Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Una Bèstia Incontrolable “Metamorfosi”

Una Bèstia Incontrolable
La Vida Es Un Mus

I am constantly at war with the immediate need to genrefy everything that floats through the invisible waves of sound to eventually settle heavily on my brain. This occurs even when an artist is entirely unclassifiable. It’s especially discomfiting when a lot of what I hear has no such relatable effect. Hell, I’d even push that so far as to say that most of what I hear in passing has no resounding or lasting impact on me emotionally or even philosophically.

It’s no surprise then that when I listen to ‘Metamorfosi’ by Barcelona’s Una Bèstia Incontrolable that it immediately and intrinsically harkens back to some of the more challenging works of audial art that I’ve summarily been subjected to since my obsession with music first took hold. Neurosis’ ‘Souls At Zero’ would be a fine initial point of reference along with the epic masterpiece ‘Lach!’ by the German avant-crust group Ambush. ‘Il Seme Della Devianza’ by Italian anarchist collective Contropotere, too, and I’d be remiss not to drop Rorschach’s ‘Protestant’ in that same hat. But this mammoth of sound also reminds me of Neu! and Sonic Youth by proxy, Faust and Ararat probably because the latter is Argentinian which is in no way the same as Una Bèstia Incontrolable being fucking Spanish…

I digress.

I’ve spent this time rambling instead of conveying what this album even sounds like. I think at its heart it’s only classifiable as punk because that’s the scene from which the members hail… specifically under the crust banner with names like Mobcharge and Totälickers under their belts. This is journey music, though, fit for entrancement. Full of swells and climaxes and build-ups and crescendos. It is music meant to see the listener surpass insurmountable odds under the guise of being meditatively dour and taciturn.

Guillem Cortés’ guitars are a cacophonous tornado of HM2 fed distortion overdriven by a Way Huge Swollen Pickle. That’s speculation, of course, but his playing is sinewy and snakelike when soloing which recalls the forlorn and melancholic soundtracks accompanying the films of Leone, Corbucci or Castellari. It’s an evocation not often achieved within punk, let alone other styles of subversive music.

The bass playing is a driving pulse, propelled by Daniel Muerte here to keep the rest of the composition from flying off the rails along with the militaristic rhythms of Letxón’s percussion. Both elements driving steadily and increasing in urgency until the few moments where Una Bèstia Incontrolable is unleashed into a flurry of hardcore madness and cacophony.

Probably one of the most important elements of the album, or really anything touched by the band, is the inimitable vocals of Xavi, whose cadence and accents watermark the album and give it even further distinction from their hardcore peers. His lyrics are deceptively inaccessible and are printed both in the native Spanish as well as English and their seeming simplicity belies the need to be more verbose. His topics are heady to say the least, encompassing all manner of ego, emotive and exasperated lamentations of urbanization and the loss of cultural identity. I expect, though, that due to the prose, the lyrical meaning of the album will be interpreted differently by any who listen.

Suffice to say I am enthralled by this release. It’s so many things without conforming to any sort of genre convention or disappointing predictability that often weighs heavily upon offerings within the punk or metal worlds. It’s challenging without sacrificing accessibility, uplifting in its quandary of philosophy or humanity. An aural blast of desert-toned fuzzy warmth and fucking bleakness of the concrete jungle stealing culture and identity. It’s stellar, and in short one of the most compelling things I think I’ll have the privilege to hear in 2017.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: Death Karma - The History of Death and Burial Rituals Part 1

High concept black metal has always been exceptionally curious in my mind. Mixing lo-fi adversarial vitriol with obscurely related, often threadbare themes that fray under scrutiny. I'd be remiss not to mention, however, that the trend backpedaled into something almost transcendent with albums like Blut Aus Nord's Work Which Transforms God or Deathspell Omega's oft' cited Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice. These were albums that inherently sought to elevate the medium above the too often perceived graininess and unlistenability of too many 2nd-wave bands to even begin to mention.

Since then many bands have attempted to do the same, and often with varying results that lean toward impressive. Most notably over the course of the last several years, and especially several awesome opuses from 2014, including works by Abigor, Nightbringer, and Lvcifyre. None of the aforementioned, however, did as much to distance their album from satanic metal orthodoxy then perhaps Cult of Fire's मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान, which went immense lengths to blend traditional Indian instrumentation and scales with goddess Kali worshipping ideology... especially for a band from the Czech Republic.

It's appropriate then, that Death Karma is comprised of members Tom Coroner and Infernal Vlad, both of Cult of Fire infamy and that they manage to transpose ascendant ideas to this project as well. Said in simple terms, The History of Death and Burial Rituals Part 1 is exactly what the title implies, but to leave it so simply coined would be doing the record a huge disservice.

Rather than champion satanic religious fervor, this LP is a meditation surrounding six cultures' funeral practices and how death is distinctly observed by each of the represented subjects. Both a long lament for those who have passed as well as a celebration for what might unfold beyond the veil. Subjective, yes, but it is also oozing with empathy and respect for each cultural practice, seeking to imbue the listener with some sense of how the spirit is ushered from one life to the next and the common thread that ties them all together.

Musically this is black metal... everything present on the album is indicative of the genre, but superlative. Guitars are a churning maelstrom of buzzsawing intensity that dip into black/death territory on occasion, but never fully succumb to it. You can't help but hear exceptional chorus effects and small delay on these monstrous riffs. There is simultaneously the weep of tremolo picked vitriol as well as a melancholic tonality that more often than not revels in being secretly celebratory.

As far as the rhythm section here is concerned, bass and drums work in sync with one another. There are blast beats for days, and fills that work perfectly for the scales being explored by the guitars. There is also plenty of room for the bass instrumentation to shine, given a HUGE bottom end that swells and gallops when not blasting like artillery.

Some of the highest musical points on the album are when all three elements- guitar, bass, drums- are perfectly synchronized in a crescendoing fervor of black metal bliss. A perfect example being the 30 second mark of track five, "India - Towers of Silence" where everything gels and assaults in monolithic grandeur. Which is not ta say that's the first high point here by any means. It's one of many on an album that never ceases to surprise or thrill with its innovations and supremacy.

Atmospherically, few albums so far this year stretch themselves to the limits shown by Death Karma. There are symphonic elements that simply add to the superb grandiosity of the thing. I'm not talking cheesy orchestral hits a'la Dimmu Borgir or the suffocatingly hokey keyboard wankery of early era Gehenna. In tandem with the rest of the instrumentation here it's just as subtly nuanced as everything else these two musicians have put on display. Sonically, compositionally, and thematically masterful, it's safe to say that I can't wait to hear what they explore with the inevitable The History of Death and Burial Rituals Part 2.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Another List: 25 Years of Music Geekdom Compiled into 10 Goddamn Albums

Never let it be said that I don't love compiling lists. Whether they're year end lists, best in genre lists, or as is the case with my last entry here, most overlooked lists. I think a huge contributing factor as to what it is exactly about lists that I love, it's that it allows me to take stock of things that have maintained a consistent impact on me, whether that be cinema, literature, or in this case music.

The challenge here is that rather than tackling isolated genres, I'm approaching music in general. While a fair amount of what you read here will be extreme, it's not going to all be metal. The task is made even more ponderous by the fact that I've been pursuing the cultural phenomenon of music as a whole for the last twenty-five plus years of my life. Bear in mind that everything you read here is entirely subjective... as there's nothing more subjective than music in my opinion.

Anyway, I digress... this is a topic that I've been contemplating for a long time. You'd think that the idea of listing the ten most important overall albums from my perception would have occurred to me prior to now, and in fact it has but I've always just considered the task too daunting to pursue. I was recently motivated again on this front in part by YouTube contributor Kanyon Bickel, and you can find his video in question here. So without any further ado, let's get into it:

Neurosis - Souls at Zero

This album along with few others in its day completely changed my life. First hearing this in 1993, I'd had no warning of what I was in store for, and vague familiarity with Neurosis' previous two full lengths Pain of Mind or Word as Law was hardly preparation for what lies within Souls at Zero.

