Friday, February 28, 2014

Sinister - The Carnage Ending

Almost every band that has been around for more than 20 years has put out at least one bad album. Sinister, despite having a quite massive “former members” list, have managed to pull through with each release. In light of the Dutch death metal pioneers’ new album that is set to be released sometime this summer via Massacre Records, I thought it’d be nice to look back to 2012 and peel back the layers of their most recent release, The Carnage Ending. A few years back, I reviewed The Silent Howling, and because I live under a fucking rock, a lot happened between The Silent Howling and The Carnage Ending and I didn’t learn about it until recently. Despite that, I have had this album in my library since its release because of the dependability of this band. Even though I didn’t really have the time to listen to it because of being busy with other things, I knew that it didn’t matter when I listened to it; Sinister has yet to disappoint me.

The crazy thing that happened between 2008 and 2012 was 3 of the 4 members parting ways with the band. So now, the vocalist isn’t just the only remaining original member, but he’s also the only member that has been in the band longer than 5 years…great. And although he is an original member of Sinister, some take the technicality that he was their drummer when Sinister first formed in 1988 and didn’t become the vocalist until he and another member decided to resurrect the band after a 2 year hiatus (which obviously didn’t include their original vocalist). So because he’s not their original VOCALIST, people take that and say that there’s no original members left in the band. And yes, there are plenty of bands out there that only have one original member still standing, but I can’t think of a case where EVERYONE except for one member just left the band at once. If you can name other bands that have endured this type of loss without breaking up, please leave a comment on this post!

Due to the completely different lineup, I’m not going to compare this one with their extensive discography quite as much as I would with any of its predecessors. On top of that, what does it fucking matter? Have Sinister ever gone to shit before? No! And I can reassure you that The Carnage Ending isn’t any better or worse (by a whole lot) than any of their other albums! If you know these guys well, you know exactly what to expect; pure, uncut, straight-up death metal. No excess technicality, minimal melody, little emphasis on breakdowns, and a record that is better sounding as a whole than the individual songs by themselves.

On that note, there are some progressions that have been made. Although not completely necessary, it’s best to have a good variety of different tempos in each track. Sinister have proved to not be the best at this. They’ve made multiple attempts at putting in breakdowns, extreme tempo changes, and oddball breaks in their music, and every album in which they do that, it ends up sounding very choppy. Every time they produce an album like this, they always go back to just sticking to a few similar speeds. Thankfully, the guitar and vocal work have kept the music interesting enough to avoid getting the “monotony” sticker. In my review of The Silent Howling, I did mention that, in order for these guys to keep up on their game, they needed to have some hidden surprises in the next album to keep the predictability level from getting any higher than it needed to be.

I’m not saying that this is because of the lineup being COMPLETELY different aside from their vocalist, but Sinister have finally figured out how to use a magical tool known as a “transition”. Ever wondered why your music sounded so goddamn choppy on Savage or Grace? Because the album is completely void of any attempt at transitions. Something must have clicked this time because this album has everything that they’ve tried to do, only they’re actually succeeding! There are breakdowns in almost every song that are laid out PERFECTLY and aren’t over exaggerated like the breakdowns on a deathcore album would be. Sinister is way too Dutch to turn into a deathcore band; as well as being too old. Anyways, there’s a lot more variety WITHIN each song than anything they’ve ever done before. Yet interestingly enough, when you look at the album as a whole, the songs all generally sound the same (with some give or take of course).

The guitar solos haven’t changed since the band’s return from hiatus in 2005, which is good considering the unique shredding style of the solos are an important part of Sinister’s sound. In exchange for an increase in groove, Sinister have given up some brutality, which is a loss for me because of the PERFECT brutality level The Silent Howling had.

I’m not a fan of the overly processed sound of the vocals. I know this isn’t the raw sound of the vocals because of how much less polished the vocals from The Silent Howling sound. Although it’s a minor alteration, it’s enough to be noticeable by me. Then again, I wouldn’t have noticed that if I wasn’t reviewing this album. A lot of the things that make us reviewers seem nit-picky and snotty are things that we wouldn’t have noticed without analyzing the music closely and paying attention to every individual little thing. It’s something I consider to be somewhat of a curse that comes with the album reviewing process; you start noticing negative things that you wouldn’t normally hear through leisurely playing the album.

There’s one last thing I want to point out: the drummer. This album has the best drum work out of Sinister’s entire discography. Yes, even the drumming off of Aggressive Measures doesn’t amount to the drumming on this record. Maybe the drumming on The Carnage Ending is not quite as tight and solid as Aggressive Measures, but definitely far more creative and intricate. The blast beats are very crisp and a pleasure to the ears. Overall, this is more than any casual death metal fan could ask for! It’s quality! Personally, the interest factor doesn’t match that of The Silent Howling or Hate, but this is a big step in the right direction. Death metal fans need to give this one a listen. The Carnage Ending gets my score of 15/20. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Death Angel - The Dream Calls for Blood

Death Angel is an interesting band. When I first started listening to them, everyone in the band except for the vocalist was related. Not even months after I discovered them (I didn’t find out about this until years later), two of these members dropped out for reasons I honestly couldn’t give less of a fuck about. If you know the predictability of the thrash metal community, you can already correctly guess that this was a big blow to Death Angel’s reputation and caused a lot of thrashers to basically slide the band into the “no longer relevant” category. But for me, because my first time seeing these guys live was after this had already happened (plus the fact that I didn’t know it had happened at all), I was blown away by the performance of all of the members; so I don’t have any negative thoughts toward the band at all regarding that infamous lineup change. The reason why this is so relevant right now is because their 2010 album, Relentless Retribution, was really a major hate-target for the old school thrash metal bigots because it wasn’t the same Death Angel they had been listening to since the early 1980s. If there’s anything more important than the first effort, it’s the follow-up to show that they can still hold together. But in all honesty, I couldn’t care any fucking less about the lineup as long as their lead guitarist and vocalist stay in the act.

People that have listened to Death Angel more than once already know that innovation and progression is not something that should be expected from these guys. If you’re looking for the progressive thrash bands, you’re barking up the wrong tree. These guys deep it raw and traditional, but in no way are they a band that resorts to the bare minimum. Death Angel know the thrash metal style well enough to be able to be unique, new, and interesting without stepping too far out of the boundaries. This is probably because they don’t see any boundaries and that they know that pure thrash metal is what they do best. And to be honest, I’m glad that they’re sticking to that plan because they’re standing as one of the top dogs and examples to look up to. They’ve been around long enough, they haven’t grown progressive, they don’t have their heads stuck back in the 80s; they have evolved with the genre while at the same time still having the Death Angel sound, and they haven’t gone down the borefest of tremolo picking, ridiculous shredding solos, and blast beats that many have gone down.

Relentless Retribution was a perfect example of that, and really showed a lot of experimentation with slower, less “thrashy” speeds. This new record is obviously making up for the speed and brutality that its predecessor lacked. How soon is this apparent? 25 seconds into the first track, it’s instantly brought to your attention that The Dream Calls for Blood is NOT a record that will leave you fully intact afterwards.

The main highlight that I would like to bring up first is the number of guitar solos. Compared to most of their discography, The Dream Calls for Blood has A LOT of guitar solos, and they aren’t the typical randomized over-the-top shredding solos you may be used to hearing. The way in which the solos are presented is very traditional; the whole entire band suddenly shifting into overdrive in order to intensify the first squealing notes of the solo. But these are the big solos, the memorable ones. There are A LOT of shortish solos at act more as filler during major transitions within a song. The reason why i say “shortish” is because although it’s obviously being used as a filler, it’s a lot longer than usual; it’s not just a simple blasting 3-second riff, but at the same time isn’t long enough for me to consider it a full-blown guitar solo.

It’s easy to cover up not being tight with speed. If you have the guitar distortion sounding just right and the cymbals are louder than anything else, it just sounds like grinding speed and...well...who doesn’t love grinding speed in their thrash metal? Death Angel never does this. They have their guitars sounding very pure in the sense that you can hear precisely what they’re doing and they can palm-mute easier. You can hear the exact speed they’re tremolo picking (the title track is a perfect example of this). It’s the same deal with the drums, you can hear everything, and if you have a good set of subwoofers, you will be very glad with how the drums and bass guitar are mixed. And you can probably assume from what I said earlier about Death Angel being tight that the drummer is top-notch in terms of both technicality and never falling even a LITTLE bit out of time.

The other thing that Death Angel has always been very good at is avoiding monotony. They always have a good mix of different-sounding songs on every album. This is where I think they’ve fallen a bit short this time around. Although every track is immensely brutal and always filled with the best headbang-worthy breakdowns and catchiest solos, the song’s don’t differ from each other nearly as much as they have in previous efforts. So by the time the 8th track comes on, the euphoric feeling feeling the first few tracks gave me is still there, but isn’t nearly as intense. The only major turning points being a short interlude acting as the first part of Don’t Save Me. But although the monotony this album has is noticeable by most, it’s minimal and most likely won’t be an issue for you due to the things this album DOES have to make up for it. For me, it’s not so much that I get irritated DURING the record after a while, but the lack in variety doesn’t make my hand move towards the replay button. It leaves me feeling less satisfied than I would want to feel after listening to Death Angel.

So if thrash is your thing, I would HIGHLY recommend you pick this up. If you’re into thrash but really hate the new wave of boring bands that have risen out of the USA recently, chances are you’ve either already heard this album or at least Death Angel. If you haven’t, you’re missing out on one hell of a fucking band. This album has offered up some of the best guitar solos I’ve heard in years, and that’s saying a lot because I haven’t even been listening to extreme metal for 10 years yet, most of the bands I know are ones I’ve discovered sometime within the past 3-5 years or so. Despite a lack in creativity and variety, The Dream Calls for Blood is enough to prove that the Oakland thrashers are FAR from going downhill. Death Angel has still got it and gets a 16/20.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Elysion - Someplace Better.

Another Greek band! And what’s this? It’s not black metal! One of the most unique underground gothic metal bands, Elysion, are finally back with their overdue sophomore release, Someplace Better. I was beginning to think that they were going to end up being another one-album-wonder group that vanished into thin air after it came to be 2012 without any notable updates other than an EP compiled of live and acoustic tracks. Yes, that’s right, I’ve known about these fuckers since I received a copy of their debut album in 2009 for review through the webzine I was writing for at the time (those of you that know my history well can easily guess which webzine). Although their first album isn’t anything over-the-top outstanding, it was more than enough to get me pumped for the band’s next release.

Well 2014 is here and they have finally put out what they should’ve put out years ago. I don’t know much about the band’s background info and don’t really care about it either because I don’t love these guys, their last effort was average, why should I waste my time when I could be drooling over the musical backgrounds of Karl Sanders and Devin Townsend? Moving on, the band have managed to keep their logo, which is good because it’s not some boring ass font like a lot of these other gothic metal bands use. The intro to the first song sounds like they held up a microphone to a stereo playing a Lacuna Coil song. The signature eerie harmonies that Christina Scabbia is known for appear in numerous places all throughout the first track (and the whole album really). But besides that, there isn’t really other Lacuna Coil carbon-copy shit that’s obvious enough for me to hear. The slow, heavy, dark chugging riffs aren’t really Lacuna Coil shit as much as they are a gothic metal thing because every gothic metal band I’ve ever heard (I only listen to a dozen or so bands from this genre) does this.

I never really put much shit on the vocals of their first album because I didn’t really know what the generic gothic metal sound was at the time. So I’m going to put that record out of the picture and stop comparing/contrasting. Probably the thing about Someplace Better that bothers me more than anything else is the vocalist. I don’t know what it is about her, but her voice is so unique, yet so uninteresting. Don’t get me wrong, her voice is PERFECT for Elysion’s sound, but because this style of music puts so much emphasis on the female vocals, she seems to come up a bit short. She’s not out-of-tune, she has power, she expresses emotion, and she has a great dynamic range. There’s just something about her voice that makes it easily forgotten and never sticks to you in the way that singers like Floor Jansen and Simone Simons do. It’s not the absence of the operatic singing that a lot of these chicks like to do, that’s not something I require in a female singer. The issue I’m having is that she sounds so “generic” and ordinary, but I can’t find anyone else that sounds anything like her!

When listening to this record, the perfect harmony between the vocals, keyboards, guitars, and drums put you in a headlock and hold you in tight until the last track has finished. Then, once it’s over and the room has fallen silent, you completely forget what you just listened to. There’s nothing memorable about this album despite the solidity and crispness of the well-composed music. I’ve had to listen to this album over and over so many fucking times because if I go for more than one hour without listening to it, I’ll completely forget what it sounded like and how it captured me on that personal musical level.

The frilly keyboards are perfectly placed in the background where they should be. They don’t take the forefront like a lot of halfwit bands are doing these days. The keyboards help provide a beautiful atmosphere that, when mixed with the melodic crunch of the guitars, creates a beautiful cacophony of sound that encircles you. But like I said before, once the album finishes, it all vanishes into thin air like it was never there in the first place. There’s no after-effect, the album doesn’t leave you with any feeling, nothing like that. When you finish the album, the feeling you get is the feeling that you had before you pressed play.

If you’re a gothic metal enthusiast or love female-fronted bands, this is definitely something you need to check out because this is one of the stronger gothic metal releases I’ve heard in years. A lot of these bands have been growing dry (i.e. Sirenia, etc.) and this new Elysion album is like a breath of fresh air for someone that rarely hears a truly great symphonic or gothic metal album. This is one of the better Greek bands and I would give this album an above-average score of 14/20. The reason it’s so high is because although it’s very forgettable, it’s a fantastic piece nonetheless and does a great job of capturing the precise feeling it wants to. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Grue - Casualty of the Psychic Wars

Aside from Judas Iscariot, Inquisition (sort of), Xasthur, and a few other names, black metal from the United States isn’t normally mentioned when tossing around notable black metal artists. And regardless of what people might say, the black metal scene in the USA doesn’t have much to speak for. Yeah, we have A LOT of black metal bands/artists spawning from our capitalist landscapes, but most of them are…well…shit! We’ve had a few fantastic names pop up over the course of two-ish decades, some of them even getting very popular! Fantastic bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Ceremonial Castings, Agalloch, Inquinok, Leviathan, Lightning Swords of Death, Castevet, Valdur, Lost Inside, Lamentations of the Ashen, and quite a few others have come out of the states. But the sheer number of pathetically short-lived and/or repulsively bad black metal bands that are from here have really poisoned the country’s reputation and reliability.

In 2010, some moron from Boston that calls himself Barghast started a solo project called Word of Unmaking. No idea where that went, but a year later, Barghast teamed up with one of his drummer buddies and started a black metal duo known as Grue (Barghast being on vocals and guitar). The first piece of material that Grue released was in 2012 on a split with none other than Word of Unmaking. Okay, well I guess having your band be on a split with your solo project isn’t something that’s done every day so…points for creativity! Have I heard this split? Fuck no; I’m not even here to talk about that. What I’m here to talk about is the piece of material that spawned out of the decision that Barghast wanted to get serious with Grue and see what he could do with it.

Part of the reason the United States black metal scene is so weak is because of the lack of solid generic bands. In order to have a house, you need a strong platform to build it on. The USA has A LOT of progressive black bands and this new “post-black” bullshit, but very few truly great bands that stick to the pure black metal sound. Grue is one of those bands. These two dipshits are what we need, people that KNOW how to play black metal. If there’s any new band you should be watching, it’s these guys right here. This record has anything you could ask for, whether it be melody, thrashy parts, blast beats, droning, atmosphere, etc. The duo doesn’t bother with a droning intro you might be used to hearing from new bands; they just go straight into playing at full-force. But unlike something Gorgoroth or Enthroned might do, there’s a lot of melody involved in what they’re doing. If you listen through the repeated crashing of the cymbals in the first 30 seconds of the opening track, you can hear the base melody that’s used throughout the song; and it’s not some corny or simple black metal riff. It’s just the right amount of melody to keep their music from being tasteless and dry as well as avoiding going down the Wolves in the Throne Room path.

My favorite thing about this album is the drummer. A common issue that comes up in this style of music is having a drummer that can only play one pattern. The constant blast beats have given black metal a hard time due to how irritating it can get. The drummer on this record is AMAZING. His blast beats are perfect, don’t get me wrong there, but he does SO MUCH MORE! He primarily follows the “3 different drum patterns on the same speed, then change the speed and do 3 patterns on that speed”, but he constantly throws in random surprises that do the opposite of make the music predictable. He never falls out of time, his technique is superb, and his creativity is to the point of being one of the best black metal drummers I’ve heard in years! Along with the atmosphere and complex melody, the drummer is definitely the main highlight of Casualty of the Psychic Wars.

An issue that I have with music in general is monotony. I NEED there to be variety within the song. Even in grindcore, I require changes in tempo and pattern. That’s why I love Wormrot, Pig Destroyer, Fuck the Facts, Gridlink, Rotten Sound, and Napalm Death so much, they aren’t constant mayhem and speed; they add MORE to it. Grue is an example of a black metal band that has everything you could expect to hear along with a plethora of surprises and interesting variations that make them interesting.

Those of you that like to be extra critical on the vocals, this guy isn’t the absolute best, but he’s not shitty even in the slightest sense. He sounds a lot like the vocalist for Kvelertak; having a lot of voice, power, emotion, and sort of a mid-range tone. Lyrical content…I have no fucking idea, but I just bought the CD (and a shirt) the other day, and the online description said the CD contained lyrics, so I guess I’ll find out then and probably add them to a few of those online metal encyclopedias since no one seems to know (and in my case) or care about the lyrics.

Grue’s Casualty of the Psychic Wars is what I consider to be the best debut album of 2013. So if you’ve still got your panties in a knot about Rivers of Nihil, Lost Society, Essence of Datum, and all those other awesome debuts that were released last year, drop your fucking shit and listen to Grue because it may change your mind. This record is anything but tasteless and boring. It has substance, color, emotion, variety, skill, talent, creativity, grimness, and some of the best fucking musicianship you’ll ever hear from a black metal record. Everything about this album is 100% flawless. This is a perfect debut, which means that the bar has been set pretty damn high for whenever they release their next album (hopefully soon). Give this a listen, obviously the score is 20/20.