In the latest of what are assured to be profitable sporting events, Metallica will perform their 4th “Metallica Night” at AT&T Park on May 6th, 2016, alongside a baseball game featuring the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies. This ungainly combination of baseball and metal music is sure to make a lot of money. Now, stadium performances are a pretty common choice for bands of Metallica’s commercial stature, but they’re usually not interleaved between innings of baseball like this. Furthermore, the Giants host an enormous amount of special events to liven up their seasons, so maybe their acquisition of Metallica’s services isn’t so out of the ordinary. In the end, an opportunity for those who like both (they of exquisite taste), and the punchline of a joke that’s yet to be written for everyone on DMU.
Having never heard of Gama Bomb before this album, after the first few moments of music I was afraid that I had gotten ahold of some sort of the modern-faux-thrash-revival that is somehow cool to people who don’t listen to thrash bands. But I was wrong; Untouchable Glory is not a forced revival or a rip-off; it’s just dumb music. This not to say that the guys in the band are dumb, because they clearly have practiced their musicianship and are attentive to the dynamics and compositional symmetry in their songs. But the result of what they do is still dumb, and apparently they want it that way.
The basis of Gama Bomb’s style is made up of high-speed two- or three-chord minor riffs over which a vocalist rants and chants cleverly cadenced lyrics with just enough emphasis that his voice never becomes a full-on yell but keeps up (barely) enough energy to avoid sounding bored. A typical Untouchable Glory song starts up at full-speed right out of the gate and rushes through a verse, then hits you with slightly bouncier, chunkier variation of the same riff you just heard (but transposed a few steps up or down) as the drums switch from dense d-beats to a sort of swaggering rock rhythm. After that comes the chorus, which is usually not made up of a more interesting riff but does have some very catchy vocal pattern that, coupled with the rapid-fire lyrics, creates a hook powerful enough to snag a whale. Some songs have guitar leads and these are mostly made of 16th-note blather with no discernible direction other than back and forth because that’s the extent of the movement of the chords. There are a couple of times where the chords underneath the lead shift unexpectedly and the lead follows (which undermines the purpose of a lead! Maybe I shouldn’t be calling the guitar antics “leads”…) and resolves the progression in a viscerally satisfying way. However this satisfying resolution is all too rare and the guitar leads rather serve as marks of distinction among the generally formulaic songs.
So far, I’ve only pointed out common failings of metal albums – probably more than 95% of all metal commits the transgressions that I’ve detailed above. So what makes Untouchable Glory worse than a mediocre album is the purpose mentioned in the first paragraph? Gama Bomb is made up of competent musicians, but they have no ambition. Every song sticks to the same method of structure and dynamic manipulation. Every lead begins and ends in the same way. The band must rely on their vocalist and his method of delivery, which does a great job to augment the repetitious rhythm of the guitars, but this only exposes the weakness in the guitar and drum composition, because the vocals never let up or give the music a chance to expand beyond its immediate template. Typically I’d refer to chord progressions when describing song structure but the chord patterns that make up the songs on Untouchable Glory don’t progress, they just recycle. This tendency in the composition reflects the band’s attitude toward metal (and presumably music) as a whole.
The ultimate failure of this album is not in its compositional shortcomings but in its intentional stupidity. Song subjects cover kitsch and cliche topics such as getting high, getting drunk, hating authority, burning witches, being a ninja, and being undead. That these topics are dealt with is not enough to warrant criticism, but the self-consciously ironic attitude that Gama Bomb takes towards the topics is what separates them from quality acts that they are aping. Metal and punk bands have been covering these topics for decades but they didn’t have their tongues in their cheeks while doing so. Since those topics were taboo, metal bands explored new methods of song construction to fit with such uncomfortable or repulsive themes and great music was created as a result (and I always refer the uninitiated to Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” or Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” for an example of how musicality and lyrics support one another to establish and expand on a theme). Meanwhile, Gama Bomb have nothing new to say about any of these topics and so it would logically follow that they needn’t invent any new music to support their take on the topics. Thus all we get to hear is basically a parody of speed metal and thrash. If you think that type of music deserves to be joked about, then Gama Bomb might be right for you. If, however, you appreciate and honor the innovators who brought extreme subjects into popular music and brainstormed methods of expressing them musically and lyrically, then you’d best move along, because Untouchable Glory is an affront to honesty.
