Carcass Masterpiece “Heartwork” Turns Twenty-Five Years Old

Carcass didn’t invent death metal, but they helped perfect it. The didn’t ascend to the pantheon of the death and goregrind genres overnight either. Their earlier work, especially their debut Reek of Putrefaction, Symphonies of Sickness, and Tools of The Trade and a few EP’s were all growers. The band had a penchant of shifting genres and styles within songs and albums, owing to their talent, but displeasing some of the more ardent fans. They likely didn’t think about this or even discuss it, just musically going wherever the evil spirits guided at the time. This kept their growing fan base agitated, but interested to see what the band would do next in the burgeoning underground scene. So when Heartwork was unleashed on the world (Earache) in 1993, it seemed like all of these elements coalesced. Continue reading

Green Druid – Ashen Blood

Denver, Colorado group Green Druid know what they like: They like Sleep, prolonged, Sleep-like jams, and – and I’m going out on a limb here – I’m willing to bet they like songs inspired by marijuana. Their début album, Ashen Blood (Earache) mixes all those elements for a heavy and satisfying (if overly long) session of stoner goodness. Continue reading

Municipal Waste – Slime And Punishment

It’s a commonly held belief that when Thrash Metal slipped into a coma sometime during the early Nineties, it was all due to an over-saturation of bands and a paucity of creativity. And while it’s certainly true that around 1989-90, the well was indeed beginning to running dry, a number of bands did try their best to mix things up in an attempt to prolong the Thrash adventure. Coroner tried Jazz and Prog, Mordred took the Funk route, Voivod turned into Pink Floyd, and let’s not forget Celtic Frost and their, er… misguided attempt to reinvent themselves as a Glam act.  Continue reading

Biters – The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

Two years on from the impressive bluster of the debuting swagger of Electric Blood, Atlanta’s Biters are back with another notable bag of goodies in the shape of The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be (both Earache), and a mission statement to make Rock n’ Roll relevant again. While album one came from out of nowhere, shining bright with its proto-punk melodies, has the curse of the “difficult second album” struck now that there are ready ears awaiting the follow-up? Continue reading

The White Buffalo – Love and the Death of Damnation

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According to those who are, supposedly, in the “know”, the album is dead and the only thing that we are interested in now, whether on our streaming service of choice, our iPods or laptops are the hits, the single tracks. The album, as we know and loved it, has passed to the great gig in the sky. Nobody seems to have told Jake Smith (aka The White Buffalo) this.

For the past couple of years Smith has steadily built an increasingly fervent following for his beguiling blend of country, Americana, folk and melancholic rock. His progression as a musician has been helped by artistic jumps forward in songcraft, subtlety and nuance and, let’s not be coy here, having a spot on the soundtrack to the critically acclaimed television show, Sons of Anarchy, cannot have done him any harm either.

Love and the Death of Damnation is his latest album and it is, well, fantastic, actually. This is the sort of album that makes you want to take up smoking again or start smoking if you’ve never done it. It’s the sort of record that effortlessly traverses a rich palette of aural majesty: darkened narratives of deals gone bad, loves gained and lost and oneupmanship battles around drinking and shooting pool are just the start of a rich, brooding and utterly captivating record.

The first cut from the album, a humdinger of a duet with Audra Mae, the husky and emotion packed ‘I Got You’, is but one piece of prosecution evidence for a record that is about human resilience, the power of love and strength under extreme adversity.

Smith’s exemplary qualities as a lyricist are in full effect here: he has a brilliant ability to make the general feel deeply personal and emotive: it is a baritone voice that suggests a life lived hard and well, a voice that speaks of adventure and pain, often in equal measure. Smith captures the pyscho-geography of the Deep South with a forensic eye. He has a palpable sense of raw anger at the injustice and failings of the American Dream. Fortunately, this is an artist that, having suffered loneliness and betrayal is optimistic that humanity and fairness and love will prevail, despite the obvious and challenging setbacks that he has faced.

