I recently read an article by Steve Knopper - an author of several biographies and writer for Rolling Stone, etc, - writing for the Chicago Tribune titled "Everything about Babymetal is Metal" which spoke volumes about the general ignorance regarding the perception of metal in the mainstream music / journalism world. Without nit picking every line, the general gist was how Babymetal was born out of the pop world with singers who knew nothing about metal and were thrust into this stage act. "Yet until 2010, Suzuka Nakamoto and Moa Kikuchi had never heard the genre and found it “scary"... Back then, a talent agency, Amuse, put the young Japanese singers together and fused a musical concept that, somehow, nobody had ever thought to try..." Though commonplace in the pop world, manufactured groups are hardly the norm and rarely born out of talent agencies within Metal as a whole. I can't easily point out a metal supergroup which hasn't been assembled through the work of a label who gathers previously well known and credible musicians for the one off project. Credibility has already been achieved through years of toiling in dingy clubs, demo creation, moving through the ranks of independent labels, and supporting the heavy metal underground at large.
Speaking of credibility: "...2016′s “Metal Resistance,” played down the pop and emphasized the metal. The album contains no sprightly “Gimme Chocolate!!” novelty and skews downcast and sludgy, perhaps to build credibility with metal loyalists who saw the band open for Metallica and Guns N’ Roses. Babymetal studies its fans carefully and makes an effort to please both the metal and Japanese-pop side of its base." Aside from Knopper's apparent lack of knowledge of the actual Sludge genre - Metal Resistance is not three Japanese pop stars singing over Take As Needed For Pain - putting out an album styled specifically to 'build credibility' has never been an allowable method to 'build credibility' within the metal genre... ever... at anytime. Credibility is either had or it isn't. It is not something that is focus grouped and worked into a marketing plan. Brands have been built through endless refinement and perseverance and infinite tweaks and shifts yet never through fabrication. Additionally, I tried to get through four tracks on this album and if "Yava!" isn't some form, type, or subcategory of 'sprightly' I need four new dictionaries.
Among other things mentioned that are sure to make the old guard contingent shake their head and clamor for the end to this hell in which we've found ourselves, a total disregard for the Natural, is at play. "Babymetal put together early singles like “Doki Doki Morning,” which opens with a few seconds of cutesy, Auto-Tuned pop vocals, then plunges into Metallica-style guitars." Also, "The band’s live show is carefully choreographed: The singers perform in samurai-warrior costumes, often black, as a masked, nameless band provides the Slipknot-like oomph." My skin is not malleable or flexible enough to handle all this cringing! At the heart of this issue is a lack of honesty and integrity to the music created. Autotuned vocals may be cruise control for music made for 12 year olds with no standards for musicianship, but in a genre which is built around a foundation of musical competence, capturing live sounds, and as little post-production trickery as possible, this sort of falsity will never pass muster. Any time I hear the word 'choreographed' in reference to a live show, and it's anything other than Rock ' n' Rolf and Majk Moti hip hugging in unison in the Death Or Glory live video during "Raw Ride," there's a 99.6% chance it's not metal.
I originally tried to feel sorry for the women who have been dragged into this group by a talent agency but I felt it increasingly difficult as I considered that they are somehow being viewed with the same respect and acceptance as talented underground artists, some who have slaved away for decades with little to show for it other than a rabid base of die-hard fans and incredible musical acumen. In my opinion, Babymetal is in fact the logical result of the Metalocalypse generation - a generation where Metal's gateway was not metal music but metal as a aesthetic device. "But they are fun and put on a great live show!" The same could be said about a donkey show. I'm not buying the argument as it relates to Metal. 'Fun' can be an attribute of having a good live show, but it is not the sole gem in the metal treasure chest. I imagine seeing a lot of Babymetal in the second hand stores in about ten years. Ultimately, something which Knopper didn't catch here, is that when you set the music aside, in fact nothing about Babymetal is Metal.
