Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summary Judgments: Black Metal 2013 Blast-a-thon

Blacker than the blackest black . . . times infinity!

It seems like about two years ago I was getting really inundated with death metal, and didn't know what to do with all of it. Lately, there's been a whole lot of black metal coming into my inbox. I didn't add it up, but I'm pretty sure it averages more than an album of black metal each day.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the albums collected here. In fact, each one of these albums got at least one full listen from me. Most of them got three or more listens. But after you've written a certain number of black metal album reviews, it's hard to come up with something fresh to say when the music doesn't stand out as innovative, exceptionally good, or exceptionally bad.

Grift: Fyra elegier

Grift is slow- to mid-paced and rougher around the edges, with a cool riff or two and a folk part or two. Every song title has at least one funny symbol over at least one of the letters, which actually for no good reason is something that appeals to me.

Monarque: Lys Noir

Monarque is aggressive and cleanly-produced, with a dramatic sense and symphonic-sounding keyboards there to add even more drama. I can't help but feel there's more to be said about this one, but it has yet to whisper in my ear.

Productions Heretiques

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Primitive Man: Scorn (2013)

Hyperbolically Dark

I think I’ve heard a song or two from Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire, but I’ve never been all that interested in them. But the band’s vocalist/guitarist seems bent on grabbing the attention of people who share my taste. He recently became the vocalist/guitarist for Withered, the incredible blackened sludge band, and he also fronts side project Primitive Man.

Primitive Man is doomier and noisier than Withered, but there is definitely a common thread. PM also shares a few characteristics with Dragged into Sunlight, inhabiting a genre-nonspecific realm of disturbingly violent chaos where feedback squelches any sense of reprieve in the spaces between misanthropic notes.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Morne: Shadows (2013)

An Upward Glance of Beauty

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

First time Morne listener. No reference point in the discography. Don't know if this is more of the same, a complete u-turn, or adding a little flavor to the existing recipe. Long time doom fan. Lots of reference points in the catalog. Jamming Shadows. Trying to avoid the name drop reference check. Finding it difficult. But the neck is snapping, the head is nodding.

When Isis (or is it ISIS?) went adrift in the ocean, some lamented. Not this author. Bored by the recent output. When Pelican went from bringing the slow boiling thunder to "crafting songs," this reviewer lost interest. Was it only a dream? No need to wed these bands. So many great doom/sludge/"post-rock" bands out there. Rosetta. Rwake. Yob. Battilus. Samothrace. Add Morne to the list.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

On My Skunk Encounter, and Paranoia

I walk my dogs in the evening. That's the only option open to me, given my hectic days. But we live on the edge of a small town, which naturally leads to the problem of skunks. A potential problem, really, but one which became an actual problem for me 13 days ago.

Now, last fall I saw a lot of skunks when I was out walking my dogs. Several within a block of my house, in fact. They were always adults, and they were always walking in that distinctive way when I saw them. I hadn't seen any since the fall, though, so I let my guard down, not watching for them, and we practically walked on top of a small one before I noticed it. The dogs managed to wriggle out of their collars. I attempted to reason with them, but in the way of dogs, reason is unpersuasive. I didn't see it spray them, but they smelled bad enough.

So, I rolled into the nearest Wal-Mart at 11:00 p.m. to buy out their supply of generic tomato juice (by the way, I got too much) and plenty of hydrogen peroxide for a solution my wife looked up on the Internet. On my way home I checked to see if the skunk was still there, to consider whether I should attempt to kill or capture it, but it was not there.

After the most traumatic night of my dogs' lives--the washing, because the spray didn't seem to bother them as bad as you might expect--the smell was mostly gone.

The next day, my wife suggested rabies might be a concern. The dogs are up on their vaccinations, but I've never been vaccinated for it. I looked it up and, sure enough, a rabid animal's saliva can get on your dog, and if it gets on you and into an open wound or mucous membrane you can catch it. This led to various phone calls, including to our vets' office, my doctor's office, and my sister-in-law texting with her veterinarian friend. Considering the encounter was at night in an area where you would expect to see a skunk, and I didn't have any open wounds, and I recalled thinking that I really wanted to scratch my eye but didn't, I was told my chances of having contracted rabies were extremely low.

But the thought still nags, you know? So I did some more digging tonight. Skunks are pretty much the source of rabies in Nebraska. In this part of the state, a few cases of bat rabies have been recently confirmed. A skunk with confirmed rabies was found not 30 miles from here in late April. I found out about the "dumb" form of rabies, which would cause a skunk to just sit there and not care about being approached.

But I tell myself, it was a young skunk--small, and without the capacity to produce a truly overwhelming quantity of musk--and probably depended on its mother for protection. So its behavior may not be unusual at all. And two nights later I walked by the same spot to see at least two skunks, possibly three; at least one of them was young and both/all of them appeared to be acting normally. I thoroughly washed the dogs, too, and found no evidence they had been bitten.

But that feeling is still nagging at me. I guess I'll make at least one more phone call tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Meads of Asphodel: Sonderkommando (2013)

Much Better Than Jaldaboath

Before now, I’ve been mostly uninterested in The Meads of Asphodel. Between their connection to the ridiculous Jaldaboath and the cowardice of vocalist Metatron, I just haven’t seen fit to spend any money to check them out. But presented with a promo copy of their latest album, I was definitely intrigued enough to check it out. And I have to say I’ve come around a bit.

Most simply put, The Meads of Asphodel are the UK’s answer to Sigh. Like In Somniphobia, Sonderkommando is a concept album that’s over an hour long. Like Sigh, the Meads have one foot in black metal, and the other foot chopped up and spread all over the musical landscape. Both bands’ most recent records are filled with songs of epic scope that seem to demand a listing of all their bizarre constituent parts: Sonderkommando features an extensive electric organ piece, flute, saxophone, psychedelic echo effects, accordion, strings, piano, and Motown style female backing vocals, to name a few. In other words, if you’re a fan of Sigh, your interest should be piqued.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summary Judgments, Volume 5

As you might guess to be the case, sometimes I can tell I'm not going to like an album before I finish it. Other times, I just don't want to review the album, because I can't find anything I want to say about it or whatever. I have that luxury, but I don't want to completely ignore some of these releases either.

Those that didn't get the full treatment are collected here. As always, I mention how far I made it into the album before giving up on it.

Sofy Major: Idolize (2013)
(the whole thing, several times)

What the hell is noise rock, anyway? I liked (but didn't understand) Korperschwache, but I can't figure out what it has in common with Årabrot and Sofy Major. I also can't figure out why people make music like Årabrot and Sofy Major. I listened to this several times, and I just wanted them to stop doing what they were doing and just sound more like Baroness.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Leviticus: The Strongest Power (1985)

On the Rock

I don’t normally bother with reviewing a reissue, but when a non-Christian label takes an interest in a long-forgotten Christian metal band, that’s something worth noting. I was intrigued, to say the least.

My son recently finished Vacation Bible School. The theme was “Kingdom Rock,” and as much as I enjoy watching the kids while they’re singing along to the music . . . the music itself can only be described as insipid. Leviticus could have saved it. Lyrically it’s all along the same lines, but it’s a lot more energetic and a whole lot less repetitive.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Locrian: Return to Annihilation (2013)

Ambient? Hardly.

Dark ambient is a genre that’s often talked about within metal circles, but I suspect most metalheads don’t really get it. Usually, I don’t. Every now and then I’ll try an album, usually come away perplexed, and mostly forget about it.

Locrian is the one dark ambient band that I think I’m finally beginning to understand. I’ve been listening to Return to Annihilation regularly since getting the promo back in May, and it’s steadily been growing on me. But I don’t really know much about the genre, or its language. Hell, I’m not even sure what instruments are used here. The prospect of actually writing a review, you can guess, is daunting. So here goes nothing.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

This Is How You Die

Machine of Death is a collection of short stories selected from 700 submissions, all based on a very simple premise. A machine can tell you how you will die, but the answer it gives you will turn out to be a Twilight Zone kind of twist.
The problem with the machine is that nobody really knew how it worked, which wouldn’t actually have been that much of a problem if the machine worked as well as we wished it would. But the machine was frustratingly vague in its predictions: dark, and seemingly delighting in the ambiguities of language. OLD AGE, it had already turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machine captured that old-world sense of irony in death — you can know how it’s going to happen, but you’ll still be surprised when it does.
It was put together by two of my favorite webcomic creators and a third guy, who may also be a webcomic creator--I haven't actually looked into that.

The stories don't typically explore the premise through stories through a "who can make the best twist" method. Instead, they focus on how the machine changes society. They range from thought-provoking, to funny, to really dark. And since it's all about death, I think you guys will like it.

The first book beat Glenn Beck's new book to #1 on Amazon, which pissed him off enough to talk about it on his show. On Tuesday the sequel This Is How You Die came out. I just bought my copy. The creators are running a campaign to get to the New York Times bestseller list, so they want you to buy it by Saturday. I think you should.

Buy This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death

Also, buy Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Deafheaven: Sunbather (2013)

So They’re Hipsters. Does It Matter?

When I reviewed Deafheaven’s first album, I simultaneously reviewed Liturgy’s Aesthethica, musing on whether it really matters that they’re hipsters. OK, it may be taken as a matter of public record that I don’t really know what defines a hipster any better than anyone else does, but they sure look like hipsters. And if you Google them, you’re going to run across Pitchfork, AV Club, and PopMatters before you’re going to run across anything on a legit metal site.

Regardless of hipster status, I gave Roads to Judah 3.5 out of 5 stars. I concluded that in the case of Deafheaven, “I’ll welcome them to the fold.” Now we’re confronted with their second album, both highly anticipated and highly divisive. Are they still worthy of the attention of metalheads, or should we leave them to the more adventurous of the indie rock crowd?

Metal Briefs: Short Briefs of 2013

Three by Two

When all you have is two songs to go on, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense writing 600 words. Here collected are three 2013 releases with two songs each.

Wreck and Reference: No Content
3.5 out of 5 stars

No Content continues Wreck and Reference's weird trek into self-destructive industrial music. I say industrial because it uses the same kinds of sounds, but it doesn't sound like any kind of industrial songwriting I've ever heard, especially not in percussion. The madman vocals may be the most compelling thing about this release. Sadly, it sounds less like a stopgap release and more like an unfinished larger work. They keep gearing up for something, and then it just, ends. We need to hear the rest of this!

Friday, July 12, 2013

So Much for Sleep

In case you're wondering why this may be the last week this blog ever has a new post 5 full days out of the week, read on. No, I'm not stopping, and no, I don't suspect I'll reduce it to 1 post a week, but I no longer plan to strive for something new each of the five days.

"I heard he was born in a mental institution, and he sleeps only one hour a night. He's a great man."

That might be my favorite quote from Fight Club. I don't know about the mental institution part, but great men such as Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla, and Leonardo Da Vinci are all said to have slept extremely little. Like, 2-4 hours a night. A friend told me long ago he decided sleep was a waste of time, and I've seen the wisdom in that.

Yet, after seven months of sleeping just over 4 hours a night, I may have come near my limit. OK, not my limit. I could probably do this for the rest of my life, but it wouldn't be as long a life. I was unable to donate blood today because my hemoglobin was too low; I haven't found anything that suggests a direct link there, but I suspect it may be related. Frequent blood donations can reduce your hemoglobin (donating every 8 weeks for 2 years is frequent enough, I suppose), and my levels have been gradually decreasing every 8 weeks since my sleep has been so reduced. Donating blood is very important to me, for good reason. But not only that, I'm beginning to think I may, perhaps, be ever so slightly less great than Franklin and Newton. And I suspect the hemoglobin may be just the first thing to go if I don't make a change.

With the various demands of family, work, dogs who need walked (the highlight of my day), and my personal time, sleep was the thing I decided to cut. For several years I was sleeping 6 hours a night, with no ill effects. Curious readers may go back seven months in the blog to figure out why the change, but for a while I was unable to sleep much. And found I could get by on 4 hours. So I have, since then.

But now, I've decided something has to change. Among other things--like making 8 cups of coffee each day instead of 10, and walking the dogs at 9:00 p.m. instead of 10:30 p.m.--my personal time will have to be cut down. That will likely result in less time dedicated to sifting through promo e-mails, less time previewing them. Less time unzipping them, loading them into my iTunes, and correcting the fucking ALL CAPS names and such. Less time writing and formatting reviews, finding usable album art, finding embeddable sample songs and adding proper, consistent labels to each post.

I suspect there will still be at least three posts a week, spread out throughout the week and posted whenever they're ready instead of scheduled for 7:00 a.m. each weekday. So, now I'm going to rest a bit. See you next week.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Venomous Maximus: Beg upon the Light (2012)

Slipped through the Cracks of Hell

There’s something infinitely rewarding about finding some hidden gem, an excellent album that nobody else knows about. Metalheads love that shit. For good or ill, those kinds of releases are getting fewer and farther between, because labels with clout will no doubt pick them up and re-release them.

That’s what’s going on with Venomous Maximus’s debut Beg upon the Light. Supposedly it was released on Occulture last October—as far as I can tell, that means it was self-released on Bandcamp. Napalm Records took note of this extremely deserving record and has given it a lot more exposure.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lycus: Tempest (2013)

”Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises” –Shakespeare, The Tempest

Oakland funeral doomsters Lycus released a demo in 2011 that got some fairly positive press (including at Full Metal Attorney). Apparently that was enough to grab the attention of 20 Buck Spin, who released their proper debut full-length yesterday.

