Sunday, August 30, 2009

Liturgy - Renihilation (20 Buck Spin, 2009)

Long before I was a Cerebral Metalhead, I went through an obsessive Sonic Youth phase. Back then, as now, my favorite Sonic Youth track was "Theresa's Sound-world" from Dirty (1992). With its crescendos of criss-crossing, dual tremolo guitars and blastbeats, that song seems to reach some elevated plane, where music ceases to exist as something to be heard and judged and instead accesses some fiery realm where all is sound and light and power. 

Sonic Youth - "Theresa's Sound-world"

I thought of that song as I read this quote from Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, main man of Brooklyn's Liturgy. It's from an interview he did for a recent Pitchfork "Show No Mercy" column. This particular reference was about the cover art for Liturgy's last EP, Immortal Life:

"(It) is supposed to represent transcendence, which for us means an ecstatic encounter with the present; a violent, apocalyptic, cosmic joy. And a shattering of ego."

That's exactly what it feels like to listen to "Theresa's Sound-world." And given Thurston Moore's professed love of black metal, perhaps it's no coincidence that I get that same feeling from Weakling, Wolves In the Throne Room, Krallice and now Liturgy. All of these bands make majestic, tension-filled black metal, unafraid of combining violence with trembling beauty, the separate parts of which smear into a messy and often quite beautiful gestalt. I couldn't begin to guess what it is about in-the-red tremolo and relentlessly pounded drums that unlocks the spirit realm for me. 

Liturgy - "Ecstatic Rite"

Liturgy access that place with tooth and claw, forcing open the doors with an elemental bag of tricks. Two electric guitars, picked at hummingbird speeds, spiraling in and out of conventional harmonies. Tension and release, mostly tension. The guitar sound is thin but textured (thanks, Colin Marston), an homage to early Ulver. Slower parts reveal bass-like sound, but it's ghost-like, nearly undetectable -- it could just be a trick of the overtones, or nothing at all. Howled vocals are almost completely whitewashed.

Liturgy - "Beyond the Magic Forest"

Greg Fox's drumming still floors me, ten listens in, because it sounds more like the extreme free jazz of Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun than metal. Fox's barely-controlled clattering dominates the landscape, crashing through in huge washes. You can feel the impact of wood against skin and metal. Even in the superhuman canon of black metal drumming, this is technically amazing stuff. Every piece of Fox's kit seems to be hit all at once. And it probably is: he's using just a kick, snare and two crash cymbals for that giant tsunami of sound. 

Liturgy - " - "

I could see someone conducting Liturgy live, sculpting their unhinged washes to resolve only when it feels right. At full-force, Liturgy sound like they're doing that for themselves. Renihilation threatens to slide off the rails into pure abstraction, but it never does. The songs are completely tonal; pretty guitar melodies and counter-melodies frequently poke out of the morass. And when everything unifies for the mammoth riffs on "Ecstatic Rite" and "Beyond the Magic Forest," the effect is even more cathartic for the chaos that preceded it. A series of untitled interludes, mostly wordless vocal incantations underpinned by looped guitar drones, create the quiet, (dare I say it) liturgical space out of which this music erupts. It's another indication of the control that Liturgy have over their chaos.  

Saturday, August 29, 2009

California State Park Preservation Ist Krieg

When you think of the Los Angeles landscape, you think of endless stretches of highway and asphalt, smog and gaudy billboards blotting the skyline, skyscrapers erupting in patches across the city like syphilis outbreaks. Let's not forget that there are some gorgeous oases of state-sponsored greenery and water throughout L.A., and many of them are in danger of closing as a result of the $14.2 million General Fund budget cut that Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into existence last month, as part of the embattled 2009/2010 California budget. 

Enter FYF Fest (nee Fuck Yeah Fest), an L.A.-based, DIY festival and concert promotion company run by 20-something Sean Carlson and Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris (FYF Fest recently co-presented the SunnO))) show that I reviewed here). This year's Fest, to be held at the Los Angeles State Historic Park on September 5th, will be dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of California's state parks. It also happens to have a nice proportion of metal and extreme-music bands:

Converge (whose new album Axe to Fall is out on 10/20 - new track "Dark Horse" is fantastic)
Torche (whose live show I reviewed here)
Dan Deacon (whose band features drummer Greg Fox of black metal band Liturgy

If that list doesn't inspire an immediate $20 ticket purchase, how about this: taco eating contest. You hear that, Dino Cazares? It's ON.

For more information about the FYF Fest, and to purchase tickets, visit the FYF Fest site
Want more info about saving California's state parks? Go to the California State Parks Foundation website right here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Dirt Communion - Antique Mechanic EP (self-released, 2009)

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

Good southern sludge from western Nevada seems about as likely as a new Michael Jackson/Edward Kennedy duet album, but goldarnit, I can't deny the soul evinced by Reno's Dirt Communion. The band's bluesy sludge touchstones -- Corrosion of Conformity, Down, Kyuss -- are pretty obvious. So is their talent. This stuff requires a tightrope walk down the line between behind-the-beat sloppiness and deep-pocket groove, and Dirt Communion get it right. They specialize in dirty rhythmic swagger -- songs like "A Trip to the Slaughterhouse," "Bombed (Last Call)" and "Rebuilt for Speed" swing titanium ballsack riffs low and slow, with a ragged guitar solo 3/4 of the way through the latter that twirls frantically and dissolves into distortion. Dirt Communion write better boogies than songs, and singer Mark Earnest (discovered while singing "Fairies Wear Boots" in a Reno cover band, natch) occasionally lives up to his last name too well, considering the nastiness of the music. Didn't you heed pappy Anselmo's lessons about the benefits of cigarettes and thick coatings of phlegm? But ya know, if I ran into Dirt Communion playing in a bar somewhere, I'd stick around to listen to their whole set. That's more than I can say for a lot of signed metal bands that I'd pay to see. I like my sludge metal like I like my women: with a fat bottom end. Hey-o!!!

"A Trip to the Slaughterhouse"

"Rebuilt for Speed"

BUY: Old sound, new distribution methods. A few ways to acquire Antique Mechanic

1) Download the first two tracks for free, stream the rest at
2) Give up yer e-mail address and get the first two tracks free, then name yer price for the others individually at Bandcamp
3) Get the whole EP  for $5 at Bandcamp
4) Buy it cheap on Amazon (MP3)

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Wittes

There are probably more journeyman drummers than any other band position in metal, but there's only one Dave Witte. Two things distinguish Witte from fellow itinerant skin-bashers like Hellhammer, Gene Hoglan, Kevin Talley, Tim Yeung, Derek Roddy and Tony Laureano: taste and range. From his early days with underground grind legends Human Remains and Discordance Axis on to his tenure behind the kit with thrash-masters Municipal Waste, Witte's never once wasted his talents, and never done the same thing twice. Even his nigh-unlistenable Phantomsmasher material is at least intriguing. Witte's a prolific bastard, too -- 2009 has already witnessed a hat trick of full-lengths with him on it. Here are the two that aren't Municipal Waste's Massive Aggressive.

Birds of Prey - The Hellpreacher (Relapse, 2009)

It's too bad that this southern metal supergroup (the non-Witte members double-time in Baroness, Hail!Hornet, Beaten Back to Pure, Alabama Thunderpussy, Kilara, etc.) is so far a studio-only project, because the confrontational death 'n roll they serve up on third album The Hellpreacher would surely smoke live. BoP's last album Sulfur & Semen (reviewed here) was fun in its over-the-top vulgarity. The Hellpreacher subtracts fun from the equation, giving us instead a horrifying, album-length narrative about the depraved rise and bloody fall of a kid who emerges from a harrowing experience in juvenile detention to become the leader of a violent religious cult. The music fits the bleak story: hard, mid-tempo riffs swing around like concrete blocks, with no showboating tech wanking or subtle textural stuff to distract us from vocalist Ben Hogg’s brimstone-huffing blasphemy. More groove than your average Witte performance -- the dude's in total control throughout. It takes a talented bunch to make music this professional sound so raw, and vice-versa. 

