Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

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Compared to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy most films appear to simply be extended commercials with music videos for the emotional parts. Telling the story of Soviet infiltration of the British secret services through an interlocking series of clues, this film takes the approach that Agatha Christie might use for one of her cerebral murder cases and applies it instead to international espionage. It will never outsell The Avengers because in this film, every detail is part of the mechanism that builds up to an intense finale for its ultimate revelation. Even more damning, themes in this movie illustrate human narcissism, how the West was destroyed by the same individualistic self-interest that made it strong, and the importance of honor, loyalty and truthfulness.

Gary Oldman stars as John le Carré’s character George Smiley, modulated from the outsider nerd in the book to a methodical and highly analytical man who finds much of society around him to be short-sighted and erroneous. Like the best characters from literature, he endures civilization as it is but upholds it as it is at its best, creating a worldview that would approve of the mythological analysis of the human soul as found in Slayer lyrics or the darker days of grindcore. Exiled from his position at MI6 because of his refusal to endorse a new and magical source of Soviet secrets, and passed over by those who built careers on it, Smiley hunts for a “mole” or double-agent who is compromising British intelligence whenever it tries to operate in enemy territory. Unlike those who have taken over his former role, he searches through the type of logical analysis and study of the relationship between details that made sleuths like Sherlock Holmes, Ellery Queen, Hercule Poirot, the Continental Op, Phillip Marlowe and Miss Jane Marple legends in their field.

Sadly for most modern audiences, this film requires attention. No detail is spurious and every scene follows from the systematic and interlocking pursuit of details. In addition, the filmmakers layer that story with parallel themes of love and loss, loyalty and motivation, and strength of character versus the tendency to appeal to pleasant but erroneous notions that receive the aplomb of journalists, politicians and the faceless voting masses. While its logicality deserves praise, the emotionality of this film in bringing out the loneliness of its characters and the equal isolation of the struggle for truth, as not a motivator but a shaper and revelation of personality, enhances a solid story into an epic one. The acting is brilliant without being self-absorbed — no one in this film looks like they are acting, or resembles other characters they have played in other films — and the soundtrack is minimal and on point, the cinematography both bleak and elegant, and the directing and editing show a perfect sense of timing that both preserves atmosphere and cuts out anything but the powerful. Of the films made in the 2010s, this will either be the best or in the top three, because movies this intense rarely come along at a rate of more than a handful per generation.

Antigama release seventh album

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Antigama dispatches their seventh full-length studio album, The Insolent in the coming days. This all transpires just one week before the band makes their long-awaited return to American soil for their East Coast tour with Selfmadegod Records lablemates, Drugs Of Faith, including the band’s second time attending Maryland Deathfest.

Recorded in February at JNS Studio in Warsaw, The Insolent was engineered by Pawel Grabowski, mixed by Pawel Grabowski and the band, mastered by Scott Hull at Visceral Sound in Bethesda, Maryland (Pig Destroyer, Agoraphobic Nosebleed), and features a guest appearance by the legendary Polish electronic artist Władysław “Gudonis” Komendarek.

Orders for The Insolent are available on cassette, eco-pack/gatefold digisleeve CD, black 12″ gatefold LP, and a translucent 12″ gatefold LP, limited to 100 copies worldwide. All four versions are now available internationally from Selfmadegod HERE and in the US via Selfmadegod’s stateside mailorder outlet, Earsplit Distro, RIGHT HERE.

Antigama tour the East Coast US Tour w/ Drugs Of Faith:

  • 5/13/2015 Nihil Gallery – Brooklyn, NY w/ The Communion, Buckshot Facelift [info]
  • 5/14/2015 The Funky Jungle – Providence, RI w/ The Communion, Eaten, Feedback [info]
  • 5/15/2015 Clash Bar – Clifton, NJ @ Mildfest w/ The Communion, Organ Dealer, Pink Mass, more [info]
  • 5/16/2015 Second Empire – Philadelphia, PA w/ Infernal Stronghold, Past Tense [info]
  • 5/17/2015 Smash! – Washington, DC w/ Ampallang Infection, Blockhead [info]
  • 5/18/2015 Cellar Door – Annandale, VA w/ Earthling, Blooddrunk Trolls [info]
  • 5/19/2015 Strange Matter – Richmond, VA w/ High Priest, Empty Hands [info]
  • 5/20/2015 Main Street Annex – Charlottesville, VA w/ Earthling, Blooddrunk Trolls [info]
  • 5/23/2015 Baltimore Soundstage – Baltimore, MD @ Maryland Deathfest [no Drugs of Faith] [info]

