Wednesday, 27 November 2013

#316 Skeletonwitch - Serpents Unleashed

Perhaps it's the time that I grew into metal, but bands like Skeletonwitch still seem like young upstarts  - the new kids in town - to me, and this indelible impression often casts a fog over the fact that they've been in the business of metal for over a decade now, and have a number of albums which befit such an age. With age comes wisdom, however, and if you want a lesson in what a consistent and hard working band are like, then Skeletonwitch are a steadfast tutor indeed, and their latest lesson, entitled "Serpents Unleashed" certainly continues the iron rod of consistency running through the band's output over the years.

Something I have always valued when it comes to albums is tasteful artwork, and I don't think it superficial to often be attracted to - or repelled from - a record because of the way it looks. Good artwork shows that the band not only care, but are proud of their work. Skeletonwitch are very much a band of that sort; for the last four albums, beginning with Beyond the Permafrost, the records have sat superbly with one another upon the proverbial shelf - they look, in short, like a set, with crisp, fresh and visually stimulating artwork; their records are as fun to look at, and that is something which genuinely makes me not only want to listen to the records more, but really shows that the band themselves are willing to make the best visual impression with their work that they can - something which, as my ears report to me, the band also bear in mind whilst crafting their music. The formula of the record is consistent; in the same way that Bolt Thrower had a run from Warmaster through to Mercenary, or arguably longer, of records which were fairly similar, but subtly grew and expanded, each one with merits, so too do Skeletonwitch. The songs on Serpents Unleashed certainly wouldn't shock or astonish people if it was revealed that they were written anything up to half a decade ago, they certainly don't feel stale either. When it comes to Skeletonwitch, more of the same - even more specifically, more of what you expect - is not a bad thing; You know as well as I do how annoying it is when they change the recipe of those sandwiches you always get in the store, without prior warning.It's not so much that the band keep making the same album again - it's simply that they've managed to sustain a vicious five album long charge without hitting the wall yet. 

So what is in this Skeletonwitch sandwich which keeps us coming back to it? Like the previous works, Serpents Unleashed has the blend of balls-out ferocity combined with subtlety which not only makes it doubly listenable, but also succeeds in making it exciting, and in many respects quite innovative; certainly there are bands who blend the two - there have been for decades - but no band sounds quite the way Skeletonwitch do. When the band are going all out, full-steam-ahead, there's the sort of thrashing, scathing blast of music which could strip the wood from a tree like a Gatling-gun, but at the same thing, subtle lead work, tremolos which are genuinely epic - even beautiful - and unexpected structures make the listening experience one which is more than just concerned with heaviness. The band have always had a knack for bringing elements which you wouldn't expect, let along expect to work in a blackened-thrash context, and that's what makes them so thoroughly special; big, old-school solos, riffs with an slightly traditional-metal edge, and all sorts of other goodies lie within the hearing of the listener who is adventurous enough to fully open their ears to what is going on. All of these elements, might I add, are united under a solid production-job which really manages to let the harshness of the bands music roar, the subtleties glimmer, and the whole thing pack a mighty punch without sounding too clinical; a sure success in my book.


So there we have it, and all that's left is for me to wrap up this thoroughly fourth-wall breaking and potentially redundant end paragraph; but nonetheless, something in terms of a conclusion is needed. Serpents Unleashed is, it is quite plain to see, the continuation of a band who have yet to miss a single beat - a band who started the charge a decade ago, and haven't lost an ounce of momentum. Momentum isn't measured in ounces, but even if it was, this album is top-notch. 

This is an 8/10.


Friday, 22 November 2013

#315 Metal Church - Self Titled

As much as I like to cultivate the impression that I somehow have my "finger-on-the-pulse" of the most recent and hubbub-inciting records out there, I, and hopefully many like me, can find just as much enjoyment in the classics of old - the records which are not only older than me, but undoubtedly kick more ass, too. Sometimes, especially at a busy time of year like this, I forget to take my eyes away from new releases and remember the fantastic landmarks of the past, the sound of which still reverberates through the halls today. That was, until earlier today, I took a trip to a certain church. A certain Metal Church, and was absolved of such sins.

Everyone has the sound which they thought metal had before they got into metal. If everyone is like me, however, they have only faint memories of what they thought that sound was. Supposing I was to dive into my memories and find those thoughts, however, I suspect I would find something a lot like Metal Church; long haired, screaming gentlemen in denim and leather, wearing sunglasses indoors, to the sound of deafening electric-guitars, shrieking but melodic vocals, and slightly alarmed parents. It is to that description that I would appeal if someone were to ask me "What are Metal Church like?" We're all fetishists for rigorous genre-labelling 'round these parts, but Metal Church offer more of a challenge than some bands; I'd describe them as speed metal, but I doubt that would stand up in a court of law - likewise, they are neither quite explosive enough for full-blown thrash, or gentle enough to be considered a purely traditional-metal affair either. Ultimately, I retreat to my previous saying; Sunglasses indoors. The bands work is, however, definitely not a lonely island in a sea of styles; quite the opposite in fact. More akin to a busy and flourishing intersection, the band's self-titled début album brings everything there is to love to the table; energetic, head-banging riffs, with catchy-hook after catchy-hook, propelled forwards by vicious and razor-sharp vocals which ride the line between scathing and melodic perfectly, while snarling and shredding their way through infinitely memorable choruses, such as the great showcase on "Hitman".

Metal Church is the sort of album - the sort of band - that while listening, you can really imagine the band swaggering confidently and energetically around a stage somewhere, with a blaring-backline and vigorous crowd. It's always a plus when an album manages to capture this sort of natural, undaunted-by-the-studio feel and the band's true, enthusiastic energy for you to enjoy in your dingy, adolescent bedroom while pretending that your hairbrush is a microphone. The blend of rocking and stomping with the added energy and fire of thrash really is a winning formula, and a shockingly addictive mixture. Every chorus, every solo, and every riff feels like it belongs, and indeed thrives in its place, it's the kind of album - a classic by my reckoning - that doesn't waste a moment of it's running time, and that really shows through in just how often I've been listening to it. It's quite unusual for me to have an album dominate my listening these days, let alone a band, but Metal Church's eponymous effort does precisely that, with its crackling electricity and maniacal, frantic edge, both of which make the style, as it indeed was at the time, sound like the work of some mad, innovative genius - it has the roguish, wild-eyed charm which truly epitomises not just metal, but rock n' roll as a whole. The record is easily one of the catchiest and most earnestly energetic in my collection, and while bands have played faster and played heavier, nobody have played quite what Metal Church can play, and the and are all the more precious a gem in metal for it.

Metal is a constant, and I'm damn glad of it, but we are so often reminded that, in those age-old words; there's no school like the old-school". It's albums like this, I can safely say, which give that statement it's weight and power, and for good reason. Metal Church is a fantastic début by a band who, I can happily say, continued to deliver the goods. 

This is a 9/10.

Metal Church Official Site
Metal Church on Facebook
Metal Church on Metal Archives

Saturday, 16 November 2013

#314 Dalla Nebbia - The Cusp of the Void

I've been meaning to review "The Cusp of the Void" - the new album by US black-metal innovators Dalla Nebbia, for quite some time. Presumably since the moment I realised it had been released, which seems to have been back in mid-October. Late to the party I shall admit to being, but simultaneously the bands previous EP "Thy Pale Form" gave me easily enough of a taste of their potential to know that this was a party that I needed to get around to. Tonight, I plan on submersing myself in Dalla Nebbia's music; if I can, trying to spew forth a few meaningful sentences about it for you to read and, if I'm to be optimistic, enjoy reading.

To those who haven't heard the band's music before, Dalla Nebbia can be best described in their own words; "Dalla Nebbia is a far-cry from the corpse paint and spiked gauntlets of the Scandinavian orthodoxy... ". Correct they are indeed, to say such things. If my remit as a reviewer were simply to say what bands were not, however, despite a few amusing scenarios, I suspect I wouldn't be doing a very good job. So, I must ask myself - ask what my ears tell me about the music - what are Dalla Nebbia? There are a lot of words which fly around at my fingertips; the music Dalla Nebbia create is intricate, unorthadox, innovative... but now, on this album more than ever before, Dalla Nebbia feel musically fascinating. Like every listener, I suffer from a certain disability; I have not listened to every band in the world, but of what I've heard of the music out there, Dalla Nebbia's work sounds like none of it. While obscure, Dalla Nebbia sound like nothing I've heard before, and certainly deserve a place among the poster-children of black-metal's sheer ability to experiment, innovate, and create new, chimerical wonders. Sonically, The Cusp of the Void certainly sounds like it's on the cusp of something legitimately creative and fresh; every pulsating piece of guitar work, or unexpected swirl into the unexplored feels legitimately rewarding to listen to, and, as I say many times over, truly represents the influence of progressive music upon the genre; it sounds like it has progressed towards somewhere, something new and exciting.

As it stands, I'm never too good at hearing what instruments are actually doing, but one thing I can definitely hear is that Dalla Nebbia do things a bit differently; their interpretation of black metal is like a hazy, mournful summer-dance; writhing, undulating and shimmering, with a heavy emphasis on lead-guitar work, in terms of both relatively high-pitched, wailing riffs, and solos which genuinely exude the sort of atmosphere which so few bands tap-into the potential of. Sweeping statements about the record are difficult however, as every track feels a little different from the others - truly diverse and difficult to generalise - and perhaps that's a good thing indeed, for despite it's diversity, the album also flows very well through its course, and thus the diversity is not arbitrary, but legitimately welcome. Every flourish of experimentation feels like a fresh idea in the mind of one of the main songwriters, and the album certainly keeps bombarding you with dynamic and sonically interesting ideas throughout its course, without ever simply sinking into the musical equivalent of thinking-out-loud, which some of the more experimental bands within metal seem to risk on a daily basis. Of course, The Cusp of the Void is composed of tracks from the band's Demo and EP, so it is only natural to compare these new renditions - my verdict? The fact that the band is a full four-piece certainly gives the material a fuller sound - perhaps even a new lease of life, and with thicker production, the tracks have become the songs they were born to be; they seem fuller and more alive.


Dalla Nebbia's full length début is, without a doubt, an extremely interesting and solid piece of black-metal craftsmanship, and one which definitely furthers my interest to hear more from the band - while it is composed of songs which have been heard from them before in one form or other, it is nonetheless splendid to hear them again, rejuvenated. Hopefully interest in the band's work will grow, and their sound will flourish, because as well as being novel and exciting, Dalla Nebbia's music deserves to be heard.

This is an 8/10 with ease.

Dalla Nebbia on Bandcamp
Dalla Nebbia on Facebook
Dalla Nebbia on Metal Archives

Monday, 11 November 2013

#313 Mammoth Grinder - Underworlds

I'm not sure whether a Mammoth Grinder is an exceptionally large grinder of some sort, or a thing which is capable of grinding mammoths, but of either of these, Mammoth Grinder's music is a certain sonic equivalent. Heck, for all I know, it might be the sound or a mammoth grinding other things - all I know for certain is that the name is the sonic counterpart of something enormous, and the band has unleashed a third record this year, to which I now turn my attention.

It is perhaps the highest praise I can give, given how superb the artwork is, to say that the music is easily as good as it. Mammoth Grinder take, nowadays, a no nonsense and thoroughly rapid fire approach to punk-steeped death metal. Underworlds is akin to having ten short, to the point tracks catapulted at you by a firing-squad of ferocious d-beat enthusiasts. If you're not familiar with my personal preference as a reviewer, I assure you that I, for one, fucking adore d-beats, and fortunately, along with all of those other tasty, fist-pounding percussion styles associated with great old-school death metal, it seems Mammoth Grinder love them too. Underworlds isn't about excessive or gratuitous technicality or complexity - no - their music is, as plain as the light of day, composed of grooving, crushing, skull-fracturing old-school steak-pie flavoured rage - enough, I dare say, to make bands like Entombed and Autopsy very proud indeed, particularly the former, whose influence is very apparent on the record, but simultaneously not overwhelming in the way that so many bands simply mimic them down to the very effects pedals. Mammoth Grinder are, instead, from the onset their own masters, and not a clone-band of any sort, combining the glorious crunch of old-school death metal with a touch of hardcore ferocity and bite to weave what I can only describe as a paradigm case of what extreme metal should be all about - energetic, crushing, and thoroughly onomatopoeic with regards the interweaving of their name and sound.

Like the excitement you feel when you first listen to a really solid Entombed or Bolt Thrower record, Mammoth Grinder really offer a window into the unique emotion of "the riffs, the riffs..." which only top-notch albums can provide. Cliché as it may be to use the word, the riffs legitimately are slabs of heavy goodness; combining the a crushing sound with the sort of swagger which is extremely rewarding and stimulating to listen to, all the while without sinking to the level of simply being a Swedish-style death metal clone. The riff work, which really predominates the record musically, is certainly the kind which even some really good death metal albums don't manage to reach, such is the level of craftsmanship. Indeed, the whole album, artwork included, really has that feel - there are albums which really claim a certain legitimacy for how well put together the whole package is, from musicianship to artwork right through to production, and Underworlds really does seem to boast all of them, which certainly gives the album a gift of solidity and presence; this is not just another old school death metal album, it is, in fact, one which is well worth taking seriously. Sure, it's only twenty-eight minutes long, but in that time, it manages to rampage headlong through ten tracks which all sound complete - indeed, the album itself feels very complete, and while it whirls past before you've managed to finish your beer, that might be the best way for it; good things come in small packages, and if this album were to be standing at a bus-stop, it would definitely be making the other death metal albums standing around feel awkward for being overly long and more intricate than they need to be.

The mammoth itself may be extinct, but Mammoth Grinder go one hell of a long way to proving that good, old-fashioned bludgeoning no-nonsense death metal is far from extinct. If you have any love for death metal at all, and twenty-eight spare minutes, you literally cannot go wrong by lending your ear to the subtle strumming of Mammoth Grinder.

This is an 8.5/10.

Mammoth Grinder Official Site
Mammoth Grinder on Bandcamp
Mammoth Grinder on Facebook
Mammoth Grinder on Metal Archives

Friday, 8 November 2013

#312 Warbringer - IV: Empires Collapse

As soon as everyone saw the cover artwork, everyone seemed doubly curious - perhaps even anxious, to see what Empires Collapse, the fourth record by Warbringer, was going to sound like. The band professed to have decided to do something a little different for the visuals, and I was curious, as I'm sure many were, to see if the same ethic had been applied to the band's trademark thick, modern thrash. Had it also undergone some innovation and stylistic wandering? A few days ago, a package came in the mail which answered these questions thoroughly.

While I'm certain that metal is still full of undiscovered surprises, by this point, we've worked out that when it comes to the evolution of a band, there are roughly two directions in which they can go; they can become more extreme, or they can become less extreme. You can imagine my surprise and interest to discover that, somehow, Warbringer has done both. In Empires Collapse, you immediately get the impression that the band have cast aside any nonsense with which they might have been preoccupied, and made the switch to leaner, meaner version of what they do. Like the artwork, Empires Collapse doesn't deal in the superfluous - it deals only in tight, efficient thrash. The result is damn crushing at times; fiercely percussive and ferocious, with gnashing and rhythmic pounding riffs and bridge sections which remorselessly beat you into submission, with everything from low-tempo borderline-breakdowns to unrelenting blasting. Warbringer have, as it is almost impossible not to these days, heard the call of extreme metal and given it a comfortable home within their sound. While it was beginning to raise its head in Worlds Torn Asunder, on this record it truly comes together, both compositionally and sonically at fruition, with the harsher, more vicious edge of the bands sound really coming to the fore. The result is something legitimately explosive, darting between swift, conventional thrash sections, and slower parts which really explore what the mid-tempo can do, with churning, rumbling sections propelled forward by vicious ride-cymbal battering, and head-whirling.

At the other end of the spectrum, the band are also leaning towards a slightly rock n' roll edge - catchiness has certainly risen somewhat since the last record, and in general, there are certainly traces of metal's pre-thrash edge embedded within this album, particularly in terms of the solos, which really do what solos have, in these times, moderately forgotten to do; that is, to really weave and swagger around, decorating the song with something which, for thrash's purposes, sounds distinctly badass. Indeed, the odd juxtaposition of the record is that Warbringer are experimenting more and sounding darker, whilst also sounding more fun. In terms of the riffs, too, there's certainly a degree of experimentation - perhaps not covering ground which is new in it's own right, but definitely ground which is  brave for a band who made their name making what was, initially, fairly retro thrash. While Warbringer have almost never felt generic, they certainly seem to have really come out of their shell on this album, and are much more content to play merrily with tempo, outside influences, and most of all, atmosphere - of the bands in the thrash revival, Warbringer conjure some of the thickest and most tangible atmosphere in their music, with a crushing tone which carries more than simply energy, but also feeling; a really distinct impression of explosive ferocity, extremity and swagger which the music brings to the fore, but the guitars aren't afraid to leave a little dismay or fear, either - the band capture thrash's violence extremely well, but also manage to be twisted, joyous, and even mysterious - and all the better for the production job which this record has, which, modern as it is, really suits being so.


It's obvious that these days, especially in a genre like thrash, which has stagnated itself nearly into oblivion not once but twice, that bands who wish to stay on top have to either be very good at making thrash, or very innovative with the sort of thrash they make. I think it's safe to say that on Empires Collapse, Warbringer have tried their hand and succeeded to an extent at both; while the record is still a good old fashioned sledgehammer blow, it's a sonically interesting one too.

Warbringer are still weapons-grade; 7.5/10.

Warbringer Official Site
Warbringer on Facebook
Warbringer on Metal Archives

Monday, 4 November 2013

Live Review #007: Rotting Christ w/ Twilight of the Gods, Negură Bunget and Krysantemia

I don't review every single live show I see - in fact - writing about it afterwards is definitely the exception more than the rule. However, some shows, I think, are sufficiently interesting to warrant a little writing, and this seemed to be one of them. Ill as I was, with suitably exaggerated unrelenting cough, sore throat and blocked nose ov doom, there are some metal shows which, no matter how ill I feel, I would drag myself to without any doubt. One such show for me turned out to be Rotting Christ, and their formidable opening acts. On Friday the 1st of November, there certainly wasn't going to be any virus which could stand between me and the show. I ran out of cough-mixture before heading out, and turned, instead, to brandy and paracetamol, great rock and roll life-on-the-edge maestro that I am. I catapulted myself out of the door and shambled, determined, towards the train-station to get to Glasgow, and the venue therein which would later witness one of my favourite bands of all time, weaving what turned out to be, perhaps, one of my favourite live-shows of all time.

Already, as the poster illustrates, the line-up for this particular show was very much the sort which would grab the attention of just about anyone with a proper interest in metal - a line-up indeed which very justifiably resulted in the Audio in Glasgow - something of a mainstay metal venue of late - being packed almost to the back, and, from what I heard, very close to sold-out; quite an achievement for today's scene, and indeed, very impressive to witness. First on were the band denoted on the gig-poster simply as "Support"; an Italian band called Krysantemia, who were touring with Rotting Christ for a couple of dates. The crowd hadn't quite swelled to their full extend by this point in the evening, and while there was a reasonable amount of head-nodding and mildly interested enthusiasm for their accessible and modern metal set, nobody was really pretending that they were the band that any of the crowd had turned up to see. In other words, Krysantemia did do a good job as an opening band in creating a bouncy, head-nodding atmosphere for the crowd whilst they file in and buy their beers, but at the same time, when your sat below a line-up as formidable as this, you've got a tough time impressing the crowd, particularly with such a modern, groove-metal influenced approach which rubs much of the crowd - chiefly rather more purist - the wrong way. It's technically proficient, and would probably stand well in a more suitable environment, but sadly, this night, the band felt like just another opening act.

Second up were atmospheric folk-black-metal outfit Negură Bunget, from Romania. The band steadily built up interest in their imminent arrival during their lengthy set-up with the sheer number of instruments which the band brought on-stage; Huge horns, flutes, brass instruments and elaborate percussion all was placed upon the stage, and for every instrument so placed, there was a renewed feel of promise that this set was going to be at worst interesting, and at best, fantastic. Of even more interest to the crowd, without doubt, however, was the superb use which the band then proceeded to put these instruments. Negură Bunget were, in a word, superb - perhaps among the best live bands I've seen in a long time, with an enthralling, captivating black-metal performance which was dynamic enough to remain interesting throughout, but also hypnotic and absorbing. The extra-thorough sound-checks which the band embarked on certainly paid off, too, as every folk instrument - and instrument in general - was perfectly audible and clear; minutes into the first track, which slowly but surely came to life, I felt truly lifted out of myself by the music, in a way which few live bands have ever done, especially in the relatively uncomfortable surroundings of a live show. Negură Bunget were easily the most elaborate and musically diverse acts of the evening. 

In the wake of Negură Bunget came super-group Twilight of the Gods, who aren't a Bathory tribute band any more, apparently to the disappointment of a proportion of the audience. Indeed, the crowd seemed a little bit divided by the band, with a small but vocal proportion seemingly displeased by the whole affair, and in many ways, it can be seen why. Twilight of the Gods play rocking, old-school heavy metal in the vein of bands like Judas Priest and Manowar - albeit with a touch of the epic thrown in - but contain members of acts like Primordial and Aura Noir, which, I'll venture, many among the crowd would have very much preferred to see in Twilight of the Gods' stead. Of course, it's infinitely foolish to criticise a band for not being a different band; As frontman Alan Averill said during the band's set "This is about Twilight of the Gods, not the other bands we're in" - and granted, while there were some groans from the crowd which could not be ignored, at the end of the day, the man is right. Perhaps the rip-roaring, balls-to-the-wall chorus-driven antics of the band didn't quite fit between Negură Bunget and Rotting Christ, but the band played a set which was enjoyable in its own right, with memorable and fun music. Twilight of the Gods style touches both upon merriment and genuine epic conviction, whilst also breaking free of the plastic, mass-produced new-traditional-metal sound. Perhaps to many, the band didn't quite live up to the sum of its parts, but as far as I'm concerned, it still sounded damn good.

Rotting Christ are a band I've been a big fan of for quite some time, and in light of the fact that Bathory never played live, and Type O Negative have ceased to be, are among the bands very near the top of my list of bands I've always wanted to see live. Happily, I was not disappointed. Of course, Rotting Christ have an extremely thick, intricate sound, and it's not really possible to tour with an entire Hellenic choir and assortment of folk musicians. Naturally, as a consequence of this, the band make very overt and extensive use of backing-tracks. Fortunately for us, and them, the band seem to use the backing tracks very well, without sounding clumsy. Certainly, the tracks used are verbatim the synth and folk elements used on the albums, but nonetheless didn't detract from the truly live elements of the performance.

To me, one of the most rewarding facets of a live show is hearing a slightly different rendition of songs you already know very well, and Rotting Christ, for me, are the sort of band which allowed me to really appreciate this. The set-list deployed by the band was very solid, as far as I was concerned; In this case predominantly material from Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy, their newest - in general, in fact, easily the majority of the band's set consisted of material from the aforementioned newest, and the album previous to it, Aealo - which, being my favourite two  records by the band, suited me rather well. Perhaps not quite so pleasing for the fan of the band's old-school material, but nonetheless, the setlist was solid, with everything from Non Servaim to a cover of Societas Satanas by Thou Art Lord - one of frontman Sakis Tolis other bands, and the crowd seemed to enjoy every moment of it. All in all, the band offered everything I hoped they would - solid as a rock, retaining the thick, rich atmosphere, and to top it off, performing in front of a crowd who brought a huge amount of atmosphere with them; it was a full show, and, along with Rotting Christ's music, I was also immersed in the triumphant, roaring enthusiasm of hundreds of metal fans. Words can't really capture that, but in my mind, while Greece can be credited with exporting many things over the years; Philosophy, technology, and a myriad of innovations... Rotting Christ must be up on that list quite highly.

Rotting Christ on Facebook
Rotting Christ on Metal Archives
Twilight of the Gods on Facebook
Twilight of the Gods on Metal Archives
Negura Bunget on Facebook
Negura Bunget on Metal Archives
Krysantemia on Facebook
Krysantemia on Metal Archives