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Features

The Coroner's Report - Veterans Day: Enslaved, Kataklysm Emerge from the Underground

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 @ 1:41 PM


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Itís one thing to build a long career when youíve got a Reign in Blood or Rust In Peace in your quiver. Itís entirely another to endure the long haul when you measure success by selling maybe a tenth of what those landmarks did ó if youíre lucky. So if nothing else, Norwayís mind-bending Enslaved and Canadaís mind-grinding Kataklysm deserve kudos for their sheer stick-to-it-iveness.

Both bands have been slogging away in the underground ó often on the far fringes ó for going on two decades, yet continue to fly the flag of extreme metal experimentation (Enslaved) and death metal brutality (Kataklysm) with no sign of compromise ó or regret. Theyíve eaten more of their share of shit over the years ó Enslaved literally played at a laundromat during a 2001 tour in America and Kataklysm, already 13-year veterans, got bumped from what could have been a breakthrough tour in 2004 by a band whoís first album had just come out ó but have taken it in stride and soldiered on. And just now, as each prepare to mark their 20th anniversaries, they are managing to get a small taste of a more mainstream audience. Yet neither shows any sign of slowing down. So hereís to them.

ENSLAVED: EXTREME METAL EXPLORATION

Enslaved emerged out during the "Lords of Chaos" era when founding guitarist Ivar BjÝrnson and bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson were still in high school and quickly set themselves apart from the Norwegian black metal hordes with their progressive leanings and focus more on Nordic lore than all things evil. Despite of raft of line-up changes, they continued to explore musical realms far beyond those of "true Norwegian black metal" to the point where they ended up sounding much more like Pink Floyd than Darkthrone. And over the past couple years, people have started coming around to the bandís eccentricities. Enslaved even won the Spellmann Award ó Norwayís version of the Grammy ó as best metal band with three successive albums ó 2004ís Isa, 2006ís Ruun and 2008ís Vertebrae ó and were honored by the Norwegian Embassy when they opened for Opeth in D.C. in 2009. Theyíll make another run at the Spellmann with the just released Axioma Ethica Odini.

On the phone from Norway, BjÝrnson offered the following about one of extreme metalís most daring, inventive and cerebral bands.

On meeting the Norwegian Embassy staff in Washington.
BjÝrnson: Those things can get a little bit awkward if they just want to invite you over to look at some metal people, but they have people working over there who have been into that kind of music for a while and they were really proud of the Norwegian metal bands going around world and putting Norway on the map. So we sat down on one side of the table and the embassy people at the other side and they fired away a bunch of questions. It was nice time. Weíre going to meet up with them the next time we tour through there.

On Norway promoting extreme metal as a cultural export.
BjÝrnson: I think they made a conscious choice. Itís not like they donít know whatís going on. There was some debate about the band Taake, one of the old bands that is still a pretty hardcore black metal band. There is always a lot of controversy around them, and they got support for a tour. And the cultural officials in Norway, they said, "we are fully aware of this. As long as they donít do anything extremist in terms of politics or criminal acts, like inciting hate crimes, weíre not going to interfere. They can sing about this or that or Satanism or Christianity, as long it holds a certain standard as far as music and being art that interests people, we arenít going to stand in there way." Itís quite a bold move I think, but itís just like it should be.

On learning to push the musical envelope.
BjÝrnson: We were really lucky because of the environment that the band started with, in the early days of the Norwegian black metal scene. It was strict in one sense. To be a black metal band, you had to fulfill certain parameters, you had to be a satanic band and have a satanic worldview and all that. It might have cost us in terms of popularity, but we are not Satanists, so we couldnít call ourselves black metal. Weíve been an extreme metal band associated with black metal for all these years.

