Thursday, December 11, 2014

EP Briefs (I Need to Catch Up)

I am trying to clear out some emails here and figured since these were all shorter releases that a quick paragraph would suffice.  I found myself enjoying all three releases for different reasons, so don't take the brevity of the reviews as an indictment against them.

CREINIUM: PROJECT UTOPIA (2014)
Creinium is a technical extreme metal band from Finland.  It definitely starts out kind of weird, with some ambient synth work and some imposing narration but then kicks it into gear on the next track.  Creinium continues to use a lot of keyboards, giving the band kind of a death metal Dimmu Borgir sound, or a more technical Luna Ad Noctum.  The band combines a number of different metal genres into their sound, making a precise description somewhat difficult.  The keyboards are really the star here as they distinguish the group from others.  Without them, there would not be a whole lot to talk about.

PINEAL: SMILING CULT (2014)
This is the second post-metal band I have reviewed in the last week.  I suppose "post-metal" would be far too limiting a term, as Pineal clearly has a lot of sludgy riffs with some Alice In Chains-esque vocals as well.  The band is more of a cross between Crowbar, Alice In Chains, Neurosis, and some Tool for good measure.  The riffs are ridiculously heavy and of course slower-paced, and the haunting vocals add a sense of doom and gloom that carries forward through the entire release.  It is an overall dark and depressing release that sounds great on a cold, dreary night like tonight.

CRUSHING AXES: UNDEAD WARRIOR (2014)
Crushing Axes is a one-man death metal project from Brazil, although apparently a session drummer and bassist were used.  The vocals are the major standout.  Sounding something like Nespithe-era Demilich, they consist of deep, frog-like croaking, though not as extreme as the aforementioned Demilich.  The music is fairly simple mid-tempo groove-laden death metal with some interesting lead guitar work on the melodies.  The release in theme and sound does a pretty decent job of capturing the general feel of the catchier work by Amon Amarth.  I would like to see a Brazilian band like this cover some of Brazil's own badass mythology though.

Monday, December 8, 2014

In Memory of Dimebag

This is my all-time favorite Pantera song, and probably Top 10 songs of all-time:


I don't care for much later Pantera, but Cowboys from Hell is awesome.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ovenizer: Exhibition of Thoughts (2014)

I have never really gotten into post-metal.  Groups like Tombs and Isis were kind of lost on me.  Maybe I just never really heard the right tracks to check them out more.  I did not want to pick something up without really checking it out particularly with that style of music and I guess a lot of that had to do with the fact that I am much more into the ultra-aggressive forms of metal.  The ethereal, dreamlike structures of post-metal don't speak to me in the same way.

So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I dove into this three-song EP from Finnish post-metal/doom trio Ovenizer.  I figured a three-track release would be easy enough to digest though without growing too painful.  I am actually kind of glad I took the chance.  Maybe I was just a melancholy mood when listening to it, but it really did capture my attention and I found myself enjoying it immensely.

It is true that the three song format was easy to digest, but I found myself wanting more.  The songs each move freely with a significant amount of melody and swirling guitar riffs creating a trance-inducing atmosphere.  The vocals are typically clean, though occasionally a death growl emerges.  The vocals though are just complementary to the music.  The band could have just as easily produced the same atmosphere without any vocals at all.

The songs are typically slow and depressive.  The band strikes a balance between the earlier works of groups like My Dying Bride and Katatonia with the heavier works by Isis.  It is a very dark and doom-laden sound that also presents some extremely strong emotions, in particular during second track "Hypnote", the strongest track on the album.

I really enjoyed this release, but the best thing that I can say about it is that it has opened up my eyes to a genre I did not previously get into.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Hellcrawler/Wölfe: The End of Humanity (2014)

Do other forms of music even do splits?  It seems like the only splits I ever hear about are in extreme metal and related genres.  Seriously, are there splits in rap music?  Pop music?  

Anyway, this is a split between two obviously extreme metal bands.  You don't get a name like Hellcrawler in the pop music realm.  Each band contributed about ten minutes worth of music, which does a surprisingly good job of introducing the band to someone like myself who is not familiar with either group.

Hellcrawler has taken the Entombed death 'n roll sound and run with it.  The Slovenien group (that's right, Slovenian) has one full length album under their belt before this split.  Their side of the split is three tracks of dirty, filthy death metal with some surprisingly catchy hooks.  Third track "Green Machine" is a cover of one of the greatest Kyuss songs.  They do a decent job putting their own spin on it.  

Wölfe is definitely extreme.  An odd mix of grindcore and blackened thrash.  The band apparently does not actually name their songs, titling them with Roman numerals only.  The production values leave a little to be desired as the sound is a little too high-pitched and grating.  The drums have that certain St. Anger quality.  The vocals are pretty terrible as well.  I will likely not be revisiting Wölfe.

