Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Acolyte: Alta (2013)

Scream for me Acolyte!

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

This is not a review about Agalloch. It is a review of Acolyte's "Alta" release. It is not a a critique of metal vocals or lyrics. I will reference Agalloch to draw a contrast and then launch into a carve out to the general rule that, in metal, vocals don't matter.

Agalloch are generally regarded by critics and metalheads alike as a pioneering "metal" band. (I put metal in quotes because comments from Agalloch place them in the Led Zeppelin "we're not metal" zone). Their albums are routinelly rated as the top metal albums of the year (2010 - Decibel's album of the year) and worthy in the canons of metal history. (The Mantle is in Decibel's Hall of Fame). They play black metal inspired and acoustically driven heavy music. Their songs are pretentious in ambition and scope, but they mostly pull it off. Musically, Agalloch at times are absolutely transcendent. With Agalloch, the listener very much gets the sense of a musical journey through songcraft.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Laurasia Awaits Us: Apathy Remains Victorious (2013)

Drone That's Not Dull

Laurasia Awaits Us is a two-piece, studio-only band out of Finland whose debut Apathy Remains Victorious was just released on Domestic Genocide. The PR spiel accompanying the release calls them a post-black metal band, but I think it’s more accurate to call them a doom metal band with drone and blackened elements. I’m not normally one to entertain much of the drone variety of music, but there is definitely something compelling about this one.

The record can be understood generally through a close examination of the first song. It starts out as pure doom, with a slow and heavy riff. The black-ness is represented with a somewhat hypnotic lead that enters the fray. It isn’t long before synths come in and the guitars go clean, a strange foreground to the distant, tortured vocals in the back. This morphs into a much more interesting riff that they play with for a while. Then everything goes quiet, cue the storm sounds and screams with eerie synth before finally a very strangely distorted lead closes the music and the storm sounds bring it to a close. So, even though the way they use their riffs and play with sound is indicative of a drone approach, Apathy remains interesting because it is dynamic, not sitting on one idea for too long, balancing tension and reward.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Gin Antipasto

This is a story about one of my favorite drinks. It involves a confluence of things, all of which are worth talking about.

New Amsterdam

I don't know about you, but I tend to ignore the people giving out free samples at grocery stores. Unless, of course, the free samples are alcohol. That's how I knew, for instance, that I didn't need to buy any Killian's Irish Stout. But it's also how I came to find New Amsterdam gin. I'm normally not looking at the $13-14 range when I'm looking at liquor, but this stuff was smooth. It's far better than it has any right to be at that price point--it is superior to some gins that cost twice as much. It has definitely become my gin of choice.

That means even more considering that gin is my liquor of choice. I joke that it has something to do with getting a law degree, but the fact is I just love it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Atrocity: Okkult (2013)

Definitely Not Atrocious

I’m not sure I’ve ever actually heard Leaves’ Eyes. Just the same, I’ve always assumed they were another Nightwish clone. Apparently Atrocity is the same band, minus the female lead. Atrocity has been around a hell of a lot longer, and it doesn’t sound much like Nightwish.

Occasionally I will listen to something from Napalm Records, despite the fact most of their releases are a little too Euro for my taste. But Atrocity’s Okkult has become somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me. It’s nominally extreme symphonic metal, with an undeniably Napalm side to it. Imagine something along the lines of Septicflesh or Dimmu Borgir if they didn’t take themselves so seriously.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Intöxicated: Röck 'n Roll Hellpatröl (2013)

Putting the ö in Röck ‘n Roll

Check out this poorly-drawn, leather jacket-wearing wolfman on a motorcycle in front of a building labeled “Whore House.” The band is named Intöxicated, and they called their album Röck ‘n Roll Hellpatröl. At this point you may be wondering whether this is a real thing or just a parody. There is no question it is both: It’s the real deal, and an over-the-top self-parody. If you don’t already want to buy it, then I don’t know if we can be friends.

So, you can pretty much guess what they sound like. Speed metal, like early Motörhead before they started adding in a ballad to every album. They’re German, so as you might expect it has less bounce to the rhythm and less nuance to the vocals. But it is, if anything, even more raunchy than “Jailbait.” The real question is whether they’re good enough to live up to that album cover.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kingdom: Morbid Priest of Supreme Blasphemy (2013)

Lament for the Drummer

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

First Bill Ward is out of the Black Sabbath reunion, then Dave “Human Tornado” Lombardo gets booted out of Slayer regarding the age old business dispute over “accounting issues.”* Kingdom’s come and kingdom’s go. Metal is metal. Whatever happened to the drummer? Too many spontaneous combustions on stage? Too much carpal tunnel syndrome? Worker’s comp claims brining the metal drummer community down? Accept no drummer substitutes!

Kingdom need a new drummer. I really liked this release and wanted to like it more. There are some very cool moments on “Morbid Priest . . .”. The cover is cool, for starters. Old school hand drawn art with some skulls, horns, and demon winged dude in a cemetery. The guitar tone is good and the vocals not distracting. The songs are good and we even get some serious swagger on the Nameless King. That song definitely made me want to move and swing and bang my head. The whole album is short, and to the point, too. Kingdom has potential. But what’s promising on the otherwise cool album is dragged into an almost unlistenable zone with its ProTools sounding drums.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ghost: Infestissumam (2013)

The Second Coming

Ghost dominated the metal world in 2010. With their anonymous image, ecclesiastical parody costumes, and stated intent of making Satan palatable to the masses, they were so enigmatic and divisive that people couldn't stop talking about them. But without the tunes to back it up, of course, it doesn't matter how interesting your image is. Of course they had the tunes to back it up: Opus Eponymous made countless end-of-year lists. And it had many detractors.

With their sophomore album, Ghost* have not gone the safe route. Instead of continuing in their Blue Öyster Cult upgrade, they've crafted one of the most eclectic albums of the year. What misguided comparisons there were to Mercyful Fate are sure to be put to rest by this one.

Friday, April 19, 2013


I want to talk about this week's major event. Of course, I'm referring to the bombing at the Boston Marathon. The loss of life is tragic, and finding those responsible is on everyone's minds, but I can't speak to those things better than anyone else.

What I can speak to is security. Our nation spends a lot of money on security, and a lot of people dismiss many of those security steps as theater, there to make people feel better about security. I'm not sure why that's a criticism, because the idea of terrorism is to make people feel worse. Cost-effectiveness aside, if your enemy's goal is X, then Not X seems to be a valuable goal.

I can't really speak to that much, though. I am in the Department of Homeland Security, but I work for an agency that's an outlier in the department: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (Please refer to my disclaimer: I speak only on my own behalf, and my views are not necessarily representative of my employer.) It seems like just about every branch of DHS has a lot of agents out there with guns. FEMA doesn't, as far as I know, and neither does USCIS. So, how is it that we fit into the security picture? What makes my job worthwhile, in the greater scheme of things?

When DHS was created, the old INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) was split into three parts. Two are focused on enforcement, but USCIS is the branch that grants immigration benefits. Other than the simple fact of keeping those three elements loosely associated, it might not be obvious why USCIS is part of Homeland Security. But I think there's a very good reason.

Our immigration laws lay out a whole lot of legitimate reasons why someone can come to this country. Our job is to determine whether someone meets the requirements of the law. If they don't, we don't let them in. Our role in security is understood if you look at the converse of that: We keep out people who don't have a legitimate reason to be here. That's huge. There are other security aspects to what we do, but I think that's the biggest one.

This also leads to the biggest problem with illegal immigration. If we could put a stop to your run-of-the-mill illegal immigration, it would free up a lot of resources to go after the dangerous illegal immigrants. Just my two cents on that.

When they find the people responsible for this bombing--and they will--I can only hope that, if there were foreigners involved, we at least did our jobs. But even if we messed this one up, I feel better by not granting benefits to certain criminals, because the reality is there's a whole lot more danger from good old-fashioned crime than there is from terrorism.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Metal Briefs: Black Metal Miscellany

Three From the Black Side

Svoid: Ars Kha (2013)
3 out of 5 stars

When I think of Hungarian black metal, I think of Soviet-era, lo-fi kind of stuff. I kind of assumed that everyone in the country would continue in that vein, especially given the success of Attilla Csihar. So imagine my surprise to find Hungary’s Svoid, a modern black metal band with clear production. It appears to be a one-man band; although no one is credited for the drums, I didn’t really notice them enough to judge whether they’re programmed. Like seemingly every black metal band since the success of Watain, the band member goes simply by an initial. But it wouldn’t be fair to simply label this a Watain clone and move on. Or at least it doesn’t scream, “Look at me, I want to be Watain!” There’s a lot more mid-paced stuff, and although the bass is fully audible, the guitars ensure it’s not as heavy as Watain. This doesn’t sound very praise-filled, but I do assure you the man can write a riff, and his vocals are nothing to sneeze at. He could be destined for bigger things, with a full band.

