Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Gorgon - Traditio Satanae

Black Metal requires, every once in a while, primitive crushing anthems to the spiritual rebel that resides in us. More than any other subset of metal, Black Metal seemingly appeals most to those who view the world through the lens of symbolism. Burning churches, corpse paint, self-mutilation, the destruction of iconography, and overall relentless attacks on widely accepted religious hegemony are the burning coals in the Black Metal worshipper's furnace. Traditio Satanae was for me that heralded anthem this past year, speaking to the 'heretic, outcast, reprobate, and infidel' that I feel I often find myself relegated to in the judging eyes of others. So it was an honor to receive Gorgon's gem of an album - sent straight from the Gorgon's maws - in the mail as a dubbed tape promo with some personalized attention. I may yet find my faith in the tireless efforts of others' artistic endeavors!

Gorgon's history dates back into the early and mid 90's with excellent albums such as the 1995 debut The Lady Rides A Black Horse. 1996's Reign of Obscenity and 1998's more nihilistic The Jackal Pact, continued in the Gorgon style. With a style drawing  more comparison to the Swedish and Greek scenes with perhaps a bit of the Norwegian horde's maliciousness, we find solid Black Metal not quite as melodic and grandiose as Sacramentum or Dissection. Gorgon none-the-less tap into that brighter melodic side at times but Traditio Satanae, now appearing twenty-three years later from the band's earlier releases, bears resemblance to these earlier albums but with some hints of thrash and an overall more direct attack. When speaking to Gorgon's leader, Chris, he talked about these early influences. "I was musically interested in everything that came out with an "evil" imagery, whether it was Acheron (from your region), Death SS (Italy), Zemial, Necromantia or even Varathron from Greece, Bestial Summoning and Funeral Winds from Holland, Decayed in Portugal, Death Yells in Chile....and from Finland with Beherit and Impaled Nazarene. I liked this last band for their spirit "apart" from the current standards. Going off the rails instead of going with the masses was also what we advocated." 

Traditio Satanae is an album which comes across as the work of long-standing experience but also as an album full of energy and passion. I explained to Chris that to me, Traditio Satanae is loaded with energy and grit creating an overall sense of primacy and restless exuberance. How has Gorgon been able to maintain this attitude on this new album? "The brutality of the music, the generalized hatred perceived throughout the entire album and the sound quality, are the 3 major elements of my answer to your question. While many BM bands choose to have a "standard" sound, like many other bands, we decided to have a completely different one. There has to be a consistency between what you want to offer and the sound you are going to use. We practice a powerful Black Metal and our sound must be set accordingly... Compared to the previous album, I would say this one is definitely untamed, faster overall and also fully loaded with catchy melodies. It's normal that the band is making progress in what it creates, so your vision is absolutely right and I also share it. We really took a step forward here, in terms of efficiency."

Opening with "Blood Of Sorcerer", Traditio Satanae doesn't waste any time swinging the axe - guitars are sharp and precise. I'm a fan of the punchy in-your-face impactful drumming on the album - even if I am quite confident there is sampling and programming at work, it all sounds natural and honest and human - with rhythmic motifs in songs such as "Death Was Here" and "Let Me See Behind" offering immediacy and urgency to the tracks. My favorite track on the record since day one has been "Entrancing Cemetery". From the first powerful riff that leads into the verse, the track is driving and persistent until the end, even when offering space to some slower guitar moments. Full of hooks and barbs that inch ever deeper into your skin, "Entrancing Cemetery" is just one of several songs on the album which is riddled with clever nuances that burrow into the brain and live there long after the track is over. While I feel the album might be one or two songs too long, the title track, "Traditio Satanae" as well as the shorter "Scorched Earth Operation" keep the second half of the album just as powerful as the first half. 

With Gorgon playing live often lately in Europe and hopefully soon in North America, there is cause beyond their solid discography to give Gorgon play time. "The public generally reacts very well to our concerts... The current line-up is the same since the group's return to the stage, namely: Hellesylt on drums, Mathias on guitar, Ozrib on bass and me on guitar and vocals. The band is now more powerful live than ever, thanks to the current line-up." Chris' tireless effort and powerful Black Metal has found a convert to Gorgon through this newest album, Traditio Satanae. Logistically speaking, Reign of Obscenity and The Veil of Darkness have both been repressed on vinyl by Osmose Productions leaving only The Jackal Pact and The Spectral Voices as the more difficult gems to find for those who want to delve in head first. 

Chris' last words to those who wish to engage with Gorgon: "I will end with the traditional invite to come and discover us, for those who do not yet know us musically. In the digital age, it is often necessary to seduce in a few minutes. This mindset of musical consumption imposes that you have to play well from the start, otherwise the listener will quickly move on to something else. So let your readers validate for themselves whether or not they consider us to be a part of this category. They deserve this punishment."

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Shades of Grey - House of Fools

Thrashback Records, if you haven't noticed by now, is engaged in an onslaught of never-before available releases of old and truly obscure Thrash and Thrash-associated metal. Shades of Grey is another of those bands. With this release of their 1989 demo, House of Fools, this outlier to the Chicago scene from Indiana that may appear on old fliers with Anacrusis, Zoetrope, and Funeral Nation gets some renewed attention. Otherwise, interest to Shades of Grey is likely the involvement of members in other bands. Bassist Peter Clemens is involved with long-running death metal project, Invasion, Death Thrash entity Sea of Tranquility, and the mentioned Yellowtooth which appeared on the Book of Armageddon compilation LP. Drummer Dave Hornyak did a short stint in Cathedral at one point and is currently involved with Speedfreak, doing a sort of Pantera / Down thing. Larry Roberts, who would join for 1991's Under The Skeptic's Eye can be found as a long time resident of Novembers Doom. 

While the tracks here aren't shoddy, it's not hard to see why the band did not get much of a foothold. Fairly standard Thrash is on display with average riffs, average energy, and psuedo-political and social oriented lyrics. Its a chug-heavy affair, mostly, with "Under The Skeptic's Eye", which opens with an intro similar to Voivod's "Nuclear War" and ends on a an interesting rhythmic-punctuated riff with Peter Clemens' underneath accentuating the rhythm with rubbery bass highlights. Sometimes the band made bad decisions in arrangement, such as during "Rage of Insanity", where Shades of Grey jam an acoustic section in the middle of the track that punctures the track like a galvanized spike into it's energy reserves. Other than "Under The Skeptic's Eye" I am also partial to "Pizza Face", the release's laugh track, which is like Legion of Death's "Sewer Rat", but not quite as good. The band had written the song off according to a 1990 interview in Trechoma Zine, but the song helps break up the rest of their mid-brow material. 

