What thrived and what died from the 1990s (Part I)

record_store_man

While the new last.fm redesign seems to me another exercise in pointless self-justification by middle management, the ability to see statistics on my listening has entirely changed how I view the music held closest to my heart. Seeing the numbers has shown me how it is one thing to list a band as a favorite or recommendation, and one far different animal to listen to it on a monthly basis. One is assessment alone, as if listening were your sole task, and the other utility, showing that this piece of music has a place in your life of many tasks and goals.

This assessment filters among the upper level of the highest echelon of metal. The assessment itself filters out the nonsense, all of which suffers from a single sin — disorganization — which takes many different forms but reveals a lack of will, purpose and principle in constructing art and always red-flags a directionless listen. But among those bands who have escaped the madness, there is no equality in listening. Some have risen and some have fallen over 20 years of pounding out metal from my speakers as I work or relax at home. In most cases, the reaction was first shock and then realization that the seeds of this knowledge were there all along. Let us look at a few pairs where listening habits elevated one album over a similar one…

Blasphemy Fallen Angel of Doom vs. Blood Impulse to Destroy

blasphemy_-_fallen_angel_of_doom_-_reissue

Over the years metal has frequently benefited from punk influences because metal, as befits its partially progressive rock heritage, has a tendency to create layers of abstraction and complex musical discourse where punk cuts to the chase. This is both a strength and weakness for each genre; metal is abstract, which makes imitators very obvious but can get lost in muddle-headed musical wanderings, and punk is concrete, which makes it effective but imitation easy. Blasphemy introduced a punk-based genre, grindcore, into black metal. It adopted the aesthetic approach of Sarcofago but underneath applied the percussive lower-five-frets texture musik of grindcore. The result is very effective, and easy to listen to, but also — if you have many other options — kind of boring. In fact, many of these riff patterns are the same ones, albeit simplified, that speed metal bands tried and failed to use to revitalize that genre. As raw motivational material, the music is fantastic, but over time, it fades a bit as one realizes that its strength as low-complexity high impact music also means that its content is one-dimensional. Over the past 20 years, I have thrown this record on five times and apparently terminated it early each time.

blood_-_impulse_to_destroy

I chose Impulse to Destroy because Germany’s Blood also occupies the narrow space of grindcore bands who think like black metal or death metal bands. Grindcore generally self-reduces to extreme minimums and must, like junk food, reintroduce sugar and salt at the surface to spice up the otherwise one-dimensional utilitarian approach. Death metal on the other hand is not utilitarian, while it is consequentialist (“only death is real” being the ultimate statement of that belief) and yet also has a highly aesthetically-motivated but not aesthetically-expressed transcendental outlook. At its best, grindcore overcomes its utilitarian tendencies for a ludic or playful view of the collapsing world, and from that some of the best material emerges. Blood for example creates a dark and morbid absurdism which brings to light all that our society suppresses with itself, and like Blasphemy, creates it through patterning cut from the chromatic strips of the lower registers of guitar. In this case, however, the textures take on a life of their own, like a three-dimensional house made from flat punch-out cards. Different riffs interact with one another and dramatic pauses and collisions give rise to interesting song structures. Like Disharmonic Orchestra Expositions Prophylaxe, Impulse to Destroy provides a wealth of riff archetypes applied with enough personality and purpose to create unique compositions which may be enjoyed for decades or longer despite their simplicity.

Napalm Death Scum vs. Carbonized For the Security

napalm_death_-_scum

This is one of those albums that most people get for the sake of novelty. “But check these guys out, they’ve got one second songs and stuff, it’s just about noise…” — rock music does not get more ironic than that. And ultimately, that was the power of grindcore. Like punk a decade before, it removed all the pretense of rock and boiled it down to simple songs. It then sometimes added in new flourishes of song structure which made those songs more interesting than radio pop, which had been studied by MBAs and PhDs and reduced to a simple formula distinguished only (barely) by rhythm, production, instrumentation and vocals. But once the money men and white lab coats were able to look at rock as a product like any other, they saw that to please enough people in the audience to make it a hit, they did not have to innovate at all. They only needed a new skin for the same basic patterns and they could produce it over and over again with high margins (well, until digital piracy hit). Like the punk rock and then hardcore punk, grindcore stripped away illusion and replaced it with innovation. The problem here is that these songs are very similar themselves because they rely on dramatic confrontation within each song, which like all things “turned up to 11” becomes expected and thus a sort of background noise. Every time I have listened to this album it has made itself into sonic wallpaper before the halfway point.

carbonized_-_for_the_security_-_reissue

Some of the albums which were considered “also-rans” back in the 1990s had more to them than people initially considered. This one has been a favorite for me, along with the second album from Carbonized but not the third, for two decades. I listen to it regularly, finish the whole thing, and sometimes start it over. Record labels tried to shoehorn Carbonized into the “death metal” model despite some clear warning signs, and consequently bungled — the root of all evils is incompetence at some level, starting with the ability to be honest — the career of this promising band, but for those of us who lumped this in with aggressive grindcore like Terrorizer and Repulsion, the similarities outweighed the differences. For the Security expresses paranoia, existential insecurity, melancholic doubt of the future and a desire to explore all that life offers in depth, all within and as part of the same outlook. This is the music of a brighter-than-average teenager who perceives the world honestly and rejects the foolishness but wants to look deeper into the interesting stuff that, because it does not affirm the dominant lie, is rejected by the herd. Chunky riffs alternate with broader rhythms derived from punk and yet are dominated by a desire to make song structure vary with content inherited through metal from progressive rock. Each song forms a sonic sigil to the topic at hand and the response of the artist, making each bursting with personality and reality portrayed in finely-observed ways at the same time. This is a masterful album which will never bore.

Roundup

As you can see, Dear Reader, these albums are both quite similar on the surface — and quite different underneath. That bands can do so much with a handful of power chords, and have such different outcomes, is endlessly fascinating. Yet not every metal-influenced album is, even among A-listers like these. It may be time for all of us to go back through our listening, search ourselves honestly, and see what has actually stood the test of time.

18 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Metalhead pipesmokers unite!

rené_magritte_-_the_treachery_of_images

The old saying goes that those who love to use tobacco smoke cigarettes, and those who love tobacco smoke cigars and pipes. The cigarettes give you a quicker hit because the lungs, with their much vaster absorption area, deliver nicotine to the brain within about three seconds. The cigarette ends within three to seven minutes and the craving subsides momentarily. With pipes and cigars, the nicotine slowly oozes in through the mucus membranes in the mouth, tongue and (sometimes) throat, creating a stronger dose of nicotine but without the sudden “falling off a cliff” sensation. Many metalheads smoke cigarettes, but more are branching out to pipes and cigars for the flavors, more intense dosage and less damage to the body.

Please do not read this as an anti-cigarette rant. They are wonderful, in their own right, and much less work than cigars or pipes. However, burning any leaves and inhaling them directly into your lungs 10-20 times a day would cause some kind of long term health problem as gunk — tar, ash and irritants — builds up on the alveoli. On top of that, our industry and lawmakers have decided to mandate all sorts of processing of the tobacco, so who knows what else is being inhaled. If you would not mind going into a fast food joint, taking home their lettuce, dehydrating it and sitting next to a giant pile of it burning all day, cigarettes might not bother you. And keep in mind that there are brain-boosting benefits to nicotine in addition to resistance to neurodegenerative disorders, an effect which you do not get with the charred salad.

