A Death Cinematic -- YOUR FATE TWISTING, EPIC IN ITS CRUSHING MOMENTS [Simple Box Construction]
The one-man band with some of the best titles in the world returns with three more enigmatic slices of avant sound and epic drone clocking in at a little over thirty minutes, kicking things off in unsettling fashion with the title track, where shuddering loops of noise form a dark curtain of sound over which a lone twang-laden guitar plays a melancholy tune. Eventually the noise element dies away to be replaced by a slow piano dirge dominated by reverberating chords bathed in reverb as the guitar figure mutates at will, while the tone and dyamics settle into something akin to a funeral dirge. The changes continue over a span of approximately 22 minutes, leaving plenty of time and room for the gradual metamorphosis of sound to unfold at a stately pace. The short (just over two minutes) untitled second track acts as a bridge between the two lengthier pieces, and is a spaced-out, wavering fuzztone that speeds up, slows down, comes and goes... leading into "into the tumbling dawn light, their eyes fall frozen through the mist and rain," a nine and half minute exercise in creepy sounds and harrowing, hollowed-out drone that originally appeared on the Pest Productions compilation DER WANDERER UBER DEM NEBELMEER. The creepiness is softened somewhat by bell-like chimes and harmonic synth tones that would be almost soothing if it weren't for the rhythmic lines of static running through the piece. As always, the band's otherworldly sound is complemented by awesome handmade packaging; the cd is housed in a folding wood-cut frame that includes a poem on vellum paper pasted over a photo of an animal skull (echoing the cover art) and a die-cut sleeve that allows you to see the skull artwork on the enclosed disc. The package also includes a nifty set of water-slide decals of the same skull and bones. Limited to fifty copies. You can check out the sound (of this and earlier releases) at the Bandcamp link below.
A Death Cinematic
Simple Box Construction
All Pigs Must Die -- GOD IS WAR [Southern Lord]
The band with the charming name is from Massachusetts, but you could be forgiven for thinking they might be from, say, Sweden -- their hardcore roots are welded to the kind of melodic death metal chassis favored by Swedish metal acts, an influence that's especially apparent in the opening of the album's first track, "Death Dealer." Fueled by tumescent riffs, bursts of high-speed melodicism, and breakneck tempos offset by heavy half-speed breakdowns, the band combines the best elements of hardcore and death metal with a delivery that borders on the psychopathic. This is not pretty music for pretty people; no, this is a slashing collection of hate-filled rants suitable for staging a riot. There are some interesting flourishes from time to time -- for instance, the screeching noises used for emphasis in parts of the title track, and the pleasing harmonic squall of the guitars that introduce "Extinction Is Ours" -- but for the most part, this is simply a full-out assault on the senses with all the subtlety of a pack of hoodlums beating someone to death with a lead pipe. The moments I like best are the times when they slow everything down to a crawl and beat thick, droning riffs through your skull, as they do toward the end of "Third World Genocide." The final track, "Sadistic Vindicator," is another excellent example of how powerful they sound when they slow things down a bit and revel in a sound like razor blades straining to cut through thick slabs of tar. Their monolithic sound might be too monochromatic for some, but there's no denying that it's heavy, very heavy, and filled with an all-consuming anger that burns like a torch.
All Pigs Must Die
Bloodbound -- UNHOLY CROSS [AFM Records]
It's amusing that their promo material mentions their stage mascot "The Nos" and links that to Iron Maiden's mascot "Eddie," because this Swedish band sounds very much like a power-metal version of Iron Maiden. At least they have the good sense to base their Maiden worship on the early (i.e., better) albums.... So, the lowdown: this is the band's fourth full-length release (not bad, considered they've only been in in existence since 2006) and the first with new vocalist Patrik Johansson (formerly of Dawn of Silence), and it's pretty much a case of Iron Maiden / Judas Priest worship with an operatic power-metal singer. Like most power metal, Swedish or otherwise, this is unapologetically commercial music with high production values, excellent musicianship, and vaguely proggy songs about big ideas and anthemic issues (titles include "Drop the Bomb," "Together We Fight," "The Dark Side of Life," and "Brothers of War," so just glancing at the song list gives you much insight as to where they're coming from). Given their nationality, it's hardly surprising that they're extremely melodic and possessed of a distinctly European sound that's at times neo-classical as well. It's not a genre that does a lot for me personally, but this is well done and draws heavily on a certain sound made popular in the late eighties when progressive metal was all the rage, so power metal fans -- especially those weaned on the power metal scene in flourish around the time of Iron Maiden's POWERSLAVE -- should find this engaging.