Carrying an emotional heft that I was ill prepared for, and the most crushing apocalyptic dirges that I could fathom at the time. There is a depth to the instrumentation that even now is mostly unmatched by modern bands, along with the vocalizations of the three men behind the mics. The production is dense and claustrophobic and the sampling fits the lyrical themes with a perfection that few other bands can muster.

While each track more than holds up on their own, this is a work that begs to be taken in as a whole and now, 23 years after its initial release it still gives me chills. There aren't many other things out there that elicit an even remotely similar response in me, and from the onset of "To Crawl Under One's Skin" to the seismic crescendo of "Takeahnase" and dour "Empty"... I'm hard pressed to come up with another album as viscerally compelling or wholly realized, including later albums by Neurosis. This is what I hear in my head when I think about the world's end, and it's terrifying.

Incantation - Onward to Golgotha

Here's another 1992 release that while often imitated will never be reproduced. I would venture to posit that Onward to Golgotha went so far as to completely change the face of death metal as a whole upon being unleashed. Nothing before or since has been as enthrallingly and terrifyingly guttural or downtuned, doom-ridden, or densely evil (aside from maybe the demos that preceded this, Blasphemous Cremation). Pillards vocals have been imitated more times than can be counted, but at the time this came out, and even when I first heard this, no other throat in death metal could roar with such devastation.

Every track on Onward to Golgotha crushes in a relentless journey that lasts 45 bewildering minutes and this was actually the first death metal album that I became obsessed with, picking it up for the first time when Mortal Throne of Nazarene was released. I loved both instantly, but this is the one that I have always come back to. It is distinctly evil and venomous, lacking the cartoonishness of Deicide, the cult obscurity of Cianide, or the ego stroking of Morbid Angel. That's likely why it was so simultaneously exhilarating and scary, because it was also clearly genuine and uncompromisingly sinister.

McEntee and Pillard's guitars are perfect, the bass of Ronny Deo beautifully muddy and syrupy, and Jim Roe's drumming was without peer. When people wonder why so many modern death metal bands are playing in this vein, I point to this record: a perfectly composed statement of misanthropy and deathly doom.

Rudimentary Peni - Cacophony

Cacophony is as its name would imply: a noisy dervish of a punk album played with little heed to structure or decency. It is also one of the most uniquely written and cohesively conceptual albums I've ever heard.

As a complex ode to HP Lovecraft it's without peer in and outside of its genre, replicating the chaos of the authors mind in the guise of dissonant punk rock just as informed by Bauhaus, Christian Death, or Alien Sex Fiend as it is by Crass, Icons of Filth, or Deviated Instinct. It's a gorgeous amalgamation of bouncy, bass heavy early 80's No Wave and UK punk that is both profanely ribald and frustratingly suppressed. A dichotomy of subversiveness and accessibility that makes it infinitely listenable despite its maelstrom of musical chaos.

This album found its way into my hands during a time that I was particularly obsessed with the works of Lovecraft, and this insight to the life of the author went leaps and bounds to weed its way into my emotional clutches. From Nick Blinko's characterized vocal performance to the abstract nature of the track flow, equal parts music and conceptual spoken bits. That it holds up today as well as it did then a testament to uniqueness and songwriting as true artistic craft.

Lurker of Chalice - Self Titled

Lurker of Chalice's only full length is the watermark by which I judge all other black metal. It's a perfect marriage of misanthropic USBM and the woeful melancholy of death rock and goth obscurity. It's also emotionally disturbing and psychically visceral, oozing with density and vehemence.

I had heard Jef Whitehead's other projects at the point I first came across this album in 2005, the same month as Leviathan's Silhouette in Splinters. I was especially fond of the first Twilight album as well as Leviathan's own Tentacles of Whorror, which despite their own distressing natures, don't even scratch the surface when it comes to the contents of this sole Lurker of Chalice album. Misanthropically obtuse, bewilderingly forlorn, cacophonously cavernous... underneath its jarring complexities, its gut-wrenching songcraft is also liltingly beautiful and masterfully layered.

The music is phenomenal; operatic even. There is a depth to the guitar playing and bass work and drum patterns that exposes Wrest's psyche like an open book. Tormented and distraught, and disturbingly alone. But for me its also optimistic in that the headspace of its author was a shared and identifiable phase, overcome by the wisdom allowed by the progression of time.

Burning Witch - Towers

Towers is probably the most hateful and vitriolic piece of doom metal composed for its time, 1998. Comparable to the misanthropy of early Electric Wizard or the slow motion apocalypse of Winter's slowed down Hellhammer worship, it stood on its own in terms of shrill venom. The plodding and heaving brutality of this EP is like a wrestling match between celestial bodies. Thick, tuned as low as they could go while remaining discernible.

When I bought this album so many years ago, it stayed on the turntable indefinitely. A staple of my room, amid the smell of bongwater and cigarette exhaust, bottom shelf whiskey and 22 year old angst. Feel bad music, for sure, but I could find something in each track that just elated me despite what some might call abusive replaying.

The vocals are a shrill exhortation that berates and defiles while the guitars are only interested in finding that perfect fugue of distortion and reverb soaked pummeling. The bass is seismic. And those drums methodically go for the throat like a feral dog force fed ludes and barbiturates. Martial thundering that never wavers in intensity. Just perfect.

Nausea - Extinction

Hands down my favorite crust record ever recorded. A testament of fevered, apocalyptic prophesy while at the same time viciously atheistic and angrily representative of a culture of perceived as gutter people. Extinction rails against technology and religion with equal vitriol championing heathen ludditism, while being scarily prescient throughout the decades since its release.

Musically, this is an inferno of metallic crust that ups antes set by the likes of Final Conflict, Crucifix, or Septic Death. Al's and Amy's vocals an impassioned trade off of exasperated tirades and snarled spite while Victor's guitar work is both indicative of the genre and an elevated example of overlooked complexity whose bounds exceed simple crust punk. The bass is rich and resonates distinctly in rhythm with Roy's blitzing drums, galloping and pummeling in equal measure.

Like Souls at Zero, I first heard this a long time ago (though not upon release in 1990, shortly afterward) and it floored me. Conceptually and musically I was hooked and bewildered. Anthems like "Clutches" and "Inherit the Wasteland" still give me goosebumps to this day, and taken as a whole, it's just as transfixing during its duration as it was 25 years ago.

Ruins of Beverast - Unlock the Shrine

Unlock the Shrine came out about one year before the Lurker of Chalice LP and has held nearly equal sway over me since. I was in a bad spot back in '04, dealing with a lot of personal demons and inner conflict that hadn't surfaced as virulently since my late teens. Alexander Von Meilanwald's debut solo opus was both identifiably cathartic and soothingly medicinal despite its somber pace and tone.

Meilanwald's post Nagelfar (not Naglfar) project is far removed from the visionary German band that purveyed Virus West, and has more in common with depressive black metal acts such as Shining or Bethlehem, minus the hilarious theatrics and over-the-top caterwauling. This piece is as grim as it gets, full of heartfelt melancholy and sombre dirges. While it remains black metal at its core, it's also crushingly heavy and hugely melodic. "Between Bronze Walls" sets the pace, with one of my favorite samples of all time, and it only gets better, with the epic "The Clockhand's Groaning Circles" an undisputed high point.

Regardless of my place in life at the time, this album never ceases to affect me as it did when I first heard it ten years ago. It's importance has never waned and while in the scheme of things it's still a relatively new album, I wouldn't hesitate to call it a classic. Expert composition and supreme instrumentation abound here, and not listening is doing yourself a disservice.


Absolute utter masterpiece. Simply genrefying this as punk is not only to be misinformed, but unforgivingly grievous to the musicians' vision put on display here. This does for hardcore what Gorguts' Obscura or Atheist's Unquestionable Presence both did for death metal in their day. This is jazz, pure and simple, overdriven, snide, and metallic jazz minus the horns.

There are no weak elements to be found here, from the performances (all of which are stunningly sharp and flawlessly executed), to the track flow, to the mixing and mastering. The guitar is punchy and twangy, overdriven and lightning fast. The basslines are masterworks, maybe only rivaled by fIREHOSE. The percussion is endlessly frenzied and perfectly measured to keep the tempo at a maximum. Vocally, it's as perfect as you can get on an album with this kind of heft. As a whole it's basically flawless.

The impact of songs like "The Tower", "Tired of Waiting", or "The End of All Things" is one that hasn't dissipated an iota since my first exposure. Epic and anthemic, subversively quirky and often hilariously over the top, it's something that I have been and will continue to be obsessed with. All the initially indistinguishable nuances and seemingly disparate elements working in tandem to form a single cohesively perfect whole.

Oneohtrix Point Never - Rifts

Rifts is actually three albums individually realized and then combined into a singular, cohesive vision. If I had to go to lengths to describe it, it would be to liken it to the greatest soundtrack for a sci-fi film that has yet to exist. Daniel Lopatin's project, involving albums Betrayed in the Octagon from 2007, and 2009's Zones Without People and Russian Mind, and how they're arranged here they sound like they were meant to be presented this way.

Vast soundscapes litter this compilation, from loosely structured and highly ambient, droning and arpeggiated to very deliberately reminiscent of Tangerine Dream and the more obscure electronic composers working at the fringe of the krautrock movement. It's exasperatingly huge in concept and execution, but thematically and sonically concise. Intricately comprised and layered with a contradictory dense sparseness that I don't think I could hope to describe better. It's philosophic journey music, lilting and impeccable.

If I could only have one Oneohtrix Point Never project, obviously it's this one. So few other pieces of music are able to simultaneously stupefy, overwhelm, and uplift me like this one. A quality that could honestly be said of any of Lopatin's projects depending on the listener. Experimental and oddly accessible it walks a line few other electronic composers can with their works, and becomes able to define a distinct state of mind.

Absu - Tara

Tara is perfection. An album composed at the height of Absu's creativity which sees all of the elements on their works that preceded it kicked up to a swirling zenith of frenzied artistry disguised as mere black thrash. Marrying traditional Celtic odes and dirges of bagpipe driven folk that runs rampant with fantastical imagery, Scottish lore, and Qabalistic ritual.

I had been a huge fan of the albums Barathrum, The Sun of Tiphareth, and The Third Storm of Cythraul, but life and its circumstances inevitably intervened in 2001 when Tara was released, so I sadly ended up missing out on this for several following years. When I did finally get around to adding it to the collection it was all I listened to for weeks. If I did try spinning something different I always came back to it, to the point where I had most aspects of the album memorized, whether the vocals/lyrics or the musical signatures of each of the players.

Proscriptor's drumming has never been more focused or relentless, his blast beats incessant and in perfect time and his martial rhythms a blitzed array of drumming supremacy. The guitar work of Shaftiel a razor sharp salvo of riffage and crescendoed dive bombs that teeter on absurd but for their perfect placement. Equitant's bass playing is equally rabid, a rich flutter of bottom end that somehow never loses pace to the drum work. And lyrically I don't think that Absu had or has since been so dense. This is stuffed to the nines with esoteric chanting and incantations so complex and involved it's ridiculous. I don't generally set foot in pits at shows anymore these days, but for Absu I'd make an exception... hell, I'd make exceptions for days here. Music is rarely better than this, past or present.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

5 Records You Probably missed in 2014

I feel sorry for multiple genre collectors, I really do. It's hard enough keeping up with the yearly releases of any one type of music, let alone several. I have a pretty open mind, but beyond the occasional must have hip hop release, some power electronics, and pretty much everything Godspeed You! Black Emperor ever releases, I stick mostly to buying metal. And metal itself is such an all-encompassing genre that it's nearly impossible to keep up with every "mandatory" release, let alone those less heralded efforts that realistically should be just as championed as your Thantifaxath or Teitanblood. So that's what this is about, five albums that in my opinion criminally slipped under the cracks. Let's get into this:

Bastard Sapling - Instinct is Forever
(Forcefield Records / Gilead Media)

There are certain labels that 'heads develop specific relationships with where you can expect the quality of releases to be mostly excellent, and Gilead is one of those labels. Their collaborative effort with Forcefield to bring us the latest Bastard Sapling is no exception. This is a burner of an album, folks, and had I heard it earlier than when I did it would have no doubt ended up in my top 10 for the year. Straight ahead, no frills American black metal as informed by the European 2nd wave. There's some atmospherics to be found here, but mostly it just rages relentlessly finding a similar vibe to Satyricon's Nemesis Divina except, you know, it's American. Which isn't to say that I don't have any love for the more experimental USBM out there these days. I loved Krieg's and Mutilation Rites' 2014 efforts, where they ventured occasionally far away from the black metal that cements them in the same genre. Bastard Sapling just goes for the throat with impeccable chops and songwriting. These tracks all flow superbly from the time you press play until the disc's end. Crushing guitars, superior bass tones that drive along with the pummeling percussion and the vocals just seethe with hatred. Needs to be heard!


Inconcessus Lux Lucis - Disintegration: Psalms of Veneration for the Nefarious Elite
(Nomos Dei Productions)

To be fair, I only came across this after first getting wind of Inconcessus Lux Lucis' 2014 EP released by I, Voidhanger. That EP itself flew well under the radar of most of the metal press, a weird thing considering the quality of I, Voidhanger's stable of artists. To start generally, this UK band sounds like what would happen if Hungary's Tormentor cross-pollinated with early Manilla Road or Sad Wings of Destiny era Judas Priest. John Gallow's Crucifist would be another fine point of reference, here, though Inconcessus Lux Lucis is in no way derivative. Sincerely motivated by the first wave of black metal and traditional heavy metal, their tracks rip and noodle in equal measure, finding a genuine swagger that most black metal these days lacks. There are grooves and ragers here, in equal number, an excellent guitar tone and bass right in the forefront of the mix that is complimentary to the galloping drums and croaking vocals. Really loved this and wished it had popped up more last year.


Wrought Iron - Rejoice and Transcend
(Grimoire Records)

Pittsburgh's Wrought Iron are a genuine force but with a split and demo out in 2013, Grimoire Records' 2014 release of Rejoice and Transcend came and went with little fanfare which is a damn shame. This release is seething black metal with touches of death metal that taken as a whole package is one of the most vitriolic evil things I heard last year. There are elements of grind and some hardcore flourishes that might remind of last year's also excellent Young and In the Way release, as well as some of the misanthropic violence of Barghest's Virtuous Purge. I could draw comparisons all day, but the music speaks for itself. A broiling stew of styles that are at once complimentary and definitive. The guitar work is phenomenally vicious, with a CHUNKY bottom end that pounds in contrast to the pop of the drum work, but it's a contrast that works well. If you missed this I can't recommend it enough. Grimoire's treatment of the album is great, in either gatefold digipak or limited cassette (the version I snagged). Get this now!


Hooded Menace - Labyrinth of Carrion Breeze MLP
(Doomentia Records)

Given Hooded Menace's pedigree, I have no idea how this one slipped past so many people last year. If I had to guess, I'd say it's because it's just a two track 12" EP but that's not really any excuse to sweep under the rug one of the best death/doom releases of 2014. If you've ever heard Hooded Menace's brand of murky, "Tomb of the Blind Dead" obsessed doom and death metal then you should know what you're getting here: guttural, downtuned, seismically slow sonic violence. What makes Hooded Menace stand out, though, in comparison to either Fuoco Fatuo or Encoffination is the melody that they employ in their tracks (play the sample at 2x the normal speed and you'd swear it's some Swedish death metal). In fact, there are moments that reminisce of classic Candlemass or Count Raven at times, which may seem odd coming from a project this cavernous, but it works well. Instrumentally everything is on point here, and this Finnish band has been playing together long enough to be be able to put something forbodeing to wax every time they hit the studio... this is no exception!


