Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Horrendous - Ecdysis [2014]


Ever get the feeling that death metal bands are running out of titles? Me neither. As ''Ecdysis'' plainly suggests, it's purpose is to implement the evolutionary step that Horrendous, who with 2012's ''The Chills'' literally perked up goosebumps on my spine, like all of its counterparts, wants to take. The age is brave one, and novelty almost always, even if unwittingly, finds its way to some kind of success. That said, Horrendous didn't necessarily used innovation as a method to boost its way to the top records of 2012 when ''The Chills'' kicked more unkempt bottoms than most records that year. Its leprous voracity and atmospheric beauty was a surefire way to revitalize the gradually diminishing foray of old school death metal, but in reality, once you dig into it, putting aside the splendidly ominous atmosphere and olfactory goodness that it somehow projected behind a miraculous slew of riffage, ''The Chills'' is sheer bones and rotten flesh. So then is ''Ecdysis'' some sort of mega-transition? The ''Heartwork'' of Horrendous? Not necessarily. What seems to be the case here is the same kind of semi-evolutionary phase that bands like Morbus Chron and Tribulation aspired to with their most recent offerings.

For starters, Horrendous is a lot cleaner with their performance here; more manic, controlled and accessibly modern in contrast to the cavernous kaleidoscope of antiquity that was the main motif on the previous record. Yes, modernization does equate for a wider audience and perhaps a sharper overall sound, yet even during some of the stronger tracks I felt that clarity did not compensate for the lack of atmosphere, instead heralding an odd, even experimental approach with multitudinous progressive metal predilections. If it makes you feel any better, even the bass has risen from the primordial ooze into something that's incredibly audible in contrast. It's interesting enough to see a band of such primitive origin evolve from its putrid miasma into something far more accessible, yet, as said, this brings a few problems on the table. The absurdly implemented piecemeal conventions that engulf the record reduce the album's level grit to one far below its predecessor, and the focal point of old school death metal - the undying axiom - which is basically the maxim of ''if it's broke don't fix it'', seems to have dissipated to ''if it's broke, then shed some skin''. Hence ecdysis.

Don't me wrong, folks, Horrendous is still throwing huge, gnarly hooks, but there is an intense infatuation with melody and progressive elements that churns and diverts the music away from its previous state of gory putrescence. There are some unbelievably melodic and beautiful solos here, often leads that crawl discreetly into the hibernating core of the record, strings of somber, yet graceful melodies twisting and swerving up and down the guitar board, redolent of some mid 90's English death/doom powerhouse. If all of my prior implications didn't get through, get this: if you think ''The Chills'' was brooding, wait until you hear ''Ecdysis''. There is an odd disparity here because it seems almost uncertain what direction they are taking with the mournful overtone that they're harboring. On one hand, you have majestic, even epic, melodic death/doom paradigms like the ending, ''Titan'' which resonate with the lovely, hauntingly elegiac tone of the vocalist's torturous growls and a set of backup choruses, and on the other you have absolutely devastating, flesh-ripping beaters like ''Weeping Relic'' that smash through your skull with the sublime grit of the chainsaw guitar tone. Though the overall sound is indubitably dolorous, Horrendous challenges the boundaries of pain and agony by expanding their style to the widest net possible. This is a brazen, even obsequiously openminded gesture in the face of thousands of Swedeath and Autopsy drones who stalk the market shallowly, and it is a pleasing result considering it is what Morbus Chron and Tribulation did, being two revivalist death metal giants themselves.

There are some truly great tracks here. The opener, ''The Stranger'' may seem like a run-down attempt at combining death/doom, Swedish death metal and melodic death metal, but towards the end it grows to bountifully full of riffs and reckless abandon that it even compensates for its lengthy run time. Every track, no matter how dedicated to the art of tearing limb from limb, serves as a paean to mood and versatility in style, eventually burgeoning into something despondent. Even the flashy 2-minute rock n' roll throwback ''WHen The Walls Fell'' is cool. There are still tremolos, or semi-technical guitar twists here and there, even an occasional thrashy exuberance, like on ''Heaven's Deceit'', but it's apparent that the band has shaken off most of its leaves of the olden arts. If anything, Horrendous is still a huge fucking Pestilence fan. That much is evident from the maniacal, Martin Van Drunnen vocals that pervade the record, or even the kinetic melodies gyrating throughout, but it's almost as if there is a transition in influence from ''Consuming Impulse'' and ''Malleus Maleficarum'' era Pestilence to Pestilence a la ''Testimony of the Ancients'' or ''Spheres''. In the end, ''Ecdysis'' becomes quite a mercurial album. It's difficult for me to imply stuff directly, but in essence, I have done my best to some it up. My gripe was that I simply didn't feel the sort of brilliant, carnal tenacity that was displayed on ''The Chills''. Maybe that was the perfect caterpillar, and ''Ecdysis'' the crossover record, the butterfly slowly, but not yet surely, breaking free of its cocoon, waiting to emerge into the perfect butterfly. If that is the case, folks, then we may have something even better than ''The Chills'' in store. Let the little hatch.