"Tempt the Disciples"

"Blind Faith"

Amazon (CD)
Amazon (MP3)

Burnt By the Sun - Heart of Darkness (Relapse, 2009)

This third Burnt By the Sun album comes six years after the last one, and five years after Witte and vocalist Mike Olender quit. The band has announced that it will be the last ever BBTS album. Whether they speak the solemn truth or we'll be treated to a Jay-Z style reversal every few years, Heart of Darkness is powerful enough to make us wish they were more active. The disc brings back fond memories of Drowningman, Deadguy and other bands that combined metal and hardcore without resorting to the chug-a-lug + melodic chorus formula that typifies so much metalcore today. It's dominated by guitarist John Adubato's acidic riff style, which tempers death metal discord with hardcore repetition, then shoots the whole thing through with unpredictable jolts of blood-boiling grindcore. Heart of Darkness showcases Witte's titanium technique -- just you try to find the seams in his quicksilver changeups between groove, swing and grind in "Goliath" and "Beacon." They don't exist. Heart of Darkness also benefits from a hardcore vocalist with palpable personality and something to say other than "the world sucks, I'm pissed, you should be too." Rather, Olender says exactly that (the album is loosely based on Conrad and Apocalypse Now, after all) but he's pretty artful about it. Welcome back boys. And...sad to see you go.



Burnt By the Sun have just announced that they'll be playing their only US gig on October 2nd at the cozy Cake Shop in New York. It's part of a top-to-bottom killer lineup with Tombs (reviewed here), Black Anvil and Bloodhorse. Thanks to BrooklynVegan for giving me wanderlust.

Amazon (MP3)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

SunnO))) - Live at the Eagle Rock Community Cultural Center, 8/11/09

SunnO))): guitar heroes. Photo by Sung. Originally published at 

It's an exciting day for dry ice manufacturers whenever SunnO))) come to town. Thick white smoke gushed upwards before their set, nearly filling the cavernous main space of Eagle Rock's quaint Community Cultural Center. A SunnO))) show is part religious ritual, part consumption by sound, and this was the perfect venue for both: arches and columns lined the room in silent, churchly procession; exposed wooden roofbeams held up the ceiling as if they were the ribs of a giant seabeast. 

SunnO))) were touring behind their newest opus, Monoliths and Dimensions. It's their best-ever album, not so much because the compositions are stronger -- its four pieces are largely built of the same slow-motion, deteriorating chord cycles that they've employed for years -- but because the extra musicians and musical accoutrements thicken the dread in such fascinating ways. Live, SunnO))) brought along just two guests, vocalist Attila Csihar (also of Mayhem) and utility man Steve Moore (whose Stebmo project I reviewed here). This pared-down quartet might have muted the majesty of the Monoliths and Dimensions material. Instead SunnO))) amplified it (pun intended) into celestial shapes. 

Greg Anderson, mid-strum. Photo by SungOriginally published at 

Founding members Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley laid down their subductive bedrock of hemorrhaging chords, so loud and distorted that the air molecules seemed to vibrate, and speech took on a ribbed quality, like when you try and talk into a fan. At this volume, every bass scrape sounded like a revving jet engine. Every overtone became the root of its own chord, which generated its own overtones, ad infinitum until we became aware of the entire room as a tumescent vessel, pregnant with sound. The first piece (Dave from Metal Flows In My Veins seems to think it was "Aghartha" from M&D) was low and plodding, sure, but those chords billowed and plumed, unmoored (pun also intended) from their sunken hitching posts by Steve Moore's electric piano flourishes. Csihar throat-sung his own shimmering harmonics. On M&D, Csihar's "idiosyncratic" pronunciations of "tunnel" and "gouges" gets some unintentional chuckles. Live, he's a monstrous force. I wouldn't dare chuckle at a Hungarian dressed in a black monk's cowl. 

