Saturday, July 7, 2018

Live Shots: Jag Panzer, Sacred Oath, Ross The Boss

A few photos from Jag Panzer last night at St. Vitus as well as Ross The Boss on my Birthday in Teaneck, NJ.

Jag Panzer: Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin, John Tetley, Ken Rodarte with Rikard Stjernquist on Drums
Jag Panzer: Ken Rodarte and Mark Briody
Sacred Oath: Bill Smith, Rob Thorne, Brenden Kelleher, Damiano Scarfi with Kenny Evans on drums
Ross The Boss

Ross The Boss: Mike Lepond

Ross The Boss: Marc Lopez

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Verthebral Promo Flyer

Daniel from Verthebral, after receiving his copies of the live tape, put together this awesome promotional flyer for Verthebral - Brutality of Souls: Live!.

I apologize for the lack of updates and content on site. I have been working on material steadily in the background.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Confessor A.D. - Too Late To Pray

Confessor A.D. of Strasbourg, Alsace France have put out their debut EP this year on Nihilistic Holocaust, a French label that has a habit of releasing worthy efforts in the death metal realm and who should be familiar to committed readers of Contaminated Tones. Too Late To Pray's five songs are of the no-slouch variety. The songs all coincide well, yet retain unique identifiers for those that enjoy their death metal skirting the boundaries between death, thrash, and black. Confessor A.D. has a distinct melodic vision which sounds classically or formally inspired. While the band is not afraid to attempt some less deathly elements, they never veer out of the metal genre.

The songs are sturdy and well composed and the recording and technical elements behind it are well done with every instrument given space in the mix. There is a defined focus on the bass in the recording to the point where I believe that bassist Aksel is the head honcho in decision making. He may for all I know have written the majority of the songs since he is such an anchor and including the fact he doubles as vocalist this is likely the case. The songs could be described as revolving around the bass lines, an inverse experience in a genre when the guitars are the main melodic instrument. He is fun to listen to, especially in "Endless Night," where his fills highlight throughout. The prominence of his bass performance is such that it negatively impacts the perceived energy of the other instruments and specifically Killian's guitars which don't sound nearly as invested in the music. Julien's drums and are standard C-grade average death metal drums.

After several listens, I'm not beholden to any of the tracks. "Deafening Confession" is a powerful opening salvo; it's distinct early Floridian style is appreciated during a period of time when the majority are coasting on the coat-tails of the Swedish and New York style. It wouldn't have made the cut for Scream Bloody Gore, but it wouldn't sound out of place. The more rocking "Haunting Enemies" goes for big chords and a doomier vibe, with a short stonerish solo section. It is the least death-metal song and stands out for this, possibly in a negative sense. "Hipster Killer" touches black metal influences but remains in the Floridian style for it's verse and bridge sections. A gravelly chorus with a ghoulishly playful theme is incorporated twice in the track to add memorability. "Silent War" has a phenomenal mid-section with a bass-heavy line that runs separate from the guitar melody and adds the depth of song-writing which I adore. It's my favorite on the record. "Endless Night" culminates. It's a thrash track but it's slower refrain sections bash through the fracas.

Confessor A.D. will have to decide where their style will take them, because they are caught now between several different voices in their music that aren't fully integrated into each other. I'm oddly fond of what they are presenting to me but it's not going to make me shell out cash for any future release unless they can get the intensity heightened and the urgency implanted into the recording. They have a chance to go for the style which Witchery have done so well, and appear to have a similar rock-n-roll attitude to their tracks and pacing. Seeing where Confessor A.D. drifts to will be a determining factor on whether they revel in underground adoration or shrink to a footnote.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Vessel of Iniquity - Vessel of Iniquity

Vessel of Iniquity’s self titled EP jumped out at me because I was familiar with some of the work of the solo project’s creator, S.P. White. Most notable in my memory were his contributions to the NULLL Collective (no, the extra L isn’t a typo). The NULLL Collective’s distinctive funeral doom versions of Christmas songs were genuinely good music, well beyond the amusing distractions that one may expect from such a gimmicky concept. The reason I mention this is because Vessel of Iniquity’s version of noisey black metal draws on a lot of the strengths that are also important in funeral doom. Whether you have sparse slow notes or a chaotic mess, it’s often important to keep an overall rich sound/atmosphere to supplement the downplayed emphasis on melody. With Vessel of Iniquity, S.P. White once again delivers.

The best comparison I can give is to the project La Torture Des Ténèbres. Frankly, Vessel of Iniquity has a better take on this particular niche sound because the wash of high-pitched tremolo picked notes always has a very clear melodic character. Although a major similarity between the two projects is the ringing quality that the guitars tend to have, with Vessel of Iniquity it doesn’t raise to a piercing or irritating level. It can be hard to make out tremolo picking from the dizzying wall of frequencies, but those frequencies do clearly change in recognizable ways, and you could even accurately call them “riffs.” Another strength is how ambient sections break up the EP without becoming overbearing or coming out of left field; they never constitute a major portion of the song but still effectively control the pacing.

The major issue I have with this EP is how on the last track “Choronzon” the three syllables of the song’s title are almost constantly repeated. It happens, I don’t know, it’s like five million times. The song is around six and a half minutes long and when the dry chanting stops after half-way through, I am still angry enough about it to be upset when it comes back in the outro. I totally understand wanting to get some kind of ritualistic chant vibe going, but “Choronzon” really missed the mark with these vocals. It’s basically the Stewie Griffin “mom, mom, mom...” approach to summoning a demon. Other than that diversion, the vocals are fairly standard hawkish black metal rasps that add a nice textural layer to the already crowded high-end.

I’d really like to see what S.P. White could do with this project, and for him to really flesh it out rather than leave this EP as a one-off in his rather large body of work. But, if you are into black/noise stuff at all this is a solid way to spend 15 minutes.

CTP - 036 - L: Verthebral - Brutality of Souls: Live!

So out of nowhere I got an email from Daniel Larozza of Paraguay's preeminent death metal band, Verthebral. He had a recording from a recent live show they did and asked if I was interested in doing something with it. After giving the material a listen I was sold pretty much immediately; solid old school death metal in the Floridian style of masters like Death and Morbid Angel (a cover of Chapel of Ghouls is present). I was fond of their full length album from last year, Regeneration, which really showed a level of songwriting and riff-punching that would leave many death metal bands sore in the brain trying to come up with such genuine nostalgic riffs. In a time when death metal has been leaning more towards the cosmic and death-doom variety, Verthebral reveal that the genre's basic underpinnings are still worth exploring.

Anyway, I put a PRE ORDER up for the tape. Everything is basically done on this already and the J-cards are going to print this week. Doing $3 preorder on this so buy a couple other things with it and get some free shipping as always. (If buying on Storenvy, just pay the shipping it charges and I'll refund it back with three items). This is a cool release and I'm happy to present it. I'll be trying to get some samples up for everyone to check out as well.

Update 4/21/18: Tapes are currently in production and available for purchase. I will remove the pre-order pricing on 5/8/18. I will mail out any tapes as they are ordered so you will not have to wait until 5/8. This release came together so fast that I wanted to give interested parties some more time to take advantage. Use the pre-order link in original post.

