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Cannibal Corpse "Kill" CD

Posted on Friday, March 31st, 2006 @ 2:15pm » permalink

Cannibal Corpse - KillThe plain fact of the matter is that as the years go by, most death metal bands either tend to lose steam or simply stagnate and become less interesting. Most anyone who's listened to this genre for a significant amount of time has experienced this firsthand and knows it to be true. The point being that very few death metal bands actually continue to grow and improve over the course of time, especially when that course of time crosses into three decades over more than 15 years. But much to my surprise (and, quite frankly, my great pleasure), Cannibal Corpse has in fact done so. "Kill" is their impressive 10th full-length album on their longtime home of Metal Blade Records, and while I'm not sure that I have a personal favorite from their back catalog, this material easily stands side by side with what are commonly viewed as their "classics".

Now, part of the reason that I don't particularly have one favorite Cannibal Corpse album is because I don't own a good chunk of their work. I had their first three albums on cassette as a kid, but I never really only got into 'em until "Tomb of the Mutilated", and for some reason I pretty much wrote them off not much later after "The Bleeding" – which is weird, because I was never a huge Chris Barnes fan at all, and in those early days I always liked the band's music way more than the vocals. But the band came back and won me over in a major way a couple of years ago with "The Wretched Spawn", which I bought shortly after hearing a promo copy, and I liked it so much that I actually bought "Kill" a couple of days after it hit the streets without having heard even one track. I haven't done that with a straight up death metal album in fucking years!

So anyway, I'm still in the process of going back and revisiting the first half of the band's Corpsegrinder-era to see what I missed out on, but even having dwindled down to just two original members over the years, Cannibal Corpse has never altered their core approach in any way. The writing has become increasingly technical, but curiously enough it's also increasingly based on feel and energy. The songs tend to be relatively short by death metal standards (averaging around three-and-a-half minutes apiece), and they keep things pretty memorable – so they've basically just refined their delivery and honed in on their strengths, which is something that most bands simply fail to do.

Erik Rutan's production work seems to be improving as well, because this is a great sounding record, which certainly doesn't hurt. The guitar tone is meaty as shit, totally perfect for this material, and that's what always does the trick for me. Alex Webster is a complete badass so I can't help but feel like his basslines ought to be mixed a little higher (after all, the dude writes the vast majority of the music and his playing is sick), but the overall tone of the album is thick yet crisp, which really lets the intricacies of the riffs be heard (I wish I could say the same thing for "Tomb of the Mutilated"!).

I realize that I haven't really said anything very specific about the music on this thing, but I don't give a fuck. It's god damn Cannibal Corpse, what do you expect it to sound like, you know? But seriously, I commend these guys wholeheartedly for somehow managing to actually kick more ass now than they did during the death metal boom of the 90's. It's kind of funny to think about the fact that I'm pushing 30 and I'm a bigger Cannibal Corpse fan now than I was when I was 15, ha, ha. Who would've thought?

Cannibal Corpse "Necrosadistic Warning"
Cannibal Corpse "Make Them Suffer"

Those aren't my favorite tracks on the album, but they're two of the three that the label has pumped out for sampling purposes. It doesn't really matter though, because every song's a keeper and there are loads of sick riffs and solos all around, so I'm all for it. This thing sold something like 6,000 copies in its first week and I hope it sells just as many this week and the next. "Buy or die" or something "metal" like that. You should be able to find this one pretty much anywhere:

@ The End Records
@ Relapse Records

Head Control System "Murder Nature" CD

Posted on Thursday, March 30th, 2006 @ 11:16am » permalink

Head Control System - Murder NatureI wasn't familiar with Head Control System prior to receiving this disc, so it should come as no surprise that when "Murder Nature" showed up in the mail I was completely fucking horrified by how ridiculous the cover art is (though it's important to note that thankfully most of the rest of the layout actually looks quite nice). Seeing that it was released by The End Records did provide me with some small shred of hope since I've been a longtime fan of the label, but let's face it: I was very much expecting the worst here. But I was curious, so I immediately threw it in while I was driving to work and as soon as the vocals kicked in I was like, "Wait a minute, is that fucking Garm?" And sure enough, I learned that Head Control System is a Portuguese/Norwegian duo masterminded by Daniel Cardoso (formerly of Sirius and Re:aktor), who handled all of the music on this outing, with the help of none other than Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg (Formerly of Arcturus and Borknagar, but more importantly Ulver's main man. I mean, fucking Ulver, people!), who took on the lyrics and vocals.

Now, of course this record is being promoted in part with the kind of tremendously misleading statements that I wholly despise, such as this absolute classic example: "Fans looking for that in-your-face rock attitude of QOTSA and Alice in Chains and/or the mind-numbing drive of Tool or Faith No More look no further: Head Control System is your fix." And to that I say: Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, and bullshit. First of all, Queens of the Stone Age fucking sucks and I simply cannot comprehend their inexplicable popularity, but whatever. On the other hand, I love Alice in Chains and Faith No More, and I can appreciate Tool in small doses, but Head Control System doesn't sound a god damn thing like any of these bands. Having written a few promotional statements for bands myself (which I'm just not a fan of doing), I can understand the pain of trying to draw parallels to outside audiences strictly for the purposes of "marketing", but… it's a huge leap to compare this material to any of those bands, and I think everyone reading this will agree with me when they hear Head Control System for themselves.

So what does it sound like? While the band can't be so easily pinned down, at the most basic level they're very polished and definitely have a modern metal sound in terms of possessing plenty of groovy rhythms and a good balance of melodic tendencies. So, as if the title of this post didn't give it away: A lot of people are probably going to bemoan this as "nu-metal". And I'm not gonna lie, there are definitely a number of instances where this album does indeed sound like flat out nu-metal (I can see the "True Norwegian Nu-Metal" marketing campaign taking shape now! Just kidding.), were it to somehow be delivered in an artistically respectable fashion, which "Murder Nature" is. But Garm's vocals are of course extremely unique, not to mention immensely impressive and powerful, so his presence really changes the overall dynamic of the material – which is already too textured and creative in its use of electronic smatterings and atypical vocal arrangements to simply be relegated to some kind of "heavy rock" or "nu-metal" tag or whatever. But it does have some really catchy moments – again due in large part to the vocal work – so they're certainly not shunning a certain element of simplicity as far as memorable songwriting is concerned.

So yeah, I actually find this to be an excellent CD. It takes a few spins to start sinking in, and the album kind of ebbs and flows in terms of structural experimentation versus a more straightforward approach, but as you check out the tracks below, keep listening even if something rubs you the wrong way initially, because a lot of these songs have a tendency to switch it up out of nowhere and totally blow your mind. Kristoffer Rygg is a god damn genius in my book, and the vocal work during the chorus of "It Hurts" reminds me just what this cat's capable of. Fuckin' nice.

Head Control System "It Hurts"
Head Control System "Skin Flick"

I've been wanting to post about this one for a few weeks now, but it won't be in stores until next week. It did just go up for sale online in the last few days, however, and since The End's webstore is generally my preferred first stop anyway, you'd be silly to buy it anywhere else in my opinion. So if you dig it, I recommend doing so:

@ The End Records

Chain of Strength "The One Thing That Still Holds True" CD

Posted on Wednesday, March 29th, 2006 @ 12:22pm » permalink

I could not for the life of me decide what to post today (a common problem), so I chose to go with something simple since it's a busy week. Chain of Strength is certainly not an obscure "straightedge" hardcore band, but I've had the song "True Till Death" stuck in my head like crazy this week (I think it started when I got in an empty elevator at work the other day and it reeked of cigarettes, go figure), so when I pulled out the disc last night I figured what the hell.

The band was from southern California and was only around for a little over three years, with members having played with Justice League and Hard Stance beforehand (they also shared members with Inside Out and No for an Answer at certain points, but I think there was some overlap with the existence of Chain of Strength there). They released their first 7", "True Till Death" on Revelation Records in 1989, and their second, "What Holds Us Apart", on Foundation Records in 1990. Five or six years later Revelation re-released both 7"s and a previously unreleased track on a CD called "The One Thing That Still Holds True". Perhaps an ironic title, as the band didn't really "hold true" even when they were around, creating much debate about their "straightedge" status even before they broke up by admitting in interviews to "occasionally drink" and later claiming that "straightedge doesn't mean never". You can check out this solid interview from 1991, weeks after the band's demise, for more on that. Personally, I disagree with the interview's stance that sort of tosses off derogatory reactions to the band's not-exactly-straightedge reality as coming from "militants", because regardless of what your opinions of straightedge are, "militancy" has nothing to do with it. It's just plain logic: If you "occasionally drink", you're not straightedge. The end.

But all that crap aside, what really matters is that the material still totally kicks ass and is classic to this day as nothing more than good ol' youth crew hardcore.

Chain of Strength "True Till Death"
Chain of Strength "Too Deep Until Now"

After the band called it quits, members later resurfaced most notably in Statue and Circle Storm, with guitarist Paul "Frosty" Hertz eventually joining Man Will Surrender for one album. For whatever reason I was never that big on Circle Storm, but I always loved Statue's "Filter the Infection" EP. That's life.

The reissue is of course still in print, so if by chance there are any youngsters reading this who've continually missed the boat, pick it up from the label's rather immense distro catalog:

@ RevHQ

Oddly enough, on the other end of the spectrum opposite straightedge, I was listening to Grimple in the car all morning and was reminded how awesome they were, so don't be surprised if they pop up here in the next week or so.

Imperial Leather and Murder Disco X…

Posted on Tuesday, March 28th, 2006 @ 12:22pm » permalink

Imperial Leather - Something Out of NothingAfter several EP's, "Something Out of Nothing" is the first full-length release from Sweden's own Imperial Leather, on Profane Existence. I never had a clue upon hearing one of the band's earlier releases, but they're apparently named after the brand of soap that UK punks generally use for their "hairstyles" or whatever; and their present lineup boasts current and former members of an insane amount of great bands such as Burning Kitchen, Dischange, Meanwhile, No Security, and the Spider Cunts (though two of the band's present members didn't perform on the actual record, including new bassist and general badass 138 from the mighty Demon System 13, Epileptic Terror Attack, Bruce Banner, and Suicide Blitz). What you'll find are 14 tracks of pure punk rock 'n' roll in about 32 minutes. It's pretty straightforward, really. No song hits three minutes, things are generally catchy and energetic with a slightly angrier attitude here and there, and so on. The quick little lead breaks and the feel of many of the chord progressions have more of a straight rock vibe, while the sneering male/female vocal tradeoffs and vocal arrangements definitely have more of a punk attack, and the end result does the trick for me. I hate to keep it so brief, but this one's a pretty straight shot. Don't get the wrong idea or anything, it's not one of those albums where every song sounds the same by any means, but… you probably get what I'm saying. Just see what you think:

Imperial Leather "Rocket Science"
Imperial Leather "Picking Scabs"

Like it? Then buy it straight from the label's massive catalog (it's also available on LP for those who die for vinyl):

@ Profane Existence

Murder Disco X - Ground Zero: StuttgartAlso new from Profane Existence is "Ground Zero: Stuttgart" from Murder Disco X – a German band that has existed in one form or another since the early-90's when they were originally called Time to Suffer Power. This one contains 12 moderately fast and pissed hardcore/punk tracks in just 19 minutes – among them covers of Arm the Insane and Terveet Kädeet. The recording is nice and crisp and the material is aggressive, but it's not overly heavy or anything, so it's not going for that metallic sort of sound at all. It's got a very solid punk edge but is more rooted in hardcore all around, and once again it's a pretty straight shot in terms of getting right to the point:

Murder Disco X "Robots"
Murder Disco X "Ground Zero: Stuttgart"

If you like this one too, the above applies. Buy it straight from the label, and if you prefer, snag the vinyl instead:

@ Profane Existence

Mord and Nocturnal…

Posted on Monday, March 27th, 2006 @ 9:50am » permalink

Mord - Christendom PerishedIt seems that Southern Lord is carrying on in their lean towards black metal (which I hope continues) with the release of Mord's "Christendom Perished". I don't know much about this Norwegian duo, but I think this is their first full-length, and they crank out the style of raging black metal that I enjoy, so I'm all for it. They add in a bit more of a buzzing bite to the guitar tone than a lot of the black metal I've encountered lately (though somehow making it sound tolerable), and I'd say they've got a slightly crisper sounding mix as well. From a writing standpoint these two tend to switch up the riffs a little more often than many bands of this nature, and it's been said there's a death metal influence going on here. I guess I could see that at times, but barely, and it'd be the type of death metal that's generally fast anyway, so there's plenty of overlap that shouldn't strip them of their relatively "true" nature, if you know what I mean. The tracks segue into one another with quick little ambient/industrial soundscapes, and on rare occasion some of those clattering textures will seep into the songs themselves – adding a hint more to the chaotic edge of the material, which is generally driven more by the frenzied vocal performance than the speedy riffing. The songs are titled simply "Opus I" through "Opus IX" (Which I'm guessing should actually be "Opus VIII" since there are only eight tracks!?) and no lyrics are included, but one must assume from the album title that the lyrics cover the black metal standards… they do, after all, make use of the obligatory pentagram and inverted cross in their logo, heh.

Mord "Opus VII"

You know the drill. If you like the tunes, buy the damn disc:

@ Relapse Records

Nocturnal - Unholycraft - Blood for Glory of SatanI was pleased to receive another solid slab of black metal recently from God is Myth Records in the form of Nocturnal's "Unholycraft – Blood for Glory of Satan". This is another band that I'm not familiar with, and I believe this is their debut full-length as well? Whatever the case, this is straightforward raw black metal from Poland that, as the album title might suggest, carries with it some rather amusing song titles that certainly make it clear that the band is, like… evil, dude. They stick with the standards all around, right down to the black and white layout with loads of photos of the band members sneering constipatedly towards the sky through corpsepainted gazes (and yes, a pentagram and inverted crosses aplenty in the band logo). It's nothing fancy, so expect large doses of moderately fast riffing with occasionally dissonant pounding breaks and a tactfully warped sort of recording the gives the vocals a distant wail while the rhythm section thumps away and the guitars fill out the core with a sound that's rough without being overly thin or harsh. I know this genre has a massive air of cheesiness surrounding it, but what I can say, I really dig the vibe of the music when it's done right, and this release is the kind of thing that should appeal to fans of the style who prefer the no bullshit approach of the old days.

Nocturnal "Deep Within Enchanted Lands"

Agree? Then support the band and the label with a purchase:

@ God is Myth Records

Go it Alone/Blue Monday and Champion/Betrayed…

Posted on Friday, March 24th, 2006 @ 10:51am » permalink

Go it Alone/Blue Monday - splitAs I've mentioned in the past, Rivalry Records has become one of my favorite hardcore labels these days, having released totally killer material from bands like Another Breath, Allegiance, and Go it Alone – the latter of which returns on this excellent split CD with Blue Monday. Both of the bands are from Canada (Vancouver, to be precise) and each offers up two new tracks plus a cover of Reserve 34 (a defunct Vancouver band that featured a mutual friend of the bands and apparently sounded rather similar) – totaling a mere 11 or so minutes of material. Go it Alone picks up right where they left off on "The Only Blood Between Us" with speedy picking patterns and the kind of slick melodic accents that catch my hear 100%, and I'm a massive fan of their amazing songwriting skills. Meanwhile, Blue Monday's tracks are a bit more energetic than their Bridge Nine full-length, sounding a bit closer to Go it Alone's style than before in terms of utilizing those dissonant melodic tinges more consistently while still retaining an air of traditional hardcore. They also make great use of their basslines, which definitely adds depth to the material on several levels. In my opinion neither of the following two tracks are the best on the disc, but the EP is so fucking short I'll go with what the label's got out there… all six songs kick ass anyway:

Go it Alone "Ovaltine"
Blue Monday "Cathedral Square"

$10 admittedly seems pricey to me for an 11-minute CD EP, but the songs rule so hard that I'd pay it without a complaint. This is definitely my favorite style of hardcore. Period. It's available on 7" for those more vinyl-inclined individuals out there, too:

@ Rivalry Records

I need to look into grabbing some Reserve 34 material now as well. I'm curious…

Champion/Betrayed - splitI'm not sure it's an informal "series" or whatnot, but Rivalry Records also just released a raging six-song split between two other related bands in the form of Champion and Betrayed (who features members of Champion as well as Carry On). Champion has gotten way better over the years, going from a relatively typical old school sounding hardcore band to taking that classic hardcore sound and injecting just the right amount of faint melody and modern punch, so I'm definitely a fan these days. And while Betrayed's EP on Bridge Nine was damn good, the guitar tone drove me insane, so thankfully they've maintained that same vibe on these three tracks but the guitars sound significantly better. I really love this band's riffs and energy, and in a lot of ways they sound like a more pissed off and hardcore oriented Dag Nasty (Dave Smalley era), which basically rules. This band could easily become a massive favorite of mine, so I'm really looking forward to hearing more from 'em. Another awesome split.

