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Features

The Coroner's Report - Satyricon, Napalm Death, Kreator, Immortal, Behemoth and Many More

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, March 12, 2009 @ 5:44 AM


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2009 is off to a raging start — and it looks like it’s going to keep on raging for quite some time. New stuff from Satyricon, Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, Kreator, etc., is out now and there’s more to come from the rejuvenated Brutal Truth and Immortal, as well as Behemoth, Suffocation, Obituary and others.

Carcass is coming back for their Exhumed to Consume II tour in March. Saw them last fall, and they were great. Mayhem, who haven’t played here since like 2000, will be coming in May to headline the Blackenedfest tour. Joining them, hopefully, will be Swedish black metal terrorists Marduk, who have been denied entry several times since last playing here in 2002. Napalm Death and Kreator also are headed this way in the spring.

Most of these tours will hit one, if not several, of the smallish extreme music festivals that seem to keep popping up. There’s the Texas Metal Fest in Houston March 22 featuring Carcass, Suicide Silence, Samael and others. Carcass also headlines the California Metal Fest March 28 with Exodus and Suffocation joining the bill.

After that are the long-standing New England Metal & Hardcore Festival (Lamb of God, Children Of Bodom, God Forbid, Suffocation, Nachtmystium, et. al.) in April in lovely Worcester, Mass.; and the three-day Maryland Deathfest (Mayhem, Marduk, Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, Absu, Bolt Thrower, Pestilence, ad nauseum) in Baltimore May 22-24. There’s probably some more I’m forgetting.

Then this summer comes the second go-round of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem tour, to be headlined by Slayer and Marilyn Manson. It will feature the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth, Job For A Cowboy, The Black Dahlia Murder and Whitechapel, making for a much more extreme experience than last year’s more “mainstream” line-up. No Ozzfest this summer, but with this line-up, who cares — even if it means sitting through Bullet For My Valentine or Trivium.

What follows is a look at some of what’s out right now, or what’s coming down the pike.

SATYRICON: ALL FOR ONE

Norwegian black metallers Satyricon have had a pretty rough go of it in North America. Four labels here for their last four albums, several of which were released in the states months after they were issued everywhere else. A first U.S. tour in 2000 that saw the band play, among other notable venues, the now long-gone Phantasmagoria in Wheaton, Md., that was part bar, part used record store and part home brewing supply shop.

Drummer Frost was prevented from accompanying the band when they toured here in 2004 when his visa was denied — he failed to mention jail time he’d served following a bar fight a decade earlier in his paperwork. Emperor’s Trym Torson and Slipknot’s Joey Jordinson sat in on drums during the tours, the second of which came to an abrupt end when guitarists Steinar Gundersen and Arnt Ove Gr¸nbech (aka Obsidian C.) were arrested in Toronto, accused of sexually assaulting a female fan on the band’s bus. All charges later were dropped. The band never made it over here for 2006’s Now, Diabolical.

But things seem to, finally, be turning around for them here. Frost, one of black metal’s most revered and respected drummers, got his visa issues resolved and is again welcome in the U.S. He and frontman/composer Satyr recorded Satyricon’s bruising seventh album, The Age of Nero, at Sound City studio in Los Angeles last year, and the band just wrapped up a 30-plus date North American tour opening for Cradle of Filth without incident.

The Age of Nero was issued in January through Koch Records. A brawny, riffy album of stark contrasts that might best be described as “black ‘n’ roll,” Nero marks a dramatic turn from the bone dry, deliberate Now, Diabolical, as the unpredictable band reinvents itself once again. And while Satyr and Frost work almost exclusively as a duo during the creative process, Nero features writing and performance contributions from “Lords of Chaos”-era Norwegian black metal fixture Snorre Ruch, guitarist with cult heroes Thorns.

After a week of phone calls and text messages through five cities in the U.S. and Canada, I was finally able to hook up with the mysterious, but rather talkative Frost (aka Kjetil Haraldstad) at a tour stop in Minneapolis to talk about things Satyricon, his other band 1349 and Norwegian black metal in general. Some excerpts follow:

KNAC.COM: An obvious question, how has the tour gone so far?

