Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chaos Dei: Arising from Chaos (2012)

Chaos Dei Falls on a Wednesday This Year

Chaos Dei is a French black metal band whose debut Arising from Chaos was released in January. This is the second out of three albums submitted to me by Totalrust.

Right now, I think it's safe to say that the French are leading the black metal pack. They tend to be just as avant-garde and experimental as the more lauded US bands, but without losing the viciousness of Scandinavian black metal. The French black metal scene also has the distinction of having plenty of bands that don't sound like one another. The scene doesn't have a sound, per se, but certain principles and unifying themes. Chaos Dei fits those expectations perfectly well.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Murw: Kanker (2011)

I Lurw It

Heidens Hart recently submitted four records to me for review, and I decided to focus first on Murw's Kanker. Why? Because their name looks cool when I read it (although as it turns out, it just means "mellow"). The album art was also the most eye-catching of the bunch. Hey, I don't need a good reason.

Murw is a Dutch band that's been around for 15 years, but they've only released one split and a raft of demos. Kanker is their first full-length. From what I can gather, their previous work is generally lumped in with depressive black metal and atmospheric black metal. I don't have any idea what DBM is supposed to be, exactly (no one seems to know how to define it), and ABM tends to be boring. So I wasn't expecting a lot out of this one. I was very much surprised.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Unbodied: Unbodied (EP 2012)

They're from The Ohio

Ohio's Unbodied contacted me with a review copy of their self-titled debut EP. It has some gorgeous, colorful, psychedelic artwork that recalls some of John Dyer Baizley's best works, like Phantom Limb and Kvelertak. As anyone who's gone blind buying knows, cool cover art is a strong indicator that the music will be cool as well.

Their Bandcamp page has a grocery list of different genres name-dropped, but as the Baizley influence might suggest, their main influences are sludge and grind. They also have a little bit of metalcore in the sound, but really, doesn't every young band have that these days? And apparently, they don't even realize it, because that's about the only genre they don't use to describe their music. Thankfully, metalcore is not an overpowering influence.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Folk Briefs

Not Exactly Kumbaya

I've spoken a few times about "dark Americana", or a dark folk/country mix. It's sometimes called Gothic Americana. Here is the whole Wikipedia article on the topic:
Gothic Americana is a style of alternative country that fuses Americana music (neotraditional country, progressive country, outlaw country, country rock, rockabilly, folk rock, bluegrass music, blues, rhythm and blues) with elements of gothic rock, gothabilly, psychobilly, deathcountry. The main representatives of that music are the musicians of Denver music scene: 16 Horsepower, Wovenhand, Lilium, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Jay Munly, as well as other American (Willard Grant Conspiracy, Reverend Red) or even European bands (Helldorado).
In an effort to possibly destroy any credibility I have left (considering my Pantera article earlier this week), I'm going to talk about some of my exploration of this genre and related dark folk/country music, even if not properly considered Americana.

Wovenhand: Wovenhand (2002)

Wovenhand (sometimes written as Woven Hand) is the solo band of the father of Gothic Americana, David Eugene Edwards (previously of 16 Horsepower), and it's been my main focal point for exploring this sound. I have most of the band's albums, and I love every one of them. Their self-titled debut features a few tracks that appear in different versions later in their discography, but it's nice to hear each version. The music is dark, catchy, and musically quite diverse, with a menagerie of different instruments and production techniques making each cut unique. My favorite is "Your Russia". It's not as good as some of the band's later work, but is still excellent, deserving a 4 out of 5 star rating.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pandemonium: Misanthropy (2012)

Furious Souls in a Chaos of Sound

A while back, Godz ov War Productions sent me the two-song 2010 promo from Polish blackened death metallers Pandemonium. It sounded pretty good, being a well-recorded but mostly un-produced demo from a long-established band that sounded like . . . well, they sounded like a Polish death metal band.

Color me surprised at how much better this music sounds on fourth full-length Misanthropy. It's no longer a band that sounds just like a mid-point between Vader and Behemoth. Instead, they've slowed things down to mostly mid-tempo, and worked on the production to get an eerie, otherworldly sound enhanced by the slight vocal distortion.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lurk: Lurk (2012)

They Never Leave Comments

Doom specialty label Totalrust sent me another handful of releases for review, all of which are full-length debuts. I'm going to start with the one that immediately jumped out as my favorite.