I found myself interested in Vektor after discovering their studio albums late in 2011. Essentially an extreme speed metal band that at times reminds me of a souped up Destruction (although their visual imagery is clearly patterned off Voivod), Vektor demonstrates great technical ability and knowledge, but more importantly writes coherent and well structured songs that allow them to effectively use their prowess to explore interesting musical ideas and to illustrate science fiction/dystopian themes. “Ultimate Artificer”, off the upcoming Terminal Redux, tends to favor the melodic and consonant side of the band’s work. It is still representative of their overall sound, and certainly should be of value to anyone interested in this genre or Vektor’s overall themes. Terminal Redux is currently scheduled for release on March 11th, 2016.
This track calls to mind the more underground edge of the 1985-1987 period. Its roots lie in speed metal and hardcore crossover, with much of its riffing relying on the type of heavily-downpicked recursive patterns that Metallica would have used if they, like hardcore bands, wanted to quiver on the edge of dissonance. The trudging riffing picks up the pace and is balanced by full-on necrotic underground metal vocals, dropping into a mid-paced groove with lots of chromatic riffs with more abrupt changes that you would see in speed metal. The vocals tend to carry this with a full mucosal drip distorted as if shouts after a bombing raid as the city burns. Would like to hear more from this band.
Enforcer has colonized 1983 and created an album that synthesizes much of that era’s above-ground metal, along with some careful additions from early speed/power metal into a coherent and musically proficient, if not particularly inventive whole. When you take into mind that there was just as much disposable crap being released then as now (at least by ratios), this probably pulls ahead of much of its inspirations for taking advantage of the historical perspective granted by 30 years of hindsight. Whether or not that’s enough to make it worthwhile is one of the questions I had on my mind as I evaluated From Beyond.
In general, my reason for judging Enforcer’s work by this criterion is that many of the bands in their lineage had some affinity for extending and elaborating on their songwriting. Iron Maiden is an obvious choice, with their occasional ’80s diversions into progressive rock inspired content. Enforcer, however, also heeds the call of their more commercial ancestors, showcasing slightly glam-tinged vocals and the occasional straight up rock riff or progression. It seems that the various tracks on From Beyond are separated by substyle – compare fast but simplistic tracks like the album lead-in (“Destroyer”) to the longer and more elaborate ones that end LP sides (“Below the Slumber”, “Mask of Red Death”); this variety between tracks may very well be inspired by a variety of influences, but even Enforcer’s antecedents managed to incorporate many disparate musical ideas into their own works. Enforcer manages to retain some stylistic consistency while doing so, but that’s such a basic requirement that this review would be far more negative if the band failed to do so.
But I digress – From Beyond is ahead of most of the traditional/speed metal revivalists, and at the very least it succeeds as a modernization and synthesis of the various movements in early 1980s metal, without falling too deep into the trap of pandering to its audience. I feel it would be better still if it further built off its style to create more elaborate and varied works still, but based on what they’ve done already I’d put Enforcer on my list of “bands likely to improve over time”. Furthermore, I’d recommend this album on its own strengths – its virile and musically talented performance, its strong production, and overtures towards expanding on the stereotypical ’80s metal sounds, although I don’t know how long it’ll stay fresh compared to the brightest lights of the past.
Band and album names often reveal the character of the music contained in detail, but the art of discerning or intuiting these things requires some experience as well as conscious and active attention to correlations. A tongue-in-cheek and mainstream-friendly name like Diavolos already conveys an ironic attitude towards the genre itself. A empty and virtually meaningless album name like You Lived, Now Die lets through the stink of missionless, anarchist fun.
All that said, Diavolos does excel in its technical application and configuration of riffs and riff compendiums as a progressions. But this is only skin deep and it is right after middle of songs that their lack starts to show in the need for solos sections that break off from the initial idea only to connect with a speeding outro. These songs are built and pieced together as IKEA furniture. Cheap and convenient.
Diavolos’ You Lived, Now Die will prove an entertaining listen to those with a weakness for eighties Teutonic speed metal, but will probably not be spun more than once or twice as it provides little that cannot be found in older bands. I am guessing that the bet of a label on this is just to keep presenting the same thing in a new package. This works only because most are too lazy to explore and actually listen to the music, which would reveal most of this second-rate vanity as completely redundant and even more importantly, unable to achieve valuable communication.
