Thursday, October 30, 2014

Slipknot: All Hope Is Gone (2008)

Or is it?

I’ve been going back over the discography of Slipknot, because they were an important gateway band for me. Finally I’ve come to the last of their previous studio albums. This one is a bit different to me personally. Whereas their first three albums got a whole lot of spins from me in an earlier time, and have a lot of nostalgia value, my view of All Hope Is Gone is not clouded by such feelings. By the time it came out in 2008, I was already hooked by Suffocation and fully into a death metal obsession. I listened to it, sure, but I was more interested in more extreme things by that point.

Without that familiarity, I’m really forming a first solid impression of the record here. And early on, I started to think it was better than its spotty, artsy predecessor. It doesn’t attempt anything pretentious, early on, but instead is Slipknot being Slipknot. “Sulfur” has a metal riff and a sing-along chorus plus a DJ part, and “Psychosocial” is more hard rock with a shout-along part. It doesn’t get much more Slipknot than that combination. I find myself liking the written-for-rock-radio “Dead Memories” (with metal parts but mostly a hard rock song with emotional chorus) despite myself. They follow that up by the absolutely-metal riff of “Vendetta,” which is a good way to keep it going.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anaal Nathrakh: Desideratum (2014)

Of Maggots, and Humanity

I’m going to, once again, borrow a metaphor from a particular Decibel review, because it’s perfect: listening to Anaal Nathrakh is like hearing the gates of hell opened, just a crack. No one else can do that. They made my own end-of-year list a couple years back, because Vanitas brilliantly combined that utter sonic chaos with undeniably catchy melody and close to a score of different sonic influences (including opera) in brilliant fashion.

Unfortunately, it seems the gates have closed for Desideratum. You see, while I don’t have anything against putting dubstep into metal per se, there is perhaps good reason that when I think “dubstep in metal” I think of djent and Korn. And just about every track on here has a dubstep part.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dawnbringer: Night of the Hammer (2014)


Chris Black is on a roll. An unstoppable heavy metal force. He is truly one of metal’s most gifted songwriters at the helm of two of metal’s most likable bands.

Oh, do you still need more? After the last couple of Dawnbringer albums and the great High Spirits record from earlier this year, I thought you’d already be convinced that you need Night of the Hammer. Well, this time around the promo spiel is self-contradictory, claiming this is “more unique and even stranger” but also “more straightforward . . . and traditional.” I’m going to lean toward the latter claim as the truth.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Menace Ruine: Venus Armata (2014)

Lovely Vocals and Arcane Music

A couple of years ago I said that Menace Ruine sounds like occult church music. That’s still pretty much the case. If you’re the kind of person who is mesmerized by Botanist, or intrigued by Sabbath Assembly, then you will certainly enjoy Venus Armata.

Simple (distorted) organ pieces and guitar played in an unusual fashion—plus who knows what else—the instruments create a backdrop for the lovely vocal work. As far as I’m aware, they don’t reveal what instruments they use, but there are church bells and muted drums in some places, though I think to break it down would do it a disservice. To point out the marching percussive rhythm in the excellent “Red Sulphur” is potentially deceptive, because the organ moves much more slowly. And really, the key is not the droning of the instruments, but the vocal melodies.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Slipknot: Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses (2004)

Slipknot, Soured

This is part 3 of my continuing reexamination of a band that meant a great deal to a younger version of me.

After defying all expectations by going harsher and heavier with their sophomore album, Slipknot took a short hiatus. The members went off and pursued their own projects for a while, most notably Corey Taylor’s Stone Sour. And upon their return, they went to a much more predictable path.

Hard rock and metal bands that achieve any level of commercial success tend to get dogged with the accusation that their music is dumb or one-dimensional. Which results in the band members saying, “Yes, and it’s supposed to be.” Or, in the unfortunate case, “We’ll show you just how wrong you are.” Thus, we have Slipknot’s “artsy” album, Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses.

Exmortus: Slave to the Sword (2014)

Welcome to Chotchkies

I had joanismylover move his desk to the file room before writing this review.

Exmortus - We need to talk about your flair. I mean Exmortus, come on. You only have fifteen pieces of flair. Dragonforce, they have thirty seven pieces of flair. And a heck of lead guitarist. Yes we know that 15 pieces is the minimum. But people can get guitar leads anywhere. People listen to this kind of metal for fun - for the super noodling guitar licks. The air guitar action. That's what flair is about. Yes we know we could tell you to be more about the flair. But we want you to express yourself. If you think the minimum of flair is enough, well, ok. But some bands choose to do more flair, and, well, we encourage that. You do want to express yourself, don't you Exmortus? Don't you?

Certainly, Exmortus, you have a lot pizza shooters, shrimp poppers and extreme fajitas of metal on Slaves to the Sword. You have a really great instrumental intro there in "Rising" - you earn lots of flair points for the extreme licks on show here. Even though the intern was bangin his head to it there's quite a bit of flair and it's a great entree to what we hoped was some super awesome guitar metal action inside. Then, the title track dissuaded us. This is just heavy metal here that gallops, and drives. There's a distinct lack of flair there. You could almost do hair whips to some of that stuff, if we allowed long hair here. No. We need more of that insane finger picking and hyper soloing that was at the end of "Immortality Made Flash". Corporate did not think it was possible you could put the whammy bar in so many times in such a short time frame. Kudos!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Death Denied: Transfuse the Booze (2014)

Intravenous Polish Brewtality

I’ve mentioned this time and again, but it’s worth mentioning again: My early 20’s found me in love with Black Label Society and the southern metal version of Corrosion of Conformity. Poland’s Death Denied are once again taking me back to that time, with their first full-length album.

When I reviewed EP Appetite for Booze, I thought it sounded more like COC, and now I think it sounds more BLS. That’s not a huge shift, exactly, but who would want it to be? The opening riff of “River of Booze” is solid Zakk Wylde-esque material. “The Morning After” (which has an excellent BLS riff) also makes use of a trick Wylde often does on the whammy bar (hey, I’m no guitarist, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s done). These guys are strong, determined, merciless, forever.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dark Americana Briefs, Volume 17

If God is vengeance, we all have it coming.

Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding (1967)
4 out of 5 stars

With great tunes like "As I Went Out One Morning" and "All Along the Watchtower," it's easy to see why Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding is considered one of the greatest albums of all time. A consensus top 10 across genres and decades, if ever there was one. And Dylan is considered perhaps the greatest songwriter of all time. For my part, I enjoy it a great deal, the downbeat mood with acoustic guitar, drums, and harmonica being a style I enjoy, and the melodies solid. But I can't give it a perfect score for two reasons. One, I think this is one of those where lyrics are what elevate it, and I simply can't pay much attention to lyrics; they are nearly meaningless to me. Two, Dylan's voice sounds vaguely like Randy Newman.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974)

A Reason to Fight

I'm a bit of a nerd. And I love to read, but I don't have the time/motivation to read a book in a weekend. It takes me a bit longer. So as I may have mentioned before, I set out to identify and collect some of the classics of science fiction. I'm still going through that collection that I amassed mostly over a decade ago.

Joe Haldeman's The Forever War is the latest book I finished. It deals with the prospect of interstellar war--and if you think war is hell on Earth, then you haven't seen anything. The hostile environments of space and distant planets make survival that much more difficult. Those unusual tactics and pitfalls are an intriguing part of the story, but they are not the most interesting part of it.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Death Metal Briefs: Clearing the Docket

Thrice Dead

I've had some of these waiting for review for far too long, so let's get to it.

Concrete Icon: Perennial Anguish (2013)
3.5 out of 5 stars

Concrete Icon play lumbering death metal in the vein of Domination-era Morbid Angel. It's sort of like being slowly crushed by a steamroller from your legs on up to your skull, with some great halting rhythms and a big, burly sound.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Fides Inferno: Correspondence (2011)

Drone That's Actually Good

Reading magazines, blogs, and other sources of metal news: That’s a pretty good way to find out about new music. But they’re really no substitute for personal recommendations. Fellow metal blogger Apteronotus alerted me to the existence of Fides Inferno because he thought it sounded like something I’d like. Yes, yes it does.