My first engagement with their attack was at a show down in DC at The Pinch. Sacrificial Blood was also on the bill so, as is often the case with more local acts, I saw them first in the flesh. I was very impressed with their live performance; recognizable riffs, tight musicianship, and an undeniably Philadelphian attitude - the city seems to have it's own patented posture - captured my attention. I was pretty excited when this EP landed in my inbox. Having not heard the now sold out previous tape, We Worship Death, or the also sold out debut tape, Too Stoned To Die, I previewed those on bandcamp; Too Stoned To Die was a 50-50 mix of crossover and hardcore punk with We Worship Death losing some of the punk influence and leaning towards some speed metal elements mixed with the crossover. Spiritual Cancer finds Atomic Cretins continuing this trend of eliminating the punk elements from their sound and going full speed metal / thrash. In fact, this EP has the band sounding more in line with the contemporary speed metal movement. Bands like Hellripper and Midnight come to mind however Atomic Cretins are not as sleazy as Midnight and not as black metal slanted as Hellripper. Speedwolf also draws a comparison however AJ Defeo preferred the raspy to Reed's Motorheadesque tobacco infused throaty howls. Jay Mazillo's bass playing is a big part of the EP, opening single, "Satan's Hound's" with a gravely low bass riff as well as "Dig Your Own Grave." The guitarist duo of AJ and Hit Cunningham offer some nice lead work but I their guitar tone is a bit thin for my tastes. The production is one of the aspects which could be improved. The EP doesn't have a 'powerful' effect on me and is something which they benefited from in the live setting. Even though I'm not entirely a fan of the tremolo picking riff, I think the best song here is "Out Of The Coffin". Atomic Cretins seem to still be finding that mix they want to play, but this EP is a major step forward for the band, even if it isn't on par with the best of this style. Spiritual Cancer is not a bad EP if the speed metal / punk / crossover thing really appeals to you.
A Husk Records release, I picked this up when ordering the other Husk Records material. I gave it a handful of spins in the car - like eight total since the sixteen minute playtime was enough for four plays a commute each day - and nothing in particular stuck with me, relegating People Meant To Die to the 'burn pile'. This is one of the first Cadaver In Drag releases, finding the band exploring not much beyond grindcore and noise - a combination which does not normally whet my salivary glands. The quartet rips through the nine songs in a frantic blaze of riffs, screams, clatters and crashes. It's difficult to normally tell what is going on or if the band is doing something determinate. There are only a few tracks in which a combination of mayhem and control appears: "Tackhammer", "Hermaphroditehandjob", and "Sorority Whore". Otherwise I find it difficult to find purposeful moments of arrangement and decision making. Back in high school, a friend I knew who I used to hang out with would make music like this in a shed we built from stolen lumber from local construction sites. We thought the songs were cool but in reality, it was spurts of riffs written on a whim and pieced together haphazardly with no attention for what constituted a song. Even in grindcore and noisecore, a song can have structure and sound focused. Often, short songs done well sound incredibly purposeful. An example where this is done here is "Sorority Whore," a thirty-second blitz of atonality with a recurring guitar phrase that gives the track focus. Final track "Baptized In Embalming Fluid," a weird synth experiment, runs a torturous seven minutes long... six minutes and forty seconds longer than worthwhile by my call.
Enthroned Serpent is a newer project out of Athens, Greece. Ancient Witchcraft, thus, carries the trademark brand of their countrymen. A melodic sensibility is utilized to great effect to propel songs forward and is the band's strongest point here, molding captivating melodic elements and phrases together. While Rotting Christ and Varathron are sure to be invoked, other non-Hellenic Black Metal bands that might draw comparisons are Seer Bliss or Dissection. The members themselves are not known names which, considering the level of playing on Ancient Witchcraft, is surprising. The weakest track, "Ghost," though less melodic, and is more comparable to the standard second wave black metal bands, still contains a nice helping of what makes Enthroned Serpent tick. The weakness here then is mostly due to the vocal performance. It's this song which vocalist Rex Sanguis is least effective on, as his screechy style does not offer much dynamic interest. Compare this to the vocals on a track such as "Condamned" where his vocals are dynamic, powerful, forceful, and at times draw on deeper vocal techniques to incorporate authoritative tonality into the album highlight. "Condamned" is the best track for me, hearkening back to other early 90's Mediterranean bands such as Mortuary Drape. It is propelled by the intricate guitar leads of Kallidor and Nazgûl. Ancient Witchcraft's longest track, "The Channeling" is quite complex, with all sorts of sections including a quiet murky section that drips along at the midpoint. This is a promising initial offering from Enthroned Serpent. I'm not thinking twice about keeping my eye on the band.
Following the passionate and honest yet slightly amateur sounding Full Speed at High Level, Sweden's Heavy Load offered Death or Glory. It's easy to see why Heavy Load are so popular in Europe - well-written and ballsy no frills Heavy Metal courtesy of Ragne Wahlquist on guitars and his brother, Styrbjörn, on drums. Since the band's inception, the two form a natural songwriting duo. Vocals on the album are split three ways between Ragne, Styrbjörn, and second guitarist Eddy Malm and yet, it's difficult to feel like there are three singers. The trio of singers is an interesting arrangement. A close listen reveals Styrbjörn seems to have a slightly deeper, aggressive tone compared to Ragne but even listening closely is difficult to pick out individual singers. The production is well done, giving space to each instrument naturally. The drums stand out tonally for the big natural kick easily noticeable throughout the record and especially on stand out tracks like "The Guitar Is My Sword," where Styrbjörn's drums drive the song forward. A lot of the tracks are firmly in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal style; there are moments of less aggressive melodies such as the choruses and chord progressions in "Still There Is Time" mixed in with ballsier riffs. Early Accept and Blitzkrieg come to mind throughout the album. Favorite tracks for me are either the anthemic opener "Heavy Metal Angels" or closer "Daybreak Ecstacy", where Heavy Load tout their strongest songwriting and most adventurous melodic usage in a weaving dark tale with evocative lyrics focused on finding guidance and light in a world of darkness. Death Or Glory is worth the time for fans of older Heavy Metal and NWOBHM styled bands.
I was generally really impressed with the Ukrainian's first album, A Key To Pangrieb, however after a host of listens over the course of several years since it's release, I have several mixed feelings on Thanathonaut. I decided to pull out this one again a few weeks ago after it fell out of a box after moving stuff around in the house I hadn't touched in a while. In one sense the album is still unique and expressive with a progressive cinematic streak. On the other hand, the album can be overthought, segmented, and hollow. The guitar tone is one of those love - hate moments, ringing out across songs with a mechanical and futuristic timbre that contrasts the classical elements in an unwelcome clash and clatter. For example, "The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life" culminates in a section with brass instruments, piano, strings and synths with the guitars churning underneath. Cutting the digitized tone would have created a truly beautiful organic and natural feel in an epic soundscape. Contrast this with the next song, "Furious Thoughts Of Tranquility" which has a chugging industrial mechanized feel that ends abruptly; the tonality fits well here but the song feels like it's a segment of a larger entity which never materializes. This epic and grand scope is something I miss from their debut. The only song over the five minute mark is the final track, "Возрождение", an at times incomplete sounding cover of Virgin Black's sombre "Renaissance." Many of the other songs simply don't sound fully realized to me, which is a shame because of all the great ideas floating around and melodic movements the band has developed. Thanathonaut is bulbish - large and swollen with ideas that fill up space that are only partially palatable. I don't know how much internal pressure Narrow House put on themselves to finish the record, but it just feels like it needed some more time. Not sure what will happen with the group, as they've been in hibernation since this album's release in 2014. I'd be curious to know what the band is doing now.
