Friday, July 29, 2011

Negator - "Panzer Metal"

Just stumbled across this thanks to a namedrop on Metal Archives, and had to post it. Here is a nowadays black metal band that is doing it right. Respectful of oldschool wisdom but highly contemporary. Imagine if Panzer Division Marduk had included Dissection-style harmonies alongside the minimal powerchord riffing. Cool, right? These guys have also inherited Dissection's penchant for throwing everything but the kitchen sink into every song...there are a staggering number of sick riffs in this track alone. The opening is great, but shit really gets started just before the 1:00 minute mark. And the change-up at 3:22 is bold and stirring. As a picky critic I've gotta say I'd prefer a rawer production, but when the songwriting is this good you sort of just have to accept the whole aesthetic package. I'm sure they had their reasons. This fucking owns.

I'm still too busy with work to do a real post, but should be back in the next couple days.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Get into: Mirkvid

Extreme metal and electronic music have an interesting, and to me, rather distasteful relationship. Whenever an extreme metal band incorporates electronic or industrial influences, they tend to do it in the sloppiest, most obvious way possible: black metal with thumping house beats and clanking background noises, death metal with inept synthesizers chirping in among stale riffs, and a never-far-off similarity to Combichrist are all seemingly rules of the game at this point. It seems that the very best bands who are influenced by electronic music are those who don't make a point of it- they don't stubbornly insist on their industrial pedigrees or suggest that they're creating some new, brilliant style with their (nearly always) ham-fisted and cliche-ridden mixture of two poor versions of better parents.

Mirkvid flips that on its ass by being a black metal band legitimately influenced by electronic music but making absolutely no note of it. You will never find anyone describe Mirkvid as "Electronic black metal" or anything of the sort- they'll just say that it's black metal, but, like, kind of weird, like it doesn't really FEEL like black metal... I don't know man, you just have to hear it.

Mirkvid is a one-man project from Alaska that's released several albums since the '90s, all of them on CDr and all of them completely unnoticed by the greater metal scene despite the project's absolute brilliance. Describing the project's music is pretty difficult and better done in imagery than text:

-Doing twelve hits of ecstasy and dancing all night to a DJ doing remixes of Throndt songs

-Ten goth kids taking psychoactive drugs, setting a cop car on fire, and then having group sex in the firelight

-A grim Norwegian forest except all the wolves and ravens are robots and they all move in perfect synchronization with each other and the moon has been replaced by a giant blacklight in the sky

In short, it's black metal for the club; I actually listen to this and I have no doubt that if I were to slap it on at a rave, the kids would keep dancing without even a slight expression of dismay. It's realistically black metal: there's a lot of thrashy tremolo riffs and rasping vocals, but the melodic sense of the riffs often has much more to do with cheap anthem trance synthlines than Darkthrone and the hissing vocals sound more like a perkier Nivek Ogre than Varg Vikernes. Add the thumping, punky bass and the drum machine that eschews blasts for frantic 32nd note hi-hats and hyperspeed rock beats and you have something totally magical. Not even to mention the sporadic synths which just make the whole thing that much more glorious.

There's a distinctive energy and delightful passion to this music which makes it totally singular- I can't think of a single other band out there that sounds like Mirkvid and I doubt I ever will. I've never wanted to dance to black metal like I have when I heard Mirkvid. Perfect music to fuck some skinny, glittered-up goth girl to.

Because they're so unfortunately unknown, no Mirkvid material is on Youtube. To ameliorate this deficiency, I've decided to upload the project's 2002 album, "The Burning Night," for your listening pleasure. Download below and let me know what you think in the comments. It's sick.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Brume D'Automne - Fiers Et Victorieux

Quebecois seperatist black metal is practically becoming its own ideological genre ala NSBM (no direct comparison intended, of course), and with big-name bands like Akitsa preaching it, brother, I don't doubt that in the oncoming years we'll start to acquire some sort of cute acronym (QNBM, maybe) to describe it. Hell, if Red Anarchist Black Metal can actually be A Thing these days, why not this? At least the Quebecois are making better music- inconsistent, but undeniably BETTER, and Brume D'Automne is one of the more interesting bands from such a field. It's sculpted pretty much from the elements you'd expect: somewhat amateurish, cracked vocals, cheesy medieval synth intros, and ill-advised reinterpretations of (presumably) French folk tunes- but it's the black metal in between that makes it more interesting than just those parts. This is a little bit of an anti-grower, admittedly- when I first heard it, I thought it was amazing, now it's just pretty good- but there's enough here and the band is a good enough namedrop that I figured I had to cover them just to maintain my underground credibility.

It seems that depressive black metal is a bigger influence on tiny underground scenes than most would easily admit, and though "Fiers Et Victorieux" does predate the biggest explosion of that particularly maligned brand of black metal, its hallmarks are all over this, be it in the post-Vikernes ear-splitting wail of a vocal performance, the furtive Silencer-influenced tremolo riffs, or the unsteady thrash drumming that takes the place of proper blast beats. Still, apart from the darker, more brooding tremolo riffs, this influence doesn't generally extend to the guitars, which are a pretty solid mixture of Scandinavian riffing (see: Darkthrone, Ulver, maybe some Taake) and the Quebecois' particular sense of slight twists on typical folk melodies through odd chord shapes that you see in bands like Malveillance. Binding this hodgepodge of elements together is a rolling, often midpaced gallop rhythm that dominates much of the songs between the faster, thrashing sessions; a lot of these tracks have more strum than tremolo, letting the riffs unfold in an appropriately stately manner for the ideological values the band tries to express.

It's not all roses, of course. The "Traditionelles," for all their desperation to express a sense of history and archaic grandeur, are pretty fucking embarrassing and should have been excised from the album or massively reworked; I don't want to hear old folk songs with shrieking and a low-quality, synthetic guitar tone any more than I want to hear yet another bland acoustic retelling of the same thing. Couldn't they have come up with something a little more ambitious? Perhaps just work those melodic ideas into the bulk of the music? All they do is break the flow of the album (which already feels more like a collection of songs than an entire statement) and make me sort of cringe whenever they come up. The production is messy and reedy; the guitars hiss a bit too much and the drums just sound flabby and dry. This isn't exactly a joy to listen to, but thankfully the mixing is tolerable enough and the songwriting good enough to not make it a huge issue.

