Sucker For Punishment: A gift from a black metal god

Pardon me if I’m a little distracted this morning, I just saw Slayer last night, and say what you will about Kerry and Tom heading out with a pair of hired ringers in Gary Holt and Paul Bostaph, but their all-oldies setlist warmed the cockles of this 43 year-old’s heart. No fewer than six Metal Blade-era songs, including “Captor of Sin”, which I’d waited 29 years to hear live. Three additional Reign in Blood deep cuts to go along with the requisite staples. An inexplicable but wicked cover of Exodus’s “Strike of the Beast”, for crying out loud. And five Seasons songs tossed in for the noobs. It was shameless nostalgia, bordering on a cabaret show, and when the new album arrives I’ll cross that bridge cautiously, but at a time when Kerry King needs to get back in the good graces of his longtime fans, my oh my, do he and the guys ever deliver on their current tour. Check it out if you can.
As for this week’s new releases, welcome to that time of year where the quality of new music starts to wind down. It’s a fairly busy week, the quality decent, with just a couple of must-buys. And yes, I endorse the new Stryper album, in that it’s very good at that particular form of music. However, if there’s ever a CD sticker or a print ad saying the new Stryper album is “Decibel approved”, I might have some explaining to do.

This week’s essential albums:

Cara Neir, Portals To A Better, Dead World (Broken Limbs): The Texas duo has always been great at combining black metal, punk, post-punk, and progressive metal, but their latest album molds it into a fully-realized, cohesive whole in a way they’ve never done before. Melodic, playfully atonal, ferocious, and never complacent enough to stay within one particular template, it’s high time people started regarding Cara Neir as important up-and-comers in extreme music. Stream and buy it via Bandcamp.

Gift Of Gods, Receive (Peaceville): If you’re a fan of Darkthrone’s The Underground Resistance – and if you profess to like metal, there’s no way you can possibly not like it – then you’ll love the debut solo EP by Nocturno Culto. Stylistically it’s very much the same, with loads of Celtic Frost worship, but it’s not without its quirks, like a startlingly good cover of Universe’s “Looking For an Answer”. Not only is Gift of Gods a fine companion to The Underground Resistance, but you can’t help but hope Nocturno continues to explore his own sound further with this project. This EP is far too good not to follow up.

Also out this week:

Aqua Nebula Oscillator, Spiritus Mundi (Tee Pee): The French rockers are back with another album that’s typically a diverse and often befuddling blend of psychedelic rock, space rock, garage rock, and even a little Donovan-derived folk. Highlighted by a psychotic cover of the 13th Floor Elevators’ “Roller Coaster”, it’s an unpredictable record, but one that’s never for a second dull.

Convulse, Evil Prevails (Svart): The Finnish death metal veterans reunited 18 years after splitting up, and have since recorded a third album, their first since 1994’s Reflections. Not surprisingly it’s a workmanlike example of first-wave Scandinavian death metal, plenty pulverizing but always mindful of songwriting dynamics.

Czar, No One Is Alone If No One Is Alive (Cracknation): The Chicago band’s second album is an interesting one, bridging hardcore, noise, and metal, but not in the obvious ways, instead creating a peculiar hybrid of power, dissonance, and melody. It crunches, it grooves, it lurches, all with impressive precision. Stream and buy it via Bandcamp.

Dagoba, Post Mortem Nihil Est (eOne): What sounded creative ten years ago now sounds stale and repetitive, as French band Dagoba continue to plug away with the chugging, atmospheric groove metal. It’s capably done and slickly produced, but despite some admittedly strong moments (“Yes We Die”) it’s impossible to get excited about this form of music. Which reminds me, remember the band Raunchy?

Enabler, Flies (The Compound): The best tracks on this new EP by the Milwaukee hardcore band are the surprisingly measured instrumental “Switch” and the wicked cover of Sepultura’s “Arise”. But the entire thing costs only four bucks, so why not buy the whole shebang? Get it via Bandcamp.

Falkenbach, Asa (Prophecy): It’s been a while since I last heard a Viking metal album as good as this one, the latest by the project helmed by German musician Vratyas Vakyas. Since Árstíðir Lífsins’ Vápna lækjar eldr, actually. Adorned with atmospheric, melancholy melodies that pine for the fjords like the Norwegian Blue, this is tastefully written and performed, richly arranged, and bracing to listen to.

Finnr’s Cane, A Portrait Painted By The Sun (Prophecy): It’s nice to come across Canadian metal bands that are inspired by their landscape, and Sudbury, Ontario’s Finnr’s Cane is just that. Hailing from a mining-ravaged environment that at times looks like the surface of the moon, this band’s music is suitably bleak, a forlorn blend of black metal and expansive post-metal. A welcome addition to Prophecy’s impressive roster.

Impending Doom, Death Will Reign (eOne): These Christian metalers actually have a much better grasp of deathcore than your average deathcore band, and on their fifth album their bludgeoning noise is competently accentuated by plenty of moments that involve genuine musicality.

Izegrim, Congress of the Insane (Listenable): The Dutch band continue to churn out the death-infused thrash metal in their Holy Moses-influenced way, frontwoman Marloes Voskuil following faithfully in the footsteps of Sabina Classen. “Celebratory Gunfire”  is a standout on a straightforward, satisfying record.

Lita Ford, The Bitch Is Back…Live (SPV): For a small club show recorded in her old stomping ground of Los Angeles, Lita Ford’s new live album is a somewhat tepid affair, with not much palpable energy from neither the band nor the crowd. That said, Ford is enjoying a nice little resurgence – last year’s Living Like a Runaway was a charmer – and the new material sounds solid here, as do the ‘80s staples like “Can’t Catch Me” and “Kiss Me Deadly”.

Mad Hatter’s Den, Welcome To The Den (Inverse): The Finnish band relies on keyboards a little too much, but that doesn’t take away from the songwriting, which is lovingly derived from Maiden and Priest and features a strong lead singer in Taage Laiho. Couple that with a song as wonderfully titled as “Sharks of Power”, and you’ve got a winner. This one’s a blast.

(the) Melvins, Tres Cabrones (Ipecac): The gimmick behind this latest Melvins release is that original drummer Mike Dillard has returned to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary, with Dale Crover moving to bass for this album. It’s a neat little novelty, and Buzz and the guys are clearly having a blast on the new songs as well as the hilarious covers of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and “Tie My Pecker to a Tree”, but nothing these days beats the four-piece Melvins (featuring Buzz, Crover, and the Big Business boys) and it’s now been more than three years since The Bride Screamed Murder. This stuff is a blast, no question, but bring back the four-piece lineup, guys.

Mother Susurrus, Maahaavaa (Ektro): Another avant-garde gem from Finland, this time a remarkable combination of doomy metal and acid rock. No sunlight in winter and no darkness in summer clearly compels people to make the freakydeakiest music possible.

Nekrofilth, Devil’s Breath (Hells Headbangers): Hells Headbangers have an incredible ear for quality fist-bangin’ thrash filth, and the latest by the Cleveland band – their first full-length after a series of demos and splits – is a simple, predictable blend of thrash and hardcore punk, but done with tremendous energy and humor. Harmless, riotous fun.

Otargos, Apex Terror (Listenable): Creative black metal that smartly thinks outside the box? Of course, it’s from France. It’s not quite on the level of Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega, and tends to pay homage (putting it politely) to Gojira more often than not, but this latest album by Otargos is nevertheless worth investigating.

Ovo, Abisso (Supernatural Cat): The weirdo Italian duo has teamed up with Gnaw’s Alan Dubin and Carla Bozulich’s band Evangelista for yet another stupefying, impenetrable, yet surreally enthralling collection of music that ranges from relentless metallic pieces to arbitrary jamming in the name of experimentation.

Paradise Lost, Tragic Illusion 25 (The Rarities) (Century Media): It seems odd, and slightly cynical, to commemorate a significant anniversary with a Contractual Obligation Album but longtime fans of Paradise Lost will find this new odds-and-sods collection of mild interest, from the gothed-up covers (including Everything But the Girl’s classic “Missing”) to the two re-recorded tracks, and the new song “Loneliness Remains”. New and casual listeners might want to stick with the proper albums, though.

Rising, Abominor (Indisciplinarian): The Danish band’s blend of crust, sludge, and simple rock ‘n’ roll is energetic enough, but the monochromatic vocals by the sandpaper-throated Jacob Krogholt greatly diminish the overall impact of the otherwise very good music, feeling like an empty imitation of Lemmy and Jaz Coleman.

Stryper, No More Hell To Pay (Frontiers): It’s easy to lampoon Stryper these days, but once upon a time these guys made quality heavy metal/hard rock when they weren’t flinging bibles at audiences. 1985’s Soldiers Under Command was a first-rate record, and this new album very much follows that template, the music harder-edged, melodic, and bolstered by the singing of Robert Sweet, which is just as strong as it was 30 years ago. Even the cover of the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus is Alright With Me” kind of works. Sure, the fundie proselytizing gets cheesy, but so does Watain’s Satanic proselytizing. In both cases, the music is good enough for secular listeners to enjoy just as much as those who take the lyrics seriously. Jebus, the Debil, it’s all a gimmick. Stryper have their gimmick, and they sell it well here. Yeah, I’m just as surprised as you.

Vengeance, Piece Of Cake (SPV): If it’s always 1989 in your mind, if the first Blue Murder album is your own personal Black Sabbath, if you keep wondering why Axel Rudi Pell doesn’t put out new albums every six months instead of annually, then you’ll probably be excited about this one. For the rest of you, Leon Goewie’s vocal histrionics will have you in stitches.

Zemial, Nykta (Hells Headbangers): Active since 1989 but with only three proper full-length albums, any day the Greek band puts a new one out is clearly an event for their followers. Helmed by Archon Vorskaath, who handles all the instrumentation, Nykta is very much like the recent work by Rotting Christ, a peculiar combination of influences, rooted in black metal but far more wide-ranging, songs hinting at a filthier side but recorded cleanly, riffs hinting at savagery but quickly giving way to melody. From the Celtic Frost-style “Under Scythian Command”, to the defiantly proggy, 11-minute “In the Arms of Hades”, to the “cover” of John Cage’s “4:33”, it’s an impressive work by someone unwilling to be tied down by genre restrictions.

Not metal, but worth hearing:

The Opium Cartel, Ardor (Termo): Led by Jacob Holm-Lupo, from one of my favorite prog bands White Willow, this Norwegian Collective focuses on the lighter, more pastoral side of progressive rock, combining such ‘70s influences as Genesis and King Crimson, and from the ‘80s, The Dream Academy. Production-wise this new album totally evokes the mid-1980s, a lush, sumptuous sound that celebrates the smooth-sounding excesses of that era, wonderfully exemplified on the epic “Mariner, Come In”. While singer Alexander Stenerud does a splendid job singing on such tracks as “White Wolf” and “Northern Rains”, Norwegian pop singer Venke Knutson steals the show on such standouts as “Kissing Moon”, “Revenant”, and the absolutely beautiful, understated cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Then Came the Last Days of May”. Check out Ardor at iTunes.

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