Category: Metal

No News Is Good News: Is Our City For Sale?

pepsibgAhhhhh! Cold! Refreshing! Corporate!

Yes, who doesn’t enjoy a cold, fizzy soda pop on a hot summer day? From the Jack and Cokes we guzzle at The Nick to the cold Mountain Dews we down in Railroad Park, there’s no doubt our city – like almost every developed city/country in the world – is hopelessly addicted to sweet, sticky sodas. Hell, if health and surviving past the ripe old age of 50 weren’t concerns, I would mainline mounds of sugar via soda on a daily basis. And I’m considered a reserved soda drinker.

So, when the mammoth Pepsi sign atop the Two North Twenty building was quickly announced, installed and settled (according to local government entities, anyway) what right did we, Birmingham area residents, have to get mad? Sure, The Birmingham dot al dot News dot com newspaper website thingy reported eight months earlier that the Birmingham Design Review Committee had flat-out refused the idea more than once. Heck, they even called it a “glorified billboard.” Sick burn, dude!

Yet, like mammoth companies with tons of money and microns of community respect, concern or class commonly do, Pepsi worked and wiggled until their precious (and precocious) sign was “unstoppable.” Our slowly resurging downtown got a shiny new blue rectangle of cockamamie corporate propaganda. SUGAR GODS BE PRAISED! DEATH TO ALL PANCREAS!

I say, good work, city council and mayor! There’s now little doubt that various Birmingham structures are for sell if any impolite but persistent company shows up with enough scratch to keep our local politicians happy. As a concerned citizen (and a proud graduate of Birmingham City Schools), I wanted to do my part and throw out a few more genius advertising ideas.

vulcan

How about slapping some Depends Undergarments on Vulcan? Imagine the revenue streams (ha…streams!) this could generate. With the aging Baby Boomer population, we need to throw this idea on the anvil and strike while the iron is hot. Let’s be honest, Vulcan’s high, round, firm buttocks have long been an embarrassment. This genius idea could actually kill two birds with one stone. It would protect Birmingham’s puritanical reputation and generate clouds of copious cash for local politicians. BUTTCHEEK BOOYAHH!

Next, let’s paint the exterior of the half-empty Cooper-Green Hospital bright blue and make it a museum. The Blue Cross/Blue Shield Museum presents – The Denied Coverage Hall of Fame! See patients suffer! Watch children weep! Track the history of financially decimated families! Yeah, pretty dark, I know. To boost attendance, they’d have to appeal to typical Alabama voters by adding on a special wing – The Horrors of Obamacare! See the death panels in action! Watch as your money is flushed down a toilet! See poor people who might have a different skin color than you receive medical care! OH NO, THE HUMANITY! They could offer a guarantee with admission: “We guarantee local visitors won’t sleep for a week!”

The possibilities are endless. Heck, these are just two ideas I thought up one Saturday morning with a hangover. Imagine the damage a motivated PR firm with pockets full of payoff cash could do to downtown Birmingham. Sell BET the Civil Rights Museum. Attach Larry the Cable Guy billboards to every downtown church. Tear down the Alabama Theater and build another Wal-Mart. Vivid Video presents: Lynn Park. Think of all that sweet revenue potential.

Seriously though, we have all got to wonder how much of Birmingham is for sale? After local leaders smiled and shook hands as these international money makers moved in with impunity, maybe we should all be a bit skeptical. What do local officials define as sacred? What would they turn down? There’s little doubt that downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods are on the verge of dynamite growth. Untouched and pretty much forgotten for many decades, the area now has the potential to become a unique, funky, fun and affordable area. Yet, only if the powers that be make decisions with their heads AND their hearts. For me and many others, Pepsi’s blue monstrosity appears to be the first troubling sign.

 

PHIL’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK

ASG – ‘Blood Drive’

Melodic, punchy rock that avoids all the embarrassing cliches. Having first caught ASG in all their glory opening up for Weedeater at the Bottletree, I didn’t immediately trust them. In the metal world, anyone singing at the top of their ability over catchy riffs is disturbing and suspicious. (Cut to me sipping a PBR: “What are these guys trying to do … become the next Nickelback?) Now, after having seen them live three times and following their last few releases, I get the feeling these guys are sincere. If they were looking for the cash grab, would they still be playing places like Zydeco?

Anyway, iTunes says “Avalanche” is my favorite track from this album, but I think “Day’s Work” is the jewel. Give it a listen:

EDITOR’S NOTE: Phil has been a huge part of our site since 2008. His unique perspective on all things Birmingham make him the perfect sounding board for a regular BHAMFM feature. Like what you’ve read? Send us a shout on Twitter (@bhamfmdotcom) and check back in a few days for more from Phil.

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Yella’Hammer of the Gods: Behemoth’s “The Satanist” is the band’s best, and likely the best of 2014.

Behemoth are, without exaggeration, legends on the metal scene, godfathers of Polish metal, and one of the progenitors of the blackened metal subgenre. Begun in 1991 in the Prussian Gdansk/Danzig area, the band started out mirroring underground brethren, Vader, as well as being shaped by ultra-technical, classically-inspired acts like Morbid Angel. And, yet, the band still managed to release tracks that seemed to be purely black metal.

They were, in short, an excellent band with little direction.

No one wants to pigeon-hole versatile, talented musicians as being solely “riffy, tech-death,” or “thrash-inspired, black metal,” but that’s exactly where Behemoth found themselves for the first decade of their career. But, importantly, those early comparisons are salient as the band matured.

Early Behemoth “From the Pagan Vastlands”

In 2000, despite several successful releases, the band wholly switched gears — lyrically and thematically. Gone were the Germanic neo-pagan overtures. Gone also were the pure Vader-homage death metal tracks. Gone as well were the Satyricon inspired-black metal tunes. Inserted into their stead was an admixture of Eastern harmonies, thrashy riffs, black metal tremolo backing, tech-death virtuosity, bombastic orchestral pieces, and broad-reaching lyrical themes of global, holistic evil. You know what? It paid off. Behemoth moved from being a mainstay of the European underground to something much bigger, much more complete, more complex -and, ultimately, something that spawned the genre of blackened metal.

Classic blackened Behemoth “Ov Fire and the Void”

Enter the past decade, where Behemoth have seen both their most commercial success and their most adversity as persons and musicians, notably ever-rotating members, the trial in Poland for blasphemy, the cancer of front-man Nergal, the seemingly-annual ritual of switching labels. Behemoth, frankly, could not catch a break -even as their albums were more critically and commercially acclaimed. Now, in 2014, and with no small fanfare, we gladly review Behemoth’s latest offering, The Satanist.

It is impossible to soft-sell this record, because, frankly, The Satanist is the finest album that Behemoth has produced in a career spanning two decades –and, honestly, I’m unsure there will be a release in 2014 year this dynamic and musically satisfying.

Beginning with the intro track, the much-hyped and previewed “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel,” you are treated to a bridge release that musically falls between the above-linked classical blackened track “Ov Fire and The Void” and the rest of the album’s secrets.

“Gabriel” demonstrates Behemoth’s concerted effort to pay attention to groove, to let the backbeat shine, to

emphasize bass lines, to show off Nergal’s vocal range, to ramp up the orchestration (including metal-as-fuck French Horn lines), and -above all -to slow down and let the song take the lead. The effect is nothing short of remarkable and, impressively, it endures through every track of The Satanist.

Behemoth’s “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel”

Are there black metal passages on the record? Absolutely. But, even as 2009’s Evangelion seemed to move Behemoth more towards black metal, Satanist takes a different tack, with black metal pedal tones as a backbeat to a grooving rhythm section. But, when those black metal phrases do arrive, they absolutely crush. The moments of cold bleakness serve as the foundation for something darker and heavier, as the balance of the album, and especially the more memorable moments, are far slower and more disciplined. The production is a little less slick than in years past; the bass far more prominent; and the guitars are masterful.

You can tell that Behemoth put careful thought into the arrangement of the album. As the album begins with “Gabriel,” some of the Evangelion themes yields to the hateful “Furor Divinus,” a mostly black metal track that would would be at home on early Cradle of Filth releases. “Furor” thematically continues into most of Track 3, “Messe Noire.” Then, at 2:50 of “Messe”, magic happens: The album slows down, and Nergal unleashes what can only be described as a soulful guitar solo. It is so random, so unexpected that you find yourself listening again and again. “Messe” then transitions seemlessly to “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer,” which (as with “Furor” and “Gabriel”), is sonically related to the prior track, including more truly phenomenal guitar passages.

It is the second half of Satanist that takes the album and the band in another direction entirely. The title track, for instance, is a clear homage to early first wave black metal, such as Venom or Bathory, with the unique tech-death melody that Behemoth have become known for. After the initial blues-based lead, the blast beats kick in, the French Horns dissonantly arrive and the riffs become contemporary blackened metal. This pattern is somewhat repeated in the closing track “O Father O Satan O Sun!” But, no where is “Behemoth 3.0” more evident than in the penultimate track, “In the Absence Ov Light,” which features an acoustic bridge, spoken parts, NWOBHM rhythm sections, and razor-cold tremolo picking.

I cannot emphasize what a tour de force this is for one of metal’s most respected acts. Whatever Behemoth was doing for the past 10-15 years as a “blackened” band is now dead and gone. The Satanist is either the very best the subgenre will offer or (more likely) something wholly different; this is much creepier, much more satisfying; it is an unsettling and truly evil album. The Satanist is not merely Behemoth’s best release -although it is that. The Satanist is, like Slayer’s Reign in Blood, something that the metal community will revere in twenty years as a watershed moment.

Behemoth 2.0 created blackened metal.

We need entirely new adjectives for what Behemoth 3.0 has done on The Satanist.

BHAMFM’S Metal Year in Review 2013

2013 was an amazing year for metal, particularly among the experimental and doom metal genres. Here are the ones that grabbed my ear and wallet. Enjoy.

 METALYIR

TOP TEN:

Windhand – Soma (classic doom metal)

Amazingly depressive, sludge doom with haunted, distant vocals, heavy-as-hell guitars and a backbeat that ties together songs that are just long enough to get the job done. In a genre rife with Sabbath knockoffs, Windhand have carved their own niche and do so without the weed affectations most modern doom acts seem to rely upon. This might be the best pure doom metal album of the year. Enjoy Windhand’s “Orchid” (official)

 

Wine from Tears – Glad to be Dead (gothic metal)

If you like the Peaceville Three, mid-period Draconian or latter Lacrimas Profundere, you’ll love Russia’s Wine from Tears. Following on the heels of the excellent “Through the Eyes of a Mad,” this release keeps some of the doom-death spirit of the earlier work, while intentionally paying tribute to the Peaceville gang (Hell, WFT even covers My Dying Bride’s “Light at the End of the World.”) These are some seriously sad tunes, tastefully done. Not particularly original, to be sure, but what WFT do, they do very well. Enjoy Wine From Tear’s “What Are You Waiting For”

 

My Dying Bride – A Map of All Our Failures/The Manuscript (atmospheric doom-death)

Speaking of the Peaceville Three, what can be said about My Dying Bride other than the fact that, like a 2005 La Rasina Brunello di Montalcino, they get better with age the more we try to place them in the cellar. Map and Manuscript are exactly what we come to expect from MBD: prog chords and progressions, thematic harmonies that weave the album into a coherent tapestry, silence and sparing guitar lines, the trademark dissonant violin parts, and of course the lyrical pathos that makes MDB not just a band with great lyrics, but poets of the first order. I love this band, and I love these albums. Enjoy “The Manuscript”…caveat it’s 27 minutes long, but absolutely worth it.

Suffocation – Pinnacle of Bedlam (classic death metal)

Speaking of legends, it was a very good year for the old standard bearers. One that was perhaps overlooked with the Carcass and Voivod releases was the new Suffocation album. This ain’t tech death kids; this is rawly visceral hatefucking. In 38 minutes, on ten tracks, Suffocation lays waste to the experimental DM scene. The songs are recorded so aggressively, that you can hear the bass slap back on flesh, and the guitar notes go sharp as they’re being pounded. Juxtaposed with the gargled glass vocals and the mechanized drum tone, and you have one of the year’s best albums. Enjoy Suffocation’s “My Demise” (IMO, the most brutal track on an exceptionally brutal album)

 

Aborym – Dirty (experimental black metal/industrial)

This is the soundtrack for the apocalypse, and easily one of the heaviest, most interesting albums of the year. Descriptively, Aborym are an Italian orchestral black metal band with scads of industrial music thrown in to complete a sound that may not be music so much as the noise of a dying world. Without losing my metal cred, suffice it to say that having a drummer of note like Bard both play live drums and program percussive parts is -for lack of a better word, just plain neat. It works. Like DHG, and now Aborym, the admixture of musicians both playing and programming what they would otherwise play, is likely to be the next wave of heavy music. And, when done well, you get a fantastic album like “Dirty.” Enjoy Aborym’s “Raped by Daddy,” which is creepy as hell, and showcases just about everything the album has to offer.

 

Lightning Swords of Death – Baphometic Chaosium (blackend/black)

Oh, you know, just your run of the mill, decade-long, overnight sensation. LSoD are modern black metal/blackend band playing both genres at an extremely competent level. But, LSoD do not hail from the cold shores of Norway, or the bleak Swedish forests; they’re from LA, dispelling the notion that Americans generally, and SoCal specifically, don’t “get it.” Baphometic Chaosium is stylistically  similar to the melodic modern black metal acts like Immortal or Emperor, with all the Hail Satan of Gorgoroth, yet, they combine the virtuosity and (GASP) lead guitar work of blackend metal like Behemoth. Don’t let the cheesy name or the hometown fool you, this is a fantastic band, a fantastic record, and it’s damned good to see LSoD finally get the acclaim they deserve: The Devil loves this album. Enjoy LSoD’s title track “Baphometic Chaosium” (official).

Nekrogoblikon – power (experimental extreme)

I know that I said Aborym put out one of the most interesting albums of 2013. The reason it’s not the most interesting is because Nekrogoblikon exists, and power was released this year. There is no way to describe this band that does them justice. They are fabulous musicians that combine damned near every musical convention, while simultaneously shattering them. I could say that Nekrogoblikon are a melange of nu metal, grindcore, prog rock, cabaret and melodic death metal and that would mean nothing. Suffice it to say, this is a risk-taking album, by an act that is criminally under-appreciated  -and are also well known for high energy, gonzo live shows a la Slipknot. That said, check out the rest of the catalog at  http://nekrogoblikon.bandcamp.com and thank me later. For now, enjoy Nekrogoblikon’s “Powercore,” with particular attention to the metal accordion!

 

Blood Red Throne – Blood Red Throne (extreme death)

Combining the extreme metal of grindcore, dark metal themes, and a guitar tone straight from the bowels of Entombed, this album takes no zero prisoners. Strap yourself in and prepare for unreal speed, lethality and some of the most hateful vocals you’ll ever hear. The real fun starts when the band slows down and unleashes amazing riffs that you can’t help but thrash around to. Enjoy Blood Red Throne’s “Deatholation” which has one of the heaviest verse riffs you’ll hear all year. Fans of Vader will dig this.

 

Carcass – Surgical Steel (tech-death)

After a forever-hiatus, the progenitors (with Death) of the tech-death genre, and the band that made you grab your thesaurus in the 1990s, returned with what can only be described as a masterpiece of song-writing, execution, and a complete game-changer. I could review it, but honestly, no words need to be added to the many excellent reviews already out there. Musically, it bridges the gap between Heartwork and the (to many) disappointing Swan Song. Logically, it should have been an album produced 15 years ago. Better late than never, and we are damned fortunate to have Carcass back. Enjoy Carcass’ “Wraith in the Apparatus,” which does not appear on the UK/US release.

 

Deicide – In the Mind of Evil (classic death metal)

After spending the better part of a decade meandering through mediocre albums and apparent boredom, Deicide dropped a late-year release on us that, frankly, didn’t get nearly the attention or love it should have. This album is, depending on your tastes, one of the quintessential Deicide albums. Glen Benton, chugging along with God/Daddy issues for 20 years now, still has it: the lyrics and delivery are as vengeful as you’d ever hope for. The guitars and riffs are simply amazing, addictive and have an instinctive thrashability to them. The drums, if anything, have gotten faster over the years. Along with Suffocation and Blood Red Throne, this is the most hook-laden, catchy album of the year. Deicide is back…though I’m not sure they ever went anywhere. Enjoy Deicide’s “Thou Begone (official)”

BEST OF THE YEAR (TIE):

Mourning Beloveth – Formless (melodic doom-death)

In a fantastic year for doom metal and depressive albums, Mourning Beloveth -long considered one of the very best of the genre, released what may be their defining album. These are five brilliant tracks, each one thematically-strong, and each one carried out to its logical and musical resolution. The lyrical content, long a MB staple, has -if anything- gotten smarter, far more poetic. “Nothing has a Centre” has one of the most moving descriptions of fading, slow death, and a reintegration into the circular firing-squad of people-as-organic-life:

The hollow of night drifts like the slowest sea of all
the edges failed every fragment rushed away
thrown around the centrifuge of space
disintegrating set of cells disintegrate space
woven back together with chemical thread
cord which makes us live

While not as heavy as Dust or Circus, the expansion of Darren’s vocal range, and increased clean-tone guitars, make the power chords even more powerful when the distortion does kick in. And, as with My Dying Bride, the drums are amazing, filling sonic space yet simultaneously creating a negative space which makes the moments of silence all the more fulfilling. If there is any band lying in wait for the Peaceville Crown, it is Mourning Beloveth, and particularly this album. Beyond merely satisfying, Formless is an emotional marathon, not a sprint.

Enjoy Mourning Beloveth’s “Ethics on the Precipice”

 

Stomach Earth (funeral)

Bleak. Unsettling. Inhuman. Helpless. Crushing. Haunting.

There is simply no way to describe Stomach Earth’s exceptionally powerful, dark eponymous debut, nor can you really pigeonhole a genre for this Mike McKenzie one-man project. The beats are plodding, thunderous; the guitars intentionally atonal; and then the vocals…my god, the vocals. It doesn’t matter what McKenzie is saying, suffice it to say that it hurts, he hurts. The juxtaposition of these elements, punctuated by its sometimes near-tender moments (as on the track “Claimed”), makes every second of vast aching the more-powerful. And when the tracks are not slowly grinding you into a font of despair, they are -frankly, just plain frightening.

I really wish words could justice to the awful and disquieting soundscape that is Stomach Earth, but I don’t think that I -or anyone, truly can. Some bands speak of the dank cold of the grave, of angry loss, of the press of the soil around your decay…but this is what it sounds likes.

This album is a dead child’s bedroom, untouched for all years yet still decorated for moments long ago.

We’ve never heard anything this stark, and frankly I doubt we will again.

 

Enjoy (?) Stomach Earth‘s “Void Angel Ritual.”

TEN HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Gorguts Colored Sands (avant garde tech-death, reviewed previously);

Ihsahn Das Seelenbrechen (melodic black metal from Emperor guitarist Ihsahn);

Altar of Plagues Teethed Glory and Injury (post-black metal)

Panoptic/Vestiges Split EP (Blackgrass, see BHAM FM’s review of Kentucky for an idea what you’re getting into);

Nails Abandon All Life (hardcore-sludge)

Red Fang Whales and Leeches (hard rock);

Voivod Target Earth (progger-than-thou; not for everyone, but a good, if mixed, record)

Agrimonia Rites of Separation (post-metalcore/sludge-crust)

Cathedral (stoner/doom…good news, less stoner, more early doom a la “Forest Equilibrium”).

Lycus Tempest (blackened-funeral doom)

 

FIVE OVERRATED ONES:

Deafheaven Sunbather (overindulgent, feigned post-black metal/shoegaze)

Intronaut Habitual Levitations (Meshuggah clone is Meshuggah-ish)

Gorguts Colored Sands (yup, it makes both lists)

Ghost B.C. Infestissumam (I liked it better when Blue Oyster Cult did it)

Black Sabbath 13 (This breaks my heart, but Sabbath died a decade before Dio did).

Yella’Hammer of the Gods review: Reptilian Death’s “Dawn of Consummation and Emergence”! Brutality Is Fun Again!

In the 1990s heyday of Death Metal, even the most gore-drenched, death-obsessed bands wrote albums with songs that were just plain fun. Obituary’s “Slowly We Rot,” Cannibal Corpse’s “The Bleeding,” and Sepultura’s “Beneath the Remains” are all good examples. These were albums packed with energetic tracks, great riffs, tasty reverb drums, and vocals that deemphasized lyrical content -using the throat as an instrument of aggression instead. Whether those guys were sharing their vision of dystopia, sexual acts with household implements, or putrescent bodies festering in drainage ditches, the music still had the the pure joy of rock and roll done well.

But with any emergent music, seminal bands soon get lost in the forest of derivative acts, over-saturation sets in, and death metal is no different. The “purity” of the early works was replaced by “brutality” one-upsmanship, and the technical musicianship that was always part of the genre soon became the end itself, and not merely a means to writing great songs. In short, even as death metal grew, it grew stale. And, for fifteen years or more, the genre muddled along with very few new bands distinguishing themselves. For the rest of the scene, we all just sat back, listened to the new Meshuggah, and waited for signs of life.

In Reptilian Death, a phoenix of sorts rises from one of metal’s more obscure outposts, Mumbai, India in the shape of the simply excellent “The Dawn of Consummation and Emergence.” Dormant for almost a decade, Reptilian Death is a side project of Sahil “Demonstealer” Makhija (of Demonic Resurrection). Dawn is actually only the second full-length RD release. Given the landscape of metal over the past few years, and the lag in releases, Dawn can be considered a de facto debut. But, whether you call it a rebirth of Reptilian Death or a nouveau-debut, Dawn is one damned good record.

The secret to enjoying Dawn is to go into the experience armed with the knowledge that not a single thing you hear on the album is new: it does not break any ground, nor does it even attempt to do so. While RD may be classified a tech-death band, the record seems to have painstakingly steered clear of the tech-death fetishes of bands like Cryptopsy. In fact, the charm of Dawn is that it does not skinny dip into the ’90s death metal standards so

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much as it enthusiastically cannonballs into the deep end…right down to the album structure itself.

The throwback tone is set with the intro track, “Primevil,” a very short dark martial chant hearkening back to Malevolent Creation’s decade-old “Death March.” Not only is the tone of the album set here, but you get the first taste of vocalist of Vinay Venkatesh. For a guy who looks like he’d be at home in a mild-mannered folkie coffee shop, lord, does he have a great death metal voice: Falsetto screech, anguished cries, gutteral growls, decent sense of harmony, and, perhaps best of all, the ability to distract from the lyrics (more on that later).

“Primevil” yields to the punkishly-short “Inchoate,” with it’s intro progression being very much an homage to old Machinehead, and its main verse riff and bridge drums that would be at home on a mid-period Deicide album. It is only on the next song, “Stimulate, Hike, Impel, Tear,” where the more tech-aspects of the band comes through. Even then, as with other tracks on the album, these geekier moments blend organically with and naturally compliment the triplet-heavy guitar riffs of Demonstealer and session wiz Nishith Hedge. And, when the guitar parts are not moving along the funkier mathcore moments, Demonstealers’ drumwork is. No where is this more obvious on “Distorted by Bondage, Blood and Bestiality.”

But, the record reaches it’s climax -both compositionally and in sheer joy, with the infectious penultimate track “Marvelous Gods – The Apple of My Eye.” Like most of the songs on Dawn, you find your self unconsciously bobbing your head while doing the dishes or tapping along with the beat on your steering wheel.

All the praise aside, Dawn is not without its flaws. First, the mix -though beautifully done, may betoo beautiful. The guitars have a great tone and punch, and the drums are flawless, but if there’s a bass holding things down, you very rarely hear it. Bassist Ashwin Shriyan, must be the conflicted because the album was so very well done, but you can barely hear his playing. Second, the lyrical content is never going to win a Pulitzer. If there is any area where Reptilian Death lacks maturity it is in the words that Vinkatesh is actually growling. To wit: “Now open your scrotum and shower us down. / With blood, semen and poison. / We drink your seed, your elixir of truth. / Rancid and fecal, fit for a brute.”Is it brutal? Sure. Could RD do better? Absolutely. Then again, the argument is to be made that the intentional gonzo lyrics are just another homage to classic death metal bands like Carcass or Dying Fetus.

These are minor quibbles, however, when weighed against all the things that Reptilian Death do well. When Dawn’s forty furious minutes have ended, you’re left with the distinct impression that this is a band, and an album, that did not forget -despite its over-the-top ethos, that death metal is rock and roll; it is meant to kick your ass with adrenaline and leave you spent and smiling at the end of the day. This is ultimately a record you will come back to again and again.

Yella’hammer of the Gods: Gorguts ‘Colored Sand’: A Single Release with Two Faces

First, Carcass, now Gorguts. If nothing else, 2013 will be remembered as the year of metal legends finally releasing new material.
gorguts_logo_0
Gorguts, the Quebecois tech-death band consisting of Luc Lemay and umpteen stand-ins, do not disappoint with the 2013 release Colored Sands (Season of Mist/EMI) There is indeed a little something here for those who want mathcore , as well as those who want technically-superb death metal. Therein lies the problem: This is functionally two albums. And, if taken as a split-EP, you’ll be very pleased…with half of it. However, if you are looking for a coherent musical thread, something bands like Godflesh or My Dying Bride do very well, you will be disappointed.

First, assessing the positives, the album is beautifully produced, and -as you would expect, the musicianship is nothing less than superb. The mix is perhaps one of the best you’ll hear this year. The drums are crisp, if not a bit on the tinny side. The guitars are synchronously layered upon one another with zero overlap; they are loud; and they are panned tastefully without drowning out other instruments. This is particularly important given the hypertechnical style of metal Gorguts plays (as well as the talent on impressive display elsewise). That said, I’d still have liked to hear more bottom to the guitars. Lemay’s vocals are clear, not overly-processed, and set center-rear in the mix, instead of front-and-center, providing an extra punch to the backbeat. But, far and away, the bass-work in this album is gorgeous. Colin Marston absolutely holds this album together. The walking lines bring groove to otherwise sterile riffs, and, indeed, the best tracks on this album, his thundering slaps shine.

Sadly, not everything on the release lives up to the impressive auditory quality of the mix, or the virtuosity of the members (and, unusual for a Gorguts album, guys other than Lemay take a prominent role in some song-writing). As noted previously, this album is thematically best thought of as two releases: The first “EP” includes the first four cuts (and the final track), and it is absolutely brilliant; the second “EP” is comprised of the back half of the album, and, while it has its flashes, leaves you feeling flat, and is mediocre at best.

The first half of the album, a bit more down-tempo, is far more atmospheric, and as expected, heavy as hell. What makes the first songs on the release so delicious are the subtle flavours to choose from, all woven with a compositional theme. Beginning with the vocal-laden “Le Toit du Monde,” through the riffy “Ocean of Wisdom”, and on to the hellishly eclectic “Colored Sands,” the musicianship and craftsmanship is superb. But, nowhere does the combination of groove, precision and lethality take form more than in the Marston-composed “Forgotten Arrows.” While the entire song is brilliant, the complete devastation really begins at the 3:36 mark.

Unfortunately, as amazing as the first half of Colored Sands is, the second half is just as average-to-bad. Lemay previously stated that he wanted to do more classical composition this time around, and much like Opeth, really emphasize longer run times to let the song direct itself as it will. While I appreciate that musicians mature, and songwriting evolves, in this case, the mistakes are palpable. The true downturn of the album comes at the approximate half-way point, with the wholly bland, neo-orchestral “Battle of Chambdo.” Orchestral pieces are not new to tech-death, or even metal in general. But, to be kind, this track is just a mistake. It is a milquetoast affair when set against other pieces which are compositionally simplistic, such as Morgoth’s “Darkness” (Odium 1991, Century Media).

Moving beyond that particular mistake, Colored Sands has so much sheer self-indulgence that it makes many songs tepid at best, and at worst, unpalatable. In some respects, although not musically, Gorguts’ vanity mirrors “djent” acts like TesseracT or Meshuggah. To call it musical masturbation is both unkind and apt. The latter half of Colored Sands is a guitarist’s wet dream, technically and compositionally solid, but ultimately tedious. The worst of the egoism probably comes in the light-jazz-meets-old school-Morbid Angel track “Absconders.” This meandering song includes so many open chord slides, jazz vamping and arpeggios that Al Di Meola had to hit the bunk. Alas, it starts ruthlessly, then everything goes to complete shit. If you cannot make it through the nine-plus minutes, that is forgivable, but, really, all you need to hear are the 90 seconds that begins at 3:40…

All in all, Lemay and crew are to be applauded for releasing new material that is sometimes fresh, occasionally brutal, and above all that retains the chops we expect from Gorguts. That said, for a 12-year layoff, the album feels rushed at times, as though quite a few songs were simply thrown in to add to the album’s length. Even worse, there are very few songs that “pop;” no one is going to say that any song on this album is the best in their discography. Is Colored Sands worth owning? That depends on if you’re a musician’s musician. But, for the casual listener, this is not going to do very much for you, or do it often enough, to justify the expense.

Hitting Hellfest from your couch

Man, I love the Internet. Is there no end to the awesome stuff on this seemingly endless series of tubes? Though it is all a marketing cliché now, we all find webpages that excite, interest and (ahem) stimulate us. And while we’re all a bit callous to social media and online sharing now, there are still some surprises to be found on the wild and wooly Internets.

My latest honey hole, if you will, is Hellfest’s VIMEO video channel. Just sitting there waiting on suburban dads that woke up way too early on a Saturday morning are 21 Hellfest performance videos from some of today’s best metal bands. Heck, they’re even in HD…assuming you can afford that type of bandwidth.

Below are five of my favorites, and conveniently enough, they are all bands that I can tie into the musical history of Birmingham, AL.

 

NEUROSIS

Oh man, this is a burner. From Hellfest 2013, this video is almost 27 minutes and includes only three songs. That lets you know what to expect. Here, the band treats us to one older track plus two tracks off their latest album, ‘Honor Found In Decay.’

Though I made the trek to Atlanta to see NEUROSIS in all their seething, doomy glory late last December, I was happy to see/hear the band play without 20 sweaty beardies under each armpit. I kid, I kid! I think you guys all look great with those long Amish beards, and I’m with you – who actually needs to wear deodorant or put on clean clothes in 2013? Definitely not NEUROSIS fans, I can tell you that!

Birmingham: Though NEUROSIS has made the big time now playing only festivals and one-off gigs around the world, they actually have a long history of playing the Magic City. From what I’ve seen, they played Tuxedo Junction twice back in the punk days, they played some goofy club downtown on the ‘Enemy of the Sun’ tour (I was there!) and they played at (I think) 5 Points Music Hall on the ‘Through Silver In Blood’ tour. A friend once cornered Steve Von Till when they opened for Pantera in Atlanta, and Von Till had nothing but fine things to say about our fair city. I dream of a sold-out show for the band in the small side of Workplay, but I’m weird like that.

 

THOU

This is why I love European metal festivals – a band that plays basements in the U.S. can fly over to Europe and make decent scratch playing to thousands of drunk music fans. Make that money in 2012, son! I’m assuming you’ve never heard of THOU. Well, what are you waiting for? Click play, just take an antidepressant first.

Yep, all down-tuned gloom and tortured growling all the time. I’m not sure how you even tune a guitar that low, but whatever, man. THOU hails from Baton Rogue, LA, and they have an exhaustively thorough website. There you can learn anything you’ve ever wanted to know about the band and download a good bit of their discography for free. They are evidently huge NIRVANA fans and have done a few covers, so check those out as well.

Birmingham: I caught THOU at The Firehouse back when it was still called The Firehouse. I had heard the Internet chatter, and it ended up being one of those sets that I wished would never end. Once the gurgling began, I was awestruck at how something so ugly and unwieldy could tickle my brain stem in such a pleasant way. “You keep hitting that ride cymbal nice and slow, you keep screaching and you guys keep those guitars rumbling…I’m going to stand here and contemplate the beautiful cruelty of life.” THOU tours less than they used to, but rest assured, if they ever play Birmingham again I will get on BhamFM.com and gush like a 13-year-old Bieber fan after three Redbulls.

 

WITCHCRAFT

Do you guys/gals like hard rock? I mean, do you really, really like hard rock? Cool. Me too. I only ask because the last WITCHCRAFT album was fucking awesome. Basically, after a handful of albums where the band stayed within their restrictive ‘rip off PENTAGRAM’ framework, ‘Legend’ really surprised me.

After signing with Nuclear Blast and going through some lineup changes, the band came out with ‘Legend,’ a well-written, polished (I’m going to say it) masterpiece. A complicated but poppy album packed with killer riffs that were actually helped by the clean production. This 42-minute live set from 2013 highlights a number of songs from ‘Legend,’ and even though the drummer is wearing funny pants, I give it an enthusiastic seven thumbs up.

Birmingham: WITCHCRAFT played the Bottletree, and I didn’t fucking go. What is wrong with me? Do I have brain damage? Okay, it was a long time ago, and the band was relatively unknown. At that point, I’d only heard a song or two. But, I’m still kicking myself in the ass over this one. A roving band of PENTAGRAM loving Swedes played my local rock club, but I was too busy cussing at my dog and watching Pawn Stars to go. Damn, kill me now. How can one metal fan be so short-sighted and ignorant? Don’t be like me, kids. Go see every band, every time!

 

KYLESA

Speaking of the Bottletree, KYLESA are playing there in just over a week, and I’m tickled pink. Another Hellfest video band, another great new album. I’ve been swimming in the second side of ‘Ultraviolet’ for months now. Psychedelic, sweet and crushing, I love this band even more as they shuffle, evolve and transform. I’m sure there are KYLESA fans out there complaining that the band has left most of their early hardcore and crust sound behind, but I’m not one of them.

If you’re like most red-blooded music fans in America, you spent at least six months soaking in PINK FLOYD albums as a teenager. Their influence has been huge in the metal world, especially lately. Other than BLACK SABBATH, I don’t think there is a classic rock band that has had a heavier effect on metal bands throughout the years. In fact, their influence can be traced through the years on bands like VOIVOD, NEUROSIS, KYLESA and now a whole new generation of doom and shoegaze metallers.

Birmingham: They’re coming back to Bottletree on Oct 2. They’re coming back to Bottletree on Oct 2.They’re coming back to Bottletree on Oct 2. Go buy a ticket. Go buy a ticket. Go buy a ticket. – This is not a sponsored post. I bought a ticket a while back because if this show sold out and I couldn’t get in, I would have cried for a solid month. I’m pretty sure that my wife would have left me.

 

THE MELVINS

OMG you guys, 62 minutes of THE MELVINS squeezing your soul like a tube of toothpaste. This is a set I’ve actually watched more than once. The four-man lineup of the band featuring both members of BIG BUSINESS (two drummers, ya’ll!) lurches through a fantastic set. Dudes from other bands actually crowd the side of the stage to watch these sludge mavens bang out 16-tracks of tar-soaked goodness.

Speaking of a band that’s influenced thousands, the world could pile heaps of fame, money and accolades on THE MELVINS for the next 30 years, and it still wouldn’t be enough. In my mind, there is no overstating this band’s impact on music over the past 30 years. From hardcore, to grunge, to doom, to noise…this band has influenced every scene. This is especially strange considering their unassuming approach to the music business. At times grumpy and obtuse, at times happy and copacetic, these old goats still got it.

Birmingham: If there’s a touring rock band that’s played Birmingham more than THE MELVINS, I’ve never heard of them. I can’t even begin to type up an exhaustive list of their Birmingham gigs, so I’ll tell you about my first experience with the band instead. I had tried to get into THE MELVINS twice in the early 1990s. Dead ears, dumb brain, sluggish development…whatever the cause I had traded the CDs in and moved on to something more palatable.

In 1996, I tried again with ‘Stag’ and a friend and I decided to check out their set at The Nick. It was a Wednesday night: I had a midterm the next day and my buddy had to be at work at 6 a.m. We showed up knowing there was no opening band. ‘Cool, we’ll get out of here early.’ Uh, no. Since there was no opening band, the members of THE MELVINS switched up instruments and played a clunky improv set. It might have been 20 minutes, but it felt like three hours. Brought low by our responsibilities and pissed about the whole episode, we left before the main set even started and talked endless shit for months. I didn’t end up being a full THE MELVINS convert until the 2000s when my beloved Internet allowed me to fully explore their back catalog. If you choose to follow my lead, here’s a little friendly advice: Don’t even bother with ‘Prick’ or ‘The Crybaby,’ and the new ‘Everybody Loves Sausages’ ain’t so hot either. Sorry, guys.

So there it is. Waste a day of your life watching these high-quality metal videos like I did. All the cool olds are doing it. Sorry, but I gotta split. I found QUEEN’s ‘Jazz’ on vinyl at the Roebuck thrift store yesterday. I’m gonna go listen to that like four times in a row.

BHAMFM SUPERPOST #2: More of Our Writers Give Their Show Picks

JOSHUA MATTHEW‘S PICKS:

Screaming Females, Waxahatchee, Tenement, The Urns – Bottletree – Friday, September 20th

Waxahatchee/Screaming Females/Tenement/The Urns at Bottletree on September 20th Poster by yours truly

This show is bringing it hard on all fronts. Screaming Females are a great female fronted punk group that kicks major ass. Waxahatchee is Birmingham’s own Katie Crutchfield baring her soul and getting worldwide attention in the process (as seen on Pitchfork, Spin, the rest of the internet!). Tenement basically sound like The Replacements, Guided by Voices, and Husker Du got into a bar fight and the audience won. And finally, The Urns are Birmingham’s newest best band. They sound like the Pixies, Weezer, and Built to Spill were cast to be on a musical version of The Real World and locked in a dilapidated punk house until they wrote the best album you’ll hear in 2013.

Pianos Become The Teeth, United Nations, Code Orange Kids, Wild Moth – The Forge – Monday, November 4th

Pianos Become The Teeth are playing Birmingham for the 4th time, and the first time as a headliner. Every time they’ve played they’ve blown me away more. When they were just in town with Tigers Jaw, no moment in the entire show was as hard hitting as their performance of “Hiding” from their split 7” with Touche Amore. They mix emotional hardcore and screamo in just the right proportions so that it never become stale or annoying. United Nations started out as a vanity screamo project for Geoff Rickley, lead singer of the former “next big thing” candidates Thursday. It seems like they’re an actual band since Thursday finally (wisely) decided to hang it up. Code Orange Kids will make you mosh like you still thought it was 2006. In a really, really good way. This show is all ages, and starts early. Be sure to show up on time (6PM!) if you want to see all the bands.

 

CULTURE CZAR‘S PICKS

Sigur Ros, October 4th, BJCC : If you’d told me a decade ago that Sigur Ros would be playing in Birmingham, I’d have laughed in your face. Our little city is growing up though y’all and we’re no longer skipped over by the giants of indie art rock. The glacially paced Icelandic band will bring its soaring songs to the Magic City Theatre (a modified BJCC arena) the first week of October. Having seen them a few times already, this is literally one of the most significant “can’t miss it” performances to roll through Birmingham in a while. The Kveikur tour is their first swing through the Southeast in a looooong time. Don’t skip it, there’s no telling when/if they’ll be back.

Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds – October 15th – Bottletree

Kid Congo is an alumnus of three incredible and legendary bands: The Cramps, The Gun Club, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. If that resume doesn’t get you excited for this show, then there’s no hope for you. Not only does he boast a hell of a past, his current band The Pink Monkey Birds provides incredibly well crafted tunes that stand well on their own without knowledge of his past endeavors. See a still vital piece of rock history in Birmingham’s favorite tiny little club.

Video for Conjure Man

Jacuzzi Boys – October 28th – Bottletree

Iggy Pop once endorsed the Jacuzzi Boys by roughly saying that they’re an incredible band with a stupid name and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. They’re a spectacularly vibrant garage rock band from Miami that will absolutely reduce you to rubble live with the slightly poppy edge around their crusty garage swagger. Always a fun show.

Video for Glazin’

Chelsea Light Moving – October 30th – Bottletree

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth playing at Bottletree. What in the hell else do you need to know?

Live performance on KEXP

 

 

King Khan & The Shrines – November 5th – Bottletree

Sweet mercy I love garage rock and the million variants it provides. King Khan is a shamanic multilingual French-Canadian Indian version of James Brown. Yes, it’s every bit as awesome as it sounds.

Video for Land of the Freak

 

ADAM’S PICKS

WASHED OUT – November 6 at Iron City ($15 adv/$18 day of show)

Ride the chillwave and imagine new worlds, as Ernest Greene’s “Paracosm” encourages you to do through its title. At first, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about watching one guy and his computers and synths, but a quick peek at KCRW’s website revealed Ernest with a full band bringing his lush soundscapes to life. Also, Portlandia! Tickets went on sale and they haven’t sold out…yet. Once Birmingham figures out they can see “that Portlandia band” (no, not Cat Nap…sadly), you may need to see about getting on the list or showing your goodies to the door guys, because–unless you’re Grover applying to Shooting Star Preschool–you might not get in otherwise.

SIGUR ROS – October 4 at Magic City Theatre @ BJCC ($42 before fees)

I’m breaking the rules a bit by picking a show at a major mainstream venue, but I can’t not recommend one of my favorite bands and one of the most emotional live music experiences I’ve had. The official band website describes the show as an 11-piece band, which is three more members than what I’ve seen twice (the original four-piece plus the female string quartet who also perform independently as Amina), indicating we are now seeing the remaining trio plus a double string octet, so you are guaranteed layers upon layers of sonic beauty. Pray that they play “Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa” (Good Weather for an Airstrike) for the extended silent break (about 3:30 on the original track): you will swear that time is standing still. I heard it has moved grown men to tears. I might not have heard that. It might have actually happened to me. Shut up.


MENOMENA/THE HELIO SEQUENCE – October 8, Bottletree ($15)

Here we have a double-header of double-headed bands: that is, two bands that are just two guys in the studio (although Menomena is performing as either a four- or five-piece, if their Late Night or KEXP performances, respectively, are any indication of what to expect on the tour). Both hail from Portland, where the dream of the 90’s is alive, and it’s evident in their earlier material. Both have new albums released this month: Menomena “Moms” and The Helio Sequence “Negotiations”. Both new albums are both bands’ fifth full-lengths (fun fact!: the first Menomena album is an anagram for its title “I Am the Fun Blame Monster!”).

Menomena (doot doo dododo) are an experimental duo, cutting and pasting tracks together with a looping program the band calls “Deeler” that keeps the songwriting process democratic as the musicians improvise over click tracks and drums and email ideas back and forth until a multitude of instruments combine to constitute the final product. I’m new to the Menomena phenomenon (say that five times fast), but I have been hopelessly hooked on The Helio Sequence since I heard their “Com Plex” album through a former bandmate. Back then, they were more reliant on electronics and samples delivered with a bratty swagger akin to The Blood Brothers (check out their anthemic “(square) bubbles” for a sample). Now, they have matured into a lush, reverby guitar+drum duo where the samples serve to add texture and layer the songs rather than be the foundation of them. Short version: get there EARLY.

 

ERIK‘S PICKS

I’m really pumped about several shows. The headliner –which just ended this week, was the rare Amon Amarth U.S. appearance (with Carcass!!!). Great, tight, live act, and a good band to immerse yourself into, if you don’t think too deeply.

In the technical death/death-grind category, Dying Fetus headlines with two other top-end acts: Exhumed, Devourment. They will be in Atlanta on Oct. 6 for those wanting a great, sweaty pit show.

Finally, you’re gonna have to log some miles, but there is a simply amazing lineup in Orlando on 11/20: Sepultura, Anciients, and Kataklysm (if you’ve not heard the last, it is pure thrash/death a la Full Blown Chaos). And, for a review spoiler, if you can make it Little Rock on September 30, Virginia doom-masters Witchhand will be playing. Hell, skip the review, listen to their SoundCloud here.