Southern Lord resurrects three hardcore-minded mashers

I’ve always considered a label such as Deathwish Inc. or Bridge Nine the go-to stop for what’s interesting in the world of hardcore-laced metal, but now it appears they have some stiff competition from the likes of … Southern Lord?

Yes, the same Southern Lord that brought you psychedelic, doom, black metal and drone goodness from the likes of Earth, Sunn 0))), Boris, Pelican, Wolves in the Throne Room and Eagle Twin. As of late, their focus seems to have shifted away from that focus more toward the hardcore world, and the list of bands they’ve chosen to release is pretty rock solid: Black Breath, Trap Them, Summon the Crows, Nails, The Secret, Masakari, Lebanon, Misantropic. While all of those bands draw from hardcore, they all sound different and have their own, personal approaches to the sound, so it’s not like they’re releasing the same style of band over and over again. Just a few weeks ago, the Lord exposed three bands  – Drainland, Acephalix, Alpinist – via their underground series to give more exposure to music that previously had not had such wide release. These are three more bands that have a hardcore base that, again, do not sound anything like each other and really deserved the wider recognition. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to get the debut from All Pigs Must Die and a limited copy of “Remnants,” the debut from Greek crushers Sarabante. So the floodgates certainly have not closed.

If you’re excited and already wondering how you’re going to fund all of these new additions to your collection, there are three more albums up for grabs – in this case, CD versions of previous vinyl-only efforts — that are freshly packaged on the shelves of your local record stores. If you still have those where you live. We, in Pittsburgh, are lucky to have a handful of outlets, so at least we can brag about that. People who have been into Southern Lord’s hardcore revival should find something of interest in these three albums, and which one you like the most is sure to depend on your tastes. Immediately below, I’ll post a link to Southern Lord’s web shop, where you can grab all of these (including a package where you can get all three for a pretty good price). After the individual write-ups, I’ll give you yet another link to where you can find these pieces at Blue Collar Distro.

If you want to buy these from Southern Lord, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php

For more on Southern Lord, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/

My personal favorite of these three releases comes from Seven Sisters of Sleep, a Southern California-based band that is made up of former members of groups such as Tafkata and The Arm and Sword of the Bastard God. Their self-titled debut, originally released by A389 Records, is sludgy and punishing, often with thick sheets of feedback raining down upon you. There’s also something of a stoner vibe in spots to this band, which you feel in full effect on cuts such as “Passed Out Standing” and “Swamp.”

Perhaps the stoner vibes should not be such a big surprise considering the motto that’s emblazoned on the back of one of their T-shirts: Tune Low, Get High. That pretty much gives you a good idea of what to expect. The music is brutal and muddy, their sound is drenched with noise and crushing thrashing, and the album’s pretty damn short at 20 minutes. Yet it feels like it’s timed just right, from the opening strains of “Monasteries,” that builds slowly before pummeling you, to “Tide Is Rising,” which has a doomy pall over it, to “Follow the Serpent,” a cut that would make an ideal show opening assault. This is one of my favorite of all of Southern Lord’s hardcore-minded releases (right up there with Black Breath), and if I had to pick only one of these three to purchase physically, this would be it no doubt. Plus they’re merch is really awesome.

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

To buy their album go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/southernlord/product_info.php?products_id=5520&cPath=956_958&store=

Germany’s Planks are more atmospheric and stomp along the lines of Neurosis, Morne and Tombs (with whom they shared a 2008 split release), with hints of doom and black metal as well. This disc combines two of the band’s vinyl efforts – “The Darkest of Grays” and “Solicit to Fall” – that both were recorded in the same session. You certainly can sense that about these two efforts, as they have a similar feeling, but don’t mistake that as meaning there’s any redundancy. This 58-minute collection is fiery and passionate, often quite melodic, and indicative of a band that could have a scary impressive future ahead of it.

“The Darkest of Grays” (their second full-length) actually dropped last October, and the 12 cuts feature an eerie spoken-word intro and three propulsive instrumentals among them. “Sacred and Secret” has sort of an Armageddon feel to it, and considering it’s the second cut on here, it’s no doubt they planned to drop the menace early. “No Solid Grounds” has a clean, reflective introduction before it just melts your chest off, and “Fallen Empires Are Ruling” has a thick, post-metal ambiance, and the bottom just drops out of the thing, leaving you feeling hopeless and alone. “Solicit,” an EP that was released early this year, is but four songs long, but its power is undeniable. “Into the Nothingness Within” is charging and heavy, with gutturally deep growls, while closer “It Just Can’t (l.s.f.d.)” is a punk-flavored, agonizing break-up tune that insists shit ain’t going to be OK after all. I never understood why this band hasn’t gotten more exposure, but maybe this release will change that.

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

To buy “The Darkest of Grays/Solicit to Fall,” go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/southernlord/product_info.php?products_id=5518&cPath=956_958&store=

Southern California’s Xibalba (Mayan for “place of fear”) is the truest of the three to traditional hardcore, and many times they make me think of the tough-guy-style bands from NYC and Orange County. Yet all the while, they have a sense of old-school death metal to their sound, so there’s certainly that crossover factor that could allow them to do both metal and hardcore shows without anyone thinking they’re out of place. More to the point, perhaps, is if you’re more into hardcore but also can get with Eyehategod, Crowbar and Obituary, this may be of serious value to you.

The band is muddy and heavy as hell, which I know may seem redundant to say on a metal site, but hopefully you get what I mean. This feels like cement trucks dropping, it’s that heavy. “Madre Mia Gracias por los  Dias” combines the band’s full-length debut, as well as tracks recorded for a compilation, and I’d imagine these cuts will make for spirited, watch-your-face live shows where only the strong willed escape no worse for the wear. There’s a filthy low end to “Madre Mia,” a song that also infuses dome Spanish lyrics and levels you with crushing breakdowns; “Time’s Up” is in your face both musically and lyrically, with themes of imminent demise; “Red” charges straight for you, with cymbals being absolutely mauled; while “Obituary” toys with suicidal intentions, while speedy hardcore and a Spanish guitar outro dress this disturbing outburst. Personally, this is my least favorite of the three albums, but it’s only because of my tastes. I appreciate this album for what it is (I think it’s a really strong, emotional release, but the sound is just not my thing), and I can see some folks really being amped over this steamroller, so give it a shot and see if you don’t feel differently than do I.

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

To buy “Madre Mia Gracias por los Dias,” go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/southernlord/product_info.php?products_id=5519&cPath=956_958&store=

Gigan are coming to burn and eat your house

Yes, that is a Voltron shirt.

When I was a kid, I’d always look forward to weekends when my grandmother would come over and watch us while my parents enjoyed a much-deserved evening out. Not only would there be trips to get burgers and ice cream, jaunts to search for He-Man (and later pro wrestling) action figures, but there also was that rare occasion when we’d get to stay up really late and peruse the weird nighttime TV, a phenomenon that’s deader than dead, even with the multitude of channels at our disposal.

On those evening when I go to see what the box had to offer after 11 p.m., two things drew my interest the most: true stories about UFO abductions (and these weren’t the sanitized, well-produced shows we have now) and Godzilla movies. The latter is what initially made me seek out the band Gojira, but beyond the name, they didn’t offer much lyrical content that leaned toward the monstrous. But Gigan is a different story altogether and are another band I initially sought out simply because their band name is inspired by one of Godzilla’s many nemeses. Added to all that, their lyrical content and sound matched each other perfectly, almost as if this bizarre, destructive machine was the product of monsters and robots and not real humans.

The trio that comprises Gigan is, in fact, human. They just don’t play that way. The brainchild of lefty ax-handler Eric Hersemann (formerly of Hate Eternal and Diabolic), who plays guitar, bass and many other weapons such as Theremin, xylophone, and various other noise-making contraptions, Gigan is rounded out by a brand-new lineup, including vocalist John Collett (of the quite underrated Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky), and drummer Kaish. For those of you keeping score at home, this is now three releases for Gigan, and three different rosters. But this trio you hear on the new “Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes,” their first album for Willowtip, is the best incarnation of Gigan to date, and certainly the most vicious. I’m really hoping these three stick it out for the long haul, because I can only imagine what they could come up with once they’ve completely congealed as a unit.

This new effort, their second full-length and follow-up to 2008’s “The Order of the False Eye,” is one of the best, most unique death metal albums I’ve heard this year. Much of that can be attributed to the myriad of guitar effects Hersemann employs when building this band’s sound. There are spacey, psychedelic elements to what he does, and sometimes what he plays is so fast and cartoon-like, it sounds like it could soundtrack a really demented episode of “Tom and Jerry.” Just listen to “The Raven and the Crow” and “In the Tentacled Grasp of the Buried Behemoth” and see if you don’t agree. It’s a mix of mathy brutality and wacky soundscapes, and it’s a total blast to hear. Speaking of blasts, Kaish holds up his end nicely, hammering his kit and entering warp speed when the time is right, while Collett (taking over vocal duties from Randy Piro) sounds both focused and revenge-minded, the perfect dude to be contributing the voice to a mammoth trying to topple a city.

I’ve only had my copy of “Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes” for a few weeks now, but I may have listened to this album as many times as anything else that’s come out this year. I think I’ve listened every day, and I’ve not come close to tiring of the thing. There are so many neck-wrenching twists and turns, volcanic eruptions, and downright trippiness that I truly discover something new each time I visit the thing. The surging guitar melodies and alien-like vocals of “Transmogrification Into the Bio-Luminoid” happens to be my favorite of all the songs on there at the moment. And that’s just at the moment, because I previously was stuck on “Suspended in Cubes of Torment” and its awesome start-stop thrashy chorus. It’s enough to make you want to punch a wall with glee or drive a mechanized humanoid into a crowd of people. “Vespelmadeen Terror” is so caked with affected vocals and meaty lashing, I can’t tell if I’m supposed to chill out or run for hiding. Another thing I really like about the production in general is while gigantic beasts and their torment of whatever world they inhabit certainly is here in full, there also are times where I feel like the band wants to expand your mind to other plains of existence, and the music takes you there. Similar to what I said in last week’s psyche metal entry, you don’t need any mind-altering substances to get you there either, as long as you let your mind go along for the ride with the band. I can enjoy this disc equally if I’m driving on the freeway or lying stationary. And I’ve done both while listening to “Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes.”

I don’t remember the last time I heard an album – Gigan’s two other efforts included – that captured my interest and imagination the way this one has. I’ve said it time and time again that it’s so hard to pinpoint exciting new bands worth spouting on about because so much shit sounds exactly alike these days. There hardly are any chances taken anymore. Gigan break through the mold in lava-spewing manner and have made a record that deserves the attention of the metal world. This is the type of album year-end, best-of lists were made to trumpet, and if you haven’t done so yet, get a copy of this thing now. It’ll make just about every other death metal album you hear in 2011 seem dull in comparison. Now, to fire up Netflix and check their Godzilla collection …

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

To buy “Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes,” go here: http://www.willowtip.com/releases/details/gigan-quasi-hallucinogenic-sonic-landscapes.aspx

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

For Gigan’s tour dates, go here: http://www.willowtip.com/tours/gigan.aspx

For more on Gigan the monster, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigan

Death on a Monday: Exhumed, Black Dahlia, Arch Enemy

When you’re hobbling around all weekend like some kind of jerk, you tend to get a little annoyed. I hate having an injured ankle, and lying stationary isn’t really for me. So good moods were hard to come by as of late, because this sucks.

This made death metal more palatable, not that it ever isn’t with me. But it gave me some time to take a closer listen to some albums – two recently released, one on its way – that fall into the category of carnage. One of them I loved, one made me feel better about a veteran act, and the other baffled, confused and sometimes irritated me, all the while, the music isn’t terrible on the record. But I sometimes have a really hard time warming up to music that, lyrically, gets on my bad side. It mars the whole experience for me, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Exhumed

Traditionally known as a death-grind band, Exhumed basically shut down operations following their 2005 all-covers “Garage Daze Re-regurgitated,” an album that saw them take on songs by bands such as Amebix, Metallica, GBH and Sadus, as well as some not-so-obvious acts including The Cure, Led Zeppelin and Pentagram. They contributed music to a 2006 split, and that was that for the California band. Now, in 2011, the sickness has been revived when longtime visionary and band originator Matt Harvey (vocals, guitar) decided to put the thing back together, and now he’s joined by Wes Caley (Fatalist, Stonehelm, Uphill Battle, etc.) on guitar, Leon del Muerte (Intronaut, Phobia, Murder Construct, etc.) on bass and vocals, and Danny Walker (Intronaut, Murder Construct, Uphill Battle, Jesu, etc.) on drums, who all played with Exhumed previously in one of the group’s 18 million incarnations. The result is more gory death grind, but with a nice helping of doom along with it.

The 11 cuts on “All Guts, No Glory” (out July 5 on Relapse) should be right up anyone’s alley who have dined on the band’s smorgasbord of filth in the past and really want violent, thrashy songs about guts, blood, puss, eating flesh, what have you. It’s disgusting, wart-laden death in a way most bands choose not to handle their business these days, but these guys are so naturally good at it, why change it up? It doesn’t take a ton of imagination to figure out what songs including “As Hammer to Anvil,” “Your Funeral, My Feast” and “Necrotized” will sound like. And that’s a good thing. My favorite cut on the disc is the lightning-fast, ultra-violent “I Rot Within,” which has some great guitar work that easily could inspire some air ax work and has just a touch of classic Bay Area thrash. I also love the balancing of the fiery shrieks and the guttural low-end growls, giving you dual perspectives of the madness. Really fun, excellent record that reminds me of why I fell in love with death metal in the first place. Amusing side note: First time listening to this record, I was making a black forest cake. I kept having to remind myself all of that red goo really was just cherry pie filling.

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

To buy “All Guts, No Glory,” go here: http://shop.relapse.com/store/product.aspx?ProductID=43413

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

The Black Dahlia Murder

Over five records now, The Black Dahlia Murder have carved out quite a following for themselves. I also have a bizarre history with the band as well. First, I’ve interviewed frontman Trevor Strnad three times, the first of which was right before their debut album “Unhallowed” dropped in 2003 and right before the band nearly imploded, potentially costing the world one of the most successful death bands of the past decade. I also happened to be at the band’s “return show” at a terribly attended metal festival in Asbury Park, N.J., that same year, and they pretty much ripped the room apart. Finally, I was at their Ozzfest stop in Pittsburgh a few years ago that ended with members of the band being apprehended for indecent exposure. In fact, the photographer with me at the show saw the event happen, and she said it basically just horse play and nothing that had any ill intent behind it. I think we all learned a valuable lesson that day.

“Ritual” is notable for many reasons, but not the least of which is it’s their first record with a steady lineup that’s been together for a few years. Roster shuffling has constantly marred this band pretty much from day one (only Strnad and guitarist Brian Eschbach remain from the band’s debut album), but bassist Bart Williams has been on board since 2005, drummer Shannon Lucas since 2007, and lead guitarist Ryan Knight since 2008 (he joined during the “Deflorate” process), and this album really shows a unit that has gelled. The 12 songs on “Ritual” (out on Metal Blade) sound more mature and contain some surprises (classical guitar sections, strings, more inventive compositions), and Strnad, all the while, remains the two-headed-beast frontman he’s always been, handling both the low and high ends, spitting out more words than most vocalists can handle over two records. The basic idea of the album is ritual behavior and what that entails in its various forms. For example “Moonlight Equilibrium” examines werewolf behavior and one’s natural draw to the phases of the moon; “Conspiring With the Damned” touches on communication with the dead and explains the inclusion of a Ouija board in the box set version of the album; “Great Burning Nullifier” pays homage to the sweet leaf and really needs no further explanation; while oddball closer “Blood in the Ink” finds that band embracing its audience and sending out a call for plasma. Um, they mean that tongue in cheek, of course. It’s a strong collection, one of their best in some time, and it may even cross over to Exhumed fans who don’t mind less grind. Also, look for my feature on the band in Outburn, which will be on newsstands later this summer.

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

To buy “Ritual,” go here: http://www.indiemerch.com/blackdahliamurder

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/english/content.php

Arch Enemy

Arch Enemy are an interesting case, and they’ve had quite an eventful career. Built by Carcass guitarist Michael Amott, the Swedish band really didn’t hit its stride until German vocalist Angela Gossow joined the fold in 1999 after Johan Liiva fled, and she officially debuted on 2001’s “Wages of Sin.” At that time, having a female fronting a death band was not as common as it is now, and she faced an onslaught of scrutiny and skepticism (more than one person accused her of using effects on her vocals in studio, and while there may be some, I’ve seen her live, and she can bring it). Perhaps the most convincing evidence I saw of the band’s power was when they opened for Slayer, which is never an easy thing to do because of the band’s rabid fans, but Arch Enemy, and Gossow especially, seemed to earn the crowd’s respect.

If there’s one sticking point for me on the band, it’s their lyrical content. I feel like every one of their tracks, as well as their albums, is about rebellion. And not against any particular thing, but just rebellion in general. Just an uprising with seemingly no target ahead of it. Their new album “Khaos Legions” (out on Century Media) is no different, and it’s getting to the point with me where I’m really tiring of the approach. We had “Anthems of Rebellion” in 2003, “Rise of the Tyrant” played to some of those themes in 2007, and now their first new effort in four years still beats the same old path. I saw in Decibel where Amott likened the album’s themes to what’s going on places such as Libya and Egypt, but I think they just got lucky on that one. There doesn’t seem to be a direct connection lyrically to those events. Another issue is they constantly point out on this album how they are godless. Over and over and over again. Oh, did you catch the upside cross on in the lyric booklet? I mean, OK. I get it. You protest a little too much though. I know I’ve gone on for two graphs now without really describing the music, but I keep getting stuck on the themes and the overall redundancy of Arch Enemy’s message in general. The music’s fine (well, the intro is cheeseball, chuckle-worthy silliness), and in some places it sounds more savage than it has in a while. Amott and bro Christopher work as seamlessly as ever on guitar, and Gossow still sounds powerful, especially on cuts such as “Through the Eyes of a Raven” and “Torn in My Flesh,” the album’s two best songs. But there’s just something about “Khaos Legions” that feels tired. Maybe I’ve outgrown this band. Maybe their message just doesn’t resonate with me. Because of that, I’ve really only been able to make limited personal connection with “Khaos Legions” (ENOUGH WITH THE MISSPELLINGS!) despite the quality of the music.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.archenemy.net/

To buy “Khaos Legions,” go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Item/Arch_Enemy_-_Khaos_Legions_-Standard_Ed.-/37718

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

Friday notes: Hooded Menace, Christian Mistress, Liturgy

Christian Mistress (via their site)

I had a completely different idea for today’s content than what I’m going to end up offering today, but I have good reason or that.

About 2 p.m, yesterday, I fell off my porch and broke my ankle. Awesome. The several-hour trip to the ER for an X-ray and cast got in the way of preparing today’s content, and by the time I got home, all I felt like doing was lying on the couch, Vicodin and Motrin coursing through my veins. Listening to the new Helms Alee helped as well, and we’ll look at that record next week.

So I’m not totally mentally capable enough to whip together a comprehensive album review or anything else, so instead, I’ll just give you some news bits that I came across recently that hopefully will be of some interest to you, if you haven’t already seen these elsewhere. This weekend, I plan to dig into the new Barghest album (it’s coming out on vinyl by way of always trusty Gilead Media), as well as the upcoming Today Is the Day and Toxic Holocaust,  both of which finally were released to the media in the past 24 hours. Tremendous! That’ll make being couch-ridden that much more tolerable.

***

Hooded Menace

Finish death/doom merchants Hooded Menace are the latest signing to Relapse, who are bolstering the hell out of their roster with some really interesting signings. In fact, another new one makes up our next little news bit. The band’s last full-length (and second overall) was last year’s “Never Cross the Dead,” an excellent piece of skullduggery that came out on Profound Lore (a label that seems perfect for them) and really appeared to elevate their profile among metal audiences. Now with Relapse behind them, they should get even bigger. They followed “Never Cross” with some split efforts alongside the likes of Ilsa, Asphyx and Japanese maulers Coffins (yet another band we’ll be looking at soon), and they even completely revamped their roster, with Lasse Pyykko the only man left standing from the lineup. The band has promised to keep up with mini and split releases on smaller labels to complement their work with Relapse, and we wait with baited breath for their next graveyard opus.

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

To buy “Never Cross the Dead,” go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com//index.php?option=com_ezcatalog&task=detail&id=586&Itemid=99999999

To buy a Hooded Menace T-shirt, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com//index.php?option=com_ezcatalog&task=viewcategory&id=5&Itemid=99999999&limit=10&limitstart=10

For Relapse’s site, go here:  http://relapse.com/

***

While we’re on Relapse, they also scooped up Olympia, Wash., doom throwback quintet Christian Mistress, who recently released their kick-ass “Agony & Opium” EP last year on 20 Buck Spin. Their hard rock-led, smoky metal sounds like it was transported straight from the 1970s, almost like an evil spawn of Heart before they went all pop in the ’80s. Yet there’s something about them that sounds very fresh and current, almost like they’re on the cusp of something they’ll lead into the future alongside likewise acts such as Jex Thoth and Witch Mountain, who we discussed earlier this week. Christine Davis’ vocals are amazing and powerful, ensuring she is in total control of what’s going on when she’s standing in front of you. The band has made a reputation on their strong live shows, and they even got the stamp of approval from Darkthrone’s Fenriz, metal’s go-to source for what bands deserve your hard-earned cash. Christian Mistress are getting ready to record their new album with Tim Green, who has worked with The Melvins, Monotonix, and The Fucking Champs, and when we know more about a release date, we’ll have that here. Until then, if you haven’t heard “Agony & Opium” just yet, by all means, go out of your way to find it.

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

To buy “Agony & Opium,” go here: http://www.20buckspin.com/site/releases/spin038-christian-mistress-agony-opium-lp-cd/

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Liturgy

Transcendental black metal band Liturgy seem to be pissing off as many people as they’re exciting with their music. Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, frontman and guitarist, has ruffled more than a few feathers with his piece “Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism,” and recently Woe’s Chris Grigg took time to respond to that and some of Hunt-Hendrix’s other comments on the genre in general, which you can find below.

For Grigg’s reaction to Hunt-Hendrix, go here: http://community2.metalreview.com/blogs/editorials/archive/2011/06/08/an-open-letter-to-liturgy-s-hunter-hunt-hendrix.aspx

For Hunt-Hendrix’s response to Grigg, go here: http://stereogum.com/734432/visions-of-american-black-metal-liturgys-hunter-hunt-hendrix-responds/franchises/haunting-the-chapel/

I also saw a review recently that decided Liturgy can’t possibly be termed black metal because they lack the proper image. Um… What? Can’t possibly disagree any more with that assertion. No matter how you feel about the band, you can’t deny they have sparked controversy and discussion. Isn’t that a good thing? For all the bands that come down the pike, how many draw such reaction and emotion? Very few. So I’d argue these guys are doing things just right, and the debate is very healthy. The band is going on tour for their new record “Aesthetica,” which we reviewed recently, and their tour dates appear at the end of this piece.

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

To buy “Aesthetica,” go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com/catalog/?id=105276

To grab their new T-shirt, go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com./catalog/merch.html?id=105401

To see the band live, go to one of these places below:

July 5   Washington, DC — DC9 w/Dope Body

July 6   Pittsburgh, PA –Brillobox w/Dope Body

July 7   Cleveland, OH — Grog Shop w/Dopy Body

July 8   Bloomington, IN — Russian Recording

July 9   Chicago, IL — West Fest

July 9   Chicago, IL — Empty Bottle w/Dope Body

July 10  St. Louis, MO — Firebird w/Dope Body

July 11  Kansas City, MO — Record Bar w/Dope Body

July 12  Denver, CO — Hi Dive

July 13  Salt Lake City, UT — Kilby Court

July 15  Anacortes, WA — What The Heck Fest

July 16  Seattle, WA — El Corazon

July 17  Olympia, WA — Northern

July 18  Portland, OR — Branx

July 20  San Francisco, CA — Bottom of the Hill

July 22  Santa Barbara, CA –Muddy Waters

July 23  Los Angeles, CA — The Echo

July 24  Costa Mesa, CA — Detroit Bar

July 25  San Diego, CA — Casbah

July 26  Scottsdale, AZ — The Rogue Bar

July 28  Austin, TX — Red 7

July 29  Baton Rouge, LA — Spanish Moon

July 30  Birmingham, AL — Bottletree

July 31  Atlanta, GA — The Masquerade

Aug. 1   Wilmington, NC — The Soapbox

Aug. 2   Baltimore, MD — Floristree

Aug. 3   Philadelphia, PA — Kung Fu Necktie

Anticipation: WITTR, Leviathan, Blut Aus Nord, FTF

We’re just about halfway through 2011, which is hard to believe, and it’s been a pretty strong year for metal so far.

Next week, we’ll put up our favorite albums of the second quarter of 2011, and in case you missed our favorite records of the first quarter, you can find that here: https://meatmeadmetal.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/best-so-far-of-2011/

Looking ahead to the second half of the year, it seems like a good time to talk about some of the albums we are most anticipating. There’s a nice handful of things coming up that already is generating a nice bit of excitement here at MMM, and we haven’t heard any of these recordings yet (in some cases, they’re not even complete yet). I’ll be clear about that, actually. I have a lot of promo stuff for July and August already, so I won’t include those because you can’t anticipate something you already have. Make sense? Let’s get into it, and if there’s something you are particularly excited to hear, let us know either via e-mail or in the comments section.

Perhaps my most anticipated record is the new Wolves in the Throne Room, coming up soon from Southern Lord records. In fact, last night, the label mentioned on Twitter that they think this new not-yet-titled opus is the band’s finest output yet. I know. What do you expect a label to say? But the SL folks seem like honest people, and really, if they didn’t feel that way, they didn’t need to say anything at all on the quality of the album and could have just said it was on its way. The band – only full-time members and brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver — is working with producer Randall Dunn, who was behind the boards on their last two efforts “Two Hunters” (my favorite metal record of 2007) and Black Cascade,” and surely the guys are tapping into their Pacific Northwest surroundings to create more epic, atmospheric black metal. In addition, Jessika Kenney, who worked with the band in the past, will contribute her vocals to this album. Really excited to hear this one. Look for it this fall, which could not be a more perfect time for this record to unleash itself.

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

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

The new one from Leviathan is taking shape, and it is very tentatively scheduled for a late fall release from Profound Lore. Wrest is recording the new disc in Chicago with Sanford Parker, the go-to producer for all quality metal bands, and considering the tumultuous year the creator of Leviathan has had, I’d expect nothing but carnage, self-loathing, anger, despair and violence. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, um, here:  http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/01/09/cops-tattoo-artist-charged-with-sex-assault/ I’m not sure if the case has been resolved, and if these actions are true, they’re reprehensible. But I’ll separate the man and his art (much like I do with Burzum). Wrest’s last full-length was 2008’s incredible “Massive Conspiracy Against All Life,” my favorite metal album of 2008. Funny story, but I went out to buy a physical copy of that record on New Year’s Eve that year, and my wife and I ended up driving home in an ice storm while album was playing in the car. At one point, I slid completely off a major roadway. It was a weird moment. Then we went home and watched Pitt lose a bowl game in humiliating fashion. Leviathan got me through.

For more on the band, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leviathan_(band)

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

French transcendental black metal band Blut Aus Nord already have given us one new album this year, “777-Sects” in April, and they have the second portion of their trilogy scheduled for release in September, called “777-The Desanctification.” The band has been recording the album recently, and it’ll be interesting to hear how the music differs, if at all, from the first part of this triptych. It’s kind of a daring project, to be honest, and one I’m curious to hear how they make work. One would think the second part, and the third that’s to follow in November, would have to be different in ways from “Sects,” because otherwise, what’s the point? But this band always comes up with something interesting and otherworldly, so I have faith that “Desanctification” will be another mind warp of an album that’ll probably be one of the most interesting efforts of the third quarter of the year. Oh, the band also released a reissue of 2001’s “The Mystical Beast of Rebellion” earlier this year, with a fresh second disc of new, complementary material, so it’s a heck of a year for Blut Aus Nord fans and their credit cards.

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

For more on the label, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/

Canadian grindcore band Fuck the Facts haven’t exactly been taking it easy since their last full-length “Disgorge Mexico” dropped in 2008. They’ve put out a “Disgorge” DVD, splits and a bunch of EPs since that time, and they even have toured all over the freaking place, recently celebrating their 10-year anniversary as a band. Their new full-length “Die Miserable” has been in the works for some time, and it’ll finally be in your hands this fall by way of Relapse. I’ve always really liked this band not only because their music is heavy as hell and always top notch, but because they don’t just do the typical two-minute grind song and onto the next thing. I mean, they have songs like that, but it isn’t all they do. Their records are challenging, experimental, thought-provoking and intelligent, and while there’s nothing wrong with the normal grind style, I enjoy FTF’s approach so much more. Really excited to hear this one.

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

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

These aren’t the only albums for which I’m stocking away some cash. Also looking forward to the new albums from Opeth (ah, that cover), Mastodon (with more bizarre song titles), Fleshgod Apocalypse (the symphonic death metal band’s debut on Nuclear Blast), Amebix (finally!), and YOB (the clips that have been released of the new material sounds absolutely massive).  Time to start storing away some cash.

Morbid Angel: Are you serious?

Rumored to be morbid ...

The flood of reaction to the new Morbid Angel album has fascinated and amused me. I don’t remember such a groundswell of feedback for a record since Metallica’s much-maligned “St. Anger,” and people still pick apart that album to this day.

All of the excitement and build up for Morbid Angel’s comeback, that includes David Vincent’s return to fronting the band for the first time since 1995’s “Domination,” has been building for years ever since rumors started to circulate that a new album would be in the works. It then took on a mini-“Chinese Democracy” life of its own when every year would begin with hope that this would be the time for a new Morbid Angel effort, and then 12 months would pass with nothing from the band. Some wondered if we’d ever get that album in our hands. Now many people are regretting the thing saw the light of day.

“Illud Divinum Insanus,” in case you have not heard, hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. The reaction has been lukewarm to outright vicious, and despite a few metal musicians coming out in support of the new disc, there has been a tidal wave of backlash, especially on the Internet. You know those Internet types. This actually built my anticipation and interest in hearing this album, not only because I’m a longtime Morbid Angel fan, but because I assumed the negative hype was overblow. I did have a promo – like many in the media – a while back, but it was a beeped version designed to prevent the songs leaking online. I get that approach from their label Season of Mist, and I have no problem with their decision, but I can’t listen to beeped promos. They’re really, really distracting, and all those chirps and buzzes inserted into the thing take away from the music. So I waited for my clean version the day the record was released and went from there. That was a few weeks ago, and while I really wanted to say something on record about it sooner, I couldn’t. I tried not to have a kneejerk reaction to this, because no doubt, this album is different, and I didn’t want to just sound like another angry voice in the crowd. So I listened, digested, revisited, reflected … and ultimately rejected.

Guitar god Trey Azagthoth has made it no secret he has an affinity for techno and industrial sounds, and hey, nothing wrong with that. I’ve done my share of Combichrist, Ministry, and KMFDM pieces in the past, and while it isn’t my preferred style of music, I get the appeal and have enjoyed some of the albums. And I’m not going to suggest these sounds have no place in Morbid Angel’s music because it isn’t my band and it isn’t my choice. I kind of admire their decision to go in a different direction and add some elements most probably didn’t expect from their music. Many bands are not willing to take such risks, and had Morbid Angel – Vincent and Azagthoth are joined by guitarist Destructhor, and drummer Tim Yeung, who capably filled in for injured Pete Sandoval — just gone into the studio and simply made a full death metal assault their hearts were not into, funny enough the reaction probably would have been the opposite. But would the band be happy with it? We always kind of forget, as listeners, that we don’t get final say. I don’t think we deserve it either, though I’m sure some will disagree with me on that. From everything I’ve read from the band, this is the direction they wanted and they made the record they felt they needed to create. I respect that. I just don’t like the results. At all.

