Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Falloch: Where Distant Spirits Remain (2011)


It's been a long time since I've mentioned my love-hate relationship with post-metal. Like many, my first introduction to the genre was Isis. Though divisive, they are clearly one of the most influential bands of the last decade or so. I personally would rank them among my top 25 bands of all time. But that love for their elusive brilliance has led me on a quest with at least as many disappointments (Alcest, Russian Circles) as successes (Bloodiest, Altar of Plagues). Falloch is a Scottish post-metal band that caught my eye, so I dared to take the risk of disappointment on the odd chance of success.

Nearly every review of the band's debut Where Distant Spirits Remain mentions two bands: Agalloch and Alcest. Those are perfect analogies for their approach. They seem to come at post-metal from the same direction as the post-black metal bands, but without any black metal in the mix. They also have a folksy, pagan metal vibe drawn from Agalloch, rounded out by the occasional flute.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lord Vicar: Signs of Osiris (2011)


Lord Vicar is the truest metal band on the planet. The Finns have been slinging riffs since 2007, but were relatively silent since releasing a well-received full-length in 2008. They've been busier in 2011, dropping a couple of splits as well as Signs of Osiris. Just to quell any concerns up front, there is no sophomore slump here.

The band's approach is still pure bluesy doom, as instituted by Iommi. Every aspect of the band's sound is directly inspired by the classic Black Sabbath lineup. The production is heavier, and the vocals are like Ozzy's best moments, but with a fuller voice.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Destroy Judas: Wake (2011)


I may as well talk about another post-doom album today. I first learned of Destroy Judas when they appeared on a list by MaxR. Their album Wake is currently available for a pay-what-you-want download on their Bandcamp.

The Isis influence on this band is immense. In various places, they incorporate seagull and ocean sounds. Three out of the four songs start out with an Isis-esque clean guitar melody, which is later worked into the rest of the song. There's also a lot of the tempo and volume dynamic worked into the music. But even given all those similarities, to call them merely an Isis ripoff would be a mistake.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Giving Blood Is Metal

I just got back from giving blood a few minutes ago. I plan to give as often as I can this year, for the first time. Let me tell you why.

Upon my return to blogging after the birth of my twins, I only hinted at what happened, saying that we were "moments away from 'exsanguination' being more than just a cool band name".* That's quite literally true. After the C-section, my wife kept losing blood. Copious amounts of blood. At one point she lost consciousness, and her blood pressure was so low the machine could not get a reading. The nurses had to hold her legs up to force blood into her brain. Luckily, the hospital's rapid response team arrived, and her doctor was nearby, so she was rushed to her second surgery of that day. Today, she is perfectly healthy.

She wouldn't be alive today if it were not for the six units of blood she received.

I shouldn't have to go into why blood is metal. There are 392 bands with "blood" in their name as a separate word, according to Metal Archives. It goes up to 764 if you also count "blood" in a compound word, such as Bloodbath. But why is giving blood metal?

1. They will check the iron level in your blood, to give you a scientific measure of how metal you are. My level is always quite high.

2. If you're too scared to get stuck, you have no business listening to metal in the first place.

3. If metal truly flows in your veins, as it does mine, then you are transferring a little bit of that metallic quality to some other person. If you could find that person right after they get your blood, and play them some Maiden, they would become an instant metalhead. True story.

4. Anything involving blood is metal. Period.

If you have a job, check with your boss, because they may give you time off to do it. If not, do it anyway on your own time.So, get the fuck out there and start donating. You will feel awesome about yourself. Seriously, you will feel like you could be on a Manowar cover.

Also, know that if you're going somewhere to sell your blood, instead of giving it away, then you're a sellout.

(*Exsanguination is a death/thrash band from Japan, apparently.)

Seidr: For Winter Fire (2011)


Seidr's For Winter Fire was one of those 2011 releases that I kept meaning to check out, but never got around to it until now. I'm glad I finally did.

Despite a band and album name that practically have corpse paint all over them, there's little to no black metal on here. Instead, I'm going to put this into the nebulous "post-doom metal" category. Their sound keeps going back to heavy, melancholic doom metal with death growled (and some clean) vocals. The juxtaposition of angry vocals with sad music is interesting enough. Whether the band intended this or not, it's a poignant illustration of how emotions can be confusing, or how one emotion can be used as a mask for another.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Metal Art: The Eye

Morbus Chron: Sleepers in the Rift

Eyes. Nothing else so everyday is so enigmatic. They are said to be the windows to the soul. They are a major part of human attraction and interaction. But they can also be strange and alien to us. Just look at the eyes of someone like Charles Manson, and they will tell you how insane he is.

A single eye, in isolation, is a common motif in metal art. Divorced from the rest of a human face, it's eerie.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gernotshagen: Weltenbrand (2011)


Like pagan metal, Viking metal is another subgenre I tend to neglect. I first heard of Germany's Gernotshagen when Weltenbrand appeared in the number 3 spot on a list of the top 10 metal albums of 2011. Since I consider the author my better in the field of pagan and Viking metal, I decided to try it out.

It's worth mentioning that Metal Archives lists them as a pagan metal band. However, no one plays traditional instruments (although flute does pop up in the opener and closer) and the synths of Viking metal are very prominent. Since I wholly reject any attempt to classify music based on lyrical content, and I can't understand the lyrics anyway, I'm going to call it Viking metal. Assuming arguendo that lyrical themes are a legitimate method for classifying music, there's a Mjölnir in their logo, so why is there any confusion about this?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dornenreich: Flammentriebe (2011)


Pagan metal is not a genre I devote a great deal of time to, but I have been making a rewarding effort to become more familiar with it. The Austrian band Dornenreich was one of my first exposures, with their very unusual (extremely soft but with harsh vocals) Hexenwind. Flammentriebe cements them as one of my favorite pagan metal bands, if not the overall favorite.

The music is based around dynamic contrast between softer acoustic-oriented parts, usually with whispered vocals, and harsher black metal parts, usually with emotional yells and screams. It's a simple and cheap enough formula which has been used many times, but rarely has it been done so convincingly.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hell: Human Remains (2011)


The story behind UK NWOBHM kind-of/would-be/now-finally-are legends Hell is an interesting one. They formed in 1982, recorded a handful of demos and a single, and then disbanded in 1987 after their label went under. The band faded into obscurity, followed with the suicide of guitarist Halliday.

Their almost-legend grew because Halliday taught Sabbat's Andy Sneap how to play. (That's the cruddy British Sabbat, of course, not the awesome Japanese Sabbat.) Eventually, Sneap got the band back together, more than 20 years after their collapse, taking on Halliday's role in the band. After Sabbat vocalist Martin Walkyier left (thankfully) they recruited David Bower, brother of guitarist/keyboardist Kev, to take the mic.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Society Discontinued v. Form and Structure. Storm and Fracture.


Fading Halo Records, a new DIY label out of Romania contacted me about reviewing their first two releases, which are both available free in an effort to get the word out there. Both of these releases last about 15 minutes, and both are Romanian groups with a strong emphasis on grindcore. Grind and hardcore aren't genres I listen to a lot, so I'm not fully able to give a thorough review, but I can give you my thoughts on them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Theocracy: As the World Bleeds (2011)


There is an entire parallel universe of Christian popular culture out there. They have Christian music, books, and movies in every genre (save pornography, I think). It was a pretty big deal at my alma mater, a place where the weekly "Praise" sing-along was the central social event, or so I gathered, having never gone myself. Most of the time this kind of thing is wholly insulated from the rest of pop culture, although the occasional crossover does become successful (Amy Grant, Left Behind, etc.). The problem with most of it is that it's message first, art second. It's also generally intended to offend as little as possible (even though offense is sure to be made if Christian doctrine is to be strictly interpreted), and be uplifting, and those attitudes bleed further into the art itself. In the case of metal, that often strips away the danger of the music, a necessary element.

But Theocracy aren't overly concerned about causing offense. They address Luther's 95 Theses, a topic sure to offend Catholics. They also address the doctrine of Original Sin, surely offending the many Christians who don't accept the doctrine (the popular Left Behind books assume it's incorrect). So Theocracy successfully jumped a major hurdle in the path of a Christian metal band.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Antediluvian: Through the Cervix of Hawaah (2011)


Canada's Antediluvian has been getting quite a bit of praise for their first full-length album, Through the Cervix of Hawaah, often being compared to label-mates and fellow Canucks Mitochondrion as practicing a dark, alien form of death metal. So of course I got the album.