Update: 06/27/18: Tapes are no longer in Pre-order and available for regular price via the Storenvy page. Those in Paraguay, reach out to the band first to order a copy otherwise I am finding out you'll need to send me payment via Western Union. This is perfectly fine, of course, and if you want to order the tape and other releases this is obviously the best option. Email me directly at if you need to order through this method.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Clearing Path - Watershed Between Firmament and the Realm of Hyperborea

The Clearing Path is an innovative and interesting solo project from Gabriele Gramaglia; it’s what I imagine what the offspring of a marriage between Enslaved and Gorguts would sound like. This might seem like mixing oil and water, but it works. The project has remarkable creativity, production value, and technical competence. While the songs aren’t necessarily the best, they are strong enough to make the album a worthwhile experience. Many potential listeners may bemoan dissonant black metal or mathcore influences creeping into black metal or death metal, but this release clearly doesn’t fit into that milieu. So, while there is plenty of jangle to go around, the album never feels like a Deathspell Omega offshoot or something that a Dillinger Escape Plan fan would have written.

Still, this isn’t going to be for everyone. This project’s unique mix of dissonant and proggy influences means that The Clearing Path needs power chords about as much as a barbershop quartet would need a distortion pedal. If you are looking for lighter, proggy metal, this release may be too far on the abrasive side. Similarly if you want vicious abrasive death or black metal then this may be too middle of the road for you. Despite the project’s black metal genre tag and the Enslaved/Gorguts influences, The Clearing Path is a very good candidate for the nebulous “extreme metal” tag for those who enjoy dickering over such things.

For all of its creativity and prowess the album’s songs frankly are only good, not great. One of the struggles bands have when straying from well trodden musical paths is they write music that doesn’t go anywhere. Much of Watershed feels like wandering through a forest going “oh cool, look at that thing” but with the distinct sense you are walking in circles. It’s still an incredibly riffy and varied album, but you won’t remember many of the riffs. Novelty isn’t a substitute for tension or resolution, and this album isn’t quite flavorful enough to fall into the “you just have to listen to it for the atmosphere, dude” category.

In light of this, the vocals, both clean and harsh, tend to cut both ways in terms of quality. The harsh vocals are thin rasps, while the cleans are demure and subdued. On one hand they work really well to add a moody atmosphere to the album, putting a somber edge on what are often unorthodox an alien sounding melodies. A less generous interpretation though would be that the sparse vocals are simply nondescript and buried low in the mix just to hide them. Ultimately the vocal approach just works. But, it would be nice to hear them take the forefront more powerfully in order to act as signposts in the song’s structures, like we hear on “This Stairway Will Carry Me Towards the Grandest Light.” The use of clean guitar and vocals on that song breaks up the disorienting melodies and it’s an album highlight.

One major strength of this release is how professional/studio quality the mix sounds. That along with the sharp, compressed, and relatively dry distorted guitar tone makes the album’s sound extremely clear and orderly. Gabriele is credited with the solo project’s recording, and also the mixing (along with Stefano Lattanzio). I’d bet money that Gabriele’s room is ridiculously clean and that he’d also be borderline pissed off if there was a stray sock or dirty plate hanging around the place. You can hear how well this approach works around a minute into “Stargazer Monolith” when the tremolo picking and double bass synchronize like a Swiss watch. The mix also has a really nice wide feel to it, so I wasn’t surprised to see a picture of a seven string guitar on the project’s facebook page; the deep low notes and wide range of guitar notes really complement the mix.

Overall, Watershed Between Firmament and the Realm of Hyperborea is a really distinct and solid album.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Necrot - Blood Offerings

It's rare that a band I've never heard of before absolutely rules so hard live that they practically wipe the floor with the headliner and leave me excited to hopefully see them again. Bands are so fleeting these days, I never know if my first time seeing a band will be my last time or not. Necrot is just the band that has done everything right in my books. They opened a show last July and, paired with Undergang, were so much better than Horrendous that I immediately grabbed their album Blood Offerings. I was unaware that the band had connections to my other favorite Oakland death metal beast, Vastum, through Luca Indrio and Chad Gailey until much later. Just like Vastum destroyed me at Martyrdoom IV, Necrot destroyed me and many others opening this show. Fast forward: Necrot is playing New Jersey's smallest venue: The Meatlocker. It was a special time.

Blood Offerings is the type of album which sets a precedent for modern old school death metal. It is at once mature and stylish and yet draws on a well of influences and classics all the same. The band is configured with the heavily pronounced bassist Luca also handling vocals. He is reminiscent of your Van Drunens in richness of chords and his solid rhythm bass playing is choppy and yet cuts through the thick guitars with ease. Chad is a highlight on drums throughout, his playing a key element in Necrot's compositions, always various in mixtures of cymbal usage. Sonny Reinhardt on guitars is as capable a riff-writer as any guitarist and his ability to seamlessly blend riff styles is key to the band's ability to maintain the listener's interest. All of this is produced impeccably by Greg Wilkinson in a manner that is clear and crisp and yet also loses none of the dripping rot by which the band's old school sound hinges on.

With opener "The Blade," we are immediately thrust into the foundational influences as a decisively Swedish tone is struck early and will be carried throughout. It's not difficult to imagine that there is a distinctively UK element from bands like Bolt Thrower or Napalm Death when they dropped below light speed in their hey-day era. Reinhardt's twisting riffs also remind me of Iniquity, especially tracks "Shadows and Light" and "Breathing Machine." The band also grabs some elements from Immolation in "Blood Offerings" and "Empty Hands," with heavy reliance on tremolo riffs over chord progressions in the two tracks. "Beneath" is faster and Swedish sounding with hints of the thrashier Florida scene. In truth, there's a little morsel of everything here for death metal fans who like their death metal endlessly critiqueable and debatable.

Highlights demanding attention from me start with "Beneath." When I first heard the track's faster pace on the album immediately wrung my neck out, and Luca's exceptional vocal performance and composition pulls the listener beneath the graves with ease. "Breathing Machine" is also an absolute pummeling masterpiece chock full of memorable riffs in Iniquity's Serenadium style. It is massively catchy and also hearkens back to the chunkier Vastum tracks like "Enigma of Disgust" or "Patricidal Lust". I also love the title track, "Blood Offerings" which starts equally twisted but a transitional riff half way through - a two-element riff that has a driving chug that decays into a higher pitched hammer-on component that gives way to a noisey, cavernous solo that fades towards the track end - fights for the album's top moment.

The album ends with "Layers of Darkness," perhaps the band's most complex track from a composition standpoint. The intro starts with the album's most Bolt Thrower-esque verse. It culminates in an ascending tremolo melodic pattern over the chorus. This melodic pattern then reappears later on to tie the heavily melodic final harmony lines to the rest of the track. Through all this, Necrot are able to retain an unpredictable life to their riffs which hides the cunning structure of the track. After the band speeds up through what I call a bridge area - but it includes a second vocal rhythm and pattern and is too long to be a typical bridge - "Layers of Darkness" meanders into and out of a harmonized guitar section that relies on the earlier chorus/refrain theme.

