Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Live Review #003: Dragged into Sunlight w/ Bossk, Sunsmasher and Headless Kross.

As you might know, I don't review every band I see live; instead, I generally try to review the ones which are a bit different - the shows where the bands involved manage to make it really feel like something noteworthy and special. As soon as I knew that Dragged into Sunlight would be playing Glasgow, based on how they sounded, their aesthetic, and the tales I'd been told about their truly malign stage show, I suspected that they would be the kind of live experience which would be worth writing down, and I can safely say I wasn't disappointed.

The Audio in Glasgow is quite an interesting venue; very small, compact, and minimalistic, but at the same time, really well equipped in terms of lighting, smoke-machines, and very reasonable sound-mixing indeed, something which the generally knackered aesthetic of the venue itself might not suggest; in other words, it's the sort of venue where you probably shouldn't bother to lock the toilet cubicle, because if someone tries to get in, the whole thing will just fold up and collapse anyway. As the evening went on, the place was full enough to be packed, but not full enough to be ridiculous, which felt like a nice balance; certainly, there was enough space to check out the merch tables, where Dragged into Sunlight were selling all kinds of alarming weaponry; more like a satanic bizarre than a merch table at a gig; namely bongs and T-shirts which even your friends might be a bit offended by. Bossk have an interesting assortment of things too; apparently including soap. 

First on were Headless Kross, a local sludgy-doom outfit who I've seen a couple of times before. The signature the band possess tends to be their ability to bend around the normal constraints of time and space, making a thirty minute set feel like an hour. This night, in addition to doing just that, they were on top-form. The sound-mixing gods had smiled on them a lot, and the set was tight, with a splendidly creamy, straight-to-the-face tone, causing all of the instruments to blend into a splendid, rafter-reverberating doomy display.  The vocals, particularly, came through more clearly then usual, and had an interesting echoey, almost ethereal effect on them, which they seemed to share with the next band. Perhaps Headless Kross are an acquired taste, perhaps they've been on a steady slope of becoming tighter and more enjoyable to listen to, or perhaps both; whatever the case is, I enjoyed their set more than ever before this time around, and the rest of the audience seemed to share their enthusiasm. I think the promoters decision to host mainly doom-metal opening acts was a wise one; it was a very refreshing affair indeed not to be swamped with the usual modern death-metal acts which Glasgow has to offer. Granted, some of them are great, but everyone needs a rest once in a while.

Sunsmasher are also local, although all I really know about them is that they apparently used to play more slowly than they do now. It's probably just as well that Headless Kross rattled the building for a while to warm it up, otherwise Sunsmasher's tone might well have made it fall down. To my ears, Sunsmasher go down a similar road to Headless Kross, albeit catering more to the extremes; the tone was less friendly and more crunchy; the sort of tone that when the first chord is struck, you look at the person next to you and make your very best "fucking-hell" face, as your hair waves around at the whim of the sound-waves passing your head. It's probably just as well that I had a chance to practice my "fucking-hell" face before Dragged into Sunlight came on. Ultimately, whilst I'm not too familiar with Sunsmasher's material, I found their set very enjoyable indeed, a second helping of dark, doom-laden goodness for the evening, perhaps a little darker than Headless Kross, but nothing like as dark as what was to come.

Bossk are one of those metallic post-rock sort of outfits, once again, a band I'm not too familiar with. As an exception to the evenings dark feel, Bossk tended towards being very serene, floaty and at times very beautiful. The juxtaposition between the sections which are instrumental and the sections which have a vocalist is a bit jarring, and I must confess that I strongly preferred the latter; to each their own, of course. Bossk have an interesting stage presence, particularly in light of the peace which their music tends to have; it's not so much a "look at us" vibe, but a far more honest "listen to this" one. Most of the set was very tranquil; the kind of music which you can sway back and forward too, or it would have been, if I didn't keep bumping into people while trying to do so. The rest was punctuated by relatively heavy, bouncy passages which were sort of doomy, but at the same time exuded a rock edge which felt overtly non-metal. Perhaps if, in you're vocabulary, "non-metal" is synonymous with "non-good", I can safely say that this isn't the case; Bossk seemed excellent and fascinating to listen to, indeed, I can certainly see why the band are favour of the month just now. Generally, the crowd seemed very enraptured by the show; divided into three groups - people who had heard of Bossk, people who hadn't, but were enjoying it, and that guy, who knew every single one of their tracks inside out, and was very vocal of his approval. If I'd known any of their songs at all, I'd probably have felt the same.  

There is a form of epilepsy which you can have which eventually goes away. I used to have it, but I certainly don't any more. How do I know it's gone away? Because I stood through Dragged Into Sunlight's set and am not dead. I've never seen a band quite so intent on murder-by-strobe light. Everything about the band's set is intense, beginning even before they properly take to the stage. Slowly, candles are lit, one by one. A deer skull is mounted on the stage-left, and then a second on the right. A friend looks at it and remarks "this is going to be silly, isn't it?" The "frontman" - a candelabra with a rams skull mounted on it, and the only thing which will face the audience for any length of time, is placed in centre stage. Then the lights go out, leaving nothing but the glow of the candles. In my head, undertakers theme chimes for a moment, and then the joke fades away.

