Martyrdöd – Elddop

December 21, 2014 –

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Coming from the fusion of d-beat crust, hard rock and melodic heavy metal, Martyrdöd demonstrate a greater ability to write songs than your average underground band, both through musical knowledge and the instinct to know how to complete a song convincingly. The problem that appears out of the chaos is that these are basically all the same song since the band has such a broad approach that making it successful requires narrowing the eventual product.

Songs start over the high-speed Disfear-style modified d-beat that is played more rigidly than its original UK inspiration and so fosters a healthy environment for driving music, which Elddop offers in mixed metal and bluesy hard rock riffs for verses and At the Gates style melodic twists and turns for choruses. Over this the vocalist approximates a decent black metal vocal with varied emphasis except at the end of each phrase where he reverts to hardcore phrasing to emphasize the rhythmic hook. It is not unpleasant to listen to, and thanks to the superior musical abilities of these players is in fact a bit of fun, but it lacks anything to make a listener pick this album up again. Martyrdöd does not nail a certain feeling, a moment, an experience or an idea but rather makes sonic wallpaper of the intersection of ideas in a single experience of vague resistance but basically a desire for some hard rock riffs in a new form.

Naturally this opinion will be controversial because it is hard to argue with the better musical knowledge on this album. But in art, as in music, technical knowledge is a means to an end, and when it becomes an end in itself, it eclipses the purpose of art which is to communicate a profound realization in an aesthetically pleasing way. Elddop nails aesthetically pleasing, but by doing so in the empty aggregate intersection of many styles, creates merely a high-tech form of elevator music with crust and metal flavoring.

Sacrilege – Turn Back, Trilobite

December 5, 2014 –

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During the 1980s, multiple metal movements existed in parallel. The genre birthed itself a decade before and almost immediately got merged with hard rock, only waking itself up with the NWOBHM in time to avoid total assimilation. In the next decade, it diversified.

Sacrilege emerged from the UK proto-crust scene and transitioned slowly into metal as most of these bands did when, musical basics familiar, they sought to use their new artistic powers for more precise communication. The band put out a trio of albums before lapsing in the early 1990s. Turn Back, Trilobite was the third of these and showed the band leaving its punk roots behind entirely to explore a doom metal style. This release prompts comparisons to Candlemass because in its pacing, use of percussion and even vocal melodies it evokes that long-standing doom band.

The notable differences here are that Sacrilege sometimes slides into ludicrous hard-rock riffing that immediately pushes it into the background, and that one of these guitarists clearly listens to quite a bit of Metallica Ride the Lightning which shows up in some of the muted-strum double downstroke work here as well as in the Hammett-inspired lead guitars which use falling scales to produce lengthy solos from relatively consistent structures. This effect works better with the shorter solos on Metallica but here often becomes too symmetrical and rambling, but otherwise, adds a greater efficiency to some of these songs.

People like this album, and it is hard not to, because it is ambitious. It touches on tropes from jazz, rock, folk and hard rock in addition to its basis in heavy metal, and by using doom metal pacing, allows itself more space over which to stretch out vocals and riffs, installing a greater range of rhythms. The problems with this approach are that in many ways the band were not ready for it. Too much of this album is comped in with 1970s hard rock riffs, the vocalist for all of her range tends toward very similar patterns (which fits with the Ozzy-Marcolin range of vocals), and too many of the rhythms and riff shapes are similar, causing navigational difficulties for the casual listener.

As a random find in a record store on a rainy Saturday, this album provides some good listening because its ambition creates a world our brains can explore despite its failings. Like most doom metal, Turn Back, Trilobite relies too much on predictable and repeated tropes for enjoyable regular listening. The greater emphasis on “emotion” in doom metal tends to mean a narrower range of mood, and as a result the album flows past like tapwater more than distinguishing itself with the cornucopia of tropes it applies. That and the obvious Metallica derivations paired up with mediocre riff patterns excluded this one from running for the big time and shortly afterward, the band members excluded themselves to do other things. With the right producer to enforce some editing and variety, this could have been a massive release.

Extreme Noise Terror – A Holocaust in Your Head

January 26, 2014 –

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Avoiding the pitfalls of repetition that normally afflict later punk-derived albums, A Holocaust in Your Head is a fire spitting, unhinged, high speed high intensity crust album. That is, if you ignore the first and last tracks, which are a political statement not a song and an insult track to the band S.O.D., respectively.

Extreme Noise Terror rip thourgh hardcore punk and primordial death metal riffs with reckless abandon. Dual singers give some variety to the vocal patterns. Though the political rhetoric in the lyrics can be tiring on some tracks, the music speaks for itself, portraying something quite like the album title suggests: a droning of madness with explosive texture within suggesting a writhing, disturbed and out of control chain reaction just under the surface.

Admittedly none of the musicians here demonstrate great instrumental prowess, but the sheer force of the music and performance makes this entirely irrelevant. It’s as if these fellows channeled their entire frustrated essences into this album; most punk albums get boring half way through, but by sheer energy alone A Holocaust in Your Head remains intense throughout. For the most part this album uses simple song constructions, but interestingly enough there is deviation from verse-chorus-verse format in some songs, which is rare for punk music.

Bands following and contemporary to this group were heavily influenced by Extreme Noise Terror’s hyper speed crust, which became a primordial influence on the rising grindcore movement. Even years after that genre branching and the death of hardcore, A Holocaust in Your Head remains not just essential listening from a historical perspective, but a thoroughly enjoyable musical experience that reveals a world of insanity lurking all around us still.

Assück – Anticapital

January 8, 2014 –

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Grindcore requires some magic to pull off convincingly in the first place, but it’s doubly hard because 95% of grindcore bands confuse music and message in importance. Grindcore is music first, message second. When the message comes first, grindcore becomes an incoherent advertising campaign, not art.

Assück’s strength is that they do not let the messages of the songs (which are often from a leftist angle) eclipse the power of their music. The music is the most important thing here. The first album from Florida’s purveyors of supreme grindcore is also their definitive work.

Few are capable of mastering a distinct fusion of styles, fewer still are able to take that fusion and lay it out coherently. Assück are one of those few. Hardcore, crust, death metal, thrash, and grindcore all register as present here riff­wise. Riffcraft is dissonant, harsh, constantly shifting in tempo (sometimes irrespective of the drums), and at times even catchy. There’s a sort of looseness to the playing that sometimes reminds of jazz improvisation, but not nearly as random.

Though a cliché, this album does evoke an aura of “organized chaos.” Assück are also masters of building and releasing tension, not just in songs but throughout the whole album. There are three distinct climaxes, one being “Feasts of War,” the next being the last section of “Civilization Comes, Civilization Goes,” and the third being the final track.

Assück know precisely how much material to pack into an album, as the album maintains its exertion of power throughout the fifteen minute run time. Anticapital is in the upper echelon of grindcore and deserves the highest recommendations.

Hellbastard – Sons of Bitches EP

April 5, 2013 –

hellbastard-sons_of_bitchesThe limitation of metal is that it has such a strong identity that it can easily become repetitive. The danger of going the opposite direction is that with no sense of identity music loses its own character in an effort to be open-minded.

Hellbastard hover on the lintel of that conundrum. Famous for their mid-1980s crustcore (and possibly for coining the name of that genre) the band detoured into metal on 1990’s Natural Order, but return here in a blur of distorted power chords and hoarse vocals.

The first four songs are relatively straightforward Amebix-style crust with interesting time changes. Vocals are searing and impressively aggressive. In addition to some ideas borrowed from rock, many riffs bear the stamp of middle-period Slayer.

Sons of Bitches mixes in the jaunty rhythms of late speed metal, conveyed mainly through the vocals but causing all of the music to be pulled by the catchy, repetitive chorus phrases. If you can imagine later Destruction fused with Pantera, embedded into a crust band, that’s the rough idea.

There are two outlier tracks. “We Had Evidence” starts a metal-styled instrumental that acquits itself quite well and then veers off into jazz fusion technique while recorded loudspeaker voices play in the background; then becomes a chanty metal-crust hybrid. Then “Throw the Petrol Bomb” comes on, which is some form of reggae lite with lyrics taunting the anger and frustration of political protesters.

The strength of this EP is its pure crust orientation. While the Slayer-style riffs give some power to the underlying material, the speed metal chant-vocals and assorted odds ‘n’ ends tossed in from rock and metal distract from the power of these songs. Perhaps on a full-length the band will focus more on its strength and slash out a slew of crust anthems.