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Lye by Mistake and Saviours…

Posted on Wednesday, May 31st, 2006 @ 11:08am » permalink

Lye by Mistake - Arrangements for Fulminating VectiveI feel like I've covered a shitload of debut full-lengths lately, and this is no exception. "Arrangements for Fulminating Vective" is the first full-length offering from St. Louis, Missouri's Lye by Mistake, which was released by the recently launched Lambgoat Records. Prior to actually getting the chance to spin this CD there were a few things that sort of worried me about what this band might deliver. One of them was that for some reason I was afraid they were going to be one of those irritatingly chaotic "crazy go nuts" metalcore bands that thinks "Calculating Infinity" is the holy grail (because "Disco Volante" is simply "not heavy enough, dude"). The other was the fact that they don't have a bassist on the album (I believe they've added a bassist since the time of the recording), and two of the three contributing members handle occasional keyboard duties. Well, I'm not gonna lie, there is an earlier Dillinger-esque sense of all over the place zaniness in many instances, but they totally win me over with some fucking badass lead runs (check from about 2:50 on in "Ostrich Feathers and Apple Pie") that take the wacky factor into this weird full-blown jazz fusion sounding territory that's pretty damn cool. There are just a lot of strange little quirks that actually provide some interesting breaks. The keyboards are hit and miss in my opinion, though generally more tolerable than I'd expect, and actually well-employed in the brief instances where things start to flirt with authentic 70's prog or whatever. There are a couple of areas that sound like bass is being used, so I'm not sure if they're doing that with guitar/keyboard manipulations or what, because none of the three band members are credited as playing bass on the recording.

I don't know, it definitely takes some getting used to, and it's not for everyone, but even the ridiculously jumbled and chaotic nature of the songwriting somehow works – and normally I can't really hang with much of that stuff. It could very well be that I just admire the technical proficiency of the playing and find the fluid jazz breaks and solos to grab me just enough to make the difference, I'm not sure. They're a pretty nutty group. Even though some of it's not really my thing there's no denying that a number of passages throughout the album are quite impressive, and should they ever decide to streamline their approach just a bit I could imagine them creating some rather moving material: When they introduce a hint more melody to overcome the acerbity it really pays off.

Lye by Mistake "Ostrich Feathers and Apple Pie"

It's cheapest from the label, so why go anywhere else? Make the buy if you like what you hear:

@ Lambgoat Records

Saviours - CrucifireSpeaking of having covered quite a few debut full-lengths lately, here's yet another from Oakland's own Saviours: "Crucifire", on Level-Plane Records. These cats seem to get lumped in with hipster metal sinners (read: posers, or "poseurs", should you prefer) such as Early Man and the like here and there, but while there is a certain degree of kitsch to Saviours' over the top lyrics and visual aesthetic, it's an approach that works, and one that looks and sounds increasingly appealing – so regardless of whether or not there's somewhat of a hipster quotient to what's going on here, I can both enjoy it and respect it. And in fact, I actually enjoy this material a lot more than the "Warship" EP. The songwriting is more memorable and energetic, the recording is a little more balanced (great bass presence), etc. They're still hitting on a fuzzy sort of late-70's/early-80's influence, but it remains contemporary somehow, despite their clear penchant for an aged tone and traditionally based dual guitar runs. They still don't really sound like any of the bands they get compared to, though. Bathory? Sorry, no. Venom? Nah, not really. Black Sabbath? Barely. That's not really important, though. The band seems to be coming more into its own on this album, something about it just feels more comfortable and natural. The songs just pack more of a punch and are significantly stronger overall, so I'm definitely pleased to see the band making that kind of a progression.

Saviours "Rise to Pyramid Form"

If you download this record instead of buying it these guys will probably conjure some kind of creepily occult-ish black magic powers against you in order to sacrifice your soul to the unholy fires of the abysmal depths of hell… or something. So buy the damn thing if you're a fan, 'cause it's only $8, folks (Give 'em a break, selling it for $6.66 wouldn't be very cost-efficient, you know?):

@ 29 North Records

Arkangel and Community Trust…

Posted on Tuesday, May 30th, 2006 @ 11:44am » permalink

Arkangel - Hope You Die by OverdoseI honestly didn't know that Arkangel (Belgium) was still around, and I'm not even sure I've heard anything the band has done since their debut 10" back in 1998. "Hope You Die by Overdose" was actually originally released quite some time ago by the band on their own label, but it was recently licensed to God's Child Music for Japan, Korea, China, etc. – and that's how it made its way to me. But then again, this is only the band's second full-length in eight years, so it's not like they're the most prolific act on earth… so I guess I can be forgiven for being unaware of their current activities? Whatever the case, this thing opens with a pretty powerful little melodic instrumental track before getting down to business and proving that Arkangel's still cranking out an intense brand of European metalcore with absolutely scathing vocals. I'm talking completely over the top screams with no fucking remorse – totally nuts. The frontman definitely gives these guys an edge, because I have to confess that musically this style of metalcore can sometimes get tiresome due to all of the tremolo picking riffs, though I have to give Arkangel credit on a few fronts. First of all, they generally keep the tracks short, so the majority of these songs run around three minutes apiece. They also keep things moving along, so even though there's a heavy reliance on chugging tremolo picking riffs, they break up the monotony with lots of churning midpaced breaks and minor shifts in tempo, so there's sort of an All Out War thing going on to some degree. But beyond all that, I seem to remember that these cats were definitely one of the first bands, even in the European scene, to really amp things up and throw a significant death metal sounding influence into the metalcore realm. Perhaps they were even a little ahead of their time in that regard, since this form of material could kind of take you aback during the start of the late-90's. Many bands have tried their hands at this style in the last decade and simply missed the mark, but Arkangel still has a pretty damn vicious bite.

Arkangel "Annihilating Your Peace"
Arkangel "How We See the World"

I'm loving those fucking vocals. Pick this shit up and feel the burn:

@ Interpunk
@ RevHQ

Community Trust - Is it contradiction, a mistake, or necessity?It's surprising that "Is it contradiction, a mistake, or necessity?" is Community Trust's debut full-length (also on God's Child Music), despite the fact that the Japanese outfit has been around since way back in 1997. This is a rather promising take on ultra melodic metalcore that takes the harsh screaming vocals and dual guitar interaction more associated with what was going on in the US around the time of the band's formation (ala Shai Hulud and such) and blends in a much more openly melodic side that has a contemporary feel. Occasionally they'll bring in some singing with all of the swirling clean passages and such, so there's definitely a significant degree of "emo" involved, but the end result of what this band creates is interesting to me in that it sounds quite "modern" (for lack of a better term), while also coming across as far more sincere and genuine than what some of the connotations of its aesthetics might suggest. I would like to hear them take things in a heavier and more in your face direction from time to time to balance things out, and they should definitely dump the weird hip-hop influenced vocal work that's employed on rare occasion (it's generally just some quick "yeah, yeah, what, what" crap during an intro or two, but it makes no sense whatsoever), but that's life. It's not going to be for everyone, but I certainly like it overall, and I could see the band doing some really impressive work in the future. They've really got a great knack for weaving together different guitar parts. The recording's a little choppy in certain instances, which can hinder that talent to a degree, but barely, so they've done very well for themselves for their first album.

Community Trust "Untitled"
Community Trust "Battlefield Without Glory"

As always, make the purchase if you enjoy the tunes:

@ Interpunk

Guns Up!, Borrowed Time, and Hope You Choke…

Posted on Thursday, May 25th, 2006 @ 11:07am » permalink

Guns Up! - OutliveOh yeah, I was a big fan of 2004's "All This Is" EP from Massachusetts' Guns Up!, so I was psyched to see "Outlive", their debut "full-length" (though it's less than a half-hour, so I always debate that, heh), show up in the ol' P.O. Box a couple of weeks ago from 1917 Records. As expected this one delivers in fine form with 11 tracks of raging metallic hardcore with a super intense vocal performance that definitely hits me. Now, I say "metallic", but these guys do basically stick to more of a traditional hardcore base from a songwriting standpoint – just upping the aggression and tacking on a bit of an added crunch. The recording's a little dirty, I wouldn't mind a hint more polishing up to round things out and thicken up the punch, but other than that I'm all over this shit. They're branching out just a touch in terms of a few unexpectedly dissonant areas very loosely reminiscent of post-hardcore textures, and there are even two or three areas you could almost classify as lightly "melodic" in a way, but basically the material has a NYHC sort of sound that should please fans of the tried and true formula. However, the vocals alone really do help to give Guns Up! their own sort of edge, and this isn't really a one-sided record or anything. Hell, the fact that "Won't Change For Me" totally jacks an Entombed riff at the end freshens up the listen, too, ha, ha! And like their last album this disc has a really nice looking layout that's not very typical for a hardcore album, and I dig that. Good stuff… another winner from a great band that I'll look forward to hearing more from down the road.

Guns Up! "Won't Change For Me"
Guns Up! "You Break"

This one just came out a couple of days ago, so if you feel the same as I do about it, grab one straight from the label's new webstore:

@ 1917 Records

Borrowed Time - No Escape From This LifeI don't really know much about Borrowed Time other than the fact that they're from Rochester, NY and their debut EP on Reaper Records, "No Escape From This Life", drops five new tracks and three from their demo. Oh, and of course that this is some seriously burly hardcore with a massive dose of metal thrown in for good measure. Everything about this shit is just thick and in your face, with tons of dense midpaced breakdowns and a good assortment of gruffly shouted vocals from various band members. For the most part you're looking at two- to four-minute songs built around a solid framework of chugging NYHC riffs played at a slightly slower than average pace (thus adding to the general heaviness and the aforementioned "burly" vibe), then they'll contrast that sense of groove with more of a melodic angle to the solos, which are actually very well executed and help to further differentiate the band from the typical element of this genre (as do the vocals, which almost have a street punk sort of edge, and in terms of heavy hardcore are only comparable to a style somewhat along the lines of the one and only Paul Bearer, as a reference point). Plus, as the album title suggests, this is also relatively dark and bleak material, which always does the trick for me, so I'm sold. I'm guessing that most of the people who check this site on a regular basis aren't familiar with these cats just yet, but I'm also betting that a number of you who are into this style of metallic hardcore will be all over this stuff. This is definitely some no bullshit material right here.

Borrowed Time "Always Been a Loser"

If you're down, make the grab:

@ Surprise Attack Records
@ Very Distribution

Hope You Choke - s/tHope You Choke hails from Minneapolis and contains former members of Holding On and Bodies Lay Broken, among others. Their self-titled debut "full-length" (again, it's a quick one at about 20 minutes) from One Percent Records (Whose website is blocked by my work's ingenious security filter as a "weapons" site – what the fuck?) is actually a big step up from their 2004 demo across the board. The recording's a lot stronger, the writing and performances feel tighter and fiercer, etc. When you look at some of the bands that these guys have played in previously it makes their unique blend of hardcore and metal make a little more sense, too. By and large they're a moderately paced to fast hardcore band when all is said and done, but they'll go and toss in some thrashy leads or quick bursts of raw metal that sort of sound like Slayer circa "Hell Awaits" or something like that from time to time as well, and the vocals also have a harsher and more over the top edge happening as opposed to most of what you'll hear from straight hardcore. It's a cool mix, because they retain the energy and overall vibe of hardcore while flirting with vague hints of grinding thrash, so it all pieces together and comes across as unified.

Hope You Choke "Hope is the First Sign of Defeat"
Hope You Choke "File Under Mediocre"

If you're into it, buy one, because downloading sucks:

@ RevHQ
@ Surprise Attack Records

Invocator "Weave the Apocalypse" CD

Posted on Wednesday, May 24th, 2006 @ 8:54am » permalink

Invocator - Okay, every self-respecting metal fan needs to take heed of this post, because yesterday when I referred to this as "some of the most criminally underrated and completely and utterly badass early-90's death/thrash of all time" I was not fucking kidding, so listen up, because this will probably be one of the greatest hidden treasures I ever write about here.

Sometimes it all comes down to simple mathematics, really. Even though I had never heard of the band in my entire life, while browsing the used bins of a local record store: Released on Black Mark in 1993 + Dan Seagrave cover art + a mere $6 = Mine. The end. Sure, I was expecting generic third-rate death metal that I'd probably resell after a few listens, but sometimes you take a chance, and sometimes it pays off tenfold.

This is one of those times.

Within 10 seconds of popping this CD in for the first time (thanks to impeccable opener "Through the Nether to the Sun") I was flooded with a surge of questions and, quite honestly, felt both thrilled and enraged at the same time. Why the fuck have I not owned this record for the greater portion of the 13 years since its release!? Why is this album not widely held in high regard right alongside all of the other early-90's classics of technical death/thrash metal!? More importantly: What in the fuck is wrong with the world that someone as obsessed with this music as myself did not even know that this band existed until four days ago… and why in the name of all things completely and utterly badass did I have to discover it through a blind $6 purchase in a fucking used bin!? Whoever sold this CD: You're fucking not smart, but thank you kindly, because now the problem has been rectified. 13 years late, but better late than never, so I'll be thankful for what I can. One man's trash is another man's treasure and all that…

Invocator formed in Denmark in the late-80's and originally broke up in the mid-90's after releasing three full-lengths, of which this masterpiece, "Weave the Apocalypse", was their second. Useless trivia: The band featured Per Moller Jensen, perhaps best know at present for his work in The Haunted. Also, I was actually stunned to learn that guitarist/vocalist Jacob Hansen reformed Invocator with an almost entirely new lineup five or six years ago, so their most recent album was released in 2003 (though while not bad, it doesn't hold a candle to this).

The general consensus seems to be that "Weave the Apocalypse" is the band's finest hour, and from what audio samples I've been able to locate in the last few days I'd say that's an accurate assessment. But holy shit what an album this is, chock full of short and memorable tracks that are jam packed with some of the meatiest riffs I've heard in a long, long time. This material really does walk a fine line between thrash and death metal, with unique vocals and a songwriting style that really was way the hell ahead of its time – while still clinging to all the best that true thrash had to offer in the 80's. It's fuckin' great, because there are shitloads of fucked up time signatures and tempo changes with some blazing and well-arranged leads that all combine winding melody and dissonance in a truly creative fashion, but the guitar tone is one of the best I've ever encountered – hence that meatiness to the picking patterns that really amps up the chunkiness of the attack and creates some wholly crushing moments (see 35 seconds into "Lost at Birth" for proof).

The last song on the CD (the title track) is one of the best, but it runs 3:21 and sounds like it cuts short a few seconds early (or more) right in the middle of a riff, which drives me fucking nuts. I assume it's an idiotic mastering/manufacturing error that affects all existing copies of the CD, but if by chance someone out there has a copy on which this is not a problem, please do let me know. Thanks.

While the official status of this album is most definitely out of print, at least you can thankfully still find copies. Generally they seem to be priced in the $20 – $30 range (new or used), which is pretty damn steep, but… I guess it almost makes sense since this album is such a fucking scorcher. I absolutely recommend it on every level, so if you can find the right price, take care of business:

@ Amazon.com

Rest assured more Invocator material is certainly in my future, too! And a lot of times I think the more I "cuss" the better an album is, so… once again it all comes down to simple mathematics with this one, ha, ha!

