Friday, February 16, 2018
As for Atomwinter's actual music, they've been around for some years now, helping add Germany to the roster of national scenes that support throwback death metal, and while I've never been terribly impressed by their output, it's archetypal and competent. The same can be said here, for an album that offers no surprises whatsoever, but has quality production, a true old school veneer and still packs enough of a punch that genre diehards looking for their fix probably won't regret checking this one out, even moreso than either 2012's Atomic Death Metal or 2015's Iron Flesh. The clear reference point for me is mid or moderate paced death via the UK or Netherlands scenes, more specifically a mix of Asphyx and Bolt Thrower, with a doomier finale in "Funeral of Flesh" that reminded me a bunch of vintage Autopsy, only more polished. So in general you're dealing with churning guitars, recorded in a tone redolent of the classic Swedish camp, but not quite so overdriven as some. A lot of the riffs border on grind in the same way their influences do, but on the other end they'll splay out some super simplified, sparser chord segments which remind me of the slower Obituary material back in that band's earlier era.
Olle Holzschneider's vocals don't often belt out interesting or nuanced lines, but he does a fair job of keeping them grisly and charismatic, just not to the level of a Martin van Drunen. But they do work really well with this extremely straightforward brand of death. A loud, firm growl over music that is basically built to be cranked. The drumming is tight, the energy hellish, and there were a few points through the album where some genuinely dark, evil riff erupted. They don't work with a tone of leads or melodies, but where they do spit out the former, you'll get something frilly and vibrant that works well above the pummeling undercurrents. The cello intro was also a pretty cool touch, though I would have been thrilled if they actually incorporated this through the meatier tracks, would have made this album instantly something different. And that's kind of where this album falters, as it's just so obvious and familiar throughout the entire run that it gets lost in the memory with so many other midlisters. Just a few less overt choices in chords, a little more dissonance, some stranger chord structures, all would contribute to making a better album than this; but as it stands, Catacombs is not something to scoff at, and if you had a vinyl of this lying around, I'm sure it would draw attention from your creepy (and therefore awesome) friends.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
The vocals are a massive, sustained, often howled guttural in the Craig Pillard vein, where they themselves transmogrify into mostly an atmospheric effect rather than a syllabic labyrinth. The guitars morph between old school, 80s Death-like Floridian evil fluidity, only rawer, and then higher, more melodic sheen tremolo picked breaks that I found were the most interesting. Bass guitars are turbid in the mix, but don't break away from the rhythm guitar patterns all that commonly; where as the drums are a bit of a complaint...functional and frenzied, but often just provide a clamorous backbone to the weight of the riffs, and don't really deviate or impress by themselves. Altogether, though, Blooming Carrions achieves its goal of fearful, morbid, asphyxiating, subterranean escapism. Murk and deep earth and dancing shadows and apparitions. Not so much that it can stick its neck out far from the pack of death metal bands this last decade, who all pursue similar aesthetics, but if you're a big fan of the darker, roiling acts on the Dark Descent roster, or you scour the mortal realm for obscure cassette-death, then I think this is an act to keep an eye on. Or rather an ear, to the muddy convulsions below, which might one day belch this forth like a visceral geyser from the deep underground if a bit more balance and nuance is attained.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
In the meantime, they've written a damn fine record, which I don't have a hell of a lot to compare to; busily shifting tectonic chord patterns glazed over with immediate and often desperate harmonies, with some fundamental rhythmic variations in cuts like "Anechoic Aberration" that leave me with a prog death impression not unlike the one Dan Swanö put together for his solo album Moontower, only not so busy, nor heavily reliant on the Moog organ sounds. Here the synthesizers peel off into the atmospherics created by the guitar melodies, to give an almost aurora-like counterbalance to the drudgery below, Rémi Brochard's guttural bellows creating just the right amount of sustain to emulate what must be the ultimate 'death metal vocalist floating through space...only you can hear him' sort of ambiance, straight to your ears, splattered well on the peak of the instruments without displacing or drowning them off in the vacuum. There's a constant sense of interplanetary tension that courses through the album, which is aesthetically consistent even through the mutation of the chords and the plodding, passionate fills and beats being strewn out terrestrial-like before them. But it's not always the frightening sort...you feel like you're not only seeing celestial bodies contract and collapse, but burst into existence like bright sonorous beacons that dance off across impossible distances.
It's really interesting to me how, even though they're not always paced equally or assembled in the precise same manner, how having each track at the same length creates a cerebral uniformity. I'm sure there is some scientific term for this, but I'm simply not used to it when 99.99% of all the music I absorb is broken up into longer/shorter pieces across albums, interludes and intros and outros and all that jazz. In a way, you could look at this simply as one of their first four records if it were just divided into seven, because the material itself is unquestionably fluid in stylistic decisions and instrumentation. There are only brief segways, usually in track intros like the Tangerine Dream-esque set-ups for "Fathom the Deep" and "Gravity Flood", but even these can be relied upon to rupture into splendorous misery through the growling and power chords. If you're at all enamored with the 'cosmic' in your musical purchases, or you like doom to be accessible and multi-faceted without transplanting its slow-beating, elegaic heart, then I'd say this band has long been a must for your attentions. Nebula Septem is no exception...lavish, professional, exploratory but stable. Perhaps not exceedingly memorable when broken down into its seven constituent parts, but taken as a whole it hits 'experience' level. So check that your suit is sealed, that your water and primary oxygen tanks are filled, that your battery is at full power. All life support go. And climb aboard for a glimpse of the formidable, beautiful beyond. You won't have to keep your arms and legs in the vehicle, there's plenty of room out there to shake them around.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Monday, February 5, 2018
Not a lot of material here could be described as unique or nuanced in structure, but the surprise to me is that we've still got guys who can make such familiar patterns feel so cruel and fresh again, and that's really where this album works so well. The range is between mid and slightly faster black metal, driven heavily by dire tremolo picked melody, occasionally slathered in atmosphere from the higher strings being strung above the thundering drum kit. There's not a tune on the album that does not at some point sound exceedingly evil, and that's quite a feat in an age where we've heard it all so many bloody times that it's become almost mundane. Spite songs have vile verses that manage to escalate into more heightened 'chorus' like sequences where they just ramp up the majestic, melodic progressions that seem to climax alongside the snarling. Another key here is the sheer variety of what he's meting out, with no two songs that sound quite the same...the intricate little muted melodies that slink over the hammering bass-line depths of "The Shield of Abraham" sound little like the straight, venom spitting "Vision of the Merkabah" or the slower, steadily storming "False Magic" which could have been right at home in late 80s Bathory. No boredom through repetition whatsoever.
The production helps a lot, which I would consider perfect to go along with this very specific sound that Salpsan has devised. It's not your average necro-rawness, which many bands who chase this style thrive on. Instead, this is richer; fulfilling but not heavily processed or over-polished, never detracting from the constant vibe you get that a serpent is writhing up your shoulder and whispering ideas in your ear. Bass is sufficiently corpulent to support the rhythm guitars, which very often break away from thicker wall-of-sound chords and focus instead on classic, evil lines. I'd say these tremolo picked parts also draw some of their inspiration from ancient death metal circa the late 80s, they just have that ominous confidence to them, and some of the vocals get a little more gruesome to help accommodate this. This is ultimately a well constructed effort that reminds me so often of why I got into this style of music in the first place, and while you're not going to hear an evolution for the form, such could easily be achieved with a few dissonant tweaks, a few unexpected chords woven into the more conventional choices, a fraction more atmosphere. As it stands, though, Antimoshiac is a sinister delight on its own, and Salpsan's finest studio blasphemy to date.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Thursday, February 1, 2018
The riffing remains simple, sad, and beautiful, owing to its atmospheric adornments as much as any internal nuance. I'm not saying it's entirely predictable the first time through, but the band is relying a lot more on traditional senses of harmony and rhythm chords and not so much the death metal roots. When I listened to its predecessor, and when I also hear this, I feel like I'm hearing what shape a 'melodeath' sound might have taken if the amplification technology and rock music existed back in the Victorian era. The tunes all evoke cult horror imagery, and are unquestionably inspired by both the black & white cinema of those early Hammer and Universal flicks, or the Gothic literature of writers like Poe, Shelly, Stoker and Radcliffe. I realize this creates a strange anachronism, and even more so when Johannes Andersson's nihilistic gutturals stretch out over the gloomier but warmer rhythm guitar passages, but it's just one of those melodic death sounds that feels instantly distinct when compared to the more frantic, showy Scandinavian bands that have dominated that style for well over a decade. In fact, I could draw parallels between this album and Sentenced's underrated Amok in 1995, which also had a moody, Romantic heavy metal foundation contrasted by the grueling and charismatic growls of Taneli Jarva. Or maybe even their countrymen Raise Hell on the 2nd and 3rd albums, where they'd weave in similar horror-inspired melodies; only this is far less brash and not at all thrashy.
At any rate, Down Below is extremely catchy, with a lot of focus on leads and melodies that glaze its moderate rock beats like synth lines from classic horror films. Voluminous percussion. Grand, grating growls that, while monotonous, are strangely subduing. Well-developed bridges, breaks in the rain, exhalations across the dark smokestacks or gargoyle-laden skylines. Solos that are never overly indulgent, but fit the moods of their individual tracks and overall consistency of the album just fine. Even the few moments where this record devolves into sheer ambiance are wonderful. I would say that it does often seem a little too samey in its riffing structures and pacing, perhaps even more than Children of the Night, but that's only a problem so long as I don't enjoy what I'm experiencing, and for me Down Below and their last albums are emblematic of extravagant, ghoulish productions that I really enjoy sitting down to watch, or read. What a fucking great band this is, whether they stick around in this same sphere or once again forge ahead into the unknown, I'm on board, shivering in the full moon, checking out the windows for any black wings that might fly past.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (And the long night comes with grace)
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
That's not to say that some experimentation doesn't exist...like the intro, or the instrumental interlude "Sudivisions", upon which bassist Tilen Hudrap flies all over his frets until we become dizzied by his absolute mastery of that instrument. The first moment of "Astral Projection" is a strange robotic sort of proggy narrative which wouldn't have been out of place on Spheres, without the production gaffes that many complained about on that album. For most of its playtime, however, Hadeon is a relatively straightforward affair that plays it safe for fans of the aforementioned albums, but occasionally rips out a riffing progression, melody or technique that hasn't been beaten to death already. To those who abhorred their previous, mechanical groove-laden records Doctrine and Obsideo, I think this might prove a welcome relief, for while it does often feel like its paraphrased from songs they've already written, that dark, overall jazzy vibe to the sliding chords combined with the brute vocals and leads that hearken back to the fusion elements the band was so beholden in the 90s still feels fresh and unique enough to stand out against a wide landscape of bands that never quite took the carrot.
The production is punchy and polished, akin to its direct predecessors, which pairs up well with the busy but clean bass-lines which are a joy to hear throughout. Mameli still might not have the same bloodsoaked charisma as van Drunen during the band's fantastic, formative phase, but he is more than adequate to the task, adding a nice little grueling sustain to many of the lines that provides a cool counterbalance to the much tidier tension of the riffs. Septimiu Hărşan's drums are likewise up to par, an intense but controlled performance that loads in just enough fills for propulsion to what are a generally mid-paced set of rhythms, yet he could fly off the handle at will, and the double kick is sounding as effortless as you could want it on any modern death metal recording. But most important for me, is that Hadeon grew on me across successive listens, easing me out of the whole 'well this just sounds derivative' category and into genuine enjoyment. There hasn't been a Pestilence studio album that I've actually disliked, but this is far more in the direction of where I think they 'need to be' than the last two, with more fluid and intricate musicianship that they had eschewed to attempt that more pounding, grooving, hypnotic effect. The songs aren't unanimously memorable, but I think if they use this as the groundwork to launch this particular style onto an even more insane, intense plain, then I'm looking forward to the flight.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Friday, January 26, 2018
It's a solid effort, unquestionable, and belongs in a career cluster with the three preceding it, but while this isn't technically a samey, unanimous record in terms of riff construction, a lot of the tunes seemed to bleed together for me, and it grow a little dull despite the energy on exhibit. The vocals rarely spit out anything of interest, lack a real sense of grit and anger even compared to The Forlorn Divide, and sometimes they even seem an afterthought to the riffing rather than a complement to it. The mix of the instruments is admittedly more level than on the last album, but I feel that it lacks the dynamic range, especially the bass and the depth of the palm muted parts. The bridges and leads here are still quite competent, but they seem a little less emotionally resonant, or drier than those from 2016. A couple epic moments, in tunes like "My Skin" and "Time for Silence", keep this one far above the slag heap that represented their career from Double Talk to Agitation, but it's not as formidable as Diabolic or The Forlorn Divide and grinds the band's upward momentum to a halt, without spilling them off the side of the highway overpass. Not the best of their resurgence era, but competent, and void of any truly jarring flaws. Folks into later Testament, Defiance, Warbringer, or Exodus could find enough meat to gnaw on here.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
I'm happy to report that The Forlorn Divide continues this path, with what is arguably the band's most thorough and involved record to date, a bruising nowadays thrash album which manages to even up its groove game...you'll hear some comparisons to the 'busier' bands of this ilk, maybe a Devildriver, but they are fully fused into Accu§er's longstanding thrash backbone and don't seem to be grabbing for any low-hanging fruit. I mean if you're truly averse to chugging and moderate speed breakdowns, this album is not likely to draw you in, but I think they handle it without lowering themselves to any pedestrian meathead standards, and so much of the album is fixed in that Bay Area thrash circa a Testament or Defiance, which was almost always the case here; Accu§er never had that much in common with the Teutonic 'Big Three' in terms of how they structured their music, beyond just the thrash tag itself. A more bricklaying, blue collar, brute style was applied and then splashed with the frenzied leads and other flair that represented the traditional, non-punk dimension of thrash...
I mention that, because this is an area in which I feel The Forlorn Divide excels. The leads and bridge rhythms in tracks like "Lust for Vengeance" are catchy, interesting, and satisfying, the product of great care when composing. This does create a little imbalance with the verse riffing, which is a little more of that simplicity, heard-before, groove thrash style, although to their credit it's more complex than what you'd expect of a band that makes it their entire medium. They do have some faster pieces, like "Unreal Perception", which actually does sound like a fusion of late 80s Sepultura or Slayer with their countrymen Sodom, especially in the vocal department. Frank Thoms uses a blunt and bloody vocal tone, which admittedly isn't my favorite among the German veterans, but he's also multi tasking with the rhythm guitars, so I can be a little more forgiving, especially because he sounds sincere, angry and effective. The bass sounds fat, pummeling and excellent on this disc, not only where it's allowed to breathe on its own (intro to "Tribulation") but even along the rhythms.
Plenty of variation between faster and mid-paced tracks. A little bit of filler, like the dull but brief intro of clean guitars, and maybe about 25% of the riffs don't really land anywhere interesting, but I don't have any doubts that Accu§er put a lot of effort into coming up with something that sounded true to itself, but was able to lock horns with whatever ephemeral concept of 'contemporary' thrash is present in the 'teens. Note for note, track for track I did not enjoy this as much as its predecessor Diabolic, but I think Frank Thoms and company are putting out the strongest material of their careers, and I'm happy to acknowledge it after so many middling or negative reactions I had to so many items in their discography.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (determined to persist)
Friday, January 19, 2018
The 6th album, Monolith of Madness, while not the best of this project, is entirely competent death metal driven by d-beats and Floridian tremolo picking runs sodden with the downcast melodies that his forebears first manifest in the later 80s when they were spitting out demo material. It's never quite as evil as it looks like on the cover with its Cthulhu kraken and accompanying...witches on brooms...but you get a fair balance of forward propulsion, churning grooves and proficient leads that favor mood and atmosphere over flash and flair. I do feel like the bulk of the songs here can lapse into samey passages, almost all of which involve the same damn beat at some point, so more work could be done on intros, bridges and so forth to really round them out and distinguish them better from their neighbors, but I think at this point you know exactly what you're getting on a Rogga album, and if you've come this far listening to the guy then you might not even be interested in him varying up the formula much, at least not internally to one band, since he does this form project to project to mirror varying influences or 'eras' in death metal that he wishes to pay tribute.
You know what to expect. That's both the strength and weakness, because while this is written and performed at no less a level as a couple dozen other Swedish throwback bands that populate the F.D.A. Records imprint and its peers, there is probably not a single riff on the entire album that had me thinking 'cool', and wanting to spin it again immediately. The overall effect of Monolith of Madness in the background, while I'm reading through or playing my many Lovecraftian board games or role playing games, is not terribly worthy of its subject matter, because it's just never creepy or haunting, atmospheric or lingering, but Rogga has long directed this brand at a very straight shooting, 'fun' take on the horror genre which does effectively breed some nostalgia. Taken as it is, I think it's yet another solid effort in a long string of solid efforts that perhaps focus too much on being 'solid' and nothing more than that, and I wouldn't mind a higher ratio of ambition > frequency of musical output, but that doesn't completely detract from the moderate level of abusive darkness you're getting from this. Admittedly, my enjoyment of Revolting peaked with the first two albums, Dreadful Pleasures and The Terror Threshold, but this one won't disappoint much if you're looking for another In Grisly Rapture or Visages of the Unspeakable.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Between the lumbering, mastodon metal attempts to produce a new "Metal on Metal" or "Forged in Fire", the more bluesy, party-rock anthems, or the energetically sincere but barebacked poundings that actually reach some level of engagement, this material just doesn't inspire. I'll admit, I laughed my arse off that the opener "Bitch in the Box" was a tribute to a GPS, but even there the music left so much to be desired; run of the mill, predictable riffing patterns, functional melodies or leads that are simply clones of so many you've heard before. They do shoot for a number of those slower, grooving and mighty heavy metal epics and almost always come up short of anything compelling, and often when tackling the more interesting subjects here ("Nanook of the North") the narrative structure of the vocals can come off a little tackier than intended. Sure, I actually do admire Anvil's dedication to taking on uncommon themes, whether silly or serious, but so often the execution just isn't there to match the inspiration. While they've always been a very traditional band in terms of construction of their rhythm guitars, there was usually some darker mood or twist, some epic chorus, or some cool lead to lend a little nuance or distinction.
Not so much here, as tracks like "Doing What I Want" feature such by-the-numbers structure, bland verse and chorus lines that are not worthy of one of Canada's most unique metal frontmen. The last chunk of album, starting with the relentless "Black Smoke", measured "World of Tomorrow" and frantic, bluesy "Warming Up", was actually passable stuff, I found my neck starting to twitch, but that's all about 30 minutes into the album, and even that material is fairly generic, it just seems a little more natural and the product of sharper decisions. The production of Pounding the Pavement is clearly not a flaw, not that I'd mind if the band recorded dirtier, but the rhythm guitars have a nice cut to them, the bass lines sound perfect in the mix, Robb's drumming is fired up as usual, and the vocals and leads are also very well balanced. But this is just not a selection of tunes I think you'll hear much in their live rotation, or at least not for very long since they just don't live up to the classics this band has penned in the past, even the recent past. Juggernaut of Justice is, for instance, a far better album and there's just no point at which I'd ever listen to this over that. A little more solid than Hope in Hell, but pretty unflattering overall.
Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]