Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Monthly Blast: October 2018

Diderot, in his dialogue Rameau's Nephew, written sometime around 1761, asks of the eccentric and bacchian musician genius, Jean-François Rameau, whom he shares the dialogue with, "How is it that with a discrimination as delicate as yours and your remarkable sensitiveness for the beauties of musical art, you are so blind to the fine things of morality, so insensitive to the charms of virtue?" Rameau's responds simply, that he doesn't posses or has not been afforded through nature or nurture a sense for right or wrong, that it is simply the way he is. This anecdote speaks to me. So often, fans of extreme music and heavy metal are, from an outsider perspective, viewed similarly; individuals with a great musical sense and understanding whom focus those talents on a genre and interests which, to the outsider, seem to betray common decency and logic.

The narrator represents the outsider looking in, an outsider who is unable to see the morality and virtue in knowing and being the individual one wishes to be. Rameau is opinionated, talented, articulate, and - by all description - a social outcast portrayed to be a clown or jester whom the population laughs and is amused by instead of taken seriously, and yet he comes across as a confident, self-assured, and inwardly thoughtful character. I would rather be the individual no one understands yet admires, than an observer preoccupied with judging others at the expense of my own progression of self. It's no wonder that Rameau often speaks of his station in life as downtrodden and lackluster. True, it is in part self-inflicted by his trickery of his employers, but it also is a conflict of his Being within the social expectations of others.

A big dump of reviews for the month of October. These include interesting releases from noise artists A.Z.A.B and Siege Electronics, some local coverage of bands from Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, as well as a review of Insanity Cult's entire discography. Connecticut's Lustrum find some kind words regarding their recently released live tape as well as Greece's Dødsferd with their upcoming new album that continues their meritorious career.

A.Z.A.B & Siege Electronics - Expulsion Unit (2018)

This collaborative effort between noise outfits A.Z.A.B and Siege Electronics is a textural nightmare. This is good. The album feels like it leans towards Siege Electronics' style more than A.Z.A.B, as the main components of the songs are distinctive samples and sounds, unlike the more static-focused A.Z.A.B. It's clear to me that to enjoy this, requires interest in harsh noise and power electronics. The five tracks clock in at over thirty minutes of ear-raping. Opening track "Nefesh" is a nuanced and subtle, almost gentle example of the genre before the record truly sets off with "Samson Option Pt. 2." Sampled and mutated vocals speak over a rotating rhythm and screeching rusty swinging accents. Finding the foundational rhythm is difficult until it fades into existence during the last thirty seconds. "Our Own Truth (Universal Deceit)" is the first track that comes across as a planned and executed idea. The main motif or sample undulates throughout the song, as two voice-textures contrast each other, one calm and spoken and the second full of anger and distorted. It's an example of a track which represents the genre on a higher level when the simple but symbolic structure is realized in such an effective way. It's an easy track to lose oneself in. "Exist To Decay (Criminology Illumination)" opens with a sample of someone talking about growing up on the streets and being violent and assaulting people. It sets up the track, a twelve minute layered creation within which the protagonist voice fades out a third of the way into the song repeating "And they say crime exists." The rest of the song is a mixture of feedback, static, tones, and a vocalist growling. This section of vocals, while integral for hearing the voice of the collaborators, is the weakest texture presented on the album, thus rendering the longest track, my least favorite. The release ends with "Samson Option Pt. 1." Not sure why they would put Pt. 2 first on the album, however what is noticeable is that there are some similar textures in the material. Deep beneath the static is some remarkable nuanced tonal products that are given a peak at during common breaks in the static. These breaks act like windows to the beauty within. On this record, "Our Own Truth" is the highlight for it's textural maturity.

