Coffins – Craving to Eternal Slumber (2015)

hhr2015-13 coffins - craving to eternal slumber

While acts such as Immolation, Suffocation or Vader are routinely and falsely accused of making the same unchallenging album all over every few years without bringing anything to the table, this judgement is much more accurate when directed at a band like Coffins. While the attack leveled on the former bands is merely a lack of appreciation of the subtlety of the progression (in their early career) and latter downfall (mostly after the year 2000) of bands that were never stagnant but rather extremely consistent in their trajectory, in Coffins we find a band presenting Cianide-like doom-death cliches in a string of riffs that have no head, no tails, no climax, but rather a sequence of pleasing moments for the fan of the style.

These Japanese death metallers started this project right during the start of the worse decade for metal, the decade when all progress was dead and which had, apart from a few respectable echoing the remains of a golden era ten years in the past, a penchant for completely empty and lavishing parading of style cliches. Four full-length albums and a billion demos, EPs, and splits into their career, and Coffins still does not have a sound of its own. In them we can hear Cianide, and echos of other bands (but most Cianide). There is absolutely no trace of something that belongs to them. In fact, when played back to back with the aforementioned underground classic one wonders if Coffins’ release isn’t just an uninspired album by the first band.

Cult classics are usually (but not always) “cult” — that is having a very particular and reduced audience that listens to them almost as a guilty pleasure or with a fanatical eye for a very special reason — because they are not very good to begin with. Their is the underground, and then there are the “cult” bands. We can not apply the same rule to every band, but a good rule of thumb is: they did not make it for a reason, and they also became cult for a reason. In the case of Coffins, it is just a very faithful superficial imitation of cliches of the genre, which pleases all those looking for the exterior fascination but who apparently perceive very little of the progress of a music piece and what it has to communicate. Any serious death metal fan would do well to avoid losing their time with this passing bland piece of junk.

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Coffins / Noothgrush – Split

coffins-noothgrush-split2013 has been a big year for Coffins, with the release of their debut album The Fleshland for Relapse Records in July and the recent announcement of their upcoming appearance at Baltimore’s Maryland Deathfest in 2014. Coffins toured with Noothgrush in 2013 in Japan, thus it is not surprising that the two, who have gifted each other with fresh ideas, have decided to release a split EP on Southern Lord Records.

While Coffins have always had their fair share of sludge influence, the band up the ante by incorporating more stoner rock riffing and melody. The result is slower and stripped down, with less of an Autopsy and more inspiration from Eyehategod. The band still retain their core sound with mid-paced riffing hybridizing Coffins’ downpicked death metal chug and Noothgrush’s crawling musical ethic. Lead work, although sparse, brings a brightly colored spark. The drums straddle the line between D-beat infused percussion in the style of Deathstrike and the breakdowns that are archetypal to the sludge hybrid-genre. Inflected riffing pounds through both tracks in the stoner metal style, inserting absurd jauntiness into droning music.

Noothgrush on their half of the split apply characteristic sludge riffing accompanied by sample-infused soundscapes which provide abstract narratives pertaining to the song titles. The material retains an earthy, doomy sound without digitised production artifacts. “Jundland Wastes” samples the kick drum from “Tusken Raiders” amidst desert winds, reminiscent of the tripped out atmospherics of “Dystopia” but with a more concrete narrative function. “Thoth” follows in very much the same footsteps, with a sample-driven interlude halfway through — complete with layers of ear-piercing feedback and tasteful synth pads — provides a welcome break from the crushing, monolithic riffing.

Whilst Noothgrush ominously work their trademark, sample inflected sludge machine, Coffins’ foray into the sludgier side of the doom-influenced musical spectrum is somewhat generic; it feels lacklustre in comparison to Noothgrush’s experienced assault. Where Noothgrush manage to keep things interesting, if a bit mundane, Coffins’ offering for this split EP feels rushed and uninspired.

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Cianide – Death, Doom and Destruction (2015)

cianide - death doom cover

Earlier in the Coffins review, it was mentioned how that band was little more than a superficial imitator of bands like Cianide, and that apart from imitating the same types of riffs, achieved little in the way of communication. This has everything to do with how a piece of music is organized. It is is not in the riff itself but the relationship between riffs and in how, in relation to each other, they sketch a landscape. Cianide understands this, Coffins and the multitudes of third-rate imitators do not.

While the tag of “doom” is attached to Cianide, it is only right to call them death metal. Period. A death metal band that sometimes plays in relatively slow tempos using completely diatonic schemes. This is strongly reminiscent of Black Sabbath, which were dubbed “doom” only in hindsight after later acts like Saint Vitus or Witchfinder General. Both of these bands just play simple heavy metal in a style that emphasizes the weight of riffs. Being the talented musicians they are, their song-construction is fluent and their parts inter-related. This goes without saying when it comes to good metal. The term “doom” only makes sense as a genre tags for acts such as Skepticism, Worship or Thergothon which definitely do not follow a death metal or a heavy metal template but operate on entirely different “ideological” (so to speak, but not politically, rather, artistically) premises.

In Death, Doom and Destruction, Cianide bring a more mobile conception of their particular style that emphasizes the dynamics afforded by their mid-paced trudging that allows them to waiver between heavy-trudging riffs ala Celtic Frost and faster tremolo-picked passages. Compared to their early work, this newer album is slightly simplified at the riff-level, although the construction has suffered little deterioration that this listener can perceive. The songwriting skills that allow them channel the rhythmic and harmonic impulse of one section onto the next and to trace a roller-coaster-like curve in the course of these musical pieces is stronger than ever. If anything, I would call this a condensed Cianide.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hj8SAYBUG4

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The Best of Underground Metal of 2013

throwing_the_goat_horns_2013

I used to loathe end-of-year lists. They struck me as a pointless chance to advertise what should have been obvious before. Over the years they have risen in my estimation as a way not only to mark the year, but to bring up the gold that gets lost in the chaos of everyday life. And yes, they’re also shopping lists for the metalhead in your life.

This year our list is surprising even to hardened cynics. At a time when metal is bragging up and down the Williamsburg alleys about how “innovative” and “ground-breaking” it is, that novelty turns out to be the remnants of the 1980s: emo, pop punk, shoegaze and indie. The real innovation is as always underground, because to get out of the hive mind one must first remove oneself from participation in normalcy.

Thus what you will find here is not what you will see in either (a) the big-label-financed slick magazines and web sites or (b) the majority of small zines and websites out there. That is because the genre as a whole has shifted from creation towards an idea to emulation of the past, or reaction to the past by trying to adulterate it with outside influences. Neither approach succeeds.

When a reviewer chooses an album, he should pick one that will last in your collection. Your time is limited, as is your money. Thus we look only for works that you can purchase and enjoy over the years, and can return to with a sense of wonder and discovery as new angles and nuances emerge. This standard seems high, so they call us elitists. What we really are is people who love metal and want it to be strengthened by its best, not weakened by accepting its worst.

The following albums are those that merit such a standard:

argus-beyond_the_martyrsArgus – Beyond The Martyrs

Rejecting the notion of newness in itself, Argus returns to fundamental influences from the 1980s and makes a band that sounds like a fusion between Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden and Candlemass. Guitar riffery is designed to be inventive and interesting in its own right but is trimmed down to what fits the function of each song. As a result, these songs “sound like” the classics in more ways than one. They are thoughtful and deliberate, purposeful and driven. Classic heavy metal riffs merge with meandering leads that somehow pull it all together, under the mournful voice of a vocalist who clearly enjoys classic Candlemass both in vocal delivery and sense of melody. See full review / interview.

autopsy-the_headless_ritualAutopsy – The Headless Ritual

Autopsy are famous for their contributions to death metal which notably peaked in Mental Funeral where their chaotic tendencies got wrapped up in their sense of atmosphere and produced a dark ambling journey into the subconscious. Of their later works, The Headless Ritual gets close to such a balance although it aims for something more everyday. This is an album that wants to deliver classic death metal thrills, and it does so with moderately paced songs that balance melody and savage chromatic riffing. Chris Reifert’s drumming pirouttes and grapples through vicious tempo changes as riffs unlock a Lament Configuration that is equal parts nostalgia and invention.

birth_a_d-i_blame_youBirth A.D. – I Blame You

What happened to real thrash, like DRI and Cryptic Slaughter? In much the same vein as hardcore punk before it, thrash was so intense that it burned out after only four years of real presence. Birth A.D. wisely choose not to “bring it back” but rather to pick up as if thrash were a party and the next day, the hung over participants awaken among the ruins. They’ve sharpened its message, which merged the anarchy of punk with the search for societal purpose of metal, and given its riffs the S.O.D. speed metal infusion without unduly modernizing them. As a result, these two-minute songs hit hard and retreat into the jungle, leaving behind their sardonic lyrics mocking society for being so stupid. When the record stops playing, there is a sense of both having received too much information to process, and a sadness that there isn’t more. See full review.

black_sabbath-13Black Sabbath – 13

Realizing what Black Sabbath meant to fans not just as a named entity but as a phenomenon, Black Sabbath integrate the sounds of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne’s solo years into their later, more refined music, with citations to Master of Reality as well. The result is a powerful album that is more pop than their original works but, in a time when nu-metal rages on the radio, reclaims heavy metal as having a voice of its own. It also pushes controversy, affirming a presence of God in this world for good or ill at a time when most people want to get polemic one way or the other. A supporting cast of sprawling but hard-hitting songs make this a great immersive lesson and transition from regular rock to metal for new listeners. See full review.

blitzkrieg-back_from_hellBlitzkrieg – Back From Hell

This band shares members with Satan, who also re-entered the fray with an album of strong tunes. Like Satan, Blitzkrieg know how to simultaneously avoid “changing” for change’s sake (inevitably a lateral move to other contemporarily popular genres) and nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, making instead an album that fits into their catalogue but doesn’t deny the older, wiser status of its members. These are mostly straightforward songs with melodic choruses and driving, riff-centric verses, plus nimble-fingered and harmonically-aggressive soloing. See full review.

burzum-sol_austan_mani_vestanBurzum – Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan

People said they wanted old Burzum back. The spirit of old Burzum comes back in this ambient album. It’s a bit more hasty and less refined by fanatical attention to detail than his previous works, but it creates the same world, only zoomed forward in time. It is both a practical and imaginative album. In style, it resembles a cross between Tangerine Dream, William Orbit and the Scandinavian folk music of Grieg, Hedningarna or Wardruna. Strongly ritualized, it unfolds like a descent through mythical worlds and finds its own balance. One of the best offerings in this field. See full review / interview.

centurian-contra_rationemCenturian – Contra Rationem

For years many of us have wanted this Dutch band to catch a break. They have written several albums of relentlessly pounding, rhythmically intense riffing that somehow doesn’t add up. First, writing the whole album at high speed means that soon it backgrounds itself; second, there was always a lack of melody or song structure to hold it together. Centurian have improved on the latter two and toned down the former to a great degree, such that this is no longer trying to be Krisiun but more like a more Angelcorpse/Fallen Christ approach to Consuming Impulse. The result showcases this band’s dexterity with riffcraft and creates an intense atmosphere of violence. See full review.

condor-nadiaCóndor – Nadia

This entry album by a new band shows a lot of promise in tackling the power metal format and trying to give it the balls of death metal and funeral doom metal. This contemplative, mostly mid-paced album shows a sense of atmosphere as manipulated by riff, in the death metal sense, given a somewhat upward curve and heroic spin in the best tradition of power metal. Although it’s a new act, and still organizing itself, Cóndor shows that life remains in true metal that can be explored by revisiting its motivations. See full review / interview.

derogatory-above_all_elseDerogatory – Above All Else

In the tradition of Vader, Mortuary and other fast phrasal death metal bands, Derogatory invoke the classic death metal form with an album of nicely interlocking riffs that reveal a basic but distinctive structure beneath each song. This album is not self-consciously “retro” so much as it is using the voice of the older style, and while it doesn’t expand stylistically, it has found a voice of its own. See full review/interview.

empyrium-into_the_pantheon-coverEmpyrium – Into the Pantheon

Combining funeral doom metal with European folk music creates for Empyrium a fertile style that is showcased here in a retrospective of the best of their career presented in a rare live setting. Expect plenty of use of silence and resonance to build up these songs, which start slowly and then become engaging before evaporating into more esoteric conclusions. While most funeral doom aims to be dark, Empyrium creates an emotional contrast like a Gothic band, with beauty arising from chaos only to be strangled by inevitability and fall again. See full review / interview.

graveland-thunderbolts_of_the_godsGraveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods

Following up on 2012’s Lord Wind release, Polish/Italian artist Rob Darken unleashes a new work under his black metal brand Graveland. Like the band’s second career-defining Memory and Destiny, this release features Bathory Hammerheart-style guitars which mix speed metal and black metal to produce rhythmic riffing as a backdrop for keyboards and vocals, now featuring also human female vocals and violin. The result is a collision between heavy metal, neofolk and epic movie soundtracks that evokes the glory of the ancient past.

master-the_witchhuntMaster – The Witchhunt

Paul Speckmann is a metal institution who has stayed with death metal from its genesis in the early 1980s through the presence. His latest, The Witchhunt, showcases the stable lineup he has used for recent releases but tones down the overall intensity to focus on songwriting. Fast riffs blend together with touches of melody and the classic Speckmann vocal patterns which resemble the struggles of daily life turned up to eleven. Where previous Master works of recent vintage tended to blend together, on this one each song is distinct. See full review / interview.

profanatica-thy_kingdom_cumProfanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum

Taking a hint from Necrovore and intensifying it through technical prowess, Profanatica step back from the longer melodic riffs of Profanatitas de Domonatia and instead write short, cyclic phrases within compact rhythms in the style of the ancient Texas death metal cult. The result is like a primitive album with complexity embedded in it as melodies expand within fixed riff forms, uniting savagery and beauty in the service of blasphemy. As with all Profanatica works, this is experimental to the extreme, but Thy Kingdom Cum ranks among their most listenable releases. See full review /interview.

rudra-rtaRudra – RTA

The Singaporean maniacs return with an album that uses more traditional melodic death metal riffing but retains its rhythmic structure based on speed metal and possibly the Hindu rituals described in its lyrics. As with most Rudra releases, RTA does not aim for the pop song idea of hitting a sweet spot and luring in your ears. It is the construction of an experience, in this case a dark descent that forges a resolve to continue through warfare and a martial stilling of the reckless personality through militant silence of the soul.

satan-life_sentenceSatan – Life Sentence

The rougher edge of NWOBHM that was a kissing cousin to speed metal emerges again in this highly musical album from Satan. Like their groundbreaking early 1980s works which presaged the debut of Metallica and birth of speed metal, Life Sentence features inventive riffs in classic song format in which melodic development in the vocals harmonizes riffs to bring songs to a conclusion. Shy of speed metal mostly because it relies on relatively fixed song format which emphasizes verse-chorus riff pairs, this album nonetheless reveals both the greatness of NWOBHM and its continuing relevance in a time of tuneless songs and random song structure. See full review / interview.

summoning-old_mornings_dawnSummoning – Old Mornings Dawn

After black metal fully constituted itself in the early 1990s in Scandinavia, people looked for the next development along these lines. Some went to dark ambient, but others like Summoning and Graveland instead explored longer melodies and more drawn-out, atmospheric songs. Summoning take a medieval and Tolkien-inspired approach in contrast to the more martial outlook of other bands, and produce as a result immersive waves of melody that evoke a more organic society. With Old Mornings Dawn, these Austrian metal maniacs build on the emotion of Oath Bound but exploit it in more compact and separable songs, making one of the more intense metal statements of the year. See full review.

von-dark_gods_seven_billion_slavesVon – Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves

Following up on Von’s early career material like Satanic Blood is not easy; in fact, it’s impossible. A band would either have to re-create that minimalist style and risk irrelevance, or embark on a campaign to dress it up as something it is not. Von has opted for something else entirely which is to create a minimalistic core within a rock opera style of black metal, producing one of the more puzzling but satisfying releases in the underground metal world this year. See full review.

wardruna-runaljod-yggdrasilWardruna – Runaljod – Yggdrasil

Combining folk music, world music, droning found noises and the type of ritualistic dark ambient that emerged from the end days of black metal, Wardruna is a black metal side project that offers a different vision of music. While earlier works seemed detached from the end listener, Runaljod – Yggdrasil embeds the listener within a wave of ceremonial sound that aims not to be forebrain listening as Western rock is, but a mentally ambient experience that overwhelms by addressing all of the senses and channeling that experience toward a realization.

warmaster-blood_dawnWar Master – Blood Dawn

Underground death metal continuation act War Master released a four-track EP, Blood Dawn, amidst personnel changes and other upheavals this year. Like the previous Pyramid of the Necropolis, Blood Dawn focuses on futuristic and yet ancient concepts, almost like Voivod taking on Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. From this vast concept come songs that both grind their way to nihilism and implement the death metal method of matching riffs into an internal dialogue from which a conclusion emerges, creating a pocket of mystery which is filled with wonder and violence.

Album of the year:

imprecation-satane_tenebris_infinitaImprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita

There is no completely fair way to pick an album of the year from a list with this many strong contenders, but Imprecation win this one on both substance and situation. For substance, this is a solid album that combines a black metal sense of ritualistic song development with the death metal tendency to make abstract riffs into an organic whole. For situation, Satanae Tenebris Infinita sees a band that started in 1991 and is famous for releasing its discography of demos in 1995 finally reach a stage where it can release a full-length album independent of any past influences. In addition, Satanae Tenebris Infinita hits hard and does not relent. Each element serves a purpose toward creating a transition in moods, like a perpetual parallax as continents shift. If death metal was waiting for a direction forward, Imprecation have opened that gate to a new occult science and art of subversive metal. See full review / interview.

The following were considered, and then not so much considered:

  • Morbosidad – Muerte De Cristo En Golgota. This is like Krisiun or Impiety rendered in the style of Mystifier, or like any of the war metal bands that imitated Blasphemy but with a dose of downtuned Sarcofago. It’s not bad, but aside from high intensity rhythm, it doesn’t have much to offer. Thus think of it as Satanic death techno performed on muddy guitars.
  • Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light. Bands: don’t try to roll with the trends. You were good at something else for a reason. This album has strong smary indie rock influences on its vocals and the result is embarrassing to be caught listening to. Riffs are reasonable, but don’t particularly develop, and emphasize space and consistency more than something with a personality.
  • Grave Upheaval – Untitled. Not bad; mostly rumbling noises, very true to form. Unfortunately, also doesn’t go anywhere. It’s an atmosphere piece of one dimension.
  • Warlord – The Holy Empire. Some sort of rock-metal hybrid from back in the day, this form of power metal uses mostly lead riffing anchored by static open chording. The dominant instrument is the voice, more like Rush or Asia than most metal. It’s pleasant but lullabye and too close to rock music.
  • Hell – Curse and Chapter. Do you know how far I would have run to get away from this back in the 1980s? It’s NWOBHM/early power metal without much melodic movement in the riff, so there’s a lot of chugging and shifting but not much actual motion. Nor will you have much actual motion as you listen to this… in fact, you might find yourself immobile and snoring.
  • Battlecross – War of Will. This is traditional metal affected by metalcore aesthetics. The vocals follow the surge pattern of later hardcore, and the melodic riffs use rhythmic “chasing” to accelerate patterns older than Chuck Berry. The result is so distracting the band can’t compose a song, but instead write a riff pair and then leap into a blast beat to transition.
  • Enforcer – Death by Fire. Here we have another band from Scandinavia creating highly musically-literate, catchy and otherwise perfect music. The problems are twofold: (1) it is a clone of 1970s styles that are liked for their innocent pop cheeze (2) while it is emotive, and aesthetically appealing, it is also empty.
  • Queensryche – Queensryche. Since the band went legal on each other, there’s now two Queensryches… this one sounds like Coldplay. The same posi-pop vibe and expansive chorus feel drives this work, and it has a similar outlook on the world, which is a sort of pathological compulsion to make things beautiful instead of finding beauty where it is rare. Unsettling.
  • Leprous – Coal. If this Queen-slash-bad-indie band gets anywhere in metal, it’s time to bury the genre under warm ruminant feces. Power metal mixed with dramatic English pop. The result is bracingly twee with metal riffs batting about in the background.
  • Iggy and the Stooges – Ready to Die. Almost all reviews of this album will waffle, because it is good, but it’s not distinctive. It all kind of flows together, as if the band paid more attention to the aesthetics of sounding like themselves than whatever’s driving them. But how do you “be punk” when you have a paid up retirement plan and health insurance?
  • Abyssal – Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius. This was the hip thing for a few weeks, but shows you that you cannot revive a genre by imitating it through outward form. These songs use all the right pieces, but in a random order, and thus create no mood except nostalgia. And I piss on nostalgia’s grave.
  • Tyrant’s Blood – Into the Kingdom of Graves. Great title, has a Blasphemy ex-member, can’t go wrong… right? There’s a lot to like about this, but it doesn’t hold together. It embraces the “hotel buffet” style of offering many different riff types in a single song that ends up distorting any coherence. Storming Perdition Temple-style fast metal explodes into melodic mid-paced riffs and then ends up chugging deathgrind, lost and adrift on the seas of making a point.
  • Cultes des Ghoules – Henbane. It’s ludicrous that so many in the underground were fooled by this comical album. It’s a lot of bad heavy metal riffs interrupted by “avantgarde” noise, samples, etc. — the usual cliches — so that you don’t notice it’s bog-standard. This is hipster incarnate.
  • Acerus – The Unreachable Salvation. Galloping uptempo yet mid-paced heavy metal with a lot of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate. Not bad, but not particularly expansive to anything more than that aesthetic role.
  • Aosoth – IV: Arrow in Heart. This album, like Immolation, got credit because people expected it should. Its strong point is listenable songs with some technicality; its weakness is that they express nothing strong. It is Participation with an A+ for method and a B- for content.
  • Sodom – Epitome of Torture. This rather sentimental, somewhat modern-metal influenced take on a speed metal album is very catchy and represents Sodom’s most professional work, but also loses the unique perspective this band offered on the world around it. This is more like the heavy metal albums of their youths, heavy on emotion which makes their repetitive, chorus-heavy approach almost too saccharine.
  • Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcorum. I have wallpaper. It’s named “It’s 1991 again and you can rediscover things you believed in once again.” It sounds like a mishmash of 1990s era death metal and yet, because it’s wallpaper, it never comes to a point. It just creates an atmosphere.
  • Týr – Valkyrja. Power metal of the newer stype seems to me it has a mystery ingredient, and that is devotional music. This sounds like church music, with sweeping choruses and whole-note cadences, and it has an admitted power, but it also loses much of what makes metal powerful: it’s not protest music, nor is it music that tries to cover ugliness with beauty, but music that finds beauty in what is considered ugly.
  • Onslaught – VI. Eager to effect a return to the music business, Onslaught speed up their punk/metal hybrid but adopt the vocal styles and constant driving mechanical rhythm of modern metal. The result is unrelenting but also disconnected and monolithic. The catchy choruses don’t help and seem almost to mock the rest of the music, which sounds like a pilotless threshing machine gone amok in a pumpkin patch…
  • Death Angel – The Dream Calls for Blood. In the 1980s, speed metal bands had a certain annoying rhythm where they tried to be as obnoxiously bouncy as possible while ranting as intensely as possible. With modern metal much of the internal rhythmic interplay has been eliminated, resulting in something that sounds like chanting Stalinist propaganda with guitars strobing in the background.
  • Bölzer – Aura. Like Oranssi Pazuzu, Bölzer experiment in disorganized slowed black/death/heavy metal with mixed-in weirdo alternative rock. Weirdo alternative rock has existed since early rock bands made a name for themselves by being odd. The problem is that it doesn’t connect to form an impression, only a sense of instrumentalism.
  • Coffins – The Fleshland. Doom-death with some quality riffing, Coffins nonetheless manage to inevitably get lost in each of their songs and fill the void with noodly pentatonic leads, distracted tributaries of non-essential riffs, and “atmospheric” repetition.
  • Metal Church – Generation Nothing. This shrill metal band has always struck me as more in the heavy metal camp than speed metal camp, and here it’s borne out. The riffs don’t have form like speed metal riffs do but are mostly static based on rhythmic repetition. Focus is on the voice, which wails. Not bad but annoying and kind of empty. Also, older guys trying to bond with the new generation is awkward when done this way.
  • Malthusian – MMXIII. Like many sonic experiments, this band relies on style to shape content because style is the substance of the experiment. The idea here is to combine the Incantation-clone death metal that is trendy with melodic progressive touches, including some sneakster modern metal influences. The result loses what could have been and fails to transition to what it wants to be.
  • Stratovarius – Nemesis. When did this band get so bad? The first track sounds like a rip of Heart’s “On My Own,” and the rest of the album proceeds in this fashion: combine classic metal riff archetype with classic 1980s vocal melody, add some flourishes and hope it’s good enough. I liked it better when this band was more speed metally and less pop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmuHHGfUBEE

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Maryland Deathfest reveals 2014 lineup

maryland_deathfest_2014The organizers of the Maryland Deathfest (MDF), which took over from the deceased Milwaukee Deathfest, have released lineup and venue information from the forthcoming 2014 festival which will occur from May 22-25, 2014.

In its newest incarnation, MDF will launch on Thursday, May 22, with bands playing only at the Rams Head Live located in the Power Plant Live! section of downtown Baltimore at 20 Market Place.

However, from Friday through Sunday, two venues will be shared. Metal bands will play the Rams Head Live from 10 pm – 2am, and across the street at the Baltimore Soundstage, grind/crust/HxC/punk bands will be playing simultaneously.

  • AETERNUS (Norway)
  • ARCAGATHUS (Canada)
  • ASPHYX (Netherlands)
  • AT THE GATES (Sweden)
  • BIRDFLESH (Sweden)
  • BÖLZER (Switzerland)
  • BONGRIPPER
  • CANCER (UK)
  • CANDLEMASS (Sweden)
  • CASTEVET
  • COFFINS (Japan)
  • CREATIVE WASTE (Saudi Arabia)
  • CRYPTIC SLAUGHTER
  • THE CHURCH OF PUNGENT STENCH (Austria)
  • CROWBAR
  • DEATH TOLL 80K (Finland)
  • DIOCLETIAN (New Zealand)
  • DROPDEAD
  • ENTHRONED (Belgium)
  • ENTRAILS (Sweden)
  • EXCRUCIATING TERROR
  • EXTINCTION OF MANKIND (UK)
  • FINAL CONFLICT
  • GOD MACABRE (Sweden)
  • GORGUTS (Canada)
  • GRAVES AT SEA
  • HEMDALE
  • HOODED MENACE (Finland)
  • IMMOLATION
  • INCANTATION
  • IN DISGUST
  • MACHETAZO (Spain)
  • MESRINE (Canada)
  • MGLA (Poland)
  • MITOCHONDRION (Canada)
  • MUTILATION RITES
  • MY DYING BRIDE (UK)
  • NECROS CHRISTOS (Germany)
  • NOCTURNUS A.D.
  • NOOTHGRUSH
  • ORATOR (Bangladesh)
  • RATOS DE PORAO (Brazil)
  • ROTTING OUT
  • SACRIFICE (Canada)
  • SARKE (Norway)
  • SICK/TIRED
  • SOILENT GREEN
  • SOLSTAFIR (Iceland)
  • STAPLED SHUT
  • TAAKE (Norway)
  • TANKARD (Germany)
  • THEORIES
  • TORCHE
  • ULCERATE (New Zealand)
  • ULVER (Norway)
  • UNCLE ACID & THE DEADBEATS (UK)
  • UNHOLY GRAVE (Japan)
  • UNLEASHED (Sweden)
  • WAR MASTER
  • WHITEHORSE (Australia)
  • WINDHAND
  • WITCHRIST (New Zealand)
  • WRATHPRAYER (Chile)
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The art of Larry Carroll

Reign in Blood

Damn good albums need damn good album covers. Kerry King of Slayer once mentioned how the band’s music makes it sound as though the world is about to end, and artist Larry Carroll’s visual representations are not far off the mark. Carroll started collaborating with Slayer in 1986 and has painted four of their album covers so far. Some of those albums are among the best in metal, and so, I would argue, are the covers.

Carroll says he usually makes a collage out of drawings and photographs. This was before Photoshop was born, hence Carroll used a good ol’ Xerox machine to multiply, resize or otherwise manipulate the individual pieces. The coffins in Seasons in the Abyss are a good example.

At the time of painting the Reign in Blood cover, Carroll was doing political illustrations for various newspapers, and had not done album covers before. Producer Rick Rubin contacted Carroll, who was left with more or less free reins, building upon “a rough idea of something about a goat’s head”. Once finished, however, it turned out that his unique style was not an obvious choice for Slayer. But once the mother of one of the band members commented that the painting looked “disgusting”, any doubts seem to have melted away (in a living inferno).

And sure enough: there is something nauseating about Carroll’s Slayer covers, as though they were depicting the sickest aspects of society of the 1980s. Not only could modern life come back to us in dreams as collages of twisted, disproportionate human shapes with pope hats and erect penises (cf. RiB), but the netherworldly use of colour in Carroll’s paintings was one of a kind. Black and red are the classic colours of blood/fire/death – Carroll’s black strokes are high-contrast burns reminiscent of coal or oil – but to this Carroll added revolting tints of green, brown and yellow, a fitting backdrop to the fires of mental hell.

But rather than depress us, Carroll’s paintings are majestic. Carroll shows that he, like Slayer, is fascinated by death, and, like some fallen Lucifer, makes a stroll south of heaven an enticing exploration of potential.

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Ungod “Silence in the golden halls of endless hope” 2012

Here you get a re recording of the very first Ungod song ever written, back in 1991.This version will soon appear,together with 3 new songs, on a split tape with Vestal Claret!
First appearance of our new Members Tairach and Iron Incubus.

Line up:

Condemptor – Coffins
Schiekron – Bulldozer Bass
Tairach – Voxum
Cryptic Tormentor – Chainsaw
Iron Incubus – Chainsaw

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Quick sadism

These are quick reviews of the stuff that didn’t make it to the next update. These reviews did not end up being all that stellar, nor was the material they were about in any way enduring, so they’re here for posterity — and search engines, in canse anyone is trying to do their Christmas shopping in February.

Black Crucifixion – Faustian Dream

This gothic heavy metal has some black metal stylings, but is about 75% Saint Vitus and 25% Gehenna. The rest is pure gothic rock with dramatic vocals, jaunty rhythms offset against doomy choruses, and all of the theatrical aspects you would expect. It is very simple and composed like rock music with a fixed harmonic frame of reference, and almost no phrasal riffs, but it’s not bad in that context although this style drivers your reviewer to hide under toilets. I’d infinitely prefer this total lack of hiding one’s inner goth to the artifice of trying to be as “hard man metal” as possible to disguise one’s inner eurotrash artfag. Still, I’ll never listen to it again.

Demonical – Servants of the Unlight

The first track on this CD struck me as interesting; it seemed to be evading its own conclusions, and so twisted itself into a sigil and then expanded upon it. It had a Middle Eastern-sounding melody and plenty of atmosphere. After that, the album degenerated into sped-up second-album Grave styled material with a few modern twists but mostly really predictable battering repetition that it seems to relish. If your short term memory is destroyed and you’re relearning to walk, this might be a great CD, but otherwise, get me away from here.

Earthless – Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky

The merger of doom metal into stoner doom/70s jam takes this genre back — in a disappointing way. We’re back at stupid rock music here, complete with the reliance on offbeat to make a rhythm even vaguely memorable, and the spongy way in that these bands noodle around repetitive series of similar patterns of notes, sounding “complex” only to those who have no idea what a scale is. Having no real content, they substitute with all sorts of annoying rhythmic flourishes and layering of instruments, as well as more bubbly drooling soloing. This has nothing to do with metal or anything but amusing the slower learners.

Equinox – demo 1994

If you like slightly cruise-y gothic death metal, this demo provided an interesting jumping-off point, perhaps similar to a more proficient Goatlord. Its rhythms are seductive but easy and so never go anywhere; it’s verse chorus with a few digressions, but otherwise falls into song format. Think Sisters of Mercy doing a doom/death take on Obituary. It’s not particularly bad, and has at least one really solid riff per song, but doesn’t add up to much interest for death metal fans.

Eschaton – Causa Fortior

Of all the trvlt — that’s an abbreviation for trve kvlt — releases out there, this one stands out not at all. Not one goddamned bit. Yes, vicious playing and fast rhythms, sort of like Discharge with more practice. And the melodies? Kind of candy, if you ask these ears, and definitely predictable. Song structures? Follow the development of the main riff through two cycles, one barely getting any airtime. End result: why bother?

Basilisk – A Joyless March Through the Cold-Lands

We’d all love to like this because it has all the elements of second-wave black metal: the Abigor/Emperor melodic drilling, the Abyssic/Negura Bunget vamping slow-strummed drift, and finally the Impaled Nazarene/Zyklon-B chaotic blasting. But it adds up to a whole lot of riffs we heard in the late 1970s with hardcore bands, and they don’t congeal into songs, more like an aggregate: when it’s left over, you’re looking for something or anything to really change. This is too predictably “safe” to be black metal.

Disillusion – Back to Times of Splendor

Great name, awful band. When impetus is lost, people revert. In this case, it’s like a cross between Sentenced and a metalcore band: fast, neurotic riffs that change randomly, then guitar trills and melodic rhythm leads, all in song structures as predictable as cereal commercials. Bands like this convert metalheads to religion just for the better music.

Anti-Cimex – Criminal Trap

Punk is so basic you don’t really need much to differentiate bands. This sounds like an uptempo Discharge with more conventional verse/chorus song structures and more rock/blues leads. Other than that, it’s about what you’d expect. I’d rate it among the top 20 punk bands, but you really have to love repetition to listen to this. I don’t care anymore.

Delve – The Dead Amongst

Imagine a cross between Slaughter Lord, early Grave and Grotesque: dynamic neo-war-metal riffs clashing at high speed and ramming into catchy choruses, with lots of fast drum work and messy guitar playing. The problem is that such a monolith approach ends up becoming predictable and boring after just a few listens.

Trimonium – Of warriors and heroism

Easily one of the more professional bands out there, Trimonium take the formula adapted on the first The Abyss album and wrap it around what is at its heart the kind of boisterous, melodic, bounding material that we find on power metal albums. Thoroughly professional in composition and playing, it is nonetheless the work of experienced musicians who are designing self-satisfying melodies like those of jingles, but in a style that bonds folk music with the bouncing exuberance of soundtracks to pirate movies.

Ender – Ender

There are those who make progressive rock by thinking of an idea, and then ad hoc-ing song structures and ideas to make it work. There are others who look at progressive rock and make a variation of it so they have an iron in the fire. This CD is sadly the latter, because it has potential. Crossing the later prog-punk and emo sound with atmospheric progressive rock, Ender make a very pleasantly floating musical tapestry that also means nothing, other than a manipulation of emotions in themselves, which creates a gentle transition between related feelings with no sense of broader significance. As a result, it’s a lot like watching a commercial for AIDS medication.

Epitaph – Seeming Salvation

Bad heavy metal that resembles Candlemass in its squirrely guitar leads, this CD seems to think because it has a bassy whisper of death metal vocals that it should be death metal. It should not be. Every musical element serves the production of songs that use heavy metal rhythms, aesthetics, song forms and content as their inspiration. Like many bands who make this mistake, Epitaph must be nuts to do it, since if they dropped the death vocals and got quality production, they would have met moderate success in any decade from 1974 onward.

Vociferian – Beredsamkeit

Nu-blackmetal can go a few different ways, and one is the candy of pure melodic sound. That’s what we have here. Through a combination of tuning, melodic intervals and sustain-heavy distortion, this band creates a wave of melodic sound — the affinity of notes for large gaps — without deviating from the basic melodic patterns of pop. It’s an engaging listen, but doesn’t last. If they want to gain real power, they’ll create songs about an idea and wrap the melodic riffs around that.

Athos – Crossing the River of Charon

Like most post-1996 black metal, this perfectly capable release is boring because it’s easy to anticipate and it focuses too much on trying to re-create the “black metal mood,” instead of like the great bands capturing the process leading up to it. There’s no way to nitpick; nothing is wrong except the CD taken as a whole.

Vorum – Grim Death Awaits

This appears to be a melodic speed metal album hidden with a black/death hybrid. The songwriting resembles something that would have come out of a Destruction/later Nuclear Assault hybrid, but it’s tricked out in aggressive rhythms and very basic riffs, with the high intensity chaos brought on by people hitting too many strings, drums and vocal chords at once. Thoroughly not bad but also probably not interesting to those who are more interested in an old school death metal/black metal style.

Arsis – We Are the Nightmare

This is a musical nightmare. Glam/hard rock style twee choruses between dramatic, bouncy blockhead speed metal riffs. Above it a voice howling, then a melodic riff and some fast drumming, all overproduced so it hits really hard and then beats you to death with repetition. CDs like this drive people to apocalyptic religions.

Vulture – Easier to Lie

From the Manilla Road meets Exodus school of choppy speed metal, Vulture make an interesting and experimental album with vast holes of idea in which are filled the dreaded Pantera-style catchy bounce riffing that goes nowhere because it has almost no harmonic motion. Some of the experimental stuff is intriguing, as it crosses low-tech rhythm guitar with jazz drumming and interesting lead guitar that drops into rhythm guitar figures when convenient to emphasize a change in backdrop. I like it, but it flags in intensity, so makes for an uneven listening experience in a style I abandoned years ago.

Vomit the Soul – Apostles of Inexpression

Would it be wrong to guess that this style of music is very subtly influenced by rap? The semi-recursive rhythms of the chortling, gurgling, guttural muffled shout vocals suggest a technique similar to rap. The riffing is glorified, via Suffocation, speed metal percussive strum but falls into that use of minimal melodic motion to make a nice bouncy groove into which they can drop build-ups, break-downs and even more, lots of chortling. It’s genre-typical: competent, not bad, but well past the glory years of this genre and probably only about half as interesting as a later Deeds of Flesh album.

Denial – Catacombs of the Grotesque

Another forgettable band, for all their technical skill in integrating the memes and techniques of twenty years of death metal into a single album. These songs lack subtlety because that they want to express is not subtle, and even more, does not expand from the initial appearance. They adopt from Krisiun the power-blasting technique of full speed ahead drums, with pauses to divide riffs, creating an overwhelming sense of motion even when little corresponds between riff and percussion. These are songs about violent destabilization and in the process of expressing that, they destabilize themselves into chaotic collections of riff unified by rhythm and vocals but expressing little other than a self-satisfied chaos.

Vermis – Liturgy of the Annihilated

Imagine early Grave with greater instrumental ability and a propensity to use Entombed-style slower melodic passages between the storming chords of thunderous rage. This is roughly where Vermis stands, with a few updated stylistic elements, and less of the flowing tremolo of older death metal so much as fast chord changes like a metal-stamping machine. If anything, the habit of picking a progression and working it through basic harmony split into three riffs wears old after a few songs, but not in a tragic way, such that if this band were able to pack more variation into their work, they’d have a killer. Probably especially appealing to fans of KAAMOS, NOMINON and REPUGNANT.

Coffins – Buried Death

Resembling a stoner doom band as executed by early Grave, this death metal act offer us no complexity and very little variation between songs, but they make them engaging and easily heard owing to their familiar rhythms that resembling walking, wrestling and other human activities. The chord progressions alternate between chromatic and comfortable hard rock intervals, giving this an over-the-top feel as if somehow Cinderella, Poison or AC/DC wandered through hell and came out chaotic. While none of it is offensive, and everything fits and feels second-nature, this CD also doesn’t do anything exceptional so it fades very quickly into the background. It gets an A++ for stylistic concerns, and a C- for content.

Unexpect – In a Flesh Aquarium

Progressive rock presents difficulties in tying together larger songs in a way that makes sense. If you want to take a shortcut, take a very basic song and trick it out, aesthetically. Add some fast scales to that riff; layer some voices; use a weird instrument; use strange time changes. Write a melody that is awkward or diminished, use relative scales. All of this can dress up a very basic song into something sounding quite complex that, when you sketch it out on a whiteboard or equivalent, is basically a pop song. Fans of Maudlin of the Well — if they played really fast with female and male vocals competing and Renaissance Fair style quasi-medieval melodies twisted into modern, almost grunge form — would like this mess, as will people who like constant distraction carnival music like Mindless Self Indulgence. For this reviewer, it’s an old dog still trying old tricks without having much to say.

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