Distorted reviews - 09/11/03.
Demon Dagger - Inanna Ishtar (Recital)
Demon Dagger are hard to pin down. Their pile-driving metal stomp treads a fine line, mixing primal and savage elements with modern, more melodic death metal influences. 'Saturday Bench', a song so finely produced you could cut yourself on it, has elements of Dark Tranquillity in it, while at other times they manage to sound like a tighter Soulfly. 'Full of emptiness' is a concrete heavy slab, frontman Joca's roared/hardcore delivery vocals giving it a distinctive edge. 'Batillus' is a near-perfect mix of growled vocals, muted and spiralling riffs and blasting drum patterns. Demon Dagger also show they aren't afraid to step away from the colour-coded metal pack with the likes of 'Unbeknown behaviour', melding a simple vocal assault with a scathing drum beat and a riff in the chorus that drives the song on, like a 16-wheeler down a desert highway. With 'Burn the flag' and 'Corrosive waste' they prove they can throw it down with the best of the bunch, but it is at these times that the Dagger also let standards slip. Still, a few minor exceptions aside, they have managed to create an album that is well worth checking out.
Carnal Lust - Whore of violence (Diamond Productions)
Formed in 1998 in France, Carnal Lust is a three-piece brutal death metal band, one without compromise. Their love of high speed riffing, blast beats and dog-like growls has resulted in 'Whore of violence'. Generally, I have little time for this particular niche genre and Carnal Lust have done little to change my mind on the matter. I find it boring and uninteresting. I will admit that, at times, I was intrigued, especially at the beginning of 'Scared', but, to tell you the truth, there's nothing much happening here. It's loud, it's super-fast, it's indistinguishable and monotonous. I can see no reason whatsoever to recommend this album to anyone. Fans of the genre will have heard it all a million times before, while everyone else really won't care. Thank you for trying, now go away.
Cold Moon - Carnivorous Lunar Activities (Hellhound)
From the moment I heard the opening chords of 'Steel in the spine', I held my head in my hands because I knew what was coming next and, quite frankly, I did not want any part of it. Cold Moon play terrible cheesy metal, but they don't mean to. They think they are out there setting trends and influencing people. Oh God, I can picture how the video would look. Christopher Moon (really that is his name) running through a foggy, wooded area in the middle of the night, his shoulders draped with fur, spiked armbands adorning his wrists and his hands held high in the air, clawing at the night dark sky. Then he howls dramatically at the moon, which turns blood red. Behind him, the rest of the band pull strange and painful faces as they attempt to wrench the most over the top licks from their guitars (most likely Stratocasters). The whole album sounds like this, i.e. shit. Cold Moon is a band you want to stay very far away from.
The Locust - Plague soundscapes (Anti-)
Like their namesake, The Locust devour everything in their way, including musical convention. Shunning the very idea of songs, "Plague soundscapes" is 23 ferocious, pounding, buzzing kicks in the central nervous system. The average song length is around 40 seconds, so there's little to grasp onto. There are no intros, no outros, no solos, no choruses. There are only fleeting bursts of madness. It's like looking in through the flickering windows of Hell. You can't see enough to know exactly what is happening, but you know it is not right. Fans of the Dillenger Escape Plan will most likely have wet dreams because of this album. It's not enjoyable at the best of times and it sure as fuck can get a bit much after around 14 songs, but it's still great. "Plague soundscapes" is 23 mini apocalypses, all going off one after the other. Besides, any band that has songs called 'How to become a virgin', 'The half-eaten sausage would like to see you in his office' and 'Priest with the sexually transmitted disease, get out of my bed' deserve your undying respect. Lunacy. The Locust are the aural equivalent of running with sharp scissors.
Dropkick Murphys - Blackout (Hellcat Records)
To be honest with you (and when have I not been?), I don't have a lot of time for the Dropkick Murphys. I found their previous releases clichéd and uninspiring, so then it was actually a pleasant surprise to find that their latest offering, "Blackout", is not only listenable, but enjoyable. They've tightened up their act, pushing the Celtic influences further into the back and this time around have concentrated more on the song-writing. The first two tracks from the get go, 'Walk away' and 'Workers song', are high-speed chug-along punk songs that you could easily imagine yourself dancing to while absolutely shit-faced. Both songs have belting choruses, especially 'Worker's song', that are forgettable once the song is over, but, at the time, they're great. A strong opening that, on the first listen, really connects. 'The outcast' is a high energy chant along songs with more hooks in it than the cast of 'I know what you did last summer'. Fuck me, I'm actually starting to like these guys.
