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Evoken "A Caress of the Void" CD

Posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2008 @ 6:29am » permalink

Evoken - A Caress of the VoidAs is often the case with genres for which I've only been a marginal fan over the years and have a hard time keeping up with, "A Caress of the Void", the fourth full-length from New Jersey's Evoken (their first for Swedish label I Hate), is actually my first true exposure to the band's output. And while I can't speak for their past, I can't help but assume they've been impressing a core legion for many years now, as this album displays some unquestionably top-shelf doom that balances expected doses of absolutely crushing slow to midpaced surges with just the right amount of tactful atmosphere. With just seven tracks making for an hour's worth of material, the average running time is about nine minutes per song, but great effort obviously goes into these compositions, because not one of 'em – including the 7+ minute instrumental "Mare Erythraeum" – starts to feel tedious or overbearing (which is quite shocking considering the faintness of my attention span as of late).

I'd definitely say the heart of Evoken's approach is built upon a foundation of the standards, from the aforementioned slow to midpaced tempos to the deep, guttural vocals (which are not without some feeling and emphasis, which is important to point out), as well as the more textural uses of subtle lead melodies and clean guitars layered throughout. These statements may seem as though I'm trying to candycoat some way to indicate that the band is somewhat typical, but that's not it at all. As limited as my listening spectrum within this general realm has been over the years, I can tell that there's a vision here, you know what I mean? The base is familiar, but there's an overarching sense of quality here that makes a huge, huge difference. There's enough creativity and distinction alone to prove the album's worth, but when it comes to doom I've always been much more concerned with the material being powerful and perhaps most importantly not boring, and as I touched on earlier, this is not a boring album at all. The superbly dense yet surprisingly crisp mix, the richness and texture of the tones themselves… everything falls into place perfectly to unite for the good of the whole, and those are pretty "nice" circumstances – even for an album as bleak and monolithic as this!

Evoken "Of Purest Absolution"

Purchase:

@ The End Records

Recession "Time, Arithmetic & Other Elementary Subjects Not Well Learned" CD

Posted on Wednesday, January 30th, 2008 @ 7:09am » permalink

Recession - Time, Arithmetic & Other Elementary Subjects Not Well Learned"Time, Arithmetic & Other Elementary Subjects Not Well Learned", the rather lengthily titled debut "full-length" (though its 10 tracks only clock in at 21 minutes) from Nebraska trio Recession on Blood & Ink Records, makes for quite a caustic listen with its flurry of short, furious tracks that crash 'n' bash through an assortment of densely mangled textures. In fact, I'm kind of surprised that I enjoy it, considering I've always tended to be rather picky about the harsher, noisier side of the "metalcore" spectrum. But it sort of starts to make sense when you look at their quality list of influences, which ranges from respectable contemporaries like Knut to genre-defining staples such as Deadguy to more obscure gems like Groundwork – which is a name you just don't see thrown around too often these days! In addition to your usual doses of hammer-on/pull-off riffs and dingy, borderline out-of-tune scrapings (and I actually mean that in a good way here), little hints of melody even start becoming apparent as your ears adjust to the thudding dryness and subtly gritty textures of the recording. It actually took my ears a few minutes to adjust to the mix since things sound just a hint flat in some respects, but they're definitely on the right track there. They're hinting at a pretty mammoth low-end throb that could really pay off well, and the vocals sound pretty fuckin' devastating as it is. Not too shabby when all is said and done. The songwriting boasts a great balance of grating, over the top acerbity and surging, tangible grooves that you can latch onto, and when you combine that with the fact that the tracks are so damn short, it keeps things moving and prevents the listen from becoming stale, and that's where a lot of comparable bands fail. So I can definitely appreciate what's happening here, and I'd really like to hear more down the road, especially if they're able to warm up the production values just a touch!

Recession "Masterpiece Theatre"
Recession "The Suicide Bomber Blew Himself Up Today"

Purchase:

