Saturday, March 31, 2012

Reviews and Corrections February-March

It's the end of another month, and so it's time for the second "Reviews and Corrections" installment. This is where I condense all the albums I've reviewed over the past month into a quick and easy reference list, organized alphabetically by band name. It's also where I make any corrections to the grades of albums I reviewed in the previous month which, now that I've had more time to absorb them, I may feel I would rate differently today. At the bottom is a basic description of my rating system.

I would also like to note, briefly, that this is by far the most successful month my blog has ever had in terms of views. So, thanks to everyone who checked it out, even if you were an angry fan of a band that I gave a bad review.


Ahnengrab - Omen (pagan metal, Grade: A-)
Enthroned - Obsidium (black metal, Grade: B+)
Fister - Violence (sludge, Grade: D)
Liberteer - Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees (grindcore, Grade: C)
Napalm Death - Utilitarian (grindcore, Grade: B+)
Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction (stoner/doom metal, Grade: A-)
Pharaoh - Bury the Light (power metal, Grade: B+)
Rage - 21 (heavy metal, Grade: C+)
Sigh - In Somniphobia (avant-garde metal, Grade: A)
Swallow the Sun - Emerald Forest and the Blackbird (death/doom metal, Grade: B-)
Undergang - Til Døden Os Skiller (death metal, Grade: A-)

February Corrections:
Sphere - Homo Hereticus (death metal, change from B- to B)


[On Grades]

(A) means I loved this album. An album does not have to be absolutely perfect to get an "A" grade from me, but it does need to really stand out as something special.

(A-) means the album was excellent, and I really enjoyed it. There are just a few flaws which stop me from giving it the top grade.

(B+) means the album was very good. Usually this grade means it was an otherwise fantastic album with one major flaw that I couldn't get past, or it was very strong but lacked the real "it factor" impact of a great album.

(B) means it was a good, solid album.

(B-) means it was a good solid album, but I have a gripe of some kind with it.

(C+) means this was an okay album, nothing worth going out of your way to get.

(C) means the album was mediocre.

(C-) means the album was weak, but not offensively bad.

(D+) means the album was pretty bad, but it had some small redeeming factor.

(D) means the album was bad.

(D-) means the album was really bad.

(F) means the album was absolutely horrible and I hated it. I would play it on a loop to torture my enemies.

I am perfectly willing to give grades anywhere on the scale. There doesn't seem to be much point in having a scale if I won't use the whole thing. I don't believe in holding "A" in reserve for only all-time classic albums, because it's difficult (if not impossible) to initially tell whether a new album deserves such a high level of recognition. Instead, I prefer to think of it the way a teacher looks at grading a class. In every class (year) there will be "A" students (albums), and that doesn't have to mean that they produced the greatest thing I've ever heard. That said, I won't just give a top grade to every album I enjoy, either.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Fisherman's Death

While cruising around looking for new interesting music, I have often encountered releases that catch my attention but which are a not brand new. Since I'm trying to keep up with current releases for my reviews, I typically don't talk about these records. I encountered one today, though, which I would like to mention anyway.

Fisherman's Death are a Swedish group who just formed in 2009, and they grabbed my attention because of their very unusual image. Their logo and EP cover reminded me of the fog-encased coast in Northrend filled with the phantoms of hulking Vrykul sailors (in World of Warcraft). They have released just one demo and an EP of folk-infused death metal. The emphasis on the sea, and on sailing and fishing aspects of Scandinavian culture rather than the more conventional Viking raid fare give them, in my opinion, a somewhat distinct feel. Additionally, they have posted up links on their YouTube videos to download their EP for free, so there's really no good reason not to give it a listen.

Among the Shore

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The New Blogger Interface

I went ahead and updated to the new interface just to try getting used to it. I try not to be one of those "Oh Facebook/YouTube/other you've ruined your website with these changes!" people, because I find that behavioral pattern somewhat annoying. That said, I'd like to go on record now as saying that I absolutely hate the new interface. All it's done is take the same things we had and scramble them around to make them harder to find. Additionally, while actually writing a new post, it has this irritating menu on the side that covers up the end of your lines so you can't see them, and that pops out covering even more of the screen every time you accidentally pass your mouse over it. I find this to be thoroughly obnoxious. I know that complaining isn't going to get it changed back, but I don't like the new format at all.

Enthroned - Obsidium

Enthroned are a Belgian black metal group who have been around since the 90s. This is their 9th full-length release.

Enthroned have produced a steady stream of material since their 1995 debut, and in that time they have remained reasonably consistent. This is good, hostile black metal. It doesn't have the thin, low-fi sound of a second wave Norwegian group, instead having a fuller, more solid production. It's certainly not over-polished by any means, but it doesn't sound like it was recorded on an old tape deck sitting in the middle of the room, either. The guitar riffs are solid black metal fare, clinging together in a cold, distorted string. They aren't all reed-thin tremolo picked, but they maintain the typical aesthetic. The bass is, as usual, not a real factor. The drumming is good, though not an all-out assault.

Vocally, Enthroned have come down somewhat from the high hoarse sound on their earlier albums into a slightly meatier tone. As with other aspects of this album's sound, the new variety lose a little cold harshness but gain a heavy, faintly death metal edge. They change up in the album's more melodic passages. These are conducted in something like a Viking metal style, with background chanting accompanying the slower riffs.

I don't have anything especially negative to say about Obsidium. It was a good product released by an experienced band who knew what they were doing and did it well. It didn't have that "it factor" that just really grabs the listener, but it had no real holes to speak of either.

Grade: B+
It won't change your life, but this is a very good black metal record.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Posting "Schedule"

I put it in quotes because this is not really a firm schedule, it's more like a notice of probability. My current classes are organized in such a way that I have very little free time on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thus, for the next few months, I probably won't post much of anything during that part of the week.

I'll try to keep up fairly regular new reviews and other material the rest of the time, though.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 MLG Pro Circuit Winter Championship

Today was championship Sunday for the Columbus MLG Starcraft 2 tournament, so like the truly monumental nerd I am, I spent the bulk of my day watching the games on Major League Gaming's online stream. It was pretty enjoyable for me, since my two favorite players to watch (DongRaeGu and MarineKing) have both been on absolute tears lately, and they were paired up against each other in the finals. It was actually a rematch of the MLG finals from last month, and like last time MarineKing took the win. This makes him the first back-to-back MLG winner, which is cool since he spent quite a while as the "king of second place" in major Starcraft 2 tournaments.

That left the phenomenal zerg DongRaeGu second, and Heart, a terran player I'm not terribly familiar with, third. Heart played some fantastic games, though, so hopefully this will do something to springboard him to higher levels of recognition.

In other news, classes start back up tomorrow, so I guess I have to look busy again.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ahnengrab - Omen

Ahnengrab are a relatively new German pagan metal group. Their self-titled debut came out 4 years ago, and last month they released a second full-length, Omen. It's the first recorded material of any kind they've released since the debut.

The first thing I noticed about this record is how surprisingly catchy and upbeat it is. The musicianship is excellent, and the vocals are shrieked and rasped in the traditional style of the black metal family tree, but the sound doesn't come across as cold and hostile. Instead, beautiful acoustic intros lead straight into riffs that are so driving and energetic that I find my head bouncing along with the beat as I listen. The guitar tones are surprisingly full, and the two guitarists interweave their parts marvelously. The drumming, rather than the nonstop tinny pummeling often found in black metal and pagan metal, is varied and oddly warm in tone. Folk instrumentation crops up periodically, complimenting but not overwhelming the metal end of the music and creating gorgeous pockets of folk atmosphere. Even the bass finds its way into the mix in places.

The vocals, as I previously mentioned, are largely hoarse black metal rasps, but they do vary distinctly in places. There are various degrees of shouting and even some borderline spoken vocals scattered throughout the album. Additionally, "Feuer Kapitel I" features quite a lot of death metal grunting, and given the guitar approach on that track, I would even consider it melodic death metal song. And in fact the band does flirt with that line more than once in the course of this record. It's a sound they execute reasonably well, but it's not quite as compelling as the more blackened pagan end of their spectrum.

In terms of complaints, I haven't really got much to say. A couple of transitions from acoustic folk into metal riffs could be smoother, and I would probably have liked the album a little better if they had stayed away from death metal entirely. That said, the end product is still an excellent album.

Grade: A-
Aside from a few minor issues, this is a really good and really enjoyable record. There's a chance this could make my top 10 list when the end of the year rolls around.

Rick Santorum Ad

I don't generally get political with my posts here. For that matter, I usually don't like to talk about politics in general. I'm not going to get into my personal political views, but I would like to comment briefly that the mud slinging in campaign advertisements has just hit a new all-time high (or low, depending on how you choose to look at it).

For those of you who haven't seen the new Rick Santorum ad, allow me to give you the pleasure. I thought that this was some sort of hoax, but it was posted to the YouTube channel "RickSantorum" which has been in existence for over 5 years and has his other ads. Further, his official campaign website has its YouTube link go directly to this channel, so I'm pretty much convinced this is actually for real.

Anyway, here it is. I won't even get into all the things wrong with this ad, but I will point out that it paints a pretty dramatic picture considering the fact that it's about a guy we've already had as president for several years.

My Ex-Hair

In a weird sort of twist, around the time I really started getting into metal, I cut my hair. It usually goes the other way, where somebody gets into metal and starts growing the long metal hair. The timing for my hair growth was about right, since I was a teenager, but unfortunately the music was late to the party, as I didn't really discover metal until I was about 20.

Anyway, my mom recently posted up on Facebook an old photo of me with my former flowing locks, and I thought I'd share that.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hard to Classify

I've repeatedly noticed that many people have a very difficult time with a particular realm of metal. Viking/pagan/black/folk categorization fiascoes abound, and debates spring up endlessly over where the lines are, which side of the lines a particular band is on, and if the lines even exist. Well I have taken it upon myself to create a little Venn diagram which will clear everything up for you once and for all. If you find yourself asking which of those four classifications a given band falls under, and you just can't seem to decide for sure, then simply refer to the drawing and your question shall be answered.

You'll notice I also threw in most of the other main sub-genres of metal, but that was mostly a "why not?" since I was already playing on MS Paint. And you'll also probably notice the lack of some connections, like death-doom. I suppose I could add a little rainbow bridge or something, but I'm too lazy for that.

Anyway, this should solve your problem.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In the Mood for Doom

Like many people, I go through phases with the type of music I'm in the mood to listen to. Sometimes I'll go weeks or even a couple months without ever playing a metal song because I'm just listening to old jazz records or outlaw country or Tchaikovsky symphonies. Even when I'm on the mood for metal, the sub-genre I want to hear will go through phases too. Death, black, folk/viking, and doom are the most common of these. As the title of this post plainly states, right now it's doom.

I'll be writing another new guest review for Full Metal Attorney soon, but beyond that I haven't picked up anything brand new that I'm terribly interested in reviewing, so instead I'm going to talk a little bit about my recent listening.

The one find in particular that I've enjoyed, though I've just been playing some of the tracks on YouTube so I haven't heard it all yet, is last November's release by Esoteric. I'd never listened to them previously, and I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised. Looking at the their past album reviews on Metal-Archives reminds me of looking at The Chasm's discography. They have a few reviews on every album, and they're pretty much all stellar. If their entire catalog sounds like this, then I can understand why. This record has the blend of slow heaviness and haunting beauty that I was really hoping to hear in the new Swallow the Sun record. To any fan of death-doom who isn't familiar with these guys, I'd strongly recommend giving them a listen. That's especially true if the slower groups with soft, pretty sections like Opeth also appeal to you.

This isn't really a review, because A) I'm just not in the mood to write an actual review, and B) I'm trying at this point to stick to albums released this year for "formal" reviews. Due to that, I'm not going to go into great detail about the sonic elements of the record beyond what I've already said, nor am I going to give it a rating.

In other news, I was excited recently to hear that South Park was renewed for another 5 seasons. That will run them up to 20 in total, and I'm just hoping that they can maintain their current quality of output.

[EDIT: It may or may not have come through here, but I was about 75% of the way asleep when I wrote this. So if it seems a little spaced out, that's because it is.]

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Card Magic

I have always loved card magic. When I was a kid, my dad knew 3 card tricks. He taught one to my brother, one to me, and kept one a secret. It was great fun having a trick that my brother didn't know, and it was almost equally fun trying to figure out how he did his. From then on, I've greatly appreciated and enjoyed close up magic in general, but card tricks in particular. The decades of practice that go into refining the skill of a really great sleight of hand artist is deeply impressive to me. Any idiot can wave their arms around in a poofy shirt while set designers and stage hands do all the real work, but with expert sleight of hand it is purely a practiced skill.

Recently, through the magic of YouTube, I've been revisiting various tricks as performed by some of my favorite magicians. One such man, whose enormous skill is matched only by his encyclopedic knowledge of the history and culture of his art, is Ricky Jay. Below is my personal favorite segment from his one hour "Don't Believe Your Eyes".

Monday, March 19, 2012

Insecure Music Fans

Humans are social creatures, and as social creatures we feel the need to be validated by other people. This is true whether we want to admit it or not, and I know plenty of people definitely don't want to concede any such thing. We build our own internalized mythologies about the way the world around us functions, so that we can place our ideas and opinions on a pedestal and pretend that they are facts. We depend on the people around us to confirm these facts by agreeing with us about everything.

Every now and then, though, somebody will have the audacity to disagree with us. They might step forward and claim that our beloved book, movie, band, food, or other favored item is not to their liking. What then are we to do? Such an assault upon the very fabric of our reality cannot possibly be tolerated. Instead we must return fire. Clearly this fool has no intelligence, no credibility, no knowledge of the subject, and no right to their violent and dangerous opinion. The only explanation for their failure to recognize reality is that they must be a fat, ugly, bald, lazy, stupid, uninformed Nazi without the slightest idea what they are actually saying. If they saw the truth like we do, they could never utter such horrible things as "Avatar was overrated" or "I don't like coffee". It is our duty to inform them of their failings, and in so doing, we can rebuild the protective wall around our own delicate sense of self.

At least, I can only assume this is the type of thought process that goes through the minds of many people. We've all seen the strings of comments to that effect on YouTube music videos. If somebody disagrees with you, they have to be a moron. It's not possible that they are just as intelligent and informed as you but simply have a different opinion. If that were the case, then our word would no longer be absolute law. What a horrifying idea!

I write this post because of an interesting turn of events which just recently occurred relating to this blog. The other day I posted a negative review of Fister's new album. They were quite cool about it, and even posted it to their band Facebook page. They don't seem at all bothered by getting some negative press, which I take as a sign that they are secure enough to act like adults when somebody disagrees with them. Their fans, on the other hand, have been losing their shit.

Some of my favorite remarks:

(M****** H******) WTF kind of review was that? He didn't even sound like he knew what the fuck he was talking about.

A message to Patrick, the "26 year old return college student currently living in Ohio." Shave your fucking beard, because you clearly don't deserve it.


(C***** A** F*****) mwahah this is such a ridiculous review.. what, did you guys light a bag of shit on this guys front porch in highschool or something?


(C****** G***) also - terribly reviewing digital tracks that one receives FOR FREE = kill yourself.


I can't help but stare in wonderment at this monumental display of insecurity. Somebody doesn't like the same band as them? Oh no! What ever shall they do? Such a vile human being cannot be allowed to live or he might go on to disagree with more of their opinions in the future!

Yes, we all like validation. We all depend on it to a certain degree. Learn where to draw a line though. Your world won't crash and burn just because you like something and some random person on the internet doesn't.

I mean seriously people, if you like something then like it. Who gives a shit what anybody else thinks about it? Is your sense of self really so fragile that you need everybody around you to validate your opinions by always agreeing with you? I thought Violence was a boring album, so that's what I said. If you can't handle having your opinions challenged, then don't read reviews. And if you just assume that everybody who disagrees with you is an idiot, then you need to grow up. Your opinion is not the law, get over yourself.

Also, I'm perfectly aware that you could accuse me of the same behavior I'm condemning. After all, I did just write this whole big post because a few random people I never met insulted me on the internet. It's true, I'm guilty too. That doesn't mean I'm wrong, though.

Sweet Sixteen

I just wanted to note briefly that, with our victory over USF last night, Ohio University have now made the Sweet Sixteen in March Madness for the first time since the 60s. It was a pretty good game, too, since we trailed by about 4-6 points for the bulk, only pulling ahead in the last 5 minutes or so. Unfortunately we've got #1 seed North Carolina next, so the odds are against us. I'm still excited to see my school do this well, though, and there's always the outside shot that we could actually win again. North Carolina lost a star to a fractured wrist, so that improves our chances, though I do feel really bad for him having his tournament cut short by injury when his team is one of the favorites to win.

In any case, we don't play again until Friday, so I guess I'll just see what happens then.

Rage - 21

German heavy metallers Rage have been around since the mid 80s, and they have continued to produce a steady steam of material that entire time. Their newest album, 21, came out in February.

This album blends together a lot of traditional heavy metal with power metal, and in some tracks, a touch of thrash finds its way into the mix as well. The overwhelming feeling I got from listening to this entire record was that I had heard it all before, but that it was done well and was a lot of fun to listen to. They shift approaches from heavier to lighter enough that they keep the tracks from running together. Keyboards also enter into some songs and not others, adding a little additional diversity. Despite the fact that the songs don't all sound alike, though, none of them sound particularly unique either. Instead, they just sounded like they knocked off basic riffs and sounds from a scattering of loosely related bands.

This was still okay to listen to, since the band executed their material with plenty of skill and at least decent energy. What I think I found sad, though, was that they would hit on something that sounded good, then move on in the next song to something else entirely that often would not work as well. It basically felt to me like a compilation album, with all the issues that entails. It wasn't really a bad album, because several of the songs on it were enjoyable and the band obviously know what they're doing with their instruments by now. As an album, though, it managed somehow to be all over the place and still not be particularly creative.

Grade: C+
Several individual songs were pretty good, if not terribly original. Unfortunately, they didn't fit together well as part of a unified whole. Not a bad listen overall, but nothing to go nuts for either.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fister - Violence

Fister are a relatively new sludge/doom group from St Louis, Missouri. About 2 months ago they released this, their second full length album.

The record starts off with some promise. The first track, when is finally kicks in, is quite good. Beefy riffs with overloads of gain, hostile distorted vocals, and a general slow heaviness meet the ear. It can get a little repetitive, but that's not terribly uncommon in the doomier end of the metal spectrum, so I'll give that trait a free pass for now. The second track start out in a similar vein, but unfortunately things take a rapid turn for the worse from there.

The second track quickly devolves into somber instrumental meandering. And then the third track is an instrumental, which again just sort of listlessly drifts along without really doing anything. The fourth track doesn't do much either, and then the fifth track is yet another instrumental. And that's the end of the album. After giving the listener about 8 minutes of unremarkable but solid doomy sludge, the entire album just sort of loses interest and wanders off.

I wish I had more to say about this album. There's really not much to talk about, though, because for the bulk of its mercifully scant 24 minutes, nothing happens.

Grade: D
Even at its best this is just okay, and the final 2/3 of its run time bored me to tears.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Liberteer - Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees

Liberteer is a Californian grind band that just released their first album in January. Sole member Matthew Widener has been around the grind scene for a while, most notably as a bassist for Exhumed on a couple releases in the mid 90s.

This album has an unusual but really jarring problem. With 17 songs crammed into a space of 27 minutes, a certain amount of abruptness is to be expected, but this album will literally stop one song mid riff and start up another. In some places, what really amounts to a single track is spread over multiple track listings, but in others the songs just stop. It feels like they were recorded, then the beginnings and ends were just clipped off when they were done, leaving a 90 second sound byte in the middle as the full track. That track is then just butted up against another track that received the same treatment. I find this so irritating that it's almost impossible for me to get over it and fully enjoy the music. Which is unfortunate, because this is actually a musically solid outfit.

The core sound is in that old school Napalm Death realm of grind, with bellowed vocals, gritty guitar and bass, and frantic drumming behind it all. Rather than sticking purely to that, though, many sound experiments are scattered throughout the record. Horns come into play, guitar styles will make unexpected changes, and various odd background sounds and assorted instruments find their way into the mix. This actually makes for some interesting listening and provides a good amount of variety without knocking the band's overall sound off-center.

I only wish the tracks hadn't been so weirdly hacked and stitched together, because every time I really started enjoying the music, the track would just end and a different one would start. I hope that Liberteer releases more material in the future, and I'll certainly give that a try because the musical talent and creativity is there to create really enjoyable and unique grind. It just needs to be organized better.

Grade: C
The music was good, but clipped tracks severely damaged the listening experience for me.

In unrelated news, I have 2 notes to add.

1: My school beat Michigan last night in the first round of March Madness!

2: Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Done! For now...

Well, at least for the time being I'm done with the heavy wave of paper writing. My brain lies puddled on the floor like a huge glob of strawberry pudding, and I'm pretty sure my eyes are about to fall out from all this time staring at a computer screen, but I made it.

Hopefully I'll have time to do an album review tomorrow, though it may be the day after that instead. We'll see.

In the mean time, here's a video of Saint Vitus recording a demo version of "Blessed Night" from their new EP that comes out next week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Winter Finals

This is finals week for me, so I may not be posting anything new for the next few days. I've got a few albums in mind that I'd like to review, but I probably won't have time until Friday or Saturday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Full Metal Review

I recently wrote up a guest review of the new Embrional album for Kelly over at Full Metal Attorney. You can see the full post here. If you are not already following him and you like my metal content, I'd strongly suggest that you check out his blog even if you're not interested in reading my review. There is a lot of good material to be found over there.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction

Pallbearer are an American doom group who formed in 2008. This is their full-length debut, which came out just last month.

These guys fit quite snugly in that slow, fuzzy, heavy, groove-oriented end of the doom spectrum which is occupied by stoner doom groups like Electric Wizard and Sleep. The riffs are almost painfully slow, the variety that keeps you hanging on in that second of anticipation before the concluding bass note drops at the end of the riff. With 5 tracks, and not a single one under 8 minutes long, the song lengths reflect that trait pretty accurately. Like other stoner doom groups, the level of distortion on the bass is so high that it creates a wall of fuzz that the guitar works within and sculpts into the shape of songs, rather than simply blazing away over top of it. It's the type of distortion that allows feedback to function like an instrument. True to the form of this musical approach, the drums lay back, just keeping a beat and throwing in occasional accents, but never stepping to the forefront. The deep groove of the riff is master here. This really does remind me a great deal of Electric Wizard circa Come My Fanatics... when they were still just a trio. This falls short of the Wizard in terms of pure, crushing heaviness, but to be fair what doesn't?

That's not to say that this is a copy, though. There are places where everything else fades away and the song will drift into soft, quiet, lonely guitar passages. In other places, some ambient feedback will moan in the background while an gentle, undistorted guitar piece will occupy center stage. Those quieter portions of the songs, in particular I'm thinking about the last 2 tracks, are very effective and add a definite feeling of sorrow to the overall sound of the album.

The vocals are not terribly strong on this album. In some places they work better than in others, but overall the singer's voice sounds a little weak and thin. I noticed as I listened through this that I liked the singing toward the end of the album the best, so it may be that he grew on me as the experience progressed. The same is basically true of the album in general, though, as the everything started off painfully slow and I felt like it improved as it progressed.

Grade: A-
A very good stoner/doom debut, excellent for fans of Sleep or Electric Wizard. I was on the fence as to whether this should get an A- or a B+ grade, but since I have a strong feeling that this one is going to grow on me I went ahead and gave it the higher of the two.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Napalm Death - Utilitarian

Napalm Death are the most consistently excellent extreme metal band in the world. As bold a statement as that may be, Napalm Death have released 14 full-length albums over the past quarter century in an extremely intense part of the metal spectrum, and they have remained every bit as relevant as any band in their sphere. I can't think of a single other pioneering group from black metal, death metal, or grind that was releasing albums of the same intensity as these guys back in the 80s and has continued to produce equally strong material into the present day without any significant gaps.

With all that said, I assume most readers will be at least passingly familiar with the group, so I shouldn't have to spend a great deal of time describing the way this sounds. For those who don't know them, the extreme end of hardcore punk fused with the angriest part of metal back in the 80s to form grindcore, and Napalm Death were the band right at the heart of that development. They are the prototype on which all other grind is based and built. The instantly recognizable Barney Greenway bellows out his social and political rage in front of churning guitar riffs, gritty bass lines, and wildly fast drumming.

Utilitarian continues the band's more recent trend of incorporating more death metal elements into their traditional grind sound. Personally, I actually prefer this hybrid style to the band's older material, as the fuller song lengths and the inclusion of some meaty death metal riffs add more structure, allowing the songs to fully develop. It costs nothing in the intensity department, and I think it significantly enhances the overall sound and enjoyability of the listening experience.

Part of what has kept Napalm Death so effective for so long is their willingness to change and grow and experiment with their sound. They have kept close enough to their original formula that they have never lost their identity, and they have been judicious enough with their divergences that they have never "sold out". The group throw a few experimental touches in here, too. They open with an instrumental track, not typical for them, but it sounds good. At barely over two minutes long, it's just the right length to serve as an excellent warm-up to the album. The tempos, rather than maintaining pure balls-to-the-wall speed in every track, vary enough to maintain interest and help to distinguish the songs more clearly from one another in their tone and approach. In some tracks, like "Everyday Pox" and "Quarantined", the group also include some wild, squealing horn work that accentuates and heightens the mad frenzy of the music.

Other departures are not quite so welcome. The inclusion of clean singing on some of the tracks is the really notable example of this. In some places, like on the previously mentioned "Quarantined", the intrusion is minimal and the overall effect, while not exactly an enhancement, is at least not a significant annoyance. In "The Wolf I Feed", on the other hand, the clean vocals are weird and off putting. Largely due to those vocals, that particular track stands out to me as a jarringly bad song on an otherwise very good album.

Despite that particular knock, this is still a very strong and enjoyable album. I'm not sure that it's my favorite from their newer catalog, but the majority of the material is as good as anything else the band has produced in recent years.

Grade: B+
If you like Napalm Death, or just good grind in general, you'll like this. The inclusion of some unlikeable and ill-fitting clean vocals in places knocks the final grade down a bit.

Friday, March 9, 2012


It's possible that I've mentioned this already, but if so I'm sure it won't hurt to bring it up again. This is a shameless plug for a game I enjoy.

For years I have been playing an text based online strategy game called Dominion. The community has become fairly tightly knit over the years, and long-time players are constantly trying to raise awareness of the game to recruit new players. It's actually pretty well designed for the experienced to coach the new, since players can join "packs" of up to 6 people where they play together, and in that way one or two knowledgeable players can easily join up with new players and guide them along until they understand what they are doing.

If you're the type of person who is interested in these games, you can get to the homepage from the link in the text, or at:

I'd suggest that any new players head to the messageboards, so they can get in touch with players that can help them learn the game.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sigh - In Somniphobia

Japanese avant-garde metal outfit Sigh present us this month with a marvelous slab of genre bending weirdness, their 9th full-length album. I've been struggling with how exactly to approach writing about this album, because its level of musical complexity makes it difficult to fully describe.

This is a very sonically rich album. The instrumentation Sigh employ here reaches far beyond the norm for even experimental metal groups. From the lonesome jazz saxophone of "L'excommunication à Minuit" to the energetic bongo work on "The Transfiguration Fear", musical diversity is positively dripping from every surface of this album. Organ, whistle, violin, and more all blend fluidly with the more traditional metal instrumentation. This is not merely straight-forward metal instrumentation with extra instruments added, though. One minute the guitar will produce soaring power metal leads over top of crunchy thrash riffs, and the next it will slide into hard rock riffs that would sound perfectly at home on an AC/DC album. All this woven together with an intricate ebb and flow that adds and removes layers as it transitions from one sound to the next. Laced throughout are some of the most diverse metal vocals you will ever hear collected together on a single album. These tracks really have a lot going on in them. Together, these elements create a sound that reminds me of all the best parts of a Mr Bungle record, executed even more expertly and infused throughout with a distinctly metal character.

As I was trying to decide how to approach this review, it occurred to me that the most remarkable aspect of this album is not the diversity: it's the cohesiveness. Blending so many disparate elements into the same songs could easily have created a disjointed, unlistenable train wreck of an album with all these sound sticking out in different directions and totally lacking in structure. Or it could have become a muddled mush of sound where nothing could be heard distinctly over the din. Mixing sound is like mixing different colors of paint. One person may try to keep them each separate, so each is distinct but there is a jarring lack of transition from one to the next. Another may simply blend them all together and coat the canvas in dun brown. Instead, like an expert painter with that palate of paints, Sigh have mixed and blended with enough skill to allow each individual element room to stand out as distinct from the rest without ever having to sacrifice the overall sense of unity.

If you couldn't tell already, I'm loving this album. It is complex and creative and so engaging that I can't stop listening to it.

Grade: A
This is another strong early contender for my top album of the year. It's complex, diverse, and brilliantly interwoven.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spring on Campus

The coming of spring is always an interesting time on a college campus. All the pent-up urges of protester types have been building, and with the nice weather (this has been a super mild winter, so spring is basically here now) they bust out their signs and hit the pavement. Of course that can't go unchallenged, so you get two sides doing the same thing. Right now, just outside the building where I'm currently sitting, we have just such a standoff. In the red corner, wearing their Sunday best, we have the baptists with the "agree with me or you'll go to hell" signs. In the blue corner, a growing swarm of unwashed hippies with assorted pro-everything signs. I tend to think that such demonstrations are of little constructive value, since they're not likely to change any minds. Still, I'm thinking about going back out there just to soak up the warm sunshine and witness the spectacle of a pack of bored, over-privileged Americans doing what they do best.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Occasionally I'll stumble upon a band that I not only enjoy musically, I find them interesting on a personal level. Antestor are such a band.

Now, I tend to separate religious ideas from musical choices. Christian metal seems to be one of those hot topics of discussion that every metalhead has their own ideas about, and I've got mine as well. That's not what this post is about, though, so I'm not going to get into a theological dissemination right now.

The reason I brought up religion is that it plays a big role in what I find interesting about Antestor. These guys were founded in Norway in 1990, changed their name to Antestor in 1991, started releasing demos, and put out their first full-length album in 1994. There they were, at the height of the Norwegian black metal movement, recording Christian death/doom metal in Norway. Evidently they received death threats from several of the more extreme members of the church burning scene (including musicians). This is perhaps why they didn't release another album for four years. They then disappeared from the recording scene until they returned in 2004 with an EP and an intriguing new member: Jan Axel Blomberg. Blomberg, of course, is better known as Hellhammer, the drummer for Mayhem and a man who has played with seemingly every black metal musician in Europe at one point or another. For him to join a Christian metal band was, to say the least, surprising.

The band itself had also made an interesting stylistic change. Rather than their death/doom sound with scattered clean vocals, their 2005 full-length The Forsaken is a phenomenal melodic black metal record. It's so good, in fact, that I've even heard numerous hardcore anti-Christian black metal fans praise the album. They have not officially split up, but in the seven years since that record came out Antestor have not released so much as a split single or a demo track. That album may be the final stop on their idiosyncratic musical journey. On the one hand, it would be interesting to see more material from this band. On the other hand, ending on this triumphant note may be the perfect conclusion to their story.

"Great" Metal Albums?

We all have those albums. Their reputations are sterling, their standing legendary, their fans numerous and dedicated . . . yet when we listen to the album itself, we go "meh". Every metalhead I've ever known has at least one established great album that just doesn't do much for them, and I'm no different. I'm not necessarily disputing these albums' places in the metal pantheon. Well, sometimes I'll dispute that, but not as a rule. Rather, I'm simply saying that these are a few of the really notable "great" metal albums that I just don't particularly like or enjoy.

KILL 'EM ALL -by- Metallica
There is a tendency in the metal community to consider all the Metallica material prior to their sell-out point right around the "black album" to be great, classic thrash. While I'm fully on board with ranking all their other 80s output amongst the greatest the metal world has seen, their debut has never done a thing for me as a listener. I just don't think it sounds very good. The band had not yet fully developed. It's not that this is horrible or anything, but the very next year they would release Ride the Lightning which is, in my opinion, light-years ahead of this album in every respect.

Death were innovative, influential, and important. They routinely top "greatest death metal band" lists, and I would personally never argue with anybody who assigned them that status. Their debut, however, which has become probably the most legendary death metal album of all time, is far less deserving of that same level of acclaim. Frankly, it's weak in comparison with the bulk of their catalog. Death evolved more then most metal bands, and over the course of Chuck Schuldiner's life he would guide this band to create many albums which were far superior to their first. I fully realize that a lot of this record's acclaim comes from the idea that it was the first death metal album, but that claim isn't true. Even if you don't consider Seven Churches by Possessed to be fully formed death metal (which I don't), Necrophagia still released their debut Season of the Dead three months before Death released Scream Bloody Gore.

This EP was hugely influential to the developing black metal and death metal scenes, occupying a similar place to old Celtic Frost material. Unlike old Celtic Frost, however, I don't enjoy this. I've got nothing especially negative to say about it, and I fully recognize its standing in the metal world. It's hard really to put a finger on my exact issue with this release. After all, it combines the same gritty elements and harsh blend of thrash, black, and death metal found on To Mega Therion. For whatever reason, though, I just don't particularly like it.

I have often heard this cited as the greatest black metal album ever recorded. To start with, I should note that I have never liked Mayhem. Though I appreciate that Euronymous was right at the heart of the Norwegian black metal scene, I just don't think he produced terribly compelling music. After years of demos and EPs, this is actually the only full-length album the band released with Euronymous on it, and he was dead by the time this record hit the shelves. It was also one of only two Mayhem recordings (the other being an EP which was unreleased until 2009) on which his killer, Varg Vikernes, appeared. All this history and intrigue doesn't change the simple point that there are much better Norwegian black metal albums out there, and that several such albums were released before this one. Darkthrone had already cut their "big three" at this point, all of which are better albums in my opinion. Burzum's third album, the brilliant and vastly superior Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, came out just days before this as well. Satyricon's excellent Dark Medieval Times also came out that year. Not to mention Immortal, or the fact that Emperor had just released In The Nightside Eclipse, which was worlds better than anything Mayhem ever recorded. My point is, in the midst of a wave of material from the same small scene, I actually consider this to be at the weaker end of what Norwegian black metal was doing at the time.

BLACK METAL -by- Venom
Again, a hugely influential record to the underground extreme metal scenes. This is even the album that gave black metal its name, and helped guide the formation of that sub-genre's identity. When I listen to this, though, the description that immediately springs to mind is "screechy and annoying". Again, like Sodom's EP, I'm not going to dispute the importance of this record. As a listener, though, I actively hate this album.

Well, I think I've gone and destroyed my metal reputation enough for one sitting. So, with that, I'll call it a day.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Initiating (D)evolution?

I recently found myself pondering a question about music. A band or musician who starts something new is generally seen in a positive light, and they get called things like "innovative", "revolutionary", "pioneers", and other similarly positive labels. On the other hand, bands that do the same things we've all heard a thousand times are typically not so well regarded. The question is, how should we feel about a band that is revolutionary, but in a way that produces a variation we dislike?

Just to clear things up, the band I have in mind when I say this is Overcast. Most "serious" metalheads agree that metalcore is an abomination. Personally, I think its value as a gateway musical form is generally overlooked, but it's easy to understand why metalcore has joined nu-metal as the most hotly disputed area of the metal world. After all, it essentially serves as the buffer between the metal world and the rest of the world. Most non-metal listeners encounter nu-metal or metalcore bands like Slipknot or As I Lay Dying, and they find it off putting because it seems like the most crazy and extreme music in the world to them. They assume you'd have to be a nut or a weirdo to be a fan. Metalheads, on the other hand, often look at it as not even being real metal. These fans are annoyed precisely because the rest of the world thinks that these bands are the most extreme of the extreme. Then of course there is the actual fan-base of these bands, who think of themselves as metal fans, but who find their favorite music under attack by those with a more elitist mentality as well as those more fully in the mainstream. The entire thing becomes far more messy than it really needs to be. And what does all this have to do with Overcast? Well, if you're not familiar with them and you were unable to guess based on the context, Overcast are often credited as the first metalcore band.

The group released their first EP in 1992. Their debut album Expectational Dilution came out in 1994, a scant 3 months before Korn released their pioneering nu-metal debut. So why did it take metalcore so much longer to gain traction than nu-metal? Well, that's actually pretty simple. The guys in Overcast did become commercial successes, but not with their original band. While Korn plowed onward and gained popularity, Overcast broke up in 1998. Bassist Mike Di'Antonio would form Killswitch Engage, guitarist Pete Cortese would record with both KSE and Seemless, and vocalist Brian Fair took over from Phil Labonte as the vocalist for Shadows Fall. Thus, unlike Korn, the members of Overcast actually played a direct role in developing the bands that followed them. So the question that arises is: are these men innovators who took a different path and made it successful, or are they hacks who commercialized and bastardized metal?

Opening track "Faceless" from Bleed Into One, their 1992 EP.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Assorted Listening

I'm not posting an album review or anything else of substance today, so here's a different present for you: a few of the songs I've been listening to recently that are not on albums I plan to review.

"Self Loathing Orchestration" by Bishop of Hexen. 2006.
Excessively dramatic symphonic black metal from Israel. It kind of reminds
me of Emperor, but it's way more over-the-top with the keyboards.

"Louisiana Pit" by Ghoul Patrol. 2011.
Twangy southern style semi-death metal. It comes from Finland, of all
places. Anyway, how cool is extreme metal with slide guitar?

"Unveiling the Essence" by Cirith Gorgor. 2001.
Really good, galloping black metal from the Netherlands.
I also love the cover art.

"The Siege" by Arafel. 2011.
Very aggressive folk metal from Israel. Draws influences from multiple
sub-genres, but I guess they used to be more black metal.

I hadn't really noticed it until I started grabbing songs for this post, but I guess the bulk of my non-review based listening recently has been loosely centered on black metal.

Catching Up

Today, I slept until after 7pm. I had basically gotten no sleep 3 of the past 4 nights, so I needed it. On the downside, I'm now wide awake at 10:30pm with no reason to fall asleep again until, say, dawn. Oh well.

Another area besides sleep where I'm getting caught up is in music. We all have those bands that we've heard of a million times and have maybe even heard some material by, but that we're never gone out and got an album by to really listen to them. Well, on my way home the other day I stopped into the local music store, and after some browsing I bought a used copy of just such an album. The record in question is Eparistera Daimones by Triptykon. I haven't listened to it yet because I've had a fair amount of new material on my plate recently, but it's staring at me as I sit here, so I'm sure I'll give it a spin soon.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Undergang - Til Døden Os Skiller

Undergang are a Danish death metal group who formed in 2008. This album, released about a month ago, was their second full-length effort. This was my first exposure to the band.

I found this record to be really enjoyable. Undergang's sound is derived largely from the Obituary school of death metal, with heavy, mid-paced grooves rather than manically fast and energetic guitar work. In order for this to work, the riffs have to be compelling, and in this case they are. The churning guitar drives the music forward, effectively balancing appealingly catchy grooves with really meaty heaviness. The bass is also surprisingly prominent in the mix, adding a welcome depth and fullness to the overall sound. The drumming is perfectly solid, though it's not really the focus of the music and it doesn't stand out as anything extraordinary. Their are some breakdowns present, but these sections manage to avoid the more problematic deathcore style breakdowns one often encounters. In other places the tempo is just slower in general, with the band adopting a heavy death/doom sound.

While the musicianship is good, it's the vocal work that really brings this whole album together. The deep, guttural vocal style completes the overall heaviness of the record. Additionally, the vocalist sometimes mixes in a full-on retching noise that sounds like a demon vomiting up its guts. These serve as gruesome punctuations to his monstrous croaking and bellowing, and greatly enhance the overall effect of his performance.

My lone gripe about this record is the overuse of movie sound bytes. Many death metal bands have thrown a few well placed horror film clips into their albums, but there is no reason why a band needs to begin every song with one. Once the music actually kicks in these are no longer of any concern, but their inclusion feels very unnecessary and is slightly distracting. Overall, though, that is a minor complaint about a very good record.

Grade: A- This is excellent chunky, mid-paced death metal that is both catchy and heavy.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Odd Searches

One of the Blogger features I really enjoy is the ability to look at your site's visitation stats and see what search keywords most commonly direct traffic to your blog. When looking at the all-time totals, these searches tend to be pretty much in line with the content, but it if you look by the day or week, you will often find really odd searches that lead people to your blog. For example, I don't find it terribly surprising that "zz top" is by far the all-time number one search leading people to my blog. No, I don't mention them much. I have named them in a post or two, though, and this blog does have "Beards" in the name. Plus, it focuses mostly on music and there are likely to be more people searching for ZZ Top than for the relatively more obscure bands I usually write about in my lists and reviews. Top searches like "zakk wylde beard" (#2), "metal beards" (#6), and "ensiferum logo" (#4) are also pretty unsurprising. Below, however, is a list of some of my favorite less-expected searches that have lead people to my blog.

10. "retro futurism"
This is listed in my profile interests, but considering how infrequently I mention it and how little it has to do with anything on my blog, I'm surprised by how consistently it ends up in the search keywords lists.

9. "goat beard men"
I'm picturing Mephistopheles.

8. "sullen fallen angel tattoo"
Mostly because I have no idea how such a search would lead anybody here. I've mentioned tattoos like once or twice ever, and I must be forgetting something, because that "sullen fallen angel" part has me stumped. Incidentally, I get a fair scattering of wizard or viking related tattoo searches, too.

7. "retro sci fi posters"
I know exactly which post is responsible for this. I just can't help feeling that this blog isn't even close to what those people were looking for, though.

6. "dumbledore quotes gandalf"
Aside from one post about Merlin I did over a year ago, I don't think I've ever mentioned either of these two before, let alone anything to do with a quote.

5. "the little one starcraft beard"
I'm actually mostly interested in this one because I recently saw the YouTube video which I think was responsible for these searches. TLO aka The Little One is a Starcraft II player who recently grew a beard. In one of his newest videos, popular SC2 commentator Husky told people that they should Google said beard.

4. "beard fetish"
I know why I get these, since I made a post about this once. It's still funny sounding, though.

3. "brett keisel shirtless"
Umm, yeah . . . I don't know why people looking for shirtless photos of a football player are ending up here.

2. "pahrump snoof"
wtf? I mean, I used to live in a town called Pahrump, which I guess I must have mentioned here at some point. I still have no clue what the hell a "snoof" is, though.

1. "worlds longest pubic hair"
I don't really need to explain why I find this funny, do I?

Swallow the Sun - Emerald Forest and the Blackbird

Swallow the Sun are a Finnish melodic doom/death group who formed in 2000. They released a fantastic debut album in 2003, and this February they released their 5th full-length effort.

I should start this off by saying that I really, really wanted to love this album. Their debut "The Morning Never Came" was great, and ever since I first heard that record I've found myself rooting for these guys. Sadly, while this new release was by no means a bad effort, I was not particularly thrilled with it either.

The overall sound is doomy and melodic, with a vaguely Gothic sensibility. The musical composition is hauntingly beautiful in many places, though it is capable of rising up in torrents of death metal aggression before smoothly carrying the listener away again on its melodic current. Wonderfully delicate guitar passages link the musically fuller portions of the songs, giving the overall sound an excellent ebb and flow. In this area, the band has lost nothing over the years. That does not mean that all is well, though.

The overwhelmingly major problem I have with this record is the vocalist. He resorts to rather dry clean vocals far too often. When he does rise up to harsher ranges, his mighty bellows of old have given way to thinner and less compelling shrieks. There are also a few places where his halfway-point between these two styles reminds me far too much of the vocal devolution experienced by Anders Fridén circa "Soundtrack to Your Escape". There are still moments where he manages to recapture the power and command of his earlier work, and when he does this record really shines. Unfortunately, these moments are too few to carry the weight of his generally uninspiring performance throughout the bulk of this album.

Grade: B-
The music is excellent, but the vocals are disappointingly mediocre.

Pharaoh - Bury the Light

Pharaoh are a power metal group from Philadelphia, who have been together since the late 90s and released their debut album in 2003. Two of their four members are also in the band Dawnbringer. Late last month they released their 4th full-length, "Bury the Light".

Pharaoh's power metal sound on this album is infused with a progressive flavor. It's also not quite as pretty and flowery as a lot of power metal. Instead, there's a little bit of edge here. A big factor in their sound is the vocalist, whose voice has more grit than typical high and clean power metal vocals. He actually reminds me of Tom Englund from Evergrey in several places.

As for the instrumental end of the music, everything is solid and well-executed. The occasional odd tempo shifts are handled very smoothly. The bass is, though not central, actually generally audible in the mix. The drumming is sharp and proficient without cluttering the music with anything excessively fast and complex. The guitar is really the musical highlight. There is a strong and rather annoying tendency amongst power metal guitarists to engage is really gratuitous displays of virtuosity with little or no regard for how their play actually impacts the overall sound of the music. In short: wankery. Here, however, that is not the case. Complex passages are played flawlessly, but the guitar always feels like it has a purpose for what it does beyond mere exhibitionism. Yes, there are fast solos and tricky rhythm passages. Guitarist Matt Johnsen always shows just enough restraint, though, that it feels like he did what the song needed rather than put himself on display.

Admittedly, power metal is not really in my musical wheelhouse. I tend to gravitate toward the more aggressive metal sub-genres, or to indulge my love of fantasy in the Viking/folk realm. That said, I enjoyed this record quite a bit. It didn't blow my mind, but it was very strong. I have nothing but praise for the skill and precision with which the music was executed, and the vocalist was more interesting than those in most power metal bands. There's just something intangible missing that keeps me from feeling like this is a great album. That "it factor" just isn't quite there for whatever reason.

Grade: B+
A very strong and interesting album. I feel like this album is better than my personal reaction to it, so fans of the sub-genre should check it out, because it will probably do more for them than it did for me.