Gridlink - Longhena
(Selfmadegod Records)

Okay, so Jon Chang's swan song was reviewed overwhelmingly well in general in 2014, but I didn't see it pop up in many folks' top 10's or 20's. That's a shame. This album is grindcore evolved into a perfect apex predator, and probably the best the genre has ever been up to now. It is an amalgamation of melodic ultra-violence and dissonant stop-starts that form an all too short whole of grind perfection. From the concept to the album art to the track flow everything here has been laid out and composed perfectly, rivaling Chang's own Discordance Axis' Inalienable Dreamless. Dare I call this uplifting? The melody employed and the scales that have been used definitely reach for majestic heights, with some of the tightest bass/percussion of any metal band, grindcore or not. And god damn, Chang's vocals are just flat out unhinged. This record is especially sentimental, because it marks the end of a band that I think had so much more to offer and I wanted to see what territories they still had to explore. As it stands, it's a fittingly brief and defiant epitaph to the band and experimental grind as a whole. Honestly, my words don't do this album justice, you just have to hear it to grasp what I'm trying to say. Absolutely fucking essential.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Coping With Loss: Metalhead Review

Has a movie ever connected with you in a way that pierces straight through your being, implanting itself as a foundation to which you can only harbor empathy and nostalgia? A film that might mirror a place or time or event that you've lived yourself? I could probably count the films that have had such a profound impact on me on one hand: Cinema Paradiso, Days of Heaven, Le Quattro Volte, Samsara, and yes, Dazed and Confused. Every one are subtle statements on realities that are inexplicably linked to the person I currently am by allowing themselves to be identifiable tales. Director Ragnar Bragason's Metalhead can safely be added to that incredibly small list.

In 1983, twelve year old Hera is asked to fetch her older brother for a family dinner in rural Iceland. He's plowing the field of their farm, tilling soil in order to grow grains to feed their stock of dairy cows. He's listening to "Victim of Changes" on a Walkman, hits a ditch, and is tossed into the mess of tilling rotors dragged behind the tractor and left in a heap for Hera to discover. Overcome by loss and misdirected rage induced by the funeral, Hera burns her clothes and adopts his, taking into possession his Gibson Les Paul, and shelves of vintage heavy metal.

Ten years later she's playing her own Gibson, a flying V, and obsessed with thrash and classic heavy metal. Slayer and Megadeth, Motorhead and Judas Priest, Deep Purple and Lizzy Borden are all referenced, and she walks in a thrashing stupor from the family farm where she still lives, guzzling moonshine and playing guitar. She shows the face of constant turmoil, a confusion that distorts between cynicism and rage, directionless and clinging to the bygone music of her brother. Eventually, she catches a news special detailing the Norwegian church burnings happening at the time in the early 90's, a shot of Mayhem's Deathcrush album and her approach to music as well as her life take a turn.

I don't want to go more in depth in the plot outline, while there's plenty more substance than what I've already detailed. The film chronicles the growth and development of Hera primarily, but her family, as well. And it addresses so many aspects of loss that it's staggering, from the denial to the jaded acceptance of death. The deep and stigmatizing effect is portrayed brilliantly by actress Thora Bjorg Helga, who truly becomes Hera and this quest to not only get beyond instances of the past, but to forge her own future for her own sake. She's chronicled here in four distinct stages, each one unique and each one entirely sincere, and watching her emote on screen is hypnotizing to say the least.

But the film isn't just about Hera. It's also very much about her parents Karl and Droplaug, played equally as compelling by Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson and Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir respectively. Their loss is also great. compounded by a daughter whom they have no idea how to communicate or identify with. Their story tackles perceived gender roles of traditional masculinity and making do with  circumstances you seemingly can't change. They grow as much as Hera during the duration of Metalhead, and they expertly command your empathy when they're onscreen.

Even beyond family and redemption and a whole list of other themes you could argue that Metalhead broaches, its other strongest element is that of the importance of community. The town in which Metalhead takes place is small, rural (how many times can I say rural), isolated, and dependent upon the wherewithal of the residents, the actors for whom are all fantastically cast. When Hera, drunk on 'shine, steals the neighbor's tractor for a late night drive, he brings her home to sleep it off rather than call the police. When Hera's band plays their first show, it's at a community mixer, because the drive to Reykjavík is interminably long, or so it's implied. When Hera, inspired by the acts of Burzum and Hades, destroys a town landmark, the response is to bring the people together to rebuild it when she finally admits her torment.

Metalhead never lectures on the importance of people within society. It never tries to imply that people simply go through phases to be outgrown. It doesn't push the notion of redemption beyond what's realistically feasible. And, most importantly, it doesn't cop out with an ending conforming to any mass perceived notions of normalcy. What it does is embrace the concepts of personal growth and enlightenment, the ideas of accountability and contentedness, both with your place in the world and with yourself as an individual. It makes the simple statement that until you love yourself, you'll never love anything, and that's a powerful fucking thing for a movie to do these days, especially under the simple guise of a girl that loves heavy metal.

The direction of Ragnar Bragason here is impeccable. His chosen locale is perfectly suited for the dour tone of the picture. He clearly has a firm grasp on his vision and the deftness of his casting and tone are unimpeachable. No one at any point of the film fails to exude anything but sincerity and I have to say hats off to the director that can make every character a high point. Just as vital to the film is the cinematography of August Jakobsson. Capturing natural light exceptionally and framing each shot as perfectly as if he were shooting still photography. His depiction of the locations going from eerie and grey within the confines of the small town and farmland, to the imposing snowswept grandeur of the outlying mountains.

Everything about this movie is stunning. From the deceptively simple story to the actors who portray it. The direction, the photography, cinematography are all nigh perfect. The music is no exception, from the classic NWOBHM to the American thrash to the Norwegian black metal. Every song here is placed as carefully as every frame, especially the aforementioned "Victim of Changes", which may take on a whole new meaning for you after this. As for Hera's band... the track they play is astonishingly powerful, cathartic, and enthralling and begs for an album release. As a whole, the movie is perfect. I say that about very few movies these days, especially when most cinema is Hollywood obsessing over superhero boobs and brawn. This is an intimate reality, a slice of growth and change and adulthood that needs to be seen, not just by people that have an affinity for metal, but by everyone that's ever given a shit about the outcasts. Absolutely essential.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: Cambion - Unfold Chaos Supreme

Every once in a while we, as a community, need to stop and consider the avenues of music opened up by visionary Pete Helmkamp. It's true that Order From Chaos took many cues from Blasphemy, Sarcofago, Beherit, Incantation, and Archgoat. Considering the lack of peers purveying that brand of blasphemic death metal in the early to mid 90's, it's unavoidable. But Helmkamp streamlined the sound entirely, and repurposed it. 

After Order From Chaos, we were gifted with raging death metal the likes of Krisiun, whose Black Force Domain, and Rebaelliun, whose Burn the Promised Land, are undisputed fucking classics of the genre. Ultimately, though, we have Helmkamp to thank for the first two Angelcorpse LP's which took Order From Chaos's streamlined occult obsessed raging death metal and forcibly shoved it up several notches. His post OFC band in part specifically responsible for the rise of Conqueror and Revenge and the coinage of the hyper aggressive war metal that's currently all the rage. Without Helmkamp we'd have no Proclamation, no Teitanblood, no Katharsis, no Ignivomous, likely no Revenge... at least not in any recognizable incarnation.

What does any of that have to do with Cambion's 2015 titan of a demo, Unfold Chaos Supreme? Well, plenty if you take the time to listen. Their Bandcamp page specifically cites Angelcorpse and Krisiun as primary influences, along with the likes of early Hate Eternal and it's easy to see why. The influence is undeniable and the demo is an unrelenting blitz of spazzed out black/death ultraviolence played ferociously from the hip, catchy and vitriolic, anthemic and violently atmospheric.

Assuming you're not familiar, Cambion is an international project hailing from El Paso, Texas and Germany, parts unknown to me. This is their first offering, and if the polish this demo has received is any indicator, they are poised to truly decimate with some label backing behind them. These five tracks RAGE, a blistering cacophony of tightly executed thrashy black/death that goes directly for the throat like a frenzied, rabid wolf eager for the kill. Composition is exceptional, and while the songs speed by in a frantic gasp they prove memorable and infectious whilst still managing to exude blackened misanthropy. 

The guitar work is a frenetic mix of ear shredding rhythm and razor sharp riffing. There's no slow down here, from the onset the playing displays a technical lethality that picks it's way viciously to the demo's end. The soloing hearkens back to the aforementioned influences of Angelcorpse, Krisiun, Rebaelliun, and especially early era Slayer, but executed with an ear for melodicism. It's not just shredding for the sake of shredding, as they are extremely complimentary to the main body of the tracks and help whisk it from track to track.

The rhythm section is fantastic, as well. The bass lines are rich and resonate deeply at the bottom end here. There is a fullness present that would be sorely missed were the bass parts neglected or tacked on as an afterthought. In tandem with the bass is the drum work which proves just as formidable. Though I suspect programmed, the drum-lines here are crucial to the song structures and the continuity that works to transport the listener from start to end. Its pummeling battery of precision hits and hyper-blasts resonate well after the demo has ended.

All of this is delivered with a hypnotic sincerity and energetic fervor that it's impossible to deny this demo as a high point of the year so far. A fervent war cry of polished bestial black/death that pays homage and at the same time stands distinctly, and supremely, on its own merits. Cambion's influences are worn fully on their sleeves, but it's an obvious reverence rather than derivative aping. Insanely focused, razor sharp with ferociously melodic undertones, I expect great things are in their future. As it is, they are currently in the process of pressing the demo to CD in cooperation with Lavadome Productions out of the Czech Republic, hopefully as soon as late April. In the meantime, this gets my highest recommendation. Rarely am I quick to buy anything digital, but these guys are more than worthy of all the support they can get from the metal underground.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Review: Sarpanitum - Blessed Be My Brothers

I haven't heard a death metal album so contrarily uplifting since Vital Remains' Dechristianized. While the US death metal legends' now classic opus with Glen Benton on the mic was a literal contradiction, being insanely melodic and soaring but with lyrics heaving vitriol to match their previous efforts. Sarpanitum's Crusades obsessed second effort, however, forgoes the hate and pointed violence instead proliferating nothing short of triumphant death metal hymns celebrating valor and warfare.

Sharing two of their members with Mithras, that would be a fine point of reference for people unfamiliar with the band in question. Sarpanitum began purveying their brand of death metal in 2003, releasing several demos and a full length in 2007 before taking a hiatus in 2008. This is actually my first experience with them, as I criminally slept on Despoilment of Origin until now. And while that album is a fine statement of intent, Blessed Be My Brothers considerably ups the ante in just about every positive conceivable way, and kudos to Willowtip Records for picking these guys up.

This is fiercely technical death metal, but without the noodling that typically litters albums of the same genre. Sarpanitum has taken that template and imbued it with distinctly black metal overtones that occasionally spill over to hints of shoegaze suggesting a subtle appreciation for UK acts like My Bloody Valentine or Ride. Not overwhelmingly so, however, but it is evident. As a full package, it's expertly composed and executed admirably. They have captured an atmosphere here that is difficult to draw comparisons and is endlessly thrilling to listen to.

Tom Innocenti's vocals crush. Deeply guttural, but lacking the gurgle and burps of other vocalists, his is a defiant roar that remains lyrically discernable throughout his incensed tirades. Evoking the topical grandeur and alluded majesty of the album art and themes. His guitar compositions are also beyond reproach, exuding a razor sharp lethality and wicked use of scales and riffage.

The actual guitar work, by Tom Hyde, is peerless. His picking is fevered and rabid and, yes, always technical. Layered and effected with reverb and occasional delay and pinch harmonics, it's an absolutely captivating performance. Hyde is also the man responsible for the bass work here, which is nuanced and richly woven into the tracks as a whole, keeping time with the drums and galloping victoriously from song to song.

Drummer Leon Macey's percussion is flawless. His battery is tight and pummeling lacking the compressed/triggered sound that can put me off to a lot of bands that purvey tech death. His pounding is intricate and propulsive, frenzied and venomous. The way the drums both maintain pace and initiate changes within the song structures is dizzyingly complex and neck-snappingly commanding.

There are several instrumental pieces here, starting with opener "Komenos" and ending with "Homeland" that are just as vital to the album as the other tracks. Everything here is fully realized and without filler. From the segue of the apocalyptic "Glorification Upon the Powdered Bones of the Sundered Dead" to the ritually introspective lyricless "Immortalised as Golden Spires". All of which lead the way to the crescendo of the title track, "Blessed Be My Brothers", a cacophonous warcry of remembrance and victory that has some of the most soaring and affirming leads that you'll hear all year.

Yeah, I love this stuff. It's flown criminally under the radar since it's release in February, but Willowtip has a fine band on their roster here, with a near flawless release now under their belts. Seriously, people, don't sleep on this one. It's a contender.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Crossover (or: Dirty Rotten Hybrids)

The changing weather that accompanies the months of March and April do more than simply usher out the cold and rain. In addition to longer days and sunnier climes, it also sparks a changing of moods. I suspect that it always has, but in my younger years I was too preoccupied with living fast 365 to actually notice. Mellower me, however, definitely has a handle on the various emotive distinctions that less cold and cloud-driven misery plays in my life.

Beyond providing an elated response to risen temps and an all around desire to stay in the light, it highly compels my music listening habits. While Fall and Winter tend to be reserved for genres like black metal and death metal and everything downtrodden and depressive, once I get that bit of sun during the first whiffs of Spring, I reach for things more upbeat. Spring and summer present those months where I want to slam my skull to the destructive power of grindcore and power violence. Or raise my fist to the sing-along anthems of crust and d-beat driven hardcore. Maybe, as the title of this piece suggests, intensively rage to the vitriol of thrash and crossover.

So then, considering the date and rise in temperature and the noticeably less gloomy Seattle days, I present my choice for the ten best crossover albums within my terribly opinionated library of listening. Editorial to say the least, and not really objective, these records, while often politically sophisticated are my favorite moments of vitriolic fun the genre has to offer.

10. Cryptic Slaughter - Money Talks (Restless/Death Records 1987)

This album just rules, flat out. From the bass sound to the wailing chug of the guitars and reverbed drums it's a blazing crescendo of Reagan era political incorrectness and snotty subversiveness. The vocals kind of epitomize the era, blending the snide sneers and leers of punk with the more brazen verbal scowls of thrash at the time. It's also fast as hell, and entirely decipherable, a trait that eluded groups like Siege or Heresy who peddled similar messages but without any of the fun.

9. Dayglo Abortions - Feed Us a Fetus (Fringe Product 1986)

This album has no agenda other than rabble-rousing and glorifying the irreverent. It's snide and hysterical, tongue in cheek and unremittingly hilarious. Sing along vocals about offensive nonsense with stirring and anthemic metallic punk that rivaled the best crossover had offered up to that point. The production here is a thing of the times, and doesn't suffer for it at all. Furious guitar playing and a rhythm section that basically never stops. And that cover art... amazing.

8. Attitude Adjustment - American Paranoia (Pusmort 1986)

Attitude Adjustment's second album is also their best in my opinion. It's quick and metallic and harsh. The exact middle point of crossover in its purest form, kind of defining the genre in its time. Brazen lyrics driven by a contemptuous sneer that pass for vocals, chanted choruses and plenty of bass solo breaks to break up the relentlessness of the album. The guitar playing is sloppy and the distortion just sounds like someone turned the dial all the way up on a ProCo Rat, but that also works to give the instrumentation a good deal of its charm. Mandatory West-Coast crossover for sure.

