Monday, 26 September 2016

Bones - Sons of Sleaze (2013)

In a time where a sizeable cohort of the contemporary death metal scene presents itself as an intellectual, artistic, and complex endeavour, Chicago's Bones offer a refreshingly puerile and un-trendy blast of gleefully subversive B-movie-esque evil. Instead of classical-woodcut style macabre scenes or the seemingly endless beige creations of Paulo Girardi industries, "Sons of Sleaze" instead greets you with a skeletal figure wielding a huge mace, and with a large serpent for a knob. If that's not a seal of quality, I have no earthly idea what is. Indeed, with such a pure aesthetic illustration of how the record sounds, following up such an observation with an actual review is almost surplus to anyone's requirements - but nonetheless, write one I shall.

Bones are, as best I can tell without having done exhaustive research, something of an offshoot of stalwart black-thrash outfit "Usurper", with all three Bones members having either been in - or still being in - that band. Whilst Usurper offers up a rampaging first-wave style black-thrash attack, flailing like a drunken elephant with an enormous Celtic Frost tattoo, Bones themselves go down a filthier road. As befits the record's title, "Sons of Sleaze" is a work which does precisely what it says on the tin; vomiting out a thirty-something minute tidal-wave of sleaze-ridden nastiness. The short punchy songs are as energetic - and energizing - as they are vile, never outstaying their welcome whilst weaving excellently through the entire gamut of rocking and rolling atrocity. Bone-cracking d-beats riffs fry your brain and leave you as a succulent snack for the circling extreme-metal vultures; namely the crazed blast-beats and pulverising double-kick drumming which blows your face off, from the moment the record commences. Simultaneously, the frenetic and leering solos and hooks, along with the stomping slower sections lend the entire record a grinning grind-house swagger akin to bands like Detroit's Shitfucker, albeit, with no offence to the latter, offering a greater display of musical tightness - a sure demonstration that a record of this sort can be filthy, and can have buckets of character without being sloppy. Indeed, "Sons of Sleaze" impressed me on a pure-musicianship level more than one might expect from its aesthetics and generally rough, raw direction.

To say that the record is eclectic is something of an understatement, with a hefty sleeve of influences on show from Motörhead, Celtic Frost, and perhaps a little Autopsy thrown in along the way, especially in the slightly doomy sections which arise like the lethargic dead from their tombs. Alongside these, dozens of other old-school inspirations are on show, and all of it conducted in the best possible way, resulting in an album which for all of its diverse musical landscapes, is both cohesive and distinctive. "Sons..." is possessed with definite direction and a unity of spirit, through the full-range of truly unhinged extremity, punk-as-fuck vitriol and irresponsible rock n' roll sleaze. The entire album belongs together - no haphazardness here, despite its incredibly dynamic variation. Nor, equally importantly, is the record a cliched pastiche, as one might fear; instead, it is decidedly and uncompromisingly its own beast - a clone of nothing, and symptomatic of musicians with just as much imagination and vision as they have musicianship - showing off a love of the old-school, not a contrived desire to sound exactly like it. Its strong sense of character leaves the listener relishing it all the more. Furthermore, the production of the record really succeeds in bringing into flesh this entire evil vision, conjoining everything into a wonderfully cacophonous package with brain-melting lower end and a ton of bite in the guitars. The gnarliness carries on with the drums, recorded in such a way as to allow the listener to appreciate the physicality of the player and the kit itself; not some sterile isolation of drumming, with no context. In short, as with the album in general, you can saliently imagine it being played, and this gives it a real meaty organic appeal.

"Sons of Sleaze" is one of the most enjoyable death-metal records I've listened to in quite some time. Granted, it differs greatly from the archetypical works of the genre, but in so doing it offers forth such an inebriating and effective concoction of styles that it may be of interest to fans of just about any extreme subgenre. I'd certainly recommend it to just about any extreme metal fan, that much is certain. The record is an ugly and ragged parade of everything to love about the filthy side of metal, and you can't help but listen to it with a grin and feel stimulated by the sheer crudeness of it. All in all, I wish I'd heard of the band sooner.

A real highlight of recent death metal... or recent anything, for that matter. 9/10.

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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Cirith Ungol - Paradise Lost (1991)

Cirith Ungol are a band whose evolution is a very salient one to observe. 1981s "Frost and Fire" sees our underrated underground heroes make their full-length debut; a catchy and rocking adventure through around thirty minutes of ballsy and attitude-filled heavy metal, in an era where extremity was but a rumour perpetuated by some noisy men from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Three years later, 1984s "King of the Dead" carried the flag onwards to greater heights of ambition and grandiosity with longer-running and more epically inclined material, while also becoming a little more heavy. The elapsing of a further two years brought forth 1986s "One Foot in Hell"; a snappier, punchier and more to-the-point record shaped and mutated by a musical environment now brimming with thrash, and thrash-fans. Scientists have speculated that there is also a mysterious fourth album somewhere beyond these first three, lurking in the outer-reaches of the band's discography... but neither the band, nor many of the fans, appear to particularly enjoy talking about it. So I will. Devils-advocate and tedious contrarian that I am, I'm going to take a moment of your time to make the case for 1991s maligned final Cirith Ungol record, "Paradise Lost".

I've got a soft-spot for records which get slightly overlooked. I am, to some extent, the guy who'll try to sell people on the merits of Candlemass' "Chapter VI", or Venom's "Prime Evil". Meritorious these records indeed are. I even had a go at being an apologist for Bathory's "Octagon" once, but even I know when to stop. When it comes to Cirith Ungol, I stuck un-adventurously to the classics for quite a long time; namely Frost and Fire, and King of the Dead. Enthused more recently by thoroughly enjoying the slightly less spoken-of "One Foot in Hell", my attention was ultimately drawn to the darkest sheep of the discography, ignored and rejected to an extent both by the fan-base and by the band themselves. "Paradise Lost" is, indeed, something of the quintessential early-90s metal record; plagued by all of the various issues of the music industry at the time. The album doesn't have that "instant classic" sheen that the band's earlier body of work does, but perhaps expecting that would be foolish. Instead, the record faces something of an identity crisis; slathered liberally with heavy production, it is a far-cry from the rock n' roll warmth of the bands earlier work. This is, one might speculate, one of the many insistences of producers and so-forth which the band were inundated with at the time. Likewise, the record can be a little meandering; there are pockets of filler here and there, which are liable to form a thick soup of homogeneity through whole sections of the record if you don't give it your full attention; plodding on at a fairly uniform tempo in a way which here and there screams "deadline". The album is less memorable, and certainly less stacked in terms of quality than its predecessors - you can't pretend otherwise.

Criticisms aside, however, Paradise Lost is far, far from being abominable. While guilty, perhaps, of blowing its load immediately by opening with its standout track - the almost malevolently catchy "Join the Legion" - many of the things which set the record apart from the rest of Cirith Ungol's work - and no doubt stand as negatives in the view of some people - also stand to give the album a character all of its own. Evidently, especially in tracks such as the aforementioned, it is more prone to simplicity than earlier records - in many ways the natural progression from "One Foot In Hell". The record has a straight-forward approach reminiscent of the works of Manilla Road in the later stages of their original run. In other words, Paradise Lost tends to be extremely riff-based, relying on its chiefly mid-tempo meatiness to deliver, as opposed to whimsy or flare, although it certainly bares mentioning that tracks such as the title-track succeed in being as epic and ambitious as one could desire. The anachronistic but effective combination of the band's heavy metal approach with the clanking and hefty production of the post-extreme-metal paradigm give the riffs dosage of grit which, combined with the prominent vocals, themselves extremely gritty - perhaps the most so in the bands career - gives the record a sense of weight and toughness akin to the equally and rebelliously anachronistic early works of bands like Iced Earth, who were coming to the fore at the beginning of that decade. Cirith Ungol's final-stand is the product of a similar environment; a decade in which, if you planned on making traditional sounding heavy metal, you had to run the gauntlet of nobody having a clue what to do with you.

Odds are, when my initial hype for "Paradise Lost" dies down a little, it won't be my favourite Cirith Ungol record,  if you made me rank them. But why rank them? When faced with any such dichotomy my answer is the same: I'm lucky enough to live in a world where I can listen to them all - and indeed, I would recommend Paradise Lost as being an essential listen for someone who enjoys the band more than merely casually, and indeed, with a re-release of the out-of-print record imminent on Metal Blade, there's no excuse not to. Making a slightly sub-par traditional-metal record in 1991 was hardly an exceptional occurrence, and compared to a lot of the questionable releases of that period, it certainly appears to me that Cirith Ungol actually fared rather well. While the record may have been a little cursed, and the band split up relatively soon after releasing it, the music itself makes for a stronger record than even the band themselves are willing to credit it for.  

Yeah c'moooon, join the legiooooon! 8/10.