Sunday, October 30, 2011

because it's all about the bonus points.

Archgoat -- HEAVENLY VULVA (CHRIST'S LAST RITES) [Debemur Morti Productions]

Well, wonder of wonders -- a full-on necro black metal band that understands the value of being succinct. The longest track on this EP is just over three and a half minutes, evidence that they know how to get their hate on without dragging things out endlessly. The music itself is pretty standard necro fare -- fizzy barbed-wire guitars, bass that might as well be nonexistent, wet-cardboard drums, a vocalist who sounds like he was weaned on grindcore as much as early black metal -- but it's violent and vicious, and when they slow down, the guitarist gets to demonstrate that he has a pretty swell grasp of harmonically-pleasing chords (especially in the slow portion of "Goddess of the Abyss of Graves") to go with his scathing guitar tone. Between the album title and song titles like "Blessed Vulva" and "Penetrator of the Second Temple" (dig those orgasmic moans at the beginning, doom childe) it's clear that they're equally obsessed with both perversity and anti-religious sentiment. I'll bet they have all the early Arkhon Infaustus albums; they certainly share that band's affinity for rudeness and (on the early albums, at least) willful primitivism. There's nothing revolutionary happening here, but it's solid enough and filled with all the right elements to appeal to those hep to the misanthropic necro sound.

Debemur Morti Productions

Blut Aus Nord -- 777: THE DESANCTIFICATION [Debemur Morti Productions]

You can always count on French black metal to be weird, and Blut Aus Nord are no exception. This is apparently the second portion of a trilogy, and while I haven't heard the first part, I definitely need to rectify that omission, because this is great stuff. "Epitome VII," which opens the album, is a dark and malevolent industrial metal dirge that sounds like a black metal update of the best parts of Treponem Pal and Godflesh that picks up where Beherit's experiments in the same field left off. The mechanical vibe and industrial-style groove is even more aggressive on "Epitome VIII," where they use drum machines they way they were meant to be used -- in other words, as bludgeoning instruments of desolate, inhuman terror. After a brief, near-ambient respite on "Epitome IX," the grinding industrial steamroller returns on "Epitome X," with occasional squeals of dissonant guitar riding over the death-disco beats. The remaining three tracks play out in a similar vein, although it's worth noting that "Epitome XII" is possibly the album's heaviest track. Unlike a lot of today's extreme metal, these are mid-tempo songs that favor heaviness and atmosphere over speed, probably a wise move given the band's mechanical sound and electronic leanings. There's a heavy drone element present in the band's sound, too, especially in the vocals, and despite the industrial direction, plenty of dissonant, paint-peeling guitar to satisfy more traditional metalheads. Bonus points for the nifty occult-themed cover art.

Blut Aus Nord
Debemur Morti Productions

Brains -- UNLOADED [Edgetone Records]

Two dudes, two instruments, three long songs: this is what they call improvisational minimalism, doom childe. (If you're not familiar with the genre, that's probably because I just made it up.) The two dudes are Drew Ceccato and Chris Golinksi, and the two instruments are winds and drums, a peculiar combination to be sure, but it's happening as a happening thing, see, with song structures that rely as much on space and the silences between bleats 'n beats as it does with anything else. That's definitely true on "Rictus," whose eighteen-plus minutes are punctuated by intermittent stabs at sound from the wind instruments and lots of silences in between the musical phrases; the beats get doled out in a most sparing fashion, but the empty spaces start getting filled up slowly but surely as the piece progresses, building into an orgy of whirling shards of sound… and then it goes back to the minimalist feel, dominated mainly by erratic percussion that slowly winds down until the piece is over. The other two tracks, "Dirt" and "Gnash," are essentially variations on the same theme, but they're interesting variations, and do plenty to demonstrate how much racket you can make with just two instruments. Abstract sound has rarely sounded so physical. If you think the meeting of woodwinds and percussion is a bizarre concept, check this out and see how much better it works in reality than on paper.

Edgetone Records

Dead in the Dirt -- FEAR 7" [Southern Lord]

Southern Lord sure does seem to be down with bands mixing hardcore and extreme metal lately. This is one of them, and they sure are heavy, but unlike a lot of their equally heavy brethren, they favor really short songs; nothing here is over two minutes, and several hover around a half-minute or less. Brevity, d00d, I am all for it…. They sound like a black metal band (especially where the guitars are concerned), but their song structures -- especially the ones that feature slo-mo breakdowns -- are closer to hardcore, and their tendency toward escalating levels of pure chaos is divided pretty neatly between the two genres. The really short songs are essentially crazed bursts of speed and terror featuring guitars that sound like Shrike missiles arcing across the landscape, and the (moderately) longer songs aren't exactly heartwarming lullabies, either. The short song lengths do explain how they can pack ten songs into a vinyl single, and anybody who's already down with the label's recent avalanche of hardcore-influenced heaviness will find this worth grabbing. The vinyl's available in a one-time pressing of 1500 copies.

Dead in the Dirt
Southern Lord

Encoffination -- O' HELL, SHINE IN THY WHITED SEPULCHRES [Selfmadegod Records]

They certainly live up to their name on this, their second album -- this is some seriously evil, diseased-sounding death metal. They remind me a lot of the German band Blood, who favored (and maybe still do) the same kind of relentlessly primitive kitchen-sink sound, although this band is far slower and doomed-out than they ever were. What's really interesting is how together this sounds, given that the band's two members live in totally different states (Texas and Georgia) and recorded their parts separately; they get major props for making such an unlikely arrangement work. As for the songs, they're slow, torturous monuments of slow wasting doom as played by a death metal band whose guitar tone walks the fine line between gut-wrenching ugliness and borderline white noise. Throw in lots of pained moaning, feedback-drenched guitars, and spaced-out atmospherics and what you get is something that frequently resembles the sound of early Abruptum while still retaining an actual structure that's recognizable (just barely) as metal. This is a grotesque, dark offering whose murky sound is comparable to that of Portal, minus the avant-garde theatrics, and every bit as unsettling. That heavy, restless sound also owes a lot -- and I mean a lot -- to the earliest days of death metal and the low-budget production style of those early records by Sodom, Death, and Venom; at the same time, their approach is nowhere near as retro as their sound, and they achieve a far more arcane, occult form of sonic darkness than any of those bands. This is genuinely nightmarish-sounding stuff, and totally irony-free. I greatly approve. The cover art (an appropriately morbid 17th-century painting by Juan De Valdes) is pretty swank too.


Exhumed -- ALL GUTS, NO GLORY [Relapse Records]

Some people think Pantera, in the process of transitioning from a Def Leppard / Van Halen clone band into cowboys bent on heaviness, stole a lot of their moves from this band. I have no idea if that's true or not, but it's certainly believable; this band is not only relentlessly heavy, but they favor the kind of riff-driven madness that made Pantera so popular. On this release, at least, their sound has a lot more to do with grindcore than groove metal (which probably explains why it's appearing on Relapse). The lead guitar style is certainly very much in the vein of what Darrell Abbott used to do -- plenty of whammy-bar wailing and blinding solo runs like lightning to the nations -- but these guys are far, far more relentless in their intensity (and speed) than Pantera ever were, less concerned with grooving and more with bulldozing through everything in their path. The constant barrage of high-speed madness gets to be a little much for me after a while, and there's not enough variety to the songs for my taste, but they're certainly relentless, overflowing with energy like a nitro-burning funny car, and they execute their intense songs with plenty of precision. It's certainly one of the most extreme-sounding things I've heard in a while, so if you're into that, then you'll definitely like this.

Relapse Records

FluiD -- DUALITY [Alrealon Musique]

Now this is something I can get behind: a diabolical mix of hip-hop, noise, and metal that's heavy on beats inspired by Massive Attack circa MEZZANINE (still my vote for the best trip-hop album ever, with the best beats), ambient weirdness akin to the dubbed-out cyclone of death tearing through Scorn's first album, and liberal doses of pure noise. Industrial music and hip-hop seems like an unlikely sonic marriage, but in FluiD's hands they work together really well. Fans of Scorn's debut VAE SOLIS will find this to be in the same ballpark, albeit nowhere near as aggressive and violent; with the exception of the driving opener DH-1,", these are mostly mid-tempo tracks built on fat beats, dub-heavy bass, and melodies that are often processed sounds swaddled in noise. The Massive Attack influence is particularly prominent on "AIC" and "Disrupting the Ghost," but "Iron Communique" (featuring buried vocals courtesy of Black Saturn) is closer to white noise with occasional beats and incredibly distorted guitar riffs, and "Dread Futures" opens with what sounds like voices underwater before segueing into bass 'n drums straight out of MEZZANINE and a lilting piano melody. "Refuge," nothing more than a droning string melody accompanied by a drifting collection of ambient noises, acts as a brief respite from the beats, and "Froz N II" is more about sounds and textures, with beats held in abeyance until halfway through the song. All ten tracks are strong, deftly mixing textured sounds and noises with uncomplicated beats that are nevertheless perfect for the occasion. In short: great stuff, and hopefully more will follow.

Alrealon Musique

Glorior Belli -- THE GREAT SOUTHERN DARKNESS [Metal Blade]

French black metal takes some weird forms; just look at this band, who somehow manage to combine a desert-rock guitar style with a more traditional form of war-metal aggression, giving their unholy darkness a melodic pop sheen that's really unusual for this genre. They don't do so much for me -- I prefer my black metal primitive, ugly, and necro, not to mention untainted by the kind of sunny rock guitar normally associated with pot-smoking hippies -- but they're undeniably good at what they do, and they get a tremendous guitar sound. I'm also not so impressed by their songwriting, which tends toward songs that sound too much alike, but I'll admit that they are capable of throwing the occasional curveball (the title track, for instance, which deviates substantially from the rest of the album with its bluesy acoustic feel, at least until the moments where the metallic buzzsaw guitars crash the party, and the more doom-laden "Per Nox Regna" ), and the closing track, "Horns In My Pathway," one of the few mid-tempo tracks on the album, does a pretty swell job of mixing the more jarring elements of their style into something more organic and aesthetically pleasing. By and large it's not my bag, but I can see why others would like them. If you liked their earlier albums, you'll like this one; if you didn't, then this probably won't change your opinion of the band.

Glorior Belli
Metal Blade

Haken -- VISIONS [Sensory Records]

Progressive metal is a tricky thing to pull off, and this London band must know it, because they've obviously put a lot of work into making their mix of proggy synths, metallic guitars, pop vocal stylings, and experimental leanings work in a manner as unforced as possible. They make their intentions clear immediately with "Premonition," which opens with gentle piano and strings until the beat kicks in, bringing with it highly melodic guitar and bracing riffs backed by tasteful synth washes and unusual rhythms. The track that follows, "Nocturnal Conspiracy," is something else entirely -- for the first several minutes they sound like a bizarre but compelling cross between Cheer-Accident and Supertramp, more pop with a prog bent than anything else, but as the song progresses, metal elements creep in. although the song never gets terribly heavy. The songs that follow are all unquestionably steeped in the trappings of prog rock -- especially "Insomnia," which features plenty of jaw-dropping guitar solo action -- but unlike a lot of modern prog-metal, the band never grows too bombastic for its own good, and the songs are all memorable and distinct, filled with intricate playing and complex layers of sound. Several of the songs are long enough to incorporate many movements as well, especially the sprawling 23-minute title track, but despite elongated song lengths, the tracks are filler-free. This is an outstanding example of the potential of prog-metal, and while it's probably nowhere near heavy enough to win over fans of the more extreme sub-genres of metal, it's definitely recommended to anyone interested in hearing how well prog and metal can work together.

Sensory Records

Heartless -- HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE [Southern Lord]

More hardcore-influenced heaviness. Like the aforementioned Dead in the Dirt, they largely favor short bursts of frantic heaviness -- with only one exception, the songs are all under three minutes, and several are less than a minute long -- and as you'd expect given the nature of the label, they are oppressively heavy, especially when they slow the tempo down (as they do at points of "Undulations" and "Deject"). While they mostly favor a blitzkrieg style of sonic ultraviolence, the times when they do slow things down, the bone-rattling riffs and intemperate drums are heavy enough to drill holes in your skull. They do occasionally sacrifice variety for pure blinding heaviness, an occupational hazard with this kind of frantic grinding noise terror, but they never fall short on the intensity, and they have the good sense to keep things concise (the entire EP clocks in at just under 22 minutes). Extreme? O mas oui.

Southern Lord

The House of Capricorn -- IN THE DEVIL'S DAYS [Swamps of One Tree Hill]

They have some strange ideas about metal in New Zealand; while this is ostensibly a stoner / doom band, there are elements of rock, pop, and even goth to their sound; for instance, "Les Innocents" sounds like a bizarre mix of Saint Vitus and Type O Negative, a combo that sounds pretty whacked-out on paper but actually works really well in their hands. The stoner hand of doom shows up on other tracks, too, like "Veils." Other tracks like "All Hail to the Netherworld" and "Coffins and Cloven Hooves" are considerably more rocking, with a heavy 70s stoner vibe and vestigial ties to the blues amid the heavy riffing. "To Carry the Lantern," with its interesting rhythms and unusual opening, is another one of the more uptempo tracks, and the title track is not only a full-on rocker, but the album's fastest track (although that's not terribly fast by modern standards, to be sure). There's a moderate occult vibe to their approach, too -- nothing real sinister, perhaps comparable to the mysticism of some of Wino's post-Vitus bands (The Hidden Hand comes to mind, especially since the cover resembles some of that band's artwork) -- as indicated by titles like "Arcane Delve" and "Illumination in Omega," which only adds to their air of mystery. Some other reviewers have compared them to Trouble, which is fair enough given their sound and occult tendencies, but that band was a lot more straightforward than this one, and this band's approach is more varied in terms of sounds and songs. Interesting stuff, and their ability to deliver on both uptempo tracks as well as the more doom-laden ones (along with their talent for crafting solid tunes with a really dark and potent sound) bodes well for their future, however cryptic and mysterious it may be.

The House of Capricorn

The Lords of Outland -- YOU CAN SLEEP WHEN YOU'RE DEAD [Edgetone Records]

Rent Romus is at it again, this time with a collective bent on laying waste to your ears via the cruel, cruel tones of black metal death jazz. Romus bleats away on various saxophones (and occasionally provides vocals and accordion work) as C. J. Borosque creates noise with no-input pedals while Ray Scheaffer and Philip Everett (on bass and drums, respectively) hold down the anti-rhythm section. There's a energy and violence to the more assaultive moments that recalls the frenzied efforts of Last Exit, a confrontational vibe that's only made more so by the addition of Borosque's often-scalding noise textures, but it's not all about flailing around and breaking shit; there are quiet moments in which Romus gets pensive and moody with the saxes, and those moments provide a bit of respite from the bone-rattling cacophony taking place much of the time. It's true that there's not enough of Borosque and her ass-kicking noise-fu for my taste, but given the already high level of barely-controlled chaos on display, that might have actually been a wise choice, lest the album turn into something closer to full-on noise than merely noisy free jazz. Any way you slice it, there's some happening sounds in their crash and burn action. Seriously, how can you pass up an album with both Romus and Borosque? They get massive bonus points, too, for the awesome titles, including "Do-Gooders Can Run But They Can't Hide," "Gasburger Sheep Slaughter House," "More Water Kills for the Money," "How To Be A Good CItizen In 3 Easy Steps," and "The Demonic Circus of Certified Insular Asshogs."

The Lords of Outland
Edgetone Records

Nunfuckritual -- IN BONDAGE TO THE SERPENT [Debemur Morti Productions]

Given the personnel involved -- including guitarist Teloch (Nidingr, Mayhem), Dan Lilker (Nuclear Assault, Brutal Truth), and Andreas Jonsson (Tyrant) -- you'd expect this to be an amphetamine-fueled blur of sonic violence, but instead it's the complete opposite. The songs here are slow and protracted exercises in doomed-out black metal; even when they occasionally pick up the pace, as they do halfway through "Cursed Virgin, Pregnant Whore," it's still not particularly fast. The sound, dominated mainly by fizzy, ugly guitar and atmospheric keyboards, is definitely a throwback to the early days of black metal, and in fact, the band's sound owes a lot to early Mayhem ( a connection made even more obvious by the appearance of Attila Cshihar on "Komodo Dragon, Mother Queen"). What makes them interesting are the sound effects that pop up from time to time, strange-sounding bits at the beginning and end of tracks, and the genuinely spooky keyboards. It also doesn't hurt that they eschew complexity in favor of simple but effective riffs and song structures rooted in a deeply morose and primitive sound. They're not quite necro -- the production is too good for that -- but they certainly have the necro vibe down cold, and the result is a parade of malevolent sickness designed to please the tiny blackened heart of any fan of old-school black metal. Bonus points for the ridiculous but highly appropriate band name.

Debemur Morti Productions

Ordo Obsidium -- ORBIS TERTIUS [Eisenwald]

Yet another Bay Area band… what's up with the (apparent) sudden explosion of Bay Area bands with swell releases? This is the band's debut release, and it's a mix of raging black metal and intense funeral doom (a genre that appears to be making a major resurgence lately). Like many of their depressed, metallic brethren, they favor long songs -- the shortest is just under seven minutes, and two are over twelve -- filled with lots of movements, tempo changes, and a constantly evolving sonic landscape. Seeing as how they're from the Bay Area, it's not terribly surprising that at least some of their sound (especially in the more manic moments) can be traced back to their defunct neighbors Weakling, who have become the standard-bearer for intense USBM, but their sound is more complex and nuanced; like Wolves in the Throne Room, they have expanded considerably on their roots to forge a sound that at times borders on the psychedelic. Also like WITTR, they have a fondness for atmospherics and incorporating striking moments of quiet into their compositions, but it's the willingness to descend into the slo-mo world of creeping funeral doom that separates them from most of their contemporaries (although I have a feeling that within a year, this will be a standard operating procedure for most USBM, but that's not their fault). Heavy sounds + detailed textures + complex, sprawling compositions + persistent dread = swell listening for you. Bonus points for the appropriately grim album cover.

Oro Obsidium

Sex Church -- GROWING OVER [Load Records]

Oooo, I like this: a rock band with a vaguely punkish bent that sounds like it was weaned primarily on no wave records and healthy doses of METAL BOX, a sound they put to good use immediately on the opener "Put Away," which opens with a grim bassline Jah Wobble would have been proud to call his own and steadily grows to a surging, pounding swirl of ugliness that segues into "Waking Up," in which screeching noise is joined by a lumbering beat and icy metallic guitars and dead-man vocals, suggesting Joy Division gone new wave. It's a sound that's pervasive through the entire album, and sounds best on tracks like the spidery "Dull Light," which is spiced up by plenty of dissonant noise action halfway through, and "Paralyze," the closest they come to a commercial offering (at least until the deranged oscillator noises kick in). Spindly baselines are countered by guitars that oscillate between a metallic clang, bursts of feedback, and howling tornado shrapnel without ever completely descending into white noise (well, there is "Colour Out of Space," a short track that's nothing but chaos and noise) -- all in service of actual songs, good songs, even. Despite the preponderance of dissonance and a tendency to occasionally devolve into abstract ugliness just for the sake of making a pleasingly atonal racket, these are songs driven by catchy beats and rhythms, and while there's no escaping their obvious influences, they at least have the good sense to steal from stellar bands and put their own iconoclastic spin on that sound. I'll bet it would be real interesting to see this band on a bill with Alaric, a metal band coming from a similar direction. Highly recommended, and not just to PIL / Joy Division junkies.

Sex Church
Load Records

Skoal Kodiak -- KRYPTONYM BODLIAK [Load Records]

Squeaky, creaky techno (sorta) by way of hallucinogens and a deeply warped sense of humor (but probably mostly hallucinogens) -- imagine Landed with Casio synths instead of guitars and you get the idea. They apparently have some link to the Cows, so the weirdness is almost certainly unforced, and despite their base location being Minneapolis, they've got some damaged funk in their DNA, possibly from standing too close to Papa George at some long-ago Funkadelic show. Were they sucked into the Mothership and irradiated with funk? We'll never know, but it sure sounds like it. Still, Funkadelic were never quite this out-there, even on acid-drenched classics like FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW, although you can draw a parallel between this band's kitchen sink and all sound and classic Funkadelic hip-wigglers like "Wars of Armageddon" and "Super Stupid." Different instruments (in this case, Casio synths, cheap-sounding gadgets, unidentified funny noises, etc.), same agenda: messing up your mind while forcing your hips to move. This is eccentric-sounding shit, brutah, but it's catchy and you can get up and move to it, although the sheer level of bizarro-sound oozing from the speakers may occasionally cause those hips to move the wrong way, at least until you get used to their bodacious dying-robot sounds.

Skoal Kodiak
Load Records

Untimely Demise -- CITY OF STEEL [Sonic Unyon Metal]

I've said before that I don't understand the retro-thrash movement, and it's still true -- I mean, I can sort of understand why today's metal kids would want to have their own thrash movement since the first wave of thrash was so awesome, but I was there for the first round, and now I'm old and don't see the point in rebooting a sound that's so completely and totally locked into an era that ended a long, long time ago. Having said that, if you're down with the retro-thrash movement, and into the current crop of bands doing their best to emulate every last inch of the sound of bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Exodus, and so on, then you'll love this band, who do an excellent job of capturing the sound and intensity of those bands. Seriously, "Hunting Evil" sounds like a face-melting cross between early Slayer and Metallica circa MASTER OF PUPPETS; "Virtue in Death" could easily have appeared on the second or third Megadeth album; and so on. The band is certainly competent enough to faithfully recreate the sound of 80s-era thrash, and while this is probably not going to replace MASTER OF PUPPETS or REIGN IN BLOOD in the pantheon of metal greatness, this is plenty intense in its own right. It's also remarkably filler free -- if you like this kind of sound, you'll like everything here -- and at just over thirty minutes, doesn't wear out its welcome. If you're going to embrace the retro thing, this band should be high on your list of ones to check out.

Untimely Demise
Sonic Unyon Metal

Warning Light -- WILD SILVER [Stickfigure]

The twelve minimalist tracks on this album are percussion-free instrumentals built around different combinations of repetitive, percolating sequencer lines and droning ambient keyboards, and if that sounds like mastermind Drew Haddon is working with a (deliberately) limited sonic palette, you would be right… but you would also be surprised at the level of variety in the tracks with only these tools (and some found sounds) at his disposal. While this is unquestionably minimalist and highly repetitive music, it's hardly boring, since there's a fair level of variety to the sequencer sounds and rhythms, and the tracks vary considerably from one to the next in terms of their balance between the sequencer lines and the ambient drone. Some of the tracks also include elements of found sound, such as the bird sounds and ambient noise of nature found in "Whispering Priest" (and to a lesser extent, minus the bird calls, in "Eventide Ladies"). Many of these pieces, especially the dreamier and more ambient ones, sound like soundtrack music for a series of wildly different films, and even the most minimal pieces nevertheless feature enough layers to the sound to make them worthy of repeated listening. This is a fine addition to the ambient techno wing of the minimalist canon.

Warning Light

Sunday, October 9, 2011

yes, i am filled with joy to see rick perry flaming out.

Alaric -- S/T [20 Buck Spin]

I've been waiting for something like this for ages -- doom by way of 80s dark wave, no wave, and punk. This is a doom band highly enamored of the hypnotic, melodic bass lines of the Cure and Joy Division, the dramatic intensity of bands like Killing Joke, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Christian Death, and the edgy punk violence of NYC no wave. These are good things, and they result in a sound that's essentially a doomier, far heavier (yet still surprisingly catchy) version of the classic 80s dark wave sound. The band is from Oakland and includes members of Noothgrush, UK Subs, and Enemies, and those diverse backgrounds combined with a shared love of the aforementioned dark wave / punk era are undoubtedly the key to their unusual sound. That swell sound would mean nothing without excellent songs, and Alaric has those too -- like the opener "Eyes," in which a pretty melodic passage mutates into prickly no wave riffing and then, as the drums kick in, slow tribal pounding and enormous, harmonically dense guitars that dominate an arrangement designed to let these elements unfold in a concise but compelling manner that's every bit as catchy as it is terminally ominous. The no wave nostalgia makes itself even more obvious in "Ugly Crowds," which sounds very much like it could have been lifted from Lydia Lunch's classic album 13.13, but updated and treated doom-style for maximum heaviness. They also make effective use of unexpected tempo shifts in "Your God" and especially "Laughter of the Crows," where their superior dirge action abruptly turns into galloping punk speed on more than one occasion. Other tracks like "Tribute" do a fine job of welding the no wave aesthetic to their creeping doom, while "Animal" is definitely inspired by the punk-metal fury of early Killing Joke. Unlike a lot of doom bands, they remain supremely focused, with songs that are often on the long side but arranged well enough that they don't grow boring, and the eight songs on the album play out in only 46 minutes, which is practically abrupt for a doom band, especially in an era of eighty-minutes CDs. This is another great album from one of the most consistently interesting underground labels in this country right now, and an album so catchy that I have been playing it over and over despite having no free time whatsoever for such self-indulgence.

20 Buck Spin

Black Cobra -- INVERNAL [Southern Lord]

There sure seem to be a lot of Bay Area bands with new albums out right now -- this one is the punishing brainchild of drummer Rafa Martinez (formerly of 16 and Acid King -- he replaced Guy Pinhas on bass for a few years after the band's third album), and this is really heavy shit, doom childe. I don't remember their early albums being this heavy; maybe that has something to do with Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou being in charge of the recording (he recorded last year's debut by Nails, one of the heaviest discs to crawl down the metal turnpike in eons, as well as a whole pile of seriously heavy albums by Trap Them, Kverletak, All Pigs Must Die, etc., etc.). At any rate, they come storming out of the gate with two galloping tracks, the aptly-titled "Avalanche" and "Somnae Tenebrae," both of which neatly approximate the sound of angry rioters hurling chunks of concrete at your head. They're all hurricane drumming and distorted guitar fury, which is cool, sure, but things start to really get interesting with "Corrosion Fields," which opens with pretty, melodic guitar before they turn up the volume and step back on the tempo to strike a grinding balance between riff-heavy hardcore and crushing doom. The mosh-worthy middle section offer subtle hints at the band's stoner doom lineage, but transform that basic sound into something far more aggressive than anything from the traditional stoner rock canon. And while the album's thrash and burn intensity gets a bit repetitive after a while, they throw in interesting digressions and melodic interludes at unexpected moments on tracks like "Beyond" (where the brief respite ends with some of the album's most ferocious drumming) and the vaguely psychedelic strumming in the intro to "Abyss." Still, the meat of this album lies in the brutal combination of intense drumming and heavy riffing from guitars that sound like molten lava pouring through the speakers, so if you're looking for a gateway to the complete obliteration of your senses, this is probably cheaper than drugs and way more likely to annoy your neighbors.

Black Cobra
Southern Lord

The Body / Braveyoung -- NOTHING PASSES [At A Loss Recordings]

This collaboration between Rhode Island duo The Body and North Carolina drone orchestra Braveyoung is interesting, and hardly a surprise, given that the two bands have been touring together over the past year and have collaborated onstage more than once. I have no idea how much of the studio material here (recorded at Machines With Magnets in Providence) is based on or inspired by their stage jams, but it's definitely a collaborative sound as opposed to one band grafting its sound onto the skeleton of the other band's work; the layers of sound and sparse arrangements unfold in an organic manner that often recalls the expansive, near-ambient sound of the more sprawling tracks from the Swans double-album opus SOUNDTRACKS FOR THE BLIND. "Song One" opens with feedback and crushing, dirge-like noise, but it's the lengthy "Song Two" where the Swans comparison really kicks in, as the song evolves from brooding ambient vapor to minimal playing accompanied by wordless choral vocals, eventually building into something resembling an actual song with loping beats and hollowed-out cyclone guitar; the sound gets denser and more articulated as the conclusion draws near, thanks largely to a smothering bass drone that at times threatens to overwhelm the rest of the frequencies in the song (and deliberately so, I'm sure). On "Nothing Passes," they explore the gruesome inner beauty of harsh noise and static, which serves as a malevolent background over which they superimpose simple but emotionally resonant layers of chamber music; over the course of time, the noise element eventually dies out and is replaced by the desolate sound of a mournful synth droning away. None of which prepares the listener for their cover of Exuma's "The Vision," the only track with vocals (and lovely female vocals at that), backed by strummed acoustic guitar, muted drums, and subtle noise textures. I haven't heard anything else by Braveyoung, so I have no idea how this sounds in comparison to their usual sound, but this is definitely the most sedate and restrained thing I've heard The Body associated with yet. Haunting without being forbidding, and (on the final track in particular) occasionally even beautiful, this is certainly worth investigating.

The Body
At A Loss Recordings

Brutal Truth -- END TIME [Relapse Records]

In some ways, this is a far more important album for the band than their first post-reunion album of two years ago, EVOLUTION THROUGH REVOLUTION; with that album, metalheads were so overjoyed to have the band back after a long hiatus that the actual content of the album almost didn't matter. This time, though, the album has to stand on its own. The band must be thinking about this too, because they certainly make it clear from the starting gate that they aren't content to rest on past glories -- they open with nearly sixteen minutes worth of "Control Room," a supremely devolved jam that sounds like they're possessed by the spirit of Sun Ra, only with a much more manic drummer. Those expecting standard-issue grind will be scared off immediately; everyone who sticks around for the rest of the album will be reassured. Things get even more eye-opening with the second track, "Malice," which is considerably slower than the band's usual fare, approaching doom even, but shot through with bizarre guitar effects and strangulated riffing that recalls some of the stranger moments of NEED TO CONTROL. The songs that follow are a bit closer to what you expect from Brutal Truth -- fast, grinding, weird, and short -- and at times so crazed that they start to resemble tracks from drummer Rich Hoak's band Total Fucking Destruction ("Crawling Man Blues" is one such song). Things slow down again with "Warm Embrace of Poverty," one of the longer tracks, which is driven by some gnarly-sounding barbed-wire bass and a riff that actually grooves rather than grinds, but then it's back to the full-tilt assault, leavened with the truly psychedelic sounds of guitarist Eric Burke (especially on "Butcher," where his wiggly-squiggly guitar lines sound like a grinding take on free jazz). It's worth noting, too, that the band is remarkably consistent in terms of playing and energy throughout the album's 23 songs. Those who were worried that their excellent comeback on the previous album might have been a fluke can stop worrying. As with most of their releases, this will also be available in a limited edition box set that includes six bonus tracks, a twenty-page booklet, and other goodies (including a marijuana-scented disc card).

Brutal Truth
Relapse Records

Chthonic -- TAKASAGO ARMY [Spinefarm Records]

This is definitely not what I expected -- I always had the nebulous impression that this Taiwanese band was similar to Japan's Sigh (which is probably what I deserve for going by reviews and articles by lazy journalists instead of checking them out myself), but that's definitely not the case. Well, maybe on the atmospheric opener "The Island," which incorporates reedy woodwinds and orchestral sounds that build to something resembling a Morricone soundtrack epic, but this segues into "Legacy of the Seediq," which makes it very, very clear that the band is far heavier than I had anticipated. Even with bleating synths and touches of Oriental folk music, this is pretty intense stuff… but their fantastic mind-meld of all things Oriental and Western gives their approach to heaviness a much different feel than that of American or European bands. Between odd, shifting rhythms and the use of Oriental scales, they immediately establish themselves with a sound that's just familiar enough to readily appeal to the average metalhead, but just bizarre and different enough to set them apart from other bands attempting to merge folk sounds and extreme metal. There's also a serious martial feel to the drumming, which is hardly surprising when you consider that the album is essentially a concept album about World War II. In fact, on tracks like "Takao," the orchestration in general resembles that of a military marching band (beefed up, of course, with a wall of thrashing guitar and hyperkinetic drumming). And maybe there really is a valid reason for comparing them to Sigh, given the proggy synths in "Oceanquake," but they lean more toward a native folk sound more than prog to balance out their extremity (especially on the brief interlude "Root Regeneration," the most openly folk-like track on the album). What's really strange is how much they remind me of Impaled Nazarene when they ramp up the brutality (especially the vocalist, who sounds like he's been taking lessons from Mika), although that might go a long way toward explaining how they ended up on a Finnish label. Few things are more surreal than a band equally influenced by folk music and drunk metal Finns. Bonus points for bringing a fresh perspective and sound to the largely moribund genre of war metal, and for incorporating traditional sounds of their homeland into a metal framework dreamed up by long-haired freaks halfway across the world.

Spinefarm Records

Craft -- VOID [Southern Lord]

Is it even legal for black metal to be this obscenely catchy? Once you get past the nineteen-second quasi-ambient intro, the rest of the album is essentially classic Swedish death-metal melodicism filtered through the gruesome sound and aesthetic of raw, minimalist black metal. You can tell it's black metal because the arrangements are so deliberately basic, the drums largely simple, and the guitar sound swaddled in barbed wire (with the occasional tremelo-picked passage), but not only is the album far more melodic than most raw black metal, but super-catchy riffs are scattered all over the place (and sometimes collected in one place; "Come Resonance of Doom" is filled with great riffs and exquisitely hypnotic to boot, the way good black metal should be). There's also plenty of grinding rhythmic hate on tracks like "The Ground Surrenders" and "Leaving the Corporal Shade" (which also features plenty of cryptic guitar squiggles buried in the dense sound, along with more great -- and greatly primitive -- riffs), with a guitar sound that's thick, diseased, and harmonically dense. The wonderfully titled "I Want To Commit Murder" could almost pass for a Motorhead track, if it weren't for the wild tremelo guitar action and weird tonal shifts, and "Bring on the Clouds" has plenty of punk in its metal, but it's on the title track -- with its atmospheric opening, chunky main riff, and increasingly misanthropic guitar sound -- that they make it clear that, while they're obviously influenced by the early wave of 90s black metal, they are still very much their own entity with their own sound. Even for black metal, it's rare to find an album so steeped in deliberate ugliness that is still so compulsively listenable.

Southern Lord

Egg Chef -- "Opinions are Meaningless in the Void" 7" [Apop Records]

From the look of the band (weird radiation suits and masks) and the way they sound, I'm guessing they have a lot of Arab on Radar / Scissor Girls / Locust DNA in their collective bloodstream. The difference here is that while they favor the herky-jerky, frantic no wave assault pioneered by the aforementioned bands, they are on friendly terms with melody (even if the melodies are strange and they do their best to obliterate this shameful lust by burying it under the singer's agonized bleating).They're also quite succinct, packing three songs into a short running time (approximately ten minutes), although their fondness for hyped-up, sugar rush tempos certainly helps in that regard. As you might guess from the influences listed above, they favor a busy, cluttered sound that flirts with dissonance without succumbing to it, and they are much more tuneful than most bands riding the no wave zeitgeist. Strange, yes, but also strangely potent. This handy item comes with a printed insert of liner notes and lyrics, a wordless two-page mini-comic that might or might be an attempt to elaborate on the band's mythical origins (and feels suspiciously like blotter paper), and is pressed on piss-yellow vinyl. Limited to 375 copies.

Egg Chef
Apop Records

Brent Fariss -- FOUR ENVIRONMENTS… COLLAPSING [Kendra Steiner Editions]

Austin sound artist Fariss is no stranger to the fringe realms of exploratory sound -- aside from his solo work on contrabass performing works by Pauline Oliveros, Cornelius Cardew, and Phill Niblock, among others, he makes regular appearances in Austin venues as part of the Waco Girls and has recorded with Rick Reed. His choice of artists to cover says a lot about where he's coming from, and the recordings on this album, revolving mainly around the abstract use of field recordings, electronics, sampled voices, and contrabass, are definitely works of unorthodox experimental art. The title track features four contrabasses recorded in multiple environments and embellished with enigmatic field recordings, fireworks (!!!), and sine tones that frequently sound like a field of electrified katydids. There's plenty of emphasis on texture, especially where the field recordings and electronics are concerned, but there's also a high level of detail to the layers of sound -- especially in the segment featuring the sine waves -- and a marked compositional skill that is vital to integrating such disparate sounds into a mysterious and enigmatic whole. The sequencing on this disc is great, too, maximizing the inherent potential in juxtaposing wildly different approaches, with the result that the hypnotic contrabass / sine wave drone that makes up the tail end of the title track abruptly gives way to the loud crashing and dissonant sounds at the beginning of "Three Spirit Recorings," built around field recordings, electronics, more sampled voices, and percussion. The first third of the track is essentially an urban field recording strategically leavened with bursts of ugly electronics, but this is followed by a segment involving a woman's lengthy description of an extremely bizarre dream as glitch-like electronics and other sonic devolvement toil away in the background along with a layer of drone that appears when the dream-talk ends. The same elements -- ominous drone, scratchy electronics, more voices, and incidental sounds -- form the core of the remainder of the track, only assembled in different ways, providing different varieties of texture and tonal contrast. Moving in a completely different direction, "Witchcraft, Minutiae, and Other Rhythmic Inconsistencies" is more about silence and the space between sounds, with lengthy gaps of silence between bursts of crunchy noise textures, and -- later in the piece -- some seriously perverted sounds from what I assume are the contrabass (possibly processed). "Palestine," the final track, is an intriguing and gritty mix of field recordings and electronics that also includes additional sounds of a more musical nature whose origins are hard to identify -- could be processed sine waves, could be contrabass, might be something else entirely -- but whatever it is, these sound act as a nice counterpart to the grainy harsh noise rumble that acts as the track's bedrock texture. Bottom line: good compositions + swell sounds + excellent use of found sound = engaging listening for you. Limited to 89 copies, so don't snooze.

Brent Fariss
Kendra Steiner Editions

Fuck the Facts -- DIE MISERABLE [Relapse Records]

I like this Canadian grind band's DIY ethic -- they recorded the album themselves at home between tours -- but while they're unquestionably heavy, I'm not sure they totally qualify as pure grind; there are too many other ingredients in their sonic milkshake for this to really qualify as straight-up grindcore. Sure, they share grindcore's restless sociopolitical lyricism, and there are definite elements of the classic grind sound in tracks like "Drift," "Cold Hearted," and "A Coward's Existence," where grotesque guitars and machine-gun drumming perfectly embody grind's relentless drive and gross, harmonically dead sound, but elements of hardcore appear in tracks like "Lifeless" and, even more so, "Census Blank," which opens with a heavily repetitive guitar figure that straddles the line between grind and hardcore before the the rest of the band comes in, bringing even more power and violence to the tune. Then there's the title track, which opens with an impressive simulation of pure eternal doom in turgid slo-mo as an irradiated guitar warbles like an air-raid siren stuck on in an endless loop, and "Alone," which opens with a spare and brooding slice of minimal (and melodic) guitar that sounds lifted from one of Akitsa's more pensive moments before turning into a crushing mix of hardcore and doom that eventually gives way to a full-tilt grind frenzy. So while they're definitely coming from a grindcore background, they get bonus points for expanding their sonic palette. As with most grind-related releases, this is best experienced in small doses, and the album's 35-minute limit certainly helps in that respect.

Fuck the Facts
Relapse Records

Lessons -- DAVID BOWIE MARYLAND [800 Wild!]

I have no idea what David Bowie has to do with any of this, but Lessons are a Baltimore duo consisting of Justin Marc Lloyd (also of Pregnant Spore, among many others) and Andy Livingston (Ghost Volcano), both of whom appear to be involved in a wide variety of experimental / noise / WTF projects. This one involves the twisted use of psychedelic sounds -- not in the acid-rock sense, but in the sense of people whacked-out on heavy drugs and interpreting sound and color in a manner very different than most people (witness their eye-raping psychedelic pinwheel background at their web page, linked below, for visual evidence) -- and a devolved anti-rock stance to impart some seriously tripped-out sonic meanderings that walk a thin line between severely damaged art-rock and outright noise. A lot of this sounds like keyboards might have been the original instrument of sonic mutation although they list their sound sources as electronics, field recordings violin, and record players, so who knows? Whatever they're using, they're certainly making a disorienting racket… but for all the noisy sonic bombardment, there's an element of melody (sort of) inherent to most of these pieces, not to mention a persistent motif of minimalist percussion / beats and endless repetition that keeps the pieces anchored in a realm at least tenuously related to music. This sounds like it should be some long-lost demo recorded in a college bedroom in Providence, but apparently people in Baltimore scarf acid too. Who knew? Fans of diseased, rhythmic antimusic will love this.

800 Wild!

Mournful Congregation -- THE BOOK OF KINGS [20 Buck Spin]

Last month, 20 Buck Spin released a compilation album by these Australian masters of slow wasting funeral doom, a collection of tracks from split releases (plus a bonus track taken from an obscure compilation); if that wasn't enough for you -- and it shouldn't have been, because it was absolutely brilliant -- then you will be transported with ecstasy to learn that they now have a new full-length release of all new material. For those not hep to the band, this is full-on doom in the vein of Skepticism, Thergothon, Funeral, and dISEMBOWELMENT -- excruciatingly slow, intensely atmospheric, and exquisitely bleak. it takes the band nearly eighty minutes to trudge through four eerie dirges, all at tempos that allow for serious hang time between beats, at lengths sufficient to give them plenty of room to move from crushing heaviness to passages of beautiful acoustic lightness. The opening twenty-minute track "The Catechism of Depression" (whose title elegantly sums up their mandate), sounds like early (real early) Black Sabbath at 16 rpm covering a Gregorian chant; the band's affinity for mesmerizing arrangements and guitar riffs and solos clearly inspired by blues-based doom eloquently makes the case that they are coming from a much different place than the current trend of more drone-oriented doom bands. Which is not to say there aren't wonderfully droning moments -- because there definitely are -- but despite their stunted tempos, this is a band that plays actual music (as opposed to chordal and single-note sustained drones) with great precision and a high level of emotional involvement. "The Bitter Veils of Solemnity" is an excellent example of their alignment with old-school musical values rather than modern drone / noise aesthetics, as its blues-based sonic textures are leavened with generous amounts of classical guitar (and well-played classical guitar, at that). The album's real center, though, is the 34-minute title track, in which the band trudges through movement after movement of different styles of doom while retaining their own sound throughout. This is heavy, wonderfully oppressive listening, and highly recommended for anyone into unbridled heaviness that unfurls at a glacial pace.

Mournful Congregation
20 Buck Spin

Noothgrush -- LIVE FOR NOTHING [Southern Lord]

Few bands are heavy enough to appear on a split with Corrupted and not look like sissies by comparison, but Noothgrush are one of them. Not only are they heavier than a truckload of concrete blocks, but they feature a female drummer (Chiyo Nukaga), a rarity in the testosterone-fueled world of sludge-laden doom. They formed in 1994 but split up in 2001, only to reform last year (thus joining the apparently endless parade of reunions), and have since busied themselves not only with a lot of touring, but reissuing a lot of out-of-print material (including FAILING EARLY, FAILING OFTEN, a collection of demo tracks and rarities, mainly from split releases, of which they have many) and compiling unreleased work as well. This disc is one of the latter works, a collection of two live radio broadcasts -- one from KZSU in 1996, the other from KFJC in 1999 -- mastered by From Ashes Rise guitarist Brad Boatright, and it's certainly gruesome in its downtuned heaviness. The recording quality is excellent, and the band's chops are sufficiently tight that you would have no way of knowing when one session left off and the next began were it not for the helpful DJ announcements at the beginning of each set. Even better, though, is the fact that the sets are almost totally different -- out of eighteen songs between the two sets, only one ("Derrell's Porno Song") is repeated, making this a nice cross-section of the band's entire catalog. In addition to wrangling their way through classic tunes like "Sith," "Gage," "Dianoga," "Starvation," "Stagnance," and "Hatred of the Species," they also throw in a supremely devolved cover of Celtic Frost's "Procreation of the Wicked" that slows it down considerably and turns an already heavy tune into something severely oppressive. (It's interesting, in light of Celtic Frost's decision to slow down this and other early tunes on the MONOTHEIST tour, to speculate as to whether or not Tom G. Warrior was aware of this cover when he decided to do the crawl.) Outside of this intriguing curveball, though, the entire disc is essentially a document of stripped-down, soul-crushing doom designed to ruin your day, just the way it should be. Now if they would just get around to recording some new tunes to go the flood of reissues….

Southern Lord

Sky Burial -- THRENODY FOR COLLAPSING SUNS [Small Doses / Phage Tapes]

Sonic somnambulist Michael Page returns with one of the more interesting entries in the Sky Burial catalog. The first track, "Return to the Peripheries," opens in typical fashion with glitch noises and dark, swirling drones, and as the lengthy (23:05) piece progresses, the droning layers of sound grow thicker and more harmonically dense, but around the six-minute mark, an astounding thing happens: a throbbing synth line appears, first in a deeply minimalist fashion, with the effect of subtly rising from the fog to become, over time, a major component of the track's sound. That synth line drops out after a while as the drones stealthily rise in pitch and volume to approximate a choral sound, but returns again around the fourteen-minute mark, this time at a faster tempo and in a more insistent fashion. This techno-ish synth line is certainly a surprise, given the largely organic nature of Sky Burial's sound up to this point, but it works within the context of the track, and adds a nice element of propulsive movement to the swirl of sound. The techno synth line dies out a few minutes short of the end, leaving the track to gradually fade out in a slow-moving cloud of drones, and the most amazing thing about this track -- and a testament to Sky Burial's ongoing brilliance -- is that the sounds are so well organized, and the arrangement so good, that it never bogs down despite its length. "The Cadence of Collapse" introduces percussion -- another rarity for Sky Burial -- in the form of a military beat whose industrial feel is a reminder of his earlier work in the equally excellent industrial / noise band Fire in the Head. The pounding beat is accompanied by more drone action and synths that rise and fall; eventually the beat subsides and the synths become spacier and take on a more classic dark-ambient feel, one that is garnished by strange noises sliding around in the background. Another melodic synth line appears midway through the track -- simple in construction, but highly effective in tonality -- that also serves as a turning point in the track, the point at which the synth washes become more dominant and are joined by lurching rhythmic sounds that are not quite noise but otherwise impossible to identify. The theme of this track, apparently, is mutation: the sound keeps shifting regularly in tone and density, with unusual sounds sprinkled throughout at just the right spots for maximum effect. The final track, "Refractions From the Rift," also mixes rhythmic electronic sounds with the band's established drone 'n drift sound, to excellent effect. More industrial-themed percussion shows up, too, and by this time it becomes obvious that one of the biggest motifs of the album (and one I like best) is how things fade in and fade out, as if being momentarily revealed by a shifting sandstorm -- elements of the overall sound are obscured and revealed in deliberate fashion at unexpected points. One of the most interesting things about the album is how organic it sounds, despite the obvious proliferation of electronic devices used to create the sounds -- no small feat. Definitely worth hearing, like everything else in the Sky Burial catalog. As a final note, I'd like to point out that this is worth owning on cd just for the amazing artwork, which can't be fully appreciated in the postage-stamp size of your average download image. (See here for a picture of the cover.)

Sky Burial
Small Doses
Phage Tapes

Victory and Associates -- THESE THINGS ARE FACTS lp [Seismic Wave Entertainment]

Okay, first fact: journalistic ethics requires me to divulge up front that I am biased about this album. Not only is singer / guitarist Conan Neutron a friend of mine, but I participated in the Kickstarter fundraiser that made the existence of this album possible. Second fact: even if these things were not true, I would happily sing the praises of this swell, swell band. (I contributed to the Kickstarter fund because I was already a fan of the band and knew they were going to make something worth hearing.) Third fact: the band is a quartet from Oakland, CA who play a loud, bracing form of pop-rock that draws equally from the wells of punk, indie-rock, and classic rock to craft memorable, anthemic tunes that are every bit as catchy as they rock hard. Fourth fact: the guys in this band have all been playing in rocking live bands for some time now; they are not even remotely neophytes at the at the art of fucking you gently in the ear, and their collective dedication to the fine art of winging it in front of drunks has only sharpened their already formidable playing skills. Fifth fact: they write really good songs, primarily uptempo anthems with titles like "Get Tough, Get Through It," "You Can't Eat Prestige" (probably my favorite track on the album), "Brothers Doing It For Themselves," "You Can't Stop the Signal," "Mistake Museum," and "Home Is Where You Hang Your Hope." They even manage to sound upbeat with tremendous sincerity without coming across as naive geeks (a monumental sense of humor, merely hinted at in the satirical titles, certainly helps). Sixth fact: They are an irony-free band. Humor they have in spades, but they really mean it, and while they don't take themselves all that seriously, they take their music (and, to an equal degree, their responsibility to their fans and supporters) seriously indeed. Seventh fact: if you buy the vinyl version, you may never make it to the second side because the first side is so awesome that you'll want to keep it playing it over and over. (When you do eventually flip the record over, you'll discover that the flip side is just as good.) Eighth fact: There are no bad songs on this album, a rarity in this day and age. Ninth fact: The packaging for the LP version of this release is exceptional. We're talking 180-gram translucent red vinyl housed in a full-color gatefold sleeve and an accompanying full-sized booklet with amazing photos, lyrics, and liner notes. Tenth fact: Did I mention that Mackie Osborne (that would be the wife of Melvins guitarist King Buzzo, fool, the woman responsible for their memorable album graphics) did the amazing cover art? Eleventh fact: You can preview the entire album in streaming format (and buy it in vinyl or download format) at their Bandcamp site. Twelfth fact: my cats, who have much better taste than I do, approve of this album. Thirteenth fact: if you can't enjoy an album this awesome (in both sound and packaging), then there is something wrong with you, and you should maybe, like, I don't know, look into that or something, all right?

Victory and Associates
Seismic Wave Entertainment