Humangled – Prodromes of a Flatline

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While Italian death metal has never been able to get a word in edgeways when competing with its rivals from Sweden or the USA, the genre is in ruder health these days due to the international success of acts such as Fleshgod Apocalypse and Hour of Penance. This resurgence in fortunes has led to a few old hands reforming for another crack of the whip and Tuscan stalwarts Humangled are one of them. Prodromes of a Flatline (Bakerteam) is the group’s second effort since 2010’s Fractal (Abyss) turned a few heads. So is it enough to gain them a seat at the big boys table?

Unfortunately the answer is a definite no. While their strand of death metal certainly packs a punch, most noticeably on opening track ‘Liberté, Égalité, Brutalité’, there is not only too little going on throughout Prodromes of a Flatline to merit repeated spins, but crucially nothing to make the band stand out from the crowd. There’s not enough of the technicality of Nile, the brutality of Cryptopsy or the catchiness of Deicide, so we are left with a rather unappetising lumpen stew of the most bog standard elements of death metal, bereft of flavour and passion.

Too often it feels that the band is just going through the motions, often with some rather forced and clumsy transitions between parts that really should have been ironed out in the recording studio. At worst they come across as simply derivative as on the Death-aping ‘Intimacy Curse’ and God knows what possessed them to record such a horrible cover of ‘To Mega Therion’ and tack it on the end of the record. At best they’re a support band that tries hard for twenty-five minutes with the occasional half-catchy riff. However, in this day and age, it’s certainly not worth reforming for

 

5.0/10

 

JAMES CONWAY

Dew-Scented – Intermination

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Having been in the game since the early 90s, right about when thrash burned itself out and bands attempted to diversify, with predictably awful results (no-one needs an Exodus cover of Elvis Costello in their lives), Dew-Scented have steadfastly refused to sacrifice their intensity and heaviness. However, leaving aside the rather weak gimmick of every album title beginning with the letter ‘I’, they have never done anything to make them stand out from a densely populated crowd. Tenth full-length release Intermination (Metal Blade/Prosthetic) does little to change that.

After a brief melodic intro, the quartet launch into a fifteen song, fifty-three minute blitzkrieg of jacked-up thrash riffs that chug and shred with the best of them, thunderous drum beats that keep things tighter than a sealed tin can, and harsh, bellowed vocals that tell of their frustration in a violent world. It’s technically flawless; chock full of massive grooves and ripping guitar lines that just scream “Wacken Circle Piiiiit” and the band don’t miss a beat throughout. Standout tracks include the majestic solo and furious blastbeats of ‘Affect Gravity’, the razor-sharp thrash assault of ‘Means to an End’ and the primal neck-snapping brutality of ‘Power Surge.’ The Repulsion cover at the end (‘Radiation Sickness’) is a suitably feral way to close proceedings.

Unfortunately, there is simply too little variation between songs to justify there being so many of them. Dew-Scented are so far in their comfort zone that they’re on autopilot and have been for some time now. Intermination is one hell of a powerful and aggressive record, but it has little staying power and nothing to make you revisit it a few months down the line. German efficiency may get the job done, but in a totally soulless fashion.

 

7.0/10

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JAMES CONWAY

Gorgoroth – Instinctus Bestialis

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One of the most controversial and iconic bands in the Norwegian black metal scene, for many years the extracurricular activities of Gorgoroth members eclipsed the music being recorded. We had the over-the-top blasphemy of the infamous Warsaw gig of 2004, complete with nude crucified models and sheep heads on spikes, the rape allegations levelled at founding member Infernus in 2006, then the schism a year later which saw imposing frontman Gaahl and songwriter/bassist King ov Hell fail in their attempt to wrest control of the band from Infernus.

Thankfully all these distractions appear to be at an end, although Infernus has been unable to hold onto a stable line-up. Ninth full-length studio effort Instinctus Bestialis (Soulseller), originally recorded in 2013, has finally been released with former Obituary member Frank Watkins (Bøddel) and Thomas Asklund returning on bass and drums, and newbie Atteringer stepping up to the mic. So, after all the drama of the past decade, has the six year wait since 2009’s Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt (Regain) been worth it?

Upon pressing play, it’s instantly apparent that the band’s trademark blasting ferocity has not been reined in one iota. The vicious, clipped riffing and light speed blastbeats of ‘Radix Malorum’ will quite simply pin your ears back. The same can be said of next track ‘Dionysian Rite’ with Infernus doubling-up furiously and one of the three (yes, three) hired lead guitarists adding slick pinch harmonics to proceedings. The breakdown is suitably sinister with Atteringer intoning “Intoxication!” like a deranged, drunken cult leader. ‘Ad Omnipotens Aeterne Diabolus’ starts off slowly and mournfully, playing around with different tempos and ideas including some vaguely Dissection tasting guitar lines.

While the band more or less perfected their style several years ago, somewhere between 2000’s Incipit Satan and 2003’s Twilight of the Idols (both Nuclear Blast), it’s evident that Infernus and his acolytes have plenty more to offer. The naked aggressiveness of the riffing could still blast all the snow off a Norwegian mountain-top with ease and the overriding feeling of being repeatedly pounded by the hammer of Satan is something that you can only get with a Gorgoroth album, and Instinctus Bestialis is no exception. The death metal that infects ‘Come Night’ and ‘Rage in His Light’ are welcome additions that prevent things from being too one-dimensional, with the fantastic solo in the latter raising the bar again.

One noticeable change from previous albums is the vocal style of Atteringer. Opting for a low-pitched growl instead of the high pitched shrieks and rasps favoured by previous vocalists Hat and Pest, his low, unhurried intonations lend proceedings a darker air, especially in the slower moments which allow the tension to build once more. The production is crisp, ensuring all instruments are heard, although the sheer prominence of the guitars and relentless drums in the mix at times threaten to turn things into a stew, but this is thankfully dodged.

Hopefully now the music will be all that matters, and with Instinctus Bestialis, Gorgoroth have re-established their position as standard bearers of the Norwegian second wave.

True Satanic Black Metal has never felt so alive.

8.0/10

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JAMES CONWAY

Coathanger Abortion – Observations of Humanity

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Coathanger Abortion, really? That’s a song title Cannibal Corpse would reject for being too stupid, but the five members of said outfit evidently felt it was just the kind of moniker to gain precious brutal scene points. Now if this was just a few kids eager to offend it would be understandable but these chumps have been around for fifteen years! What’s even more shocking is in that time they appear to have barely mastered their instruments, let alone learnt how to pen a half-decent death metal song, for sophomore release Observations of Humanity (Comatose) is one of the worst albums ever recorded.

Inexpertly combining the aggression and violent approach of Cannibal Corpse with the technicality and chunky riffs of Suffocation, yet with absolutely none of the ingenuity, skill and flair those two acts have exhibited for so long, Coathanger Abortion drag the listener through a tortuous fifty-three minute riff-salad of stolen ideas and clumsy execution that’ll have you wondering how something so utterly horrendous could ever be released by a label that wants to be taken seriously. The clear production only serves to highlight how inept proceedings are, with every out-of-time chord-change, sloppy piece of drumming or out of tune bass note standing out like naughty schoolchildren. Most contempt however is reserved for the appalling guttural vocals that sound like a parody of the Cookie Monster.

Many album reviews include hyperbolic statements along the lines of; “this record will give you bruises!” Observations of Humanity is no exception; however the bruises will be on your visage as a result of repeated facepalms, or from pulling a muscle as you frantically reach for the stop button. This is a record that makes the latest offering from Six Feet Under appear an enticing and cerebral prospect.

Hands down, the worst album to be released this year.

 

2.0/10

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JAMES CONWAY

Goatsnake – Black Age Blues

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Given how many of the fallen luminaries of the black/death/grind scenes have recently recaptured their former glories with a slew of successful comeback albums it was only logical that a big name from the South was going to get in on the act. With their line-up reading like a who’s who of classic stoner and doom outfits, the mighty Goatsnake have reformed after nearly a decade away with their classic line-up intact and ready to once more blend the rough with the smooth, which they do so with aplomb on third full-length Black Age Blues (Southern Lord).

