Monday, November 16, 2015

Vhöl: Deeper Than the Sky (2015)

Vhöl is turning out to be--as their debut might suggest--more than just a supergroup. It's a worthy, unique band in its own right. As I described them before, they're sort of an American Darkthrone, combining black metal with old-school heavy metal, crust, and thrash.

The formula from the first album is intact, but this time around the song lengths are more varied. The title track here is a mesmerizing 12 minute piece, but most of the other tracks tend toward more conservative lengths. But more importantly, the thing that sets Deeper Than the Sky apart from its predecessor is pure riffage. The riffs here are simply unimpeachable, incredibly memorable, and they will make you bang your head.

Again, I must mention Mike Scheidt's vocals. I'm not a long-time YOB fan--I've come to appreciate them more--but here is where his high-pitched, old-school metal voice really shines. This was his calling all along.

This one is definitely worth your time and money.

The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 13, 2015

First 5/3/1 Cycle Complete

I've completed my first cycle on the 5/3/1 weight training program, and I've accomplished some things:

- On bench press, I did 200 for 6 reps, and 190 for 11.
- On overhead press, I increased my max from 150 to 160.
- On deadlift, I increased my max from 375 with straps to 390 without. I had always been training it with straps before, but Wendler's right--you shouldn't do that. I've focused a lot on grip strength as well.
- I've learned more about programming accessory lifts.

I attempted a new bench press max, but I was using my bench with the leg extension/curl attachment, which sits higher off the ground. I was trying to dig my feet into it, and all I did was cause pain in my hamstrings trying to brace myself. I'm going to start using my other bench for bench press and get myself in a proper position next time around.

My squat is on a different rep and progression schedule for now, to make up for a lifetime of not squatting deep enough. I'm going at it twice every week, with a 5 pound increase each time. It's at 155 right now, and the plan is to get it to 250 on January 18. After that, I'll go back to once a week on squat, but continue increasing it by 5 pounds every week until I stall out, at which point I'll put it on the 5/3/1 schedule as well.

Unfortunately, my attempts to build mass have had little impact. About three months ago I weighed 170. Ever since my lifting during my junior year of college, I have weighed somewhere between 160 and 170. I managed to build myself up to 180 as of a month ago, but despite eating like a ravenous beast I may have lost a pound or two in the month since. For a month I've been adding Slim-Fast shakes in the afternoon, which worked for me in college. Over the past week I've taken to downing shakes of peanut butter, milk, chocolate, banana, and oatmeal, but that hasn't done the trick yet. Today I added a hardboiled egg to the blender, and I'm looking for other ways (short of adding olive oil to the shake) to pack in more calories. I'll keep you posted on that.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Author & Punisher: Melk En Honing (2015)

In case you don’t remember, Author & Punisher is the one-man band of Tristan Shone. Well, one-man in the same way that a BattleMech pilot is a one-man army. He creates his noise with a bunch of homemade, manually-controlled, analog machines, like something out of a steampunk/industrial world

The spectacle must be fantastic to watch. But in the past, I’ve been a little underwhelmed by the recorded output. Melk En Honing is getting a little closer. Throbbing rhythms like an obscene factory floor, pounding percussive forces, and a rising or falling buzz: These things define Author & Punisher, and should redefine the meaning of “industrial metal.” And it’s quite dynamic, loud, quiet, fast, slow, all of these things are used in good measures. But it feels more expertly planned than brilliantly written.

Ultimately, the songwriting still isn’t there. Shone is obviously a fantastic hobbyist engineer. But I don’t think he’s going to truly make a great album unless he collaborates with someone else.

The Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 23, 2015

Funerary / Ooze: Split (2015)

The split album from Funerary and Ooze showcases two bands that are extremely raw, and whose names suit their respective genres, but otherwise have little in common.

Funerary contribute two tracks of funeral doom with touches of death and black metal. Raspy vocals, slow riffs, and a bit of feedback. They sound quite a lot like Thou, but (possibly due to production) not quite as heavy. Still, they produce enough atmosphere.

Ooze, on the other hand, veer more toward sludge metal--the more rough-around-the-edges, hardcore, and mostly mid-paced side of sludge instead of the doomy side. Think Crowbar, only with less polish.

It's an enjoyable listen, and smart to put the slower side up front. Ooze's riffs are catchier, but their sound is a little less satisfying than their counterparts. All in all, not bad work. And killer cover art.

The Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Beginning the Wendler 5/3/1

It's been a long time since I posted about my workout routine, and a lot has happened since then. I kept with my old routine for quite a while, with small gains. Then, I started working from home. I thought I could work out, a set here and there, during my work day, and it would benefit both my work and my life in a way that didn't detract from my lifting. Well, it led to laziness. I slid, not a lot, but enough.

Thankfully, a neighbor invited me to start working out with him last February. I got renewed dedication out of it. I started educating myself. That education led me to a difference of opinion, and I'm working out on my own again as of last month. But I'm taking it more seriously than ever.

My brother-in-law custom-built me a weight rack, and it is some serious hardware. He loaded up just under 1000 pounds on the safety rails, and it was fine.

This week, I'm embarking on the Wendler 5/3/1 routine. Specifically, a variant I found in one of his books, which I believe is called the SVR variant. It blends the 5/3/1's usual emphasis on the main lifts with extra AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets and extra one-rep-max attempts. I started this week on a deload, because I gave blood last week and just to get used to the routine. I'm very excited about this scientific, hard-working, no-bullshit approach to lifting.

And, just so I have a record of my starting point, here are my pre-Wendler maxes, all made recently:
Bench: 250 pounds
Military Press: 150 pounds
Deadlift: 375 pounds
Squat: -- (I thought my max was 365, but I saw a video of it and it was a joke. I wasn't even close to parallel. I'm currently on a separate plan to perfect my squat, specifically, and I'm starting very light.)

I'll keep you updated.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Grime: Circle of Molesters (2015)

I’ve reviewed Grime before, and every time I hear them I just have a hard time imagining this disgusting band coming from a picturesque part of Italy.

They’re still awesome, but I think they’ve taken a bit of a stylistic turn. Before, more of a sludge metal band. Now I’d call them sludge/death. That is absolutely a good thing. No-nonsense, mid-paced or slow death that’s filthy enough they don’t need to bury it under any reverb. The riffs chug, march, stomp, lurch, pound, rumble, and occasionally screech, as required. The low-end is powerful, the high-end unnerving, and it’s completed by desperate, raspy, screaming vocals.

In one sentence: It’ sort of like Autopsy crossed with Indian (minus the noise parts). You need to hear it.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Sword: High Country (2015)

Summary Judgment

The Sword were a lot better when they were a rocking sludge metal band. Now they're just a rock band, barely even a hard rock band, playing 70's and 80's inspired rock that's just sort of boring.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Mastery: VALIS (2015)

The promo spiel for Mastery’s VALIS called it the most extreme record the Flenser has ever released. That’s saying something.

This is some intense, weird, dissonant black metal featuring two long compositions, a shorter one, and two interludes. I’ve spent a lot of time listening, trying to unravel its secrets, to no avail. But I’ve enjoyed it along the way. There are some strangely compelling riffs, but remembering them is nearly impossible amid the apparent chaos. Just when you think you’ve got something to latch onto, it’s pulled away by the constant tide of insanity.

This is definitely one for the Deathspell Omega fans out there.

The only sense I feel I can intuit from it is this: I think Mastery took some inspiration from electronic music. I’m not sure why I think that. Maybe it’s the interludes, maybe it’s something else.

And maybe my rating doesn’t do it justice. Perhaps, after 100 listens, everything would fall into place and its brilliance would be revealed. Or maybe it’s just a fascinating exercise in controlled chaos. In either case, you should listen.

The Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Ahab: The Boats of the Glen Carrig (2015)

As I’ve mentioned before, Ahab are proven masters of funeral doom. They began with two albums of crushing funereal death/doom. On The Giant they went with a more melodic approach with emphasis on loud/quiet dynamics. The Boats of the Glen Carrig continues that approach. And, of course, the nautical theme of their entire catalog.

I always find it difficult to write about funeral doom with the proper balance between comprehensiveness and conciseness, so I will err toward the latter. Soft, vaguely aquatic melodies and clean singing provide breathing space between crushing lurch-and-stumble doom riffs and death growls. Genuinely memorable melodies and leads make the tunes easily distinguishable from each other, with the last three tunes standing out as even better than the first two. Especially note the leads on “The Weedmen.” The compositions are long, but deservedly so.

It’s powerful, dynamic, and interesting throughout. It probably won’t draw in funeral doom doubters, but devotees will want to pick this one up.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 05, 2015

He Lives On in Our Hearts

I was listening to "Holy Diver" and standing next to a dry erase board. The result was inevitable.