Archive for November, 2012

Review: Ensiferum

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on November 30, 2012 by Magadh

Ensiferum Unsung Heroes Spinefarm Records

Oh how the mighty have fallen. That was how I was tempted to open this review. Ensiferum’s new disc, Unsung Heroes, has not been getting a lot of love in reviews. As a policy, it’s generally best to position oneself far from the madding crowd and to formulate one’s opinions on the merits of the subject in question. In this case, however, the great unwashed have a point.

For those who don’t know, Ensiferum are (or at their best were) the leading figures purveying a particular kind of Finnish metal. The first band that I can really remember sounding exactly this way were Norther (although people with more immediate familiarity with the scene should feel free to correct me), and for that reason it seemed to sort of fit when I found out that Norther front man Petri Lindroos had joined up with in 2004.

Ensiferum, as had Norther and the also-related Wintersun, play a variety of Viking metal that is more stripped down than many other Finnish bands employing roughly similar stylistic approaches. Less synth-ridden than Children of Bodom, lacking the bouncy folksiness of bands like Korpiklaani and Finntroll, and about a thousand times quicker to the point than Moonsorrow, Ensiferum’s best tunes combined chunky, heel-damped chugging with a compelling melodicism. For me, it was tunes like this that were the band’s bread and butter. The pace is quick but not blurry. The synth is there, but it’s more like a choir in the background than the circus music interludes that mar most Children of Bodom discs. What was impressive about Ensiferum was that they were so consistent from disc to disc. Iron was great, Victory Songs was better, and From Afar (released in 2009) continued the upward trend.

Sadly, this has not continued with Unsung Heroes. The vast majority of the songs are slow to mid-tempo numbers. This is something that Ensiferum can do well, but they need to be leavened with faster tunes to maintain listener focus. What I think is most galling is not so much that this record involves a certain degree of stylistic shifting. After all, this is a band that has been around in one form or another since 1992. No, what really rankles is that the move seems to have been in the direction of Leaves Eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I like Farewell Proud Men as much as the next guy (maybe more depending on who is standing nearby), but operatic crooning and drawn out cuts are just not what I’m looking for from Ensiferum.

Having said that, I think it’s also fair to say that this is not a bad record. It’s just not what Ensiferum fans are going to want to hear. Perhaps they can sell themselves to a new niche of the metal consuming audience, but I (and I think most fans of their earlier releases) would have preferred if they would have just kept on with what they had been doing up to this point.

Magadh

Review: Morne Asylum

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on November 26, 2012 by Magadh

Morne Asylum Profound Lore/Armageddon Records

I saw Neurosis at the tender age of 16 in a  Billings, Montana VFW. It was 1990 and they were on the road supporting The Word as Law. They represented something so primal and terrifying, the whole experience was burned into by adolescent brain. I can still see Scott Kelly’s Big Mountain Defense shirt depicting Native Americans staring out behind an American flag with the stripes made of barbed wire. The band appeared as an ominous wall of spectres in the dim light as they struck the first few chords. They blew the PA almost immediately, this occurred with unfortunate regularity on that tour, and were forced to play the majority of their set instrumentally. The tension bled into the performance. They were a maelstrom, pulling the audience deeper into their rage. I was hooked.

Souls at Zero and Through Silver in Blood would become two of my favorites from their catalog. They wed the best of bands like Amebix with crushing heaviness and apocalyptic soundscapes. The addition of potent, flowing, visual elements would further enhance the live experience. In fact, the power of the Through Silver in Blood era live set was such that my wife had a panic attack and has sworn off Neurosis ever since. What does any of this have to do with Morne? I’m coming to that.

Morne’s Asylum taps into the same primal power as those early Neurosis records. The album begins with the ominous majesty of the title track. Clocking in a 17 minutes, Milosz’s vocals bear more than a passing resemblance to those of Scott Kells and the track neatly fuses doomy crust with sparse piano. The listener is lulled ,via an excellent interlude, before they are finished off by more furious doom. “Edge of the Sky” and “My Return” invoke the the naked rage of Through Silver in Blood’s “Purify” as waves of metallic sludge build and then spill over the listener.

References to Neurosis aside, Morne is still very much their own band. Tracks like “Nothing to Remain” and “Killing Fields” evidence the band’s artful composition. They effectively fuse their brand of sludgy crust with the darker elements of a band like Isis to create brutal, soaring compositions. The final track, “Volition”, marries sparse piano and violin with whispered female vocals and muted guitar before building to a sonic expression of rage.

Asylum was released in 2011 but remains a criminally under recognized record. Do yourself a favor and pop over to their Bandcamp site here.  One hopes 2013 sees new material from this Boston juggernaut.

– Captain of Games

Review: Leviathan Wakes

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on November 24, 2012 by Magadh

James S. A. Corey Leviathan Wakes Orbit Books (2011)

I am by no means an expert when it comes to the genre of science fiction. In my extremely nerdy youth, I read a lot of the classic authors in the field (Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, etc.). In college went through a phase of intense interest in Walter Jon Williams, and later I read a lot of the works of William Gibson, but I certainly don’t have the breadth of experience to qualify as anything approaching an expert.

Having disavowed any qualification to talk knowledgably about the subject, I thought I might talk a bit about James S. A. Corey’s Leviathan Rises. Corey’s book is the first in a series (of which the second, Caliban’s War, has recently been published). I first picked up this book because of a blurb on the cover from George R. R. Martin which read, “It’s been too long since we had a really kickass space opera.” Although I am in no position to evaluate the periodicities of the arrival of kickass space operas, I will say that this was intriguing to me. My relationship to the works of George R. R. Martin careens between enjoyment and intense irritation. I’ve taken the time (and time it certainly took) to read the first four volumes of the Song of Ice and Fire series. There’s a lot about it that I enjoy, and it does keep you stoked up with things to read. On the other hand, Martin has a penchant for including rather prurient details that leave me feeling kind of dirty. I understand that he wants to write swords and sorcery books for adults, and I’m not unsympathetic to this goal. I will say that J.R.R. Tolkien, who is for me that definitive artist in the field, managed to get through 2000+ pages without mentioning anyone’s clitoris, and I certainly don’t feel that this constitutes an excess of prudishness. Much as I have gotten a lot of enjoyment from Martin’s books, there are things written in them that I think I was too young to read.

To return to the topic at hand, I will admit that Martin’s remark piqued my interest. I’d recently reread Walter Jon Williams’s The Voice of the Whirlwind, and that had reawakened my interest in this sort of thing. I nonetheless embarked on Corey’s book with a bit of trepidation. I have trouble abandoning books, and Corey’s (which comprises more than 650 pages) involved a considerable investment of time.

I am pleased to report that it was time well spent. Leviathan Wakes has two major things going for it: it is well-plotted and the dialog is suitably hardboiled without descending into the realms of sophomoric cheese. Corey’s backdrop is a future in which corporate and planetary political entities are intermingled and comprise intense struggles for power and profit. His main characters, the XO of an interplanetary ice freighter and an ex corporate cop from an outer planet colony, are well crafted and believable. Corey does an excellent job of creating plausible motivational structures that keep that characters interacting in complex ways. Like Martin, Corey employs the narrative device of moving the point of view back and forth between the main characters (in Corey’s case just the two main ones instead of the ten or twelve that Martin lets us in on), and this creates interesting effects and the reader jumps back and forth between the different internal monologs.

The larger plot is compelling and Corey effectively unfolds his idea without the excess of foreshadowing that might tip the reader off too early. There is a certain similarity to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, particularly in terms of the larger scope of the plot. Corey does not quite have the sharp, slashing style that characterized Stephenson’s pre-Cryptonomicon novels, but his prose a slightly richer and his capacity for crafting a satisfying ending (even given that this is meant to be the first novel in a series) is, to my mind, superior to that of Stephenson.

Corey is a writer with a lot of promise. His novel is a model of pacing and noir-tinged dialog. His next installment, Caliban’s War, was published this summer and, if this is anything to go by, is worth the time it will take you to read 600 pages.

Magadh

New Death and Crust

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on November 19, 2012 by Magadh

I’ve been flakey to the point of really annoying the Captain, which as it happens doesn’t take much doing. At least I’ve known him long enough that he doesn’t threaten to set off a tactical nuke in the bunker every time I don’t get the duty logs filed. But you know how it is: everyone’s patience has its limits. Anyway, I don’t even really have a good excuse for lagging. Really, I’ve spent every free moment in the last couple of weeks at the bottom of a bottle and just haven’t had the energy to get things posted. As a result, things have piled up a little. There are bands out there (you know who you are) to whom I have made undertakings about getting things reviewed and stuff. I’m going to work through the backlog.

I’ve heard a lot of stuff recently, but the thing that really sticks out for me is the Töxik Death demo. These Norwegians have apparently been around for quite some time (2003 if the information on the web is to be believed), but this is their second release, the first having been an EP of some kind. They must really have been swilling a lot of Ringnes if it took them nine years to get it together. Perhaps there is something to be respected in that. In any case, what I do know for a fact about this band is that they rock incredibly fucking hard. This is raw, primal death metal played at blistering fucking speed. There are some blast beat passages thrown in for good measure, but the vast majority of this is just breakneck thrash with no quarter asked. It’s a little tough to tell what’s going on lyrically, although song titles like “TerrorSexSlaughter” do not portend a particularly high level of consciousness. On the other hand, you’d have to say that they are of a piece with the rest of the product.

For those with an interest in knowing more, they did an interview with another site here and one of their cuts has been uploaded to Youtube here.

I stumbled on to Bombs of Hades quite by accident. They’ve been a thing since 2002, driven forward by Jonas Ståhlhammar and Anders Ekman who were both in Abhoth in the late 80s/early 90s (their Forever to Be . They put out a demo in 2006 called Meathook Diaries which was ok but nothing to write home about. Their first full CD, Chambers of Abominations which came out in 2010, was a big stylistic step forward. The Serpent’s Redemption came out in October and is pretty much more of the same…only better. This is death metal with an even mixture of crusty and Gothenburg influences. Buzzsaw guitars and guttural vocals really pop in the mix. It’s not quite Nominon, as it has a bit more of a straight rock influence, but those who loved Terra Necrosis will most likely dig this as well. These guys have been doing this sort of thing for a long time and it really shows. The arrangements are pretty straightforward, but also very effective. You don’t find yourself scratching your head and wondering why this part came after that, as you do on some of the rawer releases in this vein. I have to say, I really love the black and white cover as well. It adds a really down market element to the whole thing which makes it that much more appealing. Here is a bit of footage of them doing a cut from their earlier release, while this is the first cut off of The Serpent’s Redemption. Thrash on you crazy diamonds.

Finally, I picked up a copy of Chaos Reigns, the compilation of EP releases and stuff from Denmark’s Nuclear Death Terror. Props to the people at Southern Lord for putting this thing out. NDT was a band whose name I’d heard but really hadn’t gotten around to pursuing. Did I say Denmark? Jeez, I guess I mean Australia, since that’s where they’ve decamped to since last I heard about them (at least if their Facebook page is to be believed). In any case, there is a lot to like about these guys, not least the fact that they seem to have coalesced out of the squatter scene and to have some actual political consciousness, which is of course not always the case with this kind of music. This is thick, metal tinged crust, reminding one sometimes of Nausea, at other times of more straight crust acts like Warcollapse. The singer sounds like he is actually pulling pieces of his lungs out, which you have to really appreciate.

Ok, enough from me for now. I’ll be back in a day or two with a bit of new d-beat for you. I also have a couple of book reviews in the works. Maybe once I get this shit posted I can convince the Captain to take his finger off the button.

Magadh

Juxtapoz Rips Off Swallows and Daggers

Posted in Heads Up with tags , , , on November 14, 2012 by Magadh

Apologizes for the lack of material of late. I’ve welcomed a new addition to the family and haven’t had the time to dash off content with any regularity. That said, I’d like to make you aware of Juxtapoz and their shabby treatment of the good people at Swallows and Daggers. For those unaware, Swallows and Dagger  is a blog which focuses on both traditional and non-traditional tattooing. One of the great things about their site  are the fantastic interviews with a variety of tattoo artists. Those interview are so interesting that Juxtapoz elected to lift them lock, stock and barrel with out crediting Swallows and Daggers. In an 11/8/12 post here (see Juxtapoz, it’s that easy) Swallows and Daggers wrote:

 

A few weeks back I got an email from one of our contributors saying that Juxtapoz had been taking whole interviews and entire sections out of our interviews and reposting them without credit or prior permission. He got blown off by them with the following response

“I apologize if you feel something Juxtapoz posted was not properly credited from the link from which the interview excerpts and artist quotes came from. I’m sorry if you feel like your work or any of your writers work misused and I can assure you it was unintentional and won’t happen again.

The internet is a big, vast, open space with infinite information, and accidents happen.”

I decided to get in contact through a contact on linkedin who worked for Juxtapoz’s publisher. I mailed him he offered to help and then I heard nothing. When I contacted him again he said he’d been in contact and would try again.

Yesterday I got this response;

Hey Cian-

Thanks for reaching out and sorry for the delay.

I apologize if you or one of your writers feel something Juxtapoz posted was not properly credited from the link from which the interview excerpts and artist quotes came from. I’m sorry if you feel like your work or any of your writers work misused and I can assure you it was unintentional and won’t happen again.

The internet is a big, vast, open space with infinite information, and accidents happen. I spoke with one of your writers, Shane, a few weeks back and the following posts had been edited:

http://www.juxtapoz.com/Tattoo/adam-lauricella

http://www.juxtapoz.com/Tattoo/tattoos-from-jr-tubbs

I’m not sure if those posts, or Shane as a writer is who you were referring to, but thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Best-
H

from Hannah Stouffer who is one of Juxtapoz’s web editors. Unfortunately for Hannah she forgot to delete the CC’s and fwd’s from the email thread before contacting me. So how did Juxtapoz feel after we caught them out stealing our content?

Well Editor in Cheif Evan Pricco had this to say

“can you deal with this dude? he is annoying. ”

We’ve got a record and screen captures of everything Juxtapoz have “accidentally” stolen from us via the “big, vast, open space with infinite information” that is the internet. I’d really appreciate if all our readers could help us spread the word on this. There’s a post on our facebook page that we’re urging people to share to gain attention as Juxtapoz would rather we just go away and stop annoying them.

You can contact Evan or Hannah via evan@juxtapoz.com or HS@HannahStouffer.com

If you enjoy Juxtapoz (full disclosure, I do) then you may wish to reach out to Evan and/or Hannah in order to learn just what the fuck they’re playing at.

 

– Captain of Games

Ps: Their editor and chief’s last name really is Pricco. Seems apt no?

Review: The Secret

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 2, 2012 by Magadh

The Secret Agnus Dei Southern Lord

I often start these posts by conceding my utter ignorance about some topic or other. That’s usually pretty safe strategy, because at least if you get something totally wrong (as I have done from time to time) you can fall back on humility by making further reference to one’s own ignorance. If I’m taking a little different tack this time, it’s only because I’ve had a long history with Italian underground music. Those of you who were around in the 1980s will remember the shattering effect with which Raw Power burst onto the scene in 1985. Screams from the Gutter was a real revelation. The American version, essentially a rerecorded version of You Are the Victim, melded blistering thrash with wild metallic soloing. For me, it was the singing that really made the band. Mauro Codeluppi sounded like he was just short of bursting into flame at any given moment, and their second guitarist Davide (brought on the for the US tour and drafted in to try and reproduce original vocalist Silvio’s screams in the studio) kicked shit right over the top.

Of course, discerning music lovers could find a lot to entertain themselves coming out of Italy in those days. When Raw Power settled in to mediocrity (after releasing one last awesome gasp in the form of the Wop Hour 7”) other bands were there to take up the cudgels. Negazione was probably my favorite, although there were quite a number of other awesome bands that could be mentioned (Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, Indigesti, Declino, Impact, Wretched, etc., etc.).

Anyway, suffice to say, Italy has given the hardcore world some of its finest moments, and it is in this context that I want to talk about The Secret. I was first turned on the these guys earlier this year by the Captain, whose wide ranging searches for the new and the awesome far outstrip my meager powers of detection. Having missed their first two records completely my introduction to Solve et Coagula, their third full length. If you only listened to the first couple of minutes of this disc, you might think that The Secret was a doom act (and a pretty damn good one too). Then the five minutes of thick guitar and sludgy drumming that is “Cross Builder” comes to an end and the scene changes dramatically. “Death Alive” begins in a way reminiscent of the best moments of High on Fire before breaking into blast beat hysteria and eventually receding into straight hardcore thrashing. Yes, The Secret is a band that can present a lot of fronts, from heavy, doomy, grind to blistering thrash with atmospheric elements.

The question for anyone having heard this had to be: what would their next release be like? Solve et Coagula was going to be a pretty tough act to follow. I am pleased to report that Agnus Dei is a move from strength to strength. Discarding the doom-sodden intro of their previous record, the lads break hard out the gate, with blast beat straight into Tragedy-esque mid-tempo hardcore. Agnus Dei has a bit less in terms of variety than Solve et Coagula does. There is more thrashing and fewer forays into other modes of heaviness, at least for about the first two thirds of the cuts. This gives it a more stripped down feel, although this is a bit of an odd term to use for a record featuring a guitar sound that calls to mind a chainsaw ripping through a stack of corpses. The overall effect is to knock the breath out of the listener, refusing to let up throughout. It is only ten cuts in when we reach “Heretic Temple” that the accustomed variety of The Secret’s earlier approach reappears. The dark, doomy atmosphere so much in evidence on the previous disc reappears here, albeit with a slightly more black metal feel, and the listener is drawn into a dark and airless catacomb. The next two cuts ramp the intensity back up to cardiac straining levels, before the final cut, “Seven Billion Graves” arrives like a whirlwind, combining all of The Secret’s stylistic breadth into one titanic package (you’ll know what I mean if you listen to it all the way to the end).

The lads at Southern Lord have, in recent years, become the leading purveyors of intense, dark thrash, and The Secret has been an excellent addition to their stable. Agnus Dei is almost unbearably intense, and if there is a criticism to be made it is that its intensity can be numbing after a few cuts. That said, they have a great talent for arrangement and for the creation of atmosphere. This I will say: Agnus Dei has vaulted to the top of my list of the best records released this year.

Magadh