Tempest continues the band’s slowed-down version of early Swallow the Sun, blending morose lead guitars and equally hopeless clean vocals with a solid underpinning of steady, heavy riffage. The production is the most remarkably different aspect of the release. Where the demo had a strong, immediate, straight-forward approach, Tempest sounds distant and cloaked in reverb, a style many funeral doom bands tend toward. Just as with their demo, the album has three songs, but here the final product clocks in at 41 minutes instead of 25.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

TOAD: Endless Night (2013)

Take Over and Destroy? Don’t Mind if I Do.

I took a brief look at the promo material for TOAD’s Endless Night, downloaded it, put it on my iPod, and forgot everything I knew about it. A couple days later, I came to it with fresh eyes and ears, looked at the cover art, and thought, “OK, I’m ready for some old-school doom metal.” Despite the cover art, that is not what I encountered.

You may recall a few years ago when Kvelertak blew everything wide open, and a few people (myself included) did what we could to find someone, anyone else who sounded like them, but nobody really did. Phoenix, Arizona’s TOAD (Take Over and Destroy) may be one of the first bands to list Kvelertak as a primary influence.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Squash Bowels: Grindcoholism (2013)

Surrender to Grindcoholism!

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

"Holy shit!" The Second . . . the listener is pounded with Squash Bowel's first full length since 2009, that's what she'll say. Especially since the release is from a band that's done splits with "Catasexual Urge Motivation" and "Cock and Ball Torture". If the utter Tastlesness of the names, song titles and cover art by most of these "artists" isn't enough of a put off, the music usually is. Or at least that's what one would expect. Maybe there is a Trap these bands like to play on the listener, hiding excellent, down-tuned, pummeling riffing over hyperblast beats without losing a sense of songcraft. Maybe The Theater of it all dissuades those of us not prone to grind and its porno sub-genres to ignore it and there's actually a whole bunch of new pornogrind records we all have to go out and get. Or maybe most of it is what it is - shit.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

See You Monday

It's been a heavy week for me. More observations about metal and life to resume Monday.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Last of a Generation

My grandmother's funeral is today. She died in her sleep early Saturday.

Do not offer me your condolences. We were never close. She was never nasty to me personally, but she had it in her and I'd seen glimpses of it. As an infant, I'm told, I would cry if she held me. If my brother were alive today, I wonder whether he would attend the funeral. I wonder whether one of my aunts will be missing from the service.

I don't really have any fond memories of her from my childhood. I have fond memories of being in her house or around the farm with my cousins. I can conjure up a smile when I think of how much she liked dogs, or how proud she looked wheeling around the nursing home with one of my twins on each knee.

What strikes me about this is what it represents on a different, symbolic level. All of my grandparents were living until I was in junior high. I lost another in high school. I lost my last great-grandmothers while I was in high school and college.* And in the last 14 months, now, since I've been 30, I lost my last two grandparents.

While I grew up with three generations ahead of me in the family tree, now there is only one. I don't know how to think about that. It makes me consider, for the thousandth time since December, my own mortality. Outside family, there is only one earthly thing to help with that thought.

*Actually, I don't know when the last of my great-grandparents died. If I ever wondered why my grandmother might have been something other than the nicest person, I could consider the fact that her mother was truly a terrible person, who wanted nothing to do with her own blood.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Brutus: Behind the Mountains (2013)

Reflections on Thin Lizzy and Wondering Why Others Can't Match Them

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

In the movie "Once", about star-crossed lovers in modern day Ireland, the protagonist is a musician. It's all serious but comic relief comes in the form of a Thin Lizzy cover band, who like any band if it sounds like Thin Lizzy. They only liked Thin Lizzy. At the time I thought that was amusing, but I didn't really get it. I'd only known the band through the much over played now on a Citibank credit card commercial, "The Boys Are Back in Town." Well, I've been discovering Thin Lizzy for the last couple of years and now I want to watch that chick flick again. Now I understand the obsession.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Dark Americana Briefs, Part 7

You know the drill.

Across Tundras: Electric Relics (2013)
4 out of 5 stars

As I've mentioned before, Across Tundras is one of those few bands who expertly land themselves at the crossroads of metal and dark Americana. They sound like an old-school country/Western band (complete with nasally cowboy vocals) mixed with the desert rock of Kyuss. The production is extremely dry, and listening to it feels like a walk through the desert to a marginal frontier town. It's tailor-made for me, but your mileage may vary.