These posts are written by: Mike McMahan

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.

Hashshashin – nihsahshsaH

The word hashasin is linked to the popular emergence of the term assassin, and this group of killers is believed to have been formed during the Crusades. While the group’s convoluted history is beyond the scope of an album review, the takeaway is that the sect’s secretive leader is believed to have drugged potential followers with hashish before convincing them to kill. In addition to being pretty damn metal, these two elements provide something of a metaphor for the sound of Hashshashin, a self-described “psychedelic droneprog” outfit from Australia. It’s helpful that the band described themselves, as this is not the easiest music to characterize.

A Concert Review or Slayer and Anthrax Bring Both Schools: Old AND New

Slayer, Anthrax and Death Angel

Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, Austin, Tx.

10/08/16

The 2,750 capacity Moody Theater feels like a miniature version of an arena, with a general admission floor and two mezzanines. The sold-out venue provided Slayer fans with a contradictory experience: seeing an arena-sized production with an arena vibe… in a small room. Like an 80s scale model, Slayer, Anthrax and Death Angel took concertgoers back to thrash metal’s heyday not by simply cranking up the nostalgia time machine, but by reminding listeners of what it was like when classic metal bands were releasing their classic albums and were eager to present their newest tunes to fans. Both Slayer and Anthrax accomplished this by putting new songs in key spots in their sets, something almost unheard of for bands that are 30+ years old.

Dysrhythmia – The Veil of Control

There is a dissonance to the music of Dysrhythmia not employed by the above bands, and, obviously, Neil Peart has never employed blast beats, though Rush is perhaps a great analogy for what Dysrythmia aspires to, as both bands feel collaborative and feature equal contributions to the larger sound. But these extreme metal flourishes are only one element of the music and weave seamlessly with the larger tapestry, rather than being the dominant color, resulting in an album influenced by extreme metal, as opposed to an extreme metal album.

Opeth: Not the First Musical Act to Piss Off Their Fans

The wait is over. The release date for Opeth’s latest, Sorceress, is almost upon us; and with it, the latest round in the controversy that has dogged them for three albums now. “What happened to the death growls?” “Why aren’t these guys heavy anymore?” “Opeth sucks now.” These are not opinions that I personally share, as I’m huge fan of Pale Communion. That said, Heritage is certainly not their best record, or even one of their top 5. In fact, it may even be their weakest. No shame there, given the ridiculous quality of their complete discography. Time will tell how successful and well-regarded Sorceress is, though early indications are that your opinion on Sorceress will likely mirror your opinion on Pale Communion. The two tracks released in advance, the title track and “Will O’ The Wisp” certainly strongly suggest this.

But they aren’t the first band to release a record that has the fans howling with rage.