Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wolvhammer: The Obsidian Plains (2011)


Black metal has been borrowing a lot from hardcore in recent memory. Last year's release from Castevet and the French band Celeste are only two examples of the phenomenon. Add Minnesota's Wolvhammer to the list.

"A Defiled Aesthetic" displays all of the hardcore characteristics of the band: a punky riff, backing vocals that sound suspiciously like gang vocals, and feedback screeching aimlessly in the background, among others. You'll find all of those things to varying degrees throughout the album. But it's not as if you can pass this one up just because you already have Mounds of Ash.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Oranssi Pazuzu: Kosmonument (2011)


Eighteenth century scientist Sir Henry Head was interested in the human nervous system. He became frustrated because experimental subjects were too vague in their accounts of pain. So he decided to experiment on himself. He had his left radial nerve severed, and from then he went on to use a technique he called the "negative attitude of attention." This is a deep meditative state of the mind wherein he closely examined the sensations of pain. For five years, instead of blocking out pain, like most of us do, he focused on it to the smallest detail.

Listening to Oranssi Pazuzu's Kosmonument is like that. For their sophomore effort, the Finnish psychedelic black metal band have presented us with a fully-immersive exploration of pain and fear. All of metal asks you to face the negative, but rarely has this examination been so intimate.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Regular by Andrew Bonazelli (2010)

The title of A Regular refers to a permanent fixture at a dive bar. And it starts out by observing the man living the kind of life you'd expect of him. Until things take a sudden, drastic turn, and just about everyone in the bar is suddenly a zombie, and our hero capably slays them. Sounds like a cool way to start a novella, right? And it would sound even cooler if I told you there was a pornogrind band, a Decepticon, a conjurer, and a street fight or two, right?

The legendary Clive Barker can throw a shitload of different stuff into a short book. Cabal features a serial killer, fantastic monsters, and a god that makes you ejaculate if you see him (it's been a few years since I read it, but I swear it's true). The book is awesome. That odd juxtaposition of different genre features is a staple of Barker's work, as is the post-modernist declination to explain why it all fits together. He is a master at it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Give Thanks for Guilty Pleasures

Like Riding a Moped

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the USA. I've got a lot to be thankful for in my life, but I'd like to take this chance especially to give thanks for one thing: guilty pleasures.

We all have those guilty pleasures in our record collections. They're those albums that aren't exactly "Trve", either because they don't follow the typical metal rules for coolness or metalheads as a group decided they're all going to look down on it. You probably don't go around bragging about your guilty pleasures. They're the bands you love, but you don't "like" them on Facebook because you don't want your friends to find out.

I have the luxury of being able to talk about my guilty pleasures, for a number of reasons. First, I don't have, nor do I need, actual friends, particularly not metal friends because metalheads just don't inhabit my physical reality. Second, I'm too old to care what anyone thinks--at 29 I may not be "old" to some, but being in my current place in life (married with three kids) I'm emotionally old. Third, the opinions of anyone who's reading this fall into basically two camps: those who respect my opinions and aren't going to care if I spill my guilty pleasures, and those who think I'm an idiot and read it to see what stupid thing I'll say next. I think both groups will enjoy this.

Before I go into the list, I should clear up what a guilty pleasure is not. It's not just any album that's not metal, because metalheads almost universally think some non-metal is cool (see the Misfits or Johnny Cash). Guilty pleasures are also not divisive albums, like Blackwater Park or Slaughter of the Soul. Guilty pleasures are those things where Official Metal Canon says, "This is not cool." Also, it's not really a guilty pleasure if you just "kind of" like it. For me, I can get into some Cradle of Filth or Nightwish, but they're not bands I absolutely love.

But I do love some really uncool stuff.

The Synth-Pop Phase of Theatre of Tragedy

Theatre of Tragedy (I've mentioned them once before) started out as a promising gothic death/doom band with beauty-and-the-beast vocals and lyrics in the dead language of Middle English. It was very muted, depressing, and obscure material. Most people think they never really fulfilled their initial promise in that vein before abruptly shifting to a lively combination of Nine Inch Nails and Madonna. Musique and Assembly are not considered cool by any metal standards, but it's my opinion that these are their best albums. They are just fun and catchy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Serpent Venom: Carnal Altar (2011)


Have we reached full doom saturation yet? Maybe we have, and maybe we haven't. But you can't fault The Church Within--they've been dealing doom since long before it came into style.

Serpent Venom plays exactly the kind of Saint Vitus-referencing doom you expect to find on the label. Debut full-length Carnal Altar is slow and mellow. The bass tone is beautifully thick, a perfect fit for Sabbathian riffs with plenty of that Iommi vibrato. The vocals are clean, mid-range work that doesn't really add or subtract anything special, but simply keeps things moving along.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Approach & the Execution: The Blood March (2011)


I was contacted by the bassist of Cleveland "epic metal" band The Approach & the Execution with a copy of their self-released debut, The Blood March. A sizable concept album about a medieval philosopher whose beliefs are unpopular, featuring a full band (including keyboardist) and three vocalists (including a female) using a variety of vocal styles, this was certainly an ambitious first attempt.

To be quite honest, I've been putting off this review for some time. It is impressive in many ways, and there are parts of it I like. But in the end it's not my kind of thing. Maybe it's yours.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Atlas of Metal: Australia

This is the eighth installment in the Atlas of Metal series. Three of the previous countries have larger populations than Australia--Argentina, Algeria, and Afghanistan. But odds are, you probably couldn't name any metal bands from those countries without looking them up. Not so for Australia, which has a long-standing relationship with the genre going all the way back to the arguably metal AC/DC, formed in 1973.

Metal Archives lists a whopping 1,481 metal bands in Australia. That's only about 200 more than Argentina, but Argentina has almost twice as many people. That means that Australia is twice as metal by volume. (And hey, they are a major exporter of iron ore.)

Since the scene in Australia doesn't really need to be discovered, per se, I thought I'd just share a few of my favorites. I personally don't care for AC/DC and haven't listened to them since high school, but there's plenty more where that came from.

Portal is my favorite band of the country. They are definitely not for everyone. Please don't take this the wrong way, but it sounds like it was composed by a pissed-off autistic genius. It has somewhat of an obscure ritualistic quality to it, it's not concerned with making friends, and it has a brilliant sort of hidden logic behind it all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Glorior Belli: The Great Southern Darkness (2011)


There have been many stories of musicians who sold their souls to the devil to gain fame or mastery of their craft. Italian violinists Giuseppe Tartini and Niccolò Paganini were said to have done so as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries, respectively. But the concept is more famously associated with blues musicians who met the devil at the crossroads, such as Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson. Perhaps this has something to do with the popular idea that Satan was the one who invented music, or because the establishment wanted to villify music that frightened them. But in any case the archetype is ubiquitous. The concept was parodied by Metalocalypse and Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, and even referenced in the title to Black Sabbath's greatest hits compilation.

Perhaps naturally, metal grew out of the blues, with Sabbath beginning in the blues tradition. But somewhere along the line the older genre was excised, perhaps by Judas Priest. Glorior Belli have brought it back.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sólstafir: Svartir Sandar (2011)


Of all the Nordic countries, Iceland is the only one without a significant stable of well-known metal bands. Chalk that up to population--a bit over 300,000, where Finland, Norway, and Denmark are around 5 million, and Sweden has over 9 million. But considering the ratio of great bands to people in these countries hovers somewhere around 1:30, there should still be about 10,000 Icelandic bands worth checking out. Trust me on those figures--science doesn't lie.

Chances are if you have heard of an Icelandic band, it's Sólstafir. I'm unfamiliar with their back catalog, which is said to have begun in Viking metal territory. There's none of that on Svartir Sandar, but there is plenty of interesting stuff going on.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hank Williams III: Attention Deficit Domination (2011)


The other day I was watching TV and pro bull riding came on. I don't really go out of my way to watch that sport, but when it's on I will watch it. That's the only real extreme sport, skateboarding and snowboarding be damned.

I feel the same way about Hank Williams III as I do about PBR. Occasionally, he's awesome. I’ve mentioned the eclectic country heir a handful of times on this blog. He plays country music that I actually want to listen to (which is pretty damn rare). He’s also played some pretty decent metal/punk in the past, with Assjack earning a fairly decent rating from me. Now, Attention Deficit Domination is his attempt at creating stoner doom.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Vastum: Carnal Law (2011)


San Francisco, 1993: A few of guys see Autopsy play, trade bootleg Incantation tapes, and hear a rote description of My Dying Bride's As the Flower Withers (without actually hearing the album itself). They get piss-drunk, buy some time at a studio, and lay down six primitive, raw, doomy death metal tracks. After making and selling a dozen copies, they lose the master tape, and the erstwhile band just sort of fades into nonexistence. There's one guy out on the Internet who heard it once, and swears it's the greatest death metal album ever made, but his copy is stuck in the tape deck of the '89 Civic he wrecked. Eighteen years later, a savvy construction worker with a Possessed tattoo finds a copy while tearing down a condemned apartment building.

OK, I made up that story. But if that were true, it would sound exactly like Vastum's Carnal Law.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pyramido: Salt (2011)


To round out the TotalRust theme week, we have Sweden's Pyramido. The band sticks out like a sore thumb in the Swedish metal scene, with their hordes of death metal bands, rapidly proliferating retro heavy metal bands, and stalwart black metal bands. I don't think I can name another Swedish sludge band. Salt is the band's second full-length, after a debut that received a fair degree of hype.

On top of the sludge metal heap right now is the Georgia scene, which, excepting a few like Black Tusk and Withered, is relatively mellow. But Pyramido has an ugly, raging, hardcore-infused brand of old-school sludge that has a lot more in common with Crowbar and Kingdom of Sorrow. This is New Orleans by way of Malmö.