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Coroner's Report: Delve Deep Into The World Of Death, Black & Thrash Metal

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, November 9, 2004 @ 1:35 AM


Peter Atkinson Gives KNAC.COM

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It’s been quite a while since the last thrilling episode, but it was a busy summer, what can I say. So that being the case, there is a ton of new(ish) stuff to get to. Oddly, a lot of it is from old bands — or about old bands — just weird timing I guess.

To inject a bit of new blood this time, I expanded the format a bit to include some metal-core/thrash-core/whatever you want to call it bands — but did stick to the most brutal of the bunch. Say what you will about that sort of thing, bands like Dillinger Escape Plan or Martyr A.D. are doing some of the most extreme music out there. And if you think it sucks, either skip that part or post one of those clever “Killswitch Engage is gay” rants to make your dissatisfaction known to all.

Now, let’s get things rolling with one of said “old bands,” veteran British black metallers Cradle of Filth, whose new album Nymphetamine just cracked the Billboard Top 100 — a first for the genre, as was the Top 200 debut of their last album, Damnation and a Day.

CRADLE OF FILTH: CONSTANT CHANGE

Another year, another label. Such has Cradle of Filth’s luck been in the U.S. during the last five years or so — despite constantly climbing sales and an ever-larger profile in the underground music scene here. Nymphetamine, the band’s seventh full-length studio album, was just issued by Roadrunner, coincidentally the sixth U.S. label that has represented the Cradle since 1998, having been preceded by, respectively, Mayhem/Fierce, Metal Blade, Koch, Spitfire and — in yet another ill-fated big-label stab at foisting extreme music on a mainstream audience — Epic.

Will the band’s fortunes be more secure here now with Roadrunner? Bassist Dave Pybus, aka Dave Pubis, would like to think so, even though last year’s tourmates Type O Negative warned them against signing with Roadrunner.
“Peter [Steele, Type O frontman] had some bad things to say about them,” said Pybus, from Roadrunner’s New York office. “I think his ill will goes back quite a while, and I can honestly see where he’s coming from.

Type O earned Roadrunner its first gold album and helped distinguish it as something other than a death metal grist mill, then saw its support lag when the likes of Slipknot and Nickelback came along and went through the roof.

“But,” Pybus said, “Roadrunner is really about the music and we need that right now. They understand the music, they have a good track record with more extreme bands, and they know that there’s more to getting the job done than just throwing a lot of money around.”

Epic did spend freely on Cradle for 2003’s monumental, high-concept Damnation and a Day, a black metal opera of sorts that featured 100-piece orchestras, choirs and the sort of lavish production that band could only dream about before. But, as has always been the case in these situations, even though Damnation sold amazingly well, by underground standards, big labels lose interest fast when there is no gold or platinum to show for their efforts. And Damnation came up about 400,000 copies short of selling the 500,000 gold-record standard.

So when Cradle had opportunity to get out of their Epic/Sony contract, they did so without looking back and signed straightaway to Roadrunner, even though they were not entirely dissatisfied with the major label stint.

“I don’t think we have any regrets,” Pybus said. “It was a good experience, for the most part, and it was certainly worth the try. We were able to do the biggest, most ambitious project the band had ever attempted, and have it come out as good as we could have hope. And they were very supportive, in the beginning, even though this certainly wasn’t their cup of tea. In the end, it was their merger with BMG and the delays it was going to cause that forced our hand.”

Ironically, the new album is probably a much easier sell. Nymphetamine is something of an about-face from Damnation, an album where simplicity is key and the overall effect is more immediate and gratifying. The orchestration is far more subtle here, the thematics kept largely to the background and the songs are fairly stripped down, boasting a riffier, more classic metal feel that even features some Iron Maiden-ish harmony leads. There’s also the title track’s goth-balladry and its duet/duel between frontman Dani Filth and ex-Theater of Tragedy chanteuse Liv Chrisitine that will no doubt alienate purists, but stands a pretty good chance of at least earning some airplay.

That said, the simplicity also bolsters the impact. “Gilded Cunt,” “Coffin Fodder,” “Filthy Little Secret” and “Mother of Abominations” are some of the most punishing, menacing songs Cradle’s ever done. And the intro and outro sections of the nine-minute album version of “Nymphetamine” — the radio/video edit is the middle five minutes — will tear your head right off.

“I dare say this is the band’s heaviest album,” said former Anathema bassist Pybus, who joined after long-time bassist Robin Graves left as Cradle was touring for Midian. “After such a massive, complex effort as Damnation, getting back to basics and just letting it go was something we all wanted. I think the album definitely captures that sense of urgency.”

Despite the distractions of the numerous label and line-up changes that have dogged the band — most recently guitarist James McKillboy replaced Gian Pyres following Damnation — Cradle of Filth remains perhaps metal’s most prolific bands. Since 2000’s Midian, the sextet — rounded out by guitarist Paul Ellander, drummer Adrian Erlandsson and keyboardist Martin Powell — have issued two full-length albums (Damnation, Nymphetamine), an EP (Bitter Suites to Succubi), a live/remix double album (Live Bait From The Dead), best of/rarities double album (Lovecraft & Witchhearts), and live DVD (Heavy Left-handed & Candid), all while touring harder every year.

“You’re only around once, and there are a lot of fucking bands out there that’ll come and take your place if you’re not willing to work hard” Pybus said. “This is not about Porsches and going on long holidays, this is our job and we take what we do very seriously.”

And speaking of touring, Cradle of Filth will be headlining the upcoming “Headbangers Ball Tour” with Arch Enemy, Bleeding Through and Himsa.

DEATH METAL’S HISTORY, REVEALED

Black metal got a good going over, so to speak, a few years ago in the landmark expose “Lords of Chaos,” a book that spent as much time exploring the criminal underbelly of the Scandinavian scene of the early ‘90s as it did the music itself — given that the two became so unfortunately intertwined.

Now death metal is getting its due not only with a brand new book on the subject, but a DVD, which take you into the dark recesses of the death metal scene and lay out the history and ethos of the music and the underground like no one has done before.

Feral House Books, which published “Chaos,” has just issued “Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore,” an enormously informative examination of the birth, rise, fall and rebirth of extreme music by veteran metal scribe Albert Mudrian. Nowhere near as sensational or lurid as “Chaos” – given that there are no spectacular suicides or stabbing deaths to speak of: real ones, anyway, involving scenesters – “Choosing Death” mirrors Ian Christie’s fantastic “Sound of The Beast” from last year in just sticking to the facts and letting the music and musicians do that talking.

“Choosing Death” goes back to the very roots of the music when the ominous hardcore The Exploited or Discharge and the miscreant thrash of Celtic Frost and Destruction, etc., began to get twisted into something even more extreme by bands like Siege, Repulsion and Heresy. It methodically traces the emergence of the grindcore scene in England, championed, eventually, by Napalm Death; the rise of death metal in Florida via Obituary, Massacre, Morbid Angel and, of course, Death; and the Swedish scene led by Entombed.

Impeccably researched and bristling with first-hand accounts from early scene makers like Napalm members Nick Bullen, Mick Harris, Justin Broadrick and Bill Steer; Americans Kam Lee (Massacre, Death), Trey Azagthoth and David Vincent (Morbid Angel), Glen Benton (Deicide) and the Obituary posse; and Digby Pearson and Jim Welch of pioneering English label Earache; the book is exacting in its detail, yet manages to capture the genuine excitement of an era when anything was possible and extremity knew no boundaries.

I still remember being struck dumb by the five cassettes that made up Earache’s first American mailing in late 1990 – Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness, Napalm Death’s Harmony Corruption, Carcass’ Symphonies of Sickness, Godflesh’s Streetcleaner and Entombed’s Left Hand Path. It was literally a life-changing moment.

Of course it would all come crashing down in the mid-90s in a glut of shitty bands, musical stagnation and major label intrusion, all of which are outlined with brutal frankness by Mudrian and key players like Pearson, Carcass’ Jeff Walker and Napalm Death’s especially outspoken frontman Barney Greenway, who all suffered as a result of Earache’s ill-fated partnership with Columbia.

But Mudrian offers hope for the future, concluding things on up note by highlighting some of extreme music’s newest, brightest hopes — from Arch Enemy and Opeth to Nile, Hate Eternal and Zyklon, along with fringe artists like Pig Destroyer and Agoraphobic Nosebleed — and quoting Greenway, who’s “Fuck it, let’s just keep on doing it” philosophy captures the essence of what keeps the music going.

The book will have a companion CD compilation, Choosing Death: The Original Soundtrack, to be issued by Relapse Records this month. It features 20 tracks from the pioneers of the death metal and grindcore genres, including several tracks exclusive to the compilation — never-before-heard songs from Nihilist (pre-Entombed), Suffocation and Pig Destroyer — as well as classic tracks from Morbid Angel, Carcass, Cannibal Corpse.

For the novice or the nostalgic, this should be considered an essential purchase. For more info on “Choosing Death,” check out www.feralhouse.com.

If you’re too goddamn lazy to read, but still want an inside-baseball look at the inner workings of the contemporary death metal underground, check out the Death Metal: A Documentary DVD. Directed by Bill Zebub, publisher of kooky Grimoire of Exalted Deeds ‘zine, the DVD is low on production value or big-name players, but it’s insightful, fun and certainly captures the passion that drives the musicians who play the music knowing full well that it’s never going to make them rich or, outside of a small circle, famous.

Veterans like Immolation, Sweden’s Amon Amarth, Mortician, Suffocation frontman Frank Mullen and Nuclear Assault/S.O.D./Brutal Truth bassist Dan Lilker dedicate much of their interview time defending the musical validity of death metal, and lamenting what a tough life it is in the underground. But none of them seem to have any regrets, and all are rather eloquent – which most outsiders will no doubt find astonishing. And a gaggle of enthusiastic upstarts show there’s no shortage of new blood willing to take up the cause.

Type O Negative mainmain Peter Steele, who fronted the seminal death metal/hardcore crossover band Carnivore back in the day, serves as the DVD’s historian, though he spends more time cracking jokes — often at his own expense — than providing anything terribly enlightening. But he is pretty funny.

Where the DVD suffers from its small budget is in the actual video footage of the bands at work. Aside from the some bootleg-looking live footage of Suffocation and Amon Amarth, much of the performance clips are culled from Earache’s archives — showing the likes of Entombed, Napalm Death and Carcass from the Grindcrusher era. The few genuine music videos that are included are so godawful, the less said about them the better.

Still, there’s a definite charm and grim realism in the homemade feel of the DVD – interviews are conducted on the fly in garages, tour bus doorways and the decrepit dressing rooms of the shithole clubs that are the domain of the underground — that a big budget production would clearly lack. You’re so up close and personal you can almost smell the bands — and given how fleeting showers are on the road, it’s a good thing you can’t.

For more info on “Death Metal – A Documentary” check out: www.musicvideodistributors.com

CATHEDRAL AND CARCASS, COMPILED

Call it good timing, or just dumb luck, but the death metal book and DVD arrive just as Earache is issuing career-spanning retrospectives for two of the bands that figure prominently in extreme metal’s formative years – Cathedral and Carcass, both of which were formed by ex-early vintage Napalm Death members Lee Dorrian and Bill Steer, respectively.

The Carcass album, Choice Cuts, actually was shelved for a couple years after drummer Ken Owen suffered a brain hemorrhage that almost killed him. But he has recovered to the point now that he was able to handle interviews when the band was doing press for the album not long ago.

Of all the early death/grind bands, perhaps only Entombed underwent a sonic evolution as dramatic as Carcass. And you get the full gamut on Choice Cuts, from the crude barf-and-grind histrionics of the Reek of Putrefaction/Symphonies of Sickness to the sophisticated bombast of Necroticism and the magnificent Heartwork to the uncomfortable, and ultimately fatal, stab at commerciality with Swansong.

While most of the material is already available on the 1996 epitaph Wake Up And Smell the Carcass, Choice Cuts does feature two sessions the band played on John Peel’s BBC radio show in 1989 and ’90 when they were at their most primitive and horrifying – Steer and bassist Jeff Walker’s vomitous vocal tradeoffs sound like something right out of The Exorcist.

While Lee Dorrian got his start screaming his damn head off over Scum-vintage Napalm Death’s nanosecond tantrums, he found his true voice when he took a 180-degree stylistic turn fronting doom overlords Cathedral. Probably the most accessible of the Earache contingent, once you get past the funereal Forest of Equilibrium debut, Cathedral was also, pound-for-pound, one of the heaviest. The band’s hulking, Sabbath-style riffs were as big and fat as they come — even if Dorrian’s sometime hippie-dippy, stoner lyrics softened some of their menace.

The two-disc Serpent’s Gold features one 15-song set of material from Cathedral’s half-dozen or so albums with Earache and a 12-track set of rarities, demos, cover songs and live material — two-and-a-half hours of material in all. Not a bad haul, even though the often slow pacing of the band’s gloom-metal can get a bit ponderous. So if speed’s more your thing, better try tracking down last year’s Napalm Death compilation Noise For Music’s Sake.

“NEW BREED” VIDEO SHOWCASE

A couple recently issued DVDs showcase the “cutting edge” of contemporary extreme music. But unlike Death Metal: A Documentary, they feature the bands almost exclusively in a live environment — and highlight just about everything but death metal.

Relapse Records’ Contamination Festival 2003 DVD is definitely the more adventurous of the two. The two-disc set provides a snapshot of both nights of the festival, which Relapse hosted last winter at Philadelphia’s Trocadero with some of its more eclectic acts — 10 in all, with four or five tracks from each. It’s four hours of some pretty wild shit that is definitely not for everyone — indeed most everyone will like some, but not all, of the bands that perform.

Grind-heads will dig the hyperactive freakiness of Cephalic Carnage — whose musicianship is nothing short of amazing, by the way — and Pig Destroyer, easily the heaviest band without a bass player on Earth, but will likely find Bongzilla’s stoner metal quite tedious — despite the Cookie Monster vocals — and have no patience for the apocalyptic sonic portraits painted by so methodically by Neurosis.

The straight-up redneck thrash-rock of Alabama Thunderpussy and Mastodon is probably is the easiest stuff for most people to warm up to here, but seeing The Dillinger Escape Plan absolutely explode onstage and deliver their skull-scrambling jazz-core with astonishing effortlessness may win them a few converts. Still, this one is strictly for the open minded.

The New England Metal & Hardcore Festival 2003 DVD from the predominantly hardcore label Trustkill certainly has more mass appeal madness, although its hardly made with mainstream tastes in mind. Held each spring at the Palladium in lovely Worcester, Mass., the festival is the most consistent and well-received of the various annual metalfests in the states. The 2003 line-up weighed more heavily on the “Hardcore” side of the equation — with, unlike most years, nary a death metal or black metal band in sight.

The “Metal” end is held up well with the vicious Lamb of God — with “Black Label” and its notorious “Wall of Death” moshpit mayhem featured — the majestic Opeth, the insane Meshuggah and Nevermore, who give Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” a good pounding while welcoming like half the audience onstage.

The home-state metal-core trio of Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage and the ruthless Unearth are especially good, it’s just too bad they aren’t given more time — Unearth gets one measly tune here — as the DVD opts for quantity at the expense, in some cases, of quality as nearly 30 bands perform. Ironically, some of the most worthwhile material is found in the “extra footage,” which was shot on a sidestage. Darkest Hour comes in a close second to Unearth as the most vicious band on the DVD and their “The Sadist Nation” is sensational. Himsa, Scarlet and Germany’s Caliban also show that the sidestage, dark and cramped though it was, wasn’t such a bad place to be.

CD REVIEWS

BLACK METAL

¨ AGATHDAIMONSerpent’s Embrace (Nuclear Blast) Anyone who finds Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir’s goth-tinged black metal pretentious will no doubt loathe this German quintet. But Agathdaimon’s fourth album is their beefiest, most viscerally satisfying effort yet, stripping away some of the cheesy orchestral trappings and drama-building twaddle of previous efforts and going more for the throat. Yes, the ever-present keyboards intrude too often at the expense of the guitar bombast. But the riffs here are huge and dense, recalling Finnish suicide squad Sentenced, and the tighter, more compact songs help maximize their killing capacity. The occasional blast-beat bursts are a nice touch, too, though the chick-sung electronic ballad “Solitude” is not. But at least Agathdaimon seem to be headed in the right direction. C

¨ BORKNAGAREpic (Century Media) Though members keep leaving and the band hardly ever tours, Norway’s Borknagar manage to keep cranking out masterful black metal that grows more sophisticated and impressive each time out. Epic is a fitting title, as the band wrap progressive, often spectacular arrangements around old school black metal bombast with frightening ease. Frontman Vintersorg leads the way with his gymnastic shriek-and-sing vocals, matching his bandmates move for move as they alternate between ornate and delicate and murderously intense – and just about everything in between. If Rush met Satan, it might sound something like this – and that’s a compliment. A-

¨ MAYHEMChimera (Season of Mist) After their perplexing sidetrip into progressive/industrial experimentalism with Grand Declaration of War, Norway’s infamous Mayhem get back on the right path in a big way with the triumphant Chimera. Coming out swinging with the furious “Whore,” Mayhem are all business here. Unadorned by needless electronics or annoying orchestration, Chimera is epic black metal as it should — complex, discordant, flat-out brutal and evil as hell. Mayhem’s misanthropic musings will ring loud and clear here to those who did not forsake the band after War, and reward those willing to give them a second chance with the heaping helping of hate they’ve been waiting for. A-

¨ 1349Beyond The Apocalypse (Candlelight) Old schoolers 1349 get a hand — make that hands and feet — from Satyricon’s drum dynamo Frost (who, ironically, will have Slipknot’s Joey Jordinson filling in for him when Satyricon tours the U.S. in December because of lingering visa troubles) which helps give their primal black metal a swift kick in the ass. Raw and feral, the band’s second album, with its tinny, trebly sound and nearly unrelenting pace, recalls Emperor’s landmark debut In The Nightside Eclipse. But don’t look for any orchestral grandeur here. Apocalypse is stripped down to the bone and savage as a bull shark. B+

DEATH METAL

¨ AMON AMARTHFate of Norms (Metal Blade) A disappointingly pedestrian outing from Sweden’s Amon Amarth, which seems to be treading water since 2001’s masterful The Crusher. Fate of Norms’ Viking-themed bluster seems sluggish and leaden this time out, and the thin production doesn’t help matters. Nor does Johan Hegg’s phlegmy vocals — clear the frog in your throat, man. Without much energy or balls to drive it, Norms rarely gets a chance to take off, making for a rather dull listen, which is about the worst thing you can say about a death metal album. C-

¨ CATTLE DECAPITATIONHumanure (Metal Blade) Carcass long were rumored to be militant vegans. San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation really are — and their gory antics form the basis for one truly fucked-up form of protest. The quartet’s latest effort takes a page from their debut, Human Jerky, then craps all over it. Quite literally. Humanure already has kicked up quite a ruckus over its nasty cover art — a pile of said “humanure” spilling out a cow’s ass. It brings the term “shit-faced” to life most sickeningly — so much so that the band agreed to re-issue it with new artwork so stores would carry it. Resembling Deicide thanks to their harmonized growled vocals, stripped-down sound and lightning-fast pacing, Cattle Decapitation swap Satan for medically precise, animal friendly splatter-grind where mankind suffers for its own folly. Its easy to laugh off tracks like “Lips & Assholes” and “Bukkake Tsunami” because of their amusing titles, but the messages — about overpopulation, overconsumption and crimes against nature — are serious as a heart attack. Sick, but very smart. A-

¨ DISMEMBERLive Blasphemies DVD (Escapi) Unlike most of their early Swedish death metal cohorts, Dismember have managed to keep it together since the early ‘90s and not radically revamp their bone-sawing sound in the name of progress. The Live Blasphemies DVD documents the band’s nearly two decades of mayhem over two discs that provide a worthwhile souvenir to long-time fans and give new converts a taste of what the old school was like when it was new school. The documentary disc is loaded with homemade live footage from way back in the day when Dismember were sowing their oats on rec center stages and hole in the wall clubs at a time when death metal’s benchmark “Swedish sound” was known only in Sweden. Two years later, death metal and grindcore had exploded and the band were opening shows for Napalm Death in huge halls. Extensive interview segments — conducted in Swedish, so you’ll need to read the clunky subtitles — aren’t terribly enlightening, but do provide a sense of what it was like to be part of something completely new. Things have come full circle and Dismember is playing smaller clubs again, but the band still grinds with the best of ‘em. The live disc captures Dismember on stage on their home turf of Stockholm blasting through the likes of “Casket Garden,” “I Saw Them Die” and the infamous “Skin Her Alive” — from the Indecent & Obscene album, both of which landed the band in English court on, fittingly, obscenity charges in the early ‘90s — with a sound that is as raw and raging as ever. Here’s hoping they stick around a bit longer. B+

¨ GRAVEFiendish Regression (Century Media) After coming Back From The Grave two years ago after a half-decade’s hiatus, Swedish legends Grave are even stronger on Fiendish Regression. Switching from the death metal assembly line of Sunlight Studios to Abyss Studios to work with Peter and Tommy Tagtgren has done wonders for the band’s sound, beefing it up substantially, which helps make Regression, with its more methodical pacing, all the heavier and ominous. What the album lacks in velocity, it more than makes up for in thick, rough-hewn riffs, creepy leadwork and songs like “Awakening” and “Breeder” that’ll stomp you flat. A-

¨ HEARSEArmageddon Mon Amour (Candlelight) Johan Liiva’s energy and enthusiasm, or lack thereof, were big reasons why he was fired from Arch Enemy and his other band, Nonexist, was so dull. Well, he either found some kickass coffee or started taking Prozac, because the second album from this his third band is inspired, exuberant and downright vicious. Hearse’s roughshod, groovy death metal may boast a bit more melody and fancy, power metal guitar flourishes than diehards are comfortable with. But the ugly, Celtic Frost-style chunkiness of “Mountain of the Solar Eclipse” or “Tools,” and Liiva’s grizzly bear vocals and feral presence will certainly do the trick. It’s good to see he’s got his shit back together, regardless of how he did it. B+

¨ MALEVOLENT CREATIONWarkult (Nuclear Blast) After fixating on murder and mayhem for a dozen years, the 11th album from Malevolent Creation is surprisingly topical, even political. Obviously inspired by the Iraq situation, Warkult is Malevolent’s death metal answer to Marduk’s black metal battle cry Panzer Division Marduk from a few years back. From its causes (“Tyranic Oppression,” “Murder Reigns”) to its tactics (“Preemptive Strike,” “Shock And Awe”) and horrors (“Section 8,” “Captured”), Warkult is all war, all the time — except for the bonus track “Jack The Ripper.” Guess old habits die hard, so to speak. With drummer Dave Culross back the fold after an umpteenth line-up change, Malevolent’s even got a bit more musical fire in their belly to go with the apocalyptic theme. B

¨ SUFFOCATIONSouls To Deny (Relapse) While they weren’t as popular as Death, Obituary or Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation had a tremendous influence on death metal with their dizzyingly complex material and technically dazzling musicianship. Few bands matched brutality with musicality like these guys did — though many tried. After a brief hiatus, Suffocation is back and as mind-blowing as ever. Souls To Deny is as triumphant a return as one could ask for, and is the band’s best work since 1991’s landmark Effigy of the Forgotten. Dogfighting guitars twist, turn and grind, chasing Mike Smith’s insane drumming through an obstacle chorus of tempo changes, fucked-up rhythms, chunky mosh parts and squealing leads. But what separated Suffocation — and what still does — from all their imitators is knowing when enough is enough and how to tie everything together in a tidy enough fashion to keep it all from sounding like a bunch of freaks jacking off. Souls kills as much with power as it does with its nut-case performances and never loses its intensity. Maybe this time, others will take heed. A

¨ UNLEASHED - Sworn Allegiance (Century Media) Unleashed’s 2002 comeback album Hell’s Unleashed was a big disappointment. Flat, dull and clumsy, it made the pioneering Swedish band’s return seem pointless. Well, they get it right the second time with Sworn Allegiance, an album with all the energy, passion and brutality its predecessor lacked. Mixing Viking lore (“The Longships are Coming”) and “Lord of the Rings” fantasy (“Destruction (Of the Race of Man)”) with necrophilia (“Only The Dead”) and an odd bit of social commentary (“CEO”), Allegiance is a real mixed bag. But with the band’s inspired, buzz-sawing attack and Johnny Endlund rabid bellow the could play the Oscar Meyer wiener song and make it sound bad-ass. B+

THRASH/METAL-CORE/GRINDCORE

¨ ALL THAT REMAINSThe Darkened Heart (Prosthetic) Fronted by ex-Shadows Fall vocalist Phil Labonte, All That Remains, perhaps not surprisingly, will remind folks of his former band with their intricate mix of hardcore and thrash, flashy guitar soloing and intermittent melodic vocals. Remains’ clipped riffs and frequent breakdown parts do give them more of a hardcore feel, as does Labonte’s teeth-clenched hollering. But given that Shadows Fall’s done three albums since he split, it’s probably not asking too much for a bit more sonic separation than this. C+

¨ THE HAUNTEDrevolver (Century Media) Back with a new label and their old singer, Peter Dolving, Sweden’s The Haunted pick right up where they left off with last year’s blistering One Kill Wonder. Thicker and heavier, thanks to topnotch production at Studio Fredman, and no less mean, revolver is unrelenting, yet dynamic thrash from the Reign In Blood school. There’s very little let up from these guys, and with the attack dog Dolving back behind the mic, The Haunted are more determined and dangerous than ever. A-

¨ MARTYR A.D. On Earth As It Is In Hell (Victory) Leaning further to the “metal” side of the metal-core fence, Minneapolis’ Martyr A.D. sounds a bit like if you played Slayer and Meshuggah at the same time — and then stuck on Sick of it All for the hell of it. The music is balls-out, wickedly heavy thrash with a weird, discordant edge where riffs suddenly screech and squeal and tempos take dramatic turns. It doesn’t get all math-metal fancy schmantzy, but it’ll still make you go “What the fuck?” Andy Hart’s your textbook, ‘roid-rage hardcore hollerer, but give him — and the band — credit for steering clear of the cliched, Jeckyl-and-Hyde tradeoffs and opting instead for maximum brutality. B+

¨ NAPALM DEATHLeaders Not Followers Vol. 2 (Century Media) The 1999 Leaders Vol. 1 EP seemed to be the spark that got Napalm back on track after several “experimental” albums expanded — and watered down — the band’s signature grindcore ferocity. So Lord help us if the full-length Vol. 2 puts even more fire up Napalm’s arses. This manic, 19-track collection of covers plumbs the darkest depths of the early ‘80s hardcore and metal underground, and delivers its discoveries with loving mercilessness. Capturing the raw energy and venom of originals from pioneers like Discharge, Siege, Agnostic Front and obscurities like Anti Cimex, Napalm blasts away with unrelenting glee. Sepultura’s “Troops of Doom,” Kreator’s “Riot of Violence” and Hellhammer’s “Messiah” receive the same treatment, all the way down to the death grunts ‘Hammer frontman Tom Warrior later made famous with Celtic Frost. Though the production is a bit thin, by the time Leaders Vol. 2 wraps with Hirax’s tornadic, 28-second “Hate, Fear and Power,” it proves itself an exhilarating, if exhausting, trip down memory lane. B+

¨ PIG DESTROYERTerrifyer (Relapse) Virginia trio Pig Destroyer are indeed one terrifying friggin’ band. There’s a bone-deep menace about these guys one usually doesn’t get from your average corpse-grinding death metallers, perhaps because it’s hard to suspend your disbelief with them. Songs like the unusually riffy “Gravedancer,” “Torture Ballad” or “Restraining Order Blues” seem eeriely genuine, thanks in large part to J.R. Hayes’ caterwauling and madman’s diary lyrics. And when a band can make this much pummeling death-grind noise with just a singer, guitarist and drummer, you know there’s something more sinister at work than just three guys blowing off steam. As a bonus, Terrifyer also comes with a second disc, an audio DVD boasting the 37-minute long “Natasha” in 5.1 Surround Sound. Yikes. B+

¨ UNEARTHThe Oncoming Storm (Metal Blade) While Shadows Fall, Hatebreed and Killswitch Engage might enjoy higher profiles among the New England metal-core contingent, Unearth’s Metal Blade debut is one of 2004’s most intense, mean-assed albums — from any genre. Storm is a full-frontal assault from the outset on “The Great Dividers” with its furious tempos, hurricane-strength riffs, pile-driving breakdowns and Trevor Phipps’ drill-sergeant vocals. Fancy, fluid guitar work gives Storm something of a Swedish power metal vibe, but none of those bands come close to touching Unearth’s sheer brute force or unbridled energy. Fucking awesome. A+

ETC.

¨ CANDIRIAWhat Doesn’t Kill You... (Type A Records) Two years after their near-death experience with a runaway 18-wheeler — that’s their crumpled van on the album cover — Candiria return with album befitting someone “Rolling Stone” declared one of metal’s 10 most important bands a few years back. Candiria’s last album, the sprawling two-disc Coma Imprint, was a tedious exercise in self-indulgence. Kill You still boasts the complexity, stylistic shape-shifting and progressive daring-do that earned the band such acclaim early on, but forgoes the temptation to crawl up its own ass by doing too much. There still lots going on here as math-metal and riffy hard rock weave themselves around jazz, hip-hop and reggae elements that other bands won’t touch with a 10-foot pole, but the songs are shorter, tighter and basically just better. Too bad it took a van crash to get things straightened out. B

¨ THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLANMiss Machine (Relapse) The media darlings of extreme music, thanks to the seizure-inducing debut Calculating Infinity, Dillinger Escape Plan come into their second album with some mighty big expectations — not to mention a new singer. But instead of making an even more fucked up album, Dillinger play it a bit safe with Miss Machine — which has its goods and bads. On the good side, the band’s surreal prog-thrash histrionics are easier to digest as the band simplifies things a bit and inserts more gnashing riffs and structure into their instrumental free-for-all. And Greg Puciato is a commanding vocalist who can be heard, and understood, above the din. On the bad, the industrial throb of “Phone Home” is a Nine Inch Nails knock off. And the mellow break in “We Are The Storm” or the catchy jazz-metal of “Crutchfield Tongs” steal more than one page from Mr. Bungle’s mystifying book of tricks. One would think a band as vehemently unconventional as Dillinger would avoid such cheap stunts like the plague. B-

¨ MNEMICThe Audio Injected Soul (Nuclear Blast) Part Meshuggah, part Fear Factory, Sweden’s Mnemic blend industrial, thrash and progressive elements — clean and screaming vocals, huge riffs, rollercoaster time signatures and arrangements, electronic noodling — and manage to make it sound interesting while at the same time not too derivative. But a Duran Duran cover? Especially the wretched “Wild Boys?” Dudes, what the hell were you thinking? B-


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