I got it done! Finally! After many setbacks, my first record review column for The Bloodsprayer. I missed most of the release dates on these (Most came out in September, but it’s not like release dates matter that much anymore.) but at least they are current. Since this isn’t a “music oriented webzine” I’m not writing a catch all review column, preferring to concentrate on releases that I would recommend to someone based on their taste for the macabre, ridiculous, or dark. I listen to ALOT of dark music (metal and otherwise, but mostly metal, i.e. the ridiculous. Often the twain shall meet.) Here are some of the best releases I have heard in the past month, replete with little pictures to hold your interest.
Midnight – Satanic Royalty (Hell’s Headbangers)
I’ve been a “believer” in Midnight for a long time. I say believer because I haven’t listened to their records very often, but I’ve seen them live several times and they always KILL the competition. I wonder if the humor is lost on these guys that they sit in my iTunes neatly between Micheal Schenker’s “Assault Attack” and Midnight Star’s “No Parking On The Dance Floor.” Lord Athenar is a masterful front man and an ace songwriter. Even when he is saddled with his Fender P Bass and wearing a black hood, he still picks the audience up and drops them on their heads every time I have seen them live. The sum total of their laundry list of splits, EP’s and singles are catagorically good, fun stuff, but for the most part, it was schlocky Venom/Bathory/Motorhead worship and little else. Midnight were always very competent at conjuring the image of sex addicted, satanic rock and rollers while writing simple, catchy and infinitely rocking 4 chord Venom-worship tunes that were nothing if not fun to rock out to or howl along to one of their ridiculous choruses. 8 years into their career and their (VERY long awaited) actual debut full length “Satanic Royalty” advances the formula a bit, without making it seem like they are TRYING to stretch the formula too far. Midnight slow the Motörspeedworship just slightly to allow for some more… thoughtful(?) songwriting. “Thoughtful” in the sense that they forgot the scented massage oils, but at least this time they spit on it first. The aperture has widened to take in a bit more of the NWOBHM than just Venom and Motörhead. This is metal of the ancient form at it’s hairiest, hoariest and sleaziest.
Atriarch – Forever The End (Seventh Rule Recordings)
Ex members of hip doom, hardcore and indie bands come together around the mantra of deathrock influenced heaviness without musical boundaries. Atriarch pretty much succeed with adding a slight twist on the “business-as-usual” avant-garde doom field. So does it live up to the “Deathrock” tag that the press release bandies about in such a manner that critics are bound to keep flipping the tape in search of? Sure, I’ll bite. I’m a huge Christian Death/SamHain fan, and though I don’t hear much direct reference in the sound, there is a certain atmosphere that Atriarch are going for and I think they are hitting their mark. I don’t think it’s anything that hasn’t been tried already by Neurosis, Burning Witch or maybe early My Dying Bride, it just hasn’t been given the direct “Deathrock” tag. Atriarch filth it up considerably with a crust punk influence and the occasional distant moaning goth vocal. The Doom metal delivery isn’t so much “crushing” as it is oppressive, but the total sum of Atriarch’s parts can’t be labelled neatly by sub-genre tagging. This is a VERY formidable first effort and one of the more compelling releases of the year.
Abhor – Ab Luna Lucenti, Ab Noctua Protecti (Moribund)
Abhor’s 5th full length delivers spacious and desolate black metal with a conservative and tasteful use of keyboards. Usually it’s just a reverbed out piano sound, or in many cases, some inspired mini-Moog tones straight out of a Goblin or Kenneth Anger soundtrack. The “spaciousness” has more to do with the median pace of most tracks and the room given in the mix between the guitars and the keyboards. Rather than a wall of symphonics and the rest of the sonic spectrum mortared with blastbeats and huge guitars, Abhor opt for a production that leaves more to the imagination rather than giving you the money shot. How the instruments are used and mixed creates an altogether bleaker atmosphere. In the 90’s, this would have been more in keeping with the grand Greek black metal tradition of mid-paced, epic songwriting like Necromantia or early Rotting Christ. I’ve recently discovered a fondness for greek black metal, and therefore, Abhor certainly strikes my fancy, although they don’t hold my attention for very long.
Hexentanz – Nekrokrafte (Agonia Records)
If anyone ever wondered what was going on next door in “Rosemary’s Baby,” it probably sounded a bit like this. Hexentanz has little to do with performing traditional drums/guitar/bass/vocals music so much as texture and atmosphere… really disturbing atmosphere. The members of Hexentanz painstakingly research medeival styles of music for other projects they are involved in. Hexentanz (literally, “The Witches Dance”) is a distillation of their collective interest in the occult. These performances are based on medeival necromancy and black magic rituals performed on archaic instruments (or very close “synthetic” recreations) and things like human bones. Nekrocrafte was initially recorded and released in 2004. Agonia has unearthed the recording and reissued it on vinyl and CD. It’s some seriously creepy Temple Of Doom/Elder god swamp cult worship sounds that goes beyond the usual “Anton LaVey reads from the Satanic Bible” hammer horror/hippie cult schlock and it leaves you wondering, “How serious are these guys?” It reminds me at times of early 80’s avante garde industrial, maybe Laibach’s Nova Akropola or earlier SPK with added howling, distant vocals, detuned skreaky violins and ritual drumming. I understand where they are going with it and I support it. There needs to be more ACTUAL scary music happening. No matter how much face paint or weird clothes they wear, metal bands like Behemoth are just NOT scary anymore and Hexentanz would benefit from crafting what they do into a more “portable” style and taking it on the road to more receptive audiences, say opening for hard-touring fellow occult creepers like Watain or The Devil’s Blood.
Fyrnask – Buostar (Temple Of Torturous)
Buostar wins the “album cover of the month” button. I have long wondered what it would look like if Abe Vigoda was to vomit hair out of his eye sockets and now I can be satisfied. No seriously, ‘Buostar’ goes to show what advancements have been made in the “One Man Black Metal” band since the original Burzum records dropped in 1992. For better or for worse, Xasthur(worse) and Leviathan(better) expanded the scope considerably of what one person could accomplish, giving rise to a bumper crop of bedroom players and lending some credence to USBM in the “naughty ‘aughties.” Where “One Man Black Metal” used to mean thin production and poorly executed playing on at least one, if not all instruments, now, with a Macintosh, some time and a good set of ears, it can be almost as slick as any label-backed production. Sole member Fyrnd performs all vocals and instruments with an efficacy befitting any world class quintet of seasoned players. There are a few dark ambient tracks scattered through the album that act as spacers between the lengthier (like 9 minute) more standard black metal workouts. Unlike some records where the “interludes” only serve to slow the pace of the record, or jar it to a complete stop, ‘Buostar’ actually benefits from them, where they are used to string the whole album together with a definited ebb and flow. Fyrnask, though from Germany, aren’t too far off from the northwestern US “Cascadian” black metal sound that is all the rage right now, but while the “Cascadian” sound is a low, dampening, rolling mist that gently soaks the roots of the forest floor and clings to the needles of the evergreens, Fyrnask is the frosty moonlight in the crisp air above the treetops.
An Autumn For Crippled Children – Everything (ATMF)
I want to hate that band name. I hate “half a sentence” bands, but this record is really good. Easily one of the best examples of the “black-gaze” or the “post black metal” sound that hipster opinion toilets like Pitchfork Media and Aquarius records has been on about for about the past decade. Of course, mixing black metal with shoegaze/new wave influences like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and The Cure is not a new sound. Hell, you can draw a very short straight line right from Burzum’s mercurial black metal albums of the early 90’s to Brad Laner’s noise guitar pop experiments in Medicine (probably one of my favorite bands of all time.) Any of the early 2nd wave black metal albums could have been krautrock on 78. Hell, even the intro to Mayhem’s “Deathcrush” was composed by Conrad Schnitzler of Tangerine Dream. The very concept of being lulled into a trance by rasping vocals, incessant, rhythmic blast beats and dense tremolo picked melodies is the exclusive rights of early Mayhem and Emperor. In the right mind, any one of those grim and frostbitten kingdoms becomes a cough syrup snow cone when you add a little more haze and delay on the guitars and some clean vocals. Cassette-only Swiss weirdo Paysage d’Hiver really perfected the formula in the late 90’s, creating crystalline landscapes congruent to the cover image for his 1999 “Die Festung” demo. AAFCC may not be as perfected and fully cooked as Alcest’s 2010 masterpiece, “Écailles De Lune,” but they are certainly a sympathetic vibration thereof. Because of the hazed out emulsion atmosphere of “Everything,” themes and melodies are able to drift in and out, allowing for a depth and layering of songwriting that black metal has always been good for, but the bands haven’t always been good at delivering. AA4CC (yeah, I went there… NKOTB, 90210, OU812, NAACP, AA4CC) grab the style and bend it to their will with an adeptness so far shown only by Alcest and very few others.
Amebix – Sonic Mass (Easy Action Records)
This might be on my top ten for the year, and therefore, main (and windiest) review. It’s not often that a legend like Amebix can resurrect themselves after 25 years and come out swinging with the best album of their career. A band with a history like Amebix (that actually, very few people have actually heard, though if they are a metal or punk fan, have most certainly felt their influence) deserves a little extra contextual setup than the usual paragraph or two. Anyone paying attention in class in the early 90’s may or may not have noticed bands like Sepultura (whose most popular album is named “Arise” un-coincidentally) and Neurosis waving the “No Gods/No Masters” flag. Of course, that was what made me sit up and take notice as a budding metalhead. Alternative Tentacles has been pretty staunch in keeping Amebix’s debut “Arise” in print for decades so it was never difficult to get ahold of. When I first heard it, I was totally overhyped for it and wound up underwhelmed since it lacked the dense production, thrashy 2 beat drums or growled vocals of all my favorites. It may have been because I was not listening to it in 1986 or something, or I was just too young. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t “get it” initially, but I totally appreciated what they were trying to do and I recognized their influence in all the bands that I loved. I’ve pretty much held since then that Amebix is one of those bands like Velvet Underground. If a band claimed Amebix as an influence, I was probably going to be into them, but I was never so much into Amebix, though I kept a copy of Arise around for cool points. Within the last 3 years, I started digging into alot of the early “crust metal” bands like Axegrinder, Misery, and (probably my favorite) Sacrilege. I decided to check Amebix out again and see if my opinion had changed. Long story short, things had changed and the music finally spoke to me. There was a darkness and almost gothic nature to the music that I probably didn’t recognize as a kid, or just didn’t care for cuz I hadn’t hit my mid-adolescent suicidal misery phase yet. Amebix had as much in common tonally with bands like early Cult and Killing Joke as they did with Motorhead and Discharge and at the time, they made for pretty strange bedfellows. Even after Amebix jammed it all together, it was still an uneasy marriage, but at least the dialog was started and the first charges were being led to breaking down conventional divisions between punk, industrial and metal. Amebix, inadvertently, made it cool for punks to listen to metal, but still dress punk. In the US, they were pretty much universally ignored by anyone other than the squatter punk scene, a pretty thin sliver of the overall punk scene at that.
2 years ago, I would have given more of a shit about an Amebix reunion album than say, a Boyz II Men reunion album, but more out of curiosity than anything. Even with my newfound appreciation of Amebix, I was more skeptical about the announcement of a reunion album than excited. Few bands can return to their former glories after a 25 year break. Most of the time, they can’t even fit into the pants they were wearing in their favorite press photo, let alone attain the glories of their long revered catalog, preserved in the memories of the fans like bronzed baby shoes. Amebix DID have an exceptionally potent initial run of it, amassing a worldwide cult following that kept their name alive. I may have found what they did a bit on the uninteresting side, but some VERY important tastemaking names over the years have kept the fires stoked and the Amebix name relevant.
I didn’t really start getting excited until I got goosebumps upon hearing a youtube clip of the first single, album closer “Knights Of The Black Sun” released sometime last year as a teaser. Maybe it was 30-odd years of nascency? Maybe it was a round-robin of influences of hundreds of bands reinterpreting the Amebix sound and style? More likely the band just got better at getting their point across to snots like me. “Sonic Mass” is a very logical extension of the original sound of Amebix. Very little has changed really. The recording is a little slicker, there is still that same insistent SWANS-ish pounding and offsides Killing Joke clatter mixed into a familiar Joy Division meets Motorhead mixture. In the past, the sound was informed by metal. Metal was like a bag of tea that was sunk into their overall molten slurry of a tone, then yanked out when it had steeped just long enough. Upon their return, the Amebix sound is very insistently METAL when it decides to be, which is easily over 2/3rd of the album. Not a bad thing and nothing that should scare off the classic “Amebix” listener. It’s that same oddball style of metal that kept those early 90’s Prong albums coolly afloat above the trashy groove (read: Nü) metal morass that they could have easily descended into. It’s the ritualistic tribal pounding that Sepultura referenced to make Chaos A.D. really sound like no other album that came out at the time. Couple that with an updated and improved method of writing a chorus that soars like anything off the last Killing Joke album (or really, “Axeman” off of Arise or “Sanctuary” off of their 1984 “No Sanctuary” 12″) Amebix are clearly pulling cues from their own weird mess of influences AS WELL AS looking to how their music has been used and hammered into shape by everyone OTHER than themselves over the past couple of decades. Really, can you blame them? It’s sorta theirs to do with as they please and I don’t think any of their neophytes and groundling followers would do anything but bow in honor. “Sonic Mass” is absolutely brutal, tuneful and powerful in a way the band has never been able to muster completely into one release. Describing their sound has always been difficult because you can’t just say “crust punk” and successfully conjure a different image than a thousand scabby, scurvy motorspeedclones that sleep in abandoned buildings and travel from city to city illegally in freight cars. Anything could be further from the truth. Many have copped the Amebix style and iconography, but few have successfully copped a direct musical reference without being called on it. The Kings have returned to assume their throne and hopefully, they keep it for a good long while. I missed the reunion tour, but there is really no reason why they couldn’t stage another one to shop this record a bit before (hopefully) blessing us with another in the next few years.
Been Listening To (and you should to):
Roky Erickson & The Aliens – The Evil One
SubRosa – No Help For The Mighty Ones
In Slaughter Natives – Enter Now The World
Absu – Abzu
Arizmenda – Without Circumference Nor Center
Leviathan – True Traitor, True Whore
The Devil’s Blood – The Thousandfold Epicenter
Krisiun – The Great Excecution
Antediluvian – Through The Cervix Of Hawwah
Death – Individual Thought Patterns reissue