubbery introduction to "Passagem sem Retorno." If you like your vocals lost in the background of your funeral doom, drums reverberating as if recorded in a cave, and guitars buried in an endless blistering fuzz then there is a good chance this will be well received. War Productions has this on tape limited to one hundred copies in traditional made-for-fanatics quantities. I was impressed with this to an extent and it will likely receive more listens.


Alcatrazz - Live '83
 
Before Yngwie Malmsteen the idea of Metal musicians playing virtuoso classically influenced music was limited to only one or two people such as Richie Blackmore that had touched upon incorporating that style. Malmsteen ran with the idea. Neoclassical Metal was born. Before Yngwie's solo career, Alcatrazz featured him as guitarist on their 1983 album, No Parole from Rock and Roll. The following year a live album was released featuring tracks from that album. The sound on this release is a great live recreation of the tracks. One of the more interesting tracks to appear is an early version of "Evil Eye" which first showed up on Rising Force. Alcatrazz shows a more heavy metal approach to Malmsteen's style. The need for Graham Bonnet's vocals perhaps forced Malmsteen to "hold back" during verses but his natural tendency to twiddle is highlighted in a song such as "General Hospital" where even under choruses and verses his fingers cut out paths across his guitar neck like a Nepalese sherpa tracking a course through mountains with incredible skill. Bonnet's vocals are another highlight here for me. This is an interesting listen especially for those that can't get enough of the Shred genre, Bonnet, or Malmsteen.

Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978)
 
I always originally thought this was Brian Eno's first album but it's actually his fourth or fifth. Essentially pure ambience with occasional gentle instrumentation, Ambient 1 is a landmark in music and has had major influences on experimental music just as Eno himself has had a major role in exploring music in new and interesting ways. This is a perfect album to fall asleep to. I like to pair it with Earth 2 or the Orbis tapes. Piano works it's way into the second track backed with calming undulations of synth sounds. Eno said his purpose of creating ambient music in this manner was to create sounds which would 'induce calm and space to think.' Essentially his goal was to provide an option other than the canned music and elevator music which sought to "regularize environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies." This album is super chill, and it's playable at any time of the day. It really does slow down the world around you.

Calligram - Demimonde (2016)
 
A blend of black, punk, and hardcore is the name of the game being played by this UK based but internationally connected project. Even throwing in some experimental nuance to give the five tracks on Demimonde an air of urgency and vitriol, Calligram never tread far from that floating platform of blackened hardcore which is seemingly more and more prevalent and less and less interesting to me. Moments and segments such as the center-ice mark of opener  "Red Rope" or the intro to final track "Bataclan" show a breadth of techniques and willingness to use them on call and with expertise. "Drowned" starts off as the blackest of tracks before it's breakdown and slower section - an occurrence on a few tracks of Demimonde. Ultimately, it's not my style but Calligram are furious in their delivery and have all the right ingredients to capture the angsty teen hearts of kids that felt screamo was too soft but never truly came over to the black legions. At just over twenty minutes, this is also a very nice quick jolt of bleakness and aggression when the need calls. 

Darkrypt - Delirious Excursion (2016)
 
Out of India, an unexpected hot bed of metal activity lately, Darkrypt comes across as another band piecing together authentic and not fully derivative extreme metal. Essentially death metal of above average caliber, Delirious Excursion is the debut album from the quartet and treads the path carved by the early 90's US Death Metal legions; i.e. Incantation, Immolation, Death... you know the bunch. Even though the twistedness and gnarliness of the originators is not entirely realized, Darkypt still enthusiastically chop and hack through impressive structures and acrobatics. "Chasm of Death" is a fine example of Darkrypt's death metal foundation roots while songs such as "The Inducer" and the instrumental intermission piece "Folie a Duex" show a willingness to experiment, explore, and break out of the boundaries with heavy injections of more melodic and passive components. This is a very impressive record which is on par with any of their contemporaries worldwide. Keep and eye on the band. Hopefully they can continue to refine their own style.

Disembowelment - Transcend Into The Peripheral (1993)
 
Floating in a sea of infinite melancholic intensity, emotions refined like petroleum into a substance necessary in the emulsion of conscious despair and the surrounding world, Transcend Into The The Peripheral is the window to discover these relationships. Along with Winter, Disembowelment developed the foundational style markers which Funeral Doom would further explore. I'm ashamed it took me so long to fully delve into this album because it contains impressive moments of tragic beauty. Whether it's the seemingly infinite "Burial At Ornans" sledging into your ears, the intense depth of "The Tree of Life and Death," or "The Spirits of the Tall Hills" undulating melodic movements, Transcend Into The The Peripheral is also one of the most varied and technically impressive displays of this time period as far as death doom goes. The usage of so many different arrangement combinations infects this album with energy and interest which is often lost in the genre through years of repetition and normalization. A gold standard.

Gordon Lightfoot - The Way I Feel (1967)
 
When I was a wee lad, about six or seven, we would go on trips to Pennsylvania each weekend up in the Poconos and on those trips, Gordon Lightfoot tapes in the old Ford Econoline were pretty much a ritual once we got off Route 280 and started heading up towards Lafayette, NJ and Milford, PA. My dad had a dubbed copy of Gord's Gold and a lot of my childhood was spent with that and also Roy Orbison until he discovered Jimmy Buffet when I was about ten. Circumstantially, that was the year I also really started to delve into Metal and I think it's because the Lightfoot and Orbison ended and the Buffet began. Now I find myself actually seeking out his full length albums and The Way I Feel is probably my favorite. Six or seven of the tracks here just draw me into the mountains, forests, and ultimately solace through Lightfoot's impeccable lumberjack sonnets. "Softly", "Crossroads", "A Minor Ballad", "The Way I feel", and "Song For A Winter's Night" are tops of Lightfoot's catalog. The true highlight, and acknowledged as such on the back cover of the album by painter Robert Markle, is "Canadian Railroad Trilogy." The first of Lightfoot's epics of which "Wreck of the Edmund Fitgerald" would become his most famous song (covered by Jag Panzer of all people on a rare 7"), "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" is the alluring tale of westward expansion and human toil in the face of time and nature. As Lightfoot captivates with campfire lyrics like 'long before the white man and long before the wheel, when the green dark forest was too silent to be real,' the guitars echo the spinning wheels and engines of the locomotives thundering across the steel, picking up speed and intensity. A perfect album.

Inverloch - Distance | Collapsed (2016)
 
Twenty-three years after Disembowlement's debut, Transcend Into The Peripheral, Matthew Skarajew and Paul Mazziotta are dead set on reclaiming the Doom Death throne with Inverloch. Distance | Collapsed sees much of a similar overall style with some minor production shifts to support the crushing dreary experiments in their dark art. Much of the album is part of that same tidal surge of doom and death metal which Disembowlement helped form. All tracks are powerful and grotesque meanderings through unblemished twisted constructions. The the fast-paced "Lucid Delirium" is an immediate highlight, requiring little mental consideration as it drops the weight of an entire dead cosmic nightmare into an unsuspecting listener's brain. When the track begins to crawl, there is still a tense speed assaulting from tremolo guitar riffs underneath. The dichotomy is maddening, as is how purely powerful this record comes across. That I haven't seen this on too many year end best of lists is disappointing.