As always, Thrashback does an incredible job with the layout and product overall. My copy of the LP comes with an authenticity letter, insert with lyrics and live photos, and show flyer from the band's active period featuring Realm, Carnage, and Neurotoxin. All things considered, I could see those really interested in the late 80's early 90's Chicago thrash scene wanting a copy of this. For me, the lackluster riffs and energy coupled with stereotypical pedestrian lyrics lose my interest. For Shades of Grey, when it comes to their musical output, I think Power Packer Zine summed the band up perfectly when editor Cameron Gillespie ended the review by simply writing AVERAGE in big ole capital letters. 

Friday, February 3, 2023

Extinction Agenda - Inter Arma Silent Leges

Visceral Circuitry's reissue of Extinction Agenda's 2005 Demo and 2006's The Grace Defile EP should be on all die-hard thrash fan's radar. While the 2005 Demo is techy thrash with a strangely primitive attitude, the tracks on The Grace Defile speak towards a project that was heading 'Towards One Goal' (a reference if you can guess it). In sight was the potential masterful mixing of Coroner style rhythms and and tone with Voivod-esque weirdness and aesthetics. Imagine a mashup of No More Color or Mental Vortex with Killing Technology. The fuse on such magic is short and unfortunately, before Extinction Agenda could set down an albums worth of tracks, they had blown themselves into a billion pieces, scattering into other projects. Extinction Agenda shared members of December Wolves and the fallout from that band lingers in the music of Extinction Agenda, but with Thrash elements emphasized and a de-emphasized Black Metal and Industrial façade. Listeners into Old School Thrash will find something of significant interest here. 

The 2005 Demo tracks offer a stripped down raw and primitive take on the tech-thrash genre. The Coroner influence is in full glory here. Dark Angel pace speed is on display as well. In many ways, the tracks are reminiscent of off-beat on-the-cusp thrash bands and albums like Holy Terror's Mind Wars or Living Death's Worlds Neurosis. This demo is the product of the duo of Scott DeFusco and Scott Iconslaughter with both sharing guitar and bass duties but Drums and Vocals being handled singularly, Vocals by Iconslaughter, and Drums by Defusco. Samples of horror movies open two of the tracks with "Inter Arma Silent Leges" opening with samples from Bloody Pit Of Horror and "Creature of Unconscious Design" borrowing from Wishmaster 2. Both are fast with memorable main riffs and motifs, such as the bizarre harmonized middle section of "Creature of Unconscious Design". Of the three tracks from this demo, though, it is "Trafficking Apathy" which speaks most to me. Opening with a severely memorable intro riff, and leading straight into a verse and atonal or chromatic chorus, the song's melodic awkwardness creates a lot of tension which never really releases it's grip on the listener. Iconslaughter's vocals on the track are venomous and serpentine.  

As good as the 2005 Demo tracks are, it is the four tracks from The Grace Defile EP which showcase the potential which Extinction Agenda was close to grasping. The EP proves they were ahead-of-the-pack in 2006 doing their stripped down and simplified Voivod and Coroner inspired thrash. Extinction Agenda were keen to veer towards shorter more direct and focused songwriting compared to the more progressive compositions which Vektor had started tinkering with around the same time and which would shortly thereafter help re-popularize the off-beat Voivod / Tech-Thrash genre on 2009's Black Future. With the slightly shorter, more refined songwriting, tracks such as "Methadrine Angel" and "Mock Samaritan" in particular offer inventive and original thrash. Initiating with "Patron Saint of Chainsaws" the thin scraping guitar tone and prominent swarming of hornets bass tone punctuates the unique organic production. DeFusco has shifted entirely to drums, a shift yielding more interesting and adventurous drumming. Iconslaughter once again reminds me of Ron Royce however he has added a more extreme element to the vocals. 

This is a tape I really enjoyed going through. Instrumental sections throughout the seven tracks highlight left-field arrangement ideas and compositional intelligence. Subtlety abounds in many places, such as the harmonized leads and big breakdown section in "Methadrine Angel". Lyrically, Extinction Agenda also leave hints and drips of where they are conceptually and thematically engaged, while being not so vague as to leave no idea of where the audience should be directing thought. "Patron Saint of Chainsaws" finds the listener correlating the serial killer or pyschopath's need to kill with religious imagery of Communion and the blood of Christ. "Mock Samaritan" approaches the insincerity of religious charity directly. As someone who prefers a more vicious political, ideological, and aggressive slant in my Thrash themes, the content sticks. I wish the leads and solos were more prominent in the mix.

Extinction Agenda offer something impressive and rewarding musically to discerning thrash fans. The Visceral Circuitry release of the demos is done well with the standard J-card plus two panel layout. The backside of the J-Card is not used to full effect, as I would have liked to see lyrics reprinted or band photos included. We are given instead a repeating pattern of the band's logo. It's a typical tape release but to get the material out physically is a major plus. It would be a shame for this material to be left to rot somewhere. Extinction Agenda's 2005 Demo was released on Nihilistic Holocaust as a split with Oppression (or so it seems) and re-released as their own demo on CD afterwards. The tracks from the The Grace Defile EP were also released on CD in who-knows-what quantity independently. I'm glad that Visceral Circuitry (sub label of Nihilistic Holocaust) accumulated the additional four tracks and released them. I see myself coming back now and then. "Trafficking Apathy" and "Methadrine Angel" go into the favorite's playlist. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Hostia - Carnivore Carnival

Review by Tobeastias:

Reviewed the Hostia, took me a year or more, but here it is... It has some cool moments and I enjoyed the few dissonant sections on songs like "Panzer Church". Unfortunately, there isn't anything truly remarkable about this release. It's not really their fault. You can only re-arrange that Terrorizer / Repulsion / Suffocation riff in so many ways (that's my way of saying there is a lack of creativity here).

I liked the aforementioned experimental sections.  They seem to pay some homage to the mid 90's Napalm Death albums such as Fear Emptiness Despair, and Inside the Torn ApartThe vocalist has an impressive range and is ultimately my least favorite component of the band because they at times give off 90's hardcore vibes and don't fit the music well. I can't really say anything bad about the instrumental musicianship otherwise. The vast majority of the fast / blast sections are unmemorable and there is some good usage of syncopation, but the breakdowns are similarly unmemorable and then re-used with slight variations on other tracks. I think my favorite track on this album by far is "God's Coffin'", it gives me Pungent Stench / Agathocles vibes, and the cowbell usage ultimately commands respect. 

I enjoy the fact that this isn't meant to be taken seriously. About half of the album bleeds together, with occasionally enjoyable parts and is thus transiently enjoyable overall. Innovation is hard and I can't really brutally ding the album and call it a viscerally offensive pile of excrement, but I also can in no way recommend purchasing this anywhere outside of a discount CD bin because this isn't something that deserves a repeat listen.

Monday, January 16, 2023

L.V.I. - Mentally Embalmed

Delving deep into the Arizona underground thrash scene of the late 1980's might reveal a little known entity known as Loud Verbal Insanity or L.V.I. Thrashback Records owner Eric Hoffman has already done that effort for you and, using source material directly from the band, re-pressed this obscure outfit's 1991 demo, Mentally Embalmed. Thrashback Records always does a good job with the layout, this time honoring the original release with an updated take on the original C.C. Delk artwork by Sidjimbe Art. The interior twelve page liner notes include a basic interview conducted by legendary NJ based Metal-Core Zine executor Chris Forbes. My only complaint is that there are not lyrics provided. 

The four song demo's thrashing tracks remind me of a mixture of Slayer, early Pestilence, and Megadeth with Teutonic intensity and grit. The mix indicates a wide-ranging input of styles and background interests. "Blind Ambitions" is a solid opener with a central riff that hearkens back to classics like "Wake Up Dead." Followed by "Voices", my personal favorite on the album with memorable headbanging riffs and pit-inducing energy. The clean guitar intro resets the ears to take in the twisting Grunted thrash vocals from Denny Martinez bark in the background. "Let Us Prey" is the shortest of the tracks at four minutes long matching the opening tracks with big rhythmic thrashing motifs. Final track "Menacing Prophecy" is the most Pestilence-esque in tone and production aligning with Malleus Maleficarum. 

The release is limited to 300 copies, evidence of the purely scholarly interest in L.V.I. and Mentally Embalmed. With members engaged in no noteworthy, notable, or even un-notable projects, there's no reason anyone would stumble on L.V.I. unless engaged in studious endeavors related to this specific area's thrash and death metal scene. The small quantity of audio material present here may be a turn off to those who desire something substantial in a physical release. I think the included interview and photos in the booklet are a commendable attempt to overcome the limited audio. Some rehearsal tracks or material that would have appeared on the mentioned first demo that was scrapped would have made this more stand out for me from an archival stand point. Still, this is a neat little release with solid thrash from the tail end of the genre's peak. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Objective / Subjective Scoring

To appeal to my weird data-driven self - and for the fun/fuck of it, really - I am including with all reviews going forward a scoring methodology that combines an objective numerical score based on the qualities I believe are important and a subjective score based on a friend's bastardization of the universal pain assessment scale. 

The Subjective Scale:

A simple 6-rating subjective score based on the Universal Pain Assessment Tool in use by hospitals and healthcare clinics to determine a patient's pain level. In this case, we have adjusted the ratings to align with album enjoyability as an overall point of reference for how much we enjoy an album. Running Wild's Port Royal: Unforgettable. Metallica's ReLoad: Pain. That sort of simple summarization. 

The Objective Score:

A more rigorous scoring based on individually determined importance of factors. Tracks are assigned a total possible score based on the track length. Categories, selected by the reviewer for their importance for a particular genre are given weights and each track is judged based on those weights for a total percentage of possible points. The points are added and a numerical score out of 100% awarded. Bonus points are awarded which give additional points towards the total for each track. Bonus points awarded for the overall release reduce the total weight across all the songs, allowing for a great possibility of maximum scoring. 

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Pazuzu - Oath of Unholy Sacrilege

Oath of Unholy Sacrilege, an assemblage of split tracks from Costa Ricans Pazuzu, basks this quartet in the deep red hue and demonic underbelly glow befitting a respectable Old School morbid Death Metal band. Harnessing the thick tonality of the Sunlight Studios classics, obvious influences and comparable lineage emerges such as Dismember, Autopsy, Entombed and Grave. To this point, Pazuzu include as the final track a cover of Nihilist's "Carnal Leftovers." Six tracks. Thirty Minutes. Death Metal. And, unfortunately, to that effect, there will be limited interest in the release. Pazuzu, although effective in their craft, do not bridge the threshold between commanding attention and falling in line with the rest of the troops.

The foursome's performances are all in line with the above sentiment as well with little stand out attention worthy of being called out. Keyrotten's drumming is often interesting rhythmically but heavy-handed with his cymbal usage, casting a brightness over the tracks which contrasts the sought-after darker doomier elements of songs like "Entrapment in Gloom". This over-usage is apparent in "Calamity And Death." Vocalist, Tomil has a strong low-gargle, mixed just under the often forward positioned guitars. It is effective, but not exemplary. Giovanni on guitars performs Pazuzu's death metal craft with care and attention, producing solid riffs that ooze and drip with rivulets of infected puss, however these riffs are simply not rancid enough to stick in my nostrils for an extended period of time nor are the melodies gangrenous enough to cause lasting tissue damage. Bassist Steven helps add to the mix on the low end and gets some time to stand-out in a few bass only sections in songs like "Calamity and Death" and "The Crawling Depths of Christendom and Abominations". Often times he follows the guitar too closely.  

This is fine while blasting through the speakers, but there's little come back to and subsequent listens render a casual verdict. While "Entrapment in Gloom" and "Ceremony in Inception" are the best Pazuzu offers on Oath of Unholy Sacrilege, these are just average. There are a lot of other bands doing this style more effectively, but if you just can't get enough dark, fetid, morbid Death Metal, you could also do a lot worse than Pazuzu's authentic take. Nihilistic Holocaust once again provides a fine layout for this tape release, with plenty of artwork and information to accompany Pazuzu's aesthetic. 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Ischemic - Ischemic

Ischemic's Stagnation and Woe would naturally be a difficult follow up. With the weight of Ischemic's debut album on their shoulders, Ischemic would have to reach far, be memorable, be pensive, and be brutal to have even the chance of usurping what became a cherished recent release in my listening the past year. Ischemic's self-titled follow up meets the challenge stoically. There are moments of greatness here, particularly the epic closer, "Scattering Garden." Opener "Scabs" is a fine torch-bearer for the album, though does not quite shine as brightly as "Witchcraft". To a certain extent, I understand the reallocation of Ischemic's "Crawl out of Hell" as the song slides in nicely with the other three tracks, however I would have preferred something with wider melodic range to contrast the heft of the death doom present. All in all, I will come back to this record for "Scattering Garden". Ischemic have not yet reached the pinnacle of what they are capable of. Some highlights with my interview with Adam Korchok below:

CTP: Thanks for doing this interview and more thanks for the excellent music you have been putting out with Ischemic. To get the necessary question answered, what is the history of the band’s formation? The lineup has remained fairly stable over the band’s existence.

Adam Korchok: Hey thanks man! Ischemic formed around 2012 in Toronto after our vocalist Isabelle put out an ad on kijiji looking for people interested in doing death/doom music and I (Adam) bit! We pulled together Ty Bontje on second guitar a few months after the other guitarist Mike left to focus on his other band Saprophyte (which Ty was also in) and Anthony came in about a year later. After our first drummer Collin left shortly after the first demo in 2013, we got Chris Orr in on Drums and he would be our thunder god on every other release, leaving after the Stagnation & Woe shows to focus on his family sometime in 2019. That's when Kamble of Mors Verum, a friend of the band for some time, stepped in on drums being our new thunder god for the self-titled album!

CTP: When the band was first formed, what bands or artists were generally discussed as having been an influence and are those same bands still the predominant influence? What new influences or inspirational foci have played a part in Ischemic’s ever advancing sound?

Adam Korchok: At first I would say the bands Autopsy, Katatonia and Hooded Menace drove the direction the band wanted to go in, wanting some of the sinister and violent OSDM vibes of Autopsy, the melancholic melody of early Katatonia and the girth and gloom of Hooded Menace, hoping to balance the various different traits that the genre of death/doom can encompasses. Since then the bands Paradise Lost, Agalloch, Ahab, Conan, later Celtic Frost/Triptykon, Thou, and Krallice have had their influence wiggle into the band's style."

CTP: The songs on Ischemic are long. Longer on average than your other albums by quite a bit and the twenty-two-minute-long final track, “Scattering Garden,” is one of the longer death-doom tracks I can remember of late, matching up with tracks from Ataraxie’s Resignes in terms of length. Did these tracks just get written this way naturally or did you purposefully want to have an album of extended tracks?

Adam Korchok: With the track Scattering Garden, there was definitely a concentrated effort to remain slow, however, its length was really a product of just wanting to have various parts of the songs resolve properly while maintaining that pace. If we had allowed some tracks to go full-throttle blast, and have black or death metal passages like we usually do, I think the length would come down quite a bit. Funnily enough with Scabs, we had the opposite intent- a quick, in and out, Death, Death/Doom assault! Crawl as a re-recording was already pretty long and Illusion of Humanity was already pretty much written when we finished Stagnation and Woe, so it just sort of fell into place at that point as opposed to wanting all the songs to be very long.

CTP: What was different in terms of composition for Ischemic than previous albums? Were you hampered by the Covid pandemic in any way?

Adam Korchok: The pandemic was definitely not helpful, but as most of the songs were written prior to the lockdowns, it only really affected the recording process from my memory, delaying it by 2 or 3 months.

CTP: The cover to Ischemic is a mask. In an interview with Dreams of Consciousness Podcast, Adam said that he felt that the cover symbolized Ischemic as a band. What is your thoughts on this perspective? Can you give some insight into how the cover came about and why it was chosen as the cover?

Adam Korchok: We got the idea for the cover after playing a house party show with the band Greber at the house of a friend of ours, Marcela. She's a great plaster, mask artist and she displayed a lot of her work along her walls, and when we saw her masks in the shadows amongst the smoke from weed and smoke machines we fell in love with the concept. I still agree that it represents the ugly elements of Ischemic: the crushing heaviness, the unsettling gloom, and the disfiguring violence.". You can even buy a copy of that mask off

CTP: Isabella and Tyler both provide some of the vocal elements. Who determines vocal parts? Does Isa as Frontwoman take the lead in arrangement for vocals or is this a more collaborative role?

Adam Korchok: Tyler only provides backing vocals, so it is entirely Isabelle you hear on all our records, with Ty adding some backdrop very occasionally.

CTP: Speaking of Isabella, I would feel confident in saying she’s the most impressive female vocalist I’ve heard in an extreme metal band for quite some time and she gives even the best male vocalists in death metal a run for their money in terms of intensity and range. There’s not really a question here. I just wanted to say she is a diamond in the coal mine.

Adam Korchok: Absolutely agreed, although I find it more impressive that she is that guttural despite being super tiny!

CTP: What is next for Ischemic? Will you be touring the US? New music? Any plans to come down towards New Jersey or New York City?

Adam Korchok: Currently working on reviving Frigid Descent and writing music for an EP we plan to record some time in the summer. We definitely would love to make it to the US and New York would be an easy one, but I think we're waiting on seeing how the pandemic balances out, if it does at all, before we start planning any cross-border shows, unfortunately.

Full Interview Available in Upcoming Issue of Contaminated Tones Zine. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

V/A - The Record of Armageddon

Thrashback Records' The Record of Armageddon compilation is a heartfelt concept on the surface. Thrashback Records owner Eric Hoffman, digging through an old box of fanzines comes across The Book of Armageddon penned by the inimitable Ed Farshtey and decides to release a compilation record similar to the old compilations put out in the 80's to spread interest in new bands. The release would be called, well, The Record of Armageddon. Eric and Ed would each pick half the bands and Farshtey would write liner notes about each band. Collaborative efforts aren't uncommon, but I can't think of a similar release to this end at all. It's a bit original, and it's a bit unique, and these days, these are attributes in short supply. Initially, my biggest interest in this release is really the fact that it's something Ed Farshtey - who I personally know - is involved with. After listening, that is still my main interest in the record. 

