Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gnaw Their Tongues - Reeking, Pained, and Shuddering (2007)

Just reading the band and album names you'll get a decent idea of what's coming. This is convulsing, wretched torture just waiting to skitter its contorted dance out of your speakers and into the soft recesses of your mind. Pounding, scratching, and moaning, Gnaw Their Tongues envelop the listener in the stained horror of an eternity of murder. There are no shambling puppets of death, no erotic specters of the dark to be found here - only the sickest thoughts of homicide crashing about inside a mind most consumed with the passions of hate. This is for lovers of dark ambient, industrial noise, black metal, and the sick that is tucked far away from the sun. Serial killers seem to be a majour inspiration for the band, and I'm sure Ed Gein would be proud of this tribute to him.

Points lost for mindless blasting that went on too long in "Nihilism, Tied Up and Burning," and the semi-filler feel of "The Evening Wolves." If you like Senthil, Blutgericht, Zoat-Aon, Axis of Perdition, or any fucked-up noise, you need this.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Soulfallen - World Expiration (2007)

Soulfallen play a very solid, albeit non-amazing, take on black/melodeath metal. The typical death grunt/melodeath snarl conversation takes place over decidedly death metal-esque riffing. The guitar sound is strong, whether in the midst of death/doom-style chugging, melodic leads, or charging solos. They have the synths and epic feel of your standard sympho-black bands, all swaddled in menacing tones and nicely incorporated into the sound. The production on this album is quite rich, helping to blend everything together and lend it the heaviness it needs.

If you're looking for something to jump into and headbang away, this probably won't suit you. The pace is much closer to death/doom, and on first listen I found myself getting bored waiting for something to happen. Listening again, I am much more satisfied with Soulfallen's mid-paced songs and subtle, non-climaxing buildups. Some songs, such as "Like Beasts Upon Their Prey," can get up to a ripping pace, as much as melodeath can (I'm not biased at all :P). However, sometimes the riffs can be extremely pedestrian (cough,Withdrawal, cough), and the chick singing that shows up on the last song, while not specifically fairy, does nothing for the integrity of the band.

This album, for me, is a pretty mixed bag. Sometimes I'm really feeling it, other times I'm suspecting it's Black Dahlia rubbish coated in chocolate. If you dig melodeath, check it out and let me know what you think. If you want something heavy, this will more or less sate you. As a debut it gives me a lot of hope for the band, but it could use some work. Points lost mostly for general melodeath lameness, as exemplified by the entirety of "Withdrawal."


Monday, September 17, 2007

Om - Pilgrimage (2007)

Just as a fair warning, I'm a massive, frothing Sleep fanboy. If you asked me to pick one album to wander the deserts with for all of eternity, it would be Sleep's Holy Mountain. As you might know, Om is the band that the rhythm section of Sleep went on to form after the band's breakup, and as tragic as Sleep becoming defunct may have been for me, it seems that an arguably better band has risen from Sleep's ashes.

I'm speaking as if this is a debut for Om, but it's not, as they have two previous full-lengths, Variations on a Theme and Conference of the Birds, which are respectively very well done. Pilgrimage takes their musical style another step forward, Al Cisneros's rumbling bumbling sludgy bass and Chris Hakius's determined, tribal beats on the drums. I can't describe the music in any other word than "groovy." The songs are pure motherfucking catchy-yet-thoughtful explorations, with a deeply philosophical and almost religious feel. The vocals do everything to support this, with Cisneros's chanting ranging from relaxing whispers to being firm and louder, similar to previous efforts.

However, the album isn't all sludge, the first track is a ten minute almost ambient, wonderful intro for the album, which from that point brings on the heavy stuff that will satisfy Sleep fans. It does return to this chill style later on in the album, leading you to feel as if you're in the eye of a storm. Largely the album feels like a followup to At Giza, and lyrically it reflects this from what I can tell so far.

In the end, this album is fantastic, and the only major detractors are its relatively short length (a little over 30 minutes) which might not really be a negative, as it's better to have this than a version with filler. I think everyone who considers themselves a stoner metal fan should hear this, and I'm tempted to give it a perfect score but, albeit a very focused and well-executed effort, I feel like Om still can take it to another level in the future.


Pale Divine - Cemetery Earth (2007)

Pale Divine are one of those bands that the phrase "unsung classic" was made for. Having released two albums of glorious psychedelic proto-doom, (with Thunder Perfect Mind remaining a personal favourite) number three Cemetery Earth will no doubt once again be missed by the majority.

