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Features

The Coroner's Report: The Deathcore Episode

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, September 8, 2009 @ 8:27 PM


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The marriage of "metal" and "core" has been rocky since day one. And it's gotten much more so over the past decade as it's grown from underground curiosity to mainstream mainstay, dividing the metal community into "love it" or "hate it" camps with its fusion of thrash, flash, brutish breakdowns, infectious/invasive melodies and Jekyll & Hyde clean/scream vocals.

While the metalcore pairing has yielded some high points - Converge, Snapcase, early Killswitch Engage and Darkest Hour, pre-big label Shadows Fall, a smattering of Hatebreed - it more often than not has yielded disappointment, consternation or downright embarrassment as it birthed one clone after another. And where things have really gotten ugly is in the rise of its mutant offspring deathcore, where the aforementioned elements get squashed together with death metal’s bonesaw riffing, puking vocals and general discordance.

Depending on your take and tastes, deathcore is either the next best thing in metal or a steaming pile of tuneless crap. And there’s certainly something to be said on both sides of the argument. But there’s no denying, the shit’s selling like mad these days – and not just to the Hot Topic crowd. So love it or hate it, you really can’t ignore it.

So for this installment, I talked to deathcore’s biggest, most polarizing band – Riverside, Calif.’s Suicide Silence – and Arizona’s Job For A Cowboy, who have maintained the large audience they built on a deathcore foundation despite largely removing the "core" from their sound.

SUICIDE SILENCE: Turds in the Punch Bowl

Suicide Silence may be leading the deathcore charge, earning a spot in the Top 40 with their new second album No Time To Bleed, but can they they pass the ultimate test - winning over the Slayer crowd? Well it may have only been four dates, but if the band's recent Canadian Carnage Tour experience is any indication, the answer is yes.

"That was our first arena tour, so we were overexcited for it, playing with established bands like Machine Head, Slayer and Megadeth, it was just ridiculous, we didn't know what to expect," said frontman Mitch Lucker. "We were thinking we could get booed offstage every night, but it was nothing like that. It was insane every night, it was cool as fuck."

"Honestly, our crew was like, 'Wow, you guys were surprisingly good, you never get Slay-ered or anything. You guys got lucky.' So that was cool. Slayer's an immensity; you can't fuck with Slayer. And even though it was short, that tour was a good warm up for us and showed we could take it to the next level and handle ourselves with the big boys."

It'd be easy to see how not only Slayer's notoriously unwelcoming crowd might be turned off by Suicide Silence, but any audience not attuned to the harshest of metal. Suicide's music is an all-out sensory assault with its spasmodic fits and starts of hulking breakdowns and blast-beat breakaways, divebomb riffing and Lucker's bipolar death growl-meets-torture chamber scream vocals. And while the band's songcraft has improved dramatically since their 2007 debut The Cleansing, No Time To Bleed can still be an exercise in extreme unpleasantness for anyone who doesn't know what they are in for.

And yet that is part of Suicide Silence's unlikely relative success, according to Lucker. Because preaching to the converted will only get you so far, the band loves to play before unfamiliar audiences and is utterly unafraid of being the turd in the punchbowl of a show or tour featuring bands who sound nothing like them.

Case in point, the Pedal To The Metal tour they were part of all summer, which featured Mudvayne, Black Label Society [at least until Zakk Wylde's blood clot issues] and Static-X. As the second band on the bill, Suicide will likely be a rude awakening to many of those other bands' fans, which is all right by Lucker.

"We try to mix up our tours as much as possible, we do straight up death metal tours with Nile and Carcass and Behemoth and we'll do nu metal tours, playing with Lacuna Coil, Slipknot, we played with Disturbed," he said. "We're trying to spread our extreme music to as many different types of people as possible. We don't want to close ourselves off and just do death metal tour, death metal tour, death metal tour and just have a death metal audience, that would be fucking boring.

"The reason tours [like Pedal to the Metal] are so much fun is those fans just want to go to a show to go crazy. They want to spend tons of money on beer all night and get fucked up and have a good time. So even if they hate our music, Suicide Silence goes out of our way to put on the best live show of our ability every night. So by the end, I've got everybody putting the horns in the air, everybody headbanging and singing the words, it's fucking awesome. You just gotta woo the crowd." The results speak for themselves. No Time To Bleed sold twice as many copies its first week out as The Cleansing, opening at #32 on Billboard. And thanks to the 290 shows the band played in support of The Cleansing, Bleed is also a better, more nuanced album - which also owes something to the production guidance of Machine, who worked with Lamb of God a couple times - though certainly still pretty damn abrasive and noisy.

And just where does a sound like Suicide Silence's roiling cacophony come from? Lucker explains.

"Everyone has really different influences, but everyone is focused on what we all have in common," he said. "Bands like Slipknot, Korn and Deftones, that was the shit that was crazy when we were young. And then we started getting into heavier shit, bands like Suffocation. That was a huge influence as well. Everyone comes together and throws bits and pieces together and we compose songs, and it works."

And as for his all-over-the-place vocal style which incorporates just about everything but clean singing, that was something of a happy accident you can kind of blame his brother for.

"My brother started jamming in bands a long time ago and one day he needed someone to sing, so I said all right," said Lucker, who's 2-year-old daughter's bawling through part or our interview - she'd lost her sunglasses - shows the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree. "We were doing Hatebreed covers and shit like that, and that's really how it started. As I started singing more, I started improvising and getting better, and once I started touring full time with Suicide Silence I learned how to make different sounds and try new techniques.

"You just figure things out, it's like playing the guitar, the more you do it to more you get out of it. It's an instrument, over time it's just developed. I can definitely sing sing, but I don't know if that's ever going to be part of our repertoire, as abrasive as our music is."

JOB FOR A COWBOY: Like Maniacs

Some time the "core" doesn't quite stick. Case in point, Glendale, Ariz., ragers Job For A Cowboy who began life as a deathcore outfit in 2003, but have become decidedly more "deathly" on the two albums - 2007's Genesis and the new Ruination - since their debut EP Doom was issued in 2005. Indeed a few lurching breakdowns aside - and most of them are on one song, "To Detonate and Exterminate" - Ruination is much more of a death metal/thrash mutation, coursing with speed, abrasive riffing and frontman Jonny Davy's rambling growl that has long since rid itself of the self-described "pig squeals" of old.

Near constant line-up churn - Davy is the only original member remaining - has certainly played a role in JFAC's rapidly evolving sound, even though the band's latest addition, guitarist Al Glassman, previously hailed with Montreal deathcore brutes Despised Icon. A lot of touring over the past couple years - and the fact that the band members aren't teen-agers anymore - has helped hone it even further.

"When Doom was recorded, those guys were all in high school, they were still learning to play and write songs," said drummer Jon Rice, who came aboard just as Genesis was being completed. "With the entrance of Bobby [Thompson, guitarist who joined in time to play on Genesis], Al and me in the band, our influences obviously come into play, so it was going to be different no matter what.

"There's a lot more groove on the new album, but there's also still the extreme death metal influence. Al used to be in a band called Goratory, so his influence is very much as a death metalhead, he writes death metal riffs, and when you add that to Bobby's influences you have a lot better music and a lot better record that what Genesis was." For Ruination, Rice said, "We just took our time and wrote death metal that we enjoy. We wrote a record that we could all be really proud of. We really nit-picked on a lot of the small details, whether it be riffing or drum parts, the whole process, we were pretty particular about it. That was quite a contrast from how things were done for the Genesis album, which was pretty much thrown together really quickly."

Indeed, Rice came aboard as former drummer Elliott Sellers, who had left the band some months earlier, was finishing up drum parts he recorded as a favor when his heir apparent, Shannon Lucas who is now with The Black Dahlia Murder, didn't work out. A week later, JFAC was out on tour.

In spite of the rush, the lineup tumult and their sonic shift, JFAC took off in 2007. Buoyed by a large following the band built through their MySpace page - a phenomenon that was still somewhat new at the time - and the Doom EP, Genesis roared out of the game, selling 13,000 copies in its first week of release.

"As a group we were all pretty shocked, what with the record industry and the music industry just completely screwed up right now," said Rice. "So we were not expected to chart [Genesis debuted at #54] or sell 13,000 records in the first week, we were completely blown away by that."

The band haven't looked back since. During the 18 months of road work for Genesis, JFAC landed coveted slots in the states on the Sounds of the Underground tour, Gigantour and the Radio Rebellion tour. Sharing the stage with veteran acts like Amon Amarth, Shadows Fall, Megadeth, In Flames and Children of Bodom opened JFAC's eyes on how to bring it live. The Radio Rebellion co-headlining run with Poland's mighty Behemoth only made them tighter.

"As a band, we had to step up our game so much because Behemoth is such an intimidating and incredibly good live band and some nights we were playing after them, so we really had to play like maniacs," Rice said. "And Gojira, who played second, Beneath The Massacre opened, is one of the best live bands I've ever seen. And playing after them as well was insane because they really have this total package of the sound, their stage presence, they way they conduct themselves onstage. It really helped us as a touring band."

Good thing. Ruination debuted at #42 at the end of July at about the same time JFAC began their support for the album with Glassman having taken over for guitarist Ravi Bhadriraju, who left to attend medical school. They again teamed with Behemoth – along with Cannibal Corpse, Black Dahlia Murder and Whitechapel - on the Hot Topic "extreme metal" stage at this summer's Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival and were headed out in early fall in an unusual teaming with Lamb of God and Gwar.

EXTREME READING

One of the best pieces on extreme music I've read in a long time was a recent cover story in the Sunday magazine in, of all places, The Washington Post. Written by an admitted novice, David Powell, the magazine's 50-something editor who had the temerity to attend the Maryland Deathfest in May in a dress shirt and tie - with amusing results - the lengthy feature, "Into The Darkness," highlights said festival along with Northern Virginia grind merchants Pig Destroyer. And where the Post typically turns their nose up at just about anything metal, dismissing it with snarky ridicule, this article paints a vivid yet respectful - and more importantly accurate - picture of extreme metal culture and provides a fascinating, remarkably detailed look at how one of the underground's most daring, unique acts grinds its musical sausage. And while Powell still might not like the taste, he obviously now appreciates how it's made, and why.

The article is still available online and I would definitely recommend checking it out at: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/31/AR2009073102026.html

For something by metal geeks for metal geeks, Decibel magazine has just published the rather wussily titled, though certainly worthwhile book "Precious Metal," a collection of the magazine's "Hall of Fame" columns that chart "the stories behind 25 landmark extreme metal masterpieces" in the bands' own words. Because of Decibel's arcane ground rules that I won't bore you with here, there are many notable exceptions - Master of Puppets, Vulgar Display of Power, Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Thus a number of obscurities - Eyehategod's Take As Needed for Pain, Botch's We Are the Romans - and dubious "landmarks" - Kyuss' Welcome to Sky Valley, Monster Magnet's Dopes to Infinity, Sleep's Jerusalem - make the grade and though enlightening, probably won't prove terribly interesting to anyone who isn't a serious underground nerd.

But for the inside dope on such genre defining classics as Slayer's Reign In Blood, Cannibal Corpse's Tomb of the Mutilated, Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness, Celtic Frost's Morbid Tales, Obituary's Cause of Death, Carcass' Necroticism, Napalm Death's Scum,etc., "Precious Metal" offers the kind of fly on the wall perspective you almost never get. Though the interviews tend to be thick with fan boy gushing, they also are probing and garner some brutal honesty - especially when discussing the tenuous lineup situations of many of these bands. As with the Post article, if you want to know how the musical sausage is made, "Precious Metal" will give you the gory details, lips, ears, nads and all.

THE SHIT LIST: Of Pirates, Pagans and Romans

1349 - Revelations of the Black Flame (Candlelight)

Not sure just WTF Norway's 1349 are trying to accomplish here, but the usually hellish quartet are uncharacteristically and unfortunately artsy and boring on Revelations. Opening with six minutes of scream-infused ambient twaddle on "Invocation" is a strategic blunder 1349 only compound by interspersing more ponderous interludes - "Horns," the piano plinking "Misanthropy" - and overwrought epics - "Uncreation" - throughout the album. They strip Revelations of any momentum and leave the band sounding more like Into The Pandemonium-era Celtic Frost than the feral black metal of Hellfire or Beyond The Apocalypse. There are moments of old school fire sparked by the tornadic drumming of Satyricon's Frost, "Maggot Fetus Teeth Like Thorns" for example, but too much of the Revelations stumbles around vainly searching for direction. A big disappointment. C-

ANAAL NATHRAKH - In the Constellation of the Black Widow (Candlelight)

This dorky English duo is probably the scariest, most ridiculously vicious black metal act you've never heard of. Eschewing all of the usual visual trappings and garishness, Anaal Nathrakh - vocalist VITRIOL and instrumentalist Mick Kenney - focus everything on the music, and it fucking kills. Their fusion of black metal with industrial metal and grindcore is calamitous, surprisingly distinctive and utterly perfected on this their fifth full-length. As with their past efforts, Widow is pure evil genius, only bigger, louder and more terrifying. VITRIOL's screeching vocals sound like an interrogation at Guantanamo Bay and, when combined with the Kenney's assaultive old-Carcass-meets-old-Emperor soundscape, may well make you bleed out your ears - or crap in your pants. A

ARCH ENEMY - The Root of All Evil (Century Media)

There is nothing fundamentally wrong or bad about Arch Enemy's first three albums - Black Earth, Stigmata and Burning Bridges - which featured former vocalist Johan Liiva. Indeed the thunderous Black Earth, in my book, is the best, heaviest album they've done, hands down. But like Exodus, Testament, Destruction, etc., Arch Enemy felt obligated to re-record - and in some cases reinterpret - some of the old material, with current singer Angela Gossow redoing the vocals. The results are mixed at best. In many cases, especially on Black Earth tracks "Bury Me An Angel," "Dark Insanity" and "Transmigration Macabre," Liiva’s brusque bellow is way better suited to the hooky crunch than Gossow's raspy shrieks. Ditto the perennial bonus track "Diva Satanica," a perfect theme song for Gossow that her voice just can’t do justice to. Musically, everything is right as rain - even if the sound is a bit slicker than Fredrik Nordström’s bruising original production - with the graceful guitar work Chris and Michael Amott sounding as spectacular as ever. But nothing here really improves on the first go-round. And since all three albums have been reissued in the last two years, Root of All Evil is just plain unnecessary. C

ARKAEA - Years In The Darkness (E1)

Fear Factory's apparently now former rhythm section - at least as far as frontman Burton Bell and guitarist Dino Cazares, who've reformed the band without Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera, are concerned - team with the frontman and bassist of Canada's Threat Signal for this new band that - surprise! - sounds a lot like Fear Factory. Actually more like Fear Factory - half the songs were apparently intended for what was supposed to the band's next album - meets Linkin Park. The combination might not necessarily be so bad were the songs not almost all built on the same formula of gnashing, though often pedestrian, industrial-metal verses leading into booming clean choruses powered by Jon Howard's earnest howling. And over 14 tracks, Years In The Darkness grows tiresome rather quickly - the punishing "Awakening" aside. C-

BEHEMOTH - Evangelion (Metal Blade)

There's not much you can say about the ninth album from Polish titans Behemoth other than "Holy shit!" Evangelion is a MASSIVE album, with a much bolder, more mean-ass sound than Behemoth's already mean-ass earlier efforts thanks to the speaker-rattling production of Daniel Bergstrand and mix by Colin Richardson (Carcass, Slipknot, Napalm Death). It's a cascading, assaultive work that roars off the launchpad with "Diamonos"and just keeps building. It's full-on from the get-go - drummer Inferno is an absolute beast here - yet with moments of surprising, crushing catchiness as on "Ov Fire and the Void" and surging "The Seed Ov I" and "Alas, Lord is Upon Me." Then, after hammering away for about 35 minutes, the band deliver a stunning coup de grace with the mammoth dirge "Lucifer," the slowest, heaviest, most epic track they've ever done. It's a sly, wicked finale to an album that already should have you heeding frontman Nergal's command in "Diamonos:" "Bow to me, in adulation." Awesome. A+

CTHONIC - Mirror of Retribution (Spinefarm/Universal)

Taiwanese black metallers Cthonic stepped up to the world stage with their fourth album Seediq Bale, and established themselves as something more than a mere curiosity. They earned a lot of mainstream press because of their outspokenness on behalf of Taiwanese independence and their musical chops earned them a shiny new deal with Spinefarm/Universal Music. The band's new album benefits immensely from that experience and the more professional environment that now surrounds them. Working with producer Rob Caggiano - the Anthrax guitarist who's worked with Cradle of Filth, Bleeding Through - they have crafted an album that sounds miles better than Seedig Bale in every way. Not coincidentally, Mirror hints of Cradle of Filth in its grandiosity and symphonic flare with its constant wash of keyboards and frontman Freddy Lim's occasional sawing on a two-string violin. But said violin also helps give Mirror a uniquely Asian feel that accentuates its mystical theme and the band's black metal savvy. While Cthonic's costuming still looks fairly ridiculous - though bassist Doris is pretty smokin' - they got it right just about everywhere else. B

DARKEST HOUR - The Eternal Return (Victory)

Perhaps as a result of the recent departure of guitarist Kris Norris, D.C.'s Darkest Hour take a more simplified approach for their sixth album, and hark back a bit to 2001's thrash-tastic Hidden Hands of the Sadist Nation. Eternal Return is pretty much straight-up, bulldog thrash that dismisses some of the complexity and flash of their last couple albums. And it rocks like no one's business. "Death Worship," 'Blessed Infection," "No God" and "The Tides" chug like a runaway locomotive, aided by frontman Joe Henry's seething bark, which is much easier to handle than the ear-piercing screams he used to employ. He gives Testament's Chuck Billy a run for his money here. New guitarist Mike Carrigan fits in great, and he and Mike Schleibaum still shred up a storm - "Tides" has an especially wild tandem lead break. But it’s their bruising riffs that win the day, and they don't come much more, umm, bruising-er than they do here. A-

DIVINE HERESY - Bringer of Plagues (Century Media)

With all the recent drama over the reformation of Fear Factory - and the potential for legal action from the slighted ex-members - it would seem that guitarist Dino Cazares is stealing whatever thunder the second album from his now "other band" was going to muster. Not that Divine Heresy isn't used to drama, what with the mid-tour firing of singer Tommy Cummings and his altercations with Cazares. But Bringer of Plagues now seems like an afterthought, even though it's more a fully realized effort than 2007's Bleed The Fifth as the band has had time to gel with new singer Travis Neal. Divine Heresy still sounds like a thrashier version of Fear Factory, but with more range and depth than before. Instead of Cazares merely trying to match Tim Yueng's rivet-gun drumming - though there's still plenty of that - the ballad-like "Darkness Embedded" that utilizes Neal's clean vocals throughout and the teeth-clenched brawlers "Anarchaos" and "Monolithic Doomsday Devices" put some more meat to Divine Heresy's bones - not the Cazares really needs any more meat, if you know what I'm saying. C+

ENSIFERUM - From Afar (Spinefarm)

A bit less theatrical and campy than some of their Finnish brethren - notably the warpaint swathed, animal pelt festooned Turisas or Korpiklaani - at least in a live setting, Ensiferum nevertheless are steeped in the same folk/pagan metal musical traditions, for better or worse. Renaissance fair instrumentation, heathen themes, epic harmonies and galloping thrash metal get rolled into one big clamor on their fourth album that is at times somber, triumphant, festive or just plain weird. The racing, occasionally anthemic guitar interplay of Petri Lindroos and Markus Toivonen is pretty cool, but often is interrupted by thematic fluff - like the whistling and cheesy voice-over passage in "Stone Cold Metal" for instance - overlong intros and folksy breaks. Just when things get going, From Afar stumbles under its own weight, especially on the bloated "Heathen Throne" and "The Longest Journey," which at nearly 13 minutes proves to be an all-to-apt title. C

EX DEO - Romulus (Nuclear Blast)

"Gladiator" meets metal in the Roman-themed side project from Kataklysm frontman Maurizio Iacono. And it's actually much better than you might have any right to expect. Epic and brimming with dramatic flourishes like battle trumpets and legion-rallying voice-overs, it's at the same time dense and extremely heavy, and manages to avoid much of the cheesiness this kind of concept all but invites. Iacono's determined growl and inspired script about war, death and the Roman Empire are ably presented with the help of Kataklysm guitarist Jean-Francois Dagenais - who played on and produced Romulus - and special guest guitar soloists Karl Sanders (of ancient Egypt-o-philes Nile), Obsidian C. (Keep of Kalessin) and Nergal (Behemoth). And Iacono wisely doesn't go way overboard with the conceptual window-dressing - see Ensiferum above and Swashbuckle below - which leaves Romulus sounding like cool, offbeat death metal instead of merely ridiculous. B

GOATWHORE - Carving Out the Eyes of God (Metal Blade)

What was once just a satanic side band for Soilent Green frontman Ben Falgoust and ex-Acid Bath guitarist Sammy Duet has taken on quite a life of its own. Goatwhore's second release with Metal Blade, and fourth overall, is their most basic and bruising. Stripping away most of the black metalisms in favor of more straight-up death metal - though certainly steeped in evil - Eyes of God boasts the punch and crunch of a band that have grown into their own skin - as ugly as it might be. Duet's churning riffage is more prominent here, and makes for a more punishing listen, especially when paired with Falgoust's drill sergeant hollering about death, the apocalypse and godlessness. The slowed down "To Mourn and Forever Wander Through Forgotten Doorways" brings things to a sinister close. B+

GOD DETHRONED - Passiondale (Metal Blade)

A concept album about an epic World War I battle from a formerly blasphemous death metal band, sounds like a recipe for disaster, eh? Holland's God Dethroned have been dabbling in grander, more "sophisticated" fare over their last few albums - notably 2004's Lair of the White Worm - and bring their lessons learned to bear quite successfully with Passiondale. Blending full-frontal brutality with sweeping atmospheric passages and occasional nicely done runs of clean vocals by Henri Sattler, the band tell the tale of 1917's Battle of Passchendaele, a four-month series of strikes and counterstrikes in the Belgian mud noted for its staggering casualties - some 600,000 dead - and minimal gains. Tracks like "Poison Fog," "No Man's Land" and "Drowning In Mud" put you right down amid the horror of the trenches and mustard gas, while "No Survivors" and "Fallen Empire" speak volumes about the ultimate futility of all that death and destruction. B+

IWRESTLEDABEARONCE - It's All Happening (Century Media)

Irreverence is a key component of Iwrestledabearonce's schtick. Indeed schticky is just how a lot of people will find these Louisiana avant-gardists, who sound like a mish-mash of some of Faith No More frontman Mike Patton's projects - notably Fantomas and Mr. Bungle - or a brutaller version of The Mars Volta. Death metal, prog-rock, grindcore, techno, free jazz, country, Alanis Morrissette-like emo-pop and this, that and the other thing all get thrown into the blender here and ground into mystery meat that is most definitely an acquired taste. Led by the freaked out vocals of Krysta Cameron, who can be earnest and operatic one moment then roar like a friggin' lion the next, and boasting a snarky humor - song titles include "Tastes Like Kevin Bacon" and "Pazuzu for the Win" - the spasmodic IWABO are certainly unpredictable yet often pretty darn intense and, if given a chance, weirdly captivating. But because of their utter lack on conventionality - which arguably can amount to unlistenability - they could just as well be dismissed as a shitty joke. B-

NECROPHOBIC - Death To All (Regain)

Swedish black/death veterans Necrophobic mark their 20th anniversary with an homage to, well, death and Satan. Leading off with "Celebration of the Goat" and "Revelation 666," the band revel in damnation for the first two-thirds of Death To All over a gnashing, refreshingly simple black/thrash backing that recalls Dissection or Nifelheim. This all builds to the death march conclusion of "Wings of Death" and the three-part, nearly nine-minute minute title track that boast more dexterity, and even some acoustic guitars and choir-like harmonies. While not the most spectacular album you'll ever hear, Death To All nevertheless is a cleverly constructed, brutally effective work by a band that obviously knows what it's doing. B

OBITUARY - Darkest Day (Candlelight)

The "redneck stomp" continues on. Obituary's third album since their 2003 resurrection once again serves up a heaping helping of death metal built around fat, southern-fried grooves. But what distinguishes Darkest Day from its somewhat monotonous predecessors is the presence and guitar work of Ralph Santolla, who replaced original lead guitarist Alan West in time to put some solos on 2007's Xecutioner's Return but was part of Day from the start. His nimble, sweeping leads and flourishes add some welcome character to Obituary's otherwise meat-and-potatoes chunkiness - especially in the lumbering title track, but even on more up-tempo fare like "Fields of Pain" - and make a nice counter to John Tardy's paint-peeling howls. The band also throw some appreciated thrashier moments - like the punky "Violent Dreams" - to help break up some of the groove-o-rama singlemindedness that has been the calling card of their comeback. And every little bit helps. C+

PESTILENCE - Resurrection Macabre (Mascot)

Danish quartet Pestilence return after a 14-year hiatus with original guitarist Patrick Mameli bringing together former guitarist Patrick Uterwijk, one-time bassist Tony Choy and new drummer Peter Wildoer (ex-Darkane and Soilwork) for an album that somewhat surprisingly revisits the band's earliest days. Before morphing into something of a wanky prog-metal-fusion act before their split, Pestilence were a pretty formidable death/thrash metal outfit. And it's that spirit Mameli and company harness with the thrash and burn Resurrection and tracks like "Horror Detox," "In Sickness and Death" and "Hate Suicide." While its compositions are still somewhat intricate, the album is way more about brutality than technicality with its roughshod guitaring, Mameli's harsh vocals and violent lyrics and Wildoer's unrelenting battery. It's the sound of 14 years - and then some - of pent-up aggression being unleashed. Duck and cover. B+

SUFFOCATION - Blood Oath (Nuclear Blast)

Things have been pretty sweet for death metal vets Suffocation since they reformed after their six-year hiatus in 2004 - capped by, of all things, a Discover Channel commercial. The fact that the band are also musically at the top of their game is a bonus. The third album into their reunion, sixth overall and first under a new deal with Nuclear Blast, Blood Oath is bludgeoning affair whose understated complexity is often masked by its sheer heaviosity. Instead of trying to blow everyone away with their virtuosity - a trap too many technical death metal bands fall into - Suffocation hone it here with slower tempos, a bigger bottom end and thicker riffing for a pummel and menace that is really quite staggering. "Dismal Dream" and "Mental Hemorrhage" are absolutely bulldozing. And "Marital Decimation" - which continues the band's tradition of re-recording tracks from 1993's toothless Breeding The Spawn - makes up for its former deficiencies and then some. A-

SWASHBUCKLE - Back to the Noose (Nuclear Blast)