Zero Mentality and Path of No Return…

Posted on Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006 @ 11:15am » permalink

Zero Mentality - In Fear of ForeverZero Mentality is a German outfit and "In Fear of Forever" is their debut full-length, which was released awhile back by GSR Music. This album marks my first significant exposure to the band, as I had only heard a few sample mp3's from their demo (which was also released as a 7") a couple of years back. This is some relatively interesting metallic hardcore that goes back and forth from being way more metal than hardcore (without falling into the commonplace contemporary sound) and retaining its roots in the chugging 90's hardcore style (without coming across as all that "moshy" or anything). A definite sense of melody creeps in on occasion, but thankfully they rarely let that infiltrate the vocal performance, because those dry sneers are much stronger than the few bouts of near singing that pop up in a scarce few tracks. I especially like some of the atypical chord phrasings they're dealing with (check the last couple of minutes in "What I See"), and they seem to be drawing from a wide range of influences. Of course there's a token European sound happening that's comparable to a handful of other past/present bands (from Germany and Holland especially), but there are also some Integrity-esque leads and driving midpaced rhythms suggesting an underlying Clevo edge. Since some of the more straightforward tracks that kind of take a traditional metallic hardcore framework (in this case the NYHC style with a European flavor) and integrate some nice dissonance are among the finer moments of the disc, you could probably argue that some of the more diverse explorations are unnecessary, but I'll definitely be curious to hear future efforts from the band to see how they settle into their sound. Because I'm really into a lot of this material, and a few European bands have already taken this weird Cro-Mags-but-not base and turned it into something pretty hot, so…

Zero Mentality "Choose to Lose"
Zero Mentality "What I See"

Good stuff. Pick it up if you're into crunchy guitars and solid riffs:

@ Interpunk
@ Very Distribution

Path of No Return - Black Nights ComingI had been meaning to check out this record for a long time but kept forgetting to buy it for some reason, so I was psyched when it finally showed up here a few weeks back. I went completely apeshit over Path of No Return's debut EP, which was some of the most brutal metallic hardcore I had ever heard from Sweden, and "Black Nights Coming", their first full-length jaunt (also on GSR Music), continues in that vein… though things have certainly taken a turn towards a more developed sound. For one thing, the vocals have a little more of a hoarse sneer to 'em, and instead of sticking with basic power chords and breakdowns they're taking some of those staccato rhythms and fusing them into a more metallic approach that flirts with a thrashy brand of melody that certainly has some Swedish flare to it, but does not in any way come across as that weedle-deedle melodic death metal bullshit. Nope, there's no tremolo picking here, folks. Things still tend to be thick and midpaced, it's just darker and more dissonant – like the Zero Mentality disc there are some really cool chord phrasings going on, so some of this stuff almost makes me envision Extol were they a much slower and less technically flashy band. I'm also digging some of the vocal arrangements because they really don't sound like the norm. When I first listened to this CD I was thinking that I kind of liked the over the top ferocity and complete mosh of that first EP a little better just because some of that shit was just so crushing it was unbelievable, but there's a lot to work with here, and it's really growing on me already. Once again I'm very curious to see where they take this. In a way this feels like a transitional moment compared to the EP, but they've managed to break into a more contemporary niche without sounding generic, and that's extremely hard to do at this point – especially within this particular genre.

Path of No Return "Black Nights Coming"
Path of No Return "Holocaust"

Why aren't there more bands of this nature in Sweden? Go figure. If the tunes do the trick, buy a copy for yourself:

@ Interpunk
@ Very Distribution

Tides, As Long As We're All Living, We're All Dying/The Hound, and Draw Blood…

Posted on Monday, May 22nd, 2006 @ 12:20pm » permalink

Tides - From Silence"From Silence" is the latest output from Tides (out of Boston, as the title would suggest) on Teenage Disco Bloodbath Records. The three-track, 20-minute EP is the second release of their moody instrumentalism that slowly builds from droning clean passages to thicker surges of dissonantly gritty distortion and pulsing feedback that have sludgy/doomy elements but can't really be relegated to that type of category. Utilizing a hypnotic sense of repetition at its core, the drumming is actually phenomenal and does a lot of work to color things up and add energy – at times running circles around the driving centerpiece rhythms. There's a fucking excellent recording on this thing, too: Completely balanced with tones that are quite warm, which makes the impressive percussive work all the more powerful… and it's handsomely packaged to boot. In the end, this is a relatively straightforward and succinct release for this type of material, because many such bands find it relatively simple to deliver this sort of experience for an hour or longer, so it's nice to hear a release of this nature that keeps it quick and leaves you wanting more.

Tides "The Sight"

Buy it if you like it:

@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

As Long As We're All Living, We're All Dying/The Hound - splitFor the record (no pun intended), I don't really cover new vinyl anymore due to a severe lack of time, so I don't want anyone who's sent me unsolicited vinyl in the last eight months to get pissed off, but this label was kind enough to supply me with mp3's in addition to vinyl for these next two – meaning that I wouldn't have to digitize anything myself – so that helped out a ton. Also from Teenage Disco Bloodbath Records is a recent split 7" between As Long As We're All Living, We're All Dying and The Hound, both also from Boston. Now, I'm generally not that into duos due to an unfair bias against them on my part, but As Long As We're All Living, We're All Dying is among the most convincing such acts I've encountered in recent years, and their contribution to this split yields three more tracks of their diverse attack of metallic hardcore/punk. Expect everything from ripping death metal riffs to thick power chords with a little crusty dissonance happening, in addition to plenty of tempo variation. An efficiently raw recording gets the job done well, and it's nice and dense – so despite a sense of space, it doesn't necessarily sound like there are only two dudes in the band. Meanwhile, The Hound is a female-fronted act that's a good match in terms of overall sound/feel, though diving into longer songs with more of a metalcore lean in the end (plus an oddly rocked out vibe to some of the riffs). There's certainly a chaotic edge to some of the riffing, but something about the thick dirtiness makes the tracks complement the As Long As We're All Living, We're All Dying material. It's not entirely my thing, but the vocals are much stronger than average for the lower-midrange screaming approach, and there are some forceful breaks to keep things moving.

As Long As We're All Living, We're All Dying "Air Israel"
The Hound "Big Sky Country"

This one's on clear vinyl neatly packaged against matte black paper with metallic silver printing, so make the grab if you dig the tunes:

@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Draw Blood - RowdyismOne more from Teenage Disco Bloodbath Records comes in the form of the "Rowdyism" 7" from Draw Blood – another band that, you guessed it, hails from Boston. This is my first exposure to these guys and their brand of moderately paced hardcore with great vocals that are just all out yelling with no remorse. To tell you the truth, I actually find the vocals to overpower the music big time since the songwriting isn't particularly explosive and has an unexpectedly sort of melodic and rocked out tinge to it. And I'm fine with that, I actually really enjoy those influences in certain instances, but the vocals feel like they need a more energetic and in your face attack to match their force, you know? I don't know, this is pretty good stuff, but I find myself needing to hear more to get a better picture of what the band is capable of. See what you think:

Draw Blood "Hey, Neighbor"

Pick it up if this is your thing (my copy's on clear red vinyl, but I'm not sure if other colors are available):

@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Ignite and Sick of it All…

Posted on Friday, May 19th, 2006 @ 11:55am » permalink

Ignite - Our Darkest DaysYou know, I've never been a huge Ignite fan for various fairly insignificant reasons. In the mid-90's when they were more prolific they were a great live band, and I did have a few of their records, but the only one I kept over the years was the "Past Our Means" EP, which I still love. But the recording on "Call on My Brothers" never did it for me, and everything I heard from "A Place Called Home" seemed 50/50, so I never bought it. So when I learned that the band had signed to Abacus Recordings and was going to be putting out a new record (Which I believe is their third full-length, but only their second new release in the last decade – shit, it's been like six years since the last full-length!), I was curious, but skeptical to say the least. Hell, I really didn't even know they were still active! Well, I have to say, I'm shocked, because "Our Darkest Days" is fucking great, and within minutes surpassed "Past Our Means" to become my favorite Ignite release to date.

