ASPHYX – Deathhammer

Asphyx - DeathhammerASPHYX has been paying the death metal dues since the late 80′s, with their disciplined balance between relentless speed and slow, crawling riffs, creating a cauldron of searing, uncompromising metal. Deathhammer, the band’s eighth full-length, sees the band continue where their excellent comeback album Death the Brutal Way left off.

Openers “Into the Timewastes” and the title track strike hard and fast, setting the stage for the album. The intensity never lets up as much as it slows down, significantly on “Minefield,” where the band approaches almost funeral-doom levels. Despite the tempo drop, the aggression is maintained, and in some cases, is drawn out, milking every anguished riff for all it’s worth, not allowing even the riffs or the listener a chance to breathe.

The band picks things up, weaving in and out of songs that build, pound and crush, keeping the listener’s head moving, while tempering catchier material such as “Reign of the Brute” and “The Flood” with snail’s paced, lava flowing tracks, such as the aptly titled “We Doom You To Death” and “Der Landser”. Closing track, “As the Magma Mammoth Rises”, incorporates elements of both, perfectly summing up the album.

Deathhammer delivers top-notch, no-frills meat and potatoes death metal played with an honesty and conviction, which is something we should expect from these purveyors of death metal. Bow down to the Deathhammer. (Century Media Records)

STORM CORROSION – Storm Corrosion

STORM CORROSION is the much hyped, much talked about collaboration between two of modern prog rock’s heavyweights in OPETH‘s Mikael Akerfeldt and PORCUPINE TREE‘s mainman Steven Wilson. If you were to judge an album based on its cover art, one might expect a virtual labyrinth of complex, involved music to serve as a soundtrack to acclaimed Swiss artist Hans Arnold‘s richly detailed and intricate artwork. But sadly you would be wrong.  So what exactly do the masterminds behind STORM CORROSION have to offer? Would the duo take a modern approach and craft a record along the lines of TOOL and modern day RUSH meeting up with PORCUPINE TREE? Or would they dig deep in to nostalgia and profess their love for all things CAMEL, NEKTAR and KING CRIMSON taking us all on a mindblowing prog rock odyssey? Or would the group take us on a smoke induced psychedelic journey heavy on the HAWKWIND and PINK FLOYD? Sadly all of the above scenarios are far more imaginative than what one will actually receive with STORM CORROSION.

Beginning with lead track “Drag Ropes,” our protagonists make it abundantly clear that less is more, and that they will seek to offer the listener collectively less than they ever have before. Super subtle, understated vocal lines by Mikael are backed by an assortment of gentle background ambiance that tries very hard to create a mood, but leaves the listener feeling flat. Five minutes in, the guys thrown in some off kilter vocal harmonies in attempt to mix things up, which leads in to some light guitar work which might be some of the most musical material on this album. But it unfortunately comes across as an afterthought as opposed to something substantial.

The title track follows with some dainty folk singing and strumming before arriving at a soothing yet not particularly inventive “solo.”
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SUBROSA – No Help for the Mighty Ones

Salt Lake City’s SUBROSA have been steadily crafting interesting material for years now with several independent releases under their belts, but their third full length sees the band take their ambitious work to new heights with No Help for the Mighty Ones. While the band’s previous album Strega was an exercise in fuzzed out guitar tones colliding with elegant shoegazing atmospherics, the band’s latest takes the listener on a much more complete musical journey. Violinists Sarah Pendelton and Kim Pack weave a twisting path of strings that is both elegant and serene while maintaining a haunting presence throughout the course of the album. The new rhythm section of Zack Hatsis and Dave Jones also provide a sturdy, rock solid foundation for the band’s involved, often detailed song structures. Meanwhile songstress Rebecca Vernon‘s vocals take the listener on a path less traveled as she tells dark tales of literary folklore that at times evoke some of Edgar Allan Poe‘s best qualities. Her guitar work is simple, yet refined and thoughtful, designing structures that serve as creative backdrops for her interesting lyrical explorations and story telling. In taking a different approach off the beaten path, SUBROSA‘s No Help for the Mighty Ones rewards its listeners with one of the more refreshing and original musical pieces to come from the metal underground this year. (Profound Lore Records)

