Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Decaying - The Last Days Of War [2013]

War is here and you can feel. In the last five years or so, the band that dedicated itself the most to war-themed death metal has to be Decaying. The Finns have been barely around for three years, but they've established themselves a prolific backlog of albums through the prolific death metal culprits Hellthrasher Productions, starting from a small group of demos then steadily weaving their way to a debut, a sophomore, and now, this. Though I was ignorant of their existence until Hellthrasher helped me discover their sophomore, ''Encirclement'', a fleshy death metal addendum that broiled with a fervor for war, destruction and the contemplation of things upon the battlefield, and it was still considerably fresh for its time, ripe with the energy it borrowed from such blatant masters as Pestilence, Asphyx, or Bolt Thrower which is the band that should be credited for both making the war-themed metal thing notorious and serving the greatest influence of these young Finns. Granted, ''The Last Days Of War'' proceeds to ruminate the aesthetic preferences of the group's previous outings, with perhaps an added twist here and there and a more professional canvas of war.

Promptly after you channel into ''The Last Days Of War'', vivid recollections of Bolt Thrower and Pestilence flash into your mind. I believe it should be noted that this is the band's shortest full-length release to date, which means they've minimized the length of their songs to as low as possible as to fit their their sluggishly circulating gait. That said, in case you've never hearkened to their battle-induced aggression, Decaying are a sort of lightweight band; I mean they've certainly got a penchant for inflicting septic, thrash-oriented grooves that drive themselves into the listener like a mad Japanese banzai charge, with the bayonets starkly in tact, but compared to the myriads of acts popping out of the woodwork today - those countless Incantation clones - they're just not hitting as hard as you'd imagine. Of course, the belligerence of such tracks as ''Code Name Overlord'' are undeniable, the wretched Van Drunnen inflection howling over the feral guitar work like some desperate US marine caught in a hailstorm of German bullets. Decaying aren't necessarily bombarding away with the heaviest of artillery here, but the guitars are fluent with a carnivorous urge to splatter guts, and the vocals are surprisingly cantankerous enough to fuel sufficient aggression into music, however, the pinnacle of entertainment for me were the World War II themed lyrics; probably more exciting than all the malicious riffing combined.

So you've practically got yourself an ugly Hail Of Bullets entity here, with viler production values but still somewhat more focused than the band's previous offerings. ''Firestorm'' seems to be a direct insertion of ''The IVth Crusade''; lengthy moments of drudging, slightly unnerving death/doom, thrashy chugs entwining with downtrodden lead passages, bringing about all things desolate and doleful about war. Surely they could have done some cropping, because even despite the abridged song lengths it's quite possible to be sucked in to a wormhole of boredom, especially when the guitar tone seldom dissolves into savory volumes of mourn and ambiance, like the ones you'd usually have on typical retro death metal suspects. Listening to ''The last Days Of War'' is not really a gratifying prospect, despite the bulldozing Tiger tank this can sometimes turn out to be, and it does feel as if Decaying are a little bit out of practice or material. They've acquired a handful of more modern weaponry since their World War I themed ''Encirclement'', which was a tad better by all means, but they've also grown a bit weary. Who knows, maybe they're just plain exhausted with the war nearing an end, wouldn't you say?

Code Name Overlord 
El Alamein
The Ardennes Offensive

Rating: 73%

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ghost - Infesttisumam [2013]

Since releasing their debut album “Opus Eponymous” in 2010 there has been no bigger hype band than Ghost. Maybe it was because they were on a tour with Mastodon and Opeth (who, for some reason, are two of the biggest metal bands today), because they never revealed their identities, or because of their strange brand of occult rock. Regardless of how they got popular, the good news is that their debut was an enjoyable record. It definitely had quite a few metal leanings, and could probably best be described as Mercyful Fate meets Blue Oyster Cult. With “Infestissumam”, Ghostcontinues that trend, but definitely sound like a band that has bought into their own hype.

The second the record opens, you are hit with the sound of huge, ancient choirs. This is nothing new for Ghost, and it actually builds into something quite atmospheric in the intro; however, it would later be used again on other tracks to the record’s detriment. The choirs definitely fit Ghost’s image, but they really aren’t necessary beyond the great intro. Luckily, the first full song opens with one ofGhost’s hardest hitting riffs, before the guitars give way to Papa Emeritus’ ghastly vocals. In general, the songs on “Infestissumam” aren’t that different from the debut; there are hard rocking songs (“Per Aspera Ad Inferi”), as well as more simplistic tunes (“Body and Blood”). Where this record sometimes gets off track is in its use of strange melodies. For example, the single, “Secular Haze”, has a carnival feel to it, which is unnecessary and takes away from the rest of the song (it does however, have some great bass guitar work). Likewise, “Year Zero” has some moments that make you think that this band could really be doing something better. This is what I mean when I say they’ve bought into their own hype; they are emphasizing new and weird elements to the band in order to push their image into more mainstream territory. Granted, it seems to have worked, but the average metal fan is likely to be able to handle the strange combination of Ghost’s music and their aesthetic. Getting back to the music, the highlight is definitely “Jigolo Har Megiddo”, which has a stomping rhythm to it. The interplay of drums and guitars almost sounds like disco meets swing. It’s got a four-on-the-floor feel, but still has a jumpy, unrestrained character. The more experimental “Ghuleh / Zombie Queen” has its moments as well, but is more likely to be a grower. The remainder of the songs don’t stand out, but that works to Ghost’s favour as they’re simply enjoyable occult rock tunes.

“Infestissumam” is likely to be a conflicting record. Had the band stayed a bit more consistent and less experimental, I would certainly enjoy it more. With that said, they didn’t simply rehash their previous record. While I’m afraid of their likely future downfall, Ghost have created an enjoyable, albeit flawed follow-up.

"Per Aspera Ad Inferi"
"Jigolo Har Megiddo"
"Body and Blood"

Final Rating
3.9/5 or 78%.

Written by Scott Dorfman

Originally written for Skull Fracturing Metal Zine.

Satan - Life Sentence [2013]

We've had our fair share of reunion bands. Few of them tend to be good. Yes, we were given some truly great releases from a number of bands, the latest Attacker album for instance, but we were also showered with a stream of godawful albums, like the new Rottrevore EP, and even if some recuperating old bands manage to somehow deliver a goody, very few of them are able to bring about the rest of their good material. My point is, bands like Satan don't have much of a shot at re-living the same youthful energy that they exploited during their golden days, and the situation gets even trickier when you're working on a genre like NWOBHM, which today is exhibited to us a rehashing of Maiden, Priest and the like, fused with a more modern framework of disillusioned riffing, so I think you can understand the pressure that Satan had to bear when they first reunited in 2011 and decided to put another album.

The thing that makes heavy metal, and specifically NWOBHM such a strenuous material to process and toy with is that the genre itself is scarce in exemplary offerings besides the few releases that respectfully formed its basis. Satan, with astounding accuracy and dexterity, has managed to overcome both of these hindrances and has ultimately brought us ''Life Sentence'', and let me tell you, unveiling this record is like removing the dust off an obscure-as-fuck demo these guys released in the early 80's, and has already generated sufficient buzz in the metal underground to emerge victorious in numerous end-of-the-year lists. Now, upon reading thus far, a genuine metalhead will be no more than slightly content, I'm sure, and even filled with a bit of trepidation, moaning ''Oh damn, another Maiden rip-off? More Steelwing?? I'm out.'', so brace yourself, because this ain't the generic copycat you'll be expecting. The fact that ''Life Sentence'' is able to emulate any of its peers steel befuddles me. You already knew you were into a hell of comeback with the glorious, old-school logo sticking out in the corner, the spiritual ghoul-demon leaking out of its state of encasement, and this wonderfully picturesque image fit into an archaic, mystifying framework, but no one could have guessed what the five-piece would be able to conjure in less than two years' time.

Satan is hardly thrifty here. They don't spare any of the cannon fodder they've been harnessing for all those weary years, and their techniques reign supreme in every field of musicianship; instead of losing their technical touch, they've gotten even more savvy with their instruments. Secondly, the old school edge is hugely dominant; they've got a skillful penchant for being able to put out material on par with their earlier releases, ultimately succeeding in delivering that clarified NWOBHM texture we've longed to hear, and they can grind their guitars producing riff after riff. That being said, I ought to say that ''Life Satan'' isn't a flurried rush of pure old school instincts; its gleams with an articulate and youthful power that, in my opinion, is the real key to the Englishman's success. They're not stuck in the past, and while still keeping true to their lauded roots, they're brazen and fuse their archaic tenets with dizzying modern, technical dynamics. With their new perspective, a dirty, crunchy tone, and a production that reeks of antiquity, they're able to send stimulating waves of speeding, bleeding riffs with superior melody-directed instincts intertwining with thrashing ruptures. Moreover, nothing seems to be tampering with their outstanding march. Satan are locked and loaded, more flexible than an Olympic gymnast and it seems as though their sheaves of riffing are so prolific that they could effortlessly filter yet a second disc of songs with equally long material, not lacking a single hint of substance and quality.

Though the guitars should be venerated the most here for their terrific performance, harmonious flinging and overall outing of aggression and energy, I need not say that they aren't the sole highlights of the record. You'd certainly love the somber, woven harmony sequences backed with mid-paced thrash ichor on ''Incantations'', or the entwining voids of endless melodies on ''Testimony'', but you'd also have to credit Brian Ross's excellent, earthen timbre for making those tracks the great pieces they are. Ross occasionally plays low (think Danny Foxx of Blood Money with a less frequent usage of high-pitched screams), but he knows when he's going to lead the uproar, and bring songs to their apocalyptic climax when he releases all his steam (''Incantations''). Graeme English's base is also quite entertaining with its pumping, plodding bobs and the drums have that 80's crisp attached to them like an infectious disease, blasting out with spiking accuracy whenever required. With such a backbone of musicians, ''Life Sentence'' converses copiously and explores intensively; you have the vicious melody/rhythm combos of ''Siege Mentality'', the track that piques my interest the most, the classic NWOBHM chug patterns culminating with Ross's flaring vocals on the title track, the thrashing headbanging medley of ''Twenty Five Twenty Five'' or ''Another Universe'' that literally transports you to a different kind of universe with atmospheric presentation of moods galore, and the entire record is bedecked with an enormous quantity of carefully arranged, bouncing leads, spontaneous and laden with a wealth of methods.

''Life Sentence'' will unarguably go down as one of the best releases of the year. It's prowess and viewpoint are unlike any other heavy metal album I've ever heard, and if Satan had released this back when NWOBHM was truly hip and inspiring, back in the early 80's, it would have emerged as one of the greatest heavy metal offerings to date, but even with its late entry into the metal universe, it could easily be classified as a masterpiece, and perhaps the best comeback release ever. So if you love to pick up the newest Enforcer or Maiden albums, you've got nothing better to do than to obtain this immediately. Satan is an inconceivable, sentient beast on this record.

Another Universe
Siege Mentality
Twenty Five Twenty Five

Rating: 94%

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Terrorist - And Then Life Was Death [2013]

Terrorist are one of the better, if not more memorable groups of the black/thrash revival of the last few years. Surely, you've heard of their sound before, nothing quite out of the ordinary; sweltering drum work, voracious riffs that both seethe and tear your flesh apart, and the horrendous, reverb-doused gutturals that reek of a certain resonant Australian bliss you'll find pretty damn familiar. It's not like this flippant horde of cadaverous revivalists can be stopped, so the only thing left to do is to embrace the upcoming flurry. Now, it'll please you to hear that Terrorist have some history behind them; a range of demos and splits alongside a full-length, which, despite being heralded as nice addition to a collector's set of records, still hasn't got got the popularity it aimed to get, and now, the Texans are once again on the march, with a sophomore, ''And Then Life Was Death''. I too must confide that I couldn't quite find anything fresh and overly appealing, but the veritable range of gruesome lyrical content and spurious riffing still held some quality.

Listening to Terrorist is like spectating a cemetery brawl between numerous undead creeps and skeletal apparitions, even though the band's name may suggest something rather political. ''And Then Life Was Death'' is essentially a composite of the archaic thrash and death/thrash offerings of the 80's; Possessed, early Slayer, Morbid Saint, Kreator circa 1984-1986, Hellhammer at speedier gait, and the earliest reminisces of Death for the added drudge and archaic texture, but whenever it feels a little more feral, the band members may shift to something more extreme; raw, voracious outbursts that ultimately resemble Blasphemy and Bestial Warlust at their primitive height, so, despite being a rather frivolous release compared to the myriad of offerings we've heard over the last decade, its articulate attitude renders it robust. The guitars are crunchy, outrageous, even though hardly overwhelming, and they swerve alongside the rumbling drum patterns with surprising ease and flexibility, and, most important of all: clarity. The vocals, so redolent of the late 80's' black/death/thrash transition, are quite haunting and deliberately nettling (in a good way), and they intertwine with the wonderfully spurious, whammy-ridden lead sequences to produce that carnal tumult that every old school death/thrash aficionado loves.

Certain tracks (''Lord Of Deceit'') are far more attached to the black/thrash genre hybrid's speedy breed than any other track on the album, and some may be more elegiac (''Horror Rises From The Tomb''), with mid-paced proto death/doom riffing, and some may ultimately be composed of what this album is all about (''Onward Destroyer''), but the overall stench is foul, and it reeks intermittently throughout. In the end, despite its simpleminded approach, ''And Then Life Was Death'' is capable of producing major induction for the gloried of an angry, perverted headbanger, and it successfully preserves its alacrity, too. Sure, I wouldn't have minded a smidgen more variation (though the album needs a chock load of variation in order to properly stand out and cast a wider, fleshier net), and certain moments were droning gnaw, but Terrorist have the fangs long and acute enough to clench and bite into your flesh, and rip out a surprisingly exciting chunk out from the mass. The tales of the grave have once more been recounted, and I'm still having a hell of a lot fun.

And Then Life Was Death
Sadistic Necrophile

Rating: 74%