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Archive for the ‘Death Metal’ Category

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There’s something inherently enjoyable about a band lovingly twisting old sounds into new shapes, which is precisely what Alabama’s Ectovoid does on its debut album Fractured in the Timeless Abyss. The album’s production and delivery is cut mostly from death metal’s rancid cloth, but there are frequent enough stylistic digressions – into melancholic tremolo, thin-drawn blasting, and so forth – to point also to a clear black metal heritage. In the interest of shorthand, let’s call it Autopsy and Incantation by way of Demoncy and Inquisition. But more importantly, let’s call it righteous metal and leave it at that.

Genre nitpicking and name-dropping aside, what sets Ectovoid apart as a serious proposition is the band’s twin focus on swirling, punchy riffs and an unbroken atmosphere of subterranean gloom. Michael Stewart’s guitar tone is thick and raw, occasionally pulling some Soulside Journey tricks to lead the whole band pulsing forward in a piledriving mass, which is precisely what is reminiscent of perennially underrated American black metal pioneers Demoncy. See the great album opener “Transcend into the Moonless Night” for a great example of this, as Stewart’s guitar twins with Chuck Bryant’s bass in a nimble pre-verse bridge before barreling forward as one; his twitchy soloing late in the song offers a brief glimpse of lightness, but it remains ephemeral. The earth swallows all its children.

Chuck Bryant’s vocals are typical but extremely impressive gut-scraping death growls, and his dank bass tone is fantastic, as is the way the instrument is used throughout the album. Bryant’s vocals are particularly notable because, given how well their tone fits in with the instrumental production, they easily blend into the background if one chooses to ignore them; however, it one chooses to focus on the vocals, the lyrics are extremely understandable, which is quite a feat for this sort of coarse delivery. Chris McDonald’s drumming manages to be surging and restrained, hungry yet understated. His cymbals gently crest the band’s wave, while the deep, loose toms sound the echoing depths.

Some of the album’s best moments occur when Bryant’s rumbling vocals are backed by a higher-pitched heaving (see “Chewing through the Membranes of Time and Space” and “Murmurs from Beyond”). Because the album’s atmosphere is so uniform, the extremely judicious use of this additional vocal style makes a huge impact the few sparse times it is employed. The midsection of “Chewing through the Membranes of Time and Space” points most clearly to the band’s black metal influence and the sickly doom that opens “Locked in Dismal Gaze” points most fervently to Autopsy, while “Splintered Phantasm” is one of the best examples of Ectovoid’s very attractive blending of black and death metal.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Ectovoid’s drummer Chris McDonald is a colleague of mine at MetalReview.com. That having been said, no amount of collegiality could’ve convinced me to not call Ectovoid dog balls if it was dog balls; Ectovoid is not dog balls. Ectovoid is a grimy, slithering thing, and with Fractured in the Timeless Abyss, the band has crafted a captivating set of songs that are sure to draw your soul to dwell with the wraiths in Christina Casperson’s tremendous artwork. To dwell with the doom that abides.

Overall rating: 80%.  Something something abyss Nietzsche.

Fractured in the Timeless Abyss is out now on Hellthrasher Productions.  Listen to it here.

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Sonne Adam, Transformation (2011)

A gorgeously dark vista

My review of the debut album from Israel’s Sonne Adam is up now at MetalReview.  Popular (underground) consensus seems to be with Necros Christos, but I’ll take Sonne Adam’s more compact and infinitely less dull take on the style any day.  Transformation is out now on Century Media Records.

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Rudra, Brahmavidya: Immortal I (2011)

Greenhenge?

My review of the latest album from Singaporean squad Rudra is up now at MetalReviewBrahmavidya: Immortal I is the concluding album in a trilogy, and while it buzzes along neatly enough, the band has truncated much of what made them so distinctive on previous albums.

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Panzerchrist, Regiment Ragnarok (2011)

Band name is a close second to Panzerbastard in the bad-ass stakes

My review of the latest album from long-running blasterrific Danish deathsters Panzerchrist is up now at MetalReviewRegiment Ragnarok is a crushing display of precise aggression, and is successful most of the time.  Check it out if life has seemed to move a bit too slowly for your taste of late.

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Coffins, Ancient Torture (Compilation) (2011)

Appropriately gruesome

My review of the quite excellent compilation of non-album goodies from Japan’s doom/death bruisers Coffins is up now at MetalReviewAncient Torture is out now on Deepsend Records.

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Morbid Angel, Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)

Inexplicable horrors lurk within, and not in a good way

Morbid Angel’s first album in eight years, and first with vocalist David Vincent in fifteen years, is bound to be the year’s most over-analyzed album.  Once all the dust has settled, I’m fairly confident the shitstorm over the atrociously-named Illud Divinum Insanus will eclipse even the furor over Liturgy’s Aesthetica.  I square off with my brother in metal Jim Brandon over at MetalReview to level a dual onslaught at this bafflingly bad album.  Even if you had written off Morbid Angel after Heretic, or if you left the fold following Vincent’s original departure after 1995’s Domination, there’s almost nothing to prepare you for this singularly misguided attempt at musical diversity.  Head on over to MetalReview to check it out, and please join in the shit-flinging.  Also, be sure to be on watch for the first inevitable, “Oh, man, this universally reviled album is actually totally fucking awesome” review.  Hard to say from whence it will come, but friends, trust me, it will come.  Just not from me.

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Septicflesh, The Great Mass (2011)

Gorgeous dark classicism

My review of the new album from Greek symphonic death metal sophisticates Septicflesh is up now over at MetalReview.  I have tried to justify my somewhat ambiguous critical stance toward the album with a whole lot of words.  Early responders to the review are having none of it, so check it out and make up your own damn mind.  The Great Mass is out now on Season Of Mist.

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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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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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