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Features

The Coroner's Report: Maryland Deathfest Edition

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, June 19, 2015 @ 10:42 AM


Reviews, Interviews And Other Assorted Musings

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Maryland Deathfest Live Photos By Peter Atkinson

The Maryland Deathfest literally has become the “Heavy Metal Parking Lot”. After moving around the corner last year from its former locale inside and on the street in front of the former Sonar club in downtown Baltimore, its main venue now are the Edison Parkfast Lots A and B, a swath of pavement with a six-story public storage facility on one side, a highway overpass on the other and a chain-link fence running right down the middle and along the perimeter.

During BLOODBATH's first, and perhaps only, American performance – if you don't count an encore OPETH and KATATONIA teamed up for a few years back, ironically also in Baltimore - frontman “Old” Nick Holmes, also of PARADISE LOST, sardonically dubbed the scene a “happy fucking carpark”. But since there are precious few options for anything of this ilk in the states, most folks were indeed happy for said “fucking carpark” given the alternative: nothing. Especially since it meant perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the likes of BLOODBATH, ARCTURUS or TWILIGHT OF THE GODS.

And the space, truth be told, is more accommodating than the former spot by the Sonar with its odd angles, intrusive trees and light poles, vendors wedged in the middle and the abandoned Hollywood Diner taking up one corner. It's wide open, for once thing, so there's no stumbling over hidden curbs or earthen swaths that often turned into muddy bogs. The sound, which often was downright terrible on the outdoor stages at the old spot, also seemed modestly better.

The four-day festival now actually spans several different venues. The indoor Baltimore Soundstage (which hosted NAPALM DEATH, the first-ever show by AGORAPHOBIC NOSEBLEED and, do to an unfortunate but kind of hilarious double-booking, rappers MOBB DEEP) and Rams Head Live, both several blocks from the Edison lots and vast improvements over the basement-like Sonar, meant the hordes of metalheads from around the world who descended on Charm City could roam back and forth checking out nearly 100 bands.

I attended Day Two of Deathfest 2015, on Friday, May 22, the first day the Edison Lots were open, ostensibly to see BLOODBATH, but also to interview Gregor Mackintosh who, like PARADISE LOST co-conspirator Holmes, was there performing his second band, VALLENFYRE (more on that below). For convenience's sake, and because the lineup was pretty killer, I stuck to the Edison Lots. And despite missing the first three bands – ARTIFICIAL BRAIN, FUNEBRARUM and CIANIDE – because traffic was a clusterfuck coming up from D.C., as it always is on Memorial Day weekend getaway day - it ended up being a smart move.

VALLENFYRE was just getting revved up when I got there and sounded pretty bad-ass while the line to get in that stretched around the block inched forward. I ended up hearing more of the set than I saw, because it took nearly a half-hour to finally make it through the gates – some things haven't changed since the move. Chicago-bred, now Czech-based death metal stalwarts MASTER played next, on the B stage, and though the trio has never really done much for me, it offered a lively set nonetheless.

I was far more interested in multinational grind quartet LOCK UP, which was playing just its second gig with new vocalist Kevin Sharp – ex of BRUTAL TRUTH – who replaced Tomas Lindberg late last year after he left to focus on AT THE GATES. Though a bit sloppy, with some false starts, fidgety noodling and awkward pauses, LOCK UP was pretty ferocious, playing with reckless abandon even though bassist Shane Embury had a set later that night with NAPALM DEATH and guitarist Anton Reisenegger and drummer Nick Barker were performing with other bands over the weekend as well. The inclusion of BRUTAL TRUTH's “Birth Of Ignorance” as a nod to Sharp was a nice touch.

I missed most of AURA NOIR waiting for my interview with Mackintosh – and doing the interview itself - but caught the last few songs of the band's black thrash attack. Given that guitarist and one-time drummer Aggressor has limited, if any, use of his feet from the fall/leap out a window in 2005, he made a curious site playing from, essentially, an office chair. But the self-proclaimed “ugliest band in the world” tore it up nonetheless.

As did SUFFOCATION, who were crushing despite not having played a show with frontman Frank Mullen in seven months. He was his usual animated self with his wacky gesticulations and profane banter, and seemed to be enjoying his first taste of the stage in quite some time. Drummer Kevin Talley's spot-on battery made the band tighter and more punishing than usual. Awesome.

I hadn't seen OBITUARY in more than 20 years, since some End Complete shows with MACHINE HEAD and NAPALM DEATH in like 1994. The band's “redneck stomp” was a bit ponderous, given the preponderance of dirgey tracks like “Internal Bleeding”, “Intoxicated” and “'Til Death”. But when OBITUARY kicked up the tempo, as on the barnstorming opener “Centuries Of Lies”, “Back To One” and the cascading closer “Slowly We Rot”, the pit exploded. Though frontman John Tardy's vocals, which seemed so horrific back in the day, now sound downright tame, he's still a commanding presence – especially with his ass-length mane windmilling around.

And then there was BLOODBATH. Given the always tenuous situation with the band’s superstar lineup – and the other commitments the members already have with OPETH, KATATONIA and PARADISE LOST – and the rare occasions in which the quintet plays live, the Deathfest crowd seemed geared up for something special. And the band delivered in spades, with an absolutely bestial set powered by the roughshod guitars of Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström and Per "Sodomizer" Eriksson and Holmes’ fiery growl.

His dour, crotchety demeanor, and monk's robe/butcher’s apron costume only added to the sinister air as the band stormed through “Mental Abortion”, “Cancer Of The Soul”, “Soul Evisceration”, “Mock The Cross” and the crowd favorite “Eaten” with punishing glee. It was fucking brilliant. And if, like myself, you were coming for just one of the Deathfest days, this was the set not to be missed – and made for a “happy fucking carpark” indeed.

***

No Boundaries: Gregor Mackintosh talks VALLENFYRE and PARADISE LOST

Holmes wasn't the only member of PARADISE LOST who was bemused by the Deathfest locale.

“Since we formed this band, it has been our dream … to play a parking lot … in Baltimore,” Mackintosh joked in his role as frontman with VALLENFYRE as the band got things rolling on the sun-baked Edison Lot A Stage. “We are living our dream.”

As we spoke an hour or so later - jammed into fold-up beach chairs wedged between the back of a merch tent and the guardrail separating the parking lots from the storage facility next door, all while AURA NOIR blasted away like 20 yards away on the B Stage – Mackintosh picked up where he left off.

“It was a dream come true,” he noted with a laugh. “Like I said on the stage.”

As a performer at many of the venerable European metal festivals, both with the veteran PARADISE LOST as lead guitarist and, to a lesser extent, as vocalist with the 5-year-old VALLENFYRE, Mackintosh has plenty of first-hand experience with how these things work on a grander – and far less urban – scale.

“You can tell it's a fledgling thing,” he said of the Deathfest, which is in its 13th year and has been growing in slow increments. “It's great, don't get me wrong, and I fully admire what Evan [Harting] and Ryan [Taylor, festival co-founders] are trying to do. I hope other people take up that impetus to do this other places in the country. I'm sure it's logistically more difficult because of the sheer size of the fucking country.”

All the bureaucratic bullshit foreign bands must endure to play here – thanks to 9/11 – certainly doesn't make the job any easier. Time and again, acts from other countries with tour plans here end up postponing or canceling – such as SODOM at this year’s Deathfest - because of work visa delays or denials.

“You have a fucked up system which puts a lot of international acts off,” Mackintosh said. “I was talking to the BLOODBATH guys before, and to come here to do this one show it's cost them $8,000 in visa costs alone. It's fucking mental. If America is so interested in the arts, why don't you just abolish that. What do you think these musicians are gonna do? You know?”

With the memory of a year's worth of immigration lawyers and mountains of paperwork involved in my wife's green card application – not to mention the cost - still fresh, I can't help but agree with him.