For the second piece, Moore's trumpet and keyboards splashed through belching feedback drones. Csihar battled antiphonally with the bass guitar, chanting and screaming his way through the thick fog of smoke and sculpted feedback. If SunnO)))'s second piece was indeed "Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)," the band extended it about four times as long as its studio version. Forty minutes is a long time to listen to anything, but of course "listening" was only part of the experience. SunnO))) transformed volume from a purely acoustic phenomenon to a physical one, shaking eardrums, teeth, rafters. This was a visually stunning show, too. A single red light bathed the room in a hellish glow. Every guitar strum carried its accompanying arm gesture, approaching the artfulness (if not the delicacy) of a Japanese tea ceremony. For the last fifteen minutes or so, those with better sightlines than I took in the bizarre sight of Csihar dressed in a burlap sack and a crown of branches. "What the fuck?!" screamed a belligerent guy behind me, twice.

Attila Csihar, branching out. Photo by SungOriginally published at 

There are those who would scoff at the sea of plaid shirts and leather and dyed hair and bald heads and thin-rimmed glasses and black metal t-shirts at the show. There are those that would decry SunnO)))'s music as insufferably pretentious, or accuse the band's bewildering popularity as a product of image and media instead of worthwhile music, especially as so many influential noise and drone artists languish in obscurity. If you had asked me after their catatonic Grimmrobe Demos anniversary concert last year, I might have agreed with the first assertion. But this show was poles apart. Monotony yielded to process.  The air changed. Soul and flesh united in vibration. I could get used to this. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hypno5e - De Deux L'une Est L'autre (Overcome Distribution, 2007)

This album was released a couple years back, but it's just now being distributed and promoted stateside.

Ambition's a bitch. You gotta shoot for the moon to make an impression these days, but great ideas come way before the development of abilities to see them through. France's Hypno5e aren't lacking for ambition. The band swings low for downtuned metal riffing, hurtles into space for post-metal preludes, wedges dialogue samples and sepia-toned piano lines in that place in between "pensive" and "creepy," and stretches the whole thing over a 73-minute album -- too long by half an hour, even if you're Tool. Apparently Hypno5e's live show features custom-curated movie projections and lighting. And all of this without cracking a smile or breaking into a major key. 

"Maintained Relevance of Destruction Part 1"

On Des Deux L'une Est L'autre, Hypno5e's first full-length release, the band are concerned more with the self-aware expansion of their art than making it stick. Individual elements stand out without relating meaningfully to the rest of the songs. Hypno5e's pretty moments can tingle the spine -- the febrile opening minutes of "The Hole" and the close of "Scarlet Fever" weep stinging rain droplets, and "Naked Lunch I" feels like a journey through a miasma of memory, reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's best work. But there's no internal momentum to this album, no sense that the hazy atmospherics of "Naked Lunch I" is part of the same experience as the industrialized metal riff that follows it in "Naked Lunch II." Searing heaviness and harmony vocals and female opera singers do-si-do in interchangeable patterns.


Also telling is that the hardest moments on this album are hopelessly out of date. The tritone-intensive riffs on "Maintained Relevance of Destruction Part 1" sound like Hypno5e were going for Gojira but ended up closer to Machine Head -- that post-thrash, slouching towards nü-metal riff style that sounded staid a decade ago (coincidentally, that was around the time when having an inappropriate number or punctuation mark in your band name went out of style). Hypno5e are self-styled "metal experimentalists," so why do they limit the experimentation to the softer end of the musical spectrum? Des Deux L'une Est L'autre is the band's first proper album, so we'll call it an issue of unmet potential. Skip the record and go see them live, where their pretensions can flower in sight and sound.


Black Metal Theory Symposium - December 12 in Brooklyn

And so, like the two naked men tearing at each other's flesh in the above Deathspell Omega/S.V.E.S.T. album cover, black metal and philosophical inquiry wrestle each other in the void. I just got a tip from the medievalist/English professor/blogger/metal inquisitor Nicola Masciandaro that he and several others will present papers at a rare symposium dedicated to black metal theory. The most intriguing titles announced so far: 

"‘Remain true to the earth!’: Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal" by Benjamin Noys

“Black Confessions and Absu-lution”  by Niall Scott

“The light that illuminates itself, the dark that soils itself: blackened notes from Schelling’s underground” by Steven Shakespeare. 

