Saturday, September 1, 2012

the clearing at the end of the path is in sight.

NOTE: All good things must come to an end, and that includes this blog. After eighteen years and nearly three thousand reviews, I'm currently winding down TOTDA so I can move on to other things. This will be a controlled shutdown -- since there may be packages in the mail already, I will still accept and review anything that arrives in the mailbox through the end of September, and I intend to spend the next month or two reviewing everything that's already here. Anything that arrives after the end of September, however, won't get reviewed. The blog and its archives will still continue to exist, but will no longer be updated once all the existing reviews in progress are finished.

The reasons for the shutdown are many, but the main one is the simplest: after so many years and so many reviews, I am burned out. Rather than continuing the blog just to receive free goodies while churning out increasingly mediocre / jaded reviews, I would prefer to quit while I'm ahead. I'll miss the joy of discovering new, exciting obscurities, but I won't miss the enormous amount of time constant reviewing takes from my band and my personal life.

In the meantime, the reviews continue to roll on….

Altered States of the United Snakes -- PAGAN TIGER SWING BAND lp  [Lost Treasures of the Underworld]

Man, this is a confusing record. Because it was recorded at Columbus Discount Recordings, I thought it was on that label -- but no, it's actually on another label entirely, something that's not made terribly clear by the album's deliberately mystifying packaging and liner notes. It certainly sounds like it could be a CDR release; it's all about the lo-fi, mind-melting psychedelic garage rock experience. Just to make things more confusing, there are apparently a couple of unlisted songs (meaning, the scribbled titles on the jacket are not terribly helpful), and the songs themselves are deeply mysterious, sounding something like the product of members of an obscure religious cult jamming in the temple basement. Half the time the treble-heavy guitar sounds like a piano fed through miles of reverb, and while the bass and drums provide a regular (if sometimes ramshackle) rhythm section, the addition of "oscillating feedback" adds a spaced-out layer of sound that makes it all the more otherworldly. Even more intriguing is how the guitar and oscillator tones frequently mimic the sound of a demented gospel choir -- or maybe those really are vocals buried in the background and drenched in so much echo that they're indecipherable; certainly the liner notes appear to include lyrics, although they're written out in such a primitive form of hen-scratching that it's hard to tell. (There are clearly discernible vocals on a couple of songs, but that doesn't mean there aren't hidden ones elsewhere; this is definitely a band that likes to play it close to the vest.) I can't decide if they were high on drugs or Jesus when they made this, but either way, it's a pretty surreal listening experience, and definitely one that's probably best appreciated while under the influence. The vinyl is limited to 300 copies (100 on black vinyl, 100 on white, and 100 in fluorescent swirl), housed in hand-drawn / silk-screened jackets repurposed from old record jackets scavenged from the Used Kids Records free bin.

Book of Shadows -- COSMOS-MOTHER [Instincto Records]

More whole-grain psych goodness from Austin's Book of Shadows, and this time they're just full of surprises, starting with the opening track "Moon Pie," which features Sharon Crutcher's ethereal wailing over a cyclotron of whirling noise; until her voice came in, for a moment I thought I had dropped the wrong cd in the platter. The tracks this time around are also generally shorter, with only four of the eleven tracks over six minutes and several under three and a half minutes. (Of course, there are exceptions like "Falling Star," which is nearly 21 minutes long.)  "Your Reflection" is a bit closer to the band's usual fog-like sound, but still noisier, and even that noise is swaddled in an eternity of reverb; by the time "Stardust Faded" arrives, the band's more subdued side has returned, with gently reverberating rhythms and slow drones creating a near-pastoral ambience over which Sharon's wordless vocals float like clouds. The album's centerpiece is the aforementioned epic "Falling Star," which starts off with heavy droning noises and processed sounds that gradually grow into a swirl of eddying sonic drift coalescing around an almost inaudible hypnotic riff that could be a guitar or keyboard part before drifting off into the ether again. Other standout tracks include "Alchemist," featuring a stately bass line and counterpoint guitar, "Stringkey" with its tinkling vibes and unorthodox percussion, and "Crickets and Tree Frogs," which does a fine job of using musical idioms to recreate the sounds implied by the title. Once again Austin's best proponents of dreamlike space-rock do not disappoint.

Cheater Slicks -- GUTTURAL: LIVE 2010 lp [Columbus Discount Records]

Legendary in garage rock circles, the rocking trio known as the Cheater Slicks formed in Boston in 1987, moved to Columbus, OH in 1996, and have been rocking the house on stage and otherwise from day one. As the album's title attests, this is a live recording, with eight tracks taken from different shows throughout Columbus in 2010, but there's more to the story: this is actually the first of three volumes designed to showcase their best songs in the setting that best suits them, on stage. For a band known for its rousing live shows, it's a little surprising to discover they've never had a live album to represent that aspect of their existence, and this three-volume series is designed to correct that. Listening to the album, it's not hard to see how they gained such a legendary reputation -- this is intense stuff, raw in sound and loud in volume, that perfectly encapsulates the entire purpose of garage rock (namely, good and catchy songs played with wild abandon and a total indifference to fussiness, at a volume capable of sterilizing cockroaches). I'm not sufficiently bumped-up on the band's catalog to know how iconic these songs are to the band's established audience, but they certainly burn through all eight tracks like their pants are on fire -- these are seriously rocking tunes. Essential listening for garage rock enthusiasts and fans of high-octane, no-frills rock and roll.

Cheater Slicks -- LIVE VOL. 2: 2010 lp [Columbus Discount Records]

The second volume in the Cheater Slicks live series isn't quite as frantic as the first one, focusing more on mid-tempo ballads (or what passes for ballads in garage land, anyway), but it's still plenty intense and every bit as noisy as the previous album. The seven tracks here were taken from the same three shows recorded in 2010 that yielded the previous album's eight tracks, and thus the sound is similar (and consistently good, at least by lo-fi garage standards); the only difference here is that band generally substitutes groove for velocity this time around, giving the album a certain swing where the previous album more closely resembled hot rods racing across the desert. Which is not to say the album doesn't have its share of white-noise moments, because it does -- but even then, they're more about the primal stomp this time around. They still make a plenty ferocious racket, though, and this album is every bit as essential as the previous live collection.

(D)(B)(H) / Seeded Plain + Hal Rammel -- split lp [Gilongo Records / Friends and Relatives Records]

Enigmatic stuff from Seeded Plain (and pal Hal Rammel) and another artist even more cryptic and obscure. The (D)(B)(H) side is entitled "Bad For Business" and consists of four improv musicians -- Justin Rhody (trumpet, tapes, guitar, harmonica, cymbals), Kray Korbella (metal objects, tapes, guitar, radio), Marty Belcher (saxophones, metal), and Daniel Wick (percussion) -- making odd squiggly noises in the name of art during a session recorded on WFHB community radio in Bloomington, IN during the summer of 2010. Like most free improv records, if you aren't already down with the concept, it will sound like nothing more than a lot of random bleating and squeaking, but there's plenty to appreciate here in the tones and eccentric sounds they generate, and unlike a lot of improv bands, they leave plenty of space in their sound. There's a lot going on, sometimes even many things at once, but it rarely grows so overwhelming that you can't pick out the individual instruments, and much of the time those separate instruments are left to weave around each other rather than together, creating a sound that's persistent without being exceptionally busy. The four tracks from the flip side feature Seeded Plain (Bryan Day and Jay Kreimer) using homemade instruments and Hal Rammel using an amplified palette to create an exotic array of percussive noises and peculiar sounds. Their approach is brighter and busier, but still very much in the skronk vein; there's no readily discernible attempt at structure happening here, just a dizzying avalanche of weird sounds and tones circling around each other, like alien ships looking for a place to land. The album comes with an insert featuring liner notes and artwork, housed in a repurposed thrift-store record jacket broken apart, turned inside-out, and repainted on the cover. You can't get much more DIY than this, doom childe.

Friends and Relatives Records:

Death Factory -- MACHINEN UNTTER KONTROLLE [No Visible Scars]

Michael Krause is Death Factory, where he serves up gruesome noise soundscapes influenced as much by horror films as noisy acts like Merzbow and Throbbing Gristle. The anti-musical direction at work becomes immediately apparent with the opening title track, where ugly, distorted noises and devolved machine rhythms blast away to menacing effect, eventually morphing into caustic sounds fed through delay and repeated like a rhythm as other ugly sounds ebb and flow over the top. By contrast, the second track -- "Manifestation of Fear (3rd Version)," inspired by the film PHANTASM -- slowly builds from silence to electronic chittering noises, gradually adding machine rhythms and other ominous sounds as it builds in volume and intensity to a hypnotic climax. The rest of the tracks follow a similar theme of integrating harsh noise, sometimes violent dynamics, and machine rhythms to create unsettling soundscapes dominated by noise, overmodulated sonic excess, and abused electronics. One track of particular interest is "Demitri's Dilemma," another slow-burning buildup to excess inspired by the horror film BEYOND THE DOOR, where machine rhythms and hissing sounds fade in, augmented by sinister samples from the film and more unsettling noises of dubious origin. Seven tracks total, all of them long and filled with sonic bedevilment intent on filling your ears with filth.

Eloise + Yagihashi Tsukasa -- SCATTERED HANDS cs [Feral Tapes]

This brief cassette -- approximately seventeen minutes -- features two tracks on one side and one more on the other, all created by the duo of Bryan Day (homemade instruments, electronics) and Yagihashi Tsukasa (saxophone, voice, long strings). Like almost everything Day (the guru behind the Public Eyesore and Eh? labels) has been involved in, this is amorphous, improvised music of a deeply mysterious nature, less about songs and more about sounds and textures. Even with the instruments listed in the liner notes, it's difficult to tell what's being used to make these sounds, as the traditional instruments are employed in unorthodox ways and Day's homemade instruments are probably designed to create unfathomable sounds in the first place. The two interact in a manner that leaves lots of space between the inexplicable noises, occasionally coming together to create layered sounds but more often giving each other room to solo (in their own peculiar fashion). This sounds like it could have been an Eh? release -- it's certainly strange enough -- but there's a certain fascination for the listener in hearing these strange sounds and trying to imagine how they were created, and their compositions are nowhere near as random as one might expect from a cursory listen. Still, it will probably be a challenging listen for anyone who's not already hep to the arcane world of freely improvised music.

Bryan Day:
Yagihashi Tsukasa:
Feral Tapes:

Ehnahre -- OLD EARTH [Crucial Blast]

You'd have to figure that any band containing two members of Kayo Dot (guitarist John Carchia and bassist / keyboardist Ryan McGuire; the trio is rounded out by Ricardo Donoso on percussion and electronics) is going to be a little bit out there, and you'd be right. On their third album (and second for Crucial Blast), they take elements of death metal, doom, prog rock, black metal, and free jazz and fuse them into twisted funny-car shapes in service of compositions as eccentric as they are innovative. This is a band strange enough to hold their own on a bill with OVM (who share their avant-garde tendencies and unusual approach to sound and composition), the only other band I can think of who even come close to resembling their highly experimental sound. Consisting of the song "Old Earth" broken into four distinct parts, the album fades in with the sound of a scratchy old record and resolves in a passage of slow, almost bluesy guitar chords that grow progressively more distorted and dissonant until the band comes together as one terrifying, monolithic entity to thunder through bursts of jagged metal howling and complex beats interspersed with just the grotesque guitar chords again. Things only grow more intense from there, as the guitar switches to frenzied bursts of shrapnel accompanied by bursts of superhuman drumming and subsonic bass crunge. Part II opens with strings suitable for a jazz composition, and continues in this vein for a while with intermittent guitar motifs, focusing mainly on the tones and interplay between the guitar and strings (and later the bass); the percussion doesn't even make an appearance until about seven minutes into the song, and even then its presence is muted. Toward the end things do start to build into a more complex interplay between the instruments and the percussion does get busier, but it isn't until the arrival of Part III that they descend into pure blazing fury, doing their best to approximate a more metallic version of RED-era King Crimson, with some of the heaviest moments on the album. On Part IV, they rev up the velocity and begin to churn out absurdly complicated beats and guitar parts at a frightening speed before slowing the tempo down to a crawl and reverting back to the more spacious sound that opened the album before getting strange and heavy again. Special mention should be made of the vocals, in which harsh death-metal growling is used to spew forth from the text "Old Earth" by Samuel Beckett. If you ever wanted to hear a metal band channeling the spirits of King Crimson, Last Exit, and Sun Ra all at once, this band is for you.

Friend Collector -- S/T lp [Terra Firma Records]

Baltimore's Friend Collector bills themselves as a punk band, and there's some truth in advertising there, but what they really remind me of is the early wave of bands on Amphetamine Reptile -- they have the same kind of punishing, noisy sound and intensity as bands like Hammerhead and Unsane, and come pounding out of the gate with "Bandwagon," whose noisy guitars, loping drums, and anguished vocals are not too far removed from the sound of the early Unsane singles. A new dimension to their sound appears with the melodic bassline that leads the way in "Pinpointing the Enemy," but the paint-peeling guitar sound owes as much to early Swans as it does to anything from the AmRep catalog, while the punk credentials are established mainly through the song's lurching groove and the sense that everything might fall apart at any moment. "Arousing Prejudice" follows a similar trajectory (and the same tendency to steadily build to a white-noise frenzy), but the marginally slower tempo and simpler beat on "Least Offensive Option" give it a more doom-laden feel. On the flip side, we have two short songs and a long one; "Assertion" thrashes with far more speed and violence than anything on the first side, and "Expert Testimony" has just as much velocity but is even heavier. The epic final track "Stacking the Deck," though, dials the tempo back down and works in some excoriating white-heat tornado guitar Carolyn Master would have been pleased to toss off during her tenure in Of Cabbages and Kings. All in all it's a pretty impressive debut, although the vocalist's pained howling is almost certainly going to be a sticking point for a lot of people (even though I think they lend a chilling aura of desperation to the proceedings). The physical version of the album is limited to 300 copies and comes with splattered color vinyl, stickers, and a download code for the digital version, which is available on Bandcamp.

Funerary Call -- FRAGMENTS FROM THE AETHYR [Crucial Blast]

I don't much about this band beyond the fact that this is their fifth album (with another out recently on Malignant Records), but this is definitely right up my alley, with an eerie sound incorporating the more sinister elements of dark ambient, industrial, black metal, and noise into one hellish form of bleakly elegant audio sickness. Working in the same ballpark as bands like MZ.412, Gnaw Their Tongues, and Aghast (the brilliant Norwegian duo who released one stunning album before disbanding, not the other one), they present here three lengthy pieces featuring curdled electronics, shrieking noise, and dark ambient atmospherics, all the better to unsettle your senses. The first track, "Libation," evokes the sensation of demonic spirits rising to the midnight sky from a chasm spewing noise and dissonance; fried electronic rhythms sputter to life and die away amid the dark ambient rumble and the sound of an approaching cyclone, and while it's not ultimately as noisy as it threatens to become in some places, it certainly does an admirable job of creating an alien sense of dread. It also works nicely in setting the stage for "Fragments," the eighteen-minute centerpiece of the album, which opens with exploded glitch electronics, titanic swirling sounds, and minimal percussion so processed and heavily enveloped in reverb that it's barely recognizable as a drum sound. As the violence gradually subsides, there's a lengthy segment involving processed orchestral sounds that begin with simple melodies and grow in complexity, adding timpani and elements of noise along with droning strings until the piece comes to an abrupt halt. The final track, "Transference From the Void," opens with haunting orchestral ambience, but the drones soon become more shrill and rhythmic segments appear along with the occasional lone drum hit and, from time to time, unearthly vocals. Outside of the unexpected percussion hits and brief vocal bits, the track is largely nothing more than atmospheric ambience, but a highly chilling ambience it is. Ominous and brooding, with a feel at times (especially in the third track) that comes closer to matching the eerie sound and brilliant of that first Aghast album than anything I've ever heard.

Hellgrammite -- II cs [self-released]

Such a strange sound… this Seattle trio exist somewhere in the sonic netherworld between sludge, psychedelic black metal, and doom, and their primal ooze reminds me a lot of Same-Sex Dictator, which is not terribly surprising since the bands share a member, drummer Justin Straw. Here, Straw plays with two people instead of one (guitarist Chad Allen and bassist Ben Rainbow), but that means their sound is that much heavier and weirder, especially since Allen has a psychotronic approach to guitar that takes the innate heaviness to unexpected places. There are four songs on the cassette, and they're all as heavy as they are weird, possessed of a certain sound reminiscent of primitive black metal but shot through with plenty of psych influences (mostly due to Allen's alien guitar antics). Those who like their weirdness on the heavy side will want to check this out.

Lingua Fungi -- VIGIL FOR THE SNAIL LOVERS cs [Fort Evil Fruit]

Oh, I like this… bleak, epic sheets of drone courtesy of Finnish soundscape artist Jaakko Padatsu, who is also a member of Asio Otus. This is the band's third full-length release (along with a split with Shrine and a collaboration with Alio Die), featuring material originally recorded in 2009, and it's incredibly dark, mesmerizing stuff featuring the inventive use of acoustic instruments, field recordings, and synth programming. The opening track, "River of Remora," is a dark and minimalist keyboard drone with incidental sounds happening periodically in the background, but always in a subtle fashion that doesn't disrupt the monolithic drone; it does a beautiful job of setting the album's dark tone, which is reflected in the cassette's morose artwork (see label site for a picture of said cover). "Point to the Saints" makes more use of field recordings in the form of unsettling noises like water dripping in a sewer along with more moody drones; it segues into "Bird Mouth Trajectory," where the drone takes on a more rhythmic aspect as the found sound continues to ripple periodically in the background. The flip side is taken up by two lengthy pieces: "Vigil for the Snail Lovers," another minimalist power-drone accented by mysterious glitch noises and other incidental sounds, which bleeds into "Wave Fills the Empty Vessel," in which the sound mutates slightly but the drone still remains enormous and hypnotic. Limited to 100 copies; includes a download code.

Mascara -- BUDAPEST / CHICAGO cs [Centipede Farm]

This is a mysterious beast, approximately an hour of short, noisy vignettes loosely based (I think) on the experience of living in / traveling around Budapest and Chicago. The sound on these twelve tracks has a distinctly analog feel to them, and they are mostly collages of sound featuring field recordings, distorted electronics, analog synths used for textural purposes, and snippets of random conversation. The sounds involved vary from track to track, but they are consistently applied with intelligence and a keen understanding of dynamics, flowing from one track to the next in an organic manner that never feels forced. The sounds employed also have a distinctly urban feel that makes the album sound like a musical travelogue, with the sensation of moving from one city district to another, almost as if the entire work were simply the sounds of the two cities mentioned as heard from the open window of a moving car. There are some tracks on the flip side that are more electronic and drone-oriented, and even several with percussion that approach being actual songs (as opposed to merely a sound collage), but the album's main concern is depicting the aural sensation of moving through the urban landscape, and it carries out that theme well.


How do you know a musician is from Austin? Because he or she is in too many bands for you to count. That's how you end up with a band like Mema, which contains members of Gym Mat Nap, Aunt's Analog, Sex Bruises, Epop Nivek, Dromez, and probably a lot more I don't even begin to know about. With such a diverse group of players, you might well expect an album filled with strange sounds, and in that respect you'd be absolutely correct. There's only five tracks here, but they're good ones, filled with all sorts of electronic frippery, hypno-rhythms, dissonance, and most of all, noise, all mixed into a psychedelic mindfuck. That's especially true on "Make It So," where ass-quaking beats appear and vanish in hocus-pocus fashion over electronic bleats, hissing beds of noise, and other disorienting sounds. The same basic ingredients get disassembled and rebuilt on each track, but the constant fixtures are groovy electronic textures, hypnotic rhythms, and plenty of noise for texture. They also get an eternity of bonus points for the brilliant title "He Was A Terrible Rapist, But He Had the Softest Hands," I title I wish I had thought of for my own band. Sexy beats + groovy electrobleat + grotesque noises = all the disorienting effects of mind-altering drugs at a fraction of the cost and without a hangover afterwards. You need.

Phoned Nil Trio -- AR B OK ALOU cd + 7" + cs [Blackhouse / Colbeck Labs  FTAM, Maxcorp Industries, Rainbow Bridge, Ursa Major]

Okay, this is an interesting release: a collaboration between several labels (two of them so small and obscure they don't even have an internet presence, apparently) resulting in a "box set" that consists of a cd, cassette, and 7" single, all housed in an origami-style sleeve with inserts (the cassette shell is glued to the outside). The trio consists of Peter J. Woods (industrial percussion, vocals, pedals), Neil Gravander (tapes, vocals, turntables), and Dan Schierl (modular synth); Woods may be familiar as the mastermind behind the FEAR triple-cassette reviewed here a while ago, while the other two are probably best known for their own projects (Lucky Bone and Dan of Earth). Just to make things spicy, the different formats reveal different sides of the group: the 26-minute cassette is an exercise in lo-fi minimalism, with peculiar sounds rising intermittently to break through the tape hiss that serves as their "musical" bedrock. The sounds in question cover a lot of ground, including loops, samples, tortured instruments, and oscillators; the only thing they have in common is their brevity -- sounds and tones burst to the surface just long enough to announce themselves before disappearing again, without rhyme or reason, creating an unpredictable and surreal listening experience. The single finds them exploring a mix of harsh cut-up noise, synth-bleat rhythms, and distorted vocals, with the volume shifting from near silence to explosions of sound, while the cd is more about minimalism, fueled by small, cryptic sounds and tones connected by long stretches of silence (or near silence). Occasionally there are bursts of ear-frying noise, but mostly the cd's approach is considerably more restrained. Some of the later pieces on the disc are more chaotic and violent, through, which does wonders to keep things from growing monotonous. The cumulative effect of this three-pronged onslaught is to provide a detailed look at the band from several directions, and this sizable body of work is equally matched by the colorful packaging that cleverly manages to contain all of the media formats into one unique package. This is definitely one of the more interesting conceptual designs I've ever seen, and one of the few where the content and the packaging are equally impressive.

Pregnant Spore -- I AM IN LOVE WITH MY OWN SINS [Banned Production]

You can always count on Pregnant Spore to deliver unsettling, abstract weirdness, and this cassette is no exception. It's short -- a C15 -- but it's potent; on the A-side, "america's sweethearts part 1" offers up a mumbling conversation that sounds like the mournful ruminating of a drugged-out hippie as crunchy noise creeps up slowly but surely to obliterate it, and on the flip side of the cassette, the second part of the track is an orgy of squealing noise, glitch sounds, and other audio ugliness that eventually fades into wave-like noises made even more unnerving by erratic panning from speaker to speaker before finally fading out. The short running time not only prevents things from getting stale, but it makes this cassette an excellent starting point for those curious about the band's enigmatic aesthetic.

ST 37 / Linus Pauling Quartet -- split 7" [???]

Well, this is interesting: I have no idea who released this split single, so I guess if you want a copy, you'll have to get it from one of the bands. And you should definitely want it, because first and foremost, it features Austin psych wizards ST 37 covering the Helios Creed classic "Lactating Purple," and I can't imagine a greater and more fitting mind-meld than these psychotronic luv gods covering one of the best songs by the more demented half of Chrome. Even if it the cover were shit (which it isn't, by the way), just the mere concept is so brilliant they deserve some kind of key to the psychedelic kingdom just for doing it. As it is, their cover is every bit as noisy, skronk-laden, and tripped-out as the original, while still retaining the band's own identity. On the flip side, the LP4 track, "Monster," is a heavy slice of psych in its own right, filled with forceful beats and reverberating guitars threatening to shake themselves apart while remaining surprisingly melodic, even catchy. The single even comes on colored vinyl -- yes, you guessed it, purple. Brilliant stuff, and worth seeking out.

Naythen Wilson -- THIS IS A DEATH DREAM cs [Fort Evil Fruit]

Jandek fans should eyeball this with some interest, for this cassette features Naythen Wilson -- a tirelessly prolific dude with over seventy solo albums to his name in addition to work with many other bands -- covering the most uncoverable artist of them all, the semi-reclusive enigma known as Jandek. My first-hand knowledge of Jandek is spotty -- I've heard about a dozen of his early albums and found them all mysterious and inexplicable -- but Wilson certainly does an excellent job of capturing Jandek's broken-folk sound and mystery, while making his songs considerably more listenable. The main problem most people have with Jandek is twofold: one, he favors a guitar sound most would define as severely out of tune, and two, his voice, while compelling, is not the most listener-friendly delivery mechanism, particularly when spouting cryptic lyrics over minimal, seemingly half-formed songs. Wilson fixes the two major issues, but leaves everything else alone, retaining the surreal, half-finished feel of the original songs. Like Jandek, he enlists outside help on some tracks -- vocals from Nicole LePera on "Om," lead vocals from Ken Hallowell on "Nancy Sings," electric guitar from Preston Spurlock on "Ghost Town by the Sea," and drums from Joel Kaplan on the title track -- but the sound of these songs, regardless of the personnel, still retains the doomed, alienated essence of all that is Jandek. This is spooky, spooky stuff that sounds like it was recorded in an empty back room of a deserted house, and many of the tracks are swathed in acres of reverb that only add to the disorienting sound. You don't have to be a Jandek fan to appreciate this, either; this is morose doom-folk with plenty of appeal even to those not hep to the Jandek mystique. The cassette was released with the permission of Corwood Industries and is limited to 100 copies; it also comes with a download code for the full album that also includes a 17-minute bonus track, "Worthless Recluse."

Wreck of the Hesperus -- TERMINAL EULOGY cs [Fort Evil Fruit]

Dublin's sons of sludge have been around since 2004, with two full albums and a number of split releases to their name; now Fort Evil Fruit has compiled their first two demos onto one cassette, giving us all a peek at the band's early sound. Side A consists of the TERMINAL DIRGE demo from 2004, featuring four gruesome slices of primitive, downtuned evil marked by creeping death tempos, subterranean tones, and drumming that would be almost jazz-like if it weren't chained down to such stunted tempos. Everything's so heavy that it's often hard to tell where the bass ends and the guitar begins, and in an unusual move for a sludge band, much of the time the drummer provides the memorable hooks while the guitar and bass flow over everything like lava; there are riffs, yes, and fine ones at that, but there's also weird, droning noise and strange effects, along with riffs now and then that sound suspiciously derived from non-metal sources. The vocalist doesn't pop up all that often, but when he does, he delivers a convincing death-croak that only adds another grim texture to the funereal dirge. The addition of choral voices toward the end of the demo, along with a descent into deliberate audio crunge, only adds to the ongoing weirdness.

On the flip side, the EULOGY FOR THE SEWER DWELLERS demo from 2005 consists of two long songs with a much shorter one sandwiched between them, and it's even stranger than the first demo, with "The Dull Fog of Eternity" taking its time to materialize via creepy ambient sounds and a brief spoken sample before exploding into violent life. From there the band moves in unexpected directions, allowing the relatively upbeat tempo dissolve into more slo-mo creep, dominated by more near-jazzy drumming. The rest of the demo plays out much in the same fashion, with slow wasting death by fuzz occasionally waking from its narcoleptic state to flail about for a few moments before sinking back into the ooze again, all the while punctuated by singularly inventive drumming. Tragically, this cassette -- limited to 100 copies -- sold out before I could get around to this review, so you'll have to scour Ebay for  a copy of your own….

Sunday, August 12, 2012

the avalanche begins....

NOTE: While I am tragically unemployed, I'm taking advantage of the sudden abundance of free time to deal with the enormous backlog of reviewables. This post is primarily devoted to whittling down the long list of digital promos (which are mostly metal albums); the next one will be largely devoted to physical releases. I'll keep rotating and posting until everything is done, and probably posting once a week in the process. I'm hoping to be completely caught up on reviews by the middle of September, so if you've been waiting to see something here, well... it's coming, finally.

Antigama -- STOP THE CHAOS ep [Selfmadegod]

After a couple of full-length releases on Relapse Records, Polish grind enthusiasts Antigama have shuffled a few players (original vocalist Lukasz Myskzkowski is back and they have a new bassist and drummer) and returned to Selfmadegod for a six-track ep. I don't know what previous lineups sounded like, but this is a pretty punishing one, especially with the addition of former Vader and Christ Agony drummer Pawel Jaroszewicz, who sounds less like a human being than a constant series of controlled atomic explosions. This is a grind album, so the songs are absurdly fast and frantic, but their version of grind has far more in common with metal than punk; there's plenty of wild flailing around, sure, but it's all controlled and unnerving in its precision, and supremely heavy as well. There's no telling what Lukasz is yelling about (I can't even tell what language he's hollering in), but he certainly sounds quite hostile, just the way a good grind screamer should. With the exception of the last song, the songs are also admirably concise, with the first five tracks each under three minutes. The final track, "The End," is a surprising departure from the rest of the album, a brooding ambient / electronic piece whose dark, menacing atmosphere is the only thing connecting it to the rest of the album. This brief but brain-scouring effort should keep fans happy while the band readies a three-way split with Noisear and The Kill and prepares to record another full-length album later in the year. 

A Whisper in the Noise -- TO FORGET [Exile on Mainstream]

You can tell they must be good, because Steve Albini -- after recording their first album THROUGH THE IDES OF MARCH in 2002 -- took them to Europe to open for Shellac, where the album was well-received enough to earn them a spot on the bill at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in 2004. At some point West Thordson (leader and primary songwriter) joined forces with violinist Sonja Larson, and for the most recent album, took over drums and recording duties himself (although it was mastered by Stefan Bruggerman, the label's own mastering expert). On this album, Larson is not just a player, but an equal part of the songwriting team, with baroque and gorgeous results.

The band's sound has been compared to Sigur Ros and Mogwai, but they make me think more of the first wave of 4AD bands like This Mortal Coil and the Cocteau Twins; their use of orchestral instruments in service of melodic pop song structures and ambient sound to add texture and color are very much in the same ballpark, especially with the addition of Larson's ethereal vocals. The swirling clouds of sound are broken up by more immediate sounds -- the crashing drums in the distance that appear intermittently in "A Sea Estranging Us," or the hypnotic piano melody in "All My" -- but in essence the album's core sound is minimal yet complex, with bare-bones percussion and simple but elegant melodies on piano and violin that are wrapped in clouds of sonic gauze. Their less is more approach makes for an extremely spacious sound, and their talent for assigning just the right instrument to play just the right melody -- especially on "Your Hand," one of the most beautiful tracks here -- has a lot to do with what makes them so good. It's rare to see a band so adept at balancing melodic pop and ambient sound without drifting away in a wispy cloud of nothingness or becoming mired in impenetrable layers of sonic effluvia. Highly recommended.

Aura Noir -- OUT TO DIE [Indie Recordings]

Right up front, I really like the old-school look of their album cover, which looks like it could have been the cover of some totally obscure 80s thrash demo. The sound is pretty old-school too; they're from Norway, so of course the obvious thought is that they must be black metal (and since the band has included at one time or another members of Mayhem, Immortal, and Dodheimsgard, that's actually a pretty reasonable assumption), but while they share a lot of black metal's stripped-down and primitive aesthetic, their riffs and song structures are closer to death metal. That's especially true on "The Grin From the Gallows," which is slow and heavy and filled with both crushing riffs and droning but melodic lead guitar lines. "Priest's Hellish Fiend" is another good one, too, with a persistent groove, more punishing riffing, and plenty of suffocating dread. The album doesn't offer any real surprises, but it's a solid collection of death-obsessed tunes steeped in ferocity and ugliness that's worth your attention.

Brokaw -- INTERIORS [Good To Die Records]

The big name getting everyone's attention here is Stuart Dahlquist, bassist and former member of Burning Witch and Goatsnake, but he's hardly running the show here -- this is very much a group effort (other members include vocalist Mike Henderson, guitarist Rick Troy, and drummer Rich Medic), and a pretty interesting one at that. There's some painful, squealing feedback introducing "Ambulance Red" to remind us we now live in the era of noise, but the feedback gives way to something much funkier, stranger, and harder to pigeonhole, a sound that's hard to easily encapsulate. The promo poop sheet throws out names like Melvins, Hammerhead, The Fall, and even Miles Davis, but it's probably more revealing to note that while there's some truth to these name-checked influences, there's a lot more happening than that, and it all comes together in really unexpected ways. The rhythm section favors stop 'n start drum patterns embellished by bass lines like a metallic version of 70s funk, while the guitarist's sound like John McLaughlin on a noise kick and the vocalist favors a howling yelp closer to the blues-rock bleating of guys like Joe Cocker (and maybe even Sly Stone during his most drugged-out period). Despite all the nods to eras gone by, though, this sounds surprisingly modern -- no small feat in itself -- and far more original and cohesive than a pastiche of weird influences. Bizarrely enough, a lot of this album sounds like the soundtrack to a lost 70s blaxploitation film, the kind where the sound coming from the band mirrors the action on the screen. It's heavy without being stupid, baroque in its weirdness without being affected, and possessed of a certain black, deadpan sense of humor. One thing's for sure: nobody else around right now sounds like this. If you step up to this expecting a rehash of Dahlquist's previous bands, you'll probably be disappointed, but if you approach it with even an ounce of imagination, you may surprised by what you find. Bonus points for the swank titles "Politicians By the Pool" and ""You Didn't Invent Sex." You can check out the album for free by visiting their Bandcamp site at the link below.

Burning Love -- ROTTEN THING TO SAY [Southern Lord]

I'm not sure what they were thinking when they put so much effort into making a good album (including the good decision to have it recorded by Kurt Ballou) and then gave it such a mediocre cover. Seriously, the cover (which is nothing more than a handwritten depiction of the band's name) looks like it was conceived and executed on the spot at the last minute. What's up with that? Aside from the cover issues, this album -- their second -- is a competent merging of melodic punk and hardcore angst, with songs whose crash and burn energy are wrapped in melodic sheets of sound that make them far less monochromatic than some of the label's other hardcore albums. The album's relentless grooves are only enhanced by touches like the extended melodic soloing in "The Body" and "Made Out of Apes," and the chunky riffing in "Pig City II" is a nice break from the rest of the album's tendency toward nonstop forward velocity. The album's one big drawback is one that's inherent to most hardcore albums -- unless you're really familiar with the nuances of the genre, after a while most of the songs tend to sound alike. Still, they get a great guitar sound and their drummer adds plenty to the band's restless energy quotient. Too bad about the album cover, though.

Cocks Arquette -- S/T [OSCL Records / FTU Industries]

This is certainly a strange way to do business: aside from the massive weirdness quotient radiating from the tracks, the album was recorded live with no overdubs and the album is being released in different formats by two different labels (cd and digital versions from OSCL, limited vinyl edition from FTU Industries). The album itself is pretty bizarre -- after a short, throwaway introduction, the album settles into three long tracks (ten to thirteen minutes each) that sound like an art-metal band taking its cues mainly from PIL's METAL BOX. That's especially true on "Pointlessly Vindictive," where minimalist percussion pounding and histrionic yelling alternates with long stretches of nothing much more than guitar feedback and eccentric noises. Things start to cook a bit more on "This Changes Nothing," in which the rhythm section tortures the same beat and riff for infinity while strange guitar noises swirl and clatter along, with a bleak and murky sound that's almost totally devoid of midrange. Toward the end the percussion and noise die away, leaving a simple repeating guitar riff that is eventually joined by thuggish bass and more simple percussion, forming a nearly melodic sound that threatens to turn into a new direction for the song… only to end. "Then Leave" opens with lots of cryptic rumbling noise and sweeping oscillator sounds that lead into a clipped machine rhythm followed by a genuine metal riff that they proceed to beat into the ground. Add more sweeping synth / oscillator-fu and the vocalist's pained howling and you have a death march to the cold, black ocean… so heartwarming! One of the things that interests me most about this band is how they have five players yet manage to sound like they have only three most of the time -- this is a band that really believes in the policy of playing only what's needed, when it's needed. Strange, yes, but strangely compelling, although probably not for those who can't hang with the healing power of endless repetition.

Cop Problem -- S/T 7" [War Torn / Prejudice Me]

Philadelphia's Cop Problem have toured with bands like Converge, Trap Them, and Dropdead, so if you know anything about those bands, you probably have an inkling of what to expect on their debut single, where they drop three fast-paced tracks in under nine minutes. Their frantic attack is rooted heavily in punk and hardcore, and while they're certainly energetic and competent enough, there isn't a whole lot of variety in the track here -- just lots of pummeling drums, bumblebee guitar, and angry shrieking from vocalist Deborah Cohen, who does her best to sound like a possessed demon. The exception comes at the tail end of "Blinded By Power," in which the guitarist breaks out a pretty melody and she abandons the shrieking for clean vocals, providing a striking contrast to the rest of the song. With any luck, that will be a starting point for them to expand the range of their delivery on future releases. 

Deadkill -- S/T 7" [Good To Die Records]

Hey, I kind of like this… sure, it's nothing but a straight-up throwback to the 70s punk sound of bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Sex Pistols -- in other words, punk bands whose roots were in rock 'n roll -- but it's done really well, in short bursts of catchy fury. Based in Seattle and containing former / current members of Himsa, Meices, and Absolute Monarchs, the band cranks through four short but potent blasts of old-school punk that rock hard with no filler. There are no pretenses toward art here, just one catchy song after another filled with buzzsaw guitars, simple but punishing drumming, and plenty of angry shouting. The four tracks speed by in well under ten minutes, and they're so catchy that you might well find yourself flipping the single over and over, playing it again and again. I'm normally less than enthusiastic about retro-sounding bands, but I can live with it when they sound this good.

Desalmado -- S/T [Greyhaze Records]

Brazilian shredders Desalmado made plenty of waves last year with their HEREDITIAS album, which I recall as being seriously influenced by Sepultura, so it's a little weird for me to see them being referred to as a grindcore band now. It's certainly true, though, that they have moved beyond their Sepultura influences into something far faster, heavier, and grind-oriented; there's nothing on this album over three minutes long, and the cumulative effect of their shot-from-a-cannon velocity and the short, short songs is a feeling similar to being run over by a steamroller. There are more songs this time -- fifteen of them, to be exact, in just 31 minutes -- and they are supremely heavy and considerably more complex than those on their debut. I especially like the way they open "Delirio" with slo-mo sludge hell before bursting into an insane grinding tirade of super-fast everything. When they slow things down a fraction, as on "Falso Profeta," it gives them an opportunity to hammer riffs into your skull more effectively, but these moments are few (and even then, the song is not exactly slow). The only drawback to their fearsome intensity is that sitting through the entire album in one sitting can be really exhausting, but that's a good problem for a grind / metal band to have, right? And while they're certainly relentless, there's no filler here, just a series of violent explosions of fierce, jet-propelled rage. Heavy, heavy, heavy; you must hear.

Dog Shredder -- BRASS TACTICS 12" ep [Good To Die Records]

They have a terrible name, to be sure, but they make up for it with a really swell album cover and a sound so bizarre I can only imagine the reactions of those who witness them live. That sound, as demonstrated on the three battle-themed tracks here, is one that marries art-damaged metal with a distinctly perverse form of prog-rock and tops it off with an absolutely unhinged vocalist who sounds like Freddie Mercury doing Whip-Its. Half the time it's hard to tell what they're doing because there's so much going on -- a drummer and keyboardist who sound like they're channeling Emerson, Lake and Palmer on fast-forward, a bassist who anchors it all to reality with inexplicable bass runs, and (as mentioned earlier) a vocalist so over the top that when he appears, he takes the madness to a completely new dimension. This is all kind of busy for my taste, but there's no question they have amazing chops and an unusual vision. This is just what you need to make your modern prog-metal fantasies come true.

Enabler -- ALL HAIL THE VOID [Southern Lord]

Look, it's Southern Lord, with another super-heavy hardcore album! I dunno, man… this is really heavy and well-done and everything, but with the exception of a few tracks, it sounds pretty much like every other hardcore album the label has released in the past year or so. Part of that's a problem inherent to hardcore, where bands seem to obsessively hew to a formula that must be engraved in stone, but it doesn't help that the label just keeps releasing a steady stream of the stuff. There's no question that the band's heavy, like a truckload of bricks falling on your skull, but outside of the swell cover art (which looks more like a black metal album cover anyway) and those handful of tracks I mentioned, this is essentially a nonstop barrage of breakneck speed, bludgeoning riffs, and angry yelling that's largely interchangeable with a dozen other band's currently on the label's roster. Granted, the opener "F.A.T.H." does an impressive job of faking out the listener with a mournful acoustic dirge, but in less than a minute that's replaced by the full-blown hardcore assault. There are some really good, memorable riffs in some of the songs, too, like "All Hail the Void" and "Save Yourself," and the mutant space-guitar sound of "They Live, We Sleep" is the album's most unexpected moment, but otherwise it's more of the same violent pummeling you can find on too many similar-sounding albums. Hardcore fans who aren't so picky will find it highly listenable, though, despite its drawbacks.


Japanese thrash. Yes, it still exists. And yes, it still sounds as absurd as it ever did. Which is not to say it's bad; far from it -- but it's definitely a different experience to hear a yelping Japanese vocalist over the standard-issue old-school thrash madness. They do have the sound down -- super-fast drumming, squealy treble-heavy guitars sawing away like bumblebees, twisted riffing played at such a speed you can barely tell what they're doing… they even manage to capture the peculiar sound inherent to 80s production values. As for their aesthetic, well, titles like "Die in the Pentegram," "Stench of Hell," "Toxic Tormentor," and "Merciless Onslaught" should make it clear they're stuck in the past when it comes to topics… but at least their topics are appropriately metal. There's absolutely nothing new happening here -- in fact, I'm pretty sure that's completely beside the point -- but as thrash attacks go, theirs is pretty potent, if not exactly revolutionary. 

From Ashes Rise -- "Rejoice the End / Rage of Sanity" 7" [Southern Lord]

Now I can get behind this. It's hardcore, sure, but considerably more imaginative than a lot of the recent hardcore releases coming from the label lately, and more to the point, it's intensely melodic, especially on the A-side, where the melodic sensibility is augmented by heavy, heavy riffs and a song structure that actually allows for rising and falling dynamics. The flip side is a bit darker and more driving, but still shot through with plenty  of buzzing melodic guitar and more intense drumming. The band is currently in Portland, OR, but originally from Nashville, a scene where stellar chops are pretty much mandatory to stand out from the crowd, and that definitely helps them here. (Of course, since this is the band's first release in nine years, having plenty of time to hone the songs to perfection probably didn't hurt.) There's no telling if a full-length will follow, but if it does, it should be well worth your attention, just like this single.

Furze -- PSYCH MINUS SPACE CONTROL [Fysisk Format]

I like Furze, even though I find them largely inexplicable, precisely because they're so unfathomable and unpredictable. The original aim of black metal was to express a clearly individual expression within a metal framework without consideration of commercial appeal, and while that goal has largely been lost in the past decade or so as black metal has turned into a genre bent on aping certain artists for commercial gain, Furze hasn't forgotten this. The band has taken its own sweet time assembling this album, too; it was recorded in three different studios over a period of ten years, although you'd never guess it from how coherent and focused the album sounds. What's really interesting is how they've managed to tie 60s and 70s acid-rock and psychedelia together with black metal's dark, primitive sound, and the result is an album that sounds like a long-lost treasure of psych weirdness. 

"Occult Soul, With Mind" opens a primitive yet compelling riff and drum sound heavily influenced by early Sabbath, but the eerie, wailing vocals take the song to another place entirely, especially when the middle of the song turns into some heavily-reverb slo-mo guitar drone over pokey drums. Imagine Sabbath on Quaaludes and LSD, playing a song that threatens to fall apart at any moment but never quite does -- for over nine minutes, no less.  Even more bizarre is "Psych Mooz Space Control," where they sound -- seriously -- like a black metal version of UMMAGUMMA-era Pink Floyd, with a guitar sound heavily reminiscent of "The Narrow Way" and chord progressions that sound cribbed from several other Pink Floyd songs of that era; it sounds like they picked the best bits from half a dozen songs and retooled them to fit a black metal agenda, and as wacky as that sounds, it actually works really well. "Reaper Subconscious Guide" is even more surreal, with a fuzzed-out guitar sound straight out of the Hellhammer playbook grinding out weird proto-biker rock riffs out over unearthly choral vocals in the background. The one time they really sound like a traditional black metal band -- well, for a minute or two, anyway -- is on the closing track "When Always Ready," but then it's filled with a wide variety of bizarre vocal styles, including a strange half-crooning sound drenched in reverb that sounds like Gira from the early Swans channeling Tom G. Warrior circa INTO THE PANDEMONIUM. Weird, yes, but supremely attractive in a stylish and demented sort of way.

Godhunter -- WOLVES ep [self-released]

This five-track ep, the latest release from Tucson, AZ's Godhunter,  is a pretty good introduction to the band, who throw down a heavy, brooding mix of sludge metal with hardcore leanings. They open with "(Stop Being) Sheep," in which a hypnotic pinging bass line is gradually joined by drums and fuzzed-out guitar, slowly building in dynamics and intensity, finally settling into a groove after more than three minutes, at which point the harsh vocals finally come in, classic sludge-style. A lot of their sound, especially on tracks like "Wolves of the North," is not far removed from that of early St. Vitus, which is definitely a plus in their favor, but they're far more aggressive; where St. Vitus were depressed, they're angry, which lends a grim edge to their sonic attack. "Powerbelly" is another heavy, rumbling tune with a serious strain of St. Vitus in its DNA, along with a great (and hypnotic) guitar line to go with the slo-mo drums and bass crush; it shifts into a higher gear about halfway through, picking up the pace a bit, without losing any of its innate heaviness. Then they kick the speed up a notch on the groovy but unfortunately named "(Dead Hooker By the Side of) The Road," which is indeed most heavy, but it's probably just as well you can't tell what the vocalist is raging about, because with a title that it's almost certainly offensive. Nevertheless, if that's your idea of a good time, this is certainly a band that delivers the goods, and at 32 minutes, they don't wear out their welcome, which is always a good thing.

Graveyard -- THE ALTAR OF SCULPTED SKULLS ep [Pulverised]

Oh, I like this: ugly, ugly blackened death metal so overdriven and fizzy that it borders on white noise. Spanish purveyors of death know how to drag your dead, bullet-riddled corpse through the dirt, all right. This six-track ep features four new tracks plus two older tunes than have been remixed and remastered, not that you'll ever know the difference, and the poop sheet references the likes of Autopsy and Asphyx, which is reasonable enough, but these guys are way filthier (and nowhere near as eccentric as Autopsy). The recording itself is primitive and lo-fi enough to appeal to old-school heshers, but clear enough that you can tell what's going on, with a special emphasis on the splatterfest solos that leap out of nowhere from time to time. The rest of the time it's all brutal beats, corrosive guitar, and churning riffs designed to keep you as unsettled as possible. They also buck the current trend of endless, epic trudges through the kingdom of riffdom by keeping everything down to three or four minutes, which keeps things hopping. Ugly, ugly, ugly; I greatly approve.

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Nate Hall -- A GREAT RIVER [Neurot]

What a strange concept -- Appalachian music gone psychedelic. Hall is a troubadour in the vein of Dylan or Townes Van Zandt, but he speaks primarily through the idiom of mountain music, and here he takes it one step further into mysterious realms by drenching the songs in heavy reverb and other effects. The starting point of these songs lies in simple, acoustic guitar figures that are transported into another dimension via the heavy use of effects. On tracks like "Dark Star," his plaintive vocals are nearly drowned out by the ringing guitar strums as he plays a passage over and over; on "Kathleen," the arpeggiated guitar notes resonate endlessly over a minimal bass line, accompanied only by his mournful vocals. Some of the tracks, like "Chains," are a bit more restrained in their use of effects, sounding much closer to the original feel of mountain music that obviously serves as Hall's main inspiration, and the largely acapella lament "When the Stars Begin to Fall" also dredges up the barren ghost of a long-forgotten and unadorned gospel tradition. For music played almost entirely on acoustic guitar, this is pretty apocalyptic stuff. The sound he gets here is not entirely new -- this is sonic territory that John Fahey was known to frequent on occasion, especially toward the tail end of his career ("Electric Night Theme" could have appeared on RED CROSS, for instance) -- but it's certainly otherworldly and haunting, and surprisingly doom-laden for something that pretty much avoids all the standard trappings of doom. People who think of Neurot solely in terms of its flagship band Neurosis might find this more than a bit eye-opening, but the label deserves massive kudos for releasing such a stark and mysteriously beautiful album.

Hollywood Burnouts -- EXCESS ALL AREAS [Rock Road Records]

They say you shouldn't judge a book (or an album) by its cover, but sometimes that cover is incredibly accurate and tells you everything you need to know. That's definitely the case here, where a fancy logo with lots o' sharp points and the ass shot of some girly-girl squeezed into tight black leather and a studded metal belt combine with the band name and title to strongly suggest that this will be a glam / hair metal offering. And what do you know -- that's exactly what it is! Big surprise, huh? As hair metal goes, this is reasonable enough, with echoes of Warrant, Motley Crue, Ratt (especially Ratt), and other similar 80s bands with big hair, big riffs, and an obsessive need to solo over everything. They even have the obligatory drippy power ballad, "A Part of My Heart," completely with tinkly piano and morose lyrics about the girl who went away, but for the most part this is super-catchy hard rock about girls and partying -- you know, the good things in life. There's nothing original happening here and it's incredibly retro, but they know what they're doing, and if you pine for the glory days of hair metal, they're worth checking out. I prefer my hair metal a bit more decadent and snotty than this, but glam metal fans (especially the female variety) should find this of interest. And yes, they look exactly like you expect.

The Moons In June -- HAPPY TOLUENE [self-released]

Now this is how you combine the past with the present: four guys with fretless bass, an army of guitars, samplers, sequencers, gadgets, and beatboxes, all channeling the essence of Krautrock, shoegaze, and early Suicide to form abstract soundscapes anchored by minimal beats, resulting in a sound that falls somewhere between Suicide peaking on acid and My Bloody Valentine deconstructing their songs on the fly. The first track, "a brow down dubby shame," is one of my favorites -- over a looped beat, the rest of the band makes psychotronic sounds resembling a dust storm on a barren planet. "exit ticks" is a bit jazzier, but still very much in the post-rock neighborhood, and the brief "expectations (exceeded)" is another track driven mainly by a minimal rhythmic pulse and lots of free-floating shards of sound, but "sly tree turn" is a dark and mysterious slice o' drone evoking the feel of an unmanned space capsule drifting through the cosmos. The last three tracks are long ones, taking up a good thirty minutes of the album, the best of which is probably "Dude, where's my palace of wisdom?" -- a track that starts out with more of the free-floating cosmic drift so prevalent on the rest of the album, only to turn into an actual song with jazzy beats and the feel of a cocktail band playing in an interstellar space bar. Cool stuff with a heavy post-rock feel and just enough swing to keep things happening and plenty of drone action to keep the droneheads smiling, too.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

a wee update

Greetings. Here's what's happening at the moment: I got downsized a couple of weeks ago and have since begun wrestling with unemployment insurance issues, looking for a job, etc. I also got a lot of work done on BORDERLANDS, the album (still) in progress. There's a new Korperschwache album out, HEARTWARMING TALES FROM THE GOOD BOOK, available from Fort Evil Fruit in a limited cassette run of 100 (with a download code) or as a digital download from the Korperschwache Bandcamp site. All of which is to say I didn't get a lot of reviews done. But I will shortly begin working to reduce the backlog while I still have the time to do it, so... expect a lot of reviews to flow forth soon.

Fort Evil Fruit

Sunday, July 1, 2012

what ever possessed me to live in such a hot, hot state?

Acephalix -- DEATHLESS MASTER [Southern Lord]

Here's the scoop: the band is from San Francisco, they play vaguely old-school death metal with modern production, they have a vocalist who specializes in the cookie-monster bleat, and this is their second album. As sounds go, their trip is not blazingly original -- this is straightforward death metal (with the occasional nod to thrash)  in the vein of early Obituary, Deicide, Whiplash, and similar bands in their prime around the tail end of the 80s. The production is suitably modern, though, and while this is probably nothing you haven't heard before, they do it really, really well. The drummer, in particular, consistently sounds like a locomotive running off the tracks at full speed, and the grinding guitar sound is supremely heavy. When they get their groove on, as on tracks like "Blood of Desire" and "Deathless Master," they are absolutely crushing -- they may not be so hot in the originality department, but they have totally mastered the art of the sonic beatdown. They also have the good sense to keep the songs reasonably short -- most are around three to four minutes, and the longest is just over six -- and they know how to keep things moving. It's heavy stuff, and respectable enough as metal albums go -- just don't expect anything revelatory.

Ambassador Gun -- GOLDEN EAGLE [Pangea Media]

Grind and metal make for exquisitely unwholesome bedfellows, and this band's second album brings on the ugliness in spades with eleven songs in approximately thirty minutes. The grind end of things comes via spastic, frantic drumming, a gibbering, howling vocalist, and lots of gruesome guitar tones; the metal happens when things straighten out long enough for them to break out some happening grooves and shred-o-rific leads on tracks like "Warpainted." It's standard-issue grind, to be sure -- they're good, but they're not Discordance Axis by any means -- but they have the right attitude, and it's worth nothing this is completely a DIY production, recorded and produced by the band themselves, and issued on their own label (and through Bandcamp). Hell, they're even making the album available on cassette as well as by digital means. How can you not like a band who still believes in the healing power of cassette tape?

Ancient VVisdom -- A GODLIKE INFERNO [Prosthetic]

It isn't often you see a band that completely transcends its influences, but Austin's Ancient VVisdom are one of those bands. Led by singer / songwriter Nathan Opposition, the band is composed of members formerly doing time in hardcore bands and they freely admit in interviews to being influenced by the likes of Alice in Chains, Alice Cooper, and Rob Zombie, but they actually sound like a dark folk band with metal leanings. Most folk-metal -- especially bands coming out of Europe and its neighboring countries -- tend to sound like metal with some folk idioms thrown in, but this band is just the opposite; even on the tracks with electric guitar, it's obvious that the riffs and chord progressions are actually rooted in folk music. Their sound is rounded out by atmospheric touches reaching back to death-rock acts like Christian Death and goth music as well, which just makes the morbid atmosphere all that more pronounced. Bridging the gap between folk and metal is a task made easier by the stellar playing skills of acoustic guitarist Justin "Ribs" Mason and Nathan's brother Michael on electric guitar, but their skills would be useless without Nathan's exceptional songwriting, which manages to balance folk, metal, and gothic elements in a unique and highly memorable manner. Other reviews of this album I've seen have gone on about how evil it sounds, and while it doesn't all that evil to me -- grim and foreboding, yes; evil, no -- I suspect some of those other listeners may be reacting to the band's openly Satanic stance and their 2010 12" split with Charles Manson (yes, that Charles Manson) on Withdrawal Records. Regardless of how evil you find it to be, this is an excellent album that should hold plenty of appeal for fans of dark neo-folk.

Codeine -- WHEN I SEE THE SUN (box set) [The Numero Group]

When you think of Codeine, the NYC band whose shadow looms over the entire so-called "slowcore" movement (the first few albums by Low, arguably the most well-known band saddled with the label, are essentially Codeine with more melodic vocals minus the heavy moments), it's to think now of how short their career was (a mere five years). Yet they made the most of their short existence, issuing two full-length albums and one EP, all brilliant from start to finish, along with a slew of more obscure singles and compilation tracks. The other thing that's always been fascinating about the band is how mysterious they were -- I was an obsessive music culture junkie back in the 90s, constantly poring over just about every music magazine published at the time, and I can only recall seeing maybe three interviews, max, with the band. One of the best things about this box set, which reissues all of those albums along with a staggering number of bonus tracks, is how much light it sheds on the band via the extensive liner notes that accompany each album. In addition to essays penned by those who knew and toured with the band at time -- people like Alan Licht and Sub Pop's Jonathan Poneman -- each album booklet features the band members themselves expounding on the history and circumstances surrounding each album, shedding new light on how the band perceived itself and its music. Even if you already own the band's catalog, the reissues are valuable just for the liner notes alone.

There's much more to the package than that, though. Numero Group, an archival label known primarily for its lavish compilations of obscure blues and soul music, has gone to great lengths to make these reissues (available separately and as a box set) stunning artifacts any Codeine fan is bound to appreciate. Each reissue comes packaged as a double-LP with an accompanying cd, with all the music remastered; in each case, the first LP contains the original album tracks, while the second is a compilation of rare and unreleased material, including demos from different studios, an acoustic version of "Pea," an amazing live rendition of Unrest's "Hydroplane," the Joy Division compilation track "Atmosphere," and -- of immense interest to diehard Codeine enthusiasts -- three formerly unreleased Peel Session tracks. There are 27 bonus tracks -- two more than the total of tracks from their albums, in fact -- and while not all of them are essential, even the least of them are illuminating, especially the demo versions of "Tom" and "Realize," which demonstrate how radically different they could sound with such minor variations as different tempos and different guitar sounds. In addition to the large booklet that comes with each reissue, the box set also contains a five-foot foldout poster featuring all the album covers and many of the covers for the singles and compilations, which is a nice bonus. The first 500 preorders for the box set also include a 7" single featuring live versions of "Pickup Song" and "New Year's."

The real value in these reissues, though, is the chance to introduce Codeine's stark, bleak, and utterly mesmerizing sound to a new generation of listeners. While the band's cds have never gone out of print, the band never exactly had a huge profile to begin with, and when Nirvana's NEVERMIND came out halfway through the band's existence, they (along with just about every other band on Sub Pop) got lost in the roar of music journalists scrambling to cover Nirvana's every move. Which is a shame, because Codeine were arguably the best band on Sub Pop at the time (and maybe ever; the only other Sub Pop release that comes close to matching the band's intensity and understated delivery is MANOS, the first album by the Spinanes). While they were known mainly for their incredibly stunted tempos, a characteristic that reached its apex on their final album THE WHITE BIRCH, one of the slowest albums ever recorded, the band had much more to offer than just the ability to creep along at a snail's pace. They shared with Slint a love of unexpected dynamic shifts, and more so than almost any other band associated with "slowcore," they could be incredibly loud when it suited them; it's worth noting that they, like Slint, had roots in hardcore, and they weren't afraid to turn things up when necessary to jolt their listeners. The combination of bassist / vocalist Steve Immerwahr's mournful delivery and blunt, near-suicidal lyrics gave them a gravity that few bands before or since have ever possessed, and the unnervingly high quality of their songs not only made them a filler-free band, but gave them a sound and identity that was immediately recognizable and (as many bands have since discovered) impossible to replicate. For a band with such a small catalog and such a short life, their influence has been considerable, and if you've never had the fortune to hear them, well, now's your opportunity.

Dromez -- WEEDHOUSE [Instincto Records]

This is the real deal -- five tracks of fractured sonic angst in a little under forty minutes from Austin's reigning queen of harsh noise. Things get off to an energetic start with "Path to the Tomb," featuring scathing walls of sandpaper noise and grating audio death. "Dead But Alive" opens deceptively with ambient noise and distant clanking before the ceiling caves in and Liz drops mad science in the form of what sounds like a squadron of bombers diving into collapsing buildings, accompanied by all sorts of painful screechy noises. "Sneaking Through the Hallway" is anything but quiet, filled with more jagged bursts of explosive audio violence and chopped-up sounds, and the final two tracks -- "Within the Confines of These Chains and Locks" and "Everywhere You Haven't Looked" are a little over twenty minutes of ear-frying immolation filled with a wide variety of textures and incidental sounds buried under a pile of gruesome musique concrete. Violent, painful, authoritative; you need.

Earthen Grave -- S/T [Claude & Elmo Music]

The first full-length album from these Chicago doom dudes makes its debt to Black Sabbath clear with the tolling bells and leviathan riffs on the opening title track, and when they're not being monumentally heavy they have a real strong 70s metal vibe to them. Like The Devil's Blood, they have a real retro feel to their sound, and while they're nominally a doom band (well, I think they are, maybe), there's a lot more to them than slo-mo riffing and homages to Sabbath. The lead guitarist and the vocalist in particular sound like throwbacks to 70s rock, especially on tracks like "Life Carries On," which may or may not move you, depending on your tolerance for that decade's bombastic sound. Parts of some songs fall within the realm of classic doom, but even those moments of heaviness give way to more blues-based metal and lots of operatic singing, not to mention plenty of lead guitar doodling that may cause you to have flashbacks if you already lived through the 70s. It's really weird to hear a band apparently influenced by Deep Purple and Judas Priest, especially with all the progressive touches floating around (including a classic violinist playing an electric flying V violin). Some might find the band pretentious, even bordering on the ridiculous, but there's no question they can play, and it takes some serious songwriting chops to take such a wide variety of disparate influences and turn them into something not only coherent but memorable. Stoners longing to return to a decade when it wasn't a mortal sin to own a wah pedal will love them.

High on Fire -- THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE [Southern Lord]

This reissue of the band's debut is a welcome development, seeing as how it's been out of print for eons -- it was originally released on Man's Ruin in 2000 (just a couple of years before the label went tits-up thanks to financial difficulties and poor management) and again a year later on Tee Pee Records (with different cover art and two bonus tracks). Then it disappeared into oblivion, which is a shame, because this is one of the heaviest albums in a catalog that pretty much redefines heaviness. It's also a transitional album, carrying over guitarist / vocalist Matt Pike's burly guitar sound that was such an integral part of his previous band Sleep, but placing it in a much heavier, faster-paced context. The stoner sound that kept Sleep swaddled in bong smoke is very much present, but the band is far more aggressive -- the guitar sound that opens the first track "Baghdad" may be lifted from Sleep, but the heavy thunder of the rhythm section that follows makes it clear that something new is going on, and while "10,000 Years" begins with a beat and nimble bass riff that could have been left over from the final Sleep album, Pike's psychotronic guitar and harsh, howling vocals pave the way for diabolical guitar leads that sound like the product of stoned free-jazzers setting themselves on fire. By the time "Blood From Zion" rolls around, fueled by surging riffs like muscle cars racing down the freeway, it's obvious that band has reached a new quantum state of blinding heaviness. The remaining three tracks from the original album are just more stellar examples of relentless, claustrophobic suffocation borne on the black wings of a titanic drum sound and gargantuan riffs. The bonus tracks, taken from a 7" single, include a pounding, distortion-laden cover of Celtic Frost's "The Usurper," and this new version of the album also includes the three tracks from their 1999 self-titled demo, early versions of "Blood From Zion," "10,000 Years," and "Master of Fists." Even more, the album has not only been remastered from the ground up, but also comes with a 48-page booklet. YOU NEED.

Master -- THE NEW ELITE [Pulverised]

Bassist / vocalist / mastermind Paul Speckmann has been steering Master through the mountains of metal madness since 1983 without much deviation from death metal's original formula, which is that everything that's not heavy and fast should be heavier and faster. This album is no exception, with a rhythm section that sounds like a drill press out of control and hyperspeed guitar riffing sufficiently manic to please any old-school 80s band. Master was part of the original wave of death metal, and still sounds like it -- there's nothing subtle or pretty here, just eleven blazing tracks set on "stun and immolate. There's nothing new here, sure, and titles like "Rise Up And Fight," "Remove the Knife," and "Out of Control" make their antisocial aesthetic perfectly clear, but that's all right; this is how old-school death metal should sound, and they are unapologetic about their burning desire to step on your face and strangle you with your own wallet chain. Fans of the band and early death metal will not be disappointed.

Sleep -- DOPESMOKER [Southern Lord]

If you know anything at all about Sleep, you're no doubt wondering right now: "How many times are they gonna release this goddamn album?" The answer, of course, is: until they get it right. For those not hep to the band and this legendary album's convoluted history, here's the condensed version. Their second album, SLEEP'S HOLY MOUNTAIN, released on Earache in 1992, hit the metal world so hard that London Records threw mountains of $$$ at them and claimed the rights to their third album. The band promptly spent all that dinero on vast mountains of weed and emerged from the studio many moons later with a 63-minute epic called "Dopesmoker." The label was severely unimpressed. For reasons known only to them, they butchered the track, reducing it to 52 minutes, then shelved it. Somehow, between then and the album's unauthorized release on Rise Above in 1999, the title morphed into "Jerusalem" and the song was carved up into the six sections. (The edited version also appeared as a limited promotional release and as a bootleg, both of which were about as well-received by the band as the Rise Above version.) In 2003, Tee Pee Records released the full, unedited version (plus a live rendition of "Sonic Titan") as DOPESMOKER, the only version formally recognized by the band. Now comes the Weedian -- excuse me, Southern Lord -- with what is surely the definitive version of this monumental work of endlessly repetitive stoner riffing, with new art by Arik Roper, a new bonus track (a live version of "Holy Mountain"; the vinyl edition also includes the Tee Pee bonus track), and -- most importantly -- a new mastering job by From Ashes Rise guitarist Brad Boatright.

So what's the album like? Well, it's long. Real long. If you're not down with the crown, listening to it can be an exercise in endurance… but if you can hang with the song's intimidating length (hint: periodic bong hits are helpful), it's a masterpiece of spaced-out heaviness. The song unfolds in movements (a tactic two-thirds of the band carried over into Om after the band's split), and each movement is crammed full of slo-mo riffs, drumming that channels both the spirit of world music and the looseness of free jazz into a metal context, hypnotic bass lines, and a burly guitar sound that gives the album much of its heft. The tempo is not quite as glacial as some might suggest, but it sure ain't fast, either; the effects of the band's legendary weed consumption are consistently present in the inexorable slowness with which everything unfolds. Top it all off with intermittent vocals revolving around the loose concept of Jesus as the ultimate stoner and you have metal's finest (if often perplexing) love letter to the followers of the sweet leaf. As you might expect with an ambitious concept so extreme, it leaves no room for middle ground in its reception -- you either think it's a work of genius (as do a significant portion of the doom and stoner communities) or a complete waste of time and $$$ (their original label, lots of other fools). As for the 12-minute rendition of "Holy Mountain," the (live) sound is nowhere near as good as the studio track, but it is a pretty impressive (and gnarly-sounding) performance of one of the band's signature tunes. I actually prefer the cover art from the Tee Pee version, but this is unquestionably the best-sounding version of the album (so far), and if you're like me and already own the Tee Pee version, you can just switch out the discs and have the best of both worlds.

ST 37 -- AWKWARD MOMENTS [Reverb Worship]

Having heard the band live several times, I can personally attest that their acid-fried space rock really does sound best in a live context, where you can be completely enveloped in the vast sheets of sound swirling off the stage. For those who haven't the pleasure of seeing them live, this disc makes a pretty nice approximation of the experience, collecting eleven tracks from various stops on their 2009 tour. The opening track, "Number one fan," is classic ST 37, twelve minutes of swirling psych action and an endless groove (well, at least until it ends, natch) reminiscent of Pink Floyd around the time Syd Barrett grew too crazy to keep playing with the band. Their more rock-oriented side surfaces on "The white Comanche," which is punked out enough to clearly suggest the band's pre-psych roots in other, earlier bands, and on "I was looking for my digital underground grandpa tape," which borders on white noise (although that could be a recording issue; the audio quality of some tracks is best described as lo-fi). They get pretty noisy on "Future memories" too, grinding away with mondo-distorted riffing and spaced-out guitar wailing over a slow, pounding beat, sort of like Hawkwind at half-speed; the tempo picks up about halfway through as the song becomes more noticeably psychedelic, but not by much. There's also a pretty good recording of "Maroons," one of their best songs (and my personal favorite), and an intriguing rendition of "Solaris," their hypnotic industrial / ambient / psych homage to the Soviet science-fiction film of the same name. They even include a swell rendition of their version of the TWIN PEAKS classic "Just You," always a mind-bending listening experience. Swell, swell stuff, and with eleven tracks crammed into 74 minutes, the disc lasts about as long as their average show, too. Even better, this release also comes with a totally hilarious (and illustrated!) pamphlet offering not just liner notes and track listings, but anecdotes about the band's various misadventures during the tour, some of them scatological, many of them involving the ingestion of questionable substances. Hilarious and entertaining, to be sure. Limited to 100 copies.

ST 37 -- KBDP 3" cdr [Kendra Steiner Editions]

Austin's favorite space-rock explorers show up on this disc with a 19-minute track heavy on the drone and plenty of whacked-out psych-noise guitar waffling over a mesmerizing rhythm section. The rhythmic pulse comes and goes, and the eccentric guitar noodling waxes and wanes with glorious intensity, but the spaced-out ambient drone remains relatively constant, with an assortment of unidentified UFO noises thrown in periodically for maximum head-tripping. The instrumental track ebbs and flows in volume and density, but stays true to the kind of interstellar jamming pioneered by early Pink Floyd. Cool stuff, if obscure and limited (to 113 copies), and worth tracking down.

Stone Breath -- THE NIGHT BIRDS PSALM [Hand/Eye]

The latest (well, I think it's the latest -- the reactivated band has become so prolific as of late that I've kind of lost track) from Stone Breath is an interesting combination of the old and the new. The old is represented not only by their core aesthetic -- old-time folk music played with traditional instruments like guitar, banjo, dulcimer, bouzouki, hand drums, and so on -- but by the presence of constant leader TimeMothEye and and long-time player Prydwyn ; the new element consists of new players Don Belch, Carin Wagner Sloan, Brooke Elizabeth, and the mysterious Kira. The album itself is the third chapter in their ongoing "silver thread" series, and like those albums, this one is dominated by acoustic music evoking a time long before the advent of modern music, much less electric instruments; this is what folk bands sounded like a hundred years ago, if not longer -- nothing more than a gathering of like-minded individuals playing rhythms handed down over time. This is well-crafted music that sounds like an ancient classic unearthed from the Smithsonian folk archive; if you knew nothing about the band, it would be easy to mistake this for authentic period music. One of the things that makes this album a bit different from its predecessors is the presence of three female vocalists, who provide different voices both solo and together throughout the album, to especially great effect on the haunting "The Snow-White Ghost-White Stag" and the supremely spooky "Walking Sam" (in which the band trades male and female vocals back and forth). There are some vaguely modern touches here and there -- the squeaking noises and ambient background sound of "One Good Eye," for instance -- and the themes of some of the songs are considerably more morbid than one might expect of most traditional music ("To Sleep With Skeletons," one of the creepiest songs on the album, revolves around a little boy who hears voices of the dead and likes to sit around in graveyards), but otherwise this is a largely subdued album squarely in the realm of traditional folk stylings. The musicianship is excellent, as always, and the lyrics are both haunting and evocative; in fact, this may be the band's best album yet. Highly recommended.

TimeMothEye -- UNDEATH [Crucial Blast]

This should come as a surprise to those familiar with the work of Timothy Renner in Stone Breath; it's a strange piece of work with only a tenuous relation to his regular band. Come to think of it, this is strange by almost any definition, and mondo creepy besides. There are folk instruments on this album, but they've been recorded in an unconventional manner and their sounds even further processed, and there are songs like "Wake" where the vocals have been treated to sound like a ghostly robot moaning from the bottom of a well… and then there's the use of machine sounds, clanking noises, and amplifier hum, among other things, in service of creating some really creeped-out atmospheres. There's a lot of drone action at work, too, especially on "Sheetwinder" and "Witchwinder," but much of what's happening on this album reminds me of early industrial work by the likes of Throbbing Gristle or the Grey Wolves. And then there's "Ossa Ossa," which juxtaposes cryptic conversations with liturgical singing over a bedrock of uneasy dark ambient washes. "Footsteps Fall," with its chanted male and female vocals, almost sounds like it could have been on the latest Stone Breath album, but for the presence of droning feedback and a dissonant organ sound. "Chrysalishroud" is over eleven minutes of drifting, wailing drone and ambient sound like fog drifting through the trees of a forest so thick it remains eternally impervious to sunshine, and the album ends on an appropriately apocalyptic note with "Sleepwalker / Dreamwalker," featuring mysterious, haunting vocals over an amazing cascade of serrated feedback noise that wouldn't be out of place on an early Ramleh album. As if creating an amazing and deeply spooky album weren't enough, Renner threw in a 44-page chapbook of exquisitely morbid artwork to go with the liner notes, all of which comes in a swank dvd-style case with even more unsettling cover art. Everyone with taste should own a copy of this; of course, since it's limited to 200 copies, that's hardly possible. If you're smart, you'll grab this before the copies are gone (and given how brilliant this is, I suspect they'll go quickly as the word gets out).

Venison Whirled -- XIBALA 3" cdr [Kendra Steiner Editions]

It's been a while since we were last graced with some primal drone-fu courtesy of ST 37 drummer Lisa Cameron's main side project. This outing is a bite-sized 19 minutes, but that's plenty of time for her to make the earth move using various gadgets in an unorthodox manner. The first track, "Dark Rift," employs lap steel and Tibetan bowl to make all sorts of groaning, reverberating sheets of industrial-strength drone verging on feedback, with results that sound like an electrical tower slowly shaking itself apart. The combination of lap steel and Tibetan bowl -- both undoubtedly fed through various efx pedals -- yields some highly skronk-like tones that make the drone action hefty indeed. The other track, "Vortex Compression," is just under ten minutes of pure monolithic drone with some nice fuzzy textures and a modulating tonal quality that shifts over time, just the kind of thing Venison Whirled does best. This is what experimental drone is all about. Limited to 89 copies.

Zombiefication -- REAPER'S CONSECRATION ep [Pulverised Records]

Mexican bands are obsessed with zombies now? That's new to me. They're certainly obsessed enough with death: four of the five tracks on this EP make reference to death in the titles, but of course they are a death metal band, so that certainly makes sense…. What I don't understand is why a Mexican band sent their album to Sweden to be mixed and mastered, but that will just have to remain a mystery for the ages. As for the album itself, it's five songs worth of primitive but obscenely heavy death metal with a kitchen-sink sound. "Dead Today, Dust Tomorrow" and "Deathrides" are fast and furious, but "Necrohell" slows the pace down for a more doomed-out approach and some heavy, heavy grooves featuring furious double-bass drumming and a barbed-wire guitar sound that's beautiful in its ugliness. There's more slo-mo mosh-worthy heaviness in the otherwise speed-addled "I Am the Reaper," but otherwise they're mainly about velocity, extreme drumming, and a darkly harmonic guitar sound that skates right up to the border of dissonance without sailing over the cliff into total noise. This is cool stuff with a diseased vibe of which I greatly approve. Bonus points for employing a vocalist who manages to sound powerful and completely unhinged at the same time, and for the cool cover art that manages to avoid most of the current cliches stinking up most modern metal covers.