Arghoslent -- HORNETS OF THE POGROM [Drakkar Productions]
Say what you will about the band's controversial lyrical obsessions (more on that momentarily), they know what they're doing musically; this is one of the best metal albums I've heard in a long time. (It doesn't hurt that their most recent drummer also plays for Grand Belial's Key.) Obviously influenced by old-school thrash metal and, to a lesser degree, the first wave of black metal, their songs are driven by catchy riffs that alternate between blackened simplicity and ornate complexity, all delivered with a startling level of melodicism for such a heavy band and an equally ferocious energy level. Lyrically, they're obsessed with war and sordid moments in history (the transatlantic slave trade is a particularly favorite subject); unlike most current metal bands, they largely eschew political and religous themes, which goes a long way toward setting them apart from their metallic contemporaries. One of their major strengths is in the songwriting, where they reveal themselves to be influenced by a wide range of music, and not just a handful of similar-sounding bands (the kiss of death for so many of today's metal bands, who are obviously copying a handful of their favorite bands), including not just several varieties of metal but the blues and other musical forms. The songs themselves are imaginatively arranged without being so far-out as to escape the realm of metal altogether, and the skillful playing combined with aggressive energy make them well worth hearing. The eight tracks here are all consistently excellent examples of the way death metal should be played, and while it's not real difficult to decipher their influences, they have evolved beyond their roots into a sound far more original than many bands possess these days.
By now you're may be wondering why you've never heard of this shit-hot band, despite the fact that this is something like their eighth album. The answer is simple -- they've never had a formal U.S. record deal (although they have released a couple of demos through the now-defunct Virginia label Sinistrari Records and a split 7" on Vinland Winds), and most of their albums have so far been released on small, obscure European labels (Drakkar, their current label, is one of the best black / death metal labels in France). The reason they've never managed to get a U.S. deal is equally simple; their openly racist ideology makes them untouchable in this country. It's true that their racist sentiments are generally couched in more subtle language than the average Resistance Records band, but it's there, trust me. (If you'd like to read their lyrics and judge for yourself, check out their page at ENCYCLOPEDIA METALLUM. You can also use Google to search for band interviews that makes their stance on racial matters and the like considerably more clear.) I find it deeply ironic that a band from a country whose views are supposedly protected by the First Amendment has to put out their records through labels in Europe, but it's an irony-drenched world these days, isn't it?
Copremesis -- MUAY THAI LADYBOYS [Paragon Records]
This is the first full-length release from NYC porno-grind purveyors Copremesis after a handful of demo cd-rs and split releases, and it's about what you would expect from anything in the genre -- lots of grinding, spastic brutality played at such a hyperkinetic speed that the entire album sounds like it's on fast-forward, accompanied by gurgling vocals that are totally indecipherable. Like most grind albums, this is fairly short, too; ten songs fly by in just over half an hour, followed by a little over 32 minutes of silence for no clear reason (if there were supposed to be hidden tracks at the end, someone slipped up at the pressing facility). One song flows into the next, and it's all a near-constant avalanche of pummeling drums, stripped-gear speed riffs, and subhuman vocal spew. There's not much variety to the songs, true, and it's impossible to tell what any of them are really about, but you don't really listen to porno-grind for the lyrics, do you? No, what you want is grotesque brutality, and that they possess in extra-large portions. The production is kind of murky, but that's just par for the course, given the nature of the genre. They get bonus points for the excellent cover art (which is backed with rude photos of -- yes, you guessed it -- many Thai lady boys on the inside of the booklet). Violent, uncompromising, and totally obnoxious -- all the things a good grindcore band should be.
Deadbird -- TWILIGHT RITUAL [At A Loss Recordings]
The album is on At A Loss, was mixed by Billy Anderson, and features two former members of Rwake, so you expect it to be heavy, right? And heavy it is, in the vein of sludge / doom bands like Eyehategod, Sourvein, Asunder, Buzz'oven, and most of all, Black Sabbath, but with surprising country-rock touches amidst the thundering riffs and howling vocals. In interviews the guys in the band confess to being influenced by a wide range of heavy bands from metal, grindcore, punk, and classic rock genres, so it's entirely fitting that their sound -- while rooted primarily in Sabbath-drenched doom -- encompasses a lot of genres and goes in several different directions without sacrificing any heaviness. Acoustic country-rock riffs mutate into slabs of distorted guitar; blues-laden melodicism segues into slow wasting doom; complex musical passages presage bludgeoning metallic rhythms... the band gets compared a lot to several of the classic sludge-rock bands, but they mix it up a lot more than those bands ever did, and are considerably more dextrous and musically ambitious than most of the bands cited as their influences. They're also one of the few doom bands interested in pursuing vocal harmonies, and their deployment of acoustic guitars (a fixture throughout the album) is considerably more sophisticated than the average metal band's use of that instrument. Their songs are fairly convoluted as well (long, too), but they're not going to be mistaken for prog-rock anytime soon -- regardless of the work they put into making the songs more complex and layered than those of the average doom band, their overriding concern remains in being far beyond heavy. The quiet, country-folk passages only make the heavy moments seem all that much heavier, while also giving the sound an unusual level of depth. Don't be fooled by their eclecticism and use of acoustic guitar, though; this is one of the heaviest and most unsettling bands you could ever hope to hear.
At A Loss Recordings
Eftus Spectun -- THE TALONS SNAG BINARY [Void of Ovals]
The Void of Ovals site calls the disc "music with no melodic or rhythmic repetition," and they're certainly right about that -- this is about as disconnected and disjointed as you can get and still remain even remotely musical. Consisting of one track, approximately fifteen minutes long, the disc is a series of barely-connected musical bits and beats that stop and start in unpredictable fashion, with a sound that's largely random... yet despite the deliberate randomness, there's a theme at work that keeps it from descending into mere incoherent rambling. Bursts of guitar and snippets of rhythm come and go, as do unexpected noises and snatches of wordless vocalizing, interspersed with brief passages of silence or nearly nonexistent sound. It's not music in the strictest sense, but it's not noise either, existing somewhere between the two poles of the musical continuum. Strange, exotic, and highly unpredictable listening, to be sure.
Void of Ovals
Dino Felipe -- NO FUN DEMO [No Fun Productions]
Felipe was at one time one-half of Old Bombs (with No Fun head honcho Carlos Giffoni) and FKTRN, along with a few other projects here and there; as far as I know, this is his first solo album, and it's a bizarre one, hopscotching through lots of different sounds and genres, coming across mainly as a deeply perverse indie pop-rock album. Imagine if Beck had spent his early years dabbling in noise and devolved bedroom electronics before going on to make MELLOW GOLD -- the 14 songs on this disc are wildly varied but connected mainly by a DYI aesthetic and lo-fi approach that incorporates lots of noise, cheesy electronics, and full-tilt weirdness. Aside from a cover of Haunted House's "Chandeliers," this is all original music recorded between 2001 and 2007, most of it resembling pop music from another planet. There's a distinct early new-wave feel to many of the songs, especially in the drum machine sound, but the addition of glitch sounds, disembodied vocals soaked in reverb, and other eccentric production touches lift even the most poppy songs into another realm altogether. What keeps them grounded in pop music is the fact that they're all so insanely catchy -- you can hum along (or dance) to these tunes, if you so desire. This is the ghost of no-wave riding a psychedelic rollercoaster; this is pop music for a generation weaned on video game sounds and glitch electronica; this is a near-complete reconstruction of yesterday's pop muzak for today's Ipod horde. It's certainly not what you might expect from a No Fun release, and it's highly listenable. This is what the Butthole Surfers would have sounded like if they'd been more inclined to mine pop history instead of exhuming and tormenting the corpses of Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix, or perhaps what the Human League might have sounded like if they had been less obsessed with commercial success and more inclined to do hard drugs. Weird and unexpectedly delightful.
No Fun Productions
Harvey Milk -- LIFE... THE BEST GAME IN TOWN [Hydra Head]
One of the funniest things I read online recently was somebody claiming this was "Joe Preston's new band." It's true that Preston is on board for this ride through the valley of ridiculous dynamics, but the heaviest band ever from Athens, GA has been fucking up minds since the early 90s, back wihen Joe was on the other side of the country getting Thrones off the ground, after leaving (or being kicked out of, depending on who you believe) Earth and the Melvins. Speaking of the latter, much of this -- especially the insanely heavy opening track "Death goes to the winner" and "Decades," which comes across like the Melvins with Zeppelin beats -- sounds an awful lot like early Melvins. How much of that has to do with Joe is anybody's guess, but it's kind of peculiar, given how original-sounding (and equally monolithic) their earlier albums were, especially the justifiably legendary COURTESY AND GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN. Of course, given the band's equally legendary perversity -- this is a metal band who once played a live set of nothing but Hank Williams songs -- it's entirely possible the overt Melvins worship is a big in-joke, especially with Preston sitting in, and at least they do a good job of it, but still.... The rest of the album is a deranged fusion of their passion for wild dynamic shifts welded to a deep and abiding appreciation for classic rock and metal. "We destroy the family" is my early favorite, with a tricky stop 'n start rhythm that's all devolved funk swaddled in metal and leavened with a baroque solo straight out of the seventies Big Rock playbook. There's an abundance of relatively fast songs here, resulting in more variety than their earlier releases, but the slow songs are still the better ones. This is a really good album, no question, but the excessive Melvinisms may be off-putting to some (I'm certainly kind of ambivalent about it myself).
Servile Sect -- STRATOSPHERIC PASSENGER [Sounds of Battle]
Now this is a surprise -- a black metal album that's not immediately recognizable as a black metal album. Going by the cover (red-tinted photos of Mars on the outside, more such photos plus the rings of Saturn and a map of the solar system on the inside) and the initial sound, one could easily mistake this for a droning experimental album... at least until the vocals come in, at which point the truth becomes evident. The album's overall sound combines dark, noise-laden drone with black metal minimalism and hellish shrieking; musically, it bears very little resemblance to what most people would consider black metal, but aesthetically and emotionally, it's far more of a black metal album than a merely experimental one. The drones are wavering, throbbing exercises in harmonic resonance and blackened tone, cold and near-ambient cyclones of noise and chromatic static that abandon any pretense of traditional structure involving chord progressions in favor of a malevolent hovering ambience. It's a bleak, oppressive sound made only more horrifying by the pained shrieking buried beneath harmonic noise. This is an extremely imaginative bridge between the experimental and metal worlds, and one that works really well as a bleak black metal album. People who think black metal has no way to evolve past its current accepted boundaries should listen to this.
Sounds of Battle
Skullflower -- DESIRE FOR A HOLY WAR [Utech Records]
Heavy times demand heavy listening, and obviously Matthew Bower understands, because this is one of the heaviest, harshest blasts of glacial white noise to burst forth from his flower-filled skull. "Your Cities, Your Tombs" opens the floodgates and sets the tone for the album with cascading waves of guitar feedback mixed with gritty electronics; on "Moses Conjured a Blood Niagra," where Bower is joined by Lee Stokoe of Culver on noise and guitar, the guitar skronk is almost completely buried under an avalanche of hissing white noise. All of the seven tracks on the disc unfold in similar fashion, varying mainly in the balance between noise and guitar frippery; a couple of tracks, especially "Frozen Spectres" (notable for its wavering, waffling tremelo guitar) and "Divinus Deus," feature primal and minimalist percussion buried in the background, but mainly it's all about psychotronic guitar action welded to paint-peeling noise. Similar in style and execution to the last couple of releases on Crucial Blast, this is pretty excoriating stuff. (I still miss Stuart Dennison, though.) Limited to 750 copies; mondo bonus points for the beautiful paintings in the booklet.
Skullflower -- PURE IMPERIAL REFORM [Turgid Animal Records]
Recorded live on an Antwerpen radio station and featuring Matthew Bower and Culver guitarist Lee Stokoe, this 42-minute blast of sonic excess comes with some of the coolest artwork in Skullflower's catalog and some of the darkest grinding drones of the band's entire existence. The disc consists of three distinct pieces run together as one long track, and the sound here is one of dark, reverb-drenched drone and cataclysmic howling -- this is serious audio demolition, dig? There's three different pieces here, all right, but they all sound like the audio of buildings being dynamited during an air raid as heard from three different vantage points -- triangulate the signals coming from those three explosions and what you get is the sound of the abyss opening up to show you its teeth before it eats you. It's hard to believe two guys going at it live could make such an impressive racket, but this disc is all the proof you need. Limited to 1000 copies, and definitely not for the weak.
Suishou no Fune -- PRAYER FOR CHIBI [Holy Mountain]
The new double-disc from Japan's most consistently brilliant psychedelic duo may be their best one yet -- no small feat, given both the quality of their previous material and the sheer length of this outing. The four lengthy tracks on the first disc feature Pirako and Kaego at their dreamiest and most meditative; hypnotic, measured strumming, cloudlike ambience, and minimal but piercing single-note guitar lines play out with deliberate slowness as they take turns singing. On "Till We Meet Again," the floating trance vibe finally erupts in a shower of noise that's still muted enough not to obscure the melancholy guitar notes. The other three songs are more languid but every bit as emotionally charged, powered by the stark minimalism that has become both their singular trademark and secret weapon. The second disc is more aggressive, opening with a burst of grinding noise and horn-like guitar on "Resurrection Night"; the song's grinding noise content takes a back seat to the plaintive guitar lines and Pirako's wailing vocals, but remains a steady fixture throughout the song. The rest of the disc is not quite so abrasive, but the remaining songs are a bit more dynamic and foreboding while retaining much of the simple feel of the songs from the first disc. The closing track, "Cherry," is one of the most beautiful pieces on the disc, too (and another one that eventually turns noisy, but it's an entrancing sort of noise, natch). I'm sure a lot of potential listeners will be intimidated by the album's length, but trust me, this is one' of the band's best releases, and absolutely essential listening for fans of Japanese psych.
Suishou no Fune
Sujo -- s/t [Inam Records]
The mysterious Sujo returns with four more droning, buzzing soundscapes of apocalyptic foreboding, all of them dark and otherworldly. "Premonitions" is defined largely by tidal drone action, with a buzzing sound that ebbs and flows; a simple but primal beat emerges after a while, creeping up in stealthy fashion, and is periodically submerged beneath waves of fuzzed-out sound. The drone on "Observer" is a bit more static, rooted in subterranean rumbling and irradiated sounds, with an element of rhythmic crashing toward the end that abruptly gives way to crackling noise and a high-pitched whine that fades away as the next song begins. On "Dora," the shifting and drifting drone is augmented by a hypnotic techo rhythm in the background that eventually fades away, leaving only iridescent sheets of drone. The final track, "Alliance," is a collection of drones, minimal beats, and exotic sounds that grow in volume and scope as the track progresses, like a storm advancing across the ocean, only to reach land and burst into torrents of cyclotron sound and evaporating clouds of noise. The last few minutes of the track are a pure tonal drone being attacked by what sound like angry wasps before the drone fades away. Sujo has a superlative command of the drone ethos, and this is necessary listening for the serious dronehead. Limited to 100 copies, so you'll want to act fast if you're interested.