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Action Reaction "3 is the Magic Number" CD

Posted on Thursday, September 28th, 2006 @ 9:34am » permalink

Action Reaction - 3 is the Magic NumberOn the heels of the EP I covered earlier this year, and also on the Hope Division imprint of Equal Vision Records, "3 is the Magic Number" is Action Reaction's debut full-length. I'm sure there are those who will complain about my covering this most fully lightweight disc, especially since I haven't entirely made up my mind on it, but fuck it. For the most part I like it, which makes sense since the aforementioned EP definitely got me curious, but since 11 tracks and 45 minutes of music is a lot more to go on, you get much more diversity from this offering than was encountered on the brief EP. And I'm fine with that, especially since the diversity doesn't stray too far from the quirkily unique fusion of emo, indie, and alternative rock sorts of styles that Action Reaction has created for themselves. Plus, I find Jason Gleason's vocals to be quite strong, and the production is super pristine, so there's always something within these tracks that works for me on some level.

Where I'm somewhat undecided on the full-length is that certain elements of the songwriting simply stretch just a bit beyond my personal tastes, though not to a degree that turns me off, just far enough to make me question, if that makes sense. However, a big part of that stems from the fact that a lot of the material is relatively laidback and restrained in a manner that lacks the memorable energy possessed by a track like "Sinner's Algebra" (which was the best song on the EP and also kicks off this record). There are a few well-placed bursts of energy throughout, though, and when the band opens up like that it definitely makes a difference. But I don't want to insinuate that the trio's less capable when they sink back into softer, chilled out territory, because they're quite adept in that realm – hell, I could actually see them succeeding most there at some point – it's just that the songwriting's not quite there yet in some of those tracks. It's a combination of a slight lack of balance and a slight need to create a hint more differentiation between the overall vibe of the sequencing. So… there are some lulls, but I do enjoy this disc for the most part.

Action Reaction "Sinner's Algebra"
Action Reaction "Can You Hear the Sun?"

Make the grab if this is your thing:

@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

It's almost Friday… finally. Tomorrow should be a big one here if all goes as planned, so keep an eye out…

Dead Hearts and Heavy Heavy Low Low…

Posted on Wednesday, September 27th, 2006 @ 10:32am » permalink

Dead Hearts - Bitter VersesI've yet to be blown away by Dead Hearts, but "Bitter Verses", their first outing since joining the Ferret Music roster, is definitely the band's strongest effort to date – honing their brand of rocked out hardcore into a more focused and energetic attack. The songwriting is more cohesive this time out, so the "rocked out" elements of their riffing are less obvious (which is certainly a good thing in my book) – seamlessly blending in with explosive bursts of melodic hardcore chords, pounding midpaced rhythms loaded with intense layering, a few atmospheric/cinematic instrumental segments, and fervently sincere vocals that communicate the emotion of the lyrics well in a manner that basically amounts to all out yelling. I'd definitely say the overall vibe here (both musically and thematically) is somewhat comparable to Modern Life is War as a reference point, and the end result makes for 14 epic feeling yet generally concise tracks in barely over a half-hour. Awesome cover art by Jacob Bannon as well (though he didn't do the layout) – he's definitely doing some of his absolutely best work as of late. Nice. These guys are definitely moving forward, and I'm curious to see how their progression continues in the future…

Dead Hearts "Hollow"
Dead Hearts "Dusk"

Make the grab if you dig the tunes:

@ Ferret Music
@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Heavy Heavy Low Low - Everything's Watched, Everyone's WatchingAlso new from Ferret Music is Heavy Heavy Low Low's "Everything's Watched, Everyone's Watching", which drops 11 generally quick and chaotic tracks in a mere 22 minutes. Like 'em or not, these guys must be doing something right on some level, because there's just something about this band where you kind of know what they're gonna sound like before even hearing their music. Granted you can't really get the full picture without listening for yourself, but it's not entirely surprising that you're greeted with a weird and quirky cacophony of grinding, churning, metalcore-ish madness with whacked out screamo tendencies and some totally oddball riffs more reminiscent of jazz or sludgy rock or something. There's plenty of tempo variation and quite a few riff changes as well, but I will say that – while not entirely my thing – the songwriting is much more developed and effective than most such bands. It's caustic and crazy, but it's not too far gone by any means. There are a lot of solid riffs in place, on occasion a hint of melody seeps in, the recording is very well executed, and despite mildly irritating moments/elements, the end result is actually quite listenable as compared to most of this particular style. Original? Not exactly, but they're not generic either, and it would seem that they have a good handle on what they're doing, so I can appreciate it.

Heavy Heavy Low Low "Kids, Kids, Kids"
Heavy Heavy Low Low "Eating the Porridge and Killing the Bears"

As always, purchase a copy for yourself if you're into it:

@ Ferret Music
@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Stolen Babies "There Be Squabbles Ahead" CD

Posted on Tuesday, September 26th, 2006 @ 9:14am » permalink

Stolen Babies - There Be Squabbles AheadTo be honest with you, I can't believe I like this CD. The cover artwork, by graphic novelist Crab Scrambly, who I wasn't familiar with beforehand, is actually very cool… but very not the kind of thing indicative of an album that I would enjoy. Then there's the fact that the record's called "There Be Squabbles Ahead" (The End Records), by a band named Stolen Babies… a band that occasionally uses accordion, electric and upright bass, and plenty of keyboards, sampling, and programming. A band that the label classifies with the adjectives/genres "extravagant", "gothic", "metal", "carnival", and "rock". A band that has been elsewhere described with descriptors such as "prog-pop" and "cabaret-thrash", among others. Did I mention that they occasional use an accordion? Yeah? Okay, well did I mention that they also dress up looking like characters out of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" meets a Tim Burton flick or something? So, yeah… ask a Magic 8-ball if I'd dig this band and the response would most certainly be, "My sources say no."

Wrong answer.

I don't know why, but this is a cool CD. It's pretty damn wacky, it's impossible not to cite loose similarities to (a more consistently cinematic and tangible) Mr. Bungle, and there are of course elements involved that are beyond my normal realm of listening – to the point where I'd not usually be a fan – but hey… sometimes you can't make sense of things. From a writing standpoint I'm not hearing much "prog-pop", but a foundation of quirky metal is there amongst all the extravagant gothic carnival rocking. It's obvious that frontwoman Dominique Lenore Persi has an excellent voice – singing, sceaming, and all – but especially during a few of the borderline "traditional" song arrangements (see "Lifeless" below). As a result, in addition to the adventurous experimentation of Stolen Babies, I'd love to hear her work with a more "straightforward" act that would really let some of her more emotive strengths shine. This is an intriguing piece of work, though. The recording's fairly well executed, and some of the more prominent bass work totally kills, so… if you can ignore your expectations and habitual preferences you just might stumble onto something you enjoy here.

Stolen Babies "Lifeless"
Stolen Babies "Awful Fall"

This one's not officially out until next week, but the pre-orders start shipping in just a couple more days:

@ The End Records

Deathcycle and The Horror…

Posted on Monday, September 25th, 2006 @ 9:27am » permalink

Deathcycle - s/tNice. This self-titled affair from Chainsaw Safety Records is Deathcycle's first full-length, and what a promising introduction it is. 13 tracks of dark, furious hardcore/punk with hints of both sludgy and thrashy metal in just under a half-hour. This ain't run of the mill material at all, though. Sure, lyrical themes attacking religion, greed, corruption, etc. aren't uncommon, but the content's much more pointed and involved than most:

There's a million dead people that are never coming back. And if you look at our history, it goes on and on, wars that they create and we are the pawns…

And the songwriting? Impressive. From typical bouts of three-chord hardcore or sparsely D-beat styled rhythms they branch out into pulverizingly heavy blasts of rugged, thrashy riffing or even some chaotically dissonant textures on occasion, with a range of tempos that jumps from the slow and pounding to the grindingly quick. The end result is one that's not unfamiliar, but also never sounds generic or stale, and keeps things moving so constantly that there's no time for getting bored, which is awesome. Take some traditional hardcore, some crust punk, some grindcore, some power violence, smear it all together in a somehow cohesive fashion, and the result sounds a lot like this album… and it's fuckin' awesome.

Deathcycle "Take Your Life Back"
Deathcycle "Security/Slavery"

The layout on this thing totally rules as well. I love it. Nice, heavy recording, too. Highly recommended overall, so definitely pick this shit up. It's only $10 straight from the label:

@ Chainsaw Safety Records

The Horror - The Fear, the Terror, the HorrorAnother debut full-length from Chainsaw Safety Records comes in the form of "The Fear, the Terror, the Horror" from The Horror (UK). 18 tracks, about 22 minutes, recorded in just 21 hours. Got it? Good. These cats blaze through a straightforward brand of raw, fast hardcore/punk with totally blown out vocal yells that sound pretty damn intense. I dig the fact that the lyrics are pissed and carry a serious message while still being able to hang onto some tactfully bitter sarcasm or what have you. I find myself wishing the recording were a touch more balanced since it feels like there's a lot of midrange happening that can be a little harsh on the ears in some respects (which causes clarity and some of the ripping vocal texture to be lost on occasion), but the material's fairly solid, and I could see this band doing some serious damage with minor tweaks. As with Deathcycle above there are a lot of different tempos at work herein, which definitely helps to keep things interesting and draw out some additional force during some fierce slow to midpaced runs here and there. But for the most part it's varying degrees of fast, furious, in your face hardcore/punk with no bullshit… and you can't complain about that, my friends.

The Horror "Still Hate Thatcher"
The Horror "Reunited Ripper"

Same deal, pick it up from the label for just $10 if you're down:

@ Chainsaw Safety Records

Catharsis "s/t" CD

Posted on Friday, September 22nd, 2006 @ 9:21am » permalink

Catharsis - s/tI recently got an email asking me if I had ever posted about Catharsis, because I had mentioned planning to at some point, so here it is. Catharsis was from North Carolina and is almost synonymously linked to the activities of their infamous label (or "ex-workers' collective", rather), CrimethInc. Frontman Brian Dingledine was also the editor of the once mighty Inside Front fanzine, which was truly among the best of the best in its heyday. Dingledine and inside Front can also be credited with coining the term "holy terror" with regard to the classic form of apocalyptic metallic hardcore that was breeding during the mid-90's – most notably via the almighty Integrity of course, though the term was applied to Catharsis themselves on numerous occasions as well.

While Catharsis was always ten times more idealistic and "revolutionary" in thought than any other band having been associated with the "holy terror" style, their debut full-length – which contained their demo and debut 7" recordings from 1994/1995 – stands as my favorite release from their back catalog. While decidedly rawer and in some areas slightly sloppy compared to their later albums, there's a sense of chaotic fury and over the top anger/bitterness tucked away in the delivery (and in the lyrics) that the band never recaptured to this degree of sheer intensity.

Welcome to the holy day. This is the day that it all comes true. It will burn like a furnace. When the mouth of hell opens up before me, come suffering: Wash me of my impurities, teach me what it is to want more. Everywhere I turn, the despisers of the body – the despisers of the soul. Angels bleed out from their wounds, demons out from mine. Remind me what's at stake, drive me day and night. In this forsaken slaughterhouse, god forgot but I have not. I still know exactly what I want…

This collection in particular is certainly the band's work most fitting of the "holy terror" banner, and every god damn track is an absolute scorcher – right down to the covers of Breakdown's "Sick People" and Confront's "Our Fight" (each with slightly altered lyrics, which caused a minor stir back in the day in the case of the latter). Hell, the Breakdown cover is probably one of the greatest cover songs I've ever heard in my life. From pummeling dual guitar layering with churning speeds and thrashy picking patterns or crunchy midpaced breaks and dissonant undertones to the insane sneer of the scathing vocals, this shit is totally classic in my book. I had a hell of a hard time narrowing down the song selection to offer up with this one.

