Oak Pantheon Pt. 1: Band reveals what inspired the essence of ‘From a Whisper’

I love when unpredictable things happen with the site. I had planned four days of interviews for this week, and we got them. All along, I had Oak Pantheon scheduled for today so we could discuss their stunning new album “From a Whisper,” my favorite of the four releases we covered this week, and we highlighted some incredibly stellar records.

For each band, one member graciously devoted time to the questions and gave us exploratory answers. I could not be more grateful. But Oak Pantheon went a level higher: All three guys responsible for the band’s sound took time to answer our questions. Sami Sati, Tanner Swenson, and their sound engineer Sean Golyer all went into great detail, and I can’t thank them enough for going above and beyond. In fact, they gave us so much detail that we’re going to break this into two parts. The first section you’re reading now, and the second will appear Tuesday.

The music is emotional and captivating, reminding a great deal of Agalloch, and their playing is already at storied veteran level for dudes so young. Be sure to check out “From a Whisper” (Broken Limbs), a record that has the Meat Mead Metal stamp of approval.

Meat Mead Metal: The band is releasing its second effort “From a Whisper.” It’s quite an emotional, ambitious album. Are these songs as personal as they sound? Please explain.

Tanner Swenson: We’re really proud of this album because we accomplished our goal of making good music that stands on its own with powerful lyrics that can be interpreted and felt by our listeners.  One of our main focuses was making sure that no lyrics became throwaway filler. I have always argued that lyrics don’t mean as much as the music, but I’ve come to realize over time that every person is affected differently by music. Some people really pay attention to lyrics, while others completely ignore them.  I feel like we were able to write an album with the best of both worlds, and it is a very powerful thing.

The songs are very personal in that they deal with our own human struggles with faith, mortality, death, fear, and what have you. We try not to take a concrete stance on either side of an issue because there really is no “right” answer to anything; it’s all how the issue is perceived by the individual.

Sami Sati: We definitely had a huge emphasis on lyrics this time around, as Tanner said.  We still cared about writing good lyrics with “The Void,” but I was genuinely surprised at how many people said they were moved by the lyrics.  Even the vocal recording process was much more focused this time around.  We spent much more time trying to make each word sound perfect as opposed to just screaming something over the music and calling it a day.

And I’m honestly glad to hear that you think the songs sound very personal, because that’s become an increasingly important thing to me.  I’ve always thought that music is a great place to express ideas that you can’t otherwise bring up in normal conversation.

MMM: You’re teaming up with Broken Limbs for the release of the album. What was it about that label that made you feel most comfortable?

Sean Golyer: The label owners and their business philosophy. Bari came to us as a fan first who wanted to put us on a compilation she was putting together. We stayed in contact over a period of time and soon enough she had started a brand new label with some colleagues. We really liked their “hands-off” approach to each band’s music and saw them make some great underground releases. They’re very open about their ideas for our releases and always keep us informed. It makes for a very fluid and open relationship with a label that isn’t focused on milking you for everything you have. They genuinely care about each and every project they take on, and we just felt safe with them.

MMM: While the band’s music certainly is steeped in black metal, there also is a folk element to what you do. Are you fans of that style of music? Or did that sound come in from some other inspiration?

TS: That element may have come from an influence that was very relevant to us at the time of writing, but it’s hard to say.  I will go through phases with bands and styles, and my writing during those times most likely will reflect that to an extent.  In terms of the folk influence specifically, I think listening to how well Agalloch integrate that style into their music inspires me to try similar things, but usually with a heavier sound.

SG: Black metal and folk are just a couple of a very wide range of influences we draw from. We’re fans of a lot of different music, and I think that tends to manifest itself into the songwriting and production process. It keeps our listeners on their toes and prevents us from stagnating and writing the same kinds of songs over and over. That’s pretty boring to us.

SS: I wasn’t always a big fan of folk music, and even though “The Void” had folk influences, it wasn’t until after we released that EP that I started listening to folk music on a regular basis.  A big part of the folk sound also comes from the use of acoustic and classical guitars.  For me, nearly every song I write is done so on my acoustic guitar.  I don’t even try and see what the parts in a song will sound like on an electric guitar until I’ve started recording a demo for it.

MMM: There also is quite a woodsy feel to what you do. Do you draw inspiration from your surroundings in Minnesota, or does that come from something else?

TS: One of the most difficult things for me to do with our music is listen objectively and pick out where different sounds and influences shine through.  I would say a lot of the “woodsy” feeling passages come from me doodling on my classical guitar or Sami playing around on his acoustic.  I also try to create an image in the listener’s mind with my lyrics, which often means I will use nature themes.

SS: It might just be a subconscious thing at this point, but I’ve never really made the connection that Minnesota has influenced me to write “woodsy” music.  If anything, I’m surprised that a folk-influenced metal project started at all in Minnesota considering the current music scene here.  I will say that most of my heavy writing occurs during the autumn and winter months, however.  Something about the transition between those two seasons always inspires me to write music.

MMM: Yet another element is the power and catchiness to the songs. They may not be traditional, but there are some hooks. Is that an important element for Oak Pantheon? Do you consciously try to add that sticky element into what you do?

SG: Extremely important. If a song doesn’t have “that moment” or a wow factor to it that sticks in your head, it typically doesn’t make the cut. We have a strict “no filler” philosophy when it comes to producing our material. It’s a very conscious decision by all of us.

TS: I agree with Sean that a catchy element is extremely important in a song, but I’m not sure if I’m always aware that I’m writing something catchy until after it has been demoed and repeated on my iPod a bunch. Even though we are heavily influenced by black metal music, I don’t really listen to much of it at all. The “catchiness” factor is what makes me want to go back and listen to a song over and over, like an addiction. Pop songs are admittedly catchy, but most aren’t good songs. That doesn’t mean a good song can’t be catchy though, which I feel is a fairly common belief in the extreme metal scene.

SG: Yeah, that’s a fair point. We never start writing a song thinking “OK, what’s going to be the hook on this one?” It just sort of happens as we write, because that’s what we want to hear as listeners. It only becomes a conscious decision after the fact when we’re deciding what to keep and what to trash.

SS: It’s not entirely intentional, but I do think it’s important.  For me, I can like a song that isn’t catchy and listen to it a million times.  The ones that stick with me, however, are the ones that have something that gets stuck in your head.  I don’t think it necessarily has to be a “hook” or a catchy chorus either.  I think a quick shift from mellow to intense music is just as memorable as a good chorus.  And I think that’s one of the core goals we have as writers: to make our music as memorable as possible.

MMM: For listeners familiar with “The Void,” how would you say “From a Whisper” differs from that album?

SS: We don’t want to release another album that sounds like “The Void.” I can understand completely if certain people like “The Void” more than “From a Whisper.”  The biggest thing I think people will notice right away is the change in vocal styles.  Tanner does clean vocals on a few of the tracks, and I’ve changed how I do my harsh vocals on this album.  And while “The Void” was undeniably a black metal album, I don’t think listeners will instantly label “From a Whisper” as black metal.  Black metal is perhaps the most important genre of music to me, but I don’t want to limit Oak Pantheon to being just black metal.  If we want to write a folk song, we’ll do it.  If we want to write a post-rock song, then we’ll do that as well.  Even on “From a Whisper,” there are two songs in particular that I wouldn’t even label as metal.

TS: “From a Whisper” shows where we are in our musical evolution.  Even since we finished the material for this album, we have been writing new stuff that we consider to be even better.  Some people will like “The Void” better, but “From a Whisper” offers much more diversity and replay value.  We hope to continue making releases that are undeniably Oak Pantheon but are also evolutions of our previous work that have a distinct sound from one another.  The most exciting bands are the ones that continue to surprise and get better, and we have a lot of getting better still to do.

SG: Sonically the new album just plain sounds better. The guitars are thicker, the drums are bigger, the vocals cut through the mix better without overwhelming the instruments, and the melodies truly soar above the mix. We used essentially the same recording process as we did with “The Void,” but we were more familiar with our tools, had more experienced ears, and had a better mastering engineer to handle the final touches. Justin Weis, who has also done work for bands such as Agalloch, Ludicra, and Cormorant, did a great job enhancing our mixes, bouncing down to tape, and just making the album sound that much bigger and better.

Check back Tuesday for Pat 2.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/OakPantheon/info

To buy the album, go here: http://brokenlimbsrecordings.bandcamp.com/merch

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

Fight Amp’s DeHart talks concept behind ‘Birth Control,’ strange baby album art

New Jersey’s Fight Amp have been making raucous, punk-infused, abrasive noise for nearly a decade now. Ever since their debut album “Hungry for Nothing” dropped in 2008 on Translation Loss, they’ve been more than happy to bludgeon people at home from the stereo or during their live shows with muddy madness that certainly keeps metal crowds well fed but also reaches out to those who got into noise and hardcore in the ’90s and never looked back.

The band’s new album “Birth Control” is set for release Sept. 25, and it’s their first since 2009’s smashing “Manners and Praise.” Vocalist/bassist Jon DeHart took some time to discuss the upcoming album, its wacky artwork, and just how they came up with their potentially politically poking title. DeHart and the rest of the band – guitarist/vocalist Mike McGinnis, drummer Dan Smith – also will be hitting the road, as you’ll read later, so get yourself ready for a sonic beating.

Meat Mead Metal: Right off the bat, the album title “Birth Control” could stir the pot a little, since that’s a pretty heated political topic at the moment. How did you guys land on that as a title? Is there any sort of political or social connotation to it?

Jon DeHart:  We chose the title “Birth Control” for a couple of reasons.  In a way, it’s a lighthearted, humorous comment about ourselves and the noise we make as a band, since it’s highly unlikely that people would ever “make babies” to the sound of Fight Amp.  But a more serious reason for the title is in reference to the themes throughout the lyrics, mainly the self-fulfilling prophecies of religious fundamentalists.  We decided to use a loose concept for this album, creating a character that each song follows chronologically through the various stages of life, starting with adolescence in the first song, all the way through to death in the last song.  There’s a bunch of social pressures/end times/abandoned by god stuff in between, and I guess you could say our character is every bit the type of person who would be an outspoken opponent of birth control in today’s world.

MMM: The album art is pretty bizarre. Certainly it isn’t something you could see in a store and not immediately be drawn to. What’s the concept behind that piece of art? It seems to speak to gluttony.

JD:  The artwork was done by our drummer, and I’d say bizarre is the perfect adjective to describe him as well. Haha.  I know he used the themes from the album to guide him, and I love the way it turned out, but it’s hard for me to say exactly what the inspiration was.  Gluttony is something I took away from it too, one of those conveniently overlooked sins. The baby crowned with butter seems like a comment about the bad habits that are forced on you from birth, and also the celebration of consumption that we have here in America.  But those are just my best guesses. Someone else may get something totally different when they look at it.

MMM: Three records into your run, the band sounds as tight as ever. Do you feel more confident and comfortable as a band?

JD: Thanks, that’s really nice of you to say.  We’re feeling awesome about everything right now.  We’ve had a lot of great experiences that have helped us get closer to hitting our stride, like working with Phillip Cope on our first two full-lengths, touring with some of the bands that inspire us, etc…  Hopefully that continues to show in the music we create.

MMM: You broke in a new drummer in Dan Smith with this album. How did that transition go? Was he heavily involved in the creative process?

JD: Dan is a real talented musician, so working him in musically was easy.  His first real task with us was a six-week tour with Weedeater, Saviours, and Bison B.C.  Touring with those bands is the very definition of a road test. I think we only had three off days, and one of those was because our van broke down in Alabama.  When he came out of the other end of that trip and was still down to join, we knew we had our guy.  We had five of the eight songs on “Birth Control” written when Dan joined, and our old drummer Mike Howard helped him with learning those.  Once Dan got the basics down, he still made slight changes here and there, and he wasn’t shy at all about taking part in the creative process for the three songs we wrote with him. He even brought a couple of guitar riffs to the table.

MMM: You and Mike remain the core of the band that’s pretty much been there from the start. What’s your creative relationship like? Is one of you more the primary force behind the songs? Is it fairly collaborative?

JD: It’s really easy writing with Mike. He’s always got a cool riff or two to work on, so I gotta tip my hat to him there.  Most times the writing is collaborative, sometimes it’s not. It all depends on what the song wants.

MMM: I’ve always heard a lot of Black Flag, Nirvana, and Unsane in your music, but it seems even more so on “Birth Control.” And certainly in an organic absorption way. Are those influences of yours? 

JD: Yeah, absolutely.  Those are a few of the bands that made me want to start playing music, so I’m stoked whenever we get the comparison.  The time we got compared to Godsmack, not so much. Haha.

MMM: On the other hand, and maybe it’s just me, but I sense something of a classic rock feel at times with the guitar work especially. Is that in there, or am I hearing something unintentional?

JD: The classic rock feel is in there. It’s awesome you’re hearing that, but it wasn’t necessarily intentional.  I think we’ve just evolved to the point where we feel more comfortable letting those influences show.  We started as a hardcore punk band in the vein of Tragedy and From Ashes Rise, and eventually we started to let the noise-rock stuff that we’re known for today work its way into the mix.  We were all raised on the classics, and there’s always plenty of Creedence and Zeppelin playing in the van when we’re on the road, so I guess it was only a matter of time.

MMM: The music on “Birth Control” still has that seething, shout-back personality. Concept aside, are these songs also personal?

JD: Even though we created a character and narrative for this album lyrically, we didn’t want to write some sort of all-out fantasy because that’s not the type of thing that’s ever worked for us. So it’s definitely coming from a personal place.  The lyrics I write are usually sarcastic, negative emotions filtered through my views of society, with a few cynical jabs at myself for good measure.

MMM: The song “Should’ve Worn Black” stands out lyrically. At one point there’s a line that goes, “God is dead, and so am I,” and later there’s a line, “Even empty, this town disgusts me.” These seem like wonderfully harsh sentiments. Please share the inspiration behind this one, if you don’t mind.

JD: That song is meant to be a reflection of someone who could only be happy in paradise if they knew their enemies were burning in hell.  At this point in the narrative, society has collapsed and our character is struggling to come to terms with being left behind, forced to survive in a world intended for his enemies.  I picked “Should’ve Worn Black” for the title as a way to describe the regret that type of person would feel when they realize their reason for being good may not exist.  I got in the mood to write the lyrics by thinking of the town where I grew up.  It’s a small pond with a lot of big fish that like to say, “Do you know who I am?” and aside from the little bit of family I still have there, it’s a place I wouldn’t mind never seeing again.  Even if everyone there disappeared, it would still bother me. That’s where the, “Even empty…” line comes from.  Mike wrote the “God is dead…” part from our discussions about the subject matter, and I think it does a great job of capturing the overall sentiment.

MMM: Closer “I Am the Corpse” sounds pretty morbid based on title alone, but the song is one of the more spacious arrangements on the record. What’s the idea behind this song, and why, musically, was it fitting to close the record?

JD: We decided to close the record with “…Corpse” because it has that big, drawn-out ending.  We held off on writing the lyrics until a good portion of the album’s music was written because we didn’t want the chronology of the narrative to affect the order in which the songs appear.  This last song lyrically is our character’s last thoughts just before death, so it’s still pretty morbid in that regard. Haha.

MMM: The band has had a long-standing relationship with Translation Loss. How has that arrangement worked out beneficially for the band? Certainly seems, from the outside, like a fruitful relationship.

JD: Definitely. Drew and Christian from TL have been a huge help.  They showed an interest in us even before we started recording our first full-length “Hungry for Nothing.” I don’t think that album would have gotten the amount of attention it did if it wasn’t for their support, and that’s been consistent throughout these past five years.  When Fight Amp first started, we played some West Philly basements with Drew’s band Balboa, so we already had a bit of a history together, and we were confident that signing with them was the right decision since they were coming from the same place as us.  Working with them has been a blast.

MMM: What does the band have planned as far as touring behind “Birth Control”?

JD: We’re doing the eastern U.S. starting in mid-October, hitting some festivals along the way, and we plan to keep that going as much as possible through 2013.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://translationloss.com/store.htm#package

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

Hooded Menace’s Pyykkö sheds light on horrific inspirations for ‘Effigies of Evil’

Finnish horror doom duo Hooded Menace have made a career out of crafting creepy, muddy songs that pay homage to cult movie classics. That shit that stinks up American movies houses each year? Not even in the ballpark of the films from which these guys draw their inspiration.

Their latest album “Effigies of Evil” goes down the same path as their previous works such as “Fulfill the Curse” and “Never Cross the Dead,” yet they managed to find a way to beef up their sound and make this hulking beast even more maniacal. We were very fortunate to have guitarist/bassist/vocalist Lasse Pyykkö answer some questions about the new record, their examination of vampires (real ones … not that “Twilight” shit), and how he and drummer Pekka Koskelo are enjoying their new relationship with Relapse after spending time with Profound Lore. Oh, and we asked him for some movie recommendations, so if you, too, are sick of this unimaginative “horror” that’s been forced down our throats, you have some answers.

Meat Mead Metal: The new record “Effigies of Evil” is getting ready to drop in the U.S. in September. How do you feel about the end results of the album?

Lasse Pyykkö: I have a very good feeling about the album. It turned out great. There´re more melodies and mid-tempos but it’s still just as devastating as ever. There’s still an unhealthy dose of down-tempo hammering to doom you to death. It’s our most varied and dynamic album to date. The production is also heavier than ever. Of course it’s a bit hard for me to be objective but I’m sure I could tell you if it was radically different. It’s not.

MMM: Seems fitting there would be new Hooded Menace music just as autumn arrives and people prepare for Halloween. Do you endorse people using your music to scare children who are shamelessly begging for treats?

LP: Of course! Turn it out loud and make the pumpkins explode! Let the horror prevail!

MMM: This is the band’s first release for Relapse. How did this relationship come about? Are you happy with the arrangement?

LP: After “Never Cross the Dead” we started getting offers from different record labels. All pretty good offers actually, mostly from well-respected labels, but in the end no one could really compete with Relapse. We have nothing against spreading our music to a bit wider audience if people want us. Apparently there is a growing interest, so it makes sense to have a bigger label to back us up, to grant us better circumstances and chances. Also we’re simply curious to see how it is to work with a label the size of Relapse. We’re devoted to our music, not to any scene, so being on a bigger independent label does not turn our guts. So far everything’s worked fine with them.

MMM: The band often has reveled in horror to make your brand of doom and death, but not exactly the mainstream stuff most people would know about. You guys always dig into the obscure and unknown stuff. What is it about that source material that gives you inspiration?

LP: The atmosphere. I think that’s what I like about those older horror movies. To me it’s usually more about the overall atmosphere than the plot. Gimme a gritty film with an eerie milieu with fog-shrouded graveyard and a castle, and that does it basically.

MMM: You’re tackling vampires with “In the Dead We Dwell,” and you even used clips from the film “Les Seviges de Dragula” for the intro. I assume you are fans of the Karnstein trilogy. True? What about this film made you want to dig into this topic to create this song?

LP: Yeah, I dig those movies! I think “Twins of Evil” is the best in the trilogy, and we wanted to write a song about it. To underline and tune the atmosphere of “In the Dead We Dwell,” we used a sample for the intro. I think it sounds fantastic on the faded-in guitar harmonies. We use samples quite sparsely, and this one seemed to work so well that we just had to use it. It’s not a filler but really adds up. Kinda sets the mood for the song.

MMM: Obviously vampires are now quite trendy in the U.S. — though not the type of vampires you guys are writing about. What do you think of the whole mainstream vampire treatment via stuff like “Twilight” and what it’s done to the genre? 

LP: It’s just commercial junk built around pretty faces. I block all this crap from my life so it doesn’t really bother me. There’re so many old vampire films to discover that I hardly pay any attention to what’s “hot” now in the genre.

MMM: There’s a callout to Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Vincent Price’s dialog from the film on “Crumbling Insanity.” Discuss this track and its inspiration and what about the story led you to want to shed light on it. Also, for the benefit of our younger readers, explain Price’s influence on the band and what he’s meant to horror throughout the years. 

LP: Well, we just wanted to write a song about this classic movie that was right up our alley. It’s just a great match, you know. I figured a sample from the film would be cool for the intro of the song. The one we ended up using was a perfect fit. Again, it really sets the mood. Musically it’s one of the standout tracks on the album. Justin at Burial Offerings is shooting a video for the songs as we speak. We´re really excited about it! The concept of the video is not based on “The Fall of the House of Usher” though.

Vincent Price… well, what can I say? He is one of the horror movie icons. Very charismatic and convincing in his roles. My first horror cinema recollection are Dracula films with Christopher Lee, but Price is right up there in the hall of fame of horror with Lee.

MMM: What movies are you guys currently obsessed with? Recommend some titles for our readers to expand their horror knowledge beyond PG-13-rated popcorn flicks.

LP: I´m always obsessed with “Robocop” and “Day of the Dead” Haha! Not that obscure stuff, but those are one of the films that have stuck for good since the teenager years. I just must watch them every once in a while. Recently I’ve been watching “Suspiria” (again!), “Prince of Darkness,” “Nightmare City,” “Deadly Blessing,” “Cry of the Banshee,” “The Creeping Flesh”… I’m not a “horror professor,” but I’ve always been fascinated by horror just as any headbanger that grew up in the 80s watching “Evil Dead,” “Bad Taste,” “Toxic Avenger” and such. I know people that are basically walking horror encyclopedias, and I’m not to be compared to them. Primarily I´m a songwriter and a music fan. Then come other interests like visual art, movies, etc.

MMM: Explain the band’s creative process. Are you both equally as involved in the creative process? Are one of you more of the creator than the other?

LP: I´ve written all the music so far, and this time our Canadian horror obsessed friends, Tanya and Kevin, wrote all the lyrics for the album. I’m very lazy with the lyrics. It’s not really my thing, but I try to contribute the little I can. I make a demo for every new song, send it over to Pekka, and we’ll take it from there. The demos are pretty complete with drum patterns and all, but of course Pekka adds some of his own touch to it.

MMM: Lyrically, do you all know going into making the record what you want to draw from, especially when it comes to films and stories? Or does that come when the song comes together?

LP: It varies. Sometimes there’s music waiting for the lyrics, and sometimes we’ve a bunch of lyrics waiting for the music to be written.

