Friday, August 31, 2012

Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath Vol. 4 (1972)

Motion for Reconsideration
40th Anniversary

The first four Black Sabbath albums are considered by most metalheads to be some of the best records ever recorded. Few groups have ever had a run of quality releases that are even arguably comparable—Metallica’s first four and Death’s last four; Judas Priest and Iron Maiden have both had such runs. Within metal fandom, either Paranoid or Master of Reality is the most beloved of Sabbath's, but for many critics (myself included) Black Sabbath Vol. 4 is the pinnacle of the original metal band’s career. The 40th anniversary of its release is tomorrow, Sepember 1.

Iommi’s riffs are the main reason for its excellence. The riff from the fantastic “Supernaut” is widely considered his best. Contrasting with the slow-rolling doom riffs he’s better known for, “Supernaut” is exciting, and that is perhaps the reason the song looms so large in their discography. But he still writes some of his best doom as well: opener “Wheels of Confusion” is typically excellent, “Cornucopia” has an intensely heavy opener, while “Under the Sun” is the heaviest Sabbath song of all. “Snowblind,” as well, is one of the most iconic (and heaviest) songs of the band’s career.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mongrel's Cross: The Sins of Aquarius (2012)

More Aussie Brutality

Guest review by Metallattorney. He is the law.

Kicking things off with some evil-sounding keyboard melody that sounds like it would be found in a 1970's horror movie, Mongrel's Cross definitely know how to set the atmosphere for their own brand of bestial brutality. The fact that this is just the band's debut full-length is shocking. The band sound like seasoned veterans of the Australian scene.

Yes the Australian scene. Mongrel's Cross bear a sonic resemblance to groups like Gospel of the Horns, Destroyer 666, Denouncement Pyre, and Atomizer. So right away, this band is definitely up my alley.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hell United: Aura Damage (2012)

More Polish Death? Yes!

Just when I start to think that the Polish death metal scene has nothing different to offer, I come across something like Hell United. I’m not so sure about their name (is that the soccer team who play at Pandemonium?) but I’m quite sure about their music.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Yes, they do sound a bit like Behemoth. There are only two death metal licensing authorities in Poland, and that’s the one where these guys registered. But their sound is much more colorful than being mere Behemoth clones. Firstly, their sound is much more raw than your typical Polish death (and that hi-hat sound is beautiful). But their musical variety is more extensive as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Natur: Head of Death (2012)


The New Wave of New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWONWOBHM for short) has been going for a while now, and I only wish I could take the credit for being the first to come up with that acronym. It’s a little unwieldy to see much widespread use, but it’s also a succinct way to describe Natur.

The New York band unleashed their debut full-length on Earache in June, and it’s fair to say they sound like Angel Witch fanboys. Of course that means twin guitar riffs, clean vocals, and pretty much standard heavy metal drums all around, with a hook and a couple solos for every song.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hexvessel: No Holier Temple (2012)

No Holier Temple is the sophomore album of folk project Hexvessel, helmed by Kvohst of a handful of metal bands. There is no shortage of metal musicians taking up folk music on both sides of the Atlantic, with the Europeans tending to go solidly traditional and the Americans taking up country-inspired or Appalachian folk blended with rock sensibilities. That is analogous to what Hexvessel is doing, in updating a relatively modern folk style with rock influence. But their focus on 60’s psychedelic folk makes them more akin to The Devil’s Blood than any of Nuerot’s folk acts.

The band’s debut, Dawnbearer, found Hexvessel struggling to define their voice. A handful of songs were hook-oriented songs that could have been hits among the hippie generation, while a handful more were trance-inducing psychedelic deep cuts that didn’t work nearly as well as intended. But with No Holier Temple, they have clearly found their footing.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Eagle Twin: The Feather Tipped the Serpent's Scale (2012)


Drone metal inspires one of two emotions, depending on who you are: An almost spiritual reverence, or complete bewilderment. The enthusiasm of its proponents has inspired me to try it time and time again. Although I've caught fleeting glimpses of what others see in it, I'm usually left scratching my head.

But if any band can make drone accessible, I'm convinced it's Eagle Twin. Their sophomore record The Feather Tipped the Serpent's Scale splits the difference between Sunn O))) and Goatsnake, something I didn't even think possible. Drone, but with actual songs.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Punk Briefs: 1980's

I have slowly been dipping my toes into the waters of classic punk, only in those parts of the pool where the names have been dropped in metal circles.

Some may protest at my decision to boil down a significant portion of the history of such a vast genre to three short reviews of three albums, while I did a series of posts on every year of death metal from 1990 through 1994. That's fair. But this is a metal blog, and I'm not going to dig that deep into punk.

Killing Joke: Night Time (1985)
4.5 out of 5 stars

To say that Killing Joke has influenced every important rock band of the last few decades would only be hyperbole in the strictest meaning of the word. They’ve made themselves timeless in that way. In another way, 1985's Night Time is clearly a product of its time. Take the music of any early MTV band with polygonal electric drums and maybe a keytar and you'll be well on your way to getting this sound. That time capsule feeling is punctuated by album closer "Eighties" (later ripped off by Nirvana). But they gave that 80's sound an edge, with often dissonant post-punk guitars and occasional growls. And it's catchy as hell.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wound Upon Wound: Wound Upon Wound (2012)

Reading That Title Plays Tricks on My Eyes

Ireland is something of an odd man out in the metal world. They're not really a part of the larger European metal scene, and they don't have all that much of a scene of their own. Beyond Primordial, and arguably Altar of Plagues, anything else from the country can rightly be considered "obscure." But that has been a plus, in some ways, because what has been exported has been unusual enough to warrant some attention.

Wound Upon Wound is a Dublin band who have decided to give away their debut full-length for free. Their band logo looks a hell of a lot like Altar of Plagues' band logo, and they do bear some similarity to Altar of Plagues (particularly on "For This Is My Flesh"). But though they share some sonic elements and an affinity for sprawling compositions, post-black metal is not a good way to describe their music. Instead, it borders on the rarely trod ground of blackened doom.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ash Borer: Cold of Ages (2012)


After all the underground buzz surrounding Ash Borer, the band have finally released a proper CD/digital album. It's about time, and it's thanks to Profound Lore.

It's easy to see why people have been getting their panties in a bunch over these guys. The music draws heavily from the atmospheric and post-black schools of black metal that have been getting attention lately, similar to the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room, but with more teeth. You could make a case that Cold of Ages is a direct response to everything Alcest has done in the last few years, a response that says, "No, this is how you’re supposed to do it."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reino Ermitaño: Veneración del Fuego (2012)

A Little Too Much Fat

If you're sick of hearing about bands bringing back old-school doom, or if you're sick of hearing about female-fronted doom metal bands, then move on. For the rest of you, Reino Ermitaño and their album Veneración del Fuego just might catch your fancy. They could just be the best Spanish-language doom band outside of Japan.

Kicking things off with a Sabbathian riff, they let you know right away that they're playing old-school doom. It's not all Sabbath-inspired, but the vast majority of it could be decades-old, from the brooding "El Rito" to the crunchy "Desangrándote." The only strange thing about most of the record is the vocal style. Where Corrupted's lyrics are often in Spanish (for no apparent reason), Tania Duarte's clean singing voice sounds Japanese to me (also for no apparent reason). For comparison, check out Gonin-Ish or Onmyo-Za. It's neither bad nor good, but it is unusual.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Nachtmystium: Silencing Machine (2012)

Welcome Home (Nachtmystium)

The story of prominent metal bands drifting away from the genre is a familiar one. I've covered quite a few of them in these "pages." These bands tend to be prominent because of the risks they've taken, and their attitude toward expanding horizons. Inevitably, it seems, this leads to the abandonment of metal. Nachtmystium is one such band. With the Black Meddle albums, they consciously, openly, and defiantly toyed with the limits of black metal. In Assassins, they superbly explored psychedelia. In Addicts, they explored their industrial side. With each, they strayed further away from metal.

Now, in a move almost never seen, they've reversed course. Silencing Machine is more black metal than either of their two previous releases. Don't take that to mean they've gone "kvlt," "troo," or "necro," however, as the lessons they've learned have been carried on.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Terror Empire: Face the Terror (EP 2012)

Another Day, Another Thrash Band

Guest review by Metallattorney. He is the law.

The thrash resurgence must still be going reasonably well. Here we have the debut EP from Portuguese thrash band Terror Empire. Terror Empire has only been around since 2009 and this is their first ever release.

True to their name, Terror Empire's EP appears to mostly be about the war on terror. Featuring samples from speeches by former U.S. president George W. Bush and song titles like "Dirty Bomb" make that fairly clear.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Forest of Stars: A Shadowplay for Yesterdays (2012)

Shtick Notwithstanding

Throughout the history of hard rock and metal, there have always been bands with a shtick. Kiss's alternate personas. Gwar's alien thing. Ghost's anonymous Satanic proselytization. Brujeria's claim to be Mexican drug lords. It's nothing new. Even considering that tradition, taking on a ridiculous backstory is a gamble, because it can raise your profile, but cause people to unfairly dismiss your music.

I initially dismissed A Forest of Stars because they claim to be of the Victorian era, regardless of how much that particular gimmick appeals to me. But I may have been a bit too hasty. A Shadowplay for Yesterdays is their third full-length, and clearly an accomplished piece of work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Deiphago: Satan Alpha Omega (2012)

Deiphago: A Fancy Term for Holy Communion

Are they still calling this "war metal," or is it supposed to be "bestial black metal" now?

Either way, Deiphago fully embrace all the clichés. Ridiculously fast and raw? Check. Uncompromisingly aggressive? Check. Over-the-top, blasphemous, slightly funny song titles with made-up words? Check. Songs you can't really tell apart? Check. Sub-par production? Check. Awesome? Check.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Agalloch: The Mantle (2002)

Motion for Reconsideration
Tenth Anniversary

Ten years have passed since the release of Agalloch's second full-length, The Mantle. The record is not revolutionary in and of itself, exactly. But it does represent two radical changes in metal. After its release, those shifts slowly gained prominence. That is no coincidence.

The style is one that is still, to this day, difficult to define. It's been described as everything from post-metal, to black metal, to folk metal, to pagan metal, to doom metal. Others have suggested other genre names, like "gray metal" or "dark metal," descriptions that don't have much meaning. What it is, in fact, is neo-folk music with some black metal elements, rather than the other way around. The distorted tremolo riffing doesn't even begin until nearly a half-hour into the record, and never really takes center stage at any point. Metal that's barely even metal: That's the first shift.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Punk Briefs: 2012

Do You Feel Lucky?

While it's obvious that punk has influenced metal a great deal, it's still surprising to me how much overlap there can be in the spheres of fandom, press, and PR. Southern Lord is playing a big part in that right now, as Tuesday's review of Xibalba is only the latest of their hardcore releases covered here.

I never listened to punk as a teen, and up until recently my entire punk repertoire consisted of the Misfits and Samhain. But as PR companies and labels have been making them available to me, I've given punk a chance. It's still pretty rare that I'll find something that I really like, but it's out there.

Beastmilk: Use Your Deluge 7" (2012)
4 out of 5 stars

After Pinkish Black and Alaric piqued my interest in deathrock, I happened across a promo for Finland’s Beastmilk. A cow is, by definition, a beast, so I guess they just really like regular milk. The promo materials make reference to Christian Death, whom Josh Haun identified as the source of deathrock. I still haven't listened to them yet. What I hear is a more gothic version of 80's Killing Joke. Then again, the more I listen to 80's Killing Joke, the more I hear their influence everywhere. Slow, heavy bass lines undergird quasi-metallic guitars in post-punk beats, with gothic clean singing in 80's New Wave style hooks over the top. In fact, the 80's figure pretty largely in Beastmilk's universe, as their songs make a lot of reference to atom bombs and Russia. I mean, who sings about Russia anymore, more than two decades after the end of the Cold War? Anyway, I really like it.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Chaos Inception: The Abrogation (2012)

Alabama Brutality

Guest review by Metallattorney. He is the law.

I had not heard of this band before, so I did some checking before I listened to the album. When I discovered that Quinta Essentia madman guitarist Matt Barnes also performed the guitar work for Chaos Inception, I knew I was going to enjoy it.

Chaos Inception bears a strong resemblance to Quinta Essentia in that the band is not simply a middling death metal band. There is a lot of substance here, some real progressive song structures with complex riffing and a real organic foundation. This is not stale, modernized death metal focused solely on providing a brutal experience. Chaos Inception has the occult and doom-laden sound of an early Morbid Angel. Their sound is like a Lovecraftian beast, horrendous and otherworldly.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Scott Kelly and The Road Home: The Forgiven Ghost in Me (2012)

Misery Loves Accompaniment

By now you already know I'm a big fan of the style that I call "dark Americana." I use that as an umbrella term for a vibe more than a particular genre, but it includes mostly folk, country, blues, and a little bit of rock. Neurot is a label that's been at the forefront of this sound, releasing solo albums from Neurosis legends Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly, among others.

The Forgiven Ghost in Me is the latest of these offerings, and the third Scott Kelly solo full-length. This time around the artist is identified as Scott Kelly and The Road Home, referring to the presence of backing musicians. Which is not to say that prior album The Wake was only acoustic guitar and vocals, but all of them were handled by Kelly himself. Now there is help from others, and the difference is quite positive.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Xibalba: Hasta la Muerte (2012)


Most of the time, I ignore hardcore. But when I heard about Xibalba, I vaguely remembered reading something about them on Erebuszine, so I gave it a shot. Looking back at that site, apparently he was talking about the Mexican black metal band, not the California hardcore band.

But I'll consider that mix-up a happy accident, because Hasta la Muerte is awesome. Though apparently not metal enough to be listed on Metal Archives, this band is not far from Crowbar on the sludge metal vs. hardcore spectrum. Just on the other side of the Mayan underworld, it would seem.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Realmbuilder: Fortifications of the Pale Architect (2011)

Judge a Book By Its Cover

They say you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But on occasion, that could save you a lot of time.

Take Fortifications of the Pale Architect, for instance, the sophomore album of New York epic doomsters Realmbuilder. The cover looks like it was very earnestly created (in MSPaint) by someone with a rudimentary grasp of perspective, but without any real knack for composition, no comprehension of proportions of the human body, a lack of appreciation for the distinction between good and bad fantasy, a lazy streak--and most importantly, a complete inability to look at his own finished product and say, "Well, that sucks." Translate that critique of visual art into a critique of music, and you can see where this is headed.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Tribune: Elder Lore / The Dark Arts (2012)


Guest review by Metallattorney. He is the law.

Tribune (apparently pronounced TRY-BUNE) shows a large variety of influences. Elements of thrash, progressive, death, and even some metalcore are woven throughout this release. The band probably is most reminiscent of Into Eternity, a fellow Canadian progressive metal band with a variety of other influences. But, if anything, Tribune is even more varied.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Usurpress: Trenches of the Netherworld (2012)

Swe-Death with a Few Surprises

Usurpress is a Swedish death metal band who are actually from Sweden. A statement like that should both pique your interest (Swe-death!) and put you on guard (oh, more Swe-death?).

Most bands of the Swe-death variety tend to pigeonhole themselves into one facet of that sound. Not so for Usurpress on Trenches of the Netherworld. They employ the gruff vocals and buzzsaw tone in a variety of different ways, from the more straight-forward sounds of Entombed/Dismember/etc., to D-beat, to a doomy sort of Autopsy on HM-2.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Thy Darkened Shade: Eternvs Mos, Nex Ritvs (2012)

Olympic Superiority

Guest review by Patrick, proprietor of Beards Etc., home of metal, beards, and more.

I have come to feel that Greece may well have the best current black metal scene in the world, and the debut album of Athens-based Thy Darkened Shade further cements that notion in my mind. Eternvs Mos, Nex Ritvs was released in May of this year, and I had heard nothing about it or the band until hearing the album itself.

Apparently these guys have been around for over a decade, so it's easy to understand why this doesn't sound like a debut album. Rather, it sounds like the work of a fully matured black metal powerhouse who know exactly what they're doing. The vocals are primarily throaty shrieks, totally unintelligible but perfectly suited to the music. There are a couple places where some peculiar, reverb-laden baritone chanting crops up, creating some little interludes that provide interesting atmosphere without ever overstaying their welcome. Some very low simulated strings make a few appearances as well, adding occasional tasteful accents without ever stepping into the forefront.