Wednesday, 26 March 2014

#334 Urfaust - Der freiwillige Bettler

It's easy to listen to a band and say "there's nothing else like them". Sometime you get a little carried away by a band with a pleasing sound, while at other times, you simply haven't heard any bands like them yet. The thing about Urfaust, however, is that when that phrase is applied to them, there's a very hefty probability that it's actually true. There really is nothing else quite like them, and for good reason; Urfaust do things with black-metal which I can safely say, when they arrived on the scene, nobody say coming. When I first listened to the band on a whim, myself, I certainly got a surprise - their music was nothing like I expected, and extremely pleasantly so. In fact, it was the kind of band whom, upon being heard, utterly erase your expectations - I have no idea what I imagined the band to sound like. A few months down the road from discovering their work, I think it's review time.

Urfaust don't aim to sound frostbitten, or even grim for that matter. In fact, their music is extremely soothing and warm by black metal - or by any - standards. Der freiwillige Bettler is the band's third full length, and expands upon their previous work nicely, encapsulating what I enjoyed about their earlier work, but layering it on more thickly and generously. While, for instance, the band's debut was an extremely minimalist affair in the style of the crackling, ragged side of Burzum exposed on records like Filosofem, this record instead ups the ante with regards to deep, luxuriant atmosphere, while maintaining a roughness which no longer quite characterizes the work, but remains present. The atmosphere - truly the crux of the sonic matter - is one which really must be heard to be believed. Ritualistic vocals and synthesizers interweave like candle-smoke and incense haze with the heavy but cavernous sound of the guitars, gifted with a doom-like level of sustain, and propelled by equally cavernous drums. This ritualistic edge truly absorbs the listener, and I can happily testify that it transported me to a very different place from the one I was in before pressing play. There is a deep, tangible liminality to the record which renders it possessed with a genuinely spiritual feel, and transcendence which very few albums come close to matching. It feels like being lost in the bowels of some temple, as chants and incantations reverberate through it's labyrinthine halls.

Simultaneously, however, the album doesn't have the "typical" occult sound - or subscribe to any sort of template of how a black-metal record "should" sound, for that matter; many of the structures throughout the album defy the way a black-metal album is expected to be. A high level of attention to groove, swing and the occasional almost folk-like time-signature gives the album a side which not only defies norms, but as with bands like Lugubrum, endows the record with a distinctly European flavour, as opposed to the Scandinavian tint which so many strive for. You can hear the album's warmer latitude, compared to that of its Scandinavian peers. One thing which perhaps most dramatically sets the record apart from others is it's unconventional vocal style, combining miserable screeching with a carefree, almost drunken sounding clean-vocal approach which manages to be melodic, fierce and slightly disconcerting simultaneously, and while one might prima facie get the impression that the vocals aren't quite in tune, they in face blend extremely well with the music in the background - settling extremely well into creating the album's direction and feel, both in elevating the atmosphere into greater heights of narcotic haze with the melodic elements, or adding a darker, sharper and more pained feel with the harsh vocals. Regardless, the mix of elements on Der freiwillage Bettler seems to be one which truly hits the nail on the head, and creates a record which feels immeasurably rewarding to listen to.

There are few records which travel from me discovering them to them being among my favorites quite as rapidly as this one has. I was, from the very onset of listening to it, drastically impressed by what it had to offer, and as far as I'm concerned, deserves the prestige of being one of the most beautiful and most sonically interesting black metal records in recent years.

This is a 9/10.

Urfaust on Bandcamp
Urfaust on Facebook
Urfaust on Metal Archives

Friday, 21 March 2014

Live Review #009: Overkill w/ Xentrix and Shrapnel

Anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time getting to know the local metal community; bands, and civilians alike, is likely to have encountered the small, reclusive proportion of individuals who complain that bands "never come to where I live". The diagnosis, in these cases, tends to be that such individuals are a statistical inevitability; when one is only into about four bands, it's not at all difficult to see the likelihood that none of the four are touring near here at the moment. The bottom line is that it is seldom the scene which is truly shit. It's often the people. The bands who do reach Scotland are a testament to how good the live music which does reach us can be. I've spent the last few years amazed by the number of bands which I have been able to see. Vader, Rotting Christ, Watain, Saint Vitus, Wodensthrone, Bongripper, Anaal Nathrakh, Destroyer 666, and countless others. All fantastic gigs - gigs by bands of the highest calibre. Frankly, it fucking astonishes me how many of the bands I've aspired to see live someday, I have now seen. The only thing which astonishes me more are that some metal... fans... retain the audacity to pretend that we live in a desert with only a trickle of worthwhile bands tumbleweeding their way through our shores.

You might be wondering if this rant is in any way relevant to doing a live-review. I'm pondering precisely the same thing, and the ultimate answer is this; tenuously. Talking of bands that I've aspired to see for a long time however, Overkill have been one I've always hoped to cross off my list someday, and now, finally, after their - to my knowledge, first ever Scottish show last week, I can. Overkill have, for as long as I've been aware of them, had an impeccable reputation as delivering the goods in a live environment. I had high expectations going into the venue that day. Later on, after finding my missing limbs from the four corners of that very venue, and reattaching them, I concluded that they were met, and exceeded...

It's been a while since I attended a show which had a queue. It's always quite reassuring to see that more metal fans exist than the usual, recognisable ones who are at many shows. It's also a bit of a shame that many of them are so rarely seen at live shows, but nevertheless, it's always good to see metal-heads who you don't know by sight... or back-patch. Either way, it's good to be in a larger venue for a change, even if it is one which has a slight reputation for poor sound. It seemed alright to me, but I, it has to be said, don't know anything. It's also very pleasing indeed to note that the show is almost sold out, offering the promise that the bands might be leaving that night enthused, and with more than just a packet of mints to their name, and from an atmosphere point of view, resulting in one of those genuinely cant-swing-a-cat, crowded, suffocating gigs which, in the right circumstances, can be fun, nostalgic, and above all, insane. This being a thrash gig, the latter is precisely what I expected. And got.

The openers are Shrapnel, from Norwich, who seem to be one of those thrash-revival bands who were a bit late to the party, and, like Lost Society before them, have only been on the scene for a year or two in a tangible sense. Then again, that begs the question - are new thrash bands late thrash-revival acts, or bands which just happen to play thrash? Regardless of the answer, Shrapnel also happen to be quite good - they exceeded my expectations when I listened to their studio material in the run up to the show, and they met my expectations as a live band. Shrapnel don't have a particularly long set, and throw what is perhaps a slightly overwhelmed "thankyou so fucking much" between almost every song, but also manage to deliver a scathing assault of Sodom-meets-Slayer caustic, aggressive thrash, with the occasional blistering solo. The delivery is tight and precise, and while I can't hear the bass drums as well as I would have liked, the rest of the sound seems to be reasonable, and it's pleasing to witness an opening band who many may perhaps have been sceptical about being done justice, and doing justice to their material with a strong sense of competence.

Next are Xentrix. Their set is cut rather short short by a fairly hefty piece of drum equipment breaking - a bass-drum skin, or a pedal, I would suspect - but unperturbed and unafraid, the band fill the ten-minute gap with optimistic charm, keeping the crowd awake with with stage-banter and randomly playing bits of intros from thrash classics, interspersed with the occasional assertion of "no, we're not playing the Ghostbusters cover tonight". The songs which do get played without technical fault, however, are glorious. Precise, pristine thrash making use of every tempo to really encapsulate what the genre does best. Since reforming, the band seem to have been on extremely good form, and show no signs of losing momentum. They even debut a new track which sounds every bit as good as their older material - if not slightly faster than their usual fare. To come back from a long hiatus with such solid new material is an extremely rare achievement for a band who formed the first time around so long ago, and serves as solid testimony to the Xentrix mastery of the craft of thrash. The playing is top-notch, the music is top notch, and for the most part, the crowd seem to be as excited as they should be, which is rather.

Overkill then proceed to happen. They continue happening for at least an hour and a quarter - more generous than almost any other band of their calibre. In a time where some of the best known metal acts in the world give you a fifty-minute set, Overkill demonstrate that they've always been the sort of band who do a bit more. The band spend their time on stage being genuinely explosive, and the crowd reaction is, likewise, explosive. A few minutes into the first song, which happens to be "Come and Get It", a pit is progressing merrily, and by the end, the crowd-surfing has begun, albeit falling victim to that schoolboy error of the surfer reaching the stage just as the song finishes. Not to worry, however, because the next track is Wrecking Crew, which begins the process which most medium-sized metal shows undergo when enough energy builds up; that is, the same three people crowd-surf to the front again, and again, and again. This three man conveyor belt continutes, if memory serves, more or less right through to the end of the show, and serves to illustrate what Overkill do better than any band I've ever seen; bring the spirit of thrash to life. Not just the music, and not just the image, but the true, heartfelt adolescent gratuitous energy, the urge to run around in a cramped, sweaty room. For the duration of the set, regardless of when it was on the street outside, it was the late 1980's inside.

Musically, Overkill were on superb form, living up to the insane energy which had been foretold, and performing the songs with the sort of relaxed, easy skill and confidence which has been gathered over the decades. Bobby Blitz' vocals are still great, and he remains one of the most present and energetic frontmen in the business - impressive for anyone, let alone a gentleman in his mid-fifties. His stage banter could be the stuff of legend in its own right, and while breaking the "fourth wall" of the predictable catchphrases of stage banter by proclaiming that "that shit works everywhere" after enticing the crowd to make more noise by proclaiming that the English were louder, he nonetheless does seem not only to deeply enjoy what he's doing, but also to be genuinely pleased to see an enthusiastic crowd. In general, if age is something on any of Overkill's minds, they do a very good job of ignoring it's effects - the music is every bit as good as it would have been at any point in the bands career, and it really throws into light how special overkill are.

Many of the first thrash bands have stood the test of time, but few indeed have stood it as well as Overkill seem to have.  As far as I'm concerned, they have among the best classic material, the best comeback material, and even the best not-quite-so-good-middle-era material, compared to their peers. This night, they also proved that they still put on, for my money, the best live shows.

Overkill Official Site
Overkill on Facebook
Overkill on Metal Archives
Xentrix Official Site
Xentrix on Facebook
Xentrix on Metal Archives
Shrapnel on Facebook
Shrapnel on Metal Archives

Saturday, 15 March 2014

#333 Shitfucker - Suck Cocks in Hell

For review #333 - half way to the some-day attainable #666, it feels quite appropriate to review a rather devilish album. Fortunately, there is just such a record which I've had a mind to review for a while - the d├ębut full length record by Michigan rock n' roll undesirables Shitfucker, who, in addition to having one of the best band-names I've heard in quite a while, have also, late last year, put their name to an equally good and exceptionally filthy record by the name of Suck Cocks In Hell. As with much of the best in heavy metal, Shitfucker don't immediately come across as the sort of band you want to invite to your parents' for dinner. Which, considering the band name, is hardly surprising.

To a tee, Suck Cocks in Hell is raucous. A rocket-ride through precarious, frantic filth of very questionable sobriety; it sounds the way a Hammer Horror movie feels. What's more, it's exceptionally catchy. There isn't a single song on the album which isn't memorable, and all the while, the record both affirms and rejects the accepted formulas of what an "old-school" metal record sounds like; heck, it even rejects the formula for being any particular genre. Which begs the question - what is this album? It's clearly heavily punk influenced, but there's a lot more going on. It has the energy of thrash, but also plenty of black-metal elements, and traces here and there of the nastiest strains of death metal, of bands like Autopsy, for instance. To top-off this noxious and thoroughly enjoyable mixture, there's a good slice of old fashioned, slightly bluesy, balls-out rock n' roll thrown in for good measure. The end result is an album which truly owns a sound - no band I've heard has quite the same, potentially explosive and probably illicit recipe. If the record were a chemical substance, policemen in riot gear would more than likely leave you in need of a new front-door. Either way, this volatile concoction of styles and influences immediately steeps the listener in the glory of everything which is old-school, but without the dubious ambition of being retro. The whole record is track after track of rough, foot-stomping misbehaviour - a parade of caustic, twisted and grimy tracks which are full of spit, venom and at times dark humour in equal measure. The record captures the ugly side of heavy music like few others ever have.

I suggest that, only now, some decades after "the old-school" has settled into the collection of bands we attach the tag to today, can a record with a sound like this exist. A band with this sound couldn't exist in the same way, back then, despite the influences making up Shitfucker's sound all dating from such a time. There are many bands to which this applies - another which leaps to mind being Midnight - but as it happens, the thought leapt into my head just now. Nonetheless, without sinking too deeply into odd musical theories, Suck Cocks in Hell is a contemporary interpretation of the old-school, and that gives it a freshness which transcends that of bands who aim to be gratuitously retro. Either way, I've well trodden this path already through this review; onwards to more sensible observations... Production is a key ingredient in the sound of any record, and this record, for what it aims to be, has it nailed. The production is legitimately gnarly. The sort of production which would still be dirty if you put it in the washing-machine for hours on end. The record captures live-energy and tonal warmth, while simultaneously granting the music a haphazard and nonchalant edge through sheer roughness and bludgeoning noise which supremely suits the message the band are trying to send. Good and bad production is, and has always been, about sounding right, and Shitfucker sure as hell understood this while they recorded this record, in a shed, studio, or, most likely, ominous dungeon. Shitfucker are the kind of band who leave the feedback in. 


Either way, I've never heard a record quite like Suck Cocks in Hell, despite it also having a very pleasing familiarity - perhaps an ideal recipe for the sort of album which combines being wholesome with being catchy, and the album succeeds in being both. There is little more to be said, other than that Shitfucker certainly do the term old-school justice here. 

This is an 8/10.


Monday, 10 March 2014

Live Review #008: Esoteric w/ Wodensthrone, Barshasketh and Enneract

"It's been a while"... Seemingly, this phrase is creeping (perhaps ironically) awfully frequently into my vocabulary as a euphemism for "I don't write nearly as much as I should". Nonetheless, again, I shall indulge in saying it; It's been a while since I wrote a live-review. There are a few reasons for this, the best excuse among which is that I've been quite busy with various things; some of them interesting, many of them not, and several of them sandwiches. Nonetheless, it only takes a few minutes of reflection to discover, or rather, remember, that there has already been a legitimately impressive selection of gigs thrown at Scotland this year so far, and, as ever, I've endeavored to be at as many of them as I can manage; live music being among the finer things. It would seem, then, that I really should get my shit together and review more of them. To that end, I'm determined to get one done now, and hopefully another in a week or so, when, all things permitting, I shall have just recovered from seeing Overkill. Until then, I'll see what I can spew forth into paragraphs about seeing Esoteric last Friday.

I'll open up this review by very openly admitting that I was drawn to this show chiefly by the promise of Wodensthrone. When I say, however, that I went to the show to see Wodensthrone, and not Esoteric, you might initially be fooled into thinking that this was a matter of preference. It was, in fact, a matter of oops, I've never listened to Esoteric before in my life, and now it's too late because I'm already on the train to Glasgow. Esoteric, as I shall later mention, would have easily taken their deserved share of my enthusiasm had I known what they sounded like beforehand. Nonetheless, there is a certain pleasure involved in being wildly surprised and exceptionally pleased with the band on the lineup you've never listened to - something which, in my experience, seems to happen quite often. The fact is, there wasn't a single band on the lineup which I wasn't looking forward to to some extent - granted, both of the opening bands, I had already seen this year, but perhaps it says something about their quality that the fact wasn't something deterring whatsoever. There are some local bands, or even bands in general, where you can safely mutter that "once is enough" - not so with either of the local support acts this night.

The venue is Ivory Blacks; it's medium sized, and serves it's purpose reasonably well. As ever, the sound is about right, the drinks are about drinkable and the doors are about seven. They actually are, too, which is fairly unusual. Either way, the first act on are Glasgow black-metal power-trio Enneract, who play experimental, slightly-post black metal something or other. Of all the bands on the bill, Enneract's set feels most steeped in deliberate theatrics, with smoke machine use, and the band deliberately facing away from the crowd. The noise interludes and subtle experimental sections which the band deploy also add to their presence on stage. Their songs are enraged, slightly twisted affairs, with driving tremolo bass-lines which bully the guitar slightly, albeit not killing the guitar tone altogether, instead filling out the lower end to give the band a rather unique humming tone amid the inherent misanthropy and deafening roar of their tracks. The percussion is exceptionally energetic and tight, and the sound comes through quite well, which really hammers home how ridiculously good the bands drummer is; a man possessed with wrists more athletic than a man who, upon finding a genie, wished for infinite pornography. Most of the set is composed of blast-beats and disgustingly intense beats which make me feel like an awful drummer myself, which is - for the most part - entirely true. Regardless, this blend of all out energy and eerie interludes gives Enneract an aura which manages to successfully raise them from being the trio of guys I was chatting to before and after the set, to being something else on the stage - the fact I knew them well dissolves utterly during the liminality of their performance, and perhaps that says something about what they do.

Next up are the second local-ish band; Barshasketh, who, in stark contrast to Enneract's relatively warm tone, cut through the air with a freezing gale of chilling, razor-sharp black metal. Superficially, it might be considered to be in the vein perhaps of Finnish acts like Sargeist, but in truth, their sound laced with a greater leaning towards what could perhaps be described as an artistic style. There are many bands who embrace and aspire to make their black metal sound artistic and austere, and many of them fail,  falling off the end of the great pier of pretentiousness and vacuousness. Barshasketh, however, succeed. The band have a sound which is truly tangible and substantial - not pretentious at all, but instead exceptionally genuine; thickly atmospheric, intricate and striking, with fantastic leads, shimmering tremolos, and driving vocals and percussion. It shows not only in their energy and stage-presence, but also  in the atmosphere and tangible buzz of excitement which they conjure at their shows. Time and time again, the band manage to carry themselves on stage with exceptional presence, and strike their audience with the feeling that they are witnessing something very, very real. There is no such thing, it seems, as a causal Barshasketh show, and they are all the mightier for it. A few songs in, something on the drum-kit breaks mid-song, causing a grinding-halt, but it is swiftly fixed, and the band continue unperturbed to finish their set, delivering what can only be considered a further great performance in a series of extremely great performances.

Wodensthrone are next. The crowd as a whole seems to be very much looking forward to this, and I can safely say I'm among them. Wodensthrone were one of the first black-metal bands I discovered, after the initial and standard-schooling in Gorgoroth, Burzum and Mayhem. As such, they are a band very close to my heart, and not in that condescending way many people use the phrase to mean "I only still listen to them for nostalgic reasons". No. I've always been a genuine fan of the band, and always intend to be, as I can safely say that the band are among the finest black-metal acts in the UK today, or ever. When all of your songs are about ten minutes long, it can often be difficult to draw-up a set-list which pleases everyone, but it was fairly obvious that Wodensthrone had had a solid attempt at doing so, plunging through songs from both of their records, helped along by relatively  favorable leveling on the part of whoever was doing sound that night - the result was an extremely tight performance, where the songs involved were truly done justice in a live setting. The set closed with "The Name of the Wind", the outro of which served as a fantastic conclusion to the set, truly offering a crescendo of the bands mighty, and truly heart-stirringly epic sound. It's always a pleasure to hear a band who have such elaborate, sprawling and grandiose songs to successfully capture them and validate them in a live environment, and where some bands fail, Wodensthrone undoubtedly succeeded.

As it turns out, I really ought to have listened to Esoteric beforehand - if their studio work hit anything like the colossal power of their live show, then I can safely say I intend to listen to all of it. Every ounce of the bands show oozed with atmosphere, from the echoing, reverb-laden vocals, right through to the deep, quintessentially funeral-doom guitars. A few of the intricacies of the lead guitar were muffled-out in places, but nonetheless, the songs came through only a few steps short of crystal clear. As you might expect from a funeral-doom band, their songs were extremely long - I'm told, in fact, that they had a four-song set, but even for their extreme length, every track was easily dynamic enough to keep the listener - even on like me who had never heard any of these songs before - interested in what was going on. The set was an almost perfect length. Sometimes, even the best live bands can leave you sitting, wondering "will this be over soon?", but Esoteric seemed to avoid this, playing a set which, to my ears at least, was just right - nothing about it dragged. Ultimately, I wish I could be more elaborate in my review of Esoteric, but as a band I didn't hear until they came on stage that very evening, there is only so much I can bring to mind to mention. I can conclude however, by saying that it is often the bands which you come to see without listening to beforehand which make the most pronounced impression, and Esoteric are such. As their set progressed, it left a trail of converts in its wake; and if many people in the crowd hadn't heard them before... I suspect many in that same crowd are enthusiastic to hear them now. Ultimately, it is perhaps best summarized by two people I overhead in the crowd in the lull between songs; one said to the other; "See, I told you they were fucking good".

Esoteric on Facebook
Esoteric on Metal Archives
Wodensthrone on Facebook
Wodensthrone on Metal Archives
Barshasketh on Facebook
Barshasketh on Metal Archives
Enneract on Facebook

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

#332 Bastard Priest - Ghouls of the Endless Night

It's always interesting when you discover - properly - a band whose existence you've been aware of for a while. As you slowly begin to absorb their style; what they really sound like, as opposed to what you assumed they sounded like, all those years ago when you saw an article about them somewhere in Terrorizer magazine, sometime before you stopped reading it when they had Joey Jordinson on the cover. Maybe I'm getting slightly too specific to relate to - nonetheless, the above is precisely what happened to me with the band Bastard Priest, presumable around the release of the album which I'm looking at today; Ghouls of the Endless Night. At the time, I can only remember hoping dearly that the band sounded like their name, but for whatever reason, I neglected to actually listen to them. A few years later, and I finally bought a copy of the record on a whim some weeks ago, and ensued to tuck-in to greasy d-beat laden goodness with glee. They do sound exactly like their name.

I've yet to listen to the bands debut album, although you can be assured that it is quite literally in the post. This record, on the other hand, is the band's second. While there seems to be a consensus that it's a little less good, it could certainly have fooled me, and I can safely attest to having enjoyed it very much. Ghouls of the Endless night represents among the filthiest, most vile, repulsive and snotty old-school death metal to be crafted by the post-millennium scene; rough, gnarly production values collide with a deafening, jet-engine-style Swedish-death metal tone, in the style of Entombed and several billion bands who sound a bit like Entombed. The tone on this record isn't generic, however - it's steeped in character, and probably some sort of alcoholic liquid, to boot. It sounds like a chainsaw trying to cut its way through some a rusty corrugated-iron shed, from the inside out. The whole record has that sort of feel, not just from the tone, but the rough, manic, punk-laden payload which constantly looks in danger mauling some innocent bystanders. Often, these days, old-school death metal can fail to truly capture the madness which old-school metal is at times renowned for, instead aiming for cavernous and eldrich sound, and treating the music as serious, atmospheric business. When it comes to lunacy, however, Bastard Priest do a fine job indeed - the album exudes wide-eyed, reasonably-drunken antics to a tee; the drumming a perfect synthesis of frantic clattering and tight, pounding time-keeping - just the mixture of the two to guarantee an "as-live" sound on the record, and produced in such a way as to give the whole album a deafening kick, with every snare-hit and bass-drum beat battering the listener unsympathetically.

Bastard Priest certainly hit the nail on the head when it comes to ticking the boxes of what should be included on an overtly old-school record; vintage production, and vintage just about everything else - the vocal-distortion, especially, really adds a cherry on top of the record, and while perhaps not the most prominent feature on the album, contributes more than you'd expect to the enjoyment over-all. These small details really illustrate what it is that makes this album, and any album, a good one; the band definitely seem to be one who have kept close tabs on the little things which can really contribute to a great sound. What's more, Bastard Priest have handled all of them; production, artwork, and most importantly, songwriting itself, exceedingly well. The record doesn't contain more than it needs to; it's not especially long, and neither should it be. There isn't a single hint of gratuitous songwriting at all, with, as far as I'm concerned, not an ounce of filler throughout the whole thing; it's lean and nasty, and it goes where it's going without fucking about along the way. In that respect, it's a lot easier to encapsulate the band's sound in words than one might expect; it is, quite simply, unapologetically filthy old-school death metal. It doesn't try to be anything more than that, but, far more importantly, by god it does a good job of being that. The best records aren't always the best because they're riddled with innovation, progression, or technicality. Many - I submit most - of the best records are the best because they're exceptional at their respective genre. Like this one.

And there we have it. It might have taken a couple of years of latency between hearing the name and actually investigating the band, but it is, perhaps all the more rewarding for it; I doubt I would have understood quite so openly what was awesome about Bastard Priest if I had dived straight in - indeed, at the time, I barely knew about death-metal at all, let alone the sort of this style. Perhaps this isn't an album which it took me too long to listen to at all, but one which waited until its time was right. Now, it has to be said, I have always got time for old-school death metal.

This is an 8/10.

Bastard Priest on Bandcamp
Bastard Priest on Facebook
Bastard Priest on Metal Archives.