Otherwise the tracks picked don't offer much in the way of repeat listens. This is not like the legendary Metal Massacre compilations where almost all the tracks were as essential listening then as they are now. This isn't like From The Megavault which includes the only Imperious Rex track in existence that I can find and surrounded by obscure classics each worth their own wax. This isn't Born To Metalize, the only place you'll find tracks from Tortured Dog and affordably own tracks from The beast. This isn't the early Relativity / Earache Promo samplers from the early 1990's with iconic tracks from basically every band on the label. Instead, we are given a compilation which features no exclusive tracks (I don't consider an exclusive remix all that exclusive), two tracks previously released on other Thrashback Records' releases, and modern tracks from bands with older pedigrees. The songs aren't good enough to warrant spinning the whole compilation on it's own.

False Prophet open the compilation with generic death metal blasting in "Prayers of Emptiness". Schizophrenia's track is decent Death and Possessed worship with a hint of thrash and their inclusion of "Perpetual Perdition" is my favorite on this compilation. I am not clamoring to go out in search of their full length, Recollections of the Insane, at this very second, but it's a strong track. Amboog-a-lard and Solstice follow with tracks I've covered elsewhere and the presence of them here does little to change my original thoughts about the tracks. Side B yields Yellowtooth's "Atrocity", solid if uninspiring sludge, Divine Treachery's "Patterns", an interesting bass-forward modern thrash composition that might elicit several listens before wearing out it's schtick, Swedish Groove metal band Methane with "Declare Chaos", a politically charged cut, and finally "Flesh and the Digital", B-League material from Luna in Sanguinem which fails to impress.

Once again, Thrashback Records is trying to do interesting themed releases and compilations. The packaging is really nice, as is all of Thrashback Records' releases. Included is a glossy reprint of the The Book of Armageddon's cover and an insert with thoughts on each band by Ed Farshtey himself. My promo copy came with a certificate of authenticity, which is really above and beyond. Ultimately, though, I can't help but feel that there just isn't much interest in these compilation formats. I can't think of a single time anyone has ever asked me if I have listened to the newest so-and-so compilation from such-and-such label. Is there really a clamor for this type of material? I've given this compilation plenty of air time and don't see myself returning to it. The same thoughts occur to me for compilations like those from Metal on Metal records, etc. Other than Schizophrenia, I am more likely to pass by these bands now than before hearing their tracks here. I guess you could call this compilation a failure, then, in terms of advertising new bands. For the optimists out there, you could call this a successful compilation by warning listeners what to steer clear of. I'd only recommend this to fans of modern groove-oriented death and thrash metal who still listen to compilations. Where that audience is, though, I'll never know. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Moanaa - Embers

Moanaa, of Poland, offer listeners a spacious blend of post-metal and sludge which will appeal to plenty of fans with discerning taste for Isis and Pelican inspired undulations, however my first and last thoughts after a multitude of listens to their 2021 release, Embers, in the car while driving, in the home office on stereo while relaxing, and in headphones for dedicated listening have culminated with, "this makes for decent background music." This is really not Moanaa's fault but seems to be some sort of inert attribute of the post-metal experience. Because when I have a difficult time judging or connecting to a release I revert to the standpoint of trying to determine the music's purpose - what it's trying to convey - and what I feel Post-Metal bands offer on the majority of releases is contradictory. 

Purpose can be difficult to determine when the promotional copy comes with no lyrical content or subject matter to connect with. The cover depiction is either an exceptionally large bird in a regular sized coffin, a regular sized bird in an exceptionally small coffin, or a bird encased in amber but poorly represented. I am leaning towards the second of those options. Moanaa doesn't strike me as a band who would enlarge a bird in a comic fashion to fit into a regular sized coffin; Post-Metal bands have always come across to me as retaining a particular zeal for seriousness and supposed "artistic enlightenment". The meaning? Perhaps Moanna is trying to show that something small and overlooked in our lives should still be shown reverence and dignity. It is after all birds that protected man in the coal mines from dangerous gasses and it was birds that carried messages distances before we had to shell out exuberant wads of cash to the USPS or FedEx or UPS. Another interpretation: The death of freedom and independence. 

But throughout this release these ideas are not represented musically. I don't know how they would be represented musically, to be honest, but I don't feel anything at all listening to this album in the emotional / intellectual sense. In fact, my main problem with Post-Metal in general is that musically, there is an incompatibility to it all. It's music that wants to be heavy with big chugging mathematical precision but simultaneously washes it all in reverb and flange and echo. So angularity is eroded through effects to the point where the tones are awash in softness and comfort. This is why it makes such excellent background music - it simply melts into the air in this wispy cotton-candyesque fashion. Even when the musicianship is excellent, such as in Moanaa's case, it is lost as everything falls into the background. Once again, the purpose is confused. Without lyrical content to narrate, transitions from feathery movements to the wooden palm muted chugging make little sense. 

Embers offers little in the way of emotional power and variety. In particular there is not enough range melodically. After opener "Nothing" and follow-up track "Lie", you could essentially put the record away and you would not have missed a melodic movement. More differentiation between the tracks would help bring the overall product to the foreground in my attention. The musicianship is very good and you do feel that the band as a whole was very involved together in assembling this record. The songs are paced well on the record - evidence of a lot of time spent fine-tuning their final product. I particularly liked focusing in on bassist Lukasz Tomiczek's parts which are noticeable and a major element in the song's movements. He pairs well with drummer Kamil Gebala's reserved yet creative percussion. Moanaa offer some interesting time signatures in "Triad", a song which I believe is written in 3/4, as well as "Lie" which itself seems to fall into 6/8. Songs escaping the 4/4 meter helps Embers sound fresh and vibrant rhythmically. Vocalist K-Vass has a solid growl and is adequate for his responsibilities. Guitarists Lukasz Kursa and Maciej Kosarz show a swath of techniques throughout but their playing is delicate, even during the heaviest moments of the record, which once again hearkens to how at odds the genre is to me.  

If there was a song here that comes close to completely dissolving the two immiscible elements of echoing reverb and chugging angularity "Inflexion" would be the track to study. Opening with a quick transition from reverb-laden clean guitars to a verse section highlighted with Gebala's signature percussion and the lignified guitar tone of the album's heavier passages, the rest of the track ebbs between softer and harsher. The song has a general sense of surrender and catharsis; the spacey yet hard-edged tone a representation of the hardship of letting go and the weightlessness of unburdening oneself. I also do like "Embers", the title track and it's inventive use of rhythmic motifs such as in the intro with the snare following the kick for a simple yet unique opening drum pattern. The snare follows the kick drum percussively throughout the rest of the track.  

Ultimately, Moanaa's Embers is a very good serviceable Post-Metal record for fans of the genre and I would recommend it for people that seek their treasure in it's trove - it may offer them something that it doesn't offer me. Aside from further reinforcing my feelings about certain elements of the genre, I can't say that I didn't enjoy the music. Moanaa do show a lot of creative ideas and witty songwriting ideas throughout the album which are interesting from an objective musical standpoint. For those early morning rides to work, the album was a soothing precursor to the often intense work-day, with it's soft atmosphere reflecting the mist rolling across Monmouth Battlefield and Tenant Cemetery. I can see myself coming back and listening again to this. Even after all the time spent on it, there is still more here to find interesting and listen for - something that can't be said for a lot of other records. 

Monday, March 7, 2022

Ischemic - Stagnation and Woe

Two years after the very strong All Paths Lead Nowhere, an EP which I stated showed a band maturing and developing quickly into something of their own, Canada's Ischemic follow through with their debut full length, Stagnation and Woe, an album which not only recalls the inventive melodic tendencies which were at play on it's predecessor, but really necessitates their inclusion on extreme metal fans' must-watch lists for the foreseeable future. Stagnation and Woes shows a band that is still peaking creatively and musically in all aspects. In truth, the only stumbling point for me on this full length is in the packaging, being absent of lyrics or deeper thematic interest and that is such a footnote that I am glad to already move on to greener pastures.

Ischemic showed their melodic ingenuity and maturity previously on a track like "Barren", but on Stagnation and Woe Ischemic truly find themselves experimenting with melody to a vast degree from all angles. Opener "Witchcraft" plays with numerous melodic vistas, not only during the suffix to the massive doomy chugging main riff but through the sweeping triumphant middle section which marries with the earlier traditional doom vibes. The familiar cadences of the opening track are contrasted with the incredibly dissonant and tense melodies on "Carrion Kingdom" which is abrasive and ugly and yet, especially during the chorus motif, cathartic. "Marasmus" the album's longest gift, exists between these first two tracks in terms of melodic attitude. "Sigil", the instrumental interlude at the halfway point depicts a band actively seeking fresh ideas in the melody and rhythm departments while "Cerebral Pestilence" explores a tumbling tepid and indifferent feeling. "Filth" has a tendency towards a dark ascending frivolity. Final track "Murk Within Marrow" is a little bit of an oddball throughout it's sludgy (Eyehategod / Neurosis) guitar motifs.

The ugliness of these melodies and the innate tension that results as Ischemic shift between the ugly and the serene reminds me of tracks like Hivelord's "Atavius Lich" where dissonance and angular melodies reigned supreme. Perhaps there are elements of Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord to be sorted out or considered as well. The present doomy-ness is more akin to Ataraxie's chugging behemoth Anhedonie than genre milestones like Antithesis of Light which rely on an expansive atmospheric foundation. And so, I get the feeling that there is a particular appreciation for bands from the French repertoire overall and while there are movements that are laced with melancholy and sadness, I don't find the overt "Gothic" feel of the UK Doom-Death lineage. There is also a definite influence to be found from the Cascadian Black Metal scene.

Stagnation and Woe's swift flow is another area which Ischemic have capitalized on. Simply put, the pacing is pristine. Perhaps one of the most thoughtfully arranged track listings I can think of recently, which is especially important for Ischemic and plays into their hands, due to the variety found in the songs. The more recognizable forms found in the opener attract attention and delineate the overall musical elements. This opens the ear palette to "Carrion Kingdom"'s dissonance, experimentation, and up-tempo briskness. Marasmus, the longest track is set against these two opening heavy hitters and separated from the second half of the album by the cleansing instrumental "Sigil". After listeners' ears have been 'reset', the album slowly picks up again with "Cerebral Pestilence" before "Filth", Stagnation and Woe's shortest track, which comparatively speeds by to the final song, the sludgy but hasty "Murk Within Marrow". 

The individual performances are all worthy of attention as well. While the cumulative of all is impressive, listening for the individual performances yields plenty of enjoyment as well. Bassist Anthony Abbatangelo chooses smart moments to stand out, such as on "Carrion Kingdom" and especially "Marasmus", where he lends needed highlights to the otherwise lengthy exposé. Guitarists Adam Korchok and Tyler Bontje are a strong tandem both rhythmically and harmonically, especially noticeable in headphones where the stereo panning pushes their respective playing to noticeable extremes. Drummer Chris Orr makes a lot of interesting usage of toms and cymbals in his patterns and his creative percussion is right at home compositionally, though I wish the kick drum was louder and more pronounced. Vocals are shared by Tyler and Isabelle Tazbir but it's Isabelle who shines as Frontwoman. She harnesses the intensity and character needed to allow the songs feel dimensional and dynamic. Mixing low and high vocals as growls, screams, and grunts the emotive quality is powerful and convincing. I could swear I heard some background bleed in a couple spots, but the fact that I'm not sure means that I still give the production here very high ratings. 

Going back and reading my thoughts on All Paths Lead Nowhere, after writing this review, it's surprising how prophetic my assessment seemed to be on the direction the band would take. Prescience aside, the comparable bands I listed there (Ataraxie, Hivelords, Evoken) were recalled in writing my assessment of Stagnation and Woe again without remembering that I had linked them previously. To me, it's telling that a band can progress in their own style, yet retain noticeable influences as previous releases, and still sound themselves. Stagnation and Woe truly has impressed me for it's breadth and attention to details often lacking in less developed projects' premature debut albums. Ischemic show that working out the kinks on demos and EPs allows the release of a full length to be regarded with a greater amount of attention and consideration. For Ischemic, this extra attention and consideration has payed them dividends, as Stagnation and Woe should be considered a top-tier release for extreme metal fans.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Ossuaire - Mortes Fables

France's Nihilistic Holocaust once again delivers an exceptional rerelease of the obscure. This time the full length from Ossuaire, a French Death Metal trio who's Mortes Fables surfaced in 2010 and then submerged forever into the abyss of unknown murk that so often obscures worthwhile material. Rooted firmly in old school USDM, a blend of Morbid Angel's Domination and Immolation's Dawn of Possession, those looking for quality underground death metal in this vein would surely be impressed by the twisted rhythms, abnormal harmonies, and Azagthothian lead work. It would be a fair assessment to claim there are the markings of Erosion of Sanity era Gorguts in the structural and pacing of tracks. The 2009 recording was originally self-released on digipak; the cassette format's durability and layout is a nice addition to collections and, as always is the case with the format, should better suit the nostalgic Death Metal fan than a digi-pak, even if the J-card provides only rudimentary information. 

The release reproduces several excellent 2009-recorded tracks such as the opener "Le Siege", the album best "Feeria In Anus Deflore" or the superb capstone to the album, the devilish instrumental "R.S.P.E". Opening track, "Marche Noire" is essentially a two minute intro, setting a dark and nocturnal tone through sample usage, howling winds, and the brooding guitar lines which lead into "Le Siege", the true album kick-off. Truthfully, the top track is a toss-up between "Le Siege" and "Feeria...". This is not to detract from the other two tracks present, "Liber Mortis" and "In Scatorks Excrementis" which are ripe with interesting ideas as well. 

The guitar playing of duo Fred and Groms is a major highlight, as creative leads and details are a major factor in elevating songs from purely foundational rhythms to complete and evocative constructs. Bassist Vince, at first, does not seem to be adding a lot to the mix, however careful inspection reveals that his booming on-the-edge-of-speaker-capacity tone carries a mass of weight filling out the bottom end of the album mix. Most impressive to me, though, is Drummer Kyste who doubles as vocalist. his drumming remains energetic, creative, and precise throughout. His deep bellowing vocals are top notch as well. I'm sure in a live setting, the combination was quite the spectacle. Recommended!

Gorgon - French Spring Gigs

Chris from Gorgon, who's new album Traditio Satanae will be getting a full review with an interview to appear in the next issue of Contaminated Tones Zine, asked me to share some flyers for him of some Spring gigs which are confirmed for the next couple of months. If I lived in France, I would be at all three. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Ireful - The Walls of Madness

Thrash. That could be the whole review, but it would do a disservice to these Italians to not differentiate between their approach to the genre, because what is to be found on their debut EP, The Walls of Madness will lead the listener not to the dollar menu of Bay-Area thrash, but to a much more refined group of influences. Yes, there will always be influence from Slayer and Dark Angel at the more extreme end of the thrash spectrum, but Ireful share more in common with Voivod, Sodom, or Razor than they do with Metallica or Megadeth. Guitarist Matteo Thunderbolt: "Actually we wanted to be an hybrid between Bay Area style and Teutonic one. You can find many influences, sure stuff like Exodus, Vio-Lence, Kreator, Tankard…". Ireful bring the right type of attitude along with their thrash. It is aggressive, serious, in your face thrash with grit and growl. There is a sense of creativity throughout the tracks which elevates this EP above many newcomer bands. 

The album opens with "Panzerschreck" which may give off an Agent Orange or Tapping The Vein Sodom vibe from it's opening rhythmic chugging riff. High speed picking ensues thereafter; a whizzing blur of aggressive and angry riffs and gritty harsh vocals sets a nasty attitude which carries throughout. "Fear and Loathing On U-96" offers the type of creative elements previously mentioned in both name, as well as in the vocal approach of Anselmo Medusa, who imbues his performance with a bit of the psychotic and insane mentality expected of a song which seems to reference the excellent Depp led cult classic. "Sicko's Short Fuse" has the tang of Rrröööaaarrr Voivod in it. "Rusty Nail" is a favorite of mine. It's under two minutes long, reeks of atonal violence, and reminds me most of Aspid and Voivod. The EP ends with the title track, "The Walls of Madness." Another scorcher, it shows a more mature structure through the central instrumental portion of the song. 

I asked Matteo about the production of the album. "The Ep was recorded in multitrack way, but honestly we’re satisfied for the result we obtained. Our sound engineer Marco has perfectly understood the sound we wanted. For me, there’s no reason at all to record Old School Thrash with modern sounds, but that’s our humble opinion." It's hard to disagree with Matteo on that final point, even if it can be hard to objectively cite what a 'modern sound' is, in terms of thrash. But the Old School Thrash sound is something intrinsically known by metal fans; spectral in a way. We know when that tone is there and when it is not there, but that 'knowing' exists in a subjective realm. It's possible to objectively detail it using specific language regarding scooped mids, Marshal JCM-800 cabinets, and 'the thrash beat', but that all would be missing the mark somehow. Ireful nail the objective thrash requirements but more importantly have discovered that integral subjective element that often evades bands. 

So I really love this demo. It's refreshing to hear a thrash band that only likes to play really fast. I can't think of the last time a traditional thrash band omitted a mid-paced or slower track completely and recorded everything as if they were guzzling rocket fuel. For an EP, this speed works great, and there is a lot packed into the five tracks. Twin lead guitarists M. Thunderbolt and Fabrizio Madpig are impressive throughout with leads and solos throughout the twenty-three minute EP. My beautiful highlighter blue tape copy came from Life After Death but I believe there are a few different CD versions out there as well as a 12" vinyl press. I will not be thinking twice about future releases from Ireful. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Hell's Bomber - Raidhearsal

Raidhearsal is the debut demo from the Croatian trio of miscreants, Hell's Bomber. While I was proud to release their split tape with Whipstriker which had an excellent gruff and underground Speed Metal production and great songs, that was based solely on the material which was sent to me for the split. I saw Raidhearsal floating around in a distro and figured I'd grab it not knowing what to expect from the trio on the release or even where it fell in their catalog. Raidhearsal is exactly what it says it is: a fire-at-will rehearsal recording of three tracks which are meant for the underground maniacs who love the nastiest and dirtiest of the genre. Luckily, I am such a fan of this lo-fi, adrenaline-fueled, in-the-room production. A release like this will not make year end lists, it won't impress people, and it doesn't propose to showcase Hell's Bomber for a record deal. I don't think Violator, Motorbeast, or Bomber really care much about any of that anyway.

Raidhearsal - and other lo-fi underground demos - has a singular purpose: to capture an entirely unfettered rehearsal recording and allow the world to connect with a band as they are in the flesh and spirit. It's an invitation to pound beers in the room with the band, if you will. It's a band's way of inviting their die-hard fans around the fire-pit. Musically, not much needs to be explained. The songs are short, punk-structured Speed Metal for fans of the nastiest of the genre like Abigail and Midnight's earliest material, but underground fans of Motorhead or Speedwolf who don't mind dirtier production are likely to at least have an enjoyable listen, especially to a track like "War Ripper" which is the best present here. When the dust has settled, three songs have blitzed by like a Panzer and there's not much you really need to complain about or should complain about. An in-the-moment enjoyment is what it's about.  Not all reviews need to be long-winded - this is one such occasion. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Sarmat - RS-28

Sarmat's RS-28 is modern Death Metal in the Polish lineage. The cold mechanical tonal vista found in Behemoth's Demigod era or Decapitated's Negation / Organic Hallucinosis is to be found in Sarmat's blend of blasts and zizzing guitars. Vocalist Łukasz Kobusiński agrees that if there were to be definable Polish Death Metal characteristics, I have mostly nailed them down. "During the promotion process of our RS-28 album I got a few opinions similar to yours. For me, as a guy born in Poland and living here for all my life till now it's hard to judge if the statement is true or not. I don't see too many specific characteristics in Polish death metal... Maybe the mechanical mood and industrial atmosphere are the Polish remarkable signs, but I wouldn't be able to categorize the band playing death metal this way as the one coming out of Poland only because of the fact." 

RS-28 demands active listening. Where much of Death Metal's landscape can be listened to from afar and receive reasonable clarity into what makes the genre tick, Sarmat is best enjoyed in lockstep with each pace forward of the album. It is, perhaps, problematic that RS-28 could at times become boring when relied on as background ear-fodder, but it also speaks to the detailed musical ideas present that it is not such an easily digested slab of extreme metal. Łukasz delved into the composition of the album for me. "The main composer was Daniel, who is also the composer of the new stuff for the second album. He created the music and did preliminary drum parts arrangements (set them in the computer program). He recorded the guitar parts, the bass guitar parts and VST instruments parts at his home. Then the session drummer (Krzysztof Klingbein, known for his work as a live musician for Vader and plenty of session recordings for many bands) recorded the drum parts at his rehearsal room, which is also his recording room. At this time the core of the album was established."

Regarding his approach to the vocals and the crisp professional production of RS-28. "I was asked to do this (record vocals - Orion) when compositions were finally recorded, so there was no chance to change anything – I had to do my job without any excuses and attempts to rearrange or re-record a single sound. My vocal style is rather death metal one than any 'other metal vocal style one', so at this part of creation we have reached the foundation of the Sarmat band style to the RS-28 album. We were pleased by the fact that Arkadiusz “Malta” Malczewski (known from his work as a live sound engineer for Behemoth and for his previous works as a studio sound engineer for that band) agreed to do this job for us. There were plenty of mixed versions and we were seeking the best one for some time. This third part allowed us to create the final version of the album we are writing about now."

Sarmat excels in the sharp usage of bright melodic highlights, an interesting lack of transitional filler, and in guitarists' Daniel Szymanowicz and Krzysztof Kopczeński's ability to consistently find discomforting and tense melodic movements. Drummer Krzysztof Klingbein is impressive throughout, offering endless blast-beats and double bass intensity for the shifting sands that are the guitarist's melodies. Łukasz offers a top-tier vocal performance. Deep bellowing growled vocals which are on the lower end but short of guttural. Malczewski's production on RS-28 complements these stylistic tendencies of the band and the choices Sarmat has made with respect to their instrument tone appears well thought. A grating hollow guitar tone allows melodies and notes that may otherwise be drowned out in a thicker tone cut through the rest of the mix while playing to the mechanized drumming. The overall effect is one of complete cohesion and purpose.

"Evilution" is the album's strongest track and epitomizes the usage of all these finely honed elements. A short tense intro erupts unexpectedly into the albums most memorable verse riff; down-tuned rubbery guitars underlie short bursts of higher-octave ringing cadence that leave tense phantom harmonies lingering throughout the track. Riffs simply turn into each other perfectly, like perfectly sized bolts into their corresponding nuts; no pauses, stops, gaps, shifts - just moments folding over into new moments. Łukasz's vocals are perfectly placed and play counter in many ways to the mechanical ceaseless drumming. They are the only natural rhythm present. Łukasz's has his own thoughts on the song and the role his vocals play. "Well, it wasn't my favorite track at the beginning. Neither it is now, but now I may say that it's a very good one for playing live. It gives a moment for taking a breath between much faster songs and it has a sinister atmosphere that is very eligible for live shows of a death/black metal band such as Sarmat. As for vocals arranged to this particular composition there is something unique in them. Despite it's rather a middle tempo song with strong, but monumental and not very aggressive vocals it includes the fastest vocal part on the album. I tried to emphasize the diversity of the riffs in the track by creating vocal parts different to each other in one track. I think I have achieved this effect.

The greatest concern I have with Sarmat's overall presentation across RS-28 is the general simplicity of the songs. While it's true that there are loads of nuanced details and layers to explore, the general structure is often elementary. The lack of transitional segments throughout in addition to a consistent usage of no more than three or four main riffs in each song, even if the songs are short, may be a turn off for seasoned listeners who prefer a more complex linear composition or a narrative feel to their death metal. As a whole, however, this simplicity gives heightened impact and tension, as the listener waits for something to happen. There is an emotional bleakness to this lack of structural movement which is calming and unnerving at the same time. The album cover depicting children in gas masks echoes this bleakness and pessimism. The digipak physical release is nicely put together and is as professional as a digipak release can be assembled with a full booklet including lyrics and band photos. It is clear that the Sarmat trio of Daniel, Krzysztof, and Łukasz is serious about the project but Łukasz cites there is only one emotion that Sarmat is aiming at with their music. "Fear is the main emotion which I would like to be felt by every listener to the RS-28 album."