Like all Irish American punks with too much alcohol at hand, the Murphys soon fall back onto old habits, with 'Gonna be a blackout tonight' and 'World full of hate' stopping the pace dead. Two very dud punches. The Irish influence comes out on show in the very Pogues-esque 'The dirty glass', which is basically a slagging match between a man and his woman. Delving deep into the world of revelry, devilment and drunkenness, it kick-starts the fun again. At least until that rotten song to end all rotten songs, 'The fields of Athenry', rears its ugly, begotten head. That's it, the fun's over. Go home. 'Blackout' is the Murphy's best release, but it's still not quite there. They've shed a lot of their past dead weight, but, like any group of drunken fuckers out to have a good night, there are a few who just ruin the night for everyone.
The Real McKenzies - Oot and Aboot (Honest Don's)
Oh for the sweet holy mother of Jesus. As if the Dropkick Murphy's weren't bad enough, now we have this, a band that mixes traditional Scottish elements with punk rock. I can only take this for about five minutes before I need to cleanse my ears with the fire that is Arch Enemy. I am having nothing more to do with this. They had an album called "Loch'd and loaded" for fuck's sake and they wear kilts and traditional socks on stage. Let us never speak of this band again.
Various - Recital Records - Sampler Volume 1 (Recital)
I have a lot of time for Recital Records and their efforts to get Portugal put on the metal map. Like most samplers, there's a mix of stuff here ranging from the great to the shitty, but if you want to see what Portuguese metal is about, then this is a good place to start. Opening with two tracks by Squad, the attention of most meat-fisted metal heads will be grabbed and held against the wall immediately. 'Behold the clock' has a crushing, brutal riff that sounds like Ill Nino being shown how to play their guitars by Pantera. 'Temptation' has, believe it or not, even more of a full-on metal blast about it. Think early Sepultura with better production and you're looking in the right direction. A band to keep an eye on. Next up are Demon Dagger with two tracks off their "Inanna Ishtar" album. Since I heard the album, I've really taken a shine to this band and, after a quick listen to these two songs, you should too. 'Full of emptiness' is an up-tempo growler with a chorus that is great to shout along to. If this song were a truck, it would have run you, your dog and your granny down a long time ago. As for 'Saturday bench', well let's just say that the Portuguese are getting very good at this melodic thrash stuff. Ethereal sadly slow things down to a crawl with their turgid, melodic power metal. If you are looking for the European Evanescence then look no further. Disappointing, especially since on 'A lonely dancer', they show a glimmer of promise (which, I have to say, was quickly dashed by images of Tenacious D). Oratory, on the other hand, do a much better job at playing this style of music. It sounds clichéd to high Hell and I know I'd never be able to sit through an entire album, but at least they have passion. The only danger for them is that they will become the melodic metal ABBA.
While their album may not be the best, at least the two Black Widows songs present here are of a certain standard. With its blend of male and female vocals, 'Awaken (Edit)' is a real vampire love song. Big clear guitars ring out in the background as the two singers growl and purr at each their way through the track, before it slides into a chugging mid-section. Their other track, 'Life's wish', opens with an arpeggio keyboard line before a very unmetal guitar riff kicks in. This again features both male and female vocals, so it is not very representative of the album as a whole. Still, if you like what you hear, then I'd advise you to pick up 'Sweet… the Hell'. As for Prime, well this band is a joke. Skip. Evidence are old school Scorpions type rock, while In Solitude aren't much better. Their vocalist's attempts to be Jon Bon Jovi are not helping their chances of reaching superstardom. It's left then to Morbid Death (sadly not a dark/thrash/black or extreme metal band) to rescue the arse end of the CD from the jaws of oblivion and they just about do. Granted, 'Believe' is nothing special, but it sounds like Iron Maiden and, personally, I can live with that. This sampler is probably only worth picking up if you are a fan of European melodic metal as that's what dominates it, otherwise, save your pennies and get the Demon Dagger album.
Love Junk - Amstradivarious (Blind Drunk)
Young, happy and armed with guitars, clean underwear and shimmering, shinering (I'm allowed to make up words if I want) chords, Love Junk is the sort of band you can picture playing at the wedding reception scene in American Pie 3. Far too cheerful for me, I'm afraid, someone seems to have given them far too much Coca-Cola. If a pre-"1977" Ash had met up with a post-"Ker-Plunk" Green Day and they decided to combine forces to battle evil using pastel coloured crayons and sticky tape then this is what that union would have resulted in. There are people out there who like this kind of music. I just don't know any of them. If you think you might like it then send requests to me at the distorted e-mail address. The most original gets the album, I don't want it.
