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.