26 Jul 2015

Gouge - Beyond Death [Full length] (2015, Hells Headbangers)

Kolbotn, Norway, is perhaps best known for fathering Darkthrone. With Gouge, there's really no semblance to those legends, turning more towards an American style of thrashing, grinding, old schooling death metal in the dirtiest style imaginable.

Their album debut, released on respected label Hells Headbangers, is about as graceful as a car crashing at a hundred miles per hour against a flock of devoted christians. The count-in of the opening track 'Wretched Passion' is about as classic as it gets. In that way the demented Norwegian death metal duo portray their convictions rather vividly at an early stage. Paying tribute to the legends of early American extreme metal, Gouge represent a state of mind that's all about combining riffs designed to be played at insane speeds with equally fast drumming. Since this hasn't been tampered with to the point of musical regurgitation in ProTools, this means it sounds a bit sloppy. Just like it should.

When you aim for the legacy of the likes of Repulsion, Impetigo, Autopsy and Master, slowing down once in a while may not always seem to be part of the equation. But without the contrast between fast and slow, the faster, thrashier parts don't stand out as well. Tracks like 'Butcher Attack', 'Devil's Debt' and 'Morbid Curse' do this adequately, but they are the exception to the rule it would seem. The fist-fight riffs are forcefully captivating, but it all gets a bit much over the course of the half hour Beyond Death lasts without slower parts to mediate the sonic chaos that is Gouge.

While I enjoy grinding death metal as much as the next guy, I also like when neckbreaking speed is juxtaposed with slower, churning sections. Maintaining an evil atmosphere by speed alone is tough when the majority of the riffing is savagely simple, and the longer tracks - especially the title track, which also serves as the closing track - are easily the best on Beyond Death. Whether the band's debut is beyond anything but a respecting homage to the groups that started it all I'm not too sure, but it is a fun listen nonetheless, even if it doesn't quite soar to modern classic status. 7/10 guitars.

1. Wretched Passion
2. Breath of the Reaper
3. I Smell of Rotten Death
4. Blood Feast
5. Putrefaction
6. Butcher Attack
7. Morbid Curse
8. Malady Macabre
9. Uncontrollable Madness
10. Chaos and Horror
11. Devil's Debt
12. Beyond Death

GOUGE offical facebook
Hells Headbangers official site

24 Jul 2015

Symphony X - Underworld [Full length] (2015, Nuclear Blast Records)

Introducing Symphony X should almost be unnecessary. Symphony X have been a mainstay in both the progressive and the power metal scene for many years now, each album reaping heaps of great reviews and praise from critics and listeners alike. Their reach is far and wide, spanning neo-classical, progressive and groovy compositions. Fronted as always by the immensely talented Russell Allen, Underworld is an album that needs only a few listens to convince.

Disregarding the quality or lack of the same of Russel Allen's many collaborations and appearances, including Jørn Lande, Ayreon and Adrenaline Mob, Symphony X will always feel like the vocalist's true home. His variation between gruff Anselmo-ish vocals and higher melodic vocals are in focus on almost each and every track, leaving no doubt that he is as essential a part of Symphony X's music as guitarist and main songwriter Michael Romeo. Where 'Iconoclast', the band's previous album, dealt primarily with mankind's promethean relationship with modern technology, Underworld has returned to the more mythological subjects as the albums from earlier in the band's career.

Though not among the initial singles, the track 'Charon' feels like one of the strongest tracks their ninth album. There are several strong tracks that I for one will be listening to for years to come, including 'Nevermore' and 'Kiss of Fire'. Symphony X are masters of the power ballad, and of course there is one on Underworld as well. 'Without You' is as strong a ballad as ever, but Underworld lacks the lengthy prog display of power that most have come to associate closely with the group. Almost every album up until now has had one of these tracks, but 'To Hell and Back' is the best we've got this time around. A mighty track, but not quite akin to the masterpieces like the Divine Wings of Tragedy and the Odyssey title tracks.

In many ways Underworld feels like a mix of the band's three previous albums, combining the neo-classical progressiveness of The Odyssey, the lofty compositions of Paradise Lost, and the heaviness and powerful groove of Iconoclast. You always hear talk of "the difficult second or third album" when talking about a band's career. Never the impossible ninth album. Most bands have lost their flair long before reaching that point, and in that way it's refreshing to hear Symphony X release such a powerful and well carried-out album more than twenty years into their endeavour. Their output has been incredibly consistent quality-wise, and while Underworld may not be in their top 3, it comes incredibly close. Closer than many bands could ever hope to achieve this late in their career. This is unmistakingly Symphony X as we know them. 8/10 guitars.

1. Overture
2. Nevermore
3. Underworld
4. Without You
5. Kiss of Fire
6. Charon
7. To Hell and Back
8. In My Darkest Hour
9. Run with the Devil
10. Swan Song
11. Legend

Symphony X official site
Nuclear Blast official site

13 Jul 2015

Sangus - Vengeful Brutality [Demo] (2013, Self-released)

Holding high the tatteret banners of thrash-encrusted black metal are Sangus of Rhode Island, USA. Vengeful Brutality seems a fitting title for the kind of furious black metal ablaze with the naked flames of crust punk that we find under their moniker. But the intensity of the raw abrasions comes at the cost of the atmosphere often found inherent in black metal, gambling with the wholesomeness and entirety of the debut, often making it a cacophonous mess of blasting drums and hostile guitars.

It is neither sophisticated nor majestic. Rather, it is clandestinely concrete, dirty and almost graphically visceral. Without any of the subtleties of black metal, and with all the hard-wired tropes of crust, the general thinking seems to be "go fast or go home", and as such Sangus makes a convincing case of what a bulldozer going 100 mph would sound like. For a 10-minute dose of face-blasting black-thrash-crust, look no further than Vengeful Brutality by Sangus. 6/10 guitars.

1. Bonecollector
2. Gaspipe
3. Si Brucera

SANGUS official Facebook page

7 May 2015

Uroboros - Misantropía & Blasfemia / Herejía & Exilio [EPs] (2013, Self-released)

Straight from Buenos Aires in Argentina comes a roar of thunder through a night as black as tar. This uproar from the underground go by the name Uroboros, and right off the bat their debut duo of EPs make most other newcomers of the genre seem like taciturn murmurs in comparison. Respectively entitled Misantropía & Blasfemia and Herejía & Exilio (A translation shouldn't be necessary), these EPs show merrit both as a whole and as two separate outbursts. While the first EP, Misantropia & Blasfemia, shows reckless ruthlessness that culminates in the 10 minute opus En Las Fauces de Uroboros, the follow up EP - released only a few days later - shows another side of the band which ends in a distressing piece of obsidian acoustics.

Mantar showed us in 2014 that the mammoth riffs of sludge with a deathly approach can easily become tired quicker than a fat person competing at the Olympics, even if sternly powerful and delivered with an abundance of energy. But through greatly varying songwriting, spanning both no-compromise death-infused sludged with all the heavy riffage and recklessness that comes with it, and sombre acoustic tones with a considerable ambient presence, the Argentinians burst the bubble of boredom that so often plagues these types of bands.

The powerful riffing that serves as the duo's hallmark is underlined by excellent drumming that is neither too tight or too sloppy. All the little imperfections makes the music come alive - Uroboros show it's not about soaring production with lots of head room, it's about songwriting. And the songwriting rules. There's not one single beat squandered on lacklustre filler, and the focus on huge cyclopean riffs comes with a massive payoff. In many ways they subscribe to the same school of doom as groups like Conan, using minimalistic and beastly riffs to create a feeling of energy even if the tempos are slow. They show that a the coupling of death metal and sludge, while done many times before, can still be well done by newcomers. Their hearts are as black as coal, their sound is as rough as a savage beating. 8/10 guitars.

Misantropía & Blasfemia
1. El Último de Nosotros
2. Paz Para Los Idiotas
3. Ars Goetia
4. En Las Fauces de Uroboros

Herejía & Exilio
1. K'Zulu
2. Arcano Devorador
3. Holocausto
4. Somos el Pueblo de Dios


21 Apr 2015

Non Opus Dei & Morowe - Dwizki Dwie [Split] (2013, Witching Hour Productions)

Since the late 90's Non Opus Dei have graced Europe with several albums of black metal from their stronghold in Poland. They represent the old school of the genre, but aren't shy of pushing the boundaries a little every now and then - Something that they make evident on their split with country-mates Morowe. And when I say that Non Opus Dei are more old school I mean that strictly in the sense that their approach to song writing is more straight forward. Morowe hail from a different part of Poland, and in the same manner as Non Opus Dei, their approach is tinged by the tendencies of the time in which they started out. In Morowe's case, that means a much more modern take on black metal, often lending them the definition "post-black metal".

Using the split-release format for something particular is always more interesting than two bands that sound exactly alike or that are worlds apart making a split for no apparent reason. On the Dziwki Dwie split-release, we find two bands from the same country, but from two different currents of the black metal subgenre. While not entirely removed from one another, the stylings of Morowe and Non Opus Dei compliment each other sufficiently to communicate the general idea and to promote each band and their individual strengths.

Both bands offer up three choice cuts created especially for the split. And both offerings are good for quite a few listens.
I suppose you have to be into simple song progression with a clinical edge for it to have lasting appeal, because mostly I found especially the songs of Non Opus Dei to be a little too ordinary. The highlight on Dziwki Dwie for me remains Kat Kota by Morowe after many a listen. The riffs presented there are unique and interesting while being easily recognizable and different - Something that precious few bands master. This, coupled with their unusual rhythm section has swayed in their favor, which is something that isn't easily done as I find the whole "progressive-posty-wosty black metal" thing to be usually more of a shitty gimmick than a descriptor that holds any real merit. What it usually means is riffs starting and stopping awkwardly to the sound of poorly timed drums and drugged out vocals, or extremely long stretches of useless noise or acoustic guitar. Yuck.

Dwizki Dwie is a great example of exactly how to make a split. The bands compliment each other without overlapping too much in regards to style and purpose, and it certainly helps when the songs don't sound like throwaway garbage that wasn't good enough for the upcoming album. While the great old ones of the genre are busy reinventing themselves as a speed metal outfit or playing opera houses accompanied by huge orchestras and choirs, this is the part of the scene that still knows what it's all about. Ass-kicking blast beats and gruesome riffs. 7/10 guitars.

1. Non Opus Dei - Dziwki Dwie
2. Non Opus Dei - Kres Hanby
3. Non Opus Dei - Szaleniec Glupiec Opeetany
4. Morowe - Czij to Glos
5. Morowe - Kat Kota
6. Morowe - Obustronne Oczy Patrza

MOROWE official site
NON OPUS DEI official site