Friday, November 27, 2009

Initial Impressions: Slayer, Hypocrisy, Nile, Archgoat, and Vreid

SLAYER: WORLD PAINTED BLOODThe almighty Slayer returns with their 2009 release, their best album since probably Divine Intervention. Slayer has been the most consistent of the Big 4 of American thrash metal bands, never releasing a truly bad album, apart from their ill-advised album of punk covers, but their albums have been declining in quality for some time. This album does a lot to right the ship.

The album starts off with a slowly building drum cadence, leading into some tonal progressions on the guitar then immediately fires off the first salvo. As anyone who knows Slayer's music can attest, the band does not let up from here. The band is a little more melodic at times on this album instead of just blasting the eardrums of listeners with pounding riff after pounding riff. But they nevertheless remain extremely potent.

Tom Araya's vocals are the same as they have been for years, harsh shouting over the tops of the riffs. The lyrics deal with the standard Slayer stuff: Anti-Christianity, war, death, and other dark subjects. The guitar riffs are razor sharp and the solos cut straight through the riffs and grab the listener's attention. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman remain one of the most powerful guitar duos in metal. Dave Lombardo adds his trademarked furious drum patterns, keeping everything else moving at breakneck speed.

As mentioned, this is easily Slayer's best album in years. It subtracts a lot of the groove metal influences found on recent releases and just flat out blazes. It's total balls to the walls speed from the opening to the end. I still would love to hear the band revert to its earliest days when they engaged mostly in Venom worship, but this is an acceptable substitute.

HYPOCRISY: A TASTE OF EXTREME DIVINITYHypocrisy is a band from the Swedish death metal scene that has had something of an odd career trajectory. The band started out as a true Swedish death metal band in the same vein as Nihilist/Entombed, Dismember, and Grave. However, as the Gothenburg melodeath scene grew, Hypocrisy began incorporating elements of that style into their own music. Then, as nu-metal became popular, Hypocrisy attempted to sound like Slipknot. Neither of these changes in the band's style were palatable to their old fans. Eventually, the band stripped these elements away and returned on the Virus album as more or less their old selves, except with a little more melodic tinges. This is their second album after that comeback album.

The buzzsaw-sounding guitar riffs have returned, as has Peter Tagtren's demonic-sounding deep growls and psychotic shrieks. Tagtren has one of the more recognizable voices in death metal. The major difference between old and new Hypcrisy is the melodic guitar leads, which here provide most of the infectiousness of the music. They keep the listener interested. They are just understated enough that one has to listen carefully to hear everything that is playing.

Hypocrisy, to me, has always been a little underrated. The band is not on the same level as Entombed, Dismember, and Grave, and they do not really fit in with the Gothenburg scene at all. It's tough to say where Hypocrisy's place really is. This is a great album. Hopefully, it will lead to more fans and Hypocrisy's place in metal history will be set.

NILE: THOSE WHOM THE GODS DETESTEveryone's favorite Egyptian-themed death metal band is back. Nile has typically put out a new album every couple of yearson recent albums. This is their first album since 2007's Ithyphallic. Their last album seemed a little labored and just was not quite up to snuff after the amazing Annihilation of the Wicked album from 2005. It just was not as inspired and I was hesitant to pick this one up right away on its release date, but apparently I had an extra $15.00 burning a hole in my pocket so I got it along with the Slayer and Hypocrisy albums.

Nile has ditched their old blazing fast riffs for the most part in favor of a more sludgy, doomed-out approach to death metal on recent albums. The Egyptian-inspired musical interludes have been incorporated more and more into the death metal making them far less disjointed and giving the music more continuity. The vocals are still made up of hoarse, growled screams. The drums still play little more than constant blast beats. The production has reverted back to the murky, muddy quality of the early material, before things became a little too processed.

The lyrics still focus on Egypt and ancient mythology, but Karl Sanders is not just taking scriptures and other Egyptian writings and putting them to music anymore. As his fascination and familiarity with Egyptian mythology has grown, he has been able to incorporate more of his own ideas and placing them in the context of the Egyptian-inspired death metal.

Nile has returned to a sound close to Annihilation of the Wicked on this album. It is a return to their most popular sound, and although the band will never sound as raw and dirty as it did in its earlier days, it is still one of the best American death metal bands to form in the last 15 years.

ARCHGOAT: THE LIGHT-DEVOURING DARKNESSBack when Metal Maniacs was still around, there was a writer who wrote about black metal almost exclusively. This writer used to refer to black metal from Finland as "Finn-filthy". I haven't had much exposure to Finnish black metal, but there does seem to be some truth to that label, as the bands I have heard have been extremely bestial and raw-sounding. Archgoat fits in well with other Finnish black metal bands such as Horna, Behexen, Beherit, and Impaled Nazarene.

Archgoat actually formed in 1989, pre-dating the second wave of Norwegian black metal. The band actually broke up in 1993, one year before the scene exploded as Archgoat did not want to be part of a commercial black metal scene. They reformed several years later, and this, despite forming 20 years ago, is only their second full length album.

Musically, Archgoat is extremely raw and primal-sounding. The production is dirty and sludgy with a heavy low-end. This just makes everything sound that much more intense. The band plays fairly fast, pounding black metal with a very evil atmosphere. Vocals are deep growls that are almost indecipherable. There are moments when the sound is an eerie calm, which eventually leads right back into the chaotic energy. The album flies by in the blink of an eye.

Archgoat has long been one of the more admired groups in the Finnish black metal scene. This album is a good reason why. The band has never ditched the kvlt-as-fuck attitude that permeates a lot of the genre. Archgoat are true throwbacks to the days when black metal had no mainstream exposure and was a mysterious and frightening sound. We need more bands like Archgoat.

VREID: PITCH BLACK BRIGADEVreid formed out of the ashes of Windir. Vreid is a different take on black metal than the above Archgoat. Where Archgoat is raw and primal, Vreid is a more stripped-down basic sound, harkening to the days when punk and metal were just becoming acquainted. It's still black metal, but it's closer to early Venom and Bathory than the second wave groups like Mayhem and Immortal.

Vreid formed after the lead singer of Windir, Valfar died. Where Windir was something of a folk black metal band, Vreid has much more in common with thrash metal. It was something of a shock when the band released its first recordings and fans of Windir picked them up, expecting something along Windir's lines. Vreid does venture occasionally into more folk territories, but always returns to the thrash roots of the music.

As mentioned, Vreid plays blackened thrash with powerful riffs and blasting drums. Vocalist Sture has a harsh throaty scream that he uses for all vocals. There are occasional guitar solos and melodic interludes, but the majority of the music is straight-ahead, angry thrash metal.

This album was something of a surprise to me. I admit to not doing uch research into this band prior to buying the album, but I was pleasantly surprised. This albums is great blackened thrash, already one of my favorite genres.

1 comment:

  1. Another band with Strom in it is Mistur, who released their debut Attende last year. Kind of a more gothic take on the black/viking sound.

    I don't know if you really care much for Windir or viking metal, but your mention of Vreid just brought it to mind.