Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tribulation - The Formulas Of Death

For anyone who heard Tribulation's The Horror back in 2009 I'm sure The Formulas Of Death was a hype piece. The Horror was brutally refreshing coming from the revival scene. It was crammed with stunning, nigh-perfect riff progressions at a breakneck pace, all backed with plenty of hooks and a solid production.

The Formulas Of Death is a different beast, and I can only commend Tribulation's willingness to experiment with such a successful formula (intended puns are the best puns). Perhaps Tribulation realized that the revival movement was full of enough knuckle-dragging apes and that there was nothing new they could add without becoming redundant and falling prey to fans' fleeting memories. Whatever the case, they made the right decision with their newest release.

Progressive music is a mixed bag of brilliant ideas and haphazard, fruity garbage that I wouldn't deign to listen to. Progressive elements are generally a good thing as they can add variety and enhance the dynamic of many songs. They can be overbearing and obnoxiously obvious in the case with popular progressive acts like Opeth on their later material, or far more subtle and nuanced in the case of a band like Anata. The Formulas Of Death falls under the latter category, and progressive is the last thing anyone would associate with the revival movement. There's loads of atmospheric interludes, guitar effects, eastern scale progressions, dissonant arpeggiated chords, and free-range breaks to the typical Swedish sound. For example the middle of "Suspiria" is slow, backed by a two-beat and flanged harmonics before falling into a bass groove sprinkled with dissonant muted notes. Eventually the track phases (quite literally) back into reality before phasing out again to explore a few more areas of the aural plane.

Each track on The Formulas Of Death has elements which set it firmly apart from whatever The Horror was doing. While this might be a disappointment to some, the music is equally compelling and in many aspects better. I love the subtle displays of musicianship throughout the album. Solos are (obviously) technical and almost feel improvised, and other times the effects dominate the sound of them to the point that the notes are almost unrecognizable. In the end they always fall back into a traditional sounding mold which keeps them entertaining. "Through The Velvet Black "is a solid example of this. Jakob Ljungberg's rhythm work is highly varied and in the middle of a riff progression he'll switch beats, either increasing the speed of the kicks or adding cymbal embellishments where necessary. Every member of the band does their part to create a refreshingly experimental-lite, death metal album.

There aren't any truly standout tracks on this album either. There are no headbangable crusty death metal d-beaters or anything like that. I guess "Wanderer In The Outer Darkness" might be the most approachable from that mindset, but even with how direct it is, the track is anything but stereotypical. With an underlying atmosphere evoking imagery of a wandering trek through the desert, swampy marshlands, or foggy moors, The Formulas Of Death is a very visual album. The production and heavy use of effects add to this feel, giving each track its own personality like the listener is traversing different aspects of a deranged psyche. Their use also keeps the album's variation and my attention at a high. This makes The Formulas Of Death memorable even after quite a few listens.

It might be a bit of a risky move, but I think Tribulation have really caught onto something with The Formulas Of Death. The seamless merging of progressive elements, dynamic songwriting, and Swedish-tinged death metal is something that isn't all that common. They execute it damn well.

8.75 out of 10

1. Vagina Dentata
2. Wanderer In The Outer Darkness
3. Spectres
4. לילה
5. Suspiria
6. Through The Velvet Black
7. Rånda
8. When The Sky Is Black With Devils
9. Spell
10. Ultra Silvam
11. Apparitions

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tormented - Death Awaits

I'm not really sure which new release is worse. Death Awaits is frustrating in the same way Entrails' Raging Death is. Much like their boring titles, the music contained in both is predictable and forgettable. The only difference here seems to be that I was expecting more from Tormented since Rotten Death was great thrashy fun. I can still jam out "Death owns the Night" and get stoked for the section where vocalist Dread is like "With deadly force it'll take control and bring you to your death!" Damn these guys love to use 'death' in literally every lyric and song title...

