Sucker For Punishment: Uh, There’s Kraut in My Metal

Okay, this week was officially insane, with a wealth of good new music to investigate. Isn’t the fall release time the best?
This week’s essential albums:

Oranssi Pazuzu, Velonielu (20 Buck Spin): The Finnish band who unapologetically loves psychedelia (oranssi, or “orange”, a clear reference to Tangerine Dream) and The Exorcist (“Pazuzu”) has been on critics’ radar especially since 2011’s Cosmonument, but this third album is so wildly original, so genre-bending that it’s easy to see why many of us writers are over the moon. Black metal and krautrock have always gone together well, going back to when Conrad Schnitzler recorded a track for Mayhem’s Deathcrush, but it took a long, long time before the metal world saw a band take that concept and run with it like Oranssi Pazuzu have. By mining the outer reaches of German experimental greats from the 1970s and somehow remaining faithful to the structure of black metal, they’ve created an extraordinary work that for all its eclectic moments – the intense “Vino Verso” gives way to the tribal groove of “Tyhja Tempelii” – is incredibly cohesive, a perfect combination of experimentation and traditionalism. This is, hands down, one of the most important, vital metal albums of the year.

Castevet, Obsian (Profound Lore): Three years removed from the inspired debut album Mounds of Ash, the Brooklyn band has come back with one hell of a defiant follow-up. The characteristics that made the previous record so unique remain intact (black metal juxtaposed with a decided progressive influence that dips into early-‘90s math rock, think Slint meets Voivod) yet this time around the music keeps listeners at an arm’s length thanks to punishing arrangements and tar-thick production. Consequently it is a lot harder to get into this album, but given time to settle in – I had two months – it turns out to be just as rich a listening experience, perhaps even more, thanks to sly melodies that creep ever so slowly to the surface amidst all that blast/skronk intensity, building up to the surreal, gothic-tinged “The Seat of Severance”. It’s assuring to know that first album wasn’t a fluke, and Castevet continue to take their music to strange new places.

High on Fire, “Slave the Hive” (Scion): A brand new High on Fire track, and not only is it yet another scalding bowl of Devilutionary stew, it’s free. A no-brainer. One can never have enough Matt Pike tunes in his or her collection. Go get it here.

Shooting Guns, Brotherhood of the Ram (Easy Rider): Doom, but inspired more by dustbowl towns than industrial Birmingham. Krautrock, but more like rutted grid roads than the Autobahn. Psychedelic, but fueled more by Pilsner than acid. In two short years Western Canadian band Shooting Guns have established themselves as one of the best instrumental bands around, and the follow-up to the Polaris Prize-nominated Born to Deal in Magic 1952-1976 is another bold step forward. Monstrously heavy, capable of grooves so comfy you just want them to go on as long as possible, and always careful to let the hooks guide the music, Brotherhood of the Ram plays to the band’s strengths, yet at the same time branches out more, from the Vanilla Fudge dirge of “Predator II” to the textured heavy blooze of “Go Blind”. Highlighted by the showstopper “Motherfuckers Never Learn”, which sounds like a combination of Hawkwind’s “Master of the Universe” and Can’s “Mother Sky”, these guys are Canada’s best-kept secret no longer. Stream and purchase it via Bandcamp.

Uzala, Tales of Blood & Fire (King of the Monsters): I was a big fan of the Idaho band’s debut from last year, but was not prepared for the kind of leap they display on the follow-up. This time around they’ve brought in the great Tad Doyle as producer, and the recording is not only better, but singer/guitarist Darcy Nutt is a revelation, delivering powerful vocal melodies to go along with the blend of doom and drone on such tracks as “Seven Veils” and “Dark Days”. At times it approaches Jex Thoth levels of majesty. Do not miss out on this one.

Also out this week:

Anacondas, Sub Contra Blues (Prosthetic): Imagine if Jesu incorporated Justin Broadrick’s more muscular riffs from Godflesh, and you’ll have a good idea what this trio sounds like. Featuring two former members of UK band Johnny Truant, Anacondas offer an impressive contrast between cleanly sung vocals and towering riffs rather than coming across as just another “metalgaze” band. Even the Meshuggah rip-offs feel credible.

Anneke van Giersbergen, Drive (Inside Out): The former Gathering singer, she of that dulcet voice, is back with another solo album. Once again Anneke is perfectly content playing straightforward mainstream rock, she’s created a good niche for herself, and this record’s a nice one. “We Live On” is a great little tune that’ll remind many of the upbeat tracks she sang on Devin Townsend’s Epicloud last year.

The Body, Christs, Redeemers (Thrill Jockey): I’ve never cared for the shrieked lead vocals by the Rhode Island duo on their past records, which distract from the awe-inspiring power of the actual music – hello, Deafheaven – but this third album has managed to win me over a lot more than 2010’s critically drooled-over All The Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood. Joining forces once again with a host of guest musicians including the Assembly of Light women’s choir, this is dense, colossal doom that for all the ridiculous screeching is capable of a few devastating moments.