Medieval - Reign of Terror (1986)
 
Take Slaughter's Strappado and slow it down. Reign of Terror is like that with NWOBHM vocals. The expansion on their debut demo, All Knobs To The Right, is non-existent. There has been little change in style but a big improvement in the still rough production of this EP. Back in '86, this was scaring people unconditionally because it was neither here nor there. There's some interesting material in the short release with tracks like "Lord of Darkness" throwing nods to Pentagram. "Face of Death" always seems to remind me of The Beast, probably due to Timmy Amsbuist's vocals being very similar to Scott Ruth's. By the time "Reign of Terror" runs it's course, Timmy has changed style into an early death metal styled bark of vocals. "Hell Is Full (Cruncher)" is culled from their previous demo and has been slowed down, adding weight and intensity to the classic chorus of "Hell is full and hear the fires roar." It's a monster sounding EP, given more heft with the extremely high bass mix, that indelicately maims and kills leaving bits and pieces everywhere.

Metal Church - Metal Church (1985)
 
The term 'necessary listening' was created specifically for Metal Church's eponymous debut. Whether it's the initial mid-paced marching of "Beyond the Black", the masterful Heavy Metal anthem "Gods of Wrath", or neglected b-side masterpiece "Battalions," Metal Church is the album that never tires, that never ceases - until you're forced to flip the record again (which you KNOW you are) - to amaze, and which is as integral to understanding Metal today as it was when it first landed upon unsuspecting human ears thirty years ago. It would be almost heresy not to mention the title track, but personally, as incredible as David Wayne's incredible vocals are in this iconic track, the veracity and snarl that drips between the tempestuous guitar chuggs like hungry dribble from the maws of a stalking predator, it's the proto-speed metal of "Battalion" which sends shivers throughout my body. As if the German power metal style would be anything like what it became all hearkens back to the triumphant and gnarly melodic innuendo that flows in this single song. An entire genre boiled down into one prototype, one alpha-version, one experiment in timelessness.

Moontower - Darkness... Glory To Hatred (2016)
 
The Fifth of Moontower's full lengths, and the first since 2012's Voices of the Unholy Land, Darkness... Glory To Hatred falls into that dreaded category of average black metal that no one truly wants to end up in. It's issues are multifaceted but simply put, it sounds like Moontower recorded the entire album in khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirts.  Whether it's the staggering and awkward riff which forces resistance a hair over three minutes into "Under the Banner of the Black Sun" or that song's somewhat dilapidated initial opening sequence, the lazy and quaint intro to "Czysta Nienawisc" that doesn't quite match the rest of the track's rather interesting melodic moments, or the croaky monotonous vocals strewn across tracks like gravy over bad french fries at the worst dive in town, Moontower have effectively tainted each track with questionable choices that would make a pregnant fourteen year-old applaud their own decision making ability. "Ciemnosc" is perhaps the album's only rewarding moment with a darker and more dramatic tone, even if the structure is quite standard. Also considering that this album is only thirty-three minutes long with seven minutes of that being two bookends and the rather lovely - a word rarely summoned in black metal - instrumental "To The Dark Aeon" and I'm left feeling as if I wish I was on the same vacation as these guys were while writing and recording Darkness....

Shire - Shire (1984)
 
Pretty standard fare 80's Hard Rock that was laced with some metallic flourishes. I initially thought that this had female vocals since they are reminiscent of Doro or Fabienne Shine. Turns out I was wrong. First track of the release, "Do You Know What It's Like?" has a chorus that reminds me severely of Rush. This was all pretty worrisome to me starting off since I had the vocal gender mixed up. The five tracks clock at eighteen minutes and there's a decent variety of song lengths and styles on display in such a short time. "By My Side No More" recalls The Clash initially before crumbling into dust. If there's one redeeming track it's "All Alone," which has some really cool ideas in it, particularly the layered twangy guitars under the verse and some promising guitar leads, but there's a little too much repetition in the chorus, and I would have cut down some of the bridge accents to create more energy, as they cut up the track a bit. Unfortunately, the variety here doesn't include anything compelling beyond "All Alone." By the time "Thinking of You" politely queries attention from the listener, I'd rather listen to The Lone Rangers. Melodically, it's all very tired and predictable sounding. Even being a decent Dokken fan, it's of little interest to me that Don Dokken produced this as I seriously doubt I'm going to dredge that kind of footnote up in a conversation with anyone ever. I have no idea why this band has reunited as of 2014.

UADA - Devoid Of Light (2016)
 
UADA have gotten some attention lately due to their involvement in the Messe De Mortes Festival, but they should really be getting eyes and ears directed towards them for what many are calling the premier black metal album of the year, Devoid of Light. I think it's a very strong and well put together release for a debut. The songs are good, the musicianship and production is strong, there are memorable moments throughout, and the release is a very mature first album aided in part by the members' engagement with black metal in previous bands over the span of ten to twenty years. My preferred track is S.N.M, standing for the band's life philosophy of 'serve no master.' It is the most complete track of the record. Fans of more hard-nosed Cascadian and Canadian Black Metal would be wise to listen and make notes because I feel that UADA's next release will break ground and propel them into the next tier of bands. The album isn't without it's faults, though. I found it to be at times bland. Drops in energy were apparent throughout as well and even though UADA has a strong foundation for their style, I'd like to see something which will separate them from the myriad other bands that do something similar. According to interviews UADA have another full record written and a third partly written. Hopefully they see the light of day soon. The comparisons to Mgla are appropriate. I would like to see them live; perhaps in a more personal environment their music would come across as more energetic and vibrant.

Watchtower - Concepts of Math: Book One (2016)
 
If you had told me about fifteen years ago that Watchtower would be putting out another album I would have laughed in your face. At that time, Control And Resistance was this unknown force to me. I had stared at it's angular artwork while listening to "Fall of Reason" over and over again trying to grasp the disparity of it's musical intensities. Now, years later and more informed, Control And Resistance and Energetic Disassembly remain two of the few truly technical metal albums which I honestly can say I enjoy listening to. Musings aside, Book One is truly an addition to their discography and not a supplemental albums years later. Jarzombek after all these years is still piecing together songs like a mad scientist in a lab frantically rearranging tubular vessels and lightning rods to archaic ends. "Arguments Against Design" sets a standard of intricacy in every instrument and is followed through in the rest of the tracks. As a bass player, I can't stress enough how insane Doug Keyser is on this album, from the gurgling tumble of "Arguments Against Design" or the wacky psychotic splatter of "Technology Inaction" or the refined grandeur of ten minute "Mathematic Calculis," Keyser's playing is one reason I come back to Watchtower. One point of interest for me is the instrumental section at three and a half minutes into  "Mathematica..." which reminds me of Control Denied's Fragile Art of Existence or Death's Sound of Perseverance. Alan Tecchio sounds better than ever; I've always found him to be a tad monotonous but his alienesque warble is prime here. With every gear turning the Watchtower machine is as finely tuned as ever.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Oracle - Beyond Omega


