Friday, May 31, 2013

Sacriphyx - The Western Front

Trying to finish up these drafts that have been sitting around...

World War I was obviously devastating for all parties involved. What interests me so much about that period of history was the technological advances made prior to the war, the effect it had on the conflict, and all the odd experimentation that inventors and manufacturers did during the conflict to help improve the odds of their side winning. Sure experimentation and invention happens during every major period of war, but during World War I some of the ideas seemed humorously out of touch with reality and thus resulted in spectacular failures. Knight-like plate armor, horse cavalry charging tanks...

Australian duo Sacriphyx's The Western Front is a romantic take on that era, filled with the horrors of what is arguably the most dismal and oppressive conflict of the last century.

Nuclear War Now! is known for catering to bestial black and war metal fans. The Western Front doesn't really fit into either category and is instead far more melodic in nature. There are elements of death and black metal, but certainly more of the former. While the atmosphere lends itself more to doom or black metal, the instrumentation is pretty strictly death metal. Harmonized guitars with plenty of melodies dominate the soundscape, all plodding along at a Mark V tanks' pace.

The melodic nature of the music combined with the pacing of The Western Front is what gives it such a strong atmosphere. Romantic in the painfully nostalgic sense, the instrumental intro title track sets the scene perfectly before parading into "Buried Behind the Lines," a rallying track guided by a bouncing rhythm. There's not a single bad track on The Western Front - although I'm sure "Damn Passchendaele Ridge" might be a bit of a shocker. It's an acoustic track with spoken word lyrics that I quite enjoyed. Anthony Till's voice may not be perfectly suited for it, but at least the lyrics keep to the theme. The acoustic melody is appropriately somber too. Actually most of the melodies on The Western Front are to some degree bar "The Crawling Horror" and "Buried Behind the Lines" I guess.

Guitar really dominates the mix on The Western Front, and some distant mid-range vocals drenched in reverb aren't too far behind. There's a distinct feeling of emptiness to the music, and instead of feeling claustrophobic like one would imagine trench warfare, it sounds like there's plenty of room for the music (in particular the melody) to explore the soundscape. This only adds to the romantic, nostalgic feel of The Western Front. It's like exploring the tormented flashbacks of an old veteran.

Sacriphyx's The Western Front is a high quality release with a war aesthetic and a nostalgic atmosphere - probably the best album I've heard from NWN! in 2013.

8.5 out of 10

1. The Western Front
2. Buried Behind the Lines
3. Fatal Fromelies
4. Without a Trace
5. The Crawling Horror
6. Damn Passchendaele Ridge
7. Food for the Front
8. Wells of Beersheba

Enos - All Too Human

Enos are a stoner and space rock trio from the UK whose music blends fat bass tones and psychedelic melodies into an accessible concept album package. The artwork for All Too Human caught my eye so I decided to check it out. All Too Human is pretty exemplary of the subgenres it plays to, but there are some light doom riffs and classic rock-isms that keep it interesting.

After a few listens I've decided that Enos' music works great, like many stoner and space rock bands, as a jam piece. There's plenty of quality riffs and guitar phrases hidden amongst the strong song dynamics of "Left For Dead," instrumental "Obscured," and the Pink Floyd-esque "Collisions." Enos utilize acoustic guitar melodies, numerous effects, and briefly interspersed female backing vocals to build a light atmosphere throughout All Too Human. "Another Solution" is notable for its heavier, fuzzy doom style riffing which is a heavy jump from the previous tracks.

Chris Rizzanski's vocals are oddly harsh throughout most of All Too Human. They work well at the end of "Left For Dead" and on "Collisions." I'm not too big on his raspy, occasionally grungy vocal style though. The title track is boring, predictable hard rock to begin with, but Rizzanski's vocals take it from dull to sharply annoying. The production and mixing are standard fare, which isn't a bad thing as long as you enjoy your bass (which I do). It can't be too hard to imitate the "classics" like Hawkwind and Kyuss in this regard.

7.25 out of 10

1. ...And Beyond
2. All Too Human
3. Left For Dead
4. Collisions
5. Another Solution
6. Obscured
7. Devil Makes Work
8. Up 'n' Down
9. Who Knew


Friday, May 24, 2013

Altar Of Plagues - Teethed Glory And Injury

Altar Of Plagues impressed me yet again with Mammal. I'm not big on the whole 'cascadian' black metal thing, so to do so was quite a feat. Mammal resonated well with me and it was an emotionally compelling release. When I heard they were making Teethed Glory And Injury I wrote it down as something to keep tabs on.

Then the video for "God Alone" was released, and I was a little confused.

I don't give a fuck about 'hipsterism' or some stupid label attributed to a band's aesthetic by metal dorks in an attempt to discredit the music. I just want to hear the music. If the band thought that interpretive dance was fitting imagery for the song then I'll try to see it from their point of view in an attempt to get the most out of the experience. So I decided to give Teethed Glory And Injury a chance rather than dismissing it outright, and to be honest I quite liked the music video and song. "God Alone" is one of the best tracks on the album.

Altar Of Plagues have always straddled ambient with long synthetic passages buried throughout their albums. They've had their flirtations with drone as well, and both drone and ambient are bigger elements on Teethed Glory And Injury. Dissonant drone chords are at the forefront of the Altar Of Plagues repertoire and they're present on nearly every track. The same dance-esque rhythm is featured multiple times. "God Alone," "Twelve Was Ruin," and "Scald Scar Of Water" all feature a very similar guitar rhythm that is both catchy and irritatingly redundant. New rhythms on "Found, Oval and Final" and the final track "Reflection Pulse Remains" are a welcome change, but by that late in the album the damage is already done. The weak drone element is one of my biggest complaints about Teethed Glory And Injury. Where drone can be interesting in its simplicity, here it feels bombastic and underdeveloped.

The occasional clean vocal sections do rear their head. They generally serve as interludes and outros, keeping themselves unintrusive. They're mixed low enough to avoid being distracting, and serve to add texture and context to tracks. The production is fine for this sort of  'rhythmic' black metal approach too. I just don't know how well Altar Of Plagues have executed that approach...

Something that bothers me about Teethed Glory And Injury though is that where Altar Of Plagues' previous output felt coherent and each album felt single-minded in its attempt to convey a particular message, this one doesn't. I guess it's because the music feels like it clashes with itself - the ambient mixed with the bombastic, almost djent-like rhythms. The reappearing of the same drone patterns throughout the album reminds me of a poorly handled rendition of Deathspell Omega's "Epiklesis" on Paracletus. Sadly Teethed Glory And Injury isn't nearly as compelling as that album though.

5.5 out of 10

1. Mills
2. God Alone
3. A Body Shrouded
4. Burnt Year
5. Twelve Was Ruin
6. A Remedy And A Fever
7. Scald Scar Of Water
8. Found, Oval and Final
9. Reflection Pulse Remains

Behold! The Monolith - Defender, Redeemist

Behold! The Monolith's sophomore effort was one of my favorite albums from 2012. I generally thought the year was shit though, so if you read my list you probably weren't too impressed. However if you enjoy stoner doom and passive listening music, this album is great and holds up very well to multiple spins.

I garnered a few conclusions about Behold! The Monolith's brand of stoner doom from their debut:

1. They like to play slow, jamming tunes
2. Mid-range, nearly monotone rasping can be sufficiently entertaining
3. Multiple listens allow the listener to appreciate the nuanced songwriting

I came to these conclusions again on Defender, Redeemist, yet I came to every conclusion faster and more readily. Behold! The Monolith had successfully amplified their debut's successful formula and created a beast of a stoner doom jam-fest. Defender, Redeemist became one of my most played albums of 2012 because of that. From bombastic intro "The Guardian's Procession" to the slow dregs of "Redeemist" and "Bull Colossi," every track is resonating with powerful riffing and grooves. "Witch Hunt Supreme" in particular is chock-full of headbangable, classic doom grooves.

I'm a big proponent of the completely fantastical lyrical thematic in stoner doom. It reeks of pure creativity, even if at time that creativity is a bit stigmatized by the whole 'stoner' aesthetic. I guess that only makes sense considering the music though. Behold! The Monolith like to use this theme to their advantage and thus you get belted lyrics like "Fear me son of the red priest fire for eyes / sent down from the cosmos / paid with untold lives / demonic wave from the sky" It's simple, it rhymes, and best of all it's colorful. I really appreciate that Behold! The Monolith try to inject a bit of personality into the songwriting process. It shows through in the end and makes the album more compelling.

The production and mixing job on Defender, Redeemist is comparable to the debut, with chunky guitars dominating mid-ranged vocals and a fat bass tone. There's significantly less 'building' song dynamics on here too, which is a huge plus for me. Even the thirteen-minute "Cast on the Black Tormentor Guided by the Southern Cross" is completely devoid of useless filler.

If you enjoyed the debut or you're just looking for some fun, easy-listening, deliberately paced and executed stoner doom, then Defender, Redeemist should be right up your alley. There's no ridiculously named tracks on this one though.

8.5 out of 10

1. Guardian's Procession
2. Halv King
3. Desolizator
4. Redeemist
5. We Are The Worm
6. Witch Hunt Supreme
7. Cast On The Black Lamentor Guided By The Southern Cross
8. Bull Colossi


Behold! The Monolith - Behold! The Monolith

I'll get back to my inbox soon enough. For now...

Behold! The Monolith are an absolutely ridiculous stoner doom metal outfit with an emphasis on jamming out delectable riffs and grooves. Their album art is silly, their song titles are sillier. 
Some self-proclaimed scrupulous individuals make arguments against such direct, fun music because of the aesthetic of entertainment when compared to that of art. These people are soul-sucking sycophantical pieces of shit.

Perhaps the above generalization was a bit strong. I just never understood the use of that argument as a valid reason to hate everything that a particular medium has to offer. People love to make that argument against stoner or psychedelic metal too, and even stupider individuals proclaim that Electric Wizard are a bunch of image-obsessed teenagers - see Metal-Archives. Anyway rant over - here's a review.

Over the multitude of times I've sat through Behold! The Monolith's self-titled, I've come to the conclusion that they don't write catchy music. There are no ridiculous hooks, no catchy chorales, the vocals have an odd mid-ranged timbre to them, and there's plenty of droning riffs that aren't immediately impressive. These elements combine to create a solid release. It's just not the individual pieces that make it strong.

Unified the album stands perfectly fine as both active and passive listening material. Occasionally I'll find myself getting into the album when I don't even realize it's currently playing. "Battlestagg" and "Elders" are more traditional 'rocking' stoner doom songs with a load of groove and a pinch of improvisation. This is my favorite element of Behold! The Monolith's music. They sound like a bunch of guys just trying to have fun playing music, jamming out tunes that have a bit more to them than meets the ear. I'm not too fond of the building song dynamic on "Phantasmata / Waking Life" and the slow decline at the end of "Battle For Balls Deep," though.

Guitar tone is hugely important in stoner doom and while it is nice and chunky here, I'm not sure that I wouldn't mind a bit more massive, say Boss-FZ2 sound. The production and mixing are also solid. Every instrument is audible, vocals aren't at the top and there's plenty of bass to go around.

Behold! The Monolith have a nice idea here and they certainly improve upon themselves on their 2012 release.

7.75 out of 10

1. Battlestagg
2. Battle For Balls Deep
3. Elders
4. Phantasmata / Waking Life
5. Guardians of the Abyss / Primal Extenuation / Rise of the Brohemoth


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Suffocation - Pinnacle Of Bedlam

It's Suffocation. We know exactly what we're getting from them since the band hasn't strayed from the brutal/technical death metal formula since their inception. However it's the little things that always tend to irk the longtime fans. After seeing the cover art for Pinnacle Of Bedlam, many people decried Suffocation as falling into the generic, computerized brutal death metal rut that similar acts like California's Deeds Of Flesh have in the past. Though it's not like elements of that sound haven't existed on Suffocation's past releases, here Raymond Swanland's concept art only made that fear seem much more real. Not to mention the abysmal title font...

Pinnacle Of Bedlam is a mixed bag. While the fears based on the album art were brushed aside shortly after people began listening to the album, Pinnacle Of Bedlam is far from perfect. There's chromatic rhythms, melodic solos, and the rare d-beat hidden amongst the more pervasive blasting ferocity. In essence, Pinnacle Of Bedlam is pretty archetypal post-Despise The Sun Suffocation material. Teasers "Cycles Of Suffering" and "As Grace Descends" were nice blows for the naysayers and the morons who claimed that "Suffocation has gone deathcore."

The problem isn't in the predictable songwriting though. That's by far the best aspect of Pinnacle Of Bedlam, despite Suffocation not being as focused on the 'brutal' element as they were in the past. Frank's vocals have become more subdued with age and Terrence's riffing style has gravitated towards melodious technical death metal. This comes as common knowledge for myself since I've given their recent output a listen, but I know some brutal death metal aficionados complained about the lack of 'brutal' elements on the last few albums. I just wondered why they were expecting such in the first place. The clean guitar moments on "Sullen Days" did still manage to surprise me though, and I can't tell whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

I may have made a mistake myself in hoping that a Suffocation album would have solid production values for once. The focal point moving away from 'brutal' death metal isn't wholly to blame either. They've always had issues - Breeding The Spawn, their self-titled, Blood Oath, and now Pinnacle. I can overlook a bad production on a personal level as I did with their previous releases, and usually in the end I find elements I like about the album. However this is a review and no matter how much I try to sugarcoat it, the production is still shitty. The drums click like the sound of a mechanical keyboard and the guitars are all treble. At least they have gain and their tones make them distinctly audible while casual listening even if the mix is muddy. Overall it sounds ugly and unappealing though - not something I want to hear out of any album let alone a Suffocation one. Ironically fitting, this album features a rerecorded track from the aforementioned Breeding The Spawn too.

Essentially Pinnacle Of Bedlam looks and sounds like a typical Nuclear Blast release with an undercurrent of Suffocation greatness to it. While the songwriting is standard fare, the production and presentation is subpar. A predictable shame.

6.0 out of 10

1. Cycles of Suffering
2. Purgatorial Punishment
3. Eminent Wrath
4. As Grace Descends
5. Sullen Days
6. Pinnacle of Bedlam
7. My Demise
8. Inversion
9. Rapture of Revocation

Listen // Buy

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Australasia - Sin4tr4

I've been listening to a lot of instrumental music as of late. Jammy stoner doom, some math rock here and there, the occasional 'extreme' instrumental release; it all makes for fantastic background and compelling foreground music.

So it should come as no surprise that I was happy when I saw that Italian duo Australasia sent me their instrumental post metal and ambient synth debut Sin4tr4. It fits perfectly with the theme of music I'd currently been listening to.

Australasia's music on Sin4tr4 is a little different than I was expecting. Rather than the "build-release" formula of many post rock outfits, Australasia jump right in with relatively little build up. I guess being just over twenty-two minutes long doesn't leave much room to work with. Sin4tr4 still has dynamic though, and many tracks feature the "beautiful" chords and progressions that people associate with post rock and post metal.

There are ambient synth elements added for atmosphere, and you can hear light vocal samples throughout all of Sin4tr4. My least favorite track "Apnea" has a female humming sample and a very weak, lo-fi electronic sound to it. The track doesn't mesh well with the rest on Sin4tr4, which is at best left as an instrumental experience. The duo do a great job of writing catchy 'release' moments in the form of tremolo riffing melodies a la black metal. There's an abundance of very memorable - some subtle, some blatant - 'release' moments on just about every track.The riffs flow like streams that cross at intermittent points to create a richly textured sound.

I really don't mind the electronic and synth element in Australasia's music. I think it puts a new spin on an aged sound, but its use needs some refining. It is used fine on Sin4tr4 but in the future it would be interesting to hear it become more prominent, yet preferably not over the top. The riffs are clearly where Australasia shines and it should stay that way.

I'm also not big on the clean production, but that's a personal preference and something I tend to avoid when listening to post rock in general.

7.0 out of 10

1. Antenna
2. Spine
3. Apnea
4. Scenario
5. Satellite
6. Retina
7. Fragile

Monday, May 13, 2013

Heartless - Certain Death

Well I figured I should finally get to my inbox! There's some requests I won't be able to cover in time, but I'll try to do what I can. Sorry guys.

Heartless are a metallic hardcore act out of Pittsburgh. They play an abrasive, bass-heavy style not too dissimilar from Nails. After the disappointingly tame Abandon All Life though, Heartless' new 7" Certain Death feels refreshingly crass. The slower moments of the album ("Wrung Out," the beginning of "Mute," and the title track) don't drag which is perfect. There's nothing I hate more than listening hardcore band with loads of slow, boring tracks. It's a genre dominated by energy in both performance and composition, and if the music doesn't reflect that then what the hell am I listening to? Downpicking powerchords in a slightly lower than standard tuning? Worthless.

Certain Death avoids this, and appropriately Cory's vocals match the up-in-arms tempo of the album. Angry and disdainful, bleak yet not entirely lost, the lyrics convey this feeling perfectly. Blaster "Mute" in particular is strikingly pissed off and rightfully so. Frustration is as much a part of our society now as it always has been, but the rampant anonymity and the byproduct of futility in this era is truly aggravating. It struck a chord with me and it's also one of the best tracks on the 7".

At 11 minutes you get what you came for: fast, pissed off music. The closing title track serves the elements of Certain Death up on a platter: an entree of blasting hardcore, a side of d-beat, and a lethal injection of rage. That's what I like to hear. I kind of wish the vocals were mixed a bit higher though.

