Thursday, February 9, 2012 @ 1:51 PM
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Happy 2012 - our last year on Earth, if the Mayans are to be believed. Or at least if the doomsday prophets who claim the Mayans predicted this will be our last year on Earth are to be believed. Whatever.
How many Rapture/end of the world false alarms did we have just last year? Yet we’re still here. And if the Mayans were/are correct, oh well. Guess it’s been a good run. And at least we’ve got to Dec. 20th or so to get our things in order and make our peace before the end of days arrives - be it by asteroid, polar shift, mega-volcanic eruption, pandemic, alien invasion or an army of zombies hoping to feast on our sweet, sweet brains. Take your pick. Until then, enjoy.
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Armageddon Finally Comes – In Paperback
Speaking of the apocalypse, Jeremy Wagner - one-time rhythm guitarist/main lyricist with death metallers Broken Hope and Lupara who has turned his attention to horror fiction - gives it a metallic twist with his new book "The Armageddon Chord," which was issued Aug. 22 and is available wherever books are sold - which these days, I guess, is pretty much just Amazon.com. There’s a Kindle edition, too! (Click on the book to purchase)
It’s sort of like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" meets "Queen of the Damned" meets a Nile album. Take a lot of ancient Egyptian mythology and artifacts, a disfigured Nazi archeologist and his cancer-riddled-rich-dude-seeking-eternal-life paymaster and throw them together with a "god of guitar" whose prowess holds the key to opening the door to hell - or slamming it shut - and you’ve got "The Armageddon Chord" in a nutshell.
With its ample Egyptological, musical and biblical geek-speak, it’s obvious Wagner isn’t just some death metal blockhead who’s interests and inspiration begin and end with the grotesquerie Broken Hope so gleefully bathed themselves in - and which he was largely responsible for scripting. In their day, thanks to Wagner’s delightful "She Came Out In Chunks," "Coprophagia," "Hobo Stew" and "Necro-Fellatio,"Broken Hope were one of the sickest bands around, on par with Cannibal Corpse or Carcass, even if Joe Ptacek’s esophageal vocals were unintelligible.
But despite detailing the end of days and the annihilation of humanity by Satan’s legions, there’s precious little graphic splatter to be found in "Armageddon." And, aside from one henchman who ends up with a pistol up his ass, there’s certainly nothing along the lines of "Scrotum nailed to the block, testicles obliterated by ball-peen hammer ..." from Broken Hope’s "Decimated Genitalia."
Wagner’s moved on to headier fare here, with a narrative that no longer relies on mere cheap thrills. As an author, he is definitely no H.P. Lovecraft or Stephen King. His meat-and-potatoes prose is simple to a fault, his dialogue is often painfully hokey and/or clichéd and the characters are paper-thin caricatures. But the book is an undeniably fun, and quick - only 254 easy-to-digest pages - read that feels like a "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits" episode.
Wagner keeps the action moving, steers away - for the most part - from extraneous subplots and manages to transform a death metal fantasy into an engaging tale that will go fine with some Nile, Melechesh, Orphaned Land, Absu or older Morbid Angel on your iPod.
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A Tale of Two "Supergroups"
Now onto some actual music. First, let’s take a look at the rather different fortunes of two extreme metal "supergroups" - one of which, European grinders Lock Up, is back in business and pushing forward after a long hiatus, while the other, American quartet World Under Blood, is struggling to merely get off the blocks and may have a tenuous future at best.
Let’s start with World Under Blood, whose "supergroup" status was in jeopardy even as their long-awaited debut Tactical was finally released in late summer on Nuclear Blast. By then, the melodic death metal "group" had shed half its members, including drummer Tim Yeung who, along with CKY guitarist Deron Miller, made up the "super" part of the equation. Yeung (ex-Divine Heresy/Hate Eternal, etc.) decided to soldier on in Pete Sandoval’s stead with Morbid Angel. Bassist Risha Eryavec bolted as well, leaving Miller and guitarist Luke Jaeger to carry on.
Though former In This Moment bassist Kyle Konkiel joined in the fall, the search for a drummer was proving more elusive.
"I put a posting on our Facebook page that said we were looking for a drummer who could play death metal and lived in the Los Angeles area," Miller said in a phone interview from his Santa Clarita, Calif., home. "I thought it was specific enough, but I was getting videos from people on the East Coast or people who had no idea of what death metal was or how to play it. They just heard a band needed a drummer and sent something in. It’s been frustrating. I try to have a positive attitude, but I fear for the youth of today. I don’t see much potential."
And despite their own potential, all World Under Blood really have to show for going on six years of on-and-off effort is Tactical. Miller teamed up with Yeung in 2006, creating quite a buzz on Myspace with their initial demo recordings soon thereafter. But with their respective commitments to other bands, and a host of other issues, progress has been slow and sporadic ever since.
"When I heard Hate Eternal’s Conquering The Throne, which Tim played on, I couldn’t believe it," Miller said. "That record was the fastest record I had ever heard, and for me it can never be too fast. And I was like ‘wow, this guy is amazing." And I happened to run into him in L.A. And it turned out we were fans of each other.
"We talked about that for a while and said, ‘Why not do a band together?’ We started working it right away and got the interest going and I got excited and probably announced it too prematurely. The problem with Tim is he’d never been a member of a band. He’s always been a hired gun, so trying to coordinate schedules with him has been difficult because he’s been in like five bands over the years and he even considered this as one of his employers, instead of an employer himself.
"And that came as a surprise. Whatever he’s doing in Morbid Angel, I don’t know if he’s gonna keep doing it or that’s going to come to an end, but I’ve gotta find some stable, passionate person with a positive attitude if we’re going to tour."
As yet, however, World Under Blood have not performed live – or even played together as a unit, for that matter.
"The band has been in one room together one time," Miller said. "And it was for a photo session - and now two of them aren’t even in the band any more (laughs). I actually have the new bass player coming over today to learn the music. So that’s a start."
Yet for everything World Under Blood has been through - not to mention the four-some years it took get the debut finished or that Miller’s background was way more rock/punk than metal - Tactical is a surprisingly solid, sometimes awesome outing. Of course, Yeung’s drumming is as precise and punishing as a rivet gun, but there is some genuinely potent riffing here from Miller and Jaeger and the material - buoyed by Miller’s melodic brushstrokes - is as catchy as it is vicious. Tracks like "I Can’t Stand His Name" and "Into The Arms of Cruelty" are the real deal.
"The only way to be successful in the music industry now is to appeal to middle American morons and 14-year-old girls."
"I’m really not a fan of metal these days, of the new stuff coming out," Miller said. "I wanted to put out a record that I wanted to hear. That’s pretty much all it is. Death metal, I think it’s the only form of metal that really has no limits. When you think of stuff like metalcore, metalcore means you have to paint your nails and your eyes. Traditional death metal has no limits, you can use a saxophone if you want.
"Death metal is very therapeutic. I don’t understand why a lot more people aren’t into it. I don’t think that the average person has the ear to hear it, their brain doesn’t pick it up. Which says a lot about death metal fans. When you’re Rob Zombie or Korn or Disturbed and you’re just being repetitive, it doesn’t take much thought. The only way to be successful in the music industry now is to appeal to middle American morons and 14-year-old girls."
Miller admits to have given up on anything like that a long time ago. Indeed, he’s been doing more work writing for and acting in movies and television over the past few years than music - he’s married to horror movie cult fave Felissa Rose, who starred in "Sleepaway Camp" and now produces film and TV projects - and doesn’t seem to mind if a future in music is not in the cards.
"I, myself, don’t take the business seriously at all and I’ve been kind of "Shawshank Redemptioning" my way out of the business," he said, laughing.
Still, of World Under Blood, Miller notes, "I doubt it would be a one-off. I’m not into just dropping projects. I’m still in every band I was ever in. It’s just some are in permanent hiatus. So there could be a second anything – another Oil album, another Foreign Objects record, another CKY record, another World Under Blood record.
"I will tell you this, another World Under Blood record is going to be extremely offensive. Completely in bad taste. I’m a huge fan of bad taste and there’s good bad taste and bad bad taste, and I like bad bad taste. If I’m going to do another one, it’s going to be shocking."
I guess we shall see.
Apparently on much firmer ground, if recent events are any indication, are European hybrid Lock Up, who stormed out of the gate with 1999’s Pleasures Pave Sewers and 2002’s Hate Breeds Suffering - and then pretty much disappeared. The death of guitarist Jesse (ex-Napalm Death/Terrorizer) Pintado, who succumbed to liver failure after a long battle with alcohol abuse in 2006, seemed to effectively spell the end of the group, which included his former Napalm bandmate Shane Embury on bass, extreme metal designated hitter Nicholas Barker on drums and At The Gates frontman Tomas Lindberg - who took over for Hypocrisy frontman Peter Tagtgren - on vocals.
The band hadn’t done much together in a long time anyway. But an offer to play the 2009 U.K. Damnation Festival brought them back to life. With guitarist Anton Reisenegger in tow, Lock Up have been building back lost momentum ever since, culminating with the release last fall of Necropolis Transparent (Nuclear Blast), their first album in nearly 10 years.
"We just talked about Lock Up here and there, and then, unfortunately, in 2006 Jesse passed away.
"After the second album, we did a few shows and everyone sort of went their separate ways for whatever reason, and Jesse was on his own personal trip around the world, really," said Embury on the phone from his home in Birmingham, England. "For a couple years, we all sort of veered off and were doing our own things. We just talked about Lock Up here and there, and then, unfortunately, in 2006 Jesse passed away.
"There wasn’t really any talk about it until 2008/2009. It was really the festival that prompted us to play live and we figured if we enjoyed it we’d see where it would go from there. We enjoyed the gig and felt we could move on and record the third album that we’d talked about."
Reisenegger came to the band by way of Chilean thrash veterans Criminal and was no stranger to the other Lock Up members. He also brought a lot to the table when it came time to start working on said third album.
"Anton’s been around in the scene as long as I have," Embury said. "Playing a couple gigs and learning the old stuff, it kind of got him into the mental frame of what we do in Lock Up. His take is really good because he brings a bit of a thrash element and some of his riffs, even when they are kind of crazy blast riffs, they are in a different kind of mold to mine. So he’s unintentionally adding things to the pot that weren’t there before. He’s very tight, very precise and that’s good because Nick is right on the money all the time."
Reisenegger’s having moved to Spain solved what could have been a thorny logistical problem when it came to writing, rehearsing and recording, though this is a band that have been dealing with logistical issues since their inception, given that all of the members played in at least one other band and Lindberg - and Tagtgren before him - hailed from Sweden.
Cheap airfare, swapping MP3 files over the Internet, careful scheduling and a determined work ethic allowed the Lock Up to get Necropolis together in relatively short order once they actually got working on it. And despite everything that had transpired in the decade since Hate Breeds Suffering, Lock Up haven’t lost a step.
Necropolis is as explosive and virulent as its predecessors, alternating between micro-burst grind and rampaging death metal, only relenting on the industrial strength instrumental closer "Tartarus." And as an added treat, Tagtgren and Carcass bassist/frontman Jeff Walker lend a hand on vocals on a half-dozen songs.
"We’ve been trying to nail down Peter for awhile," Embury noted. "Finally everyone’s schedules worked out and he has some time between Hypocrisy and Pain. And then we had the crazy idea of having both of those guys on there. It was a lot easier with Jeff, you can always twist his arm with a few beers."
Lock Up’s schedule also worked out so the band will finally play some shows in the states. After a few false starts, notably last year when they had to bow out of their stateside debut at the Maryland Deathfest because Lindberg couldn’t get his visa paperwork squared away in time, the band will kick off a handful of shows with Goatwhore and Strong Intention in the Northeast and Canada Feb. 8 in Buffalo, N.Y.
"It’s about fucking time," Embury said. "It’s not for lack of trying that we haven’t played in the states, but it always seems like something is working against us. We’re keeping our fingers cross this time, because we want to show you guys what you’ve been missing."
Embury, however, will not be making the trip. Napalm Death’s latest album, Utilitarian, is scheduled for release Feb. 27 and will be doing a few shows in Europe to coincide with it - including a hometown show in Birmingham Feb. 25. Nuclear Assault/Brutal Truth bassist Dan Lilker will be filling in for Embury for the Lock Up shows.
Of Napalm’s new album, which was being mixed when we spoke, Embury promised there would be "lots of blast-beat stuff mixed in with experimental stuff - nuances. The core of what we’ve been doing over the past few albums is still there, there’s no mistaking that, but it’s a logical step forward for Napalm."
We can find out just what he means by that in a couple weeks.
* * *
The prog-metal flood that began earlier in the year shows no signs of abating. Indeed, if anything, it seems to be picking up speed. What’s mentioned below is but a fraction of the stuff that’s been overflowing my inbox over the past few months. And apparently there’s plenty more to come. So head’s up.
If you’re a fan of Fates Warning, there’s some good news and some bad news. No, there is no new album, but you can get a double dose of the next best thing. Arch/Matheos is a partial reunion of Fates’ original lineup, bringing back together guitarist/songwriter Jim Matheos and long-ago vocalist John Arch. The resulting Sympathetic Resonance (Metal Blade) is really quite striking. Arch’s vocals are as soaring and magnificent as ever. The music here, not surprisingly, is quite Fates-like: epic, sleek and majestic. But there’s some heft to it that ties the sprawling arrangements together quite nicely. B+
At the same time, current Fates frontman Ray Alder returns with his other band Redemption, which is something of a different animal. Far more aggressive and flashy, the band’s fifth album This Mortal Coil (Prosthetic) has a big bottom end, lots of shred and complexity, yet a somewhat understated performance by the usually rangy Alder. His upper-register wail is largely tempered here as he plays second fiddle to his busy beaver bandmates. Bit of waste, really. C+
D.C.’s mind-blowing Animals As Leaders simply dispose of the vocals entirely. They’d just get in the way anyway. The band’s second album Weightless (Prosthetic) once again showcases the incredible dexterity and flair of guitarist Tosin Abasi, who gets some help here from Javier Reyes. The performances are jaw-dropping, yet there is just enough structure and songcraft to keep the album from sounding like one long jam - even though that’s pretty much what it is. B+
Its three mostly instrumental interludes give the new EP from Cynic, Carbon-Based Anatomy (Season of Mist), a jazz-fusion/world music/ambient feel. But it’s not without its metallic moments. The title track builds to quite a crescendo and "Box Up My Bones" delivers a nicely rousing chorus. But subtlety is really the name of the game here, so take that under advisement. B-
It's easy to see why ex-Emperor mainman Ihsahn picked Leprous as his backup band for solo shows. For one, they come from his hometown of Notodden, Norway - how handy! For another, they’ve got some serious prog-metal chops. Slick and sophisticated, their third album Bilateral (Inside Out Music) offers a nicely balanced mishmash of melody, metal bombast and wank. The intricacies here duel with soaring vocal harmonies and a corrosive undercurrent - as on the thunderous "Waste of Air" - that, for the most part, keep indulgences in check. The band also leave much of the '70s vibe of 2009's Tall Poppy Syndrome behind, which is a welcome development. B+
Swedish newbies Vildhjarta obviously drank from the same water as their math-metal/djent homeboys Meshuggah. The septet’s debut full-length Måsstaden (Century Media) roils with discordant, bowel-loosening riffs and elliptical time signatures, and utilizes a three-guitar/dual-vocal attack to stir things up even more. In meandering, yet methodical tracks like “Eternal Golden Monk” and “Traces” the sheer density and weight of the music is really quite astonishing - even if it has a familiar ring to it. B
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Soundtracks to the Apocalypse
Speaking of Meshuggah, they are one of a bevy of bands that have new material coming out in what’s shaping up to be a brutal winter/early spring. Koloss is due at the end of March. Joining them over the next couple months will be, to name just a few, such heavyweights as Lamb of God, Cannibal Corpse, Goatwhore, Veil of Maya, Dying Fetus, Soulfly, Spawn of Possession and 3 Inches of Blood. This comes on the heels of a rather extreme fall/early winter, as you can see by what follows.
Abigail Williams – Becoming
(Candlelight) Arizona’s Abigail Williams can’t seem to figure what kind of band they want to be. Their 2008 debut, In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns, was an effectively Emperor-like symphonic black metal excursion, but their 2010 follow-up shed much of the atmosphere in favor of a dreary black/death metal mashup. Becoming strips things down even farther, as the band seem to want to make a run at Wolves In The Throne Room territory. The desolate, low-fi sound here is the polar opposite of Suns’ pomposity. But the Spartan production, ponderously long songs - the opener "Ascension Sickness" clocks in at an unwieldy 11:11 - and ample quiet passages only make for tedium, and make one question Abigail Williams’ intentions. D
Aborted – Global Flatline
(Century Media) "I’m going to fucking rape your soul!" Now that’s the way to make an entrance, and Belgian tech-death/grinders Aborted get right down to business on the title track that kicks off their seventh album - after the brief emergency broadcast intro "Omega Mortis." And they largely deliver on this sick and savage outing that revels in scars, boils, feces and other unpleasantries. The traditionally patchwork band that backs frontman Sven "Svencho" de Caluwé provide an aural assault that matches his demented vocals and lyrics blow for blow. Indecent and obscene on many levels, Global Flatline nevertheless has the appeal of a messy car wreck. You want to turn away, but in the end you slow down and gawk anyway. B
Abzu - Abzu
(Candlelight) Obscure Texas "Mythological Occult Metal" troupe Absu return to prove that 2009’s insanely good self-titled comeback was no fluke. Though more raw and streamlined here - recording as a trio and without the slew of guest musicians that graced Absu - the band are certainly no less adventurous, ambitious or bizarre, as evidenced by the six-part, 14-plus minute closer The Song for Ea. Yet even the far shorter Abraxas Connexus or Skrying In The Spirit Vision are intricate, unpredictable and at times otherworldly. A dirtier sounding production by the band gives Abzu a nice bite, despite its technical dazzle, and the sheer abandon with which they play makes this another triumph. A-
Beneath The Massacre - Incongruous
(Prosthetic) Canada’s Beneath The Massacre prefer their tech-death in quick, carpet-bomb like bursts. Brutality is the name of the game on the band’s third album, nothing more and nothing less. And between frantic guitar runs and concussive riffs from Chris Bradley, the drum fusillade of Justin Rousselle and frontman Elliot Desgagnés’ volcanic vocals, they complete their mission in just over a half-hour. That leaves precious little room for any sort of melody, songiness or nuance - save for Bradley’s nimble fretwork. Incongruous seems strung together, a collection of parts with no body. And though undeniably bludgeoning, it’s not particularly memorable. C
Betraying The Martyrs - Breathe In Life
(Sumerian) Apparently the French can’t do much to help spice up deathcore either. With their symphonic take, Paris sextet Betraying The Martyrs are pretty much a European version of Great Stone War-era Winds Of Plague. Black metally guitar runs and orchestral keyboards meet the usual ham-fisted breakdowns, aimless technicality and good cop/bad cop vocalizing that you’ve heard a thousand times before. Yawn. D
Brutal Truth - End Time
(Relapse) Seems like the best thing Brutal Truth ever did was split up in 1999. Since they reformed in 2006, they’ve been a veritable juggernaut. 2009’s Evolution Through Revolution was the best thing they’d done since 1994’s Need To Control. And they follow it up with another heaping helping of grind goodness in End Time. Even more ferocious and heavy than Evolution, End Time feels less “crusty” and more “metal” with its thicker guitar sound and meatier riffs. The breakneck Swift and Violent pretty sums things up here and it’s good to see these guys not only back in the game, but at the top of of it. A-
Cathedral - Anniversary
(Metal Blade) Something of a novel twist to the live album treatment here for British doom stalwarts Cathedral, who announced their decision to split last year. Disc 1 reunites the Forest Of Equilibrium lineup to perform that album in its entirety for the first and last time. It’s all about doom in its lumbering, mammoth-like glory. Low, slow and impossibly heavy, it’s simply smothering. Disc 2 features the current lineup - with vocalist Lee Dorrian and guitarist Garry Jennings as the lone holdovers - for a foray through post-Equilibrium classics. By comparison to Disc 1, the band really get their groove on here. Lee Smee’s quaking basslines bring some serious swing, giving Midnight Mountain, Ride and Vampire Sun lots of balls and flair. B
Cormorant - Dwellings
(Cormorant Music) The first thing worth noting about the second self-released full length from Bay Area metallurgists Cormorant is the amazing artwork that makes this one album worth actually picking up on CD. The music’s pretty rad as well. An all-over-the-map mix of prog/death/black/traditional metal, Dwellings is complex and surprisingly deep - by extreme metal standards. But it’s got more than enough bite to hold your attention, even over the 10-plus minute Funambulist and Unearthly Dreamings. And though Cormorant were inspired by World Trade Center tightrope walker Philipe Petit, Spanish conquistadors and political protests in Guinea to explore the subject of immortality here, they never seem too obscure or over-intellectualized - even if, perhaps, they are. B+
Corrosion of Conformity - Corrosion of Conformity
(Candlelight) If you were hoping for an Animosity-era sounding album from the reunited Animosity-era three-piece version of Corrosion of Conformity, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, the self-titled album sounds more like what you should probably expect from ex-hardcore/crossover pioneers who are now in their mid-40s. The reckless energy, abandon and urgency that made Animosity so immediate and intense are there in maddening fits and starts. The full-bore Rat City and Leeches and sections of The Doom and Your Tomorrow, for example, show the guys - founding members Mike Dean, Woody Weatherman and Reed Mullin, who returns after a decade away - have some of their former spunk and fire. Just not for long. The tumult too often is sandwiched around long stretches of jammier, mid-tempo rock more typical of COC’s recent releases. Indeed, this seems more like a logical follow-up to 2005’s Southern-fried In The Arms of God than something really all that special. And that’s a shame. C
Craft - Void
(Southern Lord) After nearly splitting following the 2005 departure of drummer Daniel Halén, Sweden’s Craft return with one of 2011’s more noteworthy black metal albums. With its almost funky grooves and stonery vibe offset by hateful, Charles Manson-like lyrical sentiments, Void is equal parts engaging and terrifying, recalling the similarly contrarian Carpathian Forest. Take, for instance, I Want To Commit Murder, with its chunky riffs and soaring guitars providing an inviting soundtrack for Mikael Nox’s otherwise psychotic vocals. The fat bass and rhythmic bounce here play well with the old-school guitar grit, and make a nice change of pace from the usual blast-beat fury. B+
Exhumed - All Guts, No Glory
(Relapse) It’s definitely great to have these San Jose sick fucks back again. Though not as lewd, crude and rude as they were back in the day when they worshipped at the altar of early Carcass, Exhumed still deliver the gore-metal goods on their return from a five-year hiatus. The duel-vocal/twin-guitar attack here could almost be described as sophisticated - the soloing and interplay is really quite impressive. But there’s still plenty of grit, grind and grue-tality as Exhumed romp in the splatter of Dis-Assembly Line or Your Funeral, My Feast like the gut-draped zombies they portray on the All Guts cover. A true symphony of sickness. A-
Fleshgod Apocalypse - Agony
(Nuclear Blast) Holy shit, where have these guys been hiding? Italy? Wow!This their second album is simply awesome. Magnificently sculpted and impeccably performed, Agony’s tech/symphonic death metal is cacophonous, grand and unrelenting. There’s a bit of Dimmu Borgir in the orchestration and clean vocals here, but minus the pretentiousness. And the sheer velocity and intensity these guys generate - drummer Francesco Paoli is inhumanly fast - is downright exhausting. A
Fuck the Facts - Die Miserable
(Relapse) It’s incredible that a band with a name as provocative - and unmarketable - as Fuck The Facts that grinds as hard as they do could hang in there for nine albums. But these Canadians obviously are doing something right and seem to have found a niche that can sustain them. And they continue to rip it up with the rampaging Die Miserable. Though there’s a surprising complexity and depth to the band’s bluster here, notably on the Voivod-like "Census Blank" or the shapeshifting "95," it never compromises the unbridled intensity. Not that frontwoman Melanie Mongeon’s breathless, lion-throated roar would allow that anyway. A-
God Seed - Live At Wacken
(Indie Recordings CD/DVD) The losing side in the Gorgoroth schism/trademark battle, the short-lived God Seed featuring exiled frontman Gaahl and bassist King Ov Hell nevertheless managed to eke what they could of Gorgoroth’s demonic splendor before splitting up. Live At Wacken re-creates Gorgoroth’s infamous "Black Mass Krakow" show from 2004 - captured on a DVD of the same name a few years back - with its stage-load of sheep heads, blood and live crucifixions. Only here it’s on a much grander scale - before 75,000 people at Wacken 2008 and with an ace backing band including guitarists Teloch and Ice Dale and drummer Nick Barker. The music certainly takes a backseat to the sheer spectacle here - given the nude models on crosses, Apocalypse Now pyrotechnics, Gaahl’s imposing presence, etc. - but the total package is really something to behold. Even if you’ve seen it before. B-
Hypochrisy - Hell Over Sofia
(Nuclear Blast CD/DVD) Swedish death/thrashers Hypocrisy already have a live disc and best-of selection under their belts. Now they offer up a live DVD/CD set that catches things up and encompasses their now 20-year career. It hasn’t exactly been the smoothest ride, given sudden key line-up changes, burnout and malaise - as the DVD’s revealing, if often intoxicated, nearly two-hour documentary shows with remarkable frankness. But the triumphant 2010 Bulgaria concert captured in the live portion of the DVD and on the two CDs, and the rabidly received South American tour that anchors the last third of the documentary, show Hypocrisy are peaking yet again. B+
ICS Vortex - Storm Seeker
(Century Media) After performing with extreme acts as varied as Arcturus, Borknagar and Dimmu Borgir, it’s perhaps no surprise that the debut solo album from bassist/vocalist ICS Vortex - aka Simen Hestnæs - is a real mixed bag. Whimsical, offbeat and rather daring with tunes about cars ("Blackmobile"), playing cards ("Aces") and a love song in "Windward" that are way closer to hard rock than black metal, Storm Seeker is more accessible than anything Vortex has done with his other bands. But solo albums are supposed to be about spreading one’s wings and taking chances, and no one can accuse Vortex of playing it safe here, like it or not. B
Iced Earth - Dystopia
(Century Media) New singer - again - but pretty much the same old Iced Earth. Into Eternity’s Stu Block takes the mic from Matthew Barlow, who returned for one album after replacing his replacement, Tim “Ripper” Owens. But with his roar-and-soar vocals, Block fits right in to the band’s signature epic, thematic power metal that here isn’t so tied to a storyline like the Something Wicked opuses - opii? There’s still conceptual elements - often tied to dystopian films like "V For Vendetta" or "Dark City" - but in smaller doses that are easier to digest. The space allows for a more varied, muscular soundscape, and makes for the most potent, engaging album Iced Earth has done probably since 1996’s The Dark Saga. B+
Insomnium - One For Sorrow
(Century Media) Doomy but rarely gloomy, thunderously heavy but gloriously melodic and boasting some of the most massive hooks to come from the far north since Sentenced called it a day, the fifth album from these long-standing Finns is a near masterpiece of melancholia. Yet despite its title - and the Finnish propensity for suicidal dreariness - Sorrow never seems heavy-handed or morose. The overall punchiness and occasional bursts of speed, as on "Every Hour Wounds," make for a surprising liveliness and bassist/singer Niilo Seväne’s hulking growl is more menacing than mournful. Though hardly a “buoyant” album, Sorrow nevertheless will leave you feeling more like banging your head than blowing it off. A-
Nothnegal - Decadence
(Season Of Mist) Nothnegal certainly hail from one of metal’s most remote locales – the Maldives Islands. But they nevertheless drew the attention of American uber-drummer Kevin Talley and Finnish keyboardist Marco Sneck, who play of the band’s full-length debut. Perhaps because of this, Decadence is not nearly as exotic as one might expect in a band from the middle of the Indian Ocean with a frontman named Fufu! While the title track and, fittingly, “Armageddon” have a nice grinding quality to them, the melodic death metal here is surprisingly slick and precise - sounding overproduced and, as a result, somewhat tepid - and decidedly Western. The material is top notch, these guys are anything but amateurs, but Decadence could have been a lot more intriguing if Nothnegal had given it even a pinch of Eastern spice. C+
Nunfuckritual - In Bondage To The Serpent
(Debemur Morti Productions) This “all-star” black metal collective that counts Brutal Truth bassist Dan Lilker and Nidingr guitarist, and recent Mayhem recruit, Teloch among its members offer up a long-winded debut album that largely fails to capitalize on the shock value of its name or strength of its line-up. In Bondage is plodding, repetitive and overlong, delivering too much atmosphere and drone and too few sonic thrills. Mayhem frontman Attila Csihar’s ominous spoken word vocals on “Komodo Dragon, Mother Queen” are a nice touch, and the agonizing pace and gritty sheen of the music here is genuinely creepy. But too often In Bondage is just too slow and dull for its own good. C-
The Rotted - Ad Nauseum
Formed from the remnants of splat-grinders Gorerotted, England’s The Rotted are an entirely different animal. Despite the vomitous hue of its title, and the “rot” they retain in their name, the band’s second album is a full-on thrash/hardcore assault that sounds a lot smarter and far less gimmicky than the “Gagged, Shagged, Bodybagged” spew of old. “Just Add Nauseam” and “Entering The Arena of the Unwell” do touch grind territory, but hit with a modern Napalm Deathy punch. Frontman Ben McGrow’s throaty bellow is all business, notably on the Discharge-like “Apathy In The UK,” and his bandmates obviously aren’t just screwing here either. B+
Shining – Live Blackjazz
(Indie Recordings) Norwegian avant-gardists Shining - not to be confused with notorious Swedish black metallurgists Shining - are the King Crimsons of extreme music. This mind-bending live album is a free-for-all of chaotic tempos, instrumental freakouts - “The Madness And The Damage Done” is like an epileptic fit put to music - and frontman Jørgen Munkeby’s wailing vocal/saxophone tradeoffs that almost defies description. It’s as wonderful as it is weird - and it’s plenty weird on jam-tastic songs like “In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster.” The concluding deconstruction of Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” is brilliant and rest of Live Blackjazz is pretty amazing as well. A-
Stray From the Path - Rising Sun
(Sumerian) While not exactly revelatory, Long Island’s Stray From The Path at least don’t wallow in the same old metalcore bullshit. Their sixth album Rising Sun fuses angular, Quicksand-like riffing with frantic tempos and genuine anger and frustration - some of it directed at their own scene, which has been overrun by swoop-haired hacks and knuckle-dragging brutes. The band’s dissonant attack is a perfect platform for Drew York’s venomous vocals, and they seem content to just let if fly and not dress things up with dopey breakdowns, chirpy keyboards or fucking auto-tune. B-
Supreme Pain - Divine Incarnation
(Massacre) Think the new Morbid Angel album is a steaming pile? Join the crowd. Hungering for something that sounds like Morbid used to? Well Holland’s Supreme Pain might be just what you’re after. Technical, ominously heavy, blasphemous and boasting an absolute beast of a drummer in Eric de Windt, Supreme Pain echo Altars/Blessed-era Morbid Angel - but do so in a more brutally efficient, business-like manner. These guys are not concerned with grandiosity or flamboyance, tracks like “Trapped In Heresy” and “The Dark Army” are all about attack mode and deliver a barrage of riffs that bowls you right over. It might not be fancy, but Divine Incarnation gets the job done. B+
Taake - Noregs Vaapen
(Candlelight) Led by notorious ringleader Høst, Norway’s Taake keeps true to old-school black metal tradition without being slavishly bound to its minimalist restrictions. With Høst again handling all the vocals and instruments in the studio, Taake’s fifth album is certainly rough and raw. But it’s also got a groove and oomph that low-fi convention usually strips away, and a dynamism that could even be described as daring. Guitar leads, layered instrumentation, ample catchy hooks and even a jaunty banjo solo - seriously! - on “Myr” all fly in the face of Darkthrone-like purity, and in the end just make Noregs Vaapen that much more interesting and worthwhile. A-
Toxic Holocaust - Conjure And Command
(Relapse) The fourth album from these Oregonian retro-bangers is the first to feature an actual band and not just frontman Joel Grind doing everything. Not sure if that has something to do with the more metal/less punk-rooted sound of Conjure, but Toxic Holocaust channel 80s-era Kreator/Bonded By Blood-vintage Exodus in a big way here. Behind Grind’s snarling vocals, the band blast away with thrashy abandon. Though somewhat dated, and certainly derivative, in their approach, there’s no denying the zeal and fury with which Toxic Holocaust bring it. B
Vader - Welcome To The Morbid Reich
(Nuclear Blast) Polish veterans Vader have carved out a nearly 30-year career with dependable yet workman-like death metal. They are, however, capable of moments of brilliance, and this is one of them. Perhaps invigorated by a relatively new supporting cast, frontman/guitarist/founder Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek and company really rage on Morbid Reich, which is par for the course. But Vader maintain a crushing groove and swagger throughout, and have whipped together a crafty, immensely likeable batch of ripping tracks to boot. They really take it up a notch here, and deliver an old-fashioned, and quite satisfying, ass-whopping. A-
Vallenfyre - A Fallen King
(Century Media) When you play doom metal all your life, what do you do when it’s really time to grieve? For Paradise Lost guitarist Greg Mackintosh, the answer is to channel his inner Swedish death metaller in this side-project that ostensibly is meant to pay tribute to his recently deceased father. Boasting the sort of Sunlight Studio guitar grit of old-school Entombed or Dismember, and the oddball riffiness of vintage Celtic Frost - not to mention a death grunt or two - A Fallen King is a rough-hewn throwback, but one with a purpose. Abrasive and cathartic, it’s a perfect vehicle for venting about fate, disease, death and “the horror of reality.” B+
Wolves In the throne Room - Celestial Lineage
(Southern Lord) Washington state-based black metal brothers Nathan and Eric Weaver complete their mythic “Two Hunters” trilogy with the expansive Celestial Lineage. The occasional ethereal vocals of Jessika Kenney and ambient interludes lend a meditative edge to the duo’s otherwise feral bombast here, but only momentarily. “Astral Blood” and ““Subterranean Imitation” are awash in a cascade of buzzsaw riffing and lupine vocals, while “Thuja Magus Imperium” and the concluding “Prayer For Transformation” are 10-plus minute often tribal exorcisms that are as magnificent as they are monumental. A