The sad thing about Blood Offerings is that it will be very hard to top, because the songs are so memorable. The great thing about Blood Offerings is that Necrot have a huge amount of momentum behind them now. In June they were the opening band and this month they are headlining. The mix of styles and influences which seemingly run through Necrot should provide ample creative room and inspiration. Luca mentioned to me before their set that they hope to begin writing this fall after a European tour; their next album can't come fast enough for me.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Thanatomania - Resignation

Thanatomania, a black metal band from Germany, take their band name from psychology; thanatomania is the fear of dying or the fear of the inevitability of dying. Their take on black metal has remained staunchly in the hands of songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist M.S and, as will be seen, is a detrimental factor in leading Thanatomania forward musically. Their debut demo, Mykonismus, was neatly presented and contemporary in 2013 to the popular bands of the time; Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, etc. The style follows closely, with moments of harsher elements mixed in, but rarely intense enough to deliver more than a glancing blow. The material was a bit drawn out and over-thought as often transitions felt forcefully inserted to extend the two songs, instead of naturally placed to connect elements and events. The first track, "Mykonismus I" suffered heavily from this. Drangsal was in some ways a step forward, but only due to it's more refined structure and composition. Few, if any, new elements were added to the material.

Thanatomania - Mykonismus Demo
The 2016 EP was more up front, and more aggressive sonically. With more distorted sections and even some dare-say-I punk drum beats in the release's second and third movements, there was a shift towards what a band like Taake have done recently stylistically. Yet Thanatomania have, unfortunately, retained the agrarian melodic movements of the US West Coast and post-black French bands, producing a mostly weepy sounding EP here as well. There was, at times, promise shown. With shorter songs, final track, "Drangsal III"  culminated in the project's strongest approximation to what I like to hear in my black metal: aggression, melodic-narrative, atmosphere, and tortured/tormented vocals. While opening with a couple minutes of the band's expected coffee-house black metal, the final half showed stylistically that Thanatomania could compete with their more aggressive peers such as Drudkh or New Jersey locals Woe, if not surpass.

With these two recordings providing a stylistic background, Resignation is this year's effort from the band and shows a band still on the move to pitch their own claim. There are hints of these earlier influences in the sound, however an overwhelming shift away from the Cascadian influence and more towards the experimentation and bitterness of the European scene is noticeable in the inclusion of many segments of extensive ringing notes. It seems the missing link for Thanatomania is still the aggressive Norse influences or the grimness of the Eastern front bands. The result sounds like a traipse through a spring meadow as opposed to trudging through the deep winter forests. Resignation is in many moments still upbeat and positive melodically which presses the listener to decide if Thanatomania's black metal is better served for specific times when moods are bright. This, to me, is a detriment. The music should define the mood in black metal; Thanatomania do not transport me to any specific place; I am not altered in mind and body through these songs.

The album's opening intro is a calming and peaceful doll drum of drawn out clean guitars which function as a predecessor to Resignation's second track, "Resignation II." The intro here is titled "Resignation I," and once you reach third track, "Resignation III," you start to wonder at the reasoning behind such manner of song titling on a full length. With no specific descriptions or reasoning this manner of titling comes across as lazy to me. I would like to see actual song titles. Even something like, "Resignation II: Another More-Or-Less Upbeat Black Metal Song" would serve a purpose. M.S. said that the German lyrics are hard to follow and understand for many but does that necessitate someone at least trying to interpret them? "Resignation III" is the first time in which the album comes across aggressively with a much faster opening riff melody which is noticeably angrier than the melodies encountered previously. This is the closest the band has come to sounding like a full fledged black metal band. Unfortunately Thanatomania here fail to carry this energy to the end instead opting to insert a derivative strummed chord to culminate. With "IV" opening once again with force, it highlights how this drop-off negatively affects the pacing of the record. The album's fifth track (guess the name and you get an award) is the most unique rhythmically on the record at times reminding me of more modern experimental Black Metal groups.

"IV" is Resignation's most defining track with very little competition. Not only are we given a fatalist melody to work with from the beginning, even the moments where the song changes pace and transitions offer just a little more melancholy or solemnity than previous songs. The song truly revolves around a slower central element not unlike the dirgier tracks Drudkh presented on Blood In Our Wells such as "Furrows of the Gods" or "Solitude". The shift is done perfectly and the contrasting melodies makes this singular moment the most narrative and developed moment of the album. It is like waking through a door into a new room, a vision seamlessly changing. The track reattempts full speed again to close but as it draws forward the opening riff with no variation and no change to melody or rhythm, the song ends up being a typical rock song in structure and not the tale it could have been.

"IV" also shows the band for where it truly is on a musicianship basis. M.S.'s vocals are decent, adequately screeching his way through the album and occasionally squatting out something lower in tone but his guitar playing is the definitive focus overall for the band. As he is the band's main songwriter it is the only interesting element to listen to and still comes across as predictable. I wonder at how much say the rest of the members have in the songwriting process. B.L.'s drumming is competent but never adds to the songs in a rhythmic way. He lays the foundation adequately but essentially acts as a metronome for the band instead of rhythmically encouraging M.S. or A.K. to shift beyond the melodies and engage with the percussion on an individual level. A.K.'s bass playing offers little beyond a repetition of the underlying melody and is a wasted element. There are no additional fills and no attempt to imbue the tracks with subtle nuance or interest. It is the single-most wasted opportunity on the record, particularly because of how prominent the bass is in the mix. With all the instruments revolving around the guitar lines, which are nothing but strummed chord progressions throughout the songs, the album feels flat and shallow.

Thanatomania - Drangsal EP
Thanatomania have not yet mastered the ability to craft inspired melodic movements in their music or understand the importance of the rhythm section. The lack of narration and story which should be conveyed melodically is not yet apparent and the urgency which would drive the band forward is lost in the lack of rhythmic experimentation. Titles would help, as would some additional musical elements to carry the material forward. Resignation lacks overlying harmonies, melodic movements, and further dynamic elements. At times Thanatomania sound incomplete. For a full length to be this bare yet attempt to be this mature raises conflicting feelings in me. It's clear that the band wants to convey a story and a more heady experience than a more primitive band so while these three releases are a good indication of where the band will head musically, they are also indicative of a band that has not yet truly managed to determine what makes their music necessary listening. Perhaps the next release will be more complete, more nuanced, more melodically varied, and give a better impression of who Thanatomania are meant to be and who they could become.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

CTP - 035 - I: Diseased Oblivion - A Blackened Harvest of Decomposure

Diseased Oblivion - A Blackened Harvest of Decomposure is out now. 40+ minutes of Funeral Death Noise. This is the last of the band's material to ever see the light of day. It contains tracks from what was to be their full length album which is now realized.

$6 each + shipping / $19 for 5 copies ppd.
As always, buy three items get free shipping.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Argus Megere - VEII

You could almost write an entire article about all the connections that Argus Megere’s lineup and sound has to Negură Bunget. But, the main takeaway is this: VEII shows that the band can stand on nearly equal footing. It’s as if the two bands share the same majestic place high up on some metaphorical mountain. While it would be really easy to subconsciously punish the band for coming so close to (but not quite replicating) Negură Bunget’s dark romanticism, VEII is absolutely a solid album in its own right. It forges its own path rather than trying to recapture lightning in a bottle.

Some key point of difference are the traces of progressive inclinations similar to Enslaved. Importantly, the band’s approach is more traditionally metal: they rely far more on riff or melody based structural anchors compared to Negură Bunget’s frequent use of massive dynamic changes. A great example of this is the sugary and somewhat traditional, but engrossing, guitar solo rounding out the end of “Umbre ratacite in piatra apuse.” Another key point are the shockingly stunning clean vocals, they are in a league completely of their own. These vocals are 100% my new favorite cleans, and compare well to what you might expect in Borknagar’s music.

