Monday, December 8, 2014

From Out of the West Comes the Best! The Way's Top Ten of 2014

I knew well before this year had begun that 2014 was going to be a special year for music, metal in particular. I can honestly say that not only was this an almost abnormally great year, there were really no big letdowns either (hell, I even thought that the latest Incantation album was pretty fucking good). Obviously it was a bit difficult to whittle down all of the year's best releases to a mere list of ten, but, as tough as the decision was, here it is...

Before I continue, I must mention the fact that while I knew earlier in the year that there were going to be a few albums off of the Dark Descent label on here on this list, I was constantly in a state of amazement by damn near each album that was put out by the label this year. DD has really grown and matured by leaps and bounds and have earned my respect for not only having an almost preternatural sense of picking out and signing the best and most creative bands of this era but also for their diversity as well. Without a doubt, Dark Descent has become this generation's Earache Records in terms of importance and relevance and I genuinely look forward to the years to come in terms of their output.

10) Vallenfyre - Splinters

Just as good, if not better than their debut.

Splinters is a play by play account of 'how to get it right' in terms of writing a death metal album.

I am beyond stoked that not one, but two members of Paradise Lost have decided to revisit their death metal roots and though I quite enjoyed the latest Bloodbath album with Nick Holmes fronting the band, it is Vallenfyre who have ultimately made the list.

9) Swallowed - Lunarterial

I've never been the biggest fan of Autopsy (sorry, just never "got it") and the same goes for the majority of bands that have shamelessly aped them through the years, however, even though it is rather obvious where Swallowed gets the lion's share of its inspiration from, there is something downright addictive about what they are doing. I knew that they were going to be a great band after hearing their 2010 self titled 'ep' but this... this really blew me away beyond the point of comprehension! Sure, the "blackened" Autopsy" thing is still there, to be sure, but there is so much more to it than that. WAY more!!

8) Moab - Billow

While still heavy as fuck, Moab have opted to take a more "accessible" approach this time 'round. Don't let that statement fool you into thinking that Moab sounds like Green Day all of a sudden. If anything, this album reminded me a lot of Kyuss or Vista Chino with, of course, a MUCH heavier guitar tone. In a perfect world, THIS is the kind of band you would be hearing on the radio all the time had the mainstream not taken a turn for the worse somewhere back in the mid-'90's.

7) Salem's Pot - ...Lurar ut dig på prärien

NOT a fan of the band name. At all. However, the riffs and the vibe they create cannot be denied. There is some fairly gloomy shit going on here and I was quite glad that I decided to ignore the gay name and venture fourth unto the mental landscape wherein the strange and morbid mysticism of the sounds provided here were originally wrought.

With bands such as Salem's Pot and Saturnalia Temple (who are set to release their sophomore LP in early 2015), I think it's safe to say that Electric Wizard's days on the throne are severely numbered from here on out.

6) Blut aus Nord - Triunity

There were three releases by BaN to choose from this year and even though this is merely an 'ep' (a split, at that), Triunity was the one that spoke closest to my heart.

I'll always favor slower, more brooding music over constant blasting or albums that consist of a primarily faster tempo. Not that I don't like that stuff, but it has always been the slower stuff that caught my attention and BaN did just that here, and then some. Truinity is the perfect travel pick for a trip to the brain. Brooding and hypnotic ghoulishness best listened to at night.

5) Electric Wizard - Time to Die

After two extremely lackluster albums, EW is finally back on track. No, this is not the follow-up to 'Dopethrone' that everyone had hoped for. Nevertheless, it would appear that the band has employed hindsight to engineer a sort of "mash-up" of their previous incarnations and have delivered their strongest album since 'We Live'.

While never slowing down to the level of 'I, Witchfinder' or 'Eko Eko Azarak', the band has largely managed to recapture the "occult" vibe of their earlier albums while retaining the structural accessibility of their last two outings. I know that for some reason this is a divisive album, why, I have no idea as I found it to be infinitely superior to both 'Witchcult...' and 'Black Masses'.

4) Corpsessed - Abysmal Thresholds

Monstrously crushing!!!

THIS is how death metal should sound. Forget the cringe-inducing influx of technical wankery or the zombie apocalypse of misguided Incantation wannabes aimlessly wandering around for the last 1/2 a decade or so... THIS is how it's done, folks!

Planet shattering guitar sound? Check.

Evil tremolo riff onslaught wrought from deep within the caverns of planet Earth? Check.

Colossal, mountainous passages of doom and dread liberally placed throughout? Check.

Ultra-demonic vocals drenched in hatred and all-consuming rage? Check.

This could easily have been released twenty or so years ago. It's that good!

3) Verma - Sunrunner

Wouldn't be a proper "year-end" list from me without some sort of "space-rock/kraut/prog/pychedelia" floating around somewhere, so here it is!

While just as "spaced out" as anything they've done prior to this, Verma's latest sees the band going back to the accessibility of 'Salted Earth'. Perhaps even more so. Personally, I'm glad, as while I certainly love to zone out, dazed and confused, drooling and traipsing through a vast mental landscape wrought by master strokes of aural psychedelia, I actually prefer the more confined and direct approach of Verma's songwriting capabilities and am grateful to see the band has not forsaken the ability to do so. Why this band hasn't become "the next big thing" is beyond me.

2) Emptiness - Nothing But the Whole

And here we have the second album on the list to showcase some four-eyed figure on the album cover.

It's really almost impossible to categorize any one album by Emptiness and this one is by far their most scatterbrained and surreal.

Obviously the platform here is a sort of death metal/black metal hybrid (though which of the two comes out stronger is up for debate) yet the band spares no expense in reaching out well beyond the framework of expectation, pulling in some severely bizarre riff sequences ranging from the tranquil and serene to dizzying and hallucinogenic. Morbidly exotic, I find this band to be the most exciting prospect since the days when Blut aus Nord chose to follow their own path and left the traditional approach of songwriting forever behind.

1) Today is the Day - Animal Mother

As I get older, the need to listen to something over and over, no matter how good it may be, has lessened dramatically. I was actually starting to worry about that and began to wonder if I was finally becoming one of the "pod people", immune to the magical effect that good music has on my mind and mood. Then I heard this...

Holy shit!!

It's actually rather funny as I sort of wrote TitD off a while back after a slew of seemingly uninspired outings. I honestly didn't expect much this time 'round. Mistake. BIG time.

While it's easy to say that Steve Austin "went back" to the sound of the GODLY 'Temple of the Morning Star', it's really not that simple. While it certainly can be argued that 'Animal Mother' is a return to the quality of that era, it is really more of a clever recap of the band's career high points with 'Temple...' and 'Sadness Will Prevail' being the most noticeable.

Really, after 'Kiss the Pig' (which was just really not that good) and 'Axis of Eden' (which was much better, musically, but had the misfortune of being drenched in an awful, over bass-y production), I figured that Steve Austin's best days were behind him as usually seems the case with most aging artists. I was wrong and I have never been so happy to admit that in all my life!

Honorable mentions:

Funereal Presence - The Archer Takes Aim

Stellar album that manages to create so-called "orthodox" black metal while adding in a multitude of other elements, keeping things interesting. For a debut this sounds fantastic!

Lumerians - Transmissions From Telos Vol. III

One of my favorite bands returns with yet another outstanding excursion into the warm and fuzzy expansion of the mind's eye. MUCH better last years 'The High Frontier'.

The Cult of Dom Keller - The Second Bardo

Miss the '60's or wish you were alive during that mystical and tumultuous time? Pop on this bad boy and feel yourself warmly slip away. Though this is far from the political crooning of Bob Dylan or Country Joe and the Fish, mind you. This is the kind of shit that'll have you starting a cult of your own, partaking in LSD fueled orgies and going on mass murder sprees. Beware.

Skaphe - Skaphe

Well composed and recorded black metal with moderate death metal leanings. Pretty evil shit and it won't surprise me if you start seeing this band's name all over the place in the years to come.

Godflesh - Decline & Fall

While the inevitable full length had a few stellar tracks, to be sure, I have to admit, I was a bit underwhelmed with how "same-y" it all ended up sounding. Oddly enough, this little "warm-up' 'ep' proved to be far superior .

Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know, I had mentioned earlier that there weren't really any big let-downs this year, but I almost forgot and so I now present to you...

The Stinker of the Year:

Exodus - Blood In Blood Out

When I first heard that Zetro was back in Exodus I was beyond psyched. Personally, my favorite Exodus albums are fronted by Steve and so I was fairly confident that this would be a triumphant return to form. I mean, hell... his work with his kid's band Hatriot was pretty venomous sounding. I figured his return to Exodus would be a flawless endeavor.

Not quite.

Vocally this album sounds like Steve Souza is a social retard. There are so many cringe-inducing moments that had me wondering "what the fuck were they thinking?"

To be fair, much of this has to do with the absolute retardation of the lyrical content, which I'm fairly certain is written by Gary Holt, therefore absolving Mr. Souza of that particular crime against humanity. Nonetheless, a different, perhaps... less "flamboyant" approach may have lessened the blow some to some extent, so he's not totally in the clear here. Honestly, Souza's been on a downward spiral since 'Fabulous Disaster', vocally, though again, the lyrical content does not help. They may have worked back in the '80's but in this day in age they are an absolute abomination.

The other, and perhaps greatest offender here is the production. While the riffs are mostly bloated and lazy sounding, they may have come across slightly better had they not undergone the overproduction that ultimately ruined them beyond repair. Had the production been a bit leaner and Souza's antics toned down some, this may have been a little better. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's seemes to have gotten the better of whoever the decision-maker is in the band and out came this steaming pile of over processed shit.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Today is the Day - Animal Mother (2014)

Unless somebody comes out of nowhere and releases the greatest album ever, this will be album of the year.

Having sort of lost a little bit of interest in TITD, I was completely unprepared for the gloomy majesty of this album. Honestly, I began to drift away from what the band was doing around the time 'Kiss the Pig' came out. Whatever it is  that album's supposed to represent, I was just not feeling it. 'Axis of Eden' was a little better but god damn what an awful production it had! By the time 'Pain is a Warning' came out I just sort of kept on walking by not really paying it any mind except for listening to a teaser on Youtube (of course, after being blown away by this album I would go back and ultimately feel a little dumb for having ignored PIAW in the first place).

The first thing I notice is that the vibe is more than similar to TITD's grand opus, 'Temple of the Morning Star'. I have always hoped that the "reverend" would revisit that territory through the years and now, it seems, he finally has, though a case could be made that 'Axis of Eden' traversed similar grounds albeit the bass-smothered production. This time, however, the stars were in perfect alignment and right from the jump you know that this is going to be a quality experience wrought by the imagination and fury of one of music's greatest contemporaries.

I'm not going to bother over-explaining every detail of every song on here but trust me when I tell you that this album is easily the best thing Steve Austin has created in a very, very long time. I would even go as far as to say that, spiritually, this feels like the successor to 'Temple of the Morning Star'. For me, 'In the Eyes of God' just lacked that grimy charm. It was a little too pristine for its own good and believe me, I could care less about how many drum rolls homey from Mastodon threw into the mix. 'Sadness Will Prevail' was certainly on point though there are detractors who complain of its length. Personally, I've always felt that that album was a voyage through insanity and a rather flawless experience. 'Animal Mother' is definitely a welcome return to the deeper levels of madness that Steve Austin has been so kind to show us in the past. Not only that, but god damn this is one heavy motherfucker! Not only are there many violent and psychopathic mindscapes to explore here but there is also no shortage of flat out heaviness, either, yet everything is perfectly thought out and placed. Where Godflesh may have overdone the heaviness just a tad on their return album, TITD has carefully put together a sonic masterwork for the ages.

I'm already fiending for whatever it is the Reverend decides to do next, though for now I figure what better time than to go back and reassess some of those albums I had previously overlooked.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Soulburn - The Suffocating Darkness (2014)

In recent years I've come to really just not give a fuck about Asphyx nor any of its many spin-offs that basically sound exactly like Asphyx. Sure, when I was younger I was moderately enthralled by them mostly due to the fact that at that time I was fairly forgiving when it came to any sort of fusion of death and doom metal (hey, pickin's were slim in those days) and of course the fact that they boasted the presence of Martin Van Drunen in their ranks, whose work on 'Consuming Impulse' I was still reeling from. Even then, though, listening to Asphyx was never a thorough endeavor as there were many bumps in the road when going from start to finish. It was always a rather puzzling experience as it almost sounded like two bands. One that could play and had a firm grasp on things and one who sounded like they were beaten over the head with a sledgehammer and rendered concussive before staggering into the studio, meaning, they would go from these somewhat showy, dare I say "sophisticated" (that's probably the wrong word here, but...) moments and then sort of slide into these segments that I can only describe as being remedial at best. Consuming Impulse this sure as fuck was not, yet there was certainly a weird charm to all of this and again, I believe that the presence of MVD probably kept me on board longer than I would have been had the mic been commandeered by someone else.

Eventually and for whatever reason, MVD would beat feet from the ranks of the band and that's when I decided to take my own leave as well. Years and years later, after learning of MVD's much heralded return to the band, I decided to see what all of the hoopla was all about. I realized, almost immediately, that the hype was in name only as the music found on 'Death... the Brutal Way' was about as lame and boring as you could get. By this time my drooling adoration of anything MVD had considerably dropped and it would take something substantial for me to get into this. Something that unfortunately would decide to remain hidden.

Sometime not long after all of this, original (or at least in terms of album appearances) guitarist Eric Daniels would re-emerge and join his counterparts in Asphyx under the guise 'Grand Supreme Blood Court' (still not sure how I feel about that name). Admittedly I was a wee-bit excited as there were more than a few of Eric's riffs in the past, particularly the slower ones, that I truly enjoyed and I was hopeful that the pairing of MVD and Daniels would be fruitful indeed. Well, after all was said and done this was as boring as all of the new Asphyx shit. No better, no worse.

Shortly after, I learned that founding member and drummer of Asphyx, Bob Bagchus had once again flown the coop. No big loss there as I always felt that his "contributions" to the band were part of why they sounded like a pack of drunken amputees headbutting their instruments and calling it music. I was curious, however, by the fact that he was, once again, reuniting with Eric Daniels to resurrect their very own Asphyx clone, Soulburn, a band who many folks seem to like and respect but personally I never got into as they were just too boring for my tastes.

I can finally say that this album does not sound like Asphyx or any of its spinoffs. Does that make it good? Nope. Basically, someone in the band must have been listening to a dump-truck load of black metal as that's basically the formula here, though in its most remedial form. No, I don't mean the whole "necro" -aka- "look at me, I'm playing as badly as I can in some pathetic attempt to come across as being old school" thing. This is more like the rendering of someone who can "sort of" play but is choosing to go for the traditionally dumbed down black metal approach without realizing that you have to have absolutely zero production value in order to really "capture" the shittiness of that genre. So yeah, basically this is pretty fucking lame. The occasional doom-"ish" riff that finds itself as part of the proceedings (if riffs had minds of their own and could speak, these would probably be wandering around wondering what the fuck was going on and how they ended up where they were) sound out of place and thrown in as if part of some half-assed attempt at pleasing those who thought they knew what Soulburn was all about.

The thing about this album and pretty much everything else connected to Asphyx (Hail of Bullets, Grand Supreme Blood Court, Pentacle, etc... ) is that it doesn't outright suck but it's just too boring to really stand out and the fact that there is a staggering number of albums that are all woven into the whole Asphyx thing now, doesn't help. For music this anemic and weak, I'm really left puzzled at how these individuals were allowed to not only build a legacy to begin with but bring it this far. I guess people are just that fucking stupid.

Bloodbath - Grand Morbid Funeral (2014)

Words cannot begin to express my elation upon discovering that Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost was going to be the vocalist on the new Bloodbath album. Not so much because I'm some huge fan of Nick Holmes or Paradise Lost but I just felt that this was such an odd yet logical pairing and I was more than curious to hear the rotten fruits of this combination. It's like one of those bright ideas that has long lingered beneath your nose and upon discovery you feel like and idiot for having not connected the dots sooner.

Now don't get me wrong, I DO happen to like Paradise Lost (well, everything up 'til 'Shades of God, at least) but my excitement at the prospect of having one of Peaceville's original warriors of doom teaming up with one of that label's newer hordes had me feeling more than a bit giddy inside. Honestly, I would have probably been a bit bummed had the band chosen to employ the services of yet another one of their well-traveled countrymen such as Jorgen Sandstrom (as earlier rumors had indicated). I mean, hell, if the whole purpose of this band's existence is to pay homage to the days of old then why not go all out by reaching back in time and snatching up one of the genre's true forefathers?

Now I've already seen some of the whining, bitching and complaining regarding Nick's vocal style and I have to say that I'm a little surprised. These are undoubtedly the same people who give praise to the butt-pirate of Autopsy's cartoonishly goofy vocals yet all of a sudden transform into "serious" critics of all that is death metal once the homosexual festivities of THAT band have ceased to continue. Honestly, if this is the type of people that these sorts of opinions are wrought from then so be it. I'll take Holmes over anyone that these idiots drools over ANY fucking day of the week. Sure, if you're expecting Holmes' bellow of old here then you may be left feeling a bit empty inside but if you're looking for something a bit "maggoty" and rotten sounding then be at ease for Holmes' has delivered the good right on time.

Musically, this is more or less a typical Bloodbath affair, which is A-OK. I wouldn't want them going too far off the experimental deep-end. You still have your nods to Morbid Angel drenched in the Stockholm sound and hell, there's even a riff or two that reminded me of early Exodus. Whether or not that was intentional I have no idea though I was pleasantly receptive to it nonetheless.

I have to say, with all many of death and doom metal's "elder gods" rising from their stylistic slumber as of late, I am very excited to see what lies in wait. Not only was there the death/doom marriage of My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost in Vallenfyre and then Nick Holmes entry into the ranks of Bloodbath but I have recently discovered that Paradise Lost themselves are interested in revisiting the gloomy rot of their earliest incarnation. The future looks bright, er, dark indeed!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Diamonds in the Rough (Patch): Death Metal during that dry spell otherwise known as the mid-late '90's

During the mid to late '90's there were a handful of demo's and ep's  that restored my faith in death metal. While I won't go as far as to say that death metal died in the mid-'90's, I do acknowledge that it was a trying time, for sure. Many bands were either breaking up or changing their sound in an anemic attempt to garner a larger following. Furthermore, metal in general seemed to succumb to the ever-looming specter of obscurity as the notion of major label access was kicked to the curb after the disastrous marriage between Earache and Columbia. Yeah, these were dark times, indeed, yet anyone who tells you that "death metal had died" during this time was obviously not paying attention.

The following are a bunch of releases that really blew my mind at the time. Not only was I surprised to hear death metal of this quality but I was also happy to see that finally there were some bands out there that were upping the ante in regards to suffocating gloom.

In no particular order...

Clean Flesh - Clean Flesh (1997)

I remember seeing this at a distro at some show in CT back in 1997 and passing it up due to the band name, which I thought was rather lame. Boy, did I feel stupid when I finally heard it at a friend's house. First off, the vocals are absolutely disgusting! I'm not quite sure what the vocalist's "technique" is (inhaling, cupping the mic, etc.), nor do I give a shit! When you sound this vile and sick, I take notice! Ever since I listened to Carcass for the first time back in 1989 I was obsessed with death metal bands that showcased more than one style of vocals. After a few years of decent, if not ho-hum styled vocalists in death metal, the scene was about to explode with vomit and pus and Joe Wolfe (vocals) was among the best.

Secondly, the music on this 'ep' pretty much picked up where Carcass and many of Sweden's finest left off during their demo stages. Where a lot of those bands "progressed" musically, bands like Clean Flesh were clearly inspired by mausoleum-type atmosphere provided by the earliest incarnations of their idols. This is more Nihilist/Left Hand Path than it is Clandestine with nary a Hollowman in sight! The guitar riffs here are as heavy as a tombstone being ground into dust.

Descend - Demonstration Cassette 1995

Like Clean Flesh, this demo from Descend also showcases a particularly vile and vomitous vocal assault. Perhaps the fact that both bands are from Ohio has something to do with it.

Aside from the wonderful barfing and belching heard throughout this five song release, the music itself is more than a bit similar to the early '90's Finnish death metal scene, particularly Disgrace (pre-castrated tranny closet jump, of course). Both bands have that sort of whimsical, meandering jam-fest approach to playing. Regardless, this is still a rather skull-smashing affair and one that will have you wondering what the hell is going on in Ohio?

Mortal Decay - Brutalizing Creations (1995)

Perhaps what drew me in more than anything on this release were the string bends on 'Opening the Graves'. Before I heard that, I had this playing in the background on my stereo as I went about some menial tasks around the house. All of a sudden I remember taking notice as MDK threw down some seriously delicious doom and I was sold right then and there. Hook, line and sinker. Of course I took the liberty of rewinding my tape and listening from beginning to hear what I had missed while farting around the house and was astonished by what I heard, to say the least.

How the fuck did I not notice the staggeringly awesome low-tuned guitars bellowing from the speakers?! Not only were these fuckers tuned as low as the tombs but there were some savagely obese doom excursions to be found seemingly 'round every corner! Now before I go on, I must tell you that I am a HUGE death-doom fanatic and have always been on the hunt for artists/albums that fall under this category pretty much since hearing Celtic Frost back in the '80's. Sure, I love fast shit as well but nothing beats a colossal riff slowed down to a snail's pace crushing you like an ant under heel.

As if my newfound revelation concerning the guitars wasn't enough, there were the vocals! Ahhh... the vocals...

Again, like what was happening in the riff department, I could not believe that somehow I did not notice how fucking grisly and insane these vocals were! I must've been pretty fucking busy as I now sat in wonder and astonishment, listening to this barbaric onslaught of vocal ghoulishness take form before me. Think Antti from Demilich teamed up with Glen Benton (sans Salacious Crumb) and an occasional spoken word guest appearance from a robotic Ross Dolan and that would pretty much sum up the cast of characters behind the mic. Even better, I decided to read along and was righteously blown away at how clever and well written the lyrics were.

Unfortunately, MDK would be bitten by the "progressive" bug as they tuned their guitars up to the point of sterility for their next release, '97's 'Sickening Erotic Fanaticism'. While not a bad album by any stretch, and certainly a proper platform for the band's next vocalist, former Deathrune throat-shredder, Kelly Izquierdo, SEF saw the band forever leave behind the mud and gloom of their 1995 incarnation. As it is, Brutalizing Creations is by far a highpoint for death metal in the '90's and unquestionably a legendary East Coast death metal release.

Desolate - The Scourge of Sanity (1995)

Ancient and barbaric death metal with more than a healthy dollop of doom to further cement the band's genocidal intent.

I know that New England has had the misfortune of being labeled a hotbed for not only many a shitty hardcore band but also the horrendously homo metal-core scene. Sadly, as the numbers dictate, this is unfortunately true, but being a born and bred New Englander myself, I find Desolate to be more fitting to the vibe I get when wandering the forests of my native land in the dead of Winter. Desolate play death-doom of the highest order and what could be a better match for the haunted forests of the north-east?

One could be forgiven for assuming that this demo is some long-lost classic from Sweden as it boasts a guitar sound similar to that notorious "chainsaw" buzz.

Vocally, the performance here is a bit higher-pitched than most of the other fare on this list. There are a few low ended growls to be found here and there but most of the lyrics are delivered by way of blood-curdling shrieks, a few of which go straight through the fucking roof!

I'm going to say it (er, type it, rather) here and now... this is without a doubt the BEST and most quality death metal release to come out of New England. Period.

Malignancy - Ignorance is Bliss (1997)

Sure, 'Ignorance is Bliss' isn't exactly the most "brutal" name for a death metal release and anyone out there who is familiar with the band's work post-1997 could be forgiven for assuming that this band plays nothing more than an amorphous brand of death metal designed to cater only to those who suffer from some sort of super-advanced ADHD but the fact is, 'Ignorance is Bliss' is easily one of the greatest death metal releases in the history of the genre. Bar none.

The guitar tone, tuning and heaviness of the slower sections gives even the almighty 'Realm of Chaos' a run for its fish & chips. That's how serious shit is on this 4 song demo. For those of you who are enamored by the band's use of every harmonic in (and out of) the book, never fear as there is absolutely no shortage of that particular exploitation to be found.

Vocally, Danny Nelson is in his best form here, employing a vast cast of characters to brute out the band's genocidal onslaught. Everything he does here is tempered to perfection. The screams. The shouting. Growling, etc... There are even some mid-paced roars that are just plain astonishing to behold.

I always felt that Malignancy, particularly on this release, was the perfect combination of Mortician and Immolation (both of whom are from Malignancy's native Yonkers as well). Mortician for the heaviness of the slower riffs and guitar sound/tuning overall and Immolation for their quirkiness.

All in all, this may be the best release in this list.

Shredded Corpse - Exhumed and Molested (1996)

The shit that interests me doesn't necessarily have to be "original" or cutting edge. It merely has to sound good. To "these" ears, obviously, and Shredded Corpse does just that.

Where most of the other bands on this list sound heavy as shit, Shredded Corpse are a bit more "electric" sounding. The guitars are a wee bit higher in pitch and there is more of an emphasis on precision picking ie Fear Factory.

Vocally this falls under the multi-voice Carcass style category with a weird whispery "electric" vibe (ie Ministry, Meathook Seed)thrown in for good measure.

They might not be doing the most "mindblowing" shit here, but there's always been something about this release that kept me pressing play again as soon as it was over.

Devourment - Impaled (1997)

Sure, they may have become the poster boys for slam-death retardation, but make no mistake... there's a valid reason why everybody went apeshit over this band in the first place and 1997's 'Impaled' demo is it.

What a lot of people don't realize is that this demo is more or less a love letter to Devourment's fellow DFW area legends Magus and their ultra-cult, super swampy 'Ruminations of Debauchery' ep (1992). Of course, you could hardly accuse Magus of being a "slam-death" band and I don't believe that Devourment's intentions at that time were to cater to the slam dizzle crowd. Sure, they may have eventually embraced the term and all of the love/hate that came with it, but in the beginning they were more or less paying homage to one of the greatest death-doom bands to have ever poisoned the well.

Although I prefer later Devo vocalist Ruben Rosas' wretched croak overall, the performance here by the late, great Wayne Knupp were something of a minor revelation to these ears and undoubtedly played a major part in influencing many others to "go guttural".

Unfortunately, the guitars are tuned so low that the riffs are nothing more than a wall of static and noise and you actually have to use the drum patterns as a point of reference. Either that or wait for the slow parts! Legendary, nonetheless.

Embalmer - There Was Blood Everywhere (1995)

Embalmer's 'There Was Blood Everywhere' is the perfect blend of early '90's ghoulishness and the tone set by the next generation of brutal death barbarians that reached its deafening pitch by the late '90's.

Although, in terms of generation, Embalmer fits into the older group of death metal bands whose ranks include Immolation, Incantation, Rottrevore, etc.. the band didn't receive it's notoriety until the release of their 1997 compilation 'There Was Blood Everywhere' which included the 1995 'ep' of the same name and the band's 1993 demo, 'Rotting Remains'. Part of this, I'm sure, has a lot to do with the band's then fairly new vocalist, Rick Fleming, whose absolutely batshit crazy style helped catapult the band into the collective conscious of the death metal underground.

Aside from the fact that Rick employs pretty much every trick in the book, the high point of his approach is without a doubt his higher pitched screams which are just plain fucking bonkers. Seriously! Easily one of death metal's greatest "character actors'. Ever.

Musically, Embalmer are a bit more on the gloomy, "spooky" side of the spectrum with an unmistakable early '90's vibe. Ghoulish to the max.

Scattered Remnants - Procreating Mass Carnage (1994)

Along with Desolate, Scattered Remnants hails from the haunted woods of New England and made quite a dent in the underground with this rather putrid and abysmal 5 song demo.

Like many of bands on this list, SR would offer up some solid doom-death early in their career only to be eventually and erroneously lumped into the 'slam-death' category by a veritable cast of Van Gough's.

Though the band's later material (particularly the Inherent Perversion 'ep') is quite solid, PMC is by far their most ghoulish and oppressive.

Necrophagist - Necrophagist (1995)

Yeah, yeah... all of the "purists" on here will balk in disgust and yammer on about what's "true", yada yada, but the fact is... Necrophagist's '95' demo is without a doubt one of the best and most brutal death metal demos, ever!

Before the band transcended into the halls of clinical sterility, they were delivered the fucking goods with this 4 track excursion into eye-bulging technicality. The thing that  truly makes this great isn't the band's legit technical prowess but the fact that everything comes across as primal despite the precision on display. Think Deicide's debut with Frank Mullen on the mic and voila.

Internecine - Internecine (1997)

Long before he joined the ranks of the Morbid Angel elite, Jared Anderson was toiling the underground and conjuring fourth such blasphemous works to rival that of Incantation and Immolation with Internecine.

Bear in mind that the material on this demo is played by an actual band as opposed to the album Anderson would later release which merely featured him on guitar, bass and vocals and a few session drummers (Derek Roddy and Tony Laureano) along with Anderson's then bandmate in Hate Eternal, Erik Rutan, throwing in some leads for taste.

I really wish that Internecine had kept it together in this form as this is truly some of the best death metal I've heard in quite a while. You can tell that the band knows what they're doing and can actually play yet everything sounds quite raw and unpolished thus lending that elusive "earthiness" to the proceedings, making the evil of this demo that much more dismal.

The vocals are somewhat goofy but not in a bad way. There's a big difference between the guy who sang on this demo and Anderson's vocals on the album. This guy was obviously going for a lower, more guttural approach with some Salacious Crumb shrieks ala-Deicide to add to the effect.

I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite pieces of death metal and something I'll be listening to until the end of my days. Quality stuff, for sure.

Gorgasm - Stabwound Intercourse (1998)

I remember there being a lot of hype behind this band during the time of the release of this 'ep' and rightfully so. Stabwound Intercourse was a particularly virulent and barbaric assault on the delicate sensibilities brought on by death metal's supposed "dry spell".

SI is somewhat of an anomaly in the Gorgasm catalog as there is more of an emphasis on quality riff-writing as opposed to the "speed for speed's sake" approach that they're probably more known for.

Apparently there were three vocalists on this release. You could've fooled me. If they all sound so similar, why bother having three? Oh well. Whoever's running their motor behind the mic here is certainly no slouch in the guttural category and manages to transcend the "ree-ree ooh-ooh" tradition of most late-'90's guttural sewage-mongers by actually employing a fair amount of diction into the proceedings. Let's be honest here, folks... nothing in the lyrical department is going to come out crystal clear when using death metal vocals but I always hail the efforts of those who at the very least ATTEMPT to pronounce each word as it tends to lend a more hateful and convincing angle to the music itself.

If you played me a handful of songs off of any given Gorgasm full length that has come out after the release of SI, it would be impossible for me to identify as they all have that tendency of sounding like one another. SI is easily their one and only stand-out release.

Fleshgrind - Sorrow Breeds Hatred... Bleed on Me (1995)

Not sure what the point of the double title of this demo is, but oh well. That's one of the things about death metal... a lot of times you just have to 'pretend' that the artist knows what the fuck they're talking about. Suspend your imagination, if you will.

Nonsensical whimsy aside, SBH was one of those treasures that I had picked up somewhere in the mid-west during my own band's mini-tour and I was blown away by the barbaric heaviness of the guitar sound. There was plenty of emphasis on slower passages as well as a shit ton of putrid and gurgled vocals. For a while there I had assumed that death metal bands had all but forgotten the importance of including a sustained note or two into the riff-writing process. I was relived to see that concept was alive and well here.

While Fleshgrind would more or less stick to their guns throughout the remainder of their existence, they would tweak the speed factor a notch or two with each impending release and more or less lose me in the process as I preferred them when they were toppling pillars with doomier riffs such as those found on 'Cum on my Stump' (awful song title, by the way. Just fucking awful).

Disgorge - Cranial Impalement (1998)

Last but not least we have undoubtedly the most brutal offering on this list. Up until the point where I was introduced to this release I was all but convinced that no one was capable of toppling Suffocation's penultimate 'Effigy of the Forgotten' (though Cryptopsy certainly made a case with 1996's None so Vile), then I heard this. Obviously the first thing I heard was one of the most putrid and disgusting growls in the history of the genre and then the battering assault of everything else crashing through the doors shortly after.

Cranial Impalement is more or less a novelty listen for me. Something to put on when you want to blow someone's mind but certainly not something I want to sit through and listen to for the duration.

For some unknown reason, Disgorge tends to get lumped into the "brutal/slam" category of death metal. Trust me folks, 90% of the shit Disgorge has written (especially on this release) flies by at mach 10. They are hardly concerned with writing "grooves" or whatever other mundane categorization the denizens over at Metal Archives are branding artists with lately.

Unfortunately and as is the usual case with bands such as this, Disgorge would go on to release a gratuitous number of albums which ultimately proved quite pointless as they more or less sound like re-configurations of this very album (compilation, technically). If you absolutely must own something by this band, Cranial Impalement is all that you need. Trust me. It hasn't been exceeded yet by anything the band's released since.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sonne Adam - Doctrines of Dark Devotion (2012)

Supremely mighty and covered in cobwebs!

Sonne Adam stands atop the lifeless bodies of Incantation clones piled high unto the heavens, readying their assault upon the hated race.

I wasn't terribly fond of the band's debut full length, 'Transformation' but for some reason decided to check this out anyways and I consider myself lucky that I had. This is ancient and rotting death metal at its absolute finest! Seriously evil stuff that more than reminds me of Embrace of Thorns stellar sophomore LP, 'Atonement Ritual'.

The vocals here are nice and hateful. The kind that I do not hear enough in this type of death metal. They're either the ultra-faggy black metal type or the low, whisper-ishness employed by many a Craig Pillard clone. This guy is more along the lines of first album Deicide or even Covenant era David Vincent. Nice hateful bellows. Not too low and definitely not the homo rasp preferred by the "blackened" crowd.

The riffs themselves lean towards the ancient, doomy side of the fence. Kind of like a cross between old Celtic Frost and Golgotha era Incantation. Though they give off a funeral vibe they never quite dive off into the abyss of doom metal. I know when death metal sounds this evil all of the black metal fags try and claim it as their own. Nope. This is straight up evil fucking death metal to the fullest! No homosexual black metal faggotry here folks.

As long as the band stays along this course I will remain on board and thus far cannot wait to hear what comes next.

Best to Worst: Electric Wizard

Dopethrone (2000)

The pinnacle, without a doubt. Dopethrone is the Wizard at their fuzziest best. EW took everything that Sabbath and Sleep had previously done, covered it in dirt and resurrected it beneath a neon twilight shrouded in dope-smoke.

Each song here has its own identity. Nothing ever gets monotonous, even when plodding along at a zombie's pace. This was the band at the height of their powers.

We Live (2004)

Even though the original trio of Greening, Oborn and Bagshaw had by this time disbanded, We Live, in my own humble opinion, is just about as mighty as the band's penultimate expression, Dopethrone. If anything, the songs here are actually HEAVIER! Opener 'Eko Eko Azarak' is drenched in evil and hypnotic psychedelia and is the perfect opener to this behemoth of an album. Easily the band's "doomiest".

Supercoven (1998)

The song Supercoven is easily among the greatest tracks written by the Wizard. If it weren't for the fact that this is only an 'ep', Supercoven may have been higher on the list. Nevertheless, this was the perfect lead-in for the band's superior Dopethrone LP.

Time to Die (2014)

After some thought I decided to give this a higher ranking than Come My Fanatics which, while being a thoroughly enjoyable album, can get on the monotonous side of things at times. Time to Die, however, is stylistically divvied up enough to keep one's interest straight through. It's also has a bit of a "greatest hits" feel to it as it seems to compile all eras of the Wizard's career. Most importantly, it brings back the fuzzy warmth of the band's late '90's material along with a healthy dose of morbid psychedelia. Future classic, I'm sure.

Come My Fanatics (1997)

As good as this album is I also can't shake the notion that it is merely a primer for what's to come (Dopethrone). Don't get me wrong, now, there are some straight classic tracks here (Doomantia, Ivixor B/Phase Inducer, Wizard in Black, etc..) yet I do not feel that the band had quite mastered their sound as there are many times here where the fuzz seems to overtake the riffage and things begin to get a bit blurry. Despite its flaws, however, this is without a doubt one of the band's best.

Let Us Prey (2002)

Perhaps the band were simply taxed and had exhausted their creative juices by the time the writing process for this album came 'round as the majority of it sounds a bit tired. Master of Alchemy, however, is alone worth the price of admission and without question one of the band's best songs. Mother of Serpents (found on the digi re-release) is also one of my favorite Wizard tracks with its nod to early, pre-Darkside era Floyd.

Not a terrible album but for the Wizard's standards you can tell they were slippin' a bit.

Witchcult Today (2007)

Though We Live was the first album to come out after the split of the initial trio of musicians that brought us Come My Fanatics and Dopethrone, this is the album, in my opinion, where the real change in sound began to take form. Although I dig a few of the tracks here, particularly Torquemada '71, I can't say that I'm terribly fond of this album, either.

Witchcult saw the band going in a more, dare I say "polished" direction what with a clearer sound and almost painfully catchier songs. The band was shedding much of the fuzz and grime of old and even though nobody really seemed to notice I could tell right away that something was amiss.

Black Masses (2010)

Black Masses is the crustier sibling of Witchcult Today. The simpler more "mainstream" sounding tracks are still there though this time they all seem to be covered in shit. I mean that in the best way possible!

There are actually a few more tracks on here that I like in comparison to Witchcult even though I somehow prefer that album over this. Don't ask.

Black Masses also continues the tradition of rehashing riffs that began on Witchcult.

Electric Wizard (1995)

Easily the most "traditional" sounding doom album put out by the Wizard. I'm not a big fan of the guitar sound as I've always preferred the band's fuzzier tone. For me, Mountains of Mars is the standout track here with its morbid psychedelia getting into my head and filling it with images of decades past, desert tapestries and the smell of dopesmoke.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Electric Wizard - Time to Die (2014)

All right, so it's that time again, finally, and the question is... have they lived up to the hype? I'm gonna have to say yes. The most important thing here is that the band has returned to the sound of old. Let me be clear here... the 'sound' is a return. NOT the riffs themselves. Many (not all) of the riffs here are reminiscent of the past few Wizard outings but drenched in the familiar fuzz of the band's seminal duo, Come my Fanatics and Dopethrone. There's a lot of echo going on , vocally, which is an old trick as well that had sort of dwindled a bit through the years.

Even though I had mentioned previously that the riffing is closer to the 'Witchcult/Black Masses' side of the fence there are more than a few songs here that see the band actually moving forward for a change. Obviously Electric Wizard isn't incorporating the song structures of Yes into the equation. I mean, we are talking about doom metal here, but the riffing style is definitely moving on from the stylistic slump the band had been in for a bit, and thank goodness for that. I would've been highly disappointed if this had turned out to be yet another 'Witchcult' retread such as Black Masses essentially was.

Aside from a couple of tracks the songs here are not as heavy as you would think. No, they're not bad, by any stretch but it's obvious the band were going for something else. Almost like a '60's pop/doom hybrid. Don't fret though, this is still very much the Wizard starring as the Wizard and everything is in order as one would hope.

Though I'm not terribly jazzed about the cover art (which I really haven't been since 'We Live' except for the LP version of Black Masses) I will say that it is extremely similar to the original cover for 'Come my Fanatics' which ultimately serves to bring everything going on here full circle.

I for one was a bit on the fence with Witchcult Today and I had all but written the band off after Black Masses which, to me, is easily the weakest Electric Wizard album to date. I am happy to say that 'Time to Die' has finally broken the pattern of sterility. To sum it all up, if someone were to tell me that this was the missing album that was supposed to have been released after 'Let Us Prey' I would have believed them without hesitation. It's still early in the game and I'm sure the songs will only further grow on me in time but for now I am thoroughly content.

Therion - Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas (1993)

I'll never forget hearing this album for the first time. I was on my way back from Phoenix Records in Waturbury, CT (R.I.P.) and I had just picked this up along with Mortician's 'Mortal Massacre' and Cannibal Corpse's 'The Bleeding' which had just come out. It took me about one whole minute to realize that something was terribly wrong. The Therion I had known and loved had officially undergone a sex-change operation and busted out of the closet clad in pink boas and wielding purple dildos. I was mortified.

The greatest offense committed here by FAR are the vocals. Prior to this release Cristofer Johnsson was easily one of my favorite growlers. His Celtic Frost inspired "ooh's" are perhaps even greater and more powerful than the master himself, Tom Warrior. Seriously! On this album, however, I don't know WHAT the fuck happened. Apparently the bottom gave out because these are just fucking weak, and it's not like my Man was all of a sudden channeling Thom Yorke or something, I mean these are still death metal vocals but they sound like they were delivered by someone who dropped by the studio after a full week of being throatfucked by nigger savages. I was shocked.

Musically, this sounds like the next logical step downward from the band's last album 'Beyond Sanctorum'. I wouldn't say that it's a straight up nosedive but it certainly aint no improvement either. Crissy'fur and company had basically strapped on their tights and were venturing further into that chasm otherwise known as the butthole of metal -aka- symphonic metal. The catch being that they weren't terribly good at it during this time so anything that may otherwise have been salvageable just sounds downright awkward or bland. This trait would reach a fever pitch on the band's next two albums (Lepaca Klifoth and Theli) before they reached the black belt level of symphonic faggery.

One thing I cannot take away from this album is the stellar artwork from iconic go-to Swede, Kristian (Necrolord) Whalin.

Jokes aside, I actually do not mind this album all that much. Therion was such a huge favorite of mine early in their career that, for many years, I did my best to brush aside any notion that I may have had that they had utterly "lost it". Even though their next album would see them spiralling further on down the rabbit-hole, I do consider that to be their very last "decent" release.

Cannibal Corpse - Skeletal Domain (2014)

Somewhere along the way Cannibal Corpse got stuck in the rut of releasing albums that all sound the same, one after another. Sure, not each note is the same, yada yada, but basically since 'Vile', shit, basically since The Neck took over the mic CC's stuck with the same formula and aside from their mounting technical prowess nothing's really changed all that much since 1996.

After reading a couple of interview snippets where certain members of the band had indicated that this would be a more "evil" sounding record, I was fairly psyched. Could Cannibal Corpse truly be venturing fourth into uncharted territory? Not quite. When I hear the phrase 'evil death metal' I tend to think of bands like Incantation and Immolation. Coffin Texts, etc. I'm not sure what part of this album the band considered "evil sounding" but I assure you that this is yet another run o' the mill Cannibal Corpse offering. If you're really that into what the band is doing then by all means, knock yourself out. I promise that Cannibal will not let you down this time 'round and in all likelihood, EVER, but for those of you who were hoping that they perhaps added a few new instruments to their arsenal of torture, well, you might want to keep it movin'.

Honestly, Cannibal Corpse did sound evil once upon a time in their career and that was way back in the early '90's during a time when they were more prone to write tremolo laden odes to shredded cunts and maggot filled assholes. Even though they could never have been accused of being a satanic themed band, their older material (Butchered at Birth, Tomb of the Mutilated) had a pretty good grasp on the evil vibe that bands like Immolation and Incantation based their careers around. Somewhere along the way, though, CC began to advance, technically, and that's when all of the weirdo-isms of their sound got kicked to the curb and forgotten, not to mention that Corpsegrinder honestly doesn't do a whole lot for me, vocally. Sure, his diction is among the best but there's always been something "diet" to me about the sound of his voice. It never sounded monstrous enough for a band called Cannibal Corpse. On Skeletal Domain it's yet another case of business as usual. Nothing different. More of the same. Again, if you're into the same album being cloned 30 times, then boom, there you go, but for those of you hoping for a change, fuhgetabahtit. Even the album cover, which at first glance seems to be a bit of a change is really just another plain old rendering from trusty ol' Vince Locke. Same ol', same ol'.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Therion - Beyond Sanctorum (1992)

This is one of those albums that sounded SO much better when I first heard it over twenty years ago. Now mind you, I don't think that it sucks by any means and back when Therion were a bona-fide death metal band they were easily one of my favorites but looking back I can pin-point with a fair amount of accuracy all of the signs that reveal a band that was waiting to come crashing, full bore, out of the closet.

It's weird because even though this is their sophomore album there are plenty of moments that feel as though this would have came out first. Moments that feel are somewhat regressed. Also, many of the symphonic elements (that were just beginning to barely emerge here) just sound downright inept. Laughably so. I mean, you'd have thought that Cristofer Johnsson had employed the talents of some brain-damaged amputee who had in their possession a Casiotone 501 with a remedial understanding of the instrument to boot.

On the positive side, this is the last album to feature Johnsson at his bestial best in terms of vocal delivery. Sure, the next few albums feature what one may consider to be death metal vocals but they are horrendously regressed and inept sounding. Like a tired muppet after a solid week of homosexual gang-rape.

For the most part the riffs here are akin to those found on 'Of Darkness', though hardly anything here possesses the catchiness and memorability of that album. Suffice to say, even though there;s nothing rampantly technical about this album, there is no shortage of directionless meandering.

Again, by no means do I think this album sucks or anything even close to that, but hearing this album many years after the fact, flaws can be easily traced and it is without a doubt the very last "straight up" death metal album the band would write and release.

Ulcerate - Vermis (2013)

This is that art-fag "post" death metal bullshit that makes all of the pretentious closet case metal-heads feel safe to listen to.

Listening to Ulcerate is the equivalent of those stories you hear of someone being anally excavated whilst in the midst of some incredibly drunken stupor. Once the fog begins to clear and before the realization fully sets in, there's that hazy moment of faint recollection that the victim hangs onto, telling themselves that perhaps this was all just a bad dream. That moment of hope that maybe they didn't just endure some sordid experience of monstrous homosexuality.

The only difference between this album and the last three is that you can tell the band are finally nearing the point of actually being able to write a song instead of cramming a bunch of non-sensical dissonant riffing together and calling it such. As a rule, non-psychedelic rhythmic meandering = pseudo-intellectual pretentiousness. Sure, they're getting close, but they're not quite there yet. I'm getting too old to have to listen to something 900 fucking times for it to begin to slightly gel together.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Aevangelist - Omen Ex Simulacra (2013)

I wrote a "semi" review of the band's second full length, 'Omen Ex Simulacra' last year and had mentioned in it
something along the lines of the riffs not being worth a damn once you take away all of the background noise, yada, yada. I take that back. The riffs are actually not bad at all. In fact, there are some really cool and dismal sounding riffs on this album that are unfortunately marred by the idiot who didn't know when to stop the fucking intro! With all of the proclamations of "genius", etc. I was quite stunned at the stupidity of slathering several different rhythmic fluctuations with the same droning intro and began to question the integrity of those who were making these claims. I wouldn't exactly say that playing a guitar riff over or alongside a prerecorded ambient track is an endeavor unheard of. A step towards the "genius" moniker would be to know exactly when to shut that shit down. This just sounds like the end-result of the fumbling hands of a juvenile mind at the threshold of becoming an amateur. Again, there truly are some nice and creepy riffs scattered throughout but they are unfortunately rendered unbearable to endure by not only what's going on in the background but by the ineptitude of the drum programming as well.

If this album were to be re-released sans the infernal fluff, we might actually have a contender. As it is, though, this shall be cast upon the growing pile of neo-dissonant/post-'90's Incantation/Immolation clones and set ablaze.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Last Sacrament - Enantiodromia (2013)

Surprisingly good modern death metal! The vocals here are nice, low and monstrous and the guitars are also low and thick with distortion. You can tell that these guys obviously know their way around the fret board yet there's never a moment where I'm rolling my eyes at the stupidity of how much lame guitar "hero-isms" are flailing about. The guys are focused more on creating gargantuan, death metal riffs beneath an ancient and rotting arch that symbolizes the filth and decay of the true essence of death metal. If only more skilled players grasped this concept. Of course, having shitty guitar nerds out there ejaculating over the newest jazz/prog/technical-death jerkery is part of what makes the world go 'round. Unfortunate yet it is what it is.

I'm curious to see where these guys go from here, whether they delve deeper into prog-metal faggery like most skilled musicians seem to do after a fashion, or, will they continue to traverse the haunted soundscapes of old? Being that their sophomore album will be released next month, we shall see soon enough.

Descend - Demonstration Cassette 1995

Tasty and long forgotten slab of rotten, old skull death metal from Ohio fairly close in sound to renowned Fin's Demilich and early Disgrace while not getting overly technical and "noodly" like the former.

I'm actually surprised that I haven't seen these guys getting all types of posthumous praise among the 'OSDM' crowd like I usually do with these types of "forgotten" demos. Believe me, this one is worth every bit of worship one can bestow upon it. This has it all. Grimy, low tuned guitars, barfy, dual Carcass-style vocals and an ancient Finnish death metal feel overall. Hell, even the production is surprisingly well done. It's a demo that was released on cassette so don't expect Morrisound and you'll be just fine.