Saturday, March 28, 2020

Sodom - Live in der Zeche Carl (1994)

Somewhere, somehow, a bootleg version of Sodom's 1994 VHS tape, Live in der Zeche Carl, ended up in my hands. There's something indiscriminate about the way in which collections and music hoarders such as myself go about their business of nonchalantly ingesting any interesting nugget of potential relevancy that we come across and then relegating it to a box or shelf or some place easily forgotten. When I picked up this bootleg, I do know it was before the popularization of Youtube and the imminent destruction of all that is obscure. It may have come my way back when I was a frequent poster on Zero Tolerance forum; when forums were the way in which obscure music was dredged from the depth at a semi-reasonable rate of speed, allowing a given number of aware readers a chance to listen, consider, discuss, and place the artifacts more appropriately into a given position. Live video in the late 80's and early 90's is the only visual documentation of these events and shows outside of pictures and so, bootlegs of hard to find and difficult to play material are incredibly valuable and worth saving in every circumstance, even if they are third-tier mementos.

Sodom's previous live video was 1988's Mortal Way of Live, documenting the classic Sodom lineup of Angelripper, Witch Hunter, and Blackfire tearing through material up to Persecution Mania. Mortal Way of Live highlights a twenty five-year old Angelripper with youthful confidence oozing out of his pores, a too-loud bass tone, and an at best awkward nonchalance; it's thrash to the bone and a key window into this era. Of the three major players in German Thrash, only Kreator would also disseminate a video tape within this general historical period though, releasing in 1990 only two years later, it was still a far different musical climate than 1988. Filmed equally professionally, however cut with black and white moments, carefully chosen cuts, and a better production, it had a more serious and cinematic quality, echoing the shift towards a more serious and mature late 80's / early 90's disposition. Venomisms and Motorhegemony are largely absent, one could say. So where then does Live in Der Zeche Carl fall aesthetically and professionally in all this?

Well, the first major implication of being a mid-90's Sodom release is Blackfire and Witch Hunter's replacement by Andy Brings and Atomic Steif (Guido Richter). We get guest appearances from the past members - including Blackfire on "Remember the Fallen" - but the show is largely the '94 lineup. The overall mix is more balanced than Mortal Way of Live with Brings being more audible than Blackfire and Richter's drumming slightly more subdued. The camerawork on the video is locked and loaded with interesting bulletpoints such as extreme closeups of Angelripper's nostrils from a microphone camera, odd punctuation pauses, and willy-nilly transitions. Where Kreator brought a polished professional aesthetic to framing, the same can not be said of Live... The camera angles and shots are not as crisp as Mortal Way of Live and the overall camera shots are often wild and frantic. The movement contrasts what I would describe as an average energy level. The crowd is practically stationary during some songs like "Jesus Screamer" and - somehow - during moments of "Tired and Red", my personal favorite from Agent Orange. The best reactions are for the classics, as would be expected.

It is easy to find highlights - Ausgebombt is one of these - but essentially what you are getting here is the 90's equivalent to a fan shot youtube live video today with better audio. I must point out that Angelripper's vocals are exceptional throughout the concert. Deep, powerful, raspy, and full of pent up pressure and intensity, words explode off his Westphalian lips like kernels being flicked off a table. One could point to his performance here as archetypal. I thoroughly enjoyed the shots of Richter in the middle of songs as his eyes go froggy and his expression transforms to sheer enjoyment only when he is going fast, as if speed is his happiness gas-pedal. I also appreciate the inclusion of errors and not overdubbing things like Brings' missed notes in the "Outbreak of Evil" solos. So there is a very genuine feeling to the presentation. The set list highlights the band's complete discography. Homage is once again given in the form of several cover songs, including "Iron Fist" which was the second track on the Mortal Way of Live video also. At an hour and a half, you won't feel ripped off, but a few songs could have been culled to make a less intimidating session. While this is not an entirely necessary video in the way Mortal Way of Live is historically, it is nonetheless an enjoyable video for Sodom fans and thrash fans generally.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Malus Clump #1 - Crabapple

Last year I started these three Crabapple trees. I gathered the seeds from a gas station tree in Harrisonburg, Virginia while playing a show with our friends in Earthling and Disintegration. Germination for these was the same as pretty much any seeds you would get for anything in the malus family. I refrigerated the seeds in a damp paper towel for approximately 30 days. After that point, I checked them every week to see if any were sprouting roots. When these three seeds began to sprout roots, I moved them into these starter trays. The soil I used here was regular garden soil mixed with compost. In about two weeks, they started showing their first true leaves.

