Thursday, September 08, 2005

Scott's Hyperbole-Riddled Metal Reviews!

These are some of the reviews I have written for Decibel. Satan bless them. Just in case you don't subscribe to one of the only great music magazines now being published in this rotten country.

BEARVSSHARK – Terrorhawk (Equal Vision)

Not unlike a young Mandy Patinkin trying to decide whether or not to capitalize on his critically-acclaimed performance as Che Guevera in Andre Lloyd Webber’s smash hit musical Evita by taking to the stage again and solidifying his position as one of the true rising stars of the American stage or hightailing it to Hollywood where the paydays and fringe benefits are oh so rewarding, today’s post-post-post “emotive” “screaming” “hardcore” bands are left with a similar art/mammon choice of their own. Do they help to extend and build and transform the post-hardcore canon a la Fugazi by refusing to bow to the marketplace and steadily become more “difficult” and less “catchy” or “fun”? Or do they realize, with a sinking feeling in their stomachs, that being assless, gasless, and grassless, while making for good tortured lyrical set-ups, gets old in a hurry and that, yes, while you can try to deny it for a little while, nobody rides for free. Or is there a third choice? One that doesn’t involve large amounts of eyeliner, a date with Avril, or a steady starvation diet of van-food and skate-shop fill-in work. Sure there is! This is America, the land of three choices! And lots of bands have realized by now that you can kinda sorta have your cake and then, you know, eat it. Occasionally. Bearvsshark are one of these bands. They are plenty peppy and poppy and there singer-dude has one of those archetypal tough but sensitive screams that now sound as indigenous to these shores as cowboysvsindians, but they zig instead of zag just enough to keep things interesting for smelly badgeless and bookbagless dopes like me. A warped guitar tone here. A classic rock move there. Hell, even a baritone sax put to good use. These non-genre elements are what makes Terrorhawk good instead of just typical. I’d like to see them expand their sound even further. Go out on a limb, so to speak. So many bands are afraid of leaving their self-imposed ghetto and it’s nice to see a group taking baby steps toward something grander. A more expansive and mature sound that fleshes out and makes fuller the caffeine-core that they can obviously play adeptly in their sleep. I’ll be rooting for them. At least they’re fucking trying! What the fuck have you done?

Blut Aus Nord – The Work Which Transforms God / Thematic Emanation Of Archetypal Multiplicity (Candlelight)

“Aw yeah, we are back! I’m Hellion, and you’re watching Black Metal Dance Party on MTV. Today’s special guests are none other than those fearsome French funkmasters Blut Aus Nord, and they are here to get this party started rightly! As you may remember, Blut’s 2003 release The Work Which Transforms God dropped like a bizzomb on the black metal universe with its mix of searing misanthropic guitar fury, industrial ambience, belief and praise for evolutionary theory, and passages of dub-like psychedelic headfuckery a la Controlled Bleeding or some such shit. The whole thing was sweeeeeet! And now, with the re-release of that album comes a bonus ep that will have da headz buggin’! Some straight-up EBM Darkwave-stylee shit along with some hella-dopetastic funky monk chanting and some crushing doom that’ll have the hotties beggin’ for mizzercy! So, let’s take it to the stage, playa! Blut… there it is!!!!”

“Greetings, mortals. It is our extreme displeasure to be here. It is is true what this human says. Our new extended play release is a departure from our past unmitigated fury. Do not judge us, however, as you would a lesser weaker musical performance unit. We are beyond your terrestrial realm. We will not be put in your earth boxes to be probed and dissected like so many tiny earth rodents. Our mission is the total and complete annhilation of past thought and if the path to this goal is revealed to be the motherfunkiest dance beats your ears have ever been blessed with, then so be it. Our word is law. At the proper time, I would like everyone in the room to raise their arms in the appropriate manner and scream: Go Satan, Go Satan, Go! After that, I would very much like the crowd to scream Hell Yeah! in response to my leading exhortation of: If You Believe In Hell On Earth, Say Hell Yeah! Is all of this understood? I should hope so. But first, we are going to slow things down a little and play what I believe you humans call a “storm of quiet” from our masterpiece Thematic Emanation Of Archetypal Multiplicity”. This one is for the female of your species.”

Candlemass – Candlemass (Nuclear Blast)

The ‘Mass is back and they’re ready to attack! The legends of 80’s doom are taking names and handing out asses on platters! Their return to the metal arena is nothing less than a stone cold masterpiece! Oh, wait, I don’t write for a metal webzine. Fuggit, this is too much fun. BLACK DWARF!!! “Black Dwarf” owns! ANY band who starts their album off with a song called “Black Dwarf” and then proceeds to bang that mother down with a badass choo choo train kept a rollin’ riff of plenty has already won my love. The rest of the album is an afterthought. I’m easy too please though. Basically, any band that ever played the game of “what if we lived in a world where everyone just remade Paranoid FOREVER” has my vote. Even if they aren’t running for anything, I’ll still vote for them. Trouble, Candlemass, Cathedral, St.Vitus. It didn’t matter. They all spoke to my heart. Granted, you could listen to the new Candlemass (With the classic line-up! Messiah on vocals! Viva Sweden!) and throw words around like “cryogenic chamber”, “time machine”, and “senior citizens discount”, but when they get their groove on, there are few things sweeter. Oh sure, there are those humorless, hepcat art-metal nerdz who say: “Dude, that old-timey doom metal malarkey is played out. There’s a new album out on Southern Lord that is so heavy and played at such a low frequency that you can’t even hear it!” And that’s when I say: “Dude, if I wanted to go to fuckin’ M.I.T., I would have gone to fuckin’ M.I.T. (Yeah, right.), and if I want to hear some fuckin’ metal than I play some fuckin’ metal!” Then I hand him his weed, leave the high school parking lot with my tires squealing, and “Black Dwarf’ or “Born In A Tank” blasting from the Kenwood. All hail the dwarf-slaying spellbreakers from planet Doomicus!

Circle Of Dead Children – Zero Comfort Margin (Willowtip – 2005)

Hollywood would like you to believe that creepy kids – whether alive or undead – either recite stupid-ass nursery rhymes all day long, or else spend their time looking up at people and intoning, in a totally unscary whisper, cryptic stuff like: “There are dead people in my diaper…mostly.” This kind of thing always freaks Nicole Kidman out. But how on earth is this creepier than any *actual* grabby, nonsense-spewing, fluid-leaking, bacteria factory of a child? And given the choice, who wouldn’t rather have one of those creepy dead movie kids with their perfect posture and diction at home than the real-life feces machine they’ve already got? Which brings us to Circle Of Dead Children and their new 20 minute mcd. CODC are like the mysterious eye goo dripping down a soggy infant’s face. You aren’t sure if it’s an infection or if it serves a purpose. The same could be said for the band. They are a grindcore band’s grindcore band. Afficionados of the form will find much to delight in. Naysayers will laugh at the funny vocals and the speed with which the music is played. Their loss. This time the experts are right. There is an exhilarating frisson that one gets from their 50 second blasts. These slabs of sound seem to encapsulate eons of time and travel light years thru space. If they ever decided to become a black metal band, they would blow every tom, dick, and knut off the stage. Those short, sharp fusillades of splatterbeatnarcoterror fury extended any further could provide a listener with transcendental levels of cosmic consciousness that would unfold within them unto infinity. But there is something to be said for the economy of a “no wasted motion” ethos and the wisdom to know that imparting your truth a little at a time, so as not to frighten the unenlightened, and to cloak said truth in the garb of the shocking and the ridiculous, may be the smartest move. This is the purest essence of metal and these songs are all about the stuff of life from which we all have sprung. There are also probably some songs about corpse-fucking too, I didn’t read the lyrics.

Gun Metal Grey – Solitude (Indianola-2005)

If I had a little sister I would encourage her to listen to Cali metalcore bad boyz Gunmetal Grey. Why? Well, for one thing, they make a perfectly respectable racket via eurothrash riffs, never-overcooked noodly guitar solos, and a singer who alternates between a semi-serviceable death metal snarl and a Clay Aiken croon that aches with an inchoate and fumble-fingered emotionalism that is adolescence incarnate. They sound sorta bad-ass, but they are really just sensitive souls in need of a hug. Perfect for junior headbangers just getting into the heavy stuff. True, Sabbath, Priest, and Maiden would be PERFECT, but today’s teens need bands that speak their own language.( Just as a gay man clad in leather and chains screaming about electric eyes in the sky spoke to the longings of my generation.) I might not understand what Hernan “Eddie” Hermida means when he sings: “Your warm embrace eases me numb-Your cold shoulder makes me fear” (How can you be numb AND fearful? Or have a warm embrace AND a cold shoulder? Hmm..), but the kids, they get it. As for me, I’m way too debauched to fall for GMG’s brand of noize. I only really got excited by their cover of the Cro Mags’ “Life On My Own” which inspired me to dig out some Cro Mags demos I haven’t played in years. I must thank them for that! And for the possibility that they will be the gateway drug that leads an innocent child to heavier more evil music. Okay, I admit it, maybe it’s a good thing that I don’t have a little sister.

Immolation – Harnessing Ruin (Olympic-2005)

When I die and go to hell, I’m taking a copy of Immolation’s Harnessing Ruin with me. That and a toothbrush. In fact, I hope I die soon, because I really want to hear how the song “Challenge The Storm” sounds as I’m crossing the river Styx. It’s that good. One of the tendencies for a death metal band that has been around as long as Immolation has (17 years! Is that insane or what? I couldn’t sing like that for 17 minutes.) is to rest on past laurels (Of which they have many. Being one of the originators of NY death and influencing a ton of bands with their brutal –and tricky- maelstroms.), but Immolation’s sound has always progressed from album to album and they’ve never gotten stuck in a stylistic rut. They’ve also incorporated a liberal dash of black metal’s (dis)harmonic/atmospheric hoodoo over the years, which when combined with speedy death riffs and blasting beats gives the band a three-dimensional sound that never fails to warm my shrivelled heart. On “Dead To Me”, new drummer Steve Shalaty (Who’s a beast by the way. Sounds like a skinned-alive Buddy Rich.) stops the song on a dime and a lighning quick guitar duel breaks out that is so satisfying in a Slayerian way that it will simultaneously remind you why you love metal AND ellicit the most basic critical response to art there is: “That is so fucking cool!” The whole damned album is filled with moments like that. Heavy, epic, and as memorable as their classic 1991 debut, Dawn Of Posession. Harnessing Ruin is some seriously pleasurable and evil shit.

Primordial – The Gathering Wilderness (Metal Blade)

Fans of epic mid-tempo Irish pagan tree metal rejoice! All four of you! Primordial, those brooding sons of Erin, come thrashing back to life on their first album since 2002’s Storm Before Calm with that unique blend of blackened doom (Or doomed black metal, take your pick.) and hymns to the blood-soaked earth. It’s also their first release for Metal Blade which means you will actually be able to find this record at CDs & Such next to the food court. The opener, “The Golden Spiral”, is inspired. All tribal drumbeats (That double as disco beats for all you fancy dancers.) and a roar of hypnotic and subterranean riffing that builds in intensity around the anguished howls of tortured soul/vocalist A.A. Nemtheanga. Billy Anderson’s patented wall of sod production works like a lucky charm with a band such as Primordial, because they are all about the wearying trudge thru unforgiving landscapes. Lyrically, the band will appeal to any darkefolke-loving Hansel & Gretel-obsessed Wiccan princesses spooked and aroused by high winds and excess precipitation. Musically, A.A.’s fierce growl to near-operatic swoon coupled with massive war drums and the rising tide guitars that swell and roil will appeal to fans of latter-day Neurosis as well as all those people who still haven’t forgiven Anathema for becoming a Pink Floyd cover band. The Gathering Wilderness is a shaggy beast of a record, and there is nothing hip about it. Primordial have been following their own dark (And possibly treacherous!) path for years, and it has led them to possibly their strongest album yet.

Swarm Of The Lotus – The Sirens Of Silence (Abacus – 2005)

Okay, it’s official. Kurt Ballou of Converge is my new favorite producer. The dude made *three* albums this year that might make my top ten. Quite frankly, I think he’s a bit of a show-off. First, Transistor Transistor’s wall of awesomeness hit me between the eyes, then Gospel’s prog-metal album The Moon Is A Dead World put me into interstellar overdrive, and now he is behind the boards for Baltimore’s Swarm Of The Lotus, and the follow-up to their similarly massive debut, When White Becomes Black. The Swarm have a lot to recommend them. For one thing, they – Like Converge – know how to mix the swagger and technical expertise of metal with the snarl of hardcore without losing any of the urgency or vitality of either genre. They should teach a class! And I can think of 50 bands who should enroll in it. They also manage, on their speedier numbers, to be light on their feet in a way that Roy Jones Jr. could appreciate. They know how to bob and weave as well as crush and destroy. Fans of The Jesus Lizard (And Duane Denison’s rhythmic gymnastics) could love this album as much as a Mastodon fan could. Wait, are they the same person? I’m so confused these days. There is a grand total of one guitar solo on The Sirens Of Silence and the band should rethink this, because they could really benefit from some psych-metal solo blowouts. They have songs that are just begging for them. Don’t be afraid to flip your lid, kids! Otherwise you’ll end up a bunch of tight-ass old men like And They Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Our Hand-Distressed Dickies Workpants. But that’s my only complaint. Kurt Ballou puts some serious I-Kill-You-Now mojo onto the drums and guitars for maximum bonesplintering, and the band – while occasionally dipping into the Steve Von Till He-Man Desert Warrior Cookbook – have an identity that is wholly their own for the most part. Yes, they want to obliterate you into a fine dust, but they also add nuance and an eye for non-monochromatic detail that many bands of their ilk couldn’t be bothered with. And check out their name. It looks vaguely ominous until you remember that a lotus is a big pink water lily! Aw, they is just a bunch of sweeties after all.

The Unseen – State Of Discontent

The Unseen make punky punk for punks who believe that punk will never be dead because punk belongs to the punks. Got that, punk? They’ve been working the Boston street punk angle for years and their chugga chugga singalongs and freight car riffs are perfect for a night of Guinness and bloody noses. Also perfect is their current home at Hellcat, a label seemingly created with the unstated goal of inventing a world where it is always 1977 (Only this time all the bands can actually play their instruments and the riot goin’ on sounds more like a party.). The pogo-ready punter punk chants will keep you hopping. State Of Discontent, with its ear-punishing trebly sound provided by a Dropkick Murphy and the very, very old hardcore legend Brett Gurewitz, makes me do the dishes with a quickness! I’m sure weighty issues are being debated on songs like “Weapons Of Mass Destruction” and “Social Damage” (I didn’t say they would win any prizes for originality, did I?), and I’m sure the band would like me to hit the pavement and question some fuckin’ authority or something, but the only authority figure I see on a daily basis is my mailman and that dude looks like he lifts some serious weights. Plus, he brings me my Netflix. The Unseen are fast, good time charlie punk with spikey hair and they are blessedly free of any and all metal /dub/doom/calypso hybridization bullshit. Yesterday’s news never sounded so refreshing.

Zatokrev – Zatokrev (Earache/Codebreaker)

It takes a band to fuck a village. Wait, no, it takes four bands. And wait, it’s not a village, it’s modern metal. And those bands aren’t fucking modern metal as much as they are “inspiring” it, for better or worse. And those four bands are At The Gates, Neurosis, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Converge. 73.8 percent of all new bands sound a little like one of those bands. Most of the rest either sound like a combination of those four or a combination of Darkthrone, Slayer, Napalm Death, and Gentle Giant. Zatokrev – which loosely translated from the original Czech means “all the best names were taken” – sound, at times, like very heavy Neurosis combined with very heavy Godflesh. And if you are anything like me - and if you are, you would be stoned right now - the idea of this combination has your shorts as soiled as your grandma’s bloomers after an all-nighter at the Polish-American club. Repetitious hypno-sludge riffs are a dime a dozen. As are down-tuned thru the floorboards bass players who miss your face by a mile. As are stuck-in-a-beartrap caterwauling garglepusses. As are doped up drummers forced at gunpoint to play four beats per minute. But, as any suicidal day trader will tell you, it’s all about synergy and the different ways that unforeseen market forces can make everything come together. That last Cult Of Luna album? As Neur/Isis knock-offs go, it didn’t do much for me. But the new Callisto album? Groovy like in the movies. Go figure! And I’m adding Zatokrev to my all-star doom squad. These Swiss misters have got the plod that keeps on giving. And their slow motion stomp and mock pain is definitely my gain.

Aborted – The Archaic Abattoir (Olympic)

Belgian goregrinders Aborted must have eaten a baaaad batch of waffles, because they sound even more pissed off than usual on their latest, The Archaic Abattoir. (Why do Belgians make such great death metal singers? Because they’re Flemish! Hahaha! Sorry.) According to the predictably hyperbolic press notes, their new album takes things to the dreaded “next level”. Which begs the question: You are in a brutal straight-ahead grindcore band that plays at a million miles an hour, how many levels could there be? Did the band spontaneously combust after recording the last song? Is actual death the next level? I don’t know if I buy it. If they did take things to the next level, why are they still stuck in an archaic abattoir? Shouldn’t they be in a state-of-the-art killing facility by now? There is a cool stereo phasing technique used for about five seconds toward the end of “The Gangrenous Epitath”. I don’t know if this counts as level-jumping. Maybe the three indistiguishable guest singers from Illdisposed, Mnemic, and Hatesphere provide next levelness. Unreconstructed gore masticators who found new heroes in life when Aborted put out Goremageddon (Let’s face it, with that title, they would have bought it no matter how bad it was.) will no doubt hear the few added melodic guitar touches and those guest hardcore barkers and cry that the band has gone emo or something (They are an excitable bunch.). But to these ears, there isn’t enough variation for me to call The Archaic Abattoir anything more than what it is – A highly proficient and technically stunning slab of ultraviolence complete with crushing breakdowns, stupefying stickwork and bruised rib riffing. Which is nothing to sneeze at.

Blessing The Hogs – The Twelve Gauge Solution (Goodfellow – 2005)

When I first put on Blessing The Hog’s The Twleve Gauge Solution I thought to myself, who are these lamb-of-god-come-latelys? These johnny-one-growls? Don’t they know we’ve destroyed all the pigs? Didn’t they get the memo? Then I got drunker. And right around the song “Let’s Play Doctor…Kevorkian” (Ha ha, good joke. And one that I, myself, might have made…when I was six!), I could feel my thrash-love growing stronger. I started nodding my head a little. To a hip-hop fan, this means he’s done. Mission accomplished. “I am officially digging this” he says to himself. But to a metal fan, the nod is just the beginning. I noted with silent approval that BTH followed Geezer’s Law. The one stating that the wielder of a four string guitar must inflict as much damage as the wielder of a six-string guitar. Then I passed out with the cd still spinning. I woke up with a headache and the cd was still spinning! The pitbull growls, relentless riffage, and doom-caked shredding that was, quite honestly, not all that memorable. Heavy? Hell yeah. Menacing? Um, sure, I guess. Although I’m really only scared of that xian country dude’s song about kissing his daughter at night. “Butterfly Kisses”? Eww, yeah, that’s the one. The disc was still spinning, my humor was most foul, and that’s when I remembered the most hallowed dictate of them all. The Law Of 36:47! The one which succinctly states: If you make an album that is longer than South Of Heaven, you better have a good goddamn reason to do so! At 56:32, The Twelve Gauge Solution could do with a little trimming of the fat on that saintly pork loin. And, though I admire their ugly fortitude and obvious love for gutbucket thrashtasticness, alas, even after subsequent –sober- listenings, that nod of mine never evolved into the bang that my neck so sorely deserved.

Bruce Dickinson – Tyranny Of Souls (Sanctuary)

He’s the master of disaster. The king of the cod-piece. The super-dooper trooper who will run his sword up your pooper if you dare get in his way. Well, he used to be anyway. And I’d be lying if I said that I have been keeping close tabs on big, bad Bruce Dickinson’s solo career over the years (Or Maiden after, like, 1988. Sorry!) I could say the same about a lot of my fave boyhood yelpers. Dio runs a string of car washes, doesn’t he? They move on. I finally have sex for the first time. It happens. It’s great to hear his hearty, operatic pipes again, on this, his first solo album in seven years. Vocally, he hasn’t lost a step. Song-wise, the album is fairly subdued and slow-moving. Even up-tempo songs like “Power of the Sun” have somewhat mushy middles. “Devil On A Hog” (Great title! Definitely makes up for the horribly titled, “Believil”.) should be a rollicking biker-metal rave-up. But it’s not. And it’s all due to the, um, “fiscally conservative” sound and production. Mud, anyone? Which is a shame, because the songwriting is surprisingly (To me. At this late date.) strong. Dark, mythical, incomprehensible. All the things that made Iron Maiden great. Even that horribly titled “Believil” is a cool tune. Do you know what I would love to see one of these noble warriors of old do? Think outside the cage. Instead of trying to mimic their million dollar sound from decades past with two bucks and some change, they should hook up with some shit-hot euro power metal band (Who would probably do it for nothing just to work with their leige and lord.) and hang out at Albini’s house for a few days. Come on, wouldn’t that be cool! Eh, it’ll never happen. In the meantime, there is that voice. And if you were ever a fan, that might be enough for now.

Debris Inc. – S/T (Candlelight/Rise Above)

Shit. Dirt. Crud. Crust. Piss. Smack. Glue. Carlsberg. Blatz. Strongbow. Mad Dog. Sorry straightedgers, but these are some of the original ingredients of punk rock. The spirit and unhealthy by-product of those ingredients can be heard on the new Debris Inc. record courtesy of Saint Vitus’s Dave Chandler, ex-Trouble bassist Ron Holzner and a cavalcade of sludge champs on drums from bands like Crowbar, Goatsnake, and my hero Jimmy Bower of Superjoint Ritual/Eyehategod fame. As a whole, the album is lazy, dirty, drunken, stupid, sleazy, juvenile, and sounds like shit. I think you will really dig it. These dudes got together to make an inebriated goof of a thing that in no way sounds like anything other than an inebriated goof. Which is a novel idea these days. Sloppy as hell old-school punk shouters and grimy doom rock numbers that can barely stand up on their own two feet are given a one-take stuporcore workout by grizzled vets who have seen more shitty clubs in a year then most teeniepunk pipsqueaks will see in a lifetime. Used to be, bands would get together all the time for a rotgut hoedown, record some stoopid punk covers and put it out on tape for fans like it was no big deal. Now you’ve got stuff like Dave Grohl and his vanity Probot project. Dude probably spends five grand a week just for his personal whisker trimmer. Or else a drunken goof ends up being a profitable business like with Bloodbath. Yo, Swedish dudes, it isn’t a drunken goof if your albums sound better than most ACTUAL death metal albums. Or if you start making more money on Bloodbath belt-buckles than you do selling your real band’s albums. So, here’s to Debris Inc. Long may they puke! Just as long as they, you know, don’t do it forever.

Gorod – Neurotripsicks (Willowtip – 2005)

Thomas De Quincey once wrote, “Here, perhaps, the reader will exclaim – ‘Avoid, Satanas!’ to me, falsely supposing that I have some design upon his eyes, and wish to blind them with learned dust. But, if he thinks that, he is in the wrong box; I must and will express scholastic phrases; but, having once done this, I am then ready to descend into the arena with no other weapons than plain English can furnish.” Gallic gore-goons Gorod take this to heart. You may think, upon first listening to their epic assault on the ears, Neurotripsicks, that they are trying to confuse your senses with dizzyingly high-tech noodle-grind guitar solos of a sort that would no doubt incite Yngwie to unleash the fucking fury in a highly pressurized cabin if he ever heard them on his in-flight headphones. You may think that 4000 riffs and shifts in tempo per song is a tactic designed to keep you on edge – a little uneasy - and perhaps make you rethink that whole “college is for sheep” philosophy you’ve been working on at mom’s house for the last ten years. And, by the way, that’s not your bong you are filling, that’s the vacuum cleaner. But, no, Like De Quincey, Gorod put on their fancy duds – those prog-level displays of nimbleness that are every guitar-store cowboy’s dream – only to share simpler reveries in a plain English that anyone can understand. For instance: “Gutted/Minced/Mashed/Soiled/We stay horrified/We must find him/GOROD can release us/Damned as spectrums/Gorod open its stone door/To pillar Neurotripsicks/Easy to smell/Pig’s bloated face/Zero tolerance for uncunt creatures/Pig’s bloated face/Pityless under sauvagery.” An entire worldview as easy as you please. See, the Gorod is the ancient enemy of the Neurotripsick, and…but that’s not important. What IS important is that France is second to no nation when it comes to screwed-up grindcore. And they have 30 hour work-weeks, national health-care, and free wine and cheese for all citizens. So fuck you, Dubya!

Hand To Hand – A Perfect Way To Say Goodbye (Lifeforce-2005)

Ever get the impression that within the hearts of some of these “melodic” hardcore bands lies an old school power metal group yearning to break free from its emo bonds? Orlando’s Hand To Hand is a perfect example. Their debut features the de rigeur aggro scream into puppy dog swoon, but musically Hand To Hand sound sorta like a marginally heavy scandihoovian hard rock act with a stick up its ass. All in all, their riffs and power chords aren’t half bad. If they ever lost the stick and started thrashing you might get to hear something more notable. The A.D.D.-level shifts in tempo leave plenty of room for lengthy (slow) bouts of heartfelt emotional gook that passes for mosh material, which means you don’t get to enjoy a riff for very long. It’s kinda frustrating to listen to, but the lyrics are all about frustration so maybe it makes sense. The problem with a lot of melocore is that it’s hard enough to make halfway decent metal. Let alone write songs that have memorable hooks and melodies. To do both at once and do it well takes a lot of time and the kind of talent that you can’t absorb from a Trustkill or Equal Vision CD sampler. If you want down and dirty hardcore, follow the smell to a V.F.W. hall near you. If you want truly beautiful melodies with your metal, pick up a Katatonia or Opeth album. Bands like Hand To Hand need to decide whether they are gonna take things up a notch (heavy-wise or pop-wise) or ride this increasingly bankrupt hybrid genre into the dirt.

Phobia – Get Up And Kill! (Deep Six)

For everyone who has had it up to here with all those sine wave sludge metal art-project albums featuring 20 minute endurance test cuts with titles like “Contemplating A Speck Of Dust On God’s Ass, Parts 1-10” made by people too incapacitated by their bong collections to even realize that most folks don’t buy albums based on how long they think their next car crash-induced coma might last, have I got an album for you! Get Up And Kill! By California grindcore lifers Phobia is 17 songs in 18 minutes. That’s right, 18 minutes! That’s at least 4 hours shorter than your average Sunn0))) track. Phobia are beloved by the crusty crowd, and by extension the rail-riding and emaciated pitbulls that love THEM, and it’s easy to see why. Singer Shane Mclachlan’s artful hellspawn gargle is easily matched by his equally artful and tormented “Oh God, the vintage Terrorizer t-shirt I bought on Ebay is too small and there is no way in hell that I’m letting my girlfriend wear it until she removes her subcutaneous steel nipple implants!” yowls of pain. The guitar and bass on Get Up And Kill! are ably beat to death with hammers and thrown in a sewer by spirited cannabalistic humanoid underground dwellers and the drums, hoo boy!, let me tell you, hats off to the gang at the Blastbeat Propulsion Labs, because they have finally created one helluva half man/half cyborg grindcore drummer that they can be proud of. They call him:Bryan Fajardo. Funny name for a robot, but he really does the trick. And, even better, at live gigs he has no use for his drink tickets. They mess with his circuitry. And speaking of live gigs, Phobia are kind enough to give us 6 live tracks (Featuring yet another drummer. He must have blown a gasket.) equalling about four minutes of music which is plenty of time to take that Lords Of The Resin Hit triple doom-metal LP out of your Amazon shopping-cart and buy some Phobia and maybe listen to some real fucking metal for once in your life, you big stoner doofus.

Soilwork – Stabbing The Drama (Nuclear Blast)

If Soilwork were meaner, and not the fine upstanding Swedish lads that they are, they would have this to say to all the American metalcore bands trying to ape the sound that has made them one of the leading lights of the NSNWOSMDM (Not So New Wave Of Swedish Melodic Death Metal for those of you out of the loop.): “Hahahahaha! You wish!” Because one listen to their new album, Stabbing The Drama, will reveal to you, whether it’s your kinda thing or not, one thing: This is some state of the art shit. This album (And their last 2 or 3, come to think of it) could serve as some sort of reference standard for modern metal. The band has worked with Devin Townsend in the past, but on STD they opted for fellow Swede Daniel Bergstrand and he does right by the band by making their noise swing mightily.( I can’t help but feel that if Slipknot had taken some of their t-shirt money and gone to Sweden to record their last album that I might have listened to it more than twice. Why not go to the source?) Critics of the band will say that Soilwork make Volvo-metal:Suitably heavy, well-made, but it’s not gonna kill anybody. Plus, they’ve gone soft, Gothenburg-lite, blah, blah..And yet, there’s something so satisfying about an album with such a shiny well-recorded surface AND drums that kick ass AND guitars with bite and heft AND good writing/playing AND melodies that are actually MEMORABLE. Plus, Bjorn “Speed” Strid can sing his ass off, both as hardcore grunter and as moody boy blue. STD is as good as the very good Natural Born Chaos, “true” death metal fans will hate it (Just call it “melodic metal”, okay? Does that make you feel better?), and unfortunately it won’t be replacing the Hoobastanks of the world on American radio any time soon, so cool it with the sell-out talk.

The Locust – Safety Second, Body Last

To be a great spazzcore band, you need method actor levels of commitment. Case in point: Yamataka Eye of Boredoms fame is one of the sweetest guys you could ever meet, but on stage he has given unhinged performances worthy of Brando in his prime. He knows that there is a thin line between “inspired lunacy” and “some idiot running around in dirty underwear”. The moral: If you are gonna flail and gnash your teeth, flail and gnash your teeth like your life depends on it. Which is why the highest compliment I can give to a band like San Diego’s The Locust is: They could AMOST be Japanese. Because let’s face it, the Japanese have perfected the art of poop-happy dementia involving disorienting electronics and sub-atomic grindcore thrashing coupled with inhuman screams. But The Locust dress like bugs and they are young and have made great strides over the years. And their new 10-minute between-albums EP of stop/start atmospheric fury is on Ipecac which means they are now under the wing of that Pavarotti of annoyance, Mike Patton. Plus, they dress like bugs. Will they replace The Hanatarash in the hearts of scumsuckers everywhere? Maybe not. But I was so impressed by their Anti release, Plague Soundscapes, that I played it five times! That’s four more times than every Atari Teenage Riot album I was ever suckered into buying. So, let’s recap: If it’s noisy, insanely fast, dresses like a bug and never ever resembles Death Cab For Cutie in any way, shape, or form, it’s a good thing. AND, I think The Locust know the dudes in Racebannon. And Racebannon are fuckin’ great!

Ulver – Blood Inside (Jester – 2005)

Norway’s Ulver are better than you. Better than you, me, and everyone we know. They are the alpha and the omega. They live on air, menace, and tears. Their teeth are whiter, brighter, and sharper. They have delved deep into the heart of the wolf in man and they have come out the other side and lived to tell the tale. Once, on the street, many years ago, there was this exchange: “Hey, Garm, a.k.a. Kristoffer G. Rygg, a.k.a. Trickster G, you have created one of the greatest black metal albums the world has ever known, what are you gonna do now?” “I was thinking of making an entirely acoustic album of choral music, than maybe one more subterranean album of blackened torment, and after that maybe a double-disc set of progressive industrial art-rock based on William Blake’s The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell.Then, maybe some techno!” “Cool, seeya later.” Okay, that didn’t really happen. But it’s true. And then some. And then there was the atmospherica, the electronica, the whatthefuckica. A group taking the road less travelled. Afraid of alienating metal fans? Hah! Those fans were lucky if they could hang on for the ride. And now, Blood Inside. You won’t hear anything like it this year. It’s a, dare I say it, masterpiece. For real. It’s almost unclassifiable. It’s *profoundly* unfashionable. Here are some notes I jotted down while listening: Alan Parsons Project. Talk Talk, negro spirituals, the Alan Parsons Project and Talk Talk singing negro spirituals on the moon in Brian Wilson’s sandbox while high on helium and deadly nightshade, shit, this is heavy, need more cookie dough. See, it will baffle you. You need to listen over and over. If you heard the last Arcturus album, Garm’s side-gig, you will have some idea of what to expect. But this is no carnival-organ prog-metal hoedown. This is something even wilder. And even more out of step with everything around it. This is disorienting electro-acoustic circus music for the 21st century of the highest order. Like Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock or Scott Walker’s Tilt, it stands alone as either the end of everything or the beginning of something really exciting. History will judge. It’s definitely Ulver’s crowning achievement as a group, and I’m someone who loves everything from their first bruising black metal demo to their haunting and sometimes breathtaking soundtrack work of the last few years. Ulver are evolution in action. You are going to have to use that thing that your skull is supposedly protecting to fully grasp it, but if you do, you will know greatness.


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