Thursday, July 30, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Dogs of Winter - From Soil to Shale (Lapdance Academy, 2009)

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

Oh hey, vocal melodies! I remember those. Back before my trapezius was in danger of snapping from too much headbanging, bands like Jawbox and Quicksand dominated the 6-CD cartridge I slipped into the back of my old Volvo station wagon. They wrote smart, taut post-hardcore with yeasty melodies and interesting time signature switches and an ear towards heavy atmosphere, if not actual metal riffage. Dogs of Winter's debut album From Soil to Shale shares all of the above qualities and amps up the awesome singer quotient to two: When not screaming at each other, Brian Grosz and Ryan Dowd sing harmonies like they're actually arguing their points in tandem. Intertwining guitar/bass lines are just as smartly arranged. Drummer Dave Valle plays equal parts pocket groove machine and steady rock 'n roll pounder. It's refreshing to hear an album wherein every track sounds like its own entity. Between Dogs of Winter and Goes Cube (reviewed here), Brooklyn's becoming an epicenter for tuneful, genreless heavy trios. I'm a big fan. 

"Player Piano"

"Hand Over Fist"

It's important to note that Dogs of Winter have all the ancillary stuff down, too. Website, label page, MySpace and Facebook page are all clean and well-integrated. The band's offering their album as a free download, along with a pdf booklet, but they recognize that "free" doesn't have to mean "shitty" -- the album sounds top-notch, and the booklet, with illustrations by Joe Boyle to accompany each song lyric, is beautifully laid out. The band handles the entire experience of getting to know them in a friendly and professional manner. Pleasure doing business with you, boys.


You can support Dogs of Winter via voluntary donations right here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Spindrift - The Legend of God's Gun (Tee Pee, 2009)

Not to deny the commercial ambitions of L.A.'s "psychedelic Western band" Spindrift or the fine folks at Tee Pee, but this soundtrack shouldn't be available for download or purchased at a record store. You're supposed to discover a beat-up old vinyl copy in a midwestern thrift shop, hanging out between warped Barry Manilow records and a cracked Victrola on sale for $15. Spindrift's dust-covered cinescape evokes some pretty specific imagery, none of which exists outside of celluloid: southwestern ghost towns, dust storms, laconic men in cowboy hats with three-day-old stubble and shadows a mile long. Yes, this is the realm of the Sergio Leone-style spaghetti western, inhabited by the gun-slinging preacher and outlaw bandito named "El Sobero," from the 2007 indie flick The Legend of God's Gun. Even the movie's title hints at the religious transgression you'd expect from a movie about immoral men made by a native of the birthplace of Roman Catholicism.

"Speak To the Wind"

"Indian Run"

While there's plenty of spare surf guitar twang and lonely harmonica drawl, not every cue here is straight Morricone worship. Native American chants and tribal drumming kick up dust; garage rock menace looms behind every broken saloon door. This score -- written mostly by Spindrift guitarist/vocalist Kirpatrick Thomas, who also conceptualized the film -- is drenched in lysergic organs and fried in the overblown lassitude of drug rock, both past (Velvet Underground/13th Floor Elevators) and present (Brian Jonestown Massacre/Warlocks, both of which share members with Spindrift). When the sun's beating down this hard and you haven't had water for days, you start seeing the same kind of shit you might if you took some bad acid. 

Spindrift's faithful reflection of a very specific style of film music sure as shit has the aesthetic down cold. Does it transcend the level of genre homage? No, but it's not really intended to. Like most of Tarantino's soundtracks,  The Legend of God's Gun feels hyper-aware of its own homage to bygone styles, but also hyper-confident in its mastery of them. Maybe Spindrift's other albums are more substantive or soulful; I haven't heard them. This soundtrack gets by just fine on style. 

Check out the trailer to The Legend of God's Gun:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Teenage Disco Bloodbath roundup

Cerebral Metalhead readers pride themselves on being caught up on their new music. That's why I normally wouldn't dare court redundancy and write about an album that's been out for nearly a year. But Teenage Disco Bloodbath sent me these two ragers way after the fact, so they've put me in a very difficult position: fulfill my obligation to spread the face-melting gospel, or refuse and melt only my own face? Hallelujah, I have chosen the former.

Ramming Speed - Brainwreck (Teenage Disco Bloodbath, 2008)

Is there another genre of music that gets away with as much as thrash metal? We accept cheeky beer 'n party anthems alongside vicious sociopolitical critiques, depictions of war back to back with self-referential thrash about thrash, as if they were all part of the same human experience. Which of course they are.  

"The Threat..."

"Man Vs. Machine"

Boston's Ramming Speed (nee Despotic Robot) are awesome because they honor tried and true thrash themes with conviction, and match 'em with enough different fast 'n furious metal styles to avoid simple thrash nostalgia. Municipal Waste fastcore collides with D.R.I. punk/metal crossover. Early Metallica riffs and Napalm Death grind high five in the parking lot (the latter even gets a song dedication with "Shane Embury is the Brad Pitt of Grindcore"). The guitars are all old-school, but they get bussed around to a bunch of different schools. Vocalist Pete "Za" Gallagher has a throat built for both chant-leading and dog-barking. He's got an opinion on everything, from immigrant reform to zombie-killing laser technology. Throwback thrash annoys me. Ramming Speed not so much.

Perth Express - Discography (Teenage Disco Bloodbath, 2008)

It's a model of German efficiency: every single track that this now defunct crew recorded from 2004-2007, including the contents of their self-titled LP, 10", 7" and four-track demo. That's like getting one of those General Mills cereal packs with miniature boxes of Trix, Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms and Frosted Cheerios. Except instead of rotting teeth, you get to discover the entire canon of a fucking kickass band that nobody in the U.S. would have heard without getting raped by import prices. 

"Ace of Spades"

"Unterkante Oberlippe"

Perth Express rule for the same reasons that His Hero Is Gone and Converge are rightfully deified: they agglomerate the crustier parts of hardcore, grind and death metal, and shoot them through with enough white hot passion to melt the genres at the seams and fuse them together. It's almost embarrassing to listen to Perth Express back-to-back with an average grind band that sticks to one intensity level -- many of these songs cram stunning peaks of aggression and melody into just two minutes, all the while allowing the band's drummer free reign to annihilate ten different ways per song. The liner notes offer a running English commentary on each song's lyrics, which are mostly in German. They reveal a band with a lot of thought and serious intent behind what they do. You can sense that just by listening. 


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Brutal Truth - "Sugardaddy" video

This video has been out for a couple weeks but it's too good not to share again. As proven by this clip for "Sugardaddy," the first track off Brutal Truth's recent master blaster Evolution Through Revolution (which I reviewed for Metalsucks), Brutal Truth even rule in black and white and fluorescent lighting. There is more grind cred in Danny Lilker's bicep vein (which makes several cameo appearances here) than in most grindcore records I've heard this year.  

Go listen to Evolution Through Revolution in its entirety RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

And if you're in the New York area on July 31st, go see BT with Pig Destroyer and Repulsion at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, or else you fail:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Eibon - Eibon (Aesthetic Death, 2008)

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

There are four bands on Metal-Archives named Eibon, presumably after the sorcerer-priest from Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborean cycle mythos*. They hail from far-flung corners of the globe like Budapest and Singapore, and they all suck. Except for the French one, responsible for this eponymous two-song mini CD, which rules hard. It rules so hard that it blew out my mp3-encoding software, which is why the clips below sound like a waterlogged cat thrown on an electric frying pan. No idea what the hell happened there, though I will say that I don't mind all the faux-pitch-bending taking place in these messed up clips. They sound like Eyehategod remixed by Immolation. Go to Eibon's MySpace page for the unfried versions.

"Asleep and Threatening" (excerpt)

"Staring at the Abyss" (excerpt)

Drummer Jerome's Neurosis-style wardrums flog Eibon ever-forward on "Asleep and Threatening," and gracefully narrate the clean-tone passages of the waltzing "Staring at the Abyss." There are very few moments of preciousness or pure catharsis on Eibon -- these two songs climax at a middle level of tension that usually goes unresolved by song's end. Some may ask for even more dynamism from their epic-length metal tracks. But if doom's gift to metal is making stasis listenable, and giving purpose to painful slowness, then Eibon are excellent gift-givers, nearly as good as Thou at pushing even their slowest and most repetitive riffs towards an impressive endpoint. 

*According to a recent Terrorizer clip, Eibon du France came upon their name while watching Lucio Fulci's Italian horror flick The Beyond


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bergraven - Till makabert väsen (Hydra Head, 2009)

Those with a predilection for pigeonholing oughta be pretty upset with the new Bergraven album. There aren't convenient tags to affix to music this rambling and overgrown. While Till makabert väsen (Swedish for "The Macabre Essence") is primarily the product of one man, Sweden's Pär Gustafsson, Bergraven shares little with Scandinavia's manifold black metal agoraphobes, or such U.S. peers in loneliness as Leviathan and Xasthur. Instead, the album shoots out criss-crossing tentacles of liquid guitar and bass, blackened rock riffage and some of the more disturbing vocals I've ever heard on a metal record. 


There's a whole lot of beautiful ugliness on Till makabert väsen. Gustafsson lets his overlapping clean guitars gnarl and then hang in non-resolution, often with just a laconic drumbeat as accompaniment to trump up the dissonance. The delicate guitarwork that opens "Fasa" sounds like tendrils of ivy, sprouting upwards and bending at awkward angles. Maybe they sense the diamond-hard distortion that's about to lop 'em off. "Hunger" and "Det Andra Liket" blaze with Opethian prog riffs, but they're stunted -- at any moment, the loudness could drop out completely, only to reappear a couple minutes later, just as unexpected. Gustafsson's great strength is his fucked-up sense of song construction. These songs eat themselves and then shit themselves out in neverending cycles. 


Speaking of auto-coprophagia, Gustafsson must have gargled poo before he recorded the Swedish-language vocals on this album. He sounds frightening the whole way through. Gustafsson's got a conversational growl, like he's forgotten how to speak without croaking, or he's perpetually in that space between anger and murderous rage. It's pretty jarring to hear such harsh Swedish syllables uttered over the calm passages and slide guitars of "Jag Lever Djävul," but it's all part of Bergraven's totally off vibe. With its combination of density and emptiness, dissonance and gnarled beauty, Till makabert väsen is probably the most unique metal album I've heard this year so far. 

Lucky you: stream the whole album right here

Amazon (CD)
Amazon (MP3 - only $6.93!)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dark Castle - Spirited Migration (At A Loss, 2009)

"Survival is threatened / Exhausted by gravity now / There is a need to live with ease / Widespread flowering consciousness" -Dark Castle, "Into the Past"

That lyric is a mission statement. The two professional tattoo artists in Dark Castle get that heavy cannot be an end in itself. It must be a means to transcendence, or its equivalent in a downwardly direction. They get that heavy is as much about space and texture as it is about the amp you use, or how many layers of stacked guitars you've recorded. The songs on their debut Spirited Migration forge mammoth edifices of heavy, tear 'em down in 7/4 and weep among the rubble. 

"Into the Past"

Yet tower-toppling is just the half of it. Melody garlands the riffs of "Awake In Sleep" and "Into the Past," turning murky sludge into elegant chord voicings, not unlike Samothrace's debut (reviewed here). Dips into post-metal atmospherics sit alongside one interlude's mystical modes on Turkish acoustic guitar; another interlude floats through space on Rob Shaffer's synths. Dark Castle's bass-lessness is hardly noticed with harmonies as dense and dynamic as guitarist Stevie Floyd's, and drumming as deceptively tricky as Shaffer's. The relative emptiness of the sound works to the band's advantage anyway. Tone and feel triumph over bottom-end. With a thick, live production by Kylesa's Phillip Cope, Spirited Migration has plenty of both.

"Flight Beyond"

"Words reduce reality / To something the human mind can grasp / Which isn't very much" -Dark Castle, "Grasping the Awe"

That lyric is also a mission a statement. Three songs on Spirited Migration feature between one and four simple phrases as lyrics, while two others are entirely instrumental. The terseness is purposeful. Many of these laconic phrases contain profound spiritual insight. Like early Mastodon, Dark Castle's hoarse growls are hurled against their music, stoking these songs instead of tying down their structures. Dark Castle gently tugs at the edges of doom metal's cloak. 

Amazon (Import)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Deluge Grander - The Form of the Good (self-released, 2009)

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

Hear ye, oh aspiring Cerebral Metalhead review alumni: if you want to guarantee an album review, remember to package your new album (along with your last three) in a hand-crafted box set with a personalized 12-page handwritten booklet attached. That's what Baltimore keyboardist/composer/arranger Dan Britton did, and even though the new album by his Deluge Grander project has zilch in the way of heavy riffage or sonic extremity, I appreciate the personal attention too much not to respond in kind via my humble metal blog. 

"Before the Common Era"

I also admire the honesty of Britton's approach. He opines "Not many bands have managed to combine earnestness and pretension, and those are the goals of both this music and this package." You've basically just done my job for me, Dan. On The Form of the Good, Britton and his bandmates work through many of the same aesthetic issues that early Genesis, King Crimson and One Size Fits All-era Zappa addressed, namely how to legitimize rock 'n roll as art music. In its string, woodwind and brass-laden instrumentation and suite-like structures, The Form of the Good aims for symphonic excess; its guiding conceptual framework (a confluence of Platonic ideals and what Britton calls "the over-emphasis on differences between urbanism and naturalism by modern humanity") is delightfully grandiose and intentionally vague, in fitting with the complex ideas in Deluge Grander's music.

"Common Era Caveman"

The best part about an album like The Form of the Good being composed now is that I can appreciate it on its own terms instead of relative to Deluge Grander's prog-rock forbears. The pretension fades when there's no intention of breaking new ground, and I can concentrate instead on how hard the band's rhythm section jams on "Common Era Caveman," how the last five minutes of "Aggrandizement" just keep getting denser and more oblique in the most awesome ways. I'm also in love with the album's earthy production. Brass often sounds more like bleating sheep, violins buzz like tinny ham radio transmissions and it's mastered low, begging for a twirl of the volume knob. All of those traits feel like loving homage to the early Crimson records. Everything's clearly mixed and the band's rock nucleus (keys/guitar/bass/drums) is perfectly balanced with Britton's big orchestrations. Most importantly, the thinness of the recording lays bare the depth of the compositions, especially the two 14- to 2o-minute tracks. More slickly-recorded albums ought to aspire to the personality of The Form of the Good. For a DIY classical tinkerer, Mr. Britton, ya done good. 


Friday, July 17, 2009

Bone Gnawer - Feast of Flesh (Pulverised, 2009)

If there were a Top 40 station that played death metal exclusively, Bone Gnawer would have at least five tracks in heavy (pun very much intended) rotation from its debut, Feast of Flesh. That's not a slag against the album. Bone Gnawer have figured out how to apply pop formulae to death metal. Their elemental death riffs are simple and repeat a lot. As a lyrical cliché, the gore and cannibalism themes fetishized on Feast of Flesh are way more fun (if a little less universal) than the Black Eyed Peas and Taylor Swift's booty-shaking and puppy love. Yet they serve an identical function. Vocalist Kam Lee (Massacre/Death) gargles his cartoonish lyrics with fantastic elocution. He wants you not to feel what he feels, but to grunt along on "Cannibal Cook-Out," a tender-hearted (i.e. still a little pink in the center) ode to eating one's neighbor as you would one's self. 

"Cannibal Cook-Out"

"Hatchet Face"

Bone Gnawer is one of hundreds of bands making anachronistic, bloodsoaked DM these days. In this post-"Entrails Ripped from a Virgin's Cunt" death metal moment, well-crafted Grave riffs and paeans to man-eating sound tame, nostalgic. Bone Gnawer have some of Sweden's best-connected musicians in bassist Rogga Johansson (Paganizer/Demiurg/Deranged), drummer Morgan Lie (Naglfar) and guitarist Ronnie Björnstrom (Ribspreader). But Bloodbath this ain't. Another analogue to Top 40 pop: Feast of Flesh is fun, but ultra-disposable. 

Amazon (pre-order)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Contest: Win a copy of Decibel's Precious Metal!

I've been a loyal Decibel reader for a couple years now. As of this month's issue 58 (Slayer cover), I'm also a contributor. So I'm extra pleased to offer the forthcoming book Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Story Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, edited by Decibel editor-in-chief Albert Mudrian and released by Da Capo Press, as the booty in the first ever Cerebral Metalhead contest. This bitchin' tome compiles 25 exclusive, expanded versions of the already righteous interviews from Decibel's monthly Hall of Fame feature. And it ain't just a dog-eared, ink-smeared promo copy, neither -- this is the limited edition, first printing silver "metal" edition, sure to impress that chick or dude after whom you lust. 

For your chance to win, just e-mail me with the subject line "Me wants my Precious Metal" by midnight PST on Friday, July 10th with your full name and mailing address. I'll pick a winner at random.  

If you fail to win, and most of you will, you can purchase a copy of
Precious Metal as of July 15th.

Da Capo (with links to other booksellers)

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lightning Swords of Death/Valdur split (CultWar/Bloody Mountain, 2008)

Formerly only available on a joint 2008 tour, this fearsome split from SoCal natives Lightning Swords of Death and Valdur is finally available at mom 'n pop metal shops. Praise the dark lord for convincing guitarist/producer Roskva to blast through the layer of earth's crust that smothered LSoD's debut The Golden Plague. The spelunking expedition unearths four tracks of infernal black metal with buckets of personality to complement the spiked gauntlets. Drummer Thrudvang's blasts feel organic, the song structures ever-mobile. 'Tis a rare black metal band indeed that that can weigh down a speedy track like "Invoke the Desolate One" with the same molten heaviness as the doomy "Venter of the Black Beast." These guys are awesome live, too. Bassist Menno (also in The Cauterized) and stick-thin vocalist Autarch are two of the most magnetic showmen that L.A. metal's got. If you're headed to the Kansas City Power Metal Fest on August 14th, don't miss 'em. They're the only black metal band on the bill. New Yorkers can check out LSoD at Curran Reynolds' hallowed Precious Metal night on August 17th.

Lightning Swords of Death - "Invoke the Desolate One"

Valdur - "Chant of Battlelust"

Valdur's approach is the polar opposite. Their tonal guitar washes and repetitive blasts bleed into one immersive current, yielding an atmospheric buzzing much like Wolves In the Throne Room and Krallice. "Raven God Amongst Us" laps and surges; "Bloodhevn/Vendetta" casts us into battle in media res. "Spears Torrent" peels back the distortion to reveal the gorgeous clean-tone melodies that Valdur's other tracks hinted they were capable of writing. Valdur offer a graceful, atmospheric take on Nordic black metal.


PS: Both Lightning Swords of Death and Valdur are contributing tracks to the forthcoming TECMO video game, Undead Knights. What a quaint idea -- a black metal soundtrack to a game that, in Autarch's words, "follows a being from hell as he destroys his enemies and turns them into undead soldier-slaves for his army?” It's only a matter of time until Guitar Hero: Gorgoroth

Thursday, July 02, 2009

CHAINMAIL: The Serpent and the Siren - Posthuman EP (Self-released, 2009)

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

If the Serpent and the Siren's second EP Posthuman were a Victorian novel, it would come with the following subtitle: "In which heavy metal continues its Terminator fixation unabated." Like Fear Factory and Meshuggah before them, the Serpent and the Siren unite flesh and wire in unholy union on Posthuman. The bionic man groans and clanks to life on "Maggotborn," as SatS's Clint Homuth vomits "I am rusted new / Born of this prosthetic womb / Brine and cabtire cables / Mechanical immunize / Free me" in a formidable gorilla grunt. Cold tech-metal riffs stop dead in their tracks to accommodate plutonium floor-punching on "Entombed..." and "Consume the Poor."

"Consume the Poor"

Serpent and the Siren's alternation between chops-intensive density and spacious breakdowns smacks a lot of fellow Canadians Beneath the Massacre (reviewed here). These guys are better. There's still a little bit of "human" left in their cold, Posthuman cyborg metal, some vestiges of melody and raw death metal groove amidst the pig-squeals and morse code drumming. "BREEE BREEEE!!!!" squeals the bionic man during the memorable half-time stomper that closes out "Consume the Poor." Definitely, dude. We feel your pain.


And since I'm feeling generous, here's the new video for "Consume the Poor:"