Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Black Chord - Astra - 2012

Astra's The Weirding may damn well have been my favorite record of 2009. Across a six-month span Rise Above Records injected my library with a healthy dose of modern-day prog with a throwback flavor under the banners of Diagonal, Blood Ceremony and Astra. The Weirding, with roots dipped into Meddle-era Floyd and Crimson-like flourishes of guitar wizardry, went beyond tribute and signaled instead a resurrection of a time when prog could induce a fevered delirium as easily as many modern cold and calculated purveyors lean toward languid stupor. The follow-up, The Black Chord, was highly anticipated and delivers more with less, if that makes any sense. I'll try to explain.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Illud Divinum Insanus - The Remixes - Morbid Angel - 2012

I must admit I am at a loss on how to approach any review for Morbid Angel's remix project of their nearly universally reviled Illud Divinum Insanus (I, for the record, did not hate it). I am not sure if it is an exercise in ignorance - or an intentional ignoring - of fans' reactions, a statement of independence, a giant fuck you or a little of all the above, but here we have it: two discs - plus a card with a code for download of eight additional remixes - weighing in at over three hours across nearly forty tracks. It's a lot to stomach for even an admitted admirer of the source material.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dismemberment • Malignant Christ • Skullbomb - March 17, 2012 - The Shrunken Head, Columbus, Ohio

Like tens of thousands, I spent St. Paddy's Day sick as hell. Except I didn't have a drop to drink. Some lousy springtime bug had me down at week's end. Still, neither hell nor high water could keep me from the Shrunken Head and the release party for Dismemberment's stellar new EP, Denied Salvation. The streets of Columbus were more crowded than usual with plenty of inebriated college types stumbling around in green but inside the Shrunken Head was a sea of black. This was my second trip to the venue and reaffirmed my first impression as a nice, cozy spot that left this metal fan feeling more than welcome. It was nice to see that the place hadn't descended into any kind of St. Pat's pandering and I was amused at the random groups of emerald-clad pub crawlers who would walk in the door, witness the scene and seem absolutely befuddled at the lack of tinted beverages or NCAA action. Superb.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Torture - Cannibal Corpse - 2012

Vince Locke's full artwork in all its unshrouded glory.
Well, fuck me. Cannibal Corpse have somehow, with over a dozen superb - yet similar - discs already on my shelves, managed to create what damn well be a masterpiece. What arty trick have they pulled out of their collective festering ass to differentiate Torture, you ask? The answer: none whatsoever. They simply got better. This is death metal at its most refined. Scary, not sloppy. Powerful, not hamfisted. Lyrically, perfectly balanced between the absurd and the abhorrent, the sum whole teetering just toward the edge of terrifying. It's magnificent.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Worth the Effort: L.A. Woman & Why Be Something You're Not?/Halloween 1982 - Misfits

With the multitude of avenues available for fan-made unsanctioned recordings online the good, old-fashioned bootleg appears to be rapidly going extinct (if it's not already there). While I wince at the dollars stolen from the artists I cannot help but fondly recall visiting a certain music store in Parkersburg, West Virginia in my high school days where there were no records or CDs, only instruments. Unless, of course, you were introduced to the proprietor by someone in the know and then, just like in a movie, you could be invited into a backroom and permitted to sort through bin after bin of bootleg albums. At the time I was heavy into Neil Young and threw a lot of cash toward this particular store for Buffalo Springfield's unreleased Stampede album as well as a four-disc collection of never-before-released songs by Mr. Young on Great Dane Records (think it was called Rock and Roll Cowboy...). Later, in college, there were otherwise reputable music stores - some even based in shopping malls - that stocked straight-up bootlegs under the label "Imports." I remember grabbing Pink Floyd's Live at Pompeii ported to CD by Baby Capone Records as well as the U2 straight-to-DAT scandal that was Axtung Beibei. Along the way I also grabbed everything I could by Danzig and, of course, the Misfits. With the advent of DVD there were also pre-YouTube unseen videos to be had as well (Nine Inch Nails' Broken movie was a holy grail of sorts). Two bootlegs that still haunt my collection today are the Misfits' L.A. Woman CD and the double-DVD, Why Be Something You're Not?/Halloween 1982.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Digging into Exhumed

I made an attempt to see Exhumed live back in November and, at the time, was pretty thrilled with their latest record, All Guts, No Glory. Since then I've picked up four more records by the band and am looking forward to their next stop in the area, Death on the Vine, scheduled for April 14th. I believe I have collected every long-player the band has out with the exception of the Platters of Splatter collection and the band has been worming their way into my daily rotation with greater frequency across the last few weeks.

Literally everything I have ever read on the band describes Exhumed one of two ways: if positive, as "Carcass-worshipers" or, if negative, as "Carcass clones." Guess I need some more Carcass. Admittedly, all I have ever heard by Carcass is the used copy of Heartwork I bought in college and, frankly, haven't really played at all in the last 19 years or so.

For the most part, though, these guys - both fans and detractors - are probably right. There's not much that feels original - or even varied - about my retrofitted Exhumed library.  Meaty riffs, grindcore beats, guttural and unintelligible vocals juxtaposed with frenzied, growled (and nearly as unintelligible) vocals. I'll assume the lyric is gory as hell based on the song titles and artwork but, realistically, I cannot tell. I am very, very satisfied to simply settle into a relatively generic, albeit very well-done, groove for a few hours and just enjoy. I could not tell Anatomy is Destiny from Slaughtercult from Gore Metal and I do not care. Many years ago, before The Walking Dead ever hit TV and when blogging was called "Geocities," I maintained a little website dedicated to zombie films. I accumulated literally dozens of DVDs filled with undead gore and, while most of it was uninspired rehash and retread of everything that had come before, I never saw one I didn't enjoy (except maybe Shatter Dead...). Still, though, from time to time there would emerge from the endless reels of necrotic cannibalism a film with something extra (almost always from Lucio Fulci). All Guts, No Glory, now having gone more or less full circle through the band's discography, is Exhumed's The Beyond.

It may be the production. It may be the infusion of melodic leads and solos. It may be the precision and power of the drums. Then again, it may be - and probably is - a maturity and honing of songwriting as the band had taken a five-year or so hiatus since their prior record and, in the meantime, cooked up a veritable feast of gore. "As Hammer to Anvil," the record's first fully-realized number, is as good as any single song I have heard in the last year.

It's nice to just enjoy music that aspires to do nothing more than rock. It's even better when a band succeeds in that aspiration as well as Exhumed has on All Guts, No Glory. I don't necessarily care if it's original. And I'll likely never claim Exhumed are the best in any particular category or subgenre or my favorite anything, for that matter (I still gotta hand the gore crown for 2011 to Autopsy). Exhumed are, instead, purveyors of another great, fun set of records on my shelf and, like my Tombs of the Blind Dead box set, a reliable source of ambling, decrepit, bloodthirsty, tasteless entertainment.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Different Kind of Truth - Van Halen - 2012

I have started and stopped writing this review at least a dozen times. I am as much a Van Halen fan as about any American of my generation (i.e., of those who were actually alive and listening to music during their original incarnation, even if I was in 5th grade when I bought 1984). I've always had all of their records on my shelf but have never adhered to the "David Lee Roth is Forever Superior" mindset and, while I freely admit the band created better singles and killer individual tracks with Roth, I'll always maintain that, as far as albums proper go, they were at their best and most cohesive with Sammy Hagar (and I do sit firmly on the bandwagon in my blanket dismissal of Van Halen III). So - while I was definitely intrigued at the announcement for A Different Kind of Truth I was not overly enthused or even necessarily optimistic. This record has been so hyped and over-covered that, frankly, it's been hard for me, a month after its release, to analyze it unaffected by all of the external noise and pressures to be excited by what was, to me, potentially the latest iteration of Chinese Democracy. I have to admit, though, that I was a little pleased to be able to come home on a Tuesday evening in February and do something I had not done since 1995 - slit the cellophane on a Van Halen album and hear something totally new.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fairytale of Perversion - Exeloume - 2011

The most-excellent New Wave of Thrash Metal blog is a goldmine of leads into new, exciting and obscure thrash metal. On the site's February 24 Weekend Breakdown post I was immediately taken with the unmistakable Ed Repka artwork gracing the cover for Exeloume's Fairytale of Perversion and, frankly, the sound of the record was secondary in my decision to add this album to my collection. I knew nothing of Exeloume prior to the NWOTM blog post and know little more of them as I write this aside from a quick scan at the band's Facebook page to see any prior entries in their discography (a couple of demos only) but this is a band I would definitely follow to check out any subsequent records

The production of  Fairytale of Perversion is an instant success. There's a heavy, powerful sound present that doesn't sacrifice clarity for mud. When I put the album on I immediately though, for some reason, of Testament's "The Preacher," one of my favorites from The New Order. I was pretty surprised when I threw that record on and the two sounded so very different. There's some shared thrash DNA element buried deep that strikes a chord with this listener and, because I am always compelled to compare the new with what I know, I somehow blend that early Testament with the deathly elements of Entombed's Clandestine to say, "if you dig those, you'll like this." None of which is to say Exeloume do not necessarily stand on their own. Like the superb Havok, Exeloume seem in no way embarrassed to acknowledge - nor do they overdress - historical influences but instead distill the finer elements for a sound that is so very satisfyingly crushing. The thrash and death influences are neatly layered and intertwine and alternate effectively across Fairytale of Perversion. Melody is neither abandoned nor obscured and is instead celebrated. Magnificent leads from André Ulriksen punctuate most numbers and leave this listener in a "classic" metal reverie. Add in a guest spot on "Ignorance is Bliss" from King Diamond Guitar God Andy LaRoque and you have a debut that is, if not particularly unique, at least a hell of a lot of heavy, heavy fun. And that alone is rare enough a quality to make Fairytale of Perversion a solid recommendation (Thanks, NWOTM!).