Still, this was VALLENFYRE's second trip to the states in just a few months. The band - which features MY DYING BRIDE guitarist Hamish Glencross, DOOM bassist Scoot and Mackintosh's PARADISE LOST bandmate drummer Adrian Erlandsson - was part of the Decibel Magazine tour during the spring.

Indeed, Mackintosh made touring in America with VALLENFYRE – the death/doom/grind metal project he put together as a means of dealing with the 2009 death of his father John to cancer – a priority after the band issued its second album, Splinters, last year. It and its predecessor, 2011's A Fragile King, were surprisingly well-received in the states, especially since PARADISE LOST had maintained a low – indeed almost no – profile here for more than 20 years.

“When we brought the first record out, the majority of the positive feedback we had was coming from the states and not Europe. Europe was great, but I was getting so many requests from the states to do things, interviews and whatever, and I didn't know why that was,” Mackintosh said.

“I talked to a few people about it and their opinion was that the Americans, because it was pre-Internet and all that, they missed out on a couple generations of European underground death metal. So this whole thing has kind of become popular now, this underground European thing that happened in the '80s."

“I had no idea that was the course things were going to go down, but I guess that's why VALLENFYRE got the attention at the time that it did. I also think we did a couple of decent albums in that vein.”

Of the Decibel tour – headlined by Sweden's AT THE GATES, who, along with fellow reunion-ees CARCASS and GODFLESH have helped spearhead the revival of '80s-style European extreme metal – Mackintosh enthused, “It was fucking brilliant, well worth doing.

“I wanted to do it and appreciate it. The first tour that PARADISE LOST ever did of the states was with MORBID ANGEL and KREATOR in about '92 [actually it was 1993] and we fucking hated every minute of it. We never took a step back to appreciate what was going on, we were just thinking 'this is a fucking nightmare,'” he said. “And being older and wiser, I wanted to have the opportunity to do that same level of tour and just take a step back and see this is what it is and just enjoy it.”

That doesn't necessarily mean we'll be seeing more of PARADISE LOST, which just released its 14th album The Plague Within, in the states any time soon. Although the band did tour here with DEVIN TOWNSEND and KATATONIA a couple years ago, the “scabs” of the '93 slog “will never heal” - to borrow from the opening track of VALLENFYRE's latest album.

“I think PARADISE LOST – Nick and myself – have always said that we spited ourselves after that initial tour. We kind of refused to come back, we were getting asked to come and do tours after that and we said 'we're never going back there' because it was such a bad experience and, in hindsight, it was just stupid. PARADISE LOST pretty much nailed a lot of our career shut in the U.S. by making that decision [the band did do one other tour here, opening for NIGHTWISH in 2007].”

The odd VALLENFYRE or BLOODBATH gig aside, Mackintosh and Holmes will be getting back into PARADISE LOST mode soon as the band begins festival dates in Europe in July that will be followed by shows in Brazil preceding a full European tour. The Plague Within marks the band’s heaviest and most varied album since the mid-'90s, when the gothic presence grew more pronounced, and sees PARADISE LOST get back into full death-metal mode – with Holmes employing the growling vocals he dusted off for BLOODBATH - for the first time since 1992’s Shades Of God.

The album features both the band’s fastest – “Terminal” and “Flesh From Bone” - and slowest tracks – the quaking “Beneath Broken Earth” – ever, and touches just about every aspect of the band’s shape-shifting – and sometimes divisive – sound. Along with the crunching, almost DOWN-like boogie of “Punishment Through Time” and “Cry Out”, and the monumental doom of “No Hope In Sight” and “Victims Of The Past”, are the gothic grace and classical tinges of “An Eternity Of Lies”, “Victims Of The Past” and “Sacrifice The Flame”. The keyboard/electronic-laden Host/Believe In Nothing period is the lone omission, but that was more by chance than design.

“On tour for the last album, Tragic Idol, I was starting to think about doing the next record and I was having a conversation with our bass player Steve [Edmondson, guitarist Aaron Aedy rounds out the lineup],” Mackintosh explained. “And I said ‘You know what I really want to do on this album? I just want to not have any boundaries, If we want to draw an influence from the very early days or the mid-period or even something that we've never tried before.’”

“And he said, ‘yeah that's exactly what we should do.’”

“And that's kind of what we just went with, and we took it track by track. The album could have ended up very different, it just led down that path. There was electronic stuff within the writing process, but as a process of elimination, it ended up as it was. It was a very honest and impromptu way of writing, kind of an exciting way to do it in a way.

“We [Holmes and Mackintosh, the main songwriters] did change the way we wrote this record. What I did was I'd send him little pieces of music and I'd say, ‘Could you try out 10 different vocal styles on this. Melodies, death metal vocals, gothic vocals, whatever,’ and he'd send them back to me and I'd strip the music down and almost start from scratch, almost like building blocks, and it made for a very intuitive writing process. I'm surprised we hadn't tried that before, after 27 years you'd think we would have thought of that.”

With PARADISE LOST back in action for the foreseeable future, Mackintosh is not sure what that will mean for VALLENFYRE. But the band has never really operated to a set plan to begin with, so he’ll just see what happens.

“We take it gig by gig, in fact,” he said. “This blossomed all on its own and we've been taking things as they come ever since. It started with a particular purpose, as a reaction to the death of my father, part of the healing process, if you want to call it that, with me just writing songs, and it became something more. A lot has to do with the people who became a part of the band. They have been friends of mine for many years and they helped give it life and turned it into something fun, that we enjoyed.

“If it still feels fresh, if we're still having a good time, OK, we'll see if someone says ‘come here and do a gig.’ At this moment in time we have maybe five or six more gigs booked, and after that I have no idea what's gonna happen.”

***

Recent Releases And Assorted Crap

ANTIGAMA – The Insolent (Selfmade God)

If you like musicality and eccentricity with your grindcore, then Polish veterans ANTIGAMA will be right up your alley. Along with the usual hyper-speed tempos, bug-eyed hollering and spastic riffs, these guys offer some fiendishly clever grooves and industrial-strength dynamics that makes their grind more than mere noise. That approach is especially pronounced over the second half of the band's sixth album, beginning with “Sentenced To The Void”, where the songs morph from two-minute sprints to more controlled and resonant four-plus minute excursions. The YES-like instrumental deconstruction “Out Beyond” is the album's most wicked curveball, before yielding to the more familiar NAPALM DEATH-like stomp of “Eraser”. The epic finale, “The Land Of Monotony”, echoes KILLING JOKE, its slow-grind simmering for seven minutes yet never boiling over, as one might expect. That is doesn't only shows you should expected the unexpected from ANTIGAMA. B+

CRADLE OF FILTH – Hammer of the Witches (Nuclear Blast)

The cast of characters may have frequently changed, but the music has remained essentially the same with British stalwarts CRADLE OF FILTH. The caterwauling symphonic black metal blueprint CRADLE established 25 years ago has varied by a matter of degrees over the years, usually depending on how much/little orchestration was slathered on or how involved the album's thematic threads were. But with half the lineup turning over since 2012's The Manticore And Other Horrors - the key departure being longtime guitarist/composer Paul Allender - things are a bit more different than usual on CRADLE's 11th studio album. Hammer Of The Witches takes something of a sonic step back – all the way to the before 2003's ludicrously overblown Damnation And A Day, in fact. Hammer is leanest, meanest, most “metal” album the band has done probably since Midian, with the usual gothic pomp and classical window-dressing taking a backseat to the racing twin-guitar histrionics - and prominent harmonies and solos - of the new tandem of Richard Shaw and Marek “Ashok” Šmerda. The keys, strings and occasionally operatic female vocals are still there – courtesy, for the most part, of Lindsay Schoolcraft – but on the periphery, where they don't get in the way of the crashing riffs and Martin "Marthus" Škaroupka's runaway tempos. The comparatively unpolished, natural production and more streamlined songwriting only add to the album's welcome and quite genuine punch and grit. Of course frontman Dani Filth still yowls like a cat with his ass ablaze, but with the fresh faces tearing things up like they do here, it's less grating. A nice surprise. B+

ESCHATON – Sentinel Apocaplyse (Unique Leader)

Tech-death specialty label Unique Leader seems to have about a .500 batting average with its ever-expanding roster. For every home run it hits with bands like THE KENNEDY VEIL, SOREPTION, ALTERBEAST, FALLUJAH and INANIMATE EXISTENCE, it strikes out with the overreaching or overbearing likes of CONTINUUM, PILLORY, ONMIHILITY or the utterly ridiculous RINGS OF SATURN. You can add Rhode Island quintet ESCHATON to the swing, miss and take a seat category. The band's debut full-length is jammed packed with the usual tech-death contrivances and trappings. There's a lot going on here, especially with the uber-busy guitaring of brothers Joshua and Jared Berry and the crazy-quilt anti-structure of songs like “Achromatic Reign,” but not a whole lot of it is really that memorable. For all of the complexity, dexterity and brutality here, there is a dearth of any sort of hooks or melody to give it teeth – an all-too-common failing with this sort of stuff. So it all sounds sorta the same. Jason Viteri's growl and shriek vocals only make things more tedious. Though it clocks in at about 40 minutes, Sentinel Apocaplyse seems much longer. And that's never a good thing. C-

ETHEREAL – Opus Aethereum (Candlelight)

The full-length debut from England's ETHEREAL finds the band well-schooled in the ways of symphonic black metal, but somewhat lacking in what one might consider its own identity. Opus Aethereum is a mish-mash of the stylings of countrymen CRADLE OF FILTH and Norwegian contemporaries DIMMU BORGIR/OLD MAN'S CHILD, EMPEROR and LIMBONIC ART, with a hint of Greece's SEPTICFLESH during its more death metally moments. The sonic template here obviously is DIMMU's 1997's benchmark Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, with its wall of sound approach and feral delivery. Everything about Opus is massive, from the opulent/bombastic keyboards/strings and thunderous guitars to the drum fusillades and frontman Naut's Shagrath-like screamy/talky vocals – low-fi purists will no doubt be appalled. It's certainly one of the heaviest and loudest black metal releases in recent memory. And despite all of its sound-alikedness, ETHEREAL has written some pretty compelling material here - the cataclysmic album closer “Waking Death” just crushes - and performs it with a zeal and tenacity that is both convincing and, at times, somewhat terrifying. So instead of seeming like a mere knock-off, Opus Aethereum bears the mark of a band whose chops haven't quite caught up with its ambitions. The potentially is certainly there, now it just needs to be realized. B-

FEARED – Synder (Self-released)

There aren't many busier people in death metal than FEARED guitarist Ola Englund. Over the past three years, he's recorded and toured with SIX FEET UNDER, joined the reunited THE HAUNTED, launched a solo project called SOLAR and began collaborating with ex-DECAPITATED drummer Kerim "Krimh" Lechner on a new project called ELDVÅG. All the while, he's still been working with FEARED, which just offered its fifth album – sixth if you count Refeared, a redo of the band's 2007 debut. Synder, which means “sins” in Swedish, essentially picks up where its predecessor, 2013's Vinter, left off. With Englund and vocalist Mario Ramos being joined once again by bassist Jocke Skog and drum hit man Kevin Talley, FEARED offer up a mix of melodic/groove/progressive death metal that showcases Englund's obvious chops without making it sound like a vanity project – or seeming half-assed, given his other projects. Ramos' burly growl and Talley/Skog's formidable bottom end provide a solid core on Synder for Englund's determined riffing and nimble soloing. While the more technical material here, “Of Iron And Ashes”, “Dying Day” or “Wolf At The End Of The World”, is the most compelling, the PANTERA-esque chug of “Caligula”, “War Feeding War” or “My Own Redemption” boasts some pretty impressive muscle. And though Synder does run out of gas by the end, it's still a solid effort overall. B

GRAVEWORM – Ascending Hate (AFM)

After going off the rails during the mid-2000s and “losing their religion,” as it were – to reference the band's inexplicable 2003 REM cover – Italy's GRAVEWORM seems to have gotten back on the gothic/“dark” metal track. It's perhaps no coincidence that Ascending Hate marks the return of founding guitarist Stefan Unterpertinger, who left after the REM experiment. The album, the band's ninth, is grand, often melancholy and jarringly heavy – especially when Unterpertinger and Eric Righi's hulking riffs are played against plaintive acoustic or keyboard passages. A few tracks, notably “Liars To The Lions”, “Downfall Of Heaven” and the magnificent finale “Nocturnal Hymns Part II”, kick the tempo into high gear and approach black metal velocity, making for an exhilarating chance of pace. And the mean-ass “Rise Again” has an almost AMON AMARTH-like war-metally feel – especially in Stefano Fiori's roaring vocals. Despite all this, the band doesn't quite seem to have lost its taste for cheesy covers. The digipack apparently includes, as a bonus tracks, GRAVEWORM's take on BON JOVI's “Runaway” - but since that wasn't included on the promo I haven't heard it, so the less said about that the better. B

KATAKLYSM – Of Ghosts and Gods (Nuclear Blast)

For its 12th album, Canadian/American quartet KATAKLYSM add a bit of melodic death metal to the band's so-called “Northern hyperblast”. Of Ghosts And Gods has an almost ARCH ENEMY-like feel like to it at times in the textured, bob-and-weave riffing of J-F Dagenais, the blast-and-groove rhythms of Stephane Barbe and newish drummer Oli Beaudoin and frontman Maurizio Iacono's somewhat less burly, more expressive vocals. While there's still plenty of “hyperblast” to go around – Beaudoin is a beast on the kit here, perhaps moreso than on his debut with 2013's Waiting For The End To Come - there's certainly more depth as he shifts gears from blast beats to a swaggering chug and back with almost casual ease on “Thy Serpents Tongue” or “Vindication” while Dagenais throws one wicked hook after another. The majestic sweep of “Soul Destroyer” and the rousing chorus of “Breaching The Asylum” and bridge of “Marching Through Graveyards” are engaging twists that don't take anything away from KATAKLYSM's inherent brutality. The slower, more purposeful “Carrying Crosses”, “Hate Spirit” and “Shattered” don't work quite as well - as the band is only built to carry so much melody - and drag down the album's back end. But the more involved, and bruising, “The World Is A Dying Insect” builds and builds to a close, making for a suitably epic finale. B

KING PARROT – Dead Set (Housecore)

Australian oddballs KING PARROT not only found a home with ex-PANTERA frontman Phil Anselmo's Housecore Records, Anselmo himself recorded the band's second album. Given Anselmo's work on his own solo project, and with WARBEAST and ARSON ANTHEM, Dead Set has a predictably rough and tumble sound – one that is as ugly and uncouth as the band itself. The guitars are especially crusty and abrasive as KING PARROT bashes out its thrash/grind/hardcore hybrid on “Hell Comes Your Way”, “Home Is Where The Gutter Is” or “Sick In The Head”. But it gives the album a live looseness, energy and immediacy that is palpable, and provides a formidable platform for frontman Matthew Young to shout over in his atypically high-pitched voice. Indeed, his Brian Johnson-esque screech makes everything seem that much more frantic, and takes already furious tracks like the blast-beaty “Tomorrow Turns To Blood”, “Anthem Of The Advanced Sinner” and “Punisher” right over the edge. Unfortunately, some of the band's inherent dark wit, which was a bit more obvious on its debut thanks to “Shit On The Liver” and “Blaze In The Northern Suburbs”, gets lost in the all the grime and clamor. But Dead Set leaves a mark nonetheless. B

MARUTA – Remain Dystopian (Relapse)

After splitting up following 2011's Forward Into Regression, Florida grinders MARUTA regrouped a year later and re-emerge with Remain Dystopian. It doesn't seem as though “musical direction” was much a factor in the break up, since the same four members have returned churning out much the same carpet-bomb death-grind as before. Remain Dystopian is 17 tracks of unrelenting fury, delivered mostly in minute-length bursts of discordant riffs and shit-fit shrieking. The shrill, stutter-step guitaring of Eduardo Borja and Mauro Cordoba adds a bit of spice here, as do guest spots by AT THE GATES' Tomas Lindberg, PIG DESTROYER's J.R. Hayes and AGORAPHOBIC NOSEBLEED's J. Randall, who brings some eerie noiseworks to “Submergence aka Barren Oceans Of Infinity” - by far the album's longest and most “experimental” track. The doom/grind of “Return To Zero”, another comparative “epic” at 2:59, recalls BRUTAL TRUTH and provides a breather before MARUTA close things out with the back-to-back flamethrowers “Slaying Jehova” and “Immune” An absolutely vicious outing. B+

SKINLESS – Only The Ruthless Remain (Relapse)

Upstate New York deathsters SKINLESS return after a five-year split with its first album in eight years - and boasting the lineup that appeared on the band's first two releases, Progression Towards Evil and Foreshadowing Our Demise, from 1998 and 2001, respectively. Only The Ruthless Remain certainly boasts a raw-boned old-school vibe. It's nothing fancy, slash-and-burn death metal without the technical indulgences and clinical sheen that are so prominent these days, but plenty of brutality and gnarliness. The band certainly doesn't seem to have lost any of its menace or viciousness during the break – and frontman Sherwood Webber can still breathe fire with the best of 'em. Stamina seems to have been the only casualty, as Ruthless clocks in at a somewhat chintzy 35 minutes. But it's a pretty killer 35 minutes, and if quality over quantity is the only thing to complain about, best to just shut up and deal with it. B+

THY ART IS MURDER – Holy War (Nuclear Blast)

Deathcore's reputation as tuneless, belligerent shite is, with rare exceptions, richly deserved. Australia's THY ART IS MURDER certainly won't do much to convince the haters otherwise. The band's third album is festooned with everything that makes deathcore so irksome: the breakdown-centric construction, the near complete lack of melody or finesse, the atonal grizzly bear growling and the utter hatefulness of both the delivery and message – not to mention the depressing vibe it evokes. Holy War is, indeed, the total, unrelentingly brutal package. It's not so much music as it is assault and battery. And that the original cover art featured a child strapped with a suicide bomb belt tells you just where the band is coming from. It's provocation for provocation's sake that seems unusually crass - and in a genre where crass is standard operating procedure, that's really saying something. F

VATTNET VISKAR – Settler (Century Media)

The second album from New Hampshire's VATTNET VISKAR may well have the least “black metal” black metal album cover art ever. Apparently inspired – as was the album itself - by astronaut Christa McAulliffe, a school teacher and fellow Granite Stater who died in the Challenger disaster, the cover is based on a photo of her experiencing weightless aboard the so-called “vomit comet.” It evokes the pinnacle of joy and life – again, in stark contrast to typical black metal convention. The band, itself, however, is every bit as apocalyptic and grim as one might expect, even if its “post-black” take on the style is not. The shrill, tremolo guitaring is there is spades, as is the frequently manic pace. But VATTNET VISKAR intersperse big, concussive hooks with relative frequency and the band definitely isn't shy about changing up the tempos. The full-on industrial droners “Yearn” and “Glory” and the mostly sedate but ultimately cacophonous “Heirs” make for dramatic contrasts to the fire and fury that surround them. And they work a lot better at establishing an ebb and flow than the brief instrumental interludes of 2013's Sky Swallower, making Settler feel less like an album and more like a journey. A-


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