Sunday, January 6, 2019

High Defamation Podcast Episode One: Hail Disclose

Kochi City's Disclose was always a dichotomy of savagery and control, bedlam and refinement and the band left behind a MASSIVE catalog of releases that tend to be elusive in the wild but nonetheless important. Not just in the development of their sound but in the progression of d-beat and punk in general. We're diving deep into this one, folks, enjoy the ride.



DISCHARGE "But After the Gig" (Realities of War, 1980 Clay Records) GISM "Anthem” (Detestation, 1983 Dogma Records) 
DEATH SIDE "To the End" (Bet on the Possibility, 1991 Selfish Records) 
TOTALITAR "Sin Egen Motståndare" (Sin Egen Motståndare, 1994 Finn Records) 
DISCLOSE "Tragic Scene" (Fear of the War, 1994 Japankore/Crust Records) 
FINAL WARNING "Rain of Death" (Out of Sight, Out of Mind, 1984 Fatal Erection Records) 
MASSKONTROLL "Spräkta Naziskallar" (Warpath, 1995 Havoc Records) 
MG15 "Luchad Contra El Poder" (Caos Final, 1983 N/A) 
DISCLOSE "Burn to Damage" (Tragedy, 1994 Overthrow Records) 
BACTERIA fragment (28 Trax Demo [1994], 2015 Dan-Doh Records) 
DISCLOSE "Firestorms" (A Mass of Raw Sound Assault, 2001 MCR Company) 
WOLFPACK "Zonetripper" (Lycanthro Punk, 1998 Distortion Records) 
BROKEN BONES "Bonecrusher" (Bonecrusher, 1986 Combat Core) 
DISCLOSE "But Still Work (Victims of the Mine)" (Apocalypse of Death, 2002 Dan-Doh Records) 
DISCLOSE "The War Dead" (Yesterday's Fairytale, Tomorrow's Nightmare, 2004 Game of the Arseholes) 
G.A.T.E.S. "Demon Crusade" (Nuclear Hell/Black Plague split w/ Disclose, 2005 Dan-Doh Records) 
DISCLOSE "Nuclear Hell" (Nuclear Hell/Black Plague split w/ G.A.T.E.S., 2005 Dan-Doh Records) 
DISCLOSE "Doomed to Die" (Controlled By Fear/Cruelty split w/ Cruelty, 2006 Dan-Doh Records) 
GOATWORSHIPPER "Ave Satanas" [excerpt] (Blackgoat Harshnoise, 2007 ? Smell the Stench) 
BLACKGOAT "Track 1" [excerpt] (Sabbatic 5 Goat, 2007 Smell the Stench 
CRUCIFIED BY THE KA-KAMI "Lovestruck" (Just Wanna Be Myself/Crucified By The Kä-Kami split with Insane Youth, 1999 Dan-Doh Records

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.


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.

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.

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

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.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bloody Roots: Setherial's Swedish Fury

NORD (1996)

Setherial's Nord is important to me for a multitude of reasons. Primarily, Nord represents one of the first black metal albums that I discovered on my own. Without any outside influence, whether by friend or by 'zine, tape trading (which still occurred in the mid to late 90's) or band association. I bought the album because at the time it was their only record, and someone just happened to have a box of Napalm Records releases for sale at a show, and at the time I was only vaguely aware of Napalm Records due to their association with the kvlt Moribund Records. My purchase was simply based on the logo and the album art.

Having no real idea what to expect I was excited to get the album home to spin. Hell, I didn't even know that they were Swedish or where their overall sound was rooted, I simply knew the whole package looked grim as hell. As far as the Swedish scene at the time, all I had heard was the primordial savagery of Jon Nödtveidt's the Black and of course the first two Dissection albums (which Nödtveidt steered more into death metal territory), and the relentless assault of less subtle bands like Marduk and Dark Funeral. What I got with Setherial, however, was something else entirely.

Rarely are album covers so blatantly accurate, but here's an exception: icy cold, grim, and a certain veil of mystery lurk within Nord. It is a rager of an album to be sure, but there are countless subtleties within it. Melody, dissonance, weird time changes, and unrelenting atmosphere supplied by tasteful keyboards. On top of all that, it is heavy as hell, a brutal descent through fantastical frost-bitten wastelands.

The vocals of Kraath are an enraged shriek. His cadence is direct and decipherable and almost instrumental and his lyrics a lament of lost Scandinavian traditions. Not content to simply spit the blasphemy of countrymen Marduk or Dark Funeral, there is a clear poetical quality not shared by many in the scene at the time. His delivery is definitely a high point.

At the forefront next to the vocals would be the dual guitar delivery of Devothan and Lord Mysteriis. Basically a swirling chaos that churns out equal parts aggression and melody, straight forward and also complex. There is a fair amount of Blood Fire Death/Hammerheart era Bathory influence to be heard, while at the same time hinting at the triumphant onslaught that would be found on albums by Allegiance. This work alone is a high point of the genre at the time, in my opinion, and differentiates Setherial from their contemporaries alone.

The admitted downside to the album is unfortunately the bass work of Thorn. As superior as the rest of the instrumentation is on this album, Thorn's basslines are incredibly difficult to decipher in this mix, almost as if they're simply an afterthought. On the upside of this disappointment in the rhythm section are session drums by Anders Löfgren, here going by Zathanel. His battery is pummeling and concise, untriggered and distinct. He switches from ice cold blasts to galloping beats on a dime, ravaging the ears and propelling the rest of the group to an exceptional level that I think was kind of unmatched in this album's day.

To say that I was thrilled upon listening to Nord the first time is an understatement. I worshipped Setherial as supreme black metal art as far as their album Hell Eternal, after which they slipped into the mediocre and insubstantial territory of second rate black metal. But this debut is a startlingly intense statement of intent by a band still young and fresh with creativity to the nines. It weaves and rips and immerses with it's atmosphere and musicianship, and never fails to captivate. Almost 20 years later, I believe this album is just as compelling as the day it dropped.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Eldritch Noise Terror: 10 Albums Exalting HP Lovecraft

My relationship with HP Lovecraft's fiction goes back a long way. Much longer than any musical relationship I've had, unless you're counting Pink Floyd or maybe Neurosis circa 1993. It was a long road that led to my discovering Lovecraft, whose onset likely started with a typical teenage obsession with Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, but more so Clive Barker. The otherworldly prose of Barker was both alluring in its eloquence and disturbing in its subversiveness, but nonetheless helped me to embrace more obscure authors of his ilk: Thomas Ligotti, James Havoc (Satanskin specifically), Brian Lumley, not to mention the whole onset of Bizarro Fiction that generally still remains obscure to this day. Long story short, everything aforementioned paved the way for me to discover Lovecraft's incredible works.

I can't say that I identified with his characters, as his inventions were generally of a New Englander's origin, and distinctly different than the traits of a modern day Pacific Northwesterner, but what I did identify with was the psychological horrors which he visited upon his characters. As if he brushed these broad strokes of human definition just to cruelly visit unspeakable blasphemies and mental tortures upon them, proving that even the most vividly drawn people in his canon were susceptible to interstellar/interdimensional terrors that would inevitably lead to their mental ruination, if not just their physical demise. His work is so utterly devoid of compassion or empathy yet clinically coherent and addictively worded that I poured myself into his stories. To this day, I don't think any American writer has done better to detail the fantastic, aside from Melville's Moby Dick, perhaps Hemingway or Robert E Howard.

Over the years I have become increasingly drawn to music that is capable of evoking the themes Lovecraft put to paper. Music capable of reflecting the eldritch horrors of the man's mythos, whether by direct reference or metaphorical correlation. While many a collective essay has been devoted to detailing the overlooked films that elicit Lovecraft's often reviled imagery, it's hard to find such lists devoted to music, especially with the realms of extreme music, or extreme noise terror as it were. Bear in mind that what follows is completely subjective. Your prerogative may differ in the interim, but I feel like this list is fairly representative of some of the best music to relay our treasured Lovecraftian themes in the extreme underground.

In the Depths of R'lyeh
Moribund Records (2006)

It's hard to think of another project that so perfectly embodies the aesthetic of the Cthulhu mythos better than Xathagorra Mlandroth's Catacombs. Supreme funeral doom of the highest order, it epitomizes "kvlt" to an intensely ridiculous degree. Plodding and cavernous, awash in the baleful torment of droning guitar leads that worm their way into your head like the elder gods tentacles. Wringing the life from humanity amidst the crushing dirge of the echoing percussion. It's suffocatingly brutal, some of the slowest doom recorded this side of Thergothen or Skepticism, yet entrancingly addictive in its simplicity and underlying melody. It presents a drawn out chaos that could only be inspired by the madness wrought when a god devours a planet. Absolutely essential.

Out Himalayan Records (1987)

Cacophony isn't simply one of the greatest Lovecraft inspired works of art, it is also one of the best sound recordings ever put to vinyl. Honing the sound they achieved on the preceding Death Church, to a stiflingly fast nearly death rock sound, owing just as much to Joy Division as it did to Crass or Zounds. The bass pops and bounces and the guitars noodle along hyperactively mimicking the source material. Not so much a singular ode to HP Lovecraft's fiction as a requiem for the man himself. Encompassing the chaos of his adulthood and drawing ties to front man Nick Blinko's own life. Its near 45 minute run time goes by like a whirlwind of insanity and chaos, and it is as wryly humorous as it is maddeningly accessible. A fantastic tribute that goes beyond in terms of composition and craziness.

Tentacles of Whorror
Moribund Records (2004)

Regardless of what your opinion of Jef Whitehead may be, as Wrest, the sole member of Leviathan, he has created some of the most disturbing and misanthropic music to grace the US black metal scene. While the earlier 10th Sub Level of Suicide album expertly packaged misanthropy and self loathing into a completely grim and raucous exploration of black metal soundscapes, Tentacles inspires an entirely different type of insanity. If there had to be a soundtrack to James Havoc's Satanskin or Raism, it would likely be this album. Brimming with unabashedly abrasive sounds and textures, burps and shrieks, rhythm and pacing it is something I would mostly compare to the sound of going completely insane, or at least being formidably terrified. It's lyrically punny, but in a way that disguises it from being cheeky, instead taboo and esoteric, metaphysical and misanthropic. It's a raging album of seething black metal, played more angrily and tormentingly than I think has been heard, at least on this side of the world.

Necropolis Records (1993)

Nespithe is arguably one of the most unique albums recorded in the annals of death metal history. Setting a high watermark not just for their countrymen also dabbling with the style (i.e. Convulse, Demigod, Adramelech) but for the genre as a whole. This is truly eldritch death metal, with bestial vocals nastily belched forth in a dysrhythmic cadence from the onslaught of distortion created by their instruments. Devastatingly down-tuned guitars that weave between gargled distortion and razor sharp melodies muddied by the production. A huge bottom end where the bass festers with the pummeling drums. All elements that when combined remind of the madness wrought within Lovecraftian lore. It's an otherworldly sound whose aim it is to bludgeon listeners into an empathic stupor of bewilderment and forgotten intentions. Wholly absorbing and entirely sinister.

Swallowed by the Ocean's Tide
Imperium Productions (2013)

