Monday, March 18, 2019

1349: Massive Cauldron of Chaos (2014)

The year 1349 saw the emergence of the Black Death in Norway.  It was of course a devastating disease wiping out a huge percentage of the population.  And it is a fitting name for a black metal band that specializes in devastating riffs and destructive drumming. 

1349, the band, is a call-back to the days when black metal in Norway was dangerous and chaotic.  Very few of the Norwegian bands continued to sound like this.  Darkthrone and Satyricon both went in more of a heavy metal direction, Mayhem went completely bonkers, and Emperor broke up.  1349 came late to the game, but kept the spirit of early 90's Norwegian black metal alive.  The band softened their sound and went in more of an experimental, atmospheric direction on 2009's Revelations of the Black Flame, but that was a critical flop and the band returned to its wicked ways on the next album.

This album features the tried-and-true 1349 formula.  Manic drumming, shrieking vocals, faster than hell riffs, and pure fucking chaos.  The drumming in particular deserves mention.  Behind the kit is the legendary Frost who has spent time in several noteworthy Norwegian black metal bands, including Satyricon, Gorgoroth, Gehenna and Keep of Kalessin.  His abilities are matched by few others in the genre and he is at the top of his game here.  And vocalist Ravn delivers his finest performance yet.

Where this album really succeeds is in the songwriting department.  Where several previous 1349 albums featured a number of great ideas, but struggled to keep things together on an entire album, this album feels like a cohesive whole.  There is not a single weak track on this album. 

I may have to revisit my prior 1349 albums, but I can honestly say that I think this one tops them all.  This is one of the greatest Norwegian black metal albums in years.  It absolutely captures all of the feeling of rage and intensity that the early 90's albums had.  1349 has truly come into their own on this album.  Unfortunately, they have yet to release a follow-up in the five years since this album.  They did release a two-song EP this year, so hopefully we have not heard the last from 1349.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Reader Submission: Into Dark: Tone.Death.Memories (2017)

Polish black metal has become one of the more impressive regional black metal scenes in recent years.  Of course Behemoth has been around for a very long time, but there are several other great bands that have come into their own recently or have been around for years as well, including Mgła, Besatt, Arkona, Cultes des Ghouls and Graveland.  So, when Into Dark contacted me, I was intrigued.

Into Dark's debut album hits the sweet spot between Norwegian and Swedish black metal.  It is punishing in its intensity, and yet it is also dark and melodic.  The band is able to switch gears quickly and efficiently going from uncompromising brutality to a haunting atmosphere at the drop of a hat.  The clear production helps bring clarity to this dichotomy.  The vocals remain mostly consistent throughout the release, delivered in a harsh, deep rasp that actually manages to fit both styles of music here.  There are moments of clean-ish singing (more like bellowing) on "Ruthless Particle of Being" and "Where Havoc Dwells" that shine through.

There are several great songs here.  "Anhedonia Advanced" is a highlight with its schizophrenic drum patterns and general sense of uneasiness.  Of course "Ruthless Particle of Being" is terrific with its varied vocal style.  And "Truth that Liberates" is a terrific example of melodic black metal done right, in the vein of Dissection, Necrophobic, Uada and others.

This is yet another strong black metal album by a Polish band.  The country has been really churning them out lately.  I just have one request of the band: get a physical copy out.  I will pick one up right away.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Massacre: Back from Beyond (2014)

This is a lesson in not making snap buys.  I saw the band name "Massacre" and words in the title "From Beyond" and thought that this was a reissue of the Florida death metal band's classic debut album which I have yet to find.  It helped that the artwork was superficially similar to the debut album cover.  But in fact it was not the reissue, it is the reunion album (of sorts) from Massacre.  Only guitarist Rick Rozz and bassist Terry Butler are actually back on this album.  Notably absent is vocalist Kam Lee and drummer Bill Andrews.

I do not dislike this album, and there are some good songs on here that I do legitimately enjoy (at least while it is playing), it is just not what I expected.  Ultimately this is a fairly run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter death metal album.  All of the typical elements are present: heavy riffs, thundering drums, deep-throated roaring vocals.  And yet it just feels like something is missing.  It is just too generic.

