Monday, 29 April 2013

#272 Tsjuder - Demonic Possession

Tsjuder's name doesn't lend itself to being pronounced, and it's always good fun to compare outlandish pronunciations of the bands name with other fans. Beyond trying to work out what noise a T, S and J make in tandem with one another, Tsjuder are also a very enjoyable band, playing, as so many bands have proclaimed to play, "True Norwegian black-metal"; what separates Tsjuder from many, however, is that they often manage to do a good job of it.

It took me a while to get into Tsjuder, and the first album I was exposed to, their début full length "Kill For Satan", bordered on not encouraging me to explore the band further. It's not so much that the album was bad, it was simply odd, and while it had moments which were extremely enjoyable, it's odd production and extremely strong death-metal lean really made the claim to be "True" black metal a little more purported than actually substantial. Fortunately, that didn't put me off too much; indeed, I did enjoy it, enough to take a listen to the follow up, "Demonic Possession" which this review is centred on. Demonic Possession, as an album, is an utter reconciliation between me and the band's music; the "True" label feels like it may, indeed, be the case. The album has many of the features which I genuinely enjoy about black metal, with suffocating bouts of intensity, joined at times with a subtle but epic majesty, and an ever-present rasping, roaring guitar tone which grabs the listeners attention. The album is well produced enough for the guitar-work to reall put on a show, being at the forefront, especially in moments such as the intro to Bloodshedding Horror, in which the murky, crushing guitar practically summons the dark legions from the pit itself. Structurally, the album manages well to be engaging and dynamic, avoiding being constant blast-beat work, but also avoiding being ponderous or primitive sounding; very much epitomising the second-wave black-metal sound. It's almost a must for me that black metal have more to the drumming than merely blast beats, which is probably one of the reasons I can greatly enjoy the percussion on an album like this, while I've never really explored bands like Marduk anything like as much.

As well as being dynamic, the percussion on the record is quite tightly produced; not plastic at all, but quite polite, with an organic, but likewise neat and tidy feel; Personally, I really enjoy the sound which results; it really feels like the best of both worlds, not encumbering the atmosphere, but not being needlessly buried and muffled. Overall, in fact, the production of Demonic Possession really gives it a nice, sharp edge; the instruments feel levelled in just the right places, and for the majority of the album, you can really hear what's going on nicely; the guitar work is really laid bare for enjoyment. The riffs, for that matter, are another greatly enjoyable aspect of the record. Tsjuder are one of the more riff-heavy black-metal bands I've listened to recently, and the guitar tone present really goes hand in hand with the chunkiness of the riffs; every chord emphasised, and the lead work ringing out crystal clear. Tsjuder are the kind of band who remember to have a lower-end in their music, and it can certainly be appreciated in the icy maelstrom which the record conjures, rendered heavier, and at times almost crushing by the deep, reverberating sound, akin perhaps to two Satanically possessed glaciers crashing into one another, creating a thick, and extremely Norse feel, very much akin to the archetypal Norwegian sound. In this way, Demonic Possession is an overtly old-school album, but manages at the same time to feel like an entity in its own right; not a homage to Norwegian black-metal, but thoroughly part of the gang - a worthy invocation of the style, and at times a great deal better than where a number of the genre's founders had ended up making by the turn of the millennium.

When I first listened to Demonic Possession, I can safely say it was perhaps the album which made black metal feel exciting to listen to again; really capturing the intensity, coldness and indeed madness which drew me into the genre some years ago. One thing is certain; the album feels so much more than simply "more of the same". 

I'm going to give this 8/10.

Tsjuder Official Site
Tsjuder on Facebook
Tsjuder on Metal Archives

Thursday, 25 April 2013

#271 Soulless - In Death's Grip

First and foremost, I'm sorry reviews have been relatively infrequent of late; So called "real life" has been particularly demanding of attention in the run up to some exams I apparently have to do at some point. On the other hand, breaks from studying are very welcome indeed, and this particular break involves reviewing a certain death/thrash band from Ohio by the name of Soulless, and their latest album "In Death's Grip" released in January of this year.

By all accounts, Soulless are something of a hidden gem in the underground metal-scene, and certainly, upon hearing their material, I can't understand why they aren't more heard of around the world, particularly with over fifteen years worth of material which is undeniably crafted with care. While perhaps not reinventing the wheel when it comes to thrashy death metal, the band certainly seem to carve some fine, juicy cuts of the style, and their latest record, the bands fourth, the third on which their long suffering mascot seems to have met with a grizzly fate, continues this tradition. The recipe for the music is certainly one which appeals to me; high-energy, tight and quite melodic, with a generous helping of lead-guitar work, especially in terms of melody and embellishment, but at the same time avoiding being insubstantial and twiddly. As I stated previously, not reinventing the wheel, but certainly making a brand of wheel which can take the listener for a solid ride. The band don't emphasise lightning speed or overtly crushing heaviness, but instead craft a remarkably solid, vigorous and fist-pumping concoction, swerving merrily between hefty, groove-laden riffs and faster sections more akin to old-school death metal and thick, clunking thrash, which quite often ends up being lighting-quick and crushingly heavy anyway. The factor uniting the styles incorporated in the music is without a doubt how energetic it feels, and I can certainly imagine that while Soulless might be among the opening bands of an evening, I absolutely expect they can conjure a pit or two, and dare I say, the band feel like to kind of support-band who have many-a-time inadvertently and impressively stolen the show from the big-boys ostensibly headlining.

The vocals quite often stand out interestingly; taking a very venomous, almost misanthropic persuasion through a lot of the record, particularly the -sort-of-title-track "Death's Icy Grip", where they feel very frenzied and scornful; typically less gruff and more maniacal than a lot of the death-metal vocal-styles one might have expected. The vocals are fiercely enunciated too, which adds to the bands percussive style and makes the vocal lines accompany the vigour of the music fantastically. The title track is, incidentally, also one of the more melodic on the record, and certainly demonstrates that the band don't play straight-up death-metal all of the time; taking not only a more thrashy persuasion, but also spreading plenty of memorable melodies through the track, fortunately without sounding too much like the "bad" kind of melodic death metal; that is, power-metal which has been to the gym once or twice too often. Instead, you get the impression that the melody through the album is present because it works - certainly not for the sake of it - it often crowns the thundering riff-work below, and carries the music forward. In fact, I think I can safely say that there is nothing in the record which sounds "for the sake of it" at all; which is another point of mention - there isn't any filler to speak of; and not a single track which left me unsatisfied, and all felt well-crafted. Each track is a veritable fortress of extremely nimble and explosive guitar work, both memorable and intense, solidly reinforced by the rhythm section, and with enraged vocals spat all over it with gusto. The album as a whole definitely brings the best of a few genres to the table, combining crushing and intense death-metal with the wreck-your-neck quality of thrash, and enough melody to really take the band to the next level; the songs are damn tight, but at the same time, the agility works, as opposed to being a case of one musician showing-off.

Looking at the band's entry on Metal Archives, it's very impressive to note just how many bands the members of Soulless have contributed to over the years. It makes me feel rather touched that they considered me, writer of reviews that about four people read, to actually have something to say about their band's music. My final thing to say is this however; that's not why I've said good things. I've said good things about "In Death's Grip" because my ears tell me it's a damn solid album, and I suggest that the reader should give it a listen at the first opportunity.

A solid 8/10.

Soulless Official Site
Soulless on Bandcamp
Soulless on Facebook
Soulless on Metal Archives

Sunday, 21 April 2013

#270 Caladan Brood - Echoes of Battle

I was listening to a lot of Summoning this morning, which promptly reminded me of a band I've been meaning to review for quite a while now, a band who also have been listening to a lot of Summoning; United States epic-black-metal outfit Caladan Brood, who despite their début only being released a few months ago, are becoming relatively well known through the underground community. Two typical reactions to their music are common; rejection on the grounds they sound like Summoning, or acclaim on the grounds that they sound like Summoning.

As easy as it would be to make this entire review a cross comparison between the two bands, I'd rather avoid consciously doing so and focus on what the band brings to the table themselves, when possible. Of course, even whilst trying not to say "Summoning" every third of fourth word, I fear I may only be able to relegate it to being a once-per-sentence affair. Regardless, a place to start is the cover art, which is unfathomably gorgeous; moreover, it looks the way the music sounds, which is always a good achievement. It's also superb to see artwork which has been painted. Lyrically, I can't claim to have read the "Malazan Book of the Fallen" on which a lot of the bands content is based, whereas when I listen to Summoning, I hear passages from Tolkein which I've word for word read. Musically, however, there is no reason why the listener shouldn't enjoy what they hear on grounds of what they know or do not know, and I can safely say I enjoyed it immensely; Caladan Brood seem to bring a more melancholy, sorrowful creature into existence than Summoning do,  and it often feels a little thicker, like the mist enveloping the mountains on the artwork. There isn't such a pompous feel, either; a sincerity and emotion is present which doesn't get washed away by the hugely grandiose sound. The guitar work is in many places reasonably tangible compared to a certain band with whom Caladan Brood share many stylistic choices, and there are certainly places where it stands alone, rising above the synth completely; particularly for fantastic moments like the Bathory style solo and subsequent tremolo-section in the title track, all the while accompanied by hammer-upon-anvil programmed drums which verge from realistic to overtly electronic. Caladan Brood know that having programmed drums opens up a world of choice; you don't have to make programmed drums sound like the real thing, and for a large chunk of the album, they don't.

The idiosyncrasies within Caladan Brood's become more and more evident with time, and consequently, so do the ways in which the band differ from Summoning, which is something at this time, that I would like to emphasise the existence thereof; they are two different bands, and however alike they may seem initially, there are a reasonable number of differences too. The melodies, particularly, feel different; often more Norse or Celtic in feeling, which is also the case with the clean, echoing vocals deployed on occasion; very warm, vibrant and rich in their feeling, often forming some of the most rewarding parts of tracks to listen to, be they subtle or more overt. All in all, the two sounds just seem, and feel different. Granted, the artists are far from musical chalk and cheese, but it's nice to see that Caladan Brood, at least in my eyes, amount to more than an unoriginal worship-band; often a lot more. Another factor worth noting is that, unlike a lot of Summoning's material, you get the impression that Caladan Brood at times go to lengths to make their synth and electronic elements sound real; the violins, flutes and other accoutrements feel dynamic, earthy and natural for a lot of the album, as opposed to the dusty-keyboard-borrowed-from-the-music-department feel which a lot of Summoning's work very deliberately uses, creating a record on Caladan Brood's part which feels smooth-flowing and at times more evocative.

Including this one, I've mentioned Summoning eleven times; perhaps my quest to not dwell on them too often during the review has failed, but it must be conceded that it's almost impossible not to. Don't make the mistake however, of assuming that Caladan Brood aren't an interesting, exciting and thoroughly beautiful band to listen to in their own right; they are all that and more, and I can, with a great degree of conviction, assure the reader that "Echoes of Battle" will be coming to album of the year lists up and down the internet, and beyond, very, very soon.

This is definitely a 10/10.

Caladan Brood on Bandcamp
Caladan Brood on Facebook
Caladan Brood on Metal Archives

Thursday, 18 April 2013

#269 Chapel of Disease - Summoning Black Gods

It's often a bit tricky to write about bands in the "old-school death metal revival". For the most part, this is because "old-school death metal revival" is a lot of syllables to casually use, to the point of making me almost dread writing reviews about such bands. Chapel of Disease are one such band, and fortunately, the quality of their music more than makes up for the trouble of having to write "old-school death metal revival" half-a-dozen or so times.

I'm told, Chapel of Disease are huge Morbid Angel fans. I'm about to commit a blasphemy by admitting that I haven't listened to a single Morbid Angel album. Before you arm yourselves with torches and pitchforks, I promise I'll listen to a few, and maybe review one by the end of the month. Either way, it will take more than torches and pitchforks to repel the eldritch horrors summoned by Chapel of Disease's music; The spoken words and clanging church bell at the beginning of the first track set the tone very well indeed; "Yog-Sothoth knows the gate... Yog Sothoth is the gate...". The album then awakens from its slumber, bring thick riffs, which a roaring, buzzing guitar tone which sounds like it could physically cut you. The band play death metal in a particularly thrashy manner, which is certainly to my taste; there are plenty of bands in the old-school death metal revival who sound thick and murky, in the style of bands like Incantation, but Chapel of Disease instead go for a sound akin to Vader, Asphyx, and many of the Floridian death-metal acts, sounding at times like a demoniacally possessed version of Death's older material, although as far as I'm concerned, pound-for-pound a little better. The album alternates very pleasingly between two vague styles; tremolo-laced thrash-riffs, with clanking, chunky drumming holding them together; sometimes double-kick, and sometimes fast thrash-beats which really help the riffs soar and charge along nicely, and darker, slower sections which really introduce tension and suspense, as well as helping to make the songs very memorable; The band demonstrate that while it's all very well to blast all the way through a song, it's often the slower sections which really make death metal something I appreciate.

Songs like "Descend to the Tomb" exemplify this really well, with constant, but not unwieldy, alternation between slow and fast sections, very much making for a dynamic track, but at the same time managing not to spoil it. The slow sections are enjoyable, and really manage to make the music feel dark and sinister; a little murky and very occult sounding indeed. The music really sounds like its lyrical themes, all of them horror related, which has always been what I prefer in death-metal - Lovecraftian, Occult and Supernatural themes have always felt somewhat preferable to simply gore and death. Another thing the band have remembered is that solos are allowed to emphasised and put in the spotlight, and there tends to be at least one in any given song; not a simplistic bit of lead guitar, either, but a well-constructed and memorable solo which compliments the song itself - something too few bands do these days, in any genre. The riffs too, certainly aren't neglected, and in places really hit what I like in terms of not only death-metal, but thrash, too; the music certainly carries the feel of very early death-metal in this regard, with the energy and attitude of thrash exuding through its pores in many places; there are a good number of riffs which really lend themselves to being energetic and punchy, while for the most part still retaining a dark, and more crushing death-metal edge; Perhaps the sheer solidity of this album is the reward which Chapel of Disease reap for being influenced more by the seemingly less-emulated thrash-laced death-metal than by more "pure" instances of the genre; the end result is certainly one of my favourite death-metal albums of recent years.

Summoning Black Gods is the sort of album which seems to sound progressively better the more times I listen to it; and with each fresh listen the parts I remember from previous occasions sound all the more rewarding to listen to. That, I can safely say, is what good albums do, and this is certainly a good album - with the band, and their peers, almost always without second full-length albums yet, I can't wait to see how they sound when they do.

This is a 9/10 début.

Chapel of Disease Official Site
Chapel of Disease on Facebook
Chapel of Disease on Metal Archives

Monday, 15 April 2013

Live Review #002: North of the Wall Festival; Holocaust et. al.

I printed myself a map on the morning of North of the Wall Festival, and headed off merrily for ten solid hours of heavy metal of almost every conceivable sub-genre from the Scottish metal scene. I got about two thirds of the way there to find that the map ran out a reasonable distance before the journey did. Eventually, after finding other people in metal-shirts, and aiming for the most studenty looking thing on the horizon, I found myself at the venue - the Queen Margret Union. As it turns out, the Union has a great stage area, both more expansive and professional feeling than I'd perhaps expected.

The bar didn't have Guinness.

...Dragon Soop is an interesting beverage, sort of Buckfast crossed with Christmas wrapping-paper, and with the ability to double the number of words you can produce per second, while simultaneously halving the meaningful content thereof. It is, one might say, not unlike having your cognitive faculties compressed, by a vice, into a furry cube. Consequently, while relatively coherent, and for the most part lucid, my recollection and analysis of most of North of the Wall Festival were memorised to be written up later with a degree of necessarily yielding to the bright green concoction slowly turning my brain-cells into sour apple flavoured compost. Anyway - onwards!

At about 2:10pm, the sun was warm, and high in the sky; somewhere not far off, a cheerful jogger swiftly passes a young couple eating sandwiches on a sun-soaked park bench. In the Queen Margret Union, it is dingy; thick black curtains keep the sunlight at bay, and a growing throng of people have gathered to watch the first act, Common Gods take to the stage. The crowd have the cheery, excited optimism signature to the small demographic who have beer at two in the afternoon, but aren't homeless. Common Gods play a diverse set of modern, melodic-death-groovy-something or other, but lose some of the shine of their first track due to the venue sound not quite being perfected yet, Nonetheless, in the ensuing songs, including a well received Amon Amarth cover, the band do what an opening band is meant to do; they transform you from the sleepy person who walked into the venue, into the metal-head who is at the gig. In my mind, the band did a great job of showing how well a cover-song can connect with the audience, and the gradual improvement of the sound mixing over their set certainly helped to draw the audience further and further into the festival's atmosphere.

Next up were woad-smeared, or rather, blue-body-paint-that-someone-procured-from-a-corner-shop-smeared folk metal outfit Norderobring, who play keyboard laden Celtic-themed songs about "beating the shit out of English people". I'm certainly not a nationalist - in fact, I couldn't care less about Scottish pride or nationalism, but in any location in Scotland whatsoever, the mention of "beating-up-English-people" does something primal to the enthusiasm; it makes you want to grow a beard, ride to war with a deep-fried claymore, and make your accent more absurd than it already is. I've never been Anti-English myself, so I personally sourced my enthusiasm from far more specific instances of bastards I've had to share the atmosphere with over the years, but the tongue-in-cheek roar from the audience certainly took the festival the next level of crowd energy and the beginnings of sobrieties demise. In fact, I'm fairly sure that Norderobring had one of the best turn-outs of the evening, and of that token, were probably the most overtly northern feeling act to be on-stage. The boost which the good sound-mixing, which brought out the keyboard melodies rather well, and the catchy but non-cheesy material of the band brought to the festival certainly upped its momentum.

On third were Farseer, something of an unknown quantity to me having never seen them live before, and made even more unknown for the fact that I don't listen to much power metal. You can usually tell when a band, as a collective, are very much Iron Maiden fans, and aside from the fact that the band tastefully and tightly covered Wrathchild in tribute to the late, great Clive Burr, the band were also very reminiscent of 'Maiden in their own material, and indeed in their stage-idiosyncrasies. One thing which I particularly took from Farseer, and something which would prepare me for the further power-metal to come was making me realise that power-metal is more than music - it is a spectacle, and Farseer managed to feel worth watching, as well as worth listening to. While some of the ideosyncracies of their music were a little veiled by the sound, and slightly more so by my standing way over to one side of the venue, I found Farseer to be a highly enjoyable band, certainly beating my expectations and general mild mistrust of power-metal. While I can't claim to have enjoyed them to the extent of remembering their songs particularly, I can safely say they put on a solid show.

Atragon played. I'd not seen them in a couple of weeks, however, and beyond that, they'd shaken up their set-list a little, which rendered them fairly fresh once again. Their live-show prevalence does make me wonder if I'll able to write a live-review without them in it, without taking great lengths to leave the country. I digress.  It was nice to see that their older material was still bearing up well amongst their newer, and perhaps slightly more agile material. Their position on the line-up worked quite well from a balance point of view, as it was refreshing to have something of a lower tempo floating around for a while. On top of their placement, the band certainly manage to draw a crowd, and bring the second wind out of those already present - a renewed enthusiasm crept into my somewhat merry-psyche, and I can safely say that my first proper head-banding occurred in Atragon's set, namely their near-quarter of an hour strangling, stoner doom behemoth of a radio single; Jesus Wept, which I can well imagine is what the non-doom-fans were thinking, or if not, were certainly thinking by the time Headless Cross finished. Ultimately, compared to some of the bands in the line-up, Atragon possess an overt air of potential, and hopefully the creative vision to do it. At the very least, a post promoting them to you will adhere to a Facebook newsfeed somewhere near you, like a vigorously thrown slice of ham on a dry whiteboard.

I quite like Headless Kross, but I'll always marvel at just how long their sets feel. I've never been to a show where the band didn't make their set-time feel about three times what it actually was. Civilisations rose and fell, mountains crumbled into the sea, and skeletons became fossils over the course of the band's set. Fortunately, the sluggish, intense, sludgy doom-metal that the band create fits such an image extremely well. I stood, letting waves of chunky, and fairly minimalist doomy riff-work, played at a volume as loud as the equipment present would allow,  wash over me, lamenting that I wasn't quite sober enough to think of anything catchy to say about the band for when I wrote the review later. Headless Kross had among the longest songs and slowest tempos of the night, which is certainly fine by me; someone who enjoys doom in most of its forms, but I can well imagine that the back-to-back chord and sustain assault of Atragon and Headless Kross might have felt a little bit too much for the faster-music enthusiast.

A lot of people seemed to excuse themselves for a particularly long piss when Diementia took to the stage. I'm not sure why, in all honesty they sounded fine to me; thrashy death metal, with hints of the usual seasoning; bits of Slayer style material scattered very liberally throughout their songs. One downfall of the set was the drum-sound - the drummer was fairly competent, albeit a little unadventurous, but the drum-microphones did a dreary job of capturing the double-kick, resulting in the tempo feeling very wrong for more or less the entire set. What should have been rocketing through the speakers instead came across sometimes as a plodding, 4/4 beat, and while, granted, sometimes it was, a lot of it seemed a technical failing, not a musical one. Despite the percussive troubles, I had a good time watching Diementia's set, and the band felt quite solid. A little thin, at times, but nonetheless satisfactory.

Maelstrom share their name with twenty six other metal bands world-wide, but as far as I'm concerned, don't sound generic in the slightest. I'd only ever seen the band before on a fairly small stage, but they seemed to have no problems in filling this venue's stage with their presence. The band managed to bring the crowd back somewhat with their energetic blend of progressive, keyboard-laced black-metal. Maelstrom do an interesting job of bringing together cold, austere and beautiful majesty in the black metal, whilst remaining energetic and very conducive to head-banging, which a lot of black-metal isn't, at least, not to such an extent. They're also the sort of band who really join in on the act of letting the music move them, and at one point, even the keyboard player was head-banging, having balanced their keyboard precariously on its end. The sound-mixing gods smiled upon Maelstrom, and gifted them with one of the best mixes of the evening, with the keyboard soaring high amongst the rolling black-metal thunder. Also with regards to the forces back-stage manifesting themselves, it was, I think, during Maelstroms set that someone backstage worked out how to make the lighting work properly, and soon colourful shapes were floating across the backdrop, making things slightly more hypnotic and dynamic, which complemented the atmospheric leanings of the band well, and doubtless made the audience sway within the music, side to side, a little more.

Talking of brightly coloured lights, Aberdonian power metal band Ascension took to the stage. Having once lived for over a decade in Aberdeenshire, I'm bound by the mysterious Doric occult forces which seep from the radioactive buildings up there not to make any sheep-shagger jokes about the band. As is the remit of a power-metal band, it was probably more likely to be unicorns anyway. Earlier in this review, I described power-metal as a spectacle, and Ascension certainly tapped into that element of the genre - energetic and dynamic on stage, varied, and ferociously tight and technical, they were both extremely fun, euphoric and manic to listen to, but also to watch. Ascension didn't so much get up on stage and play their instruments - they got up on stage and put on a show, with a set of both blistering instrumental material, during which the vocalist went to drink something, and songs in which he showcased splendid power-metal vocals indeed, namely the kind of falsetto which I'd have to be in an industrial accident to aquire. Of all of the bands that played that evening, Ascension felt like one of the most professional.

Scordatura are probably one of the more renowned modern death-metal acts in Scotland now, and as far as I know, they've had something of a meteoric rise to prominence. This time around, they were the only band on the bill to manage to instigate a pit. While indeed, Scordatura are one of those bands who explicitly ask for pits as opposed to allowing them to naturally arise, the music they play, combined with the suggestion really makes you feel that moshing is probably the best thing to be doing anyway - it doesn't feel forced. So absorbed was I, firstly with entering the pit, and secondly with bending my glasses back into the right shape afterwards, that apparently I was fairly oblivious to the guest appearance of ex-Cerebral Bore vocalist Som Pluijmers during the band's set. In fact, I didn't find out until after the festival ended and somebody outside told me that that was who it was, which is rather suggestive of the fact that my skills of paying attention range somewhere between quite shit, and very shit. Certainly one of those "Oh, that's who it was" moments. The band played a fairly normal set aside from that, although fortunately, even an average Scordatura set is a good one indeed, and while by this point some of the less committed festival goers had left for buses, trains, car-key parties or the long walk home, the band managed to conjure as much energy as possible out of the crowd. 

There are few men I've encountered who sound more piratical than Achren's front-man. Whether or not he means to, I do not know, but I'm fairly certain the band don't sing sea shanties, although at one point he looked over the audience and enquired with words to the effect of "does anybody like helecopters?", so maybe they sing about that.  I could very well have imagined it, but I'll mention it just in case. Whatever the truth of the matter, Achren provided the evening's contingent of big gruff hairy gentlemen, who play big gruff hairy thrashy-black-death-metal-type-stuff. The bassist from smashed his instrument on stage at the end, as the numerous people walking around holding bits of it afterwards would testify, which I think safely lands the band in the position of being quite rock n' roll. Instrument destruction aside, Achren succeed in being savage and a bit frenzied in their music, but at the same time carrying a reasonable amount of atmosphere, which came through quite well. Their set was one of the more percussive and energetic of the evening, and knackered as I was from Scordatura, I think I managed to keep my head nodding for most of it, before retiring to a chair somewhere to try and reverse-engineer the drunkenness with the use of red-bull and occasional exclamations of "Oh Christ I'm fucked". At some point I had a fairly haphazard "Yaaas, Fuckin' Aberdeen" conversation with the singer from Ascension.

By the time Holocaust came on, my legs were falling off, but on the plus side, I was reintroducing myself to the sensation of being not drunk. I'm a real enthusiast for buying physical copies of band's albums, and with a lot of Holocaust's material seemingly being very hard to find, I'd not listened to as much of the band's music as I would have liked. Nonetheless, the bands headlining position was both an exceptionally good end to the evening, and an exceptional show in it's own right - one which will probably stay with me for a long time. The band worked relentlessly through a hefty set of the band's classics, a good number of them mid-to-high tempo NWOBHM anthems with a real sense of old-school swagger and energy, the sort of energy which few musicians of their age can conjure with quite such an inspiring earnestness. While a lot of the crowd has been steadily leaving for home over the hours leading up to Holocaust's set, there remained a reasonable number, with their exuberance and enthusiasm perfectly sufficient to compensate for everyone who had already left. As much as the songs, the attitude of the front-man, John Mortimer really impacted me; he is, quite evidently, someone who has always cared about heavy metal - in fact, he was wearing a Desaster t-shirt, which struck me as unusual in the best possible way; how many musicians from the NWOBHM still care enough about heavy metal to sport a black-thrash t-shirt? I can't remember word for word exactly what he said, but when introducing the track "Heavy Metal Mania", he said words to this effect; "I wrote this song when I was 15. I'm almost 50 now, but the meaning is still the same". A few sentences later, he added words to the effect of; "It's about this music which we love; heavy metal. It'll be there when I die". 

If, when I'm that age, I can say something similar, I'll be happy indeed.

I don't think there was a single person leaving the venue when it was all over who didn't
consider it to have been absolutely worth it. I hope this time was successful enough to establish further such events.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

#268 Deviated Instict - Rock 'n' Roll Conformity

Deviated Instinct aren't a band which immediately come to the lips of someone discussing British death-metal in this day and age. It's a shame really, and as someone who really enjoys the things punk and, more specifically in this case, crust punk, have done for death-metal over the years, I feel I really should spend some time to review some of Deviated Instinct's material. The album I've chosen to examine is their début; Rock n' Roll Conformity, and, at risk of sounding clichéd, it's an album which does not conform.

The twenty-seven minute running time which the album possesses is a fairly good indicator of it's character - the songs are short, almost always under three minutes, and the album as a whole is fast, abrasive and at times very angry indeed. I don't know anything like as much about crust punk as I do about metal, and by plenty of standards, I don't know anything about that either, but from the onset of the album, it's fairly clear where the punk resides. The riffs are extremely crust laden, with pronounced emphasis on chords, often with little to no lead guitar at all, aside from the occasional garnishing, to taste. The riffs themselves aren't overused, and there are usually a couple per song, which helps to make the tracks distinct, without trying to cram too much into their length - the two minute songs sound like two minutes worth of music, which stops the album blending into a morass of forgettable mess. Likewise, the vocals carry an extremely punk edge to them; snotty, snarling and angry, particularly in the faster, blast-beat driven sections which are heavily reminiscent of grind-core, but at the same time not quite - it feels subtly, and to my lack of knowledge, rather indescribably different. These sections are, however, more scarce than the overtly crust-punk sections, which churn and rumble, really cruising along in the way which all forms of punk seem to do a great job of doing. Naturally, the riffs are liable to be quite simplistic, in that chord-driven way punk-influenced material tends to be, but as opposed to limiting my enjoyment, I found the chord-driven approach to really hammer in the riffs into the anvil of my brain - the prominent bass, slightly haphazard paying, and enraged, frantic feel of all of the instruments not so much trying to keep in time, but trying to out do each other in their aggressiveness really makes for a tiring, but rewarding listen.

The album carries the flag which a lot of punk carries - you get the feeling that the musicians aren't perhaps the most accomplished on the planet, but you certainly get the impression they know how to hammer home their musical vision. It's the sort of percussive, primal album which causes the listener to breath a silent "fucking hell" after every track, and certainly would have done so even more in 1988, when we weren't so jaded and desensitised to extremity in music. In all honesty, perhaps owing to my limited experience of the crust genre, I'm not truly sure where the crust and death-metal intersect in the album's recipe; It certainly feels like both, in some ways, but the punk seems considerably more prominent, almost to the point at which I began to lose sight of where the death metal is in the albums volatile concoction of sounds. Of that same token, however, there's a perfectly tangible feeling of extremity to the music, and a roaring, metallic, chugging heaviness present which isn't so detectable in the more conventional crust of, for instance Amebix. The band's readiness to blast-beat their way through tracks such as "When the Chapter Closes, and unleash the sort of crazed, enraged, shrieking vocals which aforementioned bands like Amebix don't utilise certainly puts the bands sound on a different shelf compared to what I understand archetypal crust punk to be - perhaps a shelf closer to an even more primitive and rough version of the death-metal conjured by bands like Benediction and very early Bolt Thrower, the latter of which share obvious stylistic influences in terms of their artwork. Enough of me autistically pondering over where the album fits in the grand scheme of musical classification. Perhaps that's the musical lesson which the listener should take from an album like this - it doesn't matter what it is, only that it sounds enjoyable, which it certainly does.

In my experience, I often encounter bands which I consider to sound like no other. Often it turns out to be part of a scene, or niche sound other bands in which I simply haven't encountered yet. Whether or not this is the case with Deviated Instinct, I've greatly enjoyed their frantic, soaring and venomous music. Perhaps I've written about it without any direction or prior understanding, but at the end of the day, a good record doesn't quiz you on what you know; Rock n' Roll Conformity lives up it's name, and doesn't conform to what you know. It's all the more rewarding a listen for it.

This is 8/10, I reckon.

Deviated Instinct Official Site
Deviated Instinct on Facebook
Deviated Instinct on Metal Archives

Monday, 8 April 2013

#267 Judas Priest - Screaming for Vengeance

I've never done a Judas Priest review before, which is one of my more large-scale oversights, when it comes to my fairly unreconcilable quest to review all of the bands. In the name of remedying this, I've decided that today is the day. The album in particular I'm going to take a look at is Screaming for Vengeance; firstly because I regard it as one of my favourite Judas Priest albums, and secondly because I found it on vinyl for £1, which is far less than one should be willing to pay for a hefty slab of enjoyable early-eighties metal.

In 1982, I think I can safely assume that there was nothing quite like Judas Priest, in a time when Iron Maiden were only huge, and not quite enormous, and there weren't yet a dozen vocalists trying to sound like Rob Halford. What's also worth bearing in mind is that the band had already released seven albums before this one. You can think what you like about the band, but you have to concede they've got more mileage than a second hand space-probe - there are very few artists indeed to whom I can appeal to their seventh studio album with any real reverence. Another thing which is worth conceding is that, for an album which is more or less half way through the band's career, Screaming for Vengeance is unapologetically solid. While we're on the subject, it's probably worth mentioning, by way of a brief aside in the same context, that Painkiller exists. Vagueness over, Screaming For Vengeance is a very solid album indeed, albeit a hugely varied one. The energetic, frantic and extremely epic sounding, in the truest sense, music which is displayed in The Hellion/Electric Eye and to an equal extent on Riding on the Wind give way to the quintessentially 1980s sound of the album's cover song, (Take These) Chains, which the band give very much the sort of slightly cheesy, absurdly catchy quasi-metal track one might enjoy whilst playing Vice City, a game which many among my generation regard not so much as a digital experience, but as a bona fide time-machine to base our image of the 1980s upon. Likewise, tracks such as Pain and Pleasure very much combine swaggering rock with a touch of industrial, particularly with regard to the drums - a sound which you can certainly hear more strongly on records like Ram it Down, which really went to town with produced, electronic drum sound, and angular Lego-brick guitar parts.

It's sometimes a wonder, considering that no two songs on the record feel particularly like they belong together, that Screaming for Vengeance is enjoyable to listen to at all. Confusingly enough, however, it is. It very, very profoundly is. I'd go as far as saying there are few albums which are more enjoyable to listen to than Screaming for Vengeance. The fact is, the album is a very nice encapsulation of what makes me very strongly enjoy the music of the eighties in general; as a friend of mine once remarked; even the pop-music was secretly metal. The direct consequences of this is that even the songs which might be a bit of a concession to the main-stream sound really enjoyable, and while nothing quite soars through the air the way Electric Eye, Screaming for Vengeance, or indeed the album artwork itself does, the entire album manages, at a bare minimum, to be extremely catchy, and well-written at that, even when what was being written was not keen eyed, sharp taloned heavy metal. Of course, one can cast the variety of the album in a much more positive light too, not as something to overcome, but something to enjoy - there is literally nothing which this doesn't offer, in just about every level of mood and persuasion, and shining through the diverse record, the solid and enjoyably tangy guitar tone and unbelievably distinct and powerful vocals of Rob Halford. The vocals dominate every track, coping well with the albums variety of musical environments, and beyond that, stamping a very pronounced Judas Priest signature on every track. The drumming is reasonable too, but as time would show, the drummer wasn't a very nice fellow. 

Ultimately, Screaming for Vengeance is a fantastic buffet of what 1982 had to offer both in terms of metal, and musically in general. It would be foolish, however, to assume that this buffet was one which was arranged with no great care - it couldn't be further from the truth - Screaming for Vengeance is enjoyably cohesive, and a rewarding listen indeed. It comes as no surprise that the album is the favourite of many of the band's fans.

Fantastic Stuff - 9/10.

Judas Priest Official Site
Judas Priest on Facebook
Judas Priest on Metal Archives

Thursday, 4 April 2013

#266 Krypts - Unending Degradation

If you pay attention to record labels, you'll eventually come to know a bit about their character, and what to expect from them. There are currently a couple of record labels which I trust to consistently sign and promote good bands, and one such label is Dark Descent Records. Finnish death-metal outfit Krypts are signed to Dark Descent, and consequently, my expectations of their début album were suitably high. Did the album meet my expectations? Well, due to the constraints of how I structure my reviews, you'll have to wait until the next paragraph to find out.

I've been mentioning album artwork more than I used to recently, and I see no reason to stop now. The music may be the most important aspect of an album, but artwork is something which I hold very dear, and good artwork can really be the cherry on top of an already great cake. I've definitely got a place in my heart more specifically for painted album art, especially, as is the case with this album, I can actually see the brush-strokes and texture of the painting if I look closely. Solid artwork often raises one's spirits before one even listens to the album at all, and I can safely say that when I first listened to the album the dark, uncrowded image gave me a real excitement for the music that was to come. Sometimes the artwork and music match one another really well, and this is certainly one of those albums; within seconds, the listener is engulfed in death metal which is rugged, dark, brooding and unapologetically old-school. Like many of their peers in the young old-school-death-metal scene, Krypts carry an atmosphere of real depth and magnitude - the chords and lead sections feel massive, with the haunted, groaning lead guitar especially lending a truly bleak, unforgiving and at times malign feel to the music. It feels like a triumphant and very much active dismissal of the hundreds of identical modern death-metal bands which still saturate the genre, and it's great to see young bands coming through the ranks, fiercely reconciling heaviness with tangible atmosphere, which is something which so many slam, brutal and technical bands know nothing of. 

Unending Degradation sounds ancient, akin to the sound track of a tomb laden with cobwebs spun by spiders who had themselves died before time itself began; like the foul breath of an aeons-old ghoul raising itself from some sarcophagus in a decrepit sepulchre. The mid-to-low tempo doomy sections of the record, in particular, have a very urgent feeling accompanying them - they feel like they are narrating events of some kind, which is something that I find a lot of music forgets to do nowadays - there aren't riffs for the sake of riffs in Unending Degradation, instead there are riffs here to make the song feel like it's lyrics, and to make the song sound the way it should. The whole record feels like it's been crafted in that way, with the music and lyrics created in tandem, as opposed to vocals merely being superimposed over the top. There is an all-pervading sense of flow in the album, and while the tracks do not overlap in terms of theme, the album really feels complete, which is something that the rising old-school death metal bands have been doing very well indeed. The album is also particularly dynamic and memorable; Bands such as Binah, I find greatly enjoyable, but much harder to listen to, and indeed harder to remember. Krypts are, by contrast very memorable in terms of riff-work and the infections melodies not only help to devour the sun with their eerie darkness, but are also infectiously memorable. It also doesn't hurt that the band are very open to utilise whatever genre they see fit, with the occasional Bolt Thrower style groove or doom-metal style section - often an intro - really making the album diverge nicely from being of uniform tempo and character.

Of the old-school death metal revival bands I've discovered thus far, I'd venture to say that Krypts have been among my favourites. Unending Degradation is the sort of album I'd recommend to anyone who claims to be a fan of death-metal in general, and I can safely say it's been one of the most pleasing death-metal albums I've listened to this year so far. As I've said before, I'm only beginning to truly appreciate death-metal, and bands like Krypts are definitely helping.

I'm going to give this 9/10.

Krypts on Bandcamp
Krypts on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

#265 Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion

Look, it's not doom metal! You can come back now, oh portion of my readership who dislike doom!

From what I've heard over the years, Celtic frost formed the day after Hellhammer split up, which is speedy work to say the least. Indeed, the bands first EP, Morbid Tales, more or less picks up from the place where Hellhammer had marked with a chalk before concluding business. I've noticed that I have been listening to the band for quite a while now without giving them any attention in terms of reviews, and because Cold Lake doesn't exist on Youtube in it's entirety, I couldn't be a contrary bastard. Thus, To Mega Therion is the album I've chosen to take a look at, as it tends to take place as the band's magnum opus.

To Mega Therion has artwork which, without much controversy, can probably be placed among the top five-percent of album artwork ever. A horned creature using Jesus as a crossbow, accompanied by top-hatted somethings is, and always will be, among the most fantastically blasphemous things which metal has conjured. We have H. R. Giger to thank for that one. Musically, To Mega Therion was an interesting specimen for 1985, with it's sort-of-thrash, proto-black metal leanings no doubt sounding very alien to anyone who hadn't experienced Hellhammer, or at least, Morbid Tales. Certainly, I can imagine being puzzled by it if I listened to it for the first time when all I listened to was thrash. To Mega Therion manages to pack more power-chords per square inch than just about any other record of it's day, and is still relatively unique in it's sheer , overt riff usage. Riffs with next to no space between the chords really stand out as something which Tom G. Warrior really makes his own, with a hurried, frantic atmosphere as they rev and rumble along, frantically and hurriedly, as if they're about to miss the last bus home. The riffs are a hefty step up from the primitive work of Hellhammer, but at the same time, continue to carry an air of simplicity with them, albeit tighter and crafted with far more care - the riffs are angular, sharp, and more dynamic than much of what came before in the bands career. Likewise the drumming carries this standard too, with an equally frantic use of double-kick which has been almost never mimicked before or since. The production itself grants the drums a pleasingly organic clatter, and Tom G. Warrior's signature guitar tone certainly speaks for itself in terms of distinctness. Celtic Frost are, at the time of To Mega Therion, best described as one of those bands who don't sound like other bands.

Influential as Celtic Frost were to black-metal, I don't tend to buy theories that they were instrumental to its existence - The records don't bring much to the table that Hellhammer, Bathory and Venom didn't. In this manner, I tend to consign Celtic Frost in my mind to somewhere between the first and second waves of black-metal, chronologically as much as stylistically. Celtic Frost just exist, as opposed to feeling like part of a particular movement. In this, I don't at all suggest that Celtic Frost are uninteresting, merely that they feel apart from the rest of the tentative extreme metal scene of To Mega Therion's day. You can tell with regards to how the album sounds - the production and musicianship is markedly more tight and polished than that of Hellhammer, and it's fairly safe to say that the band didn't revel in rawness in the way that many of their distant peers did, which is something that many of their future records would go to demonstrate, for better or for worse. One impression that To Mega Therion gives very distinctly is a feeling of scale and ambition, something which was evident in some, seedling-like stage in Hellhammer's attempts to be grandiose, and have songs with some genuinely large scale, but is really delivered in a more mature form in this record - the Timpany, French-horn and occasional female vocals really illustrates that Celtic Frost were reaching up for higher degrees of scale than the vast majority of their peers, and it is perhaps this, more so than any of the more fundamental aspects of the music, which filtered through to more recent black-metal.

Based on personal experience, To Mega Therion is an album which takes a while to get into. For quite a long time, it was a complete mystery to me why it was considered the classic which, it now seems obvious to me, that it is. My words to the casual listener on the matter would certainly be that this is not an album which you can come to appreciate properly by listening to it just once. It takes a good half-dozen listens to do its magic. When it does, however, it's strong magic indeed.

This is a 9/10.

Celtic Frost Official Site
Celtic Frost on Metal Archives