Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Botanist: I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose from the Dead (2011)


Can music be black metal without actually being metal? That's one question posed by I: The Suicide Tree / II: A Rose From the Dead, the debut album of Botanist. Otrebor, the band's only member, contacted me with a review copy of the album. He handles drums, vocals, and hammered dulcimer.

The hammered dulcimer is an ancient stringed instrument played with mallets. Your only point of reference may be a xylophone, thanks to its popularity in children's alphabet books. Dulcimer completely takes the place of guitar and bass in this record, so it sounds entirely like no other band out there.

It was intended as two separate albums, but weirdo-friendly label Tumult decided to release it as a double album. When I first put on I: The Suicide Tree, I expected this to be gimmicky. But I was immediately drawn in. High-pitched melodies, dissonance, and rasped vocals, accompanied by weird, halting drum rhythms. It's hard to know what to make of it at first. Sure, it could be dismissed as merely an interesting experiment, but it's mesmerizing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Across Tundras: Sage


SageSage is dry. Across Tundras dream of cool, clear water, but do not find it. It's the soundtrack of walking through the Nevada desert, hallucinating from exposure.

I love the dark Americana vibe of bands like Man's Gin, Wino, and Dax Riggs. I'm not even sure I've mentioned it before, except for my glowing reviews of Smiling Dogs and Adrift. Across Tundras compellingly fuse that vibe to the stoner metal / desert rock of Kyuss.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Metal Briefs: Bandcamp, Part 2

The Crust Punk Edition

I recently mentioned that I don't know anything about crust punk, but that Acephalix had piqued my interest. So, I thought there was no better (i.e., cheaper) way to educate myself about the genre than to get some free or pay-what-you-want albums off Bandcamp. In order, let's check out Australia, Austria, and California.

Space Bong: The Passion of the Crust (2007)

Space Bong mostly identifies itself as a stoner doom band, but you're not going to find any of that on their first release, The Passion of the Crust. At times you get sloppy, almost grind-like metallic punk, and other times they slow it down for some heaviness (check out the 8 minute closer). Most of the songs are short, and all but one start off with a healthy dose of feedback. This could appeal to metalheads who like it sloppy and angry, but the wide variety of punk vocals--including the dreaded gang vocals--could be a deal-breaker. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Strom: Herz in Fetzen (2011)

Summary Judgment

Someone in the camp of German industrial rockers Strom contacted me about their new EP, Herz in Fetzen. I don't mind saying I'm kind of a sucker for industrial rock with a metallic edge, and a brief sampling of their sound reminded me of Rammstein. I'm not sure whether Rammstein is currently acceptable among the true metal police, but I've always been a fan.

I was on the fence while listening to the full EP. It reminded me just as much of Linkin Park as Rammstein. (LP is firmly in the realm of "stuff I hate".) I was on the fence, that is, until I heard closer "Was Du Fuhlst". Auto-tuned vocals. Ugh. I'm still not prepared to say that auto-tune is always a bad thing, but I've still never heard it in anything I liked.

OK, the EP is not all that bad. But I'm issuing summary judgment against it. You can go to the label if you're interested.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Burnsred: Burnsred (2011)


So I have this really tight space between two of my upper right molars, and when I chew gum I usually get some of it stuck in there. I was chewing some Winterfresh gum for a while, and when it lost its flavor I spit it out.

Then I started munching on some "zen party" trail mix, which has rice crackers, sesame sticks, green peas, almonds, cashews, and wasabi peas. This was new to me, as I had never tried it before. It was kind of OK, but not great. There were some familiar flavors mixed together in a way that wasn't all that compelling. Then some of the gum stuck between my teeth got dislodged, and I tasted the mint with it. It wasn't horrible, but who wants minty, salty, wasabi crackers and nuts?

Are you wondering where I'm going with this?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Disma: Towards the Megalith (2011)


Towards the MegalithOld-school death metal has seen a huge resurgence in the last year or so. So many albums, so little time. Well, let me help you narrow your search. Disma's Towards the Megalith is one of the very best.

Featuring members and former members of Funebrarum, Incantation, and Carnage, you know these guys are veterans. They know death metal is supposed to be filthy and disgusting, and it should sound evil. They never touch the upper registers--hell, they barely even touch mid-range. Satan himself doesn't have a death growl the equal of Craig Pillard's.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Metal Art: Trees

Trees are usually seen as symbols of life and positive things. So you might expect them to be rare in metal, which is concerned with death and negative things. But it's surprising how many album covers prominently feature trees.

The cover to Opeth's upcoming Heritage combines the tree as a symbol of life with symbols of death and evil.

Let's explore the metalness of trees.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nader Sadek: In the Flesh (2011)


There's one thing I don't quite get about Nader Sadek. The death metal project is "directed" by and named after Nader Sadek, a visual artist who works with extreme metal bands. I'm not sure, exactly, what kind of input he actually has, since he is not credited as playing any instruments or even writing the music.

In The Flesh
But I do get everything else. First of all, the music. If you like middle-period Morbid Angel, this will sound pretty familiar to you. Steve Tucker does the vocals and bass, and the music sounds a great deal like that time in MA's history. The heavy, dirty, old school death metal riffs are laid down by Blasphemer (of Mayhem fame), and fantastic drums by the legendary Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Metal Briefs: Death Metal 1993

The Golden Era, Part 4

As '93 rolled around, death metal was becoming more and more diverse. Progressive and technical elements were slowly becoming more common, and melody was just then becoming more acceptable.