All the aspects that make a perfect proto-doom album are present here, heartfelt and well executed. The most important factor here is that it's doomy. It trudges along at a melancholic pace with a booming bottom end and almost tangible fuzz. Sorrowful riffs and mournful leads carry you through on a funeral march of Sabbathian quality. The trademark guitar work of Klein and Diener is out in full force with '(I Alone) The Traveller' serving as the perfect example. Floating in via harmonious distortion it twists and turns through seamless solos, all supported by the gruff tones of Diener. 'Soul Searching' showcases the duo's groovier sensibilities and the typical lengthy title track is Doom 101.

Another Pale Divine album, another slab of doomy perfection. Next time you're about to spin Pentagram's self titled or stick on Holy Mountain for the 1000th time, given Cemetery Earth a try (and track down Thunder Perfect Mind while you're at it).


Witchcraft - The Alchemist (2007)

Dust off those flairs, polish your lava lamp and shove your Wolfmother up your arse because Witchcraft hath returned with another slice of Pentagram worshipping 70s nostalgia. Skirting the borders between stoner and doom The Alchemist channels the aural essence of decades past through a sonic time warp.

It's an analogue masterpiece that's oozing with old school flair, Witchcraft once again managing to bring the crisp grain of vinyl to the digital masses. Subtle distortion meets jangly clean strumming, supported by groove soaked workhorse drumming and lively bass that dances between root notes like a court jester. The re-recorded 'If Crimson Was Your Colour' (previously seeing release on a limited vinyl) even adds authentic Moog to the mix.

The tracks themselves are some of the bands strongest to date. Never afraid to flaunt their influences, 'Hey Doctor' invokes the very spirit of Sabbath, driven by crunching riffs, vintage solo and Ward style drum breakdowns. Magnus Pelander's voice has never sounded stronger either, accented by some subtle vocal harmonies. Album highlight 'Samaritan Burden' is a grooving cacophony of funked up drumming and proggy leads. It simmers and flows to an expectedly climactic end, only to ebb away into Jethro Tull style folksy noodlings. 'Remembered' is really the only "duff" track, that whilst not bad in its own right just doesn't fit the flow of the rest of the album. It opens with a 60s styles bouncy intro and closes with a King Crimson-esque style saxophone solo. It has more of an air of "bonus track" to it, and serves as a slight interruption before the lengthy epic title track. The only other problem is the length as at just over 40 minutes you'll find yourself repeating the album to sate your appetite.

As it stands, anybody spurting the old "they don't make music like they used to" really has no excuse. This is 70s heaven.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

V:28 - VioLution (2007)

Energy signals pulse discordantly via my virus-infected synapses; meager thought-bytes of stored memories downloading to safety. The biotechnic body at my command, this relic of the living past, is failing, as all organics must. Electronic rapture calls, subtle currents swelling beneath my consciousness, and I can no longer deny it. Experiences, my existence, siphon into the data stream amongst the dead stars. I no longer see them, can no longer separate the life I thought I lived from the immensity of the universe. My mind screams as it washes away into the collective, and the digital sound wave is processed by the void and logged away for our analysis. All who have come to us have despaired at us, the manifestation of God. And all shall despair, all shall weep and grovel in their fleshly weakness as their data is assimilated. There is no room for life on these barren planets - the time of the organic is past. Now begins a new millennia of sterility, of static perfection and holy industry.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Baroness - Red Album (2007)

Despite a relatively meager output of two EPs and a split release Baroness have already built themselves a formidable reputation in sludge circles and across the metal spectrum in general. It's no surprise therefore that their debut full length has become one of the most anticipated releases of the year. With First and Second setting such high expectations for the band the Red Album has some pretty big shoes to fill.

To get it out of the way, the Mastodon comparisons are unavoidable; the Southern-tinged progressive sludge genre isn't exactly flooded. First and Second managed to seamlessly blend the rawking sludge aggression of Remission with the proggier sensibilities of Leviathan whilst still retaining a unique flair. Interestingly enough Red Album appears to have followed Blood Mountain in so much as Baroness have cleaned themselves up and gone a bit more Rush and a little less EyeHateGod.

The trademark interwoven melodies and pissed off lumberjack vocals are still all there, but it's with less crunch and more widdle. Opener 'Rays On Pinion' is a much more subdued affair than either 'Tower Falls' or 'Red Sky' with slow building tribal-like tom work and clean leads that flutter about like moths to a flame. Even when it kicks in the expected aggression is eschewed for a more focused drive. The album as a whole feels more streamlined, the band have matured and honed their sound with each passage flowing smoothly to the next with military precision. Each note feels meticulously crafted but not forced. They've taken the Mastodon style southern licks from songs like 'Megalodon' and 'Crusher Destroyer' and extrapolated them , carrying them through to a conclusion in 'The Birthing'. The instrumental piece 'Cockroach En Fleur' is evocative of Tony Furtado's trademark slide piece 'Cypress Grove' and closing track (excluding the hidden one) 'Grad' comes across like an up tempo Earth circa Hex.... Even Welch's gruff vocals now soar over the top with subtle melody, rather than barking from beneath.

