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Features

Peter Atkinson Returns with his latest Death Opus

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Wednesday, August 30, 2006 @ 6:36 PM


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August was a brutal month indeed for extreme metal guitarists. First, Dissection founder Jon Nöodveidt took his own life in Stockholm. Then came word that Terrorizer/Lock Up guitarist Jesse Pintado, ex-of Napalm Death, had died at a hospital in Holland, apparently from complications with diabetes.

Both men had seen their share of troubles over the years (see below). And though rather shocking, Nöodveidt’s death was perhaps not nearly as much of a surprise as was Pintado’s, who seemed to be getting his shit together. But that doesn’t make it any less tragic and both should be remembered for the indelible mark they made as part of some of underground metal’s most revolutionary bands.

* * *

DISSECTION: The Grisly End

Nödtveidt was found dead Aug. 16 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, thus bringing the bizarre, sordid tale of Sweden’s Dissection to a grisly, yet seemingly inevitable conclusion.

Apparently it was a ritual suicide, as Swedish newpapers reported Nödtveidt’s body was found in his apartment surrounded by a ring of carefully arranged candles. His dedication to Satanism and the obscure Misanthropic Luciferian Order — whose confounding hate-based gospel I can’t even begin to explain — was well documented.

An epitaph of sorts on Dissection’s website offered the following: “As a true Satanist, he led his life in the way he wanted and ended it when he felt that he had fulfilled his self-created destiny. Not everyone will have understanding or acceptance for his personal path in this life and beyond, but all must respect his choice.”

Nödtveidt’s death came two months after he announced Dissection was disbanding just two years after their long-awaited “rebirth,” which yielded one album, Reinkaos (The End Records), a run of 60 concerts and the recently released DVD, Rebirth of Dissection. Two of Dissection’s final performances were planned for New York and Los Angeles in early September, but Nödtveidt was denied entry into the United States as a result of his 1998 murder conviction. The band’s final show was June 24 in Stockholm. Dissection had toured here just once, opening for Morbid Angel following 1995’s black/death metal triumph Storm of the Light’s Bane. Not long after, Nödveidt, was arrested for his involvement in the killing of Josef Ben Meddaour, an Algerian homosexual, in Gothenburg. He served seven years for accessory to murder and firearms charges and joined Emperor’s Bard “Faust” Eithun and Burzum’s Varg Vikernes as underground metal’s most infamous figures.

Prison only seemed to strengthen Nödveidt’s resolve and beliefs, however. He resurrected Dissection with a singular vision and purpose, which he described in an online interview with fans that is posted on the band’s website.

“My goal was to find a line up that would share the same visions as myself in terms of using the music of Dissection as a black magical tool. So, therefore, I only wanted Satanists in the band. ... As the members of Dissection both belong to the cult of Satan-Lucifer and the necrosophic cult of the Lord of Death we have chosen to label our music ‘Anti-Cosmic Metal of Death’ to show the spiritual direction of our work.”

Initially, Bard “Faust” Eithun, who had just been released from prison in Norway for a similar crime, was to have been a part of Dissection’s rebirth. But he was too spooked by Dissection’s “spiritual direction” and bailed.

Nödveidt also spoke about his reasoning for bringing Dissection to a close, which, in retrospect, hinted at what might become of himself as well.

“We are now heading into a new phase, a darker phase, which might reveal the unexpected, for some at least, and for sure a few secrets as well. ... How it will manifest? I’m sure you all will see eventually. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear might have predicted it. For this is in no way a new path for us, exploring the unknown as always ... yet this time one step further towards the only one goal.

“Since the path we are treading now fast is burning and turning towards an end, I want to take the opportunity to say... this is the end that we long have awaited... an end holding a new beginning. The beginning that in itself might be the inevitable end!”

Nödveidt was 31.

* * *

TERRORIZER: Darker Days Indeed

Pintado’s death was especially cruel as he was just getting back into playing music and rejoining the metal community he left with his dismissal from Napalm Death in 2004. He and Morbid Angel drummer Pete Sandoval had resurrected their legendary grindcore band Terrorizer, which released its second album, the hideously ironically titled Darker Days Ahead, Aug. 22, just five days before he passed away. In a July interview, Sandoval was cautiously optimistic about Terrorizer’s immediate future, noting that just what was to come for the band after Darker Days was issued largely depended on the shape Pintado was in. But at that time, things were looking up. “He was heavily involved in alcohol when he was with Napalm Death and he’s still dealing with that and some other shit,” Sandoval said. “But he’s getting better and we don’t want to hurry up and do something just to do something. We want to make sure Jesse is OK and he’s playing right because when we do play.