Champion "Break Through"
Betrayed "Consequence"

This one's the same price, of course, though it is about four minutes longer than the Go it Alone/Blue Monday split. It's also the same story in terms of being available on vinyl as well:

@ Rivalry Records

The Setup and Rise and Fall…

Posted on Thursday, March 23rd, 2006 @ 11:55am » permalink

The Setup - The Pretense of NormalityI was first exposed to Belgian metalcore act The Setup through the "Nine Kinds of Pain" 7" some time ago, which was basically a rather impressive demo that got the chance to see a proper EP pressing. Well, their debut full-length, "The Pretense of Normality", has been out for awhile now via GSR Music (formerly known as Gangstyle Records, and I can't get their website to work so I'm using a dreaded MySpace link), but I just got the chance to hear it earlier this week – thus reminding me why Gangstyle has been one of my favorite European labels for years, and that I need to stop slacking and throw down some dough for their latest releases.

Now, I know the term "metalcore" is a pretty nasty item these days, so I want to make it clear that in this case "metalcore" actually refers to a pretty wide – yet equally balanced – range of influences spanning both the metal and hardcore genres, from chugging power chord density and dissonantly layered post-hardcore textures to energetic bursts of more basic rhythm arrangements or a few slightly more melodic attributes – all the while fronted by hoarse screaming. Helping things along is the fact that every song is less than three or four minutes long, which keeps the listen flowing and makes for some surprisingly energetic moments – which is something that I tend to feel is missing from a great deal of this type of material. And that's not to say that The Setup has a commonplace sound, because they don't, but at the same time… despite such a wide span of influences and a certain sense of identity, it's a general niche that will be familiar for many listeners. I will say, though: The recording on this thing is working overtime in the band's favor, and I fuckin' love it. The bass tone alone is dead on and pulses away in the center of the mix at all times, which really thickens the blow. Any number of bands could learn from such a move, but the fact that everything else sounds crisp and warm is certainly an important factor.

I'm not being descriptive enough to do this one justice, but I don't consider these write-ups to be actual "reviews" per so, and that's the beauty of it: Listen for your damn selves and figure it out!

The Setup "Abattoir"
The Setup "Black Water"

This is a really quality record, and there's not a great deal out there right now that falls into this particular niche of "metalcore", making this one that much more of a recommended purchase. More proof that people in the US need to look to Europe for the goods more often:

@ Very Distribution

Rise and Fall - Into OblivionI have one very important suggestion to stress to Rise and Fall (also from Belgium): Thicker, heavier guitar tones! Seriously, this band writes some great material and has loads and loads of potential, but both of their records that I've heard falter just enough in the guitar tone department to bum me out just a touch, because I can imagine the material with a harder hitting sound – especially some of the darker riffing on this particular outing ("Into Oblivion", their second full-length and first release for the mighty Deathwish Inc.) – and holy shit could some of this tear faces off with a hint more polishing up. This time out the gritty guitar tone combined with the occasionally rocked out lead bursts and a few other minor riffing tendencies give me the impression that they're almost going for sort of a crusty punk meets Integrity-styled metallic hardcore approach, and from a songwriting standpoint it certainly works. Make no mistake, it sounds pretty good too, I like the record and enjoy listening to it, but… I mean, for example: Would His Hero is Gone have been half as powerful as they were if their guitar tones had sounded like, say… Discharge? That's a stretched parallel here, but I think you'll know what I'm getting at, right?

While, as mentioned, I definitely hear a Cleveland-esque influence at work here (more Ringworm than Integrity), I wouldn't really throw the "holy terror" tag at Rise and Fall (though some have), nor would I align their actual songwriting with what most people think of as Belgium's overtly metal-based "H8000 sound" (though the band is associated with that whole scene, even appearing on a compilation 7" named for it). Some of the imagery and lyrics lean a little more in that direction, but the music strikes me as a slightly more diverse and open-ended take on traditional metallic hardcore – that is to say it doesn't come across as that over the top, you know? It's just good, solid, in your face material. No frills, really, but enough of an edge to keep from sounding like everything else that's out there, which is always a plus.

Rise and Fall "Forked Tongues"
Rise and Fall "Lost Among the Lost"

People who can afford to buy CD's but download records for free instead are shitwads. Don't be a shitwad. Spend your money wisely and buy more music that is not utter crap:

@ Deathwish Inc.
@ Very Distribution

Nightingale "The Closing Chronicles" CD

Posted on Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006 @ 12:42pm » permalink

Nightingale - The Closing ChroniclesIn the early stages of my worship of master Swedish musician Dan Swanö, that is to say around eight years ago, I discovered Nightingale via their second (and best) full-length, "The Closing Chronicles", which had been released a few years prior in 1996. At that time I had only heard some Edge of Sanity (1996's "Crimson" is another outright classic, buy it immediately – that must have been an amazing year for Swanö) and Dan's "Moontower" solo album, so little did I know that this particular CD would throw my Swanö obsession into overdrive – much less remain one of my favorite Dan Swanö-related releases. Hell, it might be the favorite, I can't quite decide!

More so than other Nightingale releases, for some reason I've always looked at "The Closing Chronicles" as kind of a darker version of Journey. It doesn't really sound like Journey at all, what with those darker atmospheres and its conceptual sort of progressive rock-esque underbelly, so I'm not sure why I think of it that way, but it must have something to do with the album feeling "big" and "epic" in terms of just fucking rocking. I really don't know, but I'm fucking telling you, people… this fucker is jam packed with impeccable songwriting and killer vocal harmonies all around. It's amazingly catchy, really, and with no lack of musical aptitude, which isn't always the case with memorable tunes. And I never realized how long some of these damn songs are before, either! It must be all that rocking, but several of the cuts top seven to nine minutes, and with only seven tracks in all it's a 42-minute record nonetheless.

I just fuckin' love this guy. I'm consistently floored by how amazing and diverse his talents are in terms of various genres of songwriting as well as handling numerous instruments and vocal styles. It's worth noting that this entire record was created by Dan Swanö and his brother, Tom Nouga (a.k.a. Dag Swanö, which is not the least bit confusing, ha) – where Dan took on guitars, keyboards, drums, all of the vocals, and wrote 90% of the music and lyrics. Nouga, on the other hand, contributed bass, some rhythm and lead guitars, and wrote rest of the music. Nouga produced, Swanö engineered and mixed. Impressive.

It's incredibly hard to decide which two songs to post from this one, too. There are so many amazing tracks. Just when I was sure that I'd include "Thoughts From a Stolen Soul", I realized it was nine minutes long… and then "So Long (Still I Wonder)" kicked in and I remembered how much I love its vocal performance and lead work. Decisions, decisions.

Nightingale "Revival"
Nightingale "So Long (Still I Wonder)"

Nightingale has since released three more records and they all kick ass, so in my longstanding haze of Swanö infatuation I recommend each wholeheartedly. The band's debut is the only Nightingale release that's a little boring to me, but regardless pretty much anything Dan Swanö's a part of tends to interest me. If you don't like this shit then I must regretfully inform you that your taste in music is simply that of ass. So buy it and drastically improve the quality of your collection:

@ The End Records

About the Fire, Magrudergrind/Shitstorm, Ultra Dolphins, and Ruiner…

Posted on Tuesday, March 21st, 2006 @ 3:46pm » permalink

About the Fire - Six Anthems From the Comfortably JadedFuuuck am I ever kicking myself on this one. This god damn CD (About the Fire's "Six Anthems From the Comfortably Jaded", released by Happy Couples Never Last) has been sitting in a pile on my floor for like three months, maybe more, but it somehow got lost in the shuffle and I didn't even listen to it for the first time until this weekend. I had no idea what to expect, but let's be honest, I was anticipating boring metalcore, because there's more boring metalcore out there than anything else lately, and for some reason people seem to think I want to hear it. Thankfully About the Fire offers nothing of the sort, instead cranking out something kind of like a crunchy melodic hardcore/punk style that has elements of pop-punk and metal going on in terms of catchy songwriting and energetic performances alongside occasionally dissonant riffs or dual guitar parts. Not what you'd expect from a band that has at various points in time featured current and ex-members of Burn it Down, Harakiri, and Upheaval! But perhaps that's why this stuff is way meatier than your usual dose of pop-punk or melodic hardcore? And just check out those gruff vocals! Totally fuckin' killer, I mean… I was sold on this shit within 30 seconds or less. I could stand for the recording to pull things in a little closer together (the vocals seem a smidge separated), but the songwriting is fucking great, and there's something about those vocals that kicks ass.

About the Fire "So Close"

My sincerest apologies to both the band and the label for fucking up and letting this one slip past me for so long! I'm gonna have to look into their prior full-length as well. If you dig the track above, and you damn well should, pick this shit up and keep your eyes peeled for more:

@ Very Distribution

Magrudergrind/Shitstorm - splitAs one might guess, the recently released Magrudergrind/Shitstorm split CD on Robotic Empire is a series of explosive bursts of high-speed grind with 24 tracks in just 22 minutes. Magrudergrind wastes no time kicking things off with generally fast, generally tight grindcore that musically tends to follow the classic framework of the genre while vocally dealing with completely indecipherable barks/cackles that deliver somewhat of a message within plenty of smartass humor and lightheartedness. Honestly I've never been much of a fan of these particular vocal styles, but I'm all over the music, so the raging breakdowns and tactful speeds make up for it. If these cats were around in the 90's the Slap-A-Ham crowd would've been all over 'em.

The same probably goes for Shitstorm. The band contains members of Torche and tackles a similar brand of grind to their splitmates, but with lightly distorted vocals and a slightly rawer sound that has an oddly warped feel to it at times. I think a lot of that comes from the recording, where there's a lot of potential in the badass riffing department, but I'd toss the vocal effects and try to do something to keep the guitars from getting shuffled around by the nice, natural thump that the blastbeats have got going on. The speeds tend to be very well executed, and some of the classic sounding grindcore breaks are complete ragers. Only one track hits a minute, and I'd say these cats sound a smidge darker than Magrudergrind, too. There's still a little sense of humor in there, but it's delivered in a more pissed off manner, I guess?

Magrudergrind "Organized Cell Death"
Magrudergrind "Emo Holocaust"
Shitstorm "World of Shit"
Shitstorm "Anxiety"

This one's definitely growing on me, but it took a few spins for the damage to break through. Not too shabby. It's $8. That's like .37 cents per minute of ripping grind. Don't be a douche. Buy it if you like it:

@ Robotic Empire

Ultra Dolphins - Why are You LaughAlso just out from Robotic Empire is what I believe is the Ultra Dolphins' first CD release, "Why are You Laugh". Personally I am not laugh, if you know what I mean, but whatever the case, I'm also not that familiar with this band. Most of these songs were recorded in 2002, and apparently this CD collects other releases, but there's no indication of such in the booklet so I'm not sure what that's all about. I'm kind of on the fence with a lot of this type of thing since I like elements of it a lot, but tend to have a hard time with spazzy, frantic stuff that's all screamy and frenzied. Where I think this one wins out is that they'll randomly throw in a rocked out riff that sort of has a mathy twist to the rhythm, and they hit on a couple of almost melodic sounding DC riffs that are pretty cool, too. I'm not gonna lie, this EP comes off as sort of "hip" to me, but it wouldn't be fair to hold that against 'em since there's actual musical value in place, and despite such (perhaps inaccurate) associations the band has a certain sound in place that isn't what I would call typical. There are actually some damn fine passages within the disc as a whole. I'm not sure I care for the artwork on this thing, but it, too, has a different look to it that I respect in that it does catch the eye in refusing to look generic. What a weird fuckin' band, ha…

Ultra Dolphins "White Substance"

It's probably a safe bet that most of the people who read this site would write this band off because a lot of their fans probably have bad haircuts and wacky, tight pants. I, on the other hand, can keep my good taste in music and assholic sense of humor side by side and just encourage you to give everything a chance and purchase those CD's that interest you:

@ Robotic Empire

Ruiner - What Could Possibly Go Right...I reviewed the 7" pressing of Ruiner's "What Could Possibly Go Right…" EP on the old site awhile back, but I got it on disc about a month ago from 1917 Records and figured it deserved another hit. There's not enough hardcore of this variety out there in my opinion, and this is the kind of shit that I really eat up. It has an old school sort of vibe to it without being the least bit of a throwback, so they just go with straight yelling vocals over moderately fast rhythms that always possess a certain energy due in large part to the melodic aspects of the riffs. I still think the recording on this one is a little off since the guitars fall by the wayside and the mix needs a little more crispness for a generally fuller punch. Nice bass presence, though, and with the right set of production values this band would blow the doors off the joint. I'm not sure what they're up to now but I wouldn't be surprised to see them move on to bigger and better things if they keep at it. I'm into it.

Ruiner "Out Go the Candles"

Now buy it if you dig it:

@ 1917 Records

The Moirai, A Northern Chorus, and An End to October…

Posted on Monday, March 20th, 2006 @ 9:45am » permalink

The Moirai - Bury YourselfI foolishly slept on buying this one until the very end of last year when it had already been out for three months or so, and it took me another three months to finally get around to posting about it. Of course, very sadly the band had already called it quits when this EP hit the streets thanks to Engineer Records, but that doesn't change the fact that it's an excellent piece of work.

The Moirai was from New Jersey and 3/4 of their lineup had come from the incredible Penfold (who I posted about some time ago). Contrary to how it usually goes these days, "Bury Yourself" is billed as EP, yet its eight tracks clock in at 40 minutes total!? Go figure. But this material continues in a very similar direction to that of Penfold, though not quite as musically dynamic, so the brilliantly emotional vocal performance really does an amazing job of carrying the bulk of the material. Make no mistake, there's definitely some wonderful music that ebbs and flows back and forth, but for the most part the instrumentation tends to dwell much more on the relaxed and somber side of things, with an emphasis on clean guitars and tactful smatterings of keyboards in spacious passages that have a lot of breathing room. On the other hand, the singing fluctuates much more drastically throughout the tracks, and totally nails it in the process, so I'm quite fond of the vocals here. But I knew this would be a winner, and at their best these guys create some incredibly moving compositions.

The Moirai "Crucifixion as an Art Form"
The Moirai "Water is the New Fire"

Fitting lyrics, as well:

Hold on, hold on to everything you have. Hold on, hold on to anything, I'm begging you. And somehow we're still living in the same space and lying awake at night. I'm dying to tell you, you gave up.

In the end, The Moirai only existed for two years, and this was their only release. I'm not sure what any of the former members are doing right now, but these bastards are just too god damn talented not to continue making music in some manner or another. Regardless, the EP is only $8 and I highly recommend it, so go get it:

@ Engineer Records

A Northern Chorus - Bitter Hands ResignI'm not entirely sure why this just showed up in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago, because I think this record has been out for almost a year at this point, but while I wasn't sure what to expect, for some reason I figured I'd enjoy it (perhaps it was the handsomely designed packaging on matte stock, I don't know), and indeed that is the case. A Northern Chorus hails from Canada, and "Bitter Hands Resign" is their third full-length (released by Sonic Unyon ), though despite the name being familiar I believe this is the first time I've heard them.

For the most part these folks seem to go with kind of a soft/softer/softest kind of thing that'll start to surge forth on rare occasion, but while such styles seem to be rapidly increasing in popularity these days, thankfully this band stays away from the Explosions in the Sky method of bursting out with increased volume/heaviness and droning effects over intense picking patterns. Don't get me wrong, I love that stuff sometimes, but there are just way too many bands falling back on that kind of thing right now, so while there are admittedly a couple of areas herein that hint at that stuff, the way it's handled fits the tone of the compositions and really works well with the vocals and some of the noisier lead work that rears its head during a few special circumstances. Overall, though, the album tends to stick with laidback atmospheres and lush layering while still keeping things warm and natural – allowing plenty of space for each element to be heard. What buildups do exist are pretty gradual, so there's none of that jarring volume contrast or anything going on. The songs regularly top six minutes, and the eight tracks total just about 50 minutes when all is said and done, so it can start to feel a little slow paced as it presses on – to the point where I wouldn't mind a smidge more balance coming from the louder end of the spectrum, but this is a really relaxing listen that has a brooding undercurrent that carries over into the lyrics as well (though not without a hopeful sort of twist):

Hang on to everything dear. Keep what's yours near. Trust do not fear. Angels are on their way out, they're on their way out. They'll lead us through the darkness to the right place.

A Northern Chorus "This Open Heart"

Good stuff. As always, if this is something you enjoy, purchase a copy for yourself:

@ Amazon.com

An End to October - Dividing the TideAnd last but not least, we have the rather impressive self-released debut from Mississippi's An End to October, "Dividing the Tide". The band formed in 2001, and I have to say, not only is it rare for a band to wait over four years to release an album these days, but I'm shocked that these guys haven't gotten signed yet, because this is quite a strong offering that seems like it could do very well for any number of labels at the moment.

Apparently the band has garnered comparisons to everyone from Refused and Faith No More to Isis and At the Drive-In, but personally I'd have to argue with pretty much all of those claims. Okay, they use a lot of keyboards and they use them well, so I guess you could stretch that into an extremely distant Faith No More tie-in. And there are a couple of quirky, "hip" sounding moments that, if you wanted to, you could probably parallel with Refused. And when some of those "hip" elements get more angular and indie-ish, ehhh, maybe a little At the Drive-In. And I guess since there are some heavy moments… maybe uninformed indie rock kids would jump towards Isis for that? I don't know, but the point is that none of those comparisons are accurate at all. I wouldn't really compare them to anyone, because there's a ton going on, and they pull it off in a way that actually maintains an energetic delivery without sounding jumbled or overly chaotic. There's some sweet jazziness to a lot of the drumming, the guitars are all over the map from dissonant metalcore and thicker power chords to emo-ish melodies and rocked out indie flare, the bass kind of bounces back and forth between it all to maintain prominence, and the vocals are about as schizophrenic as the guitars in terms of flying from singing to shouting or screaming without a second thought. But I love the vocals, and the songwriting is generally pretty damn interesting, too. Hell, even the keyboards work for me, and my ears are dangerously picky when it comes to certain types of keyboard work, so I don't know how these cats pull it off.

Since there is such a great deal happening here, the recording does lose some detail on occasion, but it still sounds very solid for a self-released effort of this nature. I'm certainly able to imagine the band sounding pretty incredible were they able to secure a nice recording budget to really iron this stuff out, but… even still, they're doing a great job. Assuming they're looking for label support, if they don't get scooped up within the year then most record labels are indeed fucking idiots that have no idea what good music sounds like anymore. Give these guys a listen even if you don't think you'll like it, you might really be surprised:

An End to October "Virus Bay"
An End to October "Besieged"

If you dig it, help these guys out and pick up a CD for $10, alright? This is quite a creative disc…

@ CD Baby

Daylight Dies "Dismantling Devotion" CD

Posted on Friday, March 17th, 2006 @ 10:41am » permalink

Daylight Dies - Dismantling DevotionHaving been a longtime fan of Daylight Dies since their debut EP (inexplicably released by predominantly mediocre metalcore label Tribunal Records), I've been waiting all too long for the release of their sophomore full-length, "Dismantling Devotion". The band is yet again on a new label (Candlelight Records), though this time they seem to be getting a larger push, and I sincerely hope it pays off, because this is without a doubt the band's finest work to date.

Now, it's possible that these guys will always draw comparisons to earlier Katatonia, mid-period Paradise Lost, and that whole branch of melodic midpaced metal that utilizes loads of lead harmonies over a backbone of doomy power chords that tends to thrive on brooding atmospheres and emotionally wrenching tonalities. But in my book that's damn fine company to be in, and while I would absolutely not limit Daylight Dies to such confines, I do agree that such associations exist, and fans of such artists should look into this band immediately with zero hesitation. Lineup changes have certainly fared well for the band as this record boasts one of the most powerful vocal performances I've encountered from such an act in quite some time, in terms of both the sparse appearances of singing and the dominant presence of snarled growls. Let's be honest, oftentimes aggressively growled vocals simply don't possess a great deal of actual feeling, but the vocals on this record absolutely communicate the type of pain and anxiety that the lyrics and music are building here. I'm impressed. And musically speaking this is a more focused effort that delivers eight tracks in nearly an hour without feeling particularly overbearing, and it's also consistent without lacking color – for instance there are some gorgeous appearances of acoustic guitars, and a number of more intricately layered riffs that deal with added levels of tactful dissonance or droning swells that add impact to the already forcefully rhythmic spine of the album. Hell, even the instrumental title track that closes the disc is absolutely awesome, and perhaps one of the finest moments herein.

Great artwork and photography, spectacular production (truly fucking flawless, I'm stunned)… this one's all set. Seriously, I'm perhaps irresponsibly glossing over the recording aspects of the disc, but there's nothing to bother mentioning because it sounds pristinely perfect to my ears. I can only imagine if "Brave Murder Day" or "Shades of God" were lucky enough to sound this massive and clear!

Daylight Dies "A Life Less Lived"

I'd like to post another song as there are a number of high points, but they're so long that I'll stick with what the band and label are putting out there. This one doesn't seem to have hit the distros yet, but I ordered mine straight from the band and had it within three or four days, so I encourage you to do the same if you enjoy the material:

@ Daylight Dies

Well fucking done, gentlemen.

Beowülf "The Re-Releases" CD

Posted on Wednesday, March 15th, 2006 @ 2:27pm » permalink

Beowülf - The Re-ReleasesFor some reason I had never even heard of Beowülf until yesterday, but I was thrilled to learn that the mid- to late-80's Venice, CA act was down with the whole Suicidal Tendencies crew, having released both their self-titled 1986 debut and the 1988 follow-up, "Lost My Head", on Suicidal Records. Apparently, like many of those early Suicidal Records classics (Ahem, when the fuck is the No Mercy LP finally going to come out on CD!?), neither Beowülf album was ever available beyond the realm of vinyl (or possibly cassette), but thankfully I Scream Records has just issued both LP's on one handy disc titled "The Re-releases" (which was apparently also originally released as an LP on Suicidal Records in 1988) for all of us to enjoy.

Well, the band kicks ass, that's for sure. However, they don't really sound anything like their Venice contemporaries of the time. Not the metal-tinged hardcore/punk of Suicidal Tendencies or No Mercy, not the crossover thrash of Excel, etc. No, let's just say the umlaut in their band name is more than a fitting ode, because they basically sound almost identical to Motörhead – just with a little more consistency and a zippier metallic edge that does kind of have a thrashy ring to it. But yeah, for the most part, total Motörhead worship, but in the best possible way, as it's rocked out but has the more aggressive edge that a lot of younger listeners probably found Motörhead to be lacking at the time (Let's face it, most of us who grew up in the 80's didn't really appreciate Motörhead until a little later on, did we?). These fuckers wrote some badass tunes, though, and some of this shit is so catchy it's unbelievable. I'm way into it, and here are two tracks from each LP:

Beowülf "No Doubt"
Beowülf "Drink Fight Fuck"
Beowülf "Muy Bonita"
Beowülf "You Get Me Off"

The only gripes I have with this collection, and they're fairly minor ones, are that the original album covers only appear as small images underneath the CD tray, as opposed to getting full pages in order to show more detail. But more importantly, the only liner notes included are a brief page from one of the members of the Dutch hardcore band Right Direction, who happens to be a huge Beowülf fan. That's all fine and dandy, but that doesn't provide anyone with any actual information on the band – be it where they are today or what was going on back when they were actually around, you know? Lyrics are included, which is awesome, but I'd rather have seen some liner notes written by the band or about their history… though, again, it's not that big a deal.

I think this is one of the first releases for I Scream's American division, so it should start making its way out there a little more soon (it just came out Tuesday), but for now you can still grab it at Revelation Records. So cut the shit and get on it, 'cause you know you missed the boat on this the first time around, just like I did:

@ RevHQ

The Idoru and Action…

Posted on Tuesday, March 14th, 2006 @ 11:32am » permalink

The Idoru - Hopeless IllusionsI have to say, I'm not exactly surprised that I had never heard of The Idoru until recently since it's not exactly common to stumble upon bands from Budapest, Hungary all that often here in the US, but it's an unfortunate fact, because their latest EP on the Slovakian label Deadbutcher Records, "Hopeless Illusions", is fucking amazing. And furthermore, there's no doubt in my mind that if these guys happened to have grown up in New York or California as opposed to Budapest, they would be an extremely successful band in the States considering the climate of what's able to achieve significant levels of popularity right now. The key difference being that the band's lyrics are more sincere and expressive than the kind of crap you're going to get from most any American band of a comparable nature, and their music is a bit more technical and inventive as well – it's just that the songs are very melodic and catchy, with loads of soaring vocal harmonies all over the place. But the singer's got a very unique sounding voice that helps differentiate the band's overall sound quite a bit, and despite the almost constant presence of melody there are still a good number of chunky riffs and cool little layered guitar parts that mess with some metallic flare. Even the recording is almost shockingly crisp and professional. This is just a great EP, and this band really needs to be exposed to more listeners.

