As summer descends upon us, dear star-spawns, I bring you chilly tales from the great white north: an interview with vocalist Christopher Erich Neu of black metal band Winterus, hailing from Kalamazoo! I also have some web-exclusive reviews, including the debut album of the aforementioned Winterus, the new disk from heavyweights DevilDriver, an event rundown and exclusive reviews from Bryer Wharton and some special extended reviews from Dylan Chadwick!
Friday night Club Vegas hosts some local metal with Embers of Yddrasil, Reaction Effect, Wicked This Way Comes, 6:AM, and Born Through Vengeance. As always Club Vegas is 21+. $7 at the door gets you in, tunes underway around 8 p.m.
If you live in Happy Valley or care to take a nice drive on Saturday June 4th, Salt Lake City’s Yaotl Mictlan kick off the weekend with an outdoor show in Payson at 365 S. 100 North. Stillborn King opens up the show, which is all ages and free. Tunes kick off early around 6 p.m.
Tuesday night, June 7 bring in your summer with Anhedonist (death/doom metal from WA), Undergang (death metal from Denmark), Acephalix (old school styled death metal from CA—just released a full-length on Southern Lord Records) and Yaotl Mictlan. All this extremity goes down at the South Shore, 2827 S. State St. $10 gets you in, music underway at 8 p.m.
INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER NEU of WINTERUS
SLUG: I have to ask, how was it playing black metal in Kalamazoo, Michigan? Did you have a good following or were you the bane of the Midwest?
Christopher Neu: It’s fucking great because there’s nothing but deathcore and hardcore out there. Everyone watches our band and goes into our trance. They don’t know what to expect, and when I start talking about burning Christians, it gets even better.
SLUG: Your first demo was released under the band name “The Ancient.” What made you change your name, and what exactly does Winterus mean?
Neu: We changed our name from The Ancient because the band “Ancient” decided to make a comeback out of nowhere and we didn’t want to play music that resembled deathcore riffing. We wanted to go in a different direction musically. Winterus captures the cold and dark feeling we want to portray.
SLUG: You guys got picked up by Lifeforce Records pretty damn quick after the release of your EP. Most bands struggle for so many years to even get noticed by the big boys—how does it feel to have done it so quickly? How has major label life been treating you?
Neu: Everything has fallen into place almost perfectly. I got sent to the right people who really understand what we are doing. It’s hard for other people to be trusted in the music industry, and Lifeforce is a giving tree of honest, hard work. In a way, we are spoiled to have that sort of relief and an awesome label behind us.
SLUG: What do you think made you guys stand out as a black metal band, above all the other chaos? And how do you guys feel about the current state of black metal?
Neu: We started this music and sound when there were only two black metal bands in a 300-mile radius. They weren’t doing much. Now I am showing up to shows and kids are putting on corpse-paint and forming short term bands, but I don’t think they get anything about the sound. That kind of upsets me because it’s not about the corpse-paint, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s disgraceful to our elders. Black metal is still at its pre-stages here in the US, but right about now is where I would start expecting to see more black metal bands popping up in Michigan and the US, trying to be nostalgically evil and all that shit. I just don’t really have the tolerance for it because of the aforementioned digressions.
SLUG: From your perspective, how has the reception of In Carbon Mysticism been?
Neu: I’ve seen the reviews all over, and about 1 out of every 12 will mention something about the production value and quality. I just ask myself what these people listened to when they grew up and when they were looking for bands and new music. When I was younger, I would go on sites like Purevolume, before MySpace was popular, and just search for anything that had soul. It would be the shittiest fucking recordings too. Kids are too spoiled on deathcore, Peavy-6505 fucking production/tone and it’s pathetic. We used that shit and had fun but it’s not even close to why this band was formed. We formed it because we were sick of all the bullshit breakdowns and trendy fucking low tuning. We don’t jump around in basketball shorts seeing how low we can tune. We literally got some shitty recording gear and recorded this album on a zero dollar budget. I think people need to pick up The Gallery from Dark Tranquility or a Circle Of Dead Children CD and remember that some bands have to do everything for themselves from nothing. I remember sending in for a CODC shirt and having Joe write me a little thank-you note off a torn piece of mail or some shit. That’s where we should be in the music industry still—not worrying about how many Facebook friends you have and how good your trendy layout is.
SLUG: Your bio states you guys cover themes of “brutal honesty, isolation, philosophy, and real human emotion”. Can you tell us a bit more about that? In particular, what philosophies do you find most intriguing for your musical expression?
Neu: Honestly when I started reading Carl Sagan books and watching Joseph Campbell on VHS—I started learning about “The Great Library of Alexandria” and how much we destroy and stunt our human evolution, and it still sends me through layers and layers of emotions. I like writing about that shit more than anything. Like in the song “Christ Reign”, it’s all about burning Christians and giving them what they deserve. When I was younger reading Varg’s post on his .ORG site in prison, I respected him so much despite the controversy and what people think of him. I’ve always had a great deal of respect for the dude. I was looking into the story before there were documentaries to download on the Internet about black metal. When I saw that there was radicalism against the church I was completely captured. Ever since then I have supported the desecration of the church and completely support church burnings. Our entire band is the same way. The only other thing that inspires me is other music, growing up finding bands like Into Eternity, Vital Remains, or Incantation. My music was always my best friend. I hope to inspire a few people like other bands did to me.
SLUG: What’s the hardest part about writing your songs? Do you find it difficult to balance the brutality with your band’s beautiful atmospheric tones?
Neu: Not at all. We write music and it just flows—we all know what we want out of a song. As soon as someone is like, “Hey man I got this riff,” we jump on their buzz train and just pump shit out.
SLUG: Any plans for touring in 2011, either here at home or in Europe?
Neu: Yeah, we just posted tour dates all over. We’ll be having a full US tour in June. Shortly after we will be in Europe, teaming up with Avocado Booking and getting out there. I get emails every day asking us to get over seas already.
In Carbon Mysticism
Winterus = Behemoth + Wolves In The Throne Room + early Immortal
Hailing from Kalamzoo, Michigan, of all places, Winterus debuts with album In Carbon Mysticism, a darkly atmospheric and sonically inspiring 30-minute set. With icy production and heavily distorted vocals (which traditional black metalists may or may not appreciate), the band uses their technical skill to paint aggressive-yet-emotional songs. Opener “Lone Wolves” is deliciously eerie and well-produced; together with fellow instrumental “Moonlust,” with its forceful guitars and bleak melodies, they are the strongest tracks on the album. The high-pitch riffs and distinctive drumming in “No Rest” stick in your ribs like a poisoned arrow. Vocalist Christopher Neu has an impressive range that adds real dimension to the chilly ambiance. The inclusion of three live demo tracks proves this band has the chops to deliver at shows, which is a relief in and of itself. They’re not breaking new ground as far as black metal is concerned, but it’s a fun, sinister ride nonetheless. –Megan Kennedy
DevilDriver = Chimaira + Coal Chamber + unfinished anger management classes
“The record is extreme, and it attacks from start to finish.” This publicity quote is absolutely true regarding new DevilDriver release Beast; unfortunately, “extremely interesting” was not included. Production on this album was spectacularly brutal, and these guys know their instruments with vicious intimacy. “Shitlist” has a gorgeous opening of ambient guitars before it descends into barreling double-bass and multi-layered, screeching vocals. The tuned-down sludge of “Talons Out (Teeth Sharpened)” digs beneath your skin, and has some of the best drumming fills on the album. But the unimaginative open-string chords and chanting, repetitive vocals are boring by mid-album, even being screamed from a talented veteran like Dez Fafara. Fans of the band will enjoy the album—it is what they loved about DevilDriver cranked to 11 on the anger scale, and not without its redeeming moments, but it’s far from memorable. Beasts is emotionally stale, and frankly, overshadowed by other bands in the genre who don’t sacrifice creativity for an extra shot of pissed-off adrenaline. –Megan Kennedy
The Crevices Below
Below the Crevices
The Crevices Below = Midnight Odyssey + Katatonia (old) + Bethlehem + Pestilential Shadows
Screw the notion that one man black metal acts are cliché or corny in any sense, the matter of fact in it is listeners get the complete vision of one mind that pulled every instrumentation together to craft an album. The man definitely put his soul into the album, and listening will easily confirm that fact. The Crevices Below – possible name mockery aside is the debut of Australian musician Dis Pater (Midnight Odyssey) and well worth the price of admission for depressive black metal fans. This isn’t one man basement sounding production—atmospheres run lofty to majestic to outright chilling. Most of the record is reverently somber—not over-agonizing and depressive, but embodying more of a reverent solitude. Pain and hate break in from time to time, completing a picture of strong juxtaposition from the sedated tones to harsh guitar riffing and snarling scowls. This album takes listeners on a journey below the surface of the earth into all its unknowns and dark corners—You’ll make it back to the surface, but it is a struggle. –Bryer Wharton
Gallhammer = Hellhammer + Eyehategod + Moss
Tokyo, Japan’s Gallhammer hit some mighty acclaim with their last album Ill Innocence. The once trio is now a duo, forging on without their former guitarist. Definitely don’t go into The End expecting Ill Innocence part two, The End is an album that’s going to resonate more with the crust/doom/experimental crowd than the blackened doom cult they gained. I have no quarrels with the ominously titled The End, the simple bass, drum and vocal approach gives the new record the nastiest sound Gallhammer has ever had – the beginning of the album starts in some speed and odd vocal ensembles with scream/growls accompanied by shrill high pitched almost little girl or Pikachu sounding definitely adding a trippy and oddity sound to the gloom already projected. The bass fuzz on this album is just a fancy thing to behold – you may not return to this album as much as the catchy Ill Innocence lent listeners too but if you’re ready to travel down a road of nasty beast with more crust than what lingers in a college dorm room – a perfectly unique offering this is the exit to take. One thing is certain like it or don’t with The End it’s an album you’re not going to hear from any other band. –Bryer Wharton
20 Buck Spin
Vastum = Grave + Hooded Menace + Acephalix + Death
The talent on this guttural grave robbing groove n’ rip you face of album is well beyond excellent and well rooted in all that is classic death metal. Containing three members of the crusty death metal crew Acephalix – with also a key member from Saros. Some head-scratching is going on here because this very well-produced sounding album from Vastum is being released a week after Southern Lord dropped a limited CD pressing of Acephalix’s new album – the guys must have had a blast deciding which riffs fit which band – really that’s a moot point. The bass and bottom end on this monstrosity just kill, the more you keep amping up the volume the more your listening environment is going to quake, so beware if you walking around rocking this with earphones because you might just cause some mini tremors. Not only are the six tracks populating Carnal Law heavy as shit, they’re quite catchy and leave the listener ready to rock and keep rocking out with every face blasting riff. –Bryer Wharton
Hell = King Diamond + Savatage + early Iron Maiden
With a name like Hell, one might assume that a decade into the new millennium, heavy metal bands are extremely hard up for names. However, Nottingham’s Hell has actually existed in some form since 1982. Obsessed with the occult and heavily aligned with the fabled New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene, Hell forged a small but rabid early following among metal enthusiasts. Unfortunate circumstances (tumultuous lineups, sketchy record labels, an untimely suicide) kept them below the radar, earning them obscure status and a reputation among only the most devoted of NWOBHM devotees (see Lars Ulrich). Regardless, like a cryogenically frozen beast, newly thawed after a thirty year slumber, Hell has finally unleashed their first full length…and it’s a rager.
Right out of the gate, the crisp production (courtesy of Sabbat’s Andy Sneap) packs an undeniable sonic punch. These songs were written in the ‘80s (potentially even in the early ‘80s), a formative time for metal in which the seeds of many metal sub genres (thrash, power and…ugh…glam) were still in slobbery, wobbly-kneed infancy. Hell manages to craft a potent amalgamation of them all, while Sneap’s beefy mastering injects a millennial rawness and immediacy into it, suitable for a contemporary metal audience.
Make no mistake though, this reeks of NWOBHM, and the incredible guitar work can’t go unnoticed. Relentless shredding bleeds into power chugging at will, and blistering solos are only outrun by a masterful rhythm section and an unstoppable double bass. Check the dueling leads on “Let Battle Commence” or the fiery fret-work that introduces “On Earth as it is in Hell.” David Bower’s vocals and lyrics may be an acquired taste (he sits somewhere between King Diamond and John Oliva on the decibel meter) as he shrieks, howls and moans his way through mournful ditties of the bubonic plague and apocalyptic visions, but he’s perfectly suited for the job. Besides, like all good metal vocalists, he’s plenty tongue in cheek and it’s clear he’s having a blast with it. Oh…and the band’s called “Hell.” Are you telling me you weren’t expecting a song or two about the dark, cloven-hoofed one?
Evil though they may be, Hell does not shy away from the magical tones of unorthodox instrumentation. Human Remains is chock full of synthetic touches (“Save Us From Those Who Will Save Us”), a choral accent or two (“The Devil’s Deadly Weapon”) and even bagpipes (“Macbeth”), and for those willing to suspend their disbelief a bit, these atmospheric orchestral washes actually lend the album a profound air of un-holiness and power…an aural landscape that actually pulls the listener into the gloomy brimstone mire of…Hell.
Ultimately, Human Remains is an excellent album that’s been long in the making and sounds as such. Hell never got their day in the proverbial heavy metal sun, but at least in 2011 they’ve got something cohesive, relevant and ferocious they can be proud of—a real heavy metal treat for headbangers of yesterday and today. –Dylan Chadwick
Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae
Portrait = Mercyful Fate + Early Judas Priest
Having drafted a new vocalist Per Karlsson for their first full-length, Swedish metallers Portrait seek to unleash a compelling mixture of pre-thrash, proto-metal upon listeners. It’s a valiant effort and it’s done with an astounding level of proficiency. Per’s acrobatic vocals go from spectacle shattering screeches to low-bellied moans a’la King Diamond, and the twin guitar assault of Christian Lindell and Richard Lagergren is jaw dropping as it seamlessly integrates Downing/Tipton-style power leads into a frenetic brand of white knuckle shredding. But while all the essential metal elements are there in spades, it sounds a tad polished and lacks the chutzpah and attitude that usually makes metal (especially this breed of quasi NWOBHM) so damn compelling. For one, songs tend to drag on, frequently divulging into half-assed prog weirdness (check “Darkness Forever”) that bores listeners instead of challenging them. Additionally, the rhythm section is consistent but mid-paced and disappointingly unchanging, giving certain cuts an unneeded sterility that shackles them when they should soar (check “Infinite Descension”). Still, it’s an album of spectacular musicianship, competent execution and it’s not without its gems. The deft acoustic/electric blend on “The Wilderness Beyond” and the relentlessly galloping guitar wizardry on “bloodbath” prove that the band’s got the chops to make a formidable and worthwhile album…but streamlining and a little grit would’ve lent it the ferocity it hints at but never quite achieves. –Dylan Chadwick