Friday, January 19, 2018

Portal :"ION"

Things are getting weird. This is my first time sitting down and giving a solid listen to one of the albums from this Australian project albums. I have heard lots of good things, and caught a song here and there, but never immersed my self in them. I just listened to the new Tribulation, which crossed from death metal into a more accessible sound. These guys have said fuck accessible we are going straight for crazy as god damn hell.It opens with noise and then bursts into noisy discordant chaos that can be linked to the DNA of death metal. The mix keeps this from soundings as dense as most death metal is. They are technical and precise while being all over the place. If you though Deathspell Omega gets nuts well these guys are further out into the mouth of madness.

It sounds like the vocal where recorded backwards. It sounds like breath is being sucked back in rather than forcibly expelled. Vocally this makes for less powerful growls and more of a breathy mutter. I find myself asking if this music is meant to be engaged or endured. The musical quality begins to get obscured on "Husk". Big on blast beats that are whipped out in a spastic manner. By the time we get to "Phreqs" things are beginning to run together and sound similar. I am also less impressed by the acrobatics and waiting for more song development. Noise is a big part of what they do, it takes up the first minute of the blast fest that is "Crone". I can still appreciate the extreme nature of what they do, I need more dynamics. The expand and retract of this bands revolves around noise. I like the chant of "pray for sickness" , but I need a little more than that to hook me in. I had to give "Revault of Volts" a second listen, because it went by in a blur. Only marginally more impressed by the song than the blur.

"Spores" finds the band continuing to grow more abrasive and noise ridden. "Phantom" finds them blasting even faster than before. When it comes to the closing song "Olde Guarde" I wonder who they can keep this up for ten minutes. Songs at this speed tend to be shorter since you have already raced to the finish line. They slow a little the three minute mark, but the guitars keep buzzing like a hornets nest.Then it delves down into a darker and more minimal passage that sounds like a guitar being played while someone drowns. I'll give this album a 6, I respect what they are doing it's just not something I need to listen to more than once. If you like both noise and death metal in a blender then this is more your speed.This is being released on Profound Lore

Tribulation :"Down Below"

So 3 years after "Children of the Night" the boys from Sweden are back. This album seems like a logical progression with a more stream lined take on death metal. Their new drummer is more of a in the pocket rock guy and doesn't hit you with a ton of double bass so this factors in. There is still a great deal of atmosphere and keyboard parts, that help retain the darker mood. The guitar playing is more thoughtful and nuanced to make up for the fact it might not be as aggressive as their previous releases. The vocals haven't really changed and their mid range snarl is  the most biting part of their sound now as a song like "Nightbound" finds them more metal than say Ghost, but not really what I think of as death metal. They were already out growing and pushing past the boundaries of the genre on the last album I think this album might find them walking totally away from it. In fact it comes up in my iTunes as gothic metal. You still have to give them credit for great song writing and guitar playing. The solos are tasteful and add to the song rather than wank over it.

"Lady Death" is even more straight forward than the first two songs.It's more at the threshold of metal and rock. The raspy vocals are what keeps it anchored in metal. I read an article on Metal Sucks about why there will never be another band as big as Metallica, and it cited harsh vocals as one of the reasons why. It will be interesting to see how this album does as it is their most accessible to date. I don't think it's selling out as it is still true to their sound it just finds the heft dialed back . "Subterranea" keeps up a palm muted tension and has a good sense of dynamics when they bust back . The first hint of something dark and creepy enough to be goth is on the instrumental interlude "Purgatorio". There is more of a big metal punch to "Cries From the Underworld".But much like other songs on this album it owes more to classic metal than death metal. This album has a much more organic production value in terms of  what sounds to be vintage amps that they captured some of this guitar tones with. The vocals are dry and a little too upfront in the mix, but it's not a deal breaker.

There is a more death n roll feel to "Lacrimosa". The vocals do sound a little more like Watain, in the way there are exclaimed. Midway into this song it takes a darker turn. The synths play a much bigger role not only in this song, but the album as a whole. Things get more upbeat and uptempo on "the World". There are interesting layers of guitar and the vocals do sit back a little further in mix on this which works better for me. The actual power chords that set the tone almost sound like 80s Judas Priest, but somehow it all works. They close with the longest song "Here Be Dragons" which at 7 and a half minutes its still pretty compact when you think about how so much metal has gotten to be sprawling 10 minute epics. It moves with a smooth tight chug and then builds from their to a more sweeping build. So this album is not shy on dynamics. I think it's pretty fair to give this album a 9 as I gave "the Children of the Night" a 9.5 and I think that is where this album sits in comparison to it.It might grow on me and change my mind, but this is where it sits with me at present.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Black Label Society: "Grimmest Hits"

You might be surprised that I have never listened to a Black Label Society album. I am a huge fan of solo Ozzy, so I like Zakk's guitar playing. I liked the Pride N Glory album. I caught Zakk Sabbath with Clutch. I am not sure why these guys never clicked. Perhaps it is the white trashy fan base that turned me off , who knows. The first song has more ambiance than expected, it's more grunge than the kind of metal I have heard these guys crank out in the past. Obviously the guitar solos are a big part of the song. He is good at what he does. The vocals kinda coast over everything. Very middle of the road. There is a little more of a Black Sabbath feel to the verses of "Seasons of Falter". The rest of the song is very melodic and about as driven as newer Alice In Chains. Zakk's voice sounds better on some of the more relaxed passages. The hardest hitting sections are where the guitar solo falls. Its not bad , but not blowing me away either.

By the 3rd song I have resigned myself to the fact this album is just not going to be as heavy as I was waiting for. In fact it's more rock n roll. "the Betrayal" is more up tempo, and his guitar has attack to it, tonally it's too warm and not enough low end on the mix as a whole to make it heavy. If you play guitar or are into shreddy guitar then this will be more your thing. Coming out of the solo there is a heavier riff, but it doesn't turn the tide a hell of a lot. They go for more of a doom tinged feel with "All That Once Shined", but in truth it's not much harder than Govt Mule. The vocals are all multi tracked. The guitar tone is surprisingly not as beefy either. Being in a Sabbath cover band has certainly influenced his riff writing. The drummer shows a little more of his chops toward the end of this song, but is careful to not eclipse Zakk's show.

His guitar playing is very tasteful on the southern rock ballad "the Only Words" that brings to mind the Allman Brothers or Stevie Ray Vaughn in terms of tone. "Room of Nightmares" is about as heavy as Stone Temple Pilots. It feels like he had these country/ blues tunes written and want to get them out so to kill two birds with one stone he was obligated to write some more aggressive rock songs in order to fill out the album and go on tour. There is more conviction in the chug powering "A Love Unreal". This where all the other heavier tunes need to be.So this album is hit or miss , but when it hits it really connects.  He maintains the momentum going into "Disbelief". Then it ebbs back down to a more soulful blues ballad with "The Day That Had Gone Away". It reminds me of a less vocally powered "Say Hello to Heaven". It is some of his most nuanced guitar playing. I think this kind of thing is the direction he really wants to head in. It continues to ebb and flow into more rock moments being crammed into the albums 3rd act. There is more of a Led Zepplin like groove to "Bury Your Sorrow". It ends with another southern rock ballad. At the end of the day is playing really sells these and the albums strongest moments balances it all out so I'll give this one a 9.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Troll : "s/t"

The good thing about this band out of Portland is they have some atmosphere and layers to what could otherwise be a more straight forward vest metal. Taking notes from Pallbearer seems to have become the trend in doom. The have lightly crooned floating over the 70s jams.There is more Sabbath worship going on here than what you hear coming from Pallbearer, so that sets them apart. The are also more straight forward metal. Their press release tries to compare their singer to early Sabbath Ozzy and I don't hear it. He doesn't belt it out with the crazed desperation that Ozzy did and lacks the power. His voices is more of texture, there is a word growled hear and there , but his voice has a drugged creepiness to it. The band gets credit for now dragging their songs out into sprawling epics and keeps them concise with the longest hitting the eight and a half minute mark. "the Witch" lumbers somewhere between stoner and doom. The drummer plays around the guitar riff rather than hitting it head on. The mood is more scattered and the vocals don't connect as well with me as they did on the first song.

They play to their strengths more on "An Eternal Haunting". This means less vocals and letting the guitar claim the spot light. The guitars do some pretty interesting things here. I do like the fact the vocals have effects on them and I think they need to go more in that direction.The drummer also steps up his game on this one and makes it my favorite song on here so far.It's jammy and sometimes blues tinged.The vocals come across as being more ethereal, which is smart as this guys is not a metal singer. Sometimes he reminds me more of Andrew Wood from Motherlovebone. This comparison is given even more merit on "Infinite Death". I think this guy could be a decent singer, I think he has an original approach to what he is doing. Sometimes he is not sure about his lower notes and they are out of key. Musically it plays it pretty safe in a Sabbath boogie.

"Savage Thunder" rumbles along the road of more typical doom. The singer goes into his upper register and show a little more balls which is an improvement. I'll give this album an 8, I think these guys have a ton of potential. The vocals could stand to be smoothed out in places and they could play it a little less safe and veer more from the tried and true Sabbath worship and get into the more textured guitar parts where the band shines.

USURPRESS : "Interregnum"

This proggy death metal band out of Sweden, is what you are looking for if you want the emphasis on the metal when it comes to your prog metal. I don't listen to as much of this kind of thing as I once did , but if this was 2003, I would have been all over this. Despite the fact that is asks me to go back to the place when I was really into Opeth, there is no denying these guys excel at what they do. The first sign of them defaulting in the the need for speed most death metal bands succumb to, doesn't occur until the fourth song "Late in the 11th Hour". It's not until the last two minutes of the song that it ebbs back down into more progressive ambiance, leaving the bulk of the song straight forward death metal .

The clean vocals in "Ships of Black Glass" are well preformed and produced. The effects give the somewhat creepy baritone a darker slant and break up the more death tinged tone the song opens with. It wanders off into a more jazz inflected place before getting heavier. "Gates of Iron" starts off as a more non-descript form of death metal. The sung vocals take on a more goth tone for "the Vagrant Harlot". Not the most powerful vocal performance, but I appreciate the sentiment.There are hints of a more Enslaved like accent to this song.

I like where these guys are going with this. Some of the sung vocals get an e for effort and then some really work. The jazz influence is one of the best elements as it feels very natural and not forced. Even when they are in more of a straight forward death metal mode , they are still better than the bulk of death metal albums sitting in my in-box. I'll give this one a 9, it's great for when I venture out in the "snow-covered landscape" that is now Atlanta. Just joking I am done bigger lines than what has shut this city down.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cane Hill : "Too Far Gone"

 I decided to this band from Louisiana out because their press package claimed they had done a bunch of LSD, the year they recorded this album. The vocals flux between a spoken lower vocal that typically takes care of the verses. Then it trades off between a shouted hard core like vocals and a sung vocal that gives them a more Slipknot feel. I guess Slipknot is one of their influences along with Pantera. I like the second song better than the opener despite the more Slipknot feel. It's really well produced , though this is a blessing and curse as it gives it that slick radio feel that I am normally not a fan of when it comes to metal. There is more of  Sevendust 90s alt metal feel to "Singing in the Swamp". These smoother vocals ad another color, which is something I wish bands would do more of. I don't hear where the LSD is really coming in at this point in the album.

"Erased" is not a bad song, it just sounds like it is from a time period that has come and gone , I have grown out of so no longer holds my interest. The bass tone of " Why" doesn't help to distance them from nu-metal. The Sevendust comparisons over power any Pantera comparisons which is not a good sign in my book. "It Follows" has more of a straight forward metal riffing to it's syncopated pound. This flirts with more of a Pantera like groove. The chorus relaxes back into the smoother vocal. Then the next two song devolve into rowdier Slipknot shouting and juvenile bouncing around. This is done in a more musical manner on "Fucking Hateful" which given the title and the lyrics that reflect it , I am disappointed that the LSD didn't make them deeper thinkers than this.

At this point the nu-metal tendencies are getting a little tedious. I can only take Slipknot in small doses , so someone impersonating them without the masks gets to be a little much. "The End" is a little darker and I guess that is my one complaint is that I prefer metal that is darker , both Pantera and Slipknot have an ability to tap into that Sevendust does not so that might tell you where this album leans an why it doesn't always work for me. This is not my thing , but well done for what it is, so I'll give it a 7.5.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Druid Lord : "Grotesque Offerings"

With a name like Druid Lord I was expecting something more touched with folk metal and not such a dominant horror theme. When I first heard this band from Orlando on their Bandcamp page I was not sure what to think of the first song but knew I wanted to hear more from these guys in order to make a conclusive opinion, so I would say the opener was a success as it drew me in with it's brand of death doom. Growled vocals and dirty guitars crawling out of the speakers are really what keeps these guys from just being a doom band. The second song is more of the same but more grinding death metal with the occasional riff owing more to Sabbath than Morbid Angel. These guys rely more of the power of the chug than speed alone. The lyrics are very horror based and growled in a way that you can still decipher them.There is a much more obvious death metal feel to "Evil That Haunts this Ground" that reminds me more of early Sepultura. This also marks the first appearance of synths which are well place for needed atmosphere.It helps further darken things.

The first song that feels more like filler to me and is not as strong is "Black Candle Seance". On it's own two it is not a bad song it just doesn't seem as dynamic and doesn't connect with me. Lyrically there is some similarity to Acid Witch, but I feel that while Acid Witch might not be as heavy writes catchier songs. These guys prefer more glum tempos. On "Creature Feature"The vocals are spit out in a way that does the lyrics favor, as they are a very articulate growl. This song finds them tapping into the same kind of song crafting Acid Witch displays on a more frequent basis. However the lyrics don't feel as focus once they feel at one with the dead, then I am thinking where did this narrative go, but the thick murk of riffing keeps me distracted. They drop down into more of doom gloom on "Murderous Mr. Hyde". This song doesn't hold up as well as "Creature Feature" as it gets a little plodding and the lyrics are very vague.

The leading verse riff to "Last Drop of Blood" is rather cumbersome. The guitar harmonies work, well and if you are really into melodic death metal guitar then I would recommend this album. That only goes so far with me. I can't hear the bass at all. The drummer throws in double bass skillfully but is not really doing anything above and beyond the call of duty for what you expect from any death metal band. I don't want just any death metal band, I want my death metal to vary from what I already have or whats the point?  The song does improve thanks to a killer riff that is just mean as fuck in the last couple of minutes.Overall if you  are into death driven doom or doomy death metal then these guys are going to be up your dark alley. I'll give it an 8 as it works for me the majority of the time, not sure how much mileage I will get out of it , but enjoyed what I heard.