Friday, March 30, 2012

Bitter Resolve: Bows and Arrows Against the Lightning (2011)

Fuzz and Riffs Against the Thunder

Weedeater shows must be giving people a lasting contact high, because North Carolina is turning out to be a hotbed for great doom. To the ranks of Enoch and Hour of 13, you can now add power trio Bitter Resolve.

The most prominent feature of debut Bows and Arrows Against the Lightning is the thick, fuzzed-out stoner sound. The natural drums, thumping bass, fuzzed-out guitar, and distorted high-pitched vocals are wrapped in a dense layer of electric gauze. That analog production is almost too indistinct to let the great music behind it shine through, which is a shame, because the music is very good.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Christian Mistress: Possession (2012)

Ooh, Barracuda

Women have a strange place in the history of heavy music. When they're not in the band, they're marginalized, objectified, or targeted for lyrical and artistic violence. When they are in the band, they can be seen as a blatant appeal to sex, an automatic commercialization, or as lesser than their male counterparts. In reality, they've contributed a lot more than people recognize. Heart, Joan Jett, and Pat Benatar all made serious contributions to hard rock during metal's formative years. Christine Davis of Christian Mistress is continuing that tradition.

Possession is the band's second full-length. In truth, the selling point here is Davis's vocal talent. Her smoky voice recalls those pioneering hard rock women, and she's got more hooks on this record than "Barracuda," "Bad Reputation," and "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" combined. But if vocal hooks were all the record had to offer, I wouldn't be talking about it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dream Theater: Images and Words (1992)

Motion for Reconsideration
20th Anniversary

I first heard of Dream Theater from a music student at college. The band's fan base is composed less of metalheads and more of music students and guitar nerds. There's no mystery why that's the case: The band's musicians--who met at Berklee College of Music--are consistently named to be among some of the best in rock music.

So music geeks love them. But Metalheads, as a rule, hate them. Online discussions can be pretty contentious, given the extreme reactions they've inspired. Today is the 20th anniversary of the band's best-known album, Images and Words (March 28, 1992, per some sources, although other sources place it on July 7). I thought it would be a good time to examine the record's merits with as little bias as I can.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Worm Ouroboros: Come the Thaw (2012)

I'm frantic in your soothing arms
I cannot sleep in this down-filled world

The above lines come from "The Unnamed Feeling," a track from Metallica's almost universally-maligned St. Anger. Normally I ignore lyrics, which is easy enough when vocals are grunted, gurgled, shrieked, and rasped. But despite my normal disdain for that aspect of music, and the general hatred for that album, these lyrics have always stuck with me. They speak to me. I'm sure all metalheads can relate to frustration at anything which is too nice, too soft, and too comfortable.

Such is my reaction to Amber Asylum. The much-praised neofolk group makes music that, at one level, I get, and I really want to enjoy. But part of me rebels at just how fluffy the whole damn thing is. Contrast that with Worm Ouroboros. On Come the Thaw, they've created something that has everything I sought with Amber Asylum, but doesn't drive me insane by being so insubstantial.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pallbearer: Sorrow and Extinction (2012)


Pallbearer fit their name perfectly. In fact, they could simply record a graveside service and use it as the video to "Foreigner." The solemn, sorrowful mood, and heart-wrenching melodies are perfect reflections of mourning. But they are tasked with bearing along the deceased with dignity, in this case not by marching with a coffin but by marching out crushing doom riffs. These Arkansas-based doombringers better encapsulate the mood of a funeral than most funeral doom bands.

To put them in that subgenre wouldn't be so terribly off the mark. They're steady enough and nearly slow enough. Perhaps that's why the lack of any tempo change doesn't bother me on this record. Or perhaps it's because the record is dynamic enough: dynamics of volume and texture, beautiful solos, and excellent vocals.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Autopsy: All Tomorrow's Funerals (2012)

Maybe Too Many Funerals

Almost 73 minutes long, 22 tracks comprised of all three past EPs (remastered) plus four new songs, Autopsy's All Tomorrow's Funerals is huge. I dare say the massive, multi-headed chimeric monster on the cover is a perfect representation of this compilation.

Since it's Autopsy, you know it's awesome. But with the simple fact that these songs cover a period of over 20 years, it's not cohesive at all, and can't really be judged as a whole. I simply haven't been able to make it through the whole thing in one sitting.

So, I'm going to make a first here at Full Metal Attorney and issue summary judgment in favor of the band.

I also wanted to mention the fact that this is the first record given to me as a promo from what I consider one of the bigger and better-known labels out there. I guess this means I'm moving up in the world?

Buy All Tomorrow's Funerals

Friday, March 23, 2012

Evangelist: In Partibus Infidelium (2011)

Have You Heard the Good News?

With the exception of one dude out in Ohio, everyone loves classic Candlemass. The Swedes were the first to adopt the distinct sound of epic doom: sparse, slow, heavy, depressing, and a little bit over-the-top. Their sound made them noticed. But the songwriting made them great. It was phenomenal, particularly on Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. "Solitude", if heard once, will stick with you until you die.

If a metal band is widely loved, then before long there will be countless imitators. And inevitably, many of those imitators will focus on the sound, forgetting the songwriting entirely. Evangelist have seen the current state of epic doom, in need of salvation. They are in partibus infidelium, in the place of the unfaithful. They're wearing suits, knocking at your door. They have a pamphlet, and want to talk to you about the Good News of the Church of Candlemass.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Heimdalls Wacht: Nichtorte - Oder Die Geistreise Des Runenschamanen (2010)

Hermaphroditic--And Pulling It Off

Nichtorte - Oder Die Geistreise Des Runenschamanen is the mouthful title of Heimdalls Wacht's fourth album. They're a German pagan/black metal band signed to Heidens Hart, who gave me a review copy of the record. It's apparently a concept record, which I think has something to do with interdimensional travel by the power of runes, but when it's all in German, who really cares?

Though their name means "Heimdall's Watch," I can't help but think "wacht" sounds like a slang term for a vagina. Heimdall, of course, is supposed to be male, so it would be surprising to find out he's packing a complete set of male and female parts. That would be about as surprising as some of the unexpected elements in the band's music.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

At the Graves: Solar (2012)

Not So Sunny

When At the Graves hooked me up with a review copy of their first full-length, Solar, they had no idea that I had already mentioned the band before, in a brief review of their second EP. At the time, I thought they sounded like early Isis, but that it took a while for the record to pick up steam. This time around, they've improved immensely.

The Maryland trio inhabit the confluence of post-metal, hardcore, sludge, and doom, much like Neurosis. Lush, spacious compositions are built around very simple but effective basslines. Guitar creates tension both by its dissonant presence and unnerving absence, weaving hardcore and metal influences together. The drumming is all hardcore, with plenty of both slow and fast rhythms that to me, at least, sound fresh. The vocals, too, are of the hardcore persuasion, but not the idiot tough-guy style most of us metalheads think of.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Exhumed: Blue Öyster Cult

Legends of Heavy Metal?

Blue Öyster Cult is widely considered to be one of the progenitors of heavy metal by non-metalheads. They have been covered by metal bands a number of times, perhaps most notably by Metallica and Iced Earth, and they introduced the metal umlaut that has been used by so many bands since (reportedly inspired by the Wagnerian aspect of heavy metal). They are also one of the first groups in hard rock to seemingly endorse the occult, adopting a suggestive name and obscure symbolism.

But why don't metalheads claim the band, even if everyone else seems to think they're one of the genre's founding fathers?

Blue Öyster Cult (1972)

Listening to this with today's ears and today's expectations, it's hard to understand how the band was ever considered heavy metal. Only "Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll" could fairly be called metal. Maybe it's because their most well-remembered hits were the metallic songs. Other than that one, only opener "Transmaniacon MC" could even remotely be considered metal, and that's under the broadest definition of the term. Aside from those, you'll find plenty of decent blues-rock and psychedelic rock. While there's nothing wrong with that, most of it doesn't grab me, and it's definitely not metal. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, March 19, 2012

They Betrayed Their Fans

The Delicious Invasion

As far as video games go, I have become the guy who buys the hit Keith Urban album at Wal-Mart three years after it came out. I used to be up on video games, buying some on the release date after months of anticipation. Now, I'm playing old Wii games.

But that hasn't stopped me from reading Penny Arcade. Tycho's prose is so compelling to me, and I'm sure it's influenced my writing more than a little. I know nothing about his subject matter, but I understand the discussion nonetheless, and the comics still make me laugh.

