Saturday, July 26, 2014

Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of Consciousness

There have been a lot of bands lately that are bringing back the thrash black sound (some call it “first wave black metal” it was pretty much the movement that branched away from thrash metal into darker and more aggressive territories) that bands like Hellhammer, old Venom, old Bathory, Von,  and Root. Although, unlike those bands, that were basically thrash bands playing new (at the time) and more aggressive “black metal” sounds, this new “revival” is more of the combination of modern-sounding thrash metal with traditional black metal. Still in a similar sound, but somewhat different. Bands like Goatwhore, Skeletonwitch, Melechesh, and Varg are seeing a lot of success. Toxic Holocaust is always a name that gets thrown around during topics of overly-aggressive thrash metal or even just thrash black. Here’s what sets this band apart from most of these other newer bands: they’re doing the exact same thing as the bands from the 80s were doing, except instead of branching away from the CLASSIC thrash sound, Toxic Holocaust is simply playing a more aggressive (you could even say “blackened”) form of the MODERN thrash sound. So Toxic Holocaust is almost like a modernized Venom.

Hard, catchy thrash metal grooves and epic shredding solos are coated with black metal vocals and grim atmospheres. With this formula, Toxic Holocaust have managed to develop an unusually diverse fanbase. I’m an avid concertgoer and have developed a (what I would like to think) fairly good understanding of the metal scene here in Washington State. The reason I say that is because when I saw these guys live (with Mammoth Grinder, Exhumed, and Ramming Speed), everyone seemed to be there to see Toxic. And there was a very diverse crowd there; hardcore kids, thrashers, black metallers, grindcore fans; they were all there to see one of the opening acts and Toxic. And although on record, Toxic Holocaust sounds much more thrashy, seeing them live really exposed the underlying grimness and the black metal type aggression. For years, Toxic have been thriving in the underground thrash, black, and death metal communities, and it seemed that, while touring in support of Conjure and Command, something happened and they broke out of the underground; acclaiming far more success by the time this new album, Chemistry of Consciousness rolled around last year.

I never really took much of an interest in Toxic Holocaust until this album, and I feel really bad for missing out on this band for so long! This band has managed to achieve great success without losing their respect from the underground. The production of this album is far better than any of the previous records, but unlike a lot of the modern extreme metal albums being released today, there’s very little compression. Everything still feels very gritty and rough. It’s extremely bothersome when bands think it sounds good to water down and soften the entire production of their album and compress the guitars so much that it cuts out literally all high end. Those are the albums I rarely buy physical copies of, because they feel so digital and fake! The production on Chemistry of Consciousness, on the other hand, maintains the raw qualities while still having a refined, crisp sound. A problem that I do have with this album (and every other Toxic Holocaust album) is that I can’t hear the bass guitar. Obviously there’s plenty of bass in the mix, but I can’t hear the notes that the bass guitar is playing or the metallic rattle of the thick strings that I would prefer to hear in thrashier music. But, like most albums of this style, the guitars drown out the bass.

The drumming is a bit monotonous. I completely understand the whole classic hardcore punk thing that the drummer is going for, but the majority of every single song uses that exact same drum pattern that’s already overused in punk AND thrash metal. Would it hurt do throw in some blast beats here and there? Maybe even get a cowbell and pick a song or two where you use that instead of the snare; or even a different drum to make more room for variation! Whatever works; because it only sounds like you’re using half of the kit I saw you using on stage. And there’s nothing wrong with working with a small drum kit, it just means that you have to be very good at coming up with tons of different patterns and ways to use that small kit. The drumming on this album is very tight and everything fits the mood perfectly, but if I were to have my moment as a nitpicker, I would say that there should be more going on with the drums, that there’s not enough. So now that he’s proven to us that he’s truly mastered this, I would like to see him do some experimenting and exploring with different patterns before it gets old.

Other than that, this is enough to make just about any Toxic fan happy. There isn’t too much variation in song types; the band maintains the same general sound/vibe for the duration of the record without letting things get too monotonous. Honestly, after taking the time to listen to the band’s entire discography, this is by far my favorite release they’ve done so far. Although they don’t seem like it at first, this is a band that pleases a wide-variety of heavy metal fans, and I would recommend it to just about anyone. I would give this a 17/20. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Origin - Omnipresent

Ever since 2002, Origin has stuck to an every-third-year album release pattern due to the extensive touring they do. Well, come 2014, three years after releasing their masterpiece Nuclear Blast debut, Entity, Origin is back with Omnipresent. First thing that should be mentioned about Omnipresent is that it’s the first Origin album to actually have ex-Skinless vocalist Jason Keyser. Because it’s hard to make sense of the frequent lineup changes many of these bands have, I assumed that Entity was Keyser’s first appearance on an Origin record, obviously I was wrong (even though my copy of Entity is signed by Keyser). So now that we’ve got all misconceptions taken care of, Omnipresent is Keyser’s entrance into the Origin discography and..well...the lead vocals don’t sound very different at all from the vocals on Entity or any of the other albums.

That’s probably the most shocking thing about Omnipresent, Jason Keyser doesn’t bring anything new to Origin’s sound. He could’ve been their vocalist all along, or there could be some unnamed person that’s secretly been doing the vocals on all of their studio albums this whole time! It’s like Keyser fits in Origin a little TOO perfectly. To some, this may come as a very irritating factor, but for me, although it is disappointing, I moved past it fairly quickly because…well, if you’ve ever listened to Origin, you would understand. One last thing on the vocals I would like to point out is that this is the first Origin album to feature a guest appearance! Yes, that’s right; the first track features guest vocals from the one and only Chris Wilson! Seeing that the only three bands he’s been in (Jesus Corpus, Troglodyte, and Opaque Notation) are all from Kansas City, Missouri, one can probably figure that this guy has probably been buddies with the guys in Origin. Supporting evidence? Not really that much other than that Topeka, KS (home of Origin) and Kansas City, MO (probable home of Chris Wilson) are very close together. So those really nasty grindcore-sounding shrieks in the first track are probably Chris Wilson since you don’t hear them anywhere else on the record. Okay, moving on.

Origin is a band that has stuck to the same basic formula for the duration of their career and hasn’t felt the need to stray away from it (yet?). Bands that remain very consistent with their sound are very hit or miss because they need to have a sound that leaves room for enough different songs and that has A LOT of replay value. Every Origin album is better enjoyed as a whole because all of the songs sound so similar that they almost just blend together. Lucky for Origin, their sound has a lot of replay value and has helped them achieve a lot of success. Their sound really never gets old, but what I AT LEAST like to see is to have the instrumentation sound different on each album. So maybe you have a finer, cleaner guitar distortion and not quite as much bass in the kick drums on one album and then have a really loud, crunchy distortion with the kick drums pounding you into the dirt on the next album. You see what I’m saying? They can change shit around and make everything sound different without straying too far from their musical formula. Origin hasn’t really done much with this; when listening to their entire discography on shuffle, it’s hard to tell exactly what album a song is from based on how it sounds (except for Entity, which has a much cleaner and more polished sound).

Now that I’ve at least attempted to explain that side of Origin, we now come to the big downside to Omnipresent. It is literally Entity part 2. While listening to it in my car a few days ago, I couldn’t stop thinking how much literally everything about this new record sounded like Entity, so I decided to put both Entity and Omnipresent on shuffle, and aside from a few of the popular tracks from Entity (Expulsion of Fury, Swarm, and Purgatory, to be exact), I literally could not tell the difference between the two albums; they literally sounded like they were all part of the same album. I’m okay with Origin’s method of having the same exact musical formula on every record, but could they at least have bothered themselves to mix Omnipresent differently enough to where it didn’t sound like an Entity re-release? I can’t call this a lack of creativity and originality (heh) because that’s not what these guys are about; they’re not trying to be super innovative and unique, they’re just sticking to the sound they know and love best. I have heard albums by the same band that are mixed exactly the same, but have musical differences, which is okay, but this really bothered me the first few times I listened to it.

Aside from that somewhat major (to some) downside, Omnipresent is exactly what you expect from Origin. Blistering speeds, inhumanly fast blast beats, fairly monotonous, but extremely technical guitar/bass work, and undeniable tightness for the duration of the record. Origin fans will love this, and although I love it too, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to compare this album to Entity because it basically is Entity. And yes, although I am giving it a lower score than its predecessor, this is an amazing album that I would recommend that you pick up if you feel the need for more of Origin’s sound. I guess I just really expected something a little more from these guys than what they delivered. I would give this 16/20.