Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mortalicum - Tears From The Grave

Some argue there is a total lack of good metal being put out and refuse to listen to anything beyond their frame of reference as to when "good metal" ended. They're undeniably wrong. How many people can you think of that refuse to listen to anything beyond 198? Luckily for me, Mortalicum, for their past two albums have been a beacon of quality in a now-saturated market of Doom Metal and Traditional Doom. While many bands barely manage a single good song on with a release, Mortalicum have been able to put out entire albums of powerful Doom and Heavy Metal without flinching. Their new album is no different. Tears From The Grave picks up at the same spot where The Endtime Prophecy left off. What is noticeable about Tears From The Grave is how Mortalicum have slowed down yet again. Much like the drop in speed between Progress Of Doom and The Endtime Prophecy, yet again the material slows down just a tad bit more. While there are a couple of faster tracks, for the majority of this albums run-time, we're moving at the speed of snail. It's not a problem though, in combination with the turndown in speed, there is a decisive jamminess and garage-rock feel to these songs. Songs like the title track move through long sessions of solos and instrumental parts like a garage band rehearsing riffs to find the perfect take. Opening the album we get a big ole "Yeah!" from guitarist / vocalist Henrik Högl.

I would put it like this: if The Endtime Prophecy were Pentagram, then Tears From The Grave would be Day of Reckoning. It's a different vibe, a more relaxed feel in sound and production. Perhaps Patrick Backlund's very noticeable bass on this record draws out that smoothness and fluidity. The clarity is excellent and the production and mixing are superbly done but Henrik's vocals can at times be pushed too far back in the mix and taking the backseat, especially in songs like "Spirits Of The Dead" and "The Passage." Even so, with the great separation between instruments, it's astounding how 'together' Mortalicum sound on this release. They fill in the record really well and something as minor and unnoticeable for most listeners won't affect the overall effect this album should have. Andreas Häggström's drums are very natural sounding, with little done their overall timbre. The kick drum is particularly massive and the cymbals are bright. The clarity is very noticeable during moments of harmony and leads. Each note can be the focus of attention.

Highlights for me are very definite, as they had been on Mortalicum's previous two albums. "The Endless Sacrifice" is a top-quality starter with a huge memorable intro riff and resounding  chorus. It's very similar as a starter on this album as "Guiding Star" was on Progress of Doom - starting us off very doomy and primes the album. "I Dream Of Dying," other than being another of those-cult-classic in the making tracks, shows Mortalicum sweeping through one of the grandest instrumental sections of their catalog yet. Both screaming leads, solos and a mellowed out Sabbathesque transitional section akin to the middle of "Damnation of the Soul" off Progress of Doom are expertly paired together like a fine wine and entrée. "I Am Sin" is also a huge track, though once again mid-tempo, moments impress a sense of urgency and energy. The verse riffs end with bluesy guitar runs. Sweeping choruses once again appear here also. In addition, the lyrics across the album are generally well written as well and worth some time. "The Passage"'s are particularly of interest to me, as we've all contemplated our own demise and the life beyond. The subject matter in the other songs is also similar but each song focuses on something a little different, the angles and perspectives shedding different light on death, dying, being dead, laying in coffins and other funerary interests. It's standard fare, yes. But it's done really well and with heart.

This is a strong album. Tears From The Grave is confident in itself and it's contents. While there are comparisons that can be made, it really doesn't need them to be enjoyable, or described and I'd expect less name-dropping of similar bands and groups from reviewers that take the time to listen deeply to this album. While The Endtime Prophecy may be a slightly better album overall, with Tears From The Grave, Mortalicum have honed their sound ever-so-slightly without losing ground with their penchant for excellently composed songs and memorable moments. It's easy to feel the weight of Mortalicum here both through the instrumental material as well as the subject matter. You can get the feeling that these are three guys from a down out in bumblefuck Sweden that live dark and morose lives but In reality, this is a band of three genuinely nice guys that can really pump out some quality heavy doom that is dark, thoughtful and engaging.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

CTP - 015 - I: Maximum Oversatan - Satanic Invasion

Classic Heavy Metal churned and burned with the power to destroy alongside Satan! Motorhead and Venom are still huge influences here but Maximum Oversatan has incorporated a tint of Hard Rock and Thrash onto this release. Above all though, Satanic Invasion is still grimy and gritty and dirtier than a neglected beard.

CTP - 015 - I: 127 Copies. $6.00. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Kings Destroy - A Time Of Hunting

I discovered Kings Destroy in the live arena. When my good friends in Clamfight had their album release party for I Vs The Glacier at Brooklyn's Union Pool on November 9th of 2012,  Kings Destroy provided a killer closing set to burn the night away. A year later, Kings Destroy once again teamed up with Clamfight for a show at St. Vitus bar and it was this time I was really impressed with their performance. They had played a handful of tracks off their then-recently released A Time Of Hunting. I bought the CD and almost immediately I lost it in my collection like I do so many other things. Only now have I come back to it and with favorable memories in tow, Kings Destroy once again destroyed me, this time however in the comfort of my own vehicle. I can't say which environ I prefer. Kings Destroy are royalty in both climates.

A Time Of Hunting, which originally was going to be titled Turul, follows closely to it's predecessor And the Rest Will Surely Perish, but is just so much stronger. Kings Destroy's sound is difficult to pinpoint but the foundation of Stoner Doom and spritzes of Sludge riffs mesh well as they almost always do. Kings Destroy pulls it a step further though. Comparisons have been made to a slew of bands but Kings Destroy's progressive edge should draw comparisons to Baltimore natives Revelation and similarities to their 1995 cult classic ...Yet So Far are in surplus. By connection the influence of Trouble is definite. Vocalist Stephen Murphy has a unique approach to his pronunciations and inflections as more often than not in verse sections he can be founding both crooning and slurring slightly while being much more discernible in chorus sections. Without a lyric sheet in the CD packaging, it can be difficult to sing along and grasp some of the lyrics, even if very often the listener will suffer from moments of deja-vu.  Later in the album's playtime during the title track as well as "Blood of Recompense" and "Shattered Pattern," I hear similarities to Alice In Chains even in Murphy's voice although with a tint of shyness compared to Layne Staley.

Integral to the Kings Destroy sound is the immaculate playing of bassist Aaron Bumpus, who happens to also have one of the bassiest of names since Geezer Butler. His playing is much in the same style, and he is a vast improvement over the less active playing of Ed Bocchino on the debut. The incorporation of perfectly felt fills and slides to fill out slower sections adds further complexity to the eight heavy tracks here. Rob Sefcik rounds out the rhythm section but in contrast usually underplays. I wouldn't say the drums on this record don't shine, but they also don't really add much, even with a big strong drum intro to opener "Stormbreak." The placement of the drums in the mix is behind most of the other instruments and guitars, forcing the listener to pay less attention to them. Consciously or unconsciously, this is one of the few qualms I have with A Time Of Hunting - this and the length of the album which might be one song too long in my opinion. This places the emphasize purely on the riffs which is a challenge which guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski are eager to undertake.

This album has riffs in big chunks and little chunks and all sorts of shaped and sized riffs in between, like an asteroid field of grooves and gruff. From the beginning "Stormbreak," one of my favorites on A Time Of Hunting, through the latter soakers like "Blood of Recompense," there is hardly a moment in which we aren't engaged with the guitar rhythms and interplay. "Casse-Tete" is also a huge favorite of mine on the album and probably the closest to what I would choose as a single. This is also one of the tracks I remember most from their live sets along with "The Mountie" off their debut. It's a mid-paced song, which doesn't have much of it's own personality on the instrumental side but the vocals add grit here, and Murphy may be at his most theatrical on this track. Instrumentally, even though it's quite simple and clean, the melodies are rich enough to support the simple premise. Even Rob Sefcik stands out with some excellent fills prior to the solo section.