@ Blood & Ink Records
@ Blood & Ink Records (mp3)
@ Very Distribution

Able Baker Fox "Voices" CD

Posted on Tuesday, January 29th, 2008 @ 6:29am » permalink

Able Baker Fox - VoicesThe first of what will probably be several posts resulting from the massive outpouring of input I got when I asked for recommendations last week covers "Voices", the debut full-length from Able Baker Fox. Featuring former members of The Casket Lottery and Small Brown Bike (a band that I loved and a band that I was always curious about but never really into for no reason whatsoever, respectively) and having been released by Second Nature Recordings, it didn't take much for me to expect the best from this band, so thankfully the material delivers in full. I actually can't remember the last album I picked up from this label, but it's been awhile, and I actually had no idea that this band existed either (You'd think I'd be on top of things like that since I run a site like this, but I have no idea how people keep up with all this stuff!), but their sound definitely reminds me of that later-90's/early-2000's kind of emo/indie rock (terms that I'm sure would offend many with regard to these guys, but shit, get over it, I mean no offense) that has a real musicality to it. There's a hell of a lot of diversity happening, not just musically but in terms of the different vocal approaches too, since three of the four band members contribute there. Sure there's a lot of singing and harmonies and stuff, but it's generally not too "pretty" or anything, there's a lot of texture there, and there's actually some shouting and screaming, too. And of course the instrumentation has a lot going on in terms of intricate layering and arrangements and all that jazz, and that's the kind of shit that really gets me within this general "genre", because it's really cool when songs can be catchy and have feeling but still be fairly fuckin' complicated – even though it might not be so obvious. You can definitely pick up on elements of the members' past efforts, but it's something more than that as well, so… I don't know. It's just a damn good record, and I really don't seem to find much of this kind of stuff out there too often anymore, which is a shame. 11 tracks in 32 minutes makes for a nice and compact listen, too. Recommended, indeed. I'm certainly glad someone told me about 'em, otherwise I'd probably have gone 10 years in the dark on this one, ha!

Able Baker Fox "Stuttering"
Able Baker Fox "Brand New Moses"

Purchase:

@ Second Nature Recordings (CD)
@ Second Nature Recordings (black/yellow LP)
@ Second Nature Recordings (blue/orange LP)
Amazon.com (mp3)

Kowloon Walled City "Turk Street"

Posted on Monday, January 28th, 2008 @ 6:26am » permalink

Kowloon Walled City - Turk StreetTwo other fine mp3 blogs that I fully endorse, Built on a Weak Spot and Invisible Oranges, already wrote about the "Turk Street" EP from San Francisco's Kowloon Walled City back in December, which is when I was contacted by the band as well, so perhaps you're already familiar with their work by now. But in the interest of not having three sites (that I hope/assume you all check out fairly regularly) write about the same EP within the span of a few weeks, I decided to sit on it for a little while, so… here it is now, in case anyone's still in the dark. The band's debut recorded output (which I believe is only available digitally, and it is free) includes three tracks in about 14 minutes and plods through a nice range of dingy, sludgy poundings with just the right amount of noisiness and subtle doom and atmospheric undertones (especially in slower, longer, darker closer "Make us Pay"), while the hoarse vocals are pretty much just straight up shouting, which I find to be quite refreshing, really. And the recording is absolutely fuckin' great for what they're doing, with a killer low-end throb and an awesome sense of texture and warmth that kicks up some gritty distortion and feedback without losing cohesion or detail or becoming messy in any way. Extremely well done. Clear, powerful… just killer, all around. As usual I'm left feeling like there's more that I should say, but just check it out for yourself, and if you like what you hear, download the entire EP a few lines down.

Kowloon Walled City "Turk, Taylor, and Jones"

As mentioned, the entire EP is available for free, and yes, the downloads are high-quality, so… I mean, what more could you possibly ask for, really? Quick and easy, people:

[DOWNLOAD] Kowloon Walled City "Turk Street"

v/a "All Thrashed Out and No Place to Go!" compilation CD

Posted on Friday, January 25th, 2008 @ 6:18am » permalink

v/a - All Thrashed Out and No Place to Go! - compilationI've been meaning to post this absolute gem of compilation for at least two years now (seriously, I even mentioned it here in December of 2005), and now I'm finally getting around to it. By far the coolest thing anyone has done for me since I started this site was when Brian Livoti from Watchmaker gave me this CD some years back because he figured I might enjoy it since all of the bands on the compilation – which was released in fucking 1989 – are from Maryland and Virginia. Unfortunately only two of the bands are from Virginia, with the main focus being on the Baltimore area – seeing as the disc was released by Baltimore area radio station 97 Underground (which apparently still exists) – but fuck that, 'cause it's late-80's thrash, so I'm all over it no matter what! I assume this will be well appreciated what with the genre's "resurgence" that's going on right now, too, so… eat up!

[DOWNLOAD] "All Thrashed Out and No Place to Go!" (@ Mediafire)

You're god damn right I'm posting the entire CD this time (with scans of the whole booklet included), 'cause there's no fucking way in hell you're ever gonna find a copy of this thing. Google it. Fucking three results! Only three!? Insane!

As you might expect from nine obscure demo tracks, the sound and songwriting quality varies significantly, but as far I'm concerned there's not a truly weak song in the bunch. I'll do a quick track-by-track rundown below, and you can check out the scans of the booklet (and in a scarce few cases Encyclopaedia Metallum) for a little bit of background information on the bands. And I do mean a little bit!

1. Skeleton "Victim" – Super high-pitched vocals, but the riffs kick ass and the song itself is fairly catchy. Very solid when all is said and done. I'd be more than happy to hear more from these guys.

2. Deadly Aggressor "Act of Lunacy" – These cats are actually listed on the Encyclopaedia Metallum website, but there's jackshit for info. I guess this is from their second of three demos. One of the rawest tracks on the compilation. Not bad, though.

