SLAYER – World Painted Blood

For almost thirty years, SLAYER has unleashed no-frills, no-bull speed metal setting the benchmark for countless acts to follow. They have stuck to their guns and remained unflinching in their approach to uncompromising metal. On their 10th proper studio album, World Painted Blood, the Cali-quartet digs into their extensive bag of metal tricks with another strong offering. The title track starts with an ominous almost SABBATH-like vibe before drummer Dave Lombardo kicks things in to gear and sets the album’s tone with some effective hard-hitting. This continues throughout the first three tracks and one can only marvel at the fact that most of these veterans are in their 40’s. Nonetheless, the band comes on strong attacking the material with the enthusiasm of youngsters half their age. “Beauty through Order” sees the band adopt a more sinister vibe before kicking in full-throttle throughout the remainder of the song. Lead off “single” “Hate Worldwide” keeps the full-throttle spirit alive, but it’s Dave Lombardo‘s incorporation of blast beats on “Public Display of Dismemberment” and closing track “Not of This God” that really set SLAYER apart from the other “big three” of thrash. SLAYER is willing to go that extra mile and pull out all the stops to keep up with the never ending plethora of metal bands coming out of the wood works as many of their contemporaries are content to sit back or get out of the way of the competition. But while SLAYER is SLAYER, and the band’s commitment and intention is clearly evident, World Painted Blood isn’t without its faults. “Human Strain” plods along in an uninspired manner, coming across as unfinished idea rather than a complete song. “Americon,” with its oddly preachy political bent about oil, drives along like a more aggressive metal-oriented MINISTRY song than something one would expect from these genre leaders. The peculiar “Playing with Dolls” also comes out of left field, delivering an odd curiosity rather than the face smashing thrash or a disturbing sense of atmosphere that the band is usually known for. But those are minor complaints, as the majority of World Painted Blood brings it strong, standing tall against the grain and holding true to the strength of metal that many of have forgotten. (American Recordings)

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GOATWHORE – Carving Out the Eyes of God

On album four from these masters of blackened death, GOATWHORE unleashes possibly their most focused, structured work to date with Carving Out the Eyes of God. Opening track “Apocalyptic Havoc” opens up the flood gates with a fist-pumping metal anthem replete with sing along hook, “Who needs a God when you’ve got Satan?” Relentless and energetic in its pace, the song sets the tone for the album, balancing hooks with aggression. “The All Destroying” keep the blasting on point, but the band tempers the speed with flowing angry riffs that eventually settle in to a CELTIC FROST/HELLHAMMER-worshipping groove that GOATWHORE has become known for. “In Legions I am Wars of Wrath” is the album’s centerpiece – delivering a relentless torrent of speed with a driving attack before changing it up with some clever half tempo sections, highlighted by a Schuldiner-inspired solo from guitarist Sammy Duet channeling the mighty late DEATH guitarist. The bottom heavy groove from Nathan Bergeron keeps things nice and punchy throughout, while drummer Zack Simmons pounds the snot out of his drums. In the thick of it all, vocalist Ben Falgoust snarls, growls, and shouts his way through the proceedings (with some backup help from guitarist Duet), weaving tales of death, darkness, woe, and decay throughout the album. Erik Rutan captures the band’s blasphemy with skill, offering greater clarity than on the album’s predecessor The Haunting Curse as well as the band’s earlier, muddier releases. But the standout is Sammy Duet who delivers his most melodic involved solos to date, and to his credit, offers guitar work that enhances the songs as oppossed to drowning them with flashy overly technical playing. Ominous closer “To Mourn & Forever Wander Through Forgotten Doorways” finishes the album on a strong note offering up one of the band’s better songs to date. All in all, a fine outing from America’s finest blackened metal troupe. (Metal Blade Records)

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VADER, DECREPIT BIRTH, WARBRINGER, THE AMENTA @ Blender Theater, New York, New York (11/06/09)

I arrived at the Blender Theater shortly as Canada’s AUGURY hit the stage (I’m not sure how ROSE FUNERAL sounded or fared in front of the packed Blender crowd, they could have been atrociously bad or phenomenal, but I’m sure they have a myspace for you to check out).
AUGURY specializes in sweeping guitar runs, overly technical passages, and competent albeit somewhat bland song structures that neither offend or impress. A tour with THE FACELESS would be ideal, as both bands keep their performances extremely stiff, yet tight, setting up an evening of music appreciation as opposed to rocking out in any way. Drummer Robin Stone of THE AMENTA filled in admirably on the kit filling in for the recently departed Antoine Baril for AUGURY and the band managed to be unimpressive yet solid at the same time.

Up next was THE AMENTA from Down Under making their U.S. tour debut. Offering up industrial-tinged blackened death, the Aussies blasted their way through material from their excellent Occasus debut as well as offering up some tracks from follow up, n0n. Vocalist Cain Cressal does the psycho singer thing well, contorting his face in any number of weirdo positions as the band plowed away through their set.

WARBRINGER arrived next much to the delight of numerous pre-pubescent attendees who have no interest in “the old man thrash” sounds of classic bands such as DARK ANGEL, SLAYER, or EXODUS, and have instead opted to be wowed by a band stealing riffs from the aforementioned. Nevertheless, WARBRINGER received strong support as the kids chanted the band’s name with great enthusiasm. While I’m still not 100% sold on their “Johnny-come-lately new thrash on the block” sound, the band has improved significantly since their early tour with NILE, and kept the crowd rocking throughout their short set.

Santa Cruz, California isn’t known for being a hotbed of death metal talent, but ambassadors DECREPIT BIRTH made a strong case for the SC scene as they unleashed a strong set of punishing tracks that flip flopped between material from As Time Begins and Diminishing Between Worlds. Unlike some tech-shred bands that focus entirely on out-teching one another (and in the process lose some grit), DECREPIT BIRTH keeps the fury intact, balancing intensity with technical skill. Charismatic frontman Bill Robinson (who looks more like a member of BUZZOVEN than a death metal singer) kept the audience engaged as the band continued their onslaught. They even previewed a track that they will be on their next album, but unfortunately the title escapes me as it was mumbled by Robinson. Nonetheless it offered up a nice preview of what’s in store from this promising band next year.

Poland’s VADER finally arrived on the scene, and despite the seemingly endless amounts of line-up changes throughout the band’s career, frontman/guitarist/mainman Peter has soldiered on. And for this tour at least, he brought along the very capable Vogg from DECAPITATED.

Despite some shaky sound issues with the venue, the band worked through the classic “Sothis,” with Vogg being able to adjust and nail a lead shortly after a frantic roadie handed him his replacement guitar in mid-song. “Rise of the Undead” from their new Necropolis album kept the proceedings moving along nicely. The band unleashed a plethora of classics from the deep VADER catalog. “Wings,” “Carnal,” “Silent Empire,” “Black to the Blind,” all turned Manhattan into a pit as the band methodically and surgically drove the point home. Apparently Peter had been battling sickness, but based on his fluid solos, crunching rhythms, and throat-scraping vocals, you’d never know the difference as he and band delivered the metal goods with nary a misstep. But Vogg was the highlight of the show as he ripped through the leads like a man possessed , boding well for the future of DECAPITATED. VADER closed out the set with “Dark Age” before heading in to a mini-encore with tracks from The Art of War EP .

Once again, Vader displayed why almost 30 years later, they still deliver the pinnacle of Polish death metal and still possess enough firepower for many more killer tours down the road.

SATYRICON – The Age of Nero

On their seventh full-length album, Norwegian veterans SATYRICON continue the path of “Black n’ Roll” they started ten years ago on their Rebel Extravaganza album. The lackluster “Commando” kicks off the proceedings with some promising speed and force before settling into a plodding, sluggish groove that goes nowhere fast. However, the band recovers with the next two tracks that offer catchy, albeit simple, driving rhythms that neither offend or challenge the listener. The Age of Nero finally hits pay dirt with the one-two punch of “Die By My Hand” and “My Skin is Cold,” in which the band finally mixes things up, offering a balanced attack of speed, dynamics, and tempo shifts. Unfortunately, SATYRICON loses momentum with the next songs offering little in the way of variety, instead meandering around with some bland, uninspired song writing and performances. Closer “Den Siste” brings in some atmosphere, and the use of trombones in a black metal song is unconventional, but it becomes a case of too little, too late. The Age of Nero isn’t necessarily a bad album, as much as it’s a safe, somewhat predictable affair, especially when one considers that this band was responsible for the incinerating Nemesis Divina album. SATYRICON has it in them for many more great albums in the future, but Satyr and company are going to have to mix it up with some variety and depth to their songwriting as opposed to simply rehashing safe, ok versions of a successful formula. (E1 Music)

SUFFOCATION – Blood Oath

Maturity. Not exactly a word one associates with blasting death metal. But twenty years into their career, SUFFOCATION have once again taken their bludgeoning sonic force and compressed it into a 41-minute eardrum assault in Blood Oath.

From the get-go, the band displays a much more methodical approach. The opening track, “Blood Oath,” gradually building layers of thick, bottom-heavy riffage, as oppossed to hammering the listener head-on. Instead creating an atmosphere of dread before the eventual pummeling. “Dismal Dream,” on the other hand, commences with the aural beatdown, almost immediately delivering a torrent of blasting speed. This is offset by the anchor-heavy “Cataclysmic Purification,” which features some absurdly crushing riffs during the song’s mid-section as well as it’s ending. “Mental Hemorrhage” meanwhile executes a complex maze of riffing that shifts from blinding speed to dense layers of powerful, epic peaks with a series of tempo and dynamic changes.

Lyrically the band covers a variety of upbeat material such as gang violence, religious corruption, and apocalyptic showdowns, etc. But perhaps the most revealing, heart-felt lyrics come from divorcee Frank Mullen, whose graphic description of disemboweling his ex-wife in “Marital Decimation,” is sure to become a classic for all those who may have had a bad break up, SUFFO-style.

All in all, Blood Oath is the SUFFOCATION their fans know and love, yet delivering a much more mature piece that may require repeat listenings to pick up all the details. A bit of a challenge for those unable to tolerate the hammering on top of the subtleties, but ultimately resulting in a longevity that most of this generations “metal by MySpace” bands will fail to attain. (Nuclear Blast)

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INSECT WARFARE – World Extermination (Reissue)

Originally released some two years ago on 625 Thrashcore, the band was picking up some speed in the underground before unfortunately throwing in the towel. But thanks to reissue kings Earache Records, World Extermination is back in circulation offering up 20 tracks of fast, explosive grindcore. With subtle and not-so-subtle nods at grind legends NAPALM DEATH, TERRORIZER, PHOBIA, and some EXCRUCIATING TERROR and EXTREME NOISE TERROR thrown in for good measure, the LP is a text book excursion into quality hate-filled grind the way it was meant to be. Everything is quick, relentless, and unapologetic, yet not without significant song structure. There’s enough dirt for the crusties, but enough clarity and efficiency for the metal heads. As far as reissues go, there’s nary a bonus track to be found, so if you were down with INSECT WARFARE prior to 2009, there’s really no reason to pick this up. But for the rest of you snoozing on the job, INSECT WARFARE‘s World Extermination isn’t a recommended purchase, but a mandatory one as it may be a while before a grind release this awesome comes down the pike again. (Earache Records)

MESHUGGAH w/ CYNIC and THE FACELESS @ Irving Plaza, New York, NY (2/19/09)

Both fans and scalpers alike converged in front of Irving Plaza scrambling for last minute tickets to MESHUGGAH‘s sold out return to New York back on February 19th, 2009. Braving harsh winds, frigid climate, and recession, devoted metal fans prevailed packing the main floor to the gills well before before opening act, THE FACELESS.

As one of the 200 bands featured on last year’s Summer Slaughter tour, THE FACELESS unfortunately lived up to their name and didn’t particularly stand out amongst the competition. With the daunting task of opening up for two influential, highly acclaimed acts, THE FACELESS held their composure, but did little to impress. The band offered a surplus of arpeggios, sweeps, blast beats, and technical tomfoolery, but provided little in the way of memorable riffs or a powerful live experience. The apathetic crowd was unmoved, and the band looked just as bored playing the material as the audience was to hear it.

Up next was CYNIC, who I hadn’t seen in some 15 years since their tour with CANNIBAL CORPSE and SINISTER.  The band launched in to a subdued, introspective performance, perfectly recreating the experience of their new album Traced in Air. CYNIC effortlessly transitioned between newer tracks, such as “The Space for This,” and classics from Focus such as “Veil of Maya“, “How Could I” and “A Celestial Voyage“. The crowd wasn’t particularly fired up as much as they were captivated, and offered a rousing applause upon set’s end.
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OUTLAW ORDER – Dragging Down the Enforcer

Scathing, alcoholic, vitriolic, cavity-inducing sludge metal from New Orleans? What are the odds? Who wants to bet that members of EYEHATEGOD and SOILENT GREEN are involved? On their followup to 2003’s Legalize Crime EP, OUTLAW ORDER‘s debut album, Dragging Down the Enforcer, unleashes the disdain and agony one would expect from these hurricane surviving parolees with a palpable rage that practically oozes out of your speaker. Essentially EYEHATEGOD without Jimmy Bower, OUTLAW ORDER doesn’t stray far from that sound. Although the songs are less bluesier and more immediate, they drive “singer” Michael D. William‘s piss and vinegar filled points home in a much more direct and focused manner. Engineer/producer David Troia soaks up the band’s rage with more clarity than EYEHATEGOD‘s albums. But make no mistake, Dragging Down the Enforcer is as mean and filthy as they come. Another unflinchingly bleak outlook on life and the world as captured by four anguished, yet talented souls, forming a whiskey-soaked mountain of malice, suitable only for those brave enough to listen. (Season of Mist Records)

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PHOBIA – 22 Random Acts of Violence

Supposedly punk rock is dead, but apparently someone forgot to tell PHOBIA as the band continues its seemingly non-stop assault with the release of 22 Random Acts of Violence. Tempering the anarcho-crust punk fury with technical precision, PHOBIA‘s latest is dark and dirty, but as sharp as a surgeon’s razor. Having blastmaster Danny Walker (INTRONAUT, EXHUMED, UPHILL BATTLE) unleash blast after furious blast interspersed with flurries of fills couldn’t hurt, nor does the inclusion of former IMPALED/INTRONAUT alum Leon Del Muerte, who delivers both bass and guitar solos. Capturing the mayhem is former PHOBIA drummer John Haddad, with mixing and mastering from PIG DESTROYER‘s Scott Hull. As most bands heading into their twentieth year tend to slow down or soften up, riffmaster Steve Burda and frontman Shane McLachlan only seem to be writing faster riffs and angrier vocal lines. At just under a half hour, PHOBIA doesn’t waste time with pedestrian bullshit, choosing instead to keep the beatings coming at a relentless, breakneck pace. A testament to the band’s longevity and perseverance, 22 Random Acts of Violence serves as yet another triumph for California’s kings of crust grind. (Willow Tip Records)

ENSLAVED – Vertebrae

Ten albums in to the band’s musical evolution, the mighty ENSLAVED continues to refine their richly developed progressive elements with the release of Vertebrae. Introspective and imaginative, the listener is essentially given a virtual soundtrack provoking images of high mountains,dark woods and deep fjords. Taking their time and with great attention to detail, the band utilizes open spaces to paint involved, textured audio pictures. Sounding both immense and warm at the same time, Vertebrae allows the listener to absorb the structured, well-thought out melodies without resorting to overly technical or busy trickery. Constantly shifting and building, the album will probably alienate most ADD-ridden music fans, but those patient enough to commit to the album will find new rewards with each new listen. Helping to capture the band’s vision is TOOL producer Joe Barresi, whose crystal clear clarity with the mix help’s realize the album’s unique subtleties. Frontman Grutle Kjellson offers a nice balance between rich, clean melodies and harsh black metal snarls. Musically, it’s hard to pick out any real individual highlights as each instrument compliments one another and blends forth as a strong unit as oppossed to one musician outshining another. This great chemistry between the band members complimenting one another greatly strengthens the overall performances on Vertebrae making the band’s grand ideas a reality. With the release of Vertebrae, ENSLAVED has once again reached a new plateau in the world of mind-expanding progressive black metal. (Nuclear Blast Records)