Friday, January 13, 2017

Sepultura - Machine Messiah (2017)

I can't sit here and tell you that Machine Messiah has rid itself of all the vapid, bouncing, predictable hardcore grooves that the band more or less mastered and subsequently exhausted with the albums Chaos A.D. and Roots back in the mid 90s. I also can't promise you that I've suddenly become a fan of Derrick Green's vocals; granted, the guy's been with the Brazilians now for almost 20 years, and his style has never deviated too far from the original, roughshod and grunting and barking aesthetics of his predecessor. No, despite the fact he has always been technically sound on the many releases he has fronted, his harsher vocals have always felt played out to me, lacking individual distinction against the hundreds or thousands of other groove metal or nu-metal growlers you'd have found at the corner bars during the Ozzfest era and forward. His sound has not changed much here, and it simply lacks the viciousness or raw, murderous quality that I associate with and love from early Sepultura.

But here's what I CAN tell you...

This is the most engaged I've been with a Sepultura record since 1993. That's not to say that albums like Dante XXI, Kairos and The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart lacked any semblance of highlights. Sure, I could string together a solid album's worth of content between 1994 and 2013. Maybe even a double disc set. But Machine Messiah manages to strike an eclectic range between the band's tribal instincts, their LCD grooves and then a slightly tighter and more technical Sepultura which offers a lot more candy for the ears. A lot of this comes directly through Andreas Kisser's writing and performance...when he leaves behind the stolid attempts to ape the success they had with such simple mosh components in the 90s post-Arise, he explores some more compelling and busy picking sequences that really tipped the balance for my desire to listen repeatedly. It makes me wish this were the norm for this band in the 21st century, that they had expressed a desire to become increasingly more progressive like a lot of their international peers had already achieved by the late 80s. I realize that would seem anathema to a core of their audience that just wants to reel around violently and crush each other, but it's a damn shame...

It even carries forward to the leads, which are very well executed, never extended beyond their welcome and almost unanimously catchy whether they just be frenetic and spontaneous, atonal, Eastern inspired and exotic, or all of the above. Having these licks riding atop even the most banal of rhythm guitar breakdowns instantly adds some levity and depth which I feel a lot of albums they've put out have largely lacked. Eloy Casagrande also turns in a spotless performance here, effortlessly putting up a level of energy that would be fit for most modern thrash or death metal records, but constantly applying that primal, ethnic, 'jungle' spread of fills and rumbling grooves that will remind many of the more (and only) interesting moments of Roots; only here, I like the riffs better, and that goes a long way. Bass-lines are perfectly mixed, just fat enough to register against the clean but punchy rhythm guitar tone and often a little busier than you've come to expect from that area. In truth the album sounds really great overall...polished but not lacking some force where required, and also leaving some room for the more elegant lead tone, cleaner guitars and so forth.

So with so much going for it, the few flaws here are quite easy to forgive. The vocals are acceptable, even when he's doing his lower range Layne Stayley-meets-Nick Cave crooning like in the titular intro or "Cyber God". Would I like it better with Max? I'm sure a lot of folks would, but that's not to discredit a reasonable effort from Green. The grooves in tunes like "Iceberg Dances" are straight from the Chaos A.D. playbook, or reminiscent of other bands from Machine Head to 90s Ministry, and even if a lot of them weren't so interesting, they do at least tap into that same, sweltering testosterone center in the brain that makes you want to riot a little. The lyrics are honestly pretty bland, the usual self-help sociopolitical stuff which is supposed to make you feel good but just doesn't possess enough grasp of imagination, metaphor or catchy phrasing to make that difference. Also it has a song called "Cyber God" and I really wish we were through with everyone having a song dubbed "Cyber" something. That feels 1998 at best.

But it's the strong variation in pacing between thrashers and slower bruisers, and the willingness to toss out a few new ideas like the colorful orchestration synthesized into "Phantom Self" that kept me paying attention through the entirety of the disc, and that give me some further hope that all sparks of inspiration and creativity have not fled the band across the decades, and maybe they're on the verge of producing something great again. That said, I'll gladly take stuff like this in the meantime.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (facing the blind of collective delusion)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Shaarimoth - Temple of the Adversial Fire (2017)

Norway remains slightly underrepresented in the death metal scene, but there have certainly been a number of excellent contributions through the years, from the Darkthrone debut Soulside Journey, through the turbulent stylings of Molested's Blod-draum,  towards the constant shifting and compelling morbid landscapes that make up Obliteration. As with a number of their peers, the members of Shaarimoth hail from the better known of their nation's metal exports genres, comprised of former or current members of Disiplin and Gehenna, and thus their background of experimentation and extremity is crucial to rounding out what is, for the most part, a pretty unique angle of approach to how they tackle the deathening.

Temple of the Adversial Fire is structured more like a narrative sequence of dramatic, roiling peaks and valleys than a more consistent or mathematical, riff-based death metal formula. While there are clearly some trace elements of bands like Morbid Angel, especially in the guttural vocals and the oft alien vectors of composition, it seems as if the trio of F, R, and J seem focused more purely on the ritual experience of the record on the whole than on drafting individual riffs to have an audience throwing horns at the ceiling. Clamorous, noisy bursts of double bass drums and eerier, upper range open string pickings are contrasted with layers of chanted and growled vocals, while there is no shortage of the use of ambient effects from bells and other percussion to more horror-like synths and voices. They play a lot with structure on the whole, to the degree that I never felt I could predict what was going to happen at any given moment, and this unbridled level of creativity cultivates from both their black metal backgrounds and the death metal tropes that inspired them.

The record is saturated with strange anthems like "Lord of Putrefaction" which bounces between both death and thrashing sequences, where some of their most memorable and foreign sounding riffs are scrawled upon a Cyclopean, atmospheric canvas, and "Fires of Molok" which is a really interesting piece with great, fat bass lines and fills, and a shuddering, lurching mid-paced tempo that is threaded through with faster guitar sequences that constantly keep the ear engaged. Dissonant explosions of aggression run aground against consonant, glorious melodies for a really interesting balance that maintains a refreshing flavor throughout the entire track list. That's not to say they can't lay on the more purely Morbid Angel or Behemoth-like maneuvers ("Beast of Lawlessness") and inject them with fits of proficient wizardry for the shred-crowd, but no single side of this album overwhelms the other, and that's clearly a veteran touch.

It's all captured in a mix that is both shadowy and punishing, but never excessively polished to the point that it exits its earthen, organic core (which even the cover hints at). The drums are good and loud, perhaps a little more on my speakers than the guitars which are often lighter, but once they tear out into a heavier sequence all the low and high end balance out to put puncture holes in your spirit and I just loved following the various echoed vocal lines as they ricochet off the cavernous upper ranges of the record. In short, this is a pretty excellent sophomore album from a band which does trace some identity to its legendary forebears, but also broadens its own horizons by taking some similar risks to what those influences were often known for. I've been through it about six times already, and I'm still picking up new details, so it's an easy recommend for people into the more atmospheric but energetic old-school fueled sounds that other bands like Heaving Earth and Nader Sadek have tapped into, or perhaps even Behemoth on The Satanist. Awesome stuff.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]

Monday, January 9, 2017

Bestial Raids - Master Satan's Witchery (2016)

Both the band's name and the album title are pretty apt to tell you what this going to sound like: raw and warlike blackened death metal which is the perfect fit for the Nuclear War Now! imprint upon which it's been released. Master Satan's Witchery sounds like someone took a number of primal extreme metal merchants like Hellhammer, Sarcofago, (old) Sodom and Blasphemy, melted down their essences, stirred them into a cauldron until they had been reduced to an essential, evil oil or ichor, and then corpse painted themselves with the resulting Satan-stuff before taking up rusted axes, spiked gauntlets and armbands, and squeezing themselves into leather and combat boots, with the open exposure of chest hair optional. Now, that sounds pretty goddamn awesome, I will admit...

And on SOME level, Bestial Raids is pretty awesome. They are raw as the fucks they do not give, and this attitude saturates their pounding, grinding, wrenching compositions as if they were rags soaked with blood and vomit. Liberal with the feedback, slathering the rhythm guitars in a tone that will literally churn your stomach, and powered by a percussion section that sounds like a bunch of hard objects being shoved through a lot of mouths full of teeth. They almost sound like a more uppity version of a band like Teitanblood, though a little more punkish in nature and not so absolute in the level of caustic emptiness that their music manifests. But yes, somewhere between those Spaniards' sense of nihilistic tone and the normal goat- or war-metal fixtures you'll find on the rest of the Nuclear War Now! roster or Hell's Headbangers, Masters Satan's Witchery delivers a firebrand of ugliness and punishment which is undoubtedly going to find some audience which deliberately seeks out that sense of infernal truth, blasting and broiling clamor and chaos.

Now, occasionally I would count myself among that audience, but not so much here, because for all its vile aesthetic primacy, this record just falls short for me when it comes to creating memorable riffs of any sort. They feel like half-formed things writhing in the murk of the distortion, and while that is indeed the modus operandi behind records like this, it just didn't last beyond the mandatory spins I take through a review title. The snarls and barked out vocals are fitting, the energy on all out assaults like "Angel of the Abyss" is one that I can appreciate, and Bestial Raids do live up to the task of creating a propulsive paean to the first wave abominations that influenced them, but I just feel at this point like I've heard too many of these sorts of records, that I can't normally be inspired by the raunchy atmosphere and instinctual savagery alone, that they require something a little extra, and Master Satan's Witchery didn't quite have it. But, there are certainly folks out there who are going to get a lot more from this than I did, so if you're into bands like Black Witchery, Proclamation or the unholy Canadian trio of Blasphemy, Conqueror and Revenge, have at it.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Friday, January 6, 2017

Substratum - Substratum (2016)

Another album emblematic that heavy metal can feel both 'retro' and like it's covering a patch of new ground simultaneously, the eponymous Substratum debut came a little late in the year for me to court it as much as other 2016 greats by Sumerlands, Spell, and Eternal Champion. But not TOO late, of course, never too late because this Washington state act's music has a timeless quality to it which functions without friction alongside those 80s bands and sounds from which it is partly indebted, which alone should stoke the nostalgia of those who were around at that time listening deep to the rosters of labels like Metal Blade, Roadracer/Roadrunner and New Renaissance, back when 'pure' heavy, speed and proto power metal composed a large percentage of their rosters.

Substratum might not come across as science fiction as its cover artwork implies, but the band has a number of weapons at its disposal which bear mentioning. First, there's a real strength to the rhythm guitar riffing which isn't founded on aggression or technicality, but on nuance and detail and just enough of an adventurous bent that each tune feels like it's bringing something newer than the last. From the raw chugging mid-paced neckbrace riffs to the more melodic maneuvers, each feels fairly fleshed out, while leaving space for some busy and interesting, nimble Harris-like bass lines that don't simply clone the rhythm guitars 100%. Leads erupt with precision, but again we're not dealing with a band that tries to be too cocky or flashy, so they never bite off more than they can chew, and the solos are memorable enough on their own to stand up against the excellent, choppy riffing dispersed over the nine tracks. Add to this a solid, bright, crashing drum mix and the rather organic, not overly processed tone used for the guitars and you've got an album that feels like it could be played right in front of you in a studio session or on a stage.

But for many listeners, it's vocalist Amy Lee Carlson who will steal the show, possessed of a rich and bewitching timbre that is both varied and just edgy enough to sound like she means it. It's hard to pin it down exactly, because I can hear elements of everyone from James Rivera and Eric A.K. to Ann Boleyn and Debbie Gunn, and she's not afraid to mix up the bite or sustain with which she delivers each verse or chorus. I won't say they're all equally perfect lines, but that's another thing...she's just getting started here, like the quintet as a whole. There still seems plenty of room to grow, but this debut is already a formidable springboard from which to launch future ideas. A great balance of tempo and technique, Substratum is a debut disc which feels 'lived in', like a lot of care was placed into creating something genuine and not just a soulless doppelganger for the sounds that inspired it. That's not to say it's strikingly original or immortally catchy, but it's more than just checking off its necessary boxes, and more than enough to subscribe me to whatever they'll pursue next.

Verdict; Win [8/10]

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Haxxan - Loch Ness Rising (2016)

Killjoy's raucous, overbearing, expressive snarl almost gives him an unfair advantage when it comes to fronting extreme metal, and I'd have to say that pays off rather well on Haxxan's debut Loch Ness Rising, an effort which has come out of seemingly nowhere to debut on the suitably sinister Hells Headbangers imprint. He is not the only member of Necrophagia to feature on this project, however, because it is basically that entire band in its current incarnation trying out a marginally different style than on their mainstay. And I have to say, those differences are what gives this one a rather intriguing polish, to the point that I found this record superior to a lot of what its better known counterpart has been producing for the last decade and change.

It definitely cultivates some comparisons to Necrophagia, not only in the vocals themselves but also the use of slower, thrashier riff sections which hearken back to a classic Hellhammer/Celtic Frost aesthetic, but also remind me of that band's other Midwest US protegees like Usurper. Samples are incorporated sparingly when they can create a morbid or martial atmosphere over the simpler riffs, and they'll also sprinkle on organ-like synths or other effects that bind together well under Killjoy's verbal splattering, and create a little bit of a cult/Hammer horror vibe encased in an occult black metal flesh. Often you'll pull away this black & roll feel, as if they were channeling Satyricon off their last 3-4 albums, which is no big surprise since there are the obvious off-project ties to that band. But where I was actually taken aback were a few of the harmonies and melodies they'll lace through the more commonplace rhythms, giving it a nice, majestic icing to its evil heart...several times across the track list, for example in "Arcanum Arcanorum".

Some of the rhythms themselves will rock your face off, like those of "Babalon" or "Disciples of the Silent", just simple and oblique and Satanic-as-fuck grooves which instantly brought be back about 30 years to when that was a profound practice against the backdrop of metal bands getting increasingly more tech and extreme. Haxxan know with surety what they are setting out to do here, and every one of those bold riffs is balanced out with some higher pitched, evil notes and Killjoy's unmistakable multi-beast growls. The more experimental stuff like the Eastern-flavored instrumental "Aiwass" offers a decent break in the action, and seems to be paying further homage to the record's theme (Aleister Crowley), but ultimately it's just those Inferno-rocking patterns of chords and snarls that really won me over with this. A strong, steady, evil debut for those moments when you don't feel like you need much speed, just a surefire vehicle towards damnation.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Monday, January 2, 2017

Mordskog - XIII (2017)

Mordskog sets up its debut full-length XIII quite well, with a haunting, writhing acoustic piece that instantly manifests a dark, unhinged mood through both its vocal narration and accompanying whispers you can hear right at the edge of perception, while a deeper drum beats up a clamor in the background. This isn't the only ritualistic piece on the entire album, and similar aesthetics pervade even some of the more straightforward tracks, but as so often happens with bookend intros and outros, it created an aura of mysticism and the occult which can't quite be captured in the pure black metal that dominates the rest of the disc. To that extent, I suppose I could only have emerged a little disappointed with the rest of the material...

But not because the Mexican trio is incompetent by any means at summoning up vile tremolo picked patterns that straddle the border between black and death metal, or the steady lava floes of hellish chords that seem drawn directly from the roots of the genre, when simpler patterns slathered in rasping vocals were what reigned, and not attempts at orchestration or complexity. At its heart, XIII is a paean to when the style felt  at underground, with a few slivers of novelty in how they'll carve out the cleaner or chant-like vocal lines and aforementioned atmospherics against the grating rhythm guitars. There is a bit of variation in the picking style, for instance in "Aequo Pulsat Pede" a couple of their winding melodic patterns were redolent of old Rotting Christ, and other parts reminiscent of the mood and primacy of vintage Samael. But if were straight down to the riffs, they don't really have a ton to offer that feel fresh or memorable, so you really have to focus in on those little bass grooves, or the wealth of different vocals, or just the overall evil shadow they collectively cast, to find yourself truly absorbed.

Mordskog are no rank amateurs, and several of them have played live or in studio with other bands from Hacavitz to Endstille to Vital Remains, and so there's definitely a level of confidence and maturity in how they put these tracks together which serves to overcome the predictability I felt for some of the playing. The production is clear but moody, with some real solid drumming and a good balance between all the instruments, which in turn doesn't manage to obfuscate the varied vocal tricks and chants they employ throughout the album. They also fill out their songs with just enough of a shift in tempo and riff construction so that they never fall into the trap of dull repetition; and just as they begun the effort with an intriguing opener, they end with a clanging industrial/noise piece which also kind of takes you by surprise. Definitely not a bad listen here, but I'd like to hear them go a little further outside the norm with the riffs themselves.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Saturday, December 31, 2016

16s for '16.

My Top 16x2 Metal Albums of 2016

01. Deströyer 666 (Au) Wildfire
02. Voivod (Ca) Post-Society
03. Virus (No) Memento Collider
04. Ihsahn (No) Arktis.
05. Hail Spirit Noir (Gr) Mayhem in Blue
06. Mouth of the Architect (US) Path of Eight
07. Whipstriker (Br) Only Filth Will Prevail
08. High Spirits (US) Motivator
09. Opeth (Se) Sorceress
10. Lesbian (US) Hallucinogenesis
11. Howls of Ebb (US) Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows
12. Deathspell Omega (Fr) The Synarchy of Molten Bones
13. Hammers of Misfortune (US) Dead Revolution
14. Oranssi Pazuzu (Fi) Varahtelija
15. Sumerlands (US) Sumerlands
16. Paradox (De) Pangea
17. Vanhelgd (Se) Temple of Phobos
18. Morgue Supplier (US) Morgue Supplier
19. Borknagar (No) Winter Thrice
20. Khemmis (US) Hunted
21. Chthe'ilist (Ca) Le dernier crepuscule
22. Cadaveric Fumes (Fr) Dimensions Obscure
23. Spell (Ca) For None and All
24. Gravebreaker (Se) Sacrifice
25. Blood Incantation (US) Starspawn
26. Reptilian (No) Perennial Void Traverse
27. Zaum (Ca) Eidolon
28. Eternal Champion (US) The Armor of Ire
29. Witherscape (Se) The Northern Sanctuary
30. Stilla (Se) Skuggflock
31. The Levitation Hex (Au) Cohesion
32. Miasmal (Se) Tides of Omniscience

As usual, there's a much longer list over at RYM with brief descriptions of each, but not in any sort of hierarchical order. Sample size was 758 albums and EPs that I listened through in 2016, and for the first time, I'm actually combining both formats into one single list (the Voivod really was that good).

My Top 16 Non-Metal Albums of 2016

01. White Lung (Ca) Paradise
02. Perturbator (Fr) The Uncanny Valley
03. A Tribe Called Quest (US) We Got it From Here...
04. Weezer (US) The White Album
05. Wardruna (No) Runaljod - Ragnarok
06. Youth Code (US) Commitment to Complications
07. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizzard (Au) Nonagon Infinity
08. Radiohead (UK) A Moon Shaped Pool
09. The Neon Demon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
10. David Bowie (UK) Blackstar
11. Street Sects (US) End Position
12. Strvngers (Ca) Sonic Erotica
13. Phantogram (US) THREE
14. Kanga (US) Kanga
15. Bat for Lashes (UK) The Bride
16. Death Grips (US) Bottomless Pit

My Top 16 New Movies of 2016

01. Kubo and the Two Strings
02. Midnight Special
03. The Handmaiden
04. The Revenant
05. Your Name
06. Zootopia
07. Captain Fantastic
08. Captain America: Civil War
09. Approaching the Unknown
10. The Lobster
11. Batman: The Killing Joke
12. 10 Cloverfield Lane
13. The Nice Guys
14. Hacksaw Ridge
15. Deadpool
16. Doctor Strange

My Top 16 New Games on a Screen in 2016

01. The Witness (PC, PS4, Xone, iOS)
02. Civilization VI (PC)
03. Dishonored 2 (PC, PS4, Xone)
04. Stardew Valley (PC, PS4, Xone)
05. Salt & Sanctuary (PC, PS4, Vita)
06. Total War: Warhammer (PC)
07. Hyper Light Drifter (PC, PS4, Xone, Ouya)
08. The Banner Saga 2 (PC, PS4, Xone, iOS, Android)
09. Firewatch (PC, PS4, Xone)
10. Ratchet & Clank (PS4)
11. Darkest Dungeon (PC, PS4, Vita)
12. Enter the Gungeon (PC, PS4)
13. Dark Souls III (PC, PS4, Xone)
14. World of Warcraft: Legion (PC)
15. Final Fantasy XV (PS4, Xone)
16. Starbound (PC, PS4, Vita, Xone)

My Top 16 New Games on a Tabletop in 2016

01. 7th Sea 2nd Edition (RPG)
02. Inis (board game)
03. Clank (board game)
04. Oceanos (board game)
05. Quadropolis (board game)
06. Aeon's End (board game)
07. Arkham Horror (card game)
08. Manhattan Project: Energy Empire (board game)
09. Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition (board game)
10. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu (board game)
11. Oracle of Delphi (board game)
12. Imhotep (board game)
13. Star Trek Panic (board game)
14. Gods of the Fall (RPG)
15. Jorvik (board game)
16. Odin's Ravens 2nd Edition (card game)

My Top 16 New Novels for 2016

01. China Mieville The Last Days of New Paris
02. Guy Gavriel Kay Children of Earth and Sky
03. Steven Erikson Fall of Light (Khakanas #2)
04. John Langan The Fisherman
05. Dan Vyleta Smoke
06. R. Scott Bakker The Great Ordeal (Aspect-Emperor #3)
07. Aaron Dembski-Bowden The Master of Mankind (Horus Heresy #41)
08. Alan Moore Jerusalem
09. Yoon Ha Lee The Ninefox Gambit
10. Brian Staveley The Last Mortal Bond (Unhewn Bond #3)
11. Bradley P. Beaulieu Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (Shattered Sands #1)
12. John C. Wright The Vindication of Man (Countdown #4)
13. Adrian Tchaikovsky Spiderlight
14. Drew Magary The Hike
15. Mark Lawrence The Wheel of Osheim (Red Queen's War #3)
16. Lily Brooks-Dalton Good Morning, Midnight

My Top 16 New Comics for 2016
01. Weird Detective (Dark Horse)
02. Future Quest (DC)
03. Black Hammer (Dark Horse)
04. Black Road (Image)
05. Batman TMNT (DC/IDW)
06. Rough Riders (Aftershock)
07. Batman: Europa (DC)
08. Over the Garden Wall (kaboom!)
09. Lake of Fire (Image)
10. Midnighter and Apollo (DC)
11. Moon Knight (Marvel)
12. The Black Monday Murders (Image)
13. Doom Patrol (DC/Young Animal)
14. 4001 A.D. (Valiant)
15. The Dark Knight III: The Master Race (DC)
16 Star Wars: Doctor Aphra (Marvel)

This is a new category I'm trying out, for titles with 2 or more new issues this year.

Was also going to do a new TV shows list, but it'd be pretty short...

Stranger Things
Son of Zorn
Justice League Action

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Putrified - The Flesh. The Scythe. The Tomb. EP (2016)

It's always welcome to hear a Swedish death metal band that does not necessarily conform to the prevalent trends of that country, which is of course the endless recycling of ideas set forth by the luminaries Entombed and Dismember to the point that they've become tiresome when not written and performed exquisitely. Now, to be fair, that DOES still happen from time to time, but I've long been more interested in the groups like Repugnant, Necrovation, Corrosive Carcass or Bastard Priest who marry some of those predictable aesthetics to something other than the pure tone-driven schematics so many of the 4th and 5th generation impersonators live and die on. Putrified, a younger band with a couple demos and EPs under their belt, does at least fall into this camp, even if the material on The Flesh. The Scythe. The Tomb. isn't exactly super catchy or mind blowing.

They do rely on some familiar tropes like a couple thrusting D-beat rhythms, but even there they do so more from the hardcore/punk side than the death metal of their peers. Vocally I am reminded of the legendary Martin van Drunen, with a caustic and grotesque growl that feels like the singer's entrails are being unraveled while he is recording, albeit not quite so bloody or memorable. Guitars are dirty but they don't employ the same precise HM-2 tone you've become too overly accustomed to. That said, they're not beyond mixing things up, as they do with their B-side acoustic segues dubbed the "Maleficium" duo. The drums are tinny and intense, and the band also employs a little more of a forceful melodic bent that, when combined with the raving vocals and raw speed, verges on a more intense black or war metal aesthetic which also adds some much needed variation. It's all cast in the gloom of that ages old sort of primal production value which will inevitable render it timeless, not because all the songs are amazing but just because it feels so pure.

Second half of the EP, minus those mentioned instrumentals, is devoted to a pair of covers, and while I can give or take the abusive version of the Misfits' "Devil's Whorehouse", which has been ramped up in intensity, the rendition of Celtic Frost's "Morbid Tales" is a real treat, supplanting some of the more leaden groove dimensions of the original with pure black/death metal bursts that make the breakdown just as sick as ever, and the echoed vocals and edge-of-perception organ ambiance do a lot to help transform this into something which feels more in line with the Putrified originals. Not to put down their own tunes earlier on the recording, but this was actually my favorite part of the recording. That said, while this collection of tracks overall didn't completely sate me, I definitely did enjoy the style and the production they used here, so when time comes for a full-length I'm likely to check it out and hope that it persists with this sort of blasphemous, energetic, but cavernous atmosphere.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Master of Cruelty - Archaic Visions of the Underworld (2016)

If any continent could be said to be the 'hotbed' for blackened thrash and death metal, South America would certainly be at the top of the qualifiers; not because I count many such acts from the area to be positively top flight, but because they have such a long and storied history with this mishmash of genres dating back to bands like Sarcofago or the earlier Sepultura recordings. It's a chain that has never really been broken, with all manner of filth-mongering over the 90s and beyond, and today there is arguably the greatest level of saturation for this hybridization we have ever seen, bands almost locked in competition for who can provide the most excessive and dirty DNA-tampering of both their local forebears and the 'first wave' champions from Europe like Venom, Bathory, Sodom, Kreator, Hellhammer, Destruction and Mayhem; liberal doses of Slayer perfunctory.

Master of Cruelty is a fairly well comported virus among this outbreak, because it could be heavily characterized more for its songwriting than extremity, and that's precisely the reason I enjoy this sophomore album. Don't get me wrong, they do 'ugly' very well, both in the layer of grime caked onto the rhythm guitars and the truly abominable growls and rasps being by A.G.V. which are soaked in just the right amount of effects to create an otherworldly, hellish presence that contrasts well with the more straightforward tone of the riffing. In terms of structure, they pen hideous lo-fi death metal rhythms which are then interspersed with thrashing breaks and even a few slower, morbid doom chord progressions. The thrash parts in particular remind you of the seedy and disgusting underbelly of wicked Satanic thrash of the 80s, especially the South American style, but then you've got those evil tremolo picked components and some dissonant, brighter black metal chords as a relish. Drums are raw, bass is pumped loud enough that it matters much more than comparable bands where it gets lost beyond its distortion.

Where it all works best, as in "The Execution", you're getting this devilish and delicious mesh of early Floridian death, South American/Teutonic thrash and proto-black/war metal which is both frenzied and chilling, and they pace it all out over an estimable array of tempo shifts that prevent any sort of repetitious boredom from setting in. There's a cool, haunting intro with clean guitars and creepy chants, and beyond that the riffs are distributed pretty evenly between the different sub-genres which have inspired them. At times the transitions can be fairly clashing and sloppy, but at others that does actually work in the band's favor. I'm not going to promise that many of the riff patterns are themselves memorable, but when plugged into the primacy of the whole they work well enough that you feel like you've just uncovered some gem in a dingy basement record store back in like 1993, oblique and vicious and forever, ever underground.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sodom - Decision Day (2016)

Every year, it seems like some old band I've been listening to for decades gets a chance to shine again, and a case could really be made in 2016 that it was Sodom's turn at bat. I can't act like I'm too surprised, since I'd already been teased a few of these tracks for some time now, but this must easily be my favorite of their albums since 1990. That's not to say I've despised all their intervening material; records like Tapping the Vein, Code Red and the 2006 self-titled effort all have their share of moments. But the last couple studio full-lengths leading up to this one, while polished and well rounded, were both a little underwhelming on impact. Decision Day strives for a similar appeal, in which the band draws upon various epochs of their career to blend together a mighty thrashing epic, but it does so through a nastier discourse that at many points feels genuinely fiery and malicious, not to mention memorable and destructive.

Nothing new, just really well-done Sodom. Having already extolled the virtues of the tunes "Sacred Warpath" and "In Retribution" from reviews of their respective EPs, I'm satisfied that all the other material here feels flush and fluid with them. Decision Day inhabits a realm of variation that doesn't neglect the black, raspy vocals of Angelripper's youth, the heavily structured thrashing rhythms of their classics Agent Orange and Persecution Mania, or even the more arguably accessible and/or melodic anthems they've been churning forth on 21st century recordings. No idea is really off the table if it plugs into a track, so the bombastic, roiling rhythm guitars of "Rolling Thunder" can be measured against the acoustics and Tom's whispers, or the lethal speed which is fundamental to so much of the material here can be laced with slightly more tech/thrash riffs or mid-paced neck breakers while spurious leads spit out across the vitriol of a "Caligula". That same track shows the band's willingness to impose manly backing chants to contrast with Tom's acidic inflection, and they also use a lot of morose sounding moody note progressions that aren't unlike their German kin in Kreator.

The drums and bass on this thing thunder all the way, the former given one of the fattest and most distorted powerhouse tones in all their discography, yet it's extremely well balanced against the far more elaborate and intricate guitar patterns. The latter is almost overbearing at points, but will give Sodom the satisfying extremity that can not only flex off against other thrash pundits of today but also the harder hitting genres which were partly birthed from their very own sound. The album also runs pretty deep. It occasionally suffers from some predictable riffing patterns, but then will almost always come back at you with something catchier that you don't expect, and the excitement doesn't really let up, with scorchers like "Vaginal Born Evil" and "Blood Lions" keeping your attention well in check. It might not achieve the perfection of The Antichrist in terms of how every song just sticks with you, but the chops here are substantial, each track pretty much packed. Vicious, predatory and cautionary lyrics top it all off, and it's really one of the best records released by a veteran metal act this year and regenerates a little of the faith and excitement that has so long languished between me and this once and again mighty band. Better than the last records from their 'Big Four of Teutonic Thrash' neighbors, and overall a lot of punishing fun without lacking in musicality.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (I earned the seed of retaliation)