The other big problem with the album is that it seems very long.  That is not actually true, despite having 14 songs on the album, it is just over 45 minutes in length.  But it just SEEMS long.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that there is nothing that really stands out all that much.  I mentioned before that there are songs that I enjoy, and for the most part I do not dislike any songs on this album.  Unfortunately, they do not really stick with me after the album is over.  That is perhaps the biggest problem here. 

It is unlikely that I would have picked this album up if I had been paying greater attention to what I was doing.  I was hoping for the reissue of a classic, I got a pretty safe reunion album. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Aseptic: Senses Decay (2018)

This was originally an EP that was sent to me as a promo to review from the label Redefining Darkness Records.  I liked it so much after listening to it that I decided to support the band and order a physical copy.  I do frequently do that.

Aseptic is a death metal duo from San Jose, California (a drummer and a vocalist/guitarist).  Given their roots, it is not surprising how much they sound like Possessed.  In fact it is more of a grimier, dirtier Possessed, sort of like if the band decided to start covering Obituary songs.  It is a call-back to a simpler time.  When death metal was truly deadly. 

This is a very short EP, just four songs and just over ten minutes in length total.  The songs fly by quickly, only one of them breaks the three-minute mark.  They usually consist of a slower swampier section, followed by a much faster riff that takes up much of the rest of the track.  There is not a lot of room for frills here, it is just pure, unadulterated, face-melting death metal. 

Aseptic has been around for a little while now and have released a couple of full-lengths.  I would not have heard of this band if not for the promo that was sent to me.  Now I have some more stuff to look into.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Diamond Head: Borrowed Time (1982)

The great Diamond Head was one of the primary influences on Metallica in the early days.  We know this because Metallica's covers album Garage Inc. featured FOUR Diamond Head cover songs.  All of those songs appeared on Diamond Head's classic album Lightning to the Nations (though one is also on this album).  I have that album and was recently curious to check out some of the band's lesser-known material.  Which brings me to this, the NWOBHM band's second album.

This album finds Diamond Head going in more of a hard rock direction on a number of the songs.  There are still definitely some head-bangers on this release, including the re-recording of "Am I Evil?", which is the aforementioned song covered by Metallica that appears on both Diamond Head albums.  There is also "In the Heat of the Night" and "To Heaven from Hell".  But many of the other songs are a little softer and not as riff-driven.  That by no means suggests that they are bad or that the band was going in a direction similar to another NWOBHM band whose sound softened in an effort to appeal to the masses (ahem, Def Leppard).  "Call Me" is the most straightforward rock song here and it really showcases Sean Harris's impressive pipes, which have improved quite a bit since the last album.

"Am I Evil?" is not the only song to appear on both of these Diamond Head albums.  "Lightning to the Nations" is another song that is repeated here.  I do not really know why these songs appear on both albums.  Perhaps the band was not happy with the way they sounded on the previous album.  Maybe this album was not meant to be a full-length and the band had to pad it.  Whatever the reason, two songs appear on both albums.  That makes "Am I Evil?" the best song to appear on two different Diamond Head albums. 

On the other side, "Don't You Ever Leave Me" seems to go on forever and turns into more of a blues/rock tune that has been done pretty much to death.  It reminds me very much of that Jon Bon Jovi Christmas song that had Cindy Crawford in the video.  It just gets kind of irritating the longer it goes on.  Thankfully, it leads into "Am I Evil?".

I like this album a fair bit, but not really anywhere close to as much as I enjoy Lightning to the Nations.  That album is a landmark in the NWOBHM scene.  This one, for all of its good qualities, is more of an afterthought.  And I can't really say that there is anything wrong with that.  The best songs on the album were on the previous album and most of the rest of the songs sound like filler more than anything. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Master: On the Seventh Day God Created...Master (1991)

Master was one of the earlier death metal bands in the United States, but due to a number of bizarre circumstances were not able to release their first full-length until 1990.  They recorded another their debut album a few years previous, but it went unreleased until 2003.  Master did finally get going and have been putting out albums reliably ever since.  This one is the band's second album.

