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.