The overall atmosphere on VEII is incredibly triumphant and uplifting, and while the band’s incorporation of folk influences is relatively subtle compared to what you may be expecting, it still gives off a distinctly Romanian black metal feel. Synthesizers provide a frequent harmonic backdrop for the music, but aren’t as heavy handed as many “symphonic” metal bands use (Interestingly, Sol Faur is credited with recording both the keyboards and drums). Still, the synths, along with an ample helping of effects and occasional violin, help to cement the band’s unique style. One particularly beautiful example of this is how the layered violin work on “Tabla” at one point mixes a fast trill-based melody with high synth notes before transitioning to a more reserved clean vocal section. Absolutely brilliant stuff of the sort you won’t find anywhere else.

A crisp, earthy, atmosphere makes the instruments feel like they were recorded outdoors and similar to the synthesizer’s light touch, each instrument slides into the mix like a soft breeze. Unlike many bands that aim for a naturalist vibe, Argus Megere always has a clear vision of how to keep the music blatantly heavy. In fact, a number of the riffs on the album are borderline chug-fests with how heavy they are. But it always works. What really blew me away was sticking the Romanian lyrics into Google translate and finding exactly the kind of nature themes that the music alone was already able to independently convey.

The pacing here is also excellent. However, there’s a slightly awkward lag between the third and final songs that makes me sad every time I hear it. Is the album over already? After the last track though, there is such a clear sense of finality and resolution that it seems like the band was just teasing the listener earlier. We should all be incredibly grateful for this because the album’s 47ish minutes are spread across only four tracks, each of which is over ten minutes long. The band handles this setup so well that the tracks breeze by without lagging for even a moment, and it reinforces the album’s grandeur.

ather than wishing the band sounded more like their famous brethren, Negură Bunget, I wish they focused more on their own strengths; namely their use of vocals and their grand sense of pacing. The entire band is responsible for making the soaring cleans work so well, and there’s no shame in showing off a bit more when you have both the pipes for it and the framework to make it successful. Along the same lines, where a lot of bands release very long albums just for the hell of it, Argus Megere is the kind of group that not only is capable of a long album, but really ought to expand on their grandiose atmosphere with longer releases. Still, the 47 minutes on VEII are epic in the truest sense of the word and this album is necessary listening for those who are fans of Negură Bunget (and also a good chunk of people who aren’t).

Thursday, March 22, 2018

New CTP Headquarters: Back In Action

Pre-Permanent Temporary Contaminated Tones HQ in Process of Deployment.

Rad Cianide Cozie. Thanks M. Perun!

It's been an exhausting couple of weeks. I'm not even talking about the four nor'easters we've had including the fifteen inches of God's cocaine that fell last night. Moving into a new home, while doing necessary pre-move-in repairs, and relocating all the furniture and objects yourself is not a heavenly experience. Aside from the mental exhaustion of buying a new house, this jam-packed physical obstacle course has been grueling. The reward: a nice new larger temporary headquarters for Contaminated Tones and a permanent goal insight.

For the time being, I will be located in a second bedroom while the true permanent CTP space gets completed (over an unforeseen amount of time, tbh). Still, it's nice to have a place to unwind and relax. My life, while not devoid of music over the past two months, has been extremely lacking the inner fount from which my happiness and creative juices find their genesis. It hasn't stopped me from amassing new listening material to add to the endless amount of material I am bombarded with. Included: some signed LPs from Cauldron Born and Briton Rites' Howie Bentley, a handful of cassettes and CDs, and finally getting into my own cache of unlistened to accruals.

Between this, a few good recent shows made their way into the schedule: the first Ross The Boss at St. Vitus, NY and then this past Tuesday Judas Priest and Saxon at Prudential Center, NJ, which coincided with two of my friends' birthdays. Needless to say the show was excellent. I was discouraged by the lack of interest from the crowd in Saxon, even though they put together a rather strong set that focused on music from new album, Thunderbolt. The new material was impressive and translated well to a crowd which seemed to be lacking energy. Even classics such as Motorcycle Man, Princess of the Night, and Power and the Glory were received with about as much exuberance as the tax man.

Saxon trying their best to move a bunch of sappy blokes from their seats.
Priest were extremely impressive, sticking to a lot of classics and even playing some deeper cuts such as Bloodstone, Grinder, and Saints In Hell. Halford sounded excellent, though clearly aided by an effects board to help with his resonance. Regardless, it would be heresy to not be blown away with the power and might of his Sixty-six year old vocal chords, still capable of hitting the tough notes in a track like Painkiller. The stage show lacked some of the grandeur which Iron Maiden bring; some monitors with close ups would have aided those sitting in the seats farther away. The true highlight, other than some killer classic Priest cuts, was to see Glen Tipton come out and finish the night performing Metal Gods, Breaking the Law, and Living After Midnight. Truly a monumental show from a band that still brings it, but is inevitably nearing the point of retirement.

Judas Priest including Glen Tipton playing Metal Gods but lacking the silverware.
A review of the Wounded Giant tape showed up on More Than Sound which was brought to my attention. I added the link on the Releases Page but the direct link is right here: More Than Sound.FR Wounded Giant Review. Seems like the reviewer liked the tape which is always great!

Next show: Negative Plane and Malokarpatan at Brooklyn Bazaar on Saturday.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Rites of Thy Degringolade - The Blade Philosophical

As silly as it may be to have an album titled “The Blade Philosophical” it’s actually an incredibly apt description of Rites of Thy Degringolade’s latest release. The band’s sound is somewhat tough to pin down, but it all makes perfect sense when you try to imagine a “philosophical” blade. It’s an inquisitive stabbing of music, savage but thoughtful. Although the band is often grouped in with the greater Canadian black/death metal scene, Rites has always forged their own path. and their direction on this album trends much closer to mid-tempo Swedish black metal than muddy chaos.

Still, the band’s genuine sense of creativity makes most comparisons only ballpark estimates. If you want to get stupidly specific about it, there are also touches of earlier releases from French bands like Merrimack and Glorior Belli. You wouldn’t quite call them an experimental or avant garde band, but that spirit is definitely in the music and their distinct rhythmically-minded sound is a great example of a band that stays well within its genres traditions without retreading the past.

The best thing about this album is how well it balances razor sharp production with muscular and nearly chaotic undertones, many bands go for one extreme or the other. Rites can transition from hyper precise crystal clear riffing featuring stereo split multi-tracking to a wild Slayer-esque solo without batting an eye. That said, the album definitely leans much more to the former than the latter. Overall the release is broken up with so many punchy rhythmic sections that there is a crisp martial feel that never clashes with the more typical black/death elements. It’s also critical to understand that this rhythmic inclination includes clever palm muting, liberal use of snare heavy flourishes, and deft vocal phrasings.

Although the album is just a tad over forty minutes long, the band’s fourth full-length is has some fairly long tracks and is their longest release yet. Frankly, it could have been tightened up a tad. For example, the short track “Totalities Kompletion” lacks the interesting rhythmic aspects included in other songs, aiming instead for blunt aggression. But that song’s apparent power is completely dwarfed by the riffing on “I Am the Way, the Truth and the Knife.” This highlights how a handful of moments on the album are better suited for second-tier bands, and ought to have faced the paring knife. Unfortunately this problem has a habit of weakening the band’s otherwise forceful transitions between exceptionally clear melodies.

