With the sunshine-y days waning and bowing to the lengthened nights and the Harvest Moon well behind it is time to shut oneself in for lengthened periods of time and delve deeper and deeper into our favorite homestead habits. For myself, as you may have guessed, that means the music input is doubled and the friend circle diminished, save for the important ones, until the Chicago spring makes it ideal to venture further than the local bar. Revel in it for as the darkness shades each window one can take comfort in the dark sounds that couple with it perfectly. I have a wide array of gems to soundtrack your staring-at-the-wall nights and a dud or two to avoid lest it will cause one to leave so as to hear anything else.
Cobalt, the one man project of metal mastermind Erik Wunder, shook the foundation with last year's Gin, and rightfully so. Its sounds of pure hatred and filth, clean production, and striking simplicity turned ears and heads alike. Wunder's new beast, however, is a distant screech from Cobalt's razor-sharp mastery. Man's Gin's only bloodline to the former is its simplicity; stripped down acoustic instruments and up front, dead on lyrics slather this release in a vague familiarity. And that's where it ends. Focusing on more of a roots rock jam session suitable for a backroom bar hullabaloo, Smiling Dogs (Profound Lore) hits hard without the outward rage and concentrates, rather, on the inner. The opening title track is vacant and wide in the minor chords of both piano and guitar, and later cello. The harrowing loneliness yearns for an open road with lyrics such as, "The wanderers following/The followers wandering behind/The followers wondering why," and the scratching of strings reminds the listener who this is again. "Stone on My Head" sees the beat picked up slightly with a charging 4/4 and a melody reminiscent of classic Black Heart Procession that won't leave one's internal hum anytime soon. "Nuclear Ambition," spread over two tracks, is a behemoth of sounds. Everything from front porch rocking chair plucking in the first part to the full on celebratory (used in the loosest way possible) ending of the second part the listener will surely come to the conclusion (now halfway through the record) that Wunder is a songwriter that's voice and intention cannot be pinned down to a single genre. "Hate.Money.Love.Woman" is the simplest cut, only in form, on the record. With the chorus of, "Money I hate you/I hate you," it is sure to be picked up by some hip TV show somewhere in the most desperate scene of some character's life. Equal parts Tom Waits, Scott Kelley's (Neurosis) solo (only in timbre; though listenable, Kelley should really just stick to what he knows best), (dare I say…yes) Neil Young, and even the great Mickey Newbury, Wunder's Man's Gin is, hopefully, only the beginning of a catalog already off to a perfect start. Fear not, Cobalt fans, for this voice and mind is singular and talented enough to keep both projects going full steam as is already evidenced in the quick turnaround of Wunder's last two recordings.
From the softer end of the spectrum to the polar opposite we—finally—see the return of Watain after three years of touring and scaring the living shit out of everyone in attendance. 2007's Sworn to the Dark (my first review for this publication that you hold in your e-hands… awwww) was my, and many other's, record of the year for one simple reason: no frills black metal played with intensity and inventiveness. The long-awaited Lawless Darkness (Season of Mist) has dropped and while I don't believe it brought the, "…remaining 80% of what black metal is capable of. You've only heard 20%...," (E. [vocals/bass] in an interview with Metal Injection) it most definitely continued the dark path where Sworn… left off. Again, blast beats interchange flawlessly into half time grooves opening up the space for the signature melodic/vacant guitar lines that made them what they are in the first place. Second track, "Malfeitor," perfectly exemplifies another aspect that pushes Watain far above most other black metal acts performing today: E.'s understandable-yet-brutal vocal delivery. Couple that with the unsurpassed songwriting and changes galore to keep it fresh on each listen and already one knows that yet another classic black metal record has been released by these animal-killing Swedes. "Reaping Death," the first track released via 7" months before, remains one of two truly standout tracks. The velocity unleashed from the get-go is something to behold. As the sun itself hides behind the horizon for fear the chorus summons the night walkers with, "Higher, higher/C'mon you sons of fire," and instantly a choice is given: follow or keep your eyes peeled as you are now the subject of such wrath. Closing track, "Waters of Ain," is a departure of sorts in that it is a true epic in both length and demonstration. Long intro into miles of verse is nothing new in the metal world; this differs insomuch as it remains pure Watain and never, ever does it seem to continue for over 14 minutes. The amount of well-executed ideas and substance makes it completely evident at the halfway point why "… Ain," is as long as it is. To shorten it would be a censorship to the intended idea and, thus, produce a lackluster track forgettable on many fronts, especially surrounded by the weight of every single preceding song. Lawless Darkness is everything both long time fans and newbies expect from a black metal record: blood, unapologetic ferocity, and the inventiveness expected from the voices of music's most dangerous subgenre. Expect this to be another list-end victory for the boys in blood.
Swiss, one-man death of the party Unholy Matrimony (aka Vladimir Cochet) butchers his six-year absence with Croire Décroître (Deepsend Records) and, thank whomever, we are all better off for it. Remaining in the straight forward black metal sound that made his last ones, 2002's Love & Death (self-released) and 2003's Misologie (Melancholia Records), instant gems for anyone who doesn't really have to see the band live (though his other projects, Mirrorthrone and Weeping Birth, have occasional outings if it's that important). "Innocence Abusée" is darkness and mystery shrouded perfectly inside of a goat carcass. Harsh vocals, sometimes processed into other-worldly noises, match up perfectly with insanely fast blast beats, grinding guitars (what sounds like eight of them overlapping at times), and the bass perfectly kept in the back so as to only hear it whenever there is the rare, less-cacophonous part. Luckily the production quality is as clean as Cochet's soul isn't so each part can be singled out and looked upon with well-deserved awe. "Le Glaive Contre Le Rêve," slows down, albeit not for long, but leaves the intensity in place for good measure, or possibly so the listen doesn't forgot who the hell he's dealing with. The sparse, effected parts, both drums and guitars, are a welcome breath and give even more fat to the already gluttonous and delicious remainders leaving a canvas perfectly balanced in both timbre and overall brutality.
So, Torche. Torche, Torche, Torche. I've wanted to talk to you for a while. Though you, Steve Brooks (guitar/vocals), have said that you're, "…not a metal band," what are you? Never mind, actually. I don't care. Every time I listen to you, live or at home, I just sit and shrug. Now this EP, Songs for Singles (Hydra Head). It's the same goddamn thing. It's Meanderthal with a shittier cover. It's the s/t release with fancier recording equipment. The thing that so confuses me is that the ones I trust always swear by you. I can merely swear at you. It is boring and uninventive. Your voice is empty and any emotion that is trying to be conveyed can only be believed by equally empty-shelled and full-wallet-ed kids that also mistake you for metal. All the musicianship is fine on record but live I am always left with clenched fists at… shit, just never mind, again. I am sure you are all nice enough and all but keep your records away from me.
Palate cleansing time. Like a bomb placed in a porta-pot at a food festival, Indianapolis's Coffinworm project their filth onto anyone unlucky, or in this case lucky, enough to be in the blast zone. Sharing members with the grind outfit Black Arrows of Filth and Impurity (covered in Death Rattle #1) this incarnation takes what was perfected with the aforementioned and slowed it down, lengthened the songs, and added riff upon riff that makes this classifiable under many, many subgenres which I myself will not do because, well, it's just not that important. What is important is the music and, oh boy, this is important. When All Became None (Profound Lore) consists of six slabs all hefty in weight and complete horror. "Start Saving for Your Funeral" is a blackened Motörhead emerging from a six car pileup wielding a flamethrower that projects anal leakage on fire. In the slower elements a definite parallel to Unearthly Trance is heard but, thankfully (at least in reference to UT's last outing, Electrocution), veers shortly thereafter into a place that only the darkest souls have avoided up until this point. When the Worm slow it down it is truly something of a monster. "High on the Reek of Your Burning Remains" trudges in the mud, giving unintended homage to the stoner bands of the day, but retains the fright of earlier tracks, thanks to producer Sanford Parker (Nachtmystium, Yakuza, Teeth of the Hydra, among many others) and his signature full, bottom-heavy sound. Thankfully Coffinworm is still a young band, forming in 2007, so we have quite a future to look forward to. And yell at.
Croatian Death dudes Avicularia (named after a subspecies of large spiders, hence the logo) are as straight forward, in regards to death metal, as a band can get. On their first release, Born to be Vile (Croatia Records) blast beats abound and the guttural vocals are spot on, as one would expect with any death metal release. This is great to listen to when one is in the mood for none-too-special death metal as there are few things that actually stand out and cause the listener to want to sit down and concentrate on (which makes the intro sample even more appropriate than before: "Where we are going/We won't need eyes to see.") The outstanding thing, however, is that this is again proof of how far the gauntleted hand of metal can reach. After all, who knew that brutal death metal could come from the same place that brought us fountain pens and neckties?
The most fascinating, and importantly unearthed, reissue I've been able to come across is America's (Columbia, South Carolina) own Dwarr. Named after lone member Duane Warr, one can expect psych-doom-drone in the heapiest of helpings. On Animals (1986 Brand X Recordings, reissued 2010, Drag City) the reverb lays the lazy blanket on heavy and a venture to an earlier, Lemmy-infused-Hawkwind, is instantly evident. Add to that the odd, tinny production of most 80s records and confusion, albeit a fantastic one, sets in. Questions asked that can only be answered with, "Huh?" "That Deadly Night" begins with a thumping timpani and Dwarr speaking creepily through effected guitar tones; recently reissued Bobb Trimble's "Night at the Asylum" (from 1980's Iron Curtain Innocence [Bobb Records] [reissued 2009 by Secretly Canadian]) instantly comes to mind, only due to the production and the swirling scrapes and spoken word (Dwarr has, thankfully, no notes of 'pedophile' ringing through his voice). "Ghost Lovers" rings in classic doom ala Ozzy-era Sabbath or the best of St. Vitus with a scratchy, garage edge to it. Vocals simply double the riffs in a head-first mindfuck fit for the lost souls wanting to get even more so. Classic cock rock elements bleed through at times making it all the more fitting to get that old van up and running again, vaporize the shit outta the inside, and just drive, drive, drive until you find yourself at his doorstep so as to simply ask the questions that you thought of the entire drive.
Savannah, Georgia's Black Tusk have been a favorite of mine ever since 2008's Passage Through Purgatory (Hyperrealist) found its way onto my turntable and into my neighbor's otherwise quiet dinner. Now that monster giant Relapse Record got their hands on them, and subsequently released 2010's Taste of Sin, the boys will hopefully get the recognition they deserve. Through and through southern metal (in the likes of Kylesa, early Mastodon, and label mates Rwake) they refer (huh, huh, reefer) to their brand as "swamp metal," which is true, I suppose, but unneeded. The consistency of these swamp monsters is astounding in that very little progression is heard release to release (seven prior to Taste… though mostly EPs and splits) save for the production values. Fine with me, I say. The shared vocals of all members, Andrew Fidler (guitair), Jonathan Athon (bass), and James May (drums), remains intact as well it should be due to the slight variance, albeit nearly identical sound, giving Black Tusk an understated power and resilience not seen with many acts. "Twist the Knife" begins with the god-awful beauty that is the rumble of the Peavey T-40 bass (heavy in sound and girth) and then, as expected, all hell breaks loose. Hopefully these guys are just beginning… I mean, hell, eight releases in five years seems as much.
Norway's Obliteration (not to be confused with the two Obliterations from the US, or the one from Great Britian or Germany, or the two Mass Obliterations, also from Great Britain and Germany…) does not play black metal despite their geographical location. No, my friends, this is pure death with a nice heavy dose of doom just in case you thought them "not brutal enough." High profile shows, like the Inferno and Hole-in-the-Sky festivals, got them a deal and out of the basement tape-trading world and those of us not invited to the Nordic parties are thankful. Nekropsalms (Fysisk Format) wakes up slow and lethargic and reeking of beer on "Ingesting Death," complete with creeping lines that Sleep would be proud of. Mud vocals hold down the sunshine and boredom begins to set in. All of a sudden the brutal coffee hits the bloodstream and off we go on a morning jog like none other. Though the speed picks up the production stays in the mud harking back to the classic death sounds of fellow Europeans Destroyer 666 (Italy) or Pestilence (Sweden). Flipping back and forth, "The Spawn of a Dying Kind" the cool down seems to begin and the bong rips come ten fold as a reward for such a workout. The variance is welcome so as to still rumble the soul but let the brain catch up a little bit for its work is not yet finished. "Styxerian Path (Into Darkness)" blinds one with speed and intelligence but yet slowly retards the album into the outro, "The Worm That Gnaws in the Night," and we have yet another Nordic metal powerhouse on our hands.
Why so many from this region of the world? Well, you see, Norway was the last Westernized country to be christened (around the 10th or 11th century with the King Haakon the Good, though the country didn't want any part of his religion) tying them closer than others to their heritage of Odinism. And boy are they pissed.
Now, last time we talked about the thrash revival. Remember? No? Oh, you were drunk? Well, it's thrash, after all, so here, have another one. Pittsburgh's Mantic Ritual (which might sound a lot like Hollywood, CA's Meltdown to the seasoned thrash ear… that's because it is the same band, new name, new city) inked a deal with Nuclear Blast before their first album was even released (under the current moniker) so you know it is something truly special. And, boy oh boy. While the hipsters don their skinny jeans (they still are, right?) remember it was the thrash kids that did it first, and, yes, are still doing it. But who gives a flying Nash skateboard about fashion… Executioner (originally released under the former name and now re-recorded) is a true stunner of a thrash record. "Black for Sin" stuns the listener into a drunken fury and Dave Watson's (vocals/guitar) voice gives wings to the entire sound bringing tears to the eyes of the old dudes (me) and giving the young'ns something to be proud of, what they think, they discovered. Hero worship isn't instantly evident but rather an amalgam of everything Bay Area 1980. Check out "Souls" for its classic half time assault, "Double the Blood" for the cocaine-in-a-Camaro factor, and "By the Cemetery" for the stunning intro solo.
Unfortunately, the Australia's Shackles called it quits shortly after their debut album, Traitors' Gate (Hell's Headbangers) was released. Old school, lo-ish-fi death metal isn't the easiest thing to pull off but these thunders from down under really had something going here. As everything today is overly polished it is always refreshing to hear the dirt is still around (nod to Sweden's Death Breath, covered in Death Rattle #2) and that there are still those of us who don't like showers, whether it be ourselves or our music.
Chicago boys Sweet Cobra had an unfortunate loss last year with the death of their guitarist Mat Arluck after a long battle with illness. Not ones to call it quits the Sweeties plowed on and released their latest, Mercy (Black Market Activities). Intact is the taut musicianship never far reaching into show-offy masturbation but a consistent, mid-tempo bruising reminiscent of Kylesa, classic Baroness, or a much better Akimbo. Heavy on both melody and destruction, Mercy is a truly enjoyable listen from beginning to end; their roots in 90s hardcore and punk still intact, the rawness (thanks to the faithful Kurt Ballou behind the boards) is a welcome dichotomy to what may have ended up being a lackluster approach. Standouts, "Matriarch" and "Reinhold London," tower over the rest, but only by mere inches. The outstanding artwork is done by local (at least to us Chicagoans) madman genius William Test and will provide a welcome payoff once one picks it up just for the macabre beauty and then discover something of real worth on the disc.
Britian's Scythian play the well-worn subgenre death/thrash style of metal that seems to be taking over my entire collection or everyday conversations (they love me at the grocery store). It can't go without saying, though, that when someone does it as well as these lobsterbacks it needs to be recognized. Their debut album, To Those Who Stand Against Us (Necroterror Records), is definitely a standout in the deep ocean of the genre. "Shattered Idols" is the battle-ready seriousness of Amon Amarth with less cheese and much, much more blood. "Spires to Ashes" and "Open Steppe" carry this record through perfectly to the unfortunate end. The only problem? Well, as I said before, this is such a vast genre and there are so many notable bands that they may get lost in the shuffle over the years. And that is unfortunate.
Next time around I really want to talk more about southern sludge, alright? And by that I mean Harvey Milk and whatever else I scrape off the sidewalk. There will also be a few from the likes of Dawnbringer, Lair of the Minotaur, The Ocean (DEU), Urgehal, Unlight, and a handful of others. In the meantime piss off of your party host's porch, grab the rum, brown bag with your best buds, and take back the night.
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