So at the start we took the chance of being a little bit different, being on the outside. And things happened naturally. Some things happened by accident, like changing drummers [losing Trym Torson to Emperor] between Frost and Eld forced us to change because the new guy who came in [Harald Helgeson, who was later replaced by Dirge Rep who gave way to current drummer Cato Bekkevold in 2003] was more of a prog metal drummer and couldnít really do the black metal blasts. At some point around the millennium change, we started to realize on a conscious level that the reason why we really enjoyed doing this was by changing all the time. We gave ourselves new challenges, kept fresh and it really made starting every tour, starting every recording session, exciting. And it fit our personalities to have these changes.

On the more basic musical approach to Axioma Ethica Odini
BjÝrnson: I wouldnít say we got too far afield with the last few albums, but we did go far afield at times. But thatís where we wanted to go. Weíre constantly exploring the outer edges of what we can do as a band. We really go all in, as the poker people say, and we really explore one thing. Like on the last one, we went very much into classic rock. We felt very satisfied after having done that. Then itís like, "OK, what are we going to do now, which direction should we explore?"

The first few songs when I started writing, they were pretty intense and straight in your face. And that just told me that this was the direction Enslaved wanted to go now and we tried to make it happen. We like to think Enslaved is more or less an entity on its own, it takes on a will and a direction that is more than just the sum of the guys on the band. And this is where we wanted to go now.

On the "truths" of Axioma Ethica Odini.
BjÝrnson: Itís hard to keep it simple because itís abstract and we want people to make their own interpretations. Itís about ethics on different levels. The first word in the title, Axioma, is taken from the science term axiom, nonrelative truths, things that we agree upon like gravity or the speed of light. The last two words, Ethica Odini, is the Latin title of a book from Norse mythology that surfaced in the Viking age as mythological script with Odin citing his ethical codes. So we put those things up against each other, contrasting or complimenting each other, the scientific with the mythological and metaphysical.

The mythological or the ethical aspect, I would differentiate that from typical religion because the thing about basic religions like Christianity or Islam or Judiasm is the monotheism. Thatís why they fit so well, like a hand in the glove, the evangelists and the politicians. They all have very singular views about what truth is. But the ethics of pluralistic religions or mythologically based religions is they leave things open to interpretation, they leave some leeway for different people with different circumstances to actually arrive at different truths. Thatís what weíre trying to highlight. Truth isnít necessarily a truth if it hasnít been lived. Finding it on page this or that in the bible doesnít necessarily make it a truth.

On "success."
BjÝrnson: Iím happy that the ambition was to make the ultimate music and we advanced it as we became better musicians. I never thought about doing this to escape having to work or study, that was never the intention and that attitude is still with us. If we get an offer to do something and it would mean we wouldnít have to work for a year, but it would be kind of sucky, opening for a horrible band like Nickelback or something (laughs), I think we would prefer to do some actual work, some production work or something. Some of the guys run a studio when theyíre home.

Talking about ethics, that kind of work ethic is why I think weíre still enjoying it so much. Success is not necessary measured in terms of how many mornings you can sleep in without having to get up, itís more about the feeling of actually having made an impact on something.

On marking the 20th anniversary of Enslaved.
BjÝrnson: Weíre looking to do a special show, sort of an extended version of our normal show so it can be a bit more career spanning. We have a couple special megalomaniacal ideas brewing, but we have to make sure that we can actually pull it off before we start bragging about it.

KATAKLYSM: THE EPIC STRUGGLE

Hailing from Montreal, Kataklysm managed to remain relatively anonymous for a mighty long time despite bashing out quality death metal since 1991 and touring consistently. It wasnít really until 2006ís Into The Arms of Devastation that the band really started to break through thanks to the bruising anthem "Crippled & Broken." Since then, Kataklysmís profile has continued to grow as the band earned spots on bigger and bigger tours and issued the well-received Prevail in 2008.

