Friday, September 30, 2016
Now I had hinted that this outfit hadn't made any major missteps with this debut, and I think the real issues were just its presence on a nearly invisible record label, and the fact that it comes across like an also-ran when compared to a lot of bands that used its formula to craft more exciting, memorable songs. At it's most thrashing and biting, the guitar tone reminds me a lot of a brasher alternate to what Anthrax were putting out around this time, and a similar comparison can be made to the inflection on some of the vocals, which aren't a far cry from Joey Belladonna even though the range sounds more like a punkish crossover and not so melodic and reedy. There were a few individual lyric lines and riffs which also recalled old Death Angel, and a substrate of crude speed metal which reminds me of the rougher production on some of the early Exciter albums. The vocals do have a bit of an unevenness to them, even from track to track. That's not to say they lack personality...only it's just not a sort of charisma that resonates long after the record is over, even when there are shouts to back it up and drive it home harder. At worst they feel slightly sloppy, but not unintentionally.
I do like the rhythm tone, something not a lot of bands would try getting away with today unless they were striving for the low-fi retro aesthetic, but bright and nasty all the same and wouldn't be out of place on a punk record from the same time period. Bass lines are exceedingly simple and do little else but climb around the primary riffs, and not very far, but at least you can make it out and it keeps a steady headbanging pace circa classic Priest. The drums are vibrant and fit just right against the rawness of the guitars, and there's a lot of double bass energy driving the snares and the blunt force of the songs as a whole, with fills flying off everywhere that are occasionally even a too loud and cluttered for the mix. Leads and melodies are spurious and scattered appropriately throughout the play length, but this was probably one of the record's biggest failings since none of them even border on evoking anything emotional or catchy, so they feel like an obligation more than a carefully constructed component to the songwriting, a mediocre pizza topping with just enough added savory flavor to feel as if it belongs.
Though the lyrics in cuts like "Welcome to the Hell House" and "Madame Guillotine" are solid enough to convey the band's appreciation for horror and dark history, another downside to Hell House is that it just never feels scary or evil. It's more like a mixture of enthusiastic Bay Area and New York thrash reduced to a series of unambitious riffing passages and chord progressions that hardly even come off cruel or vicious by 1988 standards, and since they lack a lot of the inherent musicality of their betters. If you just took "Alison Hell" alone off the Annihilator debut, it has more quality guitar work and faux-creepy vibes to it than this entire album. The only atmosphere provided is just through the production alone, and so it's one of those records that really only comes up when you're digging into the deep, dark corners of the niche and want something tonally genuine to that period. It's not a bad album at all if you just want to crank some raucous 80s testosterone through your speakers, and a few tunes like "Nightmare Reality" storm harder than the rest, but you were simply not short of options in those days, and you definitely aren't now...so it kind of just wanders through its own hellish gates and disappears before you know it.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (it's not an illusion)
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Siebenbürgen, named for the German of Transylvania itself, was another Scandinavian group whose earlier buzz seemed to revolve specifically around this niche, and like their far more popular British counterparts, a weaving of Gothic rock elements and melodic black metal that offer some measured of 'refinement' over that genre's crude roots. Reviled by some purists, but approachable for those who might have arrived at black metal directly through Cradle or the Romantic elegance that stood in stark opposition to the barbaric hordes who populated its underground. Granted, these Swedes skewed much further towards the 'black' than the Gothic in how they structured the material for their Napalm Records debut. Melodic tremolo picked guitar lines dominate Loreia, both against the slower rock beats and the moderately blasted, thundering drums, and these are rarely interrupted save for the more majestic chord patterns that are occasionally left to stand on their own. The band wasn't as savage as a Marduk, or as meticulous as an Emperor, but had more in common with middle run bands like Finland's Catamenia whose riffing patterns were quite similar via the reliance on overt melodic composition rather than intensity or, I dare say it, evil.
In fact, the only areas in which this debut might distinguish itself from the throngs of its corpse-painted peers is in the use of Lovisa Hallstedt's wailing, over the top vocals and violin sequences, neither of which were completely unique within this genre, but are mixed in so professionally well for this album that it seemed to stand head and...fangs...over a lot of the competition. As cheesy as Loreia can often feel with its constant attempts at emotionally wrenching the listener through its simple, predictable guitar lines, there's also something charming and appreciable about just how consistently it was assembled, without any particular region of the 51 minute play length feeling weaker than any other, even though there's an undercurrent of sameness running through it that betrays any notion of a pleasant, pleasurable surprise. There is no sudden, shadowy figure staring at you from your windowsill at night, entrancing you with its eyes before succumbing you to its horrible appetite...no, you're pretty much in Vampire Land™ from the very start, a fantasyscape of ivy strung Gothic castles, and lavish glades through which pale nymphs dance and bathe in the moonlight.
The mix is really well balanced, with the writhing, catchy tendrils of rhythm guitar given space to breathe over the tight-woven beatsand fat but obvious bass-lines. Marcus Ehlin's black metal rasp was hardly exemplary, assuming the position almost lethargically over the verse measures, but it does strike the right nerve once its being contrasted against Lovisa's shrill, almost ethereal presence, and by no means a bad performance on its own. The violin is sparse but sounds great where it appears, to the point that I wish they had included more of it, but where a lot of bands would dowse this sort of sound in loads of organs or other keyboard pads, Siebenbürgen keep it clean and powerful so you can ride the crisp propulsion of each rhythm like a bat carried along the prevailing wind pattern. I'd have liked to hear more varied songwriting, but I feel like a lot of bands of this ilk were trying to play it safe enough that they could establish themselves firmly within the genre's listener base and then execute their most insidious designs later on.
Whether or not this band ever accomplishes such an evolution is up for debate, but if you've got a soft spot (of neck flesh) for this mid-90s era of friendlier black metal, Loreia is an album which still holds a degree of nostalgic value, just not a lot of memorable songs. I myself would greatly prefer a record that can channel some of the dread, mystery and pathos of this theme which have always been my primary attractions to it, and Siebenbürgen came up a little short there. You won't shiver from any chill, in fact you'll feel almost like your sitting by a hearth with some red wine and a Gothic playmate while any storm or pitchfork-waving mob rages at a safe distance, appreciating but probably not understanding the lyrics; but that doesn't mean that this band eschewed an obvious effort to get this arranged and recorded, and so it remains a minor curiosity to sate fishnet-garbed connoisseurs of Laurel K. Hamilton, Sheridan le Fanu, and a long-locked Brad Pitt.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Monday, September 26, 2016
Tinny, dramatic rhythm guitar hooks draw a mix of comparisons to Denner, Shermann and LaRocque, at times swerving a little more closely to the playing of one or the other sides of the KD legacy but ultimately finding a happy medium, with both the meanness of Fate and the gloss and glamer of the solo band. Fed from the same trick or treat basket of NWOBHM, speed and proto power metal as their influences. Leads are even airier, tinny and piercing, and they use a lot of briefer flights of melody to glitz up the verses in the title track. Bass lines here are a bit primitive and tend largely towards just pumping along with a few notes misplaced from the rhythm patterns, par for the course of their times, but not terribly significant. The drums are solid in the first track but felt a bit more cluttered in "The Baroness", largely because that has a looser structure through part of its run where the guitars are drawing atmosphere unto themselves. Count Hawlok's falsetto doesn't deviate much, it's tonally appropriate to the brightness of the guitars below it, but he doesn't intersperse a lot of lower-range, grimy character here like Diamond does on some of his classic recordings, nor does he shriek out much by the way of the memorable lines that built a 35+ year career for their forebear.
As drifting back ground music, Black Wings Over Transylvania is a passable paean to the masters which doesn't really suffer from any delusions of purpose, but where so many such loving Xeroxes of classic records fail is that they don't write music that can really stand on its own beyond just that niche crowd which is looking to catch up with its childhood through a source other than the one that was....you guessed it, actually there during that childhood. Kingdom Come might have borrowed the aesthetics of Led Zeppelin to an unhealthy extent, but at least for a few years there they were writing absolutely fantastic songs in that style. Primal Fear has more Priest in its DNA than some might wish to admit, but they put such power into it that it occasionally felt like you were hearing the original at a new, contemporary level. Put quite bluntly, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to listen to these two songs when you've got a copy of anything Kim Peter Bendix released in the 80s on hand, because even the least impressive songs of that hot streak eviscerate anything in these two. That's not to say that I think Dracula are bad, or that the material has any major issue beyond its obvious derivative nature, but when you've already got groups like In Solitude, Portrait, Attic and Trial which managed to start with such a strong KD/Fate influence and then spin off into fresher strains, a project like this faces a steep uphill battle, one it hasn't yet even begun to scale.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Listening back on this lost and forgotten record now, I feel like my decision was the right one, but not because Possession Park is an utter shitshow. This was essentially a crossover thrashing punk vehicle which was helmed by Dukey Flyswatter (aka Michael Sonye), an actor for some low budget horror and exploitation flicks like Nazi Surf Punks Must Die whose own infamy has long outlived this musical project. The cover promises EXPLICIT LYRICS and some Satanic Amusement Park fun, possibly with zombies and clowns and all manner of colorful 80s horror kitsch, and staring at the artwork kind of arouses nostalgia for Halloween parties with stuff like green punch, bobbing for apples, ghost decorations made out of bunched up tissues and really bad Dracula costumes. So at the very best I figured I'd be in for a metallic "Monster Mash" with some more controversial fare, and yet it doesn't really deliver on any of the promises that its outward aesthetics might hint at. The lyrics do delve into campy horror flicks and possesses a little inappropriate edge to the lyrics, but it's hardly like they're just uttering 'fuck' and 'shit' in endless succession throughout every single track, at least not where I can make out the lyrics. It's actually a little more of a timid experience than you think you're getting into, but not one crafted without a modicum of competence.
Musically this is a mash-up of party punk rock and the sort of harder crossover that West Coast bands like Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies popularized. A closer comparison could be drawn to the GWAR debut Hell-O, before they adopted a more thrashing edge to most of their material on the sophomore. Airy, distorted riffs involving just a few chords here or there, no more than you're like to hear on your average Offspring joint, but brought down to street level by the plunking bass lines and the urban edge to what patterns those chords are fashioning. There are a lot of lead guitars which were very similar to Rocky George's approach, bluesy and wailing and elevating the songwriting from the graffiti-smeared ghettos into a more fanciful 'metal' territory, but rarely memorable and in some cases just plain excessive and unnecessary to the detriment of the tracks in which they were placed. As a general rule with this record, the more filthy, shorter and 'punk' the tunes get, the more respectable they seem, with stuff like "She-Freak" even coming across like a bastard stepchild of the Misfits and antique Voivod. But even though there is some coherence to the style throughout, there is a sense here that Haunted Garage wasn't 100% sure what they really wanted to accomplish, a flaw that is forgivable on a debut album but doesn't exactly endear it to me either.
Bands like this often lived or died on the distinction of their front men, but while Mike Muir and Glen Danzig and even Excel's Dan Clemets put their own individual stamps on their bands that happened to be supported by great music, Dukey Flyswatter often gets lost in it. Personally I find that he sounds like a raucous blend of GWAR's Oderus Urungus and Blaine Cook of The Accüsed, with a lot of Rob Zombie's splattered rock & roll waaahs and yeaahhhs thrown in there, but the lines he spits out just feel sloppy and goofy and not to the music's benefit. Probably more entertaining in a live setting where he's got other antics to sate the crowd, but on the disc here it just never feels nasty or catchy enough to care, especially when the material he's shouting over is just paint-by-numbers boring rock with a slightly punk frill to it. Tunes like "Torture Dungeon" are all right because of the mean turns taken by the guitars, and his tone is effective, but even then there's just nothing special on Possession Park that will keep you engaged beyond just a handful of spins through some of the better numbers, and the rest are vaguely tolerable for just a single play.
The production does tend to hold this together. Drums are lively and tight enough to flirt with both the standard rock momentum and hints at a faster, hardcore lethality, while the bass lines are fat enough to support themselves even if they're just following the guitar. Leads are always apparent and take charge, but the gain on the rhythm guitar can feel a little too grainy next to the vocals and rhythm section. Still, it's often bright enough to forgive this, and the album sounds more professional than I would have expected, and probably more than it even needs to be, since fans of this niche often value the smattered, violent and lower fidelity mixes which enhance the vitriol and aggression of the bands. If you like how Scumdogs of the Universe or America Must Be Destroyed sound, though, then you're not going to have much of a problem here, and when the band stretches itself a little with acoustic guitars or weirdo guitar sci-fi effects ("Little Green Men"), it's handled pretty well.
Haunted Garage trends a little weakly for me, and doesn't manage to attain the levels of fun and engagement that many of its peers achieved years before it arrived. It also commits the crime of naming a subpar song "Welcome to Hell" when there's already a perfect song called "Welcome to Hell". BUT...it's not completely awful, and the band themselves must have felt some spark of nostalgia since they've recently reformed. If you're a huge splatter rock/crossover fan or you really enjoy all those GWAR-related gimmick bands like Green Jelly and the X-Cops, then this is a curiosity you might wish to at least sample, but Possession Park is not some absolute failure that I can entirely write off without acknowledging some of the corny care that was obviously put into it. But man, I miss that little record shop. I'd have gladly blown the $7.99 on this tape if it could have helped keep the place in business.
Verdict: Fail [4.75/10] (my horns grow, they swell)
Saturday, July 30, 2016
Forceful rhythm guitar patterns here add a lot of meat to the bones of bluesy fills and leads, none of which are super exemplary or incendiary on their own, but all contribute to this roadworthy crusade of hellfire which simply sates that inner, pissed off teenager I was back in the 80s, listening to what tapes I could scrounge up and watching the horror selections available to me on my parents' cable when they thought I was in bed. Baphomet's Blood doesn't fuck around with a huge variety of tempos, in fact the majority of the songs seem to move at the same velocity entirely, so telling them apart becomes a tedious chore, but the pacing and flow of the music itself just becomes an addiction I want sated after the dust from each previous track clears. The rhythm tone is pretty much perfect, potent and fiery, but crisp clear enough to pick out the various tracks and slight nuances in each of their playing. Bass is bombing here, a good tone that is better fitted and more audible than what you'd hear on a lot of their older records. Drums are driven and passionate, and while Necrovomiterror's vocals certainly haven't 'evolved' over time, they just sound continuously more gruff and nasty and honest here...not giving a fuck. And that is to their benefit.
There are, to be honest, a number of generic riffing progressions on this album that are lifted from a gestalt of their influences, and occasionally they flirt with slightly more boring speed/punk phrases that should be thrown in a locker with no combination. But even these, when placed in the fingers of hands that want nothing more than to give the listener and honest, faux-Satanic drubbing which puts them into a sense of nostalgic unconsciousness, are effective enough to contribute. You have to be at rest with the fact that this is not the music of progression or new levels of extremity, but more or less a twisted mirror of the past, so many of these younger acts inserting themselves into a history that they only belonged to as spectators, and offering windows to very specific cross-blends of their forefathers that, frankly, I don't mind existing. I have a soft spot for this sort of unapologetic, grimy speed metal when performed properly, and even though these Italians don't count themselves among the most atmospherically throwback or inspired of the lot, they have continually improved upon each record to the point that I feel they're rock solid reliable and know what they're doing.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (forget your life, forget the light)
Friday, July 29, 2016
Drummer Ash Pearson, formerly of 3 Inches of Blood, fits effortlessly into Phil Dubois-Coyne's recently vacated chair; and I'm not going to lie to you, as someone who found his prior band's output eye-rollingly mediocre and not remotely funny, I'd say Revocation is a huge step up. His solid and tempered battery of kicks and fills is pure fuel to the taut, semi-complex thrashing patterns dished out by Davidson and Dan Gargiulo, which often erupt into full-bore tremolo picked progressive death metal patterns in total 90s Death fashion. I'm not going to say that these riffs stick 100% of the time, and the album starts off on what is far from one of its stronger numbers, but at the very least I never felt less than compelled to continue exploring throughout, and tunes like "Theater of Horror" and "Communion" had plenty of earworms that I kept wanting to spin repeatedly. Brett Bamberger's bass lines are excellent, especially where they're given room to breathe in the bridges and other passages where the rhythm guitars serve more as a punchy applause for their low-end aerobics. They also pull off a pretty nice instrumental in "The Exaltation", which is simultaneously my favorite stuff on the entire record and their best attempt at this to date.
As for the vocals, which have always felt boilerplate and never interesting, I think either I've just gotten used to their bludgeoning post-Anselmo aesthetic or that Dave simply does a better job here than on most records. The cleans won't be for everyone, channeling some of that modernist rock radio angst people like Burton C. Bell and Devin Townsend first championed, but they are executed with enough taste here that they don't become a detriment to the volatility of structure. Another complaint I might offer is that, as modern and tight-fisted as the production here is, it rarely offers any sort of atmosphere or dynamic conducive to making this album immortal...as fun as I have listening through it, it's not one I'm likely to remember or revisit much by the end of the year. The "Altar of Sacrifice" cover sounds at once both more modern and aggressive and far less vicious and memorable than the original, and just seems like a too-safe icing on the cake, where I'd rather hear the band go after an old tech thrash number or something and make it their own. All told, though, Great is Our Sin is a pretty good record, edging out its predecessor Deathless just so slightly and far more of a tour de force than the middling eponymous disc or the solid, unremarkable Chaos of Forms.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Monday, July 25, 2016
It starts with a pretty obvious horror sample that I could live without, and then breaks into one of the more straightforward pieces on the disc, with roiling tremolo picked rhythm guitars that channel a mix of Left Hand Path and Consuming Impulse, with dank growled vocals that hover just at the edge of the din, tangible bass tone and harried drumming with lots of energetic fills...when they burst into the early Bolt Thrower grim future breakdown at the mid-section and then piledrive with the double kick drums it feels pretty satisfying, though it's one of the less interesting pieces here. Forward to a tune like "Cycle of Horror", where you've got all these standalone atmospheric bass lines that sound like they're almost side-tracking into some sort of cemetery swing and then plastering it with morbid harmonies, and again those lesser volume, steady growls which feel like you've come across a low key side conversation at a necromancer convention that you're not meant to hear. Or the pure, driving melodic thunder of "Cemetery Inversion" which reaches a glorious, melodic flow in its own bridge.
All told, Rotten Remains is rather well-balanced between its faster and slower sequences, and thus escapes the boredom I feel from a lot of other bands that are doing little more than recycling what they've got in their record collections from 1993 and earlier. That's not to say Carnal Tomb is all that unique, a lot of their riffing patterns are predictable and not always so catchy or evil sounding, but I think if you dwell on a plane in which efforts like Last One on Earth, Onward to Golgotha, Realm of Chaos, Cause of Death, Fornever Laid to Rest, Scream Bloody Gore and the aforementioned Entombed or Pestilence serve as part of some perverse pantheon, then the Germans have clearly promoted themselves beyond pure acolyte status into the strong arm of the supporting clergy, and they've got just enough of an atmospheric snare, and an ability to assess and take marginal risks that they warrant some further attention. Album looks like it sounds, and it sounds like death fucking metal without any other pretensions than to simply 'get it right'.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Friday, July 22, 2016
Solid, if predictable riffs that generally run a similar course until they're cut up into slower, heavy metal pacing and lead sequences. The guitar tone here is roughly in league with Metal Damnation, that is to say superior to the first couple albums, but I found the construction of the rhythm patterns to be slightly less incendiary or exciting. Tunes like "Back from the Fire", with its dextrous opening lick, seem to speculate what it might have been like if Raven in their 80s prime were fronted by Algy Ward's workmanlike, gruff vocal presence, which manifests a lot in Necrovomiterror's timbre, rather than the screaming nasal vocals they were known for. That is certainly my favorite track of the three originals, but even then it's pretty much paint by numbers songwriting which pans out exactly like you think it will as soon as you've experienced the bridge into the first verse. The bass seems to have finally hit the right stride here, with a pluggy little tone always present on the underbelly of the guitar, and the drums sound as tight as ever.
I'm no expert on Italian heavy metal veterans Strana Officina, but I have actually heard a couple of their older releases, including "Metal Brigade", which Baphomet's Blood uses to close out this EP, using actual vocal contributions (i.e. unruly screams) from vocalist 'Bud' Ancillotti himself. The tune is simultaneously the sloppiest and most amusing on the record, with some production differences from the rest that only make it seem a fraction out of place. Still, it's nice that the band pays tribute to someone that most in the world have never heard of, but were certainly some kind of influence on the younger band and possibly the scene that shaped them and peers like Children of Technology. And thanks to the 'exclusivity' of the material on this release, which seems to be a lost art half the time with so many EPs stuffed with live cuts and re-recordings, I'd say that Back from the Fire is not going to disappoint those who know what to expect, and its overall quality is equivalent to at least the band's debut, and even a lot of material from Second Strike. But still a good half decade before they would finally stoke the braziers Satan uses for hookahs.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Friday, July 15, 2016
Searing strikes of a horror score (I can't recount where the sample is from) and then it's off to the race with "Devil's Night", a tune redolent with the scent of old English outfits like Tank who were taking that inner punk by the throat and then layering it with denim, leather, spikes, growing out the hair good and long with handlebar moustache and trading in those Sex Pistols vinyls for some vintage Warfare. There's also a healthy taste of both US and German speed and power metal which help to mold the lead sequences and the brighter overall resonance I came away from this one feeling, like they had found a nice median between old Riot and Motörhead and then sat it down in front of some speakers and blasted an Iron Angel record, which left an indelible impression on the tape itself. The style of riffing really isn't all that removed from the path they were already on, just choppy speed and barking, gruff vocals, but it's just that much more forceful, and the tone of the guitar has a slightly more raw, ripping edge to it that sounds good and crunchy like locusts being ground into the asphalt.
Bass is a little better here, but still tonally the weakest link of the band. The leads are definitely much improved, taking that undefined feel of the older albums into a more explosive, exciting arena. I also like the stops/starts they toss into tunes like "We Don't Care" which give you a nice chance to recharge, round the mountain pass and go charging back to your destiny. The mix of the guitar and vocal is also a lot cooler, as well as the way the songs are set up. There could certainly be more variation...quite a lot of the tempos feel exactly the same, and they're not changing up note patterns noticeably enough to thrill anyone who isn't in the mood for this brand of raunchy speed metal, but it fills runs out its 37 minute fuel tank well appropriate energy and leaves me feeling like the band has finally caught some fire. Just how much? Stay tuned.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Basic shit here, pavement worthy anthems with only vague degrees of variation to note selections, which are all cast in that bluesy iron of the old British bands in the late 70s, and slathered in the ugly and lower blue collar vocals of Necrovomiterror, who by his name seems more like a natural fit for a band like Blasphemy...but I'm guessing some of the names these guys used were also a nod to the band Sodom from their heyday. Good, violent thrash metal names, for songs that only faintly dip into the thrash-well, and even then only at that niche's most basal. The drums are little more than brute force, effective but occasionally monotonous, driving clatter that merely fuels the licks, which are themselves far from nuanced but generate a similar vibe to that first time I heard Filth Hounds of Hades or Iron Fist. Solos are sloppy and grungy and again, like having molten blues-based hard rock poured into a fiery forge for smelting into these workmanlike, thundering exercises in sounding EXACTLY like they look on their cover pose.
As with the debut, the bass guitar is fairly lacking in the mix, and the tone doesn't really sound good, a page from the Lemmy handbook must have been ripped out when they were formulating the style and direction they wanted Baphomet's Blood to head towards. So that can make Second Strike feel a little on the dry side, but doesn't completely break the deal for me, because this is just something so 'innocently' vile and straightforward. Every lick on this disc was probably written 20 years or more before it came out, and a lot of bands could probably write this entire album's worth of material in an afternoon; yet there's just something retro and refreshing for me which I value more than innovation on a particular effort like this one. Don't get me wrong, this is FAR from one of the best in this backwards speed metal scene, and even this very band has surpassed it, but if anyone were to be listening to this in their car and picked me up, I wouldn't ask them to turn it off or even turn up my nose at what is such a crude, good time. It makes me wish I smoked cigarettes. I don't, but maybe in some alternate reality my other self does. And he's doing it to Second Strike.
Verdict: Win [7/10]