The band was still playing a hybrid of death metal and thrash metal here, with an almost punk attitude.  The songs are generally fast-paced with little to no melody and a few guitar solos peppered throughout.  There are usually just one or two riffs per song as well, adding to the punk feel to the songs.  The songs are also very short, with only one coming close to five minutes in length.  It is really just the guitar tone that separates this album from thrash metal or hardcore.  It is a much deeper and heavier sound in the riffs.

Vocalist and primary member Paul Speckmann uses a gruff, barking vocal style throughout without much variation.  Everything Master does is fairly straightforward and simple, yet there is an intensity and brutality to the band's sound that was influential on a great many bands in the years to come.  Even the lyrics were not generally complex, with the possible exception of "Heathen" which tells a but more of a story than most of the other songs.  "America the Pitiful" is a parody of "America the Beautiful" complete with the same melody.  That one sounds like something Carnivore would do.  "Whose Left to Decide" is probably the most interesting from a composition standpoint with a number of riffs, some interesting solos and some of the best lyrics on the album.

I have a number of albums by Master now and this one is probably my favorite.  The speed and intensity is unmatched by most of the rest of the band's output that I have heard to this point.  It really finds the band at their most vicious.  I would probably go so far as to say that this should be the starting point to checking out Master.   

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Caustic Vomit: Festering Odes to Deformity (2018)

I still consider going back to a subscription to Decibel Magazine.  Just to have something to read and possibly discover some new bands.  Though it is true that my tastes in metal do not always align with Decibel (man, I miss Metal Maniacs), I still like reading it.  I really enjoy the Hall of Fame selections and articles, though again, my tastes do not always align (one month that I had a subscription their pick was The Jesus Lizard which baffled me since the band was never considered close to metal).  I do check out the website fairly often these days and one of my favorite features is the Demo: Listen.  That is how I discovered Caustic Vomit.

Caustic Vomit is a Russian death/doom metal band who released their first demo in the last couple of days of 2018.  Their demo is made up of just three songs, each of which is around ten minutes in length.  Eschewing any sort of traditional song structure, each track lurches and crawls through several distinctive segments.  For the most part, the songs are slow-paced with swampy riffs and a deep sense of foreboding and a waterlogged, gurgling vocal style.  Occasionally, the band breaks into a faster-paced riff that sounds like some great primordial beast shaking itself off after arising out of a murky cesspool.  

This is an absolutely terrific slab of filthy and grimy death/doom metal from Russia, of all places.  Russian metal is typically known for pagan black metal bands, so it is nice to see a damn good extreme metal band from there.  I will be interested in hearing more from this group. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Evoken: Promo 2002 (2002)

Every few months or so I dive back into my funeral doom obsession, which was initially kick-started by Ahab and now is primarily driven by groups like Bell Witch and Lycus.  It is not an easy genre to really get into.  The songs are not catchy at all and they are often incredibly long.  And with how slow and drawn-out the albums are, it definitely does not make good driving music.  But nevertheless, I love funeral doom.  And I have been recently trying to add more albums to my collection.

Which brings me to this one, the promo released by Evoken, one of the bigger names in funeral doom metal and a band that I first experienced during the infancy of my funeral doom obsession.  This promo was recently reissued on cassette to allow for a wider audience to acquire it and it is damn impressive.  Two of the songs appear on the Antithesis of Light album released a couple years later, the rest do not appear anywhere else in the band's catalog that I can see.

The music of Evoken is typically more somber and atmospheric even than some other funeral doom metal bands.  This release opens up with a monolithic instrumental track that sets the dark mood for the rest of the album.  Featuring heavy, distorted guitar riffs in the background of cleaner chord progressions, it provides a solid introduction to what is to come.  My favorite track on the album is "The Last of Vitality".  About midway through, that song kicks into a faster (though still very slow) rumbling riff with some damn impressive drumwork.  After a minute or so of that, it descends into more dissonant chord progressions and some spoken-word vocals, though the drums are still playing more of a faster-paced fill.  Atmosphere is everything for a band in this genre and the atmosphere of that song is as tortured and pained as it gets.  And the music is almost beautiful in the melodic sections of the utterly spine-chilling "Antithesis of Light".