On Friday, he was discussing the third game in the Mass Effect series. Apparently there has been an uproar about how the story ends, with fans feeling personally violated. I was intrigued by how his discussion applies to metal, specifically to any situation where a band "changes direction" or a venerated label signs a commercial act. I know I've said things about Century Media and The Haunted that fall into this same category. Here is the crux of what he had to say:
When it comes to Mass Effect 3, certainly they have the "right" however vaguely enumerated to make what they want, and those who consume it have the "right" however vaguely enumerated to say that what they have done is wrong/bullshit/authentically evil. These "rights" don't necessarily overlap: they exist as perfect spheres, bouncing off one another in space. Creating or critiquing is just a way to pass the time until you die. I won't say ne'er the twain shall meet, but they might not, and they don't have to.

Ownership is a very complicated business when it comes to cultural product, though. They succeed by virtue of the fact that we, as players, incorporate these stories into our lives.
How much "ownership" do we have in our favorite bands? Do we really have any "right" to be angry with a band for selling out? Does it make any difference that the fans put them in a position to make selling out possible? I don't know. I feel like we do, in my gut. But then I asked the corollary question: Does a band have a duty to please the fans who invested in them? I don't think so. And if they don't have to please us, then why are we offended?

But then I consider Ozzy. Our cultural investment in him is profound. My personal investment equally so. I can't help but feel betrayed by what he's become.

Swallow the Sun: Emerald Forest and the Blackbird (2012)

Kokeellinen tarkastelu

En osannut päättää kuinka kirjoittaa tarkastelussa Emerald Forest and the Blackbird, uusimman julkaisun Swallow the Sun. Yritin kirjoittaa useita hyvin erilaisia ​​arvioita, mutta jokainen niistä löysin en voinut varmuuskopioida väitteet Halusin tehdä.

Katsos, en ole oikeastaan ​​seurannut bändin liian lähelle. Rakastan heidän debyyttinsä. Rakastan myös mielettömän mahtava käsite Plague of Butterflies, death / doom baletti, joka ei koskaan tullut olemaan. Mutta muuten en ole kuunnellut heitä. Halusin tehdä grand julistamista heidän uransa, mutta en yksinkertaisesti ole tietopohjaa.

Joten minä vain puhua suoraan. Odotin like this album. Halusin pitää. Mutta jotain on vakavasti puuttuu. Ovatko ne hyviä biisejä? Kyllä, ehdottomasti.Levy kokonaisuutena on kuitenkin overpolished ja yksinkertaisesti liian tylsää liian monessa paikassa.

En todellakaan ole hyvä tapa sanoa se, vaikka. Joten tässä se on, selvää kuin päivä. Suomen kielessä tietenkin. Ja toivottavasti, kääntäjä kääntää sen rikki Englanti.

Tuomio: Annan sille 2 out of 5 tähteä. Niin, joka tapauksessa, nauti tästä suomalainen vitsi.

Kuinka moni suomalainen kestää vaihtaa lampun?

Viisi. Yksi pitää lampun ja neljä juoda riittävästi Kosu kunnes huone alkaa pyöriä.

Buy Emerald Forest and the Blackbird

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Town Portal: Vacuum Horror (2011)

Vacuums Freak My Dog Out

Instrumental prog rockers Town Portal asked me to review their free-to-download debut Vacuum Horror.

I listened to a couple songs from it, and it reminds me of either Pelican or Russian Circles, or both. I don't remember exactly which one, just that I didn't really care for either of those bands. If that's your thing, and if you think it's clever to title an interlude song "Segway" like the personal transport, instead of "segue" like a thing that connects two other things, you ought to check this out.

For me, it doesn't make much of an impact. I don't hate it, but I don't like it either. So I'm issuing summary judgment against the band on this one. Nifty album art, though.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Happy 61st birthday to my favorite actor, Kurt Russell. Yes, I will be going to an early St. Patrick's day party, but what I will really be celebrating is his birthday. I'll probably be watching Soldier this evening, which I think is his strongest performance even if it's not his strongest film.

Also, looking forward to Tarantino's Django Unchained. Russell will be appearing in it, although I think it may be a small role.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Music Production and the Loudness War

Magnetic Death to Your Ear Drums



The vast majority of my music consumption is through headphones. There are many advantages to this--it reduces outside distractions, clearly reproduces every detail of the songs, and allows me to pick up on production that plays with the stereo channels. But there are also disadvantages, the biggest of which is that, from album to album I have to adjust the volume. That's even worse when playing my entire library on shuffle. I've tried options such as the "Sound Check" on my iPod, but that just makes everything flat and shitty-sounding.

You would think that by now there would be some kind of standard or technology to make sure that everything is at the same volume. Sadly, that's not the case. And things keep getting worse.

A recent promo from groove/technical metal band Misguided Aggression is a particularly bad offender. Upon playing it, I quickly had to turn the volume down, literally all the way. Even so, it was an unpleasant listening experience, and despite two attempts I couldn't make it through more than a couple songs. As such, I issue summary judgment against the band. (With a cheap pair of ear buds you wouldn't have that problem so much, because they lose a lot of signal between the player and the speakers.)

The Why

Why do people want to make the production louder in the first place? The simple fact is that people like their music loud. It sounds better when it's loud. When you have your own volume control, you can turn it up yourself, but this problem began with jukeboxes, where no one adjusted the machine's volume between songs. If your song was louder than the one that preceded it, then it sounded better, at least in an environment where there is a lot of background noise or the speakers are of low quality. This resulted in labels, producers, and musicians engaging in an arms race to make their recordings louder, to sell more singles.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Eluveitie: Helvetios (2012)

M. Night Folkmetal

In 1999, M. Night Shyamalan wowed audiences with the mega-blockbuster The Sixth Sense. Everything came together perfectly--the right story, the right actors, the right tone--making for a film that was so popular it spawned a number of cliches and launched Shyamalan into superstardom. The writer/director's previous work never hinted at such brilliance, and his subsequent work has eventually proven that he was just a flash in the pan.

Eluveitie is folk metal's M. Night Shyamalan. In 2008, they blew just about everyone away with the brilliant Slania. In a pure, magical moment, they combined folk metal with melodic death metal so perfectly that it's never been matched before, or since. Particularly not by them. They experimented with a purer folk approach, then unsuccessfully tried to re-hash Slania. Now, they've once again attempted, and failed, to recapture any kind of magic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tort: Tort (2012)

Sadly, Not a Concept Album about Medical Malpractice

Tort's self-titled debut is the final album out of three submitted to me by TotalRust. I question a few things about this one. First of all, their logo looks a lot like the Blair Witch's symbol, so I guess there's that. But mostly I question their name. I'm all about the legal thing--I am Full Metal Attorney, after all--but why name yourself after the term for a civil wrong? Were "Sin" and "Crime" too obvious?

Anyway, the Spanish band has a good sound. When you compare them directly to Weedeater, you'll see a lot of similarities, including the fuzzy, heavy sound and the raspy vocals. It illustrates how blurry the line can be between sludge and stoner doom, with Tort being the former, on balance.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Embrional: Absolutely Anti-Human Behaviors (2012)

Not Fully Formed

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

Embrional are a Polish death metal outfit founded in 2003. Their second full-length album, Absolutely Anti-Human Behaviors, is set for release at the end of March. This record was my first exposure to the band.

Embrional take an atypical approach which sonically separates them from other Polish death metal acts. This divergence primarily lies in their guitar work. They employ a wide range of timing shifts, and many of their guitar riffs are peculiarly dissonant. Unusual chord progressions trade back and forth with the more standard death metal fare, giving the entire experience a somewhat experimental feel. The drums blaze away, providing a more conventional backdrop against which to set the guitar work. The vocals are solid death metal growls, though nothing terribly out of the ordinary.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Psycroptic: The Inherited Repression (2012)

Tasmanian Devils Deliver Again

Reviews of technical death metal albums usually include a lot of criticisms. It's too sterile. It's just wankery, without any real songwriting. They can play their instruments, but they can't make you feel anything.

Similarly, reviews of bands from out-of-the-way places usually say something along the lines of, "If they were from (London, New York, Oslo, etc.) then no one would care."

Psycroptic, of course, is a technical death metal band. They are from the ass end of the world, in Tasmania, better known for the Looney Tunes character Taz than anything else. And yet, none of those criticisms can possibly be leveled at them.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Horrendous: The Chills (2012)

Old-School Death Metal Release #838175

I've talked about old-school death metal at least two dozen times on this blog, but even after two-plus years of its resurgence, I'm still interested in the best the style has to offer. Horrendous has birthed debut The Chills. It's the best one since Disma hit us last year.

I've done so many reviews of this genre the formula should be familiar by now. If you're a regular reader or a fan of the style yourself, you should be aware of the various permutations of OSDM. True to their spread-out geography (they hail from all over the east coast), Horrendous have created a blood-slick crossover between the best Floridian death and the best Swedish death, both circa 1991. It's as if they camped out somewhere in the mid-Atlantic on a ship full of zombies for the last two decades, surviving on canned beans and live rats.