Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Death to 2008

So. It's that time again. In lieu of an official "Best of 2008" list (which I hack-jobbed here), I've decided to give a run-down of the 100 best albums I acquired in 2008, legally and illegally, for review or strictly for pleasure, metal and non-metal, 2008 and non-2008. In alphabetical order, since my true allegiances are matters of national security. Where applicable, I link to my reviews.

Happy New Year, y'all. It's been swell.

Aborted - Engineering The Dead (2001)
Admiral Angry - Buster (2008)
Ahab - The Call of the Wretched Sea (2006)
Akercocke - Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone (2005)
Akimbo - Jersey Shores (2008)
Anaal Nathrakh - Domine Non Es Dignus (2004)
Animal Collective - Sung Tongs (2004)
Antigama - Discomfort (2004)
Arkhon Infaustus - Orthodoxyn (2007)
ASG - Win Us Over (2007)
ASRA - The Way of All Flesh (2008)
Autopsy - Mental Funeral (1992)
Averse Sefira - Advent Parallax (2008)
Bathory - Blood Fire Death (1988)
Beck - Modern Guilt (2008)
Birushanah - Akai Yami (2008)
Brutal Truth - Need To Control (1994)
Caetano Veloso - Caetano Veloso (1971)
Capillary Action - So Embarrassing (2008)
Captain Beyond - Captain Beyond (1972)
Carcass - Symphonies of Sickness (1989)
Coffins - Buried Death (2008)
Cynic - Traced In Air (2008)
Day Without Dawn - Understanding Consequences (2008)
Daylight Dies - Lost to the Living (2008)
Dead Congregation - Purifying Consecrated Ground (2005)
Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980)
Deadsea - Deadsea (2007)
Decrepit Birth - Diminishing Between Worlds (2008)
Demilich - Nespithe (1993)
Direwolf - Beyond the Lands of Human Existence (2007)
Disincarnate - Dreams of the Carrion Kind (1993)
Ehnahre - The Man Closing Up (2008)
Elder - Elder (2009)
Enslaved - Below the Lights (2003)
Esoteric - The Maniacal Vale (2008)
Evoken - The Antithesis of Light (2004)
Faraquet - Anthology 1997-98 (2008)
Field Music - Field Music (2005)
flu.ID - Iots (2008)
Fredrik Thordendal's Special Defects - Sol Niger Within (1997)
Gabriel Kahane - Gabriel Kahane (2008)
Genghis Tron - Board Up the House (2008)
Gigan - The Order of the False Eye (2008)
Gnaw Their Tongues - An Epiphanic Vomiting of Blood (2008)
Gojira - The Way of All Flesh (2008)
Gorguts - From Wisdom To Hate (2001)
Grayceon - This Grand Show (2008)
Gridlink - Amber Gray (2008)
Hammers of Misfortune - The Locust Years (2006)
Harvey Milk - Life…the Best Game In Town (2008)
Hour of the Shipwreck - The Hour Is Upon Us (2008)
Howlin Rain - Magnificent Fiend (2008)
Ihsahn - angL (2008)
Immolation - Here In After (1996)
Immortal - Sons of Northern Darkness (2002)
Indian - Slights And Abuse/The Sycophant (2008)
Intronaut - Prehistoricisms (2008)
Iron Lung - Life.Iron Lung.Death. (2003)
Joy Division - Closer (1980)
Keep of Kalessin - Kolossus (2008)
Khold - Hundre a Gammal (2008)
Krallice - Krallice (2008)
Laethora - March of the Parasite (2007)
Lethargy - Discography '93 - '99 (2000)
Mar de Grises - Draining the Waterheart (2008)
Martriden - The Unsettling Dark (2008)
Martyr - Warp Zone (1999)
Melechesh - Sphynx (2004)
Meshuggah - obZen (2008)
Metallica - Death Magnetic (2008)
Midsummer - Inside the Trees (2007)
Monstrosity - Rise to Power (2003)
Neuraxis - The Thin Line Between (2008)
Noothgrush - Erode the Person (2006)
Obi Best - Capades (2008)
Opeth - Watershed (2008)
Outlaw Order - Dragging Down the Enforcer (2008)
Pixies - Surfer Rosa (1988)
Portal - Outré (2007)
Portishead - Third (2008)
Radiohead - In Rainbows (2008)
Runemagick - Voyage to Desolation/Dawn of the End (2008)
Rwake - Voices of Omens (2007)
Samothrace - Life's Trade (2008)
Saviours - Into Abaddon (2008)
Sotajumala - Teloitus (2007)
Spirit - Spirit (1968)
Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians (1978)
Teeth, The - You're My Lover Now (2007)
Thou - Peasant (2008)
Today Is the Day - Supernova (1993)
Torche - Meanderthal (2008)
Ulver - Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler (1994)
Unleashed - Hammer Battalion (2008)
v/a - Heavy Metal Boxed Set (2007)
v/a - The Bombay Connection Vol. 1 (2007)
Warhorse - As Heaven Turns to Ash… (2000)
Weakling - Dead As Dreams (2000)
Wire - 154 (1979)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Agents of Destruction

While themes of destruction aren't unique to extreme music, the death drive has willing musical wingmen in heavy metal and grindcore. This post takes a look at two recent discs from bands that enshrine destruction in their very names.

Destruction - D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N. (Candlelight Records, 2008)

German thrash elders Destruction celebrated 25 years of existence in 2008. That is fucking IMPRESSIVE. Set aside their decade of Schmier-less desert-wandering and think about it: what have you done for 25 years straight other than eat, sleep and shit? On Destruction's tenth album D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N., the youthful mania of Eternal Devastation and Release From Agony has hardened into the furrowed-brow discontent of a bunch of middle-aged metal revolutionaries with a couple more axes to grind. If the average BPM has dropped, the anger hasn't. It's just channeled into more technically accomplished, better-produced and beefier songs. About half of them rage with killer riffs and smoking solos (including guest shots from UFO's Vinnie Moore, Exodus's Gary Holt and Annihilator's Jeff Waters). The rest flail with middling tempos that don't quite warrant the album's big-ass production. 