It’s not like the whole record is an entirely new approach. In fact, the bulk of “Illud” is straight-up death metal. We’ll get to that in a minute. Following a cheesy opening “Omni Potens” that really isn’t unlike “Intro” on their classic “Blessed Are the Sick,” we’re immediately met with “Too Extreme!” a song title that sounds like it was dreamt up by an old man trying to sound hungry and mean. And while these guys are vets, they’re by no means old. So what the hell, man? The song sounds like something that would be vomited by one of those here-today-gone-later-today, second-stage Ozzfest bands from 1997, and all the rapid-fire beats take away from Yeung’s drumming. It’s B-level Ministry and White Zombie. At one point, Vincent howls, “We’ve come to spread our insane,” and every time I hear that, I guffaw. “Destructos vs. The Earth/Attack,” a song that aforementioned Combichrist have remixed for the B side of the “Nevermore” single, is just ridiculous. We’re met with more techno babble, weird mechanical vocals, and these stupid alien-like effects on the chorus. Closer “Profundis-Mea Culpa” is pretty bad too, with repetitive chants and an overall sense of malaise, but that doesn’t hold a candle to “Radikult,” a flat-out awful song that sounds like Marilyn Manson at his very worst, with an embarrassingly bad line that goes, and sing along with me if you’d like, “Kill a cop cop, kill a cop, kill a kill a kill a cop.” What the shit? This type of thing is better off left to bands who are cranking out shitty rebellious metal in their basements in high school. It’s juvenile garbage. A top-of-the-line, legendary band coming up with something like this is unthinkable. This is worse than any song on “St. Anger” by a wide margin. Morbid Angel will have to try really, really hard to top this horribleness.

By the way, if you want to see a fan-made video for the Combichrist remix of “Destructos,” I mean, if you really, really feel like you need to torture yourself, here it is:

 

As for the other songs, the ones that are more in line with the band’s classic material, they’re just OK. None of it is particularly moving, none of it really makes an impression, and beyond “Nevermore” and “Existo Vulgore,” I don’t really need to hear any of this again. Some of the cuts, such as “I Am Morbid” and “10 More Dead” wouldn’t even have been good B-side tracks. They’re lifeless and ordinary. Maybe they should have shelved the idea of any straight-up death metal songs at all, because these ones that are here are not representative of this band’s best work.

This is a failed experiment, quite simply. It’s also too bad that, after all the anticipation, excitement and long waiting, this is what we’re given. Again, I don’t blame the band for wanting to try something different. It’s certainly their right, and if they felt that creating a classic-style Morbid Angel record was not something that interested them, they did the right thing not doing that. But this is not a fitting alternative. It’s just a bad piece of work, one that would make me a little red-faced if I were to listen to this in my car or in public. It’s meat-head music, almost perfect for those Hot Topic kids who don’t know any better yet. Morbid Angel are better than that. They were the cream of the death metal crop. Now they’re veterans who want to take a new path but don’t seem to know how to travel that road without humiliating themselves.

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

To buy “Illud Divinum Insanus,” go here: http://e-shop.season-of-mist.com/en/bands/morbid-angel/1362

Psyche out with Witch Mountain, Ancestors, TAB

Witch Mountain

There’s an association with psychedelic metal and doom and mind-altering substances, and I’m not going to suggest that link isn’t accurate. It surely is. But is that combination necessary to get the most out of this kind of music? I don’t think it is, and I offer myself as evidence.

I’ve long enjoyed psychedelic-laced music –clichéd as it may be, I love Pink Floyd and want to flick a hipster in the face every time Pitchfork writes some snooty piece about how that band’s more successful material somehow isn’t up to snuff because, mew mew mew, people like it – Led Zeppelin’s trippier material, and even Black Sabbath’s mind-melting stuff, and I’ve never been in any altered state when listening to these bands (I don’t consider drunkenness an altered stare … I don’t think I need to spell this out). But they still take me on a bizarre journey and I’m always able to let my thoughts wander even if the most dangerous substance in my blood in the time may be a few beers. But to each his or her own, and I certainly can see why something a little extra can enhance the experience.

Of course, as time’s gone on, psychedelic elements and classic doom have worked their way into the thinking of more modern bands, from black metal battle masters Nachtmystium, whose last few records have been out there in spots, and they’ve turned into one of that genre’s most interesting, unpredictable bands as a result; High on Fire, who grew out of Sleep, who are one of the leaders of this sound; Gigan, a death metal group currently recording for Willowtip whose new disc, as mentioned yesterday, we’ll examine soon; revived veterans Pentagram, who are enjoying their most fruitful period and are now with Metal Blade; and The Gates of Slumber, a band that really would have been at home in the early 1980s and have made some fantastic albums in their time together. These are just a few examples off the top of my head, of course, and I’m sure you have your own favorites, but it’s clear that these sounds that grew to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s are alive and smoking today.

Three bands with new music on the shelves (or ready for download, for those who aren’t aware physical albums still are available for purchase) also are helping contribute to this scene, and the three acts could not be more different from each other sonically. They’re quite easy to tell apart, if you stream their songs (or song, in one band’s case) into each other, and they all approach psychedelic rock and metal and doom in totally different ways. One could even argue these bands – Witch Mountain, Ancestors, The Atomic Bitchwax — are not purely heavy metal, and I could see that argument, but certainly there should be some crossover appeal.

