Monday, July 30, 2012

Underground Laboratory: Hells Headbangers Records

The number of record labels trawling through the depths of the underground to bring you various versions of black metal , death metal,  thrash metal, and their hybrids is probably too numerous to mention, but the best of the bunch is Hells Headbangers Records. Also well known as a merchant and mail order service of all things metal with an absolute insistence on authenticity, Hells Headbangers Records’ official releases are almost always excellent.

Hells Headbangers’ releases usually occur in batches a couple of times per year.  This summer sees the release of no less than six albums from the label, spread out over two months or so, and here’s a brief look at each.

Mongrel’s Cross The Sins Of Aquarius

Release Date: July 3rd, 2012

More dirty, blackened thrash, this time from Australia’s Mongrel’s Cross. Obviously descended from bands such as Deströyer 666 and Impiety, Mongrel’s Cross have the right mix of heaviness and catchiness to go along with a snarling attitude. Rather than just simply blasting away, though, Mongrel’s Cross slow things down and emphasize deeply heavy riffs, crunch, and even a few nods to good ol’ traditional heavy metal. Toss in some good songwriting, and The Sins Of Aquarius is a strong debut from Mongrel’s Cross.

Grade: B+

Denial Of God Death And The Beyond

Release Date: July 13th, 2012

Denmark’s Denial Of God have been kicking it in one form or another since 1991or so, but have only managed to eke out two full-length albums, including Death And The Beyond. Playing a generally slow to mid-paced version of sludgy blackened death metal, Denial Of God rely on a rancid atmosphere and pounding, dirge laden riffs to get their point across. Favorable comparisons to bands such as Acheron are probably warranted; albeit, with a more of a direct black metal approach, but the songwriting on Death And The Beyond is a bit uneven. Denial Of God have a welcome penchant for mixing things up with a few quiet moments and all out blasts to accompany the mid-paced approach. A few of the songs of shorter length are done well enough, but, oddly, Denial Of God choose to close out the album with a fifteen minute opus that tends to get a bit tedious.

Grade: C+

Satanic Bloodspraying At The Mercy Of Satan

Release Date: July 18th, 2012

Bolivia vomits forth the hilariously named Satanic Bloodspraying, a duo walking through the muck of blackened punk with At The Mercy Of Satan. A short release of eight songs clocking in at about 25 minutes, At The Mercy Of Satan sports influences from Impiety, Impaled Nazarene, and Sodom with a great deal of pride. Awesome, insanely catchy songs with a surprisingly clean tone that works so well that you’ll find yourself repeatedly hitting the “Repeat” button, At The Mercy Of Satan demands to be listened to at least three times in a row in each sitting.

Grade: A

Release Date: July 31st, 2012

The Royal Arch Blaspheme is a duo made up of what essentially constitutes USBM royalty: John Gelso of Profanatica and N. Imperial of Krieg (both serve time in various other bands too numerous to mention). Playing a dirty version of primitive black metal, The Royal Arch Blaspheme are much noisier than both Gelso’s and Imperial’s main outfits. In addition, II sees the duo ramp up the intensity a notch over their self-titled debut from 2010. II comes off as the bastard hybrid of Welcome To Hell and In The Sign Of Evil and is just as filthy; albeit, with a louder production.

Grade: A-

Deiphago Satan Alpha Omega

Release Date: August 14th, 2012

Filipino by way of Costa Rica, Deiphago, a trio, play an exceptionally messy form of primitive blackened thrash. Obviously influenced by Sarcofago and that band’s descendants, but with more speed and a much louder, more modern production, Deiphago are a swirling mass of chaos with loud, ornery guitars, drum patterns that drift all over the place, and just out and out caterwauling.

Frankly, in lesser hands, Deiphago would come across as a talentless mess as the term “songwriting” really doesn’t seem to apply, but the band’s infectious form of primitive histrionics is going to bring a smile to the face of old school fans that grew up on a steady diet of Sarcofago, early Sodom, Hellhammer, and the like.

Grade: B+

Midnight Complete And Total Hell

Release Date: September 1st, 2012

Cleveland’s Midnight probably need no introduction as the popularity of the band and their brand of d-beat influenced primitive blackened speed metal has grown enormously since the release of Satanic Royalty in 2011. However, like fellow Ohioans Nunslaughter (as you might guess, the bands share a member), Midnight released a plethora of material prior to Satanic Royalty in the form of various splits, EPs, and what have you. Unlike Nunslaughter, however, it’s actually just possible to gather all of this material into one compilation, and that’s exactly what Hells Headbangers Records has done, minus a few previously released rehearsal tracks, with Complete And Total Hell. Covering 21 songs in 73 minutes, Complete And Total Hell doesn’t appear to have been remastered in any way, but that’d be a mistake, anyway. Go for it.

Grade: A

Friday, July 20, 2012

Speedwolf at the 5 Stars Bar

Dirty thrash metal invaded Los Angeles last night at the 5 Stars Bar in gritty DTLA. Denver's Speedwolf have cornered the biker themed, old school, straight ahead thrash metal of early Motörhead with their recent debut album on Hells Headbangers Records, Ride With Death, and I wasn't about to let this tour go by. In direct support were locals Witchaven, also celebrating a recent release on Hells Headbangers, as well as a few more, lower level local acts.

After a short walk through an art gallery laden section of Main Street in DTLA (the art walk; see pictures below), my good buddy Wash Jones and I made our way to the 5 Stars Bar in time to catch Bastard, a local act that I've seen a few times over the last few years. Backed up by a gigantic Rickenbacker bass, Bastard, a power trio, flat out kicked it with fiery leads and straight ahead pouding gallops in the dimly lit scene. The crowd ate it up as Bastard were easily at their best this night.

After wandering about for food and finally settling on pizza (eaten on the curb in front of the 5 Stars as the pizzeria a few blocks away kicked us out after we had ordered), we made it back as Witchaven were ready to go. As Wash pointed out, Witchaven were an amalgam of, say, Exodus and Vio-lence, and fired on all cyliders. The 5 Stars crowd, obviously filled up with friends of the band, went nuts with plenty of headbanging and a small pit. Awesome stuff.

Speedwolf absolutely blew everyone away with their old school homage to the greats. Think motorcycles, the open road, beer, Motörhead, Venom, and even more speed, and you've got the gist of it. This band could someday be big. Tossing in two covers ("Witching Hour" and "The Hammer"), Speedwolf ruled the night.

The art walk....

The crowd and the merch...




The t-shirt haul!



The stickers!

Special thanks to Wash Jones for the pictures!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Jean Jacket Construction Means War: Finished?

OK, I think that I'm finally finished tinkering with my battle vest. I removed most of the rather cheap cloth patches and replaced them with embroidered patches. The removed cloth patches will find their way onto my sweatshirt jacket sometime soon. The Deathspell Omega patch is a new, embroidered version of the cheap cloth patch that was there previously. The Blut Aus Nord and Bathory patches are new, and I moved the Watain patch. I also added more studs. The front of the jacket with relatively few patches gives me full use of my pockets, inside and out.

HeXen Being And Nothingness


Thursday, July 05, 2012

My Two Cents: Prometheus

Science fiction in cinema pales in comparison to the best literary science fiction, but a few films do approach that level of quality. I’ll admit from the get go that I’m a big fan of both Alien and Blade Runner. Alien is a Lovecraftian-the-elder-gods-will-eat-us-all-in-a-haunted-house creep fest of the highest order, whereas Blade Runner intelligently addresses within the tropes of Hard SF the ambiguous ethics and codes of morality that, as a species and as a society, will we have to face sooner or later as the Singularity approaches. Addressing large issues in a rather small way; that is, as a police procedural occurring within a logical, realistic setting, is a stroke of genius. Blade Runner is the better film. Alien and Blade Runner are extremely good looking films, and a young Ridley Scott’s reputation as a filmmaker is assured. Both films, and their relevant source material, provide plenty of fodder for metal (for better or worse).

Naturally, I’ve seen, and digested, all of the Alien related films since (for better or worse), none of which remotely approaches the disconcerting, visceral sense of horror than that of the original vision of Scott, David Giler, Walter Hill, and H.R. Giger. When Prometheus was announced, like many, I was ecstatic to hear that Scott was not only entering the realm of science fiction once more, but that Prometheus would have connections to Alien, possibly as a direct prequel. A brilliant marketing campaign over the months leading up to the film’s release only added to the fervor.

WARNING: SPOILERS (although the film has been in theaters for several weeks)

I’m not going to espouse upon the mythological underpinnings of the film (here is a great review/ dissection of the film from that perspective), which are the reasons for the film’s existence. Rather, my fault with Prometheus lies in the direction of the film’s flagrant disregard for the scientific method (not to mention Darwinian evolution given the premise of the film outlined in the first scene; it can be safely said that Prometheus is a creationist fantasy without the god). For a film that is billed as “high concept SF,” and given that Scott’s other SF films do employ Hard SF tropes, that is inexcusable. The film also appears to be heavily edited, rushed, and whittled down; I suspect that a greatly expanded “Director’s Cut” will appear on Blu Ray/ DVD in the near future. Perhaps then, some of the film’s problems will be corrected.

The film’s premise regarding the purpose of the mission of the starship Prometheus is given one scene with no rational discussion of the plausibility of what is passed off as convincing evidence, but is essentially nothing more than circumstantial, at best. You’d expect that the film’s two nominally scientist protagonists, Shaw and Holloway, would have trumpeted their supposed discovery to every gullible media outlet and cable TV “news” channel that would have listened. No lip service is paid to what would amount to be a heated academic debate, especially if trillions of dollars are to be invested in an investigative mission to the star system in question. Obviously, that debate never took place as the “ragtag” crew is briefed on the secret nature of their mission only after being awakened from suspended animation with no prior knowledge of the mission’s premise. Nonsense, even though the financier of the project, Peter Weyland, is obviously using the mission as a means towards his own stab at immortality, and has no intention of using whatever discoveries that may be in the offering for the betterment of mankind.

Prometheus lands on LV-223, the starship’s destination, with virtually no survey of the planet (actually a moon of a ringed gas giant nominally within the star’s habitable zone) taking place. Lip service is paid to an atmospheric analysis, but no other types of remote sensing surveys appear to occur. Not to mention that a landing spot is seemingly picked at random, only for the ship to land right next to what are apparently the only artificial structures on the moon.

A serious investigation of what are obviously alien structures would take weeks, if not months, before anyone would even entertain the notion of actually trying to enter the structure. Nope. Barely five minutes after landing, a scouting party immediately sets out to enter the structure without any sampling equipment (other than their environment suits and a bag; “glow balls” notwithstanding), or weapons for that matter. By this point in the film, you pretty much know what’s coming and you really no longer care given the obvious stupidity of the crew. In fairness, a story does have to move along and an argument can be made that the expedition has to proceed quickly if resources are limited and survival is an issue, but, then again, you wouldn’t waste valuable ship resources on a basketball court (Alien Resurrection), now, would you? The lackadaisical attitude of everyone involved suggests otherwise.

The coup de grace of idiocy comes in two forms. First, five minutes into the initial exploration of the structure, the crew, inexplicably, take off their helmets  after a sampling of the atmosphere inside the structure reveals that the air is breathable (but, so what?). Second, the characters Fifield and Milburn, described earlier as a geologist and a biologist, respectively, are trapped inside the structure after a series of events. Naturally, and predictably, Fifield and Milburn end up being dispatched by the biological weapons/ alien antagonists of the film, but in a manner that is, shall we say, easily avoided by anyone with a shred of common sense. Good riddance, as my ability to care about any of these characters quickly evaporates. Well, almost all of the characters; that is, except for Michael Fassbender as the android David, who flat out steals the film and is the only engrossing element.

The remainder of the film downshifts into a predictable pattern with various crew members disposed of, Peter Weyland’s attempt at immortality, and a climax leaving open the option of a sequel. Visually, the film is quite stunning with gorgeous landscapes, plausible, near future extrapolations of computer technology, and there are a few creepy moments. But the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy the film by anyone with an understanding of the scientific method and Darwinian evolution is just too much to overcome.

You could go on to nitpick at this movie ad nauseum; artificial gravity, the whole nonsensical bit involving identical DNA, throwaway lines from supposed scientists such as “Don’t be a skeptic,” the post-surgery biological weapon growing to enormous size (a problem since Alien), etc.

Can you overlook these lapses? I couldn’t.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Saint Vitus Lillie: F-65

Saint Vitus Lillie: F-65

By: Chris Davison

Beware, dear reader, of sacred cows. The problem with thy holy bovine is that they become impervious to criticism – indeed, it is frowned upon to openly challenge them. In the world of Doom Metal, there can be few cows more beloved than Saint Vitus – particularly a Saint Vitus in which Wino himself is once again the lead singer. After all, it's been 22 years since he last recorded an album with Saint Vitus, in the form of V. Since then, of course, Scott “Wino” Weinrich has been the singer in at least one in four American doom metal bands, which I believe was a statute enacted under the regime of George Bush the First. It is generally considered bad form to criticise a sacred cow.

 Well, I say “nay” to the naysayers here, because simply put, this album – this, one of the most anticipated albums for doom metal fans, just isn't really that good. No, no, hear me out. There's nothing dreadful about it, but then, there isn't anything that will make you grin from ear to ear either. Yeah, you've got Dave Chandler on the guitars, so you know that those bluesy, sprawling leaden riffs are going to come spilling out of the speakers. The thing , though, is that these riffs do not represent Chandler at his finest. These are the riffs that would grace a B-side of a single 20 years ago. You can't fault the singing voice of Wino, of course – that world weary tone and the gravel-lunged gravitas – but you can perhaps wonder if his heart is in this. It's a hard thing to properly express, but in a sense, it does sound a little like he dialled in this performance. Those of you who have been fortunate enough to hear his solo album Adrift will know how powerful he can be when he's singing on a project he really cares for.

 Much like fellow American doom metal alumni, Pentagram, the sorry truth of the matter is that the days of inspiration for Saint Vitus appear to be long gone. They're all well travelled musicians now, of course, so you will always get a level of competence and solid, if generic, musicianship. It's this erosion of creative energy that means that every band must eventually stop recording. It happens to most bands. Some manage to find fresh, fertile ground. Others radically change or evolve into other outfits. Reforming bands is a tricky old thing at the best of times, but if you've ever got back together with an ex, you'll know the likelihood of it all working out for the best.  Sorry, Saint Vitus, but I was born too late for this album.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Winterfylleth The Ghost Of Heritage (reissue)

Winterfylleth The Ghost Of Heritage (reissue)

By: Chris Davison

A well timed re-release of The Ghost Of Heritage, the debut album from England's very own heritage-loving Black metal band, Winterfylleth, pops into my inbox. When I heard Winterfylleth’s sophomore album, The Mercian Sphere, I was blown away by the quality and atmosphere of the record, despite not being a tremendous lover of black metal in all but rare circumstances. I was excited, therefore, to receive this album to review, having been sent by my esteemed partner in crime, The Dragon of M87. With such heights reached by their sophomore album, how would the earlier platter fare?

Happily, rather well. The Mercian Sphere was a slight evolution from this sound, which in the main is epic, sprawling black metal with a flair for evoking atmosphere. There are some clear parallels with early Primordial evident on this record, most clearly on “Guardian Of The Herd,” which builds up gradually from a plaintive acoustic guitar set up, to a vast-sounding anthem, complete with Bathory-esque chanting and drumming. Elsewhere, the swiftly strummed guitars and distant, slightly echoing vocals speak of the black metal roots of the band, though the epic scale of the music, the vast sweeping soundscapes are hypnotic in their ability to conjure mental images. It's ever so slighty raw and traditional black metal than their subsequent offerings, but none the worse for it. Here lies controlled chaos – the sound always threatening to spill out of the bounds of the song structures, but somehow kept together, probably by the sheer ferocity of the music.

 If there are any criticisms – and I'll keep completely out of the whole “heritage / racism” argument, as there plenty of armchair pundits willing to wade into that argument on your behalf, it would be that there is a slight sameness about the songwriting being occasionally a little under developed. All that means is that as ever, Winterfylleth compel you to listen with your upmost attention. That can't be a bad thing. This is majestic, epic and compelling music that has the cerebral content to keep your mind occupied, with the visceral element to keep your head banging. True British metal.

Mortillery Murder Death Kill

Master The New Elite

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Heidevolk Batavi

Heidevolk Batavi

By: Chris Davison

So, sure, we're used to hearing Finnish and Swedish bands knocking out the whole “folk metal” stuff. I've seen pretty much all of them live at one time or another, and it's generally easy to spot those that have an actual interest in issues of heritage and pagan pride, rather than those who have converted swiftly on from the last passing fad or trend in Heavy Metal in search of a quick buck (or, maybe something else that rhymes with buck that they can quickly acquire). There are now literally hordes of folk metal bands, and I've even seen some home-grown English bands that have tried it with unconvincing backing tracks streamed from a MacBook, while the singer pounces about in a knitted hat. You all know the drill, right? You add a “Celtic” flourish to a standard metal song, and dress up in armour. It may also help to hold up a flagon of “ale” in between songs. So, where do Heidevolk fare in the scheme of things? Are these the kind of guys to be riding in a dragon ship, or are you more likely to catch them playing Dungeons and Dragons?

For those of you not in the know, Heidevolk are already a little different from the crowd, in that they hail from Holland and have decided to sing in Dutch. Apparently, from a linguistic perspective, Dutch is the closest language to English, though I am completely unable to understand anything they are singing about. There are plenty of clean singing sections, which sound rather heroic, (though to be fair, they could be singing about mowing the lawn, and I'd be none the wiser), and plenty of chanting and occasional harsh growling. There is also a lack of traditional folk instruments, and all of the music presented here is relatively memorable standard extreme metal, complete with quickly strummed guitars, quick and efficient drumming and pummelling bass attacks.

I have a couple of earlier Heidevolk albums, and it's fair to say, I think, that Batavi has increased the heavy metal quotient, while turning down the dial on folk-metal conventions. For one, this album is a much darker proposition than the fairly lightweight offerings on “Walhalla Wacht.” “In Het Woud Gezworen,” for example, has an acerbic, cutting tone that brings to mind the finer moments of Britain's sadly defunct Sabbat at their prime, while the clean singing tones do indeed bring an epic feel to the music.
As to whether Heidevolk are actually now a folk metal band? That's a tricky one. They are clearly influenced by their heathen roots and the tales of their ancestors, but in musical terms, I don't hear any of those clichéd melodies any more, and that's all for the better. Perhaps then, it's just fairer to say that this is just a damn fine album from Dutch gentlemen with an interest in their past. There are no stone cold classics to be found here, but it's going to while away a pleasant hour or so.


Zombiefication Reaper's Consecration