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/

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