Due to a lack of light set up, these seedlings looked leggy (long) which reinforced to me the need for a better lighting setup. Either way, they managed ok in the window sill until some warmer weather rolled around. Were I doing this now, I would have waited another month to stratify the seeds. Germinating and getting strong growth indoors is difficult. It did gain me about a month of growth, because they germinated in February instead of the mid-late march which would be ideal, but it's not something I would recommend without a proper propagation light setup. These were some of the first stratified seeds I had worked with.

By late March, I was able to repot them into a bigger pot for growing out. I put them in a standard terracotta pot. For soil, I used Napa Oil Dry 8822 as a substrate. The trees seemed to do very well initially. I encountered very few issues. Once in a while, I would see some aphids on the leaves which I would simply pick off or squish. Crabapples are generally considered disease magnets because of their 'sweet' wood. Insects love them.

By the end of July, the three trees had put on strong growth all summer and were doing very well. The roots had grown so vigorously that water was not draining well in the pot. I punched a hole through the center of the root ball just to give some drainage capability. Fertilization consisted of two applications of osmocote slow release 14-14-14 fertilizer and, towards autumn, occasionally liquid fertilization at low amounts.

By early November, the trees had pushed their fall color - a deep greenish red, almost purple hue. A second flush of growth through late August, September and early October was unexpected but brought the trees to about 14" high each. By this point, I had decided that I would be repotting the trees in the spring again, because I wanted to solve the drainage issues.

I also wanted to get the trees as close together as I could to attempt a fused trunk clump to form. Inspired by old landscape crabapples I've seen with massive triple trunks, I waiting through winter until the first signs of enlarging buds on the trunk indicating the ideal time to repot deciduous trees. These were overwintered by digging the pot into my vegetable garden beds to keep the root ball warm.

Removing the tree from the pot, it was immediately clear that the tree needed to be repotted. Matted roots filling the bottom of the pot were healthy but clearly confined. Raking out the roots and soil to get a better idea of what kind of structure I was dealing with yielded an almost springlike structure of thick, healthy roots. This root growth shows what kind of excellent root mass you can get in a single year.

I simply cut the entire bottom of the root mass off and got individual trees separated. Even removing all the matted roots proved not enough to easily separate the trees. Tangled masses of roots for each tree intertwined and wrapped around each other. I did my best to clean up the roots for each tree, removing roots growing in directions I didn't want. Because my plan was to fuse these three trees together, decided the best front of the trees, and used that as a guide as to where I could remove more roots. I needed to be able to get the base of the trunks as close together as possible. I removed roughly 75% of all the roots that the trees had grown the past year. I was perfectly fine with this and expect the tree to fully grow them all back - and more - by the end of this year.

In order to get the trees into the alignment I wanted them to fuse together, I made a wooden template out of shims to keep the trees separated from each other. I notched out a spot for each tree and pushed it down into the middle of them. I then arranged the roots outward as best I could in the direction I wanted them to grow. You can see in the picture to the left how radical my pruning was on the trees. Once I had the trees in a decent general position, I zip-tied them together to make sure they don't push apart as they grow this year. My main goal is to let the roots establish in this formation.

Next year, I will do a less severe cut back of the roots and attempt to scar the surface of the trees where they come into contact with each other so that their cambium layers can fuse into each other. This would be similar in function to a graft. By allowing the roots to grow into each other this year, next year I can remove the zip tie and use wire to hold the location of the fusing together.

March 3rd, 2020

Monday, March 9, 2020

Deceased / Sacrificial Blood / Nauseator / Redundant Protoplasm / Covered In Sores

Another show in Philly. Deceased headlining. We will be obviously playing songs from the now-finished new album, as well as potentially adding in some older material unplayed in a while to the Sacrificial Blood setlist. Nauseator, Redundant Protoplasm, and Covered in Sores round out the evening.
 Full Sacrificial Blood show lineup as of now:

April 11th w/ Satan, etc - Blades of Steel Fest @ Club Garabaldi & Cactus Club (Milwaukee, WI)
April 17th w/ Deceased @ Cousin Danny's (Philadelphia, PA)
April 18th w/ Massacre, Crucifier @ The Kingsland (Brooklyn, NY)
May 16th w/ Vivisect, Atomic Cretins @ Meatlocker (Montclair, NJ)

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Dekonstruktor - Eating The Universe

Natural live sludge coupled with brief moments of electronic artificiality combine on Dekonstruktor's Eating The Universe to create a surprisingly coherent whole. Somewhere between Electric Wizard's Come My Fanatics and Eyehategod's definitive early albums, the album's sparse mechanical elements blend nicely with the low-end resonance of extremely chunky bass rhythms. The conceptually industrial elements present in what could be aesthetically perceived as a Soviet style layout are a strong and clear-headed choice. Bold red coloring, utilitarian font choice, and that the band is Russian, provide sound support for this claim of iron curtain nostalgia - the band gives no indication of any ideological orientation; this is a comment solely on aesthetics. Lyrically, Dekonstruktor's focus seems more on the cosmological front than EHG's deep personal malaise. Though the album can be construed as dull, the use of effects and subtle improvisations give enough variety to lift the album past boring but only barely.

Dekonstruktor's six songs are not obese technically, with hardly a single moment demanding a single iota of musical proficiency, and yet some songs provide a significant amount of fat structurally to bite into. While "Eating the Universe" and "14" both are simple, with repeating central structures, "To The Red Pt. 2" is an example of a much more complex track, with a number of sludgy corruptions before repeating it's verse and recalling one of the three earlier introductory riffs. This then transforms into the second half of the song, which ambles ever onward for another five to six minutes. Dekonstruktor also reduce the feeling of repetition and idleness through the length of their phrases, often exceeding numerous bars before repeating, and often with minor variations, so sections which should feel repetitive don't always come across that way. For example, "Mindcutter" only has four unique riffs. The second of these motifs repeats more than thirty times, but the manner in which is is broken up, spread out, soaked in thick oozing fuzz, and recycled under a solo make its repeat appearances less noticeable; it does something new each time, and it's length - stretched into an almost eight measure length - reduces further the feel of repetitiveness.

Still, even with all these bases covered structurally, I'm not fully overwhelmed with the release. It is hardly true that that this form of sludge is unique; bands have felt compelled to be the drips of Eyehategod and Electric Wizard's spill for quite a while now and Dekonstruktor are no different. Energy is an issue, and so any sense of personal meaning obviously falls short. Mike Williams' deep inner resentment and frustrations which are so prevalent in Eyehategod's work does not have an equal here. Garish's vocals are often reverb-laden yelps off in the distance but without the definition and attitude of Jus Osborne. Boiling this all down: How do you make intense yet near-ambivalent slow music ooze with energy? I think it mostly relies on the vocal performance or manner in which the members show 'attack' on their instruments. If either of these singular elements is executed, there is some chance of imbuing the feel of purpose. I don't perceive sonic purpose here. There's an underlying tone of whateverism which fundamentally saps the life out the release.

Without flapping on forever about this six song tape, I'm nonetheless curious to know if these issues were resolved on a future release. If Dekonstruktor managed to balance the slow patient doom with any form of intrinsic energy on a subsequent release, the outcome would be quite positive. Acknowledging that this balance is difficult to find in the genre and that I'm not normally expecting anything intrinsically timeless any time soon within the stoner doom / sludge genre, Dekonstruktor  could be said to show a foundation to build on. "Mindcutter" is my favorite track, it captures most closely what the band does really well and maintains interest front to back. I'd like to hear a little more of the mechanical elements which I felt give the band some form of originality as well. Eating The World is a good stop for sludge and doom fans of numerous backgrounds. Fans of Electric Wizard and Sleep would especially find the band to their liking, but they likely won't find the energy - wherever that is found - they get from the best in genre.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Valgrind - Morning Will Come No More

Italians Valgrind have been slogging death metal for quite a while now. Their 2012 album, Morning Will Come No More, recently re-released on tape by Nihilistic Holocaust, is quite a beastly release, drawing influence entirely from the US death metal scene - particularly premier acts such as Death, Incantation, and Morbid Angel. The old school flavor and production sets the stage for a solid hour of intense death metal in a classic and uncompromising tradition of brutality. The band adeptly structures songs to highlight outright technical prowess while adopting simplistic barbarity at key moments in tracks to give the the intellectual ear brief moments of respite and the emotional heart room to rampage and drool. After several listens, Valgrind prove themselves worthy of being listed among the best the genre has to offer, especially when compared to many of the often touted modern death metal elite.