Evoken is always one of the bands I recommend to those looking into funeral doom (Ahab is usually the other one).  They are a little more accessible than some other bands with some truly pretty sonicscapes at times and dark and somber at others.  They are still not an easy band to get into, but a little moreso than a group like Bell Witch.  This would be a pretty good starting point for the band.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Tyrant: Too Late to Pray (1987)

It is perhaps a little unfair to be reviewing this album already.  I have only given it a few listens so far and, while I am very impressed with the album, I am a little surprised to see the major glowing reviews it has gotten on the Metal Archives (six reviews, 94%).  Maybe in time it will sink in a little more, and it should because each successive listen I hear more elements that I missed the time before.

The album kicks off with an impressively dark and malevolent opening track and then moves directly into the speedy title track.  The band does manage to create a hellish atmosphere through riffs and drums that seem to attack the listener from all angles.  The vocals are somewhat buried in the mix, giving them kind of an echo chamber vibe that adds to the haunting atmosphere.  Frequently a background howl or scream comes through to add to the lead vocals, which further increases the feeling of a hellish chamber.  The guitar solos and leads sound positively bright in comparison, providing some light in the darkness. 

The album mostly moves at a lightning pace but things initially slow down in "Valley of Death", only to come crashing back down halfway through where the tortured screaming in the background hits its peak.  After that it dives back into the maniacal "The Nazarene" and, in my opinion the best song on the album, "Bells of Hades".  That song features crushing riffs and almost constant guitar soloing, along with probably the best vocal performance on the album.  Other highlights include the deliberate "Babylon" and the almost anthemic "Eve of Destruction".

This is a very strong album all the way through and I am enjoying it more and more with each listen.  It is even more impressive with the context that it came out in 1987 when hair bands were all the rage.  This is a particularly dark and nasty take on traditional heavy metal that sounds increasingly so when viewed in light of what was mostly coming out at the time.  I consider this to be a forgotten gem.  And yes, this album still has not totally sunk in yet. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

KISS in Sioux Falls, SD: March 6, 2019

Well, first of all, no, KISS is not really a metal band.  They had moments over the years and certainly were lumped into the metal category in the 1970's and 1980's when there was less of an understanding of what constituted metal music.  They influenced their fair share of metal bands, but were also a primary influence on the hair bands of the 1980's.  That being said, they had some songs that were metal or close, such as "Detroit Rock City", "God of Thunder" and more.  But it is the band's stage show more than anything that make them a must-see band.  Two nights ago, I had an opportunity to see them for the first time.  My wife was very excited to see them and so we made the arrangements to go to Sioux Falls, two-and-a-half hours away. 

The opening act was a man named David Garibaldi, who is apparently a "performance painter".  He paints portraits of rock stars very quickly set to music.  He also worked to try to hype up the crowd.  He did three paintings during his 20 minute set: portraits of Steven Tyler, Mick Jagger and some weird thing that was supposed to be inspired by Sioux Falls.  Maybe I do not know enough about the area, but I did not get it.  His art was pretty good and it was fairly entertaining to watch him.  I'm not sure I would go out of my way to watch, but he is definitely talented.

After an extended break, KISS took the stage, playing "Detroit Rock City".  Of course only Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley remain from the original foursome.  Eric Singer wears the makeup popularized by Peter Criss and Tommy Thayer the makeup for Ace Frehley.  One thing that I noticed right away is a bit of a lack of movement on the part of the band.  Being in their 60's, they are not as mobile anymore in the first place, and certainly not in massive platform boots.  Simmons's costume is looking particularly unwieldy these days.

