Deafheaven – Sunbather

This is probably my first review in quite sometime. Check out Deafheaven‘s new record Sunbather, released via Deathwish Inc.

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Tracklist:
01 – Dream House
02 – Irresistible
03 – Sunbather
04 – Please Remember
05 – Vertigo
06 – Windows
07 – The Pecan Tree

Black metal is no longer a showcase of uber conservatism. With the advent of the millennium, several bands within the genre have broken down the walls of self-imposed reservation and settled on new terrain. Imbibing and constructing ingenuity in the process. This has resulted in the conception of several brilliant sub-genres. Be it the hyper theological approach of Deathspell Omega, the intellectualism of Blut Aus Nord, the subliminal melody of Agalloch ,the industrial assault of an Anaal Nathrakh record or the proclivity to experimentalism of Krallice. It is finally coming of age. But just like any conservative lot, some people are always up in arms when an inevitable change is ushered in. In that case what difference is it then? Black metal was borne of the recognition to undivided hate towards religion and many similar conformist constructs. If that is the case, then the purists who argue for the supposed dilution of the black metal ethos are none the wiser than the very source of their inspiration. Giving in to a certain set of standards rather than letting music have its way.  Sometimes we metalheads get lost in our own little worlds, far too often, despite the fact that our music is for the most part heavily inspired by the harsh reality of life. A pretentious callousness.

At the center of all said criticism and hipster hate are two comparatively newer bands from the USBM scene (supposedly looked down upon as well). Deafheaven and Liturgy. The  latter boasts of everything “transcendental” and make a complete mockery of themselves. Whatever quality inherent to their music is drowned out by their over the top flamboyance. Deafheaven on the other hand are quite bearers of their output. Enmeshing black metal with screamo and post rock-ish tendencies, they came out with first proper full length “Roads to Judah” after the already good demo.  In effect, they used black metal as a mere template to forward their approach. Come 2013 and they have just about released their third full length titled Sunbather.

Pink artwork and an album title that might as well befit an indie rock album serves best as a statement or much like a retort to all their detractors and purist stereotypes. But the album is much more than a mere statement, it is an amalgam of blissful melody juxtaposed against the limiting framework of the genre they primarily indulge in. While its predecessor had a much more somber vibe, Sunbather delves on the duality of perfection. Conceptually the album deals with man’s obsession with perfection. That bit of mild OCD that is in all of us. A philosophical tour on how perfection is a myth and is something we introspect and wean out later. This bit of philosophy drives the band to explore two major emotions, hope and despair. In turn, this calls for melody that is neither overtly upbeat nor completely harrowing. A sort of ambivalence that needs to be addressed with a certain subtlety. And that is precisely where the band truly shines. The riffs although not entirely reliant on its uniqueness and memorability, instead inculcate deep melodic segments that conjure an atmosphere that does not take any overarching central theme (neither hope nor despair). The memorability here, lies in the artfully contrived atmosphere that surrounds it.  The screamo tinged vocals on the other hand do not serve to take the cake, but serve to further heighten this state of self evaluation brought on by these emotions. There is no prima donna here it is all just interplay, and some of the finest of late.

Yet again, as much as I may shower the album with praise, the level of mentioned intensity is not always maintained throughout. Sunbather is broken down by intros which quite obviously overstay their welcome. Understandably so, they give us breathing space and bridge the lyrical concept, yet again one cannot discount the fact that it gives replayability a shot in the arm. After the first two listens you are likely to skip both Please Remember and Windows. Maybe a person’s patience does play a trick or two here, but everybody enters a post -black metal/whatever record with tons of patience. And that gets stretched beyond reason. To further compound this issue the track Vertigo, seems to prolong the induced disinterest initiated by Please Remember. Although Vertigo develops with time, the initial segment can frankly come off as very flat indeed.

That said, there is nothing short of calculated brilliance on the other three actual tracks with the title track being the best of the lot. On the other hand the latter half of The Pecan Tree has probably the best Deafheaven music made till date. Sunbather as a record, conclusively proves the band’s ability to write quality metal, giving a nod and at the same time ignoring, genre constraints. A few unintended blemishes do not compromise the heartfelt intent here. Another step before they fully realize themselves.  Sunbather thus breaks down barriers of everything conventional set down by the unconventional. Metal as always, still shines through and that is all that really counts.

Joel Grind – The Yellowgoat Sessions

Achintya Venkatesh reviews the new album from Joel Grind titled The Yellowgoat Sessions, released via Hells Headbangers.

