Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wintersun - The Forest Seasons

The Borest Seasons

I mean, we all knew this was coming.  I had to review this, screeching about Jari Maenpaa is pretty much my entire claim to fame at this point.  So yeah, this is being written purely out of obligation, because I don't want to.  Not because I have to eat crow over guaranteeing this would suck and I wound up wrong or something, because this does suck.  It's just sucky in a slightly different way than usual.

Y'see, The Forest Seasons is, to put it lightly, boring as shit.  There are a few neat things about it, and like always, Jari is at his best when he's just throwing caution to the wind and being as huge and grandiose as he possibly can, but the problem is that there are startlingly few moments like that to be found here.  Don't get me wrong, this album is big, but it's not really exciting in any way.  That's really the album's biggest flaw, there's just... very little here.  The few good tracks they've put out over the agonizingly long years ("Beyond the Dark Sun", "Winter Madness", "Sons of Winter and Stars") all have a few things in common.  They're all blisteringly fast, massively bombastic, loaded with either flashy guitar theatrics ("Beyond the Dark Sun"), over the top orchestrations ("Sons of Winter and Stars"), or both ("Winter Madness").  All the shitty songs (every other song Jari has touched since leaving Ensiferum) are plodding and dull and go nowhere.  Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, ya know?  There are no good songs on The Forest Seasons.  They're all the latter type of song that seems to just fucking drag on and on and on and never actually go anywhere or do anything exciting.

I've always said the reason Wintersun is so frustrating is because Jari is seemingly incapable of writing to his strengths.  He's really good at super fast and super melodic magniloquence.  Similar to how Dio only works when there's some semblance of mysticism behind him, Jari only works when he's powering forwards with pomp and energy.  What he's not good at is atmosphere.  He simply has not managed to write a song throughout the two decades he's been in the spotlight that built itself on sounding like it was greater than itself.  He tries to throw hundreds of layers of strings and keys and horns and anything else he can think of but none of it ever amounts to anything.  Wintersun is deceptively shallow, and this album sort of lays it all bare for the listener to realize.  Beyond all that flash and guitar wizardry, there's very little solid songwriting.  "The Forest that Weeps" is a great example, as it's sort of a metaphor for the entire album. It boasts a choir section that features some heavy hitters like Heri Joenson, Markus Toivonen, and Mitja Harvilahti, but when you look at the rest of who is featured you see it's filled with nobodies like some random dudes who played in Norther, the bassist of Ensiferum who left around the time Jari did, and pretty much every single member of Turisas.  That's The Forest Seasons and pretty much Wintersun's entire career in a nutshell.  A couple great moments surrounded by a veritable horde of "who the fuck cares?

There are good moments scattered around.  I genuinely think the final two and a half minutes or so of "Awaken from the Dark Slumber" are great, and there's a fast section around four and a half minutes into "Eternal Darkness" that is pretty sweet, but that's like four minutes out of 54.  That choir in "The Forest that Weeps" sings a really bland stanza that sounds like it doesn't fit into the song at all, and it's no better when Jari sings it solo.  And rounding out the group is the token quasi-ballad, "Loneliness", that just drags the fuck on and on and progresses precisely zero inches from the starting line by the end.  90% of the album is mid paced and droning, even when the drums are blasting.  I'll give the dude some props for stepping outside of his comfort zone and trying something new, but it didn't connect at all.

Jari is a bullshit artist of the highest order, but one thing he absolutely did not lie about was that this is a much more "earthy" and subdued album than the two preceding it.  There's a surprising amount of meloblack influence (particularly in "Eternal Darkness") and it's much more guitar based than the booming symphonics we've grown to expect.  And in theory, the idea of Wintersun ditching the overblown symphony is a really cool prospect, because "Beyond the Dark Sun" rules fucking divine and it's all about the guitars on that one.  The thing is that the opener from the self titled is super kinetic and succinct.  It had a point to make and so it made it quickly and effectively.  Nothing on The Forest Seasons is done quickly or effectively.  Everything is dragged on to marathon lengths, as all four tracks fall between 12 and 15 minutes, and it's just a chore to sit through attentively because it just sounds like he's throwing a surprisingly thin amount of ideas at you and just trying to impress you with the sheer amount of it.  It's so odd, it's like the band is simultaneously doing too much and too little at the same time.  It's darker than before, yes.  It's heavier than before, yes.  It's better than before?  No.

I genuinely can't decide if this is the best or worst Wintersun album, because it comes off as both.  On one hand, the darker approach is a welcome change, as it sounds more sad and hopeless than the puffed up nonsense of their usual fare.  On the other hand, it's pretty much boring the entire way through with no random highlights like "Winter Madness" to make the album worth coming back to.  But in that respect, it means it's easily the most consistent album they've written to date, but that also means it's just consistently boring.  What's more frustrating?  An album full of lame songs with one or two great ones that end up being tragically miscast on an otherwise dull album, or an album that's consistently bland the entire way through and ending up pointless overall?  I guess "Eternal Darkness" is alright but it's pretty much just a bizarro version of "Battle Against Time", with its endless blastbeats and tremolo picking, played twice in a row.  It's almost commendable to cram so much content into four songs and yet make all of it so inconsequential and unmemorable.  That was always Wintersun's problem, but they'd usually fluke out and nail it at least once per album.  Not this time, this one whiffs pretty much the entire time.

I'd say it's a shame, but not really.  Wintersun continues to be this weird bastard hybrid of Nickelback and Kpop.  Nickelback because they're not necessarily offensively bad, just really, unbelievably, excessively lame, and Kpop because it all sorta sounds the same and follows an obvious template with very few tricks, but fans are absolutely fucking wild in their unending devotion to mediocrity. 

Whatever, Wintersun exhausts me nowadays.  This is what happens when all of your efforts goes towards production values (which are great, by the way) at the expense of songwriting.


RATING - 25%

Saturday, June 17, 2017

PRETEEN WASTELAND: Korn - Follow the Leader

I'm gonna keep the introduction to this latest series as short as I can.  Basically, I've mentioned here before that I used to be a huge nu metal fan, way back when I was a kid.  And I mean like, a little kid.  My mom bought the subject of the first review, Follow the Leader by Korn, when I was eight years old, pretty shortly after "Got the Life" was released as a single if I remember correctly (November 1998).  I remained a fan of the style pretty heavily until roughly 2003, when I entered high school and got really into thrash metal, grew my hair out, and suddenly thought all my old favorite bands were false metal garbage.  I've always said Metallica was my favorite band from birth until about age seventeen, but the next like six spaces were all nu metal bands (and Pantera) from 1998-2003.  So, now that I'm older and wiser and better at fart jokes, I got the itch to revisit all these old favorites to see if they actually sucked as much as I claimed.  Were there some gems hidden in the scene that I disowned purely out of snobby elitism?  Or were they genuinely terrible and I just came to my senses?  Only one way to find out, right?  It's interesting to me because I have precisely zero nostalgia for this music.  It's not like professional wrestling or something, where I can look back on it and recognize how stupid it was, but also still mark the fuck out when watching highlights of the 1998 Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Mankind.  Hearing a Drowning Pool song somewhere doesn't make me wistfully yearn for the days when Sinner never left my CD player, on the other hand.  So I'm not going into this with any preconceived notions that I'll still hate everything or that I'll get bitten by the nostalgia bug.  Clean slate, totally blank, let's see what happens.

Also, just for funsies, I've also mentioned several times that the reason my taste in music is what it is at all is because of my mom's influence.  While that's certainly true thanks to her love of metal as a teenager in the 80s, it's not like we jam out Dying Fetus together nowadays or anything.  My taste obviously shot off in a far more extreme direction than hers ever did.  However, we did listen to a crapload of nu metal together during this time, because she fell in love with it just like I did.  So, in the interest of offering a second perspective and playing into my love of gimmickry, every one of these reviews will also contain a section written by my mom! 

Anyway, enough jibber jabber, let's explore my personal Preteen Wasteland....


Please stop following

When I got the idea for this new series, I knew right away that I was going to start with Follow the Leader.  This was the album that started it all for me, the catalyst that sent this angsty white kid down the path that pretty much every angsty white kid tread back in the late 90s.  You see, I missed the initial boom of nu metal.  Most people were introduced via that infamous "OOOWRE YUUUU REHDAAAAAY??" that opened "Blind" on Korn's debut in 1994, the album that truly solidified nu metal as a genre.  I didn't.  I wasn't aware of the earlier examples that still get some positive press like Korn's early stuff, Limp Bizkit's first album, Coal Chamber, Deftones, Sepultura's worst album, Soulfly, none of that.  I only came around when Follow the Leader roared onto the airwaves and turned the brooding, rap/funk infused wangst fodder into household knowledge.  So this is, to me, the only logical place to begin this journey.

And my god it's so much worse than I remembered.

You see, I know a lot of metal fans that still apologize for Korn's debut, and say that their early stuff was pretty good in its own way.  Maybe it's nostalgia talking for those people, I dunno, I haven't revisited their first album, but I can tell you that their third album here should be a blast of nostalgia for me, but it's really just reminding me that it's really repetitive, droning, and loaded with filler.

I'll just get the positives out of the way quickly, because there are a few.  Megasmash single "Got the Life" is pretty endearing for the dorky disco beat and the fact that the verses run on one of the few vocal lines with some sense of urgency.  And I can definitely give the band credit for keeping a creepy atmosphere over the top of several tracks.  "Freak on a Leash" and "Dead Bodies Everywhere" do this the most overtly, with the toy piano in the latter making several appearances, and the album as a whole uses a lot of off-putting high pitched squealy sound effects and guitar lines that lend a bizarre feeling of distance from the whole thing.  Like you're experience isn't really happening, the listener is just a sideline spectator watching the band experience a mental breakdown.  Granted, it'd be much more enjoyable if the music was all that good, but hey, the peripheral creativity is there.

The base music, on the other hand, is extremely repetitive and bland.  Four years and two albums removed from their debut which helped define nu metal, the basic premise wasn't novel anymore.  We've already heard the moderately funky downtuned grooves, we've already heard the pained groans from Jonathon Davis, we've already gotten two looks into his fractured psyche, it's been done already.  The band needed to do some new shit to keep things fresh, and to their credit they did obviously try to do so, with two heavily hip hop influenced tracks featuring, ya know, actual rappers (Ice Cube on "Children of the Korn" and Tre Hardson on "Cameltosis") and the aforementioned unabashed pop-with-heavy-guitars approach of "Got the Life", but the majority of the album just falls into the same tropes they'd made their signature.  Granted, you could argue that they're just playing to their strengths and should be afforded some leeway since they more or less invented the niche, but the bottom line is that it's not very fun to listen to.  The opening track, "It's On!" grinds along at a lethargic pace and just never feels like it's going to end.  The whole album is pretty grindy in that sense, and I don't mean like grindcore.  Yeah there's no influence from Napalm Death or Carcass here, I mean it in the literal sense.  It feels like metal-on-metal parts clanging and rubbing together, gears offset and jumping, like there's a rock stuck in your bike chain and it's just slowing you down and making this irritating KGKGKGKGKSHHSHSHSHSHSH noise.   It's why after all these years, "Got the Life" stands as pretty much the only song I can sort of admit to liking, because it's very kinetic and fluid, it feels like it's actually fucking going somewhere, unlike "Pretty" or "BBK" which just sort of sluggishly flop around in place like a two ton fish out of water.

But really, as lame and go-nowhere as tracks like "Pretty" and "Seed" are, very little strikes me as offensively bad.  Except of course for "All in the Family".  The track is ostensibly just a diss-rap battle between Jonathon Davis and Fred Durst, which should already sound like the worst thing ever, but holy lord after revisiting this for the first time in fifteen years I'm fully realizing precisely how inept the whole thing is.  It's simple, there's a hip hop beat behind Durst and a fat chugging guitar behind Davis, but the actual lyrics and rapping are legitimately some of the worst out there.  I'm not gonna trash all the homophobia and gay jokes they throw at each other because I mean whatever, rap has a very hypermasculine culture behind it and Durst is the embodiment of every shitty frat boy you've ever met so it's not really surprising.  But holy shit get a look at some of these lines.

"Too bad I got your beans in my bag
....
I'll check you out punk, yes I know you feel it.
....
right now I'm all it kid, suck my dick kid, like your daddy did.
....
I'm known for eatin' little whiny chumps like you.
....
Nappy hairy chest, look it's Austin Powers!
....
Look at you fool, I'm gonna fuck you up twice
....
You pumpkin pie, I'll jack-off in your eye.
....
You love it down south, and boy, you sure do got a purdy mouth."

Oh my god just fuck already.  Apart from both dudes having as much flow as a plinko machine and most of the disses just being weak as fuck (Oooooh your favorite band is Winger and you look like a dancer in a Hanson video (ignore the fact that Hanson didn't have backup dancers so I mean come on what the hell is the joke here?)) there is just so much homoeroticism bubbling up under the surface here that I wouldn't be shocked to see the two in the studio recording this song while longingly gazing into each others' eyes while inches away from each other.  They feel it, they run their fingers through their chest hair, they'll fuck twice, they'll finish on each others' faces, it's all there.   Man I'm know I'm just reading too much into a joke song thrown in to bloat the album further because it was apparently a law that every nu metal album needed to be over an hour long for some utterly unfathomable reason, but holy shit guys.  Just kiss.  Get it over with.  We can all see it.

Other than that, it's just a really boring album to sit through.  Overall it's pretty awkward and full of weird choices that jut make no sense.  Davis' signature gibberish scatting can be entertaining here and there but at this point it's just a dumb gimmick the band throws to the front of everything.  There's a random bagpipes part on "My Gift to You", "Children of the Korn" gives such a stark contrast between Davis and Ice Cube, with the Korn parts being awkward and clunky and going nowhere with no flow while Ice Cube occasionally pops up and utterly decimates him in terms of skill.  Even if these are, all told, pretty weak verses for Ice Cube, it's obvious which one of these dudes raps for a living.  Between the plodding non-riffs and whine-screaming there's just very little actual substance here.  In full honesty, when I got the idea to start this series and started revisiting these old albums, I kind of knew ahead of time which ones I would probably like and which ones I would probably hate, (and don't worry, there is some variety in my reactions, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered doing this if I was just going to shit out nine reviews picking on easy targets for a metal fan), and I genuinely thought that this was one of the ones I would find a lot of stuff to like in it.  I like funky grooves, I like albums with a genuine sense of anguish from people who are genuinely mentally unstable and don't know how to deal with it apart from the cathartic release of music (City by Strapping Young Lad is one of my all time favorites for this exact reason), I like individual parts that I remember this album having, but the whole package is so much worse.  It's less than the sum of its parts by a wide margin, which is pretty terrifying considering most of the parts that make up the album don't even work on their own. 


RATING: 30%


MAMA BASTARD SEZ: "1998 – As a divorced mom of three little boys I discovered new music mostly on the radio. Living in the suburbs of Chicago afforded us the ability to find radio stations with alternative and heavier rock music. It was on one of those stations that the song “Got the Life” caught my attention. I have two types of music that I fall in love with, one is for the lyrics, the other is for the music. Most of the later, I am not even sure of the lyrics. Korn is one of these bands. The first time I heard "Got the Life", I fell in love with the opening bass line and then the way Jonathan Davis sounds like carefully controlled psychosis. Like he is teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Then he moans out some gibberish and BAM the music slaps you in the side of the head and the psychosis breaks free. Perhaps this was reflective of what it was like to raise three boys, who knows, but it spoke to me. Of course, I had to go buy the CD (yes, people bought rather than downloaded music). Then I heard "Freak on a Leash". The heavy bass, with the super twinkly lines over it, then vocally controlled chaos. "Freak on a Leash", in my opinion, has a bridge 2nd only to The Four Horsemen. I was sold, so what better to do than load those little boys into my car and blast the new CD? The first time we heard "Dead Bodies Everywhere", we were pulling into my place of work (a funeral home) and we were all sold on this magical new CD (even the two-year-old was loving it). The theme of controlled chaos pretty much resonates throughout all the tracks, but to this day, I skip all but those three songs, and "All in the Family", which exudes comedic value and is just offensive enough to amuse me. I have not bought a Korn CD since. 18 years later I had my first opportunity to see Korn live in 2016 at the Chicago Open Air festival. The band killed it live. The band was spot on and Jonathan Davis still personified the controlled psychosis. I was surprised at how metal they were live, as I never considered this to be metal before. I love a good pit and although I am too old, too female and too sober to jump in these days, I love to get close enough to be in danger of being shoved in. I broke my foot the day before this show, but it didn’t stop me from wading through the crowd to get close to the action. For the first time in since 1987, I actually had to fight my way out of a crowd. I will blame my bum appendage for that debacle."

Okay, I can actually totally understand the appeal of the "controlled psychosis" thing.  I'll give Korn that, Davis does sound like he's barely holding it together at times.  I pick on the gibberish parts as a dumb gimmick but after reading what my mom wrote here I do understand that bridge in "Freak on a Leash" having that effect.  He just kinda freaks the fuck out but still sounds like he's trying to keep it together.  Trying to decipher that part without cheating, it sounds something like "Boy!  Somethingarbarheenaraha", like he's trying to complete a thought but just goes stark slavering buggo and starts barking like a lunatic.   His abusive childhood is no secret and there's always that one track (I think "Kill You" from Life is Peachy) that just ends in him breaking down and sobbing.  Whether or not it's all just an act to help give the band an easily recognizable and marketable identity is irrelevant I'd say, because it did indeed become something of a trademark of the band.  I still don't like it, but I certainly get that appeal.  I think it's done better by Strapping Young Lad or another album eventually coming up in this series, but it's there.

Also my mom is hardcore as fuck, working at a funeral home as a metal fan and moshing with a broken foot well into her 40s.  Y'all wish you were raised by somebody that fucking cool.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hideous Divinity - Adveniens

God is gross

I may have never reviewed them (mostly because it's impossible to translate room-filling floods of ejaculate into text), but Hour of Penance from 2008-2014 was pretty much untouchable.  I think Regicide was a bit of a step down, but the stretch from The Vile Conception to Sedition was fucking phenomenal.  Since they've started to fall off and become less ridiculously insane, I and many other fans have been looking for a new source to scratch the itch that they used to scratch so fucking well.  Enter Hideous Divinity, who have been around for a little while and even contain some former members of Hour of Penance, but only truly came into form for me on their 2017 outing, Adveniens.

This album is just flat out fucking nuts.  There is barely a nanosecond where the drums aren't propelling the band to the front of the pack basically all by themselves.  In terms of insane tech death, they don't really focus a whole lot on sheer technicality.  You're not going to find endless noodly sweep runs and bloodly oodlebloodle bass diddlings here.  Instead the focus on basically playing Suffocation on fast forward.  Seriously, this is some of the most obnoxiously fast and ripping death metal on the market today, interspersed with brutal breakdowns that don't snap your neck as much as shake you violently.  Even when the guitars slow down and focus on some crushing chugs instead of the rampant tremolo abuse that takes up a good portion of the album, the drummer is still fucking losing his mind.  It's very clearly the highlight of the album and that works for me.  I love this style of full forward lunacy in tech death that Italy seems to pump out regularly.

Despite the single minded focus on indiscriminate obliteration, Adveniens manages to be shockingly dynamic as well.  There are multiple atmospheric parts acting as the outro for several songs, and almost nothing falls into a standard song structure.  Two of the three opening tracks are marathon lengths for tech death, and they throw enough riffs at you to keep it from becoming stale.  This is where Krisiun failed on The Great Execution, another very busy death metal album that focused on long songs.  The difference is that the Brazilians desperately needed to trim the fat as most of the tracks on that album felt overblown and drawn out, whereas the Italians here go for total sensory overload and hit the sweet spot.  Despite the constant blasting and drill-wristed ripping guitars, there is a slathering of sinister atmosphere that keeps the whole thing cohesive and varied.  It just feels evil, like how Hour of Penance was peddling blasphemy so intense that I was pretty sure I was unconsecrating every holy building in a few mile radius every time I listened to ParadogmaAdveniens gives the same vibe.  This is furious and deadly, and it just oozes malevolence with every 110 degree left turn on the journey.  Like most albums in this style, it's hard to pinpoint individual songs to highlight, but it rides at such a consistently high plateau that it doesn't really matter.  Hideous Divinity has effectively replaced my beloved Hour of Penance as the tech death band to lead us into the future, and they're definitely up to the challenge.


RATING - 88%

Suffocation - ...of the Dark Light

Cruuuuuuuush

There have been a lot of changes in the Suffocation camp over the last few years.  I've been fairly vocal that their original run is one of the greatest streaks in extreme metal history and they've never really recovered since the reunion (despite still being good), so all of the personnel changes only signaled worse things for me.  Mike Smith leaving was pretty up in the air, since he has a well known aggressive personality that makes him hard to work with (and let's be real, he didn't play on Pierced from Within or Despise the Sun either and those albums rule anyway), and then Frank decides to more or less retire from vocals and only play select local shows and perform on albums, then Guy left, leaving Terrence as the sole remaining full time original member of the band.

What this really means is that there are now a lot of young guys in the band who grew up listening to the band well after their classic run in the 90s.  Seriously, I am older than Eric and Charlie, and I don't know Kevin's age but he certainly looks like he's in his early 20s at the very latest.  Derek was notably "the baby" in the band after the reformation and he turned fuckin' forty this year.  So there was always the chance that this meant the band would be re-energized with all this newfound youth, but to me it signaled that the band would lose its signature character.  I mean right away the aesthetics of ...of the Dark Light were just wrong.  This slick, Fallujah styled cover isn't at all what we know the band for.  Song titles like "The Warmth Within the Dark" and "Caught Between Two Worlds" just seemed so modern and indicative of proggy Jacometal bands like Beyond Creation or The Faceless that have gotten so popular lately, clashing strongly with immediate imagery of classic tracks like "Jesus Wept", "Brood of Hatred", and "Infecting the Crypts".  So many of the old guard death metallers are getting old and retiring, and so it's really up to these young guys to help continue carrying the band onwards and upwards, and that's a monumental task considering this is Suffofuckingcation we're talking about here.

Well ...of the Dark Light is finally here, and holy fuck it's their best album since Despise the Sun.  I never expected this, not in a million god damned years, but all these kids had the absolute best case scenario outcome after all.  Terrence sounds reborn as a guitarist, the writing is very much in line with the slightly more straightforward but still unfairly brutal Despise the Sun, a style of death metal with all of the leftover thrashiness found in spots on Effigy of the Forgotten completely excised and enough theatrics to keep the showboating instrumentalists happy while still retaining a base of just seriously fucking good riffs.  The energy is completely off the charts, which was showing signs of picking up on Pinnacle of Bedlam after bottoming out on Blood Oath (their only "eh" album), but this time around the band sounds like they're in their 20s again.  And it's because they are.  Terrence is still obviously the main writer, but there's a ravenous hunger that we haven't heard in decades on here.  That twisted, chaotic malevolence that he would flail around with on the early albums is back at it's most unhinged and frantic, while still managing to fall in lockstep with the eternally virgin-tight rhythm section.

One of the reasons I get such a strong Despise the Sun vibe off of this is because Eric Morotti obviously takes more influence from Culross than Smith in terms of the band's previous drummers.  Smith's off kilter weirdness is still missed to a degree, but that absolutely punishing salvo that Culross delivered on that legendary EP (and the previous full length in 2013, to be fair) adds so much merciless power to their backbone, and Eric steps up beautifully.  You could argue that they lost a bit of a dimension with Smith's anarchic approach to percussion, but I'd counter-argue that Morotti's style only further improves the punishment that's already present.  It's Suffocation with a shot in the arm, not a third arm that makes them even more unique.  You might be wondering why I'm praising the band so much for normalizing in a way, and that's because having a third arm makes it really fucking difficult to buy a shirt.

Tracks like "Clarity through Deprivation" and the title track have the most devastating breakdowns since "Brood of Hatred", while "Your Last Breaths" ups the technicality to a level potentially unseen with the band.  There's a lot on display, but what makes it so special isn't that it's a new bag of tricks for the band, because it's not, but it's special because it's the most well performed this tricks have been in two decades.  It doesn't even feel like a throwback as much as it feels like the logical continuation from right before the initial breakup.  ...of the Dark Light is the hypothetical lost album from 2000.  It's just loaded to the gills with fearless brutality, delivered at a pace not unlike a JATO powered tank.  This is definitely their fastest and most ferocious album in a long time, and even occasional bits of atmosphere like the end of "Return to the Abyss" sound apocalyptic instead of odd.

Frank, while being functionally out of the band when on the road, sounds great as well.  He's one of the legendary vocalists in the genre for a reason, and his beastly roar is in top form here.  His hilariously New Yawk inflection is still there too, so even there they retain a lot of the signature character despite all the new blood.  New guy Kevin Muller doesn't get a whole lot of opportunities to shine, but the few moments he does get in the spotlight aren't wasted.  One of the only times I can really pick him out is on "The Warmth Within the Dark", otherwise he's such a dead ringer for Frank that we might not even need to worry about his eventual retirement, and that's something I never thought I'd say.

Overall there are precisely zero things I dislike about this record.  This is the sound of a band finding their footing again, powering forwards to reclaim their throne.  The pummeling battery backing the frantic and crushing guitars provide the soundtrack to the endtimes.  Suffocation may have a lot of new faces in the band, but they've only made the band better, against my fears.  Drop everything and pick this up, I'm not kidding.  We're almost halfway through the year and so far there have only been two albums to instill immediate confidence in me towards their potential to be the Album of the Year.  Satan's Hallow is one, and ...of the Dark Light is the other. 


RATING - 94%

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Clavicus Vile - Demo 2012

Get over here, mutt!

Clavicus Vile are a pretty cool example of tech death that straddles the line between balls-first hyperspeed riffery and completely unhinged, anarchic chaos.  This two track demo from 2012 showcases this seamless insanity with aplomb.  I'm sorta picky with my tech death, and these guys may not scratch the itch like Neuraxis or mid-era Hour of Penance or something, but they're very serviceable and show a unique talent in making structureless noodling actually entertaining to listen to.

This is done mostly through, frankly, just good songwriting.  Every time they sound like they're coming apart at the seams and just flailing all over the high strings with no end in sight, a crushing riff will barrel in stage right and smash the previous section to smithereens.  It's very satisfying to hear such young dudes understand what makes this style work so well, because when you take the Rings of Saturn route and just shred for a half hour, you encounter the same problem Yngwie Malmsteen always suffers.  It descends into nothing but flashy nothingness, and completely unimpressive spectacle that should by all means be mindblowing in its technicality and precision.  Clavicus Vile avoids that by simply keeping the foundation of death metal strong underneath all the jazzy technicality.  It's a simple trick, but a lot of new bands totally drop the ball in this regard.  "Corporeal Obelisk" basically flip flops between the two approaches to tech death nowadays, but it's spaced out and executed so well that it rarely sounds like a jarring clash of styles just for the sake of it. The drums are also unique in their clangy cacophony, instead of the super clean triggers most bands utilize.  This is likely just a consequence of budget but it does help the demo stand out a bit beyond the home-state advantage and videogame references that always catch my eye.

There's not much else to say really.  Clavicus Vile deliver ten minutes of frantic tech death that manages to add some extra theatrics to the subset of the genre that I love and some grounding brutality to the subset I find overblown and excessive.  Keep your eye out for 'em, they may get lucky and somebody with more clout than I could notice these dudes, they're certainly right on the cusp of something wonderful.


RATING - 84%

Mastercastle - Wine of Heaven

zzzzzzzz

Man I don't know shit about this kind of metal, but I know that it's boring and worthless.  Mastercastle waste no time telling you that they're going to waste your time, because it's a mere fifteen seconds into the opening "Drink of Me" that they give you the first taste of their riffwriting prowess, or more accurately their lack thereof.  Mastercastle's biggest failing is without a doubt the sheer amount of uninteresting, plodding half-riffs that dominate the album, as energy can never build up to anything worthwhile.  They don't even attempt to build towards anything, the album is really content to just sit and chug shiftlessly at a low-mid pace for the entire runtime and that's about the extent of the creativity you'll find on here.

I'll give the vocals credit for being fairly sweet and smooth, but it's unfortunate that she's given nothing good to sing over, and her vocal lines themselves are just as static and feckless as the rest of the band.  You'd think a band that's clearly built around melodic vocals would have at least a bit of sense to actually write some good melodies.  But no, here we are, with nothing ear catching or interesting happening anywhere.  Wine of Heaven is a creatively bankrupt knockoff of... something.  I dunno man, I never listen to this kind of faux-gothic symphonic metal that astoundingly lacks gothic appeal, worthwhile symphonics, and even rudimentary metal, but something this lame and uninspired just has to be based on something else that's actually good.  Within Temptation sounds like this, right?  Yeah even if it's not a perfect match, it's the same idea of utterly riffless fluff with occasional keyboards that don't create any sort of atmosphere or carry any gorgeous melodies or anything of the sort.  Call it unprofessional to not be familiar with the scene if you like, but I know weak music when I hear it.  It's all very sluggish and bloated, with simplistic two-note chugs comprising every riff and vocals just sort of languidly floating over the top with very little emotion to complement an otherwise pleasant timbre.  It's very amateurish.  Listen to "Hot as Blood", the intro sounds like the intro to basically any decent trad metal song with a solo guitar jamming a simple riff while the bass drum thumps underneath, preparing for when the track unleashes and goes somewhere.  But it doesn't!  This obvious intro is actually the basis of the entire song.  It's just stuck in fucking intro riff mode for five minutes and ends before the band can figure out what the fuck to do with itself.  Even lamer is that this is, by a fairly noticeable margin, the fastest song on the album.  This is the most energy they can muster, a five minute long intro riff.

For an alleged "power metal" band, there's no power here.  It's a directionless mess of non-riffs that accomplish nothing and I recommend this to nobody.  If nothing else, Mastercastle has improved my opinion of Delain a thousandfold, since I now have a point of reference as to what this music sounds like when shit actually happens.


RATING - 18%

Resurgency - No Worlds... nor Gods Beyond

Unnecessary ellipses are IN this season!

If you're looking for something groundbreaking, you're barking up the wrong tree with Resurgency.  There's nothing inherently wrong with these guys, they're quite good all things considered, but I can say with absolute certainty that I won't revisit No Worlds... nor Gods Beyond after I publish this review.  I may not have kept up the review-a-day pace I had started with when I started focusing on shorter reviews, but my listening has seen a sharp uptick regardless, and if it's taught me anything it's that there's a lot of exceedingly average death metal out there in the world today.  Resurgency is another one such example.

Musically this album is solid, with an extremely strong Morbid Angel vibe, more the ripping intensity of Covenant than the churning morbidity of Blessed are the Sick or Gateways to Annihilation.  One thing I can give to the album's credit though is the energy.  Resurgency are intense as hell, which is great since death metal works best when there's some fury behind the grimy riffwork.  Very rarely does the band slow down and give the songs time to breathe.  As a result the album is a blistering joyride from start to finish, with each song being short and to the point, loaded to the gills with twisting tremolo riffs and frantic drumwork.  Nobody really stands out in terms of instrumental performance but that's not a dealbreaker since they're a very cohesive unit and this style of riff heavy death metal doesn't need superstar players anyway.

I'm struggling here because I've basically just described 70% of all death metal bands active in the last five years.  That's Resurgency's biggest problem really, and it's not even entirely their fault.  They're an opener, not a headliner.  I'm sure you'll see a short run through Europe with them supporting more iconic acts but they're not going to break out at this pace.  All told, it's good stuff anyway, and I don't feel like I wasted any time jamming this.  If you're just looking to bolster your collection, this isn't exactly a bad choice.


RATING - 70%

Monday, May 15, 2017

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: TL;DR VERSION

For those who don't want to read nearly 27000 words about Gargoyle, I present to you the tl;dr version, in haiku.


Humble beginnings.
Like children, they scream real loud.
Exuberant youth.
They show their true form.
Formula solidified.
OG Ruten disc.
One true to its name.
An uncut gem to behold.
Embrace the weirdness.
 Furious throwback.
Here they discover the trick.
Just yell a whole bunch.
The She-ja sendoff.
Astounding Heaven Theory.
Melodic. Speedy.
Despite macho tunes,
I want to fuck Yotaro.
I don't care who sees.
A natural change.
It still includes heavy shit.
A fuckload, in fact.
This has "Satori"
What the fuck else do you need?
Best damn song ever.
I mean, this one's fine.
It's probably their weirdest.
Refrigerator.
OH FUCK OH FUCK YES!
OH GOD YES YES YES FUCK YES!
SPANK ME DADDY-O!
Yotaro is gone.
Kentaro is who remains.
Turns out they still rule.
Battle Gargoyle.
Like regular Gargoyle.
But battle-ier.
Fury and thunder.
The Beast Road has been traveled.
It leads to more riffs.
Breaking Dragon Wind.
Their first kinda "meh" album.
Still some great tracks though.
A final hurrah.
The last bastion of the weird.
Breathe deep one last time.
"The world needs more riffs."
So speaketh the Gargoyle.
The world got more riffs.
They're normal for once.
Still just raging riffs all day.
Kuromitten's rad.
 Some great, some boring.
Either way it still kicks ass.
Just needs a fat trim.
Seriously, why?
Why is this so god damned good?
You're old men now, chill!
 Wait, I was bluffing!
Don't listen to me, Kiba.
Go crazy again.
Now THIS is good shit.
Geshiki will wreck your neck.
Katsuji goes nuts.
 Thirty years later.
The debut is now long past.
Yet they still scream loud.

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: Gargoyle - Taburakashi

XXII: Cajolement

After Geshiki pretty much knocked ten points off my IQ score since I headbanged myself into several concussions during its runtime, how could I not be excited for the followup?  I've mentioned before that their album covers are great in their simplicity, but they sometimes don't necessarily give a real indication of what the record is going to contain.  Stuff like Tsuki no Toge, Future Drug, and Geshiki don't necessarily telegraph unending brutality and neck-wrecking fury, but that's absolutely what they deliver.  However, when the details for Taburakashi was revealed in 2016, there was absolutely no fucking mistaking it, this was going to be pure molten steel, nothing but full force razor sharp riffage with no room to breathe.

That's exactly what we got this time.

Taburakashi pulls precisely zero punches and pretty much wrecks faces from the start.  It's got all the ferocity of Future Drug with the single-minded focus of Kemonomichi or Kuromitten, which essentially means it's just like Geshiki, just a little less creative.  That's not to say this is all that much of a step down, because it still smokes.  Gargoyle definitely seems to be in something of a late career renaissance, much like how Judas Priest shat out Painkiller (a Top 5 All Time album of mine, personally) twenty years into their career, Gargoyle started amping up the energy and drive several decades into their career as well.  Right when it starts, "Yaban Kairo" is introduced with a quick shout of the title and then the band explodes.  This is the new "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu" as far as I'm concerned, and I love the shit out of that song.  That's clearly the template they went with for this opening track yet again, and just like all of the opening tracks since "Jet Tiger", it's a Powergoyle classic that lays the melody on so thick that it pretty much smothers it.  There's a pleasant melodicism in Kiba's voice that you don't hear all that often in the chorus here, like he's putting much more effort into truly singing instead of just shouting like an insane person most of the time.  It's sort of a throwback to their wondeful 90s era in that regard.  Granted he's never going to hit the highs of classics like Natural but dammit he's trying, and that's way more than I can say for Kijuu.

This fucking this basically never slows down.  Even the token misplaced ballady song, "Dare Ga Tame ni Ame Wa Furu" just blinks itself out of existence since it's inbetween the monstrous thrasher, "No Entry", and one of the most fucknuts insanely shreddy melodic songs they've ever written in "GO GO GALAPAGOS" (though it does admittedly at least tie "SHIT Shitto SHIT" for their worst song title ever).  There's also "Tada Hitosuji ni Yuku" near the end which also one of their more melodic and pleasant rock songs, but it just sorta happens without me noticing.  So yes, that does mean these are the two weakest songs on display, but the rest of the album sits on such a plateau that I tend to forget they're even featured.

But on that note, that does make this album sorta difficult to describe since it's like most Moderngoyle releases in that it's mostly just one style.  It's crazily heavy and unabashedly melodic thrash/speed metal with power metal influences here and there with a psychotic vocalist who just screams all of his lines like a whacko.  There's a lot of effort put into this release regardless, it really does seem like there's a renewed love for their craft at this point in time for the band.

Don't take that to mean there are no highlights, because this album has motherfucking "Dragon Skull" on it, which is oh god so fucking good.  This is Gargoyle at their thrashiest and heaviest.  I never really found the words to describe what makes their style so different, but I think I'm starting to understand that, especially from Bushin onwards, they've managed to perfect the art of making things fast and thrashy but also heavy.  Like, you're probably thinking of something like Sodom when I say that, but I mean every single note comes off with as much weight and force as a focused breakdown.  Every riff sounds like the break in "Tired and Red" at double speed without thinning out the sound at all.  These riffs sound like assault rifles that fire bazooka shells, they're so fucking meaty and powerful and yet come at you at such a relentless pace that it almost defies explanation.  That's particularly where "Dragon Skull" excels.  That main riff that rips out eight seconds in after the band drops the intro and just shouts "DOO-RA-GUUUUN SKALL" is just unfairly fucking heavy.  Even the fairly light chorus (in comparison to the brutality of the verses) still sounds skull crushing.  I'm completely in love with this song.

There are other magnificent tracks, like the ludicrously fast and drenched-in-melody "Be Daring", straddling the line between their heavy and melodic styles so well that it goes from the speedy and energetic main melody to chest beating blast beats in seconds.  "Crumbling Roar" is another ludicrously crunchy song with a blistering main riff, and the chorus stands out for more of Kiba's actual singing coming through (or at least attempting to), that "Coo-RAAAAMBUUUUUHLING ROOoOoOoOR" is another cool moment of relentlessly heavy melodicism that the band has made their bread and butter over the years.  "GO GO GALAPAGOS" is, as mentioned, crazily shreddy and has some insane leadwork going on, like the band entered the studio and told Kentaro "Alright buddy, for this next song, just do literally anything you want; go as insane as you want to go and we'll try to keep up with you" and he responded by screaming like Speedy Gonzalez and shredding like Skwisgaar Skwigelf. 

I think I've finally run out of words, I've finally reached the point where there's only so much you can say about Gargoyle.  Their highly creative run in the 90s may have petered out, but instead of becoming a dull rehash of previous ideas, Taburakashi shows that they've only refocused themselves and honed in on specific skills throughout their career.  So they may not be the quirky weirdos from Japan who would intersperse hyper fast thrash anthems with cultural oddities and irresistably catchy funky party songs anymore, but they've evolved into one of the most laser-guided ferocious thrash bands on the planet with a penchant for searingly uplifting melodies along with unstoppable charismatic chest-beating bravado.  It's unreal, I've never seen a band remain so good for so long.  Physics shouldn't allow Gargoyle to exist.

But they do.

And they're not going anywhere.


RATING - 87%



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HOLY SHIT GUYS I DID IT!   This was a gigantic project for me, and easily the most time consuming one I've ever worked on.  Twenty two reviews for one band can be absolutely draining (hell doing just five for Mastodon was difficult as hell for me), and it's why I've never bothered to do it for any of my other favorite bands (like Running Wild or Cannibal Corpse).  Gargoyle is a different breed and much easier to speak about in a loose, free manner.  Regardless, it was a huge commitment and, even if it took two extended breaks and a total of nearly three and a half years to complete, I'm glad I've finally been able to more or less close the book on this pet project of mine.  Really, I'm peeling back the curtain a bit here, but I don't really drown in views.  I don't really put a whole lot of effort into advertising this site, and the fans/notoriety I may have stems more from the Metal Archives than this site where I have a little more freedom to goof off and go off on extended diatribes about Wintersun.  The point is, a vast majority of my reviews get somewhere from 150-300 views.  They get to much more eyes via MA for sure (since this site's views mainly come from my personal Facebook or people who click the link in my sig on the MA forum) but I don't have the stats for that.  Even though I normally break triple digits for most reviews, this Gargoyle series averages somewhere between 40-70.  Nobody reads this series, but never once did I consider dropping it in favor of something to gain more exposure.  This was a labor of love for sure, this was something I wanted to do simply as a tribute to the most underappreciated metal band on the planet.  Hopefully I did my part.  If anybody has gotten into the band because of this series, then it was worth it to me.

Also yuuuuuge shoutout to Crick, that not-so-mysterious cohort of mine I've mentioned a few times throughout the reviews that introduced me to the band in the first place.  He's been a massive help in feeding me trivia and behind-the-scenes info about the band, and giving me new perspective on several things since our opinions on the band differ greatly at times, despite us both loving them to pieces.  He's the one who noticed the "Enigma" riff is the same as "Creeping Death", he's the one who pointed out that "Doumushishubai" isn't even a real word and the real title was actually "Doumu Lullaby", he's the one who fucking coined the term "Moderngoyle" as far as I know.  None of this could have ever happened without him.

And that's all folks!  I plan on doing some more with this series in the future, but until another canonical full length or EP comes out, the main series is finally and officially finished.  There will be some addendums here and there for some of the other important things I missed (Fuuin, Ububoe, maybe Borderless or the G Manual series), but there's no timeframe and no order, just whenever I get the spark.  There will also be a fun little extra tonight because I fuckin' feel like it, okay?

I love all of you.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you for heeding The Gospel.


Final word count: 26880

Sunday, May 14, 2017

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: Gargoyle - Geshiki

XXI: The Knowing of Answers

I'm not gonna lie, I'm super happy that it took me so fucking long to actually finish writing this series that two new albums have come out since I started, because otherwise we'd be ending this retrospective/analysis/fanboy rant of the best band nobody has heard of with the comparative bunny fart that is Kijuu, undoubtedly one of their weakest albums.

But no, I had to be ridiculously fucking slow and spend all my free time playing Brave Exvius (609,685,292.  Hit me up, I've got a 561 ATK Chizuru just waiting to Phantom Shadow your enemies into oblivion) and banging your mom, so now we have Geshiki to talk about as well.  You're welcome.

In all honesty, my thoughts before this was released were sorta similar to what I illustrated at the beginning of the Future Drug review.  The album cover is a break from their usual theme of stylized kanji title against a background pattern with no other logo to speak of, the color scheme is light (this time just flat out utilizing a bunch of colorful butterflies), the previous album wasn't really all that great, it all lined up.  Ergo I logically should have expected Future Drug to happen again.  But I didn't.  But it did.

Geshiki is, without a doubt, the best Gargoyle album since Yotaro's glorious sendoff in 2001.  Really, I don't know what the fuck happened here, but after a few albums of noticeable decline, of all the usual ideas not connecting as well, of all the individual performances becoming less and less impressive, suddenly everything got better.  It's like the band just pulled the rug out from under us and yelled "PSYCHE WE NEVER STOPPED BEING RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME!!"  For example, please note tracks like "Kettei", "Uzumaku Taiyou", "Chokugeki", and "Enreido".  What do these four songs have in common?  Blast beats, that's what.  Or at least ludicrously fast thrash beats like what Kreator would always utilize back when they were good.  What the fuck did Katsuji snort before recording this album?  He's never sounded better, and he was in his forties when this was recorded.  Somehow he just got young again and started drumming like an absolute maniac.  He's always been a very active drummer, but man around this time his energy just spiked.  I'm not convinced he hasn't secretly been replaced by a twenty year old.  There's a music video for "Gordian Knot" and he looks like he's about to explode during the double bass sections.  It's almost unspeakably cool to hear him give so much to his performance again, the band absolutely feeds off this energy throughout the whole album.

I focus on Katsuji, but really everybody has stepped up their game.  Kiba sounds the most ferocious he has possibly ever sounded, with his warbly rasp just blasting with hitherto unknown power, and Toshi even gets two extended bass solos in "Tsubasa no Kioku" and "Enreido".  The former of those two is also the most unique song they've penned in eons.  Not only is it the first meaningful instrumental since "Toki to Kaze" thirteen years prior, and not only does it feature extended solos for both bass and drums, it also marks the first time string instruments of any kind have showed up in over a decade.  The opening notes are huge riffs backed by somehow simultaneously booming and subtle keys, and the songs rolls and shifts through several different themes and moods, from the somberly triumphant twin melody in the intro to the easily headbangable "verse" riff to searing solos.  It's definitely one of the most ambitious and interesting tracks we've found on a Gargoyle album since Moderngoyle started, without a doubt.

The overt variance is one of the reasons Geshiki stands out so much from most of their late era work.  While I loved Kuromitten to death, there's no doubt it's just a bunch of heavy thrash songs with one slow, proggy "Ruten-like".  Geshiki on the other hand runs the gamut, from the thundering salvos of "Kettei" and "Chokugeki", to the highly melodic speed metal monsters of "Tiny Song" and "S.W.POWER", to the more uplifting and epic "Tsubasa no Kioku" and "Fullcolor Answer", to the catchy singalong tendencies of "Gordian Knot" and "Mankai Oratio", there's just so much to discover and so much to love here.  Despite being introspective and melodic, "Fullcolor Answer" gets pretty dangerously doomy at times as well.  I mean just listen to that opening riff and tell me you don't hear Sabbath in that.

I touched on it briefly up there, but there is indeed another Best Song Ever on this one, "Mankai Oratio".  I haven't talked much about their live show throughout all this simply because A) this is about their studio albums, and B) I don't know it all that well, but I've asked around because I'm curious about what their live staples are considering they have like seven dozen amazing songs that would be heartbreaking to leave off any set.  From what I've been told, their only true live staples at this point in time are basically "Shinu Koto to Mitsuke Tari", "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu", and "Super Dogma", while the rest of their setlist rotates all over the place.  There were some that were always there but aren't quite as much of a guarantee anymore ("Destroy", "Kanzen Na Doku Wo Youkyuu Suru", "Jet Tiger", "Yakusoku no Chi De", etc), but the point is that you never really know what you're going to get with them onstage.  The first time I heard "Mankai Oratio", I proclaimed out loud that this had to become a new staple.  It opens with a pounding drum beat and an amazingly powerful call and return between a re-energized Kiba and childlike backup singers.  The guitars roar in suddenly and ring out these massive sustained chords before the whole thing explodes into one of the tightest riffs they've ever written.  This is going to sound way less awesome than it actually is, but it's basically the same riff as the verse riff in RHCP's cover of "Higher Ground", and trust me when I say Gargoyle nails this simple riff roughly ten trillion times more effectively than the Californian funk-punkers could ever dream of doing.  I can't even explain it, just every riff after it is amazing, the chorus is that same call and return from the intro but it explodes with these triumphant octave chords ringing out in the back.  It's the most triumphant thing I've ever heard, I can't help but feel like I've just won something.  For fuck sake, ignore every other word of this review and just listen to "Mankai Oratio", it's probably my third favorite song they've ever written behind "Shouryakukeitachi Yo" and "GUSH!!".  Yes, it's even better than "Ounou no Goku", "Ruten Yo no Nite", and "Aoki Kobushi".  I'll never get over how they shit out a song this instantly classic so late in their career.  It's flawless.

The most amazing thing is that the rest of this album is almost just as good.  "Enreido" hearkens back to Kiba just raving like a lunatic (check out that "NAAAA NA-NA-NA NAaAaAaAAAA" in the intro), "Namida no Kachi" is the best ballad they may have ever written, "Gordian Knot" is one of the best Powergoyle songs out there, giving even "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu" and "Kaze no Machi" runs for their money in terms of effective melody and overall ferocity, just nothing sucks on this one.  "Tiny Song" is the only song that isn't an instant knockout and even then it would have easily been the best song on the previous album.

This is the twenty first entry in the Gospel, and it's their third best album.  Do not ever underestimate Gargoyle.


RATING - 94%