7. Corrosion of Conformity - Animosity (Death Records 1985)

Looking over this list retrospectively and at those entries to come, CoC's second long player is probably the most blatantly metal of the bunch. That makes sense considering the direction they went after the Technocracy EP with Blind. Animosity is 26 minutes of the most high octane thrashed out punk you could find in '85. Just a swirling and raging morass of assaulting riffage and thundering basslines, pounding drums of death and snarled vokills with energy and spite to share. Gang vocals? Check... Moshing breakdowns? Double check... Over-zealous anti-religious anarchistic subject matter? Triple check. This album is the whole goddamn package.

6. English Dogs - Forward Into Battle (Combat Core 1985)

You would never know from Forward Into Battle that English Dogs' original sound was more akin to the straight ahead gutter punk of GBH, the Exploited, or Broken Bones. Not to say there aren't punk rock elements left behind here... There are vestiges of it all over the record, most notably Adie Bailey's vocals. But instrumentally this is pure speed metal. Razor sharp and melodically epic, it just fucking shreds. Start to finish, whether we're talking about the killer guitar, slamming bass, or battering wardrums. Not lyrically political in the least, the Vallejo cover art just pushes this project over the top and it's completely awesome.

5. Septic Death - Crossed Out Twice (Bacteria Sour 1999)

Crossed Out Twice collects the entirety of Septic Death's back catalog spanning the years from 1984 well into the 90's, Pushead's band and flagbearer for Pusmort Records pushed punk rock into metallic territory before just about anyone. The whole of their back catalog a spastic blur of frenzied guitar, pronounced and measured basswork, and the crashing tumult of drums. Pushead's sneering vocal delivery is a huge high point, and he's been imitated by everyone from Infest to Darkthrone's Fenriz. Added to the incredible accompanying artwork from Pushead himself, this is a cohesively atmospheric slab of neck breaking vitriol.

4. Dr Know - Wreckage in Flesh (Death Records 1988)

Yes, take in that cover art... So gloriously terrible. It's up there with None Shall Defy by Infernal Majesty and Shotgun Justice by Razor. Musically, though, this album kills. A furious delivery of snide social commentary disguised as metal as fuck allegory. The vocals are as distinct if not more so than the above by Septic Death, and most definitely an acquired taste, but damn if it doesn't suit the music. A rabid melting pot of supreme thrash riffs, unfortunately by-the-numbers bass playing, and awesomely bombastic pummeling drums. It's not my absolute favorite, but when I think of crossover epitomized, it comes down to this record. From the epic "Mastermind" and "City Wheels" to the apocalypse of "Rise", it doesn't get much better.

3. Excel - Split Image (Caroline Records 1987)

Excel got written off a lot back in the day as a Suicidal Tendencies clone. Playing straight ahead thrash driven crossover, Split Image actually manages to better a lot of Excel's peers at the time. The riffs here are monstrous and sharp as hell, with a deep bass that balances both the guitar and drums, which aren't exceptional, but have a really great sound both indicative of the era and driving the album tracks forward. The vocals may need to grow on listeners. Dan Clements sounds like a bratty teenager cramming stream of conscious politics and societal disparagement into his lyrics, but they really fit well with the whole package. Southern Lord rereleased this lost classic last year, and it's presentation is killer.

2. Christ on Parade - Sounds of Nature (Pusmort 1985)

Christ on Parade's debut EP is definitely more hardcore punk then it is metal, but it blurs the line in the same vein as Portland's Final Warning or Bay Area thrashers Crucifix or Final Conflict. The guitar work is equal parts Motorhead driven hyper blues and Discharged to shit crust, a buzzsaw twang with metallic reverb that will resonate while you bang your head. Bass is high in the mix, and better for it, afforded subtle flourishes that help it to stand out against the raging backdrop. Drums are sloppy and explosive, just as you'd expect. In all honesty, were it not for how young I was when I was first exposed to this album, it would not be so high on my list, but nostalgia is a bitch and this whole article is far from objective.

1. DRI - Crossover (Metal Blade 1987)

Of course it comes down to this record. While the style had been in circulation for a few years, no one had actually coined a term for the genre before DRI put this album to wax, and damn if they didn't do it better than anyone before them. From the world ending riff in the intro to "Five Year Plan" to the pulse quickening armageddon of "Oblivion" the whole album is a journey to the crossroads where punk rock meets thrash as fuck metal extremity. Kurt's might-as-well-be trademarked vocals  are the definition of the style, backed up by the phenomenal riffs and shredding of Spike, whose name should be known by pretty much anyone with even a passing interest in crossover. Josh Pappe's bass is ploddingly measured and low as hell, afforded solos here and there that exemplify him as a player in the genre. And the final piece of the puzzle, Felix Griffin's drumming is absolutely savage. A devastating battery of assaulting pounding and stomping. There are no bad songs here, no filler. Every track is just as vital and mandatory as the preceding and like any classic, as timeless now as it was back then. Essential.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: Devilspit - Grim, Hateful, and Drunk

Caligari Records is on a tear. Let's be honest, no matter how much we love a certain record label there are to be some guaranteed duds within their slate of releases. Or to be more fair, releases that don't suit a particular listener's palate 100%. With Caligari, you have a contradiction to that general rule.

I try to grab each of their releases, because it mostly goes without much thought that I will love what they put out. Past gems have been Fuoco Fatuo, Skelethal, Bland Vargr, Ritual Decay (which I sadly missed until it was well sold out) and a slew of Heavydeath demos. But really, they're all infinitely listenable. Add Devilspit to that list, my friends.

Formed in Brittany, France in 2013, Devilspit is the brainchild of Körpserizer who released a 2014 demo on Impious Desecration Records. While the demo supplied a fresh 10 tracks of d-beat driven crusty punk-infused black metal, Grim, Hateful, and Drunk sees that album and then raises it considerably.

This album doesn't fit within the bounds of any one genre, honestly, and it'd be tough going to pigeonhole it even for the sake of simplicity. Influences carve a huge swath of artists and albums, from the blackened punk of Darkthrone's Too Old, Too Cold with equal doses of early Hüsker Dü and Joy Division, bookended surreptitiously by early era Bathory and Crass. It's pretty all over the map, but damn it works so well!

The guitar work is a masterfully blended staccato driven tremolo picked flurry of dissonant melodies and buzzsawing distortion. Real craft was put into the transitions within each track here and while there's a heavy set of melody, it's still metal as all fuck. Picked furiously and wildly, you can hear the blood hit the frets on his guitar's neck.

The bass playing is a real highlight, as well. Thunderously low and meaty, it doesn't simply drive the music along with the percussion so much as stomp along in deviantly down-tuned fashion. Other black metal artists ought to take note, this is a new benchmark as far as I'm concerned, and should be heeded as such.

And those drums... goddamn that battery is a treat. Whoever mic'ed the drum set knew what they were doing. Each tom and bass drum hit measured and insanely chunky, and the snare sounds nigh fucking perfect. Rather than assault with the abrasive cacophony of spastic hi-hats and cymbals, they're separated in the mix as well, perfectly nuanced and individual. Put it all together and it just slams.

Körpserizer's vocals are another treasure here. Snarling and spat out venomously one moment and then soaring with reverb drenched delay the next. His lyrics are greatly discernable with a cadence and depth that makes following along easy, especially if you're reading the printed j-card. While there are countless singers you'd like to try comparing them to, they are absolutely unique within this genre.

Altogether this album works to achieve an incredible atmosphere. Drunken and grim to be sure, it's frantic and melancholy and belies it's own sloppiness. These tracks are excellently composed and then executed with a flair most bedroom black metal bands could only hope to match. Between the instrumentation, awesome vocals, and sparse sampling/keys, this is a contender for year end best as far as I'm concerned. Excellent packaging to match, and just a treasure to hold in your hands, this is an album not to be slept on!