Firmly rooted in Southern culture and boasting a strong Gospel influence that filters through the songs like light through stained glass windows, the members of Goatsnake may wear their hearts on their sleeves, but they are more interested in getting your hips shaking courtesy of the bulldozing riffs of guitarist Greg Anderson, whose day job is making people feel sick with Sunn 0))). The sonic waves are nowhere near as punishing as those emitted by that fearful outfit, but they certainly pack a punch. Opening track ‘Another River to Cross’ begins with the gentle sound of trickling water before a gigantic riff appears out of nowhere which the rhythm section instantly lock into for a stately march through the heat haze. Next track ‘Elevated Man’ is more upbeat, with elements of classic rock flaring up around the more standard stoner refrains, especially in the instantly hummable chorus.

The good-time vibes continue with ‘Coffee and Whisky’ which stomps along happily, aided by Anderson’s effortlessly shifting fuzzy riffs and another catchy chorus. The basic percussion adds to the frill-free atmosphere and all seems at ease until the power builds to a monstrously heavy level to close the song, indicating that the band are not interested in playing it safe. Things get even better on the pure NOLA-worshipping headbanger of the title track which the members of Eyehategod will surely be kicking themselves upon hearing for not thinking of it first. The sludge gets even thicker on ‘House of the Moon’ which sounds like it was grown in the New Orleans swamp and fed nothing but BBQ and liquor. The backing vocals from Dem Preacher’s Daughters give it a veneer of class, but not by much.

The band turn their attention away from genre lyrical tropes on the nod-along stoner jaunt of ‘Jimi’s Gone’, an ode to Hendrix that even features a brief guitar solo from Anderson. The soaring backing vocals and harmonica perfectly compliment proceedings and act as the perfect upper to the somewhat downbeat feel of ‘Graves’, which follows. The album finishes strongly with the heavy as molasses march of ‘Grandpa Jones’ which comes close to doom metal perfection, aided once more by superb backing gospel vocals before the slithering, sinister ‘A Killing Blues’ plays us out.

Clearly the time away and experience in other bands has done the members of Goatsnake the world of good. All four of them put in a stellar shift throughout Black Age Blues, from the measured percussion of Greg Rogers, the pulsing bass of Guy Pinhas and of course the fuzzy axe of ol’ Greg. However the plaudits must go to vocalist Pete Stahl, who not content with having pioneered hardcore with Scream back in the 80s, has just staked a claim for being one of the finest singers of today. His clear, soulful tones elevate the songs above the rest of their stoner/doom brethren and his vocal lines will lodge in your head for days after.

An excellent comeback album from a band that has been away for far too long. Let’s hope they decide to keep this motor running for a little longer this time around.

 

8.5/10

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JAMES CONWAY

Tau Cross – Tau Cross

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With Britain once again under the yoke of an unrestrained Tory government and the Cold War seemingly re-activated, it’s beginning to feel like the 80s never ended. Therefore what better time for former Amebix frontman Rob “The Baron” Miller to step back into the limelight with a new band after his legendary crust trio failed to capitalise on their recent comeback record. Joined by comrades in arms Jon Misery and Andrew Lefton on guitars; both seasoned veterans of the US scene and Voïvod drummer Away behind the kit, the quartet have united under the banner Tau Cross, and with their debut self-titled album look set to prove once more that the old guard knows best.

Those expecting a re-run of Arise! (Alternative Tentacles) will be choking on their bottles of White Lightning as the massive chugging riffs and subtle electronica of album opener ‘Lazarus’ announces itself with aplomb. Both verses and choruses are positively radio friendly and were it not for Miller’s customary gritty throat, you could almost be listening to Killing Joke try their hand at stadium rock. Next track ‘Fire in the Sky’ has a somewhat 90s alt rock vibe struggling to emerge from under the guitars and Away’s solid percussion before things speed up considerably on the restless ‘Stonecracker’, which Lemmy would have sold his last bottle of Jack to have penned.

As the album progresses, it becomes more obvious that the band have no interest in trading on former glories and are eager to let these new songs stand on their own two feet. The expertly written flowing riffs and soaring chorus of the likes of ‘Midsummer’, the simple yet deadly stop-start refrains of ‘You People’ and the levelling power of ‘Our Day’ are so well written that the whole thing soon begins to feel like a greatest hits collection. The production is crystal clear; making the songs sound simply massive and the sheer amount of hooks on offer suggests that large festival stages were in mind during the writing process. It’s easy to imagine a whole field at a mainstream music festival raising their hands and voices to the brilliant acoustic driven ‘We Control the Fear’, for example.

The sole misstep is closing track ‘The Devil Knows His Own’; a rather twee folk ballad that allows the album to dwindle out when it should have finished with a bang, but that is a minor issue when the rest of the material on offer here is so strong. Evidently his day job as a swordsmith on the Isle of Skye has given Miller plenty of time to think up some fantastic material, and it’s something we should be incredibly thankful for as Tau Cross (Relapse Records) is one of the most listenable and engaging releases you are likely to hear until the clowns at Number 10 have been sent packing.

 

8.5/10

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JAMES CONWAY

Unmothered – UMBRA EP

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For those who stopped paying attention to Mastodon when they started getting all proggy and had the nerve to feature twerking in their music videos, help is at hand from Austin, Texas power-trio Unmothered who churn out some seriously hefty sludge on new EP UMBRA (self-released), a blink and you’ll miss it slice of blackened southern riffs, pummelling tribal drums and angry, snarled vocals.

Featuring a mere three tracks, UMBRA is presumably stop-gap release before the trio get their arses in gear and record a new full-length. They already have one long player to their name in their self-titled 2012 effort, and fans of the dark, sludgey tones captured on that release will be all over this like a hillbilly on fresh road kill.

Opening track ‘Magnetar’, named after a neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field wields a seriously catchy riff that stops and starts between booming percussion fills before the band march off into the unknown with some vaguely Minsk-esque tribal effects giving things a primitive and primal feel.

Next track ‘Huntress’ is thankfully nothing like the lame mainstream wannabes of the same name, but instead features a selection of pounding riffs that fellow Southern grizzlies Black Tusk would sell their most potent moonshine for. Keeping still to this one is pretty much impossible so it’s probably a good thing it only lasts for just over two minutes.

Last up is the gradually building crush of ‘Scarp’ which toys around with a menacing discordant riff for a couple of minutes before wandering off into the swamp, replete with ominous background percussion, stark melodies and muffled spoken word before everything finishes in a blaze of glory that harks back to the glory days of Remission-era Mastodon.

Not content to blindly recycle the usual clichés of their genre but at the same time not straying too far from the path, Unmothered know it’s the riffs that matter and they have plenty of big dirty ones for you to cop an earful of.

 

7.0/10

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JAMES CONWAY

Satan’s Wrath – Die Evil

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Say the words ‘black/thrash’ and the images are instant; bullet belts, leather, re-heated Venom riffs and a slightly worrying pre-occupation with witches, necrophilia, the devil and his merry pals. Greece’s Satan’s Wrath is no exception. They heartily embrace all the clichés of this dirty genre and probably view musical progression like an invitation to a Christian poetry reading. However, they are blessed (by Satan, naturally) with a fiendish musical talent  and with third album Die Evil (Metal Blade) have pretty much recorded an unofficial soundtrack to Hammer Horror classic The Devil Rides Out if it were ever to be re-made with Fenriz as the director.

Led by former Electric Wizard bassist Tas Danazoglou, a man with more facial tattoos than Britain has Lib Dem MP’s, Satan’s Wrath, as previously mentioned, deal in serrated blackened thrash riffs that race along like bats out of hell, gruff, barked vocals aided by a liberal dose of reverb, and the belief that metal became irrelevant when more than a dozen people became aware of Bulldozer’s existence. However, they have cast their yellow eyes a few years further back than the mid 80s as demonstrated by the strong NWOBHM influence captured throughout Die Evil, ensuring things don’t get too one dimensional. This is best demonstrated on ‘Coffinlust’, which shamelessly recycles the riff to ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’. Of course, it’s catchier than the common cold.

Whether it’s the frequent over-the-top guitar solos that erupt like grasping hands from a shallow grave, the rampant, galloping riffs on the likes of ‘Raised on Sabbaths’ and ‘Satanic War’ that defy you not to headbang and claw the air like a 14 year old kid who’s just discovered Slayer, or the goofy, trashy horror vibes that just don’t stop being old, Satan’s Wrath may be a one trick pony, but they’re one that gives one hell of a kick. Forget progress, just stick on Die Evil and submit to Satan. It’s the only way.

 

8.0/10

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JAMES CONWAY

Drudkh – A Furrow Cut Short

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In an age where all the mystique has vanished from the extreme music scene, Drudkh’s uncompromising no live shows/interviews/promo pictures/music videos approach is to be cherished, for it is the music they produce that is the only thing that matters. Of course the flipside to this is that the band are open to unsavoury accusations from those who seek to project their own agendas; despite no association with extremist ideology, Drudkh have been branded a far-right band primarily due to their lyrical references to nationalist Ukrainian poets.

