Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kreator - Endless Pain (1985)

Kreator may have been the last of the German ‘Big 3’ to storm the gates of the ever burgeoning world of thrash, but to these ears, they wiped the floor with all the material both Destruction and Sodom had up to that point released. Endless Pain is very close in aesthetic to Slayer’s debut, a driving storm of diabolical riff craft that attempts little outside of standard verse-chorus-bridge compositional dynamics. Though to be fair, the same could be said of the vast majority of thrash metal, especially the formative albums. So, when based purely on the strength of the songwriting, which is infectious enough to make you blow chunks in purulent glee, Endless Pain is a resounding success. These boys weren’t quite as technically proficient as Destruction or as filthy as Sodom, instead lurking somewhere in between, but they more than distinguished themselves with an array of riffs that sear themselves like hot iron mushroom stamps into the memory banks, and their compelling dual vocal assault served to further differentiate them. There are hints of the unique monster Kreator would become in short order, but for the most part, this is very much in the ballpark of Show No Mercy, albeit with a raw, animalistic hatred for humanity that veritably drips with bloody audible saliva.

The fast, sharp NWOBHM style riffs are nothing incredibly unique, but they’re both exciting and memorable, chopping and slicing along like shrapnel in a razor wind. This is pure-blooded thrash, through and through, though a certain aspect lends a blackened aesthetic to a number of tracks. Namely, Mille’s vocals, rasping like some reptilian monstrosity, breathing ice all over the even numbered tracks. These duties are split down the middle with drummer Ventor, who lends a slobbering, filthy Neanderthal drawl to the odds. I like Mille’s much better, as he’s been one of my favorite vocalists (and guitarists) in the medium for years, but this dynamic switch-off does wonders in keeping already fun, yet familiar songs continuously fresh. All told, it’s much more of a strength than a detriment. Mille’s riffs and solos are all primed for war, sometimes just couple simple bars, and other times fast, scathing flurries. He and bassist Robert Fioretti work in tandem to get that head banging with rippling metal might, and the production feels raw and audible enough to do the music justice, if not accentuating these calculated napalm strikes. In all regards, you never feel like you’re getting anything other than a grade A classic thrashing.

The whole experience is incredibly barbaric, at length, but therein lays the charm, a vibe and technique that would climax on Pleasure to Kill. Songs like Tormentor (why does every classic thrash band need a song called Tormentor?), Cry War, and Son of Evil just charge up with wild, violent abandon and slash your throat right out… in fact, you get that from most tracks here. Flag of Hate is also a highlight, of not only the album, but their entire career. The techniques are simple and few, but Endless Pain just exudes creepy, violent excitement the whole way through, like a pack of cave-dwelling, spear-wielding nightmare beasts relentlessly stalking you through the night, jabbering obscenities with bloodlust shining in their eyes. It’s this revelatory primacy that lends such an instinctually satisfying edge to this album, with no need to intellectualize a damn thing, just feel the power and hatred surge while Mille shreds your face into scraps.

Endless Pain is going to appeal most to those looking for good old school thrash. In fact, most people that will love this album already know it very well, but it bears repeating once again. If you’re into classic intensity like Slayer, and other Bay Area bands, but haven’t delved into the German division, this is an excellent starting point. Conversely, the new wave of thrashers might find this interesting, as it’s a building block for a lot of material today, and more specifically to see the roots of the phenomenal, yet completely different band that Kreator embody today. Endless Pain is not perfect. It’s loose, wild, and simple, and there’s nothing here that will blow your mind like dynamite in a watermelon, but it’s aged incredibly well, and is an absolutely essential addition to any self-respecting thrashers collection. That’s a claim you’ll see me make often, I’m sure, and I assure you, I mean it every goddamn time. Out of all the founders of the empire called thrash, Kreator are one of my favorites, and moreover, Endless Pain is one fantastic debut album. As to whether or not it gets a top spot in the lexicon as a whole, I’m not so sure, but it contains enough quality to continue kicking ass after nearly 30 years, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it makes us spit blood after 30 more. Timeless awesomeness: the definition of classic.

8.5 / 10 - Essential Primal Pummeling

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Destruction - Infernal Overkill (1985)

When the time came for a full-length, Destruction tightened the reigns of the apocalyptic horses they used to ride into battle on Sentence of Death and wrote a pretty dazzling array of slicing thrash riffs to use as building blocks for Infernal Overkill. While most of these are admittedly fantastic, Destruction seemed to have overlooked a very important aspect that a larger block of music requires to succeed with the average listener. While they didn’t have to worry too much with the EP, as its brevity was enough to stave off any perceived repetition, Infernal Overkill suffers from a mildly crippling condition: at the end of the day, it can get a bit boring. It’s odd to say, as the average song on this is no less compelling than those on their prior release, and indeed some are much stronger, but with double the time to fill, the performance of these same few tricks just fails to elicit a huge amount of excitement. After way too many listens, trying to reign in my own opinion on this, it's grown on me enough to be about level with its predecessor, but it's still not even close to being king of thrash cove.

At the core, this is very much the Destruction we heard on the previous Sentence of Death EP, if a bit more mature and controlled. So, you can expect a pretty consistent attack of semi-technical, often surgical thrashing, far more proficient than their countrymen Sodom, and even possessed of enough raw ability to toss their hat into the ring with the likes of Metallica and Megadeth. Mike’s guitar tone is kind of thin, but it has the quality of a biting wind, or maybe a sharpened dagger, slicing little bits off your body with each deft maneuver in his flurries of notation. Schmier sounds slightly less maniacal and filthy than he did last time around, but his voice is still quite identifiable and unique, with a bit more grimness on display. The character of his tone is like some cloaked figure stalking you coldly and methodically, sinister intentions obvious and menacing. His bass work is acrobatic enough to keep up with Sifringer’s maniacal licks, even if the tone could have been a bit more pronounced. Indeed, the entire production is a bit lacking, even for the time. It becomes less of an issue the more you listen to it, but it’s not doing Infernal Overkill any favors. Drummer Tommy Sandmann also provides an admirable performance, keeping pace with the others, if not really contributing many additional flourishes. These guys can play, and they can write some damn cool music, but I just wish they had written some damn cool music in a slightly different way every so often. I consistently enjoy what I hear on this, but it's simply not dynamic enough to fully command my attention for its 40 minute duration.

Truly, Destruction’s first full-length foray is a bit of a conundrum for me. While I recognize the skill and quality of Mike Sifringer’s sharpened array of riffs, some of which are truly fantastic, redundancy is a plague upon Infernal Overkill. While the base quality of any given moment is enough to ensure it doesn’t dip to mediocrity, and will jive with more tolerant and patient thrashers, every moment feels roughly the same as the last. The exception is the solos, which are without fail incredible, without a doubt the albums best quality. Beyond those, however, there’s simply very little variation, and the songs run into one another to create one vast morass of marching razorblade riffing… in and of itself certainly not bad, but fundamentally lacking in distinguishing characteristics. It’s not even that they’re all in the same style, plenty of amazing albums do that, but Infernal Overkill is just missing that special spark that makes each of its constituent parts memorable. It’s too bad, as it definitely bears repeating that the riffs are pretty sweet the whole way through. Unfortunately, they’re all just too similar to each other to raise this to any status beyond merely ‘good.’

With my outspoken heresy out of the way, one thing is still obvious: if you’re a thrash aficionado, it goes without saying that this is still mandatory. I mean, come on, its Destruction’s first album, and even though it gets repetitive, there are still some stellar moments in here, once again mostly due to the fantastic solos, which likely would have made Hammett himself flaccid with joy. Judging by the reactions to this record from the metal community at large, I understand my viewpoint is among the minority, and it also must be noted that I have a lower tolerance for derivation in thrash than most of my cohorts, so chances are this will resonate with you much more than I. If you’re a thrasher that somehow in the name of holy pig fucking christ hasn’t listened to old Destruction yet, you’ve not a moment to lose.

I really, really wanted to love Infernal Overkill. It has some of the most badass riffing sequences I’ve ever heard, ever, and even these listed faults are not enough to nullify its prevailing, classic charm. Its importance certainly cannot be downplayed. At long last, though, this is an album I appreciate a bit more than I actively enjoy, if you catch my meaning. Taken a song at a time, it can be both fun and impressive, and it’s certainly a worthy addition to my, and your, collection, but it simply lacks that extra dynamic oomph that could have ushered it into the heights of Show No Mercy, Kill em All, or Bonded by Blood. I kept thinking I just wasn’t getting it, and re-listened to this no less than a dozen times before putting thoughts to pen. It’s so agonizingly close to breaking the boundaries to greatness it’s almost heartbreaking. For all my slander, though, it essentially boils down to this: Infernal Overkill is a pretty good album, and a classic piece of thrash. It’s an essential purchase for thrash barons, both established and aspiring, and even though it’s nowhere near the top of the genre mountain, it will still kick your ass. Not to mention, if this was released before you were born, like me, it’s important to experience and appreciate this evolutionary link in the chain of German thrash royalty. I've focused a lot on negativity here, but the fact is that when all is said and done, I like it about as much as Sentence of Death, and absolutely recommend it to any prospective thrashers, who will likely glean more than I did. I think it could have been better, but there's enough astonishing moments here to warrant a spot in your personal lexicon of extremity.

7.75 / 10 - Legions of Hell Wear Matching Suits

Destruction - Sentence of Death (1984)

Mere months after Germany got its inaugural ass-kicking from the developing Sodom and their infectious debut EP, another entity came along and veritably rocked the scene all the way to its core. Eschewing the NWOBHM/Punk stylings and straightforward, street-riffing simplicity of their peers, Destruction instead prescribed to the serrated precision of the Bay Area brigade, taking Metallica and Slayer as gospel rather than Venom. The technical force of Sentence of Death is immediately evident, and must have been quite a statement at the time, literally a new banner for the Germans to fly, one that could stand toe to toe with anyone else out there, if not use its precise pugilism to beat them to a bloody, quivering pulp.

Sentence of Death is a precision carving into the developing flesh of thrash metal, and stands as a ripping good listen nearly 30 years later, having lost little, if any, of its nasty, cutting charm. Destruction presented an interesting take on the acrobatic thrash riffing of their American cousins, whipping about the fret board in a frenzy. Whereas Sodom chose a few punishing chords and constructed them into a few punishing riffs per song, Destruction’s method was much more clinical and evolved, piecing together long strings of sweet notation and slathering their violent riffing in an abundance of sweet solo’s. As far as I know, this put most other thrash of the period to shame, in terms of pure ability. At nineteen and a half minutes, this is almost exactly as long as its cohort in crime, In the Sign of Evil. Not long by any stretch, but the material here is densely packed and hungry for blood. Certainly, the content is much more menacing than the goofy cover image. Perhaps this looked cool to people at some point, but it only makes me laugh incredulously. It’s oddly endearing, though, like all those other things that are so overtly and unapologetically 80’s tend to be. Just look at that hair!

Total Desaster (…desaster?) charges right ahead after a short intro, and while the riffing technique used was not exactly unique in a musical world where Kill em All was king, the vocals of Schmier certainly served to slap fans upside the face with this unique flavor. His psychotic, slimy, slur of a yell is not too unlike Angelripper in that it was much dirtier than the norm, but his higher pitch and wild inflections put a trademark stamp on their style. Black Mass kicks off with an excellent solo and slams through a smattering of semi-technical bravado that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of the better Megadeth records. Mad Butcher is still one of their most iconic songs, a driving and straight-to-the-point exhibition of delicate, evolving, razor-sharp riffing patterns that don’t shy from the minor frets… probably my favorite song on the record. Satan’s Vengeance and Devil’s Soldiers are also pretty hostile, the first a consistent fast-paced thrasher, while the second builds some atmosphere before letting loose it’s hectic, mildly blackened aggression. Not all the riffing is equally memorable, but it’s without fail pretty strong, and you won’t ever be bored for its short duration.

For all the EP’s strengths, though, my socks still weren’t really knocked off. For whatever reason, early Destruction has never exerted complete dominion over my soul, a trait that extends to lots of classic thrash that many metal heads consider to be, well, classic. Not to infer that this is in any way lacking (though their ensuing full-lengths were a bit of a slog for me), but it’s just not perfection to my ears. As to why that is, I’d guess that as a young adult of today, it’s harder for me to appreciate and identify with material that may have rocked my world had I not grown up with unceasing brutality handed to me on a silver platter. For example, the natural impact of Left Hand Path is no doubt lessened when you’ve grown up listening to Behemoth. That said, I love some other classic metal from this time period much more, so whether or not it’s because of desensitization or just plain natural preference is not entirely clear. Perhaps both, to some degree. In any case, I wouldn’t say it’s perfect by any stretch, but Sentence of Death is cool both historically and based on its own merits, and I echo most praise for it, if not quite to the same degree of rabid fellatio. For 20 minutes, this is a lot of material, and it's short enough to not overstay its welcome or stagnate in any way. It’s worth owning, and chances are if you’re an incorrigible thrash hound, you will find yourself much more smitten than I. Certainly all the young headbangers would do well to give this a go as well, if only for evolutionary knowledge of your chosen art form.

Sentence of Death is a pretty ambitious start, but only a hint at the coming changes that Destruction would continue to exhibit, for better or worse. In a world-wide context, it’s perhaps not the most unique slab of thrash ever penned, but its impact on the German scene was, and is, immense. It's also just damn good, slightly more fun than In the Sign of Evil even, and a nice bar set for both the band and the scene in general, instantly ingratiating themselves to the more technically-inclined thrashers of the world. With solid riffs, strong musicianship, and the drive to pull the elements into exciting cohesion, Destruction's debut is a pretty forceful statement, one that stood at the crest of the coming tidal wave of German thashing excellence.

8 / 10 -  My Home is the Bloody Hell

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sodom - In the Sign of Evil (1984)

In the beginning, there was Venom. Though having evolved (or devolved, depending on your perspective) from existent modern archetypes of the period, most notably Motorhead, their brand of ‘black metal’ was a filthy new experiment, paving the way in shock and blood for even more savagery to follow. As those tendrils grew and enveloped the world, new appendages began to grow from the dirty, terrifying entity that was just burgeoning into what we now call extreme metal. One of these was Germany’s Sodom, who stepped up to the plate with their spiked bat ready to take on all comers. Even beating the mighty Slayer to the punch, they followed Venom’s blackened stylings quite closely on their early demos. It wasn’t until after those Bay Area barons of evil exploded with Show No Mercy, however, that Sodom began to garner world notice, with this, their debut EP, In the Sign of Evil. As much as this follows the skeletal precepts of Venom and Motorhead, with its straightforward, kick-to-the-crotch rocking, it also borrows a bit of the aggressive riffing nature from Slayer to become a bit more distinct. Moreover, this feels much more decrepit than any other metallic emanations from the time (outside of Bathory), mostly due to the deranged snarls of Tom Angelripper himself.

Indeed, the riffing itself is quite basic, caught somewhere between thrash and NWOBHM, with the pace of the former and the flavor of the latter, though the muddy, gritty production feels distinctly removed from either, more in line with their direct heroes, the aforementioned Venom. It’s this bent, hostile production, in combination with Tom’s (at the time) unique approach to vocals, that lends the blackened vibe so many pick up on within this EP. All the instrumentation is incredibly basic, just a few chords per riff (or song, usually) and roughly zero technical skill between the three of them. But the glory of this kind of dirty rollicking is that it doesn’t need any, and succeeds largely on the energy that’s naturally conjured, volatile and pissed off, and the rough edges performance-wise only add to that mystique, like these really were some drunken demons carousing through the streets, just a whim away from kicking down your door, cutting your throat, and stealing your girlfriend, just fucking because. Everything is raw and simple, but it’s all perfectly audible, the muddy bubbling of the bass just below Grave Violator’s fast, hooky guitars, while Witch Hunter’s drums provide the shambling skeletal backbone. The cover art is also incredibly iconic, even if it’s not all that artistic. But it suits the music, a simple statement of intended violence, coming right at you with blade drawn and a sneer to match.