Destruction - Bestial Invasion of Hell (2018, originally 1984)

This remaster of Destruction's first demo, Bestial Invasion of Hell by Vic records is, if anything, a good reason to invest in grabbing one of the most important early releases in German thrash metal. Destruction's first demo was among an early grouping of bands including Sodom, Holy Moses, Poison, and Iron Angel to help pave the way for what would later be termed Teutonic thrash. Classic Destruction tracks like "Mad Butcher" and "Antichrist" sound urgent and fresh. The clarity helps discern all the subtle impurities in the sound, like the slight off key moments between Schmier and Sifringer throughout the album that gives the present thrash a dark evil essence or the under-represented leads buried in the mix in favor of the main riffs. I remember initially hearing a copy of this many years ago but never being able to hear the leads very well. Patrick Engel who handled the remastering expertly took the source and found a way to benefit the original material in displaying the grit and rawness of that moment in time through careful attention to not fiddle with too much. The influence of German Heavy Metal is present in the riffing style across the album but Destruction clearly show a migration towards the Speed Metal influenced thrash style the Germans would become recognized for. This is a nice release to include in a collection; the booklet has a bunch of rare images as well as liner notes from all three members, Schmier, Sifringer, and Sandmann. As an aside, I find Schmier sounds very much like Snake of Voivod fame vocally and I never noticed it until re-listening to this demo after so many years. An old school classic for sure and a release that anyone interested in Metal should be familiar with.

I find something very soothing in the art. Maybe it's the colors!

Dissentience - Mask of Pretense (2018)

This Pennsylvania band has been mulling over whether they want to be serious or not for apparently four years. Their demo was released back in 2014 and they are now promoting a new EP touted as being a unique take on the thrash genre. Not familiar with the band, I investigated their demo first. It is clear they are talented and skilled musicians though stylistically I'm underwhelmed. To me, they don't sound unique at all but instead very typical melodic death metal with cleanish vocals reminiscent of the early 2000's metalcore, screamo sound but with a thrashier edge, especially a song like "Bury Your Dead". Some tracks are a bit harder with more guitar noodling but there are plenty of breakdowns and chugging to be had. Final track "The Fallen," is the least dreadful track. Am I clamoring to hear the EP after this... not really. So has the band improved in any notable way in the four year gap? Absolutely. Is Dissentience doing anything truly unique now within the thrash genre? Not at all. For one, the problem is that the band isn't playing thrash and sound more influenced by modern technical death metal than original era thrash. Large swaths of the album sound influenced by the likes of Necrophagist or progressive death metal from bands like Gorguts. The band is at their best when they slow down and show they can write more than just blistering riffs heavy on hammer-ons and pull-offs. I think "Disinter" is my track of choice but mostly because I found moments of the track to best craft compelling melodies underneath all the flare on the surface. Overall the band has steadily improved musically. Conner Valentin and Jimmy Vitale are impressive on guitar. Sean Langer is solid on bass in support of the rhythms Nick Scherden on drums carries across the album. Valentin on vocals is average in the role, managing a raspy growl that is take-it or leave-it. The production of the album is clear and pristine and affords easy separation between all the instruments. It also saps a lot of energy and old school death metal feel. I guess I should be getting used to this by now but I prefer my death metal a bit dirtier and rawer than this.

Dødsferd - Diseased Remnants Of A Dying World (2018)

Immediately Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Alcest come to mind with this however I also get some hints of influence from other places such as Primordial and Burzum. Dødsferd do the style very well on Diseased Remnants Of A Dying World, with the right amount of visual stimulation, catchy hooks in the right place, and small burst of harsher and faster elements to bring energy to the mostly mid-paced songs. The production is crisp and clear with each instrument being rendered with enough focus in the mix to stand tall while not smothering other instruments in the interim. I believe the drums could have been more up front for just a bit more extra impact. Vocals are, as is traditionally the case, mixed most audible and stand out against everything else, especially during the harsher black metal rasps. Often, Wrath, who handles both the guitars and vocals admirably, switches between a bellowing yell and the rasps, providing a measure of variety that really helps keep the songs feeling fresh. One thing missing from the album are distinguishable riffs - the record is reliant on sweeping melodic movements with bass in close pursuit - which would offer a more aggressive element. One song that does happen to invoke this is "Loyal To The Black Oath," which gets my vote for best on the album, as it hearkens back to Opeth in their prime on My Arms Your Hearse or Still Life. The slightly more complex riffs that adorn it's near-ten minute run time paired with a wailing Wrath on vocals is enough emotion to stand above the other tracks. Dødsferd craft well written structures and melodies in their effort to generate longer compositions that will maintain interest and form enticing imagery through sound. I will, however, claim that what Dødsferd do on Diseased Remnants of a Dying World is not quite enough to rise above the best that I've heard from this corner of the Black Metal genre. This one is out in December... worth a listen for fans of any of the above mentioned acts.

