Sunday, October 26, 2008

Season Of Mist Roundup

The new Cynic album trounces everything else that Season of Mist released this year, but that's not saying much - the new Cynic album trounces almost everything released this year. 2008 has seen a typically varied release schedule from the venerable French indie metal label. For instance:

Esoteric - The Maniacal Vale (Season of Mist, 2008)

The first two albums by Birmingham, England's Esoteric flew the funeral doom freak flag high, stretching endlessly lurching un-riffs, swaddled in blackened blotting paper, over two discs of 10 to 20-minute death marches. The next two reigned in some of Esoteric's excesses -- the album-length exorcisms lasted 50 minutes instead of 90, and added hints of melancholic melody, less cluttered with psychedelics. Esoteric move very slowly forward on The Maniacal Vale. While they're back to the two-disc format and the average BPM still hovers in the single digits, the band's figured out how to maintain their dolorous majesty without trying our patience.

Esoteric - "Caucus of Mind"

The secret is variety. Esoteric's stretched-thin canvasses are slathered with all sorts of colors that we've not heard from them before. A Gilmour guitar solo floats through a few minutes in to "Circle" to match its Floydian ambience; tribal tom-thumping and clean tone guitar chimes send silvery tension echoing half way through "The Order of Destiny," before crashing back into a wall of doom. Most surprising are Esoteric's excursions into less-lumbering territory. Three minutes into "Beneath This Face" we get an explosion of symphonic black metal that ends almost as soon as it begins. And the first two minutes of "Caucus of Mind" transform Esoteric into a truly excellent death metal band -- Greg Chandler's vocals take on that hurled-low evilness that Nile's Karl Sanders does so well. These moments are too fleeting to constitute a change of identity for Esoteric. They do point to even more exciting things to come.

Arkan - Hilal (Season of Mist, 2008)

Moonspell and Orphaned Land got there first, and Melechesh do it best. With Hilal, the French-Algerian band Arkan (founded by The Old Dead Tree drummer Foued Moukid) adds another record worth hearing to the small canon of metal influenced by the music of the Middle East. Time was, the very act of fusing western and non-western influences was as exciting musically as it was politically. Twelve years removed from Sepultura's Roots, it's fair to expect more than an unconventional percussion instrument here and a dude singing in a foreign language there.   

Arkan - "Lords Decline"

Arkan deliver about half of the time. Songs like "Tied Fates" and "The Seven Gates" are not state-of-the-art as far as death metal is concerned, but they do integrate Arabic modes and death metal riffage efficiently and seamlessly, with a minimum of postcolonial pandering. "Chaos Cypher" could be a lost Nile single if it were a touch more brutal. A little too often though, a wordless female vocal creeps in just to lend an exotic flair or justify a needless vamp (most of these songs are about two minutes too long); the oud, mandole and derbouka are largely relegated to intros, outros and interlude tracks, rather than getting woven into the fabric of Arkan's music. Still, Hilal is an admirably ambitious undertaking, and given how easy it is for a folk-metal band to lapse into self-parody or lame cliché, it's a wonder that the album succeeds as often as it does. 

Outlaw Order - Dragging Down the Enforcer (Season of Mist, 2008)

I'm a law abiding citizen. I've never gotten belligerently drunk in public or started a fistfight. No major drug offenses or jaywalking tickets or firearms charges. I report my taxes and pay my bills on time and leave notes on strangers' cars if I accidentally knock into them while parallel parking. I generally respect authority unless I have a good reason not to. So why is it that I can't get enough of this debut platter from Outlaw Order, a band comprising four current and one former Eyehategod members, all of whom were on probation at the time the band formed?

Outlaw Order - "Safety Off"

Vicarious thrills, most likely. Even if song titles like "Double Barrel Solves Everything" and "Alcohol Tobacco Firearms" are a lil' tongue-in-cheek, Dragging Down the Enforcer feels like a window into a world of filth and mistrust that I just wouldn't understand -- I don't know what it's like to be broke and fucked up and over and then to lose everything I own in a massive hurricane (or "tornado-bitch," as the press release colorfully describes Katrina).

Outlaw Order - "Narco-Terroristos"

There's also the fact that this album RULES. Predictably it sounds a lot like Eyehategod, but a faster, more compacted, explosive version, if that's possible. Those sewer-scum riffs change gears from doom to raw punk to heavy blues almost as often as they do in guitarist Brian Patton's OTHER other band Soilent Green, but the shifts are way smoother -- automatic transmission to SG's manual. Guitar solos rise like fetid swamp gas. This is probably the best album Mike Williams has screamed over since Dopesick. I wouldn't wish the pain or incarceration that fed in to Dragging Down the Enforcer upon anyone, but it's done good for Outlaw Order, artistically speaking. In just 27 minutes, the band's turned this lilly-white pussyboy into a pig destroyer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Morbid-Off 2008: Angel v. Obesity

I haven't been in the metal blogging game long enough to know if this "Venn pentagram" has been circulating for years already. If not, bask in the glory. If yes, bask in the glory again, dammit! To this bulbous matrix I would add the following dualities: 

Altars of Madness / Counters of Fatness
Formulas Fatal to the Flesh / Recipes Cradle More Flesh
Gateways of Annihilation / Gateways to Refrigeration
Pete Sandoval / Eat Sandwich - All!

Anyone got a better pun? The groanier the better.

Thanks to my pal Zach Hothorn for sending along the image. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

CHAINMAIL: Karloff - The Nightmare, Between Godliness & Sin (self-released, 2008)

In the new CHAINMAIL section, I examine bands that were proactive enough to e-mail me directly and request a review. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

Let's all give a warm welcome to Karloff, from Fort Wayne, Indiana. They want you to hear their two EPs so bad that they're offering them for free on their MySpace page. This stuff is worth paying for, but let's not look a gift crust-punk band with a digital drummer in the mouth, hmmm? These dudes attempt to convince us that twelve minutes constitutes enough music for two releases and mostly succeed.

The Nightmare begins and ends with the same thudding drum loop, like a bizarro backwards version of the totemic "We Will Rock You" beat, and in between doles out five minutes of powerfully violent crusty punk. Karloff have clearly heard a few His Hero Is Gone reecords, and if their reliance on a drum machine keeps 'em from descending to the muscley filth of the best HHIG, they've definitely got the dynamism figured out. 

Karloff - "Up to Snuff"

When you're dealing with songs that range from 0:53 to 1:19, "dynamic" might mean there's a few seconds of vicious grind and then a few more seconds of slower sludge and then finis. That's just fine though -- "Up to Snuff" and "Eternal Ruin" feel fully-developed even in their brevity, unfiltered in their hatred. This is the stuff that posthumous anthology CDs are made of. 

Consider Between Godliness and Sin an abbreviated odds 'n sods record. A cover of Joy Division's "The Drawback" starts it up (and gives the EP its name), a cover of Suicidal Tendencies' "I Shot the Devil" finishes it off, and over half of "The Patriarch" is devoted to a dialogue sample from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, adding up to a generous 2:36 of original tunage.   

Karloff - "The Drawback" (Joy Division)

The remaining two songs seem more elementary than their counterparts on The Nightmare, with simple hardcore chords and vox blaring over a drum machine set to grind, whose tappa-tappa faux-snare gets pretty irritating on "End to an End." Karloff don't do much with the Suicidal Tendencies cover, which was already plenty raging to begin with. The straightforward grindcore interpretation of "The Drawback" is a minor revelation, in how effectively it reminds us that Joy Division was a proper punk band before recording their gloomy studio albums. Again, the rigid drum machine sound prevents Karloff's songs from recklessly barreling through my speakers like they could. I'm guessing that's not so much of a problem when you're watching them from five feet away at a fetid basement show somewhere in downtown Fort Wayne.    

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Samothrace - Life's Trade (20 Buck Spin, 2008)

You may cry while listening to Life's Trade. Your tears will be real, honest tears, borne of the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is so acquainted with hopelessness that he can capture it in sound, carve it in stone so transparently with weeping guitars and funeral procession drums and deep screams that creep up the vertebrae like they were rungs on a ladder. That this heart-rending expression of pain comes from a Kansan doom metal band named after an ancient Greek island matters not. Life’s Trade is as purely emotional an album as you will find in any genre, and if you can’t at least perceive that, there is no hope for your soul.

Samothrace - "Cacophony"

Despair wears many guises in heavy metal, whether it’s the doleful sorrow of English gothic doom, or the nihilistic hatred of Norwegian black metal. Samothrace looks closer to home for inspiration, straight to the dusty well of southern blues. But there is none of Eyehategod’s ugly, whisky-soaked lurching on Life’s Trade. “Cacophony” is anything but -- its thick, tolling chords sound like the mournful hell-howling of Robert Johnson, corroded by distortion pedals and vocal nodules but beautiful all the same. Guitarists Bryan Spinks and Renata Castagna jam their molten riffs like a metallicized Allman Brothers; solos glide delicately over the end-vamps of “La Llorona” and “Cacophony,” raw and virtuosic as vintage J. Mascis.

Lyrics are short and telegraphic, vehicles for Spinks' throaty scours. "Life's Trade. Souls sold. Weight's felt. Gods break." Strained vowels stretch out over the long expanses between guitar crashes, electric winds howling over the plains. Producer Sanford Parker (Nachtmystium, Buried At Sea, Indian) proves once again that he can squeeze nuance out of even the most overpowering sounds. Doom metal rarely feels this personal.  

Saturday, October 11, 2008

CHAINMAIL: Lotus Porcus - Camarão Bastardo demo (self-released, 2008)

In the new CHAINMAIL section, I examine bands that were proactive enough to e-mail me directly and request a review. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

Portuguese duo Lotus Porcus (Latin for "Pork Lottery," perhaps?) make fairly standard melodic black metal with some deathy bits, but the five-song Camarão Bastardo turns out to be a lot more fun than the average album by your average Satyricon clone. Any metal band silly enough to name its demo "Bastard Shrimp" has something besides BM grandiloquence on its mind. Who knows what the hell bassist/programmer Runus Bacus and guitarist/programmer Almis Produs are growling about? The flagon-swinging chorus of "Bacalhau Personalizado," bloopy electronics that purposefully (I hope) don't mix with "Carne Para As Minhas Lebres" and ridiculous mewling behind "A Marca do Porco" say plenty -- Lotus Porcus love metal too much to take it completely seriously. That goes for the song titles, which translate variously as "Personalized Cod," "Meat For My Rabbits" and "Mark of the Pig."

Lotus Porcus - "Carne para as minhas lebres" (Meat For My Rabbits)
Lotus Porcus - "A Marca do Porco" (Mark of the Pig)

The sound quality on Camarão Bastardo is decent for a demo, with the exception of the horrid mixing on "Gato Preto," an expendable alt-rock ballad that serves as a good excuse for a tongue-in-cheek video and that's about it. Programmed drums sound terrific. Here we have another reminder of how technology is flattening the world. I haven't encountered Lotus Porcus's hometown of Lisbon, Portugal since the last time I played Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego? (well, there was that Moonspell review), and yet here comes an unknown, unsigned metal project nearly as offbeat and enjoyable as Strapping Young Lad or DHG. Bring on the full-length, gents, and don't forget the feijoada

Also: the title "Bastard Shrimp" reminds me of one of my all-time favorite bad jokes. Thanks to Matt Gasteier for this one: 

Q: What do you call the illegitimate offspring of a lobster and a clam? 
A: A shellfish bastard.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I'm mad as hell!

I've already addressed the following phenomenon in my recent review of the Don the Reader album Humanesque (read my review here), but I thought it deserved a slightly fuller examination. I recently realized that the Don the Reader track "Con-Sciolist" used a sample from the exact same speech from Network (1976) as Mouth of the Architect used in their recent album Quietly. After a lil' Googling I discovered that the instrumental rock band Maybeshewill also used a clip from the exact same speech in an album they released earlier this year. Here's the source material:

And the three songs that use it: 

Don the Reader - "Con-Sciolist" (from Humanesque) (sample at 3:02)
Mouth of the Architect - "Hate and Heartache" (from Quietly) (sample at beginning)
Maybeshewill - "Not For Want of Trying" (from Not For Want of Trying) (sample at 1:34)

Three instances of the same sample on three different records released within a five-month span. Surely this is a simple case of serendipity. There's of course nothing wrong with three bands having the same great taste in samples (I bet it'd be tough to find a single line from Scarface that hasn't been sampled on a rap album), and of course this speech is still as chillingly relevant now as it was 30 years ago. A sample can grant an insta-message where otherwise there might be none perceivable, akin to Berlioz or Strauss using published programs to "explain" their works. In heavy metal though, messages are usually so clearly and directly conveyed that samples seem a little pat if they're used for anything other than shock/hilarity, as with Mortician or Graf Orlock. In the case of the instrumental and mostly-instrumental Maybeshewill/Mouth of the Architect songs, can we view the Network sample as anything other than an attempt to imbue meaning where there otherwise is none? And is it a coincidence that the Don the Reader and Mouth of the Architect samples are both accompanied by soupy post-rock guitars, so often used to connote depth?