Friday, February 27, 2009

G&P review: Napalm Death

Napalm Death
Time Waits for No Slave
Century Media
Napalm Death seem intent on proving they have nothing left to prove to grind a quarter century after the band essentially invented (or at least labeled and popularized) grindcore.
Free of the pressure to be the most extreme extremity that ever extremed, Napalm Death give reign to some of the other influences that have haunted the peripheries of their songwriting on 13th studio effort Time Waits for No Slave. And this time out the Voivod and Amebix DNA comes to the fore. On the whole Napalm mix up the tempos more this outing, comfortably cruising at crust punk speeds and using the blast beats more as accent points.
Barney reliably remains the most dominant frontman in metal and the band is hitting with a machine-like efficiency as they carve their way through 50 minutes of new material, further streamlining and refining the sound they’ve chased on their two prior Century albums.
“On the Brink of Extinction” brims with thrash triplets and “Life and Limb” could have stepped out of time capsule from Fear, Emptiness, Despair, clutching from punk chug to its blasterpiece theater close. The titular song brings back the Gregorian chanting vocals that laced Smear Campaign’s “Freedom is the Wage of Sin,” mixing up the layered, clean voices with an industrial refrain. “A No-Sided Argument” even sees Mitch Harris whip out a guitar solo that alone is worth the price of admission.
While the cameos that cluttered up the previous two albums have been left on the cutting room floor (“This album contains no cameos, thank you very fucking much,” according to the liner notes), Napalm Death don’t seem to be content to merely rehash their salad days, so if you’re waiting for FETO or Utopia Banished 2.0 this album isn’t for you. If, instead, you’re willing to take the journey with a band that’s unshackled by the need to please, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.
However, in one sign the old dogs learned a few new tricks, the band did finally manage to release a post-Earache album completely devoid of cliché song titles. That’s worth giving it a listen right there.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

G&P review: Cattle Decapitation

Cattle Decapitation
The Harvest Floor
Metal Blade
I only adopt shelter animals. I donate to the ASPCA. I obsessively watch Animal Cops. Hell, I’m man enough to publicly cop to my love of Cute Overload (and before you cast aspersion on my sexuality, may I direct your attention to the Cats ‘n’ Racks section.) So I think I could get down with the Cattle Decapitation guys despite my omnivorous habits.
For all you meat munchers, The Harvest Floor is a gore flecked guided tour of the killing rooms that provide you with the shrink wrapped slabs of red dye #2 flesh you find at your local supermarket.
Sacrificing some of the heft and speed of Karma, Bloody Karma for clarity and precision, Cattle Decapitation unleash the latent tech and black metal elements that have lurked beneath the carcass. An ambient, black Xathur-like film coats The Harvest Floor like a rancid slick of grease. Travis Ryan gives rein to his Nordic screech on lead off song “The Gardens of Eden.” Closer “Regret and the Grave’s” burbling bass and placid violins could have been lifted off of any Mindrot album before giving way to black metal by way of power sanders.
Between the black metal cheese gratings and the Jarboe guest spots (“Regret and the Grave” and the title track), Cattle Decapitation ladle up bowls of hearty (meatless) death metal and grindcore.
My only complaint with the whole album is the drum production. New skinsman David McGraw octopoidally assaults his kit with molar rattling blasts and tattooing fills, but, unfortunately, for him, the thin kick drum sound makes it sound like he’s pounding on a battered Selectric.
But that’s a quibble in the face of the animal slaughter house stun line assault Cattle Decapitation unleash.
And I bet they like Cute Overload too.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Razing Arizona: Phoenix, Bloody Phoenix

