Monday, November 30, 2015

Disillusionment "The Grand Illusion" 2015 Self-released

I finally was able to listen to the new Disillusionment demo, which consists of one lengthy track (clocking in at 10:25). It's brutal, ancient-sounding death metal from Michigan of a very high order, with black metal and progressive elements throughout, but in a very underground and organic sort of way. A lot of times adding black metal and progressive elements dilutes a band's death metal identity, but this doesn't happen to Disillusionment. They stay firmly rooted in that dark place where bands like Ignivomous, Dead Congregation, old Nile, Father Befouled, and Cemetery Urn dwell. Ignivomous and Cemetery Urn especially come to mind. Those are the three acts that the dense, dark, death metal parts of this remind me of, and fortunately there are plenty of these moments to be found in the ten minutes this song lasts. The black metal aspects of this demo are not obtrusive in any way, thankfully, and not just tossed into the mix. They're complementary to the rest of the music. A little cold melody every so often never hurt anybody, and it breaks up the monstrous and lumbering heavy parts very well. Disillusionment do not lose me in the complexity of their songs, which is a good thing, because a lot of bands that pen long longs have no business attempting it. They find levels of boredom for me that I rarely find any other way. Also, most often "progressive" means musically masturbatory with high levels of fretboard wankery. I don't have that experience with this band at all, which is refreshing. On their split EP with Entrope, and on this current demo, they consistently engage me, and when ten minutes elapses it seems like five, which is why I am certain this band has found their niche in music composition. Not many bands can make a long song seem like it's half the length. That takes craftsmanship and skill. I am looking forward to a full length, and will be watching and waiting eagerly.

Disillusionment (and beards)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Necrocosm "Damnation Doctrine" 2015 Self-released

I have to be careful when I review melodic death metal. I generally loathe the style and that loathing will bleed through unnecessarily if I'm not careful, and I want to be careful with this one, because Necrocosm is not deserving of the hate I have for melodic death. Stylistically the first thing I thought was Black Dahlia Murder with a touch of Gothenburg-era Swedish melodic death, and it reminds me ever so slightly, and I mean ever so slightly, of Cleveland metal greats Soulless. Necrocosm has a little bit of the underground death metal sound that I love so much, so I didn't write them off right away. The riffs come fast and heavy, albeit melodic, and the drums and bass are tight and skilled. I feel that the vocals aren't as strong as they could be, and I would probably like this a lot better if the vocals stayed in the low range. It's unusual in melodic death to have a low growling singer (which is why I like the bands that opt for it), but Necrocosm has opted for the smorgasbord approach to vocals, incorporating lows, mids, and highs as far as growls go, and some yells, but thankfully none of the dreaded clean vocals that have infected this subgenre and completely ruined it for me. Any time someone says "traditional metal sensibility" in regard to melodic death metal it makes me want to vomit. Necrocosm doesn't touch that end of the spectrum, and it's a welcome change from the norm. This isn't bad stuff, although I'm not going to listen to it all the time. Getting me to sit through a melodic death metal album is a feat, made more formidable by the fact I sat through this twice trying to figure out if I liked it or not. I'm still on the fence a little bit, but found myself doing what I normally do when I hear something I like (moving feet, playing air drums, handing invisible oranges to no one in particular), so my prejudice might be getting in the way when I say I can't figure out if I like it. I'm sure it's one that will grow on me as time goes on. This is easily the only worthwhile melodic death metal release I've heard in a while, so fans of that style, get on the ball. They have 15 of the physical item left, according to Bandcamp, but downloads will be in perpetuity unless they take it down. Go get it.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Anticosm "Anticosm" 2015 Self-released

This album is off-topic for this site, which is centered mainly on death metal and on all metal and punk bands from MI and OH, but when a band takes time to let me know about their self-financed release and wants me to review it, I make sure to take the time to do so. I've walked in their shoes. It ain't easy. So I break from format to give a band a word or two. I'm glad I did for this one - Anticosm bills themselves as a black thrash n' roll band. I hear those things, but I also hear a real commitment to underground metal. I can tell that fans made this music, not mere musicians who are writing to fit a genre. They blend thrash and black metal seamlessly, and the rock n' roll bleeds through in the guitar solos. The sound of the record is pretty good also - a very heavy production lends this album some real bite, which doesn't happen on too many black thrash albums. Lots of crap recordings in this genre, folks, if you're not familiar. Not that it would have to be pristine - I enjoy lo-fi as much as any fan of underground metal, but sometimes the recordings of black/thrash bands are just flawed. Overall, Anticosm reminds me a little bit of Dismemberment from Ohio, but not as cold. There's more black metal in Dismemberment's sound, more heavy thrash in Anticosm's. This is a fine record to pick up if this is your style of choice. It's a side interest for me, as my first love is death metal, but I recognize quality when I hear it, and this is quality. I look forward to hearing more from these guys and I hope they keep me up to date. It's free on Bandcamp, so you, reader, have no excuse not to try it.


Insanity "Visions of Apocalypse" 2015 Unspeakable Axe Records

It's not often a band can lay claim to influencing bands like Napalm Death and inventing the blast beat. The death metal pioneers Insanity can do just that. Formed in the mid-1980s, these masters of death metal released their seminal record Death After Death in 1994 (although much of it was written quite a bit earlier), an album that is held in the utmost high regard by this writer. I put them in the same camp with Repulsion, Death, Master, Possessed, Hellwitch, Hellhammer, and the rest of the old guard of death metal. We finally have a new record from this band, and I have been waiting to hear this thing for so long. I kept hearing the rumblings in the underground, and now, lo and behold, it's reality. I could not be more pleased, either. The record sticks to what Insanity has always done well, which is fast-paced death metal of the vintage sort, of the style largely forgotten unless you look to the underground. There are no weak aspects to this album, just in-your-face aggression and pounding death metal. Newer bands could learn something about writing memorable songs from it. Countless times in the last few years I've played an album only to be left unable to recall what I just listened to other than "decent death metal." It's because many bands' songs lack personality and presence. They're forgettable. Insanity's songs are never forgettable. Sure there's a few that are stronger than the rest, but it's all a notch above what many other bands are producing. It was the same with their previous effort in 1994. By that time the scene was descending into a period where not much originality was heard, and most bands tried to copy the Floridian or Swedish sounds. The bands who were in fact creating original sounding death metal were coming out of the midwestern US, bands like Ton, Fleshgrind, and Gorgasm, who brought a whole new level of brutality to the genre. They understood the importance of the song itself, much like Insanity, and have gone on to long careers because of it. I cannot say enough about this album and how good it is to hear a new Insanity record. My late friend Jim Konya was a huge fan of Insanity, and he was who originally turned me on to them about 10 years ago. He was excited about this album coming out when I last spoke to him. Now I proudly sport a logo patch on my jacket, and I will be a fan of this band forever. This album is mandatory for real death metal fans. It cannot be missed.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Bastard Grave "What Lies Beyond" 2015 Pulverised Records

With the proliferation of Swedish-sounding death metal bands outside the actual country of Sweden, it's hard to tell where anyone is from anymore. I was delighted to find out that Bastard Grave is, in fact, a Swedish band that plays this style of death metal. And, what's more, is they lay waste to many of the acts that play this way! The guitars are chainsaws with no mercy for your ears, the vocals are pleasantly mid-ranged (which makes for a nice change of pace), and the drums are very warm and they blend with the other instruments perfectly in the production sound. Bastard Grave is the epitome of what Swedish death metal should be like. Filthy and barbaric, yet well-executed and pounding. The riffs that Bastard Grave conjure forth are big and heavy, not just resorting to endless thrashing, but slowing down to crush your feeble ears with every note when the time is right. It is old school death metal perfection if you enjoy the Swedish sound of old, and if you're reading this you probably do. This was a very rewarding listen, and I plan on adding this to my collection very soon (I hope they have a tape version!).

Bastard Grave

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Only Analog Is Real.

So, I used to collect CDs. I looked at them as an upgrade over cassettes when I finally was given a CD player when I was a kid. Before that I had my metal collection exclusively on tape. Tape was the format of my childhood, because only my mother had a good record player, and by the time I received it after she died when I was 12, it was not in great shape. And by that time, records had been pulled for tapes and CDs in record stores. That was 1992. Over the years I had those tapes stolen, ruined by accident, or (dumbly) traded away. I rediscovered vinyl after reading an interview with Phil Demmel of Vio-lence and decided to take him up on his offer of a free 12" single of "Phobophobia." I was left without a way to play this for about 2 years afterward, but I had wanted it. After that I was vinyl crazy. I got rid of most of the stuff I had on CD to make way for vinyl, and I replaced a great deal of it when I could. It's been that way ever since, and I still prefer vinyl to other formats. 

Except one. 

I have recently fallen back in love with the cassette tape. It's a drooling, lustful sort of love, a sort of love where I pore over online catalogs at Hell's Headbangers, Calagari Records, and Tape Worship Records. I am tracking down things I used to have on tape on eBay and Amazon and generally going nuts over the format in every way. Is this nostalgia? In this case, yes. Unless it's something lo-fi, this isn't the most top notch way to check out how an album sounds. But there is a love of the old cassette out there for a lot of us in the underground, especially those of us who traded tapes with each other. If you're 35 or older, you're generally in the club if you found the underground in your late teens like I did (I had been listening to death metal since 1990, but only found what I called "unsigned" bands back then in 1992).

Today, my buying preference is tape, then vinyl, then CD. CDs are bought only on a deal or if it's the only way to get the music. I will never, ever pay for digital files. Digital files aren't real. They're invisible pieces of trash only useful for promotion and reviews. "But they're so portable." Yes, I agree. I have an iPod and it's full. But I will never own music that way. I buy it another way and then acquire those files however I can for on the go, whether a download comes with the physical object or not. I know where to look if I need the files. 

Anyhow, any labels that put out tapes, get ahold of me to review your stuff. I will spend a lot of time on tapes. You can send a digital promo, but if it's in tape format, I'm all over it.

Dark Winter "Admist the Winterplague" 2014 Self-released

Well, I had wanted to hear it, and here it is! It arrived in the mail a few days ago. Dark Winter sent me their newest effort, their EP entitled Amidst the Winterplague. It's a fine record, and the songs are lengthy, so even though there are only 3 tracks here, it clocks in around 20 minutes. Musically, the band has tightened their approach and gone for an even more raw sound on their recording. I think the vocals could be lower in the mix, and the guitars higher, but that's just my taste. The drums have a nice live, acoustic sound, but still very raw, which immediately grabbed my attention due to the complete lack of that sound in metal today outside of obscure demo recordings. These guys have real guts for staying lo-fi in an age of easy-to-achieve flowery productions. The dirt in the sound adds to the appeal of the music. As far as individual songs, the track that stands out to me instantly is the first one, the title track of the EP. All I have to say is those riffs! The song is written well, arranged well, and is top notch all around. I must say this again: these guys remind me of black metal circa 1995, back when it blew up big, and all the Norwegian and mainland European bands gained popularity. The thing back then in Europe, at least that I encountered, was raw melodic black metal, with keyboards or without. I'm still very much reminded of that scene by Dark Winter, and that's not a bad thing. These days, that scene doesn't really exist, and Dark Winter stands out because of it. I can't wait to hear what these guys do next, because if this is any indication of the progression I will hear from recording to recording, I'm in for a treat the next time around. I'm just glad they're from Michigan and I get to follow their activity at a local level. I'll be watching.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Under the Church "Rabid Armageddon" 2015 Pulverised Records

I must admit to never having been a huge fan of Nirvana 2002, but I've never disliked the band, either. When I learned that two of their members had roles in Under the Church, I decided I should definitely hear this, and pay attention. It's filthy old-style Swedish death metal, much like the demo days of some of our current favorites from the old guard. The heavy chainsaw guitar sound is there, but this isn't over-produced and too well-recorded for its own good like some of the current bands in this style. The dirt in the sound does this justice and helps the chaos. Imagine if Entombed/Nihilist or Dismember was crossed with Repulsion and Autopsy. That's what this record calls forth. It's old and rotten and horrid and heavy. I wasn't as keen on some of the vocal patterns used, and the vocalist sounds a bit like he's running out of breath from time to time, but it's a small quibble for me. As a whole, all the elements of this album work well together. I look forward to the next album, to be sure.

Under the Church

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Surgikill "Promo 2015" 2015 Self-released

There are some instantly recognizable names in death metal to those who are deeply involved in the underground, names that are synonymous with quality. This band has more than its share of notables, among them Billy Nocera (Scaremaker), Vanessa Nocera (Scaremaker, Wooden Stake), Ash Thomas (FaithXtractor, Estuary), Zdenka Prado (FaithXtractor, Estuary), and Stevo (Impetigo, Tombstones). That's nowhere close to all the notable bands to which they've contributed. What is on offer is exactly what I expect from this crew. Well-played yet still delightfully chaotic death metal done old school and correctly. The many vocalists make this all a little jumbled, but in a good way, since the chaos adds to the flavor, and I think it makes the recording wonderfully varied. The two tracks here are strong, and fairly unique-sounding. Fans of any of the bands listed above would do well to check this one out, since it's going to be right in the same wheelhouse. They have at least one split 7" coming out that I know about, which means that will be money right out of my pocket when it's released because I am going to buy everything I can that this band puts out! This demo made me a loyal fan, and I can't wait to hear what's next.

Friday, November 6, 2015

VHS "Hi-Fi Horror (Uncut Edition)" 2015 Self-released

Every once in a while, when reviewing records, and I've done it since the early 2000s (2002 or 2003 if I remember right), you'll encounter an album that is just what you needed to hear. Hi-Fi Horror by VHS is that kind of album. This is death/thrash/grind with a tongue-in-cheek bent, all based on, you guessed it, old horror films best watched on videocassette. The songs range in length from 45 seconds to several minutes. Each song ends exactly where it should and the band's playing is organic - you can tell serious fans of metal and horror made this. I'm reminded a little of Hellwitch and Repulsion, and perhaps Ghoul, Engorged, and Impetigo to a lesser extent. My favorite track on the record is the second shortest, "Radioactive Rat Attack." It's a crowd-mover, a short sharp shock to the system. My second favorite track is "When Bodybag Meets Tree," which, of course, is all based upon the Friday the 13th series and named after one particular death scene where the hockey-masked killer smashes a girl he has zipped up in a sleeping bag against a tree over and over again until she's dead. It's quite brutal in the film, and very, very funny to me. I actually laughed out loud when I saw the title of the song! See, what I like about VHS is that they get the campiness of both metal and horror. Of course, you can be serious about both, but it's a lot more fun to, well, have fun. This is top notch stuff, and I cannot wait for more material from this band! They have a bright future ahead and I don't want to miss a bit of it. I hope to some day catch these Canadians live, and I'm sure it will be awesome!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Istengoat "Atlas Shrugged" 2015 Blood Harvest Records

This is one of the best releases I have heard this year. This heavy, dark, relentless death metal, and oddly enough reminded me of Gorguts's old material. Perhaps it was the occasional grunt from the singer that made the comparison for me. Not sure. Anyhow, Istengoat sounds enough like nothing else that I cannot come up with an easy analog for them. It's death metal with very strong playing and vocals, and the hooks abound on this record, making each song more memorable with each listen. This is a record that any fan of death metal would love, unless all you love is slam. But if you're into pure death metal, the old stuff, the good stuff, this is what you need. There is a very dark vibe to this record, which is helped along by the occasional black metal riff in the song structures. It bleeds the same darkness as bands like Incantation or Immolation. This is on my must-have list for 2015, and I plan on buying it in some format very soon.