Friday, July 28, 2006

Shelfcore Quest 2006: Step 5 [38] (repost)

Another repost of album reviews, there is also a show review at the bottom of this one.


Type O Negative - Life Is Killing Me [5/7]
"...[O]n second inspection, a lot of the songs on this one are weaker than previous fill-to-13 material, and the strong stuff isn't as demolition-grade as Type O's hits have been in the past."

Forest Stream - Tears of Mortal Solitude [6/7]
"This is not stand-up-and-thrash music, but in those long nights reflecting on mortality and futility, they're in the high company of Agalloch, Opeth, and the Red House Painters in their illustrations of loss, and their remaining black metal touches echo Nokturnal Mortum and Emperor's Anthems."

Nevermore - Dead Heart In A Dead World [7/7]
"Smart, well-composed, and above all stone-heavy -- what the hell more do you want from a metal record?"

Dismember - The God That Never Was [5/7]
" long as they continue being the most consistent band in Sweden, and that consistency produces good death metal with enough hooks to keep interest and enough crunch to keep the flag of brutality flying, the lack of superlative material isn't going to mean much."

Immortal - At The Heart Of Winter [7/7]
"This is the record that people know Immortal by, even though the rest of their catalog is also fairly strong, and if you own only one Immortal disc, this should be it. Of course, if you listen to this disc and can somehow refrain from buying other Immortal albums, there's something wrong with you, but that's another issue entirely."

Darkwoods My Betrothed - Witch-Hunts [6/7]
"Even with the creative flowering in evolved black metal at the end of the '90s, and all that Finland has done in the realm of interesting extreme music, there's still practically nothing that really sounds like this."

Allegiance - Hymn Til Hangagud [5/7]
"It's ... raw and violent, but the real attraction is in the skill with which the true black metal elements (half the band is also in Marduk) are folded into the viking style, producing a mix much in the vein of early Enslaved or Borknagar's first disc."

Morifade - Domi<>nation [5/7]
"The power metal presented here is largely in standard form, but the old Morifade style is back, and just that much difference can have a huge effect in a general form so hidebound."

Sigh - Imaginary Sonicscape [7/7]
"Even more than was previously usual, Sigh dispenses with all external points of reference here, doing something that may not even be accurately categorizable as black metal or metal at all. The record kicks ass, but it's so infused and run-through with high-level weirdness that attempting to understand it is an exercise in futility."

Borknagar - Empiricism [6/7]
"...still an awesome record, but it's not perfect, and while the development of the prog components is impressive, it's associated with a lessening of the strength of the metal side, which as always should be the first and foremost."

Blind Guardian - Battalions Of Fear [5/7]
" a debut, it's pretty damn good... The recording quality isn't that great, especially in the tinny-sounding drums, but while this dates the disc, it also sites it in thrash history and really, this is about as good as underground melo-thrash got in the late '80s when everyone and their brother was trying to remake Master of Puppets."

Amon Amarth - The Avenger [6/7]
"It may be 'just another strong Amon Amarth CD', but really, is anyone going to complain about that?"

Death - Leprosy [7/7]
"...this is a local maximum for Death, which they could not have equaled without changing styles. That Chuck came up with four incredible albums after switching gears is immaterial; this record, as it is, is a permanent classic of death metal."

Mortiis - Fodt til a Herske [5/7]
"This record is just as black metal as, say, Penitent, despite what Mortiis would do in the future....this is pretty decent material as long as you don't expect Wrath of the Tyrant Part II going in."

Blind Guardian - A Night At The Opera [5/7]
"This isn't, on the whole, a bad record, and in the wide wasteland of power metal it has few competitors, but Blind Guardian has been making records much better than this on a consistent basis since about 1990..."

Caliban - The Undying Darkness [5/7]
"It's a solid record, and better than most of the metalcore that is being ground out today, but this disc isnt going to drop any jaws or knock anyone on their ass."

King Diamond - Abigail [7/7]
"Not everything is a world-beater, but the album as a whole is so good and so cohesive that I can't see it going missing from any metalhead's collection for long."

In Flames - The Jester Race Black Ash Inheritance [7/7]
"It's not as superlative as In Flames' next record, though slightly more consistent, but that doesn't mean it's not essential."

Hypocrisy - Hypocrisy [7/7]
"....not at the same level as the records that came before it, as the laid back feel occasionally works against the immediacy of the music, but damn if this isn't a thoroughly awesome album anyway."

Nightingale - Alive Again: The Breathing Shadow part IV [6/7]
"This is a very good prog-metal record. It's an awesome to classic prog-rock record, but if I was going to look at stuff from a rock rather than a metal perspective, the rest of these reviews would be broken."

Sarcofago - Rotting [5/7]
" of the primary attractions of this disc is the very raw, necro, atmosphere formed in the honest way of the band not being able to afford access to better equipment."

Emperor - Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk [7/7]
"As the one Emperor record in your collection, it's probably the best of the available optionsthough what any metalhead is doing with only one Emperor record is still open to question."

Absu - Tara [6/7]
"This is a prime, though not superlative, slice of black metal stripped of its ornamentations (even its pretentions of 'trueness' on the other end) and cut down to its leanest and most brutal essence."

Iron Maiden - Rock In Rio [6/7]
"This is no replacement for actually seeing Maiden live, but as a double-live album it's about all you could want."

Death - Symbolic [7/7]
"[T]his record still manages to affect me every time I play it, often different parts on different occasions. The conclusion, obviously, is that this is a classic for the ages, something that every metalhead should have in his or her library."

Hypocrisy - The Arrival [5/7]
"This is a return to what Hypocrisy was before...but the point with Hypocrisy is that they never remain content with what was before, but continually change, adapt, and innovate to push the boundaries of their sound, and death metal at large. This record does nothing of the sort."

In Flames - Soundtrack To Your Escape [4/7]
"....not a bad album, and it's difficult to see how In Flames, at this point in their history, could have done it much different. It's a decent pickup used."

Blind Guardian - Tokyo Tales [5/7]
"This is a good record, though Hansi has some clumsy intros and the quality of the recording isn't up to the level of the really great live recordings. As a snapshot of the Guardians before they did Nightfall... and broke out in a different direction, though, it's got few parallels."

Beyond The Embrace - Against The Elements [5/7]
"There's nothing revolutionary on this disc, but it's damned solid, and if Gothenburg didn't put out enough quality records during its heyday to satisfy you, this will eminently fill the gap."

Dissection - Storm of the Light's Bane [7/7]
"This record never gets old, or allows its edge to dull to the point where Nodtveit's guitars won't slash all opposition to pieces. Amazing, essential, and possibly the very most driven/driving/intense record in my collection."

Onslaught - The Force [7/7]
"It's a real testament to how strong thrash metal was back in the mid-eighties that absolutely awesome record like this one led to absolutely NO exposure for the band behind it."

Beyond The Embrace - Insect Song [4/7]
"There are good parts on this record, but not as many as there would be on a Shadows Fall disc that was, you know, by Shadows Fall."

Children of Bodom - Hatebreeder [6/7]
"The ultra-true, as usual, should stay back from this one, but everyone else ought to be interested in, if not captivated by, the idea of Children of Bodom still warming up their sound, still driven heavily by traditional evolved-black-metal ideas even as they stirred more and more power metal tropes into the mix."

The Haunted - One Kill Wonder [6/7]
"....this record, at least for me, shows The Haunted doing something that is not immediately recognizable as At The Gates. The separation is enough at this point for there to be a concrete difference in sound..."

Skyclad - Old Rope [5/7]
"On individual albums, there's always a wide spread of variety, showing off the band's eclectic influences and keeping the sound fresh. It's not totally absent here, but it's less prevalent, and while the record rolls and kicks, the folkish stretches and breaks that make them what they are tend to get pushed down in the mix."

Dark Angel - Darkness Descends [5/7]
"The Slayer influences are heavy and the arrangements sometimes sound out to lunch, but this is still a fairly nice slab of reflexively underground thrash played with total passion and commitment."

Death - Spiritual Healing [6/7]
" of the greatest things about a genius like Chuck is the ability to change under re-examination and to present different sides of the same text at different times. It's true that Leprosy and Human are both better than this record, and that their styles are different, but the transition is already made, lyrically and to a certain degree musically, on this disc."

Einherjer - Far Far North [5/7]
"Looking over Einherjer's career, it's difficult to escape the assessment that they were a good band who just should have been unilaterally barred from releasing a full-length record. ... This is probably the Einherjer disc to own if you're only going to have one; the title track is a classic of viking metal and the other two cuts are nearly as strong."

April is allegedly National Poetry Month or something, and I was digging through my collection of CD-burns for a completely unreleated reason when I came across these limericks that I had done a while back, probably after hearing about these people who wanted to deprecate the haiku in favor of the limerick as the default vehicle for internet poetry. This is because it takes about zero effort to write "haiku" in the style that is currently done online, where the only rule that's followed is the one about syllable allocation. Limericks are offered as a substitute because they actually take some thought and effort, and have historically been about the kinds of "lol" subjects that people write impromptu poetry on the internet about. Hence:

Last night I met blackragers two
Telling lies about who was more true
Said I, "It's a shame
You're still playing that game
When there's Shagrath on MTV2."

A hardcore kid went for a walk
And discovered a stone in his sock
He spun all about
Just to get the thing out
And began the craze "dance like a cock".

There were also two others, but they were even lamer.