8.0 out of 10

1. Ruin
2. Unsewn
3. Vignette
4. Wrung Out
5. Excess
6. Mute
7. Unhinged
8. Certain Death

Listen @ CVLT Nation // Buy

Cerekloth - In The Midst Of Life We Are Death

Cerekloth are another "old school" death metal band signed to the now ubiquitous (in the scene, at least) Hell's Headbangers Records. Their debut EP Pandemonium Prayers was wholly predictable old school revival with a thrashy tinge. Not bad, but nothing extraordinary. Continuing on that path would've doomed Cerekloth to forgettable mediocrity.

Luckily that isn't the case. Cerekloth have evolved. Still tapping into the nearly-dry veins of the old school, In The Midst Of Life We Are Death may surprise you. Instead of relying on the tried and true conventions of the revival scene, Cerekloth mix it up with some very well-written and varied material. Songs have dynamic that I personally wouldn't associate with the revival scene, and instead of adhering to the formula Cerekloth let their music guide itself.

The musicianship on In The Midst Of Life We Are Death is top-notch, and while not comparable to say a technical or progressive band, these guys wield their hellish weapons just as effectively. Interesting arpeggiated chords, sustained leads, and a varied vocal performance by both main frontman JBP and back-up Martin Leth Andersen are the main daemonic culprits. There's a nice bounce to the bass too, and some of the more low-end driven tracks ("Within The Hollow Crown," and "When Outcast Become Kings") are the most entertaining. It's a breath of fresh air coming from an unlikely suspect.

In The Midst Of Life We Are Death is undoubtedly packed with solid material, but this still leaves the question as to the production and mixing. To answer that question in brief: both are perfectly fine. Guitars have some nice gain, leads and the larger intervals in the chords are accentuated perfectly. The production might come off as a bit clean to those who expected a more down-and-dirty HHR release, or even something similar to the debut EP. However I found it to be appropriate and not annoying in the slightest.

In The Midst Of Life We Are Death is one of the must hear "old school" death metal albums of the year. If you haven't listened to it yet, you should.

8.5 out of 10

1. Praeludium + Born of the Void
2. Within the Hollow Crown
3. Halo of Syringes
4. Nest of Disease
5. Mesmerizing Holy Death
6. When Outcast Become Kings
7. The Reapers Instant Is Our Eternity


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Svart Crown - Profane

Finals are over. I don't think I did too well but I don't think I did too poorly either. Now it's back to the job search and blogging. I promise I'll get to my inbox soon! There's so much I want to cover though.

I saw French act Svart Crown last year with Ulcerate and Tombs in Philly. I wasn't disappointed in them, but more the lack of audience for their bending, very French sounding style of black/death metal. I briefly listened to Witnessing The Fall and Ages Of Decay after seeing them, but both were fleeting enjoyments.

Profane, their 2013 release, has more staying power. I'm sitting here trying to compare the albums as I write this and while the production is the most noticeable step-up, the songwriting is more coherent and direct. It still plays to their strengths - atmospheric black/death sounds with small nods to atonal songwriting thrown in. This should leave fans satiated and those who were hoping for Svart Crown to transcend the French scene a bit disappointed.

That hope is inane. Svart Crown's sound has long been somewhat independent of the long developed French scene and they've been developing their varied take on black/death metal in a different way. While I'm sure some people point to their previous tour mates Ulcerate and Tombs, or to the rising 'occult' black/death metal scene as obvious extraterritorial influences, and while elements of their sound exist in Svart Crown's music, it's hardly derivative. "Genesis Architect" and "Until the Last Breath" are good examples of these elements cropping up but maintaining their own identity.

There are some leads and phrases on Profane that are magnificent. The title track in particular is enthralling with its dynamic. Svart Crown love their harmonics too, and usually black/death suffers from piss-poor rhythm, but not here. Drum fills are captivating and at parts overshadow the guitarwork. The bass is pretty nonexistent though. Svart Crown also have this odd obsession with triplets which pop up periodically throughout the album, and have also been present on their previous releases.

All in all Profane is a solid outing by a band that is consistently overlooked, but their niche keeps them that way.

7.75 out of 10

1. Manifestatio Symptoms
2. Genesis Architect
3. Intern. Virus. Human
4. In Utero: A Place of Hatred and Threat
5. Until the Last Breath
6. Profane
7. The Therapy of Flesh
8. Venomous Ritual
9. Ascetic Purification
10. Revelation: Down Here Stillborn

Listen // Buy