Germany's Sulphur Aeon are somewhat new to me but I am already intimately familiar with this album. To put it in broad terms would be to define it as death metal. In getting more specific and not wanting to simply genre-fy the record, it can be likened to early day Hypocrisy on a diet of amphetamines, Behemoth-ish without all the Satan or over the top production, sharing the scalpel sharp melodies and blackened metal of Storm of the Light's Bane era Dissection. You might hear elements of Swano's Edge of Sanity and potential hints of Transcend the Rubicon era Benediction. Or, maybe you won't hear any of that. In my mind Sulphur Aeon retain their own identity here, while staying reminiscent of their peers that may have paved the way. Yes, the melodies here are impossible to ignore, piercing and sharp as a knife while the rhythm guitar gallops along in the mold established by Bolt Thrower so many years ago, chugging relentlessly. The bass is suggestively heavy and pounding, blitzkrieging the listener along with the percussion which matches the bass chop for chop. Overall, though, the dominant feeling of the album is maddeningly liquid, which plays to their theme of the Stygian ocean crypt which imprisons Cthulhu. A blistering herald for breaking the chains of his imprisonment in order for him to cast madness upon the world, after devouring his faithful. It's all there lyrical, direct references to tales as diverse as the Call of Cthulhu, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, and At the Mountains of Madness, but especially Dagon, the Lurking Fear, & the Shadow Over Innsmouth. Regardless, it's great stuff and holds its own against the others in this list, by sheer weight of composition and art direction alone.

Tides of Awakening
Firedoom Music (2005)

The title of Tyranny's single long play masterpiece is Lovecraftian in and of itself. Tides of Awakening: as in the tides of the ocean that ebb and flow over the waking bulk of Cthulhu himself. And what better soundtrack for his arrival on our planet than this? A sonorous dirge of apocalyptic weight, its intellectual funeral doom cascading like slow waves of a forsaken sea. The lilting synths contrast with the numbing needling of the guitar lines which weave along with a thunderous and plodding rhythm section bent on decimating the world through laborious brutality. Rather than the guttural growls so often associated with doom of the funereal variety, these are deep audible caverns of seething diabolocal intent pitch black in tone and long drawn out. The entire mythos is explored here, as bleak as possible and reverential as you might expect looking at the phenomenal cover art of Cthulhu's waking eye, reflecting R'lyeh in its depths. Truly behemoth and note worthy, doom of the highest caliber.

Les Acteurs de l'Ombre (2014)

This is another group to whom I'm fairly new to. Hailing from France, the apparent motherland of forward thinking black metal. In most cases dissonant and experimental, spearheading ambiance and atmosphere in tandem with superior progressive black metal. The Great Old Ones, however, are no Blut Aus Nord nor indicative of the blitz approach of acts like Katharsis. The Great Old Ones are a bit more traditional than that, though their intent to weave an intricate atmosphere from nothing is captured expertly here. This entire composition is an ode to the At the Mountains of Madness and the stirring of elder gods. Packaged beautifully with original art, both adorning the cover as well as the pages of the copy of the aforementioned At the Mountains of Madness included with the deluxe box set of the album. High concept stuff to be sure and they pull it off exceptionally well while avoiding the trite pretensions of lesser artists. The music is beautifully composed, and the atmosphere they achieve excels in conjuring imagery from the story. An excellent representation of Lovecraftian metal taken to the extreme.

The Sea Grave
War Anthem Records (2013)

Hailing from Spain is Graveyard, a blackened death metal troupe that plays in the vein of early Dismember cum Grave but with the corrosively sharp reckless abandon of Dissection. The only atmosphere here is a stifling one of speedy brutality and the determination to beat its listeners into submission. They deliver blunt force sermons from a pulpit of seething rage unto their listeners. The guitars a buzzsaw of orchestrated cacophony and a pulsating rhythm section bent to ride the tides of their thrashing death metal. All to the elated themes of Cthulhu dominating humanity. The album is a storied epic painting pictures of R'lyeh lying dormant before the impending visions and insanity that heralds the elders birth unto our world. Each track while distinctly its own flows perfectly into the next, composing a suite meant to be played from start to finish. A relentless project that doesn't only glorify Lovercraft's genius, but the roots of European death metal at the same time.

Catacombs of the Grotesque
Asphyxiate Recordings (2009)

Rather than fixate on their European forebears, Mexico's Denial instead worship at the altar of Incantion. Specifically Onward to Golgotha through Upon the Throne of Apocalypse when Craig Pillard's beyond guttural vocal excretions where just as identifiable as the dense, claustrophobic production. Denial are just as stiflingly brutal, though less preoccupied with blowing the devil's trumpets than with warning us of the impending onslaught of bestial gods and gluttonous monstrosities that lurk in the nether between Earth and space. Their imagery and words eliciting visions of incomprehensible chaos while the music is a reckoning of destruction and glib anarchy where the laws of physics are violated just as superfluously as the laws of men. Dissonant guitars chug lumberingly along with bass so down tuned it could loosen stools with too much volume, and an apocalyptic rhythm section that seeks to crush the listeners under its weight. This is brutal death defined, and it simply worships the words of Lovecraft, while keeping the source subtle enough to think that the madness on this disc might actually be their own.

Self Released (2012)

Chthe'ilist hail from Canada, a death metal hotbed notorious for giving the world legends in the form of Blasphemy, Conqueror, and Revenge. But rather than pay tribute to the aforementioned, this Canadian group owes their sound to Finnish death metal of the early 90's, most notably the already discussed Demilich. Their praise of Cthulhu and cohorts is obvious enough by their song titles, making reference to the elder gods, scripture from the Necronomicon, that reviled fictional text penned by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, and non-euclidean geometry at its most foul. This is only an EP but it easily impresses not just with its devotion to the subject matter, but in its musical adeptitude as well. While the cast here is certainly paying homage to Demilich and Adramelech, their skills are undeniable. Devastatingly heavy instrumentation, with guitars that teeter between the Swedish buzzsaw effect and Finland's more devastatingly straight forward rampage with sweeping arpeggios and tremolo breakdowns that beat along with the expertly crafted basslines punctuating the rhythm of the blasting drums. Vocals here are guttural chants that avoid the belching of their idols in Demilich, but carry their own weight. Definitely a demo worth finding and one that works to capture the wealth of weight in Lovecraft's words.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bloody Roots: Revisiting "Panzerfaust" by Darkthrone

Discussions regarding Norway's long lived Darkthrone are generally polarizing to say the least. They are flag bearers for the second wave of Scandinavian black metal, easily surpassed in technicality and fidelity by the likes of Emperor or Enslaved, Immortal or Satyricon. Which isn't to say that Darkthrone is without merit... they are my favorite group of the bunch, due to unwavering ethics and unflinching dedication to bucking trends when it suits them.

Their album "Goatlord", for instance, features one of the most incredibly complex drum performances by Fenriz throughout its running time, which is then ruined (purposefully, I'd like to believe) by the album's terrible production. At any rate, over the course of 20 plus years, Fenriz and collaborator Nocturno Culto have put forth nearly as many albums, never adhering to the template of black metal as determined by their contemporaries.

Most people would point to any of their first four releases as being more indicative of what Darkthorne truly represents, both artistically and musically, if one were to separate the two. But I have always held that "Panzerfaust" captures them at their most brilliant. While it may not be as sweepingly epic as earlier efforts like "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" or "Under a Funeral Moon", its song-craft is undeniable.

While their older work may be at times more technical ("Soulside Journey") and icily chaotic ("Transylvanian Hunger"), "Panzerfaust" is where they truly learned to compose riffs. And riffs come in spades here. With a slight detour in track one, which hints that the album may repeat the frostbitten harshness of their former work, it changes gears and turns into a record made in praise of Celtic Frost and Hellhammer. Track number two, Triumphant Gleam, could almost be the Usurper. Not in the same way that Burzum's War was simply a retooled Necromancy by Bathory, but rather a reflection of the two bands Fenriz was at the time obsessed with.

"Panzerfaust" doesn't relent from there, flirting with orthodox black metal along with a smattering of furious thrash (Triumphant Gleam & Hans Siste Vinter), relentlessly crushing doom (Beholding the Throne of Might, the Hordes of Nebula, & Quintessence), and hints here and there of their initial incarnation as a death metal band. Ending track Sno Og Granskog (Utferd) is pure Norwegian classicism, hinting at folk and spoken word. Which would all be fine and good if the tracks had just been jumbled together, but the order in which they're played are almost compositions in itself. They flow perfectly from start to finish.