In many ways I can only partially refer to this as a hardcore record. I don't know, I mean, sure, there are a good number of hardcore styled songs in the zippy and melodic vein that Ignite has always traveled, but a lot of the songs are so god damn catchy and so god damn melodic that it's just insane. I mean, any mainstream "alternative rock band" or whatever could record a handful of these tunes and probably make millions. And that's no insult to Ignite at all, I'm not making any accusations with that statement. Those unbelievably infectious and memorable songs – driven largely by Zoli Teglas' unique voice and soaring harmonies, the dude's just a great fuckin' singer – are by far my favorites, and really make this album what it is. They even drop a cover of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" – which is probably the 5,000,000th cover of that song, but damn if this isn't one of the better ones. From a logical perspective there's simply no reason Ignite shouldn't become immensely huge based on the quality of these songs ("Let it Burn" and a few others, in particular, fucking blow my mind they're so jammed with hooks), but since the reality of what bands do and do not succeed at that level is certainly not a logical process… who knows? All I know is that these fuckers better not wait another six years to do a new record if they're gonna keep cranking out jams of this quality! It's not for everyone, but I fuckin' love it!

Ignite "Let it Burn"
Ignite "My Judgement Day"

Don't even try to tell me you're not singing along to that shit, 'cause you'd be lying. Shut up, buy it, and exercise those vocal cords:

@ Abacus Recordings

Sick of it All - Death to TyrantsAlso out not long ago on Abacus Recordings is "Death to Tyrants", the latest from one of the absolute greatest NYHC bands of all time: Sick of it All. I think this is their eighth full-length, and while they've never put out a bad record, as far as I'm concerned this is their strongest outing since "Scratch the Surface" in 1994. Whereas "Life on the Ropes" saw the band refocusing to some degree, this record sort of takes that one step further by combining everything the band has done in the last decade with an angrier drive and a heavier recording that really harnesses the overall density and low-end power that "Scratch the Surface" had. It's certainly not a throwback record or anything like that, it doesn't sound like "Blood, Sweat and No Tears" (granted you'd be an idiot if you expected it to), but there's definitely some faster and more pissed material here that should win back some older fans who might've lost interest after "Built to Last". The tempos are all over the map, so some of the stuff's got that catchy hardcore/punk gang vocal vibe happening, there's just the right amount of that dissonant post-hardcore melody, and as stated a number of the tracks are ragingly fierce. That's all there is to it, man. It's fucking Sick of it All, they're legendary and they're still going strong. There's not a bad word to be said about these cats. The end.

Sick of it All "Leader"
Sick of it All "Die Alone"

Downloading shit is weak as hell, so pick it up:

@ Abacus Recordings

The Ducky Boys and Mark Lind…

Posted on Thursday, May 18th, 2006 @ 11:58am » permalink

The Ducky Boys - The War at HomeEven if I don't like all of the material, I've always been amazingly impressed by the sheer workload endured by Thorp Records, especially now that they've additionally branched out into the new Sailor's Grave side label – which already has nine releases out and a handful of others still slated for 2006!? Among my favorites from the label's first wave is "The War at Home", the latest full-length from Boston's own The Ducky Boys, led by bassist/vocalist Mark Lind, brother of Rob Lind (Ramallah, Blood for Blood, etc.) – both of whom are superb musicians/writers all around. As expected the band's fourth full-length offers up 12 more tracks and 30+ more minutes of their humble rock 'n' roll songs. In my review of their last album, the stellar "Three Chords and the Truth" (which is still my favorite record from The Ducky Boys to this day), I mentioned that the press materials for the band cited comparisons to everyone from Social Distortion, Rancid, and The Clash to Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements, which they basically still do, and I still agree in large part. It's relatively straightforward material with tried and tested song structures: Plenty of melody through slightly raspy singing and full, open guitars over pulsing bass and firm percussion, resulting in catchy tunes that cover a wide stylistic range from more of punk rock energy to sporadic forays into darker and/or more subdued territory. This material probably has a smidge more of a "political" bent to the lyrical content (which makes sense given the climate of the world at present), but if you've ever heard The Ducky Boys you know that it's all coming straight from the heart, so even a track with a title like "Corporate America" is peppered with sentiments more along the lines of, "I'll get up tomorrow and I'll go to work, and I'll forget a piece of my soul…" I'm damn glad the band didn't take such a long break between albums this time.

The Ducky Boys "Tortured Soul"
The Ducky Boys "The War Back Home"

If you're into it, please support the band and the label with a purchase:

@ Sailor's Grave Records

Mark Lind - Death or JailFittingly enough, due to its relation to the above disc, also recently released by Sailor's Grave is Mark Lind's first solo album, "Death or Jail". One cool little thing about this record is that the booklet contains brief explanatory text about the tracks after each set of lyrics, which includes details about the inspiration or history behind the songs – some of which have actually had bits and pieces recycled into songs by The Ducky Boys or Sinners & Saints since the time of their initial conception. Clearly this dude's a prolific songwriter, but while you might be expecting something singer/songwriter-ish from a solo outing, this stuff doesn't come off that way at all. In fact, these are basically rock songs that sound rather similar to The Ducky Boys with smatterings of Sinners & Saints here and there (though this record is slightly rawer than prior outings from both). In some ways it seems like what makes these songs more appropriate for a solo effort is the lyrics, because the bulk of the lyrical content herein is intensely personal – arguably a little more so than Lind's work within other bands. Perhaps the general vibe of the work is also a little more midpaced from a musical standpoint, but overall it's still a "heart-on-sleeve" type of thing, as always (including a nice cover of Paul Westerberg's "Sadly Beautiful"). While I know it's not the point or intention at all, I still have to say that I could envision this stuff sounding pretty damn huge and amazing given the means of a really slick and ambitious recording. Good stuff… but damn am I still waiting for the Lind brothers to make it happen with another Sinners & Saints record!

Mark Lind "Too Much"
Mark Lind "The Lonely People"

As is always the case, I encourage you to buy the album for yourself if you enjoy the material:

@ Sailor's Grave Records

Forced Entry "As Above, So Below" CD

Posted on Wednesday, May 17th, 2006 @ 11:11am » permalink

Forced Entry - As Above, So BelowAlright, so many people seem hungry for thrash that I figured I'd throw you another bone this week. Forced Entry was a Seattle-area trio and also the absolute best thrash band that I can think of from the northwest. They formed around 1984 as Condition Critical but had changed names by the time of their second demo a few years later, though they didn't officially debut until 1989 with "Uncertain Future". That first record was awesome, but Forced Entry really hit their stride two years later with "As Above, So Below" (1991, Relativity).

This band is just fucking criminally, criminally, criminally overlooked as far as I'm concerned. Sure, they have their legions of revering fans, but far too many still don't have a clue that they existed. Hell, I myself am still guilty of forgetting about them too often these days. But damn if they weren't an impressively killer band with a pretty original (not to mention diverse) take on songwriting. Despite the writing becoming a bit disjointed at times (tolerably so, under the circumstances), these cats jump around all over the place from exaggerated mosh breaks to ripping crossover-fueled vocal patterns (or the occasional dash of sarcasm) while combining the melody and complexity of the Bay Area kingpins with the meatier crunch of what was happening on the east coast at the time.

There's also somewhat of a Prong-ish sense of groove seeping in on occasion, but you'll also find – on this album in particular – some of the most fucked thrash riffs in the history of mankind. I can barely wrap my head around some of this shit – not so much from a technical standpoint so much as just, like… who the fuck would come up with some of that stuff!? Some of the riffs/solos are just whacked with bizarre harmonics, arpeggios, or queasy vibrato, and with so many changes in each track it can get pretty wild. But it's all simply awesome, and the recording is fuckin' great on this thing, which really allows the guitar parts and basslines to bounce shit off of each other rather frequently.

The more straightforward (yet still impeccable) "Never a Know, But the No" is probably Forced Entry's most "popular" song – somewhat of an incredibly badass "thrash ballad", if you will. But "Bone Crackin' Fever" actually opens the disc with a bang. I mean, what the hell is going with that ludicrous harmonic run during the verse? And those mangled pinch-harmonic/bend things in "Macrocosm, Microcosm"? What the fuck!? You've really just gotta hear some of these little tidbits to get the picture… I honestly can't think of any other band that's done shit that sounds like that.

"Uncertain Future" was on Combat, so it actually got reissued years ago in that series that Century Media's European division did (with the band's final self-released EP, "The Shore", tacked on as a bonus), but sadly "As Above, So Below" never received the re-release treatment that I'm aware of. A damn shame. So, of course it's out of print and relatively sought after these days, meaning that you'll have to scour the net in search of a deal or pay through the nose to get a copy. $17 is about as cheap as I could find one this morning (linked below), so… keep checking eBay if you're hoping to find a bargain. But don't count on it!

@ Amazon.com
@ Half.com

First Blood "Killafornia" CD

Posted on Tuesday, May 16th, 2006 @ 12:17pm » permalink

First Blood - KillaforniaI went completely apeshit the first time I encountered First Blood, the California metalcore act fronted by former Terror bassist Carl Schwartz (who actually recorded all of the guitar and bass parts for this album as well), and when their demo finally saw an official release on Division 36 a few years back I felt that it was one of hardest slabs of metallic hardcore that the west coast had to offer. It's taken far too long for the band to finally drop a full-length, but "Killafornia" is here at last (thanks to Trustkill Records), and despite a few minor shifts, it still delivers exactly the kind of brutal and over the top metalcore one would expect based on the demo.

Several of the demo tracks appear here in re-recorded form, but there's something about the feel of the full-length that changes things up a bit, and I can't quite place it. It doesn't hit me as hard as the demo did, and I don't know if that has something to do with the production or the surrounding new material. The recording is actually significantly stronger than that of the demo, but it almost has an overproduced churn to it since there are so many staccato rhythms and a plethora of midpaced chugging tends to run the show. I love the balance of pounding basslines just behind the guitars though, so there's a nice pulsing throb to the material that does pay off. But I do probably wish they'd speed things up a little more frequently, because more often than not as soon as the tempo picks up a bit and leans more towards a thrashy or traditional hardcore vibe the energy level tends to follow suit and grab your ear right away. I'm all for the massive breakdowns and crushing chugs, but somehow or another that midpaced focus gives this material a hint more of a metal sound, which is of course absolutely no problem whatsoever in my mind, but it does hinder the band's potential for absolutely insane ferocity to some degree.

But hey, these cats aren't trying to rewrite the book, you know? It's 11 tracks in 35 minutes: All pissed, all mosh. Let's face it, any band that names themselves after a Rambo flick (and yes, some good ol' John J. samples are still in tow) is going to crack a smile on me, and I'm into it.

First Blood "First Blood"
First Blood "Regimen"

I dig the layout on this thing, too. It's pretty basic, but something about the photography works, I don't know… it catches my eye for some reason. Good stuff. Pick it up and crack some heads or something:

@ The End Records
@ RevHQ

Closer "Tokpela" CD

Posted on Monday, May 15th, 2006 @ 8:18am » permalink

Closer - TokpelaI'm starting this week off on quite a high note with the self-released debut EP from Closer (Sweden), titled "Tokpela". This release is a perfect example for my endless quest to convince people that purchasing mp3's is a terrible, terrible manner in which to experience music, because you know you're in for something special just from looking at this thing. The plain-faced disc comes in an opaque jet black jewel case with an intriguing sticker on the front of the case (seen above), and this standard (yet quite atypical) case is then housed in a plain white slip sleeve with the band name, album title, and tracklist embossed into it – which looks truly stunning and certainly sets the scene for some incredible music.

I kind of feel like I'm growing increasingly tired of trying to classify inventive music within whatever genre boundaries these days, especially since I'll listen to anything as long as it's good, but just for reference I'd probably refer to what Closer's doing as something like "progressive indie rock" or something, ha. Seriously, to me a lot of the riffs and arrangements sort of sound like Opeth if they were to drop the metal and go for somewhat of a dryer and more angular sound. There's a great balance of melody and dissonance, I love the vocal work, the songwriting is dynamic yet consistent, and there's a lot of intricate riffing – so the entire affair is much more involved than cursory listens might reveal. It really is very creative material, and definitely has a unique sound to it despite the possibility of loose comparisons to other artists. I dig the crisp and spacious recording, the lyrics (which are delivered in English) are interesting, and I already mentioned the killer packaging… this is just a superb EP all around. Yet another amazing band from Sweden that deserves far more attention:

Closer "Open Casket"

I'm a huge fan of this material and eagerly looking forward to hearing more, so I'm certainly hoping for the best for this band as I'd love to see them get the opportunity to reach many, many more listeners. Thus, of course, I highly recommend the purchase of this CD. Buying the mp3's may be cheaper, but trust me, the packaging is worth the extra $6, and $10 really is a reasonable price for this excellent piece of work. There may only be four tracks, but the disc does run about 25 minutes, and every song's a true keeper. Plus, It's a Trap is a great source for obscure Scandinavian artists like Closer, so I wholeheartedly recommend and encourage supporting their efforts so that they can continue to be one of the only American suppliers of such materials:

@ It's a Trap

Xentrix "For Whose Advantage?" CD

Posted on Thursday, May 11th, 2006 @ 12:02pm » permalink

Xentrix - For Whose Advantage?A number of people have been emailing me requesting more thrash, which is always a good sign, so I guess I should give the people what they want from time to time, eh? So here it is. Some of you might remember Xentrix from when I featured this album on the original version of my site several years ago, but for those unaware, Xentrix formed in the UK in the late-80's, and "For Whose Advantage?" (1990, Roadrunner) was their second and best effort. Xentrix is definitely one of those bands that probably would've been huge had they been from California or something, but alas, they were pretty sorely overlooked even during the time when they were at their best. Easily the best UK thrash metal band I've ever heard, this record churns out precisely the kind of thrash that I love: Major crunch, light melody, and pretty damn catchy songwriting with just the right amount of loose technicality. The tracks generally run from four to six minutes with plenty of solos and lots of instrumental breaks (a must for thrash), so there are loads of meaty picking patterns and interesting chord phrasings, plus some solid dual guitar interaction as well. There's a very Bay Area sound happening with a lot of the riffs, but Xentrix definitely had their own feel. A lot of what I've read draws very heavy comparisons to Metallica, but that's bullshit, because this band doesn't really sound anything like Metallica to me sans a few snippets of the vocal performance or a little harmony here and there. I've always felt that what they do is very recognizable as Xentrix, and they were never half as generic as a lot of the thrash that was around in those days.

Xentrix actually reunited for some live shows with their original lineup a few months ago, though I'm not sure what else that might yield (if anything). Sadly all of their material is way out print and can be quite hard to find. As recently as four or five years ago you could get this disc for maybe $5, and it still seems easier to find than the others for some reason, but it's all become rarer and more expensive these days, which is just a crime. All you can really do is search eBay and hope for the best. Roadrunner is retarded and needs to reissue the goldmine of thrash they're sitting on immediately.

Victims and Skitsystem…

Posted on Wednesday, May 10th, 2006 @ 12:10pm » permalink

Victims - Divide and ConquerHot damn, I've said it before, but there's just something about Victims that I love, and they've really become one of my favorite Swedish hardcore bands of the present. Having heard most of the band's output, they really started to win me over last year with "…In Blood", and that trend continues with their third full-length (again released by the mighty Havoc label), "Divide and Conquer". In some ways I'm not entirely sure what it is about Victims' work that nails it for me, because in all honesty, as much as I dig these various brands of hardcore/punk, I'm easily bored, so there are loads and loads of bands of this general nature that I enjoy, but simply don't listen to all that often. I don't know, they basically take that fast early-80's kind of hardcore and hype it up with that harsher and more pissed Scandinavian edge, while tossing in minor dashes of Motörhead-esque rock that make the majority of the songs catchy as fuck – which certainly helps when you're blazing through 15 tracks in just under 22 minutes! Also worth mentioning, especially for those who prefer their hardcore a bit "purer" of heart, is that there's no metal here. While the band does possess that certain level of aggression associated with a number of other contemporary Swedish acts, their sound strays away from any metallic crunch, and in fact I'd tag this album as being a slight bit rawer than "…In Blood" was (I can't say that I prefer that particular angle, but it's not a negative trait at all, this shit still totally smokes).

Victims "Your Division"
Victims "Captured"

Havoc's prices are great, so this one's just $9 all over the place. Pick it up if you're into it, and if you had never heard Victims before I highly recommend grabbing "…In Blood" as well:

@ Havoc
@ Relapse Records
@ RevHQ

Skitsystem - StigmataAlso from Havoc is "Stigmata", the third full-length from Skitsystem (also from Sweden, of course). This is the band's critical debut sans Tomas "Tompa" Lindberg, with guitarist Fredrik Wallenberg and bassist Alexander Höglind now handling all of the vocal duties (they've also added a new second guitarist in Mikael Kjellman from Martyrdöd). It's tricky, because I am a Tomas Lindberg fan, but I have to admit that I do often find his presence to be somewhat overrated. However, with so many bands having followed Skitsystem's lead (i.e. they all sound quite similar), his vocals did help the band retain their forefront identity, so thankfully, now that they don't have that to rely on anymore, the songwriting has become more dynamic this time around. There's still plenty of the moderately fast and pounding chord progressions and powerful dissonance for which the band is known, but there are more tempo changes, as well as a smidge more metal – somewhat akin to Bolt Thrower covering classic Swedish death metal or something (just keep in mind that all of this is blanketed by a hardcore framework, this is not a metal record at all).

While "Grå Värld/Svarta Tankar" remains my favorite of Skitsystem's output, "Stigmata" is a far stronger album than "Enkel Resa Till Rännstenen" was. First off, they recorded at Studio Fredman this time around and the sound is excellent: Not what I would consider to be "polished" (though by crust punk standards I suppose it is), just very crisp, utilizing a balanced mix and punishing tones without lacking texture or going over the top. And beyond that the songwriting is just more interesting and memorable (all of the lyrics are in Swedish, but English song explanations are provided and these cats definitely still mean business), so it's been growing on me with time and definitely comes in a close second to their debut. And in fact, given a longer period of reflection, "Stigmata" might even stand right alongside "Grå Värld/Svarta Tankar" without fail.

Skitsystem "Apokalypsens Svarta Änglar"
Skitsystem "Det Samvetslösa Hatets Plågor"

Same deal. It's cheap, so buy it if you like it:

@ Havoc
@ Relapse Records
@ RevHQ

This Empty Flow and Integrity…

Posted on Monday, May 8th, 2006 @ 11:44am » permalink

This Empty Flow - The AlbumThis Empty Flow formed in 1994 in Finland, and curiously enough I became familiar with former member Niko Sirkiä's post-This Empty Flow experimental noise projects a few years ago, prior to having been introduced to this band's music via Darkdose. Thankfully, Eibon Records has recently issued a long overdue re-release of the band's lone extremely rare and out of print full-length, "Magenta Skycode", originally released in 1996 by Avantgarde Music. This new edition, dubbed "The Album", is a 2xCD set with a second disc titled "Magenta Lost", which contains 11 previously unreleased tracks recorded on a Fostex 4-track during the band's earliest years. So, somewhat sadly, this is not a complete discography, though such an undertaking would've required at least three discs, so I'm just thankful to finally have something of the band's to call my own!

For the most part this is rather slow and quiet material, supplied in lengthy tracks that usually fall over six minutes apiece. It's dark and drone-y sort of chilled out material that could possibly appeal to fans of The Cure or Slowdive or things of that nature, I guess… but I don't like The Cure so don't let a statement like that scare you away! Expect lots of pulsing basslines while rather distant vocals rest behind fleeting electronic textures or synths and wailing waves of distorted guitars or stripped down clean riffing with light reverb effects. The second disc is actually better than I was expecting given the fact that the recording conditions were a bit rougher than the full-length, but it sounds fairly consistent against the album itself, and the songwriting is equally effective (with the tracks tending more towards the five- to six-minute range). It's a little more… "new wave" sounding in its "dark side", though.

Apparently everything was remastered, though I would've thought they'd try to up the volume just a touch? It's moody stuff, and not the most active listen in the world, but I really dig its atmosphere, so perhaps that level of quietness is intentional? Whatever the case, I find myself appreciating this kind of thing more and more in recent years, though my exposure to such styles is relatively minimal. See what you think:

This Empty Flow "Snow Blind"
This Empty Flow "Stream"
This Empty Flow "Untitled"

The release sells for around $15, which is pretty average for double-CD sets, but you're paying for nearly two hours of music, so it's certainly nothing to complain about:

@ The End Records

Integrity - Always is Always ForeverOn a completely unrelated note, I've been meaning to write up Integrity's DVD release, "Always is Always Forever", for quite sometime now, so I figure today's as good a time as any so that it doesn't slip my mind again. This collection was assembled and released by Dwid himself under the banner of Van Hellion International, and was intentionally set up to fuck with people who try to skip around throughout the DVD – so unless you access individual segments from the menu (which is only viewable either at the end of the DVD or by physically pressing the "menu" button on your remote), chances are you'll actually miss some content (and there's a lot of it).

I'm not particularly covering this in any order, but the disc contains all of the following as a whole. There are "music video" styled presentations for classic tracks such as "Those Who Fear Tomorrow", "Judgement Day", "Dawn of a New Apocalypse", "Eighteen", and "In Contrast of Sin", as well as for more recent material like "To Die For" and "Taste My Sin". Everything else consist of assorted live footage from 1988 – 2003. The 1988 footage is fucking amazing, dating way back to a time when the band was full of extremely skinny little kids (sans Chubby Fresh, of course, who was already, well… chubby) playing raw old school styled hardcore. Anyone who owns the "Systems Overload" CD will recognize an old demo track or two, and this segment is by far one of the highlights of the DVD. Also cool are "Those Who Fear Tomorrow" and "Tempest" from another relatively early show (I believe prior to the release of the first LP) in Chicago that's one of my favorite bootlegs of the band: Mean Steve is seen in the crowd being a hardass all night, and there's also some friction between certain members of the crowd and a more antagonistic than usual Dwid (though some of that aspect isn't shown in these two tracks). There's also yet another cut of "Those Who Fear Tomorrow" live at The Whiskey, though in more recent times. Somewhere in there is a performance of "Lundgren Crucifixion" with what looks like the "Seasons in the Size of Days" lineup, but sadly this is the only snippet that touches on that era of the band.

And that's not all, either. There are also two (sort of) complete live sets. One is from Holland in the mid-90's (just after the release of "Systems Overload") and runs about 35 minutes, blowing through all of the classics plus a few from "Systems…" (including a rare live performance of the awesome "Salvations Malevolence", which is one of my favorite Integrity tracks). Then there's a 17-minute set from Boston in 2003 with one of the post-"To Die For" lineups. This set is all cut up and incomplete, but it does start off with a three-track shot of songs from "Humanity is the Devil", so that rules (even if the crowd sings more of the vocals than Dwid).

However, perhaps the best part of all is the "hidden treat" (only accessible via the menu), featuring Tony Erba (on vocals) alongside Chubby Fresh and I believe other members of Face Value (playing air instruments and running around being silly) doing "karaoke" to Integrity classics "Live it Down" and "In Contrast of Sin" in a video that looks to have been produced in one of those amusement park types of booths or something. This is all utterly hilarious and simply must be seen to be believed, especially once Erba inexplicably removes his shirt in an unparalleled act of karaoke bravado. Classic.