Death Angel, The Dream Calls For Blood (Nuclear Blast): 2010’s Relentless Retribution was a disappointment compared to the excellent Killing Season from two years earlier, feeling as if it catered to producer Jason Suecof’s busy style than playing to the Bay Area thrash faves’ strengths. However, this new record, also produced by Suecof, is a big improvement, getting off to a rampaging start with “Left For Dead”, “Son of the Morning”, and the brilliant “Fallen”. From then on the momentum is maintained well, “Caster of Shame” highlighting the second half.

Deep Purple, Perfect Strangers Live (Eagle Rock): Call me nuts, but Perfect Strangers will always be my favorite Deep Purple album – it was my introduction to the band in 1984 – so to have the only complete filmed concert from that album’s tour cycle finally see the light of day on DVD and CD is a real treat. That tour was a big deal back then, the much-ballyhooed return of the classic Mark II lineup, and as this performance proves, did they ever scorch. Gillan, Blackmore, Lord, Glover, and Paice are playing with real purpose, energy, and power, and the Perfect Strangers material holds up exceptionally alongside the early classics. With the ageless “Child in Time” serving as the rightful centerpiece – Ian Gillan is spine-chilling on that track – this is an essential snapshot of the band’s last truly great period.

Deep Swell, Lore Of The Angler (Weathermaker): Those who enjoy Clutch guitarist Tim Sult’s reggae-tinged jams with Lionize will get a kick out of his new project, which combines heavy rock with a very strong dub influence. It’s an at times moody album, made even more distinct by singer Briena Pearl, but the forays into funk and psychobilly don’t stick nearly as well as the brooding moments.

Domovoyd, Oh Sensibility (Svart): Here’s a fun one. Equal parts space rock, doom, and post rock, this Finnish band creates a distinct sound that’s as hazy as it is pulverizing, with guitar work that sounds like Kevin Shields putting his own twisted spin on Matt Pike’s riffs. “By Taking Breath” and “Effluvial Condenser” are stunners. Finnish underground metal seems to be exploding right now, and this is a real discovery by the folks at Svart Records.

Ereb Altor, Fire Meets Ice (Metal Blade): The fourth album by the Swedish band  – featuring members of doom faves Isole – meanders at times, but overall it’s a good blend of Bathory’s Viking metal and straight-up black metal, blasts of visceral ferocity offset nicely by moments of epic grandeur. “Nifelheim” and “My Ravens” are especially strong.

Gigan, Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery And Super-Science (Willowtip): Eric Hersemann, mastermind of the great psychedelic death metal band is back with a completely revamped lineup and a third full-length, one that tries to outdo Gorguts when it comes to sheer-mind-bending musicality. And he comes close at times, too, songs like “Beneath the Sea of Tranquility” and “Obsidian Sun” careening in insane directions without feeling arbitrary. The musicianship is staggering, of course, but for a record like this I wish the tone wasn’t so dense. This is one time where a little more clarity would have brought out the wonky riffs more. Other than that, though, Hersemann’s wizardry is still well worth hearing.

Gnaw, Horrible Chamber (Seventh Rule): The band led by former Khanate vocalist Alan Dubin is back with a follow-up to 2009’s This Face, and it’s a typically twisted journey through the various dark corners of noise. As intense as the music is – the minimalist arrangement on “Humming” is noteworthy – Dubin’s vocal histrionics actually prevent the album from crossing the line from disturbing to truly harrowing. Still, though, it’s a fascinating listen.

Halestorm, ReAniMate: The CoVeRs eP (Atlantic): Yes, it’s actually spelled that way. You know, because it looks edgy, at least to a record label executive. Anyway, I genuinely like Halestorm, their hard rock is catchy and Lzzy Hale can sing, but their covers always come across as desperate attempts to pander to mainstream crowds, when all they have to do is be themselves. But nope, they’ve put out another gimmick release to show off how supposedly versatile they are. They stumble their way through an embarrassing rendition of Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor”, AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill” is murdered (hey bassist guy, you ever hear of “in the pocket”?), Hale fails to match Pat Benatar’s power on “Hell is For Children”, and the rendition of Daft Punk’s viral hit “Get Lucky” is not only shameless, it’s asexual. Please, Halestorm, just stop. You’re on every second cover of Revolver, be happy with that.

Insurrection, Prototype (Galy): Simple, straightforward Quebec death metal that, when at its best, captures that mid-paced sound that Kataklysm has perfected for so long. Not bad.

Kill Division, Destructive Force (Metal Blade): Featuring former members of God Dethroned and Legion of the Damned, this new Dutch trio feels like an extension of God Dethroned, specializing in good, albeit unspectacular thrash/death metal. Particularly noteworthy is the harsh vocal dynamic between guitarist Susan Gerl and bassist Richard Ebisch, which is enough of a curveball to hold your attention. Enough to buy, though? Not really.

Monster Magnet, Last Patrol (Napalm): The ninth album by the stoner rock faves continues their recent impressive run of albums, and I’d even say that this is their best in a long time. The way it starts off in understated fashion with “I Live Behind the Clouds” and the brilliant nine and a half-minute title track is audacious, and the album carries on in similarly psychedelic fashion – featuring a cover of Donovan’s “Three Kingfishers” – with traces of Southern rock creeping into Dave Wyndorf’s compositions. “Hallelujah” and “Mindless Ones” are well-timed blasts of boisterous rock ‘n’ roll, but the prevailing mood is hazily groovy – dig that nasty Hawkwind jam on “End of Time” – and the band is right at home playing it. Just don’t let the cover art put you off,  because this one’s a keeper.

Ocrilim, Imfamin (self-released): Guitar genius and Krallice mastermind Mick Barr is back with yet another album of psychotic shredding, peculiar melody patterns that wind around and around like a Spirograph, and manic vocals. Alternately befuddling and enthralling, you expect to be challenged whenever you listen to an Ocrilim record, and that’s exactly what you get here. Order it via Bandcamp here. 

Pelican, Forever Becoming (Southern Lord): After a four year hiatus that saw founding member Laurent Schroeder-Lebec replaced by guitarist Dallas Thomas, Pelican is back with a surprisingly vibrant new album. A band often capable of tedious moments, there’s more than a few here, but such instrumental tracks as “Deny the Absolute” and “Immutable Dusk” prove the band is still capable of some inspired material.

Red Fang, Whales And Leeches (Relapse): The Portland band doesn’t change a thing on their third album. Which is fine, but every time I hear a record by them I keep wishing there were just as many hooks to offset the swaggering stoner grooves. Once again, there are a few knockouts here – “Blood Like Cream”, “Crows in Swine” – there’s just not enough punchiness in these songs to warrant a full recommendation, and it feels as if they’re still conflicted between trying to be the next Mastodon or the next Torche. Pick a side. I’m still eagerly anticipating the next Whitey McConnaughy-directed video, though.

Rivers Of Nihil, The Conscious Seed of Light (Metal Blade): This debut album is a classic example of the kitchen sink approach that young “extreme” metal bands use today. They’re so technically skilled that they feel it’s necessary to try anything and everything, from death metal, to black metal, to prog, to the atonality of Gojira, but for all he dexterity, despite Erik Rutan’s typically robust production, the songs lack focus and personality. It’s the same old story.

Sorcery, Unholy Creations (Hells Headbangers): The underrated band’s early recorded work from 1987 to 1992 has been compiled on two CDs by Hell’s Headbangers, and although it’s not exactly the unearthing of Swedish death metal’s Rosetta Stone, those interested in the history of the genre will find the early demos on disc one fascinating. Be forewarned, though, the sound quality is terrible.

Theologian, Some Things Have To Be Endured (Crucial Blast): It’s always fun to hear what next slab of sonic weirdness Crucial Blast has to offer next, and the latest album by the project helmed by musician Lee M. Bartow is typically bleak and provocative both aurally and visually. Delving straight into dark ambient and industrial sounds once again, its hypnotic in how it draws listeners in, only to smother as they’re being entranced. Like Gnaw Their Tongues, Theologian was made to score a horror film.

Tiger Junkies, D-Beat Street Rock ‘n’ Rollers (Hells Headbangers): A collaboration between Toxic Holocaust’s Joel Grind and Barbatos/Abigail frontman Yasuyuki Suzuki, Tiger Junkies’ recorded output from 2006 to 2011 has been slapped together on one CD. Which, if you like stripped-down thrash that’s filthy, sloppy, and loaded with sophomoric humor, is well worth investigating if you haven’t already.

Trivium, Vengeance Falls (Roadrunner): After two tepid attempts to sound heavier in the wake of 2006’s The Crusade – the declining sales spoke volumes – Matt Heafy and company teamed up with David Draiman, of all people, to right the ship. Once the “ooh wah-ah-ah-ah” jokes subsided, the end result is the band’s most fully realized album yet, one that places melody, and most importantly, hooks, front and center. Some metal bands aren’t meant to be super-heavy and extreme and innovative. There’s nothing wrong with being a solid mainstream-friendly metal act, and Trivium has finally grown up and realized it. Good for them.

Withem, The Point Of You (Sensory): I actually saw a write-up warn prog fans that this debut by the Norwegian band isn’t very technical. Which is hilarious, because Withem’s patent lack of technicality is what makes their brand of prog so likeable. Though clearly modeled after Dream Theater and Circus Maximus, this record wisely avoids falling down that rabbit hole of wankery. Solos and grooves have a sense of direction and purpose, and the hooks drive the songs. No, it’s nothing new, but it’s a fine first effort.

Not metal, but worth hearing:

Tim Hecker, Virgins (Kranky): In which the Canadian ambient drone artist traveled to Reykjavik, Seattle, and Montreal, and used ensembles to create musical pieces so alternately dark and glimmering that it blows your mind that these aren’t electronic compositions, but truly organic pieces. The music, oh-so-subtly manipulated by Hecker and aided by studio greats Valgeir Sigurðsson and Randall Dunn, continually builds tension and soothes, abstract in form but captivating throughout.

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