Mayday, Mayday!!! Catching up on some Notable May Releases…

Sometimes, life gets in the way of the important things. I’ve been dealing with so many happenings with my day job and my new house and my cat that I’ve been neglecting what’s important in life. Namely, writing metal reviews and watching Big Trouble in Little China for the 100th time. Well that changes now. Here’s a bunch of notable releases from May. Because you know what Jack Burton says: “Yes sir, the check is in the mail”:

TesseracT – Sonder

These British prog legends were going to have a hard time topping their previous release, 2015’s Polaris, in my book. What they’ve done is return with an even proggier, even more melodic, and at points, even heavier record. So did they surpass my TesseracTexpectations? Not exactly…

The problem with Sonder is that there’s just not enough of it. 36 minutes and 7 songs are all that you get to enjoy on Sonder, and one of them (“Smile”) is just an updated version of a single they released last year. But that wouldn’t be a problem if the music were bad. Everyone wins when there’s less bad music. But Sonder is a fantastic album, full of prog and melody and the deftest touch of heaviness where needed (seriously, the 3-5 screamed words in “King” make me want to super punch a skyscraper). It’s because of the sustained excellence throughout the album (even the updated version of “Smile”, a great song that didn’t necessarily need updating is a smashing success) that the short run time becomes problematic. But the material on the album is fantastic.

GRADE: B+

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Luminary”, “King”, “The Arrow”

Sevendust – All I See Is War

Fun fact: the first metal show that I ever attended was Sevendust and Ill Nino at the Ogden Theater in Denver back in 2003. My friend Spencer snuck a frozen waffleSevendust into the venue in his pants and threw it at the band as they took the stage because we wanted to hear them play “Waffle”. They did. 100% true story.

Anyway, after 12 (seriously, 12!) studio albums, you should know what to expect out of Sevendust at this point. Lajon Witherspoon still has the best pure voice in rock & metal. Morgan Rose is a drum god. This album is full of solid jams and great hooks, and for anyone who loves this band, you’ll dig this record. Interestingly enough, the album is carried by both the heaviest tracks (“Dirty”, “Risen”, “The Truth”) and the softer tracks (“Not Original”), while the middle-of-the-road tracks tend to be where the album can bog down a bit. Still, a great effort from one of my all-time favorites.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Dirty”, “Risen”, “Not Original”

Wolf King – Loyal to the Soil

One of at least four wolf-themed bands to have released an album in the last few weeks (Wolvhammer, Wolves Among Us and Bad Wolves for those who were wondering), Loyal to the Soil is the leader of the pack when it comes to quality (get it? It’s a wolf pun). TheirWolf King blackened hardcore sound works really well with the unhinged screams (a la God Mother) on tracks like “Hail the Ash” and “Sorrow’s Reach”, while the tracks where they slow things down and boost the low end sound like Sumac getting a Deathcore makeover.

The introduction of the deeper death-growls after the first few tracks helps elevate this record from good to borderline great. While the primary screams work well for me, I could see their higher registry growing old over the course of an album if there growls weren’t there to balance them out. I’ve seen some comparisons to Nails thrown out for Wolf King, and while they never hit that level of violence they’re more than aggressive enough for the average metal fan.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Hail the Ash”, “Loyal to the Soil I”, “Sorrow’s Reach”

Abraham – Look, Here Comes the Dark!

Clocking in at a mind-boggling 1 hour, 51 minutes, Look, Here Comes the Dark! is not an undertaking for the feint of heart or the short of time. I feel like this Swiss post-rock outfit were aiming to prove that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing on thisAbraham album, because while each and every track is quite good, I’ve managed to feel downright exhausted each time I’ve finished listening.

