Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Lay Down Rotten - Deathspell Catharsis (Apostasy Records, 2014)

Once upon a time, I preferred a modest helping of melody in my death metal.  These days, I prefer moderation; it’s too easy to rely on worn out, saccharine templates.  On their latest album, Lay Down Rotten nail a victorious ratio of harmony to massacre. Deathspell Catharsis is ridiculously well crafted, crammed full of compelling riffs and songwriting.

Lay Down Rotten display admirable architectural instincts; Deathspell Catharsis beckons you in with dynamics that demand much banging of the head.  The compelling rhythmic panoply recalls both Amon Amarth and Lamb of God in their earliest incarnations.  The melodic accents evoke the sinister sensibilities of God Dethroned in their prime.  Sublime, shredding leads wrap up this wickedly complete package.

This was my first encounter with Lay Down Rotten; I was completely unaware of their existence, let alone their tenure on Metal Blade records.  Given their ability to sustain my interest throughout a lengthy LP, I think it’s high time to check out their catalog.

Deathspell Catharsis is out on February 11th.  Check a track below:

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Ritual Chamber – The Pits of Tentacled Screams (Self-released, 2013)

I’ve been bending a knee to the Incantation discography of late, pondering the many bands who’ve made worthy, if unsuccessful, attempts to approach the glory of their sound. I discovered Ritual Chamber fresh off a spin of Mortal Throne of Nazarene. After shaking off confusion and amazement at the magnificent music at hand, compulsion quickly set in. The Pits of Tentacled Screams is a feast of quality, consistency, and neck wrecking glory that rivals the elders.

Creeping, tentacular riffs and howling, cavernous auras do not a good album make. It’s the fucking songs, man; composition, dynamics, and riffs give life to death. Ritual Chamber have got it figured out. Or rather, Numinas, the band’s sole member, has got it figured out. I can’t fathom how one man could conceive and execute such a righteous paean to putrescence.

This is not just another roiling rollercoaster of filth; these songs are oozing with numinous character. Whenever the heaving murk threatens to pull you under, a festering and contagious guitar lead will elevate the proceedings towards triumph. A wonderfully hands-off production job lets all of the instruments shine through the darkness.

I’ve been worshipping at the altar of death for many a year; I’m comfortable letting my instincts lead the way on this one. The Pits of Tentacled Screams is worthy; genuflect.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Catalog Blasphemy: Emperor – IX Equilibrium

I discovered and downloaded a shit-ton of music in the Napster era.  In fact, most of my initial encounters with black metal occurred in that epoch.  I burned through Darkthrone, Emperor, Mayhem, and various other proponents of the second wave; I was completely unimpressed.  Black metal, as I understood it at the time, held very little appeal to me.

In junior year of college (1999) I was somehow convinced, along with a group of my friends, to take a spring break trip to South Padre Island in Texas.  This, of course, was an awful, awful decision.  Just before the trip, I came across a promo copy of Emperor’s IX Equilibrium on Napster, which I burned to CD for listening on ye olde Discman.

South Padre Island was, in fact, hell on earth.  I’ll spare the wretched details, but I’ve never been so fully out of my element as in that putrid spring break paradise.  The hilarious highlight of the trip, in my memory, was seeing Vanilla Ice perform “metal” versions of his tired hip-hop “classics.”

The worst part of the week in South Padre was the incessant cacophony, at all hours of the day and night.  I fought noise with noise and became very close friends with my headphones.  IX Equilibrium was the key brick in my wall of sound; I recall falling asleep to it almost every night.

I was very fond of IX Equilibrium; it was the first time that a second wave band had truly appealed to me (although Emperor was already straying mightily from black metal orthodoxy). The riffs, melodies, and production finally felt like they could stand up to the imperial bombast of the omnipresent keys.  Ihsahn’s clean vocals, in particular, struck a chord in my metal psyche.  I still love the shit out of “An Elegy of Icaros.”

