Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Supremely gorgeous, ultra-dreamy wrist-slitting black metal violence from China's Be Persecuted. Their first album from a few years ago was a favorite of mine (still is), a totally blown out demonstration of depressing holocaust rendered into the black metal template with the only discernible goal being to provide a soundtrack to a million suicides, distanced and cold yet so intimate, affecting and disturbing. This album blows that one away.
What amazes me most about Eastern bands is their ability to absorb the coolest musics from around the world and then spit them back out into something that completely destroys the original. Japan is the finest example of this, and perhaps Boris the best known practitioner, but after hearing Be Persecuted's output i may have to rethink the rankings of removed, repressed or ridiculously enthusiastic cultures that are best able to co-opt musical genres. This is Burzum worship to the extreme, a pure and crystalline distillation of all the things that made "Filosofem" so fucking great. Repetition? Check. Wavering, hypnotic trebly riffs? Check. Beyond hysteria-style vocals that sound like shrieks of frigid wind? Check. Glorification of suicide and self-destruction? Fuck yes. This is a band that promotes immolation, as near an audial equivalent to crippling loneliness as you're likely to find. Every melody is a stare-at-the-floor-and-weep masterpiece. Distortion runs rampant but over everything, almost every song, is a wispy, mournful washout of clean guitar ambience, bubbling over and clouding things up. It's like a little flower of hope trying to bloom up through the cracks of an industrial wastepark. This shit is going to give you goosebumps.
Some may find fault with the lack or originality on display here. To a certain extent i've wrestled with that question but the bottom line is the quality of the music and this is some superlative fucking depressive black metal. Just because every riff has an obvious source doesn't mean its played without passion or feeling. I can't believe this band could put so much into this kind of music and not be honest about it. Coming from as notorious a locale as China only serves to amplify the obvious importance this music must have to these shadowy practitioners of black metal art. This is staggeringly good and i cannot give it high enough praise-file this one next to Lyrinx, Silencer and Shining in terms of mesmerizing nihilistic depression and prepare to be emotionally overwhelmed. So fucking good, gorgeous and beautiful and so so very very haunting.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

SKULLFLOWER/WHITE MEDAL "SPLIT" (Turgid Animal/Legion Blotan)

Normally i don't review seven inches as i find the format far too limiting but i'm making a notable exception because of this putrified slab of rotted wax from the much beloved by me Skullflower, here sharing a black circle with ultra-primal underground black metal entity White Medal.
And true black metal this is. This record reeks of the spirit, more drenched and thick than most records i've heard in the last year. Some people are true channels, true shamans, true gateways, and when they turn their hand to something they're able to call forth visions and images more frightening than you could have though existed. Matthew Bower is such a person. I'm getting to the point where i can't even consider him of this earth anymore-he's so far beyond earthly touchpoints and so immersed in his own violent, elliptical universe that to chain him to one dimensional existence seems an incredible disservice. If "Great Hunter" is Bower's approximation/interpretation of black metal, then i want more of it, and i want it RIGHT FUCKING NOW. This is one of the best, hands-down flooring Skullflower tracks that i have ever born witness to. If you know me and my preferences then you are aware this statement is not made lightly. Bower sticks to simple chord forms and turns in an actual song but rather than being a redundant return to tradition this approach leads Skullflower to some dank, shrouded sacrificial altar where the song becomes a black mass hymnal, a calling to darker others and a blanketing of darkness around the caller. This is the sound of void and this is the sound of rebirth, erupting out of the particle smearing of near seven minutes of earth time. Whether this was part of a larger composition is rendered an irrelevancy; Bower forces you to exist in the NOW with him, thrusting you into a cold, horrifying, infinite blank, a howl and an abyss that threatens to swallow all. Simply fucking stunning in every way possible. Bower to me is at an absolute creative peak and shows no signs of slowing down or fucking up; even the short run time (which has been a point of contention in the past for me with Skullflower vinyl releases) fails to negate the nullifying power of this composition.
You'd think White Medal would have to be awfully fucking good to hold up to Skullflower's side of this split, and fuck yes, they are. Their side is a hissing lo-fidelity blast of raw, in the red ultra stripped down black metal recidivism, recalling both its punk roots and it's more regressive modern leanings by way of acts like Akitsa or Bone Awl. This is some seriously noisy shit with white-hot vocals fed through a shredder, a sound akin to lumps of choking earth being forced down an unwilling supplicant's throat. I'm impressed by the electricity of it and feel that it adequately matches Bower's contribution, albeit in a more digestible, less obtuse form.
This is a release not to be missed by any measure. If you're into "extreme" sounds (a lot of people think they are but aren't anywhere close) there is no fucking excuse not to have this. Fucking essential for fans of Skullflower, mayhaps the future right before our very eyes. This is where black metal could go if it achieved its true potential and was freed from theoretical aesthetic obligations. Necessary and utterly transcendent.

THE MELVINS "THE END" (Enterruption)

Extremely limited live LP from the Melvins. Unfortunately the quality of the performance doesn't quite match the scarcity of this album; i remember being distinctly disappointed when this sucker sold out in about 20 minutes, but now, having heard it, i feel pretty okay about missing out (although the collector in me still yearns a little bit to see it glowing all neon fuschia on the shelf...it'd be pretty awesome.)
The show itself is recorded well, soundboard at least, from the 2003 tour. The lineup is classic as well-Buzz, Dale and Kevin Rutmanis-but the set is way too short and seems to be a bit of the Melvins by numbers. The most annoying aspect of the whole presentation is the presence of some fairly terrible edits between tracks-i would imagine them the result of necessary trimming to fit the original cassette onto an LP-but there's just no fucking way that you should ever cut ANY part of "Nightgoat" (especially the end-always the best stuff there as space begins to just fall away and a sort of improvisational noise vacuum births itself screaming from the Melvins' wretched maelstrom.) You know you're missing something every time it happens and that really sucks. I wonder how many other Melvins devotees noticed and felt the same way?
The other glaring error is a bit of a dissolve between the band in the midst of the massive "Revolve/We All Love Judy/The Brain Center at Whipples" medley the guys were doing on this tour. They seem to lose one another ever so slightly when Buzzo leads into the ridiculous metal-math riffing of "Judy" and they never quite get it back throughout the remainder. I can forgive the Melvins for having an off night-they've rocked my ears to shit porridge enough nights for me to let a little slip in one of their most technically demanding tracks slide-but why wouldn't they just use a different take from a different night of the tour, or fuck, a different show altogether? Seeing the Melvins so many times has let me witness the fact that the set list doesn't change at all on any given trek, so why'd they okay this?
A bootleg is a bootleg. If it's from a band you love (which is the case here) then any live stuff is cool, especially when it's professionally pressed and kinda-sorta authorized/recognized as an official entry in the discography. But not every live show is essential and not every performance is revelatory, which sadly dooms this LP to a rating of inessential curio at best, a collector's/completist's cash vortex at worst.
The Melvins still fucking rule, though.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

KNUT "WONDER" (Hydrahead)

I guess Knut only had one really great album. "Terraformer" was a masterpiece of post metal hardcore deconstructionism, a rewriting of the form as was already known, a willingness to bend the genre into a shape it wasn't comfortable taking. Vocals were sparse and gave way instead to meandering elliptical instrumentals as engaging and hypnotic as they were difficult and obtuse. Said album obviosuly and easily trumped everything that came before; the fact that an equally challenging remix album was birthed from it is testament to its actual scope and expanse.
So here we have the follow up, "Wonder." Nothing too great here, nothing too amazing; instead a sad throwback to Knut's formative years as a mathematically inclined angular powder keg of hardcore, less interesting than, say, Keelhaul, but more powerful than, say Give up the Ghost or Modern Life is War. There's a ghostly sort of threat to what Knut do, a sort of defiance that at times makes you admire their position but at other times makes you feel like hardcore is the most boring genre on earth. It's tight and narrow to the point that there's only so much you can do within its confines; if you try and work outside of them you're no longer allowed to play.
The best tracks on "Wonder" are the instrumentals; freed from convention, or even the vaguest wisps of accessibility, here the band cut loose and set out to really demolish the structures they've crafted. The sub-Botchisms that define the vocal based tracks here become almost revelatory, meandering missions up the dark river of hardcore post-modernism to the very heart of inspiration. But these missions never reach their goals. Something happens on the way every time. A choke, a gasp, a disease, a descent into insanity. The destination is always out of reach, that forbidden shine glinting off the city of gold, the luring promise of eternal life from a draught off the fountain of youth. It's a mirage, a trick, a cruel deception. For every glorious moment of instrumental dexterity and mesmerization there's a bland and unnecessary vocal extrapolation. If Knut are going to realize their potential they need to embrace the world of instrumental music and realize that challenging audiences is far more important than connecting with them in a superficial and abrasive way. Anger is the easiest emotion to convey and the least enduring; far better to miss a little with real depth than to succeed with needless violence.

PAN SONIC "GRAVITONI" (Blast First Petite)

Pan Sonic's swansong, an album of cold industrial atmospheres and supposed black metal aesthetics that leaves me strangely nonplussed. I've heard many people gushing over how amazing this record is and how "fucking crushing" it is but i've heard better and i've obviously heard far more crushing material. To me this is minor league industrial playdating with a couple of guys who can push buttons and make some fairly harsh sonics but there's no real interest in challenging the audience or testing endurance limits.
It isn't all bad. A certain sort of punishing stride is hit on tracks four and five, when all the volume gets amped up and the distortion levels are pushed further into the red. These two tracks are the meat of the album, the "crush" that others refer to, and if Pan Sonic had let the album continue in this fashion i might have felt differently about it. Instead those two songs are the apex of this album's noisiness and while i understand that pure noise and utter immersion have never been Pan Sonic's ultimate goal, it would have been nice to have gotten lost in that assault just a little further. A pond could easily have become a lake with enough encouragement and time, and maybe that lake could even have become an ocean.
Rather we get a soft and quiet canoe ride through a dark ambient river, beneath a vaguely starless sky while massive stone rifts rise on either side. It's darkness, stark and pure in its simplicity. Only on the final track does the roar return, however weakly, to try again to rip asunder your conceptions of what "intelligent" electronic music really is. There is so much potential here gone unfulfilled. I know that as a casual Pan Sonic fan i'm in the minority with these opinions but as something of a noise devotee i can't abide hearing people attach descriptors to this album that shouldn't be there. If you truly want crushing then you need to listen to some Kevin Drumm or maybe the Rita. Then, once you understand what that word really conveys, you can begin to use it more appropriately. If Pan Sonic ever rises from the ashes of their self-induced demise i hope they'll choose to follow a more abrasive thorn-ridden path; until then "Gravitoni" serves as a mediocre (but serviceable) capstone on a mediocre (but serviceable) career.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


This is the complete series of seven inches that Boris put out through Southern Lord last year; combined they form sort of a proper album so i thought i'd bundle them together and review them as such (there were four different covers as well- i chose to use the Wata photo cuz she's so darn cute.)
Freed from the conceptual chains of a full length record, Boris used this opportunity to turn in what is both their poppiest and most experimental set of songs to date. This isn't experimentation like their record with Haino or any of their Merzbow collaborations, nor is it an aggressive assault like their mighty guitar vomit record with Kurihara (the flattening and totally amazing "Cloud Chamber"); instead it's experimental in the diverse approach the band takes to songwriting. Over the last couple albums (and "Smile" especially) you could hear Boris dancing with "pop" conventions, embracing an ever more melodic and streamlined sound, a refinement that at once seemed totally natural and really fucked up. One of the heaviest bands ever was suddenly writing these beautiful, rocking, blissed out and memorable songs. What's going on? Where's the Boris that wrote "Vomitself"? Do they even exist anymore?
To me, the answer is no. And that isn't a bad thing at all. Boris is still heavy as fuck-they always will be no matter what they do-but they aren't the slow-motion abrasion unit that they were at their career's inception. Gone is the Melvins worship, gone is the necessity to exist within an avant-garde metal microcosm. It's been replaced by a love of music in general and an allowance of their native mass cultural influences (i.e., insane Japanese pop music) to shine through in what they're doing. "Japanese Heavy Rock Hits" hints at as much in the title, but the music itself proves the point with a more rampant intensity.
Things kick off with "8", easily the most "rocking" song on the set but also probably one the best Boris songs i have ever heard, an incredibly perfect marriage of punk energy and pop songcraft. I wish this was the kind of shit that was on commercial radio all the time, because it should be (and in Japan it probably is); it's that hooky. I could blast that song over and over and never feel the joy it gives me evaporating. It's melancholy and summer rolled into one hyperactive fireball of rock damage.
From there things get a little weirder. "Hey Everyone" and "Black Original" are techno-themed, drum-machine based formulas that owe perhaps more to recent splitmates 9DW , or maybe Boris' approximation of late '80's American dance floor bangers than they do any kind of rock music; the feeling on these two for me is that it isn't really the best sound for them to wallow in, but if given enough time and allowance to play with it, they might end up fucking owning it and proving me very very wrong and very very unfaithful. "H.M.A. (Heavy Metal Addict)" boasts one of those great playful Boris titles that tricks you into expecting a rush of fierce distorto-face ripping but instead reins Atsuo in to a constant driving snare thwack over which Wata serves up a decidely "heavy metal" riff that never really goes anywhere. A drone joke, maybe, or just another instance of Boris doing what they want; either way it works. The triple harmonized legato trilling (!!!) in the middle is just so much referential gravy.
"16:47:52" is an extremely minimalist folk-tinged number that plods along with an endearing constancy and brings to mind a vaguely overcast, almost-raining sort of day. Wata's dry and simply delivered vocals add to the feeling of washed-out resignation that haunts the song, making it way more affecting than you know it should be and adding a confusing sort of depth that you didn't initially expect. "...And Hear Nothing" goes in exactly the opposite direction, a hyper-blissed deluge of melodic distortion that sounds so much like Nadja it's got me wondering why the hell they haven't collaborated yet (seriously-someone at Southern Lord needs to get these two in touch with each other.) It's the most traditionally Boris sounding track on the record and ends up feeling weirdly out of place here, but certainly no less enjoyable. There's a majesty and immensity in this track that reminds me of why i love Boris so much and how enveloped their music makes me feel.
The record closes out with a Wata-led cover of Earth and Fire's "Seasons," a decent enough encapsulation of the idea behind these seven inches-natural change and progression, an inevitably that you live through and sometimes love and sometimes hate. Boris are sometimes ironic, always clever, but never, ever pandering nor unintelligent. The choice makes perfect sense.
The biggest and most positive development within these songs is the growing use, and confidence in delivery of, vocals. Both Takeshi and Wata have very laconic, almost sleepy delivieries, and Takeshi's voice especially seems imbued with that rare tired melancholy that i have heard in people like Thurston Moore, Stephen Malkmus, Paul Westerberg and Greg Dulli. I wouldn't put him in that esteemed company just yet, but there's no denying his vocal presence has grown more powerful on each record, to the point where it's almost become a sort of secret weapon for Boris, a magical bridge that will allow them to leave the world of outsider boutique metal and reach a wider, more embracing audience. This is one of few bands in operation that in my mind can do ANYTHING; i look forward to every new transmission with a barely contained excitement that forces me to twitch and jump as the release dates draw near. The next record is an EP with the Cult's Ian Astbury, and i have no idea what to expect. But i know i can't wait.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Fairly ecstatic and ritualized forms of musical worship dedicated to the Sun City Girls, coming off as a more electrified version of the same without ripping them off. Not easy to do! MMB go off the deep end here, more than surpassing their expansive and exploratory debut. The group benefits immensely from choosing to focus in on one particular sound and mine its every vein rather than going out in all directions and creating a resultant mess of world-music glop and avant-drone posturing. Everything on "Totem One" sounds pure and real, the music imbued with a sort of buzzing and blissful zen transcendence that lets you get in and float away within minutes.
There is a heavy emphasis on nature throughout the proceedings, as many of the tracks have a sort of "campfire/gamelan" feel. The whole album sounds more like a field recording than a studio effort; such an organic approach to the sound and construction of this record produces an intimacy necessary for deeper communication (communion?) and engagement with its audience. While SCG always maintained a sort of humorous and detached distance, even at their most sun-drenched and devotionally fervent moments, MMB are looking to connect with something. There is an understanding in this band of what SCG were always truly reaching for, what they were so easily able to find and tap into. Maybe the detachment came from its effortlessness; it wasn't jadedness so much as it was existence in that realm. Ambrosia was really only meant for the gods.
So this is heaven, then. Or maybe some other plane or dimension. Maybe another sort of consciousness only reachable through deconstruction of self and the use of other forms of communication as doorways. If you can crack the sky open you can bask in the primordial wisdom of the godhead. If you can pry open the third eye you can bear witness to the exaltant majesty of the true endless, the widening void of all that is and all that can possibly be. This is the sound of constant sunlight, the sweat and the din and the buzz, the chimes and the voices rising up in choir to join with all the sounds you're incapable of hearing in your impoverished state of diminshed perception. Modernity and technology work in tandem to obliterate the purity of the astral. Master Musicians of Bukkake, like the Sun City Girls before them, are one of very emsembles (especially outside of the Indian masters) capable of prying open the door and letting you peer inside. Hopefully that small peek is enough to whet the imagination and encourage a more thorough exploration of what lies beyond.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Latest installment in this hopefully ongoing series of Scott Hull-curated explorations of extreme music, shedding light on some of the further corners of grindcore, hardcore and hyperthrash. Compilations are usually troublesome because there's always going to be some shit you don't like or some bands that you think are terrible but Relapse have done an outstanding job on both volumes of this series, mostly due to their choice of Hull to ferret out the best shit and commit it to record. Hull knows this world better than almost anyone (if you don't know, he's the guitarist in the mighty Pig Destroyer and the equally mighty Agoraphobic Nosebleed, as well as the go-to mastering engineer for John Zorn's Tzadik label) and the music he's able to unearth is pretty emblematic of the coolest stuff happening in the grind universe. At a length of 74 tracks spread across 19 bands the compilation can get a little wearying, but if you're looking to be absolutely wiped out by your listening material then this record is more than up to task.
I could go band by band, but i'll just hit the highlights. My guess is you're already sold on this or you aren't-i've discovered that this style of music leaves little room for the middle ground-so let's just focus on the obvious peaks. Hummingbird of Death blaze through 10 tracks of power violence in about 5 minutes, commandeering a brutal fuzz-bass heavy assault reminsicent of Crossed Out or the earliest Hellnation material. Marion Barry contributes some extreme sonic goop laden with blaxploitation and B-movie samples, easing you into a sort of stylized shrieking sex grind; far more intelligent than the average slab or gore/porn grind that Hull thankfully leaves off these compilations (as enjoyable as a lot of the music is, the subject matter usually drags said bands into a realm of unnatural stupidity.) Despise You and Extortion both pay homage to the true and ancient spirit of thrash and speed metal, while Voetsek combines the best of both worlds and turns in a levelling four song set of subtly complex thrash grind mayhem, with some truly weird high pitched vocals that stand apart from everything else on the record. But the total, true happiest surprise here is one 6 minute track from the obscure and woefully undersung Crom, a weird heavy metal/power violence hybrid of mysterious membership (kind of like the Brujeria of grindcore) and undeniable skill. Their track runs the gamut of extreme metal troping, touching every base without embarassing either themselves or the listener. Simply outstanding, and extra kudos to Hull for including them.
With as much shit going on in the extreme metal micrcosm as there is, it's hard to know what to spend time on and what to avoid. Compilations like this one do the curious a true service while providing a decent level of exposure for projects that might otherwise languish in obtuse limbo. While i wouldn't buy a full-length from every band included here, there's a lot that i would, and feeling confident about purchasing records from 10 new bands (or fuck, even two or three) is pretty much worth the 10 bucks i paid for this album. Relapse has been on a serious roll with these sorts of compilations; here's hoping their continued partnership with Scott Hull yields such consistently amazing results.