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Archive for the ‘Hardcore’ Category

Acephalix, Interminable Night (2011)

Crusty occultation

My review of Acephalix’s Interminable Night, which will be released later this month by Southern Lord, is up now at MetalReview.  The album kicks ten kinds of ass.  That is all.

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American Heritage, Sedentary (2011)

Blinded by fear, or something

Also up now at Metal Review is my review of the newest album from Chicago-based metal/hardcore botherers American Heritage, which is out now on Translation Loss Records.  It’s perfect for your latest stint of bail-jumping, tire-screeching, whiskey-drinking mayhem.

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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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Resistant Culture, Welcome To Reality (2005) & All One Struggle (2008)

Pissed off, and ready to grind (Apologies to Darkthrone)

The ever-charming folks on the Texas Board of Education have recently reared their curmudgeonly heads once more, introducing a resolution which would, according to the New York Times, send a blunt message to textbook publishers: “Do not present a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian version of history if you want to sell books in one of the nation’s largest markets” (New York Times, 9/22/10).

What any of this may have to do with tribal crust death/grinders Resistant Culture may be a little oblique, sure, but the point is this: historical revisionism is alive and well in our fair land.  The same sort of revisionism, say, that gives us a first Thanksgiving in which the pilgrims just came ‘round to offer the indigenous peoples of the New World a nice cup of tea, or through which our collective relief at the peaceable collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War allows for the gradual erasure of the myriad tyrannies and imperial ventures underwritten in the name of freedom.

Righteous indignation at the brutal treatment and oppression of indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere is, in fact, the spark which lights the raging fire of Resistant Culture’s seriously pissed-off grind attack.  While much bandied-about in discussions of Resistant Culture, the influence of indigenous folk music instrumentation and chants is relatively subdued.  The band’s two full-length albums are being reissued and repressed in advance of their upcoming American tour, providing a choice opportunity for having one’s head amply knocked around by the sort of politically-inclined metal that seems, sadly, to be in shorter supply these days.

2005’s Welcome To Reality and 2008’s All One Struggle both provide ample evidence of the band’s tight grasp on the classic everything-in-the-pot style of the early development of grindcore and death metal, when neither had exactly coalesced into ruthlessly ghettoized genres stuffed full of stock ideas and tired riffs.  Resistant Culture straddles perfectly these lines between grind and death in the same fashion as genre progenitors Napalm Death, Terrorizer, Bolt Thrower, and all the other usual suspects.  In Resistant Culture’s case, rather than tilt wildly from grind to death in separate songs, the overall approach seems to show songwriting chops and an instrumental attack that is rooted in classic grindcore, but with a guitar tone and riff construction that leans more toward the fetid tonalities of death metal.

Vocalist and long-time band mastermind Anthony Rezhawk (he, also, of vocal duty on Terrorizer’s long-delayed sophomore album, Darker Days Ahead – hence the participation of the late Jesse Pintado on 2005’s Welcome To Reality) demonstrates a much more varied vocal approach than many other acts in this style.  Rezhawk’s most frequent style is a low-pitched yet strikingly understandable grind/punk bellow, yet he also occasionally pushes into higher-pitched rasping, and every now and again breaks out a deep, almost gothic style of clean incantation.
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Welcome To Reality

Of the two albums up for review here, it’s 2005’s Welcome To Reality that really grits its teeth and gets right down to the serious business of wrecking your ears.  The guitar tone is thick, but its attack is clean and clinical, whether trading in three-chord punk blasts, nimble grind explosions, or stolid, occasionally tremolo-ed death metal stomping.  The bass tone oozes through in a delectably thick outpouring, like molten lava forcing its way through cracked tectonic plates.  See “It’s Not Too Late,” especially, or the opening passage of “The Gathering” for some real floor-rattling bass thunder.  The drums roll and clatter along with the requisite punk fury, slipping into blastbeat passages here, or verging on the classic Discharge d-beat there.

“Forced Conformity” locks into a wonderfully gritty, grooving pace with some sweet guitar noodling.  If only more followers of Sepultura circa Chaos A.D. or Roots would have taken the their Brazilian lessons in this direction rather than resorting to the widespread pilfering of the knuckle-draggingly unattractive components of the tribal thrashers’ sound, maybe we wouldn’t now look to Sepultura’s mid-90s experimentation as pivotal in having incited the life-sapping abominations of nu-metal.

It’s not until the track “Elder Wisdom” that the much-touted indigenous folk music influence is on display in a way other than brief sections of native chanting.  The acoustic guitar and flute interlude is a nice breather between the no-nonsense brain-stomping of the rest of the album.  The rest of the album keeps things classy and well-apportioned, in equal measure causing the listener to pump her fist furiously to punk shout-alongs (“Victims of a bloody system!!” is just insanely fun to bellow alongside Rezhawk) and headbang recklessly to thrashing death metal riff-splosions.  Hell, on “Civilized Aggression,” Rezhawk even sounds vaguely like Abbath gone crust, while on “The Gathering,” we get that deep, gothic delivery in the vocals to match the Eastern-scaled doom/death march.

In grindcore’s great tradition, the album makes effective use of sampled dialogue and other found sounds, without ever quite lapsing into overreliance.  The sound here is much thicker than most crust metal, although the ethics and aesthetics underwriting the music have a much clearer kinship to crust and punk than to the varied lineages of death metal.  After thrashing through a grin-inducing cover of Discharge’s “Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing” and one of the album’s highlights in “The Gathering,” it’s finally on album closer “Land Keeper” that the indigenous folk is blended organically with the heavy metal, where on most of the rest of the album, the folk influences were generally sequestered into interludes.

Seventeen tracks in thirty-four minutes is just about perfect for this sort of classic grinding attack, and leaves the listener winded and shell-shocked

Overall rating, Welcome To Reality: 80%.  Not reinventing the wheel, but careful saying that ‘round them, as you may find said wheel quickly and unceremoniously shoved down your throat.
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All One Struggle

The follow-up to Welcome To Reality came three years later, with 2008’s All One Struggle.  In comparison to the incendiary 2005 album, this one comes off slightly the worse, but for somewhat paradoxical reasons.  See, All One Struggle actually features a fair portion more of straight-ahead blasting than did Welcome To Reality – album opener “Beneath the Concrete” does nothing to announce its presence before barreling into being, which ought to mark it out as ferocious and unexpected.  Instead, it seems predictable.

The biggest problem, really, is that the album takes far too much time to gain any real, sustained momentum.  An interesting riff pops up here and there, and the drums frequently lock into a furious blasting groove, but there is little use of the tension and contrast between the songs that made Welcome To Reality’s similarly straight-forward metal approach add up to a greater whole.

Still, by the time “Mending the Hoop” and “Natural Law” swing around, it’s time for some clenched-jaw mayhem.  “Generations” is another brutal grinder, but it’s actually not until the pairing of “Stagnation” and “Rise Above Despair” that the tenor of the album finally switches the unrelenting pace I’ve been craving all along.  And for those of you keeping score at home, that pairing doesn’t pop up until tracks 13 and 14 out of 17; too long to keep the expectant grind freak in ‘standby’ mode.

None of this is to suggest, however, that the album is some sort of unmitigated disaster (the “St. Anger Singularity,” we might say).  “Contamination” whips up my appreciative ire with sections of tremolo-picked harmonies that flirt with the darkness and flair of black metal, capped with an ambient outro that leads quite nicely into the folk-tinged “New Sun.”

The overall sound of Resistant Culture remains essentially unchanged here from the previous album.  If you imagine combining the thick, ritualistic tom abuse of Neurosis with the early thrashing fits of death/grind in the 1989 mold: Terrorizer’s World Downfall, Bolt Thrower’s Realm Of Chaos, and even whatever you’d care to call the midpoint between Napalm Death’s From Enslavement to Obliteration and Harmony Corruption (which, out in ’88 and ’90, respectively, give us an average of 1989, natch).  I still feel a bit iffy about using the term “tribal” to describe the band’s drumming and use of indigenous folk musics, but the band itself embraces such language in its own press materials, so I shan’t protest.

Where Welcome To Reality was masterfully sequenced and paced, this album takes far too long to get into gear for my taste; when it finally does hit that sweet spot towards the end of the album, though, it throws another batch of classically-structured and well-hybridized grind/metal/punk right in my scoffing, skeptical face.  Serves me right.

On a rather odd note, the final track of the album is most strikingly reminiscent not of anything on Earache’s roster from two decades ago, but rather of Sweden’s own completely unfuckwithable malcontent, Bathory.  For starters, the track is called “The Return,” which obviously makes me want to climb a great craggy mountain and proclaim “It’s the RETURN of the darkness and evil!!!”  Apart from the nomenclature, though, take a second to just let the Resistant Culture track sink in.  It’s a fully ambient track, featuring a bed of flute, wind sound effects, along with sparse chanting and tribal percussion.  In the back, though, is a muted yet insistent bass drum beat.  Got it in your head?  Okay, now run and grab your Bathory records.  Take a spin through that outro track on nearly all of them (it’s on the debut through Twilight of the Gods, and again on Blood On Ice and Nordland II).  Of course it’s not exactly the same thing, but the Bathory outros all feature a single ambient tone, while in the distance, a single bass drum tolls out a slow recitation of doom.  I can’t help but think of this as an homage, even if it was unintentionally done.

After all, everyone needs more Bathory in her life.

Overall rating, All One Struggle: 65%.  If you dig the former, you’ll still dig this latter platter, though I find the former warmer.
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Resistant Culture is currently gearing up for what they are calling the Sacred Fire Tour throughout these United States.  The tour coincides with reissues on Seventh Generation Records: All One Struggle on vinyl, and a third pressing of Welcome To Reality on CD.

The Sacred Fire Tour kicks off next week, with dates as follows.  If you happen to live in the Chicago area, you would be especially well-advised to check out Resistant Culture’s date here on October 9th, as they are participating in the fourth iteration of the Apocalyptic Crust Fest.  Resistant Culture will be playing the third and final day of the festival, alongside Phobia and Dropdead.  Check out more information on Apocalyptic Crust Fest here.

9/30 Wandering Goat
Eugene, OR

10/1 Satyricon
Portland. OR

10/2 The Morgue
Seattle, WA

10/5 Roman’s
Rapid City, SD

10/7 Rathole
Minneapolis, MN

10/9 The Black Hole
Chicago, IL

10/12 Token Lounge
Detroit, MI

10/13 Hexagon Space
Baltimore, MD

10/14 Millcreek Tavern
Philadelphia, PA

10/15 The Lake Underground
Brooklyn, NY

10/16 AS220
Providence, RI

10/17 Cambridge Elks Lodge
Cambridge, MA

10/19 Volume 11 Tavern
Raleigh, NC

10/20 Lenny’s
Atlanta, GA

10/21 Marauders
New Orleans, LA

10/22 Broken Neck
Austin, TX

10/23 No Thanks Fest
Emory, TX

10/24 The White Swan Live
Houston, TX

10/26 Blast O Mat
Denver, CO

10/27 One Mind Studio
Salt Lake City, UT

10/28 Lucky Lady
Las Vegas, NV

10/29 Gilman
Berkeley, CA

11/6 Common Ground
Riverside, CA
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One cannot help but be reminded and enraged, after working through these Resistant Culture albums, of the plight of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples (First Nations, or whatever else you’d like to call them).  This history of ruthless political exploitation and callous disregard is clearly a topic ripe for the politicized fury of punk and grindcore, but it also seems that the musical and cultural influence of these diverse communities has much to offer to heavy metal by way of artistic and aesthetic exploration.  There are only a few contemporary albums that bring to mind these influences, most notably Tomahawk’s Anonymous, and Nechochwen’s brilliant 2010 album, Azimuths to the Otherworld.  Resistant Culture is absolutely dissimilar in musical approach to either of those acts, of course, but I suspect this is fertile ground for a shared ethical and aesthetic approach.

The challenge, of course, is to pay tribute to this history and to the heritage of these indigenous peoples without coopting or tokenizing them.  Heavy metal may not be particularly well sensitized for such a task, but the political and artistic potential is tremendous.  Historical revisionism, after all, can only succeed when a complacent mainstream culture grows tired of calling ‘bullshit’ on the lies and omissions of officialdom.

The New York Times ran another story, just the other day, on what seems essentially like racial segregation and the production of guilt-allaying ‘native’ pageantry at the Pendleton Round-Up rodeo event in Pendleton, Oregon.  The author of the story writes, “A century later [from the beginnings of this event], the mill still provides blankets, and families are still paid to appear, $5 per person each day at the arena. Beef and vegetables are provided, as are tokens for other food. The winner of the ‘Best Dressed Indian Award’ at the parade gets 50 silver dollars” (New York Times, 9/23/10).

Blankets.  Think about that.

"Get the fuck outta here," says the horse

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The Terrible Airplane, 2013 (2010)

The Future Is Now

The Terrible Airplane is a two-piece band from Kansas, formed by brothers Mark (guitar, vocals) and Todd Woolard (drums).  Their newest release is the full-length album 2013, on which they ply a somewhat unique blend of 90s-styled noise rock with post-hardcore flourishes and a taut, instrumental minimalism.

The vocals affect a number of different styles throughout the record, from a very loose 1990s rock croon, to a more impassioned tenor pitch occasionally reminiscent of Mike Scalzi (of the Lord Weird Slough Feg and Hammers Of Misfortune), to an impressively throaty hardcore bellow.

The instrumental approach seems to have the greatest affinity for the Amphetamine Reptile school of noise rock, flitting between straight-ahead rock and slightly angular metallic riffing.  Imagine the sounds of Helmet, Unsane, or even Melvins and The Jesus Lizard (albeit at their least bizarre), and you’re well on your way to grasping the sound of The Terrible Airplane.

Still, we’re not talking about some nostalgia act, here.  The band are at their best when taut, tension-building instrumental sections proceed measuredly, twitchingly, to their inevitable metallic payoff.  These sections work not by virtue of instrumental virtuosity (you’ll find no fretboard fireworks here), but rather through the patient pacing of their minimalist attack.

A few places on the record even approach the dynamics of everyone’s favorite post-metal luminaries such as Neurosis and Isis, although the muted production keeps the sound closer to the rock/hardcore side of the auditory continuum.  This is the case on “Projected Trajectory” and, especially, the 9+ minutes of “Efficiency Deficient,” the latter of which is, for my money, the best song of the bunch.

As far as other individual songs go, the vocal chants in “Television” show The Terrible Airplane at their most Melvins-ish (think especially of the double-tracked vocals throughout much of Melvins’ recent album Nude With Boots).  “Radio Song,” at a mere 1:30, is clearly intended somewhat ironically, though the fact that it sounds like nothing else so much as Soul Coughing attempting a cover of Nirvana circa Bleach muddies the ironic waters more than a little.

Moments like this inform one of my main criticisms of this record.  Every now and then, such as on “Radio Song,” and, particularly, the mellower sections of “Roleplaying the Audience,” the band veers too close to the blandness of 90s alternative rock for my comfort.*  This only crops up occasionally throughout the album, though, so it remains something of a minor nuisance.

One of the strongest showings on here is the relatively brief instrumental “Pandameet.”  Its sinuous take on song composition works very much to its advantage, jumping back and forth between off-kilter and straight-ahead rock rhythms quite deftly.  In general, however, I think the band is at its most effective when they really stretch out, as on the above-mentioned “Efficiency Deficient.”  The tune starts off noisy before falling back into a ruthlessly minimal quiet section, and eventually crashes its way back with waves of slow, crushing stomp.  It’s at moments like this that I really want to hear things through a fuller production (adding a second guitar wouldn’t hurt, either); this song could be absolutely fucking massive, where here such potential remains somewhat implicit.

This is a very strong showing from a promising band.  For the most part, their songwriting weaves together some very disparate strands of rockish skronk, hardcore bluster, and carefully apportioned metal.  My own preference would be to see these guys take their metal even further into METAL territory, leaving behind some of what sound to these ears like 90s anachronisms.  Nevertheless, their instrumental attack is, as I keep rambling on about, incredibly taut, and they have a very persuasive grasp on tense song dynamics.  Plus, their whole album can be streamed here, so really, what the fuck are you waiting for?

I, for one, would like to see some of the potential energy here go kinetic, because that shit could EXPLODE.

Overall rating: 70%.  Compact noise rock sparks with carefully contained metallic undercurrents.
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* For the record, this ‘blandness’ is quite effectively dispelled by the live version of “Roleplaying the Audience” also available on the band’s Myspace page.  Dudes are loud enough on record, but live, the loudness is louder, the drums crackle as they flail about, and the hardcore vocals rattle the ribcage.  Do check it out.

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Nails, Unsilent Death (2010)

Quiet Unlife

Okay, sure, so Nails may be one of the more hyped bands of 2010.  Thing is, I was pretty much oblivious to all that hype, and just stumbled across this album at the record store a few weeks back.  I had just read the news item that Nails had just signed to Southern Lord and were going to be reissuing this album, so I figured, why not pick up a copy of the Six Feet Under CD issue?

Holy shit, does this record smoke.  I suppose the complaints about calling a 13+ minute release a ‘full-length’ are valid, but they sort of miss the point.  And in fact, when these dudes get around to putting out another release, I think that will be the real test of their skills, because while this release is nearly perfectly crafted for its running time, it remains to be seen how this sort of material will be handled over a longer expanse.

Stylistically speaking, this record takes a little bit of everything nasty and grimy, throws it in a concrete blender, and lobs noise grenades unmercifully in your general direction.  Sure, it’s a bit grindcore, but more like old Napalm Death grind (circa From Enslavement to Obliteration, say) than any of the more modern crop of death/grinders (Pig Destroyer, newer Brutal Truth, Disfear, maybe even fellow Southern Lords Black Breath, and so forth).  It’s also a little bit crust, more than a little bit hardcore (this is Todd Jones, ex- of Terror, after all), with a bit of bruising sludge tossed in the slower parts of the two lengthier tracks on display.

Listening to the album, though, doesn’t make it sound quite as much like a convoluted mash-up as I’ve just described it.  One of the greatest things this album has going for it is its sense of fluid motion.  The three-piece careens from one song to another with great finesse, while keeping the whole affair swathed in a gooey, rattling production, rather like fighting with a badger inside of a dumpster.  They also use guitar feedback quite effectively, either in tight, staccato bursts, or as a way to transition between songs.

Also impressive is their ability to write actual songs, even crammed into 30 or 60 second bursts.  “Scum Will Rise” is one of the most effective tunes on here, blasting through an identifiable verse-chorus structure before locking into a pummeling breakdown for its final ten seconds.  It’s precisely the sort of breakdown that metallers lacking in self-confidence might look askance at, but it’s still far from hardcore thuggishness, so breathe easy, friends.  No one will look down on you for stomping around like a maniac.

The guitar tone verges on the classic Swedish death metal sound, but it twins very nicely with the thick, dirty bass tone.  In terms of composition, the bass typically follows or doubles the guitar, meaning the songs aren’t generally very intricate, but exceedingly powerful and driven.  The title track is a nice example of this, with its sullen, stomping death march feel.

I do hesitate to describe this as grindcore too much, but “Scapegoat” definitely shows Nails at their most Nasum-esque, while a song like “No Servant” is a bit more straight-ahead hardcore/metal with a slightly Slayer-ish guitar solo.  Closing track “Depths” might just be the best one here, with its doomed-out opening riff playing like their own filthy version of Black Sabbath’s classic tritone.  The tune later breaks into some classic d-beat drum patterns, and eventually sludges its way to an equally doomed-out close after wrecking nearly everything in its path.

The album has a very nice sense of symmetry in its ‘sides’, with each batch of five songs blasting through four short, fast crust/hardcore/grind/death/whatever tunes before closing out with a longer, sludged-up capstone.  I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, as it gives the album a sense of thoughtful unity, rather than just a bunch of pissed-off tunes slapped together.

All in all, this is some fierce, filthy noise, and Nails are definitely a band to watch.  As I said above, I’ll need to see what they can do on a 25 to 35-minute release before I’m thoroughly convinced, but Unsilent Death is ample cause to be excited for whatever it is that Nails do next.

Overall rating: 78%.  Nothing much new, really, but sure as hell kicking the shit out of the old like it’s going out of style.

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