Saturday, July 27, 2013

Autolatry - Native [2013]

Even after so many stupendous releases, new artists continue to expand their retinues upon US and progressive black metal, and it pleases me greatly to discover acts that can masterfully convert the eerie, swooning delicacy of USBM into a progressive account. Autolatry is something of a novelty to me, having them exhumed them from a superfluity of releases last year, when their self-released EP ''Of The Land'' came out, and I was fairly intrigued and certainly taken by the young Connecticut five-piece, a brazen presentation of chilling, agonized black metal played and composed with surprisingly convenient professionalism. With their sophomore, Autolatry do not back down a single step from their formidable professionalism that was so prevalent on the EP, and now cast a wider net with a brilliant intake of numerous influence ranging from European progressive, to USBM, to even jazz, and after a couple of spins which failed to quench my desire to take in more, I was more than impressed, but dazzled by the quality of the music I heard, and without a shadow of a doubt, ''Native'' is bound to go down as one of 2013's best records, maybe even the very best.

I don't know what urged the quintet to so voraciously continue to explore the breadths and intricacies of their sound; perhaps they were not quite as content with ''Of The Land'' that they saw an excellent output as their only consolation and salvation from the miseries of having released a ''bad'' album, but I was frankly very pleased with the EP, so if that was a tasty bacon ''Native'' has to be a fucking triple griller with mustard and barbecue sauce leaking out of its crusty granular exterior, so damn delicious that you simply can't have enough of it. The ambiguous praise aside, ''Native'' truly deserves countless accolades. You can't the influence of 21st century Enslaved on Autolatry, because it's probably the most prominent, visible attribution of the record, with stipples of Borknagar and Klabautamann, but that's obviously not say the only thing these guys have achieved is to process the aforementioned bands' music through little differentiation. Autolatry, from the moment the album initiates with the perilous ''Colony'', sprays the listener with agony, mourn and grief. It's just incredible. Graceful, swerving and discordant guitars delivering a galvanizing burden of torture and lament - and what's more is that this isn't merely as inaudible as some acts out there who cream their production with obnoxious fuzz and batter the listener with relentless excursions of primal second wave black metal. ''Native'' definitely has roots deep in Norway, but the overall sound is indubitably modern and more obsessed with newer acts, and that distinction compels me even more, really.

The riffs are perhaps not too extraordinary, but you can't deny them their doleful complexity, nor the technical prowess of the guitarists Dave Kaminsky and Joe Makuch, who sometimes even project psychedelic tremolos intertwined with steady, stoic drumming. I do admit that there a few rare moments where the dissonant arrangements banter the listener for a little too long, especially when the vocals are no where to be seen, but the rest is blissful, proficient streams of melancholy, and certain chorus sequences I found so memorable that I had to hum them all day in my head to keep myself from going insane. Autolatry's technical capabilities are admirably efficient, but their real strength lies in the way they collect all the solemn, miserable waves of emotion of the steady verse sections, coagulate all the liquid mood, and all of a sudden tauten the rope by gushing with a bombard of mourn, which I found to be best executed on ''Pale Dishonor'', when the cleaner vocals kick in, shortly followed by an almost apocalyptic breakdown, all hell breaking fucking loose, as if the walls around you collapsed  after failing to withstand the sheer, stark ray of shearing pain. The vocals, are your rather basic USBM vocals, but they don't detract the quality at all, they simply keep the record afloat, piercing snares which echo through the Necrophagist-esque guitar structures, fluctuating the listener into a hypnotic plateau of originality.

''Setting of the Sun'' is a great piece, a gorgeous acoustic medley, with soothing saxophone leads, swirling around the acoustic guitar passages, and a totally alien track in the album had it not been for the same production level and the same sense of emotional stillness that the rest of the harsher music conveyed and contained. The band usually assists the broader tremolo and chord sequences with beautiful, jazzy solos that mutter delight with every note, simply more material for them to prove their durability and proficiency. Autolatry may not be the most inventive black metal to come by in the last few years, but they certainly exceed a good many in that department, playing with feeling as well as skill, and their lyrical focus in interesting too, although they're not obsessed with trees and lakes, they just use it as a compass to guide their musical inclinations, and the cover is one of the most colorful ones I've seen all year (trust me, I've seen some really good covers this year). There were, undoubtedly, some flaws on ''Native'', like the recurring usage of certain chords and the distilled quality of the verses which, as said, lasted more than they should have, but if they can spike them up with some musical quips and embellishments, they can come of without a dent with their third album. In the end, though, ''Native'' is spot fucking on, making me ripple with excitement and agony every time I listen to it. Don't miss this.

Pale Dishonor
Waning Moon
Setting of the Sun

Rating: 92%

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wound - Inhale The Void [2013]

Retro death metal is so fashionable these days that it's literally impossible to find a band that does not pay a proper homage to Dismember, Entombed and other Swedish pundits of gore and grime circa 1988-1993, and the case has shifted from not being able to successfully embody the traditional sound to not being able to give it a whiff of originality and pondering a little more for the sake of the album's level encapsulation. Such is the case with Germany's newest worshipers Wound, striking with a seemingly fresh debut straight from the sepulchral depths of the death metal cavern. Don't let the Gnostic, dreary artwork fool you, Wound isn't here to wreathe past subterranean, concave monuments; their sound almost entirely pinpoints to the same spectrum of influences I mentioned earlier, morbid, wrecking death metal processed through a jaded foundation of rusty chainsaws and olfactory miseries, another hardened but exhausted extraction of Swedeath broiled in modern sonic emphasis.

I was frankly quite disappointed to hear unmitigated chainsaws in the stead of a murkier morass of mourn, something that I have been eagerly digging since a succession of terrific releases by new bands from the 2010-2012 time period, (Anhedonist, Sonne Adam, Antediluvian, etc.) and hell, I could have even sufficed with some classy death metal akin to Wound's label-mates Chapel of Disease who fabricated a less tense brand of early Pestilence and Asphyx and inserted that into a carnal trajectory, but the sulking, squamous cephalopod in the cover wouldn't even let me have that. You may think that ''Inhale the Void'' is egregious, based on my complaints, but the thing is, it isn't. It's just that I've heard this cliche performed sans any kind of adornment or a more open-minded perspective upon the niche so many damn times, that it's just getting overly boring. Wound is thankfully no less than your garden-variety death metal bands out there, with a bulking, meaty tone that's so fucking huge that you'll end up as a bloody pulp by the time the flesh factory has processed you with a complete set of unrelenting instruments, twinging melodies that remind me of Dismember's masterful debut more than anything, and on the surface, it seems that there isn't a palpable paucity of any kind - but later on you discover the Germans are so fucking tight that they have no mobility and no space to grant them even the slightest bit of brazenness.

As far as the vocals go, however, I'm a fan. Wretched, black metal-esque snarls and barks seem utterly orthodox and out of place with the much familiar stream of cadaverous guitars roaming underneath, but that's the only distinction they have, and they should cling on to that as if it was their last strand of rope while cliffhanging from a mountain. This is not to say they should improve upon solely this department - they need to work a heap to hone their riffing patterns, too! The acoustic medleys of the title track or the sauntering, melodious guitar passages of ''Odium'' get you into thinking you're gonna get something different, but when the same molten barrage of lethargic d-beat riffs rush through, most of your apprehension, along with the excitement fleets away. That's ''Inhale The Void'' in a nutshell. It's packaged with just as many riffs - possibly even more - than all the other Swedeath drones out there, but they hardly seem meticulously penned - they may be consistent throughout, but they lose their spiky edge pretty quickly, except for ''Codex Arckanum'' which was a surprisingly intense run of 5 minutes, ripe with the bloodiest, most ferocious material on the album. Wound could have done worse, trust me with that, but scraping my ears with this is like contemplating a now-futile farmland through the eyes of a weary farmer, who now can't get as much as a bag of wheat, even through excessive cultivation. It certainly wasn't bad, but I was never quite captivated.

Codex Arckanum
Confess To Filth 

Rating: 67,5%

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Trial - Malicious Arts [2013]

Of all the new traditional heavy metal bands emerging from Sweden, Trial is my absolute favorite. ''The Primordial Temple''dropped last year and was an instant winner, installing itself as one of 2012's top releases, hands down. The initial splash of sound may leave little to deduce from, especially for the harsh critique, and many questions arise when year-ends lists are surveyed: ''is this band really suited for the top 10 of the year?''. The answer unquestionably varies, and usually, people are accustomed to underrate such minor and emergent acts just because their mainstream impact does not even equal that of larger, commercially successful bands. Here's my answer to that - fuck big bands and big labels. One of the last things a promising, virile act needs is sweltering pressure from mainstream labels, and I think we've witnessed a goodly amount of bands who underwent the same change, morphing into a commercial outfit before they even get the chance to release a third album, and I thank the heavens that Trial is mettlesome enough to keep true to its underground complex,  while still managing to move forward. Nuclear Winter Records, one of my favorite underground imprints, is prudent to sign a deal with the young Swedes, because this shows not only that the band is progressing in quality but also that they've proved not to be some transient group, and I'm eager on getting my hands on whatever releases they spurt in the future.

For now, we're confined to this mini album, ''Malicious Arts'', with the logo back in full archaic splendor, and the same raging, traditionally-oriented heavy metal motifs of ''The Primordial Temple''. Their sonic foundation is completely redolent of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, sprinkled with Maiden and Priest, but anyone with experience of the debut knows that they're into more than simple, generic rehashing. ''Malicious Arts'' is a queer name for the EP, because despite harboring interest for some of the darker, occult-themed accumulations of heavy metal, there is nothing particularly ''malicious'' here, but the increased doggedness of the riffs, spewed forth via a primal powerhouse of traditional values ignites a certain abysmal aesthetic that seems to be enlarged since the debut. I honestly wasn't expecting any changes at all here, but I was surprised to hear sheer volubility and articulateness rushing through the veins of the melodic riffing, with not a moment of feckless uncertainty or banality during the absorbing 12 minutes of ritualistic heavy metal bliss. Seriously, I think I may as well say that Trial are even better here than in the full-length, but the paucity of proper run time drains some of the elements of complete engulfment, ultimately failing to hit the bull's eye.

The beautiful, harmonious melodies whirl and whistle around like bullets flying through a godforsaken battlefield with reckless abandon, matched only by the memorable slew of gushing rhythm patterns that form a path of primordial carnality. Linus Johansson's vocals are even more spiritual than before, though in no way does he exploit falsettos, but chooses to plod on along with the speed/heavy riffs in a simpler manner of timbre, but his performance on ''Of Sinister Seed (The Madness Within)'' is just spectacular, fronting the roaming guitars with an incinerating range of inflections. The more technical guitar riffs collide with his brilliant high-pitched screams and form something of a dream-like ritual, as though you were being the center of a blood-painted pentagram with a choir of hooded acolytes singing psalms for the devil. The fluent leads promptly form an incandescent arch of serenity, and the drums are strikingly effective, spiking as they are somehow shadowed by the abyss of the guitars and the mesmerizing vocals. The overall sound is titular, from start to finish, and the echo-dowsed consistency of the instrumentation never proves to be a hindrance. Even  the lyrics constantly sold me:

Through the mist I trembled forth in solitude
To seek the dark depths once again!
And unveiled were hidden plains leading out of time
That will erase all restrictive thoughts of mine!

Receive the power to build the world anew
Your own reflection will no longer stare back at you
Like flesh and bone suddenly ripped apart
Heed to the fire that burns within your heart

One thing that's definitely more prominent on ''Malicious Arts'' is the fact that Trial are becoming more and more ambitious and adventurous. Sure, only on very few occasions does the EP work against the pinpointed influences that it aspires to be like, but shovel a patch of earth with ''Malicious Arts'' written all over over it, and you're bound to find a few different artifacts from that of a King Diamond coven. It's obvious that the Swedes are working with pure dedication and the music here, as noted before, is not a cheesy reevaluation of traditional Danish or NWOBHM aspects, it's rich music packed with intriguing densities and subtleties, yet so rarely do the Swedes show their lassitude while working with such swelling compositions that the listener, finds himself entangled with diligent, thoughtful riffing and frivolity at once. Perhaps I may have exaggerated a slight bit when I said that there wasn't a single moment of banality, because there are some rare sequences in these 12 minutes that I felt the band ventured a little too deep into the abyss, leaving the listener in a somewhat bleak, aimless attic, but the overall quality is good enough to make me listen to this over and over again. Thus, I like to think of Trail as a better model or revitalized heavy metal than many others in the same spectrum, such as In Solitude and Portrait, and I have no doubt that the upcoming full-length will continue to kick asses in the same manner.

To Dust

Of Sinister Seed (The Madness Within)

Rating: 82,5%

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pantheon of Blood - Tetrasomia [2013]

Finland may not be the most prolific metal country out there - it never was - but that's not to say that the northerners are alien to metal's exhumations and characteristics - this is the country where quality, original music comes in good numbers, in as many genres as you can think, in presentations both primal and modern, despite not sprouting bountifully. Purveyors of mourn and morbid carnality lie in abundance, and that includes the young Pantheon of Blood who have been pervading innocent souls with abysmal black metal since their successful 2011 EP. ''Tetrasomia'' is a definite step forward from the utterly primordial aesthetics of its retracting predecessor, but it does not deviate from its accursed roots too much as to seethe through the listener's mind with the same sense of overwhelming fear and emotional catharsis, installing itself as arguably the biggest highlight of their concise discography.

For one, ''Tetrasomia'' has a fucking fantastic cover. Unlike ''Consociatio Solis et Lunae'', which exhibited, rather poorly, the ethereal reflection of its musical tendencies through a puerile, sexual, and, admittedly, rather amateurish cover art, ''Tetrasomia'' has a brilliant artwork that more or less packs the EP's compartmentalized tenets in a single, gorgeously dark depiction; and while the maxim ''don't judge a book by its cover'' is one that I embrace quite frequently, I can say without hesitation that in this case, the augmented quality of the cover equals quality in content. There is a steady, circuit-like formula that the band revolves around, but aside from a foundation that gathers power from early Rotting Christ, or some of Pantheon of Blood's countrymen like Charnel Winds among others, each track is composed of its own distinct and veritable desires that are narrated by a doleful, eerie choir of guitars and crisp drum patterns. I absolutely love the band's melodic sensibility here: they feel so reminiscent of Rotting Christ's first two discs that they lovingly embrace a psychedelic fountain from which they spew forth a cathartic range of emotions, fluctuating like a multi-faceted current of emotional bliss. The iridescent quality of the drilling tremolos are so colorful that they imbue the listener with a wealth of moody rainbows and veneers, sadness incarnate.

The vocals are sneering and corpulent, but the real wonder that they provide is to draw a distinction between the rich, otherwordly guitar pieces and the frosty twang of its own inflection, simply polarizing the record and enlarging the contrast level to a greater length. ''Thunder Alchemy'', for instance, explodes with utterly woeful diatribes both in the guitar and vocal department, and at about halfway into the song the vocals generate a sort of doomed growl, as if the vocalist found himself to be a victim of premature burial, pleading for help inside his coffin while a crowd of spirits sing a hymn for the dead. You may as well say that the Finnish are at the top of their in the utilization of every single instrument. Besides the harrowing vortex of melodic riffs, the guitars implement clean pieces into the mix, which only deepens the prevalent misery. The drums are consistent though not warlike, as the guitars themselves stay attached to slower, doom-oriented riffing, with occasional outbursts of further emotion. Interestingly enough, the production is hardly dilapidated, while the vocals certainly belong to a wilder, rawer cavern of sorrow.

It's true that even with the creative atrocities the guitars fabricate, they have the potential to burgeon and evolve into so much more. I was not malcontent with any of the stuff I heard here, I actually fell in love with a few rare passages, and Pantheon of Blood did channel older, archaic black metal at times in the Norwegian tradition, evoking the purist in me, but a slight amount of distinction would still have been nice. Emotional conflagration, though, is an art that they've long savvied, and with ''Tetrasomia'', they are nearly perfect. The howls of the vocals are excellent, but the guitars don't seem to always be on par with them. ''I.N.R.I'' is definitely an exception, with the primal pangs of the guitar riffs perfectly swaying in accordance to the vocals, especially in the masterful chorus section. A lessened production value would also suit their style better, but it is up to them to hone their style with whatever adornments they choose to use on the full-length. But in anyway, ''Tetrasomia'' is more than worth your time.

Thunder Alchemy

Rating: 83%

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Burialkult - A Call From Beyond the Grave [2013]

One of the major factors in inspiring Burialkult's musical inclination might be the sudden emergence of their salient fellow countrymen Antediluvian or Adversarial who channel the squamous and impious depths of black and death metal in the utmost nostalgic manner, though that's not the infer that Burialkult are strictly a byproduct of the aforementioned bands' success; on the contrary, their sound is quite different, despite originating from the same family tree, because if you could take Antediluvian as soupy bowl of grime and subterranean tastes than Burialkult would be the equivalent of an incendiary chili being served with raw beetroot and flesh. Burialkult is a fresh signing of the prolific label Blood Harvest which generally harbors interest for old school death metal bands, and thus surprised me with this out-of-league release. Needless to say, it doesn't matter one bit. The only thing that truly matters here is how fucking bloodied and raw these angry Canadians are, completely drooling over the cadaverous finesse of first wave black metal a la Bathory, Celtic Frost and Venom, with a healthy dose of material that would likely be extracted from some of the genre's late-coming pundits who wished to expand not upon the majesty of the music but rather upon its raw and destructive components.

Don't get confused, though; Burialkult are not even remotely enlarging black metal's characteristics, but are forming a belligerent, devilish set of artillery pieces from which to bombard the unaccustomed listener. Even for people who'd consider themselves ''veterans'' of the sound, Burialkult is absurdly primal and carnal, but thanks to modern production values, its seemingly degraded quality is bantered with punch and juice, which is the case with most bands in this field these days, but thankfully Burialkult doesn't smother us continually with broad, perforating riffing and keep things slightly interested by randomly shifting the sound quality. I was quite flummoxed to to hear the level of variation and hostility that drum patterns offered, because the fills are especially great when they're sewn onto lengthier chord progressions, and aside from occasional, frivolous fills, you'll have a verbose platter of pummeling blast beats. The palette of riffing offered is nothing spectacular as you may have guessed, but Burialkult does have two rather distinct weapons of choice: A more crowded set of second wave black metal tremolos that erupt with raw precision, and more accessible, groove-laden speed/heavy motifs that sound like Lemmy and his gang bursting through filthy streets with hellish motorbikes. I did also sense a subtle craving for thrash even though it was much scarcer than some other influences, but it helped spike up a few less motivated sequences.

There is variation to a certain degree, but don't expect this to be a record laced and embellished with veneers and intriguing crevices that keep popping up. Thankfully, Burialkult make up for some of their deficiencies in the riff department in the ambiance department. To be sure, the Canadians are adamant on keeping the eerie mingle of menace and craze at a discomfiting and dissonant level, and there isn't a single track that's not pervaded by this atmospheric formula, and moreover, they have some pretty decent ambient pieces like the lurching, ominous organ soundtrack ''Hossana In The Depths'' or the less effective ''Provocations'', and while I wasn't completely sold on the wicked atmosphere they conjured, I still had a kick out of it. The vocals are rabid and utterly caustic, inclined towards both the guttural and raspy facets of traditional black metal vocals. I'm sure that Burialkult are conscious of unoriginal qualities of their music, but the emergent focus here is the sheer bruising power this record has, because listening to this is like caulking your headphones with thorns and then proceeding to insert it into your hear. There are some ''bedroom'' black metal bands who can surpass this in terms of raw emotion and decrepit production values, but if anyone wishes to crack open a hear and go motorbiking around the city dump, ''A Call From Beyond the Grave'' is the rule to go by.

Desecrate The Temple
By Satan Possessed
Throne of Disease

Rating: 75%

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dehuman Reign - Destructive Intent [2013]

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only who has had a kick out of recent cavern-dwelling death metal bands who teleport back to the years of old and seek to plummet us with nostalgia, no matter how many times we've criticized their bothersome existence. And yet, they come in such copious quantities these days that I have little notion of doing anything besides scoffing at these beleaguering trends, except get smacked with a different mallet every now and then. For those who need that extra breath of fresh air to escape the redundancy, but still want to somehow feel nostalgia splashing against their face, Dehuman Reign presents one of the better options for escapism. I admit that I didn't initially give the credit these guys really deserve, because these Germans seem come crashing out of nowhere, and they've instantly signed with the German imprint F.D.A Rekotz who presented us old school death metal aficionados a fairly impressive selection of releases. Death metal attribution that gathers it influences from Krisiun, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel or Vader is not generally my cup of tea, giving the fact that I've always preferred ghastly smudges of grime and grotesqueness over straight-up, punchy USDM motifs, but I've found myself bowled over by Dehuman Reign's debut EP rather easily.

This undoubtedly nothing novel for even the rookie death metal collector; big, abrasive guitars denting holes in your cranial complex wider than whole cannonballs, induced with propulsive thrash chug affairs that are just as ruinous, but ''Destructive Intent'' doesn't merely hold appeal solely for fans of Morbid Angel, Malevolent Creation or Vader; the technically imbued narrative of its swirling melodies will retract fans of more modern death metal, and all the riffs collide with such dexterous unison that the melodic framework of the EP doesn't thwart the heavier ones, or vice-versa. The drums are pernicious, and just as destructive as the guitars as if the two aspects combined were musical reflections of a group of pissed off mountain trolls stampeding downwards from the mountain and into an obscured target. The double-kicks are great, spicing up the band's already veritable range of annihilation apparatus, and the fills are just perfectly timed and brilliant, serving as brief preludes for the upcoming storm. Besides the more staccato styled chugging orgies, the spiraling tremolos are also turbulent enough to wipe you off the face of the Earth, and they always seem to accompanied with less audible technical death metal fillers produced by the second guitar, picked at a rapid pace, and inevitably implying that the Germans were just as influenced by Decapitated as they were by the aforementioned titans of brutality. Speaking of brutality, there are similarities between this and the rather unsung US death metal group Brutality, which aren't half as remote as I would have imagined.

Perhaps the main reason I was tepid in approaching ''Destructive Intent'' is because they reminded me a lot of their label-mates Deserted Fear, who produced an unimpressive full-length last year that was very much in the same vein as this, but Dehuman Reign's attitude and semi-modern ballast of riffs was a serious selling point for me, and the Germans are spot fucking on this EP, no matter how unoriginal their core sound is. The production is hardly sodden; it's wreathed in earthen texture and is broad, much like the clear, yet obviously guttural vocal delivery which was simply another layer of shattering concussion along with the guitars and drums. The brief opener ''Prelude To Perdition'' is bound to confuse a few because it's so damn different than the rest of the EP, featuring trudging guitars and far more aural aptitude than the rest of the disc, with shrieking black metal rasps that rather contradict the vocalist's standard Chris Barnes inflection. Strange choice for an opener I admit, but I doubt a horror flick extract from 80's would suit them better. There's not really anything else to say about this record, except that it tops a good many other young death metal acts, so if you ever feel that your beheading procedure is taking too much time or feels like too much of a drudge, feel free to try ''Destructive Intent''. It's quick, and finalizing. Happy beheading.

Masks of Sorrow
Extinction Machine
Staring Beyond the Edge of Time

Rating: 77,5%

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Impious Baptism - Wrath of the Apex Predator [2013]

Australia's black and death metal underground is one of the most unforgiving in the world. Seldom do they manage to fail muster acts that persistently and unabashedly seem to praise demons, hell, and whatever sorts of diabolical content they conjure in their wicked minds, and with their adamant approach to the genres they've proved to be the absolute paragons of extreme practices. That said, Jarro Raphael's solo project Impious Baptism is no exception, recently releasing their scorching debut offering ''Wrath of the Apex Predator'', whose title I've granted numerous accolades, after sordid handful of EPs. Jarro, or J, as choses to name himself, has played in more bands that you can count.  Just the names of Trench Hell, Cerekloth, Destruktor, Nocturnal Graves and Destroyer 666 are enough to soak the pants of a myriad of avid listeners of the ferociously oriented black/death anomaly, and ''Wrath...'' is guaranteed to soak quite a few more. Having listened to Impious Baptism's previous outing, ''Path of the Inverted Trinity'', I can safely say that J has improved upon his sound, making things even more fun while not entirely altering the rules.

''Path of the Inverted Trinity'' was a good fucking EP, despite its brevity; a caustic tour de force in the tradition of Revenge, Axis of Advance, Conqueror and Blasphemy, inculcating the notion of barbarous impiety with considerable strength and rawness, even when regarded alongside some of the bigger groups of today's black/death fleet. The new full-length hardly follows a different trajectory, but still, novel ideas and presentations are aplenty: the production, for one, is far more audible and accessible, while still keeping some of the grime and sodden grimness of the guitar tone; the riffs are somewhat more fleshy, with less emphasis of traditional war metal motifs and more of heavier, bulbous death metal structures that should remind listeners of Morbid Angel, Angelcorpse and Vader; and seething, hypnotic trace that ''Path...'' had so copiously stored is down to a lesser whiff of impurity. This alteration hardly reduces the quality of the album though, in contrast, the heaving, hammering force of the old school death metal tremolos are catchy and will undeniably cast a wider net as to rivet the attention of a larger audience, although they still lack innovation, so you get the sense that J was struggling more to find a combo densely applied demolition than to actually create a string of inventive riffs.

J's low pitched howls somehow resemble many other Australian vocalists in the field. They're low, sinister, but edgy, just enough to keep you relatively frightened and immersed at the same time. In spite of all this praise, though, ''Wrath...'' does admittedly have some flaws. It manages to surpass ''Path...'' in many separate departments and thus outshines it in overall quality, but the main aspect that I found to absent on ''Wrath...'' was that pungent, dissolute sense of evil that was conveyed effortlessly through the EP's narrow yet crude choice of chord barrages and poorly conducted production quality that made it a real war metal record. This may see like delving a little too deep into the margins of death and black metal but I feel obliged to state this: the accessibility of the full-length has connived the true devilish grin that the EP had possessed, undeniably replacing the patterns of gruesomeness with patterns of groove and bludgeon. Nonetheless, I did find a fairly adequate amount of formidable impiety in the album, be it in J's rancid vocal lines or the sheer atrociousness of the broiling guitars. The title track is one of the more explosive tracks on the album, bursting with fiery rage, while ''Release The Titans Part I'' focuses on some slower progressions, and nearly each track comes with a dark ambient that further explores J's conquest of occultism and hellishness.

''Wrath of the Apex Predator'' is not quite the brilliant war metal album of the year, or of recent years for that matters, because the catalog of bands in this vein is extensive and rich, but in terms of sound and structure J is competent enough to tick most of the boxes, though a record with more essence and freshness would have been far better venerated, but the overall strength of the record is convincing enough to go well with a helping of blood and goat's semen, continuing to corrupt unpolluted minds in the good ol' tradition.

Wrath of the Apex Predator
Rites of Illuminated Death
Axis of Lucifer

Rating: 80%

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pest - The Crowning Horror [2013]

You could well say I was tedious when I approached Pest's ''The Crowning Horror'' for the first time as I was uncertain of what to expect; the cover suggested some sort of inbred of Witchery circa 1999, war metal pundits Blasphemy and Archgoat, Venom and some early Bathory records, though my apprehension was not too great since these gentlemen were Swedish, and believe me, Sweden seldom fails to deliver. Pest are indeed one of the most evil bands to come from Sweden, since the majority of the scene now seems to plagued with Swede-a-likes, bearing some resemblance to the phenomenal black/speed/thrash act Antichrist, but potent in being able to conjure something distinctly more sordid, cunning and evil. Given the band's sound and primacy, its devoutness towards the archaic roots of black metal, and their jumpy, percussive attitude, I didn't feel all too interested in Pest initially, but after channeling a handful of other, relatively derivative black/thrash acts, I concluded that the Swedes were actually better than I thought they were, as I they elicited some kind of growth policy upon me.

My estimations were roughly accurate; Pest tussle back and forth to bring back the black metal sound of the late 80's, although their sound is only remotely associated with war metal acts of Blasphemy's sort, and you could say that instead of directly snatching the aesthetic inclinations of Bathory, Venom and Celtic Frost, they throw in primordially dominated riffs into thrash and NWOBHM-like patterns, making the riffs all the more intriguing. Don't let this fool you though. The moment ''The Crowning Horror'' inaugurates, the listener is instantaneously drawn into a hybridized trajectory with countless bumps and crevices lurking along the path where the listener is hammered with some of the most flexible black metal riffs I've heard this year, but Pest somehow manage to draw an immense measure of vitriol into their mixture. The guitars are undoubtedly the unsurpassed superiors of this record, as with all of Pest's albums, I imagine; they're a multitude of strings confronting the unready listener with melody, and regular sessions of bludgeon, all meshed into a wonderfully filthy production level that, while negating any kind of obfuscation, permeates with guitars with a beautifully sodden ichor, and the drums are also crisp, a guaranteed trip to stimulating horror for old schoolers and more ''intellectual'' metalheads.

Perhaps the main trick that the Swedes have somehow managed to accomplish is filtering different genre progressions and patterns with the default formula, and nearly every track has something different in store for you, be it speed, NWOBHM, thrash, death or just a more caustic focus on traditional first wave black metal, and on any level, Pest are able to bring a viable product to the table. The entrenched barks of Necro imbue the rest of the music with further obscurity and menace, a dark, sinister timbre that mingles randomly around the concave path that the guitars keep flirting at. Indeed, one characteristic that draws a clear line between Pest any other band willing to exercise the predilections of first wave black metal is that no matter how haunting they are, the Swedes always leave a whiff of ridicule behind that's supposedly a byproduct of the music as a whole. Maybe it's just me, but whatever songs they play, the clash of the focal guitars with the wretched vocals creates an almost cheesy texture. ''Demon'', for example, is excellent with clear melodies underpinned with solid rhythm sections, but when the vocalist intervenes, the hymn of mockery begins, and the quality thankfully goes higher instead of dropping. ''Volcanic Eyes'' is even better, perhaps my favorite piece here, with stark speed/heavy riffs eventually morphing into heavier black/thrash motifs, the puerile barks of Necro once again joining the choir. ''Thirteen Chimes'' builds up with near-immaculate precision, like a reflection of the band's doom-inspired tenacity; a feast of chugs and gnawing horror.

The Swedish duo is spot-on on ''The Crowning Horror'', though I wouldn't go as far as to say they're spotless, as certain minute problems of redundancy did stain the shirt a little. Nevertheless, I was, in the end, pleased to find a band that craved for a sound that may not be original, but was desperately needed in today's metal universe, inserted in the right amount to the band's unique texture. ''The Crowning Horror'' would really have been a good finding if it were uncovered in the late 80's, a perfect band that would arguably influence second wave Swedish black metal mavens Arckanum, Mork Gryning, and so forth. This is an album that vitalizes horror and morbidity through its use technical and less dark, melodic motifs, but it's still haunting as fuck, embracing the meaning of its title as fully as possible.

Volcanic Eyes

Rating: 88%

Tormented - Death Awaits [2013]

Tormented is essentially a composite of Robert Karlsson and Dread of Edge of Sanity, who decided to hire another guitarist and a drummer to revisit the olden landmarks of their homeland, such as Dismember, Entombed and Grave, instead of going for another, technically imbued modern Edge of Sanity album. Their debut ''Rotten Death'' was such a crafty, nostalgic record that quickly became a rather popular release among other Swedish death metal mavens, and it was popularized partly because it came just in the right time, when the old school death metal steak was nearing a well-cooked, juicy thing of flesh and bones that any purist at the time would eagerly and voraciously devour, but it seems now that the band has blundered with the advent of their sophomore offering, ''Death Awaits''. Simply put, that deliciously pungent well-cooked stake is now overcooked, and it ain't so tasty anymore. Truth be told, I somehow saw this coming. Amid myriads of bands taking the same, ghoulish, chainsaw-beaten trajectory that promptly arrived after Tormented's debut, how could the band possibly find a way to elude vexation and repetitiveness, and find salvation through a newly attached array of artillery? There have been a couple of bands who have successfully defeated the plaguing tenuousness of this disease, but many have succumbed to their destiny, bowing down to the ancient masters and forfeiting the same prognosis, and Tormented is unfortunately one of these bands...

''Rotten Death'' was never an original record, and it was in fact one of the most generic of its kind, even in 2009, but it was fun, memorable and it payed importance to the individual strengths and twists of the riffs, unlike ''Death Awaits'' which fails to appease the listener with genuine riffs and nihilistic openings, thus instantly smothering the listener with a load of festering chainsaw riffs. The same production quality is there, the massive, lurching guitar riffs that erupt into frenzied d-beat excursions are there, the L-G Petrov inflection is there, so why the fuck is ''Death Awaits'' not on par with its predecessor? Here's why. While the overall sound may roughly add up to the same sum, Tormented aren't lacing their musical preferences with intrigue and menace, and you can't depict the image of a fiendish demon-skeleton chasing you with a scythe in the middle of the graveyard half as vividly as ''Rotten Death'', and secondly, the guitars feel battered and exhausted, (although your ears are probably just as berated from hearing an excess of this stuff) with hardly a tinge of excitement to them, rumbling along soullessly. I'll confide that the vocals still sound fresh, a demonic zombie creeping between gaping holes in the guitars, which makes them audible but still muffled and cavernous, but the drums are just as jaded as the guitars, and this time they're upfront, nakedly displaying their lack of variation, and as if that wasn't enough, they're spiky and nettling, to the listener's dismay.

The basic thing that drowns ''Death Awaits'' is not its lack of focus but in fact its over-dedication towards focus. The hinges of the album are screwed so tightly that it leaves little or no breathing space for the listener, and this is certainly not the kind of music you'd want to the immersed in. There some fairly strong tracks though, like grindcore-paced ''Black Sky'' that's narrated by a haunting wisp of melody while the guitars erupt outrageously above, and the opener, the title track isn't so shabby either, an introductory discourse of raging, warlike riffs that could easily belong to ''Rotten Death'' itself. Of course, beyond the level of redundancy here, I'm sure the song lengths contributed considerably to Tormented's degradation in quality here, because songs like these are meant to be no longer than 3-4 minutes, and the majority of the songs clock at some 4-6 minutes. An unremitting orgy of decrepit, rotten riffs is what Tormented allegedly aimed to do here, and while they succeeded in achieving this goal, ''Death Awaits'' holds as little plausibility as any other Swedeath drone out there, because hell, even the lyrics have expired in originality. I would have loved to see the quartet expanding their retinue and casting a wider net whose reach would not only grant them the same amount of attention they sought but would have also raised their status in the metal underground. Yet, despite all its flaws, this is still some solid old school death metal that fans of Horrendous, Skeletal Spectre, Zombiefication and Necrovation would do well to get their hands on.

Death Awaits
Insane With Dread
Black Sky

Rating: 65%

Monday, July 15, 2013

Draumar - Gebirge [2012]

Believe it or not, my best findings over the last 2-3 years have been in the field of black metal more than anything else: thrash had already lost its revivalist touch after 2009, and few records besides the olden, antique dimensions of death metal interest me, and there were only a handful of stupendous releases on that department, the remainder being a mostly consistent, but unabashedly generic metric chock of bands sprouting out of pretty much anywhere around the globe - thus, some of the most enthralling releases of recent years belong mostly to black metal. Somehow, black metal musicians are able to achieve salvation, or rather, musical incarceration through their own predilections, incorporating an enormously vast choice of sounds into traditional parameters, ranging from folk metal influences to ambient preferences to progressive rock, and while this rule does obviously apply for all black metal bands, it does take into account a considerable number of acts. Of these refreshingly savvy acts I've found Germany's Draumar to be one of the most beautiful and atmospheric, through the usage of orchestral sounds, a superb EP that shines nearly all the way.

This is absolutely soothing music, and certainly not your traditional kind of ambient black metal. There are indeed acts such as the notorious Leviathan or Oranssi Pazuzu that use their aural tendencies to encase the listener in utterly nightmarish profundity, evoking despair and trauma as effortlessly as putting a mentally disfigured person behind bars, but Draumar contrasts entirely from such acts, firmly providing a warm, spectral and haunting layer of pulchritude. You could say that they were influenced by Summoning in many ways, as the atmospheric reflection of many passages seem to be befit for being a soundtrack covering a lost footage of The Shire in the Fellowship of the Ring, but then again, Summoning is something far more glorious and unapologetic in its triumph, a right soundtrack for the defeat of Sauron. The thing about ''Gebirge'' is that it's 85% ambient passages and only 15% guitars/drums/vocals intertwined with the atmospherics above, so it's admittedly a rather stunning, but slow-paced listen, despite its brevity. The opener, ''Auftakt'' is a mellow introduction ceremony for the upcoming wave of musical transcendence, and my favorite track is probably the follow-up, ''Gebirge I'', which initiates with synthesizers redolent of Ihsahn's work on Emperor's debut, and gradually unfurls into a diaphanous spectacle. The vocals are raw, winter-beaten and raspy to the core bu somehow they fit the sound effects perfectly, and the guitars are such crisp expedients that they balance the weigh of the record with heavenly succession.

For those who might scoff at the ''orchestral'' tag: I advise you to listen before you criticize. This is no collection of cheap fillers, and certainly not some cheesy horror flick your local death metal decided to use as an appendix for their disjointed Autopsy duplicate disc - these are real fucking instruments being played with accuracy and technique, implemented brazenly into the music. Pianos. Acoustic guitars. Flutes. Violins. All adhered to different sections of the EP, making it all the better. ''Gebirge II'' is nearly as good as its successor, running for some 7 seven minutes, and in versatility it never seems to lack material. Draumar's fresh take on black metal does not seem to deviate all too greatly from some of its peers, Summoning included, but it's sensational in every way that I can think of with my sole complaint being the lack of engagement, that, despite being launched towards such speed freak as I, did not seem to matter so much; a mere peccadilo of a stain amid a beautiful rainbow. That said, the EP was too short to be fully effective as well, running for about 20 minutes, but still, I can't say there was a moment where the the surreal and dazzling approach of Draumar didn't stun me. This is the kind of music that really needs to be taken to a larger scale; I heartily encourage garden variety Norwegian black metal groups to cut their ragged, uncircumcised music short to give bands like Draumar a little more space. I'm determined to see ''Gebirge's'' follow-up, because despite the soothing attribute of the music, the German can stimulate many a listener with ''Gebirge'', and the prospect of a 60+ minute ''Gebirge'' is highly exciting. Well, at least, if they continue this way.

Gebirge I
Gebirge II

Rating: 86%

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Beyond - Fatal Power Of Death [2013]

Amid a frenzied, and overly prolific eruption of molten death metal lava, I'm sure I'm not the only one in desperate search for good, quality death metal that has its earthen roots buried deep within the unfathomable pit olden masters. There are, thankfully, a handful of record labels that are still able to conduct business with a goodlier bunch of death metal nostalgia seekers every now and then, and especially following their ruinous signings of a great pack of revivalists, Iron Bonehead has proved to be one of the worthiest imprints among the bunch that includes such labels as Hell's Headbangers, Razorback, Hellthrasher, and a few more. Their releases have primarily come to my attention when I started receiving promos from them - something that I'm truly grateful for because I've been acquainted with a deal of excellent bands. Without digressing too much, I'd also like to imply that I can't seem to find a particular reason for so many old school death metal bands being so egregiously bad, besides the fact they are mostly highly generic and because usually, the original corpulence and freshness of their music seems to get relegated and diminished over time as they start to deviate from novel perspectives. Germany's Beyond, however, is one of those bands that neither purists nor more versatile metalheads would scoff at - they're powerful, channeling the dark interiors of archaic rot and ichor, and while they don't necessarily bring anything new to the table they still manage to incorporate and exhibit their influences in a novel fashion, kicking asses right away.

All the influences seem to pinpoint towards your standard, garden variety cavernous death metal culprit, seamlessly burrowing traits from Incantation or from newer acts like Antediluvian and Father Befouled, which is a direct Incantation throwback anyways, but I promise you, the level of excitement and intensity, infused with scintillating, sweltering compositions are good enough to give even Incantation a damn run for their money. First of all, Beyond are despondent, but they are no way as ritualistic as, say, the aforementioned Canadian giant, and the cavernous complex of the record is merely used a fissure to manifest the broader spectrum of riffing. In terms of riffs, ''Fatal Power of Death'' chugs away into black/thrash motifs just as frequently as it harbors interest for Morbid Angel, Death and Angelcorpse, and usually, the ferocity and speed of the guitars will rise to such extreme heights that you'll feel as though you were sucked into nebulous void of war metal, an absolutely devastating feast of Revenge, Conqueror, Diocletian and Blasphemy, and as if they hadn't sufficiently strewn corpses along the patterns of the two most titillating sub-genres of extreme metal, they bludgeon the listener with a further helping of unbridled thrash mayhem; a bevy of cudgels beating the living shit out of you in a pitch-black void of confusion.

While the song titles may seem generic when contrasted to other bands of this field, they certainly do their job well in living up to their names. ''Expressions'', the opener, commences with a seemingly horror-induced intro of synthesizers and sound effects, before unraveling promptly into a sulfurous tempest of black, death and even grindcore redolent of Anaal Nakrath's first few discs, and pretty much each track features a blisteringly spasmodic lead, each one churning effortlessly with the uncircumcised array of tremolos and chord progressions. ''Merciless At Heart'' and ''Whirlwinds'' continue to prolong the weather forecast of cavernous acid rain and unceasing tornadoes in the same fashion as ''Expressions'', but the title track livens up the diversity department by sauntering deeper into moody death metal territory, death/doom interpretations that reek of Autopsy, Fleshcrawl, Asphyx and Cianide. Not only that, but I also got a sort of technical vibe from ''Fatal Power of Death'', something that I really enjoyed. Obviously, this is in no way a primordial way of conveying Suffocation styled riffs into the music, but much like Necrovation' eponymous sophomore, the riffs sound refined with additional technical elements, enriching an already dense and fresh collection of ideas.

Let me make something clear here: Beyond are not your standardized, derivative old school metal revivalists, but they aren't entirely novel purveyors of fear either. Only, the ideas an expressions are allocated so excitingly that a formula previously presented is hacked into innumerable pieces, scattered along with a new order, and when the Germans play that renowned piece of classical abyss and blood, their avidity and success becomes inevitable. This is a record that's just as bloodied and decomposed as any other old school death metal revival album out there, really, but the way it's been careened and depicted makes it an excellent, almost inventive listen. The tracks are swirling and turgid with expositions with just instrumental capability anyway, and when you put the vocals, the crude, gargantuan growls of an aquatic sea giant, into the mix, you've practically got yourself one of the best death metal records of 2013, even with the possiblity of more quality cargo to arrive later in the year, and as if the 7 swelling compositions they penned weren't enough, the quartet finalize their masterpiece with a stimulating, unremitting and absolutely indoctrinating epic, 12 minutes of numbing hypnosis that you won't forgot easily. Beyond's previous EP and demo might have been utterly disgusting, but this is much, much more than disgusting. Listening to this is the musical equivalent of delving into death metal's demented subconscious, and exploring its bleakest, most blackened dens. If you haven't acquired this already and you're still drooling over Antediluvian, Teitanblood, Incantation, Grave Miasma, etc, then you should. Pronto.

Merciless At Heart
Consuming Black Void
Schizopsychotic Eruption

Rating: 90%

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Night Demon - Night Demon [2012]

Night Demon's entry into my extensive compendium of speed/heavy acts to emerge in the 21st century is nothing of a seminal event, but I was nonetheless content, having discovered another band with a solid release to kill a good many minutes. Formed in 2011, our information on the band is fairly limited, with their sole material being their eponymous EP released last year, and my awareness of the band began when I received a promo of the EP that had been reissued by the traditional heavy/doom imprint Shadow Kingdom Records. The Californians offer nothing more than genre-standard heavy metal enmeshed with a dose of speed, imbued with a strong, refined production quality that renders the four brief tracks found on this EP so robust. ''Night Demon'' is composed of roughly equal proportions of Maiden, Priest, Angel Witch, Raven and Saxon, and maintains its muscular exposition sturdily throughout the entirety of the EP without blundering, but it only does so by swaying along the safer borders of traditional heavy metal.

For one, I was actually more absorbed by the cover art and the conceptual preferences more than the music itself, even though I did sometimes lose myself in the wicked, swirling youth of the headbang-friendly riffs. I don't know why, but I certainly found this fantasy-induced concept to be overly attractive, maybe because it explored a somewhat nostalgic and lightweight margin of swords, sorcery, and, obviously, demons, each song delving into a slightly different subdivision of the concept, for instance, ''The Chalice'' had a more medieval, religious vibe to it, with the exception of ''Ancient Evil'' which purely pervaded the listener with Lovecraftian images. That said, there is a surprising amount of variation between each track, with each track, like the lyrical choices, focusing on marginally different breed of garden variety heavy metal. The sound as a whole is professional however, with little or not flaws in the presentation department, and in truth, while this may not be a paragon of speed/heavy metal, I loved the rumbling twists and turns of the guitars with melody swooshing by every now and then, and the entire webbing of riffs was surprisingly complex, brazen, and certainly very catchy.

While this may be for the most part a devout homage to the aforementioned gods, and even Motorhead taking into account the bluesy rage of the guitars and pummeling blasts of the snare on the first and fianl tracks, I did occasionally taste a sprinkling of power metal in its archetypal forms, something redolent of early Fates Warning and Jag Panzer. The vocals are blunt and powerful, nothing overly special, however, when they collide with the backup vocals to harmonize a truly harmonic piece of sound that I thoroughly enjoy is created. Night Demon certainly performed well on this EP, especially since it's their debut offering, but I do think that solely being staunch stalwarts of the art won't quite make them experts in this particular field of heavy metal. There were some subtler, heavier moments that arose with minute precaution into something of a more epic deliverance, like on the chorus of ''The Chalice'' (which I adored), but the Californians need to strew together many more strings to render the web truly inventive and titillating. Night Demon resonate like a faster answer to  their fellow countrymen Visigoth; it's coherent, consistent and quite seamless in its presentation, but lacks an inner essence. Otherwise, it's simple, awesome music for purists. Hail.

Ancient Evil
The Chalice

Rating: 72%