Much like the rest of the album, it's Stoner Doom / Rock at it's best. Kings Destroy have a powerful album in A Time Of Hunting. Paired with a great live performance, this band will create some serious fans if they can burst out of the New York City scene and get to some other areas. There's a lot of awesome here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dead Earth Politics - The Queen of Steel

Dead Earth Politics is a heavy hitting groove / thrash band from Texas and sounds exactly like a what you would expect a band like that to sound like. They're not far off from Volbeat really, maybe a bit rougher around the edges, foregoing some of the rock moments for Killswitch Engage styled screams and whatnot. They're not bad for the style really, and they refuse to fall into a category. Halfway through opening track to their The Queen of Steel  EP, "Redneck Dragonslayer," we get some faster thrashy riffs, some double-timed drums and energetic solos and then the track ends with a standard breakdown beat sans the generic breakdown. You could sense that modern In Flames and other melodic death metal influences are at play. I'm sure these guys all enjoy Mastadon's debut album. The other two tracks also employ some of the same techniques and ride heavily on strong hooks in the choruses.

The performance of vocalist Ven Scott is quite impressive. Throaty harsh vocals and some strong and masculine clean vocals make his portion of the performance perfect for lurkers looking for something new but not too new or too challenging to taste. It's tough to determine if there is and who might be other stand outs for the band. Bassist Will Little is content to follow the guitars mostly and pick up the rhythm of drummer Mason Evans who, if I had to make a choice for another highlight, it would be some of his drum paterns such as those in the early moments of "Madness of the Wanderer," but not his drum patterns elsewhere in the song - heavy handed and overly groovy slams. Guitarists Tim Driscoll and Aaron Canady are quite good but hardly spectacular when it comes to the rhythm section but the leads in these tracks are unique. Neoclassical influence is obvious in the leads in all the songs and also in the bridges and transition parts of above mentioned "Madness."


My gripe with the EP, which is done very well, is that while the three songs here are just enough for me, especially with the obnoxious pounding rhythms in closing track. A full album of this type of material would really do me in for a tough long nightmare but I can see where others would relish in it. There is definitely a fan base for this material but I'm not that person. What I can applaud though is how this really sounds just like a few good friends getting together, knocking back some beers and jamming out. It's not jammy or garagey but it's hardly hokum either.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Paimonia - Disease Named Humanity

Paimonia’s “Disease Named Humanity” is a 2013 album that combines black metal dissonance to a Dissection styled approach to the genre. The crispness of the production and overall quality makes Naglfar a more likely comparison however, as the band suffers from problems of monotony and sterility. While the first song starts off fairly strong with a style of songwriting that is reminiscent of Mayhem’s “Chimera,” the album then immediately degrades fairly evenly with each track and by the last track the album commands no attention.

Homogeneous, samey riffs are a common problem on “Disease Named Humanity” and the major reason for this that the two-man band loses its drive by getting hung up on its own dissonance. A lot of minor second and diminished chords are interjected into more standard tremolo picking and arpeggiated chords.You’ll note that in the first track, low and high notes are quickly shuffled back and forth to create an effective pummeling that is really engaging because these two threads weave together. As the album passes along this becomes less true and the songs maintain this pattern but start sounding like the directionless buzzing of bees hovering around their disturbed nest. The guitars are more focused on dextrously dancing up and down their necks than creating songs, which makes the release very much a guitar player’s project - just one that isn’t laden with guitar solos or named after its author.

Much of the album has the disorienting feel that you get with diminished and dissonant melodies, but too much of that disorientation stems from a lack of songwriting focus. The album has some good moments and nothing on it is truly bad other than a few clumsy attempts at cheap variation. The problem is that the unfocused blur doesn’t leave any lasting impression as each riff starts to feel interchangeable, like hearing commentary on routine sports plays. Some higher chord is arpeggiated then some low notes shift before we hear a high part again, then cue tremolo riff and so on. While secondary to the guitar, the vocals echo this problem. While they could have been used to bring cohesion and direction to messy and directionless song structures they fall into their own narrow formula and never command much attention while the rest of the instrumentation commands even less. With the vocals, the issue is one that is all too common of a problem in death metal more so than black metal - very narrow melodic range and delivery. These elements are stifled by the same precise vocal approach that allows for some clarity and power while sacrificing the sense of energy. Think of a less awful version of latter-day Ihsahn mixed with standard modern melodic black metal vocals.