Theyíve even begun to branch out into further extremes, with frontman Maurizio Iacono launching his gladiator-themed side band Ex Deo, with the rest of Kataklysm ó guitarist/producer Jean-Francois Dagenais, bassist Stephane Barbe and drummer Max Duhamel ó all participating. And just after Kataklysm scored their biggest tour to date ó playing on last summerís short Ozzfest run ó and issued their 10th album, Heavenís Venom, Ex Deo were readying for a tour of the states with Nile in a clash of ancient Rome and ancient Egypt.

On the phone from Baltimore, and through his thick French-Canadian accent, Dagenais talked about the bandís long fight for recognition.

On Kataklysmís first Ozzfest experience ó literally.
Dagenais: Iíd never even been to Ozzfest before. Ozzfest never came to Montreal. Itís been pretty fun so far, hanging out with all the guys in the other bands, having barbecues in the parking lot every night. Everyone said it was like rock and roll summer camp, and itís true. It makes the experience very unique. We play a lot of the European festivals during the summer and thatís what Ozzfest looks like. Itís great to see that here in America. Iím happy that we got the opportunity to do this.

On bouncing back and forth between Ozzfest dates and off-date club shows.
Dagenais: I enjoy the big shows and the small shows for what they are. You always try to give 200 percent every single time. I donít mind going from big shows to smaller shows. Itís all rock and roll for me, itís a new party every day. For us to be on the road is whatís fun about it. We like playing live, as long as weíre playing, weíre happy.

On touring yet again with Devildriver, after their well-publicized feud.
Dagenais: When the feud happened, we didnít even know those guys. But then we did the Dimmu Borgir tour together [in 2007] and had to share the same bus for like seven weeks, so we had to make peace and talk things out in person. And it was like "I donít know why this happened in the first place, it had nothing to do with you guys personally anyways." And we patched things up and have been good friends ever since. Seven or eight years ago, it was really hard for us to get on bigger tours because we were a smaller band, and we got this shot at the Opeth tour, but then they called us and said "no, Devildriver is going to do this tour." And we were like, "how come Kataklysm is getting bounced off for some new band?" It was the first time in my life Iíd heard of Devildriver, and then we found out that Dez [Fafara] was in Coal Chamber before and Roadrunner (Records) was really pushing them.

And then Maurizio expressed his frustration and Dez answered back, and no one wants to look bad, and when you fuel each other things can get ugly quick. We were mostly pissed off because of the politics of it. Maybe we were a bit naive at the time, but it made us realize that politics is part of the game and youíre just gonna have to deal with it. Stuff happens when you play music, things can happen between bands and we donít hold grudges. Weíve toured with them a bunch of times and they called us and asked if we wanted to join them for this whole tour and we said yes.

On the punchier, angrier tone of Heavenís Venom.
Dagenais: The last couple years has been pretty rough, three of the guys got separated from the wives and longtime girlfriends and a lot of bullshit happened in our personal lives, so a lot of anger was put into this record. You can really feel it from everyoneís performance.

On Ex Deoís unexpected rise.
Dagenais: It was Maurizoís idea in the beginning and it was more for fun and about the passion for music and it turned out to be a bigger deal than we thought it would. And weíve been getting tour offers left and right for this project and weíre trying to fit it into our busy schedules. But itís exciting that people actually care and want to see it live. The album sales are really pretty phenomenal for a first album by an unknown band. And itís exciting to us, because when we play it live weíll be out onstage wearing the Roman armor. Weíre trying to bring Rome alive in a club setting. Itís fun for us, itís more theatrical than Kataklysm and if it reaches new fans, thatís also good for Kataklysm.

On 20 years in the underground.
Dagenais: We love doing it, for us its part of our lifestyle, itís a passion. We made it to a certain level where weíre not rich doing this, but it pays the bills. Itís a million times better being in a band and touring than working a 9-to-5 job. That would kill me.

As long as we can keep it going and the fans are there to support us, weíre happy doing this. We donít have a huge fan base but our fan base is really solid. Thatís the right way to do it. And over the last few years, every year is bigger and better and we get more opportunities and thatís what keeps it exciting and interesting. Youíre wondering how far you can push it.