A little background information on the themes is appropriate. The term Antediluvian refers to the period before the Biblical Deluge (the Flood), and is often portrayed as a time when everything was greater than it is now--greater good, greater evil, mighty empires, giants, and Nephilim in the world. (This is quite probably the basis for Tolkien's First Age.) It's also a term used to refer to any ancient period that's ill-understood. Hawaah is (apparently) another name for Eve, so the album title refers to all humanity infected with original sin. Cool, huh?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mournful Congregation: The Book of Kings (2011)


I really like funeral doom. When it's done right, that is. The trouble is determining which albums are good, and which are bad. There are quite a few bad ones out there, because it's not difficult to play, and a band can get by without offering any real substance. And since it takes so long to listen to it, it's tough to decide whether it's any good just by listening to a song. That makes reviews very important. The trouble is, it's also tough to write a review of a funeral doom album.

I picked up Mournful Congregation's The Book of Kings based on a strong recommendation from Josh Haun, who named it co-album-of-the-year. He also noted the difficulty of reviewing this kind of album, stating "I feel as if my meager skills as a wordsmith are completely incapable of describing such a masterful recording". But I too will attempt it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Botanist on Bandcamp

I'm pleased to pass on word that Botanist is now on Bandcamp! Previously their work was a little tough to find, so that is huge news for anyone looking to find it legally. You can even buy physical copies from there, so you won't miss out on the amazing art.

If you're still unconvinced about the excellence of this release, check out "Lepidoptera", "Euronymous in Darkness", "In the Hall of Chamaerops", and especially "A Rose from the Dead".

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Return of the Cassette, Part 2

A Deposition of a DIY Label Head, Lifetime Black Metal Fan, and Cassette Enthusiast

Mike, the mastermind behind Fallen Empire Records, contacted me to share his thoughts about the cassette format and its revival. The label specializes in vinyl and cassettes, and according to Josh Haun it is "a label to watch". This is how the conversation went.

Full Metal Attorney: I'd like to know your reasons for choosing the format [cassettes].

Mike: OK so, I feel like this will make the most sense if I tell you a story rather than just list some bullet points.

I've been listening to metal since i was 13 and black metal primarily since I was 15. I'm 22 now, so that's the majority of my life. When I was younger I used to buy CDs all the time because that's all I knew. I probably amassed 150+ CDs before I was 16 or 17. Around that time I discovered torrenting via private sites (at the time, it was OiNK, and then Waffles once OiNK was shut down). This really opened up my world to a totally new way of discovering music, and I slowly bought less and less CDs.

After a while, I decided that I still wanted to buy and collect music, so I switched my focus to vinyl. I was always intrigued by the record player in my living room that my parents never used anymore, and I loved the fact that the art was several times larger than the CD format. I bought a few used metal LPs at a local shop, and found a few favorites on eBay (Dissection - Storm of the Light's Bane was an early purchase) and started paying attention to vinyl. For a while, I didn't really listen to my vinyl much, it was just a physical collection, but as time went on I decided I wanted to listen to the stuff I had, and I started to pay more attention to my turn table and also started buying more vinyl. This was probably around 2007-2008.

From this point forward my music philosophy was this: find music via torrent sites/blogs and buy my absolute favorites on vinyl. However, there was still some aspect of music buying that I loved that was missing: going into a record store and buying 'blind'. I used to do this with used sections of CDs all the time. Go into the store with 30 bucks, leave with 6-7 CDs. Vinyl is expensive, you can't do that with vinyl. So at Maryland Death Fest 2009 I bought 2 tapes from a distro (Paragon Records) that was set up. Raate - Sielu, Linna and Xul - Demo I. Cost me $8.

Raate: Sielu, Linna (vinyl)
Raate turned out to be tremendous, and Xul turned out to be in interesting, mechanical (almost like Thorns s/t) exercise in cold northern black metal. At this point I was intrigued by cassettes, but still didn't take to buying them often. It wasn't til Paragon Records had a sale (I think summer 2010), and I purchased about 20 cassettes from them for $60 bucks that I fully became interested in cassettes. The thrill of cheap, blind buying was back again.

I began to take notice that a lot of my favorite bands released demo tapes in between, or before they started releasing full lengths on bigger labels. I wanted to hear these releases. From that point on, I started seeking out cassettes more and more. In 2011 I definitely bought more cassettes than anything. I think the format fits underground black metal perfectly, from a sound and aesthetics standpoint.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Return of the Cassette, Part 1

Cassettes are making a comeback.
Is it just a gimmick?

