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Features

Peter Atkinson is Back From The Dead With Death, Thrash, Metal Core and More

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, February 21, 2006 @ 9:59 AM


Time to catch up...

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I won’t waste time with long introductions because, as usual, there is an awful lot to get to, especially since this is the first one of these since last summer. Whoops! Anyway, since so much time has passed, a lot came and went in the interim that certainly deserves mention (Opeth, Exodus, Nile, Children of Bodom, Soilent Green, Destruction, Hyprocrisy, Grimfist) but is just too damn old now. And in the interest of space, some noteworthy newer stuff (the venerable Vader, Machinemade God, Cannibal Corpse frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher’s power metal sideband Paths of Possession and Decapitated, whose promo CD’s copy protection device - a Darth Vader-like voice that chimes in every few minutes to tell you "You are listening to the new Decapitated album Organic Hallucinations" - renders it unlistenable) had to be left off too. But that’s life, and there’s 30-something other bands below as it is. So without further adieu.

    Dimmu Borgir: Extreme Makeover
"Any dark metal band worth a damn has to have at least one song with 'Antichrist' in the title," reckons Dimmu Borgir founding guitarist Silenoz, with a laugh.

In Dimmu’s case, it’s the Norwegian-ized "Antikrist" which is getting a second life thanks to Feb. 7 release of a rerecorded version of the band’s decade-old second album Stormblast. And aside from the title track, it’s about the only song title on the album English speakers have any real hope of translating. Which is just as well, Silenoz explains, because the literal English translations of most of the other song titles - for instance "Nar Sielen Hentes Til Helvete," which has something to do with Hell - wouldn’t make much sense anyway.

And as for doing the lyrics in English this time around, forget it.

"The words just wouldn’t have matched with the music, so it was never really a consideration," he said on the phone from Nuclear Blast USA’s office in L.A., where he was enjoying a short respite from the 4 feet of snow that awaited him back in Norway. "The way the languages are constructed are just too different. We, in essence, would have had to create all new songs, and all we really wanted to do here was present the album the way we had intended it to be in the first place."

Other than playing “Stormblast” and, at times, “Alt Lys Er Svunnet Hen” live, Dimmu - or at least Silenoz and frontman Shagrath, the only band members from then that remain - have all but disavowed themselves from the original Stormblast. It was an album whose intentions and ambitions far outweighed the realities of the studio time and production work the shoestring budget Dimmu’s label at the time, Cacophonous, allowed. The end result was a thin sounding, plodding, keyboard-heavy shell of what they had initially envisioned.

“Fortunately, we only signed a one-album deal with Cacophonous because they made a lot of promises beforehand that they didn’t come close to delivering, so we didn’t have anywhere near the resources we thought we were going to have to do the album right,” Silenoz said. “We were never happy with it and have wished we could do it over again really since the time it was finished.

“So when we finally got the chance, we decided to go ahead and do it and make things right. Now people can see that Enthrone (Darkness Triumphant, Dimmu’s breakout third album) really wasn’t as dramatic a change in style as they might have thought.”

Stormblast was recorded last summer at death metal uber-producer/Hypocrisy mainman Peter Tagtgren’s Abyss Studio by Silenoz, Shagrath and keyboardist Mustis during downtime for Dimmu when bassist Vortex was working with Arcturus and guitarist Galder was recording another Old Man’s Child album. Mayhem’s legendary Hellhammer sat in on drums - and is likely to continue to do so, as his schedule allows, for the foreseeable future.

The album retains much of the original’s raw, somewhat primal black metal spirit, but presents a fuller, richer sound that gives the guitars the heft and prominence they require and strips away or mutes much of the intrusive keyboards that had made long-departed Stian Aarstad an enduring cult hero. Indeed the innocuous instrumental “Sorgens Kammer” has been replaced with the totally reconfigured “Sorgens Kammer - Del II,” now an eerie, lumbering number graced by Shagrath’s malevolent vocals - and no piano or synthesizers.

This was largely necessitated by the fact that Aarstad had “borrowed” melodies from music in the video game “Agony” for the “original,” without the band’s knowledge. So instead of fighting a copyright battle over it with the genuine composer, Silenoz and Shagrath fashioned a new song out of some old riffs and fresh ideas and it went on to become the first video/single from Stormblast - Del II. Another “new” song, the turbulent “Avmaktslave,” is included on the rerelease, the U.S. version of which features a bonus DVD of the Dimmu’s 2004 Ozzfest set in San Antonio with Tony Laureno, ex-of Nile, on drums.

Other than a few festival shows, the band won’t be doing much to promote Stormblast. Instead, they will get back to the work they’ve already started on the next Dimmu album that likely will be recorded in the fall. Material is slowly coming together on what looks to be another ambitious effort, this time more from a compositional standpoint.

Silenoz envisions an album with an epic story akin to King Diamond’s Abigail and he’s trying to get the lyrics worked out first before moving ahead further with the music, which, at this point, he says actually may end up being more stripped down that Dimmu’s fully orchestrated recent efforts.

“It’s totally the opposite of how we usually work, but I have a good idea outline of the story and know where I want to take it, it’s just working those ideas into actual lyrics has been difficult,” he said. “But once we we’re finished doing the Stormblast press and can put all our focus on the material, I’m confident it will all come together.”

Silenoz describes the basic storyline as being set in the Dark Ages where a man’s search for spiritual enlightenment eventually leads him to question the prevailing religious authority of the time (Christianity) and ultimately to be branded a tool of the devil.

“You can see a lot of parallels with that today,” he said. “Religion has become such a divisive thing. That ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’ mentality” is so pervasive now. So this story’s not so far-fetched.”

* * *

    Napalm Death: Extremists Against Extremism
You won’t get any argument when it comes to religion from Napalm Death frontman Mark “Barney” Greenway. He’s be making it a focal point of a new album the English extremists will begin recording in May. More specifically, it will set its sights on the spread of the “evangelical” influence into areas of government and education, particularly in United States, and what that might mean if it goes unchecked. “Forgive for saying this, but I think America needs a radical kick up the ass, to use an English expression,” Greenway said on the phone from England. “I think religion needs to be taken out of the equation there because this insistence on governing with this fundamentalist Christianity, it’s not doing anyone any favors. It’s driving a wedge between people.

“Being an atheist myself I believe, in simple terms, that the way forward for this world is to put religion on the backburner. It’s not gonna help the wider problems, in fact it’s gonna set it back and cause more problems.”

Case in point, just days after we spoke the whole “cartoon controversy” erupted around the world after a Danish newspaper ran caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed - and, of course, there were the bombings in the London Underground last summer that were a jihadist backlash against the Iraq war, which opens a much bigger ideological/theological can of worms we needn’t get into here.

Then there’s the whole matter of “intelligent design” that is being foisted upon school systems here as an option to evolutionary science - then, in many cases, turned aside by more level-headed administrators and judges who see it for the claptrap that is really is.

“There are some things about Darwinism I don’t like, it can be perverted as well,” Greenway said. “There are some real nasty right-wing organizations that use Darwinism as a model because they say, ‘Well, if this evolution is true then survival of the fittest, if there’s people that need help we musn’t help them because that’s just the way. If there is social injustice, we must turn a blind eye.’ And that just doesn’t fly.

“But on the other hand, how can you just put an animal under a microscope and go, ‘Well, this animal clearly has a sophisticated bodily design, therefore it must be a one-off by an intelligent, superior lifeform?’ How do you arrive at a conclusion like that?

“Pretty soon we’ll be back to the world is flat and the Earth is the center of the universe. That’s actually really dangerous. You’re misguiding and twisting people’s power of knowledge to the point where you’re going to cease to absorb logic.”

Social injustice, abuse of power, racism and xenophobia have long been popular targets for Napalm’s wrath - with Nazis, fascists and greedy corporate pigs being particular favorites - which is usually delivered with all the subtlety of a clusterbomb via a musical attack that has become the template for “grindcore.”

That the band has probably made as many enemies as friends along the way is of no concern to Greenway. After nearly 25 of talking shit and bursting eardrums, Napalm (rounded out by bassist Shane Embury, the closest thing the band has to an “original member,” guitarist Mitch Harris and drummer Danny Herrera) are still around and, indeed, getting a bit of the last laugh and doing much better now than they - and the extreme music scene as a whole, for that matter - were a decade ago.

“I get a lot of flak from people in the extreme music scene, and maybe this sounds patronizing, but they are kind of the way they are because they just want to seem to be extreme and part of extremity, they believe, is being ultraconservative,” Greenway said. “Well, I always thought that the extreme music scene was meant to be an alternative to conventional ways of thinking. And for some of these people, by how they sound and the way they act, they’re about as conformist as the most conservative thing out there.

“It makes me laugh. I could care less, I’ll say what I’ve got to say and if people want to attack me for that, they’ll do that. Whatever. People are never going to stop me from talking about progressive things.”

Before Napalm sets down to work on talking about “progressive things” on their new album - their 13th - the band will be doing one more tour of the states with German thrash vets Kreator and covering more of the country than they did during a somewhat abbreviated trek with the reunited Obituary in the fall.

And regardless of where its lyrical direction is heading, Greenway says of the next album that, “I can quite confidently say it’s going to be even better than Code [2004’s The Code Is Red ... Long Live The Code]. We’ve already go some of the songs ready to go, but Shane’s got plenty more riffs. For a bass player, some of the stuff he comes up with is fucking phenomenal. It really is.

“The guitarists in this band are hugely underrated. Some of the riffs these guys come out with, they’re not the generic Slayer or death metal riffs you’ve heard 10,000 times before, they are good riffs that are still extreme that have certain catchiness to them. And it’s not an obvious catchiness, not like they were written to have more commercial potential, they just are great riffs.”

So there you have it.

* * *

    The Emperor’s (Brief) Return
In case you haven’t heard, black metal trailblazers Emperor have reunited - well sort of - and scheduled a series of shows for this summer, including their first - and perhaps last - U.S. dates since their lone full tour here in 1999. At present, the band are only slated to do two shows in New York July 13-14 at B.B. Kings (tix are a cool $70-100) and two shows in Los Angeles at the Key Club July 16 and the House of Blues July 17 - along with a bunch of festival dates in Europe.

The shows are being billed as “farewell” performances and will showcase material from the band’s last full-length Prometheus, much of which has never been played live - along with, no doubt, some choice golden oldies. But from what frontman Ihsahn and guitarist Samoth, the band’s founding members, have been saying, it doesn’t seem like this is going to be anything more than a temporary reunion, because they’re already so busy with various other bands/labels/etc. Emperor would, in essence, become a side project. But one last change to see Emperor is certainly better than none at all.

Ihsahn has made one record with Peccatum and will be releasing his solo album, The Adversary (Candlelight USA), in April, which he promises will be “a continuation of my work within the metal genre. ... Powerful, epic, extreme and straight from the heart.” We shall see.

Meantime, Samoth and drummer Trym are set to wrap up work on Disintegrate, the third album from their formidable death metal band Zyklon (which includes Myrkskog’s Destructhor and Secthdamon) in the near future and have concert DVD Storm Detonation Live available in the states in March.

And currently available is an album Samoth did with the underground supergroup of sorts Scum, which features infamous former Emperor drummer Bard “Faust” Eithun in his first full-scale recorded work since being released from prison after a nine-year murder conviction stint, Amen frontman Casey Chaos, Turbonegro’s Happy Tom and Mindgrinder’s Cosmocrator.

Gospels of the Sick (Candlelight USA) was issued late last year and though it will most likely disappoint many extreme metal fans, it’s still a compelling listen. As the project came together in a matter of weeks, the album’s ragged, primitive sound should probably come as no surprise. However, given that Scum boasts four Norwegians (three of them black/death metal veterans) and only one Californian, the album’s predominantly old-school hardcore punk style probably will.

