Saturday, 26 April 2014

#340 Nuclear Assault - Survive

I like to keep a well balanced sonic diet when it comes to metal, and while I don't listen to a great deal else, perhaps rendering the concept of "balance" redundant on a wider scale, when it comes to what I do listen to, I like to aim at all of it. I also like keeping this variety abundant when I review things, and considering that for most of this month I've been indulging in looking at the dare I say fancy and gourmet end of the metal-spectrum, it feels like time to come, like a warhead, crashing to earth by reveling in the unsophisticated, slice-of toast that is classic 80's thrash. It's time for a Nuclear Assault. Watch out, it's radioactive.

The artwork says it all, perhaps, but the music elaborates neatly. Nuclear Assault, although a band I never experiences while I was discovering thrash, are nonetheless one of exactly the sort I most enjoyed at that time - crisp, energetic, and relatively clean in terms of vocal delivery and song structure. The thoroughbred form of the genre which doesn't incorporate too much of anything else within it - no sir - it just arrives and gets on with it for about half an hour, and, when it's content that you're strewn across a wide area, leaves, cheerfully dusting it's hands. Combining punchy, memorable vocal patterns with infectious riffs in the best possible fashion, Survive is definitely an album which a great many other albums have wanted to be when they grew up. The guitar-work has a sublime blend of crunchy and lucid tone, spread neatly over an engagingly dynamic range of tempos, from the slow, coiled-spring evoking sections right through to the face-melting swiftness of all out thrash, and calling at all available stops in between, to boot. The band seem to especially flourish at the mid-tempo cruising altitude, utterly nailing the simplistic-drum beat propelled goodness which such a tempo-range can bring to the genre, demonstrating that thrash can sometimes kick an inordinate amount of ass without actually jamming the controls on "full steam ahead", just by being tightly coiled and intense. Nonetheless, the band were, clearly, unafraid to up the ante on velocity, and when the album goes, it really really goes, a sort of high-speed cherry placed neatly on top of the musical cake, which, presumably, someone stage-dived into.

Beyond the musicianship itself, Survive is a great lesson in how thrash is supposed to be produced. The guitars manage to simultaneously be dry but succulent, capturing the ferocity and energy of the down-picking riffs. The lead tone stands out well, and really treats the solos and lead-sections well; indeed, Nuclear Assault assert very thoroughly that they're one of those thrash bands who deploy truly blistering, tight and well-thought-out solos throughout the album, and beyond that, also capture them very well for the record. Dan Lilker's bass tone is wonderfully audible, metallic and rumbling, as a bass tone should be, and the drums are punchy and clear, but real. Topping the percussion off nicely is the fact that it has that eighties snare-sound, which practically transcends merely being a sound; you can almost  feel the drum-stick bashing away, and the listener is left with zero doubt in their mind that all of the music on the record happened. Obvious as that might seem, and clumsily as I'm trying to describe it, there are certainly records out there which don't manage that, and that makes the ones which succeed, like this one, all the more rewarding. The production sounds extremely earnest. Not only do you hear the songs, but you hear the musicians, you hear the room in which it was recorded - everything, and that is how a record should sound - you're supposed to hear those things, and they truly add to Survive's shine. 

The long and short of it is that Survive is the sort of thrash album which I'm always going to consider to be a true case of thrash doing what it does best; a real, earnest, no nonsense record which gets to the heart of the matter. If you were to dedicate one - and only one - album to teaching someone what the real essence of thrash was, this one would certainly make the short-list with ease. Perhaps it's not the thrash album, but by God it does a magical job of being a thrash album. 

This is a 8/10.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

#339 - Bölzer - Aura

If there's one thing I know about Bölzer, it's that as of the last couple of months, they have been accelerating forth from the deep recesses of the underground like a comet of acclaim, soaring ever further towards to growing light of the slightly-less-underground part of the underground where a lot of the best metal resides. Either way, the band have begun the journey into the global spotlight of the metal community, and, if the amount of times I seem to hear about the band per week is to be regarded as any evidence, the spotlight into which they are emerging is a bright one indeed. Consequently, it's about time I had a listen...

Listening to the Aura, the quality of the bands work (and the EP thus far amounts to most of it) is quickly given some much needed sonic explanation. There's no doubt about it that Bölzer are doing something very stylistically interesting, and with plenty of talent, to boot. Cavernous but rich tone and production provides the vehicle for the rumbling, at times dissonant death metal tinged with more than a trace of black metal thrown in to add flavour. The death metal elements very much remind the listener of style of the of bands like Necros Christos, who make that extremely ritualistic, almost ritual-evoking death metal, with tracks as much akin to invocations as anything else - As a side note, I'd love to find out if that sound has a name, or simply exists for now as a collection of similar bands. For my money though, Bölzer do a somewhat more interesting job of it than most, injecting a more tangible element of atmosphere into the mix with their guitar tone, which combines a heaviness with an unsettling, almost eerie apocalyptic feel. Several people I've encountered have hailed this tone as being extremely original - bordering on messianic, which, if I'm quite frank, could be perfectly believable if one hasn't listened to Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega - both of which Bölzer almost certainly derives a great deal of influence from, including - especially - the guitar tone, which is exceptionally reminiscent. This, however, is nothing to be ashamed of; Bölzer apply it extremely well, and, as the EP testifies, create something greatly enjoyable with it. 

The real glory of Aura, by my reckoning, lies in how well the band have managed to pull together the influences which are inherent within it; the old-school death metal angle blends surprisingly seamlessly into the dissonant, jarring elements of French experimental-black-metal sound with which they are coupled, giving the record an initially unusual but hugely listenable sonic character which genuinely exudes the spirit of innovation. The EP, especially the centrepiece of the sandwich; "Entranced by the Wolfshook" manages to have a punchy, memorable aspect which is usually reserved for the most conventional and "catchy" of death metal, but simultaneously manages to exceed that - I've seldom heard a song blend a novel sound with being so immediately graspable, and the EP is replete with riffs which not only soar, but remain in mind from the very first listen. The vocals add a further dimension of interest, bucking the death metal - or black metal - archetype by making extensive use of relatively clean vocals - not quite sung, per se, but delivered in an incantation like, almost narrative fashion, albeit swinging frequently into harsh vocals, giving the EP flexibility, variety and most of all contrasting sections, furthering its diversity as a sonic journey. The vocal delivery seems to very much compliment the atmosphere and implicit aim of Bölzer's music, evoking occult ritual and transcendent ineffability very suitably, and adding to the EP ability to present a thick, spiritual and arcane atmosphere. 

I feel no need to hide the fact that the EP has impressed me quite a bit - a little more than I thought it would, in fact - which is, as ever, a welcome surprise. It wouldn't surprise me if, five years perhaps down the road, Bölzer are one of the success stories of the underground in recent times - indeed - if a three song EP can capture such an audience as Aura has, then the band are a force to be reckoned with. 

Over-hyped, perhaps, but nonetheless excellent; 8.5/10. 


Saturday, 19 April 2014

#338 Revenge - Scum.Collapse.Eradication

Revenge, if I'm quite honest, are a band who I'm taking a thorough listen to today not because I have heard tell of them being good and am eager to listen to their work further, but because for every person to tell me that they're good, my nagging suspicion that they might not be, seems to grow. I'm not truly sure why - some bands just give me that reaction, especially ones as subject to extremely enthusiastic fans as Revenge. My first instinct, when looking at the artwork - skimming through the back-catalog a little, and so forth, was that we might be looking at a case of style-over-substance here. It therefore feels like my duty, in case they're actually really good, to listen to their material for a while, and dissolve my prejudices. If the prejudices reform, crystallized, when the mixture evaporates, so be it.

I have to be quite candid about the impressions I had of Revenge before I listened to their work with a bit more care. Often, I feel like I go too easy on bands, and that's because as a reviewer, I need to be self-aware that almost everything I say in my reviews is simply my opinion, and, unlike many, I don't have the delusion that my opinion amounts to fact. Nonetheless, all too often I feel like I dilute my opinion when it's one which I feel might be controversial. This time, however, before I look more properly at Revenge's music, I'll properly air my prejudices. I'm an elitist about metal... but I'm also an elitist about elitism. The impression I got was always that Revenge were a go-to band for elitists who wanted to like an elite band, but didn't want to do any of the real exploration or thinking involved in doing elitism properly. In short, for the metal-head motivated to attain trve-kvlt points easily, Revenge served the purpose of being My First War-Metal™, drawing in the style-over-substance elitist with their fun, stylized artwork. After listening to Scum.Collapse.Eradication, however, I've come to a realization - this is, once again, a case of a band who have a multitude of quite shit fans - through no fault of their own - and I've foolishly been taking it out on the band instead. It's not Revenge's fault that the more irritating among our elitist brethren flock to them - in fact, having listened more closely to the music, I can safely say that as music of its type goes, they have quite an enjoyable sound - into which, so this piece takes the form of a review as opposed to a rant about those who fellate the hippest, trendiest things the Grand Council of Elitist Prophets decree good, instead of thinking for themselves, I shall endeavor to do in the next paragraph.

Frenzied, primal, primitive and pounding - in four words, the work of Revenge in Scum.Collapse.Eradication is summarized quite nicely. Thirty-five minutes of the rumbling black/death metal of the sort pioneered by Blasphemy, but arguably with a bit more kick and thwack to it. Frenzied vocals release an indecipherable tirade over the prominent drums which mix competence and rage neatly into an eclectic package of very sporadic, often slightly unusual (but very effective) sounding blasting, with slower sections scattered between them, which is really where Revenge's thing lies open for appreciation - that is, the crushing guitar rhythms, like cave-men beating rocks together, show through, with their churning rage, like a brooding storm of bestial anger. The spastic solos aren't really my cup of tea, but I'd be wrong to say they're inappropriate for what Revenge set out to do, which is, in fact, very well executed indeed. The sheer crushing feel, combined with the fist-in-the-face riff-structures and chaotic percussion is the matter truly at the heart of the style, and there are few bands within it which can match what Revenge do with it - pound for pound, the band have one of the best guitar-tones within their niche, along with the most disgustingly evil production values possible. All in all, the record is one which has grown on me with subsequent listens, and I definitely enjoy it far more than I expected to initially - in fact, it's among the best war metal, death/black metal, bestial black metal... call it what you will... records which I've heard in a while. Revenge have impressed me considerably. Their fans, or a certain number thereof, remain subject to my skepticism until further notice. 

So there we have it - surprisingly reasonable - good - great, in fact. I think it stands as a testament to being self-aware and making yourself explore things which you have prejudices against that really marks the true enthusiast for metal - or for anything, of that matter. While the band may - perhaps arbitrarily - represent some of the things which are wrong with metal-elitism, the band themselves, both in terms of music and integrity, have truly earned my respect. 

This is a 7.5/10.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

#337 Pan.Thy.Monium - Khaooohs

I've not reviewed anything especially progressive or bizarre in a while, which is, perhaps, a cause for lament. When it comes to the avant-garde dimension of metal, I must say my knowledge is somewhat lacking, and, for the most part, the exposure which I do get of all things progressive and bizarre can at times be off-putting. On the other hand, I'm not cynical enough to think that the entire body of progressive and avant-garde metal is made up of gratuitous wank. Most of it is, but that's not the point - the point is that it's about time I delved into the finer acts within the niche, such as the one which I stumbled upon the other day, and thoroughly enjoyed; Pan.Thy.Monium. While long gone, the band's work lives on, and their second album, Khaooohs, is one which offered me a very interesting listen.

From the first couple of minutes of listening - or, at least, when the intro track had faded away into the real meat and substance of the record - I could tell that Khaooohs was something special - a wonderfully crafted mixture of old-school death metal and coherent, smooth absurdity and innovation. A variety of instruments, are present, including saxophone and a variety of keys, which grant the record an extremely eclectic resume of sounds, all carried along in a crunchy and savory death-metal shell. The musical structures on the record evoke both chaos, as the title suggests, but likewise have a solidity and cohesion which many avant-garde acts forsake; the riffs are memorable, and their experimental accompaniments crown them beautifully, often with a truly luxurious, gorgeous atmosphere, enticing the listeners ears. The band never turn their back on one of the most important details; it's vital that, however experimental your persuasion might be, that your songs still feel coherent - every track on Khaooohs succeeds in this with gusto. The guitar work retains a fantastically sturdy, robust feel throughout the record, really propelling the music along and giving it a hearty dose of energy, especially in light of the exceptionally bouncy, somewhat up-beat riff-structures and drum-beats which the band deploy, giving the music a groovy, almost swinging feel which is somehow intrinsically enjoyable to hear.

I say it often - perhaps overusing it somewhat, but there are very few other bands with whom I can think to compare Pan.Thy.Monium's work to; less overtly insane than many in the avant-garde camp, but at the same time more out-there and experimental than the closest album I can bring to mind; Tales from the Thousand Lakes, by Amorphis. Perhaps that shines a light more on my lack of knowledge than anything else, but I doubt many people would disagree when I say that Pan.Thy.Monium very obviously plow their own furrow in terms of sheer originality and inherent talent. Writing complex and innovative music on its own is one thing, but writing it as well as Pan.Thy.Monium do is another thing entirely. The balance between the atmosphere, the experimentation and the genuinely crushing riff-work is wonderful to hear; the album may be one which is very experimental, but at no point does it forget that it's also a death metal record, highlighting the sheer elasticity and plasticity of metal, and death metal, as a genre fit for blending just about anything into, with some degree of success. Musically, I'm not really literate enough to nail precisely what it is that Pan.Thy.Monium are mixing with the death metal, but I can nonetheless testify that it sounds exceptional. The cover artwork, very aptly, summarizes what the album is all about; you can't tell what it is exactly, but it's awesome to behold.


I can't even remember how I discovered Pan.Thy.Monium, and that is unusual indeed, considering that it was earlier this week. Nonetheless, like a bolt from the blue, the Khaooohs album has rocketed to being one which I've thoroughly enjoyed, and indeed, recommended to a number of people already. This is, I can safely say, one of the best avant-garde metal albums I've ever encountered.

Let's dust-off the old 10/10 rating for this one. It deserves it.

Pan.Thy.Monium on Metal Archives

Sunday, 13 April 2014

#336 Ondskapt - Arisen from the Ashes

Of the most extreme sub-genres, black metal was one of the first I encountered in a truly revelation like sense; listening to Gorgoroth and Burzum tracks for the first time in the small hours of some morning, years ago, with headphones on and lights off - one of the first things which struck me about the music was how exciting it felt, and to this day, I have always had a place in my heart for bands which succeed in creating a sound which returns me to that feeling of excitement and electricity. A lesson the black metal fan, or the fan of any sort of music, I expect, swiftly learn is that for every good or great band in the style, there are a dozen mediocre ones, laying below the surface. Of course, this makes discovering the truly excellent bands something which is even more rewarding. One of the bands to reward me in such a way most recently have been Sweden's Ondskapt.

Orthodox black metal is, I feel, one of those terms which nearly caught on for a while, and then everyone forgot. Regardless, it's a term which I seldom hear these days. When I did hear it, however, it tended to be directed towards the sort of black metal which Ondskapt specialise in; ritualistic, dark, and content to deliver an evil sermon without the excessive use of blast-beats, avoiding the woes which can often befall norsecore. All three of the above are characteristics I deeply appreciate in black-metal; often, bands can stifle the darkness within their craft through a sheer lack of flexibility. Records with constant, unrelenting blast-beats can make them difficult to appreciate, especially in an atmospheric dimension. Ondskapt, on the other hand, seem to excel at creating atmosphere, with a suffocating but rich guitar tone and loud, prominent vocals which deliver themselves like a ritual or sermon, echoing like the voice of the possessed, forth from the miasma of guitar-work. The resultant sound reaches a very enjoyable agreement between the rough, old-school feel, but whilst avoiding being indescernible; in fact, one of the great strengths of the record, and one which really releases the atmosphere held within, is the crisp and well-considered production job, which lets every nuance of the sound breathe, without sounding clinical; this includes percussion, which is punchy without being clicky, which, as my aversion to triggered-drum-sound grows, it very fortunate indeed.

Perhaps the key to the Ondskapt sound is the interweaving of the old with the innovative. Arise from the Ashes, and the rest of the band's work, for that matter, doesn't sound like a clone of anything, but also has a pleasingly salient dose of the recognisable things which make the genre itself great. Tangled, diabolical tremolos and leads meet with cavernous doses of atmosphere, in the way one might hope for, when listening to a black-metal album - but simultaneously they are leads and tremolos which you've never heard anything quite the same as before, and an atmosphere which is, to a great extent, it's very own flavour of cavernous. Likewise, when you zone-in enough to attend to the riffs, instead of digesting the tumbling, wide-eyed atmosphere alone, you come to hear that the riffs are exceptionally well-constructed and truly revel in being angular, sinister and steeped in evil, the way black metal guitar was meant to be played. The dexterous, spiders-footsteps guitar work certainly adds it's weight to the atmosphere, with the moments of organised chaos bringing forth images of the mind-capturing and delirious, liminal occult - of a darkness which few bands capture, but Ondskapt well and truly delivered, with each track an exploration of exceptional black metal, and between the vocals and the memorable musical structures churning below them, it is an easy record to lose oneself in, and emerge from the other side feeling decidedly different. 

As I said when I began this review - I'll always enjoy a black metal band who can bring back the excitement I felt when I was first discovering the genre. Ondskapt, without a doubt, succeed, and I heartily recommend them to anyone who enjoys the better side of black-metal. When it comes to their style, Ondskapt don't merely conform to expectations, but outright raise the bar, and that, so often, is the symptom of a great band.

This is an 9/10.

Ondskapt Official Site
Ondskapt on Facebook
Ondskapt on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

#335 Skull Fist - Chasing the Dream

As far as the newer generation of traditional metal goes, Skull Fist are one of the bands I've been impressed by a lot in the past, and for that reason,  tend to keep an eye on. Throughout the last year or so, I've been paying an especially high level of attention as to when a new album was on its way. As it turns out, the new album appeared earlier this year; January, I think. By about February I had gotten around to buying it, and now - April - I've finally gotten around to reviewing it. I need to get back on the reviewing-wagon and take a look at more records, as I've been a noxious combination of busy and unmotivated for most of the year so far. To reclaim lost reviewing glory, I may as well start with "Chasing the Dream", the band's second full-length, and a rocket-ride through flamboyant, denim-drenched shenanigans.

Chasing the Dream is fun. As an elitist fuckhead when it comes to metal, there are times where I happen across a record which is so incredibly fun that I have to remind myself that it's okay - the fact it's fun and that I'm enjoying it doesn't make me a failure as an elitist. In fact, many of the best albums are extremely fun to listen to, and Chasing the Dream is no exception. The record is exceptionally catchy from start to finish, with anthem-like choruses, deeply infectious hooks and possessed with the sort of balls-out attitude which could easily have  landed an album like this pretty damn high in the charts if this had been about 1984, and not its less kind, elder by thirty years brother, 2014. Nonetheless, if where a record charts matters to your general enjoyment of it's musical content, there's every possibility that you're doing it wrong. Chasing the Dream certainly lives up to it's predecessor, Head of the Pack, delivering what, to my ears, is an equally energetic, lead-laden affront to all things sensible, which is around-about the territory in which traditional metal flourishes best; not deadly-serious, but equally veering away from being truly spasticated. Chasing the Dream certainly manages to find that middle-ground, and you get the strong sense that Skull Fist treat making slightly silly - if that's an acceptable term - music as deadly serious business. Indeed, the band certainly exhibit a great deal of song-writing care and inherent talent throughout the record, with an uncompromising lack of filler material - in fact, the record is so lean and juicy that there is scarce a throw-away second of music.

It is not merely in terms of musicianship and composition that the record successfully kicks ass, however - the production really hits the spot too, not least with the fantastic, echo-laden drum sound which I had long thought they just didn't make any more. Indeed, the explosive energy of the drums is extremely well captured throughout the album, creating a record which feels more driven and punchy. As ever, the vocals are probably one of the more divisive issues which Skull Fist have - as before, they sound unlike any other band I can bring to mind instantaneously, with an extremely high, somewhat produced sound - at times sounding almost auto-tuned, which - for sure - would be odd, but nonetheless sounds rich, creamy and smooth, regardless of how they got that way. Indeed, by all accounts the band put on a solid live show, so if the vocals are a little... produced... it seems forgivable. The lead tone, too, also suits terms such as rich and creamy in its description, and Skull Fist are definitely the sort of band who really know how to crown their songs with great lead work, with dexterous and charmingly show-offish style guitar work in almost every track, transmitting winking, eyebrow raising rock-and-roll swagger from every pour on the record's skin, and at the end of the day, there is absolutely no denying that's what the band do best - churn out fist-pumping, head-nodding traditional-come-speed metal with the utmost of exuberance.

Once again, I can safely say that the band have proved, to me at least, that they can concoct a truly wicked piece of good old heavy metal madness, and with just as much skill as their previous efforts - heck, perhaps even a bit more. Either way, I have no complaints about a band who are clearly doing what they love, and doing it damn well. Some may say that it's all been done before, but frankly... some things are always worth doing again.

This is an 8.5/10.

Skull Fist on Facebook
Skull Fist on Metal Archives