Author: Bryer Wharton

Stalemate Flesh
Freedom 2020
Self-Released
Street: 09.11
Stalemate Flesh = Darkthrone (new) + The Misfits (old) + Dope
First impressions of this metal/punk duo from Salt Lake City should be shunned—Stalemate Flesh may have the tendency to scare listeners away. The tones on Freedom 2020 initially are in the one-note realm—the guitars don’t move far from their roots, nor do the vocals—but that’s the band’s point: They’re not trying to be dramatically proficient with their instruments. The punk rock vibe here is huge, especially on the first half of the album. Momentum shifts downward in terms of tempo, as anger morphs into sadness. Admittedly, I hated this initially, but it grew on me. To put it simply, Stalemate may sound a bit amateur in production and skill, but they make that up in droves with the obvious amount of effort put into the record. Bolster this sound up with some not-so-thin guitar sounds and you’ve got a breakout album.

Amigo the Devil

Photo: Karen Jerzyk

Growing up and listening to folk music on my family’s long camping trips, I remember never getting bored because my imagination would be blown up by artists like Pete Seeger, Simon and Garfunkel and Peter, Paul and Mary. Now, Orlando, Florida’s Amigo the Devil weaves his brand of storytelling with his macabre and twisted tales from the cheesy funny to the brink of darkness. His recordings meld the banjo and acoustic guitar—one listen to a song, and it’s stuck in your head.

It was by luck or happenstance that Amigo the Devil even exists. The man behind the project, Danny Kiranos, found himself playing in a grindcore and hardcore band in a younger, different life. In an interview for SLUG, Kiranos talked about how, one day, he purchased a banjo because it was cheap, and he found it funny. He said it sat in his room for years, and one day, he decided to pick it up and start messing around.

“When I started, I had no context of country or folk or that genre at all,” he says. “I didn’t grow up with it—I wasn’t surrounded by it at all … It was after I realized that I liked the banjo that I started going back and being like, ‘All right, what are the roots of this, and how can I actually learn to play this?’”

He learned to write folk music through his first song, “Perfect Wife,” which tells the story of a husband removing body parts from his spouse to make her a more perfect wife—it’s all done in a more humorous way than you’d think. Hence arose the self-coined term for what Amigo the Devil has created: murderfolk. Kiranos felt that the murderfolk name fit, even though a lot of folk music is already dark in subject matter in the way of drinking issues or losing people. He didn’t think people would take to murderfolk the way they did.

Kiranos found his lyrical influence from true-crime phenomena—mainly serial killers or just his love for the macabre. Regarding his interest in writing songs about serial killers, “The part that really interests me about it is the internal process—the thoughts behind doing it, the leading up to it and deciding to do it and the internal factors,” says Kiranos. “That’s the really dark part to it.” Horror films and true-life gore and murder videos fueled his curiosity and fascination—watching gore and violence was about testing himself to find the worst thing he could see, which, he admits, was a challenge for him.

Amigo the Devil’s body of work consists of three EP releases: Manimals, Diggers and the newly released Decompositions. Each has songs that range from tongue-in-cheek dark humor to the completely morbid—a fictional tale of Jeffrey Dahmer going to Hollywood to become a man/monster who eats children; a man hoping a woman he’s fond of wishes that her husband dies; a fun song about how the only thing that people do is die; stories of Ed Gein wanting to be comfortable in his own skin, but really liking the one you’re living in. The dyad of humor and morbidity go seamlessly together. “I was always really curious about the morbid aspects of things—not so much the bad ones, [and] not so much, ‘Oh, I love evil things,’ but just the curiosity of the gore,” Kiranos says.

Amigo the Devil is a self-promoted and self-funded project—the band doesn’t exist on a label. The DIY sensibility contributes to the fact that his partner, Hayley Miller, is listed as a band member—Kiranos says that Amigo the Devil would not exist without her efforts. Kiranos is also humbled and impressed that his curiosity in something different has gained so much interest. “It’s slow growth, but it’s—as I like to call it—honest growth,” he says. He likes that he still gets to connect with his audience, and mentions showing up in Olympia, Washington, for a show where the venue didn’t know he was playing and where only two people showed up, and how he had the greatest time with those two people nonetheless. Amigo the Devil was welcomed to the Southwest Terror Fest, which had him playing impromptu shows around the festival, including a set in the men’s bathroom, which he packed to the brim but also took the time to let folks relieve themselves when necessary.

Decompositions marks the end of the current chapter of Kiranos’ songwriting style of Amigo the Devil. This stylistic ending marks a release of all of Amigo’s work, which will be combined into one digital/ CD release, including some B-sides that show the upstarts and what’s to come in the future, including a special double-LP version to be released tentatively in August (depending on when the pressing plant finishes). Kiranos admits that the songwriting he has done felt like he was writing to appeal to what he thought people would expect or want to hear. “From now on, we’re going to go back to being a little more off-the-beaten-path—a little less expected in instrumentation and all that, a little stranger, a little more of what I feel I am,” says Kiranos. “It will be more coherent in songwriting, but I wanted to have more of that eerie feel to it—the get-under-your-skin kind of thing.” Watch out for an upcoming Amigo the Devil show in SLC this fall.

(L-R) John Douglas, Vincent Cavanagh, Daniel Cavanagh and Lee Douglas of Anathema work progressively with their sound that reflects the human condition. Photo Courtesy Kscope
My journey with Anathema has been an interesting one through the years, with songs helping me cope with hate, regret, mental instability and the loss of loved ones. During an interview with Anathema, singer/guitarist Vincent Cavanagh told a story in which he met a fan at a concert in Dubai who had a friend who was shot by military police in Iran during protests. Cavanagh related that the friend requested to have his earphones put in and listen to the band’s “One Last Goodbye,” and Cavanagh talked about how profound it was for him to hear the story from the fan. Sometimes, the thought that a song or album can help you through those moments in life when you feel lost is a strong connection. Having that experience on a recording is one thing, but seeing it live and in person is another, and Anathema don’t hold back.

It’s a cliché, but when you hear folks say life is about the journey rather than the destination, it’s the absolute truth. Liverpool’s Anathema embark on their first North American tour to co-headline with France’s Alcest at In the Venue on Sept. 25, and are still in the midst of a musical journey that began in 1990. They started as a doom metal band, but have morphed and developed their sound into something bigger, all with the intent to not only bring their lives’ journeys onto the stage to share, but to proffer their music to anyone who can listen to it and associate their own journeys with what Anathema have to say.

Cavanagh described Anathema’s current musical endeavors as being “progressive in the sense that it’s forward thinking. It’s progressive in the sense that we do not repeat ourselves,” he says. “I don’t think we sound like a progressive rock band. I believe our music has massive appeal—mainstream appeal—because I think our music, at its heart, is about feeling, and it’s about human emotions. It’s about the human condition. It can be very simple, but very deep.”

Discussing Cavanagh’s personal journey and the metamorphosis of Anathema is an engrossing conversation. In his youth, starting his musical journey with metal was an interesting choice, and Cavanagh talks about how he didn’t really intend to be in a metal band—he wanted it to be something different. Growing up in Liverpool, the singer/songwriter talked about the impact of the first song on the first record he heard as a kid—The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”—which sent him on a journey to discover blues artists and Motown. Cavanagh talked about the importance of voices and how influential Skip James was to him, before he jumped into electronic music like Aphex Twin and Hardfloor. These musical reference points culminated and developed Anathema’s sound from their roots to the present. “I think, with some of the enthusiasm of youth and adolescence, you kind of tend to add a lot of things into your music. You tend to put a lot of guitar tracks down and make it really heavy. When you realize [that] you want to get to the meaning behind something or the core [and] the essence of something, you actually need to strip away some layers to see it for what it truly is,” says Cavanagh.

