Sucker For Punishment: Taking the High Road

As a metal writer you often meet young bands that are so desperately hungry to get out on tour and live the road dog life in their van, going from city to city, crashing wherever they can. Just to live the live of a touring metal band and do what they love to do most in the world. Once you make it to that one short rung above that of a local band, though, it’s a serious, serious grind that separates the grown-ups from the children, the true test of ones mettle, ‘scuse the bad wordplay. The highs can be fantastic, while the lows can be deflating.
Vancouver phenoms (and Decibel favorites) Anciients embarked on their first full Canadian tour last week, and despite playing on a Saturday night in June, pretty much the perfect time for a metal show around these parts, the turnout was a little lower than hoped. They were coming off a night where they and touring mates Black Wizard made an absolute killing playing to a packed bar as part of that city’s big Sled Island Festival, so to go from that to maybe 30 people in a 400-capacity room has to be a real letdown. Plus the fact that Black Cobra had been turned away at the Canadian border hurt things as well, especially considering that duo’s sterling reputation as a first-rate live band.

But give Chris Dyck, Kenny Cook, Aaron Gustafson, and Mike Hannay credit, they strode onstage and played just as well as I’d seen them in a beyond-capacity venue at Roadburn in the Netherlands two months prior. It was a scorching hour-long set heavy on selections from their excellent 2013 debut album Heart of Oak (“Overthrone”, “Faith and Oath”, “Raise the Sun”, “Giants”, “The Longest River”) and climaxing with a whopping, ambitious 12-minute new song that sounded even better than when I’d heard it back in April. It was a performance searing enough to compel those still hanging around at two in the morning to buy whatever the band was selling, and that’s where you got to see the sincerity in a guy like Cook, who shook the hand of everyone who came up to him, looking them in the eye and engaging them in conversation. It’s little instances like that where you sit back and think, yeah, their main tour support couldn’t show up with 18 shows and several thousand miles to go, there’ll be more than a few miserable sleeps in the van ahead, but these guys will be fine.

If you live in Canada, be sure to catch Anciients and Black Wizard when they roll into your nearest city. Here are the remaining dates:

06/26 Montreal, QC – Il Motore
06/27 Ottawa, ON – Maverick’s
06/28 Sherbrooke, QC – Le Magog
06/29 Rimouski, QC – Cactus Show-Bar
06/30 Fredericton, NB – The Capital Complex
07/02 Moncton, NB – The Caveau
07/03 Charlottetown, PE – Hunter’s Ale House
07/04 Halifax, NS – Michael’s
07/05 Trois-Rivieres, QC – Rock Cafe Le Stage
07/06 Quebec City, QC – L’Agitee
07/08 Kingston, ON – The Mansion
07/10 London, ON – Call The Office
07/11 Toronto, ON – El Mocambo
07/12 Sudbury, ON – The Townehouse 1H
07/13 Sault Ste Marie, ON – Canadian Nightclub
07/14 Thunder Bay, ON – Crocks
07/17 Regina, SK – The Exchange
07/18 Edmonton, AB – Pawn Shop
07/19 Armstrong, BC – MetalFest

It’s another monstrous week for new releases. Welcome to summer. Here’s a dozen eclectic selections to choose from, including one particularly big one.

Allegaeon, Elements of the Infinite (Metal Blade): If you’re going to sound like every other melodic death metal band that ever was, you might as well come up with melodies that stand out, and give the Colorado band credit, the restraint the guys show on their third album is mildly impressive, in an early In Flames sort of way. “Dyson Sphere” is a real standout, the polished death metal reined in just enough to create room for those guitar hooks and harmonies to leave a good impression on the listener. With a new At the Gates album on the horizon it’s easy to say, “Why bother?” but this is actually a laudable effort.

Alraune, The Process Of Self-Immolation (Profound Lore): The Nashville black metal band is being mentioned in the same breath as Ash Borer and Krallice, but as potent as this five-track album can be at times – the sprawling “Kissed By the Red” is an immediate standout – there’s still plenty of catching up to do. As it stands, though, it’s a fairly strong exercise in raw black metal, capable of hypnotic, swirling, blastbeat-driven passages, but always mindful of melody. The potential for great things is definitely there. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Auroch, Taman Shud (Profound Lore): I made the mistake of listening to the latest album by the Vancouver band right after the new Incantation album, reviewed below. Even though this project by Mitochondrion’s Sebastian Montesi and Shawn Hache is cut from a slightly different cloth, more indebted to the technical inclinations of Gorguts and Cryptopsy, its very dry tone strips away any sense of majesty the music could have had. Structurally there’s plenty for death metal fans to like here, nimble arrangements dynamic enough to keep listeners involved, but there’s the lingering sense that this record could have ben even better than it is. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Cannabis Corpse, From Wisdom To Baked (Season Of Mist): “Baptized in Bud”. “Individual Pot Patterns”. “Pull the Carb”. Oh, I get it. They’re parodies of actual death metal songs, but with weed jokes stuck in. Okay. In other words, the death metal version of this sketch.

Cemetery Lust, Orgies of Abomination (Hells Headbangers): Savage, filthy thrash/death metal with no shortage of tongue-in-cheek humor, this album might have a tendency to get a little repetitive after 15 minutes, but with songs like “Cum on the Cross” and “Sexually Transmitted Death”, the Portland band doesn’t fail to leave a stupid smile on your face.

Corrosion Of Conformity, IX (Candlelight): It doesn’t seem fair to the guys, but every time I hear a new Corrosion of Conformity album these days, I think, damn, I wish Pepper Keenan was back in the band. That’s how great that band could be when it wanted. Woody Weatherman’s doomy Southern rock grooves are still potent at times on this new record, and the trio can swing as it always has, but the vocals leave a lot to be desired. Imagine how absolutely killer it’d all sound if songs like “Brand New Sleep”, “Elphyn”, and “The Hanged Man” were sung with some semblance of authority instead of Mike Dean’s thin whine. Yeah, Mike and Woody are the originals, but as a foursome with Pepper COC was a force, and although it’s good to see him doing steady work with Down, his presence in this band is sorely missed.

Incantation, Dirges of Elysium (Listenable): I always say it, when it comes to songwriting skill in death metal, look to the progenitors, the bands that have been around 20, 25 years. The pace might be more measured and a lot less “extreme” than bands half their age, but it’s always for the better, not to mention by no means less punishing. We have yet to hear from Cannibal Corpse this year, but at the moment Incantation has come through with one of the stronger new albums by a veteran death metal band, right up there with Autopsy and Vader. In Incantation’s case, their forte has always been creating an effective contrast between the full-on assault of death metal and the more disciplined sounds of doom, and Dirges of Elysium is at its best when both sides have equal footing, as on “From a Glaciate Womb” and the towering, 16-minute “Elysium (Eternity is Nigh)”. Trust these old masters to show the rest of the genre what’s what.

Kobra and the Lotus, High Priestess (Titan): Hyped (and funded) to the nines, Gene Simmons protégé Kobra Paige and her perpetually rotating lineup of backing musicians had not shown any potential whatsoever on her first two Kobra and the Lotus albums, but that’s all changed on effort number three. Clearly following the NWOBHM revivalism of Huntress and Christian Mistress, with a few fashionable “occult” references tossed in for good measure, the band’s prefab quality is obvious, but easy to ignore as soon as you hear Paige belt out her vocals on these ten songs. A full-throated singer more akin to Lee Aaron than the rather shrill Jill Janus of Huntress, the classically trained Paige sells tracks like “Warhorse” and I Am, I Am” convincingly. However, if Paige and her wealthy backers wanted to make this project seem more credible, they should have chosen to grind it out with the Holy Grails and 3 Inches of Bloods of the metal scene rather than tour with KISS and Def Leppard, playing to people twice as old as their target audience. So while this album is a modest success, Kobra and the Lotus should tread carefully, because metal fans sense falseness and cynicism immediately. Money helps, but in metal taking the easy route rubs working class audiences the wrong way.

Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (Reprise): I find myself weirdly conflicted with Mastodon’s current musical incarnation. I loved Remission and Leviathan as much as anyone a decade ago, really dug the psychotic Blood Mountain, and the wonderful progressive rock tendencies of Crack the Skye. And I fully acknowledge the best thing the band could ever do to finally score a crossover hit was to streamline its sound, which The Hunter admittedly did very, very well, both musically and commercially. Never mind the fact that replicating the band’s studio vocals has yielded inconsistent results in live settings. So this sixth album smartly decides to stick to what made The Hunter appealing to so many, featuring songs that are mostly short bursts rather than sprawling epics, with very strong focus on vocal melodies by Troy Sanders, Brent Hinds, and Brann Dailor. That’s all well and good, it’s nice to see a contemporary American metal band make a concerted effort to improve in the lead vocal department, but on this album it all seems to come at the expense of the riffs. Yes, vocal hooks are great, but from the instrumental side nowhere is anything as towering as “March of the Fire Ants”, “Blood and Thunder”, “The Czar”, or even “Curl of the Burl” to be found. By no means is it a total loss, though, as “Tread Lightly” and “The Mother Load” are tremendous hook-oriented tracks, while “Diamond in the Witch House” is a welcome return to the more ostentatious side of the band’s work. But although it’s no real surprise that the band has chosen the if-ain’t-broke route, the fact that Once More ‘Round the Sun is the first Mastodon album to offer no real surprises is a little deflating. With far too much new metal to choose from, merely “good” just doesn’t cut it. A Mastodon album should be great.

Mournful Congregation, Concrescence Of The Sophia (20 Buck Spin): It might be classified as an “EP”, but this being Mournful Congregation”, it’s still a whopping 30 minutes of first-rate funeral doom, highlighted of course by the wondrous, beautiful title track. No band succeeds so well at funeral doom as these Australians, and they are in masterful form here once again. Stream and purchase via Bandcamp.

Nunslaughter, Angelic Dread (Hells Headbangers): Finally, a proper new album by the Nun’s Laughter boys, and typically it’s the kind of crazed yet catchy hybrid of thrash, death metal, and hardcore punk that they’ve been doing for years. Nothing’s changed, and nor does anyone want it to. It’s a big, dumb, Satanic joy by a consistently fun band, and probably the strongest album I’ve heard from the band to date. Jeff Treppel premiered the album here yesterday. Give it a listen!

Rog & Pip, Our Revolution (Rise Above): Musical partners going back to their days with ‘60s band The Sorrows, Roger Lomas and Philp “Pip” Whitcher continued making music in the 1970s under a number of guises, and this collection curated by Lee Dorrian offers a very entertaining glimpse of the duo’s more heavy rock-leaning music from the 1970s. Listening to these tracks all these years later, it’s nothing exactly revolutionary nor ahead of its time, but tracks like “Evil Hearted Woman”, “Doin’ Alright Tonight”, and “Warlord” are splendid, highly entertaining blends of early heavy metal, glam rock, and psychedelic rock. It’s a great little nugget well worth seeking out.

Septicflesh, Titan (Prosthetic): Here’s one band that’s always so much better on record than in person. Performed live, the Greek band’s songs are often overwhelmed by shrill backing tracks, but the actual studio product is a much more even balance. Septicflesh has always been mighty consistent in the album department, and this ninth full-length once again offers slickly recorded death metal accentuated by orchestration, and more often than not effectively so. The symphonic bombast on “Order of Dracul”, for example, is wonderfully over the top, towering and theatrical, and will leave you wishing you could see Septicflesh perform with a full orchestra just one time, because those backing tracks do not do this music justice. In the meantime, stick with the albums, including this darkly majestic piece of work.

Not metal, but worth hearing:

White Lung, Deep Fantasy (Domino): The hotly tipped Vancouver punk band made a name for itself with a pair of blazing, independently released albums in 2010’s It’s the Evil and 2012’s Sorry, but with a new high profile deal with perpetually trendy label Domino and the full attention of America’s indie cognoscenti, White Lung is taking aim at a broader audience than the punk crowd while trying to retain that punk credibility. Although what the band is doing on Deep Fantasy is no different than what was going on in Olympia or D.C. 20 years ago – a decided riot grrrl-meets Dischord feel runs throughout this record – and despite the fact that Mish Way’s vocal affectations gets a little too Courtney Love/Brody Dalle for comfort at times, the blend of feral energy, taut musicianship, and most crucially, plenty of wickedly catchy songs makes for a scintillating 22 minute listening experience.

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