Drunk Horse - Adult Situations (Sweet Nothing Records)
If there was an award for sounding hairy and smelling like beer then Drunk Horse would have to be the winners. If this band don't all resemble grizzly bears with guitars and red lumberjack shirts then I will be greatly disappointed. The Hellacopters, Fu Manchu and Zen Guerrilla all rolled into one and tied up with oily rope in the back of the General Lee is what this band sound like. They're big, they're loud and, more than likely, they want to blow their noses on your curtains. If Drunk Horse were playing in your local pub, you would have to go see them just to witness the soundtrack to a pub brawl in living colour. Now, off to drink some beer.
Agent Orange - Sonic Snake Sessions (Restless/Rykodisc)
It's hard to think how Agent Orange were an influence on bands like Green Day and The Offspring. To me they sound boring and empty (is it just me or are there a lot more shitty albums this month than usual?), but, then again, I've never been the biggest fan of punk/new wave/whatever. I'm just disappointed, because I expected this to be much more passionate and, well, aggressive. I feel like travelling back in time and putting vitriolic tablets in their coffee just to spice things up a little. A disappointing collection, for completists only. It's only saving grace is that it's a double CD being sold at a cheap price. Yawn, next please.
Fu Manchu - Go for it [live] (SPV)
Fu Manchu are the shit, full stop. This band are as cool as chewing ice in the Arctic. Big ass grooves and motherfuckin' rock n' roll is what's on today's menu. I'm kicking myself for not going to see them last June in Dublin and what really rubs it in is that this is a double live CD and proof that the legends about their performances are not unfounded. Opener 'Hell on wheels' kicks things off in high gear, 'Laserblast!' gets the head knocking then 'Evil eye' and 'Weird beard' blows you away. This is music to get up out of your seat for and dance around to. Legends in the stoner genre, Fu Manchu are pure and simply a groovy bunch of bastards. Crisply recorded every drum roll, guitar lick and solo and vocal line is captured perfectly, seeping from the speakers into your head. Party music for good time people. If you haven't yet worshipped at the shrine of the mighty Manchu, but have drank from the cup of Queens of the Stone Age, then get a hold on this, chances are you'll like it. Music to drive through the desert to.
Arthurkill - Addiction (Attack)
Arthurkill is a band that is really going to divide opinions. On 'Addiction', they have some of the weakest songs ever written sitting alongside some absolute blinders. They go from moments of brilliance to the depths of cringe, with sounds that make you wince they are so painful to hear - often within the same song. It's impossible to know what to say really, because 'Open you mind' is fantastic, 'Down' is woeful and then 'Yellow brick road' is listenable, middle of the road rock. 'Open your mind' has all the kick and shove of In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and Samael jamming, but with a hardcore vocalist. It's all galloping bass lines, keyboard flourishes and pummelling drums. Following this is a cover of Depeche Mode's 'It's no good', done in the same way that Marilyn Manson did 'Tainted love'. The guitars in the chorus are crushing and the spiked vocal delivery suits the poisoned lyrics perfectly. How Arthurkill then went on to produce such shit as 'Down' (folk nu-metal), 'Closer to free' (Uncle Kracker remixing Sugar Ray) and 'Oblivion' (pub rock galore) is anyone's guess. The likes of 'Hold on' on any other album would be a filler track. Here it is good, because everything else is so bad, but weak songs are not able to support weaker songs. There is far too much debris in here. What makes 'Addiction' such a bad album is that there are great moments on it. You know that with a little more effort they could really have made something great. Instead they got cocky and fucked out any old shite, hoping the record buying public would lap it up. Well the public aren't stupid. My advice to you is to go buy The Locust album.
Strapping Young Lad - SYL (Century Media)
From the evidence presented to me here on this two-track album sampler, I would say that the new Strapping Young Lad album could be their best ever. Rush out and buy it now. It's pure intense mayhem. The intro to 'Aftermath' is crushing. A huge monster riff that builds until exploding into a wall-shattering verse. There's so much happening in here it's crazy and the off-kilter structure works perfectly. Twisted genius. Devin Townsend's vocal delivery is unique, just adding to what is already a great metal track. 'Devour' on the other hand is more to the point, a brutal multi-fingered stab into the eye. Here Devin sounds like he has just become a demon from Hell's darkest depths. An angelic keyboard line is played in contrast to the demonic guitars and drums , making this the sound of a city crumbling beneath the Dark Lords touch. Strapping Young Lad at their most uncompromising and finest.