Is this in any way a mandatory album? Absolutely not; you can firmly relegate this to the realm of weirdo black metal obsessives and forget it if you're not a part of that group. Still, there's a certain indefinable element to the music that keeps me coming back to it; it might be the way the shrieky, loose vocals interact with the riffs, the occasional hints of ambitious, complex riffing here and there, or just the undeniable enthusiasm with which the band plays, but there's clearly something to this which makes it worth a look by the underground aficionados. All in all, not a bad way to spend $8 or something.

Buy this album on Amazon

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Do I look like I give a FUCK!? - The Extremely Rotten Tour Diaries - Part 1

"That's what life is all about, man. Pussy and blasting on the drums."

I despise Jacksonville perhaps more than any city I've ever been to in the world. There's a lot of reasons for it, but here's a few: I've never actually seen the sky in Jacksonville. Literally every time I've been there the entire city is shrouded in a combination of rainclouds and smog. The people are surly, poor, and vaguely zombie-like; in fact, I've often described Jacksonville as what I imagine a city constructed by zombies to look like. Everything is grey and rotting, the city's layout is haphazard and nonsensical, and unfinished construction projects dot just about every street. I was also involved with a girl for a while from there in a relationship that ended in a fairly nasty fashion, so I'm extra soured to the town. It's a bleak environment that I absolutely can't stand. As a result of this, the sort of cracked, broken urban environment that it so perfectly represents is just about the perfect location for extreme metal to blossom.

I've been all over Florida's metal scene and Jacksonville consistently puts out some of the strongest music. Tampa faltered long ago, Orlando is a basically incoherent mish-mash of nu-metal and extremity, and other locations are just too inconsistent to be functional. Jacksonville, on the other hand, features a combination of the upper half of Florida and basically all of Georgia in a single, large, vibrant scene which is more focused than just about anywhere else in the south (barring Texas) on brutal death and goregrind- exactly the things I love most. Jacksonville bands are brutal, intense, and obsessively focused on extreme violence and hatred- the things I most typically feel when I visit the city anyway. It's here that Extremely Rotten, the band I toured as a part of, hails from.

I'm not an official member of the band- at four hours away, the distance is simply too long for it to be feasible. However, after seeing me perform with another band of mine, Forged in Gore, in Jacksonville a couple months earlier, drummer Juan Campo hit me up a few days later to see if I would possibly be down to fill in as a session vocalist. Their usual vocalist is swamped with a weird, inconsistent work schedule, and my flexibility in that department was invaluable for the tour's purpose- since I'd never been on a tour as full-fledged as this one, I jumped at the opportunity to play brutal music across the east coast of the US. If nothing else, I'm never one to pass up an opportunity when it's dropped at my feet.

The Blue Hole is the center of our little corner of Jacksonville brutality. It's several things housed in a small, blue, brick building that used to be a movie theater back in the '70s, with some of the seating still laying around to use by the bands who infest it: a practice space where several artists jam, a venue where the parking lot is used to put on cheap underground shows, and the impromptu home of Juan of Extremely Rotten. It's about as nasty as you'd imagine: located directly across the street from a methadone clinic and right in the middle of one of the more awful ghettos of Jacksonville, it's exactly the sort of location you'd expect a band like Extremely Rotten to play. I arrived at the Hole a couple days before the first show at the very same place in order to familiarize myself with the band a little better and get some much-needed practice in.

When I arrived, I quickly realized that things were going to be a bit more complicated than I anticipated. For one: I wasn't exactly sure who I was playing with. Apart from the most consistent member, Juan, Extremely Rotten is composed of what seems like a constantly rotating lineup of half-members, session performers, and friends doing favors. I think I saw two bassists, three guitarists, and even another vocalist in my time there, and it wasn't until the Jacksonville show itself that the lineup became consolidated. For that first couple days, I was running somewhat blind, having only met the members of the band in passing twice max in all my years before working with them. It didn't inspire a ton of confidence that things would work out, but fuck it, I was in Jacksonville and decided I might as well pursue it.

Extremely Rotten has lyrics- but they got lost at one point, so I didn't have anything to work on apart from basically memorizing the vocal patterns of the songs and improvising as I saw fit around them. I've performed in brutal death bands before, but Extremely Rotten was a different breed from those: instead of the loose, ugly, chaotic compositions of Forged in Gore or other bands I've worked with, Extremely Rotten's music is tight and precisely composed, taking a great deal of influence from bands like Malignancy as well as more conventional slam bands like Suffocation. Getting the vocal patterns down ended up being trickier than I anticipated; they were much more rhythmic and precise than much of the stuff I'd worked on before, and with no lyrics as a guideline, I was forced to listen and re-listen to every track in our setlist over and over on my laptop, quietly gurgling while listening to tracks like "Rotten Placenta" and "Inhuman Harvest" crackle through my cheap headphones. It wasn't particularly exciting, but it was necessary. A little bit of levity was granted by getting to meet Trial By Ordeal commenter Jake of the (surprisingly sick) local power metal band Skyliner to chill, talk about metal, and shoot the shit about how terrible Jacksonville is- you might be familiar with him from his novel-length comments regarding Christianity in the article I wrote on the very same subject. He's not as schizophrenic in person as his writing would suggest, I promise.

The couple days of practice crawled by almost achingly slowly; since practices were held later in the evening, I had a ton of time between sleeping on couches and growling away to do basically nothing. The Hole is fortunately equipped with wireless internet and air conditioning, which made it a perfectly liveable situation, but when you have to spend hours alone doing nothing across from a methadone clinic, it can become a pretty bleak affair. So I counted the hours until the first show on the 17th, waiting for the party to really begin. Around 6 in the morning on that day, the members of Symbolic, the Death tribute band we would be touring with, arrived from their long drive down from Washington D.C., and that's where our story really begins.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cool shit coming up

Sorry for the long gap in posting, Noktorn is touring (playing NYC tonight) and I haven't been home much this weekend. I'm actually at work so I can't write a long post, but we'll be back at full strength tomorrow. Coming soon: reviews of Dethroned Emperor's devastating War Grind Hell EP, the debut tape demo of Atlanta noise/industrial band Men's Room, a "Get Into" on a ripping war metal band that more people need to hear, a review of Underage's Italian noisecore classic, Africani, Marocchini, Terroni, and a review of the new Ringworm album Scars (for which I have high hopes). And those are just my own posts!