Classical guitar, awkward violin, and a massively directionless outro do nothing to resolve the album’s lack of focus and only serve to highlight the band’s lack of variation and direction. The instrumental outro in particular is completely unnecessary and so poorly integrated with the ideas from earlier in the album that it is hard to get through. The penultimate song, “Funeral Of Decaying World” already had a clear conclusion, so “Opus VII” comes across as padding and more guitar player unbuttoned-shirt-solo-project stuff. Thankfully, directionlessness isn’t the worst problem a band can have, especially when the band is clearly capable of good songwriting like we have some examples of here. This album is fine to listen to, just nothing that you’d routinely seek out. Recently, I had a slice of pizza. I like pizza, and that slice was good, but I won’t remember it a year from now. “Disease Named Humanity” is that slice, adequate, consumable, but devoid of a lasting sense of identity in a world filled with countless slices of melodic dissonant black pizz— I mean metal.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Arkona - Raw Years 1993-1995

This compilation of Arkona's early demo material and unreleased tracks from the recording of their second album, Zeta Reticuli, showcases how this Polish band was at it's heart a little goofy and yet still was capable of crafting interesting albeit slightly bizarre black metal. Arkona's Raw Years 1993-1995 captures what would become an important band in the Polish scene in their infancy. What is even more significant is the insight this release gives to what Eastern Europe's black metal scene began as. Arkona were one of the first Polish black metal bands and one of the earliest in the east. While most bands fizzled out relatively quickly, Arkona were able to tough out what must have been difficult early years and take a stab at putting out some material. The songs can come across as superfluous with the usage of keys and the drums add a level of pomp rarely scene in other scenes.

With that said this is a must have tape for anyone heavily invested and interested in Polish black metal, especially the formative years. The quantity of ideas here, even if their execution is of questionable quality, is enough to warrant thought and consideration. As mentioned, the drumming is particularly 'out there' and very atypical with strong triplet snare hits and a martial and authoritarian personality. Many of the guitar riffs are two part constructs which fluctuate between two main notes and root notes. The exception to these rules is the first track which is also from those Zeta Reticuli sessions forenamed. It's of a different quality - a better quality overall - but it's also the least interesting and most generic because of the lack of the characteristics of the other tracks.

The real meat of the album begins with second track "Victims of Gore." Kicking off several tracks from the unreleased The Unholy War demo, we are able to experience some of what makes this release a unique listen: back and forth melodies and weird militant drum beats. "The Unholy War," the demo's title track is superior in this style with excellent vocals spat out by Messiah. "Follow Me... And Be Amazed," other than having a title which Richard Simmonds should have used on one of his Jazzercize vhs tapes, is one of the more commanding tracks, once again making use of triplet drum patterns and marching percussion to create a military-like atmosphere. A music video should have been made for this in the style of "Call of the Wintermoon." Even a strong melody on guitar makes itself known. Somehow, this is my favorite track on the whole tape. From the very beginning it captures the imagination of these early black metal years, when everything was still new and a bit special from these parts of the world. The slight rhtyhms and muffled nostalgia here adds to the whole experience.

Keyboards appear for the first time on "Sacred Iced and Bloody Tears." They sound like a Fischer-Price kids toy. This silliness is followed by a cover of Mussorgsky's "Ice In My Heart." Not being able to find a version of the original but being able to find other material from In Harmony With The Universe, I can only say it's an interesting conundrum. Arkona here are covering a track which was essentially written by Arkona (Mussorgsky was made up almost entirely of Arkona members) but under a different band name. They are still officially calling it a cover though. As an educated guess, the original would be much more industrial sounding and contain no black metal influences at all.  The keys are also present on tracks seven and eight - different versions of songs from the An Eternal Curse of the Pagan Gods demo. These come across as somewhat generic black metal however the keys give "W Cieniu Umierających Wierzb" a creepy vibe. The faster "Barbarzyński Ogień Wichrowych Wzgórz" also has some keys though they are brief. This song is mainly notable for it's faster pace. Both tracks have windy and stormy atmospheres.

The release ends with a rehearsal track, "Przyszły Zdrajca Chrześcijańskiej Masy" which was originally on Arkona's debut Bogowie Zapomnienia demo as a proper track. The rehearsal here has two takes of the song. It's an unnecessary addition really though the addition of a live rehearsal of the band might be of interest to die-hards. Ultimately, the tape finishes a bit weak with these other tracks. The track from The Unholy War demo are the real gems here for their personality.

My writing - to know which side was what. The original tape is just a black shell.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pendulous - Mirrored Confessions

When I listen to metal, I like to connect my audio system up to a lie detector machine to see whether bands truly feel their lyrics, or if it is all just an act for the sake of aesthetics. Pendulous’ “Mirrored Confessions” is my new standard for complete truth, because the heartfelt music on this EP is completely overflowing with genuine doomy sorrow. This feeling is primarily conveyed through the somber singing of E.R.M., but the entire band works well together to create an emotionally weighty release of slow and solemn metal.

This dirge of an EP essentially has two songs with the first being the most striking. There, E.R.M. belts out spectacular vocals that are morose and carry the dulness of muted emotions rather than a lack of musical inspiration. Having the listener feel that the music’s mood is suppressing emotion rather than emotion being absent from the performance is a fantastic achievement because the same approach could have easily resulted in vocals that appear disinterested. This contrasts Pendulous from much of metal’s “sad” music because the band effectively communicates that mood rather than trying only to embody its dullness. While this particular trad-doom clean vocal style is only one part of E.R.M.’s approach, its nasal and almost off-key style is so powerful that these parts unquestionably become the EP’s centerpoints.

Without that particular vocal style the band may not be as flashy, but is still good quality doom. Smooth oohs and aahs also contrast with death growls and the band matches these changes in intensity by dextrously switching between clean guitars ringing out single notes and crushing stretches of power chords. In pulling away from an utterly heavy wall of doom, the band controls both the pacing and mood through musical variety and tension. Importantly, a strong sense of continuity is pretty clear while the band makes these transitions. Note how the solo in “Reflections” mirrors the riff preceding it and how the melody on “Seeds” is preserved as the band switches from clean to distorted guitars. A less visible, but important, part of the band’s cohesion and doomy mood is J. Spitzer’s ability to drum with both variety and restraint. Making an easy rolling feel out of songs that are 9 ½ and 7 ½ minutes long isn’t easy, yet the percussion here doles out triplets at the ends of riffs over and over without getting boring. This pulsing, along with appropriates fills, combines with the more subdued beats to give the EP enough heft to carry the weight of its slow material.

As a closing note, the 20-something minute EP is bookended by what would seem on paper to be really bad ideas - two spoken word depressive monologues. These monologues are sparse with only light somber background tones/sounds in what is an otherwise unadorned approach. No cackling crows, distant thunder, or heavy vocal processing, just a sad story - and one that feels honest and true because of this straightforward delivery. Immediacy is reinforced in the outro by sounds of bells, clocks, and swishing liquid all to show the passing of time. This is incredibly refreshing where many bands, i.e. dsbm, romanticize negative emotions to the point where it is hard to believe they actually ever felt them. Negative emotions aren’t commodities or fun, they are awful and the band is great for tactfully capturing and communicating that awfulness. These genuine intro and outro tracks help to set the EP’s mood and are worth listening to despite not being particularly musical. Doomy context for an emotive and strong EP.