Monday, July 27, 2009

Review: Asphyx "Death... The Brutal Way"

Old School Death Metal has roared back into metal's collective consciousness over the last few months, culminating with a feature article in this month's Decibel Magazine covering the movement. Hell, you know that a genre, or sub-genre, has come of age when acronyms are being tossed about to describe it. Metal's lexicon has recently been graced with OSDM and NOSDM (the wonderfully named New Old School Death Metal) to describe the bands, both new and old, that are at the forefront of this resurgence. Obviously, this growth in popularity is a decided reaction to the unfortunate growth of all-things-core/ wigger slam, and saccharine, overly technical bands claiming the mantle of the death metal genre as a whole. OSDM/ NOSDM is the remedy for all of us purists. Legendary performances from certain bands at this year's MDF are also factors in the renewed interest.

One of those performances was from Asphyx, the legendary Dutch band that has recently reformed with key members such as Martin Van Drunen intact. Joining the fray is guitarist Paul Baayens, also with Hail Of Bullets, another band at the forefront of the OSDM movement. Hot on the heels of the band's appearance at MDF is the release of Asphyx's first album in nine years, entitled "Death... The Brutal Way" (released on Ibex Moon Records in the U.S., and on Century Media Records in Europe).

Frankly, "Death... The Brutal Way" is an instant classic of mid-paced death metal with an unbelievable amount of crunch. Huge, crushing riffs with insane catchiness and a stellar vocal performance from Van Drunen immediately stand out, but there's a great deal of variation to be had on "Death... The Brutal Way". Intricate songs that alternate between mid-paced blasts and giant, towering dirges, fluid bass work, and a deep production (courtesy of Dan Swano) are all present in spades without any obvious filler. Immediately, "Death... The Brutal Way" vaults towards the top of this year's list, a list already heavy with fantastic albums. My esteemed colleague Chris Davison agrees. Needless to say, buy or die.

There are plenty of audio samples, and Asphyx's official video for the album's title track, at...

Asphyx MySpace Official

How 'bout a U.S. tour?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Notable Releases for the First Half of 2009 (plus a couple of weeks, what the Hell)...

Another great year in metal has been shaping up right out of the gate, beginning with "Milorg" by Vreid back in January. However, February is where quality of the new releases really begins to take off with one great album after another. In no particular order of preference, but arranged roughly in terms of release date (not really, I got lazy towards the bottom of the list), here are some of the better releases of the year thus far with a one-sentence review...

Vreid "Milorg" -Good black n' roll, a genre that seems to have stalled of late.

Absu "Absu" -A nice return to form after too long of an absence.

Blut Aus Nord "Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With The Stars" -Easily their best work since "The Work Which Transforms God", possibly the album of the year.

Cannibal Corpse "Evisceration Plague" -Another killer, straightforward assault from CC with brutality and groove.

Funeral Mist "Maranantha" -Visceral and blasphemous, outstanding.

Napalm Death "Time Waits For No Slave" -This band just seems to get better and better with another political salvo.

Wolves In The Throne Room "Malevolent Grain" -Avant garde exploration.

Wolves In The Throne Room "Black Cascade" -More straightforward than "Two Hunters", a lateral move, yet still outstanding.

Cobalt "Gin" -Still one of the more interesting USBM bands out there.

Mumakil "Behold The Failure" -Excellent blastcore with staying power.

Suidakra "Crogacht" -Easily the best album from this band.

General Surgery "Corpus In Extremis: Analysing Necrocriticism" -Technical goregrind with excellent musicianship and production.

Sunn O))) "Monoliths And Dimensions" -Unbelievably dynamic.

Blood Red Throne "Souls Of Damnation" -Probably the best old school death metal band around.

Fleshgod Apocalypse "Oracles" -Out of nowhere, a vicious death metal slab with "uber" production.

Suffocation "Blood Oath" -Excellent variation with incredibly deep production and weight.

Warbringer "Waking Into Nightmares" -Easily the best of the current fascination with retro-thrash.

Glorior Belli "Meet Us At The Southern Sign" -Much moodier than "Manifesting The Raging Beast" with influences from other musical genres.

Goatwhore "Carving Out The Eyes Of God" -Catchy, fast blackened death metal.

Kult Ov Azazel "Destroying The Sacred" -Excellent blackened thrash.

Drudkh "Microcosmos" -Too short, but well done. Melodic, moody, and accessible.

Pantheon I "Worlds I Create" -For those of you that feel that Ihsahn has become too progressive, look no further.

Teitanblood "Seven Chalices" -Filthy, old school black metal.

For a good list of the year's releases thus far, check out Musical Warfare.

Your picks?

A random sprawl from 2009...

Friday, July 03, 2009

Skull Takes A Chance On Experiencing Brown Notes... Sunn O))) Live...

In my review of the latest full-length from Sunn O))), I state that "Monoliths And Dimensions" may just be the album of the year. Skull agrees. He ends up being the lucky one this time around, as Sunn O)))'s appearance in Los Angeles will not occur until August 11th. However, Sunn O))) flattened Chicago on July 2, and Skull was there (did he fall asleep beforehand?)...

Bands: Sunn O))), Eagle Twin, Chord

Venue: Empty Bottle, Chicago, Illinois

Date: July 2, 2009

"I should have taken the Goddamn train. Taste of Chicago, the beginning of a holiday weekend for most, and the stupid Cubs game (they won, too bad) made for an awfully bad commute down to the Empty Bottle for the Sunn O))) show that would kick off their tour of the Midwest.

After I lost the loser Cubbie fans at Irving Park Rd. and then at Addison St., I moved a bit quicker down I-94 to Division, then to Western, and then, finally, to the club. I could have slept on the train. Being obscenely early for the show as I am with most shows, I was able to park just up the street from the bar. I decided to grab a bite at the aptly named Bite CafĂ©, which is joined to Empty Bottle at the hip. While walking past Empty Bottle I could clearly hear Sunn O))) doing their sound check. I popped into Bite and grabbed a table. I asked the waiter for a barley pop and he told me it was BYOB. But, I could sneak through the secret door in between the club and the diner and grab one at the bar. I entered through the door and into a wall of fog obscuring the hallway and openings to the other rooms. I took a left and groped my way through and saw the stage lit up in front of me with none other than Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley in their civvies discussing the details of the sound check. They were obviously testing the fog machine as well. I wanted to crawl into a corner and just watch but I slinked up to the bar instead and ordered my drink, although I could not read the chalkboard menu due to the dense fog. When I returned to the diner, I was treated to a rehearsal of bits of “Aghartha” and “Hunting And Gathering (Cydonia)” through the walls. The waiter at Bite told me he had heard many sound checks before, but none this loud. I then ate the best Green Curry dish I have ever ordered anywhere.

After eating, I took a couple pics of the outside of the club, wandered inside, sat at the bar, and watched the other musicians tune up. Empty Bottle is pretty much a small dive (and I say that in the most complimentary way) with a long bar and a small stage in the corner. It can hold maybe 250 people max. There were just a couple of patrons there that early. I decided to take a look around and almost literally bumped into O’Malley and Anderson as they were moving equipment around. I wanted to shake their hands and thank them for playing Chicago but I didn’t want to be a douche so I gave them an acknowledging nod which was returned and I moved on.

At 8:00pm sharp, a bar employee started taking our bar stools out from under us in preparation for the show (“chicken wire?”) I noticed that a long line had formed outside of the club with people waiting to get in for the show. I guess I snuck in under the ropes just in time, so I was able to get an up close look at the bands. The doors opened and the concert goers started to fill the room. I noticed that the cool kids were drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer like they had been doing at Bottom Lounge when I was there awhile back for WITTR. I checked the merchandise table, grabbed a M & D tour shirt, and then ran it out to my car.

At 9:30pm sharp, Chord, a local band, started up their set. At this point I had no idea a third band had been added to the bill, but I knew there must have been a third because one band tuned up with a drum kit and this band had no drum kit on stage. Chord simply flattened the crowd with a 35-minute set consisting of one piece of rolling drone. It was loud, heavy, very interesting, and held my attention the whole time. One of the band’s guitarists looked very familiar to me but I couldn’t place him. They were a 5-piece ensemble with 4 guitars (I couldn’t see how many were bass) and one guy who seemed to be operating a sound effects box or something. After the set, I talked to someone who told me the band’s name and that the guitarist I recognized is a member of Pelican.

After a 25-minute change over, Eagle Twin (from Utah) started up. Eagle Twin is a two-man band. One member covers the bass/vocals and the other is the drummer. When they began I didn’t have high hopes for the set but they really impressed me. The bassist was using a six string and worked the thing over like no other bassist I had ever seen. It wasn’t finesse bass like Geddy Lee or Les Claypool. He played that instrument like it was a lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and a bass at the same time. I had to look close to see if he was using a Warr Guitar or something because he was able to make so many different sounds at the same time. They plowed through a 35-minute, two-song set of killer stoner doom like nobody’s business. The drummer was right on the money and they proved they didn’t need any other guitars to complicate their music. They looked like they were treating the set as a garage rehearsal and they really seemed to have a great time. I was so impressed with them that I bought their yet to be released debut CD.

After a 45-minute change over in which Stephen, Greg, and their Moog operator did last minute sound checks and fog machine checks, they disappeared off of the stage for a few minutes. Then, the fog machine started going full blast and filled the room up. By now I had moved up and was one person deep and dead center of the stage. The house lights went down and the hooded members of Sunn O))) took the stage through the fog to roaring applause. They were silent, slow moving, and seemed to be indifferent to the crowd’s reaction although one of them, I couldn’t tell who, did hold up a bottle of wine in a cheers motion.

They began their set by starting up “Aghartha”. My intestines started shaking and my eardrums started rumbling and I smiled with satisfaction. I had waited a long time to see these guys and if it meant I’ll go deaf two years ahead of schedule because of it, then so be it! They were incredible and everything I hoped them to be. After the long instrumental intro to “Aghartha”, Attila joined them on stage looking like the fucking grim reaper minus the scythe with his tattered hooded monk’s robe so deep I couldn’t see any facial features at all. But his signature voice gave him away and everyone knew he’d be there anyways. “Aghartha” is a great song and it seemed to be somewhat challenging for Sunn O))) to pull it off live. They did an excellent job, but the ending of the song is somewhat anti-climactic and sort of just drifts. They pulled out of it by ripping into “Hunting And Gathering (Cydonia)”. Holy shit, it was so loud and heavy! Attila’s voice is so incredible that it just changes into another instrument with heavy distortion complimenting the others. I was blown away.

After that, I was somewhat confused as to what they played next. It had many attributes of “Big Church”, but wasn’t exactly the same. I didn’t recognize it as anything else. It was incredibly loud glacial drone. There were points that sounded exactly like “Big Church” and others that came out of nowhere. Towards the end, Attila started screaming in a high pitched but not overly loud way. Greg and Stephen then went from amp to amp and turned them all up and held their guitars up close for the monster feedback. It was the loudest sound I have ever experienced and almost took me to my threshold. They let themselves go from incredibly loud to a soft hum and wrapped up the set to crowd that was initially stunned to silence. Then everyone started to wake from the trance and gave them one of the longest ovations I’ve ever seen a metal band get. By now they had pulled their hoods down and were acknowledging and thanking the crowd. Attila seemed to be very touched by their reception and voiced his gratitude before leaving the stage.

At this point, it was 1:15am and I needed to make a quick getaway so I could get home and write this up. Sunn O))) pulled out a Hell of a show tonight, and I feel honored to have been there. This was a show I will probably not forget for the rest of my life, even in senility…"

Skull's pics!


Eagle Twin

Sunn O)))

The t-shirt haul...

Maybe I can convince Steph to go with me to this one...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Selected Bands from the Summer Slaughter 2009 Tour...

Summer Slaughter 2009 (selected bands)

Date: June 30, 2009.

Venue: HOB Sunset Strip, West Hollywood, California.

Last year’s Summer Slaughter was a debacle. This year’s tour also had the makings of a debacle, as well, but was saved by a couple of death metal heavyweights anchoring the lineup. In all, 50% of the bands in the lineup interested me, and I decided to wade through all of the prepubescent mallcore/ emo kids that would show up for the other 50% of the show such that I could see the mighty Suffocation perform new songs off of their latest opus, “Blood Oath”. The other bands of interest to me were Decrepit Birth, Origin, Dying Fetus, Ensiferum, and Necrophagist as the main headliners playing above Suffocation. Except for Darkest Hour, I ignored the rest.

From the standpoint of an examination of heavy metal sub-culture, this was a bit of a strange show with an obvious division in the crowd. Half of the crowd consisted of metalcore/ slam fans, all hovering around 15 years old or so, and the other half consisted of death metal fans ranging from young to old. In between bands, it’s almost as if the crowd would switch as the genres were basically alternated throughout the day. One half of the crowd would be inside with their genre of choice on stage, and the other half would be aimlessly walking around the parking lot, as I did throughout the day. I also alternated between the bar, the bathroom, and the merchandise area, even though I didn’t end up buying anything (no t-shirt haul, sorry Cosmo). After the last act of interest to the metalcore crowd was finished (Darkest Hour), those fans all left the venue for good. Adding another weird feel to the mix was that about 25% of the remainder of the fans left after Suffocation and did not stick around for Necrophagist.

I arrived early after running an errand in Hollywood, yet missed Blackguard’s three-song set to open the show. Oh, well. Soon after, Decrepit Birth hit the stage and were quite good for their short set. A new song was featured from a yet to be announced full-length. Notably, most of the guys from Suffocation were up in the balcony watching their set. Next up for me were Origin, who, frankly, smoked through their blisteringly fast set that evoked an energetic response from the death metal crowd. After examining the parking lot in detail, I headed upstairs to catch Dying Fetus, a band that has more than paid their dues and should’ve been closer to the headliners than their placement in the lineup. Even still, DF delivered a great set that had the crowd really moving as the 15-year olds fled outside.

After more examination of the HOB’s grounds, I actually set myself up behind the mixing board to watch Darkest Hour. Not really familiar with the band, they actually weren’t that bad with well-played melodic death/ thrash. Good musicianship saved them, in my book, and I found them enjoyable.

At this point the kids cleared out, I got close to the stage, and Ensiferum opened up the headliners with a great, 40-minute set. Highlights included “Iron” and “Deathbringer From The Sky” as the crowd of serious metalheads was now jumping. Soon after, anticipation was high as the mighty Suffocation took the stage and just brought the house down. Firing on all cylinders for their 50-minute set, Suffocation concentrated on material from “Effigy Of The Forgotten” and “Blood Oath”. The place went absolutely nuts for “Infecting The Crypts” and “Habitual Infamy”, as well as the newer material from “Blood Oath”. In particular, the title track and “Cataclysmic Purification” were very well received. After a long day, Suffocation would be hard to top.

A lot of people left the venue at this point, and I did overhear some grumbling throughout the day that Suffocation should be headlining above Necrophagist. At any rate, I found Necrophagist to be boring and a bit of a let-down after Suffocation. I only stuck around for about half of their set, but the band appeared lackluster and tired, did not have any stage presence whatsoever, and, to these ears, sounded sloppy. I didn’t stay for the much anticipated new material, but after so long of a time since “Epitaph”, I’m rapidly losing interest in the band, anyway.

So, there you have it. A mixed bag, to be certain, and I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether or not it was all worth it.

Some pictures...

Decrepit Birth


Dying Fetus

Darkest Hour




Some video...