Destruction - "Devolution"
Destruction - "The Violation of Morality"

Age magnifies the silliness of Schmier's pubertal yelp and the obnoxious gang vocals that echo a few too many choruses here. That's all acceptable as part of the band's charm. Let's just forget the pathetic self-referential nostalgia that creeps in to "Last Desperate Scream:" "The skills of musical destruction were our aim/We didn't wanna fit in their goddamned fuckin' frame..." and later "Dismissed by all the mainstream media/Now we are a part of the encyclopedia." Gagmeister! Really, the big thing holding back D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N. from reaching the heights of Destruction's early output is its density. Jakob Hansen's sound job feels awfully compacted for a three-piece with such taut songs, and as a result the album feels far more overwhelming than its ten tracks suggest. Oughta sound great on the road though. 

Total Fucking Destruction - Peace, Love and Total Fucking Destruction (Enucleation, 2008)

You gotta imagine Richard Hoak as one satisfied motherfucker, creatively-speaking. As drummer for Brutal Truth he was 1/4 of one of the wooliest/seriousest grindcore bands ever to scorch the planet. As creative mastermind/drummer of Total Fucking Destruction, he's got an outlet for his dada side. The part of him that insists that a critical mass of songs (14 out of 23 here) be kept under a minute long, and that blastbeats lead perfectly well in to Rush riffs and free-funk freakouts, and that three songs from the last album require reprise on this one. And that "Fuck the internet/Fuck MySpace/Fuck all the fucking e-mail that you send" qualifies as commentary.

Total Fucking Destruction - "Bio-Satanic Terroristic Attack" 
Total Fucking Destruction - "Grindfreak Railroad"
Total Fucking Destruction - "Necro-Anarchist"

It's all purposeful according to Hoak, who says "Our songs are true stories of life in the global/techno/military/entertainment complex and represent the future/present of human civilization." And whether you take him at his word or view the half-retarded, half-brilliant diatribes that comprise Peace, Love and Total Fucking Destruction's lyric sheet as nonsense, you gotta admit that this is one provocative beast of an album. Just like the sandal-wearing child soldier punk on the cover, it's juvenile and friendly-looking and totally bloodthirsty all at once.  

Sunday, December 28, 2008

CHAINMAIL: Mongoloid Village - Mongoloid Village EP (self-released, 2008)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to e-mail me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

Last weekend I was in Portland, Oregon at the apex of the snowiest winter the city had seen in decades. The city's palette of greens, reds and browns were muted into the grey and white of winter slush. Normally this kind of weather traps spirits under ice, but somehow Portland's post-hippie, utopian character (no sales tax! theater pubs! anarchists, yuppies, naturalists and stoners commingling!) was preserved. Families drove miles into the suburbs to find hills suitable for sledding. A stranger helped my friend put snow chains on his tires in near-freezing weather. A vegan/anarchist coffee shop stayed open late to accommodate a local singer/songwriter, even as every other business in the neighborhood shut down. I was offered herb by a guy I met just an hour before. 

Mongoloid Village - "Shittown, U.S.A."

Portland's Mongoloid Village gets that only-frosty-on-the-outside-and-prolly-a-little-high vibe down perfectly on its excellent debut EP. While there's all manner of riff grooviness thundering down throughout these five tracks like a particularly unforgiving winter (check the rhythmic crosswinds of "Shittown, U.S.A.," which careens between primo biker metal, loaded psych jams and proggified Toolisms), there's just as much spectral stargazing as there is aggro metal. Mongoloid Village doesn't quite reach Torche levels of life affirmation, but I get the sense that the band isn't nearly all as mean-spirited as its lyrics would suggest. Especially at the end of "Crib Death #3," during which a person as trashed as I wish I was right now could surely apprehend god.

Mongoloid Village - "Crib Death #3"

The more taxonomically rigid metal listener might seize on the charismatic singer's glazed vocals or the occasional Weedeater break and conclude that Mongoloid Village is a stoner metal band. Don't you make that same mistake. Drugs inform only a small segment of Mongoloid Village's diverse sound, which also comprises Jesus Lizard jitters (the opening lick in "The Choking Game" would make Duane Denison proud) and the space-rock of Jupiter-era Cave-In ("El Ron"). It's all smartly synthesized into dynamic songs that go places and never overstay their welcome. Time signatures change when they need to. Arrangements expand and contract sensibly. Call it prog without the pretense. Volcom, Meteor City, Kemado: are you listening? SIGN THIS BAND.

There's a picture of a half-nekkid chick with huge boobies at Mongoloid Village's MySpace page

Friday, December 26, 2008

CHAINMAIL: Black September/Thou - Thrive & Decay split 7" (Shaman, KVNVBI, Buriedinhell, Halo of Flies, One Eye, Injustice of Humanity, 2008)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to e-mail me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

Black September - "Under the Rising" (excerpt)

Credit Chicago's Black September for smooshing together blackened blastbeats and crusty Bolt Thrower death without sounding forced. Also credit Black September for faking me out with a quick deceleration at 2:06 that erupts into frosty Dismember territory just as quickly. A third credit goes out to mixman Sanford Parker, who once again proves why he's the go-to guy for any Chi-Town metal band looking to capture its unsavory side on wax. And while we're at it, I'll throw out a fourth credit to anyone who gives me the contact information for Black September's frontlady Jen Pickett, just so that she can spurn my romantic advances with that bristly grunt of hers. "THANK YOU FOR THE POSITIVE REVIEW," Ms. Pickett would roar, "BUT I WOULD PREFER THAT OUR RELATIONSHIP NOT CROSS THE REVIEWER/REVIEWEE BOUNDARY." Ah well. Here's some sour grapes instead: Black September could easily have lopped off the last two and a half minutes of "Under the Rising" and used it as the basis of a great doom track. Whatevs. This is a band to watch. 

