Posted on Friday, January 28th, 2011 @ 7:24am » permalink
Another absolutely outstanding release from 7 Degrees Records (this time with the help of Amplified Anger Records), "Rasierter Affe" is the latest from Zodiac. They're from Bremen, Germany; so of course they draw comparisons to such revered acts as Acme, Carol, Mörser, etc.; and rightfully so. This is some seriously powerful metallic hardcore with a good dose of grinding intensity. Expect loads of churning power chords, a dash of D-beat, dark and discordant riffing, killer melodies with a Swedish tinge, scorching tremolo picking runs, vicious shouting/screaming, etc. Awesome recording, too. I have zero complaints. It's always great when a band can combine straightforward, brutal heaviness and chaotic energy with just enough catchiness to completely kick your ass, and Zodiac seems to pull it off with ease. That's all there is to it, really. Five songs, about 14 minutes, and it's all gold. Just check out the track below and if you're not sold, you must be deaf!
Cough/The Wounded Kings "An Introduction to the Black Arts" split LP
Posted on Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 @ 7:05am » permalink
Another solid offering from Forcefield Records sees Richmond, VA's Cough teaming up with UK act The Wounded Kings to offer up one lengthy track apiece for a total of 35 minutes of ridiculously crushing doom. Cough kicks things off with the 20-minute "The Gates of Madness", opening with dingy, distorted drones and feedback that gradually transition into the slow, pounding riffs you'd expect from the genre. From a musical standpoint the whole recording is oppressively thick, from the pulsing throb of the guitars and bass to the hard-hitting thumps of the percussion – but the vocals are just completely raging, black metal-esque snarls under a dash of reverb, so they really slice through the density of the mix. However, about a third of the way through the track the vocals take an unexpected turn towards a singing style, and the core of thick 'n' gritty power chords is joined by some rocked out lead breaks and dissonant riffing to keep things moving. The Wounded Kings follow with the 15-minute "Curse of Chains", which is similar in overall structure, but carries a toned down approach (i.e. the distortion isn't so over the top and allows for more breathing room throughout the mix) and adds hints of a horror soundtrack meets 70's rock vibe via tactful keyboard atmospherics and singing vocals that – in line with the overall feel of the piece – follow more of a "classic" doom aesthetic. I'd definitely say that The Wounded Kings are more about creating a sense of atmosphere than simply beating you over the head with the weight of their riffs, and they do succeed. As a whole this is actually my first exposure to both bands, and as all good splits should achieve, I'm certainly interested in hearing more from each contributor.
Posted on Monday, January 24th, 2011 @ 6:46am » permalink
This four-song, self-titled EP (released by Good Times Records) is the debut outing from Los Angeles, CA's Son of Man. As insinuated by the Dwid Hellion-contributed cover art, the band's approach is indeed influenced by Integrity and other such comparable acts, but they're definitely taking things in different directions musically. True, the songwriting style is largely dominated by a metallic hardcore type of format driven by crunchy power chords and gruff vocals, but there are a number of riffs that unexpectedly head towards the cold, crawling dissonance of the Norwegian black metal aesthetic (as well as some H8000-esque death metal runs for additional flare). The crispness of the guitar tone may be attempting to move in that "Norwegian" direction as well, but I think the band's approach would achieve more impact with a well-balanced recording. The production values are the key factor that can tend to obscure some of the band's potential here. The bass sounds fucking great, and there's definitely something to be said for the strange character of the guitar sound, but if the drums aren't programmed (it seems they're looking for a bassist and a drummer to fill out the lineup) the rigidity of the percussion certainly suggests the possibility. Perhaps it's just a digital kit? Regardless, a warmer and more natural drum sound would definitely work to thicken up some of the gaps left by the guitars, and the vocals could probably use some extra fullness, too. This is just the beginning for Son of Man, though, and the continued growth and experimentation that all bands experience should allow them to strike the right balance between the different influences they're attempting to unify.
Posted on Friday, January 21st, 2011 @ 7:21am » permalink
Another peculiar release from the always intriguing Paradigms Recordings catalog, "Old Europa Death Chants" offers two solo tracks apiece and two collaborative compositions from Danish one-man acts Sol and Blóðtrú, neither of whom had I heard (or heard of) prior to this. And to be honest, I'm not sure what I'd expect from either band's own full-length outings now, as the 77+ minutes herein span a range of funereal doom, apocalyptic/neo-folk, dark ambient/experimental noise, black metal, and then some. Hell, each band's solo compositions even head in all sorts of different directions!
Sol's contributions begin with "Crippled by Emotions We Die in Solitude" (an amazing song title), which largely offers deep, dark low-end drones and sparse vocal snarls with subtle, sustained-note melodies/feedback buried in the fog of the mix before a completely unexpected burst of raw, chaotically blasting black metal percussion takes charge (with no change to the slow, somber drones, mind you – which makes the percussion even more erratic and insane). But then "Where Did We Fall" opens with ethereal washes of ambient sound alongside acoustic guitars and assorted other stringed instruments. It's almost like full-on folk music before changing over to distorted pulses of bass and stripped down, martial percussion (with more sporadic snarls) to carry out the remainder of the track. As for Blóðtrú's efforts, "The Dusk of Man: The Dawn of Beasts" builds from the improvisational feel of dense low-end drones and dissonant, arbitrarily stricken chords/plucked notes towards more intentional and tangible rhythms/riffs that hit on a "blackened doom" vibe (aided by the textured rasps of sneering vocals). "A Golden Horse" then takes that doom-laden foundation to epic heights by combining the harsh vocals with excellent singing and throwing in some unexpectedly melodic bass runs reminiscent of an even more ominous Black Sabbath, not to mention superbly integrated layers of abstract noise and additional textures. Hypnotic and incredible.
Rather than combining all of these elements, the two collaborative pieces are both on the more subdued side. "Alone" is a fusion of singing and chanting vocals over assorted chiming bells and drones; while the title track consists entirely of lightly melodic, bagpipe-like drones (maybe it is bagpipes, I'm not sure) and minimal ambient hums/whirs. There's a really intriguing sense of eerie, melancholic atmosphere to the entire release, and it's clear that these two artists are an excellent match for one another. Further evidence that Paradigms Recordings is an extremely cool label that has quite a vision…
Posted on Wednesday, January 19th, 2011 @ 6:30am » permalink
After a four-year wait, Slovenian outfit Elodea returned last year with "Voyager" (released by Storm Inside Records), and I'm way behind on covering this thing. Don't be fooled by the fact that only five songs are present, as the album's total running time is damn near an hour (Opener "Becoming One With the Desert" is one of two tracks that tops 14 minutes!) of brooding metal heavily rooted in the "Neur-Isis" type of sound. That being said, the "Neur-Isis" tag can be an insult as easily as a compliment, and I'm generally not a particular fan of that style, so I want to clarify that it's just a loose jumping off point as far as Elodea's concerned. There are plenty of those thick, churning power chords; harshly shouted vocals; somber clean passages and bits of melody; a few droning wails of feedback or subtle experimental noise/synth textures; and just a little bit of that shimmery post-rock stuff. But there are also some completely raging riffs loaded with weird ascending/descending patterns and surging bends reminiscent of Intronaut's earliest (and best) work – not to mention awesome drumming that generally carries a surprisingly relaxed flow with lots of killer little cymbal flourishes and such. Having Starkweather's Rennie Resmini contribute vocals and lyrics to the entirety of "Fraction of the Whole" is an absolutely incredible touch, too! Overall there are a number of very comparable bands out there, but I absolutely feel that Elodea strikes a stronger balance between these varying influences, thus creating a much more powerful atmosphere that also carries over nicely into their lyrics and imagery.
When forever slowly degrades and colors of life start to fade we wonder what matters and what will remain this artificial emptiness we dully sustain slaves to materia, architects of inferia the center of the universe or a ring of bacteria?
For vinyl junkies, the LP (which only contains four of the songs) is limited to a mere 104 copies, while the CD is limited to just 300. I'm kind of surprised they haven't sold out yet, so please show some support with a purchase (while you still can) if you enjoy what the band has to offer…
Posted on Monday, January 17th, 2011 @ 7:02am » permalink
This impressive demo from Little Rock, AR's Pallbearer sees the band unload three lengthy tracks of doom metal in the classic sense – clocking in for a total of more than 23 minutes. For the most part the approach is a consistent one that seems driven by influences from innovators like Black Sabbath by way of later staples such as Trouble, so expect loads of moderately slow-paced riffing and lightly distorted pulses of bass with a handful of lead melodies and great monotone singing (That's right, folks: No growls!) with little hints of reverb floating overhead for added effect. The recording suits the material just fine, with natural percussive tones and an ultra thick guitar sound that's heavy and aggressive without trying too hard, allowing the eerie wail of the vocals to rise to the forefront just a bit. I'd like to hear the basslines given a hint more presence during the core moments where said perfectly textured guitars are running the show, but it's not a problem. I love how the band is able to achieve a droning, hypnotic sort of feel without relying on any of the trappings of that more contemporary "drone" style of doom. They don't play overly slow or let huge power chords sustain and decay forever, they don't use oppressive low-end to generate literal ambient drones, etc. It's just good, solid, to the point doom metal with strong songwriting and a great atmosphere. Awesome.