Highlights:
The Stranger
Weeping Relic
Nepenthe
Titan

Rating: 80%


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fallujah - The Flesh Prevails [2014]


It's a shame that absurd math-metal and deathcore hyper-guitar playing ceased to be the prerogative of a chosen few and has now turned into this overripe leitmotif that everyone seems to carelessly abuse. Translation: the technical death metal universe, like all the other sub-genres, is threatened by a lack of originality and excessive boorishness. It's become so hard to find a band with genuine, enduring appeal that one's hopes can disintegrate withing mere hours of internet and archive browsing. The statement can be true within various degrees in accordance to your personal level of pessimism, but that seems to be the big story in today's metal market nonetheless. We are fortunate enough to bands like Fallujah whose intrusion with ''The Flesh Prevails'' was more than just delightful, but simultaneously upraising to the genre at large. ''The Flesh Prevails'' is my first experience with the Californians, and while it has garnered a surprising amount of attention by topping its apparently less impressive predecessor ''The Harvest Wombs'', for me the record has proven to be an un-fucking-believable celebration of how much good music can fill our wazoos with streaming pleasure.

There is no pretension. Fallujah may have the undivided attentions of Cynic, Necrophagist, Decapitated and the like, but in essence it is certainly much more than the sum of its parts. While Fallujah takes obvious joy is dishing out some more simplistic, clinical chug-fests, the overriding motif certainly seems to be the jazzy melodiousness guitars that sparkle and swerve to and fro across every corner of the record with stupendous, opiate ease. Fallujah is ''technical'' enough to compete any of the fierce contenders in the field, namely Decrepit Birth, Spawn of Possession or even Cynic who takes the jazz-fusion element and molds it with the metal components to form something slightly more than a simple accompaniment, but the way the technicality is served is beautiful, even delectable. This translates into plenty of whizzing and zipping guitar notes bouncing along airily, but what serves only as a meager way to decorate bulkier riffing works as the main drive on this record. The guitars almost never feel left out at some point in the record like a bagatelle, like the way they're usually treated.

The superb sophistication of the guitars and their melodic superiority can perhaps only be matched by the timeless feat of the percussion department, with the drums beating and pummeling fresh, invigorating rhythms in a manner that balances the use of double-bass drums and more dexterous fills. But while that complement falls short of serving the drums real justice, what hits me over and over again with this record is how damnably progressive it's nature is. It would perhaps have fared better with the general build of the record if certain atmospheric chord breaks could be excluded, and the rhythm section does in general support a heavy, bludgeoning bevy of riffs that could really fit Suffocation or Cryptopsy just as well, and the guttural vocals (also excellent) are no-brainers, but fuck, there is unquestionably a good deal of progressive aspects to be found on this album. Hell, even some of the atmospheric break-downs (I do hate to call them that) or chorus sequences reek of progressive metal, infused with indescribably beautiful, though perhaps a tad zippy, hyper-math-metal sections which sound like trippy 8-bit mixes. Sure even with the inscrutable care by which the technicality is exerted, the riffs may rarely sound somewhat dull, but in exchange from being robbed senseless of your wits by a hallucinatory jazz/metal congregate that hardly seems to be a con.

The creative expanse of ''The Flesh Prevails'', and moreover, that of Fallujah, is so huge and copiously stocked with hidden booty that it feels like nearly anything could fit the album in general. It's one of those records which omits most creative deterrents and leaves itself to fall freely into the promised land. Think organs, keyboards, synthesizers or even minor orchestras moving through the currents. Yet, what makes this album even more daunting for the dismal purist is the clean voxes of both female and male vocalists that exude their influence during the aural moments where the band decides to take a concise break; elegant and beautiful, I found them to be oddly fitting to the album. And what one song would I use to define the album? ''Chemical Cave'', the one single track which conjures a myriad of images that could just be the birth place of the record had it been given to us humans by some strange alien race, in addition to being my favorite tune in the whole album. That said, ''Levitation'' and ''Sapphire'' are both stunners, crystal coves of ass-kicking, jazzy hashish, and even the experimental instrumental ''Alone With You'', a track that would arouse even the most open-minded metal aficionado, was a spectral triumph as far as I'm concerned. So with as much of the record as I could amass into one humble review, there's no reason for me to reevaluate my verdict. Folks, buy this record, and listen to it till your ears start spurting fucking rainbows.

Highlights:
Sapphire
Chemical Cave
Starlit Path
Allure

Rating: 92%

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ghoulgotha - Prophetic Oration of Self [2014] (EP)


Though it is often the unreasonable and obnoxious longevity of songs that puts off a listener, I can assure you that exuding length and substituting it with truncated versions of the same gestalt will not always assure a rise in quality. Exhibit no. 8762: Ghoulgotha. The Californian quartet, after assembling a demo, have once again tilted their heads downward into the caverns and skull-filled fissures of pre-1994 death metal in an EP, complete with all its gory, downtrodden aesthetics. In today's metal world where even the most memorable records are merely ephemeral epitaphs that last longer than a couple of months in the minds of a ravenous audience, I certainly cannot understand the urgency to manufacture more and more of the same kind, and the penchant to release demos and EPs as rapidly as a factory popping out a thousand drones a minute. People don't seem to be well-acquainted with the term ''generic'', which is funny because it's precisely what they're doing. But enough small talk, you'll just have to make the decision yourself after hearing the EP...

''Prophetic Oration of Self'' (yet another airy and philosophic title for a musical effort that seems to exemplify the daily actions of an average neanderthal) is just two tracks across, with the title track and opener clocking at a surprising (or should I not be surprised?) 9 minutes and the conclusion piece at a meager 4 minutes. Granted, it takes no genius to weed through the skulls and bones and point out the major culprits behind this morbid bulwark. Ghoulgotha overlay elements of doom and death, so you'll be hearing a ton of Incantation, Autopsy, Winter and Cianide, and although this seems like a reconciliation for the absence of dull, mechanic Swedeath grinders in the style of a more ubiquitously embraced Entombed, Unleashed or Grave, the music itself is nothing if not monotonous, even monomaniacal in its singular pursuit of morbid, ominous and bantering drudgery.  I try hard not to call it dull, but more often than not that seems to be the outcome of the huge, meaty guitars and their trudging pace. The pacing does vary of course. Sometimes the band will just melt into a more straightforward onslaught of bulging tremolos with double-bass drums and snare-cymbal abuse galore. Yes, the EP is not all drudgery; even if the entire 13 minutes of run time seem to be completely devoid of any expansive characteristics - despite trying oh so very hard to create a genuinely moody atmosphere - there are a few moments, like the first forty seconds or so of the opener, which are relatively satisfying feasts of rotten flesh and blood among the decaying whole, if not like emeralds in a sea of zircons.

What is perhaps peculiar but necessarily entertaining about Ghoulgotha's take on death/doom in the ghastly melody staccatos which they spray randomly across the two songs. The eerie, dissonant thrill that two worn guitars harmonizing with each other is coupled with a set of gnarly, low vocals that would have fit any other band of this sort just fine. Now let's get to the point. Ghoulgotha is no way near being a maverick in the genre, with so many outfits already practicing and perfecting the Incantation-brand old school death metal, let alone being iconoclasts. As far as morals go, the big lesson I learned was that cavemen don't make good orators, although their kind seems to populate the profession in particular, but that's for another day. What comes out as appreciation for this record is my admiration for how wholeheartedly and endearing the band elopes its music, aping or not. As slipshod a performance this may have been, there is no disparity between the band members, nor any idiotic elitism, so really, what more could old schoolers ask for? This is just one piece of a flotilla of thousands, bound to be marooned at sea, so just blast out the damn thing and be over with it.


Highlights:
Prophetic Oration of Self

Rating: 60%

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Beneath - The Barren Throne [2014]


I can unabashedly admit that Iceland's nowhere near my geographical expertise, so I guess it comes off naturally that my acquaintance with Icelandic metal doesn't go beyond a few sporadic shards of existence, and any further knowledge I have about the country is confined to a Verne novel and an obscure medieval poet. Thus, much like the bedeviled pyro-fiend gazing in bewilderment depicted on the album cover, Beneath and other closely associated outfits such as Sororicide, Diabolus and Atrum caught me unawares. That was a short-lived shock, however, considering that very nearly the entire globe has now been sufficiently encompassed and suppressed by the reign of death metal, in any damn form you can imagine. For that matter, Beneath seems more modern than the rotten hordes dwelling inside the putrid hovels that their ancestors had constructed long before they were begotten. No, they're far more polished, a somewhat fresh jump into the extreme territory that border the style of early 90's Floridian brutality and some more recent technical death metal.

There can be little doubt that Beneath metes out and equates the frolicking borders of brutality and technicality with great competence, and even less doubt that ''The Barren Throne'', the much-waited successor to ''Enslaved By Fear'', which was apparently quite the popularity bludgeon back in its day. That can make ''The Barren Throne'' a bitter pill to swallow if you were one to bathe yourself languorously in the previous record and somehow come to the verdict that Beneath didn't live up to their full potential, but also a deliciously deplorable riff-fest if you enjoyed as much as the first. Now, I haven't found the time to listen to ''Enslaved By Fear'', so if you want to compare the two, that discussion is for another day. What I'm interested in is unearthing ''The Barren Throne'', and it alone. With its punishing dexterity, polished bombast and fiery temper ''The Barren Throne'' assumes what we assume from a casual technical/brutal death metal opus, but as usual my gripe was that in most of the cases it was sauntering through the same territory with little ado about the miraculous feats that a little bit of originality can achieve, because as consistent and penalizing in its musical adroitness it may be, ''The Barren Through'' is still far from a four-leafed clover...

''Depleted Kingdom'' is a great, frenetic opener that discourses intensively with the range of styles that the album runs on. At 7 minutes, it may be a daunting journey, but it's more galvanizing and enjoyable than the majority of the album's compendium. Beneath creates a distinctive collision of sounds that mingle Morbid Angel, good ol' Corpse, Brutality with the melodic sensibility of Dark Tranquility or Kalmah, with a good deal of melody lines twisting and swerving in between the machine-gun rattle of tremolos and chugs without skewering the pooch; granted, there's nothing overly zany about that, but it still makes for great, bloody headbanging material. Oh, and did I mention it was fast? Beneath brings some 80's tradition on the table by sticking more to the continuity of tremolos (as cavorting and serpentine they may be), and that kind of speed/death/thrash mentality is especially apparent on the next track, ''Chalice'', which pummels and excoriates with the same formulaic violence of an early 90's death/thrash piece like Demolition Hammer, Epidemic, Solstice or Belgian obscures Chemical Breath, but transforms rapidly into a polished death/black piece with its explosive openings during the second half of the track. In that sense, there's actually plenty variation, far more than your run-off-the-mill brutal death metal act, to be heard, and while that's true for 3-4 songs, the rest merely banter and duplicate their peers.

Of course, there's still some revitalization that ruptures forth halfway through the album. As the throne falls to the hands of ''Sovereign Carnal Passion'', the previous exhumations are torn completely asunder. The band plunges into an even more technical area, with the seams of Severed Savior, Hour of Penance or even Spawn of Possession spilling forth like ash from an Icelandic volcano caking the world, but things get even more interesting with the next track, ''Sky Burial'', which might as well have been a Mastodon tune out of ''Blood Mountain'' or ''Crack The Skye'', when the band starts to lumber as 90's death/doom band might, with lethargic but tremulous, dolorous riffs lurching along cleaner transmission of melody, plucking the veins out slowly, one by one, instead of ripping the blasting off the entire arm with loaded shotgun. Solemn leads of the Swedish goth rock modal creep into the brooding acoustic passages, but the occasional raspy vocals that contrast from their more ubiquitous, growling counterparts break the mold splash the 7-minute monolith with some change every now and then. Add to that the pedaling, restless drums and you've practically got a superb fucking record, right?

Well, not really, because, all told, ''Sky Burial'' would be the last memorable track on the album. Ironically, the equation that renders the tracks themselves so proficiently balanced between melody and neanderthal force does not emanate into the actual distribution of quality among the songs, within the album. Yes, even the more average tunes were ''cool'', but they're just more seas in the ocean at best., and I wouldn't have probed them for more than a few listens. That aside, I'll still leave it to you to judge the album. It's surprisingly wide spectrum of influences can help it garner the attention of an unusually wide net of listeners, and with the audience Beneath gathered with ''Enslaved by Fear'', ''The Barren Throne'' is unquestionably another solid record hanging on the band's belt. The throne awaits.

Highlights:
Depleted Kingdom
Sovereign Carnal Passion
Sky Burial

Rating: 73%


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Septicflesh - Titan [2014]


It would be a mistake (and a grave one) to underestimate the sheer infallibility of Septicflesh's course after ''Sumerian Daemons'', moving hungrily from record to record, each with an even more attractive incorporation of classical music and a more focused dive into memorability. What came to being after the band reunited was ''Communion'' which was a further improvement upon ''Sumerian Daemons'', but what followed, ''The Great Mass'' surpassed all prior constructions and upped the ante to such an irredeemable level that it not only crowned itself my favorite record of 2011, but also a milestone for death and symphonic metal in general. With that hanging about their belt the Greeks no doubt suffered from some pressure (not unlike the latest efforts by Vader). How the hell do you surpass something like ''The Great Mass''? A timeless bondage of symphony and proto-brutal death metal, a stereophonic triumph. Maybe the simple answer is that you don't. And that's when ''Titan'' enter the show...

As callous as that statement may seem, it's not, so hang on to your seats for a few minutes and hear me out. As much as the other aspects of ''Titan'' failed to resonate with me as its predecessor, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the album's incorporation of classical music elements has reached a far more expansive degree, channeled forth by the compositions of the masterful composer Christos Antoniou, whose expertise in composition sometimes exceeds his vocal transmissions, reaching towards anything from Carl Orff in stylistic excellence to Wagner and anything in between. There's also a very oriental taste to what he does, an element that seethes through his guitar work as much as his classical scriptures. The components of these classical feats are of course complements of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, which the band has worked with ever since ''Communion''.

That said, the other components do not shine through particularly much. As much as I enjoyed stunners on this album like ''Prototype'' or ''Order of Dracul'', I couldn't help but feel that Septicflesh played it safer than they ought to here, sticking to the principle material adherent on the last three records; a brusque stop in the originality department seemed especially daunting considering the Greeks the brazen jump forward with the last disc. First of all, the guitars sound watered down and truncated to the complexity of an early 90's garden-variety brutal death album, smoldered under the undermining current and overdose of classical music.  Surgical as they are, they're not the powerhouses of chug and pummel that you'd want them to be. See, many of the broiling, tempestuous tremolos that led the front on line on the previous albums with such tracks as ''Pyramid God'' or ''Lovecraft's Death'' are not present here, and their strength and bass-soaked masculinity exchanged with accentuated upsurges of violins, trumpets ad cellos; again, not necessarily a major deviation from ''The Great Mass'', but still a step backwards considering the 3 years in between records. To some point I may be biased: I'm a bigger classical music fan than I confide to be, so no matter how egregious the guitar work I will enjoy the orchestral accompaniment of a violins and soaring, boisterous trumpets. But this does not compensate for the entire quality of the record. Septicflesh is still far from its zenith.

Other additions that were prevalent on the previous record that made it here are the high, majestic, operatic vocals which divide into both male and female, a beautiful contrast, and the sublime preference of melodic death metal guitars which is perhaps the only consolation for the failed vigor of the guitars. What I'm talking about is the band's subtle connection to bands like Dark Tranquility or At the Gates, which helps bring some variation in between riffs. The exuberant choirs are at their prime as you're likely to hear a child choir as much as mature one here. Needless to say they're quite elegiac and wonderfully complement the somber undertone of the music. The vocals, still quite a uniquely gruesome inflection in today's crowded death metal market, will occasionally accompany the cleaner, operatic vocal deliveries during climaxes, in addition to the usual bantering growls. Not really a fan of vocal duality at that point, particularly because it's technique reminiscent of modern metal mavericks, but in all departments it would suffice to say that Septicflesh excludes the prevalence of anything bordering on the excessively florid or grandiloquent. Overall, some of the queer, whizzy guitar techniques and clean guitar interludes seem to have bred and multiplied to a greater extent than those of the last two albums combined, indicating that perhaps the Greeks needed something to keep the listener at bay during the more emotive and moving sequences of the records. On the other hand, there are one or two completely fresh additions to the music such as the bizarrely enchanting medieval lute bridge fitted near the middle of ''Order of Dracul'', so it's not all bare bones and meat.

Overall, intellectual dipshits and steamy critics would probably hail the record as uninteresting, incompetent, or, at best, one that failed to live up to the expectations. True that it didn't rock as hard as the new Vader record, or that it boasted a triumph for the Septicflesh discography in general, mainly because (like so many albums) it kept its hand and feet inside the safe zone and cut down on the real juiciness of death metal, but hey, I still liked it. With such anomalies lurking in the late 90's section of their catalog, it's certainly not bound to be the anathema of the band, a hate stock for the masses to throw bottles of piss at. It's actually good. It's consistent, and more varied than you'd expect. Who knows, maybe the Greeks were trying to raise the volume of the classical instruments to the extent that it would blot out any hearing and comprehension of the other instruments. Or maybe that were just experimenting a plain shift into classical music? But back to reality, ''Titan'' is damnably decent, yet still not something I would prefer to recur in the future. Now that would be egregious indeed.

Highlights:
Burn
Order of Dracul
Prototype

Rating: 77%

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Funereal Presence - The Archer Takes Aim [2014]


Though the underground force of black metal has stayed truer to its humble origins than some of its more mainstream forebears such as Enslaved, Borknagar or Blut Aus Nord, (not to demean those bands, mind you) the genre at large has still witnessed and fell under the spell of some dark, delicate and subcutaneous transformation, wherein bands like the excellent, opaque Negative Plane have emerged as forerunners. Despite the myriad bands popping out of the woodwork, it can be very difficult to come across an album like ''Stained Glass Revelations'', a record whose finesse in antiquity and shamanistic black metal witchery was so vivid and entrancing that it possibly set a new course for the genre to run on. That aside, though great black metal has had no shortage, it is perhaps natural for us to expect similar craftsmanship to emerge from side projects involving Negative Plane's members, rather than a new formation entirely. Hence, enter Funereal Presence.

The big picture in ''The Archer Takes Aim'' is a deliciously darkly, lugubrious mix of traditional black metal and spidery psychedelia redolent of Negative Plane. The small picture: you're basically fucked. Really, there is little to dislike about this record. We're talking merely 4 tunes here, so naturally some comparison to funeral doom bands is inevitable, but Funereal Presence crams so much sophistication and opalescent, opulent beauty into the tracks that it's difficult to turn down any one of them. All told, the band borrows its main traits from Negative Plane, but the avid black metal listener will here bits of Venom, Rotting Christ, Celtic Frost, early primal Teutonic black/thrash a la Sodom and Kreator, and even tidbits of the Swedish obscures Head of the Demon who probably put out the greatest single doom record of 2012. That aside, there's no formulaic simplicity in describing what these guys really sound like. The opener, and my personal favorite, ''The Tower Falls'' is this terrific, apocalyptic track which not only heightens the album to its apotheosis of dynamics but also manages to insert more varied material into the first 6 minutes alone than entire albums can manage in 40-plus minutes. The texture is pallid and dark, yet you'd be surprised to hear that there's more breathing space than any average black metal record, giving the guitars a diaphanous yet accessible tone, and the guitars divide within themselves into grittier chord progressions not unheard of by any listener of extreme metal, and cavernous, echoing melodies that reek of 60's psychedelia - material enough to make you sit upright and hark with attention.

Of course, the vocals, complement of Bestial, do not fail to acclimatize to the instruments. His rasps are controlled, but haunting nonetheless as shrill accompaniments to the witchery of the guitars, but what I really loved about the vocal propensity of the record was the inclusion of almost heavenly clean vocals that jump on arbitrarily, my favorite being, once more, the chorus of the excellent ''The Tower Falls''. ''The Archer Takes Aim'' is not multitudinous in its sophistication, nor is it a classic, a milestone in 21st century grimness, but it's such a great, original piece that I found myself spinning more than expected, and it certainly creates a mesmerizing contrast to the banality of the majority of outfits in the same field. You could take it as a third offering by the cult Negative Plane, but, again, the material here sticks out on its own making it an enduring piece that would comfort you during many a moody winter night. The one big gripe I could hold against the record is that during 12-16 minute monoliths, the amount of riffing, no matter how entangling the atmosphere, lacked some continuity: some truncation would have been preferred. Nonetheless, ''The Archer Takes Aim'' still proves to be a highly apt contestant. Many a shaft shall be loosed.

Highlights:
The Tower Falls
Gestalt Des Endes

Rating: 85%

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vader - Tibi Et Igni [2014]


And the flame returns.

A mere 3 years after their stunning, colossal, infinitely propulsive masterwork and offering to the Morbid Reich, Vader, the heralds and bannermen of the Polish death metal expand their retinue further, thereby installing themselves as the irrefutable kings of the scene. ''Welcome To The Morbid Reich'', I believe opened new fissures and gates for the genre at large. Showing that grueling on technical riffs or bashing out riffs like ignorant neanderthals wasn't the way to serve death metal justice; by finding the perfect, clinical yet buttery texture, the enduring cohesion and the years of experience Vader proof-read the deficiencies of all its peers splendidly. Yet as much as a victory that record was and a brilliant home run for 2011, your elation naturally disperses pretty quickly knowing it would be something of a mission impossible for Vader to strike a score as flawless as that one. Sure enough, ''Tibi Et Igni'', the band's first record with a Polish moniker, gushes out of the band's womb with not just the shadow of an elder brother, but with the pressure of insatiable curiosity and expectancy which the metal community has been harboring eagerly ever since 2011. So for the critical question: does Vader live up to the hype? Does Peter's outlaws of brutality ace the test?

The answer is, to be sure, a little complicated. As a parvenu of a band, with its humble origins as deeply rooted to as far as the 80's, Vader compels attention not just with its startling set of records, but also with its consistency, being one of the very few bands - in all of metal - to have actually released to many albums without falling shy of quality even in the least desirable efforts; so no matter what they do, after this point you know they're going to do it good. It's the classic forger's mentality, see. The more you work on the anvil, the better your craft becomes, and after a certain level you become proficient enough possess the inability to go down again. Hence, ''Tibi Et Igni''. To cut a long story short, Vader is awesome as always on this record, with its atypical stools of aggression and unchained hostility channeling an excellent level of durability and control, which is what they''re renowned for, after all. On the surface the riffing, the efficacious, infallible riffing that death/thrash maniacs salivate for, seems peerless. Yet as the listener delves deeper into the volcanic, explosive edifice of the record, some of the axioms about bands ''not being able to live up to their potential'' kick in and the gears start turning. Yet this is merely to say that ''Tibi Et Igni'' is not on par with its predecessor, and the latter was an indomitable record. So why the sullen face?

Contrary to a myriad of other bands, the drop of quality does not amount to something big with Vader. In fact, I almost snapped as many neck limbs on this album as the previous. And have no doubt about it; this record is a non-stop session of modern death metal meeting with uncircumcised, skinless thrash at its virtual best. Huge stompers. Megalithic riffing. Vader's style hasn't varied much, so there's still a metric ton of Slayer, early Death, Brutality, early Corpse and Morbid Angel in there, but Vader also elicits listener's with pummeling tunes that might just have been penned by some of their countrymen, like Decapitated, Hate or Lost Soul. In a boundless amalgamation of modern and antique excellence, Vader once more presents the unique Polish death metal sound with everything that is to brag about it. Whirling, majestic tremolos that crash through like serpents smoldering in fire, or some frenetic Ouroboros slithering unscathed, and there's a fair amount of technicality in the riffs that helps create some variation from time to time. And the leads. Those sweet, wondrous leads that seep through the record like molten gold. Perhaps what makes every Vader record so satisfying is that they're superb musicians, and that's not just say that the guitarists know their way around the ropes. The drums are terrific, clean, punchy and muscular, with plenty of machine-gun fills and double-bass plodding, and I don't even need to mention Peter's unmatched vocals, which, as the product of their unique vocal voltage and strangely appealing foreign accent serve the music splendidly. Peter will occasionally pull off a Deicide, infusing his guttural inflection with a wretched, snaring duplicate.

But those accustomed to ''Welcome To The Morbid Reich'' will find few novelties to behold. All of this; the pummeling discourse of guitars and paunchy drums,  the turbulent manifests of tremolos, the atmosphere of pure evil and sinister genius, and Peter's inflection are no surprises to the Vader listener. What does perhaps garner attention as a refreshment is Vader's explicit use of orchestral soundscapes and dreary ambient effects, which, despite being occasionally wrapped around a few of the tracks on the previous albums, have grown larger and bolder in scope and experimentation. We're talking huge synthesizers and howling winds, adding up to a downright imperial philharmonic upsurge of sound. Indeed, though not particularly renowned for their atmospheric tendencies, Vader can at times conjure the sensation of looking down from Sauron's tower to a gaping vortex of shadow and fire. This even works when the orchestration heaves along some of the heavier chugging complexes, but unfortunately much of the heavy onslaughts undermine the atmospheric quality of the album. Translation: if you're one for the aura, go grab a black metal album and try to keep away. Still, with tracks like ''The Eye of the Abyss'' or ''Hexenkessel'', one way or another any fan of death/thrash will succumb to majesty of the album; and I'm not even including the melodious, doleful death/doom masterpiece ''The End'' which pulls the curtains on the album and leaves you with an ear half demolished and half longing for more.

I admit that my first impression was not a very positive one. But that comes from the fact that, all told, ''Welcome...'' was beyond a superb record. It rocked and shook the earth and splintered its center to raise hell. Then all hell let loose. Yet quality-wise the main reason why ''Tibi Et Igni'' doesn't rock as hard as the previous record is that the Poles are playing it relatively safe. Very few innovations, except maybe an added speed/thrash current, make the record adherent to the safe zone. In their universal appeal both records are, to me, well-night equal in their masterful balance of brutality and brilliance, both smashing homages to the Floridian death metal scene and the primeval, rudimentary flourishes of the Polish death metal scene.Yet because we've all heard ''Welcome...'', ''Tibi Et Igni'' feels somewhat... drowned out. But it's still a sweltering wet dream for any death metal collector of die-hard Vader fan. So yeah, do believe the hype (if there's any) and purchase this record immediately. Reign, annihilate, Vader. Rinse and repeat.

Highlights:
Hexenkessel
The Eye of the Abyss
Go To Hell
The End
Abandon All Hope

Rating: 88,5%

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Iron Dogs - Free and Wild [2013]



It's always comic to see a band wielding such a cheesy, over-the-top cover art somehow cultivate a far more unique and engrossing sound than a good many of its peers who invest such money and effort into their album covers. Good covers do no necessitate good music; I think we all know that by now. Here's the second moral of the day: never judge a book by its cover. Indeed, a sword-wielding angry wench surrounded by a bunch of heads piled up on wooden stakes does precipitate the most worldly and intriguing of musical machinations, but however much this may be frowned upon, there's no denying that neglecting Iron Dogs' sophomore ''Free and Wild'' is a big mistake. With a wise selection of precursory influences that extend further than simply Maiden and Priest, but with a celerity and liveliness that would make the two gods proud, a pop/rock-variety brevity in the songs, and more melodies stuffed in a mere 28 minutes that so-called ''melodic'' metal bands would dare imbue into their song patterns, ''Free and Wild'' screams out with nostalgic, unabashed bliss.

''Free and Wild'' is such a load of tremendous fun and 80's awesomeness that I can't really state its selling point. Everything shines through. In case you still couldn't get a picture of what the Canadians have in store for you, I'll be as lucid as possible. The album draws strength from a number of concurrent influences freely flaunting with each other; the occasional Maiden, Priest, but there's still more Jag Panzer (think ''Ample Destruction'') than, I daresay, any other retro heavy metal to ever strap on a guitar and mount a drum stool, and I haven't even begun to mention the minuter spectrum of sounds converging in the mix, notably Angel Witch, Exciter, Agent Steel, ''Kill 'em All'' era 'tallica - even tits and bits of Razor flirting with the more rapacious outbursts of tempered energy. Yet in all the colorful palette of influences, creating a true melting pot of traditional heavy metal, (if not an apotheosis of the genre's manifestation) the Canadians somehow dazzle the listener with style of their own. The same way the English Deceptor challenged me to my wits' end with the sheer insurmountable quality of their EP ''Chains of Delusion'', Iron Dogs manage sound as cool as bands did in the past, without being tied down by the past.

Swirling, spiraling flirts of harmonious melodies are reminiscent of Satan's outstanding ''Life Sentence'', but different still. Irreprissible and meretricious, ''Free and Wild'' in the kind of album that refuses to be bound to the ground with chains, and attracts attention with its sheer punch and crudity. The manic, melodious guitar riffs aside, though, vocalist Jo Capitalicide can just as well be the BEST thing this record has to offer. As much as I am a great big guitar nerd myself, a staunch boaster of technicality and blazing guitar solos, Jo's vocals enamored me so much that I could listen to the first 3 seconds of the ending track ''Island of the Dead'' over an over again just to immerse myself in his outstanding voice. No need to elaborate - the man in the resurrection of Harry Conklin of Jag Panzer. Doused in reverb and heedless of ''professional'' vocal values, his inflection kicks nigh-over as many asses as the plodding guitars. Who said heavy/power metal had to be done with a banshee, screaming at the top of his lungs? Jo fits the bill for ''Free and Wild'' more perfectly than I might have conceived, and literally catapults Iron Dogs to the next level of musical excellence.

Any gripes? Only that the record was too fucking short! Given that the whole record clocks at 28 minutes, it's a bit difficult to excavate a huge deal of pleasure with just one spin. ''Free and Wild'' requires more frequent spinning than a dozen or so efforts by the generic retrogressors of the field. For fucks sake, if you can't derive any fun from the maniacal chords and melodies fluttering around the record, nor Jo's vocal delivery, you need to see a doctor, asap. But Iron Dogs are still willing to forgive that. Just open the lyrics to the title track and sing them out; the anthem is so utterly uplifting that it motions involuntary nods even as I'm writing this. Indoor! No more! And for the love of God, if you're still not properly enthralled, you need a serious fix. Sure,''Free and Wild'' may not be the masterpiece of the decade, but its sheer distinction serves as a viable consolidation for the fact, for which I couldn't care less. Enter, but beware of the nude guardian lying in wait. Posers need not apply.

Highlights:
Firebird
Free and Wild
Adversity
Island of the Dead

Rating: 92%