Finally, we long-suffering have been rewarded with the much-awaited new album “South of Salem” from Witch Mountain, a band that’s been around for quite some time but has very little as far as back catalog to show for their effort. In fact, they haven’t put out a record since 2001’s “Come the Mountain,” and in the decade since that effort saw the light of day, much has changed, most notably within the band. The biggest alteration is the addition of siren Uta Plotkin as their new singer, and she makes all the difference in the world. Her vocals are soulful, alluring and sexy, and her approach reminds me a lot of Jex Thoth (her own band, Sabbath Assembly) and Christine Davis of Christian Mistress. Not to take away from the band’s swaggering, gritty, doom rock and metal, which is excellent, but Plotkin is the show, hands down. It’s impossible not to hang onto her every word, and her performance is charged with emotion, intensity and a smokiness that keeps you coming back for another helping.

The music itself is sludgy, drubbing and melodic, as guitarist Rob Wrong (he formerly handled lead vocals), drummer Nate Carson, and bassist David Hoopaugh have that knack for thrashing sequences that force you to nod your head slowly along with what they’re doing, even if you happen to be doing it without realizing your actions. The first two cuts “Wing of the Lord” and “Plastic Cage” are like one piece, as the first bleeds into the second, and though the stretch is about 15 minutes long, it never seems that way. If you’re like me, you’ll be mesmerized and will just follow along, no questions asked. “South Sugar” has more of a rock groove to it, with some scintillating soloing slicing a path in the middle; while epic, 12:29-long “Hare’s Stare” is a slow melter, where Plotkin sounds more sinister and daring, and the thunder displayed by the other three often sounds menacing and near classic Sabbath terrain. It’s a fantastic comeback album by a band that never truly got to make its mark. My guess is “South of Salem” will change all that, and don’t be surprised if Plotkin becomes a star as a result.

For more on Witch Mountain, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Witch-Mountain/103657189692474

To buy “South of Salem” (available on vinyl or digitally), go here:  http://witchmountain.bandcamp.com/releases

Ancestors

Referring back to Pink Floyd, and most notably their post-Syd Barrett era, it didn’t take me too long to get the hang of the new Ancestors EP “Invisible White.” I’ve been following this band ever since their first album “Neptune With Fire” and have kept them in fairly regular listening rotation since then. Their last effort, 2009’s “Of Sound Mind,” marked their debut with Tee Pee and showed a band clearly in a state of evolution. While they maintained some of the gruff and muscle of their debut, they seemed to be heading into a spacier, warmer direction, which is proved true on this new mini-release.

“Invisible White” is a pretty gentle listen, to be honest with you. Ancestors always had their breezier, dreamier times, but they always balanced that out with some harsher vocals and melodies, a few punches to the gut when you least expected it. The title track, a 7:22 opus, is a solemn, emotional dose of space rock balladry that never loses its focus and always brings you back to its centerpiece chorus. No hyperbole intended, it’s one of my favorite songs of the year in any genre. I imagine it might be too non-metal for some, in fact this whole EP may be, but that’s too bad if that’s the case. You’re missing out a lovely, moving effort here. “Dust” has some folk and prog elements to it, and it crescendos late in the song, with piano drops and synth clouds setting in; and the closer “Epilogue” isn’t much different from the other two philosophically, but at 14 minutes, it lets the band branch out, noodle with an aim in mind, and reach into the cosmos for inspiration. I really dig this EP, and for me, it’s only heightening my anticipation for the band’s next full-length. I’m curious to know what you folks think about this record.

For more on Ancestors, go here: http://ancestorsmusic.com/

To buy “Invisible White,” go here: http://teepee.hasawebstore.com/preorderancestorsinvisiblewhiteep

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

The Atomic Bitchwax

For some reason, I never really got on board with The Atomic Bitchwax. And I’m not even sure why that is. They always had a cool sound, and the dudes in the band certainly have paid their fair share of dues, not just here but with bands such as Godspeed, Raging Slab, Monster Magnet and Core, and hell, their name alone should have been enough to get me amped up for them. Pretty bad reason to like a band, huh? Anyway, for whatever reason, they just never stuck with me, and I attribute this solely to me and not anything they did wrong. I’m sure the Bitchwax dudes will be breathing a sigh of relief after learning that. But with their new record out, this was a time to go back and maybe make amends.

Actually, if there was a record to indoctrinate me (or anyone) into the Atomic Bitchwax world this one isn’t the one. “The Local Fuzz” is unlike anything this band has done before because, instead of putting together a record of 10-12 tracks like they’d ordinarily do, this time they put together one song, held together by “no less than 50 back-to-back riffs” on a piece that lasts 42:18. It is, in a word, ridiculous. But in a good way. It may not be that ideal piece to draw new fans or remind those who fell off the wagon why they really need to be here, but damn if it isn’t a wild ride. It’s almost breath-taking the way it blasts from riff to riff, often making me think of Foghat, old Rush, Fireball Ministry and Kyuss among others. Oh, and there are no vocals. It just a fire-breathing, blast of an effort that will work great if you plan to party in the driveway, keg at your side, with you hoping to put something into the stereo you won’t have to touch for a while. Not your standard TAB, but it’s awesome summer weekend music.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.theatomicbitchwax.com/The_Atomic_Bitchwax/TAB.html

To buy “The Local Fuzz,” go here: http://teepee.hasawebstore.com/theatomicbitchwax/artist/39143

OK, so you don’t need mind-altering substances to enjoy these albums, and I stand by that assertion. But you may need some to get you through the record we’ll discuss tomorrow.