You can follow Antigama on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/antigama

On Obscura and metal albums as song collections

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Arising from modern popular music, underground metal has retained many vestigial traits that several artists have consciously tried to erase and that some observers have started to question as detrimental to the effective expression of the genre. As the title of this article reveals, the case in point is the matter of albums as song collections. A good example of this becoming a hindrance to the message of the music is Gorguts’ Obscura.

Clocking in at one hour, Obscura consists of twelve songs, a little over the typical ten tracks of metal albums since the mid 1970s. The number ten has traditionally been associated with wholeness or completeness. In the most mainstream heavy metal circles it is considered only right to fill that exact number. No more, no less. A lot of death and black metal albums have veered slightly away from this rule and tend close their albums with eight or twelve tracks. Grindcore degenerates have never let numbers stand in their way and have completely given the finger to this rule as Repulsion, Napalm Death and Blood have shown us with their two-digit track lists.

The reason why more original and progressive-minded artists pay no attention to these unofficial guidelines is because whatever the artist has to say in an album should not be restricted by too many tracks. Even worse than being limited by the number of tracks is having to fill up tracks in order to reach the required number. This is precisely how we get the albums with “filler” tracks. Tracks nobody cares for but which make the album more “meaty” for those who care about such things.

More important than the adherence to a particular number of songs or tracks in an album is the fact that most bands produce precisely that: individual tracks bundled up in collections. This is Gorguts’ worse enemy even on their classic of classics. Every one of the songs up to the sixth track, Clouded, expresses a very distinct message in its method. After that, we basically get more of the same. The songs aren’t bad at all, but they do not add anything more to the album except extra minutes and more good songs whose essence is not any different from the ones before them. It’s basically thesaurus recitation.

Some propose that metal needs to look beyond the number, both as a rule and as a kind of indulgence. Just because that you have more songs does not mean you have to put them in the album. Just because you have more riffs does not mean they need a song to contain them. It is suggested that the album format in underground metal be exchanged for the classical opus format, where we have movements belonging to a coherent whole work, in which saying the same thing again and again is unnecessary and highly discouraged but in which consistency in style and voice is required to a healthy but not over-restrictive degree. Metal is not young anymore, the time to consciously take the step to the next level has come.

Corruption – Demos

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Following in the steps of Repulsion, mid-period Blood and Napalm Death, Honduran band Corruption write mid-paced Grindcore with lyrical content ranging from the socio-political to the more gore-oriented character. Corruption’s music also features tonal guitar solos that stress a dark mood rather than a wild outburst of chaos.

This self-titled demo released in early March 2015 is the culmination of a 5-year interaction between guitar player Manuel Velásquez and vocalist Ángel Mejía. The demos were recorded in december, 2014, under the following line up:

Manuel Velásquez – guitar and vocals
Christhofer Ayestas – guitar
Roberto Molina – bass
Arnold Flores – drums

The band has made this demo freely available. It has been reuploaded and can be downloaded here.

Nausea – Condemned to the System (2014)

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Yes, this is a metal blog, and yes, this is a punk album and also yes, people who try to be ironic are annoying. Nausea Condemned to the System is worth your time if you enjoy energetic and powerful music of any kind. Born out of a punk album, this half-hour terror extends to grindcore and the type of speed metal touches that influenced later 80s hardcore. Unlike most hybrids of this nature, Nausea fuses its influences into a singular voice.