CRADLE/DIMMU DISAPPOINT

With Cradle of Filth having signed on with Nuclear Blast, longtime home of rivals Dimmu Borgir, symphonic black metalís biggest daddies now share the same label, at least in the states. And as fate would have it, they both issued new albums right around the same time, which is certainly fitting giving the similarities ó for better or worse ó they long have shared, and continue to do so.

Like lineup changes. The Dimmu campís been a bit of a clusterfuck over the past year, what with the ugly firings of keyboardist Mustis and bassist/clean vocalist Vortex and Snowy Shaw being announced as Vortexís replacement then literally quitting on the same day. On top of that, the remaining band members ó frontman Shagrath and guitarists Silenoz and Galder ó decided to craft the most complex, heavily orchestrated album of the bandís long career to follow up the comparatively stripped down In Sorte Diaboli.

With a 100-piece orchestra and Wicked Witch of West-sounding female guest vocalists in tow, and draping themselves in some truly ridiculous new costuming, Dimmu deliver Abrahadabra, an album that is every bit as outrageous and bloated as you could imagine. Bigger is not always better, and Abrahadabra staggers under its own immense weight ó the ample, sometimes overdone symphonics of Death Cult Armageddon are nothing compared to this.

The choirs, the strings and horns, the curtain of keyboards ó the bells! the bells! ó all but smother what black metal majesty there is here. "Ritualist," "Renewal," "Chess With The Abyss" and "Endings And Continuations" all do have their viscerally satisfying moments. And the hyper-drive "A Jewel Traced Through Coal" is one of the most menacing songs the bandís ever done. But with so much of, well, everything slathered on top, the guitar crunch, bracing tempos and Shagrathís signature snarl ultimately fight a losing battle to dig themselves out from under it. C

The Cradle camp, by comparison, dealt with a lot less drama this time ó even welcoming back former guitarist James McIlroy ó but still show no lack of ambition with Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa, which has been described as the "feminine companion" to 2008ís Godspeed On The Devilís Thunder, based this time on the demoness Lilith instead of child murdering 15th century noble Gilles de Rais.

Darkly is done with typically grand Cradle flair. Though they havenít done the full orchestra thing since 2003ís Damnation And A Day, Cradle still weave a tapestry of opulent strings, gothic keyboard arrangements and operatic female vocals into their usual breathless black metal caterwauling ó nobody spews more words per minute than frontman Dani Filth. Where the bandís last few albums have had their moments of hookiness and crunch, Darkly is pretty much all-ahead-full, riding Martin Skaroupkaís frantic drumming.

One notable exception is the first single, "Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)," a rather drab hard rocker with Filth and Lucy Atkins trading vocals and a rare flashy guitar solo from Paul Allender. Like their cover of Heaven 17ís "Temptation" on Thornography or the duet with Liv Kristine on "Nymphetamine" before it, "Fatherís" only real purpose seems to be to get a bit of radio play, yet as such it ultimately disappoints.

Indeed, Darkly underwhelms in the end. Where Dimmu at least went all out with Abrahadabra, Cradle feel like theyíre on cruise control here. There isnít much to distinguish Darkly from many of its predecessors. Itís not bad, it just ainít all the great. C

And now for the rest Ö

ABIGAIL WILLIAMS
In The Absence of Light
(Candlelight)

Despite hailing from Phoenix, Abigail Williams have the Nordic symphonic black metal thing down to a science, all the way to their revolving door lineup ó vocalist Ken Sorceron is the sole original member. Thatís not necessarily a good thing. The bandís second album borrows liberally from the In The Nightside Eclipse-era Emperor playbook ó though ex-Emperor drummer Trym Torson, who played on Abigailís debut, is nowhere to be found here. The desolate, screaming vocals; the raw, shrill, expansive wash of guitar; the blast-and-crawl drum battery; itís mid-í90s Norway with precious little America 2010 ó save for some nifty leads ó to add any new or unique twists. So in the end, whatís the point? C

THE ACACIA STRAIN
Wormwood
(Prosthetic)

Mass-hole quartet The Acacia Strain are their typical sledgehammer selves on their fifth album. Wormwood is a blunt, brutish affair that lumbers out of the gate with aptly titled "Beast" and proceeds to stomp the crap out of everything in its path. With its bowel-shaking bass throb, eerie, deliberate pacing, thick-as-mud riffing and Vincent Bennettís strep throat bellow, Wormwood is certainly one of the yearís heaviest albums. And with the bulk of its songs obsessing about murder and death, both real ("Jonestown," "Ramirez") and imagined ("Tactical Nuke," "The Hills Have Eyes") ó delivered with disturbing authority by Bennett ó itís one of the most horrific as well. B+

AEON
Path Of Fire
(Metal Blade)

Swedenís answer to Deicide, Aeon are all about blasphemy and brutality, in no particular order, though their third album doles out plenty of both. "Kill Them All." "Abomination To God." "Suffer The Soul." "Forgiveness Denied." You get the picture. Tommy DahlstrŲm and lead guitarist Zeb Nilssonís hellish harmonizing gives Aeon an aura of evil that would make singing about puppies and flowers sound like something out of the Exorcist. Musically, Path of Fire is nothing all that special, save for the fantastic drumming of now departed Nils FjellstrŲm and the cool, but brief, Middle Eastern instrumental foray "Total Kristus Inversus." Aeon pack a pretty good wallop, thanks in part to Erik Rutanís potent production, but donít do a hell of a lot that you probably havenít heard before. C+

ARSON ANTHEM
Insecurity Notoriety
(Housecore)

This low-fi, old-school combo of Down/ex-Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo, Hank Williams III, Eyehategodís Mike Williams and bassist Collin Yeo sounds like it was dug up in a time capsule from the early Ď80s, when hardcore first reared its ugly head. Crusty and utterly relentless, Arson Anthem crank out caustic two-minute ditties like a rusty old machine gun. The crude, demo-quality sound of Insecurity makes Anselmoís ragged guitaring and Williamsí ass-biting vocals that much more abrasive as they barrel through "Death Of An Idiot," "More Than One War" and "Kleptomania." Only album closer "Teach The Gun (To Love The Bullet)" boasts anything in the way of real dynamics ó the rest is just raw fury unleashed. B

CLINGING TO THE TREES OF A FOREST FIRE
Songs of Ill Hope and Desperation
(Prosthetic)

If youíre looking for something to annoy the neighbors, these Coloradans are just the thing. Their discordant, spasmodic, pummeling second album recalls old Brutal Truth, Pig Destroyer or Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Ill Hope may be a lot of wonderfully horrible noise, but these guys take a little different approach to the usual fits-and-starts insanity by building creepy, extended slow sections and punctuating them with microburst freakouts. The maniacal vocals ó and preoccupation with piss, shit and sacrilege ó cement-mixer riffing and epileptic time signatures are there in abundance, the Trees just take their time getting to them. B+

THE CROWN
Doomsday King

(Century Media)

After 14 years of mostly thankless toil, Swedenís The Crown threw up their hands and said "fuck it" in 2004 and everyone went off to play with someone else, seemingly happy to be done with that chapter of their lives. But here they are ó guitarists Marko Tervonen and Marcus Sunesson, bassist Magnus Olsfelt and drummer Janne Saarenpš ó back together six years later with new frontman Jonas StŚlhammar and boasting the same fire and fury of their Deathrace King/Crowned In Terror creative heyday. Buoyed by this second wind, Doomsday doles loads of violent and roughshod, yet surprisingly catchy, death and roll with the title track, "Blood O.D." and the super-hooky "Soul Slasher" leading the charge. StŚlhammarís raspy holler and attack dog delivery fits perfectly as The Crown steamrolls through this reunion album that, save for a couple clunky mid-tempo numbers like "Desolation Domain," is an absolute monster. A-

DAATH
Daath

(Century Media)

After stumbling badly with their scattershot Roadrunner debut The Hinderers in 2007, Atlantaís Daath recovered nicely with 2009ís The Concealers with its taut, gritty thrash and the astonishing guitar work of Eyal Levi and Emil Werstler. That momentum, and the enjoyable Levi/Werstler instrumental album from earlier this year, bade well for Daathís new self-titled full-length. Unfortunately, it comes up well short of the mark. The songiness of The Concealers is largely lost, replaced by a mish-mash of aimless riffing that eventually yields to the obligatory, but still amazing, solos. As the songs bleed into each another itís tough to figure out where one ends and the next begins. The snub-nosed "Indestructible Overdose," the more involved "Arch [Enemy] Misanthrope" and back-to-back brutes "A Cold Devotion" and "N.A.T.G.O.D." do show some moxie and direction. But while four out of 13 might yield a respectable batting average in baseball, over the course of an album thatís pretty weak. D

DEW-SCENTED
Invocation

(Prosthetic)

German thrashers Dew-Scented issue their eighth album, which yet again boasts a title that begins with the letter "I." Cute little gimmick that, sort of an alternate take on Morbid Angel moving up the alphabet with each of their albums. But if thatís all you got to hang your hat on youíre in trouble. Dew-Scented are fairly textbook European thrash, but weave enough chugging hooks and biting leads into the mix to keep things interesting. "The Invocation," "Condemnation" and the blast-beaty "Have No Mercy On Us" are standouts here, despite Leif Jensenís atonal bark. Though Invocation ultimately runs out of gas toward the end, Dew-Scented deliver enough rough-and-tumble thrash to make it worth ó pardon the "I" joke ó investigating. B-

FIREWIND
Days of Defiance

(Century Media)

Though pretty tame when compared to everything else here, Greek power-metallers Firewind ó aka Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Gus Gís other band ó offer up their feistiest effort yet with Days of Defiance. Shedding some of the slickness of their prior release, the otherwise excellent The Premonition, and flexing more muscle here gives Defiance a welcome oomph ó despite some cheesy keyboard solos. By the same token, Gus Gís fluid soloing is nothing short of spectacular, while at the same time not really being showy or pretentious. Heís one guitar whiz who seems to care as much about his riffs and melodies as he does his leadwork ó and his stint with Ozzy doesnít seem to be a real distraction. Defiance is taut, brash and crunchy enough to satisfy when Cannibal Corpse is just too much to handle. B+

FLESHWROUGHT
Dementia/Dyslexia

(Metal Blade)

This duo teams Animals As Leader drummer Navene Koperweis and Job For A Cowboy singer Jonny Davy for something that, no surprise, sounds a lot like a cross between both bands. With Koperweis handling all the instruments, Dementia whipsaws between tech-death and prog metal, with delicate, almost jazzy guitar solos ó and even some sax wails and synthesized noodling ó punctuating the otherwise manic grind. Davy sounds pretty much like he does in Cowboy here ó guttural, occasionally screechy and always spitting his lyrics with breathless intensity. But he matches well with Koperweisí cacophony, and knows to shut up during the wankier bits. B

FORBIDDEN
Omega Wave

(Nuclear Blast)

Canít say I was expecting much from reunited Bay Area bangers Forbidden, but they deliver a surprisingly awesome comeback album with Omega Wave, their first in 13 years. Forbidden sound like a completely new band here, one that doesnít seem at all interested in reveling in nostalgia. Rather, they take the "Adapt Or Die" mentality of one of Omegaís tracks and have crafted a thoroughly modern-sounded album that is heavier, thrashier and more technical than anything theyíve done probably since their 1988 debut. "Forsaken At The Gates," "Overthrow," "Behind The Mask" and the title track charge like rhinos, the guitar work of Craig Locicero and Steve Smyth is brilliant and Russ Anderson still boasts on the one the rangiest voices in thrash ó sounding positively Halford-esque here. Omega is a well constructed and, more importantly, focused work by a band prone to wandering in the past and gives them more than solid footing for the future. Letís hope they donít slip up. A-

