Award shows that share a term with something you can call your grandma should be ignored anyhow

The most savage, angry, bloodthirsty, evil, menacing, murderous metal band of our time.

So the Grammy Awards are still around. I know. I’m shocked, too. I hear they had big blowout concert tonight for the nomination show. That’s like having a football game at the NFL Draft. But what are you going to do? I’m not going to watch these shenanigans anyway.

But each year we get the hilarious metal award nominees, now known as the hard rock/metal category because the people responsible for picking the bands probably think that metal’s a dying genre, and this year’s is no less hysterical than every other year. Now, sadly, we didn’t get a perverse nomination for Metallica, Motorhead, Ministry or some Black Sabbath song just because the band slithered out and did a version of a 40-year-old tune live. That’ll be next year. Instead, we got two bands that really belong elsewhere because they do not fit the parameters at all, but hey, the fossils who pick these bands have heard of them. Then we get three these folks either have heard of or know because the groups are on the grandkids’ Christmas lists. Here we go. So excited, right?

  • “On the Backs of Angels,” Dream Theater
  • “White Limo,” Foo Fighters
  • “Curl of the Burl,” Mastodon
  • “Public Enemy No. 1,” Megadeth
  • “Blood in My Eyes,” Sum 41

I know. Sum 41’s still a band?! Maybe they aren’t. Who knows? These are the Grammy Awards, after all. I guess they saw the word “blood” and thought it was so, so dangerously metal. Foo Fighters should just get lumped in with all the mainstream categories because, no disrespect, they’re basically an edgy pop band. But they’ll probably take home this year’s “metal” award, and Dave Grohl likely will feel stupid about it since he’s actually a metalhead. Actually, Foo Fighters are nominated in every category containing the word “rock,” including the Finest Field Recording of a Moon Rock slot. Someone’s going to feel dumb tomorrow. If the new FF album was blank, it still would get nominated. If I had to make the call, I don’t know what I’d do. Mastodon, I guess? Who cares?

I know there are millions of great metal records and songs that should get the nod for nomination. But the people behind this farce don’t even know they exist. Nor will they ever. So do as I do and miss the show and just laugh at the results the next day.

Also, want to thank everyone who stopped by for the Cormorant review. It was one of most-read first-day stories in our history. That thing just blew up. Good. Go buy the album.

Here's a furious wolf to counteract that garbage photo above.

Cormorant tackle trials, tribulation and death on life-changing ‘Dwellings’

When I was in college and was working a menial restaurant job to have some spending money, a friend of mine and I would discuss heavy metal. Now, he was devoutly religious and refused to listen to “the devil’s music” anymore, but he knew enough to have some opinions. One of them was that Bruce Dickinson was too smart to be in heavy metal. He cited “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the Iron Maiden epic classic, as proof.

Now, never mind that bassist Steve Harris actually wrote that song as well as the bulk of Maiden’s material, but he’s right about Dickinson’s intelligence. But how does that make him too big for metal, exactly? I always found that comment rather dismissive and insulting, because I was working my way through college, doing quite well, and soundtracking my marathon study sessions with tons and tons of metal. Did that make me some kind of rube? It also suggests that by playing in a metal band that you’re somehow too dumb to do anything else. That is patently ridiculous.

But let’s pretend for a moment that Dickinson (or, you know, Harris) is too smart for metal. Then what does that make Arthur Von Nagel, bassist, vocalist and primary lyricist for Cormorant? Is he too intelligent for music itself? Or is this just a stupid assertion that has no place in a music review other than to point out other people’s lack of understanding of the metal genre? Von Nagel and his band made a gigantic impression on the metal world with their incredible 2009 full-length debut “Metazoa.” It was a prog-metal landmark, an album so strong and accomplished that it’s amazing that labels weren’t ponying up tons of money just for the honor of releasing the thing. And maybe that happened, but Cormorant have maintained a DIY ethos while going way over the top with their music. Now comes their sophomore release “Dwellings,” one of the most emotional, thought-provoking, well-informed records in any genre this year. It’s an effort that should destroy once and for all people’s assertion that metal is only for unwashed mouth-breathers who are barely equipped to function in society. This record could be a thesis statement about humankind, the struggle for a place in the world, our eventual demise and the antagonistic forces that often impede our journeys.

“Dwellings” is an album that’ll force you to learn. You can’t just sit idly by while Von Nagel and his bandmates – guitarist/clean vocalist Matt Solis, drummer/clean vocalist Brennan Kunkel, and guitarist/mandolin player Nick Cohon – tell historical tales of the Aborigines, a failed Cosmonaut space mission, and Lope de Aguirre and the El Dorado myth and not at least go to Google to find out more. I certainly did that because Von Nagel’s lyrics are descriptive enough that you can find key words that can guide your search. I spent an entire afternoon doing that very thing, and while I knew some of the details of these events, such as the Russian space tragedy, I was able to fill in a lot of the holes in my head. I don’t remember the last time a record made me do that, and I’m thankful for the experience. Plus, the passion and emotion with which the band delivers these songs and the history-rich material is nothing short of moving. It’s all of these reasons, along with the music being an incredible concoction of prog, folk, power, black and death metal (with a little hardcore thrown in for good measure), that this album is being so heavily embraced. NPR just named it the best metal record of 2011. Isn’t it amazing it took a December record to finally crown a chart-topper?

The music and vocals on “Dwellings” are more aggressive, heavier and angrier than what’s on “Metazoa.” A lot of that can be pinned on the lyrical content of these songs focusing on atrocities and misdeeds that shook families, settlements and nations, leaving people’s lives forever altered. Von Nagel certainly seems to try to get into his characters’ shoes and walk their paths in order to properly convey his messages. He never fails to capture the heart and mind, the rest of the band steps right up and backs him with astonishing, soul-swelling, pure heavy metal magic that should touch fans of every genre and sub-genre of extreme music. “The First Man” opens the record with a power metal-style assault that’s made gravelly by Von Nagel’s growly, grisly vocals that are far improved from his work on “Metazoa.” And I have no qualms with his singing on that record. “Funambulist” is about wire-walker Philippe Petit who walked between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, and the song is as impressive for its attention to event detail as it is to making sure the ever-changing pockets of music fit the scene being described. Crushing and sinister “Junta,” that has a rousing hardcore section that could cause a furious circle pit, addresses the 2009 sexual assault wave toward women in Guinea during pro-Democracy rise-up rallies. “A Howling Dust” is raspy and thorny, but it also washes itself out in a storm of shoegaze, while its words tell of a man who wishes to forget his role in ethnic cleansing in a California ghost town Hornitos. It’s the darkest, most upsetting song on here. “Unearthly Dreamings,” the story of Vladimir Komarov, the first space casualty, is rumbling and furious as it should be, and it washes away with what sounds like a lost space transmission from a mission that was foolhardy from the start.

“Dwellings” is musically and emotionally stunning, a once-in-a-lifetime piece of work that should be this band’s crowning jewel. But it’s only album two, so I don’t want to assume they can’t go to even greater heights next time. You’ll devour this record like you do a good book that changes the way you see your life. You’ll learn things perhaps you didn’t want to know, but you’ll wonder how these events weren’t revealed to you on a greater level before. But don’t fret about that. Now you know, and you have Cormorant’s amazing new album to lead the way. You’ll think, you’ll hurt, you’ll rage, but most of all you’ll grow. Cormorant sure have as artists, and who knows how far they can go in the future? We’re sure to be here to find out.

For more on the band, go here:

For their Bandcamp site, go here:

To buy “Dwellings,” go here:

Sunn 0))), Coalesce reissues put new shine on classic collections

Sunn 0)))

I had planned for this to be a busy week here at Meat Mead Metal. Then my dog accidentally poked my eye with his snout – hard – and gave me an abrasion of the cornea. Not sure how many of you have suffered through this injury, but if not, imagine the worst pain you’ve ever experience and multiply that by 1,000. It sucks. You can’t sleep, you can’t relax, you can’t get away from the pain.

So we’re going to do a quick entry today about a couple of essential re-releases and then go back to our Vicodin and eye salve. Fun times. Apologies if this is a bit disjointed. But we’ll get back to normal by the end of the week as long as my eye recovers at the pace that is expected, and one of those pieces will be our first-ever MMM interview, a conversation I’m quite excited to bring to you about one of this year’s finest death metal albums. Look for that by the end of the week. I hope …

So we’re talking re-releases today, something of which I’m a big fan. I know some people hate them because it’s like, why do you have to keep paying for the same record? One of these may make you feel that way since it’s been given new treatment before. But if the album is good, as both of these are, then what’s wrong with having a sparkling new version? I, for one, didn’t mind a bit re-collecting all of the Carcass albums because the new packages looked amazing and have cool extra stuff tacked onto them. Same when Iron Maiden reissued all of their CDs several years back. If I like the music enough, I want the best-sounding, slickest-looking version possible.

First up, we get a new version of the Sunn 0))) classic “ØØ Void,” the band’s 2000 sophomore effort that was released in the States by Hydra Head, by Rise Above in Europe, then by Daymare eight years later in Japan. The long-out-of-print tracks feature the core members Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, but they’re also joined by Stuart Dalquist (Burning Witch, Goatsnake) on bass and contributors Petra Hayden (who also played with Queens of the Stone Age and The Decemberists) on violin and vocals and Pete Stahl (who played with Goatsnake, QOTSA, Scream and Wool) on vocals. So it was a sign of things to come as far as their collaborative spirit is concerned but maintained that primitive, smoldering doom drone for which they became so highly regarded. This truly was a landmark effort for the band and for those who followed in the group’s footsteps.

The four cuts are slithering and impossibly heavy, which is obvious, right? They slowly move like a hulk across the land, from the spacey ambiance and enveloping darkness of “Richard”; the oddly melodic, mind-altering “NN 0)))” a song that has even more effect when you’re on painkillers; “Rabbits’ Revenge,” the powerful reinterpretation of The Melvins’ cut “Hung Bunny,” a song that clearly stood as a major influence on O’Malley and Anderson; and the chunkier, more aggressive closer “Ra at Dusk” that finds the band striking harder than they usually do but also dissolving into a nice noise wash that carries you away into space.

Sunn 0))) also have a second effort planned via O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ of their collaboration alongside Nurse With Wound. It’s coming out on double-gatefold vinyl, and a link for more information is below. Buy one, or even better, buy both of these albums. If you’re serious about doom, drone and darkness, you need to have them in your collection. Try them with Vicodin!

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “ØØ Void,” go here:

To buy the Nurse With Wound effort, go here:

For more on the label, go here:

Coalesce (more recently)

The second piece up for discussion is the latest reissue treatment for the Coalesce classic “Give Them Rope,” the band’s explosive 1998 debut that dumped metal, hardcore, math metal, and all of their crossover sub-genres on their ears. The Kansas City-based metalcore pioneers absolutely steamrolled people with this platter, a record they weren’t entirely happy with upon its release and have worked since then to get into acceptable form. This reissued version is that goal accomplished, and it’s a combo of remastered, repackaged copy of the original release, complete with extensive liner notes, and a second disc that contains the 2004alternative mix and master “Give Them Rope She Said.” You got all that? Basically, you’re getting two different versions of the album.

