Friday, September 30, 2011

Blog plug: Archives of Khazad-Dum

As you very well know, metal blogs are a wasteland of sorrow and boredom governed only by the winged, terrifying juggernaut of Trial By Ordeal and its dislike of everything. However, once in a long a while, another will rise up that's worthy of attention from our tiny, inconsequential fanbase of people who get all smug whenever Immolation is mentioned.

The Archives of Khazad-Dum is an awesome blog with a great concept that will undoubtedly ignite a fire in the loins of any of you metal nerds out there. The concept is simple: find out where the album covers of different metal releases are stolen from and compile them together. In short, the curators of the Archives find any album featuring a cover that's also seen on another album (at least one has to be metal for qualification, and the cover must always be on at least two albums) and puts them together along with the original piece, and additionally attempts to find the original piece's name and artist. The results are fascinating: obscure demos sharing covers with major Nuclear Blast artist, twenty or more albums featuring the same iconic painting, and unknown photographs getting used everywhere with no hints as to their origin. A special note has to be given to the sheer precision and sharp eye for detail that those who run the blog display: a single tree in the background of a busy album cover can be linked to an original picture, or a small portion of a larger painting can be tied to the original. In short, these guys know their shit to a crazy degree. Of course, it's also due to the help of the community; they're always taking submissions for new covers or new albums which feature covers already listed, as well as, of course, any info on the origins of some of the unknown works of art.

Basically, the Archives prove to us what we already knew: metal musicians are incapable of making their own art, and they really, really like Gustav Dore and Frank Frazetta. An utterly awesome site that's great to check out when you don't know what else to do. Updates are frequent and the owners are gracious and dedicated metalheads. Check these guys out right now.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Posers are food for the crows

In case you haven't noticed, we've been up to our ears in a comments debate started by Noktorn's "Hipster Gentrification" post. Nothing personal against Chuck, who has a genuine love for the music, but thinking about posers all day has left me seriously pissed off. So now I bring you this brilliant track from Lansing's Sauron, a shamefully unknown band spewing out some of the most ferocious Destruction-style black/thrash produced anywhere in the world right now. They're right up there with Desaster, with a greater emphasis on old school aesthetics. But you'll notice these guys have a sound of their own. This track's about kerb-ing a Pantera fan, but it could just as well be about taking a battle axe to a pseudo-crusty bike messenger wearing a trucker hat and a Darkthrone t-shirt. Different look, same old shit. It's smart, talented guys like Sauron, persevering in the underground out of pure love for the music, who have become the beating heart of metal today. If you think Wolves In The Throne Room are the bright new hope for the scene, suck on this. F.O.A.D.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Get Into: Desaster

When I hear about a band from a friend or a reviewer I usually check out their earliest albums first, but I got into Desaster "backwards" because I found them by following random Youtube links until I got to a cool track. They released their first demo in 1993, during black metal's proud and bloody iron age, but what I'm really stoked on at the moment is their 2005 album Angelwhore.

I suppose Desaster are a black/thrash band, but that label means almost nothing. It'd probably be more accurate to say that they use thrash techniques to write songs with a black metal feel. As their name suggests, Desaster are doggedly devoted to the elder gods of Teutonic thrash, but Angelwhore is really cool because it's not some Hell's Headbanger's-esque attempt to recreate that exact sound. It's actually shockingly contemporary. While another veteran band might well have played up their scene cred and churned out increasingly stale re-iterations of their early albums, Desaster remained completely current with developments in metal throughout the 90s and early 2000s.

Angelwhore is full of ripping thrash, but it also features bombastic blasting in the manner of later Marduk and Destroyer 666, and highly developed chug riffing ala Amon Amarth and At The Gates. Luckily, we're not dealing with some haphazard, cut-and-paste effort to sex up oldschool thrash with touches of war metal and Gothenburg death. Rather, Desaster work towards their non-80s influences from within their natural framework of speedy, consonant thrash metal. They bring out the underlying thrashiness in these later subgenres, emphasizing their common descent from the rarefied shred of Destruction and the grinding onslaught of Kreator. Everything about Desaster's sound is natural. When I heard the melodeath riff that drops at 1:21 in the song I posted above, I wasn't like "Ew! A melodeath riff, how tasteless!" Instead, my reaction was more along the lines of "Sick! That's how these riffs should always have sounded!" Between their clever songwriting and their embrace of crunchy modern production, Desaster have found a way to thrash out without sounding like historical reenactors.

But wait, we haven't even talked about the vocals yet! Black/thrash is cluttered with vocalists doing generic black metal screams and rote Tom G. Warrior impersonations, thinking that simply because they're using extreme styles the music automatically becomes "more extreme than normal thrash," or whatever. That's a bunch of bullshit--they usually sound so standard that they don’t even figure in my experience of the music.

Desaster’s vocalist, Sataniac, is not one of these guys. In fact, I’m not sure what kind of guy he is because he sounds like no one else I’ve ever heard. All I can say is that he's aptly named. Instead of screaming or rasping he roars. His general approach is kind of like metallic hardcore, but with black metal’s inhuman wrath. With his sheer batshit insanity and his penchant for using effects, he kinda reminds me of Sakevi’s G.I.S.M. Rather than just "doing vocals," he's a real vocal performer, delivering his lines with variation and real emotion. At 5:21 in “The Blessed Pestilence” he just fucking goes for it, revving himself up from bestial wretching into mad laughter before calling out in triumph as the blastbeats return. I can see this kind of thing making a lot of people uncomfortable, whether because they're anxious hipsters who think it's "ridiculous" or uptight nerds who think it's "not how thrash vocals should sound," but these people should go get fucked.

By combining rabid aggression with modern production and really catchy melodies, Desaster have created the ultimate "little brother" album. That's not meant to be patronizing at all. It's not an album your ignorant little brother might listen to, it's an album that you should GIVE to your little brother, or any friend who's just beginning to explore the outer fringes of extreme metal. Angelwhore will be his gateway into the hard shit. And if he can't dig Desaster, tell him to look into Animal Collective.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Interest check: download blog

I've started a couple download blogs in the past, but I've quickly abandoned them out of what seems like a lack of interest in the sort of thing I'd like to do with them. With Trial By Ordeal seeing a stable community of commentators and viewers, I'd like to see what you guys think of the sort of thing I'd like to do.

I'd like to start a download blog for the sort of people who read Trial By Ordeal; those who have an interest in extreme music (and, as usual, with an emphasis on metal) who are simply looking for interesting music, not to find something specific. To be more precise: the download blog I would create wouldn't feature leaks of the new Nightwish, big-name hipster bands, or Bone Awl bootlegs. Instead, I'd like to post interesting albums (with an emphasis on demos) from my personal collection that I feel are interesting and unique. Stuff you've never heard of but want to try simply to hear something new and different. Instead of regurgitating the same bland shit that seemingly ever other download blog likes to these days (check out the new Dark Funeral, here's a hardcore 7" in FLAC to flatter your sense of eccentricity,) I'd like to start one for people enthusiastic and passionate about extreme music who'd like to explore the forgotten, odd stuff that probably won't go anywhere. Independent presses, limited CDrs, forgotten classics, the like.

If you'd be interested in seeing something like this, comment below and let me know what you think. I'd like to share all the weird, hoary stuff I've amassed over the years; I'd just like a proper venue to do it.

Hipster gentrification

This post is inspired by a post I just read on Rate Your Music which struck me as particularly interesting. In a thread generally about metal, one guy wrote this:

"I dabble in black metal because at times it resembles bombastic shoegaze, but I guess I'd say there is too much lion-like roaring, presumably to imitate satan's beast the antichrist in a bid to as archangel guard the lord almighty until his ultimate defeat."

What makes this remarkable is that this is perhaps the first time I've heard someone infatuated with "hipster black metal" who's willing to express the reality of what they like: not black metal itself, but some of its aesthetic tropes when combined with a style of music that they prefer. This guy doesn't claim to be into Mayhem or Darkthrone, doesn't posture as a guy who's deeply into Ukrainian NSBM, and doesn't pretend to "get" the style of music at all: he openly admits that black metal itself is not really what he's looking for. Herein lies the great gulf between "hipster black metal" and the metal scene itself- this grey area is never explored. Most of the people in their overpriced Wolves In the Throne Room hoodies see themselves as an intrinsic part of the metal scene, just like any other metalhead, when they are absolutely (and quite obviously) not.

Fans of hipster black metal/sludge/doom/what have you tend to decry the more traditionalist parts of the metal scene as elitist, but this is hardly the case. Metalheads at their root have no problem with the music of Liturgy, Thou, or any other sort of tertiary hanger-on of the metal scene; the issues lie with the ideology of the fans and their obsessive desire to belong to a community that they otherwise seem to dislike. Most outsider metal bands- those with members cultivated from punk, indie rock, or any other style- have no desire to make music that reflects and embraces the carnal musical and ideological ethos of metal itself; rather, it's an attempt to manipulate metal to the genre of their choice. Members of indie rock bands almost never form a straight-up raw black metal band that would be indistinguishable from the rest of the scene if you didn't know their pedigree; the indie history becomes in and of itself one of the most important parts of the music. Which begs the question: why form a metal band at all?

This comes to my main point, which is a phrase I've coined for this sort of activity: "hipster gentrification." Gentrification refers to when an affluent section of the population moves into a lower-class section of a city, seeking out cheaper property or a sort of "authentic culture" that doesn't exist in their own community; the result of this is that the "indigenous population," so to speak, is forced out of their own homes through rising costs of living, as existing businesses begin catering to the affluent instead of the indigenous. Keep in mind that the value judgments- the estimations of money, or of "high" versus "low" culture- are fairly irrelevant here; it's just a shorthand to describe the sort of cultural imperialism that we've seen in the metal scene.

This is not to say it has to be this way. As the starting quote of this article shows, it's entirely possible for members of other scenes (in his case, the shoegaze scene) to be, as Pavel would say, "genre tourists"; people who intrinsically understand that they aren't a part of the "black metal scene" proper, who simply desire to sample the elements they enjoy at their choosing without investing themselves fully. I would say that this is what the majority of the hipster black metal scene does, but what separates the individual above from the bulk of them is the honesty with which he expresses this value. This guy isn't a part of the metal scene, and doesn't want to be- there's merely aspects of it that he enjoys, and the rest of it he feels no need to delve into.

The inherent problem with genre tourism is that most people are whetted to a particular musical community (at least when it comes to music nerds like myself and those reading this blog,) and everything outside of said home community is treated like a playground. I'll admit it myself; the scenes with which I have a more tertiary interest (hip-hop, electronic music, noise, punk, etc.) are definitely handled, in my mind, with a lighter hand than metal, simply because I haven't followed the history of those genres extensively and haven't invested the time and energy into them that I have metal. However, what I don't do is start a breakcore project when the only member of that scene I really like is Venetian Snares. Why is that? Because I don't want to be a metalhead making a breakcore project- I'd like to make a breakcore project that stands on its own in its own musical community. Otherwise, the results would be shallow and designed to appeal more to my scene than theirs. In short, it's not my place.

However, you regularly see this in the metal scene with hipster black metal or its related substyles, both in musical and ideological form. Take, for example, Iskra, a band that earns a great deal of my ire. Iskra makes a crust punk/black metal fusion, but the black metal is pretty tertiary as Iskra very clearly resides in the crust punk scene. This wouldn't be an issue if the "black metal elements" weren't pushed so heavily, and the lyrics weren't about exactly the sort of 15 year old humanist poli-sci that black metal so staunchly opposes. This is not a natural combination of two related styles; rather, it's Iskra's attempt to humanize a genre that's not their own, and push their own personal ideology into a style that roundly rejects it. The same phenomena is obvious with Liturgy, Thou, and any other number of bands.

I don't want to suggest that ideology is the be-all, end-all of musical communities; rather, I'd suggest that the way the ideology is expressed must be in tune with the scene it's emulating. As I stated in my piece about Christian metal, I would be a thousand times more comfortable with Christianity in metal if it was expressed in a manner congruent with the bulk of the metal scene: warlike, violent, aggressive, and dogmatic. The same goes with Iskra: I would be perfectly fine with their silly far-left politics if their lyrics were violent and revolutionary. Instead, we're left with a bunch of hand-wringing lyrical imagery about how being cruel to gays is just, like, so totally mean! Even Brutal Truth did better than that (and with better music to boot.)

If you're the sort of person who isn't a metalhead but is reading this blog anyway (and apparently there's a fair number of you out there,) you probably understand that this is, inherently, not your scene. This isn't us restricting access to it; feel free to enjoy the music, talk about it, share it with other non-metalhead friends, and combine it with your own styles in rich and varied ways. Simply understand that our scene, like yours (whichever it may be,) was not constructed as a playground for you: we have our own narrative, our own history, and our own community, so if you're going to be a tourist, don't hide the camera and the fanny pack like we're not going to notice.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This week's listening:

Its been a good week. Here are the five albums that have helped make it awesome:

Wind of the Black Mountains have always seemed to be a third-stringer in the US black metal scene, even despite being on Moribund. Not sure why really, it's rather different for black metal, and is engaging and re-playable in a way that most black metal isn't. WotBM are very death metal for a black metal band, or at least on this album. The sound is thick and booming, and even the riffs seem to be more deathy than blacky. Has kind of a speedy off-kilter feeling like early Immolation, but with the unmistakable black/death/thrash fusion-tinged sound of Summon. After all, Sean Peters was in this band too, so hey, the more bands that remind me of Summon the better. Of course I find this pretty original and great, and it's quite overlooked it seems.

Goddamn, why are most Japanese metal bands so much sicker sounding than their peers from elsewhere? They seem to really reinvent the 'death' in death metal in a way that is over the top and inimitable. Coffins are no exception to this, though they're a lot more fun to listen to than most of the others. It's not to say they're a 'fun', goofy band that laces the horror with humor, but it's rather in how their music can be so fucking upbeat and catchy for being so pulverizingly brutal. Mortuary in Darkness is a perfect slab of what I'm talking about. Massive, instantly memorable riffs chug along alternating between mid-paced and a doomy crawl. They really just do it all so right. One of those albums that hits you hard, any mood you play it in.

Another Japanese one! The self-proclaimed "most evil band in Japan" might be fooling you with the cover and title of this one. Okay, it IS sleazy as fuck, but in a really raw and unattached way. I truly feel that this album belongs in the same discussion as some of the South American black/thrash progenitors, and even could be loosely called war metal I think. It's the sort of black metal where everything is played raw and fast and mishmashed, but Abigail are good enough songwriters to rise above it. There is a surprisingly coherent flow to this madness that totally rules, as Abigail never forget to actually riff in their songs. Grindy and thrashy at the same time Bad-ass album!

I really don't know why I wrote off Thy Serpent for so long. 'Melodic black metal' usually sucks hard, but Forests of Witchery is actually a pretty cool album. Has a warm but cool atmosphere, almost like Agatus or Order of the Ebon Hand moved north. Has the Greek sound all over it, minus some of the more rock-like sensibilities of that scene. Ultra melodic like the aforementioned tag would suggest, but I like how there's even a mystical vibe to it that carries the melodies in a way that makes them sound spacey and not melancholic. Tasteful use of keys to accentuate parts, but not overdone like cheesier bands. And let's not forget that it even gets folky without being gay! Is that a first?
Aethyrvorous gets compared to Portal a lot, which I guess is understandable but not entirely correct. Yes, they're both Australian and they both go for that suffocating, black hole like riffing, but structurally, they differ just enough to offer two different takes on the same kind of concept. Whereas I've always thought of Portal's amorphous riffing as a sort of metallic take on dark ambient, Aethyrvorous seem to be slightly more in traditional death metal territory with this. Riffing can be both playful and challenging, and everything seems to be shrouded in a murky, cavernous production job that drives home the feeling. If you're a sucker for this type of musical aesthetic like I am, you'd probably dig this quite a bit. Not exactly my sort of regular listening material, but on occasion it really hits the spot.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Get Into: Black Mold Phallanx

Black Mold Phallanx is a project mostly known through the gorenoise scene even if the music they make isn't strictly gorenoise. Although the only time I really see them mentioned is old Splatterfuck tradelists, the music could easily be described as cybergrind. Weird, ugly, calculated cybergrind with very few real "musical" elements other than an emphasis on interesting drum machine rhythms. But Black Mold Phallanx also refuse to undermine their own work by turning it into a joke, which is something that brings a lot of these projects down. There's no goofy Goosebumps sample to start a track. Black Mold Phallanx are serious and atmospheric about the way they grind. I have three of their releases - Sounds of Stagnation and Metamorphosis Casing on cassette and Sculptedfromflies on CD-R, they all sound relatively the same but the individual tracks are all unique and interesting (although the releases are short, usually EP length at best).

A lot of music from this scene can come off as comedic or semiserious, but Black Mold Phallanx is a very serious project. The electronic minimalism involved in the compositions might remind you of early industrial experimentation, and while this could still be described as outsider art there's definitely a very real and bleak atmosphere formed. For that reason, it might be interesting to people that don't normally care for cybergrind. It's not just a silly myspace project, and should really appeal to people that like cold, clockwork horror music.

Listening to Scultpedfromflies again now as I write this, there's almost a techno undercurrent. And no, by techno I don't mean generic electro-y elements and robotic samples (i.e. the media's idea of "techno" in the early 90s, which was used as a blanket term for any kind of electronic music up until big beat came out and they changed the buzz word to electronica instead). I'm referring to actual Jeff Mills style cold, industrial, punishing rhythms. Outside of the three bits I own though, they have plenty other EPs and splits limited from 20-100 copies, go fishing on some angelfire cd-r distros and see what you can find.

Metal truly jumps the shark

This is revolting.

For those who haven't bothered to click, it's the site for a "guitar retreat" hosted by Alex Skolnick of Testament and Chris Broderick of Megadeth. Back in the day, these used to be called "fantasy camps," which was a much more apropos moniker, but in this day and age "guitar retreat" is employed instead. It is a horrifying display.

Now it's not as though I haven't understood that metal (especially with bands as popular as Testament and Megadeth) can be a moneymaking venture. It's not even as though I expect more from a scene where Iwrestledabearonce is actually signed to a label, or where a new Agalloch album is met with cries of enthusiasm rather than derision. However, I expect the sort of sellout idiocy displayed above to be expressed in a slightly less crassly corporate fashion. It's a complete embarrassment not only to the scene but to the people involved (both hosts and attendees.) Somehow, though, I see people on websites proverbially licking their chops at the opportunity to participate in this cavalcade of sorrow.

Let's think this through: no one gives a shit about either of these guys. No one can name a member of Testament anymore and Broderick can basically be referred to as "the guy who isn't Mustaine." Moreover, who do you think is actually going to go to this? Real metalheads? How many real metalheads do you know that can fork over a staggering $2000 (including a completely non-refundable $500 deposit) for what amounts to a long weekend of playacting with two aging, irrelevant pseudo-icons of thrash? None that I know- most of the metalheads I've met are too busy trying to pay the rent on their roach-infested studio apartments to even entertain this idea. We know who's going to this: aging could-have-beens with bald spots widening in parallel with their oncoming mortality, desperately reaching for a hint of the glory they felt emitting from their "Practice What You Preach" tapes so long ago.

It's not that I have an issue with age, or money, or the sheer idiocy of this in particular: I just thought that the metal scene as a whole was above this. But with these two jokers making caricatures of whatever ghostly careers they still maintained, I'm forced to conclude that metal has finally jumped the shark. It's over, kids. Pack it up and go home.

I knew I should have jumped ship for dubstep when I had a chance.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Amebix - Sonic Mass

“Distillation! Revelation!” bellows The Baron during the opening verse of “The Messenger,” the third track of Amebix’s upcoming album Sonic Mass. In the context of the song, he’s probably referring to the creation of Earth in the midst of the void. But with this exultant cry he is also giving us a key for interpreting the album as a whole. To speak of revelation is to speak of things becoming visible, becoming present. The word suggests the opening up of the world to our understanding, and the motion of hidden things from shadow into light. Sonic Mass is, above all, a work of and about revelation. It is the sound of a formerly opaque band showing us, for the first time, where their music comes from and what it’s about. But, pagan to the bone, Amebix know that revelation isn’t simply to be given. It must be won through ordeal. What follows are my own gleanings from hours spent listening to—and struggling with—this mighty comeback album.

As opening track “Days” crests in a wash of synth-strings and crashes into the martial crush of “Shield Wall,” it becomes clear that Sonic Mass is far from the raw and ragged metalpunk of yore. The sound is crystalline, the mix spacious, the instruments powerful and precisely played. While the songs are never convoluted, they’re positively mercurial in comparison with the minimalist bludgeoning of Arise. This may come as a surprise and even a disappointment to some fans of Amebix’s original sound, but in retrospect it becomes clear that this is where the band was heading all along. Crust punk happened almost as a byproduct of Amebix, who were always onto something much more difficult to pin down. More than anything, though, they were re-imagining heavy metal with a severe economy of means. Sonic Mass is the huge, ambitious heavy metal album that Amebix were always striving to create.

What’s even cooler about Sonic Mass, though, is that it’s a metal album dominated by non-metal influences. Rather than becoming imitators of themselves, or imitators of their imitators, the resurrected Amebix chose to bring out the tendencies that were always present in their music, hidden just beneath the surface. I’d argue that Amebix always had just as much to do with goth rock and post-punk as with punk or metal, and this album sees them making that connection explicit. Songs like “Days” and “Knights of the Black Sun” are steeped in the cold majesty of Joy Division. But Sonic Mass has an even closer kinship to Revelations, the challenging and mostly-forgotten third album of the Killing Joke. Amebix seem to have fully digested its dense textures and cryptic drones, reworking these for a more melodic, metallic context. On the verses of “God of the Grain,” the album’s fastest track, Amebix spin out strange guitar harmonies over whirling-dervish beats. This is cool enough in itself, but they’ve amplified the song’s sonic tension and mystical mania by sampling a wailing ram’s horn or syrinx. The effect is truly Dionysiac, and it’s easy to imagine the band whipping up cult devotees into a whirl of joyous dancing edged with menace. Amebix aren’t just paying tribute to their old heroes, they’re also channeling—more than ever—Jaz and company’s obsession with the rites of primeval civilizations.

Sonic Mass also lays bare a less obvious—but no less important—strain within Amebix’s musical DNA. Do you remember that song “Right To Ride” that’s included as a bonus on the reissue of Arise? Yes, it sounds like Motorhead, but what it really sounds like is punks doing Hawkwind. Now Amebix are more Hawkwindy than ever, but not in the way you might expect. During its most reflective moments, Sonic Mass recalls the wistful, hazy psych-folk that punctuated Hawkwind albums like In Search of Space. On “Sonic Mass Part I,” The Baron calls out in world-weariness over Stig’s nimbly plucked acoustic guitar, their interlocking melodies playing out over an electroacoustic background. This song could be taken as an expectant, pre-apocalyptic rejoinder to the post-apocalyptic lament of Hawkwind’s “We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago.” Of course, the resemblance may be unintentional, but what I’m really getting at with this comparison is that Amebix’s forays into folk-rock are completely consistent with their old musical trajectory. Rather than grasping after novelty, they’re firmly asserting their rightful place within a long line of strange, magickal, quintessentially English bands.

While I was immediately delighted by the simultaneous newness and oldness of Amebix’s sound, I didn’t quite know what to make of the songwriting. And that’s important, because great music is never simply a matter of style. While it was easy for me to get into the post-punk/folk trio of “Days,” “Sonic Mass Part I,” and “Knights of The Black Sun,” I found the bulk of the album frustrating. The beefy polyrhythmic chug of songs like “The Messenger” and “Sonic Mass Part 2” struck me as uncomfortably close to the spotty material of late Sepultura. Even “God of The Grain” threw me for a loop when its sinister, sinuous verse gave way to a shout-along chorus like something off a Ministry album. All in all, these more aggressive tracks offered neither the rabid extremity of vintage Amebix nor the poppy catchiness that I’d come to expect from the best 90s alt-metal. “Visitation” piqued my interest with an awesome arpeggiated riff that could’ve been lifted from the aforementioned Revelations, but the song’s dependence on vocal sampling and a simple, declaratory chorus led me to dismiss it as filler. “Here Come The Wolf” sounded like an attempt to write a Big Catchy Rock Song that didn’t quite come off. Over the course of the album there were several passages that felt arbitrary, and a number of places where I expected to hear more memorable riffs. For a week or two, I thought Sonic Mass was a bit of a disappointment.

Good thing, then, that I was totally wrong. I can’t quite pinpoint when I began to hear things differently, but it had to do with space and time. First, I took off the headphones. Even over my shitty laptop speakers, the experience was somehow different. It was as if I’d given Sonic Mass the fresh, open air it needed to thrive. The hyper-clarity of headphone listening had made it all too easy for me to isolate individual sounds, subjecting them to a criticism as rigorous as it was inappropriate. Now, I began hearing each song in its totality. The music was gripping and memorable, its power emerging in the subtle play between simultaneous parts and at the seams between adjoining passages. While seated at a desk and jacked into the computer, I had been cut off from the physicality coursing through Sonic Mass. And since it doesn’t really work in the same way as the brute force of Monolith or Arise, I was unable to hear it without feeling it first. Once I unplugged from the machine and set strides to sounds, I could feel Amebix pushing me towards imaginary stagedives. I remember walking towards the elevated train with “The One” stuck in my head, glorying in the sheer muscular strain of The Baron drawing out his syllables over those hammering chords. Sonic Mass was written to be released into the world.

As I gave Sonic Mass space, I was also putting time into it. I let the music sink in as I laced up my Doc Martens, puttered about my room, read about Vikings, and did the other important things in the life of a 22 year-old fantasist. In my initial listening session I hadn’t been open enough to hearing the album as an album—I was too busy attempting to assimilate all the details. In the period of frustration that followed, I’d been skipping from track to track. Now, I was getting a sense for the flow of the album, gradually coming to know it as a totality. And that changed the way I heard every song.

Moments that once seemed insufficiently powerful or catchy became captivating. Sections that once seemed arbitrary took on an important role within the overall song and overall album. The Messenger, for instance, is actually crushingly heavy, but this heaviness owes much to the way it bursts forth from the buildup of The Shield Wall and set us up for the frenzy of God of The Grain. Visitation, on the other end of the sonic spectrum, isn’t just a throwaway foray into atmospherics. It’s really a continuation of the sounds and themes of God of The Grain. While God of The Grain summons up the throes of worship, Visitation explores the moment when the ever-present god makes himself visible to men. Heard in this way, its ominous palm-muted sections take on more weight, and its chorus makes more musical sense. What first seemed like an interlude is really the slow-burning climax to the first half of the album. And so on.

I’m not just talking about sequencing and pacing. Every aspect of Sonic Mass derives its musical and symbolic impact not only from what it is in itself, or from how it relates to what adjoins it, but from its relationship to the whole. The album must be grasped in its unity. To hear it in this way is to unlock it, to open it up. For me, the songs became immediately enjoyable. Once I experienced them all as part of the whole, I could fall in love with each individually. It’s now difficult for me to imagine how I ever thought of Sonic Mass as something other than powerful, elegant, and supremely memorable. This music gives me great joy.

The unified musical narrative of Sonic Mass is more than an ambitious compositional strategy, though. It’s the very sound of “the circle turning to completion,” as The Baron sings in “Days.” For Amebix, the paradigmatic form of revelation is prophecy. This has always been their guiding obsession, and I don’t think it’d be an overstatement to say that their discography is, itself, a kind of prophetic text. But Sonic Mass is different from anything they’ve previously released. They’ve gone beyond envisioning the future to reflect explicitly on prophecy in their lyrics, and to give the album itself a prophetic form.

While we tend to think of prophecy as peering into the future, Amebix’s lyrics on Sonic Mass have just as much to do with the past. Indeed, “Days” opens the album by collapsing the distinction between these concepts entirely. It has us simultaneously coming “out of the night” and “look[ing] upon the risen dawn, the day of our creation.” On “Sonic Mass Part II,” Amebix invoke the pagan/pantheist worldview that thrived throughout the world “10,000 years ago, ” and lament its fall to the divisive forces of Christianity and Islam (which prevent the very unification they promise). With “The One,” The Baron narrates the creation of the world through the fusion of seemingly distinct elements into an indivisible whole. All of this history is part of the prophecy. Amebix aren’t St. John, looking forward from the present down the narrow line of Christian time. They’re more like the skaldic seeress of the Voluspa who “set[s] forth the fates of the world,” grasping the winding course of the gods’ wyrd from beginning to end. When at last we arrive at “Knights of The Black Sun,” which looks ahead towards the downfall of our age, we’ve passed through millenia of rituals and portents.

But why, after spending all of Sonic Mass working up to it, did Amebix release “Knights of The Black Sun” as the album’s lead single? This was, on the face of it, a strange choice. They gave away the end. It’s like a director insisting—against the frantic advice of his producer—on releasing the climactic scene of his upcoming film as its trailer. Why would Amebix undercut the arc of their music?

Because that’s how prophecy works. The end is fore-doomed. It is hidden within the origin, and it’s the responsibility of the seer to reveal it. By giving us “Knights of The Black Sun” first, Amebix bound Sonic Mass to a fated end. The music surges towards this end with absolute necessity. It brings us with it. Even as we hear the first strains of “Days,” its bass and vocal melodies foreshadow the final song. “These days will never come again,” The Baron intones. The circle turns, but not evermore. As it closes, we come to a time both foretold and remembered. We find the future that was always waiting for us.

It so happens that when I play through all my Amebix albums on iTunes, “Knights of the Black Sun” fades out into the opening drones of “Winter.” Nothing sounds more natural.

Buy this album on Amazon

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Review: Luctus - Ad Arma

Luctus provides yet another stellar entry in my catalog of my favorite style of black metal: melodic, ultra-aggressive, riffy, and impassioned. You can lightly count Luctus within the same general fold as bands like Hirilorn, Spite Extreme Wing, Horn of Valere, or Taake- while those bands may not resemble each other point by point, there's a thread of similarity that runs through all of them. Luctus is probably closest to a simplified Taake in execution; the thrash influence is palpable and vies for attention with the more melodic, mournful elements of the music on display, making for an EP that sounds just as much at war with itself as it is the world at large.

Unlike Taake, Luctus likes to keep the thrashier and more melodic elements separated on different tracks. True opener "Bloody Frontline" is straight out of the Niden Div. 187-meets-Slavic style mixed up with a rather Mediterranean sense of melody: lots of blast beats and speedy thrash rhythms bound together by a set of soaring, emotive, melodic tremolo riffs. On the other hand, "Song For the Enemy" brings oldschool Darkthrone to a head with a bit of modern Swedish flair in the riffing for something traditional and thrashy but malevolently scornful. It's really on the last pair of tracks (the longest on the EP) that the band truly finds its own sound.

On these tracks, Luctus embraces a sort of post-Hellenic style, like Macabre Omen with four times the speed and aggression. Patiently unfolding over the course of these long tracks come dynamic rhythmic breaks, tempo shifts, and key changes all designed to make the music that much more vast and narrative. "Children That Will Never More Wake Up" is the clearest gem on this disc, with its magnificently executed, incredibly mournful middle section where doom comes to Lithuania and Luctus releases all the pent-up energy of the previous tracks in a massive burst of emotional extremity. It's powerful stuff, and what the band might lack in immediately appreciable novelty they more than make up for in their sublime songwriting ability and incredibly gripping riffcraft.

This is perhaps simpler than anything else in this field of black metal, but it stands tall among bigger names like Taake and Hirilorn without trouble. This item may be obscure but it's absolutely worthwhile for the hardcore metal collector to track down; I've listened to this probably 30 times and it only gets better with age.

Buy this album on Amazon

Friday, September 16, 2011

Die hippie!

I'm hard at work on a review of Amebix's massive new album, but now I have to go to a party. So here's a video of Sakevi from GISM protecting the youth of Japan from the corrupting influence of peace and love.

I'm a perverted cadaver eater....

So since we've veered onto the topic of slamz and other fun thuggery in the last couple of posts, I'm here to post a sick ass song I've been jamming:

Satan's Revenge on Mankind is bad-ass. That is all. Jam out.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ingested - Possibly the ultimate deathcore band?

I'm really drunk so I'm doing another post.

Okay, so a lot of people lump slam and deathcore together because they don't listen to either and the idea of "death metal + lots of groove" transfers perfectly between those two. Well, it doesn't. Hate to burst your bubble, but the crossover between those scenes is basically nil. I know there's a lot of people who listen to faggot stuff like The Chasm who enjoy imagining that all the people who listen to Devourment are also eagerly eating up Suicide Silence, but even though I'm that sort of person, it's a very rare character who does such a thing.

Ingested, however, are one of the only bands who actually manages to bring the two styles together in an essentially perfect fashion. Waking the Cadaver was the first band to attempt such a mixture, featuring pure metalcore breakdowns alongside slams, but it seems that Ingested have entered a sort of Whitechapel-style acceptability to metal fans that WtC have not, so they're really the harbingers of this deathcore-cum-slam style. Both slams and hardcore breakdowns are featured, but that's not what really makes them so awesome.

It might seem like kind of a tertiary issue, but for Siege of Amida to actually fund a video for a song called "Skinned and Fucked" and release an album which features nude women getting tentacle-raped to death is a surprisingly big step. It shows them embracing a whole side of extreme music that they basically shied away from for a long time. But beyond that, it makes sense, because Ingested are fucking awesome. They somehow know the perfect way to marry the obsessively catchy elements of both slam and deathcore into a whole that makes you want to listen to tracks like the above over and over again (as I am right now.) This is the future of mainstream extreme music, I think- bands that are willing to embrace catchy metalcore elements alongside some basically undeniable brutality in order to create something so sick and awesome that no one can resist it.

Keep in mind that emo kids in my high school listened to Waking the Cadaver all the time. You're not so special; just add some breakdowns to your shitty Hell's Headbangers retro-death and they'll love it too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Disinterested Handjob - GOOD joke grind!

A real quick one before I fuck a girl.

Disinterested Handjob it's a drum machine grind band from Australia who actually kick ass. Everything's done in one take but it doesn't seem improvised; the programming is actually pretty tight, the riffs are surprisingly brutal, and the mix of Captain Cleanoff roars and obnoxious crust highs for vocals come off amazingly well. Even the production is pretty good! There's very few jokish bands I like but these guys manage it because the music is actually sick. Check it out.

New Cephalotripsy track/Review of Uterovaginal Insertion of Extirpated Anomalies

I don't know about this, man. I just don't know. I'm probably the biggest Cephalotripsy fan in the known universe, but this new track is sending some really mixed signals. Cephalotripsy's appeal has always been their obsessive, single-minded obedience to the most primitive concepts of slam death, but this new track is moving in a direction more substantially in line with the rest of the slam scene, if not brutal death metal as a whole. It's still recognizably Cephalotripsy, but the concessions they seem to have made to more "normal" death metal are designed to appeal to everyone else, not to me.

It's not bad, and coming from any other band I'd probably dig it a whole lot. Admittedly the production has massively improved, and Angel's vocals seem to have as well, if simply due to better recording quality. But there's not enough straight slam-to-slam structuring, and the preponderance of blasts and uptempo sections seems like a compromise on the part of the band's natural style. While the Dying Fetus-style groove at 1:00 is pretty fantastic, it still belongs on a Vomit Remnants release more than a Cephalotripsy one. The guitar tone I'm also not too sure about- it's not as nasty and dirty as their earlier stuff, and overall, the song just resembles too much of the rest of brutal death for me to be entirely comfortable with it. I'll reserve judgment until I hear more, but I'm concerned.

Below I've decided to reprint my review for the band's 2007 full-length. Enjoy.


Perhaps the only proper way to review this album is drunk beyond all recognition, so I consider this the proper night to describe my feelings on it. In fact, after a few good shots of (terrible) brandy after an already long night of drinking, let me put it on right now to see if it hits the spot like it does any other night.

Yes, it does, even moreso than usual (were that possible).

Now this is understandably a naturally divisive album. Not simply because it's a slam death release; I mean, that being divisive enough comes with the territory, even among typically bro-like and unified brutal death fans. Cephalotripsy is somewhat divisive, however, even within slam itself. If I might make a dangerous comparison, Cephalotripsy is essentially to slam what Emmure is to deathcore: taking a subgenre known for taking its parent style to its logical extreme to ITS logical extreme, thereby driving away all but those completely infatuated with the most barbaric and ignorant elements of a genre. Only half-jokingly dubbed as 'funeral slam' by a friend of mine, Cephalotripsy is, in essence, what happens when you divorce a slam death band from any of its traditional death or brutal death leanings. This is actually a slam album defined by its non-slam portions rather than its slams because they are so unbelievably few in number. The points where this rises to blast speed can probably be counted on both hands without trouble.

I'm sure this has already driven numerous people away. Have at it, we don't need any more crybaby opinions from those who need thrash riffs everywhere to feel secure.

I tend to have a very high opinion of such pitilessly base and hateful music as this, but even then I must say this album stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of execution. As I've said for other albums respective stylistic descriptions, when someone thinks of the term 'slam death', this is probably the imaginary music that plays alongside such a description; it's just mildly surprising, much like Rigor Sardonicus, that someone has actually put such unbelievable music to disc. Cephalotripsy's music resides in double-digit tempos almost exclusively; the occasional blast or double-handed snare roll will pop up, but for the most part this band glides from slam to slam like some syncopated vampire bent on draining you of your will to avoid slow, mildly sensuous headbanging. The band's ability to continuously come up with new, novel rhythmic and melodic patterns for a segment so heavily used as the slam breakdown is commendable on its own, but the fact that the band manages to pace its slams so well and incorporate them not just into the body of the music but as the body of the music itself is what makes them remarkable. At no point does Cephalotripsy feel like they resort to the slam pattern as a simple lack of creativity, but simply because it's what they enjoy most.

Vocals are primitive, inhaled gurgles and pig squeals, the drum sound is almost offensively trashy, with heavily triggered bass drums and Fisher Price cymbals, and the riffs are hardly the height of creativity; it is, in essence, the sort of basement album you would expect from people far too infatuated with Devourment to be worth your time. And yet, here it is, almost demanding that you try to impose a sort of stylistic imperialism on it. 'Uterovaginal Insertion Of Extirpated Anomalies' doesn't reject stereotypes or labels; it wholeheartedly embraces them as sees nothing wrong with slam, and indulges in the most overused tropes of the style from snare strike to popping snare strike without a hint of self-consciousness. It is hideously overindulgent, excessive, and corpulent in every way: in short, it's exactly the sort of flagship that slam death requires.

This isn't to say that the worth of this album is purely symbolic: it's one of the best slam albums ever released. The thunderous grooves of the title track are instantly memorable, as are the sinister slam patterns of opener 'Excavation Of Encystation'. But it must be said that, like Emmure is deathcore for deathcore fans, this album is slam for slam fans, with absolutely no concessions made for people who only enjoy the album with wringing hands and various qualifiers. The almost complete lack of tremolo riffing and 'normal' death metal tropes is bizarre to some and offensive to others, but then again, 'Uterovaginal Insertion Of Extirpated Anomalies' was never branded as an album to redeem the style or somehow propel it into mainstream acceptability; it dives headfirst into the most odious elements of the genre without a care.

What metal really needs is albums like this: not necessarily in genre (though more slam is always appreciated), but in releases that absolutely bend to no one's concern or opinion on how something 'should' sound. It is wholly its own beast, and for better or for worse, is an example of what extreme music should be: uncooperative, bestial, and intelligent in its ignorance.

Review: Aurvandil - Yearning

Did you know that black metal used to be about more than de rigueur "occult" and "mystical" imagery? That its emotional spectrum extended beyond nebulous negativity and new-age serenity? That people once listened to Norwegian bands other than Darkthrone and Burzum? Of course, I hope you know this, but it seems like the scene itself has forgotten. In the early 90s it was totally obvious to young Norwegians that black metal was about reclaiming the world for fantasy, about bringing an "imaginary" ideal closer to reality. It was about reawakening the old gods and the hard, joyful way of living over which they presided.

Perhaps this undertone of pagan Romanticism isn't so obvious if you listen to De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or A Blaze In The Northern Sky devoid of any historical context, but it should become clearer if you listen to Burzum or Emperor or Enslaved, and it will become pretty damn obvious if you bother exploring the underrated "also-rans" of the scene: Ragnarok, Hades, Aeternus, Kvist, the list goes on. I'd also recommend reading Varg's touching "The Origin and The Meaning." You can't understand the Second Wave without understanding that it was the product of boyish dreaming and an exuberant sense of play, and that these were inextricably bound up with the rage, hatred, and borderline psychosis. That's part of what was so beautiful about all of it.

If you're looking for a new black metal release that is true to the Scandinavian scene's loftiest ideals, you must listen to Yearning. The album cover positions us behind a solitary wanderer, following his footsteps across the face of a thickly powdered slope. As Aurvandil's shimmering, spacious guitar sound envelops us, the wanderer leads the way across vast landscapes of forest, snow, and sky, through the trackless thickets of elves and the hoary halls of frost giants. Yearning is truly a journey, and as such must be experienced from beginning to end.

Aurvandil is all about densely layered guitar parts. Every melody is but a part within a textural whole, where interlocking tremolo lines are complimented by soaring leads and crystalline acoustic guitar arpeggios. The harmonies almost always have a consonant, heroic feel. But where some bands use this sound as a kind of quick and dirty route to "epic," Aurvandil have done the songwriting work to make it compelling. It helps that the riffs are integrated into genuinely epic song structures, full of repetition but always flowing onwards with the arc of the album's narrative.

"A Guide To Northern Scape" begins with a howling blizzard of chords that reminds me a bit of Led Zeppelin, and then around 4:45 opens out into a gorgeous theme that brings the song's earlier melodic ideas to fruition. It sounds sort of familiar, but it's the way it's executed and placed within the song that counts. That suggests something important about Aurvandil--this is subtle stuff, less about hammering us with riffcraft than drawing our attention to the way music unfolds over time. In "I Summon Scorn" Aurvandil leads us through slow, majestic riffs that--like many riffs on this album--evoke trudging through deep snow. But at 5:35 there's a turn, a leaping melody that summons us to battle. "Reign of Ice II," however, might be my favorite track, simply because its central riff is so damn good. It was here I realized just how much Aurvandil has learned from the epic style of Enslaved's Vikingligr Veldi, a masterpiece of early black metal that's been written out of the genre's history by the kvltsters and the hipsters alike.

When I first listened to this album I felt there was some unevenness to the songwriting. I'm thinking particularly of the way Aurvandil almost always organizes chords in groupings of 4, usually doing 2 or 4 measures of each. It sounded a bit too symmetrical and predictable, and to my ears detracted from the inherent coolness of the chords themselves. That's probably the best example of an overall "4 of this, 4 of that" feeling in the riffs. Nevertheless, the more I listen to this album the less I care. For one thing, these are the sort of quibbles that recede into the background when you take the album as a whole. For another, it seems more and more likely to me that these aren't a bunch of unintentionally similar riffs so much as variants on a single riff, a 4-chord leitmotif that repeats throughout the album with a different harmonic structure each time. And that's cool. So my considered opinion is that some more rhythmic variation on the next Aurvandil release would be welcome, but that Yearning is well worth appreciating just as it is.

I can't think of a more appropriate title for an album. Everything about Yearning speaks of longing for something beautiful and lost, but not altogether out of reach. It's out now on Germany's Eisenwald, and you should order a copy. Put it on your headphones, read the sagas or Lord of The Rings or even some George R.R. Martin, and slip away into the imaginative landscape of true black metal.

Buy this album on Amazon

The Birthday Party, "Dull Day"

I'm sick all the time and it's getting really fucking frustrating. Here's a song about being really fucking frustrated. For those of you who don't know The Birthday Party, this was the band that metamorphosed into Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (after some key lineup changes). For those of you that haven't heard of Nick Cave, remedy that immediately. The Birthday Party hated being called goth--because they were clearly doing something that tapped into very old musical currents and went beyond any one scene--but they were goth as fuck in spite of themselves. People tend to talk most about their even noisier and more chaotic material like Junkyard, and that stuff's very cool, but my heart belongs to the pulsating bohemian art-songs of Prayers On Fire.

Writing reviews tomorrow.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Satan's God

And this guy's opening for... who, exactly? If he's the headliner, I can't even fucking imagine who opened for him. Maybe his younger brother's band? Or is his little bro in the audience laughing? I don't know, but I just want to know what's going on here. I mean, I know, but I want a back story or something. Rumor has it that Larry Clark wanted Harmony Korine to cast this dude as the main character in Gummo, until the duo's peculiar fascination with shirtless teen boys led them to discover Igor's third nipple, which kinda played out like Jason Lee in Mallrats, only with an extra truckload of shock and flaccid.  You've gotta admit though, this guy's metal as FUCK though. He literally gives not even a fraction of a fuck about anything; he doesn't need a fucking guitarist, because EVERY band has a fucking guitarist. He doesn't need a fucking drummer, drums have been used by people like Dizzy Gillespie. Fuck tuning your bass too; that shit's for pussies. He just stands and rages like a motherfucker in front of a group of bewildered onlookers and simply doesn't give a shit. I thought the cop was going to tell him to quiet down, but he looks far too flabbergasted to make an arrest. Or maybe it's just the dude's dad, coming home, like, "Please, not in front of the neighbors, son." Satan's God was actually an innovater back in '96 too. By wearing his sister's jogging capris and playing notes as sloppily as possible, he began a new genre known as 'feedbackcore'. It didn't really catch on, but here he is in the new millennium, doing something similar....

Guess he ain't so metal after all. Guess he was just high on meth and pissed that day. The gloves are pretty fucking priceless though.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Get into: Digested Flesh

Slam is law. All genres that are not slam fail based on their lack of proximity to slam. This is the only real music. Learn to love. Learn to slam.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: Wolfsschrei - Torture of a Human Soul

After listening to this about a dozen times and desperately trying to start a review for it, I've come to a certain conclusion about "Torture of a Human Soul": this is exactly what black metal sounds like today. Not a specific style of black metal- not a French-sounding band, a Darkthrone clone, anything like that- but a sort of aggregate of black metal's various styles and sounds congealed into a whole. People ask for primers on the black metal genre and others give them advice and suggestions, usually in the canon of classic black metal albums. Wolfsschrei, on the other hand, actually sounds like what we know as Black Metal these days. It is what you hear when you think of those words in your head. It helps as well that it's quite good.

Wolfsschrei plays a German style of black metal that really just forms an average of other styles of black metal. The riffs are mostly tremolo-based and fluctuate between a Germanic style of melody and a somewhat atonal, Darkthrone-style crunching dissonance, both tempered with an almost depressive, rainy sort of musical texture. Drums are simple and straightforward- slow blasts, rock-based depressive sections, and simple fills, while vocals are a straightforward screech you've heard a thousand times before. Wolfsschrei's music tends to hum and throb with a bleary, modern sense of energy, distorted and static to the point of an almost complete lack of identity- yet that somehow works. Wolfsschrei's music isn't so much meant to be a statement of identity and style so much as a very immediate, present sense of what black metal is at a certain moment- which paradoxically makes it reflect the genre better than nearly anything else.

From moment to moment this music has an immediate, attacking energy, where every note seems to replace the one before it rather than lead into a narrative whole. The riffs are intense and engaging, but very fast, intense, and somewhat intentionally shallow- they're melodic, but they don't lead to some great understanding or revelation. They ride off the insistent texture of thrash beats and sluggish depressive passages without really meaning much more than what they immediately are. While "Torture of a Human Soul" is an overtly shallow piece of music, what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for by knowing its limits and functioning as a wonderful, sort of adolescently spirited slab of fast, engaging black metal that exists merely to exist and nothing more.

If you're seeking something brilliant and classic, this is not it. However, Wolfsschrei's music seems almost more inherently relevant due to its total and intentional irrelevancy. "Torture of a Human Soul" is going to last forever simply because it was never built to last- it's black metal to the core, and I would rather listen to this than nearly anything else much of the time.

Buy this album on Amazon

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fallujah: Deathcore I actually enjoy!

We all know Noktorn loves the retardo guttural thud of deathcore, and after blogging with him for months I can see what he appreciates in the genre, but for the most part I'm still a hater. Some deathcore bands are just gussied-up emo kids churning out "extreme music" with little idea of what it means for something to be truly extreme, or what it means for something to be music (hint: the two are related). Some deathcore bands are just wannabe technical death metal bands who've decided to throw in some of the usual wanky, triggered bullshit between generic breakdowns. And last, but least shitty, some deathcore bands are basically just doing a poppy version of beatdown hardcore. I actually dig some of this stuff a lot (Emmure's "Solar Flare Homicide" is a fucking JAM!), I just don't see why it needs its own subgenre.

Fallujah, however, are none of the above. I randomly came across someone referring to them as a fusion of deathcore and black metal, and between that and the ominous Iraqi name, I was intrigued enough to listen. A genre hybridization of this kind could really really suck (think Dimmu Borgir with slams, which I'm sure someone has done already!), but Fallujah make it sound natural. It helps that they're not trying to bring in pure second wave black metal, since that sort of thing would never fit with deathcore's hypermodern vibe. Rather, their black metal-influenced harmonics and melodies have a bleak, industrial quality that blends perfectly with the chug riffing. There's something French in this aesthetic--I'm reminded of Arkhon Infaustus and Blut Aus Nord, though more in terms of the mood than the specifics of the sound.

If you break the album down riff by riff you'll also hear some melodic/technical death metal riffing along with the black metal and the really brutal slams, but the mix isn't schizoid at all. The music's stylistic variety makes sense because it's all at the service of Fallujah's punishing futurist vision. If I were that robotic spider-tank thing from the end of Ghost In The Shell, this is what I'd play on my iPod all day as I stomped around blowing shit away with my chainguns.

I also took a look at the lyrics, and they show a real attempt to craft a world--a collapsing modern world haunted by ancient conspiracies and the shadow of Satan. These guys are hardly literary geniuses (a few passages are close to gibberish), but they have vision, and they've read some philosophy. Few deathcore bands will ever make anything resembling art, but I'm pretty sure Fallujah make the cut.

Interested to hear how their new material will sound. I heard one song that was a lot more tech-death, and pretty damn clicky, but the melodies were really cool and insanely fast. We'll see... Regardless, Leper Colony is definitely worth checking out for anyone interested in deathcore or the end of the world.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review: Watchmaker - Kill. Fucking. Everyone.

Watchmaker are very pissed off. Their music seems to be driven by the purest form of that festering, residual contempt that gradually swells within your core and makes you seethe at your worst moments. The type of thing that is defined by the sheer revulsion that preys upon your sanity when you're preyed upon by all the most terrible and unjust things the human experience can provide. Watchmaker have clearly felt all that - and probably too much to handle without venting it via some kind of outlet for it all. And so they did; they formed this band. And they released this album. Kill. Fucking. Everyone. - honest, simple, bold and dangerous. And serious too - this album is a scathing soundtrack to the moments in life where you just wish your existence could fall into nothingness - overwhelmed with rage and contempt for humanity and the Earth itself, and even one's own self.

With all that in mind, what else could they play to properly channel their hatred and fury? Scathing, vehement grindcore of course, but also with some other little twists of influence that make this album worth talking about. I've been on a real short song kick lately, and after soaking up all the madness in the release, I find it to be a very appropriate companion for my currently stressful life. The music is as vindictive as you are when you find yourself at wit's end. Each riff seems to spell out rage more passionately than the last, but Watchmaker are also clever on their instruments. Much in the way of Pig Destroyer's Prowler in the Yard, Watchmaker make their music refreshing through quirky dynamics. They might not offer as much variety as PD on that album, but there's something satisfying in how Watchmaker are more subtle and one-dimensional about it. Assaults of power-chords arranged in mind-bogglingly angry patterns make up scraps and fragments of riffs that assault the listener in a most unruly fashion. It's fantastic. The vocalist sounds absolutely brimming with despair and offers you no peace and no hope for a better world. Drums violently blast behind it all, notably with a completely awesome sounding snare! Some cool cymbal and tom play here and there too, though it's mostly no-frills speed with some playfulness, akin to Sandoval's performance on World Downfall. All the more reason to go listen, right? Yup. But you just have to hear it to understand.

It's like modern grindcore taken back a few years into the mid-90s, where the influence of old-school grind and black metal would have shed a little more influence upon things. It recalls moments of Pig Destroyer, mid era Impaled Nazarene, Assuck, and Naked Whipper, most overtly. Yet by virtue of spirit, it just doesn't really resemble anything else I've heard. Somewhere between old and modern sounding, without ever falling completely over the fence into one camp. Most of the black metal feeling arises from some of the more sombre and melodic riffs that pop up periodically in this album. They come out of nowhere, but are very skilfully placed. Songs bleed together into one huge sonic storm of rage, and it can almost be digested as one huge mass. It may not always be the most consistent listen, but there are few albums more fitting to relish during your darker hours than this one. Take this one and embrace your hate.