To make up for the lapse in communications, I give you this: Black Mass of Absu. Why doesn't more black metal sound like this?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This is how it's done, kids

Such a sick track! What absolutely makes it is the contrast between the frantic main riff and the epic, lifting effect of those two chords that hit at 00:9. I guess that's the "chorus." I also love the use of the brutal death metal vocals. Those guttural roars and the stark minimalism of the riffing give the track a barbaric atmosphere more akin to death or black metal than what we usually expect from hardcore.

This is off their 2002 full-length
Kaos Och Djavulskap. Unfortunately, the rest of the album just isn't as good--a few cool tracks, but a little generic and nowhere near as heavy as this track. If you want to hear more by these guys, I'd suggest their 2004 split with Canadian metalpunx Legion 666. At this point Bombstrike had developed a more distinctive style, kicking up the speed and spitting out well-crafted riffs with lots of chords in them. Momentum to send you hurtling across the circle pit, or into a line of riot cops.

Tombs and Primitive Weapons at St. Vitus

Just saw a sick show, thought I'd write about it.

I listened to Tombs a bit back when they were first surfacing, in the winter of 08-09 I think. I liked what they were trying for, but it seemed like the hardcore and black metal elements didn't really mesh. Disappointed, I never even bothered picking up the first album. And once they blew up with the BrooklynVegan/Brandon Stosuy crew, I pretty much wrote them off.

I went into the set more or less cold, hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Instead, I got blown away. Tombs fucking killed it, so fucking hard! I had a great seat at the back of the hall, but by the middle of the second song I was thrashing out in my seat. I knew what I had to do, and pushed my way through the crowd to headbang up front. And to a bunch of songs I'd never heard before, at that!

The awkwardness of their early stuff was gone. Tombs sounded comfortable with who they are: some veteran hardcore dudes drawing on all the heavy music they've ever loved and making it their own. While they aren't, strictly speaking, a metal band, they continually pulled off ridiculously metal gestures--colossal slow riffs, beautiful tremolo-picked textures, blastbeats that compel fist-pumping, and some thunderous chug riffs. Plus Mike Hill has a sick death growl, used to brutal effect alongside his howling hardcore vocals.

And the sound was amazing. This was partially owing to St. Vitus' dope setup, but also to the badassery with which Tombs layed into their instruments. This is where the whole "scene veteran" thing comes into play. They're technically adept, but more important they have a self-assurance and musicality that comes only from years of experience. My friend said that "it sounded really polished, but not clean," and I think that's a good way of putting it. You could hear the bending of strings under fingers and picks, and I found myself having a great time just watching each guy play. Perhaps my favorite part of the whole set were the double-bass passages. Like getting punched in the gut repeatedly by a really hot angel.

I started the review with Tombs because they're well-known, but I'm just as excited about the openers, Primitive Weapons. They're sort of the "house band" for St. Vitus, since 2 or 3 of them co-own the bar. I entered in the middle of the second or third song, and immediately got into it. These guys brought insane energy to a room that was mostly standing still. The frontman was thrashing all over the place, stepping down into the audience, and falling to his knees in Luciferian devotion. It helped that he has one of THE best hardcore screams I have ever heard--so fucking loud, such a great tone, so much variation in pitch and attack.

Like Tombs, Primitive Weapons play music that is very difficult to categorize. It's strongly influenced by metal, especially black metal and Kylesa-style sludge, but it certainly isn't metal. My hypothesis is that, at heart, they're a screamo band. The good kind of screamo. The melodic, rhythmically intricate hardcore that flourished in the late 90s and early 2000s. Bands like Gospel, Orchid, Planes Mistaken for Stars, etc. I don't know that scene terribly well, but I'm a big fan of the sound. Primitive Weapons follow a screamo logic, but draw on a ton of metal gestures to kick your ass.

I was impressed by their ability to keep things rhythmically interesting without sacrificing that sense of continuous grooving violence that is so important in hardcore and metal. Indeed, there were moments of syncopated riffage that wouldn't have been out of place in bro metalcore. A couple of the songs were basically composed of breakdowns from beginning to end, and you know I love that shit. The song "Cosmic Horror"--with its catchy-as-fuck fistpump chorus of "cosmic! horror!"--deserves to become a circle pit anthem. If Primitive Weapons are screamo, they're screamo for getting fucked up and punching people. Their music is serious, but it's also mad fun.

Tombs just released Path of Totality on Relapse. Get it. I will for sure. Primitive Weapons have a 7-inch out, and you can listen to their shit on facebook, here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: Witchrist - Beheaded Ouroboros

Witchrist come from New Zealand. They are aligned with the mighty Invictus Productions. And they play war metal. Like their twin band Diocletian, Witchrist emphasize songwriting and draw power from... riffs you can actually hear! That said, Witchrist are much closer to "orthodox" war metal--their riffs are heavily obscured by the thick low-end production, and they've avoided any kind of obvious hooks. What's really cool about Beheaded Ouroboros, though, is that even in the midst of this insane unremitting bludgeoning, it's still worth talking about songs.

It's common wisdom that war metal should be enjoyed simply as a constant stream of noise, and that it's basically stupid to talk about individual tracks, passages, or riffs. I couldn't disagree more. Sure, in war metal the tracks don't have their own characters in the way they do on, say, a rock or pop album. There's a continuity between them, a consistency of atmosphere and a flow of aggression.

But this is also true of many other styles of extreme metal and hardcore. And the thing is, when any of this monochromatic music is done right, there should still be something there to grasp onto in each song, some distinctive musical events. The song shouldn't be interchangeable with every other song on the album. A great example is Discharge--they construct each song within far more rigid parameters than any war metal band, but once the music draws you in it becomes easy to distinguish between tracks. Sure, the songs all sound the same, but they do things slightly differently. And when a band is doing shit right, that difference often happens naturally. It can be as simple as two structurally identical songs each having riffs so awesome that the one could never be mistaken for the other.