Lurk is a Finnish doom band with elements of sludge, death, and black metal. They have an awesome logo, and an awesome sound to go with it. It's a little tough to pin down an exact reductivist formula to describe them. There are resemblances to a much slower version of Withered. But the strongest resemblance is to Triptykon's rage-filled, powerful doom. The comparison is especially apt considering the vocals, which have more than a little Tom Warrior's visceral, bellowing snarl. Check album closer "Deliverance", with its occasional wordless grunt.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pantera: Vulgar Display of Power (1992)

Motion for Reconsideration
20th Anniversary

Today, February 21, 2012, is the 20th anniversary of one of the most divisive albums in metal history: Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power. On the one hand, it's almost universally acclaimed as the band's greatest work, and one of the most influential albums in metal history. Outside the core metal audience, that is. You can predict with near-certainty that any casual metalhead over 25 has a copy in his collection. But the more outspoken, critically-minded metalheads hate it with near-unanimity. Metalheads on the whole are pretty well divided.

Much of the hatred toward the album is based on what it's not, rather than what it is. The band's prior record, Cowboys from Hell, is reasonably well-loved among metalheads. It's a good example of thrash, with hints of the band moving toward groove metal. But Vulgar is clearly not a thrash metal album. Yet, you'll see many reviews call it a terrible thrash album. That's like ripping on a pickup truck because it doesn't get gas mileage like a compact. It doesn't make any sense.

Perhaps more prevalent is the hatred directed at Vulgar precisely because of its influence. The stripped-down, simplified, slowed-down approach hasn't been seen as bringing Sabbath back into metal (which would be a perfectly legitimate opinion) but instead as ushering in nu metal, and the bad groove metal of the late 90's. The vocal style and mosh-readiness of the music is blamed for the tough-guy posturing of metalcore bands like Hatebreed or hard rock bands like Drowning Pool. But plenty of great albums have led to terrible imitators. It doesn't make any sense to tear down Thergothon just because there are bad funeral doom bands out there.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Taake: Noregs Vaapen (2011)

Black Metallers with Manhood Intact

There are so many bands out there today practicing the Second Wave style of Norwegian black metal that it's hard to know which one is going to be worth your time. It's no help that there are plenty of reviewers out there who care more about troo-ness than about musical quality. So if you want a dose of that style, how are you supposed to know what to get?

I chose Taake because of the controversy. I admit it. Apparently there's a line offensive to Muslims, which caused quite a stir. Had it been about Christians, no one would have blinked. I support anyone who's going to dare some extremist Muslims to plot their death. It takes balls to do it, and it serves the important purpose of desensitizing some touchy people.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Metal Political Endorsements

By now you've probably heard that Dave Mustaine endorsed Rick Santorum for President, which is pretty weird when you think about how he has been critical of Republicans in the past. The best commentary on this issue that I've read was from Jay Leno. I don't watch him, and I think he's generally a has-been, but even a broken clock is right twice a day:
Well, a lot of celebrities are now coming forward with their political endorsements. This week, the lead singer of the heavy metal band, Megadeth, says he's endorsing Rick Santorum. That's what he said. Me, I'm going to wait until I hear what Lemmy from Motörhead has to say.

Death Denied: Appetite for Booze (EP 2011)


The bassist of Death Denied contacted me about their EP Appetite for Booze. He identified their style as "unoriginal southern metal". I'm not sure if they have any idea how much I love southern metal. I haven't talked about it a lot, so they'd have to dig to figure that one out. In college I played the first few Black Label Society albums more than anything else, and Corrosion of Conformity's mid-period work wasn't far behind. I still occasionally break out Pride & Glory.

Submitting your music to a huge fan of the genre is usually a pretty safe bet. They're predisposed to liking you. But on the other hand, they've heard a lot of it, so if you're no good at it then you can get torn apart. And these guys are from Poland, so what the hell do they know about the original, southern branch of sludge metal?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kroda: Schwarzpfad (2011)


Here's another one outside my area of expertise that appeared on Beards etc. Kroda is a Ukrainian pagan metal band. The unpronounceable Schwarzpfad is the band's fourth full-length, and first after significant personnel changes, including losing composer Viterzgir. It's hard to believe this was made by only one man.

It's through-composed black metal, played with some traditional sounds and folk-inspired melodies. The only genuine traditional instrument is a flute (or at least I think it's a real flute), although there are plenty of synthesized instruments. The songs are long, with the typical hard, black metal versus soft, acoustic folk dynamic all over the place. Clean vocals (I believe a baritone) show up in "Schwarzpfad IV (Heil Ragnarok!)". So at first blush, it seems fairly typical for the pagan metal genre. But after multiple listens, it becomes apparent that this is more than just another pagan metal album.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Metal Briefs: Bandcamp, Part 5

The Dirty Rockin' Demo Edition

This edition of the Bandcamp series celebrates demos that are the antidote to the overpolished turds that get so much attention from mainstream metal press.

Throw the Goat: Demo Primero (2011)

California rock band Throw the Goat contacted me about their demo, aptly named Demo Primero. They're not a metal band, but I think they'll appeal to you anyway. It's hard rock with plenty of punk influence, played fast and loose. There's a little bit of Misfits in here (check the chorus on "Too Late"). How can you possibly go wrong with that? It's pure fun, and absolutely free. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Morbus Chron: Sleepers in the Rift (2011)


By now, you're probably sick of hearing about the revival of old-school death metal. Or maybe you're just sick of me talking about it. Or maybe, you just wish the OSDM tag would be a little more honest. Bands who get tagged with that label tend to play one of three things. One, something slower and heavier than any death metal that actually existed before the 21st century. Two, an indistinct mess of frightening death metal-like sounds without any discernible riffs, also based on some ideal of early death metal that never really existed. Three, Swedish death. But out of all the bands being labeled "old school", no one seems to be playing death metal in its original form.

Except for Morbus Chron, that is. Despite being from Sweden, they play death metal as it existed before Left Hand Path.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kalmen: Kalmen (Demo 2011)


I don't use illegal drugs. Never have. This gives me a leg up in life, avoiding legal trouble and keeping a sharper mind. Some branches of Satanism see it about the same way I do: If you do partake, they make you that much easier to rule.

By that observation, Kalmen look like they would be easily dominated. Kalmen's 2011 demo is one perfect example. A quick glance at their most widely-known band photo is enough to advertise their love of marijuana, with all members sitting on the floor, looking hazily at the camera with heads lolling to one side. But a listen to their music is just as convincing. At first blush, the music based around the cold, apocalyptic mood of bands like Unearthly Trance. But extra emphasis is placed on being indistinct and trance-inducing, so they sound a little bit like Unearthly Trance if they had a drug habit the equal of Electric Wizard.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Metal Briefs: Clearing the Docket

Normally when I do a Metal Briefs post, there's something to connect the releases to each other. Here, that connection is tenuous at best. The only thing they have in common is that they were all submitted to me for review, and they can be best reviewed succinctly.

This just about clears my docket . . . except for the four from Heidens Hart, the three from TotalRust, the two from Godz ov War, the band from Ohio, the two bands from California, the band from Germany, and the Polish band who are after my own heart. Oh yeah, there's also a Mexican band I forgot about until now.

This is a good problem to have.

(If you submitted something to me and the above list does not include you, get in touch with me again.)

Sutekh Hexen: Larvae (2012)
(album to be released February 21)

Music that falls into the noise category is always hard for me to review. Like drone, I don't think I fully understand it. Luckily, there's some actual music buried in the mix on Sutekh Hexen's Larvae. The ugly lo-fi black metal, acoustic guitars, and droning doom are just enough to keep my interest in the music so the dark atmosphere can have its intended effect. It's kind of like the parts of Sunn O))) that actually work at lower volumes. But there's enough low-end to make higher volume a wise choice, at least on "Lead Us in Warfare". It does drop the interest level somewhat on the third and final track, but I'm still fairly impressed. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Last Transgression: Cynic Verses (2011)

Clearing the Docket

My spam filter nearly thwarted vocalist/guitarist Terry's attempt to submit Last Transgression's album Cynic Verses to me, but by odd chance I happened to be looking for something else in my spam folder. A lucky circumstance.

The Alabama band has been around since 1994, and have released prior albums in 1995, 1997, and 2002. But you'd never guess they've been around that long by listening to the record, which is almost purely modern death metal. Other than a short, dirty solo in album closer "Six Smiles Revolving", it's a relatively clean blend of modern death metal (not unlike Hail of Bullets) with some technical tendencies (a la Decapitated).

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Cut the Crap v. Coming Out

Clearing the Docket


I was recently treated to releases from two very old-school metal bands that impressed me a great deal. (You can get them free, too.) Since in the past I was critical of the retro metal movement, it made me think hard about what it is that I like about these records that I don't like about many others.

First up, I'm going to talk about the UK's Amulet. Cut the Crap is their four-song demo released in 2011, and it demonstrates that they are a band that does everything the way I think it should be done. They play a style of doomy heavy metal that goes back to the basics, in an unselfconscious and completely honest way. Their vocalist is good, and does his work in a straight-forward way. The production is a bit hazy, but the mix is great, with the instruments taking precedence over the vocals. Most of all, they have good riffs, and good solos.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Reptilians: The Mentalist (2010)

Clearing the Docket

The Reptilians are a band out of Idaho. They contacted me to review their record The Mentalist, available free on their web site. The music is a combination of Tool and Isis, which on paper sounds like something I should like. On paper.

Apparently, they believe that simply stretching a song out for a long period of time is something you should do. The record is one song of nearly a half hour, and it takes forever to go anywhere. When their aforementioned influences play long songs, they are songs that deserve to be that long. They go places.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Wölfe: I (Demo 2011)

Clearing the Docket

Wölfe is a band out of Melbourne, Australia. Their demo was released as a cassette, although I'm not quite sure how you're supposed to get a copy since the band takes pains to point out they have no web site, Facebook, or MySpace. But they have been kind enough to allow free downloads (link below), and I think you might want to do that.

The demo is 15 minutes of what the band calls "grinding blackened filth", which is about as honest and complete an assessment as you really need. Each song is blisteringly fast, raw, and pissed-off like a koala on eucalyptus withdrawal.

Clearing the Docket

I've been getting disgustingly far behind in talking about music that's been submitted to me by bands, labels, and promoters. So, in an effort to catch up, I'll be clearing the docket all this week.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Obolus: Another Freebie from The Flenser

The Flenser is giving away another album, but this one is for a limited time only. I haven't listened yet, but considering the label's history it's a good bet it'll be worth your time. The press release stated, "The 2011 Obolus demo . . . demonstrates a supreme balance of harsh 90’s black metal and somber California depressive gaze." Now, Lament "is the mysterious black metal band's second release and expands upon the gazed-out harshness of their debut demo." Is that good, bad, whatever? I don't know. But it won't be free anymore once the record goes up for sale (which is said to be soon). So I thought I'd take a risk and point you in the right direction without evaluating it myself first.

Lamb of God: Resolution (2012)

Summary Judgment

Lamb of God's Ashes of the Wake was an important record for me when I began the transition from a mostly mainstream metal fan to a more extreme metal fan. The band's combination of an extreme sound with accessible songwriting was just what I needed at the time. But despite my love for that album, I've paid no attention to them since. I have no idea what "Redneck" sounds like, despite that being (apparently) their best-known song.

I am a different person since then. Then, I had no kids, I was still in school, I was renting, and the only really extreme metal I had came from Opeth, Meshuggah, and Death. Now, I have three kids, am in a career, am about to buy my second house, and I'm more likely to listen to a self-released record than a Roadrunner one. So, I think it's not them, it's me. I've changed, but Lamb of God hasn't. I couldn't even get through the record, stopping it at the instrumental cut halfway through and thinking, "I don't think I can listen to this same song seven more times."

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Oak Pantheon: The Void (2011)


I first read about Oak Pantheon on Metal Bandcamp. MaxR indicated that their album The Void had managed its way onto a number of year-end lists. I haven't seen it on any lists myself, but considering it's a name-your-price download, and the art is pretty cool, I thought that was a strong enough recommendation.

The Minneapolis band plays a style of black metal that's a little folksy and a little shoegaze-y. Most striking about their sound is the prevalence of major chords and the overall uplifting mood of the whole thing. The closest comparison I can come up with is Deafheaven, but even Deafheaven's work, while sometimes pretty, can't fairly be called uplifting. Several bands have tried to make black metal positive lately, usually with disastrous results. But for some reason, it mostly works on The Void.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Metal Briefs: "Unblack" Metal

Christian Black Metal

I love black metal. Today, thankfully, it seems to be the most forward-thinking and flexible subgenre within metal. This is definitely a good thing. If it means I can have Botanist and Cobalt, then I will tolerate the existence of Liturgy.

But it hasn't always been that way. And in some corners it's still not that way. There are those who have a very narrow conception of what black metal is. I could bear that narrow-mindedness if it stuck to the music itself, but it goes into ideology as well. I have repeatedly harped on the stupidity of drawing musical genre lines based on non-musical characteristics. You may as well kick a band out of the black metal club if they don't wear corpse paint, or if they're from the wrong part of the world, or if they don't have the right logo.

This is not to say that Official Black Metal Ideology is an extremely narrow field. In fact, the genre nazis will accept just about any ideology within black metal, from neo-Nazism to paganism to theistic Satanism to atheism. There is only one exception: To them, you can't be black metal if you follow one of the Abrahamic religions. In this case, your Metal Archives genre will almost never be listed as black metal, but instead as "black" metal (with quotes) or unblack metal.

Well, let the genre nazis be butthurt. I'm going to talk about Christian black metal.

Horde: Hellig Usvart (1994)

Satanism--at least as it's found in black metal--is a parody of Christianity. The symbolism, lyrical content, and even the music are all in many ways Christian traditions turned on their heads (in some cases quite literally). Horde took that, and then righted it. Hellig Usvart (said to be the first "unblack" metal album) is a parody of a parody, as titles like "Invert the Inverted Cross" demonstrate. Musically, it's pure Norwegian style black metal, with fantastic (and gorgeous-sounding) drums and the occasional tasteful synth. Thematically, it was taken as a deep insult by the black metal community. In a sense, it's more black metal than thou, designed to insult them on their own terms and show that not everyone takes them seriously. As a result, it's said that some people demanded to know who was behind the project (it was an Australian) and death threats were supposedly made. That could just be the label trying to generate controversy, but in any case the album stands on its own in terms of quality. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.