Bolzer Blow Up

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Hipster alternative rock band Bolzer blew up at Death Metal Underground on their Funbook page for telling the world what the first preview track, “I AM III”, from their upcoming album Hero actually was: vocal harmony focused alternative rock with generic riffing in the middle for no reason other than to pretend that their random music is metal and to “connect” two unrelated rock parts. Our staff’s commentary is after the jump.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Pushing It All Out

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The Sadistic Metal Reviews are were we squeeze all the empty calories out of our guts into easily digestible packages for readers’ amusement. The leftovers are distributed to starving third world children to hasten their Malthusian death through infection with the type of drug-resistant bacteria that can only thrive in a Honey Bun.

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Interview With A Metalhead Pipesmoker Video Blogger

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Each of us finds a path through life. Along the way we collect things we believe in, and things we enjoy. Sometimes those become what our commerce-brained socially-manipulated society might call “hobbies,” but these are often closer to a calling. I was fortunate to interview someone who straddles that line. He calls himself “Metalhead Y Cigarguy” and he runs a successful YouTube channel where he analyzes cigars, pipes and often, heavy metal.

You’re both a metalhead and a pipes/cigar smoker. Do you think the two go together?

If you’re going by stereotypes, no, but that’s why stereotypes are bad. Typically the pipe/cigar smoker is viewed as educated and an upper class individual, whereas the Metalhead is viewed as the uneducated lower class individual. You and I both know this is not the case at all. Now when I first got into pipes/cigars I thought I was one of a few Metalheads that actually enjoyed “the finer things in life,” but I quickly learned that there were a lot of individuals that smoked pipes/cigars that listened to all forms of Heavy Metal music.

That’s the nice thing about the hobby of pipes and cigars, most individuals don’t care about race, religion, political view etc. as we all have a common bond and that’s pipes and cigars. When individuals come together, say the doctor and the Metalhead, at the local cigar lounge, the two can always have an interesting conversation about the hobby even if they disagree about everything else in life. The hobby of pipes and cigars is open to anyone and everyone.

How did you get into smoking cigars? When did you add pipes to your routine?

I used to just smoke a few cigars on the back deck in the summer time. At the time I really wanted to take up pipe smoking, but like most I didn’t really know where to begin, and I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on something that I may not enjoy. Cigars seemed like an easy first step. After I found myself enjoying cigars I decided to get more into the hobby, so I purchased a small humidor and things took off from there. I soon found myself with several humidors and about 300 cigars on hand.

After being into cigars for a while I decided it was time to try a pipe, so I went to my local tobacconist and picked up a basket pipe and a couple ounces of Lane RLP-6. For the first couple months I only smoked my pipe about 2-3 times a month, but as I got the hang of it more I decided to spend a bit more money on a nicer pipe. Of course just like the cigar hobby, my pipe hobby took off as well. I now have a very well stocked cellar of tobaccos and about 35 pipes. Needless to say I really enjoy my pipes and cigars and pretty much all my spare cash goes into the hobby. My wife always asks, “Don’t you have enough tobacco/cigars?” and my response is always “no.”

You run a YouTube channel with pipe and cigar videos. Where can we find it, and what is on it?

I post a variety of videos on my channel. I have a Sunday Evening Cigar series where I usually review cigars but also discuss cigar related topics, I have a Thursday Pipe Chat where I discuss a variety of pipe/tobacco topics and sometimes I do an occasional pipe tobacco review. I have also done videos on my sports teams, as well as videos where I discuss Heavy Metal music. I’m open to all subjects, but mainly keep it to pipes and cigars.

What do you like about making videos, and why did you pick that format over others?

I started out many years ago on Heavy Metal forums like Metal Rules, Encyclopedia Metallum, Roadrunner Records etc., and when I got serious about cigars I discovered the Cigar Geeks forum. I posted on that forum daily for a good 3 years straight, and there is a great group of individuals over there. As I had grown in my cigar hobby I decided to give pipe smoking a try as I had always wanted to smoke a pipe.

After beginning my adventure into pipes I discovered there was a community on YouTube. After seeing the interaction from people I decided to jump in and give it a go and make videos. As with most people my videos sucked at first, heck they probably still do, but it gave me a better interaction with individuals in the hobby. Forums can be useful, but many times people don’t get to detailed about a particular subject; where as with YouTube a person can spend 5, 10, 15 + minutes talking about a particular subject and provide more in depth information about something you want to know about.

With YouTube its more of a face to face type interaction as you are watching the individual demonstrate tips, tricks, how-tos etc. with the actual pipe and/or cigar, so as a visual learner it was ideal for me. For a long time I didn’t have anyone to sit back and enjoy a pipe or a cigar with either, so by watching YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) videos I was able to simulate that experience even if it was only a one way conversation. I think that’s why a lot of us do it… to share a smoke with someone and to have some interaction that way.

What is the YouTube Pipe Community (YTPC) and how did you become part of it? What does it do, and how can people find out more?

YouTube is full of different communities that cover topics from Guns/Self Defense, Bushcraft, Gamers, etc., and if you’re interested in a particular hobby then chances are there is a community for it on YouTube. YT has a strong pipe/cigar community that’s been around for a long time. I’ve been a part of the YTPC for four years now, and it was going strong when I joined. It’s basically a community of individuals that post pipe and/or cigar related videos, and create dialog with individuals based off those videos.

Its similar to a forum, but the dialog is generated from the videos. Sometimes instead of just typing out a text reply to the video, individuals will make a video response and post a video that will respond to the topic mentioned in a video by another person. Within the community you will find people that post tobacco and pipe reviews, cigar reviews, how to videos related to pipes and/or cigars, and sometimes people just create ramble videos.

Those are simply the individual talking into the camera as if they were sitting next to an individual and sharing a pipe and/or cigar with them. There are a lot of people that don’t have the opportunity to have a smoking buddy, so many of us can simulate that by watching the ramble type videos and pretend we are hanging out with said individual. Those types of video’s aren’t for everyone, but some people really enjoy them.

Anyone can join the community, all you have to do is post videos. There are no requirements to join other than to just start posting videos. What kind of videos is up to the individual. For lack of a better term, the community is filled with many “lurkers,” which are individuals that watch the YTPC videos, but don’t actually post videos themselves. Some comment on the videos and some don’t, but they watch to gain knowledge when it comes to pipe/cigar related topics.

Really that’s the whole idea behind the community, to help educate other pipe/cigar smokers with tips/tricks and how to information. For example how to pack a pipe, how to properly light a cigar etc. I started out as a lurker, and began watching how to videos before buying my first pipe. I then continued to watch and found that the community was full of a lot of great people. After watching for about five months I decided to give it a go and post a video. It was really weird just talking into a camera all by myself, but the community was very welcoming.

In the past four years I’ve made some good friends, and have had the pleasure of going to pipe/cigar related events where I’ve been able to meet up with other individuals from the YTPC in person. A lot of us will from time to time talk via Skype or Google+ Hangouts, and via a phone app called Voxer. I regularly talk via Voxer with individuals from Australia, Great Britain, and all across the the US who are a part of the YTPC. So it really is a community that goes beyond just posting how to videos etc.

When did you get into heavy metal? What attracted you to it, and what were your favorites? Do you have a “top ten”?

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest when the Grunge/Alternative Rock scene broke open it was easy to get into bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Mud Honey, Soundgarden, etc. After a few years it was clear to me that the scene was dying, and the new bands that were coming out were very stale and provided nothing new. As the casual Hard Rock and Heavy Metal listener I expanded on the Heavy Metal side and I became a huge fan of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath in the mid 90s.

I then got into the Nu-Metal scene, but realized fairly quickly that there was heavier stuff that was better. By the end of the 90s I was getting into more Thrash, outside the Big Four, and into Death Metal and even some Black Metal. As time passed I really came to enjoy the old school Death Metal and Thrash Metal that I missed in the 80s as a young kid and while I was listening to Grunge/Alternative in the early 90s.

Now days I find myself mainly listening to the Traditional Heavy Metal like Ozzy, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, along with the old school Death Metal bands, Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Deicide, Malevolent Creation, and Thrash Metal bands like Overkill, Testament, Exodus, etc. outside the Big Four. I enjoy all varieties of Metal though as you can find me listening to Progressive Metal, Power Metal, Doom, Folk Metal, Black Metal etc. I enjoy all of the sub-genres.

What do you look for in a cigar or pipe tobacco blend? Are some better than others? Are there others you “just like”?

When it comes to cigars I like anything from Mild up to Full bodied, though if I’m having a Full bodied cigar I need to go slow and make sure I have a nice meal before hand otherwise I’ll feel the nicotine punch. I prefer a nice Mild-Medium cigar in the morning with a nice cup of coffee, and in the evening I prefer a nice Medium-Full cigar with a nice ale or some whiskey. My favorite brand of cigar is Romeo Y Julieta, and of those lines I really like the Reserva Real and the classic 1875 line.

As for pipe tobacco, I started off with aromatics like many do. I still enjoy an aromatic from time to time, and if I do have an aromatic its usually in the morning with a cup of coffee. As I got more into pipes I really found that I enjoy English/Balkan blends the most. Typically anything with Latakia, Turkish/Oriental, Virginia and Perique will be a favorite of mine. Looking back on most of my favorite blends, they all have those components to them. I also find that I really enjoy McClelland tobaccos. Not saying they’re better than brands like MacBaren, Cornell & Diehl etc., but I find I really enjoy a lot of the McClelland blends.

What should people know before getting into cigar/pipe smoking? What about before they start listening to heavy metal?

With pipes/cigars… just know that its going to be expensive, especially cigars. A nice cigar here runs $5-9 so the cost can definitely add up. The higher end premium cigars range from $10-15+ so its not cheap at all. That doesn’t include accessories like humidors etc. With pipes and pipe tobacco its not as bad as you can get away with an inexpensive corn cob pipe (which are really good smoking pipes) and some inexpensive bulk blends. Though you can find yourself spending hundreds of dollars on some very nice pipes too, so it can be very costly as well. Then adding tobacco to your tobacco cellar will generate an expense as well. Either way you’re going to be spending some hard earned cash. How far into the hobby you want to go will determine how much money you’re going to invest in the hobby.

Heavy Metal carries a bad stereotype, and the music is viewed by many as a guy standing there screaming into the microphone while the band plays unorganized loud music. Now in some cases that may be true, depends on who you’re listening to, but the professional Metal bands are actually very talented musicians with many playing at a high level. Though most people can’t get past the loud noise. Then there is the typical images of hate and satanism.

Now some bands have this image or have lyrics about these types of messages, but not all bands are that way. There are plenty of Metal bands that sing about a positive message. Its up to the listener to decide their preference. For someone that wants to explore Heavy Metal… go for it! You have to look past the stereotypes. There are all kinds of sub-genre’s of Metal so while one genre may not fit your style another might. Sometimes it takes time to really wrap your head around what you’re listening to as well.

For example the first time I listened to Mercyful Fate (King Diamond), his falsetto singing really threw me off and I was like, “What the heck is this?” I wasn’t ready for it, so I put the album on the shelf for about a year. When I came back to it I was blown away by what i was listening to. Now Mercyful Fate and King Diamond are two of my favorite bands. Sometimes you just need to recognize you’re not ready for something, and instead of just dismissing it, come back to it at a later time. Your outlook may change.

Is there a “generation gap” between older pipe smokers and younger ones regarding the video format? Are there any newer formats that bridge the gap?

The forums are most likely to bridge the gap, because unless an individual shares information about themselves you don’t really know the age of the different individuals. As for YouTube, there are many older pipe smokers that make YouTube videos. It’s not just a young pipe smokers format.

The individuals in the YTPC don’t care if an individual is in their early 20s and just picked up a pipe, or if they’re in their 60s and have been smoking a pipe for 40 years. Everyone interacts with everyone. It’s a great community full of helpful information and individuals that love to share their thoughts on the hobby.

How do you make your videos? About how long does each one take? Does it require special equipment, software or a studio?

I keep it real simple as i do it for fun. If it gets to detailed it becomes a chore and then it’s not fun anymore. When I was doing my Thursday Pipe Chat and my Sunday Evening Cigar series on a weekly basis with editing, I was spending a lot of time on my computer (hours). Now I just use my cell phone which records in HD quality. If I do any editing it can take a little bit of time, but I don’t do that much anymore as I prefer to just click record and stop and then upload. It’s so much more easier. Is the video quality lower?… that’s for the viewer to decide.

If people are interested in what they read here about you, where do they go to find out more and stay on top of your latest doings?

I still chat on the Cigar Geeks forum from time to time, but not as much anymore. I chat on the Pipes Magazine forum on a regular basis currently and of course I’m still making videos for my YouTube channel. I can’t see how anyone would want to keep up with me, as I don’t find myself that entertaining, but if they really want to then the best place is my YouTube channel.

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Sanctuary releases “Exitium (The Anthem of the Living)” from The Year the Sun Died

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During the 1980s, Sanctuary albums popped up wherever speed metal was sold but never quite found entry into the genre because of their reliance on a hybrid sound with the brainy radio heavy metal of the day. Like Queensryche, they embraced the dark rainy sound of the Northwest that later lived on in grunge which aims more toward presentation of intense vocal performances than a maze of riffs leading to detonation.

“Exitium (Anthem of the Living)” takes a doom-metal infused perspective on that style much in the style of Skyclad or Confessor, dropping into slower riffs to allow melancholy vocals to tie the song together. Song structure is simple and cyclic with flair but essentially exists to support vocals, so riffs follow a verse-chorus layout. The vocals sound a lot like Alice in Chains with more morbidity or Queensryche with more aggression, laying out a melody that is both hopeful and fatally self-contradictory. This creates an atmosphere of darkness with an inspirational tinge to it that seems almost like the band is exulting in self-pity.

The newest Sanctuary album The Year the Sun Died will walk among us on October 14. Fans of this band may find the changes unsettling and less intense than past works, but may appreciate the greater emotionality and connection to inner sensation that The Year the Sun Died appears to offer. As metal reaches toward rock in many directions, this somewhat overcast and isolated approach may work for Sanctuary as they try to forge anew their signature sound.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-24-14

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The Manatee: nature’s most useful animal.

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? It’s when we decide that good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to boring music. Most music is either imitating a trend, or totally without purpose or content, and that makes it boring. We can find trends and purposeless noise anywhere, for free. We are cruel to the stupid, and periodically, find something worthwhile to hold up above the river of feces…

adrenaline-mob-_-men-of-honorAdrenaline Mob – Men of Honor

It’s grandad’s heavy metal, kids, but with a rhythmic kick and Alice in Chains vocals. A Pantera influence in the bouncy riffing represents a modern retrospective on glam and heavy metal from the 1970s. Droning diminished scale choruses and a similar riffs stacked in a way that is both not random and not song development fleshes out the mix. Songwriting emphasizes the Big Pop Industry tendencies toward hooky choruses and distracting, somewhat aggressive verses with emphasis on stitching out the chorus rhythm in as many forms as possible, so in case you missed it the previous sixty times it will pop up again to remind you that you’re listening to “music.” People have made heavy metal version of power pop before (like Yes’ 90125) but they aimed for quality; this aims for conformity with someone snapping their fingers and being ironic behind the scenes. Warmed-over 1970s riffs 1990s influences make this a classic record company attempt to make the present generations worship the cast-offs of the past. Despite attempts to be edgy, this is a museum piece from the Hall of Boredom.

disfiguring-the-goddess-depriveDisfiguring the Goddess – Deprive

There’s no death metal to be found on this supposedly “brutal death metal” release, nor any concept of songwriting. Choppy, percussive riffs are thrown next to nu-mu thudding in random sequences that do nothing but “groove.” It comes off as variations of rhythm guitar picking exercises played on an 8-string guitar and stitched together in ProTools. Like most of these rhythms, it’s only a matter of time before the “out there” becomes the predictable, so there’s no promise in these flights of fancy, only a return to something as mundane as the cycling rhythm of a diesel truck engine with a loose belt. Occasionally, an actual riff gets played for almost three seconds before more inconsequential rhythm chugging comes in to pacify the indie/Hot Topic demographic who use this stuff as a surrogate to nurture relationships with other idiots by sharing an interest in “wacky muzak” that makes them “different and unique”, but under the surface, is Korn with tremolo picking.

alehammer-barmageddonAlehammer – Barmageddon

Life is an IQ test. Your choices determine really how smart you are. If you picked this band, you failed. These guys should hang up the electrics, strap on acoustics and do children’s television. This is sing-song music for people without direction in life. Even when I was a clueless 14-year-old buying his first albums with grubby pennies I would not have considered this dung-heap of bad musical stereotypes. It sounds like the kind of stuff that characters at Disneyland would sing, or maybe a bad world music band from the background of a car commercial. It’s catchy vocal rhythms over guitars that basically serve as slaves to pounding out the catchy vocal rhythm, but it’s repetitive catchiness. It’s all hook to the degree that there’s no sweet spot, only cloying repetition. Most bands of this nature are basically bad heavy metal with jingle music at its core. Barmageddon is basically a grindcore take on the kind of simplistic fare that got called “Pirate Metal” recently. I propose a new name: Headshot Metal. If you get caught listening to this, you should be shot through the face with a high-powered rifle. It’s an insult to anyone in the genre who tries to get anything right.

lamb-of-god-_-new-american-gospelLamb of God – New American Gospel

Upon viewing this title, the prospective listener might be intrigued to ask “what is this new gospel?” Answer: the gospel of insincere mediocrity. Half-assed guitar riffs combine the worst elements of a moron’s interpretation of hardcore (autistic caveman rhythms) and speed metal (obvious riff sequences) with a fruity veneer of constipated teenager vocals. Tracks start nowhere and lead nowhere, with nothing connecting one moment to the next; a stream of irrelevance. Expect plenty of repetition which Lamb of God, like all metalcore bands, tries to disguise by being as random as possible. You know who else uses that strategy? Nu-metal bands. This is basically a kissing cousin to nu-metal anyway. It’s music designed for distracted teenagers to distract themselves further until it’s time for a lifetime career in something brainless to match their braindead approach to life. How anybody with above a single-digit IQ could enjoy this escapes me. Sadly for all of us, this title is accurate: the future of America is a populace that considers this a valuable piece of music.

anal_blasphemy-forbidden_eyes-splitAnal Blasphemy / Forbidden Eye – The Perverse Worship of Satanic Sins

Anal blasphemy starts off with three tracks of simple death metal with a strong melodic hook. It is however rather straightforward in structure which leaves creates a sense of uniformity. Riffs are very similar. The final track uses a melodic lead-picked counter-riff which adds some depth but ultimately these songs are one step removed from their beginnings, so despite the compelling rhythm and melodic hooks they might not survive repeated listens. Forbidden Eye produces a more lush approach to melodic metal which is clearly in the droning black metal camp, but avoids the pure sugar-coated repetition common to the Eastern European variant. Its weakness is that there is not much in the way of a unique voice; we’ve heard these tropes before and recognize the song patterns well. If you can imagine a Dawn or Naglfar approach with more intensive drumming that is roughly what you’ll get here, well-executed but undistinctive both melodically and stylistically.

descend-witherDescend – Wither

The rock ‘n’ roll industry is a successful industry that attracts players who are highly professional. They know what the product is, and how to do do the minimum to achieve it; this practice, otherwise known as shaving margins, is based on the idea that the other guy will cut his costs to the minimum too in order to both lower price to make the product more competitive and maximize his own profit. If two guys make a widget, and one does it for five bucks less, that’s pure profit. In the same way, rock ‘n’ roll is based on fast turnover and following current trends so you can catch the media wave. I hear death metal is big now, like trendy. This album attempts a facial similarity to death metal with the whispery vocals of Unique Leader bands and lots of runaway blast beats followed by metalcore riffs, but after a while, they drop this and out come to the jazzy riffs based on a scale bent to a series of offbeats of offbeats in a complex pattern, and the soft-strummed ballad chord progressions and melodic hooks. The problem is that the guitar rhythms, like those of the vocals in hip-hop, are based on subdividing a rhythm and thus rapidly become highly repetitive, both internally and between songs. The result is that it all all fades into the background, as should this rather unambitious and directionless release.

reciprocal-new-order-of-the-agesReciprocal – New Order of the Ages

A “thinking man” band name written in a sterile font and a “politically informed” album cover. Is this more metalcore in death metal clothing? You bet. While this band is claiming influence from Deeds of Flesh and other Unique Leader bands for legitimacy, this has more in common with Necrophagist or The Black Dahlia Murder. Mechanical groove riffs are “spiced up” with sweep arpeggios and generic Slaughter of the Soul riffs appear over blast beats for the “brutality”. This is boring music with nothing to offer. Perhaps musicians this good need a better concept to work with than shouting out Alex Jones podcasts over Guitar World lessons from metalcore guitarists played at 220 bpm. I couldn’t tell the difference between this album and any other modern tek-deaf release. If these guys were to spend less time on conspiracy websites and more time thinking about why people still turn to their old Morbid Angel and Immolation albums instead of these tek-deaf bands (or how to structure their music to not be a series of discontinuous parts), maybe they could create something useful. Otherwise, this is Origin with propaganda attached looking to steal some time from metal fans while keeping Xanax addled brofist D&B homeys (Rings of Saturn fans) satisfied with more inconsequential ADHD music which will be forgotten a week later.

caliban-ghost-empireCaliban – Ghost Empire

Occasionally I’m amazed that something actually got signed because it’s so terrible and then later I see it on the bestseller list. The taste of the herd will never fail to shock and amaze, mainly because what they like is simple: (1) the same old stuff but (2) in some radical new format that’s easy to see through so they can appreciate the sameness of it. Modern society is about anonymity and personal convenience, so why not music that you can project yourself upon, that requires you to know or feel absolutely nothing except the most transient of emotions? Caliban have it for. Ranty Pantera verses over djent-inspired harmonically-immobile riffs lead to sung alt-rock style choruses with lots of hook and lengthy vocalizations, but essentially no melodic development. As a result this is super-repetitive in that its song structure is circular to the point of linearity and the songs at their core consist of two-note clusters in riffs stacked up against four-note chorus vocal lines. Every now and then they get tricky and play rhythm games with riffs that were well-known before Metallica formed. The main factor that kills me is the repetition. It’s as if the whole album is a conspiracy of details designed to hide the fact that it’s basically the words of a drunk, repeating himself unsteadily and then doubling his volume and saying the same thing. This might be good music to listen while doing laundry or some other task that numbs the brain because the effect of this music is to validate tedium, repetition and simplistic pounding. Unless your brain fell out long ago, avoid this reeking turd.

blutkult-die-letzen-wahren-deutschen-ritterBlutkult – Die letzten deutschen Ritter

I always wondered what would happen to the formal nationalists in metal. We knew that founding bands like Bathory, Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal, et al were nationalistic in the sense of national pride and perhaps more. But it’s a leap from that to connect with the organized far-right parties and mentality, and for a long time, NSBM seemed like it would remain in that world. Then hipsters started like Arghoslent and Burzum and so now being a Nazi is a “lifestyle choice” like being vegan or buying a Prius… the hardcore nationalist music has changed too, as this album from Blutkult shows us. It’s a three-way split between the old Skrewdriver-styled sentimental punk music, Renaissance Faire styled Celtic-y noodly melodic music, and the droning of punk-influenced black metal such as Absurd. As someone of profoundly anti-racist and egalitarian character, I find this to be alarmingly catchy and emotional. Die letzten deutschen Ritter brings out feelings of hope in me, and I don’t like it. It’s like a surge of elegance and an old world emerging from the ruins of this one. But that makes me uneasy, as do the Wehrmacht soldiers on the cover, the black suns and the vocal samples that sound like the man with the funny moustache himself. Regardless, this is where Graveland and Absurd have been trying to go for years. If they got rid of the stupid spoken intros and just focused on letting the music rip, this might be a really compelling release.

amoral-wound-creationsAmoral – Wound Creations

While their current output is being lambasted for being radio friendly rock/metal, this “technical death metal” debut album is given unwarranted praise for being some kind of masterwork. Too bad this is just metalcore. Chugging groove riffs played in mechanical stop-start sequences make room for AOR “extreme” stadium metal melodies like Soilwork, and little else. While the playing is adept, the music is annoying and makes their latest album sound favorable by comparison for being honest commercial radio muzak that’s not congested with unnecessary ornamentation and fake aggression. If Nevermore made a mash up between Soilwork at it’s most commercial and Meshuggah at it’s most mechanical while Chimaira make MTV edits out of the recordings, you might end up with an album like this: sub-par music, but at least they know how to play. Too bad they sound like any other generic metalcore band signed to Century Media circa the 2000s with growl vocals (done in the metalcore faux-aggressive style). A terrible excuse for metal that without a doubt brings great shame to Finland.

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Staying underground, sort of

Mailbag:

In the ’80s and ’90s it was not uncommon to see photos of metal legends such as Slayer, Alice in Chains and Megadeth clothed in the half-skull logo that has become a venerated symbol for Utah metalheads.

While stores like Hot Topic have become a haven for mall rats, Kevin refused a distribution offer years ago that would have put HMS T-shirts in malls because it would’ve cheapened HMS’ authentic metalhead image. Today, sales from clothing eclipse music sales and HMS-branded clothing is sold to customers worldwide.

Although the location of the HMS has changed over the years, the authentic vibe that permeates the store and impeccable customer service has remained consistent. – USA Today

One way to avoid the hype: treat metal like any other specialty, whether gardening or hair-weaving, and ignore the teeny-bopper market entirely.

It seems that sell-outs occur, and consequently failures of quality occur, when some novice sees a successful pop-ish metal band, and counsels a heavier metal band to emulate them.

This then poisons the good name of that metal band, and fails to attract the pop listeners, who want something that is 100% pop, not a metal-pop hybrid.

Morbid Angel just found this out the hard way. Slayer did back in 1998 as well. It’s an eternal cycle.

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Son of Metal FAIL

When we let rip with our “Metal FAILs — Volume I,” people were pissed — mainly because we didn’t include their favorite fails. So in the grand tradition of whoring ourselves for populist acclaim, and thus perhaps thousands of grubby fingers clicking on the same links, we’ve brought you the sequel: “More Metal FAILs” or “Son of Metal FAIL,” depending on what you want to call it. We just call it not letting this abundant bushel of failure slip the noose. So without much further ado, here’s another heaping helping of metal FAIL:

10. Celtic Frost – Cold Lake

Years of being a metalhead will condition a bowel release when you see this album. Celtic Frost is one of the handful of bands who created a completely unique take on metal, and this album represents their moment of exhaustion with life and its deeper questions. “Screw it all, we’ll be a hair metal band!” While this record is clearly a fail, it’s a minor fail because while the music is dressed up as glam, the compositions would have fit seamlessly onto “Into the Pandemonium” without the vocals.

9. Death – Individual Thought Patterns

As in life, in music the time when you are most likely to screw up is right before your final victory. Death clawed their way up the ranks and after the superlative “Human,” appeared poised to take over metal entirely. Then out came this throwback to the pretentious, glammy, art-metal of the late 1980s. It’s basically reboiled Queensryche and Shok Paris, given a death metal edge, but under the skin pure heavy metal. Now the only people who like this album are drunk masturbators on guitar has-been forums.

8. Massacre – Promise

Alcoholism is probably to blame for this weepy, whiny, and downright creepy rendition of Massacre. Their first album was great brainless hard-driving death metal, and then they tried to get all emo on us, ending up simultaneously smug and as brain-bleachingly confessional as Facebook at its worst. This album was so bad it would bring an easy chair and a newspaper whenever it arrived in a used CD rack, knowing it would be there for a while… a long while.

7. Atrocity – Blut

Their first album was good cryptic death metal, and their second a feast of technical death metal that could compete with the American bands. Next logical move? Why, go Goth metal, of course, probably because after the 11th beer what record label execs say almost seems sensible. So Atrocity excreted this poppy, dance-friendly piece of crap, and now the only people who buy it are Germans, out of misplaced national loyalty. (True story: I found one at a garage sale in the distant suburbs two months ago, proving just how far metalheads will drive to drop off this furry turd.)

6. Cryptopsy – Whisper Supremacy

Riding high on “None So vile,” Cryptopsy was a sure winner… until this. Wanting to be both death metal and “different,” as their label probably kept whining for them to be, Cryptopsy invented proto-deathcore with this disconnected, jaunty, chaotic album. The same people who love Marilyn Manson and Slipknot think it’s pretty cool. I repeat… well, you get the point.

5. Terrorizer – Darker Days Ahead

Legendary band makes comeback album almost twenty years later. Quick, what’s the first thought that pops into your head? Legendary fail? That’s correct! Unlike the first Terrorizer album, which had balls and distinct songs, this collection of riffs sounds like these guys working around their drug habits, appointments for car repair, ex-wives and beer guts. Uninspired and wandering, this album will stun you into a stupor.

4. Sepultura – Chaos AD

How do you follow up to an album as classic as “Beneath the Remains”? You make a watered-down but more musical version, Arise. One of the ten billion things you did to that record was include a few seconds of tribal beats… so that’s your new direction, obviously. It wasn’t the quality songwriting, the epic riffs, or the powerful atmosphere: it was that tribal beat. So start making standard nu-metal with a tribal beat and hey, you’ve got your niche! Even though this album pre-dated nu-metal, the (Mordred) writing was already on the wall that this was how mainstream rock would take over underground metal.

3. Carcass – Heartwork

Famous for making gutter-level grindcore, you decide to make a frilly speed metal album like your older brother (you know, the one on methadone) might have liked. Most fans don’t know this, but this album is a collection of recycled riffs and cliches from the power metal bands of the late 1980s who didn’t make it. Just a few years later, Carcass decided to re-envision all that old stuff with their trademark vocals intact. The result is as painfully blockheaded as speed metal, and as inept as grindcore bands without a good topic to write on. Fail and forget.

2. At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul

Wait, he must be crazy; that’s their most popular album! Yep, but if you made a graph of its popularity since release, you’d see it’s a steady downward curve. That’s because unlike everything else this band did, “Slaughter of the Soul” is an attempt to sound like other bands who made it big, just — you know — Swedishy instead. So it’s recycled 1980s speed metal with death metal flavor, like soda pop’s flavor is inspired by something that once tasted sort of organic. Now that we have dozens of melodic death metal bands, this FAIL just seems ordinarily bad.

1. Atheist – Elements

The number one dropping on our second list of bulging, greenish, corn-studded, mucus-sheathed turds is this raging FAIL from Atheist. This band is clearly one of the best in metal, and their first two albums are top notch. Then there’s this thing. Sounding like a Phish ripoff with occasional metal riffs, it fails like all progressive music does, mainly by being so busy jamming on cool stuff, man, that it fails to concentrate and write songs. So instead you get the kitchen sink: a little funk, a lotta jazz, some rock riffs, some metal, and then back again. Add the extra pretense of a prog metal album and you have a turd with an English accent, an emo livejournal, and a disorganized snobbery even us prog-metal fanatics cannot stand.

BandFAILs

Now, as an added bonus track to this blog posting, you’ll get more — BANDFAILS: bands who should never have existed or if they had to exist, should have stayed underground in mom’s cellar until suicide was the better option.

10. Weapon

We get it — all those years of black metal getting beyond its roots were too hard to re-do, so you’re going back to the roots as you see ’em, which is Venom. Nevermind that Venom sounds like clumsy NWOBHM, not black metal. Let’s re-live that past one more time!

9. In Flames

If you’re a Dissection clone, and the Dissection guy shoots himself, do you do it too? Might not be a bad idea. From their first derivative album, which sucked in comparison to everything else out at the time, to their recent awkward contortions in order to stay “hip,” this band have been like AIDS at a swinger party.

8. Origin

This comical deathcore band make really goofy songs, to the point that you think someone would say, “Hey, didn’t I hear that melody on a commercial for a 24-hour law firm?” But people seem to not want to notice, because someone in a magazine somewhere told them this band is the future of metal. If so, I hope the sun swallows us first.

7. Meshuggah

During your first year of guitar lessons, this band just seems killer. Man, listen to those rhythms. Then as time goes on you realize that (a) not much goes on in Meshuggah songs and (b) past the rhythmic technique, nothing they’re doing is particularly hard. So you’re listening to faux prog that really has more in common with a bad Exhorder or Vio-lence clone. Errr… I’ll pass.

6. Cannibal Corpse

This band makes experienced musicians weep through their laughter. A large musical joke, Cannibal Corpse depends on fans being stoned enough to think irony means pretending you like something really dumb because, you know, dumb is funny. That lets the band keep touring and buying the quality weed. When they “compose,” they buy the cheap weed. Repeat the same blunt-shaped metal riff and chanting vocal, then split for fast guitar and a breakdown, then repeat. This music demands nothing of its fans except they think it’s pretty funny, when you’re high. In fact, you have to be wasted on something to even tolerate it.

5. Opeth

Over a breakfast of fish eyes in milk one morning, Mikael said to his friends, “You know, metalheads have low self-esteem and like simple music. If we make simple music that sounds like it is complicated, it will make the metalheads feel smart, and we will be able to afford all the spandex we want!” So Opeth was formed, causing progressive rock fans everywhere to weep. The riffs don’t add up. The fans don’t care. They’re too busy thinking about how smart they are.

4. Cradle of Filth

If someone paid me, I could not design a bigger metal failure than Cradle of Filth. If a new metal genre comes about, try to make it as boring as possible by repeating the same old formula with the new vocals and faster drumming. Then again, if they hadn’t, we’d think they were just another piss-poor Iron Maiden clone.

3. Mortician

While just about no one remembers this band now, for some time they were the future of metal: basic riffs, no key changes, simple rhythms and a drum machine doing kickbeat drums at dirge pace. It’s as if Spock rushed back into the engine room, screamed “Set phasers for dumb!” and then let the ship’s computer write an album.

2. Necrophagist

Like Opeth and Cynic, this band survives by convincing people with little experience of music that they’re experts. Overnight, they become sophisticated aficionados of the difficult, obscure and brainier-than-thou art of technical death metal. But when you peel back the hype, you find very simple songs wrapped in layers of sweep, chug, squeal, repeat. Confusing this with quality metal is like admiring a painter who can paint cars really well, but sucks at painting anything else, so he makes who pastoral scenes out of Hyundais talking to Lamborghinis.

1. Pantera

This is it, friends… the metal doofus epicenter of the universe: Pantera. They started as a hair band, then were a Metallica/Alice in Chains crossover that hit MTB big time with “Cemetery Gates,” and then suddenly they became the metal equivalent of hip-hop. Songs about the hard life on the streets: Check. Marijuana songs: check. Violent, swaggering attitude: check. Songs based mostly on rhythm with occasional random melodic fragments: check. If these guys were more honest, they would have just been a Public Enemy tribute band called We Rule the Burbs.

For whiners

Yes, we know: you hate us, you hate them, you hate something, you’re bubbling over with rage at how someone on the intertard can be so wrong. Either that or you were reading ANUS once, came upon a word you didn’t recognize and instead of growing a pair, tip-toeing your fingers to dictionary.com and rising to the occasion, you wimped out with the chorus all failed people like to repeat: “It’s not my fault, you’re an elitist, it’s not fair!”

To all such people we say: Go whine up a rope, because the only people who like that kind of mealymouthed rambling are other failures. You can all go fail together somewhere. And maybe touch each other, but in the grand tradition of being in denial so you can fail more efficiently, you’ll insist you’re not gay… it has nothing to do with what Uncle Ted did to your peenor after he’d been drinking. If you’ve failed at life, it’s because you’re disorganized and cannot man up and face reality. Don’t blame us for your weakness; fix it. (Listening to the albums on this list will not help.)

People get bent out of shape about our opinions, but somehow it’s only the people who have nothing better going on. Humans of that type enter any situation with the goal of making it “safe” for themselves, meaning that they don’t want to hear about how some fail and some are great, only that we’re all accepted. We’re all the same and we’re all OK. That kind of bullshit, of course, converts thriving metal scenes into big circle-jerks where everyone accepts everyone else but ten years later, you look back and realize finally that all the music was thinly-disguised FAIL with smugness for bling.

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The most epic metal FAILs of all time

Of all genres of music, metal is unique because the line between “acceptable” and “total failure” is very narrow. Making metal is easy, but making good metal… difficult. Periodically, metal bands either sell out or have personal problems, and they create metal failures.

We’re going to tour some of these today.

These failures have one thing in common: an otherwise promising band made a shining, mucus-sheathed, corn-studded turd of an album, and in most cases didn’t have the decency to shoot themselves in the face. In some cases, they went on to get rich and famous, even though they failed at making quality metal.

10. Slayer – Divine Intervention

There will never be anything cooler than Slayer. Most metalheads agree that this is fact. However, they will be quick to add, “…old Slayer.” What they mean to say is that sometime in 1996 or so, Slayer switched from their mythological, occult, intense music to dumbed-down impersonations of themselves. Maybe they were jealous of Pantera getting all the big bucks. Maybe it was alcoholism. No one knows. But this album is a series of one-noted-removed interpretations of older Slayer riffs, and really simple songs that sound almost like Slayer except they’re boring. It took the band ten years to come back from this with “Christ Illusion.”

9. Cynic – Traced in Air

The first Cynic album was a ripoff of all jazz fusion and prog metal to date, sure, but it was a good ripoff so we don’t care, even if they did use early autotune vocals. But the followup? It’s a disorganized pile of derivative jazz riffs interrupted by banging, dumbed-down, mouth-breathing metal. Fail on both counts.

8. Pestilence – Hold the Mustard

This album is so bad I can’t even remember the title. It’s like they booked an afternoon of studio time and pulled an album out of their asses, then tried to make it extra bang-y just so the dumb kids in the crowd could like it. The result is both boring and annoying at once, which is usually hard to do but Pestilence packed this so full of fail it was effortless for them.

7. Morbid Angel – Domination

More metalheads shouted “what the hell is this?” at their speakers for this album than any previous. After three brilliant studio albums, Morbid Angel decided to sound like Pantera, and came out with this cranky, braindead-simple, bouncy shadow of their former selves. Gone were the brains. Instead we had bounce. This album was so dumbed-down it lost all of the Morbid Angel mystique, and sounded like another third-rate Pantera ripoff. Add to that the goofy cover and you’ve got a cup runnething over with FAIL.

6. Emperor – IX Equilibrium

This Norwegian band used to make the kind of mystical musical experience in album form that made you want to never let go of the CD. “In the Nightside Eclipse” transported more teenagers to midnight forests than Tolkien, almost. And then they came out with this hunk of rubbish, basically a riff salad with singing amongst the black metal vocals. It shocked many people into simply abandoning black metal altogether because Emperor went from “getting it” to “clueless” in thirty seconds of mismatched riffs.

5. Suffocation – Souls to Deny

Basically inventing the style of blasting deathgrind, Suffocation used to make these epic, legendary albums. Then they heard a bunch of deathcore, and formed an equation in their minds: deathcore = how to succeed. So they ripped it off, but tried to make it fit into Suffocation, or vice-versa. The result sounds like Suffocation with a fever, on cheap drugs, and locked in a rape basement with a one-eyed inbred tormentor. The riffs don’t make sense. The songs are bad. But it’s definitely deathcore. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

4. Obituary – Back From the Dead

Their previous album, “World Demise,” was bad, but on this one they had to go hyperspace into pure feces. If the rap/rock remix “Bullitary” didn’t clue you in, the suddenly “streetwise” song titles and cliche cover might have. But if you ignored all the warnings and listened anyway, you were in for a vomit launch of cliche meeting absent-minded riffing that fulfilled every negative stereotype about death metal.

3. Asphyx – God Cries

Asphyx are legends. They dominate completely. Except on this album. Two members left, so the remaining members sought a clue, and one drunken night decided to do a morose, emo tribute to one band member’s dead father. So instead of cavernous booming riffs of doom, you get weepy, slow, melodic chanting choruses and really bad interludes. Most Asphyx fans deny this album exists. To do otherwise might make their heads explode, especially if they sit down with “The Rack” in one hand and this lump of guano in the other.

2. Entombed – Wolverine Blues

“Clandestine” captured the imagination of every death metal fan on earth when it was released. That fuzzy, thick guitar sound! Those song titles promising realms beyond the visible! The powerful rhythm riffing and breathtaking tempo changes! And then… out came this, a bluesy rock album with some death metal riffs and a cartoon character on the cover, sounding like a fifteenth-rate jeer of an Alice in Chains ripoff. We still don’t understand why they chose to give their career a Viking funeral in this manner.

And the #1 metal FAIL of all time is…

1. Metallica – The Black Album

You knew it was going to be this. The bringer of grimaces to the faces of metal fans, this was the album when “we’ll never stop, we’ll never quit, ’cause we’re Metallica” became a curse. Cliff Burton spun so fast in his grave he got vertigo and barfed all over his own ashes. It’s sappy, sentimental, slow, goofy and really panders to the dumbest, geekiest, most clueless among us. Yet it launched their mainstream career, proving again that most people are complete idiots with no musical taste.

From looking over these, there are some warning signs that metal bands are about to fail. First, they get sensitive. Next, they start writing songs about being themselves. Finally, they get bitter that the Pantera guys don’t have to work day jobs. Put together one part sell-out, two parts disorganization and fifteen parts clueless, and you have a METAL FALL on a grand scale.

We had a buttload of runner-ups. In fact, since most metal bands start falling apart when their members are given the choice of “sell more albums, or it’s back to your day jobs,” no shortage of material can be found. But ordinary sell-outs are nothing compared to these epic turds. If you ever want proof of Newton’s idea that every action creates an equal and opposite reaction, you have it here: the bands that started out the best went just as fast in the other direction when the time came. We can’t change that, but if you see these albums waiting to pounce on a used CD rack somewhere, don’t walk but run in the opposite direction.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 11-21-08

Deeds of Flesh – Of What’s to Come

While I may not like listening to the outcome 100% of the time, especially given the strikingly moronic introduction, I really like what Deeds of Flesh are doing here. Instead of becoming a generic mix like others, they are mixing technical death metal with progressive metal, coming up with something that sounds like Suffocation, Cynic and Necrophagist thrown into a blender. However, the unique Deeds of Flesh flavor asserts itself as the sinew that ties together these influences — the use of fast scales and melodic playing of the same patterns at different intervals to effect implications of key change is pure Necrophagist, and the abrupt transitions between riffs that only make sense when the next transition occurs is straight out of the “Pierced from Within” playbook, the joy at experimentation with odd rhythms leading through convoluted tempo changes and bizarre chording is Cynic-derived, but the playfulness with which Deeds of Flesh are willing to interrupt a pattern and connect a fast technical riff with inverted chording and then drop into a rushing power chord feast which is pure sensory gratification is purely their own. The quick drops to hummingbird fast transitional riffs which made Path of the Weakening such a metal delight are here as well, as are elaborations on ideas from the past two albums. It’s possible we hear later Gorguts or Neuraxis winking from the sidelines as well. People — myself include — will experience aesthetic revulsion at this because in its panopoly of techniques it includes some cheap shots, although not as many as the overplayed and bombastically bloviatory new Cynic, so each time we hear a rhythmic seizure before continuation on the offbeat, we yawn and think that we are hearing the auditory equivalent of trotting out a villain who kills puppies at an opera. Yet in a time of painfully slick and cancerously insincere indie/metal/punk hybrids that have the hipness of a carny, the glibness of a presidential candidate and the soul of a toaster, this honest and well-planned effort from Deeds of Flesh is worth paying attention to — it may be one of the few intelligent directions metal has been taken in the last decade.

Mouth of the Architect – Quietly

More of this combination shoegaze, emo/punk, and doom/drone metal that they try to pass off as post-metal or post-rock, when really if we’re honest we’ll admit it descends from Fugazi, its genre is indie metalcore, and it’s all roughly the same because it aims for the same general goals. Is this really that different than what Jawbreaker was doing fifteen years ago? A lot like Callisto or Godflesh, it is very much rock music tricked out in the techniques of metal, albeit with greater competence than either genre is accustomed to. Songs develop like indie rock: it seems quirky at first until you realize it’s a thesis-antithesis deviation away from a second chorus that’s going to finish out the whole thing. Chord progressions: emo. Vocals: emo metalcore hybrid. Mood: indie. Lasting impact: none; it’s very much like the rest in this genre despite being more musically adept, and brings nothing new in form or content to the table, even if it does “post-metal” better than others.

Verminous – Impious Sacrilege

A fusion of later Merciless and early Seance, this is high-octane blasting drums and quick phrasal riffs alternating with Suffocation style abrupt staccato bursts. The problem is that these songs go nowhere but into their own cycles which, in order to be self-evident, are based on well-known patterns and so extremely repetitive both in listener experience and in motivic redundancy within each song. I would really like to like this. It could be compared to early Grave in its “go for it” attitude, but achieves nothing much memorable because its songs are so linear.

These Arms Are Snakes – The Swallower and Dove

Post-rock with prog-rock jazz-influenced drumming, this CD uses plenty of dissonant and jangly melodies over which pop pours like warm asphalt, but doesn’t fill the cracks in these spacious tunes. Punk riffs plentiful add to the mix, which has a metal-influenced sensibility of The Epic but as filtered through the garage bands of the 1970s who liked blistering the ear and then pouring vinegar syrup into it as a means of hooking the listener. For those who like post-rock and post-metal, this supple fusion purrs.

Volkmar – Blessed Sin

Combining Gothic post-punk/industrial like Sisters of Mercy with a mainstream version of underground metal, Volkmar create simple but ear-catching music that sounds like Gehenna and Wolfsheim colliding in the midst of their associated influences. You can hear Emperor at the edges of their technique, but there’s a lifetime of riffology here with influences as wide as Ministry and Deicide, although all are softened into music designed to flow rather than abruptly disturb. Riffs are basic and tend to hold space rather than redefine it, metal-style, with phrase shape changes but these riffs nonetheless serve the organ-style keyboards and half-chanted, half-sung vocals quite well. It’s not my thing, but it’s what anyone who thinks Marilyn Manson, White Zombie or the new Misfits are cool should be listening to.

Krallice – Krallice

Someone disguised an emo album — listen to the chord shapes and progressions used — as an underground tr00 kvlt black metal album, which is sort of like mixing safe sex and nuclear war. The result is a droning, mincing work that rips a bunch of black metal riffs from the Impaled Nazarene and Niden Div 187 school of budget riffs and puts them into a saccharine melodic morass like Weakling. As a result, individual riffs sound OK, but when you try to listen to the whole thing, you’re left with a sense of it being inappropriate. The crustcore howled-into-the-wind vocals sound out of place as well. But most damningly, there’s zero dynamic change. This will be forgotten in less than a year.

Lions – No Generation

The Beastie Boys “Ill Communication” gets resurrected: rock, industrial and hip-hop beats meld under blues rock riffs played with the rhythm of metal riffs, either the Motorhead “galloping Harley” rhythm or Black Sabbath formal march pace, while a vocalist intones his words with the alternate whine of alternative rock and deft syllabic tuck of underground hip-hop. They know how to write a good harmony and put together remarkably effective songs. Like the Beastie Boys, I can see Lions — with their panopoly of pop culture metaphors mixed into a language of their own — giving the current generation a font of opinion work with which to pepper both their complaints to parents and politically serious college admissions essays.

Withering – Festum Melancholia

This CD sounds like a hybrid between Amorphis “Tales from the Thousand Lakes” and Sentenced “Amok,” complete with the failing of both, which is an inability to let the voice of their music fly free from its heavy metal origins. The big cheesy heavy metal riffs are in here, as are some expertly executed death metal and black metal parts. The problem is that the idea of throwing a bunch of stuff together and somehow making the hybrid distinctive doesn’t work, as metalcore teaches us. Their strength is the bittersweet melodies that tie this whole thing together, which with more focus paid on finding a direction, could really be a great strength. Watch this band in the future, but perhaps bypass this release.

Gortuary – Manic Thoughts of Perverse Mutilation

This band reminds me of Psychomancer, who were sort of around a few years ago, but without the ability to grasp the core of what they’re expressing in a song and bring it to light. All instrumentation is capable, songwriting technique is good, but songs don’t come together and end up being a chaotic riff salad of contradictory impulses. That they do this in old school death metal aesthetic is at first memorable, until you realize that this CD lacks what made the old school great: the ability to bring a dark, brooding, powerful vision of life alive and make it exciting. Spare us.

Green Carnation – Journey to the End of the Night

Add some indie into your doom metal, throw in female vocals that would make Celtic Frost proud, and then update its heavy metal/hard rock riffery with some recent additions from prog-metal, and you have Green Carnation. This CD maintains an interesting mood, but it’s all the texture of the vocals and the pacing, because as art it doesn’t hold up as more than an interesting variation on a known archetype. One of the more adept bands at the songwriting game, Green Carnation are content to use minimal riffing that nonetheless exerts some demands in keeping track of its wandering harmonic focal point and its somewhat abstruse rhythms. It’s like a version of Skepticism that got bred early in the game with later Enslaved or Borknagar, but the real problem is that it is insipid. Melodic progressions trail off in a direction they never resolve; rhythms and song structures build, then fade away; no point is ever made. Neat ideas, good execution, bad (or no) direction.

Dark Angel – We Have Arrived

Unfortunately for this, I heard it after Destruction, which put it well in its place. So you wanna be in what imbeciles called “thrash” but really was speed metal updated after Slayer, where bands like Rigor Mortis, Destruction, Kreator, Pestilence and Devastation go? Really — this is moron music when it’s done wrong, because it likes to have choruses match the dominant rhythm of their most frequent phrase — and here it’s done wrong. Recycled Slayer patterns, a little technical leaps, influences from Sodom and Metallica, but basically it goes nowhere. Very catchy, which becomes annoying when the vapidity sinks in. My advice: people will tell you about this forgotten gem from the past. Bury it. It doesn’t suck but it’s like a bicycle for fishes — unnecessary.

Past Lives – Strange Symmetry

Dramatic, poised like the wit of a writer of letters to an antiquated editor, this music is rock in the style of later Beatles with diverse influences uptucked and emulsified by its strong sense of its own direction. Songs follow a melody that develops, with quirks, into a conventional pop cycle but gives space to the vocalist whose voice bends, creels, dives and twists like metal in fire. Shot through all of this is a facile study of riffs across all genres prevalent in the last twenty years, with the guitarist enjoying to play “in the shadows,” casting some of his more developed offerings into the offbeats, out of focus, as a means of steeping this album in subtlety.

Sakrefix – In Shadow’s Embrace

It’s like In Flames reincarnated. Heavy metal riffs, updated into speed metal, are played in melodic songs that want to be a harder version of Cradle of Filth, maybe throw in some later At the Gates, but at its heart the same plodding stuff that made heavy metal unbearable in the late 1970s is here. Sure, there’s a lot of death metal technique, and these guys are reasonably educated musicians so a few nifty harmonies emerge in transitions, but because they don’t actually write songs these are stranded amidst unassociated, disorganized data that confuses any meaning with chronological prevalence. Check your brain at the door.

Watain – Sworn to the Dark

A friend whose opinion I respect describes these guys as carrying on the spirit of classic Mayhem. Yet what made Mayhem great wasn’t the consistency, but the variations, and Watain is all about setting up a comfortable pattern of melody diverging into rhythm violence, and then pulling out again. None of the mystery of Mayhem is here, but all of the technique; do we want to define great music solely by technique, or what it expresses? Watain are masters of the melodic aggressive black metal sound but go nowhere else. They also like arpeggios and other forms of linear variation that when overused make the music sound like warning tones from factory machinery. Should this be avoided? More than that: a pogrom should be formed against it, as all things which imitate form and not some unifying principle — idea, content, spirit, vision — should be burned to hell because they’re stupid, deconstructive, granular, dysfunctional crap like McCheeseburgers and robot solicitations over the phone. Everything that made the underground weak so it could be replaced with metalcore is present in this album. Too bad, since the first Watain CD is good and even has spirit. Burn this ruin that does not yet appear ruined.

Bloodbath – The Fathomless Misery

If old school death metal (to you) means (objectively, in a subjective sense) that Pantera riffs should bounce right into fast melodic riffs under which an unrelenting snare doubletimes the pace of ranting vocals, and you like that mixed — metalcore style — in a salad of musical “scenes” borrowing different influences and so, when put together, revealing nothing but the underlying indecision common to all melanges, then by all means go buy this fucking thing. But to my mind this is a clothes dryer into which someone has pitched the best moments of the ten top bands in every metal genre, and hit the mix button, coming back later to string it together with rhythm. Like grunge and nu-metal bands, it is obsessed with “difference” through contrast, so in place of dynamics we get the fast melodic riff then the bouncing rhythm riff, or really fast then really slow, or death metal riffs and then some bouncy hard rock/punk combination that sounds like the soundtrack to an aerobics video for Slipknot fans who got too fat to fit into their parole hearings. This CD reminds me of At the Gates “Slaughter of the Soul” and Hail of Bullets “Of Frost in War,” and is equally insincere and directionless.

Katharsis – 666

When things die, those who want the authenticity they conveyed find a way to convincingly imitate them the way computers can imitate speech. You’ll read a paragraph, and it reads “just like” normal writing, until you realize that the sentences don’t relate to each other in meaning, only in appearance of language. While some might argue our record reviews are the same way (and we do generate them with Perl scripts), this CD ends up being a giant disappointment as your heart lifts at the thought of something Darkthroney and good but your deeper brain keeps reminding you that this is random fragments stitched together without any sense of direction. It’s like a yard sale of true black metal bits, and whatever you can afford you put in a box and drop it on top of a constant, fast drumbeat. Then, when you wake up from the nap you did not intend to take, you can ask yourself what it meant. Avoid!

Hollenthon – Opus Magnum

This music is some of the cheesiest and slickest stuff I’ve heard this year. It tries to blend soundtrack melodrama with identifiable metal riffs, and so we end up with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the “300” edition. Death metal vocals over industrial rhythms with guitars shadowed exactly by keyboards, varying between heavy metal and rock riffs, and the darker underground metal — but by the nature of how it is constructed it cannot leave behind the syncopated expectation nor use a tremolo strum, making a sound that could have just stepped off the pages of a Hollywood blockbuster about superheroes with dark but really flamingly obvious secrets from their childhood. Like so many things that turn out to be shit, this is well executed, but its lack of having of a soul dooms it to being utterly comical and redundant.

The Giraffes – Prime Motivator

Technically, I suppose, this is “surf metal,” but it’s more accurate to describe it as groove-oriented hard rock with an underpinning of punk and Motorhead-style metal rhythm. At that point, resemblance to metal is over: the riffs are Led Zeppelin, the basslines are Sex Pistols, and the vocals are somewhere between Alice in Chains and Barenaked Ladies. This is probably one of the ultimate bar bands for those who want something loud and storming but without the complex emotions or violence of heavy metal. Some compare it to Fu Manchu, and I think that’s roughly close, but really it reminds me more of a lounge act taking on Led Zeppelin or later Danzig and making it super-catchy, yet giving it the dark undertones of alternative rock and nu-metal so it has some meat on the bones. If you are a metal person, avoid this release. If you’re looking for new directions in hard rock, it’s worth exploring.

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