MMM: What kind of live actions do you have planned to support the album? Any plans for a U.S. tour?

LP: Right now it looks like the first show after the album is out will be Summon The Dead Madridfest in Madrid, Spain. That’s in November though so it might be that something will come up before it. We have already some plans for the next summer like a couple of good festivals and perhaps a little tour in Europe if things click, but that’s all I can tell you for now. No U.S. dates yet.

MMM: Ultimately, what do you hope people take away from “Effigies of Evil”? Would you be happy if people followed your source material as much as your music, or is that less of a concern?

LP: Well, I hope it would be a comprehensive experience to as many as possible. I mean, it’s not necessary to know those movies to enjoy the music, but it adds up if you are familiar with them. I’d like to think that for a fan of that sort of stuff the album will give more. But then again, to each his own. I’m not an elitist, and I’m just happy if people like the music. You don’t have to be a historian specialized in Viking era to like some of those Bathory albums, you know.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.relapse.com/hoodedmenace

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

Katatonia co-founder Nyström discusses ‘Dead End Kings,’ creative process, tour

Katatonia have been making incredibly moving, meaningful music longer than some of their fans have been alive. From their debut “Dance of December Days” to their breakthrough and well-honored “Brave Murder Day” all the way up to their great new record “Dead End Kings,” the band has been making timeless music that mixes elements of doom, metal, goth, and many others, and making a discipleship that likely would be willing to take up arms for them.

The band – including vocalist Jonas Renske, guitarists Anders Nyström and Per Eriksson, bassist Niklas Sandin, and drummer Daniel Liljekvist — sounds in excellent form on “Dead End Kings.” The music is melodic and elegant, there is both crunch and emotional heart, and it’s a very natural progression from 2009’s “Night Is the New Day.” We were lucky to get Katatonia co-founding member Nyström to answer some questions about the new record, the band’s creative process, and what, if anything, their status as genre legends means to them.

Meat Mead Metal: The new record is called “Dead End Kings.” What’s the meaning behind the title?

Anders Nyström:  It hints at the position we’re currently at in our lives and career. We’ve been going for more than 20 years now, which is a long time indeed. And because of that fact many people expect us to be more successful in terms of fame and fortune. What they don’t realize is that just keeping a band alive for 20 years is the achievement of success itself and also having the firm belief to follow your own vision without compromising and conforming to other people’s demands and expectations would make you a king in what people would just define as a dead end.

MMM: What was the creative process like for the album? Are these songs that have been in the works? Are they studio creations? Bit of both?

AN: Yeah it’s hard to draw a line between the writing and recording process. It’s all integrated into each other and that’s the way we like to work. It keeps this certain kind of magic to the whole workflow. Of course we always come up with fragments and ideas between albums, but we never sit on an entire album written long before entering the studio. The arrangements are always done as the last thing just before we dig into the studio time while many of the riffs themselves might have been written a long time ago, so I’d say the songs aren’t complete and finalized until we mix. A lot of things can and will happen in the studio. The gut feeling is mostly always right.

MMM: Much of the record seems like quite a natural progression from “Night Is the New Day,” yet there seem to be some heavier callbacks to earlier albums? Was that intentional to kind of visit different eras of Katatonia, or is that just how things came to be?

AN: I think the heavier elements seen on the album might be because I wrote more than I did on “Night Is the New Day.” Jonas usually writes more in the lush, almost folky melodic vein, and I write more direct and heavy. It’s this blend that makes a great Katatonia album come together and adds a long-lasting variety and rich dynamics to it.

MMM: Melody certainly always has been a major trait for Katatonia. How deliberately does the band pay attention to making sure the songs have strong melodies and parts that stick with the listener?

AN: It’s the whole key element basically, it’s what will leave an impression and make you remember a song, but we work a lot on avoiding the cheesy generic hooks, and we’re also tripping the melodies as sometimes the “less is more” outshines complex work. We don’t want our melodies to sound too obvious. I don’t like when people can guess the exact note after another like an obvious pattern, which is easy to do with most songs being played on the radio. You know what’s gonna happen, and it doesn’t need your attention. Our melodies should have a few unexpected turns mixed with the hooks. That’s what makes the difference between a stone and a diamond. Major and minor chords also play a dramatic role for the climax of the song.

MMM: As noted, despite the songs that have more of that “Night” feel, you guys have tossed in some barbs. Something like “Buildings” and “Dead Letters” are much grittier and more aggressive. What inspired these songs?

AN: It could very well be that the live performance scenario kinda subconsciously rubbed off on me while I wrote those two songs. I think they’re gonna be pretty awesome to perform live ‘cuz you gotta love the grit!

MMM: You worked with Silje Wergeland of the Gathering on “The One You Are Looking for Is Not Here.” What about her fit this song? Was this written with her in mind?

AN: No the song was written before we made up our minds to invite a guest singer. It was while listening to the demo it just dawned on us we needed another tone in the vocals to color the chorus and also the little backing theme in the verse. So we joked about being called a “gothic metal” band for 20 years and not even having had female vocals at any point, so here was a perfect moment to embrace it. I love the outcome, and I hope we can perform it live with Silje sometime.

MMM: Considering the creative shifts and turns Katatonia have gone through over the course of the band, do you ever worry you could lose longtime fans if you go too far away? Or do you simply just follow your heart and do what’s right for the band? Is there a happy medium?

AN: I never ever worry about losing a listener. If I’d keep that concern in a corner of my mind as I compose music I’d be deceiving myself. Katatonia’s vision, whatever it is, has to lead the way, everyone else such as ourselves, the label, the fans, the media, yeah, the whole goddamned wheel just has to spin and follow where that goes.

MMM: You have worked a long time with Jonas as a creative partner in Katatonia. What’s your creative relationship like? Do you still surprise each other?

AN: I think the importance is that we agree and think alike on artistic decisions, but we do not necessarily take the same route to get there, and how we reach the goal and that’s what defines Katatonia and the labor is what turns into the albums. We both love writing music. I think these days we both consider ourselves songwriters more than him just being “the vocalist” and I’m being the “the guitar player.” When we write songs we do it for all instruments, and we’re also the two people that produce our albums, so we’ve a lot of cards to play and occasionally we surprise each other by shedding different light on common ground.

MMM: Doom metal certainly seems to have spiked in interest in the States, and many bands cite Katatonia as a major influence. Do you guys ever take time to think about your legacy? What does you longevity and influence on the genre mean to you?

AN: It’s always flattering when you hear another band cite Katatonia as a major influence, but I find it pretty difficult to put into context of our legacy. To me, I’m still just that kid who wanted to play guitar and be in a band and I’m busy travelling the road still discovering and exploring things myself.  We’re ALL just fans at different stages on the ladder.

MMM: Out on tour with another landmark doom act in Paradise Lost. Did you pick them for this tour, or was this package determined by other forces? What will it be like to share a stage with them in America?

AN: It was Andy Farrow, our manager, who put the package together, as all the bands on the bill are actually under the same management. I think the bill is amazing! I know a lot of people who would have killed for this line-up to come to Europe as well, so all you Americans should consider yourselves lucky. I know I do!

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.theomegaorder.com/KATATONIA-Dead-End-Kings_2

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

Krallice continue to morph beyond black on complex stunner ‘Years Past Matter’

Striking out on your own can be a dashing, bold adventure. There are a lot of risks at hand, and you only have yourself to fall back on as you strive toward your goals. A lot of people mess this up and try to do it too soon, before they’re ready, while others know just when to strike and get on their way.

In this era of all-encompassing internet access and falling record sales, if you have the means to do things yourself, why not try it? Other bands have self-financed their creations through various means or are just big enough to go and do what they need to, and it’s not even necessary anymore to come up with a physical product. So many listeners are digital-only consumers that all you need to do is put your album up on a Bandcamp site, for example, name a price or fix a particular amount on it, and you’re off, with you having pretty instant access to how many people are interested in buying. Or they’ll just rip you off. Even someone like comedian Louis CK realized he’d gotten to a point where he didn’t need a middle man and could organize and sell a tour on his own. Now every comic under the sun is trying it.

Ever since their full-length debut dropped in 2008, NYC black metal experimentalists Krallice have been blowing minds, generating a fan base, and accumulating critical acclaim. That record was at the cusp of many other black metal artists deciding to branch out their ideals, and some could argue it was a powder keg for such expansion. Their music sounded nothing like anyone else’s, and now they’re to a point where they have a signature sound that others seem to copy or organically absorb. There’s a “Krallice sound,” and that’s a pretty big statement in this era of a billion bands and such limited creativity. The band, with Profound Lore as their label, kept at it, following up with 2009’s “Dimensional Bleedthrough” and 2011’s “Diotima,” and each effort found them sticking close to their foundation but stretching it more and more toward the stratosphere. It was fascinating to watch and hear them grow.

Now, with their fourth full-length effort in hand, the progress has taken some unexpected twists. Most significantly, as hinted in the introduction, Krallice no longer have the PF imprint on their CD/digital product and instead are self-releasing “Years Past Matter” (Gilead Media still will produce the vinyl version). The announcement was made that new Krallice music was imminent, and lo and behold, not long afterward, the promo arrived in my inbox. So if there was worry that doing things on their own would affect their profile amongst underground metal fans, those fears were forgotten quickly. People were talking. The other twist is the music has grown even more, getting as spacious and atmospheric as anything they’ve ever produced, and while the black metal tag still fits, it’s getting less and less accurate as time goes by. But don’t get me wrong: Krallice still rip your face. They just do it amongst the stars.

The four guys who make up the Krallice machine — bassist/vocalist Nicholas McMaster, guitarist Colin Marston (we visited his Dysrhythmia project yesterday), guitarist/vocalist Mick Barr, and drummer Liv Weinstein — sound as on their game as ever before. Their intricate melodies weave in and out of these songs, and there are sections of “Years Past Matter” that are flat out mesmerizing. One of my weirdest listening experiences with this record — and I’ve had many — was while cutting my lawn. Over the engine, I could mostly just hear the melodies and overall structure, rather than the minute details, and it was amazing just how emotionally captivating that part of the album really is. The other cool thing is how cosmic the songs and their stories are becoming, and it’s the first Krallice album that I prefer to hear specifically at night. The others, it didn’t matter as much, not that they weren’t great in their own rights. There’s just something about this one, the structures and the textures, that makes me want to look at the stars while digesting the pummeling.

If you’re looking for song titles with deep meaning and introspective phrasing, this is the one area where you may be disappointed. The opening cut is “IIIIIII,” the second and third are “IIIIIIII” and so on and so on. If you accidentally listen to this album on shuffle on your iPod, prepare to be fully perplexed. So, in the interest of not confusing you or myself, we’ll just address these songs by first track, second track, etc. So, the first track has a gazey intro and eventually becomes jerky and quaking, with rough/harsh vocals, some chugging and proggy tempos, a nice thick bassline, and a finale that burns out in noise. Second cut starts deliriously, with screamier vocals, some utter chaos in spots, and an epic guitar line built into the piece that will invade your head. Guitar lines like those are your hooks on this album, and they come up with a good deal of them, like the one that erupts out of the third track. The parts are tricky, yes, and obviously quite complex, but there’s something about them that sticks to the inside of your head. I, for one, keep humming them back to myself throughout the day.

The fourth track has some emotional, dark melodies swimming throughout. There’s a murkiness and emptiness there, like the music is expressing some sort of loss, and that leads toward some reflective passages and an eerie close that sets this song apart from the rest. Clean playing and misty atmosphere open the fifth cut, before tidal waves rock the shore, some calls to classic thrash metal emerge, and maniacal vocals spill forth. The words turn to growls, the band explores all kinds of musical terrain, and nothing stays in one place for long. The sixth cut is more an interlude, a bridge between the fifth track and the epic, majestic closer, the longest of the bunch and one that really runs the gamut of what Krallice do well. Pretty much everything is here, from astonishing guitar lines, to panic-inducing playing, to glorious melody lines, to barked vocals. It’s one hell of an exhausting finish to a record that demands a lot of you as a listener but also repays you many times over.

Krallice are celebrated with such vigor for a reason. You couldn’t just throw four guys in a room and get them to come up with what this band creates. This is a unique, ever-evolving band that never seems to repeat themselves. “Years Past Matter” is getting them closer to a more accessible sound, but it’s still a mind fuck enough to keep their longtime fans happy. This is a really nice piece of work, one that should keep Krallice in the discussion of today’s most intriguing and creative bands. The fact that they’re taking these risks alone should wind up being a positive with material this cutting and powerful.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://krallice.bigcartel.com/

Or here: http://krallice.bandcamp.com

To buy the vinyl, go here (not up yet; keep checking back): http://www.gileadmedia.net/store/

Dysrhythmia’s ‘Test of Submission’ has soaring adventures that demolish necks

I’m not the type that needs heavily motivated when there’s a job at hand. Especially if it’s a big one, because I kind of want to dig in, make a game plan, and strike so that progress can be made. To do otherwise would feel like neglecting a duty, and that would build up in the back of my head like a giant pit of guilt.

But working through large quantities of work sometimes is a little tough to tackle. For example, this week I had a major project to battle and a very limited window in which to get things done, and also working against that is the impending vacation and my anticipation of that event. So yes, I want to get this work done, and done right, so I can go away knowing I did everything I could to keep the gears moving, but I also want to think about having time away where the only worry will be how many beers I’ll have that evening. So it can be tough, in that situation, to keep focused, which is something I absolutely have to do.

It always seems the right kind of music or the proper band falls into my lap — figuratively, quite obviously — just when I need it, and this week, as I struggled to balance deadline pressure with beach pleasure, I got to working alongside the prog/death/math/what-have-you instrumental warriors Dysrhythmia. We haven’t heard from the band since 2009’s “Psychic Maps” (which was released on Relapse), and the dudes who make up the band have been pretty busy with other projects. Bass whiz Colin Marston has been making various noises with Krallice (::cough:: stopbacktomorrow ::cough::) and on the upcoming new Gorguts album; guitarist Kevin Hufnagel also has been busy with Gorguts as well as Vaura; while longtime drummer Jeff Eber appears to have had his head simply with this project.

The band’s sixth album finally has arrived in the form of “Test of Submission,” and they’ve jumped from Relapse to the mighty Profound Lore, where they kind of seem like an oddball addition to a pretty eclectic roster. But standing out never has been a bad thing, and their inclusion there certainly makes sense. Also, much like Profound Lore’s artists’ reputation, this album is a powerful force, one that’ll require you to visit many times to fully explore all the peaks, valleys, and neck-jerking turns, and if you’re like me and need some music to keep your brain going and functioning, these guys certainly have what it takes to deliver that boost.

Two bands stood out to me when listening to “Test of Submission”: Pelican in their earlier, hungrier days, and modern-era Rush, who seem to have discovered a new level of experimentation and fresh synergy that has kept them one of the most vital legendary acts going. The songs here are not necessarily brutal and punishing, though Eber certainly knows when to kick out some well-timed blasts, such as on “The Madness of the Three” and “Like Chameleons,” an otherwise atmospheric, chilled-out number that eventually combusts. But for the most part, the band hits on interesting melodies, sci-fi influenced, instrumental storytelling, and unpredictable transmissions that, every time you think you know where the guys are headed, they change the scenery and the tempo. That’s a major reason it was a big boost to a hectic work week.

The albums opens with “In Secrecy,” a song that delves into crazy right off the bat, with Marston channeling Geddy Lee, the guitar riffs going both gritty and melodic, and the stage being set for what follows. The title cut blows in jazzy prog, and the band finds a scary, machine-like precision, but there’s an essence of humanity to it too, never allowing themselves to be overcome by their ability. “The Line Always Snaps” has an exploratory opening, eventually running into some indie rock-style guitar chugging from Hufnagel, and “Running Towards the End” picks up seamlessly from there, with some really riveting, peculiar tempos, a little bit of doom crunch, and a wave of emotion.

“In the Spirit of a Catastrophe” gets off to a jerky start, stays pretty punchy throughout its duration, and also has that propulsive Rush vibe, with Eber eventually going batshit on his kit as the song reaches its conclusion. Aforementioned “Madness” and “Chameleons” both have violent outbursts built into them, but elsewhere on these tracks, there are moments of true accessibility, where someone intimidated by their astonishing instrumentation finally can calm down and understand the bigger picture. Closer “in Consequence” is more than seven minutes of science-lab-meets-playground chicanery, and they throw just about everything they have in a cauldron, from mystical clean guitar work to some mellow slide play to the gazey doom that brings the album to its raucous conclusion.

Dysrhythmia never fail to capture the imagination with their prowess and invention, but even after the initial shock of their music wears off, there’s a lot of meaty depth underneath to dig into to satisfy your pangs. These guys continue to shape-shift with each effort, and they always sound like a band never satisfied with their boundaries and always willing to go as high as they can with every record. “Test of Submission” is right up there with the rest of the band’s catalog, and it might be go-to music this weekend if I need some mental stimulation while driving on turnpikes.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/plr-items/dysrhythmia-test-of-submission/

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

Assembly of Light’s debut might sound lovely, but it has a doom-infested center

There long has been a discussion as to what constitutes punk rock. Is it a particular sound? Is it an attitude? Is it a style of dress? Is it the societal and political ideals you hold? Is it some sort of combination of some or all of those things? Regardless, the debate has gone on for a long time, and everyone seems to have a different conclusion to this matter.

On that same line, what makes something or someone metal? In fact, there are so many subgenres, that there even are arguments as to what makes something black metal, sludge metal, doom metal, death metal. It’s a lot to talk about. It requires more than a white erase board. And no matter what one person will say or deem truly metal, another person is bound to vociferously disagree. Arguments ensue, people fight. It gets kind of stupid. There really are more important things we can worry about aren’t there?

I say all of this because today we will discuss the debut full-length from The Assembly of Light choir, an all-female choral ensemble that was put together in 2008 by Chrissy Wolpert that has gone on to make an unexpected dent in the metal world thanks to their stunning collaboration with two-headed doom beast The Body. The chorus opened The Body’s incredible 2010 opus “All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood” and went on to tour with the band, but they also performed in settings away from the confines of a wholly metallic audience. On the surface, sure, their art doesn’t sound very metal at all. It might be something your mom would really like. Please don’t read that as an insult. It just means what these ladies do can have a wide-ranging grasp into audiences no other metal band ever could hope to capture. They don’t sound dangerous and bloodthirsty. Their singing is quite pretty, and they are mesmerizing to hear when they blend their voices together.

But on this self-titled effort, the Assembly of Light, based in Providence, Rhode Island, do make an effort to marry both their choral and metal worlds together. Four of the six cuts are, indeed, primarily straight choral harmonies, but two of the songs have that ugly, ominous, surprisingly menacing edge thanks to help from Chip King from The Body and Alexis Marshall from Daughters providing their own twisted voices into the fray. In addition, members of Braveyoung and Work/Death also helped add thorns and horror into some of these pieces. It puts that element of doubt into your head that, while these ladies make such gorgeous, seemingly bright hymns, these pieces just as easily could be arias for Armageddon, the angelic choir one might hear weeping as humankind is charred to dust. Keep that in the back of your head at all times while listening.

Everything begins with a glimmer of hope, as organs drone in, bright and hopeful piano notes drop, and the choir leads the melody along its way. The song is a wonderful invitation into the rest of the album, most notably the next track … where the bottom drops on your chest. Dark cellos emerge, thick, hissing guitars spill in, and King wails like a banshee behind the otherwise comforting calls of the choir. It’s so mysteriously macabre that is might give timid listeners nightmares. Everything works together that well. “Treelight” is the most interesting cut on here, and it’s the most psychotic. Marshall takes lead vocals as the choir provides the stormy texture. On it, Marshall sounds like a man on the edge, wailing like his voice is being transported from a vacuum, and the shrieks that blend in at the end give the song the proper dose of everything falling to pieces.

From there, the storm clouds drift off, a few solitary sunbeams show through the clouds, and we’re off to the “Into the Woods” trilogy that closes out the album. Each segment of the song is connected to each other, and it sounds like the soundtrack of old souls crawling amongst the trees to claim an eternal resting place. The entire piece, built solely on the ladies’ voices, can sound mist-enveloped at times, sad, and startlingly straight-forward, like the third and album-closing piece of the triptych. It’s a delicate, somewhat comforting exit from this plane and onto whatever’s planned next.

One certainly could argue Assembly of Light have no place on a metal site. I steadfastly disagree, and while their music isn’t purely of the genre, their contributions to the doom scene and presence as powerful, bold performers should carve for them a place alongside the brutal and mighty. These ladies have stood in front of metal audiences, people who tend not to be the most open minded of people, and have brought their power. They are one of the most interesting and certainly unique group of artists out there, and they are pushing boundaries in ways most metal bands fear. This is a breath-taking, imaginative effort that you might find will break down the walls of your genre fiefdom with the power of a wrecking ball.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Assembly.of.Light.Choir

To buy the album, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/atalossrecordings/categories.php?cPath=719_721

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

Eagle Twin slither through doom filth on ‘The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale’

Certainly we all know the saying “seeing is believing.” Surely, we’ve all used it at some point to describe something we’ve heard is spectacular, terrible, otherworldly, whatever, but couldn’t really grasp until we saw or experienced the thing in person. A lot of people use that same line of thinking to explain their lack of belief in a religion or a god or a higher power or aliens or scientific theory.

That “seeing is believing” thing had a profound impact on me the first time I saw Salt Lake City-based duo Eagle Twin perform live. Before that, I had their first record “The Unkindness of Crows” on which to base my judgment, and while I was intrigued by the recording, there was a bit of a disconnect. I wasn’t quite sure about the throaty vocals, the compositions were really muddy but had a hint of something more beneath the surface, and the content certainly was pretty different from most other bands out there. I mean, the album title pretty much summed up what the songs were about.

Luckily, I caught the band before they opened for Sunn 0))) in Pittsburgh, and the experienced changed the way I felt about the record. The power and mystery and passion behind the music that I heard so many people describe, I finally felt and realized in person. The whole thing really sunk in at that moment, and the pieces fell into place. Next day, I listened to “Crows” again, and lo and behold, the record started to capture me. It still was weird and unconventional, but that started to become a positive. I was getting it. No other band sounds like Eagle Twin at all, their unorthodox artistry is something I’ve grown to appreciate and admire. Since my live journey with the band, I’ve had people hear the record over my shoulder or in my home and kind watched them furl their brow. Yeah, I was there before. Then I saw what I needed to see, and now I believe in it.

So it was with great anticipation that I greeted the band’s second record “The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale,” and just like their first, it didn’t fully register. But unlike their debut, this one unraveled quickly for me, and just a couple visits with this record, I was fully immersed, soul and spirit. This record is incredible, one of the best Southern Lord releases of the last few years, and every time I listen, I get more involved and more excited by what’s coming out of my speakers. It’s a gigantic step ahead.

The story itself spills over from the tragic conclusion to “Unkindness,” where the crows documented on that collection tried to battle the sun and were sent burnt back to earth. Now they take snake form, and the Eagle Twin fellows – guitarist/vocalist Gentry Densley, drummer Tyler Smith — take time to examine the role of serpents throughout time, in stories and human history. With the multiple references to Adam, the Garden of Eden comes into play as well as the Biblical assertion of sin into humankind. But there’s plenty more going on as well that looks at spiritual and mythical background of snakes, and it gives the whole thing an even darker, more sinister edge.

The album opens with the incredible “Ballad of Job Cain” parts 1 and 2 that sprawl over nearly 20 minutes and never fail to be anything but captivating. The songs are bluesy, doomy, and smoking, and Densley switches back and forth from a thick croon to a gravelly growl, depending on where he’s at in the story. My wife pointed out that the growls remind her of a mix of Tom Waits and Dr. Teeth from “The Muppet Show.” She doesn’t listen to metal, so let’s give her a pass on that one. “Lorca (Adan)” is based on a piece by Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, with the lyrics based on the English translation of that work, and musically they delve into Midwestern terrain. It sounds like they’re channeling Dylan Carlson and their soon-to-be-tourmates Earth and shows a whole different sonic side of the band. Here, the Book of Genesis-based fall from grace story is recalled in bloody detail in a way perhaps you haven’t heard before.

That theme also seems to spill into “Snake  Hymn,” where Densley, over bluesy riffs and searing drone, howls about “the snake in the garden” as the band then transcends to an incredibly emotional terrain. The song is flushed with color, as they imagine a paradise built on snakes, and it flows headlong into “HornSnakeHorns,” the record’s shortest non-instrumental track. This, too, hits a dusty trail, a Southwestern finish, and vocals that are yowled with character and expression. It sinks into doomy tar and eventually bleeds into interlude “It Came to Pass the Snakes Became Mighty Antlers,” a thorny, pushy scene-setter. Closer “Epilogue, Crow’s Theology” begins mystically before settling into a slow-driving pace with guitars that hang like a haze, thick, burly riffing, and at the end, a solitary drum beat that closes the book on our tale.

Eagle Twin already had built a nice level of respect in the underground metal scene, but this one should wake up anyone who’s been asleep on this band. “The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale” is a record that catapults Eagle Twin from an intriguing doom-based band to one that’s about to become a major and unique force. This record still is one that may take some people unfamiliar with the band some time to understand. Once you do, the venom sets in and you’re finished. That’s a good thing, by the way.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php?dept=MCH

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

Southern Lord breaks deeper into crust, digs up Oiltanker, Nuclear Death Terror


I’m going away soon, something that’s been planned since winter. It’s so close now, I can practically taste it. As a result, time’s going really slowly, and finding proper motivation is not exactly at its apex. So what to do?

Not much has worked, to be honest, and no matter what I do, my anticipation cannot be quelled. I, of course, tried a musical approach to help me along before vacation and relaxation take hold. But nothing’s really worked that well. I have a ton of upcoming releases I’ve been anticipating that have helped a little, but I can’t formulate proper thoughts about them yet. I’ve tried spacious material hoping that it would take my mind elsewhere and let me tackle more intellectual things. That’s been for naught. I’ve even gone back to some old albums, some all-time classics to see if that could get my mind on the music and not seven days of luxurious craft beer. Nope.

The closest I’ve come to breaking through the doldrums of pre-vacation jitters has been some fiery hardcore. I admit, I’m not the biggest fan of that genre in the world. I like it, don’t get me wrong, but I’m way more a metal dude. I grew up that way, and it’s something that’ll never be broken. But for some reason, the raucousness and fury has worked the best — though not perfectly — for helping me get on with things and muscle through the days I have left before I can turn off my brain, recharge my batteries … and drink hundreds of gallons of beer.

Southern Lord, which practically operates as a hardcore label these days, had a hand in helping. They have a few new releases in this realm coming at you, and two in particular have kept the meager fires going in my heart as the finish line comes into focus. I’ll go over the other ones we don’t discuss today at the end, and there’s no problem with those releases at all. As noted, not having hardcore in my blood, four new albums from that genre is a fuck of a lot for me to absorb at once. So these are the two that moved me the most, though there certainly is merit behind the others.

Both Oiltanker and Nuclear Death Terror (one of my favorite new band names, and not to be confused with the legendary Extreme Noise Terror) are a part of the Lord’s efforts to shed a light on the crusty underground scene that doesn’t get a whole lot of love by too many labels. Yes, you have your Deathwish your A398 and whatnot, but it seems all the shitty glossy crap is all anyone wants to discuss in magazines. Southern Lord’s taken a little bit of heat in places for sort of transforming what they do and going more after hardcore, but at least what they uncover is worthy, especially for someone like me who doesn’t care to dig too deep.

We’ll start with Oiltanker, who hail from Hartford, CT. Wait, a band from Hartford makes something this nasty and destructive? Look, it may not seem like hardcore heaven, but I’ve been there before and hated every moment of my trip. Maybe they do too. And maybe I’m just a jerk. The band boasts a D-beat fury, a sound that pays some homage to traditional hardcore, and a social/political platform that’s not uncommon in this genre but certainly hits hard this time of year as we’re slandering and libeling each other on our way to selecting our presidential choice.

This limited-pressed disc is called “Shadow of Greed/Crusades” for a damn good reason. The collection is a compilation of their “Shadow of Greed” LP along with their “Crusades” 7-inch, thus the crafty album moniker. With this package, you get 16 songs that blast by in 32 minutes, and you get almost no downtime to take a breath. The pace is punishing and nasty, the vocals are damn near infernal, and the whole thing is delivered with unbridled aggression.

The quartet hits hard on tracks such as “Who’s in Control,” that even has a bit of slide guitar mixed in for texture; “The Circle Complete,” that has tasty pockets of old-school thrash; “By Death or By Force,” a track that really needs no further explanation. “Suffer” also has some thrashy goodness but also folds in some catchy, meaty guitar riffs; “Crusades” is fast and unforgiving; and “Plagued” is total devastation, with mangled vocals, searing guitar leads, and smoke rising from the ashes. This is a really satisfying collection that, had the Lord not released it, I may never have heard. Glad things didn’t happen that way.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Oiltanker/178083802211595

Nuclear Death Terror

Nuclear Death Terror is more my thing, as they go the Entombed/Discharge route and even mix in some thrash metal influences along the way. So yeah, I dig it because it sounds more metal to me, and this Danish band is one I’m certainly going to explore further now that I’ve gotten familiar with “Chaos Reigns.” This is similar to the Oiltanker album, as it’s a compilation, but it’s made up of tracks taken from some of the band’s vinyl releases. That said, these songs all fit together quite well, and it never has that feeling of a best-of, and I’ve spent the most time with this than any other release I’ll mention here.

“Chaos Reigns” is an excellent title for this record for two reasons. First, complete, utter decibolic fury goes on here, and I’d imagine this would translate into a rather violent live display. Second, the word “chaos” appears quite frequently in the lyrics, so it makes for kind of a theme for these tracks. “Crisis” opens the collection on a growly, monstrous note, leading toward other hellacious cuts such as “Collapse,” that has some nice shout-along parts that make me think of the thrash connection; “Descent,” the song where the album title is actually shouted and that even has some slick rock and roll guitar work weaved into the pattern; “Devolve to Submission,” a crushing song with words that are practically spat out; “Chaotic Alliance,” where more metallic stabs enter the fray; and their awesome cover of Celtic Frost classic “Morbid Tales,” complete with that shrill opening scream that should make Tom G. Warrior blush.

If you’re more on the metal edge of metallic hardcore, Nuclear Death Terror may be more to your liking than Oiltanker. That’s certainly the case with me, as I prefer their thrashy riffs, forceful growls, and crusty crunch. This actually has inspired me to pull out records from some of their influences as well, something I always find satisfying.

For more on the band, go here: http://nucleardeathterror.blogspot.com/

As noted, there are more hardcore-based records ready for your dollars courtesy of the Lord. There’s a brand new Poison Idea reissue compilation in the form of “The Fatal Erection Years (Pick Your King)” that follows last year’s “Darby Crash Rides Again.” Nice history lesson here, kids. Milwaukee’s metallic hardcore heroes Enabler have their new record “All Hail the Void” out on SL imprint, and it’s righteous, catchy, and sarcastic. Find links to all the rest of the bands below, as well as where to buy their records. Now shut up and let me go think about beer.

For more on Poison Idea, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Poison-Idea/60605554861?ref=pb

For more on Enabler, go here: http://www.enablermke.blogspot.com/

To buy any of the albums above, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php

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

A Forest of Stars are theatrically weird, strong on ‘Shadowplay for Yesterdays’

Weirdness in music doesn’t bother me at all. Actually, I encourage weirdness in just about everything, except for eating habits and anything that involves things being kept sanitary. Everything else is fair game. So when I get a record by a band that doesn’t exactly go by the book, that’s generally a good thing.

That doesn’t mean what I’m going to hear is going to get a gold star necessarily. For example, as much as they are heralded by so many people, I just can’t fully get with Peste Noir. I get what they’re trying to do, it’s really bizarre, it makes me listen the entire time, but usually once their albums end, so does my interest. On the other hand, Palace of Worms and Wrnlrd are really unconventional projects with music that comes at you from so many different points, but while they’re very ambitious and not afraid to bombard you, I find that the end results really work. I follow everything that both projects produce.

That brings us to the U.K.’s wonderfully theatrical A Forest of Stars. Actually, formally their name is A Gentlemen’s Club A Forest of Stars, and the membership includes female members, but let’s just go with the shortened handle since that’s the one on the spine anyway. I’ve had my ups and downs with this band that claims they hail from the 19th Century and takes on names and patterns of dress to boot. It’s all in good fun, and while unabashedly over the top, their albums keep me interested while I’m visiting. My reaction to their work, however, has been mixed, and I imagine it’s always going to be that way. But at least they’re not mundane and always have a ton of new tricks to pull out at every stop on their records. There is a TON going on at all times, and sometimes it can be overwhelming.

The crux of my issue always has been, always will be their charismatic, bleeding-heart vocalist Mister Curse, who sounds like a street thespian on crack cocaine. The guy, straight up, is a performer, and he throws every bit of himself into his performances. You never are left wondering if he’s into the material and the characters he assumes, and he is front and center of each piece, no matter how many instruments are layered into the production. My issue is with how crazed his voice comes off at times, because it can be unintentionally comical. It’s one of those voices that, if you exposed it to someone who doesn’t like metal and/or doesn’t take the medium seriously, probably would result in belly laughs. Mister Curse is a bizarre man, yet you can’t help but love him, even at times when he annoys you. Luckily on the band’s third record “A Shadowplay for Yesterdays,” he’s at his very best, keeping those moments that make you blush to a minimum and displaying just how engaging and effective he can be as a frontman. And a showman.

As for the rest of the band, they’re spirited, full of heart, and never afraid to mix raw black metal with folk passages, rustic scene-setting, carnival whimsy, and classic rock thunder. In fact, much like their frontman, the band never has been tighter, more focused, and more alive than they are on “Shadowplay.” There are times when their work here is astonishing, and you might be able to sit down someone who likes Bathory and Mayhem with someone into The Decemberists and have everyone walk away thrilled. That’s not easy to do.

“A Shadowplay for Yesterdays” is a concept piece, which you’ll figure really early on as the record opens up to you. The story here, quite loosely, is about a man who is at a sort of crossroads with himself. As the band puts it, he’s at a point where he’s struggling between virtue and a blasphemous self-destruction, and you’re left to decide what path the character takes as these tracks play out. It’s plain from the music and the song titles, the option of choosing a god or heading toward the confines of the church are not pleasing ones, so the latter seems to be the path of least resistance in his mind.

“Directionless Resurrectionist” sets the stage, as it’s an introduction piece that leads the way to “Prey Tell of the Church Fate,” an eerie, off-kilter song that is menacing and psychotic until the rest of the band takes the reins from Mister Curse and navigates through a thunderous prog rock wave. Actually, the band’s prog chops are stunning on this album, showing a true elevation of their capabilities in that style, and it’s what gives these songs their heart and soul. “A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh” is dramatic and sweeping, with rants and growls sprinkled amid sweeping guitars, acoustic treading, and some lovely contributions from Katheryne, Queen of Ghosts, who also provides lush strings and woodwinds. “The Blight of God’s Acre” lets Mister Curse take full command again, as he becomes the demonic storyteller in the vein of classic King Diamond. That all bleeds into “Man’s Laughter,” a cosmic, dreamy interlude that unfurls alien influences and leads into the second half of our tale.

“The Underside of Eden” is coarse and emotional, with Mister Curse taking on a David Bowie-esque demeanor. He howls, “God is dead, and dead is God!” at his theatrical best, almost as if manning a singular spotlight-lit stage, and the band blasts behind him with folk and metal. “Gatherer of the Pure” is just wacky, opening with farm animals squealing, and a sea chantey-style melody kicking up before it dissolves into psychedelic madness and noise. Toward the end, behind all that chaos, come group vocals that sound fitted for some twisted Disney production. “Left Behind as Static” is truly sad and isolated, with the main character wondering about his place in history and if it’ll simply dissolve into soundwaves. Meanwhile, the band takes time to touch upon just about every style they spill into each song. The dual “Corvus Corona” pieces stretch out to nearly 10 minutes, with the first half acting as a precursor and scene-setter for the second, that’s built on weird piano, harsh undertones, and the one spot where Mister Curse really goes overboard vocally. Closer “Dead Love” is a sobering, seething end to the story, with no one left a winner, and no positivity bubbling to the surface to send listeners home happy. Not every story ends happily, after all.

“A Shadowplay for Yesterdays” is a Forest of Stars’ most cohesive, enjoyable album to date, and it makes up for 2010’s maddening and frustrating “Opportunistic Thieves of Spring.” The band never has sounded better, and they’ve gone from an interesting troupe to a massive force of prog/black metal/folk goodness. And they should only get better. Mister Curse, he still frustrates at times, but he’s the perfect narrator for this tragic tale. This band, and this record, is not for everyone, and those not equipped to deal with ambitious, go-for-broke artistry might be terrified by what they hear. But that’s what makes this band so damn interesting. You might be baffled by what you hear, but you’ll be hard pressed to turn away.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.aforestofstars.co.uk/

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.prophecy.de/

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