Thursday, April 20, 2017

Airdash - Vengeance Through Violence EP (1989)

Having seen Finland thrive over the last 20 years in just about every niche of metal that exists, with a particular emphasis in the melodic death, old school death, Gothic and black sub-genres, it is quite difficult to imagine a time in which this was not one of the centers of all metaldom. And yet, the 80s were such a time, with only a handful of heavy and thrash metal bands gaining a reputation through the European underground and potentially whispered about here in the states. Don't get me wrong, there were some GREAT bands from this era, like the mighty Stone, or the classics Tarot and Oz, or A.R.G., or Antidote, but with the possible exception of those first 2-3, you just didn't hear much about this scene over here in the States, and even then only when you went looking. But since I'm occasionally in the habit of jerking some obscurity from the ether, I present to you a limited press EP by another Finnish thrash act known as Airdash, which definitely sounds like a move you'd throw down in an early Street Fighter clone, maybe King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, etc.

Vengeance Through Violence is a three-track vinyl EP released between their second and third records, Hospital Hallucinations Take One and Both Ends of the Path. Or, more accurately, it's a single for one of the tunes off the former album, the title track, packaged with a couple of tracks that are unique to to the 12", or at least one of them is, and another appears to be re-recorded from one of the band's demos. These guys played a style of thrash pretty typical for the time, with meaty riffs that kept busy while hinting only slightly at the technicality other acts from Europe were employing at this same time. I like the brash, raw but brutish tone of the guitars, the winding mute patterns of the title track that keep my head banging up to the chorus with it's excellent gang shouts. But I'll be honest in saying that it sounds a hell of a lot like Belladonna-fronted Anthrax, only with the rhythm guitars more firmly planted in the late 80s Exodus camp. There are plenty of minor differences, but the overall sound is very much an American, urban street thrash rather than the Teutonic brilliance or savagery, and that works for me, because "Vengeance Through Violence" is actually a solid cut.

"Blow Under Belt" is similar, but the guitars patterns here make it feel more like a party thrash version of something that might have been left on Master of Puppets' cutting room floor. Maybe a little Whiplash, Xentrix, or if you can remember the East Coast band I.N.C, it cultivates that sort of silly atmosphere with the way the guitars break up in the chorus. Not a terrible track, but less robust and effective than the first. Sadly, "Cable Terror" with its staggering verse riff progression isn't much of an improvement; despite a great gang shout in the chorus, it just doesn't hook me overall, and I'd even say the production on these two doesn't seem as good as "Vengeance...". In the end, we can figure out why this EP wasn't named after one of those, or why they didn't wind up on the full-length, but I can certainly say that if you're feeling the material, then it wouldn't be a bad idea to check out ANY of their three full-lengths, since it's not a far cry from even the debut Thank God It's Monday. These are hardly top tier, or even B-tier records, but if you're nostalgic for the purity of the scene's underground in the 80s they're nothing I'd scoff at...just make sure you head for whatever you can find from Stone or A.R.G. before bothering.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Lacrimas Profundere - Hope is Here (2016)

For their 11th full-length, Lacrimas Profundere seem to have emerged from the stagnancy of middle-of-the-road Gothic arena rock to produce a sound slightly more compelling, if not entirely vacating the safe zone in which they'd survived for many years. Rather than the predictable, driving guyliner chord progressions, I honestly had no idea what was coming around the bend at any point on this disc, not because it's wildly dissonant or unique, but because it just seems to open up and breathe, to let the band put its ideas to tape without forcing them into corners. Where prior records had offered a slight variation on the accessible Gothic metal common in the Euro countries like Germany and Finland, Hope is Here recalls a hybrid of modern Anathema and elegant British veterans The Mission, with a few flourishes of anything from prog rock percussion to edgy country/folk noir.

It works, and it works fairly well. While the band is still not writing the knockout choruses you'd really need to carry this style into a broad audience, the production is rich and vibrant, the tunes always possessing some interesting undercurrent, and despite how easy it might have been, you can still see a few glints of their heavier, more metallic, chugging roots shining through the emphasis on cleaner strings, pianos, scarce electronics, and subtle orchestration used as an ambient motif to backup the central rock fundamentals that hold up the tunes. Nothing is really off the table, with a track like "My Halo Ground" producing a Middle Eastern vibe through the instruments that steer it, or the title track which is very much a big acoustic/orchestra piece which really feels like you're that kid in antlers staring out over the horizon on the cover. The band knows when to lay into their big chords at precisely the right moment, and they tender those sequences with simple, added melodies. Rob Vitacca reminds me a lot of a mix between Wayne Hussey and Ville Vallo, limited in range but really expressing himself better here than on most of the Lacrimas records I've experienced. The beats are also pretty impressive, using interesting patterns to keep even, simpler, airier moments like the verse of "Aramis" a lot busier than you'd expect, and it pays off once the chorus arrives.

Hope is Here is more or less a modern, Gothic rock infusion of the Moody Blues, just right for those moments driving on an open road or lying under an expansive sky and seeking something that can encapsulate the experience with just the right, moderate level of pacing and depth. Production here is scintillating, thorough, and amazing, and goes a long way to creating compulsion for even the most vapid riffing they might add to it. Lacrimas Profundere have found a way to translate the emotions already present in much of their earlier material to something that is more refined and rewarding, and even if this puts them in a less traveled space where bands like Anathema have divided up their own followings, it takes a lot more guts and dedication than churning out yet another bland effort like Antiadore or Songs for the Last View...not that either of those was an expressly bad record, but they were too easily lost in a crowd of bands that focused in on a sound which was extremely hot for a few seasons and then sort of dispersed, still practiced but never really mastered by anyone who hasn't taken it into a heavier, dirtier Christian Death/Sisters of Mercy direction. This is a good album, and a good place to build from as we follow that balloon across the cloudscape.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (the past is consigned)

http://www.lacrimas.com/

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lacrimas Profundere - Antiadore (2013)

Lacrimas Profundere is a band which has more or less followed the trajectory of legends Paradise Lost, originating with a Gothic doom aesthetic and then gradually transforming into a far more accessible brand of man-mascara rock which mirrors the sounds that Finnish acts like H.I.M., Entwine and Charon made pretty popular in the earlier 21st century. That's not to say it can't be done well, for instance I really enjoy the band To/Die/For, who brought a lot more of an 80s pop flair to the style with some catchy keyboard lines in amongst the head banging. But there's certainly a trend that a lot of these bands end up with their backs against a wall, using the same familiar chord patterns repeatedly since bands like Sisters of Mercy or Type O Negative made them redundant, and I feel that these Germans, despite having an unquestionable level of class and professionalism, don't really stick their toes outside the safe zone enough to leave much of an impact...and they haven't in a long time.

Antiadore is their 10th full-length record, and it more or less employs the tropes and conventions we've come to expect from this sort of watered down Gothic metal which lacks most of the frills and genuine darkness of the genres which inspired it. Safe verse/chorus song structures, choruses that are not too high in pitch but go for a clear level of radio appeal, solid fashion sense, marginal use of electronics which can add some nuance to the predictable chord patterns. Once you've heard a track or two on a record like this, you're pretty much heard them all, the only variations are in the minor details like subtle shifts in tempo or particular melodies used to layer over the chords. Rob Vitacca has a seasoned, graceful voice, but there is little range, and for that reason a lot of his lines feel rather samey with not only their neighbors here, but the last half dozen or so discs the band has released. The drums and bass are well mixed and appropriate, but never stand out on their own, leaving the full emphasis on the riff passages and vocals, which unfortunately do not deliver much beyond the usual four chords. When the band goes 'heavier', it's simply safe groove metal patterns which are used to get the blood flowing temporarily until another of these maudlin, mediocre choruses...

