Alaric and Alarum: Their names sound confusingly alike, but their music doesn’t


I have countless promo albums both floating in my inbox and taking up a glut of space on my hard drive. There are records that have been serviced to me digitally that I’ll never even get to digest only because there’s not enough time in a week. Nothing personal. I’m just one guy.

Anything I do download and add to my iTunes, I make sure I spend a proper amount of time absorbing and analyzing, and having a giant notebook to keep it all straight helps. Usually. Except that the items I planned to visit this week kept throwing me off, even though I’ve had my calendar planned for months. On my docket were records from Alaric and Alarum. Even though I listened to both albums multiple times and knew neither band sounded anything like each other, I’d still have to pause when looking at both names in my book. Wait, which one is which? It would take me a second to realize who was who (and Alarum have been around for a long time), but I imagine it might be tougher for a listener who sees both names on an “upcoming releases” list and his/her mind melts down.

So we’re going to do both albums at once instead of doing one today, one tomorrow. Just in case the similar monikers confuse you. Sorry if I’m treating you like babies. It’s also for my mental well-being, which often needs soothing. As noted, the bands aren’t even playing the same sport, and I’d imagine two separate audiences will celebrate these records.

Oakland’s Alaric are a new band, but the group’s members aren’t newcomers. This band is comprised of players (and long-time friends) who dotted lineups such as Noothgrush, Enemies, Dead & Gone, Cross-Stitched Eyes and others, and their sound visits the late ’80s/early ’90s run of death rock bands such as Christian Death, Killing Joke, Amebix, and Rudi Peni. Their self-titled debut album certainly pays far more homage to punk, post-punk, goth rock and even New Wave than it does to pure heavy metal, but they are charged up enough that if you live and die on gutsy riffs, you’ll finds something to like on this record. It’s also overrun with emotion and melody, and while the subject matter is rather dank, don’t be surprised to find yourself physically getting into this music. If you are so inclined, you could dance to these cuts. Just expect to mope as well.

The eight-cut record is heavily guitar-bass-driven, with maniacal, yet completely decipherable vocals from Shane Baker. It sounds dangerous and swelling, cynical and head-splitting, and the songs are both full of anger and somewhat emotionally defeated. It’s not going to make you smile or feel jovial, but it might help you reconnect with some old scars you perhaps passed over but never really resolved. It sounds like that’s exactly what Alaric are doing here. “Let’s crawl through the razors,” Baker snarls invitingly to anyone in the audience in need of a bloodletting on “Eyes,” and that drives the album into religious nose-thumber “Your God,” which is as poisonous and chest-jabbing a song as anything else on this album; ominous and depressing “Alone”; damaged and plodding “Laughter of the Crows”; the doom goth of “Shadow of Life”; and “Tribute,” an aptly titled, darkly fluid song where Baker offers, “To our absent friends/We remember you.”

Listening to this album, I couldn’t help but think back to my high school and college years and times when I sift through my tapes of “120 Minutes” to find something that could match my mood and sadness and that wasn’t some sort of major-label fodder. Now and again, I’d land on a dark gem I’d feverishly try to track down because it identified with me in a way none of the other video clips could. Alaric would have been that type of band had they existed then, but better late than never, right? It’s also cool 20 Buck Spin jumped on this, and it certainly stands apart stylistically from the other music they released and will produce in 2011 (for example Vastum and Mournful Congregation). It’s a much-appreciated curve ball.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy the album, go here:

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As for Alarum, they’ll be more your thing if you’re down with the early ’90s progressive death metal movement. You know, bands such as Death, Cynic and Atheist. You might even like this record if you get into the more recent bands who do similar things such as Obscura. This Australian trio is a jazzy, dreamy, challenging band, and they haven’t put out new material since their 2004 effort “Eventuality,” that, like their new opus “Natural Causes,” was released by Willowtip. That label home always made complete sense for this band, as Willowtip specializes in that mind-altering, genre-defying death metal that leaves you dizzy and whipped.

“Natural Causes” isn’t the heaviest, most brutal death metal album on the market, and like Cynic, there’s a lot more air and atmosphere in their music. It’s not a tough listen, really, and while it has its harshness, there’s a ton of melody in these songs, and the vocals are extremely approachable. In fact, vocalist/bassist Mark Palfreyman sounds more like he’d be a natural fronting a classic, ’80s-era thrash band than a modern death unit. But whatever, it works just fine. The opening title track and “Shifting Skies Like Nothing” kick off the album just right, with an effective one-two punch that should generate excitement among listeners. “The Signal” is built on a flurry of chugging riffs, some jazzy clean guitar work and eventually lush, Rush-like synthesizers, and it’s my favorite cut here. “Silent Betrayal” is the heaviest, fastest song on the album; and “Undivided” ends the disc on an equally explosive note.

The band does, at times, get a little too bogged down in their musical prowess, sometimes at the expense of the music. “Non-Linear Parallels” gets off to a promising, fairly violent start, but it eventually devolves into a cowbell assault that lets the air out of the track; “Interface” is very similar, and things just never really get going; and “Sensory Endeavour” is a little over the top in its grandiosity, like it should soundtrack an air show. But that’s not a major drawback, and it might just be a personal sticking point. To be honest, this album didn’t really light my world on fire, though considering I’m cool with Alarum’s back catalog, I’ll keep working on it to see if it eventually has its way with me. Wouldn’t be the first time.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “Natural Causes,” go here:

For more on the label, go here: