Sunday, January 15, 2012

Brimstone in Fire Interview 01.07.2012

I spent the holidays in Manila, Philippines, and got to hang with my buddy Ian, who was getting ready for his band Brimstone in Fire to play a big show in Davao City on the southern Filipino island of Mindanao. Ian invited me to join them, but unfortunately I had to be back in Malaysia before they were due to leave. I did tag along as the band recorded an EP for the show; it was pretty amazing to see a band actually record an entire EP live without any overdubs (besides the vocals). I'm not sure if that's been done since the days of Black Flag. On a break in the recording, I joined them for dinner and turned on my pesky Sony recorder.

[photos by Ian Cuevas]

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Best Albums of 2011

Origin - Entity
Following the exit of guitarist Jeremy Turner and long-time vocalist James King, Origin's sole remaining guitarist Paul Ryan surely faced a quandary. How do you follow Antithesis, the best death metal album of the last 10 years? Is it even possible for Origin to get heavier and faster without becoming one-dimensional and boring?

Luckily, Ryan (backed by drum god John Longstreth, bassist Mike Flores, and former Skinless vocalist Jason Keyser) resisted the traditional sequel mentality ("the same as last time but more so") and opted to tweak Origin's formula by adding groove, melody, and epic slow parts. By not wallowing in past glories, Origin have created Entity, an album that manages to be as awe-inspiring as its predecessor without copying it - and one that perhaps signals the beginning of the next chapter in Origin's stellar career.

Make no mistake: mighty Origin made every other album in 2011 its bitch.

Listen To: Saligia, Swarm, Evolution of Extinction

Abysmal Dawn - Leveling the Plane of Existence
Tech-death at its worst is like an over-choreographed martial arts movie - the acrobatics are impressive, but you're left wondering what the point of it all is. Though undoubtedly playing death metal of the "technical" variety, Abysmal Dawn triumph over their peers by putting their impressive chops in the service of songs that are memorable, the hardest feat in extreme music.

Listen To: In Service of Time, Leveling the Plane of Existence, My Own Savior

Nader Sadek - In the Flesh
Steve Tucker's return to death metal couldn't have been better timed, seeing as his former bandmates in Morbid Angel chose this year to unveil their clusterfuck of a new album. With Cryptopsy's Flo Mounier and Mayhem's Blasphemer, Nader Sadek's debut is as filthy and twisted as crude oil gushing over a nude beach. As far as conceptual death metal albums go, this is a unique and forward-thinking meeting of minds that won't be topped soon.

Listen To: Petrophilia, Mechanic Idolatry, Soulless

Demonical - Death Infernal
With so many great NWOOSDM releases (Feral, Miasmal, Entrails), 2011 was plagued with nostalgia for the good old days of Sunlight Studios. What puts Demonical above every other HM-2 revivalist? Well, probably the amount of times I blasted "March For Victory," THE death metal anthem of 2011. And the rest of the album follows suit, mixing blackened melody with stomping riffs that make you want to raise your fists to the sky, a horn of mead in one and an enemy's head in the other. Like Hypocrisy at their best (and most evil), Death Infernal is perfect for metal festivals and house parties alike.

Listen To: March For Victory, All Will Perish, The Arrival of Armaggeddon, and then listen to March For Victory some more!

Machine Head - Unto the Locust
When I was 15, these guys were the greatest band in the world to me; since then, they've mostly been an annoying reminder of how stupid 15 year olds can be. Over the years, Machine Head - a band that promoted their groundbreaking debut by opening for Napalm Death, Obituary, and Slayer - traded in their credibility by jumping on every bandwagon from groove metal to wiggercore to emo. Though 2007's The Blackening was heralded as a "return to form" by the metal press, to these ears it was more of a cynical attempt at metalcore, while "metalcore" was still a thing. Adjusting my expectations accordingly, I wondered what form the follow-up would take. Certainly the band has noticed the relative popularity of Mastodon and Baroness - would 2011 mark the appearance of a bearded, flannel wearing Robb Flynn, complete with horn-rimmed glasses? Thankfully, they've gone the other way, with 7 songs that draw equally from the members' classic thrash pedigrees as well as classic metal (check out the Manowar steal on "Who We Are"). After indulging in every trend from groove thrash to mallcore, Machine Head have delivered, at long last, a heavy metal album.