This is an an album that would've satisfied me had it been more of the same. The massive production, focus on d-beats, and simple but entertaining riffs were all highlights of Rotten Death. Opener "Death Awaits" lets on that same feel but quickly devolves into slow double bass and mid-pace riffing. "Blood Orgy" luckily cuts to the chase but doesn't really do much when it reaches its destination in d-beat town. The same can be said of "I.O.T.D." and nearly every track on Death Awaits. It's like one giant cocktease that blueballs you and instead of leaving decides to take a knife to your jugular. In other words this release is painfully disappointing.

The slower, even mid-paced tracks are pretty much unbearable. "To Spill Her Blood" is inane even when it gets faster. Luckily it's followed by "Funeral Fire," one of the few solid tracks on the album along with "Black Sky." What's weird is that the rhythm element seems even more underdeveloped this time around, and it was already pretty rudimentary on Rotten Death. I guess Jocke Ölund's drumwork has gotten a bit faster, but the band doesn't utilize that slight increase in speed to their advantage. There's not much in the way of memorable riffing here either, and much to my dismay there's no infectious tremolo melodies or obnoxiously loud scale fondling.

As I briefly mentioned, the production is significantly more subdued and compressed compared to Tormented's previous output. Rotten Death was awesome for it's bombastic guitar tone and loud, crashing cymbals. This album has none of that. The production and mixing isn't awful, but the music on Death Awaits can't really stand on its own like it could have on Rotten Death. A disappointing but not inherently bad release, I'll wait for Tormented's next.

5.0 out of 10

1. Death Awaits
2. Blood Orgy
3. I.O.T.D.
4. Insane With Dread
5. To Spill Her Blood
6. Funeral Fire
7. Into The Crypts Of Death
8. Black Sky
9. In The Presence Of Death

Listen // Buy

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wreck And Reference - No Content

This one will be quick - there's only two (short) tracks to cover.

Wreck And Reference released a brilliant LP, No Youth, last year. Now they've released a companion piece, No Content, for it.

Both tracks are noisome, hypnotically engaging pieces of work. "Absurdities & Echoes" is a potent piece of buzzing guitarwork and sustained notes. The vocalwork is engrossingly anguished but very dreamlike, sounding more like traveling through some sort of nightmare realm as a voyeur than as a subject of the horror. The second track "Abhorrence" takes the frightening aspects of that realm and submerses you in them. "Abhorrence" features the same sustained notes with an ascending progression that eerily stops while belted vocals scar the reverberating air. The vocals are harsher on the second track and it takes you into the nightmare realm again as the victim of some sort of self-inflicted mishap.

Cool stuff, although the ending of the second track leaves me wanting more from both that track and from Wreck And Reference, who have proven their worth, in general.

7.5 out of 10

1. Absurdities & Echoes
2. Abhorrence


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Entrails - Raging Death

Entrails are a death metal band with a history in the scene but no real material prior to their reformation in 2008. Their album covers look like other big name releases, and their music sounds like other bands. They reformed just in time for the revivalism fad and are proving to be prolific.

Raging Death is their newest album, and their first release on Metal Blade. I can't be the only one who gets an uneasy feeling in their stomach when I hear that a band is signed to that record label. Every artist who paid in blood to be signed to Metal Blade might not be terrible, but damn do they try their best to castrate great artists. Some manage to avoid falling victim to their obvious marketing ploys, and others are great at self-marketing (ie: The Black Dahlia Murder) so they can get away with personal influence on the sound of their material. I don't even know if it's solely Metal Blade's fault but there's certainly a strong correlation between dull music and getting signed to one of the big labels.

Entrails obviously couldn't. Metal Blade de-clawed and neutered this Swedish death act. Gone is the thicker production of The Tomb Awaits, replaced with a soulless cadaver of the Swedish death metal aesthetic. One listen to "Headless Dawn" or "Cadaverous Stench" will have you shaking your head in shame and disappointment. There's really no excuse for this frustratingly lifeless sound on such a plainly constructed record. Raging Death fits the Swedish death metal stereotypes otherwise: melodic choruses interspersed amongst d-beat and blastbeat verses, barked vocals, and the occasional clean interlude or attempt at building a sort of visual atmosphere.

At its best the formula is lighthearted fun, fueled by energy, and is rampagingly aggressive. At its worst, the formula is throwaway tripe that goes in one ear and out the other. Sometimes the difference is separated by a thin line and unfortunately Raging Death falls on the latter's side. The few standout moments the album does have (the solo on "Death League" and the d-beats on "The Cemetery Horrors" count, I guess) are thrown to the wind for the generic dynamic of the album. There's nothing really wrong about the musical element of the album though.

I don't ask for much, but I would like my Swedish death metal to at least not annoy the hell out of me when I have it playing as the soundtrack to whatever mundane task I'm currently involved with. While musically Raging Death might be alright, that damn production is too frustrating to satisfy even this small request.

3.75 out of 10

1. In Pieces
2. Carved to the Bone
3. Bloodhammer
4. Headless Dawn
5. Cadaverous Stench
6. Descend to the Beyond
7. Death League
8. Chained and Dragged
9. Defleshed
10. The Cemetery Horrors

Listen // Buy

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cultes Des Ghoules - Henbane

I haven't heard Polish act Cultes des Ghoules' previous LP Häxan but the hype surrounding Henbane prior to and post-release has been substantial. I decided to give it a spin because my interests have fallen far from black metal, and for about a year I haven't really given a damn about the stagnant subgenre.

Henbane does not reinvent the torpid wheel of blasphemy. I can't say I'm surprised or really disappointed by this. Henbane is far from boring though, and it provides a fulfilling take on a popular thematic in the general metal microcosm. Metal has always been obsessed with linking human nature to the natural elements. Occult ritualism, retro-themed witchery, and shamanistic endeavors have all been popular themes in metal throughout it's beleaguered existence. Recently occult rock acts Jess and the Ancient Ones and ilk have been paying homage to this in a sort of B-grade '70s horror film way. Cults, witches, and natural rituals are all prevalent lyric and songwriting themes with the occasional folk interlude or rhythm being used to justify the aesthetic. 

I can't tell if the majority of these groups are just milking the the visual aspect or not. I guess that's what a majority of music marketing boils down to anyway.

Luckily Cultes Des Ghoules aren't doing any milking. The aforementioned paragraph only applies to the latter half of the Henbane where the lyrics and music take a stylistic change. "Festival Of Devotion" and "Vintage Black Magic" (appropriately titled) are full of prototypical nature-magick lyricism. "Bat's blood and tongue of dog / sting of snake and eyes of frog / juice of hemlock and silverweed / opium, mandrake and henbane's seed / foreskin of birth-killed babe / hell-broth tastes like Satan's grape / black cat's wool and lizard scales, how sweetly the cauldron exhales" Unlike many of the recent occult rock acts Cultes Des Ghoules' music is sinister enough to pull the silly theme off.  By comparison the first two tracks on the album, "Idylls of the Chosen Damned" and "The Passion of a Sorceress" are far more direct in their approach. This isn't a bad thing and while each track is pretty long, they do a good job of keeping you engaged. I definitely approve of the slower riffing on "The Passion" after the more predictable opener.

Henbane is surprisingly heavy for what is essentially a black metal release. The bass is audible in the mix and the kick drums sound nice. The vocalwork by Mark of the Devil is fantastic and varied throughout the entirety of Henbane. He cycles through high-pitched black metal rasping, harsh but intelligible mid-range growls, occasional screaming, and on "Vintage Black Magic," laughter. While the musicianship is pretty much archetypal during the more black metal moments ("Idylls"), Mark of the Devil's vocalwork keeps it compelling and interesting.

Now that I'm listening to Henbane while writing this, I realize that there really aren't too many high-tempo moments on the album other than the opener. After the brief blasting section at the beginning of "The Devil Intimate," it only ramps up to a mid-paced blast section towards the end. I definitely like Cultes Des Ghoules slower style of playing - it sets them apart from similar acts even if their slower sections are essentially leisurely black metal riffs.

8.25 out of 10

1. Idylls of the Chosen Damned
2. The Passion of a Sorceress
3. Vintage Black Magic
4. Festival of Devotion
5. The Devil Intimate