Mastodon – Crack the Skye (Reprise, 2009)

This one will take a long time to digest. At what point can you decide that an album is an all-time classic? Certainly not after only a couple of weeks. I think Crack the Skye will walk that line, but only time will tell.
To start out, Mastodon have taken an astronomical leap in songwriting ability. They have simultaneously recorded a more progressive and commercial album, but without sacrificing their essential nature.
They've certainly ramped things up in the vocal department. Catchy choruses abound, and Brann Dailor even pulls a Phil Collins from behind the kit.
These are some excellent songs. The album is so sprawling and complex that it's almost difficult to absorb in one sitting. I think that's a good thing.
The production is slick and subtle. The vocals dominate the mix, and the guitar tone is fairly tame compared to Mastodon's past work. One surprising aspect of the mix is that Brann Dailor's excellent drumming seems occluded. Pushing the drums back in the mix takes quite a bit away from the heaviness of the album, which I'm sure was a conscious decision.
The riffing is excellent throughout, and as usual, Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher are not subtle in their cues for the headbangin' to begin. Synthesized organ and an illusive melotron add to the the prog vibe. By progressive, I mean that guest vocals by Peter Gabriel in a Slipperman costume would have been more appropriate than a visit from Neurosis' Scott Kelly. Some of Brent Hinds' solos are so beautiful they'd make Mike Åkerfeldt weep. On the whole, the music is bluesy enough to thankfully stay on the south side of progressive. I never get the feeling that John Petrucci might step out of the shadows and shred some Polly-o.
So yes, I do have some nitpicky issues with Crack the Skye, but they are dwarfed by the Mastodonic glory of the thing. Brent Hinds' nasally vocals can get on my nerves for brief passages, but he's still at least as good a singer as Ozzy (not much of a compliment). Yes, I sometimes yearn for the album to be a little bit more heavy, but you can't have everything.
My only concern is that the vocals on Crack the Skye have been carefully coaxed and produced. Can Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds belt out these tunes live? Can they stay in key? I certainly hope so. I'll find out at their sold-out Irving Plaza show in May, when they perform the album in its entirety.
So here's the deal. I think Mastodon's Leviathan is one of the best metal albums of all time. Yes, a classic. Crack the Skye feels like its grown-up brother. Maybe this isn't even metal anymore. I don't care. If I can find something new, interesting and pleasing about this album every time I put it on, then I can't ask for more.



A Suffo-Education

I'm incredibly psyched that Decibel has finally inducted Suffocation's Effigy of the Forgotten into their Hall of Fame in the May 2009 issue. I think that Suffocation's influence and impact on the trajectory of death metal has been largely glossed over in journalistic circles.

The album is absolutely massive and crushing. I've always felt that it was the Death Metal Vulgar Dislplay of Power. Technicality and wankery were well established themes in metal by 1991, but Suffocation took those skills and brutally directed them into the pit, New York style. This is music to mosh to, plain and simple.

Effigy of the Forgotten shares stylistic elements with Napalm Death's Harmony Corruption, which came out the year before (and was also produced by Scott Burns). In the Decibel article, they specifically cite Napalm Death as an early influence on their sound. The grindcore aspect of Suffocation's music, along with a healthy dose of hardcore, are what set them apart from the death metal of the day.

It's interesting to hear the band talk about their Morrisound experience, as that era of album production is now generally maligned. They recount how Scott Burns replaced each kick drum in the mix with a sampled kick drum, by hand. That explains a lot about the sound of the album, which I always thought was fairly sterile. Suffocation re-recorded songs from both their Reincremation demo and Human Waste EP for Effigy of the Forgotten. I've actually always enjoyed the Human Waste EP more than Effigy of the Forgotten. The songs sound more organic to me, and I think Mike Smith's drumming is better showcased there in it's raw form. Spotty production has always been an issue with Suffocation's albums, barring the completely insane Pierced From Within(which should also be in the Hall of Fame). Breeding The Spawn really was the low point in that regard.

At the very least, the article was a good occasion to pull out my old Suffocation CD's and celebrate their entire collection. They truly deserve the honor.

Decibel's Hall of Fame articles really are a fantastic thing. They read like a living history of the best metal ever put out. A lot of times, I've never even heard the album they're inducting. That's a good thing - there's always more metal to check out.

Suffocation will be out on the "Blood Apocalypse Tour" in March and April, and should have a new album coming out this year.


Amon Amarth - "Guardians of Asgaard" video

I think Amon Amarth are pretty much the best band in the world right now. Their newest video, however, scores pretty high on the Manchego meter:

Guardians Of Asgaard ft. LG Petrov

I think the "making of" teaser raised my hopes a little bit too much, but I should have seen the tell tale signs. Having L.G. Petrov in your video gives you old school death metal street cred, but the guy just looks completely out of place with Amon Amarth's Viking shtick. The pose is all wrong, and his facial expressions look pained instead of fierce. He also apparently doesn't really know how to headbang. Oh well.

This is the first time Amon Amarth have crossed the mythological line and tried to show an actual Jötunn in one of their videos. It doesn't really work. The guy looks like a leprous orc from Middle Earth .

At the very least, this video will add some fuel to the wonderful "Vikings vs. Barbarians" discussion over at Metal Inquisition.

I'll just go back to watching the video for "Twilight of the Thunder God," which may be one of the best metal videos of all time:
Twilight of the Thunder God


Mastodonic Delivery

As you can see, the mailman delivered my Crack the Skye "CD/DVD Tunnel Book," along with a Paul Romano lithograph, signed by the band. Complete awesomeness.

The lithograph will look nice next to my Leviathan poster.

This may be a huge deal, but it's not as Mastodonic as my cats:

Oh, and the album is pretty good too.


It's Not So Quiet - Cannibal Corpse, Björk and a Tech Death Revival

I'm incredibly psyched for the upcoming Cannibal Corpse tour. I'm not actually interested in Cannibal Corpse themselves - I've seen them too many times, and I seem to have lost the tolerance for their gore obsessed shtick in my old age. Rather, I'm excited for the trifecta of fantastic Technical/Melodic Death Metal bands opening for them. The Faceless, Neuraxis and Obscura harken back to a more pure era of metal. They seem to be harbingers of an untrendy, humble revival of Chuck Shuldiner's ethos.
The last time I saw Cannibal Corpse was on the Bloodthirst tour in 2000 at L'Amour in Brooklyn. Nile was the opener. They participated in pretty much every metal tour for a good five straight years there.
Anyway, after Cannibal Corpse came on, my brother Frank and I noticed quite a commotion in the sound booth. We were standing right in front of it, as that was pretty much the only place in L'Amour where you could hear a damned thing.
In the sound booth, we saw a diminutive female figure, headbanging like all hell. After a little while, we realized this metal thrashing mad woman was Björk. No shitting. At a Cannibal Corpse concert. Her headbanging skills would impress Johan Hegg. For truth.
As if this weren't enough, she was screaming like crazy between songs. She even yelled in approval as George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher explained that the song "Stripped, Raped and Strangled" was "for the ladies." What the holy hell?
Frank, displaying quite a pair, went up to her in between songs and introduced himself. He confirmed that she was indeed Björk and got her to sign his ticket.
I can't envision anything so bizarre happening when these guys play at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, but I'll keep an eye out for interdimensional aliens.

I'll leave you with some videos of the aforementioned bands:

The Faceless - Xenochrist

Neuraxis - Darkness Prevails

Obscura - Anticosmic Overload
OBSCURA - Anticosmic Overload official clip


Wolves in the Throne Room - Malevolent Grain EP (Self Released, 2009)

This was released earlier in the year on vinyl through Southern Lord. The band self released the CD version, which came in the mail a couple of days ago. It's always entertaining and strange to receive a package directly from a band, with the return address of a band member illegibly scrawled on the envelope.
Right off the bat, I have to say I was a huge fan of Two Hunters. It was probably my favorite album of 2007. Despite my efforts, I seem to have been unable to convince a single one of my metal compatriots that Wolves in the Throne Room are awesomeness. I don't think Malevolent Grain will help in that quest.
I rarely torture my wife by making her listen to this kind of stuff, but I figured I'd throw on this EP and see what happened. I think her initial impressions sum up my thoughts on the first song. After listening to "A Looming Resonance" for a while, she said "This could be a lot more interesting."
Indeed. Female vocals by Jamie Myers accompany what seems to be a singular droning riff, played with varying intensity, for 13 minutes. This aesthetic is nothing new for Wolves in the Throne Room, but here it seems to cross a line. I can still appreciate the hypnotic beauty of the thing, but it's just not up to the standards of Two Hunters. It's certainly not as interesting. The drumming, as usual, is excellent, and is the sole dynamic force in the song.
The second song, "Hate Crystal," sounds a little bit more familiar. Blasting drums join another ambient riff, but are now accompanied by Nathan Weaver's blood curdling screech. This is much more black metal, at the very least. There are more dynamics to the guitar work, but it's still not very exciting.
I'm pretty disappointed by Malevolent Grain, but not enough to be discouraged. I'm still looking forward their upcoming full length, Black Cascade. (Yes, I know it leaked.) The truth is, there are plenty of American black metal bands who have picked up on this ambient, post-Burzum style and run with it. My favorite one-man American black metal band of the moment, Deafest, seems to be able to churn out more interesting riffage by the boatload. Who knows, maybe I'm missing the point.




Kylesa - Static Tensions (Prosthetic, 2009)

I have to admit I'm not really much of a fan of "sludge" metal. Mastodon and Pelican are probably the furthest I'll venture in that direction. To each his own.
I guess "sludge" can be a point of reference for Kylesa, but it's really just a point of departure. In the end, I'm out of my element on this one. All I know is that I really like Static Tensions.
The production on this album is like nothing I've ever heard. It's the ultimate "stereo" experience, due to the use of two drummers, one each on the left and right channels. (That means a joint stereo MP3 rip will NOT do this justice.) It's pretty mind blowing on headphones. The Shiva-like drums drive this thing from start to finish and add a wild taste of the unhinged.
The riffage is Mastodonic for the most part, with meatball grooves that make me think Remission first and foremost. The ballsy, bluesy riffs manage to hold my interest, for the most part, throughout the album. Guitarists Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants aren't content to hang with that style exclusively. There are fantastic epic, ambient sections with cool and memorable guitar melodies. Some tremolo picking action at times feels almost blackened. Towards the end of the album, psychedelic passages sound coherent and ring true. My head bangs without conscious thought. Pretty cool.
The vocals are performed by a trifecta of band members, mostly in semi-melodic, hardcore shouts. Laura Pleasants' (female) vocals really make this thing unique. I feel transported back to college jam hours, pondering the finer points of The Lunachicks' repertoire. Her shouts add character to the chaos, while her clean singing sends the ambient parts off into outer space.
Static Tensions melds the familiar with the far out in a very cool way. Maybe this is what real progress sounds like. And not a shred of Cheddar to be found. Did I mention the drums rule?



Kylesa will be on tour with Mastodon in April and May. I'll be there.


My Dying Bride - For Lies I Sire (Peaceville, 2009)

My Dying Bride are a curious beast. For 19 years they've been walking the line between awesome doom/death and Gothic Gruyère. I've been following along, in varying degrees, since Turn Loose the Swans.

Their last album, A Line of Deathless Kings, grew on me immensely, and I had it in constant rotation for a long while. Almost every song had a memorable vocal melody or guitar riff to distinguish it. On first listen, the songs on For Lies I Sire suffer for lack of that distinguishing characteristic. As always with My Dying Bride, though, repeated listens do bear out the intricacies of the songs.

For Lies I Sire finds Aaron Stainthorpe almost exclusively singing clean vocals. Coming at My Dying Bride completely cold, I'd imagine that a new listener might have a hard time stomaching Aaron's anguished warble. As with all things in metal, it's an acquired taste. The vocal melodies here aren't as adventurous or memorable as they were on A Line Of Deathless Kings, at the very least.

Katie Stone's violin is a welcome addition. It serves roughly the same purpose as Martin Powell's violin work in the classic days. The violin sound here, however, is somehow unsettling and at times almost filthy. I like it a lot.

The drums mostly plod along with the doomy tempo. Some of the best moments on the album occur when new drummer Dan Mullins breaks loose and joins the guitars in an upbeat and thrashy rhythm.
For me, almost every My Dying Bride album has at least one unbearable, cringeworthy moment. On A Line Of Deathless Kings, it was the intro to "The Blood, the Wine, the Roses." Hell, the lyrics to the average My Dying Bride song would make many a metal fan run to the hills. On For Lies I Sire the first unfortunate moment is the lyrical intro to "Fall With Me." Aaron croons, "A great God lies naked, next to me. I witness death in his beauty. I feel him when he breathes, as we fall. And I clasp him to me, as we fall." Not my thing.
The second awful moment, unfortunately, coincides with the heaviest song on the album. On "A Chapter In Loathing," Aaron tries out several evil, growling voices while a rare blastbeat chugs along. Unlike the masterful growls that came back with The Light At The End Of The World, he sounds kind of Dani Filth here. Oops.

For Lies I Sire fits comfortably into the context of My Dying Bride's modern output. It doesn't hold my interest as much as A Line Of Deathless Kings, and it certainly doesn't match the modern mastery of The Light at the End of the World or The Dreadful Hours. The album did grow on me slightly with repeated listens, but it didn't ultimately catch on. Giving the uneven and ever shifting My Dying Bride catalog, I still have hope for the next time.

My Dying Bride are like the fine wine of metal. The average metalhead consumes copious amounts of beer, and enjoys a quaff of the whiskey. Do they venture beyond a jug of Carlo Rossi? Most likely not. That probably explains why My Dying Bride haven't visited the US in over a decade.




The Faceless - Planetary Duality (Sumerian, 2008)

Yeah, I know this came out in November, but I can't always be ahead of the times. I decided I want to go see Obscura open up for Cannibal Corpse in April. I figured I'd check out the other opening bands. It seems that the denizens of the internuts want to mention Faceless in pretty much every conversation about Obscura. I'll give it a try.
This album is written and performed by aliens. For truth.
I've been testing the soulless waters of "technical death metal" for many a year, so I'm shocked to come across two releases so close together that give me a special feeling.
What does Planetary Duality sound like? How about engaging melodies mixed with excessive speed, grooves, actual song-writing ability, and aliens. The vocals are decent mid-range growling. Some funky vocoder stuff shows up, but the sparse clean singing really hits home for me. The only comparison that comes to mind is Porcupine Tree's Steve Wilson. Whereas Obscura lean towards actual Death worship, The Faceless are almost off the map in the scope of their vision. I guess you can see all sorts of funky stuff when you're an alien.
You can hear this style of crazy, angular riffing all over the death metal world these days. But crazy riffs a song do not make. These are well written songs. About aliens.
The solos are beautiful, for lack of a better word. The drumming, while frequently trigger-happy, is fantastic. The bass makes some pleasant, slappy appearances. A couple of proggy acoustic breaks contribute welcome alien atmosphere.
I really dig this. I recommend a cup of coffee before listening. Now I can't wait for the show. I just hope the band has been well fed.




New York City Metal Concert Calendar

I'm a software engineer in real life, as well as temporally challenged. I like to partake of the live metal experience, but have problems keeping the dates straight in my head. For fun and no-profit, I decided to develop a calendar application-widget-thing to keep track of upcoming metal concerts in the New York City area. I'm defining that as concerts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Central and Northern New Jersey, Long Island, Poughkeepsie and wherever else I may roam.
The application is written in Sliverlight 2, which should work on Windows, Mac and Linux. You can find it over on there on the right side of the screen.
I'm maintaining the data myself and plan to do my best to keep it up to date. The individual concerts in the list should have links to the headliner's myspace page, the venue, as well as a link to where you can buy tickets.
If you think I'm missing something or have made a horrible mistake, feel free to contact me through the e-mail address in my profile.


Absu - Absu (Candlelight, 2009)

I picked up Absu's Tara in 2001 after reading a glowing review in Chronicles of Chaos. The album was positively insane. At the time, I really didn't identify this music as Black Metal. Absu hailed from Texas, after all. The gigantic and ponderous CD booklet explained that Absu played "mythological occult metal." The ridiculous speed and thrashy riffs set Absu apart from anything I was listening to at the time. Absu disappeared for years, but Tara remained a high point of my music collection. Fast forward to 2009, and Absu re-emerge out of the depths to give us their new, self titled album. Main-man Proscriptor McGovern remains, but the lineup has completely shifted around him. Since I always thought Tara was primarily driven by the riffing, it would seem that the loss of guitarist Shaftiel should have signaled a change in direction (and quality) for Absu. Not so. I guess Absu really are driven by the monstrous drumming and vocals of Proscriptor more than anything else.
The first change that I notice on Absu is a more prominent use of keyboards. It starts out dangerously at first, but they remain tasteful throughout, avoiding Stilton levels. There are more slowed down and epic parts to these songs, which definitely adds a flavor that had been previously missing. The riffing is generally excellent. The hyper-speed, thrashy Black Metal style maintains the previously established character of the band. There are some immense solos on this thing as well.
If I had to pick a modern analogue for Absu's sound, it would have to be 1349. Absu are probably a little bit more interesting to me in the end, though. You can always pick out the instruments in the production here. The guitars and drums have a unique feel that your usual Black Metal recording can't really capture.
I think Absu ends up suffering from the same issue that Tara did. The album feels absurdly long, and it can wear on you after a protracted listening. Yes, there is a small hint of monotony here. Not to worry, it still slays.
Absu may not beat out Tara in my eyes, but it is an excellent progression.


Absu are touring the US in June as part of a Candlelight tour package.




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