You can stream the album HERE

You can buy the album HERE

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: Psudoku - Planetarisk Sudoku

A couple years back I went a binge of listening that included almost every band I could hear signed to the Grindcore Karaoke imprint, which somehow somewhere along the way led me to Norway's Parlamentarisk Sodomi, whose Cpt. Roger helms one-man band Psudoku as well. Norway not being a country well known for its grindcore scene, I was instantly intrigued. While the former adheres more strictly to convention, the latter is an insane blend of genre hopping scenes that shouldn't fit together, but somehow manage.

Think Bill Laswell's Praxis' second album, Sacrifist, which was a barnstorming mix of Harmony Corruption era Napalm Death and John Zorn's sax driven free-form jazz whilst lyrically belched out by Mick Harris and the inimitable Yamatsuka Eye from Japanese art project the Boredoms. Eking in elements of funk and dub while managing to remain coherently metal. Or maybe throw in aspects of Mr Bungle's self titled record along with the Yeti-esque improvisation of Amon Düül II, Painkiller's Guts of a Virgin or the Faust I record all the while informed by Siege or Unseen Terror. Does that sound ridiculous?

As far as structure, Psudoku is exceptionally technical, tight and without mess, taking obvious cues from Discordance Axis/Gridlink, and presenting over driven guitars that remain consistently jangly for the life of the album. The stylistic shifts of Roger's guitar playing are phenomenally fluid, stopping on a dime from breakneck grindcore picking then resuming with jazzy flourishes that sound like they would be more at home on a Madness or Specials album.

Bass playing as well is polished and precise, given room to explore the spaces within the songs rather than be confined to supporting the frantic drum work. Resembling jazz more than metal, but not in the same wank fashion as fluff like Beyond Creation, Obscura, or Necrophagist. Like the pulsing driven scores laid down by NOMEANSNO or Neu! it never plays off as masturbatory, but rather one of the primary foundations of the songs themselves.

Percussion-wise, this thing just smokes. There's syncopation pretty much each step of the album, and all 4 tracks cover enough stylistic ground to tire most conventional drummers within mere minutes, let alone a half hour run time. The blast beats have tremendous clarity and the pacing, while exceptionally varied, never meanders from breakneck. Rhythmically, Rogers isn't playing around and while the rest of the instrumentation may wander from the grindcore foundation of Psudoku, evoking everything from Hawkwind to Old Lady Drivers, the drumming is always entrenched at the root.

While the opening salvo of "BoLTZmanN BRaiN 2099" does much to prepare you for the experience, this is an album best meant as a dedicated journey from start to finish. The package as a whole is really something to behold, especially once you get to the near 15 minute epic "PsUDoPX.046245" which closes out the album in dizzying, distortionally progressive fashion. This is a hodge-podge, but rather than ending up incoherent or ironically self-aware it plays as a sincere experimentation of what the crossroads of unexpected genres would sound like. At the end of the year, this may well be the best, and most distinctively strange, album that grindcore will have to offer, and on those grounds I can't recommend it enough.

Links to stream and buy follow:

Nerve Altar's Store Envy

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review - Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

I'll level you with you, folks, I haven't been stoked on a zombie movie in a while. While I enjoyed the recent Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead, it came nowhere close to competing with it's superior first film. I might go so far as to say that the last original zombie IP to really make an impact on me as a viewer was the 2010 Ford Brothers film the Dead. A grim and dour painting of a 3rd world future ridden with the undead. And chalk it up on the list of films to spawn watchable though not outstanding sequels, as well.

But Wyrmwood, a micro-budgeted new notch on the headboard of Australia's best Oz-ploitation, has turned me around. This one kind of materialized out of nowhere, lurching from concept to pre-production to post then VOD abruptly and without much ado. This is a nasty bit of fun, exploding with wry humor and gritty ultra-violence, awesome atmosphere, and some incredible practical effects. Unfortunately this one never hit local theaters, but I don't regret a dime of the VOD rental fee.

Wyrmwood begins with the recounting of tales which led the main characters on their individual paths, eventually encountering one another. Barry is on the hunt for his sister Brooke, which in turn forced him to cross paths with Benny, fighting their way through the woods and ultimately ending up in a ramshackle garage with Frank and McGauphlin. All four in the same quandary of having no vehicle to transport them to where any of the group wants to go. That is until it's discovered that these particular zombies breathe out noxious and flammable vapors that can also be harnessed to use as fuel.

Simultaneously, Brooke is held captive by the military, and is put through the ringer of various tests and experiments by the Doc, a nameless character clad in a yellow hazmat suit with a certain affinity for KC & the Sunshine Band. Within Brooke, and due to the testing she's subjected to, powers are unlocked which ultimately lead all paths to converge.

The acting here is uniformly great, even from the minor supporting cast. Jay Gallagher as Barry effortlessly portrays the strong silent lead, jaded and distraught but bent on his singular purpose. He also gets some of the movie's best scenes while paired with Leon Burchill's Benny, who steals the show. Every scene with Burchill has some sort of gag or punchline, and he manages to hilariously fit the word "fuck" into basically every line of dialog he has. With a less animated actor, this would have been over the top, but here it adds to likability of the character, endearing him and getting the viewer to empathize. Bianca Bradey as Brooke is also quite good in her role, leaving a ton of her part to complex facial expressions where she's not allowed dialog. And when she is speaking, Brooke proves just as capable of dry wit and a weathered cynicism as her "brother" Barry.

Direction of the film was handled by Kiah Roache-Turner who also turned out the screenplay with his brother Tristan. Together they've managed to produce one of the genre's most convincing and fun efforts in years. They've embraced the Aussia spirit of exploitation films and upped the ante for the modern age considerably, building a believable world and various new twists that amount to enough to allow the film to stand out impressively. Taking cues from obvious sources such as the Road Warrior (similarities that are more visual than anything else), Razorback, Romero's Day of the Dead, and some of the same manic craziness of Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City. Is it somewhat derivative? I'd be lying if I said no, but in my mind plays more as sincere homage than the regurgitated dreck Hollywood refuses to stop turning out. The duo has huge potential in the genre, and I definitely expect future awesomeness from them.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is clearly micro-budgeted, assuming you have an eye for such things. Visually though, it's fairly impeccable under the cinematography of Tim Nagle. He uses a lot of wide angles, color filtering, and plays with depth of field quite often to bring to the screen a much more sophisticated looking picture than a huge swath of other similarly low budgeted features could produce if they tried. In high def, Wyrmwood is even more impressive.

While there are occasional sequences with CGI blood splatter, the overwhelming majority of the special effects here are practical. That means that the gore and grue are all courtesy of some great squib placement, and exceptionally convincing make-up and prosthesis. Extremely refreshing for the genre, considering budgetary constraints are what often leads to sub-par computer generated effects. It helps that the cast are all game for spending the majority of their time drenched in blood and viscera.

It should be evident that I liked this movie quite a bit. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but that's not its purpose in the grand cinematic scheme. What you are privy to with this picture is flattering homage from some people that clearly love zombie pictures. As a team they imbue Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead with enough original elements to allow it to stand on the shoulders of lesser fare. It's gritty, compelling, hilarious, and sometimes disturbing. It doesn't answer any profound questions, but doesn't seek to, either. Tongue in cheek and fully aware of itself, it's a definite must see for genre fans, and I can't recommend it enough!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bloody Roots: Exhorder's Slaughter in the Vatican

Exhorder never got a fair shake. Not from the circa 1990 metal hungry public obsessed with the American big four of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax and definitely not from their own label, parent company Roadrunner Records. And "Slaughter in the Vatican" itself is plagued with problems described by the band themselves. Recording at Morrisound and bullied into mastering their album in basically the exact same vein as Sepultura's "Beneath the Remains". In fact, they were saddled with the task of using the exact same equipment, and then informed of the sound they were expected to go for, against their better wishes. I have no idea what kind of distinction they had originally intended in their sound, but I honestly can't imagine "Slaughter in the Vatican" sounding any different. It's already close to perfect.

