Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Krieg - Transient

Written by Steven Leslie

Krieg has returned. For anyone even remotely familiar with US black metal this demonic wrecking crew needs no introduction. Over the course of their 19-year career they have produced some of the finest albums to emerge from the US black metal scene. And their latest is no exception. Transient, which is being released by Candlelight Records, continues their tradition of challenging and expanding the boundaries of the genre.

Right from the opening track you can feel that this is a special record. This is not the black metal of old. Instead of wind swept forests and icy mountains, what you get is the soul crushing negativity and hatred that only city life can create. This is the sound of urban decay and detritus as you are dragged through the decrepit streets and filthy sewers of the modern world. It’s a journey into the demented mind of street junkies and mental patients. And it is utterly captivating.

Krieg 2013. Photo by Carmelo Española.

Band founder and mastermind Neil Jameson has managed to find the perfect supporting cast to bring his disturbed vision to life. From start to finish this record is dripping with misanthropy and disgust. Jameson’s time in his myriad of side projects, the most notable being The Royal Arch Blaspheme and US black metal “supergroup” Twilight, has clearly rubbed off on his compositions for Krieg, in all the best ways. While Transient has all the hallmarks of previous Krieg releases, the album benefits significantly from Jameson’s vastly improved songwriting skills. Subtle melodies briefly emerge like a glimmer of light, before the seething and swarming onslaught drags you back down into the harsh reality of a meaningless existence. Mesmerizing riffs and drums cascade over you, sucking you in and pulling you into the deepest recesses of a demented mind. All of this is aided by a fantastic production and mixing job. Every instrument is clearly audible, but none of the dirt and grime that are so essential to the bands sound is lost.

Krieg 2013. Photo by Carmelo Española.

Jameson’s vocal performance is gut wrenching throughout. Some of his side projects and previous works have suffered from a lack of variety, but this is definitely not the case with Transient. You can feel the venom and vitriol oozing from every syllable. His vocal attack fits perfectly into each of the songs. From deathly bellows to throat shredding growls, Jameson puts in the vocal performance of his career. It’s a far cry from the standard black metal screech we have all heard a thousand times since the dawn of the second wave in Norway.

This is a master class in album creation from start to finish. What is most remarkable is the bands ability to take a traditional black metal template and seamlessly integrate influences from other genres. The song "Winter" is a perfect example. "Winter" is essentially a crust punk song from start to finish, which in lesser hands would easily stick out like a sore thumb. In Krieg’s case however, the song fits flawlessly alongside the more traditional black metal tracks. Krieg continues to challenge the boundaries of black metal, while staying true to the individualist spirit that is at the core of all great records. The best black metal takes you on a journey, and Transient is no exception. Hatred and disgust have never sounded so good.

Suggested track: "Time".

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Monday, September 1, 2014

Rather Be Alive - Resiliència

Written by Justin C.

Way back in the late 90s or early 00s, when I was still living in NYC, I saw one of the strangest, avant garde guitar performances I've ever experienced. A relatively unassuming man came on stage with just an electric guitar and one amp, and he treated us to 90 minutes of squeals, feedback, pick scrapes, plinking the strings above the nut, and all manner of other tomfoolery. There was almost no melodic or harmonic structure to hang onto at all. After the show, I went to the men’s room and heard this brilliant summing up from some random drunk dude: "That's art. It's not music, but it's art."

That pretty well sums up how I feel about mathcore bands. Before hordes of Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge fans accost me, I don't mean that as an insult. When done well, I appreciate bands that play in that general territory, including Dillinger. But the unrelenting assault of dissonance, jagged rhythms, and general whatthefuckery engage a part of my brain that's adjacent to, but not directly connected, to the part that engages with music in general, so it's not a subgenre I revisit very often.

Enter the Barcelona-based band Rather Be Alive and their EP Resiliència. They self-identify as mathcore on their Bandcamp page, and I think that's a fair description. The vocals are hardcore bellows, the music is intricate, and there are plenty of quick-change shifts both melodically and rhythmically. But in spite of that, I find Rather Be Alive to be insanely catchy instead of mildly exhausting. The vocals are the perfect level of abrasiveness. When the vocals kick in the opening track, "Acaba amb Mi," I actually sing along with the line, "observa al teu voltan!" That's in Catalan, and I have no idea what it means, but the energy is so infectious that I still sing along. (A quick trip to Google translate gave laughably and obviously bad English translations of the lyrics provided on Bandcamp.)

The instrumental performances are all top grade as well. Check out the jazzy bass solo in "Acaba am Mi"--and when I say jazzy, I mean legitimate, high-quality jazz, not just a half-hearted attempt. The guitar solo that breaks out immediately afterward is a study in simplicity and catchiness. And that nuclear-powered-freight-train riff that opens up "Sense Fugir"! All of this is over drumming that's deceptive in its complexity, intricate without sounding like it's being done by dome futuristic drum-bot.

The EP is just a quick blast of three songs, offered for free download, but here's hoping we get a full length some time in the near future.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mad Max's Wheels of Steel #3

Written by Maxim Björky.

Folk Metal tends to get roughed up a bit in some circles. Now, folk bands aren't getting stuffed into lockers just because they reside at some intersection of a cultural faire and a sword n’ sorcery convention, nor is it because they necessarily count more silly bands among their own than any other metallic subsidiary. Rather, I would venture that folk metal’s embarrassing extended family is much more commercially viable and visible. This tends to obscure some very dynamic acts, ones that are both menacing and uplifting, whose albums are unabashedly melodic yet still manage to feel righteously savage. Here are just a few of those.

This is what it sounds like when Polish transplants in Ireland get really into traditional Celtic dances. Though I'll leave it someone more versed in the genealogy of folk music to delve into this, I gotta say that the smoothness with which these guys fuse Slavic and Celtic themes might be as much a testament to their own ingenuity as to the common Scandinavian influences that run through both cultures. The vocals are just great on this newest record and are probably the most dynamic and enjoyable part. If you like acts like Hagalaz’ Runedance, or even Satanica-era Behemoth, this constitutes a must-buy. The end result is some pretty epic harvest season type tunage. Come to think of it, this should have made it onto my best of 2014 So Far list but I snoozed on it hard. Much recommend!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Artwork by Astral Body Horror

I still having a hard time believing that you have to tell folk metal fanboys and fangirls about this band. They are goddamn majestic. Tengger Cavalry bring Kublai Khan’s conquest of China to life with vivid, colorful instrumentation. Even with my base knowledge of Mongolian culture, it’s hard not to note that the righteous gallop of “Battle Song From Far Away” seems to capture the fortitude of an army which so easily swept across much of the known world in the 13th Century. And while much of the album is horseback riding music, the punchy, memorable “Summon the Warrior” will get the blood pumping. On top of that you get the usual Tuvan throat singing, which complements everything nicely.

I have never wanted to fire a bow so much in my life.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Artwork by Moonroot

I’ve asked many people, nerds and heshers alike, to define just what pagan metal is and have never gotten a consistent answer. I get that we're splitting hairs here but it seems even the thematically defined Viking metal thing is easier to anoint as a genre. This is what this band is often labeled and I'm just not sure it does them any justice. It’s a rich tapestry of leads, samples, hymns, and blasting refrains, one that’s at its most novel on jams like “Wayfarer’s Awakening”, “Doomsayer”, or the massively rewarding, guitar-driven “Don’t Tell Lies to Children”. Much like the world-renowned beer their hometown of Pilsen is known for, Panychida’s music is crisp and full of haunting accents that linger with you long after. One often recalls Thyrfing or even Enslaved. Just as suddenly, they can rip into some dense commentary on modern warfare on songs like “Love Bombing”. These are the kinds of curveballs I search high and low for.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love slamming cheap domestics to a Finntroll set as much as the next guy but, for me, this stuff is at its most compelling during the kind of soul-searching that happens to Moonsorrow and Arkona than when dressing up to see any one of the innumerable of bands whose whole aesthetic is a dwarven bar fight.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]