Posted on Friday, January 14th, 2011 @ 7:04am » permalink
This is another one that made it into my "best of 2010" before I had a chance to write about it here first. From consistently solid German label 7 Degrees Records comes this completely amazing, face-ripping split 12" from obscure grind acts Sandokhan and Krupskaya. I don't even know where Sandokhan is from (Germany?) but they kick things off with 13 tracks of blasting grindcore in barely over six minutes. If you're anticipating anything more than furious tremolo picking, hammering percussion, and fierce growls/screams, you won't find it. There's about one midpaced breakdown in the sole track that's more than 45 seconds long, but that's about it. Otherwise, it's one of those "all go, no slow" situations. I have no idea what this band is all about, what with song titles like "Revenge of the Second Tehraegte" and "Trismegistus to Asclepius", but… if you like your grind blazing fast and in your face, this is the band for you. Then Krupskaya (UK) sort of steals the show by unloading one of the most fucked up, twisted takes on grind that I've ever encountered in my life. Chaotic wails of discordant riffing; hyper-speed blasts; mangled chord phrasings loaded with bizarre, Gorguts-like dissonance; samples and atmospheric noise; unexpected appearances of melody; maniacal vocals that are all over the place… you've really gotta hear this shit to even begin to understand how crazy it is. I don't know how they're able to make such a frantic attack kick this much ass, but… they do. I could definitely see this band being a bit of an acquired taste, but their ridiculously badass riffs and slithery textures are just so fuckin' heavy… maybe they're like the Starkweather of grind!?
The entire 12" results in 24 songs in just 20 minutes, so I damn sure need to hear more ASAP! To my dismay this one doesn't seem to be very widely distributed at all right now, so contact the label directly to see about getting your hands on one of these gems. I sincerely hope these bands (and 7 Degrees Records) start getting more of the attention they deserve soon, 'cause this material instantly fried my brain!
Posted on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 @ 7:20am » permalink
"Black Hole" is the first full-length outing from Young Adults (compliments of AMDISCS), and this LP went on one of my "best of 2010" lists before I even got around to covering it here. I absolutely loved their demo when I wrote about it early last year, and "Black Hole" contains re-recorded versions of all five tracks from the demo alongside five new songs, two instrumental interludes, and a cover of the Wipers' "Over the Edge". When I last spoke of Young Adults I loosely described their sound as "a fusion of slightly new wave-ish punk, indie rock, and 'shoegaze'", and while there's definitely more to it than that, I'm not the most experienced listener with regard to such styles, so… that analysis still stands. It all boils down to super catchy songwriting that combines high-energy bursts with slower, plodding rhythms that take on a much moodier atmosphere. And much like the demo, the recording is absolutely drowning in a gritty haze of raw distortion and effects that play a huge role in defining the band's character. They really make use of some unusually rugged tones and mixing techniques, but the over-the-top approach works perfectly in the end. I always feel like I should have so much more to say, and especially since this was one of of my favorite releases of 2010, but… the music will do a better job than I ever will. You can stream the entire album below (via Bandcamp). My personal favorites are "Impression", "Life Under Review", and "Annulation" (tracks 6, 8, and 9):
Copies of the physical LP (which also looks to have some awesome artwork, by the way) include digital downloads, or you can just grab the material digitally right off the bat…
Posted on Monday, January 10th, 2011 @ 7:06am » permalink
I've been running pretty far behind for a couple of months now, so I'm still sitting on a few intriguing releases from the excellent Paradigms Recordings label. This self-titled outing from peculiar French act Murmuüre (which is unfortunately said to be both the first and last release from the project) was originally issued on cassette, but Paradigms re-released it on CD in a limited run of 500 copies. The band's sound seems to be generally linked to black metal (or "celestial black pop", as the label puts it), but the six tracks/30 minutes of material herein have been digitally manipulated to the point of almost coming across more like experimental noise to me. Apparently all of the compositions are based around a one-hour guitar improvisation that was recorded in late-2006 and later re-contextualized with an assortment of additional sound sources (including live/programmed drums and vocals); and while there are discernible bits and pieces of vocals, percussion, and "riffs" scattered throughout; the bulk of the release is driven by a lot of really chilled out, ethereal drones and ambient atmospherics that – even in the presence of fuzzy distortion and percussion – retain an odd sense of melody and emotion that just doesn't say "black metal" to me at all. (The barely audible vocals do seem rather intense, but they're so subdued in the mix that they blend into the pieces as additional texture more than anything.) And that's not a bad thing. Quite the opposite in fact. I must confess that my initial reaction to the release was somewhat lukewarm, but I've quickly grown very fond of it, and the surprising sense of feeling that the music carries with it would achieve striking results were it used to score an appropriate film. Stream the complete release below (via Bandcamp):
And, as always, be sure to honor the artist/label with a purchase if you enjoy what you hear…
Posted on Friday, January 7th, 2011 @ 6:25am » permalink
I really haven't been keeping up with much black metal lately 'cause there's just so much out there and I haven't stumbled upon anything that hits the mark for me in awhile, but "The Opening of the Primordial Whirl", from Italian act Near (and released by De Tenebrarum Principio), caught my attention right off the bat. Having released a handful of demos and splits since forming in 2002, this is actually the band's first full-length outing, and its eight tracks/41 minutes represent precisely the surging, hypnotic sort of energy that I like to hear from a black metal album. Expect loads of frantic, blasting percussion; relentless tremolo picking riffs with just the right amount of melody, atmosphere, and creeping dissonance; pounding midpaced breaks; sneering vocals; and raw yet easily listenable production values dominated by echo-y layers of reverberated distortion. "The Dead Side of Human Nature" even closes with some nice acoustic guitars and keyboards from completely out of nowhere. It's certainly not the most diverse material out there, nor is it pushing any boundaries, but… for some reason that tends to be what I prefer from this genre. This is exactly what I think of when I think of black metal, and if that means it's a little one-sided and overly consistent (i.e. reliant on what are typically thought to be the "classic", or "true", aesthetics of black metal), so be it. I quite enjoy it and wholly recommend it, too.
This one was just released back in November, so it's not too widely distributed just yet. If you don't feel like waiting for it to hit a few more sources, you can always grab a copy from one of these European distributors, but whatever the case, be sure to pick up a copy if you like that you hear…
Posted on Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 @ 7:11am » permalink
Originally released on LP in 2009 by Six Weeks Records, "Lines in the Sand" is the debut full-length from Washington, DC straightedge band Coke Bust. This new CD pressing includes the LP's 17 tracks as well as the "Fuck Bar Culture" 7" and their 2006 demo as a bonus (with a handful of songs from those sessions that were unreleased prior to this, I believe) for a grand total of 33 tracks in less than as many minutes – all wrapped up with a hefty 24-page booklet containing all of the lyrics and tons of photos, flyers, etc. Musically expect nothing but rippin' fast, in your face hardcore in the early-80's style: Raging power chords and chaotic leads; gruff vocal shouts; blasting percussion and hammering, lightly distorted basslines, and so on. You probably know the drill, right? I don't listen to a ton of bands of this nature that weren't actually around in the early-80's, and as is generally the case with this stuff I can't say there's anything particularly innovative happening here, but these dudes totally nail the approach, and their relentless aggression combined with today's crisper and more well-rounded production values start to create a bit of a "powerviolence" vibe, which always tends to grab my attention for whatever reason. So… yeah. I dig it!
Same-Sex Dictator "From Beneath You it Devours" LP
Posted on Monday, January 3rd, 2011 @ 7:28am » permalink
Again released by a label I've never heard of and can't find any information about (Long Way Records), "From Beneath You it Devours" is the debut full-length outing from Seattle duo Same-Sex Dictator. Apparently having only heard one of the band's songs before on the split 7" with Requin was but a partial representation of what they have to offer. Those dense, powerviolence-like bass runs, burly low-end grunts, and bitter midrange snarls are certainly a dominant factor; but there are also a lot of weird, spaced-out effects and ambient pulses that lend a fucked up prog rock vibe to material ("Beyond Thee Anti-Lord Beat" even unloads some ripping solos completely out of nowhere) – not to mention a few quiet, spacious breaks where subtle percussion work becomes the focus. For some reason I keep expecting the songs to come in short bursts that hone in on the band's more explosive side, but in fact most of the compositions are four to five minutes long. Hell, "Turning State's Evidence" hits damn near seven minutes and is probably the album's most powerful track, complete with an unexpectedly epic intro that's much darker and more emotional in tone. This tune in particular covers a lot of ground, and is probably your best bet for getting a feel for the "big picture" with these guys:
Robotic Empire's the only place I can find the LP online, so pick one up while you still can. Otherwise, Tore Recordings will be doing a cassette pressing (which will include a digital download) early next year…
Posted on Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 @ 12:14pm » permalink
Decibel Magazine (pretty much the only metal magazine that matters, at this point) was kind enough to ask me for some "best of the year" picks for their blog, so of course I agreed. Here are my six picks, and they had some very kind words about my efforts as well (which I truly appreciate).