WORMROT – Dirge

WORMROT took the metal storm last year with the arrival the band’s incinerating debut, Abuse, which saw the band embark on a relentless touring schedule scoring legions of new fans along the way with their explosive live performances. Dirge sees the Singaporean three-piece (no, they still haven’t added a bassist) try to up the speed stakes even more with their latest 18 minutes scorcher. While the length of the “album” may seem a bit short, the sheer velocity of the songs might actually make anything longer excessive and difficult to digest. Once again recorded at TNT Studio, the razor sharp mix cuts through speakers with ample intensity. Despite the seemingly inhuman tempos created by blast master Fitri, the mix successfully captures all the fury one might experience at a WORMROT show. Vocalist Arif growls, snarls, and screeches like a demon possessed by NAPALM DEATH‘s Barney Greenway crossed with PHOBIA‘s Shane MacLachlan as guitarist Rasyid weaves an onslaught of guitarwork drawing from a seemingly endless stockpile of top notch grind riffs. 25 crushers in 18 minutes, gets the job done and quickly , but I leave the band to sum it up best as they did on track 3: “No time to sob over broken hearts, All Go, No Emo!” (Earache Records)

PHOBIA – Unrelenting

PHOBIA has been unleashing furious crust grind for decades now, and while most of their peers have either slowed down or thrown in the towel, PHOBIA just keeps the beatings coming with their umpteenth release Unrelenting. On a release perfect for today’s ADD ridden youths, the veterans manage to cram in 17 songs in under 15 minutes, cutting out the fat and layers of throwaway filler. Instead, the band’s focus is on keeping the pace relentless and the delivery punishing. There are very few “breaks” in this exercise of full throttle blasting. Sure, there’s the 30 second mini intro “T.R.O.G.,” a quick musical guitar solo from guest Dorian Rainwater on “Rehashed” and the brief mid-tempo breakdown action on “Nothing Matters,” but for the most part the attacks keep coming, driven by the band’s 10,000th drummer Bryan Fajardo (also of KILL THE CLIENT and NOISEAR) whose blast patterns drive the songs into the listener’s skull. But if those tracks prove to be too “epic,” there’s also “You Get No Remorse,” which gives you a quick 10 second grind fix, perfect for those grinders on the go. Twenty-one years in and no signs of slowing down, Unrelenting is a testament to the band’s integrity, easily showing the pretenders and wannabes how uncompromising grindcore is done. (Relapse Records)

Phobia – Unrelenting by lambgoat

WORMROT – Abuse

On Abuse, Singapore’s WORMROT offer up a generous 23 tracks in 22 minutes (perfect grind length) of relentless, ferocious grindcore. Drummer Fitri leads the charge with an assortment insanely fast blast beats, flurries of double bass and general cymbal-smashing mayhem. Vocalist Arif can hit the gutterals if he has to but can mix it up with high vocal shrieks and “core” vocals as needed. There’s no time for technical, mastubatory shreddery so guitarist Rasyid relies on delivering plenty of crunchy, aggressive riffing to get the job done. No bassist? No problem, as the three-piece keep the pace furious and unrelenting throughout the short, but sweet running time. While most of the songs keep with grindcore’s pent-up political slant, WORMROT isn’t without a sense of humor as evidenced on “Blasphemy My Ass” and their cover of the YEAH YEAH YEAH‘s “Rich.” The speed keeps coming throughout the 23 tracks, but the band also exhibits a bit of melody on “Fuck I’m Drunk” and the halftime section of “Blasphemy My Ass.” Vocalist Arif also did an excellent job on the mix from TNT Studios as the album cuts through with razor sharp, crystal clear clarity without sacrificing the band’s crusty edge. Despite wearing their influences on their sleeves (the band champions the sounds of NAPALM DEATH, PHOBIA, EXTREME NOISE TERROR, etc.), Abuse unleashes the fury with such conviction, it hardly matters. Abuse delivers grindcore the way it was meant to be played. (Earache Records)

SLAYER, MEGADETH, and TESTAMENT @ The Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden, NJ (08/15/10)

While most of WARBRINGER‘s fans had yet to be conceived, these metal masters were carving up cities with sheer volume, speed ,and intensity establishing the blue print for countless imitators to follow, and now some 20 years later, little has changed with each band showing the up and comers how it’s done with a night of shredding thrash. To celebrate the 20 year anniversaries of two of the more important thrash records of the 90′s (arguably two of the best in metal/thrash ever in my humble opinion) SLAYER and MEGADETH would be performing the classic Seasons in the Abyss and Rust in Peace albums in their entirety, much to the delight of the fans who caught the bands on the Clash of the Titans Tour back in the day, as well as those who missed that historic tour.

As the sun went down, a decent crowd slowly filled in to witness the arrival of TESTAMENT, who got the evening off to an explosive start with “More than Meets the Eye” from their latest, The Formation of Damnation. As an opener, the band was given a limited of time (unfortunately, The Legacy or The New Order would not be getting the same treatment as the headliners). But they made the most of it, mixing up classics, “Into the Pit” and “Sins of Omission,” with the near-death metal stylings of “Dog Faced Gods” and “D.N.R.” before closing out with the title track of Formation delivering a short, but killer set to get the get crowd started.

Dave Mustaine immediately arrived after a short changeover to launch in to the scorching “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due.” Seemingly effortless in their performance, the band delivered spot-on renditions of the entire album with drummer Shawn Drover and former JAG PANZER/NEVERMORE shredder Chris Broderick filling in admirably, almost as if they had played on the album all along. Dave Ellefson marked a welcome return with simple “Dawn Patrol,” which led into Drover‘s tom pounding of the rarely heard “Rust in Peace (Polaris).” The band could have left after that since they had just delivered a pyrotechnic display of technical speed metal that challenged any guitar virtuoso band in the world in terms of technicality, while still retaining that cutting thrash edge. Luckily for the crowd, MEGADETH offered up a mini encore featuring “Trust,” “Head Crusher (the sole new track from Endgame),” “A Tout Le Monde” before Ellefson unleashed that all too familiar bass line from “Peace Sells.” Normally after such a set, it would time to split, and what band would want to follow such a charged performance?

The band that inspired everyone from HATEBREED, WATAIN, PUBLIC ENEMY, as well as a countless glut of thrash, death, grind, black, and hardcore bands…the mighty SLAYER that’s who. Getting down to business, SLAYER delivered “World Painted Blood” and “Hate Worldwide” from their newest album, quickly clearing the new material out of the way so the fans could hear the coveted “old shit.” The blistering “War Ensemble” got the pit swirling with bodies and beer crashing in to one another with reckless abandon. I’ve always found it amusing how often any number of black metal, death metal, and hardcore bands desperately try to demand that fans “get a pit going” while SLAYER simply unleashes flurries of double bass, evil, sinister riffs and twisted bizarre guitar solos that their fans need no encouragement to cave each other skulls in. As a fan favorite, many of the Seasons in the Abyss tracks have never been performed numerous times, so it was great to catch the band whip out rarities such as “Expendable Youth,” the piercing “Hallowed Point,” and the plodding, possibly slowest song in their catalog “Skeletons of Society” – which while slow, rumbled through like a tank plowing through the crowd. The catchy, but little played “Temptation” also delivered, setting up the headripping “Born of Fire” and the ominous closing title track. For the encore we had “South of Heaven,” “Raining Blood” and a classic from the first album, “Aggressive Perfector,” before “Angel of Death” did what is does, which is crush everything in sight. Hands down one of the best shows of the year thus far, and felt more like an event as opposed to “some bands playing.” Witnessing veterans who helped create a genre nail it in their prime is always rewarding, so if you haven’t already, get tickets ASAP and witness three headliners deliver at the height of their powers before time runs out.

IMMOLATION with ARSIS and DISMA @ The Studio at Webster Hall, New York City (07/28/10)

Webster Hall has long been known for bringing in mainstream acts and hosting lavish dance parties, but fortunately for the metal faithful, who crammed in to the small darkened recesses of the joint (The Studio) there would be none of that as one of New York’s longest standing underground legends IMMOLATION played a rare NYC club date as the band prepares for their tour with VADER.

Upon arriving in the dark basement of Webster Hall, I witnessed openers DISMA, a last second addition to the show. Featuring ex-members of INCANTATION, and members from a slew of veteran underground bands, I had high expectations for the band, but sadly the performance and overall delivery was a bit bland. The sound didn’t help matters as it was pretty blurry and wasn’t particularly powerful. The band offered slow, plodding material much in the vein of INCANTATION and our evening’s headliners, but the songs weren’t especially memorable, and the heat of the venue only made the performance that much more sluggish.

Following up after DISMA came the sleek, polished sounds of ARSIS. Upon graduating from delivering DEATH-inspired material, Jim Malone and company have since opted to lift the shredding skills of CHILDREN OF BODOM, (as heard on their new album Starve for the Devil) making them an oddball choice for this show. After nearly dozing off several times during the previous set, the band’s hyper active noodling and busy fret work actually lifted the energy mode a bit. They had several of their fans out there pumping their fists with great enthusiasm as the band delivered several of their numerous crowd motivating anthems. IMMOLATION fans weren’t as easily sold, but begrudgingly declined to taunt the band of fret burners. The sound was also bad for them making it difficult for their songs to really cut through, but the band soldiered on well enough.

Finally the hometown (by way of Yonkers) heroes arrived unleashing “The Purge” from their latest effort, Majesty and Decay, before releasing spot on renditions of Unholy Cult and World Agony. Fortunately, the sound was finally crystal clear and cut through with great clarity as Bob Vigna‘s guitar acrobatics, disjointed, dissonant riffs and leads squeezed the life of any Christian foolish enough to venture in the vicinity. Bill Taylor‘s riffage perfectly complemented Vigna‘s organized chaos with an underlying crunching drive, and octopus-like drummer Steve Shalaty‘s intricate complex drum patterns kept the rhythm alive and pounding. Let’s not forget Ross Dolan‘s bludgeoning bass lines and throat scraping growls eithe, as the frontman was menacing throughout the set, but equally humble when expressing gratitude towards the fans for their 25 years of support. IMMOLATION focused a decent amount of time on tracks from their killer new Majesty and Decay album, delivering the title track as well as “A Glorious Epoch.” Classics from the band’s substantial catalog were brought out for the occasion as well, including “Burial Ground” from their debut, and “Father You’re Not a Father” from Close to a World Below. The band mixed and matched various tracks from their extensive discography before closing it out with a blistering version of “Passion Kill.” Another convincing performance from these death metal greats, easily wiping away much of the shred-first songs later mentality of most of the new death metal acts out these days in one quick and deadly blow. If you couldn’t make it out for this one, make sure to catch them on their tour with label mates VADER later on in the Fall for a textbook performance in death metal ass-kicking.

IMMOLATION – Majesty and Decay

For over 20 years, IMMOLATION has continued to raise the bar for quality underground metal and on their eighth full-length, Majesty and Decay, the Yonkers NY quartet shows no signs of softening up or slowing down. “The Purge” sets the stage for the onslaught to come, taking the listener through a labyrinth of twisted, convoluted riffs and blasting drum patterns. But to the band’s credit, they allow plenty of room for the riffs to breathe and the listener to absorb them which makes the onslaught a little easier to digest. The pace continues with urgency throughout most of Majesty and Decay. However, the band’s subtle use of dynamics and ability to pull back on the aggression speaks volumes of the band’s maturity as they are able to interject plenty of atmosphere into the proceedings that balances out the audio beating the listener experiences. The band also benefits from an overall clearer, fuller mix courtesy of Zach Ohren (DECREPIT BIRTH, ALL SHALL PERISH) then on previous releases, allowing the album’s more intricate details to come to the forefront. Majesty and Decay’s greatest strength maybe the overall feeling of dread and doom throughout the album, punctuated by the band’s continuous ominous atmosphere throughout. Perhaps their strongest, most mature effort to date, yet nonetheless as vicious and relentless as when the first unleashed Dawn of Possession on an unsuspecting public so many years ago. It should go without saying, but if you are a fan of quality death metal, you need to pick this up right now. (Nuclear Blast Records)

IMMORTAL @ Masonic Temple, Brooklyn, NY (03/30/10)

Having experienced some heavy storms that past weekend, New York residents eagerly awaited the arrival of Spring. But before April would usher in the sunshine, there would be one more night of rain and darkness. As irritated patrons waited impatiently through the unnecessarily long security lines, many (adorably adorned in corpse paint) waited with baited breath for the arrival of Norway’s darkest northern sons.

I missed 99% of BLACK ANVIL‘s set due to the lines. However, I was still able to catch their staple song “777” a dark catchy mid-tempo track that comes across as an unreleased CELTIC FROST song with Jeff Walker from CARCASS on vocals. The band has made a name for themselves with a relentless touring schedule and should definitely be checked out for all those interested in another band that worships at the HELLHAMMER/CELTIC FROST altar. Plus, they usually end with a solid rendition of “Dethroned Emperor.”

After a fairly quick set up, an ominous marching snare signaled the arrival of the Norwegian troupe as they launched into the title track of their new album, All Shall Fall. Mosh pits quickly unfurled and drinks were spilled. A thunderous tom pounding from man mountain Horgh quickly followed as he propelled follow-up, “Rise of Darkness,” with driving rhythm. As tight as bolts and nuts, the three-piece sounded like an army as they plowed through tracks from Sons of Northern Darkness, including the title track and the punchy fist-raising anthem, “Tyrants.”

Returning to more All Shall Fall material, the band kept the faithful alive with continuous permeating fog, lights, corpse paint, spikes, and an all encompassing sound that reflected all things great about a metal show. While showmanship these days seems to be heading out as a thing of the past or perhaps deemed as cliché or campy, the band has handled such trends with aplomb, ably backing up their onstage theatrics with strong, powerful, catchy material.

Heading into the past, fans were then treated to classic material from Pure Holocaust as well as tracks such as “Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms,” “Withstand the Fall of Time,” and “Battles in the North” before ending the set with “Blashyrkh the Mighty Raven Dark.” No encores, no nonsense, just a sharp effective live experience from one of the few remaining originators of True Norwegian Black Metal.