Haiduk - Exomancer (2018)

Haiduk have been covered before here, referring to 2012's Spellbook, which was impressive on some levels and not impressive on others. Exomancer has appeared six years yonder from that outing. The main concern I had back then was the lack of attention to atmosphere and songwriting as a whole. Haiduk are best described as like a hornet's nest, a description which not only describes the guitar tone which multi-instrumentalist Luka Milojica achieves. His compositions are a bevy of energy and activity surrounding an small central structure. This is the case for large swaths of Milojica's output (See Demonicon's "Vordus" for a prime example). Exomancer once again follows suit and so I now am convinced that Haiduk sounds this way because Milojica can not play in any other manner. The unique sound and tone which Haiduk has portrayed now on these three albums can be viewed as simply what Haiduk is. Understanding this, objectively I view this album in a different and favorable light. First, a word on the vocals, which are not Milojica's strongest instrument. The deep throaty rasps are sparse, and for this reason sound out of place when they pop into existence. The lyrics often take the form, then, of short poetic psalms. For example, "Evil Art" has in total four words for the vocals. Once again, this is a feature of Haiduk which is simply a given. The real highlight is the guitar playing, specifically how it drives forward the pacing and momentum of Exomancer. Intricate riffs which slowly churn into new variations are backed by stringy twangy chords. The endlessly flowing parade of hammer-ons and pull-offs and tapped out notes march onward. Melodically, the album is solid, with truly unique and mesmerizing progressions of chords and lead work piled high. Songs often have three or four separate guitar lines running around together to create a layer of subtle tonal nuances. The tempos are, across the entirety of Exomancer the same quick rush. It would be difficult to carry the buzzing guitar riffs Haiduk employ at a slower or faster tempo. This lack of tempo is one of two faults in Milojica's style. The second fault is the lack of dynamics due to the requirement of each song being reliant on the tirade of guitar notes. There is little room to allow for other instruments to be highlighted. One thing that is not created is any type of atmosphere, which, if managed, takes Haiduk forward greatly. The programmed drums are passable but not ideal here. An interesting and unique listen that is not like much else out there. Luka has improved his songwriting considerably here. Best track for me is either opener "Death Portent" or the very speedy and tight "Death Ripple."


Insanity Cult - Insanity Be My Kvlt (2014)

Insanity Cult's first demo, Insanity Be My Kvlt, though a super lame title, is not an entirely lame release. For one, the demo truly sounds like a black metal demo in production with thin, tinny guitars, slightly under-produced drum tones, and some interesting choices of mixing such as hard panned guitars. Sacrilegious's vocals are both black metal screams as well as lower pitched death metal growls which adds a level of variety. Opening track, "Son of No Father" is has an interesting build up section three-quarters through within which we are gifted with totally natural guitars and unhidden string noises. "Hymn To A Forbidden Truth" has some interweaving guitar lines - which maybe draw out too long - as well as some clean vocals that recall Akerfeldt's brief moments of clean vocals from the "Eternal Soul Torture" demo track that appeared on the Morningrise rerelease. Much like on the opening track, the last of the three songs, "The Autumn Years" also floats on unique melodic choices and has a strangely triumphant feel. For a demo, there is some creative thought and uniqueness here which could perhaps lend inspiration to others.