Here’s pretty much all I know about Arizona: Alice Cooper has chosen to move there and live out his dotage playing golf and slinging hotdogs; its local sporting club recently lost some sort of athletic event of note; and, mercifully, its senior senator is not our 44th president.
Beyond that, I have no clue how that sunbaked corner of the United States spawned some of the most interesting and challenging metal and hardcore ever set to tape in the shape of Unruh, Wellington and everything that came after. But I should have figured a healthy dose of suburban teenage angst and open minds were part of its roots.
“We were a bunch of skater kids,” said Mike Bjella, bassist for Unruh, Wellington and Black Hell. "Hardly anything was cooler than carving a pentagram or the word ‘fuck’ into a lunch table. Music became something for our angst, we could scream at jocks, skinheads, war, sexism, racism, everything.”
Though Bjealla and guitarist Ryan Butler, the other piston that keeps Phoenix metal firing, would first cross paths playing pop punk, it was sludge trudge trio Wellington that they took their first steps toward crafting some unique and searing in its honesty.
“We loved Dystopia, Rorschach, and Eyehategod and kinda mixed the three,” Butler said. “We just loved sludge and doom.”
The collaboration would ultimately find Bjella upping the tempo when he joined grind and punk progenitors Unruh to write and record the crucial classic Setting Fire to Sinking Ships, which Butler said drew heavily from his love of Assuck, Integrity, Voice of Reason, Entombed and Rorschach.
Part of what seems to make the Copper State’s musical culture so diverse is the pushmi-pullyu dynamic of Butler’s need for grindcore speed and Bjella’s leaden stride to doomsville.
“I can only really speak for Bjella and I, but it's definitely safe to say the we're both into really diverse music,” Butler said. “Obviously we love the heavy stuff more than anything else and I'm way more into death metal and he's way more into stoner rock.”
Their metallic tortoise and hare routine kept them and their co-conspirators from sinking into the same kind of Xerox stagnation that would plague a place like Gothenburg. But the pioneering music of Unruh and Wellington and all that followed can’t be traced back to some specific to Arizona, Bjella said. Instead, it was a case of thinking globally and acting locally.
“We would read about other ‘scenes’ around the country even internationally and we just wanted to become a part of that,” Bjella said. “Not to say it didn't exist in Arizona because it did, there were shows, clubs, bands we just weren't a part of that yet. Eastside records would let us browse the zines and hang out. Bands appearing heavily on my mixtapes were, EHG, Grief, Corrupted, MITB, Dystopia, Carcinogen, Rorshach, Brutal Truth. To me the influences are obvious. We wanted to be metal and our ability made us what it was. So yeah, I think the scene influenced us but it was on a global and personal scale not just something from Arizona.”
That desire for forward thinking experimentation doesn’t stop just because a band has coalesced and its component members have roughly agreed on a sound, Bjella said. No band’s sound is set in stone.
“Black Hell is taking all of our past experiences and influences and approaching that with song writing. The goal is to write songs. We’re trying. There are a lot of personalities and ideas that get involved,” he said. “When you talk about difference between bands wait till you hear how different the new album is compared to the last. A lot of us in the band think if you liked the last album chances are you’re going to hate this one; it’s that different. Hopefully that is not the case.”
Though he may be channeling Earache circa 1989 with day job band Landmine Marathon, Butler, who hopes to release some long shelved songs from a grindcore side project with Phobia’s Shane McLachlan soon, said he’s open to an ever wider array of influences these days, particularly after a long day sitting in the producers chair recording other people’s music.
“If I have to work with some metal band who's not so great for 40 hours, then I'll probably put on some Elliott Smith,” he said. “And sometimes it works the opposite, like, I'm working with the Funeral Pyre right now and they're very good at melodic Swedish black metal riffs and it makes me want to pull out certain records of that style. Generally, though, I won't want to listen to music for a few hours after I work until I've settled down and want to read a book or something. Eight to 10 hours a day of the same songs over and over is often more than enough music for a day.”
Despite that mash of influences, even Butler is at a loss to explain Phoenix’s musical fecundity.
“I don't think there's anything in the water that makes us do varied stuff,” Butler said. “We're just music fans, ya know? Most bands I've started have started with a loose blueprint and generally go in a little different direction, which is only natural.”

Friday, February 20, 2009

Razing Arizona: Landmine Marathon

Landmine Marathon
Rusted Eyes Awake
Level Plane
Amazing what a guitarist transfusion was able accomplish for these throwback Arizonans. Landmine Marathon’s debut ,Wounded, was a workmanlike slab of deliberate Scum sloppiness, Bolt Thrower’s martial rumble and sly Repulsion humor, but Rusted Eyes Awake stepped up the game with the addition of six stringers Ryan Butler and Jeff Owens who suture Uffe Cederlund solos and riffing to the band’s reanimated ’90s metal corpse.
Butler had produced Wounded, started brief lived grind band Mercitron (that name out to be familiar to Unruh fans) and even went curb stomping with Noo Yawk hardcore outfit North Side Kings before bringing his bone saw solo style to opener “Bile Tower” and “World Eater”-Jr. riffs to “Heroin Swine.” Mid-album standout “Xenocide’s” final psychotic eclipse from Obituary swamp crawl to Bolt Thrower breach charge hearkens back to Unruh’s sludge swing to tooth-rattling grind and provides the kind of album dynamics that mark Landmine Marathon as serious death metal contenders in a severely overcrowded cemetery.
Mike Pohlmer has always been incarnated adrenaline behind a drum kit and Grace Perry could lay Phil Anselmo low with her delivery, but Rusted Eyes Awake’s vastly improved songwriting and dynamics (check out the awesome spiral riff on “Bled to Oblivion” right after Perry tries to “break this cage” with the sheer force of her hair raising screech) have lifted Landmine from overhyped curiosity to rightful scions of the Warmaster.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Razing Arizona: Black Hell

