These posts are written by: Mike McMahan

Replacire – Do Not Deviate

The genre of technical death metal is tricky to do well. Oftentimes the songs are so densely arranged and executed that they are impenetrable and listeners may struggle for something—anything!—to latch onto. There are bands that do it well, and it’s probably time to start paying attention to Replacire, as they’re bringing some new perspectives and ideas to the genre. Their new album, Do Not Deviate, condenses some of the ideas from their debut, The Human Burden, into a heavily detailed monster. If listeners want a visual cue for what to expect, the bad ass cover art provides a perfect look. Robotic ferocity, Escher-esque labyrinths and the occasional mystical occult vibe–because, hey, why not? And, despite giving plenty for listeners to digest on early listens, this album practically screams that obsessive listens will reveal hidden layers and secrets.

Hey! Listen to The Mute Gods!

Likely one of the most enjoyable albums of the year, The Mute Gods’ Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth is brimming with melody from front to back, with outstanding keyboard arrangements and gorgeous bass licks. This album pays more direct tribute to 80s prog, an era that is maligned but provided some of the giants of the genre (Yes, Rush and Genesis) with some of their biggest hits and served to introduce the MTV generation to some of the most talented musicians on the planet. Tonally, Tardigrades is most like Yes’s 90125 and even has a sort of synthesized new age feel that marked the band’s collaboration with later soundtrack wunderkind Trevor Rabin.

To Prequel or Not? Cynic Provides the Missing Link and has their Revenge of the Sith Moment

Cynic is a legendary and influential band. Since news that drummer and founding member Sean Reinert has left the band, many fans have wondered what is on the horizon, if anything. While there’s still no word on new music from co-founder and guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal (who vowed to continue the band), late last year, an announcement from the realm of music archaeologists got nerd minds spinning. Uroboric Forms: The Complete Demo Collection would be released and fans would maybe get some answers about how the hell Cynic went from being in Death (which was basically a Chuck Schuldiner backing gig) to dropping an absolutely groundbreaking gem in Focus. Southern Florida in the late 80s and early 90s is hallowed ground in extreme metal. Would Uroboric Forms rewrite the narrative?

Crystal Fairy – Crystal Fairy

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is a hot-shit guitar player, no doubt about it. He was a core member of post-hardcore firebrands At The Drive-In and his Herculean strongman solos defined the sound of The Mars Volta, the love ‘em or hate ‘em prog punk freakout machine. After recording over 900 solo albums, he seemed to have decided that his maximalist style was maxed out. First it was Noctourniquet, the fairly straightforward, (allegedly) final album from the Volta. Then it was a new band with the longtime Plant to his Page—vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala—and the post-punkish Antemasque. Their debut record was even more conventional than Noctourniquet, with catchy choruses and riffs, and the least cryptic lyrics Bixler-Zavala has ever put to wax. So maybe, in retrospect, Crystal Fairy is not that surprising.

Pryapisme – Diabolicus Felinae Pandemonium

Instrumental music makes more room for the listener by opening up the palette—there are no lyrics that cue the listener how to feel. Whether this is true of extreme metal and the frequently unintelligible lyrics is arguable, though the titles and style of vocal delivery gives a pretty solid idea of what’s being communicated. This same openness can make describing or quantifying instrumental music difficult—a bit like translating poetry. Something inevitably gets lost.

Some bands are, by their very nature, divisive. These bands are often idiosyncratic in their approach and tend to generate strong opinions; in short, you love ‘em or hate ‘em. Pryapisme, who have delivered another madcap romp with their new album, Diabolicus Felinae Pandemonium, are one of those bands.

Hour Of Penance – Cast The First Stone

One of the unfortunate by-products of the CD era was the need to make albums longer and longer. It was as if bands thought that just because you could put almost 80 minutes of music on an album that you somehow should put 80 minutes of music on an album. Hour of Penance, who go all out on their (seventh) album, Cast The First Stone, harbor no such illusions, trimming the fat for a non-stop riff-o-rama of speed and brutality that tears through nine songs in just over half an hour.

Cognitive – Deformity

There’s a reason that musician autobiographies often contribute less to an understanding of an artist’s contribution than something written by an impartial third party. Such is the case with New Jersey’s Cognitive, who bill themselves as brutal technical death metal and whom their label, Unique Leader, describes as “thinking outside the box.” Tech death is a fairly ambitious genre and one in which the focus of the music is on, well, the technical nature of the performances. Listeners can expect the disorientation and whiplash that comes from multiple time signature changes and abrupt right turns. These are albums that aspires to invoke the current human condition: massive information overload. Cognitive’s recent release, Deformity, is not that album, as its strength comes from a solid roundhouse punch to the face.

The Difficulties of Album of the Year

Here we are, at the end of another year. Critics and bloggers internet-wide (including yours truly) are struggling to put together top 20, top 50, top 100, top 10,000 lists of best albums. And it’s kind of a lot of work. It doesn’t seem like it would be; after all, we’re simply talking about listening to a ton of records and choosing your favorite. To reduce the process to its most basic level, there are really only two responses for a listener, blogger or no, to have to an album.

Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake

Testament’s new album, Brotherhood Of The Snake, is likely to please the faithful and even more likely to be ignored by anyone else. While the band delivers typically strong riffs and decent vocal melodies, there is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking. It is, not surprisingly to those who have followed the band for decades, simply another Testament album.