Occasionally you'll hear a harsh vocal, but it sounds really out of place, overwrought in an attempt to channel genuine pain and emotion, where proper Goth rock or Goth metal needs no such gimmick. The lyrics and song titles are generally just cliches or cultivate imagery you've already seen in this niche a million times, and in truth there is next to nothing which separates the songs on a record like Antiadore from commerial, mass appeal rock music, except maybe a little more guyliner or the clubs and crowds that this might be played at or adhere to the genre. Here in the US, this style had very little impact beyond H.I.M. or Sentenced; even when Paradise Lost was nailing this sound with a catchier and slightly 'edgier' record like One Second it wasn't being talked about. It seems like by about 2013 this would feel out of date, or the band would adapt once more into something new, or a blend of their older/later styles for variety, but Antiadore is about as bland and insipid as you can get...I kept waiting for one song to really hook me in, but most of them were simply the sort that might have been memorable if I had heard them 'first', 25-30 years ago. It's far from a bad album, since the band is so slick and confident at playing it safe, but they need to throw a lot more curve balls, atonality or dissonance or eeriness or haunted atmosphere to do their meta-genre justice.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


http://www.lacrimas.com/

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Nocturnal Witch - Summoning Hell (2014)

Summoning Hell might not prove the Next Big Thing in terms of an ever broadening pool of blackened thrash and speed metal, but what it does represent is one of those rare cases where a band somehow manages to improve itself without broadening or diversifying its stylistic or aesthetic portfolios by even a few hairs' breadth. The debut full-length from Nocturnal Witch is simply better crafted, better produced, and better executed than the Into Dungeons EP, as if the members had some infernal flame lit within them that steered their hands, feet and lungs to better riff patterns, harder hammering beats and more grotesque, resonant guttural snarls. None of this is accomplished by reinventing its niche, this is as straightforward as the style gets, but it's fun enough to remind you of the first few records you heard of its type and why they can take such simple, established riffing tropes and a raw, unforgiving atmosphere and carve out some menacing black metal.

Guitar progressions are still mired completely in a hybrid of pure punk/speed metal chord patterns and tremolo picked, mid-paced black metal riffs which have a little of the fell melancholic to their melodies which was a very popular thing in Swedish black metal throughout the 90s. Leads and tinnier melodies are cast about the atmosphere to create an even more dire effect where they appear, and all the riffs just grind off Tyrant's vocals like a bunch of grave soil cascading off a smoldering animated corpse as it crawls out of the graveyard. The whole mix sounds brash and hellish, with simple bass lines and beats that don't offer much by way of interesting fills or technicality, but spur on the galloping hellishness of cuts like "Among the Ruins of the Dead" and "Black Death". The construction of the chords and the overall style owes a hell of a lot to the usual suspects, and you'll hear echoes of Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Slayer and early Kreator, but when played with some piss and fire this is simply not a style that I find myself tired of, it almost always engages the angry adolescent hesher spirit inside me unless it's meted out very boringly, which this is not.

Not to say that Summoning Hell is this riffing monstrosity, because it thrives wholly on pre-tested formulae and lacks some of the wilder, frilly intensity that a Deathhammer or Antichrist dishes out on a regular basis, but it's just damn solid and mean sounding and you sound like your rubbing spiked shoulder guards with the opposition at some Abyssal Super Bowl, and that feeling keeps up through the whole 36 minutes, which is a good length, some meat on its bones but never threatening to wear through its warlike welcome. The lyrics also don't bring anything new to the table, amalgamations of many other songs you've read through before, but the conventions and images they produce are once again staples that don't ever fail me provided they are delivered with some vitriol, as they are here. A good effort pays off, and anyone looking into the band, or simply another gem in the bowels of the blackened thrash movement of the last decade, probably shouldn't pass this one up, even if it's not an exemplar of its specific sound.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (burn this planet of sheep)

http://www.realmofthedead.de/

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nocturnal Witch - Into Dungeons EP (2012)

Blackened speed and thrash metal is one of my favorite niches in all of the genre these last couple years, but it relies so heavily on the traditions of its medium that it can be tough to pull off, requiring a certain level of nastiness, personality and catchy riffing to properly pay tribute to its forebears like Venom. To get that influence across without sounding like some sodden, soulless derivative is no easy feat, so I have to say I feel spoiled by how much of it I've been enjoying lately, from Antichrist and Deathhammer to Satan's Wrath and Erazor. Germans Nocturnal Witch seem to have all the hookups for a success at this style. Some of the live lineup is drawn from bands like Nocturnal, Old, Division Speed and Cruel Force, who all have comparable sounds, and they certainly grab the style by its roots here and give it a good tug, the old Satanic collegiate try.

Unfortunately, it bears little fruit on this EP, because Into Dungeons has all the trappings and none of the charisma to spot its spiked gauntlet, bullet-belted figure among the crowd in which it surfs. Cover looks cool, old school, band name is cool, logo cool, songs sound exactly like they should, but its the riffing pattern and lack of any dynamic force which drags this down. There's no real lack of hellish energy being executed, just a dearth of inspired tremolo picking riffs, or at least those you haven't heard a thousand times. Here, they launch from that rapid fire blackened/speed metal sound into some clamorous, even faster bits, and gang shouts erupt everywhere to fuel the momentum, but while it all looks good on paper, they feel like they're just playing by-the-numbers chord progressions which never take you by surprise. There are no good leads or other distractions to steer you away from this fundamental flaw, and the cuts feel thematically 'appropriate' but dry unless you're just seeking out more of the same pseudo-Satanic swill others have peddled for decades.

Drums and bass are efficient, vocals raucous blackened barks that seem enthusiastic but never really evil enough to compensate that it all seems like sheer testosterone, with little to back it up except the right intentions. The recording itself is fairly level, slightly raw but not obnoxiously so. All in all, if this were something I heard off in the background outside at some hell kegger in the woods, where you weren't allowed without a denim jacket or something leather on some part of your anatomy, then this would probably make for passable background noise, whether live or on someone's beat up beat box in which they were spinning a tape recording. Upon closer examination, however, there is just so much out in this field which has more character, better licks, leads, nastiness, viciousness, etc. Having also heard this band's full-length, Summoning Hell, I can say with confidence that you should skip this and head straight for that, because while it's still not exemplary for this style, it both sounds superior and is written better, with some genuinely good riffs and decent songs in spots.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]

http://www.realmofthedead.de/

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Horde Casket - Bloodfiends (2015)

I wish I could say there was some further dynamic growth for these Oklahoma/Texas brutes, but Bloodfiends doesn't deviate greatly from the formula the band sharpened on 2010 sophomore Slab of Infinite Butchery. Granted, for purists of that brutal death metal window of the mid to later 90s, in which bands like Suffocation, Cryptopsy and Cannibal Corpse had left an indelible impression upon the legions of would-be's and hopefuls in their wake, I don't know that that will prove much of an obstacle to enjoying what punishment they do mete out here. Horde Casket is not a band that defines or pushes at any real boundaries. They seem satisfied with a competent emulation of a style they love, and they keep it about as conventional to that form as they possibly can.

And that style is a midpoint between the traditional brutal death metal pioneered by acts like the ones I listed above, and playing catch-up with the more technical acts that have been saturating the 21st century. With an emphasis on the former. Lots of chugging stop/start patterns set-up bursts of quicker riffing progressions that capture the choppy, surgical and clinical feel of their peers, but they rarely unload any memorable or catchy patterns, and even where they do, that's usually on the first couple tracks on the disc, like opener "Back Country Meth Massacre", a re-recording from the band's 2008 debut Landscape of Cadavers. The vocals are a solid grunt inspired by someone like Chris Barnes, only faster and in syncopation with the rhythmic pacing being banged out on the drums and guitar tracks. Bass lines are punchy, solid and very apparent here, giving the mix an even, clear balance against the other instruments, and I would say with certainty that this is the best produced of their albums I've heard to date, a lot more polished and rich than Slab or the band's cruder debut. Competent, well executed brute-craft...

But it does come with a few flaws. For one, I don't really like the lead tone, which isn't used so often but feels like it stands out and stings the ears a little much against the pounding backdrop. There is very little difference between the tracks in terms of content...you'll get the constant chug/burst I noted above, a staple of the genre, and a few breakdown riffs which at best can give you some death/thrash neck jerking but don't feel much fresher than the hyperactive flurries that cede the songs to them. It's also a pretty short album, at least the new, original songs. Roughly 22 minutes, which is not unusual for this style of music, but not once does it take any chances...the weird, guttural glitching intro to "Cerebral Dissection" (another track redundant to the debut) is about the only time any sort of left turn is implicated, and that's over all too quickly. Bloodfiends is consistent, perhaps two consistent, and those looking for atmosphere or a deeper listening experience will be left dry.

The band does round the new and re-recorded material off with a selection of live cuts that swell the length up to around 39 minutes overall, but while these are enough to leave you with confidence that Horde Casket offer a comparable live experience to the studio offerings, they don't sound all that impressive, with the vocals a bit louder, the kick drums almost feeling like coherent static and the guitars, as busy as they are, rather washed out in the back ground. In sum, Bloodfiends feels like a well-meaning and corpulent statement that the band is still flailing its limbs about, but the quality of the material puts a halt to any sense of progression or improvement one might have hoped for after the leap that Slab had made over its predecessor. Not bad at all, but there are a lot of records super similar to this one, on their label Sevared and elsewhere; it isn't really crazy or distinct enough to stand out.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

https://www.facebook.com/hordecasketdm/

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Drug Honkey - Cloak of Skies (2017)

2012's Ghost in the Fire was such an overwhelming paean to human suffering that I doubted in advance there was any 'lower' plane onto which Chicago's Drug Honkey could drag its brand of drudging, urban, emotional doom. I wasn't necessarily wrong with that prediction, but where Cloak of Skies might not exceed its predecessor in some raw torture quotient, it more than compensates with a superior sense of direction, atmosphere and experimental minimalism that creates both a haunting and mesmerizing sonic trip that also had a surprisingly warm side to it, like that feel you get once an Oxycodone has finally hit peak plasma concentration and starts to spread over whatever ails or addiction forced you to pop it into your mouth in the first place.

On the surface, it seems simple, with monolithic, if familiar, slogging chord patterns that feel as if you're watching some rusted, moldering cityscape collapse in on itself, only the occasional flashes of melody created by higher-pitched droning guitars make it seem like the entire scene of decay is being bathed in a radiant, unforgiving sunlight that shines in through the shattered windows, missing bricks and girders on the building frames. Definitely some hints of acts like Godflesh and Jesu here, or on the heavier end of the spectrum the Australian Disembowelment and their highly regarded album Transcendence into the Peripheral. But these comparisons can offer only a starting point, because the specific noises and nuances Drug Honkey mixes into its aural amphetamine don't feel redundant to anything I've really encountered in the past, and I think the industrial, noise and drone influences only strengthen the overall package of this recording so that it crushes you like a hundred simultaneous dystopian nightmares, an album that anyone who survives deserves bragging rights to. There are even saxophones provided by Bruce Lamont which blend eerily well into the composition, as loose as that might seem, reinforcing its urban facade.

For all their minimalist structure and nature, the raw riff progressions here are quite excellent at how they tap into the primacy of the form, as in the depths of "Outlet of Hatred" where a few chords slice through the morass of guttural vocal sustains and other hallucinatory effects that drive the entire, ugly juggernaut forward. Ambiance and feedback are used as sweltering bookends to pieces like "(It's Not) The Way", where Head Honkey exchanges some of his wealth of snarls and gutturals for a clearer, deep, dreary vocal mantra that echoes over the spacious clamor. There are places at which the vocals completely steer and disgustingly define the stoic, sonic backdrop, as in "The Oblivion of an Opiate Nod" which is one of the most grueling and impressive pieces on the whole record. Guitars reach perfect levels of saturation on both the lower ends where they collide with the distorted bass scrawl, and the higher, dirty tones that waft out through the occasional smog-o-sphere. There is nothing clean about this album, it's like a warm bath in rank water, piss, and who knows what else, and yet's it's still a pretty comfortable use of your time.

I'm not completely convinced that the Justin Broadrick remix of "Pool of Failure" (the album's first track) is required to order to round it out as a complete experience, even if it serves as a sort of reprise. So you could cut Cloak of Skies off at at around 44 minutes and be none the worse. But that said, it's pretty fucking cool to have Broadrick himself hack away at one of your tracks, and he does succeed in making what is one of the record's more straightforward pieces a little weirder and more disheveled, while amping up the recognition of his own Godflesh aesthetics. In fact I might like this one slightly more than the original version, but I think it works better when you recognize it as a bonus track and not a core component. Otherwise, I think this is Drug Honkey's best material to date, already on par with Ghost in the Fire about midway through and then hitting that one-two knockout climax of "Opiate" and the title track and dialing it home. Also was impressed with Paolo Girardi's cover art, which seemed a little out of the ordinary for the Italian, but really captures the sounds on display very well. Then again, Drug Honkey is no ordinary client, and the weird, woeful atmosphere they create with just a sliver of ironic grace as well worth pursuing as the end of whatever substance binge you find yourself engulfed in.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10]

https://www.facebook.com/drughonkey

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lantern II: Morphosis (2017)

Lantern's 2013 debut Below was one of those debut full-lengths so stacked with both subtle and overt qualities and flavors that it'd inevitably ramp up expectations for anything the Finns might follow it up with. An excellent permutation of the cavernous death metal that has been all the rage these last 5-10 years, it's application of both murk and melody into an unnerving but fulfilling whole set it apart from the lion's share of Incanta-clones who were becoming redundant despite their best intentions. II: Morphosis doesn't quite have the ability to take any listener by surprise the way its elder sibling did, so the duo of Cruciatus and Necrophilos just settled for concocting a damn fine, atmospheric death metal record which replicated most of the strengths of its predecessor but did not by any means clone it entirely. Thus you've got a sophomore which is almost guaranteed to satisfy listeners of records like last year's Blood Incantation full length, Starspawn, in fashioning reliable and well written death metal riff progressions into something of which the sum just feels greater than any individual parts.

Morphosis is not just some roiling, teething, subterranean sounding morass with guttural vocals and no ambition, but instead a sprawling and balanced offering which exceeds the maturity you'd expect after just a few years. The rhythm guitars are less ominous and far busier, the tone straightforward and dry but capable of translating the massive riff set splayed out across the 40 minutes. While they don't perform material which could technically be considered complex, the album nonetheless creates a labyrinthine intensity which never hinges on the predictable. While there are riff patterns in here which might straddle everything from prototype 90s melodic death metal to Scandinavian blackness, the bulk of the chord selections almost felt like a mash-up of the first three Morbid Angel records, with all the speed and hooks of the first and third, with the occasionally slogging malevolence that many associate with the second. Melodies aren't just employed as cheap gimmicks, but often these essential and ritualistic sequences of songs that are often left to their own while light percussion rattles off as accompaniment. They are also prone to a few abrupt stops and starts and occasionally fly off the handle into more chaotic, frenzied moments where there is just enough control that the record hasn't felt like it's gone over the edge into the abyss without a pilot.

The ability to soundscape an atmosphere through the conventional death metal milieu here is just astounding, as in the escalation in the shorter tune "Hosting Yellow Fungi", or the mournful maze of "Necrotic Epiphanies" with all its wailing excess and double kick mashing fury. Lantern take the familiar and reinvigorate by giving it greater breadth and dimension. The vocals aren't just some utterly deep gurgle, but more of a hacked, angry, atmospheric take on something like Barney Greenway meets Steve Tucker only with tons of shrieking and raving for variety. The flexibility of the drumming allows the material to thrive at any speed, whether it's verging on grind or just the more robust, melodic and measured passages. There's also this feeling I got that the record was gradually becoming more immersive and memorable as it progressed, so by the finale "Lucid Endlessness" I felt like I was really hearing the best stuff on the whole album, rapid riffing and dissonant waves spiraling into my ears, until it hits that great, slow and groovy bridge that just carried it off into the nether. Intentional or not, this is a rare reaction I get to an album where it starts off good but then just evolves into blockbuster territory.

All that praise aside, I found it marginally less compelling and resonant than Below, if only because I felt like I connected to that debut's eeriness and its particular melodies slightly more. I imagine for many listeners, it will easily compensate with its more substantial and urgent sense of ambition and its tighter pendulum of structure and chaos; yet I wasn't quite hypnotized as often in listening though. But really we're dealing with apples and oranges, because this band is still at the very summit of the Finnish death metal scene of the present, with so much to offer, a true torchbearer for their forebears like Demilich, Demigod, or Convulsed, only sounding very little like any of those, with a lot more of a US influence to their composition split between the genre's Florida and New York founders. The fact is that Lantern use that simply as a foundation. Where they go with it is anyone's guess, and two full-length records in, they show more practice and potential than a lot of bands with decades more experience, crafting great death metal worthy of the howling planes of Pandemonium.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]

https://www.facebook.com/lantern666

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Overkill & Kreator - Man in Black/ Warrior Heart (2017)

You've got to love how the metal press, particularly the metal press in Europe, finds a way to keep its subscriptions afloat in the digital age, and I think a key element of that is the inclusion of special live or unreleased material from popular bands that attract collectors. Germans Kreator have taken advantage of this exposure numerous times, especially in their homeland, recently with their Violence Unleashed EP in Legacy, Live Antichrist album in Metal Hammer, and now another bonus vignette in Rock Hard, who they've teamed up with before for the Terror Prevails live album in 2010. This time, however, they've got New York's Overkill on board, and both are offering something we might not have heard before. Is that enough to pick up (or import) a copy of the Rock Hard #358?

Overkill are no stranger to paying homage to their influences, what with their decent 1999 release Coverkill and various tunes added to other releases, like their rendition of Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" on Horrorscope, or more recently Thin Lizzy's "Emerald" on The Grinding Wheel. That said, I can't recall hearing them perform a country cover, and what's more, playing the song IN that style, rather than metalizing it. And so they have done here with Johnny Cash's "Man in Black", spun out with Bobby Ellsworth's unhinged screams in a duet with more a straightforward voice. The lyrics aside, this has never been one of my favorite Cash tracks, and so I can't say I was thoroughly impressed by the band playing it close to the original, when a heavier injection might have at least proven interesting, but overall it's a passable version and it's nice to hear Blitz at least try to apply his own distinctness to a pretty mundane musical exercise.

I was far more interested to hear "Warrior Heart", a new Kreator track with a driving melodic death metal feel to it that would not have been out of place on the recent Gods of Violence, or perhaps on some comparable excursions like 2001' Violent Revolution. Granted, there's nothing exceptional here either, and you feel like you've encountered the melodies before across a number of Swedish bands, but it's wholly competent and never a detriment to hear Mille's voice grating over the grace of those airier harmonies, or the straight heavy metal thrust of the bridge and its substantial leads. So this is the side of the split which ended up appealing to me a lot more, it's at least on par with some of the other recent tracks and one could get some value out of ripping an .mp3 of it and tossing it on his or her Gods of Violence playlist.

Overall, it's a decent gimmick that rewards the integral symbiosis of musicians and press, even if the content is rather scant and not all that great. Nothing on the level of Sabbat's brilliant "Blood for the Blood God" flexi in that old issue of White Dwarf, but Rock Hard isn't leaving you with nothing.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

http://wreckingcrew.com/Ironbound/
http://www.kreator-terrorzone.de/

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Overkill - The Grinding Wheel (2017)

New York wildmen Overkill have hit a late career stride that must be the envy of so many peers, with an endless reserve of energy that most younger bands seem unable to match, while keeping relatively loyal to the body of work they built up over the previous decades. To be truthful, you could trace a fairly straight path from their 1985 debut to this latest, 18th full-length album, and the only enormous differences would be the production and a few of the influences that crept into their songwriting, particularly in the 90s. Essentially, The Grinding Wheel serves as a paean to both their high-octane urban thrash and groove metal, proving they still have what it takes to write engaging, violent music that actually surpasses much of what they were putting out 20 years ago, even if it's not quite elevated to that benchmark set by beloved classics like Feel the Fire and Taking Over.

This is a band long driven by the restlessness and street wisdom of its front man, Blitz, and it's par for the course that his performance can make or break even a wholly average set of guitar riffs. And here he turns in an angry, confident, flailing effort right on the level of 2012's The Electric Age, with a lot of snarl and flexibility to his timbre that doesn't rely entirely on the higher range, and excels once the band hammers into some more anthemic, melodic chorus in a tune like "Our Finest Hour". I can't say there is anything here he hasn't hit on in the past, but he sounds great whether the band are meting out faster paced pavement justice or one of their fattened, predictable Sabbath grooves. The rhythm riffs, on the other hand, are really hit or miss, most seeming like they're just paraphrased from a grab bag of the band's prior ideas, and relying heavily on both the lyrical execution and the fat production, but once in awhile one or two will prove a little catchier and more unexpected than their surroundings, and that helps boost the structure and reliability of the songwriting, especially in some of the longer 6-7 minute cuts.

Drums and bass are bedrock here, especially D.D. Verni who's trademark, clean and huge tones are bouncing and twisting all over the mix. Leads have a very classic 70s rock feel to them, not only in the excellent bonus track cover of Thin Lizzy's "Emerald", but even in the original pieces. The range and the variation on the record is quite good, from pace pushers like "Goddamn Trouble" or "Red White and Blue" to leaden, bluesy groove like "Come Heavy" which recounts late 80s Trouble quite well, or the epic, measured mid-gait headbanging title track. The album dishes out just enough breakdowns to keep the tough guy crowds slamming while never becoming too trite or repetitious, and while the thrash here is more inspired by the band's 90s offerings than the clinical late 80s style, I think it's punishing enough to temporarily satisfy those who might have been seeking the latter. Even within Ellsworth's performance, he doesn't keep aping the same verbal patterns repeatedly, but offers seasons, explosive craftsmanship that makes every line seem like it's being taken dead seriously.

Will this stand out against the band's stacked backlog? Hard to say, since it lacks the insanely memorable choruses and riffs of the band's youth, or even that cross-generation appeal of 2010's Ironbound, which was a pivotal release that cemented their legacy as perhaps the U.S.A's hardest working band in the genre, whilst in the midst of the pizza thrashing craze of younglings who were getting into the stuff for the first time. I didn't like that disc quite as much as the rest of the crowd, but its sense of newfound inspiration has seemingly abated over these following three records, all of which have been varying shades of green, and varying shades of good. The Grinding Wheel is no exception, and it is not short on enthusiasm, spirit or craft. After a couple lukewarm listens, it's grown a little in my estimation so that I'd rank it firmly between its two predecessors.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (here's to the liberation)

http://wreckingcrew.com/Ironbound/