The Idoru "The Valley of Disappointment"

If the band's prior work sounds this strong then I definitely need to do some digging. Unfortunately I'm not seeing Deadbutcher's releases in any distros in the US, so for the time being email the label if you're interested in picking this one up.

Action - Weeping of AngelsAlso from Deadbutcher Records is "Weeping of Angels", the latest full-length from Action, who hails from the Czech Republic. While a fairly standard dose of burly 90's European metalcore given a modern kick in the ass (think along the lines of the Dutch, Belgian and German scenes), this is a much improved effort from the band in terms of both songwriting and especially recording quality. I'd still like to hear more bass and a warmer and more natural drum sound, but the guitars and vocals run the show and both sound strong, so that makes a hell of a difference over the band's earlier work. Expect minor dashes of melody over a backdrop of churning mosh breaks and gritty Slayer-esque riffing with burly vocals – pretty much the standard for this particular niche of the metalcore realm, and one that Action seems to be getting quite a good handle on. It took a couple of spins to grow on me, but this record's actually pretty fuckin' pissed, and I generally tend to be a huge sucker for that kind of… ummm… action. (Sorry, it had to be done.)

Action "Dead to Me"
Action "Weeping of Angels"

As stated above, email the label if you're interested in picking this one up, I'm still looking for any ordering sources within the US.

Decapitated and Krisiun…

Posted on Monday, March 13th, 2006 @ 10:30am » permalink

Decapitated - Organic HallucinosisFrom the very minute I first heard Poland's Decapitated six years ago they secured a place as one of the best contemporary death metal bands out there, and I still feel the same way today. Much of the talk surrounding their latest Earache release, "Organic Hallucinosis", is around the fact that it's their first album with a new vocalist, but while the vocal performance is noticeably different this time around, I think the musical shift is of much greater importance. And that's not to suggest that things have taken a turn for the worse, as I'm not entirely sure, but I think this might be my favorite Decapitated record to date.

Decapitated's key strength has always been scorchingly badass riffs that benefit from perfectly churning guitar tones, and thankfully that strength dominates this effort as well – albeit the riffs, in general, are a touch more midpaced and dissonant. There's a little bit more of a Meshuggah-esque chug to a lot of the rhythm patterns, but rather than provide too much space the picking patterns still shred with that always chunky Decapitated swing that you should all know and love. Something I've noticed on the band's past records, however, is that there's generally one song per album that just totally crushes everything else – hooking you right from the start and tending to practically overshadow the rest of the album. While there's no such song on "Organic Hallucinosis", I'm pleased to report that the songwriting as a whole, while fairly consistent, is a little more dynamic and interesting all around, so there's more of a balance going on within all of the individual compositions in terms of tempo changes and lots of interesting chord phrasings that are really getting into some fucked up discordance (not quite at a Gorguts level or anything like that, but they're getting there – while still keeping things memorable). And never fear, there's still plenty of speed and a few blazing leads as well, so it's not like they're trying to completely progress out of the straight ahead death metal realm or anything.

Also, despite the rigidity of the drums initially concerning me (I was almost fearing another bout of insanely obnoxious "Nihility" production), I really enjoy the recording on this one. True, it takes a little getting used to since the thickness of the guitars lets the drums and vocals take over some added centrality, but overall I'm not sure where my initial concern stemmed from, because now everything sounds pretty damn tight to me. If they could take this approach and inch the guitars up a little more but still figure out how to make the basslines slightly clearer they'd be in a perfect spot. Good stuff.

This isn't one of the best tracks on the album in my opinion, but it is the one the label seems to have been providing as a sample track, and since Earache's all into selling mp3's at their Metal Tracks website now I don't want to piss anyone off by posting a stronger example of what the album has to offer, so… just know that there are a number of songs on the record that are even better than the example below:

Decapitated "Day 69"

There are only seven tracks on the record for some odd reason (totaling around 32 minutes), but trust me when I say that there are some real keepers on this thing. "Day 69" is a good song and all, but there are so many better examples of how increasingly awesome this band is becoming. So look into this one and definitely pick it up. Since these cats got started so young they should still have a long and prosperous run ahead of 'em:

@ Relapse Records
@ Very Distribution

Krisiun - AssassinationIn a similar, though certainly less drastic move, Krisiun, Brazil's most diehard death metal band, has also accelerated the gradual course of change that they've been undergoing for the last several years on their sixth full-length, "Assassination", of course released by Century Media. Now, if there's one thing you can count on from Krisiun, it's that they're going to stay true to what they do, and what they do is play fast death metal. But the thing that I've always loved about these guys is their complete and total sincere dedication to their music, so I've always been a huge fan of theirs even when some of their records didn't quite do it for me. Thankfully, "Assassination" does hit the spot, and from a production standpoint is the band's best sounding record to date. While you still won't pick out much of a bass presence, the guitars and drums are finally efficiently balanced, and for the first time in as long as I can remember I'm actually able to listen to Krisiun without letting my ears adjust to clinically rigid and unnaturally clicky drum tones… so, if nothing else, I hope they stick with this recording approach from now on!

As far as the actual songwriting goes, it's not a huge leap or anything, but the band is writing with more of a feel as opposed to strictly focusing on record-breaking (and endurance-testing) speeds, which definitely pays off for the listening experience. Yes, it's still quite fast, and yes, it's extremely tightly performed. It's still Krisiun through and through, but you'd be surprised what a difference a wider range of tempos can make. And the solos are really starting to sound more developed now (there's a great example of this in the brief instrumental "Doomed"), whereas in the earliest days of the band's work many of the leads came across more like blindingly fast scales and repetitious patterns. Since that's a part of the Krisiun sound you're still going to hear those wild sweeps and chaotic bursts, but like I said, it's more about feel now, not just speed. And that goes for the drumming too, which is awesome. Max Kolesne's an insane drummer, but now he's starting to get a little more creative with his fills and cymbal work, so rather than simply stupefying everyone with his seemingly effortless high-speed blasts, he's adding more color to the material as well.

Krisiun "United in Deception"
Krisiun "Vicious Wrath"

As always, pick it up if you dig it. I own everything Krisiun has done since "Black Force Domain" and I don't see myself stopping until they do! Get to it:

@ The End Records
@ Willowtip

Hurtlocker and Mastery…

Posted on Friday, March 10th, 2006 @ 9:47am » permalink

Hurtlocker - Fear in a Handful of DustI had been seeing a number of reviews and ads touting the thrashiness of "Fear in a Handful of Dust" that were making me curious, even though Hurtlocker's name and logo throw up some red flags on my radar (I guess the name does have a ring to it, I'll give 'em that), but I must admit, the claims are accurate: This is some damn good thrash metal.

Chicago had some great thrash bands during the 80's/early-90's, and I'd be surprised if Hurtlocker didn't grow up on 'em, because, despite boasting an understandably more modern tinge, the band's riffs and writing tactics certainly draw inspiration from decades past, and the end result sort of reminds me of Epidemic with dashes of Stampin' Ground (once they started to go total thrash) and minor little leanings towards death metal here and there (in the best possible way – think hints of Malevolent Creation's "Retribution", for example). There's somewhat more of a sneer to the vocals than the old days, but they definitely don't have that forced contemporary edge that I dislike so much, so I'm in full support of the performance. And this is some memorable songwriting too, which is not an easy task when it comes to shooting for an old school thrash vibe. But they tend to stick with two- to three-minute tracks chock full of meaty picking patterns and well executed tempo variations, so I'm sold. I do find myself wishing the recording was a little more fluid (those drums are testing my "clicky" limits), but I can absolutely live with it. Just imagine, though, if these songs had the oomph of, say, The Haunted's first record or something like that… the results would be truly fucking badass.

How a band like this ends up on Napalm Records is beyond me, as this is without a doubt one of the only good releases on the label that I can think of, and I'm guessing these cats are also among the manliest bands on a label that has always struck me as being dominated by silly "dramatic" metal bands with penchants for keyboards and pomp. But check this shit out, fans of thrash's heyday should certainly approve:

Hurtlocker "Absolution"
Hurtlocker "Already Inside"

Hurtlocker's one of the better thrash bands I've heard in recent years, so if you dig the tunes, pick up a copy of the CD for yourself and spread the word. These guys are definitely getting out there, but I'd say they're still facing somewhat of an uphill battle in terms of really reaching the audience that I think will appreciate them the most. This is damn good stuff:

@ The End Records

Mastery - Lethal LegacyNext up is another shockingly ripping example of old school thrash in the modern age with the "Lethal Legacy" EP from Canada's Mastery, on Spinerazor Records. This fucker is jam packed with scorching Bay Area thrash riffs the likes of which you're almost never lucky enough to stumble upon these days, and the band bears two things in common with Metallica: 1. solos that at times have a rocked out Kirk Hammett flare, and 2. the fact that you can barely hear an ounce of bass on the entire EP! So I definitely think the recording needs a little more balance (the drums feel dominant to me right now), but once again I can live with it.

Apparently it wasn't the band's intention to be an instrumental act from the onset, and while I certainly have no quarrels with their decision, I'd love it if they continued the search for the right vocalist. It wouldn't be an easy task, but their songwriting is so dead on that it'd be a shame to lose the added catchiness and power that a strong vocal performance could provide. You see, unlike most instrumental bands, Mastery basically seems to write straightforward songs that simply exhibit the absence of vocals – that is to say that we're not talking about seven- or eight-minute epics with tradeoff leads and significant dynamic shifts all over the place or anything like that at all, it's just a set of textbook thrash tracks without vocals. And that's actually pretty damn cool, so I guess my point is just that… if someone were to play this for you and say, "Check out our new demo, but we haven't laid down the vocals yet." You'd reply, "Holy shit, this sounds great. I can't wait to hear it once the vocals are done!" Know what I mean?

I can't believe they sprung for a die-cut booklet on this thing, though. Sure, it's a nice touch, but the layout blows, man. There are way too many almost-tactful-but-still-really-obnoxious Photoshop textures and shit like that all over it, and Mastery definitely deserves a far stronger and more appropriate visual representation to accompany such impressive tunes.

Mastery "Lethal Legacy"

I'm not seeing this one around at many stops in the US, so unfortunately the prices on this thing can get fuckin' brutal for an EP ($16 at Amazon.com? I don't fuckin' think so, you know?), so… a little over $8 plus shipping (I'm guessing that's another $3 or so, but I'm not sure) from the label seems to be the best route for the time being. Hopefully it'll start creeping into more distros as the positive reviews keep pouring in. Keep an eye on these guys for sure…

@ Spinerazor Records

Both Worlds "Memory Rendered Visible" CD

Posted on Thursday, March 9th, 2006 @ 9:21am » permalink

Both Worlds - Memory Rendered VisibleThis one's for a dude in South Africa that I email back and forth with who's never had the chance to hear Both Worlds, the band formed in the mid-90's by former Cro-Mags frontman John Joseph, as well as AJ Novello and Pokey from Leeway. Opinions seem to be mixed on this band, and I guess I can understand fans of the Cro-Mags and Leeway being somewhat let down if they were expecting something "heavier" or more traditional, but… if you ask me Both Worlds was totally fuckin' solid, and I wish they'd continued on a bit longer. Their debut 1996 EP, "Beyond Zero Gravity", is somewhat of an unnecessary release when all is said and done, since they re-recorded two of the best songs for their sole Roadrunner full-length in 1998, but "Memory Rendered Visible" is quite a strong slab of heavy, rocked out post-hardcore. And come on, pretty much anything Joseph or Novello are involved with is gonna be worth a shot.

I won't lie, there are definitely a couple of tracks on this record that tend to wander a little too far out into pseudo grunge territory to really leave a mark, but I wouldn't really tag anything as being "bad" per se, and when the band's sort of Quicksand-ish, at times Helmet-esque brand of chunky rhythms and dissonant melody hits the mark, it results in some awesome tracks that are generally pretty damn catchy and energetic. Plus, loose comparisons aside, these guys did have their own niche happening. Musical similarities to some of what was going on around them at the time are somewhat unavoidable, but Joseph's vocals are of course inimitable, and Novello's always been one for writing sick riffs of all varieties. The recording's pretty damn slick as well, and that always helps. I don't know. I had the EP from the start and was totally sold on "Over the Edge" (by far the band's strongest song – that shit is pissed, I don't care what anyone says), but for whatever reason I didn't actually buy this album until a year or two after it hit the streets, which was certainly a mistake.

As usual with bands who weren't quite what a lot of narrowminded purists wanted them to be, you can basically buy everything these cats put out for less a buck – sometimes brand new. Go figure. So take advantage of the bargains if you like what you hear:

@ Amazon.com
@ Half.com

Lighthouse Project "Navigate by Heart" CD

Posted on Wednesday, March 8th, 2006 @ 11:32am » permalink

Lighthouse Project - Navigate by HeartHere's another relatively quick one, since this release seems to get straight to the point. Lighthouse Project contacted me a few weeks ago about their debut CD, "Navigate by Heart" (which was recently released by Combat Rock Industry), and seeing that the band was from Finland I of course immediately grew curious – being the huge fan of the Finnish hardcore scene that I am. While their material sounds quite different than most of what I've heard from Finland in recent years, this is an impressive debut full-length whose brand of powerful melodic hardcore boasts just the right amount of lightly metallic acerbity and catchy surges of octave chords and stuff like that. I have no doubt that this band could be pretty damn popular here in the US if they were on the right label, as fans of everyone from With Honor to Kid Dynamite should probably be able to appreciate this CD, even though it doesn't sound very specifically like either of those bands. With 14 songs in less than a half-hour this one flies by pretty quickly and keeps things short but sweet. There's not a great deal of variety to their approach, which seems to be somewhat common with bands that deal with this niche of melodic hardcore, but that tends to work just fine as there are enough tempo variations to keep things interesting, and the energetic nature of the material carries the songs quite well. There are a couple of darker moments that change things up a bit here and there, and it might not hurt to explore those aspects further in the future. I really dig the screaming vocals, though, which add to the overall feeling of sincerity that I find within the band's music (and that sincerity was also truly evident in the letter they included when sending the CD my way). Give these guys a shot:

Lighthouse Project "I Will Take It As It Comes"
Lighthouse Project "Like a Ghost"
Lighthouse Project "Directors Cut"

And, yes, please do go buy the CD for yourself if you dig the tunes:

@ Interpunk

Unidos Pelo Ódio, Desastre, and F.U.B.A.R….

Posted on Tuesday, March 7th, 2006 @ 12:12pm » permalink

Unidos Pelo Ódio - Renascendo das CinzasYou know, many American bands should really thank their lucky stars, because in this day and age it seems almost too easy for any shitty loser band from the US to hack together a few songs in a bedroom or a basement, throw 'em on fucking MySpace, get signed, and have a full-length CD out there in less than a god damn year. Well these Brazilian punks have been at it for 12 fucking years now, yet "Renascendo das Cinzas" is only the first full-length release from Unidos Pelo Ódio, thanks to Terrötten Records, and they damn sure make the most of it by throwing down 21 tracks for just over an hour's worth of material that tends to be of the rough and tumble crusty punk variety. They do toss in little extra dashes of dissonant metal or subtle melody here and there, but they usually opt for a faster approach with your basic Discharge-esque song structures (granted this is quite a diverse collection of songs considering how stagnant this genre can be). The guitar tone has an unnatural ring to it that can wear on me from time to time, but the vocals (which are all delivered in Portuguese) are super pissed and really power the material, so if these cats were somehow able to achieve a fuller, heavier sound (without going for the all out metal crunch that some of the Scandinavian bands do) they could really tear it up. There are some awesomely catchy songs on this thing, and this band definitely knows how to keep the "punk" in "hardcore/punk".

Unidos Pelo Ódio "Refugiados de Guerra"
Unidos Pelo Ódio "Sem Chance"
Unidos Pelo Ódio "A Morte se Alastra"

This one's not too easy to come by in the US that I can tell, though it may be out of stock (or not yet in stock, for that matter) at a couple of other sources, but pick it up if this is your thing. These guys are great at what they do:

@ Stickfigure Distribution

Desastre - Perigo IminenteAnother recent release from Terrötten Records is the second full-length (though it only contains seven new songs) from Desastre – another Brazilian band that I wasn't familiar with prior to this. "Perigo Iminente" sticks to pretty straightforward D-beat styled hardcore/punk with a little bit of that rocked out sort of Motörhead vibe going on with some of the music, both in terms of the rhythms and the lead breaks. Like the Unidos Pelo Ódio disc, this material isn't as heavy as the genre sometimes leans, so it has a rawer kind of feel to the recording and seems to lean more towards a number of classic influences without sounding like a dated throwback or anything. Once more the lyrics are all in Portuguese, which of course has a positive impact on the vocal arrangements! I guess some of the performances could use a little tightening up, but there's some really memorable songwriting happening when they're at their best, and things blow by pretty quickly with a total of 15 tracks in 34 minutes (including the bonus tracks, which are taken from their 1997 demo and a live set recorded last year). I think that pretty much covers it with this one, there usually aren't any surprises when it comes to straight up crusty hardcore/punk.

