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"
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.
***LATE BREAKING ADDITION***
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.