“Give Them Rope” (originally out on Edison Records) always has been my favorite Coalesce album, flaws aside that apparently didn’t bother me as much as they did the band. But I understand where they’re coming from, and if you’ve worked as hard on something as they did this record and endured as much frustration as they did getting this thing out there (and even holding the band together), you’d want it to be as perfect as possible. Sean Ingram sounds in total command on this album, barking and shouting his way through these 11 tracks (or, um, 22 if you want to add up both versions) in a way only he can (and he’s just as ferocious and affecting today), and the rest of the band backs him up with furious thunder and hardcore-laced metallic punishment so many bands have tried to duplicate but never came close to equaling.

This new version of the original sounds fantastic, especially on headphones where you get a healthy dose of what is closer to their original vision, and the 2004 add-on still sounds interesting, even if the differences aren’t always entirely evident. This is an important record that, like the Sunn 0))) album, inspired a legion of followers. And yeah, metalcore has a horrible, damaged connotation now, but this is how the music was supposed to sound before it morphed into a commercially driven mess.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “Give Them Rope,” go here:

For more on the label, go here:

Black Friday: Wreck and Reference revel in depression on ‘Black Cassette’

With it being Black Friday, easily the most evil day of the calendar year – a statement bursting with irony – it’s only fitting that we visit something dark, foreboding, uncomfortable. Some vicious, hate-inducing black metal, you ask? Actually, no. We’re going to pay a visit to a band that has a very unconventional way of making dreary music that pushes the boundaries of what can be labeled heavy metal.

Wreck and Reference are a Sacramento outfit pushing and altering the parameters of extreme music. It’s a two-man operation of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Felix K. Skinner and drummer Ignat Frege in the studio (live photos of the band performing show more folks bringing the noise), and they eschew the whole guitar-based rock formula. Now, listening to their first effort “Black Cassette,” originally released by themselves, then put out on CD by Music Ruins Lives, and now on vinyl via Flenser, would make an uninformed person think there is an army of guitar players on this thing. Instead, the music is created solely by electronics and live drums, and most of the sounds are recreated live by use of an MPC-style controller. For someone intellectually challenged when it comes to discussing the technicalities of recording – I’m a writer, not a player, unfortunately – that’s about the best I can do trying to describe this. But yeah, won’t matter once you place this sucker on your turntable and get lost on their depressing, stormy sounds. You won’t care how they made, only that they did make it.

It’s also difficult to really pinpoint influences or like-minded bands. There are little bits of piece of all kind of groups, both metal-friendly and not, such as Slint, Swans, Killing Joke, the Cure, Sonic Youth, New Order, and Bauhaus, mostly because the vocals sound delivered by some kind of warped second coming of Peter Murphy. And Murphy isn’t even dead! It’s creepy and downtrodden, and if you’re in one of those moods where the next thing you grab is either a tranquilizer or a knife, you might make the wrong decision when hearing “Black Cassette.” It won’t make you feel better about your life. But maybe, and that’s a big maybe, you’ll be able to relate and use this recording as some sort of catharsis.

The recording is EP length, with six songs that move in, make their point, and get out. There’s no lingering or extended drubbing common with most bands that get any portion of the doom label, and those traits certainly exist here along with post-rock, post-metal, goth, no-wave and plain old expressive indie rock. One might even find these songs catchy in their lo-fi gaze and noise blanket, and there are some unique, catchy vocals hooks that might even have you singing along, once you decipher the words. The singing is clean, warbling, and psychologically monotone, with only fleeting moments of shrieks and shouts, such as on chaotic closer “A Lament.” In fact, had these guys decided to go straight with their approach and just done an honest rock record, they might even make a compelling case for radio airplay. But their sound is too dangerous and muddy for a mainstream drone to absorb.

The collection opens with “All Ships Have Been Abandoned,” a title that should clue you into the despair ahead. There’s a weird melody drowning below the sizzling feedback, and vocals sound like they’re coming from a lost soul buried under floorboards. “Surrendering” is somber and expressive, washed out and unhinged, and eventually a doom-choked cloud floats in and hangs over the proceedings. “Evening Redness” has wail, warble and a fairly deliberate pace that appears eager to drub you into submission; and “Desire, Ether” sounds a little bit like Xasthur’s more recent work, with hypnotic meandering, weepy vocals, and dark feedback wails that pierce you. The only complaint I have about this song is that it just kind of ends out of nowhere, sort of leaving you hanging. But it’s a very tiny hang-up.

“Black Cassette” may have some traditional rock traits that could sway a few less-daring listeners or those who grew up digging alternative rock in the 1980s, but any glisten is pinned underneath of planet of chaos that might also scare the same people into the hills. For those who like some danger and adventure in their music, along with a caterwaul of negative emotion, this could be like an awakening for you. I find “Black Cassette” to be a really strong, really listenable album that’ll be a part of my regular rotation. I’m even going to play it for my non-metal-loving wife, because she’s daring otherwise and I think she’ll be into this. We’ll see how that goes. I’m also looking forward to the release of the band’s next work in 2012 that also will be out on Flenser. Until then, there’s enough here to keep me wholly depressed through the winter.

For more on the band, go here:

To visit their Bandcamp page, go here:

To buy “Black Cassette” on vinyl, go here:

To buy “Black Cassette” on CD, go here:

For more on the label, go here:

Willowtip unleashes new insanity from old favorites Dim Mak, Illogicist

I’m under the weather. That sucks and it doesn’t. I have been sneezing all day and weird amounts of liquid are pooling in my head, but I get to sleep in the dark, watch college basketball and laugh while the cats go all MMA on each other. But I also wanted to get some work done, so I needed something that was going to keep me from falling back into slumber.

That’s where two new releases from Willowtip come into play. If you can tag anything that label puts out as pedestrian or rudimentary, then you just can’t be entertained. No matter what you think of their grind and technical death metal menu, you can’t say they don’t have some interesting bands to unleash upon the world. The two we’ll discuss here have been with the label for some time, and revisiting them today was a nice way to counteract the meds and make sure my brain had at least a bit of a charge. My apologies in advance if there’s some nonsense in this. I’m my own editor, you see. I also just saw another “buy someone a Lexus” ad on the TV right now and have this urge to burn one of the vehicles. That makes some chest-crushing death metal feel that much better.

Dim Mak

And we open with the new one from Dim Mak, a record that should make you smile and want to pillage a community at the same time. “The Emergence of Reptilian Altars,” an album title that should clue you into the insanity and fun of this fourth full-length, is violent and downright nasty at times, but they always level you with a keen sense of musicianship and a proficiency that’s just not fair. It makes the wait after 2006’s “Knives of Ice” worth all that impatience. The cover itself reminds me of a Nile album, and the band has some traits that kind of remind me of the Egyptian history dorks, even if the content is not the same. Something about the sound makes me feel the same way.

“Emergence” has the debut of singer Joe Capizzi (formerly of The Dying Light), and his inclusion manages to make the band even more beastly than they were in the past. He growls and screams his way through these eight tracks of carnage, almost like a caged, vicious fighter looking for a quick tap-out victory. That’s fitting considering the band’s penchant for the martial arts, though sadly because the words are monstrously indecipherable, I can’t tell if any references made their way into the songs. At least it sounds like a Junior Dos Santos punch to the jaw. As for the rest of these sick bastards, you still have guitar mangler Shaune Kelley (ex-Ripping Corpse, ex-Hate Eternal), bassist Scot Hornick (also ex-Ripping Corpse, ex-Faust), and drummer John Longstreth (current Origin/Gorguts, ex-Malicious Intent, Skinless, etc.), so you know what’s in store. If you’re somehow new to the band, look at their resumes, and imagine your expectations flattened by a bulldozer, because that’s basically what they do to you on kick-punching opener “Thrice Cursed”; the off-kilter savagery of “The Secrets of the Tides of Blood”; the mega-shredding, somewhat doomy “Fully Disassembled”; and the blast-filled, choppy, soaring, and even ambient (um, for a few moments) “Kutulu.”

With horrible holiday traffic and even-worse annual shoppers marring the roadways and making things miserable for the next month, my guess is “The Emergence of Reptilian Altars” might help me make better sense of the absolute awfulness that won’t go away until 2012. Or if anything, it may make me envision applying a rear-naked choke to the next asshole who cuts me off at a stop sign on his way to some doorbuster deal.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “The Emergence of Reptilian Altars,” go here:


On the other end of the death metal spectrum are Illogicist, an Italian band that hails from Aosta Valley and really enjoy making your brain work overtime trying to decipher where the hell they’re going musically. These guys are about as non-straight-forward as you’re going to get, and if you’re one who needs something a little more conventional from your death metal servings, these guys may not be for you. If you’re way into dorking out over musical dexterity, get ready to go nuts.

The band’s second full-length effort for Willowtip and third overall is tricky, rollicking, sometimes cartoon-like and a perfect example of how accomplished these guys are as musicians. They sometimes tend to immerse themselves a little too much in their playing and their wacky, scary proficiency, but they remember to floor you with brutality. That’s very important, because if they didn’t adhere to this pattern, their songs might come off as boring. Another thing that really stands out is how crazy good bass player Emilio Dattolo is, and his spidery, gloopy work always pierces the surface of their songs. But he doesn’t take over the album. He just provides extra bursts of color to these tracks that most other bands cannot boast to have. Guitarists Luca Minieri (he also handles vocals) and Diego Ambrosi thrash, stitch together insane guitar lines, experiment with strange patterns and make for an interesting listening experience that, even if you don’t like this style of metal (and I’m one of those people), will keep you alert. “Ghosts of Unconsciousness” is proggy and propulsive, complete with Minieri’s creaky growls; “Hypnotized” is crazy and all over the map; “The Mind Reaper” is the meatiest, most violent cut on the collection; and “Misery of a Profaned Soul” has some gut-check chugging and shifty exploration that keeps you wondering if these dudes are even human.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Illogicist (I don’t dislike them either), and this record didn’t change that. But don’t mistake that as me saying it isn’t a good album, because I would imagine people into this style will overdose on this thing. It just goes against my personal tastes, and hey, that happens. But I certainly acknowledge how good these guys are as players, and each time I heard the disc, I was able to enjoy it as much as I can with this brand of death metal. Check it out and see how you feel.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “The Unconsciousness of Living,” go here:

For more on the label, go here:

Support Gilead Media this holiday season simply because they’re awesome

What I’m about to say today is something you won’t often read here on this site. I may never write anything like this ever again. Actually, it would be nice if I don’t have to do an entry like this in the future. It would mean good things are happening.

I’ve written a lot in the past about Gilead Media, a damn awesome label that has released some of my favorite music of 2011. In fact, when the time rolls around for me to reveal my picks for best metal records of the year, you can bet Gilead Media will be represented. In an age where so many labels sign questionable bands just to move units, make money and end up on terrible horror movie soundtracks, Gilead Media is a rarity. I rank them up there with Profound Lore and Flenser Records as boutique-style operations where you know the music they’re distributing is out there because they believe in the artists 100 percent. I’m certain that if Gilead Media leader Adam Bartlett discovered a band that blew him away, yet everyone else hated the act, he’d release it anyway. You can tell he believes in what he’s doing and he takes the Gilead Media stamp very seriously. He’s not stamping it on your music just to make money.

So it was disturbing when I woke up this morning and got the regular Gilead label update e-mail. I saw the words “label status and future” and my insides nearly turned to liquid. You may find that overly dramatic. It isn’t. I think that much of Gilead Media and enjoy their output to such a great degree that not having it in existence would put a serious dent in my music life. Reading on, it was not quite as dire as I feared, but the news wasn’t sparkling either. Here’s what Adam wrote in his message. And keep in mind, his regular updates never contain content such as this, and if he wasn’t worried about the future of Gilead Media, it wouldn’t have been revealed. Here it is:

2011 has been a year of immense growth for the label. I made the decision in 2010 that I would focus solely on metal releases, and that was a choice I’ve become very happy with. I’ve released a large quantity of records this year, especially for being a one-guy operation with some-time help from friends. I handle almost every aspect of a release, organizing the mixing and mastering of the audio, rendering and laying-out art files for packaging and inserts, screen printing all patches and posters that come with releases, and making all buttons. It’s a huge task for just one release, let alone the batch I’ve done this year. As of November 19, 2011, that total is seven new releases and six represses – all of which were vinyl. 

It’s been a crazy year, and it’s been rough. While doing all of this I’ve also been managing a screen-printing shop, Offbeat Press, and working on producing a film I co-wrote & co-directed, Dead Weight. 2011 has been a year of very little rest, a lot of coffee, and a lot of stress. On the opposite side of things, this has been the most productive and fulfilling year of my life.

On the label side of things, I owe that success to all the people that have ordered records and to all the folks that run websites, blogs, magazines etc. that have covered or promoted my releases. I’ve met tons of incredible people and built some great relationships over the course of the year. The level of support I’ve had is overwhelming. It started to feel like the label was unstoppable.

That’s what made things so hard when I found out I won’t be seeing much, if any, of the $5,500 I was owed by my old retail distributor, the Independent Label Collective. It was like running full speed into a brick wall.

There are 1,300+ words written in this little essay, and you can view the entire statement over at the Gilead Media blog. I didn’t want to bog down this entire email with 2.5 pages of it. Basically, the label has hit a big financial rough patch because of this situation, and I need people to pick up some records if they were thinking of it and haven’t. Please head over and check out the full article I wrote.

I’ll give you the link to his blog below so you can read it in full. I care deeply about independent metal, and I try to champion those bands, releases and labels to people as much as I can because they need the support. Losing something like Gilead Media might not make a gigantic blip on the mainstream world, and it wouldn’t even get a blurb in a business journal somewhere, because they’re so invisible to so many people. But it would be one fewer place for bands such as Barghest, FALSE, Thou, Fell Voices, Arms Aloft, Ash Borer and many others to find an outlet. These are bands that probably won’t be snapped up by a Nuclear Blast or a Century Media anytime soon. Would these bands cease to exist without a Gilead Media? Probably not since those bands thrive on their musical passion, but they’d have less of a chance of getting their art out to people who would devour it. I credit Adam and Gilead Media for introducing me to Thou many years ago, way before plenty of other people started to catch on to what they do. I am eternally grateful for that.

If you value Gilead Media or labels like it, there’s something you can do to help. Go buy something from them. Don’t download it, buy it. If you need suggestions for what to get from Gilead Media, look at the bands I listed above. You cannot go wrong with any of them. Go buy some shirts, too. They have a pretty sweet Krallice design, and it isn’t exactly easy finding that band’s shirts unless you go to a show. They also have designs for Ash Borer, Thou, FALSE and Barghest, among others. All are more than reasonably priced and they don’t just look like your average metal merch. I have purchased from Gilead Media many times in the past, and the items always are excellently packed, contain goodies such as buttons and matches, look amazing and, most importantly, sound great. I’m going to do what I can this holiday season to see to it that my metal-loving pals get a few Gilead Media-related goodies.

More than once Adam has written to me to thank me after something I posted about one of his bands. He doesn’t need to thank me. I love the music and the bands he presents, and if anything, I should be thanking him. I also feel compelled to mention that no one asked me to write this. Not Adam, not anyone. I did it because I believe in Gilead Media and would consider it a great tragedy if one day it didn’t exist. Adam runs a great shop, and I have yet to be disappointed by anything he has sent my way. I hope that lasts well into the future. Now let’s go out and make sure that’s possible.

For more on the label, go here:

For the label’s web shop, go here:

For the label’s Bandcamp page, go here:

For the rest of Adam’s message, go here:

Handshake Inc. injects exciting new blood into extreme metal with Surachai, TSTAT

We have an exciting new record label in our midst, but it’s a name you’ve probably heard before if you’re way down in the gutters of extreme metal. Handshake Inc. is well known for their visual presentations, most notably their “Maryland Deathfest” films (let’s see if VH-1 and their “metal” push has the guts to show this sucker), “When the Screams Come” piece about Pentagram, and “Disgorge Mexico the Movie” based on the album by Canada’s Fuck the Facts, as well as video clips for Jucifer, Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Hail of Bullets, among many others.

But now Handshake is dedicating  time to releasing new music, and just like their visual work, it’s been a pretty damn exciting venture so far. Taking cues from ANb freak J Randall’s wacky Grindcore Karaoke digital label, Handshake head honcho David Hall moved forward with an eye toward exposing some of the more exciting, daring underground bands going that might not be ready for even the most open-minded of indie metal imprints. And that’s fine because these groups may be better served now by this wholly dedicated boutique-style venture. People with niche tastes probably are more likely to give Handshake a shot until they gain some steam, and those who do check out what’s coming from this label are bound to be blown away by what’s offered. I know I have been. Along with Hall is his partner Kim Kelly — Grim Kim to you … and me — who handles PR, A&R, and is very instrumental in working with Hall on the label’s direction.

