LA trio recently toured with Ghost B.C.
If you managed to see Ghost B.C. on their North American headlining tour this past spring, you probably saw Ides of Gemini open the show. The trio of singer/bassist Sera Timms, guitarist J. Bennett, and drummer Kelly Johnston released the haunting black metal-goes-goth debut album Constantinople a year ago, a record that continues to hold up very well. Director Daciana Birladeanu made a video for one of its better tracks, “Starless Moonlight”, which premiered yesterday over at Cvlt Nation, and the end result is as minimalist, mysterious, and fascinating as the music itself. Watch it below.
Ides of Gemini’s Constantinople is out now on Neurot.
21st album tentatively set for september release
I’m not usually one for posting such press releases as the “unveiling” of a new album title. Leave those to all the metal news dumps out there. But when it comes to Motörhead, I will make an exception. After all, it’s Motörhead, for crying out loud, and any year you get a new record from Lemmy, Phil, and Mikkey is a very good one.
So it gives me great pleasure to relay the news that Motörhead’s 21st album will be named Aftershock, and is tentatively slated for a September release. It was recorded earlier this year in Santa Ana, California with producer Cameron Webb, and according to Blabbermouth, will feature 13 songs, including such thought-provoking titles as “Dust And Glass”, “Knife”, “Going To Mexico”, “Lost Woman Blues”, “Death Machine” and “Heartbreaker”.
It’s also been revealed that Lemmy recently was fitted with a defibrillator after experiencing heart problems. So although he and Motörhead are still sounding as great as ever – check out the clip of the trio playing “Ace of Spades” at this week’s Golden Gods awards in London – here’s hoping Lemmy can live healthily enough to stick around for quite a while longer.
Death Dealer's raucous debut leads the charge
Album of the Week:
Death Dealer, War Master (Steel Cartel)
Like I said when I premiered War Master’s opening track “Death Dealer” earlier this spring, it’s all about that opening scream. You hear that maniacal, four-octave howl, and you’re hooked instantly, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the appeal of heavy metal. When all’s said and done, heavy metal is about power, and this rousing debut album delivers it in spades. Featuring members of Cage, Halford, Empires of Eden, and if former Manowar members Ross the Boss and Kenny “Rhino” Earl, Death Dealer don’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but the have a hell of a lot of fun churning out classic, melodic metal at a time when a lot of “extreme metal” is joyless, and you feel that invigorating energy on War Master from start to finish.
If I were to compare War Master to other albums, it’s be Hail to England meets Painkiller, in the way it takes traditional heavy metal and fuses it with the genre’s more ferocious side. It’s plenty over the top, Rhino’s pummeling drums backing up some savage riffing and shredding by Stu Marshall and Ross the Boss, with Sean Peck in full-on Rob Halford mode, but these guys, all veteran musicians, are fully aware that all that insanity is nothing without actual songs, and the arrangements make tremendous use of dynamics, songs like “War Master” and “Heads, Spikes, Walls” smartly written enough to not completely fly off the rails. There’s good stylistic variety as well: “Children of Flames” is a tremendous, chest-pounding ballad in the tradition of Manowar and Iced Earth, “Curse of the Heretic” is a lively song that brilliantly hearkens back to early Mercyful Fate, and the more mid-paced “Wraiths on the Wind” hearkens back to Warrior, one of the most underrated metal bands of all time.
The approach of Death Dealer and War Master is so straightforward that you cannot call yourself a metal fan and not find this record appealing. It utilizes many tricks in the ‘80s metal bag, but it doesn’t dwell on being “retro”. It approaches power metal with more muscle and speed than most power metal bands are willing to pull off. It tries to come across as larger than life, and succeeds mightily. As metal continue to test the limits of how extreme it can get, it’s reassuring to know there are still bands that not only know how to work traditional the metal formula, but pull it off with enough vitality to avoid coming across as merely a throwback. It’s a fantastic album, just the kick in the pants the genre needs in 2013.
Also out this week:
Angels Of Babylon, Thundergod (Scarlet): The second album to come out this week featuring Kenny “Rhino” Earl is earnest, mildly catchy melodic heavy metal, but pales in comparison to the much more fiery Death Dealer. Firecrackers are fun, but why go with a firecracker when there’s a big-ass Roman candle sitting right there?
