BURZUM has been described as “music to make mortals dream,” and The Ways of Yore (Candlelight) will do just that, because it’ll put you to sleep. I guess living in France can’t be that cheap; it seems like Varg cranks records out once a year or so. I’m not going to delve into his politics, the fact that he’s a murderer or anything like that. This release is not black metal at all — not that anyone really expected that. Clocking in at a little over an hour, this is a fully realized dark ambient piece. It may seem like I like this; I don’t. This comes across like that part in Zeppelin’s “No Quarter,” you know, before it kicks into the jam. Certainly, this is no Filosofem. The synths here sound dated, a little like old Pink Floyd, and the whole album seems to drag a little too much for my pecking taste. There are parts here and there that don’t completely sound like overindulgent Rick Wakeman worship, but there’s no overall feeling of despair or dread. You certainly won’t be jamming this one on a road trip. So, like, get your pink underwear on and, I dunno, go get Filosofem if you want something like this. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz. 3 Fucking Pecks.
I can’t say I’m too sure what to make of BLOODSOAKED‘s new one, Religious Apocalypse. It’s not really a record, because it’s like three new songs, some covers and some live stuff. The new songs are cool, guttural death metal that don’t just rely on pig grunts and blast beats. The material is strong and goes for the jugular. Old-school death metal that’s pretty mean, with a little groove. As far as the covers go, I don’t think you’ve lived until you’ve heard death metal versions of Cinderella and Ratt. The live songs here lend to the vibe of the record and let you know how good the “band” can be. Overall, this is a pretty fun release, and I’ve gotta say I’m glad I heard it, but I’m not sure I’d buy it. 6 Fucking Pecks.
So, I haven’t heard the new PHOBIA EP, Grindcore, on Deep Six, but I’m willing to bet that it rules. Phobia rules, and if you didn’t know, now you do.
By now Decibel readers have come to know and love the young upstarts in Noisem. They turned heads during the last Decibel tour (and almost got Jeff Walker of Carcass in a lot of trouble — check out the details in the instant oral history). So Decibel and our friends at A389 Recordings are excited to premiere the main track off the new Noisem seven-inch.
Here’s what’s cool about this: RSR Records (Europe) and Amputated Vein Records (Japan) are part of this release. There are three versions of the 7″ — all limited to 500 copies.
Side A features the new song “Consuming,” Noisem’s opener for many recent sets. The band then recorded three classic cover songs by Terrorizer, Slayer and Cannibal Corpse to use as three b-sides. The songs have been dispersed randomly among the versions.
Check out the new tune below and then follow the links to get a pressing of your choice.
Red Version – A389 Recordings
European Gold version – RSR Records
The Japanese Blue version w/Obi Strip — Amputated Vein Records
Because every day another band records another song. Because 83% of those songs are unlistenable and you can’t be bothered to sift through the dreck. Because metal is about not giving a shit and waking your own personal storm. Because music is universal, expression is boundless, and even indie labels (whatever that means these days) don’t know everything, Decibel brings you Throw Me a Frickin’ Label Hack.
As both a loyal proponent of atavistic black metal and a man with familial roots in southern Italy, I have searched for years for great Italian extreme music. It has often seemed like a fool’s errand. In recent years, right on the heels of the surge of varied French extremity, lots of metal has erupted from the land of Romulus and Mussolini, but often there was nothing recognizably Italian in it. Lyrics spat in English, chords shredded out in styles Scandinavian, British and American. Not that it was bad, but I could derive as much (or more) pleasure from those bands’ influences, and it all seemed a bit superfluous.
All of which makes the sharp individuality expressed by Dawn of a Dark Age so much more satisfying. The Agnone duo, comprised of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Eurynomos and vocalist Buran, promise and achieve raw black metal, but that description only serves as a sonic foundation for the agitated and melodic events contained within the songs. Eurynomos’s musical training allows him to inject the savage swirl with piano, alto and baritone saxophone, and clarinet.
Wait! Don’t go yet! Just try it. The heart and bones and crispy viscera of Dawn’s music are undeniably black. The other instruments add color in interesting places and twist things just enough to make the view more intriguing.
To add to the allure, Dawn of a Dark Age have promised that this debut recording, The Six Elements, Vol. 1: Earth, will be followed every six months by another six-song recording through 2017, each one thematically exploring humanity’s experience with an elemental force. The ambition is astounding. We hope all goes well, and we look forward to the next installment.
For now, here’s a stream of Earth and a look into the mind of the man behind all this vision.
Dawn of a Dark Age just started a few months ago and you already have a complete recording to release. Were you writing music before the band’s official beginning, or did the songs really come out that fast?
Working in solitude makes everything easy and streamlined. I can create, compose and record music for 10 – 12 hours in a day, and then to add the voice of Buran is just the finishing touch. About the music, some songs required long time working, but others just came out easily. “Eurynomos Army” was created in four days but “Dawn Of A Dark Age” took several months of work. Anyway all the songs were written and recorded starting from the last February, when we [were] born as Dawn Of A Dark Age.
How did the musical ideas come together?
When I start to compose a new song I don’t follow a standard schedule. Sometimes I create a melody with my woodwinds, many others a guitar riff or a sequence of chords on the piano can start off the song. Then it is important to have clear in mind the right drumming. So I add the drums and gradually the song comes to life and I start thinking about the arrangement, which has an important role in our sound, especially for the integration of wind instruments. They allow me to experiment [with] different colors and nuances that I want to give to the song.
What part of Italy are you from? Are there other metal musicians in your area who you have worked or corresponded with?
I live in Abruzzo, a region in central Italy full of mountains, sea, hills and streams and with a long history. And this colorful land makes me feel music closer to the natural elements. In the winter you can spend hours in the woods and in twenty minutes you can reach the seaside, and this changing landscape is reflected in our music. But on the other hand there aren’t many musicians in this area to relate with and to share a long term project like this.
What got you interested in writing music for the ancient concept of elements?
As said before, the place where I was born is essential for this project. Being able to play different instruments allows me to relate to each element with a particular nuance of sound. The nature tells us stories only if we are able to hear her! This may sound [like] a project focused on the melody and on the sweetness, but it’s just an illusion. Our music is sometimes melodic, but in a matrix [that] is violent and aggressive, because the nature is threatened day after day by the cruelty of the men that try to take possession of its elements to destroy. His ego, his thirst for power will lead to the inevitable clash between nature and the human race, and that will be the day of Dawn Of A Dark Age.
Which came first, the musical style or the elemental concept?
When I compose a new song I always try to find the right balance between both of them to let them grow together. You can’t think the two things separately; they are tied together and need to be in symbiosis in this long and exciting project.
What music/artists first sparked your interest in black metal? What inspired your inclusion of woodwind and piano instruments into such a violent form of music?
When black metal began to have followed in the early 90s I was studying clarinet at the Conservatory and use to play Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky. One day a friend of mine came with a tape recording of Mayhem. Until that time the most extreme things that I had heard were Venom, Slayer, Bathory and Carcass. But that sound was new, dirty, raw and at the same time charming and above all cold and very aggressive. Since that time I discovered the Scandinavian scene and bands like Emperor, Darkthrone, Immortal, Marduk. I decided to put the ‘classic’ instruments like clarinet, saxophone and piano, which are part of my personal training, just searching for the right colors during the arrangement of the songs, trying to give each one its own footprint that is as similar as possible to the sound I have in mind. If there’s a song that can give you an idea probably this is Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring,” which could be understood as a mother (Earth) sweet and dear who suddenly becomes violent and out of control. This is the meaning I would give to “The Six Elements”, where the peaceful nature can suddenly unleash a fucking hell with an earthquake, a tsunami, or a snowfall in summer.
Do you have a favorite piece of music on this first volume, Earth?
It’s hard to pick up one song, just because, as I said before, I tried to give each one its own particular character and its own particular sound. And also their placement in the setlist is made so that they can follow a path that begins a cycle, grows, reproduces and closes the circle. It is not a coincidence that the tribal bongos open and close this first element (Earth) projecting toward the second one.
Is it a challenge to write the lyrics you want in English, or are you pretty comfortable with the language?
Even for the lyrics I am always searching for the best metric and rhythmic solution that blends with the music and with the idea that I have in my mind. In the next albums I could use the language of my country or a dialect, following the ancient black metal tradition.
You’ve promised five more related recordings over the next 3 years. Are you overwhelmed by that ambition, or is this just the way that the musical ideas are coming out of you?
It might seem like a race against time, but it’s not. Simply everything in the project is related to the number 6 and so I decided to publish them after six months of each other. I’m not worried about the time schedule, I have the full path already clear in my mind, and, as I said, working in solitude allows me to be prolific and to focus all my energies in this project.
Catch up with all things DDA at their Facebook page.
Tomorrow begins the touring cycle for Winnipeg’s tireless road warriors, KEN Mode in support of their forthcoming album, Success. The record itself isn’t slated to be recorded until November, but after almost a year at home, the rest of the world can almost hear the itchin’ in their britches to get back out on the blacktop for a few shows in-between all the lane divider counting.
First up, the “Bonjasky vs. Schilt: Double Dutch to Hopscotch Tour 2014.” Then, after their customary handful of minutes break between tours, they hit the Old World with HARK and stand up comedian Garrett Jamieson in tow before hitting Anselmo’s Housecore Horrorfest in late October. So, come one, come all, come on out to hear some new material (preview below), some old material (some of which can be seen/heard in the final video from Entrench, “The Promises of God”), welcome new bassist Skot Hamilton (who cooks a mean burger the closer it gets to 4am), talk shop with their fucking asshole merch guy and, if you’re anything like me, wish you could be there to see how Jamieson’s comedy routine goes over with legendary German humourlessness.
KEN Mode Tour Dates:
Aug 29, 2014 Riverview, MI Rocky’s Pub
Aug 30, 2014 Toronto, ON Soy Bomb (w/Greys, Child Bite, Animal Face, Life In Vacuum)
Sept 1, 2014 Burlington, VT Nectar’s
Sept 2, 2014 Brooklyn, NY St. Vitus (w/Primitive Weapons, Psalm Zero, Couch)
Sept 3, 2014 Pittsburgh, PA Smiling Moose (w/Slaves BC)
Sept 4, 2014 Philadelphia, PA North Star (w/Bardus)
Sept 5, 2014 Raleigh, NC Hopscotch Music Festival @ Kennedy Theatre (w/Power Trip, Artificial Brain)
Sept 6, 2014 Johnson City, TN The Hideaway (w/Generation of Vipers)
Sept 7, 2014 Newport, KY Thompson House
Sept 8, 2014 Chicago, IL Reggie’s (w/The Atlas Moth)
Sept 9, 2014 Minneapolis, MN Triple Rock (w/Buildings)
Europe: all dates with HARK and Garrett Jamieson
Sept 25, 2014 Amsterdam (NL), Winston
Sept 26, 2014 Oss, Groene Engel (NL) http://bit.ly/1zmp065
Sept 27, 2014 Copenhagen (DK), Stengade
Sept 28, 2014 Flensburg (DE), Folksbad
Sept 29, 2014 Aarhus (DK), Backstage
Sept 30, 2014 Brussels (BE), Magasin4
Oct 01, 2014 Orleans (FR), L’Astrolabe
Oct 02, 2014 Nantes (FR), Ferrailleur
Oct 03, 2014 Barcelona (ES), Razzmatazz
Oct 05, 2014 Madrid (ES), tba
Oct 06, 2014 Toulouse (FR), Saint des Seins
Oct 07, 2014 FR Montpellier (FR), Black Sheep
Oct 08, 2014 Milan (IT), LoFi
Oct 09, 2014 Innsbruck (AT), PMK
Oct 10, 2014 Chemnitz (DE), AC17
Oct 11, 2014 Leipzig (DE), Zoro
Oct 12, 2014 BE Liege (BE), La Zona
Oct 13, 2014 Brighton (UK), Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar
Oct 14, 2014 London (UK), Our Black Heart
Oct 15, 2014 Bournemouth (UK), Anvil
Oct 16, 2014 Nottingham (UK), Chameleon
Oct 17, 2014 Glasgow (UK), Audio
Oct 18, 2014 Sheffield (UK), South Sea
Oct 19, 2014 Swansea (UK), Garage
Oct 23-26, 2014 Austin, TX Housecore Horror Festival (w/Danzig, Eyehategod, Neurosis, Satyricon, Portal, etc.)
After the untimely passing of Rigor Mortis guitarist (Mike Scaccia; also of Ministry) in December 2012, the remaining members decided it was Scaccia who would’ve wanted to see new album, Slaves to the Grave, released to the wide world of longhairs, headbangers, and rebel angels. The group has already premiered ripping new track, “Flesh for Flies”, at Metalsucks (HERE), but one track is never enough. Thankfully, Rigor Mortis selected another publication (uh, Decibel) to throw out track number two: lead-off killer “Poltergeist”!
As for if it’ll sound like classic Rigor Mortis (self-titled in the Hall of Fame, natch), here’s Bruce Corbitt talking to the Dallas Daily Observer: “It will definitely sound like Rigor Mortis, but it will be more mature. I don’t mean that to scare anyone. I just mean that we have all gotten so much better than we were when we did our first album. We have the experience to make a better album. We always had some melodic parts to our music that some people haven’t noticed. We wanted it to flow nicely. It can go a million miles an hour and then it can get into a melodic, evil-sounding part. I would say it sounds different, but it undeniably sounds like Rigor Mortis.”
So, there you have it. The final Rigor Mortis album, in honor of Scaccia. Let’s break some fine china to Scaccia with “Poltergeist”!
** Rigor Mortis’ new album, Slaves to the Grave, is out soon, self-released through pledges on Indiegogo. You can pledge HERE and have your name written on the inside of every CD. There’s plans for a blood-splattered vinyl, too! There’s 2 weeks left, get your shovel now and help Rigor Mortis exhume to consume!
It’s Monday morning. Mondays suck. It doesn’t take a cartoon cat to know that. But lo and behold, we have something to brighten your week: a video featuring Troy Sanders, Greg Puciato, Max Cavalera, Dave Elitch, and a naked chick with a snake. Who says we aren’t good to you? Here’s the latest video from supergroup Killer Be Killed, straight to your face.
***Killer Be Killed is out now on Nuclear Blast. You can order it here. Follow them on Facebook here.
Dan Greening — alias Lord Worm — is one of the few true mavericks in death metal. Worm is best known for his work with Cryptopsy; Decibel Hall Of Fame inductee None So Vile and potential inductee Blasphemy Made Flesh are genre classics. Worm’s work with Cryptopsy is inimitable; his lyrics are crazed poetry as notable for their humor, wordplay and puns as for their over-the-top violence. Consider the opening line to the classic “Defenestration”: Oh what a gal!/She seems such a perfect victim/This I can tell, for if beauty by guilt/she’s guilty. And while some consider Worm’s voice an acquired taste the only real competition for extreme metal screams in the past two decades is Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh.
Worm rejoined Cryptopsy earlier in the new millennium and appeared on the underrated Once Was Not. Since leaving the band he has worked with Rage Nucléaire, a Canadian industrial death metal hybrid. Rage recently released their second album Black Storm Of Violence via Season Of Mist. Worm talked to us about the new album, teaching English and why songs about serial killers have gone stale.
You recently participated in an academic conference in Canada on extreme metal (Grimposium). What was that experience like? Could you ever have imagined something like this when you started playing metal?
I never would have imagined anything like it. Here you have all these people with doctorates and masters. You know the sitcom Big Bang Theory? I was Howard. I was the guy at the symposium without a doctorate. So it felt weird. They got a hold of me from Jason (Netherton) of Misery Index — he suggested me.
How did the whole weekend roll out?
It was supposed to be a Friday and Saturday and kind of grew from Wednesday to Sunday. There was a bunch of shows: Carcass, Gorguts and Voivod. They got a bunch of tickets for people who wanted to go.
Well, you’ve made your living as a teacher, right? So it probably didn’t feel alien.
The situation wasn’t alien but – how can I put this — I work with a language center. I get contracts and I go to these student’s workplaces by schedule as opposed to a classroom. Someone from the language center in Quebec gives me a call and says: “we have a bank president that’s only at a certain level of expertise with English and needs more for whatever reason.” It might be a 30 or 60-day contract for twice a week. It’s government people, company people, CEOs, even secretaries. But it is rewarding when they get that little light in their eyes.
Has anyone ever been a death metal fan and noticed you?
A couple times and one really threw me. It was a middle-aged lady who decided to Google her teacher. She came to me about halfway through the year and said: “I hear you have a pseudonym.” And I’m thinking: “uh, oh.” I told her to just ignore it and get back to class.
When you aren’t making music and teaching what are you doing?
Drinking, of course, is a huge part of my life. I live for my liver. I’m the quintessential half drunk English teacher. The best way to teach is halfway sober. And I’m a cinephile and I collect movies.
Don’t you worry that any stuff you buy will get replaced with a new format?
I should start saving for whatever copy is next because I can’t be without my movies. There’s one I watch about every six weeks: Spinal Tap. Cryptopsy was kind of like Spinal Tap; we really are that stupid.
There’s a fine line between clever and stupid.
We straddle that line and it hurts our ball sacks.
Had you always imagined doing something like Rage Nucléaire ?
I was approached by the guys in the band to do a four-song demo but I still wasn’t done with Cryptopsy. It ended up being about three or four years before we could get anything done. By then it grew to a full-length album. I really liked what I heard; they gave me the album (Unrelenting Fucking Hatred) complete but instrumental. I just had to add my bits. This new record wasn’t the case. I got to sit down with the guys and compose.
Did that make you feel more a part of the whole process?
Well, the first Rage Nucléaire album actually felt a lot like the last Cryptopsy album Once Was Not. In both cases I was handed a instrumental full-length album and asked to put my stuff on top of it. So I much prefer the second Rage album.
When you have to work like you did for the first record how do you put your thoughts together?
I’ve done for years and this goes back to the late 80s before Cryptopsy. I’m always in the process of writing lyrics. My journal is an old green thing with a bunch of lined paper. I don’t do anything on a word processor; I’m old school. There are cocktail napkins, matchbooks, and bits of paper. I’ll write a bunch and some words will come and I need to jot them down immediately.
Do any of your songs come fully formed or do you usually work with pieces?
The best songs — if they don’t come all at once — it’s nearly all at once. “Goddess Of Filth” on the new album came while we were in a basement, literally under the stairs. There’s just room for two chairs and computer. We were trying riffs and drum programming. We put “A Sino-American Chainsaw War” aside because “Goddess of Filth” was so good we had to stop what we were doing.
How has your lyric writing changed since Cryptopsy?
It’s a bit different. In earlier Cryptopsy – the first two albums – I hadn’t done much before. We’d jam once a week on Friday and get a bunch of beer. (For example) one day the band came with something totally inspired. We listened to it and I flipped through my lyrics and we turned it into a song you might know called “Abigor.” (laughs). The process took about twenty minutes. Sometimes things click together and it works and other times it’s extremely painful; when we were doing “Orgiastic Disembowelment” it was painful and it took me like four months to complete.
So on this record was it more things coming together or pain?
There’s no pain with Rage. We also gather on Fridays. We never use the word “no.” Everything is worth trying. There’s no “that sucks” – there is mutual respect. We try everything and when something fits we know it. When it works like it did with the song “Black Storm Of Violence,” which took a few weeks, it works out well.
You have to explain the song the “A Sino-American Chainsaw War” (which premiered earlier this year on the Deciblog).
It’s a title that came to me one day. Back in 2006 we were in Europe touring with Grave and Aborted. We were in Belgium and Sven (de Caluwé) from Aborted had all of these song titles — songs he hadn’t finished. He always writes the title then the lyrics. I thought that was interesting challenge. For this album the challenge was “A Sino-American Chainsaw War.” It’s a “what if?” scenario. What if there were no explosives and war had to be fought with bladed instruments, but they could be gas powered? (laughs). It’s basically medieval warfare with gas!
One thing I’ve noticed that’s different between Cryptopy and Rage is that with Cryptopsy you wrote about individual moments of horror and terror – like getting thrown out of a window. Now the focus is terror on a global scale. What changed?
So, the switch from personal to global terror? It was the logical choice. When I was writing for Cryptopsy in the early days like one or two bands were doing the whole serial killer motif: Cannibal Corpse and maybe two others. I was one of the few and the proud. Then, everyone started doing it, even grindcore and black metal bands. Everyone was doing the serial killer thing. I needed a new shtick.
Have you heard a good new serial killer song in recent years or has that been spent?
The music might be interesting now. Lyrically, though, no. I haven’t read any interesting serial killer lyrics. They are torture porn, aren’t they? We get that already in cinema.
I think you presented it with a certain artistry and verbal flair and now it’s like an audio version of the movie Hostel.
Fair enough. I try to keep that flair going. Even when I use second person singular I try to make it something anyone could potential feel.
I can’t think of anyone else in metal who started a song “pardon, please”…
Ah, the old “Slit Your Guts” thing. Oddly enough, on one of their tours during my first Cryptopsy hiatus early in the millennium they found themselves on tour with Cradle of Filth and Flo (Mounier, Cryptopsy drummer) was hanging out with Dani Filth. Mr. Filth confided that he actually managed to rip off “Slit Your Guts” in one of his songs. I saw it in a lyric book and, yeah, he borrowed. It’s a compliment. Dani Filth borrowed from me – what are you going to do?
What song is it?
I don’t remember. I only have their first album. They got too vampiric for me. Vampires are too sexy and I’m asexual. Give me zombies every time.
What do you like to hear in death metal lyrics?
There has to be a back end of black, black humor. It needs to be the same type of humor Clive Barker is guilty of, or the band Nuclear Death. They are the metal Clive Barker. The black humor turns me on every time.
Cryptopsy at the end was taking a toll on your health and our voice. Considering that are you done with that sort of lifestyle?
I won’t state categorically that it’s over but Rage just can’t tour. Fred (Widigs, drummer) plays with Marduk so we don’t have a drummer. Flo actually agreed to play but Alvater and Dark Rage can’t tour for different reasons so that would leave it as a one man band with a drummer and I’m not going to do that. I’m not so addicted to this that I’m just going to do it for the sake of doing it. Any live tours would have to be with a live band.
It’s sort of nice to even be able to choose between Fred and Flo Mounier.
It’s an honor. We’re very pleased to work with Fred. Even though we’ve never met the man he seems like the kind of guy we could hang out with.
Did touring make you not like music for a while?
No. I don’t like touring but for different reasons. As for music, any time you become creative it sticks with you forever. I can’t not make music or not write. It becomes like a zit that turns into a boil when you don’t scratch it. So, I have to create. That will never stop.
Do you ever think of your place in the death metal genre?
I’m too busy creating to worry about it. People can go online and argue about it, but I need to work.
When the classic line-up of UK crossover heroes English Dogs reconvened for a raucous U.S. tour a few years back enthusiasm went straight through the squat roof.
And yet a rumored new album, even the band’s most ardent fans would likely admit, seemed a much dicier prospect.
After all, the 2011 jaunt focused on To the Ends of the Earth and Forward Into Battle — releases that dropped in ’84 and ’85, respectively. Capturing lightning in a bottle is one thing, but looking for a charged remnant of the bolt two or three decades later? That’s just crazy, right?
The Thing With Two Heads is a blistering triumph of a comeback record featuring vital and adventurous songs informed by the celebrated English Dogs sound of yore rather than imprisoned to it. (The record is available today on CD, LP, and via Bandcamp.)
Decibel recently caught up with drummer Andrew “Pinch” Pinching and lead guitarist Graham “Gizz” Butt to chat about punks, monsters, and the different ways the flame still burns thirty-plus years on.
So…how’s it feel to have a new English Dogs record coming out in 2014?
GIZZ: [Laughs] We’ve done it at last and who would have believed it? It’s a bloody miracle I tell you! There’s a colossal sense of pride that I feel between us all. We’ve managed something which is absolutely worthy of attention when only a few years ago we couldn’t imagine us ever even sitting around the same table.
PINCH: Bit of a surprise, really. We were only ever dipping our toes back in the water to see if anybody gave a shit any more and were pleasantly surprised to find out that not only the old heads remembered, but the kids had done their homework and were pretty excited to see us as well…It’s a tough place we put ourselves in — allegedly being too metal for punks but not metal enough for metal heads. Thankfully, we were never afraid to just release what we believed in. This record sounds like ’84-’85 era English Dogs. And for that, I am relieved and proud.
Before we get back to the future, I wanted to delve a bit into the past: English Dogs originally slayed right smack dab in the middle of one of most seminal moments in punk rock. You were label mates with GBH and Discharge. I’m curious, what do you think the biggest misconception is about that time? And how do you think those days compare with the scene you’re storming back into now?
GIZZ: I toured with and hero-worshipped GBH and we hung out together and had a lot of fun. But the early ’80′s weren’t always like that. What happened back then was partly a product of pain and misfortune. They were violent times — I remember once in 1980 being beaten right outside my front door by three guys. I was a thirteen year-old punk. These were two skins and one punk.Thatcher and Reagan evoked a fear of nuclear threat and this was 1984. We had all read George Orwell. It was heavy going and not long out of the 70′s when it was normal for fully grown men to beat the hell out of teenagers, maybe something they had picked up from the ways of the SS or the NF! Our parents did what they could but our gear was substandard and we couldn’t afford music lessons. We tried to imitate our heros by using our ears and our memory. Our songs were a reflection of our times. Our pain. Now it is a similar story. War everywhere, and who to believe? The muggings have started again and the safety we felt for a while has gone…because there is so much hate out there. Not long ago I was attacked, head-butted by a random guy for no reason, without warning. No one helped me. Once I’d cleared the blood from my face and went to look for him he had gone and nobody would tell me who he was. So once again we are able to write great songs, maybe because once again we are going through the pain. 1984. 2014. A thirty year cycle — same fears and life is still cheap.
PINCH: I’m not sure there were any misconceptions about the ’80 to ’84 hardcore punk scene in the UK. It did what it said on the label! The biggest tragedy to me was the fragmentation of an already small scene. Bands were suddenly split into categories — hardcore, crusty, anarcho, etcetera. It was stupid, really, as there were great bands in every scene and we were being fed bullshit that none of these scenes could mix. I was a huge Rudimentary Peni fan, but never saw them. I loved their music and their message was powerful, but did I live my life by their writings? Fuck no! Did it make them less attractive because they were a Crass band? No, but would they ever consider playing with a band like us? Unfortunately not. There was definitely an air of snobbery around some bands back then, which was hard to come to terms with, as we were all on the streets fighting the same fight about working and living conditions and dealing with the same dickheads who wanted to fight with you everywhere you went. Fortunately, it seems like most of the violence has gone from shows and there is a real spirit of camaraderie, where it is ok to like multiple forms of music and just be who you are. The world seems like a very different place to the 80s now, but really, is it?
How’d the 2012 reunion for the classic line-up’s first North American tour since 1985 come about?
GIZZ: Pinch and I met over a curry in Peterborough and discussed the idea of a Forward Into Battle tour which at first though remote, once the agent Dan Rozenblum and his endless energy came into the picture it made it more logical to Pinch. The tour was never gonna happen without Pinch being not only involved but a driving force. Having worked with him in the past in many guises, I know that many great things come as a result of his one-hundred percent commitment. I’d been asked as far back as 2002 by Scooter Buell of Malt Soda records to make this happen but back then me and Pinch couldn’t even make eye contact.
PINCH: That was all Gizz. I just kept saying No until I finally said Yes. I think he persuaded me that we never did the brief time we clicked in the 80s real justice, and now we could all actually play a bit, it might be worth going out and making those records sound like they were supposed to. Back in the day, our ideas were much bigger than our talent, and while it is cute to hear youthful expression, I just wish we had the chops to pull it off along with the production to make it fierce. Now we have both, so why not stretch yourself and do it?
GIZZ: Me and Pinch had toured throughout Europe in various English Dogs line-ups and various battered vans through the 90s. I’ll never forget a particularly desperate and starving tour of the Czech Republic back in ’94. We released an album — All the Worlds A Rage — Then a miracle happened and I joined The Prodigy and for the first time in my life had enough money to buy a round of drinks and take friends for a meal. It also made me very impatient and later on take certain things for granted and in time it put a strain on mine and Pinch’s friendship. We morphed the English Dogs into “Janus Stark” and we released a mightily fine album Great Adventure Cigar. But me and Pinch were struggling to get on and I must admit that I was stifling Pinch’s creativity. He won’t dig the album as much as me and I don’t blame him because I was limiting his ability but I firmly believe Pinch still works well this way though it’s not for him. Eventually things came to a head at the 1999 Kerrang awards and we had another fight. I made an enormous error and told him I wouldn’t work with him. In time I realized that I missed him, his playing, his writing, and his spirit. By now though he was in The Damned. Why should he need a loser like me? I’d been fired from The Prodigy!
PINCH: I have to admit, me and Gizz were worlds apart for the longest time. Both of our faults really, but you have to grow up and move on. He is an extremely talented guitar player and songwriter and you don’t get many shots in life at really connecting with someone like that. I was glad he kept bugging me. This record proves his persistence paid off.
Were you surprised at all by how well the tour went down?
GIZZ: There was a love for the English Dogs and the Forward Into Battle album that swept me sideways. It came from the amazing musicians/brothers-in-arms in the band, the bands we toured with, it came from the wonderful people who came to the shows. I’ve played the Red Square, Moscow in front of a quarter of a million people before. This experience was better.
PINCH: Shocked, relieved, amazed and proud. We had a lot on the line for that tour. Completely self financed, with no help from anybody and no idea how things would go. If we didn’t do the numbers, I personally would have been on the hook for a pretty large chunk. The line up that Dan Rozenblum put together for that tour — along with guidance from Ron Martinez of Final Conflict — was quite frankly inspirational! I had no idea who Havok were before that tour, but thirty seconds into the first show I knew I would never forget them. Everything right about the spirit of a band oozes from those kids. I can’t say enough good things about all the bands on that tour. Toxic Holocaust had a tough act to follow every night, as did we following the Casualties, but we were all up for it. Not one band on that tour let their foot off the gas for a second and I really believe it was one of those tours that people will talk about for years. It was that special. There was an electric atmosphere at every show, with people wondering if the punks and thrashers would fight or just get down. Boy, did they get down and get on with it! It was absolutely what we hoped for and something we tried to do back in the day, with mixed results. The kids in America have no blinkers and just totally get good music.
How long into the tour was it before the band started thinking about writing new material?
GIZZ: Havok shared our tour bus. What a bunch of guys! Such great guys and musicians. They hail from Denver and when we stayed at the Havok band house we started seriously admitting that we wanted to write new material together and coming up with our hopes and expectations we already began to work out some riffs. We were on our way. After the tour had finished Pinch and I went for a meet in a great place where Marilyn Monroe filmed Some Like It Hot and spoke very seriously about this album. It was going to happen.
PINCH: I think we were all inspired by the energy of Havok and the overall feeling that we were actually worth a shit. So many people, from fans in the crowd, to band members we met on the road, telling us we actually meant something to the scene. It was both humbling and eye opening. I think me and Gizz got a bit high around the Havok band house and jumped into their rehearsal room and started knocking ideas around. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Just to see if we had any of the old vibe left now that we could play a bit. Even then, we didn’t know if it was worth pursuing, but we rode high on the good tour vibes and just went with it.
Did those first writing sessions feel awkward at all? Or to slightly modify a cliché was playing together like pulling on an old leather jacket?
GIZZ: When I got home, back in the studio, I recorded a crude demo for Pinch. I cannot emphasize enough the enormous smile I wore when he sent the track back with the Pinch signature drums — as flamboyant and fucking crazy as ever.
PINCH: Obviously, I knew Gizz was an incredible player and hoped that anything I put in front of him he could do the business with. The whole point was to try and recapture the naïve belief we had as kids, writing To The Ends Of The Earth and Forward Into Battle. But with our decades of experience playing with other bands, to actually do it right this time. It was important to me that the record be lean and mean with no overblown arrangements or the stupid song lengths that Where Legend Began suffered from. I was not surprised when we almost immediately fell into a groove of song swapping that held all the right ingredients.
GIZZ: “Ghost Note” [came first], then “Planet Of The Living Dead” which Pinch and I debated over — I admit a strong Casualties influence, though the chorus riffs had been written in 1979! “Gorgonized” reached a peak and Pinch was buzzing, but I was suffering from block and needed an answer. Pinch came up with it by recording an entire drum track — no music just insane drums — and emailing them to me. Those drums, after a time, suggested riffs to me and got my brain working again. We were back on track, bouncing back and forth. Once more the album began to write itself with our new system. That’s when the real originality came forward.