Catharsis "Fall"
Catharsis "Ritualized"
Catharsis "Sick People" (Breakdown cover)

Catharsis broke up in 2002, with Dingledine most recently surfacing in Requiem – who I haven't heard since I saw them live a few years ago because I've inexplicably slacked for no apparent reason whatsoever. Although it might have a little something to do with the fact that Dingledine was constantly sucking face (almost literally) with his girlfriend at the show, and during their set made a bunch of hippie-ish remarks about wanting to make love to everyone in the room, which I found to be quite silly. I don't like hippie bullshit, what can I say? But seriously, Requiem seems to be pretty damn solid, so I should get off my ass in that department as well.

From what I can tell this disc is sadly out of print, though I believe CrimethInc. is cooking up some sort of Catharsis discography for the future, so hopefully that will indeed take shape so that a new breed of listeners can appreciate this masterful material.

Rabies Caste, Black Leather Jesus, and the Incapacitants…

Posted on Thursday, September 21st, 2006 @ 10:09am » permalink

Rabies Caste - s/tIt's great to see Dada Drumming continuing to branch out from the experimental noise realms, and what a way to continue that expansion! This seven-track, 38-minute, self-titled affair is (sadly) the final posthumous release from Israel's sorely underrated Rabies Caste – containing "Timeless", from their split 7" with Sourvein, as well as two other "new" tracks (recorded back in 2003); a couple of live songs from that same year, and two dusty old unreleased tunes from way back in 1997. For those unfamiliar, the trio's approach tends towards the pulsing, sludgy variety with plenty of eerie dissonance and gritty distortion/feedback – not to mention sick, strained vocals and some pretty damn solid drum work. Certain elements of these songs feel a little weirder than some of the band's earlier material, unloading some pretty fucked up riffs and textures within the general framework of slow-paced rhythms and spurts of samples and whatnot, and since this material spans three recording sessions and six years' time there's a good range of the band's experimentation documented herein.

Rabies Caste "Mind Eruption"

Pick it up straight from the label for just $8 if you're down:

@ Dada Drumming

You'll notice that the Dada Drumming website mentions "unrepairable damage from the original studio master" in one track on the disc, but it's really not as bad as that might sound at all. There are a few spurts of subtly clicky noise along the final stretch of the track, but I'm extremely picky about that shit and didn't particularly find it to be a distraction at all, so…

Black Leather Jesus/Incapacitants - A Purpose Not NecessaryAlso on Dada Drumming and back to the noise is "A Purpose Not Necessary", which sees Black Leather Jesus and the Incapacitants each offering up one long slab of harsh noise – with the two compositions totaling damn near 50 minutes. Black Leather Jesus starts off with the 18+ minute "Shelter", which basically tears through various forms of hissy and unrelenting distortion with generally constant movement through subtle swells of low-end, quickly looped stutters, bursts of piercing feedback, or grating higher-end swells. "Yellow Silk Buddha", from Japan's Incapacitants, closes things out with over a half-hour of live-in-the-studio madness that's a pretty good match for the Black Leather Jesus track in terms of overall consistency and tonality. The range and attack is rather similar, though somewhat more singular, and with a recording that favors a barely muddier mix and a ringing sense of background treble that's actually sort of cool. This isn't generally the kind of experimental noise – harsh or otherwise – that really grabs me, but I haven't been listening to much of this stuff in the past year at all to be honest, so I'm definitely enjoying this split for what it is. Oh, and I have to point out that I really dig the layout and awesome front/back cover photography on this thing. Nicely done.

Black Leather Jesus "Shelter" (excerpt)
Incapacitants "Yellow Silk Buddha" (excerpt)

This one's a mere $7 straight from the label, which is cheap as hell, so make the grab if this is your thing:

@ Dada Drumming

Genghis Tron "Dead Mountain Mouth" CD

Posted on Wednesday, September 20th, 2006 @ 11:04am » permalink

Genghis Tron - Dead Mountain MouthSo, first I have to apologize to Genghis Tron and Crucial Blast, the band and label behind this release, because this is quite possibly my new record for slacking for no apparent reason and taking entirely too fucking long to finally getting around to writing up a damn CD. But here it is, I finally got around to it, and "Dead Mountain Mouth" – the band's debut full-length – is a bizarre yet intriguing clusterfuck of riffs, tempos, sounds, arrangements, and genres. However, what's most important to point out here is that, while chaotic and harsh, while wild and crazy, while whacked out and zany… there's definitely a controlled element going on here, and surprisingly enough the songwriting has reached the level where explosive bursts of programmed percussion, wicked technical death metal riffs, ferociously distorted screams, and totally oddball synths and electronics actually stumble upon moments of full-on cohesiveness, and… believe it or not… borderline catchiness. Not in the traditional sense mind you, not even close, but amidst the whirlwind of textures swirling and bouncing around this release, there's just enough melody to grab hold, and there are just enough tangible rhythms/riffs to add significant force, power, and memorability.

Unbeknownst to me upon my first few listens, the disc was recorded by Kurt Ballou, which is interesting in that acquiring said knowledge brought out some "Converge on crack"-isms within the material that I hadn't associated prior (mainly vocally), though of course said links are minimal. I think there's still a little room for tweaking recording/mixing techniques to get the most out of the busy nature of this music, but the production is pretty damn solid for the most part. The guitar tone emits a nice crunch during the harder, slower paced rhythms, the synths and electronics are expertly handled all around, the drum programming matches the aesthetic of the surrounding elements nicely, etc. Well done, there's no question there.

This is definitely a stronger offering than the already solid "Cloak of Love", and not just in terms of songwriting, but also in terms of overall focus and approach. The trio is now at a point where they've retained all of the "weird" characteristics that define what they do, but they're exploring a more… I don't want to say "mature" realm, but… there's definitely a much more serous vibe to these compositions, as well as the rather intriguingly abstract lyrics:

After our flocks are tamed I'll deny everything. As our aged bodies ache I'll deny everything. We've had moral nights with years laying straight (holding off caustic thoughts). But fate laughs we can't last (from the aisle).

Genghis Tron "Greek Beds"
Genghis Tron "Chapels"

@ Crucial Blast
@ Relapse Records

Have Heart, Think I Care, and Outbreak…

Posted on Tuesday, September 19th, 2006 @ 9:09am » permalink

Just stumbled upon the fact that some dude on LiveJournal is a huge, huge, huge fan of mine (scroll down to just above The Distance album cover). That's good comedy right there. I don't think I've ever been so inaccurately pinned in my life.

Have Heart - The Things We CarryOh yeah, I'm diggin' this. As generally expected from the Bridge Nine camp, Have Heart's "The Things We Carry" is traditionally based hardcore that takes the old school framework and tosses in a smidge of Turning Point-esque melody along with an occasionally heavier edge that at times reminds me of Judge/early Cro-Mags on a musical level. I can't quite place what it is about this record, but somehow this is one of the most logical sounding progressions of old school hardcore I've ever heard. What I mean by that statement is that something about this material comes across like a literal translation of the classic late-80's hardcore sound into contemporary times. It doesn't sound stale to me at all, so this isn't some throwback youth crew band that's trying to sound identical to Youth of Today or whatnot. The songwriting has much more to it than your typical fast-paced three-chord rhythms and breakdowns, but at the same time they're not branching out quite as far as other modern acts that are exploring somewhat comparable areas of the genre. It's sort of weird, I just can't quite figure out what it is that specifically makes me feel that way. Whatever the case, this is a great album. I love the vocals, the basslines are great, the songwriting is memorable and interesting. I don't know… it's straightforward, but not exactly. Fuck it, it's hardcore, it's awesome, and that's all that really matters.

Have Heart "Life is Hard Enough"
Have Heart "The Machinist"

Definitely recommended. I'm liking this more and more as I continue listening. Make the grab, kids:

@ Bridge Nine
@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Think I Care - World AsylumYou know, Think I Care is one of those bands that I've encountered several times over the years, and I own/have owned several of their records, but while I've generally liked everything they've done, they've never really stuck with me for some reason, I don't know why. I'm not sure if that will be the case with their latest Bridge Nine release or not, but I have to say that at the onset, "World Asylum" is coming across as a more powerful and memorable album. Memory may be failing me, but these tracks seem a little meatier and more midpaced to me, venturing into a faster and more traditional realm of hardcore less frequently than their past efforts. The recording is also a touch heavier, which allows the vocals to come across as far burlier, and certainly gives the tracks an overall edge – not to mention an unexpectedly thrashy undercurrent here and there. And I'm always a fan of bitter, pissed off lyrics – as track titles like "Life Sentence" and "Heads Will Roll" would suggest – so you can't go wrong there. I think these dudes broke up just recently too, which sucks, 'cause I'm liking what I'm hearing here, and it seems as though – at least on the surface – things were changing for the better.

Think I Care "Nature of the Beast"
Think I Care "Life Sentence"

Pick it up if you dig the tunes:

@ Bridge Nine
@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Outbreak - FailureMuch like their last record, Outbreak's latest, "Failure" (also on Bridge Nine), is a quick blast of 16 tracks in about 20 minutes – taking a slightly different twist to the straight up hardcore for which the label is known through adding in a punk rock influence that seeps into the speedy power chords via some rocked out lead breaks and catchier arrangements. And, of course, those raging vocal sneers, which have more of a bitter and lightly sarcastic edge to 'em that reminds me a lot of Grimple and that kind of thing. Very cool, indeed. Every single track is less than two minutes long, so these kids pretty much cut to the chase and tear right through. "You Make Us Sick" sort of wore out its welcome with me after awhile, and while there's nothing about "Failure" that really hits me over the head or whatnot, this is a better looking/sounding album across the board, so I certainly have no complaints. I can't say enough good things about the vocal delivery, and I dig the general energy of the tunes as well, so… it's a pretty consistent listen through and through, and the fact that it's so short works in its favor. They definitely don't leave much breathing room for getting bored, and that's cool… so I can hang with this shit, for sure.

Outbreak "Chewed Up, Spit Out"
Outbreak "Handed to You"

Like it? Then buy it:

@ Bridge Nine
@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Cancer Bats "Birthing the Giant" CD

Posted on Monday, September 18th, 2006 @ 8:52am » permalink

Cancer Bats - Birthing the GiantI'll level with you, I don't really care for the band name "Cancer Bats", and despite the fact that the layout's pretty cool and everything's printed with a slick (literally) gloss coating, something about the cover art on this thing combined with the band name suggested "hipness" to me, so I didn't throw it in the CD player for a couple of weeks because I figured it wasn't gonna do it for me. Oops. My mistake. Wrong on all counts. "Birthing the Giant" (Abacus Recordings) is the first full-length from the Cancer Bats, and let me tell you, these Canadians are fuckin' killing it with this shit! Take a smidge of hardcore; a pinch of metal; some excellent post-hardcore dissonance; and a shitload of thick, gritty, rocked out badassedness… there you have it. The vocals are fierce shouts/yells that work perfectly alongside the energetic nature of the songwriting, and these cats are all over the place in terms of dropping pretty sweet riffs that cover a lot of ground. I wouldn't call what they're doing particularly innovative, but I have to hand it to 'em for really developing their own truly unique take within this niche. I really respect that they're not afraid to dive into some of the lesser-traveled territory of the rock 'n' roll realm, because the way they take the whole sludgy/southern-tinged foundation and seamlessly blend in so much of that token post-hardcore aesthetic is just awesome – and I swear, under the surface a few scattered riffs on this album are definitely treading cock rock waters on some level. Nice. The recording on this motherfucker is perfect, too. I love it. It's thick but textured, though not to the point where it sounds raw, and the mix is very well balanced to keep things sounding organic. It's got just the right amount of polish to give the material some added heaviness without altering the general vibe of what the songs are really communicating. This is definitely some meaty shit, and not in the manner that most would anticipate. Man, what a great record. I never saw it coming, either. I love surprises like that!

