Saturday, 31 August 2013

#298 Satan - Life Sentence

In all the time that I've paid attention to metal, just now seems to truly be the finest hour for the NWOBHM in a long while, perhaps even since the movement itself ended decades ago. While the revival and presence of new, often derivative bands has no doubt seeped into metal's general conciousness, the amount of respect that many members of the community who, like me, weren't even alive during the movement's heyday, are giving to the NWOBHM originals is heart-warming. The causality to Satan, one of the gems of the movement, reforming is uncertain; has it precipitated enthusiasm for the style, or has it fed from it, and gained strength that way? I, for one, cannot claim to know. What I can claim, however, is that there are comeback albums, and there are comeback albums. Life Sentence, as I am about to tell you at some length, is a mighty one indeed.

Look at that artwork. Look at it. Does that look like the artwork of a bad album? No sir, it does not. That's because Satan are a band who, even after decades, still know how to do things properly, and like the proverbial bowl of muesli at breakfast, great artwork is so often the start of a great record, and this one is no exception - there has been no flirtation with computer graphics or that font that everyone uses. Instead, it looks like it could have been released straight after "Court in the Act" - the band's 1983 début, and good lord if it doesn't sound that way too. There's almost a feeling of disbelief that it's been around 26 years since the band's last full length effort, and believe me, it doesn't sound like so much time has passed either: Despite splitting up and going about their separate endeavours for decades, Satan make Life Sentence every bit as wholesome as their previous work, and their musicianship hasn't aged a day in the time which has elapsed. The memorable and deeply distinct mid-range vocals haven't diminished in the slightest, and are as strong on this record as they were previously - they are, in fact, almost triumphantly consistent, still weaving memorable vocal hooks and choruses which are positively fantastic to sing along to and embrace as they come flying out of your speakers. Likewise undiminished, it must be stressed, are the other sections of the band; the drums remain as vigorous, the guitars posses the same hasty, soaring bite - all of this, it must be added, without having "that new guy" just shipped in from somewhere in any of the positions within the band, which furthers the impression that every member of the band cares about making music - there wasn't a single one of them who didn't feel like coming back, and indeed, all of them have, if you feel like checking out other bands they've been in, been damn busy in the meantime. In short, to create a more digestible comparison, this record is equivalent to Metallica entering the studio and creating Kill 'em All, down to the very idiosyncrasies, right now.

Don't, however, mistake Life Sentence as some kind of derivative clone of Court in the Act. To say such would be as unusual an interpretation of affairs as considering a record like Piece of Mind unexciting because it's a bit like Number of the Beast - which simply does not detract from either album. The same is true with this record in relation to Satan's back catalogue; it feels like the natural continuation of the bands legacy, and all the more precious, perhaps, for not tarnishing it in the slightest, which is among the most pleasing things about it - adding a real "feel-good" element to the band's return. In and of itself, however, the music is likewise greatly pleasing - still youthful and energetic, the album is composed of belters and memorable foot-stampers all the way through. There simply isn't a single throw-away track. The sound doesn't even feel dated - and while the NWOBHM did occupy a specific portion of our genre's history, Life Sentence does not, pardon the pun, feel imprisoned in the past - it is as good now as it would have been at any other time. In fact, I'd have enjoyed the album without having any knowledge of when it was released; someone could have told me it was made in 1985, and I'd have accepted that unquestioningly, but instead of sounding locked to that era, like some sort of throwback, the record sounds comfortable in 2013 in a way many bands could not manage - or would even try to avoid. Adding to this timelessness, the sound quality is unspoiled by technology. Perhaps a little more tidy than the previous work in terms of production, but not overtly more so - there loudness wars have passed this record by unscathed, leaving a remarkably solid and immensely enjoyable record to its own devices.  


In today's metal community, indeed, music of any kind, we are often very spoilt when it comes to music; there are dozens of albums coming out on a weekly basis, and often, we try to absorb them all, but never truly appreciate any of them as a consequence. Because of this, I always feel especially connected to metal, and excited about listening to it, when something so good comes along that it pushes every other record to the sidelines for a few weeks. Nothing more really needs to be said other than that Life Sentence is one such record. It makes me damn proud to be into heavy metal. 

This is a 10/10.

Satan Official Site
Satan on Facebook
Satan on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

#297 Watain - The Wild Hunt

More or less everyone who has taken the couple of minutes necessary to listen to a sampling of their material will have something to say about Watain. That is, I strongly suspect, really the only thing which feels certain about how things that the band create will be received; everyone is going to have something to say about it, and if this time is anything like the bands previous works; nobody is going to agree with one another. Regardless, there had certainly been what felt like a long period of waiting with regard to the new Watain record; not so much unduly long, perhaps, but in my case, in my professed enthusiasm for the band, the wait was made to feel more lengthy by wondering what on earth the band would do next, after what felt like their magnum opus; Lawless Darkness.

I usually stand by the right of everyone to listen to whatever music they want to for whatever reasons they desire. However, for some years now I've had the impression that a lot of the people who listen to Watain's music are subtly, or not-so-subtly missing the point. As far as I can tell, Watain is not meant to be the most grim, true band to walk the earth - perhaps to the dismay of many a sixteen-year-old who has just embarked upon black-metal, and thinks he's stumbled upon such. It is these sixteen-year-olds, moreover, who might be most disappointed by The Wild Hunt, with it's sprinkling of ballads, clean vocals, and rocking sections. Not, however, because they're the best measure of such things, but because they mistook Watain for a band who weren't going to do what they have done on the new album. The change in Watain's sound has always been gradual, and far from dramatic. Frankly, if you heard the swaggering, memorable riffs slowly becoming more so as albums passed by, and were taken by surprise by The Wild Hunt, then perhaps you're short-sighted. Therefore, I venture, the best way to enjoy Watain is not as one might enjoy the more "serious" black-metal bands. Instead, Watain should be savoured more in the way one might enjoy a band like Motorhead - it is, in fact, not unreasonable to suspect that you could probably listen to The Wild Hunt whilst on a motorbike, as opposed to in some snowy forest. When you listen to the band's back-catalogue, even the dark, rumbling beginnings which we glimpsed on "Rabid Death's Curse" still had a certain "stage-presence" even in their studio format. In a word, then, Watain has always been fun, and The Wild Hunt is no exception. Sure, some of the older albums have been much closer to archetypal black-metal than this one, but nonetheless, like using a teaspoon to do an adequate job of opening a bottle, that's never really what Watain were for.

In terms of content, The Wild Hunt is a motley assortment of influences. Tracks like "De Profundis" sound extremely primal and bestial; remeniscent more, perhaps of Blasphemy and metal of that sort, as opposed to traditional second-wave black-metal. On the other hand, tracks like "All That May Bleed" and "Sleepless Evil" sound far more like the "classic" Watain sound, with swaggering riffs which are given plenty of room to breathe -  thrashy in character, and at times quite rock n' roll, but with viciously sharp and haunting melodic elements highlighting the edges in places. These melodic elements have been stripped back, and if anything, for all of the claims that the band have diluted their sound, they seem more to have distilled it - Ballads aside, The Wild Hunt sounds a lot more akin to the bands first two records than the more recent two. Slotted in between the consistent material come the "ballads"; the title track, and "They Rode On", which, for what they have in common, are likewise very different. The former is very Bathory, with uncannily similar vocals towards the end, and a general atmosphere which fits very neatly in the same drawer on the great metal desk as tracks like "A Fine Day to Die" from Blood Fire Death. Having been told time and time again, both by reviews of Watain's work, and by peers, that Watain sounded like Bathory, this is perhaps the first time that this has actually felt true, and actually feels very rewarding to listen to; the softer sound bringing a lot of passion and beauty to what, otherwise, might have been an underwhelming record. It's not to say that the harsh, conventional tracks are bad, but the ballads help to balance the scales well and give the album enough identity to be more than just a footnote to "Lawless Darkness". Indeed, I'm also a fan of "They Rode On"; an even softer ballad than the title-track, and one which very much sounds like a black-metal version of November Rain - complete with a solo-based crescendo. It doesn't matter on the medium, in such instances - an epic solo is an epic solo, and to their credit, Watain managed to cram in more than a few; Indeed, the curious thing is that Watain do a good job of making the tracks work very well on the record; instead of being jarring, they instead fit into the flow of the album. 

When I want to feel kvlt, I'll throw on A Blaze in the Northern Sky or Ultima Thulle. If, however, I want to listen to something memorable, charmingly esoteric, and most of all, something fun, I'll listen to some Watain. The Wild Hunt is no exception, and the band have carried on at full steam ahead; it's still consistent, very much solid, and even inventive; to their credit, Watain's recipe is distinct, unique, and perhaps to everyone's displeasure, seems to sell well. Even the ballads, however, feel fitting with the path Watain walk. Most importantly, however, the level of quality is definitely sufficient to reassure everyone that, like them or not, Watain still give a fuck.

I'm going to give this a 7/10.

Watain Official Site
Watain on Facebook
Watain on Metal Archives

Sunday, 25 August 2013

#296 Judd Madden - Glacial

At the steady and admirable rate of one or two albums per year, one man doom-vendor Judd Madden has been releasing albums for a while now, and caught my attention when I was browsing through Bandcamp a few years ago. A couple of weeks ago, it came to my attention that a new album had been released, this time entitled "Glacial". Given that I've reviewed a number of Judd Madden's releases now, there certainly seems no reason not to review this one too, on top of listening to it.

I have often remarked that doom metal, especially in its slower varieties, sounds very geological. With this album that is precisely what it is about, too. Glacial is, as you might have guessed, especially if your familiar with Judd Madden's work, another album which deals with nature, and, more specifically, water. With the exception of a few records, Judd Madden's back catalogue consists mainly of explorations of water; the oceans, the water cycle, and even water's absence - the last album, "Artesian" being focused on Drought. This has very much grown not only into a trademark style, but also into something I often eagerly await. Like water itself, it's very refreshing to have a crushing, atmospheric doom record which isn't simply an exposition of being very very high, or similar well trodden paths of the genre, and lets not deny their trodden indeed. Glacial remains very conceptually substantial, and continues to prove that Judd Madden is exceptionally good at making his music evoke things; Every moment of the records simpy sounds glacial; the drone-like, super-low tempo sections crush and tear the bedrock, as they make their slow journey downhill, scraping away at the hillsides, while the guitar tone is allowed to grumble and buckle like the creaking, living ice as it flows. The atmosphere on this record feels the thickest yet, with a truly monstrous lower end, but likewise a level of depth and clarity in the mix which allows moments of atmosphere to shine through with ease, particularly the lead-guitar work, which never fails to evoke cold, panoramic, sweeping notions of great glaciers at work.

Glacial, in it's onset at least, is probably the Slowest, and possibly also the most crushing, record that Judd Madden has ever created. The opening track evokes the creeping, near indescribable slowness of a glacier well, with beauty and immense grandeur mixed with gritty sustain and droning feedback, embracing and musically hailing the magnitude of the phenomena the album describes; the sustain and feedback adopting the role of the creaking, groaning ice. This, perhaps, really showcases how much of a story many of Judd Madden's records tell despite being instrumental; we are fed the music of Glacial, and we are suggested what the concept is; the rest of the story we tell to ourselves, but the musician ensures that the music and concept, yet again, fit together like a hand and glove. Further adding to the instrumental narrative, Judd Madden has always done a great job of creating albums which build and develop throughout their running time, and this one is no exception; the slow rumbling of the opening track turning into a brisk, almost hasty riff by the middle of Mountain Slayer, evoking, perhaps, the glaciers march towards the sea, much in the same way that "Waterfall" used escalating levels of heaviness to evoke the rivers journey towards the ocean, and, like that album, Glacial also feels very complete and cyclical - the final track, both in name and nature, one of rebirth and new-beginnings, as the cycle of music, and the cycle of rock and ice carry ever on. Sometimes, the stories which are the most fascinating are the ones which are told in no words - and this is another of those stories.

So, to conclude, once again, the new Judd Madden album proves to be just as enjoyable as they have been - very consistently now - for a couple of years. While almost every Judd Madden record has a slew of similarities and consistencies, every one also sees the music explore new dimensions, and this one is no exception; it's fresh and dynamic, but also reassuringly consistent, and very absorbing to listen to. I'm already interested to see where the next one will go.

This is an 8/10.

Judd Madden on Bandcamp
Judd Madden on Facebook
Judd Madden on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

#295 Cirith Ungol - King of the Dead

In recent weeks, I feel like I might have been neglecting the more old-school, traditional forms of metal slightly. To balance things out - like a well thought-out sandwich - it's time to add some relish; and what better thing to balance out the harsh, spicey black-metal filling of late than a garnish of Cirith Ungol; cult classic and unrepentantly badass American heavy metal. The band have been recommended to me countless times, and I've often told myself that I really need to set a day aside to delve into their work. Fortunately, it's much too rainy outside today to mow the grass, so instead, metal is the order of the day. In particular, I've decided to take a listen to the bands second album - 1984's "King of the Dead".

I could write this review in mere sentences, with great ease; it would read "Cirith Ungol do all of the things which metal is supposed to do". Some elaboration, however, is in order, for several reasons; not least that I really do try not to be too shit at writing reviews, and secondly "what is it about them in particular?" I hear my tiny readership cry - or rather, make no noise at all, as the readership - a spider who lives on my windowsill  and listens to a lot of metal whether it likes it or not - is as it happens, a creature of few words. The fabulous artwork of King of the Dead - a Michel Whelan illustration from "The Bane of the Black Sword" - sums up many of the points I'm about to make, that is, that some of the best metal you'll ever hear is concerned with things which are simply over-the-top in terms of appealing to everyone's inner twelve-year-old: High-fantasy, swords, shields and loud guitars - and that, my friends, is what Cirith Ungol exudes. Stylistically, the band are about as old-school as you can get, blending the doom feel of Black Sabbath with the more aggressive, sharp edge which really began to gain momentum in the eighties. For every warm, shimmering, reverberating riff in the vein of 'Sabbath, there is also, often as not, one in the more rapid-fire style of bands like Manilla Road, who are among the most similar bands I've listened to previously. The guitar tone on King of the Dead certainly seems to mark a middle-ground between the harsher and more mellow aspects of heavy metal - retaining a rock 'n roll feel, whilst easily dealing out enough punch to keep it up there in terms of heaviness with the goings on among the NWOBHM across the pond.

This melding of older rock n' roll with a more eighties metal sound seems very much to be the most prominent features of the record, and very much inspires a feeling of getting the best of both worlds. The elaborate and extensive use of guitar solos, and the cruising, rolling song structure gifts the music with a memorable, dare I say catchy quality, while at the same time, the riffs are rough around the edges and the guitar tone can really kick some ass - giving it an equal measure of metallic energy and indeed, at times an explosive level of electrifying momentum. One attribute of the record which doesn't really play for either team, but instead sits squarely in the middle are the vocals - shrill, slightly creepy screeched vocals which are, to my taste, exactly how traditional metal vocals should be; rough, passionate and with a tangible but playful evil - the sort of vocals, in short, which probably alarmed people's parents, and, as Lemmy from Motörhead remarks, that's the mark of good rock n' roll; it's loud, and their parents don't like it. Whilst listening to the record a few times on YouTube, I've noticed a number of people complaining about the vocals, and my conclusion on the matter is that said people don't know what's good for them. Like petulant children who won't eat their broccoli, some people are very quick to remind you why they don't deserve to enjoy metal this good. I wouldn't try to tell anyone that this is objectively something they should enjoy, of course, but nonetheless, such people are decidedly silly. I digress. Cirith Ungol, in essence, typified many of the qualities which I love traditional metal to exhibit; managing to be at the same time filled with attitude and atmosphere in equal measure, not switching out one for the other, and all the while being loud, ballsy and deeply memorable.

Ultimately, Cirith Ungol reminds me of something I've often remarked; Heavy metal is the music which you know is cool when you're a child, but only the chosen few remember this to adulthood. Bands like Cirith Ungol were, before I knew what heavy metal actually was, always what I imagined, perhaps even hoped, it was like. This is the way heavy metal should sound, and this review is for that chosen few.

An 8/10.

Cirith Ungol Official Site
Cirith Ungol on Metal Archives

Sunday, 18 August 2013

#294 Cobalt - Gin

Ostensibly, the black metal of the United States just isn't on a par with that of Europe, and, insofar as I listen to more black-metal from Europe than not, I suppose there is, superficially, reason to suspect that this might be true. It's certainly true that relatively few of the founding, genre-defining bands came from the States, but nonetheless, when you delve a little deeper - if you're motivated enough to be more than the casual metal fan, there is plenty to enjoy. An extremely strong rebuttal of any blanket statements to belittle US-black-metal comes in the form of Cobalt - perhaps one of the most interesting and trailblazing black-metal bands of recent times.

Gin, released in 2009, is Cobalt's third full length album, and any review I hope to write about it should probably begin by noting that it's a very interesting album indeed. The reasons for this are many, which perhaps makes it much harder to discuss it in few words. Suffice to say, the record has a lot going on in it - without question, in fact, several things at once. Whilst at times being conventionally ferocious, the music is also twisted, as well as unusual and deeply narcotic - the lyrics being shrieked are every bit as ominous as their musical retinue, and every bit as varied, cryptic and at times eerily evocative for reasons it's at times hard to pinpoint. The crushing but razor-sharp guitar tone dances almost drunkenly around the unconventional, at times almost martial sounding drum work. Drunken, perhaps, is not the right word to use - the album more matches the feeling of something - I know not what - mind altering, happening to you; the wall, as you stare at it, suddenly becomes the ceiling, whilst you flinch in fear that the paintings and objects at that side of the room will suddenly fall onto you. Almost every track on the record, while at times beautiful, also exudes a creeping, oozing and undulating strangeness, to the extent that the whole album can be considered solidly disconcerting, and at times genuinely fucked-up, which I can only imagine its creators were aiming for. It's very safe to say that they succeeded utterly in that task, whilst also creating something profoundly deep; nothing about the record, however baffling it may initially seem, is arbitrary. Everything within it is steeped with meaning, including the bits I can't even begin to understand yet.

Further demonstrating that black metal from the US can be great, Gin is also an album which is a shining example of that nation's musicians taking black-metal and truly making it their own, instead of trying to capture the snowy spirit of the Norwegian winter, or some other European scene. Gin feels absolutely American; lyrically, and indeed musically - there's something in the twisting, pulsating guitar work which simply does not sound European, and indeed, while the whole album sounds disconcerting, there's something of a spirit of Americana about it, above and beyond that. This recipe is one which few other bands that I know of have so much as attempted, let along pulled off with the success which Cobalt have, and the band's uniqueness is certainly held high on this particular shield of style. It is, however, oversimplifying my account of the band, and this particular album, by describing it as having merely one style - in truth, the album is chimerical and many-faced; no two songs are alike, and despite carrying the same dark strand of essence through its running time, it is carried through diverse, and frequently nightmarish landscapes indeed. Bending, lurching riffs send you reeling in a trance, unsure of what direction "up" has transformed into, whilst others convey the feeling of the painful and anxious re-alignment of the senses after such a intense and malign experience, but all the while remaining equally harsh, manic and bold, and at it's most powerful, the album drowns you in it's twisted passageways, before leaving you to float in dark, murky water, as the album fades into the clanking of shackles, the sound of whips, a slave work-song, and the lingering feeling that you're going to want, nay, have to listen to it again to fully understand what just happened to you.

Cobalt, I knew, were one of those bands I was going to have to listen to some day, based on word of mouth alone. As it turns out, I can certainly consider my sources reliable. Gin might be, depending on how many more albums I listen to for the first time this month, either one of or the new discovery of the month for me, and I very much look forward to exploring the bands other output, both past, and, when the time comes, upcoming.

This is a 9/10.

Cobalt on Facebook
Cobalt on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

#293 Summoning - Old Mornings Dawn

Short of writing a review entirely in Elvish, which, alas, escapes my abilities, there's really no way to quite convey the things which Summoning do for black-metal - creating an instantly recognisable mixture of black-metal rawness and prominent, ever-present majesty. However, for over half a decade, things had been very quiet in the Summoning camp, until word began to spread through the metal fans of middle earth, whispers of an upcoming record. The fortress of Summoning was being rebuilt, and an album was on the way. That record was Old Mornings Dawn.

Old Mornings Dawn is the first Summoning record in around seven years, and perhaps owing not only to the highly respected standing of Summoning within black metal circles, but also to the long time the album has had in which to approach release, it has felt absolutely rapturously anticipated, with months worth of excitement and hype ensuing before its release this June. Fortunately, one of the reasons that Summoning are so respected is that they are a band who have never failed to deliver a great record, and after half-a-dozen listens, I can very confidently say that Old Mornings Dawn is every bit as good as the band's back-catalogue in terms of quality, something which, much to my pleasure, was suggested instantly when I first listened to the album. One of the most enjoyable qualities about Summoning's material is that it simply does not feel dated; this record, from 2013, doesn't sound markedly different at its core than a Summoning record from 1997; over fifteen years ago. All of the things which make Summoning what they are musically remain present in force on this record, as they always have been; the accustomed blaring, grandiose synth work, with particularly prevalent brass instruments, melded cleverly into pounding but tastefully programmed drums, and a thick, misty atmosphere all rush out of the record to greet the listener like an old friend. On the other hand, this isn't to say that Old Mornings Dawn is re-hashed or unexciting - more that it's consistent - something which many metal fans need to be reminded is possible without being synonymous with unexciting. In fact, Old Mornings Dawn, while comfortably familiar and unmistakably a Summoning album, is likewise slightly different in character from every other Summoning record, which is another thing the band do exceptionally well; while all of their albums share an essence, they express it in varying ways.

The way Old Mornings Dawn chooses to express itself is once again novel; whilst borrowing elements from both the bare-bones beauty and glorious swagger of records like Minas Morgul, and the thicker, heroic pomposity of Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame, it likewise goes down a different path to either. Old Mornings Dawn feels like one of the most sombre and even sorrowful Summoning albums to date; and the songs evoke a long gone past, or heroic sacrifice, as opposed to glorious elation. This twist in the atmosphere is, nonetheless, in every way as beautiful as one might expect a Summoning album to be; the sorrow-laden melodies especially really taking their rightful place as highlights of the album. The synthesizers in this record likewise fit in the middle ground, with an intricacy which you wouldn't experience in the bands early work, but also the trademark feeling which the band always evoke; that a lot of their keyboard work could have originated from the dusty old keyboard in a teenagers bedroom, which has finally been plugged in and allowed to truly sing it's hypnotic and enchanting melodies. Accompanying the winding, gleaming keyboards, one of Summoning's more recent additions; the choral chants, make their presence felt in songs like Caradhras, where they step up the immersive, epic feel of the record; epic, that is, in the truest and least bastardised sense of the word. Of course, with the sheer thickness of Summoning's keyboard and vocal approach, it could be easy to forget that there are guitars at all, however, they are themselves used to great effect on the record. Raw and often quite overshadowed, certainly, but all the while providing bite, murkiness and depth, perhaps more so than on many of the band's previous works, with a truly rumbling, tangible tone - Old Mornings Dawn contains some of the most enjoyable guitar I've heard the band come up with.

It is, as always, a great pleasure to see such a long-established band carry on with the sort of quality that their fans have come to respect - which is something I can safely assert having listened to Old Mornings Dawn half-a-dozen times at least now. It doesn't feel like "the new one" or jarringly unusual after seven years, instead, and comfortingly, it feels like a very solid Summoning album which just happens to be new. The band have stayed true to their spirit, and it shows.

A 9/10 - Summoning haven't lost an ounce of quality.

Summoning Official Site
Summoning on Facebook
Summoning on Metal Archives

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Live Review #006: Desecration w/ Amputated, Cancerous Womb et. al.

 This review is the third of three live reviews I'm writing in a row, after having attended three shows in a row last week.

In my career as a metal fan, I've not been to very many all-day shows, but there's a certain feeling which always accompanies them which makes them quite special. Maybe it's the feeling of having to head out to a venue, with the sun still high in the sky, jauntily leaving your home to get to work bright and early in the death-metal factory. Either that, or buying beer at half-past three. Either way, equipped with the knowledge that at least half of the bands on the bill were solid, and the other half I'd not seen before, I decided it would be well worth my while to turn up to this one. As far as I can tell, the all-day event didn't have a name as such, I'll probably hereafter refer to it as "Desecration and that". What matters, however, is that I was suffering from a death-metal deficiency, and this was to be a course of very, very rigorous treatment.

After the entirely usual hour-long delay on the doors opening, the crowd spent a while spent watching Party Cannon, trying to work out if they were starting or sound-checking. It proved to be the latter, and, after disappearing for a few minutes more, they re-emerged to start things proper. Party Cannon are without a doubt the kind of band who, had they wanted to, have been a lot further up the bill, but their modesty at opening the event is admirable. So too, of course, is their fun, light hearted blend of slam, which was perfect for loosening up the crowds necks, whilst making sure the brain damage wasn't too permanent. Whilst light-hearted, Party Cannon are formidably technical and tight live, with monstrous drums and the sort of bass tone which makes roughly the same noise as a skeleton falling to pieces down a flight of stone steps, albeit perhaps more crushing. Whilst garnished with the occasional merry fuck-up, due mainly to the drummer learning a few of the songs only days before, Party Cannon are the sort of band who exude an aura which turns slight musical setbacks into just another dimension of the fun, and with a refreshed memory of what slams are like, I felt thoroughly drawn into the full metal-gig spirit by the time they were finished.

Second up were Foetal Juice, from Manchester - the first band of the show who I'd never heard before. It's safe to say that the style of music they played wasn't quite what I was expecting for what I'd assumed to be a fairly exclusively modern death-metal line-up. Instead, Foetal Juice play deliciously filthy, grime-encrusted old-school death metal with a hefty kick, plenty of memorable, hook-laden riffs which really cruised along with all of the twisted, old-school torturous, tongue-in-cheek malice which death metal should have. The band were also fully equipped with ridiculous and obscene pun-based song titles like "Semen evil, smear no evil", demonstrating the band as another textbook study in making death metal not only obscene, but obscenely fun - connecting with the growing crowd very well, and playing a tight, clear set. It's safe to say, biased as I may be as an old-school death metal fan, Foetal Juice were one of the highlights of the night - or rather, day, for it was barely four in the afternoon; something which was very much emphasised by the occasional elderly couple hobbling, rather confused and alarmed, past the venue doors outside.

Next were Belfast's Zombified, who to an extent carried on the oldschool theme, albeit slightly less grimy, and instead sharper. If I recall correctly, the band had an extremely solid drummer, the kind who really knows how to propel songs along explosively, which the majority of Zombified's songs certainly were, with mixtures of blast-beats, deep guttural vocals, and winding, tangled guitar work, and a generally energetic approach. There was barely a moment where the music didn't compell the audience to bang their heads, and indeed, there were few sections in which any of the musicians themselves can truthfully have been said to have gotten much rest, which is always impressive to see - a band who play at the edge of endurance and technical-consistency, but manage it particularly well, as Zombified did. When the band weren't playing at full-steam-ahead, there were glimpses of a more crushing side to the band's music, which definitely spiced up the set with variety, on top of the intensity. If my words have so far failed to paint a good picture, I'll conclude that Zombified are a band who sound a lot like their name might suggest.

Laceration then proceeded to bring things back to a much more modern side of the genre, with a technically adept and frantic sounding brutal-death-metal assault on the senses. Since they became a full-band again, as opposed to a guitarist with a backing track, Laceration's shows have gone to the next step, both in terms of stage-presence, and a tangible thickness and depth of sound which even the best backing track just can't provide. Ultimately, for the few times I've seen the band with a full compliment of musicians, compared to the backing-track days, I can safely say they are considerably more enjoyable, and were probably among the most technically proficient bands on the bill, albeit one which can still unleash a hearty section of slams, or a breakdown, which certainly caught the crowds enthusiasm, between the blasting, and the pinch-harmonic loaded riff work.

After Laceration, along came the ever joyous and friendly Basement Torture Killings, who accompany their music by dressing up in horror-influenced attire; Hannibal Lector masks, and the like. This stage show always manages to be mildly unsettling, despite the band being "those blokes in the crowd" only minutes before, which adds a pleasingly alarming and electric feel to the music, which, incidentally fits their attire very nicely. It's an interesting and dynamic concoction of somewhat grindy brutal-death metal, livened up considerably by ferocious dual vocals, and plentiful solos, the majority of which are genuinely solid, and complement the songs well, as opposed to only being thrown into the mixture for the sake of it. Ultimately, the band play the kind of modern death-metal which I can really appreciate - not gratuitously technical, but still viciously sharp, much like the torturous implements which you'd half expect their rehearsal space to be filled with.

After heading out and finding something to eat, on the tip that Cancerous Womb might be a while setting-up, I returned. Cancerous Womb are the kind of band who have managed to never spoil the inherent quality of their music by playing too many local shows, which makes every single one of their gigs feel very worthwhile, and this one was no exception. The venue and sound-guy really did a great job for the band, maximising the intensity and rumbling power of the bands material, with thunderous drums and undulating, hook-filled riff-work which sounds unlike any other death-metal act I'm familiar with - managing at the same time to be extremely catchy and lyrically good-natured crude fun, but also destructive and intense. The fact that this time around, their bassist was present certainly boosted the crushing momentum of the music compared to the last time I saw them probably helped too, delivering a roaring, room-shaking lower end, which certainly left Cancerous Womb sounding great, even considering that the venue had sounded good for every other band so far anyway. As ever, the crowds reaction was extremely positive - and well deserved, as I have no qualms about pointing to Cancerous Womb as a band to watch, especially when their upcoming album arrives at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Amputated were another of the bands on that evening that I'd not listened to before, but were greatly enjoyable, offering visceral, over-the-top slams to the crowd in the way one might offer fruit-salad to a man with scurvy. The crowd had been a little bit thin for crowd surfing all afternoon and evening, but nonetheless, a few brave souls attempted it, standing on stage waiting for enough people - usually three of four - to carry them around in something which ended up being four people carrying around a fifth person who had taken on the characteristic of someone doing their best impression of a slam fuelled aeroplane. Either way, Amputated were brutal and thoroughly nasty, both very appealing characteristics indeed, and definitely made a very good first impression on me - reinforced later when I listened to some of their studio-material. It's pleasing that I can nowadays enjoy brutal material of the kind that they play - a style which I never imagined I'd enjoy much at all - and I feel that this show was very much a checkpoint on my journey towards broader tastes. Slams, as it turns out, are very very tasty, and Amputated cook up a damn fine slam.

Finally, a fairly cheerful Desecration took to the stage, and blasted out a scathing rum-fuelled set of good 'ol fashioned death metal, only fitting for a stalwart band who have been plying their trade since 1992 - something you can tell their quite proud of. At one point the front-man ended a song with something along the lines of "there were about eight-hundred words in that song, and I sung every fucking one of them - not like some of these modern bands who just go "cuntycuntycunty"" - words which very much set the tone for what Desecration do best - raise the roof with robust but energetic old-school goodness, along with a healthy scattering of swearing and citations of drunkenness thrown in between tracks. However, whatever intake of fun-inducing beverages had gone on, it didn't stop the power-trio from unleashing a splendidly gritty and tight set, without any noticible shortcomings - even during the bit which the front-man explicitly introduced with the lines "this one is a cunt to play". Ultimately, there's definitely an added enjoyment to seeing a band who have been playing death metal for over twenty years now delivering a ripping show, and one which is entirely uncompromising, and while their set felt a bit short to me, as far as I know, that's because I was absorbed into it, more than anything else.

As I've probably mentioned in the past, death-metal is the genre of metal which I have explored the least compared to the others, but events like this, in which I can frankly admit to enjoying every single band on the lineup, are definitely a reassuring testament to the fact that I have plenty of reasons to carry on exporing, and, most importantly, enjoying, the genre. 

Desecration Official Site
Desecration on Facebook
Desecration on Metal Archives
Amputated on Facebook
Amputated on Metal Archives
Cancerous Womb Official Site
Cancerous Womb on Facebook
Cancerous Womb on Metal Archives
Basement Torture Killings on Facebook
Basement Torture Killings on Metal Archives
Laceration on Facebook
Laceration on Metal Archives
Zombified on Facebook
Zombified on Metal Archives
Foetal Juice on Facebook
Foetal Juice on Metal Archives
Party Cannon on Facebook
Party Cannon on Metal Archives

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Live Review #005: Skiltron w/ Arceye and Norderobring

This review is the second of three live reviews I'm writing in a row, after having attended three shows in a row last week.

There are some combinations within the world of music which sorely needed to happen, and one of those things was the combination of power metal with the bagpipes, an instrument which is so self-evidently metal that I'm genuinely shocked it took so long for a band to emerge who used them well. Fortunately, Argentinian band Skiltron decided to do precisely that; fuse the bagpipes with metal, and, perhaps predictably, Scottish themes. The resulting concoction was something I discovered by chance one day when I was about fifteen, and awed by the bagpipe-wielding music since that time, I always said that if they ever toured, I'd go an see them play, which I have now done.

The show was slightly late on starting - I can't recall if this was a direct result of someone having to scrape vomit off the monitors from the previous night's Eyehategod show, or if that was merely mentioned in passing. Either way, I found it vaguely amusing. As can only be expected, the crowd was a little bit smaller this time around compared to the same venue the night before, but it was still pleasantly busy - or at least, not everyone was sitting down.

First on were one of Scotland's few credible folk metal acts, Norderobring, who play an interesting amalgam of blackened folk metal. I know a number of the members of Norderobring well enough to elicit a "Oh Christ, he's reviewed us again" sentiment, and probably the irritating knowledge in them that none of the positive things I say are likely to be able to quote without the risk of it's impartiality being questioned, but, for the most part, I like to think that knowing a band shouldn't impact my ability to say horrible things, should that be required, which, fortunately for everyone at the dinner table, wasn't the case. Musically solid, and interesting to listen to, while at the same time commanding a fairly enthusiastic crowd, I think it's safe to say that Norderobring played well throughout their set, which contained a couple of songs I recognised from previous encounters, and possibly several others which I've heard but since forgotten; either way, the keyboards were a crystal clear injection of Celtic atmosphere, and the generally tight playing rendered the band streamlined, solid and enjoyable, managing to be remarkably sincere and at times deeply atmospheric, despite for the most part being relatively cheerful people, and painted blue.

Next up were Arceye, who were described to me before the gig as "Lamb of God type stuff", which made me a little sceptical, for however legit a band might be, there's no compensating for personal taste, and I won't for a moment deny that Arceye's material, while much better than I anticipated, wasn't quite my cup of tea. I don't want that to stand in the way of me giving the band some praise though, and they managed to keep the crowd interested with memorable riffs with a solid tone, and a reasonable amount of variety within their set. Arceye's music seems to swing between intense groove-metal and thrashy fun, with very overtly agile and disciplined musicianship meeting headlong with interesting and fairly dynamic song structures. All of this is united under the banner of modern aesthetics and song-writing styles - in other words, the sort of thing which ranks in the top 10% of what is broadcast on Skuzz, but still clashes with what I tend to go for when it comes to metal. I'll hand it to them though, they had a solid stage presence, and were easily interesting enough to prevent me from wondering off for half an hour, which I had premeditated to do in the worst case scenario. Fortunately, Arceye were actually quite enjoyable, and damn good at what they do, proving to be a "great band that I'm not really into" as opposed to a bad band in any sense of the word. 

Skiltron have an eclectic touring line-up, with an English vocalist, and the guitarist from Achren on bagpipes, but still sounded easily as good on stage as they do in a lot of their studio material, with, of course, that little bit of magic which only live shows can have - for some reason, especially power metal ones. Over the years, I've listened to the first and second Skiltron albums extensively, and should have probably revisited the rest of their material before seeing them, however, I didn't really have time. Fortunately, I recognised a lot of their songs anyway, especially "Bagpipes of War" and "By Sword and Shield" - the latter being the first song by the band that I discovered, and was extremely impressed by. Live, it had just as much ferocity and power-metal grandiosity, without any of the elements being sacrificed - I even managed to sing along slightly, something which I almost never do. I had no idea bagpipes would fit so nicely into the natural sound of a live metal band, but as it turns out, they didn't vie with the other instruments for space, instead coming through very clearly. Skiltron very much gave the impression of a band who enjoy playing live, and indeed seemed both excited and pleased to be playing the show - always a great contributor to a good atmosphere at shows, which this one very much had; while there wasn't a huge crowd, almost everyone in it was extremely enthusiastic about the music being played, including the unexpected encore of "Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n Roll)", Bagpipes and all.

Sometimes the smaller shows you attend can be the ones which are most enjoyable. While certainly not the most packed venue, or loudest crowd, or heavyweight line-up, seeing Skiltron is almost certainly going to be an experience I remember - there's something about seeing a band you first listened to when you were fifteen that you certainly can't feel when it's a band which you've only been listening to for a couple of months - there's a certain closure, when the journey from first hearing them to finally seeing them live is so long. But as the band said, with reference to their journey from Argentina to Scotland; It's A Long Way to the Top, If You Wanna Rock n' Roll.


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Live Review #004: Eyehategod w/ Bacchus Baracus and Dune

Having seen three live shows in three days, I've decided to review all of them; one show per review. 

This one is the first of the three.

The problem, and perhaps also the crowning feature, of seeing several live shows on consecutive days is that it makes the few days feel like a very long journey indeed, and while I saw Eyehategod only a few days ago, it feels like a hell of a lot of time has passed since then. Fortunately, many elements of the show remain crisp in my mind; crisp enough, perhaps, to write a review of it. At the very least, I'll endeavour to write something, because by the time I left the venue, I'd certainly come to the conclusion that it had been one worth talking about.

I assumed that I was going to be a little bit late on arrival - I don't recall why, but whatever it was probably stemmed from the rule that everything takes longer than you think it will, even when you try to take into account the fact. Fortunately, I didn't miss much, owing to the friendly tendency of live shows to never quite start when anyone says they will, presumably due to exactly the same rule that I mentioned above. These two facts seemed to cancel each other out, and consequently, I arrived about five minutes into the first band's set. The band in question were relatively new sludge/doom outfit Dune, who play deliciously riff-laden material, of the variety which reminds you of that age-old wisdom; riffs are fun. On this night, the band seemed to sound especially good, filling the stage; perhaps the largest I've seen them on, with a confident presence, and managing to win the approval of the crowd, who, in a change from this stage of many shows I've seen, weren't asleep.  It's always good news when the first band on is met with more than jaded indifference from the audience, and for this purpose, Dune did a great job; warming up the crowd as an opening act should, yes, but also being an enjoyable portion of the evening in their own right, as opposed to being "that band" which most live shows seem to have at least one of; the band which is basically the "have a piss and buy a drink" band. With Dune, however, there was certainly an instance of the right support band at the right time; the energetic, sludgy riff-work acting as a hefty, bass-filled alarm-clock to wake up everyone who had turned up; already a very reasonable turnout, although, as it turned out, only about half of the people who turned up eventually.

Much like Dune, Bacchus Baracus play meaty sludgy goodness, once again, very appropriate to the headlining act. With an eye to the opening bands in general, it was pleasant to hear the  more energetic side of the local sludge/stoner/doom scene was very much being represented, which certainly worked well; whilst the slower, lumbering behemoths of the scene would no doubt have been enjoyable in their place, it's nice to have a bit more tempo of an evening, especially when, much to the very vocal dismay of Eyehategod later on, nobody seemed to have any drugs, let alone have brought enough for the whole class. Fortunately, both Dune and Bacchus Baracus play the sort of nippy, cruising sludge metal which you can enjoy a few beers to instead, while also being impressed that they have drummer who does the vocals, and well indeed. Bacchus Baracus are another band who sit solidly in the "fun" category of sludge metal, with a very tangible rocking, southern sounding edge to their music, reminiscent especially of certain eras of Corrosion of Conformity, and, once again, very appropriate to the general atmosphere of the evening. In terms of this specific performance, the band seemed to play a fairly similar set to the one they played when I last saw them, and at roughly the same level. Perhaps not a stand-out performance, or one which hit the spot perfectly, but undoubtedly rather enjoyable, and easily as solid as any band of the same calibre, or indeed, any of the other occasions I've seen them previously. 

By the time Eyehategod turned up on stage, it felt like very little time had passed at all. It's always enjoyable when a gig feels streamlined, and this one seemed to be a good balance; the support bands got a fair share of the stage time, but simultaneously, it didn't feel like an eternity before the main event of the evening began to unfold. The tone for the next hour was fairly well set by one of the Eyehategod guitarists arriving on stage with a piece of paper depicting a weed-leaf and the word "please?", brandishing it with relish and determination between songs. I'll be the first to admit that I'm less familiar with the bands material than I should be, but that didn't stop me from enjoying their set thoroughly, both for the music, and the aura of utter chaos which the band seem to trail in their wake. I've been to Ivory Blacks - the venue in which the gig took place - dozens of times, but I've never seen it quite so packed, or raucous. 

There was plentiful moshing, stage-diving and crowd-surfing at fairly frequent intervals, and with great success, owing perhaps to the fact that there really wasn't very much floor to end up upon - as far as I could tell, the venue was filled to the very back. I couldn't really see what was going on, at the front, either, but at some point somebody spewed, and later tidied it up by falling into it, rather politely, perhaps describing in one fell swoop the general energy of the crowd, particularly the fact that nobody was at all surprised. Generally, the gig did a great job of typifying the overt, but generally harmless madness which can ensue at a good metal show. All the while, through this chaos and lunacy, infectious and extremely loud riffs erupted through the backline with superb power and tone - I wish I knew the band well enough to recount which songs they belonged to, but I'll settle for exclaiming that each and every one was delicious, if a little deranged; These aren't the kind of riffs which you would trust to look after your house - in fact, they're the sort of riffs which other riffs are warned not to hang-out with, by their mothers. In fact, these riffs are downright narcotic, nasty, grimy, and thoroughly fantastic to listen to, making Eyehategod complete the evenings trinity of bands who really knew how to emphasise the fact that riffs are fun, which frankly can exist as a summary of the entire night; You could tell the band were enjoying what they were doing, and it's suffice to say that so were we, at times very vocally. The band played hardcore-edged sludge-metal of a vintage which only New Orleans can export so well, and perhaps only Eyehategod can play in the way that they do.

The gig ended as all gigs aught to; with everyone in the crowd feeling a bit knackared, but extremely pleased to have been present, and elated by the musical bombardment they had just received. I can safely say that, for being a band I went to see because I happened to be around that day, Eyehategod were a fantastic show to attend, and had I listened to their material more before hand, I would certainly have expected to enjoy the show as much as I ended up doing. With the look of someone who has been battered half-to-death by heavily distorted sludge-metal riffs, I wandered off home until the next show I'd be attending, which I shall be reviewing in the near future. 

...and so ended the first day of three.

Eyehategod Official Site
Eyehategod on Facebook
Eyehategod on Metal Archives 
Bacchus Baracus on Facebook
Dune on Facebook