Of the ‘Big 4’ of Teutonic thrash (at least my big 4), Sodom, Kreator, Destruction, and Tankard, I’ve always been drawn to Sodom the least, so it speaks volumes of their quality that I still listen to them a good deal. In the Sign of Evil is a fun, street-stomping 20 minute war machine of churning malevolence and take-no-shit punk attitude, and it’s not only a highly influential album for its time period, but an infectious journey worth repeating even today, for established thrash barons and headbanging neophytes alike. It’s not anywhere near their best, nor is it in any way amazing music, but it does exactly what it sets out to do, repeatedly stabbing you with the rusty sword of its notation while laughing maniacally all the while. More importantly, this is truly the starting point of German thrash, as it would lead in very short order to a little band called Destruction wanting a slice of the pie, and the mighty Kreator, possibly my personal favorite thrash band of all time, hot on those heals. In the Sign of Evil did not blow my mind, as it's not nearly as memorable as most of the other big releases from the period, but it must be stated that history lessons are rarely so much fun.

7.5 / 10 - Inaugural Sodomy

Friday, October 5, 2012

Skinned - Isolating the Gene (2012)

Skinned are a quality gore metal band out of Fort Collins, Colorado, who have been stewing their pungent concoction of rancidity for a number of years. Isolating the Gene is their third full-length attempt to make a name for themselves in an over-crowded genre, and while its diseased decadence is not exactly a reinvention or a masterpiece, it nevertheless provides a satisfactory, and often surprising, bout of dynamic bludgeoning. This is muscular, precise death metal with elements of tech, grind, and slam, somewhere between the obscene medical machinations of Carcass, the technical mosh pit grooves of Dying Fetus, and vibrant alien oddity not unlike Embrional or Origin.

What impresses me right off the bat is the level of versatility here. Yes, much of your time will be spent being battered to a fucking pulp by frantic, epileptic blast-beat carnage, but these wild gyrations are spliced well with the genealogy of concrete-slamming grooves, and the mixture contains enough variety to ward away overt familiarity. It’s never an all-out blast, but a combination of generally strong ideas coagulating into something more than the sum of its mutilated parts. I often felt like I knew exactly what was coming, as many of these individual sections are wrought of tricks and styles you’ve heard countless times before, but I was pleasantly surprised again and again, as the way Skinned construct the tracks here is just dynamic enough to put you off balance. There’s an alluring sense of discovery as you navigate the rooms of this blood-soaked maze, and that’s a lot more than I can say of most bands that peddle this style these days. Brutal American gore metal is not known for its dynamism, so that’s a strong point in the band’s favor.

There are a huge number of riffs and rhythms to be found within there 37 minutes, and while some of these grooves feel generic and overused, and just a bit too ‘slam’ or ‘core’ for my sensibilities, they’re always in the midst of more interesting happenings, so their inclusion is by no means crippling.  A lot of cool, creepy melodies also needle away in quick bursts, pleasant bits of sickly beauty shining amidst the churning violence, like dashes of blood in your favorite bile soup. There are also some surprising emanations of atmospheric density in some tracks, like the lengthy Colossal, showing even more variety in a project I’d at first assumed was just another splatter-fest. I’d say only about 70 percent of the riffs here really impressed me, but barring a few banal chugs, none of them are anywhere near bad. And, you know, 70 percent of 1,000 is still 700, so the album does not lack for quality notation.

There is only one guitarist on Isolating the Gene, a bit surprising considering the versatility of the riffing here. These are by no means just your stock Amerigore chugging mutes, but an array of violent tremolos, creeping fibrous licks, and sickly, tenebrous leads courtesy of one Travis Weickum. In conjunction with the astoundingly taut drum performance of Mike Nolan, who is absolutely masterful, Isolating the Gene often has the precise, clinical feel of technical death metal. Indeed, much of the record is quite acrobatic, in particular the whirling depravity toward the end of Recies Feces (clever...), a hailstorm flurry worthy of Origin. I was also reminded of Psycroptic and Decapitated more than a bit. I'm not sure if it's quite insane enough to wind up astounding the more mathematically inclined headbangers out there, but it sure battered the fuck out of me. It’s not exactly at the level of virtuosity one would hear from Spawn of Possession, for example, but it’s not trying to be, and it feels tightly woven and undeniably ferocious nevertheless.

I found myself, as usual, wishing the bass was a bit more prevalent. It’s there, to be fair, and adds appreciable depth to the calmer moments, but it’s tone is just a bit to low, and it gets buried by the guitars. I can always hear that it's there, but picking out notes becomes a chore. It's too bad because when it does poke its head through, it's usually doing something interesting, so I feel like there's a whole layer of sweet notation here that I'm missing out on. It does its thing, though, and the album would certainly suffer without it, so I can’t be too picky. The vocals of Kevin Pack encapsulate pretty much all the various styles one might expect of this genre, mercifully without the incomprehensible animal bleating that has gotten so popular with the rise of vapid deathcore and other mind-numbing wigger/slam/bro, brutal for the sake of brutal, knuckle-dragging banality. Instead, he provides a raw, throat-ripping yell/growl that feels both dry and savage, and can go high or low to appreciable extremes. Production is fine just fine, no worries at all, as hostile and dry as the desert and undeniably effective for conveying these flesh-slicing musical winds.

