Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Amenta - Flesh Is Heir

Despite what some people like to say about industrial elements in metal, the music doesn't always attract acne-scarred mallgoths or their more extreme electro cousins. The Amenta is a good case in point where their debut Occasus was largely enjoyed by metal fans of both the technical, electro, and esoteric varieties. n0n was a mixed bag for some, but I enjoyed it for it's complex visual atmosphere. When listening to n0n I always imagined a sprawling mass of steel towers, walkways, smokestacks, acid rain, neon lights, and cybernetics ala the classic science fiction film Bladerunner.

Flesh Is Heir is the newest full-length from the Australian group, and it has them drawing elements from their Occasus sound and welding them onto the towers of the cyberpunk dystopia built on n0n. Flesh Is Heir is also the first full-length feature on which we can hear The Amenta's new bassist, drummer, and vocalist. On a side note, Diazonon (aka: David Haley, Joe Haley of Psycroptic's brother) used to do drums for The Amenta, and he's the original reason I became interested in the band. Now that he and a few other members checked out I had some reservations about Flesh Is Heir, although I did listen to their EP V01D which features some remixes of Occasus-era tracks with the new lineup. Nothing really stuck with me, and as time wore on I quickly forgot about V01D, further making me skeptical of Flesh Is Heir.

After a few listens I can safely say I'm not disappointed. Cain Cresall handles the vocal duties surprisingly well, and his restrained vocal style matches the imagery and vibe of the album. Like a chained beast he emits tormented wails that are haunting yet appropriately intelligible. He's especially potent on early tracks "Ego Ergo Sum" and the groovy "Teeth." There's a good bit of melody in his harsh vocals too, and the interplay between his different vocal lines is fun to hear. These are often fleeting and the vocal melodies serve to embellish the more complex melodies churned out by Erik Miehs. At times his playing borders on a technical death metal style: odd time signatures, large dissonant intervals, arpeggiated chords, and general tight playing are all in his repertoire. He isn't showing off, but his precise playing is (and has been) pretty impressive since Occasus.

The instrumentation serves to amplify the feeling of restrained chaos that seeps from Flesh Is Heir. Each track feels very tense yet never lets the tension go, building a ziggurat of emotional imbalance. I think this is what The Amenta were going for although I can see why some people would assume that the concepts behind certain tracks are unfinished ("The Argument" for example, which grows on me every time I listen to it). The occasional dark ambient or industrial track tends to relieve some of the stress ("A Womb Tone," the Blut Aus Nord-ian "Cell") but for the most part this tension is never resolved on the tracks which present the initial idea. "Obliterate's Prayer" is an exception and feels cathartic and a little bit sombre. It's one of the highlights of Flesh Is Heir for that reason, and while some would decry the later tracks like "Sewer" and "The Argument," they serve their purpose and are some of the higher tempo tracks on the album. "Tabula Rasa," as another cathartic track, is appropriately the closer.

The industrial sound of n0n is apparent on Flesh Is Heir and the production and mixing reflects that. The drum programming is solid, but I can't get behind the tinny sound of the bass drum. The guitars are edgy and the mastering for the most part is loud and clean. The occasional vocal effect is used for atmosphere but it never gets offensive or too cheesy. Overall it suits the atmosphere of the album, but the sound could be a bit more opaque. Both Occasus and n0n had a nice "dirty" sound to them that this album lacks.

The half-realized melodic vocal work was definitely the biggest surprise for me, but I can't say I'm against the idea. It fit Flesh Is Heir pretty damn well.

8.0 out of 10

1. Flesh Is Heir
2. Ego Ergo Sum
3. Teeth
4. A Womb Tone
5. Obliterate's Prayer
6. Sewer
7. The Argument
8. Cell
9. Disintegrate
10. A Palimpesest
11. Tabula Rasa

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Rorcal - Világvége

Life's been hectic again and I'm as busy as ever. I'm back (hopefully not briefly) to send tremors through your soul with some thick, sludgy material drenched in the blackest bile: Rorcal's Világvége.

I hadn't heard of Rorcal prior to the release of Világvége, and after doing some research I expected them to be more typical sounding than they are here. Where doom would find it easy enough to trod through a mire at the pace of a happy sightseer, Rorcal's brand of doom is slowly sinking into the black muck and grasping at anything it can in a frenzied gambit for survival. The result is a powerful listen that flows like a river of mud above the listener's head. Világvége is coherent, emotive, and engaging from start to finish.

After briefly listening to Rorcal's previous output, longtime fans will find the opening of Világvége strikingly similar to that of the single track full-length Heliogabalus. A voluminous crash cymbal opens the chasm through which a river of black runs. Black metal elements are pervasive on Világvége but not to the point of dominating the heavy doom undertow. The riffs reflect this, often crawling along with the occasional right interval before hovering on a memorable tremolo riff that puts a big chunk of second-wave black metal to shame. "II" and "VII" are prime examples with the former having an aggressive black metal sound and the latter feeling beautifully estranged. It works in context with the rest of the album too, which is by and far Világvége's biggest boon. Each track really feels like it's in the right place. The music as well as the atmosphere and emotion of the album flow perfectly with the arrangement.

Floaty and darkly whimsical at times, Világvége isn't afraid to send you crashing back down into the bowels of the earth. "IV" is a great example of this, and it serves as the crack which lets the hammerblow tear the world asunder on "VI," by far the most vitriolic and disgusted track on the album. Appropriately the album builds up to this moment in increments, even adding an operatic sample to the end of a few of the preluding tracks ("V," and the cataclysmic chanting on "VII" which is sonically the second part of "IV", all three prelude "VI"). Anyway the desired effect is achieved in a nihilistic bombardment of hatred and negativity that can't be shrugged off by the thickest of souls.

The production and mixing are fine despite some minor complaints about the black metal aesthetic. It fits wonderfully. Dissonant chords and the occasional bright interval help Rorcal's musical cause throughout Világvége. While the riffs are interesting despite at times being simple, it's the percussion that really shines. Ron Lahvani utilizes great fills, militaristic snare raps, and has a general freeform use of his kit that adds fury where it's needed. Other times he's laid back and plays very sparse beats. His range is deserving of some serious applause. The whole damn album is. Though I guess I'd have to say "VIII" makes for an underwhelming, feedback-laden closer and on first listen Világvége does seem slow to start, it's still an excellent release that is compelling as a complete album.

I still want to give this a listen in the numerical order of the track titles. Dunno where I'd put "D" though.

8.75 out of 10

1. I
2. D
3. II
4. V
5. IV
6. VII
7. VI


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Njiqahdda - Serpents In The Sky

Njiqahdda occupy a unique subrealm of the USBM scene. The Illinois duo have shifted styles multiple times. with droning ambient, psychedelia, black metal, doom metal, and even spritzes of technical death metal finding a way into their eclectic sound. Serpents In The Sky is another paradigm shift for a band that is always willing to progress their sound in whatever direction they see fit, and this time that direction happens to be towards the heavens.

Serpents In The Sky is a blissful array of black, stoner doom metal ascendancy. While many fans have decried the simplification of Njiqahdda's complex sound on The Path Of Liberation From Birth To Death, I for one welcome this change. I greatly enjoyed that album, and while this album is a far cry from it musically, some elements of their previous sound(s) remain: fresh chord progressions, distorted vocals, insightful lyrics, and a solid production all combine to create an atmosphere of transcendent nirvana.

I believe the first thing that hit me about Serpents was the more direct riffing style. I'm not sure if Ain (the rhythm component of the duo) had more input in the songwriting process or not, but this album contains far more droning melodies and simple doom metal riffing patterns than some of their previous work. The tracks don't suffer because of this, but they are certainly easier to retain. The occasional noise segments are still present, but are mostly embellishments at the beginning or end of tracks than fully-realized musical elements. Intelligible vocals, both harsh and clean, by Ihr and Ain are an enjoyable facet of Njiqahdda's music that are clearly more present on Serpents as well. The distortion applied to the vocals adds some interplay to the low mixed, high gain guitars. The bass tone remains oddly dry just like it did on their previous releases although it is mixed slightly lower, but the mastering feels lower in volume anyway now that I think about it.

This album is far more "beautiful" than The Path Of Liberation with all its chromaticism and unpredictability, although that one was beautiful in its own right. The droning title track of Serpents is the apex of the album's beauteous atmosphere with its memorable use of pleasant yet dark sounding chords. The previous tracks all leave hints with these chords' musical relatives popping up on the comparatively aggressive "She Which Water Holds," and prelude "Exclave." The earlier tracks on the album are far more black metal in nature with blastbeats, harsh vocals, and harder-hitting riffs all playing integral parts in conveying Serpents In The Sky's complex atmosphere. It's almost as you can feel yourself lifting off of a hard, barren planet's surface and into a swirling cloud of stars as the album progresses from "Gaia" to "...And The Men Behind The Sun." Speaking of which, the seventeen-and-a-half minute closer is a bit underwhelming following the whole build up to the accessible title track. Whatever the case it does successfully end the engrossing sonic journey.

I'm all for change if a band is able to handle the transition with some integrity, and Njiqahdda have done just that with Serpents In The Sky. While not as directly unique as some of their previous albums, this release is still memorable and contains much of Njiqahdda's special sound.

8.5 out of 10

1. Gaia
2. The Veil Of Allaeius
3. With Clouds
4. She Which Water Holds
5. Exclave
6. Serpents In The Sky...
7. ...And The Men Behind The Sun


Guttural Secrete - Nourishing The Spoil

I've seen people slamming the new release from these Nevada natives for its occasional use of melody and less "brutal" elements. I didn't think Reek Of Pubescent Despoilment was by any means an original album, and while it was alright, it hardly stood out in my memory as anything more than a fun diversion.

Nourishing The Spoil is a bit different. While the production is a bit flimsier and less bass heavy than its predecessor, the added melodic elements actually encourage me as a listener to go back and enjoy the album. They're not abundant, and they're not intrusive either. They pop up when the time is right to create a cathartic release of tension that builds naturally from all the chromatic silliness that brutal death metal tends to entail. It's a welcome addition to a sound that has, by over a decade ago, been played out.

Nourishing The Spoil does happen to have many predictable brutal death metal elements however. Pinch squealies, stupid samples, and plenty of time signature changes populate what would otherwise be a pretty run of the mill death metal album. Many of the early tracks on Nourishing The Spoil are forgettable for this reason, oft playing to stereotypes rather than to the interesting dynamics of the second half of the album. This isn't inherently a bad thing, but the weak mixing saps all brutality from them.

"Deadened Prior To Coitus" is Guttural Secrete's first real foray into new territory, and it is a successful one. Clean electric guitar parts lead into a typical brutal death metal section that builds to an quick, dissonant "1-2-3-1-2-1" chord progression. Despite being dissonant, the melodic element of playing chords makes these parts feel cathartic. This dynamic rears its deformed head again on the closer "Clotting The Vacant Stare," which is an album highlight for this reason. I don't know how I feel about the stupid synthesizer outro, but the rest of the track is great.

The use of (more than power) chords occasionally pops up on the more "brutal" tracks, but I wish it would show through even more. It's an idea that could use more development and puts Guttural Secrete in an precarious position as a brutal death metal band. If they could clean up the production a bit and expand on the melodic element I would be greatly interested in hearing their next release. It might alienate some longtime fans, but the subgenre is so saturated as is that I don't think it really matters.

6.75 out of 10

1. Inhaling Corpulency
2. Stainless Conception
3. Serrated Impurities
4. Nourishing The Spoil
5. Deadened Prior To Coitus
6. Coprophilic Asphyxia
7. Truncated In Detail
8. Voyeuristic Engagement
9. Clotting The Vacant Stare

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Nails - Abandon All Life

Nails' previous full-length Unsilent Death was a pleasant surprise. Caked in crust, hardcore and grindcore elements were fused together to create an uncompromising and energetic album. Thus my expectations were relatively high coming into their 2013 release Abandon All Life. With so many recent acts playing in similarly abrasive "-core" styles (Martyrdöd, Black Breath, etc.), Nails have some tough competition in the contemporary scene.

My first listen of Abandon All Life blew by me without me realizing the album was over. It transitioned into Obscene Humanity with me being misled into thinking that they had found their pissed off nature again. Granted Abandon All Life is a mere seventeen minutes in length, but I felt like it was just ramping up as it ended. The first few tracks are by far the most aggressive with the vitriol spanning the opener "In Exodus" to "God's Cold Hands." These short songs are filled with blastbeats, punkcore d-beats, and a mean vocal performance by Todd Jones. The riffing on Abandon All Life is pedestrian but a solid guitar tone adds a forcefulness that simplicity tends to lack.

It's in the second half of Abandon All Life where the album loses its focus. Songs are drawn out, meandering, and honestly quite boring. "Wide Open Wound" might have been a good indicator of the stylistic shift with its slow-paced chugging and pick slide bridge. These guys don't have the musicianship for this sort of thing and it usually just leaves me wishing that the slow tracks had a bit more of a dynamic to them. The closer "Suum Cuique" is five-minutes in length, and while it would be nice if the track had the development to back it up, it instead incites yawns and groans as the last two minutes drone and chug right by.

As I mentioned before, the mixing is decent with vocals and kicks dominating. The guitar tone is as hefty and as textured as it was on Unsilent Death, but there's just no aggression to be found past the first five minutes of Abandon All Life. I understand that in such a strict, limited subgenre (crustcore or whatever you wish to christen it) it can be tough for new dynamics to reach fruition in a band's established sound. That's certainly the case here where the latter parts of the album truly did abandon all aggression in favor of lifeless riffs and monotonous chugging sections.

5.5 out of 10

1. In Exodus
2. Tyrant
3. Absolute Control
4. God's Cold Hands
5. Wide Open Wound
6. Abandon All Life
7. No Surrender
8. Pariah
9. Cry Wolf
10. Suum Cuique

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