Sunday, August 24, 2008

Head On Collision - Ritual Sacrifice (Beer City, 2008)

A scene at a St. Louis Payless Shoe Source:

HEAD ON COLLISION: Hey man, where can we find some white hightops?
PAYLESS CASHIER: Sorry dudes, we're all out. They've been on back order for two years.
HEAD ON COLLISION: Are you freakin' kiddin' me??? It's like the most generic kind of shoe you could ask for!
PAYLESS CASHIER: You boys got here a little late -- Warbringer, Evile, Merciless Death, Fueled By Fire, Avenger of Blood, Municipal Waste, Bonded By Blood, Violator, Toxic Holocaust and Blood Tsunami snapped up the last 50 pairs.
HEAD ON COLLISION: Damn boys, we gotta haul ass to Hot Topic before they sell out of bullet belts.

You don't really have to listen to St. Louis's Head On Collision for the same reason that you don't really need to listen to any of the other dozens of greenhorn thrash bands snatching up all the skinny jeans over the last year: they bring absolutely nothing new to metal, at best offering high quality re-treads of your favorite Exodus, Vio-Lence and Death Angel tracks, at worst sounding like faceless, redundant wastes of dexterous picking abilities.

Head On Collision - "Violence and Aggression"

Originality is out of the question, so what's left? As thrash revivalists go, Head On Collision are pretty varied in the sources of their cribbage. "Violence and Aggression" is a straight re-write of Slayer's "Angel of Death," down to the opening vocal pattern. "Fear" encompasses the creeping melodies of Ride the Lightning-era Metallica, while the belt-fed riffs of some tracks approach death metal chromaticism. Bay Area gang vox pop up occasionally, and there's a lot of Tom G. Warrior in Pat McCauley's vocals, which is a good thing considering Head on Collision's lyrics rehash the same ol' topics of fear, war, aggression and death, in the same didactic ways as their influences.

Head On Collision - "Fear"

Then there's the elusive quality of "conviction," which is certainly present in Head on Collision's vicious guitar tone and slightly muddy production. But every great 80s thrash band had conviction, and to me, the studied seriousness of Ritual Sacrifice just throws into sharper relief how little the band has to offer. Even a note-perfect recreation of ye olde thrash metal (which Ritual Sacrifice isn't) doesn't scratch my thrash itch, because after 20 years of dormancy, I'm not really itching anymore. Dated and proud, Head On Collision are only for serious metal time capsule types.

Thrash 'til the break of yawn at Head On Collision's MySpace page

Monday, August 18, 2008

Vader - XXV (Regain Records, 2008)

Like other venerable but traditional death metal bands (say, Malevolent Creation and Bolt Thrower), Poland's Vader just never flew over my radar -- I wasn't yet under the thrall of Vader in the band's mid-90s heyday, and by the time their Polish descendants Decapitated had the opportunity to turn my ears back to the source, I'd already moved on to less conservative forms of death metal. But while I may be less qualified to cover XXV than any other album I've reviewed here on Cerebral Metalhead, I'm also part of its target audience. Who else but Vader neophytes could possibly benefit from a two-disc smorgasbord of re-recorded tracks from throughout the band's career?

Even without knowing the originals, I'm skeptical of any project that includes re-recordings of songs originally released just four years ago ("Dark Transmissions" first appeared on The Beast, from 2004). On the flipside, longtime Vader fans could justifiably bitch and moan about how the original, rawer recordings of the earlier material preserve the ferocity of the music much better than the clean production jobs on XXV. Well ya know what? Fuck 'em all. Every song on XXV sounds fantastic fidelity-wise, and just raw enough to shred that Iron Curtain to bits. 

Vader - "Final Massacre"

Early tracks "Final Massacre" and "Chaos" (from 1989's Necrolust and 1990's Morbid Reich demos, respectively) find Vader converting the ubiquitous Slayer influence into something more mechanical and conventionally death metal. Blastbeats are prevalent, but more importantly, there's a groove-centric rigidity that seeps into  Vader's songs, uncommon to death metal from the late 80s. That rhythmic precision becomes ever more pronounced as the band gets older -- a track like "Kingdom" fashions a huge, mid-tempo groove out of the tension between robotic tremolo guitar and open space. Vocalist/guitarist Piotr Wiwczarek splits the difference between the cookie growl and Akerfeldt roar, handily earning my vote for frontman of the next Bloodbath album (s'pose he'd have to pledge fealty to Sweden first).

Vader - "Kingdom"

New ground? To these ears, there's little of it in the last ten years' worth at least of material here, but of course that's not the point. I'm gonna remember XXV as the release that kicked my ass to start listening to Vader. 

A priest, a rabbi and a Polish death metal band walk into a bar at Vader's official website...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Chingalera - Dose (Pacific Recordings, 2008)

Great as it can feel to mercilessly savage a band that deserves it, I like it when a horrid band improves, especially when it's a bunch of local boys. Call it my faith in the inherent potential of all creators, or at least the inherent worth of creativity. LA trio Chingalera couldn't have done much worse on their debut In the Shadow of the Great Palm Tree, an album that aimed way too high (and too long), wasted Steve Albini on a turd-polishing job, then shot a classy DVD to document the whole debacle. While the follow-up Dose is in no danger of infiltrating my top 20 this year, or even making its way to my CD player more than twice, it's a lot better than its predecessor, and that's worth a few high fives.

Chingalera go for the Isis/Mouth of the Architect trick of repeating small collections of simple, economical riffs, morphing them into different shapes by changing tones and dynamics, but this ain't no post-metal record -- there's more sludgy bottom-end trolling than cosmic space-noodling. "The Endless Bummer" and the first half of "Eveler" (dedicated to Evel Knievel) push forth with Helmet-style momentum, a trait lacking on In the Shadow. In "Fake Maria," Chingalera have written their first top-to-bottom great song, replete with a chugtastic opening salvo and an inventive stab at dub-metal to close it out. The band's totally locked-in instrumentally, and even Dave Gibney's vocal style, one of the previous record's weakest links, has hardened into an effective melodic shout.

Chingalera - "Fake Maria"

And yet as much as Chingalera have improved their core sound, they continue to shoot themselves in the collective foot by drawing even their best ideas past the expiration point. Positioned as track number two, the 16-minute ambient instrumental "You Were Happy When You Came In Here" is a near fatal misstep, the kind of bullshit time-waster that a more sensible band would have capped at two minutes and used as a moody intro track. The other four tracks, each averaging about ten minutes, eventually run out of steam or fail to cohere into the epic pieces of work they were intended to be -- "Twenty Three" in particular has some great perverted Melvins riffs, but tames 'em with lame social commentary ("LAPD, stay away from me / It's hotter than Las Vegas and the hills are on fire / Kids having kids having kids / Skate or die / Skate to create"). Vocal cameos from Keith Morris (Circle Jerks), Pete Stahl (Goatsnake) and Eddie Solis (It's Casual) don't add enough excitement to warrant the track's 13-minute length. 

The ambition is there, the sound is there, the musicianship is there. Chingalera's still got a ways to go in the self-editing department if they want to keep me engaged for an entire album. Kudos on the improvements, Chingalera, but I'm sure you can do better than Dose.

Get a Dose of Chingalera at the band's MySpace page