Returning to the positives, the vocals on this release are exceptional even though they don’t have a particularly unique tone and, with the exception of the really cool cleans on “The Final Laceration,” they aren’t at all flashy. Rites often beefs up the vocal tone by layering the same vocal melody with fairly tight but natural sounding harmonization, which makes sense once you notice that all four band members are credited with the vocals. The vocal’s emotional impact also mesh incredible well with the album’s atmosphere - mostly straightforward aggression with faint hints of a brooding ritualistic vibe.

The creativity on this album is subtle but still clear. I can’t think of a more percussive black metal release that still manages to have a clearly traditional sound. Rites’ conservative approach and distinct style makes this a solid release to check out for a wide range of black metal fans.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Monthly Blast: February 2018

Absu - Tara (2002)

For an album that needs no introduction, or shouldn't need one, one could almost imagine that Tara was released in 1988 or something alongside the German thrash greats, but this  2002 release is an easy choice for me when asked about modern classics, or best album  of the decade from 2000-2010 (maybe one or two others come to mind). In all honesty, what can be said about an album which literally leaves one crawling on the floor trying  to escape it's endless magickal power. With Proscriptor offering one of Metal's best  drum performances ever, it's easy to forget some of the other elements which fall to the side. But one could listen to this album ten times and listen for different  instruments and reasons. For example the combined bass effort of Shaftiel and Equitant  here is unreal, with the bass every bit as vibrant and necessary as the flesh-rending guitars. It would be heresy to ignore the implications which a track such as "Pillars  of Mercy" or "Manannan" would have for the Black Thrash genre moving forward,  epitomizing what the genre could provide but has very rarely acheived. The minutia on  the album are endless; the phasing effects in "A Sheild With An Iron Face", the first  immediate pause and subsequent drum accents in "Pillars of Mercy", "Manannan's" taunting continuous rhythmic undulations, "Four Crossed Wands'" tense pull and push  conflict; the more one scrutinizes Tara, the stronger it becomes, it's riffs  burrowing into corners of one's being to the point that they reappear randomly at  points in life; at family dinners, while shopping, during sex. What also strikes me  about this record is the complexity overall of the songs and lyrical content. Absu's combined trio-crafted lyrical content for this record which is hands down some of the  most ridiculous thematic content when you look at the liner notes, but the songs  themselves flow smoothly like wind over Irish hills. For me, the first track that ended  my life was "Stone of Destiny," which Iron Maiden wish they wrote first, because it's  about as epic as Heavy Metal gets but Absu's style lends it a viciousness and sharpness  which would be difficult to recreate anywhere else. It's the perfect culminating track  for this record. Tara is one of a kind, a landmark album that exists more as a dream to  achieve than the reality of it's being. UltraBoris was wrong. Required listening. (Orion)

Atavisma - On The Ruins Of A Fallen Empire (2017)

Atavisma, the French death metal outfit that first impressed me with their 2014 demo,  Where Wolves Once Dwelled, trickles material out every once in a while, a pace similar  in output to the pace of the two songs on On The Ruins Of A Fallen Empire,  the Horror Pain Gore Death 7" EP recently assembled. Though similar on all fronts to the material from the demo, as well as the single track from their 2015 split with Indonesia's Maur,  Atavisma has added a human drummer on this recording. The natural drums add just ever  slightly a natural aura to the percussion and, hence, the impact is improved. On a local level Atavisma's Death metal style is firmly entrenched stylistically with Ataraxie, switching between slow doom segments and faster Incantation styled tremolo  guitars. The comparisons to Disma or Funebrarum are accurate. Claims of resemblance to  Incantation are more appropriate in this case. Where Ataraxie is content to write  long epic fifteen minute tracks, Atavisma has topped out at the ten minute mark on the  previous split. Here we get song more average in length in the six or seven minute  range. This vastly increases the digestibility of Atavisma's fare. Vocally, L's low  murmuring growls are less varied and emotive than Marquis' from Ataraxie. It's tough to  choose which track deserves more extolling. "The Shapes of Great Nothing" is a beast of  churning death and pummeling molasses-thick wreckage. "Amid the Ruins" is praiseworthy  as well with subtle melodic designs which flavor throughout. I lean towards this second  track because bassist Waldo Losada plays such a key roll in the tracks quickened spiraling mid section. This is a deadly EP and much as I lauded the original demo, On The Ruins  Of A Fallen Empire is Atavisma's darkest and deathliest material yet. (Orion)

Black Bleeding - A Bright Future (2015)

I've listened to this tape so many times over the past year or so, and just simply have  not been able to get into it at all. Black Bleeding changed a huge amount between The Awakening and A Bright Future and I can't for the life of me promote this newer entity.  The sarcastic, thrashy, dare-say-I 'fun' band they've become on A Bright Future is just  not my cup of tea. It's pretty apparent from the first chords of the demo that there is  a definitive change in style, with a big punk influence showing through. The  progressions are upbeat, and, if not downright jovial such as "Three More Beers and the  Truth" or "Habay Cock City / Athus Toxs City" then they are politely non-aggressive in  any way. Also of note is the lack of actual "riffs" and reliance on quickly strummed  chorded progressions. The drums are often simple thrash beats on loop. "Can Food &  Weapons" closes the album as the only song I felt resembled the original style they had  developed earlier but even this is riddled with lackadaisical and bland rhythmic  elements from the new album. The band is essentially the same entity so I don't know  what happened to Black Bleeding on this but they should return to their roots of dark death metal. (Orion)

Ctulu - Ctulu (2016)

Ctulu is a Lovecraftian extreme metal trio from Germany formed in 2008 - the self- titled album in question is their third full-length, and also my first experience with  the band. The music mixes elements of black and death metal, although somewhat in the  modern vein. The band shows a impressive level of craftsmanship, as each instrument is  well-played and evident in the mix. The songs also tend to be quite catchy and  memorable, filled with tight rhythms and headbanging riffs. The band's sound isn't  easily categorized, which is where their experimental tendencies kick in. Ctulu have a  knack for neck-breaking thrash riffs as well, combined with hard-hitting drumming and  tasty bass licks. If you could envision an unholy concoction of Behemoth, Slayer and  Satyricon with vocals in German, then you might just have a good idea what to expect  from Ctulu. An enjoyable effort. (Mongrel)

Fates Warning - Chasing Time (1995)

Compilations are rarely useful for bands with such devoted fan bases such as Fates  Warning. While surface dwellers may find a best of useful for a band like Iron Maiden  or Metallica to be informed of the bare-essentials, this is not important for bands even of a stature such as Fates Warning. So the real question, who would really buy this? I have no idea. I found the compilation a nice mix of material spanning the  band's Arch and Alder eras. The Alder era represents more time here, as is to be  expected with the contemporary Alder era albums represented and the three Arch albums.  We get "Damnation" from Night on Brocken, and only a single track from The Spectre Within (The Apparition). From Awaken The Guardian, "Prelude to Ruin" and "Guardian"  were chosen, which I felt to be odd choices. "Silent Cries" and "Quietus" (Pt. IV of Ivory Gate Of Dreams) appears from No Exit and  from Perfect Symmetry "Through Different Eyes" with a reworking of "At Fates Hands"  called "At Fates Fingers." The greatest grouping of tracks is taken from Parallels.  "Eye To Eye", "Point of View", "The Eleventh Hour", and remix of "We Only Say Goodbye"  are chosen. Inside Out donates "Monument." The only truly interesting tracks here would  then be "Circles" and "At Fate's Fingers". "Circles" is the  only truly unique track to this release. In the style of Parallels mostly, it's easy to  see why it was omitted from previous albums as the track sounds unfinished as  presented. The clean guitar that gently glides over everything sounds as if it is  mostly a placeholder for something better that could potentially have been added later  on. Overall, this is a decent collection for a fan of the band that would be interested  in having a mixture of tracks from both early and more modern periods of the band, yet  with the easy ability to create one's own playlist, this style of best-of compilations from the physical era are totally unnecessary. (Orion)

Imprecation / Blaspherian - Imprecation / Blaspherian Split (2014)

Two Texas based death metal bands with big Incantation influence, Imprecation starts  this split with their massive take on death metal. "Unlock The Ancient Portals of the  Faceless Lord" might be a mouthful to say but it's a huge track, owing a lot to Morbid  Angel's Covenant but also is so down-tuned that it's not difficult to see some  similarities to Demilich. The weakest element is the drumming, with not a huge  amount of variety or separation rhythmically and Milton Luna's bass tone is too boomy  for my liking, snuffing out what I feel could be a lot more definition in the overall  mix. It's a mostly blunt and bludgeoning effort. Blaspherian's "The Blesings of  Sanctity Rescinded" is the longer of the two tracks and contains more overall nuance to  appear to me the better of the two tracks. It's not awkward for Blaspherian to juxtapose a faster guitar riff with a crawling drum line, such as halfway through when  the track dissolves into palm muted chugs while Matt Mayhem plays an almost Funeral  Doom drum beat. I felt the decision to end the song by simply fading away with vocals  still grunting and guitars still chugging was an odd choice, leaving me feeling as if  the track was never completed or was culled from something intended to be longer. (Orion)

Invincible Force - Satan Rebellion Metal (2015)

They say the most the powerful forces in nature, are the invincible forces. That  sentiment could very well apply to the band I'm reviewing, since Invincible Force is  another hellish entry from the fathomless depths of the Chilean underground. The  release under review, Satan Rebellion Metal, is their debut full-length summoned  under the cloak of Dark Descent Records. The album features eight impure hymns of  caustic black/death/thrash reminiscent of bands like Slaughtbbath, Communion, and Force  of Darkness. If you can envision a thrashier Bestial Warlust, then you might have a  good grasp of what awaits you on Satan Rebellion Metal. The music is absolutely  scornful and performed with malicious fury, as if though the members were all possessed  by malignant spirits during the recording of this album. The production is powerful and  brings out the best in each performance. There really is no shortage of savage riffs  and merciless aggression, this is about as menacing as South American  black/death/thrash gets. This album only gets more enjoyable with each spin and  delivers just the right amount of tracks and length that prevents it from becoming  tedious. If you enjoy your metal bestial and thrashy, I guarantee you, you will love  Invincible Force. (Mongrel)

Lantern - Below (2016)

Lantern's Below and it's gargantuan moss shrouded Incantation-esque riffs are sure to  drip directly into the gut of most listeners. Lantern don't hesitate, with opener  "Rites of Descent" immediately lashing out at everything in it's vicinity with a stream  of twisting deathly riffs. The first listen should be adequate for songs such as  "Manifesting Shambolic Aura" to be immediately on the cusp of one's inner-jukebox, but  after two or three heady listens it's clear there are a well of ideas presented here.  "Revenant" shows variety in the drums as the song breaks into a doomy chord progression  underneath a slick lead. Speaking of the guitar leads, Below abounds with them and with  only Cruciatus handling the instruments including the bass and drums, it's surprising  how deep that well of ideas goes. He proves himself capable on every instrument as  well. Though the bass is audible throughout, and follows the guitars mostly, it adds a  huge amount of low rumble to the mix to offset and fill in gaps when the guitars echo  Immolation-style tremolo moments which would otherwise be empty. The drums are set back  in the mix slightly compared to other elements, particularly the echoing cavernous  vocals, yet sound as if that distance is necessary to add to the subterranean eminence  which the album conveys. "Manifesting Shambolic Aura" is my favorite here, Death metal  legions should by now have engaged with Lantern. If not, Below is a good point of  departure into their lair. (Orion)

Mandragora - Steel Metal Attack (2017)

Peru's Mandragora put out one of my favorite recent demos with 2010's Steel Metal.  They've been idle in terms of new releases other than their First Attack 7" This  compilation includes both and is a good addition to any Heavy Metal loving fan's  collection. Mandragora are very much a top tier band performance wise mixing mostly  Priest and Maiden with some speed metal elements topped with Fatima Natthammer's  powerful vocals. The tracks from the 7" are much more professionally produced, with  clear, classic-sounding metal guitars and leads by Herman Gers and Paulo Rockett. Of  the two tracks from First Attack, I prefer "Lady In Black," which is less 'jumpy' than  the more rock-and-roll crowd-raising "Snakebite." The true worth of the compilation,  however, are the demo tracks which have received some production updates fixing issues  with playback on the original demo tapes and some slight volume adjustment. The demo is  still a far cry audibly from the two new tracks. Hearing what, in my opinions, is a  modern classic such as "Steel Metal" in a better quality is worth the import. With  three video files attached to the disc viewable on PC or DVD player, live videos  of performances of "Steel Metal", "Snakebite", and "Lady In Black" the compilation  really offers a nice overall package with some new material added on. I'm stoked to  finally get their full length, Waves of Steel, in the mail soon, because this is truly  no more than an appetizer. (Orion)

Master's Hammer - Ritual (1991)

Master's Hammer's debut, Ritual, is still one of the more bizarre recordings from this  early era of death metal and black metal compression. What I like most about it is  ironically what I hate most in classical music, which this is easily compared to. When  big grandiose timpani sections burst in to accent notes and transitions, chills sweep  over me and I shudder in visceral elation. The sharpness against the otherwise pitter- pattering drums of Mirek Valenta and Necrocock's (Tomas Kohout) sodden guitars is so  bright and charmingly elemental in tonality. Beyond this, riffwise, the highly unusual  movements would be easily castigated in other bands for being too syncopated to flow  well but sound as liquid as water behind Franta Storm's raspy grumbled Czech dialect.  Highlights are many but the three key tracks here are "Pad Modly", "Cerna Svatozar",  and "Ritual". Though it would be easy to include others, these three tracks exemplify  Master's Hammer in every regard; the isolated bursts of weirdly syncopated riffs,  strange and unusual melodic movements, and bombastic timpani accents. To explain how  important the timpani is for Master's Hammer, it's listed as a main instrument. Not  even Geoff Nichols was listed as a main musician on the albums he added keyboards for  in Sabbath. "Cerna Svatozar" is my favorite here for the indelible scar left on my  brain with the opening riff, the heavy timpani usage early on, and the perfect tension  built in the verse. (Orion)

Phil Collins - No Jacket Required (1985)

Phil Collins' third album, No Jacket Required, a title inspired by not being allowed  into a restaurant, is Collins' least personally representative record and most  commercially influenced output. I wouldn't quite call the album cold, because the  synths and vocals are very warm and inviting across songs such as "Long Long Way To Go"  or the ephemeral "One More Night". Either "Doesn't Anybody Stay Together Anymore" or  "Who Said I Would" are the toughest offerings. I think the later is the 'hardest' track  here with a rough and sci-fi sounding bass behind the whole track and steel drums acting  as the main structural cue. At times when Collins and co. speed up the material lacks  the personality which Phil Collins had brought to his previous solo albums. "Sussudio,"  while being an awesome comic book character, is just too repetitive, effectively  jamming it's two main hooks into you instead of gently placing them, "Only You Know and  I Know," a track that reminds me of ZZ Top's Afterburner, and which I keep munching on,  has a similar plunkiness even if the keychange to the chorus hits the ears hard. There  is little of the progressive elements here which I look for in Collins' music. One fast  track which bucks this trend is b-side opener "Don't Lose My Number," where the beat  drives forward a track with almost atonal guitar licks. Structurally, the song, though  sticking to the pop formula, amends just enough to retain a sense of Collins' past  history as we're guided through a bridge, transitional section, and extended solo. My  larger gripe with the record is simply the choice production wise for this to be so  electronic. It dates the record. Without some of these elements, it would lose some of  it's charm, however. (Orion)

Queensryche - Silent Lucidity (1991)

This single contains a mere two songs. Opening with "Silent Lucidity," this single  merely formulates thoughts in the mid as to how Queensryche went from The Warning a  mere six years earlier to this Pink Floyd-esque prog rock / easy listening crud. The  lack of metalness, out-of-place samples, orchestration, and Tate's feminine vocals on  the track are confounding. The b-side is more rewarding but ultimately still tripe. It  is a single-specific live recording of "The Mission" recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon  in November 1990. It's a whatever track, exemplifying the Empire-era style of the band  with too much focus on hooks and not enough focus on attack and riffs. I did enjoy  listening to Eddie Jackson's bass playing which is clear and driving. It's actually a  good example of the importance of the instrument in progressive metal. As far as I  know, this version of the track is not available anywhere else. It also doesn't need to  be. The CD version has a live recording of "Eyes of a Stranger" which isn't present on  the my tape. Since I picked up this tape for a mere fifty cents, I don't care at all  and it's an odd relic, but totally not worth spending any significant cash on unless  you would like to pay me for my own copy. Completists are the only group I could  conceive of actually searching for this release. I could also imagine Tate himself  putting it on a pedestal simply becuase he sings on it. (Orion)

Signatura Rerum - In Sfarsit (2013)

For symphonic black metal, often the keyboards can be a major detriment to the overall  sound of the band. Romanians Signatura Rerum, on their debut album In Sfarsit, prove  they can be used to truly propel the emotional pinnings of a record. Best categorized,  Signatura Rerum takes the sound of Negura Bunget, particularly on Om, and strips out  the more avant-garde elements. Melodically, there are similarities as well as in pacing  and movement. "Blestem Soptit" is best evidence of this, but where Negura Bunget use  guitars melodically, Signatura Rerum use the keyboards, creating a symphonic background  to the riffs in the front of the mix, which occasionally touch into death metal  territory. Vocalist Echivoc is a highlight for me, excellent in his harsh screams which  fit perfectly into the expansive arrangements' natural flow. Occasionally, Echivoc also  adds clean and layered chanted vocals which add an ethereal component to their sections  and act as ear candy to offset a powerfully intense record. The drums are also a  highlight, with extremely natural rhythms and fills throughout the record, I was duped  into thinking drummer Morgul actually performed the material here when it was in fact a  drum machine. For a first album, this comes across as very masterfully done, and while  there could be some attention paid to add clarity in the overall mix, the overall  impression this leaves is very positive. This will likely appeal to anyone that enjoys  Emperor or Borknagar or similar symphonic Norwegian bands from the second wave, just  with that special Romanian mysticism nestled deep within. (Orion)

Monday, February 26, 2018

February News - Sentient Horror at Meatlocker

Sentient Horror: Front from left: John Lopez, Matt Molti, Tyler Butkovsky. Drummer: Evan Daniele
Buying a house so I apologize for the lack of content at the time. Apteronotus is holding down the fort for the time being with reviews and our yearly aggregate list of the year's top releases and labels. I did manage to get the new Diseased Oblivion tape into the shop so be sure to check that out. It's a compilation of material spanning several years. I'll do my best to have the next monthly blast of reviews up in the next few days but it's a busy week as I expect to close on the house this week. Contaminated Tones will have a new permanent lair soon.

This will coincide with a total deletion of the Facebook page, to be finalized when I delete my personal facebook page. To be honest, the whole social media realm takes up too much of my time. I know myself and my love of argument and discourse in addition to the endless number of opinionated people who have made it their sole duty to chastise, belittle, and propagandize does not bode well for my sanity or productivity. The echo chamber is a real phenomenon on social media sites, as hordes of individuals funnel together to band against anything they potentially disagree with. It is no place for intelligent discussion. Better things to come.

First time seeing this manner of toilet
paper supply in a bathroom. Fascinating.
I did manage to get to the Meatlocker last night to check out Sentient Horror. The full lineup was Mom Fight opening, followed by Gallery, and Exovoid. I got there as Mom Fight were finishing up so I did not catch them. I was told they playing a fairly typical mix of grind and punk. Gallery was the first band I managed to catch. To me, they sounded like a mix of black metal, thrash, and post-black. Perhaps akin to a harsher Jesu. The main focal point for me was the way in which their bassist, who I later learned is jazz trained and a fan of Stanley Clarke and Jaco, managed to really fill out the driving force of the music, as the guitarist was more or less engaged in the atmospherics. It's a fairly commonplace arrangement in the current climate but I hadn't heard too many local bands exploring this combination in the fashion Gallery had.

Exovoid were, to me, extremely boring. It's clear they are good musicians however they lacked the energy I was hoping to get at a Meatlocker show. Being such a personal venue, the concentration of the musicians as they seemingly went through the motions of their songs with little outward excitability turned me off. I just don't want to watch five people stand in place playing semi-technical music. Please increase emotion, thanks.
Sentient Horror were impressive, though admittedly generic Swedish death metal. What aided Sentient Horror was a showmanship from front man Matt Molti that was able to engage enough at this basement boudoir venue. Even while Headbanging and emitting capable death metal vocals, Molti is capable of sweeping up and down his guitar neck like he's on one the Olympic curling teams. This stage presence was a nice change from the more laid back opening acts. The audience was small but appreciative throughout the set, slamming themselves around and even growling reciprocally along with the lyrics. Images of Sentient Horror below:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pyrrhon - What Passes For Survival

It all boils down to melody, chaos, and riffs. These simple elements are what make Pyrrhon’s “What Passes for Survival” an excellent album, along with the fact that it puts on a clinic on song pacing in death metal. It’s a massively heavy, intricate, and even incredibly catchy release. The band’s overall approach is adventurous and jarring in the same vein as technical death metal bands like Gorguts. Where this album succeeds compared to a release like “Colored Sands” though is that there is a nearly constant barrage of melodically forceful moments that you won’t forget after listening to the album.

Too many “technical” bands act like guitar frets should be chosen by a random number generator and they drop any concern for writing effective music. Pyrrhon though has such incredibly tight musicianship that you know they sit and practice just as much as any other band. Thankfully they lack the compulsion to try and pass off their latest sweep picking or blasting routines as songs. Instead, we have dazzling displays of wonky bass, inventive drumming, and punchy riffs. Even something as seemingly routine as the typical “brutal”beat/fill blast pattern is eschewed for a dynamic approach that simultaneously smooths out what would otherwise be jarring transitions.

It doesn’t take long before it becomes obvious that Doug Moore’s vocal performance on this album is stellar, both in it’s creative variety and powerful delivery. Just taking “Goat Mockery Ritual” as an example, he uses his standard harsh thrashy-death metal vocal approach, abyssic deep gutturals, massive drawn out howls, and straight up shouting. Without any exaggeration you can say that he has the range of two vocalists, and the closing section to “The Happy Victim’s Creed” basically sounds like two singers with its rapid trade-off between his two primary vocal styles.

It’s also important to credit Moore’s lyrics. As someone who very rarely cares about lyrics and listens to black metal more than anything else, it was hugely amusing and refreshing how “Goat Mockery Ritual” dressed down the genre’s bullshit esoterica and hypocrisy. Throughout the album the lyrics have a real genuine sense to them, and have a blatant self-awareness “You know you’re gonna keep on reading, This shit, lightweight and stripped of the meaning.” What a way to break the fourth wall without devolving into campy nonsense.

The album has some clear pacing flaws, but they really are not damning. Take for example how “Tennessee” is initially a great moment in the album, but goes on far too long and actually ends up a a bit of an energy drain. This isn’t because of the slow tempo, but rather the meandering energy flow. The song’s nearly eight minutes make it feel like a highly polished jam session rather than a planned out song. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good song, but is a clear example of a problem the band has.

Overall the band dragging a bit is due to a tendency to use some structural throat clearing sections. Other examples include how the 8-10 minutes worth of ideas on “Empty Tenement Spirit” are stretched on for 12 minutes. More representative of the problem is the opening of “The Unraveling: Free At Last,” which is mostly a directionless sprinkle of the kind of pick scraping and general dicking around bands do at the very end of playing a set. Again, its important to keep in mind that these parts of the album are still pretty damn good. They just don’t quite fit in with the exceptional work elsewhere and by the end of the album you are left with the distinct feeling that it isn’t quite as good as it started off.

“What Passes for Survival” is still an incredibly strong release, despite moments where the band lets the pendulum swing too far towards relaxed songwriting. There is even no questioning the strength of the technical band’s use of simple pounding riffs like the moment around 1:15 on “Goat Mockery Ritual.” Then, on the other hand you have the Gorguts-type riffs like rhythmically dense bass and guitar work on “Trash Talk Landfill” starting at around 2:05; or the brilliant drumming in the later half of “The Unraveling: Hegemony of Grasping Fears,” which has a similar Gorguts feel. The examples could go on and on but can be summed up as exclamation marks where other bands use commas.

Pyrron has every last tool they need to dominate the technical death metal genre, they just need to refine their pacing a tad to get there.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

An Empirical Look at 2017's Top Metal Releases

Contaminated Tones has gathered up a bunch of data on what people generally think the best albums are in their end of year lists. This is the 2017 edition of what we did for 2016, 2015, and 2014. While a number of other websites are also now aggregating data from lists, we don't see that as any reason to stop.

These top 16 bands showed up on around 30% of the top ten list spots available. This level of dominance/concentrated popularity is roughly comparable to 2015 (where popular releases came from Ghost, Deafheaven, Iron Maiden, Tribulation, Mgla, and High on Fire). The top six bands showed up in 16% of the available spots, which was identical to how concentrated the most popular six bands were in 2015. For the four years Contaminated Tones has been collecting data, only one other band has dominated to the same degree as Power Trip's extremely popular release Nightmare Logic, and that was Behemoth's The Satanist in 2014 (which also showed up on 37.5% of available spots).

Here are the top 2017 releases in list format:

Power Trip - Nightmare Logic
Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper
Pallbearer - Heartless
Converge - The Dusk in Us
Enslaved - E
Immolation - Atonement
Code Orange - Forever
Mastodon - Emperor of Sand
Spectral Voice - Eroded Corridors of Unbeing
Vulture - The Guillotine
Elder - Reflections of a Floating World
The Ruins of Beverast - Exuvia
Spectral Voice - Eroded Corridors of Unbeing
Vulture - The Guillotine
Elder - Reflections of a Floating World
The Ruins of Beverast - Exuvia
Cannibal Corpse - Red Before Black
Dying Fetus - Wrong One to Fuck With
Nokturnal Mortum - Verity
Godflesh - Post Self

The rate that hybrid/mixed genres showed up on lists was also similar to 2015, and this year follows the trend of the last four years where death metal and black metal were most popular after mixed genres. Other sub-genres again fell below bands that were not metal, which again was also similar to 2015. This year, around 11% of the non-metal releases were due to the popularity of Converge's The Dusk In Us. Doom metal's 19.5% rate was up from 2016 (11.3%) and 2015 (12.34%), and close to its 20% showing in 2014. For the third year in a row, black metal was the most dominant sub-genre.

For 2017, the most interesting result from the data was the relative absence of one of metal's most historically powerful labels: Century Media. In 2014 and 2015, Century Media was the second most dominant label for our data, and in 2016 the company was the 4th most dominant. In 2017 however, Century Media fell behind 18 other labels and tied with another 13 that had three spots in the data set. Nuclear Blast, in contrast, had around 10.25% of the spots available, which ties with the other most dominant label we have historically, which was also Nuclear Blast, but in 2014. Unlike in past years, no other label came close to Nuclear Blast's dominance on end of year lists. The next closest label was Southern Lord Recordings at 4.25%, which historically is closer to the performance of a 4th place label than the second most dominant. This is an important point to understand, because from the label perspective this was a very competitive year and had a lower Herfindahl-Hirschman index than 2014-2016 (indicating a more competitive market for critically acclaimed albums).

  •  Information on genres, whether a band was metal or not, and label data were pulled from the Metal Archives.
  • No bands were excluded for not being metal. If a list included a band, we included it. Otherwise we may as well just be posting our own lists.
  • Only the top 10 from any list were included. This was done to have some continuity across websites in terms of the weight of their data. We excluded sites with lists of less than 10; this way each website is on equal footing.
  • Since different websites can have in-house tastes, websites with multiple lists were selected only once, and at random. This approach is different from a number of list-of-lists that showed up for this year. Doing otherwise turns the data into an aggregated poll, which is interesting but not what were looking at here.
  • Other than looking at only the top 10, rankings were not considered or averaged. Rankings like these are what is known as ordinal data and typically cannot be averaged in a meaningful way.
  • As a quick example, suppose List 1’s author thinks we had a weak year and would rate their #9 album at 73/100 and their #2 spot only 75/100. We can’t meaningfully compare this with List 2’s author rating their #9 album a 80/100 and their #2 100/100 because we have only rankings, and not ratings.
  • No individual website’s list is reproduced here, neither is the entire data-set.
  • Label data was gathered only for metal bands. It’s also important to keep in mind that not every label releases music every year.
  • Label data shouldn't be viewed as relating to sales or a label's financial strength.
  • The list of websites accessed is in the spoiler tag below.
Websites Accessed: