Sunday, March 31, 2019

Monthly Blast: February - March

Original Interview: R. Matos interviewing Motorscreamer of Motorpenis in Herege Warfare Productions Fanzine #2 (2009)
0N0 - Cloaked Climax Concealed (2019)

Slovakian outfit 0N0 have manufactured a very interesting product with their experimentation. Cloaked Climax Concealed is their first output in three years following Reconstruction and Synthesis, their second full length. The trio sounds like more than three people sonically; numerous layers of ringing guitars, atonal elements, and vocals creative an immersive listening experience even across only these two tracks. Perhaps the most defining element is the drum programming courtesy of Twisted. It reminds me not of other programmed drums but instead of Steve Shelton's work on Confessor's Unraveled; the usage of unpredictable cymbal hits and unconventional rhythms to back the atmospheric miasma created by guitarists Twisted and Acidmilk is similar to the abnormal approach taken by Shelton throughout the career of the North Carolina experimental doom band. Further emphasizing the importance of the drums is the subtle way in which they are mixed. The identifiable distance between crash and splash in the sound design draws the ear to the constant clattering. I am partial to the second track, "Hidden In The Trees (Sail This Wrecked Ship)" due to the solemn melodic underpinning. Opener "The Crown Unknown" has a conniving and cunning progression which appeals to me less. The vocals of once again, Twisted and Acidmilk - I am guessing one does the low gutteral vocals and one does the atmospheric clean vocals in a post-metal vein such as Jesu - are utilized throughout to highlight the changes in the track's parts which aren't always noticeably distinguishable. 0N0 are doing something really interesting. I feel they fit squarely into the post-metal heading. The usage of death metal vocals alone here doesn't do enough to escape the post-metal / post-rock genre but 0N0 are on a trajectory that could cause something groundbreaking in the near future. As of now, I expect this mostly to appeal to fans who wish they could find post-metal that had low, guttural, death metal vocals.

Abigail / Lustrum - Too Wild For The Crowd Split 7" (2016)

This four song 7" from Japanese street metallers Abigail and Connecticut sleaze metal masters Lustrum is a perfect example of the kind of quality short-plays that squeak through the awareness of so many people. Opening with the Japanese ragers, speed metal reigns supreme in influence here with opening track Thundercunt puts the record on notice for it's kick-drum romp but the highlight of their tracks, and the whole 7", is the blistering "Satan Power, Unholy War" which is about as aggressive, angry, and memorable as a song could be. Replete with essentially one main riff through the entire track with minor variation, Yasuyuki's bass rhythm pulls the track together and gives moments separation by incorporating a walking bass motif at times. Jero's lead halfway through the track is perfectly placed and adds a nuanced harmony against the aggressive track. Lustrum command side B of the 7" with "The Seven Witches of Hell". The track is indicative of the Venom and first-wave Black Metal influences Lustrum make their calling. Highlights are the slick and big transition riff that slows the song down and patiently carries it over the threshold as well as Intolerant One's massive echoing vocals. "Temple of Lust" is a little boring but once again contains Lustrum's trademark riffing style and primitive aggression. The 7" is worth it's cost for sure and is a great addition to any speed metal / street metal / underground metal fan's collection.

Death Fortress - Pulling Ancient Stone (2012)

