Tag Archives: album review

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.

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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

Deicide – To Hell With God [Review]

To Hell With God is the tenth release by Tampa-based death metal band Deicide, and was released February 15, 2011 as the band’s first release under Century Media records.

Known as one of the original, best, and most brutal death metal bands in the history of the genre, Deicide have never ceased to assault and please ears with each new release. In their history the band has seen little transformation or deviance from their relentless sound, though the lineup changes post-2004 when the Hoffman brothers ceased their guitar-playing duties with the band. To many cries of “not as good as before!” Deicide have still managed to put out another album that’s stands true to the genre they helped pioneer.

There is but one unescapable truth regarding To The Hell With God: while it falls directly in line with the post-2004 releases it lacks a certain leaded fury that was delivered when Deicide enlisted the Hoffman brothers. Unlike many accounts I’ve encountered, however, I think this is both a good and bad thing. Let’s start with why this sucks. Deicide were most certainly one of the heaviest and most brutal bands that seemed to get as close as possible to the “over the top” mark into the “silly” territory, and seemed to be masters of doing so, but they’re no longer quite as close to that mark, almost as if they’ve let off the throttle a bit.

Outweighing the negatives of being heavy to the brink of silliness is that the production is leaps and bounds better than the band had once featured on their albums. Glen Benton’s vocals are perhaps the best they’ve ever been and you can actually hear them in the mix–as you can each of the instruments in the band. There is nothing lost amidst the overwhelming heaviness of the album that Deicide occasionally fell prey to. With this more modern sound for the band also comes a more modern style of death metal than perhaps diehard Deicide fans are used to, but it’s closer to the classic Deicide than Till Death Do Us Part and The Stench Of Redemption.

Quite literally, the only “fault” of the album is that it’s not exactly like the Deicide of old, but I’m not complaining. To Hell With God is a great album, and it is fantastic to hear a classic band staying relevant by bringing their creativity and influence to the table in order to help reshape the genre in which they were of the first contributors to. Song after song, album after album, Deicide continue to show us why they’re a deserving candidate for the throne of death metal king.

Song picks: “Empowered By Blasphemy” and “How Can You Call Yourself A God”

Score: 9/10 Devil Horns

Crowbar – Sever The Wicked Hand [Review]

Sever The Wicked Hand is the ninth album from New Orleans sludge metal legends Crowbar and was released on E1 Music February 14, 2011, the band’s first release in six years.

In the history of metal, there are only a few bands who can really be attributed with being pioneers and landmarks in their respective styles and Crowbar are just that. In the early ’90s Kirk Windtstein and company cemented themselves as the premier sludge metal band of the time. Even at their worst, they’re still as good as any band to ever make sludge metal (after all, the did help make the mold).

Sever The Wicked Hand is exactly in line with everything that you’ve come to know and love about Crowbar, except possibly a bit darker this time. Kirk’s concentrated and powerful vocal delivery over constant fuzzed-out guitar riffs. The flavor of this album is very slightly different than 2005’s Lifeblood of the Downtrodden; a slightly different sound is to be expected after six years and, aside from Kirk, a totally new lineup.

There’s not a lot of speed in this record, it’s as slow as ever. Many songs employ Kirk’s more sorrowful and semi-clean vocals with more slick (but still fuzzed-out) guitar licks. Don’t worry, for all of you that like the thick and thrashy chugged out riffs, they’re still there. In general, however, Sever The Wicked Hand is still an incredibly heavy album, just not in a modern headbanger sort of way. It’s a slow, marching, and deliberate heavy at most times that feels more like a classic Black Sabbath sort of heavy.

The most interesting part about this album, though, has nothing to do with the music or performance itself, but rather the production and mixing. It sounds totally unlike a vast majority of metal records nowadays, outside of maybe some of the more obscure black metal bands. It’s an incredibly heavy sound without having a ton of sound packed into the lower register, most of the meat of these tracks are on the mids and so you really get to hear the full effect of the fuzz. It almost sounds rough around the edges, but deliberately so. There aren’t any fancy bass drops to add extra emphasis on chord changes, it’s all natural kick.

As a whole, as I mentioned before, Sever The Wicked Hand is everything we’ve come to know and love about Crowbar, perhaps this time with a little extra sorrow embedded in its sound and lyrics.

Track picks: “Liquid Sky And Cold Black Breath” and “The Cemetery Angels”

Overall score: 9/10 Devil Horns

Annotations of an Autopsy – The Reign of Darkness [Review]

The Reign of Darkness is the second album from the English quintet Annotations of an Autopsy, a followup to 2008’s Before the Throne of Infection, and is released on Nuclear Blast records.

Among the clutter of the various metal sub-genres there lies a nice niche of bands that are a cross between deathcore and grindcore – no band embodies this better than Annotations of an Autopsy. This is known almost immediately after beginning the album when the first instrument you hear are the drums – a gut busting fill followed but a simple blast beat – then the rest of the troops fall into place. The grinding guitars and thick raspy voice follow behind the drums, and it sounds as though you’ve got a brutal death metal album on your hands. Then the tempo change, straight into the first beatdown of the album.

After you’re about three minutes into the album, you have pretty much heard the entire arsenal this band employs – the good news is that the limited arsenal does not hold the band back. All of the breakdowns are varied, the riffs never gets stale, and the drums are on point. By far the biggest letdown of this album are the vocals and lyrics. While Steve Regan’s (aka “Sewer Mouth”) enunciation is pretty phenomenal at times, he always sounds as though he has a mouth full of jello, or is simply gargling into the microphone. Every syllable of every word on this album sounds almost identical, and it becomes very repetitive and annoying.

Simplicity lends itself all to often to this style of music in terms of guitar work, but that is something Annotations of an Autopsy have decided isn’t really the best strategy to keep a listener’s attention. At times the guitar parts are very simple (see many of the verses), but when it is time for the guitars to step it up, the do so in a big way. Solos are not often a huge part of the more brutal metal styles, but this album has a few very tasteful and unique guitar licks and some very groovy riffs.

When taken as a whole, The Reign of Darkness is a pretty standard drag-you-through-the-mud deathcore/grindcore album that is not about taking prisoners or breaking boundaries. It’s a very humble album that knows what it does, what it wants, and how it’s going to do it. A solid second album from a band who put out an embarrassingly bad first album, something that leads me to believe this band has a very promising future.

Song picks: “Catastrophic Hybridization” and “Portrait of Souls”

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10 devil horns