Condemned to the System distinguishes it from thousands that wish to be like it by maintaining a high degree of internal contrast, dialogue between riffs, and compelling tempo changes in songs that develop from a central conflict and by doing so avoid the dual extremes of riff salad and endless loop that make many minimalistic albums as boring as listening to a diesel engine idle. Instead, these songs launch into verse chorus pairs shaped around a central conflict with discursive and transitional material allowing the central loop to take more form. Grindcore-style layering of riffs and instruments gives these songs additional power.

For punk purists, there may be too much emphasis on muted chords used to end phrases, and for metal purists, there may be too many straight-up punk riffs of the 1970s style, but when looked at from a distance, the singular voice of this band emerges. Tempos stay high and vocals incoherent, keeping the guitars and drums as the center of the band with guitars leading and drums producing a pulsing violence behind. Avoiding technical playing entirely, Nausea focus on paring down their songs until a unique form emerges, then playing it with full intensity. The result is an album of short glimpses of life portrayed with the manic intensity of a paranoiac on a four-gallon coffee break, capturing the alienation of punk without self-pity and the willpower of metal without posturing.

Carbonized – For the Security re-issue

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Vic Records plans to issue the first album from Stockholm death/grind experimentalists Carbonized, For the Security. The album will be re-issued on LP and CD on Vic Records, early 2015 including its original artwork, liner notes from Christoffer Johansson (Therion) and Piotr Wawrzeniuk (Therion) and two bonus tracks.

Carbonized was formed in 1988 by Lars Rosenberg as an early death metal band from Sweden. Many musicians to later go on to fame in the Swedish death metal underground participated at various times in Carbonized, including Matti Karki (Dismember / Carnage), Richard Cabeza (Unanimated / Dismember). Carbonized recorded two demos and one EP from 1989-1990. Shortly before recording its debut album, the band finalized the lineup that would last for all three albums: Lars Rosenberg (Entombed / Therion), Piotr Wawrzeniuk (Therion) and Christoffer Johansson (Therion).

For the Security was recorded at famous Sunlight Studios with Tomas Skogsberg but features more of a primitive angular grindcore sound, like Blood or Terrorizer, than the flowing and often too rock ‘n rolly for its own good Swedish death metal to follow. A classic of the early underground metal years, this album was previously re-issued on Nuclear Hell but without its iconic artwork and follows the Carbonized demos collection that came out two years ago.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-26-15

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Sturgeon’s law holds that 90% of everything is mediocre. This condition occurs because most people are not thinking at all about what they are doing. When they want to be important, they create a metal band to make them look important, instead of trying to make good music. With brutal cruelty and ecstatic sadism we separate the poseurs and tryhards from the real deal with Sadistic Metal Reviews

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Collision/The Rotted – Split

Three tracks comprise this aggressive split. Collision leads in with two tracks of rigid, violent grindcore which incorporates a few ideas from percussive death metal to give it additional crush. These tracks keep intensity through speed and chaotic blasting but harbor no surprises in chord progression of phrase, which makes them fun to listen to incidentally but perhaps nothing one would seek out. The Rotted on the other hand slashes out a single track of old-school hardcore with a catchy chorus, extremely rudimentary but melodically hookish riff balanced against a sawing (but not grinding) verse riff, and genre conventions from older punk. Both of these bands aim to uphold the genres they are from and do it competently but when a genre is well-established, every band is a local band until it rises above from some distinctive personality or idiosyncratic perception. They do not need to be “unique,” since such a thing has never really existed, but they must be their own creation. Both bands here feel like minor variations on known archetypes and, while competent, do not inspire particular allegiance. That being said, they both remain enjoyable for that local grindcore/band experience, and together these tracks enhance each other like memories of the set you saw while drinking craft beer and talking up that sexy Facebook consultant at a bar that has changed hands eleven times in the last quarter. It would be interesting to see what these bands did with a longer recording as that would put more pressure on them to differentiate style or at least expand upon it.

