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Archive for April, 2011

Graveyard, Hisingen Blues (2011)

Swim those vast oceans

My review of the second album from Swedish proto-metal/blues rockers Graveyard is up now over at MetalReview.  Despisers of good times need not apply.  Hisingen Blues is out now on Nuclear Blast.

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Rabbits, Lower Forms (2011)

We're in the shadow of a dying world

My review of the new album from Portland-based sludge/noise rockers Rabbits is posted now over at Metal Review.  Lower Forms is out now on Relapse Records.

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Winter, Into Darkness (1990/2011 reissue)

None more bleak

My review of the recent Southern Lord reissue of seminal New York death/doom band Winter’s only full-length album is up now at Metal ReviewInto Darkness has stood the test of time and then some, serving as a genuinely creepy monument to the foundation-trembling power of truly elemental doom.

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Pyrrhon, An Excellent Servant But A Terrible Master (2011)

Which is worse: Never being rocked, or always being not rocked?

Full disclosure: I approached this review with a fair amount of trepidation, because Doug Moore, Pyrrhon’s vocalist and lyricist, is not only a fellow staff writer over at Metal Review, but is also an all-around Good Dude.  Still, it would take an overweening amount of Good Dude-ness to make me overlook shitty music, of which I am happy to report Pyrrhon delivers precisely zero.

You and I and your grandmother all know that overly technical metal follows the law of diminishing returns: the first squiggly insane bit blows one’s mind, but keep it up for too long, and squiggly insane bits number two through x will assuredly fall on tired ears.  Thus, New York’s own Pyrrhon succeeds where a lot of ultra-technical death metal acts fail by actually allowing the listener to get her rhythmic bearings before going off on a fret-abusing tear (see “Glossolalian” for a prime example of this at work).  Too many of the glitchy meth-or-Red-Bull-heads in tech death bands start by writing frantically technical parts, then attempt to wedge them into loosely recognizable songs.  Pyrrhon’s approach is the opposite: creating a solid frame of a song, which is then adorned with and debased by flights of sheer heart attack (see “Correcting a Mistake,” where the bass-only opening is not simply a solo spot, but actually previews the skewed melodic riffing of the guitars).

This is technical death metal not on the model of Decrepit Birth, Obscura, or any of that other relentlessly modern fare, but more on the queasy, churning darkness of Ulcerate.  Or, perhaps, imagine if Gorguts had written an album halfway between the styles of The Erosion Of Sanity and Obscura.  All of which is a roundabout way of saying, Pyrrhon is technical as all shit, but the guitars aren’t just senselessly puking up pinches and squeals and taps – when they do appear, they function as effective rhythmic landmarks (see the opening of “Flesh Isolation Chamber,” for example).  Just as one’s senses are ruthlessly toyed with, jerked half a beat this way before being yanked entirely in another direction, there are always little footstools of solidity, fleeting though they may be.

Check out the guitars at around the three-minute mark of “New Parasite” and the clean guitar section in “Gamma Knife” for some excellently woozy pitch-bending, sounding like some alien deep space radar, quietly pinging out the dead oceans of time.  Dylan DeLilla’s solo sections are wonderfully psychedelic, and very atypical for this kind of death metal – see especially the midsection of “The Architect Confesses,” with Erik Malave’s thick, purling bass backing an otherworldly spaghetti Western Hendrix.  Alex Cohen’s drumming alternately blasts and breathes, smoothly cocooning the broken shard guitar riffing.  “Idiot Circles” is a fine example of the monomaniacal dismantling of the tenuous border fences between the great bruising beatdowns of hardcore and the harrowing land of avant-garde death metal, throwing in some Suffocation influence to complement the skronky dissonance of Deathspell Omega and the jerky time-stretch fuckery of Gorguts and Ulcerate that prevail throughout An Excellent Servant…

Moore’s vocals are a hugely versatile instrument used to great effect throughout the album.  “Gamma Knife” in particular is a great vocal showcase, featuring a huge range of techniques: spacey effects, deep, throaty bellows, and mid-range snarls.  The overwhelming effect, though, is that the vocals are always nervily focused on throttling intensity of delivery rather than dry perfection of techniques.  You may also find yourself quite the paranoiac, constantly stealing glances over your shoulder during the spooky clean section of “Flesh Isolation Chamber,” which shows off the clean enunciation of Moore’s dangerously-unhinged vocals.  The song, in fact, is probably the best one on the album, as it displays the full range of Pyrrhon’s stylistic touches, plus the way it keeps lurching and threatening to come apart at the seams toward the end is a nice effect.

Since I’ve made a right fuss about Moore’s expressive vocal delivery, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the man’s lyrics are a masterful blend of evocative imagery and forceful economy, one that finds a certain apocalyptic resonance not in the overwrought violence of world wars or collapsing cities, but rather in the quotidian tyranny of alienation and disaffection.  The lyrics to “Gamma Knife” read like a Kafka-esque version of Tom Waits’s “Alice”:

“A great, silent heart
Sprouting vein-trees and capillary branches
Rendered obsolete
and spinning lonely through the ice.”

The lyrics also invoke a blighted urbanism, rather like a resigned instead of revolutionary version of Alan Averill’s fanatical protagonist on Blood Revolt’s Indoctrine.  One of the absolute finest phrases in this style comes from “Flesh Isolation Chamber”:

“Which is worse:
Always being watched
Or never being seen?”

Moore’s lyrics are most clearly distinguished at the most crucial point, the last lines of the album: “I don’t give a fuck what happens to me / All I want is to go to sleep.”  What follows that final exhortation is yet another twisted guitar solo section, singing for all the damned world a demented lullaby.  An Excellent Servant But A Terrible Master is delightfully entropic; or, at the very least, its musical text can be read as a dialectic between order and chaos, surging, heaving, lunging onward to respite or ruin.  But tending – as always, with everything – to entropy.

This is a remarkable debut from a confident and talented band, and there is absolutely no reason that Pyrrhon should still be without a label.  Willowtip, Crucial Blast, Relapse, Profound Lore, somebody: get on this shit now.

Overall rating: 85%.

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Graveyard Dirt, For Grace Or Damnation (2010)

A suitably mournful vista

My review of the long-awaited debut album from Irish doom troupe Graveyard Dirt is posted over at MetalReview.  It’s a brilliantly-executed treatise on masterful doom/death metal, which makes all the more bittersweet a recent announcement on the band’s Myspace page that seems to indicate any further output from the band is unlikely.  On the strength of this album, that’s a real shame, but don’t let my maudlin hand-wringing prevent you from tracking down this kingly slice of delicious metal.

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Necros Christos, Doom Of The Occult (2011)

Outstanding artwork. The music, not so much.

My review of the second full-length album from underground German death metal heroes Necros Christos is up now over yonder at Metal Review.  Quick preview: Doom Of The Occult is a total snoozefest.  I know this album has been very highly anticipated by a certain sector of the metal community, and it’s being released by both Ván Records and the Ajna Offensive, which are generally staunchly consistent standard-bearers for high quality (though generally ultra-serious) black and death metal.  Let those facts not blind you to the overwhelming dullness of this album; did you know that Primordial has a new album out this month?

 

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There are few things more satisfying than a truly excellent split album.  The options are fairly wide open, of course: One can find two bands that play very similar styles, and hope that a friendly spirit of competition will urge each of them to produce exceptionally good songs; one can find two bands whose styles don’t necessarily seem perfectly matched, yet when presented as a complement to the other featured act, make some curious sense together; or, of course, one can find two completely unrelated and bizarre bands to pair, and just revel in the strangeness.  All of these strategies can be used quite effectively.

Here are some of the successful splits I’ve got around the house that first came to mind:

Fen & De Arma


Cough & The Wounded Kings


Horna & Musta Surma


Horna & Behexen (the Finns must be quite good as this, because this is another phenomenal black metal split)

Most of these splits fall into that first category, I suppose, although the Cough & Wounded Kings split seems more like the second category.  Nevertheless, all of these are incredibly delicious splits.  Still, the entire reason I got to thinking about these split albums in the first place was because of a truly world-devouring split that didn’t happen.

Blut Aus Nord – Thematic Emanations Of Archetypal Multiplicity


The Axis Of Perdition – Physical Illucinations From The Sewer Of Xuchilbara (The Red God)


You see, these two EPs were originally intended to be released as a split album, and the more I listen to both of them, the more I am completely devastated that they were not released as such.  Now, I own both of these mini-albums on CD, so of course I can (and do) just play them back-to-back.  But that’s not really the point.  If these two monstrous recordings had been issued on the same disc (or as a split vinyl!!!!), I have little hesitation in saying that they would qualify for the title of BEST SPLIT ALBUM EVER.  Blut Aus Nord dipped into a completely new style of groaning industrial beauty on Thematic Emanations, closer in spirit to Ulver’s Perdition City than anything else in the French mystiques’ catalog (well, perhaps until this year’s mind-blowing 777 – Sect(s), but that’s another story…), while the Axis Of Perdition took the overblown insanity of their debut to new atmospheric and compositional heights.  The bands sound nothing alike, but it’s entirely natural to hear them plying these disturbed sounds in the other’s presence.

So, here’s my question to all of you brave readers out there: What are the most amazing split releases that weren’t?  I’m not actually thinking just of splits that were supposed to happen but didn’t.  I mean, use your imagination.  Think of some of your favorite EPs, and then think whether they could be even better in the context of a split.  Here are a few of my just thought-up dream splits:

Ulver – Vargnatt (demo) & Agalloch – Of Stone, Wind & Pillor (EP):



Gorgeous folk/black metal stirrings from both originators and inspired progeny.  Bonus points if we could convince Ulver circa Shadows Of The Sun to record their own version of Agalloch’s cover of Sol Invictus’s “Kneel to the Cross.”

Destruction – Sentence Of Death (EP) & Sodom – Obsessed By Cruelty (EP)



Two of the rawest, thrashiest, proto-black-iest sets of 20-ish minute madness from Germany in 1984.  Imagine these two slabs of influential metal history as one 38 minute album.  Then, imagine your brain slowly dribbling out your ears, and stupidly gleeful drool rolling down your chin.

Neurosis – Sovereign (EP) & Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada (EP)



This one’s a bit more of a stretch, but the corresponding influence of Neurosis on metal and Godspeed on indie and post-rock are similar enough, and the cinematic scope of both bands’ approach to texture and composition dramatic enough that I think fans of either band would find much to enjoy in the other’s output were these two excellent EPs to be smashed into one dreamy eruption of time-stretching bliss.

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Feel free to test out some of these split ideas on your own and let me know how they hold up.  In the meantime, what are your perfect splits that the cruel ravages of history and commerce have forever denied the world?

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