New releases for November 6, 2012
A harrowing British album comes along and ruins election day
Album of the Week:
Dragged Into Sunlight, Widowmaker (Prosthetic)
What’s so remarkable about Dragged Into Sunlight’s second album isn’t how intense it is. You know it’s going to be forceful, cathartic, unrelenting; that’s a given. No, the extraordinary thing about Widowmaker is how it takes its time before assaulting the listener. The three-part, 40-minute suite opens innocuously enough, making you think it’s just another minute-long mellow intro, but it keeps going and going, slowly building tension, rustic guitars reminiscent of Earth’s Dylan Carlson countered by a forlorn violin, lending the track a strong Southern gothic feel. On that intro goes, for a whopping, riveting 15 minutes, and consequently, when that moment finally hits, it hits devastatingly hard. Monstrous doom riffs, tribal drums, and savage screams blindside the listener before settling into a monolithic, crunching groove. The noose tightens and loosens over the next half hour, sampled dialogue creeping in, that violin entering the fray from time to time.
More than anything, the Liverpool band are about creating as harrowing an experience as possible for their audiences, and they do just that on Widowmaker. Masterfully arranged, powerfully performed, it benefits a great deal from the band’s sense of economy throughout; from its running time to the deceptive simplicity of the movements, it might be a long single track, but it never slips into tedium, not for a second feels self-indulgent. You can’t create effectively harrowing music unless you offset the darkness with well-timed moments of light, and this album makes use of the strategy to great effect (the explosion at the 8:24 mark of “Part III” is a prime example). A huge improvement over the debut Hatred For Mankind, this album is meant to be an immersive experience, where you lose yourself in the album from its mellow start to its traumatic conclusion, and this is as hellish a listening experience as that’s been released in 2012.
Also out this week:
All That Remains, A War You Cannot Win (Razor & Tie): You have to give All That Remains credit; they know what they’re good at, and they stick to it. Again the music is a straightforward combination of melodic death metal and metalcore, combined with Phil Labonte’s hokey self-empowerment lyrics, but it’s much more hook-driven than similar bands, and that strength is front and center here. However, the band’s recent success among active rock listeners has compelled them to pursue that side of their music a little more (the power ballad “What if I Was Nothing” should do well for them), so there’s a little less bite to the music this time around. But for those who prefer catchiness over brutality, this record will do nicely.
Anaal Nathrakh, Vanitas (Candlelight): The UK duo might be prolific, but with each new album they continue to show tremendous growth. Far from arbitrary noise, this psychotic blend of black metal, grindcore, and industrial has a very strong melodic sensibility to it, which counters the ear-clobbering sonic attack very well. In fact, “Forging Towards the Sunset” is one of the catchiest songs they’ve ever done, while not for one second compromising the intensity of the music. Fans of this band will not be disappointed.
Davey Suicide, Put Our Trust In Suicide (Standby): Another obnoxious Marilyn Manson knock-off singing tone-deaf, unimaginative industrial metal. Silly haircuts and black lipstick do not a shock rock band make.
Decline Of The I, Inhibition (Agonia): The brainchild of French multi-instrumentalist A.K., who is best known for his work in the excellent black metal band Merrimack, Decline of the I is a sometimes intriguing, sometimes befuddling blend of atmospheric black metal, heavier doomy riffs, and eccentric electronic flourishes. It feels like a good idea early on, but at just under an hour in length, the further you delve into it, the more it drags.
Die Hard, Conjure The Legions (Agonia): These Swedes are trying to emulate the early thrash sounds of Sodom, but while the songs are blunt enough, one key ingredient is missing: the filth. This thing sounds far too squeaky clean for its own good. If they wanted to capture that early-‘80s vibe, they should have recorded this album with someone who has no idea how to record a metal record. Which is how a lot of great metal debuts were made.
Doro, Raise Your Fist (Nuclear Blast): A cynic will call Doro’s 12th album “generic”. A sentimental old fool will call it good traditional heavy metal. No question, Doro is recycling clichés left and right once again, but the reigning metal queen does do with much spirit on this album. Still, it’s not perfect, as the mellower tracks, including power ballad duet with Lemmy on “It Still Hurts”, fall flat, but Doro herself is in fine form (“Take No Prisoner” is one of many keepers), and it’s great to hear her sounding as ageless as ever.
Forgotten Tomb, And Don't Deliver Us From Evil (Agonia): The Italian blackened doom band sharpens their attack on their seventh album, the aggression neatly offset by the sheer weight of the riffs and grooves. The way they combine black metal and doom isn’t unlike Woods of Ypres, but it would be nice to hear a few more refined melodies like the Canadian band used to do so well.
Geoff Tate, Kings & Thieves (Inside Out): Following the very ugly, public split with Queensrÿche, Geoff Tate has released his second solo album and first in ten years, and all he’s able to accomplish is Queensrÿche fans that the band is better off without him. Alternately boring and hilarious, this is a collection of songs that desperately try to sound modern, but come off as turgid alt-metal by a guy who seems to think that sounding like it’s 1995 is cutting edge. When he’s not coming across as a Disturbed wannabe singing dirty old man lyrics on the mind-bogglingly bad “Say U Luv It”, he’s arrogantly rapping atop Miami Vice saxophones on “The Way I Roll”. This is the most calamitous solo album by a veteran rock singer since Chris Cornell’s Scream.
General Surgery, Like An Ever Flying Limb (Relapse): This new seven-inch release by the Swedish band is 11 raucous minutes of gore-obsessed death metal. What else would you expect from these guys? Simple, to the point, and very fun.
Graveyard, Lights Out (Nuclear Blast): The Swedish band follows up their breakthrough album Hisingen Blues with a record that’s a lot darker and politically driven. There’s a much darker undercurrent driving such forceful songs as “An Industry of Murder”, “Seven Seven”, and “Goliath” – Joakim Nilsson gives the album more gravitas by singing in a lower register - but the old-fashioned, analog recorded, late-‘60s heavy rock sound that makes Graveyard so appealing to many is always there. That blues-driven, Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac influence still permeates Lights Out, and shines especially bright on “Slow Motion Countdown” and “Hard Time Lovin’”, the two strongest tracks on the album and the best slow-burners Graveyard have ever put out. It’s an excellent record.
Horseback & Locrian, New Beginnings (Relapse): Originally released last year, this collaboration between the two daring bands has been expanded and re-released. The fourth Locrian release this year, this is arguably the most accessible, the minimal arrangements rooted in doom, with Horseback’s Jenks Miller intoning over the brooding sounds.
Isis, Temporal (Ipecac): Three years after their brilliant final album Wavering Radiant, post-metal progenitors Isis have released this very good posthumous compilation of demos and rarities. Highlights include an early version of “Ghost Key” and awesome covers of Godflesh’s “Streetcleaner” and Black Sabbath’s “Hand of Doom”, but the real reason to buy this collection is the stately 17-minute epic “Grey Divide”, which is as good a song as they ever put out. It’s a fitting way to cap off a tremendous run by a great band.
Megadeth, Countdown To Extinction: 20th Anniversary Edition (Capitol/EMI): Megadeth’s 1992 album was their big commercial breakthrough, introducing the band to a new crop of young metal fans, but a lot of us who listened to their music through the 1980s Countdown to Extinction felt watered down, and it continues to feel that way two decades later. The album does feature two of Dave Mustaine’s best moments on record – the ubiquitous “Symphony of Destruction” and the brilliantly twisted “Sweating Bullets” – but the taut, intricate thrash of 1990’s Rust in Peace and quirky grooves of 1986’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? were sorely missed, the band going for accessibility instead of maintaining their metal cred. It’s not terrible, but compared to the previous four albums, it lacks the energy that drew so many of us to Megadeth in 1985-’86. At any rate, it’s been given the reissue treatment, and EMI has done a splendid job. The remastering of the album by Tom Baker is much better and more tasteful than last year's awful Peace Sells reissue. Along with a few bells and whistles like a poster and postcards, it comes with a terrific essay by Revolver’s Kory Grow, and best of all, a bonus live CD featuring a full set recorded at San Francisco’s The Cow Palace in December 1992. It’s a snapshot of the Mustaine/Ellefson/Friedman/Menza lineup in peak form, as they tear through such classics as “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due”, “The Conjuring”, and “In My Darkest Hour”. The strength of the live CD alone makes this an essential purchase for Megadeth fans.
Otep, Sounds Like Armageddon (Victory): I’m always torn when it comes to Otep. I’m not a fan of their Korn-y nu-metal, but I do admire Otep Shamaya for trying to bring a strong, eloquent woman’s voice to the genre. This live album is the same old story, boring music and compelling lead vocals, but fans of the band should get a kick out of it at the very least.
Paragon, Force Of Destruction (Napalm): Why we need another band that sounds exactly like Grave Digger when Grave Digger is still going strong is anybody’s guess, but this record by this German band – their tenth – is surprisingly solid. Straightforward heavy metal that walks the line between power metal and thrash (you can hear elements of Overkill in the music as well), it’s rousing and never loses its sense of fun.
Rage Nucleaire, Unrelenting F--king Hatred (Season Of Mist): It’s incredible to think it’s been seven years since we last heard from Lord Worm on record, but he’s back with his first post-Cryptopsy project, and it’s a belter. The Montreal vocalist has always been a black metal guy deep down, and he sounds liberated on this debut, howling and snarling his poetic blasphemes against a backdrop that’s equal parts Immortal and Anaal Nathrakh. It’s an audacious start for this band, and with a second album already nearing completion, it’s not as if Lord Worm is going away, thankfully. The metal world’s a better place with him around.
Ragnarok, Malediction (Agonia): Orthodox Norwegian black metal, unwavering in its adherence to the traditional template, but in this band’s case, it’s a very good thing. All the right buttons are pushed on this gleefully blasphemous record.
Skálmöld, Born Loka (Napalm): More Týr than Sólstafir, this Icelandic band serves up some predictable folk-tinged Viking metal that’s decent at times, forgettable others.
The Sorrow, Misery Escape (Napalm): Now this, kids, is a good metalcore album. Played with force and verve, countered with very catchy melodic choruses and guitar flourishes, and reliant on a simple formula but not using it as a crutch.
Tiamat, The Scarred People (Napalm): Tiamat has been taken to task by some for abandoning the harsher sounds from earlier in their career in favor of a fairly middle-of-the-road goth rock sound, but as rote as it is, they’re nevertheless very good at it, the songs dripping with melancholy. While it’s not in the same league as 1994’s classic Wildhoney, it’s still a much better album than some will give the band credit for.
War From A Harlot’s Mouth, Voyeur (Season Of Mist): Cut from the same cloth as The Ocean, the German band’s fourth album – and first for Season of Mist – is suitably sprawling and progressive-minded, but never forgets to sound absolutely throttling.
While She Sleeps, This Is This Six (The End): Charting in the top 30 in the UK and fawned over by the British metal press, the Sheffield band’s debut arrives on these shores riding a big wave of hype, but as is often the case whenever a new metalcore band tries to make an impression in North America, all I can say upon hearing it is, “So?” Granted, these guys do have their moments – the crusty, d-beat driven opening cut “Dead Behind the Eyes” is very strong – but far too often it reverts to tired, Warped Tour-pandering garbage when all anyone wanted was a straight-ahead, pulverizing metalcore record. More Converge, less The Devil Wears Prada, kids.