Bitter and Then Some: Raves and Reviews

Posted September 1, 2011 in

Welcome to this week’s edition of the SLUG Mag metal blog! This week, we’re crammed full of reviews for your reading pleasure. We have extended reviews of the latest releases from Pro-Pain and Vader as well as exclusive reviews of new releases from Atriarch, Ghost Brigade, Mournful Congregation, Protest the Hero, Trivium and War Hungry. Also included is a listing of this week’s metal happenings around Salt Lake and links to some unexpectedly aggressive music streaming from NPR.

On Thursday September 1, local metal bands Huldra, Visigoth and Nevertanezra will be at Burt’s Tiki Lounge (21+). $5 gets you in, and the show starts at 9:00.

Amon Amarth will be hitting Salt Lake City with the Surtur Rising Tour at the Complex on Friday, September 2. Tickets are $20 in advance at the Heavy Metal Shop or $22 at the door. The show gets underway at 7:00. Check out Megan Kennedy’s recent interview with bassist Ted Lundström to get that Viking Blood flowing in anticipation of the show.

Heavy metal supergroup Down, featuring members of Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar, will be at The Depot on  September 7 with openers In Solitude & PonyKiller. Tickets are $25 in advance or $28 at the door, and the show starts at 8:00. Look for Megan Kennedy’s interview with In Solitude in an upcoming installment of Dead But Dreaming.

NPR has stepped up their coverage of heavy, weird and awesome music in recent weeks. They're currently hosting streaming sets from  pg. 99, Circle Takes the Square and Thou from a recent show at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. Check them out below;
pg. 99:
Circle Takes the Square:

Blog Exclusive CD Reviews

20 Years of Hardcore
Street: 08.30
Pro-Pain = Merauder + Biohazard + Born From Pain + Anthrax

Despite its all-inclusive title, 20 Years of Hardcore isn’t some dorky greatest-hits assemblage, schlepped out to fulfill label contract requirements or to bait new-jack fans and soccer moms. (This is a good thing. Besides Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, greatest hits albums are lame!). Instead, the album is a hodge-podge of above-and-beyond goodies tailor-made for longtime fans and includes four new cuts, a cover, some re-recorded oldies and a live set from a show in Borneo.

The new tracks carry the groove-core torch Pro-Pain helped ignite, and serve as a veritable document of a band that has cut its teeth, honed beefy chops and found their gravelly voice whether you’ve been hip to it or not. “Damnation” is a relentless NYHC mosher (Gary Meskil was in the mighty Crumbsuckers fuh cryin’ out loud) replete with boneheaded lyrical tomfoolery (“We’re calling you out for the pussies you are!”) and lyrics about being a warrior and shit…yeah, it rules. “Hands in the Jar,” with its taut palm mutes and soloing, gallops and swaggers like Manowar of yore (d’ya think they were going for that?) and “Someday Bloody Someday” is a brief foray into thuggish Madball territory (short and heavy). “True Liberation” is the only turd of this bunch, and struts about like a clumsy staccato throwback to the radio-ready Nü-Metal of my pimply-faced middle school days. 

The tracks they’ve chosen to re-record (notably, the mega-political “Foul Taste of Freedom”) sound robust and thick, and infused with double time vigor. While the added fierceness (and Kreator style riffing) of “Make Love Not War” is undeniable, it doesn’t necessarily best the original and old fans may be the only listeners to appreciate the nuance. Regardless, a unique cover choice (“Keine Amnestie für MTV”) by German rockers Böhse Onkelz is an endearing gesture to a worldwide fan base, and it’s done right and tight.

The remainder of the album is a smattering of live tracks from a show in Borneo, with a set list panning the band’s entire career. Per usual, they’re fairly hit or miss (the added visual momentum of a DVD does it more justice) and only really for the zealots, but the sound quality is top-notch and the band sounds absolutely ferocious.

Still, for any of its seemingly unnecessary content, 20 Years of Hardcore never sounds haphazard or sloppy. Even if the band refuses to make great strides in changing their sound (twenty years in, why would they?), they play persistence like a dime store guitar and their influence can’t be completely ignored (The Mongoloids have been biting this style for a few years now…whether hardcore kids know it or not). Not really geared to bringing new fans into the fold, 20 Years... is a goodwill gesture to the lifers and diehards, and it’s one they can satisfactorily hang their hats on. –Dylan Chadwick

Welcome to the Morbid Reich
Nuclear Blast
Street: 09.13
Vader = Decapitated + Sodom + Behemoth

Maybe Vader wasn’t the first speed metal band to start tuning lower and growling into the mic, and maybe they weren’t the first European death metal band…but given the time and place of their formation (Poland, early eighties, firmly in the grip of Communism), the story becomes all the more remarkable and only solidifies the band’s esteem in the global metal community.

As a quick metal history lesson, Morbid Reich (1990) was Vader’s third demo, a demo which went on to sell 10,000 copies, land them a deal with Earache Records, and comprised much of their full length debut The Ultimate Incantation which brought them to a worldwide audience.  Battling lineup changes, dodgy record contracts and fickle consumers, Vader forged on, fortifying their steely death metal attack, and the group has gone on to sell 500,000 records worldwide. With Nuclear Blast at the helm, a new solid lineup and a few years of inactivity burning in their bellies, Vader is back with a new full length that’s sure to please old fans and bring young buck metallers into the fold.

Welcome to the Morbid Reich is very much a return to “classic” form for the group, despite the change in roster from the demo days of old, and longtime fans will notice founding vocalist Piotr Wiwczarek’s voice placed refreshingly high in the mix. His beefy drill-sergeant bark has become an institution in the death metal world, and while it commands the album, lending it a sinister urgency throughout, it also proves to remind everyone that despite any band personnel changes, Wiwczarek is unchanging.

Underneath the savage bawling, the band serves to keep tempos and blood pressures at a percolating boil. Check the first-rate guitar work on “The Black Eye” or the stop-on-a-dime nail-gun blast beat breakdown in “Come and See my Sacrifice.” Still, it’s not without its melodic moments, like on “Don’t Rip the Beast’s Heart Out” or the album highlight “I am He Who Feasts Upon Your Soul” which plays out like a potent concoction of technical death metal and sinewy symphonic undertones. Cap it off with “Decapitated Saints” (an old number, newly unearthed) which, at its best, sounds like rollicking punk rock, and the militant boot-to-your-face groove of “Black Velvet and Skulls of Steel” and you’re left with another quality metal album from genre pioneers.

Fans argue over Vader’s best material, and this one is sure to enter that debate. It’s an album of immediacy, extreme competency, and it’s a tangible representative of the power and influence that the band still possesses today. That return trip to the morbid reich was the best decision the group could have made. –Dylan Chadwick

Forever the End
Seventh Rule
Street: 08.23
Atriarch = Graves at Sea + IX Zealot + Neurosis (mid-era)
Given their sound, it is not surprising that Atriarch hail from Portland, Oregon. With their debut Forever in the End, expect genre staples of doom, death and black metal. Forever the End’s production fits perfectly – if this recording came in clear as a bell, with no mud, grime or fuzz it would lose more than half of its appeal. The instruments being abused sound like they’re bellowing up from some abyss full of nasty things. The album is borderline funeral doom‑it doesn’t muster much more than a snail’s pace, but it’s fast enough to escape the clutches of said genre. Atmosphere is huge and so is the feedback, as the bass guitar buzzes as much as the electric guitar. I’ve spun these four tracks multiple times, and each time different atmospheres permeate the listening experience—the smallest of nuances catch where they didn’t catch before. This is a great offering from the Pacific Northwest to the depths of all heralded crusty brain numbing bestial doom. –Bryer Wharton

Ghost Brigade
Until Fear No Longer Defines Us

Season of Mist

Street: 08.23

Ghost Brigade = Insomnium + Amorphis + Opeth
Finland’s Ghost Brigade offer up a monster of an album with their third full-length Until Fear No Longer Defines Us. If you have the time and patience to listen from start to finish, you’ll definitely gain some sort of satisfaction. There’s quite a bit musically going on with the record—the diversity of the music keeps the momentum and keeps ears interested. At its core the album is a slower paced melodic death/doom album. There’s a hefty amount of acoustic prog-ish guitars, providing plenty of breaks from tedious crescendo building and falling. Interspersed in the album’s ten songs is some straight death metal as well as some black metal influences. An extremely easy way to gauge whether you will enjoy this album is if you got satisfaction out of the last few Amorphis and Insomnium albums and are looking for something that feels a lot more modern than Opeth have ever sounded – if all those sound appealing definitely check out Ghost Brigade. –Bryer Wharton

Mournful Congregation

The Unspoken Hymns
20 Buck Spin

Street: 09.20

Mournful Congregation = Evoken + Skepticism + Asunder 

Mournful Congregation and 20 Buck Spin are releasing this compilation of rare tracks. The release serves as a semi-introduction to the Australian funeral doom act’s upcoming full-length, The Book of Kings, to be released in November. The band’s been serving up these dreary and soul-sucking tunes for nearly 18 years now. Funeral doom is a hard genre to stand out in and is definitely not one of the more accessible metal sub genres—listeners require variances of patience to let songs develop. Instead of hanging onto some catchy riff or chorus, funeral doom is about the emotions pushed forth. The fortitude of this compilation is in the different styles the band encompasses—tracks aren’t meant to flow, but be their own entity. Mournful Congregation do well at putting simple but somber melodies next to unholy life-draining guitars and sloth-growling vocals. At the very least, the comp serves as a great intro to a band many (even genre fiends) may not have heard of. Punish yourself—you know you want to. –Bryer Wharton 

Protest The Hero

Vagrant Records
Street: 03.22

Protest The Hero = The Human Abstract + Dillinger Escape Plan - the calories
Protest The Hero came out swinging with their first release, Kezia, in 2005, and have since raised the bar for melodic prog-metal to extraordinary heights. They continue that legacy with third album Scurrilous, a ridiculously addicting ride through acrobatic guitar-work, theatrical vocals and unpredictable beats. First single “C’est La Vie” is an upbeat, galloping song with an ominous feel flowing underneath and energy to spare; this is one of only three songs lyrically penned by bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi, and you can hear the difference between his widely poetic words and vocalist Rody Walker’s more personal, even sarcastic perspective, though both are equally entertaining. Their music is as tight and technically superior as ever; in particular, the bridge of “Moonlight,” with its fret-crawling, stuttering rhythm, leaves a huge impression on the listener. Walker does a lot less screaming/growling here, showcasing instead his unique and moving clean vocals that beg you to sing along. Drummer Moe Carlson has outdone himself, and writes some of the most creative fills in the business. While it’s more strengthening of position than establishing new progression, Scurrilous will still dig under your skin—and good luck getting it out. –Megan Kennedy

In Waves    

Roadrunner Records
Street: 08.09

Trivium = Metallica + All That Remains
Trivium have promised big things for this album from the get-go, and they didn’t disappoint. The whole CD conjures memories of Ascendency, albeit in a darker voice and with more congruous emotion throughout. The album’s title song and first single “In Waves” is heavy and catchy as hell; Matt Heafy’s opening scream gets your heart pumping right away. (And for the record, this band has gotten the instrumental album-opener down to a perfected exercise.) “Watch The World Burn” was made for live shows with its chant-able chorus, groovy beat and unparalleled energy. “Dusk Dismantled” is the most sonically intense track, with discordant guitars and harsh, two-tone vocals, hypnotizing like a voodoo hymn. “Of All These Yesterdays” is a black, otherworldly song with a slower pace and beautiful harmonies, one of their strongest tracks in years. New drummer Nick Augusto fills in his role supremely well, his chemistry complementing the band’s signature sound. And no James Hetfield-esque vocals here; Heafy is back to his best, which is being Heafy. This album just feels like good old Trivium, and fans of their thrash-melody metal will have it quickly tangled in their heads. – Megan Kennedy

War Hungry
Six Feet Under
Street: 07.30
War Hungry = Danzig + Far Beyond Driven-era Pantera – Phil Anselmo + Scott Weiland

Holy diver! The fabled War Hungry album! Only four years in the making! The pinnacle release after a storied career (since what, ’04?) of sporadic cassettes, splits, EPs and comp tracks … but damn, was it worth the wait. Featuring their best guitar work (check the end of “Mercy Seat,” will ya?) and building on that brooding groove they started jamming on Return to Earth, Hoodrack gives his finest vocal performance yet, alternating between sinister crooning (check “Shift”) and a rumbling bellow, culled from the deepest bowels of the ninth circle of Wilkes Barre. All cylinders firing, not a single throwaway number (even the reworked cuts from the Bad Seed split sound new) and the chops are tight. Mosh, bang your head or clear a frickin’ bowl. It all works here … Just pray to whatever God you hold dear that we won’t have to wait four more years for another record. –Dylan Chadwick