Twentyish years of listening to metal and Oracle are the first band to ever contact me from Alabama. They  now comprise one third of all my knowledge of Alabama metal. I had somehow heard of Aceldama through a very old demo tape discovery somewhere and of Wormreich due to their tour bus tragedy a year or so back but beyond that I'm about as lost as that change in your couch cushions. That will change for sure. The first band other than Oracle I looked up described themselves as "4 crazy assholes from Mobile making music heavier than a fat chick with a mouth full of pork rinds." I sense a goldmine of hilarity just ripe for picking. I'm not so ignorant to believe that the state is a backwoods horror movie plot, though, or that it's comprised entirely of Klan members, or that everyone's girlfriend is also everyone's sister. As is the case across this entire dross encrusted planet, there is likely some extremely good music to be found even in the swamps of Alabama.

Oracle play a modern version of Death Metal that isn't particularly unique, new, or inspired. It all sounds like a mixture of typical Gothenburg fanfare and Cryptopsy-lite to me. Their album, Beyond Omega, is done well but there isn't a single point which stands out to me worth noting. The title track, "Beyond Omega" yields evidence of amateur composition tropes; arbitrary transitions, myriad riffs that don't seem to lead anywhere or serve any purpose other than having been included, little (if any) movement or narration. Occasionally Oracle do show some promise amidst the mostly mediocre material. An interesting introduction incorporating a piano arrangement adorns "By The Hand of Aestrea." The strongest part of the release for me is the slower part of "Nocturnal Creatures" due to a chord progression that rings with tragedy and heartache which is then complimented with a nice guitar lead over it. More often we're giving jumps into incongruous choruses and breakdowns such as in "Beyond The Crimson Veil."



Although Oracle haven't shown me anything new or different compared to any number of mentionable bands, they are not offensive to the ears. There is a confidence in the performance and the production is on par or above average. At this point their strength lies in their layered and at times satisfying melodies and more attention should be paid to using these types of sections more effectively to create complete songs and experiences. At times, there is some promise shown but until the band finds their own voice, they will be overlooked in favor of more established acts on a larger scale.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Impenitent Thief - EP 2014



Back in May, Decibel magazine noted that "Impenitent Thief are not for the casual metal listener." This struck me as a strange description, and somewhat exclusionary, for an EP which has been so perfectly presented. Author Dutch Pearce admitted that "Impenitent Thief’s demo doesn’t just wail on you, it leaves a mark. A black bruise indicative of a deep subcutaneous hemorrhaging." Perhaps I've been guilty of similar phrasing on releases but I now find myself considering what is the casual metal listener? Is 'casual metal listener' a real thing? Fans of metal don't fall into a group of casual listeners and formal listeners. People that listen to Metal listen to Metal. There is no significant portion of the fan base that listens to metal for a few years and then decides they don't like it anymore and there are few fans of popular genres that occasionally 'dip into the well', deciding they're going to listen to Benediction for a few hours then go back to their John Mayer or whatever - obviously there are these people but they are few and far between. Rather the listening patterns of Metal fans could be more accurately described as the stationary and the exploratory. Stationary listeners sit on the shore and watch the ocean lapping at their toes; maybe they dip their foot in now and then. Maybe. Exploratory listeners get in a boat and brave the coming unpleasantness for moments of beauty and possible riches; for the adventure. They discover the next untouched forest, the next undisturbed shores, and mountains yet to be scaled.

Impenitent Thief's 2014 EP is very much a release that will appeal to the exploratory listener, especially one who is a fan of the grey area which dwells and surges between Black Metal and Death Metal. Perhaps the greatest strength of this short sixteen minute assault is the immediacy of each track; "Lashing of Christ" is Incantation with Black Metal vocals, "Wax Corpse" is a saucy Nunslaughter imbued blast, and "Gestas" grinds and churns like Napalm Death with Beherit's experimentation drizzled over to glaze the whole track like the grossest doughnut you've ever eaten. In essence, a combination of these three elements is the EP. A bit death metal, a bit black metal, and some definite grind influences. Counter intuitively, there is still a great mix of rhythms and variety on the release. Keys figure in heavily in some tracks to lend suffocating atmosphere and uncomfortable melody while others rely on speed and velocity. Quick. Violent. Morbid. 



Impenitent Thief are not the "gargoyle at the gate" as Pearce describes but more like the ruins of El Dorado, beckoning and taunting the apprehensive across the sea to come and find it. Why would something so good not appeal to one segment of the fanbase? It's not because they are 'casual listeners' but because they are stationary - preferring to ignore the adventure of discovering new and delicious cultures. Sure, some people don't like Black and Death Metal but that doesn't relegate that group of people to the dog house of 'casual listeners'. Here's a much more eloquently stated description from explorer Ben, from blackmetalandbrews: "As somebody with a passion for music that tends to make me uncomfortable or ill at ease, I often seek out things that are either initially unappealing or off-putting with the hopes that they’ll grow on me over time. Sometimes this yields unhappiness at having listened to the same garbage recording five times, but sometimes I find myself allowing morbid fascination to blossom into a familiar unease."

The production is ripe and starting to turn rotten but this is one fruit that is best served at that period in it's life. The moistness of the recording causes Impenitent Thief's malevolence to ooze out of the speakers and stain the carpet beneath instead of simply be propelled at force into the air in a blasted mist. The tape format is the ideal format and No Visible Scars had the right idea to press it such. If it didn't have the year listed, and the information wasn't available online I would fault no one that guessed at a date range of the early 90's for this release. As good as this is, it will be discovered by most explorers but this is one release which I hope those stationary listeners would take a chance on, especially if they do like more extreme metal.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Glaukom Synod - Vampires And Gorgeous Throats


Glaukom Synod return with their first release since 2014's Covered In Semen and Slime. Rising from piles of technodestruction and staggering from blown out communication hubs with fifteen minutes of extremely harsh electronic industrial propaganda, on Vampires and Gorgeous Throats Glaukom Synod emphasize the perfect components of each track in a way that makes them truly enjoyable and truly uncomfortable simultaneously. Having found a way to incorporate identity into the songs, the listenability of what normally would be revealed to fringe music aficionados is instead possible for anyone with a meager interest in experimental music. Glaukom Synod could easily open the wormhole towards harsh noise and electronics for anyone with a mind open enough to revel in the vastness of the genre.

