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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Book of Black Earth - Horoskopus (Prosthetic, 2008)

Seattle's Book of Black Earth was easily the standout opener on the recent Watain tour. The band balanced out the headliner's spectacular live show with a brutish presence that required no makeup, animal blood or flashy banners. BOBE's second full-length Horoskopus (following the overlooked Feast on 20 Buck Spin) comes across much the same way. The band's black-around-the-edges death metal feels regal but not pompous; TJ Cowgill brings his lyrics, centered on Christianity's roots in astrology, back down to earth with a gravelly roar. Those lyrics should be studied by death and black metal bands the world over -- they approach anti-Christianity from a very different (and non-academic) perspective than Satan-hailers are used to. 

The Book of Black Earth - "Total Control"
The Book of Black Earth - "God of War"

There's a compactness to the main riffs in "Total Control" and "Horoskripture" that hails from the early architects of Scandinavian death, melodic and non. The best tracks on Horoskopus leaven their riff simplicity with a grander design, like "God of War," which carries a heavy load up the doom mountain before tumbling back down in sputtering Behemoth blastbeats. THAT's drama. Some writers have complained about the underuse of keyboardist Hank Guthrie, but I think his organ beds enhance the mood without compromising Horoskopus's base rawness. You don't need anything to soothe the ears when your very band name suggests scorched-ness. 

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Spazz roundup

In celebration of the wild, wacky, hyperactive and omni-directional. Crash helmet recommended.

An Albatross - The An Albatross Family Album (Eyeball Records, 2008)

This album was not meant to be listened to in my apartment. It was meant to be heard during an Aztec ritual sacrifice, or in the middle of the Mojave desert with both band and you stoned off your collective ass, or at the very least in a small club, with Eddie B. Gieda III screaming 'til his neck veins pop and horns 'n electronics swirling overhead and a farfisa-drenched circus-stomp rhythm section bashing away recklessly like a ferris wheel breaking off its axis and rolling down the Santa Monica pier. 

An Albatross - "The Psychonaut and the Rustbelt"

A full 14 extra musicians labored over The An Albatross Family Album in addition to the core Wilkes-Barre, PA quintet, and it sure sounds like it. Not like An Albatross trade in linear songs to begin with, but there's nary a five-second segment that isn't smeared in track upon track of sundry musical detritus -- woodwinds and strings bubble over into snatches of klezmer/calypso/whatever, marimbas plunk underneath punked-up swing jazz. 

An Albatross - "Floodgates Released"

Mr. Bungle-style epilepsy is only one part of what's going on here. There's honest-to-goodness extremity lurking underneath the psychedelic goo, as filtered through the carnival punk of one of my ol' high school favorites, The Blue Meanies. Also: the album apparently takes up the story of a tribe of desert-dwelling pilgrims that bring the blueprints for peace and harmony back from space. Who cares what's happening lyrically? This is hippie music even without the story. The An Albatross Family Album is the sound of every style of music fucking every other musical style simultaneously. Free love manifested in sound!

Heavy Heavy Low Low - Turtle Nipple and the Toxic Shock (New Weathermen/Ferret, 2008)

Metal ain't for dancing. Hardcore, on the other hand,  has proven pretty adaptable to the dictates of the wiggly bottom; while by no means the first band to merge the two, the Blood Brothers made something vital by mating hardcore aggression with pogo-friendly post-punk. More immune to indie rock cred but almost as likely to break into a happy backbeat is the redundantly named Heavy Heavy Low Low, straight outta San Jose. 

HHLL - "3000, 100 Points, 100pts, Gummy Octopi"
HHLL - "Green Genes"

"Murder on the dancefloor" is about right; these dudes rip out yer piercings and safety pins and hair extensions, glue 'em on to their discordant punk for decorative purposes and grind away. Changes of direction come fast and frequent; Dillinger Escape Plan runs collide into devastating breakdowns (I'm still un-burying myself from the one at the end of "How Many Dad's Must Eat Themselves") and noisy pervert-disco. But no matter how weird Turtle Nipple gets, HHLL channels its unchecked ADHD tendencies through hyper-checked aggressive tendencies. Riffs are wiry and muscular, the guitar tone shears flesh on contact, and every performance is dialed to "rage." Especially vocalist/guitarist Dan Rankin -- might wanna stay away from the spittle forming around that dude's mouth. You can catch rabies another day.

Voetsek - Infernal Command (Selfmadegod, 2008)

Everything about Infernal Command screams '86 thrash, from the thunderous "Raining Blood"-style tom beats that open the album to the midrange-heavy mix to the pastel undead (drawn by Municipal Waste/Fueled by Fire artist Andrei Bouzikov) that adorn the cover. But passing off San Francisco's Voetsek (whose name means "fuck off!" in Afrikaans) as yet another thrash revival band would be a heinous mistake. If Vio-Lence and early Metallica are the bread and butter of Infernal Command, power violence gods Capitalist Casualties and Spazz are the meat and condiments. 

Voetsek - "Rethinking the Paradigm"

Voetsek amp up their thrash songs to ludicrous speeds, often rivaling Jon Chang's Hayaino Daisuki project for sheer velocity. No less impressive technically are the epileptic fits of "Sorry Don't Mean Shit" and "Rethinking the Paradigm," both cluster bombs of time signature and tempo changes that slide in and explode far too fast to wrap your head around. The absurdist energy is bolstered by cheeky scene humor in "W.W.L.D. (What Would Lemmy Do?)" and "Blueprint For the Perfect Circle Pit" ("Keep your knees up high / And forearms a swinging / Shoulders hunched over"). True to their forbears though, silliness is but one weapon in Voetsek's arsenal. They hurl their lightspeed attacks against coppers ("Bully With a Badge") and the war machine ("5 Years in Iraq"), even performing an eerie thrash version of the immortal anti-lynching song "Strange Fruit," first made famous by Billie Holiday.

Voetsek - "Strange Fruit"

Pissed-off, positive, excited, talented, caffeinated, political, asinine and totally serious, Voetsek has it all ways on Infernal Command, and gets it all right. Also of note: 2/5 of Voetsek is female, including vocal splatterizer Ami Lawless. Not that boobs have any effect, positive or negative, on the quality of Infernal Command. It's just another indication that Voetsek's breaking a lot of different molds here. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Hammers of Misfortune - "Election Day"

Hammers of Misfortune - "Election Day"

Like many others, I get sick of the two-party system costumed as democracy in America, and I'm wary of the media circus that surrounds elections, even (especially?) one as historic as this year's. But I do view voting, alongside constructive dissent, as an essential component of being an American, and one of the few activities in which I participate that makes me truly proud to live in this country. And so I present you with "Election Day," by the San Francisco prog-metal classicists Hammers of Misfortune. The song may be instrumental, but it's got exactly the right amounts of pomp and weedly-weedly organ grinding (think Thin Lizzy and ELP in a bi-partisan bear-hug) to fit perfectly as the soundtrack to your righteous stroll to the voting booth. My friends: Vote early. Vote last minute. Just vote.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

CHAINMAIL: Kowloon Walled City - Turk Street (Wordclock Records, 2008)

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

Back in late '07, before Cerebral Metalhead began posting in earnest and just a few months into their bandlife, San Francisco's Kowloon Walled City nabbed a terabyte of glowing praise from the metal blogosphere for the Turk Street demo. And hoo-boy, am I glad they're taking the proper version out to the digital debutante ball as well. Bolstered by two new tracks that weren't on the demo, this shit deserves all the attention it can get. Even without knowing that the band was named after the densely populated, drug-infested and now demolished Chinese enclave that rose like a 14-story dungheap in the middle of British Hong Kong, you can easily envision Turk Street's lurching riffs as condemned buildings, so tall and close that light gets suffocated before it reaches street level.

KWC mainlines a more "refined" version of Cavity and Unsane's slow-grooving sludge, the kind of metal with riffs like wrecking balls -- blunt and destructive, with a buried-deep swing. That's not to say that Turk Street (named after one of the seedier thoroughfares in San Francisco's infamous Tenderloin District) sounds spit-shined, just that KWC have whittled sludge down to its essence: oxygen-sucking guitars toppling out of massive amp stacks, bottom end that you can feel in your bones, dude hoarsely shouting apocalyptic pronouncements over the quaking. The EP feels raw, but not quite gangrenous. KWC use synchronized blows to hammer you into the ground like a human tent stake, as opposed to breaking bones individually and then salting the festering wounds with feedback and blues slop like, say, Eyehategod or Sourvein. 

It's a thoroughly dominating aesthetic, almost cold, but Kowloon Walled City are kind-hearted enough to offer Turk Street for free in its digital incarnation. There's also a hand-silkscreened CD version and a red translucent 10" vinyl option available for purchase at KWC's website, if you feel like supporting them financially. Which you should.  

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Akimbo - Jersey Shores (Neurot Recordings, 2008)

As sources of inspiration go, the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 couldn’t possibly be more metal. Powerful albums like Isis’s Oceanic (2002), Mastodon’s Leviathan (2004), Ahab’s The Call of the Wretched Sea (2006) and A Storm of Light’s And We Wept The Black Ocean Within (2008) all made waves with that theme of oceanic depths as symbolic of the unplumbed unconscious, but none of ‘em interrupted the sea’s placid depths with the real life blood ‘n guts of a bunch of great white sharks severing legs like Jersey Shores does. 33 years after Steven Spielberg rode the story’s psychological power to massive box office success with Jaws, Akimbo score with the Jersey shark attacks too. It’s a high water mark for the now decade-old trio from Seattle, as vicious and unpredictable as its subject matter.

Akimbo - "Matawan"

Forget what you know about Akimbo. Those loosely controlled, three-minute blasts of noisy post-hardcore we heard as recently as last year's Navigating the Bronze have been stretched, hardened and given ballroom-dancing lessons 'til they spill over the decks for seven-to-twelve minutes at a time. The sound of a slow-rolling tide ushers in the waltz-time rumble of "Matawan," and it doesn't take too long for the water to run red with blood. "Don't forget the tide / Her beasts dressed in blue" warns bassist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski, like he's struggling to catch his breath after running from the scene of one of the shark attacks. Nat Damm's drums froth hysterically. Aaron Walters's guitars erupt into crackling feedback. All three musicians unite for a 4/4 chomper to finish things off. 

Akimbo - "Great White Bull"

Akimbo are more beastly and disciplined than ever on Jersey Shores. "Lester Stillwell" (named after the third attack victim) surges from deep twang to explosive crush as sinuously as any noise-rock band since the mighty Drive Like Jehu; "Rogue" rams a vintage Jesus Lizard groove into a patch of Quicksand;  "Great White Bull" rocks one savage riff after another, matching the savagery of the album's final lyric: "Remember your place in this world / Mercy has no home among the waves." There's no gap between concept and execution here. Akimbo's riffs rip flesh from bone, and sleepy resort towns erupt in mass hysteria as you listen.

Sharpen your incisors at Akimbo's MySpace page.