Cigars are beyond the scope of this article, but pipes are its focus. Pipes are essentially little wooden, stone or clay cups for burning tobacco with an inhalation tube attached. The smoker fills the pipe loosely with tobacco, then ignites it with some of the many means available to us ex-hominids, inhaling the smoke into his mouth and savoring it before blowing it outward into the personal space of those around him. While the topic of smoking pipes merits a full book, this article provides an introduction to pipe smoking designed to be as simple and low-cost as possible.

***

To get started, you will need:

  • A pipe. Generally between $35-$65 for a good starter pipe. Look for 0.7inch diameter bowls and filterless stems. This tool may help.
  • Tobacco. This comes in tins and bulk, usually found at Brick and Mortar (B&M) shops, and Over the Counter (OTC) usually found at drugstores and supermarkets.
  • Pipe cleaners. Each time you smoke, you will want to clean your pipe. Pipe cleaners have two ends, so that is two smokes per cleaner. It is not a terrible habit to include a bundle or package of these each time you buy tobacco.
  • A pipe nail. Demystifying this tool: it can be as simple as a key. You use one end to cut up tobacco, allowing it to collapse into an ember, and the other to tamp it after you light it for the first time. Tobacco rises like a demon unleashed when touched with fire, but compressing it allows it to smoulder so you can sip the pipe.
  • Fire. I favor the compressed cardboard matches in matchbooks, but you can use anything. For some, lighters and zippos taste horrible, so they prefer the match. The only trick is to burn off the tip before lighting.

To avoid the usual drama, let us launch into the process of smoking:

You go to some place with little wind, but some air circulation, where you have a comfortable chair. Sitting in it, you take out your tobacco. Holding the pipe over the tobacco container, let the shreds of tobacco fall into the pipe. When it is half-full, gently tamp with a finger. When it reaches the top, pinch from the center to one side and then the other, compressing the tobacco and letting it fall back into place. (Much has been written on this topic, usually under the unfortunate appellation of packing a pipe, when the correct word to use is fill: put tobacco into the pipe so there are no fully empty spaces, but fall short of compacting it so air — necessary for fire and smoke — can flow through. Ignore all other advice.)

Put the pipe in your mouth, holding it gently with teeth and firmly with lips. Light a match, and hold it vertically at a slight angle so the flame climbs the stalk of the match, then when the head has burned off, move the match over the tobacco in slow circles while inhaling. Take the smoke into your mouth and the top part of your throat if you wish, but try to avoid it leaking further down toward the lungs. You can compress it by gently blowing out the air from the front of your mouth, which draws in smoke from the pipe. The best way to inhale that I have found involves flaring the nose and drawing in air slowly but steadily.

My favorite cycle runs in seven second increments. For bigger mouthfuls, draw in your smoke, then keep it in your mouth for three seconds, then exhale and wait another four seconds. For slower sips, take one for about a half-second, then wait at least three seconds before the next. It helps to have a slight background circulation of air to keep the pipe oxygenated and smouldering well.

Many smokers do a “char and light” where they torch the top layer of tobacco, then tamp it lightly because it has risen up as it burned, and then light again to get the resulting compressed tobacco to blaze. At two-thirds through the bowl, it may be helpful to use a poker or the pointy end of your pipe nail to chop up the resulting ember and set it ablaze again. The lighting requirements vary between tobacco types, which will be addressed below.

When no more smoke comes out of the pipe, and you sense that the tobacco has been converted mostly to ash, tap it out into convenient bushes or a metal trash receptacle without a plastic bag. The ash will be hot and melt plastic. To tap out, hold the pipe in your hand and swing it downward to shake the ash out of the bowl. You may have to stir it with poker or nail beforehand.

Then comes the most important part of the ritual. If your pipe lacks a filter, run a pipe cleaner from the mouthpiece into the pipe and leave it there for a few minutes to absorb both direct and ambient moisture. This will keep your pipe fresh-tasting for its next use.

Pipe smokers vary. Some are hard-hitters who blaze through a bowl quickly, where others are sippers who have a pipe going all day for an hour at a time. If you re-light too frequently, or smoke too fast, the pipe may get hot; if this happens enough and to a great enough extreme, it may cause a condition known as “burnout” where the material of the pipe chars and cracks. To help avoid this, smoke on the seven-second method and also, allow some nice thick gunky tar to line the bowl, especially on the bottom. I always smoke some OTC aromatics, which are full of sugary flavoring that bonds together the goo and forms a kind of tar cement, down to the bottom of the bowl to layer it with a nice thick coating of glop. This glop chars over time and becomes a sort of pipe creosote that insulates against extremes.

***

Tobacco originates as leafy plant in the genus Nicotiana, which when cured, dried, pressed and shredded becomes a delicious flammable method of nicotine delivery. The great variations in what are called generically tobaccos occur in the different strains of tobacco plants, and the different methods used to grow, cure, dry, press, and cut the leaves.

That process produces a number of tobacco types, which are then combined in varying amounts into different blends, which you might think of as “tobacco recipes” because they achieve a unique flavor through the ingredients — different types of tobacco — mixed within them. These blends are also distinguished by their cut or how they are sliced, which is related to the flavor and tobacco characteristics in each blend. Many blends are then coated in flavoring known as “aromatic”; if the primary flavor to the smoking blend is the flavoring and not the underlying tobacco, the blend is referred to as an aromatic tobacco.

For the end user, tobacco is then shaped by another force — the consumer market — and placed into the following silos:

  1. Over-the-Counter (OTC). OTC tobaccos are designed for convenience. They are usually either aromatics or a type of shag-cut tobacco that is also used for Roll Your Own (RYO) cigarettes. These burn most easily, cost about $2 an ounce, and are generally mild in both flavor and nicotine level.
  2. Luxury. Like most things in our society, the good stuff only starts when you step off the mainstream and pony up some more cash. You would not buy Budweiser to drink, nor Marlboro to smoke, so you will choose a pipe tobacco made under the brand name of an established firm. A handful of producers make these tobaccos now, but they tend to be stronger and rely more on the flavor of natural tobacco, although many are also aromatics but with a wider variety of flavors than OTC.
  3. Boutique. A cottage industry has sprung up in making this variety of luxury tobacco which aims for unique and intense flavors, sometimes combining aromatic and unflavored tobaccos. These are more expensive than “regular” luxury and are made by a handful of blenders who also own mail-order tobacco shops.
  4. Vintage. In the past, everything was better. People have been saying that for generations, and apparently each were correct: the tobaccos of only 20 years ago were stronger and more flavorful. Luxury tobaccos, once considered regular tobacco, have been stored in sealed tins (if you buy one on eBay, make sure it is also “unopened” as opposed to re-sealed) and are now much sought-after.

I recommend starting with a solid OTC like Carter Hall, Prince Albert, Captain Black, Five Brothers or even Drum. These are the easiest to learn to pipe with, and give you a feeling for what mild levels of nicotine and flavor are like. In addition, they are low-cost so you will not howl and scream if you accidentally ruin a bowl or spill some.