Perhaps the best representation of this is in "Jungle Glaukom Fever," which is based on a deformed theme of Tarzan's yell. It is revisited several times in prime locations to reinvigorate the beat. Also worthy of further investigation is "Absoloz Omogr V. 1.0.5.," due to the strange rhythmic exasperation coursing throughout. The longest track, it's also the most subdued throughout it's majority, even breaking away into an an entirely new structure that only barely hints at the previous rhythms in the track as tempo is slowly increased. There are depths worth exploring in each track before completely grasping all the nuanced layers and sounds. It took me five or six listens to hear some of the low-end rhythms in "Jungle Glaukom Fever," and in a song like "Throattomb" once can get lost in pinpointing which beat to listen to.



What's so impressive with Glaukom Synod is the myriad usages of sounds and samples. The layers of different beats and rhythms are put together with such natural feel, even with such unnatural tones being used. For me, the whole thing mimics the aesthetic of Virus (John Bruno, 1999) in that it combines the natural and artificial into a unique life form in which the end result would be impossible without either. That this was all created using only 16 bit software and technology just makes the whole thing feel more genuine and impacting - it's not overworked, even for how layered and cramped it is.

Final track "The Iron Tongue (Razors In Your Mouth)" is culled from the Covered in Semen and Slime demo, and I would have preferred another two or three tracks to put the overall release at twenty minutes, especially if we were given some tracks of a tad more variety in tempos and intensity; something slow and drawn out between "Jungle Glaukom Fever" and "Ejaculohydron Tricephalis" could have been a key placement for pacing. Once again, however, Glaukom Synod is impressive in what matters: originality, replayability, and impact. Two releases now from Glaukom Synod have really impressed me. I'll be digging into their back catalog which stamps back to 2005 but I have a feeling finding physical copies of some stuff will be an adventure.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Heavy Temple - Chassit

 Heavy Temple out of Philadelphia are back with a child named "Chassit," to be de-wombed late January. I've been given a look at the sonograms. With their previous offspring, a self titled EP, from a couple years ago being a unique blend of numerous genetics, namely Black Sabbath as evidenced by tracks like "Dirty Ghost," this new release is defined by more matured blood. This isn't to say that the 2014 EP isn't a bad-ass rocking gift - because it most certainly is - we just have a much more nuanced and refined essence in "Chassit." Let's say their parenting skills paid off after their firstborn and this new child isn't privy to the growing pains of new parents or caretakers. There's plenty of rocking and doom to be had here but also, a certain reflective quality missing on the debut.

High Priestess NightHawk is still at helm, belting out lovely cadences and supplying a majority of the rhythmic work on bass. There have been changes in the trio's lineup with Archbishop Barghest on guitar taking over for Rattlesnake and Siren Tempestas replacing Bearadactyl (sad to see him go as his was easily one of the best names I've heard in a while). From the immediate lashings of "Key And Bone" the decadent wall of sound on Chassit looms. Heavily over driven bass, with occasional effects - possibly a chorus and flange pedal mixture of sorts - is very upfront in the mix with guitars filling in a lot of the space behind and supplying hums, buzzes, ghost tones and other psychedelia. Notable is the distant snare giving a very "live" atmosphere to the heavy and hot mix. From the first musings of "Key and Bone," NightHawk's vocals stand out. There is an unrestrained intensity and allure to her commanding vocal style.

Initially NightHawk's vocals are tied to the chord progressions but come "Ursa Machina" and especially "in The Court Of The Bastard King" (yes - I looked for obvious King Crimson nods but found none) there is an overall looser and experimental flair. Heavy Temple offer an originality in the spacey vibe they softly convey through the guitar and bass effects and the steamy recording. It's true in terms of sheer riffing and structure of compositions Heavy Temply fall short on originality, jumping into new riffs through use of common transitional methods and essentially jamming about for prolonged periods of times across fairly standard motifs and keys but the riffs are cleanly written and smooth. The grit and caked on scuzz of excellent tone help the material rise above. Heavy Temple do their doom well. The single most unique section of the EP is the first minute or two of second track "Ursa Machina," with a big tense formation built on a simple four note bass pattern with a dramatic half-step drop. 





Heavy Temple conjure the images their moniker would want you to formulate: Smoke drenched biker bars along forgotten stretches of cracked highway; hazy hissing amplifier tubes droning behind the occasional crackle of unintended instrument noise; a sweaty greasy mechanic in a straw hat and oil-soaked overalls sips whisky along a splintered bar top; empty booths against a far wall trapping wisps of unknown ethers; the trio that rolled in on a cloud of van-dust filling the space between normally disparate images with that ephemeral glue that could only seep out of their hands; a small child in worn and patched jeans and a crisp white tank top playing in the corner while her mom works the bar, beading droplets of moisture on tanned skin glistening as another cold round gathers condensation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Signist - Of Worlds, Endtimely Enshadowed




With a shift towards regression swelling in the ocean of releases and bands, Signist are swimming against the stream by re-releasing and remastering their 2006 demo. It's easy to support the claim that the tendency in metal is to not push beyond the defined genre-prison with so many bands aiming for traditional sounds. And yet the Russian duo and their 2006 demo, Of Worlds, Endtimely Enshadowed, while a release that contextually is easy to place at that original time-period, is not so easily dissected as being purely defined by the discernible melodic death metal influences on the release. It is to be viewed outside the currents trends and the decision to re-release is, if anything, counter intuitive to the current metal climate.

There is a very specific guitar tonality on this recording which identifies it as a Russian release; a certain hollowness amidst the otherwise generic timbre that I have heard before from a host of Russian artists both contemporary with the timing of this release (Hell's Thrash Horsemen) as well as quite earlier in time (Aspid) whom all share this uniquely Russian tone. It's also appeared elsewhere in the east such as on Aum's 2012 Of Pestilence. It's a different feel, revealing Signist as going against the tide at this point in time, perhaps slowly drifting in the same waters, but observing a more careful route than that carried by the debris. Guitarist Ixaxaar handles most of the instrumentation and is impressive across the release while partner Axalcathu on drums complements capably. Both handle vocals throughout and exit with strong credentials.

Guitar tones aside, the contributing factors to the material would be several notable Swedish bands. Opeth's progressiveness is apparent early on in opening track "Premonition of the Endless Night" as the song dissolves into an acoustic interlude for it's majority. I hear a mix of Amon Amarth and Dark Tranquility in "Stillborn Mind Reflection." What is not prevalent are American Melodic Death influences and metalcore influences which factored into the "great blandening" of those years. There are lots of flourishes of experimentalism and progressive ideas incorporated into the tracks. "XXI Century Presuicidal Reverie" is a strong showing of this experimental penchant and passes attention to progressive masters thirty five years prior in title.



Perhaps the best combination of the influences on the album manifests itself in album highlight "Bells of Oncoming Winter." A twisting and extended riff opens the track and grips the listener in the culmination of the phrasing before layering additional effected clean guitars as an accompaniment cuing the verse. Later in the song, after a syncopated section of lead guitar work, clean vocals cue in the harsh vocals in a similar manner. Simple and smooth transitions of melody hold the ideas together. This is also true in "Dark Coulors Breeder," a big track with a demure interlude splitting it's ends. A cover of Katatonia's "This Punishment" is the final strap on the jacket for Signist's album.

Of Worlds, Endtimely Enshadowed, was artfully crafted amidst influences which overpowered a lot of music at the time. Signist recognized the original influences of the melodic death metal style and incorporated them heavily into their sound. This release will not appeal to everyone but may find a respected place for fans of the late 90's and early 00's melodic death metal material. The idea to resurrect the release now, after trends have died down, whether purposeful or not, affords a more unbiased look at material, which several years prior, may have been dismissed and disregarded.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Witchcraft Zine Issues 666 and 777

 

The metal universe is full of interesting people doing interesting things artistically and with a fervor and gusto that draws curious onlookers in, forever capturing and enrapturing them like a spider catching flies in its web. For myself, underground zines were a big part of my descent into the nooks and crannies. Originally it was Metal Maniacs in the late 90's and early 00's. I remember the first issue of Zero Tolerance being released in 2004. I became fully engrossed in what I found to be a more artful journalistic venture in the British pamphlet. Eventually I ended my subscription around issue 34 or something and went my own way. But those magazines gave me, at the time still young and impressionable, a certain ground to stand on. So today when I pick up a zine I want it to seem more than just some interviews and reviews. I want it to have a certain life to it beyond the regular feature. I want it to add to my understanding of this universe.

A full twenty pages of zine listings like this appear in issue 666. A veritable who's who of zines for metal librarians.

When I was sent issues 7 and 6 of Witchcraft Zine out of Germany several months back, I was met with something beyond the typical. Each booklet was laid out more like an issue of National Geographic than the typical fanzine. Of course contained were some interviews and reviews but editor Stefan also managed to include extremely useful reference material and data that caters to collectors and maniacs that have reached a point beyond simply being "interested." Stefan literally must spend his entire life savings and time on putting these together and they are done so well and are such a useful resource for those like myself who don't particularly care for looking and learning everything through the digital dreamscape which has taken much of the physical and material reward out of the collector side of metal.

A small segment of the The Crypt collector guide in issue 777.

Issue 6, a square booklet in full color and impeccable layout with Motorhead on the cover which, looking at it now, produces surreal vibes - staring into the eyes of two dead warriors will do that - offered a vast amount of space to content ignored by the largest reference sources online - zines! Yes, pages thirteen through thirty-four offer a complete listing of every known heavy metal zine big and small to the author. It's an incredible quantity of information and research. Each country is represented with no one left out; who knew South Africa had two metal fanzines!? And to follow up is a huge collector guide on Nuclear War Now's vast catalogue. Interviews with label owners and bands like Hellbringer and Hatespawn are enjoyable as well. Oh, and it comes with a huge Celtic Frost poster for kicks.

Issue 7, comes packed in a folder containing the ninety-two page zine and two posters. The oddly sized vertical zine will surely reap havoc on anyone who gets annoyed with things not fitting easily onto shelves. The layout also switches from being read upwards to downwards and sidewards numerous times forcing the reader to literally have to be involved in the act of exploring the pages. NWN is once again featured with some updated collector notes. Also featured are a whole new slate of zines not included in issue 6. The Crypt also gets similar page space with a collector dissection of their releases as well. Order From Chaos get interrogated as well as a host of other smaller features on numerous artists.

These zines are really beautiful and experimental in both layout and content. They have a personality and character to themselves. Stefan has done with Witchcraft zine that which could never be done in the mainstream toilet paper; artistically explored areas and depths of the underground with an encyclopedic skill and interest that suits collectors and genre veterans.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Yfel - Dark Hymns Of The Underworld


Dark Hyms Of The Underworld follows Yfel's debut, The Depths of Hell, and dials in on some major improvements in some important areas. The Depths of Hell was under siege in no-man's land between black metal and death metal and consequently suffered a defeating identity crisis. Where Dark Hymns... makes significant strides is in the push towards a solidly black metal effort. Gone are some of the Armonisms which appeared on the previous album: overly syncopated vocal choruses, goofily groovy riffs that manifest out of nowhere, and laughable lyrics about dead prostitutes all come to immediate mind . What has remained is his solid ear for compelling melodies and his instrumental prowess. Additionally, Armon's mid register screams are a boon to the focused black metal attempt, generic as they still are.

Without picking apart each track, the most powerful - and promising - song for me is tertiary track "Char and Ash" which could be considered a poor man's "As I Wander," a comparison to the must hear track on Primitive Graven Image's Traversing The Awesome Night. It rolls and roils for the first several minutes similarly but without as much grandeur and little sense of imagery. It also falls prey to the "black metal must have fast parts" mentality and instead of being a beastly slow-to mid tempo track, we get some blast beats and faster parts which sap what was a unique change of pace on the mostly single-minded album. But the slower doom parts are big, stomping, marching black metal. "Char and Ash" is followed by the out-of-place "Covalent Bonds" which doesn't fit thematically with the other material and which opens with a riff more akin to Control Denied than Immortal or Emperor. While the content of the track is a minor slip, the dip in black metal focus betrays some of Armon's underlying non-black metal influences.

As usual, Armon has recorded and mixed this project himself and he's done a commendable job in accomplishing the goal of getting clarity without being polished. All the parts have their space and show forth in the mix with the guitars still being most in your face and the drums - still programmed - being in your boots. I'm not sure the production is "black metal" at heart; the bass is less pronounced compared to the seminal productions in the genre, the guitars aren't quite as buzz-saw or incognito, and the programmed drums do push away from the necessary natural tones I prefer. Regardless, for black metal done Armon style - this is a shift more in the correct direction. I'm curious to know if Armon can replicate the black metal feeling with Yfel on future releases, especially considering the positive changes here on Dark Hymns of the Underworld. My biggest concern is still whether Armon can string a bunch of songs that fit within the genre's parameters and yet still be memorable and interesting.
 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Whipstriker - Die In Rape


Check out one of the Whipstriker tracks from the Whipstriker / Hell's Bomber split tape. You can preorder the tape HERE.

Preorders ship out on September 6th. Price will jump up to $6.50/tape instead of the $4.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hell's Bomber - Bombers Of Hell


Uploaded a sample track from the Whipstriker / Hell's Bomber split tape. Whipstriker sample will be up shortly. Preorder tapes through the usual methods: either via email at orion_metalhead@hotmail.com or also through the storenvy page for the product. Buy other shit while you're there also.. I want to clear stock so I can get fresh product in.

Monday, August 8, 2016

CTP-032-I: Whipstriker / Hell's Bomber Split Tape Preorder Available Now


Brazil's Whipstriker and Croatians Hell's Bomber meet on this split tape of four tracks of blistering metal. Old School fans of the usual culprits rejoice. You can preorder for $4 + Shipping on the Storenvy page.

These are moving so don't miss out on it. Pro Tapes for this one. Tapes will jump up to $6 after preorder period. Expected release date is first week of September (I expect the tapes by that point).

http://contaminatedtones.storenvy.com/products/17516225-whipstriker-hells-bomber-beyond-the-empty-graves-evil-forces-on-the-l

You can always order via email too: orion_metalhead@hotmail.com

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

CTP-031-L: Fiakra - Alive At Ravenforge Out Now


New Jersey Epic Heavy Metallers, Fiakra, and their Alive At Ravenforge rehearsal EP are out now. $6. For fans of Omen, Manilla Road, Axe Battler, Greek shit. $6. Buy at the online store or via old-school email communication.

orion_metalhead@hotmail.com

Tapes are pro-dubbed silver cassettes:



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Alkerdeel - Lede



Alkerdeel is one of the many bands that follows the traditional Norwegian black metal path, but their album Lede also adds in a bit of an unconventional approach, and it’s fairly decent. In general terms, there is a really strong Under a Funeral Moon vibe here. It’s worth mentioning because Alkerdeel has a much stronger than average Darkthrone influence. More specifically, the amount of repetition and the bass’s prominent position in the mix harken back to the sounds on that particular Darkthrone album. Since the band goes off the rails a bit, you almost get a subdued Furze vibe, but the release isn’t quite so experimental as that, so maybe it’s just the cover art creating a superficial connection (“fürze” means “farts” in German after all.) The well placed contributions from Mories (of Gnaw Their Tongues etc. fame) also give the album a small push away from conventional sounds.

Outside of the traditional influences in the dirty primitive riffing, a couple of stylistic deviations pop up throughout the release. Alkerdeel’s particular take on dissonance shows up both in tremolo picking atypical intervals and inharmoniously placed bass notes. These bass lines often follow a shuffling kind of rhythmic pattern that further pulls them outside of the main harmony - it’s an interesting effect. One of the better, but dragged out, moments has a spoken word interlude. There, the bass slowly marches notes over a quietly pulsing and crackling wall of guitar notes. Sometimes the tremolo picking jumps from the low end with quick flashes onto the higher frets and strings. The main feel though is a familiar one, like the vibe you get from the simple descending four-note pattern on the track “Lede.”





The intro and effects on “Gråt Deleenaf” are by Mories, and they fit into the music quite well. The distant howling notes especially create a strong sense of tension and discomfort, a clear break from Mories’ usual habit of mixing unadulterated chaos into his effects. His restraint here meshes into the album’s overall atmosphere and mirrors the effect’s light touches elsewhere on the release. It’s a clear hallmark of genuine and thoughtful collaboration, rather than a mere guest appearance solely for the sake of padding the liner notes, but the song itself is still a tepid affair. On the topic of Alkerdeel’s weakness, it boils down to creating songs from a bunch of riffs that are only just “fine” or serviceable. It will work at any given moment because of the interesting mood, but too many ideas seem to circle in on themselves.

Lede’s quality and atmosphere make it good enough to be engaging throughout the entire runtime, but it unfortunately doesn’t leave much of an impression afterwards. It’s only particularly strong point is how the vocal performance is cleverly panned with reverb to create a huge amount of depth to the vocals during sustained screams. So file this one under “likeable but forgettable.” It’s coherent and has its interesting moments, but almost nothing other than it’s somewhat unique approach sets Lede apart from the incalculable volume of other releases out there.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Sassu Wunnu Live at The Wreck Room, April 30th, 2016


Sassu Wunnu, one of New Hampshire's few high-quality metal acts, released a sad announcement fairly recently. The band is planing to go on an indefinite hiatus, and luckily enough I was able to catch them live during what may be one of their final shows. Below is a brief write-up on their performance.



Sassu Wunnu is the kind of band that blurs your usual genre lines, so it's not ridiculous to take note of their metal influences ranging from doom, black, and sludge. There are moments where they bask in big fuzzy sounds, rhythmic stop and starts, wild tremolo picking, and carefully arpeggiated melodies. Despite the fuzzy tones of the power trio's strings, they were fairly tight in their timing which was further highlighted by the crisp drumming of Puke Commander as his furious movements animated the glorious tattoos across his chest. 

The key strength of the band though, and something rather rare, is how well the bass and guitar play against each other. Trading off melodies like they were both guitar players, but never delving into the bass wankery of technical bands, Lykos and King Trash held a great sense of pacing. Some call and response, a nice guitar solo, bass taking the high melody, it was all really cool stuff that never stifled the band's sound. It was even more surprising how well this worked live, because threesomes often struggle to simultaneously maintain a big sound and dynamic song structures. Sassu Wunnu played well and the show was an admirable sendoff for an interesting piece of New England metal.


In light of the band's forthcoming hiatus, it's worth mentioning that you can also check out Malacath. Malacath is the solo project of Sassu Wunnu's vocalist and bassist Lycos, and the project is currently quite active. According to the project's Facebook page, it looks like we should keep an eye out for two upcoming splits.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä


This is an absolute beast of an album. Värähtelijä is an entrancing psychedelic black metal experience that has more highlights in its hour-plus run time than seems possible. It’s an almost overwhelming amount of remarkably cool moments, but they are melded together so well that the album’s hypnotic feel never wavers even in the slightest. Incredibly, three of the tracks are over ten minutes long but you’ll end up feeling the album’s magnitude rather than its duration. In a way, Oranssi Pazuzu also flips the normal expectation of how black metal, and metal generally uses instruments. Värähtelijä is something special.

This album is heavily dominated by the rhythm section, to the point where the trance-like drumming is often the focal point. It’s not some kind of dull tribal drone either, the beats are far too unusual and addicting. Calling the syncopation on this album creative is as much as an understatement as saying Escher was creative with drawing stairs: the repetition always seems to be progressing onward. Bass lines are the other side of how the band flips the usual order of the instruments. They fill in the melody for long stretches, weaving into the drum’s rhythm and pulling the listener into the low-end of the mix. Vocals and guitars don’t sit idly by however, they pop into more traditional melodic roles, and also often accompany the music as trippy echoey ornaments.




If it wasn’t clear from reading about the album’s hypnotic qualities and rhythmic focus, this isn’t the kind of release that has many riffs to speak of. Still, there are a handful of incredibly strong moments in the guitar work. “Hypnotisoitu viharukous” for example has a really cool interchange between a fast riff and a slower chord progression. Both parts are somewhat stripped down versions of what the bass is doing, but an octave higher (see, I told you they flip things upside down). The guitar’s contribution makes a huge impact though because it add a harsher and chaotic element to the melody, which is then taken to the extreme in the song’s effects laden outro. It’s a role the effects play really well throughout the album in how they always fit just right into the composition rather than sticking out like a guitar player just screwing around with a fancy new effects pedal. See for example how all of the howls, beeps, and noises fit into the earlier part of “Vasemman käden hierarkia.”

Some exceptionally cool bits are worth pointing out individually. On “Lahja” rhythmic interaction between the strings, the xylophone, and tom drums is nothing short of stunning. It also shifts the song’s flow in a really intriguing way when the xylophone’s chimes go from a 4/4 to 6/8 feel, a simple touch that adds worlds of interest. The way that “Vasemman käden hierarkia” swings back into the earlier motif at about twelve minutes in by incrementally adding drums, bass, and vocals to the flanged tremolo-picked note is absolutely brilliant. It simultaneously brings back the song’s earlier mood in the bass melody while also creating a new feel to keep the track engaging. Then closing it off with cracked out yelling, screaming, and eventually plain old fire noises really drills home the song’s thematic progression.

Värähtelijä is a hell of a ride because it has such an earthy rhythmic side to its vast spacey sounds. Even the relatively weaker track Havuluu is really strong, it’s repetitive two-note theme mutates into a howling mess that’s so unhinged that you have to love it. The album’s mellower sections and the tame closer “Valveavaruus’s” drum free parts are stern reminders of how compelling overall pulse is. I remember the band’s debut release having two really powerful tracks, here it’s all seven. Oranssi Pazuzu abandoned a lot of the traditional rules of making metal, and still crafted a top notch release.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Otargos - Xeno Kaos

Otargos - Xeno Kaos

After being fairly impressed by Otargos’ No God No Satan album from 2010, I was initially excited to give a listen to this 2015 alum, Xeno Kaos. While it's not the biggest letdown around, I was fairly disappointed to find that this once interesting blackened death metal band had tried and failed to recreate Behemoth’s Demigod album. Hell, it even has the vaguely eastern sounding lead guitar work, similar vocals, and triplet chugging patterns; but it ultimately falls short of that influential album. To be clear, there is nothing really shoddy or awful about the performance or production, but the composition has the stale taste of rehashed material and uninspired ideas.

Xeno Kaos is the kind of album whose aggression is clearly unquestionable; it’s rhythmic, heavy, crisp, and keeps a consistently crushing atmosphere throughout. It just feels so soulless. If you take the bleak approach of looking at the songs in strictly a melodic sense, they are very predictable and flat. Simple cadences occasionally broken up by inconsequential chugging fills. Sometimes the high end is filled up with tremolo picked notes for entire bars of music, but in a way the removes the melody from black metal and the rhythm from death metal. The quick palm muted 8-note chug patterns sometimes help give the impression of creating more dynamic parts, but it’s ultimately still very predictable.



If it seems unfair to chalk up Xeno Kaos as a second (or third) rate imitation of Demigod, then just give “Dark Mechanicus” a quick listen. This has to be the epitome of dumb homogenized lowest common denominator blackened death metal. Triplet triplet rest trip-trip-chug bullshit rinse and repeat. It’s a half decent bridge or two painfully stretched out into the length of an entire song. Also, you can tell without even listening to the album that I’m not overplaying the Behemoth influence, one of the songs is titled “Chariots ov the Godz” after all.

As noted above, Dagoth sounds a lot like Nergal, barking out each extremely compressed line with a steady, rather monotone, delivery. A more dynamic approach would have really helped flesh out the album’s straightforward approach without detracting from the band’s blunt force trauma approach to music. Speaking of which, the blasting kick drum really bleeds into the space the bass ought to operate in. It makes it seem like the double bass bits have a constant and clicky open-e bass strumming pattern. Frankly, this isn’t all that far from how parts of the songs are actually written, so it’s likely a composition issue rather than a mixing problem.

In the end it averages out as a wash of an album. The unremarkable songwriting plus the hyper produced and competent musicianship makes for a perfectly neutral experience that’s well suited to situations where your attention is focused elsewhere. I don’t mean that as some kind of veiled insult either, it truly is a very moderate experience. Aside from how bad “Dark Mechanicus” is, I struggle to remember much of anything about this release. Sure, bits of some of the songs have their moments and it’s heavy overall, it’s just not the kind of music you’d expect to come back to after hearing it once.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Nyciene - S/T


Nyciene is a black metal project whose debut demo starts off with a striking intro melody. Its main riff has this ridiculously addicting 8th-note slide at the end of it that keeps drawing you into the song. With a raw but quite full sound, the band clearly flirts with Burzumesque minimalism by delving into trance-like repetitive riffing. It’s simple, but the melodies have an added layer of tension by hiding under the steady pulse of the lower notes. This makes the intro in particular much more intriguing than a simple droning riff would be, which makes a lot of sense because the rest of the music is relatively dynamic and high energy in comparison.



This demo is around 20 minutes long, but still pretty lush with ideas. The initial Burzum feel is fleeting after the first track. It’s an interesting facet to the band’s minimalism; they conjure up a great deal of atmosphere by tapping into both first and second wave black metal riffing styles. The production’s clarity and the doomy atmosphere however make the demo feel very much like a modern release. In fact, despite all of the fuzzy-crunchy tones in the wall of sound, a lot of care has been put into making this mix work quite well. You can hear it pretty obviously earlier on in “Mercy in Quietus” with it’s strong (but not attention seeking) bass and well placed synth noises.

Naturally, when the music dips into the more straightforward riffs, the drums and vocals are there to flesh out the musical space. It works well because the guitars are a smidge low in the mix, which helps to highlight the band’s dynamics. For example, check out the really cool cymbal work during the bass part on “Mercy in Quietus.” After what seems like too short of a time, this demo closes out with some droning notes and ethereal effects. Even as someone with little patience for ambient nonsense filler, the finale makes complete sense in the context of the demo’s minimalist approach and rich atmosphere.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cult of Erinyes - Transcendence


Cult of Erinyes’ “Transcendence” EP is a very enticing sample of what this Belgian black metal band has to offer. To be frank, the music here sounds a lot like Mayhem (and that’s not even including the well done, but superfluous cover of “Pagan Fears.”) Specifically, the EP sounds like someone took a musical midpoint between DMDS and Chimera. The riffing is sometimes more Euronymous sounding, other bits are more like Blasphemer. It’s especially obvious in the vocals too, which have deep nasally lines reminiscent of Attila and also invoke the catchy rhythmic delivery of Maniac (but in a good way).



Still, it’s best to think of the influence as a ballpark for this EP’s sound. This isn’t a straight up clone band or even an uninspired imitation. “Transcendence” has some incredibly memorable vocal lines that tend to ride on top of the rhythm rather than mirroring it. The intelligible lyrics will leave you reciting bits of “Degrees of Solitude” or the apt line of “remember my name” that is repeatedly barked out on the EP’s eponymous track. “Transcendence” is the stronger of the two tracks due to the rolling 6/8 meter’s interplay with the slower fanfare sections. Also, it’s really cool how pulled back and subtle the double kick blasting is as the track closes out - this really preserves the song’s atmosphere.

Although the Mayhem influence is heavy here, the material is obviously far from one-note because of how creative and memorable the two original tracks are. The EP is definitely interesting enough to make me want to check out some more of the band’s music than only these two solid songs.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wederganger - Halfvergaan ontwaakt


Wederganger’s first full length release, Halfvergaan ontwaakt is a deliriously trippy foray into mid-tempo black metal that is infused with black n’ roll, done just the way it ought to be. Utilizing a slew of simple and straightforward riffs that you may expect to hear from bands like Craft or later Carpathian Forest, Wederganer isn’t afraid to drop tremolo picking entirely for long stretches. In their willingness to somewhat give up the usual wall of sound the band is able to explore a broad range of dark and unusual sounds. Most striking of all the band’s experiments are the showstopping clean vocals that, while used in moderation throughout the album, are still incredibly powerful and commanding.

Even setting the vocals aside for a moment (as hard as that may be) this is a really well done album that would be hard to forget even if it was an instrumental one. While bands like Glorior Belli have flirted with incorporating rock influences and been less than entirely successful, Wederganger keeps this album incredibly catchy without devolving into overreliance on trite rock licks. The dark and muffled guitar tone carries enough crunchy edge to make the tremolo picked sections entirely convincing and also lets the calmer moments have an added layer of depth. Even the interchange between the more psychedelic watery vibrato moments and traditional black metal is itself given an interlude with “Schimmenspel.” It’s song that relies on a lonely piano whose morosely reserved melodies echo parts the emotional palate found elsewhere on the album.



One really great thing about the riffs is just how bouncy they feel. I don’t mean this in a dumb rhythmic chugging kind of way, instead the riffs and staccato drumming often develop a genuine sense of leisurely flow. Even the vocal delivery has some rather interesting rhythmic patterns, which is rather unusual for black metal where the vocals normally serve as a melodic ornament. Another odd tidbit that works in the band favor is how the bass sometimes takes over the low riffs while one guitar does a high melody and the other is partly drowned out because of its subdued tone. This creates some space between the melody and rhythm, which strengthens the band’s rhythmic presence.

Now, onto the vocals. They start off amazing with a razor sharp black metal rasp brilliantly harmonized with deep somber clean vocals in the opening track. Then, with “Gelderse Drek” we get ripped apart by the vicious black metal vocals nearly on there own as the cleans add oos and aahs that create a theremin-like vibe. The absolute standouts are however “Dodendans” and “Vlammenvonnis” where you can just bask in the lush baritone notes. Despite how grand the vocals feel, they still fit well into the relatively subdued atmosphere on the album. It’s largely due to how well the lines are parsed into drawn out syllables and slow but interesting melodies. it’s so compelling that frankly the only reason I probably don’t have the lyrics memorized is because they are in Dutch (what English speaker couldn’t love words like Halfergaan and ontwaakt?)

While black n’ roll may sound like a terrible idea to some, this album is definitely a chance to see what can be done with it. It’s a unique experience and will show you how great music can come from a handful of simple riffs when a band has a bunch of talent and creativity. Wederganger have crafted an engaging, memorable, and vocally stunning album with Halfvergaan ontwaak.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sgt. Rock - Sgt. Rock



Sgt. Rock's gritty crossover will easily interest anyone with a curiosity in the formative years of the genre. The material is also of historical interest as well to Impetigo fans with vocalist Steve-o's involvement being linked. No Visible Scars once again does a great job with the tapes, which come in military green. The J-card has an enjoyable array of pictures and images along with lyrics to a bunch of the tracks. The choice of putting this on tape was wise. It maintains the aesthetic which originally applied to the demo material provided here and it triumphantly carries the impression the original material must have had to a new group of listeners. This is still definitely a niche tape not for everyone.

The heavily punk influenced material is bookended with thrash metal charm in places. There is a sarcastic anti-war / anti-military theme which runs throughout the material. Evidence is abound. Ending the first fourteen tracks from the 1987 My Friend Lost His Face demo, "Be All You Can Be" samples the US Army commercial jingle with an epilogue of someone throwing up. "Military Time" shares a disdain for military order mimicking a wake up call and then trudging along. The subject matter adds to the tape's innate nature as a punk artifact more than a metal artifact and the influence of one subculture is more apparent than that of the other.

Sgt. Rock create an atmosphere of militant indifference and authoritarian criticism by way of a steady variety of marching riffs, trudging beats, and metallic clamor all while poking and prodding symbols of military might. The tracks from the My Friend Lost His Face demo are easily the better sounding, however still rough, cuts. The other 29 tracks are rehearsal tracks, two of which are from a March rehearsal. The April 1987 rehearsal tracks are a fun listen to in their own right. The entirety of them have added energy with some invited bystanders adding their own comments and general drunken tomfoolery in the background.



Ultimately, this tape is going to appeal to fans of crossover, Impetigo, punk, and perhaps those looking for something humorous to toss on every now and then. There are some fun tracks to scream and yell along to like "Grenades", "Rambo", and "My Friend Lost His Face." A Misfits cover appears halfway through the April rehearsal along with three attempts at an S.O.D medley which is finally nailed on the fourth go around. It's very honest rehearsal material which ties current kids rehearsing at home in basements to the perceived golden age of metal and punk.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Phobonoid - S/T


Stately and powerful, Phobonoid’s self-titled debut album is an industrial black metal voyage into the unimaginably cold and dark corners of space. While bands like Darkspace embrace the infinite vastness of space on a kind of existential or psychological level, Phobonoid’s approach, while grim, reflects a much more curious and awe-inspired view. For this Italian solo project, space is something to explore - and the album’s lyrics are a bleak science fiction journey. We follow the sanda (probe) through an explosion, an armada attack, and even some radioactive ruins. The album’s narrative comes across musically as well. Phobonoid uses a varied set of approaches across the album to give a sense of progression; some songs rely on somber synth pads, while others are heavier and distinctly hostile. In fact, the vocals are so subdued that the bulk of the story is told through the instruments.

The album’s mood is extremely interesting because the sense of exploration is always countered by a kind of disappointed feeling. It’s as if the musical narrative takes you through the expanses of the universe to discover countless planets - each of them long dead and forgotten. Throughout the album, the lead guitar journeys across chord progressions in long single-note patterns. These are contrasted by the pulsing and mechanical percussion samples that act as the album’s ever-steady engine (“Tachyon” is a particularly obvious example of this.) The tremolo picked rhythm guitars often mirror the percussion so tightly that the two are effectively inseparable. A result of this is that the chord progressions are rhythmically (and often melodically) conservative, but this aids in directing the focus onto the lead melodies. It works well because the lonely guitar leads are intriguing enough without grand melodramatic moments. Even the ambient parts of the album maintain the thick mood: the swelling pads are unmistakably wistful, while deep echoes and sparse composition establish space’s magnitude.




It’s worth noting that this is a really unassuming piece of music; even the catchier heavy moments are far from flashy. The quality though, still shines through. A nice grinding low end, aggressive riffing, compressed vocals so subdued and distorted that they seem like they are coming from a brick building down the street. Everything on here is well done. Even polar opposites are executed well: “Eris” gallops along while completely soaked in adrenaline, and later a light touch of panning on the introspective “Tachyon” adds a great deal of depth to the instrumental track. Phobonoid started off with a very promising demo, and this forty minute full-length improves and expands upon that sound. This album is absolutely recommended for fans of industrial black metal or for those that enjoy a cosmic tinge to their music.