Verbs are very useful when describing albums. Adjectives tend to slip faster into hyperbole and there’s something about the dynamics of doing that relates to music very well. So, when one turns to an album, it might serve to consider now what the album sounds like but what actions it calls to mind. With Steve Von Till‘s A Life Unto Itself, the semantic field is clear: scraping, digging, distilling, excavating. Reaching into some sort of core that has always been present in von Till’s illustrious career and bringing it to light.
It seems easy when listening to new music to focus one’s attention entirely on the instrumental aspect of it and how the musicians are actually performing. Yet this mental trap more often than not puts the vocals in the background. Of course when one is mostly concerned with the albums coming out of the murky underbelly of brutal and extreme metal, where the majority of vocals don’t really do much to set themselves apart, it’s almost second nature to disregard the vocals. But when attempting to digest something that can barely be even considered metal like the works of Klone, the approach has to change quite a bit to allow a measure of fairness in the evaluation.
Entrails – Obliteration
Not everything that glitters is gold, someone once said. This is painfully obvious when listening to Obliteration, the Metal Blade debut from resurrected Swedish death metallers Entrails. We are so used to the label releasing stellar records left, right and centre that when one comes along that stinks up the place, it comes as a bit of a shock. But for a few (barely) redeeming factors, Entrails have dropped a clanger. A big, gory, death metal clanger.
Of all of the genre designations that exist within the metal pantheon, folk metal is arguably the most evasive in terms of retaining a consistent sound. Culture is the primary determinant of what constitutes “folk” music, causing a folk metal band’s sound to rely not on stylistic tropes, but with the members’ country of origin. Having such a strong link to a specific location necessitates a certain level of aural transportation, something that Tengger Cavalry demonstrate masterfully on their fourth album, Blood Sacrifice Shaman. Blending traditional Mongolian instrumentation with standard metal fare, the group stands in as prophets of Tengger – sky god of Mongolian grassland – and provides the listener with a triumphant, aerial view disturbed by some mild turbulent winds.
Maruta‘s third full length, and first with Relapse, will be the benchmark for upcoming bands in the venomous subgenre that is deathgrind. The progenitors of this group of acts in Cattle Decapitation and Cephalic Carnage have their own unique sound and are instantly recognizable from the rest of the herd; the banshee screams of Travis Ryan and whirling sax solos that fleet in and out of Cephalic’s later work can not be found elsewhere. Maruta have come a ways since their 2008 debut and, in doing so, have carved out the tightest of nichés in a genre that is both despised and adored.
I have only ever been terrified at concerts less than a handful of times in my life. The first was in 2006 when I saw DragonForce on their first North American tour with All That Remains and HORSE the Band. I had just turned 20 and had only been to smaller shows at significantly smaller venues prior. When Inhuman Rampage came out, DragonForce were beyond a force of nature, their onstage antics drivings crowds into a frenzy, launching spirits like Herman and Sam launched themselves from personally-sized trampolines. Even in a large venue like Tempe’s Marquee Theater, the sold out show still managed to rattle bodies.
The second time was when Between the Buried and Me was touring with The Devin Townsend Project and Cynic in 2010. Devin Townsend’s crowd managed to bring out the movers and shakers with his high-energy riffing and inherently funny personality, while Cynic’s set after seemed to soothe the audience with more technical and progressive know-how. When Between the Buried and Me took the stage, all hell broke loose from the wall-to-wall in the now-defunct Tempe venue The Clubhouse. From the first moments of “Obfuscation” to the final notes of “White Walls,” the entire venue was a nonstop ride—bodies being mashed together, voices screaming in unison as the North Carolina progressive outfit brought proverbial destruction to The Clubhouse’s tiny stage.
Finally, and most recently, terror came in the form of three young girls from Japan. BABYMETAL had come to the House of Blues in Chicago.
Editor’s Note: This is a review for only the audio portion of TesseracT’s Odyssey/Scala.
Few bands in the more modern, groove-oriented scenes of metal have garnered the same level of respect and hype with only two albums quite like the UK’s TesseracT. 2011’s One will probably viewed as one of the cornerstones of djent in the next decade, and 2013’s Altered State succeeded in distancing the band even further from most of their heavier counterparts and peers. The band had ditched screaming and growling altogether and instead let then-new vocalist Ashe O’Hara croon along with the band’s typical ambient Meshuggah-lite style. Now that the band has reunited with original singer Dan Tompkins and toured the world over in support of their last two records, TesseracT has decided to commemorate the end of this period in the band’s history with both a live DVD and CD. Odyssey, being the audio portion of the package, shows a band essentially putting on a clinic on staggering tightness and delivering over a solid hour of generally their best material, though not without a few hiccups.
Out of the woodwork of doom metal, fusing the influences of Agalloch on the one hand and Yob on the other, comes to us Pathway. What we’re faced with here is a singular creation, one that has its roots sunk firmly in delivery: its aim is to dig deep into itself, grasp the very firmament of the band’s sound and then apply it firmly to your ears, mind and heart. The most striking quality of this album’s forty and change minutes is how much ground it covers while still being able to perform the above. Accessible and engaging while still being unrelenting and uncompromising, Pathway is everything doom metal should be.
Bands that make their first appearances with the EP format are at an advantageous position; they are essentially getting away with a “practice run,” or a primer for things to come while giving the band ample time to perfect their craft in time for their full-length debut. New Jersey’s Lorna Shore, for instance, has had two chances at exploring and developing the reaches of their sound. Their last EP Maleficium — which earned an overall positive review — showed great promise combining technically-minded deathcore with subtle symphonic and blackened flair, but it was ultimately mired by momentum-sucking breakdowns. It’s easy to levy constructive criticism during these formative years and maintain optimism for what is still to come, in the hopes that through trial and error a maturation occurs down the line. Unfortunately for Lorna Shore, the long play format has only afforded the band more time in which they can make the same mistakes.
Figuring out how to deal with certain levels of expectations is one of the harder parts of reviewing something. For example, an album that is hyped as a ‘game-changer’ and a ‘classic-to-be’, but ultimately is nothing out of the ordinary, is going to be judged a lot more harshly than the same record when advertised as ‘a very good album for fans of the genre’. Balancing expectations, musical content, and objectivity to create a review that properly emphasizes an album’s strengths while not making sure to ignore its weaknesses is a tough task indeed.