Frost: Really, really well. It feels a little bit like starting fresh again. Every night is really magical, you get this electrical feeling that you only get when there is a really good connection between the audience and the band. It’s good to be here again after all these years and we’re definitely going to be more focused on the American fans from now on. We’re already talking about coming back here in the autumn for a headlining tour. Plans are loose but they are really taking shape now and we are really fueled by the enthusiasm and the massive turnouts that we see.

KNAC.COM: Have you had any problems going back and forth across the border?

Frost: Everything has been fine in regard to the paperwork, not a single problem actually. It couldn’t possibly have gone smoother.

KNAC.COM: The last show you play here is a headline show with 1349 opening. Will you play with them too?

Frost: No. For several reasons I don’t do that. It would take some of the edge off the Satyricon show and really be physically demanding to do double duty with both bands that take 100 percent of me. For me, being onstage takes lots of mental preparation and the kind of preparation I do for Satyricon is different than what I do for 1349, so it would be a clash of energy. 1349 is going to be playing with Tony Laureano, who has been playing a lot with them. He has done more live shows with them than I have (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Are you still recording with them?

Frost: Yes, we have been doing a lot of creative work. We have lots of material and quite a lot of material that has been recorded. We don’t know really know how it is going to end up as far as album material, but we have recorded our best material ever and we have more coming. I’m going to be busy with Satyricon, and it’s going to be that way for quite a while, but on the other hand I will continue to be in 1349 and will be as long as the band exists.

KNAC.COM: Nero has a much bigger, fuller sound than Diabolical, were you looking for that kind of contrast?

Frost: We definitely wanted something more powerful and a stronger sense of wildness to it. Never have we been so close to our initial idea of what an album should sound like as we are with The Age of Nero. Usually we have to compromise. With Now, Diabolical, we definitely had to do compromises in the sound because there were elements that didn’t really work out how we wanted to them. But, still, we were really satisfied with the result, it was really right for that album to have a really dry and clean, though warm, sound. But this time the music demanded something different in the production and something wilder because we definitely let the reins a bit looser.

KNAC.COM: What function did Snorre Ruch play in putting The Age of Nero material together?

Frost: He functioned as the catalyst in the process. His background gives him the right foundation for understanding what we’re doing and analyzing it and coming with his own ideas. Sometimes he would come with musical solutions when we felt a little stuck with a certain piece of music. Other times, just having him there and his presence, his understanding, made it possible for us to feel that we had a very inspiring environment to work with. And he added some of his very particular style that we felt suited the music here and there, a really unique kind of riffing, and I think it sounds great with the new stuff.

He made up that last piece in the puzzle, everything felt more complete. We remained in total control, as we need to do during the creative process, which is also the reason why there is only the two of us who are the core of Satyricon, the creative unit. And though he would come up with ideas, we never felt obliged to use them.

KNAC.COM: Does the touring band actually feel like a “band?”

Frost: We feel this is our strongest live lineup ever and we hope to continue with this lineup for years to come. When we tour, we’re really a band, we’re not a constellation of session musicians plus the two main members. We aren’t doing this as just pure entertainment; there is really an art aspect to it as well. So we need to have the feeling that this is an integrated band when we’re onstage, otherwise I feel it would be impossible for the band to have that kind of shine we feel Satyricon ought to have. We should all be united under the Satyricon banner; it should not be two people and four other people who are just doing their jobs.

KNAC.COM: You figured prominently in Peter Beste’s “True Norwegian Black Metal” photo book, when did that all take place and what do you think of all the attention the old days of Norwegian black metal continues to receive?

Frost: He was doing a photo shoot of 1349 many, many years ago and I think that the pictures he used of the band and me in the book all came from that little photo session. There are several really good shots in the book, but I have started to become a little bored of with all this meta-coverage of the scene and everything that surrounds it. There are lots of documentaries and books being released these days. It was exciting for a little period, but I feel there is enough documentation. The story has been told and told and retold again. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about the here and now and focus on the music again, enough with the history and the static image of how it looks. Let’s get back to music and whatever it can do to people, because that’s what I’m occupied with these days, to really get into the feeling of it all. I think that has become lost in all this.

KNAC.COM: The face paint you have in those photos is quite horrific, as it also used to be with Satyricon. Have you given up on the corpse paint with Satyricon?

Frost: We do use make up, a kind of make up that we feel fits the Satyricon frame of mind, that is closer to that somber darkness we feel the Satyricon music has now, and that also fits a little with the more ‘80s rock and roll foundation of our music. Full-on corpse paint and spikes would just ruin the whole foundation; it would be really out of place. In 1349, we really go full circle with the face covering corpse paint and spikes and bullet belts and leather and blood and everything. And that’s 1349’s expression.

There has to be a conscious choice of visual styles in every band. If there’s anything that I really dislike about this scene is that everything has become so routine and standardized. It takes away the whole meaning. This genre was built upon innovation and respect for what you do and understanding what you do. That’s what makes it powerful.

Many bands are applying corpse paint without the faintest idea of why they do it, they feel that it is expected of them, but it’s bullshit. The whole idea, and that whole position should be challenged, because these bands that just apply visual elements and symbols because they feel it is expected of them will never get a sense of power or mysticism of whatever, because it isn’t there in the first place. There has to be some sort of connection between the mind and what’s going on in the physical world. If there isn’t, it ends of looking ridiculous and it basically is ridiculous.

BEHEMOTH: Payback’s A Bitch

Behemoth frontman Adam "Nergal" Darski fought the law - and this time he won. Twice. Sort of.

As he was being conferenced in for our phone interview from his hometown of Gdansk, Poland, Darski found himself being pulled over by a local traffic cop. Apparently it is illegal to talk on your cellphone while driving there without a hands-free set. But after a couple of “hold ons” and “I’ll be right with you” he is back on the line without a ticket, and without much hassle.

“I pulled into a parking lot, and that was basically it, he just let me go,” Darski said with a hint of surprise. “Usually, when I deal with the cops, I either get the ticket or I get arrested.”

Just days earlier, Darski won a much more serious legal victory when a complaint against him filed by the PMRC-like All-Polish Committee for Defence Against Sects — following a 2007 Behemoth concert in Gdynia, Poland, in which he tore a Bible in half and said some nasty things about Christianity — was dropped. Earlier, the committee had distributed to Polish officials a list of bands — including Behemoth — that allegedly promote Satanism and murder as a means of having them banned from playing in the country.

“I got an official letter from the court over here, and they said the case against me was over,” Darski said. “Now I’m trying to bring the guy [committee ringleader Ryszard Nowak] to court because of all the damage he’s done. All the time and energy he’s taken from us, now it’s his turn to pay. I really have much better things to think about in life than defending myself against them, so fuck them.”

Days later, Darski made good on this threat, demanding a written apology from Nowak, to be published in one of the Poland’s biggest daily newspapers, and seeking approximately $1,000 in damages, which he planned to donate to an animal shelter in Gdynia. A first hearing in the case was scheduled for March 11.

By that time, work will be well under way on Behemoth’s ninth studio album. In mid-February, the band entered Radio Gdansk Studio in Poland to record the drum tracks.

At the time we spoke, right before Christmas, Behemoth — rounded out by bassist Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski, drummer Zbigniew Robert “Inferno” Promiñski and touring guitarist Patryk “Seth” Sztyber — were still writing and rehearsing the new material, but with more of a sense of urgency.

“We are going to have to push ourselves to get ready to go into the studio, so we’re starting to get a little bit stressed and getting the adrenaline pumping,” Darski said. “It’s going well, it’s going slowly, but the stuff we’ve finished so far I think is killer. Most of the songs are really fast, technical and intense, but we’re also working on the slowest, most massive, epic we’ve ever done.”

Behemoth had to really push to get The Apostasy done in time to play the 2007 Ozzfest. A similar, but equally attractive, deadline was dropped on the band this time, too, as it was announced they would be part of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival tour, playing the Hot Topic “extreme metal” stage when it kicks off July 10. The band also is slated to play a handful of off-dates supporting Slayer. What all that will mean for the new album remains to be seen.

“If we could have the album out by October, that would be the perfect scenario, but who knows,” Darski said. “If it happens, it happens. We want to make sure the album is done right, and not be in the position of just having to get it done so it can be out by a certain time.”

In the interim, Behemoth issued the seven-track EP Ezkaton, through their new stateside label Metal Blade, in November. It features the new song “Qadosh,” three live songs, the re-recorded “Chant for Ezkaton 2000 e.v.,” and two covers — The Ramones’ “I’m Not Jesus” and “Jama Peckel” from the Czech hardcore band Master’s Hammer.

“This was a way of show the fans some of the stuff that influenced us that maybe they weren’t expecting,” Darski said. “Master’s Hammer are one of my all-time favorite bands. They are a highly respected band in Eastern Europe, but a lot of people elsewhere probably have not heard of them. So now they will.

The Ramones song is really special because even though it’s a lot different than the type of music we play, the title of the song and the meaning behind it fit us perfectly. It definitely speaks to the way we feel. And it has a little bit of a thrash thing going on there, so when we play it it actually sounds a little bit like Cavalera Conspiracy or something like that. Punk with a very metal feel.”

Behemoth’s deal with Metal Blade is one more step up the ladder here for a band who’s first five album received limited, if any, exposure in the states. In three albums since with Century Media, the band have been able to tour here extensively — most recently in early 2008 with Dimmu Borgir — and build a substantial, ravenous following thanks to their relentless live shows. The Apostasy even managed to crack the Billboard chart, debuting at #149.

“We’ve kind of got our foot in the door with the last couple of records, now its time to see if we can get all the way inside,” Darski said, laughing. “You look at their [Metal Blade’s] track record, and what they are still doing to this day after 25 years, it gives us an opportunity for more exposure and better visibility. Brian Slagel and all the people there are so enthusiastic, and that’s infectious, it makes you want to be better, so we’re really excited.

“They’ve got a great bunch of bands, and they are bands that are constantly recording and going out on tour, building an audience for themselves and for this kind of music, and Metal Blade is there to support them. I know how it is to be on the other side, where the label makes promises and they don’t deliver and the really don’t do much to support your band or your music. Before we signed with Century Media, that’s really all we had. And there is nothing more frustrating than that.”

REVIEWS: NEW AND NOTABLE, OR NOT

ABSU - ABSU (Candlelight)

One of the underground’s most bizarre and reclusive bands, Texas extremists ABSU have re-emerged from an eight-year slumber with 50 new minutes worth of their so-called “Mythological Occult Metal.” However you want to describe it, ABSU is a captivating album that weaves together black metal, death metal, prog and Sumerian legend into one sometimes awe-inspiring package. Drummer, lead vocalist and lone original member Proscriptor leads three new band members and an army of guests, including ex-Mayhem guitarist Blasphemer, on a dizzying journey through the tongue-twisting likes of “Nunbarshegunu,” the epic “... Of The Dead Who Never Rest In Their Tombs Are The Attendance of Familiar Spirits ...” and “In The Name of Auebothiabathabaithobeuee” — think I spelled that correctly. This is definitely not your ordinary sturm und drang. Middle Eastern guitar passages, jazzy forays, a synth barrage that concludes “... Of The Dead,” insane tempo changes that Proscriptor — who once tried out for Slayer — handles with nonchalant aplomb, skull-scrambling technicality played with a surprisingly melodic flair - notably on “Sceptre Command” — it truly goes all over the place. Prepare to have your mind blown. A-

CATTLE DECAPITATION - The Harvest Floor (Metal Blade)

Similarly, San Diego sick bastards Cattle Decapitation aren’t your usual splatter merchants. Sure, the band’s gore-flecked deathgrind is about as brutal and horrific as it gets, but as the members have improved as musicians it’s become freakier and even more demented. Their sixth full-length, The Harvest Floor is a whirlwind of super technical, almost proggy death metal, crushing grind and disjointed, spasmodic fits and starts that recall Fantomas. The inhumanly fast guitar work and drumming here have got to be heard to be believed, and when played against Travis Ryan’s militant ravings the effect can induce seizures. The album concludes with a couple fiendish twists, the dirge-like electronic title track with Swans’ Jarboe providing eerie vocal effects, and the surprisingly hooky, cello-tinged “Regret & Grave,” that provide a welcome contrast to all the earlier histrionics — and let you gather what’s left of your wits. B+

DARKANE - Demonic Art (Nuclear Blast)

It may have taken five albums, but better late than never for Sweden’s Darkane to finally hit their stride. With iron-lunged new frontman Jens Broman onboard, the band dial up something of a symphonic thrash masterpiece with Demonic Art. Fast and furious riffs, booming choruses that ride Broman’s soaring, yet always slightly ragged, vocals and a subtle sprinkling of keyboards that marry well with the slashing guitar work of Christofer Malmstrom and Klas Ideberg, Demonic Art brings together all the pieces that, in one way or another, had eluded Darkane in the past. And thanks to the brash sound from the band’s own production work, tracks like “The Killing of I” and “Impetuous Constant Chaos” are transformed into HUGE anthems, while the more full-throttle “Still in Progress,” etc., simply crush. A-

DEVIAN - God of the Ill Fated (Century Media)

After a pedestrian start with 2007’s Ninewinged Serpent, Sweden’s Devian seem to have gotten it together. Despite boasting ex-Marduk frontman Legion and drummer Emil Dragutinovic, Devian took a death-and-roll approach on the debut that just never seemed to gel, especially given their black metal pedigree. Illfated is far more aggressive and abrasive, taking better advantage of Dragutinovic’s rapid-fire beats and fills and Legion’s feral rasp, and it sounds a hell of a lot more genuine and comfortable. The slashing riffs of guitar tandem Joinus and Tomas Nilsson are offset by nifty, nimble harmonies that bring the element of melody into the mix far more successfully than the "Entombed 101" hooks on Serpent. Joinus’ clean vocals on “Saintbleeder” seem out of place and unnecessary, but the bulk of Ill Fated is rock solid. B

Dimension Zero - He Who Shall Not Bleed (Candlelight)

Remember what In Flames used to sound like way back when, before the death metal overtones, technicality and ripping solos were largely cast aside on their last few albums? In Flames guitarist Jesper Stromblad does, and he’s not too proud or ashamed to want to take a trip down memory lane with his ongoing sideband/supergroup Dimension Zero, which also features ex-Soilwork guitarist Daniel Antonsson and ex-Marduk drummer/vocalist Jocke Gothberg, who sings here. Originally released in 2007 and now finally available here, the band’s fourth album is full-bore, old school Swedish death metal. Bleed flat out rips, indeed the ultra-fast “Going Deep” has an almost Napalm Death-like quality thanks to Gothberg’s barking cadence. Elsewhere, things are more musical, but not much less brutal, as Stromblad and Antonsson blaze away, occasionally interspersing melodic passages and more liberally peeling off fiery leads - Annihilator’s Jeff Waters lends a hand here as well. And their hyperspeed horsewhipping of the Bee Gees’ hideous disco anthem “Stayin’ Alive” is amazing. You’ll barely recognize it. And that’s a good thing. B+

ENSLAVED - Vertebrae (Nuclear Blast)

Norway’s Enslaved long have taken their black metal into strange new territory, with psychedelic and progressive elements becoming more prevalent with every album. But the band are on another planet entirely with this their 10th studio outing, a trippy, often mesmerizing work where these elements largely take the forefont. Like their American counterparts Nachtmystium, these guys seem to have been listening to a lot of old Pink Floyd lately and have channeled it into their own music with surprising, yet satisfying results. The ethereal clean vocals of keyboardist Herbrand Larson and the lush sonic sweep of, for example, “Ground” or the title track, are hypnotic and even somewhat soothing, making the more explosive metallic passages topped by bassist Grutle Kjellson’s rabid growl that much more vicious and jarring. Enslaved manage to seemlessly shift back and forth between their mellow hippie and evil metal personae, with the contrast here seeming, for the most part, quite natural. A few awkward moments aside, Enslaved are certainly up to the challenge on Vertebrae and have created something utterly unique and pretty damn cool. A-

EXODUS - Let There Be Blood (Zaentz Records)

Not really sure what Exodus was trying to accomplish with this rather pointless remake of their classic 1985 debut, Bonded By Blood. If this is supposed to be some tribute to deceased frontman Paul Baloff, having new vocalist Rob Dukes redo the vocals is kind of a weird way to pay homage. In fact, only two members who played on Bonded — guitarist Gary Holt and drummer Tom Hunting — take part in the remake, with recent additions guitarist Lee Altus and bassist Jack Gibson rounding out the line up. And you can still get copies of the original in the KNAC.COM More Store for $9.98 (Click here) — and its raw purity holds up well, even today. The re-recording sounds only marginally better from a production standpoint, but the manic energy and visceral spark that made Bonded so special are largely lacking here. Sadly, whatever the motivation, Let There Be Blood comes across as little more than a crass money grab. D

GOD FORBID - Earthsblood (Century Media)

New Jersey heavyweights God Forbid follow up their concept album about the end of the world, IV: Constitution of Treason, with the equally ambitious, and even more epic, Earthsblood. The sprawling, wide-ranging work throws so many things at you, and comes from so many different directions, that it definitely will take some time to warm up to. But more bands should be willing to challenge their fans like this. Though rooted in the God Forbid’s familiar thrash/metalcore crunch, Earthsblood builds it into something much bigger, bolder and more dynamic. Catchy melodies abound, notably on “Bat The Angels,” “Walk Alone” and “Empire of the Gun,” with the clean vocal harmonies — which are given a lot more emphasis here throughout — of Doc and Dallas Coyle playing nicely against their otherwise tumultuous riffing and Byron Davis’ bulldog bellow. The 9-minute title track and 7-minute “Gaia” that conclude the album boast the sort of dramatic scale and progressive twists and turns that you might expect more from someone like Opeth. And though all this might make it seem like God Forbid have grown bloated and soft, au contraire. Earthsblood is wickedly heavy, with black and death metal touches gracing several of the songs, and rarely seems ponderous or overblown. It’s a daring album that takes a lot of chances, but largely pays off handsomely. B+

KREATOR - Hordes of Chaos (SPV)

Who needs all this new revivalist thrash stuff — see Mantic Ritual, next —when there’s plenty of the real original deal still around? Especially when it’s as violently crafted as this. Since getting back in the thrash swing of things with 2001’s Violent Revolution, German pioneers Kreator have been making up for lost time in a big way. 2005’s Enemy of God built on the renewed strength of Revolution and Hordes of Chaos takes it up another notch. By looking backward for some of the spark that made early works like Pleasure to Kill and Terrible Certainty such classics, the band have found a perfect balance of old time fire and new era power. The looser, rougher feel Kreator capture by recording the basic tracks live gives Hordes an infectious natural energy and is a perfect approach for its breakneck material. Aside from the mellow intro to the title track and “Amok Run,” or the instrumental “Corpses of Liberty” that leads in to furious album closer “Demon Prince,” Hordes is all about velocity, volume and sheer abandon. It’s a 38-plus minute sonic beatdown that will no doubt have you going back for more. And it will be more than worth it. A

MANTIC RITUAL - Executioner (Nuclear Blast)

Pittsburgh’s Mantic Ritual may have been born 20 years and 2,000 miles from the first wave of American thrash, but like so many kids these days - Warbringer, Bonded By Blood, etc. — that ain’t stopping them from reliving the good ole days today. Mantic’s hyperactive debut sounds like a tribute band mishmash of Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica and vintage Exodus with a little early Megadeth thrown in for good measure. From their chugga-chugga riffs, gang choruses, dogfight solos and scruffy production, nearly all of Executioner’s 11 tracks will remind you of something someone else did some time ago. And while Mantic are to be applauded for their reckless energy — the album definitely kicks ass — their seeming disregard for trying anything remotely new or improved is puzzling and disheartening, as it leaves you wondering what the friggin’ point is. C-

NAPALM DEATH - Time Waits for No Slave (Century Media)

For a band that seemed to be on its last legs as the millennium dawned, English grind gods Napalm Death have been on a remarkable roll ever since. Their remarkable five-album run continues in concussive fashion with Time Waits for No Slave, which is a bit groovier and has a more pronounced bottom end than the last couple Napalm releases but still blasts away with the best of them. The low-end rumble recalls their under-appreciated 1994 big label foray Fear, Emptiness, Despair, and makes for a heavier overall effect — as if the band really needed it. The added heft on the supersonic “Work To Rule,” “No-Sided Argument” or “Diktat” helps them stand up better to the beefy breakdowns and hooks that punctuate the title track and “Downbeat Clique” or the bulldozing yet amazing catchy “On the Brink of Extinction” and “Procrastination on the Empty Vessel.” In doing so, Slave offers some of the balance and depth that marked the band’s “experimental” mid-’90s period while still delivering every bit of the brutality and tenacity we’ve come to expect. And that should make for many a satisfied customer. A-

SAMAEL - Above (Nuclear Blast)

After spending the better part of the last 15 years going farther and farther in an electronic/industrial direction, Switzerland’s Samael do an abrupt 180 with Above and return to full-on metal. While it’s not quite the raw blackened metal of 1994 Ceremony of Opposites and earlier, Above is far more bombastic and aggressive than anything they’ve done since. Openers “Under One Flag” and “Virtual War” ride pounding blast beats backed by a wall of churning guitar, and set an imposing tone for the rest of the album. Any industrial current rides well below the pummeling surface, as the band grind gleefully away. A techno-fied remix of the hulking “Black Hole” is included as a bonus track and illustrates just what a dramatic turn Samael are taking here. And the fact that band pull it off with such a large degree of success is nothing short of astonishing. Welcome back to the dark side fellas. B+

SEPULTURA - A-Lex (SPV)

Brazil’s Sepultura is pretty much Sepultura in name only these days. Both of the founding Cavalera brothers are gone — having reunited in Cavalera Conspiracy — and the tribal thrash of Chaos A.D. or Arise is but a memory. And while Cavalera Conspiracy have resurrected the fury and intensity of Sepultura’s roots, Sepultura itself — with bassist Paolo Jr. as its longest-lasting member — have now morphed into something epic and literate — and decidedly dull. A-Lex follows 2006’s Dante XXI’s ruminations on Dante’s “Divine Comedy” with a metallic retelling of Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange.” But the 18-track opus is a dense, often lumbering affair. Though opening and closing in a frenzy with “Moloko Mesto” and ,“Paradox,” much of A-Lex sags under the weight of Andreas Kisser’s muddy, drop-tuned riffs and new drummer Jean Dolabella’s thudding pace. “Clockwork’s” nihilistic narrative gets smothered along the way as well, with only the metal-meets-Beethoven “Ludwig Van” offering an instantly recognizable link, leaving little of the ultra-violent malevolence to punch its way through. C

SIX FEET UNDER - Death Rituals (Metal Blade)

Jeez. What happened to these guys? Early on, Six Feet Under seemed like they had a good thing going with their groovy, stoner-tinged death metal punctuated by ex-Cannibal Corpse frontman Chris Barnes signature choke-and-puke vocals. Now it seems like they just don’t give a shit. The band’s recent albums — including the inexplicable, utterly wretched remake of AC/DC’s Back In Black — are tuneless, meandering exercises in going through the motions. Maybe they’ve just smoked too much weed, or maybe they’ve plain run out of ideas or inspiration. Who knows? But the bottom line is that if this is the best they can do, maybe it’s time to start doing something else. Though it gets off to a somewhat promising start with the churning “Death By Machete,” Death Rituals soon grows lazy and sluggish as Barnes croaks about the usual warmed over gore over what seems to be the same mid-tempo beat and chugging riffs. There’s little here you haven’t heard before nor is there much to show Six Feet Under feel like challenging themselves like Cannibal continues to do with each new album. Shame. D+

THYRFING - Hels Vite (Regain)

If grim is your thing, the sixth album by Sweden’s Thyrfing should be right your alley. Picture Amon Amarth at half the speed and twice the length and you’ve got a snapshot of what Thyrfing is all about. The band’s Viking-themed metal, much of it sung in Swedish (of Hels Vite’s seven tracks, only “Isolation” and “Becoming The Eye” have English titles), has a sparse, often primitive sound that here sticks mostly to a mid-tempo pace, or slower. “Fran Stormens Oga,” for example, creeps along for 8-some minutes that, were it not for the orchestral wash of Peter Lof’s synthesizer, would border in epic doom. Add the aching growl of new vocalist Jens Rydén, ex- of Naglfar, and Hels Vite sports a mournful air that is in striking contrast to Viking metal’s typically triumphant tone. But again, since it’s mostly in Swedish, it’s hard to tell if Thyrfing’s point of view is that of the vanquished or the victorious here. And after a while, you’ll be too depressed to care. C

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