Pitchfork's Brandon Stosuy, founder of the popular Show No Mercy series, will also present an as of yet unnamed paper. Two artists are are set to ply their metal-themed wares, as well. The only thing missing is, you know, music. 

Hideous Gnosis: Metal. Theory. Mutual Blackening. 
December 12, 2009, 1 to 7pm
Public Assembly
70 North 6th St.
Brooklyn, NY

More information can be found here

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thornafire - Vorex Deconstrucción (Ibex Moon, 2009)

I first heard Chile's Thornafire when I encountered their debut album, the colorfully titled Exacerbated Gnostic Manifestation, while shopping at Lou's Records on my way back from San Diego a few weekends ago. Since there aren't any listening stations, Lou's has a policy of allowing customers to take used CDs into their cars to listen before they buy. Oh man, great idea. Exacerbated was tailor-made for car trips. Its bulletproof death metal riffs and blasts drive relentlessly forward like recent Krisiun, with just enough Morbid Angel groove to halt the speedometer from reaching CHP-alerting levels. Their cogent anti-Christian critiques even yield a few choice, blasphemous sing-alongs. Sing it with me: "If a Jew doesn't worship a human being / How can a man be son of his God?"


Bassist Alexis Muñoz pulls a reverse-Enslaved maneuver, roaring all the lyrics to Vorex Decontrucción in the band's native language after an album in English. The musical language has changed in small but noticeable ways, too. Everything is bigger this time around: synthesized strings and horns that bolster the guitars, richer melody in the guitar lines, more mace-swingingly chunky riffs organized more creatively. It's produced for impact, not just volume, and there's color to these songs. You know. Black.

"En El Eon De Las Falacias"

There are some extra-musical corkers, too: on "Confesión," actress Maria Araya recites the words of Úrsula Suárez, a 17th/18th century Chilean nun forced by church confessors to recite her deranged, proto-feminist visions. And then right before "De La Destrucción Al Trono" comes a sample from an early '09 interview with controversial Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson, who denies the existence of Holocaust gas chambers. Thornafire's style is still pretty conservative as death metal goes, yeah, and it treads well-worn paths of anti-Christian ranting. But Vorex Decontrucción is far more vivid than your average modern death metal record. And clearly there's still plenty to rant about.

Ride the death metal alpaca to Thornafire's MySpace page

Monday, August 10, 2009

Landmine Marathon - Live at the Knitting Factory, 8/9/09

Grace Perry seeks and destroys,  Knitting Factory, L.A., 8/9/09
Photo courtesy of oldhcdude

The normal course of events: there's a band up on stage, there's you and me in the audience, the band does its thing, we react to the set with a bunch of feelings that get funneled into just two distinctions: "good" or "bad." You chat with the band, tell 'em they did a good job, ask what their tour plans are. Everybody drinks beer and throws goat and goes home. Hooray! 

A Landmine Marathon concert isn't that simple. Just watching the Phoenix fivesome on stage feels kind of uncomfortable, like you're watching porn for the first time and you're fascinated but at the same time worried that someone will catch you in a private moment. The bands plays burly and raw -- there's some serious catharsis going on here, and Landmine Marathon's affable offstage demeanor is nowhere to be found. Bassist Matt Martinez stares intently at his four strings like he knows they could pop any second. Mike Pohlmeier flagellates his kit into submission. You can tell it pains him to beat it so hard, but he beats out of love. 

Landmine Marathon in a rare moment of repose
Photo courtesy of oldhcdude

And then there is the case of Landmine Marathon vocalist Grace Perry, the most magnetic, and flexible, frontperson in extreme music. Her performance is completely physicalized -- she hurls herself at her bandmates and spends more time on the floor, or bent over in communion with it, than she does upright. Grace Perry should have her own action figure. Every screamed phrase, she contorts her body a little bit more; if you're lucky, she'll lunge off the stage right into your face during the closing number. As she wraps herself in microphone and guitar cords, that seals the deal: there is no separating her music from the body that makes it. They are one and the same. The broken nose she sustained during a house party gig two nights before the Knitting Factory show? A testament, a blood sacrifice. Perry makes you believe that music is more than just vibrations of air molecules. It's a living thing, embodied by over-stretched muscles and shredded vocal cords. 

On disc, Landmine Marathon reanimate the flesh of the early Earache grind/death catalog. Live, the comparisons don't matter. The band commands eyeballs. You might even forget to drink beer and throw goat. Yep, that was good. 

Landmine Marathon are currently on tour with Prosthetic labelmates Book of Black Earth (reviewed here). Click the below image for tour dates.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Candlelight Records: Haiku Reviews

Candlelight Records has sure released a lot of albums this year. Here are some quick reviews of a bunch of 'em, each written in seventeen syllables or multiples thereof. 

Tardy Brothers - Bloodline (Candlelight Records, 2009)

"I'm Alive"

Three fifths of the great
Obituary. Perhaps
It's the wrong three fifths?

Awkward combo of
Lumbering metal-lite and
Nineties groove-core tunes

Donald's vomiting
Mixes poorly with sub-par 
Life of Agony 

Ralph Santolla rules
Adds grace to songs that have none
Acoustic bits? Hmmmm... 

Best songs like "Deep Down" 
Punk it up; worst ones approach
Heinous nü-metal 


Obituary - Darkest Day (Candlelight Records, 2009)

"Outside My Head"

This is more like it 
Vintage Obituary
Simple but crushing

The guitar tone is
Heavier than last album's
Songs faster than norm 

Listen for contrast: 
Chromatic songs;  Santolla's
Sweet melodic leads

Austere haiku form
Perfectly paired with this band's
Elemental style


1349 - Revelations of the Black Flame (Candlelight Records, 2009)

"Serpentine Sibilance"

Slow, repeating riffs
Atmospheric interludes 
A Pink Floyd cover

Abrupt change of pace
For grim black metal quartet

Here is their defense: 
"Black metal's supposed to be
Controversial, man."

I do not buy it. 
This sounds less like "deal with it,"
More "See? We're artists!"

Memorable plods
On "Serpentine Sibilance"
And "Uncreation"

Are disconnected
By some of the worst pacing
I've heard recently

The dark new approach
Is welcome; the band's just not
In control of it


Anaal Nathrakh - In the Constellation of the Black Widow (Candlelight Records, 2009)

"The Lucifer Effect"

Best live band on earth
Blackened industrial bile
Undiluted hate

Anaal Nathrakh poured 
The soaring chorus syrup
On too thick last disc

This one approaches
The screechy anger level
Of Codex Necro

V.I.T.R.I.O.L. layers
Screams, grunts, growls like lasagna

Groovage, melody
In spades. "So Be It" sounds like
Blackened At the Gates

Still, aggro wins out
My sympathies to the dude
Who drums for them live


Xerath - I (Candlelight Records, 2009)

"False History"

If Strapping Young Lad
Had recorded S&M
Not Metallica

It would sound a lot
Like I, by England's Xerath
But would be better

Fusion of metal
And movie-score strings ain't new
But hard to pull off

Xerath's riffs? Decent
Some creative off-time grooves
And Pantera love

Problem is the strings
They are just background, and they
Fill space, and that's it

Terrorizer called
Xerath "best unsigned band." WRONG.
Oh and one more thing: 

Bad idea to
Name your debut I when you
Sound like Meshuggah


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Upsilon Acrux - Radian Futura (Cuneiform, 2009)

I'll tell ya up front: Radian Futura is not a metal album. But L.A. guitarist Paul Lai once told me that there was a submerged metal influence in the music of his band Upsilon Acrux. I've no doubt it's true, though it's even more submerged on their sixth disc, the follow-up to the triumphant Galapagos Momentum (reviewed here). What a transformation it would be if Lai and David Moeggenberg's guitars criss-crossed in black metal latticework instead of tapped ping-pong pizzicato, or if drummer Chris Meszler trumped up his double-kick technique and played surges of blastbeats instead of, like, every single other kind of drum pattern! But no, Upsilon Acrux work in counterpoint and polyrhythm more than volume and riffs, and they're all the more fascinating a band for it. There is a bit of metal in the album's cover art though -- look below the throbbing Storm Thorgerson eyeball and you might detect some dystopian Dan Seagrave


"Keeping Rice Evil"

The density of Upsilon Acrux's hyper-space compositions (and these are compositions, not songs) is a different kind of density than, say, Immolation's. It suffocates with silly string, not smoke. And the vibe is unlike any other band's -- the thinness of the guitar and bass tones deliberately undercuts the virtuosity on display in a monster jam like "In-A-Gadda-Devito," so we're left with big prog songs that feel small. Which is a strange place to be at the end of the 28-minute "Transparent Seas (Radio Edit)." You want a huge resolution, as thanks for getting through nearly half an hour of bizarro counterpoint and circus waltzes and drum solos. Nope, it's a quiet 5/4 drum 'n keyboard riff that rides us off into Radian Futura's thoroughly alien closer, "The Infinitesimal Fractions of Ping & Pong." What the hell just happened? And is it weird that I want it to happen again?


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Free Album Frenzy!!!

It's an exciting time to be in a band right now. As the influence wielded by labels wanes, physical album sales erode and distribution is increasingly easy to handle from behind a computer, the layers separating band and consumer are gradually peeling away. This is a good thing for both bands and fans. Of course, one of the byproducts of a band being able to market its music with unprecedented reach is that they have less control over it. If a single digital copy of an album can be downloaded and shared for free by thousands, how is a band to make money from the music they record once they push it out of the nest? The conclusion that more and more bands are coming to: they don't. The four bands in this post are banking on the hope that you'll like their stuff enough to help spread the word, see them live, take home a a shirt, buy something else in their catalog, continue supporting them in some way. These bands have given you their music. What will you give them back?

Bastards - untitled demo (self-released, 2009)

Holy shit! There's less than two minutes of music on this demo from Columbus, Ohio's Bastards, and it still qualifies as one of the angriest recordings I've heard all year. The quicksilver alternation between gravelly grindcore slipstreams and downtuned piledrive riffs reminds me of Iron Lung at their most unhinged. And hear how all the instruments just sort of drop off at the end of "Guilty as Charred" mid-riff, as if these wild gila monsters finished feeding on your carcass and couldn't even be bothered to wipe the viscera from their mouths before they slithered off to play patticakes elsewhere? Someone has to teach these Bastards some table manners. My only criticism is their use of the famous Network speech on "Economic Slime" -- the sample is twice as long as the actual music in the song, and it comes too soon after a whole bunch of bands used the exact same sample in 2008 (see my post on this phenomenon here).

"Guilty as Charred"

Download Bastards' demo for free right here

Caspian - Tertia (The Mylene Sheath, 2009)

I've openly documented my distaste for post-rock/metal on Cerebral Metalhead before, and it deepens into a crusty hatred towards the world when I listen to this third album from instrumental post-rockers Caspian. Tertia starts off sounding like Dire Straits, apes Mogwai, Mono and Sigur Ros (especially Mogwai) through its middle, and ends up drowning in its own ponderousness. Ain't a single filtered guitar sound or chord progression you haven't heard a million times before, or avoided hearing a million times before, if you're luckier than I. A dissonant chord to poison the tranquil waters? Nay, that would complicate the crescendo in practically EVERY SINGLE SONG. Give Caspian props for creating a perfectly produced album -- seriously, those digital twinkles and liquid guitars on "Epochs in Dmaj" melt into one another like they were two tablespoons of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! But no amount of spitshining will prevent Tertia from being the empty genre exercise that it is. Isn't there anything other than triumphalism that these types of bands believe in? Is there a drug I can take that will make Tertia more interesting? Man, this shit makes me angry. ETAN SMASH!!!

"Ghosts of the Garden City"

Download Caspian's Tertia for free at (requires free login). 

Coffinworm - Great Bringer of Night demo (self-released, 2009)

You don't find metal this sludgy outside of New Orleans. Except in Indiana, where the fearsome fivesome Coffinworm shit out tar-thick doom even viler than Eyehategod's. Gates of Slumber drummer Bob Fouts was behind the boards on this three-track demo, and the tones he captured sound like mics were placed directly into the Indianapolis sewage system -- every sputum rivulet and feedback-drenched chug rubs the ears the wrong way, which is to say the exact right way. On "High on the Reek of Your Burning Remains," Coffinworm set queasy treble guitar skree, drawn from the haunting arpeggios of Norwegian black metal, against swinging doom riffs. It's a truly ominous, hateful effect. Coffinworm are set to record their first full-length with Sanford Parker (Minsk/Nachtmystium/Indian). It'll come out next year via Profound Lore, which sets the label's awesome band percentage at a healthy 100%. 

"Inner Caligula"

Download Coffinworm's Great Bringer of Night right here

Crown of Wolves - The West Sings A Tragedy (self-released, 2009)

At press time, there was almost nothing to be found about this band or album anywhere on the web. Their MySpace page, created just twelve days ago, has been visited twice, and it doesn't show up in web searches.  It's as if Grant Drake, the single force behind the curious black metal project Crown of Wolves, asked Google to render him invisible. It's all in fitting with Drake's anti-technological philosophy. A lyric like "Somewhere there are gears turning/And thick mucous flowing down/Towards a terrible restlessness/Trying to clog our arteries/Industry I can feel you prying at my skin" speaks clearly to industry's slow advance against humanity; elsewhere, Drake's songs (or "Chapters of Lost Wisdom," as he refers to them in the album title's Norwegian subheader) turn into paeans for pre-industrial paganism. To Drake's credit, there is as much sincere longing as there is bleak distrust spread throughout The West Sings A Tragedy. His music is a muddled confrontation between Emperor and Lurker of Chalice -- choirs and keyboards, programmed blasts and layered melodic guitar roar, semi-whispered croaks and random outbursts of ambience, all smooshed together into one of the strangest, flattest mixes I've ever encountered. I wonder if the album would have been more powerful if Drake gave it a more traditional mixing job. But whether you hear it as beautiful or irritating, The West Sings a Tragedy certainly has character. We'll just overlook those two dialogue samples from Conan the Barbarian, howzabout?

"Capitel II - Fog Ov Ancestors"

Download The West Sings A Tragedy (including lyrics/artwork!) for free right here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Cave In - Planets of Old (Hydra Head, 2009)

I'm in the minority of Cave In fans that isn't happy about the no-turning-back point they reached with Jupiter (Intronaut's Sacha Dunable clearly disagrees with me). While I appreciate the band's bravery in blasting off into the space rock stratosphere, Cave In were never as masterful with their melodic songcraft as they were with the burly post-hardcore of Until Your Heart Stops. Something about Steve Brodsky's glottal singing tone always struck me as green, like the rest of the band had grown up but he was still a precocious teenager, finding his voice. I preferred the post-breakup albums from Cave In members (reviewed here and here) that didn't involve him. 

All the same, few bands in any genre are as restlessly creative as Cave In, and I love their horizon-searching even when I don't love their songs. Hence my excitement at their un-disbandment in April, and my curiosity about the Planets of Old 12", their first new release in nearly four years. The four-track EP continues along the path of the band's omni-directional last album Perfect Pitch Black (reviewed here). It swirls together bottom-feeding metal jams, jetpack rock 'n roll and raging hardcore. Each track is a short visit to a planet they've already inhabited. Get the title?

"Cayman Tongue" is the most vicious slab of heavy Cave In have recorded since Until Your Heart Stops, and "Red Trail" pulls of some totally boss, Converge-style hahd-coah. The magnetic guitar riffs on the other two tracks are hampered by some weak-ass vocal melodies and over-articulation from Brodsky -- Jeremy Enigk's preciousness comes to mind on "Retina Sees Rewind," while diphthongs turn into irritating nasal arcs on "Air Escapes." None of Planets of Old alters my feelings about Cave In, but the EP at least confirms that they've stood their ground since they disbanded. Which actually makes this the first Cave In release that hasn't pushed their sound, if only gently. I'll chalk that one up to the three-and-a-half year time in the penalty box, and patiently wait for a new full-length.