September 18, 2017

Helpless - Debt

By Justin C. I've probably mentioned before, but I'm far from a grind aficionado. It's a subgenre that I can appreciate far more often than I can enjoy, and the bands I do favor, like Fuck the Facts, tend to bring something
By Justin C.


I've probably mentioned before, but I'm far from a grind aficionado. It's a subgenre that I can appreciate far more often than I can enjoy, and the bands I do favor, like Fuck the Facts, tend to bring something a little different to the table. In FtF case, their longer songs make it easier for me to engage with the music.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and now that I have a shorter commute, sometimes it's nice to listen to an entire grind album instead of 7% of one funeral doom song. Enter Helpless with their first full-length, Debt. When I think of grind, I think of hyper-dissonance, densely packed instrumental layers, spastic fury, turn-on-a-dime tempo changes, vocals that go from high-pitched shrieks all the way down to tonsil-vomiting growls, and all of this burned through in a minute or less. Helpless follow some of that, but with variations I find particularly appealing.

For example, the sound is a bit "thinner," for lack of a better description, and I don't mean that as a negative. The guitar riffs have plenty of heft when needed, but they also favor higher chord voicings, dripping with dissonance, over chunkier low-end fare, and that allows the bass to stand out on its own. The separation of instruments in general is excellent, so your ear is better able to peel apart the layers. They do "anti-breakdowns," like early in "Out of Commission," where the music gets lean and quiet, but still just as mean. And some of the songs are just damn catchy. That can be a dirty word, and of course I appreciate a well-executed, ultra-dense freak out as much as the next person, but sometimes it's nice when something sticks in your head, whether it be the repeated growls of "STAY LOW" in "Ceremony of Innocence" or the closing moments of "Moral Bankruptcy" when an inner voice moves up and down inside a slow, steamrolling riff that, at times, almost sound a little hopeful, in spite of the relentlessly bleak-but-insightful lyrical content.**

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the genre-busting length of the album closer, "Denied Sale," a mini-epic that's near the five-minute mark. This would be a perfect place for most bands to dump a bunch of ambient nonsense or screechy feedback, but Helpless see it through, including a particularly affecting (and effective) anti-breakdown that features just a quiet, single-tap rhythm before the band lurches back to sludgier territory, stabbed through with dissonant bites. The closing track does what the entire album does: it takes you on a ride, but never one where you completely lose sight of the music and have to frantically try to catch up, and it's filled with little earworms that will keep you coming back for more.

**There's even an ode to the antidepressant I've personally been taking for almost 20 years, "Sertraline." The song hints at the all-too-real problem some people face, including myself, which is a muted emotional response, a feeling of “existing for existence sake,” as the lyrics say.

Tagged with 2017, grindcore, Helpless, Holy Roar Records, Justin C

September 13, 2017

Hell - Hell (2017)

By Matt Hinch. Think of all those bands you know that are “the definition of heavy”. Conan, Electric Wizard, Crowbar, Hymn, Monolord, etc. If Salem, Oregon’s Hell isn’t on that list, you need a new list. The one-man doom entity helmed by M.S.W.
By Matt Hinch.


Think of all those bands you know that are “the definition of heavy”. Conan, Electric Wizard, Crowbar, Hymn, Monolord, etc. If Salem, Oregon’s Hell isn’t on that list, you need a new list. The one-man doom entity helmed by M.S.W. (that has become a touring band!) digs deep to bring to the surface a heaviness that radiates from whatever listening device you’re using and draws the world, in all its darkness, closer and closer until you are forced to lower your head in praise. This is their first full-length, entitled Hell, since the trilogy of full-lengths (Hell, Hell II, Hell III) concluded in 2012, and the 2015 EP (also Hell) and it blows everything away with pure power, tone, and volume.

The anti-festivities begin with “Helmzmen”. It starts with the mayday call of the Northern Belle (sunk in the Gulf of Alaska in 2010) and that visual of a sinking ship represents well the feeling Hell gives the listener. (Not to mention a general world view.) It’s nautically heavy. Unfathomably so. As huge as the vastness of the oceans. It fills you with the sense of terrifying dread that comes from knowing there is no one to save you from certain death. Every note cracks the sternum and soils your soul with the sickness of impending doom. (Although only one of the four crew members perished.)

