Thursday, July 30, 2009

Swashbuckle - Back to the Noose (Nuclear Blast Records, 2009)

I think the barrel of original riffage has run completely dry in the world of thrash. If you want to wade into it's resurgent waters, then you've got to subsist on character, songwriting skills and pure metal energy. Swashbuckle took the riffage barrel, filled it with grog and spewed forth one of the most entertaining albums I've ever heard.

Back to the Noose is certainly not the best album of the year, but it is without a doubt the most fun.
If you're going to dress up like a pirate, strap on your guitar and thrash, this is how you do it. I haven't paid much attention to buccaneering in metal thus far because it's been plain awful. What I've heard has been tainted with weak keyboard Velveeta and noodling, never-ending solos. Swashbuckle pilfer the fucking cheese and eat it.

"Hoist the Mainsail" starts off the album with an epic acoustic passage that foreshadows the glory to come. "Scurvy Back" thrashes hard and showcases the excellent guitar tone, bass sound and production of the album. It's sometimes hard to believe these guys are a three-piece. "Back to the Noose" kicks in with the the motivational phrase - "Let it rip!"

"Cloudy with a chance of piracy" is the first of several acoustic "sea shanties" that are interspersed throughout the thrash. This would reek of wretched Roquefort if they weren't executed with pure calypso brilliance. I half expect my boy Harry Belafonte to appear and bust out some tunes about coconuts and bananas.

I guess this is the point where I should issue a disclaimer. My dad's side of the family is French by way of the U.S. Virgin Islands. An ancestor is told to have been a pirate of some repute. My wife and I are known to fly the Jolly Roger from our house at times. Buccaneering runs in my veins. This, however, is the first time that spirit has been awoken by metal. So clearly I'm biased.

Back to the Noose
is filled with top of the line thrash riffage and rhythms. The sound deviates occasionally towards more melody or more death. These variations are always perfectly executed. "Rounds of Rum" channels Clayman era In Flames riffs to great effect. "Whirlpit" starts off with a riff that dials up Trey Azagthoth for a few brief moments. But in the end, how the hell can you beat a song called "Peg-leg Stomp?"

The vocals tend to lean a little towards the guttural and deep side, which is fine for me. The lyrics are ridiculously awesome, and most every song has a gang-style sing along chorus. How can you help but yell along when the chorus is simply "Grog Box!"

Shit man, if you can handle this shtick, and enjoy a good thrashing, you've got to pick up this album.

85/100

The entire album is temporarily streaming at the band's myspace page:
Swashbuckle Myspace

Here is the preposterously awesome video for "Cruise Ship Terror"
Cruise Ship Terror

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An ode to Chronicles of Chaos

When I was a wee metal lad, I never really bought metal magazines. At the very least, I didn't buy metal magazines to find out about new music. That's what zines were for.
Somewhere in 1995, I came across Chronicles of Chaos. How that occurred is lost in the sands of time. A printed version of the zine came into my hands from some unknown source, to whom I am eternally grateful.
Founded by Gino Filicetti and the late Adrian Bromley, Chronicles of Chaos was of a new generation of zines. No hand-scrawled artwork would grace these pages - COC #1 was sent out via e-mail. Any kid with an AOL account could get their hands on it, and that's what I did. Filled with reviews of albums from bands I'd never heard of, the zine was a revelation. Thanks to it's digital birth, all the original issues are available here.
That first issue featured a review of Suffocation's Pierced From Within, which I then went out and bought sight unseen. I guess all you had to say was "amazing lead riffs in the vein of Carcass's 'Heartwork'" and I was sold. Needless to say, it had a pretty big impact on my musical tastes.
Chronicles of Chaos was compiled and sent out to eager lovers of metal for years, without fail. With reviews by its founders, along with Brian Meloon and later Pedro Azevedo, COC was my metal bible for a long time. With a few notable exceptions, I almost always agreed with these guys about metal. I trusted their opinions.
In the true spirit of the zine, COC had no advertising and made no money for its writers. They did it for the love of metal. The writing was always top notch, and there was never any need to question their journalistic integrity. When I went to college and started writing album reviews for the newspaper there, I purposely wrote in the style of Chronicles of Chaos.

In 2003, Chronicles of Chaos took fully to the web, and eventually foresook the monthly e-mail format. The site persists to this day, with some different writers but the same quality. I still discover a gem of an album there once in a while that they praise and no one else does. COC has remained steadfastly un-hipster throughout. I love decibel, but I can't trust an album review there as far as I could throw it.
Chronicles of Chaos also has some excellent retrospective pieces. I always find myself referring back to their excellent essays on the history of doom and black metal. When it comes time for end of the year lists, I always agree with theirs the most.
These days, metal websites and blogs abound. But no one seems to mention Chronicles of Chaos anymore. At least I don't see it. So anyway, do yourself a favor and check out their site. Chronicles of Chaos always was and will be the place to find out about the good metal.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Revocation - The impact of a band photo

So I'm checking out Empire of the Obscene, the very awesome debut album by Revocation, from Boston, Massachusetts. The album is a fantastic technical thrashy-deathfest. I go to look up the band on Encyclopaedia Metallum, and the first thing I see is this band picture:


This instantly makes me think that Revocation will be completely awesome. These guys look like they rule and don't take themselves at all seriously.
It got me thinking - so much of metal is wrapped up in image, whether we like it or not. From the long hair to the corpse-paint to the mandatory extremely-serious band photos, the history is well documented. But in the end, how much does a band's image effect our opinion of them?

I should note that Revocation do in fact rule, and have signed to Relapse. Cosmo Lee recently discussed them here.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Be'lakor - Stone's Reach (Prime Cuts Music, 2009)

You can go ahead and call me a melodic death metal apologist. I can take it.
In an age of rapidly shifting metal genres, melodic death metal in its purest form is mostly a lost art. Any band brave enough to walk this path faces a minefield of mistakes made by their forefathers. Be'lakor, hailing from Melbourne Australia, have managed to negotiate that no-man's land and craft a solid, memorable and compelling album of classic melodic death metal.
A clean, proggy selection opens that album with a sound straight out of Damnation. This lulls you into a brief sense of calm until the riffage kicks in. Make no mistake, this path has been walked before by Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and many others. The thing is, Stone's Reach quenches a thirst I didn't even know I had.
Melodic death is only as interesting as the riffs make it. Be'lakor bring the riffage. They also bring a nice sense of dynamics and songwriting. Unlike some recent albums in the genre (the last Dark Tranquillity and Insomnium albums, to name a few), Stone's Reach holds my interest and doesn't put me to sleep. There is plenty of rhythmic and melodic differentiation to stave off any sense of monotony.
I am frequently struck with the involuntary urge to bang my head as I listen to Stone's Reach. Score. I hope folks don't mind if I squeeze some invisible oranges on the train.
I love the vocals. The low-end death growls border on Johan Hegg territory and help prevent the descent into cheese that has doomed many a band.
The drumming is on-target and there is audible bass in there somewhere. There are some excellent keyboards and piano that successfully add to the atmosphere without setting off my cheese-o-meter.
The production is a bit on the compressed side, but hell, it's still stellar compared to the stuff that comes out these days. The guitar-centric sound helps to focus the attack and hold your attention.
On top of the never-ending riff parade there are fantastic leads and flourishes to the guitar work. Repeated listens bear out new details and reveal the real quality here. The disparate melodies weave together in a frequently maidenesque dance. The acoustic interludes often make me shed a tear for the days of The Jester Race.
If you venerate the holy houses of Gothenburg, then you should seek out Stone's Reach with a quickness. This is my kind of metal.

86/100

Be'lakor Myspace

Be'lakor have a distribution deal for this album with Prime Cuts Music in Australia, but I'd love to see this album properly released in ye olde USA. In the meantime, you can order it here.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Necrophobic - Death to All (Regain Records, 2009)

This, my friends, is Swedish death metal. Death to All is a wonderful brew of fuzzy bottomed Sunlight goodness, corpse painted blackness and Gothenburgian melody. Way over the top lyrics, memorable choruses and buckets of riffage make this album a complete metal victory.
Necrophobic have evidently been around since 1989, but I'd never heard of them. That's what you get for naming your band after a Slayer song, I guess. I have to thank Cosmo Lee at Invisible Oranges for turning me on to this glorious cacophony.
So yes, this is a great album. I know I mention Dissection a lot, but I personally consider Storm of the Light's Bane to be the perfect distillation of 1990's Nordic metal. Necrophobic are a whole lot less serious than Jon Nödtveidt ever was, but their sound is a similarly fantastic fermentation of flavors to me. Death to All goes down smooth.
The guitar sound is malty perfection. The production is excellent and accentuates all the right tones. The riffage rolls along in memorable fashion and is accompanied by purposeful solos that get caught in my synapses.
The vocals are mid-range growls with quite a bit of personality. There are some occasional chanted sections that remind me of the latest Blut Aus Nord. I can handle it. The lyrics are about, well, Satan. Not like basement dwelling, robe wearing, candle burning Satanism. This is METAL about Satan - the kind that makes you want to pound beer, throw the horns and sing along. If there was a pit I'd jump in.
The album is quality throughout - cold and frosty down to the last gulp. The drumming is crisp and accompanies a nice audible bass sound. There are of course the requisite spooky, classical acoustic guitar parts, which work to perfection. I keep coming back to the solos. This is not shredding for shred's sake, but excellent melodic mayhem.
If your taste in metal is anything like mine, Death to All is mandatory for 2009. Crack a brew, hail Satan and try not to take yourself too seriously.

88/100

Necrophobic Myspace