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Decline of the I – Rebellion

Someone raised this question the other day: is metalcore a new style, or simply incompetent death metal? After all, we had bands who tried that Pantera-Fugazi-Nasum hybrid stuff in the past and generally it turned out that they were simply terrible songwriters who had no idea how to focus on an idea and bring it to clarity. Similarly, one wonders about “post-metal.” Is this just idiots dressing up garbage and incompetence as the avantgarde, because that’s what the avantgarde really is? Seriously, I’d love to see one of these artists who makes sculptures of his own feces that interpret the metaphysics of Schopenhauer as quantum physics, for once, just for once, make a classically beautiful art work first so I don’t simply think he’s a Damien Hirsch style conjob. Decline of the I is really hilarious when you realize that it thrusts this question upon us. It sounds like stoned desperation with a home studio: random bits of metal songs that went nowhere, stitched together with what every 90s con man used in his band, the sampler. It doesn’t flow in any direction or express anything other than “moments” of perception, like standing on a street corner while two cars collide and a pigeon defecates on a 24-year-old copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Rebellion amalgamates speed metal, death metal and punk riffs together with a bunch of influences outside of metal. There is no continuity, only a series of exhibits like a subway train going through an art gallery. These clowns use the different styles as wallpaper slides to color otherwise empty music and hide the collection of hackneyed tropes made “new” by hackneyed avantgarde tomfoolery and snake oil salesperson confidence jobs. Even the most incompetent ordinary metal band is preferable because its dishonesty is limited to its music, while Decline of the I brings in every posture, pose, pretense and fabrication necessary to make this hacked-up studio defecation seem like music.

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Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat

It has often been suspected that bands, when they run out of actual motivation, pick one off the shelf to make themselves seem profound. Their profundity means our guilt if we do not buy the album because we have turned down a great gift to humanity, you dig? But the fact is that they went into the big closet of Hollywood motivations — the poor, the downtrodden, the children, suffering animals, drug addiction and being raped — and pulled out one giant compulsion to make you like their empty music. Napalm Death went down this route when after Fear, Emptiness, Despair guitarist Jesse Pintado embarked on a course of alcoholism so crippling he could not bail out the rest of the band anymore. That is too bad, since Pintado essentially revitalized the band and created three of their best albums with his homegrown grindcore know-how. Ever since then, Napalm Death has been wandering in a wilderness of not giving a damn buuutttt something needs to pay for this condo, so they puke out another album. Apex Predator – Easy Meat takes Napalm Death full cycle from a band that protested pop music to a band that makes the worst of pop. This pretense-pop would be OK if it were good pop, because then we could laugh off the guilt, but instead it is a series of very similar riffs that break into very similar choruses which cycle until the end with a few breaks that are almost visual or high school theater department drama because they are so transparent and obviously manipulative. It was embarrassing to be noticed listening to this because it is not just bad, it is inept; its ineptitude is covered up with rock star glitz and production, but it still sounds hollow and horrifyingly empty. Please, give these guys jobs in media relations because they are done as a band and this embarrassing formalization just removes whatever shreds of self-respect they once had.

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The Chasm – Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm

Although Daniel Corchado is obviously one of the most talented composers in underground metal, The Chasm does not present his best work. The appeal can be immediately seen: epic metal band with lengthy songs that play out internal conflicts in a way the audience can identify with. Under the hood, while there are some touches of DBC-style riffing, what greets us here is the cliches of 1980s speed metal with added progressive-ish fills that demonstrate guitar talent and knowledge of harmony. The songs remain basic when you factor these out, excepting the longer instrumental passages, which also rely on riffs from the past dressed up or lots of rhythmic downpicking that adds little other than keeping a place in the harmony. Additionally, occasionally comical vocals and a number of hackneyed metal stalwarts mar this release, but the real crisis here is the lack of interesting riffs, the shamminess of the songs in dressing up the mundane as exotic, and the coup de grace which is the inability of this album or its songs to convey an emotional experience outside of the music itself. They resemble nothing other than constant variations in a style of technical speed metal riffing that bands like Anacrusis made great by putting around evocative songs, but the latter part is missing here. Individual moments shine with the brilliance that can be expected of Corchado, and moments in songwriting show insight. The problem is that there needs to be more of the random or evocative in riffs, which would allow Corchado’s song structure ideas to take on significance, and less of the highly talented progressive tinged touches that are impressive on a guitar-playing level but compositionally, serve the role of filler. On the whole, this album resembles the kind of tuned-up musical entropy that all of us ran to death metal to escape around 1989 or so.

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Edge of Haze – Illumine

In theory, this should be hated: a hybrid of Gothic music, power metal and djent-inspired percussive speed metal. In reality, Edge of Haze restore balance to these genres by putting them in the right context. Speed metal is the hard rock of the 2010s, thirty years after its release, and updating it with a smary 1980s Gothic pop vocal and power metal “inspirational” choruses gives it the right context as the popular music of the age. It may be cheesy, as one might expect from these populist niche genres, but Edge of Haze seems at least comfortable in its own skin and the removal of the usual death metal vocals gives this album both greater levity and a greater intensity, as well as removing the crowding effect of harsh monotonic vocals. In addition, this re-introduces the voice as a melodic instrument which allows guitars to focus purely on rhythm and rudiments of harmony without losing direction to a song. Edge of Haze executes this hybrid well by capturing the dark pop aspects of Gothic and creating for them a framing of boldly abrasive metal that runs the gamut of styles from the last three decades without creating an oil-on-water effect by having those styles dominant the rhythm and song structure for a segment so that other parts seem like extra organs in a cadaver, puzzling the drunken pathologist at 4 AM as he files the report on the latest Jane Doe. Edge of Haze present something as intense as nu-metal but with a darker aesthetic that carries more gravitas than the dad-hating victimhood affirmation that nu-metal conveyed, also removing the rap/rock beats and making a form of popular metal that can be not only relatively heavy, but have a grace of beauty in darkness, and still write some quality pop songs. Aesthetically, this makes my skin crawl; musically, it is well-done and should be praised for putting this style of music in the context it warrants and deserves.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qw8qJedbrjA

Various Artists – Basic Needs

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The Basic Needs compilation of New England metal and hardcore punk bands can be heard online and purchased on cassette for those who wish to own a physical copy. Promoted by the shadowy forces behind Codex Obscurum zine, Basic Needs contains fourteen tracks of varied material from almost as many different bands, so it makes sense to review them by track.

  1. Sagnus – “Gaspipe”
    This track starts off in a death metal vein but rapidly descends into bluesy heavy metal with updated technique like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul. Nicely compact with no surprises but also no random or pointless bits, it fades out into noise.
  2. Human Bodies – “Stygian Reverie”
    Very much in the tradition of older hardcore but with black metal styled vocals, this Human Bodies track puts a new face on a familiar riff style and adds a Discharge-like chaotic solo, but otherwise sticks to fairly standard song form but keeps energy high.
  3. PanzerBastard – “Workhorse”
    Essentially d-beat hardcore, complete with broken rhythms and surging double-hit riffs, this song showcases high energy with emphasis on vocalizations.
  4. Sexcrement – “Chemical Handcuffs”
    This track starts off as pounding death metal but detours into a hard rock/heavy metal number that shows the band setting up a groove and more internal harmony, which actually makes the chromatic passages seem less intense.
  5. Suffer on Acid – “Ride the Light”
    Raging high-intensity hardcore from the “blurcore” style that emerged when the punk stalwarts confronted the horror of post-hardcore, Suffer on Acid creates music from fast simple riffs with exasperated shouting over the top. This track begins with a Black Sabbath style introduction riff that sets a mood to be destroyed which it is, amiably, by a thrash-style burst of collisive riffing and a classic hardcore punk extended chorus riff.
  6. Living Void – “Auxiliary Conspiracy”
    Writing in the fast style of death metal that bands like Deteriorate and Nokturnel pioneered before Angelcorpse, Living Void charge ahead with a series of quality riffs but then slow things up for a trudge/groove passage. The former strikes more than the latter.
  7. Suffer on Acid – “Terminal”
    Much in the style of the former track, “Terminal” relies more on vocal rhythmic hook and uses a standoffish groove more than burst but fits in lots of vocal rage and fast classic hardcore riffs to match.
  8. Living Void – “Categorizing Woe”
    This track starts with a doom metal promenade, then drops into trope of muted downstroke before bursting into high energy speeding death metal complete with blast beats and ripping choruses, the detouring into a darker and more black metal styled cycle.
  9. Ramlord – “Distant/Detach”
    At its heart, this track is older speed metal updated with death metal stylings to give it energy and more fluid transitions, but falls back into trope rhythm of vocals/drums in which the guitars drop like an interchangeable part. Some interesting black metal styled melodic work later in the track.
  10. Grue – “All Mortal Greatness is Disease”
    Beginning as a sentimental heavy metal/melodic black metal track in the Eucharist or Dawn variety, but then diverges into a chanted delivery of later Bathory-styled vocals over trudging rhythm riffs alternated with fast melodic hardcore riffing.
  11. Word of Unmaking – “In the Crypt of Dead Values”
    A Tangerine Dream style dronescape peppered with acoustic guitars and vocal samples, this track develops from linear into cyclic and recedes, leaving behind a homeostatic hint of atmosphere, then expands into a funeral doom track with articulated riffs like those from early Ceremonium.
  12. Fórn – “Dasein”
    What’s with all the Heidegger worship recently? This sludgy doom metal track follows the Winter model of slong grinding chord progressions with lots of fills from noise and vocals, changing riffs relatively frequently over this nine-minute track.
  13. Morne – “Coming of Winter”
    Sounding like a heavier version of Pelican, this band creates droning indie-influenced doom metal with heavy stoner doom elements and a hoarse plaintive vocal.

Of unusually high quality for a local compilation, Basic Needs shows a wide variety of the more promising bands in New England. Living Void, Word of Unmaking and Suffer on Acid strike me as the standouts which interest me in investigating further but there were no complete dead moments.

Death metal playlist for Ebola ravaging the world

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As the Ebola virus continues to ravage Africa and spreads into America and Europe, it may be time to get over our squeamishness and explore the wealth of death metal that can be played as we all get headaches, have flu-like symptoms, and finally pass out in pools of blood expelled from our various orifices.

With the help of our readers, we’ve assembled an all-star death metal, grindcore and black metal playlist for Ebola fanatics:

  1. Baphomet – “Infection of Death” (The Dead Shall Inherit)
  2. Carcass – “Vomited Anal Tract” (Reek of Putrefaction)
  3. Pestilence – “Chronic Infection” (Consuming Impulse)
  4. Autopsy – “Ridden With Disease” (Severed Survival)
  5. Blood – “Ebola” (Gas Flames Bones)
  6. Banished – “Diseased Chaos” (Deliver Me Unto Pain)
  7. Suffocation – “Mass Obliteration” (Effigy of the Forgotten)
  8. Morbid Angel – “Angel of Disease” (Abominations of Desolation)
  9. Beherit – “Suck My Blood” (Engram)
  10. Immolation – “Fall in Disease” (Dawn of Possession)
  11. Repulsion – “Pestilent Decay” (Horrified)
  12. Dead Infection – “Start Human Slaughter” (Surgical Disembowelment)
  13. Blasphemy – “Weltering In Blood” (Fallen Angel of Doom)
  14. Mortuary – “Sickish Disease” (Blackened Images)
  15. Obituary – “Infected” (Cause of Death)
  16. Von – “Satanic Blood” (Satanic Blood)

And to kick it off, a rip of Blood’s on-topic 1998 hit, “Ebola”:

Sadistic Metal Reviews 09-18-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When Hessians decide they are sick of every random person tagging along for the glory of metal while making the same dreck that big media pushes on us through the pop industry. Make art, make it violent and aggressive, be truthful… or go home as we enjoy your delicious tears.

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Siftercide – Siftercide

Some time ago there was much ruckus in the press because people were using the word “retarded” as a synonym for “extremely stupid.” This died down when people realized that retarded people are actually extremely stupid, generally in the 60-70 IQ range which is typical for Congress but very low for normal people. Siftercide is retarded. The basic idea was to make deathgrind at fast grindcore pace and throw in a few dissonant chords to try to hide the fact that these riffs are boring, these songs are predictable, and this music will generate a headache not because it’s extreme but because it is like listening to a jet engine. Really, screw this. It’s not worth your time or mine.

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Ormgard – Ormblot

Underground metal typically occurs at three speeds: the tempo set by the percussion, the pace of changing chords, and the iteration of tremolo strum. Ormgard makes black metal which frequently slows down the first two with the latter at full pace, creating the kind of atmospheric black metal that distinguished early Behemoth or Ungod. Much of this picks up the straight fast pace of classic black metal with relatively straightforward chord progressions that emphasize melody. Keyboards and howling possum in pain vocals accompany it; the album is sandwiched between two imaginative instrumentals that evoke the feeling of the ancient era. In mood, this album most resembles a less-Gothic version of the first Gehenna work, but picks up the energy like early Ancient to create a sense of conflict and desperation. While this breaks no new ground stylistically, that never struck most metal fans as important. Comparisons to Abigor will be hard to dodge, especially the Orkblut era, and while they are apt aesthetically, Ormgard spreads out further than Abigor for an approach more like that of the original black metal bands exploding from Norway in the early 1990s. Ormblot channels its power into a faithful exploration of this genre and while not strikingly interesting, holds the attention by being non-random and carefully manipulating mood to dark effect.

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Nocturnal Graves – From the Bloodline of Cain

The term metalheads generally use for bands such as this is “straightahead.” Straight out of the 1980s but with black metal vocals, it is high-speed basic riffs and catchy but binary songs. If you did not get enough of Aura Noir, or have an urge to re-live Slaughter Lord in simpler form, this may appeal, but the fundamental lack of musical motion or depth makes this a hard sell for the experienced metalhead. While the aesthetics have changed somewhat, this style of really basic riffing and exuberant simple songwriting has not evolved in 30 years. Its attempts to become more high-intensity end up being repetitive and it flows by and is forgotten when silence returns.

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Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless

If you are not fully paying attention, this album might sound like a good thing. Its style is pure Angelcorpse mated with 1970s heavy metal and some Southern Rock; its approach is to pack in extra riffs to interrupt a verse-chorus loop that focuses on the vocal rhythm of the chorus. No flaws in musicianship, vocals are vicious, but the songs do not really go anywhere. Or maybe a better way to say this is that these songs sound like academic exercises, laboratory experiments or designs on paper: they relate well to their parts but the whole is nothing larger than the linear sum of the parts. The result is much frenetic pounding and guitar raging, hooks grasping at your ears, and then a sense of disappointment as songs drill toward an end that means nothing more than the start. As the album goes on, more of the 1970s hard rock and metal riffs come out to fill space but the result remains uncompelling. This band is more competent than any others in this style but the style itself lacks any grasp on matters of importance and seems to be the metal equivalent of late-night TV. The Hod album we reviewed recently is a better take on this style.

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Colombian Necktie – Twilight Upon Us

Before Kurt Cobain shot himself in a heroin-induced haze, he was fond of saying that metal was out of ideas during the most fertile time in metal history since its inception. If he were around today, however, he would find metalheads buying him beers for saying that metal has run up the flag saying that it is out of ideas. Sludge, not really a hybrid of metal, happens when you mix stoner doom with slow hardcore and probably dates its innovation to the first three Eyehategod albums and slow Integrity songs. Colombian Necktie mix up the dirge-like rage-infused passages of those bands with ordinary Southern-fried rock played uptempo to keep your attention. Nothing stands out as horrible but the whole lacks any compulsion for a listener interested in content. You might as well listen to Huey Lewis and the News if you slow it down and run it through a distortion pedal, because in its core that is what Colombian Necktie and all bands in the sludge style seem to be heading for. If you read it cynically, it is another take on grunge music, which is basically hardcore bands making rocking music and trying to cloak it in metal aesthetics. If you look at any piece of these albums, it is hard to find fault, but if you listen to the whole, you will fall asleep standing up. Most reviewers get their albums free and hear them once and then give it a thumbs up so that the reviewers get promoted along the line by labels who love their spunky and wacky reviews. But if you look at music as a fan, anything you can only listen to one time and do not immediately want to hear again is off the menu, as it should be for Twilight Upon Us and its ilk.