OK, it’s February. So sue me. Not like much worthwhile has been released in the past 4 months anyways. I had two reviews half written for the longest time. The file actually says “November record reviews” and I left it that way so I’d know what a fuck I am for not getting it together. I’ve also got a “best of” list of 2010 written. I’ve just lacked the time to put them together with pictures and stuff. I decided to hold off until I could get something written for the new Devil’s Blood album, since it’s probably the first release in a long time that deserves mention in this column. Before any more water passes under the bridge though…
Now THIS kinda record is the reason I do this column. There was a time when people described something that was psychologically taxing as “heavy” and that is how the term should be used in context of discussion concerning this band. In that regard, The Devil’s Blood are probably the heaviest “pop” band around right now (if the term “pop” can even apply to an act with actual guitars in their music anymore.) I can’t think of one act that could possibly have a song on the radio right next to Kings Of Leon or The Black Keys and be so full on… LUCIFERIAN. (Well, aside from Madonna’s performance as a gilded Baphomet, replete with crown of Hathor for the Superbowl halftime show.) I’ve seen all too many comparisons of this band to Blue Oyster Cult, another band who used occult imagery to gain a foothold in the marketplace. With BOC though, it was so evident that the occult imagery was just a cloak that they put on for the stage and removed when they were done. The music was peppy and catchy and not all that dark past the first album. The Devil’s Blood are a similar beast only in regards to the fact that they are occult based hard rock, but the occult is something that is applied to their face like stage makeup and rubbed into their hair. It takes a half hour with a jar of cold cream and a shower to get that stuff off rather than just hanging it on a hook or folding it up neatly and putting it back in the suitcase. It’s the difference between a vat of corn syrup and food coloring, or a vat of actual butcher’s blood. If they are someone else behind closed doors, then this is a well guarded fact, at least for the time being. The Devil’s Blood I tend to liken more to Jefferson Airplane (and not just because they have a female vocalist) more because the music is dark, swirling, driving, psychedelic, and at times, almost impenetrably dense. I could totally plug them into either the west coast Matrix scene, or the Max’s Kansas City NYC Andy Warhol scene. The main failing of modern “psyche” oriented acts is that through all the thick molasses of their tone, the audience can easily forget what song they are listening to. Upon first listen, I was thinking that The Thousandfold Epicenter was going to fall prey to these trappings as well. I think it was just a trick of a layered, dense feeling production. I’m noticing that as I’ve listened to it since it came out (Yes, I waited until the release date like a good boy.) the layers peeled back pretty quickly. It doesn’t take much to let the melodies seep into the cracks and take root. This is rarely an issue for most of the trash that passes itself off as “interesting music” to people who like to listen to stuff that gets licensed for use in Volkswagen commercials. Nothing seeps into anywhere and their twee pandering is completely gone from the mind by the time of the next commercial. So much energy is expended maintaining their style, that the songwriting is lost. The songs on The Thousandfold Epicenter are not only expertly written, but they are brilliantly sequenced and flow seamlessly either through deft arrangement or some spacey interludes, though past “Fire Burning” there isn’t much actual viable album left. (Aside from the energy killing early denoument of “Everlasting Saturnalia” and the first half of “The Madness Of Serpents” the rest of the album is mostly space) That’s fine as you still have 44 solid minutes of the best rock and roll you are going to hear all year, which is about the perfect length for an album.
The record is sequenced in such a way that though there are a few lengthy 7 to 9 minute jams, it’s easy to not notice that a half hour as passed. “On The Wings Of Gloria” officially opens the record after sliding out of a two and a half minute intro track into a full-on Hawkwind psyche raveup. Believe it or not, it’s one of the weaker songs on the album. It just gets better from there for the next 40 or so minutes. The first half of the album seems to lean forward, focusing it’s energy on the twin towers of the 9 minute title track and early-release single, “Fire Burning.” After this point, the album is clearly spent, but so is the listener. There is still 29 minutes to play through, and though I may not be interested in fluff and space, it’s still worth leaving the record on. I am just a hawk about energy and for me, the album stops DEAD at “Everlasting Saturnalia.” Though it is a fine piece of work, and I am sure some of the more psyche minded will surely be into the much lighter headspace of the remaining 29 minutes of music, it probably isn’t going to get much of a fair spin after this review is written. I don’t think I could recommend an album higher for fans of actual inspired music. There’s no reason these guys couldn’t play Coachella or any other pop festival aside from the fact that people will be scared of catching some sort of swine flu after getting splattered with something that AIN’T just corn syrup. You can risk infection by bloodborne pathogen by attending a performance during the month of April as The Devil’s Blood crisscrosses the US with fellow plague-slingers Watain, Behemoth and In Solitude as part of the Decibel Magazine tour. I’ll be at the Columbus show, standing toward the back of the room, likely with a T shirt wrapped around my face like it was at the last Watain tour I attended. I guess it’s as good a way as any to get me to buy a shirt.
With the success of bands like Portal, who tend to revere atmosphere above all (down to the bizarre spelling of their song titles and mysterious stage names like “Horror Illogium”) to the overpowering stench and ritual nature of Watain’s live show and visual presentation, death and black metal has taken a decidedly atmospheric turn since the beginning of the decade. The idea that the music itself is a cult experience rather than just a record you passively put on has gained popularity again for the first time since the 2nd wave of black metal in the early 90’s. Live shows will not soon be forgotten, not because you lost a tooth in the pit or your favorite shirt got ripped by some juiced up skinhead, but because you looked on the stage and saw something the equivalent of a Mark Riddick album cover in living, weird, and unhuman glory. Powdery corpse paint and spikes has been replaced with stage wear one could get hepatitis from. It’s not just about the fastest blast beats and getting a good, clear, well mixed recording on some high falutin’ record label’s dime. To really bring it nowadays in the death metal field, one must craft one’s music to invoke the very exhalation of cosmic horror through the listener’s earbuds. The best examples of this would be in death metal’s favorite mid-90’s mudfests like Immolation and Incantation’s 2nd albums, respectively “Here In After” and “Mortal Throne Of The Nazarene.” On the surface, they are low-endy walls of distortion, spattered drums and vocal muck. Upon further inspection, you hear a nearly impenetrable wall of roiling, intertwining riffs that flout any sense of melody or theoretic structure short of playing them occasionally in fours and rarely repeating in any known pattern. The intent is on creating a constant barrage of unsettling and dark moods. Since then, death metal players struck from this mold have gone from murky serendipity to measured attempts to recreate the oppressive atmospheres of these albums on their own recordings.
Recording a murky, downtuned mudfest of an album is the easy part and that’s where Ritual Necromancy start to lose me. Don’t get me wrong, the album is very effective in achieving what they set out to do, but SOOOO many bands are doing this stuff now that it’s hard for me to separate Ritual Necromancy from the rest of the cloudy soup. Drums flump along at breakneck pace, slightly ahead of everything else the mix. Guitars roar “HM2 buzzsaw” riffage that occasionally seeps some genius (almost catchy) anti-melody into the mix. Vocals are delivered in that under-enunciated, dry, guttural rasp that Craig Pillard pretty much invented with “Onward To Golgotha.” The whole thing absolutely reeks, and that’s a compliment. So far, much has been written (not just by me) about the unsettling nature of the recording itself, but what about the SONGS? Well, they don’t really do much to separate themselves from Vasaeleth, Antediluvian, Father Befouled, Heresiarch, Impetuous Ritual, Mitochondrion and the like. I think for the most part, the doomed out sections are where this sound becomes most effective, the riffs get to take center stage and occasionally, songs can be discerned from one another. The closing riff to “The Chasm” is particularly harrowing. Some things work better than others when it comes to this style. For me, it’s the basement-sludge-stomp riff offset by the keening, whining upper register line that howls a sorrowful tune of mourning that just screams DEATH METAL to me. Those are the moments when the atmosphere is most effective, no matter how bombed out or “necro” the production is. Moments like that come straight out of the book of Asphyx and aim straight for the 14 year old kid in me, melting my cynical heart like watching my team make a winning touchdown or something.
I was SUPER stoked on the Prosanctus debut album “Pandemonic Ululations Of Vesperic Palpitation” and named it one of my favorite recordings of 2010. It was a record whose creation was marred by equipment failure, general bad luck and the tragic suicide of their drummer. Antichristus didn’t live to see his recorded work released and that’s really sad because he was part of one of the more unique recordings of the year, and not just because of the ridiculous song titles (“Pontifical Undulations of Blasphemic Gesticulation” Really? Satan is clearly going to enlist Jake Kohn for naming Jeopardy categories when he joins Alex Trebek in hell.) It was an album with an actual creepy atmosphere without being muddy for the sake of muddy or having over-long interludes that stop an album dead in it’s tracks. I actually kinda consider it a more musically accomplished cousin of Beherit’s “Oath Of Black Blood” in regards to it’s twisting song structures, weird sound effects and compact efficiency (both albums run about 25 minutes). This year finds Prosanctus with a new drummer in Deadsea’s Jeremy Spears and a new EP of recordings in “Red Streams Of Flesh” and once again, it should be a year-end list banger if it wasn’t for the fact that it was only 4 new songs. The production is cleaner and tighter all around, but still sufficiently suffocating. The new songs are much more developed and longer, (The total time of the 4 new songs is half the run-time of the full length) and two re-recorded songs from the full length vastly benefit from the update. Taken as a whole, “Red Streams Of Flesh” is crispier and punchier, whereas “Pandemonic” was a solid, sticky mass. Both approaches have worked brilliantly in their own ways and as the band’s body of work expands, so does their effectiveness unlike some of their less creative contemporaries. Prosanctus is one of the few cult bands kicking around the scene right now with a truly unique take on the whole throwback to the low buck and speedy death/black metal favorites of yore like Beherit, Nuclear Death and Sarcofago that has recently been so fashionable. Unlike bands that just mix up a bag of nasty words and pick any two (Bestial, Goat, Blasphemy, Sodomy, Anal, Violence, Blackened, Filth… and so forth) Prosanctus puts thought, research, wit, and personality into what they are doing, providing evidence that their darkest inspiration MUST come from places other than a pedestrian scene of panda-faced cartoon characters bellowing about Lucifer. While there has to be some of that, all that is horrific isn’t just inspired from horror.
I’ll drop one more review quickly, just to show that I am “current” and not just writing about stuff that came out months ago. I got this about a week ago and it has gotten a lot of spin lately. I was just going to put it in the “listening suggestions” column at the bottom, but I figured I had room for one more review. Besides, the Dark Descent guy is constantly posting stuff on Facebook showing how hard he is working to get mailorder out on time. So if having TWO Dark Descent releases reviewed here ain’t enough of a plug, go to the DD website and ordering Horrendous, Ritual Necromancy, Timeghoul or the reissue of the first Mitochondrion album and you won’t be disappointed. I have had a passion for the early 90’s death metal sound since Carcass and Entombed went “Death & Roll.” That was when I lost interest and just started listening to The Cure and Fields Of The Nephilim because life wasn’t a party for me back then and I didn’t want to listen to party metal. Horrendous is the sound of that exact 2nd wave of death metal before the blast beat took over. We’re talking 1989-1990, so a pretty small window. Lots of HM2 pedal “Buzzsaw” guitars and death metal vocals the way they SHOULD be done. Horrendous “get it” when it comes to nailing that sound. Vocals are properly throat lacerating in the grand tradition of Jeff Beccera and Martin Van Drunen rather than gurgled or barked. The guitars are lovingly and thoughtfully EQ’d to cut right though you, while the solos are played with proper thoughtless abandon, and lots of divebombs. Horrendous stick closely to these rules and write SONGS too rather than just writing a bunch of death metal. There are snatches of melody here and there, and just enough. Not so much that a part goes from “worth humming along” to turning into sports talk show bumper music like so many promising acts did the early 00’s did. It’s a very thin balance and Horrendous walk it proudly. I haven’t had a chance to give this record more than a few fair spins, but I doubt if my later opinions of it will change much more than they will from right now. Of the glut of 90’s death metal resurgence albums that are hitting right now, “The Chills” has already gotten more complete listens from me in a weeks time than many of the bigger releases that just sit on the shelf, most of which I could never get through the entire album because it was just BORING. “The Chills” is neither forward thinking nor innovative, but it also isn’t boring and scratches a very nagging itch that many other releases have so far failed to scratch.
Been listening to (and so should you):
Fate’s Warning – The Spectre Within
Dark Angel – Live Scars
English Dogs – Forward Into Battle
Prince – Self Titled/Dirty Mind/Controversy
NEU! – ’75
Christian Mistress -Possession
Tukaaria & Odz Manouk releases on Profound Lore
Asphyx – Deathhammer
Goatwhore – Blood For The Master
new Black Breath and Acephalix albums in the can