This is supposedly the band's final tour, though it is at least the fifth time that has happened.  Maybe.  So, the band played through a somewhat lengthy set covering most of their greatest hits ("Strutter" was noticeably absent) across most eras of the band.  The major stage moments were also present.  Simmons spit fire during "War Machine" and blood during "God of Thunder", and there were quite a few pyrotechnics.  They played several of my own personal favorite songs, including "Love Gun" and "Black Diamond".  For the most part the band sounded pretty good.  Stanley had some issues with his voice throughout the night, but was passable. 

I am not the biggest KISS fan in the world.  In fact, I would not call myself a fan at all.  Over the years I have only had three of their albums, and one of those, a vinyl of their debut, I cannot even find any more.  I do kind of wish I had that back.  It is likely at my parents' house, but I have no idea where.  But KISS puts up a terrific stage show, despite the fact that their music is not really all that great.  They are a must-see band, and now, my wife and I can say we have seen KISS.  On their final tour no less.  At least until the next one.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Solstice: Solstice (1992)

This is actually the second album by a band called Solstice I have picked up, but it is not the same band.  This is the U.S.-based thrash metal band primarily active in the early 1990's, though they have reunited (sort of) a few times and have been back together since 2006 or so, even releasing a new album in 2009.  The other Solstice is a doom metal band from the U.K.  The name "Solstice" seems to fit a little better with a doom metal band personally.  The only other situation like this in my collection is the two bands named Sabbat.  There is the Japanese black/thrash metal band and the U.K. thrash metal band whose singer went on to form Skyclad and thus primarily kick-started the folk metal genre. 

Solstice, this one anyway, is a particularly heavy thrash metal band, even bordering on death metal at times.  The riffs are down-tuned and fast, but not lightning-fast as is typical of many other thrash metal bands.  The riffs bear more resemblance to the early works of Death and Possessed when the bands were crossing the border between death and thrash metal but not full-on death metal riffs yet.  The songs are very intense due to their speed and heaviness of the riffs. 

I can not decide whether I like the Carnivore cover in the middle of the album though ("S.M.D.").  It kind of breaks things up a bit because it is a decidedly different sound right in the middle of the album.  On its own it is fine, not the best cover in the world but not bad either, it is its placement that bothers me more than anything.  Carnivore was kind of a goofy band and this song in particular is pretty odd (stands for "Suck My Dick"), and Solstice seems much more serious.

A part of that is likely due to the fact that Rob Barrett, of Malevolent Creation fame primarily and now in Cannibal Corpse, plays rhythm guitars on this album.  Barrett also lends his vocals to the band, delivering them in a harsh, malevolent bark that is much more similar to early death metal bands than anything that thrash metal bands were doing at the time.  Barrett and drummer Alex Marquez left Solstice to join Malevolent Creation soon after this album was released.

I guess the key question is which Solstice do I like better?  Well, being more of a thrash metal fan myself, it is pretty obvious and predictable that I prefer this Solstice.  I do like the other one, but this one fits in more with my preferred style of metal.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Khemmis: Desolation (2018)

Khemmis is a band that seemed to acquire a following overnight.  I am not sure when exactly it happened.  I think it was some time in 2016/2017 when I was not as occupied with metal that their album Hunted suddenly achieved some attention and became something of a darling for Decibel magazine.  It was the magazine's Album of the Year.  Khemmis at that time had only released one other album and an EP and been together for four years.  That is quite a bit of success early on.  The question was whether the band could keep it up.

Yes, yes they can.  This is the band's first album since the incredible critical success of Hunted, and if anything, the songs are even more infectious.  Khemmis is a traditional doom metal band, playing songs that are somewhat lengthy, but move at a decent clip and have quite a bit going on musically.  Then there is the fact that the band is simply incredible at writing songs.  The musicianship is incredibly impressive with heavy doom-laden riffs and the vocalist has a terrific melodic croon that matches quite well.

"Isolation" and "Maw of Time" are the highlight tracks.  "Isolation" moves by at a fairly quick clip and has some of the catchiest hooks and rhythms on the album.  "Maw of Time" features some impressively nasty death metal snarling in addition to the clean vocals.

I have checked out all three of Khemmis's albums thus far and honestly this one is my favorite.  I think the band has really found its sound here.  They are easily one of the better bands in doom metal going right now and deserve the attention they have been getting.  Just recently it was announced they were signing to Nuclear Blast Records, so having a decent-sized label behind them can only help propel them forward.  Looking forward to their next album. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tomb Mold: Manor of Infinite Forms (2018)

Tomb Mold was basically last year's version of Ossuarium: an old school-sounding death metal band that made huge waves in the underground metal scene.  Plus, they are on the same label: 20 Buck Spin.  The only real differences are that Tomb Mold was on their sophomore album in 2018, not their debut, and Tomb Mold is from Canada.

Just judging by the grotesque artwork, one can kind of guess what type music this band plays.  Yep, K-pop.

No.  This is a dirty and grimy death metal band with kind of an odd emphasis.  Apparently the band are just a bunch of big gamer nerds.  When looking at the band's Metal Archives page, lyrical themes are listed as "Bloodborne, Dark Souls".  That's right, the ultra hard gaming series.  Now, I do not really have anything against such a niche lyrical theme, but it does seem a little strange to base your death metal band on video games.  To each their own I suppose.  I have never played the Dark Souls series, but I do own Bloodborne and I can tell that game is fucking hard.  I have yet to beat the second mini-boss.  It is just not the type of game I can really play all that well.  I don't know.  I am not familiar enough with it to be able to tell what songs might be about Bloodborne and which are not, or even if that is still the band's focus. 

But enough of the lyrical theme.  The band's sound is reminiscent of the sludgiest moments in Scandinavian and Finnish death metal, while occasionally touching on doomier moments.  Sort of like Entombed playing Convulse.  The band are all accomplished musicians and the lead guitar melodies are particularly great.  The production is fairly clean, giving clarity to each of the instruments and making the album a very easy listen, despite the sludgy nature of the music.  The vocals are delivered in a sepulchral groaning bellow.  This is generally an album that is best heard all the way through instead of picking and choosing songs.  There is not a ton of variety, but it just flows well as one continuous album rather than a collection of parts.

I like this one quite a bit.  It is a little cleaner than yesterday's Ossuarium, but there is nothing really wrong with that.  I don't know that this is the next savior for death metal or anything, but it is a fun listen.  That is all we are really looking for from death metal. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Ossuarium: Living Tomb (2019)

Finally.  This is the first new release from this year.  And thus we have the first contender for Album of the Year.  It is certainly a contender for Debut Album of the Year.  Ossuarium are a death metal band from the fertile metal breeding ground of Portland, Oregon.  Death metal is a little rare for the area, but there have been a ton of great black metal bands from there recently (one is coming up soon).

Ossuarium's sound is primarily a mix of occult death metal bands like Incantation with more death/doom-oriented groups like Autopsy and Asphyx with a little bit of Immolation thrown in for good measure.  The band's sound features mostly sludgy and dark with a kind of creeping malevolence that reminds me of some of the less-cosmic tales of horror by Lovecraft.  It is more the soundtrack for "The Colour Out of Space" or "The Rats in the Walls" for instance.  Many of the songs plod along fairly slowly, but will tend to lurch and propel forward at times with a sudden fast riff or solo.  Even when the band does change into more of a melodic section, there is still a general sense of unease and forboding that everything will still come crashing back down again.

The production helps with the general feel of the album.  It is a very raw and swampy sound overall.  There is nothing really bright here, even in the more melodic moments.  The vocals are also given kind of an echo effect that further emphasizes the doom and gloom of the sound. 

The standout track, among many great songs, is probably "Writhing in Emptiness", which is shockingly the most upbeat track on the album.  Meaning that it will just pummel the listener with fast, heavy death metal riffs that sound more like the early days of the Swedish scene.  Think Entombed.  It does break briefly for a more melodic section with some surprisingly pretty melodies, before diving back into the depths of the tomb-like sound the band has built.

This release by Ossuarium is the first great album of 2019 and the first contender for Album of the Year.  This is definitely for those that like their death metal grimy and decayed.