So, two sides, one really good and the other really bad.  I will definitely be trying to track down some more Hellcrawler.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cyrax: Reflections (2013)

If I had to pick just one word to describe the sound of Cyrax, it would be eclectic.  I think that is the most accurate descriptor for a band that combines such a wide and varied mix of music into their sound.  The Italian five-piece can go from blues rock to metal at the drop of a hat.  None of which would be possible if the musicians were not all as incredibly talented as they are.

The album starts off with the track "Doom Against True Hell", which features a hefty amount of synthesizer programming to open things up before diving into a much more standard power-chord-driven riff, which is easily the heaviest riff on the release.  That sound is frequently spliced with more programming, some choral vocal lines, and singer Marco Cantoni's howling vocals.  This sets the stage for most of the rest of the songs, which manage to throw a number of other influences in as the album progresses.

Along the way, there are some strange moments which may be considered missteps depending on the listener.  For instance, "My Kingdom for a Horse" features some vocal segments that can best be described as akin to rapping.  Which is strange, to say the least.  Other sections feature more of the choral style, which is typically done quite well.  Much of the album relies on keyboards to drive the melody, which can be interesting when done well, but some of the more experimental sections can be a little strange.  And of course the track "Feel the Essence of Blues" is much more of a blues song than metal, which is a bit of an unusual and rather courageous addition.

The members of Cyrax are clearly talented musicians, which is the only reason that they are able to pull this album off.  It is a very strange and varied release that sees influences from a variety of non-metal genres, as well as metal.  Is it for everyone?  Probably not.  But it is certainly an entertaining and interesting release.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Neoplasmah: Auguring the Dusk of a New Era (2014)

I'll be honest.  The cover art for this one threw me for a loop.  Based on the artwork of a man floating above a pool of water with multiple planets/moons in the background around him, I was thinking the music was going to be some kind of spacey progressive metal akin to Andromeda, Bal-Sagoth, and the like, or at the very least some overly technical metal wankery.  I was not expecting what turned out to be a death metal album.

To be fair, this is much more of a progressive death metal album in the vein of Mithras and Nocturnus.  The bass in particular reminds me very strongly of Nocturnus's classic The Key.  The science fiction theme, complicated song structures, otherworldly bass sound, and deep vocals combine into a cohesive sound that really does give off the feel of a sci-fi concept album. 

Each of the musicians is extremely gifted at their instruments.  The bass is definitely the star of the album but the drumming and lead guitars are also top-notch.  The drumming, while not as complicated as some progressive metal drummers (i.e. no polyrhythms and multiple time signatures) drives the music with its precision and intensity.  The lead guitar work provides a lot of the melody of the songs and can go from almost neoclassical shredding to dissonant chord progressions fairly quickly. 

The vocals of singer Sofia Silva are delivered in a raspy tone that calls to mind Sabina Classen of Holy Moses, who is one of my personal favorite female extreme metal vocalists, so I am on board.  There is not frequently a lot of dynamics to the vocals, but they nonetheless fit well with the urgency of the music.  On occasion the band utilizes clean backing vocals which provide a nice dichotomy to the otherwise more monotone vocal style.

One thing I did really enjoy with this release is that, unlike a lot of progressive metal bands, Neoplasmah craft complete songs, rather than a collection of musical segments.  Songwriting appears to be just as important to this band as showing off their technical skills.  The band takes things one step further by being able to blend all of the songs into a complete album rather than just a collection of separate and distinct songs.

This is an album that sounds better and better with repeated listens.  There is a lot going on musically that can be missed and revealed in hearing it again and again. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Villainy: The View from My Ivory Tower (2014)

Villainy has not been around for very long.  They released their first full-length album in 2013 and then a collection of their demos in 2014.  This is a follow-up two-song EP from the power trio.  I was not previously aware of Villainy, so this is my first experience with the band.

The music is an unholy combination of doom, black, and crust.  The opening track crawls out of the gate with the pace of a snail slinking to its demise.  The pace increases to a more of a deathly gallop before returning to the dirge.  The song definitely has a Sabbathian feel to it, despite the more modern influences.

The second track is a much more fast-paced song that sounds like Motorhead playing Venom.  As a big fan of groups like Wastelander and Thargos, this song really catches my interest.  If this is what the rest of Villainy's material sounds like, I am all in. 

Unfortunately this is just a two-song EP, but it definitely piqued my curiosity to check out more by Villainy.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sinister: The Unborn Dead (2014)

The Dutch death metal mavens Sinister have quietly put together quite the impressive and long-lasting career despite never coming close to mainstream death metal recognition.  Most of the reason for this is geographical, but it is quite unfortunate all the same. 