Thou - "Smoke Pigs" (excerpt)

Thou's contribution "Smoke Pigs" rends flesh with a harshness only hinted at on their magnificent Peasant LP from earlier this year. We already knew that Thou could play filthy Eyehategod riffs, and this one starts off with a disgusting one, all bone-crunch drums and thudding whips from rusty chain guitars. What's truly hair-raising here is how the band ratchets up the tension in the song's second half, working a single chord into a froth of distortion and cymbal crashes 'til that groove from the beginning makes its triumphant return. Typical of Thou, there's some thoughtfulness to the lyrical concept -- it's split between a police apologist ("Some people who put on a badge are just trying to help people") and his indicter ("There is a psychological deficiency in policing others...when they attack in the name of the law, we will retaliate in the name of liberty"), each voiced in feral snarls by the spectacularly-named Bryan Funck. Given the unfiltered vitriol (and title) of "Smoke Pigs," is there really any question which side Thou is on? Between this and the recent Outlaw Order album, Louisiana ain't a good place to be if you're a cop.

Click here for full lyrics to "Smoke Pigs" and other Thou ditties. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All I want for Christmas is black metal

Today, as the world celebrates the birth of Christ, I thought it would be only appropriate to review a few bands that aren't too fond of him. Not all of these bands are explicitly Satanist or anti-Christian, but you get the idea.

Sothis - De Oppresso Liber (Candlelight Records, 2008)

Sothis proudly announce "available at all Hot Topic stores" on their MySpace page. They have a footwear endorsement. They released two live DVDs before their first album. At a recent opening slot for Watain, drummer Dross sat amidst a mechanical contraption that resembled a giant's orthodontic headgear more than a kit. Such is the spectacle of Sothis, a symphonic black metal band as slick and professional as Cradle of Filth clones come. All too appropriate that they hail from my hometown of Los Angeles, where two dimensions are more than enough to get by if you look awesome.

Sothis - "The Cold Disconnection"

Personally, I've got no problem with a band this obvious peddling itself with similarly outsized marketing. This is not the kind of music intended to stay in the underground -- it's meant to lead hordes into battle. My issue is that De Oppresso Liber feels drunk on its own drama. Castlevania keyboards, booming toms and sweep-picked guitar solos rush by with self-seriousness and no self-awareness. Everything on this album is meant to impress in the moment, with little thought paid to what happens after we've absorbed the bombast into our bloodstream. Which makes for a pretty stale album. Great production though. And real nice footwear.

Bloodsworn -
All Hyllest Til Satan (Agonia Records, 2008)

Thanks to the financial woes of two Norwegian black metal labels, it's taken nine years for Bloodsworn's debut LP All Hyllest Til Satan (All Hail Satan) to see release. If it came out in 1999 like it was supposed to, I could pass this off as a decent enough derivative of Norway's 2nd wave of black metal (same goes for Urgehal, with which Bloodsworn share at least one member). I probably wouldn't be listening to it a decade later, though.

Bloodsworn - "Satan Lord"

A drum machine, barely audible synths and some mighty fine guitar solos differentiate Bloodsworn from the pre-millennial black metal pack but don't really exalt them. The mix plunges everything into a chaotic electrical stew, and not in a purposeful way, like Velvet Cacoon or Xasthur might. This one would benefit from some clarity. Then again, a clearer production would just highlight how pedestrian Bloodsworn's songwriting is. Nevermind. Keep it dirty and irritating. I'd rather be annoyed than bored.

Khold - Hundre Ar Gammal (Candlelight Records, 2008)

Black metal foursome Khold enshrines in music what horror movie directors have known forever: monsters are most fearsome when they're slow and indomitable. And speak Norwegian. Aside from Sverre Stokland's hoarse, low-pitched rasp, there's very little that connects Hundre Ar Gammal (Hundred Years Old) with the lightspeed black metal of Khold's Norwegian peers. Drums crunch like long-dead leaves and branches underfoot. Mid-tempo guitars pound formaldehyde riffs in the mud. And it's all delivered with merciless, dread-inducing 4/4 regularity. The cold, clear mix leaves nothing muffled. This shit hurts

Khold - "Forrykt"

That Khold can deliver a record this simple and powerful without resorting to black metal clichés, and still remain defiantly black metal, speaks to the the uselessness of genre orthodoxy as a goal. Taken on its own, Hundre Ar Gammal is an eyebrow-raiser, a reminder that black metal still has punk in its DNA. In the context of the three other records in this roundup, the album's a minimalist mini-masterpiece. 

Also worth checking out: Tulus, featuring two members of Khold.

Blackwinds - Flesh Inferno (Regain Records, 2008)

Alright Blackwinds, let me explain myself. Church burnings and murder are all part of black metal's past. These days, the worst crime a black metal band can commit is to be boring. You've got blastbeats and screechy vocals and coruscating guitars and Tim Burton synths and stuff, so it ought to be tough NOT to make an impact, right? RIGHT??? Isn't that right Blackwinds? WHY ARE YOU SO BORING???? I wasn't even expecting that much from you Blackwinds, since you're essentially a side project for drummer Alastor Mysteriis of Setherial, who are almost as dull and equally Swedish. And you still let me down. For shame.