The Body -- S/T [Corleone]
Those just now tuning in to the epic visions of The Body, thanks to their recent head-turning release ALL THE WATERS OF THE EARTH TURN TO BLOOD, may be surprised to discover that the band has not only been around for fifteen years, but has a pretty hefty catalog of obscure releases to their name. For those curious to hear the documentation of the band's earlier years, Corleone has helpfully assembled an anthology that collects all this hard-to-find stuff on one cd. Here's what you get: the four-song 2003 cassette on Armageddon Records, the four-song self-released 2006 cdr, three songs from a 2004 split and 2005 single (both on Corleone), one previously unreleased track, and four tracks from another self-released 2008 cdr. That's sixteen tracks of howling vocals, shuddering bass hell, and slow-motion destruction that does an excellent job of showing just how the band developed the mighty muscles they flexed to such terrifying effect on BLOOD. It's obvious that even from the beginning, they had a talent for mixing horrific vocals with the blunt heaviness of early Swans on a doom bender while throwing in elements of pop, math-rock, and pure avant weirdness from time to time just to keep things interesting. What's surprising is how potent and chilling their sound was from the very beginning; given their obvious talents, the consistent quality level of the songs is perhaps not so surprising. The final tracks, from the 2008 cdr, are among the most interesting, as they are an eclectic series of covers -- "Do They Owe Us A Living" (Crass), "Tired of Being Alive" (Danzig), "Police Story" (Black Flag), and "Black Boys on Mopeds" (Sinead O'Connor) -- all transformed into gruesome displays of heaviness (especially the Crass cover, which sounds like they might have broken the recording machine). If you're not already familiar with the band, now is your chance to meet one of the most genuinely unnerving and misanthropic bands ever to crawl through the tar-laden wastelands of doom metal.
Brainoil -- DEATH OF THIS DRY SEASON [20 Buck Spin]
It's taken them a while to get around to it, but Oakland's sludgy Brainoil have finally coughed up a second album (their first came out on Life Is Abuse in 2003, and I defy you to find a copy of it now, doom childe). Their brand of sludge owes a lot to tarpit trailblazers like Buzzoven, Eyehategod, and Sourvein, and I have no idea what they've been doing all these years (time, maybe?), but the lengthy gap between releases hasn't diminished their soul-crushing heaviness one iota. Their crusty riffs are leavened with heavy, stunted-tempo breakdowns that come across like slow, wasting doom. Track after track, the classic signs of sludge are all there: punked-out crust riffs that dissolve into droning waves of doom, bass so heavy and hairy it might as well sport a beard, gnarled guitar tones wrestled away from the first Black Sabbath album and made even more menacing, and a vocalist who sounds like a man being forced to swallow hot coals. This is the sound of amps being beaten into submission; this is the promise of violent confrontations in a back alley after midnight. This is exactly the kind of oppressive heaviness you have come to expect from classic sludge bands in general and 20 Buck Spin in particular, and it will make an excellent panacea to the sludge-deprived soul waiting (and waiting!) for the new Eyehategod album to eventually appear.
20 Buck Spin
Chimerical Sound Engine -- LEARNING CURVE [self-released]
Fair warning up front: the mysterious agent behind the melodious tones and skeletal beats on this album is my brother, so I am naturally biased. But it would be a shame to skip reviewing it for that reason, because it's an excellent debut with plenty to offer. From the minimalist opener "sleeping on the floodplain" -- where a haunting bell-like piano figure repeats endlessly amid tidal sounds and other noises that come and go -- to the symphonic movements and processed keyboards of "trileptal," the instrumental pieces on this album straddle the line between ambient music and the more experimental end of techno. One of the more interesting things that separates this release from most modern techno or ambient music is the strong influence of classical music, an influence that is evident in both the string sounds and the arrangements on songs like "space bass go" and "hum of the big wheel." There's also a strong space-rock element to the extensive sound processing, in which nearly everything is made to sound like something else, with sounds like bleeping satellites and background sound effects one might expect to find on a science fiction film soundtrack. Then there's the beats -- quiet and minimal on "in the underspace," fat and insistent on "logic of the median" (which comes closest, of all the tracks, to sounding like traditional techno). Throughout the album, elements of drone, experimental sounds, techno, and a minimalist sensibility come together to form tracks that unfold organically in serene and ghostly fashion. But you don't have to take my word for it; you can listen for yourself by hitting the link below.
Chimerical Sound Engine
Debauchery -- GERMANY'S NEXT DEATH METAL [AFM Records]
They live up to their name with an appropriately debauched (and, honestly, kind of juvenile) album cover featuring a pneumatic bikini-clad bimbo holding a chainsaw even bigger than she is. I'm not sure this has anything to do with the actual album, but it certainly gets your attention, doesn't it? The album itself sounds like a strange variant of death metal that includes spoken-word segments in "The Unbroken" (and lots of wheedly-wheedly guitar spoo in the solo), a variety of vocal styles, and other jarring elements that often do nothing more than distract from what would otherwise be a highly competent death metal sound. They certainly understand death metal -- witness the great riffing and bursts of insane double-drumming on "Zombie Blitzkrieg," for instance, or the insistent pulse of "Warmachines at War," another song with plenty of swell riffs; hell, intense riffology abounds all over the album. But the bizarre and often off-putting switches in vocal style frequently detract from the songs, acting as an unwelcome distraction. Still, the primal attraction of the grinding riffs of the title track, the Slayer-styled riffing in "Death Will Entertain," and the gruesome death-chug of "Armed For Apocalypse," just to name a few examples, do a lot to make up for the peculiar vocal missteps. Still, they made some weird decisions on this album, and the less adventurous out there will probably want to hear tracks from it first before buying.
Einvera -- IN YOUR IMAGE [self-released]
The three members of this Los Angeles band met in music school, and it shows. The eight songs on this 33-minute album are rooted in technical metal, but that is merely the framework on which they hang complex musical lattices composed of just about every other genre imaginable (but mostly a mind-blowing cross-pollination of death, black, and progressive metal). The metallic core of the songs are leavened with touches of decidedly non-metal instruments like banjo, vibraphone, accordion, pedal steel, and glockenspiel, among others, but these unusual elements merely add color and texture to a series of spiraling technical epics Coroner would have been pleased to create. Plenty of bands have tried their hands at mixing wildly divergent styles into one cohesive whole, usually with mixed results, but Einvera are much more successful in their attempts at the same. Which is not to say there aren't some genuinely surreal moments on the album -- I never thought I'd ever hear a technical-metal polka, which is essentially what "Send Me Home" is -- but even at their most surreal, their chops are so fantastically tight and their imagination so willfully unbound that it all works much better than you would have any right to expect. It's a challenging album, to be sure, but the challenge of digesting this eye-opening hurricane of sound is worth the effort; it's not often you hear such a perversely diverse-sounding album whose songs actually work without collapsing under the weight of their ambition. I'd wonder why these guys are still unsigned, but of course, we live in the musical equivalent of the end times, so you'll have to stop by their site (or visit them on Soundcloud) to hear them until somebody has the good taste to sign them (which probably won't take long).
Goreaphobia -- APOCALYPTIC NECROMANCY [Dark Descent Records]
This Philadelphia death metal band has an interesting backstory: they formed in 1988, but they broke up in the early 90s after releasing only a demo and a couple of singles, and didn't actually get around to a full-length release until reforming a few years ago to put out their 2006 compilation VILE BEAST OF ABOMINATION. This is their third full-length release -- the first on Dark Descent -- and it's essentially twelve tracks of hard-hitting old-school death metal. I don't know if it's old material that they're finally getting around to recording or if they decided upon resuming activity to pretend the last decade-plus never existed, but either way, it sounds like an album that could have been made in the late 80s to early 90s. There are no frills or cute references to the currently fragmented state of metal here, just four guys with an extensive death metal pedigree (having played in key bands like Absu, Incantation, and Demoncy) pounding out straightforward epics of brutality with titles like "Void of the Larva Queen" and "Footpaths in the Vortex of Doom." This is sick-sounding stuff, too, comparable to not only the bands they've been in before but classic bands like Death, Obituary, and Deicide. (It's interesting to me that they're from Philadelphia, since their sound is highly reminiscent of the early Florida death metal scene.) Standout tracks include the mid-paced death crusher "Shroud of Hyena," "Darkstar Dementia" (propelled by a gruesomely sinister riff), and "White Wind Spectre," which welds an intriguing beat and ominous bass sound to unusual guitar figures that alternate between murky chiming and startling bursts of melodic guitar. There's a reason this band is considered legendary in death metal circles, and it's good to see that the years between their dissolution and reformation have done nothing to erode the quality of their songs and sound.
Dark Descent Records
Hallowed Circuit -- DEAD PLANET TRANSMISSION [Inam Records]
This is the debut by the latest purveyor of drone on Inam Records, with six tracks of dark ambient drone mixed with noise built on layers of sound and guitar loops. The nature of construction via loops is not quite so obvious on the opening track "Pillow Dust," which sounds like ambient sound overlaid with tainted noise, but the nature of the beast becomes clearer on "Romans," where a loop circles over and over in cyclotron fashion, growing darker and more overmodulated as the piece progresses, until it resembles an overloaded machine tearing itself apart before it comes to rest. "HC1" is far more drone-oriented, with pealing feedback that rises and falls over looped waves of sound, resulting in a suitably cosmic sound akin to transmissions from a dead star. This hardly prepares you for the avalanche of noise-laden sound that comes next on "Sister Signal," where crashing waves of sonic violence bathed in ring modulation rattle and reverberate in yet another emulation of disintegrating machinery. The drone returns, this time augmented by bleeps and bloops, on "HC2," which segues into the (final) title track, in which the hum of the void is represented by ambient sound, crusty drone, loops of feedback, and static-laden noise that does a fine job of conjuring up the nameless dread of unmanned space probes disappearing into the far reaches of an empty cosmos. This epic slice of swankness comes in a stiff-paper sleeve and is limited to 30 copies.
Inam Records -- email: email@example.com
Low -- C'MON [Sub Pop]
I've been listening to Low since their first album appeared in 1994, and one thing I've come to appreciate about the band is their resistance to being pigeonholed. Like the Melvins and Swans, the startling and original sound of their early albums, which were defined by stark songs and slow tempos, has caused a lot of lazy music journalists to define them in a manner that hasn't been terribly relevant for close to a decade, despite clear evidence that the band has evolved in both sound and songwriting every few albums. While they are still not exactly a speed metal band by any stretch of the imagination, their songs have grown in variety and texture over time, even to include electronica and unusual mixes on their previous album, DRUMS AND GUNS. So it's interesting that their latest album is being called a throwback of sorts, because while the songs on this album are far more accessible than the ones on their last album, this is hardly a return to the stark minimalism of their early releases. That many consider this a return an earlier sound is understandable, considering their decision to record it at Sacred Heart Studio, the same location for the recording of TRUST, but this sounds nothing like that album, possibly the darkest and most apocalyptic-sounding work of their entire career. Then, too, they have made the unusual move of inviting a number of outsiders to appear -- Nels Cline (lap steel, guitar), Caitlin Moe of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on violin, and Dave Carroll of Trampled by Turtles on banjo. They have also made the bold (some might say heretical) move of assigning the production duties to Matt Beckley (son of America songwriter Gerry Beckley), a mainstream producer known for his work with the likes of Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne.
The curve balls don't end there, though. One of the biggest differences between this album and nearly everything before it is the directness of the lyrics; for the first time in the band's history, Alan Sparhawk's lyrics are far more concrete and far less abstract than on previous albums. It's also interesting to note that drummer / vocalist Mimi Parker, still the band's secret weapon, is featured far more prominently than she has been in some time. One of her contributions, the languid "Especially Me," is not only one of the highlights, but (according to Sparhawk) arguably the linchpin of the album. The band unquestionably plays to their strengths on tracks like "Try To Sleep" and "Nightingale," where their incomparable harmonies are backed by gorgeous backing tracks, and the country-folk sound of "Something's Turning Over" is probably the closest they've ever come to approaching a genuinely mainstream sound, but tracks like "$20" and the slow-building "Nothing But Heart" are striking masterpieces of lyrical repetition, and "Witches" -- a song about dealing with nightmares in an extremely unorthodox manner -- is one of the most bizarre songs in the band's entire catalog. So believe what you want about how this is supposedly a return to their classic sound, but just note that, as usual, there's more to the picture than meets the eye.
Olekranon -- LISTERGA 3" cdr [Inam Records]
The always-swank Olekranon are back with an ep of four tracks recorded around the same time as the sessions for BILAL, and as usual, it's stupendous stuff. The title track kicks things off with paralyzing electrobeats and a gauzy shoegaze guitar attack that grows intense and noisy, backing off now and then to return even heavier than before, until it winds down in a wail of feedback that dies away, seguing into "Biclave," where skeletal beats are buried under hovering clouds of dark, ominous drone that morph into excoriating waves of white noise as the beats grow fuzzier and more machine-like, at which point the track turns into something far heavier and denser, slouching into the neighborhood of industrial music. That sound dies out amid a high-pitched whine and a distorted vocal sample until the guitars build to a crescendo of white noise and die away. On "Tarize," spring-loaded riffs unfold over blunt techno beats, then those riffs are joined by a massed army of guitars droning in thick waves of distortion. The final track, "Deadlights," is built on wavering dynamics, trippy breakbeats, and more howling drone guitar. Techno's answer to My Bloody Valentine succeeds in dropping drone science one more time.... The cdr comes packaged in a brown stiff-board sleeve and an insert featuring more of Megan Abajian's mysterious artwork, and is limited to 45 copies.
Inam Records -- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Planks -- THE DARKEST OF GRAYS / SOLICIT TO FALL [Southern Lord]
This limited-edition cd compiles the first two vinyl albums by this German hardcore band whose heavy but melodic sound is tinged with the dissonance of black metal, and as you would expect of a Southern Lord release, it's not for the meek. At sixteen tracks, there's also a lot of it; spinning the entire disc in one sitting is likely to leave you exhausted, but that's what music of this nature is for, right? Besides, it's not all endless torment; there are surprising moments of respite from the willfull tooth-gnashing in the form of quieter, slower, and more intensely melodic songs like "We Are Translucent" and the short "Fantasmes," featuring a female spoken-word passage over faint ambience in the background. Then there's "A Casket City," an instrumental piano passage of considerable melodicism accompanied by more vaguely ambient washes in the background. Tracks like these, though, are merely chances to rest your ears between the vicious assault of the other songs, all of which are steeped in heaviness and violence. Their hardcore roots are also frequently obscured by their other influences and the inventive use of both dissonance and an atypical clanging, metallic bass sound, which gives them a more varied and interesting sound than most hardcore bands. Strong stuff from an obscure band that should be of considerable interest to those seeking new avenues of heaviness, and with two hard-to-find albums on one convenient and affordable disc, a bargain as well.
Rick Reed -- THE WAY THINGS GO (2 x lp) [Elevator Bath]
The man's name is probably unfamiliar to you unless you run in experimental music circles, partly because he joined the music revolution relatively late in lfe after deciding he wanted to make the kind of music he was listening to while painting (his original vocation, and one he still pursues; he painted the work that adorns the cover of the double-album), and partly because his commitment to quality over quantity has made his release schedule extremely limited and sporadic. (Not to mention that like most of the fringe artists in Austin's underground music scene, he is far less interested in promotion than performance.) Nevertheless, his name is highly respected in experimental music circles (he's performed with the legendary Austin sound painters The Abrasion Ensemble and members of AMM, among others, and was in fact once referenced in the title of an AMM record) and he plays a regular and vibrant part of Austin's experimental music scene. Elevator Bath has been documenting his work (or part of it, anyway) for a while now, and with this double album, they have generously presented us with what may be his best work yet.
The six tracks on this double-album flow together so seamlessly and organically that it's hard to believe they were recorded individually over the span of a decade. The first side alone -- featuring "mesmerism" and "capitalism: child labor" (from the soundtrack of the 2005 Ken Jacobs film of the same name) -- is absolutely amazing; using sine wave generators, old-school analog synths, shortwave radio, and found sounds, Reed sculpts two monumental tracks of shimmering drone and harmonic noise that take their time building in ominous fashion, stretching out the tension before culminating in thick waves of sound that are both beautiful and otherworldly. His allegiance to late 60s / early 70s Krautrock and spaced-out psychedelia is at its most obvious here, and he has assimilated all the right things from his listening habits. The album would be worth it for just these two pieces alone.
The rest of the tracks are worth plenty of attention in their own right, though. The flip side of the first record is taken up entirely by "celestial mudpie," where extended periods of silence segue into bursts of static and clouds of sound like electronic thunderstorms and thick slices of machine-like drone. Strange noises and textures weave in and out of the drone action as the piece rolls on, and the ultimate effect is the audio equivalent of an abstract expressionist painting. The two tracks on the first side of the second album, "hidden voices pt. 1" and "in a hazy field of gray and green," continue to bring the drone in a big way, especially on the first track, which is dominated by rippling sheets of drone, high-pitched sine-wave feedback, and ghostly electronic tones. The latter is an audio homage to textured sounds, opening with a crackling noise much like a dusty record revolving on a turntable and gradually expanding its sonic palette to include a wide variety of tones and noises, from shrill feedback to oceanic drones and more. The climax of the album is the side-long title track, an extended exercise in creeping drone mixed with high-frequency noise; over 22 minutes, waves of harmonically rich sound ebb and flow like the tides, washing over the listener with a serene and unexpected grace.
A word or two about the packaging: this is what people mean by quality presentation. Two LPs pressed on 180-gram virgin vinyl, housed in poly-lined sleeves inside a heavy matte-finish gatefold jacket featuring Reed's own exquisite artwork. The release also comes with a beautiful plastic download card (seriously, I put the card up on my desk just because it's a nifty piece of art in its own right) giving the listener access to the entire album in high-quality MP3 format. This is limited to 515 copies, and given the album's phenomenal quality and the fact that all but one of his earlier releases on the label are sold out, I'm guessing it won't be available for long. You need this. This is already a contender for my top ten favorite albums of the year.
Totimoshi -- AVENGER [At A Loss Recordings]
Totimoshi are one of those bands who are okay with doing things the hard way. They have so far survived stolen gear, self-destructing vans, disappearing drummers, impatient labels, and a touring schedule that would make the average musician weep with outright fear. Their persistence owes a lot to the sheer iron will of guitarist / singer / main songwriter / tyrant for life Antonio Aguilar, who's ready and willing to walk through brick walls if it's necessary to keep his band going. (It helps that bassist / occasional singer Meg Castellanos, who co-founded the band lo these many years ago, is every bit as tough-minded as he is.) Their uphill climb to success has been hindered by constantly being pigeonholed as stoner rock (despite the fact that the only thing they have in common with most stoner bands is Tony's collection of fuzz pedals) and lazy comparisons to a really amazing range of bands (which should tell you something about the eclectic nature of their sound). The only regular comparison that holds any water for me is the Melvins, and then only because, like that band, they have managed to cough up a steady series of albums that are radically different while retaining a certain highly identifiable core sound. It hasn't helped, either, that they have bounced from one label to another for various reasons and endured an endless procession of drummers who weren't able to get with the program (at least until now; their current drummer, Chris Fugitt, has been with them for a while, and given the caliber of his playing, hopefully that will continue to be the case).
Which brings us to their sixth album, which is simultaneously their boldest and most accessible release yet. They've never been lacking in the confidence department, but for the first time, having a drummer around for two albums in a row has enabled them to focus more on songwriting and playing than training new skin-beaters. A large part of their sound has always been rooted in Meg and Tony's Cuban and Hispanic heritage, which has generally translated into complex rhythms not usually found in American hard rock, and there's plenty of that here, couched in tricky time signatures and shifting dynamics that give the songs a certain swing one would normally associate more with Latin music. There are times, particularly on tracks like "Mainline," where their complicated instrumental interplay borders on jazz, and on "The Fool," Tony's guitar playing is so fluid and inventive that he effectively blurs the line between rhythm and solo parts. Don't think this means they've suddenly started playing prog-rock, though; this is intense stuff. They rock like they're on fire, and Tony's incredible guitar sound -- roughly akin to a horde of angry wasps trying furiously to sting their way through the speakers -- is very much upfront through the entire album. They've also returned to a rawer, edgier sound after a couple of relatively clean-sounding albums, giving their sound an extra urgency that's equally matched by Tony's all-or-nothing vocal delivery. They also have a few surprises up their collective sleeve in the form of guest appearances from Dale Crover (Melvins), Brett Hinds (Mastodon), and Scott Kelly (Neurosis), which just adds an extra layer of interest to an already excellent album. I just hope this is the album that finally brings them the level of success they've deserved for long time now.
At A Loss Recordings
The Winchester Club -- NEGATIVE LIBERTY [Exile On Mainstream]
Man, these are some long-ass tunes; of the five tracks on this album, three are between thirteen and fifteen minutes long. With a lineup containing members of End of Level Boss, Hangnail, and Chineseburn, this -- loosely a concept album about freedom (or the lack of it) in modern society -- is the latest addition to prog-metal's ongoing love affair with post-rock. The opening track, the wonderfully-named "Fuck You Buddy," sets the album's tone with a slow unfolding of guitars and drums that build from repetitive, minimalist figures to a wide-open vista of layered sound that owes as much to psych as to post-rock. The songs that follow unfold in a similar vein, often in surprisingly gentle fashion; for an album being nominally flogged as metal, this has a lot more in common with early Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine than anything passing for metal these days (except possibly Neurosis, the godfathers of the whole metal / post-rock crossover in the first place). Like most current post-rock albums, the extended jams here are instrumental; the only vocals on the album, in fact, come from the looped sample that opens "R.D. Laing (Little Chemical Straitjackets)" and the sample that opens "The End of History." There's a spaced-out, almost jazzy feel to some of the passages, especially at the beginning of the title track, a muted feel that only adds to the cosmic jam vibe. This is good stuff, as long as you don't mind songs that take a long time to get where they're going; of course, since your average post-rock hesher will probably wash this down with bong hits, that might well be the entire point.
The Winchester Club
Exile on Mainstream
Xibalba -- MADRE MIA GRACIAS POR LOS DIAS [Southern Lord]
These guys are awfully dark and heavy for a band from sunny southern Cali. This is serious, punishing death metal that welds early Sepultura's diabolical riff-hate with early Obituary's oppressive atmosphere, with fearsome results. Their worship of all that is heavy takes some interesting turns: the tail end of "Madre Mia," for instance, features dark-ambient guitar tones howling like a sandstorm over martial beats, and the downbeat sample that opens "Time's Up" might well be an olique reference to the sample-happy likes of Eyehategod and Buzzoven, only more judicious in their use of this particular device. Most of their time on this disc, though, is taken up by the systematic dispensation of monumental heaviness. No filler, no happiness, no in-jokes, just giants walking the earth and crushing everything in their path. This is a throwback to the early days of death metal, to a sound that -- in its infancy -- was sufficiently heavy and oppressive enough to genuinely scare people. This is the sound of the dispossessed with guitars and drums, fronted by a vocalist bent on self-immolation. This is the sound of bulldozers digging trenches to be used as mass graves. If this music were made manifest in human form, it would be a psychotic with his hands around your throat. This album -- which includes their debut and a compilation track tacked on -- might be the heaviest album Southern Lord has released so far, which is saying something. Besides, it's hard to argue with the unbridled misanthropy of songs like "We Deserve To Die," isn't it?