You may find that these are pleasing enough for you and that you are content to smoke them for life. There is nothing wrong with this; many have done so and it provides the least fetishistic and complex smoking experience. Five Brothers stands out from most of these because it does not use aromatic flavoring or propylene glycol (PG), a moisturizing agent added to many OTC tobaccos. If your OTC tobacco comes out of the can or pouch and seems damp, it probably has a good dose of PG. Many aromatics, including those sold at the luxury level, also have this treatment.

From that point, the next stop is an entry-level luxury tobacco. I suggest going with a Dunhill blend because they are widely available, not overly flavored, and tend to be sliced for easy burning. You can generally get a tin of 50g/1.76oz for about $9 online or $15 in the real world, if you are in the United States; this will vary with local tobacco taxes. You may notice that you are paying quite a bit in taxes throughout this whole process, and wonder if that is in fact the impetus for the whole societal jihad against tobacco. Keep wondering. In places like Canada and Europe, they pay multiples of what you pay here. Scary.

At this point, I would stop moving up the ladder. Boutique blends are a variety of luxury blend that costs more and has more unique, ironic, oddball, quirky, and otherwise off-the-beaten path blends. However, it tends to be lower in nicotine content and it is unclear whether these weird little blends are actually that distinct from their archetypes. There are only so many types of tobacco and while many different combinations can be made, most of them resemble a few fundamental types. I have never ventured into Vintage tins and can say that, while undoubtedly these older blends were of a finer quality, that may not have been preserved over the years. Nicotine levels especially degrade. To my mind, the piping experience cannot be separated into “taste” or effect but must include both, and so the fetishism with flavor — even if grounded in science and experience — strikes me as perhaps being a mistake.

Tobacco comes in several cuts which reflect how the leaves are presented:

  • Shag. Cut laterally across the leaf, leaving an interlocked mess like peat moss that loads easily and burns well.
  • Ribbon. “Normal.” Thicker slices that seem to be vertically up and down the leaf.
  • Flake -> Ready Rubbed. Flake occurs when tobacco is pressed in blocks and then sliced; Ready Rubbed is the result of “rubbing out” those slices.
  • Plug. Tobacco is pressed together and allowed to mature that way, then cut into little pucks.
  • Cake. Like a plug, but loosely packed, resulting in a crumbly “coffee cake” style.
  • Cube. Cross-slicing the tobacco produces tiny cubes; sometimes hard to keep lit.
  • Twist -> Slices. Tobacco is twisted in plugs or flake is re-twisted in tubes, then cut into little “coin” shaped bits called slices.

The above simplifies a fairly complex process. You might also enjoy these viewpoints from P&C blender Russ Ouellette and Lane Limited manager Leonard Wortzel.

Multiple types of tobacco dot the landscape. These refer to the strain of tobacco plant and how it was cured and prepared. These are:

  • Burley. Think cigar leaves. This air-cured tobacco has a nutty flavor and higher nicotine and oil than most others. It is used to complement other tobaccos in blends, and is known for its tongue “bite” from high alkalinity.
  • Virginia. High sugar content and sweet natural taste make this type a favorite in many blends. Although this tobacco comes in many colors, its flavor stays within the mild range and makes it the basis of many blends.
  • Cavendish. This term applies to any tobacco that has been aged and cured with a heating process that brings out a fuller taste.
  • Latakia. This is Oriental tobacco which has been cured with smoke from burning oak, pine, juniper and yew wood to give it a bittersweet taste.
  • Oriental/Turkish. Sweet and low in nicotine, this is tobacco grown using the Eastern method of low soil nutrients and plenty of sun, which produces its fragrance and flavor.
  • Perique. Fermentation in its own juices after Burley tobacco is pressed into barrels gives Perique a spicy-sweet flavor. This is generally an additive to other blends to give them some spark
  • Dark Fired. Leaves are cured with smoke under carefully managed heat and humidity, producing a blend both strong in nicotine and flavor. It is used as an additive more than a main ingredient because of its intensity.

For more information, check out Russ Ouellette’s descriptions.

These are used in the following blends:

  • English. Mostly Virginia, with Latakia for body and Oriental tobaccos to provide spice.
  • Scottish. Similar to an English blend, the Scottish blend uses less Latakia and more Virginia, with little or no Orientals.
  • Balkan. Strong in Orientals and Latakia, this tobacco blend uses Virginia to balance those dominant flavors.
  • American. Although there are some similarities to the English, the American blend uses more Virginia with possible Cavendish or Kentucky style tobaccos.
  • Danish. These resemble the English, but with a deeper flavor and less spice, using more Burley and Cavendish but emphasizing stronger, more balanced flavors.

You will probably find yourself shopping by blend, which could be a substitute term for flavor. What type of smoke do you wish to taste tonight? There are several indexes for ranking different blends:

  • Harshness. How much acridity and bite there is. Strong smoke can be hard on the smoker, and “bite” is created by the alkalinity of the tobacco, which raises the pH and increases absorption of nicotine but may also cause a tangy burning sensation on the tongue.
  • Strength. You are smoking a nicotine-bearing plant. How much nicotine is delivered? A tobacco with high nicotine may be worth pounds of low-nic fruity aromatics.
  • Note. This refers to the smell left behind after the tobacco is burned. This influences both your taste of the tobacco, and what your friends, family and coworkers experience.

The de facto standard for tobacco assessments is Tobacco Reviews. Like other crowd-sourced sites such as Wikipedia and Metal-Archives, or reviews on Amazon, it is good for basic factual information and opinions from people whose judgment you have verified and who — as a result — you trust. It is not good for randomly reading reviews because most of them are written by twitchy, bitchy and queeny internet consumers who complain about all the wrong things, like all the irrelevant, and miss the point. Some of the tobaccos rated highly by this site’s users are excellent, but others are simply quirky hipster fodder. Tread carefully, and consider using the various pipe forums out there: Puff, Pipes, Smokers Forum, and Tamp and Puff. The private reviews at this location have endured because they are frequently strikingly accurate. The main point is: find someone whose opinions you respect and tastes who align with yours, even if the exact opposite of yours, and you can figure out what you will like.

***

A word on lighting pipes: some prefer magnifying glasses and sun, others coals from the fire, still others matches and apparently, most like either butane lighters or Zippos. As a diehard match user, I can say that matches fail in the wind, and there is more wind that you might think, but that they seem to create the least influence on taste. Perhaps a laser is appropriate.

The pipe world is full of both facts and lore. Lore refers to anything passed on by groups of humans in social circumstances; the idea is that if it survives a dozen generations, it might be true. In the meantime, you will be wading through mountains of nonsense and worst of all, unnecessary complexity added by people who wish to seem profound or wise. Pipe-smoking is simple: you are lighting dried leaves in a tube and inhaling. The rest is mere adjustment.

The following resources may be helpful for those seeking to know more:

Here are some good places to go shopping for pipes and luxury tobacco:

Places to buy OTC tobacco, which online is sold in bulk:

Resources for those who wish to grow or blend their own tobacco:

Tobacco blenders and brands:

If you do not see your favorite blend, it is probably an imprint licensed to and manufactured by a larger group, or a boutique variety manufactured by one of the tobacco shops linked above.

For kicks, here is a list of famous pipe smokers. You can add me on there when I get famous, but be sure to mention I detest wimpy tobacco and think it should leave the hall.

Finally, the best metal for pipe smoking…

10 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Grupo Modelo S.A. de C.V. – Modelo Especial

modelo_especial

Many Americans know the comforting brown appearance of bottles of Negro Modelo, possibly the last good decent beer for sale on the shelves of your average grocery store or Wal-mart. The others have fallen to consumerism, which is separate from capitalism because it relies on mass preference, and have become the fast food version: essentially soft drinks with beer flavor and separately distilled alcohol injected. This creates a wasteland of plenty. There are many options, but almost all of them cater to morons, and so the options are paltry.

Modelo Especial turns out to be not a Corona clone, but a relatively rich beer with plenty of grainy taste and some spice behind the sweetness. I was pleasantly surprised since, given its widespread availability, I assumed it was designed for morons. However, its obscurity as a Mexican beer — at the time when most people are drinking hipster microbrews that are universally bad because they overemphasize difficult and obscure flavors over simply making a quality beer — may have protected it from the Great American Gold Rush. Every weekend, millions of zombies leave their undead jobs and get in their cars to go home. Because their heads have been drained of any thoughts by the sheer stupidity and illogicality of what they are called to do, there is one option for the weekend… get loaded! — and they do this by trotting on down to Wal-mart in their golf shirts and buying, well, you wouldn’t want to get the usual mainstream beers would you? Just something enough imported to be quality… that means you go to the 9.7-11.8 cents/ounce category of Familiar Imports… and it turns out most of these are fakes… so you grab whatever looks good, go to the checkout and head home. If you drink five of them quickly you might not notice that they are basically burpwater soft drinks flavored like beer, and get a good buzz going. Modelo Especial has escaped this crazy rush because it remains consistent and marketed at lower income, so it does not have the pretense and “unique/different” factor of hipster beers or Familiar Imports, and thus is bought only by — you guessed it — actual appreciators of quality beer. The crowd cheers.

But this beer, unlike the unfortunate Corona Extra to which it is frequently compared, has an abundance of flavor that is more balanced than it is extreme. The hipster beers shit the bed by trying so hard to be ironic they become subtly disgusting, and the audience of sheep is too neutered to simply stand up and say that these beers are vomit fodder. The Familiar Imports are all basically watery and have a pulpy, rotting vegetation taste at this point. But Modelo Especial carries on, with a slight undertone of the pungent smell of its fermented origins, but mostly a warm and broad taste that works in sweetness like a summer evening. Like Negro Modelo, this is a beer to be enjoyed during normal events in life. It will impress no one from the label, but they will actually enjoy drinking it instead of pretending to like another over-priced over-fetishized hipster brew. Full of warmth, it is like the best of Mexico, a simple but entirely rewarding experience.

***/*****

6 Comments

Tags: , ,

Villiger 1888 – Early Day

villiger_1888_early_day_pipe_tobacco

This one came to me as a hand-me-down. A friend wrote it off as a clone of Dunhill London Mixture. Being an intrepid sort, I shoveled it into the pipe and lit up, expecting nothing. Surprise awaited instead: Villiger 1888 Early Day is a Danish take on English tobacco that calms its extremes and leaves a deeply satisfying flavor.

Generally, when we think of “English tobacco,” something like the Dunhill London Mixture comes to mind. But really, English tobacco is a state of mind. It is distinguished from the Danish interpretation of it by its appreciation of the clash of flavors. The Dunhill mixes are spicy, sweet and full-bodied all at once; the Danish interpretation balances the three, so that it is full-bodied with hints of flavor from the spice and sweet without overwhelming. In my inner self, I find this to be a better approach, as it reduces a riotous clash of flavors to a comforting taste that deepens the more it is smoked.

Open opening, the tin emits a thick earthy smell like mulch breathing alongside rich earth. When smoked, the characteristic tang of English tobacco appears at first but muted, then fades to a rich dark chocolate taste tinged with the taste of the air from the deep woods. It burns thoroughly, with thick smoke, and avoids becoming the greasy mess that many English tobaccos become after the initial taste. A satisfying aftertaste remains; it can be smoked either fast, or slowly, but burns roughly the same. A sense of balance pervades this entire blend.

While Villiger will never make headlines — in part for the unfortunate name which sounds like “villager,” a term in English that conveys simplicity and mundanity — this tobacco remains undervalued for those who want a quiet smoke that continually rewards the peripatetic puffer with muted flavor and an absence of the extremities that render trendier pipe tobaccos annoying. This would be a good all-day smoke, on a boat or in a living room, for someone who has worked through the need to define themselves with the radical extremes of external objects, and instead intends only to savor the bounty of life itself.

3 Comments

Tags: , , , ,

Taco Bell Diablo Sauce

taco_bell_diablo_sauce_666

Those of us who survive in the concrete jungle or the suburban desert live as we must, which often means foraging within the realms of junk food. This in turn means, because too much of junkfood is merely a conduit to “the beetus” or other early death, to have strong preferences for some junk food over other types. Many of us remain enthusiastic fans of Taco Bell because, despite the high salt content and imminent violent defecation, it remains relatively simple, unsullied and realistically-priced compared to the over-sugared varieties of junk food found at the burger joints. It also eschews the pomposity of “down home goodness” and “hippie health food wisdom” which mark, even in small doses, places like Chipotle and In-N-Out.

As part of its ill-advised campaign to be “more competitive,” which is scurrilous nonsense since it has already captured its self-selected target audience of drunks, college students, scat fetishists and budget-conscious consumers, Taco Bell has made tentative stepts toward expanding its menu to include more varied tastes. As a long time observer, I believe this contradicts business wisdom which would be to instead serve its existing constituency such that it expands, instead of trying to capture audiences from other businesses who are more adapted to what those groups expect. However, it has in addition to some hilarious missteps — the soggy Doritos-in-a-burrito was more than gastronomically dismal — this has brought a number of useful experiments, including the new Diablo sauce. From the beginning, this product faces a steady climb because those who really like hot sauce enough for it to be essential with a fast food meal probably have their preferred poison on hand, but it also may gain an audience of those heading past the sauce counter for some slightly new experiences. Much like the market for spicy sauces sold separately, it navigates a fine line between over-processed and sweetened sauces, and perennial favorites like Tabasco which balance spice with flavor such that one tastes more than spice or the sugar, aromatic spices and fruit extracts added to soften the blow or at least give it an ironic, contrarian or contradictory identity (“it’s a hot sauce, but unlike the others, it has fruits and flowers”).

The first taste of Diablo Sauce, as warned by our local Taco Bell proprietor, is of intense spice. A glance at the ingredients shows that it picks up from where Fire Sauce left off but uses a more intense pepper base, feeling like simultaneously more black pepper and a habanero or more concentrated jalapeno-serrano mix. The result, while warming and very useful to pick up the intensity, falls short on the spice-flavor balance: unlike Tabasco, it is more hot than flavorful and, while it avoids the odious boutique spice flavors that insist mixing mango and cloves with Scottish bonnet peppers somehow makes a “new” taste, it also fails to bring with it the optimized mix of flavors that fire sauce does. Perhaps this means that Taco Bell caved to the extremists — who might be conveniently visualized as drunk bearded men with bandoliers full of specially-bred spicy peppers — and forsook its commonplace wisdom as to what its audience desires, which can be summarized as “spicy Southwestern” since Taco Bell borrows more from Tex-Mex than Mex and more from California Tex-Mex than Tex-Tex-Mex.