The audio cassette is an amazing format. It's cheap to produce, easily transported, relatively durable, and portable decks could run a long time on a pair of AA batteries. Sure, it sounds like crap, but when the cassette was king you couldn't very well walk or drive around with a turntable or CD player. As CD players became more affordable and more portable--and less likely to scratch your disc--the cassette fell out of favor.

I got into music as CDs were overtaking cassettes. I only bought a couple cassettes, but recorded many of my CDs onto the format for listening on my Walkman or in my car. So I do have some nostalgia for the format. Strong memories persist: blaring my Walkman while mowing the lawn, sitting in the back seat of the car with my family, winding the tape back in with my pinky, or listening to the same tape over and over in my first vehicle. If side A ended in the middle of a song, it was disconcerting to hear the song without a break in the middle later on. Older metalheads have even more nostalgia for the format, held over from their discovery of the music or from tape-trading.

The format has been making a comeback. (If you're into underground, lo-fi black metal, you may not be aware it was even gone.) But why?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rituals of the Oak: Come Taste the Doom (2012)


I’m not sure why people have a problem with female-fronted traditional doom. If there’s any metal genre that could use a feminine counterpoint, it’s trad-doom. While metal usually has plenty of notes and a huge wall of sound, effectively choking out anything but the most powerful of true “singing” voices, the sparse compositions of doom allow the female voice room to breathe. Sure, in some cases using a woman is barely better than a gimmick, but there are those bands that know exactly how to make it work.

Rituals of the Oak has it all figured out on Come Taste the Doom. Here, the Aussie quartet offers up five tracks of pure doom metal, fronted by an effective feminine voice. Sabine Hamad-Linfoot has an earthy husk that perfectly fits the druidic impression given by their band name and lyrics. Think a mellowed-out Uta Plotkin (Witch Mountain). Or Jinx Dawson (Coven) if she wasn’t so damned goofy. Hamad-Linfoot’s delivery is simple and understated, but she conveys emotion and crescendos nicely when needed. Most importantly, her voice is well-controlled and beautifully enchanting.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Saw v. Look at These Teeth


Saxophone has been popping up in a lot of metal albums lately. But I was still surprised to find that there is not one, but at least two grindcore bands which completely replace guitar with saxophone. I decided to compare and contrast the three-song EPs the two bands have released.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Hammers of Misfortune: 17th Street (2011)


Since I let my very expensive Terrorizer subscription lapse, the only metal magazine I continue to read is Decibel. And with good reason. Not all of their writers have the best taste. Some of the reviews are filled with hyperbole or references I don't understand. Some of the stuff they go nuts for just makes me scratch my head. But those are the exceptions.

So, when I saw the prominent position of 17th Street on the magazine's top 40 of 2011 list, I decided to check out the latest from Hammers of Misfortune. This is my first exposure to the band, and I have to say that in a magazine focused on extreme metal, they stick out like Nergal in a cancer ward. But it's good enough that the divergence from their normal coverage is warranted.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Thrown to the Sun: Of Oceans and Raindrops (2011)


Foodies want to be able to put a mental pin into every country on the globe to represent the various ethnic cuisines they've sampled. Metalheads are like that in building their music collections. So I was excited when Turkish progressive death metallers Thrown to the Sun contacted me about their free debut album. I'd never listened to a Turkish band before. I was even more excited when I tasted it.

Like a lot of bands from outside metal's normal geographical region, Thrown to the Sun's sound isn't wholly original. You can identify a lot of their influences. "Evoker Pt. 1: A Ground to Fall Upon" sounds like a combination of Opeth and Behemoth. Elsewhere, you'll pick up a lot of Origin and Obscura, or even Strapping Young Lad.

Thursday, January 05, 2012


Vildhjarta: Måsstaden (2011)



There, that has you all worked up now, doesn't it? The feelings that term brings up are strong. Many people like the genre of the moment, but a lot of more old-fashioned (or, at least, older) metalheads really hate it (I include myself in the latter group). To some, merely uttering the word djent is itself a hanging offense.

Vildhjarta is a djent band, there is no question. And they're signed to Century Media. That's two strikes, right there, and for those reasons I initially ignored them. But I saw a significant number of defenses of the band, calling them different from your typical djent fare. So, I decided to give it a shot.