Wednesday, March 25, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Hex Machine - Omen Mas (Minimum Underdrive, 2009)

Today is unofficial Dave Witte day at the Cerebral Metalhead compound. At my day job, I suggested Municipal Waste to a music supervisor looking for local music talent for an upcoming TV drama set in Richmond, VA. Then I got a call from Jon Chang of Discordance Axis/Hayaino Daisuki/Gridlink, who was apparently referred to me by Mr. Witte himself. And now I'm gonna drop some pseudo-science on the debut album by Hex Machine, whose gristly grooves were once bashed by the Wittester, before his drinking duties with Municipal Waste become too involved for him to continue playing with every band on the planet.  

Let not the departure of this band's sorta famous drummer deter you -- Hex Machine brutalize as is. Omen Mas timewarps to an era when grunge and metal were still lounging around in bed post-coitus, the early-90s heyday of Melvins and Today Is the Day and Cows, when Amphetamine Reptile could do no wrong and production clarity was for assholes. Every deranged riff is dipped in electric tempura batter and fried 'til crispy, every one of Trevor T's honest-to-Satan melodies is corroded in feedback. Heavier tracks like "Nurse Me Back to Hell" and "Godheads Full of Candy" crawl in the dirt and puke up mud. The more rockin' numbers drag the filth out into the light -- Hex Machine sound like elephants in tutus on "Black Skeleton" and "Vivisection," their bulging, gritty guitar tone stuffed into awfully well-formed songs.

Hex Machine's metallic allegiances keep 'em punching guts, and their grungey tendencies keep 'em frying eardrums. Like Black Elk, Bellini and other graduates of the 90s noise rock academy, there's chaos nearly bursting out of the grimy pores of Omen Mas. I wonder what the album would have sounded like with a bigger, less-muzzled production. Probably a lot more palatable. Maybe it's a good thing that the sound is so dirty. Who knows what would happen if Hex Machine were unmuzzled? Shit, I wanna find out...


Friday, March 20, 2009

Mumakil - Behold the Failure (Relapse, 2009)

Relapse has released a solid crop of albums in 1Q09. Cerebral Metalhead will review one of them a day this week.

One of my favorite lame music critic clichés is relating a band's music to its provenance. Of course Norwegian metal will be bleak and frosty -- just look at those fjords! Antaeus and Deathspell Omega? haughty and condescending, like everyone in France. New Orleans sludge bands have that sloppy, misanthropic sound 'cuz they all live in a humid, drained swamp. That kind of analysis falls apart when you're dealing with Mumakil. Let's consider that bastard on the cover a stand-in for this Swiss quartet (the band's named after giant war elephants from the Tolkien mythos). I'm guessing he isn't too interested in being a tax shelter for billionaire white collar criminals, and he sure as hell ain't politically neutral.   

Blasty-blasty death-grind, pithy and unpretentious. You know/love this shit. You own the entire Pig Destroyer, Misery Index and Rotten Sound catalogs. Considering that every single one of its 27 tracks is, how shall we say, upbeat and in C minor, Behold the Failure could have been far less variegated than it is. Some tracks tattoo grooves with death metal tremolo; others let the drums do the talking and stampede right on by, skewering the unprepared on their tusks like grindcore kebabs. Buried within Mumakil's blastbeat caskets are a whole lot of chops -- I hear the jiggly dexterity that guitarist Jéjé and bassist Taverne shared as ex-members of the mighty Knut

Duh this is belligerent music, but Mumakil display a caustic wit in their tirades against all the familiar faces in the grindcore rogue's gallery: war-mongering politicians ("The kings of the earth / In their quest of power / Have condemned us all"), hypocritical cops ("You chose to become a cop / On your face I piss") and fascist religious institutions ("Thanks to god for making me discover / A two-thousand year old shame") each get shat upon. The haranguing is merciless, even more so than the music. Oh, and how about this gem: "The right to disagree has been removed / But you didn't move / Keep an eye on your right to breathe." Zing! Someone call up Schwarzenegger to record that one for a soundboard, pronto! 

Pre-order Behold the Failure at Amazon

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Inevitable End - The Severed Inception (Relapse, 2009)

Relapse has released a solid crop of albums in 1Q09. Cerebral Metalhead will review one of them a day this week.

Do I have no radar for irony? Am I crazy? Or is everybody else? Why is it so difficult to find any evidence linking Swedish death-grinders Inevitable End with the devout Christ-worship that their debut LP The Severed Inception hints at? Does nobody read lyrics anymore? Did you not notice that line that reads "Keeper of life, you are the only true satisfaction / Now rise!" from "Embracing the Origin?" Or the part from "Collapse in Reverse" that reads "The Christ himself is eternal insight / All secrets are hidden in him / He holds the key to your freedom?" This shit is full on evangelism. And it worries me a bit that nobody has picked up on it, that Relapse's publicity corps mentioned nothing of it in their press release that accompanied the album. In a recent interview, an unnamed member of Inevitable End wrote "society is on a downfall as the organized system through politics, religions etc. steal (sic) the freedom of mankind." Huzzah for picking up on a point that's been obvious for centuries, but have you read your own band's lyrics?

My worry is less that the message itself is inherently dangerous -- I'm generally in favor of alternate perspectives in metal, even (especially?) those that seem anathema to metal dogma -- and more that Inevitable End and their handlers seem so averse to acknowledging said perspectives. Are they afraid that the band's music isn't strong enough to combat the outpouring of ignorance that would surely flow if Inevitable End were revealed as a quartet of God-fearing Swedes? Maybe the dissonance between the band's Christ-pimping and peppy Cryptopsy vs. Aborted via Behemoth brutalism is too extreme for fans to handle? Either way, something smells awfully fishy on The Severed Inception, and it ain't just the formaldehyde-soaked snake on the cover.

Amazon (download)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Antigama - Warning (Relapse, 2009)

Relapse has released a solid crop of albums in 1Q09. Cerebral Metalhead will review one of them a day this week.

Grindcore's all about the whole-band assault, the ampjacking blitzkrieg that kicks ya in the nuts and doesn't stick around long enough to hear you make the high-pitched sound that you make when you're kicked in the nuts. Poland's Antigama perform their fair share of testicle-smashing hit 'n runs on their fifth LP Warning, but there's also a nasty strain of weirdness that runs through the album like crude oil through the Druzhba pipeline.

Said musical fuckery goes beyond deliberate red herring tracks like "Sequenzia Dellamorte." Warning rarely misses an opportunity to undercut its own blasting brutality with treated guitars, rock 'n roll swing ("Lost Skull") or 7/8 grooves ("Empty Room"), and my GAWD, drummer Krzysztof Bentkowski does some awfully cool things with cymbals and toms. Grind turning in upon itself in recursive patterns, perfectly evoked by Orion Landau's Escher-esque album art.

That Warning is essentially a re-write of their last album Resonance (2007), down to the throwaway second installment in Antigama's "Barbapapex" franchise, matters not at all. Once again, Antigama integrate the quirks perfectly with the jagged blasty stuff. What might have been yet another Locust-style, spazz grind band has become one of the more forward-thinking grindcore acts we've got today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Buried Inside - Spoils of Failure (Relapse, 2009)

Relapse has released a solid crop of albums in 1Q09. Cerebral Metalhead will review one of them a day this week.

The last album by Buried Inside, Chronoclast (2005), was a meditation on how the nature of time is manipulated by human interests. Strong as the music on that album was, the follow-up Spoils of Failure would have been a better match for Chronoclast's high-minded concept. Songs move forward with the measured, discrete motion of clock hands. Guitars rub against static bass pedal points in circular patterns. Drummer Michael Godbout's rigid, martial snare and tom rolls tighten the tension screws. These lengthy songs (all but one eclipse the six-minute mark) tick-tock towards some Sisyphusian end, but each time the tension threatens to crest and recede, it just keeps on cresting. The post-hardcore surges are similar to that of Envy or Burst, but the relentless upward tack sets Buried Inside apart, and makes Spoils of Failure an even more difficult album to endure.

I applaud Buried Inside for addressing such unsexy metal topics as the function of language ("I") and the teleology of definitions ("IV"). There is disconnect, however, between the blood-red of the music here and the steel-grey of its screamed philosophical diatribes. Buried Inside are at their best when they convey their ideas poetically -- compare "Necessity is the plea for every extension/For every elaboration of the twin gospels of service provision and security restraint: the folded geographies that demarcate all worth" from "VIII" with another line from the same song: "Necessity will bring severed hands, forked-out eyes, and ripped-off limbs scattered along frontiers and abandoned in gutters as the dregs of desperation." Same idea, inscribed two very different ways. The former requires parsing while the latter sings fluidly. I prefer my lessons in embodied technology to be couched in ugly images, rendered uglier by the charred throats of hostile Canadians.

Find out what's buried inside the website of Buried Inside

Buy Spoils of Failure:
Amazon Relapse store

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tombs - Winter Hours (Relapse, 2009)

Relapse has released a solid crop of albums in 1Q09. Cerebral Metalhead will review one of them a day this week.

Ah, the sound of fulfilled potential. I was fond enough of the messy debut EP by Tombs, the Brooklyn trio fronted by Anodyne/Versoma founder Mike Hill, in the way that I was fond of, say, early Genghis Tron: the band had something, but it was just too all over the place to focus on that something. Not so with Winter Hours. Like its predecessor, Winter Hours summons thunder from several different universes of sonic abandon: the meta-crush of Neurosis, Justin Broadrick's diverse waterloggings, the noise-addled rock of Trail of Dead. This time around, Tombs have added the rhythmic overload of black metal and corralled the lot with songs that take full advantage of Hill's staggering recording. Winter Hours straps concrete shoes on even those elements of Tombs' sound that didn't need any heavifying. 

Justin Ennis's drums on "Gossamer" and "Merrimack" pound like he's playing with human femurs instead of drumsticks. Black metal has none of its necrotic overtones on "Golden Eyes" and "Filled With Secrets." Set against Hill's mile-wide guitar plumes, Ennis's blastbeats clatter and thump like a rickety wooden roller coaster, only to plunge off the rails and crash into cavernous riff fissures. That shit explodes, singes speaker cones, spills toxic guitar noise everywhere. The edges are rough, the volume barely contained on Winter Hours. Hill's pedal board turns punk into heavy punk, dirty sludge into apocalyptic pronouncements, post-metal reverb soup into insulation against the cold. The album may be called Winter Hours, but it radiates heat and power. And, if you buy a new CD copy, the booklet also radiates the most fantastic fresh ink scent.

Fulfill your potential at Tombs' MySpace page

Relapse store

Tombs On Tour:

With Pelican/Dredg
March 16 Kansas City, MO: Riot Room
March 17 Tulsa, OK: The Marquee
March 18 San Antonio, TX: Scout Bar (w/ Tricky)

With Pelican/Wolves In the Throne Room
March 19 Little Rock, AR: Vino’s
March 22 Austin, TX: Red 7
March 25 Tempe, AZ: The Sets
March 26 San Diego, CA: The Casbah
March 27 Los Angeles, CA: Troubadour
March 28 San Francisco, CA: Slim’s
March 29 Portland, OR: Hawthorne Theatre
March 30 Bellingham, WA: Nightlight Lounge
March 31 Seattle, WA: Neumo’s
April 2 Salt Lake City, UT: Club Vegas
April 3 Denver, CO: Marquis Theatre
April 5 Chicago, IL: Empty Bottle

With Black Anvil, Defeatist
April 17 Brooklyn, NY: Alligator Greenpoint

Friday, March 13, 2009

Khors - Mysticism (Paragon Records, 2008)

Doesn't that giant eye on the cover of Mysticism make you want to poke it? Youch! I sort of want to poke Khors's session keyboardist Saturious, too, and not in the "friendly" or "euphemism for sex" or "pointless Facebook utility" way. More in the "stop pretending you're in Duran Duran" way. Seriously, some of the horrid synth sounds deployed on the Ukrainian pagan metal band's third album could have soundtracked the love scene in Top Gun. Subtract the heavy guitar parts from "Red Mirrors" and the song could be marketed to goths as bathtub music. 

Those overbearing atmospherics detract from what would otherwise be a palatable, if unremarkable, pagan progressive black metal album. Helg's chest-beating growls and the band's clear, sonorous chords remind of mid-period Katatonia or Daylight Dies if they dropped the depression and interesting chord progressions. Khors layer simple, clear chords with acoustic picking and electric leads -- a big textured sound, perhaps an evocation of the forests of myth that Helg sings about ("Ancient forest falls asleep / And the wolves, they gently weep/ Doleful songs to lonely moon/ And the winter’s coming soon"). The lack of dissonance or variation in Khors's downcast tone means that the album feels less compelling as it goes on. A search for danger, risk, even memorable songwriting comes up short, with just that sumptuous atmosphere carrying over after Mysticism rolls through the forest. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Seizure Crypt - Under the Gun (self-released, 2009)

You see that horrible cover photo and the band logo ripped straight from an econo-size jar of protein powder, and you imagine a shitty local band doing sloppy nu-metal, yeah? I sure did. Get past the un-pro parts (that also includes a bare bones mixing job worthy of an early SST record) and you'll find a cheeky NYC hardcore band that takes itself even less seriously than you do. And I love 'em for it. There's plenty of Suicidal Tendencies in the way that Seizure Crypt mix old-skool posturing and batshit insanity on Under the Gun, and it's the latter that makes this one such a hoot. Vocalist/guitarist Mike SOS is a fuckin' riot, countering his bandmate's meh hardcore bark with a rabid vocal style somewhere between Jello Biafra and Bruce Lee (is he actually gargling at the end of "In This Day?"). 

Seizure Crypt have a lot on their minds, and they let it all out in charming New York accents, even if it results in some pleasant cognitive dissonance. So we get a critical exposé of a violent relationship ("No Room Left to Bleed") then the giddy paean to medieval violence, "Fight to Kill" ("Sweaty, swollen, bloody flesh / My sledgehammer will bring your death!"). Songs about drug addiction and the dangers of religion abut a story about a crazy cat lady. All part of the band's ecumenical worldview...who says you can't throw down the social commentary at a raging kegger? There's that same discursiveness compositionally, too, ranging from straight-up hardcore to so-wild-it's-nearly-power-violence fantasias. 21-minute releases rarely cover this much ground. And totally amateur-sounding records are rarely this much fun. 

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Maegashira - The Stark Arctic (Spare Change, 2009)

In an October '08 Invisible Oranges post about Thou's Peasant, the honorable Cosmo Lee averred that any doom band with the right combination of downtuned guitars, amps turned to 11 and a sub-20 bpm drumbeat could yield insta-crush. Agreed, but doom's margin for error is consequently pretty small. Getting the aesthetic right and wielding it well are poles apart. For example: New Jersey's Maegashira (named after a sumo wrestling rank), fronted by Metal Maniacs (R.I.P.) scribe J.J. Koczan, have enough surly attitude and tube-amped, toked-out patience for five St. Vitus tribute albums. Vibe alone does not a great doom album make. The songs on Stark Arctic are so boring that the authentic doom feel doesn't much matter.

A lot of The Stark Arctic is pure Eyehategod sludge misanthropy. Not that I'm opposed to disappointing post-metal fans, but ain't it a little misleading to swaddle an album in desolate wintry graphics and matching album title when the tunage inside is filled to the brim with humid Bayou swamp gas? Especially when you're from Jersey? The album's "Planet Caravan" style drone intro builds anticipation for the frigid Isis waves that will surely follow. But no, it's onwards to 'Nawlins amateur hour, as "Caribou Crossing" kicks in with a shiftless boogie metal groove. Koczan tries his best to inject some interest with a full arsenal of shrieks, bellows and screams, but his bandmates have a tough time keeping up, literally. The instruments here are frequently laughably out of synch -- check the chiming guitar overdub towards the end of the below "Baggage Claim/Skin Slip" excerpt for a really egregious example. 

Good stuff: lyrics to the righteous hipster dis track "Hi From Jersey" ("Silver spoon of your apathy / The implement by which I force-feed...Fuck your band / Fuck your scene / And your sunglasses") and drummer Steven Moraghan's solo at the end of "Baggage Claim/Skin Slip," a forecast of a tight jam that is never to come. There is a certain looseness that we expect from stoned doom bands like Maegashira, and if that's your only criteria for enjoyment of this stuff, maybe Stark Arctic will be the soundtrack to your next visit to White Castle. Me, I'ma find something else to keep me baked as I coast up the I-95. Maegashira still have a ways to go 'til they become yokozuna of the doom metal ring. 

Receive a hundred hand slaps at Maegashira's MySpace page