Despite my appreciation of the album, I never ended up buying a physical copy.  Prometheus is the sole Emperor album on my CD rack.  Throughout the years, I’ve tried repeatedly to stoke an interest in the band’s early, universally lauded work.  It’s never stuck.

I recently picked up the band’s discography on Bandcamp, forcing myself to try to grasp the appeal of In the Nightside Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk.  I can understand their allure, but my ears keep coming back to IX Equilibrium.  I blaspheme, I know.  But if I cared, I wouldn't be writing this.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Year in Metal, 2013 - 15 Favorite Albums

I've been silent of late, working on a metal-related software project in my free time (more on that soon).  That didn't stop me from writing about my favorite albums of 2013, of course.  This year, the list is bandcamp-centric, so you can find it over at Metal Bandcamp.  Many thanks go out to Max for his generous support.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Gigan - Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science (Willowtip, 2013)

Some albums, like mathematical formulae, require a revelation.  This is what we live for, the moment when an album’s enzymes cause an unlooked for catalytic catharsis.  Gigan’s music has always interested me, but it’s never induced a chemical reaction.  Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science changes that in spectacular fashion.

Although typically tagged as tech-death, Gigan just don’t sport a weedily-Wilton aroma on this record.  Eric Hersemann’s careening riffs are borne of wild astral forces, possessing a frantic and frightening immediacy.  These chromatic acrobatics and contortions amaze and delight without turning into a carnival.  The crystalline riffs and perplexing rhythms speak to me in grindcore tongues. I’m hearing whispers of Discordance Axis and Dephosphorus. I like what they’re saying.

Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science has a deliberately ornate and alien atmosphere.  Every corner of its soundscape is crawling with intricate minutia; you’ve got to admire the attention to detail. Some of the album’s sparser moments are its finest. “Mother of Toads” feels like the product of a xenomorphic Primus, with a freak tremolized riff riding a barrage of perfectly absurd percussion.

Cold-blooded howls burst from the beating heart of this album.  Eston Browne has perfectly synthesized the venom and brutality he perfected in Salö and Humanity Falls, respectively. The humanity of this cacodemonic rage helps to balance the album’s science and sorcery; I can somehow relate to Gigan’s mystifying madness.

Somewhere along the line, Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science swept me up in its anomalous onslaught.  It took a few spins for the epiphany to occur, but I’ve been craving these cryptic transmissions and vicious grooves ever since.  Perhaps you, too, can become a vessel of these cosmic communications.

Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science is out on October 15th via Willowtip.  You can stream the entire album here.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Reinventing the Surgical Steel

My recent concert experiences have left me with cold feelings.  I’ve been missing the suspension of disbelief, the process whereby my body surrenders to the metal and becomes a vessel of headbanging rage and rapture.  I could attribute this to jaded age, the cone of silence proffered by obligatory earplugs, or any number of grumpy excuses.  Last week that veil was pierced by Carcass and Immolation.  In addition to losing myself in the ferocity of the evening’s proceedings, I was also able to come to terms with Surgical Steel.  My relationship with Carcass’ überhyped reunion album is complicated, with roots digging down into my own metal infancy.

Heartwork was my death metal revelation, one of the first signposts on my road to hell. It changed everything, overturning the Metallica, Megadeth, Maiden, and Sepultura albums that had ruled my heart until that moment in 1993.  Heartwork became the soundtrack to my high school years, its esoteric, intellectual beauty and overt elitism setting the tone for my adolescent existence.  It’s still my favorite album of all time.

When Swansong came out, I was devastated.  My ears had pushed further into brutality; Suffocation was more my style at that point.  The heaviness, speed, and soul had been sucked from my favorite band, perhaps by the music business itself.  But Swansong was still filled with righteous riffs and songwriting mojo; it stayed in my car stereo throughout that summer before college.  As the negative reviews poured in, my consternation and contrarianism won out; I became a vocal Swansong proponent.  I’ll still defend the album ‘til blue in the face.

The first Carcass reunion tour bore unbelievable fruits; the resurrection of metal heroes had not yet become a clichéd, cash-driven industrial complex.  I could not comprehend Carcass creating new music; some sacred sarcophagi should remain sealed.  But new music was born nonetheless.  As the release of Surgical Steel approached, I steeled myself for disappointment.  It’s the way of life.  It’s just how things go.  The release of “Captive Bolt Pistol” did nothing to alleviate my doubts; all I could hear was Arsis and Soilwork and Arch Enemy and seventeen years of copycat melodic death regurgitated.  I was blinded by fear.

My first listen to Surgical Steel in its entirety was a bizarre experience.  There were sparks of brilliance, fleeting moments of old feelings, but no magic.  That first spin set off my alarms, breaking heartstrings and filling me with smug dissatisfaction.  I hope for the best but expect the worst.  This shouldn’t have been so complicated.  I had set up an impossible goalpost for the band and the album.

Naturally, I continued to listen to Surgical Steel, repeatedly and obsessively.  My misgivings faded but didn’t disappear entirely.  Could an album that compels daily spins really be mediocre?  I bought a ticket to see Carcass play at the Gramercy Theater and schlepped to the show with zero expectations.

Immolation, as always, were incredible.  But that’s a story for another story.  Gramercy was packed to the gills and roiling with energy as “1985” played over the PA.  Carcass came out and ripped directly into “Buried Dreams,” the sound a balanced clarion call of death. The chills, the fucking chills.

The setlist was glorious, but the Surgical Steel tracks stole the show.  Filled with urgency and ripping, dripping precision, the new songs fit perfectly amongst the gore-filled gems of years past.  I couldn’t stop smiling, or headbanging, or playing every riff and solo on my genuine Acme air guitar.  I lost my pretentions, let it go, and found that old feeling, “the ecstasy of enmity.” I walked out of the concert filled with much joy and neck-pain, thinking this unfathomable thought: I wish Carcass had played more new songs.  I’m sold; Surgical Steel is the real thing.

(Note: cozy up to the soundboard at the Gramercy Theater if you want a show to sound like non-shit).

Monday, September 23, 2013

Beaten To Death - Dødsfest! (Mas-Kina Records, 2013)

Beaten To Death give gloriously little in the way of fucks.  The band can be found assiduously shitting in the woods, just off the beaten path of metal.  I loved the band's debut, and Dødsfest! finds the band again grinding out absurdly ferocious, melodic, addictive, and categorically uncharacterizable music.

The first thing you’ll notice about Dødsfest! is the production; the guitars are barely distorted, and the bass bounces on top of the mix with ballistic pointillism.  The album has a gloriously odd center of gravity, feeling simultaneously compressed and airy.

Beyond its acoustic dementia, Dødsfest! is a rabid smorgasbord of styles, united by a disregard for convention. Beaten to Death bring plenty of blastbeaten grind to the table, mincing dissonance and speed with inhuman skill.  There are oodles of grooves and the occasional over-the-top breakdown; it all just works.  The album’s most salient feature, however, is its blatant melodicism. Indie-rock poignance is poured copiously into the album’s voracious maw.

The appropriation of cross-genre aesthetics into metal is a theme, of course (see Deafheaven).  Such purposeful and calculated maneuvers usually set off my bullshit detector, for better or worse.  Beaten to Death pull this off, somehow, in a manner that I can enjoy without twinges of misgiving.  This chaos doesn’t feel like a marketing ploy, but more like a car crash, a demolition derby for its own sake.  Follow me?

Most importantly, Beaten to Death manage to shape their ear-mangling machinations into discernable, recognizable and memorable songs.  Its lifespan is brief, but Dødsfest! leaves a mental mark.  I’m quite happy that there’s a continuity between Xes And Strokes and Dødsfest!. There’s a vision in this aural entropy; it’s just wonderfully fucked up.

Dødsfest! is out on October 4th via Mas-Kina Records.  Check out a sample below and stream the entire album here.  I expect to pick this up on Bandcamp when it’s available.