After a short intro, the album begins proper with "Fifth Nightmare," highlighting the mixture of influences which will be found across the album. The production in many spots reminds me of the deep, low-end focus of Death's Human. Massimiliano Elia and Emanuele Ottani pair to form an enlightened guitar duo, particularly where lead work is considered. Rhythms are buoyed by Marcello Malagoli on drums and Elia once again handling bass. The four man unit with Daniele Lupidi enforcing with his powerful bellows hammer home the refined and decisive bludgeoning. With this natural throwback tone set from genesis, it's difficult to do anything but be enveloped in soothing extremity. As the album progresses, other influences and comparisons become more readily apparent depending on the tracks. "Dark Dressed Shepherd" is nostalgic for Incantation, "When Mortal Skin End To Be" immediately resurrected the more obscure Mortal Decay's Forensics at opening, and "Rebirth. Pt. 1" will remind listeners of Morbid Angel's seminal Altars of Madness.

If the album has a flaw, it's length - as is often the case for me. Squeaking by in just under an hour, it's a lot of material to digest, even as powerful and strong as each song is. A couple of weaker songs could have been dredged and deposited somewhere else, such as on an EP or refined further. A note to today's bands: Onward to Golgotha clocks forty-five minutes, Altars of Madness clocks in at forty-four, Dawn of Possession at forty-two, and Human sprints by at thirty-three. Great death metal albums should mug you; should release violence urgently; should come and go like a sharp blade through flesh. It's not that a band should be tied to any length restriction, but it takes an adept artist being candid with themselves to acknowledge when to reign in album length.

Nonetheless, Valgrind handle this lengthiness with appropriately placed short instrumentals throughout the release to give momentary cleansing of the ears. The first of these instrumentals, "Quest for Immortality" opens the B side of the tape. So aside from turning your tape - or allowing auto reverse to kick in - the track helps cue the listener back into the album and prepares them for "Rebirth Pt. 1" and "Rebirth Pt. 2." I felt a Testimony of the Ancients flavor which was odd considering the rest of the album is so US centric. The second of the instrumentals also appears on the B-side of the tape before the second to last song. It's akin to the common "we've got two more songs" warning I seem to hear every show I go to. At thirty-five seconds, it's fine where it is and makes sense though I think I would have preferred this second instrumental right before the final track because...

The album ends with masterpiece, "Only Human Beings Corrupt Their Will". Here, Valgrind leave any regrettable concern over experimental absences covered. The track is likely my favorite along with the two "Rebirth" tracks. Opening with memorable deep tremolo picking riffs before disappearing on and off into Morbid Angel territory, the song shifts to big cosmic chord moments with keys backing tapping guitar melodies and a blistering guitar solo section in a Nocturnus vein. With unique textures subliminally rumbling beneath slower repetitive chords, the song is a mixture of a number of stylistic tendencies of Valgrind while showing that there is no shortage of creative arrangement ideas available for the picking for this band.

I often wonder if exceptional albums such as this find their way to the right ears. It's easy to pass over phenomenal newer albums and a lot of old-school death metal fans seem to shy away from hearing worthwhile modern releases. It's not surprising with the amount of over-hyped music circulating along with the high saturated market that many simply do not give a modern band like Valgrind a chance. Morning Will Come No More deserves the comfort of an old school death metal fan's crusty car stereo. I also really found rewarding here were intangibles such as the memorable song titles and deep red monochromatic artwork. I wish there were some sort of lyrical accompaniment with the J-card however I am well aware of the difficulty of satisfying such an extreme layout. This all is minor; Morning Will Come No More is a major reward.