Listen To: Who We Are, Darkness Within, I Am Hell

Krisiun - The Great Execution
How does a kvlt South American band best known for bloody pentagrams and uninterrupted blasting age gracefully? By applying the brakes and letting their riffs breathe. Call it the South of Heaven syndrome. Like every band that once vied for the "heaviest, fastest" crown, Krisiun now use speed judiciously, allowing their songs to build from mid-paced gallops before erupting into their trademarked blast. It feels wrong to describe a Krisiun album as "hypnotic," but that seems to be what they're aspiring to. Just as long as they don't abandon the blast, I'm happy.

Listen To: The Sword of Orion, Shadows of Betrayal, The Will to Potency

Vader - Welcome to the Morbid Reich
Like Krisiun, Vader know their popularity lies not in bold re-invention but in dependability. And having pioneered the death-thrash style since the mid-80's, few do it better than these Polish grandmasters. Less manic than 2009's Necropolis, Morbid Reich weaves epic melody into their mix of Slayer and Morbid Angel. A fine addition to a praiseworthy catalogue.

Listen To: Return to the Morbid Reich, Don't Rip the Beast's Heart Out, Come And See My Sacrifice

Primordial - Redemption at the Puritan's Hand
Much anticipated - by me, at least - the new Primordial album carries on from where 2007's To The Nameless Dead left off, with a mix of Celtic folk and blackened doom that somehow manages to be bleak and uplifting at the same time. Over it all, Alan Averill's vocals distill feelings of rage and loss in a way that few metal singers can dream of. The best folk metal you'll hear this year.

Listen To: Death of the Gods, The Puritan's Hand, Lain With The Wolf

Neuraxis - Asylon
It's sort of hard to root for Neuraxis - they've got more than a passing similarity to the trendcore bands of the last decade, and their current line-up is bereft of any original members. At the same time, it was hard not to succumb to their goofy Canadian charm when I saw them live (on both the Sepultura and Deicide US tours). Like Abysmal Dawn, Neuraxis root their technical virtuosity in memorable hooks, but meander ADD-like from riff to riff, causing their songs to morph along the way. Like serpents, if you give them half a chance, they'll make their way into your head and nest there for months.

Listen To: Purity, Left to Devour, Trauma

Brimstone in Fire interview on the way

Did my first "live" interview with Manila's Brimstone in Fire, the night they were recording their upcoming EP. It came out pretty great, and I'm going to bust ass to transcribe it ASAP. Keep watching this space.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

State of Death Metal, 2011

Morbid Angel's long awaited return (and for some people, long-awaited reunion with eyeliner enthusiast David Vincent) caused no small amount of consternation in the death metal underground. The word had gone out in advance that Morbid Angel had "gone techno," and death metal fans were at turns livid and dismissive of their new direction. My first listen to the album had me hoping that the cd came packaged with glowsticks and a hit of ecstacy. I don't, in principle, have any problem with electronica-infused metal - Godflesh broke down the walls between hesher and raver 20 years ago; the Berzerker did the death-chno thing and were frequently brilliant; and anyone who thinks that housebeats can't be heavy should have a word with Red Harvest.

In truth, the rancor to Illud Divina is a bit of an over-reaction. Half of the songs are classic Morbid Angel and as good as anything they've done since the mid-90's (though tellingly, the best of these were 2 songs written by Destructhor of Zyklon and Myrkskog fame).

Of the sketchier songs, only the closing track (ironically titled "Mea Culpa") comes close to living up to Trey Azagtoth's claims that he's finding new ways of making Morbid Angel extreme (though the song would be improved innumerably by dropping the techno and letting drum scab Tim Yeung just BLAST). "I'm Morbid" takes Marilyn Manson's "Antichrist Superstar," puts it through the death metal ringer and adds some entertainingly Sondheim-esque vocal phrasing. It's a rare case of something being so dumb that it's awesome.

The remaining three songs are as bad as their death-disco reputation suggests, and bring terrible flashbacks of Vincent shaking his hips in the Genitorturers. It's baffling how Trey and "Evil D" thought that they could get away with passing off such dated, hackneyed songs as revolutionary. What's even worrying is the possibility that Trey actually thought they were, in fact, revolutionary.

Morbid Angel picked a lousy year to stage a comeback. If Illud was released in 2010 amidst that year's critically lauded experimental albums (and general lack of quality death metal), Trey and company may have gotten away with their half-baked melange of gabber and blast. In 2011, though, they found themselves in the company of returning veterans at the top of their game, and newer bands using MA's style as a jumping off point in their own bid for elite status, including two that feature Morbid Angel alumni.

Erik Rutan's Hate Eternal have been heavily hyped since their debut was released in 1999; as a true death metal OG (Ripping Corpse, bitches!) and producer/engineer of some of the best death metal albums of the last 10 years, Rutan is one of the genre's major figureheads. It's unsurprising that the former Morbid Angel guitarist's work is largely in the style of his former colleagues, but credit should go to him in trying to outdo them in terms of outright extremity, culminating in 2009's claustrophobia-inducing Fury and Flames. Hate Eternal's latest album, Phoenix Amongst the Ashes, shows the band easing up on the brain melting density of that previous album to include Cattle Decapitation-style skronk.

8 years after leaving Morbid Angel under dark clouds, David Vincent's understudy Steve Tucker has resurfaced in Nader Sadek, named after the Egyptian visual artist who put the project together. I had been seeing flyers for the album for almost a year before it was released; the notion of a collaboration between Mayhem's Blasphemer (guitars), Cryptopsy's Flo Mounier (drums) and Tucker promised, at the very least, a highly enjoyable train wreck. The truth is, it's one of the best, most original death metal albums in years. The album takes Blasphemer's skewed, blackened riffing splits the difference between Norwegian black metal's eerier moments and the creeping lava style of, naturally, Morbid Angel.

Abysmal Dawn parlay their tech chops into actual songs, complete with (gasp!) memorable choruses. It's a meisterstroke for populist death metal, and one that will serve as a high watermark for years to come. If Leveling the Plane of Existence has one fault, it's that the production is so clean you could eat creme brulee off of it. It serves their precision well, but their monstrous hooks deserve at least a little bit of gore caked on them.

For the past decade, Azarath have been rising stars in the Polish death metal scene, and for good reason - they feature Behemoth's Inferno on drums. Blasphemer's Malediction, their 5th album (but first after a significant line-up reshuffling) ditches the lurching Immolation-isms of their previous two albums for a straight-ahead blackened death metal assault...which is a shame, as it was those lurching parts that made them so interesting. Still, this isn't an album that's easy to write off, due to its relative sophistication and confidence. One thing's for sure: this wipes the floor with Lightning Swords of Death, Abominant, and all the American bands who've attempted this style recently.

Of course, one can hardly discuss Polish death metal without Vader, the grand-daddies of the scene. Welcome to the Morbid Reich, their 9th album (not counting live albums, compilations, and demo repackagings) features a somewhat more restrained Vader than the one seen on 2009's blastastic Necropolis.  Not that Vader have changed their sound in any dramatic way; it's just that the new album has more epic overtones over the death-thrash assault, presumably the influence of new lead guitarist Marek Pająk (formerly of prog-death band Esquarial).  Like most recent Vader albums, it features a re-recording of a song from their demo days, in this case "Decapitated Saints" from their debut.  This is a jackhammer that doesn't break any new ground, but for die-hards like me in need of their Vader fix, it hits the spot.

Like Vader, Krisiun were a band that renewed my faith in death metal in the late 90's when the genre seemed stagnant and unexciting. They exploded in those heady days and, along with bands like Hate Eternal and Behemoth, led the charge for death metal's return to relentless extremity. Since those days, though, the band has worked hard to balance their earlier hyperblasting style with experimentation, in an attempt to avoid becoming stagnant and uninteresting themselves. And in that, they've been largely successful. The Great Execution is for the most part business as usual for them, though their business is slower this time around. Krisiun does employ a few inventive touches here and there, like the flamenco guitars on "The Sword of Orion." The approach pays off as when they bring back the hyperblast (such as "Extinção Em Massa"), the effect is devastating.

When talking about extreme metal from Switzerland, it's inevitable to think of the wild (and sometimes embarrassing) experimentation of Celtic Frost or Samael; Requiem, however, peddle thrash-influenced death metal in the glorious European tradition of Sinister and Thanatos, with enough blackened melody to keep things interesting. It's pretty meat-and-potatoes stuff for the most part, but with their streamlined approach (they're a power-trio, a rarity in death metal these days), they definitely make a case for less being more.

With their latest album Entity, Origin had the unenviable task of following up the greatest album of its career (the best death metal album of the decade for this longtime devotee) without their longtime guitarist and songwriter Jeremy Turner. Kudos then to Paul Ryan, the sole remaining original member, for resisting the temptation to disappear down the rabbit hole by creating a faster, heavier, or more technical album album - almost assuredly a failed pursuit - and focusing on writing memorable songs. It's not Antithesis Pt 2, but it wipes the floor with every other metal album this year. Tremble, 2011: Mighty Origin have made you their bitch.