It’s fitting for Anathema’s upcoming live CD/DVD release to be called Universal. Music is such a common association for people all over the world—there are songs, bands and albums that everyone can relate to and in which one finds comfort or strength. That is firmly what Anathema are out to do: Create meaningful music for anyone who wants to listen. Discussing the creative process of making music, Cavanagh talked about how Anathema don’t sit down to conceive a musical idea or song that’s supposed to fit a mold of any specific style or direction. “None of that is planned. As you start an idea, you start a song: You don’t know where you’re going to end up with it—but, eventually, it’s going to reveal itself to you,” says Cavanagh.

Going to see Anathema live, in the eyes of Cavanagh, is almost as cathartic as a fan joining the band in experiencing the emotions that they were dealing with at the time of creating their songs, all of which can be open for interpretation to the listener. For instance, one could think the songs “Untouchable Part 1 & 2” from the band’s previous album, Weather Systems, could be about the end of a relationship or the loss of a loved one. “Everything is love, death, loss, life, madness, schizophrenia, euphoria—they’re very powerful subjects that we as humans have to endure. It becomes an experience for everybody. It becomes an experience for me because I have to go through it every night. That’s something you should realize as well: If I’m going to be singing about these subjects, I can’t fake it,” Cavanagh says of performing live.

Witness the powerful musical experience of Anathema when they come to Salt Lake on Sept. 25. It’s a journey in itself—one that doesn’t meet a destination, but takes the willing audience to places they may not want to explore but, without a doubt, have all felt. Anathema prove the power of song and how much music can influence an audience.

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Necrophagia

WhiteWorm Cathedral
Season of Mist
Street: 10.28
Necrophagia = Autopsy + Impetigo + Mortician

The legacy of horror, terror and old-school death metal that is Wellsville, Ohio’s Necrophagia keeps getting better and better. Their seventh release, WhiteWorm Cathedral, is sure to open up the seven seals of Hell and unleash the apocalypse in the form of aural destruction and mental imagery assaults. Necrophagia incorporate an almost obsessive love for horror films which, in addition to the band’s own ideas and interpretations of those horrors, have always made for fun listening. I’ve never really been massively sold by one specific album from the band, as they’ve always had releases with great songs, but in a “one release” sense—nothing ever stuck. WhiteWorm Cathedral changes all of that in so many ways. The songwriting here has been tightened up to brutal execution for the band—and for death metal in general. It’s an extremely rare thing when I listen to a record and it resounds in my skull long after the songs have stopped. The dynamics offered on this new offering are plentiful. It brings the horror of what the album wants you to live onto a grandiose scale. Heavy and catchy riffs crunch with a grisly bottom end. The keyboards from Mirai Kawashima, who is also one of the primary members of Japan’s Sigh, elevate the already horrifying songs to an entirely more terrific, terrifying level. Everything I love about death metal and horror films is indulged in the 13 songs on record here. There’s a good deal of horror-themed death metal bands out there, but none of them sound like this album. Even more exciting is the fact that Necrophagia may not even be remotely close to peaking—they’ve gotten better with each new release, and with the near-perfect execution on WhiteWorm Cathedral, my excitement of what’s to come will be even more morbidly obsessive than before. –Bryer Wharton

This is an Extended Review from SLUG Magazine’s Top Five Albums of 2014.

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Photo courtesy of Godflesh

It seems fitting that Godflesh—a band that ended abruptly, shortly after the 2001 release Hymns—returns with A World Lit Only By Fire, to be released Oct. 7. The Birmingham, UK–based group was forged in the same city that gave birth to another legendary and tumultuous band, Black Sabbath. Godflesh is borne of a landscape of industrial concrete castles—each one, at its mechanical heart, is a fire. That fire was reignited in 2010, when Godflesh founding member Justin K. Broadrick approached fellow founding member C.G. Green to perform some live shows.

During an interview with Broadrick, Godflesh’s guitarist/vocalist/drum programmer, he said that he started to really miss Godflesh a few years prior to the reunion. It started to become necessary to do something aggressive again. Leading up to the reunion of Godflesh, Broadrick started creating heavier material with Greymachine and his solo project, JK Flesh.

A World Lit Only By Fire is fueled by Broadrick and Green’s desire to return to what Godflesh was when the band began in the late ’80s. “Having Godflesh not existing for such a long period of time afforded me the luxury of being able to examine what I loved the most about Godflesh. And what I loved the most was the intent of the first few records,” says Broadrick.

The new material meshes harsh mechanical guitars with an abyss-like bottom coming from the signature Godflesh bass guitar, played out on songs like “Life Giver Life Taker.” Repetitive and unrelenting beats and rhythms drive the musical machine. With the heavy-ended style also comes the classic explorations into minimalistic content, like the tracks “Obeyed” or “Forgive Our Fathers,” from the new album. Rhythms are broken up into diverse and dynamic atmospheres, all meant to be unsettling.

Broadrick went on to talk about how, after the infamously heavy Streetcleaner and Pure albums, Godflesh became diluted and was going through a sort of identity crisis. Though Broadrick, aside from feeling that there is no Godflesh album that he feels utterly convinced by, he still has a love and respect for the later albums. This new album is driven to meet the initial goals of Godflesh: “I wanted to just get back to machine rhythms—monolithic minimal blocks of sound as inhumane-sounding as possible, but simultaneously retaining groove. Primal and direct—that’s what’s most unique and singular and identifiable about our sound,” says Broadrick.

Technology—in terms of of production and creation of music—has changed drastically since the birth of Godflesh. Broadrick asserted that the biggest benefit of current technology is its convenience. In the early years, it was a bastard to program a drum machine. Broadrick maintains a semi-digital and semi-analog studio to create his recordings. In addition to the convenience is an added clarity to the new material. I brought up how I felt that A World seems to have a more weighted sound with the bass guitar. Broadrick brought up the fact that people were shocked at how much bass was on Streetcleaner, because, when it was released in 1989, a lot of other records had thinner bass sounds.

Broadrick says, “I think that, with the marriage of the guitar and bass, there’s something working with the unison that’s made it a bit deeper on the bottom end. It can make one question exactly where that bottom is coming from. It’s just the unison of textures. This new record is really minimal as well—it’s very much about punishment in a way.”

With the blunt and brutal intensity of Godflesh—the stuff that’s meant to be as negative and crushing as possible—comes equally intense lyrical themes, which are screamed right in the listeners’ faces. Broadrick had no intention or desire to change the messages of Godflesh, which, lyrically, are never excessively verbose. The themes explored don’t venture outside the typical Godflesh subject matter: religion is evil and man is a beast or savage. Broadrick describes it as the sound of resignation and self-frustration. Further elaborating, he says that the frustration isn’t just looking outward but looking inward—specific to Broadrick’s point of view, saying what he sees on the outside, he sees in himself. “There is no good, there is no evil—the fact that we encapsulate that whole gamut of emotions and possibility, which I often find quite terrifying, but I just resign to it,” says Broadrick.

Godflesh is a vehicle of harsh sonic bombardment that rarely relents, with a strong devotion to negativity. People tune into such an assault for the same reason that Broadrick creates the music. “Godflesh, as much as being cathartic, it’s therapeutic—all the music I create is therapy … The mad thing is, instead of spending money on therapy, I make money out of it. I’m quite lucky, really. Thankfully, other people take something from it, too—in a way it’s a gift, a negative gift. It’s a gift for me, but it’s a gift for other people, which, for me, is quite humbling.”

It’s ironic, for sure, but to conclude the interview, Broadrick said that Godflesh breaking up was one of the best things the band has ever done. “We’ve come back twice as strong, directly knowing what we want to do. This band is stronger than it ever was, and this is one of the best albums we’ve made.” A World Lit Only by Fire will be released on Oct. 7 on Godflesh’s label, Avalanche Recordings.

Photo: Christian Misje


We all indulge in rituals. Some can be day to day—others might be subconscious. Regarding Norwegian metal stalwarts Enslaved’s latest album, RIITIIR, founding member, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Ivar Bjørnson says, during an interview with SLUG, that the title is an “Enslaved-ified” derivative of the word “rite” or “ritual.” Join them in the ritual of a live concert when Enslaved play the Murray Theater on Feb. 12.

Over time, musical and lyrical concepts have changed for Enslaved. Discussing RIITIIR and its title track, the conversation focused on the current motivations of Enslaved in regard to working with the idea of “ritual.” “RIITIIR is more looking at the similarities between different cultures and people,” says Bjørnson. “Some songs are looking more at … the mechanics of rituals, especially looking at the Runes of Northern mythology, which is sort of our sphere, and some are more psychologically influenced.”

Bjørnson continued by explaining how ancient practices meld with modern sciences. For example, ideas that some would consider to be old actually resemble parts of modern psychotherapy, and some mystical traditions are used scientifically in astronomy. “That’s what we’re looking at, from a bit of a pseudo-anthropologist’s hobby point of view,” says Bjørnson. Lyrically, RIITIIR mentions older types of ritual fashions, speaking of “mud-dwellers” in the song “Thoughts Like Hammers,” or more modern ideas in “Materal,” which mentions Heuristic observers.

Enslaved began at the height of the Norwegian black metal scene, starting a death metal band called Phobia, who released one demo. Phobia dissolved, and Bjørnson and the other members shifted their focus. Bjørnson says, “[Enslaved felt] like a proper, serious band that we were having fun with quite rapidly … Not too long after at the end of ’92, we recorded our first official release,” a split album with Emperor, Hordanes Land, which is now almost considered essential black metal listening.

Early in their career, Enslaved focused on their heritage, the Northern mythology and studying the language of runes. Enslaved began with a black metal core, but avoided satanic lyrical themes, with early albums sung in Icelandic and old Norwegian languages—like the band’s first full-length, Vikingligr Veldi, released in 1994—until the band’s fifth full-length, Mardraum, which is sung in English. Enslaved, for the most part, avoid the negative connotations of bands and their members committing criminal acts, including murder and arson (church burning), with which the early Norwegian black metal scene is often associated. Their work matured and developed, as Bjørnson started Enslaved around 1991 when he was 13 years old.

“I guess, for us, it’s just been a natural direction that you go from sort of an externalized experience where you read about the history and geography, then you start having a sort of personal interaction,” Bjørnson says. “The exploration, for us, has gone inwards. It’s more personal, and the result from that is you feel more connected to global things and less of a specialized, nationalistic [Norwegian] heritage.”

Bjørnson talked about how the album’s focus is more to explore rather than provide any answers. The album’s lyrics are definitely open for interpretation—there is no specific culture, class or faith of people spoken about, just ideas. The song “Veilburner” says outright in its lyrics: “Finding the truth doesn’t mean there’s an answer …” The subject matter also addresses the past and the future as the same in some regard. Lyrically, and non-linearly, my interpretation is that, through a type of ritual, the first-person perspective of the song lyrics suggests a discovery of light through darkness.

In many ways, creating a musical album is a ritual, where artists follow similar paths they have tread before, but also take in new ideas. Bjørnson says, “[Enslaved’s] musical journey has been colored by both certain consistency and inconsistency. At the same time, we’ve let ourselves be diverse. If there has been something influencing us as music listeners or musicians, we like to study and go back and find the origins of certain sounds or trace back and glance through music history … If we end up sort of borrowing a riff here and there, that doesn’t embarrass us. I think that’s what music is, sort of this intricate web of influences and connections.” Sonically, RIITIIR ultimately blends both black metal and progressive sounds to form a sound of strong, dense, intense noise with intricately layered melodies.

I asked Bjørnson what he was most proud of about Enslaved, and he responded saying, “It’s totally impossible just to pick one thing. It’s just being at the point we are—I guess that we’ve created our own sound. We’re definitely a band people can put on the stereo and identify that it’s Enslaved,” he says.

The band plans on getting the most out of their time slot by giving fans a mix of old material and new. See Enslaved play Salt Lake for the first time on Feb. 12 at the Murray Theater with Amon Amarth and Skeletonwitch.

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