Category Archives: By Genre

Favorite Metal(ish) Albums Of 2012

‘Tis the season for year-end lists of what everyone and their dog thinks are the best albums of the past year, as well as the incredibly pretentious and elitist mindsets that come with them. I’m not going to pretend I know what’s best for anyone, but I do know that there are definitely albums I enjoyed much more than others, despite some critical flaws in some of them. My tastes can be a bit whacky at times, but I’m pretty sure that there are at least a few people out there who will be curious to know what my favorites are, so I will be sharing them.

But not here.

Instead, I’ll be doing a series of posts over at Under The Gun Review that will double as a countdown to when we’re free of the holiday hell that is the month of December.

Because they’re happening one at a time, I’ll be posting the list as it goes live day by day over at UTG in list form here.

#25: RIITTIIR by Enslaved (read it)
#24: Results by Murder Construct (read it)
#23: Awakened by As I Lay Dying (read it)
#22: Ex Lives by Every Time I Die (read it)
#21: Failed States by Propagandhi (read it)
#20: Eremita by Ihsahn (read it)
#19: Dead End Kings by Katatonia (read it)
#18: Les Voyages De L’Âme by Alcest (read it)
#17: Autotheism by The Faceless (read it)
#16: All Hail The Void by Enabler (read it)
#15: Legend by Witchcraft (read it)
#14: Death Is The Only Mortal by The Acacia Strain (read it)
#13: No Matter Where It Ends by Black Sheep Wall (read it)
#12: Book Burner by Pig Destroyer (read it)
#11: Parallax II: Future Sequence by Between The Buried And Me (read it)
#10: Monolith Of Inhumanity by Cattle Decapitation (read it)
#9: Incongruous by Beneath The Massacre (read it)
#8: All We Love We Leave Behind by Converge (read it)
#7: CVI by Royal Thunder (read it)
#6: Danza IIII: The Alpha – The Omega by The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza (read it)
#5: Hasta La Muerte by Xibalba (read it)
#4: A Flash Flood Of Color by Enter Shikari (read it)
#3: Yellow & Green by Baroness (read it)
#2: Koloss by Meshuggah (read it)
#1: L’Enfant Sauvage by Gojira (read it)

Xibalba – Hasta La Muerte [Review]

There’s a saying that goes “slow and heavy wins the race” (or something like that). Southern Californian band Xibalba have definitely practiced this mantra for quite some time now, as evidenced in nearly every song they’ve released in their somewhat short history as a band. More evidence of this is provided in their forthcoming sophomore album Hasta La Muerte, being released via Southern Lord on August 14, 2012 (just one year after Southern Lord released their first album, Madre Mia Por Los Dias).

When considering a band’s relative heaviness, anyone who has listened to a considerable amount of heavy music can tell you that it’s not simply tuning down your guitars, adding lower strings, and playing lower notes. Tone, texture, and songwriting are what take low notes and turn up the density meter. Xibalba get this. Guitars churn, drums thunder, vocals roar and together they create a terrifying cacophony meant to convey pure, unadulterated intensity. And it works. Swapping between sludge/doom noise passages and pure hardcore beatdown sections with the ideal balance between loose and tight playing, Xibalba have achieved a truly oppressive level of heaviness on Hasta La Muerte, and are unrelenting when wielding such heaviness.

Unfortunately, such unrelenting heaviness has led to an album that feels a bit one-dimensional in nature. Not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for anything that isn’t a blend of hardcore and sludge/doom metal to the heaviest degree you’re basically out of luck. Saved from being a disaster by songwriting and sequencing, the most interesting tracks and moments on the album are spaced out enough so that you don’t get bombarded with an overwhelming amount of sameness song after song. Hasta La Muerte is also definitely not for people who have disdain for slow-developing albums as there are a lot of slow, noisy, drone-esque sections throughout the album, especially between the meat of tracks.

Lyrically, Hasta La Muerte is incredibly real and personal, touching on a litany of grief and strife in day-to-day life. Most of the lyrical content pulls no punches, lines such as “I found peace in darkness, and comfort in solitude. There’s no love or feeling in this broken home.” clearly being designed for impact and realness. Opening the song “Stone Hearts” we get a glimpse of the best Xibalba’s lyrics have to offer: “Stone hearts are hard to break. Pound away, try to break me down. Stone hearts will never change.
Cast away, in rubble I’ll remain.”

As an album, Hasta La Muerte is monstrous. From the first drum hits and sustained guitars are a constant barrage of musical haymakers not for the weak-willed. Loud, thick, raucous and relentless: the word “punishing” is perhaps used too often by the metal community at large, but it is certainly applicable here. Almost seemingly imperfect by design, Hasta La Muerte just feels right the way it is. To quote a song from the album, “I never seem to do things right, but it sure feels right.”

Track picks: “Laid To Rest” and “Stoneheart”
Score: 8.5/10
For fans of: Black Sheep Wall, Disembodied, Crowbar

I’ve included a Spotify player here for folks who want to check these dudes out. Which should be all of you.

Suffer The Destroyer – The Silent Majority [Review]

Suffer the Destroyer is a relatively new hardcore/metalcore/deathcore/mosh band from Boston. I wish I could tell you that I know exactly what style or genre of mosh-heavy music Suffer The Destroyer would be most closely associated with, but I can’t. In any case, they’ve played a handful of local gigs, recorded a six song EP called The Silent Majority, and are now scheming to take over the world (or so I assume).

The Silent Majority really fills more of a demo role than an actual EP, as the recording quality is pretty rough. While there are plenty of criticisms about the recording quality, they’re not really important in the grand scheme of this demo, especially considering it’s plenty good enough to hear all the instruments and what’s going on, as well as being decently mixed. What the recording quality does give you, though, is a good indicator at how well the band performs (there really isn’t any “studio magic” to be found). It also helps to capture the band’s energy without the assistance of bass drops (and thank goodness for that).

Musically, The Silent Majority is a rather odd mix of metalcore styles that range from mega-heavy beatdowns to melodic bridges. There’s some pretty original-sounding riffs and vocal lines, but also a few “tried-and-true” riffs scattered throughout the demo. Even more, there were a couple of musically surprising elements, such as the thick bass groove driving a section of gang vocals smack in the middle of “Iconoclast” right before it gets back to the circle-pitting verse. You’ll find groovy riffs, gang vocals, circle pit chugs, spacey guitar licks, brutal beatdowns and everything in between on this twenty minute demo.

As a demo, The Silent Majority is about everything you could ask for. It shows the versatility and musical interests of the band, isn’t too long, and actually has a couple of solid songs. If you’re looking for much more than that, you’re not really going to find that here. I have no doubts, however, that the next release from Suffer The Destroyer will bring the heat on another level.

In any case, you might as well download it and give it a spin. It is free, after all. Check it out below:

Obzerter – Absence of Colour [Review]

Obzerter - Absence of Colour

Remember a time when Static-X was actually a good metal band? Well, it’s a bit of a stretch, but at least they were halfway decent and interesting on their first couple albums with whatever style of music you’d pigeon-hole them into. Now imagine if they actually WERE a pretty good metal band, now wouldn’t that be something?

Enter UK-based band Obzerter. About a decade since Static-X’s last decent album (Machine, for those not keeping track), Obzerter has decided to build their throne on top of the foundation they built, and a mighty (albeit short) throne it is. It comes in the form of a five-song EP called the Absence of Color EP. It’s a rather lengthy EP, clocking in at just a pinch over thirty minutes (which is longer than the full album I had as my number one selection in 2008, for comparison’s sake).

While vaguely reminiscent of Static-X on the vocal front, continuing this weak comparison does Obzerter no justice at all. I would also imagine it’s just a huge coincidence that the vocal stylings on this EP are very similar to Wayne Static’s at times. It also does the band no justice because I’m sure there aren’t many people that feel as fondly as I do about Static-X’s first two albums.

Absence of Color is a fairly fresh amalgamation of a lot of very distinct styles of American metal. There’s a distinct feel of the “New Wave Of American Heavy Metal” in there with the amount of groove found in each song (even though they’re from London). Tempo changes, different styles of licks and riffs, this album has a lot of stuff on it. Even with the breadth of material this album has, it only loosely fits under the “progressive metal” umbrella.

The production is about what you can expect from an unsigned band recording an EP. It’s not terrible by any means, and the rawness really brings out the ferocity in a lot of the riff and vocal pairings.

Though it’s not the bet EP I’ve ever heard, it at the very least peaks my interests in what’s next for the band. It shows a ton of promise, so long as they can keep the pace. They’ve got plans to re-record Damage and prepare for a second EP. Check out “Absence of Colour” below and share your thoughts below!

The Summoned – If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures [Review]

If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures is the debut full-length from Massachusetts-based extreme metallers The Summoned, and is currently unreleased (perhaps more news to come on that in the future).

The Summoned belong to the group of bands that play a style of music that borders itself along death metal and grindcore (but isn’t really deathcore). Clocking in at only 33 minutes, it’s a bit of a short album, but very dense in musical content. There are lots of really nice guitar licks, pace changes, etc. combined with Steve’s excessively brutal vocals. Deciding to not go the route of bands like Suffocation and Skinless, the vocals are not usually at the lowest of lows. Instead, the vocals mostly sound more like mid-range screams than growls–and they pack a ton of fury.

Easily the best part about If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures is the consistently high level of guitar work. While they aren’t constantly noodling, the riffs, licks and solos are always interesting. The somewhat atonal licks in “Anatomy Of A Bar Fight” show just how strong of a grasp this band has on quality guitar parts that stray from the path just a bit. You even get to hear that they have a good ear for melody and tasteful guitar playing on the track “The Flood” with some solid guitar solos dropped right in the middle of that track.

Most of the album is straight to sixth gear, outside of the very somber guitar interlude track “Space Was…” which only lasts for a minute and is followed by what could be the gnarliest track on the album “Space Is…” which is filled with mid-tempo blasts, pinch harmonics, and harmonized guitar licks.

From start to finish you get the feeling that If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures is totally unrelenting. At every point where it feels like there’s a down moment it lulls you into a false sense of security until you get fully-harmonized riffs forced with fury down your throat. Backed up by an extremely tight rhythm section, the very few breakdowns on this album are neither boring or stereotypical, adding another dimension to an already outside of the box style.

As a debut record, there’s not a whole lot you can ask from a band who went the DIY route, except maybe for more of it. Certainly a very interesting listen, if there’s one thing you won’t be while listening to If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures it’s bored. It’s hard to say where exactly the band might go from this release, but more of the same would absolutely be welcomed.

Song choices: “The Flood” and “Anatomy of a Bar Fight”

Overall score: 8/10 devil horns

The Ciem Show – Lifelike Scenes [Review]

When thinking of what the term “progressive” means in the metal world in 2011, it doesn’t really mean that the music it is attached to is really progressive, but rather that it fits into a certain sound or style loaded with technical proficiency. Bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X could be considered part of the reason for this. Some bands, however, are looking to atone for this watered-down meaning of the “progressive” label in metal.

Enter The Ciem Show and their 2010 release Lifelike Scenes. Sonically, the album might be able to find its home right alongside Dream Theater and Symphony X, but I’d be lying if I said that was the whole story. This album floats around through all sorts of metal styles; from the djent intro of “Scene II: Evolution Sickness: i. Existing Without Being / ii. Being Without Existing” to the melodically difficult “Scene V: Effects of Somnambulism” The Ciem Show aren’t afraid of mixing in whatever inspires them to their music.

Doom metal, power metal, heavy metal, djent: it’s all here in Lifelike Scenes. You even get a really good taste of the virtuosic playing that many prog-heads have come to love from their genre. The solo towards the end of “Scene VI: Theme for Lost Children” is fantastic, floating between jazz melodies and the heart-wrenching melodies found in some of the more somber heavy metal ballads.

There are really only two faults of Lifelike Scenes. First, the mixing makes it a bit difficult to hear and appreciate the intricacy of each of the instrumental layers on many of the songs. There are multiple instances on the album where the bass just becomes lost in the mix. The second is that the album just feels a bit short for a prog album, clocking in at only 36 minutes (seven songs).

Even considering the albums couple shortcomings, it’s still a great listen and worth checking out if you’re looking for some solid prog metal. You can pick the album up for free from The Ciem Show’s Bandcamp page. Let’s be serious, since you can get it for free, there’s no reason not to listen to it.

For fans of: Ayreon, Dream Theater, Symphony X

The Weekend Rant, Vol. 2: Being “trve” and “kvlt”

One seemingly ongoing and inexhaustible topic of arguments in the metal world is how the only “trve” black metal is the original black metal. I often notice that this argument is often used to castigate Dimmu Borgir and Abigail Williams fans (among others). I think old school and “kvlt” black metal is totally different from newer bands making it. Totally different circumstances and mindsets. I think both, musically, have equal merit but you cannot match the cultural implications of the earlier black metal bands in the early 90s in Norway, there’s simply no way. It is an inescapable truth that bands such as Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum, etc. are the bands that are often considered the pinnacle of black metal music, thus being considered the most “kvlt” or “trve” of all the black metal bands.

I don’t buy that whole “new bands can’t be trve” malarkey. It’s not like they chose to be starting their musical careers two decades after the movement they associate best with occurred. As long as they truly believe in what they’re doing, that’s as true as it gets. Sure, they might not come from a place and feel religiously oppressed by the people that wiped away their cultural heritage, but it doesn’t make their circumstance any less legitimate or meaningful.

There is, however, a scale of how traditional a band’s music is to the originators of black metal. Dimmu Borgir is the perfect band to illustrate this. In their early years, they were about as true to form to symphonic black metal as you could possibly be, their sound very much in line with some of Emperor‘s best albums. In recent years, since Death Cult Armageddon they have strayed from the traditional path to venture into more grand and symphonic arrangements and songs, forgoing some of the low-fidelity and ripping nature of their black metal predecessors. At that point, the black metal purists cried wolf. Apparently musical progression and deviance is taboo in the black metal world. I could draw a parallel to this mindset and that of the Christian mindsets that black metal once fought, but anyone who knows anything about black metal already can see that at this point.

What I find especially mind-boggling is that these stances are often taken by people who have absolutely nothing to do with the culture in which black metal originated, so their feelings of outsiders being unwelcome is absolutely unfounded. By stating that newer bands who aren’t from that specific era in can’t be considered “trve,” what does that mean for all of the black metal fans who are also not from that circumstance? Are they also not “trve?” It all seems just a small amount ridiculous to me. As far I can tell, the “trve” tag has come to just be a pedestal to promote elitism in metal, something I feel there needs to be a lot less of these days. It’s the only thing keeping metal from being a wildly successful genre of music.

Just think for a second, how these mindsets are stifling the metal world that is currently burgeoning with creativity. It truly breaks my heart. I hope we can all at least agree that Emperor is a great band. How about we just enjoy the video for “Empty” by Emperor?