“When we play, I promise it’s going to be a real treat for the fans of Terrorizer who have waited so long to see us. It’s going to be so heavy.”

Sadly, looks like we’ll never know.

Though he rarely gets the credit he deserved, perhaps because of his reserved personality, Pintado was a key figure in the metal underground of the late ‘80s that birthed grindcore and death metal. He introduced Sandoval to Morbid Angel, joined Napalm Death for their landmark transitional album Harmony Corruption and founded Terrorizer which, despite having one of the oddest legacies in American extreme music, and remain cult heroes to this day.

The “band” actually recorded their landmark debut World Downfall after they had split up in 1989. By then Sandoval had joined Morbid Angel, Pintado was hooking up with Napalm Death, frontman Oscar Garcia was focusing on Nausea and bassist Garvey was on his way to prison for his gang involvement.

Recorded in a matter of days with Morbid Angel’s David Vincent sitting in on bass, World Downfall, with its grim, roughshod, hyper-speed guitars, Sandoval’s rivet-gun drumming and Garcia’s ravenous vocals, went on to become one of the seminal albums of the then-fledgling death metal/grindcore scene thanks in large part to the great word-of-mouth it created in the underground and the growing network of devotees of pioneering English label Earache.

That Terrorizer were no longer a band only added to their legend — as did the growing success of Napalm Death and Morbid Angel. Terrorizer never regrouped to capitalize on the buzz, didn’t play any shows and hardly did anything to publicize the album. But the undeniable strength of the music on this one near-perfect album helped the band stand the test of time and ensure continued interest.

After 17 years, the opportunity finally presented itself for Terrorizer to rise again and do some of the things they were never able to do previously — like record a new album and go on the road.

“This is something that was always at the back of our minds,” said the thickly accented Sandoval on the phone from Florida. “But we never had the time to get together to do anything. When I wasn’t touring or recording with Morbid Angel, Jesse was touring or recording with Napalm. But now that Jesse is out of Napalm, and that gave us the chance we needed to bring Terrorizer back to life.”

Though Garcia declined to join in, Pintado and Sandoval got some songs ready and recruited vocalist Anthony Rezhawk (Resistant Culture), an acquaintance of Pintado’s from the early days of the L.A. underground, as they were readying to record the material. Morbid Angel session guitarist Tony Norman later signed on the play bass when Darker Days Ahead (Century Media), was recorded.

“Once we started getting songs together we couldn’t wait to get them recorded,” Sandoval said. “Anthony didn’t have much time to prepare, but I think he did a good job under a lot of pressure. We didn’t want to just re-create World Downfall, we wanted this album to stand on it own.”

Yet Sandoval admits that capturing lightning in a bottle twice was a nearly impossible task. “Grindcore was so new when we did World Downfall, and we just happened to come up with so many devastating songs for that album, that’s why it became a legend,” he said. “But at the time we did it, we didn’t think didn’t think too much about it because there was nothing going on with the band and not many people knew about us anyway outside of L.A., except for tape traders.”

Indeed at the time, it was the height of hair-band mania and pay-to-play gigs, etc., so Terrorizer mostly played occasional backyard parties and rec center gig. And with so little going on, the lure of more productive positions elsewhere was too much for Sandoval and Pintado to pass up. And given that Morbid Angel and Napalm Death are still going strong, it was probably the right move for both.

Pintado turned 37 in July.

* * *

DETHKLOK: Maximum Devastation

On a much lighter note, by now you’ve surely seen, or at least heard of, the Cartoon Network’s new Adult Swim series “Metalocalypse” about the misadventures of mythic Scandinavian/American metallurgists Dethklok. If not, do check it out because while it’s not nearly as funny as it could be, it makes Beavis & Butt-Head, Ren & Stimpy, the Simpsons or any other “edgy” adult-oriented cartoon look like the friggin’ Smurfs.

An episode a couple Sundays ago featured William Murderface playing a bass solo with his dick. Dethklok’s fans are routinely killed en masse – the Dethklok website even features a death tally, which as of Aug. 30 stood at 15,267 — and with spectacularly graphic flesh-peeling, limb-lopping detail. And in a video treatment for one of Dethklok’s songs, the band members themselves are skewered, chopped in half and systematically mutilated in gloriously gory detail. There’s plenty of barfing and stuff too.

Equal parts “Spinal Tap” ridiculousness (the band records an album at the bottom of the ocean for maximum heaviness) and over-the-top “Bad Taste/Dead-Alive”-era Peter Jackson mayhem, the cartoon is as gruesomely realistic as the brutal Japanese anime it emulates. It’s hard to figure that Dethklok co-creator Brendon Small was the brains behind the crude, but ultimately sweet series “Home Movies” about a bunch of precocious grade-schoolers that ran on the Cartoon Network for a couple years. Beneath his innocent facade is one sick bastard.

Perhaps because of that, he’s obviously well-schooled in black/death metal lore — band members boast names like Skwisgaar Skwigelf and Toki Wartooth, and episodes feature things like Nordic Forest Trolls. And guest appearances by the likes of King Diamond, Arch Enemy’s Michael Amott, Nevermore’s Warrel Dane, Steve Smyth and Jeff Loomis and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield, give the show additional metal cred.

Small’s also no novice when it comes to the music, which so far has been surprisingly adept. While the “songs” have included a commercial, the “Duncan Hills Coffee Jingle” — imagine Six Feet Under singing “Do you folks like coffee, real coffee, from the hills, of Colombia” — and a horrific rendition of “Happy Birthday,” the blast-beats, flailing guitars and Cookie Monster vocals have been spot on. There’s even talk of an album — and if they can come up with more material like the gnarly “Sewn Back Together Wrong,” which actually does sound like a Six Feet Under song, they might be onto something.

To this point— after four episodes — “Metalocalypse” has been more grotesque and outlandish than hilarious, and the dialogue is nearly impossible to comprehend because of the bad fake accents. But with 16 or so more 15-minute episodes to go in the show’s first season hopefully things will work themselves out. “Metalocalypse” is on Sunday nights at 11:45.

* * *

VENOM: Immigration Irritation

Speaking of cartoonish metal bands, English black metal comic heroes Venom are playing their first American shows in a decade as we speak, after clearing up some “immigration problems” that postponed what was initially dubbed the “7 Days of Hell” tour here in early August.

The problems were apparently fairly minor as the dates rescheduled for late August/early September. Venom — now founding frontman Cronos, drummer Antton and guitarist Mykvs — even ended up scheduled a few more shows, and rechristened the tour the “American 10 Commandments Tour.” The only real casualty of the delay was original opening act Devildriver, ex-Coal Chamber frontman Dez Fafara’s reasonably decent death metal venture. They have been replaced on all but two dates by Goatwhore (see review below), who probably are a more appropriate choice anyway.

It is Venom’s first appearance in the states since the 1997 Milwaukee Metalfest. During the band’s mid-80s heyday they had the likes of Slayer and Exodus opening for them here.

While the English trio have always owed way more musically and, especially aesthetically, to cheesy circus acts like Kiss than any allegiance with Satan, there’s no denying the band’s tremendous and lasting influence. Their theatrics and outrageousness certainly earned Venom plenty of attention and helped — if nothing else — popularize the term “black metal” and its miscreant ethos in ways that more authentic but far less accessible pioneers like Bathory ever could.

And that legacy has, for the most part, served Venom fairly well for more than two decades, despite a host of lineup changes, squabbling and shitty albums. Indeed, for a stretch, Mantas and drummer Abaddon performed under the Venom banner, with Cronos having been forced out. Now he’s steering the Venom ship and the others are gone.

A couple months back, Venom released a new studio album Metal Black, which aims to capture some of the band’s former sonic magic, but ended up just sounding hokey. More recently, though, the band reissued a gussied up version of 1997’s Cast In Stone (Castle/Sanctuary), which briefly reunited the original “cast” of Venom, Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon. Cast did do a pretty credible job of presenting the “classic” Venom sound and spirit, after years of tumult. A bonus second disc offers rerecorded “updates” of old nuggets like “Die Hard” and “Warhead” and live versions some of the band’s best-known tracks — “Welcome to Hell,” “In Nomine Satanas” and the signature “Black Metal.” But given that the new versions are now 10 years old, they seem quite dated by current standards and lack the raw, genuine charm of the originals. C+

* * *

STRAPPING YOUNG LAD: Hello Hiatus, Fuck You Lars Ulrich!

With their magnificent new album The New Black having only been out for six weeks, and a run on the 2006 Ozzfest freshly under their belts, it would seem an odd time for Vancouver-based work-a-holics Strapping Young Lad to be taking a few months off. But with frontman Devin Townsend and his wife expecting their first child, there was little other choice. And truth be told, said the band’s drummer Gene Hoglan, the break couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Honestly, I think Devin was getting ready to drop,” Hoglan said on a balky cellphone from outside of an unusually balmy Seattle the day before Ozzfest kicked off at the end of June. “With all of the work he, himself, has done over the past five years (recording and touring with SYL and the Devin Townsend Band and producing a slew of other albums) I don’t think he could have gone on much longer at that pace without having a breakdown. So the time off will do him a lot of good and will give the rest of chance to get a few things out of our systems as well. It’s for the greater good.”

Bassist Byron Stroud will be touring with his other band, Fear Factory. Hoglan and guitarist Jed Simon will do album with their sideband Tenet and Hoglan will continue to play with his long-running The Almighty Punch Drunk. He figures SYL will get things back up and running early in 2007. And its not as if Hoglan was counting on Ozzfest to suddenly launch Strapping Young Lad’s career to new heights, which would then warrant staying on the road to maintain any newfound popularity.

“I’m fairly certain we are going to stick out like a sore thumb,” he predicted, laughing. “I doubt many people who haven’t heard us will get it, but that’s OK. But I will say this, love us or hate us, I bet people will remember us. If for nothing else than Devin’s hair-do (the infamous bald on top, long on the sides “skullet”).”

SYL did end up scoring some real points on Ozzfest, with the rousing “U Suck” with its “fuck you you fucking fucks” mantra becoming the tour’s unofficial anthem. But Hoglan, an underground fixture since his days with groundbreaking thrashers Dark Angel and stints with Death and Testament, has learned from experience to never get his hopes up to high. “We have no expectations. We did the Sounds of the Underground Tour last year and near as I can tell it didn’t do a damn thing for us. We’ve tried to dumb things down, but we still go over people heads, so whatever.”

Along with the anthemic “U Suck,” The New Black (Century Media), SYL’s fifth studio release, features the equally infectious, and profane, “Fucker,” the irreverent long-time live favorite “Far Beyond Metal” and the fiendishly catchy first single “The Wrong Side.” Yet even so, the band’s intense industrial-metal mishmash, powered by Hoglan’s impeccable carpet-bomb backbeats (he ain’t called “The Atomic Clock” for nothing), and subversive sense of humor is still a far cry from mainstream, something SYL readily admits on “Anti-Product.”

Because of this, SYL are, unfortunately for them, a popular target for illicit downloaders. After all, why risk $14 on a CD you may leery of buying based on rendition of “U Suck” — it’s not like you’re going to hear any the other material on the radio — when you can get it for free off the Internet? It’s a real bone of contention with Hoglan, even though he knows there’s not much anyone can really do about it. “Downloading destroys bands like us,” he said, “bands that are just barely surviving. It was incredible how many times our last album (Alien) was downloaded before it was even released. Something like 40,000 times.

“We work really hard to be as good a band as we can be and to try to make a living at this and it sucks when all the work you’ve done is basically just being given away. So fuck you, Lars Ulrich, wherever you are, for shining the spotlight on it in the first place by crying about Napster and showing everyone how easy it is. You suck.”

* * *

REVIEWS

BLACK METAL

  • SATYRICON: Now, Diabolical (Century Media)
    The sixth full-length from Norway’s Satyricon is a cold-blooded, calculating effort that takes relative simplicity and uses it with brutal efficiency. Now, Diabolical is surprisingly direct, with meticulous pacing by usually cyclonic drummer Frost that only occasionally — as on “New Enemy” — stampedes, and stark arrangements and straight-forward riffing by frontman Satyr that follow in lock-step. Building on what the duo did last time on Volcano, Now could more accurately be described as “black rock and roll,” especially on the title track and “K.I.N.G.,” which open the album with traditional structuring and slashing hooks. Stripped of nearly all of the usual black metal theatrics — save for a few well-placed battle horns — and presented about as purely and organically as you can make it, the affect on Diabolical is at once more accessible and more ominous. The methodical, purposeful sonic wall lends added weight and menace to Satyr’s feral voice and imposing “We want you dead/Your head on our plate/If you wanted war/then war you will get” lyrics, and gives Diabolical an unsettling air that all the orchestration, voiceovers, gothic window dressing and horror film effects in the world can’t match. A

  • GORGOROTH: Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam (Candlelight USA)
    The most evil band in the world return after another eventful off-season full of legal difficulties — frontman Gaahl is currently serving prison time and guitarist Infernus is about to — the departure of longtime bassist King ov Hell and some dumb kid in Canada who got hit by a train he didn’t hear because he was rocking out to Gorgoroth on his Discman. At least this time the band didn’t get chased out of another country for blasphemous acts like they did in Poland a couple years back. All the drama certainly doesn’t seem to have affected the Gorgoroth’s performance or purpose. Ad Majorem serves up plenty of the band’s signature blast-furnace fury — here driven by 1349/Satyricon whirlwind Frost over a brisk, but kinda chintzy 31 minutes — but delivers it with a bit more dynamism and dexterity. The usual hellish wall of sound is punctuated by some genuinely sinister grooves and occasional moments of eerie calm and creepy breaks where Gaahl moans and wails until the hair stands up on your neck. Guess he really wasn’t looking forward to jail. B

  • ENSLAVED: Ruun (Candlelight USA)
    Norway’s Enslaved continue to be one of black metal’s most daring and experimental acts. The progressive minded approach of the band’s last several albums continues with Ruun, and indeed reaches new heights as their sonic palette expands to such a degree that tracks like “Entroper” and “Path of Vanir” recall Pink Floyd or King Crimson with their psychedelic guitar and keyboard effects offsetting the more traditional Cookie Monster vocals. Even more aggressive tracks like “Fusion of Sense and Earth” or ”Essence” offer a deft complexity, weaving trippy solos and lush synth splashes into the bombast to broaden its scope and generally just make things more interesting. Yet at its core, Enslaved still burns with a black metal flame. Despite its epic scale and density, Ruun retains the raw purity that has always typified the band and an ethos exemplified by the “Tides of Chaos” snippet “I’ve got this dream in which I kill you all,” that lets you know these guys still mean business. A-

  • BAL SAGOTH: The Cthonic Chronicles (Candlelight USA)
    Black metal’s geekiest yet, arguably, most outlandish outfit returns with their most over-the-top album. The Cthonic Chronicles is the very antithesis of the aforementioned Satyricon’s bare-bones efficiency. Indeed it makes ostentatious acts like Cradle of Filth seem subtle by comparison. Cthonic is all about extravagance. From the myriad narrated passages (done with breathy Christopher Lee-like pomposity), fanciful keyboard orchestration, skull-scrambling riffage and insanely fantastical story line — with tracks bearing titles like “Six Score and Ten Oblations to a Malefic Avatar” or “Unfettering the Hoary Sentinels of Karnak” that must have HP Lovecraft rolling in his grave — nothing is done in moderation. Still, there’s something strangely fascinating about it all. Just like a nasty car wreck, you can’t look away, even though you know you should. C

  • GOATWHORE: A Haunted Curse (Metal Blade)
    After two albums with the lowly Rotten Records, and a nasty run-in with Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana black metallurgists Goatwhore — featuring Soilent Green frontman Ben Falgoust and Acid Bath/Crowbar guitarist Sammy Duet — signed on with Metal Blade and fled for the relative safety of Arizona. With all the pieces in place, and Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan producing, the band have concocted their most viciously accomplished album yet. Blending Bathory’s combustibility and old Celtic Frost’s chunky grooves, guttural tones and death grunts with the Bayou juju they thankfully retained, Goatwhore’s witches brew is both familiar, yet quite unique. Falgoust’s throaty roar and Charles Manson-meets-Anton LaVey lyrics on “Silence Marked by the Breaking of Bone” or “Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult” offer genuine terror instead of the usual black metal silliness. And the band’s blast-beat powered cacophony, fueled by Duet’s corrosive riffing, is nothing to be trifled with either. The American black metal scene might not have a hell of a lot to show for itself, but at least now it’s got a champion to perhaps lead it to bigger and better. B+

    DEATH METAL

  • NAPALM DEATH: Smear Campaign (Century Media)
    Over the last five years, England’s Napalm Death have run off as consistently ferocious a string of albums as ever was with Enemy of the Music Business, Order of the Leech and The Code Is Red ... Long Live The Code. And with their latest, they show no signs of slowing down, mellowing out or pandering to mainstream convention. Despite the somewhat grand intro “Weltschmerz,” with vocal effects from The Gathering’s Anneke Van Giersbergen, once Napalm kick into “Sink Fast, Let’s Go” with guitarist Mitch Harris’ banshee howls, it’s off to the races with very little braking. While Smear Campaign is noticeably hookier and a bit more streamlined than the recent spate of albums, borrowing from the mid-’90s Diatribes era bag of tricks, it’s still as frantic, brutal and venomous as ever. Napalm put religious zealotry and moral fascism in the crosshairs this time out, and strafe them relentlessly on “Freedom Is The Wage of Sin,” “Rabid Wolves (For Christ)” and “Deaf and Dumbstruck” with attack dog frontman Barney Greenway leading the way. While Smear Campaign can get a bit heavy-handed at times from their own zeal, that’s probably not such a bad thing, because as Brutal Truth maintained back in the day, “Extreme Measures Demand Extreme Reponses.” And you can’t get much more extreme than this. A-

  • DEICIDE: The Stench of Redemption (Earache)
    After getting a new lease by signing on with the more appreciative Earache Records, Florida’s notorious Deicide now take advantage of some new blood for their second album with the label. Gone are the erratic Hoffman brothers, their places being taken by the much more fluid and savvy ex-Cannibal Corpse axeman Jack Owen and Ralph Santolla, formerly of Iced Earth and Death. Where 2004’s Scars of the Crucifix brought the band back to respectability with brutal authority after their half-hearted final efforts with Roadrunner, Stench takes things to a whole other realm. Sure, Deicide’s trademark sacrilege is there is spades — as evidenced by “Death To Jesus” and “Homage For Satan,” delivered with frontman Glen Benton’s usual voice-of-the-Antichrist flair — but Owen and Santolla bring a musicality and, dare I say, air of sophistication that is really quite amazing. The pair’s searing leadwork is nothing short of sensational, as they make for formidable sparring partners. And instead of merely delivering the usual death metal buzzsaw and bludgeon, their melodic flair and crafty flourishes give Deicide more versatile — and perhaps palatable — weaponry for battling those pesky Christians. Go get ‘em boys. A-

  • VADER: Impressions in Blood (Candlelight USA)
    Like Florida’s Cannibal Corpse — whose latest effort Kill does just that — Polish veterans Vader seem to have gotten a second wind over the last couple years, delivering some of their best work at the latter stages of their two-decade slog. With new drummer Daray — who came aboard after long-time skinsman Doc left to battle alcohol problems that eventually killed him last year — setting the tempo, Impressions is Vader’s most aggressive, furiously paced album in years. Brief orchestrated interludes give Impressions something of a theme album feel, but with tracks running the gamut from deliciously atheistic “Helleluyah!!! God Is Dead” to the grisly “Field of Heads” and the apocalyptic “Amongst The Ruins,” perhaps it serves more to just give people a quick breather before the band blasts off again. B+

  • SINISTER: Afterburner (Candlelight USA)
    Following a short-lived split, Dutch deathsters Sinister return with a new lineup and renewed energy, but their familiar sound unscathed. After two albums with the jarringly effective Rachel Heyzer singing, Sinister has a dude back behind the mic with original member Aad Kloosterwaard, who now has held every position with the band, having previously, at one time or another, played guitar, bass and drums. His gravel-throated growl is a perfect fit for the band’s rough-hewn, but certainly proficient bluster. Indeed the gritty texture of Sinister’s attack on Afterburner nearly masks some nifty riffing by Alex Paul and clever rhythmic shifts that go well beyond the usual blast and grind, especially on more epic tracks like “Presage of the Mindless” and monumental closer “Flesh of the Servant.” As comebacks go, this one’s first-rate. B+

    THRASH/METAL-CORE

  • UNEARTH: III – In The Eyes of Fire (Metal Blade)
    Bay State behemoths Unearth pick up right where they left off on 2004’s outstanding The Oncoming Storm with an utterly monstrous third album. Indeed, In The Eyes of Fire is even more bombastic and punishing, thanks to the band’s ruthless performance and the thunderous production by veteran Terry Date, who helped provide Pantera and White Zombie with their trademark punch. There’s no screwing around here, no pretty choruses or playful melodies designed to tease — although the relatively quiet instrumental “Big Bear And The Hour of Chaos” is spiked with piano. Instead, with singer Trevor Phipps screaming about “the beast within us all,” Unearth bring said beast to life on the backs of Ken Susi and Buzz McGrath’s rib-busting riffs and dog-fight solos. In The Eyes of Fire delivers some very heavy shit, especially with Phipps hollering about 17th century farmers who were crushed to death by stones after being convicted of witchcraft on “Giles.” Though Unearth can be too enamored of irksome breakdowns, the sheer crushing heaviness of In The Eyes of Fire is something not to be missed. B+

  • ALL THAT REMAINS: The Fall of Ideals (Prosthetic)
    You won’t find many singers with the extreme range of All That Remains frontman Phil Labonte. From the lycanthropic howl that kicks off the opening track “This Calling” to the operatic, crystal clear voice that graces its chorus to the ever-present hardcore bellow and intermittent Chris Barnes-like death metal puking and just about everything in between, Labonte really doesn’t miss a trick here on the Western Massachusetts band’s second album. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Like so many of these Jeckyl & Hyde thrash-core crossover bands, the vocal gymnastics often seem to have no rhyme or reason, other than to draw an extreme contrast. And what gets forgotten is decent songsmanship – the aforementioned “This Calling” and several other tracks excepting. A grooving breakdown and a few lines of clean vocals do not a good song necessarily make. And say what you will about Killswitch Engage, whose guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz produced Ideals, at least they now how to put a decent tune together. C

  • BURY YOUR DEAD: Beauty and the Breakdown (Victory)
    Anyone who tunes into the Headbangers Ball with any regularity is surely sick of the “We are Bury Your Dead and I want to see some violence!!!” ads that seem to run every 10 minutes. I know I am. I’m also usually suspect of something that is so relentlessly plugged. And the second album from these Bay Staters proves it’s with good reason. Bury Your Dead are a “heard one, heard ‘em all” metal-core band — like so many others in this often tiresome subgenre. And here, not only does the band pretty much sound like everyone else, their own songs all pretty much sound the same as well, due in large part to frontman Mat Bruso’s tedious one-dimensional hollering. Save your money and buy the new Hatebreed album. D

  • PURIFIED IN BLOOD: Reaper of Souls (Abacus)
    Don’t look for pig parts or sheep heads adorning the stage when these Norwegian extremists play. Unlike some of their black metal countrymen, this vegan sextet are as much about animal liberation — not to mention various other social and political agendas — as they are about spine-ripping metal. Like the former Earth Crisis, Purified is definitely a message-heavy band. However, these guys don’t seem quite so preachy, perhaps because they disguise their intentions to a certain extent with dumbed down death/black metal titles like “Gates of Gahenna,” “Unmarked Grave,” “Endless Evil” and “Skulltwister.” And with two vocalists hollering back and forth, incendiary twin-guitar volleys and a tenacious, extreme metal delivery, it’s tough to tell just what they hell Purified’s getting all apoplectic about anyway. Which may be just as well. B

  • THE AUTUMN OFFERING: Embrace The Gutter (Victory)
    Another Headbangers Ball ad fixture earlier in the summer, The Autumn Offering at least prove themselves worthy of some of the hype with their second release, and Victory Records debut. Way more metal than most of the label’s hardcore-leaning roster, the Daytona Beach quintet have an almost old-school Bay Area thrash sound. Indeed, with its assertive, chugging grooves, propulsive beats, and plentiful harmonized leads and tradeoffs, Embrace channels Exodus, Testament and, as on the more technical “One Last Thrill”, Puppets-era Metallica with aplomb. Frontman Dennis Miller’s barked vocals and the requisite breakdown parts do ensure hardcore’s presence is felt. But on the bruising, grandiose “Walk The Line” or “This Future Disease” you’ll barely notice or care. B+

    MISCELLANIA

  • YAKUZA: Samsara (Prosthetic)
    With their horn player and prog/jazz leanings, Chicago’s Yakuza made quite a splash in metal circles when they emerged a few years back. But rather than settle for life as a novelty act, the quartet learned some valuable lessons from playing with likes of Opeth and The Dillinger Escape and honed their sound and delivery for their third album. Samsara isn’t nearly as spasmodic and free-form as Yakuza’s previous albums. Instead of being studded with improv-like freakouts, Samsara builds around Matt McClelland’s gritty, surging riffs and he and Bruce Lamont’s tag-team vocals. Lamont’s horns and keyboard lend an ambient air to the proceedings here, separating the metallic bursts with ethereal Twin Peaks-like interludes. It makes for a more cohesive and, in the end, heavier sound overall — yet it’s still as unusual and extreme as metal comes. B+

  • GOJIRA: From Mars to Sirius (Prosthetic)
    With their wildly imaginative mishmash of environmental consciousness, science fiction, new-age mumbo jumbo and some of the heaviest metal imaginable, French extremists Gojira are unlike just about anything you’ve ever heard. The quartet’s roiling, expansive jams sometimes recall Mastodon, but Gojira actually do them one better — instead of just singing about whales, like Mastodon did with Leviathan, they incorporate actual whale sounds in the mix, notably on the instrumental “Unicorn.” Gojira also sing about dragons, global warming and outer space, all while demonstrating the sort of experimental musical flair you might find — for familiarity’s sake — in Tool or Voivod, but played with heaving heaviosity of Meshuggah. “Flying Whales” or “In The Wilderness” — which is like Rush’s “Trees” on human growth hormones — and, fittingly, “The Heaviest Matter in the Universe” are utterly massive. From Mars to Sirius is some wild and crazy shit. A

  • GADGET: The Funeral March (Relapse)
    Picking up where countrymen Nasum left off when their career was cut tragically short by the death of frontman Mieszko Talarczyk in the Indian Ocean tsunami, Sweden’s Gadget offer a wickedly crafty take on grindcore. Like Nasum, though without the industrial leanings, or underappreciated American noise terrorists Brutal Truth, Gadget takes the usual breakneck speed, corrosive wall of guitar, caterwauling vocals and knack for brevity — most tracks average less than 2 minutes per — and throw in plenty of curveballs. Tempos stop on a dime and yield to hulking, often catchy melodic passages, thundering Sabbath-like doom or drift off on a wash of eerie feedback before exploding in a hail of crank-fueled insanity again. And all the stops, starts and head-bangable hooks only make said insanity seem all the more frantic and ferocious. B+

  • CRETIN: Freakery (Relapse)
    Unlike their aforementioned labelmates Gadget, California’s Cretin are strictly low-brow, rude and crude. The trio’s raw-boned sound recalls early Napalm Death in its almost demo-quality presentation and militantly rudimentary construction that is pretty much just blast beats and hyperspeed riffing. Added to it is an perverse irreverence on “Uni-Tit,” “Walking a Midget” or “Cockfight” that rivals Agoraphobic Nosebleed or, when things get really nasty, Anal Cunt, which may well owe itself to the stints bassist Matt Widener and drummer Col Jones did with Bay Area sick fucks Exhumed. Filthy, noisy and downright creepy, Freakery certainly lives up to its name. C+

  • STARKWEATHER: Croatoan (Candlelight USA)
    Philly’s Starkweather have been around, amazingly, for nearly 20 years, yet have largely avoided detection save for those few tuned into the far fringes of the underground. With their first release on Candlelight USA giving them a bit more visibility, that may change, but then again it might not, for Croatoan is not an easy listen. Like Yakuza, Dillinger Escape Plan or Canadian death metal brainiacs Cryptopsy, Starkweather have a decidely avant-garde bent that turns “normal” composition and performance on its ear. Take grindcore, death metal, some prog and industrial metal and crash it headlong into a bit of jazz and the turbulent, brooding histrionics of Isis or Neurosis and you’ve got Starkweather. It’s messy and weird, especially on “Slither” or “Taming Leeches With Fire,” and, to a lot of people, probably won’t taste very good. But if you’re starving for something different, Starkweather certainly will fit the bill. B-

  • ALL SHALL PERISH: The Price of Existence (Nuclear Blast)
    Oakland’s All Shall Perish throw about everything but the kitchen sink into their sometimes astonishingly technically proficient dog’s breakfast of death metal, grind and metal core. Spectacularly complex drum patterns from human tornado Matt Kuykendall and wanky leadwork from Chris Storey highlight the band’s second album, which flits back and forth between the various styles it draws with such rapidity you’ll make yourself dizzy trying to follow along. Indeed Existence is so maddeningly choppy that it never really establishes a consistent enough groove to hold your interest, despite the band’s obvious musical prowess. And Herman Hermida’s multiple personality, tonsil-shredding vocals are like nails across a chalkboard the longer things go. C-


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