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Tracklist:

01. Ascension
02. Hell’s Master of Hell
03. Vengeance Spell
04. Foul Spirit Within
05. Cross Damnation
06. Grave Encounters
07. Black Order
08. The Eternal One
09. Hail to Cruelty
10. Descension

In this age of preppy and generally trendy derivatives of metal with squeaky clean production and played down imagery, that lack the ardor, rebelliousness, anti-conventionalism and rawness that characterized the genre since its inception, this album is certainly an unapologetic beckoning to the roots of black metal, dating back to the early 1980’s. This is not to imply that metal is entirely about being over-the-top, extreme or exaggerated in its approach. But personally, the sort of metal found on this album is something like a comic book. If it doesn’t have that bit of edge and theatrics to it, it just doesn’t do it for me. Fortunately, Joel Grind, known for his work in the retro-thrash metal band Toxic Holocaust has presented us old schoolers a slab of grimy exaltations and invocations to the overlords and archons of the dark realms of metal. Oh so primordial, ancient, chthonic and down-right filthy. One wouldn’t expect this to be heard in 2013 of all years. But apparently the underground resistance (sorry for the reference, Darkthrone!) is alive and well, and stronger than ever. Did Quorthon have some sort of bastard son in his various peregrinations, or did Thomas Warrior let Grind use the very same bunker he used to record the infamous but ever so eternally influential Triumph of Death?

On the same note, the album starts with an eerie intro, Ascension, and bears an incredibly strong resemblance to the intros used on the early Bathory albums (think Storm of Damnation or Nocturnal Obeisance) and jumps straight into Hell’s Master of Hell which is absolutely blatant Bathory worship but a kickass album opener. I’ve seen many people saying that this could’ve well been an omitted track from Bathory (1984) and I couldn’t agree more. It has a great degree of sonic semblance to War from the very same album, in fact. Vengeance Spell is in the very same vein with a speed-driven, blackened quality to it. The riffs are very catchy and the guitar solo, albeit simplistic perfectly fits in. The fourth track Foul Spirit Within is more plodding and has a slower pace, but features rather similar riffs.

Stream the entire album below:

Cross Damnation has an easily recognizable blackened speed metal quality to it, and is a bit of a filler but very enjoyable nevertheless. The next tracks, Grave Encounters and Black Order continue this trend but the former is far more relentless, aggressive and amusingly over-the-top that would make some question whether Joel Grind was being serious at all while penning down these accursed tunes. The 8th track, The Eternal One, and my personal favourite is malevolent, rancorous Hellhammer worship from start to end in the vein of songs like Buried and Forgotten. The album closer, Hail to Cruelty has a more speed-driven edge to it in the vein of Venom and Motorhead with a smattering of Canadian speed/thrash metal (a la Razor, Exciter, etc). The album ends with an outro, Descension, once again a direct nod to the outros found all over the Bathory catalogue.

This album would get any enthusiast of the First Wave of Black Metal absolutely ecstatic. It’s short and crisp with a comical but honest aggression to go along with it. I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again – the efforts of artists like Joel Grind serve to preserve a specific sound, that might well get lost in the sands of time lest we lay an excessive emphasis on constant musical innovation and change. By that virtue, this album is one among many underground gems. In short, Joel Grind keeps it real. He should definitely continue releasing stuff in a similar vein as opposed to the comparatively generic retro-thrash, taking us back to a time when there were no limiting, stylistic borders such as thrash or black metal..

 

The Vein – Scouring the Wreckage of Time

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the debut album/double EP from The Vein titled Scouring the Wreckage of Time, released via Shadow Kingdom Records.

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Tracklist

Chapter I: “The Poisoned Chalice”
01. “Pale Dawn Rising”
02. “Seeds Of Blasphemy”
03. “Acedia”
04. “The Poisoned Chalice”

Chapter II: “Born into Grey Domains”
05. “The Great Deception”
06. “Carving A Labyrinth Of Despair”

I’ve been guilty of rendering excessive praise to derivative bands in the past, but in my defense it’s because there are days when the metal scene seems to offer nothing but core crap and retro throwbacks. At least the bands who are trying recapture the magic of classic extreme metal acts from Bathory to Incantation are riffing off something I can relate to, and that can make me over-estimate them for a while. But if I’m honest, generic metal is just generic metal and has little repeat value, as can be seen by the pile of OSDM-worshipping CDs that I own but rarely replay. What really makes my day is finding a band that adds something new and valid to the metal mix, or does old things in an original way. The Vein, a fascinating new side-project from members of the epic doom act Altar Of Oblivion, does both.

Their sound draws on the more lugubrious elements of second wave black metal, a certain trace of early death metal and it also parlays epic riffs and melodies into a sound that’s much more extreme and raw than its parent band’s. The starkest difference lies in the growled vocals of course, but that’s not all. These songs don’t stop at evoking a single texture or style; without being willfully eclectic, they combine elements of slow yet pummeling black/death with long-breathed melodies, massive, elegiac riff structures and wistful interludes. This is questing, creative extreme metal music for the listener with the time and discernment to apprehend originality. Those looking for another posse of troglodytes storming long-crumbled ramparts in bullet belts, denim vests and all the other metal necrophilia fetish gear can apply elsewhere, but so can the trend-hoppers looking for some facile and ultimately inane mash-up.

 

Stream songs from the album below:

 

From the grinding slow-death of ‘Seeds of Blasphemy’ to the masterful passages in ‘The Poisoned Chalice’ that combine dolorous keys and a very classic metal riff with death metal vocals, The Vein effortlessly merges disparate elements into a sound that is as captivating and bleak as the quote from the latter-day SF classic film, ‘Sunshine’, which opens the album. This is a well-named album, conveying a sense of devastation and emptiness in a time and place beyond the last failed human hope. The music has variety, space and drama. The only shortcoming I find is that individual songs don’t always come across as sufficiently distinctive entities in themselves, although they all contain great passages and add immensely to the cumulative impact of the album. All in all, this is a compelling, distinctive debut and I hope that this project doesn’t turn out to be a one-off.

 

 

Chthonic – Bu-Tik

Review of the new album from Chthonic titled Bu-Tik, released via Spinefarm Records.

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Tracklisting:

1.”Arising Armament (Intro)”
2.”Supreme Pain for the Tyrant”
3.”Sail into the Sunset’s Fire”
4.”Next Republic”
5.”Rage of my Sword”
6.”Between Silence and Death”
7.”Resurrection Pyre”
8.”Set Fire to the Island”
9.”Defenders of Bu-tik Palace”
10.”Undying Rearmament (Outro)”

-The idea of an armed body and mind

The image is made of the features of an elder, child, and girl model. The female model depicted in the cover, Bu –Tik, was chosen of nearly a hundred volunteers candidates.

One can only imagine the immense political allegory behind it, given the band’s penchant for driven political activism. An element that runs the entire gamut of the Chthonic discography.

No Chthonic review is complete without a brief insight into the deep political well of Taiwan from which their work ceaselessly draws from. For instance let us take the case of their last three records. The critically acclaimed Seediq Bale, the one album that put Chthonic on the international metal map talked about the infamous Wushe massacre where thousands of native  Seediq tribesmen were slaughtered by the colonial Japanese. The less successful Mirror of Retribution took to the 228 incident where an altercation between the civilian populace and the then Chinese government developed into a full scale genocide. Finally their last album Takasago Army which portrayed the courage and valor rooted in the heroism of Takasago volunteers.   You ought to read about Teruo Nakamura who made his living off an island for 30 years after the bloody great holocaust did come to an official end. Talk about loyalty.

 

 

Come to their new album and it is no different in character. It is a beast armed to the teeth with unbridled fury but sometimes found ailing in a few places. Bu-Tik  much like its predecessor shows the band partially abandoning their uber-cheese symphonic black metal moments. Seediq Bale thrived on this very fact but was more cohesive overall and was in fact one could their own brand of oriental metal. Although the keyboards had a slightly overbearing edge to it, the eerie patriotism soaked atmosphere overall, held its ground. The combination of the Chinese folk instrument Erhu ,catchy riffage and serene female vocals at exactly the right places together formed the centerpiece of the atmosphere. Yet one cannot fail to conceive the cheesy influences of Dimmu borgir and Cradle Filth running the gamut of the entire album. It was more of the same on Mirror of Retribution and rather sloppily done too. Takasago Army on the other hand was more of a departure from the said sound and relied on the more riff oriented approach. Although nothing spectacular by any means, it did appeal to a larger audience with its share of infectious melodies, group chants and ebullient patriotism.

Bu-Tik picks up where Takasago Army left off, but does so in a far more memorable way. Bands that seek to ride the wave of success of their last album usually end up just regurgitating the same ol.. The result being of a slimy and pallid nature. Well this is not the case here, for one there seems to be a sudden flux of more memorable songs here than on their previous outing. While Takao and Quell the Souls in Sing Ling Temple were probably the only standout tracks on Takasago Army, Bu-Tik  have five to six of them in a total of eight proper songs (the other two being the intro and outro). Be it the incipient thrash attack of Rage of my Sword, the rabid groove of Resurrection Pyre or the absolutely majestic closer Defenders of Bu-Tik Palace. Jesse Liu’s exquisite solos populating ably crafted bridge sections and absolutely massive choruses that serve to invigorate the dying conviction in one nation’s past are some of the conspicous highlights. And yes the Erhu ..the serene Chinese folk instrument.. Freddy Lim’s erhu playing elevates the said choruses to a near sublime level which is basically at the heart of every Chthonic  song.

Lyrically rather than sticking to a single all-pervading theme, the songs draw upon a vast array of different illustrious incidents dotting Taiwan’s fractured history. The details of which have been neatly rundown by the charming Doris over at Terrorizer. And this is probably one of the reasons why the album feels a bit disjointed in terms of flow. The songs stand on their own, but sadly don’t really develop into a self providing unit. I guess this was deliberate work on the band’s part, for they seem to be more inclined to deliver a bunch of one hit scorchers than make a statement on cohesion. The faults don’t really end there as well, songs such as Sail into the Sunset’s Fire, Set Fire to the Island and the first half of Between Silence and Death are just too lack luster to be given any serious attention at al. On the instrumental side you have the drums just managing to stay above average , a casualty of the now ubiquitous modern sound, and Doris despite her innate eye candyness seems to be doing nothing more than following the lower end of each riff.

These pardonable blemishes aside, this really can be one real good session of oriental metal. With a sound lyrical approach to consolidate their musical output this makes for an interesting listen which grows in catchiness on repeated listens. This is not of a work of ultranationalist and over the brim jingoism; this represents a band mourning and celebrating the travesties and glories of a nation littered with a turbulent past, Taiwan.

 Watch their brand new video for their song ‘Defenders of Bu-Tik Palace’ below.