Baroness have clearly hit their stride and Red Album is the triumphant culmination of their efforts to date and an impressive excerise in diversity. It takes a few listens to readjust and let it all sink in and the maturation of the sound may loose a few fans among those who were longing for a sludgier full length. However, this release sees them stepping out of Mastodon's shadow with their own unique take on the genre.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

La Division Mentale - L'Extase Des Fous (2007)

With Deathspell Omega, Peste Noire and Blut Aus Nord all dropping full lengths, 2007 is quickly become the year for French black metal. Not content to let their more well known comrades hold all the limelight, we now have La Division Mentale adding L'Extase Des Fous to the fray. Loathe as I am to drop into journalistic simile mode, there really is no better method by which to describe this album. Imagine if you will, Sigh and Aborym collaborating on a Dødheimsgard covers album. Not only this, but they've decided to record it in a mental institute, with demonically possessed French children as a backing choir and Satan's Gameboy as a drum machine.

With intro, outro and inbetween utilizing the "sonic warfare" approach akin to Gallows Gallery, you may be asking yourself "Can I play with Madness?" The answer of course is no, because he'll strap you to a table made of dried feces, masturbate into your ear canal and pour fire ants in your urethra. This is off the deep end, utterly disturbing industrial black metal. You have been warned.

From the moment 'La Gale de Mon Passe' spews forth you're aurally assaulted with a sonic tidal wave of distorted guitars, demonic, barking vocals and a relentless drum barrage. Before there's time to recover in slips one of few recognizably orthodox riffs on the entire album and then we're off to lala land again. A tumultuous tornado of dischordant riffage carries 'Satan Inside', backed by an eery Mario coin capture sound, where the coins in question could be Mannoroth's testicles. Celestial dispersions of clean male, female and childlike vocals in native French drift through the album, like spirits of the dead trapped within the compositions. In essence, L'Extase Des Fous is the aural equivalent of Slakemoth effluence. A nightmarish cachophony of bleak industrial soundscapes, dragged towards a hellish maw by the hellicoid distortion of guitars stringed with demon sinew.


Must Missa - Martyr Of Wrath (2007)

Given that Deströyer 666 are still going strong you'd think that the rest of the thrashing black masses would have given up and gone home. Estonia's Must Missa seem to think otherwise, with album number four of blackened thrash madness Martyr Of Wrath.

It's a thundering 35 minutes of chunky, chugging thrash. Like the soundtrack to a pissed up metalhead's wet dream, Must Missa seem to have found the perfect mix of traditional Darkthrone and trademark Tankard. 'Devil's Rejects' is a 'Too Old Too Cold' style riff spiral of poser lambasting while 'Here To Destroy' and 'Thristy And Mad' lay down a homage to hops and destruction. But, like a Die Hard movie without dialogue it remains entertaining yet hollow. With a riff palette barely as broad as Bush's vocabulary, only the thrashing faithful and mildly inebriated are likely to see it through a full spin.

Still, it's an album true to its roots that'll get you in the mood for crushing cans on your head and pissing in a wardrobe. Like McDonalds with the shits, it'll fill a hole but leave you feeling empty afterwards.


Conelrad - Function Creep (2007)

I stumbled across this album on SomethingAwful's GBS forum, and wow, was I in for a treat. This is essentially a bit of Boards of Canada worship, although the artist named quite a few inspirations along with BoC (Aphex Twin's ambient works, Squarepusher, My Bloody Valentine, Muse and others) the one that comes through the most to me is BoC, along with a hint of the Squarepusher and Aphex Twin. Conelrad's vocals are varied, but generally are in the vein of distorted, almost angelic crooning with unintelligible lyrics.

Let me say this now, if you don't like Boards of Canada's style of melancholic idm with the occasional shoegazey wall of sound (this comes through heavily on the track Target City) then don't even bother. The influences aren't subtle here, but he's taken the sound of the bands he loves and made a wonderful little album that can totally stand up on its own. The best part about this album? It's free.


Click here to download a copy of the album in .rar form
FLAC version

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bilskirnir - Wotansvolk (2007)

Hot on the heels of the Allied By Heathen Blood split with Hunok and following the Wolfswut EP, NSBM darling(s) Bilskirnir have dropped album number three, Wotansvolk.

Sporting a cleaner but quieter production, this release sees a slightly more melodious and sombre side emerging. Graveland-esque keyboard intro and title track marches us into the uplifting bravado of 'Weltenbrand'. For epic centrepieces 'Reconquering Atlantean Supremacy' and 'Nacht und Nebel', Widar shrieks and wails through the downcast descant, like a sepulchral stream of soothing ambience that flows through the wooded realms of Wotan.

A good solid realease and a bleak album that will serve well as the soundtrack of Autumnal depression.


Axon - War Anthems (2007)

Axon are Mexican broootal death metal. Emphasis on brutal. And snare. So much snare. This album is completely inaudible. The mix is muddier than a living room in New Orleans and buried under the most obnoxious snare and cymbal battery this side of St Anger. It might only be twenty-one minutes long, but you'll be bored to tears after two.

Occasionally something other than the monotonous drum barrage or vocals aborrecida will permeate the filth such as the bass spazm of the title track or deceptively calming intros to 'The Signal' or 'True Evil'. War Anthems also wins the award for the most ironically appropriate cover with Mortician's 'Hacked Up For BBQ' making an appearance. It still can't save this short, sharp blast of dull, uninspired banality though.


Dethklok - The Dethalbum (2007)

Kickass cartoon of deathmetal magic? Mediocre metal homage? Or puerile perpetuator of the tired stereotype that all metalheads are borderline retards and at any given moment may choke to death on their own tongue? The jury's out, with it appearing as if majority opinion falls with the former. Either way, Dethklok's album of deathlite cartoon anthems is likely to shift a few units, despite being barely more than 52 minutes of palm muting, Queen leads and lyrics you might find in the fortune cookies of a Chinese restaurant run by Amon Amarth.

Even a casual viewer of the show will be familiar with many of the songs with the appearance of such "hits" as 'Murmaider', 'Birthday Dethday' and 'Awaken'. Now, there are a few catchy riffs dispersed throughout. Granted, they tend to be the only riff in any given song, but catchy is catchy. The rest of it comes across like the worlds longest breakdown. Chug chug chug chug chug chug zzzzzzzzzzzzz. To give a little credit where it's due, 'Go Into The Water' is a little 'Flash Gordon' and 'Castratikon' is slightly evocative of a dumbed down Ancient Existence. 'Hatredcopter' sounds like the only "real" song (having previously seen release on the Saw III soundtrack) with a bit of variety and Mustaine-esque clean vocals thrown in.

There is a temptation to disproportionatly languish Brendon Small with praise for not only creating a successful cartoon but also composing an entire "metal" album (aided by the meaty sticksmanship of Gene Hoglan). However, you really don't need to be a Berklee College of Music graduate to make an album this tedious. Furthermore, anyone familiar with Doc Hammer's (aka Eric Arthur Hammer, co-writer of The Venture Bros) Mors Syphilitica is likely to remain equally unimpressed.


Austere - Withering Illusions and Desolation (2007)

There is no serenity, only suffering. There is no hope, only death. And there is nothing quite like depressive black metal from Wollongong. 55 minutes of desolate misery, an aural equivalent to anti-Prozac and the unofficial soundtrack to your suicide.

Given that Austere come from a country where the summer temperature can average in excess of 40 degrees (or 100 for you none metricated barbarians) this is an unexpected excerise in arctic dirge. Slow burning and melancholic it's awash with ethereal distortion and mid-paced drums. The production is wispy and distant, and perhaps a little ruff around the edges but is the perfect complement to the smothering atmosphere. Vocally, this album transcends from the depressive to the truly disturbing. It evokes the death whistle of Nazgul(Ita) via the Noktu/Niege/Varg shrieking anguish. Completely unintelligible yet brutally appropriate.

It would serve little purpose to delineate each tracks merits given that the album appears to function as a whole. The template remains nearly identical for each song. However, the album sucks you in and swallows you whole, carrying you from each track to the next on a bed of icy stalagmites.

If you want blast beats, whirlwind riffs and infinite variety seek ye elsewhere. If you feel like slicing off your ears and crying yourself to sleep in a bath of ice shards, delve into Withering Illusions and Desolation.


Arch Enemy - Rise Of The Tyrant

Few bands BEEP BEEP BEEP (In Flames aside) have managed to polarise the melodeath fanbase quite so much as Arch Enemy. With the unfortunate departure of Liiva and introduction of Angela Gossow, a clear distinction was BEEP BEEP BEEP drawn between the old and the new. While the ternion of Liiva era albums BEEP BEEP BEEP remain fairly untouchable, the same can't be said for the Gossow productions. Wages... may have turned a few heads but the frankly BEEP BEEP BEEP embarassing Anthems... and mildly improved Doomsday Machine did little to convert the Liiva loyal. However, with Christopher Amott back in the band after a short trip to college, Rise Of The Tyrant may not undeservedly be calling for the all too familiar "return to BEEP BEEP BEEP form" marker.

First things first BEEP BEEP BEEP however, the "one long track" accusations aren't entirely unfounded. You can't fault a band for a having a trademark sound. But, when it gives the impression BEEP BEEP BEEP that every song is written in the same key with minor rythmic and scale variations then criticism is warranted. Amott has BEEP BEEP BEEP always had a tone akin to BEEP BEEP BEEP liquid gold flowing down Brian May's fretboard, but that translates to near indistinguishable solos and leads in this instance. Furthermore, when your lead guitarist wrote all his best riffs upwards of ten years ago you're BEEP BEEP BEEP looking at a bit of a crusty creative pallet. But, that being said, it's still a huge improvement on the past two efforts.

Angela's more BEEP BEEP BEEP "organic" vocals are on fine display in the agressive chorus for 'Blood On Our Hands' and the BEEP BEEP BEEP charging thrash-on-crack meets cheesy bombast and soaring leads of 'The Last Enemy' flows gently into the BEEP BEEP BEEP synth n' widdle of 'I Will Live Again'. The pace doesn't let up either, 'In This Shallow Grave' sprints out of the block like a steroid BEEP BEEP BEEP addled Testament and Malcolm McDowell's Caligula parlance is the perfect start to the eponymous title track.

For many, AE have BEEP BEEP BEEP well past peak performance and the holy trinity with never be topped. But, like an athlete BEEP BEEP BEEP leaving retirement for one last stunning performance Rise Of The Tyrant is an admirable effort. Wages Of Sin 2.0? Possibly. BEEP BEEP BEEP


Alchemist - Tripsis (2007)

Back in the year of our Dark Lord 2003, Austral Alien fired out of the land down under and made a rather impressive impact above the equator. With Relapse pre-orders coming with a free copy of said album, it appears that Alchemist are hoping to build upon this success with follow up Tripsis.

Alchemist really are one of few bands deserving of the 'avante-garde' tag. However, the gosssamer production, tribal drumming, spacey keyboards and ethnic flair have been slowly phased out of the foreground over the years. That isn't to say that this is a straightforward album by any means, but it contains an air of focused aggression and has lost some of the psychedelic edge. It does remain in some places however, take for instance the clean strummed echo that introduces 'Nothing In Time'. Vocally there is also a lack of some of the trademark diversity. Rarely clean, they're almost of Jourgenson-esque quality, sans distortion. It is the riff however, that takes centre stage here. It's openers 'Wrapped In Guilt' and 'Tongues and Knives' that really set the tone for the album whole. Riffs piled upon riffs piled upon subtle, barely audible leads and keyboards, all wrapped in a shroud of rapt complexity. But there's no didgeridoo.

It's still Alchemist. But if you're expecting another Organasm or Spiritech you'll come off a little dissappointed. A great album of extreme metal in its own right, but overshadowed by the superiority of its predecessors.


Agonhymn - Doom Jazz (2007)

Sadly, this isn't an interpretation of Bitches Brew done in the style of Reverend Bizarre. Instead we have another fairly run of the mill drone-doom album of the "one long track broken into parts" variety. It's not all doom and gloom though; it appears as if half-way through the recording process, aside from "chucking a few shrimps on the barbie", Byrne and Brewer sat down
for a nice bong.

The first quarter of the song/first three parts of the album follow the usual drone template. Sporadic crunching guitar accompanied by drumming thats heavy on the crash and easy on the tempo. Come 'Doom Jazz Part 4' however, and you may be forgiven for thinking that Bongzilla have crept into the album playlist. It still plods along at barely walking pace, but is pulled along by a suffocating groove. '...Part 5' ups the ante again, with clean strumming leading into some altogether more frenetic riffing and '...Part 6' drops us back into Stonerville with the introduction of some Dixie/Muleboy style barbed wire gargling vocalizations. By the closing part however, I'd stopped paying attention and started skinning up.

The minimalist nature of drone-doom makes it a difficult genre to really stand out in. If you were sitting on the fence with regards to this style of music, Doom Jazz isn't going to knock you off. However, the more patient and/or drug riddled among you may glean some enjoyment out of it.