Cynic: Focus

FocusAt the time of its release, nobody knew what to make of Cynic's Focus. Highly technical, progressive death metal? Yes, that had been done before, but it was misunderstood when Atheist did it, too. If that wasn't enough to throw everyone off, undistorted jazz fusion interludes appear everywhere in the album. "Textures" is almost entirely jazz. Today, jazz fusion peeks into plenty of progressive metal albums, but in 1993 that was revolutionary. Add to those oddities the weird, clean vocal with a computer effect, and there just wasn't a box to put this in. Hence, the band broke up after just one album, and it eventually became a cult classic, culminating in the band's reformation in 2006. The album does have a few weaker tracks, like "Sentiment", but there are several absolute monsters, especially closer "How Could I". I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sanhedrin: And on into the Eternal Nether ​. ​. ​. of Forgotten and Stricken Souls (2011)

Summary Judgment

A member of the UK's Sanhedrin contacted me about reviewing their EP, And on into the Eternal Nether ​. ​. ​. of Forgotten and Stricken Souls. It consists of three tracks: an intro, a 10 minute main song, and a 2 minute piano closer.

The piano closer is actually pretty cool. Nevertheless, I am issuing summary judgment against the band in this case.

They play melodic death metal with a few blackened touches. There's nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but this is not working. The song is not interesting enough to hold up for the 10 minute runtime. It attempts to be dramatic, but it simply isn't dramatic enough, and it's not angry or visceral enough to hold up under any other standard. The solos near the end seem randomly thrown in. There's clipping in the mix. But more importantly, the vocal phrasing is all wrong, resulting in hooks that are at best perplexingly awkward, at worst annoying.

Cosmo Lee recently asked why bands still play melo-death. I think it's a fair question. Still, for a price tag of free, you might like it, and the guy who contacted me seems like a nice enough guy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Obscure Bands: Progenie Terrestre Pura

Italy's Progenie Terrestre Pura is a two-man project which combines black metal with prog and electronic music in new and interesting ways. You can hear or download their 2011 promo on their Bandcamp page (see the end of the interview). I had a chance to talk to them about power metal, the Church, and the impending cybernetization (is that a word?) of humankind.

FMA: To us Americans, Italy is known for cheesy power metal, and frankly we don't like much of it. What is the underground / black metal scene like there? Does your band have any involvement in that scene?

Nex[1]: Cheesy power metal? Try Ufomammut! Joking apart, certainly there are good bands also here in Italy, some active, others now disbanded. For example, recently The Secret signed with your Southern Lord; sometimes, however, Italian bands are underestimated because of prejudices.

We are not part of the scene (provided there is one) simply because we don’t play live and we are not in contact with other bands; we aren't misanthropes or asocial people, but our purpose (for now, at least) is to create music.

FMA: Other Italian black metal bands have mentioned their frustration at seeing the Catholic Church everywhere they look, that it insinuates itself into every aspect of life. Has that been your experience? Does it affect your music in any way?

Nex[1]: This could affect directly our lives (the Catholic Church has great political influence in our country), but has nothing to do with the project q[T]p. There is no single riff or lyric that deal with this subject or any related religion, q[T]p has nothing to do with religions (perhaps in the future with the concept of belief, but not with human religions themselves).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Devin Townsend Project: Deconstruction (2011)


Devin Townsend's pedigree is unimpeachable. He's a brilliant songwriter and incredibly talented guitarist and vocalist. Some people drool at the very mention of his name, and would lick his boots no matter what he does. Much was made of the recording process, which involved symphonic elements and choirs and was simply a huge undertaking. So, the final heavy album of the Devin Townsend Project was one of the most highly-anticipated albums of the year. Could it possibly live up to the anticipation?

DeconstructionPut simply, no. It's a bloated, 71 minute mess, the kind of thing mockumentaries are made of. Opener "Praise the Lowered" starts out with some very quiet Phil Collins kind of stuff, then gets a little heavy. It's a six minute intro. The follow-up, "Stand", is nine minutes of build-up. Tension, but no release. In other words, this ridiculous opera starts out with over 17 minutes of intro.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Entity v. Carnival Is Forever

Entity v. Carnival Is Forever

For this match-up, I toyed with the idea of bringing in Obscura for a three-way free-for-all. I also toyed with the idea of giving it a World War II theme, but perhaps it would have been in bad taste. Instead, I'll be comparing Origin's Entity to Decapitated's Carnival Is Forever.

Origin is from Topeka, Kansas, and Decapitated is from Poland. Other than that tidbit, the two bands have quite a bit in common. Both are technical death metal bands signed to Nuclear Blast, and both of them released their fifth albums in 2011.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Storm of Light: As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade (2011)


Ever since the death of Layne Staley, there's been something missing in the music world. No matter how much I wanted it to, the new incarnation of Alice in Chains doesn't even come close. Cantrell's solo work barely even attempts to.

As the Valley of Death Becomes Us Our Silver MemorSuperficially at least, A Storm of Light sounds a lot more like The Gates of Slumber, with an ultra-heavy sound that fits in perfectly with the new school of traditional doom. They also clearly take some influence from Neurosis, as you might expect since this band is fronted by their own Josh Graham. But every time I hear it, I think of Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, that borderland where grunge meets metal.