Without further ado, a track-by-track review. Warning! Spoilers ahead!

1. Sorcerer of Lightning: Some ambient noise. Some plodding "doom" chords over some drums. Whoop-de-doo. Then WHOA, at 3:20 shit goes down. Witchrist explode into a twisted but anthemic harmonized riff, and the drums sound like a subterranean vibration. They ride the momentum into a punishing stream of double-bass, then back into a new rendition of the main riff, this time with the cymbals pushing it forwards. Then some epic doom riffing that now makes a lot more sense. And at 5:53, what you all came for. The blasting. And a tremolo riff that echoes the first without repeating. That's when it becomes clear just how good these guys are at exploiting death metal chromaticism without sacrificing an ear for consonant harmony.

2. Devour the Flesh: Where the first track was a great example of epic, through-composed metal, this is the fucking grinder. It basically works like a hardcore song. In a track like this, which is all about pure propulsive hate, the main riffs have to do a lot of work, and they do. Alternating between the first and second riffs, Witchrist build up a sense of violent compression, which they release at around 0:55 with a sick stomp section. But the song isn't just three perfectly arranged ass-kicking riffs. It surprised me by really going somewhere, rather than just returning to the original pattern. Everything they whip out after the halfway mark is just as cool, if not cooler, than what came before.

3. Temple of War: Starts with a clever variation on a classic riff, but what really makes the opening so strong is the thumping snare-kick assault of the drummer. He adds so much weight and momentum to the melodic idea, he's really playing with the riff rather than just under it. The clincher, though, is this jaw-droppingly heavy breakdown at 0:27. It sounds like an ocean turning over, or something. As is usual for this album, it just keeps getting better from there.

4. Adoration of Black Messiah: I love how they make you think you're about to hear some stupid Nile-esque string instrumental, then immediately wipe it out with a venomous hissing sound. This is basically just a cool track built on a strong melodic theme. Except, oh wait, at 1:54 there's this sick, gradually escalating riff that reminds me of the tension before a human sacrifice. And then there's this sick, very black metal blasting section that's like a commentary on it. Do you see how hard it is NOT to pay attention to the individual songs?

5. The Cauldron: Haunting, illogical leads. Drumming that pushes along at a dirge pace without losing momentum. Reminds me of the slower tracks on Darkthrone's Under A Funeral Moon. Not that it sounds the same, it just works the same way. But then the song stops being what you expect it to be. It gets even more awesome.

6. Shrine of Skulls: Holy fuck this is so heavy. There are, as usual, some great fast riffs, but the slow riffs that punctuate them are insane. And these are the things that really set the song apart. They play off the contrast between super-low chugging and sorrowful, lilting riffage. So fucking heavy, so twisted.

7. Deathbitch: With a stupid title like that, you'd expect this to be the album's throwaway, but it's not at all. This track basically exists to set us up for a super-heavy version of the classic black metal tremolo descent. It's hypnotic and climactic. And then they throw in a mosh part. YES.

8. Judgment and Torment: Great conclusion. The hammering riff that opens and closes this track is a great example of how cool a well-phrased variation on an unoriginal note combination can make it new, compelling, powerful. Then it opens up into some seriously fast blasting. Throughout the album, the vocalists really sound like demons howling from beyond, but here it's particularly otherworldly and overwhelming.

Utter devastation, haunted by phantasmal melody. Total chaos, delivered in deceptively sophisticated structures. I can't recommend this album enough. I may like it even more than War of All Against All. It's definitely a grower: unless you're a hardened war metal vet, you will need to listen to it at least once before it opens up to you, before you start picking up on the riffs and transitions. And it really helps to listen at least once with a good pair of headphones--the riffs and those all-important touches of harmony will stand out more clearly. Then, unleash it full blast on your speakers.

destroy destroy destroy destroy destroy destroy destroy destroy destroy destroy destroy destroy

Buy this album on Amazon

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Review: Bone Awl - Sunless Xyggos

This review has some historical significance. I wrote it over a year ago for my blog Your New Favorite Band Sucks, a short-lived experiment in writing ONLY negative reviews of undeservedly popular bands. The polemical Hypehammer posts that we do at Trial By Ordeal are more or less a continuation of this idea. In fact, Noktorn got in touch with me about collaborating after reading this review on Metal Archives. So you could say that Trial By Ordeal began here...

Bone Awl play a raw, noisy, hyper-minimalist hybrid of black metal and hardcore punk. On the basis of this description, I expected them to be my new favorite band. In this case, however, it was my new favorite band that sucked! Over the last year and a half I have listened to a number of their eps and demos. I tried very hard to like them, and for a long time said that I liked them, but recently realized that I never actually played their albums, and asked myself why.

Their newest release, the demo "Sunless Xyggos," distills their minimal style down to the most minimal minimum. As usual, there are a maximum of two riffs per song, and the "middle" riff, which works something like a mosh breakdown or a chorus, is usually a kind of variation on the first riff. What they have stripped away is the vocals...I may have heard a faint distorted yowl or two in the background, but there is pretty much no screaming going on here. In a sound that is purely drumbeat, riff, and vocals, this seems like it's a pretty serious reduction.

In this reduction, we are getting the core of the Bone Awl style. The band is supposed to be driven by the power of pure repetitive riffage, surging over an unrelenting rhythmic assault. The guitar/bass and drums are supposed to speak for themselves. The problem is that they don't. For the amount of racket these guys are making, the music is pretty limp. The instruments don't usually work together to create a sense of onrushing motion, which is crucial to this kind of stuff. The riffs are not very fun or interesting to listen to. For the most part, the chords don't push and pull at each other, and the lack of any rhythmic variation whatsoever becomes a real problem at the plodding midtempo these guys always use (except in the one obligatory really slow godawfully boring song they stick at the end of each album).

The lackluster riffage might not be such a huge problem if we were given more than just a riff or two, sitting on top of a beat that does little more than keep time and give direction. The obsession with minimalism prevents this, so that the music undermines itself. If you're going to write a song dominated by one riff, it better be a fucking monster, and it's best if it engages with and plays off of other elements in the song. The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog," Metallica's "Am I Evil" (yeah I know it's a Diamond Head cover), and Discharge's "The Final Bloodbath" are all great examples of this.

"Sunless Xyggos," by giving us the purest realization of the Bone Awl concept, reveals what was going on all along. It is simply the most fully realized aesthetic statement in a discography that is nothing but a series of aesthetic statements. In other words, Bone Awl aren't really anything aside from their hypothetically cool sound. The songs are just collections of sonic elements, selected because they are cool. The construction of their songs, and the musical work these songs accomplish, is incidental to their primary goal, which is simply to be a raw, noisy, hyper-minimalist hybrid of black metal and hardcore punk. This is nothing but style.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Decrepit - "Angel of Shadows"

I'm pretty stoked for the new Ringworm album Scars, which is coming out in four days. Was doing some research into the members' old bands, and came up with this. Cool and virtually unknown blackened death metal with a distinctive sound. There's a strong Morbid Angel influence, but these guys seem to place more emphasis on primal blasting power, and they write labyrinthine atonal riffs like the one at 00:54. Cthulhu shit. Nothing revolutionary, but a neat vintage death metal band that doesn't fit easily into the current cliche of "old school death metal." If you are a death metal buff, this is definitely worth a listen, and I'd be interested to hear your opinions.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ain't nothin to do but listen to the fucking Dead Boys

These days I usually stalk around the streets getting more and more pissed at everything and everyone I see. But there are some upsides to being an angry teenager again, one of which is that it's actually pretty fun, and another of which is that I feel like I understand the Dead Boys on a whole new level. They were a band I started listening to just as my taste was moving away from classic punk rock and into more metallic territory, so I never really spent enough time with them. Now I get it, and it feels good.

The funny thing is, Dead Boys were pretty damn metal for a punk band in '78. Listen to those chugging passages between the open chords, the wailing lead guitar, and the general air of thuggish heaviness that was totally absent from the NYC punk scene of the time. In fact, Dead Boys caught shit from a lot of pussy art-punk critics, who complained that they were "too metal." Remember that at this time metal meant, you know, Sabbath or Judas Priest or something. Like Motorhead in England, the Dead Boys were already breaking scene taboos and upping the ante for aggression.

"Ain't Nothin' To Do" reeks of antisocial rage, frustrated sexuality, and a consuming drive towards debauchery. In fact, that pretty much describes everything the Dead Boys wrote, but to me this song really nails it. I can't tell exactly what Stiv Bators is screaming in this live version, but at around 1:12 in the studio version (equivalent to 1:17 here) he spits out one of the punkest lyrics ever: "Gonna beat up the next hippie I see, maybe I'll be beatin' up you!" Don't be a dead hippie, be a Dead Boy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: Animus - Poems For the Aching, Swords For the Infuriated

'Poems For The Aching, Swords For The Infuriated' is an album that can never be replicated. Even if you get the same person with the same precise instruments, same recording, same emotions and thoughts, the results will not be the same, not by a long shot. This is an album of such fragility and such unmitigated brilliance that it required a single moment in time to be harnessed for its creation. There is nothing like this LP, nothing like Animus.

Animus is a one-man project out of Israel. The music reflects it: utterly single-minded, it couldn't possibly be the creation of multiple entities; it's simply too pure to be so. There's certainly nothing like the unnamed man behind Animus. While flickers of other bands might be apparent in a purely aesthetic dimension, the core of Animus is intoxicatingly unique and rises above a sea of clones and imitators like some sort of blackened phoenix. And though you might think such an album would spawn a massive ego, the exact opposite is true. The man behind Animus is extremely humble and sees himself as a tool to discover music, not as a godlike creator. This is such distant music, so separated from the rest of art that it almost seems like an entity unto itself that can't really be pigeonholed into such a category as music. The sparse linear notes, which feature no lyrics, song titles, or member names, say it better than I ever could: "Animus is none and nothing but sheer artistic devotion. No words, no musical notes -- emotions."

One might describe Animus' music as black metal, but upon further examination that's a woefully inadequate genre to apply to such a creation. It is easier to describe in relation to artists such as Summoning or AOC, where one can see that there was a connection to black metal at one point that is now a mere trace in the band's music. A more accurate phrase would be 'blackened music', which comes closer to grasping the vastness of Animus. One could even say that it is a reinterpretation of traditional rock music in a black metal aesthetic, yet driving the artistic expression of both genres further by it's mere presence in the medium. I cannot stress this enough: Animus is far, far beyond the vast majority of music today, both sonically and conceptually. The chance of someone being able to write songs more advanced than those present on 'Poems For The Aching, Swords For The Infuriated' is slim at best, at least in this point in time. The music is pure energy; not to say that it is 'energetic', but that it speaks to a holistic design rarely seen and even more rarely mastered to such a degree.

The music present is hugely minimalistic, making 'Transilvanian Hunger' seem like 'Focus' in comparison. Songs from six to thirteen minutes might have two or three melodies at the most. Vocals are harsh yet soothing rasps with the occasional Mutiilation-style wailing scream. The quality is raw, rawer than most, and it perfectly suits the music. Guitars are reduced to background noise, melody is concentrated in sparse keyboards, and only the snare and crash cymbal can be easily heard as percussion. And yet it strikes me that this is the only way such an album could be made. Any more clarity would destroy the passion and beauty that defines this album very much through it's brazen, fearless devotion to simplicity and elegance. Let it be known that this is not music for those that wish for something aesthetically pleasing on a normal level, but for those who will stare into the abyss with no fear to its returning gaze. This is music for those that want to be empowered; ironically, despite how it only somewhat resembles such music, 'Poems For The Aching, Swords For The Infuriated' may very well be the closest music to the ideology and philosophy of black metal that the world has ever seen.

The opening track is a reasonably succinct description of the rest of the album: binary drumming, harsh rasps, a background of guitar fuzz, and slowly shifting synths. All the melody is concentrated in the latter instrument for most of the tracks, mostly due to it being the only melodic instrument that can be consistently heard. Atmosphere changes dramatically from song to song: here it is murky and unsure, an internal battle filled with concern and doubt. The next track is possibly the most 'black metal' track here, with a particularly venomous vocal performance (entirely sung in ancient Hebrew) and Burzum-inspired melody. Here is when one begins to notice that the tracks on this album are not whole songs, but mere fragments of music that could go on for eternity. I'd imagine if such things were possible, Animus would be writing twenty hour songs, such is the timeless quality of such music. It almost feels as if you're getting a brief window into the immortal consciousness of the world; a brief peek into what will never end.