On Love and the Death of Damnation, Smith has succeeded in creating a series of individual tales of love and loss, redemption, survival and the power of the human spirit. Long term admirers of Smith will recognise an artist that has moved beyond a default songwriting aesthetic that was almost uniformly dark.

On this latest album, there is light and shade, an expansive sound and supreme evidence of an artist finding a clear and distinctive voice in the process. Comparisons with other “great” American songwriters are likely to be numerous and obvious. Know this: The Love and Death of Damnation is an evocative record that you will return to again and again. Majestic.

 

9.0/10

MAT DAVIES

 

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Cathedral – In Memoriam 2015

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When doom metal legends Cathedral finally called it a day in 2013, there was much sadness but also a great outpouring of gratitude for the music recorded in their twenty-three year career as titans of the doom scene. A thoroughly British institution with a penchant for eccentricities, the quartet would in later years branch into stoner and prog territory, but their birth in 1990, with vocalist Lee Dorrian having decided that life in Napalm Death wasn’t for him, came at a time when doom/death was in its infancy; and it was that sound, or rather a more traditional doom one that Cathedral would go for on their first demo In Memoriam. First re-issued in 1999, the time is now right to re-visit this first effort, again via Dorrian’s own Rise Above Records, and, with the benefit of hindsight, appreciate how bloody good Cathedral were.

Opening track ‘Mourning of a New Day’ is slow, ponderous and menacing, demonstrating the power of taking it slowly at a time when the rest of the world wanted to play as fast as possible. The guitar tone is stark and heavy, Lee Dorrian’s vocals are guttural and a tad awkward, and the whole thing seems drenched in a miasma of pain and sorrow with tales of vampire suns and Witchfinder Generals nowhere to be seen. A suitably downbeat cover of Pentagram’s classic ‘All Your Sins’ follows with all the hippie vibe stripped away before a grimly powerful early cut of ‘Ebony Tears’ rears its head. Final track ‘March’, a joyless, militaristic number doesn’t really go anywhere and would have been a better fit for industrial legends Godflesh, also newbies at that stage.

The live tracks, recorded in Europe in 1991 show a young band with a fiercely professional outlook and a tight, devastatingly weighty sound. The first three tracks of the demo are replicated here along with forgotten classic ‘Neophytes for the Serpent’s Eve’ from the band’s second demo and a gut-wrenching version of Forest of Equilibrium (Earache) classic ‘Intro/Commiserating the Celebration.’ Dorrian’s stage banter is polite and to the point and while the muffled cheers from the audience hint at Cathedral’s limited appeal in the early days, their skill and power was never in doubt.

A timely reminder of where it all began, when four miserable lads from Coventry decided to replicate the grimness of their surroundings and in doing so created one of the most important bands in the history of underground music. We are poorer for having lost them but with classic re-issues such as In Memoriam, their legacy will live on forever.

 

8.0/10

 

JAMES CONWAY

Oceano – Ascendants

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Releasing their fourth album in only six years, all on Earache, Chicago, Illinois’ Oceano don’t do two things – subtlety or surprises. Wading in like a behemoth sumo, with each stab of the guitar representing a tree-trunk leg thudding down and with each pig squeal signifying the friction of flabby thigh slapping flabby thigh, the beatdown-focused Ascendants lumbers into town, modelling deathcore 101 with the open string chug enhanced by some tight and imaginative percussive work.

Taking their cue from Thy Art Is Murder and All Shall Perish’s more staccato moments, Oceano’s is a considered violence, a repetitive ham-hock fist to the head with pendulum regularity and in no particular rush; it’s the troll wading through the sea of bodies that are trying to force it back in an exercise in futility. For those who enjoy their pro-wrestling, they are the Big Show; cumbersome, but effective (and somehow higher-profile than you think they deserve to be, and you prefer the other, more interesting wrestlers anyway….).