Daunting run-time aside, Look, Here Comes the Dark! is an impressive record, full of varying styles and tempos that keep it relatively engaging throughout. The best comparison I could think of for their sound would be Cult of Luna minus the 80’s synth, but there are touches of Mastodon and a host of other bands thrown in as well. Extra bonus points for the cool concept of the album (it’s about a post-apocalyptic world) that comes through quite well in the lyrics. A thoughtful, expansive listen, and I could see this grade rising as I’m able to really give the record the time it deserves.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Hyperoine”, “Vulvaire”, “Erth”

LIK – Carnage

Hailing from Sweden, LIK (which apparently means “Corpse” in Swedish – how clever) drop the technicality and melody that seems to be ever present in Death Metal these days in favor of a straight-forward gore fest. Bonus points awarded from some of the heaviest,Lik crunchiest riffs of the year. Extra bonus points for growled vocals that you can actually understand! Points lost for being able to understand the lyrics…Bill Shakespeare these guys are not.

LIK certainly aren’t reinventing the wheel with Carnage, but Death Metal as a genre tends to get stale pretty easily. This album is a refreshing take that plays well throughout, with songs that work very well individually rather than every track blending together in a guttural goulash.

GRADE: B-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Rid You of Your Flesh”, “Only Death is Left Alive”

Dimmu Borgir – Eonian

A Norwegian Operatic black metal outfit full of dudes in corpse paint with names like Shagrath, Silenoz and ICS Vortex should not be allowed to put out an album that is this boring. I’ve been trying like hell for 10 minutes to come up with interesting things to sayDimmu Borgir about Eonian, but if I’m being honest I can’t remember a damn thing about it. This album is wholly forgettable.

Sure, “Interdimensional Summit” is pretty cool, and “Council of Wolves and Snakes” is an alright track, but that’s it as far as this record goes. It took everything in my power just to make it through the entirety of the record once, and I can guarantee you I won’t be making it all the way through again. I’d rather test my lawnmower blade with my tongue than submit myself to that again.

GRADE: D+

HIGHLIGHT TRACK

“Interdimensional Summit”

Album Review: A Perfect Circle – Eat the Elephant

For those of you who can’t wait another second for the first new Tool album in about 750 years (approx.), I’ve got bad news for you. Eat the Elephant, the first new album since 2004’s eMotive from A Perfect Circle (AKA Maynard James Keenan’s other band, but not his other other band, Puscifer), sounds NOTHING like Tool. The expansive song structures and infectious tribal rhythms? Not here, folks. In their place you will find a subdued alt-rock album full of melody, both instrumentally and through Maynard’s surprisingly impressive voice. But if you consider this an alt-rock album more than a metal album (as I do), then it is easily one of the best alt-rock albums of 2018.

Musically, Eat the Elephant is a drastic departure from anything else I’ve ever heard in Maynard’s catalog. Even the two previous APC full-length albums, Mer de Noms APCand Thirteenth Step (I don’t really count eMotive since it was basically a covers album), had metal-ish sections that served as a musical bridge between A Perfect Circle and Tool (think “Judith” and “The Outsider”). These sections are almost completely absent on Eat the Elephant. Instead, the musical backbone of the album comes from a large amount of piano and some surprisingly uplifting and melodic guitar work. “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish”, one of the standout tracks on the album, sounds downright joyous even before you consider the heavier works in the band’s past.

But if it’s heaviness that you want, you won’t need to look any further than the CD insert (or whatever the millennial equivalent is) from some of the weightiest lyrics around. Another standout track, “Disillusioned”, could very well have been the title for the record, as that seems to be Maynard’s feeling towards America today if I’m reading it right (and he lays it on thick, so I don’t think I’m misreading). Be it the bleak outlook towards good people on “The Doomed” or the satirical tone of “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish”, Maynard paints a fantastically dark portrait of the world around him with his strongest lyrics to-date (and yes, I’m including all of Tool’s work in that as well).

Even more impressive than the lyrics, however, is Maynard’s voice. Never before, across any of his projects, have I heard Maynard allow himself to sound this good. Unburdened by needing to match the anger and aggression of Tool (and earlier APC), Maynard shows off a shockingly good voice on several tracks on Eat the Elephant (most notably “By and Down the River” and “Feathers”). While his voice has always skewed a bit more towards “melodic” than “violent guttural shrieks”, he’s always maintained a bit of a yell in his delivery that molds it into a more traditional rock/metal voice. But on Eat the Elephant, Maynard leaves behind those expectations behind and gives us a glimpse into just how talented of a vocalist he really is.

While not a perfect record (“TalkTalk” is a little too on-the-nose lyrically, and the final five tracks on the record all fall firmly into “meh” territory), Eat the Elephant is a wonderful listen if you can accept the non-metalness. Considering how highly Tool is regarded for the experimental nature of their music, Eat the Elephant may be the riskiest work of Maynard’s career, throwing away a proven blueprint for a wholly different sound. It won’t win over everyone, but no challenging work should. I have a feeling this grade will be rising as the year goes on.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“The Doomed”, “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish”, “By and Down the River”

Album Review: Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness

My wife (the Empress) recently had me listen to an episode of her favorite podcast “Last Podcast on the Left”, because they did a deep dive into the storied and sordid history of Norwegian Black Metal. I knew a fair amount of the backstory (Dead’s suicide, Euronymous taking pictures of his dead body, Varg Vikernes being a pseudo-Nazi and killing Euronymous), but I learned a lot about how absurd the attitude around black metal was around the time of its formation. After all, these were just a bunch of moody teenagers who got into a game of one ups-manship that escalated to the point of church burnings and murder. But once the evil ball got rolling, bands just keep falling in line, and pretty soon you had a genre wholly reliant on Satanism (or at the very least, anti-Christianity) and the desire to commit “evil”.

While the story was fascinating, I still have to admit that I’ve never really liked Mayhem, or Burzum, or Emperor, or any of the other “pioneers” of Black Metal in Europe. The whole “evil” motif always seemed so forced and artificial. I would much rather the darkness of the artist come through in their music than in how they may portray themselves. Which, if you’ve managed to stick with this intro long enough without abandoning to go watch porn or something (Thanks!), is my long-winded way of saying that America’s own Austin Lund, the driving force and sole member of Panopticon, is everything I’ve ever wanted in a Black Metal musician. Leaving behind all the pretension and posturing that seems ever-present in the European Black Metal Scene (and if thinking that makes me not True KVLT, then so-fucking be it), Lund has created yet another American Black Metal classic with his most recent release, The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness.

I’m don’t believe I’d ever run across an album with instructions before, but I discovered this snippet from Lund on the band’s Bandcamp page right before my first listen:

This is the full two disk, 2 hour long album sequenced as one long record, as it was meant to be heard. Please don’t listen to the album on your laptop speakers, it will sound like shit. Give it a shot on a long hike or by a fire with headphones. The first half of the album is atmospheric metal, the second half is more americana focused, so beware if you hate country/folk. 
cheers 
-A 

For such a vivid, complex, insanely layered work, this succinct description sums it up rather nicely. First off, under no circumstances listen to this on your laptop, or on shittyPanopticon car speakers, or on an antiquated boom box on the subway while people are just trying to get to work in solitude. Panopticon, after all, as an extreme black metal band, and as such are throwing literally all the notes possible at you all at once. Listening to this record in anything other than ideal conditions will be like listening to TV static for an hour, followed by a country record. And that doesn’t sound fun, does it?

(Speaking of which, for the purpose of this review I’m only considering the first album. For a folk/country album the second disk is fantastic, but I don’t, and won’t pretend to, know country and/or folk nearly well enough to pass judgment on the quality)

As far as giving it a listen on a long hike or by a fire? FUCKING DO IT!!! I hate nature. I grew up in the suburbs, I’m allergic to grass, I have an irrational fear of horses, anything with more than four legs terrifies me, and yet this album made me want to venture out into the wild depths of New Jersey’s wilderness on a journey to find both myself and a level of peace that only isolation in nature can provide. I would never, under any circumstances, do that, but this album makes me want to! Lund’s passion and love for nature is omnipresent in not only this record, but in all of his works. He does this not only through the lyrics, but through the ambient noise throughout the album. In both the softer, more contemplative moments, and the balls-to-the-wall hysteria of the most vicious black metal sections, there always seems to be the call of nature somewhere in the background. It’s an amazing achievement by Lund, and one that show how passionate he is not only about his music, but about the land he writes about.

Even if you’re not open to a new appreciation of nature through the lyrical and melodic content of the record (and fuck you if you’re not, try to be open minded next time), Lund is second-to-none when it comes to crafting atmospherically rich but insanely layered black metal, the likes I’ve never heard from this or the other side of the pond. Whereas I typically feel comfortable writing a review of a record after 2-3, listens, I’m up to 8 now on The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, and I’m still not sure even as I’m writing this whether I’m truly ready to pass any sort of judgment on this work. Lund explores every available inch of the black metal on this album, with a sound that bounces between nightmarish and serene with ease, but never settles into anything repetitive (and for Black Metal, that’s saying something).

With a vocal delivery that (fittingly) falls somewhere in line with a Grizzly Bear devouring a small woodland critter, Lund manages to incorporate a fair amount of melodic elements on the record, be it through the small, folk-laden intros to “A Ridge Where the Tall Pines Once Stood” and “Snow Burdened Branches” or some or the guitar parts in “Blatimen” and “The Singing Wilderness”. For every ounce of aggression and menace (and don’t be confused, this record is one of the heaviest albums I’ve ever dug into), there is an equal and opposite measure of tenderness, perhaps even designed to represent the duality of the wilderness that he so openly cherishes.

Perhaps the only thing holding this record back is the fact that Lund, and therefore Panopticon, are possible too good at making music. As much as I’ve loved diving deep into the album, it still hasn’t, and probably never will, quite reach the level of his finest work, Kentucky. And that is no slight to Lund himself, as with The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness he is now responsible for the three greatest albums in American Black Metal, and possibly in the genre throughout the world. His previous success doesn’t sully the fact that this record is an amazing achievement, full of not only wonderfully crafted music, but full of obvious passion by the creator.

GRADE: A-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Sheep in Wolves Clothing”, “En hvit ravns dod”

Album Review: Nekrogoblikon – Welcome to Bonkers

Under most normal circumstances I wouldn’t have given Welcome to Bonkers a chance. Nothing about the idea of goblin-centric heavy metal, featured a front/hype man dressed up in full goblin-garb, appeals to me. But I gave their video for “Dressed as Goblins” a chance when I heard that it was directed by Brendan Small (of Home Movies and Metalocalypse fame). The video, which someone on the comment page I was reading aptly described as “The Royal Tenenbaums, but with Goblins”, is bizarre beyond description and deserves several watches. It was also intriguing enough that I decided to give the band’s fourth full-length album a chance.

Welcome to Bonkers lives up to its title and then some, delivering furious, fast-paced, and authentically evil melodic death metal all with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Leaving aside all the gimmicks (a goblin hype man, goblin-centric lyrics, lyrics written by and for people in the throes of a bad acid trip), Welcome to Bonkers manages to be an impressive melo-death album, favorably comparable to The Crown’s Iron Crown (my favorite melodic death metal album of this year) and The Black Dahlia Murder’s Nightbringers, possibly the best melodic death metal album ever. Songs like “Row”, “Dressed as Goblins”, and “The Skin Thief” are all legitimately fantastic metal tracks, full of killer riffs and fantastic musicianship, all tied together with some wonderfully evil vocals. If the band woke up tomorrow and decided they’d had enough of Goblins (not likely, if the album closer “Goblins” is to be believed), they’d likely be able to make a successful go of it on talent and skill alone.

But surprisingly enough, the band’s shtick works. There was no more fitting choice to Nekrogoblikondirect the video for “Dressed as Goblins” than Small, as the parallels between the band and Metalocalypse’s Dethklok are striking. While they both produce fantastic metal in a vacuum, the selling point to both is that they’re playing insanely brutal death metal while singing about the most absurd subjects imaginable. Dethklok’s most famous tracks involved killing mermaids and summoning a giant murderous troll, so why can’t Nekrogoblikon sing about goblins and dragons and a magic spider? Just because it’s violent and angry and metal through-and-through doesn’t mean it can’t be hilarious. And hilarious it is, with songs like “Dragons”, “Thanks for Nothing, Moon”, and the aforementioned “The Magic Spider” packing laughs from beginning to end, all while staying metal as fuck.

While there might be a glass ceiling to how good a record can be once they adopt as many gimmicks as Nekrogoblikon do, Welcome to Bonkers is right up against it and threatening to break through. The absurdity and laughs make the record a great listen, but the quality of the metal is high enough to warrant multiple spins. Goblincore shouldn’t work by any stretch of the imagination, but Nekrogoblikon have found the sweet spot between funny and evil that allows it to thrive.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Row”, “Dressed as Goblins”, “The Skin Thief”

More Housekeeping: Quick Reviews from Light the Torch, Primordial and more…

I swear, one of these days I’m going to get back to writing full length reviews. But what started out of necessity due to a total absence of free time has continued forward thanks to what feels like weeks on end of mediocre releases. There are some contenders to hopefully break that streak in the coming weeks (although the so-so early reviews on the new A Perfect Circle record won’t help), but until then, time to clean out my metal review closet.

Light the Torch – Revival

The former Devil You Know have returned with a new name and a tired sound. I, like every other guy who discovered metal in the late 90’s-early 2000’s, cut my teeth onLight the Torch Killswitch Engage’s The End of Heartache. Howard Jones may have been my first favorite metal vocalist. But KSE never topped that album with Howard at the mic (and to be honest, I’ve learned with age that Alive or Just Breathing is the superior album), and all three Devil You Know/Light the Torch albums have just made me pine for the days when Howard was the most commanding voice in metal.

There are a couple tracks on Revival that are worth you time (as there were on They Bleed Red and The Beauty of Destruction), but the overall album just falls flat. The soaring melodies of “Die Alone” and the devastating heaviness of “The Sound of Violence” stand out against an otherwise blasé record that consists almost entirely of clean vocals. While nobody has ever doubted Howard’s pipes, what made him so effective as a vocalist was his ability to balance his operatic singing voice with a blood-curdling scream. That scream, for whatever reason, is all but absent on Revival, creating a monotonous, overwhelmingly dull record.

GRADE: C

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Die Alone”, “The Sound of Violence”

Napalm Death – Coded Smears and More Uncommon SlursNapalm Death

It’s Napalm Death. It’s heavy and angry as fuck. If you’re expecting anything more or anything less, than that’s your own problem.

GRADE: B-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Oh So Pseudo”, “Call that an Option”

Primordial – Exile Amongst the Ruins

The biggest knock against the Irish folk/black metalists on their most recent record is not of quality, but rather of organization. After hearing their first single, “To Hell or the Hangman”, well before the album released, my expectations shot through the roof. AndPrimordial then the album opens with “Nail their Tongues”, which is about as folk-y and black-y as it gets. The first two songs on the record had me preparing for an Album of the Year contender, but the rest of the album doesn’t deliver. Oh sure, it’s plenty heavy, balancing some fantastic doom with the band’s signature evil folk brooding, but the bar was simply set too high with the first two tracks for the rest of the record to live up to my early impressions.

Even so, Exile Amongst the Ruins is a highly entertaining listen, and you will be seeing “To Hell or the Hangman” on plenty year-end lists. The energy on the track (noticeably absent from the rest of this album) is infectious, and the pseudo-western acoustic riff that sends the track barreling around ever turn is an absolute marvel to listen to unfurl.

GRADE: C+

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Nail Their Tongues”, “To Hell or the Hangman”

Vexes – Ancient Geometry

Do you have a Deftones-shaped hole in your heart that you’ve been trying to fill? Well then I’ve got the band for you! Stopping just short of becoming a full-on cover band,Vexes Vexes’ sound falls nicely in between the early and later years sound of Deftones, with plenty of groove spliced with an equal portion of melody. While it’s hard to go too crazy over an album that’s so clearly derivative of a band that’s come before it, what’s the matter with releasing a great Deftones record? Deftones sure as hell didn’t do it with 2016’s Gore or 2012’s Koi No Yokan, so there’s an untapped market for the post-rock/nu-metal hybrid sound.

The album opener, “Helion”, has one of the most powerful choruses of 2018, starting the album out with a thunderous boom before transitioning into the more melodic singles, “Lift” and “Plasticine”. The surprising strength of the album is in the second half, where some of the more complete and memorable songs land. “Terra” might be the best on the record not named Helion, and “No Color” would have an argument for that top spot as well if not for the embarrassingly bad rapping verse.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Helion”, “Plasticine”, “Terra”

Quick Reviews – Winners from The Crown & Twitching Tongues, plus non-winners from others!

I’ve been busy with life recently and haven’t had a ton of time so review any recent metal offerings (also, outside of an early Album of the Year contender from Rivers of Nihil, there hasn’t been all that much worth reviewing). So consider this my spring cleaning of album reviews:

Altars of Grief – Iris

My friends over at Metal Injection (I say “friends”, despite the fact that they don’t know who I am and refuse to answer my calls anymore) gave this one a 9.5/10, calling it “a nigh-peerless construct of somber beauty and one of the greatest doom metal albums inAltars of Grief years”. That was more than enough to get me to listen to the record, even though I’d never heard of the Canadian doom metalers before. I can absolutely see what made Iris so appealing to the person who wrote that article, but this album has many peers, and it probably wasn’t even the best doom album the week it came out, let alone in the last few years.

First, the good: when Iris is heavy, it is really fucking heavy, whether via fast, ballistic black metal sections or slow, lurching doom metal movements. Iris can pack a punch when it wants to. And it certainly is ambitious, exploring many extreme metal sounds in its hour-long runtime, from black to doom metal, from progressive to atmospheric goth, without ever growing stale. For that, my Canadian friends, I applaud you.

However, Iris has some serious flaws that are really hard to overlook. First, its just too melodic. Bands like Pallbearer and Khemmis have laid out a blueprint for how to approach melody in doom metal in recent years, and Altars of Grief deviate wildly from that path, leading to a metal album that just isn’t metal enough, lacking the literal and figurative hooks to reel you in and keep you engaged. Second, they probably could have trimmed a solid 15 minutes from the runtime and had a more focused and engaging record without losing any substance. I have no problem when an album is five songs long when all five songs are great, and that’s what it feels like this record needed to be. Lastly, and most importantly, the clean vocals sound 100% identical to Benjamin Burnley from Breaking Benjamin. In extreme metal, that is an unforgivable sin, and it’s wildly distracting while listening to Iris.

GRADE: C+

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Desolation”, “Child of Light”

 

Ancst – Ghosts of the Timeless Void

On their Spotify page, Ancst describe themselves as “hardcore punk infused black metal”. That sounds great and all, but outside of the beginning of “Concrete Veins”,Ancst there’s not a whole lot of hardcore punk to be found in their sound, with it edging much closer to what I would say is blackened death metal (this is too bad, as the infrequent punk moments on Ghosts of the Timeless Void sound fantastic). The black metal sounds on the record are great, and with a sprinkling of death metal thrown in the record tends to be much more musically heavy than your typical black metal record, which tend to rely on atmospheric darkness. The album’s instrumentation carries it almost the entire way through before faltering on the last three tracks (when speed and brutality comprise most of the foundation of your sound, slowing things down and going melodic might not be the best idea, especially for three fucking songs).

The vocals on Ghosts of the Timeless Void are solid but grow somewhat monotonous throughout the course of the album, never wavering much from the baseline sound. Much more irritating, however, is that the flow of the vocals seems…off. During the faster-paced moments, the transition between words feels artificial, almost as if all the words were recorded separately and then edited together later, except the didn’t leave quite enough time in between to have it sound natural. It unfortunately detracts from an otherwise solid record vocally, with some relevant and powerful lyrics to boot.

GRADE: C

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Dying Embers”, “Concrete Veins”

 

Bad Wolves – False Flags Volume One

I had such high hopes for this band after their debut single “Learn to Live” dropped back in early 2017. Sure, their early-2000’s metalcore vibe was a bit dated at that point, but I Bad Wolveswas the target audience for the band to resonate with. I came of age in the metal world with the sound they were trying to cultivate on that track, and I wanted to hear more. With people like Doc Coyle (God Forbid) and John Boecklin (DevilDriver) in tow, how could it go wrong?

It did. It went very wrong. The band’s second single, “A Toast to the Ghost” was hot garbage, and nothing on this EP is much better. They’ve unfortunately fallen into a groove of trying to sound like a Dollar Store version of Five Finger Death Punch (what do you call a Dollar Store version of an already shitty product? Penny Store?), with Tommy Vext’s clean vocals doing the most damage. When Bad Wolves are playing fast and angry, and Vext is screaming his face off, I can still see the potential that I once saw in the band (check out the beginning of “Better the Devil” if you don’t believe me). But not only are Vext’s cleans unable to carry the band, but the rest of the band slows everything down to accommodate them, bringing every song to a GRINDING-FUCKING-HALT when the melodic sections arrive.

It’s really too bad. There’s so much potential in this band, but they feel destined to become a FFDP clone. If they’re after that mainstream success, rather than any sort of artistic credibility, then more power to them. But they could be so much more.

Grade: D

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

I don’t know, maybe the Cranberries cover I guess?

 

The Crown – Cobra Speed Venom

I kept grumbling about this album after my first listen, thinking that it just couldn’t compare to The Black Dahlia Murder’s Nightbringers, far and away the best death metal The Crownrecord in recent memory and my #2 album for 2017. Sure, Cobra Speed Venom was good, but it wasn’t as evil, menacing, or catchy as Nightbringers was. It took me another couple listens to finally realize, “Who cares?”. Not every painting is the Mona Lisa, so does that mean that every non-Mona Lisa painting sucks? Cobra Speed Venom may not be the best death metal record ever, but it’s a damn fine death metal record, and one worthy of your attention.

Full of riffs so fast and furious that it would make all eight films of the franchise blush, Cobra Speed Venom is a wild ride that is perpetually on the verge of flying off the rails into complete chaos. Sure, it lacks the overarching terror of Nightbringers, but The Crown pack more than enough anger and venom into this record to satisfy any death metal fan. Bonus points awarded for “In the Name of Death”, which manages to sound like an arena-rock version of a Nails track, and “Necrohammer”, which is easily one of the top two songs this year with “Necro” in the title (Judas Priest’s “Necromancer”, for those who were interested). Bonus points lost for “We Avenge!” not being quite as epic as the song title itself (although the last third of the song is still pretty fucking epic).

Grade: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Destroyed by Madness”, “In the Name of Death”, “World War Machine”

 

Twitching Tongues – Gaining Purpose through Passionate Hatred

I totally understand that very few of you are going to enjoy this album as much as I do (although you’re wrong, but I get it), but I at least hope that you’ll agree that Twitching Tongues have created of the most unique and original sounds in metal today. Their Twitching Tonguesbrilliant idea of blending hardcore punk with vocals straight out of Page Hamilton’s (of Helmet fame) mouth, Gaining Purpose through Passionate Hatred is the musical embodiment of every hour of your youth that you spent playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. This record is energetic, passionate (although not hatredly so), and above all else, extremely fun to listen to, with its dirty and sleazy vibes bleeding through on every track, including the two excellent ballads “Forgive and Remember” and “Long Gone”.

I already know that vocalist Colin Young’s voice is going to drive some of you away, but stick with it and you’ll see that Gaining Purpose through Passionate Hatred is one of the most well-put together albums from beginning to end of this year. Be it the mournful, booming chorus of “AWOL (State of the Union)”, to the Slayer-esque feel of “The Sound of Pain”, Twitching Tongues make their truly original sound work in so many ways on this record.

Grade: B+

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“AWOL (State of the Union)”, “Kill for You”, “T.F.R.”

Album Review: Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know my Name

Back in early December, tech-death “legends” The Faceless released In Becoming a Ghost, their first new record since 2012’s Autotheism. It was met by a collective “meh” by most, including your friendly neighborhood anthropomorphic cupcake ruler. For all of the cool, interesting things that the band tried to accomplish on the record, they erred on just as many elements. Michael Keene’s clean vocals sounded nasally and weird. There was plenty of technicality, but no groove to provide a foundation for the tracks. The saxophone sounded forced and out of place. Tech-death’s most highly-anticipated release in recent memory landed with a deafening thud.

Where Owls Know my Name, the third album from Pennsylvania’s Rivers of Nihil, is whatRivers of Nihil In Becoming a Ghost would have sounded like had The Faceless written a perfect album rather than fucking it up nearly every step of the way. I love me some tech-death, but I’d never heard a record in the genre that I could genuinely call “perfect” until Rivers of Nihil decided to melt my face off with their new album this week. Every song, ever verse, every guitar solo, every saxophone interlude is pitch perfect, creating an enthralling listen that will be showing up on every “Best of” list at the end of 2018.

Where Owls Know my Name is now, in my opinion, the prime example of what technical death metal should strive to be. From the thunderous, commanding growls to the delicate clean vocals, the punishing riffs to the melodic interludes, Rivers of Nihil has created a complex, fascinating work of art. The musicianship is beyond technically impressive, but at the same time functional in creating a groove/melody for the backbone of each track. You can shred as much as you want to shred, but it doesn’t do any good if it doesn’t fit within the framework of the song: I want an album, not a guitar class. The drumming is aggressive and complex, and the bass and low-end guitar work provide and dissonant backdrop to the already dark and foreboding atmosphere of the record.

Where the album really distances itself from its tech-death peers is through the vocals and lyrics, as I can’t recall many (if any) albums quite as brutal as this that have such clarity in the growls. Granted, the lyrics are well down the list on reasons why I listen to metal, but its certainly nice having the option of paying attention to the words of the song rather than being lost in a wave of “AARRRRGGGGGGRAAAWWWRRRR GGGRREEEEAAWWWHHH!!!!!!”. And just as impressive, the clean vocals, unlike Michael Keene’s shrill whines on In Becoming a Ghost (in case you can’t tell, I’m still kind of bitter about how much that album sucked), fit in seamlessly with the album, adding a delicate balance on the melodic moments of the record.

All three of the singles released before the album came out (“The Silent Life”, “A Home”, “Where Owls Know my Name”) are winners, blending overwhelming brutality with a dark and mysterious atmosphere, all in a package that is both complex and easy to digest. But the album’s strength must be its depth, as there isn’t a weak track on the record. “Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)”, in addition to probably being the longest song title in metal history, belies its own name by introducing sweeping sonic shifts and wild variations in movements over the course of eight and a half captivating minutes, complete with some of the finest saxophone work on the record. Even “Terrestria III: Wither”, and instrumental bridge track, manages to shine, combining yet another beautiful saxophone part with a towering wall of industrial percussion, creating a sound that I can honestly say I’ve never heard before. If you had the time, and if I had the desire, I could easily compile a laundry list of reasons why I love every single track on this record. And the best part? None of those reasons would be the same across the songs. Despite developing an identifiable sound, Rivers of Nihil explore every inch of their sound throughout Where Owls Know my Name, never letting it grow stale or boring.

Since I refuse to just let great things be great, I do have one minor, microscopic gripe with the record. While the saxophone sounds amazing and blends in seamlessly whenever its used, it only really shows up for brief moments on 4-5 tracks. The band may have been protecting against it being seen as too “gimmicky”, it’s surprisingly too good and too perfect for their sound to be used so infrequently. So that’s it. My one issue with this technical death metal masterpiece is that there’s not enough saxophone.

In totality, Where Owls Know my Name is a damn-near perfect album. It is fun, interesting, complex, and expertly made. For all of the great tech-death bands out in the metal world today, Rivers of Nihil has put together what will likely be a seminal work in the genre’s history, illuminating the path to what tech-death is truly capable of.

GRADE: A-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“The Silent Life”, “A Home”, “Where Owls Know my Name”