Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Precipitation - The Power Of... (2016)

The debut from this uncanny German melodic death/metalcore act definitely surprised me. But that's because Precipitation simply don't follow the rules. It's not always melodic death metal, it's not always core and it's not always metal, period. As a matter of fact, the record begins with blues and doesn't shy away from that. The Power Of... is simply a mixture of different styles that all culminate together to make a pretty interesting experience. It goes without saying that all of these guys are new blood, even though the band have been together since 2013. Sometimes it takes awhile to craft a record and this one is definitely the result of fine craftsmanship beyond anything that I would have ever expected. I asked for quite a bit of physical submissions to review over the past week and don't even remember this being one of them. That wasn't a problem though, as it actually turned out to be my favorite of the three.

If you listen to “Unavoidable” for example, it's basically crunchy melodic rock with some proggy touches, yet fronted with a hefty growl that you might not expect for the genre. There's also a clean vocal moment, which isn't the only one to appear and to be honest – they get better. There are some very strong clean vocal moments on the disc, which I'll mention later on in this review. Precipitation also take on a seven-minute monster called “Dazzled” which is pretty unexpected for a record like this, even though it is a re-recorded cut from their 2014 demo. You can hear as much classic melodeath as you can hear it retooled through the American incarnations of the genre. Yet as I stated in the genre description, you are getting some core moments as well as some breakdowns and whatnot. Though you should expect that, as these guys don't really play by the rules and in some places can come off with an unexpected amount of intricacy. The sound veers into almost progressive metal at times, though can also feature the kind of bluesy-solos that you might expect on a Zakk Wylde album (but are nowhere near as good as Zakk himself, of course.) One of my personal favorite cuts comes right after, called “Cosmic.” The band also tries very hard for some sort of space-faring sound as well which features a very strong clean vocal chorus as well as what almost looks to be a Devin Townsend inspired take on metalcore. Keep in mind, this song is a little over six minutes long and comes pretty early on by which point the song lengths start to normalize. I don't know why they decided to put some of their longest and most-textured tracks at the beginning of the record. This one would have made a great centerpiece and “Dazzled” would have done well to replace album clunker “Insane.”

As we move into the album, we start to notice even more progressive leanings of which I'm quite a fan – I would just have never expected it. “Alone” even tries for a slightly gloomier approach, but nothing like album closer “Last Breath” which is kind of rough to listen to. “Hideout” pounds out hard rock with hefty growls, while “Philosopher's Stoned” sounds like progressive death with a little bit of hard rock influence to it as well. I'd definitely consider it one of the disc's best tracks, as well as several others here. Once again, these guys just popped out of nowhere and impressed me beyond what I would have expected from the band. You can't even tell what kind of genre they are, or music they might play by looking at the album. If you look at the below image and think that you're getting “space black metal” than you've already flunked. Though I've honestly heard enough “space black metal” in my life and I'm quite pleased with the kind of band that really doesn't show boundaries. These guys could have thrown it out to the mainstream years ago, like several other German acts I've reviewed for larger labels; but the fact that they didn't cut out the extremities or textures from this record makes it something of a diamond in the rough.

The album's last cut is “Last Breath” which as I explained, was kind of tough to listen to. It's a serious song about death and one's final thoughts before they die, which can almost be a gut-wrenching experience. It is most definitely a funeral doom inspired moment, even though some of the melodies might be a little more upbeat than what we'd expect on a funeral doom record. It still might come off a bit poppier than some might be used to but it certainly isn't the kind of track that you'd expect to hear on an album like this one. At the end of the day, I really hope that we'll hear more from Precipitation in the future and there might REALLY be something here. This is the sound of a band that has loads of musical potential, but they also have the potential to sell out and make millions or the potential to be a relatively strong force in the underground. It simply depends on what these guys want to do and I'll support them either way. Even if the next record isn't to my liking, I certainly won't forget this unexpected German metal treasure.

(10 Tracks, 51:00)

9/10

In My Embrace - Black Waters Deep (2016)

The debut full-length from Sweden's In My Embrace is a little short, but it's longer than their earlier released EP recording, Dead To Dust Descend. The material here is most certainly inspired by Dissection albums like The Somberlain and Storm Of The Light's Bane, but we could also equate them with acts like God Dethroned and Naglfar. There are also some modernisms here and there in the vein of core, but that's only in the song structure. Let's just say that some of this might feature a bit more groove than you're willing to wade through, but I personally wouldn't have considered it a detriment. Also, some of the tremolos come off with a notable potency as you'll notice on “Into Oblivion” which would have been a far more fitting way to open the record than the more modern-influenced title track. I think In My Embrace decided to incorporate more groove numbers onto the disc in order to differentiate them from Dissection, by which they can sound like a clone. Not that that's a bad thing, after all – some of the melodies seem to be right up there with some of Dissection's most memorable, as well as Naglfar who are as we know; quite similar. I could add Thulcandra, but we all know very well what those guys were trying to achieve.

So how much groove am I getting, Grim Lord? Well, let me tell you. Aside from the title track, you're getting “Of Ache and Sorrow” as well “Voyage Of Thoughts” which seem to also encroach upon doom, so it's not like these guys are playing blues. We also have a couple of traditional rock solos on the record, but they come backed by Tommy Holmer's session drumming, which is actually fantastic. Black Waters Deep is yet another case for why bands shouldn't be afraid to use a session drummer, especially in their case. When these guys move into black metal territory, Holmer's blasts really seem to accentuate that perfectly. Another piece of this puzzle that caught my attention was frontman Kenneth Larsson's ravenous vocal approach which fits very well here within the equally ravenous tunes that these guys can dish out. These performances are sometimes backed by guitarists Bosse Öhman and Johan Sjöblom which can add even more of a bite to the performance. The atmosphere of the record is rather bleak, but at times can be rather fierce and demonic depending on the piece. The disc can actually be quite bass-heavy as well, hence the groove sections I mentioned earlier. But even though bassist Jon Brundin is actually getting the kind of respect that most bassists deserve when it comes to this kind of music (this kind of blackened/melodic death metal has not been known for being very bass-heavy) there aren't any sections on this record that I feel take away from it's overall mood. Even when these guys channel their inner doom/death with “Next Chapter” it still retains an overall bleak and somewhat folk/black metal atmosphere, which is very important.

It can be clearly stated that there is at least some degree of variety here, but it's not so varied as to sound like a different band all the time. In My Embrace just want to showcase the fact that they are not a gothic metal act with a female singer, not a Dissection rip-off and not completely glued to one style of music. That to me says quite a bit and I feel that much was done within the span of thirty-four minutes. I won't say that all of the songs are my cup of tea and perhaps a little derivative of other familiar acts and styles, but I'm certainly not upset with that. You shouldn't be either. Black Waters Deep is the kind of record that only gets better with more listens, so give it at least one!

(10 Tracks, 34:00)

8/10

Marianas Rest - Horror Vacui (2016)

The debut album from Finnish melodic death/doomers Marianas Rest is definitely the kind of thing you'd expect Bleak Bill to review back when we had the domain site  but since that is not going to be the case, I'm covering it. So what have we got here? Something quite similar to acts like Swallow The Sun, Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum, by which they share the same keyboardist – Aapo Koivisto. All of the other guys are pretty much new blood, but that doesn't mean that they're bad blood either. The Finns have always seen their way around the doom genre and that can be assured with this record. There are points where I feel that maybe the rest of the instruments are a bit louder than the synths, which often makes it seem like Koivisto is trying to do battle with the other four guys in the band, especially when Harry Vainio's bass riffs and Nico Heininen's drumming comes into play. “Nadir” pounds and gets pretty spacey, but it's a much slower number like “For The Heartless” that really brings in that kind of Funeral and Saturnus vibe to this kind of music. Here we're not getting so much of an onslaught as it were; allowing more influence to come in from the keyboards which will often accentuate with Harri Sunila and Nico Mänttäri's near-shoegaze leads, which paired with Jakko Mäntymaa's gut-wrenching vocals amount to something worthy of the very name of the doom/death genre.

Sometimes Horror Vacui sounds like doom in space as well, which gives us something a bit new than what we're used to. While you're listening to the piece, try to imagine stars and galaxies being influenced in the leads and you'll see where I'm coming from – it just sounds like a band playing on top of an asteroid, looking at the remains of their former planet. Interestingly enough, sparsed in between the songs are actual soundclips taken from astronauts, which gives the record even more of a peculiar nature. Again – it's doom in space. The rest of the album sounds similar, but it's the kind of heavily melodic (we can even throw in Tower favorite In Mourning here) approach that makes for a good mix of light and heavy. If you've come here expecting great keyboard and guitar melodies, then these guys definitely have you covered. There's not a single song on this record where hope is offered, but it's all just so damn beautiful in spite of things. Perhaps frontman Mäntymaa's approach can come off a bit too overbearing in sections (less vocal, more music) but that's a very minor argument (and to some, it will be just that) in retrospect of what is a very powerful doom/death record at it's core. Horror Vacui is just so bleak that you really can't even think of it so much as melodic death in the vein of In Flames or Dark Tranquillity, which definitely makes me throw it into the realms of more thunderous and threatening act.

To me as a reviewer, I've heard several similar approaches to this kind of music before, especially with Swallow The Sun for example; but I don't want you to personally think of this record in the same manner that I'm reviewing it. If you're looking for meaningful doom/death with strong melodies and are curious to the whole “space” vibe I mentioned earlier, than you may want to give it a spin. You certainly should before the year is out, in any case. For a record that came out in October, it is pretty awful to see that no one has covered it yet on Metal Archives. You can't simply deny those leads, folks. You just can't.

(8 Tracks, 52:00)

8/10

Friday, November 18, 2016

Metallica - Hardwired...To Self Destruct (2016)

Well, guess I have to listen to this one again. Yeah, that's probably the worst way to start a review, but it goes especially for this one. Now we all know Metallica as a thrash act and we were even sold three songs by the mainstream media: “Hardwired” came first, followed by “Moth Into Flame” and finally “Atlas Rise” which came so close to the release date that it didn't matter. As “Hardwired” and “Moth Into Flame” were both clearly different than “Atlas Rise” (even though I thought it was a fairly strong Iron Maiden influenced track) the majority of the songs on the record that we were sold are vastly different than what many of us might have expected. When we get to the disc, we find that “Hardwired” is really just a three-minute thrash track. When I first saw the video, I thought that it had been edited and thought that Kirk's solo was just a little on the short side. I assumed that when I'd get the full disc, maybe it would be a bit longer. There were two discs after all. Alas, Metallica fucked us again. The full playing time for this “epic two disc release” is actually seventy-seven minutes, which would have fit perfectly on one disc. Not only that, several of these pieces are in fact blown out of proportion, which often gives them unnecessarily long intros and long instrumental breaks. Most of these should have been cut-down from their garage jam lengths into something a bit more bearable.

To be honest, listeners are actually getting what feels like a dose of Load/Reload in the vein of blues and groove rock tunes that aren't all that thrashy. Some say it might be the record in between ...And Justice For All and The Black Album, but I'm willing to consider it the album between The Black Album and Load. It isn't that the record won't be enjoyable to fans of Metallica's more mainstream material, but it definitely has more of a modern approach that sort of rides the coat-tails of their most celebrated moments in the limelight and not so much the early thrash days that metalheads know and love. In addition to that, James Hetfield really wants to try singing on this one, which is definitely done with a more commercial quality. Don't go into this thinking that you're getting any hint of a thrash disc. After all, the only other thrash cut you'll get is fan-favorite “Spit Out The Bone” which I didn't find as interesting as others did. I will say that on a second listen, I can kind of see the appeal that black-era songs like “Dream No More” might have for others, but I've already heard that kind of material and wasn't necessarily interested in a rehash.

I also found it odd that the Lemmy tribute song, “Murder One” didn't have any actual Motorhead influence. I would have at least expected something of a Motorhead style solo from Kirk on this one. I guess this is Metallica's attempt at another grab towards the mainstream after not hitting so hard with Death Magnetic even though I found a couple songs from that one, including “That Was Just Your Life” and “Judas Kiss” to be among some of the band's best. Unfortunately, I can't really say that about this one which doesn't feel like the Metallica album I felt that I was marketed – a thrash record. The band shot a video for every track on the disc, even the B-Side “Lords Of Summer” so it's a little odd that they would lead us on with two thrash cuts first. Why couldn't they just have skipped the whole “Hardwired” cut and given us “Dream No More” or “ManUNkind” instead? These songs would have been more indicative of what kind of experience we were getting and I was quite dissatisfied with what felt like it was supposed to be something that it was not.

Comparing this to a video game marketing campaign, No Man's Sky also showcased itself as a product that it was not and upset several fans in the process. Oddly enough, because there are two different types of Metallica fans out there (those who prefer the thrash and those who prefer the more modern hard rock) the dissent between these groups has almost gotten to a near-political level, with others saying that it is outright terrible and others claiming that it's one of the best albums they've heard all year. This second listen has made the record a bit more listenable, I think – but I'm not going to say that it's one of my favorite Metallica discs by any means. Once again, I think that if most of these songs had been cut by about a minute of two at least, we might have had a more soluble listen that could have even done a bit better with the fans.

Keep in mind, some people just outright hate Load, Reload and The Black Album so this isn't going to sit in their wheelhouse at all. I've also noticed online especially, that there's a lot of fighting between this and Exodus's latest album, Brotherhood Of The Snake. I haven't gotten a chance to hear that record in it's entirety to back up the proof that it is superior, but I can say that as far as a thrash record is concerned, Megadeth's Dystopia barrels over this one. Metallica do manage to prove that they still have it, but the problem is that it's nothing really all that new. Hardwired...To Self Destruct is very safe and doesn't even seem to blend musically well with it's moniker. If you see the cover and look at the title, you might even expect a thrash disc. But just remember, there's more crunch here than we've heard from Metallica since the mid-era and that might not necessarily be such a good thing. I don't hate the album, but I certainly wouldn't consider it something of a modern masterpiece. Since it's in the mainstream media pop/rock category, you can pick it up at Best Buy for ten dollars. Or you can just watch the whole thing online in video form, which might actually be better than listening to the record itself. Some of the videos I'm told are quite interesting, so that would definitely give this record a bit more merit than other albums without such a heavy visual component. Of which there are several.

Regardless of what I say, you're either going to listen to it, have listened to it, or will never approach it at all. So this is just my two cents and you can do whatever you like. Not terrible, but not mind-blowing either... and what in the hell is up with Lars' drum sound on this one? Seriously.

(2 Discs, 12 Tracks, 77:00)

7/10

The Workhorse III - Closer To Relevance (2016)

Hailing from Philadelphia, this power trio combine elements of punk, classic rock, proto-thrash and even acoustic soft rock to make a very different kind of release with quite a degree of variety. This is actually the band's third recording, but it is one of ten releases on their Bandcamp page. Obviously, I was a little surprised when I was sent something like this, as I'm more of a metal guy and this is more punk-influenced than I'm used to, but it's really not bad and actually kind of catchy, which I like. Some of the tracks come off well as far as the choruses go, but the lyrics can be a bit off-key and that just seems to be part of the whole punk atmosphere.

I will say that guitarists/vocalists Lisa Christ Superstar and Steve McCarthy definitely bring the noise, as these compositions lremind me heavily of acts like Motorhead (“Soulcrusher” is a very good example) and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. Sometimes these tunes get a bit more funk and blues-laden, but there's a sort of rebellious edge to Superstar that really brings out numbers like “What's The Point”, “Life Of Crime” and opener “War Torn City” and shows a no-nonsense approach to the album.

The Workhorse III really play whatever kind of fucking rock music that they want, which equals out to a record that doesn't get boring fast. What's more, is that there are actually two vocalists fronting this band. McCarthy sings on a few cuts like the aformentioned “Soul Crusher” and “Find My Mind” while Superstar handles most of the others, including the album's unexpectedly acoustic rock closer “I Can't Forget” who I believe is about the loss of former guitarist/vocalist “Foxy” whom the entire disc is dedicated to. As for what happened to her, I'm not really sure because the pictures here in the digipack show that she was still very young, but I can only assume that it was a horribly unexpected tragedy. The pictures seem to show that she went out doing what she loved, which was to rock and surely there can be no greater privilege in life that that.

For some, the vocal performances here might not be as on-par as something you'd see on an American vaudeville program, but there's a necessary rawness that I think truly makes the band stand out. There are those acts that go full-on mainstream and autotune their vocals to make everything sound perfect and then there are those acts that give it to you real and raw. These guys have played a lot of shows, which is kind of what you get here on the record. It sounds like a live performance in some places. But they're not a pop band, they're a rock, punk, blues and kinda thrash and whatever else kind of band. You don't get that often in this industry, which is why it's not even in the industry. These guys seem to do everything independently, but the digipack release that I have here shows a very professional quality record with awesome artwork. I wasn't sure what to expect looking at the artwork and was even more surprised with the disc and type oif band I was getting when I opened it up.

The Workhorse III are definitely more punk than I'm used to, but I can't shy away an act that has gone above and beyond to produce so many different types of music on one disc. Name me three pop artists that have done the same. That's the difference between the underground and the industry. Maybe there's less money, but there's more integrity to be had. You'll be able to pick up a copy of Closer To Relevance when it drops on December 9th.

(12 Tracks, 33:00)

7/10

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Scott Lawlor - Child Of Rage (2016)

An ambient musician from Texas sent me this one, which according to the Bandcamp page is one of several. When I mean several, I'm nearly talking Merzbow here. Why he chose Child Of Rage out of his many others, I don't know exactly, but I suppose as it is a bit more horror inspired than his other works (which constitute to around eighty million various pieces of drone and some weird act called Spank Hookers) he thought I would dig it, and indeed I do. Child Of Rage is actually a concept album based on a '92 CBS made for TV movie which is classified as a mystery, seeming like a very psychotic and strange thing for the network to air around this time period. How in the world do you even get ahold of a made for TV movie that goes back to my childhood years in this day and age? I was seven. I guess I'll not answer that question, but it resulted in this artwork and I think that's a good thing.

As for the disc, we certainly are offered quite a bit of drone as you might suspect based on the artist's repertoire, but that doesn't say anything about the creep factor of the disc, which certainly isn't wise music to play while you're playing a horror game with a bad soundtrack, or reading some sort of horror novel (with no soundtrack, obviously.) “Dark Repose” uses frighteningly distorted church organs in way that would raise the hair on the back of my neck during certain scenes in a visual novel (this has happened, with equally bone-chilling music) or while going through a certain area of a game in which you can kind of feel the fright of your surroundings. It almost goes from the sound of a church organ to something a bit more unsettling, which really kind of freaked me out. Really, you wrote this for a '92 film? You could have used this on a modern horror film and made a name for yourself in that industry, seriously. Holy shit, this is one of the most bizarrely uncomfortable pieces I've heard in a bit. I'm also reminded a little bit of the original Pennywise theme (now that we have a remake set to arrive next year) which only adds to the fright factor. Same can be said with the follow-up, “Unihabitable Conditions” which makes me wonder why this gentleman isn't composing for the film industry, or at least working with some independent filmmakers. Congratulations, Scott. You know how to scare the bejesus out of people, even with your more drone-influenced cuts.

Imagine you're driving down the road at night while this is playing in your car. You roll up on a dead body in the middle of the road and all of a sudden a sharp effect starts playing from the disc. You'd nearly shit yourself or have a heart attack when you came upon that grisly scene while having this music play in the background. The same can be said of maggot covered roadkill (it doesn't have to be a human body, after all) which will still come off quite frightening when coupled with that sound. Yes, the record comes with it's own jump scares, which isn't something I can say I've ever heard from a horror-influenced ambient before. This thing is legitimately scary and people are going to think they're in a horror movie if you place this in the background. For all you collegiates reading this, (of which there are none) try switching out the party mix with that of Child Of Rage and then walk off into the background. Immediately, you'll freak some people out at the party, especially some of those who are drunk and start a sort of frenzy. Apparently certain sounds cause fright and among normal people who aren't used to this sort of thing, you can make them go pretty nuts. (Just don't do that right now as things are a little fucked up in this country, especially for collegiates who are no doubt playing a soundtrack similar to Child Of Fire in their heads while imagining horrifying scenes from our new president elect.) At the very end of the day, Lawlor proves that he can scare the shit out of me, and in a way that I've never experienced before. I'm not putting on this record EVER while I read anything frightening, as this disc will only add to it. But there are some rather sad moments to the album as well, which I can equate heavily with visual novel soundtracks of course, which contain quite similar music in tone and atmosphere. That being said, it's just as frightening as anything I've heard from the best horror visual novels (there are very few in English, unfortunately) and I'd certainly recommend it to those looking for a good scare.

(7 Tracks, 45:00)

9/10

Cult Of Fire - Life, Sex and Death (2016)

Let's not get this wrong twice, folks. Cult Of Fire are a Czech epic black metal act (not Indian, like you may expect) even though I'd hesitate to call them “epic black metal.” They feature members of Death Karma and Lykathea Aflame (have to bring up that underground legend) among others. They're very synth-heavy on this EP and even bring out an oddity called “Chinnamasta Mantra” which isn't anything like you would have expected from them. Perhaps. Not only do we have some female vocal chanting here, but what I'd consider to be a sort of keyboard ambience. In addition to this, chimes are used as well as backing element of light guitar melodies. Keep in mind, just before this very light and moody place plays on the disc, you'll hear a rather traditional slice of raw black metal entitled "Life" which entwines with some playful synths. The frontman also has a terrifying scowl, which feels very “black metal” and brings me that same sense of fright that I feel I should expect with the genre. Just remember that there are some lighter guitar melodies utilized within several of these tracks, which brings us a more light-hearted feeling as compared to something where hope is completely vacant. After all, there's nothing on the record that lyrically seems to speak to what one might consider darkness and evil and the whole of Life, Sex and Death seems to revolve around Hinduism and Vedic ritual.

It still pummels, especially three quarters of the way through “Death” but might be a little too twinkly for some of you, I'm sure. Cult Of Fire offer something different than most bands, which I think says a lot about them. It's a style of black metal that is certainly grim, but not necessarily filled with despair. As a matter of fact, the disc's last track (merely titled “Tantric Sex”) is something altogether different and nearly redefines the impact of black metal. I'm sure that some of the greats might be a bit upset with this happy approach to the music, but it comes off pretty damn refreshing. I'd also suppose that the massive influx of abrasive drumming is the climax portion in this musical sex act. Not too shabby. Let's hope that there will be more to come in the future, as I think Cult Of Fire is just the kind of thing that a stale black metal scene needs right now.

(4 Tracks, 20:00)

8/10