INSIDIOUS DISEASE
Shadowcast

(Century Media)

An all-star quintet featuring several supergroup veterans ó Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury, Dimmu Borgir guitarist Silenoz and occasional drummer Tony Laureano, Old Manís Child guitarist Jardar and ex-Morgoth frontman Marc Grewe ó Insidious Disease is one of those rare side projects that actually pretty much nails it. Mixing Swedish style death and roll with splashes of grind, some moody atmospherics and a whole lot of misanthrope, Shadowcast is brimming with abrasiveness and teeth-clenched conviction. Insidious donít try to do anything fancy, nor do they take the tribute band-like retro route like so many others, they just thrash and burn their way through the likes of "Nuclear Salvation," "The Essence of Neglect" and the delightful "Abortion Stew" with vicious glee. B+

THE LAST FELONY
Too Many Humans

(Lifeforce)

The Last Felony join a growing list noteworthy death metal bands emerging from Montreal ó Augury, Beneath The Massacre, Neuraxis, etc. ó with an impressively brutal second album. Too Many Humans wonít wow you with dazzling instrumentation, try to make you puke ó despite titles like "We Are The Future Housing Developments For Maggots" and "A Cathedral Of Flesh And Fluids" ó or deliver chunky cheap thrills. Instead, itís just straight up, full-on, no-frills death metal. And thereís no shame in that, especially when itís played with the punishing authority they display here. B+

LIMBONIC ART
Phantasmagoria

(Candlelight)

After reuniting in 2007 for Legacy of Evil, this Norwegian two-man black metal "band" are now down to just one ó Vidar Jensen, aka Daemon. While handling all the instrumentation and voices, Daemon still kicks up a huge sounding, unholy racket for Limbonicís seventh full-length. The hyper-speed sonic wall of the title track, "Portal of the Unknown" and "Curse of the Necromancer" must have made for quite a workout ó even without his banshee howl vocalizing. Lending some dramatic contrast are the funereal, heavily symphonic "Crypt of Bereavement" and "Dark Winds," which tend to drone on a bit too long. Better is the bipolar "A World In Pandemonium," which begins as a death march and ends in a dead sprint. It kills. B

MELECHESH
The Epigenesis

(Nuclear Blast)

Israeli ex-pats Melechesh may have left the Holy Land, but they havenít left the Middle East behind as far as their music is concerned. Though not as World Music-y as countrymen Orphaned Land, who layer on loads of traditional instrumentation, Melechesh take a more direct approach. The bandís fifth full-length, and first with Nuclear Blast, offers a propulsive mix of black and death metal, taking occasional forays into Middle Eastern sonics ó not unlike American Egypt-philes Nile. Melechesh, who recorded the album in Istanbul, employ exotic instruments like the sitar and santur during jammy asides that punctuate The Epigenesisí more expansive songs, notably the title track, "Mystics of the Pillar" and "A Greater Chain of Being." While the Sumerian mysticism of the lyrical themes can get lost in the bludgeon when the band go full-metal, the Mesopotamian musical interludes and overtones definitely get the point across. A-

MALEVOLENT CREATION
Invidious Dominion

(Nuclear Blast)

When Malevolent Creation mainstay guitarist Phil Fascianaís not crafting tall tales about shooting felonious crackheads ó Google "Phil Fasciana and chocolate milk," youíll be amazed ó he can still write some pretty mean-ass death metal. Malevolentís 11th album is as solid and satisfying as anything theyíve done in a long time, thanks to a hateful but tidy batch of tunes, a vicious performance by the band and the so-raw-it-bleeds production by Erik Rutan. "Compulsive Face Breaker," "Slaughterhouse," "Lead Spitter" and "Target Rich Environment" make no bones about where the bandís heads are at here. So even if Fascianaís not literally "taking out" the street trash, he sure thinks about it ó a lot. B

THE TONY DANZA TAPDANCE EXPERIENCE
Danza III: The Series Of Unfortunate Events

(Black Market Activities)

Donít dismiss these Tennesseans as a joke because of their goofy name or tracks like "Yippee Kay Yay Motherfucker." Tony Danza, the band, can grind with the best of them. And they do it with a technical flare that goes well beyond the usual churn and burn. The myriad neck-break time changes and mechanical bottom end on Danza III sound like some bastard hybrid of industrial music and math metal. And when matched with shrill, hummingbird guitar flourishes and the bandís flesh-ripping ferocity topped by Jesse Freelandís ursine roar, the effect is pure sensory overload; seriously. A-

WAR FROM A HARLOTíS MOUTH
MMX

(Lifeforce)

Not to be outdone by Clinging To The Trees Of A Forest Fire or The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza, Germanyís War From A Harlotís Mouth prove to be, well, a mouthful and present a full-on assault on the ears. Metalcore, death metal and math metal get run through the blender on their short, occasionally sweet third album. MMX is a largely free-form affair where song structure goes right out the window, save for brief instrumental interludes like "Sleep Is The Brother of Death" and "Cancer Man" that only add to the sense of disconnect. Between the 180-degree tempo changes, crazy-quilt riffing and spasmodic vocals, it sometimes sounds like these guys arenít playing the same song. Things donít really start to gel until the end with the industrial strength "Spineless," "Recluse MMX" and "Inferno III/VI," but by then your ears will have pretty much bled shut. C+

WATAIN
Lawless Darkness

(Season Of Mist)

Infamous Swedish black metal miscreants Watain turn in a surprisingly long-winded and rather dull fourth full-length withLawless Darkness, an album that seems bent more on testing oneís patience than luring them over to the dark side. Where three-four minutes of efficient old school bludgeon would have done the trick, these guys just go on and on for six, seven, nine minutes and, ultimately, with album closer "Waters of Ain," a staggering 14:28. God lord! And itís not like thereís a whole hell of a lot going on, itís just pretty basic black metal bluster kneaded, rolled and stretched until thereís lots of surface, but not much depth. C

WITHERED
Dualitas

(Prosthetic)

How bizarre that some of the truest vintage Norwegian-style black metal youíll hear these days is actually produced by this bunch of beardos from Atlanta. The bone-sawing third full-length from Withered is a bleak, forbidding, yet strangely majestic outing that hints of old Mayhem or Gorgoroth ó though without all the satanic mumbo jumbo. Dualitas is at times assaultive, as on the thunderous "Residue In The Void," and at others grim and desolate as on the sprawling "Aethereal Breath," where the sludgy, low-fi sonics become the sound of dread itself. Withered expertly weave the ebb and flow into something truly epic here. And with the bestial vocal theatrics and distortion-drenched guitaring of Dylan Kilgore and Mike Thompson, Dualitas says frozen northern wastelands way more than it does "Hot-lanta." A-

THE WRETCHED END
Ominous

(Candlelight)

Ex-Emperor/Zyklon guitarist Samoth reteams with original Zyklon bassist Cosmocrator in this death/thrash trio that delivers lots of Zyklon-style unbridled aggression, but in a bit leaner, meaner package. Without a second guitarist to provide the fancy solos and dynamic flare, The Wretched End stick to meat and potatoes riff-o-rama here as Samoth saws away with abandon. Ominous gets off to a furious start with "Red Forest Alienation" and the hooky "The Armageddonist" and "Of Men And Wolves." Though thereís some bland stretches here and there where things get one-dimensional, the one-two punch of "Fleshbomb" and "Human Corporation" gets it all back on track and Ominous ultimately triumphs. B

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