Monday, February 28, 2011

Demonic Resurrection: The Return to Darkness (2010)


Demonic Resurrection is the best-known metal band out of India, having been featured on the documentary Global Metal. Since I didn't have any tacks pushed into my metal map in India, I decided to pick up their third full-length, The Return to Darkness.

Return to DarknessThey play a highly accessible style of melodic death metal, and chances are it's really nothing you haven't heard before. They pepper this with a strong power metal flavor, especially in the guitar solos, a thick layer of synths, and some progressive tendencies on the two longer tracks. Vocalist Demonstealer is the star of this show, being a very capable death growler (similar to Nergal's style), as well as having a strained rasp and radio-friendly clean vocals. The latter are sometimes distorted in that Cynic computer-like way. The guitars, bass, and drums are all standard issue melo-death; they don't really warrant a lengthy explanation. The keyboards are kind of a mixed bag. Sometimes, they remain unobtrusive, adding welcome drama and atmosphere. But other times they don't keep keyboardist Mephisto on a tight enough leash, and he gets ridiculously distracting (see "The Warriors Return").

The songs are also a mixed bag. I feel like I've heard basically every song on this album a few times before, performed better or worse by a number of other bands. A handful of these offerings are strong enough to be memorable, like "Where Dreams and Darkness Unite" or "Bound by Blood, Fire and Stone". But others, like "The Unrelenting Surge of Vengeance", are unrelentingly boring. The problem seems to be that they're afraid to break the rules, and when they do manage to step outside the box, like the death ballad (that's what I'm calling it) "A Tragedy Befallen", it doesn't work. And the longest track on the album ("Lord of Pestilence") is disjointed and awful.

The Verdict: Demonic Resurrection seem like they simply have no songwriting instincts. When they paint by numbers, they do an admirable job, but when they try to do something different they screw it up. It's not bad, and not good. But it is highly accessible, so if you don't like it, give it away to your friend who's just "kind of" into metal. You know, the one who likes metal because it's cool, but most of it scares him. He'll think it's pretty "hardcore". I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Metal Briefs: Free Doom Metal Albums

As piracy has become an integral part of the music landscape, more and more bands are simply adapting. Instead of trying to fight piracy through annoying methods like DRM, or only releasing their music on vinyl/cassette, they have decided to offer it up completely free (or via a pay-what-you-want scheme). They are counting on this exposure to bring more people to their shows and to buy their merch. It makes sense to me.

It's becoming so common that whole blogs are dedicated to pointing people in the direction of free music, and you could easily satisfy your listening wants purely on gratis material (at least if you're into underground metal).

If you haven't run across many of these free albums, you might suspect that they're of low quality. Luckily, at the same time that the traditional music industry business model is going down in flames, recording technology has advanced to the point that you can make a great record on the cheap. So, let's take a look at a few of these. This time, we'll focus on doom metal, since that genre tends to embrace the free release model more than any other.

Rorcal: Heliogabalus (2010)

I discovered Switzerland's Rorcal via a post at Invisible Oranges. They offer up almost their entire catalog free on their web site, including their latest release: Heliogabalus. Following in the Sleep Dopesmoker tradition, the album consists of a single track, clocking in at a daunting 70:31. Yikes. But I've listened to it without interruption twice now, and the music is good enough that some of you, at least, will make it through and enjoy every minute of it. You may want to split it into separate tracks, though (I did at 11:50, 25:01, 32:40, 44:45, and 59:00 after my first two listens). The music seems to be a mix of French blackcore, sludge, and funeral doom. It's mostly very slow, has a lot of dissonance, some tremolo riffing, and bloodcurdling screech vocals, as well as long periods of minimalism. All of this is molded into a cohesive whole of undeniable power. It's very much worth your time, and I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Hesper Payne: Unclean Rituals (2010)

Hesper Payne is from the UK. As you can see, they clearly put a lot of effort into their cover art, despite the fact this is a free album. And they put equal effort into their highly original music, which draws influence from a variety of sources as disparate as Acid Bath and Evoken. The sound is very sludgy, and includes expertly-used keyboards which provide atmosphere without ever becoming obtrusive. At times it's faster riff-based doom (especially toward the beginning of the album--the first two tracks have killer riffs) and at other times it veers into funeral doom. The whole thing has a delicious sense of insanity, from the madman vocals, to some weird timing in the riffs, to a sense that the whole thing is played with a slight lack of focus and precision. It's as if it's the meticulously written but sometimes incoherent manifesto of a paranoid schizophrenic, and the effect is powerful. The only thing holding this album back is a weak, quiet production. If it had been given the Sanford Parker touch, it would have been an instant classic. As is, I give it 4 out of 5 stars, which is not bad at all for a freebie. You can find it (and other free albums) over at Works of Ein.

Greg(o)rian: Dormancy of Our Omniscient Master (2010)

Also from the UK, we have Greg(o)rian, a stoner doom band with a style inspired by Sleep and early Electric Wizard, but with the psychedelia taken a few notches higher (pun intended). They don't seem to be on Metal Archives yet, possibly because that site is living in caveman-land where a band has to have a physical release in order to be listed. But Greg(o)rian's MySpace page links to a site where you can download their album, which consists of three tracks totaling about 43 minutes. The slow, reverb-overdrive, heavy riffs are repeated ad nauseam, with high-pitched notes adding the psychedelia. There are some vocals, too, in the form of indistinct yells. I guess this is the kind of thing people like to listen to when they're stoned, but even sober it's pretty good stuff. At least, the first two tracks are good, but the 21 minute "Sea Goat" is a bit too much for me. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Eryn Non Dae: Hydra Lernaia (2009)


Eryn Non Dae's debut album Hydra Lernaia (from the ever-reliable Metal Blade) has only one review on Metal Archives, and it's a scathing review offering only a 20% rating. But I named it as one of my top albums of 2009, so clearly I do not agree. Since I only wrote a short blurb before, I thought I'd write a proper review to set the record straight on this excellent release.

Hydra LernaiaEND is a French outfit that formed in 2001. Their sound is extremely difficult to categorize; Metal Archives says it's groove metal / power metal / hardcore. I have no idea where the power metal part comes from. The last time I discussed the album, I called them progressive post-deathcore (as ridiculous as it sounds). Perhaps avant-garde groove/deathcore would be a more apt description.

I say deathcore in this context in the same way you might call Portal death metal. It's not really right, but it's the best way to get the point across. The songs are mostly composed of melodies with a lot of negative space, and breakdowns. I've mentioned before that I think breakdowns are usually boring. But these are good breakdowns, counterintuitive in the same way as Meshuggah's material, and therefore interesting. Other similarities to Meshuggah are obvious: wierd, off-kilter time signatures, minimalist guitar leads, and mellow sections as eerie as "Acrid Placidity". But there are also similarities to other French bands, like Bloody Sign, in the extensive use of post-hardcore dissonance.

Somehow, despite the oddity of the time signatures, it all grooves, and there is a clear emotional quality to the music (check the slow, eerie "The Decline and the Fall"). The atmosphere created is eerie and harsh, and heavy as hell. The song structures bear the mark of post-metal's gradual evolution, ranging from ominous to seething with rage within a single song. The vocals are done in a death/thrash/hardcore hybrid style similar to Meshuggah's Jens Kidman and Gojira's Joe Duplantier, but spoken word is also used at times. The bass is prominent in the mix, providing the backbone to their sound, and the drums are simple or chaotic, as appropriate.

I'll try to sum up their sound as succinctly as possible: Whitechapel, plus Bloody Sign, divided by Meshuggah. It has all the heaviness and brutality of deathcore (without the idiot paint-by-numbers approach of most bands in the genre), the dangerous rage of post-hardcore inflected death metal, and the intelligence and inexplicable groove of the famous Swedes. Highlights include opener "When Time Elapses", "Existence Asleep", and especially closer "Pure".

The Verdict: It's unique, and it's excellent, but it's challenging. I recommend it for fans of anything experimental, and particularly to people who love Meshuggah but hate the current djent scene. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DevilDriver: Dead to Rights (2011)


I've already documented the impact Dez Fafara has had in my own personal journey with metal. In short, I was a budding metalhead in the mid- to late-90's, and Coal Chamber was one of my favorite bands. They were better than most other nu metal because they had an angrier, more evil sound. And then Dez started DevilDriver, and The Fury of Our Maker's Hand was an important stepping stone for me into more extreme music.

BeastYou're probably already familiar with DevilDriver, since they're one of the best-known bands in what's sometimes called the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. The style is similar to others in the NWOAHM (like Lamb of God, Machine Head, and Dååth), i.e., an aggressive brand of groove metal strongly influenced by the Gothenburg melo-death sound, and recorded with perfect production. You know what to expect, and DevilDriver doesn't stray from the formula. Since there's nothing new, the album can only be judged on the strength of the performance and the songs.

The performance is as strong as ever, with every instrument doing exactly what it's supposed to do, and doing it with feeling, as they say. Dez Fafara has convinced me (for the umpteenth time in the last decade and a half) that he is one of the most charismatic frontmen in metal. That's not to mention his nails-and-battery-acid gargled voice, one of the most instantly recognizable, aggressive, and all-around perfect voices in metal. Nothing at all is missing from this performance.

The songs aren't the strongest the band has ever offered, but none of it's bad. There are only three real standouts ("Dead to Rights", "Shitlist", and "Black Soul Choir"), but there are also only three songs you might want to skip ("Bring the Fight (to the Floor)", "Talons Out (Teeth Sharpened)", and closer "Lend Myself to the Night"). The rest of it's solid, if predictable material. And you can't really go wrong with that. But this kind of album shouldn't go on for 55 minutes either (you're not doing anything artsy here, and this isn't funeral doom), so it is a tad long. Unless you skip those three weaker tracks, because then it's perfect.

The Verdict: Yeah, it's predictable, but it's also good. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Warbeast: Krush the Enemy (2010)


Anyone who's read my reviews will know that I'm not a big fan of thrash. It's a stubbornly non-evolving genre, and I like a little evolution. To make an impression on me, a thrash album has to be truly great. So it was with trepidation that I picked up Warbeast's Krush the Enemy after Metallattorney called it the best thrash album of 2010.

Krush the EnemyWarbeast is made up of Texas thrashers who have been around for a long time, and they're signed to Phil Anselmo's Housecore Records. Though they clearly have the chops of guys with a lot of experience, they also have that indefinable hunger that allows some younger bands to release inredible debuts. The music is not the mid-paced fare of old thrashers like recent Sodom or Death Angel--it's punishingly fast in every song. But they do take time to slow down and provide some melody for a few brief seconds here and there, providing a much-needed contrast that keeps the music from becoming one big blur.

Every instrument is expertly played and well-produced, making it feel like a superb live performance rather than a Pro Tools chopped-up and sanitized affair. As with all thrash metal, the guitar is clearly the star of the game, playing solo after solo after solo, and each one of them is interesting. The vocals remind me of Lair of the Minotaur, and the lyrics tend toward violence with a measure of misogyny.

Highlights include the title track, "Blackened Heart", and "Scorched Earth Policy", but every track is worth listening to. My only complaint is the awkward chorus in "Self Will Run Riot", but the opening bassline saves the song from being a disaster.

The Verdict: I don't usually listen to much thrash, but when it's really damn good, I'll make an exception. I'll make an exception for Warbeast's Krush the Enemy. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Withered: Dualitas (2010)


One of the most interesting developments in metal recently has been the combination of two polar opposites: sludge metal and black metal. The former, heavy, slow, and warm. The latter, trebly, fast, and cold. And the thing about new genres and subgenres is, one of the first bands on the scene is almost always the best one. Blackened sludge, thy name is Withered.

DualitasOpener "Extinguished with the Weary" sets the stage, starting out with blast beats and all-out tremolo riffing, then slowing down into melodic sludge. It shows you something new, a band that combines Georgia sludge with black metal (to my mind, it seems to be specifically the Norwegian variety, i.e., as polar opposite as you can get from Georgia sludge). The drumming varies from blast beats to Kylesa-esque rhythms, and the sludge-oriented bass is prominent in the mix. Vocals vary from deep, sludge-inflected death growls to black metal screeches.

But the guitars are something truly unique. Somehow, they've combined the sounds of sludge and black metal, keeping the sludgy reverb and heaviness while adding that misanthropic, evil quality of black metal. The riffs can be Confederate, Scandinavian, or southern played in a northern style.

The music gets its juiciest when they let the two styles contrast, as at the end of "Residue in the Void" where they play a sludge riff over blast beats. The highlight of the album, "From Shadows", has a riff that's (Static Tensions era) Kylesa or Baroness-like, but it never loses its blackened feel. And every track is worthwhile, including the droning (headphones-essential) interlude and outro.

The Verdict: Will it spawn a legion of imitators? Probably. This is an exciting development in metal, but for now it's almost entirely unique. It's a convincing combination of things I wouldn't have thought could be combined. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Neuraxis: Asylon (2011)


When I think of technical death metal, I generally think of two camps. There's the Necrophagist camp of highly polished complexity, sort of like a brutal version of Dream Theater, if you don't mind the unorthodox comparison. And then there's the Suffocation camp, utterly without polish and with an impenetrable sound. But lately, some have been forging their own path. Canada's Neuraxis is one of them.

AsylonDespite the fact that two of the band's members are named Olivier, and the other two have names that could be mistaken for girls' names (like my own), there is absolutely nothing girly or sissy about Asylon. Neuraxis plays what is essentially old school death metal, with a filthy and brutal sound. The only difference is, the riffs they play have a lot of notes, and they're played with precision. Even without polished production, the performance is spot-on virtuosity, and it's amazing.

Every member holds their own technically, despite rapid changes in pace and riff, and they all perform with conviction. Especially worthy of note are Alex LeBlanc's death growls, which easily stand up to comparisons with Mikael Åkerfeldt, Peter Tägtgren, or any other fantastic death growler you could think of.

Not only do they have the style, production, and chops, but they also have the songs. These songs have barbed hooks that dig in, do their damage, and don't let go. "Asylum" and "Savior & Destroyer" are particularly worthy of note, the latter having a melodic riff that may draw comparisons to Decrepit Birth. "Purity" feels like an epic because of its sound and structure, despite its short length. And the whole album clocks in at a satisfying 39 minutes, so it's satisfying but doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Verdict: This is a fantastic album that feels like old-school death metal played in a technical style, with everything you could possibly want. It's still early in the year, but this is the best album so far. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.