Though summers can be either harsh or mild the one constant for me has been the overwhelming presence of thrash and death on my sunny play lists. As the recent resurgence of each has been both celebrated (by music fans) and lamented (by music purists) the fact remains that gems are sprouting up all the time, whether it be reissues or young guys giving props to the forefathers of the appropriate genre. Here are a few of the both amazing and lackluster that have found their way to my desk, into my head, and out of my body and into yours, as well as other happenings in the ever-changing world of harder-than-hard rock...
Kemado Records has the penchant for finding great throwback bands (see Diamond Nights' record Popsicle, an eerily perfect tip of the hat to New Wave of British Heavy Metal giants Diamond Head) and Children are no different. Furthering their "spiritual conspiracy party riffs" from past thrash masters Exodus (more on them later) and Corrosion of Conformity, Children up the ante with well-placed synths and electronics throughout their debut full length Hard Times Hanging At The End Of The World. Featuring Adam Bennati (of Matador metallers Early Man) on drums and the ridiculously spot-on guitarists Skyler Spohn and Jonny "Rad" Ollsin, Children popped up last year with the Death Tribe 12" (Kemado), a one sided monolith of thrash-slab (twelve minute thrash song? Goddamn, yes!) with a beautifully etched snake playing a Flying V under a sawtooth moon gracing the other. As the first chords of opener "Advanced Mind Control" seemingly fall from the heavens it becomes evident that a modern thrash masterpiece has been born. Six-string interplay dominate with both melody and intricacy leaving room for Bennati's drums to both push forward and let breathe the living song. The comfort in their congregation showcases not only their potential longevity but other thrash revivalists' lack of insight and thirst for moving forward what was deemed a dead subgenre. Listen to "Nuclear Bummer" while driving too fast, "Power Spirit" while summoning the skateboarding ghosts, and "Time Is The Living" during a very important fire pit-digging.
Sweden's Death Breath could be lumped in with the death metal revivalist movement due to the band's formation a mere three years ago. The members themselves, though, are seasoned, angry, and ready to gorify the living shit out of you. Leader Nicke Andersson played in the well-known project Entombed (aka Nihilist) that has been credited for helping start the Scandinavian death metal scene over twenty-two years ago [and Your Flesh readers may be most familiar with Andersson's work at the helm of the good ship Hellacopters]. After a thirst to return to drums and pure death metal, Andersson enlisted a few friends and went to work on creating what is and will always be a pure death metal sound and feel; semi-lo-fi (think lots of pillows in the bass drum, treble knob broken in the -3 position) trudging rage envelops their EP Let It Stink (Relapse Records) to force the listener to just relax and think back to simpler time signatures.
The recently re-released California thrash outfit The Crucified never got the attention they deserved and it wasn't because of their abilities. The Crucified were one of the few, and hands down best, Christian thrash bands hiding behind the cross in the early nineties. Now before the onslaught of ridicule begins let it be known that metal has always been the chosen delivery for religious zealots of all kinds; pagans, Buddhists, Odinists, and of course Satanists are well-known to preach their beliefs over the varying forms of thunder heard over the years. Christians are, for the most part, never taken seriously for their penchant for constructing "Christian versions" of popular bands at the time. While this is true the majority of the time, there are a few standouts and this is where The Crucified comes in. Forming in 1984, they mainly stayed in California playing whatever bills they could squeeze onto. Maintaining a pretty consistent lineup, 1991 saw the release of their classic The Pillars of Humanity (Ocean Records/re-released by Tooth and Nail, 2009) to a mildly excited response, including Pantera who invited them as the opener of their Vulgar Display of Power US tour. Because they only played the Fresno date, their name and talent never spread further. It is a shame for Pillars... stands out as an overlooked thrash classic. From the attention-grabbing stick work and riffs of opener "Hateworld" to the finger-pointing "The Wrong One," aimed at the thrash crowd not accepting them because of their religious beliefs (the poignant, "With any religion/You're all ears/But you'll pull the plug once Jesus Christ is preached" expresses this point perfectly), all the way to the more confessional "Path to Sorrow," with the spoken word intro describing someone contemplating suicide, only to be saved by the devastating thrash riffs that have pulled us all out of the muck at one point or another (sure...it is really about their god and how money will not bring happiness, but it is always the riffs that carry us through, right?). Multi-talented and excellent showmen back in their prime, The Crucified should not be overlooked or judged solely on their beliefs but for recognized for their undeniable talent.
On the other side of the theological metal tip sits the enormous blackened-death gods Behemoth and their latest offering unto the world, Evangelion (Metal Blade Records). As time progresses, these Polish masters of time and space continue to dig deeper and deeper into skewed time signatures and production tricks, transforming Nergal's (guitar/vocals) voice into something other-worldly, like a lion with the abilities of rhythm and pronunciation all while screaming through a carcass of fresh kill. Yeah, it's messy. While most of it is reminiscent of the past two records (The Apostasy and Demigod, both released on Metal Blade Records in 2007 and 2004, respectively) a few songs veer into new territory. "Alas The Lord Is Upon Me" begins in an uncharacteristically, but nonetheless powerful, simple death metal riff before opening up into a chasm of distant guitar tickling the back of Nergal's multi-layered growl giving him an almost wolf-like quality in the silence of night. Of course it isn't long before complete terror returns and the silence is forever memorialized. "Lucifer," the closing number to an already strong collection, solidifies these guys for many years to come with their ability to write both straight-yet-crooked classics ("Be Without Fear," from the aforementioned The Apostosy is an eternal homage to all things metal) and, now, airy and patiently sprawling numbers. Finding a pocket for everything, including soaring brass, a contemplating choir, and a mid-tempo death stomp, it pushes the entire collection to an echelon graced by only a handful of other acts. No one should expect anything less from Behemoth, a band that truly lives up to their name in both craft and sound.
Sweden's Bone Gnawer have the gory side of death metal wrapped up in a tight beautiful little package of violence. The opening title track of 2009's Feast of Flesh (Pulveriser Records) appropriately begins with the sounds of slaughtered pigs screaming and continues a descent into the filthy, hilarious belly of what death metal can be. With soon-to-be party favorites such as "Cannibal Cook-Out" (complete with a catchy gang chorus), "The Saw Is Family," and "The Lucky Ones Die First," it seems almost strange to have such a strong set of songs for a band that only formed in 2008. Looking at the musical pedigree, though, reveals all the answers as vocalist Kam Lee at one point drummed for metal giants Death, drummer Morgan Lie once called Naglfar home, and guitarist Ronnie Bjorstrom double-duties in the wonderfully named Ribspreader. While the songs and delivery remain classic death, the synchronicity of interplay make for a devastating crowd-pleaser for both seasoned metallers and newbies alike.
The re-releases of thrash masters Exodus are well worth the checking out. Stellar packaging and splatter 180g vinyls, courtesy of Back on Black, await twiddling, record-flipping fingers at the most sinister of independent shops across this grand country of ours. You know you've always wanted to hear a remastered version of the hilarious "Cajun Hell," from 1989's Fabulous Disaster.
Also from the re-release news feed: Louisiana's death rock gods Acid Bath are being introduced to a new, vinyl-loving audience with 1994's timeless When the Kite String Pops. Combining sludge, rock, and touches of thrash and death, Acid Bath remain an anomaly in the world of underground anger. It is worth it just for the John Wayne Gacy cover art.
While the summer sun screams for thrash and death, let us not forget the blackness of winter slowly approaching. After all, these guys live in winter all year 'round...
Oslo, Norway's 1349 made a name for themselves as a nonstop pummel-thon of speed, wretchedness, and pure blasphemy with their trifecta of albums Liberation (2003), Beyond the Apocalypse (2004), and Hellfire (2005) (all released by Candlelight Records). The unabashed screech of vocalist Ravn coupled with the untouchable drumming of Frost (also of Black 'N Roll band Satyricon) made for a devastating combo, not to mention the unbelievably fast string work of Archaon and Seidermann. Possibly fueled by boredom in constructing an identical album (the three, though all wonderfully done, do sound very similar) or just a thirst for a newer audience in the ambient circles, the latest, Revelations of the Black Flame, finds them in a vast departure from anything previously heard, at least from these Nordes. After a goose bump-inducing intro of raw screams the real surprise comes when "Serpentine Sibilance" begins at mid-tempo and remains there for the majority of the song. With Celtic Frost's mid-tempo-loving frontman Tom G. Warrior behind the soundboard it offers up the idea that possibly he told them to simply slow it down a bit. Possibly the boys are just getting old. Either way, the space and separation is obviously something completely foreign to 1349 as a groove or a steadfast rhythm of any sort is completely absent. The ambient tracks scattered throughout simply do not make up for the time spent on this record (four years) and it is with dismay that through and through Revelations... is nearly an entire disappointment. The classic black metal sound of "Maggot Fetus...Teeth Like Thorns" is an exception but nowhere near a saving grace.
As the bass intro rose a few tracks later I thought, "Shit...now they're ripping off Floyd." Well, it turns out to be a cover of Pink Floyd's classic "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," from 1968's undeniable classic Saucerful of Secrets. What has become a mystery to me, more so than 1349's choice of song to cover, is black metal's recent hang up with the Floyd. After all, last year saw Chicago's Nachtmystium release Assassins: Black Meddle Pt.1 (an homage to Floyd's Meddle) with the opening track "One of These Nights," being a play off of Floyd's "One of These Days," with the only difference being the change of the sole lyric from, "One of these days/I'm gonna cut you into little pieces," to the less fear-inducing, "One of these nights/I'm gonna fucking die." If anyone has an answer for me I would greatly appreciate it.
From the black we venture into the truly bizarre and gifted Racebannon and their first full length release for Southern Records, Acid or Blood. Anyone that has followed these Southern Indiana boys as closely as I have knows that the only expectation is to be surprised and flabbergasted as to what racket is actually possible with four nice guys who immediately transform into your greatest fear at the helm their instruments. Balancing perfectly between sludgy doom, feedback journeys, danceable breakdowns, and an all out fury, Mike Anderson (vocals), James Bauman (guitar), Chris "Sal" Saligoe (Bass), and Brad Williams (drums) continue with their goal of destroying any speaker attempting to vibrate their waves of madness. While just a collection of songs (as opposed to the more "concept" ideas in the past, most notably the fuck-you-in-the-ear musical Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In [Secretly Canadian, 2002]) the flow from track to track remains seamless. While the spoken word verses of "Sister Fucker" battles head-on the chaos of its own chorus in a malady of fitting madness, it is the epic "The Killer" that stands out as a truly unique gem that cannot, and will never, be found anywhere else. Scraping strings rhythmically drive Anderson's voice out of his signature near-childlike innocence into a monster that has the ability to wilt trees with the slightest vibration of the vocal chord. Straightforward riffs pepper Acid or Blood throughout (possibly from the presence of all members, except Saligoe, in the riff-driven, chest-punching metal outfit Medusa [their debut, En Raga Sul, is available from Hawthorne Street Records]) making it almost easier to listen to than previous outings but nonetheless scarring.
And now the pressing issue of the Gorgoroth fiasco. For those that were unaware, ex-vocalist Gaahl and ex-guitarist King ov Hell attempted to fire founding member Infernus and to continue the band under the same guise without him. Infernus refused to stand by and took them to court over the legal use of the name. What transposed was a bitchy, hair-pulling fight where both parties continued as Gorgoroth for a short period. Leave it to the courts to clear the matter up:
"Oslo City District Court has today delivered a verdict on the main question in
the Gorgoroth trademark case, which took place at the end of January 2009. The court has decided that King ov Hell's trademark registration # 243365 of the band name Gorgoroth is NOT valid and shall therefore be deleted. The court states that King ov Hell and Gaahl excluded themselves from the band Gorgoroth when they tried to fire Infernus in October 2007. The court further states that Infernus cannot be excluded from Gorgoroth, unless he himself decides to quit. Infernus is very pleased, but not surprised, by this verdict. The remaining issues concerning financial matters and such are yet to be decided upon." (taken from the official Gorgoroth website.)
Look for more reissues worth checking out, the most notable new releases next to the most worthless ones, and, as always, my smiling mug beaming upon you the wellest wishes through the written word.
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