PINCH: It came together, for the most part, very quickly. Like, two weeks quickly for the bulk of the record. Initially, Gizz sent me the music to “Planet Of The Living Dead,” which I felt had good riffs, but was surfing dangerously close to NOFX territory with a bit of Casualties influence. We had been there before, with the All The World’s A Rage album and it was a sound I didn’t want to revisit. I asked him to immerse himself in To the Ends of the Earth and Forward Into Battle and ask himself what it was about those records that was good and try and condense the feel into three minute songs. I guess he scratched his head for a bit and I wasn’t enthused with the next batch of ideas coming through, but then he sent me the music to “Gorgonized.” It was a hallelujah moment. He had captured all the great [original English Dogs guitarist] Jon Murray riffage of Forward Into Battle and modernized it, and — most importantly — kept it short! I was totally onboard from then on and the ideas started flowing thick and fast. He sent me the music to “Ghost Note” next and I was totally digging that too, but had an inkling I had heard it before. I wrote the lyrics to it and sent it back to him and Adie, only to discover it was an old Desecrators song of his called “Enemy Mine” — which I had actually played with him previously but couldn’t remember it! Nothing wrong with ripping yourself off, but again, it was not my idea to reinvent riffs. I wanted our songs to be classic, but new and fresh. After that song, it seemed like he dried up a bit and I was exploding with ideas, so I just laid down a bunch of drum templates — intros, verses, breakdowns and endings, the whole shebang — and sent them to him as fully complete songs. The music was flowing through me and I just recorded what I heard in my head. He came back almost immediately with “Turn Away From The Light” and I knew we were onto something. He was finding it easy to write to a template rather than sit in front of a blank recorder and everything he sent me from then on was real quality. To say I was relieved would be an understatement.
GIZZ: [F]inally we built this empire of a song called “Down With The Underdogs.” That song brings tears to the eyes, it is so fragile and honest and builds, builds, builds some more, keeps building…then it explodes. I actually don’t care if I ever write/co-write another song. That one is so perfect.
The band seems to have maintained its sense of outrage. But I’m curious if, with the passage of years, that anger burns for you in a different way? Is there anything different about the way you express it?
GIZZ: In thirty years you get to read a lot of books. I’m amazed at what horrors people can commit to each other and how cheap life can be. Pinch can come up with some outrageous themes. Mine may be more traditional. Between all of us we make the balance — Adie being the great humor-filled tough guy that sits between us. We need the three of us to make it work. It’s such a good energy. Sometimes my realist attitude finds the platform for Pinch and we’re away making magic happen. We couldn’t be without Adie and we couldn’t be without the Christy twins.
PINCH: I guess the only thing that changes is the date. The world is just as fucked as it ever was — potentially more fucked. I didn’t really want to write a political record. I didn’t have any idea what to write about, really. The lyrics just came to me in great phrases, where I would ask myself, Is this something worth writing about? And also, does it fit the music? I guess as we grow older, we look at things with different eyes and can express them differently. I could write songs about my take on things without just saying Fuck this or Fuck that. I wanted to craft mini-stories that would take a little reading to understand what they are really about. I learned that from playing with The Damned. Their lyrics, whilst appearing somewhat simple on the outside, have a hidden depth that keeps you guessing throughout the years and can mean different things to different people.
Was there any particular theme or set of ideas you were attacking lyrically on this record? I note, for example, a real monster/horror motif — “Gorgonized,” “Ghost Note,” “Up From The Depths,” “Planet of the Living Dead”…
GIZZ: When Pinch came up with The Thing With Two Heads title, I was reading a book about Ouroboros — the eternal cycle depicted by the lizard eating its own tail. I’d not long come off a world tour playing Crass songs with Steve Ignorant — The Last Supper tour — and the mystic symbol used by Crass is the exact same creature and it made total sense but I could envisage the two heads open mouthed as if to eat each other.
PINCH: This goes back to what I was saying about not being lyrically obvious. I actually wrote “Gorgonized” about the power that women hold over men and our inability to learn lessons from our caveman instincts. “Ghost Note” is based on my wife half joking that if ever she disappears mysteriously, I am the culprit! I just hope she never disappears mysteriously! “Up From The Depths” was just meant to be a sea shanty that introduced “The Thing Will Arise” and ties in the cover artwork. I like that kind of break from the intensity and thought it was fun to do. I wrote the tune and lyrics with my dear old Mum one afternoon around her house and created all the effects by doing things like rubbing plastic bags on the kitchen table for the wind and clanking chains from a light fixture for the ship effects. It was real fun to do! “Planet Of The Living Dead” refers to our culture of Electronic Ostriches, endlessly isolated in their iPhones and headphones, not communicating in any other way. I believe we will have a real problem when this generation grows up and doesn’t know how to interact personally. Fictional movies are becoming reality faster than we think. Pretty frightening, but seemingly inevitable.
What’s the title refer to?
PINCH: Many things. The Christy twins — our bassist and rhythm guitarist — play in a band with that name, I guess, referencing that they are a wacky pair of twins. I thought that the name really said a lot about English Dogs historically, too. We kind of had two separate careers, with the early, GBH-inspired punk stuff and later with the more adventurous thrash records.
GIZZ: The two headed beast — one a punk head, one a metal head — is a depiction of the crossover movement that we set out to encourage.
Would you like to expand a little on “Royal Flying Corpse”?
GIZZ: There was a saying that somebody came up to me and said that you actually die twice — once when your body physically dies and a second death when your name is spoken for the very final time. Every battle has its heroes that are remembered. And then there are the forgotten battles; the ones that are only a footnote within that forgotten battle. To be that is something indeed and I set about putting that into verse, the first ones who go down, no name, no grave, no glory — just forgotten. “Royal Flying Corpse” is for them.
This is an album that really does manage to place a new twist on your classic sound. How important was that to the band?
PINCH: For me it was essential. Jon Murray was an inspirational riff writer who had a high quality control over his output and, in a way, I didn’t want to let him down. It was really important to me that when — or if — he got to hear this record, he would nod wisely and say, That’s my boys! Fortunately, I have been in touch with Jon recently and that is exactly how he hears it. I am so proud that we could recapture that.
GIZZ: It was inevitable. We’ve all found out what piece of gear does this and that; what drugs not to use; how far to push something. I get what Pinch says about Jon Murray as he was a real master riff writer and working alongside him made for really healthy competition. I wrote a lot at that time and had to step up to the mark. Some of my stuff was turned down and I used it for another band, The Desecrators. An eighteen year-old weighing in at 133 pounds can have various confidence issues that a forty-eight year-old finally can overcome. The combination of technique, practice, experience, and expectation have made an album that sounds complete and rounded off the edges.
So when the songs proved to be so solid the vibe was kind of like, Thank God, we can actually still push this English Dogs sound forward!
PINCH: If it had turned out to be anything less than it is, I would have jumped ship in a heartbeat. It is not worth repeating your mistakes when you have the ability to do something about it. Not sure God is to thank. We all have our own gods, usually inside us, driving us forward. Thank internal human engines if you like.
GIZZ: I keep wearing a mile wide grin! We were even more relieved when we had the album mixed so well.
PINCH: Initially, we thought of a self release, as we did the whole thing totally DIY. We all wrote and recorded in our home studios and pulled in favors from old friends for mixing — thanks to Dean Pansy in particular for the time he gave the project. I think he made it sound killer. At last! Technology caught up to how we always envisioned an English Dogs release to sound. Adie had to go into a studio for about ten minutes to record his grunts, as obviously, he lives in a cow shed up North somewhere and doesn’t have running water or electricity, but apart from that, the record owes us nothing, so it was entirely up to us what we wanted to do with it. I was pretty happy to get the offer from Candlelight, as we have worked with Steve Beatty before and he is a machine when it comes to getting things done.
We chatted earlier about that original reunion tour. Obviously, you’ve since come across a lot of younger bands that have considered English Dogs an inspiration. Did any of those bands you discovered that way become an inspiration to you as well as you set out to record The Thing With Two Heads?
GIZZ: Yeah all of them were! We even included one of them on the record! Dave Sanchez of Havok. I stay in touch with all of the guys that toured with us in 2012 and have been out to see them live in the UK. It’s special to know there are kindred spirits out there. Musicians that make it known that they were fans of our crossover material — Arch Enemy, Paradise Lost, Stone Sour, Sepultura, Machine Head, Napalm Death, Exodus…even Metallica!
PINCH: See my answer regarding Havok for that. When we first met them in Baltimore for the first show of the tour, they were a bit stand offish, but we soon learnt that they knew exactly who we were and were just a bit blown away sharing a bus with us. I was blown away with them and we shared a mutual respect all the way through that tour and beyond. I asked David Sanchez to sing on The Thing Will Arise and was extremely pleased when he agreed. I sent him the lyrics and made sure he recorded his parts first, before Adie. My idea was to have them sing alternate lines and just leave it at that, but when Adie heard what he had done, I know he upped his game, inspired by the young blood, and we just allocated the lines, or even words, on who had done the best job. Their voices are so similar on that song, I’m not sure even I can tell you who sang which part, and I was at every minute of studio time for the comping and editing!
Finally, what’s next? How far are English Dogs planning to take this debauchery?
GIZZ: I’m eager to hit the road, beginning with the USA first and then to see what ripples take place from that to see where we ride to next. We can’t slum it, though: Me and Pinch saw a lot of shit in the 90′s and without his one-hundred percent enthusiasm it would feel all wrong. He just wouldn’t take a lame offer and do you think we’d do it without him? No way! An English Dogs without Pinch isn’t English Dogs at all. The album is really well received, getting great reviews. That’s really rewarding. Now I want to see a good tour offer come forward .
PINCH: It seems that people get this record completely, with some great reviews and really positive enforcement from some of our musical peers. However, I am not desperate to jump in a van and slog endlessly around the world. Been there and done that. I hope we get the chance someday to do with this record what we did with Forward Into Battle. I just hope it doesn’t take another twenty-five years for that to happen.
“Black,” “wolf”, and “goat” are all words frequently found in the pages of our magazine, so any band with all three words in its name has to be good, right? Absolutely! Only probably not for the reason that you think. Blackwolfgoat is the solo project of guitarist Darryl Shepard (Black Pyramid, The Scimitar, Hackman, Milligram, Roadsaw), and it ain’t black metal. A mesmerizing mix of psychedelia, drone, and general experimentalism, Drone Maintenance takes the listener on a journey, its deliberate repetition bringing about an almost hypnotic state similar to Six Organs of Admittance or Ash Ra Tempel. Unlike most drone, things actually happen in these songs! Check out our exclusive premiere of the full album for yourself below.
***Drone Maintenance is out now via Small Stone. You can buy the CD or digital download here. Grab his last album here.
Last week I mentioned how writers like yours truly like to cart out the phrase “fully realized” upon hearing an album we deem to be a creative zenith, as if to immediately negate anything the artist might have in store in the future. Nope, sorry, this is as good as it will ever get. If anything, it’s best to use the term in retrospect. Daydream Nation, Ege Bamyasi, Rocket to Russia, those are examples of a band’s potential being fully realized. It’s irresponsible to say the same about a band that’s still going, still pushing forward. Besides, with a songwriter like Mikael Åkerfeldt, the man is so perpetually several steps ahead of what anyone expects from him, that we critics are hoodwinked every time. As soon as we get it into out pompous heads that a certain Opeth album feels like something Åkerfeldt has been building towards all these years, he follows it up with something that expands on that idea even more.
What’s especially cute was how 2008’s album Watershed felt like such a bold step forward for Åkerfeldt and Opeth. “The title could not be more appropriate,” I wrote then. Sheesh. If I only knew. In actuality, his true watershed moment was ditching the extreme metal element from his songwriting once and for all. It’s amazing that the solution to his personal creative stasis was so stupidly simple, but it was a mental block that took him years to get over: instead of making the kind of music you feel obligated to make for your longtime fans, why not make the kind of music you personally want to listen to, and try to still keep it within the overall Opeth aesthetic? If you don’t like to listen to death metal anymore, don’t play death metal anymore. It’s as simple as that. And incredibly, Åkerfeldt made it work on 2011’s inspired Heritage, which was both a reinvention of his band and the most natural possible progression.
In the end, that’s what it’s all about for progressive rock and metal bands: progression. It’s a career-long journey, and part of the fun of the best progressive music is that when it’s happening before your eyes it feels so daring, even baffling, but in the grand scheme of things, when you take a look at that discography after 20 or 30 years, it all somehow makes sense. There have been some significant leaps for Opeth, from Orchid, to Blackwater Park, to Damnation, to Ghost Reveries, to Heritage, but grouped all together, it’s a remarkable career arc the man has created over the past couple decades. And when you crack open the latest new Opeth album and finish listening to the last track, the question that always remains is, Well, where could it possibly go from here?
In the case of Pale Communion (Roadrunner), what listeners get this time around is a lot more consistent that Heritage, which for all its great moments, is in retrospect a rather charming mishmash of styles, the sound of Åkerfeldt finding himself all over again, starting essentially from scratch. In fact, the guitarist and singer has never sounded more comfortable with where he is creatively as he does on the new album, exploring numerous facets of vintage progressive rock. Touches of Deep Purple, Goblin, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, and more can be heard throughout this album, but it’s far from a quaint “retro” exercise, as Åkerfeldt uses those decades-old sounds as a launching pad for something that feels neither old-fashioned nor modern, but timeless, something completely his own.
For all the bellyaching about how Opeth isn’t “metal” anymore – please, can we let that whole thing die already? – there are still plenty of moments of darkness and striking power on Pale Communion. Only unlike Opeth’s early work, the musical palette Åkerfeldt draws from is so much richer, to the point where it’s not merely the black-and-white “light and shade” that was his forte for so long. Instead, it consists of splashes of color everywhere, those deep black brushstrokes offset by hues and tones that bring warmth, mystery, and soul.
In fact, structurally this is the most complex Opeth album since 2002’s Deliverance. The bulk of the album consist of tracks ranging from seven minutes to 11, each winding their way through Åkerfeldt’s typically labyrinthine paths. Typically, Pale Communion doesn’t require the listener to study, but it does need time to settle in. It’s a trip that has to be taken four or five times before being able to get a handle on it, akin to sitting at a window on a train and taking in as much that rolls by as you can. A little jazz fusion here, a little playful funk there. Eastern melodies. Mellotron. Rich vocal harmonies that conjure comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Touches of string synths that add cinematic flair. Classical guitar appearing, and gone in a flash.
It all sounds so arbitrary, but that’s where the man’s skill as a songwriter works to this record’s great advantage. There are diversions, tangents, but songs never lose sight of their goal, but that resolution is often a lot more understated than, say, songs like “Deliverance” and “Blackwater Park”. And in the end, after several listens, you’re struck by your own impressions of these eight tracks. The taut “Cusp of Eternity” evokes heavy metal better than most extreme-minded bands this year. “River” is so pastoral sounding that it’s striking. “Goblin” is so damn Goblin-esque it’s practically a love letter to Claudio Simonetti. The beautiful “Faith in Others” is the best mellow track he has ever written, genuine feeling surpassing mere craftsmanship. And “Moon Above, Sun Below” is a classic Opeth epic, in which the entire band – whose supporting work on the entire album cannot be overlooked – coalesces in typically exhilarating fashion.
And of course, you’re left wondering where Åkerfeldt and Opeth will go next. But it’s also a feeling of contentment, of knowing that the master of modern progressive rock/heavy metal has never sounded more confident as a songwriter, guitarist, and singer. Again, it’s tempting to call this “peak Akerfeldt”, but it seems I say this every single time, and if you ask the guy, like any supreme talent he’ll never tell you he’s content. That perpetual lack of complacency is what makes this band so special. At this point, his audience will gladly take whatever he offers next, but in the meantime there’s Pale Communion, Opeth’s most rewarding album in many years, to take in again and again.
Also out this week:
Bastard Sapling, Instinct Is Forever (Gilead): When I first heard Bastard Sapling’s song “Lantern at the End of Time”, I practically leaped out of my seat, I was that excited to hear such a spellbinding combination of classic Hammerheart-era Bathory and vocal incantations reminiscent of Coven. It’s a glorious 11 minutes, as impeccable a black metal tune I’ve heard all year, and needless to say I was greatly looking forward to hearing the rest of the band’s new album. Typical of any other overhyped American album, sadly, Instinct is Forever is mostly bluster with very little payoff, in this case reverting to rote black metal arrangements with not enough imagination shown. It does have its moments, as “Elder”, “The Killer in Us All”, and “Forbidden Sorrow” show great promise, but nothing on this record comes remotely close to the perfection of that one highlight. Sample it via Bandcamp.
Chainbreaker, Constant Graving (self-released): This came out back in January, but this week is deadsville, and better late than never. This Toronto band features current and former members of Cauldron, Rammer, and Burn to Black, and can easily be seen as a combination of Midnight and Toxic Holocaust. In other words, filthy, no-frills thrash derived from Venom and Sodom, equal parts maniacal and catchy, with plenty of bad taste on display, right down to the cassette cover, which is crude but definitely, erm, memorable. Hells Headbangers might want to sign these fellas ASAP. It’s available as a name-your-price download via Bandcamp. Go get it.
Circle II Circle, Live at Wacken (Armoury): I’ve never minded Zak Stevens’ affable Savatage knock-off, the prog/power tunes always decently executed and sung well by Stevens. But in this album’s case, it’s being billed as some sort of triumphant live album at the world’s biggest metal festival. That’s what they always say, when in reality it’s just another one of more than 100 bands playing over four exhausting days. And you can feel it on this recording. The silence from the crowd is deafening. There are some fans present, but mostly it’s the sound of people patiently taking in a band on a quaint side stage before moving on to the next. A god live album has a palpable energy conjured by both the band and its audience, and that’s just not happening here.
English Dogs, The Thing With Two Heads (Candlelight): I vaguely remember English Dogs from back in the day. And by “the day”, I mean a quarter century ago. This band didn’t impress me at all then, and this current incarnation does absolutely nothing either, an awkward combination of hardcore punk and thrash-derived metal that never gels.
Force of Darkness, Absolute Verb of Chaos and Darkness (Hells Headbangers): Nothing but no-frills, thrashy black metal fun on this lively little EP by the Chilean band. Tailor made for those interested in the filthier side of thrash, namely very early Sodom and Sarcofago.
Machinae Supremacy, Phantom Shadow (Spinefarm): If you think your power metal just isn’t right without corny Commodore 64 music, then this Swedish band has you covered. Frankly, I find it unbearable, but if it floats your boat, be my guest.
Sea of Bones, The Earth Wants Us Dead (Gilead): If the kind of doom you’re after is the sludgy sort, the kind that delves, deep, deep into the sludgier side of the genre to uncover something darker and uglier than the more melodic, blues-derived aspect of the sound, then you can’t go wrong with this Connecticut band. Typically it’s powerful to the point of mortifying when they slow things down to a droning, funereal pace, but it’s moments like the Neurosis-like “Black Arm” and the multifaceted “Failure of Light” where this album becomes truly exhilarating. Even the 39-minute drone piece that concludes the album is remarkable in its discipline and moodiness. You know what you’re going to get with Sea of Bones, and that still doesn’t prepare you for the wickedness they have in store. If you missed out on this fine album last year like I did, a new triple LP vinyl reissue is out now. Listen via Bandcamp.
X-Drive, Get Your Rock On (Frontiers): In which journeyman musicians – including James Lomenzo, formerly of Megadeth and White Lion – revisit the watered down cock rock of 1989 with a more, erm, “modern” sensibility. Which means it sounds exactly like Nickelback, with almost as much smarm, and zero charm. Go listen to the new Kix album instead.
Not metal, but worth hearing:
The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers (Matador): For 15 years – wow, how time flies – The New Pornographers have served as a very welcome, sunny respite from a declining increasingly boring indie rock scene, a reminder that a simple, beautiful hook will lift your spirits more than sounding precious and looking fashionable. These old Vancouver friends have always had remarkable chemistry on record, and this sixth album ranks as one of their best. Again, it’s led by A.C. Newman, whose Jeff Lynne-via-Bacharach pop sensibility meshes so well with his enigmatic lyrics, accentuated so well by the great Neko Case, who serves as the perfect vocal foil on “Champions of Red Wine” and “Fantasy Fools”. Inimitable Destroyer impresario Dan Bejar, who always does his best work with this band, hits a high note with the playful “War on the East Coast” and the more incessant “Born With a Sound”. Initially intended as a one-off project, this band has become one of the most enduring, endearing indie bands of our time, and this album fires on all cylinders.
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