Show review: Masters of Chaos tour - Morbid Angel with Behemoth, Krisiun, and Despised Icon, Worcester Palladium, 4/8/2006

A good show, and a terrific gig for what it cost, despite the travel factor. Getting down to Worcester took about an hour and a half, not bad when you consider the distance and the lack of commitment to making the highways travelable in this country, but probably largely due to an almost complete absence of traffic. It's pretty straightforward to get from the Pike to the venue, but I hadn't been back since Metalfest '03, and the huge lot that I had planned on parking in has since been built up into this huge building; fortunately there were lots at the same rate right behind the club, but I'm actually going to have to pay attention to parking access if I end up driving down each day rather than just getting a hotel room in the area (probably a lost cause at this point). I was there pretty much at doors, so I just walked past the tour vehicles and up into the line. Once inside, I got my ID audited and got banded, then hit the merch stand, picking up shirts from Morbid Angel and Krisiun. I was leaning against Behemoth and didn't really know what to expect from Despised Icon. Shirts safely stuffed into my jacket, I nabbed a beer and went down to find a place to stand.

Despised Icon [5/7]: These guys went on about 8, and played a half-hour set, and if the coin had come up tails, would have graded out at 4. They did all right, but they were seriously overmatched on this bill and probably would have gotten much better reactions with something more 'core'. They seemed disappointed with the crowd's unwillingness to mosh for them, but it wasn't that people didn't want to move, just that this was a committed death metal audience, not willing to mix it up with hardcore kids throwing their limbs around and often just not inspired by a very core-driven deathcore act. On a bill with Converge or Dillinger Escape plan, Despised Icon would probably have gotten the kids slaughtering each other in the pit, but not going on before Krisiun.

Krisiun [7/7]: Brazil's best and most extreme brother act has still got it, and their nonstop brutality blasted most of the crowd into small pieces. A true but perhaps unfairly harsh bit of commentary is that their soundcheck rocked harder than Despised Icon's entire set. This is not really a knock on Despised Icon, though, because Krisiun tends to do this to a lot of bands. This is what people came to see, per proxy Morbid Angel, and Krisiun delivered gloriously-structured, head-smashing death metal in spades.

At this point I went to hit the head and get another beer, because I figured that missing part of Behemoth would be the smallest possible loss on the bill; I wanted to give Despised Icon a fair shake and I certainly wasn't going to fucking miss out on any part of Krisiun or Morbid Angel. The bathroom line was pretty quick, the bar staff weren't completely inattentive, and Behemoth took a fucking long time soundchecking, so I actually got back to where I had been standing, beer in hand, by the time Behemoth actually started their set.

Behemoth [6/7]: These guys actually pleasantly surprised me, because I had not really heard anything from them (well, except obviously "Slave Shall Serve") since the Satanica album, and I was mostly expecting them to suck. They did not suck, and most of the set was really good, but they necessarily had a hard time following Krisiun, and despite the long check, some of their sound teneded to get chewed up in the mix at times, with the resulting stew being difficult to immediately sort out as music. Despite the name of the tour, this package -- and extreme music as a whole -- is not really about *chaos*, but order so meticulously planned and executed as to simulate chaos. The storm of sound is not independently created from random seeds, but the result of everyone in the band doing exactly what they're supposed to do, exactly *when* they're supposed to. Even Trey's sickest, craziest, and most outre solos have their own internal logic and organization, if a bit bizarre at times. Behemoth did play a good set, but just happened to be overpowered by the two other established bands on the bill.
Note: Nergal is losing his hair, and the "space viking" cap does not really help. For reference, the recommended tactic for metallers in this situation is to shave your head.

Morbid Fucking Angel [7/7]:
Just a full-on, balls-out, incredible performance. They may not have been as consistently in-your-face or intense as Krisiun, but they play a different style of brutal death metal, and the spaces and slow stretches are just as necessary as the blastbeats and screaming minor solos for it to work. Both Tony and Trey were spot-on with their solos, and Pete's dumming was incredible as usual, though he didn't get a chance to do a basically independent solo as Trey did. The set covered basically the band's whole history, though with more emphasis on Altars of Madness and less on the Steve Tucker era. The whole set, running maybe 90 minutes, was just as explosive and volcanic as could be desired.

Overall, this show almost made me wish that I had the patience and spare cash to get elective surgery to repair my knees so I could get back in the pit. It was an incredible experience, but the slamming and crashing adds another dimension that you don't get quite as much standing up on the last row before the floor, looking straight across at the band and down into the pit. I could have gone down further, but the risk of getting caught in the mosh was the risk of having to drive an hour fifteen or so (no traffic) back home with one or more bum legs, and more importantly, of fucking up everyone else's good time so that I could drag my carcass back up to where I did end up standing. I'm gerring old and shouldn't be bodyslamming teenagers anyways, but that doesn't mean I have to be graceful about not being physically able to.

So on the whole a great show; awesome bands, the beer didn't totally suck, and I got a bunch of compliments on my jacket (maybe not deserved, since there was a guy going around with a fucking ONSLAUGHT backpatch from The Force); you can't reasonably expect more from a show on this continent. I'm looking forward to Metalfest, but not to driving back and forth -- especially if Gamma Ray closes out Sunday night, I rush the stage for them, and then have to go in Monday to work at 7 AM. Looks like I'll need to take off both Friday and Monday...

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