Wolves in the Throne Room transition to trance ambient

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Former extreme shoegaze/indie band Wolves in the Throne Room released a lengthy track from their upcoming album Celestite Mirror. This time they follow the path of cosmic synth bands like Tangerine Dream, Neptune Tower and Jääportit. The new Wolves in the Throne Room uses of the flexible and grand sound of synthesizers to write sci-fi symphony that invokes a celestial world above our head.

Unlike Tangerine Dream and Neptune Tower, Wolves in the Throne Room demonstrate a clearer melodic pattern. Through the method of successive repetition and progress like a serial of logical thoughts, the music maintains the organizational strength of metal music while adding melodic development and an expansion of mood beyond the intense surging power of guitars. As a result, Celestite Mirror advances the heritage established by Tangerine Dream and Neptune Tower.

Whether Celestite Mirror emerges as a strong fusion of metal and cosmic ambient or not, it merits our anticipation. Metal possesses a will to catch up with classical music and always has, which is what the core fans of this genre expect and hope for too. The new Wolves in the Throne Room might fulfill the vision we dreamed of all these years.

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Heavy metal arises most frequently in wealthy nations

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The Atlantic’s CityLab writes how [heavy metal, the] music of disillusion and despair is, strangely, biggest in countries with very high quality of life:

Heavy metal is a strange case, then. The music sprouted originally from working-class kids in economically ravaged, deindustrialized places like Birmingham, England. Even today, it seems to be most popular among disadvantaged, alienated, working-class kids.

But take a look at the map below, which I wrote about two years ago, and have been thinking again about over the past couple of months. It tracks the number of heavy metal bands per 100,000 residents using data from the Encyclopaedia Metallum. The genre holds less sway in the ravaged postindustrial places of its birth, but remains insanely popular in Scandinavian countries known for their relative wealth, robust social safety nets, and incredibly high quality of life.

This should surprise no one. Heavy metal is not a reaction to external physical challenges like poverty, but a reaction to cultural decay. It exclusively arises in industrial societies, as did punk, because our problem is not that we do not have options but that we — in the view of these artists — picked the wrong options. Heavy metal is music of internal criticism of a society that believes it has lost sight of life itself in the midst of its own opinions, economics and other proxies.

As written in The Heavy Metal FAQ:

Heavy metal inherited all of this through a modern form because of its desire to escape the cognitive dissonance reaction to modern life. In part, this impulse comes from the metalhead who realizes that he or she is basically powerless, except in a future time when predictions about the negative nature of modern society will come true. Of course, in the now, parents brush that aside and go shopping, stockpiling retirement funds so they can carelessly wish their children a good life before disappearing into managed care facilities with 24-hour cable movie channels. A more fundamental part of this dissident realism is creative. People who see most of society going into denial because they cannot handle their low social status, the dire future of human overpopulation and industrialization, and the negative motivations hiding beneath social pretense, aka “cognitive dissonance,” will often mourn most for the opportunities lost when people value putting their heads in the sand more than finding beauty in life. It is the convergence of these ideas that creates the violent and masculine but sensitive, Romantic side to metal: it is a genre of finding beauty in darkness, order in chaos, wisdom in horror, and restoring humanity to a path of sanity — by paying attention to the “heavy” things in life that, because they are socially denied, are left out of the discussion but continue to shape it through most people’s desire to avoid mentioning them.

This same principle underlies classic European and Greco-Roman art and music, the idea of an aggressive and warlike but wise and sensitive motivation that is both religious and scientific, peaceful and belligerent, because it understands a principle of order to the universe and asserts it because it is beautiful in that it is a “meta-good,” or the harmonious result of darkness and light in conflict. For this reason, it is not moral in the sense of judging as good or evil, and neither fits into the hippie “peace, love and hedonism” approach nor the conservative, market- bound ignorance-is-bliss smoke and mirrors of mainstream music and bourgeois art. Unlike any other musical principle, the one thing that unites the varied borrowings from baroque, rock, jazz, blues, folk, country, classical and electronic music that form heavy metal is this Romantic principle of doing what is right not in a moral sense to the individual, but in a sense of the larger questions of human adaptation to the universe, the conceptual root of “heavy” in metal and what throughout history has been called by a simple syllable: “vir,” the root of virtue in a sense older than a modern moral interpretation as chastity. Vir is doing what is right by the order of the universe discerned by asking the “heavy” questions, and speaks to an abstract structure of right as opposed to an aesthetic one, where the individual picks the non- threatening as an option to the threatening.

The point behind heavy metal is to discover the life that is denied. That is the “heavy,” or that which acknowledges existential doubts and fears instead of burying them behind socially popular ideas. This is why heavy metal is such outsider music: it sees most people as delusional because they deny the mechanics of life itself because those mechanics are dark, so it embraces the darkness to show us the wisdom found within.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK2_eHJwtro

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Sinister – The Post-Apocalyptic Servant

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Dutch death metallers Sinister return in 2014 with The Post-Apocalyptic Servant. Sinister is a band most notable for the classic death metal offering Cross the Styx which wielded basic yet effective death metal. The quality of their releases waned since that time and after their ’98 effort Aggressive Measures, the flame became an ember (as is the common fate of early death metal bands).

Twenty one years after their debut, Sinister progresses their decline with this album. The riffs — while intense and biting — lack context, making the songs bland and disingenuous. This is an album of “moments”: no song on this album is good in its entirety, but certain details stand out. This isn’t the musical journey that death metal is supposed to convey; this is an exhibit of a handful of decent riffs spread out over the course of an underwhelming ten track album. Even their cover of “Fall From Grace” is lackluster and forced. It’s also an album that gets progressively worse as it plays through, like a runner sinking in quicksand.

The production is just as unsatisfying as the album itself. Completely synthetic and somewhat reminiscent of modern tech-death bands with the only trace of atmosphere emanating from the leitmotif at the beginning and end of the album. Everything else sounds like it was put together in a factory with some spare parts laying around. The result is an album that does not hold up. Memorable riffs without structures that could give them the life they need create a vicious, but not captivating, attempt at a comeback.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewU82oH8iyY

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Songs of triumph and dark love

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Defining metal has never been easy in part because as time has gone on, all techniques have migrated to just about all genres. For this reason, describing it by loud guitars, screaming vocals and pounding drums reveals very little. Instead, we have to inspect what holds metal together and makes these elements so powerful: its spirit.

Unlike the various popular music genres, metal is not focused on the experience of the individual, but the negation of it. This is metal’s nihilism: it destroys the idea of any thing having absolute authority or inherent meaning. Instead, meaning is where it is found, but it must fit within the whole vision of the world, which boots out most of the self-focused material.

As Black Sabbath created the rudiments of the genre, they referred to the dark soundtracks to horror films. In these, there is a fascination with final states. They look toward death, destruction and a mythological-historical view to determine how any human activity fares. This flew in the face of the flower power music of the late 1960s, and brought a dose of dark realism to the debate. But it also brought a sense of epic adventure, swords ‘n’ sorcery type material, inherited from its pursuit of meaning that cannot be negated.

What emerges from that proto-metal and all (honest) metal since is a focus on triumph and dark love. There is a world of nothingness, swirling horror and eternal emptiness, and then there are those who make something of this. They find triumph in overcoming their limitations to connect to the viewpoint of the mythological-historical, like metal’s two largest influences, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien. There is a search for that which overcomes our individual situations in life and unites us, a quest for survival itself.

As part of this, metal embraces a dark love. When a pilot flies a military jet high above his homeland, he feels this dark love. At any minute, a single twitch of the stick could bring about unthinkable disaster, death and destruction. And yet those forces must be corralled and used toward positive ends, much as how metal makes beauty out of the loud distorted sounds of guitars and tortured screams of its vocalists. The love is dark because it is not universal nor is it certain; instead, it rests in the ability to do something great in times of degradation.

Dark love is what a hunter feels as he cuts down some prey and not others. It is what a farmer feels as he prunes his trees, or what a king experiences as he leads his forces into battle. It is what great thinkers know, as they look at history and attempt to steer a path between the disasters of the past toward a future force of promise. It is a love that reaches beyond method to goals, and shows individuals how to rise above fear and reach toward something ineffable, with the promise of triumph.

Where metal fails is when it becomes focused on the individual. Songs of protest, or songs of individual karmic drama, do not reflect dark love but a desire for certainty and absolutes. Metal negates these. Instead, it shows us a world of uncertainty and ambiguity where nothing can last, except that which is eternal and larger than the individual. It is this “largeness” that we often fear as humans because it makes us insignificant.

Although most live in fear of these truths, metal harnesses them. It casts aside the devices we have invented to help obscure our fears, and looks into the abyss, hoping to sculpt with nothingness a great work that instead reveals an inner light. This light is not absolute, but derived from the interplay of nothingness and eternity. It is cosmic, mythological, epic and mystical. It is the adventure of life itself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuiPsRAz7wc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlctXgILld4

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Incubus – Incubus re-issued by Vic Records

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In the mid-late 80s death metal was still a vital force in which the standards of the genre were established. The new genre differentiated itself from speed metal several years before, but techniques common to both genres still overlapped without seeming artificial as they would when re-introduced later to make death metal more audience-friendly. This period gave rise to many bands which command universal respect today, but there were also a number of smaller projects which nevertheless imparted the same artistic drive and skill.

Recently reissued Incubus self-titled EP Incubus takes a short three-track voyage through the hinterlands of death metal’s darker yet constructive twisting of prior genre forms. Taking the work of Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, and other proto-death metal bands, and moving it into more extreme directions, this is the same trajectory from which Morbid Angel spawned an entire lineage within the genre.

Adept at tempo shifts, in addition to a layering of guitar tones ranging from the subterranean to the celestial, in only three tracks Incubus wrangles a distinctive creation with the trademark frenetic energy of death metal and the more hookish speed metal. Artistically coherent in a way that is rarely if ever seen today, this reminder of genuine purpose married to cultivated skill is very much worth hearing again, or particularly for the first time. Incubus will be released on June 16th via Vic Records.

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A hidden influence on neoambient

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The movement that some are calling “neoambient” — a fusion of dark ambient, Conan soundtracks, and neofolk — generally arose out of the metal community. The classics of the genre converge on Lord Wind (Graveland), Burzum and Black Aria (Glenn Danzig). In addition, metal bands contributed to related forms of epic ambient, like Beherit (Electric Doom Synthesis) and Neptune Towers (Darkthrone). Newer entrants like Winglord and Hammemit explore different paths along similar directions.

But how do we trace the influences and evolution of this genre? Glenn Danzig (Misfits, Samhain, Danzig) launched a partial revolution in 1992 with his Conan-inspired Black Aria. Several years later, Burzum followed this with Daudi Baldrs and Hlidskjalf, both of which used Dead Can Dance-themed ancient world music to frame the epic nature of its compositions, giving it a feel not just of Conan-styled epic conflict, but of a cultural basis.

There’s another influence lurking just a few years before Danzig — affirmed by Rob Darken as an influence on his music in Lord Wind — which was the music of Clannad as used in the BBC series Robin of Sherwood:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wha5YXUj-uo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp925EVOlCo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkHGGMXdZWs

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Yog Sothots – Demo I (1987)

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Much of what attracts newcomers to the heavy metal world is the ferocity of mythology in metal. The unsafe world of endless possibilities that this music projects can be especially attractive to the daring and inquisitive soul. That it further bonds itself to a mysticism of heroes and giants fighting for existential domination of reality itself gives it a gravitas and yet engaging playfulness. And like the dark thrill of a glory ride into Armageddon the sole ’87 demo from Quebecois speed metallers Yog Sothots is a feral litany of war.

Much like the Canadian war metal that would come later, (and to a lesser extent, the hammering simplicity of Von) Yog Sothots deliver a crushing blast of speed metal that is more aligned with the extreme metal that was at the time developing, rather than the tamer likes of earlier bands which had found mainstream acceptance just that year. These songs explode in a fury of whirling carnage that builds intensity like a town tormented by a mighty and growing thunderstorm. The primal nature of this demo combined with the organic and low-fi production makes this a savage though somewhat predictable journey.

The only drawback here is that many of these songs seem to struggle with developing an identity of their own, and tend to grow stale upon repeated listens (the same curse that struck Sodom’s debut). Caught between the developing speed metal tendencies of non-mainstream metal contemporary to its origins and the more focused yet rule-less rage of black and death metal, this Canadian band opted for a compromise. Yog Sothots was swallowed by time, and honestly, better acts. Still, this is a worthy effort and deserving of praise. Though this demo is far from perfect, it captures the true spirit of metal: a headlong dive into the abyss, spawned by the curiosity of what might be found.

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Call for contributions to a new edited volume Black Shabbes: Jews & Metal edited by Shamma Boyarin and Keith Kahn-Harris

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When the guitarist Marty Friedman auditioned for Megadeth, singer Dave Mustaine loved his playing but told his manager to get Friedman to change his name because Jews were ‘not metal’

Can Jews ‘be metal’?

Certainly, crude stereotypes of the Jewish male – weak, bookish, awkward, hypochondriac – and crude stereotypes of the metal male – sexually promiscuous, loud and tough – seem to be in conflict. Yet not only do these stereotypes hide the considerable diversity amongst both Jews and metallers (to say nothing of their gendered nature), there is a significant history of Jewish involvement in metal culture.

Jews have featured prominently in significant numbers of prominent metal bands, including Kiss, Anthrax, Biohazard, Death and Guns N Roses. Moreover, in at least some cases, the Jewish backgrounds of metal musicians has impacted on their careers, as in the networks of communal and family support that Anvil drew on during their long commercial decline. Further, there have also been metal bands that have drawn on Jewish sources and themes, including Israeli acts such as Orphaned Land and Salem and a number of more obscure artists in the US.

Yet whilst there has been a more than nominal Jewish involvement in metal, the significance and impact of this involvement is much less clear. What might looking at metal through a Jewish lens and Jewishness through a metal lens bring to light? A sustained consideration of the relationship between Jews and metal will illuminate this hidden history while at the same time raising wider issues in the nature of Jewish and metal identity and culture.

We invite contributions from academics, critics, writers musicians and others, for a volume dedicated to explore the connection between metal and Jews from a number of different perspectives. We welcome both non-fiction and fiction.

Themes can include:

  • The history of the Jewish presence in metal.
  • The use of Jewish themes in metal
  • Israeli metal scenes
  • The relationship between Satanism, anti-Semitism and Judaism as explored in metal
  • Anti-semitism within metal scenes
  • Reading/hearing metal through a Jewish lens – is a Jewish metal criticism possible?
  • Jewish community attitudes to metal

Please submit abstracts of 200-250 words (by September 30 2014), and inquiries to:

Shamma Boyarin sboyarin@uvic.ca
Keith Kahn-Harris keith@kahn-harris.org

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Horrid – Sacrilegious Fornication

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The anthemic, direct energy form of death metal is one of the most recognizable strains of the many sub-groupings within the genre. Possibly the most popular type of death metal, it bridges the gap from heavy and speed metal to more developed and darker forms of metal. For most listeners, this zone stretches from Judas Priest Painkiller to Morbid Angel Covenant with many stops in between.

On Sacrilegious Fornication, Italian death metal band Horrid go back to this method of composition (along with ubiquitous Sunlight Studious production) in an attempt to root their latest album in traditional, tried & true death metal creation. Taking inspiration from bands such as (early) Death, Massacra, and Entombed, the well-crafted balance between melody and ferocity that each band embodied is preserved.

By keeping relatively straightforward time, rhythms are simple enough to understand at first listen, freeing the mind to appreciate the whole of the composition without being thrown off by faux-complexity. While simple, riffs are not low-minded, as the phrasal nature of them trancends verse-chorus limitations and provides the framework for vocals and drums to fit in on either side of the melee, merging into technological barrages that wind their way through a journey of war and death.

Some critics may wish to dismiss bands such as Horrid for being just another “Entombed clone” among dozens. While it’s true that there isn’t much to laud here as being “unique,” what instead can be appreciated is the quality of the music, its careful arrangement, and the enjoyment of listening to an album that respects the higher forms of death metal and wishes to preserve them into the present generation.

Sacrilegious Fornication was released on May 1st and is available from Dunkelheit Produktionen.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 05-19-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? We enforce the reality the metal community runs in fear from: music can be judged objectively, but most people “prefer” junk. They want their music to make them look cool to their nitwit social groups, so they deliberately select moron music. Falses, don’t entry!

triptykon-melana_chasmataTriptykon – Melana Chasmata

You do not hire the Navy SEALs to remove your fire ant infestation. Similarly, there is no point telling Tom G. Warrior to “make an album like all those other ones.” It’s the wrong tool for the job. This album is atrocious because it relies on very familiar and predictable ideas with no density, and then Warrior tries to shoehorn some depth into it but achieves on oil on water effect, like someone trying to layer Beethoven over Pantera. The result just dumb and painful. Run like hell.


lacuna_coil-broken_crown_haloLacuna Coil – Broken Crown Halo

This isn’t even metal. It’s the same smarmy cheesy shit that they sing in lounges for drunk bluehairs in Vegas, but they shifted from open chords to power chords. There isn’t even any particular focus on riffs here, just some blithe chord progressions shifting in the background while the vocals take it. But even worse, the music is entirely predictable. This is different from being “basic” in that it’s not derived from simplicity, but a generic version of the same stuff everyone else does. But that “everyone else” aren’t metal bands, and these entryists are trying to sneak that moronic garbage in through the back door.


aborted-the_necrotic_manifestoAborted – The Necrotic Manifesto

People are not bands. Bands are (composed of) people, but are not people. Even a band with good people in it can end up making music as interesting as poured concrete. “Oooh, look how flat it is!” But that’s kind of the problem here: Aborted is flat. It’s straight-ahead pounding death metal/grind hybrid that tends to like one- and two-chord riffs that shape themselves around a basic rhythm. Songs tend toward straight-ahead structures as well. The whole thing feels mentally hasty, like they aimed for a simple goal and then did one take and called it good enough. The highly compressed production just makes it excruciating to hear.


kill_devil_hill-revolution_riseKill Devil Hill – Revolution Rise

Some bands you don’t want to be noticed listening to lest people think you’re an imbecile. Kill Devil Hill is warmed over 1980s Sunset Strip glam “metal” (i.e.: hard rock) with some alternative rock stylings and occasional Rob Zombie infusions. That’s it, and the style tells you the content. In addition to mind-numbing repetition, like all rock music this dunce material focuses on the vocalist and some imagined fantasy mystical “power” to very cheesy vocals emphasizing very obvious emotions. It’s like watching Shakespeare done by a troupe of brain injury patients. Even the attempts to be “edgy” by working in oddball found sounds and minor techno influences falls flat because the whole package is so blindingly obvious and equally as plainly designed for thumb-suckers.


blood_eagle-kill_your_tyrantsBlood Eagle – Kill Your Tyrants

At least this has some balls, but metal needs both a warlike outlook and an interesting musical development. The latter is where Blood Eagle falls down: too much downstrumming, repetitive riff forms, repetitive song forms and reliance and skull-shakingly basic rhythms that involve a slamming conclusion makes this music no fun to listen to. It is like hearing a constant pounding with Pantera-style angry ranting in a death metal vocal over the top, but the plot rarely changes. When the band gives itself a little room for melody, as in the end of “Serpent Thoughts,” we see how much better this could have been. Instead it sounds like road rage stuck on repeat on a forgotten late night TV channel.


eyehategod-eyehategodEyehategod – Eyehategod

The New Orleans hit factory just keeps cranking them out. WAIT — that’s not what you want to hear about underground metal. Could the writer be implying that this trivial drivel is actually just pop music? Yes, yes he is. Eyehategod started out with a slow punk/grind mix that was boring but kind of aggressive. Then they made it with great production for Dopesick, which was a mildly interesting record. Since then, they’ve gotten closer to the hipster zone. Eyehategod makes me feel like I’ve stepped back into the early 1980s. Punk had just lost direction and every band was recycling old ideas or trying to be “different” with tricks that amounted to little more than stunts. The emptiness was staring us in the face, and no one was talking about it. This album is stereotypical hollow man hardcore with a bit of southern fried bullshit and a couple metal riffs. Why not just go listen to the failed albums by burnt-out and aged punk bands, because they at least have more consistent. This is just an odds ‘n’ ends drawer with a high production budget. You can sniff out the hollowness by how many times they hit you over the head with their image, working in every southern trailer failure term they can, and then performing their party act of ranting vocals over hard rock riffs. It breathes staleness and marketing like a home remortgaging plan.


day_of_doom-the_gates_of_hellDay of Doom – The Gates of Hell

Metal bands should know by now to avoid the formula where the entire song is based around a vocal cadence, with guitars trying for a really basic pattern the vocals can play off of, and drums in perpetual fill mode. This means that the simplistic plodding patterns of vocals define everything else, which means everything else clusters around the lowest common denominator, and you end up with music whose sole (no pun intended) purposes is to make you tap your feet and wave your head to an undulating rhythm. This works great if you’re a sea anemone, but not so good for anything else. Day of Doom is one of those slow-strobing-strum bands that clearly intends for the whole audience to bounce at the same time in trope, but forgets that this is mindlessly boring when you’re not in a concert setting. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these guys, but what they’re trying to do is wrong (as in unrealistic and stupid).


on_top-top_to_bottomOn Top – Top to Bottom

Mixed hardrock/punk, On Top has a clever name but otherwise is exactly as predictable as you might imagine. Lots of bouncy riffs, melodic choruses, angry vocals that specialize in repetitive tropes. If you derive a lot of value from doing the same thing others are doing at the same time, this might be your thing. It’s super-catchy like Biohazard or Pantera were, with plenty of syncopation in vocal rhythms to give them some kick, and songs even develop one level past pure circularity. It basically sounds like something you would expect the rebellious character to listen to in a movie as he drinks his whisky and drives fast. Other than this one-dimensionality, this is one of the few things in this review batch with any musicality. It’s just applied in such a way that people who aren’t drunk and sixteen will rapidly tire of.

howls_of_ebb-vigils_of_the_3rd_eyeHowls of Ebb – Vigils of the 3rd Eye

Howls of Ebb adopt an interesting strategy, which is to hide a Maudlin of the Well style quasi-prog in the midst of a dirty modern heavy metal band. At its core, this is heavy metal of the late 1980s variety, but this is carefully concealed under fast death metal riffs and whispered vocals which expand into dissonant chording and riff salads of the post-jazz-fusion era. The catchiness of the basic heavy metal riffing and the tendency to use tempo changes which fit in that model remain, but the weirdness accentuates it. If you can image Powermad adopting a bit of grunge and progressive metal, then slowing down half of its parts in a melodic jazzy style reminiscent of Absu crossed with Maudlin of the Well, you have the basic idea. The result is not only not bad but stands up to repeated listens. It will probably stay B-ranked in that its compositions make sense on a musical level but convey little else, and often the riff salads meander off-course enough to leave an impression but not a clear one. Still, this is more thoughtful than almost all of the metal at this commercial level and while it’s not underground, it’s much preferred to the usual tripe.

personal_device-microorganismos_del_malPersonal Device – Microorganismos del Mal

First there was the faux 80s crossover thrash revival with party retro-thrash bands like Toxic Holocaust and Municipal Waste, then bands like Birth A.D. bounced back with actual thrash and reformed the genre. Now Personal Device take it a step both further and in a different direction by being a classic hardcore band that informs itself with early speed metal like the first Metallica and Nuclear Assault albums. The result is bouncy fast and precise punk like Ratos de Porao or even middle-period Bad Brains that is thoroughly enjoyable with riff breaks that resemble “The Four Horsemen” or maybe even “Live, Suffer, Die.” Their guitars are remarkably precise which creates an unusual sound for punk that by making it mechanistic makes it seem more inexorable than like protest music, and the result is a more testosterone-fueled and warlike approach. Mix that with the surging chord changes of speed metal and the fast repetitive chanted choruses from thrash, and you have a high-energy band. Its flaws are that experienced listeners may find this a bit too transparent, and that many of its rhythms are similar, but the band has administered its style with an editor’s red pen handy, cutting out any lesser parts, which gives it more staying power than all but a few albums in this stylistic range. This was a pleasant surprise to find in the review pile.

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