Monday, July 18, 2016

Steel Bearing Hand "Steel Bearing Hand" 2015 Razorback Recordings

Crawling out of the swampy graveyards of Dallas, Texas comes Steel Bearing Hand and their brand of thrashing death metal. At times, the band has riffs that remind me of NunSlaughter, Whiplash, Autopsy, Incantation, and Razor, but it all becomes a killer musical alloy after it's mixed together and enough brutality is applied, creating an excellent old-school death metal whole. The sword and sorcery lyrical bent is a welcome change from the typical Satan and gore fixation that death metal has always had. I know those topics are metal tradition at this point but sometimes a break from it is necessary. I'm eager to hear more from this band based on the strength of this album. I'm not sure how interested I am in 8 or 9 minute songs, really, but these held my interest well enough this time around. The band jumps from strength to strength in such a way that I didn't seem to notice the length of time, where usually songs that long are a huge negative for me. Overall, this is a good debut record, and I'll be interested in seeing what comes next from this Texas outfit. And as a fan of old sword and sorcery stories, keep up the good work in the lyrical department!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

VHS "Screaming Mad Gore" 2016 Splatter Zombie Records

This is such a good year for death metal. Surgikill, Embalmer, Torture Rack, Smut, and so many others have given us excellent albums, and they just keep coming. The analog-horror-obsessed VHS is one of my favorite bands going right now, and I purposely held off on this review after I found out about a tape version being released through Sulfuric Diarrhea Records (hand numbered, limited to 50, so act quickly and get ahold of the band because they're basically gone). The tape lives up to my lo-fi expectations, giving the album a dirty sound that adds another layer of filth to the tunes, at least in my garbage stereo. As far as the music itself, VHS has further refined their thrash/death/grind amalgam, and here and there throughout the record the listener will find doom and traditional heavy metal welded to this steel beast as well. The songs are short, catchy, well-written, and vicious. Everything is tight, well-performed, and audible, but not over produced and robotic like so many death metal albums today. It has an old-school sounding production job, and I prefer this. My personal favorites are "Room 36," "When Sleeping Bag Meets Tree," "There Shall Be Nights of Terror," "Island of Death," and "Carnivorous Lunar Activities." As if a full-length from VHS wasn't enough to get your gore glands pulsating, there are some guest appearances here that will titillate and thrill as well, including the likes of Kam Lee and Stevo lending vocal flourishes to the tracks "Hairspray and Bloodspray" and "Island of Death," respectively. How's that for pedigree? I'm warning you, death metal scene, pay attention to VHS. They're one of the best out there right now doing horror-influenced metal, and for the old-school freaks like me, they're a welcome noise in a polluted scene. 

Atrocious Abnormality "Formed in Disgust" 2016 Comatose Music

Atrocious Abnormality have returned after most of a decade to bring us their second album, which is in every possible way an improvement on their previous material. I remember being very bored by their first record (so much so that I almost didn't listen to this) but I was not bored during this one. This is brutal death metal of very high quality, played in the style that Comatose Records is known for signing, complete with harmonic squeals from the guitars, relentless blasts, and the rest of the trappings commonplace in the genre. There are no pig squeals, thankfully, just very deep gutturals (which are extremely impressive, as someone who is familiar with how these sounds are made by the human throat), blasting drums that are set to automatic fire, and rhythmic guitar work that rounds out the sound with excellent tone. The bass, when audible, is very busy, and there's a ton of talent across the range of instruments. This material is on the level with bands like Gorgasm, Fleshgrind, or other masters of this style, and that's a huge compliment coming from me, since I am extremely selective when it comes to brutal death metal. So much of it is so similar that when a band sticks out I take notice. This isn't a nuclear bomb that will upset the brutal death metal ecosystem, but it's definitely a sledgehammer to the face that proves this style can still be done with class and conviction. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Surgikill "Sanguinary Revelations" 2016 FDA Rekotz

Hot on the heels of a well-received promo tape that was belched forth from the deepest of graves late last year, Surgikill has returned with a monolithic record, Sanguinary Revelations. It descended on my eardrums via the CD from FDA Rekotz, and soon to come, the vinyl from Hells Headbangers. The crew split heads once again here, delivering original-sounding death metal that drips with horror movie influence of the best kind. The guitar sound is vicious and heavy. The multi-vocal assault is well-planned yet still chaotic, and it fits the mood perfectly. This feels like a whole record by the time the listener is finished with the last track - it begins well and ends well, and the stuff in the middle is far from boring. It feels almost like a complete story, and is a very satisfying and mature-sounding album. This one shambles right up next to Embalmer and Torture Rack as a contender for best death metal album I've heard in the last year. There are zero weaknesses here. I will not waste your time talking about this record any more, dear reader. If you call yourself a death metal fan and don't get this release, you might as well pack your shit and quit death metal altogether, because you've lost touch with what made this music great.

Smut "Slop" 2016 Splatter Zombie Records

Starting with a suitably gross sample of gurgles, grunts and grossness, Smut kicks things into high gear and never lets up for the duration of the 13 tracks that makes up Slop. It oozes and churns as much as it blasts and thrashes, making for a listen that is both energetic and disgusting. Imagine the thug from Robocop that gets covered in toxic waste trying to head bang. Bits and pieces would be flying off in furious chunks, enjoying your demise while being covered in a overwhelming avalanche of your own slop!

Pinpointing the bands sound is a bit tough. It's raucous and energetic and merges punk, grindcore, death metal and even the early days of black metal into a dizzying concoction. The guitar riffs are razor sharp, punctuated by a very harsh and distinct guitar tone. It reminds me of vintage Swedish death metal mixed with early Norwegian black metal. Your ears almost don't know how to handle it at first but it definitely adds to the power of the band and gives the riffing a unique feel for sure.

The songs are usually between a minute and a half to two minutes with only four tracks breaking the two minute mark. That said, these aren't simple songs. They cover a lot of ground within the short time frames. It all moves very quickly while remaining memorable and suitably extreme. Vocally the band pretty much sticks to a cavernous death growl that suits the music perfectly. They have an almost blown out speaker quality to them that only reinforces the noisier side of the band.It really is a sonic whirlwind and I can't get enough of it. The drumming is also top notch and definitely in the style that I prefer. Nothing fancy or self serving, just a high energy and powerful drum performance. It matches the riffs perfectly and never misses a step.

It's unfortunate that this CD is finding a release after the band has already called it a day. That said, it shouldn't stop anyone from checking out this album. It's high energy, extremely raw and rotten to the core. It has an addictive quality, the more I listen the more I want to keep listening. With each new listen, you'll hear a few new things in the riffing or maybe a short lead that was a bit more buried in the mix, or a drum flurry. For fans of extreme music, Slop should be considered an essential purchase. -Mike Hochins

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Casket Robbery "Evolution of Evil" 2016 Mortal Music

When I decide on albums to pull off the pile to review, they have to be remarkable in some way. Most of what I've reviewed of late has been remarkable in very good ways, and some releases have been absolutely amazing. The new offering from Casket Robbery, however, is not. This is over-produced and under-brutal death metal that leans heavily on its production values to complement the songwriting (which is actually decent). I wasn't going to review it initially, thinking it just one more average release in the sea of modern death metal albums. However, when an album touts its brutality as much as this one did, and then doesn't deliver the nuclear face lift I was hoping to receive, I have to say something. The record just sort of plods along, and even though there are definitely some songwriting chops on offer here, I find the ultra-modern slick production offensive to my ears. There's even those awful dub-step style digital skips in one song (like you'd hear before a bass drop - lots of deathcore bands do this). I can't deal with that stuff. Maybe I just don't understand the artistic vision here, but it seems as if the band is simply chasing how the current big bands in the scene sound, because I've definitely heard this stuff before. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cadaveric Poison "Cadaveric Poison" 2016 Metal On Metal Records

I had anticipated this release since I heard about it, since Master is one of my favorite bands (their self-titled album ranks within my top 20 ever). Paul Speckmann is delivering the vocals here, and he does exactly what I expect with his trademark delivery and inflection. He works with some different patterns here, however, and does a few things that I had not heard him do with Master before, which I appreciated. The other two members of the band will also be familiar to those with any knowledge of the underground at all, because they are members of the stalwart German thrash metal band Witchburner, who also get high marks from me. Much like the rancid old cadaver-like alchemist on the cover of the record, this album is a brew of the old sounds of death metal, and falls in line with the more simplistic sounds that made us all love this music in the first place. Heaviness trumps showing off musically, and I love it. Nothing but full speed ahead thrashing death! Some of the riffs are the kind that make you want to wreck a room, and the straight forward drums are a real asset here, as are the few blast beats that are peppered throughout the record. It will of course remind the listener just a little of (especially early) Master or Death Strike, as well as at times NunSlaughter, Cancer, or Asphyx. These are only fleeting glimpses of other bands, however, as this band has its own distinctive sound and personality. This is very strong from start to finish, and is easily one of my favorite albums from this past year so far. It will be in heavy rotation with me for a long, long time.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Torture Rack "Barbaric Persecution" 2015 Headsplit Records

I bought this purely based on the description on Headsplit's store site, which reads thus: "The much anticipated debut full length from Portland, Oregon death metal executioners! Chock full of old school death metal sound and attitude. You will want to give this a repeat play when lifting some weights!" And since it's been a long running joke in my circle about riffs that make you want to pick up some weights, I bought it, and I'm glad I did. This is going to be one of my top 10 of the year, right up there with the new Embalmer, and the blown-out chugging riffage and puked vocals satisfy my need for this kind of death metal perfectly. The closest I can get to describing this band's sound through comparison would be NunSlaughter, Jungle Rot, Autopsy, Obituary, and Blasphemy taking turns writing songs for each others' bands. It's great stuff, and I'm addicted. The song titles themselves are inspiringly filthy as well, including such fare as "Entrail Intruder," "Open Casket Funeral Puker," "Coffin Breath," and the one that made me certain this was a band I need to pay attention to, "Sentenced to Gang Rape." The lyrics are suitably vile as well. This album is the total package and any old school death metal fan will be happy with it. I'm pushing this one hard on my comrades, it deserves to be heard! I can't wait for the next one. The tape can be had from Headsplit, and the CD from Memento Mori.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bode Preto "Mystic Massacre" 2015 Iron Tyrant Records

From the steaming pits of Brazil comes Bode Preto, an excellent band that rides the fine line between black metal and death metal just like so many of their countrymen. Stylistically, they remind me of a cross between early Sarcofago and aggressive De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas-era Mayhem. Their relentless, aggressive attack, however, reminds me of bands like Blasphemy, Black Witchery, or Proclamation. The recording itself helps the band - it's not pristine, and it's not utter junk for the sake of cult-ness (it's is a crime, by the way, that so many bands choose to ruin perfectly good albums for that reason). It's a clear recording, but with just enough fuzz and dissonance and chaotic aplomb to lend real personality to the album, the way productions did for bands in the early days of this music. That goes for the songwriting, too. The songwriting is over the top, in your face, and perpetually devastating, the way proper South American black/death ought to be. Bode Preto went to the top of my list immediately along with Sarcofago, Mystifier, Holocausto, Krisiun, old Sepultura, and the handful of others that have made the Brazilian scene what it is today.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Gravewurm "Doomed to Eternity" 2015 Hells Headbangers Records

What can I really say about Gravewurm that hasn't been said already? They're one of the longest-running black/death metal bands in the United States, and my home state of Ohio is proud to claim them for its own. I began my history with this band around 2002, when the Dark Souls of Hell record came out on Barbarian Wrath. So, yes, I've paid attention to them for a long time. I've become a fan over time, and I really admire that this band sticks to their guns artistically, and has not changed drastically. This album is what you would expect from Gravewurm, a heavy, plodding, occasionally thrashing piece of black/death metal the way it used to be played. It has more in common with Hellhammer and very early Sodom than it does with many bands calling themselves black metal or death metal today. This is the best record of their career, plain and simple, although the last few have been rather welcome in my playlist also. The thing that makes this album extra special for me is that it is one of the last things drummer Jim Konya recorded before he died. It was actually hard to listen to, knowing I'll not hear that signature drumming style of his again on anything new. I can only imagine how hard it is for his bandmates to deal with, knowing how much time people in bands spend around each other. I've done it. All I know is that shows in Cleveland aren't going to be the same. At least we have the great albums he has played on, including this one, because it is one of Gravewurm's best and one of Jim's best. I'm glad to have heard it and it is definitely one of the best this year so far.

Punching Moses "Humanity Pandemic" 2015 Seeing Red Records

The Cleveland metal and hardcore scene is always belching forth amazing bands, and I never miss my chance to hear a new release from any band from the area. When I received this promo, I was elated, since I had heard this band's work previously on the split 7" they did with Schnauzer. I got more of exactly what I expected - blown-out, high-energy, metal-fueled hardcore punk. This EP is short but sweet, and amidst the Discharge-esque beats and a few Motorhead-inspired riffs you will find blast beats and thrash. The hype sheet that came along with this describes their sound as "gutter thrash," and I dare say that is a very adequate description. This is highly recommended if you enjoy the bigger hardcore bands that Cleveland has produced like Integrity or Ringworm. It isn't necessarily comparable to either band, but the same spirit is there, the genre-bending who-cares attitude that takes all the collective influences of each band member and churns it through a loud-ass blender, achieving a cohesive whole. I've never caught this band live, but I'm willing to bet they're a real audience-wrecker. Track this down and pick it up!

Punching Moses

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bloodstrike "In Death We Rot" 2015 Redefining Darkness Records

When I saw the cover to this record, I knew I had to listen to it. Once in a while, I definitely judge a book by its cover, and in this case, I was very pleasantly rewarded. What looked like a killer old school death metal record turned out to be exactly that. This is heavy and mid-paced for the most part, and they are masters of the pay-off riff. What I mean by the "pay-off riff" is this - think about those moments on your favorite Grave record when the riff becomes simple and crushing and paced just correctly to wreck your neck for a week. This album is packed full of those! This is chunky, heavy, bulldozer death metal that will remind the listener of early Grave, mid-period Bolt Thrower, and Asphyx. There is not a single throwaway track here, and the cover of "Soulless" by Grave at the end of the record is very welcome. They nailed it. This is a real gem, and it will be getting heavy rotation from me. I hope I get the chance to check them out live sometime, but alas, they are from Denver and I spend my time in Ohio and Michigan. Perhaps they'll play out here sometime, though. A bonus: I was surprised to note that Rhiannon Wisniewski was in this band on bass duties. She played in the Cleveland-area band Somnus, and for those of you that remember, Somnus was one of the best melodic black metal bands around. I caught them live years ago at a live show with the mighty Spawn of Satan, Soulless, and NunSlaughter in Parma, OH. It was great to hear another record she played on, because I've often wondered what happened to the different members of that band (with the exception of Steve Rolf since I knew he landed in Blood Coven, where he is a welcome addition).

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Vomit Stain "Human Collection in the Theater of Carnage" 2015 Self-released

I discovered Vomit Stain through Mike of VHS, who made me hip to their existence, and fortunately I snagged the last physical copy of the CD! Unless they've pressed more, that is. I was immediately impressed by them, because although they bill themselves as "gore thrash," to me they sound a little like early Floridian death metal, without some of the more intense speed of that scene. The only problem I had with the recording is that perhaps the vocals are mixed too high. They tend to overpower things, which is ok in some cases, but here I think the guitars need to dictate the sound. Other than that, I thought the vocal performance excelled both in power and understandability. The singer has very good diction for death metal vocals, and having done my fair share of them, I know how hard that is to accomplish. Stylistically it's a decent mix of strong highs and powerful lows. The rest of the band is also quite capable and they've turned out a tight performance, but with a nice human quality to it. It's not the over-triggered and heavily-edited glossy crap that mainstream "death metal" likes to feed to us. No, this is thoroughly underground stuff, and I love it. The songs are well-written, and there are plenty of hooks and memorable riffs, with solid drum work. I look forward to more from this band, and to watch them grow. Fans of Razorback bands should take note, because there are some similarities to members of that roster (and this is a great thing!) in Vomit Stain's music and the horror-fueled nature of the subject matter. This is worth the effort to find, and a simple trip to Bandcamp is all that is necessary.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Embalmer "Emanations from the Crypt" 2016 Hells Headbangers Records

It's been quite a while since we had a full length offering from Cleveland's death metal powerhouse Embalmer. To quote lead singer Paul Gorefiend, "We went back to the basics and drew influence from the original Into the Oven and There Was Blood Everywhere eras musically, peppered in some extra Terrorizer/Autopsy influences, added some crazed Deranged Rated-X-style riffing over the top, and backed it all against the blasting, non-triggered drum assault Roy has become known for." Well, they definitely pulled it off, and this album is incredibly strong from start to finish, with no weak material whatsoever. Opener "Dead Female Stalker" sets the tone here, and it crushes all in its path. This is a bulldozer of an album and it seethes with destructive personality, having the same unpredictable manic energy as most of the old school death metal that I love so much. It's such an honest record, and it's so clear that fans of this style of music made it. It has everything I want in a death metal record and everything hearkens back to the early days of the band, reminding me a lot of the material on There Was Blood Everywhere, which is a personal favorite of mine. This incarnation of the band is clearly musically skilled as well, but they keep things real, not resorting to the false tricks of the slick, glossy, popular bands of today that only claim to play death metal. Everything here is gore-fueled, nasty, filthy, violent, and carefully controlled at the same time. It's going to appeal to old school death metal fans, as well as devotees of brutal death metal, and fans of black/death along the lines of Blasphemy or Black Witchery. I cannot stress enough that this is a return to form, and a welcome one. I never cared very much for 13 Faces of Death and I am glad the band decided to go in this direction. I will be playing this one again and again and again, and it will hold an exalted position in my collection. It's times like this, when I hear an album this good that comes out of the Cleveland scene, that I feel lucky to be involved.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Triumvir Foul "Triumvir Foul" 2016 Blood Harvest Records

Pure, real, ancient death metal. It doesn't get much better than this. I had heard the name of Triumvir Foul thrown around a bit online, but nothing really prepared me for the sheer amazing that came out of the speakers! This is death metal with depth, breadth, and face-smashing heaviness. They achieve audio violence not through relentless blasting, or simplistic slam riffs, or abrasive tones. No, they do it the old-fashioned way, the way we have always wanted this music of ours to be played, with songs and musicianship and thought. It's quite dark, as dark or darker than old Incantation or Dead Congregation and bands of that style. However, I was surprised at one of the other comparisons I drew - Catalepsy (CA), the one from the old Heralds of Oblivion compilation CD. This is not a bad thing. That comp is one of my all time favorites and I love every band on it (especially Demolition!!!). Catalepsy was a solid band. I'm not sure if it's guitar tones or writing or what, but that's the one band that came to mind. The comparison is only fleeting, though, because what Triumvir Foul do is much more dynamic. I love that this is well-recorded but not over-produced, as well. It's a very human recording - clear and well done, but with just the right amount of fuzz and dirt to keep my interest. I am grateful to have heard this, as I believe it will be considered at least a minor classic in the years to come. I have been made a fan.

Triumvir Foul