And yet, the most sublime and emotional performance is yet to come. The third track stands as one of the heights of music as a whole. This is possibly the most emotionally naked piece of music I have ever heard. Composed only of a lonely guitar and accompanying vocals, this is an unbelievably, heart-wrenchingly honest slip into a soundstream. Words can't describe the emotions that one feels as this enters you; Animus here ceases to be music and becomes a part of you as a person. At this point, there is no separation, no 'listening' to this album: it is now bound with you in an impossible, unquantifiable way that very, very few records can match. Once again, Animus very nearly separates from 'music' and becomes an entity of its own. This soon shifts into track four, the climax of the album, where the emotions of emotional pain and sorrow leave and are replaced by inner fire that other bands could only hope to match in conviction. This is epic music, not crafted by over-tracking vocal lines and arpeggios, but by an innate understanding of being a small part of a huge world, where one can only become a hero if you believe and do true battle with the expectations of the universe, through true assertion of the self.

The remaining to tracks function as a denouement of sorts after such emotionally taxing tracks as the last two. Five is a slow, perhaps doom-influenced track, while six is the final, bombastic closer where the drums can be heard in full and a mere two guitar riffs occur throughout its thirteen minute span. And a conclusion is reached. It is one full of fear and doubt, but it is a strong, deliberate one without remorse for its beliefs or actions. Animus has no apologies for it's music. And it should not.

This is music that must be listened to in full and in the correct state of mind. To do otherwise is to insult the perfection of such art. Animus with 'Poems For The Aching, Swords For The Infuriated' has made a piece of music lightyears beyond what most of us will ever be able to achieve. Animus has made their masterpiece with a handful of desolate chords, one drum beat, four organ notes, and the conviction of ages.

Music for sunsets over isles, music for communion with nature. Music for those of us that when the end comes will smile with the knowledge that we have won.

(Originally written for

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lol I'm in another band

Well, technically speaking, I'm not IN the band I'm referring to here- I'm just doing live vocals for Extremely Rotten on the above tour. Yep, your illustrious provider of poorly thought out musical opinions and navel-gazing ruminations on just what Devourment means to the existentialist is going on tour, and even better yet: I'm going to keep a tour diary on the blog here so you get a first-hand chance to see what it's like to tour in an underground metal band. I figure it'll be a good opportunity for the average metalhead to see what touring is exactly like: no bullshit, no censoring, every cool and obnoxious part of it.

It also goes without saying that anyone located near the above shows is definitely welcome to come out, say hi, and talk about metal. In fact, at the New York date, there's gonna be an informal little get together of myself, Pavel, and some regular readers of Trial By Ordeal. It's going to be a sick night and I hope that any NY readers out there can make it out.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July. Get drunk, make things explode, eat well, be with friends and family. Rep your nation and your hood and honor the war dead before us and in the future. Celebrate everything you have and everything you will come to acquire.



You'll live

Tired of these introspective posts yet? I know the Crowbar one was the first one, really (apart from the suicide post) but here's the truth about Trial By Ordeal: we lied to you when we said it was just about metal. It is about metal, but more importantly, it's about Metal, which goes beyond music, fashion, and style: to live Metal is to live the sort of life that is the antithesis of popular standards of apathy, irony, and disengagement. I imagine most of the people who read this will understand what I'm saying, because we all listen to metal; it reflects on similar feelings across the spectrum of human existence. You listen to metal for a reason- probably because you are Metal. And that absolutely means something.

Am I a person to tell you things about life? Probably not- I'm not saying I'm qualified in any way, shape, or form. But I'm human. Even though I'm just text on a screen to most of you, I still hope you can take something from what I say. And the reason why you might be able to take something away is because I'm Metal like you. Metal isn't really about what bands you like, how long your hair is, or what you think about Jesus or Hitler- it's a state of mind, and as cringe-inducing as the phrase is, it's a lifestyle. Metal is about existence against the tide; metal is about passion. At its root, metal is about life, from black metal's celebration of the romantic and inescapable to death metal's refocusing of life through an obsession with its opposite, death. At its core, metal music is about transcending limitations and existing in a very defined form of the self- very aware, very intense, and unafraid to express itself.

I'll level with you completely: over the past few days, I've been dealing with heavy shit. My father, already chronically (and to some degree, terminally) ill recently learned that cancer is a distinct possibility, and it will take bloodwork next week to determine whether the possibility is a reality or not. I'm not embarrassed to talk about it- at its root, it's a real thing, and Metal is about nothing if not the real. I love my father, and despite the occasionally bitter and acrimonious relationship we've had in the past, the possibility of this illness is something that affects me now and will affect me in the future. Alongside this lurking possibility are a whole host of personal issues which I'm not willing to talk about; this may be hypocritical, but even bloggers can expect some level of privacy in their day-to-day lives.

So what does this mean to you? Well, it comes down to what Metal is and how it affects you. Because you are Metal (I'm hoping) you have a distinct sense of the self. The dirty secret of the self is that with knowledge of it comes an intrinsic sense of right and wrong. And it's not a right and wrong based on silly aesthetic issues- I write just as many songs about rape, torture, and serial murder as the next goregrind fanatic- but a deep and intrinsic understanding of the right and wrong thing to do at any moment. Metal is the understanding that the right and correct, and more specifically, the cosmic right and correct, is not an easy thing.

Enacting the right is routinely an incredibly difficult thing to do in real life, because regardless of popularly regarded morals and ethics, doing the right thing is routinely discouraged by society. Occasionally they correlate, more accidentally than intentionally, but for the most part they are intrinsically at odds with each other. Because civilization in general is based on commerce and barter of some form or another, altruism is intrinsically discouraged by society at large. They will likely pretend to respect altruism, but the fact is that altruism is rarely backed by societal entities. People will be altruistic, stick their hand in the fire, and get burned. And society at large will tell that person that they were stupid to stick their hand in the fire to begin with.