We’re going to look at two of the label’s offerings today, but it’s certainly not all Handshake has to offer.  For example, we’re not going to discuss the label’s first release, Sulaco’s “Build and Burn,” and not because it isn’t worth your time. I just haven’t spent enough time with the grindcore noise chaos yet to intelligently talk about it, and I didn’t want to hold this piece any longer. As always, I’ll add a link to the label below so you can find out more for yourself, and if my word means anything, let me say you will not be disappointed in what you’ll discover. Unless you buy your music at Hot Topic. Then you might have some development in front of you, but hey, we all have to start somewhere.

First up is the new full-length from black metal/ambient/doom/electronic crusher Surachai, a one-man audio nightmare who has a smattering of releases to his credit but really hits one out of the park on this two-track offering. The Chicago-based musician certainly has absorbed some of his home city’s influences, and this new effort “To No Avail” is way more brutal and metallic than his last full entry “Plague Diagram,” that was far more industrial and overtly programmed. That’s not to speak ill of that record, because it also was really good and riveting, but Surachai just goes above and beyond on “To No Avail.”

Available both digitally and on vinyl, this collection is bound to get your mind and heart racing. They’ll probably struggle to keep up with each other. Maybe lay off the caffeine for a while before taking on this thing. The songs are simply titled “Side *” and “Side **” and work nicely in tandem with each other. The first track is spacious and sprawling, with furious growls, riveting melodies, a blaze of noise, oddball interference and a cacophony of madness that somehow remains self-contained. There are excellently placed highs and lows, and every time you think you have a moment’s rest, he lights the whole thing on fire again. It’s a nice example of experimental black metal that doesn’t go too far into left field and always keeps you interested. The second cut lets its programming traits show a little more, but it’s smashed by a thunderstorm of psychedelic storming, black metal thunder and simmering hiss, not to mention his banshee, throat-mangling cries.

I’ve listened to this release a lot since receiving the download a few weeks back, and it never fails to keep my brain working and me guessing. It’s one of those efforts that reveals itself more each time you come back for another bout. It’s bound to confuse and put off your less-daring listeners, which is to be expected, but for those who like things unpredictable – the comparisons to Deathspell Omega and Krallice are accurate, and I’d toss in sudden trip-hop lovers Blut Aus Nord as well – you’d be doing yourself a giant disservice by not seeking out this jackhammer.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “To No Avail,” go here:

Or here:

The second album we’ll look at is “Summer Darkyard,” the new one from oddly named The Sun Through a Telescope. Like Surachai, we’re dealing with a one-man wrecking machine, Ottawa-based Lee Neutron. His music forces you to pay attention to every second, because he can go from serene and calm one minute to spastic grand mal seizure the next. If you’re driving your car, you may want to pick something else to soundtrack your journey, because nothing will send you over an embankment quicker than what you’ll hear on this four-track effort.

Neutron recorded and produced this effort himself, which he culled from compositions he initially dreamt up working on his past projects and some that he conjured this past summer, and he went to FTF guitarist and producer of all hellish sounds Topon Das for mastering. The music really can’t be pinpointed accurately, but I can tell you with relative certainty that if you’re into bands such as Sunn 0))), Godflesh, Thou and Khanate that you at least have a jump-off point. Opener “Darkyard” is filled with catastrophic noise, some oddball bluesy riffs, mortal wailing and crushing charges. By the way, just when you think this thing is winding down, it absolutely explodes with black hole fury. That’s the point in time when you’d lose control over your vehicle. “Cro-Magnon Nightmare” has a bit more delicacy, but eventually it morphs into Voivod-like space thrash and maniacal diatribes, where Neutron imagines total universal death, especially when observing a “violent death of a star” in the middle of his nightmare. “I’ll Die, Goodbye” leans on Vocoder-laced vocals and a terrifying glimpse into hell and post-life decay, and despite it feeling gorgeous and sungazey, it’s wholly horrific. The closing interlude lets you down easy, but not after your psyche has been permanently scarred.

The Sun Through a Telescope likely won’t sound all that fitting at your next house party, unless you plan to slaughter all the guests at the end. But if you want to get in touch with your ever-changing mentality and some of the psychotic darkness that lies beneath your demeanor, this will help you get there and might even push you over the edge.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “Summer Darkyard,” go here:

Or here:

As noted, these are only a couple of Handshake’s ventures, and they have future offerings in store from ((Thorlock)), Maruta and Yakuza (the latter two live efforts), and they still have some remaining video clips on the way for Rwake, Rottenness, Vilipend and FTF. They also have a new “Deathfest” film in the works and something on Jucifer that is sure to be awesome. Handshake has me excited for the future of metal. I don‘t always feel that way about things because of how safe and homogenous everything has become, but this company is keeping things exciting and slightly ablaze. I’m down with that.

For more on the label, go here:

And here:

Outer edges: Junius expose their souls on ‘Reports From the Threshold of Death’

This is a curious case. OK, so we do stuff from time to time that isn’t purely heavy metal or metal at all, as long as there’s some kind of logical crossover appeal. Generally those albums are from decidedly non-metal labels but still are worth your time if you have an open mind. Today we have something that is on a very metal label but really doesn’t belong in that genre at all.

Junius is more like post-rock dreaming, melodic storytelling, and spacious exploration. They have toured with metal bands, most recently taking Ghost’s slot on the Enslaved tour, but they could hook up with a mainstream band such as Foo Fighters or Muse and be right at home. In fact, a jaunt like that might cause this band to blow up commercially. Their new album “Reports From the Threshold of Death” is far better and significantly more riveting than what those arena rock bands are doing anyway, so they’d probably show up the headliners. No one wants that. They also likely will mislead people not only because of the Prosthetic Records stamp on the back of their album but also from that record title that sounds like a guttural death metal assault that goes for your throat. It’s anything but that.

Now, if you read about Junius in Rolling Stone, a magazine that’s proved over and over they shouldn’t even bother covering metal because of their total lack of understanding, you saw they were called a cross between Neurosis and the Smiths. I certainly would not pick that combo to describe this band. Their new record contains zero resemblance to Neurosis as it isn’t nearly cataclysmic enough, but I can hear Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Pelican, Caspian, My Bloody Valentine, the Deftones, Cave In and Jesu musically, and vocally, there are hints of Hum and … brace yourself for it … Coldplay. I only mean that in how Joseph E. Martinez’s voice sounds, as it’s full of compassion and drama. It’s not like he and the band are playing pretty love songs, though they do a fine jobs exposing their hearts. Maybe that’s the only way I can sense any connection with the Smiths. Nice try, RS.

Along with their post-rock leanings, there are hints of goth rock and New Wave as well, mostly because of the lush, swarming keyboards and Martinez’s darkness when singing. They open with a soul-crushing, surging salvo on “Betray the Grave,” a song title that sounds like it came from a Chris Barnes songbook but instead is a swelling rocker, where Martinez urges, “Never fear for your life.” “All Shall Float” swims through the cosmos and might make Chino Moreno jealous when he hears the fantastic delivery; “Dance on Blood” is a moody, up-tempo rocker that has the only real hints of sludge on the album; “Haunts for Love” would have sounded excellent on ’80s alternative rock radio and likely have been a big hit; “Transcend the Ghost” floats on synth whir and eventually a bit of doom rock; and closer “Eidolon & Perispirit” is a New Wave-flavored entry that’s dreamy and filled with atmosphere, with Martinez pleading, “Bring me into your light.” It brings to a close a really fantastic rock record, filled with strong songwriting and honesty that is basically absent from the mainstream. In fact, Junius could do a great deal of good if they were to be included on pop, Top 40 radio playlists. Their songs are too strong to ignore, and with proper exposure they could smarten up your average music listener.

Junius has another new release on the market in their split with post-metal maulers Rosetta, who are more muscle-bound and burly. The Translation Loss-released effort allows each band one song, and both make the best of the time. Junius’ contribution “A Dark Day With Night” is far longer than anything on their new record, clocking in at a little more than eight minutes, but it’s pretty much in line with the material on “Reports From the Threshold of Death.” Only difference is this song basks a little more in shoegaze. As for Rosetta, their cut “TMA-3” has a bit more melody to it than some of their past works, almost as if they’re veering more toward Junius’ frame of mind. But fear not, their guttural, hefty growls and shouts are in place, so they certainly haven’t skimped on the hardcore-laced brutality, but you do a little more dreaming than usual on this song. Altogether, this package works pretty nicely, and you experience a dose of two pretty different bands that have similar center points but different paths away from the core. Also, if you’re hesitant to commit to a full-length from either band, this gives you a small taste of what each does best.

I’m curious to hear how metal fans react to Junius. I’m sure since they’re on Prosthetic, people unaware of their work will expect bulldozer violence and mosh-pit fodder. They’ll be disappointed if they’re only in it for those qualities, but more open-minded listeners are sure to take a serious ride with these bands on their adventurous songs. They’ll never win the prize for the heaviest band in the world, but Junius certainly are in the running for the most thought-provoking.

For more on Junius, go here:

To buy “Reports From the Threshold of Death,” go here:

For more on the label, go here:

For more on Rosetta, go here:

To buy the split album, go here:

For more on the label, go here:

Beneath Oblivion mete out muddy beatings on ‘From Man to Dust’

I’ve never been hit by a truck. My wife has, actually. She’s a warrior who will destroy you. Perhaps she should be writing this piece and not me. But I’d imagine if ever that fate would come upon me, it might remind me just a bit of what it’s been like tackling the sophomore effort “From Man to Dust” from doom sludgers Beneath Oblivion. It’s destructive and flattening and does a large amount of damage to your psyche. Luckily you can’t have a physical encounter with the thing because the results would be poor. For you. Certainly not for the band.

The Cincinnati-based band hasn’t gotten to us with a full-length effort since their 2006 debut “Existence Without Purpose,” though they’ve made good with some split and mini efforts since that time (including their contribution alongside Angel Eyes earlier this year), but the wait certainly was worth it because of how cataclysmic and sometimes utterly terrifying this album sounds. It’s a 75-minute tour-de-force that manages to stay fresh despite the marathon running time and the epic tracks. Not all bands can pull off a record this lengthy and do it this well. But you’re not getting drubbed about the head and torso by the same sound the whole time, and there’s enough variety in the music to keep the collection fresh and exciting.

Beneath Oblivion’s lineup has shuffled some since the band’s first album. Scotty T. Simpson is the only remaining original member, as he handles guitar and the gargantuan vocals, and drummer Nate Bidwell, who’s been around since 2006, is still behind the kit. Guitarist/sample expert Allen Scott II joined up in 2009, and bassist Keith Messerle has been around for about a year, so we’re talking half a new band from their “Existence Without Purpose” days, and you can hear some of those new personalities in the music. If those lineup shuffles make you nervous, worry not, because Simpson’s talents have helped make this band special from the beginning (and that’s not to take way from what the rest of the members do), and every time he opens his mouth to deliver a tortured diatribe, it makes you sit up immediately and take notice. I’ve heard a ton of singers over the years who chill my blood, and he’s up there pretty high on the list. Even their producer, doom legend Billy Anderson, reportedly has said as much.

You might think you’re in for something light or merely stage-setting with the first track “Intro,” but that would be a mistake. It’s a seven-minute crusher of slow-driving doom and animalistic squeals, in the midst of which Simpson growls, “There is nothing left to live for.” Well, I guess maybe it does prepare you emotionally for what’s left. It also bleeds directly into “Atomic Mother,” a lurching, monstrous song that has Apocalyptic leanings and eventually dialog stretched over the chaos that is either a prayer or a Biblical reading. “Hope, the Deceiver” goes more down-tuned musically, as it gulps mouthfuls of mud, and Simpson’s vocals sound anguished, but eventually some acoustic passages blend in and allow air into the room. Things change up on “Barren Earth,” an emotional, caterwauling number that begins like a ballad before barreling into a sonic pit of hell. “Be My  Destroyer” also goes for atmosphere, with more acoustic guitar work and cleaner, deeper vocals from Simpson. It also goes for a mid-tempo, reflective pace, reminding me of Cobalt when they’re not burning things to the ground, but it, too, explodes into chaos before it’s done. The closing title track brings everything back around again, simmering in volume, tar and drubbing, as it spreads itself maniacally over its nearly 20-minute running time. You’ll be out of breath when the track finally reaches its end, finally giving you some mercy.

Beneath Oblivion, with new lineup intact and a volcanic second album, sound primed to take the admittedly oversaturated doom world by storm. I listen to a lot of this stuff both for pleasure and for work, and it’s nice when one of these bands sticks in your head. This band has done that for me over the years, and “From Man to Dust” is going to remain in listening rotation for some time to come. That’ll explain my black eyes.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “From Man to Dust,” go here:

For more on the label, go here:

Ghoul unleash rot and bloodshed (and maybe a message) on ‘Transmission Zero’

This site you’re reading, the one with the ridiculous name, tends to skew toward the serious side when discussing metal. I don’t know why that is, as I never planned it that way. It just kind of happens. It’s a loose schedule I have here that tends to revolve around release schedules.

But that doesn’t mean we shun the idea of fun in metal. It should be there in the genre at all times, though not necessarily practiced by every band. I can’t really see any chicanery fitting into Moss’ or Loss’ or Mournful Congregation’s music. But bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Anthrax, Immortal, Carcass and more current bands such as Municipal Waste, Skeletonwitch and Kvelertak hammer with you heaviness and majesty but also let you smile along with their work. It’s a release and a way to forget what ails you. It’s a means toward letting loose and shelving your worries.

Another band along those lines, though they certainly lean more toward ridiculousness, is Ghoul. The quartet goes by the names
Fermentor, Cremator, Dissector and Digestor, they wear ridiculous costumes, and they claim to hail from a place called Creepsylvania. Their songs are autobiographical-fantasy, in that they write about themselves, as their characters, doing disgusting and horrific things. They would make Alice Cooper smile and them vomit. But they also have excellent punk-flavored thrash chops, so while you’re taking in these cockamamie stories — they will make you laugh more often than not unless you take yourself way too seriously – you’ll be floored by their awesomeness as musicians. Not so bad for a bunch of guys who wear gear that looks as if it needs laundered after a murder.

Of course, you know some or all of these guys. Bassist/vocalist Cremator is actually Ross Sewage, who you know from bands such as Exhumed, Impaled and Ludicra; drummer Dino Sommese plied his trade in groups such as Asunder, Dystopia and Carcinogen; guitarist/vocalist Dissector is Dan Randall, who played with Born/Dead and Desolation and also worked mastering albums for Abscess, Impaled and Toxic Holocaust; and Digestor is Sean “Bloodbath” McGrath, who also played with Impaled, Engorged, Stormcrow and others. Along with the impressive resumes elsewhere, the fellows as Ghoul also have four full-length efforts to their name since their formation more than a decade ago. Their latest is “Transmission Zero,” a blast of blood and guts that’ll have you going back for more, no matter how repulsed you may be. And maybe there’s more going on than you can sense beneath the rot.

“Transmission Zero,” an 11-track album that runs about 40 minutes, gets off to a relatively benign start on the instrumental “The Lunatic Hour,” a well-played, nicely executed song that acts like the opening credits to this whole package. The band goes for the throat on “Off With the Heads,” a track where our heroes are making their final gasp toward the catacombs beneath Monture Noire cemetery, where only carnage and bloodshed are on the minds. It also is the destination for the many characters involved with this story, for they seek what’s hidden inside. “Destructor” has the fellows trying to avoid their demise at the hands of the Killbot (listen for the weird, robotic sound effects behind this tasty masher); “The Mark of Voodoo” is punchy and speedy, with the yarn being spun about the mysterious Baron Samedi looking for an audience in lizard king Basilisk’s palace, where he’s then directed to the catacombs. “Blood Feast” is punishing and mucky, where our Ghoul beasties go about devouring everything in front of them; “Morning of the Mezmetron” is an eight-minute epic that’s devoted to doom metal, and has three of the Ghoul members in captivity while Basilisk’s mind-control machine prepares to devastate Creepsylvania (told further on the title cut); “Tooth and Claw,” a thrashy, gurgly entry that sounds like Slayer moaning about mangled limbs, is the result of the brainwashing; and bizarre closer “Metallicus ex Mortis” is sort of your conclusion, where the Ghoul fellows get a means of control over the scene, only to have the whole thing transported via videotape back to some dork in Portland, Ore. It’s such a strange, wacky closer that it almost requires pizza and soda along with it.

“Transmission Zero” isn’t terribly profound on its surface, though you can decide if they’re making a deeper commentary on our cultural tendency toward mass consumption and total mental control by our television networks, that try to convince us a televised (and disgustingly mass-marketed) wedding of two celebrities is real and that you really can shape singing careers by voting on any number of live performance shows. After all, George Romero always packed his films with foreboding messages that went beyond flesh-eating and brain-destroying, but it was up to you to find them. Or maybe this is just a blast of thrash goodness that is here to make you wretch and laugh. Either way, you’re bound to get hours of enjoyment out of this pile of death and puss that, luckily, can only be heard and not smelled.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “Transmission Zero,” go here:

For more on the label, go here:

And here: