Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Rid - Vulgar Upliftment

Rid's Vulgar Upliftment is best served under the characterization of militant noise. The percussive structure of the tracks is juxtaposed with the beyond low tuned rumbling of sludgy static. Wails and gurgles slathered across the mass round out the elements. This tape offers the following experience: A dying grassy knoll heads towards the horizon where, at the apex, slowly marching towards the west have arisen the dwellers of the world's sewers. Recognizing your presence, their goo manifests itself towards you. Using a piece of scrap metal, a vomit-hued amalgamation makes a continuous clamor to initiate the charge. Salvaged pipes of various diameters, having been fashioned with mouthpieces, are used to create a low frail drone by another rotting guest. As the creatures slop their way towards your position, the racket of their accrued garbage and waste becomes louder. As they inch closer, your flesh slowly begins to fizzle and drop off in sheets. As the creatures back away, you're left to watch your liquefied flesh trail behind them, disappearing into the distance.

The individual songs are all unified by percussion. Within the continuous sluggish drumming of genesis track "Gutter Life," samples of what sounds like machine gun fire are added to further desensitize the listener. "Prayer" uses a triangle to cut through the ambient, yet the track barely breaks the minute mark and develops little. "7/0" is more melodic than other tracks with some underlying drone tones and bass progression. "Gutter Death" mimics some of the styling of opener "Gutter Life" but is darker, looser, and more solemn. Lyrics overlay the tracks but are unintelligible, mimicking the hieroglyphics in the tape j-card. "Fine Arts" is a highlight track for me. The percussion is set back slightly and washed over with a drone that sits in the frontal portion of the listener's head space when listened to in headphones. It gives a very comforting and mesmerizing listening experience until higher pitched static layers impose with some intensity. "Drainage" concludes the tape rather randomly with electrical static and then a brief snippet of traditional non-western music - perhaps Vietnamese or Cambodian in origin.

Rid's tape is a mystery. While very intriguing as a demo I don't quite know what sort of experience longer material would offer. There is room to expand though. There are some interesting tones, sounds, and arrangements here for those looking for unique listening experiences. The combination of repetitive drums and ambient and soft-noise is also a good starting point for open-minded listeners that would like to explore noise and ambient without trudging through hours of harsh static or the opposite; hours of barely-existent winds and creeks. This is a nice middle ground for noise and the percussion gives some connection back to more regular streams of music. The tape layout is cool too, with arcane symbols and no real means of understanding the purpose of the music other than the listener's own interpretations.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Mastery - VALIS

Sometimes with music that’s on the “different” side, it’s easy to get distracted by those differences and fail to see what’s really going on. Mastery’s VALIS is a good example of this problem, because at the surface this album is a chaotic mess of adult ADHD, the Las Vegas Strip of metal. When you get past VALIS’ superficially dazzling lights however, you have what is fundamentally a metal album, no matter how noisy or chaotic it may seem. More importantly, this is a fairly good album if you aren’t disgusted by things out of far left field. Generally speaking, the release is in the same ballpark as music you may hear from a Mories project (imagine De Magia Veterum reinterpreting Reign in Blood) because of how the low strumming noisy bits are often broken up with light speed digital trills and massive melodic jumps into high-pitched dissonant intervals or chords.

Unlike a lot of music that dips its toes into chaos, VALIS has a huge amount of metal riffs. However, they’re delivered like an unrelenting artillery assault. One explosive melody blasts after another so quickly that you almost can’t discern any particular moment, due to the stunning afterglow of each riff. This is the key to what makes the whole album such a spectacle, the sheer speed of the delivery of every instrument rather than any one moment standing out. Despite taking obvious musical cues from black/noise, there is also quite a warm low-end, and when you factor in the speed, it makes the chaos all the more global. All of this makes sense too, given that this 2015 release is Mastery’s first full-length while the project’s first demo was in 2005! VALIS is clearly the result of a well refined vision.

There are a fair amount of breathers throughout the album that make it easier to appreciate the tumultuous cascade of notes elsewhere. In these calmer moments, you can also better appreciate the evenness of the throaty dry vocals; and the breaks are the only times where the drum’s pancakes compression is particularly noticeable. Structurally, the album is broken up by two ambient pieces, their short length contrasting the massive other three tracks (one is 17:53.) But, since the longer tracks already have breaks built in, the ambient tracks seem a tad gratuitous. Especially with L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R. in the center of the album’s run time. It’s relatively tame tempo changes and controlled melodic jumps (by Mastery’s standards at least) obviate the need for other interludes. It also makes some sense to think of the album as one song, but the main tracks are still self contained and defined enough to not rely on one another entirely.

Sometimes really experimental stuff can feel like the entire creation was done by an outsider to metal, who is co-opting only the genre’s most superficial aspects. Despite what could be described as mathcore inclinations, Mastery comes across as authentic because of its riffiness and you can also hear blatant traditional Norwegian influences bleeding through (e.g., the second half of S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R., where one riff feels familiar enough to have been from a classic album.) It’s a good indicator of how VALIS’ insanity is often reigned in and contrasted with normal bits that seem to make it even crazier, instead of just a forgettable wash of nonsense. After all, pure chaos eventually becomes white noise. The percussion helps a great deal in this regard because the walls of blast beats provide a comfortingly consistent aspect to the mix.

In all of the hyperspeed riffing punctuated by frenzied high pitched flourishes, you almost lose the sense that the guitar here is a physical instrument rather than something programmed (and maybe it is programmed.) The digital tone is part of this, but it’s really the performance that makes it seem outside of the instrument’s typical confines. Not necessarily better or worse than how guitar is usually used, but when you have slides punching in from nowhere and all sorts of pitches used in rapid sequence it feels like an aggregation of samples instead of a human performance. It all works though. For example, how can you not love the nice twangy slides towards the end of L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R. as the drums switch from half-time to double-time? It’s high quality songwriting and even when you cut through all of the flash and novelty, VALIS is still a really solid output.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Spektr - The Art to Disappear

Spektr’s latest and better-than-excellent release, The Art to Disappear, may be devoid of lyrics, but the overall emotional pallet can be summed up by the following sample: “We have seen illusion and reality begin to overlap, and fuse.” Using varied audio clips from sources like Twin Peaks, The Animatrix, Mondo Keyhole, and Taxi Driver; Spektr paints a mystifying and fuzzy picture of the album’s reality blurring themes. This ambiguity is remarkably apt because of how the amazing album transcends the usual trappings of industrial black metal. The Art to Disappear isn’t the kind of constant interstellar-mechanical-pummeling that you may hear in bands like Mysticum or even Thorns; the atmosphere is comparatively laid back. There’s an eerie lounge vibe that makes you feel like you are listening to a 50’s nuclear PSA from an alternate reality, and it’s incredibly compelling. Having said that, the album is still rife with fantastically heavy moments, and the ambient sections never make you feel like you are stuck in listening to a monotonous radioplay. (The Axis of Perdition’s Urfe is the best example of this kind of a pitfall.)

Since Spektr isn’t focused on always using industrial black metal’s drier cliches, the album is given a remarkable breath of fresh air through absolutely beautiful percussion. Yes, it’s mechanically precise, but holy shit does it sound full and rich; everything from the drum samples to the more traditional industrial samples sounds incredible. Some of the cymbals are perhaps even better sounding than standing right next to the real thing. The real star of the mix however is the guitar’s crunchy tone, which is more satisfying than the crunch of stomping through a thin piece of ice on the ground when you were five years old. It’s a major part of how the album manages to be so convincingly heavy. You have an inherently satisfying sound, even if you were to strip the razor sharp and crushing riffs down to only the palm muted tremolo picking. This is also a clear contrast to the band’s tone on their prior album, Cypher, with its characteristic emphasis on legato slides and flanger/phaser infused guitars.

There is so much on this album that is just spectacularly executed. “Through the Darkness of Future Past” boasts a truly brilliant use of simple unisons - then the band bends them into a sharp minor-second intervals, and the band lingers on them. “From the Terrifying to the Fascinating” has the guitars drop out for the midsection to provide a break, which is kept interesting through the intricate hi-hat playing over the pulsating synthesizer. Even the way the samples are used is creative and thoughtful. I absolutely love how the band takes a really overused quote from Taxi Driver and focuses on a different part of the line. This completely reshapes the meaning behind it. On “Kill Again” the intro’s rhythmic theme is reprised, and the words “kill again” are repeated over and over as they are mixed into the earlier theme. It works, because the focus is on the rhythm rather than the words. You never get a cheesy impression from what is basically a murder chant.

All of the interludes, samples, and changes in atmosphere highlight how masterfully balanced the album is. (I say this as someone with little patience for filler, especially ambient filler.) At just under 40 minutes long, the pacing feels just right because it never drags, but it also leaves you with a sense that you’ve heard a complete album. For those reasons The Art to Disappear is easy to listen to, and the best part is that it has the depth to make it an experience well worth repeating. Along the same lines, this isn’t some kind of catchy riff-tastic album designed for you to hum along to. While the band rises above hackneyed industrial themes it’s important to keep in mind that this is, at its heart, a fundamentally alienating album. Spektr even makes this point explicit with the Animatrix sample: “Your flesh is a relic. A mere vessel.” This is one of the best albums I have heard in quite a while. Overall, The Art to Disappear lodges itself right into that precarious sweet spot, where there is a wonderful balance between creativity, heaviness, and atmosphere.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Mortalicum - Eyes Of The Demon

Finding consistent output from a band after four or five albums is like finding a diamond in a mountain of salt. The determination of what consistency really means, however, is different for everyone. Based on this year's best of lists, some people still think Slayer puts out albums worth a spot among the best of the year - whatever that means - but one band that is currently putting out content in a fashion similar to the consistency of say, late 70's - early 80's Judas Priest or 80's Manilla Road (or all Manilla Road) has been Sweden's Mortalicum. Their previous three albums have all been really powerful and memorable albums. 2010's  Progress of Doom, their debut, was a Heavy Metal album with Dio-era Sabbath styling. 2012's The Endtime Prophecy saw a shift to a more traditional doom sound and defined their passionate and thoughtful songwriting leading to 2014's Tears From The Grave which continued in that style with more killer songwriting and near-iconic riffage appearing in songs like "I Dream of Dying", "The Endless Sacrifice," and "I Am Sin."

This year's Eyes of the Demon finally managed to reach my malleus and once again I find myself witness to yet another weighty, thoughtful recording following in the consistency of their previous albums. Eyes of the Demon is more relaxed than previous albums coming across as closer to Saint Vitus' more reflective Born Too Late than something like Pentagram. While the album channels a more upbeat riff style such as can be found on the later classic album, lyrically Patrick Backlund explores austere topics, especially in a song like "The Distant Brave," or "The Lost Art Of Living." Other songs are more inward. "Beneath The Oak," is classic in it's symbolism and subject matter. The album is slanted towards a more liberal perspective, especially viewed from the American political position, however never comes across as proselytizing and - as is the case with all art - could be construed any number of ways to different listeners. Mortalicum are never heavy handed and come across as inquisitive, gently offering a private experience for listeners if they want it. Think of how Accept's Blood of the Nations leans conservative, but you don't really take note of it. 

But for everyone else there is the excellent songwriting and riffs. We get this early on in the album with "Eyes of the Demon," which invokes Pentagram or a less noodly Pagan Altar in one of the album's highlight tracks, especially during the tense double timed bridge section. "Beneath the Oak" also exhibits masterful riff phrasing on top of which Henrik Hogl croons the idyllic vision of two lovers growing old together and reuniting in death. It's beautiful and paired with instrumental "Mars," allows some settling of the first half of songs. "The Dream Goes Ever On" reinvigorates the album's pacing after the slower "Lost Art of Living," with subtle wah-pedal melodies over massive chugging riffs that 'roll like thunder'. "The Distant Brave" is another album highlight track with a quick choppy main riff and subtle drum adjustments courtesy of Andreas Haggstrom. "Onward in Time" includes the album's longest song with two quality guitar solos which I would list as some of the best in the Mortalicum discography but neither really closing in on the magic of Tears From The Grave's magical "I Dream of Dying" solo section.

This is a strong album, worth it's weight in a valuable commodity. The songs are somewhat redundant at times, and some additional variation and some more riffs would have added more complexity. There are some stretches in songs where not a lot is happening to maintain my interest. There are probably some riffs and possibly entire songs here which didn't make the cut for Tears from the Grave or weren't ready yet. I wouldn't claim these are flaws, however. Eyes of the Demon is still quality doom metal of a high caliber. I originally described Mortalicum as having "the vibe of a hardworking garage band that plays local bars" but they've shaken this working class description off with their past two albums. The increasingly topical lyrics, longer songs, and polished tone portends future albums to be more 'thinking man' albums. The band definitely has the ability to make this transition seamless and successful. I'd like to see the band take two or three years after this to really write something that will be timeless. So far all of the band's albums have had at least three or four standout tracks so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they will release one of those must own albums in the next few years which is front to back diamonds encrusted doom hymns.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Onirik - Casket Dream Veneration

Onirik’s Casket Dream Veneration is a true gem of a black metal album. This fantastically quirky release explores and experiments with combinations of old school melodicism with modern dissonant trends. That said, the project isn’t limited to any particular kind of sound or style. It’s as if everything was on the table before all of the ideas were seamlessly molded into a coherent album; it’s gestalt black metal. Some moments are triumphantly filled with expansive and engrossing melodies, others upbeat, and many are just plain weird. Everything on here is pretty damn interesting; yet it’s clear that Onirik values quality over novelty because the dazzling album is never overbearingly experimental.

The experimentation isn’t the only part of the music that’s carefully measured and blended into the mix. Gonius Rex, the master craftsman behind the project, repeatedly demonstrates his complete lack of ego when it comes to songwriting because of how subtly he uses his own considerable talents. On guitar, many of the more technical leads are almost buried by the rhythm section’s progressions (e.g. midway through the title track). Rather than placing these melodies’ beauty and sophistication on an obvious pedestal, Onirik’s solos worm through and fertilize the mix. The vocals too are just another part of Casket Dream Veneration’s grave soil. Gonius Rex has a vast collection of styles; but all of the rasps, moans, and off kilter cleans exists only to enhance the album’s atmosphere.

It’s unfair to single out the guitars and vocals without also mentioning how the high-quality bass sets the foundation for the sprawling melodies. The steady delivery keeps even the most dissonant of the tracks (like the opener) from delving into chaotic mush. It’s an absolutely vital link in the chain between melody and rhythm, and adds plenty of worthwhile moments on its own. Take for example how the bass changes from the third and fourth minutes into “Reverent To The Flames.” It goes from using tremolo notes that complement the blast beats and then shifts to playing a more florid melodic role when the drumming simmers down. This change is really cool because it lets the medieval arpeggio-type melody shine without becoming stale or thin as the song goes on.

In a way, this album is magical because of how it straddles the line between tradition and experimentation so effectively. It’s obviously and unquestionably black metal and weird at the same time. Really weird, but unobtrusively weird. A remarkable example of this balance is in “I Am Him But He Is Not Me.” The last minute and a half of the song has such a ridiculously odd interplay between melodies and rhythms that it will bewilder even the most hardened music listeners. It’s the kind of overly technical mix that absolutely shouldn’t work, but at the same time it sounds remarkable and you could listen to it forever. Such a rare experience in music. Meanwhile, the track still retains its black metal atmosphere. See? Magic.

Despite the album’s abundance of soaring melodies (sometimes reminiscent of Abigor) and grand structures, the closing track has an oddly anticlimactic ending. It feels like the final melody was accidentally cut short. But we’re dealing with Onirik, so we know that it’s an intentional middle finger to cliched endings. The ending is also a sobering reminder of the album’s earlier idiosyncrasies and its weirdness: slow slides on dissonant chords, off kilter moaning vocals, and ornate counterpoint. A reminder is helpful, because all of the album’s unusual elements are incorporated into the songs so smoothly. While countless predictable bands are choking on their own influences in dissonant, traditional, or even experimental black metal; Onirik has welded the styles together (probably better than any other band has) and has created something greater than the sum of its influences.

Friday, January 1, 2016

CTP-029-I: Vile Desecration - 2015 Demo

Vile Desecration - Demo 2015

Old school black death for fans of Beherit, Blasphemy, Varathron.

$4 preorders until 1/14/16. $6 afterwards.

Coinciding with pre-order is a 20% discount on all distro stock. As always, buy three items and get free shipping in the USA or discounted shipping overseas.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

An Empirical Look at 2015's Top Metal Releases

2015 is over, and the many year-end "best metal albums of 2015" lists are an easy way to discover new bands. To get a better sense of the big picture though, I gathered data from 47 different year end lists and put the results of that data into the graphs below. Like last year's article, I'm not pretending that this is scientifically rigorous. But since it combines lists from 47 different authors and polls, this is probably the most representative and objective information available about what are considered to be 2015's top metal albums.

Top 2015 Metal Releases:

This graph shows the top 18 metal releases for 2015, based on what percentage of lists the release appeared on in the data. Only bands clearing the 10% threshold are shown. These 18 bands made up 32% of the top ten list occurrences. In other words, they showed up 151 times out of the 470 potential slots (47 websites with 10 entries each). The top 6 bands made up 16% of the top ten list occurrences.

Ghost's Meliora took the top spot, appearing on 29.79% of the lists. Interestingly, last year, four bands were higher than this percentage and Behemoth's The Satanist appeared on 37.5% of the 2014 lists. This year the leading bands weren't quite so dominant.

Here are the top releases in list format:

Ghost - Meliora 
Deafheaven - New Bermuda
Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls
Tribulation - Children of the Night
Mgła - Exercises in Futility
High on Fire - Luminiferous
Baroness - Purple (Abraxan Hymns)
Cattle Decaptitation - The Anthropocene of Extinction
Horrendous - Anareta
Paradise Lost - The Plague Within
Panopticon - Autumn Eternal
Between the Buried and Me - Coma Ecliptic
Enslaved - In Times
Intronaut - The Direction of Last Things
Lamb of God - VII: Sturm Und Drang
Myrkur - M
Royal Thunder - Crooked Doors
Slayer - Repentless

Top 2015 Metal Sub-Genres:

This graphs shows a breakdown of the same data while looking at the sub-genre of the entries. The numbers add up to over 100% because bands can have more than one genre. In fact, having multiple genres was the most common arrangement this year by a fair margin. This 41.7% is a jump from last year's 30.25% rate for what I've labeled as hybrid genres.

In pure genre terms, black metal was the most popular this year. You'll also notice that non-metal releases were more popular than almost all of the sub-genres. Non-metal releases also jumped from 2014's 12% to 17% this year. As I explain in the methodology below, genres information, including metal versus non-metal, was decided using the Metal Archives.

Top 2015 Record Labels:

1/13/2016 Update: The Prior Version of this Chart Inadvertently Omitted 20 Buck Spin

The third and final graph here shows which record labels were most common on the year end lists. Like last year, Nuclear Blast Records and Century Media Records are basically neck and neck and are the clearly the most dominant labels in these lists. An interesting tidbit from that data that isn't shown here is how labels vary in how many bands contributed to their success. Loma Vista Recordings is here only because of Ghost, where a more diversified label like Napalm Records had nine different bands contributing to their success.

I did not attach label data to non-metal bands because this graph is intended to illustrate the degree of record label dominance in the world of metal. The above 22 labels together took up 60.43% of the 470 available year end list slots. Nuclear Blast and Century Media consisted of 16.8%, down from last year's 20%. The cut off here is at the .85% level to keep the graph reasonably readable.

For those interested in economics, if you were to view the top-ten releases as their own separate market, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index for the above labels would be .0254, indicating a competitive market, and one that is more competitive than last year's.

Notes on My Methods:
  •  Information on genres, whether a band was metal or not, and label data were pulled from the Metal Archives.
  • In an attempt to avoid imputing my own taste biases, the vast majority of the websites were selected from the top google search results (with cookies/tracking disabled) for terms like “top/best 2015 metal” and the like.
  • I excluded mid-year lists, sub-genre lists, worst-of, and “most underrated” type lists.
  • I accessed 47 websites because this was about as many as I could find by using the above method and by adding lists from websites I personally read.
  • No bands were excluded for not being metal. If a list included a band, I included it.
  • Only the top 10 from any list were included. This was done to have some continuity across websites in terms of the weight of their data. I excluded sites with lists of less than 10; this way each website is on equal footing.
  • Since different websites can have in-house tastes, websites with multiple lists were selected only once, and at random.
  • Other than looking at only the top 10, rankings were not considered or averaged. Rankings like these are what is known as ordinal data and typically cannot be averaged in a meaningful way.
  • As a quick example, suppose List 1’s author thinks we had a weak year and would rate their #9 album at 73/100 and their #2 spot only 75/100. We can’t meaningfully compare this with List 2’s author rating their #9 album a 80/100 and their #2 100/100 because we have only rankings, and not ratings.
  • No individual website’s list is reproduced here, neither is the entire dataset.
  • I gathered label data only on metal bands. It’s also important to keep in mind that not every label releases music every year.
  • The list of websites accessed is in the spoiler tag below. Yes we know that many of them are awful websites with even worse taste, but there are a lot of good ones in there too.

God: 12.24.45 - 12.28.15

To Lemmy
"Motorhead was the first band I ever saw live. 2003, Motorhead, Dio, Iron Maiden at Madison Square garden. I wasn't familiar with any of the bands at the time. I went to the show with my friend Ryan who was a couple grades older than me in high school. All I can remember was how nonchalant Lemmy was on stage. He came, he played, he conquered, stoic in front of so many crazy fans. Just Loud, and massive, and the grit could scrape enamel off steel. The total counterpoint to Dio and Maiden that night. I remember seeing them a few years ago and they were still the loudest band I've ever heard. Consistency is a virtue in metal, and Lemmy exemplified it both personally and professionally. I can't imagine metalheads in the future not having some experience or memory of Motorhead outside of the music they left behind. Its almost a rite of passage to see Motorhead. Who will take that place now? There aren't many left. The adage that if Motorhead moved next door, your lawn would die must certainly ring true, because now that Lemmy's moved to the great next door, it seems like all the grass in town has begun to die off. That might be due to the appearance - finally - of cold weather here in the northeast, or the endless rain we've had drowning everything, but I'd like to think that cold weather and rain is also Lemmy's doing. One last big middle finger to all of us, of course, in jest. The world is a far less honest place going forward."

- Orion

"Lemmy lived fast and went further. He lived the lifestyle, and he stayed with it until the end. So many times in his life, others would have stopped, but Lemmy lived rock and roll. He was playing every night last year, and taking two nights off was a big deal. Guys 10-20 years younger than him take a night or two off between each show. Most folks quit by their mid-20s, while Lemmy joined Hawkwind then. By 30, he was out of the band but kept going. Around 40, the whole Motorhead lineup turned over in a few years. Many other rockers quit the lifestyle in one way or another even if they kept playing their old music. Lemmy never quit the lifestyle, playing every night on tour until the end. He rocked in England before the British invasion, and he's the only guy who saw it through and through for the next 50 years.
Live fast and live long."

- Steve

"Lemmy was one of a kind. A man that owned whatever room he was in no matter if it was a massive amphitheater or a tiny room. When he got up on stage with his Rickenbacker it was larger than life. Even with his lifestyle being hard and fast for most of his life he still managed to keep going until he was well into his 60's. He lived for his music, and to have everyone in the crowd experience true rock and roll. Louder, faster, and dirtier than anyone else. The blueprint for ever metal band to come. There will never be another Lemmy, another Motorhead. Celebrate the good times that were had. Play it fucking loud. Have a few beers, shots, or whatever else you want. Do it for the god that walked the earth for 70 years that never compromised on anything."

- Atomic Destructor From Hell (Maximum Oversatan

"As long as I have been a Metal fan Motorhead have been there. I got into them when I was in 4th grade after hearing their praise from like every other band I already liked. My brother and I would stay up late on Saturdays and watch Headbanger's Ball, pretty much from the first time I saw a Motorhead vid on there I was sold. I ended up getting 1916 upon it's release, and it was my BIG album of that summer, though Overkill has always been my fav. They have in one way or another (either musically or attitudewise) been a foundational structure of just about every single band I've ever played in. I've also had the fortune of having 9/10 bandmates who loved them as well. It's typical to say whenever any musician passes that the world has lost a giant, but we really did this time. Lemmy liked to party but he wasn't some pathetic junkie who had 15 mins of fame in the 90's and overstayed his welcome, nor was he a cartoon character in a costume for a joke band who had 15 mins of fame in the 90's but the rest of the world took seriously. He was the true King of Rock N' Roll, and the throne will now remain empty forever. Rock and Metal as productive genres have been dead to me for quite some time now, but this was indeed the final nail in the coffin. There are no more heroes. R.I.P. Lemmy, the world is fucked without you......"

- Mike Keller (Sacrificial Blood, Maximum Oversatan

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Legion of Thor - Complete Discography

This isn't normally something I'd review, but curiosity and duty called and required a listen. The band's genre was reported as being incorrect on Metal Archives, and it stood out, though not for good reasons. I knew the band solely from this comment by admin Azmodes:

"Just FYI, that band is blacklisted for being "NS Deathcore". Now there's a constellation of words I was hoping I'd never see... :ugh:"

As Tom G. Warrior said, "are you morbid?" Morbidly curious, that's for sure. Full disclosure, this all sucks. 

Winds of Change (1999)

Legion of Thor started out as a punk band before later shifting to a metalcore/deathcore style. This album is almost entirely simple power chord punk played over a drum machine, no nice punk basslines or anything fancy. I'd guess the main influences are Skrewdriver and Landser - LoT play a similar, minimal form of hardcore punk/RAC, though this lacks the anthemic feel of RAC. The essence of RAC, as those bands played it, was shouting the message - big choruses shouting a simple phrase, the music focused on the vocalist, since the lyrics are the focus. LoT have none of that. The vocals have no charisma, they're just boring, sharp shouts. They don't lead the music, nothing really does, and the guitars overwhelm the vocals in the mix. I suppose it's about attitude, but it's got a shitty attitude and no character, so what's the point?

2000 (2000)

Legion of Thor's second album is an improvement on the first in many ways, though not much better. The guitar tone is a bit thicker, which conceals the drum machine a little. Still hardcore punk in nature, the guitars now have a metallic flair with muted chugs to accentuate riffs, even some guitar solos. There's even some semblance of hooks in the guitars, though not nearly enough to redeem this. The vocals are up front - gruff shouts reminiscent of Landser. Once again, they fail to lead the music. There's just no charisma here, they don't even attempt the anthemic shouts and sick sing-alongs that are normally highlights of their kin. They don't even go for the signature backing shouts of Oi/street punk/RAC or whatever you want to call it. It's just brash and boorish with no charm to it. I guess this sort of stuff was pushed by ideologically driven labels at the time, just for the sake of having their own music to legitimize their ideology in young minds. I'll just look back on it for the incoherent shit that it is.

Blood, Pride, Pain (2000)

After releasing two albums of the world's most boring hardcore/RAC, Legion of Thor took a quick turn when they seem to have discovered the contemporary NS scene in Germany. Tacky artwork was replaced by a painting from a Games Workshop book on dwarves (take that, symbolically, as you will) and the album introduced by the clanking swords of battle, and outroduced by a folky acoustic guitar bit. It seems they discovered Absurd, Aryan Blood, and Totenburg, perhaps even foreign influences such as Graveland! These elements provide the frame for a new era of Legion of Thor...

...which sounds more or less like their previous album, only the guitarist got a lot better at chugging. Most of this album seems fairly thrashy as a result, a hardcore punk band getting really aggressive on the chugging parts in addition to power chord riffs. Aside from the intro/outro and an infusion of gallops and melody on the second track, this isn't much more than the same old punk band this always was with a newfound tremolo/chugging attack. The drum machine is now programmed with double bass to complement the guitars, and it's better masked in the mix, but it hardly improves the music. The vocalist is still a hoarse barker so devoid of personality that he could suck the hate out of a Skrewdriver anthem. This band still sucks, even though they've found a streak of new blood to imitate.

The 4th Crusade (2004)

After a rapid evolution from simple punk to thrash-tinged metalcore seemingly driven by an improvement in guitar picking technique, Legion of Thor leapt forward to a more modern style with a heavy emphasis on downtuned chugging and palm muting. That is to say, their style started to sound like mallcore. From the harmonics in "Berlin" to the awful System of a Down cover, this band has found a new way to be terrible.

The puzzling thing is that the band still doesn't bring in any of the strong qualities of what they are clearly imitating. The 90s-style metalcore chugging is slurred but has no character, the d-beats have no swing, and the chugs have no groove. They can't even pull off a breakdown, as sad as that is. The songs aren't anthemic or catchy like most RAC, the heaviness feels lethargic rather than energetic like hardcore could be. The performances are tight enough that it isn't an accident, but this sounds like a garage rock band where the only time they seem to be trying to express anything is a handful of squibbly leads.

The persistent mediocrity through four albums shows how this style was manufactured and marketed on ideology, while the music itself was reheated chop suey. Ugh, no pun intended.

Amen (2006)

In case you were ever wondering if NS deathcore was as bad as it sounds... yes, it is.

This is a mix of dirty, slurred groove/death metal riffs and deathcore breakdowns that are puzzlingly reminiscent of punchdafuckup mallcore. The former is like a dumbed down modern Napalm Death, the latter like a retarded Soulfly clone. For all the downtuned chuggy mallcore feeling here, the vocalist is still grunting background noise and can't even work out a hook, nor can anyone else in the band. How the fuck is this band on their fifth album and still this bad? They can't even copy the templates of the shit they're aping - they lack the bounce of mallcore, the groove of any sorta death/groove/grind, the aggression of metal, the catchy hate of RAC. They have none of it, just limp, slurred downtuned guitars and low grunts. This is a band who has repeatedly failed to ape others throughout their "career" and this bad? They can't even channel their hate/angst into their NS deathcore. How the fuck does that even work?

It doesn't.

Feuer & Flamme (2009)

Continuing their evolution into sounding slightly better while still creating shit music, Legion of Thor play a pretty tight and heavy beatdown hardcore/nu-metal hybrid. The latter is purely for the phat chugz, because these bozos still don't have an ounce of radio rock sensibility. They hardly have a sense of how breakdowns work either, diving headlong into long stretches of chugging interspersed with guitar squeals and gang vocals while not being very effective at getting there. Rather than buildup up energy and breaking it down with beatdown sections, this is more breakdown than not, and the contrasting sections don't really make any sense within the songs. Most of a song will be a breakdown, and there will be an odd, out-of-place section in the middle.

The second half of the album has a fair number of melodic metalcore riffs, and while the riffs and songwriting are still poor, it is pretty standout in such a mediocre discography. There's half a dozen songs here which could probably moshed to. Legion of Thor could've been a legit D-list local hardcore opener five years before this album came out.

Wir Wollen Leben (2013)

It isn't every day that I get to soapbox about a bunch of cultural appropriation by a group of German Nazis, but these guys couldn't be any worse at jacking Hatebreed riffs and aping New England metalcore/melodeath. True, I was raised on scattershot melodeath riffs with random breakdowns, but I haven't got the slightest clue what these guys are doing with them, though this has the most variety of their discography. Maybe their imitation of European bands simply reminds me of local bands imitating European bands, but this band's whole discography astounds me as they've been at it for over a decade and still sound like amateurs a decade behind their time.

While they lead the album off with more breakdown-oriented stuff, the majority of this album sounds like every teenage kid I knew who figured out how to play string skipping melodic riffs (think "Slaughter of the Soul") interspersed with tremolo picking, interrupted by breakdowns before a few parts could be sensibly strung together. The songs have no structure - there's no verse/chorus structure, they don't build up to breakdowns, they don't frame the anthems of the hardcore gang vocals, and they certainly don't have the interwoven melodic structures of early At the Gates. Oh yeah, and have I mentioned the random Hitler samples? I think it is apparent that the band have never played for a crowd either, because the vocalist has less charisma than a rusted-out Volkswagen and the drum machine stands out here more than ever, with bonky samples punching through more than the guitars.

As the great philosopher Azmodes once said, "that band is "NS Deathcore". Now there's a constellation of words I was hoping I'd never see..." So please, Legion of Thor, stop stealing my state's culture and playing crappy, utterly derivative metalcore.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Plutonian Shore - Sphere Of Geburah

My experience with Plutonian Shore prior to Sphere of Geburah is their previous very good early Satyricon inspired material from the Alchemical Manifestations split with A Transylvanian Funeral. Here, we get a full length release of material similar, though matured and more vicious. Twisting songs drag the listener through intense black metal landscapes. Tremolo guitar riffs adorn the release like baubles; plenty of detail and subtlety make this a rich listening experience - even with shorter than normal black metal song lengths - that does not immediately relinquish the numerous secrets hidden among what is a lively production. Distant guitars, prominent drums, audible bass, more passion, and clarity without being overly polished effect naturality.

Opening with "Infinite Womb", material draws influences from modern US black metal into the material however without the detrimental tinge of being a copycat of trends. Somewhere between Dissection and early Immortal in riff style, Plutonian Shore should appeal to a wide variety of black metal fans. My only complaint was the dialing back of 'symfonia' compared to what I remember. Modern USBM influences are obvious in the pummeling bombast of the drums. Atmosphere has been thrown to the wind in favor of sheer power. There is an overall immediacy to the album, with plenty of shorter songs, punctuated with a large quantity of ideas. Plutonian Shore have compressed what takes average black metal bands six or seven minutes to get across into half that time without sacrificing the feel of the material. This is evidenced right by the start with "Infinite Womb." Only a couple riffs repeat more than twice giving a decisive feel.

"Sphere of Geburah" leads off with a vicious tremolo descending phrase after the devious melodies of "Chains of Being" finally culminate. Plutonian Shore have ensured that each song flows appropriately into each other by differentiating melodies and riffs at the transitional moments between songs. Some songs do have similar sounding progressions but their proximity across the album prevents blurring. This isn't entirely true in regards to the percussion, which isn't as varied or mixed. While some tracks such as the previously mentioned "Chain of Being" and "At The Gates of Daath" have some more accentuated drum parts, and "Fiery Splendor" and album highlight "The Burial And The Liberation" make use of more moderately paced beats, a lot of the album is blasting. Drummer Gorgon shows his talent by way of endurance and the execution of his numerous drum fills but additional unique patterns would have helped some songs stand out more.

"Serpent's Ascension" includes some subtle vocal overdubs. Zvs Gastelum's voice is raspy, rich, and commanding. Most of the album's vocals are in the mid-range of black metal growls, though at times Zvs does reach towards higher screeches to emphasize certain moments in a more theatrical manner. "At The Gates of Daath" begins the final three tracks - two of which are my favorites on this release - utilizing this technique over tense traditional black metal riffing. The album culminates with the masterful "The Burial and the Liberation." A more mid-paced track, it sets a nice contrast to the rest of the album's pace. The dropped tempo lasts for only a couple minutes, as the track does speed up halfway through. Ringing notes, an atmosphere of finality, and foreboding of dread all emanate strongly from "The Burial..." as well as much of the rest of the album. Strong black metal worth becoming familiar with.