Good stuff overall. As I said, it's jammed with content, and I imagine it totals around two hours or something like that. My only minor complaint is that the "Humanity…/Seasons…" period is sorely underrepresented, and I personally start to get a little tired of hearing songs from the first record over and over again. But I have to say, it's not much of a surprise in some ways, because out of all the bootleg Integrity videos I collected over the years, I don't think I was able to find more than two or three (if that) from that particular time since the band wasn't playing out too heavily in those days. I just love those damn songs and feel like that time period is a pretty underrated portion of the band's all around crucial history. No big deal, though. Most of the diehard fans (no pun intended) probably already have this, but the purchase was definitely worth the money for me. Make the grab if you haven't already:

@ Very Distribution

Starkweather "Croatoan" CD

Posted on Friday, May 5th, 2006 @ 5:50am » permalink

Starkweather - CroatoanSimple fact: Starkweather is one of the greatest (and yet most criminally wronged, overlooked, and possibly cursed) bands to have ever existed, and there is absolutely no shred of doubt that "Croatoan" will be among the best records of 2006. The end. No fucking argument. Since this is another band that holds a steady position in my top five of all time, I paid an almost inconceivably bloated $16.72 for this CD three days ago at Tower Records the day it was released, because there was simply no fucking way that I was going to wait even one more day to finally hold in my hands a finished copy of this album on CD. As if it weren't bad enough that it's been over a god damn decade since the band's last full-length release (I personally consider "Into the Wire" – which happens to be one of my favorite releases of all time – to be a full-length despite it containing only six tracks), the fucking recording for this album has been finished for over a year, and I've been forcing myself not to listen to my CD-R of rough mixes for months on end because I really wanted the material to still feel new to me when it finally received an official US release (via Candlelight Records).

Much like my exposition on Katatonia last week, this is not what I would consider to be a "review" (not that I consider anything that I write on this site to be "reviews" anymore), because every motherfucker that's reading this right now just needs to listen for themselves and let the material speak for itself. You can't properly describe Starkweather with words. You just can't. Are they a metal band? Sure, but there's so much more to it than that since it's far from "conventional" in any way. And have they perhaps come from more of a hardcore background on some level? Yes, you'd more than likely say that, but they've never sounded even remotely like a hardcore band at all from a musical standpoint.

And I'm telling you right now, this band is not for everyone, and in fact when I first heard them some 11+ years ago I couldn't really handle the vocals at all. But somewhere along the line in the year that followed my initial exposure, it all clicked: The impeccable lyrics (simply unparalleled by any other band), the warped musical aesthetics, the inhuman vocal maneuvering (Also simply unparalleled – in addition to being one of the finest lyricists I've ever come across, Rennie Resmini boasts the single most unique and inimitable vocal approach ever – love it or hate it. And while we're on such topics, Harry Rosa is one of the most impressive drummers I've ever heard in terms of completely maniacal feel and his total disregard for repetition.), etc. Starkweather is among an impossibly infinitesimal number of bands who embody the aural equivalent of sheer and total hatred, disgust, disappointment, and arguably murder itself. I have seriously had moments where listening to this band connects so strongly that I just want to smash my face open with a hammer (figuratively speaking).

Starkweather "Wilding"

All love withers away never dies just left to linger in the plague years eidolons fret in the unconscious eye as the apocalypse draws nigh everything is rolling stroboscopic slow-motion I thought of you months on end tore my knuckles on the walls painted scarlet pictures hallucinating I wandered the streets treading ever so softly lest the moorings fall bask in silence enjoy its beauty for the moment's fleeting…

Man, "Wilding" is seriously fucking amazing. One of the band's finest moments to date and without a doubt my favorite track of the disc. And for those curious, "Croatoan" contains three re-recorded tracks from the days of old (all of which have been noticeably modified from their initial incarnations): "Bitterfrost" (originally on the split 7" with Season to Risk), "Hushabye: Goodnight" (originally on the "Definitely Not the Majors" compilation and one of the band's most obliteratingly vicious songs), and a much expanded (and practically new in the process) edition of "Slither" from "Into the Wire".

The more copies of "Croatoan" Starkweather sells on CD the better their chances of getting a bigger budget for their next album, so fans both new and old should please make sure to buy this record rather than downloading it. The artwork (by far Paul Romano's best, plain and simple) and lyrics are essential and incredible, and quite frankly you're a jackass if you overlook such aspects of Starkweather's existence. Make the damn purchase, and if you're a new fan, do yourself a favor and buy everything else they've ever released as well – you can find it all dirt cheap because people are fucking morons:

@ Very Distribution

Collectors and/or vinyl junkies in general should be aware that you can also purchase a beautiful 2xLP version of "Croatoan" from the significantly more "with it" Hypertension Records in Belgium, who were wise enough to take care of business in 2005. I'm not sure what colors of vinyl are left but mine came a few weeks ago on red, and the full-color gatefold sleeve (with matte finish) looks awesome.

I totally fucking adore this band. One of a kind, people. One of a kind…

Versus the Mirror and Action Reaction…

Posted on Thursday, May 4th, 2006 @ 8:51am » permalink

Versus the Mirror - Home"Home" is the debut full-length from Arizona's Versus the Mirror and marks another very solid screamy emo kind of release from Equal Vision Records. The first thing that hit me about this band was that I kept waiting and waiting and expecting the big "singing part" to kick in – but it never did! They're pretty dynamic musically in terms of balancing heaviness and shimmery clean passages with hints of grating aggression scattered throughout the otherwise generally melodic rhythmic pulses, but the vocals are just relentless screams through and through, they never play into the formula by switching over to singing vocals, which is actually a pretty cool surprise. Of course, that being said, this is not something that I would consider to be particularly original. It's a little crisper and more "polished" than the über-D.I.Y.-underground type of screamo stuff (you know, the kind of thing where everything comes in a hand-screened sleeve with flowers pressed into the paper or whatever – though I must point out that the layout on this CD is slick as fuck and uses loads of gorgeous gloss finish patterns throughout), but it does still have a certain ruggedness around the edges. So I guess that, as usual, it all boils down to the songwriting for me: Strong riffs and memorable arrangements hold my attention, and these dudes are in a good position in terms of neither sounding "cheap" (i.e. overly simplistic) nor "artsy". They seem to be settled into a fairly consistent niche of what they do best, and that's what they do – pushing the boundaries out just a tad without diving off the deep end. Hey, what can I say? I like it.

Versus the Mirror "Birthed by Architecture"
Versus the Mirror "Barracuda Capital of the World"

Those aren't necessarily the best songs herein, but since the label's already provided a few different sample tracks from the disc I don't want to give away too much more, and as I said, it's pretty consistent, so these are as strong an example as any, I suppose. If you like it, pick it up:

@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Action Reaction - s/tAnother Equal Vision debut (though technically on the Hope Division imprint, which presently remains a mystery due to an uninformative website) comes in the form of a self-titled four-song EP from Action Reaction, which is only available online or at shows. For those unaware (as was I until I recognized the voice), this is the new band from former Further Seems Forever vocalist Jason Gleason. I'm certainly not going to sit here and compare Action Reaction to Further Seems Forever, because Further Seems Forever was one of the greatest bands ever, and this is an entirely different entity, so that's that. I imagine this will still appeal to the emo/indie type of crowd, and of course the vocal performance still has that same sort of quality to it, but this material's a little more "hip" (but tolerably so, it's important to note) in terms of experimenting with some quirky electronic tidbits and generally more… I don't know, "eccentric" writing tactics? They seem to bounce back and forth between catchy and somewhat straightforward material that has that expected punch to it and stuff that's a little more laidback and atypical (to a degree) for the type of audiences associated with both the label and the "ex-member" factor – neither of which should be all that important to the big picture, but the topic does apply, so… Whatever you want to call it, this is good stuff overall, and personally I'll be quite curious to hear a full-length effort from these folks.