Official Site

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Suffocation: Pinnacle of Bedlam (2013)


As much as people look down on slam death, brutal death, anything with breakdowns, and even technical death, nobody looks down on the band who created all of those things. Suffocation are legendary. Every few years they come down from the mountain, see all this pointless golden calf worship, smash the tablets of the law and then lay it down again. Pinnacle of Bedlam marks the fourth time they’ve done this since the band’s reformation. No matter how many times they do it, nobody else seems to get it, and nobody else does it like they do.

I’m really late to the game on this one, and you can blame Nuclear Blast for that one. But as I was buying a couple other records from labels that don’t send me promos, I decided it was time to get this one too.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Conny Ochs: Black Happy (2013)

German Americana

I don’t really know much about Conny Ochs. He’s collaborated with Wino. Apparently he’s German, though you’d never know it from his vocals. That’s just about the only information out there about this man and his guitar.

His kinship with Wino stems from a mutual appreciation for dark singer-songwriter material, and that’s what you’ll hear on his sophomore solo record Black Happy. It falls into the amorphous “dark Americana” that I’m always talking about, but within that category it cuts a wide swath. At times, I was tempted to say it sounds like one of the Alice in Chains EPs. At others, I wanted to reference the Beatles, what little I know of indie rock, or (once) that Stone Sour song from the first Spiderman movie (see “No Sleep Tonight”). There really isn’t a good, honest way to sum it up by comparison to others, because he seems to draw on a timeless set of singer-songwriter influence from each of the past six or seven decades. Even longer, if you count the blues of “Mouth” or traditional folk vocal of “Faces in the Crowd.”

Monday, April 15, 2013

Kvelertak: Meir (2013)


I’ll spare you the pedantic lecture on the meteoric rise of Kvelertak, because everyone already knows it. I’ll skip to the question at hand: Can they capture lightning in a bottle a second time?

The band has not changed direction in the slightest, and I don’t think anyone expected them to. They are still Norway’s answer to Baroness, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and pure fun in metalpunk form (complete with the blackened touches inherent in their country’s DNA). They’re still loads of fun, they’re still high energy, and they still make you want to sing along despite the mother-tongue lyrics. But their debut was the result of saving up the best songs of their several years of existence without releasing any material, while the sophomore effort is the result of two years dedicated to touring the world. So, Meir is no Kvelertak, but it’s still worth the price of entry for those of us who’ve been losing our minds in anticipation.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Immigration Reform

Immigration reform is the hot topic in politics right now. I work in that field, so I definitely have some thoughts on the issue. Of course, refer to my disclaimer: My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer. Also, you should be aware that I follow law and policy in my work, not my personal opinion.

As I've said before, immigration is one topic where everyone has an opinion, but nobody seems to know anything about it. Not only do they get it wrong in movies and TV, even the news gets it wrong. Regularly.

I came into the field with the same understanding as a lot of people. The system is broken, and we ought to allow all the illegals to stay. Now, I know that we have, in a lot of ways, a very good system--on paper. The problem is a question of incentive and will. A person in Guatemala whose life is threatened by drug cartels and has no job prospects has a lot of incentive to come to the United States. An employer who has a shitty job that needs to be done has an incentive to hire anyone who's willing to do the job. And the government just doesn't have enough incentive, apparently, to enforce the law. And because the law hasn't been enforced, the system has broken down. If they had enforced it from the beginning, we would still have a very good system, not just on paper.

So, what are my thoughts now, after working in immigration for over four years?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Metal Briefs: Death Metal Quickies

A Quick Death, Part 2

Lately I've found that death metal can be particularly satisfying in small doses, often. So I keep an eye out for short, intense death metal outbursts like some of these.

Bone Sickness: Alone in the Grave (2013)
4 out of 5 stars

Bone Sickness plays some of the filthiest and fastest death metal on the planet, with some of the most unclean solos you'll hear in 2013. In contrast to Acephalix, these guys put crust into a wholly American style of death. Think Autopsy running so fast that pieces of their instruments start flying off in every direction. They do slow things down a little on the title track, but not for long. This is a hell of a ride, and even though it's only an 18 minute full-length, it's genuinely every bit as satisfying as any half-hour.

(Couldn't find an embed for this release, but this demo track should give you a rough idea. The album releases April 30.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Striker: Armed to the Teeth (2012)

Lives Up to the Cover Art

Review by Metallattorney. He is the law.

I took one look at that cover art and knew that I absolutely had to check this one out. It is an animated skeleton of a carnivorous dinosaur, can not tell which one, possibly a tyrannosaurus. But the skeleton is equipped with two machine guns on its arms and a mini gun on its back. It is seriously awesome.

So the album art definitely grabs attention, but the music really keeps it. An album is disappointing if the music does not live up to the artwork on the cover. Luckily Striker is not a disappointment. This is Canadian speed metal, very much in the vein of Exciter and other underground bands from the Great White North. The music is certainly energetic and fast-paced and it is almost impossible not to find your self keeping time with it.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Vhöl: Vhöl (2013)

Turn Up the Vhölume

Let’s get the clichés out of the way first. Number one, Vhöl is going to be attached to the term “supergroup” because it features members of Ludicra/Agalloch, Yob, and Hammers of Misfortune. There are times when you can guess what a supergroup is going to sound like based on the members’ other projects. That barely applies here. Number two, the band’s self-titled debut is on Profound Lore, so you can almost guarantee it will be good. That one does apply here. But I’m going to do my best to avoid those clichés from here on out.

Vhöl is going to be one of the most interesting sounds you’ll hear in 2013. There’s always a risk of oversimplification when a reviewer hands down a formula, but it’s a useful tool. This is what could have happened if Ludicra had gone the way of Darkthrone, keeping some of their black metal intact but falling in love with the crust punk and heavy metal of the 80’s.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Fatal Impact: Esoteria (2012)

Keep on Runnin'

A scathing, song-by-song review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

Here is my stream of conscience review of Esoteria, song by song, as it happened while listening at work:

[A New Era] Some cool riffing but then devolves into some incongruous singing with a plodding guitar line, “progressing” to some chug-a-chug-a-chug-a riffing. Then some KSE type toned metalcore, but without their heft or emotion. Tolerable.

[Where the Alders Grow] Pick my head up midway through because it’s so bad, I ask myself the question, “Who listens to this kind of drivel?” Honestly, it’s so saccharin – Journey and REO Speedwagon blow this out of the water.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Working from Home

After a long wait, I have finally become able to work from home. I started doing it on Tuesday, and my typical schedule will have me working from home four days out of the week.

It is fantastic.

I wake up, throw on some clothes, go downstairs, let the dogs out, go to the basement, and turn on my computer. Within 10 minutes of my alarm, I am on the clock. After I get logged in I catch up on work-related e-mail and cleaning up whatever I was working on the day before. About a half hour later, I take my official lunch break to help get the kids ready and all out the door, then I get back into my work. When my son gets off the school bus at the end of the day, that's the end of my day too (we have strict rules about kids and telework).

During the day, I'm freed from anyone interrupting my work. I'm freed from headphones, listening on a great sound system instead (so if you see my ratings go up on average, you'll know why). Working in the office, I would sometimes do a set of push-ups do get my blood flowing, but I felt awkward with people walking by. Now, I have my weights set up and I'll take two minutes out of every 45 or so to do a set. When you take the time to lift weights, you have to spend a lot more time resting than actually lifting. With this arrangement, not only do I not waste time resting (I'm working instead), but my blood is flowing and I'm more alert and aware, to do my work better.

Between the commute and all the wasted time between weight lifting sets, I'm freeing up more than two hours out of each day. When I'm done with work, I'm home already. No one bothers me. Music sounds better (and gets played louder) and doesn't aggravate my tinnitus. It is a good time to be me.

Is Telework a Good Idea?

This isn't really the reason I wanted to write this post, but I think there are a lot of people who don't trust the very idea of work-at-home programs.

Telework was in the news recently when Yahoo! pulled all their employees back into the office, and some other companies are starting to look at their policies skeptically. But when the news shows some lady working at the kitchen table with her kids all around her, it's pretty obvious why it doesn't work out for every organization. I suspect our concrete metrics for performance help out. (That's bullshit business-speak for "You can count the widgets I made to make sure I'm actually doing my work.")

So, what do you think? Do you think your job could be done effectively from home? Would you want to try it? Do you think it's a good idea?

Thursday, April 04, 2013

High Priest of Saturn: High Priest of Saturn (2013)


Now, I'm not saying they're my favorite band or anything like that. What I'm saying is that, if you scoured the Internet for the one reviewer who's most likely to give a positive review to High Priest of Saturn, you wouldn't be wrong if you picked me.

The band's self-titled debut consists of 43 minutes in four tracks of slow-rolling, mellow stoner doom. Electric Wizard wouldn't kick them out of bed, if that gives you an idea. They use the organ perfectly, adding flavor without ever becoming the main event, and they have female vocals. So, yes, they are fully secure within my wheelhouse. This is the stuff I love.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Dark Americana Briefs, Part 6

Still in a Dark Place

Josh T. Pearson: Last of the Country Gentlemen (2011)
1 out of 5 stars

Josh T. Pearson is a critical darling, and his only solo LP Last of the Country Gentlemen was featured on several prominent end-of-year lists in 2011. I can enjoy a song or two of this subtle, acoustic guitar folk, but the album as a whole is interminably long. Other than a couple violin parts and the album's only crescendo, there are no dynamics to speak of. If you think it's tough to listen to a half-hour black metal record with constant blastbeats, try hearing an hour-long, slow, acoustic folk album with no percussion. Actually, don't. As much as I like to proselytize my fellow metalheads into dark folk music, this is not the right record for our demographic, with or without Pearson's epic beard.

But there are others.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Joel Grind's Yellowgoat: The Yellowgoat Sessions (2013)

Holocausto Toxico

Review by Metallattorney. He is the law.

I am not really sure what this session is that is referred to in the above title. Joel Grind is the mastermind behind Toxic Holocaust, which is a band I particularly enjoy due to its mix of thrash and early punk, calling to mind Hellhammer, Bathory, and Venom. This Yellowgoat project is not considerably different than Toxic Holocaust although it tends to settle more on the speed metal/hard rock stylings of Motorhead, which of course was a big influence on the earlier-named bands. So I am not really sure what to say to introduce this recording. It's basically Toxic Holocaust but with a different name.

I suppose the major distinction between this release and the more recent Toxic Holocaust albums is that this has a little bit more of a rock 'n roll vibe to it. It grooves and swings a bit more than previous albums. Is that enough to distinguish entirely from Grind's other big project? Who knows? But at least it is something of a distinction rather than saying that this is a Joel Grind project with a different name but the same sound.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Mercyful Father

I've been keeping this under wraps for a while now, but it's time to make the official announcement.

As you know, I'm a huge Mercyful Fate fan. I've been kicking around the idea of a tribute band for years, but the prospect of taking the time out to do a bunch of shows was simply not in the cards for a working father of three. As far as I'm concerned, a record is better anyway.

Finally I've gotten together with some old college friends and a couple of local guys from the metal scene (you may know them from Dirtfedd), and we've recorded two entire Mercyful Fate tribute records under the name Mercyful Father. I haven't played any instruments myself for years, but I have a mean falsetto scream, so I handled all the vocals.

You may also know that I am a Christian, so it took some doing to change the lyrics. "All hail Satan" has become "All hail Jesus," but it totally works, if you don't mind my saying.

We shopped it around to a few labels, and got a nibble or two, but getting the rights to all the songs turned out to be a nightmare. Ultimately I used my lawyer skills that the small labels were sorely lacking, and we decided to self-release it. I'm working on getting our Melissa on Bandcamp, and it should be up in the next few days. Official announcement with links to follow.

I'm really excited about this, and I think we've done a bang-up job. Spread the word in anticipation.