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Saturday, 17 July 2010

Death Metal Master (Bolt Thrower, Warmaster, 1991)

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War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
Amongst the idyllic and picturesque surroundings of Coventry, lurks a bellicose jingoistic machination, manned by a crew of 5 and  named after a table top game there is no escape from its mud/blood laden  rusted cogs of war when heaved into motion, beware the onslaught of Bolt Thrower.
The ancient Greeks who possessed a Bolt Thrower of their own, would often write songs  and construct structures glorifying warriors and victories long gone. Bolt Thrower drag out this Hellenic ethos and bring it forth to the modern age, however the modern age is a place of grim industrialised mass murder, the age of mind and muscle is long gone and we have entered the age of the megaton and what better sound track to reflect this than Old School British Death Metal.
With the guitars chugging frantically away, accompanied by artillery blasts from the drums and a bass line that will literally give you shell shock, Bolt Thrower perfect their unique and far too often overlooked creation of the fan assigned genre of "War Metal"(Trust me this is the real deal not your silly folky finnish battle metal), which no other band on this war ridden planet has been able to match.
The qualities that make this band and album unique or unconventional are numerous, however there are some which are of better note than others, one in particular from experience. Whenever I show my friends the music I love I always get the same generic answer "I like the guitars and drums, but I cant understand the vocals which ruins it for me", certainly a reasonable answer well finally I have ace card to throw their way, Bolt Thrower are completely comprehensible! And yet somehow they preserve that low bellowing inhumane vocals that I love, this achievement certainly is one which makes me idolise Bolt Thrower. In addition to a paradoxical result of comprehensible-death metal vocals we actually are assaulted with some great morbid poetic lyrics which would make the likes of Wilfred Owens consider a career shift, check it out.
Alone you stand - The final parody
Destined to silence - A memorial to mortality
Carved in stone - A tribute to the dead
For nameless victims - Whose litany is unread
Never Forgotten - War's memory lingers on
A dark reminder - To mankind's oblivion
This solemn image - Constructed with resolution
A monument - To war's terminal conclusion

Impressive qausi-nihilistic-patriotic lyrics, especially for death metal who nowadays focus to much on ridiculous sickening sexual and violent acts.  Another little known fact that the bassist Jo-Anne Bench is considered either the first or one of the first females to be in an extreme metal band, a title which holds a great amount of prestige to it. Her bass is fundamental to this album, although the guitars are highly down tuned and may be confused for bass, it is the bass that give it that dark and resonant articulation that completes the barbarity of war edge. As aforementioned the guitars are down tuned , but expect to hear technical moments that are graceful to the music, but sound like the agony and distress of the nameless dead soldiers dying in puddle of their own blood. The percussion varies from your doomy slow paced march, to a coordinated blitzkreig. The production value has a fuzzy tint which rounds off the war theme to a tee, I can think of only a handful of examples where instruments and production conjure up images synonymous with the lyrics.
Warmaster  is an album worthy of its name, and is a perfect musical expression of war: a collection of savagery and misery and somewhere deep amongst the piles of soldiers unknown lies a icon of glory and fame.


Friday, 9 July 2010

The Three Absurdateers (Birdflesh, The Farmers' Wrath, 2008)

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Do you remember those ridiculous teen years when your fascination of the morbid and absurd was often displayed in a "sickening" and totally un-pc expression of humour? Despite popular belief that we all grow out of this stage, the truth of the matter is us men don't and every so often chuckle to ourselves over something as cruel as seeing mentally challenged people attempting Shakespeare. Well good news folks, there exists a band that can simultaneously cater for our inappropriate humour whilst treating our ear drums to a nice Ground and Pound: enter the bizarre world of Birdflesh.
Birdflesh hail from Sweden, most likely from a colony of nut cases and aside from being comfortable in women's clothing and presenting themselves as the biggest wardrobe malfunctions you can ever conceive, they also play a eccentric strain of Grindcore which is drenched in all manner of idiocy and humour, befitting any man who enjoys humour, post modernism and/or most importantly Grindcore.
The Farmers' Wrath is their 2008 and to date their latest release, and by a long stretch is the most bizarre of their long list of releases. Opening up with the words "welcome to the lunatic asylum" the tone has been set for the rest of the album to come, from Funny Ice Dwarfs to True Glove and The Purgatory Passion this album has them all by the dozen whatever it is they actually may be.
Visualise the originality,humour and occasional absurdity of Monty Python, well now let us make it 100% absurd all the time, throw in a large chunk of something ghoulish in lyrical and musical nature, next add infrequent totally unexplainable sexual reference  then lastly give a healthy dose of some killer catchy Grind, and before us we have some of the wackiest and funniest Grind.
Parody and joke bands have all been done before and as a concept may no longer be an original idea, however in the method and quality of presentation Birdflesh are miles ahead of competitors, and even if we ignore the humour they are also miles ahead of most bands in playing some addictive well written Grindcore.  The secret to Birdflesh's  success can easily attributed to the fact too many artists focus on making the lyrics as humorous/absurd as is in their ability, this often leads to a gross neglect to the musical ability, with Birdflesh  the music is just damn catchy and good, you are already drawn before you hear the most ludicrous possible combination of words known to man, 
True Metallica fans(you know the first 4 albums, before they went shit) and Metallica haters will surprisingly join in unison to sing along to the song Some Kind of Mongo a parody of the song and also an irrevocable disgrace to cinematic history, not to my knowledge has  a song ever had the power to unite such a disparate groups of people, Impressive.
Somewhat a rare occurrence for me is that I generally don't sing along to 99% of whatI listen to, generally to spare embarrassment or that most of what I listen to is devoid of comprehension without a lyric sheet and even then it is difficult, however I find myself singing along to The Farmers Wrath in parts I know the lyrics too, and to be honest with songs as catchy as Leprosy on Jeopardy, Some Kind of Mongo, and Wheelchair Impaler there is no reason not to sing along, other than to prevent yourself an awkward conversation that you have no intention to mock such disabled people.
The brilliant thing about Birdflesh  is that it takes a break from Grindcore's heavily reinforced anti-this and that or most savage things possible ethos, and instead make some demented fun Grindcore.


Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Agorapocalypse is upon us (Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Agorapocalypse, 2009)

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Scott Hull can not only be credited with creating an audio emulation of epilepsy,  but also as being the front man and driving force for some of Grindcore's biggest names.Under Agoraphobic Nosebleed he used a slew of unconventional methods such as electric drums, masses of microsongs, frantic guitaring & vocals alongside manic music videos, carving a new family of extremity in the metal music scene; known to those who relish in his work simply as; Drum Machine Grind.
Agorapocalypse is the latest in a long line of beasts unleashed by Scott Hull and Co, and is by far the most "normal". Normality by no means that Agoraphobic Nosebleed have lost their touch, this beast of an album is untamed and livid as ever, enough to induce you into a raging fit any time someone mentions the terms; drugs or crime.
Abandoning the mass micro song concept, they flex their metaphorical musical muscles into the realm of conventionality with generally songs lasting between a minute and three, and all this across an unlucky number of tracks, namely 13, again breaking away from their infamous barrages of 100+ tracks of mind bleeding mayhem.
I think for the first time in the age of the Compact Disc an album art is 100% representative of the contents that lay within. Symbolising a flurry of narcotic abuse, police brutality, corporate greed and mass media to name an array of topics covered, this enveloping and vivid art drowns the viewer with all manner of social chaos which not only complements the lyrical themes touched upon, but also the way Agoraphobic Nosebleed force feed you their electrifying  360 degree Grind attack, which will deprive the listener of any coherent  line of thought.

Agoraphobic Nosebleed  greatest call to fame was the fact they had a disregard for the rules of music, and perhaps much like Anal Cunt actively sought to create a stigma and taboo attributed to their names in the peaceful world of music. And just like AxCx Top 40 Hits they decided to break their own rules and follow the standards they so actively desecrated and mocked.
The transition from rebel  without a cause to teachers pet has not hampered nor compromised the integrity of the extreme nature of ANb, the addition of female vocalist Katherine Katz has much to my surprise added a thick layer of aggression  to the music which I had no idea existed in the fairer sex. The twinning of the male and female vocalists are ideal, as they proceed to give you a verbal beat down, you come to realise that it is the girl is in fact the harshest of the two, and this is a scary realisation that such a femme fatale has probably  the harshest vocals on the planet.
The drumming has slowed down to a humane level of speed, and the introduction of a drum solo gives the drumming a touch of reality to it, betraying the fundamental digitally triggered fast as fuck rampage of mechanised drums in  their spawned genre Machine Gun Grind. Slowing the drumming down and elongating the songs forced the take on drumming to adapt to a more cohesive and coherent nature, and by doing so the role of the drums has fallen in line with the stereotypical metal drummer experience. However I cannot deny that despite the "degrading" of the role of the drums, the drums are still as kick ass as they always have been and are en par with the best drummers of better Grindcore acts. I can assure for the unconvinced more die hard ANb fans that the drumming will still beat you into a pile of blood and dust, personal guarantee.
As for the guitaring, expect your standard Scott Hull fast picked no bass present guitar only 7/8 string with plenty of amps assault, and unlike the shift in electric drumming his guitaring is one thing us fans will not allow him to go in a break away form, at least not without a universal vote.

Agorapocalypse  although breaking the mould of traditional ANb and lacking in its genre defining nature, it still will bestow upon the listener a considerable amount of unexplainable blunt force trauma alongside a fear of substance abuse. A perfect unison of man and machine on instruments, with the vocals which have redefined the term harsh, this album showcases Scott Hull's ability to kick as much obeying the rules as he did breaking them.


Saturday, 3 July 2010

Zaphers' Second Review (Thallus, Sell My Soul, 2009)

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Oxymoron is a concept often entertained when hearing the term Melodic Death Metal. It is in some ways fair and just but in other cases just a narrow minded observation of a genre with a rich history. Granted that the Death Metal genre, a breed of music built on its repugnant riffs and equally repugnant subject matter, is not often known for its melody mainly because it has none. But as art is in a state of constant motion this changed, forging Melodic Death Metal attempting to add musicality to a genre that had the musicianship to handle it.

Delving deep into this genre will reveal Thallus and their 2009 album Sell My Soul. The band was first introduced to me under the name Moss with their sublime “Hail to Carcase”. I was initially disappointed whilst studying the track listing to see the song was noticeably absent. But the albums closing track “To Pay Tribute to the Dead” is a reworked version of the aforementioned song. It lacked the originals raw power and like the majority of the album sounded disconcertingly clean. The oxymoronic comparisons return to consciousness when the technically stunning guitar melodies stand side by side with the raspy Max Cavalera-esque vocals, evoking more of a jumbled mess of conflicting styles than a unified and tightly formed band. The transitions between the melodic guitar work and main riffs are rough despite their quality, they stand apart rather than compliment one another. 

The bands rhythm section also turns in a varied performance. The drums have a consistently strong sound but are equally mundane. At times they verge on painfully simple such as on track “Depression” the opening sees a reliance on double bass with the song patterned with simple beats before returning to the double bass work. The drums know their place on the album; they provide a powerful sounding undercurrent but fail to break through into anything of great talking point. It allows the guitars to take the place they deserve, stealing the albums praise with their constantly strong work. The bass serves as a close 4 stringed doppelganger to the drums work. But it at times succeeds in breaking through the mould and stuns with flurries of varied bass fills. The bass appears uniform until given its chance, where it stands as an equal to the guitars artistic flair, an unbalance in the album that is ignored with relish.

The albums track titles are a mystery. A mystery caused by the bands Eastern origin. Originating from China and singing in their mother tongue, a bold and respectable move from the band with countless bands choosing to sing in English over their own language. From a clueless Westerner perspective the lyrics are completely lost. The songs titles are the only clue into the songs subject matter. “Purgatory’s Gate” and “To Pay Tribute to the Dead” evoke epic imagery when compared to simple titles such as “Depression”. But the songs are all crafted in the exact same way. No emotion or imagery is built up in the music itself. The songs all have technical brilliancy but lack any feeling that could potentially portray the same thing that the lyrics might do. The lack of imagery in the music makes the language barrier more apparent. The bands power is in their twin guitar lead. The storytelling should be done trough them rather than the vocalist whose voice is distracting in a technically brilliant band. 

The band undeniably brings musicality into the Death Metal genre, but it is glaringly apparent that it is far from its origins. The melody stands apart from the heavier sections rather than them being interweaved as equals. Both sections are good, mainly on a technical level but they fail to gel and as a result do no compliment each other. They highlight the oxymoronic problems in the Melodic Death Metal genre. Melody and the furious style of Death Metal is a hard thing to blend. The band has elements of both and does them well, but they do not attempt to take advantage of the unique nature of this hybrid genre. They have the musicality and musicianship but something vital is notably absent.