Despite guest appearances from Darkthrone’s Nocturno Culto and another Emperor alum Mortiis, Gospel in many ways owes way more to Black Flag, The Sex Pistols or Discharge than the days of blood and fire that marked the rise of Scandinavian black metal. But its spontaneous combustion-like intensity and gritty sense of purpose cannot be denied - and that definitely counts for something.

* * *

    REVIEWS

    BLACK/DEATH METAL

  • 1349 - Hellfire (Candlelight USA)
    While their countrymen Darkthrone continue to insist on ultimate purity when it comes their old-school Norwegian black metal - from bare bones instrumentation and low-fi production to primitive composition - 1349 aren’t so stuck in their ways. Though still rather crude, 1349’s third album is more cacophonous and adventurous than their previous efforts. Expanded arrangements see some tracks crack the seven-minute mark and then some - the creepy, signature “1349” clocks at just that, 13:49. But the band never resort to the typical black metal shenanigans to achieve the epic scope - there’s no keyboards or strings or other fancy embellishments. Instead, 1349 rip it up and let their evil take its course. And with Satyricon drummer Frost’s rivet-gun tempos and frontman Ravn’s fire-breathing shrieks leading the charge, Hellfire there’s plenty of evil and ripping to be had. B

  • AKERCOCKE - Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone (Earache)
    If you’d like your Cradle of Filth with less pomposity, England’s Akercocke should be right up your alley. The dapper quartet offer a similar sort of complex, high-concept metal, but without all the gothic ostentatiousness, outlandish orchestration and tiresome dramatics. Instead, Akercocke take something of a progressive approach on Words, weaving impressively precise jams and a savvy sense of ebb and flow around a corrosive hybrid of black and death metal - yet without, for the most part, dragging things out to ridiculous lengths. The result is a striking “beauty and the beast” kind of album that’ll take you on a pretty wild ride, but without testing your patience. B+

  • THE BERZERKER - World of Lies (Earache)
    Anyone longing for the return of Carcass will find a note-perfect substitute in Australian sextet The Berzerker. The band’s third album is right out of the Reek of Putrefaction school of death-grind - puke-and-rasp dual vocals, rampaging blast-beats, furious drop-tuned riffage and voice-over samples taken from freaky lecture tapes. While Berzerker may not share Carcass’ fixation with gore - only “Y” seems overtly grisly - preferring instead to revel in misanthrope, everything else seems to be fair game. Thus, ultimately, World of Lies ends up sounding like a tribute album, and that’s is never a good thing. D

  • BOLT THROWER - Those Once Loyal (Metal Blade)
    You’ve gotta give English warmongers Bolt Thrower credit for their stick-to-it-iveness. The guys - and girl, bassist Jo Bench - have been all but buried by line-up turmoil, label troubles and the usual underground bullshit many times during their tumultuous history. Yet here they are, 20 years later, with a damn fine eighth studio album. Welcoming back frontman Karl Willets - this time seemingly for real, there was one aborted return in 1998 - Bolt Thrower is as methodical, bombastic and ominous as ever with Loyal. Marauding guitar grind and stampeding drums again drive the band with the fury of a Panzer division unleashed as Willets recounts the horrors of battle from the trenches of World War I to the laser-guided instruments of death at our hands today. It’s a history lesson delivered by an artillery barrage and shows that, as the cliche goes, what hasn’t killed Bolt Thrower has made them stronger - at least for now. B+

  • BURST - Origo (Relapse)
    Sweden’s Burst are one of these all-over-the-place bands that really defy classification. Suffice it to say, they are pretty damn heavy. After that, well, things get a bit more complicated. The band’s sound is a constant dogfight of contrasting elements, offering the kind of stylistic schizophrenia of, say, Mr. Bungle or Dillinger Escape Plan, but with less of the really jarring spasmodics. Burst’s material, for example the expansive sonic wash of “The Immateria” or “Flight’s End,” the roiling opener “Where The Way Broke” or the Opeth-like folky melancholia of “It Comes Into View,” is usually more focused and easier to follow. And frontman Linus Jagerskog’s hardcore bellowing is all business, keeping Origo grounded and giving it the kind of punch that is guaranteed to leave a lasting mark. A-

  • CRYPTOPSY - Once Was Not (Century Media)
    After a seven-year absence, prodigal frontman Lord Worm brings his unique vocal “stylings” back to Cryptopsy’s gymnastic death metal. Theirs is truly a match made in hell. Where Worm’s replacements Mike DeSalvo and Martin Lacroix were standard death metal bellowers, Worm’s possessed-by-a-demon caterwaul is a perfect fit for Cryptopsy’s all-over-the-place histrionics. Be it a phlegmy rasp, vomitous gurgle, volcanic roar or banshee howl, Worm can easily match the thrusting and parrying his bandmates employ as they twist jazz and prog around their hyper-technical death thrashing. Once Was Not is pure metal sensory overload that will dazzle or confuse - depending on your tastes - but never seem anywhere near ordinary. B+

  • DARK FUNERAL - Attera Totus Sanctus (Candlelight USA)
    By now, you should pretty much know what to expect from Swedish miscreants Dark Funeral: uncompromising and unrelenting black metal that provides plenty of speed, intensity and raw evil, but little in the way of variety - the Ramones meet Satan, if you will. And the band’s fourth album essentially delivers those very same goods - though with a more obvious nod to experimentation than just one slow song like “Goddess of Sodomy” 2001’s Diabolus Interium. The title track, “Godhate” and - as if to confirm Silenoz’s statement from above - “King Antichrist” are sheer supersonic mayhem, with drummer Matte Modin keeping a cyclonic pace as riffs blaze by like a hellish wildfire. But the hooky “666 Voices Inside” and the clever chorus arrangement on “Angel Flesh Impaled” show some welcome, even impressive dexterity. And the crunching, deliberately paced “Atrum Regina” comes dangerous close to, dare I say, catchiness before all hell breaks loose again. B-

  • DAYLIGHT DIES - Dismantling Devotion (Candlelight USA)
    Brutality and beauty crash headlong on the second album by Daylight Dies, a Raleigh, N.C.-based band with a decidedly European doom/death sound. Dismantling Devotion contrasts lush, glorious melodies with cataclysmic riffs, a pervasive melancholia that rivals England’s My Dying Bride or just-retired Finnish mopes Sentenced and Nathan Ellis’ jet-engine roar. Picture Obituary’s John Tardy fronting Opeth during their My Arms, Your Hearse days and you’ll get a ballpark idea of Daylight’s sound. Devotion’s crystalline production helps give it a liveliness so many gloomy albums lack, as does its subtle complexities. Despite the relative weight of the music and suicide-inducing tone, Devotion rarely plods (the clean-voiced “Solitary Refinement” being one notable exception) and nearly always delivers extreme heaviness with frightening aplomb. A-

  • DISMEMBER - The God That Never Was (Candlelight USA)
    After 17 years, Stockholm, Sweden’s, Dismember remain a well-oiled death metal machine. The band’s seventh album, The God That Never Was, is a mean, gnarly triumph, easily one of their best. Retaining the buzz-saw sonics that typifies the “Swedish death metal” they helped trademark, God brings more slyly sophisticated guitar interplay - most notably on the instrumental “Into the Temple of Humiliation” and the punishing album closer “Where No Ghost Is Holy” - into the mix than usual along with plenty of muscular hooks - “Phantoms (Of The Oath)” delivers one body blow after another. Dismember also noticeably kicks up the overall tempo here, with the aggressiveness and authority of the breakneck “Autopsy,” “Time Has Nothing” and “Trail of the Dead” harking back to their early days and proving that they can still kill with the best of them. A-

  • KATAKLYSM - In The Arms of Devastation (Nuclear Blast)
    I was never terribly impressed by Canada’s Kataklysm, who always seemed to have a rather pedestrian technical death metal sound despite their many years of experience. But that can’t be said anymore. In The Arms of Devastation, the band’s eighth album, is by far their most accomplished and viscerally satisfying effort yet. A perfect storm of ballsy production, brutally efficient playing and songwriting and undeniable conviction, Devastation is tight, smart and lethal. By stripping away some of the complexity of past efforts, Kataklysm come away with a far more powerful and distinctive album that lets Stephane Barbe’s still fluid guitar work really do some damage and Maurizio Iacono’s hulking voice peel paint. His two-headed Cookie Monster duet with Kittie’s Morgan Lander on the ruthless “It Turns To Rust” comes off way better than you might expect, and proves to be one of Devastation’s many high points. B+

  • KRISIUN - AssassiNation (Century Media)
    While Brazil’s Krisiun haven’t quite captured the death metal genie in a bottle that made their 2000 American debut Conquerors of Armageddon an instant classic in albums that followed, they’ve remained dependably brutal and occasionally spectacular. AssassiNation, the sixth album overall by the trio from Sao Paolo, continues that tradition. Guitarist Moyses Kolesne’s searing soloing and brother Max Kolesne’s epileptic drumming consistently dazzle - especially when they work in lockstep, as on “Refusal.” But strip much of that away and you’re left with fairly run-of-the-mill technical death metal - lots of blast beat salvos, ursine vocals and mile-a-minute riffing - that starts to all run together after awhile. The murderous grooves on “Father’s Perversion” and a wicked cover of Motorhead’s “Sweet Revenge” are, however, a nice touch and something Krisiun might want to work into their repertoire with more frequency down the road. C+

  • THROUGH THE EYES OF THE DEAD - Bloodlust (Prosthetic)
    Death metal is rarely accused of being smart, but these nightmarish Carolinians are, and fiendishly so. By giving classic death metal a hardcore-like boot in the ass with riffy breakdowns twisted into the usual carnage and frontman Anthony Gunnells’ mental-patient screaming, Through The Eyes have a very direct, fearsome sound that has little time for indulgences. And it serves as a perfect platform for Gunnells wrenching lyrics that are way more clever than the usual blood-and-guts idiocy. Bloodlust reads like something you might imagine in Ted Bundy’s journal. Gunnells’ diabolically poetic visions of madness - like “Truest Shades of Crimson’s” “Around your neck is where my hands are headed, to prove my point that love is what you make it, a rose petal for every time you scream” - leave just enough up to the listener’s imagination, which makes it all the more horrific and insidious. Think I’d keep my distance from him. A-

  • THYRFING - Farsotstider (Candlelight USA)
    Viking metal from a Swedish perspective, Thyrfing get more authentic than usual with their fifth album. For the first time the lyrics are entirely in Swedish, although what Thomas Väänänen’s actually singing about is really anyone’s guess - “Farsotstider” translates to “Times of Plague,” so I guess you can take it from there. But since perfect English can be all but impossible to understand when put through the black/death metal wringer - especially with Väänänen’s husky growl - it really doesn’t matter much anyway. Regardless, it blends well with Thyrfing’s unique concoction of thick, churning guitars, majestic, classically inspired keyboards and renaissance fair folkiness. As with contemporaries Enslaved and Primordial, Thyrfing can take some getting used to, but Farsotstider will certainly reward your patience. B+

  • TORTURE KILLER - Swarm (Metal Blade)
    The second album from Finland’s Torture Killer takes idol worship to a fairly ridiculous extreme, but yields some surprisingly worthwhile results. Inspired by Six Feet Under to the point that they take their name from an SFU song, Torture Killer had the good fortune of not only being able to hire SFU frontman Chris Barnes to produce Swarm, but sing on it as well - these guys should play Powerball or something. Though Swarm recycles a lot of ideas you’ve heard before from SFU and Obituary, Torture Killer nevertheless come up with more viciously catchy hooks than a heavyweight fight on “Sadistic,” “Heading Toward The Butchery” or “Forever Dead.” And though he can often seem to be on THC-induced autopilot with SFU, Barnes gives an inspired performance here, getting elbow-deep back into the gore with the likes of “Cannibal Gluttony” and delivering it with some genuine conviction. So derivative as it may be, Swarm still manages to get the job done. B-

      THRASH/METAL CORE
  • A PERFECT MURDER - Strength Through Vengeance (Victory)
    Canada’s A Perfect Murder offer a nod to meat-and-potatoes thrash with chunky Pantera/Testament-like riffing and direct, driving tempos, but spice it up with the hardcore breakdowns everyone’s doing these days. Carl Bouchard’s fiery leads and Dominic Poisson’s fat rhythms are spot on, and the band’s largely no-bullshit attack is refreshing - especially when compared the others from the metal-core ilk. Kevin Randel’s vocals and delivery can be uncomfortably Phil Anselmo-like, but they do fit right in and kudos to him for not wasting a lot of time trying to sing all clean and nice for dramatic effect. B

  • BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME - Alaska (Victory)
    By bringing together full-on metal-core brutality, Swedish metal-style sophistication and melody and a radical progressive bent, North Carolina’s Between The Buried And Me are a sonic rollercoaster ride. The band’s dizzyingly technical material just as often recalls Dream Theater as it does death metal or hardcore. With delicate acoustic passages and breathy vocals interspersed among crude, snaggle-toothed thrash and the band’s undeniable instrumental prowess, Alaska provides some truly jarring contrasts. And while the band’s indulgences sometimes get the best of them, there’s some pretty inventive, compelling stuff here. B-

  • THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER - Miasma (Metal Blade)
    Yet another “murder” band, though these guys at least take their name from an actual homicide case, Detroit’s Black Dahlia Murder raised more than a few eyebrows with the tumultuous 2003 full-length debut Unhallowed. The follow-up, Miasma, is more likely to leave jaws on the floor. The band’s churning thrash is more viciously honed and merciless this time around, delivering blast-beat powered fury that goes for the throat from note one of “Built For Sin” and never lets go. Like A Perfect Murder, The Black Dahlia Murder largerly sidestep the trappings many “-core” bands invariably fall back on - sing-and-scream vocals, breakdowns for breakdowns’ sake, etc. -and simply rage, crafting one of the most devastating pure thrash albums in recent memory in the process. A-

  • DEMIRICOUS - One (Metal Blade)
    The blue-collar thrash metal of Indianapolis quartet Demiricous is so loose and unpretentious that its power and intensity can take you by surprise for the first couple spins. But like <>Lamb Of God and Pantera before them, being good ole’ boys doesn’t you can’t rip ass. The band’s debut, One, echoes old Slayer or Practice What You Preach era-Testament, with the likes of “Withdrawal Divine” weaving wicked guitar tradeoffs over a double kick-drum barrage and “Beyond Obscene” recasting the chugging riffage that defined thrash back in the day. Bassist/singer Nate Olp’s iron-lunged bellow would be equally at home atop metal-core or death metal (which the blast-beat-powered “Cheat The Leader” comes damn close to), and here it helps give Demiricous’ old-school thrash-and-burn a more rough-and-tumble feel. A fine first impression. B+

  • IF HOPE DIES - Life In Ruin (Ironclad/Metal Blade)
    Though fairly prototypical metal-core from the musical side of things, New York’s If Hope Dies do score some points for their utter relentlessness and more worldview lyrical approach. Instead of introspection, catharsis and more boo-hoo tales of shitty childhoods, broken hearts, blah, blah, blah, If Hope Dies hark back to the old days of hardcore when it rammed home an actual message. And they do it without being so blatanly obvious. Socially aware frontman Alan French rips on media and corporate manipulation, the death spiral of the working class and humanity’s relentless pursuit of self-destruction with smart abstractions on the likes of “The Ultimate Nullifier” and “Some Skynyrd.” And the bark-along choruses that usually drive the point home are noticeable in their absence here. Maybe next time the music will as inspired. B-

  • RUMPLESTILTSKIN GRINDER - Buried In The Front Yard (Relapse)
    Despite their nonsensical moniker and madcap titles like “The Merman Met Todd ‘The Harpoon’ Wilson” and “Unleash The Troll,” this white trash Pennsylvania quintet are anything but a joke on their Relapse debut. Indeed when these guys declare, “No, we’re not fuckin’ around” on “Orange and Black Attack,” believe it. Buried’s demo quality sound can’t mask the fact that these guys can play - and well - and definitely know a thing of three about thrash metal mayhem and history. With their roughhewn, old school histrionics - which boasts some remarkably adept solo tradeoffs and a surprising acoustic turn on the aforementioned “Merman” - Rumplestiltskin recall very early Exodus, Megadeth, Sacred Reich or Death Angel. And they serve their memories proud - much more so than fellow revivalists 3 Inches of Blood. B

  • SWORN ENEMY - The Beginning of the End (Abacus)
    After a one-album stint with big label behemoth Elektra - and falling about 470,000 albums short of the gold-record sales benchmark - New York’s Sworn Enemy are back on more familiar independent ground. And you can almost sense their relief. While the quartet’s Elektra effort As Real As It Gets was by no means a failure musically, End has less tense, grittier sound that packs a bigger metal-core wallop and just has a more natural feel. Sworn Enemy pound away on “Beginning of the End,” “Forgotten” and “Absorb The Lies,” their gut-punch riffs played over surging speed-metally tempos. Factor in singer Sal Lococo’s drill sergeant delivery, body-slam breakdowns and some surprisingly flashy guitar soloing, and the quintet deliver a true metal-hardcore hybrid here. And they do it without sounding like they’re trying to impress anybody, unlike the “stupid fucks” and “fake-ass motherfuckers” who’ve jumped on the crossover bandwagon that Sworn Enemy rails against on “We Hate.” Amen to that. B+

      DVDs
  • LAMB OF GOD - Killadelphia (Epic CD and DVD)
    Though it’s available in three formats - CD, DVD or a deluxe package with both - best to get one with a DVD. That way you get to see L.O.G.’s obnoxious frontman Randy Blythe get what’s coming to him in the form of a righteous beat down by guitarist Mark Morton. Blythe makes the mistake of calling Morton out while in a drunken rage on the bus in Glasgow, Scotland, and gets put to sleep for his troubles by a couple shots to the face. It’s priceless and makes sitting through like three hours of nothing-special concert footage and the usual tour documentary stuff - bus breakdowns, backstage mischief - worth the wait. B (for just the CD); A (for the DVD)

  • SHADOWS FALL - The Art of Touring (Century Media DVD)
    You won’t find any boom cranes, special camera rigs or multi-angle footage - and definitely no 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound - on Shadows Fall’s debut DVD. Instead, the band take a page from Metallica’s classic Cliff ‘Em All and opt for the low-tech, bootleg-like route, cobbling the DVD together from crew, friends and stuff they shot themselves - with a half-dozen of the “MTV” videos tacked on as bonus, along with covers of Motley Crue’s “Live Wire” and Dangerous Toys’ “Teasin’ Pleasin’ with their frontman Jason McMaster joining in. For the most part, though, The Art of Touring is as the title advertises, the day-to-day escapades of a band on the road. There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes shenanigans footage - some genuinely funny (the roadie they have dress in shorty shorts, then bring to a gay bar), some proving just how industrious underground bands can be (whipping together homemade T-shirts with spray paint and a cardboard stencil when their merchandise doesn’t arrive) and some downright stupid (the “barfing” scene) - that shows just how hard the band works. The live footage is pure amateur camcorder stuff, shot from the back and balcony of a couple clubs and complete with weird angles, obstructions and spotty sound. Roughest of it all is cruelly poignant all-hands-on-deck jam of Pantera’s “Walk” with Damageplan filmed days before Dimebag Darrell was shot. The sheer joy of the performance only makes his death that much more tragic. Now that Shadows Fall has signed to Atlantic, a fancy-schmancy DVD will no doubt come down the road, but until then, this makes a nice memento from the way up. A-


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