Repetition, incessant screeching doom Gallhammer’s ‘The End’

You ever liked one of those bands that you really couldn’t explain to people why you enjoy their music and why that person should try to give the group a shot? I was always that way with Japanese blackened crust doom band Gallhammer.

They never came off as a band that was particularly interested in being the best sounding or best produced or even the best musicians, not that these ladies were slouches by any means. It always seemed like they plugged in and just went for it, scars and warts be damned. That was always what kind of appealed to me more than anything, that they were so raw and so flawed, yet when you heard their music, it had a brutal honesty and a dark shadow that was both sinister and attractive. And perhaps because they weren’t virtuosos, they always came up with interesting concepts. Their second full-length “Ill Innocence” is a really good album, one that really stepped up from their 2004 debt full-length “Gloomy Nights” and even set itself far apart from their 2007 compilation “The Dawn Of…,” the collection that introduced me to the band for the first time.

The awesomeness of “Ill Innocence” (I happen to be listening to that as I write this) seemed to indicate the band was onto bigger and better things as they improved as a unit and sunk their teeth even deeper into the doom muck. So it was with great anticipation that I met their third effort “The End,” released by Peaceville, though ultimately it is bitter disappointment with which I’m left. I’m kind of at a loss with what they came up with for this record, so much so that I kept listening and listening, hoping the overall picture would dawn on me and I’d feel a fool for not realizing it in the first place. Well, that actually did happen, but it didn’t have the positive effect I expected. Instead, I walked away feeling like this album was a garage demo by a brand new band that accidentally got labeled as the new Gallhammer. It’s a big letdown, and weirdly enough, it’s pretty grating at times.

Not sure what effect this had creatively on the songwriting, but since “Ill Innocence,” guitarist Mika Penetrator left the band, leaving Gallhammer as a duo of Vivian Slaughter (bass, vocals) and drummer Risa Reaper, who gets a far bigger role here with her own vocals, one of the fatal flaws of this album. Just toggling between songs from “Ill Innocence” and “The End,” there’s a noticeable difference. The new album is a huge downgrade musically, making me wonder just how pivotal Penetrator was to this band, and at times, the compositions are repetitive and just way, way too long. There’s a lack of focus and glut of interesting ideas. “Ill Innocence” even jumped around a bit, adding some post-rock and indie atmosphere, which broke up some of the monotony and let the thing breathe a bit, but that’s completely absent from “The End.”

One of the biggest mistakes the band made was not bringing in a guitar player to replace Penetrator. It’s not that you can’t do a bass-drum duo, but you better be able to do it right, because it can get awfully boring if not. This record proves that. Slaughter’s bass work is fine, and it has a grimy, vicious edge that serves the slow-driving, sludgy material just fine. But it’s not enough to keep these songs from wearing out their welcome. Perhaps if they knew where to cut these songs short, they would have been better served, but that didn’t happen. Four minutes instead of eight minutes or 10 minutes or 12 minutes would have done a world of good. There’s nothing wrong with the opening title track, as it’s a total mammoth, but it could have used a few minutes trimmed from it. Even “Rubbish CG202” is vicious and blinding, easily registering as the best cut on this disc. It’s just a ripper. And then the train just runs off the tracks on “Aberration,” where Reaper takes her very, very unpleasant turn as co-vocalist. Now, Reaper has done some vocals before, but considering she was singing on fuller, more realized songs, and she only was a partial contributor, she didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Wow, does she ever here. I really just want her to stop doing this. Her voice is annoying, and she often sounds like a 5-year-old, chirping away with whatever nonsense she’s spewing. These things are precious when you actually are 5 years old, but not when you’re an adult, singing over songs you expect people to buy. This was a bad, bad, bad idea. I hope they do away with this on the next record.

The next three songs crawl ever so slowly along, with hardly anything worth keeping, and again, Reaper’s voice keeps insulting your senses and goodwill. Only closer “108=7/T-NA” (no idea what the hell that means) somewhat saves the record, as Slaughter’s freak jazz saxophone blasts over the mountain of mud, proving they do have some good ideas in there, but they’re few and far between.

Had this album occurred four or five years ago, I wouldn’t nearly be as baffled or as let down. If this was a band with little experience, you could chalk up these gaffes to that and tell them to learn from where they went astray. But this is record three, and they’ve been around far too long to have come up with something as substandard at “The End.” I’m certain there are garage bands that have been together a quarter of the time these two have that could come up with something far better than this. I always thought Gallhammer would be one of those bands that would be long misunderstood, who people like me would have to righteously defend to the naysayers, but underneath it all they would be releasing groundbreaking records that influenced other bands. Then again, it’s possible I was wrong. Maybe they peaked on “Ill Innocence” and never will reach that height ever again. There isn’t anything on “The End” that makes me hopeful for their fourth album, though I’ll certainly give it a try since I do like their back catalog. But they’ve got to find a guitarist, they’ve got to write better songs, and Reaper needs to keep her mouth closed for the most part and concentrate on scrambling our brains with her drumming.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/ghammercrust

To buy “The End,” go here: http://www.burningshed.com/store/peaceville/product/261/2777/

We have some exciting things brewing next week, including a look at U.S. Christmas’ new one-track, nearly 40-minute new album, as well as piece on a record that I think could be my metal album of the year. And let’s just say my review is going to differ greatly from one that ran on another, well-known web site. Have fun.

Enmeshed Vastum, Acephalix trample grimy paths of death

Vastum

The Bay Area long has given much to the metal scene. That statement can stand on its own without any real explanation, because anyone visiting this site likely is rattling off band names in their heads as they read this.

But we’ll go ahead and be specific anyway. You had the ’80s thrash bands Metallica, Exodus, Possessed, Death Angel, Testament, Vio-Lence, Forbidden and a ton of others. Their legacies speak for themselves, I’m sure, and most of those bands are still active and still contributing relevant music to a scene they helped spawn. More recently, the Bay Area has been the breeding ground for brainier bands with wide-sweeping influences, from black metal warriors Ludicra, Necrite and one-man project Palace of Worms; progressive death band Saros; prog tale-weavers Hammers of Misfortune; practically unclassifiable Grayceon, led by Jackie Perez Gratz, whose cello work has made her a hired gun in the industry; nautical post-metal powerhouse Giant Squid, and I could go on and on for paragraphs and still miss a ton of vital contributors to the scene.

Two other bands that hail from the Bay Area are just beginning to make their marks, and both groups’ ranks share almost the same members. Old-school death metal patrons Vastum just released their debut six-track effort “Carnal Law” via the always reliable 20 Buck Spin, while Acephalix have their sophomore crust-punk-flavored death album “Interminable Night” rereleased in limited quantity via Southern Lord. Both efforts eschew any effort to come across as well buffed, polished around the edges, or aesthetically pleasing for anyone unaware or uninterested in the filth they pour forth, yet for those who like their metal ugly and honest, you can’t go wrong with either record. It also should be pointed out three members of Acephalix constitute Vastum’s lineup, but while there are similar ideas on both releases, they sound pretty different from each other.

Vastum, while a true servant to death’s classic days, don’t just regurgitate that era. Instead, they weave more philosophical and intellectual ideas into their music, touching on subjects of sexuality, psychic disfigurement, loss, frustration, pain, pleasure, what have you. But they don’t go all Chris Barnes with the stuff, so you never feel red faced listening to the songs. Instead, as their bio so helpfully points out, they tackle views more in line with scholars such as French philosopher Georges Bataille (who founded a human sacrifice-related secret society called Acéphale, in case you were wondering where Acephalix got their name) and psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche (known for his work on psychosexual development and Freud’s seduction theory). Right now I don’t have access to the lyric sheet, so I can’t really go any deeper into the content, but once my physical copy arrives I’ll dig right into this. But musically we can go further, and it has that satisfying disgusting bend the early death metal did, which makes this so sonically giving. There’s some great guitar work here (no doubt having Saros’ Leila Abdul-Rauf on board helped), namely mind-blowing lead play and soloing, and even someone like me who hates air guitar sometimes has to hold back from acting out. Abdul-Rauf and vocalist Dan (write that name down in case you forget it) trade vocal duties, with Dan digging deeper into more guttural expression, while Abdul-Rauf leaning more toward penetrating shrieking and screaming (she adds a cool new dimension to “Umbra Interna” that makes that song really stand out). The EP runs about 30 minutes and serves as a nice appetizer to whatever they do next. I’m really amped to hear a full-length from this band.

For more on Vastum, go here: http://www.myspace.com/vastum

To buy “Carnal Law,” go here: http://www.phantomcityrecords.net/store/product_info.php?products_id=861

For more on the label, go here: http://www.20buckspin.com/site/

Acephalix

Acephalix are even dirtier and grimier. They started off more as aggressive punk/hardcore but have eventually added more crusty death metal flow into their mix. All of those elements come together to make for one bulldozing album, a seven-track collection that runs fairly short at 25:30 but certainly gets the best out of every second. The vocals (by Dan!) are growly and throaty, making one wonder if the man has stock in a lozenge company, and the guitar work is thick, riffy and punishing.

They get off to a thunderous start on opener “Christhole,” which is mostly notable for its scintillating lead guitar work. “Daemonic Sign” has strains of classic D-beat mashing, practically ensuring you a facial injury at their show; “Rebirth Into Perversion” lets the hardcore roots show, especially during its thick intro, before blasting into a punk-infused display of power; and the closing title cut features some filthy twin guitar interplay, and a hammer-smashing pace that eventually takes a slow-driving doomy exit into oblivion. “Interminable Night” is a more precise, more calculated record than its full-length predecessor “Aporia,” and with Southern Lord behind them (they’re only printing 2,000, so jump on this), their profile should only go up, especially being cataloged alongside label mates and likewise acts such as Nails, The Secret, and Summon the Crows.

For more on Acephalix, go here: http://www.acephalix.com/

To buy “Interminable Night,” go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php

To buy the album with a T-shirt, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/southernlord/categories.php?cPath=956

For more on the label, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/

If I had to choose between the two efforts, I’d go for Vastum. It’s more my thing, and any album featuring Abdul-Rauf on guitar and/or vocals, I’m likely to want to dig right into it. But that’s just me, and Acephalix certainly is an awesome, intimidating band that’ll probably find more favor with those who cut their teeth on Swedish hardcore and punk. Whichever way you go, you’re bound to be blown away. And considering these two bands are really just beginning to blaze their respective (yet intermingled) paths, there should only be more fury and bloodshed in both of their futures.

Revived Autopsy walk again with the dead

A lot of things have happened since death metal veterans Autopsy last graced us with a full-length record.

For one, death metal has become a lot more acceptable publically, as these types of bands have dotted various major U.S. summer shed tours and the records have sold in the hundreds of thousands. Second, and this has much to do with the first point, death metal has cleaned up its image, the music has undergone more polished pristine production as of late, and much of the imagery has gone away from the blood and guts of years past (even Cannibal Corpse largely have toned down their product, creepy-crawly elements aside). Certainly some bands maintained the grimy edge of death metal’s past, but most of those acts remained underground for the hardcore fans to devour. And that all leads us back to Autopsy.