Passenger - Passenger (Century Media)
Passenger, on the other charred claw, is a band that is going to appeal to a much wider audience, regardless of which end of the metal spectrum they are approaching from. Lighter metalheads will appreciate the group's use of melody and hooks, while the more metallic among you should find their technical skills and subtle use of heaviness to be a welcome respite to somewhat tired ears. Passenger could quite possibly be extreme metal's Linkin Park, but they are a good band with good songs. Well worth checking out. One reason why Passenger are going to get a lot of interest is because they boast in their ranks Anders Friden of In Flames and Niclas Engelin of Gardenian. Without the musical muscle to back themselves up, though, none of this would matter, but Passenger is a strong act, with very good songs. 'In reverse' and 'Carnival diaries', which are both lifted off the band's debut, are hopefully only the icing on the cake and a taste of things to come.
Vivahead - We Love Infinity (Pulper Music)
Most horror films would be decidedly tame if it wasn't for the shock factor added by their soundtracks. There's got to be a big noise when the killer strikes or when the hero turns around to find nothing there. And it's got to build up to something. 'We Love Infinity' certainly builds. And builds. It just never gets anywhere. What there is of it is certainly creepy and atmospheric, but Vivahead's sense of timing is terrible. These instrumental pieces drag on too long and invariably lose their shiver-inducing power to boredom. It's still building when it should be exploding. 'Pig giddy' plays the same unnerving notes for about three minutes until I'm about as scared as Steve Irwin is of a crocodile. Countless irritating electronic passages, such as the one opening 'In the making' make this more like the soundtrack to a Castlevania video game. And we all know what a slog they were. There's definite promise here, but the whole thing is so one-dimensional that it gets dull fast. In fact, I doubt if I'll even remember it by the time the next album comes out.
Dust to Dust - Sick (Music Cartel)
Ah, good solid rock, how we missed you, until recently. Fat lazy riffs, sandpaper vocals and lyrics that scream of pain in a roundabout way. Dust to Dust know the rules and they're here to play. Everything about this is surprising. For something so traditionally heavy, the varied and impassioned delivery comes as something of a shock. This metal road may have been walked before, but Dust to Dust clearly feel it's their destiny to follow along it. In doing so they arrive somewhere between the nervous, frightening soundscapes of Neurosis and the inverted, angry-at-something rage of Alice in Chains. For some reason though, it doesn't get tiring. I guess it's the quality. For years now we've had bands like Nickelback and Puddle of Mudd following the grunge metal path. They were shit. Now we have bands like these guys and Oleander. They're good. That's the difference. The crunching riffs and warped solos on offer here are so undeniably true that we can overlook the band's faults and just enjoy their interesting take on metal. Give them a chance - they've earned it.
Linea 77 - Numb (Earache)
I suspect they want to sound At the Drive In. They're a little weird, a little kooky, but it just doesn't work. Nah, it's just annoying. The unusual experiments conducted here in the name of music are entirely necessary. Just to prove it doesn't work. Funk bass does not belong in metal, unless all the other instruments are going in the same direction. Tuneless warbled vocals do not sit with over-produced instrumentation. Ripping off Mike Patton has been done to death. I wouldn't be surprised if hundreds of bands wanted to try and play the way Linea 77 do. Well now they don't have to, because they already know it's shit. Everything about this points to a band playing their hearts out, but it all ends up sounding so half-assed. I've just got one thing left to say: "Meh."
Flywheel - Flywheel (EMI)
Chug chug chug. Soar. You could be forgiven for thinking you're listening to Alice in Chains, the world's most influential band (tm). But this is Flywheel, fool. Not that it matters. It's up to you to decide whether you're tired of this yet. "Unspoken" swings like a massive blade with all band members coming out fighting - 'Torn' crushes like a hammer with some tidy guitar work and 'Screamin' is simply awesome. Flywheel is a great band who write good songs and play them with a lot of heart. It's all heavily entertaining, but you get the feeling that it's an advance scout for an army of soundalike bands. They may be the last of this breed to genuinely capture the attention. Right now it's OK, but any more and it might get stale. Hopefully Flywheel have somewhere to go on their next album. I wouldn't want them to get lost. The bottom line is that you might want this album, but you certainly don't need it. "Flywheel" is just another brick in the wall of metal, albeit a very well cut one.
