Monday, October 29, 2012

Upon this Dawning - To Keep us Safe

Italian metalcore band Upon this Dawning just released their Fearless Records debut titled To Keep us Safe. I will admit that in metal (for some reason especially metalcore), I tend to base initial prejudice on an album when I first look at the artwork (before I listen to it). Unfortunately, this was the case with To Keep us Safe because, well, the artwork is pretty damn ugly, I’m not going to lie. But for reviewing purposes, I decided to give the fucker a listen and was surprised at the quality of the music. Upon this Dawning has the ability to have all the current metalcore trends in their music while still creating a record that could be considered original and even unique in some aspects. Here’s a piece of advice: don’t take that sentence and blow it out of proportion, because (spoiler alert) this is just plain old generic metalcore. But like the generic forms of all genres, there’s still plenty (and I mean a lot) of elbow room, leaving enough space for bands to stick to the core elements while still striving to be unique and special. Some other bands that could be considered part of that “generic but unique and original” would be Killswitch Engage, Miss May I, Bullet for my Valentine, Eyes set to Kill, and the band I am going to now discuss, Upon this Dawning.

Just so that I could say that I have seen it, I decided to look up the music video for the first track off the album, A New Beginning, which features Chris Motionless (Motionless in White) on vocals. First, let me say that I’m not the biggest fan of music videos in general, because, well, most of them suck. And the WORST ones are the ones that have an actual storyline behind what’s going on in the video, which then takes the song out of the spotlight and turns it into background music. The music video for A New Beginning is the type of music video that I like watching; the kind that simply just shows the band playing the song in a really cool setting. But like most videos, it kind of turned me off to the band because of infamous dance-moves that I’d just rather go on without seeing and the part where Chris Motionless appears to be screaming the entire time, when in the recording, he’s actually primarily doing mid-range screams and growls.

Like I mentioned before, Upon this Dawning plays nothing that you haven’t heard before. But that’s not to say that they can’t still be done well. Because Upon this Dawning doesn’t possess any of the really BAD qualities that would normally butcher a metalcore band’s music like auto-tune singing and cheesy synthesizer sounds, To Keep us Safe turns out to be an enjoyable record for the avid metalcore listener. The music doesn’t get overly-repetitive, the amount of breakdowns in each song isn’t over-the-top, the base note of the breakdown change every once in a while (not something you hear in metalcore and screamo very often at all), and the energy present in the members and their music shines through all the production work with ease.

What the better breakdown-dependent metalcore bands figure out is that they should have those complex breakdown-like rhythmic patterns, and then have that one section that just leaps out at you (BOOM!). For example, Listening to Miss May I’s Hey Mister, they have plenty of chugging sections, but there are those two breakdowns that stand apart from the others simply because the majority of the band’s (seemingly infinite) energy is channeled into those two breakdowns. The problem that the majority of the metalcore genre has, and especially Upon this Dawning, is that 80% of the breakdowns that you hear are those super-energetic ones that should be used sparingly. This alone bothers me almost constantly while listening to this album; the extremely high energy is just way too constant and it’s constant to the point where it stops sounding energetic after a while.

The screams are pretty good, nothing that I have to complain about them. I think it’s the fact that the singing DOESN’T have auto-tune that makes the singing sound so good.  But after about my 11th listen of this album, the singing doesn’t seem to be as good as people might make it out to be (in other words, the singing needs a big “OVERRATED” sticker on it). There are several places where the harmonizations in the singing is absolutely pristine, but that’s about as good as it gets. The guitarist/singer rarely falls out-of-key, which is probably due to studio editing (which isn’t something to hold against them, no singer is perfect, and EVERYONE does some touch-ups on their vocals in the studio). All of the musicians in Upon this Dawning are as mediocre and average as you can get. They all fit the requirements needed to play catchy and energetic metalcore, and that’s all there is to it. So because of that, there’s not really any need for riff-raffing about the members because…well…there isn’t anything to say about them.

Italy’s Upon this Dawning release a generic, but refreshing metalcore record that is definitely worth a listen to metalcore fans. The only time that I would listen to this in the future is when one of their songs pop up while I have all of my metalcore on shuffle. But honestly, I feel that the energetic vibe speaks out to me in a way that makes me enjoy it much more than if it were without that one thing. Also, the complete absence of any common metalcore traits that could be considered disastrous helps a shitload. That’s why I’m going to give To Keep us Safe 13/20. 

The HAARP Machine - Disclosure

About half of the bands that make up the roster on Sumerian Records have been taking on a much more progressive direction lately. Although this is something that the extremely successful label has always been known for, the progressive elements seem stronger now than they ever have been before. Before I get into the progressive death act The HAARP Machine, let’s take two seconds and reflect back on the reality of what new innovative elements have been introduced by Sumerian Records. The first is the extremely progressive and almost experimental record, Autotheism by California technical death band The Faceless. Along with that, we have a progressive metal whose success has been obtained so fast that they headlined the tour supporting the release of their first album, Periphery. Now, there also seems to be more non-metal music on Sumerian Records than just Borgore. A really fucking weird, but absolutely amazing experimental rock quartet known as TRAM (featuring one of the greatest guitarists ever, Tosin Abasi). So after all that, a progressive deathcore band (Veil of Maya), a solo album by The Faceless bassist Evan Brewer, and a yet-to-be-released solo record by Animals as Leaders rhythm guitarist Javier Reyes, one would stop and say “wait, we need some good ol’ progressive death in this mix”. That’s when The HAARP Machine steps in.

There are a lot of progressive death albums that get released every year. But for me, I tend to be VERY picky when it comes to my beloved progressive death section in my library. The only truly great progressive death albums (that I’ve heard so far) from 2011 are Amorphis’ The Beginning of Times, Between the Buried and Me’s EP, Falluja’s The Harvest Wombs, and Mayan’s Quarterpast. That’s FOUR (I repeat) FOUR albums. Only FOUR out of however many progressive death albums were released that year. 2012 is even worse. So far, I’ve only got The Contortionist’s Intrinsic and Meshuggah’s Koloss (which only got a 14/20 score from me). The first reaction someone would have upon seeing this is the lowering of standards in case they’re too high (which happens to everybody, there’s nothing wrong with that). But there’s no need for that, The HAARP Machine debut with something that I’ve PERSONALLY witnessed amaze even the utmost critical reviewers.

My overall experience of repeatedly listening to Disclosure since about a week before its release has been like no other. There are several qualities of Disclosure that are extremely familiar to me and are things that I’ve heard before in several other bands. Of course, it’s ALWAYS a good idea to have there be at least SOME familiar sounds in your music so that the listener can have SOMETHING to be able to grab onto instantly so that they can then be pulled along through all of the new and unfamiliar sounds. The most familiar element that The HAARP Machine has in their music can be guessed easily by anyone who is at all familiar with Sumerian Records and the one thing that 90% of its bands have in common: those abstract and complex rhythmic patterns that were popularized by Meshuggah (often times referred to as “djent”). Of course, Sumerian Records isn’t the only place you’ll hear this kind of stuff, but it seems that almost all of the bands have this thing in common. And you know what? As stupid and “trendy” as it may seem, look at how much fucking success the bands are obtaining because of that! Because they have that one solid element that any metalhead can easily grasp onto because they’re already familiar with it, bands can then do literally whatever the fuck they want from there. For example, the screamo band I See Stars has that “djent” sound in their music (although it’s less profound than other bands out there), and then they switch back and forth between playing an energetic melodic screamo sound and really poppy techno while randomly throwing in some pop rock in here and there. Except the things that The HAARP Machine put on top of that “djent” style is nothing that I think has ever been done before.

The first thing that you hear when you press the “play” button is a sitar. Ok, where the hell did that come from? I don’t know, but obviously, I can tell just by looking at the band that one of the members has some sort of middle-eastern background. And when the fact that the sitars used today came out of 18th century India is put into place, it is easily seen that this guy known as Al Mu’min is not only Indian, but is also the core creative mechanism inside The HAARP Machine. I can understand that when you’re just reading this, it really doesn’t sound like anything all that special. But once you actually LISTEN to Esoteric Agenda, the mystical atmosphere that the sitar creates is something so alien to most metalheads. So what I’ve described so far is a very technical death metal record with complex rhythmic patterns and a sitar. The next thing that I should mention is the melodic death influence (as well as the synthesized bongos that appear at random about three or four times throughout the album).

Not only does the melodic death influence seep into the instrumental section, but also into the vocals; which then gives it away that there is singing present in almost every song on this record. Now I’m not aware of the specific influences that The HAARP Machine has listed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Periphery was one of them. Why? Remember in Periphery’s self-titled debut where the singing purposefully went off-key every so often and how much impact it had on the whole flow of the music? Well, the singing on this album does that, except more than Periphery. In fact, it fits The HAARP Machine’s sound even MORE than Periphery’s because of the atmosphere created by the sitar and the unique guitar harmonizations. I should have mentioned a little bit before that we should still be focusing on Esoteric Agenda, because everything that I’m talking about is present and easily heard in this one song. So after the intro and the blasting death metal section and the…what seems to be something that COULD be a breakdown but doesn’t exactly sound like one, you get a deep crushing section with that really weird singing that sticks to the right key for about 87% of the time. What the fuck? Only that much? On first glance, that just sounds outright disgusting! Who the hell would want to hear out-of-key singing? Ok, now to repeat what I said before to make sure it sticks in your head: you will realize what I’m talking about once you LISTEN to the damn thing.

Because I’m a bassist, it’s almost a requirement for ANY progressive band to have at least a WAY better-than-average bassist. I don’t know why, but it’s just something that, if missing, the band just doesn’t sound as good as other people describe to me. That’s why I instantly gave my nod of approval when The HAARP Machine released that YouTube video of Pleiadian Keys. If you can’t hear what I’m talking about, replay THE FIRST TEN SECONDS of the fucking song before you continue reading what’s left of this review. The extremity of the bassist’s technicality is something that I hunger for, but don’t get very often outside of the technical death realms (i.e. Obscura, The Faceless, Atheist, Spawn of Possession, etc.). Not only is the bassist capable of phenomenal technicality, he also has a talent for playing with extremely bold colors and dynamics. When he takes the spotlight in songs like Pleiadian Keys and Extension to One, the bassist flows in-and-out of the complex harmonies created by the guitars while creating the structure for even further guitar harmonization and other possible innovations. The guitarists are just something completely off the board. Maybe that’s a SLIGHT exaggeration, but there are very few people that I would have to worry about giving me a hard time for saying that.

The HAARP Machine’s Disclosure is definitely the best progressive death record of 2012, with The Contortionist’s Intrinsic coming VERY close behind. So close, in fact, that Disclosure even has the same 18/20 score that I gave Intrinsic when I reviewed it in late August. I can’t imagine a type of extreme metal fan that I WOULDN’T recommend this album to. So look it up, watch the trippy video for Pleiadian Keys that’s on YouTube, and then once you’re done with that, demand that The HAARP Machine come to your city after you’ve bought the album. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Motionless in White - Creatures

Word about this album spread pretty damn quickly through the metalcore community. Like some other bands out there, one of the things that helped Motionless in White get more attention was the appearance of the band themselves. I will admit, what they have going is unique and isn’t too shabby, but the fact that their vocalist looks identical to a young Marilyn Manson isn’t going to affect their music in any way at all. I mean, theatrics and other shit like that can either enhance or butcher a live experience, but I’ve never seen them live, so I guess I don’t really have much at all to use as any sort of prejudice. But in order to avoid getting too off-track, Motionless in White is quickly approaching the release of their new album, Infamous. So when I was told this, I thought that this is a perfect time to review the predecessor to Infamous, Creatures. And on a side note, I will be reviewing Infamous sometime this week or next week, whenever I get around to it.

Metalcore has turned into a very touchy subject recently. It’s surprised me how if a metalcore band isn’t innovative or progressive in SOME way or another, they get a big “GENERIC SHIT” sticker slapped across their foreheads before getting the boot from critics. As for me, I’m not a complete and total hater of the generic and pure metalcore bands; but I won’t disagree with the fact that there most definitely has been a decrease in quality in the genre over the past four or so years. When it comes to Motionless in White, in no way, shape, or form would I consider them progressive or innovative. But I wouldn’t consider them as being in the melting-pot (they’re probably more like waist-deep). In other words, Motionless in White is a generic metalcore band with a unique sound. Some of the sound that you hear in Creatures can be heard in their debut disaster, When Love met Destruction, but since I don’t like that album very much at all, Creatures is what I like to talk about when talking about Motionless in White’s sound.

Probably what most people point out is some of the extremely dark and crushing breakdowns that can be heard all throughout Creatures. Despite the truth that those breakdowns really do contribute to the band’s sound, they really aren’t anything that special. I’m not one that typically compares bands when criticizing, but I feel that since neither of these bands are looking to be innovative or progressive, it’s ok. Those of you that are familiar with the metalcore masters Miss May I know that even though their breakdowns aren’t totally complex, the amazing instrumental skill from the guitarists and (especially) the drummer literally max-out the intensity level. So if you decide to play more generic and simple breakdowns, you NEED to make sure that you have mind-blowing musicians to make them interesting, catchy, and most importantly, tight. I don’t hear much of that in any of the breakdowns on this album. Yeah, the breakdowns on Abigail are pretty impressive, but that’s pretty much it as far as I can hear. All of the other breakdowns are either sloppy, boring, overly simple, or just dry and emotionless.

In order to not sound overly harsh, I should say that none of the musicians sound unexceptional or bad in any way. They all fit the bill for a metalcore musician and for what Motionless in White’s sound requires. There is obviously a bassist because when I turn up my subs, I can hear tons of bass, but the guitars and drums seem to totally cover anything that the bassist does, which is ANOTHER thing that I have a problem with the majority of metalcore bands out there. To me, the bassist should do much more than just provide a lower end for the band’s sound; they need to have a part where they’re actually playing something beyond the root-notes. And in rock and several other genres, sticking to the root notes is EXACTLY what the bassist needs to do. But come ON, this is metal we’re talking about, the most complex genre of music next to classical and jazz! We need to hear more from the bassist!

Frontman Chris Motionless is who everyone thinks of when they think about Motionless in White (there are too many bands that have that situation, it’s fucking depressing). After listening to Creatures over and over and over and over, there isn’t anything wrong with anything that he does. His deep mid-ranged screams are very strong and have a great foundation. His growls are crisp and strong, but I don’t feel that their overly-powerful sound fits the band’s melodic sound very well. Everyone knows that he has two types of screams: he has the typical higher-than-usual exhaled screams that are ok, but not something I would make a big deal over. And then you have these inhuman shrieks that have been known to cause chills to run down the spines of the weak-hearted. Even though I’m not a huge fan of those shrieks, they most definitely stand as a very unique quality for this album. So I don’t like them, but I like that they’re there (if that makes any sense) because it makes Creatures that much less boring and predictable. If you want to hear the most famous (and best) example of this, the last breakdown on my favorite song on the album, Abigail, has Chris growling deeply and letting out an inhuman shriek screaming “how could you??”.

Pretty much the only reason (that I can think of) why some people have labeled Motionless in White as being a “gothic metalcore” band is because they have an extreme gothic look and that they have some synthesized orchestral elements in a couple of their songs (i.e. Immaculate Misconception and Creatures). But I just hear metalcore. So Motionless in White DOES in fact have some unique qualities, but other than that, there’s not much else that they have. The fact that their breakdowns don’t have as much effort as I want to hear makes their music grow dry and tasteless after about six songs or so. The synthesizers and unique vocals help give you something to look forward too, but other than that, everything is just average. So all in all, I would only recommend this to metalheads that like their metalcore to be a bit more on the heavier side of things. The song Abigail is most definitely worth a listen, I love it, but the album as a whole gets my score of 12/20 for being an average metalcore album with a couple unique qualities.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Swallow the Sun - Ghosts of Loss

Swallow the Sun is an essential for the melodic death fan. Although they’re not one of the biggest, their newest release, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird has been a heated discussion for quite some time now, some considering it one of the biggest melodic death releases of the year aside from Wintersun’s Time I and Dethklok’s Dethalbum III. Although I feel that Before the Dawn’s Rise of the Phoenix is a bigger deal than the new Dethklok album, I would not in any way deny the fact that the new Swallow the Sun record is huge. But I want to take the chance to look into one of their older records, Ghosts of Loss. Although not the absolute best, 2005 was a very good year for the melodic death genre, including either good or very good album releases from Scar Symmetry, Arch Enemy, Children of Bodom, Dark Tranquility, Hypocrisy, Nightrage, November’s Doom, and Soilwork. Here’s something interesting that I literally JUST noticed: all of the bands I just listed except for November’s Doom and Children of Bodom are Swedish. Although that may not be a BIG surprise since Sweden dominates the melodic death genre, I do find it intriguing that Ghosts of Loss was one of the only major Finnish melodic death albums released that year. So now that you have at least SOME background information behind the time Ghosts of Loss was released, now I get to tell you about the most important part, the music.

Swallow the Sun is in the same family as Septic Flesh, Before the Dawn, November’s Doom, Rotting Christ, and Draconian, who all put a lot of emphasis on having a gothic sound. This extremely deep, dark, extremely melodic, and (often times) slower sound is what you hear in a lot of gothic metal. Although I just consider all of these bands to be melodic death, there are several people that I know of that have gone as far as giving these bands their own genre known simply as “gothic death” (short for gothic death metal). Here’s the thing with Swallow the Sun; they’re a hell of a lot MORE melodic than any of those bands that I just listed, and this album in particular is one of the darkest and almost depressive melodic death records I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s probably the fact how these guys are like Katatonia with death metal why THIS album in particular has been the one that I keep coming back to. And for those of you elitists, I’m talking about the post-2003 Katatonia.

The vocalist is my favorite member on this album. His growls couldn’t be more perfect. I’m not even kidding, these are the type of growls that I look for! They’re powerful, REALLY deep, exhaled, crisp, and not monotonous. And his singing is amazing. I definitely have heard better out of other Finnish bands, but overall, this guy’s singing voice has varied dynamic and intensity to help follow the music, it’s clean and crisp, and it doesn’t sound like he’s straining his voice anywhere in the album. His screams are sort of in between the midrange and high sections, so it sounds great when they’re played alongside his extremely deep guttural growls. Here’s the one issue I’m having: the vocals (especially the growls) can be overpowering during many parts of the record. Even when they’re played alongside screams, they just take over everything. When it’s really an issue is when the intensity is at a lower level and the tempo is slow, but the crunchy guitars are still heavily chugging and the drums are heavy. Because when those highly-intense growls come out of the ground like Mt. St. Helens in 1980, it just doesn’t match up and it just literally overpowers the whole rest of the band.

I don’t really know anything about their drummer except for that he’s in this mediocre stoner rock band called Plutonium Orange. I listened to their first album and just didn’t really get anything satisfactory out of it at all. Although the drumming on this album fits the music just fine and never falls out of time, I do feel that it’s just a LITTLE too simple; not by much, though! I do feel that simple drumming is what the majority of what this band has written is what’s required, but I just have a gut-feeling that if the drums had just a tiny bit more pizzazz, that it would enhance the beauty of the music so much more.

The first two tracks on the album are what speak to me the most. I find it interesting when a band chooses the longest track to be the first one. The Giant starts off with a soft guitar/vocal duet that contains indescribable beauty (no exaggeration). I can’t imagine a better way to set the mood for the rest of the album than this very relaxed and melodic introduction that smoothly leads into melodic death metal beauty that put a smile on my face the first time I heard it. The uneven pattern of the frequent key and mood changes never fails to keep the listener interested. That is true, but I will say that this is an EXTREMELY melodic and soft album (I’m talking Katatonia-style), so in case it happens, it’s not boredom that put you to sleep while listening to it.

Descending Winters is a song with a lot more energy as well as being a great melodic headbanging track. The way that the drummer hits the snare so fucking hard gives the whole song an unusually heavy sound that can’t possibly leave someone unimpressed. Aside from that, the production on the entire album is amazing, the vocals are fantastic, the drumming could use to be a bit more complex (which is fixed since they now have the Wintersun drummer), and the overall extremely melodic gothic feel that the music has is like no other. I would give Ghosts of Loss 17/20.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sworn - Bastards and Conquerors

Bastards and Conquerors is the sophomore release of Norwegian black metal band Sworn. The band’s 2007 debut, The Alleviation, has remained one of my favorite Norwegian metal albums. The way that Sworn composes very melodic black metal while pulling influences from several other areas of heavy metal has not only inspired me in my own songwriting, but has also just left me completely fulfilled and satisfied. It was literally right before the release of this album when I first got my hands on The Alleviation, and I actually didn’t bother listening to it until about four months after its release. Although I’m aware that Sworn has been fairly successful in Eastern Europe, I know nothing about any fans of them in the USA. So therefore, any news about their activity is in a language I can’t understand (it’s usually Norwegian, Ukrainian, Polish, or Russian). A couple immediate observations that one would make before listening to Bastards and Conquerors would be that the artwork follows the same color scheme as The Alleviation; the cover has the same situation where it’s a single being in a nature setting. If you would take that and base all prejudice on it, you would come up with the conclusion that Sworn has taken the approach of simply strengthening and solidifying their sound without making any progressions or changes.

That’s what I thought to, but to be honest, this sounds like a completely different band altogether! The first MAJOR change that is immediately noticeable when the music starts playing is that everything is mixed differently. Something that I think is an extremely important trait on an extreme metal album is the sound of the guitar distortion. The distortion on the guitars in The Alleviation was extremely fuzzy and very easy on the ears; they didn’t have any edgy grittiness, almost smooth. This is actually something that isn’t too uncommon in the black metal genre at all. But I have yet to hear an album that goes THIS far. In Bastards and Conquerors, the guitar distortion sounds very rough, edgy, crunchy, and more traditional. To be honest, they sound like the types of distortion that you would hear on a death metal record, not particularly a black metal one. The reason why it sounds more death metal-like is because there’s a considerable amount of bass backing up the high-pitched grittiness of the guitars. This is present both in the bass guitar and the kick drums.

The vocals have taken on a completely new direction of their own. Instead of sticking to a traditional black metal scream (and nothing else), you hear a 50/50 balance of both growling and screaming. I will admit that although I would rather that they not be present in this situation, the growls are fantastic. The growls literally match every quality of what I think a good growl SHOULD sound like. They’re demonic, very deep, exhaled, powerful, and efficient. So not only do we have the guitars sounding more death metal than black metal, we NOW have the vocals striving for a more melodic death vibe than black metal. This album is turning out to be a melodic death record that sounds like black metal (if that makes any sense at all). The screams sound a LITTLE different than on The Alleviation, but that’s probably due to the touring they did in support of their debut.

The lead guitar riffs that worked as the front-end in The Alleviation have apparently been replaced by keyboards. I remember there being a couple instances of some keyboards working as a background in The Alleviation, but when the first track (Beyonder) threw itself at me, the increased volume of the keyboard-induced string section caught me by surprise. I would say that this is yet ANOTHER thing that’s not common for black metal, but that’s not exactly true because there’s an entire fucking GENRE called “symphonic black” (including Dimmu Borgir, Anorexia Nervosa, Emperor, Bal Sagoth, etc.). The most intriguing outcome of this increasing role of the keyboards is how much it transforms the sound of everything else. The way it just literally changes EVERYTHING about this record is borderline indescribable. It’s weird, but all the changes that it makes are in a positive direction.

The song structure, like most extreme metal, is very complex. Sworn has a thing for making stuff that’s more complex and thick than normal. Not so much with how much there is in their music, but more with the diversity of all the different styles of verses and interludes used. They go from playing a traditional driving black metal sound to blending into an epic Wintersun-like transition that then drops into an exaggerated breakdown. I’ve heard all of these things in black metal, but it’s not too often that I hear all of these things in one single song (some good examples would be Ascendant and Carnal Monuments). Yet oddly enough, with all of these complex changes made and sounds fused, the end result still tells me “black metal”. In other words, there are obvious things in here that aren’t traditional, but the base that they’re all built on is what we all know and recognize. Another example would be Winds of Plague, a deathcore band that has a shitload of orchestral elements in their music, but it still sounds like deathcore.

To be honest, I still prefer The Alleviation over this. Although that is true, Sworn have decided to take on a much more innovative path of musical creativity that not only fuses, but defies the boundaries of the black metal genre. Bastards and Conquerors is a black metal album that everyone needs to hear because it’s an entirely different world within itself. I would give this album 16/20. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Upcoming Reviews

Here are some bands I might or might not review:

Swallow the Sun (melodic death)
Motionless in White (metalcore)
Sevendust (nu metal)
Absvrdist (grindcore)
Mayan (progressive death)
Upon this Dawning (metalcore)
Behemoth (black death)
Wide Eyes (progressive metal)
Blizzard at Sea (atmospheric sludge)
As You Drown (deathcore)
Nailed (technical death)
Neuraxis (technical death)
Inquisition (black metal)
Sworn (black metal)
Taproot (alternative metal)
Firewind (power metal)
Gutted (death grind)
Mnemic (metalcore)
The HAARP Machine (progressive death)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Carnifex - Until I Feel Nothing

People that listen to deathcore know who Carnifex is. They certainly aren’t the biggest band in the genre, but it’s one of those things where at least 80% of deathcore listeners have at least some stuff by Carnifex in their collection. For me, I discovered them about three or so years ago when I stumbled upon an article about them on a random blog that was talking about the band’s second release, The Diseased and the Poisoned. Honestly, for me, that album is fantastic and is a great example of deathcore in its purest form with a bit more death metal in the mix than metalcore. But since I’ve already reviewed The Diseased and the Poisoned, there’s no sense in repeating myself. Only one year after releasing my favorite Carnifex record in 2010, Hell Chose Me, we now have a fourth Carnifex album on the table that is only known as Until I Feel Nothing. Here’s why there was such a big hype behind this release: Hell Chose Me. That album and the band’s appearance on the Summer Slaughter Tour apparently made Until I Feel Nothing have one of the best first-month sales of a deathcore album in 2011 (which is a list made up of a dozen or so albums, the top three being Born of Osiris’ The Discovery, Iwrestledabearonce’s Ruining it for Everybody, and Suicide Silence’s The Black Crown).

I actually didn’t hear about the album’s release at all until I went to Victory Record’s website to catch up on Jungle Rot. It was about a week before the album’s release when I saw the new album in the “upcoming releases” section of the site. Since most elitist reviewing sites/zines like Sputnik Music and MetalReview are usually pretty negative when it comes to deathcore, I decided to instead just wait till the album was released and let my first impression be me listening to it. After about a month or so, I experienced the same delayed effect that my friends did. It really did take me a little while to get into. Usually, an album that’s like that has an extremely complex structure and has a lot for you to take in. Well, Carnifex isn’t really that complex. They did have some fancy harmonizations in the guitars on Hell Chose Me, but it’s still nothing compared to the complexity of Iwrestledabearonce and All Shall Perish. But seriously, what is it about Until I Feel Nothing that made it harder for its listeners to INSTANTLY get into it?

Some might say that the change in style has something to do with it. Although I feel that there are other reasons as well, I agree that this is probably the biggest reason. When people think about Carnifex, they see them in the family of deathcore bands that have much more “death” than “core”, which includes Whitechapel, Fit for an Autopsy, As You Drown, Annotations of an Autopsy, and others. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE that I’ve discussed this album with have said that they feel that since some of the extra death metal sound has been taken out, there are now several holes in the sound that have been filled in with very weak ideas or just no ideas at all. For me, I wouldn’t say that their sound is any less solid than it always has been, but the absence of the extra death metal does act as a downer. So Until I Feel Nothing is what people would call “a really heavy and energetic generic deathcore record”. For a lot of people, an album with the word “generic” on it isn’t attractive (for some reason). As much as I love progressive music, I don’t think that anything that’s not progressive should be mindlessly put down and dissed. I actually listen to quite a bit of generic deathcore. Although when it comes to that, it has to be pretty fucking unique and good for it to REALLY impress me.

So because of that, I won’t let the progressive and genre-defying deathcore bands influence my opinion on this album because those bands don’t even have the same goals as Carnifex. Carnifex doesn’t feel the need to push the edges, they know how to make amazing music within the walls and contribute to keeping a solid and everlasting foundation for the deathcore genre. As much as I think that this album is one of the best generic deathcore records ever, the new sound just isn’t as fulfilling and addictive as the sound on the three previous records. Some would claim that the band turned into minimalists and decided to just go with the pure deathcore sound. But really, I can hear a hell of a lot more energy and bludgeoning heaviness on this album than on 80% of the generic deathcore records I’ve ever heard. Carnifex manages to stick within the boundaries and create extremely heavy and energetic deathcore without doing anything cheesy, cliché, or laughable. This is a deathcore band that (unlike some) knows what the fuck they’re doing and go the extra mile to prove it.

What I miss the most is the growling. When it’s Carnifex, I want the primary vocal style to be GROWLING. In Hell Chose Me, you rarely heard Scott scream his mediocre screams. The growls in Hell Chose Me and The Diseased and the Poisoned made the music MUCH darker and have a deeper sound. I never really liked Scott’s screaming because, well, they just aren’t that good. The reason why it’s not so bad this time is because Scott must’ve immensely improved his screaming while on the road in 2010, because there is a BIG difference in the sound of his screams on this album and on Hell Chose Me. The guitarists rarely harmonize like they did in Hell Chose Me, which is a disappointment.

The way that the guitarists harmonized is really difficult for me to describe. Some would say that they sound like a darker, minor-keyed metalcore guitar harmonization (if that makes any sense at all). This was yet ANOTHER thing that made Carnifex sound so fucking dark in their first three albums. Here’s another thing that I literally JUST noticed: the breakdowns are different. The only way that I can think of to describe them is by describing something I want you to picture in your head. In Hell Chose Me, the breakdowns were crushing, like someone holding up their fist for a long time and then bringing it down hard. The breakdowns on Until I Feel Nothing are more like having your arm hanging down and then you suddenly bringing your fist up and bringing it down hard. In other words, the music doesn’t transition into the breakdowns as smoothly as they did in Hell Chose Me, but it still fits all the other musical changes just fine. The breakdowns in Until I Feel Nothing feel a lot more sudden and blunt.

Despite the changes, Carnifex has left us with a fantastic piece of work. Filled with energy, CRUSHING breakdowns, bludgeoning blast beats, and anger-infused guitar riffs, Until I Feel Nothing is on my “recommend to all deathcore fans” list. If you haven’t bothered to check it out, check it out, it’s definitely worth it. I would give Until I Feel Nothing 16/20. 

Goratory - Rice on Suede

I’ve been staring at this band on Amputated Vein Record’s website for quite some time now. Around July/August of this year, I decided to finally look up their music. This American death grind band known as Goratory apparently split up a year or so ago (there isn’t much about them on the net). During their career that started shortly after the turn of the century, they released three albums that received high praise by the few critics that even heard it, as well as developing a good-sized fan base (for an underground metal band) that spanned from America to Europe and other random places around the globe. Before I actually start talking about the music on THIS album, I should say that if I just did compare/contrast stuff with the previous record, it would be just pointless nonsense because, well, I haven’t even heard it. So basically, this is the only thing that I’ve heard by them, so the only comparing that I will be able to do is with the death grind genre itself.

Goratory is one of those bands that have one or two really fucking good and strong qualities, but not really any REALLY bad qualities. Because I’m just itching to talk about one thing in particular, I’ll start with that. The quality is one that actually isn’t as common in this type of really brutal music as it may seem: their bassist. Their bassist not only has an extremely unique playing style, but he’s also just outright awesome! Let me take all the things I like about their bassist and list them all off to you individually.

The first thing is his style of playing. Those of you that have been paying attention to what’s “hot” in the brutal death/grind world should be well-aware of Cerebral Bore and the increasing attention they’ve gotten over the past two years. The bassist for Goratory plays that same really technical jazzy style that you hear Cerebral Bore’s bassist doing. I love how on this album (and on Cerebral Bore’s Maniacal Miscreation) there are those random pauses in the music where the bassist just goes and bangs out this catchy riff. The second thing I love about Goratory’s bassist is something that I feel intensifies and brings out the first quality, and that is the bass guitar he plays and how he has it tuned. Obviously, he’s playing a bass that was made for some kind of jazz music. On top of that, he’s got the treble turned WAY up in order to make the slapping and other random shit more audible.

The third thing that I like about the bassist is mainly because of the first two, and that is despite his abstract style and uniqueness, the way he just perfectly blends in with the rest of the band. During some of the heavier and slower breakdowns (especially the one at the end of the title track), he just keeps on going and tearing out these sweeping riffs like nobody’s business; and it fits in PERFECTLY! Now that I’ve completed my rave over their bassist, let’s move on to the drummer. I wouldn’t consider him to be one of the band’s worst strengths, but then again, he’s nowhere NEAR being the best member. Another thing that I would not consider him to be is an outstanding death grind drummer in general. One thing that you repeatedly hear in death grind is mind-blowing drumming (i.e. Dying Fetus, Cattle Decapitation, Wormed, Exhumed, Gutted, Carcass, Misery Index, Skinless, etc.). So it was somewhat surprising to me that these guys don’t even have a better-than-average drummer. But then again, I’ve hear FAR worse drumming than what’s on this record (Dying Fetus kind of raised my standards for death grind a little too high), and most (not all) of the drummer’s flaws aren’t easily noticeable unless you listen to the drumming very closely.

The vocals lean more towards the grindcore side. The switch between slushy exhaled growls, pig squeals, and exhaled shrieks is very engaging. There are several points in the album where there is a combination of two or all of those three vocal styles; and those combinations are placed in very clever spots and never get overdone. I wouldn’t consider the vocalist’s skills and technique to be anything better than the average underground death grind band, but his creativity is greater than most.

Goratory’s music is some of the best death grind of the underground world (that I’m aware of). Obviously, it’s not something that I would consider to be better than Dying Fetus’ WORST record, but out of all the underground death grind bands that I’ve discovered over the past year or so, Goratory has proved to be one of the more talented and skilled bands. If the opportunity presents itself, and if you’re a fan of brutal music that has catchiness, uniqueness, and tons of non-boring brutality and energy, you should get yourself a copy of this album. I would give Rice on Suede 15/20. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dying Fetus Tour

Ten days after I witness the miracle known as Wintersun occur right in front of me, I will be seeing one of the best death grind/brutal death tour packages ever.

I am excited to see the bands in THIS order:

Dying Fetus (this will be my 4th time seeing them)
Cattle Decapitation (this will be my 5th time seeing them)
Cerebral Bore (this will be my 2nd time seeing them)

Eluveitie/Wintersun Tour


As much as Eluveitie loves touring, I actually have yet to see them...until December 2nd!! Honestly, I'm surprised that Wintersun isn't going on their own headlining USA tour. But what the hell, they'll still be there. I don't know much about Varg. Soooo just like the show I saw last night (Morbid Angel, Dark Funeral, Grave), I have seen NONE of these bands live before.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Industrial/Dark EBM Mix

Industrial/Dark EBM Mix

Click the link above. This is literally one of the best industrial/ebm mixes I've EVER heard. Drop a comment if you've got other suggestions. Pretty much the only thing that I've listened to today besides this would be the Pathology album when I was reviewing it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pathology - The Time of Great Purification

The brutal death genre seems to have two basic styles: the somewhat more technical, complex, and innovative style that usually have exhaled vocals. Some bands that I would consider to fall into that category would be Suffocation, Nile, Hate Eternal, Vital Remains, and Cryptopsy. Then we have the much harsher and less-appreciated kind of brutal death that is known for its inhaled vocals, bombarding blast beats, crushing breakdowns, and its more-or-less lack of intention to push the boundaries of the genre. Some of the most popular bands that play that style include Devourment, Cephalotripsy, Putrid Pile, Cerebral Bore, Disgorge, and the two most famous bands from there: Pathology and Aborted. I can definitely see how people wouldn’t consider Aborted to be one of those “slamming brutality” kinds of bands because of their experimentation and the less-brutal sound two of their albums have, but I would still consider them to be there with those other bands.

Unlike Aborted, Pathology doesn’t feel the need for experimentation and progression because they are just fine at what they’re doing now. They’re kind of like Motorhead in the sense that they’ve been playing the exact same thing for their entire career, yet it never seems to get old and dry. The sound that Pathology has created has been crafted so well that it has created a (seemingly) endless amount of possible songs without TOO much repetition. Also, the stuff that Pathology plays may be somewhat difficult to PLAY at times (for those of you that like to play covers), but obviously, they’re not that fucking hard to write. Why is that obvious? Well, let’s take a quick second to look at the fact that they’ve released an album every year since 2008. That’s a good strategy so that they can easily craft catchy and brutal songs in a short amount of time to keep listeners interested. And fortunately, that plan doesn’t seem to have failed quite yet.

One thing that really bothered me about their first few albums is that they had a different vocalist every album. This isn’t good for me because the sound of the vocals is part of what helps me connect with the band the most. If a band switches vocalists too often, I feel like I’m listening to a different band each time. If a band has a vocalist for two or more albums at a time, that’s fine. So I’m glad that they’ve been able to hold together a consistent lineup for more than two albums in a row.

Although they pull it off extremely well, I wouldn’t consider Pathology as being one of the best bands at writing those really fast bombarding parts with blast beats, tremolo picking, and just pure chaos. What Pathology is GREAT at is writing those fucking catchy songs that are a little on the slow side, but are perfect headbanging tracks, my favorite being Code Injection from Legacy of the Ancients. For me, those kinds of tracks that stick out to me the most on The Time of Great Purification are A Bleak Future and Tyrannical Decay. Tyrannical Decay’s highlight is the catchy attention-snatching intro. I LOVE the combination of the steady double-kicking with a snare hit every so often with the slightly slower guitar-chugging. I just can’t help but headbang to that intro! This is something that pops up every so often in the song. You want something that has an even more crushing and catchy sound with crushing breakdowns and headbanging sections? A Bleak Future is the song that thee wants.

A Bleak Future takes the listener back to the sound that many of the songs from Legacy of the Ancients have. This somewhat slower, but much darker and heavier sound is what Pathology does BEST. And I LOVE how they DON’T only do that because it should be the gem in the sand of an album, not the whole thing, because it has the capability of getting old WAY too fast. Another thing that The Time of Great Purification has more of than any other Pathology record is guitar solos. That was the thing that I noticed in last year’s Pathology record, Awaken to the Suffering; the amount of guitar solos had taken a sharp increase. The solos don’t seem super melodic or epic and they’re not outright shredding either. They’re just…solos. I don’t even know how to describe them! It’s not that they’re really bad or really good (in fact, they’re neither of those), it’s just that they have no unique qualities whatsoever other than that (oddly enough) they actually fit the rest of the music.

The vocals seem to be getting more complex with each album. In Awaken to the Suffering, the vocal patterns were much less predictable than the ones in Legacy of the Ancients. I wouldn’t say that the vocal patterns have made an even bigger jump in complexity in this album because they haven’t. They have gotten less predictable, but only slightly. I’m hoping that they stay that way, unless they decide to make the rest of the music more complex in order to even it out. I have absolutely nothing to complain about the overall sound of the instruments. The guitars have a type of distortion that you pretty much only hear on a Pathology record. Speaking of that, the distortion is almost exactly like the distortion on Awaken to the Suffering. It just sounds a little meatier because there’s a lot more bass guitar in the new record.

The drums aren’t too upfront and aren’t drowned out; they’re perfect. Pathology, yet again, comes out with another juicy slab of smashing brutal death that gives you Pathology and nothing else. People that are looking for boundary-pushing material wouldn’t be impressed by this because, well…Pathology just doesn’t feel the need to be a progressive band because they’re obviously having fun doing what they’ve been doing since 2006! I would definitely check this out; it’s not something that lets you down. I would give The Time of Great Purification 15/20. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Revocation - Teratogenesis (Scion AV)

Revocation - Teratogenesis (Scion AV)

Haven't heard the new Revocation EP yet?? Click the link above to listen to the ENTIRE fuckin thing on SoundCloud! The link to download the FREE EP is there! GO THERE NOW!

New Partner in Crime

I will now be working as one of the reviewers for the metal webzine Teeth of the Divine! Here's the thing: when I write reviews for them, I can't post the whole review on here like I do with other sites, I will be posting a clip from the review followed by a link to the full review on the Teeth of the Divine website. So far, the people on there seem to not be total assholes and know what they're talking about.
You can find their website by clicking on their link in the right-hand column under "Partners in Crime".

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Anette Olzon

I've never seen metal-related news like this spread so fucking FAST! I didn't hear about The Rev's death until about a day and a half after he died! And that was HUGE!! This is not only a disappointment, it's upsetting and infuriating. Tarja was given the boot because of her ego, what could have possibly been going on this time?? Of course, the band gave the cheap half-assed instant response to the media to keep them out of their hair (for now) by saying it was because of "creative differences".

Ok, first of all, that doesn't happen on tour, bickering over "creative differences" occurs during the writing process of an album and during jam sessions. And I HIGHLY doubt that Nightwish was busy songwriting and jamming on their days off instead of catching up on much-needed sleep and doing other random shit that bands do on tour. I think that it MIGHT have something to do with Anette's child and her wanting to focus on raising her family. But I don't know, she had plenty of time off (which was a good idea) so that she could give birth to the damned thing and recover. But I can't even see THAT as being a reason to just leave/get kicked out of a band in the middle of a tour!

I haven't been this pissed since the night I had to tolerate Dave Mustaine throwing away 1/4 of his band's set so that he could just preach and tell everyone about the bible!

This is an outrage and a major deception for the world's biggest symphonic metal band. Although I strongly oppose Floor Jansen being a possible replacement, I do think that there couldn't have been a better fill-in vocalist. click the picture below to get the full-size, it's pretty big.

Lago - Marianas [EP]

When death metal is the topic of discussion, there are fewer things that make me happier than hearing that there are still bands out there busting their asses in order to keep the traditional death metal sound alive, breathing, and killing. We all know that the death metal genre has infinitely branched off into several different sub-categories. Many bands play death metal that has a more profound and soft melody, known as melodic death (Dark Tranquility, Arch Enemy, etc.). Atheist was the first of thousands of death metal bands (i.e. Obscura, Psycroptic, Origin) to play an extremely complex and technical variation of the genre known as technical death. Not only have bands been creating new forms of death metal, but there have also been bands combining the genre with grindcore (Dying Fetus, Wormed), black metal (Behemoth, Belphegor), folk (Eluveitie), and other styles that create an ENDLESS list of not only existing styles, but also of future possibilities. But a tree is nonexistent without a trunk. In other words, a genre is nothing without a healthy “generic” form.

The majority of the bands that make up the “trunk” of death metal started in the early to mid-1990s. Although there are several of those bands that are still alive and (sort of) kicking today (Morbid Angel, Vader, Obituary, Immolation, etc.), they’re starting to grow old (I think David Vincent is almost 50 years old). So obviously, with the proven fact that a band doesn’t last forever, we need an at least somewhat constant flow of new bands that play pure death metal. One of those bands happens to be one of the better ones that I’ve heard in quite some time, Lago.

Although there are some things that I can hear that I know are more recent trends, almost all of Lago’s sound is like a time machine that takes you back to 1992, apparently the year that death metal was in its prime (I wouldn’t know for sure because I wasn’t born until 1994). There are some aspects of early black metal and early melodic death that I can hear in some sections of a couple of the tracks on this EP. On the title track of the album which is also the first track, the really doomy sound in a minor tone reminds me of the first two Deicide records (except not nearly as brutal). There are two parts of this song that have a somewhat melodic vibe. The reason I say “somewhat” is because it seems that being melodic wasn’t the main focus right there. I wouldn’t say that those parts were half-assed just to show some cheap variation in their music, because they fit in with the rest of the song just fine, but there’s a hell of a lot of room for improvement on both of those interludes.

The vocals are just brutal. I have a MAJOR soft-spot for REALLY deep, powerful, guttural, and crisp exhaled growls. I just LOVE it! That’s why I love the vocalists for The Faceless, Opeth, Amorphis, and Spawn of Possession so damn much! His vocals are much deeper than what I’m used to, I wouldn’t say they sound crisp because although they have texture, there’s a mushy softness to them (sounds yummy, I know) that matches the lack of treble that the overall sound of the music has (which is a VERY good thing, by the way). Because of newer genres like metalcore and deathcore getting extensive attention from the media by making breakdowns a huge part of their image and stereotype, “non-core” bands of today have since purposefully steered away from using huge breakdowns in their music. I love how Lago goes back to the 1990s and goes as far as to play the same kind of breakdowns that bands like Dying Fetus, Suffocation, and Grave have been playing since they first started.

There’s just ONE thing that bothers me…those stupid shrieks. Get rid of those, and we’ve got something in the 15-16/20 range. But really, for me, those vocals only work when they’re the primary vocal style that the band uses (which is mainly only found in grindcore). And yes, I know that Vital Remains, Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, and other death metal bands from way back when used a combination of screaming and growling in their music, but I mean…I just can’t take this shrieking thing seriously; not one bit. This was also the major problem that I had with Awaiting the Autopsy; it just comes out of fucking NOWHERE, it doesn’t fit the music, and it just sounds plain bad. If these shrieks could be changed to a style that’s more like a high-pitched growling or even a vocal-fry style, I can definitely see that working out great. But this? No way, man.

I have to give Lago credit for not only being one of the few underground bands doing what they can to keep the pure death metal sound alive and killing, but also for being GOOD at it. This is an above-average EP and should be picked up if the opportunity presents itself. Although I can see the majority of extreme metal fans giving this at least a positive score, the diehard death metal fans are the ones that would probably get the most enjoyment out of this release. I would give this EP 13/20 and I will be looking forward to hearing more material from this band in the years to come.