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.