666th post

•October 28, 2008 • 2 Comments

…And I’m done with WordPress.  At one point in the (hopefully near) future I’m going to set up an area on the NTR website for all my writings.  Trying to centralize a bit more.  When that’s all set up and ready to go, I’ll post the link here and delete all the previous stuff just to redirect appropriately.  In the meantime, buy something:

http://www.nokturnaltransmissionsrecords.com

Strapping Young Lad – City

•October 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

This is the Strapping Young Lad album to which all others are compared and fail to live up.  It’s a lightyear beyond anything else the band managed to do and it wouldn’t have been totally inadvisable for Strapping Young Lad to have just ended after it.  It’s probably the band’s most ‘serious’ album thematically and doesn’t have the silliness of works before or after it, and it has the best songwriting the band ever achieved.  If you had to get one release from them, this is really it; it’s a great metal album and worth just about anyone’s time.

Strapping Young Lad never really changed sonically, so what sets this apart from the other albums is really just a matter of songwriting.  It’s simply better here; the riffs are catchier and more epic, the vocals soaring and ferocious, and the drumming fast and brutal.  The production is thick and full (as expected from Townsend) and all the instrumental performances are perfect.  Unlike other Strapping Young Lad albums, though, which can seem sort of confused with the instrumental elements not really coming together into a coherent whole, this feels perpetually sure of itself and never faltering.  The songs are very simple and not really as varied as other Strapping Young Lad works, but what it lacks in overall complexity it makes up for in consistency and a focused musical vision.  This fits the darker, more serious tone of the album: it’s not a half-joking record like other Strapping Young Lad material, and is as such befitting of a more direct and cohesive treatment.

The atmosphere of this album is surprisingly dark.  The lyrical themes of technology, alienation, and misanthropy are presented in a very direct and unyielding fashion, and the music follows suit.  Stretches of simple tremolo burst into soaring melodic solos or monolithic held chords over a perpetually rushing drum performance courtesy of Gene Hoglan.  It really is Strapping Young Lad at its best, where all the disparate elements which make up their style finally come together into a single brilliant whole.  It’s really the sort of crossroads where extreme professionalism manages to meat an inherent sense of artistry, resulting in something that’s almost unbelievably listenable while still retaining depth after multiple listens.

The album possesses a sort of understated elegance about it.  Describing anything about Strapping Young Lad as understated seems strange, but at least this album has none of the inherent goofiness of the other releases.  It’s Strapping Young Lad’s magnum opus in a way; not only did they not eclipse this album, they never really seemed to try to, acknowledging that this was the best it was ever going to get.  It possesses all the traditional elements of the band but manages to perfect them.  Riffs careen out of control and vocals howl and drums smash through the soundstream but none of those elements on their own mean anything.  This is truly a release that is much more than the sum of its parts.

I’m not sure what to say about this album and I think I’ve wasted enough time, but suffice to say it’s very good and worth the time of just about any metalhead.  Say what you will about Strapping Young Lad, but this is undeniably near the top of the metal pantheon for reasons that can’t be adequately described.  In short, it just works, and you owe it to yourself to hear it.

Nasum – Inhale/Exhale

•October 19, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Nasum’s first album isn’t as great as some of their later works, but it is one of the most archtypical modern grind albums I can think of.  It’s lean and ferocious; it makes sense that it was made by only two people as it has a harsh minimalism about it that seems to make the idea of a full band composing it an impossibility.  It is brackish and raw yet professional and intelligently composed, despite the natural primitivity of the style showcased on this release.  ‘Inhale/Exhale’ is easily Nasum at their most primitive and purest state, and while later albums are artistically more developed and ‘important’, this is a very necessary component to the collection of any fan of the band or modern grind in general.

Some people make an informal distinction between ‘grindcore’ and ‘grind’.  The sharpness of that distinction varies from person to person.  In essence, though it verges on splitting hairs, it makes sense; you can’t compare the material on this album very much to early Napalm Death.  You can’t see much of a relationship to Siege or Sore Throat or much in the crust/hardcore field in general.  There aren’t really any d-beats, shouts, or crust riffs.  It is ‘grind’ minus the -core, which really just means minus the crust.  And so what remains is decidedly more minimal.  The riffs are fast and dirty collections of chords spun into violent tremolo, occasionally bursting into a quick flair of surprising but restrained technicality.  Drumming emphasizes power and speed over precision, with blast beats erupting into snapping snare fills and savagely pounded crash cymbals.  Vocals are a hoarse scream with occasional growling backing.  Production is messy but representative enough that nothing is really obscured.

Most of the differences between songs are structural in nature more than by individual musical elements.  Most of the riffs are rather one-size-fits-all and not especially memorable on their own.  What’s memorable is the particular fill that starts the song, the way a vocal rhythm bursts into a scream at the end of a phrase, general length or repetition; in short, the relationship of parts to the whole.  It works like that as far as the whole album goes, really.  The tracks on their own aren’t very significant and only gain meaning when strung together in the larger context of the release.  It’s not a very metal way to write an album at all, and in general this probably isn’t a ‘metal album’.  It is pure, modern grind.

For modern grind, though, I enjoy it a lot.  Like many albums in the same style, it is carried mostly by its aesthetic.  The vocals are particularly vicious and the high/low alternation comes in roughly enough to be convincing and not plain.  The riffs have a certain Disfear style catchiness in places, though these are mostly displaced by straightforward grind tremolo without much to catch the ear.  The lack of memorability in much of the music doesn’t negatively affect the listening experience, though; it necessitates coming to the album from the perspective of grind rather than extreme metal, but that shouldn’t be difficult for those versed in the musical style.  In a nutshell, what separates music of this style from typical ‘metal’ is that it is music of isolated moments rather than narrative structure.  What comes before and after the individual songs is essentially meaningless, and the end result of the album is a collection of isolated fragments piecing together a greater story of societal alienation.  It’s told in no particular order or logic; it’s simply told.

Those who dislike grind will find nothing to recommend in this, and those who’ve listened to modern grind have heard this material before, but it doesn’t do anything to reduce the achievement of the album itself.  It is quality grind, and while it is overshadowed by the later works of the band, it is still worthwhile for any admirer of the genre.

Phobia (United States Of America) – Get Up And Kill!

•September 29, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Phobia was terribly annoyed that 2003’s ‘Grind Your Fucking Head In’ nearly reached the twenty minute mark, so they decided to make up for gained time by not even shortening the subsequent album even more, but making about half of it just live tracks from previous releases.  Charming.

In essence, this is exactly the same thing as the previous album: a collection of short, angry grindcore songs influenced equally by crust and death metal.  The musical components are all the same: sections of blasting and tremolo riffs suddenly stopping and starting again, four-chord melodies with chainsaw guitar tone, and ultra-raw screeching vocals covering everything.  There’s no subtlety or tempo changes to be found, simply straightforward grindcore in the vein of early Nasum.  It’s quite good.  It’s a simple and traditional interpretation of the genre, devoid of extraneous or unique elements, but the quality is still there.  The songs are appropriately aggressive and occasionally catchy despite the very narrow array of musical elements at hand.  If you don’t like the genre, you won’t like the music, and vice versa.

It’s simple but it’s engaging and enjoyable while it’s on.  It’s excessively short and I wish there were more tracks, and the usage of live tracks to pad out the already incredibly short running time seems borderline idiotic to me, but whatever.  Better to have a few good tracks than a thousand mediocre.

The Meads Of Asphodel – Exhuming The Grave Of Yeshua

•September 29, 2008 • 1 Comment

The Meads Of Asphodel are a totally vapid and inconsequential band that has managed to convince the metal scene that they are actually composing something of interest.  Fooling the metal scene is not difficult to do, but the profound degree that this band has managed to trick even reasonably intelligent listeners is quite frankly amazing.  There’s nothing of actual value on ‘Exhuming The Grave Of Yeshua’, just the cloying appearance of purpose and direction amidst all the masturbation.  It could be a joke were people not so tragically serious about it.

Beyond the simplest of Pantera worshipers, metalheads are generally a rather insecure lot about their taste in music, and any elements that can help draw attention away from the typical lexicon of metal (blast beats, tremolo riffs, lyrics about things that aren’t petty introspection, you know the drill) is seen as a blessing, much in the way that having a few token non-metal artists to listen to is a way to atone for the sins of their main body of taste.  The Meads Of Asphodel, for those insecure people, is like a godsend: it’s got just enough metal aesthetic to be listenable for black metal fans, but it also has assorted acoustic interludes, electronic effects, programmed trip-hop beats, and other novelty slathered on so thick you can’t see the skeleton that the flesh is draped upon.  Thus, it’s the perfect union, in the eyes of the insecure, of the duality of music, where everything is either metal or non-metal, and so can be brought out not only as a token of one’s open-minded tastes, but also as a sort of trump card against all those who might besmirch the name of heavy metal.

“How dare can you say that metal is one-dimensional and unartistic!  Have you heard The Meads Of Asphodel?  They play heavy metal but also incorporate influences from rock music, electronica, prog, and even hip-hop!  That PROVES that metal is open-minded!”

Now anyone with more than a handful of neurons firing will see the whole debate for the sham it is, but there’s a high school sucker born every minute who feels the need to justify his taste in music through such half-assed equivocation.  Numerous metalheads believe, ironically, that metal in and of itself is inherently brutish and unable to articulate itself in a manner anyone would appreciate.  And so this demented guilt-cycle continues to produce bands such as The Meads Of Asphodel, who cater to the audience of metalheads who need something quirky and overwrought to listen to to absolve themselves of the sin of extreme music.  It’s supremely idiotic, and The Meads Of Asphodel play supremely idiotic music couched in endless varieties of pseudointellectualism and musical inconsistency.

There’s really very little that’s genuinely metal about this music.  Stuff that sounds like black metal occasionally pops up, but it doesn’t REALLY sound like black metal; for all the tremolo riffs, screams, and blast beats that they force into these few moments of extremity, the riffing seems rather random and shoddily composed, the vocals unexciting, and overall they give the impression that the band is just filling in space between stretches of ambiance or wafting acoustic guitar.  The rest is droning pseudo-prog rock that sounds a lot like if Pink Floyd had listened to a lot of Iron Maiden but had no actual idea of how to express their musical ideas.  It’s remarkably club-footed music; it always feels slow and awkward when attempting even a pinch of intensity, and only really sounds at ease during the bland parts with funk drums and synths dominating the sound.

The whole package is sickeningly pandering and desperate for approval.  Take the opening track, ‘God Is Rome’; essentially a punk song (with The Meads Of Asphodel’s trademark idiot jazz chord riffing), but god forbid it simply stay a punk song, as the band fortunately decides to inject a totally unrelated and meaningless acoustic break halfway through.  Phew, thought I was going to feel some energy for a moment!  Glad they stomped that out!  ‘Guts For Sale’ is dominated by acoustic guitar and bass that makes me sound like I should be speeding in a pink convertible somewhere in California while a camera slowly pans away.  ‘Sluts Of The Netherworld’ has a totally awkward metal opening before popping into a trip-hop beat with cheesy electronics.  Every track follows this pattern: brief moments of metal immediately tossed away in favor of more dreary ‘open-mindedness’.

Not only is this album a complete farce as far as being genuinely artistic, but the music itself can’t even be trite yet well composed.  The band never falls into anything approximating a flow, opting instead to bore the listener dreadfully through endless repetition of the same few melodic themes that pop up on nearly every track.  The music has not even the most remote hint of substance.  It’s a totally vacant parody of ‘progressive’ music, and yet people eat it up in droves.  Who can honestly listen to this and say they hear something of meaning and musical relevance?  It’s incompetent from top to bottom and there’s no excuse for anyone to willingly listen to this.