Cancer Bats "Firecrack This"
Cancer Bats "French Immersion"

I'm looking forward to hearing more from these dudes. Based on my initial miscalculations, I could easily see this band being very underrated, so hopefully they'll overcome that. So if you dig the jams, fuckin' buy this shit:

@ Abacus Recordings
@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Gorgoroth and related goods…

Posted on Friday, September 15th, 2006 @ 8:55am » permalink

Gorgoroth - Ad Majorem Sathanas GloriamIt really is hard to believe that on "Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam" (Candlelight Records), their seventh album in more than a decade, Gorgoroth is still one of the "trvest" and "kvltest" Norwegian black metal bands. I mean, come on, let's face it, amusing band name and sketchy extracurricular activities aside, Gorgoroth fucking rules. I often forget just how insanely awesome this band can be, but after all this time they're still plowing through loads of fierce as fuck black metal that blends sheer speed and scathing screams with powerfully dissonant midpaced breaks and atmospheric undercurrents. That's all there is to it, really. This album really is fucking incredible: 8 tracks, all winners, about 32 minutes in total length, the end. It kills.

Of course, Gorgoroth and bassist King recently "mutually agreed" that he would no longer be a part of the band because he has apparently "recently had problems fronting some of the ideological aspects of his band's agenda". This is, interestingly enough, quite a "brilliant" move by Infernus and Gaahl, seeing as King fucking wrote all of the music on "Ad Majorem…" – not to mention the fact that he was the only member of the trio not currently in prison or tied up in colorful litigation that will probably land them in prison. I guess King was too busy, you know, writing music to bother with assaulting innocent civilians and all that truly "evil" business. I guess one of the "ideological aspects" of Gorgoroth's brand of satanism is that violence supersedes all – even the songwriting process. Nice, eh? We get it, guys, you love the devil.

But whatever that means for the future of Gorgoroth, I wasn't kidding when I said that "Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam" is fucking incredible, because it is. I'm loving this shit, and actually find these tracks to be memorable enough to where I can play the album through repeatedly and still enjoy it, which is indeed rare with this genre.

Gorgoroth "Exit"
Gorgoroth "Wound Upon Wound"

I feel like Gorgoroth doesn't get as much "love" from the diehards these days since there are so many "kvlter than thou" black metal bands out there doing things totally raw and by the numbers and whatnot, but these dudes don't fuck around, man. They're still among the best of the best when it comes to the material, and I highly recommend this album:

@ Candlelight Records
@ Relapse Records

Jotunspor - Gleipnirs SmederPrior to his untimely exit from Gorgoroth, King began flexing his talents in the intriguing studio project Jotunspor (alongside former Gorgoroth drummer Kvitrafn), whose debut album "Gleipnirs Smeder" is also the first release for the Satanas Rex division of the infamous Cold Spring label. Since the band can certainly speak best for themselves, it is said that "the concept of Jotunspor is strongly fundamental in the old Norse cults and beliefs", and that the album "explores some of the incidents surrounding the creation of the world and Ragnarok – the ultimate doom/transformation", so thus "the lyrics are sung in Norwegian and old Norse tongues". Musically speaking the material takes the cold and atmospheric characteristics of black metal and fuses them against similar programming and ambient textures drawn from experimental noise realms. The result is a rather interesting concoction that tends to rely greatly on the aesthetics of sound – be it slower pulses and dissonant riffing; faster, harsh bursts more akin to traditional black metal (in some respects); or a variety of vocal approaches that tend to rest behind various effects that help to blend them in with the musical elements fairly well – so this is not at all a typical sounding release, especially when compared to the bulk of the black metal genre in particular. Aside from one seven-minute dark ambient track, most of the material covers a lot of ground, making for a very curious and enjoyable effort. I'm already interested in hearing more, so I hope that the future yields additional releases from the Jotunspor camp.

Jotunspor "Ginnungagalder"

Absolutely recommended, so pick this one up if you're looking for some unusual black metal experimentation:

@ Satanas Rex
@ The End Records
@ Relapse Records

Misery Signals "Mirrors" CD

Posted on Thursday, September 14th, 2006 @ 9:36am » permalink

Misery Signals - MirrorsMisery Signals' absolutely incredible debut full-length, "Of Malice and the Magnum Heart", is without a doubt one of the best metalcore albums of all time (absolutely check it out if you haven't already), and is easily one of the only contemporary metalcore records that I've listened to fairly regularly since its release. Therefore, I was extremely psyched when their latest, "Mirrors" (once more from Ferret Music), showed up in the mail unannounced.

This is the band's first recorded output with new frontman Karl Schubach, and under normal circumstances I'd have been at least mildly apprehensive about such a lineup shift, but I never really thought twice about it in this case – most likely due to the fact that it's the music that's so incredible with this outfit. Not that the vocals were ever lacking, as that's far from accurate, but with music so dynamic and intricate, the vocals are almost always going to be a secondary concern. And sure enough, the change is practically unnoticeable, as Schubach sounds almost identical to former vocalist Jesse Zaraska to my ears, and the musical backdrop over which he works is along the same emotionally wrenching lines as before – combining straightforward, chugging heaviness with impressively technical riffing that displays one hell of a knack for intense melodies and uniquely dissonant dual guitar interactions.

The songwriting as a whole feels somewhat more "straightforward" on this effort, at least in the sense that there's a more direct flow between all of the different riffs and the way that various passages piece together within the context of any given song. It's still a very complex album, however, so there are lots of oddball rhythmic attributes and plenty of fucked up layering going on between the instruments. You can tell they've put a lot of effort into the writing to strike a balance between utilizing so many different dynamics and changes. Of course, on the other hand, the lyrics are a little more typical this time out, and some of the guitar effects employed during a few scattered clean passages or lushly droning areas border on being kind of generic in that way too many bands are starting to explore that whole area as of late. And I also find the layout to be somewhat uninteresting. I can't quite pin it down, but I think it just boils down to finding the full-page facial photographs in the booklet to be annoying. I don't know…

But such points are certainly minor. I don't want to give off the wrong impression. While it's true that I don't find this album to be as strong as "Of Malice and the Magnum Heart" (not that it would be a realistic task to top such an epic masterpiece), it's still an awesome record, and one that's not very far removed from said magnum opus (no pun intended). I mean, Misery Signals is pretty much going to be among the absolute best of the best for as long as they continue. The sheer quality and creativity of their riffs and the force held by their resulting songwriting simply puts to shame the vast majority of the metalcore genre in its current form. I certainly have the utmost respect for these guys, and will always be excited to hear new material from the band. Always.

Misery Signals "One Day I'll Stay Home"
Misery Signals "The Failsafe"

Downloading is total bullshit, so buy this record, by all means purchase "Of Malice and the Magnum Heart" if you don't already own it (and you should), and spread the damn word:

@ Ferret Music
@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Angelcorpse "The Inexorable" CD

Posted on Wednesday, September 13th, 2006 @ 8:47am » permalink

Angelcorpse - The InexorableSeeing as it was recently announced that Pete Helmkamp and Gene Palubicki are searching for a drummer and a second guitarist to finalize the reformation of the mighty Angelcorpse, I figured I'd write up one of the band's classic late-90's full-lengths – in this case their third (and at the time final) album, 1999's "The Inexorable". I can't believe it's already been seven years since this fucker was originally released!? It'll definitely be great to see this band back in action.

When it comes to picking favorites from the Angelcorpse back catalog, I always have a hard time deciding whether or not it's "The Inexorable" or "Exterminate" that I prefer, but as close a call as it is, I tend to find the songwriting on "The Inexorable" to be just a hint "catchier" (or just "more memorable", if you prefer) – and something about the slightly crisper production values helps give the riffs a little extra punch. Plus, I mean, come on… "Wolflust" is probably the greatest song the band has composed to date, and "Eat! Fuck! Kill!" is easily one of the best lines ever in the history of heavy metal!

As a listener that's always been somewhat finicky about relentless speed, Angelcorpse was one of the first bands I encountered that somehow managed to handle the intensity of such blazing tempos in a manner that came across as tangible rather than senselessly overbearing. I never really understood why these guys always seemed to get compared to Morbid Angel so often, because I really don't hear it. Angelcorpse's approach has always been immediately identifiable as their own to me, both vocally and musically. Even the chaotically controlled solo outbursts and such seem to possess a feel that's just a little more intrinsically Angelcorpse, I don't know. Looking at simple genre classifications, this is a band that blurred the lines. In terms of speed and attack, there's technically a black metal element there, but the end result is not even remotely close to black metal in any way, so by default it tends to be tagged death metal. And that's not inaccurate, but I'd argue that the vocal characteristics have more to offer than the term "death metal" suggests – much in the same manner that some of the guitar work is definitely coming from a raw thrash background. But, again, it's simply too extreme to be thrash, so… fuck it, it's a smorgasbord of ferocity.

I always dug a lot of their lyrics, too:

For I am the inferno, and you the kindling, you the fuel. And I am the vulture feasting on your idols of flesh. I am the shepherd, and you my flock, the lightning strike that splits the rock. For I am wrath – vindication, and the world my abattoir…

Angelcorpse "Wolflust"
Angelcorpse "The Fall of the Idols of Flesh"

This thing's a little harder to pick up at my usual distro stops than I would've expected, but it's definitely still out and about for those who may have missed it the first time around:

@ Amazon.com

I'll certainly be looking forward to hearing what the reunited Angelcorpse comes up with. Hopefully something will materialize sooner than later!

Sulaco and Gorod…

Posted on Tuesday, September 12th, 2006 @ 9:41am » permalink

Sulaco - Tearing Through the RootsHas it been too long or what!? Three years after their four-song debut, Sulaco's finally back with their first full-length for the mighty Willowtip. For those unaware, Sulaco features former Lethargy and Kalibas member (and Blatant Crap Taste mastermind) Erik Burke on guitar and vocals, so "Tearing Through the Roots" is of course chock full of meaty picking patterns and mangled, oddball riffs that wind around all over the place through various tempos and degrees of dissonance. The vocals are great, there's something about that strained texture that really works. I could sort of see these vocals working well within a grindcore kind of aesthetic, which is weird since they're equally appropriate over this uncategorizable brand of technical metal. I also dig the recording, which is dense and balanced in a manner that allows the band to sound like a trio in terms of space, but still packs a good punch. From a songwriting standpoint there's not exactly a ton of variety from track to track, but somehow things tend to move along faster than they seem. There must just be something about the generally manic energy of the riffs and the awesome hyperactivity of the drumming (which flies through some sweet fills and knows when to settle down and lock in with its surroundings) that carries the listen well, because it just fuckin' works. There are definitely some totally badass riffs on this thing, notably of the slower variety, as such circumstances really allow that meatiness to shine, which benefits some of the whacked out harmonics and bends/vibrato happening in the guitar work. Nice, chaotic layout, too. Good stuff.

Sulaco "Sticks in My Craw"
Sulaco "Model of Inefficiency"

If you dig the tunes, support the band and the label with a purchase. Willowtip's service is fast and cheap, just how I like it, so why go anywhere else? Hop to it:

@ Willowtip

Gorod - Leading VisionAlso new from Willowtip is "Leading Vision", the sophomore full-length from French tech-death outfit Gorod. Like "Neurotripsicks", this material is jammed with flashy riffing and tempo changes, though this is a stronger album in terms of possessing a warmer and more balanced recording – not to mention much-improved lyrics that avoid some of the blatant death metal immaturities of their debut. I also feel that the vocals are more at home these days, which may be in part due to the recording/mix, but there's probably more effort being put into the vocal arrangements as well, with a hint more variety between sneers, snarls, growls, and what have you. I'm still not floored by Gorod's work overall, in part because I feel like the bulk of their songwriting is based around a very similar riffing style that they don't deviate from quite enough, but they're definitely making headway to get away from that element of their compositions. A few areas of "Leading Vision" as a whole offer a bit more tactful groove, which is rare with such a complex brand of metal, and these areas are certainly promising in their blend of the technical with the tangible. But regardless, if nothing else the solos and basslines are always quite impressive (the bassist totally keeps up with the guitars, which is awesome), so it's clear that these guys are surely talented and hold the power to dish out some pretty incredible material when everything falls into place.

Gorod "Chronicle From the Stone Age"
Gorod "Thirst for Power"

Once more, be sure to pick this up for yourself if you're into it:

@ Willowtip

Sinking Ship, Down to Nothing, End of a Year, and Gracer…

Posted on Monday, September 11th, 2006 @ 8:46am » permalink

Sinking Ship - DisconnectingFuck yeah! "Disconnecting" is the Revelation Records full-length debut from Seattle hardcore act Sinking Ships, who I had never heard of prior to this, but I'm damn sure already a fan, because this shit is great. These cats basically take relatively straightforward, angry hardcore and spice it up with shitloads of completely badass little dissonant riffs and some Dag Nasty-esque melodic accents (without sounding like Dag Nasty, of course) that all use the types of energetic picking patterns and creative arrangements that I love, so I'm a total sucker for this kind of thing, and Sinking Ships fucking nails it. They're not exactly rewriting the book or anything, this isn't alien sounding at all, they utilize a good amount of speed and traditional hardcore influences, but riffing-wise there's definitely a lot of interesting work being done that really catches my ear, and I really respect that quite a bit. Plus, I mean, the fucking songs, man… just listen for yourself, this band simply kicks ass. 12 tracks, barely under a half-hour. Boom. Done. It rules.

Sinking Ships "Auburn"
Sinking Ships "Comfort"

The lyrics aren't generic posi bullshit either, which I love, 'cause I ain't "positive":

We can't breathe. It's getting colder in the heart of this city. These are the reasons we have to leave. Take it in. Is desperation so god damn pretty? If we don't leave everything behind this place is going to bury us alive. Hold this town in your heart and it will rot you from the inside out…

Highly recommended, so definitely pick this up and keep an eye out for more. These dudes are definitely one of the best hardcore acts out there right now. Buy it:

@ RevHQ

Down to Nothing - Higher LearningDown to Nothing's Revelation Records debut is the concise three-song "Higher Learning" 7", which blows through three tracks of their heavy yet melodic and energetic hardcore in less than eight minutes. Aside from some ska sounding chords or whatnot in "Alright Already", the two new tracks are fairly straightforward, though they do offer some powerful songwriting progressions that leave me quite curious to hear more new jams from these guys – the title track is definitely one of their best songs to date. Also included is a cover of "Burn It!", by Four Walls Falling, which is of course an awesome touch.

Down to Nothing "Higher Learning"

Pick it up, kids:

@ RevHQ

End of a Year - SincerelyI believe "Sincerely", on Revelation Records, is the debut full-length from Albany's End of a Year. The band is stated to have been "inspired by the Revolution Summer period of the 80's DC scene", and I can definitely hear that on this album – both in the recording (by Don Zientara at Inner Ear Studio) and in the songwriting, which combines melody and energy with pulsing rhythms, frantic riffing, and an occasionally noisy edge that leans towards that particular niche of the truer emo/indie realm. Most of the tracks are quite succinct (only one passes three minutes), and these guys tend to maintain a good sense of focus throughout, so they avoid a lot of the pitfalls suffered by other comparable acts through the way that they weave melodic undercurrents into the material to keep things somewhat more tangible and interesting. I really dig the vocals, there's just something about them that's inherently a little different, and they come across as really natural and comfortable as a result, which makes for a great fit against the music. I also find a lot of the drum work to be pretty damn slick in terms of helping to add force and bursts of energy to the arrangements with a balance of powerfully hectic fills and snazzy cymbal work. The clarity and spaciousness of the production certainly helps accentuate the rhythm section as well, so… in the end, while I can be quite picky about these styles, I find End of a Year to be among the strongest such groups that I've encountered this year.

End of a Year "Midwest"
End of a Year "Darnel"

As always I encourage you to purchase the album for yourself if you enjoy the material, and I see no reason not to make the buy straight from the label's massive online catalog:

@ RevHQ

Gracer - Voices TravelYet another recent debut full-length on Revelation Records comes in the form of Gracer's "Voices Travel". Gracer features ex-members of On the Might of Princes and Lux Courageous, and while I actually quite enjoyed On the Might of Princes, Gracer's style is significantly different in direction. This album centers very largely around lush, fluid guitar work that utilizes a lot of droning effects that create a shimmery sense of swirling ambience within which some really nice singing vocals do their thing. I hate using terms like "alternative rock" or whatever, but there is some degree of that happening here, which doesn't bother me, I just have a harder time trying to express with words what this kind of music offers. For me, the only setback here is that – as with many such bands – the songwriting just doesn't consistently grip me enough to really hook me in. Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of potential here. The vocals are awesome and the atmosphere of the music is, at its best, really fucking nice. But at the same time, the pacing of the 45-minute album is a little same-y, as are some of the more typical guitar textures employed throughout a number of the tracks. I find myself missing the dynamics and energy that an exceptional track like "Esperanza" offers elsewhere on the record. The layout on this thing is fucking gorgeous and really had my hopes up, and the fact that "Esperanza" is such an amazing song proves to me that Gracer has the ability to create some intense and moving music that I wholly appreciate, they're just not 100% there yet. They are close, however, and the strengths of this album are growing on me with time, so see what you think:

Gracer "Esperanza"
Gracer "Waiting for Departure"

This is one of those unusual records where I can't quite make up my mind. I tend to favor it because there are excellent moments present, and it's obvious that there's "something" here, you know what I mean? It's curious, and the band definitely has a vision to offer. I know there are definitely listeners out there who will already love these guys, but I also know that they have the power to do even better, so I'll be lookin' out, for sure. Make the grab if you're down:

@ RevHQ

The Hope Conspiracy "Death Knows Your Name" CD

Posted on Friday, September 8th, 2006 @ 8:55am » permalink

The Hope Conspiracy - Death Knows Your NameI've never been a huge fan of The Hope Conspiracy, though I have enjoyed all of their past work, but "Death Knows Your Name", their latest full-length (from the mighty Deathwish Inc.), comes across with the most immediate punch of any of the band's material to date – at least to my ears. Containing 11 generally concise tracks in 35 minutes, the bulk of the songs take a fairly consistent turn towards an aggressive form of hardcore that's got a strong rock undercurrent happening. I often find the whole rock-infused hardcore thing to be relatively bland and tired myself, but this material is in another league from most of that shit, proving that The Hope Conspiracy really has a firm grasp on how to deliver such influences in a focused manner – one that includes a few scattered (and excellent) post-hardcore sounding textures and a noisy edge that never loses control or detracts from the focus of the songwriting. In addition, the vocals are pretty fuckin' fierce, which really pays off, and the blaring pulse of the Kurt Ballou recording job, as always, acts as a nice benefit to the big picture. Oh, and as if that weren't enough, the cover art on this thing is completely badass. I'm all over that shit. Awesome.

The Hope Conspiracy "Deadtown Nothing"
The Hope Conspiracy "Suicide Design"

Yeah, this is great stuff. I don't think this one's been officially released yet, but the pre-orders should already be shipping from the label, so make the damn grab if you dig the tunes:

@ Deathwish Inc.

Misery Speaks "s/t" CD

Posted on Wednesday, September 6th, 2006 @ 9:43am » permalink

Misery Speaks - s/tI actually didn't even know that Alveran Records was still around until recently, but the latest self-titled CD from Misery Speaks sees the label sticking to its roots with a fierce blend of European metalcore and melodic Swedish styled death metal that, for my money, rises above the pack fairly significantly. Despite there being little mention of the band's self-released debut album online, this is indeed the German quintet's sophomore full-length, which offers up a fairly straightforward attack of aggressive snarls over riffs that jump from relatively typical alternate picking fare with thrashy undercurrents to occasionally churning breakdowns and forceful melodies with just enough of a twist to keep things interesting. It's really nothing new, but I feel that the songwriting is more energetic than average, and a lot of the melodies have a certain intensity to them that reminds me a bit of earlier Gardenian, which is definitely a good thing in my book, and not something that I encounter all that often from this particular niche of metal. The songwriting definitely exhibits a consistent level of quality, and I enjoy the results. I dig the aesthetic of the layout as well, what with the intriguing graphics and handwritten lyrics, etc. Nicely done.

Misery Speaks "First Bullet Hits"
Misery Speaks "Where Truth Lies"

Pick it up if you're down with the tracks:

@ Alveran Records
@ RevHQ

The Distance "The Rise, the Fall, and Everything in Between" CD

Posted on Tuesday, September 5th, 2006 @ 9:16am » permalink

The Distance - The Rise, the Fall, and Everything in BetweenWhoa. I haven't really followed The Distance over the years because I was never particularly blown away by their relatively basic hardcore, so I was pretty lazy about finally getting around to listening to "The Rise, the Fall, and Everything in Between", the band's debut full-length for Abacus Recordings. Well, I can definitely say that I regret that now, because this shit is fuckin' great. The artwork alone would suggest that there's been a major change in approach here, and that's absolutely the case on every level. Having come up in the hardcore scene, and more specifically having been a part of the Bridge Nine roster at one point in time, I wouldn't be at all surprised were The Distance dealing with cries of "Sellout!" from purists as a result of their decisions on this record, though I'm actually surprised that they haven't started blowing up a little more already based on the nature of this material. I mean, fuck it, man… good songs are good songs, so while there's barely anything about this album that you could refer to as "hardcore" (it's more like a catchy, heavy-ish brand of pseudo emo with hints of pop-punk and roots in ultra, ultra, ultra melodic hardcore), there's no question at all that this is by far The Distance's strongest material to date, and while I enjoyed some of their earliest work, I'm not gonna lie: I'm much more a fan of this.

The Distance "The Set Up"
The Distance "Inspired by You (For the Broken Hearted)"

Excellent, excellent work. A lot of people might disagree with me on this one, but you're all wrong! Ha, ha… If you're not opposed to memorable songwriting and melody, nor bands shifting direction, then pick this fucker up and enjoy:

@ Abacus Recordings
@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Agalloch "Ashes Against the Grain" CD

Posted on Friday, September 1st, 2006 @ 11:37am » permalink

Agalloch - Ashes Against the GrainI've adored Agalloch since the very moment I first encountered their incredible "Pale Folklore" debut many years ago (which I revisited here last year), and they've not slipped from my list of favorite contemporary metal bands once since that day. So it was with great pleasure that I picked up their new album, "Ashes Against the Grain", from The End Records shortly after its release earlier this month. As expected, this is yet another absolutely stellar album in the Agalloch canon, which delves into new fields while still retaining the dark melodies and brooding atmospheric elements upon which the band has always laid its foundation.

In some respects the core of this album is similar to the somber fluidity of "The Mantle", though stripping things down a touch and letting a slightly more pulsing, droning style of melody seep into the arrangements. However, I'd also cite that the material feels a little more dynamic once again, returning to some of the epic buildups and "harsher" (at least by contrast) aesthetics of the mighty "Pale Folklore". There are still a great deal of lush, restrained passages with toned down singing or whispering alongside acoustic guitars and dense percussion, but it feels like there's more of a counterbalance here with distorted chord progressions and layered melody lines, or even the occasional display of sneered vocals. At the same time, you get the sense that the bulk of the record is instrumental. Damn near every composition tops seven minutes, and there are no vocals for the first five minutes of the opening track, for example. Beyond that, over two-thirds of the three-part, nearly 20-minute closer, "Our Fortress is Burning…", is entirely instrumental – including just over seven minutes of churning ambient noise to close the disc during the final segment, "III – The Grain". Even still, to some degree, "Ashes Against the Grain" exemplifies the result of all of Agalloch's past work fused together and taken to a new level of focus – both in terms of songwriting and with regard to performance and recording quality. It would seem that this band can simply do no wrong…

Agalloch "Falling Snow"

I quite enjoy the lyrics on this record as well, as is generally the case with this outstanding outfit:

The woeful silence and wind's reflection of your body's pale ode, an icy fortress of blood and ages. Sky fire above, ice below the hearth. Fall away from me to that citadel at the end of time, where death sleeps and dreams of your buried pain. There has never been a silence like this before. There will never be an ode like this again.

This band is simply incredible, and will likely always deserve far more appreciation than whatever significant amount they'll achieve. Buy this record, explore the band's back catalog (if you're unfortunate enough to have not done so already), and experience a rare breed of inventive, uncategorizable metal the likes of which are immeasurably uncommon:

@ The End Records