Sunday, February 26, 2012

teeth. they are expensive.

Abnormal Thought Patterns -- S/T [CynNormal Lab Recordings]

Need a fix for the latest dose of technical / progressive metal wizardry? I have a band for you. This EP features the work of three former members of Zero Hour and is loaded with brain-frying displays of technical guitar acrobatics in a progressive metal format. They don't bother with a vocalist, which would just obscure the complex sound whirling around like serrated knives, and while it's the kind of thing that will appeal mainly to technical nerds obsessed with the fast and complicated, the band knows what it's doing. Highlights are the four-part "Velocity and Acceleration," divided into four distinct songs designed to work as one long movement, and the brief but interesting bass solo "Ulnar Nerve Damage." It doesn't hurt that the drummer is every bit as sharp and technically oriented as the guitarists without sacrificing any heaviness. Recommended for the technical metal enthusiasts looking for something new to obsess over.

Abnormal Thought Patterns
CynNormal Lab Recordings

A Death Cinematic -- THE NEW WORLD [Simple Box Construction]

The quality of ADC's music remains consistent, but the one-man band's packaging grows more elaborate and amazing with each new release. This disc's packaging is certainly ambitious, with a nice-looking cdr in a heavy brown paper sleeve (itself featuring the printed text of Matt Finney's reading for "the new world") plus a bound miniature photo book, PRELUDE TO THE NEW WORLD, housed in a balsa-wood box that comes encased in a vellum slipcase. Seriously, hit the label link below and see for yourself what an amazing piece of work this is. At this point, I have to wonder if it takes longer to assemble the packaging than to record the music…!

So, the music. Devotees will already know what to expect -- a mix of languid melody and startling guitar noise -- and that's exactly what you get with the opening spiel of "when the sun settles into the horizon we remember our rivers," where a gentle and evocative melody is accented by the whirling knives of squealing guitar feedback, sort of like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack being overdubbed by, say, Jojo Hiroshige of Hijokaidan. The tracks that follow are similar in tone, different in execution, anchored by single-string guitar melodies and fragmented chords enveloped in reverb and augmented by strange sounds, with a tone reminiscent of recent Earth albums and a suggestion of Americana in the age of noise. On "our sorrows pile up in the night's lament" that singular sound is joined by rumbling bass and what sounds like other sounds processed through a phaser or talk box; "as the lights fissure the night skies, our eyes grow pale at the horrors beheld" dials up the noise quotient a bit, as the melodic content recedes far into the background and hissing static and ringing feedback fill up the foreground, eventually morphing into a hypnotic guitar rhythm and bell-like tones. The end comes in an orgy of feedback and trilling notes, in what is the noisiest segment of the album. The album closes with the title track, with Matt Finney reading a monologue over a bed of slow, twangy notes, machine rhythms grinding away in the background, and various forms of incidental sound. Limited to 150 copies.

A Death Cinematic
Simple Box Construction

Almah -- MOTION [AFM Records]

Power metal from Brazil -- is that even legal? On the other hand, it's nice to see a Brazilian metal band that doesn't sound like Sepultura…. Anyway, this is the band's third album and it's heavy, oh so heavy, so much so that it takes a while to realize that it's a power metal album. That reality finally becomes obvious on "Bullets on the Altar," where singer Edu Falaschi's operatic vocals (not to mention the presence of piano and a classic power metal guitar solo) make the band's real intentions clear after three tracks of rampaging heaviness. There's also a full-on ballad, "Late Night in '85," later on the album, because it is illegal to make a power metal album without a ballad, and oddly enough, they keyboards sometimes lean toward a techno sound (as on "Soul Alight"), but the bulk of the album is geared toward a much heavier vein, even when sprinkled with the trappings of the classic power metal sound. Not surprisingly, I prefer the heavier tracks that lean closer to death metal, but even the more progressive-sounding tracks are generally heavy enough to satisfy even those not particularly hep to power metal. Unlike a lot of power metal bands, too, they are generally pretty judicious about breaking out the endless solos and the keyboards, while definitely present, are not overpowering on the heavier tracks. Power metal for people who don't like power metal? Maybe, but this is hardly a bad thing.