Complimenting the tracks is an unparalleled vocal performance from Nocturno Culto, full of vitriol and enraged anguish, shrieks that carry the album in time with Fenriz' instrumentation. The guitars are explosive and epic, tuned low and high in the mix with complimentary basslines that rumble along like a tank. His drumming is tight as hell, pummeling and brutal and he nails what he's described in interviews as the "perfect drum sound". As Fenriz handled all of the instruments herein, including the recording at Necrohell Studios, it makes it all the more impressive. Especially when compared to their follow-up album, "Total Death", which while completely listenable has none of the significant elements that came together to make "Panzerfaust" a perfect album. It's still a little lo-fi, but appropriately so considering the sound the duo were striving to achieve, which in my opinion has never been equaled by any of their contemporaries.

I may be biased to some degree, though, as I always appreciate Darkthrone more when they're rebuking trends, as they did to the nth degree with "Panzerfaust", when the metal underground was pining for a repeat of the black metal they had already mined in their preceding four records. This duo is undeniably unlike any others amongst their peers, and their lack of concern for anything other than Darkthrone's integrity is something I wish more artists of this caliber adhered to throughout such incredibly long and massive careers and discographies. Hail "Panzerfaust" and praise the names of the musical assassins: Darkthrone.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bloody Roots: Revisiting Impaled's "Death After Life"

This album originally dropped in 2005, and was something that I bought on release day. At the time I was on a huge gore metal jag, consuming just about anything related to Impaled, Exhumed, or General Surgery. I'd throw in the obvious Carcass reference, but really they should be a given.

While Exhumed's opus "Anatomy is Destiny" streeted two years previous, "Death After Life" was hailed prior to release as a milestone for Impaled, with comparisons drawn to the aforementioned Exhumed album as well as Carcass' seminal "Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious".

While the album definitely holds their record for cleanest packaging, I would have to dispute those claims and point to "Mondo Medicale" as Impaled's seminal, and truly only essential, release. But don't take that to mean that this album is a dud. As much as I prefer their previous platter of splatter, this particular record contains my favorite song of theirs', which I still hold to be the most perfect example of excellent Carcass worship ever recorded, "Dead Shall Dead Remain"... not to be confused with their album of the same title. I think you would be hard pressed to find a better display of manic musicianship, cleanly mixing the ethos of crust along with sheer unfuckwithable death and grind in a perfectly gory setting. The lyrics for it are also some of my favorites for this particular band:

"Our hypothesis carried out on mortal remains
Real-life application tests our conjectures
It seems despite our scientific progress
All we've proven is our abject failures

A foetid stench fills the air
And with a pungent voice declares
Though we prod a cadaver with care
There is no life in there
Altruistic notions aside
And the experiments we've tried
The veracity cannot be denied
There is no cure for those who've die..."

In fact, I think that while musically "Mondo Medicale" reigns supreme, "Death After Life" contains some of the best lyrics that Ross Sewage has ever put to paper. This whole thing is a concept album, basically putting the band in the shoes of doctors a'la Jeffery Combs' Herbert West, attempting to come up with a solution/cure for the dead. Very tongue in cheek, witty, and hysterical while remaining pulpy and bloody as hell.

Now as for the music, Sewage spews bass licks like few other performers, with chunky grooves and a huge bottom end that rollicks along with Raul Varela's bombastic drums which are placed perfectly in the mix (if anything detrimental could be said about "Mondo..." it would be issues with the mixing). Sean McGrath and Jason Kocol share guitar duties, and their playing is exceptionally tight and frantic. The riffs are killer overall, if more often than not less memorable than the preceding record. The glue that holds the whole thing together, is the production of Trey Spruance, currently playing with the Secret Chiefs 3 and formerly with Mr Bungle. The whole sound of the album is reminiscent of the techniques used by bands like Dark Angel on "Darkness Descends" or more recently Southern Lord's Power Trip on their "Manifest Decimation" LP. This disc needs to be played LOUD.

