Monday, November 23, 2015

Fit for an Autopsy - Absolute Hope Absolute Hell

Ok so as promised, I have my “part two” review of this Fit for an Autopsy thing that I’m doing. Being hopeful that you decided that you wanted to read the review I wrote of Hellbound before reading this one (it’s okay if you decided against it), I know that I’m going to do quite a bit of comparing of the vocals between this album and the last. If you DID decide to read the last review, you are already well aware that vocalist Nate Johnson is my main attraction to this band (I’m pretty sure that was the case with most people). That being said, if you never really followed this band during their career, you missed the actually unsurprising news that Nate Johnson jumped ship almost immediately after Hellbound’s release. The band even said in their Facebook post that they had been “Nate Johnsoned”. So yes, yet again, the dude quit for whatever reason (this time it was right when they were about to go on tour) without a single word to the public.

The tour that they were about to go on was actually one that I attended. Given the praise that I poured out to this band in my review of Hellbound, you can safely assume that I was fucking excited to see them. But of course, the Fit for an Autopsy that I saw was not the same band that I was hoping to see. Quick replacements aren’t easy, but fortunately some long haired guy named Greg Wilburn immediately stepped up to the plate to ensure that they would still be able to go out on tour. As much as I can respect and praise people that take those kind of risks (learning an entire setlist in a few days isn’t easy), Greg sucked. Not only did he barely do any deep growling, his overall vocals were utter shit. I was upset and disappointed. Then not even a few months into their touring cycle, the band announced yet another change in vocalists (hopefully due to a large amount of negative feedback regarding Greg). For whatever reason, I was so stuck in the “Nate set the bar so high that I will never be content with anyone else fronting this band” that I never even bothered to check out who Joe Badolato was or what he sounded like. Well, he’s managed to stay in the band long enough to be the frontman on the band’s new album in the place of Nate Johnson.

I’m trying my absolute best to not make the vocals take up the entire review, so I’m going to start out with the overall style and execution of the music. If you read my last review, the theme of Hellbound was groove. Apart from the vocals, this is still my favorite part about that album; especially when you put it next to their debut, which is pretty much as straight-forward and stripped-down as deathcore can get. This new album kind of sits halfway in between those two albums…well in some ways it does and in other ways it doesn’t. It’s definitely much more straight-forward and basic than Hellbound, but it’s not as raw and repetitive as their debut. Probably the best way I can put it is that it’s a fairly generic deathcore album but many of the things that are executed throughout the duration of it don’t feel generic in the slightest bit. It’s a similar feel to Hellbound, where they make a traditional-sounding album using non-traditional methods. Except this time, the non-traditional methods are far, far fewer. The groove is still there; stronger in some places and weaker in others, but it’s nowhere near as attention-grabbing.

I don’t even need to say anything about the brutality…actually yes I do, because it’s far less than the past two albums, and guess who I’m going to blame for that, Nate Johnson. Without straying from what I’m trying to focus on, I’ll get back to him later. The brutality is still a primary element, but the breakdowns especially are far less interesting. Yes there are some great drops in the title track, Saltwound, and Storm Drains (a nice crushingly slow one), but there isn’t anything memorable other than that. Although everything was executed cleanly and with thought, none of the other breakdowns left me splattered all over the walls in pieces thinking “holy shit what the fucking hell was that”.

Moving on, the production seems to have gotten better and better with each release. So have they been changing producers? No guess who’s been one of the guitarists in the band since day fucking one: Will Putney. Don’t recognize that name? He has produced/mixed/engineered/mastered (either all or a combination of more than one of those) many albums including (but not limited to) No Time to Bleed by Suicide Silence, Hate and Holy War by Thy Art is Murder, Necrocracy by Exhumed, Structures’ Divided By, all three of Upon a Burning Body’s full-lengths, In Dreams by After the Burial, and many more (primarily) deathcore and metalcore albums since 2005. So why was the production on the first Fit for an Autopsy album so shitty? Well who knows, maybe he was trying to achieve what he did on Divided By and Hate where he basically blew out everything.

Okay let’s talk vocals now. I’ve done my best to listen to this with as much as an open mind as possible, doing my best to forget that Nate Johnson was ever in the band. When you put this album all by itself without any of its predecessors, it’s actually one of the best generic deathcore releases of the past few years. THANKFULLY this vocalist isn’t anything at all like what the temporary live replacement was. This guy can actually growl. He has volume, power, range, and emotion. He executes every song to the best of his abilities and gives 100%. Does he sound good with the band’s music? Yes he most definitely does. Would I ever choose this album over the other two Fit for an Autopsy records or recommend it first? Hell fucking no. The vocals are a good fit, they chose a good replacement, but just like Through the Eyes of the Dead and assumingly all the other bands Nate has been in, he joins, enables the band to release the best album(s) of their career, then leaves almost immediately with a bar set so high that next to no one can reach it. The growls are good, but they’re not deep enough to make me happy. Fortunately, Fit for an Autopsy did a better job at bouncing back and maintaining their relevance and popularity than any other “Nate Johnsoned” bands have.

They did good but not quite good enough in my book. Of course, the majority of their fanbase have been more than happy with Joe as the new vocalist, but I’m pretty sure everyone knows that their music will never be quite as good. As I mentioned before, the music is far less attention-grabbing. It has numerous spots that grab ahold of you and rips you to pieces, but the album eventually drones on and leaves you with a sub-par follow-up to Hellbound. Would I ever go off and listen to this specific album on my own time? Probably not. But it’s DEFINITELY an above-average deathcore album and there are a lot of far worse things being released right now. And if you are at all a deathcore fan or a fan of this band, this album is going to be more than enough to satisfy you with its crushing breakdowns, sweeping solos, and driving grooves. It’s just not enough for me, Nate Johnson and Hellbound set the bar too high. This gets a 14/20 from me. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fit for an Autopsy - Hellbound

I’ve tried to write something on this album ever since it was released 2 years ago. Whether it is writers block or my busy outside life or my busy mind, I haven’t gotten around to it. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to finish this review without something distracting me or running out of things to say. And before you ask me, yes I DO plan on writing my thoughts on their newest album; I’m getting sick of people asking me about it. Okay…in my review of Malice by Through the Eyes of the Dead (here) I made a side note mentioning the first Fit for an Autopsy album (I probably won’t ever write a full review on it). This album that I bring before you today is the follow-up to that. Just like Through the Eyes of the Dead and just about anything else Nate Johnson touches, Fit for an Autopsy caught a lot of people’s attention very quickly because of his vocals and hunger for crushing brutality. But because Nate is so unpredictable and loves to leave bands at the most inopportune times without saying a word, a lot of fans did their best to hold back at least SOME of their excitement about Fit for an Autopsy. Anyways, when Hellbound was announced, teased, and released, everyone was all over it. Oh lord I actually waited a while to listen to it because I was so overwhelmed by overpowering response from so many people.

If you HAVE NOT listened to the first Fit for an Autopsy album, just take a moment and listen to the first track and then come back here. Yes it’s brutality is near impossible to put into words, yes the guitars are mixed so loud that you can barely hear anything else, yes the vocals are amazing, yes yes yes yes. It’s great, but all you need to hear is the first track and then you’ve heard the whole thing. That’s all I’m going to say about their first album. The question is that if they’re actually going to do something more than just chuggy brutality and breakdowns on Hellbound.

First impressions are important, and I do an in-depth analysis on the first/opening track more often than I’m willing to admit, but I’m going to do it again this time especially because it played a big part when I first listened to this album (I think I was walking about my first college campus after my classes when I first turned this on). The intro to the first track sets the tone almost immediately once Nate’s (literally) perfect growls echo through the recording. I came close to turning down the volume a few notches out of fear for what was to come. But actually, the band takes their time easing into things instead of just dropping everything on you at once out of nowhere like the intro track of the new Oceano or many Thy Art songs. The drums kick in and everything is steadily paced; turning things up a bit and adding more things little by little. Then after one full second of silence they remind you that this is a Fit for an Autopsy album. The part of the song that made me smile and say “fuck yes they fucking did it” was right around the 1:50 mark of that track, after they have their fill of melting you with blistering speed, they drop the catchiest…is it even a breakdown? It’s some weird polyrhythmic drop that is absolutely crushing. From then on I was hooked 100%. I was ready to be slaughtered and torn to pieces by whatever they put on this album.

The element that this album has that is the most unique is groove. It’s not all about brutality, it’s not all about the breakdowns, it’s not all about doing anything they can to get the kids with stretched ears to start swinging their arms around, groove is what I feel is when I listen to this album. Best example is easily Still We Destroy (a song that sounds a little too similar to The Purest Strain of Hate by Thy Art). I’m not sure how it’s done…is it the way the drums are played differently? I can’t put my finger on it but it’s amazing and I love it. For those of you looking for something non-traditional but still with a traditional vibe, this album is EXACTLY what you need in you library. Also the number of guitar solos is greater than their last album. Actually now that I mention it, guitar solos in general are becoming increasingly popular in deathcore. Remember the first albums by Oceano, After the Burial, With Blood Comes Cleansing, Impending Doom, etc. when there were next to no solos at all? Now you look at just about any of the latest deathcore albums and guitar solos are taking a much bigger role.

The production of the album is amazing. I can hear EVERYTHING and nothing hurts my ears. It sounds like a much, much cleaner version of the production on Thy Art’s Hate. The songs all differ from each other, but at the same time they all blend together like every good deathcore album should. Although the album DOES maintain its energy and quality of sound, the interest level dies out towards the end. I’m glad that they put the jumpy grooves and skull-flattening breakdowns from Mother of the Year towards the end of the album because otherwise I would’ve completely lost interest and turned it off. 

This album is very dark. It has an amazing vibe and atmosphere with an intense focus on groove and head-crushing brutality. If you want something amazing, this is it. For me, personally, the interest level dies out in a few places but overall I love this album. It’s different, it has a lot of unique elements and I would recommend it to just about anyone. This album gets a 17/20 from me. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Slayer - Repentless

Slayer’s music has been highly criticized among both hardcore fans and casual listeners since around the turn of the century. Some say it started with Diabolus in Musica and others say it started with Undisputed Attitude. Personally, I don’t really count the latter simply because it’s a cover album and not a full album of original material. Of course one of the obvious reasons that the past 3 Slayer releases (not including this one) have been shrugged off by so many people is the simple fact that Slayer’s sound has remained very consistent (some might use the word stagnant) over the course of their career, but even more so with recent material. While you had them doing some experimenting with different styles, speeds, and structures in albums like South of Heaven and Divine Intervention, their more recent albums have all stuck to the same formula, boring a LOT of people.

Personally, I am a huge fan of God Hates us All and World Painted Blood, but despite that, I do agree that their material is much more stripped-down and straightforward, more so in Christ Illusion than anything else. But the reason why I am writing a review on Repentless and not any of their other new albums should be obvious to anyone that knows about what the band has gone through over the past what seems like 5 years now. Yes, the death of founding member, lead guitarist, and key songwriter, Jeff Hanneman, led many people (myself included) to basically say “well they put out a good amount of classics, they did good, I guess this is it for Slayer”. But of course with the amount of money the band makes and egomaniac (I’ll try to make this the only time I drop that accurate label on him) Kerry King finally being in the lead guitar and songwriting position, why would they stop?? When they announced that they would move forward with King on lead guitar and that Exodus guitarist Gary Holt would become the new official rhythm guitarist, most of the reactions I saw were somewhere along the lines of “not excited, but okay sure why not”.

One last note before I move on to talking about the album (sorry for my wordiness, it’s been months since I’ve written anything) is that Dave Lombardo is no longer in the band (again). Being a HUGE Lombardo fan, this upset me. But in an attempt to stay optimistic, the guy that they chose to replace him is the most appropriate (and only) drummer to do the job, and that’s Paul Bostaph, the guy that replaced Lombardo the FIRST time he parted with Slayer (1992-2001). So okay, new lineup for this album consists of Tom Araya, Kerry King, Paul Bostaph, and Gary Holt.

Slayer is a pretty predictable band, and that has worked in their favor for the most part in the long-term. What I mentioned before about them basically recycling their sound being unpopular among most people may be SOMEWHAT true, I feel that Jeff Hanneman was the main factor that kept things from going totally 100% stale. That’s what I feel kept Slayer on top; Jeff was a master at creating simple, recognizable, easy-to-digest riffs and songs that would get stuck in your head. Yes, diversity did end up becoming an issue as time went on, but still, even after the quality of their music dwindled, there were still amazing things coming out of Jeff’s head. It’s very easy to write a Slayer-inspired thrash metal riff…why the hell do you think there are more underground Slayer copycats than the world will ever know about? Why do you think that most of the underground thrash bands you here are regarded as “sounds like a boring version of Slayer”? The general public was pretty good at predicting that King would only be able to emulate Jeff’s style and sound and would never be able to continue it.

Moving on to the first three songs (not counting the intro track): Repentless, Take Control, and Vices. What the hell does the opening riff to Repentless sound like? IT SOUNDS LIKE FUCKING HANNEMAN. Who wrote it? Kerry King. This whole song is actually surprisingly good! It has energy, groove, it sounds like Slayer, and I am motivated to replay it almost every time I’ve listened to it! Yes, the structure of the intro for the track is WAY overused and is a common tactic used by Slayer dating back to their first album, but admit it, 90% of the time, no one does it as well as Slayer (Havok and Kreator are the only exceptions in a few cases). And this song is one of the best examples of that. After hearing this song, a good amount of faith and excitement in me was restored and I was ready to hear the rest of the album. Maybe King isn’t so bad after all. Maybe after playing with Hanneman for over 30 years, he’s become so accustomed to his style and writing process that he actually has the ability to write riffs just as good.

Take Control is a bit of a step down, but still very promising and keeps the excitement and energy flowing. Classic Slayer sound, but not really anything too memorable, making it easily forgettable. Vices is probably one of the most unique songs off the album due to its lack in speed but huge increase in groove (mainly in the drums). Great headbanging song, if you loved songs like Exile, Skeletons of Society, and Live Undead, you’ll love Vices just as much. This song is also where I started noticing something a bit off. Although I loved the fuck out of this track, the speed and style changes within the song felt much less dramatic than ever before.

When I noticed this, I went back to the other two tracks and noticed that the changes that took place in the song were either minimal or nonexistent. In previous albums, even though each song had the same sound or mood, there were dramatic changes within most of the songs to keep things interesting. Sometimes it was a breakdown, other times it was a slow song that would suddenly break out into full speed with a guitar solo, or just a new riff and speed altogether taking place halfway through the song, etc. There was always SOMETHING thrown in each song that made it special or interesting. And that key feature is one of the main reason that this album gives me the feeling that something’s missing (I just couldn’t put my finger on it at first).

Is this what always set Slayer apart from the hundreds of mediocre bands that tried to emulate their sound? The song structure? After going through some of the underground bands that just sound like a bunch of Slayer covers (some of them are actually really good) like Invasion, Battery, Thraw, Amok, and Hatchet, and Beast, I can now see much clearer why most of these bands seem so boring and..well…mediocre to me. And the second part of this is going back to all the older Slayer songs that were written by Kerry King himself, and I am hearing the exact same thing that I am hearing on both this album and from all those other bands; monotony.

Kerry King is great at writing riffs and songs that are easily recognizable as Slayer songs, but unfortunately, it’s not enough. Some might say it’s because he half-asses it and doesn’t care, I personally think that he is doing his best, but that his best will never be good enough. What’s another way that you can tell? Listen to Piano Wire and notice how much it DOES change in several parts…guess who wrote that…HANNEMAN. This is the one song that he wrote that they decided to throw in, obviously out of respect and in his memory.

As the album goes on, it starts to drone on. I feel like I’m listening to one of the countless mediocre Slayer imitators when I listen to this album. It’s not a BAD album and should definitely be listened to once by anyone curious, but this is about as average as thrash metal can get; it’s boring. Yes, the musicianship is outstanding…Bostaph is an amazing drummer, Holt does a great job and fits in so well that you don’t even notice that he’s there, Araya’s bass playing is great as always and so are his vocals, and King does a fantastic job at shitting out some fun solos and is never sloppy as far as speed and technique goes. Repentless is a song that, although remains the same throughout, is very fun to listen to and has endless amounts of energy. But this sounds old, tired, and dry. I honestly never thought that Slayer would go from being the band that everybody tries to copy to sounding like all the bands that are trying to copy them. This gets an 8/20 from me.