3. Wreckage "Violence Breeds Violence" – Also listed at Encyclopaedia Metallum, these guys did four demos. This track is from the third. Short but sweet, like the Skeleton track, but much harsher and more straightforward: So no frilly vocals, ha, ha! Definitely a little bit of a Slayer thing going on.

4. Pestilent "Metal We Die" – Complete and total Megadeth worship. Mustaine-like vocals over fast riffing and writing that wouldn't have been too out of place on "Killing is My Business…" Not a carbon copy by any means, but absolutely sounds like early Megadeth. Needs a little work, but otherwise I'm not saying that's a bad thing!

5. Saboteur "The Hunt" – Another shorter, harsher track. A little more original sounding somehow, though oddly enough this is one of the less memorable tracks for me. Solid chorus, though. I don't know. Decent song, decent song.

6. Chemikill "Relentless Horror (The Final Annihilation)" – Despite the name, they sound absolutely nothing like Exodus. Fairly standard thrash. Not too fast, nothing too technical, not particularly catchy or melodic, etc. This band is also listed at Encyclopaedia Metallum, and they continued into the 90's, so maybe they were a little late to the game?

7. Caustic Affliction "Cremation" – Not only do they boast the best track on the compilation, but Caustic Affliction had one of the greatest band names ever… and obviously loved Slayer. The breakdown that kicks in at about 1:11 is one of the best fucking riffs in the history of thrash. Seriously. (And after years of searching, oddly enough some kind soul sent me a link to download their demo just hours after I wrote this post the other night. Killer!)

8. Requiem "Rampage" – Much like Pestilent, Requiem seemed to be way into the Megadeth kinda thing. Vocals are a little rough, as is the recording, but the basslines totally kick ass and the use of melody's pretty slick. This is more creative, that's for sure.

9. Legion "For We are Many" – The chorus in this song is the fucking shit. Total gold. I defy you to deny this fact. Sadly it'll be next to impossible to find any information on this band because they're called Legion. Even I was in a band called Legion once for like a month. Fuck.

And last but most definitely not least, if anyone that used to play in any of the bands on this compilation stumbles upon this post and can hook me up with any mp3's, CD-R's, or even dubbed cassettes of old material from these groups, please fucking get in touch with me. Especially if you were in Caustic Affliction, motherfuckers! Thank you!

Under Pressure "Black Bile" CD

Posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2008 @ 6:30am » permalink

Under Pressure - Black BileThe latest from unique Canadian hardcore/punk outfit Under Pressure is the "Black Bile" EP (on Escape Artist Records), which tears through seven rather short but sweet tracks before closer "The Last" totally fucks convention by plodding on for 8+ minutes of slower and much darker mayhem that totally makes the release in my opinion. It's one of those situations where you keep expecting the song to end and there be a bunch of blank space with a hidden track or something at the end, because every other song on the disc is like two minutes long, but nope… this fucker actually runs the full 8:11, and actually keeps things powerful and interesting the entire time. Which is curious, because to be honest with you the other tracks aren't really Under Pressure's finest work. They're certainly not bad songs or anything, they're just not as memorable as a lot of their previous output, while "The Last" – which is very unlike anything they've ever done before – is actually pretty fucking incredible, so I'd love to hear them branch out like that more often in the future.

I think this might also be the band's first recorded output since the addition of a second guitar player (I have a really hard time keeping up with details like this), but interestingly enough their sound doesn't really come across very differently to me in terms of the overall attack. The production values are still extremely dry and spacious, with a lot of emphasis on the rhythm section and the extremely killer, original sounding vocals. There are perhaps a hint more little quick lead breaks (in a Black Flag kind of way) or subtle nuances of dual guitar interaction from time to time, but the addition of a second guitarist hasn't particularly "beefed up" their approach to songwriting or recording at all. But I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just kind of curious. I actually really like the way these guys handle themselves sonically. Not a bad record overall, but like I said, "The Last" crushes everything else. Definitely a curious twist to close things out…

Under Pressure "The Last" (excerpt)

Purchase:

@ RevHQ
@ Very Distribution

Angel Eyes "…And for a Roof a Sky Full of Stars." CD

Posted on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008 @ 7:11am » permalink

Angel Eyes - ...And for a Roof a Sky Full of Stars.The excellently titled two-song EP, "…And for a Roof a Sky Full of Stars.", is the latest from Chicago's Angel Eyes (two members of which happen to have recently started their own music review blog called I'm the Most Important Fucking Person in the World., if you're interested), once more on Underground Communique. And two damn lengthy songs they are, each topping 10 minutes, with the total running time clocking in at nearly a half-hour long. Each composition is untitled this time around, again dominated by instrumental work that reserves well-placed vocal explosions for absolutely fucking huge payoffs; while the instrumentation shuffles through a wide range of what many would love to tag "post-rock" and "metalgaze" characteristics. But it's better, so much better, because the aggression of the vocals against the massive, sludgy poundings resulting from the buildups is all just crushing. It's a great dash of variety overall, and everything flows together perfectly with bits and pieces of experimental flare in the form of subtle samples (I think?) against rumbling ambient feedback and assorted guitar textures. I don't know man, it's hard to pull off a fucking 16-minute song, but these cats can make it happen rather fluidly. Good stuff. Handsome little screenprinted chipboard envelope sleeve with killer lyrics, too:

When I was younger I would wake up each morning and run to the window to see if the world was obliterated in the night in some kind of cold war nuclear clash. Then one day I blinked my eyes and found myself an adult without much left to believe in, given the state of things. Sometimes for old time's sake I still look out the window in the morning to see if the sky is falling.

There's so much more to it than what I've said above, which kind of makes me look like an ass, but as usual I'd just like to let the music do most of the talking here, so… check out the snippet below and see what you think.

Angel Eyes "Untitled" (excerpt)

It's only $5 or $6, so… yeah. See below…

Purchase:

@ Underground Communique
@ Interpunk

Final Redemption "Vindicated Carnage" CD

Posted on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008 @ 6:23am » permalink

Final Redemption - Vindicated CarnageI believe this four-song, 20-minute EP is the first proper release (following a demo in 2006) from Maryland's Final Redemption, which – as the cover art should suggest – is obviously a death metal act. Their approach isn't exactly obvious, though. Sure, they've got one of those fairly typical brutal old school death metal logos (which isn't a bad thing, as visually this release looks top notch) and the lyrics tend to follow a violent storytelling type of framework, but musically it's not really in the whole super detuned and burly vein with all the guttural vocals or anything like that. Of course those elements are present to some degree, but there's a lot more variety happening across the board, with the vocals tending to fall into more of a midrange snarl while the music takes more cues than expected from thrash and more contemporary Swedish-esque dual guitar interplay – only without the emphasis on melody. Now, I'm not saying that what they're doing is particularly inventive, because it's not, but it does offer more than what you'd tend to expect from a death metal EP called "Vindicated Carnage", you know what I mean? There's definitely a good amount of tremolo picking and some staple layering of low growls and high sneers and that kind of stuff throughout, but there's also a good amount of tactful technicality and energy, and they keep the tempo changes coming with some solid breakdowns and almost Slayer-like runs that I really didn't see coming. It's a strong effort for a self-released EP across the board, but a little more punch to the recording and mix could definitely add a little force to their future output, so I'd be curious to see what the future holds for this band. This isn't the best example of what the band is capable of herein, but there are only four tracks on the disc, so I don't want to give away a different track than what they've already got out there:

Final Redemption "Engraved in DNA"

I'm not sure what's up with pricing/ordering information, so get in touch with the band on MySpace if you're interested, and keep your eyes out for more down the road.

Recommendations?

Posted on Monday, January 21st, 2008 @ 6:35am » permalink

I haven't been getting much mail in the last month or two, and to be honest with you what I have been getting hasn't really been grabbing me at all, so I'm actually kind of starting to run low on new stuff to write about. I only eked out two reviews over the weekend, and while I'm gonna try to scrounge up a couple of others sometime during the week (I have at least a few on deck that should make the cut, and there's always old stuff), beyond that, aside from a few that I'm sitting on because their release dates won't hit until late-January or February, well… the landscape's pretty bare. So if anyone's encountered anything in recent months that feels wholly worthwhile, please do let me know! Thanks…

Archers of Loaf "Icky Mettle" CD

Posted on Friday, January 18th, 2008 @ 6:45am » permalink

Archers of Loaf - Icky MettleArchers of Loaf formed in the early-90's in North Carolina and released four full-lengths and a slew of EP's before calling it quits around 1998, and here's another band that I didn't really get into until way late, and again I'm not exactly sure why, because I was exposed to their material many, many times over the years, it just never really clicked with me until a couple of years ago. The guy that drove me to school for a portion of my senior year of high school used to listen to this band almost every single day in the car, and while I don't recall being averse to them at the time (I was probably just glad he listened to something that wasn't "normal"), I know I didn't really care for them – after all, I was listening to a lot of death metal and getting into more and more hardcore at the time. But what's weird is that he must have been listening to their debut album, "Icky Mettle" – which was released in late-1993 on Alias Records and would've been the only Archers of Loaf album out at the time – as that's the album that eventually won me over, and remains my favorite of their output to this day.

Looking back, I guess I can understand why I didn't "get it" way back then. The production wasn't crisp enough, the playing was far too sloppy, it's all just so… noisy. And, well, not metal, ha, ha! I mean, I was all over Cynic's "Focus" (which pretty much turned my world upside down in 1993), Carcass' "Heartwork", Morbid Angel's "Covenant", and I'm sure a hundred other such records at the time. I was not all over anything that had anything to do with jangly, angular indie rock of any kind, you know what I mean? So, yeah, it took some time. Too much time, mind you: I definitely should've been able to properly appreciate the brilliance of this material at least five years earlier than I finally did, but it was just one those time and place things. It happened when it happened. And as usual, when something like this takes place, I feel like a complete moron, because when it all does fall into place I don't understand why I didn't hear it that way all along!? I mean, when I finally decided to make an effort to check out this album, I was pretty much instantly hooked, and immediately understood what all the fuss had been about.

You know, you'll read all those stupid phrases like "indie darlings" and all that shit that regular people would never actually say about a band unless they were being sarcastic, but you still get it. Because somehow – and especially on this album – these guys were able to take these raw, noisy, roughly recorded, ruggedly performed, fucked up little twisted and discordantly textured melodies and craft perfect fucking songs out of 'em. It's really strange how catchy and energetic but still kind of moody and emotional and overall well-balanced the material is. And that's what totally hooked me the most in retrospect. Because you kind of form these preconceived notions about music like this – that it's just kind of grating, a little irritating, overly sloppy and crude (which all sounds too harsh, but we are talking about preconceived notions here, and that's often how the story goes there) – but the quality of the songwriting and that balance really shatters all of that. Not that elements of those characteristics aren't present, because they are, but that's what makes it so interesting and weird and just fuckin' awesome. I don't know. It took more than a decade, but I'm a huge, huge fan now…

Archers of Loaf "Web in Front"
Archers of Loaf "You and Me"
Archers of Loaf "Slow Worm"

Purchase:

@ Alias Records
@ Amazon.com
@ Amazon.com (mp3)

Primordial "To the Nameless Dead" CD

Posted on Thursday, January 17th, 2008 @ 6:17am » permalink

Primordial - To the Nameless DeadIreland's Primordial is yet another band that I simply haven't followed closely enough over the years, and "To the Nameless Dead" (released by Metal Blade), their sixth full-length album, proves that I have no good excuse whatsoever for that fact. It's been five or six years since I last heard Primordial (granted I only missed one album during that period), at which time I was already discovering their work late in the game, but apparently they're among that elite breed of musicians that continues to improve at such a late stage in their existence by releasing impressively powerful albums.

The hour-long journey is made up of lengthy tracks that average about seven minutes apiece and at the highest level can only be described as creatively uncategorizable metal, which is of course a great niche for any band to fall into in this day and age where the vast majority of material can be easily tagged with this or that combination of genres. In many ways a lot of the tempos are powered by sweeping, melodic midpaced waves with occasional surges of speed or subtly atmospheric breaks, but the rhythms do flirt with some superb Drudkh-esque black metal riffing or sparse appearances of lush acoustic guitars on occasion. It all adds up to an array of bombastic intensity and epic vocal performances that actually reminds me of Neurosis to some degree. Of course the two bands basically sound nothing alike whatsoever, but there's still something about this album in particular – the subject matter, of course, but it's more than that – that makes me draw a parallel between the two groups as some sort of strange, disparate kindred spirits, if that makes any sense?

I don't know, I'm just rambling now, but whatever the case, this is an excellent album, and I need to finally go back and properly investigate Primordial's roots to learn where this all came from and find out what I may have missed. There's so much more to be said for this album, but I feel like you really need to hear it for yourselves to understand, so… that's what the sample below is for:

Primordial "Empire Falls"

The sea will be as a desert when my bones are long to dust, beneath shifting dunes and the searing unconquerable son. Pile the bodies on the pyre, warm the old heart of the earth. This is no place for faith, nor for hope. Just a journey through the darkest of nights, to the old heart of the earth. These are wounds made by cold hands that know the bite of steel, hands that have rendered life extinct and punished the weak at heart. Tell me what nation on this Earth is not born of tragedy? That has not felt such harsh weapons wielded by cruelty's desire?

Purchase:

@ The End Records
@ Download Punk

After Oblivion "The Carnal Form" CD

Posted on Wednesday, January 16th, 2008 @ 6:52am » permalink

After Oblivion - The Carnal FormI don't know very much about After Oblivion, but the technical death metal outfit is rather uniquely located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I believe this four-song demo is their debut release. Aside from the fact that I've been able to determine that they've been around since at least 2005, that's about all I can reveal about their background information. Admittedly influenced by the almighty likes of Death, Cynic, and Gorguts, it's the Death influence that comes across most blatantly to these ears, with quite a number of riffs and song structures – and even some of the bass work (though it's mixed far less prominently here) – borrowing liberally from the vibe of the "Individual Thought Patterns" era. It's not exactly what I would consider a rip-off or anything like that, though, since the lead playing has more of a hurriedly fluid (if that makes sense) and openly melodic kind of thing going on and the vocals are going for an even harsher high-end strain than Schuldiner's niche, while the rhythms are more stripped down and one-dimensional than the variety that Death was always exploring in their heyday. The vocals took me some getting used to at first, but by the time the third song came around I had grown quite accustomed to the delivery. I'd definitely still encourage the band to push themselves to explore a slightly wider range of influences, however, because they're clearly competent musicians that are highly capable of delivering some great technical, melodic death metal. The performances are tight, the recording's perfectly suitable for a demo release (if not something more), the artwork is well executed, etc. I think the fact that all of these songs are about three to three-and-a-half minutes pays off big time for the band, because it keeps the energy moving and prevents boredom, but a full-length might need a hint more color and excitement to carry 45 minutes or so, you know? It's obvious that they have the tools to make it happen, though, and if they can pull it off I'd say they'd make a great fit on the Willowtip roster or what have you.