DRI - Dirtiest... rottenest (Metal Blade)
Yeah, it's pretty dirty. I guess it's quite rotten. What it's not... is good. This crappy kind of punky thrash died on its arse as soon as Metallica released "Kill 'em all". Well, it should have. Speedy headbanging riffs are here married to maggot-eating, coffin-robbing basslines and shouty vocals. Just as they have been for years. It's just not nearly as hard or fast as it thinks it is, particularly the barely functional drumming. One particular song finds our heroes bellowing "shut the fuck up!". I wish you would, mate, I wish you would. Put this on shuffle on your CD player and you won't notice where one song ends and another begins. Are they punk legends? Hardcore superstars? Underground warriors? You tell me. If they are, at any rate, it can't be that hard. Why not get out and start your own band? I can guarantee you'll be better than DRI.
The Bouncing Souls - Anchors Aweigh (Epitaph)
The only thing the Bouncing Souls bring to kiddie punk is a little extra energy. They're a little more animated, a little louder, and a little faster. However, they're still basically shit and serve no more purpose than to make kids realise that they too can form a band, who may even break the cycle of this retarded scene. I doubt it though. You know how it goes - "yadda, yadda, yadda, hey, hey, hey". And how many times can one man replay a single drum pattern? Fucking hell.
Cult of Luna - Cult of Luna (Earache)
Every metal album should open as threateningly as this. Satan should put his hooves up and grannies should hobble for cover. Bowels should spin and ears should vibrate. If it's goddamned metal, then it should fucking sound like it. Cult of Luna understand. This is a lumbering, heaving monster of a record that should be played in tanks everywhere. I know 'The Revelation embodied' and 'Dark side of the sun' make me want to blow stuff up. Mommy, I'm a bad man, help me. No pansy melodies here, just gut tugging riffery and meat tenderising drumifications. The machines of hell roll on and you're just a weed to be hacked down. It's frightening. And to think they're so young! And that they got better with the follow-up. Yes, this mutated beast of a musical statement is their mothertruckin' debut. These guys are going to go far, so far, in fact, that not even that camp elf drag queen Legolas is going to be able to see them. Get on the bandwagon now fools, or you'll never catch up.
Pro-Pain - Run For Cover (Spitfire)
I want to give Pro-Pain more of my time, I really do. But, for heaven's sake, this is just a covers album. The numbers are well chosen and the band make good work of the more complex numbers such as Slayer's "South of heaven" and Sepultura's "Refuse/resist", while the spot-on version of Life of Agony's "Weeds" is something of a surprise. Pro-Pain are a good band and they play like motherfuckers, but they don't add anything to these songs. It's hard to know what to make of it.
Voivod - Voivod (Chophouse)
With the horrendously disappointing new Metallica record boasting the bold statement that "true metal has returned", I'm here to tell you that that is not the case, that metal has been doing quite nicely since the last Metallica album some six years ago, thank you. And, in the time that it took James, Lars and Kirk to recover from the shock that the bass player they for so long took for granted left in non-too friendly terms, Jason Newsted formed and recorded an album with Echobrain, before joining long-time Canadian buddies Voivod. As a Voivod fan since the early eighties, I was intrigued to see what Newsted would bring to the most underrated, overlooked metal band on the planet today. Voivod, in their 13-album career, have been pioneers and fore leaders in the genre with their stunningly unique sound and imaginative concepts and lyrics. Albums such as 1986's "Killing Technology" were industrial metal before there was such a thing as industrial metal, and 1989's "Nothingface", with its dazzling songs (complete with Pink Floyd cover), is still years ahead of its time. Even their last studio album, 'Phobos', featuring Eric Forrest on vocals who temporarily replaced original vocalist Snake gave most thrash/death metal bands a run for their money.
And so it was announced that 3 of the original founding members, vocalist Snake (Denis Belanger), drummer and artist extraordinaire Away (Michel Langevin) and the most criminally underrated guitarist ever to plug into a Marshall, Piggy (Denis D'Amour), were to team up with the ex-bass player from the biggest rock band in the world. And the result? There's a saying amongst Voivod fans - if you "get" a Voivod album on first listen, then you don't get them at all. Every album brims with incredible riffs that you just won't hear until repetitive listens, there are hidden layers in each and every song that are a pleasure to hear unfold. Sonically, Voivod sound inspiring, like nothing you've ever heard before, and I'm pleased to say that 'Voivod' continues with the tradition of classic, classy sci-fi metal.
A major factor of this is the return of vocalist Snake, truly one of the most wonderful singers, performers and lyricists in music today, not just metal. His vocals on the track 'I don't wanna wake up' are quite eerie, where on 'Real again?' the lines "Cool as always/I do things my way/I'm not ruining my life/and this city haunts me again" are sung with cold unease. The musicianship is, as expected from a Voivod album, utterly jaw-dropping; Piggy's guitar playing is totally mesmerising, while Away's drumming stomps all over this record, from thrash beats to tasty jazz-like rhythms. One can tell that Jason had a blast recording this record, enjoying the group effort that was shamefully denied him during his hiatus with Metallica. He even gets a bass solo on 'Strange and ironic'! (I'm sure there's an in-joke there somewhere.) Voivod as a band was always those guys you read about in magazines or heard about from other bands who willingly name-dropped them, but for years they were constantly banging on the Metal Premiere League, always outsiders and forever underground. Hopefully that will now all change, what with Jason's enthusiasm behind them, a place on the 2003 US Ozzfest and riding a strong, important album I'm sure, even as you are reading this and still haven't heard Voivod that you will, sooner rather than later.
Melechesh - Sphynx (Osmose Productions)
Once in a while, in this glutted scene of ours, full of the great and not so great, you discover a band that quite simply blows you away. Nile were the last band that did it for me, Vader before them, and, just when you think that it can't get any better than that, an album pops out of the blue and you're left screaming its praises from the roof-tops. Well, boys and girls, Melechesh are one such band. I had heard about them, read about them, finding their subject matter of ancient Mesopotamia and Sumeria fascinating and intriguing, and wondered aloud if they were just another death/black metal band with an interesting topic or were they the real deal, capable of delivering something special? Let the band tell you themselves: "Factually composed with Near East and extreme metal arrangements, preformed with distinctive Mediterranean instruments, enriched with vast desert and cosmic influence, 'Sphynx' is a fascinating collection of songs and invaluable record for those who seek understanding of ancient times."
All very well, but does it rock? Oh yes, very much so, bringing to mind Sepultura's 'Beneath the remains' style structure, Artillery's 'Terror squad' riffing and early Kreator vocals. The similarities to Nile begin and end with the overall concept - Nile have their Egyptology, Melechesh have their Mesopotamian Metal, but musically the latter are far more accessible. Opener 'Of mercury and mercury' bursts from your speakers, a barrage of drums and guitars that will immediately have you grinning from ear to ear. Listen to that mid-riff, ye Gods when was the last time you heard anything like that? And the two-minute lead at the end of the track - this is total metal madness, and only the first song! Verily I say unto thee, you will rejoice. Second track up, 'Secrets of Sumerian Sphynxology' begins with a mid-paced tempo before twisting into something all-consuming and powerful, with some tasty Voivod licks thrown in for good measure. 'Tablets of fate' is a 5-minute plus tour-de-force of eastern promise, which also boasts a riff running through it that defies you to keep your head from banging. This leads into another riff that worms its way into your brain, and you'll have no choice but to sit there, gob-smacked. Incredible. The CD also comes with a CD-Rom with tons of lyrics, inner notes, photos, details on the instruments used as well as instructions on how to play the songs and a video for 'Genies, sorcerers and Mesopotamian nights', a track from their previous album 'Djinn', which yours truly will be getting ASAP.
So who are these guys? Half Assyrian/Armenian Ashmedi, rhythm & lead guitars, lead vocals, Moloch, rhythm & lead guitars, Al'Hazred, bass & vocals, and Proscriptor on drums and vocals, they divide their time between the US, France and Holland, which would make band rehearsal pretty time-consuming. How they do it, I have no idea, but trust me when I tell you that this is the real deal, that Melechesh are something special and that you will not be disappointed. As a metal fan, you need this like a bird needs wings.
Destruction - Alive Devastation (Nuclear Blast - Japanese Import)
Now this is a nice treat for all Destruction fans. A 13-track, smouldering live album recorded at the Wacken Festival in Germany, August 2002, and, oh, it's good stuff, a warts an' all recording of the German thrashers who are going from strength to strength with each passing year. Kicking off with the classic 'Curse the Gods' from 86's 'Eternal Devastation' album (with one of the more memorable intros in metal today), we are blessed with blistering track after track, from latter day tunes like 'Machinery of lies' and 'Tears of blood' to all-hits like 'Eternal ban', 'Mad butcher' and 'Invincible force'. And check out the 8-minute plus 'Life without sense' - pure metal bliss! Completely dub free (unlike their dodgy "Live without sense" album released in '89), you can almost feel Schmier (bass & vocals) and Mike's (guitars) frustration as the power keeps failing, especially on their encore 'Bestial invasion', where the whole thing gives up the ghost. Swearing like sailors, they simply fix it and then start all over again. Marvellous. This is how all live albums should sound. It is, however, a Japanese import, meaning you're gonna have to firstly find it then fork out extra for it. Or do what I did; order it straight from the record label. If you're a Destruction fan, you do not want to miss this, and it'll whet your appetite perfectly until their next opus, appropriately entitled 'Metal discharge.'
Mortician - Darkest Day Of Horror (Relapse)
"Every Mortician album is pretty much the same shit. But with a different cover. More of the same kind of metal." - Roger Beaujard.
It's refreshing to hear a musician describe his art in simple black-and-white, rather than the pretentious crap that others spew continuously. And he is also correct, for Mortician has a formula that works and they stick to it. It just so happens that the formula in question is the sickest, fastest, most extreme grind-horror-noise you will ever hear, period. Such is the speed of these fellows that they have a drum machine, not a drummer. There are only two of them, the aforementioned Mr Beaujard, guitar/drum programmer, and Will Rahmer, bass, vocals and Star Wars fan. Musically they come across as Anaal Nathrahk shooting Pig Destroyer in the head, ONLY HEAVIER; lyrically they exhume explicit gore films, dissect them and use varied clips as intro samplers. ('Cannibal Girls! They're young, beautiful, and very, very sexy! They love every man they meet - first to death, then for dinner!') Their covers are by renowned artist Wes Benscoter (he of Slayer's "Divine intervention"). And by golly, they Rock. There are 20 tracks on this album. Pick any - 'Human puzzle', 'Carving flesh', 'Slowly eaten', 'Voodoo curse'; superb, senses-numbing extremity, one for horror fans and noise freaks everywhere.
Usurper - Twilight Dominion (Earache)
Earache, home to all things extreme, have recently signed two of the more respected death metal bands in the genre, Deicide, for a one-album deal (forthcoming) and from Chicago, those metal defenders, Usurper. Now it must be said that Usurper were early Hellhammer/Celtic Frost worshippers, complete with those heavy, HEAVY riffs and Tom G Warrior death grunts. They make pains to point out that "Twilight Dominion" is their least Frost-sounding album, and where there are certainly Frosty moments to be found here - death grunts aplenty at the end of 'Lycanthropic' - Usurper are striding ahead with their own brand of metal, albeit firmly in the Manowar field. Brilliantly produced by Neil Kernon, he has captured the Usurper sound that on their previous albums ("Necronemesis", for example) they were struggling to find. Take opener 'Metal lust'; OK, the title may be a tad cheesy, but the music is heavy as fuck, and when 'The Struggle of tyrants' kicks in, it opens with a riff guaranteed to shred your ears off. The album is divided into two halves - Chapter 1 (side A), "Total Metal Lust", and then Chapter II (side B), "Tales from the Chronovisor" - a fond throwback to the days of vinyl. As the first track from Chapter II, 'The Descent', opens, it does seem as if you have flipped the record over. All in all, this is good stuff, metal for those who like and take their metal serious, i.e., those who wear medieval armour and throw the devil-sign at old ladies while waiting for the number 3 bus. "UH!" indeed.
Behemoth - Zos Kia Cultus (Here And Beyond) (Avantgarde)
Italy's Behemoth are beginning to make a major name for themselves, but unfortunately, for all their posturing and grimacing effort, I just can't see it. Oh, I can see the influence; in fact I can see the almost identical similarities to Morbid Angel, both musically and lyrically. Even the overall feel of the album has Morbid Angel stamped all over it, which is a damn shame. It's the brainchild of metal wizard Nergal, who on his own wrote most of the music, lyrics, produced the album and even co-designed the album's concept, and, where a lot of talented effort has gone into creating this, musically it lets the whole thing down. I tried to like this, I truly did, but with tracks like 'As above so below' and 'The Harlot of the saints' sounding as if they were lifted from any Morbid Angel album, it's hard not to feel a little cheated when the original do it so much better. Not that my criticism is going to change anything, but wouldn't it be interesting if Nergal allowed someone else in the band to point out to him, "Here, mate, don't you think this sounds a bit like something from 'Formulas fatal to the flesh'?"
Various - A Tribute to the beast vol.2 (Nuclear Blast)
And that 'Beast' in question will be none other than Iron Maiden, naturally. I picked this up because it had Destruction covering 'Killers' (and doing a fine job to boot), but I was pleasantly surprised at the other offerings here. Some are carbon copies of the originals, others completely different, but all are fairly competent to the ear of the critical Maiden die-hard fan. Take Thunderstone's 'Wasted years'. This is sooooooooo truthful to the original that you would swear it was Maiden, even down to vocalist Pasi Rantanen's spine-tingling performance. Stuck Mojo feat Devin Townsend do a party-mix of 'Wrathchild' and they sound as if they had a blast recording it, too. Anthrax make a balls of the classic 'Remember tomorrow', namely down to the truly awful vocals of John Bush. Seriously, they should be ashamed of themselves; they quite literally destroy this song. Tankard rip through 'Iron Maiden', Necrophobic disembowel 'Moonchild', while some avant garde fellows in wedding suits called Mago de Oz (yes, I never heard of them either) render a Celtic version of 'Strange World', and it sounds hauntingly beautiful for it. Elsewhere, Sentenced growl their way through 'The Trooper', Wolf rock their way through 'Déjà vu', Mystic Prophecy blast out a bitchin' (I'm running out of adjectives here) version of 'Sanctuary', and Primal Fear are pointless with '2 minutes to midnight'. The dark and brooding Graveworm do something to 'Fear of the dark', though I'm not quite sure what, while Iced Earth thrash out 'Hallowed be thy name', lifted from their excellent "Horror show" record. However, the best track is from Therion, with a live version of 'Revelations'. Don't know where it was recorded, but when the song is announced it's greeted with open arms like a returning long lost family member. Which, in a way, is what this is all about. No matter which genre you fall into, you should have at least 3 Maiden albums in your collection, never mind 1. Recommended.
Various - Celtic Frost tribute - Order of the tyrants (Black Lotus Recordings)
Our second tribute album sees 14 bands blast their way through that most influential Swiss band, Celtic Frost, who alongside their younger carnation Hellhammer, as well as Venom and Bathory, helped shape the black metal we know/love/loath in equal measures. From the obscure (Order of the Ebon Hand, anyone?) to black metal superstars, Dimmu Borgir, all treat their respective covers with adoration; one can almost sense the pride and satisfaction with which they tackled their tasks. A labour of love, indeed. Of the catalogue of tracks on offer here, there are some truly inspiring versions. Necrophagia treats us to a 10-minute plus horror-fest of 'Triumph of death', Marduk makes 'Into the crypts of Rays' their own, while Melechesh - those Mesopotamian metallers were born to play 'Babylon Fell'. Akercocke are fairly restrained during 'Mesmerised', Hypocrite grunt and crush their way through 'The Usurper' and Carrier Flux bring Frost into the new millennium with a bizarre techno version of 'Beyond the northwinds' in a way Tom Warrior's Apollyon Sun only hinted at. All in all, this is a fine collection of the cream and upcoming black metal acts covering such a hugely influential and highly respected band. Yes, we are quite morbid, thank you.
I.N.R.I - Hyper Bastard Breed (Cold Blood Industries)
I suppose you can't go wrong with an album title like that, can you? From Holland come the fastest, nastiest band to emerge from the land of windmills and dykes since Pestilence, and what a noisy racket this gritty five piece make. Strictly in the thrash/death metal vein, "HBB" is full of blast beats, growls, quick-as-a-flash leads and lots of praises to the Wicked One, bringing to mind early Kreator and loads and loads of Slayer. 'More ruthless than the Devil', 'Terrorfreak', 'The Glorythrone', 'Spawn of Abraham', 'Hell is rising', this is metal at its most basic - no frills, no gimmicks, just traditional, evil Satanic Metal for those who want it heavy and fast. It's by no means perfect - the production could be better, and the tracks do seem to run into one another with no distinction, but these are minor hiccups that I'm sure the band will build on in time. Next time round, they could well give those at the top of the metal league a run for their money. Watch this space.
Me First & the Gimme Gimmes - Take a break (Fat Wreck Chords)
And after all that metal, if you wish to listen to something not so brain-pressuring, then take a break with this, the fourth album from those wise-asses the Gimme Gimmes. Having already covered everything from John Denver to The Beatles to Judy Garland, they now set their sights on classic r n' b numbers, and in typical fashion manage to destroy/improve them, depending. 13 booze-fuelled songs, including 'Where do broken hearts go', 'Hello', Nothing compares 2 u', 'Isn't she lovely', 'I believe I can fly', 'Save the best for last' and 'Natural woman'. My 59-year-old dad loves these guys, though whether that's a good recommendation or not is debatable...