As it would be for any lover of good, classic New Wave of British Heavy Metal, it is inevitable to find yourself confronted with either of the first two Tygers of Pan Tang albums. Spellbound, the sophomore album is more to my liking. It's more hard hitting, varied, and interesting. There is an edge to the guitar riffs which was only partially found on Wildcat in songs like "Killers". Spellbound contains some rather well-known tracks. The record's arguably heaviest track "Hellbound" was covered by several bands including Heathen and Destruction but in my eyes the album's hardest track might go to the rough-nosed "Blackjack." My version of the record (1981-MCA-5235) has this switched with the position of "Tyger Bay" from the original run order. I'm not sure it is much of a benefit or a hindrance, as "Tyger Bay" in the nine-spot follows the light-hearted rocker "The Story So Far" with a similar level of speed and contrast. Opener "Gangland" is a favorite for me... must be something about NWOBHM bands and songs called "Gangland" being awesome. John Deverill gets a lot of credit from me for making this record so enjoyable. His crooning, powerful, and - at the right times - emotive vocal performance draws comparisons more towards Robert Plant or Rod Evans' performance on Deep Purple. The record would have been served well by a grittier and hungrier guitar tone. Drummer Brian 'Big' Dick - I laughed like Butthead when I first read the liner notes on this record - is adequate but gets lost behind Deverill's performance as well as that of guitarists Robb Weir and John Sykes. Deeper cuts from this record worth attention include "Silver and Gold" and "Don't Stop By", a solid punctuation mark on the end of what would be the band's peak record.
Though their cult-classic Digital Dictator gets the majority of the attention, Vicious Rumor's self titled record is, in my opinion, as essential and potentially an all around stronger album. I'll put it this way: if Digital Dictator is Vicious Rumors' Crystal Logic then their self titled is Open The Gates. Yes, we still get incredible guitar solos and lead work courtesy of Geoff Thorpe and his ideal complement Mark McGee, Carl Albert's vocals are as powerful and as emotive as ever, Larry Howe's bashes and pounds away with his typical level of precision, and Dave Starr's bass playing is just as key to holding all the guitar riffs together. To my ears though, there is less reckless abandon and a greater amount of purposeful mature songwriting on Vicious Rumors. This is evident in tracks such as Ship of Fools or Down To The Temple. Don't Wait For Me and Hellraiser imbue the album with enough bricks and mortar metallic might to offset some of the 80's glam metal elements which have always shown up in Vicious Rumors' music. A song like Axe and Smash at times appears to head in a Crimson Glory Transcendence trajectory only to instead end up somewhere totally different. As a album closer, Digital Dictator has the definite winner with Out of the Shadows. I have found myself liking a different song more every time I've listened to this album. Initially it was Ship of Fools that clicked, then Down To The Temple, then Don't Wait For Me, and by that point, I was able to listen to World Church and raise my fist instead of smirk. Production-wise the album is punchy, balanced, and spacious with clarity for every instrument to shine. It's a better production job than even the stellar Digital Dictator. Though I have the cassette version of the album, after digitizing it I was still impressed. This should be in every US Power Metal fan's treasure chest right along with the other required gems like Master Control, Transcendence, Awaken the Guardian, The Warning, and all the Manilla Road albums between 1980 and 1988.
Necessarily barbaric for the punk-infused black thrash that they play, yet never truly attaining the over-the-top viciousness which would make them truly cold-blood black metal miscreants, Wömit Angel's Under Sadistic Pressure comes across as run-of-the mill. Plenty of blasting provides only an adequate contrast for the album's better rhythmic moments, those being the polite punk blips, such as in "Sadocommand" or the drumming during "Religion Latex Suffocate's" chorus where riffs and rhythms give brief insight into the trio's foundational influences. It's these punk elements and the thrashier moments that give Wömit Angel an identity beyond their blackened peers yet the rather paltry inclusion of these moments all ends up being inconsequential in totality. One of the album's weakest components is the vocals of W. Horsepreacher. A hoarse bark in which the listener can hear the pain - pain as in W. H. likely had a hard time swallowing for a day or two following recording - with which the performance is delivered is unfortunately not dynamic enough across the blitz of ten tracks to give enough variety to the band's stream of riffing. The short songs give little room for complexity however some highlights in songwriting peek through in the form of momentary melodic movements in "Under Sadistic Pressure" and tempo breaks in "Slaughterbuster." Guitar solos - not standard equipment for these warriors - are only made use of when it works for the songs which hints at some compositional acumen. Wömit Angel aren't breaking any rules here, though, and it's hard to fault them for anything other than being generally uninteresting.