Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Superlative three way split of intense, introverted blackened dooming drone, frosted over with a sorrowful and freezing emptiness. The draw here, for me at least, is the track from the mighty LDRTFS, also known as Like Drone Razors Through Flesh Sphere, a project of anonymous singular membership with a crushing array of hyper-limited underground releases. LDRTFS appear to have some sort of ties to the black metal community, as their first proper release (a CD retrospective of previously released demos) came out on the always excellent Goatowarex label, allied in my mind with the absolute best of depressive black metal. LDRTFS's contribution here is a 30 minute crusher of a track, a whispered hush of whistling ambience that grows and grows, eventually giving way to a volcanic explosion of plodding, ridiculously blown-out ultra-doom, complete with staggering, stuttering drum programming and gigantic, monolithic slabs of guitar ooze. No vocals to speak of, only a universe of bleak atmospherics brought to life via electricity and contempt. Fucking stunning in every way and well worth the price of admission.
Gate to Void are an entity that i am completely unfamiliar with. Judging from the three tracks showcased here, they're an ambient project concerned mostly with keyboard/synthesizer landscapes. There is a kiss of guitar on the first track, some lonely arpeggiated clean minor voicings and then everything after is a thin wash of early morning sorrowtone, like the pink crystalline skyline of a winter dawn. Track two is a Xasthur cover that fails in every respect, as Xasthur knows ambience better than almost anyone working in black metal today and to even try and bring something else to such an already dense and rich composition is pointless. What GTV thought they could bring to the table is anyone's guess but it's no horn of black metal plenty as far as these discerning ears are concerned. Coming after the LDRTFS track, these three songs just seem unnecessary, as they don't come anywhere close to the power on display throughout the disc's first 30 minutes. Maybe some resequencing would have been appropriate here.
The split ends with another project unknown to me, Aeon Nought, who are even more closely allied to depressive black metal in sound than LDRTFS. Aeon Nought is all scraggly, heavily effected crying guitar dirge, ultra-sad and imbued with an infinite sort of yearn that impressed me right away. The sound here is very trebly as well but with all the delays and echoes the sound works and becomes a ghostly, ethereal presence, a sort of hovering remembrance of time wasted and a lifetime of regrets left behind. I found Aeon Nought's side of the split to be extremely effective in conveying a mood of total hopelessness and am eager to here more from this person, whoever it is, in the future.
Again, the real star here is LDRTFS. Splits are rarely balanced in quality; there's always one band that you're buying this shit for and for me it's LDRTFS. If this had been a two-way between GTV and Aeon Nought there's no way i would have been interested unless it were on a trusted label. With LDRTFS's track, it's a 75 minute descent into purgatory, an unflinching look at tedium and banality. If you can handle the oppression, then invest. Otherwise LDRTFS's comp disc on Goatowarex is a better place to start.

BONG "BETHMOORA" (Infinite Exchange)

Probably one of the most laconic, drifting "stoner" albums that i've heard in years. Despite that upside down cross in their logo Bong carry no taint of evil in their sound and even less weight. This is floating, meandering barely there existing in the astrals style expanse metal, creating an extraordinarily calm and mellow atmosphere throughout its lengthy 71 minute runtime. There are about four riffs on this whole record and if that concept has any sort of appeal to you then you're going to love what Bong are doing. From what i'd heard of the band i was expecting some massive crusted over Eyehategod style NOLA sludgehate but this is way more exisiting on the side of tranquility. Make no mistake-it IS heavy, and there are a few who probably WOULD find this oppressive-but to me this is much more about a journey and a mood, sort of the Ash Ra Temple of doom metal or Popol Vuh turned to sludge. It isn't as heavenly or as cosmic as either of those two projects but the communicative nature of the material is the same. Bong want to take you somewhere else and to get you there, they will lull, soothe and intoxicate you until you're sleeping and travelling, via dreams or transference or some sort of combination of both.
I'm reminded very much of another astral "metal" band, the mighty O. Like Om, Bong take simple riffs and grind them into spacedust ad infinitum and like Om Bong employ a very monotone, chanting/recitation style of singing that becomes very, very hypnotic as the music trudges on. Bong's aspirations are not as lofty as Om's, nor is their music meant to be taken as seriously. Unlike Om there is no philosophy underneath at all, no deeper belief. It's all about zoning the fuck out. Bong drives that point home on "Bethmoora" with a totally narcoleptic 30 minute cover of Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"; when at last the guitars come cranking over the sleepy hills in glacial waves of plodding distorto-stumble you're too massaged into nowhere to give a fuck. Nihilism as transcendence-maybe there is some sort of philosophy there.
Do you need this? Not really. There's nothing incredibly gripping here, but it isn't bad by any means. If i saw a Bong record at a store i'd buy it; i just wouldn't go as crazy over these guys as other reviewers suggest you should. You're getting so so so sleeeeeepy........

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

KEVIN DRUMM "MALAISE" (Hospital Productions)

An extremely limited double cassette from Drumm, soon to be reissued as part of Picadisk's upcoming 5CD boxset of OOP KD material (which i personally cannot wait for.) "Malaise" is perfectly titled; the sounds on display here ride a variety of moods to their inevitable end: resignation to unease and the acceptance of sorrow. This isn't "sorrow" in the traditional sense; it's the first wash of sickness, the first clamming of the skin, the first acknowledgment that something is wrong. This is all the colour draining from the body and a cold weakness seeping in. The cover art also reflects that-the cusp of winter, the draining of colours, the wilting of leaves and the embittering of an atmosphere.
"Malaise" is divided into four lengthy sections, with each occupying a vastly different headspace and producing different effects on the listener. "Malaise 01" is a chop piece, made up of various noise clouds and free-floating skronk thrown against each other via spacing and edits, creating an incredible disharmony. Some of the frequencies Drumm works with here create a distinctly nauseating physical feeling-at certain points throughout i felt as though a swarm of bees were stuffing my ears and stinging me all over. If you looped this track over and over, eventually you would vomit. "Malaise 02" eschews the mass chopping in favor of a prolonged harsh static intro veering into a deep drift of white electric snow, an infinite strain of winds that soothe and calm (albeit into death) as much as they hurt. It's the middle of a blizzard, an image that Drumm has visited and summoned often in his compositions. This track is the most effective of the three in conveying the overall tone and idea of the record as i see it; there's a restlessness, a boredom and a deep sense of dissatisfaction and disgust lurking within. While not near as harsh as the first segment, this track goes a long way towards luring the listener deeper into a perception of illness. "dogdrone" is next, a respite of sorts, or maybe the fever and the hallucination, the sweating and the visions. thirteen minutes of gorgeous, dense, buzzing shimmery drone, unchanging but always changing, a Lovecraftian wisp of slightly ever-shifting bass tones and hot stuttery wired electricity. It's lovely and dreamy and stands at serious odds with the rest of the material; the fact that Drumm titled it differently but still considered it part of the work as a whole (the next track still advances the numeral) speaks to the feelings of distress that he infused into the track (but in KD material, no matter how serene, there is always menace.) Things end with the sickness overtaking the body, the complete physical purge of all the contagion. "Malaise 04" is KD in full noise tyrant mode, all bass throb and electric howl, terror and assault fused into one efficient rendering machine. I find it interesting that although this track is extremely harsh, it isn't difficult to listen to; rather it's almost comforting, like you know these feelings will end soon, that it's almost over, that there can be difference. Such an affirmation is hard to reconcile in a Drumm piece, but as discussed in other reviews he's an intelligent artist capable of both subtlety where you wouldn't expect and a wicked sense of humour.
"Malaise" has been maligned as something of a minor work amongst some reviewers. Perhaps the incredible limitation of the material resulted in an unfair assessment. There is nothing new here but there are plenty of variations on everything that Drumm does so, so well. "Malaise" is a towering record, another masterpiece in a discography littered with them, an epic exploration of indefinable feelings and introverted hypochondria. Surrender to the fatigue of winter; give up on it all. Accept total defeat but don't forget: things can change.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

FAUNA "THE HUNT" (Aurora Borealis)

Gorgeous, epochal 71 minute suite of atavistic pagan black metal from the Cascadias. Fauna operate from a space far removed from the majority of modern black metal and while correlations can easily be drawn to other nature-worshiping bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Fauna achieves a distance in their music that only comes from the outright rejection of society and a subscription to more ancient values. "The Hunt" is nothing less than a ritual and it feels like one when listening to it. I've encountered plenty of black metal records that attempt to set a magickal aura with their sound but Fauna actually delivers. There's an organic element to their approach that few other bands seem capable of capturing or tapping into and the resultant atmosphere is a dark, thick tapestry of nighttime evocations and praise thrown out to the cosmos.
"The Hunt" is presented as a seven part movement alternating between the aforementioned ritualistic musical soundscapes and lengthy blasts of atonal, ultra-repetitive black metal, a sort of Slint by way of Burzum demonstration that leaves the listener wanting little and wrapped up in a whirling, dizzying state of hypnotic mesmerization. The record reaches a dual apex in the near 20 minute "The Scent" and the 15 minute closer, "The Kill...Fulfillment" (itself divided into two equally different parts, "The Feast" and "Ascension of the Prey's Soul") wherein black metal conventions are reduced to their basest forms and Fauna totally bludgeon you into a state of lulled, rubbery submission via their endless, passionate repeating of vaguely melodic mid-paced power chord destructionisms. The intent of "The Hunt" is to take the listener on a journey through the mind of a predator, to bond you to the simplest survival instinct and make you understand the idea of kill or be killed, the necessity of what is essentially murder in a less intellectual setting, the idea that as much as we like to deny it, baser drives are what motivate us in almost all decisions.
The music plays this journey out extraordinarily well. There are moments of extreme fist-clenching tension, sweat-soaked minutes of dark and menacing contemplation, elegiac laments borne of clean and austere guitar figures exploding into thrilling, cathartic adrenaline-fueled release. Fauna bring you there with the wolf, alongside the solitary quest for survival, a witness to the necessary cruelties that nature demands of its creatures. It all peaks with "The Kill," wherein the bloodlust is sated by way of "The Feast", whose buzzing metalstorm gives way to the achingly beautiful coda of "Ascension of the Prey's Soul," an absolutely commanding and epic tribute to the prey just taken, a reverence for what it has given and the blood that once flowed through its veins, alive and hot and slick with terror and awareness. Fauna weave a thick fog of heaven-seeking keyboards amidst a clod of earthen guitar communion, creating a severe and majestic atmosphere of pagan worship.
This is flat out amazing black metal art, an obvious path to transcendence. Fauna have no goals beyond the adherence to a very personal philosophy and the commitment to that statement has birthed one of the most awesome and powerful black metal albums i've heard in years. It's a shining jewel in the USBM crown and a high mark for the genre as a whole. A masterpiece.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

PANTERA "I AM THE NIGHT" (Metal Magic Records)

Holy shit is this terrible. Pantera's third album overall, and the last to feature vocalist Terrence Lee. It's obvious at this point that the band was out of ideas and had taken this style as far as it could go. A change needed to occur. Whereas "Projects in the Jungle" was a flawed but promising effort with a number of good songs and riffs, and one absolutely amazing track, "I Am The Night" is unequivocally terrible. Everything here sucks, with the lone exception of "Come On Eyes" which actually rocks pretty hard for glam. More than likely it was a "Projects..." outtake.
So what went wrong? Probably Pantera's intense desire for crossover success. The most off-putting aspect of this record, for me, is the ZZ Top style mechanized drums which appear in every song, leading me to believe that Pantera were following the charts (a few years too late) and wondering what they could do to achieve that level of marketability. What they failed to realize was that along with the robot drums ZZ Top were writing great songs like "Sleeping Bag," "Give Me All Your Lovin'" and "Legs" (never mind that "Sleeping Bag" was never a single-it's a song called fucking "Sleeping Bag" and that should be enough.) It wasn't just cold mechanical beats making stars back then-you had to have something that people could remember.
Pantera at this point, and working in this style, didn't have that. They were too heavy for mainstream radio but not heavy enough for underground success. The arrival of Phil Anselmo would rectify that but at the time it must have been dire for the boys. What to do with the talent? "I Am The Night" boasts plenty of pure uninspired techinical shit riffing and even has yet another Van Halen styled guitar exposition but nothing in the way of quality songs-what's a band to do? Blame the singer, of course.
Terrence Lee did his best here. His performance is the only one that actually shows improvement and progression from "Projects." He works in different ranges here and tries a number of varied approaches, all admirable and acceptable and laudable within the terrible frameworks given but not enough to escape the inevitable sandbagging overall. I'd like to know more about this guy just to see if he knew what was going wrong at this point and if he had any inkling that he'd get the axe. Obviously Anselmo came in and took things to the the next level but it'd still be interesting to hear Lee's side of the story.
On "Power Metal" Pantera were totally different. Every vestige of accessibility was gone, replaced by a "harder faster louder" mentality that fueled the band for years to come. Perhaps the memory of "I Am The Night" prompted them to do better all the time. It made for some great records, certainly. For fans and musicologists, "I Am The Night" is priceless. If you don't laugh a little listening to these songs then i'm not sure what this blog could do for you. Likewise, if "Come On Eyes" doesn't blow your mind then i wonder the same. Better things were on the horizon for Pantera, but history is forever inescapable.

PYRAMIDS with NADJA "INTO THE SILENT WAVES (Remixed by Lustmord and Ulver)" (Hydrahead)

Wow. If this LP weren't so crazy limited (a scant 300 copies) i'd call it totally worthless. Normally Hydrahead outdo themselves with the vinyl versions of their albums but this is deplorable. That image is pretty much exactly what this LP looks like- no artwork, no insert-just a fucking sleeve and a record. And it wasn't inexpensive. Horrible!
The Pyramids with Nadja album itself was excellent. A very subdued jaunt across naturalistic landscapes accented with tons of echoed guitars and Faith Colaccia's inimitable piano symphonics. It brought Nadja down into the atmosphere and showed exactly what Pyramids were capable of as a composing unit. This remix LP does the original a disservice which is a shocker, considering the musicians involved.
Lustmord's side is the longer of the two and reduces the track to its barest essentials-the bass line and a minor amount of atmosphere. I find that little is gained by his treatment of the track-i don't feel like i've explored the potential any further nor do i see any new territory unearthed by his remixing. It hardly even bares his stamp. I would much rather have heard a lengthy near dub-style ultra-bass reduction of the track's simplest elements stretched to a plodding, echoing length rather than the pointless rework on display here. It's just longer with less going on. Nothing new, nothing learned.
Ulver's hack job is even worse. Their remix would have fit comfortably on a 7" single and considering the price i paid for this LP that pisses me off a bit. It seems like Ulver took what Lustmord did and encapsulated it a bit, adding a few seconds of delayed orchestral flourish to the minimalist reimagining previously employed. I can't even embellish what's here because it's so totally skeletal in the worst possible way. It's a vapid, empty treatment that reeks of cashing a paycheck.
I'm wary of remixes overall but Hydrahead normally go above and beyond. Their commissioned mutations of Knut and Isis are both exemplary of what the remix concept can achieve. This, however, falls well short of that mark. Avoid at all costs. I can only hope that someday this LP will be worth hundreds of dollars to justify its existence.


A tremendously dissatisfying later period album from Roky Erickson. For me this a really polarizing record-there are things i like about it and there are a lot of things i don't. I'll do the best i can in addressing them but forgive me in advance if this review falls prey to tangential raving.
The most serious misstep here is in the choice of Roky's backing band. I don't know if this was his choice (i seriously doubt it) or more the desire of the label, but Okervil River is not suited in any way to play Roky's songs. For me, Roky is more or less Elvis-he is my total definition of what rock and roll is. He embodies it. His music is pure, simple and honest and his best backing bands have understood that. Okervil River drowns these songs in needless, worthless instrumentation. I don't want to hear fucking horns and sappy strings in a Roky Erickson song. Disgusting! It's dentist's office/elevator music bullshit and to attach it to someone who is wild and feral and free is a disgrace. I won't blame Okervil outright-i feel this was more a label decision than anything else-but to assume that Roky's audience has aged with Roky and wants to revel in the sounds of being fucking ancient is just sad and shows a serious disregard for the artist and the listener. At their best Okervil can work up a nice droning din but far too often this sort of explosion is tempered in favor of FM light garbage that embarasses everyone on the record. Why didn't Anti just bring in the Explosives (Roky's go-to live band, and an amazing set of musicians as well) and make this album what it should have been? The simple answer is dollars, and that sickens me all the more. Anti has established themselves as a sort of home for outcast punk forefathers (Tom Waits) but has done little to foster the belief that they actually care about the artistic visions of said individuals.
It IS nice to have Roky out there and making music again. Granted, many of these songs have been around for a long time (and have been played better by many different backing bands) but it's good to hear Roky surviving and enduring and engaging with the world once more. His voice has been rendered sweeter by the years but such softness suits him-it's always been there and now it's just more apparent. He's lost a little bit of the edge, yes, but i can't blame the man himself for getting older. Tons of other artists have turned in absolute shit at this point in their careers so in comparison Roky still seems pretty youthful. There is still THAT VOICE and there are still the songs.
Roky has never attempted to go beyond what he does and i admire that immensely. There's been no branching out, no experimentation-it's always been simple songs and simple words. I won't comment on the lyrics because they're one of two things-ridiculously heartfelt proclamations of love or horror movie rewrites, sometimes a combination of both to great effect. As stated above there's an honesty to what this guy does that no one else has even come close to. The true poet wears his heart on his sleeve for all to see, good or bad, and cares little for what others think. That's Roky, easily.
I expected this recording to be much more intense than it was. Roky recordings were always rough and ragged, even the studio work, and i feel the lullaby-esque nature of "True Love..." taints the legacy and shows a skewered portrait of the artist as a lackadaisical, tired old man. There is not a single guitar solo on this album and that is just plain unforgivable. I know when he tours this live (if he does, and if it's with a better band) he'll rock the shit out of these songs the way they're supposed to be. I was psyched that "John Lawman" was on this record, one of my absolute Roky faves, a destroyer of a song, total pre-punk disgust and disdain, but Okervil has transformed it into a mid-paced near flatline snoozer with a hint of distortion and a glimmer of attitude. It's a song that breathes "fuck you" and it's been moulded into a sort of "well, i guess." Perhaps that sentiment describes this album best.
The high points, for me, are the opening and closing tracks-two songs recorded in incredibly low fidelity consisting of just Roky and acoustic guitar, the utter nakedness and beauty of the material on complete display. Towards the end of both Okervil begins to pour in but they never achieve full immersion-they're struggling to get in amongst the honesty of the songs, and that's the way it should have been. This album should have been either Roky solo acoustic or with the Explosives. Then it would have been a masterpiece. As it is now it's just another album by an aged counter culture hero. I know Roky is better than this and i think there were just too many people whispering in his ear. It's Anti that fucked up. I also won't blame Okervil River-who wouldn't want to play with Roky?-but if they were true believers they should have known this fact-Roky is best with the Explosives.
Avoid this record. If you're new to Roky start with "Halloween," "The Evil One" or the starkly gorgeous "Never Say Goodbye." Those capture the man as he is-loose, unbridled, free and pure. "True Love Cast Out All Evil" is watered down adult contemporary bullshit.


Lantlos caught my attention by being one of the more obscure projects associated with Neige (Alcest, Mortifera, etc) and it took me a long time to obtain a copy of the debut album. Imagine my surprise to discover that Neige is not present on this record; he is slated to appear on the band's sophomore effort "neon" due out later this year on Prophecy.
The fact that i didn't know this only points to the mystery surrounding Lantlos. A very quiet, understated band by black metal standards without succumbing to the isolationist auras summoned by more depressive minded projects, Lantlos exists in a realm of aristocratic elegance, creating a very refined and and majestic form of post-black metal that has more in common with Slint and Woburn House than Burzum. That Neige would be attracted to such a project is easily imagined; this is the sound he had been questing for with Amesouers and feel short of.
With those points of reference you should easily be able to approximate Lantlos' sound. A moderately angular guitar presence, long extended compositions and a vague focus on dreamy, technical melancholy. It's extremely well done, to be sure, but somewhat unengaging overall. To me it lacks any sort of visceral being and there is nothing up-front or immediate about the work as a whole. There is an urban, distanced gloom omnipresent but nothing near as suffocating as Shining or Lyrinx, nor is there the rain and stormcloud-bathed beauty of Alcest despite the heavy use of ethereal dream-pop mutated guitars and aching melodies. Perhaps i'm missing the point and trying to make Lantlos into what i want it to be rather than what it is, although it's equally likely that this record just misses the mark of what it actually wants to be.
It's not unenjoyable. If you were looking for some blackened post rock anguish then this would certainly fit the bill, and there are many moments throughout the record's five tracks where a sort of bludgeoning hypnotism is achieved by way of relentless instrumental passages and a near-endless parade of triggered double bass work. It's just that when i compare it to, say, Amesouers' debut EP (which Lantlos seems to take almost all of its aesthetic from directly), i find it falling short of the desired levels of unease, malaise and claustrophobia that i expect from music like this, the sort of feelings that Neige was able to call up so masterfully. Lantlos is deconstructed black metal trussed up with excellent musicianship and a far-reaching idealism; the end result of those interests is a slightly above average slab of gloom metal. I'm very curious to see how Neige's involvement will change the band; at the very least we can expect the vocals to be in French rather than German. Whether Neige will have an overarching compositional presence is another matter entirely, and regardless of this record's shortcomings i know i'll be ordering "neon" as soon as it's released.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Tons of shit going wrong here, all leading to the inevitable footnoting of one of the most awesome bands in thrash metal. With a new aesthetic in mind Nuclear Assault set about completely reworking their formula to revolve around glossy instrumentation as opposed to their sloppy, breakneck attack evinced on earlier efforts. The speed is mostly gone aside from a few moments, replaced by midpaced breakdown anthems and overly ambitious songs. Acoustic guitars feature prominently throughout and that's as sure a sign as any that all is not right in the Nuclear Assault camp. Also telling are the extremely lengthy recording credits. Seems there wasn't a single moment where all the band members were together in a studio, instead opting to record the album in bits and pieces across different dates, time and cities with everyone playing everything. John Connelly even bows out on a few tracks vocal-wise and that is not good. His voice is a defining element of Nuclear Assault and to hear songs given over to the lead guitarist's weak pipes is unforgivable.
Anthony Bramante is an excellent guitarist though, and his leads have the reek of studied composition to them that just does not vibe well with NA's hyperfast, go-for-broke attack. This was a huge change from previous albums. And the leads are all over. Some songs boast several, dancing across the earscape like fleet-footed ballerinas hungry for attention because they're so dressed up and sparkly. That seems a little harsh, i guess, but the leads simply don't fit. They're too controlled and too flawless, and they sound too different, like NA just called up a studio guy to dress up the songs (Bramante was an original member, if that makes any difference to you.) I'm puzzled how he could have so lost so much focus in so short a period of time. Increasing talent as a musician does crazy things in your head.
I know it sounds like i'm disgusted with this record. I'm really not. It isn't terrible and its certainly miles better than a lot of what's passing for thrash these days. It's no Dark Angel, but fuck, no one could be. What's sad about "Out of Order" is that it's possible to actually hear the band disintegrating. Listening to this leaves no doubt in your mind that this project's time left is minimal. It's like they were at a non-negociable impasse in their career-what to do after making kick ass frenzy-fuled headbangers like "Game Over" and "Handle With Care"? Metallica were raising the bar significantly composition-wise at this point in thrash, so i'm sure a lot of bands were feeling a pressure, a demand to evolve and over complicate things or risk disappearing. Nuclear Assault should have realized that they were never that sort of band-"compositions" don't suit them as well as speed, and too many mid-paced 5 minute songs on a NA album makes for a depressing and tedious time. Only on "Stop Wait Think," (six songs in!) do we get that Nuclear Assault of old, the blitzkrieging dexterity demon that shreds faces and induces whiplash. And then it's gone, and you're wading through a bunch of long, grinding riff-fests (grinding here implying an agony, not an enjoyment.)
Danny Lilker left Anthrax and formed Nuclear Assault because Anthrax weren't fast or intense enough. This was after "Fistful of Metal," too, a record as intense and crazy as "Kill 'Em All" or "Killing is My Business." For two albums Nuclear Assault absolutely delivered the fucking goods, keeping thrash as rough, raw and fast as it always should have been. And then this happened. How could Lilker even stick around for this? He had to even seen what was happening. He must have known the songs were sub-par. They all had to have seen what was happening, but it's hard to give up something you've put so much time and work into. There was one more album after this and then the band dissolved. I haven't heard that last record, although i'm curious...where could you possibly go from here?


Sorry. I'm just having a lot of fun with these old Pantera albums. This was the sophomore effort (yeah, i'll review the debut eventually) and features pre-Anselmo vocalist Terrence Lee. It's WORLDS away from the awesome ass-kicking velocity of "Power Metal" and from listening to this two things become very clear: the reason Pantera disowned these albums (unclear based on "Power Metal") and how much influence Anselmo exerted over the band.
"Projects in the Jungle" is glam metal, pure and simple. This is a marriage of Kiss, Accept and Van Halen with a sprinkling of 1980's uber-popular somewhat heavy rock and a pinch of Ted Nugent. In a slightly less conservative environment "In Over My Head" would have been a huge radio hit, with its massive keyboard overtures and Outfield-esque chord progression. Pantera obviously knew what was selling and made a run for it on this album, staying hard-edged enough to please the hair rockers and palpable enough for some family-minded goon to not change the station if they came on the radio. It's weird to hear.
This incarnation is way less enjoyable because of the trendiness, but there's still some decent moments. Soundwise this is Kiss all the way, with pounding cavelike reverb and a slightly dirty, overblown guitar tone with echoes on everything just for good measure. The riffing is pretty substandard with a few exceptions. "Heavy Metal Rules" is the greatest song Gene Simmons never wrote, "Killers" employs some enjoyable pedal-point demonstrations and "Takin' My Life" is as good a song as any band has written in any decade, ever. This was a group of young kids blazing a trail, making a name and thinking they were a bunch of take no shit bad-asses and the lyrics reflect that sort of acceptable rebellion. You never get the idea that Vinnie Paul would throw a punch at someone, but he'd probably tell them to fuck off because they "just didn't understand."
That's maybe the biggest difference between this incarnation of Pantera and the one that showed up on "Power Metal" and i can't help but think it was because of Phil Anselmo. By "Power Metal" Pantera had become a raging thrashing beast and while still rooted in the idea of glammy rock it wasn't a huge stretch to accept or anticipate the progression to "Cowboys From Hell." Throughout his career Anselmo has proven himself to be an intensely creative, visionary figure with myriad metal interests and talents-mayhaps Pantera saw that fire in him and decided they needed him to take up the ferocity a little. I always thought that Dime and Vinnie were the creative heart of Pantera but listening to these albums i'm thinking i was wrong. I think it was Anselmo calling the shots from the moment he joined up. He had the idea of what Pantera could be if they pushed hard enough and branched out further .
There are no thrashy moments on "Projects In The Jungle." It's not an aggressive record by any means. It's a flashy record, and its slick in its intent if not its sound (had it had the budget of the Outfield it might be a different story). Terrence Lee is an excellent vocalist for this style but he's got no range. He can sing high and little else and he certainly doesn't have the Halford-esque sound of Anselmo, nor does he veer at all from his comfort zone. He's not bad-if Pantera had ever found an audience amongst radio listeners i'm sure Lee would have been up to the task-but he simply had no spark. The same holds true for "Projects in the Jungle" as a whole. For Pantera fans it's invaluable but for anyone else it's laughable.
Bonus points: "Blue Light Turnin' Red" is a totally Van Halen guitar piece that probably should have opened the record, as opposed to being track three. Ridiculous.

XASTHUR "PORTAL OF SORROW" (Disharmonic Variations)

And so Xasthur ends, on an appropriately flatlining note. "Portal of Sorrow" may very well represent the idea of what Malefic always wanted Xasthur to sound like, a sort of endless, hovering blur of vague neoclassicicist portraiture rendered in guitars, piano and atmosphere. It's easily the most removed album he's ever made; the connections to the genre of black metal are tenuous at best, mostly inferred by the existence of previous work and the sporadic screaming vocals that arise.
Vocals have become more and more rare across Xasthur's work as it has progressed. They were a necessary casualty of the direction Malefic wanted Xasthur to move in, and their absence is only flutteringly felt, like a butterfly flapping against your cheek. I mention vocals because biggest coup d'etat on this record is the appearance of folk chanteuse Marissa Nadler on a good majority of the material. Here her presence is obvious but her vocals are shapeless for the most part, transformed by Malefic into cones and arcs of blurring, warm ambience, a blanket of companionship against all the loneliness and isolation that Xasthur has summoned into the world. It's all anxiety and inexpressible unease in Xasthur's universe and Nadler's being in it sheds an interesting light on the work as a whole and points towards why Malefic has decided to end Xasthur at this point.
The reasons are discussed in detail on Malefic's blog but there was a basic feeling that the band had gone as far as it could under the hand of one person. Malefic did not want to deal with other musicians but also felt that the project would stagnate without them; fear of relying too heavily on collaborators and the resultant loss of identity accompanying such reliance prompted the dissolve of Xasthur. Nadler's inclusion, then, is both the apex and nadir of what Malefic hoped to achieve. While her vocals are gorgeous and add a somewhat otherwordly feel to the music (and not otherwordly in the usual disorienting sense associated with Xasthur) they also aren't all that transfixing or iconic-this could have been any young lady with a decent voice. Anything that points to this being Marissa Nadler other than a credit on the album sleeve is completely obliterated, lost in waves and washes of sound and tone from all the other instruments employed. She becomes merely another sound in an endless parade of them, unable to take things beyond the seasick tedium Malefic has worked so hard to create.
There are no peaks on "Portal of Sorrow." It's an hour long journey across a flat and empty landscape, constantly beat down by rain, sleet and howling winds. There are no stars and no light. It isn't hard nor particularly oppressive but it just doesn't stop. That feeling of melancholy expanse is where the album's greatest strength comes from. It's tiring and defeating in a natural, enervating manner, a sort of music that wears at optimism and shrouds any sort of positivity with a shadow of infinite bleakness. It isn't depressing, per se...just exhausting. Even the moments of beauty-the lovely keyboard swells at the beginning of "Karma/Death" or Nadler's ethereal choir that opens up "Mesmerized by Misery"-are just short reprieves from the larger sojourn to the heart of disillusionment.
This is the end. There is no more Xasthur. "Portal of Sorrow" is not a definitive statement of any sort, nor is it the best Xasthur recording, and it certainly isn't any sort of summation. It's a strong depiction of one part of the overall sound but it really doesn't need to exist. Malefic stated that he was unhappy with the last Hydrahead effort, "All Reflections Drained," and wanted to end the project on a high note. I personally thought "All Reflections Drained" was a masterpiece, one of the best later period Xasthur albums, where the focus on extended song lengths and a more minimalistic sound approach brought the project to a new brink of isolationist transcendence. "Portal of Sorrow" is another beast entirely, an overflow of stagnancy and riffs shaped into a sort of hazy depressionistic symphony that leaves little lasting impression after the listener has waded through its muck. Maybe that was Malefic's intent. Maybe he never wanted Xasthur to make any sort of lasting impression; maybe other people's opinions (like mine, sadly) got in the way of creativity and expression and shaped things more than he would have liked. Expectation can really fuck with us.
I remember one night about three years ago, when i was going through some very difficult emotional fallout, i turned off all the lights and threw on "Subliminal Genocide" at an incredible volume, just to drown everything else out. Ben called me in the middle of the listening and asked what i was doing, and i told him. He said i shouldn't be doing that, it probably wasn't a good idea knowing what i was going through. He was right, but it was the only thing i could think of that i COULD do. Xasthur was the band that defined those feelings for me-all that sound was the very idea of agony and depression and anger and listening to it made me feel a little better, like i wasn't totally alone and that great things could be borne of misery and hopelessness. It's sad to me that there won't be another chance at that. I can only hope that as Malefic goes on to other projects he finds the sense of completion that has been eluding him, that he creates the music that is his alone, that satisifies the creative and emotional drives that lonely artists fall victim to. Malefic seems to feel that people into Xasthur won't like the new music he's making.
I can't wait.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

PANTERA "POWER METAL" (Metal Magic Records)

Holy shit, this fucking rules. Pretty much any Pantera fan knows they had a storied career before the release of "Cowboys From Hell"; we all pretty much know the four albums that preceeded it are near impossible to find and have thus attained a sort of "holy grail" status amongst the base. "Power Metal" was the fourth album before the big break and the first album to feature Phil Anselmo, making it the perfect bridging point between the Pantera of old and the aggressive adrenaline machine the band would become afterwards. And again-this album fucking SLAYS.
Why Pantera have disowned these records and this style is well beyond my grasp. There is nothing bad or embarrassing about this-the only sadness about this album is its criminal unavailability because it's a fucking perfect example of of the title. Pantera had it down cold like only a few others before, and where stalwart acts like Manowar and Accept found themselves lost in tides of epic silliness amongst the majestic riffing, Pantera brought in the unbridled ferocity of thrash metal to make a definitive (albeit now near forgotten) statement pertaining to the awesomeness of rocking out.
"Power Metal" is a perfect amalgamation of "Rust In Peace"-era Megadeth, Judas Priest and Kiss. Every reference is there but it never comes off as anything less than inspired. There's no contrivance, no blind emulation, no unnecessary chromatic heaviness or oblique demonstrations of technique (something that would plague the band towards the end)-just pure fucking metal, in spades and without apology. Every song is a streamlined destroyer packed full of awesome riffs, frantic double bass patterns and Phil's insane, near-operatic lungpower, easily giving Halford a run for his money. Shit like this was probably what prompted Judas Priest to lay down a record like "Painkiller" in the first place-they needed to compete with the new breed of metal (and all that competition certainly made for some awesome wax.) Anselmo easily makes a case for himself as one of metal's most iconic singers with this performance. There's hints of what he would do with Pantera here, just like there's hints of what he USED to do hidden amongst the later, more popular records. But mostly there's just a crazy display of talent and a massive upper range. Anselmo is ON FUCKING TOP here.
Also reaching the mountain peak is Dimebag Darrell (here known as Diamond Darrell, before glitter and glitz was traded in for smoke-filled tour buses and hazy hangovers.) I don't think i need to tell you that he's one of the bes guitar players that ever lived-if you aren't aware of that cold hard fact then i suggest you move away from the screen and invest in "The Great Southern Trendkill" right fucking now-but i do need to tell you how fully realized that playing was so early on. There is not a single misstep here. Everything is as tight and crafted as it would ever get on any subsequent Pantera release, and on "Power Metal" is was a hell of a lot more melodic and shitloads more fun. "We'll Meet Again" has a solo that will drop your jaw to the fucking floor-it's so astonishingly composed and gorgeously melodic, and so mind-blowingly fast-that you'll probably feel the need to stop whatever you're doing and air guitar along until it's over. I did and i'm not ashamed. It's cool as shit. And this is coming from a listener who agrees that "Floods" was "Guitar Solo of the Year, 1996."
There's no reason to snooze on this. You can find it if you look for it, and trust me, it's worth your minimal search time. Pantera would go on to make rougher, more alienating music, but after hearing this album i'm not sure if that was the right direction. I love what they accomplished on "GST" but that seemed to be a peak of sorts-maybe a secondary peak. And it was great becasue they were finally letting some melody and groove in-it wasn't just ridiculous thrash stop/start tactics anymore, it was a renewed interest in writing awesome songs. "Cemetary Gates" provided perhaps the truest peek into the past, with its ultra-high falsetto singing and hyper-melodic riffing, and it's no wonder that song was both a fan and concert favorite. We remember, and we never faulted Pantera. We just wanted to hear the fucking rock. Get this shit NOW. Highest possible recommendation.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

DOODSDREK "S/T" (Those Opposed)

A regressively primitive project featuring members of outsider black metal weirdos Lugubrum, Doodsdrek blast through 8 hymns of garage waste in 28 minutes and call it an album. This is black metal that hearkens back to earlier days and more DIY ideals; back then it was as simple as throwing down a few riffs, starting a few fires and proclaiming hatred for everything around you. Doodsdrek obviously want those days to come back; perhaps the artsy pretense of Lugubrum proved too much of a weight.
Lugubrum have never been a refined or glossy project-there's always been an element of crust and decay to their work despite its eclectic instrumentation and there's always been a more eldritch feel attached to their albums. Doodsdrek take that feeling and pursue it even further, reducing black metal to its purest, most simplistic essence-one guitar, one drum kit and a lifetime's worth of rage and disgust. Instruments are beaten with a frightening intensity and an endearing passion while tempos approach the limits of human exhaustion. Reverence for the old masters is here in spades-taken at first listen one can hear echoes of Darkthrone, Ulver and "Deathcrush"-era Mayhem as well as the more pummeling attacks of Discharge and Black Flag. This isn't groundbreaking shit but it's effective and immensely enjoyable for what it is. Sometimes it gets to be too much to think about music in such an intellectual manner all the time. My friend Matt once said that music didn't always have to be challenging or difficult to be enjoyable. At the time i argued with him (and it's dawned on me more and more how frequently i've been wrong about all this stuff) though now i see what he was telling me. It isn't always about defiance, even if it is. It isn't always about dissent and disgust, even if you're angry. Sometimes it's just music because that's what you want to make. It's a fine line, obviously-the band in question with me and Matt was The Minutemen, whom i still can't get into-but there's a validity to that argument that i was unable to appreciate only two years ago.
So Doodsdrek decimate some shit in under 30 minutes with the only goal being to make some awesome, lofi black metal. And they destroy it, totally, even turning in one song (the mighty "De Dode") that 1000 black metal bands would kill to have written on their end of career headstones. This is what happens when boredom and alienation get together. This is the use that garages and basements aspire to. Whether this project will endure is anyone's guess-these songs don't necessarily seem like the riffs that weren't good enough for Lugubrum, and the aesthetic behind Doodsdrek's work is obviously far removed from the intentionally weird vibe of Lugubrum-but while they're here creating fiercely primal black metal art it's as good a reason as any to dim the lights and bang your fucking head.

Monday, April 12, 2010

BLACK FLAG "1982 DEMO" (No Label)

The most widely traded Black Flag bootleg, with good reason. This was more or less what Greg Ginn intended as the follow-up to "Damaged," an incredible set of songs that later found homes among three different albums, recorded by an outstanding line-up including Dez Cadena on second guitar and future Danzig drummer Chuck Biscuits. The two guitar incarnation of Black Flag had long been Ginn's dream and the sonic immensity it adds to things is captivating. This is BF at their most unhinged, chaotic and totally out of control, on a self-charted path towards psychological obliteration and weighed down by nervousness, disgust, dissatisfaction and sheer frustration. I love the rawness of this recording as well-Ginn's guitar sounds fucking white hot electric, totally alive and cackling with insane, ultra-distorted glee. It's the loudest instrument here and it's a joy to hear him go off on all these songs. Some of his solos would receive a tiny bit of rewriting and cleaning up for their actual album appearances but for the most part they're as is, and they're a wasted, shredding mess.
It's hard to assess if things would have been different had this album been released rather than "My War." There was certainly a lot of rocking material on this demo but i don't know if Ginn would have attained the goal of pissing everyone off if this one had dropped instead. It almost seems as though Black Flag had to go through all of their legal difficulties to get where they wanted to be-had they simply recorded this in the midst of it all it certainly would have lacked some of the defeated bitterness present through all the later work and "My War" especially.
As good as this demo is, there are a few problems. Chuck Biscuits was not the right drummer for the Flag-he was just too damn busy and too light on touch. His energy is actually a detriment to "Can't Decide," "Nothing Left Inside" and especially "I Love You," where he more or less solos over the entire song and can't ever get it to the simple groove that Bill Stevenson took it to so effortlessly and memorably. Rollins too is a little off the mark here-he was still working on ideas and delivery throughout this set and some things are a little more halted and forced than they ended up being. Otherwise it's an epic set, containing some of Ginn's best guitar work (and certainly his best guitar SOUND) and a great set of songs. Tracklisting is:
What Can You Believe
Yes, I Know
Slip It In
Modern Man
My War
Black Coffee
Beat My Head Against The Wall
Can't Decide
I Love You
Nothing Left Inside/Scream

The best part about this demo is that it's widely available-you shouldn't have any trouble coming across it. Totally recommended as food for thought, as well as to fans of apocalyptic guitar destructionism.


Black Flag are another example of the absolute best kind of band, for one very different reason: they didn't give a fuck about what anyone thought and they actively sought to antagonize and challenge their audience with their recordings. "My War" represents the truest realization of the dogma, the album generally considered to be the band's worst among fans (not me) and the one that completely removed them from the conceptual and aesthetic limitations of hardcore.
Let's address the elephant first: the recording sounds fucking awful. SST's releases are all woefully in need of remastering because they lack any sort of punch at all. Everything on "My War" sounds horribly dry, small and separated and you have to totally crank the stereo to uncomfortable volumes to begin to hear the power of the music. It probably didn't help that all of Greg Ginn's guitar parts were overdubbed (he played bass on this recording as well, which he chose to track live so as to lock in better with the drums), and Rollins sounds like he's screaming inside of a cardboard box. Bill Stevenson's drums suffer the most ignoble fate, though-completely stripped of all their heft through terrible mixing his effort comes out sounding far weaker than what it actually was.
Once you get beyond that to the actual songs, it's evident Black Flag were not fucking around. Opening up with the scathing paranoia of "My War" (a track widely considered one of the Flag's best despite its appearance here) it becomes obvious that these people trust no one and have a fairly limitless amount of anger to direct at the outside world. "Can't Decide" is one of my all time fave BF tracks, a meandering chromatic riff-fest boasting some of Greg's best soloing this side of "Slip It In," completely atonal, unhinged and free. "Beat My Head Against the Wall" is one of the first trudging numbers hinting at the lurking mess on the second side, a bruising crawl railing against the mindless complacency of most people, including a goodly number of BF's fans. By this time Ginn was actively disgusted by people's unwillingness to follow the direction he was steering the Flag in and his lyrics begin to reflect that frustration. "I Love You" and "Forever Time" represent the most straightforward rock tracks here, both faster more melodically inclined numbers brimming with sardonic rage and the deep sense of irony that BF always attached to their vision of the world. "I Love You" is very poppy in a wink-wink/nudge sort of way; even though this song was written by Chuck Dukowski, Ginn would revisist this sort of recidivist songwriting on the "Loose Nut" album a little further down the road. "The Swinging Man" caps off the first set, a manic and incredibly jazzy track that bears no resemblance to anything Black Flag had recorded before. This was the true hint of where Ginn was really headed past the Flag's demise-these sorts of songs were the direction he would explore so thoroughly with Gone.
Side Two is the reason this album has borne so much ire with fans over the years and even today most people close to the Flag camp still describe the three songs that take up the side to be totally worthless. It's crazy that even after years and years these people are still missing the point. In some instances Ginn's disgust and anger at people's close-mindedness seem completely justified. To me, Side Two of "My War" is what makes the album fucking amazing. The tracks are slow. Way slow. Melvins/Sabbath level slow, and in the 1980 hardcore landscape that direction was greeted with rancor and rage from the listeners. Black Flag went from being the fastest band in California to a lumbering dirge machine, churning out three tracks that spanned 20 minutes and forced the listener to wade through the psychological muck of Henry Rollins' disturbed, abused mind. "Nothing Left Inside" is a masterpiece of existential torment, an ode to the anger and hurt caused by isolationism and loneliness, backed by a crushing dinosaur of a song that may as well have served as the template for the entire Southern Lord catalog. "Three Nights" goes even further in deconstructionism, a single chord progression beat out incessantly, unendingly, while Ginn layers multiple guitars spitting out feedback over the whole thing. It's genius, completely ahead of its time, as mind-blowing as Hendrix's Band of Gypsies performances. How people could listen to all that guitar waste and not know that they were immersed in something beautifully amazing is beyond me. "Scream" caps it all off, a spacious doomed-out horror that gives itself over to Rollins' improvised visions of persecution and feelings of utter worthlessness. It's frighteningly intense on every level and when it's all over you really feel like you've been pushed facedown in a punishment pool and left to drown.
For many this album signaled the end of Black Flag's importance-this was no mere retread of "Damaged", but rather an exploration of the ideas hinted at on "Damaged I." For Black Flag punk was about personal exorcism and inner exploration, attempting to understand the cause of all the frustrations inside and deal with in some kind of cathartic way. It's scary music, yes, and even today it is super intense and very dark, but it's real, and passionate and not at all self-indulgent like many critics have said. This was quite simply one of Black Flag's finest moments, and the fact that it pissed so many people off and alienated so many fans only speaks to its lasting power and vision.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Phlegethon are absolutely the best kind of band. Having never achieved any sort of success nor received anything but the barest of accolades, and with only one "official" release to their credit (and an EP at that) this was a band that developed and explored at their own pace, free of any sort of commercial concern or expectation levied on them from a close-minded fan base. As a result of such a singular and uncompromised existence Phlegethon followed their muse to its outer wanderings and crafted some of the most engaging, interesting and totally rocking death metal that i have ever heard.
"Drifting in the Crypt" assembles everything they ever laid to tape, which was mostly demos aside from the aforementioned EP, "Fresco Lungs." That release perhaps holds closest to the obvious death metal template musically, what with its growled vocals and fairly straightforward (compared to everything else) song structures, but the lengthy songs (two nearing ten minutes each) and the oblique cover art (a lone man standing in the desert looking at the ground with a pyramid looming in the background, all on a WHITE background) suggest another sort of thought pattern at work, one far removed from the narrow confines of death metal as it was, a more arcane and inscrutable cosmic approach. The rest of the material, especially the earlier demos, exemplify this removed view. These were three young Finnish kids taking it all in and spitting it back out, filtering it through their own weirdo prisms, turning extremity and aggression into some sort of comic book universe full of violence and color. For a band with such little experience, these songs are amazingly well-developed and idiosyncratic. There's a fully realized individuality right from the outset. While some obvious musical touchstones are there (At the Gates and most notably Slayer, whose chromatic riffing and eerie harmonized guitars show up in Phlegethon's music again and again) they aren't what you focus on-it's a seamless integration of influence rather than a crass regurgitation and you realize that these guys were having a lot of fun writing and playing this stuff as well.
Maybe that's what's missing from a lot of metal- a sense of carelessness, the joy of being in a band and creating music with other people, pushing yourself to go further and further and seeing how far out you can actually go before it gets too crazy. Too often metal gets bogged down under its own sense of seriousness and importance, not always to detrimental effect, but sometimes at an immense creative cost. Ideas get rejected and new directions go unexplored. Phlegethon never felt those sorts of restrictions and their fearlessness is evident in their constant search for an expansive musical palette. Every riff on this set is awesome. There is not a single wasted moment, from barreling, head-banging thrash intensity to pre-Cynic style off time jazz riffing to the simplest interpretations of the Gothenburg sound. It all fucking crushes.
The band never officially broke up despite little critical attention. Hiatuses were many and now the various members are involved in other more lauded projects like Hooded Menace, Vacant Coffin, Claws and Acid Witch but they have always come back to Phlegethon to reinterpret what death metal can actually sound like. "Drifting..." ends with three demos from '06, '07 and '08; each one soars through a different universe, mapping out the furthest points in the metal cosmos while always holding true to their own sensibilities. It's weird without being alienating, fun without being stupid or mindless, heavy without being needlessly punishing and classicist without being redundant. Why these guys were never as big as At the Gates or Napalm Death is utterly beyond me. They deserved to be, and if you have any sort of interest in death metal, this record demands shelfspace in your collection. Awesome song titles, too. Some highlights: "Into the Halls of Theory," "Endless Horse," "Karma Vest," In Harmony With Penance," "Petrified Hermits." Enigmatic and bizarre and never less than mind-blowing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Short and brutish blast of assaulting, ultra-harsh sound vomit from the master. Originally released as a super limited cassette years ago Drumm has reissued this slab on his own Dagda Hammer imprint for the express purpose of rebludgeoning the ambient -loving masses, lest they forget the true spirit of black metal that haunts all of Drumm's work. Of all his recordings "Impish Tyrant" comes closest to matching the unparalleled noise majesty of "Sheer Hellish Miasma"; this one is far more spastic and nervous in nature but it is no less confrontational. Guitar is the obvious source here, as you can actually hear Drumm manipulating and laying waste to the strings, bending and scratching and tremolo picking them until they're reduced to a bloody, rubbery heap of twang. This is the sound of pure live electricity, like a downed wire spitting sparks as it dances across a street full of puddles, inching ever closer to total waste and utter obliteration. There is nothing even approaching a drone here-there are sounds akin to being in the eye of a tornado, all wrapped in dust and horror and screaming for a sort of relief that won't come-and while the intensity, especially towards the end, does produce a lulling and hypnotic effect there is never a moment where you feel like you aren't being rendered into some lesser form by the sheer physicality of the music. This is just another example of Drumm at his peak, making it seem so fucking effortless and second-nature.
Some people find it difficult to accept Drumm's reverence for metal. Again, there is a resistance to the idea that a deft and furious intelligence inhabits these sorts of sound constructions, that there's more behind it than just a simple beating. Drumm himself has been totally up-front about his love for Iron Maiden and if you look at the amazing inner photo adorning "Imperial Distortion" you see walls of black metal vinyl and a Deicide flag hanging against the wall-it's obvious where Drumm's aesthetic has its roots. And if black metal, at its most base level, is about rebellion, exclusivity, intensity and personal inquest, then there are few records that capture that mission better than "Impish Tyrant." All of the criteria are met, just in a different way. It's easy to make an assaulting noise record. It's easy to make sounds that are harsh to listen to. To actually imbue those sounds with a mood and a philosophy is much harder, and to do so with such a masterful touch while still giving your audience a wink and a nod-as well as an acknowledgment of their intelligence-is almost unheard of. On this record Drumm accomplishes all those things and again demonstrates why he's the unchallenged master of modern noise. Highest possible recommendation.

Monday, April 5, 2010

ASH POOL "FOR WHICH HE PLIES THE LASH" (Hospital Productions/Tour de Garde)

Dominick Fernow shows off his record collecting chops on Ash Pool's second congealed mess of underground influences. I came into this expecting to like it way more than i did and was sorely disappointed to discover it a simple run-through of black metal conventions as filtered through the ears of an extremely knowledgeable fanatic. Everything is in its place and at its absolute best this record achieves a stunning meld of frantic hyper-raw crust-riffing with twisted pop conventions, but those moments are few and far between, bookended between rote Slayer-isms and substandard hardcore breakdowns. To borrow a term from my friend Ben's Burger King days, this is an "unacceptable blowout."
If Ash Pool had whittled this down to a seven inch consisting of three songs-"Holocaust Temple," "A Sacrifice Consumed By Fire" and the moronically titled "Big Bang Black Metal"-it would have been a certifiable masterpiece. Taken together those three songs represent Fernow's ability to assimilate a wealth of influences into a gripping and intense series of white-hot black metal firestorms, feverishly fast and running off the fucking rails with a few gorgeously melodic darkwave styled pop progressions thrown in. Within that opening tryptich a necromantic enchantment seems to be at work, a sort of blushing blood charm that sucks you in and makes you forget that oh yeah, you heard that riff on an Urfaust record five fucking years ago. It works because it's damn catchy. If Fernow could edit himself a little better he'd be sitting on top of an enviably quality discography (albeit short on runtime) instead of a monument to mediocrity.
The rest of this album is lame. Beyond those three outstanding songs this is just an ocean of boredom that falls victim to the same shortcomings evinced on its predecessor, "World Turns On Its Hinge." Almost every riff is a regurgitation of Slayer with a twist of Sick of it All, pointless hardcore chromaticism and overextended ambition. Fenrow's lyrical explorations of sadomasochism, misogyny, sadness and sexual deviance-which he puts forth beautifully in his work as Prurient-fall flat here and seem almost laughable, without the appropriately hopeless music behind them to lend weight. Instead you get some basement dweller trying to be offensive and extreme without any cause to be so and without the intellectual trappings and backgrounds to make it seem real. "For Which He Plies the Lash" is a ghost of black metal, a whispered rumour of what might have been before the weight of tedium began to bear down. I'd like to hear more from Fenrow in this guise if he could take the time necessary to repeat the quality of the first three tracks-few black metal musicians have been so effectively able to marry pop convention with underground extremity-but if the quality control isn't amped up then this is doomed to be an overhyped project releasing records on underground boutique labels without much real merit.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


A compilation of mostly unreleased Andrew W.K. jams from the last few years that will only serve to further confound those not indoctrinated into the man's cult of personality. For the others, the devotees, the fans, this is a treasure trove, a box of beauty and depth and unbridled positive energy and charisma. I rarely go for music this joyous and high on life but there has always been something indefinable about what Andrew W.K. is doing and i think his message is incredibly layered and nowhere near as simple as his detractors (along with most critics) make it out to be.
And that's the biggest fuck-up that the musical community has made regarding Andrew W.K. Upon first glance music this big and bombastic seems incredibly one dimensional, especially when almost all of the lyrics are devoted to partying and living life to the fullest. It seems stupid and puerile and you would never think that this is the sort of music crafted by one of the most talented and visionary composers/arrangers working in avant-metal today. People don't want to see any sort of intelligence behind this, nor think of the energy and work it must have taken to bring these things to life. I don't think "Mother of Mankind" will change that scenario for Andrew W.K., although it does offer a detailed and varied look at his musical interests, involvements and evolutions.
In the liner notes Andrew states that these songs span his entire career as "Andrew W.K." but for me it seems evident that much of the material is culled from the last few years, around the time of "Close Calls With Brick Walls" particularly. I make that assessment based on the general sonic timbre of everything-it all has the smaller, almost demo-like quality that defined "Close Calls" and only one song features the full band, "I'm A Vagabond," presumably recorded sometime after "The Wolf." There are no "I Get Wet" outtakes and nothing much from his Hanson days so it's really an overflow of ideas from the recent past. Why some of these songs never made the various albums is beyond me because they're all pretty damn awesome. I would even go so far as to say that this collection displays some of his best work. "We Party (You Shout)," "Coming Bad," and "I Will Find God" easily take their place among the ranks of Andrew's best, most fervently crazy songs, featuring all the crushingly huge guitars and gorgeous operatic gigantic melodies that we've come to expect. Other songs, like the spectacular "Jewel Street Man," revel in synthed out menace and back alley swagger, while still others such as "Who Knows?" and "The Party God" are heavenly washes of cloudy dense keyboard ambience, a precursor to the work he showcased on last year's solo piano performance "55 Cadillac." "We Got A Groove" veers in yet another direction, spotlighting Andrew's love of reggae and dub music while providing a simple vehicle for a truly skronked out noise guitar solo. Perhaps the best surprise about this album is the sheer amount of guitar solos, amazing ones at that, crammed into these songs. Andrew states that on previous albums the guitar solos were edited out-a fucking abomination because it would be ridiculously cool to hear some shredding over headbanging anthems like "Long Live The Party" or "Party Til You Puke." Most of his material is tailor-made for guitar indulgences so maybe "Mother of Mankind" seeks to make up a little for stolen opportunities. And there are some doozies here, almost all of which are played by Andrew himself. Just check out the dizzying fretwork on "Coming Bad" and "Jewel Street Man" for evidence of what this guy is capable of instrumentally. And it's not just guitar-aside from the one full band track, Andrew plays EVERY instrument on EVERY song. It's mindblowing because it's well beyond an amateur performance. Andrew W.K. is a genius, a savant, an emissary from elsewhere put here for the sole purpose of bringing amazing music into the world.
Compositionally these songs are near flawless. Every sound is in its place and serves a purpose and despite the immense amount of sounds stacked up nothing seems out of place or wasted. It all serves the song. In a certain sense i find it helpful to think of Andrew as something like an off-Broadway composer, someone akin to Andrew Lloyd Weber by way of Frank Zappa. You get the sense that a much bigger picture is being put forth as opposed to collection after collection of simple songs. As i mentioned, i'm not really sure of the message at this point-it could be something as simple as finding true joy in life (which really isn't simple at all) or it might be as complicated as quantam theory. It might be a combination of both or neither. With Andrew W.K. i'm not certain of anything other than his unbelievable talent, quiet intelligence and merciless work ethic. And the fact that this music ROCKS. Some of it makes me wanna laugh, some of it makes me wanna cry, some it makes me wanna dance and bounce around and be hyper for awhile, but it all makes me FEEL something. I can't imagine anything more important than that.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


What to do with so many lingering ideas? When your band breaks up what the fuck are you supposed to do with all the shit you've been working on? You know it's good-letting it go and starting over isn't an option. Those guys you used to play with, they'd know what to do-these could have been some awesome fucking songs. Probably another album, for sure. No more, though. It's done. Those fucks had no idea. This is a powderkeg, a goldmine, a shitstorm of quality. Fuck them. I know some guys. Let's just play these songs.
Such is the mentality i imagine is behind "Lithium Gates." After the bitter dissolve of Reverend Bizarre, Albert Witchfinder found himself sitting on tons of material and even more ambition and a creative void yearning to be filled. One of the results is this record, a compilation of the first two Puritan albums on one CD, near 70 minutes of slow and agonized doom metal. The first five tracks are the self-titled debut as well as the most obviously representative of Witchfinder's previous band, coming off like a slightly more aggressive version of the Reverend. Maybe a tad more unhinged, maybe a bit more destructive but purely classic doom in the Sabbath mould with a nod to the low-end slow-flow dynamics of Earth 2. Little is changed aside from Albert's vocals being a little more sparse and hysterical-otherwise it's the logical continuation of "So Long Suckers." Is it bad? Not at all. Is it especially creative or different? No. Although i do give Albert credit for using a sample of a Charles Manson interview against the very lovely closer, "Those Who Sow in Tears Shall Reap in Joy." The music on this track lives up to the title, a mournful dirge of clean guitars propped up behind an ever growing cloud of distorted drone, creating a distinct sense of wounded melancholy and anxiety.
Tracks 6-11 are "The Black Law" LP, where the Puritan really start to go off into their own microcosmic world. Only two of these compositions could really be thought of as "songs" in the Reverend sense, instead becoming more an atmospheric exercise in doom dynamics and extended amp drones, a bitter and crusty crumble of distortion and well crafted (but also well hidden) melodies, an evocation and a prayer to a darker force existing far beyond the realms of common understanding. At times it destroys, at times it assaults and at times it pacifies but it almost always confounds and challenges and never relents. It's an engaging set of material and is the actual part of the record that begins to speak to Albert Witchfinder's identity beyond Reverend Bizarre, a personal journey into one man's private torments. In that regard the Manson sample used before seems even more fitting, a wish to take a knife and carve up the niceties of society, a need to make a statement that not everyone will understand as being creative but can be construed as such when viewed through the proper lens. The Puritan is certainly not the second coming of the Reverend Bizarre; no band ever could be. What they are is an intriguing doom metal comet of destructive portent, a herald of some sort of undefined coming terror. We won't know until it's closer.


Fantastic blast of Finnish death metal that makes me feel like it's 1994 all over again and i'm in my room headbanging to an old Napalm Death tape. I'm glad that there are other musicians out there who remember how much ass death metal could kick when done right. This is all tremendously old school stuff, sounding so of the time that it may as well be some lost Entombed tape from around the recording of "Left Hand Path." Everything is correct and everything fucking rocks, from the huge, thick ultra-downtuned guitars to the bludgeoning, thudding one-two drums to the scale-driven melodic soloing. Even the vocals are classic, pure guttural eruptions recalling vintage Chris Barnes and Glen Benton. Sole member Lasse Pyykko obviously had the same teenage experience as me, when getting high and zoning out to death metal in the basement was the best possible time you could have, when destructive music was the ultimate form of cathartic self-therapy. There are hints of doom metal here as well and more than a cheeky nod to the silliness of metal in general, what with the fixation on alliterative titles ("Cacophonous Carrion," "Macabre Manifestations," "Casket Contagion") and horror-vibe schlock (just check the cover art and the title track) but there's a reverence for the forebears that goes beyond simple emulation. Death metal was important to a lot of people and it's sad to see the genre relegated to such stagnancy at this point. Much of the blame lies with the music itself; as i've mentioned before there was little room left for the style to expand into, but there was certainly no need for it to get shitty, which it did. I guess it's hard for a band like Deicide to walk away from their living but fuck if everything after "Once Upon the Cross" didn't take death metal down a few pegs in everyone's eyes. Thank god projects like Claws are out there to keep the fires burning.
Across a scant 30 minutes you're treated to epic displays of chromatic riffing and vague melodic inversions as well as a few massive head nodders and some spastic grindcore moments. There's no self-important focus on ritualized occultations and arcane knowledge of demonology nor any challenging sort of philosophical pretexts to absorb-just pure good old-fashioned death metal done in the most immediate and effective way. On some level this is the sort of attitude that author Michael Moynihan referenced as being the birth of black metal-this is exactly the sort of "track suit wearing" extreme metal that drove many a European underground kid to their mirrors applying corpse paint as quickly as they learned a couple of guitar chords in the hopes of taking a more extreme musical stance. But it isn't always about political statements or civil disavowal or rebellion. Those things are important, but what's more important, what's always been more important and should always be more important, is making awesome music. Bands lose sight of that all the time. Lasse Pyykko hasn't, and he just wants you to get drunk, get high, and bang your fucking head. Raise the goddamn horns.


Ars Magna reissues a two song, 20 minute EP from shoegaze hypnodowners Trancelike Void. On their previous records, TLV have turned in gorgeous and depressive hymns to the exhausting banality and tedium of existence, grinding through highly melodic passages over and over until a sort of transcendence has been achieved. Their last record, "Unveiling the Silent Arms of Despair," showed them to be the absolute masters of this form. Although it was only an EP as well, the emotional depth on display across its two tracks was breathtaking, and it remains one of the most haunting, beautiful and inspiring black metal albums that i have ever heard.
This new EP is an incredible risk for TLV. It's entirely acoustic and considerably less dark in both tone and aesthetic than its predecessors. Few black metal bands have been able to achieve any sort of success with all acoustic efforts; only Ulver and Drudkh come to mind, and those works, while certainly worthwhile, seemed efforts of novelty more than anything. Other bands, like Dead Reptile Shrine and Varghkoghargasmal, use acoustic instruments much of the time but are far more forest drone and communal in nature than true black metal. So it's a dicey gamble with the potential to alienate a lot of dedicated listeners.
When i first heard it i wasn't impressed, and found myself wishing the material had been done in the traditional TLV style. There was a lack of power and immediacy that seemed necessary to TLV's approach on "Where the Trees Can Make It Rain" and i was a little confused by what the whole point of the exercise was. Upon further listenings, it has become clear that i personally was missing something. This record grows on you and displays its true power with repeated attention. The mood and emotion is buried deep and only through focus and meditation can you hope to unlock the heart of it. This is autumn on the cusp of winter rendered into song. This is falling backwards into a cracked and crumbling pile of dead leaves, while winds swirl around you and skies loom grey above you. It isn't sadness so much as change, nor melancholy as much as resignation. There is nothing different songwise-this is what TLV have always done in the past-but the absence of vocals creates a further intimacy and lulling inward pull that the other records haven't had. It's almost as though it's a 20 minute guided journey into your memories. I can't imagine this record having anything other than an intensely personal effect on its listeners, and despite the images that TLV have chosen to use as display for these pieces, what you're going to see and feel is going to be entirely up to you if you go deep enough. I'm very, very impressed with this experiment and could easily see Trancelike Void using these elements more heavily in the future.