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Archive for February, 2011

Virus, The Agent That Shapes The Desert (2011)

Totally in love with the album title

My review of the new album from Norwegian avant-garde standard-bearers Virus is up now over at Metal Review.  RIYL: music.

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In which are briefly chronicled some of the noises that have been stuck in my ears of late.

Darkest Era, The Last Caress of Light

This brilliant Irish outfit flirts with the best of traditional and folk metal, coming across like the beautiful love-child of Primordial and Atlantean Kodex.  Gorgeously powerful and emotive vocals, stirring rhythms, and twin guitar lullabies to tuck you right in.  If you’re missing out on this, you’re missing out on one of the best metal albums of this still-young year.

Negative Plane, Stained Glass Revelations

Oh my, is this ever an intoxicating sound.  Psychedelic without requiring drug use, with that old sound that might as well be the best new sound you’ve heard, Negative Plane’s shimmeringly melodic black metal is backed with some coarse black/thrash vocals and some seriously detailed compositional chops.  This is an album to get lost inside.

Crowbar, Sever the Wicked Hand

Still sorting out my thoughts on this one.  In most respects, it seems like quintessential Crowbar (though admittedly I’ve been tuned out since Odd Fellows Rest, so maybe the ‘quint-‘ in quintessential has changed in the interim), and while it’s on, and loud, I’m pulled in, but when it’s over, I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot retained in muscle memory.  Probably it just needs more spins, but for something so ostensibly formed around The Crushing Riff, the absence of memorability is a slightly worrying sign.  Plus, that guitar tone is like plexiglass when I want concrete.

Death, The Sound of Perseverance (3 Disc Deluxe Reissue)

Before snapping up this triple-disc reissue, it had probably been five years or so since I’d last spun The Sound of Perseverance.  Opinions seem awfully mixed on this one among Death fans, and while it’s certainly not my favorite of theirs, I also don’t think it’s their worst, and the fact that so many of these songs remained burned into my mind despite a five-year hiatus meant that this felt like the return of a long-wayward friend.  Two discs of bonus material is a bit much to handle, but the alternate takes and demos from 1996 with different vocalists on disc 3 are quite interesting.  Certainly worth a revisiting, particularly in advance of the long-promised sophomore album from Control Denied.

Belphegor, Blood Magick Necromance

Music this intentionally offensive shouldn’t work so well to relax me, but that’s what Belphegor does.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the last album, but so far, I’ve really been digging on Blood Magick Necromance.  Nothing at all is one bit different, so if you’ve never been on board with the melodic sheen slapped over the Behemoth/Arkhon Infaustus black/death hybrid, today will be just like every Belphegor-free day before for you.  All I know is, this shit really hits a very particular kind of spot, and yeah, it’s kind of soothing.

Miles Davis, Bitches Brew Live


Man, this is some deep intense grooving from Miles in his electric prime.  Phil Freeman over at Burning Ambulance wrote a great review of this a few weeks back, so check that out for the real dirt on this fantastic release.  For as much as I love the spooky atmospherics of Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way, the two live gigs documented on this disc are all about the hard, spitfire jam, not the drawn-out meditation.  Turn it up loud and drink in those colors.

Årabrot, Revenge

Spazzy, noisy, occasionally jazzy and off-kilter rock with hints of sludge from Norway.  Not bad, eh?  Årabrot sounds like a mathier, more metal version of The Jesus Lizard, maybe (or at least the vocals are a dead match for David Yow, or occasionally Mike Patton), with all manner of toxic skronk.  This album is strangely addictive for something so initially abrasive.  Check it, let it wreck you.

At The Soundawn, Shifting

I missed out on this one from last year, but it’s really been satisfying lately.  Sure, it’s a bit soft for the true METAL hearts among you out there, but to my ears, it sounds like At The Soundawn has sketched a great triangle of sonic influences, with Burst (r.i.p., waaaaaaaah), Thrice, and Sigur Ros as the corners.  Toss in some classy trumpet and some of the jazzy/fusion touches in the drumming (a bit like Intronaut’s Valley Of Smoke, I guess) and some tabla drums and hell, you’ve got yourself one right proper mess that nevertheless works.

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That’s what’s been bothering the ears over at Spinal Tapdance HQ lately, friends.  What’s cracking around your cranium?
– dhok

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Drug Honkey, Death Dub

Wires and blurred flashes and paranoia, but also boredom

My review of the fucked-noise punishment of Drug Honkey’s Death Dub (reissued on Diabolical Conquest Records) is up now over at Metal Review.  I’m sure there would have been a much faster way to say, “I don’t really like it all that much,” but the mind, it just goes to a place.  If you are currently busy eating drugs, you will likely find this either a) the very first thing you might like to listen to, or b) the very last thing you probably should listen to.  Bad noises for bad people.

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I have this on a t-shirt. It makes me feel big and strong when I wear the t-shirt.

My review of the 2011 reissue of Neurosis’s third album (the official release date for which is, handily enough, today), 1992’s Souls At Zero, is posted now over at Metal Review.  Please forgive my having waxed long-winded, but Neurosis is the kind of band that just does that to a guy.

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A Funeral at Stonehenge

My review of the split between Evoken and Beneath the Frozen Soil – out now on I Hate Records – is up now at Metal Review.  Be prepared for some severely odd comparisons with children’s movies, and you’ll do just fine.

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Friends, if you’ve stayed with me throughout these trying times, you are all saints.  We have at last reached the end of these old reviews I found sitting around on an old external hard drive, meaning that we will shortly be returning you to the regularly-scheduled amount of overwrought verbiage and incomprehensible sarcasm.  I am just as relieved as you.

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Converge, You Fail Me (2004)

Is that supposed to be an ape hand or something?

Although Converge had long been one of extreme music’s most respected and hard-working bands, the landmark acclaim and success they achieved with 2001’s Jane Doe guaranteed that crafting a follow-up that satisfied fans and critics without sacrificing their creative progression would be no small task.  With You Fail Me, however, Converge has again succeeded admirably, delivering a swift kick to the head of all those who would doubt their conviction or ability to continue producing scathingly intense music with a very real emotional core.

For the most part, the songs on You Fail Me display many of Converge’s trademarks: furiously churning guitars that duel and collide with the drums to form chaotic, echoing rhythms, Jacob Bannon’s tortured, animalistic wailing, and breakneck tempos.  Nowhere is this tradition better upheld than in standout tracks such as “Black Cloud,” “Eagles Become Vultures,” and “Heartless,” with its stuttering, chanting finale.  What truly makes this album stand out from the rest of Converge’s thoroughly accomplished oeuvre are the small refinements of their sound.  For example, the mesmerizing guitar melody that carries the latter half of “Drop Out” helps to elevate the lyrics above the whipping maelstrom of the drums and bass.  “First Light” begins the album with a melancholic solo guitar line so languid that it threatens to dissipate into pure feedback.  “Last Light” offers another unique take on Converge’s often barely controlled chaos: more so than on any other song, it is the propulsive drums that carry this piece all the way through, from the simple guitar chords of its intro to the convulsive breakdown at its conclusion.

The true heart of this album, however, must be the back-to-back ordering of its two longest songs, “You Fail Me” and “In Her Shadow.”  The monstrous title track is deceptively simple, but its power comes from its sheer bludgeoning force.  Though a simple, plodding rhythm forms the song’s foundation, more layers are gradually added, and when the song reaches its peak, the results are truly massive.  “In Her Shadow,” as it opens with a gently strummed acoustic guitar, would seem to be a welcome respite from the blistering title track.  Gradually, though, it becomes something much more sinister.  The vocals throughout are ghostly, mirroring the feedback in which the whole piece is awash.  As the song progresses, it builds and builds, always threatening to overtake itself.  Once the drums enter, they lead the song into martial disarray, and by the time the song reaches its climax, the drums are about all that can be reasonably distinguished from the underlying chaos; in fact, certain moments of this song wouldn’t be out of place on a Neurosis album.

In the end, though, what makes this album so convincing, like Jane Doe before it, is that it brutally pummels the listener not just with aggression, but also with emotion.  You Fail Me is significantly shorter than Jane Doe, however, and the emotional tone is markedly different as well.  No matter what one may be able to decipher from Jacob Bannon’s excellent lyrics, it is indisputable that there lies at the core of them some real anguish.  Although Jane Doe had its fair share of anger, there was hope, too, perhaps most notably in the way the closing track faded out amidst Bannon’s glorious shouts of “Run on!”  By contrast, the anger throughout You Fail Me feels a bit more resigned, a bit more desperate.  On the closing track, “Hanging Moon,” Bannon begins his entreaty of “Be my light in this world of darkness,” but the song, and the album, cuts him tragically short, allowing only for the words “Be my…”  Perhaps there is hope in that, too.  What is certain, however, is that Converge has made another haunting record that is just as likely to make you weep as it is to kick in your teeth.

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Okay, well maybe that one wasn’t so bad.  Back up to my typical standards of pretension, at least.  Seriously, though: Can you imagine many other bands, following up an album as thoroughly-masturbated-about as Jane Doe, putting out such an abrasively honest, emotionally-damaged statement as this?  You Fail Me remains, in my opinion, a criminally underrated episode in Converge’s rightly-feted discography.

Anyway, that’s it for my vault-plundering exploits.  Thanks for coming along for the ride; sorry about all the sick in the passenger’s seat.  Occupational hazard of reading old writing, I figure.  Be my light in this world of darkness, won’t you?

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Have you been flinching as much as I have on this trip into the time when words were small, and ambitions smaller, and opinions surprisingly timid?  Have you recalled the follies of your own former selves in the process, or has the calcifying march of time so blotted the stains of memory as to render them fuzzed and vaguely pleasant?

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Mastodon, Leviathan (2004)

Still some of the coolest fucking album art in, like, ever

Certainly among the most highly anticipated releases of 2004, Mastodon’s sophomore full-length Leviathan has already been subjected to endless hyperbole, so I will do my best not to add to the prattle.  As in any case where the expectations are so high, it is inevitable that many will be disappointed with Leviathan.  Those who are most likely to be disappointed, however, are those who were expecting Mastodon to release Remission – Pt. II, with little or no alteration to their already crushing and well-developed style.  Instead of treading water (pun only slightly intended), however, Mastodon has incorporated more melody, especially into the vocals – which are no longer hoarse barks, but rather tuneful bellows – and has polished the production up a bit.  Neither of these developments, though, has made their overall sound any less punishing.

Despite these modifications, Leviathan may be easily compared to Remission due to the fact that Mastodon has again written an incredibly strong group of songs, and simply plays the hell out of them.  Brann Dailor’s drumming is still the most easily recognizable and unique facet of their sound, as he whips through churning, chaotic rhythms with a subtlety and understated flair borrowed from jazz and progressive rock.  “Blood and Thunder” and “I Am Ahab” kick off the album furiously, while introducing the aquatic theme (much of it taken from Melville’s Moby Dick) of the record.  Far from being a mere pretentious bid for intellectual and musical depth, Mastodon’s sound is indeed massive enough to deserve the theme it claims, easily evoking visions of monstrous creatures rising from the watery deep to feed on the hearts and flesh of man.

Other album highlights include “Naked Burn,” in which Mastodon’s new found sense of melody is used to great effect; “Aqua Dementia,” which features throat-tearing guest vocals by Scott Kelly of Neurosis; and the positively epic “Hearts Alive,” which is able to suggest both crushing weight and transcendent beauty, as a ray of sunlight pierces the murky abyss.  Throughout Leviathan, Mastodon’s playing is fluid, inspired, and inspiring.  Although this attempt to avoid hyperbole has clearly failed, this is one band whose hype and acclaim is more than well-deserved, given that over the course of just two full-length albums they have managed to discover new ways for heavy metal to be heavy.

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Dry, right?  Although there’s probably something to be said in favor of this more straightforward writing style.  Generally folks aim to get less pretentious as they age, but I seem to by doing my utmost and damnedest to reverse that pernicious trend.  Don’t encourage me, then; I’m incorrigible.

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