Oceano are also beginning to suffer from the inevitable law of diminishing returns. If their debut, Depths, one of the best examples of deathcore to date, showcased diversity in amongst the rhythmic bullying chug and Contagion had a darker, twisted feel, Ascendants is Oceano at their lowest common denominator, most Neanderthal, a notion that is enhanced by ‘Dawn of Descent’ and it’s more atmospheric endeavours, which help it stand out in a sea of proto-human repetitive pounding.

Other acts, in particular Suicide Silence, have shown it’s possible to continue to progress a sound and develop as a band while retaining a deathcore identity (though the further they, and others move from the deathcore “core” the more successful they are and the better they sound), but Ascendants is still a decent, if unspectacular, repetitive brain injury of a deathcore album. With (another) new line up in place, one wonders about the future of Oceano as not even by playing it safe and playing the genre card to the max – for this is dictionary definition beatdown laden deathcore – is enough to bring Ascendants up to the level of their previous outings.

 

6.0/10

Oceano on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

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I have a musical comfort zone. And it’s all the way over there with the Jackson Flying V’s and double-bass drums. It may even include some spandex (not on me, though…) Yet here I am, sitting here, rocking on the porch (sofa), nodding along to the Southern vibes of Atlanta, Georgia’s Blackberry Smoke and their fourth album Holding All The Roses (Earache).  And I’m more than fine with that.

Following the critical and commercial success of The Whippoorwill (Earache/Southern Ground) would have daunting to many bands, but not the Smoke, who shacked up with mega-producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen). Any fears that such a hit-maker would sterilize their sound are quickly dispersed by the laidback singalong to ‘Let Me Help You Find The Door’ and it’s rock n’ roll shamble. The title track shuffles in next, picking up the beat, with some clean guitar fingerpicking and a more uptempo come-and-join-us chorus. Whereas the temptation could have been to seek the big bucks and accidentally fall into the trap of producing sanitized radio rock, instead Blackberry Smoke have infused their music with even more of a traditional Southern flavour, and, boy, does it suit.

Blackberry Smoke are no gimmick band, just a class one with their hearts in yesteryear and a love of venerable records, releasing an album full of simple pleasures; of pure, excellent songs. There are many highlights, the pick of which are the two melancholy numbers, the deeper, bluesier ‘Woman In The Moon’, where Charlie Starr’s lazy delivery comes into its own, and ‘No Way Back To Eden’ (a track I’d have been tempted to close the album on), both of which prove the quintet have that added depth all the best have. In amongst the swathes of Creedence Clearwater Revival (and several other subtle references I’m too unschooled to know) ‘Too High’ is wistful country and ‘Rock and Roll Again’ is the sound of the Deep South ripping on Status Quo and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Call Me The Breeze’, while ‘Payback’s A Bitch’ has a work-shy hook that will infect you like sidewinder venom, as Holding All The Roses unfurls it’s kick-ass blues rock beauty with a smile.

I’ll level. If Blackberry Smoke weren’t on Earache, the chances are high I wouldn’t have been interested in checking them out. Chances are also as good as getting a 7+ on a 15 hand in pontoon we wouldn’t be included them in the hallowed digi-pages of the good ship Ghost Cult without the same, or similar, connection. And we’d have missed out on a warm, chilled out doozy, so hats off to Dig and all concerned for branching out and expanding their traditional net. I’m delighted they did. I’m not going to go off and dive into a whole other musical genre, but I’m glad the Smoke have entered my life and my music collection. They won’t be for everyone who frequents a metal site, but they should be for people who value unassuming good rock songs.

If there is justice out there, the winds will spread the Blackberry pollen far and wide.

 

8.5/10

Blackberry Smoke on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

The Browning – coming to a US venue near you!

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Electrocore metallers The Browning are heading round the States on a mammoth 30 day haul having been added to the Alesana/Capture The Crown bill.

The Kansas City dance metal band, whose second album Hypernova (Earache) is now two years old (work has provisionally begun on a follow-up), take their place on the five-band bill alongside Conquer Divide and The Funeral Portrait. 

That’s a lot of music for your buck!

Tour dates in full:

Apr. 03 – Winston-Salem, NC – Ziggy’s
Apr. 04 – Louisville, KY – Expo Five
Apr. 06 – Allentown, PA – Crocodile Rock
Apr. 07 – Millvale, PA – Mr. Small’s Theatre
Apr. 08 – Worcester, MA – The Palladium
Apr. 09 – New York, NY – Webster Hall
Apr. 10 – Buffalo, NY – Waiting Room
Apr. 11 – Cleveland, OH – The Agora Theatre
Apr. 12 – Westland, MI – The Token Lounge
Apr. 14 – Lansing, MI – The Loft
Apr. 16 – Indianapolis, IN – Emerson Theater
Apr. 17 – Joliet, IL – Mojoe’s
Apr. 18 – St. Paul, MN – Amsterdam Bar
Apr. 20 – Des Moines, IA – Val Air Ballroom
Apr. 21 – St. Louis, MO – The Firebird
Apr. 22 – Merriam, KS – Aftershock
Apr. 23 – Denver, CO – Marquis Theatre
Apr. 24 – Salt Lake City, UT – In the Venue
Apr. 25 – Orangevale, CA – The Boardwalk
Apr. 26 – Bakersfield, CA – Jerry’s Pizza
Apr. 27 – West Hollywood, CA – Whiskey A Go Go
Apr. 28 – Tucson, AZ – The Rock
Apr. 29 – Phoenix, AZ – Joe’s Grotto
May 01 – Houston, TX – Warehouse Live
May 02 – Austin, TX – Dirty Dog Bar
May 03 – Dallas, TX – Curtain Club

 

The Browning on Facebook

Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat

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Remember the first time you heard From Enslavement to Obliteration (Earache), the ground-breaking second album from UK grind pioneers Napalm Death? I certainly do. It was 1988, I’m there trying to grasp on to my love of loud music…and I fucking hated it. I found it laughable, and it sent me away from Metal’s harder edges for a long time. How can you identify with a five-second song, for Christ’s sake? Up to this moment, I’d never listened to another Napalm Death album.

A staggering 27 years later fifteenth album Apex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media) hits my inbox and boy, I feel different. The angry yet tribal rhythm of the shamanic title track gives way to the pounding machine-gun rattle of ‘Smash A Single Digit’, while the powerful skewing punk of ‘Metaphorically Screw You’ ploughs an irresistible furrow. There’s display of a flexibility in pace with the initially slower ‘Dear Slum Landlord’ retaining a hefty boot with a full production and eventually exploding with euphoric ferocity. The band’s trademark veering grind is still in evidence in the speed and violent switches of ‘Cesspits’ and ‘Bloodless Coup’; while the exercise in raw bloody velocity that is ‘Stunt Your Growth’, complete with mid-point of brutal groove and a barked Barney Greenway delivery, will rip up some serious pits live.

That the band still emits a burning intensity, railing against injustice and The Establishment, is reassuring and adds the crucial element of gravity to what is, in essence, a joyous and energising sound. The beefy punk of ‘Hierarchies’ possesses choruses of near harmonised, reflective vocals and a lightning lead break to highlight the versatility. Thankfully this is followed by the frenetic  bludgeon of blastbeats and the savage roars of the penultimate ‘One Eyed’, reverting back to the coruscating norm with a wonderful closing bounce that is the album’s highlight.

Me, the Napophobe? I bloody love the nose-breaking, careering chaos of it all, which would appal an old, lost friend and make a few more chuckle. I’m ashamed I’ve missed out on so much but thank God for mid-life crises, eh?….

 

8.5/10

Napalm Death on Facebook

 

PAUL QUINN