Buy this album on Amazon

Monday, September 5, 2011

Get into: Nuclear Death

Nuclear Death is a band generally referenced within a list of others- the sort of thing that pops up in the middle of a paragraph about forgotten pseudo-classics, presented without elaboration or a real appreciation of its significance. And let's face facts: it's understandable. As far as popularity goes even during their heyday, Nuclear Death wasn't much more than a third-stringer, and that's being generous, and the combination of their schizophrenic, disgusting, unhinged early work and their bizarre shift towards spacey, Pink Floydish rock music in the latter era definitely didn't get them many fans. I'll be quick to finish that off: I'm not going to be talking about any of the band's late music. It's totally irrelevant to anyone reading this blog of all things. But the early material? Oh, that's absolutely for you guys.

Nuclear Death are primarily remembered as an odd outlier in the early US death/grind scene- not that death/grind was really A Thing back then- with four releases spanning from 1990-1992, all released (apart from the last in that sequence) on the seminal (and rather infamous) Wild Rags Records. Let me tell you right now that Nuclear Death's basic cultural narrative in the metal scene is hopelessly myopic and narrowly focused. While Nuclear Death's music can be loosely referred to as death/grind (with, of course, a heap of ugly thrash as well,) it does not in any way convey exactly what makes the band's early work so remarkable and enduring. A major point is that, to me, there's just as much primitive, brackish noisecore in this music as there is death/grind. The very earliest and rawest work from Anal Cunt or The Meat Shits definitely come out in these nasty, unrefined songs, and Nuclear Death really doesn't make any effort at all to sound like, say, Morbid Angel or Deicide. In fact, Nuclear Death's music sounds more like they were locked in a room without music for about twenty years- while they might stumble across the basic death/grind form structurally, there's an inherent uniqueness to their music which makes them also feel like total outliers to the metal scene as a whole.

To describe the instrumental ability of these guys as "rough" would be an understatement. The performances on Nuclear Death's early albums reminds me greatly of those you often hear in the Colombian brutal death metal scene: incredibly fast, clearly talented when it comes to complexity, but so rhythmically scattershot it sounds like the members are all playing different songs much of the time. The drumming is the sort of deranged hyperspeed clatter you'd hear from a band like Righteous Pigs or Repulsion but with half the recording quality, and the "riffs" (if you can call them that) are played so quickly and so swathed in blurring, whirring distortion they're nearly indecipherable much of the time. Of course the chaos isn't really ameliorated by Lori Bravo's bulldozer bass presence or babbling, shrieking, snarling vocals, sounding like Don Doty missing a Y chromosome and tossed into solitary confinement for a decade. It is not overtly accessible music.

Nuclear Death's music is played so quickly it barely retains any coherency, with long sections of rickety, basically untimed blast beats exploding into fills or collapsing into doom-paced Autopsy-styled sections. While other death metal bands around the same time were all about musically presenting something dogmatic, evil, and all-powerful, Nuclear Death writes music about weakness, insanity, and deformity, preferring to sound less like Satan is invoking you and more like you just realized the voice you thought was Satan the whole time was actually undiagnosed schizophrenia. The atmosphere of this music is decrepit, disgusting, and hopeless- it sounds like the soundtrack to hideous, mentally ill homeless people raping dead animals in the streets. Which, conveniently enough, is what "Necrobestiality" is about.

And that brings me to the concluding point as to why old Nuclear Death is so brilliant: Lori Bravo's lyrics are essentially untouchable. In a style of music where simply being a woman requires one to walk a necessary aesthetic tightrope, Lori manages to bring an intense and obvious femininity to death metal's thematic pallet without sacrificing any of the genre's natural darkness or extremity. Much like the music itself, Nuclear Death's lyrics tend to focus on a feminine take on darkness: more occult, seductive, and neurotically insane, with tracks which deal with hideous parodies of childbirth, bizarre (and creepily authentic-sounding) obsessions over the link between violence and sexuality, and a dark, modernized sense of gothic/urban imagery. Lyrics in death metal are rarely something I pay attention to, but Nuclear Death makes me break out the booklet.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Get Into: Fallen Christ (NEW WRITER!)

Many of you may recognize B as a long-time commenter on this blog. He shares our taste in metal, and our penchant for seeking out the genre's bizarre outliers and overlooked masterpieces. Here, he takes our "Get Into" band features to a level of depth and sophistication we hadn't even imagined! Very cool shit. Get into it.

Fallen Christ was a short-lived, relatively obscure band that stuck around just long enough to release one album back in '96. FC seems to mainly be remembered merely as "that band Alex Hernandez was in before joining Immolation", though that would be selling them quite short. Maybe this band fizzled out quickly and was largely forgotten simply because they put so damn much energy and conviction into their first album that it just plain wore them the fuck out. And because of that, this album should have garnered a lot of attention, yes? Unfortunately, it hasn't like it should have, so let's hype it a bit.

Maybe their crazed, raw approach didn't draw the attention of the masses, who were increasingly turning to more complex and progressive death metal during that period of the mid nineties. But as a landmark of old-school death metal taken to the ninth degree, you'd be hard pressed to find a more unhinged and ferocious example than this. Their only full-length, 1996's Abduction Ritual, has every hallmark of a curious cult classic recording from back in the day, but it's one that strangely stands out from the morass. The band has most often been compared to a rawer, more frenetic Morbid Angel or Immolation, which I guess is true to an extent, but it still isn't too accurate. It's more like the crippling atonal riffing of Azagthoth circa 1989 distilled down into a devastating grindcore framework. There's this primitive purity in the riffs that is exactly what the 'death' in death metal should mean.

And if that weren't enough, they somehow conjured a sinister and brooding black metal attitude, cranking up the levels of gloom and vile speed on the release - even though FC really don't have a black metal-derived sound. The production is thin and dry, yet grainy and clear. The gain in the guitar tone is crunchy, but applied like a delicate garnish, while the mids seem the be the main course. The mastering is a bit quiet, but still has enough treble to be full and heavy. A great death-meets-black tone. In turn, the music here is surprisingly atmospheric for being so frenzied and chaotic, and perhaps it's what makes the band stand out as a paradigmatic example of black/death/grind fusion. To these ears, it's comparable most directly to old Morbid Angel and Naked Whipper, but FC have both of those bands beat in sheer schizophrenic energy.

The music perfectly matches the band's obscure image; inaccessible, cryptic and vicious. FC have come up with some absolutely feral riffing, there's really no other adjective for the band. Feral, savage and raw, and done with hellish style. This band seems determined to literally kill you with each riff, even when they slow down to throw in the well-placed little atmospheric segments here and there. It's almost crudely one-dimensional, but the songs are generally just short enough to go away before becoming stale, and the generally congruent flow of the album helps it move along well enough. Most of the songs, while short, are fully-realized and carefully arranged, and the flow of the album is done in a way where the order of songs generally keeps things fresh but consistent.

The subject matter may give off the impression of a more outlandish Deicide, but there's some elusive quality about this piece of work that adds to the 'evil- factor.' Maybe it's just the aura of mystery; It was only pressed in a quick one-off batch by Osmose/Listenable, and you can't even find interviews or photos of the band. It kind of takes away your ability to connect with the music on a human level, and casts this album in a different, darker light. Almost gives off the appearance of an old unearthed soundtrack of a ritual in an infernal crypt. It takes you somewhere very dark and violent.

I make a distinction between 'original' and 'unique'. I see unique as the condition in which a band becomes substantially distanced from both peers and tradition, whilst staying within the genre. I see original as a more basic and traditional way of going about things (honoring the 'origin' prefix, after all) but taking those basic trademark elements to a whole new level. And here's where Fallen Christ aren't unique, but very original. Overlooked material that makes one curious as to where they would have gone next, if that was at all possible.