After Oblivion "The Carnal Form"

I believe physical copies of the demo are only available as some kind of double CD-R split with Brazilian death metal band No Blest, but I think the cost is fairly inexpensive, so get in touch with the band if you're interested in a copy.

Make Do and Mend "We're All Just Living" CD

Posted on Tuesday, January 15th, 2008 @ 6:24am » permalink

Make Do and Mend - We're All Just Living"We're All Just Living" is the debut six-song EP from Connecticut's Make Do and Mend on Restless Minds Records, and to be totally honest with you it took me a little while to totally make up my mind on this one, but I'm really glad I stuck with it. I knew right off the bat from the first listen that there were a lot of things about this band that I liked, and that for the most part this should totally be right up my alley, but there are little bits and pieces about the recording that were kind of getting to me here and there – specifically with the way that the vocals were sometimes feeling a little too plain and "pasted in" or up front, which was distracting me. But I got past that because the songwriting is fucking great (and because the "problematic" areas – many of which happen to fall near the start of opener "Bitter Work", which probably has something to do with my initial confusion – are minimally located throughout the disc in the long run), so when everything falls into place these guys are really fucking onto something here. It's just a good ol' mix of honest, heartfelt emo/indie rock with subtle tinges of pop-punk and that kind of thing, complete with loads of catchy hooks and melodies that's not without musical/lyrical value. There are plenty of killer roving basslines and a lot of dual guitar interaction, tons of promising multi-vocal layering, etc. You can tell there's a wide range of influences at work that's rooted in the more respected 90's era of this sound, but without particularly sounding like a throwback to that time period or anything. I don't know, what can I say? The energy's absolutely there, and that's what always pays off in the end when it comes to these types of records, so… I'm very curious to see where this band will go next. Even minor polishing up could yield an amazing full-length from these guys, so I'll certainly be looking forward to more. Don't mind my nitpicky sentiments earlier, this is great work… and "Insomniac Jams" is a fucking five-star gem.

Make Do and Mend "Insomniac Jams"

Purchase:

@ Make Do and Mend
@ Restless Minds Records
@ Interpunk

Brain Dead/Rot in Hell "Millennial Psychosis" split 7"

Posted on Monday, January 14th, 2008 @ 6:43am » permalink

Brain Dead/Rot in Hell - Millennial Psychosis - splitHere we have a little over 12 minutes of various forms of UK hardcore on a split release between two bands and three labels: Feast of Tentacles, Rumour Control Records, and Vinyl Addict Records. As for the bands, Brain Dead kicks things off with four scathing tracks of quirky hardcore/punk that's kind of like powerviolence with a little more breathing room involved. It's not just blazing speed and hammering intensity, there are some weird riffs and tempo changes happening to keep things interesting, which is great. Rot in Hell, on the other hand, dish out two more tracks (though they really run together into one long piece) of their worship-worthy Clevo-worship, this time littered with even more quick little Integrity-esque leads and a few chunkier midpaced breaks and darker dissonant riffs for good measure. The recording's of course a little on the raw side, which works out fine, but I can't help but wonder how awesome these guys would sound if they could beef things up and get some fiery and over the top "Systems Overload" styled production values happening. They're definitely starting to master the early-Integrity songwriting style now, though, as a number of moments in this composition are dead on homages to moments from "Those Who Fear Tomorrow", so… I'm all over it. Good stuff, and I'll look forward to hearing more.

Brain Dead "Abort"
Rot in Hell "The Barrens/Cholothrax" (excerpt)

Purchase:

Feast of Tentacles
Rumour Control Records
Vinyl Addict Records

Only Living Witness "Innocents" CD

Posted on Friday, January 11th, 2008 @ 6:31am » permalink

Only Living Witness - InnocentsI briefly (though admittedly cryptically) touched upon – or at least hinted at – the absolute brilliance of this album a few months ago, but god damn have I been listening to these songs over and over and over lately. I just can't believe how consistently blown away I am. I haven't posted about many older releases recently, but I'm just not gonna get into the usual "biographical information" spiel this time around (check out Only Living Witness on MySpace if you want background facts), 'cause I'm just all about flat out gushing here, boys and girls. That's all there is to it. The album's that fucking incredible. Seriously.

Originally released in 1996 and then re-released (remastered with bonus tracks) alongside their debut, "Prone Mortal Form", as part of a 2xCD set in 2006, something about "Innocents" just kicks the shit out of me every time. And I'm not gonna lie, I never even owned this album until the reissue came out. Fuckin' pathetic, yeah? I had "Prone Mortal Form" on cassette when I was a kid (I thought the album cover looked awesome), somehow ended up with the 7" that Chainsaw Safety released, and of course had the track that was on the "East Coast Assault" compilation (which always reminded me of Death Angel, oddly enough), but that was the extent of my Only Living Witness collection until 2006. And my full-blown worship didn't blossom until sometime in mid-2007, when "Downpour" came on my iPod during shuffle and I was suddenly like, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait… now that is a fucking million dollar song right there." I listened to that track about 20 times that day (it's the most played song in my iTunes library now), and have listened to this album about five times already this week – something that I almost never do anymore. I don't know why it took some time, but "Innocents" rapidly grew on me from that point forward, and now I can't get enough of it, and fully regret the fact that I inexplicably paid it no mind 12 fucking years ago when it originally hit the streets. (Damn you, chugging mid-90's hardcore, for once, damn you…)

And it's weird, because this isn't particularly the type of record that I'd normally think of as being one of "those records" for me – which perhaps makes it somehow all the more likely candidate to be just that type of record, but… well, whatever. I guess it covers all the bases. Heavy, diverse , rockin', melodic, creative… great riffs, excellent recording, golden performances… and it's damn sure loaded with feeling and emotion. I don't know what it is, because for the most part it's only little fragmented bits and pieces of the lyrics that jump out at me and make want to shoot myself in the face (And for me, that's actually a good thing here. I'm all about connection and response with music, so if it makes me want to put my fist through a wall or something like that, we're good to go.), but… the vast majority of these songs hit me like a fuckin' brick in the mouth, and though the metaphor reads illogically, I'd be a much happier man if I could find more music that stirred such feelings within me.

I realize I've said very little about their actual music, but that's because I'm going to let it speak for itself:

Only Living Witness "Downpour"
Only Living Witness "Knew Her Gone"

I should say so much more, but I don't even know what more to say. Amazing, amazing album, and I commend these cats with full fucking force across the board for this one. I'm floored. (And, yeah, embarrassed. Why the hell did it take me so long to wake up? Why!?)

I mean, if that shit doesn't do something for you, something's not right, man…

With regard to "Downpour" I stated awhile back that everyone in Only Living Witness "should be fuckin' rich for having something to do with a song so amazing". I wasn't kidding. They are, however, not rich. "Innocents" is, however, fucking perfect. So you should, of course, buy the album and contribute to their continually unfortunate lack of riches. Unless my eyes deceive me, Century Media seems to be selling the 2xCD reissue for a mere $5 (That makes no sense, but it's a hell of a deal, so jump at it!), so… if you download this album for free, you suck. The end.

Purchase:

@ Century Media
@ eMusic
@ iTunes

Pulling Teeth "Martyr Immortal" CD

Posted on Thursday, January 10th, 2008 @ 6:35am » permalink

Pulling Teeth - Martyr ImmortalPulling Teeth's "Martyr Immortal" (another Deathwish Inc. gem) was the only hardcore-related record to make it onto my list of five favorite albums from 2007, and god damnit is this a great fucking disc. An awesomely rugged (read: pissed off) recording with an almost weird blend of fiery distortion and subtle dissonance perfectly amplifies the songwriting's superb balance of raw, raging speeds (Gehenna circa "The War of the Sons of Light and the Suns of Darkness", anyone?) mixed with the kind of breakdowns that make you want to fuckin' rip people's throats out, and my ears simply don't get treated to this kind of mastery too often these days, man. Love it. And, uhhh, I really respect the band and the label for not hyping the shit out of this fact and all, but, ummm, well, it's kind of what you'd call a "big deal" that Aaron fucking Melnick plays some blazing "Systems Overload"-styled leads on this motherfucker. The Aaron Melnick. A-fucking-Double. I mean, come on! That's huge, is it not!? (Edit: Apparently Aaron didn't actually play on the album tracks, he just helped write some of the riffs, which actually makes the lead performances on the record even more mind-bogglingly impressive because the Melnick-ian lead style has been mirrored to absolute perfection. I'm fucking shocked.) And then Dwid contributes hoarsely whispered/spoken vocals to epic 7+ minute closer "Dismissed in Time", which has the experimental flare of numerous Integrity tracks from the late-90's split 7" days (only better – believe it). But that's not to steal any thunder from Pulling Teeth themselves, of course, as the glory is all rightfully theirs. Every song of the short but sweet 26-minute running time is a keeper, and I'll take this over any other hardcore-related album of last year any day of the week. No questions asked. Outfuckingstanding. The bar has been raised, and the competition's looking fucked, my friends. Absolutely recommended on every level.

Pulling Teeth "Clipped Wings"
Pulling Teeth "Dead is Dead"

Purchase:

@ Deathwish Inc. (CD)
@ Deathwish Inc. (LP)

Vandöd "As" CD

Posted on Wednesday, January 9th, 2008 @ 7:33am » permalink

Vandöd - As"As", the debut full-length from Sweden's Vandöd as well as the debut release from Sweden's Ex Mortem Records, is one of those extremely strong albums that just so happens to open on a slightly weak note in the form of "The First Page", where the flimsy vocal performance certainly leaves the listener questioning the potential quality of the remainder of the album. Thankfully the vast majority of the material picks up some steam afterwards, including the quality of the vocals – which range from scathing snarls and harsh growls to borderline "epic" forms of singing (think along the lines of some of Enslaved's earlier work). Even a cursory Enslaved reference should clue you in that this is a black metal album, but there are definitely a lot of unique twists going on musically to counter (and exceed) the variation heard in the vocal delivery, among them some curiously discordant layering techniques that work incredibly well with the overtly dry recording quality. All of the songs fall in the three- to five-minute range, so the structures remain focused and waver between atypical uses of speed (i.e. a gracious lack of reliance on tremolo picking) and loads of slower passages that create a much more somber and intriguing atmosphere, especially given the way the multi-dimensional vocal characteristics start paying off as the album plays on. The band's whole riffing style is just really interesting to me because it somehow sounds pretty different, though not exactly "out there" or anything. I don't know, just the way they utilize weird picking textures and loosely chaotic tendencies within the confines of those cold, crawling types of staple black metal runs is pretty awesome. They may falter on a few minor occasions (mainly the aforementioned opener, though I could also do without brief/unnecessary instrumental "Nio" and the distracting horns in otherwise powerful closer "Of Unearthly Thoughts") but everything else is fucking great. I'll be looking forward to hearing more from Vandöd, for sure…

Vandöd "Burden of Eden"

Purchase:

@ Ex Mortem Records

Hex Machine "Run to Earth" 12"

Posted on Tuesday, January 8th, 2008 @ 6:26am » permalink

Hex Machine - Run to EarthHex Machine is perhaps the latest in the rather long line of rather badass "math metal" bands (for lack of a better term) from here in Richmond, VA, and their sophomore EP on Molsook Records, the "Run to Earth" 12", proves just that. Badass, yes, but they're certainly not your typical "math metal" band. For one thing, there are vocals, though instrumental action does tend to drive the bulk of the compositions, and while there are a number of familiar rhythmic shifts and grooves, there are also a ton of bizarre textural nuances and generally twisted accents that keep things interesting, and, well… sort of strange. It's just cool material. Excellent fucking recording, too. I mean, it's dense yet crisp, there's a ton of detail in there, and it really highlights the killer musicianship that's going on within all of the layering between the instruments and shit. Very cool. Loving that aspect for sure. Guitarist/vocalist Trevor Thomas has been in a number of killer bands over the last decade-plus, and I'd say pretty much all of them have been fairly underrated, but Hex Machine seems to be playing a shitload of shows and getting out there quite a bit, so I'm certainly hoping that the overwhelming all-around strengths of this EP can start to do some damage for 'em as well. And I mean that in a good way, of course. This is a great fuckin' release.

Hex Machine "Nude Model Harvey"

Slick-looking colored vinyl is available, it's cheap, and all purchases come with a CD copy of the tracks, so… no excuses!

Purchase:

@ Molsook Records

Prideswallower "Lifeswallower" CD

Posted on Monday, January 7th, 2008 @ 6:37am » permalink

Prideswallower - LifeswallowerYet another stellar outfit from Louisville, Kentucky is the extremely surprising Prideswallower, whose out-of-nowhere debut EP on Auxiliary Records, "Lifeswallower", cranks out six almost shockingly memorable tracks in about 15 minutes (and you'll notice a pattern here… all song titles also end in "-swallower"). Recorded using a handful of microphones and a Tascam eight track with another mic and Apple's Garage Band for the vocals, the production is, well… raw. And I mean fucking raw. Which is partly what makes everything so unexpected here, 'cause you pop the disc in and kinda cringe a little bit when you first experience the crudeness of the tones, but then you get a grip on the songs, man! The songs! You immediately adjust to the sound quality because every damn song on the EP is fuckin' oddly catchy! And great! It's just weird, you've got this crude, gritty recording of these songs that mesh hardcore/punk, post-hardcore, and grungy, rocked out Amphetamine Reptile noisiness, but literally every one of 'em is packed with just the right amount of energy, melody, and memorability, so… it's an absolutely awesome EP. I'm actually extremely impressed, and wish I hadn't sat on this one for so long. Excellent work.

Prideswallower "Prideswallower"

Purchase:

@ Auxiliary Records

Podcast aftermath…

Posted on Saturday, January 5th, 2008 @ 1:51pm » permalink

If you're interested, you can download an mp3 of my appearance on the aforementioned podcast (see previous post) here:

Live Fast Racing Podcast #8

Or you can listen to a stream from this page by clicking on the orange "Listen" link to the right of 01/05/2008 10:00 AM EST – EPISODE8 – LiveFastRacing Call In Show, under "Past Episodes".

Many thanks to Johnny for having me, and hopefully I didn't make a fool of myself!

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