Monday, 29 June 2015

#380 Trouble - Psalm 9

Whatever your thoughts on Christianity as a lyrical theme, there's really no denying Trouble's place in the pantheon of seminal doom works. I'm slightly surprised that it has taken me quite so long to get around to listening to an album so tall in stature as this, and  one so thoroughly fitting with the sort of thing I enjoy. Throughout the years, I've often heard "Psalm 9" heralded as one of the most significant records in the doom genre, and over the last couple of months, I have finally set the time aside to hear it for myself. Better late than never, as they say...

A great number of bands can trace stylistic lineage back through records like "Psalm 9" . Listening to the record is a thoroughly enjoyable exercise in why this is the case; if your familiar with the contours of doom as a genre, you can pick up hints of a few of them. Throughout the album, there is a coming together of variety and cohesion which makes the record a fantastic stand-alone collection of music, but also a potent foreshadowing device of a huge swathe of doom to come. In a classic case of the early endeavours of a genre being the most interesting, the albums influences span a huge range of the metal spectrum, incorporating a swift intensity which is missing from many of the lumbering, unhurried doom records of today. Indeed, a good proportion of the record has almost got more in-common with Metal Church than with Electric Wizard. Tracks like "Assassin" call upon delicious and archetypal early-80s heavy metal elements, smoothly blended into the more familiar low-tempo sections, which bring an atmosphere with the capacity to entrance, but for the most part stripped of the noticeable narcotic edge associated with records like "Master of Reality", or Pentagram's début. Given the rather sober nature of Trouble's lyrics and, I gather, ideology overall, this is in many respects hardly surprising. Rather than a harm, this very much serves to hone the record into a more powerful creation.

Throughout, the rough and scathing vocals imbue the record with a potent and brooding intensity, granting "Psalm 9" a harsher and less forgiving edge than the serene murmurings and gasping of many later bands. Whilst atmospheric in an earnest and wholesome way, at times easily verging on epic-doom of the style later adopted by acts like Solitude Aeturnus, Trouble reconcile this well with being gritty. The songs stomp along, using their serrated edges in tandem with the listener-absorbing qualities of the thick and, in the true sense of the word, heavy churning of the riffs below. The riffs themselves are comfortable to have some room to manoeuvre, not feeling the need to fill their entire domain with noise, and consequently setting free many of the hooks and memorable twists in the guitar-work to breathe freely and show their splendour, a factor which is similarly noticible in the vocals, which have a clarity and force merely baptised by reverb and echo, as opposed to outright drenched in it. "Psalm 9" is astonishingly successful in uniting its seemingly eclectic aims; striding swiftness collides with the mixture of epic, uplifting and spooky doom-metal, and mixes into it with the utmost of success.

I suppose in some ways the Christian themes at the forefront of Trouble's music must have dissuaded me at some point in the past. I've certainly been aware of their existence for longer than I've been listening to their work. Whatever my issue was, it's very much overcome now. I've heard some refer to Psalm 9 as preachy, finding the religious themes too overt... after a dozen or so listens, however, not once has their been a moment of the record which made me call its quality into question. I join the ranks of those, arguably wise, fans who aren't making a big deal out of whether or not the lyrics are something with which they identify personally. And in doing so, I can fully appreciate a true classic.

This is a 9/10.

Trouble Official Site
Trouble on Facebook
Trouble on Metal Archives

Friday, 19 June 2015

#379 Deceased - As the Wierd Travel On

What is an album review for, exactly? Nothing, all those years ago when I could barely make a good paragraph, prepared me for the sheer amount of thought which that problem needs. As a reviewer, your job - or hobby - consists of a strange and at times unwieldy paradox of activities. One one hand, you might be discussing a record which the listener has heard before... in which case, the most tasty cuts of the review, to them, will almost always be those which help the listener capture what they felt in the first place; positive or negative. On the other hand, you might be trying to explain an album which the listener has not heard the record before, which leaves you as nothing but a glorified cheerleader. A great album will do a much more compelling job of selling itself than you ever will, leaning out from behind it whispering "it is actually very good, you know". Reviewing is a two-handed job; I need to cater to both of the above. Likewise, who am I to think I could sway a readers established opinion about something? It's all very confusing, and I'm still not very good at it. I suppose a well-rounded review must consist of a descriptive element to entice people who haven't heard the album... an evaluative element; is what I've just described a good thing? - and a persuasive element; "I'd say they did the good thing even better than on the last record". The real problem is that, however much or little you ruminate over all of this, the biggest problem remains... "how the fuck do I explain Deceased to someone?" 

The first few Deceased records can more or less be called death metal. After that, things can get tricky. It's thrashy, it's still death metal, and in many respects, it has the melodic properties of traditional metal... ultimately, it's hard to label, and that very much attests to its quality. It's deliciously distinct. In even the bands earliest work, however, there's more than a subtle hint of very interesting things going-on beyond the surface, expressions of a band who were very comfortable to do their own thing. Listen to 1995's "The Blueprints of Madness" and you have a fairly sturdy specimen of death metal with some interesting symptoms brewing. Jump forward ten years to 2005's "As The Weird Travel On" and you discover a band whose evolution has been of downright mammoth proportions... and I say this without intentionally knocking their early work either. The record bursts straight out of the burial-plot without pomp or ceremony. No eerie intro track, instrumental or otherwise, just an immediate and blistering outburst of memorable lead-guitar melody followed by King Fowley's gruff roaring vocals, and in this fashion, the record is content to continue as it begins; relentless in this respect, and all the better for it, forty-eight minutes of swift, ghoulish uniqueness.

Some death metal bands borrow their lyrics from a medical textbook. Some borrow their lyrics straight from a Satanic tome... Deceased instead drank some beers, watched a stack of horror-movies, and picked up a well thumbed copy of "Weird Tales". Just as the latter may often prove a more colourful and vibrant source of inspiration, Deceased take up this vibrancy in their music. "As the Weird..." is a strikingly catchy record. The chassis, provide an undulating, swaggering strength with a thrashy death-metal intensity; rumbling, rampaging riff-work and energetic drums. Mounted upon this is the charmingly spooky narrative style of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, bringing a more whimsical and playful side of the record to light; the kind of death metal which still wears sunglasses indoors sometimes, too. Most of the tracks embrace the story-telling side of things, and deliver with quintessentially old-school rhyming vocal-patterns, giving all of the tracks memorable lines, both in content and structure. This is crowned with the excellent guitar-work, with lip-licking hooks, melodies and solos straight from the ancient scriptures of the early-eighties, creating a soaring and fantastically filthy amalgam, a sandwich of well-balanced elements. A little less brutal and guttural than its forebears perhaps, but nonetheless undiluted in its punch; succeeding utterly in delivering spine-tingling thrills. Likewise, the charm of the spooky, pulp-magazine-horror lyrics does not rob the music of a credibility and power, rounding it out beautifully; it's fun, it's damn fun, but you can still thrive on its energy when you're walking down the road, pissed-off, or in need of motivation.

As usual, I finish this review with a sense of uncertainty that I've achieved anything I especially set out to do - but nonetheless, I still find enjoyment in picking an album and sitting for a few hours really having a think about it. So I suppose writing reviews, in answer to the question I opened with, as far as I'm concerned, is for fun. Whether it serves any other purpose very much depends on who stumbles upon it, and I hope, if you're reading this, that these several hundred words have been some use to you. As ever, the most informative part of this review, for those interested in Deceased, is probably the YouTube link. A song is worth 869 words, after all.

This is a definite 9/10.

Deceased on Metal Archives

Sunday, 7 June 2015

#378 Master's Hammer - Ritual

When it comes to early Czech black metal, the two names which tend to do the rounds most are those of Root, and of Master's Hammer - the two heavyweights of the scene. I've been a Root fan for some years - I discovered them by looking up their name in Metal Archives because I thought it was cool, which proved to be a very rewarding evening. As it turned out, the band was exquisite, both for their early and vicious material, and the sublimely beautiful later work. Frankly, you can take it as a given that Root has my seal of approval. Master's Hammer, on the other hand, are a band I didn't actually get around to listening to until much more recently, despite a couple of years spent feeling like I should be. There are, alas, so many bands and so little time - it wasn't until this year that I truly managed to listen to their work properly. As with Root, the journey of discovering their material has been pleasantly rewarding.

 "Ritual" may well be the best know record Master's Hammer created. Its distinct and quirky artwork - which informed several of the bands subsequent works - can be spotted a mile away, and the sound on the record is similarly bespoke and unique, utterly befitting of the band's place among the heroic outliers of the early black-metal scene. Like Root, like Rotting Christ, and so many other bands who rose to prominence in those days, Master's Hammer proudly and successfully concoct their own recipe of black-metal. "Ritual" bursts forth with a majestic and intimidating core of resplendent riff-work and an intensity which should not be underestimated. A spirit of experimentation bubbling beneath the surface, making its presence known, unapologetically and at times with stirring beauty and power. The tone may be a relatively warm, and the production leaves some breathing room compared to the more conventional black-metal sound, but it is not consequently robbed of any writhing occult majesty. A warm tone does not necessarily preclude revelling, devilish music, and this record firmly demonstrates why - weaving with powerful and memorable guitar-work, and brought to crescendo with sublimely applied atmospherics. Ritual is not a chaotic album; it is, instead tight, well-ordered and cohesive; properties which may have been anathema to some bands at the time, but which, in the right hands - and believe me, these are the right hands - can weave a thing of the utmost musical splendour. 

The soaring and elevating atmosphere of the record must have, at the time, been something between pleasingly novel and outright ground-breaking, what's more, the record has aged very well, maintaining a vitality and spirit which is not diminished in quality some almost twenty-five years later. The lofty melodies and wholesome atmosphere allows the music to rush along and truly be absorbing; a work of beauty, not merely of fun. A number of the riffs certainly have a measure of lip-licking devilry, in an almost pre-second-wave black metal style, when required - and there is great enjoyment to be had of that. Likewise, however, and perhaps of the most merit, when the band seek, as on "Černá svatozář" to create an atmospheric torrent of music, they likewise succeed. By my ears, it is to an extent easily excellent enough to give any black-metal band before or since a run for their money. Factors like these are enough to set apart "Ritual" as one of the most well-developed and inspired débuts in the whole sub-genre, showing off a clarity-of-vision and coherent musical direction far in excess of some of the charmingly chaotic and inconsistent works which early first and second wave black-metal is known for. 


I like to think I'm well versed in black metal. I'm not... but everyone has to think they're good at something, I suppose. Regardless, a record as good as this coming out of left field and meeting me, twenty five years after its birth is always unusual - there are so many records that I do not know, of course, but a record as wonderfully written as this one feels like one which I should have been much more likely to learn of by musical osmosis at some point. Nonetheless, its discovery to me is a cause for plenty of celebration - Master's Hammer are certainly a band I have now discovered, and I plan to make up for lost time. What little power I have, I will happily put behind trying to extol the virtues of this album, and the band which created it.

This is a 9.5/10.