Archive for January, 2013

Review: Brink of Despair

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on January 28, 2013 by Magadh

Brink of Despair rooted in dust

BRINK_COVERThere is a certain temptation associated with speed in the crust scene. The common picking patterns offer a comforting normalcy. There is something pleasing in this for the listener as well, a comforting rhythm that keeps the head bobbing. Gearing down into the middle tempos is most often seen as a sort of set up for the take off. This all well and good, but it is just the slightest bit limiting. Perhaps the most appealing thing about Leipzig’s Brink of Despair is their willingness to hang about in the middle tempos without feeling the need to launch into hyper speed every fourth bar.

This takes a certain confidence in the one’s licks, and not every band could pull it off. If Tragedy spent long periods in this register, they were abetted in doing so by the fact that the crushing wall of sound that they were generating bludgeons all resistance into meek submission. Brink of Despair adopt on a more metallic approach. Where Tragedy relied on crushing chords and thick production, Brink of Despair have a rather sparser sound, featuring chunky metal licks and the occasional passage of single string melodics reminiscent of Stockholm death metal. Without the panacea of speed, BoD rely on subtle arrangements and dark atmosphere to get their point across. Occasionally they break out into a faster tempo and the contrast is made all the more powerful by the fact that it is so long in coming. For those immersed in the crust scene, this disc will inspire tension as one waits for the shift to the higher gear. More often than not it does not come, and the tension remains.

Their playing here is refreshingly raw. Simple riffs, played with conviction and thoughtfully arranged. The lyrics run to the personal rather than the political, which is all for the best, considering the singer sounds like he’s about to have a stroke. Maybe he needs this time to work all the shadows out. I’ve heard them compared to Alpinist, but I suspect that that had more to do with the fact that they are both from Germany. A more apt point of comparison would Sarabante, although BoD are slower and have noticeably more metallic ambiance.

This would have jumped to the top of my “Best of 2013” list if it hadn’t been released late last year. Why am I always the last to know these things? Better late than never. In the crowded, and often repetitive field of crust these days, the pleasure of finding something that sounds just that little bit different is an infrequent pleasure.

Magadh

Review: Ellipse

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on January 25, 2013 by Magadh

Ellipse L’Ampleur du Vide

ellipseI’ve taken a lot longer writing this review than I otherwise might have. Which is not to say that I’ve devoted a particularly great degree of thought or craft to its actual composition. And certainly not that, as you can see, that I’ve actually written a huge amount about it. It was more a matter of it sounding like something else, something in particular, and not being able to remember exactly what that something was. This precipitated a search through my collection of Gothenburg deathmetal releases, which is pretty extensive. My search was ultimately crowned with success although, as will become clear below, the fruits of such success were not really consonant with the amount of time that devoted to the search.

Anyway, what the hell, you may ask, am I talking about? I’m talking about a little six song release by a band from Nantes called Ellipse. As you’ve probably gathered from the statements above, the general stylistic territory explored by Ellipse is the Gothenburg style of deathmetal. Since its origins in the early 1990s, this particular medium of expression has been quite thoroughly explored and it is arguable that a lot of the creative spirit has been drained out of it. This is at least the case if one takes the fact that Evergrey, a band shorn of any guts or substance, are still able to sell records. Even excepting the deficient entries in the field, it must be said that this is a wide, although still fertile, stylistic zone.

Those daring to enter such a crowded field undertake a risky endeavor. It is all too easy to become yet another nameless practitioner in an overloaded style. Ellipse, it must be said, have a few things going for them. They have rock solid musicianship, which is an absolute must for this particular line. They have a female vocalist (and quite a good one at that) and this immediately separates them from the deathmetal pack. Their lyrics are in French, which I regard as a major plus. As a native speaker of English, I have the luxury that most bands sort of concede to the hegemony of my mother tongue. I understand why they do it, but it is refreshing to hear a band that doesn’t. Too few English speakers take the time to learn another language, and merely assume that the world’s culture will make the effort to come to them. For a number of reasons this expectation is justified, but it is pleasant to see people resist the temptation.

If you only listened to the first thirty seconds of this disc, you would assume that they were going to sound like Katatonia in the Discouraged Ones era (which is no bad thing). They then move on to hit a range of stylistic points within the subgenre, sounding now like Dark Tranquility, now like Carnal Forge, now like later period Nightrage. The similarity to the last mentioned act is pronounced, and I am rather ashamed to say that it took me upwards of an hour to identify the similarity.

The fact that Ellipse sound like a lot of other bands is not by any means a criticism. Such is the nature of this particular format that it is unavoidable. In L’Ampleur du Vide they have put together quite an appealing release. Their take on the style as fast and aggressive with a compelling melodic element that keeps one interested. And this is, as far as I am concerned, a major achievement. If you’ve been following the deathmetal scene for any length of time, you’ve heard this kind of thing before. To hear it done in a ways that makes you want to hear it again is a rare and excellent experience.

This live clip gives a pretty good idea of what they’re all about.

Magadh

Cronos and the Art of Stage Banter

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 23, 2013 by Magadh

ImageMy friend Brian told me I had to seek out the compilation of the stage banter from Venom’s Cronos. Thanks to the fine people at The Great Southern Brain I was able to check it out and feel compelled to share it with you. Give it a listen here.

– Captain of Games

A Note on Reviews

Posted in Heads Up on January 22, 2013 by Magadh

I thought I might say a couple of words about our review policy here in the bunker. Here I speak only for myself, although I’m pretty confident that the Captain is similarly inclined. In any case, I seem to do the bulk of the reviews (which is more to do with the fact that I just don’t get out much than anything else), so this applies mostly to myself anyway.

You may notice that, in the main, the reviews that we put up here are positive. This is not because we’re uncritical. The fact of the matter is that I don’t spend that much time on something if I think it sucks. If I haven’t found something to hold my attention within the first couple of tracks I generally consign whatever it is to the rubbish tip of history. At any given time I’ve got twenty or thirty things hanging fire waiting for review and a lot of other writing projects as well, so my attention span is a little limited. Is this an ideal situation? No, it isn’t. But one has a limited lifespan (and zombies to fight) so I just can’t give too much attention to mediocrity. I would prefer to give the greatest possible attention to things that are interesting. Although I don’t spend a lot of time listening to that which disappoints, when I hear something good I’d like to give it my full attention rather than just listening to the first two cuts and writing a review declaring them the next Aerosmith.

Of course, there is something quite enjoyable about writing bad reviews. I am reminded in this context of Arthur Fifield’s hilarious rejection letter to Gertrude Stein, which I reproduce here because it makes me laugh:letter

You will notice that when I (we) give poor marks it tends to be to something from an act with whom we’re already familiar. If a band has done something impressive in the past, that at least buys them a couple of full spins of their new project. I (we) don’t seek out things to hammer just because they suck. There is plenty of garbage in what’s left of the world, and the interweb has ensured that it gets wider exposure than ever before. There are any number of places where we could find shit. Basically, and fascist/white power/nationalist label will be fully stock with absolute sheep shit for moronic seig heiling crowd. But that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Unless they manage to rise above the level of mere absurdity and incompetence we just can’t be bothered.

Anyway, part of our goal in starting this blog was to bring ourselves into contact with more interesting stuff, so feel free to suggest points of interest.

Magadh

Review: War Master

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 18, 2013 by Magadh

War Master Pyramid of the Necropolis Torture Garden Pictures Company

WMCoverIt’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and this is an adage that holds with special intensity in the world of underground music. I know that there is a general idea that rolls around in the scene that what people are doing is supposed to be, in some significant sense, original. With music as simple and uncomplicated as hardcore and the various variants of metal that surround it, there is very little new under the sun. This is not exactly tragic, at least to my way of thinking. In the first place, most of the bands that I listened to in my youth were so unstable that they could barely get there shit sufficiently together to record even on album’s worth of material. And then there was the case of the bands that surpassed this threshold but probably shouldn’t have. How many times did one experience the case of bands whose first release was awesome and who then saw fit to pollute their legacy by recording utter crap as a follow up. Case in point: Sacrilege. Behind the Realms of Madness was one of the finest examples of the productive crossover between hardcore and thrash metal in Great Britain in the early 1980s. Their follow up, Within the Prophecy, was a monuments to self-indulgent metal riffing featuring boring and interminable solos, and eight minute songs.

In light of these ruminations, I give you War Master. On hearing the name of this band you would be forgiven for thinking that they were basically a bunch of Bolt Thrower worshippers. And, of course, you’d be right. Pyramid of the Necropolis is straight out of the Bolt Thrower playbook circa 1989. Having talked at so much length about bands that made unwise stylistic decisions, I suppose it is worth acknowledging that after their first two records, Bolt Thrower went on to release the same record about six times over. For me that was ok. In any case, I will say that War Master’s moniker is slightly ironic in the sense that the music that they play sounds much more like the Bolt Thrower of Realm of Chaos than it does War Master. Anyway, I will say that War Master the band do play some excellent guttural crust that is tuned down so low that only elephants can actually hear all of it. Given that what they are trying to do is to mine a vein that another band fully established, War Master do an excellent job. They pay homage to the sound without trivializing it, and that is pretty impressive given what they’ve set out to do.

Magadh

A Blaze in the Northwestern Sky: Chelsea Wolfe and King Dude

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2013 by Magadh

Case Studies/King Dude/Chelsea Wolfe
The Triple Door, Seattle WA
1.14.13


Since the arrival of our son, The Wolf, we have been left with diminished opportunities to attend musical rituals. Thankfully, the stars aligned allowing Mrs. Games and me a night out to see this exceptional line up in a rather tony venue.

The Triple Door is a full seated venue in the heart of Seattle. Booths and table are arranged in a tiered horseshoe with the red trimmed stage as the centerpiece. Black clad wait staff offer dinner and drinks service throughout the performance. The venue reads equal parts David Lynch and a late Wiemar Republic cafe, perfect for King Dude and Chelsea Wolfe.

The evening began with Case Studies, the moniker of Jesse Lortz’s (the duke of The Duchess and the Duke fame) solo project. Lortz has been acclaimed for both his painting as well as his musicianship and I was interested to hear him play. I wasn’t really blown away by his performance which may owe to my lack of familiarity with his recent work. The lyrical content and some of the musicianship attempts to evoke Leonard Cohen. My impression, at least on this night, was that it owed a bit more to some of John Lennon’s middling solo work. Lortz performance was certainly heartfelt and his offerings were well received by sections of the audience. For my part, I remained more engaged with the vegetarian fare Mrs. Games and I selected for dinner.

Image

King Dude’s performance was something I had eagerly anticipated. I have seen TJ Cowgill’s previous band, Book of Black Earth, on many occasions and was intrigued when I learned of his new project. The records were a pleasant surprise and I was interested in how, both musically and visually, it would translate live.

Cowgill’s deep knowledge of the occult, esoteric magic, and Gnosticism was a fixture in the lyrics of Book of Black Earth and lends much to King Dude. The band, Cowgill accompanied by Nicholas Friesen intermittently on floor tom and guitar, was framed by a massive and blackened American flag. The flag was bordered by two candles guttering on stands. King Dude’s music is often compared to Death in June or Sol Invictus and I hear much of that in their work. Live, I was struck by how much they channel the darker aspects of American folk in the same vein as Nike Cave. I also heard a bit of Swans and Leonard Cohen. The evening’s performance drew primarily upon Love and Burning Daylight. The execution of the material was exquisite with Cowgill’s smoky rasps enhanced by the ominous tempo of the Friesen’s drumming.  The standout of the performance was the macabre sing a long of “Lucifer is the Light of the World.” Recorded the track is ominous; live it evokes a dark bit of whimsy. By the end of their performance it was clear why King Dude are so acclaimed.

Down came the flag and Chelsea Wolfe took the stage flanked by a violinist and keyboardist, all framed by the guttering candles. Wolfe’s black dress was set off a bit by the bouquet of white roses on her mic stand. The set was comprised mostly of her most recent release, the acoustic Unknown Rooms. Her impressive vocal range was clearly evident, one moment harmonizing with the violinist and the next soaring above the music. While her style is clearly different I was, at times, reminded of Kate Bush’s finer moments during Wolfe’s performance. Towards the end of the set Cowgill joined Wolfe on stage for an excellent rendition of King Dude’s “My Mother was the Moon”.

On balance the performance was excellent and the venue seemed to enhance the atmosphere. Mrs. Games and I contently left the theater into the night’s enveloping darkness. It seemed an apt extension of the evening’s vibe.

– Captain of Games

Review: Infernöh

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 15, 2013 by Magadh

Infernöh War Tjard D-takt & Råpunk

infernohI know that I make a lot of comparisons between modern d-beat acts and the same set of early 80s acts, and now I have been shown the error of my ways. I’ve just heard War Tjard by the Swedish band Infernöh and I was really reminded of what the bands of the 1980-5 era really sounded like. Infernöh are deliciously lo-fi, without reducing their sound to a tinny rattle. I’ve heard them compared to Anti-Cimex and Totalitär, and this is not a totally inappropriate comparison. To my mind they sound more like the classic Finnish band Kaaos. Any way you slice it this is an absolutely savage release. Ten cuts of blistering Scandinavian thrash stripped down to the absolute basics: heavily distorted guitars and utter rage. They get extra points for having a record cover that looks like it was drawn by a stoned sixth grader on the back of his peechee. Was this the best d-beat release of 2012? To my mind it just jumped to the top of the list.

Their demo is pretty awesome as well and can be downloaded here.