There’s a point where the track breaks into a rage of blackened swiftness, albeit brief and fleeting, before returning to bury the world in tone. Otherwise the track, like most others on the album, features vocals straight from the bowels of Hell itself. Chilling, churning doom slickened with varied paces from barely moving to a rolling gait that crushes all, continuously beats you down with monumental heaviness.

Similarities to aforementioned bands like Electric Wizard (“Machitikos”) and Conan (“Wandering Soul”) can be heard but they’re subtle and in my opinion more coincidental than intentional. M.S.W. doesn’t need to rip other bands off. “Machitikos” has a syrupy groove that evolves into an atmospheric display of darkness more evil that you should be comfortable with and a screaming solo over unstoppable rhythms that grip like a vice. “Wandering Soul” has that plodding battle doom feel with dominant riffs, more strange, chilling atmosphere, and build ups that always pay off. It only takes one heart-stopping note to make anything pay off on this album.

Sickening shrieks and gut wrenching growls meet with chants on “Inscriptus” as drone clashes with chunky riffs, plodding pace and noise to continually, with deliberately forceful notes, slowly break down any resistance.

“Victus” clocks in as the most epic track. As heavy as the rest, it sometimes feels like you can hear the amps struggling not to implode. The demonic vocals and doomed-out slog are still present but there’s an airy section more akin to say, Cascadian black metal (not necessarily Wolves in the Throne Room-esque but…). It lends an extra sense of contemplation at odds with heaviness. Any doubts that accompany this change are washed away on the sounds of gentle violin (Gina Eygenhuygen) and a lonesome guitar. It’s not loud or totally crushing but the contrast feels entirely natural and still plenty doomed. The violins still hang around when the tentative peace is broken by a piercing scream, bringing extra gravitas to the pounding riffs. The completeness of the track, and the journey it takes the listener on, is worth the price of admission on its own. The previously mentioned tracks as well as “SubOdin” and closer “Seelenos” with its spoken word samples (TED Talk on suicide) and gorgeous operatic vocals (courtesy of Karli McNutt) seem like added bonuses and more than welcome despite the feeling of utter defeat one often experiences throughout Hell.

Contrary to how some extreme doom can feel like an exercise in pure heaviness for the sake of it, Hell retains a strong sense of catchiness for lack of a better word. The riffs fester like an untreated wound and unexpectedly burst through your mind with a force as bloodily striking as the album’s frightful cover.

Hell is skin-crawlingly outstanding. M.S.W. has crafted what could easily be considered an instant doom classic. It took a few years but one listen is enough to convince doom fans that the wait was more than worth it as the album will not fade over time. As superb as it is mind-numbingly heavy, Hell invites you below to wallow in darkness, despair and excruciating doom.

Tagged with 2017, doom metal, drone, Hell, Matt Hinch, sludge metal

September 11, 2017

Slugdge - The Cosmic Cornucopia

By Calen Henry. I discovered Slugdge through a Bandcamp tag dive. I clicked on their second album, Gastronomicon, which features painted album art of a slug, expecting a laugh. I did not expect a band whose musical prowess is directly proportional
By Calen Henry.


I discovered Slugdge through a Bandcamp tag dive. I clicked on their second album, Gastronomicon, which features painted album art of a slug, expecting a laugh. I did not expect a band whose musical prowess is directly proportional to the ridiculousness of their chosen subject matter. After signing to Willowtip they released a reverse chronologically organized compilation of their three albums, called The Cosmic Cornucopia for 1$!

Each Slugdge album is about space slugs enslaving humanity and features gems of track titles like "Lettuce Prey", and "The Sound of Mucus", and “Salters of Madness”. Though it's an hilarious concept that's actually super metal it's ironically not far removed from serious metal about Cthulhu, Lucifer or really any malevolent entity bent on humanity’s enslavement of destruction.

Though song titles are rife with references to classic metal and wordplay the delivery is dead serious. Play Slugdge, out of context, for a friend and it's unlikely they'll detect any hint of parody. Musically the band is also a strange mix of orthodox unorthodoxy; they combine buzzsaw distortion and extremely low tuned guitars with a mix (both musically and vocally) of Mastodon and black/death metal; like Entombed covering Mastodon on 8-string guitars.

Allusions to other bands sell Slugdge short, though. They sound both like and unlike any other band. The riffs are killer, the leads are great, and the vocals are excellent. The whole catalog, experienced all together is remarkably cohesive. It doesn't sound like a series of three separate albums but one giant space slug of an album.

Tagged with 2017, blackened death metal, Calen Henry, sludge metal, Slugdge, Willowtip