AFM Records

Black Breath -- SENTENCED TO LIFE [Southern Lord]

Has Southern Lord turned into a hardcore label? Weren't they supposed to be a metal label? Well, whatever…. So anyway, here's the second album by Black Breath, heavy dudes from Seattle, and at least their hardcore is mixed with a serious dose of death metal, which insures maximum heaviness. Tracks like "Sentenced to Life" and "Of Flesh" are the musical equivalent of someone operating a jackhammer on your face. Seeing as how they are essentially a hardcore band, most of the songs are fast and furious, which is too bad, actually, because the slower ones like "Home of the Grave" are even heavier, much heavier, like having a truckload of pianos dropped on your head, in fact. (At least until the song revs up into full-tilt hardcore mode, anyway.) "Endless Corpse" adds an element of distorted drone and a punishing half-time groove to the beginning of the track before launching into overdrive, and "The Flame" (not the Cheap Trick song, I'm pretty sure) slows down enough to hammer its spiraling, melodic riffs into your skull with grim vengeance. They bludgeon their way through ten tracks in a little over thirty minutes, with gruesome results that will have your ears begging for band-aids. And yes, the vocalist yells a lot -- it's hardcore, what do you expect?

Black Breath
Southern Lord

Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters -- BIKERS WELCOME LADIES DRINK FREE [AFM Records]

Let me break this to you gently: this is not a country album. No, it's a country album made by metalheads, which is not the same thing. More to the point, it's the long-rumored "country" band fronted by Minstry's Al Jourgensen. That's right, the album he's been threatening to make for about a decade now is finally a reality. So was it worth the wait? Well… maybe. For one thing, he waited too long; Hank Williams III has been making albums like this for quite a while now, and those are much better than this (of course, he has the advantage of being the grandson of the most metal of country singers). For another, the length of time people have been waiting for this album means that there's almost no way it can actually live up to audience expectations. Still, if you can get past these issues, it's certainly entertaining, and this band shares the same absurdist black humor favored by Al's other main band, The Revolting Cocks. You could make a compelling argument, in fact, that this is really the Cocks gone country. There's no faulting the musicianship -- the band and guests (including Mike Scaccia, Ministry / Rigor Mortis guitarist, and Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen) pull off a pretty credible fusion of country and metal, and Al's warped sense of humor turns out to have much in common with traditional country musicians like Johnny Paycheck and Moe Bandy. Titles like "Quicker Than Liquor," "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man," and "Sleepless Nights and Bar Room Fights" make the album's themes pretty self-explanatory, and the lyrics are every bit as funny as the titles. What's really surprising is that Al is a pretty respectable country crooner, something you would never guess from his bile-filled delivery in Ministry. The bottom line is that it's a respectable novelty album, one that RevCo fans will probably appreciate. I'm still trying to decide if their deconstruction of the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" is an abomination or a work of genius; I'll probably come to the conclusion that it's a bit of both.

Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters
AFM Records

Case in Theory -- CINEMATIC [self-released]

This California band (from the Bay Area, to be precise) combine alternative and psychedelic music on their debut album to create eleven catchy odes to peace, love, and understanding. So they're hippies, yes, but they're modern hippies, which means their cosmic vibe is informed by hip-hop and funk. Seeing as how the modern world has turned all nasty and cynical, you can really only get away with music like this if you're really good (which they are; guitarists Jonathan Posadas and Tadeo Ramirez bust out some frankly amazing psychedelic jazz moves on tracks like "National Ave." and "Mavericks III," and the entire band swings with style throughout the entire album) and you really mean it (which they do). It's also kind of refreshing to hear a modern pop band with a singer (Posadas) who can actually sing -- is that even legal anymore? I prefer the more rocking tunes over the ballads (hardly surprising, since the only rock ballad I ever liked was AC/DC's "Ride On"), but even on the slower songs the band plays with such skill and passion that I can live with such digressions. There's a commercial sensibility to their sound -- it's obvious that they mean to appeal to large audiences -- but their earnest approach and progressive sound make them completely unlike the tired and calculated corporate sound favored by most commercial rock bands. Their hippie leanings may turn off a lot of today's jaded, cynical listeners, but that's not the band's problem, and playing like this should not be missed. Bonus points for the tripped-out and highly colorful cover art.

Case in Theorys

Charnel House -- CONTAGION [Sygil Records]

When this disc showed up in the mail, I originally had them confused with Charnel Valley, another band heavy on the lo-fi black metal tip, but this is a totally different band (from Bloomington, IA), and a much weirder one, at that. This enigmatic duo (a vocalist and an instrumentalist) plow a minimalist path through the black forests of black and doom metal, free jazz, dark ambient, and noise to create a sound that incorporates all of these elements without falling squarely in any one genre. The one constant throughout the album is the vocalist, whose high-pitched, droning wail makes him sound like a Gregorian monk under the influence of helium, a unique strategy that works better than you might expect. There are occasional bursts of lo-fi black metal primitivism featuring simple but energetic drumming with patterns more akin to free jazz than metal, and the guitar sound (when they bother with guitars at all) is generally attuned to the growly roar of early black metal, but the song structures are strange and unpredictable, with long stretches of dark ambient drone and other unusual sounds between the bursts of black metal, and the entire collection of tunes has a distinctly surreal feel to them, like the duo dropped acid before turning on the tape recorder. Strange and mysterious stuff, stuck somewhere in the borderlands between psych, metal, and pure weirdness. Comes in a simple digipak with an amazing full-color fold-out poster that includes the lyrics and liner notes on the flip side. Limited to 250 copies.

Sygil Records

Command V -- S/T [Mush Records]

Named after the cut-and-paste command frequently used by the band while writing songs on the computer, Command V debuts with an album that combines the aesthetic vision of 1980s NYC no-wave and modern electronica. The no-wave connection is not coincidental, since the trio includes Cynthia Sley, the singer for NYC's legendary Bush Tetras, and Pat Irwin, formerly of the Raybeats and Lydia Lunch's Eight-Eyed Spy. (The trio is rounded out by the presence of filmmaker Rachel Dengiz, who has worked with Jim Jarmusch and Steve Buscemi.) The album's fourteen tracks embrace no-wave's minimalism and brevity, but replace the genre's discordant screech with spaced-out electronica. The Bush Tetras were always one of the most listenable no-wave bands, and their penchant for funked-up dance rhythms continues on this album; from the hypnotic opener "Hello," it's obvious that the band wants people to move to their music. Catchy rhythms meet ethereal electronics on tracks like "Brown Dove" and "Are We There Yet," and many of the bass-heavy tracks like "Holidays" creep up into the territory of dubstep; but there are also quieter tracks like "The Scene" and "Lost On Me" that are closer to chill wave, drawing equally from ambient, jazz, and trip-hop, and despite the uncluttered simplicity of the songs, their inventive use of electronic textures and trance-like beats results in a surprising level of diversity among the songs. As an added bonus, Sley's instantly recognizable deadpan vocals have evolved, more closely resembling actual singing now but without sacrificing the unique and indescribable character that always made her voice so interesting in the first place. This is a great album -- all the more so because it appears to have popped up from out of nowhere, so many years after the original no-wave scene -- that does an excellent job of building on the past roots of the band members in a completely modern context. It's also compulsively listenable, the kind of album you can play over and over, even more of a rarity now than it was when Sley and Irwin first showed up on the NYC scene. Essential listening.

Command V
Mush Records

Corrosion of Conformity -- S/T [Candlelight Records]

This is the lineup that recorded ANIMOSITY back in 1985, one of the first albums to mix metal and hardcore, but this album is definitely not the new ANIMOSITY. Somewhere along the way the band's metal side morphed into something closer to stoner rock -- "el Lamento de las Cabras," while sounding quite lovely, is definitely not metal or hardcore -- and consequently how much you like the album will probably come down to whether or not you can live with the band's stylistic shift. (I was never a huge COC fan to begin with, so I'm neutral.) There's definitely a punked-out edge to most of the songs, although there is a doom sound running through the appropriately-named "The Doom" (although I question the decision to periodically inject punky velocity into the track; doom should be doom, period). The doom element is interesting, because despite their obvious hardcore roots, there's a serious strain of Sabbath worship running through the album in the slower moments (check out the wah guitar on "The Moneychangers," for instance). There's no shortage of heaviness, either, especially like the chunky riffing on "What We Become," although most of the heaviness is transmitted via stoner / punk riffs rather than metal ones. This album may not thrill longtime fans of the band, but those unencumbered by unrealistic expectations, it should be respectable enough.

Corrosion of Conformity
Candlelight Records

Crypticus / Scaremaker -- split cd [Selfmadegod]

Crypticus are a duo from Denver, CO and Scaremaker are a trio from NYC, and both bands are heavy on the gore / horror tip. They also sound relentlessly old-school, but unlike most of the retro bands happening now who are fixated on worshipping various Bay-area bands or ones from the original Florida death metal scene, their influences are a bit more off the beaten path -- we're talking (at least in the case of Crypticus) the festering grind of bands like Repulsion and Bolt Thrower. Scaremaker's reference points are a bit more recent (and at times, closer to black metal), favoring the murky production of bands like NME and Necrophobic with tremelo-picking and dissonant guitar solos reminiscent of black metal bands like Dissection. In both cases, they manage to capture the spirit of old-school death metal without sounding like clones of all the other retro-metal bands happening now. The howling, grunting vocal delivery in both cases (with one exception that I'll get to momentarily) makes it pretty much impossible to tell what they're yelling about, but titles like "Beauty and Deceased," "End the World of Men," "From the Coffin," and "Demon Slave" make it pretty clear they're probably not singing anything that came from a Hallmark greeting card. The exception is on Scaremaker's "Demon Slave," where vocalist Vanessa Nocera alternates between pig-grunting and actual clean vocals, to interesting effect. Of the two bands, Crypticus is probably closer to the classic death metal style (aided considerably by the presence of a truly awesome drummer), while Scaremaker's approach is a bit more modern and stylistically varied, but with deliberately murky production that simultaneously pays tribute both to all those el-cheapo death metal records from the early eighties that were recorded on someone's lunch budget and the earliest black metal records (think Sodom, Bathory, all those bedroom four-track recordings made by metal dudes still figuring out how to make their equipment work). Both bands have a pleasing variety to their tunes, and while they obviously share the same general touchstones in both music and horror literature / films, they are different enough in their musical approaches to stand apart from each other. I normally find splits kind of dubious because often one band is significantly better than the other, but this is the way splits should sound. Recommended metal listening, doom childe.


Dim Arcana -- ARS POPULI [Black Drone]

So much of the dark-ambient drone (and metal) I'm hearing lately really reminds me of the early days of Cold Meat Industries, and this is no exception. The concept here, as far as I can tell, revolves around recreating the dark atmosphere of medieval Italy, which explains why everything is in Italian. Since I don't speak Italian, that makes things a bit difficult to follow, but fortunately their sound is sufficient to impart the necessary level of creeping unease and outright dread that they're apparently aiming for. The disc unfolds over the space of an hour, with simple, wavering drones and lots of chanting in Italian forming the bulk of the sound; occasionally more industrial sounds creep to the forefront, mainly in the form of dark, mechanical clanking noises and distorted sounds (which, interestingly enough, includes distorted drums drowning in reverb on "Dissertazione D'un Ladro" and "Le Sue Mani Son Tempesta"). Deep drone is not all they have to offer, though: "Lux Obscura" does boast a strong synth drone in addition to the dark ambient swirl, and there are some pleasantly excruciating bursts of noise (some of it even rhythmic!) and forbidding percussion on "Il Non Sobrio Sarcasmo." There's also a seriously grotesque looped burst of lo-fi black metal guitar in "La Vestale Con Una Luce" that makes a sick counterpoint to the ethereal drone happening in the background. In fact, there's a healthy amount of variety in the sounds used to augment the minimalist drone action that forms the bedrock of their songs. (They get bonus points for the unexpected -- and unnerving -- tormented yelling and erratic efx abuse in"Promessa Din Un'Anima Bruciata.") This is a pretty interesting addition to the dark-ambient canon, and given that it's the band's first full-length album, shows plenty of promise for future releases.

Dim Arcana
Black Drone

Dimesland -- CREEPMOON ep [Vendlus Records]

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hear the Residents play metal? Well, here you go (sort of) -- the debut ep by this Oakland band features members of the Residents (and Wild Hunt, a band about which I know nothing) and it is definitely metal, although a very weird and abstract kind of metal (which probably explains why the ep is on Vendlus rather than, say, Relapse or Metal Blade). The songs -- which are short, intensely hyperactive, and filled with swirling metal guitars and intense drumming -- are essentially a psychedelic version of technical metal. On some tracks (like the awesomely-titled "Trophy Wives Under the Influence") the spazzathons are broken up by brief and doom-heavy breakdowns; others, like "Revlev," introduce ambient electronic sounds and near-jazz guitar runs into the metallic atmosphere. The aptly-named "Degradation Suite" opens with vile dissonance and spooky ambience that resolves into a brief segment of machine-like techno metal, which in turn dissolves into strange noises and howling wind and continues to mutate until fading out amid more strange noises. The final track, "Burnt Orange," is not quite so hellishly fast as the earlier ones and features a bit more melody in its shred, but is still plenty heavy and aggressive. The final result may result in some head-scratching among listeners; while the band's technical chops are superlative and the songs ridiculously complex, they don't so much flow together as they act as wildly different scenes from an unfinished film. Of course, that may well have been the intent, given the band's relationship to a band notorious for head-fucking. Either way, it's impressive in both the band's talent and the ep's overall strangeness.


Exciter -- DEATH MACHINE [Massacre Records]

Exciter has always been notorious for terrible album covers; this is no exception, although it is one of their more misogynistic ones, featuring a topless woman chained to a wall being menaced by a dude with a blood-spattered chainsaw. (What is it with metal bands and chainsaws on the cover?) The album is pretty much what you would expect: nine tracks of old-school speed metal played at a volume and speed sufficient enough to border on white noise. Classic Judas Priest has always been one of the band's most obvious influences (check out singer Rob Malnati's vocals, which have more than a little Rob Halford in them), and while they're hardly a match for Downing and Tipton's agility with riffs and melodies, they're certainly forceful enough to make up for the talent gap with sheer blinding velocity. With the exception of the grinding, mid-tempo tracks "Power and Domination" and "Slaughter In Vain" (which is relatively upbeat but not in supersonic territory), the songs are pretty much hurricanes of sound filled with angry guitars and thunderbolt drumming that sacrifice most things moderately musical (melody, nuance, comprehensibility) at the altar of absurdly violent speed. This is extremely testosterone-dependent music (as if titles like "Pray For Pain" and "Razor In Your Back" hadn't already suggested this), with an aim and ideal that's nicely summed up by the title of "Skull Breaker," the closing track (and one of the best, approaching the sound of a Canadian version of Whiplash). As for things like progression and the influence of modern music, Exciter apparently doesn't believe in these things; the entire album sounds like it was recorded around 1984, and while it's hardly an earth-shattering work of genius, old-school speed metal freaks will dig it. Bonus points for the hidden track at the end, which is basically nothing but several minutes of pointless guitar shred so ridiculous it's actually kind of entertaining.

Massacre Records

Formloff -- SPYHORELANDET [Eisenwald]

The second album from this obscure Norwegian black metal duo is as eclectic as it is mysterious. Their approach toward songwriting is typified by the opening track "Det Dritet Som Renner Ut I Ua," in which they move (often without warning) through various moods and textures, incorporating a wide range of dynamics into their bleak sound. It's a sound that owes much to early Norwegian black metal (big surprise), but also to folk music as well, although this is hardly an offering that fits in the traditional folk-metal mold. The wise choice of a session drummer to round out the sound means they sound more like a full band than a duo waffling away in a bedroom with a four-track. At times they remind me of a darker and more unpredictable version of Bethlehem, but mainly their roots are distinctly in the first and second wave of black metal originating in their own country. The main thing that distinguishes them from their eternally frozen brethren is their obsession with constantly shifting dynamics within each song -- in addition to the traditional elements of frostbitten black metal (eerie tremelo picking, simple but relentless drumming, hateful screeching), they also periodically add mandolin, synths, Ebow, and bleating saxophones. Their layering of sounds is complex as well, and combined with an attack that alternates between a flowing river of sound and choppy, stop and start rhythms, their songs build into complicated structures that transcend the relatively simple parts. In fact, given how complicated the songs are, were the parts any more complex or convoluted, this would be something closer to progressive or technical metal -- but the stark and uncomplicated nature of the playing means that the album never loses its identity as a black metal artifact. Some of the best moments are the moodier ones, like the vaguely dissonant guitar melody and ambient backing that opens "Kon-Tiki Museet branner" and the folky picking in "Den gamble jorda," but there are plenty of unexpected surprises throughout the album; the band has clearly put a lot of thought into arranging the songs for maximum impact and unpredictably. The quality of the playing and songwriting is consistently excellent throughout the album as well, making it a welcome antidote to the current glut of lazy bands simply aping Burzum or the like. Bonus points for a genuinely creepy cover, too.


Germ -- WISH [Eisenwald]

This album is a strange but bizarrely catchy melding of shoegaze music, black metal, and electronica that comes courtesy of the simply-named Tim (Austere, Grey Waters, Nazxul). The album opens with the nearly eleven-minute opus "An Overdose on Cosmic Galaxy," in which a steady machine beat and gorgeous shoegaze guitars are eventually joined by electronic elements, vocals that alternate between a harmonic pop sound and intense black metal shrieking. This sets the template for much of what follows -- songs heavily rooted in the shoegaze guitar sound but driven by black metal drum stylings and leavened with judicious bits of electronica and shifting vocal styles. The effect is both epic and disorienting, forming an unlikely bridge between the indie-pop sound of the 80s and modern black metal. The major tracks are broken up by shorter, more experimental tracks like "Oxygen" and "Gravity," which move away from the shoegaze metal into stranger, more abstract territory informed by experimental electronica moves and dark ambient sounds. Things get even more bombastic on "Your Smile Mirrors the Sun," where stacks of synths invoke a classical feel, which segues neatly into the short title track that ends the album with a melancholy solo piano piece. Unorthodox, perhaps, but compelling.


Loincloth -- IRON BALLS OF STEEL [Southern Lord]

You can be forgiven for thinking of Loincloth as the heavy metal version of Breadwinner, the obscure math rock legends from Richmond, VA who helped invent the genre way back at the beginning of the 90s, seeing as how one of their guitarists, Pen Rollings, is part of the ensemble (originally a quartet including two former members of Confessor, now stripped down to a trio). The sixteen short and to-the-point tracks on this entirely instrumental album are all about convoluted but heavy riffs and complicated drumming, like a more focused answer to the Dillinger Escape Plan or a more straightforward version of Zu. They avoid repeating parts and the normally obligatory guitar leads in favor of spewing forth an endless string of complex riffs and beats designed to make your head spin. It's a heavy, muscular form of math rock swaddled in distortion and driven by crushing beats, and while you're not likely to be able to hum any of it in the shower, it will certainly beat you down into the dust. True, the number of out-there bands doing this kind of thing now (think of the aforementioned Zu, for instance, or Don Caballero, or any number of recent bands devoted to labyrinthe metallic constructions bordering on a metal version of free jazz) means that this isn't quite as revolutionary as the press hype might suggest, but it's still intensely heavy and engaging, and certainly worth a listen.

Southern Lord

Spawn of Possession -- INCURSO [Relapse Records]

This is the sound of Swedish technical metal -- weird song structures, baroque riffs, and equal devotion to both pretty melodic parts and heavy, brutish beatdowns. The highly melodic (and at times weirdly gorgeous) "Abodement" bleeds into "Where Angels Go Demons Follow," a dizzying display of technical guitar wizardry at aggressive velocities. Some of the tracks like "Bodiless Sleeper" are probably too convoluted for their own good, but on aggressively frantic tracks like "Deus Avertat," the technical parts are delivered in small, tightly coiled parts, almost packet-style, and at times like this the complex songs blur into a sound that borders on metallic free jazz. Their sound is even more heavily orchestrated on tracks like the closing statement "Apparition," although a certain classical sensibility recurs periodically throughout the album. This album strikes a nice balance between technical sophistication, melodic possibilities, and sheer blinding heaviness that's harder to achieve than it looks.

Spawn of Possession
Relapse Records

Stormcrow -- ENSLAVED IN DARKNESS [Selfmadegod]

This is the reissue of an obscurity long out of print, the debut (and only) album by Oakland's Stormcrow, which originally came out in 2005, to be followed by splits with various bands including Sanctum and Coffins. With just five songs at just under thirty minutes, I'm not sure this really counts as a full-length album, but it's close enough to give it to them. What you get here is a spiffy and chaotic-sounding mix of crust and metal (think Amebix, Bolt Thrower, and so on) that's as raw as it is intense. And it is plenty intense, driven by a drummer who sounds like an octopus playing two kits at once, tranced-out guitars swaddled in noise and dirt, and a vocalist who's every bit as crusty as the best of them. At times the drums sound like they're battling their way through a curtain of white noise, but the best moments are like the ones on "New Messiah," where slow guitars drenched in distortion drone into feedback-laden swirls of noise give way to one of the heaviest and most pummeling riffs on the entire album. This is the first time I've heard of the band (and I suspect I'm not alone in this), but this should certainly bring them some well-deserved attention.


M. Todd / L. Kerr -- BEYOND THE THRESHOLD [No Visible Scars]

The latest invocation of bleakness to roll off the presses at NVS is this grim disc of dark ambient vapor, a subtle and disquieting collaboration between M. Todd of Transcendent Device and L. Kerr of Steel Hook Protheses. The label name-checks Yen Pox, old Lustmord, and Archon Satani, all of which are perfectly valid reference points; this is the sound of cold winds blowing through the empty rooms of a destroyed house inhabited only by bodies (and perhaps the occasional uneasy ghost). The eight tracks are titled only by their lengths -- ranging from 2:24 to 6:45 -- and they are all filled with ominous drifting sounds, inexplicable rattling noises, and other sounds of inhuman origin. In fact, save for some mumbled, indistinct snippets of conversation at the beginning of one of the early tracks, nothing here seems to be of human origin at all. The tracks more closely resemble field recordings of the ambient sound in the streets and demolished buildings of a dead city; even when there are clearly synths droning away, the sound is so ambient, so devoid of anything musical (save for a vague, industrial rhythmic pulse at times), that it suggests nothing more than isolation and desolation. This is some seriously creepy shit; unlike a lot of industrial albums mining similar themes, it never gets busy or loud enough to approach anything actually heavy, but the restraint employed here makes everything sound far more sinister, as you wait for an unleashing of sonic violence that never happens. Like the best dark ambient albums, it's an album in which nothing happens, but nothing happens in such an unnerving way that it will give you a serious case of the willies (especially if you're foolish enough to listen to it while stoned). Fans of Yen Pox and Lustmord in particular really need to hear this. Limited to 100 copies.

M. Todd:
L. Kerr:
No Visible Scars

Vendetta -- FEED THE EXTERMINATION [Massacre Records]

If they sound old-school, at least they come by the vibe honestly -- this German act formed in 1987 and was a legitimate force in the German wave of late-80s thrash metal in the short time they were around. Like everybody else these days, they reformed a while back ago, and this is their second album since returning from the metal grave. Their first surprise, given their status as a thrash band, is opening with the title track, whose pounding vibe is closer to death metal than thrash. The tracks that follow, though, are absolutely straight-up thrash, driven by corkscrew guitar rhythms and machine-like drumming. "Storage of Anger" has a rampaging chug riff straight out of the early Slayer playbook and drumming every bit as punishing, but "Dog in the Manger" is just pure flat-out thrash built on a simple but relentless beat and a riff that gets more convoluted (and joined by another guitar playing staggered by equally impenetrable riffs) as the song progresses. After all this heaviness, it's nice to hear "Abuse," whose dark and melodic intro takes its time before morphing into another display of death-tinged heaviness. I'm not completely sold on the vocalist, who sounds fine but also sometimes sounds like he should be singing in a different band. (That would be during the parts with clean vocals.) The band itself is unquestionably great, though, with plenty of rampant brutality running through their speed marathons and an even more intense level of heaviness in their slower moments. Recommended listening.

Massacre Records

Zebulon Pike -- SPACE IS THE CORPSE OF TIME [self-released]

Prog-doom is exactly the right word for it -- they announce themselves on this self-released album with prog-worthy drums and a guitar sound taken from the first Black Sabbath album on "Spectrum Threshold," and continue to inject increasingly abstract bursts of sound over and around the doom-laden riff playing peekaboo throughout the song. The song is long enough for them to dissolve into more abstract passages that forgo the metal element for melodic guitar picking and strange free-jazz drums before eventually returning to more Sabbath-sounding territory. And bird calls. On "Echoic Worlds," they do the stream of consciousness light / heavy thing that made Harvey Milk's COURTESY AND GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN such an arresting album with such an unpredictable sound, only in a far proggier and psychedelic context. (Even better, the song eventually evolves into electronic synth bleats and an atmosphere akin to a jazzier, more metallic version of seventies-era Tangerine Dream.) The exploratory, free-form jam approach to structure and texture continues in "Powers of the Living," which goes out in super-heavy doom mode with the guitars and beat slowing down to a noisy crawl. The title track, only half the length of anything else on the album, continues the obvious early Sabbath worship and mixes in bizarre prog touches and another passage of quiet picking that eventually mutates back into pure 70s stoner worship, and segues into "Trigon in Force," which is essentially more of the same with wounded-rhino guitars. This is heavy, heavy stuff, with a sound capable of appealing to both metal and prog-rock enthusiasts.

Zebulon Pike

Zombie Inc. -- A DREADFUL DECEASE [Massacre Records]

I don't share the widespread fascination for zombies -- they were passé by the time DAWN OF THE DEAD rolled around, and the steady passage of time has not made those zombies smell any better. These gentlemen appear so obsessed about zombies that it wasn't enough for them to write several songs about the subject, but to actually put the word in their name, just so you could not fail to notice their obeisance to the zombie brand. Fortunately the album is good enough for me to overlook this. And yes, this is yet another entry in the retro-death metal sweepstakes… but in this case the retro leanings are present for a good reason, since the personnel has a long history in extreme metal. One of the album's main calling cards is vocalist Martin Schirenc's return to metal after the collapse of his long-running band Pungent Stench, but he's also joined by guitarists Wolfgang Rothbauer (Disbelief) and Gerald Huber (Collapse 7), bassist Daniel Lechner (The Cascades), and drummer Tomasz Janiszewski (Belphegor, Fleshcrawl). While Schirenc may be the outer focal point, it's the drummer who really stands out here, bringing an extra level of intensity to everything with his enormous and omnipresent drums. He's definitely from the Dark Angel school of drum heaviness.

The songs themselves are not the product of rocket science, but they're really good, assembled from heavy machine parts with everything turned up real loud. They get the kind of thick, grinding sound favored by the early Tampa bands -- a good thing, in my opinion -- and their death attack is varied, including elements of the evil drone of the early Obituary albums. The songs are essentially flowing collections of swell riffs and death croak obliterated at times by the drumming, with lyrics about zombies and brutally and the impending apocalypse that may or may not be interesting (given Schirenc's delivery, it's kind of hard to know), but sound pretty forbidding coming from his voice box. The riff mania is sometimes broken up by other things -- a lovely clean-sounding finger-picking section in "Horde Unleashed," for instance -- but mostly it's heavy riffs and heavier drumming, culminating in the absurd exercise in power and speed that is "Bloodrain Overdose." The horror-themed sound bits lurking in the background between songs get a tad repetitive after a while, but they make up for that too with the slow, wasting doom that is the intro to "Planet Zombie." The basic building blocks of their sound owe a lot to Death Angel and Obituary, and they expand on this promising template with a diversity of sound and tempos that keep the album consistently engaging. They also sound real evil, always a plus in a metal band.

Zombie Inc.
Massacre Records

Arvo Zylo -- 333 [self-released]

The exquisitely-named Arvo Zylo was apparently one of the players on that Mr. Fuckhead cassette I blabbed about a while ago, and he has since generously sent along a full cd of unspeakable weirdness akin to Zoogz Rift (RIP) channeling Cthulhu via a lot of really noisy devices. That's the general thrust of the 31-minute opening track "Quicksand Eggs of a Beaten Pathos," anyway -- he teases you with traditional instruments at the beginning and leads you to believe you're in for a smooth jazz improv scene, then sucker-punches you with an increasingly abstract array of machine noises and gadget-fu periodically interspersed with something vaguely resembling real music. It's weird, yes -- o mas oui, is it weird -- but also bizarrely compelling, and filled with an endlessly inventive array of metallic sounds, electronic tones, bone-scraping white noise, and more (oh so much more). The track's structure and sounds continue to steadily evolve and mutate over time, throwing in damaged percussion, glitch noises, skipping-cd sounds, and other forms of antimusic / art dada without actually devolving into pure free-form noise, which is some kind of accomplishment. The two tracks that follow -- "Deadbeat Deluxe" and "Plasthma" -- aren't quite so long (sixteen and eleven minutes, respectively), but they follow a similar trajectory, aiming their noisy arrows deep into the heart of dada. There's a bit more repetition (in a good way) in "Deadbeat Deluxe," which also includes some surprisingly funky robot percussion in the mix of sonic effluvia, and more nervous energy in "Plasthma," both otherwise the tracks are all thematically linked in their mad love for exotic, twisted sounds swaddled in noise. This is great stuff, especially since it's far more rhythmic than most equally experimental music. He also runs a radio show on WLUW called The Delirious Insomniac that should appeal to those of you in search of yet more whacked-out sounds.

Arvo Zylo