Desastre "Perigo Iminente"
Desastre "Sufocados"

As always, make the grab if it suits your tastes:

@ Crimes Against Humanity Records

F.U.B.A.R. - Studio Sessions 2002 - 2004Once more from Terrötten Records, though not from Brazil, is "Studio Sessions 2002 – 2004", somewhat of an odd release for Dutch grinders F.U.B.A.R. I think this was basically put together specifically for their Brazilian tour and includes three prior releases on one handy CD. I believe this might contain everything the band had recorded up to the time of this collection, which includes a split CD with Catheter (which I gave a full review some time ago), a split 7" with Matka Teresa, and the "Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition" demo: 36 tracks in 36 minutes, when all is said and done. It's basically fast and frantic grindcore with loads high/low/mid vocal tradeoffs that, while not the catchiest grind I've heard, does have its raging moments. The bulk of the disc tends to also fall more on the rugged side in terms of production (the demo and 7" tracks are pretty damn hard on the ears), but you can't fault them but so much for that as they definitely blaze on through, and with songs rarely lasting even a minute there's not much time for getting bored, eh? They do throw in just enough quick breaks in tempo to keep things in your face rather than blurring the speeds together, and the tracks from the Catheter split are pretty damn good.

F.U.B.A.R. "Mind Shit"
F.U.B.A.R. "Scars"

Yep, pick it up if you like 'em short, fast, and loud:

@ Crimes Against Humanity Records

I should also mention that while the above three releases were sent to me by Terrötten, some of them are split releases with a number of other killer Brazilian labels that have been very kind to me over the years, among them 2+2=5 Records, Bucho Discos, Cospe Fogo, and Läjä Rekords. So check out all of their hard work as well, there's some great music kicking around in their discographies!

In Flames "Come Clarity" CD

Posted on Monday, March 6th, 2006 @ 12:17pm » permalink

In Flames - Come ClarityI'm short on both time and motivation today, so I'm gonna keep it relatively quick since this is an easy one. Not unlike the Bleeding Through disc I touched on a couple of weeks ago (except far better), this is another example of inexplicable levels of hype being generated seemingly out of nowhere. I was surprised enough when the kings of melodic Swedish "death metal" (Yeah, I know, it's really not "death metal" at this point, is it?), In Flames, signed to Ferret Music, but holy shit… "Come Clarity" seems to be selling like hotcakes, and almost every review I've read about the thing makes it seem like some kind of astonishingly creative effort. Well, not to burst anyone's bubble, but come on, let's be realistic: We're talking about In Flames. What's the big deal, you know? At this point you pretty much know what to expect from the band, and that's what they deliver. This is an album offering 13 tracks in nearly 50 minutes that are chock full of patented dual guitar harmonies and peppy songwriting with the band's more recent mix of sneering screams and singing. It's not as "out there" as "Reroute to Remain" in terms of (at times aimlessly) branching out from the foundation of their earlier classics, and it's a little speedier and more diverse than "Soundtrack to Your Escape". But that's about it, to tell you the truth. It's nothing particularly new.

But hey, I don't want to discredit In Flames at all, I just don't understand the hype factor. This is a very solid record and I'd drop $10 on it without a doubt. I stand by pretty much everything the band has ever done ("Clayman" is the only record I never bought), and 1997's "Whoracle" was a crucially important release that, in my opinion, is the absolute benchmark for melodic Swedish death metal. I don't think In Flames will ever top that record (nor will anyone else for that matter), but I'm a huge fan of theirs and will always follow their efforts. For the band to still be going strong after all these years is quite a feat, and I guess I'd probably say that "Come Clarity" falls sort of in between "Reroute to Remain" and "Soundtrack to Your Escape": Taking the songwriting experiments of the former and applying the more direct "throwback" focus of the latter to the end result, thus making for a more cohesive and streamlined album than "Reroute…" that's not as one-sided as "Soundtrack…" (though for my money the best songs on "Soundtrack…" are a smidge catchier and more energetic than the best songs herein).

So, you know, ignoring the hype, when it all comes down to it there are two kinds of In Flames fans: The ones who think "The Jester Race" (or something prior) was their best work and gave up on 'em years ago, or those who are pretty much always going to be there. Throw me into the latter category. It's nothing fancy, but it's a good record and I enjoy it:

In Flames "Take This Life"
In Flames "Come Clarity"

Don't be an ass, if you like it, buy it:

@ Ferret Music
@ Very Distribution

Iron Age and Black Sheep Squadron…

Posted on Thursday, March 2nd, 2006 @ 10:47am » permalink

Iron Age - Constant StruggleNot that you can tell where a band is from by how they sound per se, but I never would've guessed from hearing this material that these guys are from Texas!? But indeed that is the case, and "Constant Struggle", the debut full-length from Iron Age on Youngblood Records, has a markedly more "east coast" sounding style to its metal-tinged hardcore approach. However, while I'm hesitant to refer to anything as "original" at this point, I have to say that these dudes have a different kind of character to their songwriting that's almost strange when you try to break it down. Aside from the fact that there are some unexpected little rocked out dual guitar runs going on from time to time, a lot of the riffing sort of reminds me of the Cro-Mags circa "Best Wishes", but they're delivering it like a hardcore band as opposed to a metal band. And beyond that, there are a good number of borderline traditional chord progressions as well, but they always fuck with the picking patterns in a way that teeters between Leeway-esque chunkiness and lighter-weight late-80's crossover fare. And then there's the fact that the tempos, while not stagnant, tend to hover at a slightly-more-midpaced-than-average rate, which generally strikes me as a trait that pops up in a lot of European bands that draw on various post-1985 NYHC influences (I'm thinking True Blue especially, in this case).

So, I don't know. It's an unusual one, but I definitely dig it. It's taken a few spins to start growing on me in terms of the songs not being overly energetic or memorable from the onset (and I would suggest the injection of a hint more speed in future efforts), but this is interesting shit. And I'm down with the recording as well. At first I was a little doubtful of the fact that the guitar tone's pretty damn thin, but the whole thing sounds almost frighteningly crisp, and they're making superb use of a badass bass tone that's mixed with efficient prominence with regards to how vital the basslines are to the actual song structures (which is absolutely playing a significant role in their ties to the Cro-Mags/True Blue sort of direction). Check it out:

Iron Age "Return to the Void"
Iron Age "We're Dust/The Violator"

This one's not out for a few more weeks, but the label's taking pre-orders as we speak, and since I'm holding a finished copy in my hands, perhaps they're sending out CD orders a smidge early while they wait on the vinyl? I don't know, though, so don't hold anyone to that! But it's on sale for a mere $8 for the time being, so hop to it. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the forthcoming Knockdown discography, too. I'm curious…

@ Youngblood Records

Black Sheep Squadron - Foreign Object Much more traditionally oriented is "Foreign Object" from Black Sheep Squadron (or Black SS, for short), which was released not long ago by Reaper Records. This fucker dishes out 12 tracks in 17 minutes, and let's just say that even though these cats are straightedge and from Syracuse, their sound predates the '88 youth crew boom by a good few years, and I'd bet that they're all just disgusted with the fact that metal ever invaded the hardcore canon. We're talking one- to three-minute blasts of generally fast and pissed hardcore from a time when the word "punk" was never far behind, and the gruff vocals definitely have a quality that you don't hear too often these days (somewhat comparable to a band like 86 Mentality, but over a harder musical backdrop).

I'm really not sure what more to say about this one. The sound quality is nice and balanced without sounding either dated or overly polished, the matte finish on the layout is a nice touch, etc. There are definitely some raging winners on this thing:

Black Sheep Squadron "Quick Fix"
Black Sheep Squadron "I Want Out"

Yes, it's true. Bands are still capable writing and recording pure, unbastardized hardcore. So if you dig it, show your support and pick up the CD for yourself:

@ RevHQ