So in answer to how the disc holds up... yeah, it's still great 9 years later. I would argue greater than the follow up "Impaled's Last Gasp", though not up to the standards they set with "Mondo Medicale". Hopefully success with the rerecorded "The Dead Still Dead Remain" will see Impaled putting out new material, as they are if not anything else an ever reliable act in the small gore metal crowd, alongside reigning greats Exhumed and General Surgery. Currently the disc can be had for as little as three bones plus shipping from 3rd party sellers on Amazon, and for that I'd say it's easily well worth it!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bloody Roots: Revisiting "Nemesis Divina"

Satyricon now is more or less a mockery of what they were once upon a time, in a scene bustling with new ideas, new sounds, and new heights in sonic extremism.

When I first heard "Nemesis Divina", it was one of several coveted black metal releases, generally mentioned in the same breath as Mayhem's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", Emperor's "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk", Darkthrone's "Transylvanian Hunger", Immortal's "Blizzard Beasts", and Gorgoroth's "Pentagram" albums.

I might cynically refer to any of the above as "Starter Black Metal", which could theoretically apply to any number of Norwegian or Swedish black metal groups from the early 90's besides the aforementioned: Dimmu Borgir, Hecate Enthroned, Dark Funeral, Dissection, Old Man's Child, early era Enslaved or Behemoth, Dodheimsgard, or Marduk. Of course the cynic in me wouldn't even bother spinning a staple like "Nemesis Divina" or anything else I've bothered to list just several sentences ago.

I managed to find this particular CD while out and about. It's the Moonfog Productions pressing rather than the licensed Century Black version which I had when it initially came out for US listeners. It's a pressing that at this point I believe is well out of print, considering Satyr's label is no more than a blog presence these days so far as I can tell. So I lucked out, nabbing it for a mere $6.

All the above aside, this is about the album itself, and how well the damn thing holds up 18 years after it's initial release. Yes, 18 years, which for those of you bad at math is two shy of 20 years. But I digress... this monster holds up incredibly well.

The first thing of note, honestly, from the ear of someone jaded on the production styles of certain low fidelity US black metal like Xasthur or Krieg, is mixed and produced extremely well. Everything is nicely balanced and no single element of the mix really dominates. Ruminating on other 2nd wave black metal bands' production, the only album of this era that really matches it is the impeccable "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk". By saying that alone is a huge compliment to Satyr and Frost, who really eeked the most of their instruments and the recording facilities.

What really strikes me about this record is how many different elements are put together and make this a whole. They managed to incorporate the cold and static hyperblasts of early Immortal with the progressive leanings of Emperor and Enslaved, then wove in folk elements similar to projects like Fenriz' (Darkthrone) Isengard records or the Storm project that Fenriz put together along with Satyr and Norwegian folk singer Kari Rueslåtten. As a singular result, the album is exceptionally cohesive and I would argue rivals Emperor's classic "Anthems..." as far as forward thinking black metal from the 90's is concerned.

Satyr's lead guitars are performed impeccably, with grandiose flourishes and tremolo picking that rivals some of the best out there. He's basically turned his guitar into a weapon of face ripping harshness, but he also has no problems reeling it back and slowing it down. Darkthrone's Nocturno Culto provides rhythm guitar here, and he perfectly follows Satyr's lead, throwing down buzzing rhythms, galloping interludes, and a few nearly djent-ish passages that go a long way to accompany Frost's insanely manic percussion. As a unit, they're all in sync and the outcome is outstanding.

There's a lot of music that I came up on that I've tried revisiting and not been able to get my head around the appeal it may have initially had on me. A lot of 2nd tier black metal groups riding the wave of success set by more worthy stalwarts. This record is no slouch, that's for sure. Regardless of how cynical I've become about some of my roots music, "Nemesis Divina" is essential. It's a perfect tapestry of extreme music, progressive and harsh, folky but not cheesy (i.e. basically any Rob Darken project). I can see some complaints that the album is actually too serious, but in my mind it's the best Satyricon has ever been. After this it was all downhill, with "Rebel Extravaganza" an experimental mess, and then basically becoming the latter day Motley Crue of black metal. Really, though, if you have any appreciation for tunes of this ilk, than "Nemesis Divina" needs to be on your shelf.