The two tracks presented here by, at this point in the band's history, sole-creator Joe Aversario are promising and do hint at what Death Fortress has become beyond this period as a one-man project. The most interesting facet for me is how remarkably similar they sound to Astrofaes' debut, which is one of my favorites from the eastern European black metal scene. The demo obviously lacks some of the folk elements - you will not find much folk music in New Jersey compared to Ukraine - but the overall black metal foundations present on opening track "Eternal Enemies" is not far off from the voracious hypnotism of "Fiery Mysticism". The slightly more complex "Pulling Ancient Stone" is willing to integrate slower melodic movements but the faster black metal components which build up the majority of this track also owe much to Ukrainian and Polish Black Metal. The production on this debut demo is rightly raw and underground but showcases a strong bottom end and drum production. The vocals emphasize Joe's intensity in everything he does, as I have known since his time in Dethroned Emperor. He often utilizes both a higher scream and a lower growl at the same time on these two tracks. While the songs are overall very promising in their execution, I can't help but feel that the tape is missing something stand out. Both songs are propelled by the guitar melodies but other than transition riffs, the melodies can be monotonous. Some interesting arrangements nonetheless appear such as the transition section in "Eternal Enemies" with Joe providing vocals over windy guitars and the aforementioned slower movement in "Pulling Ancient Stone" which manifests as an admittedly stereotypical strummed guitar interlude, but I am ultimately left unfulfilled.

Hekseri - The Atrocity (Early Demos) (2007)

This Boston band has undergone lineup changes since the release of this 2007 compilation on Witchhammer Productions and I've not followed them at all and have no idea if they've improved since this tape release. The band falls into a mix of black and death metal with some thrash elements borrowed from the Germans. This conglomeration of early demo material does little to inspire interest in the band, however, and I don't see myself going out of my way to explore the recent releases unless someone is adamant their new material must be heard with some form of fervor and urgency. Hekseri's demo material sounds poor, and is difficult to get through, and does not stand up to otherwise available black metal of the time period. In it's favor, there are some interesting movements and musical ideas but they are often murdered by the overall sound. Examples would be some of the guitar solos and instrumental movements in tracks like "The Atrocity" and "Der Hekenhammer". Production is so harsh on the release that it sounds like a majority of the tracks are backed with a drum machine of some sort but research indicates Seth Greenblatt as drummer during the period of time that the demos were recorded so once again the product leaves a lot to be desired. The overall presentation doesn't offer much information aside from where the material on the tape came from. Vocally, I have no idea who is doing vocals on what so I am assuming it is either Megan Leo or Larissa Glasser but once again.. no information... the vocals are the best element of the music. Deep death metal growls are interchanged with higher-pitched black metal screams and come across as visceral and emotive. For me, there's not a lot here. "Der Hexenhammer" is the best combination of the styles they are trying to put forth and gets my vote as the band's best track.

Josh Lay - Iceman (2016)

This three track release from noise artist Josh Lay explores the moods of famous mob hitman Richard "Iceman" Kuklinski, through an assortment of ambient textures and, in the case of the final track presented, "Iceman", samples from Kuklinski's famous interview with Dr. Park Dietz. While the first two tracks, "Coma One" and "Coma Two" are pure noise, with "Coma One" including repeated samples of breaking glass and animal sounds over long shifting tones, possibly symbolizing the memorable moments in the interview where Kuklinski speaks of tying cats' tails together and watching them fight each other to death, or throwing cats in a local incinerator for fun, the real highlight that is sure to make anyone uncomfortable is the final track. Through it's sixteen minute run time, Lay manages to backdrop Kuklinski's interview with a sound design that includes a number of samples that reference his spoken words. It is well done. The clear immorality and deviant behavior of Kuklinski self-narrated with such analytical indifference when paired with the nuanced tones gives the track even more of an uneasiness. At times, I got shivers, imagining Kuklinski, The Polack as he sometimes was known as, creep up behind me and strangle me. Lay's soundtrack builds a huge amount of tension behind the interview, rising to crescendos as Richard touts his individual murders, emphasizing the moments when he is at his most sadistic; when he is most authentic. It's that framing of authenticity which is perhaps what Lay has done best here, pointing out the existence of evil in the nature of man. This will appeal to fans of noise and fans of mass murderers, horror, and serial killer themed extreme music. Out on Husk Records this time, the original release contained only "Iceman" and was limited to ten handmade tapes in 2007.

Lustrum / Alcoholic Rites - Drunk and In Charge Split 7" (2016)

Rounding out the entire discography of Lustrum which has at this point been covered throughout the past several months and which will be compiled into a single post for posterity, this split with Ecuador's Alcoholic Rites may be the weakest in the Lustrum canon. It's not that Scum Brigade isn't a great song or that Burning Sin is forgettable, but compared with songs on the other Lustrum releases, these two do no stand out as heavily. Scum Brigade is scratchy and abrasive in tone and lacks the usual lo-fi occult clarity that is often the case with Lustrum's other releases. "Burning Sin" fares better of the two somehow. The main influences of Venom, Motorhead, and Hellhammer are still clearly recognizable. Alcoholic Rites is gifted side A and provide two interesting tracks. The first of which is "The Flight of the Black Owl." Alcoholic Rite's is separated from other bands by the mostly baritone vocals of guitarist Devastador. I'm not entirely sure whether this side of the split should be played at 45RPM or 33RPM but it sounds wrong both ways... almost as if the first part of the track should be at 45RPM and the second half at the faster rotation. Opening with a memorable doom-stricken motif and then running into a headlong furious riff that reminds me of the earliest Bolt Thrower material, it's an interesting combination of influences combining Speed Metal and Death Metal. Second track, titled in a uniquely Japanese manner (See: Abigail), "Alkolic Metal Explosion" is a fast two-minute long blitz of the same mixture of tones and sounds. Insane Blast Beat, who is the drummer and not a descriptor of his technique, is a highlight on both tracks. He lends the band an even more primitive styling through heavy usage of the tuned aspects of his kit.

Paganfire - Play Loud and Fuck The Rest! Demo (2018)

Why Paganfire aren't a household name by this point in the underground is beyond me. It's true that these prolific Filipino thrashers have adopted a raw and purely underground sound that might not break into mainstream listeners' tastes, however the longevity and old school mentality should by this point have yielded opportunities for the band to expand outward. The music on this promo CDr is collected from various sourced from the past seven years and is evidence of the band's nature; Thrash with death metal moments in the mid-80's vein like Possessed and Death. The sound is overall very good - clear with all instruments audible but rough and ragged. I think the weakest produced instrument is consistently the drums which sound a little bit snappy in the kick. The performance is excellent though across the material entirely. Nonoy Padrejuan has been a pal of mine for several years (I released a live tape of theirs two years back). Best tracks for me are "Bloodsoaked Life", "Bitayin! Katayin! Sunugin!", and "Much of Madness, More of Sin". "Much of Madness, More of Sin" is one of their top tracks for me for it's catchy and intense riffing and harsh almost atonal aggression. If you have any doubts about what Paganfire are about, the liner notes here say it all: This CDr is spread to zines and labels and everyone else in between as a sign of life and as a huge middle finger to all trendsuckers!! Die!!." Love these guys and they should be in every underground thrasher's collection in some manner by this point.

Warlock - Triumph and Agony (1987)

Opening with the seminal "All We Are," Doro Pesch is on display with an incredible vocal performance and one of the most powerful and memorable female fronted Heavy Metal albums maybe of all time. What is so impressive about Triumph and Agony is the front to back consistency. While the B-sides don't quite match up with the first half, it's the kind of consistency which is not lauded enough. Practically every song has a chorus which makes you want to scream alongside the blonde bombshell as she puts the majority of metal vocalist's voices to shame. Let's touch upon the highlights. "All We Are" is the kind of anthem Manowar forgot how to write. With it's universal chorus, bad-ass opening guitar histrionics, and pounding drums the track is a warning that there is nothing ahead but full-on fist clenching and head-banging heavy metal of top tier quality. The strongest period of the record for me is the one-two kick of  "I Rule The Ruins," a moody melody-reliant blazer and "Kiss of Death," which is my favorite track on the record and is far superior to both Fate's Warning's and Dokken's track of the same title. Side B starts off with the rugged "East Meets West" which alongside "Cold Cold World" are the two best of the heavy tracks from the second half. Hear her throat tear at the end of "East Meets West". "Metal Tango" should remind immediately of countrymen Accept. Triumph and Agony is bookended with "Fur Immer," a unique anthemic number at the opposite intensity level as "All We Are". The contrast shows Doro's versatility and ability to both hit the screaming raspy metal notes as well as dial it back into an emotional performance and sound as powerful doing one as the other. For fans of traditional heavy metal, especially the German style and NWOBHM, don't let Triumph and Agony slip through your fingers.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Metal Exploration Journal: Paraguay

2019.02.10: I had been contacted by Daniel Larozza from Verthebral, an old school Death Metal band from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay in late 2017 about a potential US tape release for their debut full length album Regeneration. At that time, I was unable to commit and told him that should they have any live or rehearsal material and wanted to do something in a more DIY style like the other Contaminated Tones live and rehearsal releases, that I would be interested. Daniel contacted me back on the second of April, 2018, regarding a live show they had recorded at a local festival called Old School Attack IV: The Return, asking if I would be interested in maybe doing a tape for that. He said that the recording came out really good and they would love to see it released in some form. Needless to say, I was definitely on board with the project which became a really great live tape release. The contact, though, revealed that I had very little knowledge of the Paraguayan scene as a whole. I think on the surface, the only band I recognized was Evil Force. In truth, with a short list of only about one-hundred and fifty eight bands in the whole country, with most located in the country's capital of Asunción, Paraguay is a country that is given very little attention.

Digging into the country's metal history would be tough for an English speaker, so I asked Daniel who he recommended for me to check out. He told me that the festival promoter of Old School Attack , Carlitos "Kure" Gonzalez, has his own thrash band called Massive Execution and also sings in Toxic Avenger. Speaking highly of Kure personally, he linked me to a video of them playing live. Stylistically, they would be similar to a combination of the Bay area and German schools of thrash. As they blistered through a cover of Slayer's "The Antichrist," it all fell into place influence wise. He also extended me his email. I contacted Kure regarding the Old School Attack Festival, Massive Execution, and Metal in Paraguay as a whole. Yes, he was my only contact other than Daniel, but who better than a promoter of a festival to have a scent for the manifestation of metal in the local and national society?

It took several weeks to hear back from Kure in choppy, yet understandable English. "Hello are you? I'm Sorry for give you an answer so English is really bad!! Tell me what do you need about Massive Execution and the old school attack!!! Greetings from Paraguay." I explained I would send him some questions about Old School Attack festival and Massive Execution. I did not expect an immediate response.

Paraguay has, throughout the twentieth century, undergone a multitude of unfavorable political circumstances. Throughout the early parts of the century, presidents and leaders were turned over at a rate befitting soil tilled with a powerful tiller. Stability, was found by way of violence with the coup of Alfredo Stroessner in 1954. Stroessner maintained political control, supported by the United States for much of the time (See Operation Condor), until 1989. This was achieved with sham-elections, martial law through declaration of a 'state of siege', and through general myriad strong-man tactics. In many ways, the small landlocked nation of Paraguay was a microcosm of the larger political tumult which many of the South American nations found themselves shackled by; large kakistocratic states governing millions of people with no solutions to their woes simply trying to hold it all together at any cost.

A small number of demos were released at the tail end of the El Stronato era - the name given for the period of Stroessner's reign - and it's not surprising that in such an environment, the youth would find freedom and expression in metal's abrasive and serious representation of perspective and mind. In an interview with Rawhide drummer Santiago Bernal in 2013 he said, "Rawhide was born in 1983, during the dictatorship. But that repression fed the musicians to make the lyrics, to compose a guitar riff, the line of the bass / drums. And not to mention the look we had at that time. We listened to everything, insults, offenses and things like that. I was personally arrested three times by the police, where in one of those experiences I was held incommunicado, my family did not know where I was. I had "the pleasure" of knowing the dungeons." (1)

Starting with basic Metal Archives searches, the first recognized metal release was a two-song demo by Metal Urbano in 1986. Only three other releases materialized between the Metal Urbano release and the end of 1989. Two of these were from the aforementioned Rawhide and one from Luque band Batallón. The city of Asuncion was the soil from which all four bands sprouted. These few early demos are the birth of Metal in Paraguay.
Metal Urbano - Demo (1986)

Metal Urbano's pioneering two-song demo tape from 1986 falls firmly in the proto-metal arena, sounding more like Deep Purple's earliest efforts from Shades of Deep Purple or the 70's laced Invasion album from Manilla Road. Their namesake track, an instrumental, is a spacy jam. The true highlight is the second track hard rocking "La Banda de Salvajes," with catchy though typical 70's riffs and punk drum beat. Vocals from guitarist Domingo Perez elevate the track through the incorporation of strong vocal harmonies and a bit of attitude during the the first chorus. For a demo from 1986, this would generally be dismissed when compared to the world scene which, by this point, was already in it's heydey in terms of heavy metal and thrash. What can't be overlooked, is the importance of such a release in the traditionalist climate of Paraguay at this time. Daniel Larozza's thoughts regarding this demo and Metal Urbano mimic this; "They played at the time of dictatorship in Paraguay, they deserve all the respect because playing in a metal band in that time was very hard."
Batallón - Demo (1987)

    Batallón's 1987 demo tape, paired with the first Rawhide demo, constitute Paraguay's first truly metallic sounding releases and laid the groundwork for the major trending style of thrash in Paraguay's early metal years. Death Metal and Black Metal would not take hold until the early 90's in minor forms. Batallón's demo is no slouch; technicality is in surplus. Opening track, "Corrupcion," aside from being indicative of the context within which Batallón were writing, sets the stage. Wild lead guitars and vicious lead vocals in a higher nasally range (not sure if the vocals here are from Jose Bogarin or Domingo Perez) bring to mind Aspid or a poor man's Energetic Disassembly. I believe that second track "Bajo Tierra (Serpento)" is the better of the two tracks while Daniel Larozza is adamant that "Corrupcion," is the better track. The third song is an instrumental which is not bad but is missing some structure which vocals would give. It has some impressive moments musically throughout. The biggest issue is purely production wise. The tape rips I can find for this do not do the songs justice - the whole thing needs a remaster.  
Rawhide - No Espreres Piedad (1987)
I am unable to find a copy of this demo other than the title track on youtube. Sound is rough but follows closely the style on the Batallon demo; thrashy, with speed metal and heavy metal motifs.
Rawhide - Caceria Humana (1989)
It is immediately apparent with Rawhide's 1989 Caceria Humana that the thrash metal sound had taken hold in Paraguay and could be executed with the same level of power and aggression as the rest of the international scene. While the band's 1987 demo, No Espreres Piedad, was seemingly on par with Batallon's demo in terms of sound, the second demo truly sets a standard. A close comparable being Sodom's Obsessed by Cruelty, with a hint more Bay Area technicality, the highlights include extremely audible and excellent bass playing from Jerry Groehn, a primitive and violent drum performance from Santiago "The Beast" Bernel, and the best production standards of any metal release up until this point, at least as good as the average US thrash demo. There is a nice variety given to separate each song. Title track, "Caceria Humana" is an early highlight on the demo. Opening with a big epic introductory setup and running through a torrent of riffs, it culminated with a mixture of solos that sandwich a running bass line. "Apocalipsis" follows with an acoustic opening melody line that heaves into chugging thrash riffs. Eponymous track, "Rawhide" is an easy choice as end of the album highlight. Classic riff structures sure to force headbanging and madness.
Kure from Massive Execution had gotten back to me with some answers to my questions in July. Communication wasn't the best, but in the spirit of speaking for Metal in Paraguay, Kure provided some key information regarding where it all stemmed from for him and likely many other older Hard rock and Metal fans in Paraguay. "I do not have words that are not gratitude and praise for bands like Corrosion, Metal Urbano, and Rawhide, without doubting they opened the way ... I am very fanatical of such bands ... even of Batallon, they are from my city, and it was the first band that I went to see live. The appreciation towards them is very special !!! Walter, his drummer is my neighbor and the deceased jose q was the vocal was my cousin!!

"The Old School Attack is a festival that has earned a special place in the national scene ... we always try to give both the bands and the fans the conditions they deserve and always come out in the best way, until today only Paraguay bands have participated but we are with the idea of ​​bringing bands from outside for this festival..for other events of ours or altogether if we already did concerts with guests from other countries (Skull Fist, Nocturnal, Dekapited, Massive Power, Enforcer (Chi) among others ... if we had public from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia at the time !!! On the difficulties you can always talk about constant support .. we have been lucky enough to always have a good answer but it is not a constant currently within the underground scene in our country ... you can talk about a certain division even though there are many fans!!!

"Currently there are many bands that are growing and being recognized even outside the country, the best known and with 3 albums released with the tamp Kill Again Records is The Force, I could consider at the same height to Evil Force that was presented A couple of months ago in the evil confrontation fest of Chile with bands like Demolition Hammer, Angel Witch, Tryptikon, among others !! I recommend listening to Ariman, Sacred, Khyron, Master of Cruelty, Caceria, To Arkham, Necrocult, Invaders ... then I will pass more bands !!! I tell him that apart from Massive Execution I am in the band Toxic Avenger with whom we have an ep and a lp released!!"

2019.03.23: Carlitos ' Kure' responded back to some more of my questions. I asked him about the prevalence of thrash in the Paraguayan scene: "For a long time, thrash metal was very much the sub genre that hit hardest in our scene ... today it remains strong and many bands manage to get out or be massive inside the metal but the other genres have advanced a lot also and in each one of them there are excellent bands!!!

On his other band, Toxic Avenger: "We can talk about the different bands whenever possible !!! as for Toxic Avenger we are together as a band since 2012, we have a demo and a long album and we are starting the recordings of the second album !!!"

I asked him again about the first show he saw with Batallion: "battalion was the first band I went to see, largely because my cousin and a neighbor were part of the band and the show was steps from my house ... the show was exactly on 09/21/1993 ... but In my case I was already listening to rock and metal bands since 1991, that was the step towards the shows !!!"
Evil Force - Banging On The Pentagram (2016)
Perhaps the best known band from Paraguay is Evil Force, who have been working at their craft since 2005. Their most recent full length, "Banging on the Pentagram" was the first widely available album from the band, being released on Germany's Witches Brew Label. The band displays a close proximity to the traditional metal stalwarts that have influenced the majority of South American Heavy Metal bands. Iron Maiden is a clear influence from the opening minutes, as well as Slayer, especially Show No Mercy era, in the vocal presentation and Razor, in the riff architecture and melodic undertones. Containing several members past and present of Carlitos' Toxic Avenger, there is a connection. The album opens with the impressive self-titled track showcasing excellent guitar playing and a mixture of the band's influences. A track like "Southern Armageddon" is exemplary of the band; Thrash, mostly Bay Area inspired, with Heavy Metal or NWOBHM melodic movements and an emphasis on lead guitar work and technical execution on all fronts. It's the best track on the release in my opinion. Bass playing and drumming is highlighted in the production perfectly allowing the standout playing of both drummer Evil Fist and bassist Bernie Marecos (to my knowledge) to be heard clearly. The album is a bit monotone and would succeed better with some variety in the melodies and tempos. One thing that I see with Evil Force that I really like is the relative seriousness of the lyrical content. There are no songs about pizza parties, skateboarding, high-top white shoes, or childish zombie attacks; once again in line with the original thrash bands of the early to mid 80's. Evil Force do no do much to truly find that original element musically, but for thrash fans, I can't see anyone really knocking this album at all and most likely the old school homage will be appreciated.  

(1) (google translation)
Please email me if you are from Paraguay and are involved in any way with the metal scene there and would like to discuss your band, zine, label, etc.