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Coroner's Report: Black, Death, Thrash, Metalcore, Grindcore
By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, May 2, 2005 @ 0:53 AM
Let’s get things started with Swedish death n’ rollers Entombed, who just finished up their first headlining tour of the states in six years, topping a month-long Candlelight Records package featuring Crowbar and newbie doomsters The Mighty Nimbus. Entombed’s had an eventful, if rather bizarre, last couple of years — from unauthorized album releases to a series of performances with the Royal Stockholm Ballet in easily one of the strangest collaborations ever.
Entombed’s latest release, Unreal Estate, which was issued as the U.S. tour was concluding, is a live album recorded at one of said “ballet shows” in March 2002 when some 30 dancers joined the band onstage at Stockholm’s Royal Opera House as they bashed away at “Say It In Slugs” and “Night of the Vampire.” And this was no mere mosh pit in tutus and tights, the dancers jeted and bourred amid the racket as they would during any “normal” ballet during the 45-minute performance.
Another band getting the reissue treatment is helping drive the current thrash metal resurgence: Richmond, Va. Quintet Lamb of God, which just had its hard-to-find 1999 debut — from back in its days as Burn The Priest — released by Epic Records, ironically, right around the same time the new pope was named!
Sweden's notorious Dissection, which disbanded in 1997 following frontman Jon Nodtveidt’s conviction in the killing of an Algerian man, is officially back in business. Nodtveidt was freed last year after having served a seven-year sentence, and has rounded up a whole new batch of bandmates — no one remains from the lineup that issued the mid-”90s black/death metal classics The Somberlain and Storm of the Light’s Bane.
Say what you will about Canadian nutcase Devin Townsend, when he wants to he can make some of the most brutally, beautifully intense music around. And with Strapping Young Lad, he’s made that his mission.
After making such an impression on SYL’s Hoglan and Townsend — not to mention Tool, who took them on tour, and Ozzy Osbourne’s son Jack, who used one of the band’s albums to torment the neighbors on an episode of “The Osbournes” that also featured a flying ham— Swedish prog-monsters Meshuggah have been hard at work crafting their latest mind-bending opus.
As weird as Townsend and his various guises or Meshuggah are, they can’t hold a candle to ex-Faith No More frontman Mike Patton and his off-the-fucking-wall supergroup Fantomas — which features Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, the Melvins’ Buzz Osborne and Mr. Bungle’s Trey Dunn.
DARKTHRONE: Sardonic Wrath (Moonfog) — You can either credit Norwegian pioneers Darkthrone as epitomizing old-school black metal minimalism—or curse them as lazy and stubborn. Like the bulk of the band’s previous work, Sardonic Wrath, Darkthrone’s 11th or so album, was recorded in a matter of days, yielding a simplicity and abrasiveness that is the polar opposite of the grandiosity favored by so many current black metallers. Terse, bone-sawing riffs, comparatively cryptic compositions and near demo-quality sound are the ingredients here — as they seemingly always have been. And while they create an aura of raw evil, they are hard to distinguish from anything the band — which of late has consisted of frontman Nocturno Culto and drummer/lyricist Fenriz — has done already. The duo’s steadfast refusal to compromise is certainly to be applauded, but you can progress without bowing to convention — as evidenced by, say, Immortal. Merely walking in place kind of defeats the purpose. C
ENSLAVED: Isa (Candlelight) — Bergen’s Enslaved is another prime example of a veteran band still holding true to the black metal ideal while at the same expanding its musical palette and diversifying its delivery. While 2001’s Monumension did fly a bit off the experimental handle, the follow-up Below The Lights got the band back on track. Isa makes for a fine follow up — and it just won a Norwegian Grammy! Offering something of a progressive flair with its shrill, mechanical riffing, elliptical time signatures and occasionally epic scale — “Neogensis” clocks in at nearly 12 minutes — Isa nevertheless retains its old-school core. From the often-demonic vocals and a stark presentation that never seems fanciful, in spite of the lengthy songs, to its ice-cold tone, Isa is all black metal — and proof that you don’t need 40-piece orchestras, choirs or overwrought concepts to make things interesting. B+
MARDUK: Plague Angel (Candlelight/Regain) — Like Darkthrone, Swedish miscreants Marduk have a certain single-mindedness. But they are not nearly as militant with their old-school, “true black metal” approach — which might have something to do with their ever-changing roster. Gone since 2002’s World Funeral are frontman Legion and longtime bassist B War. Yet with founding guitarist Morgan Hakannson still on board and pulling the creative strings, Marduk largely retains the black metal formula it’s relied on, more or less, for 15 years. Primal and pure like fellow countrymen Dark Funeral, the band’s modus operandi is simple, flesh-peeling, stampeding black metal accented by a few slow-grind anthems. And Plague Angel is pretty much that to a T. The band rages out of the gate with “The Hangman of Prague” and rips through the likes of “Throne of Rats,” “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” and the seven-minute sprint “Blutrache” with murderous efficiency whereas the ominous, aptly titled “Deathmarch” and funereal “Seven Angels, Seven Trumpets” lend dramatic effect with their gothic underpinnings. With his lower-register snarl, new frontman Mortuus is a more commanding presence than the departed Legion, which gives Marduk’s dependable sound some more oomph and helps keep things fresh — relatively speaking. B
On a side note, the departures of Legion and B War may — may —mean Marduk can play in the U.S. again. The band had to cancel three tours here because of visa problems resulting from previous legal issues. But who knows what baggage the new guys — actually bassist Magnus Devo Andersson played guitar with Marduk some time ago — might have brought with them. Meantime, adding insult to injury — or, in fact, injury to injury — Marduk had to postpone a series of European dates after Emil Dragutinovic had his arm broken in a fight Jan. 12. Bummer.
BEHEMOTH: Demigod (Olympic) — Move over Morbid Angel, there’s a new king of technical death metal in town. With its latest effort, Poland’s venerable Behemoth has crafted a masterpiece, a standard-bearer that will likely be spoken of at the end of this decade with the degree of reverence people still have for Morbid’s Blessed Are The Sick or Altars of Madness today. Honest! Demigod is damn near flawless. The musicianship is awe-inspiring — especially Inferno’s cyclonic drumming. The black-metal tinged material is masterfully scripted and performed: concise yet complex, unceasingly brutal, yet with an element of beauty in the soaring solos and occasional acoustic or Middle Eastern interludes. And the production, for once, manages to capture Behemoth’s true power and majesty in its element. Demigod is nothing short of godly: a grandiose, punishing and viscerally satisfying work from a band that has been slowly building to this moment for more than a decade. And while Nile — whose frontman Karl Sanders lends a guitar solo on “XUL” — may well steal Behemoth’s throne when its new album hits in a couple months, Nergal and company can wear their crowns proudly until then. A
BLOOD RED THRONE: Altered Genesis (Earache) — Despite splitting his time with black metallers Carpathian Forest and avant-gardists Green Carnation, ex-Emperor bassist Tchort’s got himself an awfully good death metal thing going with Blood Red Throne. The band’s latest album, Altered Genesis, is an absolute triumph. Tuned nice and low, and lobbing chunky, churning riffs like so many hand grenades, the band delivers its noxious concoction of carnage, depravity and glorious death metal brutality with lethal precision. Creepy, splatter-ific ditties like “Eye-Licker,” “Ripsaw Sentiment” or “Incarnadine Mangler” flat-out kill, and have just enough dexterity — and even a bit of black-humored playfulness with occasional funky bass lines and hair-flipping hooks — to keep the band from sounding like every other Cookie Monster outfit. This despite an iron-lunged singer in Mr. Hustler who is the Cookie Monster incarnate. A-
CHOOSING DEATH: The Original Soundtrack (Relapse) — This “soundtrack” comes a few months after the publication of Andrew Mudrian’s well-detailed exploration of the origins of grindcore and death metal (see review, last thrilling episode) and essentially serves as its musical companion. A good two-thirds of the 19 bands here figure prominently in the book and had a profound influence on the respective genres. Gnarly old nuggets from trend-setters Siege, Repulsion and Nihilist sound awfully rough by today’s standard, but the feral purity of it is what made it so exciting back in the day, launching a tape trading frenzy that help pave the way for Napalm Death, Carcass and Morbid Angel (who all appear here). Yet they represent really the only rare or collectible stuff on the album, which generally sticks to the “classics” — Cannibal Corpse’s “Hammer Smashed Face,” At The Gates’ “Need,” for instance — and a smattering of tracks from contemporary acts like Zyklon, Hate Eternal and Pig Destroyer. Some more crusty old obscurities—The Exploited, Discharge, Hellhammer/early Celtic Frost — would have been nice, but Mudrian is all apologies in the CD liner notes about such omissions, blaming “spatial constraints.” Guess we’ll have to take his word for it. B
GOD DETHRONED: The Lair of the White Worm (Metal Blade) —At first glance, it would seem Belgium’s God Dethroned has built a theme album of sorts around Ken Russell’s film “Lair of the White Worm,” a horror movie on acid if there ever was one. Yet despite the “White Worm” artistic scheme that permeates the album’s packaging, about the only inspiration from it in the music is the balls-out title track, which tells the tale of shape-shifting Lady Arabella in a mere three-and-a-half furious minutes. The rest of disc is pretty much all armageddon, all the time, as God Dethroned revels in extinction-level destruction, new world orders and, of course, heresy with startling conviction. From flame-throwing opener “Nihilist” to sociopathic closer “Salt In Your Wounds,” Worm is as fearsome and serious as a heart attack and will no doubt appeal to misanthropes because you can really taste the hate here. If something freaky and heady ye seek, rent the “Worm” DVD instead. C
IMMOLATION: Harnessing Ruin (Olympic) Though they’ve been around seemingly since the dawn of time — actually 1988 — New York’s Immolation haven’t lost a step. And they certainly aren’t treading water. Harnessing Ruin boasts some of the band’s craftiest, savage work yet. Instead of wallowing in the usual puke-and-grind sewer, Immolation liberally incorporates off-kilter structures and arrangements, “brighter” tunings and eerie guitar work that makes for some unusually adventurous death metal. But with Ross Dolan’s beastial growl and murderous, often blasphemous, lyrics and the raw-boned (yet great sounding) production of Paul Orofino, there’s still plenty of menace and nastiness to go around. That Immolation has stuck it out in the darkest depths of the underground for 17 years is pretty incredible and proves just how dedicated the band is to death metal. That the band is still finding ways to keep things this vibrant and vicious is even more amazing. B+
KRISIUN: Bloodshed (Century Media) — While most of the hubbub that greeted Krisiun when they emerged from Sao Paolo, Brazil, with 2000’s magnificent Conquerors of Armageddon, has waned, the band has proven to be a dependable dispensary for raw, evil death metal. Bloodshed gives the trio a chance to do a little experimentation, and offer a taste of their roots with four tracks from their primal first release Unmerciful Order presented as is, with no new studio trickery to dress them up. The Order tracks are certainly crude, but demonstrate a ferocity that has only grown more extreme with time and show just what an amazing guitar player Moyses Kolesne already was in 1993. Several instrumentals aside, Bloodshed‘s eight-new tracks are riffier and more concentrated, as the band slows its manic pacing a wee bit and grinds away with sinister glee. If anything, downshifting has only made Krisiun more brutal. And Kolense’s chops remain as bad-ass as ever. B+
DARK TRANQUILLITY: Character (Century Media) — Another pioneering band from the “Gothenburg sound” days of Swedish death metal, Dark Tranquillity has diversified quite a bit over the years. With Character, the sextet delivers a vicious new album that makes more than a passing nod at the “old days.” Character opens with the blast-beat powered “The New Build” and doesn’t let up much from there. Boasting the typically bold Studio Fredman production, the album’s big sound is matched by its raw intensity. Even in more melodic moments, singer Mikael Stanne’s feral snarl maintains its menace and never lets you get too comfortable. And that’s a good thing. B+
KREATOR: Enemy of God (SPV) — After foundering through most of the “90s, Kreator roared back to relevance with 2001’s Violent Revolution, rediscovering the thrash fury and vitriol it seemed to lose after Coma of Souls. Enemy of God shows Revolution was no fluke, sustaining the manic energy, genuine outrage and surgically precise brutality that made the band such a force in the “80s. Inspired by the post-9/11 state of things, Enemy is Kreator’s most apocalyptic work — both from Mille Petrozza’s grim prophesizing of the “World Anarchy” (where terrorists, warmongers and power-mad zealots vie for supremacy) that will surely be our doom to the band’s carpet-bomb musical attack. It’s every bit as vicious as Terrible Certainty was nearly 20 years ago — when the band was staring nuclear holocaust in the face from just the other side of the Berlin Wall — and equally as relevant. Guess we can only hope these new threats go the way of Communism — but Kreator’s not banking on it. B+
SOILWORK: Stabbing the Drama (Nuclear Blast) — With its sixth album, Sweden’s Soilwork accomplishes what In Flames has been trying to do on its last two releases without quite getting it right: streamline its sound by trimming some of the fancy musicianship and complexity without sacrificing power. Soilwork refined its sonic approach on Stabbing with an almost hardcore mentality. Keyboards and guitar solos have been muted, riffs and tempos kicked up a notch and the intensity level brought to an all-time high. Stabbing‘s material is tough as nails, and while there is more melody and clean vocals — and even something of a ballad with “Fate In Motion” — here, the band hammers most of it home like Jose Canseco after a fresh steroid injection. So while Stabbing is Soilwork’s catchiest effort, it’s also the band’s most concussive. A-
THINE EYES BLEED: In the Wake of Separation (The End) — Pedigree will only get you so far. And an ex-Kittie tour guitarist (Jeff Phillips) and Slayer frontman Tom Araya’s brother aren’t gonna score you many points — especially since Johnny Araya actually joined on bass after this album was recorded! And Canada’s Thine Eyes Bleed could use some help. The band’s debut is a Lamb of God-like mish-mash of jarring thrash, death metal and hardcore, but that’s really about all it is — a mish-mash. It’s all blazing riffs, solos, drum flailing and the usual bipolar vocal slugfest without enough connective tissue to hold it all together. Thine Eyes is undeniably powerful; it just doesn’t seem to have grown into its own skin yet. But the same could be said about Shadows Fall way back when and look at them now. So at least there’s hope for the future. C
TRIVIUM: Ascendancy (Roadrunner) — New Florida foursome Trivium bring quite a bit more to the table your average thrash-core band. And even if the band can be accused of borrowing somewhat liberally from other people’s playbooks in places, at least Trivium isn’t afraid to mix it up, making the band’s Roadrunner debut a pleasant surprise indeed. The band’s sound lies somewhere between Hatebreed and Iced Earth, if you can imagine that — equal parts snub-nosed brutality and dazzling musicality. Thrash-core bluster and surliness is tempered by deft, graceful Maiden-like twin soloing and prog-like flights of fancy. Old-school Metallica-like heaviosity (the Ride the Lightning kind) and fury meets head-on with catchy Priest-like hooks and big sing-along harmonies. It probably shouldn’t work — especially since like only one of these guys has yet to reach legal drinking age. But Trivium shows skill and savvy well beyond their respective years, especially guitarists Corey Beaulieu and Matthew Healy, who does double duty behind the mic— and I mean that literally, handling the screaming and clean vocals with equal dexterity. Nicely done. B+
USURPER: Cryptobeast (Earache) — Like fellow Chicago cult act Macabre, Usurper are more than a little left of center from contemporary metal convention. A bit goofy and not afraid to dress the part or wear its intentions on its sleeve, the band usually comes across like Manowar on crack — and without the Harleys. But with a couple new members in tow, including “vokillist” Dan Lawson, and buoyed by the always beefy production of Neil Kernon, Usurper may just be making a play at being taken seriously. Cryptobeast is surprisingly adept, consistent and purposeful. The thundering riffs and stampeding tempos of Usurper’s thrash attack are right on the mark here — and hit extra hard thanks to Kernon’s deft work. Even cheesy anthems like “Kill for Metal” or the remade “Warriors of Iron and Rust” kill with power, and don’t sound nearly as silly as they could have. B
BURIED INSIDE: Chronoclast (Relapse) — Subtitled “Selected Essays on Time-Reckoning and Auto-Cannibalism,” the Relapse debut from Canada’s Buried Inside brings a certain intellectuality to the metal-core mix, not to mention a progressive musical take which provides a grandiosity that is actually pretty cool. Far more deliberate than labelmates The Dillinger Escape Plan, Buried Inside prefers expansive arrangements that create more of a smothering wall of sound than random spasmodics. Michael Godbout’s drums churn under the weighty guitaring of Andrew Tweedy and Matias Palacios-Hardy, creating a sonic mudslide that methodically devours all in its path. It’s strangely hypnotic for something so brutal. Sans lyrics, it’s mighty hard to gasp whatever storyline is going on here — other than the fact that the songs all deal with time, for example, the epic “Time As Surrogate Religion” or “Time As Imperialism” — given Nicholas Shaw’s banshee-howl vocals. But chances it wouldn’t make much sense anyway, so who cares. B+
CEPHALIC CARNAGE: Anomalies (Relapse) —Though the basis of their sound is equal parts grindcore and death metal, Colorado’s Cephalic Carnage are anything but your average noisemongers. The band’s latest effort is especially ambitious, with a host of daring turns that by and large make for nice surprises. The most obvious is the parade of guest vocalists, from Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway and Cattle Decapitation’s Trevor Ryan, who help provide a Carcass-like shriek-and-growl tandem with Cephalic frontman Lenzig. More unusual is the tradeoff with producer Dave Otero on “Dying Will Be The Death of Me” where Otero’s melodic, even operatic voice come out of nowhere, and then is flavored by a rather flashy guitar solo. Jazz-like interludes pop up on several occasions and the album closes with the new-agey “Ontogeny of Behavior,” a nearly 10-minute epic of mostly ambient guitar picking punctuated by a few big riffs and a brief blast passage that may owe a lot to the band’s penchant for smoking weed. You can probably blame that for the violins, too. B+
NAPALM DEATH: The Code is Red ... Long Live the Code (Century Media) — After again paying tribute to its influences — and christening a new deal with Century Media —with Leaders Not Followers, Vol. 2 late last year, Napalm Death gets back to raising the extreme metal bar with The Code is Red. While continuing with the full-on brutality they rediscovered on their last two albums, Napalm dip into the sonic experimentalism of their mid-”90s period here. But the band — now a foursome after the departure of guitarist Jess Pintado — do so rather carefully and with an eye, or ear, toward balance, strategically mixing idiosyncratic riffing, sleek hooks and discordant, industrial-style pummel into the blast-furnace fury the band all but created nearly a quarter-century ago. Where Napalm sometimes missed the mark by heading too far into new directions during the “Diatribes era,” Code is dead-on as the accents give the band an innovative edge without tempering any of its unrivaled intensity — the droning “Morale” and mechanically inclined closer “Our Pain Is There Power” being the exceptions. And from “Silence is Deafening” and “Vegetative State” to “Sold Short” and “Pledge Yourself To You” featuring guest vocals by Carcass’ Jeff Walker, Code is as frantic and furious as it gets. Even with the window-dressing, Code is a downright exhausting album, with Danny Herrara’s rivet-gun drumming and Mitch Harris’ sound-barrier breaking guitaring leaving frontman Barney Greenway scrambling to catch up as he roars like a jet engine behind it. Incredible. A
SKINLESS: Skinflick (Relapse) Skinflick is a surprisingly entertaining and well-put-together DVD from veteran, but rather obscure upstate New York deathsters Skinless. Mixing club show live footage with articulate and often enlightening interview segments and tour diary snippets, the DVD provides a warts-and-all look at travails and triumphs of life in the deepest underground — from touring on almost no budget and inherent line-up turmoil, to making videos writing songs and recording albums while living hand to mouth. The live material — about a dozen tracks, including such choice cuts as “Tampon Lollipop” — recording mostly at Saratoga Winners in New York is a bit rough — but what else would you expect. The tour diary is a riot, from trolling for hookers and encounters with insane crackheads and street people to “the dildo” segment — done with campy theme music and everything — that people will either find hilarious or disgusting — probably both. The air-guitar karoake snippets with a group of Japanese fans are worth the price alone as they mimic Slayer’s “Raining Blood” and others with the mindless enthusiasm of Beavis & Butt-head. A local TV news item is equally riotous — the two perky news bunnies have to be seen to be believed as they blather on about Skinless while struggling to mask their horror. It’s a scream. A-
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