Isolating the Gene was an all-around pleasant surprise, with a host of stylistic inclinations that belie the basic gore core foundation, and the end result of such a Frankenstein process actually feels a bit unique, not to mention enjoyable, for virtually its entirety. Not all of the progressions here are fresh or innovative, but Isolating the Gene is constructed and performed with such skill and fire that it impresses the pants off you anyways. However, I still don’t feel drawn to some of the more generic chugging/breakdown patterns, and this has my opinion is constant conflict concerning the score. I've considered everything from 7 to 8.5, since so many parts here kick my ass unbelievably hard, but then the one-note chugging just comes along and ruins the flow. It's really a conundrum, so I'll just have to meet in the middle. If they had trimmed the fat a bit, I think this record would have been much more scathing. As is, however, it’s still undeniably effective, and should find a place in the hearts of a good many death heads, if Skinned can overcome the obstacle of becoming even mildly visible, an increasingly difficult prospect in this dying music industry. To that end, I suggest with stern immediacy that you give this band a shot, and throw them a bone if you like what you hear. Isolating the Gene will by no means change your world, but their brand of celeritous, semi-technical bludgeoning is a sweet, unexpected breath of fresh air in the sea of clones that make up the gore metal underground.

7.75 / 10 - Exploratory Gore Galore

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Children of Bodom - Hate Crew Deathroll (2003)

It’s really difficult to dish out perfect or near perfect reviews, especially for bands that receive as much hate internationally as Children of Bodom. Some will view this as the opinion of a man who cares nothing for depth, enjoys trends, or whatever else have you, and admitting adoration for a group as scoffed at as these Finns is potentially ruinous to my reputation with certain readers, as you will learn later on. However, to abandon the truth for the sake of acceptability is itself not at all acceptable, and I hope you’ll bear with me. Indeed, the prevalent disgust with this band is not a viewpoint I can really look down upon, considering their recent departure from unique melodic dynamics into less challenging, more commercial fare, but as one of the strongest early influences of my past decade submersed in the world of metal, they’ve dropped certain albums that will never decrease in value for me. That should be clear, if you’ve read my reviews of their albums up to this point, and still haven’t abandoned the Reaper Division.

Truly, I’m no stranger to enjoying bands that receive rabid hatred, being an unabashed supporter of Dimmu Borgir, In Flames, and Cradle of Filth (with some exceptions, of course), to name just a few. Bodom are one of the foremost within that realm, and though my opinion of them has dropped pretty severely in recent years, I just cannot help my unabashed, fanatical love for 3 of their records, of which this is the last. Fling the feces, disregard my future writings and opinions, do as you will, nothing will change the fact that Hate Crew Deathroll is a beast of carousing, grooving melodic death metal that I will never, ever, on pain of fucking death, tire of. It may not be perfect, but I love it like a brother, and this is an opinion derived from very nearly 10 years with this record as a constant companion.

Evolution struck the band when crating this release, as they adhered to the 3rd Album Rule as it pertains to a band’s defining characteristics, and future evolution. Yes, one can quite clearly see the roots of chunky, Americanized grooving here, along with a host of bad lyrics, but the devolution was not too far along, and really at this point did not actually feel like devolution at all, something that cannot be said for the ensuing, stomach-churning banality of Are You Dead Yet? The sound is much fuller than on the previous Follow the Reaper, in both production and inherent style. However, though that is a distinguishing characteristic, the immense quality here all comes down to the construction of the almighty riff, and in this instance they are strong, and they are legion.

Alexi’s style matured quite a bit between these two defining albums, much more solid and brick-like as opposed to the constant aerial melodies he had consistently wrought beforehand, and indeed the sound here is poppier overall, boasting a higher plateau of accessibility. However, it’s a good kind of accessible. Utilizing a lot of deceptively simple rhythms, the songs are flowing, dynamic, and aggressive, with all manner of insanity happening at any given time. There are innumerable excellent riffing patterns here, and they’re constructed in unfailingly memorable sequences. The lyrics can be pretty terrible, given, and they’re the one pitfall that keeps this from perfection, but they aren’t nearly as flagrantly stupid as in the next release. Still, there are host of embarrassing sections, due to not only the lack of writing skills, but in inherent, tough-bro message:

"Stop! Are you ever gonna stop tryin' to be on the way that we wanna go?
Fuck! It's pissing the fuck out of us when you don't understand the word 'no' !
Now, you're tellin' that you'll win the war that's only battled cuz you're
too dumb to die. That's right! You can take your war and shove it up your ass,
then close your eyes and say goodbye."


That said, not all of them are so bad, and some even work well within the musical context. The caliber of the melodies and grooves, however, renders the writing mostly inconsequential, and sometimes a bit endearing (Did I ever hurt you in any way? If I did then hear my apology: Fuck you!). All the supporting musicians have grown as well, with truly admirable performances one and all. The guitar/keyboard harmonies are just a touch less numerous than on Follow the Reaper, but they do a lot of subtler interplay throughout, to the point where it does not feel like anything is missing, though the overarching style is decidedly different. All the progressions are pretty much pure gold, oozing trademark style the entire time. Yeah, it’s flashy, but it’s exciting and memorable as all holy fuck, and that’s what matters.

Needled 24/7 immediately clues one in to the change in aesthetics, pulsing and crushing, with punctuation from the keys and infectious leads. The electronic elements were a bit weird at first, but they fit with the motif, as the keys spiral off or accentuate riffing patterns as is necessary. It may sound odd to say of a Bodom release, but I’m still noticing interesting things going on in the background in these songs, even after a decade, be it a subtle keyboard line or an odd flourish of the bass. It’s nothing of immense depth, given, but there are a lot of individual little sweet spots that aren’t immediately noticeable as you focus in on the main sequence notation. Sixpounder is the only song I don’t absolutely love (though I still like it), a dense chugging number containing an oddly dissonant chorus and face-palming proclamations of ‘666!’ The resounding stupidity of that small section still takes me out of the experience a bit. It’s incredibly infectious music, though, and not to be taken too seriously, lest you put yourself in jeopardy of being no fun. Chokehold has a hurried, chugging central riff that goes off on quick, fibrous tangents, before relenting to the starry beauty of the keyboards and shoots a dual-solo money shot of melodious awesome right in your stunned face. Bodom Beach Terror boasts one of the most epic, infectious choruses on their career, with a suitably grandiose melodic backdrop for its murderous machinations.

Truly, the highlights are all inclusive, from the mid-paced grandeur of Angels Don’t Kill to the hilarious Japanese-flavored melody of Triple Corpse Hammerblow, the endearingly pissed-off thrashing of You’re Better Off Dead, Lil’ Bloodred Ridin’ Hood in its wild compositional frenzy, and the titular and ravaging Hate Crew Deathroll itself. It’s all just gravy, and Alexi’s vocals are much more pronounced and varied than in the past, even displaying hints of melody themselves at times, though all in his trademark ‘yowling’ style.

I often wonder how I would perceive Bodom had I not grown up with them, if my love for this (and its predecessors) is based purely on its own merits, or if nostalgia colors my perceptions to an unprofessional degree. Indeed, I’ve had some crazy fucking times, nay, crazy YEARS, with this as background music, but I believe the stirring melodious patterns here would slap me in the face anyways, since they're just so unique and insane. Though it’s not their best overall, Hate Crew Deathroll is the ultimate evolution of Children of Bodom, the last leap before a spectacular fall, with a quality and consistency that, as of now in October 2012, they have not even come close to attaining since. Short a couple of embarrassing lyrics and a paltry few riffs, this is an amazing record, and the brilliance of its successes minimize any complaints to afterthoughts. It may be silly, happy, and poetically useless, but it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had, a trend that continues even today as I inevitably creep towards old age and death. This is pure belligerent melodic mayhem in its most distilled form, untouchable by passing years or the bands following depths of sell-out decrepitude. It’s not quite perfect, barely eclipsed by Hatebreeder and Follow the Reaper, but it’s nevertheless one of my favorites for life.

I must conclude with a broader statement than anticipated, here. My audience is growing a bit, with a handful regular readers (don't get me wrong, my site is both tiny and humble), and I wanted to address a concern. I got an email concerning my review for Follow the Reaper, from a fellow headbanger claiming to really enjoy Reaper Division, but that he lost all respect for me when I gave a Children of Bodom album 100%. To put it plainly, that really sucked. This will not be the last time we conflict, you and I, but I still hope to help you all find amazing music in the coming years… it’s my mission. However, I will never sacrifice my own honest opinion, or pander to anybody, not for the sake of anything. Opinions vary, sometimes overlapping and often opposing, but we can all celebrate the transcendent beauty of audible extremity, in however way we innately appreciate it. I’m certainly no adored (or even mildly popular) author, or poet laureate, but in crafting my monument to this abstract entity called metal, my life obsession, brick by carpal-tunnel brick in the form of my reviews, I hope to share some common ground with even a few people. To that end, there are records that cannot be ignored. Hate Crew is an absolute fist-pounding triumph that I will be listening to until I’m either 6 feet under or go deaf, in which case I’d soon die inside anyways. I don't quite think it's perfect, but it has a unique charm that no other record in the world can match. This may not be the be-all-end-all of creativity, depth, or musical achievement, but it continues to be one of the most pleasing and exciting pieces of music to ever grace my strange little slice of existence. 

9.75 / 10 - Themes From Teenage Liver Failure

Stillborn - Los Asesinos del Sur (2011)

Goddamnit Poland, I’m serious! Stop corrupting all my free time, it’s getting out of hand! Stillborn have been around for a dozen years, and this here filthy phantasm is their 4th full-length, a perfectly abstract, putrescent pit of blackened death metal debauchery that will have your soul crying out in terror as it’s subsumed in this psychedelic bog of blood. While the constituent parts of Los Asesinos del Sur don’t all sound equally inspired, it’s the mad Frankenstein creation that is the entirety that feels so ferociously decadent. It’s a bit hard to name direct influences (some odd mutation of 1349, Entombed, Deicide, and mid-era Behemoth), but I feel this will appeal equally to ravaging black metal barons and filthy death fucks equally, a shambling 31 minute monster to accompany you through the coming Fall. Try blasting this from your house come Halloween, and see how many prospective candy cravers have the balls to approach your humble home. My guess is few.

It’s impossible to shake the constant horror movie atmosphere, an old-school charm that will have the greedy hands of Autopsy and Dismember fans wringing in carnal delight. However, this is beyond the rollicking simplicity of the classic Swedish or American gore scenes, with a lot of variety in pacing and notation that belies the simplicity of its innate tone, which is like a couple of mud-covered chainsaws making their way through a mountain of torso’s. Indeed, the death metal aspect is largely in the tone, and as well as the dynamic precision with which the band looses its storms, but the actual riffing is almost without fail quite blackened, purveying a tremolo riffing style that reeks indelibly of darkness. While none of the individual riffs feel incredibly unique, they’re still quite strong, interesting waves of pure hellfire, rolling out and consuming you like a twig in an inferno. The vocals help the stylistic marriage even further along by utilizing lower, drawling grunts (like Glen Benton meets LG Petrov or Nergal). It truly feels like a black metal record that utilizes thick, soupy death metal aesthetics, certainly not a combination I’m used to, but one I seem to enjoy quite a bit. That’s perhaps not so surprising, that I would like the kid, since I’m such an enthusiast of its parents.

Stillborn really nail a dynamic atmosphere here, a sort of primordial land teeming with gouts of fire and psychotically violent spirits on the prowl. This record is all over the place, lurching from frenzied blasting to dilapidated, discordant rhythms with ease, like some hungry corpse shambling towards you, one leg crippled and flopping but still gaining ground. There’s an overwhelming thickness to the sound here, truly submersing the listener, dragging you clawing and screaming into its hellish world. The production is nice and muddy, in a good way, essential to the punishing old-school charm, the bass bubbling up nicely from the fetid, murky, buzzing guitars. Drums are nice and earthy, as is befitting, with a professional finesse and a knack for flow. It’s all pretty damn compelling, and beyond innate familiarity, I don’t really have any problems with it.

The more I listen to this, the more I’m reminded of the excellent Satanica by Behemoth. I’m surprised I didn’t pick up on this earlier, but it really is amazingly similar at its more hurried moments, by far the dominant influence as far as I can discern. That, however, is no bad thing, and Los Asesinos del Sur is a consistent pleasure to listen to, another brigadier in my growing black/death army that likely won’t be gathering dust any time soon. It didn’t blow me away, to be sure, but it was an unfailingly interesting listening experience that grew on me with repeated exposures, an expedition worth the price of admission for the more innately depraved amongst you. Just remember to wear a gas mask, because breathing this shit directly could cause mutations untreatable by modern science.

8 / 10 - Hungry Flames Lick Your Skin

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sphere - Homo Hereticus (2012)

And the reign of underground Polish death metal continues here at Reaper Division! Sphere is one of the more intense, muscular projects within the gaggle of glory sent to me via Godz ov War Productions, working pretty closely within the precepts of Polish death laid down by more defining groups like Vader and Decapitated. Homo Hereticus is the second album, and the first I’ve heard, from Sphere, who provide a pretty tight pummeling for your dollar, stringing together a moderately compelling line of blasts and sheering grooves that rarely disappoints, even if it isn’t entirely memorable. It’s amazing how every Polish band seems to be at least good. Must be something in the water.

There’s an admirable level of precision here, as the band are clearly quite skilled with their respective instruments, and they do their best to enrapture you for these 35 minutes. The general style is particularly redolent of Vader, and I was reminded of the fantastic Embrional during some of the more acrobatic sections, but generally, this is a pummeling slab of percussive fury, a consistent machine gun massage for your face, punctuated by choppy, sheering waves of guitar work. It’s all pretty well done, with enough blasting ferocity and bricklaying grooves to be pretty appealing to your average headbanging citizen of the death metal populace, and a lot of their riffing sounds like a couple of psychotic robots sawing each other to pieces.

Sometimes Homo feels modern and muscular, other times attempting a more rollicking, Swedish variation, and even though most of it doesn’t stick to memory, the riffs are almost never bad. It’s direct, proficient, brutal, and lightly technical, with a number of cool flourishes peppered throughout, like the roiling discord of Holistic Paralysis, the ominous windy leads in Grave’s Cold Darkness, or the fluttering tech spirals in Devils Reunion. The growling vocals also sound like they could be from Peter’s (Vader) younger brother, a dirty, rough drawl that I quite liked, containing a nice old school charm. There’s also the odd frog squeal thrown in for variety, which made me chuckle, in a good way. No problems with instrumentation or production here either; this is an all-around professional product.

Where Homo Hereticus falters for me is in its replayability. There are a number of impressive sections here, but not many of them stuck in my mind, or begged for repeated listens. Also, not all of the writing is super strong, with a lot of repeated chugging that, while never bad, fails to excite, or differentiate from the masses. Sphere seem to be struggling with their own identity, as this simply sounds like a stitching of a couple bigger names, without much in the way of individuality. However, there’s certainly enough ballistic charm here to satisfy those seeking more lurching, choppy derangement in the vein of Decapitated, and Homo Hereticus delivers the goods. At length, I liked this album, though admittedly not as much as some of their counterparts, and I’d first recommend Embrional, Calm Hatchery, Pandemonium, Lost Soul, or Masachist before allotting your Polish underground allowance to Sphere, but I hope they can find an audience for their brisk, husky machinations.

7 / 10 - Sheering Waves of Familiarity

Weapon - Embers and Revelations (2012)

To quote the great Philip Anselmo, it used to be that bands culled their influences from a whole host of different sources. These days, however, bands will consider just 1 or 2 of their favorite bands, and use that to set their creative wheels spinning, leading to derivation in music more often than not. Now, I don’t know who exactly this Canadian black/death metal band take direct influence from, but I can hear a whole host of similarities to a wide array of my favorite projects, such as Morbid Angel, Nile, Melechesh, Belphegor, Behemoth, and Absu, with more traditional emanations of black metal darkness circa Watain, and elements of straightforward, cutting violence that will whet the britches of the Goatwhore crowd. Though redolent of all of these at one time or another, Weapon are pleasingly distinct. This is very black, very occult metal with both chops and personality, displaying a serrated wickedness that keeps pace with anyone else in the blackened death sphere, whilst smoldering in its own unique brand of punishing evil.

The genre line is very blurred here, as the timber of the riffing is certainly rooted primarily in blackened aesthetics, but the innate brutality and cunning precision belie a core of palpable deathly aggression. What is most tangible here, though, is the level of care and malevolence that went into Embers and Revelations, the band’s 3rd album. Somehow they’ve escaped my notice up to this point, and likely would have continued to, had this not been sent over by the good folk at Relapse Records. They’re on my map now, though, and beyond that, have escalated easily to the ranks of the above-listed bands, and will likely appeal to fans of the occult emanations of Belphegor and Melechesh most of all. At a hair over 37 minutes, Embers and Revelations is not a particularly lengthy album, but it nevertheless thrives on differentiation, providing a variety of dastardly spells culled from the same necrotic tome, thus feeling consistently fresh without betraying the overarching motif of resplendent serpentine darkness.

The First Witnesses of Lucifer builds up the atmosphere, slowly raising the pulse into a mid-paced march, and finally into a celeritous hail of machine-gun fire, summoning an array of suitably evil riffs, and consistently firing off tenebrous, poignant leads into the gathering inferno. Vanguard of the Morning Star wastes little time leading the assault against the purulent angels of God, unleashing a panoramic blasting deicide that is as melodiously eloquent as it is vicious, and the band are indeed very melodic throughout, the riffing truly possessed of subtlety, flair, and unrestrained passion. Crepuscular Swamp, Unhinged Swine (love the title) crawls like some filthy, malevolent serpent through progressions of muddy chugging, rising up in melodic evolution before our very ears, crafting seismic riffing totems that rise up above the muck like demonic stairways. Liber Lilith opens with a stark crisp beauty before unleashing one of the blackest, most violent musical storms I’ve heard in a long time, an immensely satisfying and fibrous pummeling. Lyrics are quite hedonistic throughout, sometimes well written, other times endearingly campy, both of which my twisted psyche enjoys quite a lot.

‘Vile temptress, Goddess ov Drakon! Initiator of perversion in mankind!
Let the phalli of murderers glow within Thy orifice of defecation.
O, ravishing Queen of noxious blood! He who repudiates Thy pulsating cunt,
Shall yield to strangulation by the severed, umbilical cord of a fetus’

Grotesque Carven Portal is an interim piece dripping with majestic atmospherics, a short lead guitar ceremony flinging bloody mist to the skies, leading into the violent whirlwind that is the titular Embers and Revelations, which boasts some of the best riffing of the entire album as it careers through dry, windy stomping and gusts of lead guitar ecstasy. Disavowing Each in Aum is another muscular display of the band’s innate feel for contrasting dynamics, a perfect flow of near-cosmic elegance, a whole created thermosphere of thick, interweaving riffs and full-bodied, grandiloquent bass lines. The closing number Shahenshah is another webwork of atmospheric layering, absolutely dark, absolutely majestic, stirring the heart with its pure, epic malevolence.

On top of being a gorgeous batch of tunes, Embers and Revelations also boasts a fine production job, all elements wrapped together in a warm, seamless morass of beautiful depravity. All the tones are appreciably rich, with that of the bass being one of the best I’ve ever heard. It melds in just below the guitars, perfectly audible, pulsing and bulbous with appreciable depth and enough low-end to provide the earthly counterpoint to the soaring riffs. Drumming is solid throughout, and of course the set sounds wonderful, clear and punchy with no excessive clicking. Vetis Monarch’s venomous vocals are not unique, but he provides a satisfying mid-range growl that suits the music to a tee, and he does so with a level of pronunciation beyond most vocalists of the style.

As should be obvious by now, this album has knocked me right the fuck out. I haven’t heard such a stirring marriage of these influences in a long time, since the blackened desert twang of Glorior Belli infected my life, and the band have immediately ascended to a throne comparable in my imagined empire to the aforementioned Absu, Belphegor, and Melechesh, surpassing even Goatwhore. The blackened death armies of the Reaper Division have found a new general. Time will be the judge of Weapon’s lasting impact, but for now I’m beyond stoked to have found this jewel, one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, as it slipped in right under my radar and broke my spirit with ravaging melodious might. I won’t go so far as to call it a masterpiece, not yet, but it’s pretty fucking flawless, and it’s growing on me with every listen. You owe it to yourself to check out Embers and Revelations, as fine an entry into the genre as has ever been released, and one with its own unique, undeniable spirit, seething with glorious venom as it hungrily and seductively wriggles through your defenses and slips its fangs right into your neck. Don’t worry, the transformation is painless, and soon enough, you’ll be one of us.

9.25 / 10 - In Bile and Blood I Thrive