Inconceivably worthless.

Broken Hope – The Bowels Of Repugnance

•September 29, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Relatively capable groovy/blasty death metal that sounds like early Lividity.  It’s not very interesting; at this stage in their career Broken Hope pulled off neither the grooves nor the blasts in any unusually good way, and this album is really just a retreading of death metal convention from start to end.  The songs are rather unusually short, which is a bit different, and the incorporation of clean guitar interludes is somewhat interesting, but it’s really a case of putting lipstick on a pig.

As previously stated, this sounds very similar to Lividity plus some early Cannibal Corpse; lots of atonal midpaced sections before going into grooves and blasts.  The production is hollow and sort of distant, one of those cases where you feel like you always need to turn it up but are never quite able to hear everything you want.  Vocals are a straight growl, which, like the rest of the music, are very one-dimensional in execution and placement.  This is not an album with any surprises on it, and it’s no wonder that the name Broken Hope is somewhat synonymous with stupid death metal fans who lack taste.

It’s not a particularly bad album; it’s simply mediocre and came out at the very beginning of death metal’s slow slide into irrelevance before reemerging at the end of the millennium.  The band’s later works like ‘Loathing’, ironically released in 1997, arguably the absolute nadir for death metal as a genre, are much more worthwhile and genuinely interesting and unique works.  This is simply filler and I don’t particularly recommend it.

Dying Fetus – Infatuation With Malevolence

•September 28, 2008 • Leave a Comment

This collection of Dying Fetus’ early demos could be interpreted as the band’s first ‘real’ release, and boy does it manage to be nearly as uninteresting as ‘War Of Attrition’.  I would almost say that the band was TRYING to be awkward and uninteresting, like making death metal as still and lifeless as this was some sort of deranged performance art project, but I think that’s ascribing a great deal more intelligence to Dying Fetus than I think they’ve ever had.  It’s probably Dying Fetus at their most technical, so I’ll give them that, but man, apparently the technicality hamstrung this band massively.  Thank god they lost a significant amount of it on the next record.

This sounds a great deal like Fleshgrind trying to be thugs, which is possibly the most awkward combination of sounds in the world.  Imagine a robot covering Devourment and you’re very close to what this sounds like.  The delivery of the music here is incredibly mechanical, just like Fleshgrind, but instead of having the cold and cruel atmosphere of that band’s early work, Dying Fetus on this record attempts to play thuggish NYDM, a style that really relies on a much warmer, looser sound.  It’s really as though this music is played by machines; there’s no tonal variation or particular feeling in any note; I’d imagine that this release would sound essentially the same if every instrument was synthesized.  The drumming is so overly tight that it genuinely sounds programmed, and any effort to add a bit of feeling through a groove or syncopated snare pattern feels just as ridiculous as if you tried to give your mom a hug but, whoops, it’s actually just a bunch of chicken wire.

The music itself isn’t that remarkable either; most of the riffs have a lot of notes just for the sake of having a lot of notes.  All the attempted grooves are awkward and misplaced and immediately gobbled up by another round of machinelike blasting and unmemorable riffs.  It barely feels like music at all at times, like you told a computer to make a song but didn’t really give it any parameters of how to go about it.  It makes for music that I guess sounds like death metal as far as aesthetic goes but is as real as a wax replica is to a human being.  Occasionally there’s some headbangability here and there, but the band is unwilling to stick to one rhythm or riff for more than fifteen seconds, so all the good on this record is forgotten immediately after it appears.  To top it off, every song sounds like it takes somewhere around a century to end, making the experience of a bunch of notes going nowhere that much more frustrating.

Apparently everyone in the band started smoking a lot of weed after this release and got worse on their instruments, which makes the band’s actual full-length albums much more tolerable than this one.  I don’t understand the appeal of this or why anyone would want to listen to it apart from being a curiosity piece.  It makes me feel awkward when I listen to it, bad awkward, like dancing with a girl and feeling her erection against your leg.