Celestia -- FRIGIDIIS APOTHEOSIA [Paragon Records]
Celestia (actually the work of one Sir Noktu Geiistmortt) has an interesting take on melancholy black metal, one that remains largely true to the sound of cold, depressive black metal while expanding its boundaries. This effect is achieved through the use of riffs and structures atypical for the genre, even while the sound and feel (and the dark, hellish vocals) remain the same. This is especially true of the riffs, which often approach death metal in structure while retaining black metal's vaporous tone, and the drumming, where the bass drums retain the relentless feel of monochromatic black metal wihile the snare takes on different, often far more complicated patterns. The cumulative result is a more rhythmically complex approach to a sound usually defined by its minimalism. The crafty and restrained (but highly effective) use of keyboards, especially on "Admirable Eros Distraction," merits notice as well. One of the best songs, "A Regrettable Misinterpretation of Mournfulness," opens with surprising and highly atypical acoustic guitar that is eventually replaced by an equally unusual electric guitar figure; the piece moves through several distinct movements emphasizing acoustic and electric guitars, then keyboards, and at last a combination of instruments -- all over a shifting and relatively complex beat. The title track opens with mesmerizing arpeggiated acoustic guitar that is soon replaced by droning keyboards and a guitar sound bordering on distant white noise, with an acoustic interlude (accompanied by a minimal keyboard dirge) in the middle that segues into increasingly heavy drums, climbing feedback, and a guitar sound like bees buzzing in a hive, only to end with lonesome melancholy acoustic guitar passage. Diabolically inventive songwriting and attention to detail make this an exceptionally strong album, and also one that proves there is still new life to be found in a genre that has already started drowning in its own cliches. People who believe there is no new ground to be broken in the field of depressive black metal should listen to this and see how wrong they are.
Dismember -- s/t [Regain Records]
Sweden's death-metal purists Dismember celebrate their twentieth anniversary by releasing one of their heaviest albums ever. The band has had its ups and downs over the years, but there's nothing weak about this album; most of it is classic, old-school death metal played at a pace nothing short of neck-breaking, with occasional forays into surprisingly melodic territory without sacrificing the heaviness. The band is tight and the sound is punishing, dominated by forbidding riffs and herculean drumming, and the only times the band lets up in sheer intensity are for moments of surprising melodicism. The best tracks are "Europa Burns," "Under A Bloodred Sky" (which segues from thundering, fast-paced death to a more mid-paced and strikingly melodic form about halfway through the song), "Tide of Blood," "To End It All" (which includes another highly melodic guitar solo in the midsection, then an even more melodic guitar passage near the end), and "Dark Death," but really the entire album is a solid effort. Fans of heavy but melodic Swedish metal will not be disappointed.
Earth -- THE BEES MADE HONEY IN THE LION'S SKULL [Southern Lord]
Continuing the path laid out on their previous two albums, Earth continues its progression toward becoming the world's best country drone band. That probably sounds like I'm knocking the band, but no -- I think it's great that Carson and the rest of the band have moved in this direction, since the droning electric doom he pioneered on the first five Earth albums spawned an entire subgenre of music that has since pretty much drained the concept dry. For those still not up to speed, Earth went into hibernation in the late 90s while founder / visionary Dylan Carson dealt with a whole boatload of personal and legal problems, and emerged again in 2005 with HEX, the band's first album of new material in seven years, featuring an entirely new sound emphasizing much cleaner guitars and inspiration derived less from rock than country music. The band followed this with HIBERNACULUM, where they retooled three songs from their back catalog in this new format and included one song previously only available on a tour split. (The release also included a highly illuminating documentary dvd filmed by Seldon Hunt.)
This album picks up where those two left off, with the band having solidified into a four-piece; for the first time in the band's history, the core lineup (Carson, drummer Adrienne Davies, and utility guy Steve Moore) has appeared on three albums running, which undoubtedly contributes to the band's tightness. They've added a bass player, Don McGreevy, and legendary guitarist Bill Frisell appears as a guest on three tracks, giving the band a sound that's fuller than ever. The sound is as gorgeous as it is repetitive and minimalist, a twangy drone played at a deliberately slow place that allows the heavily reverbed notes and chords to ring out for what sounds like forever. It's not so much an expansion of the sound found on the previous two albums (although there is some of that in Moore's use of grand piano, Hammond organ, and Wurlitzer, along with the implementation of Frisell's complementary guitar lines on several cuts) as a refinement; they dig deeper into that new sound, executing it with more confidence and better direction, leavening it in subtle fashion with the addition of the aforementioned extra instrumentation courtesy of Moore and Frisell.
Given the band's history and the nature of Southern Lord, it's worth noting that this is not even remotely a metal record. It's plenty heavy in its own way, though; those slow, building epics have a heft and grandiosity to them that's rarely found in metal, and the excellent production renders with perfect clarity every note, every nuance, and every wash of reverb. The metal may be gone, but the drone lives on.
Ensepulchred -- SUICIDE IN WINTER'S MOONLIGHT [Autopsy Kitchen Records]
Indiana's favorite (maybe only) black metal band is definitely different, with a sound that's built around the unashamed use of a drum machine and heavy keyboard dirges; the result is a cinematic sound perhaps matched only in American black metal by Wormwood, who apparently share their fascination for creepy foreign horror soundtracks. This "new" album is actually a reissue of the band's first release, which was originally released on cd-r in an extremely limited run, with the addition (I think) of a few extra songs, but the sound is not terribly far removed from the sound of their earlier AKR release, THE NIGHT OUR RITUALS BLACKENED THE STARS. One of the most interesting things about the band's sound is how they invert black metal's classic sound; here the keyboards and pounding drum machine are way up front in the mix, so much so, in fact, that the guitar is buried so far in the background as to be nearly or completely inaudible most of the time. They're from the lo-fi school, though, which means you're not likely to mistake this for Dimmu Borgir or anything like that (a good thing in my book), and in a genre cluttered with eccentric vocalists, theirs is one of the more unique ones, with a (often processed) voice that you will either love or hate, without much middle ground. The dominance of keyboards comes close to putting this in ambient territory at times, and they completely nail the lost, mournful sound endemic to the best keyboard-heavy lo-fi proponents of black metal. While the songs are nowhere near as layered and ornate as those of Xasthur, they're certainly in the ballpark of that band's legendarily depressed sound; structurally they have much in common with Striborg without descending to that band's level of awesomely no-fi production. A lot of people seem to be agitated about the lack of guitar and preponderance of horror-flick keyboards, but those people are wrong. This is great stuff, simultaneously faithful to the ideals of lo-fi black metal while forging a unique sound of its own, no mean feat given how cluttered the genre has become with bands strip-mining the same raw material. At sixteen tracks, this is probably too long -- with such repetitive music, a little goes a long way -- but given how good the individual tracks are, I'd rather have it all even if it does make the album a tad too long for its own good. Bonus points for the pounding drum machine, and for not attempting to hide it, either.
Autopsy Kitchen Records
Fight Amp -- HUNGRY FOR NOTHING [Translation Loss]
These guys (and gal) from NJ combine the short 'n simple, punk-metal aesthetic of early grunge (remember grunge? Tad, Nirvana, Porn Orchard, Hammerbox, early Helmet, blah blah blah?) with the loud and aggressive "come here and let me step on your face a few times" attitude of the early Amphetamine Reptile roster (most notably Unsane). The result is a sound somewhere between Unsane and Motorhead -- loud, obnoxious, mostly fast, with plenty of paint-peeling guitar and a rhythm secftion obsessed with all things heavy. They're also surpremely focused, with only eight songs clocking in at a little over thirty minutes; with the exception of "Get High and Fuck," the songs tend be compressed blasts of noise and angst driven by heavy drums locked in with heavy riffs, and even when they're racing through speedy tracks like ""Dumb Luck," they remain impressively tight. They aren't the first band on earth to combine punk's rude attitude with metal's chops, but they're the first one I've heard in a long while that does it this well. They do sound a lot like the Unsane, but that band never had songs this convoluted, and the white-noise tornado guitar has more in common with Carolyn Master's playing in Of Cabbages and Kings, which makes things just that much more interesting. Bonus points for the snazzy artwork and extra goodies on the enhanced cd.
Giraffe -- HEAR HERE [eh?]
Giraffe is the duo of Joseph Jaros and Luke Polipnick, and they specialize in cryptic sound collages heavy on blips and bloops, light on linear construction or easy digestibility. Their largely subdued collages are built from a wide range of esoteric sounds, some of it found, some likely field recordings, some of it strange noises made from unidentifiable objects; on some tracks like "Forever 1" they incorporate noise that's by turns crunchy (or as on "Forever 2," high-pitched and augmented by reverbed snippets of conversation). If there's a "logic" to their approach, it isn't readily apparent; most of the work here sounds deliberately random, and the longer pieces have stretches of near-ambient hum and noise that are interrupted at unpredictable intervals by strange sounds and bits of harsh / glitch noise. "Static Blanket Transmission" introduces, appropriately, static into the mix, along with droning effects that rise and fall and other peculiar sounds that float in and out of the background. The closing track, "7/18/07 approximately 8:33 pm," is the longest track on the disc (clocking in at just under eighteen minutes) and incorporates all the anti-musical antics that have come before while also including tantalizing, faraway pieces of what sounds like an acoustic guitar passage along with an increasingly level of noise frippery. Strange, exotic stuff that's very much on the avant-garde fringe.
The Goslings -- OCCASION [Not Not Fun Records]
Aaaaaaah, the joy... few things in life are better than a new Goslings album. This one comes in really swell packaging, too, a gatefold triple-panel digipak in muted earth tone colors. The sound is pretty much the same as always -- lots of throbbing, burly noise guitar from Max, ethereal wailing from Leslie, and buried drums from Brendan (plus guitar on one track and drums on two by guest pal Paul). The band gets compared to Skullflower a lot, mainly due to Max's blown-out guitar sound, but the similarities pretty much end there; the Goslings have a sound that's far more droning and noise-oriented, and far less connected to traditional rock; where Skullflower were playing heavy rock with a blown-up sound, the Goslings are a lot more interested in that gross, overmodulated sound than they are in the rock part. The opening track "Mew" is a perfect example -- as Max churns out a grossly deformed and hairy riff that's all shuddering amp-death and grinding noise, Leslie's heavily-reverbed voice drones in the background like a siren; the sound has less to do with "rock" than with the morbid desire to see amplifiers explode. Clanking, pinging incidental noise bubbles up to the surface all the time during the disc's play, and Max's guitar sound is generally so distorted that it sounds like his amplifier is on the verge of imploding, especially on "Paisley Halo," where the caked-in-grunge guitar sound is so grotesque that it's positively dirt-encrusted. The drums, when they appear, are usually buried beneath the guitar noise, despite their undeniable heaviness; the drums are considerably more audible on "Mandy," but that's mainly due to the abundance of snare. One exception to the audio horror show is "Incense of Death," where strummed acoustic guitar and a truly minimal beat provide a brief antidote to the rest of the album's sonic chaos. Some of the drawn-out, low-end guitar rumble resembles the gnarlier moments of Khanate, but for the most part this is closer to psychedelic noise than anything resembling metal. What it is more than anything else, really, is undeniably heavy in a manner that has more to do with pushing the boundaries of overamplified sound than anything like resembling a traditional metal schema. As always, it's great stuff; fans of their earlier material (especially BETWEEN THE DEAD) will not be disappointed.
Not Not Fun Records
Guinea Worms -- "Box of Records / I'm a Cobweb" 7" [Columbus Discount Records]
They've been around for ten years, playing the Columbus live circuit, but have released practically nothing (just five tracks on vinyl) -- odd, but it happens. Which is too bad, because this is a pretty swell single, and if it's any indication, the band is probably sitting on a pile of unreleased gems. This is an eccentric and somewhat whacked-out take on punk, weird but catchy, with a lo-fi garage sound that suits them perfectly. "Box of Records" is a buzzing, punked-out slice of guitar sizzle that sounds equally influenced by new wave (especially the Knack) as by punk, a catchy piece of work dedicated to everyone's favorite subject, the joys of vinyl. The song on the flipside is a bit stranger, but no less catchy thanks to the trebly stop 'n start guitar and the insistent repetition of the title, which serves as the song's repeated chorus; just for fun, they throw in whacked-out solo action on some peculiar (or at least peculiar-sounding) instruments. Strange but fun.
Columbus Discount Records
Lazy Magnet -- HE SOUGHT FOR THAT MAGIC BY WHICH ALL GLORY AND GLAMOUR OF MYSTIC CHIVALRY WERE MADE TO SHINE - OR - IS MUSIC EVEN GOOD? [Corleone]
This is what I believe they call whacked-out shit -- not terribly surprising, given the sheer number of players involved (sixteen, all from Providence, a telling sign right there) and the pedigrees involved (some of the players here include present or former members of bands like White Mice, Xerxes, USAISAMONSTER, Rare Youth, and the What Cheer? Brigade, among others). This is the band's first official cd release after years of cassette releases. Stylistically speaking, the album is a mess and the band's all over the map; the 19 songs here sample freely from just about every genre imaginable (but most often offbeat pop and fractured jazz), often switching gears into wildly disparate genres within any given song. Despite the Providence connection, this is not the kind of wildly hyperactive spazz-music commonly associated with that area; there are moments of that kind of wildness, yes, but mostly the songs are dominated more by catchy, pop-like guitars and jazzy passages. No one sound ever lasts very long, though; just as soon as you've started to groove to something, they abandon that sound for something completely different but equally eccentric. This is post-punk avant-garde popjazz for a generation that's not capable of focusing on anything for than a minute at a time, which will undoubtedly be confusing for older (or more stodgy) listeners. The kids will understand, though. They always do. Despite the chaotic nature of the proceedings, the players are still always down with it; even when they're manic there's a method to their madness -- it's craziness, sure, but it's highly controlled craziness, and it goes to places you'd never imagine if weren't already down with the whole Providence noise-rock scene. (I'm beginning to wonder what's in the water up there, frankly.) It's also far more catchy and listenable than you might guess from the description -- just be prepared to shift gears unexpectedly, and often. Very often.
Litmus -- PLANETFALL [Candlelight USA]
They used to call this kind of thing acid rock; I don't know what they call it now, but it sounds like space rock as conceived by bikers hopped up on amphetamines and in possession of the entire Hawkwind and Motorhead catalog. (Not surprisingly, they have opened for Hawkwind, Space Ritual, and Ozric Tentacles, which should tell you much about where they're coming from. It probably helps that they're from the UK, where spaced-out biker rock is still in vogue.) The music is pretty much what you would expect from that description -- amped-up space rock with plenty of pounding drums, heavy guitar riffs, and completely psychotronic guitar solos, very much like the second coming of Hawkwind. It may not be terribly original, but it works; catchy riff-rock is the bedrock of their sound, and the constant stream of hallucinogenic background noises can't hide the fact that they know how to write catchy riffs. The songs are often as hypnotic -- check out the mantra-like feel of "Expanding Universe," for example -- as they are heavy, and despite the fact that there's nothing particularly new about what they're doing, they do it really well. Recommended for those who miss the quality period of Hawkwind in the seventies (especially when Lemmy was still in the band).
Lorna Doom -- THE DIABOLICAL EP [Corleone]
Named after the Germs bass player, I'm pretty sure (despite having never heard the Germs) that they don't sound anything like that band. What they do sound like is a bizarre take on hip-hop featuring nerd raps and wonky keyboards. This five-track EP is the work of the core band (AJ on rhymes, Lee on beats) -- there are two additional players on bass and scratching when they perform live -- and it may be wacky, but it's also funky; they've obviously been listening to the real thing, the classics of funk and hip-hop, and it shows in their boss beats and rhyming skills. They don't stop there, though; phat beats and bizarre rhymes (I'm pretty sure I heard something about getting fucked with a strap-on during "A political song for Beyonce to sing," which gets mad bonus points for the title alone) aren't enough for them, no, they have to shovel on grotesque but absurdly catchy keyboards that are alternately hideously twee or laden with distortion and noise. Not surprisingly, my favorite tracks are the ones soaked in noise, but all five tracks are pretty swank. I've been waiting for a mashup of hip-hop and noise for a while now, and while this isn't quite the sound I had imagined, it's close enough for rock 'n roll. They may be eccentric, but they sure do bring on the big beat. Check it and put your booty in motion, dig?
Marblebog -- FORESTHEART [Autopsy Kitchen Records]
The third full-length album from Hungary's Marblebog has been getting plenty of attention lately, and well it should -- this is a classic example of lo-fi and minimalist black metal, deliberately primitive in sound and pagan in nature. The album opens and closes with eerie ambient tracks filled with desolate moaning and grim, fogbound keyboards, but the other four tracks are long and repetitive explorations of pagan wisdom in the vein of early or mid-period Burzum. Buzzing, fizzy guitars playing opaque and subtly unusual riffs and mournful synth play out over tinny drums playing simple patterns, all to hypnotic effect, as vocalist Vorgrav mines the pained, shrieking territory perfected by Varg Vikernes. "A Tempest Never Calming Down" is one of the heaviest tracks here, anchored by a mutant descending riff; the slower but equally heavy "Flame of Wisdom" opens with one of the best riffs on the album, a bizarre stab of dissonance, and shifts in mood and intensity at regular intervals. By the time you reach the final real track, "Howling of Purity," it's obvious that the band seriously worships Burzum, but this is not a bad thing at all. It's true that excessive Burzum-worship is not exactly an original move at this point, but little in metal is, really, and they are far more successful than most Burzum-inspired bands at capturing the dark and melancholy feel that made those albums such classics. Their penchant for minimalism may obscure their songwriting talents for those not attuned to the nuances of such repetitive music, but trust me, the attention to songwriting is definitely there. They also make excellent use of the keyboards without allowing them to overwhelm or interfere with the eerie guitar sound. Some may consider this the equivalent of reinventing the wheel, but it's certainly worth hearing.
Autopsy Kitchen Records
Necropolis -- "Workingman / Cocksuckerbastardmotherfucker" 7" [Columbus Discount Records]
The latest release from Necropolis finds them right at home in the dirty-sounding chaos of punk by way of no-wave and early art-punk (think Pere Ubu, Crass, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, etc.). The A-side is a short but potent blast of hyperactive drumming, tweaked guitars, and near-random shouting; this is the sound of angst and confusion, and the need to vent through punked-out sonic explosions. The flip side is an even noisier (but equally short) mess of screech and bile dragged down into the gutter by gut-wrenching distortion, esoteric noises, and a steady, plodding beat. Both sides are leavened (if that's the proper word for it) by howling, yipping vocals that make it clear the band is just as unsettled as their music. Confusion, chaos, and an extremely noisy aesthetic make this something that will really annoy your mother or your neighbors. Like the raving of a drunk in a blackout, it's not pretty, but it is highly illuminating.
Columbus Discount Records
Nifelheim -- ENVOY OF LUCIFER [Regain Records]
Sure, they look ridiculous -- doesn't Hellbutcher know the whole studded-nail armband thing was old news a decade ago? -- but it's hard not to like a band that rocks so hard and spews out such nifty riffs. I had their first album a long time ago, and it seems to me that they were a lot more traditionally black metal then, although I could be wrong (it's been a long time since I heard that album, after all); their latest has more in common with death metal, and a lot of the guitar riffs are an awful lot hookier than you'd expect of a band whose drummer is called Insulter of Jesus Christ. They also really dig guitar solos steeped in Eurometal melodicism, but given that they're from Sweden, where it's apparently a legal requirement for all metal bands to worship melody, that's not so surprising either. Some of this sounds closer to hard rock than metal, especially "Evil is Eternal," which opens with a stone-cold hard rock beat and evolves into something approaching a blackened version of power metal; hell, the intro to "Raging Flames" sounds almost like a modern version of Blue Oyster Cult (this is not a bad thing, by the way). If this is satanic black metal (and I'm pretty sure, even without a lyric sheet, that they're seriously down with Ol' Scratch), then it's black metal with a a serious jones for sprinkling catchy guitar hooks amid the blazing metal madness. The more I think about it, the more I believe this is kind of a throwback to the first wave of black metal, when those bands were still somewhat influenced by the more commercial bands that came before them, and had yet to allow black metal's core sound to ossify into an eternal cliche. If this had been released in the 80s, people would call this a classic thrash metal album; the band's sound certainly has more in common with underground metal bands of that era than with what passes for black metal these days (i.e., bands that all increasingly sound like they listen to way too much Darkthrone). Heavy, no doubt, but also surprisingly catchy and listenable for a bunch of guys who appear to spend a lot of $$$ on ridiculous outfits.
Numinous Eye -- s/t 12" [Little Mafia Records]
Now this is some swell stuff -- drifting, low-key improv / psych featuring a stellar cast of American and Japanese psych luminaries: Mason Jones (Subarachnoid Space, Trance), Chris Van Huffle (Subarachnoid Space, Gay Barbarians), Koji Shimura (Acid Mothers Temple, High Rise, Mainliner, White Heaven), and Hiroshi Higo (Friction, Shibushashirazu Orchestra) -- and it's not just on vinyl, but translucent orange vinyl at that. (It's also limited to 490 copies, and given the personnel involved, will probably sell out rapidly, so if you're already twitching, you should probably track this down ASAP.) The first side is a well-recorded live jam recorded in Tokyo on 12/12/05 with Jones on guitar, Shirumra on drums, and Higo on bass; it starts out slow and restrained but eventually picks up speed as the trio gets their freak on, ultimately sounding like a cross between Subarachnoid Space and Mainliner (big surprise). The second side is a studio jam between Jones (guitar) and Van Huffle (drums) recorded at the Space in San Francisco at the end of October, 2005, a fairly subdued effort dominated by stuttering, effects-laden drone guitar from Jones and increasingly busy drumming from Van Huffle. All of it is excellent, otherworldly-sounding improv / psych material with a heavy drone quotient. Fans of Subarachnoid Space and Mainliner in particular should be all over this.
Little Mafia Records
Prurient -- AND STILL, WANTING [No Fun Productions]
Even for Prurient, this is pretty obnoxious -- easily listening it ain't -- but unlike a lot of the early releases, which were mainly focused around the monochromatic sound of one man with a microphone feeding back, there's more variety and texture to the sounds and more layers in the wall of sonic death. The sounds range from dark, reverb-heavy drones to harrowing walls of static and noise, all assembled in different configurations from one track to the next; one of the most effective tracks, "Total Terrorism," features an irregularly-timed loop of clattering that is joined by a dark death drone and unpredictable bursts of rattling and, toward the end, hypnotic percussion as the drone cycles up a notch. On tracks like "Strict Ideas," the volume and intensity ebbs and flows; this album is far more dynamic in its approach than most harsh noise albums, and benefits greatly by the presence of silent passages and dips in volume. The nature of the sounds and their textures also go a long way toward making this a more varied listening experience than earlier Prurient releases (or most harsh noise albums in general). One of the most unusual tracks is "Incense and Rubber," where the sound is far more harmonic than anything else on the album, and far more rhythmic as well. As usual, the most terriftying moments generally come courtesy of the hideously processed vocals; this time out, however, there's an escalating sense of dread conveyed through the way the vocals progress from relatively normal (if still drenched in effects) to different levels of sociopathic angst. One of the things that has always set Prurient apart from other noise bands is the use of actual lyrics, and this time the lyrical themes include lost love and regret in addition to the usual subjects (violence, S&M, rape, etc.) that continue to be an ongoing obsession; those lyrics are often more pensive and nuanced than you might expect of a man whose audio aesthetic is rooted in grating walls of harsh noise. They're still disturbing -- Dominick Fernow's obsessions are very much in line with the band's name -- but far more intelligent and intriguing than the usual dead hooker themes and empty political slogans dispensed by many other harsh noise bands. The first pressing of this disc -- which comes in a swell-looking gatefold sleeve with a nice and mysterious booklet -- also includes a 5" record containing a prologue and epilogue intended to bracket the album proper. Both are short and filled with crunchy noise and pained howling buried under the noise. The overall effect is every bit as punishing as you would expect of a Prurient release, but more complex and forward-thinking as well.
No Fun Productions
Rigor Sardonicus -- VALLIS EX UMBRA DE MORTUUS [Paragon Records]
Long Island's favorite sons of all things doom don't like to play by the rules -- they have only two members (guitarist / vocalist Joe Fogarazzo and bassist Glenn Hampton), they play with a drum machine, and Fogarazzo's vocals are delivered in the subterranean rasp you'd expect to hear in a death metal band. They are also one of the few doom bands that aren't sucking at the tit of Black Sabbath; their gruesome sound owes more to bands like Slayer and early Godflesh, if anything. Despite (or maybe because of) their eccentric take on the rules of doom, they are unquestionably one of the heaviest, most doom-laden bands ever. Once you get past the bizarrely twee pseudo-folk intro "Mane de Maeros," what you get are thick, fuzzed-out slabs of downtuned heaviness accompanied by that gruesome death-croak, usually at a tempo best described as "real fucking slow." With the exception of "Alveus de Somnus," which is not quite as narcoleptic in tempo as the rest of the album (and also makes clear that they have more than a hint of Slayer in their musical pedigree), the emphasis is on slow wasting doom, with songs that plod along in methodically relentless fashion, drowning in a sea of blown-out bass hell and gnarly, fuzz-soaked guitar. Imagine early Godflesh minus the techno influence and the high end and you get an idea of just how nasty they sound. On the few occasions that they do pick up the pace a bit, the old-school metal component of their riffs becomes clear; most of the time, though, everything's so slow and awash in fuzzed-out that it borders on white noise flowing like lava over a pokey beat. Their use of a drum machine is a stroke of genius in itself, resulting in a steady beat at tempos that would defy the skill of most drummers, along with a sound far more harsh than anything likely to emerge from a traditional drum kit. It's difficult to get heavier and more doomlike than this without descending into the pure anti-form audio hell of a band like Khanate. Powerful stuff, and not for the weak.
Silencer -- DEATH - PIERCE ME [Autopsy Kitchen Records]
I can fully understand why modern proponents of lo-fi, depressive black metal like Xasthur and Leviathan worship this record -- not only are the songs absolutely amazing, frequently filled with some of the darkest and scariest blurred-hell guitar filth ever, but vocalist Nattram has one of the most genuinely anguished shrieks in all of black metal. He sounds like a man in real, genuine torment (and given that he was institutionalized shortly after this recording was finished, I guess maybe he was); just hearing that horrifying (and horrified) voice is painful. What makes the album really powerful, however, is the way it frequently shifts in mood and texture, often abruptly so -- by the time you're halfway through the album, you have no idea what will come next, only that it will probably happen when you least expect it, and that it will not be at all what you expected. The opening song (the title track) begins with a haunting acoustic melody that's actually every bit as catchy as it is disquieting, but at just under two minutes, Nattram unleashes the most ungodly wail you'll ever hear and the acoustic guitar disappears in a burst of flaming, barbed-wire tremelo guitar and furious drumming. "Sterile Nails and Thunderbowels" opens with another mysterious-sounding guitar riff and drums that sound distinctly influenced by new wave before everything shifts into more traditional black metal territory. Similar stylistic aberrations pervade the entire album, giving it a distinctly unusual feel among black metal records, but at the same time, the overall mood, guitar sound, and especially the exquisitely hideous vocals make it unquestionably black metal. Obvious points of comparison would be Bethlehem and Burzum, both of which appear to have been an influence on the band, and Xasthur, which is obviously heavily influenced by this record (so much so, in fact, that Xasthur devotees really owe it to themselves to track this down). This is one of the most consistent black metal albums I've ever heard, as well; the songs are all excellent, with no filler, and while the compositions are fairly minimal in the vein of Burzum, they're also consistently engaging; a lot of thought went into these songs. It doesn't hurt, either, that the guitar sound is awesomely evil in its vile primitivism; now I finally know where Xasthur cribbed its fantastic guitar sound.
Now here's the bad news. One, the band no longer exists; due to Nattram's aforementioned mental health issues, the band dissolved when he was institutionalized. (If you'd like gain some insight in his plight, I strongly recommend TRANSFORMALIN, the first album by his new project, Diagnose: Lebensgefahr, which was recorded while he was institutionalized and deals directly with his illness, among other things, all of them creepy and unsettling.) Two, the original version of this album, released by Prophecy Productions in 2000, is out of print. Three, the reissue under discussion here is apparently out of print now as well, so you're going to have to scour the used bins or Ebay to obtain a copy. Fourth, as if the prospect of Nattram's near-unbearable vocals aren't enough to make some prospective listeners nervous, there has been some controversy over certain lyrics on the album that appear to reference Nazism and the Holocaust, and perhaps not in politically correct ways, either. I'm inclined to take the last issue with a grain of salt; Nattram's lyrics on this album are presented in a poetically allegorical fashion that leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which makes it hard to tell if he's merely referring to these subjects in a historical context or if there's truly some more sinister meaning at work. The lyrics in question (you can see them for yourself by hitting Google and searching for Silencer lyrics, if you're so inclined) certainly don't strike me as being explict enough in any sense to brand the band as Nazis, but if you think this might be a problem for you, by all means investigate the lyrics first before seeking this out. Otherwise, I think any serious devotee of black metal needs to hear this at least once.
Autopsy Kitchen Records
Bill Thompson -- ... OF MEMORY AND DREAMS [Seven Things]
Enigmatic sound-sculptor Bill Thompson brings on the drone (and some eccentric noises) in this lengthy single track available by download only from UK label Seven Things. Approximately thirty minutes in length, the piece was commissioned by the label for their set in the 2007 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and features Thompson live using a combination of found objects, field recordings, electronic gadgets (including several electronic toothbrushes generously donated by AMM guitarist Keith Rowe just before playing; I defy anyone to tell me where they actually appear in the piece), a laptop, bent circuitry, and other enigmatic resources. The result is an ever-developing stretch of drone, cyclonic noise, and jumbled sounds, the audio equivalent of a swarm of tornadoes appearing far on the horizon and approaching steadily, inexorably, leaving a trail of chaos and dissolution in their wake. There's a heavy drone quotient courtesy of a high-pitching cycling drone that never really disappears (although it does recede into the background at times and is occasionally drowned out by other noises), and at times is the most prominent sound source, but there are also cryptic noises and sound textures. The tail end of the piece, in fact, is almost all drone with intermittent noises for sonic flavoring, and that drone is a good one. This is not a "heavy" noise piece -- it gets loud at times, yes, but it's less about audio terrorism than it is about exploring different sound textures within the confines of a deep drone -- but it's definitely engaging, despite the length. It's fitting that some of the materials came from Keith Rowe, because this is comparable in style and texture to some of the more freeform work of AMM. Excellent work, and certainly worth the minimal cost of the download. (The site also makes available a free sample and an interview with Thompson, which are worth checking out for those who may still be undecided.)
Torch of War -- THE PRINCIPLE OF COSMIC INSTABILITY [Autopsy Kitchen Records]
Tired of bands who claim to be extreme but turn out to be more of the same tired riffs and shrieking you heard already on the last seven thousand black metal albums? Here's the band for you, then. It's difficult to imagine how you could be more extreme than this without being Nunslaughter -- the eight songs here are all one hyperkinetically fast blur of harsh, tinny sound after another, propelled by a clanking drum machine set on "blastbeat" and adorned with scraping guitars possessing no low end whatsoever and far more midrange than anything else, topped by hoarse screaming from a guy who sounds like he swallowed a whole roll of sandpaper. Combine the monomanical (and monochromatic) fury of Corpus Christi with the deliberately lo-fi sound of Nunslaughter and you get this, the furious sound of a one-man band who wants to be Marduk on a basement budget. The effect is more akin to someone testing the musical potential of a bandsaw than anything else, which automatically renders it far too obnoxious for most people, even black metal listeners, which I'm sure was exactly the intent. If you can hang with it, though, there's plenty to latch onto here; the blurred and smeary guitar sound yields plenty of pleasing harmonics and even an actual melody or two from time to time, and the obsessive drum clatter is truly punishing. I'm all in favor of bands that bridge the gap between primitive black metal and outright noise, and this is one of the best such bands I've heard yet. It's true that there's not much variety from one song to the next, and the sheer repetitive minimalism at work where the guitar is concerned is bound to piss off lots of people (in fact, from the reviews I've seen of this so far, I'd say that's already happening), but what do you seriously expect of something that reaches for the far ends of extremity? Recommended, but mainly to people already steeped in noise and down with endless repetition.
Autopsy Kitchen Records
Winters -- BLACK CLOUDS IN TWIN GALAXIES [Candlelight USA]
They're a doom band (well, sort of) from the UK, and guitarist Paul Fyfe is definitely familiar with Black Sabbath, but this is no ordinary doom band. For one thing, they write actual songs as opposed to just stringing together slo-mo riffs; for another, they take their inspirational cues from bands outside the doom and metal tradition -- they confess to being influenced by Syd Barrett and early Pink Floyd, Rush, Low, Elliott Smith, and The Creation, among others, and it shows in the songs, which are often closer to psychedelic rock than traditional doom. In fact, their connection to doom lies mainly in the guitar (both in terms of the fuzzed-out tone and the frequent choice of unmistakably doom-laden riffs); take that away, and what you're left with is a band that sounds like a lost psych band from the seventies. They're also far more melodic than the average doom band, and unlike many of their contemporaries, they know how to edit themselves; the songs here (eleven of them in all) are generally well within the five-minute mark -- they are not prone to the kind of meandering epics that eventually run out of steam well before the song ends. It also doesn't hurt that their chord choices frequently sound more in tune with pop or jazz than the same tired collection of chords found on every doom / stoner rock album ever made. This is one of the best meetings of psych rock and metal you're likely to hear anytime soon.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
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