Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vale of Pnath - The Prodigal Empire

The Prodigal Empire is the latest release by one of Colorado’s finest technical death acts, Vale of Pnath. People that are very up-to-date on the latest technical death stuff, following awesome labels like Unique Leader, Subliminal Groove, and Willowtip, have probably already heard of these guys. Although I would consider myself to be pretty in-tune with the underground brutal death and tech death scene, I wasn’t aware of these guys until a year after they released this album. A lot of the technical death bands that have been popping up during the past three or so years are pretty mediocre. Some, though, like Back Door to Asylum, Dystrophic, Foreboding Ether, Soreption, and Cerebric Turmoil, have shown immense potential of becoming huge. Vale of Pnath isn’t exactly one of the most unique, but by far one of the better bands of the bunch.

In technical death, precision is pretty much one of the most important concepts. Yes, having interesting composition and a strong structure is important, but precision and complexity is what the genre is all about (hence the name TECHNICAL death). If someone has an idea in their head, and can’t execute it, they might as well not be even trying. But in the case of Vale of Pnath, anything having to do with precision and complexity is completely void of error. In technical death metal, the member of the band that usually ends up having the most trouble with precision and staying on track is the drummer. This genre, in particular, has an immense number of drummers known for their skill, creativity, talent, speed and technicality. Decrepit Birth, The Black Dahlia Murder, The Faceless, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Spawn of Possession, Inherit Disease, Brain Drill, Obscura, and many more technical death bands all have drummers that are considered by many to be among the best out there; so that alone gives Vale of Pnath a lot to live up to. And yes, I know that these guys aren’t trying to be best tech death band ever, they’re new. But don’t let that lower your expectations, because this drummer is a monster.

The drummer is not to be fucked with. Not just his speed, but his ability to NEVER step out of line alone makes him easily comparable with some of the better and more known drummers in the genre. His blast beats are generic, which is something that I would like to see him work with on the next record, but they’re still crushing. But his blast beats are the only complaint that I have. Each fill that’s thrown out there is executed differently, some of them being so interesting that a few people might have to repeat that one section before continuing on with the rest of the song. This happened to me over and over again with tracks like Legacy of Loss, Borne Extinction, Sightless, and Time of Reckoning. This attention-grabbing ability that the drummer has is something that can only be found in the best bands of the technical death genre. On top of all that awesome shit, the way his drums sound is very unique. Yes, there are certain things about how he sounds that can be found on other records by other bands (for you nitpickers), but no other drummer has put together a sound identical to that of the drums on The Prodigal Empire.

Vale of Pnath has a vocalist that sounds extremely similar to the vocals from Kansas tech death group Origin. All of the vocals are exhales, primarily growls, and occasionally some screams. For those of you that haven’t heard anything by Origin (there’s a problem if you haven’t) and need a little bit more of a description than what I just gave you, I’ll elaborate a bit more. The growls aren’t the extremely deep and guttural growls you might like hearing (i.e. Opeth, The Faceless, Amorphis, Whitechapel, Scar Symmetry, etc.). These growls are deep, but not like that. They’re more so in the realms of being a lower mid-ranged growl, which is a pretty comfortable and easily interpreted spot if you ask me. The difference between the vocals of Origin and the vocals of Vale of Pnath is that Vale of Pnath does a lot more screaming. Most of the time, the screams are played along with the growls, but every single song on this record has plenty of material that has just screaming without any other vocal accompaniment. Are the screams any good? They’re not really what I would consider my favorite, but they sure as fucking hell aren’t shitty screams. So there isn’t really any problem in the vocal department.

The one trait that sets Vale of Pnath apart from the rest of the tech death genre is that they’re melodic. The recent technical death scene that seems to be putting WAY too much emphasis on brutality and technicality is what Vale of Pnath are not being a part of; these fuckers want to give you something different. And yes, these guys are by no means the first technical death band to take a melodic approach on the genre (bands like Arsis, Neuraxis, Atheist, and The Black Dahlia Murder have all been doing it for at least ten years), but they should be considered to be one of the best and most original at it. Playing tech death in a melodic form is not an easy task to jump on, that much I do know. This alone makes it even MORE difficult to be as original as possible. Vale of Pnath take numerous traits from the generic zone and the really underground scene and use them to compose their own unique and original sound. I cannot stress enough how good these guys are at what they do; this is a band that WILL go places.

Vale of Pnath have released one of the best technical death debuts since Oracles by Fleshgod Apocalypse. The Prodigal Empire is an album that I would recommend to technical death enthusiasts (and fans), asshole elitists that think all new death metal is crap, extreme metal fans, and people that love quality music. Having an approach that is both interesting and original, Vale of Pnath has released an album that gets my score of 18/20. This is not an album that you should listen to with low expectations, because they will be completely obliterated. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Six Feet Under - Unborn

Six Feet Under’s 2012 album Undead proved that Death Rituals wasn’t just a fluke. Having loved Undead, I’m ready to see if Six Feet Under can stay on top of things. In less than ten months, Six Feet Under have written, recorded, produced, and released a new full-length! Usually, when bands release new material THIS soon, it’s an EP, but an entire record?? These guys are on a creative writing spree. Although, I honestly think that the writing process of this album had already started before the release of Undead due to it having a similar album cover and a similar name. Six Feet Under’s newest release, titled Unborn, is a fucking monster. Three tasty slabs of death metal in a row is enough proof to safely say that Six Feet Under is on a winning streak and are no longer one of the worst death metal bands of all-time (which is what they were from 2001-2007). When I first saw the artwork and title of Unborn, I immediately came to the assumption that this was going to be an “Undead part 2”. Honestly, I’m totally cool with that because Undead was awesome. As long as they come up with something fresh next, I’m fine with another Undead-sounding record.

Those of you that didn’t like Death Rituals and are still skeptical about Undead don’t need to worry about the vocals. Everything that Barnes did that sounded like a clogged toilet or a constipated boar cannot be heard on this album. The vocals are fantastic, different, but still sound like the behemoth known as Chris Barnes. I’ll elaborate more on this later in the review, but for now, let’s get into the general music part.

The first track, Neuro Osmosis is going to take you off-guard. Six Feet Under likes to do the whole acoustic or melodic intro during the first song of the album before the song continues to dive into pure death metal, but this is different. The entire song sounds really weird. The odd combination of acoustic guitars, droning bass, slow drum patterns, ambient background, and melodic guitar leads that make up Neuro Osmosis makes me wonder if this was just a random jam session that the band decided to put on the album or a strange form of experimentation. Although I’m not a fan of the song, there’s nothing wrong with it on the instrumental side. The bits where the vocals take the lead are slow and sludgy, pulling influence from sludge metal and doom metal. It’s puzzling as to why they chose this song to be the first because it puts the listener on the wrong track by giving them a bad impression on what the rest of the album might sound like. But once the song is over, the rest of the album is pretty much what a lot of people predicted it would be: Undead 2.

The way all of the instruments sound and how everything is mixed is pretty much the same as Undead. There are some differences, though. The guitars have a much dirtier and more crunchy distortion, therefore adding more treble to the mix. The drums are louder and have more treble on the cymbals. Other than that, and the recording volume of the entire band being greater, there hasn’t been too much change. Most of the difference in sound that Unborn has to Undead is due to what the actual members are doing. The guitarist is using the extra distortion by playing more high-pitched guitar harmonics and more chugging riffs that probably wouldn’t have sounded as good with the distortion used on Undead. The first two tracks, Prophecy and Zombie Blood Curse are where the death metal sickness takes action.

Prophecy is probably one of the best headbanging tracks that Six Feet Under has ever written. Starting 30 seconds into the song, the groove that the drums and guitars create will cause any death metal fan to go along with the beat, it’s just irresistible; and it’s fucking great. Although not as good as other pure death metal headbanging sonds like Cannibal Corpse’s Scourge of Iron and Bloodbath’s Like Fire, Prophecy is one of the best ones out there. The biggest improvement on the vocals that the band has made is first heard in this song. The problem with the vocals on the majority of Six Feet Under’s discography is that they sound weak, uninspired, bland, and emotionless. This not only led to an uninteresting sound, it also caused the growls to sound like complete gorilla shit. Starting with Undead, the growls sound a lot more powerful and interesting. The only thing that Chris does with his vocals on Unborn is take them to the next level. So now, the growls don’t sound weak, they don’t sound boring, and they sure as hell don’t sound shitty. Instead, as cliche as this may sound, the growls on Unborn are brutal as fuck. Instead of ruining the music, the vocals take the front of the stage and intensify the entire sound of the music.

Zombie Blood Curse was the teaser track posted on YouTube before Unborn’s release. This song is a perfect example of how Six Feet Under want to approach death metal. The more rock-influenced, groovy death metal sound is what Zombie Blood Curse helps lay out for the listener. The reason why I like Six Feet Under’s rock n’ roll approach on death metal more than other bands that do that (Debauchery, Entombed, etc.) is because it’s still death metal. It’s not rock n’ roll that’s played with distorted guitars and growled vocals; it still has a death metal structure, a death metal vibe, and a death metal attitude. To be honest, I don’t think that Six Feet Under could have created a better concept of the whole rock n’ roll/death metal thing than Unborn, especially Zombie Blood Curse (yes, I know the name is kind of silly).

Unborn is the third solid album in a row that Six Feet Under have put out since 2008. Although it is more of an “Undead part two”, it still delivers its own unique vibe with a stronger rock n’ roll influence than its predecessor. This is an album that I would recommend to fans of traditional death metal. The only downside to this album that has caused me to not like it as much as Death Rituals and Undead is the first track that I just don’t like very much at all. I would give Six Feet Under’s Unborn 15/20.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Parkway Drive - Atlas

It’s not unknown to those that don’t live under a rock that August Burns Red is pretty much leading the metalcore scene. But surely they can’t be leading it all by themselves; it would be too much responsibility! Well, that’s why Parkway Drive is there to take some of the weight. Why didn’t I mention Bullet for My Valentine, Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, and As I Lay Dying? They’re fucking huge, yes, but they’re not the groups that 80% of the bands that make up the metalcore genre are practically worshipping let alone creating music that’s identical to theirs (i.e. I The Breather, For Today, Architects, Haste the Day, Texas in July, etc.). Back to Parkway Drive, they, along with August Burns Red, are pretty much the leaders and primary representatives of the “generic” metalcore sound that people keep referring to. Does this mean that they’re shitty? Hell fucking no it doesn’t, a band’s popularity never determines their quality. For example, I don’t know about you guys, but I fucking love August Burns Red. They’re not my favorite metalcore band, but they are, by far, one of the best groups that the genre has to offer. The reason why is that although they have all of these other bands that sound extremely similar to them, they still manage to sound different. Parkway Drive, on the other hand, has a little bit more of a difficult time with that.

Instead of supporting their status as being one of the most influential metalcore bands of all-time, Parkway Drive’s 2012 release, Atlas, blends in with all of the other smaller bands and doesn’t stand out in any way, shape, or form. I’ve known about Parkway Drive ever since I got into metalcore and deathcore in 2007, but I’ve never bothered to look them up until the cover of their new album was shoved in my face via ads on nearly every fucking YouTube video I watched before it was released. I’m not usually one to judge albums by their artwork, but the cover for Atlas is one of the coolest metalcore album covers I’ve seen since Threat Signal’s Vigilance in 2009 (one of my favorite metalcore albums too). So, with the artwork sparking my interest, I decided that it was time to listen to the band that I hear about online, from friends, at concerts, and from other places I can’t remember.

After listening to Atlas, I decided to get some of Parkway Drive’s other albums to do a bit of compare and contrast work. After doing that for about a week I concluded that Atlas is pretty much the best and most solid piece of work that Parkway Drive has put out. But that really isn’t saying much because they haven’t changed much over the ten years that they’ve existed. The other album that I listened to that isn’t too bad at all by them is Horizons. Although easily comparable with their newest album, Atlas pretty much crushes Horizons as far as solidity and catchiness. The reason why Parkway Drive has been a leading force in metalcore is because of how confident their music sounds, and the confidence is due to the large hardcore punk influence in their music (in other words, they’re more hardcore punk than metal). I think that they aren’t truly as confident as they sound; the hardcore punk influence makes their music sound more confident. This is what I hear in all of Parkway Drive’s albums except for Atlas.

Unlike their other albums, Atlas practically screams with power, confidence, and readiness. Parkway Drive sound much more sure of themselves as a band than they ever have before. This is why Atlas speaks out to me more than any of their other records. To me, Atlas’ predecessor, Deep Blue, sounds forced, uninspired, and somewhat dry. Although Atlas isn’t drastically different than Deep Blue, it sounds fresher, more confident, and more original. Parkway Drive do a LITTLE bit of experimenting here and there by creating unusual guitar riffs and breakdown patters that you might not be used to hearing from them. But other than that, the maturity and the confidence of the sound is what’s made this album their best so far.

The guitars are very deep and meaty. There isn’t much treble aside from the crunch of the heavy distortion (which is mostly bass anyway). As far as the composition goes, don’t expect anything from the guitars beyond your typical deep chugging, typical metalcore guitar harmonizations, and the occasional high-pitched guitar harmonics used as melodic leads. To be honest, the guitar work on this album is boring. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, though. The guitarists don’t ever fuck up, they don’t do shit that causes me to cringe in disgust, and they don’t play overly-simple stuff; they just don’t do anything (and I mean ANYTHING) out of the ordinary. The distortion of the guitars is very wide and powerful, so it pretty much completely covers up the bass (why is this such a common trait in this genre??).

The vocals are fairly generic when it comes to the general style of Parkway Drive’s music. The vocalist almost exclusively does mid-ranged growls with the occasional high-pitched screams, but that’s more common in their earlier works. There isn’t really much singing at all except for when the whole band is singing a line in the background. His growls are good, but they aren’t any better than For Today or As I Lay Dying. The drums, on the other hand, are something worth talking about. The drummer isn’t outstanding, but I’m glad to hear a drummer that doesn’t ONLY play generic metalcore and hardcore patterns, especially during the breakdowns. Probably my favorite thing about him is that he plays blast beats. And it’s not the fact that he actually chooses to play them that make me smile, it’s the fact that he’s fucking good at them. The unconventional patterns and fills that he comes up with show that he’s got something interesting to offer to those that are tired of hearing the same simple breakdowns, fills, and triplets during fast parts. Yes, he does play all of those, but he keeps you listening by throwing in those fills or pulling off those odd breakdowns when you’re not expecting it. The problem that I’m having is that he’s not doing this enough. If he played that interesting shit more often on this album, the music would be much more engaging.

As far as songs go, the entire album is one big wall of monotony. Every song has the same sound, similar composition, and the same goddamn high-predictability. There is one song that speaks out to me, and that is Wide Eyes. The entire first minute and a half (that’s 1 minute 30 seconds) is probably the album’s ultimate climax. The intro is awesome, the beginning with the breakdown and the melodic guitar lick is fucking epic, and the blast beats just make me smile. But it’s not just the first half of the song that has all that, the whole song does. This song alone is enough proof to show that Parkway Drive is, in fact, a solid, confident, and fucking powerful metalcore band that cannot and will not be stopped. Although this album will fail to impress anyone beyond the hardcore and diehard metalcore fans, Atlas has helped me fully understand why Parkway Drive is as powerful and influential as they are today. I would give this album 12/20. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Meshuggah - Pitch Black [EP]

Not even a whole year after releasing the best album of their career, Meshuggah have revived an unreleased track recorded all the way back in 2003 titled Pitch Black. The song has been released through Scion A/V as a two song EP with the same name along with a fantastic live version of one of the best songs from ObZen, Dancers of a Discordant System. Very rarely have I seen a single song gain so much goddamn hype. I’m not the biggest fan of Meshuggah, but I can’t deny their incredible musicianship and the amount of influence that albums like Destroy Erase Improve and Catch Thirtythree have had on the heavy metal genre.

The problem that I have with this band is that almost all of their stuff sounds the same. That’s why I love their newest full-length as much as I do, because it sounds different from all of their other stuff. This is also the reason why I can’t stop listening to Pitch Black; it sounds even MORE different than their other stuff. The biggest difference that people will notice about this song is the vocal style. The vocals aren’t those really creepy yells that everyone’s used to hearing. Instead, they’re much calmer and more relaxed. It’s hard to explain to people considering how common the vocal style is. It’s almost like a really dark and demented rap that doesn’t connect with the complex polyrhythmic style of the music. All of this is an interesting concept and shows that this band has more variety than they may express to people.

The sound production is unlike any of their albums. Not only does it sound different, it’s actually much better in many ways. When it comes to having lots of bass, Meshuggah is one of the best bands to listen to. The problem is that Meshuggah’s albums don’t have quite enough bass (except for their newest record). The instant the drum intro finishes, you can feel the bass run through you (that is, if you have good speakers). The balance between the treble of the metallic guitar distortion and the bass of the entire drum set couldn’t be any better. The vocals aren’t buried behind the indestructible wall of sound the rest of the band creates, they’re perfect right where they are.

Personally, I’m not one that loves live albums, but the live version of Dancers of a Discordant System is fucking fantastic. The sound quality is crisp and everything can be heard. And to put the icing on this small, but awesome cake, we have some of the best album artwork that’s ever been on a Meshuggah release. I tip my hat to both the band and the producer. I would give the Pitch Black [EP] a score of 15/20. 

Within the Ruins - Elite

Within the Ruins has always been pretty big in the underground metalcore scene. It was in 2011 when they REALLY got their name out there in the world when they won the opening spot on the Summer Slaughter Tour which included The Black Dahlia Murder, Whitechapel, Dying Fetus, Oceano, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and a few other bands. I didn’t bother looking them up before seeing them that year, and I was minimally impressed by their performance anyway. What caused me to look this album up? Look at the fucking cover and tell me it doesn’t make you want to listen to it. The big quest that a lot of music critics out there are on is finding the metalcore bands out there that aren’t like everyone else and that are actually unique and great. Within the Ruins, unfortunately, isn’t one of those bands. But, they have done something that the majority of the METALCORE genre hasn’t done.

The average metalcore band plays simple breakdowns, melodic choruses, and not really much else. Within the Ruins does what a lot of deathcore bands do, and that is the Meshuggah-influenced polyrhythmic style breakdowns known as “djent”. Ok, yes, they don’t sound like the majority of metalcore bands, but this isn’t what I meant! Within the Ruins is doing exactly what Born of Osiris, Veil of Maya, After the Burial, and Chelsea Grin are doing (all deathcore bands), except Within the Ruins are not as heavy, not as interesting, less-colorful, and less inventive. They sound like a Born of Osiris cover band that’s not as heavy.  On top of the already overdone polyrhythmic tempos during the verses, the breakdowns themselves are too predictable and fail to deliver the amount of energy they’re supposed to.

In fact, the entire album lacks energy. It’s like The Common Man’s Collapse by Veil of Maya, except Elite is not as complex, more monotonous, and not nearly as catchy. Here’s the thing that Within the Ruins does that tricks you: the first two tracks off this album are awesome. The breakdowns are complex, the frilly guitar riffs and the complex harmonizations, although overdone, are catchy. Then, after the second track, everything grows old. You hear the exact same thing over and over again for the entire duration of the album. This very interesting and complex style being played over and over without any sort of variation is bad; it completely ruins the concept of the style being interesting. It’s this type of stuff that’s hard to review because it doesn’t leave me anything to talk about. There’s nothing substantially good OR bad about it other than that it’s completely bland.

The musicianship is nothing substantial at all. The guitarists’ technical skills are what one would expect from someone playing the style of metalcore that they’re playing. The drumming, just like the guitars, is nothing special. In fact, the drums are actually a disappointment considering that this type of music is all about the tempo and the drums. The drummer rarely delivers and interesting fill, everything he does during the breakdowns fails to show any interest in being creative, and the complex kick drum patterns he does, although skillfully impressive, fail to be memorable and are forgotten as soon as they’re played.

There is one positive to Elite that needs to be mentioned. Have Within the Ruins improved as a band and as songwriters? Fuck yes they have! The shitty songs that they played on The Summer Slaughter Tour in 2011, when compared to all the songs on Elite, are evidence that Within the Ruins have matured their sound, expanded their creativity, and drastically improved their instrumental skills. This is something that should not be ignored because it’s definitely a big pro that this record carries. In fact, it’s enough of an improvement to have me looking forward to see what Within the Ruins puts out next; because if they keep improving like they have here, these guys have the potential to add up to be a fucking monster of a metalcore band. Unfortunately, Elite is all we have right now as far as improvement from these guys goes. I would only recommend this to diehard metalcore fans and give it an 11/20. If you want a song recommendation, Feeding Frenzy is pretty much the only track off this album that I would ever go back and listen to in the future. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Moonsorrow - Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa

Finland is one of the top countries when it comes to any sort of melodic or progressive style of heavy metal. Despite the obvious like Apocalyptica, Nightwish, and HIM, Finland is also proficient in the extreme metal areas. Some of the lesser-known but still iconic Finnish bands (all of which I would HIGHLY recommend) include Insomnium, Swallow the Sun, Korpiklaani, Children of Bodom, Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Wintersun, Amorphis, Turisas, Ensiferum, Before the Dawn, Finntroll, Rotten Sound, Sonata Arctica, Tarot, and the folk metal band that I am going to talk about today, the one and only Moonsorrow. If you are reading this and have no idea who the fuck Moonsorrow is, they play a style of folk metal that’s based on melodic death (like Eluveitie, Finntroll, etc.) that, most of the time, includes profound melodies, slower tempos, simpler instrumentations, but varying song structures, and a softer vibe. Except what makes Moonsorrow unique is that although there is a melodic death influence, it’s black metal that makes up most of the basis of their sound. Here’s the importance of Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa: it demonstrates the closest the band has ever been to their original sound since their early demos.

Moonsorrow started out as a black metal band. Five years after they released their first demo, the band released their debut full-length, which was almost pure folk metal. Ever since the release of their 2005 album, Moonsorrow have grown closer to their original black metal sound with each release. Are they going back in time? Actually, they’re not. The one thing from their first album that they haven’t let go of is the Finnish folk element. After taking the time to listen to their early demos (which are pretty much just mediocre black metal), it’s obvious why they haven’t let go of their folk sound, and that is because it makes everything they play sound beautiful. Everything black metal-related about Moonsorrow is intensified by the folk metal influence. The darkness and grimness of the black metal, when combined with the melodic beauty of folk metal, adds up to an album that projects beauty, color, emotion, darkness, and depression. There are no “up-beat” moments on Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa. It has texture, variety, and confidence, but the overall mood of the album is that of being in a big, empty, cold, barren, but peaceful place all alone. This is the type of mood that I’m an absolute sucker for. But this cold and desolate world that Moonsorrow creates with this record is also magical and beautiful in every single area.

There are some that wouldn’t even agree with the presence of the melodic death influence. Although they would be in the right direction, there is some present. But black metal is the sound that takes the wheel on this one. The two main elements that have black metal roots are the vocals and the type of melody. If you’re a black metal fanatic like me, you know exactly what kind of vocals I’m talking about. Are they the shitty black metal vocals? Not no, but hell no. The vocals sound slightly similar to that of Naglfar, Gorgoroth, Dark Tranquility (not black metal), and Melechesh. They’re strong, never shaky, and even include some deep growls here and there (part of the melodic death influence).

The style of melody is without a doubt black metal. The sounds of the acoustic guitars, flutes, tin whistles, accordions, mouth harp, and other stringed instruments do give the music a nice mystical folk atmosphere, but none of it changes the darkness of the black metal underneath. The black metal part is much darker, more melodic, and heavier than your average black metal band, which is the part that’s influenced by Finnish melodic death metal. Some examples of black metal bands that are extremely melodic like Moonsorrow would include Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch (not pure black metal), Nokturnal Mortum, and Shining. In fact, the desolate and sorrowful melody of Moonsorrow also shares a lot of similarities with one of my favorite musical genres, depressive black metal. The extremely dark, depressing, but beautiful melodies heard within the depressive black metal genre have probably had a huge influence on Moonsorrow’s sound. One of the more oddball, but very pretty moments that’s very similar to Swallow the Sun’s music is the intro to Huuto, the acoustic guitar part backed with the soft keyboard pad that ends up becoming the lead line for the rest of the song. Does melodic mean not heavy? FUCK NO. Saying that Moonsorrow isn’t heavy is one of the most inaccurate statements that can ever be said about this album (or Moonsorrow in general). Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa is one of the heaviest folk metal albums in existence. It just has a lot of extra shit on top of it that makes it sound less heavy when compared to the folk metal bands with music that’s less complex.

If you’re used to listening to stuff by Tool, Opeth, Dream Theater, Sleep, and Xasthur, you’re not going to have any problem listening to these guys. For those of you still stuck in the 2-7 minute range, be aware that all of the songs on this album are more than 10 minutes long. Moonsorrow creates a repeating transition in between every song where you hear nothing but a light wind and a man hiking through this beautiful wasteland they’ve created. I don’t see any significance of these interludes other than that they really help strengthen the depressive atmosphere of the album.

Moonsorrow’s unique approach on black metal is part of why so many people like them. Besides the fact that the folk elements make their sound unique, the guitars on Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa are very heavy, crunchy, and have a lot of bass. Usually, on your average black metal record, the guitars are low-tuned, but fairly high-pitched with little to no bass at all. So with the black metal style of playing and the black metal-sounding melodies being played with very powerful and heavy guitars creates a sound that a lot of black metal bands haven’t chosen to explore. One of the first bands to do this is the Swedish progressive black band Shining (I would recommend their album V – Halmstad). But then again, the deep sound of the guitars could also be influenced by the guitar distortions heard in melodic death.

Moonsorrow are, without a doubt, one of the best at what they do. Their entire discography is fantastic, but this masterpiece just eliminates any sort of competition. Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa is Moonsorrow’s best album yet. Not only is the music beautiful, the album cover is fantastic. I would recommend this to fans of folk metal, melodic death, black metal, Finnish music, and depressive black metal. This is something that everyone needs to have in their collection, I cannot stress that enough. It’s easy to impress me, but it’s hard to amaze me. And Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa has amazed me to the point to where I would give it a 20/20.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Upcoming Reviews

Here's a list I hope will last me a while. These are bands that I plan on writing reviews on, but there are NO guarantees that I will do all of them I don't know how many I will do, I don't know if I will even do any of them:

Within the Ruins (metalcore)
All Shall Perish (deathcore)
Wormed (death grind)
Salt the Wound (deathcore)
Blinded in Bliss (melodic death)
Parkway Drive (metalcore)
Altar of Pain (death metal)
Make Them Suffer (deathcore)
Six Feet Under (death metal)
Wide Eyes (progressive metal)
Vale of Pnath (technical death)
1349 (black metal)
Seether (alternative metal)
Otep (nu metal)
Meshuggah (progressive death)
Gorgoroth (black metal)
Benightened (brutal death)
Finntroll (folk metal)
Tyr (folk metal)
Moonsorrow (folk metal)

Otep - Smash the Control Machine

With their first three albums, Otep left their mark as one of the most notable nu metal bands of the 21st century. Musically, Otep had nowhere to go but up. The much more mature sound that Otep expressed with The Ascension means that they’re more than capable of writing a larger variety of sounds as well as just being better musicians. Something that each of the band’s first four records did was catch people’s attention; each album attracting more than its predecessor. Now we have the band’s fourth release, titled Smash the Control Machine. This album in particular has received mixed views. And to be honest, this album has just as many positives as it does negatives. Are the negatives things that have always been present? Actually, most of the negative aspects of this album are new, whereas the positives are not only things that have always been present, but also things that were either lacking or missing in The Ascension.

Your final opinion of Smash the Control Machine is almost completely dependent on what you want out of Otep. The thing that most of Otep’s fans out there wanted was something heavier (something like their first two albums). But, regardless of what people wanted or didn’t want, the album proved to be their biggest success yet, selling roughly 10,400 copies in its first week. I remember going to one of my “local” CD stores to pick up the (at the time) new Suicide Silence and Dying Fetus albums (both of which are fantastic) and seeing posters EVERYWHERE in the store and seeing a huge stack of Smash the Control Machine CDs at the front desk. Although I decided not to buy the album due to my limited financials, seeing that caused me to not be surprised at the album’s quick success. Now that I actually have it, I can say that this is one of Otep’s best releases yet.

Is it another Sevas Tra? Unfortunately, it’s not. And it appears that the band won’t be going back to the sound of that album. Otep used The Ascension as an opportunity to refine their sound and improve their skills to keep their options for future releases as open as possible. Two things that have been brought back from the Sevas Tra days are the heaviness and the hip-hop influence. You can hear the obvious hip-hop influence in all of the songs due to the bouncy tempo and the rapping done by the vocalist. This increased heaviness and hip-hop influence has been brought back with the increased amount of energy in the music itself. The Ascension was lacking in energy, which was the very biggest issue I have with it. The energy that Smash the Control Machine brings back to the table helps re-awaken the monster that was created by Sevas Tra. Is this monster the same as she was back then? Not no, but hell no.

With the increased amount of energy Smash the Control Machine has (I can’t stress that point enough, it’s a huge part of this album), Otep have some fun exploring more musical styles and ideas. How fucking obvious is this? Well, if you listen to the album straight through, the third track will bring you something you’ve NEVER heard out of these guys before. Otep use the title track to play around with the different sounds of rock n’ roll. The title track takes a simpler and more basic approach on rock, whereas other songs like Numb and Dumb and Run for Cover take a much less traditional approach on rock. Is Otep’s attempt at playing rock n’ roll any good? It’s alright, there’s not really anything special about it; it actually sounds a little bland and the band sounds a bit unsure of itself. But regardless, they didn’t bomb the attempt and they are expanding their repertoire.

Smash the Control Machine is one of Otep’s greatest releases yet, in fact, I would consider it to be the best album they’ve put out since Sevas Tra. The energy is back, the brutality is back, the catchiness is back, and Otep are moving forward as a band and progressing their sound. My two favorite tracks off the album are polar opposites. The ever-popular Rise, Rebel, Resist has an unforgettable groove and is bursting with anger and creativity. The other song (it’s not exactly an actual “song”), titled Kisses and Kerosene, delivers one of the darkest, most disturbing, most emotional poems the world has ever heard. I would give Smash the Control Machine a score of 16/20.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Otep - The Ascension

Say hello to The Ascension, the third and bestselling album by nu metal quartet Otep. The Ascension is the first fully commercial-friendly Otep record (hence it’s commercial success). After releasing House of Secrets, which contained singles that instantly went viral, especially Warhead, expectations were brought up pretty damn high for the quartet. This was also a point in time where a lot of nu metal bands were becoming much less unique and submitting to the masses by releasing albums that were created with goals of making money and pleasing as big of an audience as possible (sometimes referred to as “radio-friendly” or “mainstream”). Starting in 2007, Disturbed, Saliva, Papa Roach, and Sevendust suddenly started going in directions that were much more conventional and minimalistic. That’s not saying that they started sucking after that, Sevendust and Papa Roach actually released their best albums during that time. The year 2007 also saw another wave of nu metal bands, some of which included Five Finger Death Punch and Hellyeah. In order to go along with the flow and to avoid the possibility of being alienated, Otep released a more conventional and mainstream-friendly album titled The Ascension.

“Hush little baby, don’t make a sound” are the first words that you hear when you press the play button. Remember, don’t get me wrong, conventional and mainstream-friendly doesn’t mean shitty, especially in Otep’s case. This isn’t just me saying that, because the album speaks for itself as to what makes it more attractive to the masses. The first major thing that you’ll notice is that the sound quality is crystal clear. Most of what was on Sevas Tra and House of Secrets was extremely distorted. Although this helped bring out the brutality of Otep’s sound, it’s harder for the average music listener to get into something with such low production quality. Every single time Otep Shamaya let out one of her signature screams, she would over-distort the microphone and actually sound a bit crappy. If the vocals on House of Secrets were less distorted, it would have been much easier to enjoy. Now, on The Ascension, everything is heard with diamond-clarity. Here’s the issue that a lot of people have with this: yes, the production quality is much better, but it takes away a lot of the brutality from Otep’s sound. Remember that Otep’s true sound is what they create with their live shows. This is why a lot of the poor mixing and distortion was recreated in the studio; because it just wouldn’t have had that same unique and chaotic sound.

Now that Otep is huge, the band and their label seemed to have forgotten why people love them so fucking much. On top of them sounding less heavy due to the high production quality, Otep’s actual music lost a lot of its heaviness with The Ascension. We get introduced to more ballads like Perfectly Flawed and odd droning tracks with gentle vocals that only fans of Otep can understand the beauty of. Although the softer tracks will make the heavier ones sound softer, the heavier tracks have lost some of their grab. The energy level is significantly lower on The Ascension than its two predecessors. This is what appears to be a result of more focus on writing music and less focus on releasing anger towards the world. The breakdowns are heavy, but they don’t even come close to pounding you into the pavement. On the contrary, the compositions of the songs themselves are much more creative and organized than House of Secrets.

The unorganized structure of the songs on House of Secrets were the biggest downer for me. The structure and songwriting skills expressed on The Ascension show increased maturity within the band as well as more of an understanding of what the hell they’re doing and knowledge of how to impress the masses while still satisfying their own musical needs. That’s something that’s very important for any band that wants to play a more mainstream-friendly and conventional style of metal (nu metal and alternative metal). Simplicity is also important for those genres and these four musicians pull it off well, therefore making the music easy to understand and take in (the kind of music most people that don’t have any patience listen to).

As insignificant as they may seem to the listener, covers are extremely important to the bands that play them. Out of all the songs in the world, a band will narrow their choices down to one single track that they feel has not only influenced them as a band, but also as human beings. A lot of times, the song will be something that the members grew up with. Sometimes, it’ll be a song of a completely different genre that the band wants to reinterpret. Otep just so happened to choose a song by one of the most iconic bands from the 20th century. Covering any song by Nirvana, especially a song as well-known as Breed, isn’t a risk that many bands are willing to take. Covering a Nirvana song immediately subjects the band to criticism and fire. A band with such a mixed reputation as Otep is the last band you would think of to cover that song (or any Nirvana song at that). Otep defy critical assumptions and pull of a fantastic cover that follows the song closely (probably a good idea). The roughness of the singer’s vocals have a similar feel to the roughness of Kurt Cobain’s voice, which is probably what made this cover sound so good.

The Ascension is simple, easy to swallow, conventional, yet creative and heavy at the same time. The biggest loss being the absence of most of Otep’s heaviness, The Ascension has proved to be a disappointment to many. On the contrary, Otep’s understanding of music, structure, and composition has taken a huge leap for the best. This huge leap in maturity has brought The Ascension to be an overall improvement from House of Secrets, earning my score of 15/20.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Devourment - Conceived in Sewage

Devourment has become one of the biggest brutal death bands right now. Although the majority of their fan base is within the underground brutal death community, there are some that are considering them to be up there with Hate Eternal, Nile, and Aborted. I don’t agree with the latter statement, but it’s no myth that Devourment is at the top of their game. The band’s third album, Unleash the Carnivore, is one of my personal favorite brutal death records ever, and is credited worldwide as being one of the best albums in the history of underground slamming brutality. Now, the Texas quartet is back with their fourth and highly-anticipated release, Conceived in Sewage. It should be noted that 2013 is supposed to be a pretty big year for the brutal death and death grind genres. It’s already seen the fantastic releases of several brutal death and death grind bands including Defeated Sanity, Guttural Secrete, Suffocation, and Wormed. But one of the better ones of this year was released by none other than Devourment.

Despite the mind-blowing power and slamming brutality that Unleash the Carnivore "unleashed" unto the listener, it had some minor flaws that needed some working. The biggest thing that bothered people was the vocals. The vocals on Unleash the Carnivore are good, but there were two things about them that caused problems. The first was that they were only super deep inhales. This made the vocals become monotonous after the fourth song or so. The second was that they weren't loud and powerful enough. Because of this, the extreme volume of the drums and guitars buried the vocals too much.

Devourment completely fixes this issue on Conceived in Sewage. Not only do you get those memorable duper deep guttural inhales, you also hear different inhale variations, mid-range exhales, pig squeals, and some of the most spine-chilling guttural exhale growls you'll ever hear. To get a good listen to the exhales, Legalize Homicide, Parasitic Eruption, Today we Die, Tomorrow we Kill, and Conceived in Sewage are both great song examples for them. But really, you get to hear the exhaled growls a little bit on every song. On top of that, the vocals (even the deep inhales) never get covered up by the rest of the band which was my main issue with all of the previous Devourment records.

The rest of the band is much, much tighter and appear to be more confident and more organized. Even though the overall organization and structure of Devourment’s music has been improving with each release, there’s always been a little too much sloppiness present. Something must’ve cracked in this band between 2009 and 2012 because this is a substantial climb in organization. The different guitar sections seem to be less random, the tempo changes blend together much better, and the drums don’t take half a second to catch up to the new tempo right after a drastic shift in the music. That’s probably another huge improvement Devourment has made, the drums.

The drums on Molesting the Decapitated, Butcher the Weak, and Unleash the Carnivore (pretty much everything Devourment has ever released) are fucking awesome. The slamming brutality that Devourment is known for is primarily driven by the drums, not just the extremely low tuning of the guitars. The reason behind the literal explosion of brutality at the beginning of the first song on Unleash the Carnivore is THE DRUMMER. Now, the drums on Conceived in Sewage have the same brutality, different tuning, and slightly more technicality. The drummer has gotten a hell of a lot more inventive with the different patterns and tempos he comes up with. The interest factor in the drum section on previous Devourment records (most of the time) remained fairly marginal. Now, the interest factor has skyrocketed. His blast beats seem to be less chaotic, which is something I liked about him, but the sound of his new blast beats fit the new sound of the music perfectly, so I’m glad he changed his style a bit. The interesting shit he does during the slamming breakdowns in songs like (the end of) Legalize Homicide, Heaving Acid, and Parasitic Eruption are mind-blowing.

Let’s take a moment and look at the interesting breakdowns (some of the brutal death fans call them “slams”) that can be heard on this record. Most of the breakdowns that you’ll hear on this album are the fast-paced, almost groovy type. These are ones that are led by the fast double-kicks and tremolo picking with the slow headbanging part relying on the rest of what the drummer does and the bassist. Other bands that use this type of breakdown a lot include Pathology, Dying Fetus, Gorgasm, Cryptopsy, Heaven Shall Burn, and Visceral Disgorge. Although these breakdowns do appear at least once in every song off Conceived in Sewage, when I think about the songs that do, Legalize Homicide, Fucked with Rats, and Fifty Ton War Machine are the first that come to mind. Also, we have those extremely slow, bludgeoning breakdowns that can be surprisingly hard to pull off without sounding dull and boring. The slow breakdown on the song Today we Die, Tomorrow we Kill is packed with insane brutality with the combination of the fast blast beat drumming in the background and the vocalist’s deep inhales. Other songs that have really good slow slamming breakdowns, most of which have some groove to them are Carved into Ecstasy, Fifty Ton War Machine, and the mighty Parasitic Eruption.

No one was expecting something THIS GOOD out of Devourment. The band continued to blow more and more minds to pieces with each release; how the fuck could they do any better? Conceived in Sewage is the answer. Even I, a HUGE fan of this band wasn’t expecting something this intense and this good. Devourment has released yet another album that I will continue to listen to over and over again for years to come. Anyone who loves or wants to listen to the most brutal music on the planet (i.e. Nile, Guttural Secrete, Aborted, Cattle Decapitation, Skinless, etc.) needs to have this album because just about anyone that has listened to it can guarantee you that it will not disappoint. Conceived in Sewage Devourment’s best monster yet, getting my score of 19/20.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Trollfest - Brumlebassen

Folk metal has been making a huge comeback lately. Bands like Eluveitie, Korpiklaani, Ensiferum, Tyr, Moonsorrow, Alestorm, and Turisas have been getting a lot of attention with the albums they’ve been putting out. Among these bands (almost all being from Europe) is the mighty (but lesser-known) Trollfest. Those that are familiar with the folk metal genre knows that it can come in two basic variations. There are the more melodic, slower, darker, and more epic bands like Eluveitie, Moonsorrow, Ensiferum, and Heidevolk. And there are also the bands that are completely energetic and up-beat, often times being all about drinking (Alestorm, Korpiklaani, Turisas). Although there are numerous folk metal bands that don’t exclusively fit into one of these categories (Tyr, Finntroll, Equilibrium, etc.), but we can all see that the majority of the folk metal genre is divided into these two sounds. Trollfest, like Korpiklaani, is one of the craziest, most fun, most party-appropriate folk metal bands ever. The difference, though? Trollfest is heavy as....something extremely heavy.

Trollfest implements a lot of thrash black and melodic death into their music. The different variations of arpeggios that the accordion and lead guitars play are not extremely common in heavy metal, which is good because it brings in some outside flavor. As far as the arrangements of each song go, they’re pretty good, but there can be times where the sound gets undefined and unorganized. Although I will be addressing each individual member’s performance on this album in my review, I would like to mention that this is one of those bands that sound better as a whole than individually. Let’s talk about the vocals on Brumlebassen first.

The vocals are almost exclusively high-pitched screams similar to that of Children of Bodom. But unlike Children of Bodom, the vocalist keeps things interesting by throwing in some growls here in there, especially in the song Finsken, Norsken og Presten. On top of that, there are several tracks (mainly the interludes) that contain singing. As far as the vocals go, Brublebassen is the Trollfest album with the best vocals because some of the other Trollfest albums have vocals that, well, aren’t exactly something that one would consider better than average. Those of you that are like me and enjoy the various lyrical themes that folk metal has to offer, when you listen to the older Trollfest albums, the mood is much more serious and the songs follow basic stories based on Norwegian mythology. Now, their music is guessed it, trolls, trolls, beer, trolls, and more TROLLS!

Besides their odd obsession with trolls, Trollfest is unique because of something even more interesting: their speed. Listen to the first song off the album (also the title track) titled Brumlebassen. It’s not too often that you blast beats that are THAT ridiculous on a folk metal album. The utter chaos that the insane speed of the blast beats and the whole music itself creates within the listener can make me only imagine what their live shows must be like. The way the drums are mixed is okay, it sounds good with the rest of the band’s sound, but it would help it they were less mushy because the blast beats blend in with the rest of the band too much. The drummer’s style is that of an insane black metal drummer. He plays pretty much all of the traditional folk metal patterns, and then some more interesting beats of his own. But the most notable thing about his skill is his ability to play some of the fastest blast beats I’ve ever heard outside of technical death and brutal death.

There isn’t anything outstanding about the accordion player other than that he also plays a banjo and that he’s in a metal band (yes, I know that Stolen Babies, Korpiklaani, and other metal bands have accordion players in them). I really wish that we could hear more from the saxophonist because the few parts that he has are great. No, they’re not outstanding, if you want outstanding sax shit, go listen to some of the contemporary jazz that’s out there. But although his creativity lacks some, he definitely expresses some intense instrumental skill.

The guitars are great, but they’re way too overpowering. The bass can rarely be heard, which is disappointing because he’s probably playing some interesting shit behind the wall of guitar distortion. So because of the guitars, I unfortunately can’t make any comments on the bassist until I see them live this April at Paganfest 2013. Anyways, both guitarists do an exceptional job of keeping up with the drums, following along with the accordion, and a good sense of variety in both styles and tempo. The distortion is good, but everything else is mixed in a way that it all blends in with the guitar distortion to create a slightly less-than-enjoyable sound where nothing is easily distinguishable.

Brumlebassen has a sound that is not only unique, but also fun, engaging, energetic, chaotic, and original. Trollfest is a band that every fan of folk metal should look up, because there’s a very tiny chance (if any at all) that you’ve heard something like this before. Although I am currently undecided as to which Trollfest album is my personal favorite, Brumlebassen isn’t a bad place at all to start. Brumlebassen is a record for people looking for something new, especially if they’re fans of folk metal and Norwegian metal bands. Look this album up. I would give this album a score of 15/20.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Otep - House of Secrets

The metal world had their eyes and ears on Otep once their debut album, Sevas Tra, went viral. Not only that, it was the entire nu metal genre that, at the time (especially from 2003-2006), was the driving force in the commercial success of heavy metal. Nu metal bands such as Godsmack, Korn, Linkin Park, Mudvayne, Papa Roach, Slipknot, System of a Down, Deftones, and Disturbed all released some of their most famous or (in some cases) their best material during this time period. Not to mention the uprising alternative metal scene during that time period with bands like Skillet, Avenged Sevenfold, Breaking Benjamin, Crossfade, Three Days Grace, Cold, Evanescence, Trapt, Seether, and Taproot releasing either amazing or bestselling records. Now, we have Otep on the list during this time period, the band’s second album being titled House of Secrets.

Otep’s follow-up to Sevas Tra was something a lot of people were waiting for. This is not always a good thing because time and time again, a band will release a FANTASTIC debut only to prove that it was a fluke by releasing a record that fails to reach the high expectations the first album set. People expect amazing things from bands that release amazing debuts, that’s why I like it when bands release a really good debut that, although awesome, obviously isn’t the best that the band can do. This is the mistake that Asking Alexandria, Slipknot, Shinedown, and other bands made. They released mind-blowing albums, therefore setting the expectations for the next album so damn high that they’re unable to make it satisfy those expectations. But I’m not saying that those sophomore releases were disasters, some were better than others. Otep’s House of Secrets happens to be one of the better ones. It has pretty much as much anger and brutality that a Sevas Tra fan could ask for, but there are several drawbacks that makes the album less of a satisfier and more of a disappointment.

First off, the arrangement and unique sound of the overall music is well above-average. The music releases some of its nu metal sound and fills the empty gaps with stuff that can remind readers of thrash metal, noisy progressive metal (Dillinger Escape Plan, etc.), certain metalcore sounds (mainly that of Glassjaw, Converge, etc.) and the sound of pure anger that bands like Strapping Young Lad, Burning Skies, and Machine Head. The increase in treble on the album helps bring out the noisier side of Otep’s music as well as giving it a much more intense sound.

The guitar techniques that are used on House of Secrets have branched out from the already-varied set of styles used on Sevas Tra to styles that are more commonly used in the extreme metal genres like black metal, death metal, and thrash metal. The distortion is much less bassy and much, much more high-pitched and has a more metallic and staticy sound. The extremely high-pitched distortion kind of defeats the purpose of the extremely low tuning the guitars have. The fact that the bass has almost completely disappeared from the guitars causes the chugging heaviness that made me fall for Sevas Tra to go with it. The guitar riffs are much more repetitive and seem to focus more on the little experimentation (there’s not much) than on being creative and colorful. By the time the last track is half-way through, the guitar distortion has grown extremely annoying and unsatisfying.

In fact, the entire work that was done at the mixing board causes the whole sound of the album to grow irritating after a couple of listens. In order to validate the dreadful production and mixing job, the guy that produced and mixed Sevas Tra is NOT the guy who did House of Secrets. So with the assumption that the producer either had a stroke or was on crack out of the way, I can now say that the guy who produced this album SUCKS. Greg Wells was not meant for metal production. One can tell that instantly when they see that he’s produced music by Katy Perry, All American Rejects, OneRepublic, Mika, Michelle Branch, and Jars of Clay, he’s not cut out to make contributions to a record as heavy as House of Secrets.

But, as bad as the production is, the music behind it is above-average and stays consistent throughout the duration of the album. The album as a whole lacks in energy except for a couple of tracks that bludgeon the eardrums of the listener, but that’s it. The majority of the album is good, but uninteresting (if that makes any fucking sense at all). The drumming is probably the best thing House of Secrets has to offer to those who want to be impressed by exceptional musicianship. There are a lot of miscellaneous percussion instruments used on this album such as timpani, crash cymbals, extra toms, and one of those giant bass drums.

House of Secrets is a good album, but it has a lot missing. The music itself as a whole is energetic and heavy, but the vocals feel dull and uninspired, as do the other individual musicians. The main letdown is the sound production. Everything is overly distorted (not the cool super metal type of distortion) and gets extremely irritating after a while. But if you’re into nu metal and like some of the angriest music on the planet, this is something that you should look up. If you’re a diehard fan of Sevas Tra, you might like House of Secrets, but you won’t get the same energizing vibe that makes you want to tear shit apart. I would give Otep’s House of Secrets 13/20.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Otep - Sevas Tra

How often does a band get a record deal without any demos, EPs, or anything? Otep played Ozzfest AND inked a deal with Capitol Records solely on the indescribable brutality and power of their live performance. After releasing their first EP in 2001, Otep quickly got together and buckled down to write, record, produce, and release their long-awaited debut full-length in 2002. The album, Sevas Tra, when read backwards, says “Art Saves”. Although the majority of the nu metal bands out there follow the same basic traits without feeling the need to do much experimentation, Otep is definitely one of the outcasts. Being one of the darkest and most disturbing bands in the genre, releasing six albums, and headlining shows around the world, we all go back to Sevas Tra, which is where the journey began.

No one can deny that this is one of the most disturbing and heaviest nu metal albums ever crafted. People at the time were thinking Mudvayne, Drowning Pool, and System of a Down were the heavier nu metal bands. Come 2002, the only other nu metal release heavier than Sevas Tra was Deftone’s Around the Fur. As much as I could go on and on about the history behind this piece of heavy material, this is an album review, and I’m here to tell you what the fuck you’re getting yourself into, not give you a history lesson.

The guitar work is impressive considering how boring most nu metal guitarists are on their first albums (i.e. Disturbed, Godsmack, Papa Roach, Saliva, etc.). A great mix of tremolo picking, ambient chords, and some of the absolute heaviest chugging the world has ever heard. The heaviness of the guitars is mainly due to the distortion. The distortion has almost no treble, a bit of mid-range, and a shitload of bass (that’s an understatement). The metallic crunch of the distortion, when added on with the sound of the other instruments not only creates a unique and unusual sound, but also one that never gets old. Many nu metal bands will find a guitar distortion that they like and use it over and over and over again, only to have other bands start to overuse the exact same type of distortion. I have yet to hear another metal album with guitar distortion identical to this.

Because of the strong hip-hop influence that nu metal has, drums are extremely important to a band’s sound. A nu metal band’s drummer has to be creative, groovy, and unique in the same way that a rap record needs to have creative, groovy, and unique beats (I prefer when the beats are done with an actual drum set). Also, like all hip-hop, staying on tempo is the number 1 priority of ANY nu metal drummer. And I’ll tell you what, this fucker couldn’t do a better job at staying on time than he does on Sevas Tra. Some of the more abstract tempos that appear in songs like Blood Pigs and Sacrilege are not only nailed with precision, but also with power that gets everybody moving. I can tell that the drummer on this album has at least some sort of a hip-hop background because of some of the patterns he plays and his ability to pound out funky beats with literally indescribable brutality. And the number one most important thing in both hip-hop AND nu metal is the bass.

Nu metal bassists tend to be really good. Even nu metal bands that I despise have some pretty fucking sick bass players (i.e. Limp Bizkit). Nu metal bands like Korn, System of a Down, Mudvayne, Rage Against the Machine, and Slipknot have some of the best and most notorious bassists in heavy metal! Is the bassist for the band Otep any good? Not yes, but HELL yes. Not only is he the man behind those funky tempos and melodies, he’s also the man behind one of the darkest, most disturbing, and heaviest songs I’ve ever heard in my entire young life, Blood Pigs. The indescribable twisted and fucked-up brutality this song releases unto the listener is led by the bassist and the mix of funky riffs and slamming breakdowns he does. What he plays not only grabs the listener by the throat, it also fucking tears it to pieces. This bassist is awesome. Yes, I’ve heard plenty of better bassists than this guy, but his creativity and ability to initiate brutality exceeds the abilities of most.

Sevas Tra is one of the heaviest nu metal albums ever produced. Being much closer to hip-hop than most other nu metal records, Sevas Tra provides the listener with brutality that will tear you to pieces. Although all the brutality and catchiness is great, the actual music quality behind the album and the arrangement is outstanding and exceeds expectations. I would highly recommend this album to pretty much anyone that loves heavy music. I would give this album a rating of 18/20.

Lord of War - Celestial Pestilence

Unique Leader Records have been putting out some pretty awesome records lately. Although they’ve managed to maintain a fairly good reputation in the technical death and progressive death realms, it seems that they’re doing better than ever right now. Unique Leader did the same thing with Lord of War that they’ve done with a lot of their other bands. They simply take a new band’s already self-released album and re-release it. Ever since Unique Leader re-released Celestial Pestilence in 2012, Lord of War have been quite busy when it comes to touring because of the success that they’ve been. The deathcore genre is still huge, that’s not something unknown to the average metalhead. The genre’s reputation isn’t really doing so hot anymore. Early deathcore bands have set massive trends with their unique and progressive styles, and it’s turned into monotony. Bands have been following in the steps of Emmure and The Acacia Strain and doing nothing but simple breakdowns. Other deathcore bands have been following in the steps of After the Burial and Veil of Maya with their Meshuggah-style breakdowns. Although I do love Veil of Maya and After the Burial, I still set out to find new innovative deathcore bands. Bands like Make Them Suffer, Iwrestledabearonce, and, most recently, Lord of War are the bands that I want to make sure get noticed.

What’s special about Lord of War? Well, they simply just say that their uniqueness comes from the fact that they blend deathcore with melodic death. But to be honest, there’s much more to it than that. In fact, the whole melodic death thing seems like an overstatement. Lord of War takes a lot of generic elements from the deathcore genre and uses them for different purposes. Each individual musician is over-the-top in skill, technique, and creativity. Their music isn’t focused on breakdowns, so the intensity isn’t stored away for the breakdowns, which is something I usually prefer. Although I would like the breakdowns to have more energy, the patterns that they use are so interesting that it makes up for the lack in contrast with the rest of the song. But then again, this could be due to the production work on the album.

The sound quality of Celestial Pestilence is pretty much what one would expect from any deathcore album. The bass is heavy, the kick drums are meaty, the guitars take a dominant role in the music, and the vocals can be heard clearly. Like most other deathcore albums, the bass is covered up by the guitars most of the time. If the guitars are boring like in Aegaeon, Rose Funeral, and Impending Doom, it’s extremely annoying and lowers the interest-factor. If the guitars tend to cover up most of the bass, but are INTERESTING, like in All Shall Perish, Lamb of God, and Burning Skies, it’s much easier to tolerate. The guitar work on Celestial Pestilence is pristine. It’s filled with obviously well thought-out harmonizations, arrangements, and plenty of colorful solos. The rhythm guitars provide an amazing atmospheric and melodic background while the lead guitars take control of the sweeping riffs and the crushing slams. But then again, like in most bands that have traces of tech death in them, both of the guitarists have moments of complex, fast, and technical harmonization.

Drummers that are above-average are hard to come by these days in the deathcore genre. I’ll tell you this; the drummer that’s on Celestial Pestilence is fucking amazing. The drummer impresses all listeners with his ability to support both the melodic backing guitars AND the heavy crushing guitars at the same time. He has some of the fastest and most spot-on feet I’ve heard in a LONG time. During every single breakdown, there is not ONE fuck-up in the drums. But then again, there aren’t any fuck-ups in the drums on the entire album. Last, but not least, the pummeling blast beats that bury you into the pavement that humans like to call a road. The style of the drummer’s blast beats isn’t super unique, but they are good and have some interesting bits here and there.

The vocalist is awesome. He has everything anyone could ask for. He has deep guttural growls, mid-ranged growls, and traditional deathcore-styled screams. Most of the time, he growls; and for those of you that love Whitechapel, Carnifex, Conducting from the Grave, and Fit for an Autopsy, this is something that you’ll probably like. The screams are ok, but they aren’t anything that I would consider “outstanding” or “unique”; it’s mainly the growls that are worth talking about. The growls have that Corpsegrinder-like high-pitched whistle to them that some bands seem to have. The more epic moments almost always come with more mid-ranged growls.

Lord of War is one of the most innovative and interesting deathcore bands right now. They’ve got a lot of touring ahead of them this year, so I would suggest you catch them at one of their shows because I can guarantee you, I will be seeing them at least twice this year. Lord of War provides a unique perspective on deathcore while sprinkling in a bit of melodic death here and there after adding on a thin layer of atmospheric melody onto the whole record. I would recommend this to fans of deathcore, technical death, progressive death, fans of interesting shit, and to people who love really cool album covers. I’m giving Celestial Pestilence a score of 17/20.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Foreboding Ether - Beyond Conjecture [EP]

Foreboding Ether is one of the newer technical death bands on the scene. Not only are they one of the newer ones, they’re also one of the better ones. With their 6-song EP titled Beyond Conjecture, Foreboding Ether shows that they have skill, talent, room for improvement, and a surprisingly large potential. What Beyond Conjecture offers is exactly what many music critics and fans look for. Foreboding Ether shows their understanding of complexity in death metal as well as the need for their own unique sound. But Foreboding Ether also does a few amateurish and slightly immature things in their music, which is exactly what I want to hear. Why?

Anyone can hear in Foreboding Ether’s music that they have capability of crafting something FAR better and more mind-blowing than Beyond Conjecture. And because of that, it makes it easier to write a follow-up album that not only sounds 100 times better, but actually is 100 times better and more mature. This is exactly what Whitechapel, Miss May I, Rings of Saturn, Dark Tranquility, Scar Symmetry, and many other metal bands did. They released good debuts (some better than others) that, although good (ok sometimes great), showed several premature characteristics that were soon swept off the table by a sophomore album that were so go that sometimes ended up in giving the bands their big break (especially in the case of Dark Tranquility and Whitechapel). But in the case of Foreboding Ether, what are the good things and the drawbacks?

The drummer is fantastic. The techniques he uses and the wide variety of patterns he lays down show immense effort and potential. It’s actually great NOT to hear a tech death drummer playing with constant blinding speeds and seemingly random patterns. It’s also great to have a drummer doing more than just the traditional djent patterns and tempos that have come to be overdone by too many bands. The drums are clearly audible, but never overpowering, which is always a good thing in this type of music. The way the snare drum is set brings out the technicality of the blast beats during songs like Tunabhuna. During some of the more complex moments that take place in songs like Fore20 and Deadline, the guitarists and bassist display one of the best jobs of staying tight with the drums that I’ve ever seen in a band this young.

Before I get into details, I would like to say that both of the guitarists are fantastic. The one thing that people might have a problem with on this particular EP is that the guitarists don’t reach their full potential. Hopefully, this is something that will be done on their next record, because any experienced music critic should be able to tell, just by listening to this, that every single member in the band (including the guitarists) have the potential to create something far better than Beyond Conjecture. But even though that is true, the guitar work on this record is full of a variety of different flavors that are sure to be a treat to the ears. One of my favorite things about this EP is the guitar work. Although the guitar harmonizations during the extremely technical parts are good, it’s more so the composition and style of the guitar technicality that I love. Because I don’t know very much background info on the album and band, I can’t exactly tell who’s doing what, so I’m going to assume that both of the guitarists are taking turns soloing. Why? Because all of the solos are fucking great. I love hearing some slower, melodic solos here and there with a mix of fast and slow shredding moments.

The vocals are where things get a little more in the gray area. There isn’t really anything about the vocals in particular that seem to stick out. They aren’t shitty, that’s for sure. But they’re nowhere near what someone would consider to be top-notch. The main vocalist is occasionally accompanied by the bassist. Something that could be considered somewhat unique about the vocals on this album is that there aren’t any super deep growls. About 80% of the vocals are mid-ranged growls and high-pitched screams.

Foreboding Ether offers a surprisingly pleasant piece of music with Beyond Conjecture. My personal favorite from this album would most definitely be House of Cards. The arrangement, wide variety of solo types, and the non-traditional breakdowns that are used just channel all of the energy into me. But then, there really isn’t a single song on here that I would consider to be terrible. Foreboding Ether’s Beyond Conjecture EP is a treat to any fan of technical death, deathcore, and progressive death. I would give this one 15/20. I will be looking forward to hearing their debut full-length. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Gorgasm - Orgy of Murder

Ever since I first really got into the whole brutal death and grindcore scene, Putrid Pile, Cephalotripsy, Disgorge, Defeated Sanity, and Gorgasm are among the band names that keep popping up. Although I’m not a fan of all of these, they all seem to be a pretty big deal. So since Gorgasm was one of the ones I didn’t look up immediately those years ago, so I decided now was a good time. The majority of the big dogs in the realms of slamming brutality seem to each have their own special uniqueness about them (i.e. Nile, Hate Eternal, Devourment, Aborted, Defeated Sanity, Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Guttural Secrete, etc.), which is probably the reason why they’re more successful than the average band of their genre. But you can’t have bands like these without a strong set of generic bands that stick to the traditional style of the genre. That’s where the leading bands like Pathology, Putrid Pile, and Disgorge come in. After listening to Orgy of Murder several times, it’s become apparent that Gorgasm is part of the leading group of generic brutal death metal bands.

Formed in 1994, Gorgasm have released three albums, each under a different label, since 2001. After releasing two albums that got them some publicity, the band split-up in 2006. After disputes were settled and some lineup changes occurred, the quartet inked a deal with Brutal Bands Records and released their long-overdue third full length release, titled Orgy of Murder. Thanks to the publicity that their second album brought them, Gorgasm’s third release proved to be a success and received generally positive feedback from both fans and critics alike. And, to be honest, when you compare it to all the other average brutal death records out there, this is a pretty fucking solid record.

The overall sound of the album has a lot of positive qualities, but there are quite a few things missing that would really bring up the brutality. Probably the most profound positive quality that Orgy of Murder carries is the fact that you can hear EVERYTHING clearly. There’s never a time where one of the instruments becomes dominant and covers everything else up. This is good, but it doesn’t give the music enough texture and variety to keep things interesting. Part of the reason why I love Cerebral Bore’s Maniacal Miscreation so much is because while you can hear everything, the guitars tend to cover up most of the bass, and then everything will go silent while the bassist bangs out a really cool fill while he’s exposed. That kind of texture and variety in dynamics keeps the music interesting. As attractive as it sounds, being able to hear everything all the time causes the music to get old fairly quickly.

The guitarists aren’t anything super special, but they do play some pretty catchy solos and really cool harmonizations like at the end of Exhibit of Repugnance. The bassist plays with a style that’s more commonly found in technical death than in traditional brutal death. This occasionally gets to the point to where the music has much more of a technical vibe to it. This technical vibe is increased by the fact that the guitar distortions aren’t super crunchy and metallic, therefore making the technical riffs sound much more complex than they actually are. As well as the bass, the drums are very complex. And, once again, this is increased by how the drums sound in the recording. A lot of technical bands, in order to make their music sound more complex than it actually is, will turn down the bass of the kick drums, turn down the volume of all the cymbals, and use very little buzz on the snare. To be honest, although the drummer is better than average when it comes to complexity, there really isn’t anything special about him. He does pretty much everything that needs to be done for the style of music he plays, and that’s it.

The vocalist is “unique” in a sense because he primarily does exhales instead of the traditional inhales that most bands of their type do. Are his exhaled growls any good? Eh, they’re ok, but nowhere near being someone that people would consider being outstanding. So although the growls aren’t anything special, they do give the music an interesting and unexpected twist. His sound is average, but I will say that he has some skill when it comes to speed. For example, the vocals on the second track, Dirty Cunt Beatdown, are fantastic. In this song, he shows variety in speed, pitch, and volume. But then again, most of the extremely deep growls are simply back-up growls from one of the guitarists.

Gorgasm have proved their status with Orgy of Murder. Although not the most skilled and creative brutal death band, they most certainly aren’t below-average. What people would probably like to see from them next is some progression. With no major issues, the only one being the monotonous sound of the music throughout the album, Gorgasm brings a basic (but very solid) piece of brutality to the table with bits and pieces of uniqueness. I would recommend this mainly just to the brutal death and death grind community. But if you want to dive into the genre with these guys, it’s not a bad place to start. I would give Orgy of Murder a score of 13/20.