What many fail to realize, though, is that altruism is one of the most Metal things in existence. Altruism signifies a full understanding of a situation and the immortal Self. Altruism means that you will stick your hand in the fire fully expecting to be burnt. And you will be burnt, and it will hurt, and the next time the necessary fire comes around, you will stick your hand in it again. Why? Because it is the immortal Right and Correct, and personal discomfort and suffering pales in comparison to these multifaceted and crucial elements of being. Your suffering is meaningless; your job, as a human, is to uphold the immortal values which are truly crucial to the human condition, which ultimately make life worth living.

Who are you? I'll tell you who you are: you're white male from a middle class family, somewhere between the mid teens and college age. You've done well in school- not because of particular effort, but because school is easy and you're intelligent enough to glide through it. But with that comes a distinct sense of dissatisfaction because you realize you could be doing more, but the system you're provided doesn't suggest that to you. You will probably go to college even though you are likely uninterested in your major and will regularly think about dropping out or what life would have been like had you not entered, or had gone into a trade school. You're most likely tolerable to be around and not a complete social wallflower, but you feel weirdly out of place at the parties you're invited to- everyone else seems to be in on some secret of human interaction that you're not. And while you see other mingle and talk about Jersey Shore and interact in a way that seems natural to them, you're unable to do that; not because you're pretentious, but because a life lived in that manner is totally alien to you.

Was I correct? I have a feeling that I probably am. Not because I'm cold reading, but because metal tends to attract the like-minded. And, if you fall within that general paradigm, you've likely put your hand in the fire and been burnt. And even more likely if you have, you've done it repeatedly, suffering the burn over and over again, but the very act of placing your hand within the fire is an intrinsic and natural impulse- it's completely alien to imagine NOT doing so. This is because you understand true morality- not morality for aesthetics or comfort, but the true face of morality: that you may suffer many times, and you will certainly suffer without vindication, and you will suffer again and again. This is not because you don't learn, but because you understand the Right and Correct on a level that many will never attain.

So what's the point of this elaborate writeup? To tell you that you'll live. As pretentious and obnoxious as many people will find this post (and me in general) there's some element of truth to it. I've placed my hand in the fire many times and every time I've been burnt. That's the truth of fire: it hurts those who deal with it. But the reality of being Metal is that no matter how badly it hurts and no matter how often you're burnt, you'll continue to place your hand where others won't. And you should be saluted for that. If you weren't Metal, and did not understand the ultimate Right and Correct of the world, those fires would go unchecked.

You may never be thanked. Others may think you stupid for burning yourself again and again. But I want to let you know that what you're doing is right. You're the last line of defense against complete selfishness and chaos. And on your deathbed, you'll know that you've done the right thing. Even if you don't see tomorrow, you'll die with the satisfaction that you lived the right way. And in the end, that's all that matters.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Get into: Crowbar

i'm drunk at 4 am and nothing's meant as much to me as this song. don't let it be like this. don't become this. don't become the sort of person who writes things drunk at 4 am, because there's never a good way to do that. it won't lead to anything good. it won't make you feel better about anything, it won't make you feel any smarter or better. you won't feel like an artist. you'll feel like a drunk at 4 am with a dying father and a life full of regrets.

(don't become this. don't be like this. be something else.)

i've listened to crowbar for a lot of years and this is probably the most important song they've ever done. it's about drug addiction but it's really about everything. no matter who you are or where you are in life this song will make sense because, if you're reading this, you're as much of an irrelevant piece of shit as me. ultimately, this won't matter, nor will anything else i write. still, you should listen to this.

(be better. be stronger. be something important.)

succeed. treat people well. be something. make something of yourself. summon up all that potential you were ascribed when you were a kid. it was bullshit potential- they told you that you were good at things, that you were smarter, faster, stronger than others, and that was all a lie, but the only way to survive is to pretend that all those things are true. you might be a 4 am drunk like me but you'll have consistency behind you, which is more than i have.

(try. try harder. fail. try again, no matter what. be something.)

crowbar is music for 50 year old alcoholics who have been working in steel mills for 3/5 of their lives. i'm not that so it's bullshit that i listen to this. i'm a hipster and you should be disgusted with me. good; it means you're doing something right. but listen to the song above even though i'm ultimately useless and even though nothing i can say will be important compared to that. it's the only thing that matters. i promise.

(even if you fail you can go to sleep and have another day. don't give up.)

if you're reading this there's a good chance that you're 16 and you think you're above songs like this one, but i promise you that there's going to come a time in your life where they're important. there's going to be a time when you need to listen to crowbar to survive. there's going to be a time to start over. i'm not trying to encourage you so much as tell you what things really are. there's always a chance to start over. there's always a chance to be better. and even though there's going to be days (fuck knows i've had enough of them) where you're not going to feel like anything will change, like you'll be anything, like anyone will love you, like anything matters, it will happen, because time passes and everything changes. and if you have to lie to yourself to get there, it's okay. i lie to myself a lot to get through the day. sometimes i have to tell myself that being drunk at 4 am won't mean much the next day. i know that it does, and i know that it reflects on me, and i know that it makes me pathetic. but it only makes me pathetic for that one moment. tomorrow, i can get up again. tomorrow, i can do better. tomorrow, i can be something. tomorrow, you can be something. tomorrow, we might die trying, but we'll be something other than today.

Get Into: The Ancient's Rebirth

In 1998 The Ancient's Rebirth (awkward name, huh?) released a strange EP called Damnated Hell's Arrival (whoa, even more awkward!). Like Sorhin and Necrophobic, they played a brand of Swedish black metal heavily influenced by the riffiness of death metal.

Now I know what you're thinking: "Oh, like Dissection, right?" No, not so much. I love Dissection, but I actually prefer the lesser-known (and more aggressive) bands from their musical genepool. The Ancients couldn't care less about Dissection's Metallica-style hooks. Instead, they weave a disorienting web of harmonized leads over a barrage of hyperspeed blastbeats. Rather than drawing power from repetition, as is traditional for black metal, they pull riff upon golden riff out of their collective ass. Dude, there are so many riffs. It's inhuman. But these Swedes are demons, not machines. Every song is spontaneous, rough, and full of anger.

The downside to the Ancients' technical flashiness is that the songs don't always have compelling structures. 8 to 10 minutes of mind-blowing riff salad is very cool while it's happening, but leaves me wanting something a little more. I chose "Times To Come Are Frozen" because it's concise and well-structured. Definitely my favorite track on the EP.

Actually, I lied. My REAL favorite is their ripping cover of Kreator's "Flag of Hate." I wanted to post it, but it's not on Youtube. It's hard to live up to the pure sickness of Kreator, but these guys more than pull it off. For me, their interpretation has replaced the original as the definitive version of the song. It's faithful to the spirit of Kreator, only more so. Fuck. Did I just say that? Yes, I did.

This EP was clearly a leap into new territory for the band, and it's a shame that they never got a chance to iron out their songwriting (it was their last recording). Check back in the next week or two for a longer review of their only full-length, Drain The Portal In Blood. I've only heard one track so far, but it sounds like more of a traditional Norwegian kind of thing. My expectations are high.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Get Into: Ork Bastards

Ork Bastards are basically a perfect band. They come from Russia, and they play some kind of sick dystopian metalpunk that doesn't quite fit into any established scene. While a lot of the individual riffs sound like the work of a lobotomized Destruction, these guys aren't really thrash metal in any meaningful sense of the word. Their songs are too minimal and vicious. Like All Pigs Must Die, Ork Bastards listen really carefully to Discharge without attempting to replicate the Discharge sound. That influence is evident in the general contours of the riffs, in their overall arrangement, and in the pounding punk drumming. Ork Bastards aren't simply reducible to their songwriting, though. Listen to the palm mutes in "Cold Ruined Stones." While the sound is raw as all fuck, the guitarist's picking is crisp and precise, coursing with aggression.There's something about the way Ork Bastards play their instruments that lends the music an intense physicality. It doesn't just make me want to punch someone, it makes me want to hurl myself into furniture and walls.

Review: Horn of Valere - Blood of the Heathen Ancients

I think Horn of Valere's compilation is the first Deathgasm release I've reviewed that I can absolutely get behind. I don't have a problem with the label at all- they're clearly incredibly dedicated to extreme music and I respect the work they do- but their releases have a consistent ability to just do nothing for me. Horn of Valere, however, is a complete turnaround of that notion- "Blood of the Heathen Ancients" is not only one of Deathgasm's strongest releases in their lengthy catalog, but definitely in the upper echelon of USBM as a whole. The band's epic, riff-oriented style, seemingly patterned after bands like Hirilorn and other European artists, is enormously refreshing after slogging through disc after disc of dissonant warbling and depressive drudgery. Those who dismiss USBM outright would be advised to check this out- Horn of Valere easily stacks up against European artists and shows another side of USBM which has been, unfortunately, rather underexplored.

My favorite black metal bands tend to make songs that are lengthy, narrative, and riff-oriented, and Horn of Valere falls right into this Taake/Hirilorn paradigm while still putting a uniquely American spin on the style. A bit more restrained and dynamic than their European cousins, Horn of Valere makes extremely melodic black metal that incorporates bites of '80s heavy metal and old punk into its music to make a sound that's particularly timeless and memorable while not sacrificing any of the aggression of more well known artists in a similar vein. This is extraordinarily riff-oriented music, especially for the USBM scene, which is so often concentrated on a rhythmic attack- Horn of Valere are refreshingly pure, letting the guitars do the vast majority of the talking on this release. And the riffs are phenomenal, ranging from tremolo renditions of elaborated punk chord structures to somewhat more virtuosic, lead-driven work (such as on "A Prophecy of Ivory Skies") which brings to mind a more refined and ultimately interesting take on Arghoslent. "A Blaze in the Northern Sky"-era Darkthrone's sense of pacing and song structure emerges on the longer tracks, with songs like "Ageless Winds of Infinite Wisdom" coming off like a slick, modern, melodic version of "Kathaarian Life Code." These guys have done their homework and absolutely know how to construct interesting black metal, but above and beyond that have a talent for the essential pieces of metal songwriting- riffcraft, texture, rhythm- that sets them apart from the rest.

The fairly long track times on this disc- it does open with a twelve minute song, after all- might suggest something is amiss, and I'll admit it upfront: there does seem to be a hint of post-rock influence on this release. However, given its 2004 release date, it's clear that Horn of Valere definitely missed the post-metal movement that's resulted in so much disposable trash. More importantly, Horn of Valere seems to incorporate these structural influences in a way that's useful and relevant to the music as a whole. Other black metal bands who employ post-rock apparently think that it's a shortcut to wimpy acoustic passages, major key melodies, and a general softening of their sound. Horn of Valere, on the other hand, uses this influence to make their music more dynamic: the slowly developing, riff-to-riff, lead-to-lead structures of songs like (again) "A Prophecy of Ivory Skies" helps to expand the songs without stepping on the general intensity of the music. It's probably one of the most delicate and effective applications of post-rock I've ever heard in a black metal disc.

But still, these influences are minor compared to what really makes this release so absurdly good: the riffs. Generally simple, elegant, and even somewhat typical, Horn of Valere takes traditional melodic black metal riffs and somehow manages to twist them just enough to make them sound fresh and ambitious. An inherent grasp of texture and chord arrangement allows the band to create riffs that sound familiar yet still work tremendously towards creating a feeling all their own. While Horn of Valere's melodic sense is firmly within the realm of traditional black metal, I can't help but feel as though there's an intrinsically American quality to it; subtle undercurrents of blues, American folk, and perhaps even old country that flitter around the edges of riffs sculpted from traditional European molds. While Horn of Valere does nothing particularly outstanding and obvious to create an identity for themselves, their songwriting does all the talking and results in a release (and a compilation, no less!) that manages to have more of an identity than many larger bands can cultivate.

Horn of Valere is a band who never got the attention they truly deserved from the USBM scene, perpetually more concerned with flash in the pan displays of novelty and pointless antagonism than concrete music that seeks greatness. They represent a true ambition and vision within the well-established tropes of black metal which shows that, no matter how well you think you know the style, new subtleties and layers can be uncovered from even the simplest and most seemingly cliched elements. If you can track this disc down, absolutely acquire a copy. Even if you don't find it as seminal as I do, it's nearly impossible to deny that, within its confines, is a grasp for true artistry in a scene of boredom.

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