While the four members may still draw inspiration from the glories and failings of their country’s past, it’s likely that the present is currently a far more pressing concern. The conflict in Ukraine shows no sign of abating, and with death and destruction a daily concern, it’s a wonder that they have been able to record a new album. But we should be thankful they have, for tenth full-length release A Furrow Cut Short (all Drudkh releases are Season of Mist) is one of their finest efforts to date.

The first thing one notices after pressing play is just how much passion Drudkh have captured here. The dry post-rock flavours of 2010’s Handful of Stars and the somewhat formulaic approach of 2012’s Eternal Turn of the Wheel have been consigned to the dustbin, with a much-needed injection of self-belief and renewed vigour the order of the day. Opening track ‘Cursed Sons’ follows the traditional Drudkh pattern of rapid, windswept riffing, energised percussion and sorrowful melodies, but is just that much more alive and urgent than on recent efforts, with vocalist Thurios in particular sounding mightily pissed off. The second part of the track slows down towards the end before racing off into an utterly triumphant finish complete with a fantastic guitar melody.

The influence Drudkh have had on current UK darlings Winterfylleth is evident in the magnificent driving riffs and subtle soaring keyboards of ‘To the Epoch of Unbowed Poets’, a stirring call-to-arms that harks back to the glory days of 2004’s Autumn Aurora, conjuring images of soldiers marching to war under a glaring sunset. Elsewhere, ‘Embers’ slows the pace slightly for a thoroughly melodic and more introspective six-odd minutes before the aggression returns with a vengeance on the first part of eighteen minute two-part epic ‘Dishonour’, with part two giving off a strong Burzum feel with its gloomy refrains and vicious, snarled vocals.

This is still main man Roman Saenko’s baby of course. As the main songwriter and guitarist, the man appears to be a bottomless well of creativity, and his guitar playing is capable of evoking emotion like few others. Well versed in black metal lore yet resolute in his vision, Saenko is a true artist who has made a fiercely private band from Eastern Europe into one of the most respected and revered acts in the annals of underground music. The music he and his comrades have captured on A Furrow Cut Short may not quite hit the heights of 2006’s magnificent Blood in Our Wells but it has come pretty damn close. Like all great Drudkh releases, this is an album that reveals more with every listen, a rousing yell of defiance backed by a passionate beating heart.

 

9.0/10

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JAMES CONWAY

Meek Is Murder – Onward/Into the Sun EP

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When a band describes themselves as “music for troubled weirdos”, it’s pretty safe to assume we don’t have the next incarnation of Mötley Crüe on our hands. Brooklyn-based trio Meek is Murder look like they would be happier engaging in a mammoth World of Warcraft session then doing blow with hookers on the Sunset Strip but that’s not to say the music they make won’t get one hell of a party started, for new double EP release Onward/Into the Sun (Rising Pulse) is one of the most exciting things you’ll hear all year.

Known for their blink and you’ll miss it song lengths seemingly tailor made for the ADHD brigade, Meek is Murder play a raucous style of mathcore that will have fans of early Botch and Converge foaming at the mouth with wide-eyed delight. It’s no surprise that the band has previously worked with producer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou, for his influence is all over the brief tracks that comprise first EP Onward, from the lurching dissonance of ‘Foreword’ to the manic violence of ‘Downward’ which features some seriously heavy drumming and a devastating false ending that will have circle pits erupting in any sweaty basement it is dropped live.

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The other EP in this release Into the Sun actually came out in 2012 so the re-issue here is a welcome one to those who missed out the first time. A tribute to classic 80s sci-fi flicks Aliens and Back to the Future, this effort is a tad more emotive and plays around with slower tempos than Onward, but is still madder than a box of frogs as the hyperactive ‘Doctor Emmett Brown (Endless in Our Fleeting)’ demonstrates.

This kind of hardcore works best in short, sharp snippets and Meek is Murder have clearly done their homework. At only fifteen minutes in length but with more going on than it’s possible to mention, Onward/Into the Sun shows a band bursting with ideas and incapable of sitting still.

 

8.0/10

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JAMES CONWAY