The question always presented itself as to whether Taco Bell would make a more spicy Fire Sauce, or a spicy sauce, and the sense I get is that they aimed for the latter while guarding their flank with some inclusion of the former, which runs a risk of pleasing neither group. I suggest they defer to interface: mild, medium and fire are variants on the same flavor, and Diablo should be too on that basis, with the possibility of simply adding a “habanero sauce” (or equivalent, since a concentrated jalapeno-serrano or jalapeno-japones mix will achieve the same result) as an addition to the Diablo sauce. Perhaps this was the intent, since of the eight of us eating the three who appreciate spicy food the most ended up using a 2:1 mix of Fire:Diablo sauces to great effect. In any case, it was a joy to experiment with this new flavor and, while it may not be the end-all for spice fetishists, for those who have the time to mix it in with other sauces it makes for a powerful addition to the Taco Bell palette.

21 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 albums that sold out and damaged metal

selling-out

When a band is accused of “selling out,” the first instinct most people have is to attack the definition of that phrase. In reality, “selling out” is easily delineated: changing your music/art/writing to reflect what the audience expects.

In metal, selling out usually consists of making the music happier, simpler, less tormented and more pretentious. This allows the people who are dedicated to not noticing anything real about their world to listen to it and have it confirm their existing bias that the best course in life will be to “keep on keeping on” by shopping, voting, bragging at the water cooler, watching television, eating fast food and otherwise being oblivious to everything.

Selling out can be compared to the difference between a home-grilled hamburger and a fast food burger. The home-grilled burger uses real meat, spiced and cooked with care, and does not look elegant but is a good balance of taste and nutrition. The fast food burger is made from ground-up bits of animals, filled out with soybeans and sugar, and most people prefer it because it tastes more like candy and nutrition, lol.

When a metal band sells out, it makes the conscious decision to alter its music to appeal to some audience. This can include an “outsider” audience that only likes ultra-lofi two-chord bands, or the usual meaning, where the music gets closer to big radio pop. When metal bands sell out, they damage metal by bringing in all the stuff metal tried to escape in the first place.

These five albums represent some of the worst sellouts in metal history.

at_the_gates-slaughter_of_the_soul

At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul

The first At the Gates album took our breath away. A weird mix of metal, folk, progressive and classical, it achieved an idiosyncratic voice of its own the way early death metal was prone to do. Then the band faltered, losing a key member and recording albums that did not feel with albums. Suddenly, this new album burst onto the scene and the old school death metal heads rushed forward to find… the exact opposite of what made this band great. Instead of inventive death metal, Slaughter of the Soul brought a warmed-over version of Metallica Ride the Lightning that had been given the Swedish melodic metal treatment. Songs swung easily with simple melodies that would have fit better in a television commercial or schoolyard song, and song structures fit an entirely predictable mold. Nothing challenged the listener; everything was sweetened, like biting into a hot glazed donut with extra icing. It made you feel icky inside, as if you had just been assimilated by the vast mass of people in modern culture who forcibly ignore any incoming ideas which do not fit into their own ego-worship and denial. However, the album was a stunning commercial success and inspired the metalcore movement, in which post-At the Gates band The Haunted applied this template to late hardcore and created a whole new audience.

metallica-metallica

Metallica – Metallica

When metalheads first heard “One” on the radio, the general sentiment was worry. We all knew of the temptation of radio metal where bands toured in luxury buses and got loads of cocaine, chicks and fast cars. But …And Justice For All had its musical moments despite the awful rock-style drumming and simplified catchy songs, so the hope was that Metallica had gotten it out of their system. Then came the self-titled monstrosity. The first hint was the choice of eponymous name late in the career of Metallica, which suggested a break with the past. Then, the new logo: silver foil-embossed, stylized and slick. Then we heard “Enter Sandman” on the radio and fears were realized. Gone were the complex song structures and innovative riffs, but the use of melodic composition on guitar persisted from …And Justice For All, albeit in a form that fit well into the MTV lineup. Songs backed away from topics that might unsettle people into fairy tales about fears and personal drama, including the rage drama that Pantera was making famous. Metallica fans hung their heads, neatly folded their tshirts and put them at the back of the drawer, and covered their tattoos with black bars. Metallica had finally sold out.

death-individual_thought_patterns

Death – Individual Thought Patterns

As the 1990s progressed, death metal emerged as the clear next big thing. This came after nearly a decade of the music industry denying its existence, mocking it, and doing their best to conceal it. A number of them made overtures: if you could just drop the scary alienation, anger and post-human view of the world, maybe The Industry would work for you like it did for the Crue, AC/DC, etc. At this point, Chuck Schuldiner of Death was putting a lot of effort into making himself the founding father of death metal, and he fired his previous band for a mostly new group who came up with a heavy metal/death metal hybrid. That alone would have been bad, but what was worse was that he changed the music artistically as well as stylistically. The rage at a numb, callous and selfish world was replaced with personal drama, overplayed public compassion, and the kind of hollow rage that people sitting in air-conditioned homes direct at a world that “just doesn’t understand me.” Even worse, the music itself became saccharine. The wild lion of death metal became a neutered animal dependent on daily feedings of peer group approval. Not surprisingly, people loved it then and hardly mention it now.

morbid_angel-domination

Morbid Angel – Domination

After the public hounding that Ilud Divinum Insanus received, most fans forgot the previous great Morbid Angel disappointment that essentially fragmented the band. Thousands of death metal bands languishing in obscurity perked up when they saw Far Beyond Driven flirt with Exhorder-styled extreme metal and still make hordes of money. In the timeless and impeccably insane logic of record labels, it was suggested that death metal bands take the same route even though it would mean abandoning their fans and yet not being able to fully dumb down enough for the brocore generation. Morbid Angel came out with this disaster of a fourth album in order to try to bridge the gap and ended up (predictably) failing both. Where previous Morbid Angel albums showed inventive songs, Domination featured one interesting riff per song slowed down and mated with another couple of sludgy, partially doomy, and unforgivably bouncy Pantera-styled riffs. To accommodate the injection of nonsense into death metal songs, Morbid Angel broke them down into simpler songs that resembled the happy go lucky “beer metal” songs of the past: verse-chorus, chanty foot-tapping title of song repeated, and an artistic outlook which more resembled wounded anger than any kind of delving toward a hidden truth. After this album, the band fell apart and reconstituted itself in new forms, trying to recapture some vein of composition that might appeal to lots of MTV-reprogrammed listeners and yet still be death metal. Much like Bigfoot and the perpetual motion machine, it might be out there somewhere, but as of yet Morbid Angel has not found it.

dimmu_borgir-enthrone_darkness_triumphant

Dimmu Borgir – Enthrone Darkness Triumphant

As soon as black metal hit the newsstands with stories of church arson and murder, record company stooges devoted many hours of thought to the simple question of how they could re-package it for the Hot Topic kids. Dimmu Borgir found the first workable solution with Enthrone Darkness Triumphant which mixed mall-goth, Cradle of Filth, and carnival music to come up with a style that reveled in its own randomness and made its listeners feel profound for having picked up an incoherent but inscrutable mess. The lush keyboards of mainstream Gothic dance music mixed with the darker rhythms of Nine Inch Nails and guitar influences from rock/metal/rap hybrids in order to interrupt the occasional black metal riff so it never came to fruition. The result became the artistic equivalent of a pop tart: thin bread crust around mystery ingredients mixed with sugar. Naturally, people loved it because it allowed them to “be black metal” (ist krieg!) without leaving behind the same digestible pap they had been swallowing for years under the rock banner. But the CDs seemed to fly out of stores, and black metal fans changed from lonely dissidents to bloated mall denizens looking for a new thrill to blot out the days of tedium as they tried to pretend they wanted to even be alive. Even more importantly, this album opened the door to “black metal” as a container for whatever you wanted to throw in it, which made the truly dark hearts of the record company execs jump with joy and visions of bank transfers.

Image: would you trust a cigarette company with marijuana? Most likely, they would do to it what they did to tobacco, which is remove variety in flavor and replace it with innocuous but consistent brand-perfect sensations.

49 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-24-14

manatees
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 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.

2 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sadistic Metal Reviews: Crush the Skull

What does any band deserve? A fair review. If the band is good, it should be said so, to what degree. If it just sucks, it also needs to be said. And that’s why we’re here with the latest edition of Sadistic Metal Reviews.

weekend_nachos-stillWeekend Nachos – Still

If their stupid name didn’t already clue you in, the atrocity that is Weekend Nachos represents a lesser acknowledged evil in the underground music scene: nu-grind, or powerviolence played by MTV2 jockcore fans. Similar to other Relapse bands like Benümb, except all the fast strummed “anger” is a holdover for later day “tough guy” or straight-edge 90s hardcore “everyone mosh on the dancefloor” gimmickry that preys on low IQs who don’t listen to music beyond “breakdowns.”

hate_forest-ildjarn-those_once_mighty_fallenHate Forest / Ildjarn – Those Once Mighty Fallen

The title on this may be ironic because it can apply only to Ildjarn, and only if the band ships something bad. This isn’t bad, but it’s an entirely different form of music. Where older Ildjarn was an idiosyncratic expression in equal parts ambient black metal, drone hardcore and forest Oi/Rac-influenced metal like Absurd, this new material is clearly designed to sound like black metal. Its songs use typical black metal intervals, develop according to the pattern, and even use vocals in the same rhythms as early Dimmu Borgir or other first-and-a-half wave bands. If you’re tuning in to Ildjarn, you expect something at least as lawless and feral as his later work on keyboards; this will be a problem for many listeners. As far as quality, it’s not bad at all and in fact is very natural-sounding, sort of like the first Dimmu Borgir or Graveland albums. Some have hypothesized that Ildjarn did not write the material, and the production changes and incorporation of additional instrumentation, in addition to the stylistic changes, suggest either a casual interest in this as a project to “stay in the game” or delegation of many musical tasks to a new team. Production sounds more recent than the early 1990s Ildjarn material. Use of background keyboards, faster bass riffing, textural discontinuities and other distinguishing effects show an interesting set of musical tools emerging, but the band may need to rediscover its voice. Hate Forest never struck me as being all that significant, but they make a very credible effort here, with production that matches the Ildjarn but is very carefully adjusted to sound as distinctive as possible. Their songs are fairly regulation black metal with an attempt to insert complex fills and transitions, and then to balance that, simplify the chorus riffs. The result is not atmospheric per se but achieves a relaxed atmosphere in which the focal point becomes the interruption, like a sunny sky with an intriguing cloud cluster. None of it is particularly distinctive but it’s not bad either. Songs maintain atmosphere well but there’s not a huge amount of development here, so the band sensibly rely on circularity to keep from appearing jagged. A rumored Ildjarn interview claims that this release was an early 1990s project between himself and Ihsahn of Emperor, which could explain the resemblance to post-Reverence Emperor material.

melvins-bullheadMelvins – Bullhead

Entropy embodied, this is the band that provided inspiration for Southern Lord’s entire catalogue of musical abortions. Deconstructive, linear riffs that seek to express nothing except ennui, combined with faux-crooning self-pitying lyrics ensure that this will continue to be a favorite band of mentally vacant children for decades to come. This is the mentality of grunge in a different form.

code-augur_noxCode – Augur Nox

For a brief while, power metal (speed metal w/death metal drums) looked like it would save True Metal. The problem is, however, anytime you walk back up the metal family tree, you get back toward the stuff metal was formed to run away from. As I listened to the first tracks on this, I thought, they’ve got some interesting riff ideas — let’s see how long it last — however, they sound like they want to be a rock band that’s primarily about vocal performance and personal identification with the vocalist. About half-way through the album, they shifted to tap-dance rhythm riffs and soaring vocals, the combination meaning no ideas but how to rip through some 1960s material. Eventually it got so bad it sounded like Queensryche on a bad day as a disco combo covering old CCR B-sides. If you don’t have an idea, by definition, you are an imitator recycling the old in a new form, and we have a word for that: stagnation.

immolation-kingdom_of_conspiracyImmolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy

Continuing their decline, Immolation return to the bouncy simplicity of Harnessing Ruin, only this time they downplay the “nu” sounds and try to make it sound more aesthetically in line with their old sound. This doesn’t change it from being a predictable verse-chorus version of NYDM and shows Immolation in their most neutered form yet, trying to pander to a metalcore audience whilst retaining their trademark sound. After the last album, I reckon the only reason people see these guys tour anymore is to get a Failures for Gods longsleeve. Linear, predictable, and disappointing considering this group’s potential.

izegrim-congress_of_the_insaneIzegrim – Congress of the Insane

After a few brave people direction-find their way to a new genre, in come the people who want to partake. They often bring superior skills but they don’t understand what they’re doing. Izegrim is a fine example. It’s chanty metal. When metal gets chanty, which is the nerdy equivalent of rapping, you know that a central narrative has been replaced by adherence to appearance and where that doesn’t work, filling in the gaps with the same old stuff. While this band is instrumentally superior to your average metal band, they don’t know what to do with the odd bits and ends they’ve assembled as songs, so they tie it all together with the simplest elements possible. That meants chants, crowd-pleaser but repetitive riffs, and lots of bombast to cover up for the big void within.

nachtmystium-silencing_machineNachtmystium – Silencing Machine

When a band wishes to play black metal without embodying any of its spirit, this is what’s produced. Lethargic, tremolo-strummed droning with ANGRY MAN vocals and uninspired drumming produces an album of tracks that are indistinguishable. Albums like these would be better off as hard rock, because at their heart that is what these musicians are aiming to create…though at least it’s not as bad as the the latest Satyricon abortion.

broken_hope-omen_of_diseaseBroken Hope – Omen of Disease

After failing to become “Oppressor meets Deeds of Flesh” with their last couple albums, Broken Hope return after a long hiatus and have churned out what can best be described as a Unique Leader band covering mainstream hip hop tracks in double speed. Considering their “beefs” with death metal bands and Source Awards concert turn outs, it should be no surprise that this has more in common with Tupac than it does Suffocation, approaching death metal from the same “gangster” outlook that Six Feet Under did in the 90s.

secrets_of_the_moon-seven_bellsSecrets of the Moon – Seven Bells

“Artistic” black metal, otherwise known as black metal watered down with fruity “post-rock” produces a product that is post-art. Designed for a generation that believes interrupting narration with pointless deviations is artistically viable, in form this shares for more in common with modern metal than with relevant black metal bands. Listen to this only if you enjoy consuming pumpkin spice lo-fat frappuccinos.

laibach-sLaibach – S

These three tracks — “Eurovision,” “No History” and “Resistance is Futile” — comprise 2/3 of the EP S (which can be streamed here) released in advance of the new Laibach album to show where the band is at this point. Some might think it odd to review industrial music on a metal blog, but Laibach has been supportive of metal in the past, including the notorious Morbid Angel remixes and positive statements made in public. Further, industrial and metal share a root, which is that we deny the happy vision that came about in the 1960s of love, peace and uniformity that would save us from the horrors of the modern time. Our vision is to point out that the beast is within, and as long as humans refuse to discipline their minds, they will end up re-inventing the horror, futility and self-destruction of the near past and the ancient past, before civilization evolved. Both genres also point to a path outside of what is acknowledged as “higher values” or “the right thing to do,” seeing morality as confining and misinterpreted. That being said, it seems that industrial hasn’t changed much since the EBM days of the 1980s. In fact, much as Nine Inch Nails basically made a more pop form of that genre with added guitars, Laibach have simply made a more stern form, albeit a self-mocking one. What you will find: compelling beats, blasts of static, sampled voices, a surly European-accented voice almost chewing out the lyrics in a conversational growl, and even bits of other musics woven through the material. Ultimately, what makes industrial different than metal is that it knows how to pull off a good pop song and make it sound good, even with machine-ish touches, where metal tries to make something beyond what people consider music. As a result, these songs have heavy dead-beat grooves and build up to a compelling motion. There isn’t as much internal development as metal so there’s some question of whether a metal fan would enjoy hearing these repeatedly, but it’s hard to ignore the sheer pop power and terrifying view of the world brought up by this assault of music and (if you go to the site) imagery.

sepultura-the_mediator_between_the_head_and_hands_must_be_the_heartSepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart

Claiming to be inspired by the old science-fiction movie Metropolis, Sepultura collaborate with tone deaf AIDS guru Ross Robinson to create an album that, much like recent Sepultura, is high in pretension and low in musical payoff. Death metal sounds are utilized here but only serve as what sounds like Pantera or later Sacred Reich occasionally lapsing into a parody of Slowly We Rot at its simplest than anything from their 80s output. A guest appearance by Dave Lombardo doing a “tribal” drumming outro feels more like a marketing gimmick, lacking any of the imagination found in his instrumental track for Grip Inc. (incidentally, their only good song). Most of the songs devolve into effects laden meandering, which is to be expected considering the producer. Even then, nothing is gained or lost on this album. Sepultura is still like a fish out of water, churning out another vapid reiteration of their 1998 album that will piss off old fans and make no new ones.

cattle_decapitation-monolith_of_inhumanityCattle Decapitation – Your Disposal

The first riff sounds like screamo, then clean vocals played over what sounds like a “post-black” abomination, then the breakdown with “eerie arpeggios”… this is metalcore. Looking past the “shocking” image stolen from early Carcass made to appeal to self-loathing Starbucks regulars, Cattle Decapitation now seem to be in direct contact with the same focus group Gojira employ when coming up with their gimmick ridden, indie rock friendly vapidity, eschewing the F-grade death/grind of their past for metalcore acceptance. Beyond the aesthetic drape of underground metal, this is nothing more than a random collage of parts “EXTREME” bands play for mainstream appeal under the pretense of having “matured” as “artists.”

twilight-monument_to_time_endTwilight – Monument to Time End

The “supergroup” of a bunch of hipsters that convinced Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth to ruin the genre alongside them, Twilight perverts black metal by using the treble guitar tone and anguished vocal styling to dress up what is middle of the road “post-sludge”. Members pool their collective inability to write metal into one product that comes off like a brain washing tool Scion would use to convince Gojira fans to purchase SUVs, all the while looking “edgy.”

cromlech-ave_mortisCromlech – Ave Mortis

This imaginative release explores the world of Iron Maiden-tinged power metal with an epic metal mindset, preferring extensive clean vocals, lengthy melodic parts and high-speed pickup riffs of the Maiden style. However, it also works in a fair amount of newer technique, sounding sometimes at the edge of later At the Gates. This is interesting material and an ambitious offering. However, this band has a few things it needs to work on. First, the vocalist is too present both in the composition and the approach to songwriting, and needs to go back to being one of the instruments. Second, this CD weighs in at 1:10 and is a B- album at that length, where if they boiled it down to 35 minutes would be closer to an A. (Note to bands: if you can’t listen to your own CD, while doing nothing else, on repeat for several times in a row, make changes). It has genre confusion problems that need to be resolved by getting more comfortable with its own style. Finally, Cromlech should learn from Iron Maiden and focus on making song structures clear: one intro, a theme, a countertheme, and some kind of developmental area where the melody grows before returning to the more predictable parts of songs. This is about their approach anyway, but it’s muddled by uneven application of technique. In addition, it wouldn’t kill them to look through for repetitive themes and excise or consolidate them. All in all, a great first effort, and I tack on all these suggestions because starting bands often need a push to fully develop.

gojira-l_enfant_sauvageGojira – L’enfant sauvage

The biggest sham in metal to this day. Being a propaganda tool used by hippies to turn metal into rock music, Gojira continue what they’ve done since the beginning: making “heavy” parts out of rhythmic chugging with pick scraping sounds before playing “soft” parts that sound lifted from A Perfect Circle. Rock made for angry menstruating Deepak Chopra reading faux-guru hippies. Add the cringe worthy “deep” lyrics and it’s no wonder people thought the world was going to end in 2012 when both this album came out and a new record was set the world over in dolphins beaching themselves.

12 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Interview with Abominant

abominant-onward_to_annihilationKentucky death metal band Abominant recently released its tenth studio album, Onward to Annihilation, in a style of death metal we don’t see much anymore: fast, melodic and yet riff-based and chaotic. This band is well-known in the underground, having released albums in the 1990s on feral label Wild Rags and toured across the country.

Onward to Annihilation shows Abominant nurturing the style that kept them going back in the 1990s, which uses fast riffs in complex patterns but always returns to a triumphant chorus which outlines the purpose of each song. The trademark Slayer-ish fast guitars and Dark Angel-styled drum breaks are also present.

You can hear Onward to Annihilation below in an exclusive live stream provided by Clawhammer PR and Abominant. It takes just a few seconds of your time to sample and explore this dark work of twisted death metal. (Your browser will show only the OGG files if Firefox, but both sets if Opera, Chrome or IE.)

In a time when the music industry is in upheaval, and most bands are changing styles and outlooks in order to chase the trends of the day, it’s gratifying to see some bands remain constant and constantly improving themselves. We were lucky to have a few moments with bassist Mike May, who was able to fill us in on all things Abominant, including the past and plans for the future.

Stream Abominant Onward to Annihilation here
MP3 OGG
1. We Are Coming
2. Conquerors of Dust
Left to Rot
Battlescarred
Onward to Annihilation
Hold Your Ground
Beside the Dying Flame
Legions of Hell

For starters, I had to do a double-take when I saw that Abominant is on your 10th album. How have you managed to stick together as a band, face adversity and still enjoy what you’re doing after all these years?

We just don’t know how to do anything else? We are all just fans and friends that love to play metal and love to do it together. Some guys work on cars or hunt or play fantasy sports. We write death metal songs, simple as that.

I don’t think anyone in the band has any delusions of being famous or changing the world musically. We just like to drink beer, have fun and play death metal.

Pretty much by choice we never miss a practice and if any of us do, our week just seems less fulfilled. Whether anyone likes us or not, or if we ever put out another CD, I think we’ll still be getting together to do what we do.

Can you tell us how Abominant formed and what your influences were at the time? In other words, what inspired you to become Abominant and
how did you come together?

From say 1990 to 1993 Tim and I were in a band called Sarcoma. Mike and Jim had a band called Cataclysm. Also ex-members Buck and Craig had a band called Effigy, which were all the death metal realm.

All of those bands eventually fell apart and the six of us were pretty much the diehards that wanted to keep it going.

Worked out for the best in the long run. Weed out the weak and whatnot…. I was a big fan of the other guys’ bands prior to hooking up with them as well.

Overall I’d say alot of our main influences are shared in the 1986-1990 transition from thrash metal to death metal. Bands like Possessed, DarkAngel, Sacrifice, Bloodfeast, Kreator and so on really were happening at the time most of us were learning to play and we all still listen to that stuff pretty religiously.

I will say that as time rolls on we still get influenced even up to today, and no secret that black metal has come into the fold much more since we got Jim in 2005. We all listen to alot of different styles of metal, and its not like we love EVERYTHING, but it is very cool to be have extended conversations about which era of Darkthrone is our favorite and ten minutes later we’re talking about the new Candlemass while we listen to old Scanner cds. Variety is the spice of life.

Is there a “Midwestern sound” to death metal?

As a fan, I’d almost relate it to the “Chicago” sound. Bands like Master, Cianide, Macabre, Deathstrike and some outside Chicago like Repulsion and Impetigo is what I think of when you talk about “Midwest” sound.

It seems kinda true that most metal comes more from the burbs and bored teenagers rebelling against the middle class life than coming from inner city areas where punk and hip hop seem to have deeper roots, so i guess maybe thats a factor.Both Mike and Jim are natives but I was raised in Denver and Tim was born in Thailand, so i think our location has very little to do with our sound.

Do you consider yourselves a death metal band, or have another take on it?

Personally, Yeah… I would call us death metal, although by “scene police” standards, we would be called more “black death” which is also fine. Since we started, it seems that the death metal name has been leaning more toward ultra brutal bands, which i think usually end up being heavy on the DEATH but light on the METAL, which is sad. But I mean younger bands were introduced to Cannibal Corpse/Suffocation as their starting point in the same way I evolved from KISS to Sabbath to Slayer, so i cant really even blame them, its a different time, you know? We were kind of using the term “Goat Metal” for the longest time to blur what exactly we were doing, but in the end as long as it includes the word METAL, I think we’re fine with whatever.

Your songs show wide-ranging influences from within the metal genre. Is this a deliberate attempt to include the whole genre, or is this the product of your many influences? How have those influences changed over the years?

As I said, we all go all over the map as far as listening to metal goes, and I feel that every genre has its merits, but it also seems every genre is cluttered with mediocrity too.

As far as writing different styles, we just don’t want all of our songs to be the same and variety is also one of the things that keep us going. Not everything always works but at least we try stuff and dont want to limit exactly how an Abominant song is supposed to sound.

If you’re talking mainly about “Hold your Ground” from the new album, we had been playing “The Mob Rules” live for about a year after Dio died and ended up recording it for “Battlescarred”. After having so much fun with it and feeling so natural about it, I think we all wanted to take a shot at a straight up “Heavy Metal” song. I think it came out terrific and think if we set our sights on it, we could do a whole album in that style.

We have a new song that is kinda similar although a little more Mercyful Fate in style and I love playing that one.

I will say that we all really love blasting and fast Slayer headbang parts so I dont see us playing traditional heavy metal full time, but it is alot of fun, especially live.

How do you like working with Evan and the DeathGasm Records crew? (Did you have to explain what a “DeathGasm” is to any family members…?)

Working with Evan has been great. He stepped up right after Wild Rags and I had known him long time before that. He’s always supported what we do. I think our first album together Ungodly (2000) was pretty “next level” both for us and for him as a label, and what a way to start out!

Evan has booked us shows in Marietta and we’ve stayed at his house, so it really is very much a friendship. He knows what we’re going for and even what other bands we like so we just really couldnt be much happier. I also like alot of the stuff he puts out like Nominon, Manticore, Avenger so its its a good fit for Abominant overall. We havent had alot of backlash from the label name…personally, I think it sounds cool.

When you recorded “Onward to Annihilation,” what technique did you use to get your guitar sound? Have you changed much in how you produce albums since the last nine?

I know most of the guitar was a PRS going through a brand new Peavey head, but aside from that , you’d have to ask Tim.

He gets new stuff just about every six months it seems, so I would be surprised if ANY of our albums used the exact same equipment.

After hooking up with Scott at Velocity things really have just become more laid back and also more practical for us. Scott is a death metal guy, a hell of a drummer and inspires to be a great studio guy, which I think he is.. but I imagine 10 years from now he will be a fucking guru. Nothing negative to say about working with him at all, wish he was doing this in 1996!

Are you going to tour for this album?

Naw, as we get older and have families, touring just doesn’t work for us. Responsibility is our downfall :)

I wanna say 2008 we did like 24 shows, and that was our most ever, but we normally like to play out only around 8 -10 times a year.

We are all kinda reclusive, and I personally hate hanging out in bars, so I don’t guess we’ll ever get to be road warriors, but I like to think we are pretty solid when we do play live.

If you’re fans of the old underground, does it still exist? Who’s keeping the flag flying these days? Bands, zines, labels, etc.

I like alot of the more METAL death metal bands like Sathanas, Gravehill, Ares Kingdom, Cardiac Arrest, Mausoleum and so on (old guys I guess!) but even locally I think most of black/death bands here are putting out releases in 2013 or just did in 2012. So there still is stuff going on, but I dont know if theres much of a fan base for it.

Some of my favorite records are the newest releases from Immolation, Asphyx, VoiVod , Absu, Darkthrone, Autopsy and so on, so I dont go by the “only stuff in early 90s” like some people do.

Hells headbangers seems to be doing quite well and releasing cool stuff, and I like most of what Dark Descent puts out as well.

Where do you think Abominant will be when album 15 rolls out?

We average about two years for a record, so I’m guessing we’ll all be pushing 55 by our 15th album!

As it seems now, doing this for another ten years seems pretty viable and realistic, and barring any tragedy and/or line up shifts, I for one am looking forward to it! You can purchase the album for $6.89 here!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC6feSmom3A

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPwLppaGe04

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn2Xo4t2iRM

3 Comments

Tags: ,

Classic reviews:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z