Insanity Cult - As My End Unfolds (2015)

Following the interesting yet not truly impressive "Insanity Be My Kvlt" is Insanity Cult's debut "As My End Unfolds." Some of the songwriting nuances and originality expressed on the demo are available here. Off-speed clean guitars in songs like "The River Princess" show experimentation and 'spooky' clean vocals such as those a minute into "Hymn To A Forbidden Truth" are a direct link to the demo. What is more prevalent are the strummed riffs and reliance on melody over rhythm to drive songs showing a shift towards the influence of the modern atmospheric black metal style. Many of the songs here have the same faults that Insanity Cult's recent album has in terms of watering down the variation and not giving enough separation between different riffs and songs. Sacrilegious, the band's vocalist, does  a great job imbuing the tracks with a sense of integrity and emotion, more-so than on their more recent releases. There are some overly drawn out and amateurish writing moments like the hard transitions in tracks which don't seem to align with anything. I could see this album appealing to fans of modern black metal that enjoy the early Opeth albums which were similarly heavy on acoustic interludes.

Insanity Cult - Of Despair and Self Destruction (2017)

Very little of Insanity Cult's initial qualities can be found on this sophomore record. The biggest issue presented is simply the lack of depth across the various instruments. Unlike the previous record which had some nuanced elements, Of Despair and Self Destruction is tired and forced. Mundane guitar melodies that we've all heard before are presented against sleepy drums and a bass that does nothing to add variety or juxtapose the guitar lines. I found some hornets building a nest on my driveway this morning and I absolutely soaked them with yellow-jacket killer. We need a human sized can. And for fucks sake, don't start your black metal album with a five minute long mundane clean guitar intro. Vocals fall in line with the going-rate of black metal raspy monotonous screams that occasionally pitch upwards to a wailing cry. In Insanity Cult's case, the vocals are tied so strictly to the meter that it dries up any passion that could eek out an existence. This seems mostly to draw from the Eastern European influence of black metal which is now popular. There are no actual riffs present as well to add aggression to the mix. Nothing is memorable as well. Just pitiful.

Insanity Cult / Isolert - Towards The Great Dissolution (2017)

Insanity Cult's tracks on this split with fellow Greeks, Isolert, follows the formula built on Of Despair and Self Destruction. Their two tracks top out at fifteen minutes long, with "Existential Entropy" running over ten minutes. The recording is slightly rawer than the album tracks, with a less full range compared to the better produced Of Despair. Opening track "Thorns of Solitude," is unremarkable until roughly the three minute mark where the normally melody-focused material gives way to a nicely executed minute-long guitar lead. Vocalist Sacriligeous' screams are monotone and do not provide added interest to the music. The ten minute long "Existential Entropy" is a black metal run-on sentence, just meandering and uninspired repetitions of parts that do not hold interest. Isolert's additions to the split are more evocative and passionate in contrast. "Dreams of Emptiness" is a take on the first three post-Soulside Journey Darkthrone albums which also includes gang chanted vocals and well-orchestrated changes in pace and tone. "I Hide My Soul Inside The Trees," has a smaller Darkthrone component and a much more pronounced atmospheric black metal influence from bands such as Drudkh. The track culminates with an awesome guitar solo.  For me, Isolert here is the far superior effort.

My ultimate conclusion on Insanity Cult is that there is very little worthwhile material to investigate here. The debut demo, available for free is a viable listen but I found very little beyond this to be worth my time. There is a lot of monotony and a lack of defining individual songs that are must-listen. I was however impressed with the Isolert tracks on the split and I thank Insanity Cult for the introduction.


Kommandant - Blood Eel (2018)

Kommandant are a band who've been supported in the Northeast by way of Signature Riff for many years now. I have managed to see them live at least three or four times by this point. Their live show is a unique spectacle, portraying a propaganda rally or political rally, with vocalist Marcus Kolar leering at the audience over a podium. Musically, their scathing brand of black and death metal fit the imagery well, yet was never enough to get me to full invest. Blood Eel is the band's first album in three years and has some major highlights but also a few large blunders. The album's four-minute long intro builds a ton of tension however, the title track which follows never seems to start. The drumming maintains their militaristic atmosphere however I feel like instead of an intro and a first song, Kommandant threw at me two intro songs before actually starting the album with third track "The Struggle." What is highlighted in "Blood Eel," however is the melodic style which makes Kommandant a unique musical entity: grandiose movements which mimic the effect of apocalyptic war-marches across radiation-scoured landscapes. Another issue I have with the album is that the lyrical material based on the song titles is not of the same direction as Kommandant previously approached. Songs with titles such as "Victory Through Intolerance" or "Hate Is Strength" have been replaced with "Ice Giant" and "Blood Eel." I'd be interested to see the lyrics for the album. The album has two stand out songs musically, these being final track "Moon... The Last Man," and "Ice Giant." "The Struggle" also has it's moments however suffers from what I would call a lazy incorporation of the chorus. "Moon..." is my pick for the best track here. Snare-heavy blasting and tremolo riffs create a massive militant/industrial mono-mood. This bookends a masterful central instrumental that slows down the song and builds on a simple shifting melody. Marcin Widel and drummer David Swanson both contribute vocals, with Widel taking control of the black metal rasps, and Swanson handling the clean, spoken words. The track culminates in a furious blasting drum section accented with their signature drum-line toms. Kommandant have yet to truly impress me and Blood Eel, though powerful at times, does nothing but extend the fence I'm sitting on farther.

Lustrum - Plays With Madness (2018)

This live recording of Connecticut project Lustrum featuring members of One Master and Morgirion, both of whom have been covered here before, is pretty much a perfect starting point for "getting" what Lustrum is attempting. It's not far removed in spirit from Hellhammer or Venom with a tinge of more modern acts such as Midnight. On the debut demo, the vocals were similar to those in One Master, with large echoing snarl across the tracks however that is not present on these live tracks, instead a much drier delivery is given which allows some of the between song banter to come across clearly and to much amusement. It also gives the recording the feeling of the first-wave black metal bands. There are some truly awesome tracks present here. I love "Too Wild For The Crowd," which almost sounds like if The Rods went black metal. "Temple of Lust" rumbles through several riffs and a definitively minimalist punk-infused drum beat. "Into Shit of Nights" and "Wolves of Heresy" are also on my radar as two songs with catchy unique riffs and flow. "Wolves of Heresy" I remember from the debut demo. The tape ends with my favorite from the release, "Motorsex," which is ultimately just a bastardized remake of "Bomber" to my ears but still kicks ass. This is a fun live tape and gets to the soul of what makes a band like Lustrum enjoyable and rewarding. It's not often something is sleazy, rockin', and bad-ass while maintaining a devilish, blackened, and grim atmosphere. These guys got it right with Plays With Madness. Available on tape from Eternal Death. Cover of the tape is also really cool with a stylized rendering of an image of the live drummer and bassist with a Seventh Son of a Seventh Son Maiden backpatch playing blackjack in a casino - the kind of cover you won't find anywhere else for sure.

Witching - Witching (2018)

From Philadelphia, Witching pumps out some sludgy doom seemingly influenced by Black Sabbath, Eyehategod, and Electric Wizard. The closest pure comparison is Maegashira's excellent The Stark Arctic, however Witching never obtain such imagery or atmosphere. Melodically, the band follows closely with what Electric Wizard were doing on Let Us Prey or Come My Fanatics but the attitude is much more in line with the sludgier and succinct Eyehategod but without the sharper rhythmic focus. Jacqui Powell's vocals don't immediately come across as womanly, though there is a feminine tone during moments such as the clean vocals on "The Demon" or "Burning Girl." Powell's vocals are a key aspect to the mostly mundane compositions. Most times, tracks amble onward through big and deep waves of chords however a few key moments point towards the potential for Witching to truly do something great with their sound. The ending moments of "I'm Still Here" offer an intricate guitar dual harmony that is quite refreshing at that point into the second song. "The Demon" plunges into what isn't a rip off of "Supernaut" but... is pretty close to a rip-off of "Supernaut", and the whole transition sounds cohesive and ends the track perfectly. The closing track, "Desert," is a nice summary of the whole album stylistically. The five tracks clock an appropriate twenty-minutes of time. Strong debut release for Witching, but I'd like to see if they can find their own style within the genre. I think Powell has a strong sense of vocal dynamics and how to place herself in the songs but if the band is going to rely so much on the big slow-rolling chord movements, they need to be more compelling. The recent "False Martyr" single, was a step in this direction, combining both the sludgy overall style, stronger melodic movement, and - what really stood out - moments of atmosphere that create imagery. That track is better than the material on their debut.

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