Action Reaction "Sinner's Algebra"

Unless you plan on checking out Action Reaction on tour, grab this one direct from the label since it's not available elsewhere:

@ Equal Vision Records

Dim Mak and Phobia…

Posted on Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006 @ 8:35am » permalink

Dim Mak - Knives of IceI've never been a huge fan of New Jersey's Dim Mak for whatever reason, though of course I absolutely respect the significance of vocalist Scott Ruth's and guitarist Shaune Kelley's time in the dreadfully underrated Ripping Corpse (along with former Dim Mak drummer Brandon Thomas – the band now boasts former Angelcorpse, Origin, and Skinless sticksman John Longstreth behind the kit). And speaking of Ripping Corpse, wasn't "Dreaming With the Dead" supposed to be reissued at some point or something? Why the hell hasn't that happened in the last 15 years!? Anyway, I respect the Dim Mak backstory, but for whatever reason I simply haven't listened to their music all that much over the years. That being said, I am glad to see them back in action after the long gap since 2002's "Intercepting Fist", and "Knives of Ice" (released by the mighty Willowtip) is probably their best record to date, at least for my money. Some of the overall songwriting doesn't necessarily grip me (Although the chorus of "Seeing Crows in Silver" sounds almost identical to half of the songs on the first Deicide record, which is awesome!), but I'm certainly a fan of their ultra clean and precise playing, and the shreddingly textured picking patterns and windingly dissonant riffs are right up my alley. As a result I tend find myself wishing they'd focus solely on those types of riffs as opposed to venturing into some less interesting tremolo picking territory, but thankfully those feverishly meaty rhythms are dominant throughout.

I wasn't sure what to make of the recording at first, but now that my ears have adjusted I enjoy certain aspects of it quite a bit. The drums are handled about as efficiently as possible considering the rigidity of the tones alongside the speed of many of the beats, but while I'd still (as usual) prefer a little more warmth there (coupled with more noticeable basslines), the vocals and guitars sound excellent. The guitar tone is especially great because it's got a crispness to it that lets every little nuance of the riffs present itself, and that's perfect for this technical brand of uniquely thrashy/deathy material that's neither quite death metal nor quite thrash!? Go figure. Maybe this will be the record that inches Dim Mak up in my extended listening rotation?

Dim Mak "Seeing Crows in Silver"
Dim Mak "Incident at the Temple at Leng"

Make the grab if you dig the tunes, and if you plan to buy it, you'd be insane to purchase anywhere other than directly from the label. They're extremely cheap and faster than any other source I've encountered:

@ Willowtip

Phobia - Serenity Through PainAnother recent addition to the ever-expanding Willowtip roster are the grindcore stalwarts of Orange County's own Phobia. These cats have been at it for more than 15 years and have a slew of releases out on a slew of different labels, and they're still going strong. I'm not gonna lie, though, for whatever reason I sort of lost interest in Phobia after "Serenity Through Pain" a few years back (their debut full-length, "Means of Existence", remains my favorite of their releases), so I haven't been keeping up with much of what they've been doing since then. While "Cruel", their latest full-length affair (21 songs in less than 27 minutes), doesn't exactly make me suspect that I've missed anything of vital importance during that time, it is a powerful example of the band's staying power. As usual there are only sparse variances away from the band's patented form of blistering and straightforward grind towards either slower/moodier fare or slightly more hardcore/punk oriented riffing, just enough so that it's not a one-sided listen, and that works damn fine for me, as often those slight variances make the most impact!

Phobia "Never"
Phobia "Cursed"
Phobia "Numb"

Same story: If you like it, buy it. The label's an excellent purchasing source:

@ Willowtip

In remembrance…

Posted on Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006 @ 8:44am » permalink

Yesterday I unfortunately learned that two members of bands that I've posted about on this site have recently passed away long before their time. Javier "Sob" Carpio, the guitarist of Merauder, and Eddie "Boppo" Ramos of Social Decay (I believe he was the drummer). I didn't know either of these guys but I've been a big fan of their former bands for some time now, and they were far too young for such dire circumstances (I don't think Sob was but a few years older than I am). I'm already one of these people who ponders the uncertainties of death way more often than I should, and sense just can't be made of tragedies like this. I don't know what else to say other than my condolences to their friends and families during this trying time. Here are some re-posted tracks in their honor:

Merauder's 1993 demo (original post):

1. "Life is Pain"
2. "Final War"
3. "Besiege the Masses"
4. "Fear of Sin" (only appears on some copies of the demo)

Social Decay's "Life's Not Hard… You're Just Soft" 7" (original post):

1. "Dreams or Reality"
2. "Rotate the Tables"
3. "Price of Life"
4. "Truth in the Proof"
5. "Stepped on My Pride"
6. "All I Feel is Pain/Exit"

Parkway Drive and Ligeia…

Posted on Monday, May 1st, 2006 @ 9:56am » permalink

Parkway Drive - Killing With a SmileProviding more proof that contemporary metalcore truly is a worldwide phenomenon, Australian label Resist Records, who I've always thought of as more of a traditional hardcore/metallic hardcore label, has hopped aboard with "Killing With a Smile", the debut full-length from Parkway Drive, a band from their own locale. Much more metal oriented in approach (with plenty of tactful Swedish flare, of course) than anything "-core" related, I could actually see this band doing extremely well in the US considering how popular bands like Bleeding Through are becoming as of late, because this material sounds fairly similar to that particular niche of metalcore (loads of tremolo picking and dual guitar melodies, thick midpaced breaks, scathing screams, etc.), but the songwriting is a lot fiercer and there are actually some badass riffs popping up from time to time – not to mention loads of slick solos! I don't know, it's just faster and more energetic than most of this style tends to be, and when you combine that with superior riffs and proficient performances it really works out quite well. Seriously: Like it or not, there's no denying that some of these tunes contain some impeccable riffs.

Parkway Drive "Anasasis (Xenophontis)"
Parkway Drive "Gimme a D"

I don't know, a lot of people who hit this site on a regular basis might not be into this, but the more I listen to it the more I appreciate what they're doing. My hatred for this style of metalcore has been growing at a rapid pace over the last three to five years, but every now and then a band like Parkway Drive comes along and really nails it, so look into this one if you can still stomach Swedish styled melodies that actually possess power:

@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Ligeia - Your Ghost is a GiftI believe "Your Ghost is a Gift" (released by Ferret Music) is the first full-length from Ligeia, who seems to be a relatively new band. The combination of band name, album title, and cover art are rather misleading with this one, certainly suggesting overdramatic screamy emo horseshit with atrocious lyrics. But while track titles like "I'm Sorry You're Ugly" and "Makin' Love to a Murderer" aren't exactly indicative of great lyrical content, this is still a far better release than one might expect, providing more proof that Ferret has a strange knack for stumbling onto several of the better metalcore bands out there these days. Now, I wouldn't put these cats at the Misery Signals level or anything, but they're definitely leaning in that direction with the way they utilize a lot of creatively melodic riffing that maintains a strong sense of energy. It's a little inconsistent in that they literally throw bits and pieces of almost every form of metalcore into the mix, from basic fast paced hardcore chords to ultra discordant chaotic segments or churning breakdowns that jump over to death metal runs or whatever; and yes, there is a blend of harsher shouting vocals with some singing and all that (more effectively than many, in my opinion), but I'm pretty into a lot of the riffs, so even though it's not the most original thing in the world and has some "emo" flirtations that are sure to turn many away, I could see them bowling me over at some point down the road. I kind of flip-flop on how I feel about the recording but it definitely needs work to really let these songs hit the mark. Sometimes the rigidity of the drums starts to get on my nerves, but I think my biggest issue is that the guitars have a weird sort of sheen to 'em that takes a lot of getting used to: They're heavy, but something's missing, and I can't hear an ounce of bass guitar in the mix either, so there's a gap between the guitars and drums that sort of accentuates the problem areas to a degree. This is a good start, though. I'll be curious to see where they take things from here on out…

Ligeia "Beyond a Doubt"
Ligeia "Household Stereotypes"

And buy the shit if you like the shit, people:

@ Ferret Music
@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution