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Monday, January 24, 2011

Album Review: Acid Witch - Stoned

Detroit's Acid Witch came hacking their way into our collective conscious with their debut album 'Witchtanic Hellucinations', a blend of death-ridden doom and cosmic psych rock all wrapped up in a gruesome, cartoonish and startlingly eye-catching cover that leapt out at record store browsers. Now, a couple of years later, though sadly delayed (for some) from a Halloween release, they have a new album, 'Stoned', for us to ogle. Judging from the blinding packaging it promises more of the same but, at the end of the day, will that be enough?

Well, it's easy to spot the band's main selling point with the brazenly comedic vocal growl of Hooded Menace's Lasse Pyykkö doing the same here for Acid Witch that Cannibal Corpse's Chris Barnes provided for Six Feet Under. It's big enough to flatten a house and when combined with slothful headbang-worthy chugs and several nifty guitar licks, that'll see you suddenly humming in the bath whilst frantically searching for the source, you have quite the fun-fuelled, drug-addled package to contend with.

'Satanic Faith' provides the shlock horror set-up with creaky old church organ and dramatic B-movie dialogue leading us down to the fuzzed-up Fu Manchu-esque stoner groove of 'Witchfynder Finder' and gnarled, repeater crust of 'Thundering Hooves'. By the time, you come across the sparkling dread of 'Whispers In The Dark', and its maniacal sound effect-strewn play on mental lunacy, all but the strongest souls, will be gripping their teddy close to their chests and casting furtive, backward glances.

Tracks like the black metal brood of 'Trick Or Treat' or the barbaric, hook-laden romp of 'If Hell Exists' impose the band's guile and personality upon you, but others are coated in a kind of ambiguous, self-absorbing gloop. The slack delivery of 'Stoned To The Grave', for instance, and the crazily-titled cheese-muncher 'Metal Movie Marijuana Meltdown' tend to meander into the background with little to make you sit up and pay attention. It seems the unwashed and unholy murk that Acid Witch peddle is enjoyable to a point, but lacks staying power. What it needs is an extra dimension and, god forbid, a hint of clarity to resuscitate it back to life.

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/jan11reviews/cdreviews-aw.htm

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Album Review: Deadlock - Bizarro World

Death metal, by its very nature, is rammed full of the most voluble, fearsomely foul vocal content – an attack that is intentionally punishing on the old ear sockets. Naturally, this is usually accompanied by an overdose of distorted atonality and rhythmic artillery, but the newer concept of melodic death, melodeath if you will, has introduced an escape route for those battered lug-holes. Guitars that fission away from the more obvious dissonant chug; percussive patterns that smash holes to enable them to break out, build layers or deconstruct themselves. Recently, a plethora of melodeath bands has applied the same ingenuity to the striking death verbals that define the genre. Suddenly bands are finding multiple vocal styles within a single track and Deadlock, with their pincer maneuver of Johannes Prem and Sabine Scherer (nee Weniger), are fine exponents of the art.

This latest album sees the Germans again delving deep to divide themselves into rampaging, jagged guitar backing Prem’s devilishly macho, grottily-guttural growls, as well as pop rock melodics that rise and fall with Scherer’s soaringly angelic, transparent delivery. In fact, Bizarro World, may well represent the very breaking point where rock splits and runs away (screaming) from metal. No greater is the gap between murk and purity than on “Earthlings” where Prem blurts out a chunk of gunk as the drums falter so hard they slip into partial breakdown. Eventually they dig themselves out of a tight spot with a clunking of gears and a helping shove from Scherer. “Virus Jones” and “Brutal Romance” are other fine examples with the rhythm driving forth with Prem in tow to carve out a murky, brutish rut through to a break in the clouds. Here, the drums lock down to the slow tick of a metronome, the guitars shift up an octave and Scherer flings back the curtains to let in the sunlight of her crystalline vocal.

At times, a change of pace is deliberately implemented to break the album up. “Alienation” and the title-track, for instance, are just gentle underscorings; inflated outpourings; like lines being drawn through the mayhem. In the end, the gesture will feel rather like unnecessary padding. “State Of Decay” and the ballads “You Left Me Dead” and “Paranoia Extravaganza”, however, are welcome additions. They leave Prem with little to add and are mainly vehicles for Scherer’s incredibly emotive, gorgeously silken vocal.

There is much that is kept simple, and to good effect, but occasionally the band slot in a whole heap of intuitive electronica, (“Falling Skywards” and “State Of Decay”) creating another interesting angle for us to view the band from. “Renegade”, however, is a complete mess as it succumbs fully to the e-invasion, rupturing into part-ballad, part-drum n’ bass fireworks display.

Deadlock – it’s so easy to assume their moniker was borne out of decision to agree to disagree over a difference of vision. This does feel like a bit of a stop-start album; an album unsure of what it wants to be. A divided vision or end-product can so often lead to a divided fanbase – an album-by-album demand for more brute or more clarity of vision. It makes for an interesting listen but, of their back catalogue, many will find Bizarro World a tad too clean, lacking in bite, and that’s the camp you’ll find me waving from; no doubt with banner in hand and primeval chant at my lips for “more Prem, more Prem, more Prem”.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/deadlock-bizarro-world

Album Review: Arbiter - Colossus

There must be many who have never heard of Barter In Blood, or Arbiter as they are now known, as the band’s path to universal acclaim has begun in a relatively low-key manner. There’s been a series of gigs (spawning a live album), two EPs and a single over the last couple of years, so it must feel incredible for this Michigan quintet to finally set this, their debut self-recorded album, afloat amongst the oceans of high-caliber deathcore bands out there. On this evidence, jaws may just drop.

This is butchery with a difference. A carving knife approach to deathcore where so many of their peers are using meat cleavers. Colossus is crushingly heavy, and yet insanely delicate in its treatment of each instrument. Clarity is paramount and whilst the buzzsaw guitars, fathom-deep bass and blood-curdling roars gouge out great chunks, the cymbals crash with a “tiss” and the snare pounds with a “dap” or a “dop”. Not a “tith” or a “thunk” anywhere. Considering this is completely DIY (guitarist Jay Field producing, mixing and mastering the whole caboodle) the quality is uber-impressive. There are also the samples and lyrics that lie within to consider, which have been carefully selected to promote the album’s theme of “breaking free of the negativity and corruption” of the modern way of life. A quick flick through their website shows, not only how proud they are of their achievement, but that they have drawn inspiration from the works of no less a figure than Byron (recanting his words for “A Corsair’s Name”). The end result is startlingly sharp of wit, yet strong of purpose – “Swallow the shards of dreams: regurgitate nothing” (“Bringer Of The Black Dawn”); “A sudden burst of clarity, A lost rainbow of frailty” (“Conflux); “We will be beside you as you get up off the floor and we will be beside you as you unleash the vow you swore” (“Death Or Glory”).

Emerging from the hellish industrial soundscape of “Premonitions”, with its conveyor belts, dragging chains and rock-chipping picks, is like taking a breath you didn’t realize you were holding. “Deadfall” quickly clambers up with chugged strikes and speeding wrists to bellow its introduction of “We are Arbiter” right into your face. The impact of lines like “I am silence, hear me roar” leading into the beatdown are telling and the emotion comes through in spades. Colossus isn’t music for the faint of heart. You’ll hear much in the structure that has gone before but it’s the interweaving of different styles of music that most impresses – tribal rhythmic touches, the odd sharp slap of sliced sampling, a footstep into grind and several more into thrash. “Sins Of The Past” gives us a sneak peak of their rock chops with Josh Marr taking over on the kit to pummel out a regular beat and he’s back again with a modish, clean vocal for the technically adept “Conflux” to counter Connor Louiselle’s half-spat shout. Yet there’s always a spot of throat-melting doom vocal lurking behind the corner and for “We Were Bridges” Field slots in a pitch-dropped version of Louiselle’s actual vocals; a sound that the band refer to as his Viking alter-ego, Urzbegoth, a point so deep his singing approaches mere vibration. It’s cheating, really, but it is pretty shocking.

Colossus is what it says on the tin. I’m convinced that this band are utterly dedicated to the album’s values and true to their convictions – when they say “Death Or Glory” they mean it. Stick the kind of verbal onslaught you can believe in behind Satan’s own voice and a steamroller groove, and you have music that will simply flatten all who dare to stand in it’s way. Yes, jaws will drop.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/arbiter-colossus

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Album Review: Ektomorf - Redemption

For a band that will soon be celebrating two decades together, you’d think that Ektomorf would have generated more of an impact than constant referrals to them aping the Brazilian groove metal bands you’d naturally associate with the Cavalera brothers. In recent years, they have combined with Tue Madsen, who always brings an extra level of polish to the party and, with his help, they appear to have been making potted attempts to move away from these tired comparisons by focussing on their hardcore side. However, no matter where you look for inspiration on the band, the names Sepultura and Soulfly still keep hoving into view. Unfortunately, Redemption isn’t going to offer what it says on the tin or, similarly, change many folks’ opinions, but it does indeed offer a little more in the way of variety.

Delving straight in, the band resort to type echoing Soulfly’s more recent output with vocalist Zoltán “Zoli” Farkas spitting swathes of machismo that, incredibly, peak with the same imploding vocal effect so readily used by Max Cavalera himself – have this band no shame? The swirling crush of crust-steeped driven metal has the same bloodthirsty, balls-out feel about it that Omen engendered, whilst the ‘call-to-arms’ lyrical content easily matches that which so dominated Conquer – “Last Fight” being every bit the equal of “Blood Fire War Hate”.

The BPMs soon drop for “I’m In Hate” and a chilling, blackened, acerbic edge creeps in, whilst “God Will Cut You Down” piles on the vicious hardcore to spawn a disappointingly weak, one-dimensional Hatebreed-style bruiser. Surprisingly for a producer as well-respected as Madsen, the snare drum all too often sounds remarkably like someone hitting a bin lid, but this fact pales into insignificance when, out of the blue, we’re matching it up to Nirvana licks. Yep, the four-chords that run through “Never Should” are disturbingly close to those of “In Bloom”; Zoli’s vocal predictably cracking into a roar as the band power into each chorus. To ram the point home, “Sea Of My Misery” strums out a spot of contrastingly clean acoustic guitar and crisp, downcast vocal clearly inspired by those same features that mark out “Polly”. All this implies that the band are happy to diversify but simply seem unable of writing anything truly original.

Danko Jones makes a brief, uninspiring appearance to lash out a spot of punk n’ roll for “The One”, before Ektomorf bring it home with the funked-up hook and rumbling bass whump of “Revolution” (bringing early-Skindred to mind), a series of irksome softly-spoken verses that haunt “Stigmatized”, and the fiendishly explosive Machine Head-esque groove that rolls around ‘Anger’.

As songwriter, and last remaining founder, Zoli has to take the majority of the blame for the band’s continued mash of uninspired mediocrity (dropping the F-bomb and repeating the track-title ad infinitum doesn’t make a song instantly great), but this was never going to be about Ektomorf trampling on everything that has made them such a well-received live band. As a standalone album, it’s an absolute dog – scarily cantankerous, loveably daft and full of barking-mad anthems; an album that simply sits up and begs to be taken out for a walk.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/ektomorf-redemption

Album Review: Full Blown Chaos - Full Blown Chaos

The day I saw NYHC outfit Full Blown Chaos hit Peterborough, England and heard Ray Mazzola ask the audience to turn to the person next to them and punch them full in the face, was the day I understood just how wide the yawning divide between hearing a recorded album and seeing the band perform that same said album live could really be. They were the second of four bands on that day, hardly a position of strength, but they exhilaratingly stole the show by a country mile, leaving a messy trail of testosterone in their wake.

Mazzola has said of the band’s live efforts – “You need to be in everyone’s face and make them remember you, whether they like it or not.” An ethic that makes sense having witnessed it first hand but, away from the venue, the album they were touring that day, Heavy Lies The Crown, amounted to tight, uber-aggressive, yet essentially generic metalcore. So, when I learned about this latest self-titled release and the fact they’d added another guitarist, I began to hope that they’d really had a crack at recreating their live show; had perhaps dredged up a chunk of music that would separate them from their peers.

The first few bars do prove promising and are a lumbering feast of chugged guitar and biting snare, harder and heavier than we’ve heard the band produce previously, but this soon falls away into boorish gang chants housed within short, smooth attacks. The lyrics are a combination of hate-fueled jibes and pointed, moralistic observations – “Why are your words so full of shit, you’re not the first to lie to my face” (from “Villains”), “Our values are running away, this is the process of decay” (from “The Walking Dead”), “Don’t you ever shut the fuck up?” (from “Gutter Mouth”), and “As of right now I don’t know who you are, what have you become, you’ve fallen so far” (from “Gravedigger”).

This band are kings when it comes to concocting big, meaty chunks of rollicking hardcore; music that grinds its way down to the snapping point where the rhythmic artillery disintegrates into heavy-as-hell, double-kicking, slow-motion breakdowns that chew you up and spit you back out into real time. FBC are a righteous Chimaira; Madball on steroids. The tracks do dip in and out of rockier and thrashier sections, but you have to pay attention to what’s being brewed up in the smothered background thrum to spot them – “Rise + Conquer” diligently inserts gaps and chants to soften the impact of the macerator vocal, whilst “Silence Is Golden” emits a rippling Trivium-esque riff which eventually dissipates into a flamboyant solo – the former raises hairs on your neck; the latter stands out like a poodle at a bulldog convention and makes you briefly wish they’d followed their own title’s advice. As for the thrash, “Battle Hymns And Broken Bones” is almost reminiscent of Austrian Death Machine, albeit without the necessary tongue-in-cheek.

As a complete work, it’s all a bit similar and over-familiar. The tracks that do standout are few and far between. “The Walking Dead” and “War Machine” are Full Blown Chaos on maximum – an auditory sea of fists and a firm thumbs up to those who’ve stayed faithful to the cause – and “Cain Marko”, which has a devilish triple (quadruple, if you count the split chorus timings) breakdown finale to mark it out. Essentially though, this isn’t much of a step away from their previous release and, I fear, will all too easily be left lagging behind the Hatebreeds and Unearths of this world.

By all means, do have a go at spinning their CD in numerous locations and at ever-increasing volume levels (as I did with their last release), but you will seriously need to haul ass to an FBC show to fully understand the real impact that this collection of songs can have on you. Mosh gloves are an absolute necessity.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/full-blown-chaos-full-blown-chaos

Monday, January 10, 2011

Feature: Johnskibeat's Best 20 Albums Of 2010

Happy 2011, folks. Time for a quick look back at what rocked my socks off in 2010, and a chance for you to spend some of that money you got for Christmas. My Top 10 are absolute must-haves.

1: Purified In Blood - Under Black Skies (Spinefarm)
This Nordic sextet make a mockery of the supposed "difficult second album" by spinning this utter goliath of a record at us. Describing its sheer power in words simply won't do it justice, so here's a simplified attempt. Matt Bayles, crepuscular, bellicose, hardcore, black metal, demented, swaggering, invasive, consummate.

2: Ihsahn – After (Candlelight)
The former Emperor vocalist is clearly a man inspired. Here, a change of pace and direction has breathed new life into his solo career. Where before he's always focussed on finding our weak spots with the use of force, 'After' soaks itself in a devilishly powerful black attack before soothing its way into sublime, inevitably Opeth-esque, meandering rhythms and moods. The genius introduction of jazz sax has lifted proceedings even further, transforming it from mere charred, progressive metal driftwood to a focal point of blindingly brilliant light. 

3: Barn Burner - Bangers (Metal Blade)
These Canadian newbies have sparked up and created the burning weld between The Sword and Bison B.C. by adding copious amounts of beer and weed. Clearly making music for the love of it, Barn Burner dig out a conveyor belt of infectious riffs and run them over the wheels of rock n' roll - it's a headbanger's wet dream. Finally, has there ever been a finer track title than 'Beer Today, Bong Tomorrow'?

4: High On Fire - Snakes For The Divine (E1 Entertainment)
From an opening track straight out of left field to an assured powerhouse that invents new ways to deafen as it goes. As usual, the band ram it home by slowing the pace allowing them to stick their brutal hooks in deep. One round of 'Bastard Samurai' and you'll be left gasping.

5: No Hawaii - Snake My Charms (Sound Pollution)
Ranging from deeply progressive melodies to raging hardcore, No Hawaii's debut album presents the kind of dilemma that newcomers to bands like The Ocean and Isis represent. Plenty will dismiss them early on for being too lightweight or not heavy enough, but either move would be a terrible error of judgement. Simply by allowing the monstrous complexity of the whole album to fully invade your senses, you'll rapidly discover their wild inventions are utterly infectious.

6: Lower Than Atlantis - Far Q (Wolf At Your Door)
Having been inspired by 90s grunge bands, you'd expect LTA to batter you with screwball tactics, but what this album achieves above everything else is to powerfully invigorate, combining punk-fuelled aggression with breaks of sublime purity. The fact it's supplied with an assured conviction in their abilities is the ultimate cherry on top.

7: The Contortionist - Exoplanet (Good Fight Music)
Complex beyond belief, 'Exoplanet' manages to effortlessly blend jarring math-metal with spasmodic deathcore and hooky pop rock melodies and still achieve a vital sound that will force you to reassess just what can be achieved with so few musical notes.
 
8: Chickenhawk - Modern Bodies (Brew Records)
This is imaginative, hopelessly angry, scarily mathematical screamo in the vein of Ghost Of A Thousand or Dillinger Escape Plan that will inexorably draw you kicking and screaming into the pit. There's more going on here than first appears and it'll take a few listens to fully understand where the source is, but a careful listen to 'The Pin' and everything should become clear.

9: Humanfly - Darker Later (Brew Records)
This is sludge, doom, psych and stoner all piled on top of each other in a richly cloying and ultimately fulfilling gloop. Even, the unnecessarily lengthy and over-dramatic guest narrative from Rose Kemp on the 17-minute 'Heavy Black Snow' cannot change just how important this album will prove to be for the band.

10: Bison BC - Dark Ages (Metal Blade)
It's bruising monstrosities like 'Fear Cave' and 'Two-Day Booze' that mark this as the continuation of utter riff domination that littered this album's brutal forerunner, 'Quiet Earth'. This is High On Fire's awesome grunt with Saviours' blistering pace and punk nuts thrown in for good measure.

And the best of the rest;
11: Black Breath - Heavy Breathing (Southern Lord)
12: Iron Maiden - Final Frontier (EMI)
13: The Sword - Warp Riders (Kemado Records)
14: Return To Earth - Automata (Metal Blade)
15: Airbourne - No Guts, No Glory (Roadrunner)
16: Nightfall - Astron Black And The Thirty Tyrants (Metal Blade)
17: Norma Jean - Meridional (Razor & Tie)
18: 65daysofstatic - We Were Exploding Anyway (Hassle Records)
19: Rosaline - The Vitality Theory (Good Fight Music)
20: Hail Of Bullets - On Divine Winds (Metal Blade)

Feel free to leave your own opinions on what I've picked and what I've left out.

My list also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/bestof2010.htm