Texas speed metal band Rigor Mortis, famed for their fast strum and melodic but savage riffs, have released Part 1 of the documentary about the band, Welcome to Your Funeral: The Story of Rigor Mortis, which covers the formation of the band up through 1987.
During their time, Rigor Mortis slashed out three albums and an EP, and influenced both death metal and black metal bands with their style and technique. The band describes the release with the following:
A film by Michael Huebner of 12 Pound Productions
Directed by Bruce Corbitt
Narrated by Philip H. Anselmo.
Running time is 110 minutes with 33 minutes of bonus material.
This is the story of North Texas-based Rigor Mortis and the meteoric rise of one of the most original and influential speed metal bands of all time. The stranger-than-fiction rollercoaster ride that has to be seen to be believed. This film takes you back to the earliest beginnings of the band, through their highly controversial signing to Capitol Records in 1987. The infamous Rigor Mortis…
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Of Metal!
Cast in Order Of Appearance
Philip H. Anselmo
Turner Scott Van Blarcum
Plus of course we can’t forget… featuring the music of Rigor ‘Fucking’ Mortis!
You can acquire your copy through the Rigor Mortis Documentary Store.
A landmark in underground metal has been allowed to be 30 years old for some time now. We can’t have that, can we? Seven Churches is sometimes labeled the first “death metal” album by members of the press. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that, but it’s a crucial link between earlier speed metal and more advanced recordings that would come out only a year later. Musically, this fits in well with many of its immediate proto-underground contemporaries, like Bathory, Celtic Frost (at least on their faster material), and perhaps Show No Mercy era Slayer, although it benefits from an especially clear and powerful production given its vintage. Later works by the band more closely resemble extreme, souped up speed metal than the more evolved recordings of the late ’80s, but this album came in at just the right time to directly influence many aspiring (or at least aspirating) metalheads.
Texas heavy metal band Obscure Oracle has released its latest work, a track which takes us back to both the early 1980s and its grandiose power metal, and an improved version of the melodic death metal of the mid-90s. “Pray for Nothing” features 1980s style choruses with less repetitive verses than bands of that nature would use, sliding into melodic guitar riffing that would have At the Gates envious, but used sparingly like an Iron Maiden/Judas Priest era band would have used. This track foreshadows great things to come from this original Texan band! Because it is a sneak preview, you cannot hear the track at this time, but you can catch the band live just a few months ago:
Two tours of note today. First, and presumably better, is Voivod’s impending US tour. The band is currently traveling through Europe with Napalm Death and Obituary as part of Deathcrusher 2015. This February, they will join Vektor and Eight Bells for what is mostly a tour of the eastern USA, with some later dates in the Midwest. If an interview from February 2015 is to be believed, an album (and one that may be more overtly progressive rock oriented than usual for the band) is coming some time next year; the splits with At the Gates and Napalm Death that it mentions appear to have released without issues. The tour dates follow:
2/06 – Providence, RI – Fete Ballroom
2/07 – New York, NY – Gramercy Theatre
2/08 – Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Neck Tie
2/09 – Morgantown, WV – Mainstage
2/10 – Pittsburgh, PA – Altar Bar
2/11 – Asbury Park, NJ – Stone Pony
2/12 – Lancaster, PA – Chameleon Club
2/13 – Washington, DC – Black Cat
2/14 – Richmond, VA – Strange Matter
2/16 – Raleigh, NC – Kings
2/18 – Charlotte, NC – Neighborhood Theatre
2/19 – Sanford, FL – West End Trading Co.
2/20 – Ybor City, FL – The Orpheum
2/21 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade
2/22 – Knoxville, TN – The Concourse
2/24 – Chicago, IL – The Abbey Pub
2/25 – Cudahy, WI – The Metal Grill
2/26 – St Paul, MN – The Amsterdam
2/27 – Omaha, NE – Waiting Room
2/28 – St. Louis, MO – Firebird
3/03 – Ferndale, MI – The Loving Touch
I could theoretically make it to the Rhode Island show, and I am certainly interested in doing so, but we’ll have to see how things shape up in the next few months.