So now we have "pirate" metal. From New Jersey, no less. Unbelievable. And we're talking the "avast ye scurvy dogs," rum-swilling, peg-leg and eye-patch pirates of old too, not the scrawny Somalis toting rocket-propelled grenades who are wreaking havoc these days. Like their Scottish contemporaries Alestorm, Swashbuckle - Admiral Nobeard, Commodore RedRum and Captain Crashride! - milk the pirate theme for all its worth - "Yarrrrrr!" affectations, blousey costumes, tales of mayhem on the high seas and even some authentic pipe and whistle instrumentation - and tie it up in a package best described by the band themselves in "Splash-n-Thrash." But while one can admire Swashbuckle's "take no prisoners, take no shit" ethos, this is pure gimmickry that gets old fast. C

TENET - Sovereign (Century Media)

An idea hatched in 1996 by then-Strapping Young Lad guitarist Jed Simon and then-Testament guitarist Glen Alvelais, this "supergroup" - also featuring ex-Exodus frontman Steve Souza and Simon's SYL bandmates Gene Hoglan on drums and Byron Stroud on bass - finally yields some old-school thrash fruit. Unlike the piss-taking Zimmer's Hole - which also features Simon, Stroud and Hoglan - Tenet is dead serious, for the most part, churning out classic thrash with a veteran's shrewd aplomb most new school revivalists can only wish for. Simon and Alvelais shred like nobody's business - the twin solos on "Crown of Thorns," "Hail, Hail" and "Take A Long Line," for instance, are amazing. And Souza belts it out with more fervor than he's shown in years. As throwbacks go, this is spot on - as I suppose it should be, given Tenet's pedigree - full of reckless energy, moshability and, most of all, purpose. B+

WINDS OF PLAGUE - The Great Stone War (Century Media)

The third album from California sextet Winds of Plague takes deathcore brutality and gives it a symphonic, black metally twist. The band lay it on pretty thick with The Great Stone War, a concept album ripe with voice-overs, bountiful keyboards, an involved apocalypse-meets-Conan-the-Barbarian storyline and grandiosity. As deathcore goes, this about as musical and sophisticated as it gets. Frontman Johnny Plague goes a bit easy on the vocal gymnastics, opting for a Cookie Monster-tinged scream most of the way through, and it plays well with the surprisingly intricate instrumentation that is akin to American black metallers Abigail Williams - with whom keyboardist Kristen Randall played for a time - or goth-core vets Bleeding Through. That's not to say Stone War doesn't tear ass, it certainly does, but there's a lot more going on on here than mere spastic fits and starts punctuated by the occasional breakdown gutpunch. And Winds of Plague put it all together with much more savvy - and compose much more satisfying and interesting material - than they did on their unremarkable previous album, Decimate The Weak. B

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM - Black Cascade (Southern Lord)

The most thought-provoking band to emerge from the relatively stale world of black metal amazingly hails from the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Like the aforementioned Anaal Nathrakh, Olympia, Wash., trio Wolves in the Throne skip the corpse paint, silly costumes and dopey pseudonyms and put all their effort into their sprawling, transcendent music that fuses traditional Scandinavian-style black metal with ambient flourishes, an eerie, Doom-like vibe and "eco-spiritual" vision. There's definitely a genuineness here you don't find very much anymore. At its core, Wolves recall Norway's infamous Burzum, but instead of Spartan droning, the band's titanic compositions are a miasma of shrill, racing riffs, tonsil-ripping vocals and roiling percussion punctuated by earthy synths and effects - not the usual neo-classical bombast. The scale on the band's third album is incredible. Black Cascade's 50 minutes are consumed by but four tracks, each more monumental than the next. Yet there's a heady, hypnotic quality about the meandering, free-form "Wanderer Above the Sea and Fog" or "Crystal Ammunition" that hold your attention much more effectively than five minutes of overblown black metal histrionics typically will, and still manage to pound the crap out of you. A

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