SOME MORE OLD REVIEWS
Atolah are based in the land of crocs and roos that is Australia and they make unapologetic, unreconstructed, unrefined, no-sugar-added, free-range, three-piece, instrumental dooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom. With a dash of sludge. Like old Electric Wizard jams, but without the inner turmoil and with shorter songs. I hate to give these nice fellas a lame tag, but what Atolah make is groove doom. Because it’s so groovy! The hypnotizing and thumping bass and drums on this thing will have you steady rolling all night long. Basically, it’s like Miami bass for ugly people. And, like bass music, its somewhat critic-proof. The ideal for an EP like Relics (love the EP length too. The pioneers of the cd should all be shot - if they’re still alive - for the whole 80 minute album thing.) is to be heavy, slow, low, and provide badass riffs. Done, done, done, and done. After that, art is kind of an afterthought. You are, as a trad doom band, providing a service to trad doom fans and consumers. You make a product that works and you stand by it. If you overthink things then before you know it you are being “ambitious” and Pitchfork will write about you and all your old fans will hate you. And you don’t want that to happen, do you? Nah, better to keep your head down and dole out the tasty meat and potatoes that all of us, as doom fans, as metal fans, need to keep us going. We appreciate it! And we are ever faithful. And greedy, too. When can I pick up a new full-length album, Atolah?
Bazooka – Toxic Warriors (Metal Inquisition)
Ten reasons why I love the new Bazooka album:
1) It so totally shreds!
2) It was made in Taiwan. A universal sign of quality!
3) It was recorded at Asslover Studio in Taiwan!
4) IT WAS RECORDED AT ASSLOVER STUDIO IN TAIWAN!
5) Let’s be honest, I’m kinda over the nu-thrash thing. It’s cute, don’t get me wrong. And lots of bands work really hard to get all the little details right. The thing is, most of the new music just isn’t that memorable. They’ve got the spirit, but lose the feeling. To paraphrase a dead British guy. There are always exceptions though. Like Bazooka. Who remember to UNLEASH A BLOODY VIOLENT BEATING ON MY HEAD THAT IS JUST SO FRIGGIN’ COOL!
6) Their drummer’s name is Spike Yang!
7) I quote from the back cover of their cd:
8) Fuck to posers!
9) Hate to stereotype, but Asian metal is nastier, and thus cooler, than any metal on earth.
10) ASSLOVER STUDIO!
Beyond Dawn – Bygones
So what was in the water in Norway that compelled so many (then) metal bands to start dabbling with , um, trip-hop beats and lunar “soundscapes” in the 90’s and beyond? What’s the deal, people! And how did so many of them remain credible in the eyes of often unforgiving metal fans? That’s the true puzzle. People still give props to Ulver, Fleurety, Ved Buens Ende, Dodheimsgard, Manes and other former troo metal warriors no matter how un-metal they get or how many fat beats they drop. Trip-hop beats! Trip-hop! Did you hear me? Why????? Beyond Dawn are another example. Their early sound was a heavy off-kilter blend of bm, doom, and huge chunks of Into The Pandemonium-era Celtic Frost. And it still sounds great! And strange too. Bygones collects the earliest of their early 90’s demo, single, and EP output and the music is often simultaneously invigorating and bewildering. And, like me, Beyond Dawn has a love of horns in metal. Horns are evil! Trombones especially. The earliest live and lo-fi demos on Bygones show that the band was on to something from day one. I actually like some of the later Ulver-esque material that the band has made since their metal days. But then I’m just an experimental trip-hop lovin’ fool, I guess. For adventurous fans of the heavy though, check out Bygones and the band’s first full-length from 1995, Pity Love, for yet another example of how the frostbitten country of Norway managed to rule the metal underworld in the 90’s and also make some of the most challenging and creative music of the 20th century.
Celestiial – Where Life Springs Eternal (Bindrune)
A few years ago, Tanner Anderson, a.k.a. Celestiial, made what I felt was a small masterpiece of hushed ambient doom with his debut album Desolate North. The striking, delicate, minimal woodland funeral doom that he conjured from bird song and the natural world around him felt spiritually invigorating and as fresh as a blast of Midwestern winter air. Like Messiaen for metal fans. Like-minded atavistic North American souls such as Agalloch, Blood Of The Black Owl, and Sapthuran also showed the world around this time that you didn’t have to hail from Norway to make deep nature-soaked metal that was emotionally powerful and just flat-out compelling modern music no matter the genres or sub-genres involved. This was NEW music made of old old stuff. And Celestiial’s worldview and forest-centric aesthetic seemed to coalesce around an alternate universe that would include the truly remarkable record labels Bindrune and God Is Myth, and also, perhaps, two of the greatest music fanzines this nation has ever been blessed with, The Convivial Hermit and Oaken Throne. Where Life Springs Eternal differs from Desolate North somewhat. It’s more outwardly heavy. There was more help on hand (Including members of Agalloch). The mood, however , is much the same. Contemplative. Slow. The birds sing. The wolves howl. This is essential music. Life music. No matter your affiliations. Did I mention that Blood Of The Black Owl have a new album out? Yeah, you need that too. Breathe deeply. Chew slowly. Take the world in and shed yourself of all the unnecessary crap that you saddle yourself with. Take a walk in the woods.
Ex Deo – Romulus (Nuclear Blast)
Mamma Mia, Il Divo , I mean-a, Ex Deo, is-a one-a spicey meatball! Who knew that the main screecher for Canuck crunch kings Kataklysm, that would be Maurizio Iacono, has long harbored a fantasy to take metal to the chariot races. Romulus is gladiator heaven for extreme metal Roman history buffs. You know who you are, you little freaks. I see you in the back of the game store getting all het up over a round of Circus Maximus. No, wait, you play the Senator board game! Senator! “Ooh, I’m a powerful Roman statesman, look at me, I’m gonna save the empire!” Hahahaha, what is wrong with you? I mean, really. All that free internet porn out there and this is how you choose to spend your time? Aw, I’m sorry. It is kind of cute. And innocent. Until you blow your school up, of course. Are you an eagle scout too? Do you deliver Grit magazine door to door? Sorry, I’m just projecting. I’ve become addicted to the Home & Garden channel and it’s messing with my head. How many episodes of House Hunters and Curb Appeal could I possibly watch? A lot, that’s how much. And how gay is that? Really gay. So, you might want to take my opinion with a grain of salt when I tell you how much I enjoy this Ex Deo thing. I don’t even really care about the ancient Rome concept thing. I just dig the bombastic battle metal crunch and Maurizio’s Oscar-worthy performance as a warrior for the ages. Dude sells this shit mightily. And he even gets that troll Nergal to add some BM skree vocals to the din. And did I mention the horns and orchestration? If you were a fan of that last epic Septicflesh album with the full orchestra playing along with them – and you should have been because it ruled – then you will love this. Hey, there’s an idea for a battle royale concert tour! The Greek deities of Septicflesh taking on Ex Deo’s Roman horde. May the loudest blast beat, trumpet, and battle cry win. Did I mention yet that this album is way cooler, more ambitious, and more fun to listen to than anything Kataklysm has put out in a long time? Okay, now I did.
Gorod – Process Of A New Decline (Willowtip)
If there is a theme to the third full-length album by French tech-death masters Gorod it is this: “We hate you and we want to kill you with our virtuoso noodle-bomb guitar solos and we kinda hate the fact that we are French even though France is such a cool country filled with some of the best wine and unpasteurized cheese that the world has ever known, but, let’s face it, despite the best efforts of people like Deathspell Omega and others it’s never going to be thought of as an “evil” country which is totally bogus considering the fact that our form of capital punishment for generations was CHOPPING PEOPLE’S HEADS OFF! Ah, well, what are you going to do? If anything this just makes us hate things even more than we already hate things and fuels our hate-filled metal and makes us despise our students at the guitar clinic who keep bugging us to teach them Gojira songs – AHHHH, nothing makes us hate more than that. Basically, we hate you AND we want you to be dazzled by how speedy and hateful we are and marvel at our hatefully nimble fingers and bow down to us because we are some sort of gods, non? Oui! We are gods. And for some reason we don’t hate Willowtip records. We don’t know why. We hate everything else though! We most certainly hate the most hated of all magazines, this thing you call Decibel, for allowing the SAME cretin to review all three of our masterpieces and EVERY time he makes, how you say, the mock of our hateful art! Bah! We shit on this American and all who read his lying words. We are Gorod! We rule and we hate you so very hard!”
Grong Grong – To Hell ‘N’ Back (Memorandum Recordings)
Wow, what a corker! And it’s official: There is NO bottom to the barrel! Apparently, there is a never-ending supply of great forgotten bands out there and we will never hear the last of them. Which is cool. I’ve got time. Australia’s Grong Grong only existed from 1983 to 1984 and they actually got more attention than most bands that time has swept away. Jello Biafra even released a posthumous album of material in 1986. And, hey, they even opened up for PIL once! Um, except that two weeks after the PIL show their singer fell into a drug-induced coma for nine months and thus ended the short life of the band. Oops! Luckily, there is plenty of old stuff to dig. 20 tracks of unhinged live and live in the studio mayhem. What did Grong Grong sound like? Kinda like The Birthday Party fed through a meat grinder. With a dash of Flipper. If they had stuck around long enough, they definitely would have been a part of the 80’s and 90’s pigfuck revolution and Touch & Go or AmRep would have signed them in a heartbeat. I love this gunk. Hypnotic one note bass playing, truly gone yelping from the soon to be comatose Michael Farkas, and a guitarist named Charles Tolnay who could slash and burn as meanly as any great idiot savant underground scuzzpunk legend. The two live versions here of The Stooges’ “Loose” outswing and outstink any live version by Nick Cave and the boys. This is just a fine fine racket. AND it comes with an equally essential dvd of period live footage. Most tacked on dvds blow flipper chunks, but this has to be seen to be believed. You even get to see that last gig up close and personal. It isn’t a pretty sight. If you have any interest in early 80’s demented garage punk violence, then you need to pick this up. It’s rare these days to hear a band that sounds as dirty, desperate or as downright glorious.
Hammer Horde – Under The Mighty Oath (Storm Surge)
Crave the wave! The Viking wave, that is. They are everywhere! Under your bed, in your garage, in the trunk of your car. There is a Viking standing behind you, RIGHT NOW! But, wait, Vikings…in Ohio? Ohio, U.S.A.? The Buckeye state? Um, okay! Why not? Those long boats have gone a looooong way, apparently. I kid Hammer Horde, the aforementioned Ohioan, um, hammer horders. They are very good at what they do, and I’m sure they could blow away half a bill of axe-wielders at any Paganfest near you. And, I guess, when you come right down to it, the biggest compliment I can give Hammer Horde is that they sound Swedish. Or Finnish. You would certainly never guess that this album was recorded in Akron, Ohio. In fact, I recommend that any and all Vikings from Europe, Asia, or wherever, march into Dimmworks Studios in Akron and demand the Hammer Horde treatment, because this album sounds awesome. The group singalong drinkalong pillagealong chants, the interwoven melodic guitar lines, the battle drums, every element is recorded with care and precision. I know, In America! It’s like a miracle. I dig the various vocal styles on display here too. Old man BM troll gnashing up against meistersinger operatics and group shouts and even an olde tymey metal falsetto or two. Check out the song “In The Name Of Winter’s Wrath” where all of Hammer Horde’s strengths come together. The crunch, the melody, the vocal gymnastics, the harmonies, everything. I love it. It’s definitely one of the strongest pagan metal tracks I’ve heard in a long while. It’s truly got it all going on. You can really feel the chill of a long, desolate, uh, Toledo winter. Okay, joking aside, this is a fucking great metal debut. Fierce, heavy, well-made, and with ACTUAL MEMORABLE SONGS, Hammer Horde have laid down the gauntlet for any other future yankee doodle yahoos who feel like getting their Thor on. This would be a tough album to beat.
Hellsaw - Cold (Napalm - 2009)
They came at night. Riding down from the mountains while the innocent slept. With their horses beaten to a bloody froth, they surrounded towns and villages like a silent black fog of evil. They stormed the houses with a deadly efficiency. Whatever moved, they killed. Whatever wasn’t nailed down, they stole. Young, nubile women were bound and thrown on the backs of panting steeds. Then, all was burnt. The only remnant of civilization being the echoes of a thousand screams for mercy.
The feast. Hidden far and away up icy cliffs atop desolate mountains, these raiders did howl. The mead and wine flung from group to group as sloppily as the terrified maidens that were that day’s catch. Meat is torn from bone by hungry gnashing teeth as stolen herds of swine and cattle are placed in smoldering pits of fire. The drum beats, the fire, the screams of the desecrated, the heathen laughter, and the charnel house odors create a living tableaux of hell on earth.
Finally, the agonizing ride home. Proud warriors, tired and spent and victorious, at long last able to rest in the bosom of their motherland. For many months they have ridden and plundered and fought. Their tribe meets them in the village square. Their tribal leader stands and speaks: “Where the fuck have you been? You’ve been out in the woods diddling French girls again, haven’t you? Wipe that smile off your face, buddy, or I’ll wipe it off for you. What have you brought back to us? Some half-ruined cow hides and some trinkets? Where’s the meat and the gold? We’re fucking starving here, asshole. What, you’re a fucking big shot because you scare the shit out of some bumfuck farmers in the middle of nowhere? Assholes. Listen, get on your goddamn horses and go find us some stuff we can fucking use. Got that, tough guys? And be quick about it! Jesus, the dipshits I gotta deal with. Fucking hell…”
Impiety – Terroreign (Apocalyptic Armageddon Command) (Agonia Records)
No offense to Agonia, Drakkar, Pulverised, Osmose, or any other Euro label that has released or reissued anything by Singapore’s mighty Impiety, they are to be commended and pat on the back for their good taste and charm. But the fact that you can’t walk down the street in this country to the local CDs ‘n’ Such and easily pick up something from the back catalogue of one of the greatest extreme metal bands of the last 20 years is just sad, sad, sad. It’s sad. Really sad. I mean, I could reel off the name of a dozen groups almost as great as Impiety who are also well kept “secrets” in the U.S., but for some reason the lack of Impiety-mania here bugs me a bunch. Impiety, in all their incarnations, are EXACTLY what American metalheads love the most. They are faster than a speeding fucking bullet, they are bloody, and they rock harder than your grandmother on top of the pool table in the back room of the legion hall. They, in a word, fucking RULE. And they have ruled for, like, ever. But take an informal poll down at the teen center. “Hey, kid, what did you think of the last Impiety album?” Answer: “Duuuuuuh, drool, duuuuuh, huh?” When the answer SHOULD be: “I LOVED IT AND I WOULD KILL FOR IMPIETY OH GOD IF ONLY THEY WOULD ASK ME TO KILLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!” We should have an entire nation of children ready to kill for Impiety at a moment’s notice. Who’s fiercer? Who’s meaner? Who’s COOLER? Exactly. They are gods of metal. Dark lords of thrash and death. Do you have any idea what happens when Impiety tour South America? MUCH CHICKEN BLOOD IS SHED!!! So, how is the new album? It’s Impiety, you moron, it rips your fucking head off and leaves you wishing that you had an extra head so that they could rip that off too. Got it?
Infinitum Obscure – Sub Atris Caelis (Deathgasm)
Mexico’s Infinitum Obscure make old school death metal the old fashioned way. Duh, that’s why they call it old school death metal. And how do they do this? Easy. First, they find a really old school. Then they ask the superintendente de las escuelas if it is all right for them to have a band meeting in the basement of the school. Because basements are old school. Then, when they have the proper permission in writing, they conduct a meeting. It goes a little something like this: “I want to make a death metal album, but I want to make an old school death metal album because I like old death metal.” “Yeah, same here. I like old death metal. New death metal is too…new!” “I know, right? What’s up with that?” “Yeah, the old stuff is the best stuff.” “They don’t make them like they used to!” “You can say that again.” “Well, it’s agreed then, we will make a death metal album in the style of death metal from many years ago. And even though our album will be new, it will be reminiscent of the old. Because that is what we like best. The old stuff. And not the new stuff.” “No, not the new stuff. Have you heard that stuff? Never the new stuff.” “Right. Old. Really old.” *Silence* *More silence* “Okay, well, I don’t know about you guys, but I could go for a beer. What do you say? A quick beer?” “I would love a quick beer.” “Yeah I could go for one myself right about now.” “Then it’s agreed. A quick beer and and an album of old school death metal.” “Great. Let’s go.” “Hey, we should also write a letter thanking the superintendente de las escuelas for the use of the old school basement.” “Yeah, we should do that. He’s a great guy.” “I know his cousin!” “Okay, then its agreed. A quick beer, an album of old school death metal and a note of thanks to the superintendente de las escuelas.” And that’s exactly what they did. They made that old school death metal album and it rocked mightily and it was put out by the kick-ass Deathgasm label and there is nothing new about it. All in all, this is one musical story with a very happy ending.
Korpiklaani – Karkelo (Nuclear Blast)
When Tales Along This Road came out, Finnish pagan polka-metal band Korpiklaani’s 2006 album, it was a breath of fresh fun forest air and most metal fans, or at least the ones with a sense of humor, embraced its drunken spirit of good cheer and raised a pint to these shaggy champions of public drunkenness and pissing in the woods. I can only speak for myself, of course, but after two more quite similar albums in 2007 and 2008, and now a new album in 2009, I’m beginning to think that one truly excellent accordion-heavy Finnish beer-metal album in my collection might be enough. I’ll say this for the band, for such heavy drinkers, they sure are prolific. And there are a lot of good things to say about Korpiklaani in general. They might just be the most enjoyable folk group in existence. And they can play the hell out of their chosen instruments. And if you get your strength thru both oi! and Frank Yankovic (and, hell, maybe even Weird Al too) then nothing beats cranking up one of this band’s albums when you are so far into the beer barrel that you are sweating hops. The track to beat on Karkelo is “Vodka” and I shudder to think what a Paganfest audience filled to the brim with that spirit would look like. Things could get ugly. And that’s what’s so insidious and infectious about Korpiklaani’s singalong hymns to the boozer life. After you hear “Vodka” you REALLY want to go out and get some vodka. And drink it. And then listen to “Vodka” again. It’s uncanny. So, if you are a fan of this crazed speedy stuff, Karkelo will get you where you need to go. If you are new to the band, I still recommend Tales as the perfect starting point. If more of the same doesn’t exactly thrill me this time around, it’s not for any lack of love for this band. They do what they do and they do it well. I mean, do people even bother reviewing albums by The Chieftains anymore? Korpiklaani are well on their way to becoming that kind of beloved soused institution.
Lustre – A Glimpse Of Glory (de tenebrarum principio)
Oh yeah. This is the stuff. With four million frosty one man bm records released every year, you gotta be sorta choosy about which ones are worth your time and – possibly – money. Don’t you? Yes, there are some of you with a bottomless capacity for sub-Burzum hymns to the dark side of your underwear, but some of us actually have jobs! We have to take out the garbage and we fear jury duty more than we fear that we will miss out on the latest in 4-track recording technology. So, for the soccer moms out there who have limited funds and time and can really only buy four or five black metal albums a year, let me say with all the authority that I’ve never had that A Glimpse Of Glory is an essential purpose in 2010. It is easily the best of the Lustre stuff – that would be Sweden’s Nachtzeit – by a mile. It is, without a doubt, cold, frosty, clean, and minimal and beholden to past Burzum, but, man, it is some sort of perfection of form and owes as much to Phillip Glass in its expert synthetic and hypnotic minimalism. The album’s three long tracks are carefully crafted ambient art. Repeating simple synth riffs over and over again seems like an easy task. Add some howling, some frostbitten screams and ice-covered guitar buzz and you are done, right? You would think so. But when done well, and Lustre does it very well, you take a simple idea made up of simple elements and you transcend like a motherfucker. Like Darkspace, a group that transcended the world of hypno-furious bm and went to mars and back with simple six string instruments, Lustre takes minimal synth, voice, and guitar to new heights. And like Darkspace, this will, like, totally appeal to Stars of The Lid fans or whatever. So, sorry, kultists, you’ve lost another one. But the best stuff from any genre needs to be heard by as many people as possible.
Necro Deathmort – This Beat Is Necrotronic (Distraction – 2009)
After reading the descriptions of the new album by Necro Deathmort – Two dudes, AJ Cookson and Matthew Rozeik – I prepared myself for some kinda wacky spazzcore hybrid of electronics and metal riffs. You know the drill: Locust-esque fidgety bastards who want to impress you by running around in circles because they have to pee really bad and they can’t find a bathroom. Even Necro Deathmort’s label, Distraction, had me going with this description: “turntablist noise pedal effects antics”. A note to the folks at Distraction: I’m sure you are all lovely people. And kudos for plucking Necro Deathmort’s album from the obscurity graveyard that is CD Baby, but if I ever see the word “turntablist” in a description of a band in 2009, I usually run screaming for the hills.
Here’s the kicker: This Beat Is Necrotronic, despite the funny album title and funny band name and funny song titles isn’t a funny album at all. It’s heavy and deep and moody. The beats – yes, there are beats – are, um, fat. Fat in that deep dub cavernous John Bonham kinda way. No, I’m not calling John Bonham fat. The doom riffs are likewise hefty and spacious. The mixing of electronics, beats, and doom metal is also entirely successful. Maybe it makes sense that this album comes from the U.K. where some new dubstep releases are deeper, darker, and more fucked up than a lot of recent U.K. metal. The Brits just seem to be able to combine different musical elements - to experiment with sound and texture – and not make a big deal out of it. This stuff sounds organic, you dig? I think it’s really just Americans who insist on “Look, Ma, no hands!” attention-grabbing bells and whistles that makes most “beats” and “soundscapes”” tacked on to “industrial” metal in the states look pitiful and already way past its sell by date. (Rap artists have no problem marrying beats and metal. They’ve been doing it forever. And very well, I might add.) I wish this album were longer and had more actual “songs”, but the guys who made this make all kinds of music that isn’t metal and you can tell that this was just a fun experiment for them. All future experimental dub metal artists should look to this album (and also Justin Broadrick’s Bug, Ice, Godflesh, and Techno Animal and Main and God and New Kingdom) to see how to get ‘er done.
Sehnsucht – Wuste (Cold Spring)
Wait, are you telling me that one of the Norwegian legends of black metal, in this case Maniac, former singer for Mayhem, has made a hard to pin down, stylistically all over the place, “side-project” album filled with uneven “experimentation” and processed beats and total darkwave energy? You’re kidding, right? Who would ever believe such a thing? Hahahaha, this is me being “sarcastic”. Raise your hand if you are a Norwegian black metal legend who HASN’T made an experimental album filled with bad beats and meandering ambient “soundscapes” in your time off from your job at the post office. Or at least been involved in the making of one. Nobody? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Not that there isn’t a lot of great experimental Norwegian black metal out there or even just great experimental music made by past and present Norwegian black metal warriors. There is. But there are also a lot of forgettable forays into “cyber-metal” and avant-folk-trip-hop-metal-adelica that make you wonder what the HELL these dudes listen to on their own besides old Hellhammer demos. Happy hardcore? Glitchtechstepdubcore from Finland? Old new beat singles on Antler/Subway? Third rate Adrian Sherwood albums? Pop Will Eat Itself b-sides? How were these people ever cool enough to make some of the coolest metal ever made? It’s a mystery. Wuste isn’t the, um, worst of this sort of thing. It just sounds hollow and thrown together. Some whispering, some clanking, some beats. Yawn. Apparently, Maniac’s girlfriend from the godawful Gallhammer contributes to the proceedings, but I forget what the hell she does on it. Look, I don’t always have the money to buy drugs to make bad music sound better, you know? Stick with Maniac’s other project, Skitliv. It’s more fun, more metal, and more representative of the strengths of a dude who helped to make one of the greatest metal releases of all time (that would be Wolf’s Lair Abyss. Greatest metal EP ever?). And If you want to know what the troo experimental warriors of the world are up to, check out this issue’s Wages Of Din. I won’t steer you wrong. Promise.
Stratovarius - Polaris (Armory - 2009)
We all remember where we were that day. How could we forget? And, no matter our political stripe or persuasion, we were all effected by the news. And we knew that, somehow, life would never be the same. For some, it was a time of almost disbelieving elation. A hopefulness that knew no bounds. For others, it was a time for deep introspection and a questioning that reached their very souls. What would this mean? What would happen to us? Even a simple recitation of the facts resulted in people falling into a dream-like reverie where the implications and possibilities were tossed back and forth in ways usually reserved for fleeting fantasies of hypothetical Lotto winnings. And the facts were simple to state: After months of bitter acrimony and online firestorms, Timo Tolkki was no longer a member of Stratovarius. Timo. Tolkki. Was. No. Longer. A. Member. Of. Stratovarius. And Finland wept.
So, aside from worldwide financial instability and devastation, what are some of the recent artistic repercussions of a world with a Tollki-less Stratovarius? And, even more importantly, how do the remaining members of this legendary band cope, on their latest studio album, Polaris, with the loss of their longstanding creative guiding force, the ESP-wielding Timo-nator? Is the pomp pomp-y enough? Is the noodling noodly enough? Are the AOR power ballads Styx-y enough? Oh, god, yes, and then some. You could say that making power metal isn’t brain surgery or rocket science, but it kinda IS brain surgery and rocket science. I mean, there are rules and formulas and schematics and procedures to follow. 70’s bombast, 80’s sheen, incessant kick drums, and unself-conscious over-emoting CAN be taught, and the Stratovarius brand name is safe and sound with whoever the hell is in the band at this point. Less ambitious to be sure than the Timo days of epic album-length goop, this current incarnation of the band is no less cocksure or, for that matter, confident that the road to heaven is paved with cheese and the possibility of a primo spot on a future edition of Guitar Hero.
Tenebrae In Perpetuum – L’Eterno Maligno Silenzio
The high priests of sombre psalms are back! Tenebrae In Perpetuum, that is. Italy’s finest underground bm satanheads. I didn’t actually make up that high priests of sombre psalms tag. It’s written in the ad copy on the back of my promo cd. I just like saying “sombre psalms” over and over again. You should try it. Say it ten times really fast. It’s hard, right? Hey, in that Vreid review of mine in this very issue of Decibel, I mention how there is plenty of senseless destruction out there in the world if Vreid are a little too tactful for you. Well, here you go. Okay, L’Eterno might not be completely senseless. It’s got its ornate church ov Satan hymn-like moments, so consumers of pure fire and bone might even think THIS album is too staid for them. But those people are, like, lunatics and they drool a lot. MOST people looking for fire & brimstone bm will be satisfied by Tenebrae’s screechy fit-pitching. I know I’m pretty satisfied with it and I’m not easily satisfied. Which is a lie. I’m really really easy to please. And Tenebrae are eager to please me with their unreconstructed din. Which is kinda ironic when you think about it. Blackness dwelling creatures of the night should want to shake me up and even possibly repel me with their venomous hatred, shouldn’t they? Okay, 95% of the population would probably be repelled by the music on this album. That’s a given. But when did old school bm become comfort food? I’ll be honest, great black metal makes me a little itchy. It gets under my skin. Or it hypnotizes me and makes me wonder about my sanity. L’Eterno doesn’t do this. It’s actually fairly welcoming. As loud and nasty and fast and fucked up as it is. Or maybe I’m just jaded. In any case, these dudes know how to make a satisfying racket. Who needs a hug?
Trees – Freed Of This Flesh (Crucial Blast)
I once had the bright idea of starting a metal band that played nothing but the introductions to metal songs. A good set would consist of 30 or 40 choice intros. I know, I’m dumb, but it seemed funny at the time. Sort of a variation on the old gag of a band tuning up live on stage for 30 minutes and then one member whispering into the microphone: “Thank you, good night.” Trees, a “mysterious Portland ensemble”, take my idea to the next level by creating two near 15 minute doom intros to songs that never arrive. This is the Khanate school of slow-roasted art doom. As opposed to the limpid pool of teardrops school of funeral doom or the epic brand of crushed velvet doom made famous by various pale and spotty brits in the early 90’s. If you are a doom fanatic and spend at least ¾ of your disposable income on insanely expensive limited-edition doom vinyl, then, yeah, I guess you need this. If you are simply a metal fan who likes to take things slow on occasion, then, no, you really don’t need Freed Of This Flesh. It doesn’t really free you from anything. It’s more frustrating than anything else. It goes nowhere and takes a long time to do it. And I swear its not my lack of an attention span. Some of my favorite funeral doom tracks are 30 minute hymns to the abyss. But not all doom, or music, is created equal, and there is a lot to listen to out there.
Come to think of it, If I had to make a recommendation to Decibel readers, I would suggest that you check out the two albums made by early 70’s folk rock band Trees instead. The Garden Of Jane Delawney and On The Shore. The pristine, airy vocals of singer Celia Hunphris and the band’s intricate and awe-inspiring guitar work (they could jam!) created the kind of rural prog that would inspire people like Mikael Akerfeldt in the future. They were truly epic and majestic.
Valhall – Red Planet (Housecore – 2009)
Originally recorded in 2000 and only now being released on Fightin’ Phil Anselmo’s Housecore label is the one and only album by Norway’s Valhall. AND IT FEATURES FENRIZ ON DRUMS. Everything you read about this album will get that bit of info out of the way as fast as humanly possible. Because, really, when you get right down to it, that’s the most interesting thing about the album. Everyone loves Fenriz! He’s the loveable human face behind the dour mask that is Norwegian BM. And he’s a perfectly capable stoner doom drummer. Because that’s what Valhall were all about. And as far as stoner doom goes, Valhall gets the job done. There are cool riffs galore and a stately mid-tempo plod. The whole thing could be billed as a tribute to Scott Wino Weinrich. Each song is a homage to one or another of Wino’s many incarnations. What’s missing is Wino’s bleakness. The feeling that he is willing to die for his doom. The Lemmy Kilmister lifer mentality. You could say the same about a lot of Nuevo doom stuff. It’s serviceable. Polite, even, in its adherence to the rules of the genre. But without Fenriz involved you get the feeling that nobody on earth would even hear this album other than me and 40 other yahoos on Stonerrock.com. The kind of album that the wonderful folks at Small Stone or Tee Pee would hype for a few months and then watch disappear forever. There are some definite small pleasures here that stand out: the blissed-out stoner pop of “Mister Know-How”, the 80’s metal goofiness of “Made In Iron”, and, generally, when Valhall lets loose with a blast of fuzz to wake you from your cannabis slumber. Otherwise, this album is “just okay” in a world filled with post-Kyuss just okayness.
Van Canto – Tribe Of Force (Napalm Records)
“Oh, Van Canto, powerful and true
Dum diddy dum diddy dum diddy doo!!”
“Who needs guitars when voices will do
diddle diddle deed um dum da dum da do!!”
Okay, I could go on like that, but I’m already tired. Now just imagine having to write an entire ALBUM of German power hero triumph eagle steel and flag metal and you gotta give props to this bewildering band of choral metal geeks. In case you are one of the few who hasn’t heard them, Van Canto sing a cappella power metal and they replicate the guitar parts with all manner of pretty hilarious vocalese deedle dums. Their drummer contributes the only non-human sound on record. They are a Youtube hit primarily for their Metallica covers – they do “Battery” and on the new album “Master Of Puppets”. They are lotsa fun to play for unsuspecting listeners just to see the look of fear and awe on their faces. I might be the only Decibel reviewer who actually likes and listens to golden age 50’s pop and jazz vocal groups like the Hi-Lo’s and Jackie & Roy and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, so, I have to admit that Van Canto do push some of the same buttons for me and I can appreciate the time and effort that goes into their vocal arrangements. And I have to hand it to them, to make one of the most over-the-top sub-genres of metal – power metal – even MORE over-the-top is no mean feat. But, man, a whole album of this stuff will give you serious sugar shock. After an hour with Van Canto you find yourself digging through your cd collection in order to find the most vile death metal that you own. Actually, just hearing a real guitar again is blessed relief. No offense or anything. These freaks are in a league of their own. I say they take it even further. Ditch the drummer and add ten singers. Think big. Jesus, I don’t even know why I’m encouraging such behavior. These people will screw your head up something fierce.