Brutus, Behind The Mountains (Svart): More Scandinavian hard rock of the Witchcraft school, this time focusing more on the bluesier side of the sound. While it’s plenty groovy, there’s not much here that sets this Swedish/Norwegian band from the better bands in the scene. That said, I said the same about Kadavar a year ago, and look what they did this year. The potential for very good things is definitely there.
Bukowski Family, Unpleasantries Abundant (Artificial God): So you name your band after one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, and all you can come up with is lame, gory death metal? Go away.
Carrier Flux, Objection (Code 666): An intriguing, quirky blend of black metal, gothic elements, and a little progressive rock dominates this strange album by Minneapolis singer-songwriter Jeff Philips. His singing style takes a little getting used to, but there are times he manages the melancholy majesty of the dearly missed Woods of Ypres.
Crown, Psychurgy (Candlelight): To be honest, I had little interest in hearing a band that’s been billed as treading the same musical territory as Godflesh and Isis, but this debut by the French duo held my interest throughout, thanks to a very smartly executed gothic influence – think Killing Joke – that counters the gloomy riffs and slow tempos beautifully. For such a grim record, this is one pleasant surprise.
CthoniC, Bú-Tik (Spinefarm): The latest album by the Taiwanese band continues to explore symphonic black metal, progressive metal, and traditional Chinese instrumentation, and not surprisingly, Bú-Tik is at its most interesting when Freddy Lim’s mournful erhu melodies are set against that harsh backdrop. When it’s not, which is far too often for my liking, all that’s left are extreme metal songs that are average at best. It’s also interesting how for a band that places so much emphasis on dolled-up bassist Doris Yeh, you can barely hear any bass on this record.
The Custodian, Necessary Wasted (The Lasers Edge): There’s nothing wrong with languidly meandering progressive rock, but for all the smooth melodies this album by the Xerath singer is directionless and self-indulgent. Prog nerds, if you want to get mellow, just buy a Bon Iver album instead of this stuff.
Dark Moor, Ars Musica (Scarlet): The ninth album by the Spanish power metal band was going smoothly until it got to the sickly “This is My Way”, which sounds like an Alan Thicke-penned sitcom theme from the 1980s. Nauseating.
Deveykus, Pillar Without Mercy (Tsadik): Doom, drone, and klezmer all collide on this truly unique exploration into Ashkenazic Jewish music featuring trombonist Dan Blacksberg. In the end, the most astonishing thing about this very interesting record is how Blacksberg and his fellow musicians are able to show how well the melancholy side of klezmer can work so well with sonically heavier forms of music. And conversely, this is an album that makes you rethink just how far metal music can stretch.
Fell Voices, Regnum Saturni (Gilead): Santa Cruz, California’s Fell Voices were one of the most revelatory bands at Roadburn 2014, and their third album has also gotten tongues wagging and for good reason. This is black metal at its most trancelike, primitively recorded and slyly melodic, drones meshing with blastbeats, an anguished howl in the distance, a sense of calm eventually emerging from such morbid chaos. While the album lacks the mind-blowing wall of noise that the band delivers live – their power is incredible to behold in person – the warm atmosphere on this hypnotic record is a unique experience in itself, one that rewards multiple listens.
High On Fire, Spitting Fire Live Vol.1 and 2 (eOne): I have no idea why this live album, recorded over the course of two New York shows last December, has been split up into two separate CDs that fans have to buy individually – it makes no sense, seeing that the tracklisting follows the band’s tour setlist – but in the end, that hardly matters, because this is one of the best live metal albums to come out in years. Matt Pike and his band are typically en fuego, his guitar tone is wicked, and the energy of the performances is palpable. Captured after his stint in rehab, the craggy-voiced Pike sounds invigorated, like he has something to prove, and he’s come through with an incredible live document.
Infinita Symphonia, Infinita Symphonia (Scarlet): This album is a lot more restrained than your usual Italian power metal records, but despite the discipline there’s not much here at all that grabs the listener, the lead vocals lacking charisma.
Kalmah, Seventh Swamphony (Spinefarm): The Finnish melodic death metal band has their share of fans, but they’ve never interested me in the least, and their latest album is more of the same low-rent imitations of Children of Bodom and Ensiferum. Completely forgettable. And, may I ask, “swamphony”?!
Lychgate, Lychgate (Gilead): This is one of the more unique black metal debuts to come along in a while. By bringing in a subtle doom influence and a very cool-sounding organ, this English band brings even more atmosphere to the already somber compositions, which never stray too long, never go too over the top. Instead, the pace is much more measured, which allows melodies to creep to the surface and serve as a perfect counter to G.A Chandler’s (he of Esoteric notoriety) psychotic screams.
Meads Of Asphodel, Sonderkommando (Candlelight): Frontman Metatron was inspired by his visit to Auschwitz than he set about making a record that depicted the horror of the Holocaust from the perspective of those Jewish prisoners who were forced to dispose of gas chamber victims. The end result is by far the most passionate Meads of Asphodel album to date, one that tackles a very serious and sensitive subject in typically unflinching fashion, but at its core is a sense of deep respect. It’s a wildly uneven ride, as Metatron tries to make sense of it all, writing from both Jewish and Nazi perspectives, but his ambition is admirable, yielding a stark meditation on man’s inhumanity to man.
Valient Thorr, Our Own Masters (Volcom): The North Carolina band has come through with another raucous blend of boogie and hardcore on their seventh album. Of course, gregarious frontman Valient Himself is front and center, but while his likeable persona is unavoidable, the dexterity and versatility of guitarists Eidan and Sadat Thorr is ultimately what makes this record a winner, hopping lithely between punk, thrash, NWOBHM, Thin Lizzy, and blues rock influences.
Fifth album by the German power metalers out July 19
Powerwolf’s Blood of the Saints was one of the best metal albums of 2011, and now the German power metalers have returned with their fifth album, the cutely titled Preachers of the Night. Although they don’t attract the level of attention that Sabaton and DragonForce receive from the metal press – especially here in North America – Powerwolf are every bit as good, and they have one hell of a gimmick: werewolves, religious tales, and poking fun at both. Led by the booming-voiced Attila Dorn, their music pushes all the right power metal buttons: gallops, speed, flash, bombast. Most importantly, though, they bring the hooks, and their songs stick with you from the first time you hear them.
The new album, which comes out July 19 on Napalm, is every bit as strong as Blood of the Saints, and if you need proof, the band has just posted the new song “Amen & Attack”. That chorus will be bouncing around your head all day. Listen to it below.
“Eins, zwei, amen and attack!”
Country chanteuse unleashes hell with Iron Maiden classic
Pardon me if I’m a few weeks late with this, but it’s too irresistible not to post, and I don’t think enough people, especially metal fans, have heard it.
Back in late May country singer-songwriter/New Pornographer/former punk rocker/all-around cool lady Neko Case was performing at a public radio variety show in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and in typical audacious fashion, she unabashedly launched into a fiery rendition of Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast”, which was posted at twentyfourbit.com, and which you can listen to below. And trust me, this isn’t some ironic cover by a winking indie musician for a laugh at the expense of the metal genre. Case sings the living hell out of the song. Instead of the soulful-voiced reincarnation of Patsy Cline we’re used to hearing is an artist reverting back to her teenage metal fandom, and you can sense her joy as she channels her inner Bruce Dickinson. It’s sloppy, but an absolute joy to hear. And it’s doubly worth it to hear Dave Murray’s solo done on pedal steel. Crank it, and sing along.
(photo and Soundcloud link courtesy twentyfourbit.com)
The album opens with a quietly grandiose overture instead of an explosion, a hushed, eerie riff with emphasis on melody rather than the rampant, unrelenting savagery of the band’s last record. A huge chord and a cymbal crash, drum fills that sound way, way up front in the mix. Tom-toms pound and guitars crunch ominously as the opening verse is sung – yes, sung – hypnotically: “An unforeseen future nestled somewhere in time / Unsuspecting victims no warnings, no signs. Judgment day the second coming arrives.” And then the expected vocal bellow we’d all come to expect over the previous four or five years:
“BEFORE YOU SEE THE LIGHT, YOU MUST DIE!!!”
But wait. That should be the signal to send Slayer’s follow-up to the speed-riddled masterpiece Reign in Blood off to the races. Instead, the song creeps along at a shockingly slow gait. You can feel the space between each ting of the cymbal bell. Wait, 17 year-old me thought as I listened to my South of Heaven cassette for the first time in July of 1988. This is Slayer?
From 1984 to 1986, to paraphrase Kerouac, Slayer had reached the speed of what the speedsters wanted. But little did anybody know that what they really wanted was Slayer’s Eternal Slowdown.
I cannot underestimate how unprepared most of us were for this. Although Slayer did receive some airplay in larger centers in advance of their fourth album thanks to the early, limited release of the “South of Heaven” and “Mandatory Suicide” singles, they were still a band that stubbornly shunned the media, and as hard as it is to believe in this day and age, you just plain didn’t know what a Slayer record was going to sound like until you gawked at the surreally gory cover artwork, ripped off the cellophane, took the record or tape out, and played the thing. Back then, the idea of a band being able to do that and still manage sell records by the hundreds of thousands was unthinkable from a marketing standpoint, but Slayer and Metallica did it consistently. And 1988 would be the last year any popular mainstream metal band would successfully pull off a stunt like that, the last year fans of both bands would be able to experience that rush of excitement of listening to new a new album completely blind to what lay inside.
In retrospect the more measured pace of South of Heaven was the most natural way to follow up the fleeting, 200 beats-per-minute Reign in Blood, but at the time it was the most shocking downshift metal had ever seen. Thrash was at its peak in 1988, and metal fans were bombarded with speed. Trouble, Candlemass, and Saint Vitus were flying in the face of convention with their own slow takes on Sabbath-derived doom, but most young metal fans, yours truly included, were more preoccupied with speed, whether it was the exploding thrash scene, the nascent power metal genre, and in more extreme cases, death metal and grindcore. For Slayer to slow things right down at a time when their reputation as the most merciless band in metal was a daring move, not to mention a serious risk of alienating their fanbase.
25 years later, any doubts we had upon first hearing the album are distant, distant memories, as South of Heaven is regarded as an important album with regards to both the overall legacy of Slayer and the overall evolution of heavy metal in general, even though it’s not exactly a perfect record. But we’ll get to that.
The sound created by Rick Rubin and Andy Wallace on South of Heaven is astounding, and it all begins with Dave Lombardo’s drums, which are pushed as far in front of the mix as possible. As a result the kick drums thud through woofers with warm intensity, the snare cracks with a satisfying reverberation, and the cymbals, especially that bell that Lombardo made his trademark, sound crystalline. As a result the overall impact of Jeff Hanneman’s and Kerry King’s guitars is lessened, but there’s a method to Rubin’s madness, as the more spacious sound allows for melodies, and most crucially, creates room for bassist Tom Araya to really explore with his vocal delivery. Unlike Reign in Blood, which featured a masterful display of intelligible screaming, Araya’s vocals are restrained, carrying a melody here and there, bordering on spoken word at times.
Reign in Blood is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums in history, but Side One of South of Heaven is the most impressive string of songs Slayer has ever put together. All the credit goes to Hanneman and Araya, who took on the role of chief songwriters as King moved away from Los Angeles, got married, and showed little interest in writing the new record. It’s no coincidence that those two members are in the foreground of the band photo on the back cover.
Hanneman, who already created some of metal’s most gigantic riffs ever with “Angel of Death”, “Postmortem”, and “Raining Blood” two years prior, followed that work up with five songs that easily hold their own against those classics. “South of Heaven” ingeniously incorporates groove into thrash metal a full three years before Metallica made it trendy. “Silent Scream” announces itself in stunning fashion, segueing brilliantly out of the long sustained closing note of “South of Heaven” and is propelled by some truly herculean double-kicks by Lombardo. “Live Undead” is an exercise in riff variation and tempo changes much like “Postmortem”, featuring a shocking number of movements stitched together in less than four minutes. “Behind the Crooked Cross” revisits Hanneman’s recurring Nazi Germany theme, only this time opts for a little more vagueness than the blunt “Angel of Death”, and is equally simple in musical execution, taut, short, and very catchy. “Mandatory Suicide”, on the other hand, tackles the war them with more seriousness, its melodies mournful, ominous, and horrific.
Araya’s lyrics are especially effective in four of those five songs (Hanneman wrote the lyrics to “Crooked Cross”). His sly reference to The Exorcist in the title track is the song’s most indelible line (“Bastard sons begat your c***ing daughters”), while “Silent Scream” has fun with the whole horror movie gore theme (“Suffocation, strangulation, death is f***ing you insane”). His vocal phrasing in “Live Undead” is inspired, his lyrics highlighted by the couplet, “A war raging deep inside my head / A split decision that will end with me dead.” It’s “Mandatory Suicide”, though, that packs the most visceral punch, reaching a climax during the coda, with Araya reciting, “Dead bodies, dying and wounded litter the city streets / Shattered glass, bits of clothing and human deceit.”
Side Two isn’t quite as strong, as the band struggled to provide enough content for an album longer than half an hour but still maintains the momentum well. The way the muted, 19-second intro jam of “Ghosts of War” explodes into its proper volume level is jarring to this day, one of Rubin’s coolest ideas as a producer. Metal songs about corrupt televangelism were a dime a dozen in 1988, and it seemed every band had to have at least one song that addressed the topic, including Slayer. But although “Read Between the Lies” was tired thematically, its creeping pace and screaming atonal solo by Hanneman made this one of the more artful anti-Christian metal songs at the time. “Cleanse the Soul” is the band’s least favorite on the record, quickly written by Hanneman at the request of the record label, and indeed it is fairly rote, the only track that hints at autopilot.
Some people had a problem with the cover of Judas Priest’s Sin After Sin classic “Dissident Aggressor” – and some still do to this day – but although this was added primarily to stretch the running time, it’s a phenomenal reading of Priest’s heaviest song. This cover mopped the floor with the Priest we heard on Ram it Down a couple months earlier in 1988, making them look like a bunch of out-of-touch old men. I don’t know if it ever was the case, but I like to think to this cover as the song that inspired Priest to wake up and record the near-classic Painkiller two years later. Meanwhile, Hanneman’s “Spill the Blood” ends the album on an exceptionally high note, returning to the slow, deliberate pace of the title track, featuring a disturbing acoustic guitar intro, some memorable fretwork in the chorus riff, and some effectively chanted singing by Araya.
South of Heaven was such a shock to fans’ systems that it’s no surprise it required time to build a following of its own, eventually being certified gold in the United States in 1992. The canonical legacy of Reign in Blood was such that it made its follow-up seem underrated, but 25 years later South of Heaven’s reputation is now where it should be, regarded as the crucial middle album in Slayer’s career-defining trifecta. No metal album at the time made slowing down sound cool, and Slayer taught many of us that you don’t have to go a hundred miles an hour all the time. Shifting musical gears never hurts if you do so with integrity, and if ever there was a record that showed there was more to Slayer than BPMs, sensory assault, and violence, this was it. In turn, all aspects of the band’s oeuvre illustrated on Reign in Blood and South of Heaven would be combined to astonishing effect two years later on an album that would become Slayer’s commercial breakthrough.
Jeff Hanneman, 1964-2013
On and on.
Austin band added to Mayhem Fest
A couple months ago I saw Austin, Texas band Scorpion Child open for Clutch, and came away very impressed by their groovy, ’70s-derived hard rock. Signed recently to Nuclear Blast, they’re sort of the label’s answer to, well, The Answer, the kind of unapologetic blues rock that goes over well in Europe, not as heavy as the Graveyards and Witchcrafts of the metal world, but livelier and more focused on the Robert Plant-style vocal preening.
These guys sell the Stillwater gimmick with great skill on the new self-titled album, and they’ve just post track on YouTube. “Liquor” is an odd choice of first taste from the record, boasting a funky, Zeppelin-esque stomp rather than the usual groove and boogie, but it’s nevertheless the kind of lackadaisical song that evokes summer, so its release is nicely timed. Listen to it below.
In addition, Scorpion Child will be headlining the Sumerian Stage at the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, which kicks off on June 29. They’re a great live band, and should win over plenty of new fans on the tour.
Scorpion Child comes out on June 25.
German band's sixth album set for July release
Over the years German quintet Deadlock have become a good little mainstream metal band, thanks in large part to the emergence of Sabine Scherer as a superb melodic singer, her sumptuous melodies offsetting the comparatively generic harsh vocals of John Gahlert. That “good cop, bad cop” vocal style has been done to death, but Deadlock do pull it off well thanks to Scherer, whose pop-oriented hooks and bright, tasteful delivery bring life to the band’s already slick arrangements.
The band’s sixth album The Arsonist will be released July 26 on Napalm Records, and not surprisingly it doesn’t deviate from the formula. At times the band tries a little too hard – at times they can’t decide between “djent” gimmickry and shameless metallic dance-pop – and the cover of Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” has already been done to death, but with this band you’re there to hear those melodic vocals, and Scherer does so charismatically. While there’s nothing as revelatory as 2011’s “State of Decay”, there’s still plenty on this album to like, including “Dead City Sleepers”, which has just been posted on YouTube. Give it a listen below.