The last time we were served up a full-length from this band was 1995 with … “Shitfun.” That 21-track, 55-minute album (I refuse to even acknowledge the really disgusting album cover) wasn’t exactly the best swan song for the band – Autopsy dissolved after its release — with some of its members going on to form Abscess, itself a fairly gross, doomy band. One of those dudes is Chris Reifert, who originally gained notoriety for sitting behind the drum kit for genre pioneers Death before going on to form Autopsy with guitarists Eric Cutler and Danny Coralles, and bassist Eric Eigard (bassist Joe Allen, also of Abscess, joined in 2010, after a revolving door of bassists). Their debut album dropped in 1989, the influential “Severed Survival,” and after a split mini-release with Paradise Lost and an EP, dropped their second effort in 1991 with “Mental Funeral.” “Acts of the Unspeakable” landed in 1992, which then led to their 1995 record, that not only shifted their sound but also alienated some of their listeners. And then it was over until they got back together in 2008 to record two new cuts for the “Survival” reissue. From there, they played Maryland Deathfest, put out 2010 EP “The Tomb Within,” Abscess broke up, and Autopsy declared their reformation as permanent.

That brings us to the present, and the band’s brand new record “Macabre Eternal,” released on their longtime home label Peaceville. And yes, anytime a band takes 16 years between records and decides to revive the machine, it’s often met with righteous skepticism. You know how these reunions go, right? But this one seemed destined to be a success from the start, and this new album certainly pays tribute to the band’s legacy and makes up for their 1995 misstep. Last year’s return EP was really quite good, and it was right in form with their earlier work, yet “Macabre” takes things even further than that, showing a band that not only remains well in tact but that has grown.

The album runs 65 minutes, easily their longest to date, and while they often pumped out collections that had oodles of songs that blasted by, they conjure up just 12 here but breath so much doom and grime into them, they feel perfectly paced. The Black Sabbath and Cathedral influences are ever present, as is the penchant for gross-out, brutal death metal on which they used as a foundation. Opener “Hand of Darkness” lets out some start-stop thrashing and a blur of lead guitar play, while Reifert gurgles, “Reaching out to the sick and insane.” Yes, that would be the proper audience. And it’s only the beginning of this glorious, albeit worm-infested, return, as they are equally as vicious and gloomy on “Always About to Die,” an incredible downtuned track that is dark and dismal before erupting into a doomy gallop; the swirling cacophony of “Deliver Me From Sanity”; the power-style “Bridges of Bones,” that dissolves eerily into a mournful acoustic passage before exploding again; the zombie nightmare of “Born Undead”; and the impressive, slow-driven, torture epic “Sadistic Gratification,” that stands out as one of this record’s best songs. There’s not a moment of letdown on “Macabre Eternal,” and anyone who wishes to dine on bones and rotten flesh will gobble up every second of this filth.

For every person who’s ever complained that death metal’s gotten too pretty for its own good, Autopsy clearly heard your call. They’re one of the bands that got the skulls rolling, and they’re back to show the world what this genre is capable of producing. I also can’t remember a reunion that has gone so smoothly and been so satisfying. It almost … almost … gives credence to the idea of reformations. Not only is it great to have Autopsy back again, but it’s even better that they’re hungrier, angrier, meaner and as murderous as ever. Consumers of Hot Topic-approved death metal: Enter at your own risk.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/autopsyofficial

For the “Macabre Eternal” mini-site, go here: http://www.peaceville.com/autopsy/

To buy “Macabre Eternal,” go here: http://www.burningshed.com/store/peaceville/collection/261/

Dream on with Alcest

A collection of songs written about a fantasy land conjured in one’s dreams doesn’t sound very black metal. That sounds kind of Disney.

Yet it IS black metal, or at least as much as Alcest, brainchild of French musician Neige (he’s joined by drummer Winterhalter), play to that genre. Neige has quite a past with bands as varied as Peste Noire, Lantlôs and Amesoeurs, and his current gig fronting Forgotten Woods, but none of those acts quite capture to imagination in the same way as Alcest. The music is gorgeous, built on soundscapes, and certainly does convey the feeling one might have once deep slumber sets in and your brain goes into storyline mode. It stretches out your imagination and sets up camp, letting you grab onto ideas and concepts you perhaps never considered before. I know that sounds kind of random and perhaps a little drug-induced. Sure, it does. But it has nothing to do with that. As scary as Alcest can sound at times, for the most part, they take you on a journey without the help of mind-altering substances.

Throughout the band’s decade-long run, Alcest have put out some really fascinating material. Their debut full-length effort “Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde” dropped domestically in 2007 on Profound Lore, and after a few split efforts, they followed that up with 2010’s stunning “Écailles de Lune,” which came to us by way of Prophecy Productions. That record in particular had some memorable, seemingly innocent looking artwork and was one of the most noteworthy album covers of the entire year. The band even launched a U.S. tour after that record came out, even stopping by to entertain us lowly Pittsburgh people, who don’t normally gets shows like that one.

So with the Alcest name firmly established, it seemed proper to revisit their roots, namely their 2005 EP “Le Secret.” Prophecy has given that two-song effort reissue treatment, but it isn’t just a rehash. Alcest actually went back into the studio and re-recorded the entire thing, and that’s packaged with the original versions of the tracks. As it was, the original version of “Le Secret” already ran nearly a half hour, a pretty hefty running time for just a couple of tracks, so with the new versions tacked on, this thing lasts nearly an hour long. But is it worth it? Is it necessary? I’d say it is.

First of all, landing an original copy of “Le Secret” isn’t exactly easy. There were only 1,000 copies pressed, so if you want one, get ready to pay handsomely. I just did a super quick search on Google, Amazon and eBay, and I could not find one. The effort itself, according to the bio that accompanies the new version, sets out the framework that is essential for all other works of Alcest: Music and lyrics are used here by Neige as a medium to channel and communicate the esoteric experiences of his early childhood. That pays more to the innocence and raw understanding of fantasy worlds that Neige tries to reach and understand. Listening to these songs, you never feel the evil and chaos typically delivered by most black metal bands, so immediately you know you’re in a different place.

And calling these songs simply black metal is wrong. It’s a base, really, and sometime Neige does use screams and shrieks typical of the genre, like he does on the track “Elevation.” But normally the music is rather lovely and heart-gushingly melodic, so much so that someone with an aversion to metal might even find themselves caught up in this stuff. There is an overt post-rock/shoegaze tone that serves these songs well. The music just bleeds delicacy and wonder, and its embrace of the dream world and those narratives does make you reach back to your youth when these types of things were the most important to you. Remember a time before bills, jobs, deadlines, debt? Taking on Alcest lets you find that place again.

As noted, “Elevation” is the darker of the two cuts, while the title track is more peaceful and organically gazey. In fact, the re-recorded versions actually flesh out the songs and their pockets of sound better than the originals. So there’s your reasoning behind redoing these tracks. Very little, if anything, was changed this time around, but the song production is better, livelier, and more enveloping. That, I’d say, is good enough reason for tackling these songs. Simply put, they made them sound better. Another example to validate the 2011 take on these songs comes when the lush keys bleed into “Elevation.” Their presence is known right away and quickly circles you, while on the original, it takes about 30 seconds before you really can even hear the keys.

“Le Secret” is an essential piece to your Alcest collection, because it rang in what Neige wanted to accomplish musically and set up the world he would explore. It’s certainly better understood now after two full-length albums and the band’s acceptance in the metal world. While metal, and black metal specifically, tends to make people think of the ugly, seedy, sinister parts of their world, Alcest show the other side. There is enough pain and suffering conveyed by a hundred million metal bands, and there’s a point to exposing that side, but Alcest is such a breath of fresh air. Neige’s music always captivates and captures, and “Le Secret” was just the beginning of this journey, one that surely will have more chapters to devour as Neige travels into his future.

For more on Alcest, go here: http://www.alcest-music.com/

To buy “Le Secret,” go here: http://shop.prophecy.de/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.prophecyproductions.de/front_content.php

Infestus’ darkness is loud and fully engulfed

You’re probably as tired of hearing about one-man black metal bands as I am of writing about them, but one must remember to keep an open mind even in the face of relentless oversaturation.

I say that because we’re here to talk about a one-man black metal band, and I assure you, as tired as you may be of hearing about these projects, Germany’s Infestus, led by Andras, is one that deserves your attention. His new record, the interestingly titled “Ex/Ist,” is his third full-length under the Infestus banner and his second for Debemur Morti. It’s also one that doesn’t pay heed to some of the American-style solo acts who largely eschew strong production and audio richness, as the record sounds like one that was performed by an entire band. A large one.

Some history is needed. Andras formerly was the drummer for black metal band Dunkelfront (I assume that means dark front), who split up after a couple of demos, and he went on to form Infestus. The band first released “Of Ancient Splendour,” a 2003 demo, following that with a 2004, self-released full-length effort “Worshipping Times of Old.” Guitarist Harbarth left the fold in 2006, and in 2008, the band dropped the well-received concept record “Chroniken des Ablebens” their first for Debemur Morti and a true indication of the what was ahead for the band. Or so it seemed. Vocalist Dagon eventually decided to leave the fold in 2010, leaving just Andras to carry on with the band, and thus the one-man concept came to pass. So it took quite some time to get to this point, yet here we are with “Ex/Ist.”

As noted, if you knew nothing about the band before hearing this third record, you’d have no idea this is now a solo jaunt. The music is heavy and involved, reminding me a bit of Bay Area one-man crusher Palace of Worms, who also makes record more full-bodied than most bands, and Bergraven, the brainchild of Pär Gustavsson. No corners are cut, nothing is dialed back, and the production is strong and alive. That’s probably something that’ll help those prejudices about solo black metal projects slip away, because there’s a real effort to make this thing have a full-band sound. It’s really quite punishing.

After an eerie mood-setting opener “Akoasma,” Andras launches right into the thing with “Down Spiral Depersonification,” giving a true indication of the bleak, dark, futile, anti-social attitude this music espouses. “Darkness Blazing in the Flame of Fire,” while a slightly redundant title, starts off with a chill instead, with Andras whispering creepily over the music, with layered riffs and a strong melody that might soothe but should instead shock; “Torn Observer” has a similar personality, but the song eventually melts into something of a breakdown with scintillating soloing; “Mirror Mind Reality” is warped and doomy, with an apparent concentration on mental destruction, with our narrator warning, “There is no fucking cure”; while closer “Descend Direction Void” is savage and chugging, with the tone  trickling clean, going back to black, and fading out with folk-like acoustic guitar and plenty of echoed noise. It’s quite satisfying and certainly leaves you full and fulfilled.

“Ex/Ist” took a great deal of effort to come to fruition, and surely the roster shuffling and eventual realization that only one mind could be in charge of such darkness had to be something of a rude awakening. But in the end, this is a band that probably should only be one guy, damnations against such formations aside. As noted, we’re not talking lo-fi, rough-edged stuff such as Xasthur or Leviathan, though the mood is similar. This is a great-sounding record, one that opens more of itself each time I’ve heard the thing so far. It’s an interesting listen, one that does the always reliable Debemur Morti quite well and should find favor among those who like both black metal and the more atmospheric, airy stuff that lets some oxygen in so you can gulp some in between pits of fire. It also should be noted that in a half year that’s allowed tons of black metal to pile up like a scrap heap, Infestus is one of the few bands whose work has shined through it all and made a positive impression. Give it a real shot and see if you don’t feel the same.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.infestus.com/

To buy “Ex/Ist,” go here: http://www.eitrin.com/

Friday brings brews and Armageddon

It’s been a while since we visited the Meat and Mead parts of Meat Mead Metal, and there’s sort of a good reason for that.

I recently had a medication I was on switched to something else, and my doctor felt that alcohol consumption, at least on a regular basis, wasn’t the best thing in the world for me in order to get this new medicine working. So now drinking has to be a more occasional sort of thing, which sucks considering I really like beer, but it’s not the end of the world. Um, bad choice of words? Actually, we’ll get to that in a second.

Last weekend, I decided to have a couple of beers (yes, I sadly have to chase it with plenty of water and food for now, but that’s smart anyway) so that I could get back on track just a bit on that element of the site. And, with this week being American Craft Brew Week, I would be remiss if I did not tackle some element of beer imbibing, would I not? What am I, a savage? So I grabbed a couple of cold ones from the local hot dog shop D’s Six Pakz and Dogz (always reliable and awesome, terrible spelling aside) and headed for the comforts of home, the iPod and the videogames. And the wife.

First up was Atwater Brewery’s Black Imperial Stout. Weirdly, if you go to the brewery’s web site, this beer is not even listed yet, so it’s still pretty new. The girl who rang up my beers told me the Black Imperial supposedly is their Vanilla Java Porter ramped up to be more of a Russian-style stout (the ABV said 11 percent, but it seemed more like 4 percent), and she could not have been more on the money. It really had that smoky vanilla taste that I always enjoyed, but it’s much darker and bitter. It also outlasts its welcome, weirdly. Keep in mind, I had not had a beer in weeks, so I was ready for these. And this one kind of let me down. The potency is not there for a beer that claims 11 ABV, and I seriously dispute that one. I felt absolutely nothing when I drank this thing, and typically I’m a bit of a lightweight. Not sure I’d get this one again. I’d be interested to taste it in draught form, but I’d have to travel in order to do that.

To check out more on Atwater Brewery, go here: http://www.atwaterbeer.com/

The other bottle I grabbed is an old favorite, that being Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Etre, which I had last summer when we were in Rehoboth Beach for our honeymoon. Yes, we went to Rehoboth Beach for our honeymoon. It was awesome. The beer tastes quite hoppy to me, and I’m ordinarily not a big fan of the hops, but it’s certainly not overwhelming. The brewery’s web site describes the beer this way: a deep, mahogany Belgian-style brown ale brewed with beet sugar, raisins, and Belgian-style yeast. So that should give you a better idea than my rudimentary description. It also feels more potent than the Atwater entry, and has a bit of a complex taste to it. I’ve had in on draught, and I think I prefer it that way, but the bottle’s quite good too. This one’s fairly easy to track down, and it went pretty well with the Cajun-and-garlic pork roast we made last weekend. By the way, if you’re ever in Rehoboth, definitely stop by their brew house for lunch or dinner.

For more on Dogfish Head, go here: http://www.dogfish.com/

For more on Craft Brew Week, go here: http://www.craftbeer.com/pages/news-and-events/american-craft-beer-week

I’m hoping to have some brews next weekend, as it our anniversary, but again, have to do it responsibly with a sensible pace. Oh well. There are people without homes, and here I am whining about when I can drink and how I have to drink it. Again, it’s not the end of the world. Or is it?

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of this Rapture prediction, and that it’s supposed to go down tomorrow. To me, it’s another cult grabbing headlines, sickening people’s minds and draining them of their life savings because some crazy man has decided to take a few passages from the Bible and determine they can be calculated to determine when the end will take place. This guy already wrote a book years ago that predicted this very same event in 1994, though now he says his calculations were wrong. Hmm. Wonder what his next excuse will be. I’ll withhold further judgment because that’s not what this site is for, but it sickens and infuriates me that people like this prey on people’s fears and faith and twist their minds in this manner. If this thing doesn’t come to pass (and I am pretty sure we’re going to be up and running, with all of you back and reading here at MMM next week), there’s going to be some explaining to do.

The movement also hasn’t left the metal world unscathed. Half-Makeshift, the Maryland-based project that consists of Nathan Michael, ceased operations a couple years ago because he believes in this notion and wanted to spend his time devoted to more worthy causes than his ambient/post-rock-style music that always was a really enthralling experience. His last effort was “Omen,” released by Profound Lore, and it was a very fitting last testament from an artist who truly believes that, come tomorrow, he no longer will be a member of this earth. You can read more about the record at the link below, which fleshes it out better than I could. I know I’m going to revisit this record either tonight or tomorrow night (after, as I feel, nothing happens), and I’m curious as to what my reaction will be. I also wonder, if the events predicted tomorrow do not go down, if Michael will one day come back to Half Makeshift and, if so, what the output will be like. I’m very curious.

For more on Half Makeshift, go here: http://www.myspace.com/halfmakeshift

To buy “Omen,” go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com//index.php?option=com_ezcatalog&task=detail&id=320&Itemid=99999999

Well, hope to see you all next week. God willing, we’ll be back with some killer stuff, such as Vastum, Autopsy, U.S. Christmas, Altar of Plagues and a ton more. Oh, and look out for some Infestus later.

New Keepers, Olde Growth unleash doom smoke

Guess who's got their eyes on the Water Towers.

It’s been an excellent year for doom metal and its various subgenres.

Off the top of my head, I can think of Batillus, Indian, Gates of Slumber, Blood Ceremony, Electric Wizard (at least domestically), and the amazing comeback from death cheaters Pentagram. So what’s a couple more albums in the cauldron, right? Luckily for those out there who feed off doom and the many offshoots that have kept things dark and grimy this year, MeteorCity Records has a two new bands to enter into the mix: Sweden’s interestingly named The New Keepers of the Water Towers and Boston’s own Olde Growth. Each band uses doom as its base, but they don’t really follow the same path. Chances are both albums will please largely the same audience, but there will be offshoots of folks who like one band’s style more than the other.

MeteorCity is an offshoot of All That Is Heavy, a longtime music distributor for bands that lean toward the stoner and doom styles of music. Ever since its formation, MeteorCity has brought us quality bands similar to what All That Is Heavy sells, such as Black Pyramid, Elder, Farflung, and Valkyrie (the band includes members of Baroness), as well as widely known veterans including The Atomic Bitchwax, Nebula, The Hidden Hand and The Obsessed, among others. Basically, if you enjoy your music in a cloud of smoke, MeteorCity is a pretty good destination for you, because they have a generous bit of material that’ll help you along that, I guess, journey.

First up are The New Keepers of the Water Towers, a band that labels itself as “beast metal” and pretty much unleashes a fury that’s faithful to that description. Almost immediately upon hearing their 29-minute album “The Calydonian Hunt,” I thought of Baroness and Mastodon. In fact, the song “Return of Ziz” sounds so much like Relapse-era Mastodon, it’s quite chilling. It’s really the only song that sounds like straight-up imitation, though I don’t know if that was their intention. Based on the rest of the album, it probably is just how it came together, because you really can’t say the same thing about the other eight cuts. In fact, “Abyssal Lord” actually made me think of a more melodic High on Fire when first hearing it, and the more I’ve visited that track, it presents more of its own DNA and less of any of its influences. The title cut has more of a Southern rock boogie approach, with frontman Rasmus Booberg (best name ever) dialing back the grunts and going with more of a drawled clean vocal approach. “Arise, the Serpent” has something of a classic metal finish that gets heavier and grittier as it goes; while “The Sword in the Stone” is the most indicative of their stoner metal proclivities, as it ends the record on a satisfying note. I wasn’t sure this record was going to stick with me, but the more I’ve listened, the more I’ve been hooked into the thing. Also, if you’re one of those whose days are filled with classic rock radio, ypu might find some value in this record. As long as you can handle the grit.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/nkotw

Ye olde bass-and-drums duo

Boston bruisers Olde Growth have a bit more of a hardcore feel (vocally, that is) mixed into their style, though funny enough, it’s the longer of the two records (it runs about 45 minutes). If I have to draw comparisons, I’d say Olde Growth trudges along the same lines as YOB and Electric Wizard. For their moments of groove, think Kyuss and early Queens of the Stone Age. Olde Growth’s songs are longer, more mesmerizing, and muddily heavy. The thick pummeling is obvious, even though there are no actual guitars on the record. In fact, I didn’t even realize that until after I heard the record the first time. Vocalist Stephen LoVerme only wails away on his bass, yet it’s more than enough to hammer home these smashers. It also helps that drummer Ryan Berry delivers total cannon shots, making this slab even more sinister.

They open up with a blast with the ultra-thick stoner assault of “The Grand Illusion,” that has a bit of a ’70s rock feel to it as well. “Life in the Present” bleeds ever so slowly, with LoVerme sounding more like a barker on a DIY matinee than a dude conjuring up evil spirits, especially when he’s howling a sobering line such as, “Your own mortality will set you free.” Sequoia” is much in the same vein, as they pay homage to the forest giants, and epic closer “Awake” rubs the gamut of all their sounds, making it sound like an Olde Growth best-of track. It’s damn effective. But the highlight is the three-part suite “Cry of the Nazgul/The Second Darkness/The Black Gate,” which sprawls over nearly 10 minutes of space and changes its face with as each tale is being told. In one piece, you’ve got your Tolkien references, your Armageddon, and your battlefield bloodshed, so who could possibly walk away disappointed?

For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/oldegrowthboston

The New Keepers of the Water Towers and Olde Growth are two of MeteorCity’s best new finds in some time. In fact, along with Black Pyramid, they’re now my favorite groups on their entire roster. Both albums please all of my doom needs, from filth, to good times, to doomsday premonitions, to outright savagery. If I had to choose one over the other, I’d go with Olde Growth, but surely there will be many who lean toward New Keepers. It should make for a fun debate and, in the end, we all win.

To visit the label’s site, go here: http://meteorcity.com/

To buy these albums, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/meteorcity/categories.php?cPath=1045

To check out the wares offered by All That Is Heavy, go here: http://www.allthatisheavy.com/

Seidr mix beauty and fury with tales of ancient gods and nature

It’s been an ugly, stormy, fairly chilly week here in Pittsburgh, totally unlike how it usually is in the middle of May. I’m half expecting a snow storm any day now.

If that frosty mix does arrive (and it’s not forecast to happen, as we’re looking at temps in the 80s this weekend), “For Winter Fire,” the first full-length from black/doom/ambient/death unit Seidr, will have surfaced at just the right time. It’s a record that works perfectly against the backdrop of a dark gray, grainy sky, one that promises the blooming you’re seeing right outside your window might not be long for this world. And nature’s (and our very own) cyclical existence is just one of the topics this band touches, combined with other material that leans heavily on Norse mythology, spirituality and the cosmos. It’s a pretty involved listen both lyrically and musically, as most of the songs reach well over 10 minutes long, and the album itself challenges just how much content that compact disc can hold. Luckily, each second is riveting.

The main creators here are Austin Lunn (most notably known for his one-man black metal project Panopticon, itself a must-hear endeavor) and Wesley Crow (Wheels Within Wheels), who handle all of the music you’ll hear on “For Winter Fire,” though they’ve since brought on additional members to handle the live interpretations, including vocalist Jack Hannert and bassist Adam Nicholson. Comparisons can be made to a wide variety of bands, from ISIS to Neurosis, and from Bloody Panda to Sunn 0))) to Asunder (the funeral doom version). All of them fit to an extent, but none should be leaned on to give a full idea as to what to expect on this record.

The name Seidr itself is an interesting one. It seems to be derived from Seid, an old Norse term for a style of witchcraft and sorcery practiced by pre-Christian Norse (see the Wikipedia entry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sei%C3%B0r) and considering how much they immerse themselves in Nordic tradition (the band hails from Louisville), the selection of such a moniker would make some sense. It also would explain the frosty feel of the music, considering the long association between Nordic tales and chilling winds and snow. I don’t pretend to be an expert in these areas, by the way. I’ve picked up a little mainly through some of the metal I listen to (thanks Unleashed, Burzum, and Amon Amarth), but I won’t try to break down the concepts too deeply for fear of embarrassing myself.

The album launches with “A Vision From Hlidskjalf,” a reference to the throne of Odin, and the doomy sludging spreads itself out over 11:26. It is both suffocatingly dark at times, refreshingly spacious at other intervals.  “Sweltering” begs for rain for parched throats in the simmering, relentless sun, and eventually those waters flow audibly, as the band takes a turn toward melody and beauty. The end is furious and punishing, however, and it’s hard to determine if the narrator is doing penance or experiencing refreshment from a violent storm. “The Night Sky and Wild Hun” slithers and hulks, with some power metal trappings and eventually some Middle Eastern-style acoustics entering the mix; while mournful “Stream Keepers” pays tribute to a fallen friend, with slow-driving doom building into a thrashing tempo change, and delicate piano drops eventually helping the piece evaporate into thin air. One of the most surprising songs on here is “In the Ashes,” the shortest cut that is a delicate folk number that sounds like it came from the Bindrune Recordings collection. Any fans of Nechochwen or Celestiial will find themselves right at home in this passage’s woodsy canopy.

“For Winter Fire” certainly isn’t one of those records you can pop in and listen while you take a quick trip to the local grocer. It’s not that kind of piece. This requires concentration and dedication, and it’s one that might make more sense absorbed while on the back porch, adult beverage being optional. Their grip of nature and immersion in the tales of the Norse gods always feels true and unique, which isn’t an easy task considering how damn many bands claim to pay homage to these same things. Doing it is one thing, meaning it quite another.

This also is another landmark effort for Flenser, who have brought us some excellent entries from bands such as aforementioned Panopticon, as well as Palace of Worms, Necrite, Ghast, and Pale Chalice. It’s a label you might want to start paying some close attention, if you haven’t already. They don’t put out a ton of releases every year, but what they do unleash obviously has been well researched and scouted, and each of the bands has a clear, identifiable personality. You can tell these records aren’t being put out for the sole purpose of claiming your money, but are made available because they are bands in which the label truly believes, and their work deserves to be on the market. I look at what Flenser does as comparable to Profound Lore. That’s probably why I trust these labels so deeply.

Funny, but as I’m finishing this entry, the thunderstorm has subsided, and the sky is brightening, if only slightly. But it’s a cycle, the rains will come again, and I’ll probably still have Seidr on in the background. Makes me wonder how “For Winter Fire” will feel to me once those dark, snowy months return. That’ll be another chance to tackle this album again to see if a personal reinterpretation takes place. Chances are, it will.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/seidrdoom

To buy “For Winter Fire,” go here: http://theflenser.com/?page_id=375

Ibastardizedagenreonce

Fenriz does not approve

You know, the less I say about this topic the better, but apparently spazz-core, Hot Topic favorites Iwrestledabearonce are now … black metal.

They claim they’re tired of getting lumped in with the whatever-core bands. Uh, kids. You think this is going to change things? You think you’re going to land that Wolves in the Throne Room or Enslaved tour? Think maybe Immortal will bring you guys in for support on the next tour. No and no. You’ll probably be touring with the same whatever-core bands from which you choose to distance yourselves. This is a big sham to move records. Yay, marketing!

I promise this will be the last time this band ever gets mentioned on this site, but this is so absurd, I have to point it out. I’m pretty much expecting this is all going to turn out to be some kind of a joke. I don’t think Euronymous took a knife to the skull for bands such as these to build yet another new trend for mindless kids (who are not to blame … they’re kids) to emulate. Well, then again, I guess the Mayhem leader kind of did that himself. If you want to see the photos of the band, there’s a link below. There’s also a link to the full story from Blabbermouth if you really must.

So yeah, there’s an “evil” new logo complete with UPSIDE-DOWN CROSS! And the corpse paint! Now I’m going to have to see mall kids dressed like early ’90s Norwegians? I’m never going to a shopping mall again if that’s the case. Sorry to end this day on such a down note. I have to go for a walk.

To see these ridiculous photos (remember all those black metal bands with all the gratuitous cleavage shots?), go here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150179846677517.299321.9144692516

For the Blabbermouth story, go here: http://www.roadrunnerrecords.com/blabbermouth.net/news.aspx?mode=Article&newsitemID=158257bastardized

Boris blow minds with two records that could not be more opposite

A big fan of Japanese all-over-the-place rockers Boris, are you? Hope you have a hell of a lot of money.

Then again, you probably expect a great deal of production from the band, so chances are, you have a separate fund set aside for when this band explodes with four new albums in one calendar QUARTER! They’ve got another collaboration with Merzbow and a full-length called “New Album,” both of which are Japanese-only releases, as well as their dual U.S. albums “Attention Please” and “Heavy Rocks.” But wait a minute! Didn’t the band put out an album called “Heavy Rocks” in 2002? Is this a reissue? It isn’t! It’s a brand new record, though the cover is practically the same (only now it’s purple instead of orange).

Someone new to Boris – vocalist/guitarist/bassist Takeshi, guitarist/vocalist Wata, drummer/vocalist/crazy man Atsuo — may have a spinning head right now because, admittedly, it’s a lot with which to keep up. You kind of have to do it piecemeal, or if you have that boatload of cash, you can just buy it all at once. But we’re going to focus on “Attention Please” and “Heavy Rocks,” both of which are being released by Sargent House, which is a change for the band after they spent time with Southern Lord. And maybe they still will work with SL in the future. No one can predict what they’ll do next. One of the records won’t surprise their longtime fans too terribly, because it flows right along the organic journey they’ve been on the last decade, while the other throws a few curve balls, in a way only this band could pull off without embarrassing themselves.

“Heavy Rocks” feels like a fairly natural progression from 2008’s “Smile,” the band’s last domestic full-length. It’s loud, fiery in spots, custom built for air guitar, and if you’re fluent in Japanese, it’s a catchy album with which you can sing along. Even if you don’t speak the language (and not having the benefit of a lyric sheet, it’s tough to tell when or if they toggle to English, other than the obvious “Jackson Head” refrain), this thing is loaded with hooks and thunder, and it’s a positive, wholly satisfying record. Now, there were many who bellyached over “Smile,” in that it drifted even further away from doom and drone, and if you’re one of those, you may not feel as warmly about the record as I do. But it’s not like those folks are totally left in the dark, as they unfurl two crushing epics “Missing Pieces,” which plays out like a psychedelic ballad, and “Aileron,” which is not to be confused by the song of the same name on “Attention Please.” Totally different songs both in sound and concept. The opening two cuts “Riot Sugar” and drum-thumped glam frizzle “Leak- Truth, yesnoyesnoyes-” are chest thumpers, and aforementioned “Jackson Head” is a classic rock-flavored blast. I have listened to this album a ton of times since getting last month, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s a killer.

Also of note about “Heavy Rocks” is the amount of special guests who actually went to Japan to track their parts and didn’t just dial in via e-mail. Those heavy hitters include Ian Astbury, the legendary frontman for The Cult, who played with Boris on last year’s excellent BXI project; Faith Coloccia (Mamiffer); Aaron Turner (ISIS, Mamiffer); and longtime collaborator Michio Kurihara.

Now, “Attention Please” is the one that’ll turn some heads. While Wata has sung on past Boris songs, she never got an album that was entirely her own until now. She has a very breathy, almost whispery voice, and the material she works with here is suited perfectly for her. So naturally, the thunder and decibels are dialed down, and record is a slinkier, smoother, poppier album than we’ve come to expect from the band. But it works. Truth be told, I prefer “Heavy Rocks” over this record, and no, not because the songs are louder. For me, the songs are better and easier to get excited about than what’s on “Attention Please,” but this effort has some excellent merits in its own right.

I’m sure some metal fans, when they see the word “pop,” it conjures some not-so-positive judgments. And I don’t blame you. But don’t read the adjective as meaning the band is trying to go Top 40. What I mean is, the songs are more delicate, easier to digest, and they feel like something that would have a wider appeal than what Boris usually conjure. It’s wholly Boris through and through – they’ve always been chameleons – and this stage for Wata is both well-deserved and another example of what has kept Boris so intriguing all these years. The record kicks off with the title track, which has a discoy feel to it, and Wata’s heavily broken English on the chorus is both precious and what makes that passage so sticky. “Hope” is more uptempo and sort of has that classic 4AD-style indie rock glaze on it; “Party Boy” is gritty and grungy, with … are those manufactured beats, and were they designed in outer space?; “Brown Sugar” is delicate and gazey, with a futuristic touch on this streamy ballad; and “Spoon” is most like classic Boris, with volume, attitude, noisy drums and an energetic, addictive guitar line. “See You Next Week” and “Tokyo Wonder Land” are smooshed together in the middle of this disc, and both are more experimental, with Wata’s dreamy voice guiding the way, and closer “Hand in Hand” is a gentle, yet noise-washed ballad that is the perfect set-up for Wata’s mesmerizing singing. “Attention Please” is truly one of the most interesting, different albums in Boris’ mammoth catalog, and I’d expect reaction to it may be mixed because of that. But it’s worth your time, and if you’re like me, you’ll be sucked into the thing deeper and deeper with every listen.

Unabashedly, I’m a huge Boris fan and have been for some time. Every album is an adventure, one that could go horribly wrong with ill-advised turns, but somehow they always find their way through. I know many other listeners don’t quite feel the same way about their experimentation, but that’s what makes the band so pleasing to me. You never really know exactly what you’re going to get. I mean, these two records could not be more polar opposite, yet they’re true to Boris. I feel like in my household, the “Heavy Rocks” record is the one for me, “Attention Please” is more for my wife, and that has nothing to do with gender, rather our individual tastes. We meet in the middle with the Boris concept, then they take us to the places we enjoy the most. I’m curious to hear the reaction these records get – I’m sure there will be some snooty dismissals that’ll have zero to do with the quality of the music – as well as where they’ll go beyond these works. Maybe we’ll eventually get a record combining all the ideas they explore on both pieces, though that seems far too static an idea for such an ambitious trio.

For more on the band, go here: http://borisheavyrocks.tumblr.com/

For the band’s web site, go here: http://homepage1.nifty.com/boris/top.html

To buy “Heavy Rocks” and/or “Attention Please” (they include T-shirt packages), go here: http://borisheavyrocks.tumblr.com/store