In strict genre terms, Correspondence is a drone metal album. I’ve documented a number of my attempts to get into drone metal, which have been mostly unsuccessful, but this is better. Whoever makes up this band have committed some horrendous act, and have fled to the wilderness, dogged by physical manifestations of the devil.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Occultation: Silence in the Ancestral House (2014)

Stay Occulted

I very much enjoyed the previous Occultation album. My take on that was that it was female-fronted occult rock which actually sounded occult, not just, you know, B-movie style witchy. That’s thanks in no small part to the lead guitars provided by the Negative Plane guitarist. You can imagine, then, that I was pretty excited to get my hands on Silence in the Ancestral House.

Unfortunately, the new album doesn’t live up to my high hopes. The formula hasn’t changed all that much. This time, my early impressions were that it sounds much like Ghost’s first album, but with a strong preference for doom and those crazy lead guitars intact. Which sounds like an awesome idea, but it doesn’t hit the mark.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Tummler and Solomon: You've Worn Out Your Welcome (2014)

Three Bearded Dudes from Washington State

Doom just seems so simple. Why is it that there is such a wide gulf between the good ones and the bad ones, when, on the surface, they don’t seem all that different?

Tummler and Solomon don’t seem all that remarkable. Which is why it’s so remarkable that their level of quality on this debut album is so high. You’ve Worn Out Your Welcome is an example of the good kind of mellow stoner doom with drone leanings. Since explaining why it’s good or bad is kind of the purpose of a review, I’ll make an attempt at it. In the end it’s mostly an examination of what they don’t do wrong rather than what they’re doing right, but such is the nature of the beast in a genre with such well-established traditions.

Mastodon: "The Motherload" Video

Social Justice Warriors at It Again

So, Mastodon recently released a video for "The Motherload." Now, as I've said before, Mastodon had already released my two favorite songs of the last decade--"Curl of the Burl" and "Colony of Birchmen." Well, "The Motherload" is number three on that list. Just so you know where I'm coming from.

The video, in the band's long-standing practice, is silly. It's a parody of a 90's metal video which somehow turns into a dance contest (or really, a twerking contest) among a bunch of big-bottomed girls. Then it goes psychedelic in one of the funniest moments of music video history.*

So, what's the deal? Apparently, some people found it sexist. Or, more properly, one guy put himself out there to say that it was sexist in an effort to get attention. Maybe others have followed suit, I really don't know.

First of all, to that claim, the only real answer is "Fuck off." It's a metal music video. What exactly do you want out of it?

But I'll bite. If you're a regular reader, you already know where I stand on claims of social injustice in metal. No, I'm not a misogynist, but there is simply no place for social justice warriors in metal. Not only does metal not have a unifying agenda, but it's often transgressive. No one should be telling any metal band what they should or shouldn't do. Metal is not here to follow and reinforce ideal social norms.

Putting that aside for a moment to address the actual claim, it's impossible to back it up.** OK, yes, it does have women shaking their asses. A lot of them. But you'd have to be an idiot to watch this video and think that it's exploitative. It parodies exploitation, and the combination of sheer excess and overall tone make that quite clear. And if you're still not convinced, just look at the women's faces. Do they look like they feel exploited? On the contrary, they look empowered, and they look like they're having fun.

The only mistake Mastodon made was by responding in a slightly defensive posture. They should have just laughed it off, and all would be right with the world.

Only an adolescent would be turned on by this. Only a moron would be offended by it. For everyone else, it's just funny. So just knock it off already.

*I am really not qualified to make that claim. I don't really watch music videos much. But it is funny.
**See what I did there?

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Slipknot: Iowa (2001)

Iowa Is Close to Home

For nostalgia’s sake, I’m going to go see Slipknot next month. In anticipation of that, I’m trying to figure out how 32-year-old me feels about the band that the 22-year-old me loved so much. I began that with a review of the debut, which left me with an understanding of why I loved them, but not really feeling it the same way I used to.

Iowa, on the other hand, holds up pretty damn well. Most other bands I was into at the time released their angriest albums first, then softened up after the fact. Korn, Static-X, Disturbed, and fucking Staind. (I can’t stand thinking about myself listening to Staind, easily the worst offender of that bunch.) Slipknot’s sophomore release, on the other hand, is their most ripping and violent.