Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Mafia


Fleshgod Apocalypse - Mafia
Willowtip Records (2010)

I must admit that, though I'd heard people rave like demented hyenas about this band, I had actually failed to check them out until this release, which is my own shear fucking stupidity and a mistake I quickly remedied by acquiring their previous effort Oracles at the soonest available opportunity.

In the world of death metal, having 'classical influences' can mean a number of things: It could mean that one or two of the tracks feature a piano or some hugely unconvincing synth strings; it could mean that you occasionally have a neoclassical solo comprised of licks memorised from some Malmsteen instructional video; it could mean that you're just one of those delusional fuckwits that thinks the occasional acoustic, instrumental interlude is all you need to elevate you above the 'riff-raff' of brutal bands to stand like the poncey cunt you are, stick firmly positioned in the anus, trying to convince everyone who'll listen that you're the metal Paganini.

Well, fuck you. . . fuck all of you, because Fleshgod Apocalypse truly do have classical influences; while neoclassical leads abound throughout this EP, there's no thoughtless widdling here. There is an originality to both the progressions and the arrangements with songs often being structured in a classical vein and building to a narrative crescendo before repeating key sections just to ensure they're suitably drilled into your brain.

This repetition does, however, get a bit tiresome. After the first few listens, Thru our Scars [sic – another demonstration of death metal's Illiterati elite] while full of brutal riffs, driving blasts and eye opening leads, I keep wanting the song to either end or do something different. The fact that one, initially jarring section featuring bassist Paulo Rossi's high-pitched and almost operatic vocals is repeated unnecessarily means that instead of the listener waiting for the second spin of the disc to sagely nod in understanding of why it was employed and how it fits musically, he's far more likely to want to teach the fucker a lesson in high-pitched, operatic singing with particular reference to castrati! Similar to some sections on Emperor's IX Equilibrium, while Rossi's vocals are hugely impressive, I can't help thinking that by simply dropping them for one of the two sections would actually serve to increase the emotion of the track as well as propelling the incredibly intricate fret-work that sits in the background to the fore.

Again, on Abyssal, we have an incredible track that could only benefit from losing a minute or two. I'm not sure whether Fleshgod and I are on different pages - me being on the one that says "leave the fuckers wanting more and they'll love you for it" - or if the Apocalypse boys are just trying to fill out an EP that only has three original songs on it, either way, these tracks could only benefit from going on a bit of a diet and coming out a little leaner and a little meaner.

Aside from the 3 new songs, the remaining tracks on the disc are a cover of Blinded by fear which, while both competently executed and differing enough from the At the Gates version, was never going to sound as good as the original and - like their previous album - a piano outro.

Criticisms aside, this is an amazing EP and an impressive follow up to Oracles. The malevolent tremolos, the expertly conducted sweeps, plethora of riffs, tight drumming, solid vocals and a composition which both surprises and manages to keep its hooks in for days on end mean that this is a near-faultless release. Those criticisms levelled at this release are minor in the extreme and on most other discs would be niggles compared to far bigger issues. The fact remains that there *are no* bigger issues. Not only is the musical ability on display phenomenal, the song-writing pretty much above reproach but it's all backed up with a superb mix that means that the brutality is accentuated while everything remains balanced and therefore audible.

With Hour of Penance' future looking uncertain to say the least, there are bound to be comparisons with two ex-members in Fleshgod, however we see these Romans not just distancing themselves from HOP but forging their own distinct furrow to an even greater degree. I just can't wait to see what their next full-length holds for us. . .

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Human Filleted - Blunt Force Embludgeonment


Human Filleted – Blunt Force Embludgeonment
Sevared Records (2010)

Sometimes all you want is a bloody slice of brutal death metal. The problem is that so often you're left disappointed; in a world that's literally glutted with bands all trying to be more brutal than the next it's easy for the final result to be lacklustre, unconvincing, musically sub-standard or downright forgettable.

Thankfully, Human Filleted don't suffer from the above problems. This - their second full length outing - proves to be brutal, groovy, chuggy and technical in equal measures. There's nothing here that you won't have heard before, however elements of such titans as Gorguts, Suffocation and Gorgasm are brought together with an undisputed understanding of what makes brutal death metal work. Trem-picked, blasting phrases juxtaposing stomping slams, melodic and at times neoclassical leads scattered liberally throughout, with the occasional breakdown (without becoming some scene-kid's wankathon) this is brutal death metal at its best.

While this is straight up, no-nonsense brutality without a trace of stick-up-the-arse musico-smugness, the faster riffs and, most notably, leads demonstrated by the Christman (Purulent Infection) and Ross combination are outstanding. The fact that the majority of the tracks are based on slams and evil-sounding tremolos just serves to intensify those more technical moments.

Neither do the band shy away from stepping off the tempo once in a while to deliver sinister melodies and brutal grooves - both of which are superbly exemplified on the opening Hooker Cooker; a track which had me hooked (sorry) immediately and sets the scene for what's to follow.

The production is clear, yet chunky - the brutally scooped guitar sound both cutting through like a razor and bolstering a heavy low end that's liable to leave anything not nailed down to go bouncing across shelves and table-tops alike. The bass drums deliver a deep rumble behind a ringing snare and a big tom-sound that reminds you just what a roll's supposed to do while the tight bass binds everything in a tourniquet of old school savagery. Over all of this Christman's gutturals pornographically extol the virtues of gore. Joined on a track each by Shaun LaCanne (Putrid Pile), Damian Leski (Gorgasm) and Anthony Voight (Sarcophagy), the overall vocal performance is given variation which adds to the memorability of tracks that, if your anything like me are going to be stuck in your head for good.

While there will doubtless be those decrying this album for it's unoriginality, this is not a release beset with problems of pretentiousness. This is a brutal death metal album of the old school variety and it doesn't try to be anything else. What it does do, it does brilliantly. The composition's phenomenal; developing seemingly instinctively as well as creating an immersive atmosphere that's sadly lacking in many contemporary releases. From the bludgeoning opener to the final disquieting harmonies of Reduced to Pulp, this release keeps you engaged throughout.

Human Filleted might not be throwing out something hugely innovative but when there's so many bands out there desperately attempting to approximate their influences, these guys demonstrate that they're truly masters of their craft.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Sarcolytic - Thee Arcane Progeny

Sarcolytic - Thee Arcane Progeny (2010)

What is it with musicians? Is it that there really are so few of them actually willing to get off their arses and do something, or are they just the insular, incestuous bunch they appear? Yet again a band comes from left field (granted, they did so at the beginning of the year, but this blog didn't exist then) to totally side-swipe me, only for me to find out that it's another fucking supergroup!

After a fashion anyway: Sarcolytic come strutting like the technical death metal aficionados they are, boasting members of Images of Violence and Disgorge. Unlike either of these two bands however, Sarcolytic is not just another moniker preceding the standard brutal-death assault which - while I love - we've all heard a thousand times. Sarcolytic take a darkly Sci-Fi tinged, lyrical approach to a sound which while being both heavy as fuck and technical as bastardry is tinged with elements of black metal in the form of complex open chords which break up technical yet catchy riffing. Particularly apparent on the title track and Emissary, its appearance on the latter also demonstrates some excellent interplay between the guitars and Denton's almost jazzy bass that adds another layer to an already complex, yet well constructed track. This is not to say that there's a lack of pace on this release; at times reminiscent of their technical US counterparts, at others sporting an almost melodic dissonance more usually found on more 'necro' releases, Sarcolytic combine these influences in a manner that is, if not always particularly original, certainly very well executed and incredibly memorable.

There is, in contrast to Disgorge and IoV, a distinct influence from the mainstream of death metal here - there are elements of Nile, Behemoth et al, all of whom have flirted to some degree with the blackened sound - but Sarcolytic manage to make their moments of grimness seem fresh. I'm not sure whether it is the Disgorge-inspired brutality preceding them or whether that in tracks so full of complicated, technical mastery, these sections come as a welcome focal point to make the tracks instantly distinguishable from their predecessors. Whatever it is: it fucking works. Furthermore, it serves to remove any doubt that this is a band in its own right - this isn't some second-rate Disgorge tribute. 

I can see why some fans of Disgorge and Images of Violence may not immediately warm to this release. That being said, not only is the guitar work mind-fuckingly technical and gratifyingly varied, the bass both expertly played and mixed, old-school vocals thanks to John Zig; guttural and complimentary - all held together with amazingly tight drumming which up the feel of brutality without dominating the track - not only do Sarcolytic do all of this, but at the same time create a truly dark atmosphere which sucks you in to both the music and the lyrical expositions as well.  Building on what they'd already proved themselves doing; these guys have forged their own musical identity.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Faust - From Glory to Infinity

Paragon Records - 2009

Okay, so the reason I got this can be summed up by two words: The first of these is 'nun' . . . the second, rather unsurprisingly, is 'tits'. What can I say? The malformed adolescent in me (snigger) loves stuff that's blatantly supposed to be inflammatory. . . and tits.

Only after I got my hands on this release did I realise that we've got (yet another) super-group of sorts. Sporting Steve Digiorgio – a bassist needing no introduction – Daray Bzozowski of Vader and Aleister – touring guitarist with Ancient – collaborating to produce an acceptable piece of somewhat progressive melodic death metal.

The musicianship is more than solid. The lead guitar work in particular, with its sweeping arpeggios, fast runs and sometimes surprising progressions are key to what this release is all about. The vocals on the other hand, are passable at best and, at times, just infuriating, making the instrumental sections a blessing. Neither the lyrics nor the song titles help matters much, unless these guys are actually trying to sound like angry adolescents. Thankfully, with the vocals being as they are, you're unlikely to be paying enough attention to decipher them.

The production could have benefited from a beefier low end and although the lightweight sound of the drums actually suits the quieter sections quite nicely, it would be nice to hear more of the bass now and then. The exception to this being Sentimental Worship which has a very nice bass-driven acoustic section.

The substandard vocals aren't really aided by being so high in the mix, either. It just serves to demonstrate quite how bad they are and after a few runs through the album just serve to detract from some very nice guitar work.

I can't help but feel there's a degree of identity crises with this band. Unsure whether to launch a balls-out, vehement diatribe against religion or craft a mature, progressive album concentrating on musicianship, Faust attempt to do both and the result is that it doesn't quite work. A lyrical approach that would be far more suited to a grind release, together with the the puerile artwork detract from the grown-up and well-rounded feel that the music itself seems to be trying to convey.

In some ways the album also feels unfinished which is a tad laughable seeing as the band was founded in 1992 and this is their first full-length. The outro, for example, is quite a nice, mellow acoustic piece with a dominant melody laid down on electric which, despite the vague niggling at the back of my mind that it should have featured in an 80's movie, I quite enjoyed. The problem is that it could've been so much more; it's crying out for some of the sweeping leads that were showcased earlier on the disc but fail to materialise. Which is actually a good analogy for the rest of the album: It teases you with the possibility that it could have been something amazing while only attaining the mediocre.

Defeated Sanity - Chapters of Repugnance

 Willowtip Records - 2010

I must admit that this album took a little time to work its way under my skin. As a massive fan of DS's previous outings; Prelude to the Tragedy and Psalms of the Moribund, I was all set to love Chapters on its first spin. The fact that I didn't is nothing to do with it being a bad album and far more to do with the production itself which has pushed the guitars back in favour of a huge low end that compliments a more slam-oriented style than previously seen. This leads to some riffs in the faster, more chaotic sections flying by with no real definition or clarity, which is a shame as the sheer musical ability on display is phenomenal.

DF's combination of influences is superbly demonstrated at the best of times, yet none more so than on Engulfed In Excruciation which manages to mix slams, grooves and technical mastery in a perfect fashion that I've rarely come across. Carnal Deliverance's mid-riff tempo changes and fast choppy sections keep slams that might otherwise feel a little repetitive constantly interesting, while the jazzy bass sections in Consumed by Repugnance and its occasional flourishes on tracks like Blissfully Exsanguinated serve to highlight the brutality as well as breaking up the assault – albeit briefly – just for it to pick up pace and have another go with re-awakened vigour.

Blissfully Exsanguinated also demonstrates how the intelligent use of samples can actually exacerbate the intensity and atmosphere as opposed to being tacked on at the beginning or the end of tracks with no real purpose.

This album has worked its way under by skin. It's a fucking great album that only time will tell whether it'll live up to the record company's promise of being the most brutal album of the year. It's truly dark atmosphere permeates the music from its grooves to its more technical moments and continues throughout the indecipherable lyrics which, while are pretty much what you'd expect theme-wise, come across with a realism that doesn't seem contrived.

It remains however that this album lacks the clarity of production demonstrated on their previous albums. The fact that the guitars are, on occasion, reduced to a buzzing background noise compared to the prevalence of bass and drums that dominate the mix means that it is impossible to truly appreciate the songs in their totality. With third albums being the notorious clincher for many bands – especially for one that's altered its line-up quite so drastically as this – risking all on a mix that fails to demonstrate the full nature of the compositions is just unnecessary.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Arkaik - Reflections Within Dissonance


Release Feb 2010 - Unique Leader Records

Let's face it; with any Unique Leader band you know what you're in for. It's unlikely to be sloppy and simplistic and is probably going to have sections that make you wish you'd never picked up that guitar in the first place. . . if you play that is, obviously. Arkaik don't disappoint.

However, the first thing you'll notice about this release is nothing to do with the music: The artwork is amazingly well executed (as you'd expect from Par Oloffson) and grabs your attention immediately; pulling you in to decipher a logo which in that classic metal tradition is so hideously disfigured in the spelling department that linguists within a thirty mile radius spontaneously combust from a mixture of shock and disgust. I'm not sure what misspelling has to do with being metal . . . never have been, but Arkaik certainly seem true beleivers as far as this issue is concerned.

The music is both brutal and technical and manages to be truly inventive. edged with a progressive feel which is only exacerbated by surreal lyrics, this isn't a release that lets up in the name of 'experimentation'.

The casual listener may feel like this has all been done before - after all, it's just another Californian tech-death band, right? Well, while there is some truth in that, the sheer anger and ferocity on display by this lot does a fair bit to set it aside from their counterparts. Each song stands alone as a well-crafted composition that is far more than an experiment in the whole number of riffs to song ratio thing.  Something that this band have been erroneously accused of - in my opinion, at least. While I've been caught out - after months of having this stashed as a mainstay on my mp3 player - by riffs that I'd missed or forgotten about the first few times round, I find this helps maintain the albums feel of freshness long after other releases may have gone a bit stale . . .or even mouldy.

But what is this display of technical proficiency without something memorable to bang your head to? Well, Arkaik offer up a bit of that too; elements of melody and groove are there - most notably on The Divine- but maybe a bit too infrequently for some listeners. Neo-classically inspired riffing mixes with more traditional fare, odd time signatures, tempo changes, unexpected breaks, a bit of groove and the occasional melodic hook to nail the track down and stop it escaping all over the place.

The bass also plays a crucial role in a few places by lifting the track.  In a manner reminiscent of Caspersen, Eric Cohen adds a new dimension by complementing guitar riffs or in the vein of Webster adding little showcases of mini bass solos that serve to break up a track like Womb of Perception; bridging riffs that would otherwise have seemed a bit disjointed.

The master-stroke of this album is not to stick to a formula. At no point do you feel like you're listening to a set of riffs that have been given the same treatment as the previous two or three tracks. Each song evolves in a way which feels perfectly organic for that track itself. If there's no need for a solo, there isn't one; if it'd work then Arkaik have thrown one in, which is both an approach that I love as well as one that isn't often practiced by many bands who feel like they need to add a chug or a breakdown or whatever it is to a song purely because they haven't had one yet. All too often this can leave a track feeling either unfinished or, at the very best, patched together.

This is not an album for everyone. It's certainly not an album for the casual listener. If you're looking for something with a tried and tested song structure and a few simple riffs to bang your head to then move on. If, on the other hand, you're looking for something with a dark and vehement atmosphere that continually keeps you listening in anticipation of what's going to happen next and throwing your instrument down in disgust that it's unlikely that you'll ever be good enough to play some of this shit . . . if you're that kind of masochist, then this is for you.