This release is a quick, two-song 7" EP.  Both songs are covers with the first being a cover of Grotesque's "Ripped from the Cross", and a second, much more outside-the-box cover of Chicago-based doom metal band Novembers Doom.  Both tracks are presented with the grinding bottom-heavy riffs and pounding drums that Sinister has perfected over their long career.  Vocalist/drummer (?) Aad Kloosterwaard has one of the most extreme voices in death metal, sounding much more like a deep, guttural croak.

There is not much to say about the Grotesque cover.  It is definitely within Sinister's wheelhouse, fast-paced, frenetic death metal.  It is unsurprising that Sinister is able to handle this song capably.  The much more shocking cover is the Novembers Doom cover.  Sinister infuses some clean vocals to capture the mournful tone of the original track.  But the band sounds a little clumsy trying to slow things down and has a hard time conveying the tragedy and loss that Novembers Doom is so well-suited to capture.  Sinister should probably stick to uncompromising, lethal death metal than trying their hand at doom.

So, two tracks, one pretty good, and the other not as well-executed, but certainly interesting.  It is only a two-track EP so it is only recommended for hardcore fans.

Friday, October 3, 2014

You're Probably Wondering Where the Hell I Have Been

I promise to get back soon.  Things might actually slow down here sometime soon.  I just won a Motion to Suppress last week and I have a jury trial in a couple of weeks.  I suspect after the jury trial I will be back.

See you soon.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Kult of Taurus: Divination Labyrinths (2014)

Without a doubt, one of my favorite black metal scenes of all time is the Hellenic scene. Groups like Rotting Christ, Varathron, Ravencult, Thou Art Lord, and others bring a unique melodicism to an otherwise bleak and miserable sound. The bands have a unique style all to themselves and it is a sound that other regional scenes simply do not possess. Kult of Taurus is another of these bands and has been around since just 2007.

The album begins in fairly typical fashion with a largely ambient track. There is some voiceover discussing the nature of mankind that probably comes from some horror movie or other, which lends a nice creepy vibe to kick things off. From there, we are off to the races with the kind of dark riffing this breed of black metal is known for. Musically, Kult of Taurus is probably most similar to Melechesh. There is a strong Middle-Eastern element to the band's sound, though Kult of Taurus do not use the constantly repetitive riff structure that Melechesh uses to great effect. The structure of the songs is very progressive as well, leading to room for experimentation.

The vocals should be discussed. These are not typical black metal vocals in that they are not the typical raspy shriek. Rather, they are delivered in a harsh, but mostly clean manner that is clear and easy to understand. That is not to say that the vocalist is crooning at all. It is still an aggressive and threatening style, it is just not the more typical black metal style.

This is a highly enjoyable release that fits in well with the Hellenic black metal scene. That is one of my favorite styles of black metal and this album is a perfect example of why.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Godhunter/Anakim: Vulture's Wake/The Whimper of Whipped Dogs (2013)

Originally reviewed here.
Godhunter was covered here fairly recently and I discussed how it was nice to hear some real sludge metal again. Here we have the same Godhunter paired with fellow Tucson, AZ sludge metal group Anakim. This is an incredibly short split, presented in physical form on a 7" vinyl. Each band has just one song on the split, so it is a very quick introduction to the bands.

I covered Godhunter recently and came away very impressed. This track by the group is a bit more of a stoner doom-styled track with heavier riffs and a generally much more rock-oriented sound. "Vulture's Wake" is a surprisingly catchy track though the vocals are still a little bit too one-note. On just one song though that can be overlooked.

Anakim is a band that I was unfamiliar with prior to hearing this. They are significantly softer and less-aggressive than their colleagues. Anakim's sound is much more ethereal and abstract than the much more straightforward Godhunter, at least for the first half of the song. The second part kicks off with a Sabbathian crunchy riff, similar to "Black Sabbath". The vocals are impressive, done with double track. One voice shouts while the other growls in the background. It adds to the dreamlike texture of the track. I found myself very impressed with Anakim's addition to this split.

It is unfortunate that there are only two songs here. Of course I have heard the entire album for Godhunter, but I am anxious to hear more from Anakim.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cannabis Corpse/Ghoul: Splatterhash (2014)

Originally reviewed here.
Oh boy, this is quite the combination of bands to share a split. To be fair, I am actually not very familiar with Cannabis Corpse, but I am a big fan of Ghoul. Both bands are known for their outlandish lyrical content and their obsession with gore. The name of the split is a play on the album Splatterthrash by Ghoul. It of course references Cannabis Corpse's obsession with marijuana.

Cannabis Corpse kicks things off on the split. The band is a marijuana-based parody of Cannibal Corpse, which can probably be ascertained by the band's name. The band was created by Land Phil of crossover/thrash metal band Municipal Waste. He does do a fairly competent impression of Corpsegrinder Fisher. Many of the band's song names are direct knockoffs of Cannibal Corpse songs, such as "Inhalation Plague" from "Evisceration Plague". The references to Cannibal Corpse are pretty clear, though Cannabis Corpse does a pretty solid job of presenting their own style. The dual vocals are an impressive addition that is apparently new to the group these days. I have been previously reluctant to check out Cannabis Corpse. The fact that they were originally a parody band and their obsession with marijuana were turnoffs. However, the music is very strong death metal. I would be willing to give them another chance based on this.

Ghoul is a band that I am familiar with and like quite a bit. Their manic, horror movie thrash/death metal is a unique style that no other band has quite been able to replicate. Ghoul unfortunately is not very prolific with releasing music. It is likely that Ghoul is a side project for various members. They also add some different vocal styles, catching listeners off-guard with some black metal-style shrieking to go along with the typical gruff vocals. The two tracks here are a very good representation of Ghoul's sound. It is gory, intense, and surprisingly catchy, with the occasional oddball moment thrown in for good measure.

I still hate how short these splits are on occasion. Particularly with an inspired pairing such as this. There are only four songs on the whole thing with each band having just two tracks. Nevertheless, this is a good sampling of what to expect from both groups.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Godhunter: City of Dust (2014)

Originally reviewed here.
It seems like I have been reviewing an awful lot of sludge lately. That is fine with me. When sludge is done right, it sounds incredible. The heavy riffs, gruff vocals, and angry lyrics are a combination that speaks to me, particularly after a long day at work dealing with clients. Unfortunately, over the years sludge has become bastardized into an almost radio-friendly style by the likes of Mastodon and Baroness. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Mastodon and Baroness at times, however their effect on the style has continued to be felt to this day and few bands play the style the way Crowbar, Acid Bath, and others played it. But we seem to be seeing a resurgence of sorts very recently with groups like Lord Dying and Godhunter.

Godhunter are a Tucson, AZ-based band that plays a style of sludge similar to that of Crowbar. The songs are frequently moderately-paced, with thundering riffs and angry, shouted vocals from singer David Rodgers. The songs do possess some progressive structures keeping things varied and interesting. Godhunter is not concerned with making things simplistic, but at the same time, the songs do not linger longer than they should. There is something to be said for that.

The band kicks things off with "Despite All" which starts off with a spoken word segment explaining a lot of the ills of the world, including lawyers destroying justice, which I take a little offense to. It is a common complaint about my chosen field however and I certainly understand that. "Snake Oil Dealer" is clearly the best song on this release with the terrific guitar work and crawling riffs. The vocals work much better on this track as well. "Shooting Down the Sun" stands out as well due to the acoustic guitar melodies and generally somber tone. The non-spoken vocals are incredible on this track with a lot more emotion than the rest of the album. I could have done without the spoken parts though which tend to detract from the rest of the song.

The only real issue I have with this album is a small one. Apart from "Shooting Down the Sun", there is almost no variation in the vocals. Occasionally the backing vocals kick in, keeping things interesting for awhile, but for the most part, Rodgers is a fairly one-note vocalist. That is not unusual in sludge metal, or a lot of metal in general, but for some reason it seems much more pronounced on this album.

Apart from that one minor squabble, this album does a lot to recapture the feel and style of old sludge metal. And that is definitely a good thing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Innsmouth: Consumed by Elder Sign (2014)

The works of H.P. Lovecraft have had a very long history of influence on metal.  Of course Metallica referenced his works in two early famous songs, "The Call of Ktulu" and "The Thing that Should Not Be".  Many groups have since tailored their music to create a sound worthy of the doom and gloom present in his stories.  Two subgenres have captured this feeling best.  One is funeral doom, lead by groups like Catacombs, Thergothon, and Tyranny.  The other is a form of primordial, occult death metal.  Innsmouth falls into the latter of these two subgenres.

With a name like Innsmouth and the title of the album here, you can probably guess that there are a lot of Lovecraftian references to be found herein.  You would be absolutely correct.  Song titles like "Thrice-Blessed Shub-Niggurath" and many of the lyrics also keep that going.

But along with the obvious lyrics and band name, the sound really conveys the hopelessness and foreboding doom of the Lovecraft stories.  The sound is otherworldly, dark and intense, with rumbling riffs and psychotic growling vocals.  There is a creepy atmosphere that carries throughout the entire album, which is conveyed the best through the use of audio effects such as those at the beginning of "Thrice-Blessed Sub-Niggurath".

The riffs in this release are not particularly ground-breaking.  They are not overly progressive or strange.  But they work incredibly well, particularly with the vocals.  The riffs are fairly repetitive, but that is definitely not a bad thing when they sound this good.

This album is definitely a contender for Album of the Year for me.  It is one of those death metal albums that just grab you and refuse to let go.  Definitely a must-hear.