Were I to make a list of my favorite thrash albums throughout the years, adhering strictly to the genre in its purest form, along with "Epidemic of Violence" by Demolition Hammer, "A Shedding of Skin" by Protector, and Sodom's "Agent Orange" you'd find this hailed high above the rest. What we have with this classic is a damn sledgehammer given musical form. This one is a neckbreaker that doesn't relent from track one until the end of track eight. If it were to assume human form, it would immediately be arrested and convicted for aggravated assault and the intention of causing grievous bodily harm. It is the sound of violence in its strictest guise and a defiant punch to the groin of any and all that embark upon its musical journey.

To start, the guitars carry the distinct Morrisound heft. Down tuned and burly and oozing with low end gravitas. Vinnie LaBella and Jay Ceravolo have constructed riffs not just for days but for fucking months. They rage and slam with a proficiency undeserved by the genre and their interplay is integral to the album's success. From the concussive assault of whiplash inducing tracks like Homicide, the Exhorder theme song, and the title track Slaughter in the Vatican they innovate like a locomotive flying off the rails, with bludgeoning groove. And the slower tracks like Desecrator and Legions of Death kill with their focused, razor sharp and measured attack. The duo also handled all bass duties for the record, and it's distinctly pummeling as well, rumbling like a Sherman along with the drums. Nice and clear, and fortunately left unmuddled by the Scott Burns production.

Speaking of drums, Chris Nails' skins pounding is unmatched. Galloping grooves and tight, measured blasts make up the album and his battery is fucking relentless. An absolute machine giving the album its frantically over the top pace and indisputable energy, few drummers could match him aside from maybe Vinnie Daze of Demolition Hammer or Lee Reynolds of Morbid Saint. He's a mechanical ripper that brings everything he's got to the table here and the result is jaw dropping.

Now much ado has been made of the similarities between vocalist Kyle Thomas and Pantera's Phil Anselmo, and it would be a lie to say that there's no grounds for such comparisons, but Kyle's range tops that of Anselmo's during the time period. He wails and squalls like a madman, belting out enraged diatribes like a man stricken with tourettes. His lyrical content making absolutely every concerted effort possible to offend and blaspheme the status quo. Make no mistake, this is a railing against the church unlike any other for its time. His tirades profanely eloquent and sharply barbed against just about every accepted societal norm. Take the last verse of the track Exhorder:

"I am the sadist that dwells in your mind
You run back helpless, I cheat you blind
I can desecrate the highest class of human life
Lure and seduce the ever faithful preacher's wife"

His vitriol is almost comical in its intensity, but it never wavers for one second. You have to admire his conviction to unapologetic brutal thrash ethics and defaming the upper crust.

Twenty-five years old, this slab of classic hate is just as addictive as it was when it initially streeted. Still, it's a cult album that doesn't appeal to the friendlier party thrash of bands like Anthrax or Exodus and is distinctly more brutal than Metallica has ever been, and makes "Seasons in the Abyss", also released in 1990, sound absolutely tame in comparison. Obviously this is a must for fans of thrash and heavy, subversive metal in general. Absolutely mandatory listening in this reviewer's opinion.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ode to Voyeurism: The Mo Brothers' Killers

It's undeniable that today's societies while separated by borders that encompass mountain ranges, seas, and whole oceans are at the same time more connected than any other time in history. The concept of being able to familiarize ourselves by a simple click on a web page, camera phone, or FTP with the news and happenings of cultures thousands of miles removed from our own would go well over the heads of our older generations. In turn, the ease of obtaining information brings to light the declining standards for neighboring civilizations. Is our world currently more insane than in previous eras or does it just seem that way due to how prevalent international information is within the bounds of our current Internet? And more to the point, is the pointed voyeurism that has become a derived result of this connectivity gone lengths to numb us further to the pains and travesties visited upon people the world over?

Killers attempts to analogously address this question, and delivers one of the more chilling cinematic visions I've witnessed in some time as a result. Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto's newest film comes quick off the heels of their critically lauded Macabre, which I reviewed here last year. Macabre flamboyantly introduced the talented pair, who would soon go on to bring us their short segment for V/H/S/2, Safe Haven. That segment was a wild send up of found footage banality mixed with completely out there occult insanity. Easily the highlight to the continuing anthology series. While Killers is not graphically even close to the same level as their earlier experiments, it is a far more compelling study, and oddly enough even more unnerving.

The story of two men, one local to Tokyo and the other to Jakarta, begins by giving us a glimpse into the habits of Kazuki Kitamura's Nomura. An unhinged killer of women that airs his misdeeds on the Internet, raking up views and esteem in the underworld he inhabits. All while disguised as a well to do businessman with social savvy and stylistic flair. His work is noticed by Bayu in Jakarta, played by Oka Antara (who you'll recognize from the Indonesian epic the Raid 2), who initially is put into a state of curious revulsion to the deeds of Nomura.

Bayu himself is an ex-journalist working as a cameraman for hire for the local news. Disgraced during a quest to bring justice to some unspoken evils perpetrated by a local Jakarta politician and spin doctor, he quickly becomes ostracized not just from his professional field but from his family as well, alienating himself further from his own daughter due to erratic behavior and a tendency to break down. He becomes further drawn into Nomura's world with the latter man's continuing dedication to serial killing and brash disregard for human life. It's an incredibly interesting parallel, in part because the more off the rails Bayu becomes, the more Nomura attempts to reintegrate himself somewhat, looking to make a connection that goes beyond victim and killer.

As you might be able to guess, Bayu does end up completely off the chain, but it's no spoiler to say so. Inspired by Nomura, he becomes a sort of vigilante, airing the justice that he dispenses on the same website as Nomura, which in turn brings him into the view of the Japanese killer. Thus begins an incredibly disturbing tale of one-upmanship as the two vie to both better the other as well as transcend their own current stations. Bayu still clinging to the hope that he can reconcile with his estranged family and Nomura coming to grips with the man that he is minus any illusions.

The acting here is brilliant. Oka Antara is both quiet and thrilling in his portrayal of Bayu. Switching mood and tone on a dime at times, his face adept at conveying every emotion of Bayu's that we're intended to decipher. I was pretty transfixed by his desperation and fully empathized with his character even when he'd succumbed to his basest instincts. And given the deviance to which he submits, that's an impressive feat. Conversely, Kitamura's Nomura is a sly subvert who relishes his misconduct, delights in his sins, and relishes the pain he doles. His attempts at societal integration border on introspectively hilarious and depressingly futile. His role here as a true sociopath is one of the better of 2014.

I have to give nods to Gunnar Nimpuno's cinematography as well. He manages to capture each scene brilliantly, working within each frame and including impeccable detail, and utilizing as much natural light as the sets would allow. His colors wonderfully muted and subtle at times, but popping out at us at others. The contrast between scenes in Tokyo and Jakarta quite noteworthy as well, in an almost-homage to films like Soderbergh's Traffic where the color palette helps to establish tone and mood for both the scene as well as the viewer.

The Mo Brothers' direction here is also superb, proving both stylish and sophisticated. They have managed to coax the best from each actor and extra, location and setting. The tone of their film always uneasy, though often rife with black humor. They have tackled a topic that clearly means a lot to them as film makers, and conveying Takuji Ushiyama's original story here both eloquently and compellingly is quite a feat. As I said earlier, the film is clearly analogous, but it doesn't really go to lengths to answer any heavy set questions. It suggests a few, but also admits that they aren't any less disturbing than the questions. It's a compelling look at how we struggle to make real connections, and happily doesn't wrap up the process neatly in a bow. It captures the statement of "life is pain" (quoting the Princess Bride) better than many other films attempting the same dissertation, and I would rank this as high as a masterpiece such as Martyrs without hesitation. While a challenging film, it's definitely a triumph.