Blackwinds - "Seraphim Ephemeral"

Look, you guys talk a lot about Satan on Flesh Inferno, so you of all bands should understand: Satanism is all about individuality. God and man are images of each other, so the will of the individual is a holy thing and all that. Maybe it was your will to sound like Marduk with keyboards? Perhaps you wanted a distant mix that extinguished your blasphemous fire? You can do better -- you're all talented musicians, you just don't give me the bristly hair-on-end that I'm looking for. I wish you'd realize that you're preaching to the same choir as every other black metal band in Sweden. And the choir's getting tired and horny. There's nothing sexy about Flesh Inferno, even though the album title suggests otherwise.

Exile On Mainstream roundup

There's no telling what to expect when a package from Germany's Exile on Mainstream Records arrives at Chez Rosenbloom. Could be excellent, could be not so much, but credit the label for its catholic taste. Here are a couple recent records that fall in the "excellent" camp.

We Insist! - Oh! Things Are So Corruptible (Exile On Mainstream, 2008)

There's a lot to like about this third album by We Insist!, a Parisian band named after a classic Max Roach protest album. Propulsive, heavy rock in the vein of Quicksand and Jawbox forms the backbone of a pretty wide-ranging sound. Vertebrae stretch out towards the slanted rhythms and modal scales of Shiner (my favorite!) on "Imperial Catechism;" "The Great Disorder" could be a stripped-down System of a Down ballad. A two-man sax section operates either in honking counterpoint or harmonic sympathy with the rest of the band, sometimes breaking out into curling free jazz solos. We Insist! make great use of all those harmonic layers, rubbing smooth sax and multiple frictive guitars against one another in recombinant forms.

We Insist! - "Imperial Catechism"
We Insist! - "Half Awake"

Oh! Things Are So Corruptible heads in a lot of different directions, many of them hard 'n heavy, but there's a playfulness to it that acts as an aural welcome mat. Part of that is drummer/vocalist Etienne Gaillochet's lightly accented tenor voice. He's a charismatic lil' bastard; you believe him no matter how sweetly melodic ("My Own Delight") or creepily arcane ("The Sailor") his melodies get. The warm mix is pretty inviting too -- very few rough edges, but far from crystal clear. Heavy rock records are rarely this friendly.

Beehoover - Heavy Zooo (Exile On Mainstream, 2008)

I desperately want to believe that all of the songs on Beehoover's second LP Heavy Zooo (sic) have been adopted as modern-day nationalist anthems in their native Germany. Smiling blonde children would march in the streets singing "Someone exchanged my pillow for a moldy camembert/Making my head feel all soft and furry," banging their heads in unison as the earth cowers under the mighty fuzz of Beehoover's guitar-less riff attack. It's a bizarre vision, one that I imagine that bassist/vocalist Ingmar Petersen and drummer Claus-Peter Hamisch would approve of.  

Beehoover - "Heavy Zooo"
Beehoover - "Esophagus Overdrive"

Superficially similar to other fuzz-toned metal duos like Black Cobra and Big Business (before they added a guitarist), Beehoover might just be the better band. They've perfected Kyuss's sun-blanched desert rumble, and filled that lysergic sky with a variety of grooviness -- moaning background vox, nifty harmonics, snaky Tool-like "guitar" lines and Petersen's (sometimes) melodic roar, which has a weird cadence to it that could only come from a foreigner. Heavy Zooo's lyrics also reach new levels of sublime absurdity (My favorite, from "Dance Like a Volcano:" "Sound waves intrude your head / Compress your brain and force it down/With a sonic boom to the middle of your body/To form a triaxial hinge of sex oscillations and flexibility"). Beehoover take their silliness seriously. But this kind of stuff begins and ends with riffs. And good goddamn, those riffs. 

'Twould behoove you to visit Beehoover's website

Monday, December 15, 2008

CHAINMAIL: The Atomic Bomb Audition - Light Will Remain (self-released, 2008)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to e-mail me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

To commemorate the final day of my trip to California's East Bay, I bring you The Atomic Bomb Audition, a young band outta Oakland. Metal dudes know the city best as the birthplace of Testament, Dystopia, Sleep and Neurosis. The Atomic Bomb Audition  sounds like none of them. The band doesn't sound like anybody in particular, really, but they are surely children of the Patton aesthetic -- fluent in free jazz, film soundtracks, modern art music and doom metal, and intent on finding a conference space for all of them to meet. It ain't smiles and handshakes the whole way through, but there's a whole weather system operating inside the band's second album, Light Will Remain.

The Atomic Bomb Audition - "Copernicus: Apogee"

Droning sub-bass tones introduce Light Will Remain by quashing the promise of the album title, and leads to the killer Today Is the Day-style rager, "Copernicus: Apogee." It's the most consciously metal track on the album and a bit of a feint, considering the more abstract pastures expanding just beyond it. "Copernicus: Perigree" shoots Crazy Horse and Kayo Dot off on a lengthy space ride, and if the line "No one doubts the stars / Close the light, leave it inside / This constellation had a dream tonight" is a bit po-faced to swallow a cappella, it gets rammed down just fine by the psychedelic thunderdoom that follows.

The Atomic Bomb Audition - "Speak to the Revelator"

Rare for your average genre-facile metal band, The Atomic Bomb Audition works in an overarching cohesion to even its most macaronic creations. I'm most stoked on "We Speak to the Revelator," an expansive audio tour through multiple big sky countries: the treeless expanses of midwestern emo, Mogwai's twinkling nights, twangy U.S. Christmas space dust and bits of death metal's smoke-choked air, all wrapped up in a haze of reverb and coalescing in an inspired major-key ending (THERE's that album title)! Does the gamelan and violin interlude that follows add much to the overall impact of the album? No, but it's a haunting and unexpected palette cleanser before gargantuan closer "Reseda: Books of Blood." Bits of heavy metal shrapnel and white noise debris get sucked into the oblong orbit of that world-swallowing beast of a track. I gotta see it performed live before I die.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Velvet Cacoon - Genevieve (Southern Lord, 2008; originally Full Moon Productions, 2004)

Four years down the line from the release of Velvet Cacoon's "second full-length album," Genevieve, and it still refuses to reveal its secrets. Not that this one is meant to be solved. I've read all the accounts of the fabrications propagated by sole member Josh (SGL) and his potentially non-existent bandmate Angela (LVG), and I'm convinced that the disinformation campaign functions as more than a publicity-driven hoax. Did the band's drummer really fall off a cliff and die? Does SGL really set his arms on fire at live shows? Was Genevieve actually conceived while Velvet Cacoon was high on dextromethorphan, and recorded with a homemade "dieselharp" through a 75-gallon aquarium? The truth doesn't matter. But Velvet Cacoon's dense web of self-mythologizing does, to the extent that it amplifies the murky obscurantism of Velvet Cacoon's music.

Velvet Cacoon - "P.S. Nautical"

There is none of the immediacy of a traditional black metal release on "P.S. Nautical," just a dull, repetitive roar of guitar, a lethargic drum machine gallop and some vaguely inhuman whisperings tucked underneath. Like Burzum's Filosofem, a clear precursor for Genevieve, the album envelops instead of drilling through, hangs fog-like instead of crashing down. There is resilience in Genevieve's opacity, but it also betrays an intense vulnerability. Wedged after such numbing guitar walls, the beautiful acoustic guitars that close out "Avalon Polo" feel frail. Same goes for the unexpectedly naked Gollum-voice at 1:48 in "Laudanum." Velvet Cacoon shines a spotlight on a creature that's hidden in the dark for eons, and it's pretty uncomfortable.

>Velvet Cacoon - "Laudanum"

Following with  the Filosofem comparison, the 17-minute "Bete Noir" is Velvet Cacoon's "Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität," the pure ambient track that defines the boundary lines of the band's vision. This creepy quiet industrial drone, punctuated only by soft static, might be Genevieve's defining track. It makes plain what the rest of Genevieve hinted at. Black metal is but the servant. Unsettling ambience is the master. 

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Crucial Blast Roundup

Noism - ± (Crucial Blast, 2008)

This is not metal. Oh, it'll try and fool you into believing it's metal, with its malfunctioning blender-style guitar shredding and robotic drum blasts. But in ±, Noism's first proper release after a decade of existence, the trans-Pacific-living Japanese guitarist/programmer duo has created more of a sonic art installation writ extreme than a metal record. The digitized beats and non-repeating guitar spews come so fast and furious that a cursory listen might peg ± as a sparking free jazz record. Nope, it's all meticulously mapped out, chopped up and stitched back together with the obsessive care that a ship-in-a-bottle builder might pay to his craft.

Noism - "Death-Meta-Logic"
Noism - "Computer Illiterate"

This record may represent a new high point for recorded brutality. It feels quite unlike the death metal lawnmowing of Psyopus and Braindrill though. Over-the-top as they are, their music is constrained by the limits of human ability. By contrast Noism offer no space, no riffs, no effort to mask the inhumanity of Tomoyuki Akiyama's fried-software beats -- a numbing sensory assault versus an embodied, visceral one. And while that brings up a host of interesting questions (e.g. must enjoyment of music be predicated on your ability to connect with it?), it also makes ± pretty joyless. The album feels like a rigorous conceptual exercise made manifest in sound. I'm a Cerebral Metalhead, but I like my metal to tingle my lower extremities. Noism doesn't.

Black Elk - Always a Six, Never a Nine (Crucial Blast, 2008)

Black Elk's epoynmous debut from 2006 knocked me on my ass, kicked my teeth in and tattooed "have a nice day!"on my forehead (I decided to keep the tattoo). Live, these guys are even better. Tom Glose's eyes and neck veins bug out as he shakes his hips to the band's jerky riffing, like a lothario uncle doing an uncomfortably sexual Elvis impression. Filthy, immoral stuff. The band burrows even deeper into the dirt on Always a Six, Never a Nine (perhaps a mocking reference to Hendrix's "If 6 Was 9?") and turns up another guzzle-worthy slop bucket of junked-up Jesus Lizard riffs and perverted Yowling.

Black Elk - "Hospital"
Black Elk - "Pig Crazy"

All in the name of progress: a newfound gift for layered arrangements, evidenced in the astonishing left-field turns littered about "Pig Crazy" and "She Pulled Machete," and especially the Rwake-esque sludge sweep of "Brine." Piano gets buried deep somewhere in a few tracks, too. As with the last one, it's the band's slanted noise-grooves that really makes Always a Six Never a Nine. My apartment walls are in serious danger of getting punched whenever "Hospital" or "Hold My Head" come through with their pumping riffs. I'm loving the filthy mix too. Glose's vox get choked in spittle and mud. Perfect.

Geisha - Die Verbrechen der Liebe (Crucial Blast, 2008)

R.I.P. my speakers. They've held up remarkably well after years of blasting caustic black and death metal records at deafening levels, but Geisha's second LP Die Verbrecehn der Liebe finally did 'em in. It was an unmerciful demise. Ragged noise rock battered the cones. Feedback daggers were plunged deep, then removed dripping LSD and space dust. Yowled vocals splattered the insides of the casing. It was a terrible sight. Sounded pretty wonderful though.

Geisha - "Prelude to Amber Pays the Rent"

Noise as practiced by Geisha is devastating, druggy and expressive at once. Master noiseniks Butthole Surfers and Slint each make their marks on the first five tracks, with a chugging directness that's sorta refreshing for music this psychedelic. The spacey bits of "Prelude To Amber Pays the Rent" and "Sportsfister" remind that blood in the ears can be beautiful, too. It all culminates in the half-hour-long "Theme From Diana," a soupy ether of disembodied spoken word samples, guitar drones and percussion. The final five minutes of white noise feels like baptism by skree; it's the only possible climax for an album that abuses ears in so many different ways.

Friday, December 05, 2008

CHAINMAIL: Mar de Grises - Draining the Waterheart (Firebox, 2008)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to e-mail me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

2008 was a damn good year for doom. Esoteric and Daylight Dies turned in their best records yet. Samothrace floored me with their heart-rending debut Life's Trade, and Trees scared the shit out of me with their debut Light's Bane. Corrupted stopped by Los Angeles for the first time in over a decade, with Asunder in tow, and delivered one of the most memorable concerts I've ever attended; my first live Thou experience wasn't far behind. Birushanah's Akai Yami convinced me that there's still plenty of room for doom to grow. 

Add to the hit parade (hit funeral procession?) Draining the Waterheart, album number two from Chilean quintet Mar de Grises (Sea of Greys, in Spanish). The long, arcing shapes of its songs stretch all the way from Santiago to England and Sweden, where the Peaceville Three and Katatonia first imbued doom metal with gothic melody. Soaring keyboards and spectral ambience keep the compass pointed towards Finland, home of romantic funeral doom acts Colosseum and Swallow the Sun.

Mar de Grises - "Summon Me"

The comparisons serve only to orient -- Mar de Grises proudly carry the torch of doom tradition, but Draining the Waterheart works an uncommon level of dynamism into a genre of metal that often gets by on oppressiveness alone. Opener "Sleep Just One Dawn" passes from dim-lit atmospherics to finely-textured guitar walls, reminiscent of the arrangements on Thrice's Vheissu. The stately crawl of "Kilómetros de Nada" is ripped apart at the 3:30 mark by jagged guitar disharmony, a startling twist of the knife when it's least expected.

Mar de Grises - "One Possessed"

From the electronic wash of "Fantasía" to the massive crunch of "Liturgia," from Juan Escobar's throaty growls to his layered harmonies on "One Possessed," Draining the Waterheart canvasses the entire icy spectrum of possibility that gothic doom metal offers. Mar de Grises intuitively understand the role of, and need for, peaks and valleys when you're dealing with such weighty territory (guess that's what living in the shadow of the Andes will do to ya). They're painting with all the greys of the rainbow. Doom's rarely this colorful.

Visita el MySpace de Mar de Grises, pinche cabrón.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Gore - Mean Man's Dream (FSS, 2008; originally Eksakt, 1987)

Judged by today's standards, the second album by Dutch trio Gore sounds like a rehearsal tape for a pretty cool metal band, or perhaps a rough mix of a Shellac album before the vocals were added. But let us not forget that Mean Man's Dream was originally released in 1987. That was the same year that instrumental innovators Slint and Bastro formed; Don Caballero's first album For Respect, which in retrospect sounds like a Gore homage, didn't come out until 1993. The sound of Mean Man's Dream -- damaging, percussive, throttled -- would be duplicated for nearly every album that Steve Albini produced for smaller labels.

Gore - "Mean Man's Dream"
Gore - "Loaded"

Each song retains a similar riff 'n repeat structure. No solos, no dramatic drum fills, a few stretches of guitar feedback but otherwise every bass drop and cymbal crash serves the meaty, midrange riff at hand. And where some might hear boredom in Gore's fairly simple riff style, I hear purity. What would a heavy metal band be without a strong foundation of propulsive, convulsive rhythm, something that Gore's got up the bum to the exclusion of all else? Maybe "Loaded" would sound even better with Henry Rollins howling over it (Gore released a split with Rollins Band just before Mean Man's Dream), but it rocks plenty hard without a frontman. In Gore, we have the true definition of "power trio." Three musicians. Nothin' but power. 

Mean Man's Dream is available digitally via FSS right now. CD and vinyl versions will be released soon by Southern Lord.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pulverised Records: haiku reviews

Poetic interpretations of six recent releases from Pulverised Records

Impiety -
Dominator (Pulverised Records, 2008)

Good blackened metal
Furious blastbeats, war howls
Straight from Singapore

Impiety - "Slaughterror Superiority"

Skimpy offering:
Intro, three songs, a cover
By Sarcofago

If in Singapore
What of Satan hails?

Netherbird - The Ghost Collector (Pulverised Records, 2008)

Symphonic metal
Made by Swedes with Adrian 
From At the Gates. Cool!

Netherbird - "Lighthouse Eternal Laterna Magika"

Bombast overloads
The somewhat thin production
The bigger problem

I do not enjoy
Cradle of Filth records. No
I own not a one

Those Who Bring the Torture - Tank Gasmask Ammo (Pulverised Records, 2008)

When will metal bands
Tire of war-centric albums? 
I sure hope never

Those Who Bring the Torture - "You Should Be Brutally Slaughtered"

This disc offers up
Energetic deathgrind with
A huge groove factor

Need one innovate
To bring the awesomeness? Nay.
This band's proof of that

Closer - A Darker Kind of Salvation (Pulverised Records, 2008)

The panned guitar sounds
In the first track make me spew
My vodka and yet

Closer - "What Am I?"

Upchucked alcohol
Is far preferable to
Bland Gothenburg shit

Rehashed Soilwork. Meh.
Does that sound palatable?
I thought not.  Next, please!

Guillotine - Blood Money (Pulverised Records, 2008)

Thrash ain't hard to do 
But these Swedes do it nicely
Ed Repka cover

Guillotine - "Liar"

Sounds like Kreator
Whose new Hordes of Chaos rules
Just got the promo

The Tom Waits record
Of the same name is of course
Much better than this

Hellveto - Neoheresy (Pulverised Records, 2008)

Critics want to love
Everything exotic but
I cannot love this

Hellveto - "Choragiew Ktora Splonie"

Eleven albums
In six years is impressive
Sound quality? Nice.

No great melodies
I just call it like it is
Don't kill me, pagans

Friday, November 28, 2008

Light This City - Stormchaser (Prosthetic, 2008)

These days, when every young thrash band wants to be Exodus or Vio-Lence, it's refreshing to hear a San Francisco group like Light This City that doesn't sound like it's from San Francisco. Nope, it's a far more global metallic buffet spread out on the band's fourth (and final) album Stormchaser, with riffs purloined from all pockets of the polkabeat's metallic empire and beyond. The album starts strong, with two slithery waltzes of skintight Lamb of God riffery. At the Gates/In Flames' American offspring own the patent on "The Anhedonia Epidemic" and the riff-rocking chorus to "Beginning With Release;" Testament's Chuck Billy guests on "Firehaven," a pretty kicking Bay Area thrasher. Murray and Smith would be proud of the dual-guitar Nintendo gallop on "Wake Me at Sunset."

Light This City - "Fragile Heroes"
Light This City - "Bridge To Cross"

Songwriting separates good modern thrash from the un-good, and despite the multitude of directions they point, Light This City's tunes connect more often than not. These fuckers are TIGHT, too. Still, there's something keeping Stormchaser from burrowing into my heart. My guess is that Zach Ohren's mix is too frictionless to carry the energy that this band is capable of. Vocalist Laura Nichol spews spittle-encrusted venom like a female John Tardy, and she deserves thick, juicy cuts of meat to chew on instead of the carpaccio guitars she's got here, especially on the brighter, more melodic numbers. As a result, Stormchaser is a pleasant 50-minute diversion, but doesn't leap out of speakers like it should. Too bad Light This City broke up before they could best it. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Woodcut Roundup

Finnish metal label Woodcut Records releases records by Finnish bands that don't sound Finnish. How dare they! Here's a couple that recently found US distribution:

Sotajumala - Teloitus (Woodcut, 2007)

When you're first broadening your listening habits into extreme music, it's pretty easy to get hooked on death metal. Classic DM bands sound savage, cold and committed to punishing groove, all seductive traits for new converts. After prolonged exposure though, the joys of Deicide, Sepultura and Bolt Thrower tend to ebb a bit as you search for more sublime endpoints than ultimate brutality, outlets for aggression that involve more than just blastbeats 'n growls. 

Sotajumala - "Tappaja Ja Tapettu"

But ya know, that stuff can still be scary powerful. Finland's Sotajumala (that's "wargod" in Finnish) pull off a humdinger of a straightahead DM album with Teloitus (that's "execution" in Finnish). So good is the band's songcraft and... ::gulp:: execution that it gets me pumped on Morbid Angel and Suffocation again, convinces me that tremolo picking, double-kick, throaty howls and divebomb solos are all I need to satisfy those twin primeval urges to destroy and be destroyed.

Sotajumala - "Riistetty Viattomuus"

Without compromising a teaspoon of intensity, Sotajumala's songs breathe. Guitarists Kosti Orbinski and Pete Lapio shape riffs that actually lead places, then fashion icy-smooth solos out of demonic-sounding "tall" harmonies. These songs are tonal and have proper chord changes, wax and wane between grinding punishment and big festering riff slashes. Drummer Timo Häkkinen's the MVP here, doing double duty as timekeeper and rhythm subverter -- listen to the way he takes the bottom out of that gigantic groove in "Riistetty Viattomuus" with his spectacular tom work. Close my eyes and I'm listening to "Where the Slime Lives," only Pete Sandoval was never recorded this well.  

Alghazanth - Wreath of Thevetat (Woodcut, 2008)

Ah well, can't win 'em all. Instead of experiencing the full-scale wrath of hell when I listen to Wreath of Thevetat, I am struck by the cuteness of Alghazanth's corpsepaint-by-numbers. Like the loving father watching his child's first soccer game, I stand by the sidelines, listening intently as Alghazanth hurl their blastbeats and walls of guitars and fake choirs at me, loving that they take themselves so seriously even though I know deep down that they suck. 

Alghazanth - "The Phosophorescent"
Alghazanth - "Future Made Flesh"

This band has been around since the mid-90s, and its bassist/rasper Goat Tormentor (aka Mikko Kotamäki) also sings in the majestically awesome Finnish doom metal band Swallow the Sun, so at some point, someone in Alghazanth's creative cabinet must've realized that early Emperor is pretty old hat now, and that one Dimmu Borgir is more than enough, thank you. But no, there they go with their pleasingly melodic, big-for-bigness's-sake demi-epics, each longer than it needs to be and stuffed with a little too much pomp for this old man to take. Wreath of Thevetat sounds like black metal for 14-year-olds just learning to play their instruments. Except it's made by grown men who are really fucking good at their instruments. The press release about Wreath of Thevetat helpfully informs me that "majestic atmosphere forms the flesh around its bones and Occult Satanism runs through its veins." Somewhere, Satan is laughing. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hour of the Shipwreck - The Hour Is Upon Us (self-released, 2008)

Full disclosure: Hour of the Shipwreck is not really a metal band. Full disclosure part two: I used to play pump organ and sing for them. There was a time when I was bent out of shape about getting kicked out of HOTS for not being able to hang, musically-speaking. A couple years down the line, I'm infinitely grateful that I was sacked, because now I have the luxury of listening to music that inspires me every time I hear it -- nay, every time I think about it -- without worrying about flubbing a chord. We all have friends whose bands we support just because we want to support our friends. That's not the case for me with Hour of the Shipwreck. I respect what the band is doing far too much to consider it mere "friend rock," and I consider myself privileged to count the members of this band as acquaintances. 

Though The Hour Is Upon Us was created by 30-odd musicians, it manifests the ambitions of a single man, HOTS's songwriter/vocalist/guitarist, Richie Kohan. His is a grand vision, mapping well with Tolkien, Jackson, Disney, Miyazaki (all four are cited in the liner notes). That means lengthy songs whose dynamics are sculpted like a film director shapes a scene -- we can almost hear the camera pan through the clouds on opener "The Chandelier Suite" -- plus dozens upon dozens of studio tracks dense with acoustic and electric guitars, multi-tracked vocals, cello, autoharp, French horn and keyboards. Elements of Canterbury prog, post-rock and, yes, fantastical movie scores course through HOTS's tautly-constructed songs. Try not to define the genre and you will appreciate its flexible contours all the more. There's really no name for what the band's doing here.

Hour of the Shipwreck - "Chandelier Suite"

Sudden explosive rock crescendos abound. A supersonic guitar-tapping solo worthy of Eddie Van Halen sweetens the end of album highlight "Save the World." There is a full fucking choir (full disclosure the third: I was in it) deployed in a bunch of tracks. The outsized musical gestures click here, partly because Hour of the Shipwreck's music is so immersive that it's a delight to be taken in, partly because the album is so meticulously assembled that it works as a musical set piece for lifelong fantasies, HOTS's and yours. It's also easy to embrace the album's grandiosity because there's an honest vulnerability underneath all of the bigness, expressed in Kohan's delicate vocal imprecations and elaborated in melodies that are kissed with chromaticism and haunting dissonances.

Hour of the Shipwreck - "My Fantasy"

Cobwebby guitar lines take the place of riffs on "My Fantasy" and the beginning of "Mt. Davidson," contrasting with drummer Barbara Gruska's steady-as-she-goes propulsion for a wafting sense of momentum unique to Hour of the Shipwreck. The latter also contains an awesome dual-guitar slashathon that turns into jet-engine radio rock for a minute, before dissolving into a whoosh of drumless ghosties. From floating rhythmic beds to thumping mechano-groove to the absence of rhythm altogether -- to borrow a phrase, Hour of the Shipwreck moves in mysterious ways. 

Hour of the Shipwreck - "Unclouded Eyes"

Befitting a band with more than just surface prettiness to offer, Hour of the Shipwreck end The Hour Is Upon Us with its "heaviest" track, the epic-in-all-ways "Unclouded Eyes." Cheeseworthy as it sounds, I'm totally charmed by the call to battle that starts it off like the Riders of Rohan galloping to war. And while the doom coda at the end doesn't crush with quite the finality it achieves in HOTS's live show, that air-sucking guitar distortion does leave the ears abuzz and the heart apalpitating. The band's loftiness comes crashing down in blunt, physical form. Stonehenge crumbles. Fade to black. Beautiful.

Wrnlrd - Oneiromantical War (FSS, 2008)

It's past three in the morning on a rare foggy night in Los Angeles. The rest of the city is sleeping. The Wild Turkey is slowly taking its effect. The perfect time for the narcotic buzz of Oneiromantical War, the sixth album by Arlington, VA's one-man band Wrlnlrd. Claw away at its scaly skin of muffled guitar fuzz and you'll find a few competent old-school black metal riffs to latch on to, but that's not the point. Like fellow USBM bachelor Xasthur, Wrnlrd's lack of directness is an important part of his aesthetic, perhaps the important part. Drums are buried deep when they appear at all; tape hiss crackles like fire, enveloping the "proper" instruments; wordless vocals, spontaneously crafted, phase in and out of audibility.

Wrnlrd - "Silent Command"

Mostly bereft of the visceral power of black metal, Oneiromantical War operates on psychic levels instead. A Pitchfork interview from earlier this year revealed that Wrnlrd intended the first half of the album to represent a five-stage process of oneiromancy (predicting the future through dreams) applied to combat. Starting with the whooshing winds of "Nighthole," moving on to the throttled thud of "Silent Command" and ending with "Haxanic Stairway"'s tangle of sound samples, choked ambience and acoustic guitar tumbleweeds, the five-song sequence sure sounds like a complete, full-circle cranial excavation.  

Wrnlrd - "Haxanic Stairway"

The final track "War," then, is the post-excavation readout -- a Frankenstein suturing of all the sizzling mid-range and industrial ambience of the rest of Oneiromantical War. Wrnlrd's woozy chanting and acoustic brambles abut some nasty black metal sections, blanched out by Wrnlrd's fidelity-free sunsplat recording.  The whole thing has the flavor of suspended horrors and half-forgotten nightmares. Thankfully not yours.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mark Thompson's Coming Out Party

Last Saturday was the triumphant Torche/Black Cobra/Clouds show at Spaceland in L.A. It was also the birthday of Mark Thompson, GM of Hydra Head Records and star of the new Pelican music video, who invited about a hundred close friends, colleagues and other assorted hangers-on (I'm in that category) back to his Los Feliz bachelor pad to celebrate post-show. Members of Torche, Isis, Black Cobra, Intronaut and Helms Alee wandered about. There were more attractive women at Thompson's pad than I've seen in the past year of metal show-going. Alcohol flowed as freely as digs on Death Magnetic. It was a grand party. 

But nobody had more fun than Thompson himself. Apparently Mr. T was too wasted to remember that I showed up, even though he shot close-range footage of me on his iPhone. Last night, I ran into Thompson at the gallery opening for Peter Beste's True Norwegian Black Metal. After complimenting my parents on accompanying me to the black metal documentary Until the Light Takes Us on Halloween, he asked if I was at his party last week. Yes Mark, I was. And I've got the photograph of your defaced birthday cake to prove it (see above). You may have evaded death for another year, Mark Thompson, but you're still a bastard. And totally gay since 1995.