Like the bands studio material, a malign, dark spoken word sample ushers the beginning of the bands set, before the band bursts into their material, with their backs to the crowd almost constantly; like a black mass. The murky sound of the bands studio work is very faithfully and effectively reproduced in a live setting, and the whole set sounds great; the murky churning, the darkness, the suspense filled sections - all are extremely well deployed, amid sick, satanic red lighting, and ferocious, almost constant strobe lighting, which obscures the band further from view, even then the vocalist is facing the front. I couldn't even count how many of them there were, and I think that's a great manoeuvre by the band; the mystique and darkness of the affair is greatly reinforced by it, and I think it's the best coming together of stage-show and music that I've seen in a long time; perhaps ever. Dragged into Sunlight make an effort, and it pays off. Amid the strobe lighting, the whole crowd's attention is grasped, with no hope of escape; at one point there's a pit, but I didn't manage to notice, because I was too busy clinging to the bar for my life, and nodding my head in awe - across from me, the bar-woman looks miserable, hunched on a chair, perhaps hoping that all of these moshers will leave so she can go home; certainly, Dragged into Sunlight is harrowing for the people that want to be there, let alone unwilling bar-staff.

Ultimately, the band played quite a short set, perhaps thirty-five minutes, but it felt like enough; not too short, not too long. Afterwards, you have a feeling of relief, the feeling of having survived some terrible incident, barely. But I also felt the impact of having been to a damn good show. Dragged into Sunlight are, and I don't exaggerate, one of the best live bands I've seen in a long time... and you barely even see them.  It's uncomfortable, intense, and punishing, but at the same time, it's very, very good.

Dragged into Sunlight Official Site
Dragged into Sunlight on Facebook
Dragged into Sunlight on Metal Archives
Bossk Official Site
Bossk on Facebook
Bossk on Metal Archives
Sunsmasher on Facebook
Sunsmasher on Metal Archives
Headless Kross on Facebook
Headless Kross on Metal Archives

Sunday, 26 May 2013

#278 Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance

As I mentioned at the time, the reason I didn't include The Underground Resistance in the Darkthrone marathon of a few days ago is on account of how new it is, I felt I should write a review of it in-full. When the album originally came out, some months ago, things kept getting in the way of me reviewing this album. Fortunately, the side-effect of this is that I've now had a lot of time to listen to it properly, and hopefully make a few observations about it which I might have missed in reviewing it a few days after I got it.

As a record, The Underground Resistance is a bit of a microcosm for the band's career as a whole; it varies a lot, but all carries within it the essence of Darkthrone, through and through. Once again, the record is different to it's predecessor, but carries on certain parts and styles; in this case, the traditional heavy metal elements of Circle The Wagons are turned up to eleven, and further squish out the punk and black-metal parts, which, whilst both present in trace amounts still, are really taking back-stage compared to the riff-tastic speed-metal. The guitar tone is warm and chunky, and the riffs are quirky and angular, coiling more tightly than the work on the previous three or four records, and cruising along with a degree of brooding majesty, creating an extremely catchy record, especially the winding, idiosyncratic work on songs like "Come Warfare, The Entire Doom". In fact, the riffs in general bring with them a pretty hefty thud and crunch, with a richer sound than the band have conjured in a long time; the lower-end, for instance, is more earthy than anything since Soulside Journey; crisp, clear and fluid, while retaining the trademark Darkthrone rough-edges. The drumming too, feels like a real showcase of just what Fenriz can do when he gets behind the drums, and the production really captures a percussive, but not overly clean sound. Of course, if anyone knows how to make a record sound overtly old-school, it's probably Fenriz and company, and it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that the band have succeeded with this one; the production and actual substance of the record go hand in hand very well indeed.

One of the things most obviously amplified since Circle the Wagons has been the clean vocal approach, and a good number of the tracks on the record have Fenriz really giving it his all with regards to clean vocals, of the kind of quality they were in his best moments with Isengard. Tracks like Valkyrie really take Darkthrone into a deliberately epic and grandiose place which they haven't explored in quite the same way before, and I can safely say it's one of my favourite tracks on the record,  a record which, incidentally, doesn't have much in the way of filler. It's quite hard to have any filler when it's only six tracks in length, but fortunately, I think it's safe to say that there isn't really a weak link among them. I had initial misgivings about Leave No Cross Unturned; the fourteen minute behemoth of a closing track, that it might be a bit longer than it's content should really justify; but after a few listens, it's length suddenly doesn't become an issue, which is really the best way to approach the record. A single listen doesn't quite work, and neither do a few; you've got to really get to know it to appreciate some of it's intricacies and it's overarching character, but when you spend some time with it, it's really potential to be enjoyable is unlocked. It probably says a lot about the bands influences that Manilla Road are similar in this regard; you can't listen to a Manilla Road album once and get it.

So there we go - the culmination of about a week and a half of me reviewing nothing but Darkthrone. The Underground Resistance has certainly been one of my favourite records so far this year, and once again, as they do on almost every record, Darkthrone have managed to capture the spirit of people making music because it's what they love to do, and what's more, making the kind of music which they love.

This is certainly an 8/10.

Darkthrone Official Site
Darkthrone on Facebook
Darkthrone on Metal Archives

Be sure to check back soon for the next review, which won't be Darkthrone, but might be dark.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Metal Marathons #001 Part 2: Darkthrone: The Revenge

 part two of two.

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the marathon retrospective of Darkthrone's career; last time we had travelled from the abyss of rumbling, complex death metal, through the vast, icy forests of classic and much-loved black metal, and out the other side into the primitive, chord driven, and some would say re-hashed landscape of the band's middle years. This time around, we are going to travel through that place, and out the other side into a slow cascade of old-school influences and Manilla Road, wherein the band resides now.

Of course, the majority of this marathon will be aimed at the "punk" albums which started with "The Cult is Alive" - something of a paradigm shift, if you will, in the bands sound; and certainly one of the most fundamental ways to divide the "old" and "new" sound the band had. First, however, there remain three of the much-overlooked middle-era black metal albums to plough through starting with Plaguewielder. In my experience, there tends to be more to these records than meets the eye, and I'll be first to claim that listening to them is utterly worthwhile. I urge you to.

 As I said in part one of this marathon, Ravishing Grimness cannot be dismissed as "more of the same". Plaguewielder, however, might be. The album is another forty-minutes or so of swaggering, relatively simplistic, chord driven black-metal. Not unpleasent, by any stretch; in fact, I enjoy listening to the record, however, it feels less inspired than, say, most of the bands other material. I'll argue vehemently that the band have never had a truly "bad" album, and there are some flavoursome riffs scattered through this record To its credit, it manages to sound cold and grim in a time when a lot of black metal had ceased to.
Hate Them is an interesting one - it feels a step up in terms of song-writing and especially energy, with high-speed drumming and higher tempos all over the shop. By the band's own admission, Hate Them is the album in which they really started to delve into punk and other old-school influences more fully, and you can tell; many of the tracks take on a black n' roll edge, with d-beats, metal-punk style riffs, and other barrels of fun added to the recipe. The appeal to outside influences really gives the album a novel edge, and makes it very listenable; particularly tracks such as Divided We Stand, which could easily find a place on the later, less black-metal records.

Sardonic Wrath is, I suppose, the last "black metal" album the band ever did. Certainly, it feels like their final attempt to make an album which was black metal to the core. Ultimately, I really enjoy the record, and find it a fitting end to that part of the band's career; it's very raw; rough as a badger, in fact, and in the same way as Hate Them, combines elements of other genres nicely, but without spoiling the entirely black-metal bend of the record. You could slot Sardonic Wrath somewhere in between Transilvanian Hunger and Panzerfaust and nobody would be the wiser to the fact that it was actually made in 2004, a testimony to the fact that the band can still conjure great black metal, when they want to.

Whenever I go a while without listening to The Cult is Alive, it's always a bit more black-metal influenced than I remember; in fact, it's still quite raw and harsh, more a large-step along from Sardonic Wrath than an utter shift. The crucial difference however, is that from this record onwards, the band feel much more overtly fun. The bouncy riffs, influenced by traditional metal, crust punk, and a vast array of other things manage to be extremely catchy, ballsy and filled to the brim with sheer old-school attitude. This album marks a very profound reinvigoration of the band, as foreshadowed by the leanings towards this sound on the previous two records, on this one they come to power-chord based fruition.

Once again stripping back the black-metal, FOAD is another foray into the old-school world of punk and speed-metal. It's sometimes easy to forget how different the more recent Darkthrone albums are from one another, and the gulf between The Cult is Alive and this record is very illustrative of it - gone is the harsh and scathing guitar tone, replaced with a more rock n' roll, warm sound which suits the less serious, more playful character of this record, and those beyond it. Lyrically too, this album makes forays further and further into more human themes, reducing  the occult and Satan as themes, in lieu of tracks about metal and rock itself - a pronounced manoeuvre towards the world of vicariously recreating 1984.

Dark Thrones and Black Flags marked the beginning of a move towards more traditional old-school metal; it retains something of the punk and black-metal influence, of course, but at the same time, is a more clear, almost epic record in places. Clean vocals appear here and there, for instance in "The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker", very much foreshadowing the directions which the band would be going in the next record. The riffs on this record are among the most chunky in the "new Darkthrone" era, with a lot of bite and an enjoyably occult feel; the music is liable to be dark still, but in a more traditional way; often a spooky darkness, not the misanthropy of black-metal.

Circle the Wagons travels even further into the realm of pure heavy-metal, but, as with every other album manages to feel extremely Darkthrone still, which is a point worth raising; despite the bands vast number of changes in style and production, there has never been a Darkthrone album which didn't feel like one. Like it's predecessor, Circle the Wagons is an album filled with very tasty, hefty riff work, albeit frequently even more melodic. For me, at least, Circle the Wagons stands very prominently as a testimony to how radically Darkthrone's sound has changed, miles upon miles away from Soulside Journey or Transilvanian Hunger, and personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Ultimately, listening to all of a bands records in a row is a superb way to chart the changes in the bands sound, and it definitely equips you with new tools and ways in which to listen to the music; you become much more aware of the bands evolution and progression between styles and influences. If there's one thing which Darkthrone's discography has screamed at me, it's integrity. I don't think there's a single record by the band in which they weren't trying, and in the majority of them, they succeeded.

There are few bands so consistent and yet diverse in their discography; every album is a little different, but every album is utterly, unapologetically Darkthrone. That's why we like it, and obviously, that's how they like it too. Darkthrone unapologetically do what they will, and they do it well.

Darkthrone Official Site
Darkthrone on Facebook
Darkthrone on Metal Archives

But wait! you shout. What about the new Darkthrone record; "The Underground Resistance". Don't worry, I haven't forgotten it, I just think on account of being new, it deserves a full-length review, which I'll be doing in the next few days. Stay tuned!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Metal Marathons #001: Part 1 - Darkthrone: The Nineties

 Part one of two

There's always been something greatly enjoyable about listening to a lot of a band's discography, or all of it, at once. Well, not at once, that wouldn't sound very nice; but certainly listening to it in order carries a lot of fun with it. A few months ago I decided I might do features where I reviewed discographies, instead of just lone albums, and for some reason, I decided to start with Darkthrone. A few months later, of realising I really don't quite have enough hours in the day to do the band's whole discography, I've decided to break the marathon into two more digestible sections. Cheating, essentially, but it seemed to be a choice between doing it this way, or not at all.

As a band, Darkthrone really need no introduction; one of the most hard-working and productive pillars of the Norwegian black metal scene, and more recently of the Norwegian metal scene in general, Darkthrone have a discography which is fantastically varied but all utterly Darkthrone. Interestingly, I suppose the marathon begins with the album which sounds the least close to the band's trademark sound; Soulside Journey.

I don't exaggerate when I consider Soulside Journey to be among my favourite death metal records, and merely on the basis that it's not the music which Darkthrone are famous for is never a sufficient reason to dismiss it. Soulside Journey is murky, churning and thoroughly evil old-school death metal; technical, and compositionally quite ingenious. It's the kind of album which can draw you in susprisingly well, and it certainly showcases the penchant for evil-sounding music the band had which would certainly be dominating their music later on. The resultant eerie death metal is well deserving of a listen by anyone who has dreamed up reasons not to have listened already.

I first listened to A Blaze in the Northern Sky on Halloween, in the dark - I wanted to listen to some dark music, and this album provided it excellently. People who really enjoyed Darkthrone on the strength of Soulside Journey must have gotten quite a shock indeed when they heard A Blaze in the Northern Sky - a very, very different monster indeed. Instead of thick but solid production, the album is incredibly rough and fuzzy, with a guitar tone like electric sheep-shears which, instead of sounding amusing, succeeds in sounding fantastically evil, accompanying the scathing vocals. Of all of the bands records, this is the most diabolical, and the long songs certainly help it achieve a sort of satanic majesty.

 By the time that Under a Funeral Moon came out, black metal was very much coming into its own - a fact which is reflected in this album's recipe. While the embryonic take on black metal that A Blaze in the Northern Sky created is still present, on this record the songs are shorter, and altogether feel closer to the emerging "convention" of black metal. Under A Funeral Moon is, of course, not derivative in the slightest, but was instead a setter of this convention. The combination of retaining the previous records dark majesty and scathing guitar tone, and combining it with a more punchy, rapid-fire approach creates what is, quite possibly, one of my favourite "classic" Darkthrone records.

Transilvanian Hunger was the first Darkthrone album not to feature guitarist Zephyrous, and you can sort of tell; the record manages to be atmospheric, and indeed even more intense and evil sounding than a lot of Under a Funeral Moon was, but at the same time, it's not quite the same; not a bad different, but nonetheless different, particularly with regards to the style of lead guitar. As an album, Transilvanian hunger is more aggressive, and is typically very unrelenting; a characteristic in which is outdoes every other Darkthrone release with relative ease. While I prefer the atmosphere and more hook-laden feel of Under A Funeral Moon, this album is generally likewise a great pleasure to listen to.

Panzerfaust is something of a continuation of Transilvanian Hunger, with the subtle difference that the band remembered that they were allowed to play slower bits too. If the previous albums were icy, Panzerfaust feels more akin to snow; velvety, and with the same chill, but much more primitive and primal; songs like Quintessence feel at once hypnotic, wrathful and powerful. The vocals on this record are loud, but lack the scathing, demonic feel they had, particularly on Under A Funeral Moon, perhaps the main cause for the album feeling more enraged than occult. Consequently, the real draw of the album for me, at least, is that the riffs are extremely raw and pronounced, packed with energy and intensity.

I quite like Total Death. It may represent the beginning of the "wilderness" which Darkthrone vanished into during the late nineties, but I still enjoy it as an album. The magic of the first five records isn't quite oozing out of it, but at the same time, it still has a certain feel of cohesiveness and bite. There are snowy melodies in the same vein as Panzerfaust, but also an inclination further towards more simplistic, old-school forms of black-metal, namely the first wave, with riffs in that style making themselves known every now and again, perhaps representative of Fenriz' deep attraction towards the old-school beginning to push aside and transform any concious affiliation for the second-wave black-metal scene.
I'd probably never listen to Goatlord other than to find out what it sounded like, or whilst I'm doing a Darkthrone marathon... The whole premise doesn't appeal to me; It's a rehearsal tape from before A Blaze in the Northern Sky with a few finishing touches placed upon it. All in all, while you get the feeling that the music could have been great, the recording quality doesn't do it any good, and the finishing touches too, can at times feel a little clunky, like the "female" vocals which probably aren't. Goatlord always felt to me like a line in the sand of Darkthrone's discography; the "old" Darkthrone before it, and the "new" after. All in all, it's a diamond in the rough, but most of the time, the rough feels just too rough.

Albums like Ravishing Grimness can't really be written off as "more of the same", quite simply because that's not quite what they are. Like much of the "middle era" material, Ravishing Grimness is a swaggering, extremely course and primitive work; in this case, it manifests itself sounding like a slightly concussed version of Panzerfaust, where each chord in many of the riffs and rhythms are  emphasised to give it an enormity. Like Panzerfaust, it manages to dynamically flit through various tempos, and certainly maintains a very true black-metal sound, albeit injected with a bit of piss and vinegar, especially tracks like "The Beast" which really foreshadow the direction the band would soon take.

And so, the band's course through the nineties was examined. But what happened after that? Well, It's taken quite a while to write this, and there are many, many more albums to look at, so I'm going to take a break, come back in a few days to tell you about those. 

I hope you've enjoyed this so far. 

Darkthrone Official Site
Darkthrone on Facebook
Darkthrone on Metal Archives

Thursday, 16 May 2013

#277 Diamond Head - Lightning to The Nations

I'm really knackered. That's not really relevant to this review, but if you espy any sentences which end in smiley faces or suddenly veer into entirely different avenues of context, you'll know why. Anyways, on to the main topic of the day; Diamond Head, and more specifically their début album,  "Lightning to the Nations", an undisputed classic of the NWOBHM, and an album which can be said, with only a little bit of hyperbole, to have influenced more or less every metal band conceivable. 

What you get in Lightning to the Nations is essentially solid-as-a-rock NWOBHM with a penchant for sex-noises during the solos, or at least, enough for me to decide to mention them. More important, however, is the former description; Solid as a rock. Lightning to the Nations really is one of those albums where either the filler is so good that we don't notice it's filler, or it's non-existent. You can't be sure, and either way the result is the same -  there isn't a single track on the album which I'd consider sub-par, through its whole length. Even the less famous tracks - for instance "Sweet and Innocent" are solid. A second observation about the record is that it's damn heavy. The chunky guitar tone really combines with the intense playing and rough, clattering production-values to create something which, while not quite "Welcome to Hell" by any stretch, really shows off a rough and raw edge which a lot of NWOBHM bands were more content to polish and shine their material. I can safely say I prefer the way Diamond Head did things - initially self-releasing the record, and evidently recording it on a lowish budget. The resultant record just has a genuine and very energetic feel which is extremely well preserved by the attitude with which the band created it; the same energy and enthusiasm seeps from it that you often pick up on similarly exciting records by artists who were really pushing the envelope; Kill 'Em All, Show No Mercy, even Burzum's self-titled shares a sort of exuberant and novel feel in the music - there's a certain sound which accompanies a record being utterly non-derivative, and Lightning to the Nations certainly has it.

Of all of the NWOHBM records I've lent my ear to, I think Lightning to the Nations is one of the most thrashy; certainly, the riffs and general style of the band was hugely influential to Metallica, and when you listen to them, you can see exactly where the influence lies. Songs like Am I Evil? are very, very proto-thrash indeed, in fact, as far as I'm concerned, when the first fast riff of the song kicks in, that's the sound that thrash being invented makes. The band certainly weren't afraid of a little breakneck speed, especially in tracks like "The Prince", which hurtle along quite fast even by today's standards. Certainly, the causal grindcore enthusiast might look at the riffs and tempo in the way someone designing a train today looks at Stevenson's Rocket, but at the same time, perhaps there's more than a little possibility that Diamond Head's speed was as influential as their playing, to the rest of the NWOBHM and well beyond. When you consider that, to my knowledge, Metallica have covered five of the seven songs on the record, you really get the scent of how influential Diamond Head were. Perhaps engaging a lot of hyperbole indeed, a journalist, I'm told, stated that "There are more good riffs in a single Diamond Head song than there are in the first four Black Sabbath albums". Maybe not quite, but there's certainly a degree of truth to the overall proclamation; Diamond Head's riffs are really good. I wouldn't go as far as he did - good lord no - but you just need to listen to a track or two to really soak up the monumental prowess of the riff work.

It's a bit of a sad story how rapidly Diamond Head declined after the first couple of records; sinking not so much into obscurity, but by all accounts mediocrity. It's much better to dwell on just how good this album is, however, than lamenting the fact that they didn't make many more like it. Lightning to the Nations is utterly deserving of a classic status, which, for the most part, it has rightfully claimed.

This is 10/10.

Diamond Head Official Site
Diamond Head on Facebook
Diamond Head on Metal Archives

Monday, 13 May 2013

#276 Ratt - Invasion of Your Privacy

There is music from over ten minutes ago which is well worth listening to - contrary to what the mouth-breathing denizens of the world around me, who describe songs from 2010 as "an old one", might believe on the matter. Even us who weren't, like myself, alive at the time can nonetheless live the eighties music vicariously through the soundtrack of Vice City. Don't lie, that game was probably the biggest importer of glam-metal into our teenage lives. To cut a long story short, I'm going to review some Ratt tonight, for two reasons; firstly, my internet-connection is terminally ill and can't stream anything, and I have Ratt vinyl, and two, I genuinely enjoy their music.

This review, I think, is going to be half-and-half a review explicitly of Invasion of Your Privacy, and a few general thoughts on glam in general. It's very beneficial that albums like this one do a very representative job of glam, and Invasion of Your Privacy really has it all. The record is typified by mid-tempo, crotch waving, swaggering and sugary simplistic tracks which provide the perfect backdrop to arriving at the party, seducing all of the unrealistically attractive and attainable supermodels present, driving them back home in an expensive sports-car, down a desert highway with the wind in your hair, and then screwing them afterwards, which, let's be honest, is more or less what listening to glam makes everyone think of. Probably cocaine as well. When it comes down to it, one of the fundamental reasons that I like glam is that it captures the reckless spirit of rock n' roll, and distills it into something even more catchy, sensual, and, dare I say, rather manufactured indeed. It's distorted, growling electric guitar dressed up in something leopard print, drinking cocktails instead of slaying dragons and invoking Satan, which is without a doubt what the "true" genres of metal were busying themselves with. Invasion of Your Privacy is a neon-lit exhibition into how fun a few riffs can be when they're stuck together with some massive choruses and more than a little ear for being memorable and catchy. Glam is the music which every party needs, but too few are equipped with. Safe to say, this album would be a great start.

As glam goes, Ratt manage to retain quite a lot of the metal element in the music, and the guitar sound and tone is certainly loud enough to exude energy and power, whilst being pleasantly hooky. The power chords tend to have a pleasingly hefty thump to them, albeit still very friendly to listen to; it's the kind of thing that nobody could complain about. The music then, unsurprisingly, is absoloutely not "intense" by anyone's standards; pleasantly plodding, and mostly in simple time signatures, albeit, and thank the lord, not quite to the extent AC/DC is. The tempo remains very uncompromisingly in the middle, which,  on the whole makes for something very relaxed and laid back, which is perhaps one of the fundamental features of Ratt's music; that is, being very mellow, not just with regards to being radio-friendly - bands like Motley Crue managed to play-fast whilst being very radio friendly indeed, instead, you get the impression that Ratt just aren't a fast band with regards to the sort of music they wrote; intrinsically mid-tempo, if you will. The sort of music which you always hope might come on the moment you walk into a nightclub. Sadly, I'd expect nowadays that an infestation of moustachioed bloody hipsters listening to glam ironically would really put me off. That, in fact, is something I really want to mention; I don't listen to glam ironically, that's why I don't particularly enjoy bands like Steel Panther, who do. I like glam for what glam is; and like the rest of metal, it's escapist music - it's just that when you listen to Invasion of your Privacy, you escape to the mid-eighties and a neon-lit night, instead of somewhere further away and darker.

I suppose it'll be back to something a little heavier next time I write a review, but before then, I think I'll dig out and listen to a few more of the Ratt LPs I've got somewhere, and I think I can safely say that it'll be worth it. In 2013, glam is, frankly, dead as a stone. In 1983 it wasn't, and just because it's not a thing any more doesn't mean it doesn't still kick-ass, thirty years down the line.

A solid 7/10 record.

Ratt Official Site
Ratt on Facebook

Friday, 10 May 2013

#275 Lost Society - Fast Loud Death

The lasting legacy of the thrash-revival, or indeed any of the recent resurgences of self-proclaimed "old-school"genres is that metalheads have become a harder and more critical audience to appease; modern thrash is no longer the free-for-all it might have been five years ago, but is instead a meritocracy, with the more generic acts slowly running out of steam. In this climate, I can safely say that I was a bit surprised that a brand-new band in the movement had popped up, and indeed with quite a lot of even the most jaded metalheads taking notice. The band in question are Finland's "Lost Society" and their début album Fast Loud Death. 

The statement of intent that the album artwork makes is almost instantly clear; fire, death, scantily clad women, and annoyed-looking men in suits? The album is going to be very, very retro. It certainly helps that it was painted by Ed Repka; one of the most iconic artists in thrash, and responsible for bringing to life iconic albums by Megadeth and Nuclear Assault. Musically, the band likewise stay very true to the spirit of thrash, that is, playing exceedingly fast, maniacal music indeed. There are plenty of moments on the record which really make you sit back for a second and think "fucking hell" - a nostalgic moment indeed, as it was what thrash bands were making me thing when I first discovered acts like Megadeth and Testament when I was about fifteen. Lost Society are absolutely explosive, to the point that attempting to band your head without prior knowledge of the song structures is risky. The resulting concoction is very intricately written, but also smooth flowing, with a good ear for melody, something which I've heard plenty of people mention that the thrash-revival generally lacks, and I'm inclined to agree. Lost Society manage to properly deploy catchy hooks and vicious bridge-sections and lead-guitar work to create something which is mind-bendingly dynamic; it's sort of like Warbringer's "play conventionally, but extremely technically" recipe, taken to the extreme, and with an added pinch of recklessly trying to make everything faster than it already is.

I think it's very much a case, of which I will hold that there are a few, that a thrash-revival band stands out from the crowd not for being super innovative or fresh, but for being incredibly good at playing old-school sounding thrash - Fast Loud Death seems to be Lost Society doing just that; It might not be re-inventing anything, but it's considerably more enjoyable than a lot of the thrash releases to appear after the millennium. Another particularly interesting feature of the band's sound is their attention to groove; not in an unfortunate gym-dwelling kind, but instead an adept, and extremely agile kind, which compliments the thrash spectacularly, and helps your brain have a rest after trying to keep up with the fastest sections, not unlike Overkill's later material, or Pantera in the brief window before they were shit. For the majority of the album however, the real source of wonderment is how fast the band manage to play whilst remaining tight - in the vein of bands like Anthrax at their fastest, or the head-over-heels guitar-mashing of Megadeth's Killing Is My Business album. On the other hand, the band do an a good job of sounding different. Sure, there are elements of all of the bands I've mentioned in their sound, but at the same time, they sound reasonably interesting in their own right, and while there have been very few truly original bands in the thrash revival, I think I can safely say that Lost Society come across as being among the very best of the rest. Slightly puerile, perhaps, but very accomplished.

 Maybe in many contexts, Fast Loud Death is just another thrash-revival one, and one arriving at the tail end of it, at that, but don't let that put you off listening to it; I wasn't sure how good it was going to be, and I suspected it would be fairly mundane, but fortunately, I took the time to check it out properly, and was pleasantly surprised; it's very, very solid, and while it might not be novel, it's the eighties distilled into an extremely potent extract indeed. Probably the most fun thrash-record of 2013, by a good margin.

This is an 8/10, I think.

Lost Society on Facebook
Lost Society on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

#274 Rust - Damned Hellish Voids

I found out about Swedish black-thrash band Rust by accident, while I was looking for a different band of the same name. when it comes down to it, I think I prefer this one. The band immediately had a certain, uncompromisingly old-school feel, and I was convinced that they were the kind of band which, if they hadn't been Fenriz' band of the week yet, it would only be a matter of time. As it turns out, they already have been, which was definitely deserved, judging by their latest record; "Damned Hellish Voids". At the very least, as a rough guideline to the band, this is pretty much exactly the sort of thing which I imagine Fenriz' to enjoy.

Damned Hellish Voids is only six tracks and just under half-an-hour in length, but it certainly feels complete and varied; it's not the sort of album which utterly rushes past, but leaves a reasonably lasting impression, and has a memorable sound through and through. It's an album with plenty of substance, with plenty to listen to when you let your ears become accustomed to the course, frosty production. While on paper, the album doesn't last long, it definitely feels like an album, and the songs, perhaps through being fewer in number, all manage to have a lot of identity from the very first listen.  I personally really enjoy shorter records, and anything between twenty-five and forty minutes feels just right.  Rust's sound is an interesting coming-together of primitive, but technically quite adept instrumentation to create something akin to Ravishing Grimness era Darkthrone with a hefty, thrashy edge in the style of bands like Aura Noir, and a reasonable dose of punk, particularly in terms of frantic, full-speed ahead riffs which are filled with wrath, maniacal drumming, and probably a reasonable amount of gratuitously cheap beer, adding a bit of spit and attitude to the mixture. More or less everything about the record utterly reeks of old-school, from the overtly un-triggered drums to the no-nonsense guitar tone, which practically sounds like the band snuck in and recorded it through Darkthrone's gear while Fenriz was at work. The bass is a lot more audible than one might expect for something so heavily influenced by black-metal, and at its most prominent, it blends with the guitar quite well, giving the result a very chunky but smooth feel, punctuated only by the drums and vocals, helping the music to really carry a presence.

Musically, the album sits very precariously on the line between grim and rock n' roll, which I find is usually the two categories which black-thrash can be divided into, almost without exception. With Rust, however, it's quite hard to tell, and indeed, certainly pays tribute to both sounds. Whilst the d-beats, many of the riffs, and indeed the attitude oozing out of the record are indicative of a manic, trashing approach, some of the tracks, such as "Sordid Landscapes" carry a very real darkness with them, particularly with regards to the vocals, which cut and tear out from behind the guitar tone with some force, and a particularly icy and ravaging sound, emphasised most on the opening track, but also present in pockets throughout the album. Sordid Landscapes also has the kind of black-metal solo which a lot of bands who play pure black metal have forgotten how to do properly; it's rough, shrill, atmospheric and ever-so-slightly scary, which is the perfect mixture of aspects. By the time the closing track is over, however, the record has moved into much more attitude-driven material, and becomes a record which is unmistakably black-thrash, and certainly leans further towards the thrash side of their music more than the first four minutes did. This, however, is not a problem for me, as the band are as good at making energetic black-thrash as they are at making it cold and grim; the only difference is that for the latter five tracks or so, you're probably expected to be holding a can of beer. All in all, this coming together results in something a little too warm to fully have the atmosphere of black-metal, but still dark and a little unsettling, another thing which a lot of black-thrash bands haven't been doing lately. Rust do a great job of keeping the "black" in black thrash, whilst at the same time making something which you can whirl your head to, bowing before the onslaught of Hellhammer style powerchords, and writhing, tangled lead-guitar.   

I find it's generally a good judge of any music with black-metal influence to ponder "would this deeply alarm someone who doesn't listen to metal". The answer, I think, is probably. That's certainly a good thing, and it really helps me appreciate an album which manages to be utterly diabolical and "rocking" at the same time. In the words of Lemmy, "It's loud, and your parents don't like it". With this quotation in mind, I think it's safe to say that Rust have done a good job of creating The Devil's music indeed.

This is an 8/10.

Rust Official Site
Rust on Facebook
Rust on Bandcamp
Rust on Metal Archives

Saturday, 4 May 2013

#273 Rotting Christ - Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy

Once again, my apologies for taking so long between reviews at the moment; I'm almost in a position where I can write them every couple of days again, but until that time, I suppose I can merely write them when I get the chance. Today is one of those chances, so I've decided to review the newest Rotting Christ album, Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy, the 2013 follow-up from 2010's Aealo. I would have reviewed the record a few months ago when it initially came out, but I decided to wait my time and listen to more of the bands records, to gain a better perspective. I have done so, and deeply enjoyed it, and now I feel I can finally write a review.

Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy translates into English as "True to His Own Spirit", which is something the band exemplify extremely well; There are no bands out there who sound quite like Rotting Christ, and indeed the band themselves manage to create a fresh record each time, while at the same time sounding familiar. Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy is no exception, and brings forward the musical directions explored in Aealo and Theogonia, while at the same time succeeding in sounding different. Aealo sounded dramatic, indeed, apocalyptic, while this record exudes a calm, collected grandiosity; there are relatively few of the wailing, Hellenic female choir elements present, and instead the music feels stripped back; the atmospheric, churning guitar playing feels more pronounced, and quite reminiscent of the bands earlier work, such as a personal favorite of mine, Non Servaim. It is, in fact, hard to find a Rotting Christ album which isn't a little reminiscent of every other Rotting Christ album, albeit not in a negative sense; idiosyncrasies in guitar playing, particularly, have stayed present through the bands discography, an iron rod of consistency. Likewise, the guitar tone on the album feels reassuringly true to the bands previous works, which is certainly one of the secrets to the band's unique atmosphere, frankly one of my favorite aspects of the work. Songs like the opening track "In Yumen - Xibalba" are vastly immersing, with a deep, austere atmosphere which draws the listener along the cold, stone floor of some ancient temple; oil burning lamps flicker, casting undulating shadows, and ethereal voices make themselves heard.

As with the previous couple of albums, Rotting Christ really go to town with folk instruments and guest musicians, and the additional-credits for the album are formidable with regards to other musicians who lent their abilities to the record; notably bagpipes, choir singers, pianists, and others. What results is an incredibly thick layer of embellishment over the guitar-and-drum core of the record; often, however attentively you attempt to listen, you're still uncertain if your ears are actually managing to pick up everything which is going on, with the sounds layered luxuriantly  with extremely generous depth and richness - it's something which I've always trusted in the band to do well, and this time is no exception. I've seen a few reviews for the record which proclaim the atmosphere to push the guitar work to one side, spoiling it slightly, but I have to disagree; the guitars feel more prominent in this than in much of Aealo, which is a record I also thoroughly enjoyed anyway. Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy seems to carry a perfectly pronounced heart of metal, and the guitars feel plentiful and distinct, with memorable lead sections and riffs alike. Perhaps the atmospheric moments can at times be the crowning features of songs, but nonetheless, I think it's perhaps hasty and unwise to consider them to spoil the guitar work itself. Nonetheless  it's safe to say that this album, and Rotting Christ in general, are about more than just the conventional metal instrumentation. One of my favorite atmospheric aspects of the record is the immense lower-end, particularly noticeable in tracks like "Gilgames". Beneath the instantly tangible guitar work hides a deep, almost mythological roar, adding a thick and extremely monumental air to the music; I'm not sure whether it's synth, or merely the bass tone, but either way, it really adds something to the music.

I'm really not sure if I've done a good job of reviewing this record or not; there are a lot of elements which, while I know I enjoy them a lot, I likewise struggle to put into words. Nonetheless, I thoroughly recommend this album to anyone with more than a slight interest in metal, and can safely say that Rotting Christ have proudly maintained their status as one of the most consistent and solid acts in the entirety of extreme metal.

This is a splendid 9/10.

Rotting Christ Official Site
Rotting Christ on Bandcamp
Rotting Christ on Facebook
Rotting Christ on Metal Archives