Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Metal in the Mail - Septicflesh & Fates Warning

Thanks to my longsuffering mail carrier I'll be ringing in the New Year with four new records from two late-2011 discoveries, Septicflesh and Fates Warning (yes, I know I am 25 years late here).

My Septicflesh collection has now tripled, adding Communion (2008) and Sumerian Daemons (2003) to The Great Mass, one of my favorite discoveries from other folks' 2011 Best Record lists.

I dived into Fates Warning after passing them by most of my life and just this year falling in love with the Arch/Matheos record, Sympathetic Resonance. I started with their two earliest records in stock and available for immediate delivery, The Spectre Within (1985) and Awaken the Guardian (1986). I was shocked - and pleased - to find that the Awaken the Guardian was a triple-disc set with an extra CD of live and demo tracks and a DVD with a 12-track live show from that era's lineup (all for $13.28 brand-new - way to go, Metal Blade!).

I am looking forward to starting 2012 off with a lot of new music - and hope to spend the entire year in the same fashion.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Harvesting Habits - PoorWater - 2011

PoorWater may be on to something. This five-piece prog outfit from Mesa, Arizona have just released their recording debut, Harvesting Habits, and it has quietly worked its way into my regular rotation with the usual crew of heavies. It's not a perfect record (how many debuts are?) and seems frequently to be searching to find its place but, when it does, it shines.

The star is immediately evident. Lauren Jones on cello damn near owns the entire album, immediately recalling for me Jessy Greene's violin contributions to the Geraldine Fibbers (oh, to be back in '95...). Strings are nothing new or unusual on a progressive rock record but she's got a tone that demands the listener's attention and dominates from the get-go, instantly grabbing hold via the brief instrumental opener, "Found." The following track, "Answers," is one that flounders, unfortunately, with lead vocals on the track turning in what happens to be the weakest performance on the album, an over-emotive wail that fails to convince despite its hammy delivery, hung over a meandering melody that fails to ever find a groove. It's a rough start to the album and one I worry may send potential listeners packing too early.

Hang on. It gets a lot better.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Sympathetic Resonance - Arch/Matheos - 2011

I don't know Fates Warning beyond recognition of their name and do not believe I have ever knowingly heard any work of Jim Matheos or John Arch prior to grabbing Sympathetic Resonance earlier this year. I know I need to check out some of their mid-80s work and hope to resolve that gap on the shelf after the Christmas coffers have been replenished. I have been enjoying Sympathetic Resonance since Autumn and, while it didn't rank in my Top Ten for 2011, it is a solid - and very heavy - progressive metal record worthy of addition to the library of any fan of Rush, Dream Theater, Yes or the recent offerings from Cormorant or Opeth.

Prior to purchase I had read of listeners unhappy with John Arch's vocals but I found them to be perfectly listenable with an impressive range to boot - and certainly a good foil for the guitar architecture of Jim Matheos, whose body of work I now absolutely need to hear. I was also immediately taken with the percussion of Bobby Jarzombek (who I do know from the marvelous Demons & Wizards project as well as the Halford records) and it is not often I am much affected by the "tone" of drums but, in the case of Sympathetic Resonance, the man again distinguishes himself from his peers. Add in solos from Frank Aresti (OK, I really need to find some Fates Warning) and this record is a modern prog lover's dream come true. There are no keyboards to be found - just riffs, riffs, riffs, shifting tempos and sick leads all amounting to rock polished to a razor-sharp intensity. The lyric is intelligent though veers toward stereotypical prog pomposity but, really, the words are just a vehicle for the great Arch vocals. Sympathetic Resonance is great, technically-impressive prog with a hefty heart of metal and, top ten or not, one of the best records I heard in 2011.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Carnival is Forever - Decapitated - 2011

I don't know pre-tragedy Decapitated (apparently a 2007 automobile accident left the band's drummer deceased and vocalist in a coma) and recently grabbed the repopulated band's Carnival is Forever based solely on its inclusion in many 2011 Top Ten lists. It's an extreme, highly technical metal assault that comes across with a very present-feeling, almost live production quality. It's also just OK for me. I like it, will shelve it as opposed to selling it and will probably never replay nor seek any additional Decapitated music (aside from working the excellent "Homo Sum" into some iTunes playlists). This brief record, clocking in around forty minutes with eight songs (one of which is an instrumental), plays like an EP structured around a couple good songs (add "404" to "Homo Sum" for the essentials) with the bulk sounding like one chug-chug-chug after another slightly different chug-chug-chug.  If I had been invested in the band in the past I may have been more interested to hear this development of their sound but as a wholly new (to me) standalone experience, Carnival is Forever, despite its name, amounts to about 10 minutes of fun.

Friday, December 23, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Kvelertak - Kvelertak - 2010/2011

After simply titling this post I have used most of my energy spelling, checking and respelling "Kvelertak." Luckily, I don't have to get into individual song titles as, beginning to end, Kvelertak is solid. This eponymous '10 debut from Norway hit the US in 2011 and, while reportedly a record on the subject of Norse mythology, these English-only ears simply hear an original, energetic blend of punk and metal that rocks in spite of its foreign lyric. The John Baizley cover art alone is reason enough to label the record a must-buy and the entire aesthetic wrapped up in a single package has turned Kvelertak into my Christmas gift of choice this season, absolutely delighting those with whom I have shared it.

Mother tongue aside, the vocal instrument on Kvelertak recalls the inspired punk energy of Brainiac's Tim Taylor and the triple-guitar punk/metal/hardcore assault of the music has more hooks than a Hellraiser movie. Each track twists and turns and surprises so frequently that the listener is constantly on the edge of their seat - if not on their feet - and the record has yet to grow stale. It's a hell of a lot of fun and, whether they're singing about Vikings or pickled herring, as long as it sounds this good, I'm in.

Head on over to The Metal Advisor for an in-depth review of this monster and then buy a copy. You still got two shopping days left to stuff someone's stocking full o'Kvelertak.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Macabre Eternal - Autopsy - 2011

Well, this is the shit. Death metal pioneers from way, way back, Autopsy resurrected in 2009 after a fifteen-year hiatus and the sound, as evidenced on their first full-length since reforming, Macabre Eternal, has aged in the best possible ways. It's crusty and ugly and contorted and crude - everything you need it to be. The riffs grind like the rotors on any vehicle my wife drives, the solos know no speed aside from overdrive and, from now on, Cookie Monster's vocalizations will be described as derivative of those of Chris Reifert, who has taken the gastrointestinal gurgle to operatic heights. Macabre Eternal is the very definition of old-school and, man, is it a fun record.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Path of Totality - Tombs - 2011

Wow. Coming onto my radar as a late-season counterpoint to the underwhelming An Ache for the Distance, Tombs' Path of Totality is a sludge of a different sort, a dirge with teeth. It's a doomy slab of momentum, the same kind of forward power as Sabotage (though any real similarities end there). At the same time, Path of Totality has strata and comes on like a glacier, lumbering layers piled through the ages with the power to shape the very earth. In short, it's a motherfucker.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: An Ache for the Distance - The Atlas Moth - 2011

An Ache for the Distance is the type of record that doesn't often make it into my collection anymore. There's lot of doomy sludge on the shelves, both indie and larger label, and there was a time when I wanted to hear nothing else. But time and tastes change and my collection has largely shifted away from that sound in recent years. Until, then, The Atlas Moth comes along with a record popping up all over 2011 Top Tens and featuring a nude, buxom woman all over its artwork. Done. Sold. So, An Ache for the Distance is good to look at but how does it sound?

It's a dense, heavy record and it's got more than a little psychedelic tinge that sets it apart from and a notch above run of the mill sludge. That said, An Ache for the Distance does not strike me as a record I will reach for often. Despite its edginess, its listenability in the light of its experimental sound An Ache... never quite settles into a satisfying groove, moving instead like an enveloping cloud of complicated sound that weighs heavy on the lungs and leaves you gasping at the end as if pulling away from an overextended bong hit. I've been there - and I've been very, very happy there - but I cannot quite go back again.

Monday, December 19, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Forever Abomination - Skeletonwitch - 2011

I know Skeletonwitch's Forever Abomination should have made my 2011 Top Ten and I had it in time to reasonably weigh it against my other favorites for the year. The problem is, I guess, with a band this good, this consistent, it gets way too easy to take them for granted. Forever Abomination builds from the strengths of its predecessors, hones the band's sound and delivers a fault-free, hard-as-hell heavy metal assault all wrapped up in a killer (embossed, even) sleeve.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Baldur - Skálmöld - 2011

I was excited for Skálmöld's Baldur as soon as I saw the cover. And then, when Metal Hammer labeled it "Amon Amarth-meets-Ensiferum-via-Iron Maiden" I made sure I had it in my hands. That was Halloween. I've played Baldur through several times. Metal Hammer could have saved some copy and just described it as "Ensiferum." I appreciate the historically accurate adherence to Icelandic verse and narrative tradition and, even with the lyric in a language most of the world's listeners will not comprehend, the booklet provides Cliff's Notes in English so we can follow the album's story arc, on that seems cool as hell (badass Viking's family is destroyed by a demon and he seeks revenge, dying and reaching Valhalla as he succeeds). I just wish it had rocked harder. While Amon Amarth may not represent all that is Viking metal (hell, they don't even claim the label for themselves), they certainly set a standard for heaviness associated with horned helms and battle-axes and Skálmöld's power metal approach liberally intertwined with folk elements makes for an experience that, while not entirely unpleasant, is certainly wimpier. And, given that cover, it's unforgivable.


Fucking Epic.

Saturday, December 17, 2011 announces Captain Beefheart Bat Chain Puller Release

Not a reissue but instead a proper first issue of the intended record that eventually became Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). A $20.00 pre-order currently promises delivery by January 15, 2012. The communication and tracklist here:

12 Days of Christmetal: Welcome to the Morbid Reich - Vader - 2011

The Metal Advisor got it right again. Following his review from early December I grabbed Welcome to the Morbid Reich, my proper introduction to the music of Vader. And what a place to start. Purely coincidentally, I had Morbid Angel's debut, Altars of Madness, in my listening stack the same day Welcome to the Morbid Reich arrived and was terribly pleased to hear how this loosely Lovecraftian strain of death metal has progressed and deepened since that '89 record while still staying true to the roots of the sound (and it's noteworthy to me that both bands called Earache Records home during their beginnings).

Friday, December 16, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: The Great Mass - Septicflesh - 2011

I just got Septicflesh's The Great Mass this week and I may well have played it to death over the course of the day today. Friday mornings are quiet at our office and for the few that come in early, we usually enjoy some coffee, conversation and, on occasion, crank up a little rock to start the day. This morning I popped in The Great Mass, unleashed "The Vampire from Nazareth" and the Sales Manager standing across from my desk could respond only with "That's fucking epic." We quickly agreed that music on this scale is best suited for riding large horses in slow motion through frosty, haunted forests, cloaked in animal skins with a battle axe in one hand and an unconscious maiden draped across the saddle.

It sure as hell beats scanning timeclock records for missed punches.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Dwellings - Cormorant - 2011

I cannot pretend to have been in the know regarding Cormorant prior to a tweet directing me to an NPR review a couple weeks back. I took the praise with a grain of salt, with any music on NPR generally leaning toward the headier side of world/folk/alt and generally not quite my thing. Still, the review featured a stream of Dwellings in full and, once played, I had to have it. A quick trip to the band's Facebook page offered the CD in its full, tri-fold physical glory as well as the immediate gratification of a full MP3 download for fifteen bucks. Sold. And I've been playing it ever since.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Heritage - Opeth - 2011

As I read through everyone's "Best of 2011" lists it is quickly apparent that I missed a boatload of incredible heavy metal this year. I've been ordering like a fiend, trying to catch up and round out my year, more or less gifting myself a'plenty prior to the actual holiday. In the tradition of partridges, pear trees, milky maids and all, I want to give a brief flyby to a dozen records I missed earlier this year, starting with Opeth's Heritage.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hell, yes. New Recordings Underway for Dismemberment, Kingsblood

The Christmas season always seems slooooooow for new releases but I am heartened as I follow two of my local Ohio favorites, Dismemberment and Kingsblood, and read that both are busy at work writing and/or recording new material due in the new year.

Just two weeks ago Kingsblood posted:
KINGSBLOOD will be hitting the studio in mid Jan. to record a 4 or 5 song EP. So far KINGSBLOOD has a full 4 songs now clocking in at 30 minutes of epicness and with a 5th probably around 36. The hits keep coming so prepare thyself. This shit is just getting more brutal.

The composition should be up for download on iTunes at the end of Jan and will be sold at shows as well. (Then shirts).

Dismemberment aurally kicking my ass back on 10/14.
Dismemberment's recording progress for their new EP can be followed both on the Facebook page and on the blog for Paper Tiger Studios. There are fabulous photos and videos here and I cannot wait to hear what these guys are cooking up for the follow-up to the magnificent The Condemned.

And, for those within any reasonable driving distance of Columbus, this weekend will see both bands onstage at a Very Bless the Child Christmas. Work schedules will keep me away (stupid sustenance...) and I am devastated that I'm going to miss this show, scheduled for 7:00 PM at The Dude Locker, 527 East Hudson. Only three bucks to get in or $2 a single canned food item to be donated to the Mid Ohio Food Bank. The massive lineup will be as follows:

I would love to hear from anyone who attends as I am sure it will be absolutely excellent. To add insult to injury, I had planned a trip to the Alrosa Villa for this Wednesday's birthday to treat myself to Kingsblood opening for Korpiklaani and read this morning that Kingsblood canceled this one last month due to conflicting work schedules (hey, Alrosa, update your website...). Sounds like work is fucking us all over. So be it. Rock and roll will endure.

Kingsblood. they get up at seven and go to work at nine.
seems to me they could live their life a lot
better than they think they am.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pursuit of Honor - Battlecross - 2011

I've owned Battlecross' debut in its Metal Blade incarnation since Halloween. While I gave it a couple listens right away, it got pushed back in the shuffle of Goathwore, Exhumed, King Diamond et al that dominated much of my November. I pulled Pursuit of Honor back out a couple weeks ago and kick myself for letting it sit unplayed for even a single day. It's a great, rugged record. My pre-write-up ritual is something like this: on a day I plan to write, I take advantage of my fifty-plus-mile morning commute and play the record uninterrupted beginning to end, composing the bones of the review in my head, jotting notes on a pad in the seat beside me (no accidents yet, Progressive). A good indicator of my opinion of the album, positive or negative, is how many times I hear a killer riff/lead/song segment and have to grab the case to see what track is playing. With Pursuit of Honor, I lost count. Looking at my pre-dawn, highway-affected scrawls I see multiple notations of "Kaleb," "Deception," "Man of Stone," "Breaking You," "Rupture," "Leech," "Better Off Dead," "Misery" - basically the entire tracklist.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

CRACK3D MACHIN3: The Beauty of Brainiac

So much of the power of music depends upon its place in time. I was lucky enough, then, to be in college, in Ohio, tuned into both local music and the alternative tidal wave (for better or worse - so much of it worse) just as Brainiac was born. I cannot claim to have been turned onto any of the initial 7" singles emanating from Dayton early, early on (and still haven't heard them) but I was an early adopter of Smack Bunny Baby in '93 and followed the band's recorded output very closely from that point out until the untimely death of frontman Tim Taylor in 1997 and, to this day, consider two of their three full-length LPs to be absolutely essential entries in my music library - and music history for that matter.