Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Autokrator - Autokrator [2015]

Drone and death. Two things which would have seemed irreversibly oblique had you told me about it 20 years ago, when death metal had just gleaned its initial flourish, but here we are, at the edge of the world, listening to a French band with an album capable of satisfying followers of both genres, at least in theory. Autokrator. Oh, the autonomy. We've all had our fair share bands only too incapable of governing their own creativity and resulting in veritable travesties of musical produce, and a smaller percentage of bands which can skillfully exploit their unabashed titles and work out miracle albums, across the heavy metal spectrum. Autokrator doesn't quite belong to either camp. Simply put: there's a place, deep within the reaches of an industrial complex shrouded with clouds and gloom, perpetually fixated in production and yielding the same output with pretty much every return, coagulated in its moody ambient obsession. That's where you'll likely encounter ''Autokrator''.

Now, as much as the term 'drone/death' feels slightly alien to me, there's no denying that the Frenchmen are following a similar path to the Americans Aevangelist with their brand of irrevocable, tumultuous black/death shaking the very foundations of your cortex, or the calculated, Deathspell Omega-esque dissimilitude of Imperial Triumphant; but even so my resemblances wouldn't be entirely exact since there's a very industrial foundation to found here, not so slick or street-like as Ministry or Godflesh, but a more carefully plotted, systematic rendering of bulky, impenetrable chords redolent of Portal or Impetuous Ritual. Certainly the 'drone' is there, because Autokrator flesh out their riffs in some of the most mundane fashions I've recently heard, with dronish chord upon chord flung with unobtrusive reverb and patterned segments; yet I could also complain that between these gigantic hulks they propagate and the darkly atmosphere present, the Frenchmen aren't particularly interested in spicing their material up with detailed melodies or intricate high-end fret melodies the way their countrymen Deathspell Omega would have evoked excesses of nightmare and agony. Fuzzed out and implicitly linear, ''Autokrator'' is only slightly shy of becoming a dark marital industrial project - think In Slaughter Natives or Kreuzweg Ost - especially on the final track ''Optimus Princeps'', and as inclined the Frenchmen may be to spooning off your brain with these buzzed exhortations of sound and rhythm, I've found that none of the songs here cling to head, which isn't too surprising, but moreover, they lose their hypnotic and cranial power a little too quickly - in fact I found myself scrambling for ways to keep myself occupied by the third track.

Every track is nearly a duplicate of the other, with little or no nuance offered in between, therefore I find it silly to point out specific highlights on this record.While records of this kind are definitely difficult pills to swallow, after a acclimatization of the ears they should be taken in entire packages for the maximum, potent effect, yet ''Autokrator'' feels like a drug which loses its initial gloss of hypnosis shortly after the first injection, like a cheap, painful high. The drums here can be annoying for some. Personally I didn't have a problem with them since the sharp, industrialized snares provide with a few splotches of white in a a gossamer otherwise completely embroidered in darkness, but beyond that the cymbals were weak and the dynamics department therefore surprisingly meager. Some props go to the few ambient effects which somehow made it into an album almost completely filled with simplistic, gloomy synthesizers and hard-boiled riffcraft, giving the listener a few rare moments of breath and exploring more atmosphere than the instruments could ever hope to. As much as I sometimes enjoyed the aural and industrial punch of the rhythms from time to time, there's never enough variation to make the album worth reveling in. The majestic darkness of Deathspell Omega or Aevangelist is simply not there. The vocals, the musical equivalent of coughing out wet coals out of your asshole, are there, but even that hellish diarrhea feels unsatisfactory.

This is a record which strangely enough ticks all the boxes except for intricacy as far as this industrial black/death metal niche goes, but most of those ticks are, well... half-ticks. Unnerving, cyclical displeasure runs throughout. While one half of me wonders if this was the album those engineers and worker stormtroopers were jamming out to be while Death Star was being constructed in the midst of a spatial vacuum, the other half thinks it's probably a good idea to lay off this record, especially when there are so many other monstrous alternatives lying aground, although ''Autokrator'' still isn't terrible by any means.

The Tenth Persecution
Imperial Whore

Rating: 52%

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Nocternity - Harps of the Ancient Temples [2015]

Choosing from a not-so densely populated backlog of releases, I'd easily vie for Nocternity's 2003 ''Onyx'' and the following EP ''A Fallen Unicorn'' (2004) over any of their other releases since only with these two pieces the Greeks seem to be blessed for cultivating quality, Burzum-esque black metal epics spanning the epochs of grief, glory and crenelated medieval towers which give actually satisfying vibes. In respect to the Greek black metal scene today, Nocternity's choice to plod through a field bearing more resemblance to Burzum, Ulver and Kvist rather than Necromantia and Rotting Christ may be regarded as slightly unnatural, even though they are technically sticking to the norm with this approach, albeit one bedecked with a trademark middle-age warrior clad in silver and chain mail, and an myrmidion helmet. I have to give the band props at any rate even if their music sometimes falls short of the intended majestic effect, especially given my personal knack for pottering with such fantastical, lyrical themes as the ones the Greeks present as their thematic pastiche, with lengthy, almost poetic lyrics not unlike those of Summoning, or the verses of H.P. Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith, but as always, this only proves to be a color filter at best, and in cases like ''Harps of the Ancient Temples'', the band's third full-length, fanciful lyricism scarcely enhances the experience.

That's not to say the album's bad, because I've certainly heard worse. Only, between the rigid, almost Hellhammer-esque riffs and the dull atmospherics of an album, despite being 'relatively' short, I found myself looking for plenty of breathing space, or a few moments' escape from drudgery. Nocternity's style is really not hard to determine: they espouse these creaky traditional rasps on top of a fragile expanse of usually doom-y chords and lumbering tremolos and boom - you have pretty much the gist of the album ready. Beckoning of Scandinavia, yet also feeling intimidatingly near to a crude Eastern European counterpart, ''Harps of the Ancient Temples'' is a surprising shock value loss over the band's 2003-4 material with a much less dynamic and visceral guitar, faded ambiance, even though the band still manages to live up to its fantastical imagery through the use of mystifying, if slightly bland, synthesizer work, which feel reminiscent of Summoning's earliest work from the early 90's, and along the way simplistic influences of early Emperor, Burzum, Ulver or Ragnarok are scattered sans bombast. Much like the few Vardan records I listened to (or anything of this vein for that matter) Nocternity does a decent job of charging off into gloomy, melancholy antiquity without careening or giving the guitar a few fickle taps over the fret board, and it's admirable that they can do this with consistency, but when it comes to evocation of dolor and a battlefield abound with the phantasmagoria of fallen armies, this is as dry and as withering as a feast for crows, and appropriately too since they seem to favor the fiction of George R.R. Martin (you gotta admit, Khal Drogo is a sick pseudonym).

Granted, no one was expecting an opulent black metal masterpiece that reaches toward the stars, like those Spectral Lore records, nor some wacky avantgarde tour de force a la Hail Spirit Noir and Transcending Bizarre?, but I had my subtle hopes that this album would have at least been on a par with ''Onyx''. Lurching chords with depressed note patterns and rhythmic sways with the tempo equivalent of a trudging elephant seem suitably grim, for 1984. ''Blood Rite'' contains a few 'diversion', like minimal, meandering melody wisps that cling on to the main hull of cascading chords, and the band even digresses to a few riffs notes instead of chords for a brief instant, but it doesn't save the song. The title song (which was actually introduced back in 2007 as one of two songs in an EP) is perhaps the most memorable tune out the entire archaic grimoire, with tingling synthesizers and an actually impressive guitar solo slightly past the middle, although even that alone doesn't belong in the same league as Katavasia, Spectral Lore or Varathron in my book; whereas ''B.O.D.D'' is marginally more interesting and choral due to its ambient effects and moody sense of embitterment. Ultimately, in a growing market for Greek black metal, I'm glad that Nocternity is joining the bandwagon (sort of) in a party heading to be one of the world's best, but in that case scenario where each of these newsprint Hellenic black metal records are compartmentalized and projected into the stratosphere, you can be sure that ''Harps of the Ancient Temples'' will be among the first to start thawing shortly before disintegrating in the vast spacial expanse. You have the choice to jump back to their previous releases.

Harps of the Ancient Temples

Rating: 48%

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Seremonia - Kristalliarkki [2015]

It sometimes happens that a band on such a creative spree suddenly starts to slow down for unknown reasons, closing up their inventive faculties for a safer approach. That aside, Finland has always stood for me as a creative bastion of heavy metal, rearing an expanse of cultural marvels and oddities with frequent use of their native tongue even on records which distinctly appeal to the Westernized culture, and therefore I count myself lucky to have witnessed sundry acts like Seremonia which exemplify the kind of diverse metal tradition I talked about. Finland is an endless pool of awesome, whether your tastes lie in their murky, archaic old school death metal milieu spearheaded by bands such as Convulse, Demigod or Purtenance or the relatively more recent black metal of Horna, Sargeist and Beherit, each conjuring their unique tapestry of grimness, and Seremonia belongs to an arguably more 'hippy-centric' circle among these. Their album ''Ihminen'' was one of 2013's highlights, so I was naturally elated to find they'd released a fresh disc: coming back to what I said at the beginning of the paragraph, it's somewhat disappointing to hear that the Finns didn't exactly explode with the same bonafide panoply of ritualistic Black Sabbath psychedelia as before...

...but even though they've sacrificed some of their creativity I'd say ''Kristalliarkki'' (crystal sheet if Google translate is to be trusted) kicks ass, to say the least. For newcomers, this is a great surprise of 70's doom/rock with psychedelic influences from the same era, and the Sabbath influence obviously weighs heavily here, but there are also bits and pieces that reek of stoned Finnish mysticism and queer folk textures anointed with queer and jumpy keyboard sequences that sound quite unlike anything I've heard, except its predecessor. So you can be sure that the Finns don't dip every single riff, pattern or oomph-laden sound effect into the Black Sabbath sink, since every crevice of those morose 70's doom/stoner progressions are filtered with at least a minimal dose of 'cemetery hippy' elements, which is a term that the band uses define itself, not an inaccurate one at that. If anything, I've found the dazed 70's keyboards here more prominent than on the debut, and assuredly they have a killer handful of keyboard solos at their disposal, and perhaps than just the sheer abundance of keyboard and gummy synthesizer sequences I loved that individually they channel different emotions, ranging from the atmospheric dolor of ''Jokainen Askel'' to something jumpier.

The guitars are meatier, too, which could be a positive development depending on your point of view. They've evolved slightly from these metallic, almost tinny stoner/doom tones to something considerably fuzzier. The Finns still manage to bring a surprising variety and sparse palette of riffing on the table, be it a rambunctious twist of bluesy notes or a heavier chord, they all hit their stride. There might be a few brief windows of time where I was more fond of the overall aural presentation of the wet, cannabis-dosed graveyard than the actual riffs when one or two of them were sounding alike, but overall they sink in quite well with my ears, and in fact get tastier with each spin. Noora's vocals are just as great: I've never seen female vocalists as a caveat to heavy metal, and she's exceptionally unique with her folksy, but strangely sober voice, tailoring both the ritualistic odor of the album, and to be honest, with backing vocals, there are few parts on the album where she nearly sounds like a j-pop singer. ''Kristalliarkki'' is not all hippy metal fun time, though, which is why it's so appealing. Like ''Ihminen'', there's a dark Nordic phantasm which rules over the fuzz of the guitars, the atmosphere never quite leers out of its menacing disposition, and just about any part of the album is fit for the commencement of some cankered ritual ceremony, wearing robes and doused in dope smoke, demonstrating that the seeping influence of Black Sabbath can take twisted, unexpected forms with time.

Seremonia doesn't take many cues from post-Sabbath bands like Saint Vitus, Candlemass or Paul Chain, although anyone with genuine interest in doom or even newer doom/sludge bands promulgated so frequently by mainstream magazines and record labels which I usually tend to dislike can find something interesting here, and there are even visible distinctions between the gloomy psychedelia the Finns propagate and the more sodden sound of modern stoner/doom bands such as Conan or Solstice. A major improvement over the debut might be the abridged lengths of the songs, as the whole album is overall shorter than its predecessor. Seremonia is probably one of the most unique voices in doom metal you'll hear today. They might have cut down on some of the fundamental weirdness of their debut, and while I'd still prefer it to this album, they've managed to up their consistency with shorter tracks, balanced compositions and professional finesse, with the exception of the quirky and trippy ''Kristalliarkki I'' with its uncanny jazz leads and flute murmurs, as though a folksy anomaly out of an album by the Finns' psychedelic black metal countrymen Oranssi Pazuzu, full of enticing and murky drowsiness. I'm not going to go on and say ''Kristalliarkki'' is perfect, because it isn't. A good 15-20% of the album could have used better penning or a few escapist digressions to keep the listener in continual trance, but by the end of the record, between your lazy ass seated as you read this review and the myriad tombstones smeared with moss and half-burnt sheaves of cannabis, how many good doom metal bands exist to which you'd pay lip service to? That's what I thought. So without further ado, acquire this, and stop bitching about the Finnish lyrics.

Alfa ja Omega
Musta Liekki
Jokainen Askel

Rating: 80%

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Forest of Stars - Beware the Sword You Cannot See [2015]

Lately there's been an ongoing fetish in the black market concerning the dissection and integration of elements derived from 70's psychedelic rock bands, and to be honest, while this does not sound like a favorable coitus of genres at first, a trend which has engendered bands like Hail Spirit Noir and Oranssi Pazuzu can be hardly be chastised for lacking proficiency or being unambitious. Of course, the marriage of 70's psychedelia with black metal does require eccentricities of sorts, which is why even though we dub then as psychedelic black metal, each of these bands, as well as England's A Forest of Stars more or less enjoy a uniqueness under their own roof. A Forest of Stars' fourth offering ''Beware the Sword You Cannot See'' hits all the sweet spots for an eclectic heavy metal listener, a steampunk aficionado, a Victorian gentlemen, a comic Dickensian figure straight out of Bleak House, and a spiritualistic preacher of sorts, since it's likely to be one of the weirdest yet absorbingly idiosyncratic releases I've heard this year along with Solefald's ''World Music'', chock full of kooky inventiveness and immersive musical talent.

If you don't believe me, just have a look at the pseudonyms: one Titus Longbutter or T.S. Kettleburner certainly feels redolent of a Dickens novel, the bizarre parade of folk, autumnal psychedelia and gloomy black metal impressionism doesn't even begin there. From it's melancholy opener ''Drawing Down the Rain'' the band seems to be on the verge of a progressive black metal phantom in the mode of Enslaved with fairly simplistic melodies, but they immediately fill up the empty spaces with folksy flutes which beckons a far more pagan taste, say, similar to one Kroda, Drudkh or Arkona; but I love the fact that the group can shift through their own 7+ minute songs like quicksand, evolving once again into a hazily progressive riff and then into a meteor shower of unfrazed tremolos headed by melodic psychedelia. These Victorians are unhinged but it doesn't stop the music from evocatively drawing up imagery and queer, almost Gothic constellations and fragmentary journeys across the firmament. The opener is by far the most 'atmospheric' advent in the entire album, fostered by somber chords and almost minimalistic melody patterns, but the following two songs, ''Hive Mindless'' and ''A Blaze of Hammers'' are just as consuming pieces, and the group, thankfully does not omit a few pauses in between the marathons by adding a few stringy chords and clean guitar sequences glazed with nearly defunct violins and keyboard scores. They do take some time to get to the point, true, and not everything (especially in the first half of the album) is bound to grab you by your neck and slam you to the ground and leave you agog with sensation, but the material presented is celestial and beautiful to say the least.

Of course it would be a capital offense to exclude the vocalist Mister Curse who practically spearheads the benignly confusing effusion of sounds with his remarkable voice. We're not even talking regular singing here: he feels more as though he's reciting poetry in a remarkably 'English' manner, exquisite oratory that reminds me of Bal-Sagoth and their fantastical vocal shenanigans with similarly cosmic subjects in mind. Katheryne, Queen of Ghosts also handles female vocals here, a soothing and rich fairy-metal vox not unlike Nightwish or the operatic female vocals in Therion's later outings, but what I truly enjoy is that they supplement the harsher, brazen discourse of the male vocals with a maudlin alternative. Mister Curse, of course, engages in a more unruly inflection from time to time to complement fuzzier discharges of fairly straightforward Scandinavian tremolo work, like a well-attuned Victorian gentleman suddenly devolving into beast-mode. The second half of the album, which I probably enjoyed more than the first, is split into numerical parts. Not only are all the songs shorter in this half but they flow in and out of each other like a lengthy piece diced into smaller fragments: ''Part I: Mindslide'' begins with a moving vocal solo by Katheryne, and then into morphs into a haunting, hypnotic orgy of buzzing synthesizers redolent of John Carpenter's solo compositions and horror scores with ''Have You Got A Light, Boy?'', my favorite song on the entire album, which unfolds entirely with the words and there WAS light! before ''Perdurabo'', with its equally Gothic and alienating synthesizer swell, begins. But keep in mind that no single instrument truly steals the show here, ever. While the violins or singular keyboards may be to the fore on some of the rainier moments on the album, and the lapsing, flickering psychedelic guitar riffs during some other sequences, it's a surprisingly healthy balance of a canopy of instruments and endeavors in a rather 'unhealthy' album which makes it such a pleasure to listen to ,without anything running dry.

The sheer scope and autumnal drapery offered by ''Beware the Sword You Cannot See'' is enormous. Picturesque vistas and celestial serpents devouring their own tails. Imaginary soundscapes that could have easily fitted Mervyn Peake's masterpiece Gormenghast. The conceptual enigmas of the record, however, are just the cherry on top as far as the music goes, since this album is bound to be the new best thing for black metal, at least in my book. Not every moment is mesmerizing, and I really felt they could have trimmed the songs a little, - especially those in the first half - but the emotive, paranoid atmosphere offered, both lyrically and musically, is nothing short of delightful when it comes to the few outstanding tracks to be found, and certainly this is far more captivating tapestry of autumn leaves and starry auras than so many other 'atmospheric' black metal bands claim to possess. Instead of bludgeoning us to submission through tired, colorless monotone, these illustrious connoisseurs of the genre are inviting us into the celestial sphere and their mountable worms, alluring from a distance, beckoning with nocturnal beauty. Excellent.

A Blaze of Hammers
Virtus Sola Invicta
Have You Got A Light, Boy?
An Automaton Adrift

Rating: 87%

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Destruktor - Opprobrium [2015]

By now everyone's acknowledge that once you begin your foray into the Australian metal scene, purposefully or otherwise, you will unanimously be assailed by some of the most malicious and angry troops in the global black, death and thrash perspective. That doesn't mean that every partisan of the black/death or 'war metal' phenomenon is bound to be a direct offshoot of the country's notoriously quizzical mavericks of chaos (i.e. Portal) who created more buzz along the internet and the spread of the underground than the quivering, sludgy guitar tone which they harness with their album ''Swarth'', because really, relatively more straightforward acts like Assaulter, Destroyer 666, Vomitor and Destruktor are probably more into booze and offensively fun devilry than esoteric imagery and obscure lyrics. Among its band of cult followers, Destruktor's debut ''Nailed'' left quite a lot to be desired, especially since the group leans more toward traditional death metal more than the kind of convoluted profanity conjured by the likes of Bestial Warlust and Blasphemy, so I imagine the same group of drunkards were salivating buckets just to get their hands on this....

And to be frank, I'd say ''Opprobrium'', the groups sophomore, is an improvement over their debut, both in terms of production and overall song writing. This isn't as big a leap as it is from a firecracker to a dynamite, mind you, and it did take the Aussies 6 years to get there, but we have it nonetheless. The LP retains a surprising level of clarity in terms of production, making it far more audible and 'safe' than at least 80% of its peers, but the guitars, while still broiling and grainy, are nowhere as muffled and distorted as Portal of Impetuous Ritual, and like most beer-infused black/death acts there's a greater focus on the dynamics sections with fierce, linear tremolos and eruptive patterns of simmering chords, with occasional black/speed/heavy riffs redolent of Midnight or early Bathory: so it's safe to say there's a fairly wide spectrum of sounds being offered on the plate here. The debut always felt like a hellish garble on most points, but Destruktor have stepped up the influence of filthy black/thrash and Morbid Angel/Angelcorpse here (without amounting to anything technical) and add to that sparse pool of swelling Scandinavian black metal tremolos and you have yourself a genuinely pissed off and visceral plateau of nearly any extreme metal ingredient belonging to 1984-1993 stuffed in one gnarly package.

Interestingly, The Aussies don't always run on the same track as their rudiments here, as exhibited from the final piece, ''Forever the Blood Shall Flow''. With the morosely pessimistic and lyrical title, huge, looming tremolos and a very 'black metal' melancholia, the track is almost instantly removed from the rest of the record. Of course this kind of monotonous flirt with Scandinavian black metal a la Darkthrone, Ulver or early immortal doesn't keep anyone agog for a very long time, and this applies to the entirety to the album. The drums, for one, pale out with textbook simplicity and a rather annoying tone on the snares, and the vocals are never front, hamstrung by the guitars and scarcely delivering any of the diabolical vocal enjoyment I might glean from a band like Deathhammer or Witchery. There are some good moments, like on songs like ''Besieged'' where the band marries their ravenous speed to a hooking riff, but aside from that, despite the slightly greater sense of fulfillment over the debut, ''Opprobrium'' feels a tad stale, especially when in such a devastating and busy market of zircons dedicated to the devil. For what it is, ribald, inebriated evil, this certainly grinds a good number of poseurs, and if you were taken by their debut ''Nailed'' or any other Australian rabbit hole of filth and unceremonious fun, this is still a good pick. Stay vengeful.


Rating: 68%

Monday, June 15, 2015

Prion - Uncertain Process [2015]

Floridian death metal has long ceased to be a Floridian export. Bands like Brutality, Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse are all responsible for producing milestones in the genre, masterworks of heedless brutality, but I think we can all agree the spread of their influence has become one disease too sickly to bear nowadays. In all honesty, if a half of all the new death metal in world subscribed to the riffwork of Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal in some way or another, I wouldn't be shocked. I wouldn't be shocked either if hopping on the Hate Eternal bandwagon came at price of sacrificing one's gravitas and nearly their entire capacity for originality. Argentina is not one of the world's leading metal exports, in any genre, as far my knowledge goes, yet as it turns out, the country is home to Prion, a three piece who is continuing to promulgate the Floridian tradition.

Of course, the field supporting their influence is quite formidable. The triad doesn't just know how to play things by the book: they've revised the formulas of brutality and technicality penned by the masters over and over until their build of muscular, clinical guitar frenzy and busied progressive Ulcerate-esque chord fests boil down with natural ease. You'll find that the rhythm section on ''Uncertain Process'' borrows its tenets from several sources across the spectrum, with plenty of bombastic tremolos and huge, swaying grooves supported by delectable death/thrashing insanity that almost takes things back to 1989. Prion isn't exactly an aspirant of the old school - the production values are so gigantic and boisterous that they crush the studio imprint of the early 90's - but they're not so immersed in the more modern column of brutal/technical death metal (acts like Severed Savior, The Faceless or Beyond Creation come to mind) as to pin their formulaic, mechanized intensity down solely on rampant guitar wankery which many practice so fervently nowadays. In any case, Prion assure cerebral pulverization.

As much as the +200 riffs on this disc feel appropriately murderous and punishing for the pre-match listen of an angry pugilist, Prion aren't quite pushing the envelope here. Prion know that they're not fooling anyone into thinking that ''Uncertain Process'' is a dish far removed from its core of ''Pierced from Within'' or ''Conquering the Throne'', and to be sure, the mechanical abandon of the record feels somewhat stale after 1-2 spins. There is sufficient variety conveyed here: whether by the huge, scabrous grooves of the opener ''Power Obsessed'' which plods with a Gojira-esque drive, or the chaotic splash of chords on ''Control Societies'', yet the problem remains that the album fails to deliver any major compromise of genuine engrossment through its frothing delivery of sledgehammer blows and unhinged engagement; and with tracks averaging 4.5 minutes, Prion take sweet time to pummel you, but ultimately their hammering chalks up to their redundancy.

That said, ''Uncertain Process'' is fairly interesting when you start to focus on the vocal lines over the splurge of grooves and chugs. Gregoria Kochian has a lower bark than usual, and frequently dishes out prolonged shrieks of incendiary anguish, and fits the bill well. There's no one track where he truly shines out, but ''Losing Itself in the Infinite'' is a good example of his prolonged barking and even high-end screaming reaching a high point in the album; it's certainly reassuring to hear that the vocal duties are never a far cry from the textbook brutal/technical inflection, since the likelihood of Kochian stealing into deathcore territory becomes a fearful prospect during some of his more singular moments. The drums are also great here, even if staple, ballasting the rhythm of guitars in a fulfilling manner, with plenty of audibility, (courtesy of the production) and while independently the double-bass drumming and blast beating galore may not amount to much, they are fully intact and compliment the guitars well.

Both the cover art and the band's origin suggest a kind of tropical extremity, some unprecedented serpent bursting out of the belly of the abomination shackled with huge prickly vines, but unfortunately, that flavor doesn't come with the dish. I can't possibly complain about the performances of each musician on this album, since ''Uncertain Process'' holds up with surprising professionalism and sturdy musicianship. Obviously I wasn't mesmerized the whole way through, even though they were a few moments which were noteworthy. Still, unless it comes with some magical protection from Argentine demons or a gold-plated vinyl edition, I hardly think this is essential for anyone's listening pleasure.

Lose Itself in the Infinite
Control Societies

Rating: 53%

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pyrrhon - Growth Without End (EP) [2015]

I could never feign to hide my affliction with most bands nowadays practicing the more modern, and more some reason more enticing ordeals of death metal, like those of Ulcerate, most post-2000 Immolation, Wormed, Fleshgod Apocalypse, or even the New York quartet Pyrrhon until this point in their career (although I have enjoyed perhaps a handful of releases in the medium) simply because much of this technically-infused, dissonant death metal feels as gratifying and appealing to me as a basket full of camel dung, and not even the pasty kind of dung, at that. That Pyrrhon underwent some inexplicable epiphany after their lukewarm ''The Mother of Virtues'', which was likewise greeted with praise and hype, seems unreasonable to me, since their latest EP ''Growth Without End'' does not seem like a huge deviation from the cancerous and bowels-out jingle of its predecessor, yet it simultaneously surprises me that the four piece could jump so far in between two chronologically very close recordings, ripping open the entrails of quality and fastidiously backing down from the oversize proportions of the full-length into a sort of formulaic greatness that translates into memorability and good song-writing, not unlike the recent EP by Ketha which I enjoyed so much.

Granted, Pyrrhon still panders to the same audience as before, but if anything with this EP they've gained new listeners, myself included. For sure, I never thought ''The Mother of Virtues'' quite felt like a godawful abortion the same way some other albums in the field did, but it's also safe to assume it will never pique my attention the way this EP did. Imagine those placid, germ-ridden excesses of afterbirth trimmed and truncated carefully, refined and polished until the work at hand still resembles the fetid grotesqueness of the initial product, but far clearer around edges, sans the overloaded carton covering that was weighing both itself and the listener's attention span down: that's ''Growth Without End''. The EP unfolds with ''Cancer Mantra'' and the band wastes no time getting to the fucking point, exploding with bombastic, wacky chords and disjointed rhythmic sways that sound unlike anything I've quite heard before, laden with dark, chaotic deliciousness. This isn't exactly the industrial and eccentric parade I discovered on Ketha's latest EP, because each musician is keeping his instrument closely intact, with little room for experimentation. That said, so much is going on here that I find it difficult not to dub this experimental. The guitars are absolutely preposterous and monstrous, and giving them props would be insulting because they've loaded the EP with so many unhinged, jagged riffs within just 15 minutes that it's nothing short of outstanding, but their discordance and the odd harmonies produced are also excellent in shaping the atmosphere, so much, in fact, that I'd easily equate pretty much any of the 5 brief songs here to a Deathspell Omega under the influence of Gorguts or Ulcerate.

The drums are absolutely ballistic, unpredictable, but at the same time sporadic so you're getting more of a great jazzy vibe rather than a pointless clangor of cymbals, toms and snares. The vocals, of course, deserve a mention here, since they can seamlessly shift between deep Immolation-esque growls and more rampant punk/hardcore inflections, like on ''Cancer Mantra'', to a timbre that lies in between the two, some underlying inherent evil seeping through the clot of a complex, mercurial cellular expanse, which, like the unpredictable instrumentation keeps changing, resurfacing and morphing as though in a rehearsal. Seriously, ''Growth Without End'' is not for the weak. The strength of the songs lie in their brevity, with the longest track (''Turing's Revenge'') being about 4 and a half minutes, and the shortest two, at 2 minutes and 1 and a half  minute respectively, being so concise that I couldn't help filter them through my unsuspecting auditory system over and over until my ears were in tatters. Everything here is so damn acrobatic and yet muscular that it leaves nothing behind. Sure, I could have supplanted some of the completely disorganized chord swells like those toward the end of ''Turing's Revenge'' for something equally captivating and energized as the other songs on the EP, but I'm more than willing to forgive a few stains on a 15-minute listen that already struck home far and wide, destroying my expectations. So much, in fact, that now I'm willing to give their full-length a second chance. Even the lyrics are pure gold, concerning various subjects, from history to mental deterioration, and they help tie up ''Growth Without End'' into the perfect cradle of malice to which belongs, fostered by oozing depravity and cancerous carbuncles, until, I hope, they all implode and give birth to something of even greater stature. Well done.

Cancer Mantra
Forget Yourself
The Mass

Rating: 85%

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Embrional - The Devil Inside [2015]

Polish death metal trope Embrional put out a fairly impressive debut with 2012's ''Absolutely Anti-Human Behaviors'' which was arguably among the 'better' offerings of brutal or technical death metal that came out that year, even though stylistically the Poles possess a whim that doesn't quite fit either camp. Of course we can all thank fuck for the Polish scene smothering and festooning us with quality upon quality of neck-braking excursions of death metal, be it Vader, Behemoth's latest, Lost Soul, Decapitated or the less know Deivos, and also for the fact that Embrional hasn't gone astray after the success of their debut. A reasonably unctuous nod at both the old and the new school, ''The Devil Inside'' keeps the pace of its predecessor, with all its mechanized devilry and didactic, old school-oriented precision, though it may have also left me in some degree of dismay along the way while failing to excavate anything novel on the way...

In other words, the gratifying suspense and novelty of the debut has somewhat faded with the sophomore, naturally of course, but you'd think that the Poles would have carved a fresher niche in 3 years for the whole serving. This is grotesque, intense proto-brutal death metal which I imagine garners much of its aesthetics from the Floridian scene of the 90's, as it's very reminiscent of Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Hate Eternal, but with also the beckoning, thrashy technicality of Pestilence or Cynic if I had to take it to such a degree, yet the Poles masterfully retain the primal, urban grime that had made their debut such a cankered cake feast for me in the first place, with enough smudge, distortion and bizarrely spidery riff patterns to creep out even more resilient ears. At the same time, the Poles are certainly never 'brutal' to the extent that I'd equate them with the heavier material of Corpse, even though I highly doubt they weren't influenced by the creeping monstrosity of some of the riffs on ''Bloodthirst''. Surgical but never unnecessarily bombastic or overloaded with worn down chugs or insipid, soulless guitar sweeps and wankery, I love that there is still a sense of trauma and suspense to this record almost as much as there was to the debut, like an industrial anthem empowering cannibalistic corpses from their maggot-infested cemetery.

The vocals are always there, a sinister growl that certainly feels more capaciously evil and absorbing than most forced cookie monster growls, and it helps that every aspect of the music gets a fair share in the mix so that the guitars aren't up front and the drums actually have an earthen texture to them despite being quite impressive, so that they don't sound like mechanized cinder blocks pounding your ear drums vociferously; the graven mantra of a mid 90's death metal record can be traced here if carefully listened through, even if the production have values have a naturally high ramp to them. Yet the debut was far from perfect to begin with. There are hindrances here that unfortunately don't go unheard, such as the lack of depth in the riff-craft. All told, I do love the kind of clinical yet caustic riffing the Poles propagate, yet at the same time I couldn't help but feel that they were somewhat worn out in that department since there wasn't a whole lot of variety between the tremolos, the death/thrashing breakdowns and the more mechanical pickings. ''The Devil Inside'' is an uncouth human grater, efficient and consistently enjoyable, but it's a grater gone a tad rusty, especially after 2-3 spins. Nevertheless, besides that, as well as the utterly disposable and clumsily named ''Whores, Drugs and Brain Dead'', with such great tracks as ''Evil's Mucus'', or the vorpal ''Callousness'', this is a veritable slaughterhouse of culinary hypnosis and mathematical nightmares which fans of carnal death metal, old and new alike, ought not miss.

Evil's Muckus
The Abyss

Rating: 75% 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Vardan - Winter Woods [2015]

I've yet to delve into Vardan's tremendous backlog of releases, averaging 3-4 records a year in the last few years, but immediately becomes clear that the man's productivity is no moot point. With so many records already under his belt and a few extra projects like Nostalgic Darkness running smoothly, the man aspires to be the Italian black metal equivalent of one Rogga Johansson, with his own immersive logjam of calculated Swedish death metal carnality. Just about six months into the year, and there are already five albums to his name, each, no doubt, like the one at hand, haunting exercises in rabid, scathing cold and wintry despondency. Of course, haters are gonna hate, and the whole bedroom black metal mentality has over the years acquired such an edge that most bands have seamlessly dissevered themselves from the outside world for the sake of recording in their own forsaken basements and whatnot, usually with mixed results: it can decidedly be hard to adapt any stringent attitude towards the trend, because my one half screams hallelujah at the advent of bands like Darkthrone and Leviathan while the other half yearns to pull out all the hairs on the top of my head in dismay that so many modern black metal have ended up as broken eggs while going for bedroom black metal omelette...

Thankfully, ''Winter Woods'' veers more towards the former camp. If you're familiar at all with your Burzum, Darkthrone or Forgotten Throne, you know what this sounds like, harrowing waves of mourn and broken lines of cruel, frozen melody piercing your eardrums with unruly monotony. Vardan IS a riffs man, with some cool Transilvanian Hunger-esque tremolos cascading with spiking anguish, but the range of riffs on the album are admittedly not too varied: we're definitely not talking about something on par with ''In the Nightside Eclipse'' here. With the rustic/seasonal cover art and the initiation of the opener, ''Winter Woods Pt. 1'', it's certainly not difficult for the listener to have at least some idea of the underlying contents of this disc, that is rustic and depressive black metal solaces being funneled down your ears, yet Vardan somehow manages to capture a few instances of true grief and captivating dolor without sounding too repetitive. The pace certainly me reminds me of their more well-known and notoriously suicidal countrymen Forgotten Tomb at their peak, circa 2002-2004, since Vardan never altogether rushes into gaits of unbridled Norwegian ferocity, like, say Carpathian Forest of 1349. To add, the sense of longing here is magnified by the high proportion of doom-y entanglements and slower moments, bleak sequences of linear clean guitars where that resonant despair of Vardan simply enclosing himself in a toilet and slashing open his wrists while seated in the bathtub becomes all the more vivid. Certainly, I could cite 2-3 instances here where the unfolding of the fuzzed electric guitars after a prelude of cleans eloped me almost entirely with sheer pang and melodious regret, like on ''Cold Night of My Soul'', and indeed those are the best moments in the album.

But let's not entirely be deluded. This obviously isn't the next best Leviathan record, and maintains a startling simplicity. There are moments where ''Winter Woods'' doesn't feel like a far cry from the Hungarian mavens Forest Silence with their lurching, despondent atmospheres, though Vardan at once feel grittier and less bombastic. For one, I wouldn't have minded some ambient effect, because for the most part Vardan's 'eerie' clean guitar sequences drone with too discolored a sound. And this surely isn't the easiest pill to swallow if you're ears aren't trained for the gritty and the ghastly. I also have little appreciation for the drums, which are hardly professional. Granted drums aren't too significant in black metal, but Vardan never lowers their volume too much, and the constant open hi-hat abuse occasionally pangs the consistency of the recurring tremolos and dense ambiance. That said, I can say I've enjoyed Vardan's vocals enough to make 2-3 spins worthwhile, as he howls like a haunted cacodaemon in the shivering cold of the night, echoing with dismay. For sure, Vardan could ramp up his proficiency in the riff department: considering all his other albums follow a similar path to ''Winter Woods'' he must be running short on riff-supplies, and the ones existing here aren't the most inventive ones either, especially with artists like Jute Gyte who can put the grit and creativity of most other black metal musicians to shame. Rawness is key here. Blunt winter tapestry for minimal absorption, with guaranteed lacerated wrists if overdosed. Not the best black metal I've heard recently, but sufficiently engulfing if your tastes lie in Burzum, Darkthrone, Forgotten Tomb, Ulver, or the like.

Cold Night of My Soul
Uroborous Black Circle

Rating: 65%

Monday, June 1, 2015

Impalers - God From the Machine [2015]

Danish thrash? In retrospect, I'm glad with the Danes Impalers putting out another record, not solely because it fills in the shortage of thrash metal premises, which, to my knowledge, have not been fulfilled by any band since the 80's except Artillery, but also because the band 2013 full-length ''Power Behind the Throne'' was already a forgotten disc in that endless mound of promos and albums which I acquire annually, without concessions. Nevertheless I'd say among the heap of neo-thrash acolytes who preach the wisdom and savagery of Kreator, Sodom or Destruction, Impalers stands out as by far one of the more potent, capable of serving instances of undiluted 80's chainsaw thrash action without adhering to some of the more stylistic conventions of the genre such as those whose trail was blazed by Watchtower, Toxik, Coroner and Artillery in the 80's and early 90's. Not that it's a problem... I'd feign to see some proper Coroner worship any time, especially since retro-thrash is in such a dire state nowadays, but granted Impalers isn't crossing that strait, we still have ourselves an enjoyable piece of 80's worship.

The sound of ''God From the Machine'' has an immediate Teutonic appeal, as if the ferocity of those early Kreator records  were somehow infused with brisker production values and slightly more growled vocals instead of Millie's signature verbal barks. That is to say, the album still bears a strong resemblance to Destruction's later work, following the explosive ''The Antichrist'', but Impalers is still more melodic than that, incorporating harmonies and modern metal melodies which fluidly bridge the ravaging chugs and rhythmic chops which demonstrate the group's finesse with their cutlery. Nearly every song here is a butcher's feast, with loads of delicious chops, palm muted tremolos and immense projections of chords like the verse riff on ''Prepare for War''. Impalers isn't exactly an Angelus Apatrida or a Suicidal Angels, which both possess too much inherent melodic death/thrash tendencies to be called 'pure' thrash outfits, because the sense of melody on this album is scarce, existing mostly in the spurious, bluesy leads. Mechanically clad, ''God From the Machine'' evokes then image of some unwarranted robot intruding into some city with huge, ballistic laser guns and rockets protruding from its soldiers... a feeling more apocalyptic than your regular thrash outing, perhaps as a result of the vocalist's haughty growls and dynamic drum work: either way ''God From the Machine'' somehow aspires to become something marginally different from its ancestors like Kreator and Sodom, who with records like ''Pleasure to Kill'' or ''Obsessed With Cruelty'' salvaged an antiquated sense of evil rather than the robotic mosh-fest present here.

That said, Impalers still owes a lot to the Bay Area scene. I can relate them instantly with the Germanic scene due the evident hostility of the guitars (the vocals help too) but I'm sure that the Danes owe something to Metallica, Vio-lence, Forbidden, Slayer and Overkill something as well. But I can also see that the band is somewhat on the edge of experimentation here: ''Beyond Trinity'' is a ballad that opens up with clean vocals and deliquescent guitar arpeggios, building gradually to a brisker array of riffs, something akin to a ''Welcome Home''. Any any rate, the Danes are more modern and polished than a thrash band out the 80's, and the riffs here aren't exactly recycled, with enough fury, memorability and in-your-face gang vocals to establish a firm kick in your balls. I would have definitely enjoyed if they hadn't paraphrased so many of their riffs, especially with songs like ''The Vulturine'' or ''The Walls of Eryx'' which not only surpass the boundaries of regular thrash-time, but exercise excessive quantities of futuristic mosh that doesn't feel on par with the crunchy ear candy I received on some of the better tracks. Still, refined, tight, professional, and definitely ahead of a good number of their peers, Impalers delivers the thrash animus nicely with ''God From the Machine'', and you can bet kids in tight jeans and Slayer shirts will be recounting this as one of the best thrash to have come out in 2015.

God From the Machine
Prepare for War

Destroy the Meek

Rating: 72,5%