Black Hell
Deformers of the Universe
Hater of God
Skew your perspective slightly and suddenly the golf and geezer friendly climes of Arizona seem less like a liverspot mecca and a tad more like a sun blasted hellscape where nothing will grow and yards have to be painted green. All of which must have been gnawing at Mike Bjella’s subconscious post-Unruh when the bassist recruited two thirds of fellow doomsters Carol Ann to form Black Hell, giving free reign to the stoner sludge anthems that had always been lurking wraithlike at the haunted edges of his songwriting on sole sludge manifesto, Deformers of the Universe.
Sheer away the obligatory intro and overlong ambient closer and you’re left with six, six, six tracks of swinging blackened doom. If you have visions of early High on Fire or Electric Wizard dancing in your heads, you’re not far off. But Andrew, I can hear you say, why do I need another Nth generation Black Sabbath clone when just about every doom band since after forever has dry humped that corpse into submission. Astute question, little grasshopper. The difference being where most members of the low and slow club seem fixated on “Sweet Leaf” and “Snowblind,” Black Hell are among the few to descant the insalubrious vibes of their forefathers, the corrosive paranoia of the Cold War, urban blight ennui and the misanthropic certainty humanity will leave nothing more than a smoking, radioactive crater as its cenotaph.
Black Hell draws more from Sabbath’s apocalyptic “Electric Funeral” and “Hand of Doom,” chronicling the end times when nuclear dukes (“Nuclear Duke,” which makes way for Iron Maiden twin guitar goodness beyond all the plodding) rain gasoline (“Rain Gasoline”) until everything burns (“Burn,” a galloping march to the end of the universe).
Black Hell proudly wear their Sabbathisms on their long sleeves and while they may not be the Masters of Reality, they have successfully deformed their particular corner of the universe.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Razing Arizona: Structure of Lies

Structure of Lies
Deep Six
After setting fire to a sinking Unruh, guitarist Ryan Butler and drummer Bill Fees sieved death metal chops and bulk through hardcore ethics and aggression with Structure of Lies.
The unholy spawn of a hitherto unrecounted Brokeback moment between Lennie Small and George Milton, Structure of Lies was a heavy shod behemoth that tried to balance dexterous Unruh songsmithing with crushing avalanche sonics.
Between splits with likeminded death/grinders Misery Index and Iranach, Structure of Lies gave the world Abacus, their sole solo effort, an 18 minute exploration of speed, shrieks and shred.
Album standout “Four Pinnacle Peaks” boasts neo-classical noodling atop a frosty black riff and blastbeat one-two punch that would even make the most grimm member of the korpsepaint kvlt bust a grin. “Masters of Nothing’s” hints of melody devolve into a crossover crust assault and chug-a-lug break stuff outrage as Fees leaves no section of his kit unsmashed and vocalist Cory Smith forcibly extracts his own tonsils without the aid of anesthesia.
The ligaments and connective tissue of the cyclopean beast were knit by bassist Christ Rutledge’s low slung but no less nimble fretwork, providing the sloshing, churning guts that powered the machine, freeing up Butler and second guitarist Adam Cogswell to lose the rhythm guitar and perform their Murray/Smith tradeoffs on “Burying the Undead.”
Unfortunately, like doomed Lennie, Structure of Lies was euthanized well before its time.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Razing Arizona: Wellington

Deep Six
Coeval with Unruh, Ryan Butler and Mike Bjella dropped the BPMs and a few octaves in Wellington, combining prime Cavity with the B side of My War for a stomp and stumble cacophony that shared wax with Noothgrush and shelf space with Grief.
Like those bands, Wellington’s testicle swinging sludge rested on an infrastructure of iron girded hardcore. Frilly shirts, bottles of Chablis and lame romantic poetry are nowhere in sight. This is street level gloom that barks back the toxic sludge of ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide we breathe in each day overtop simmering rush hour rage riffs and creaking subway drumming.
While Butler and Bjella are dynamic, engaging songwriters, Wellington’s secret cache of WMDs was stashed atop the drum riser. While other doom and sludge drummers only stir from their Vicodin stupors every five or six measures to pound out a solitary beat, Gordon Heckaman pounds his kit like somebody slipped him a PCP mickey on “Friend, Son” and even ramps up to proto-blastbeat speeds on “Isolated in Despair.” “Harness” and “Shoes” actually rock out, which is rare for a sludge song and “Interlude” may be the best shotgun marriage of desultory doom and blastbeats outside of Disembowelment. Please try not to hold it against Wellington that Heckaman currently backstops Boston puss-metalers Powerman 5000.
Musically, one of Wellington’s most impressive feats was their bold use of white space for songwriters so young. The haunting drums only passages of “Please” recollect the Melvins’ “Oven” or Harvey Milk whisper to wail dynamics.
More than just a “featuring members of…” kind of band, Wellington deserve recognition for both their songwriting risks and successes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Razing Arizona: Unruh (Part 2)

Setting Fire to Sinking Ships
A scorched earth masterpiece of punk and metal, Unruh’s farewell album is a fevered holocaust of raining brimstone that saw the quartet stretching its collective creativity to sculpt music out of living flame. Everything that made Misery Strengthened Faith such a quiet landmark was goosed up another notch on Setting Fire to Sinking Ships.
The Phoenix quartet were clearly serious about growing as drummer Bill Fees and guitarist Ryan Butler broke out piano and viola to grace their hardcore meets grind at a Noothgrush swapmeet aesthetic on opener “Spoonful of Tar,” which undergirds Terrorizer grind with rolling hardcore circle pit drums and Mike Edwards’ gargling with Drano punk wail. The tribal drumming and ringing note opener of “Finite” could have been lifted any transitional Neurosis album before the song is immolated Bolt Thrower tempo death metal. Adding to the stability and low and butchery was bassist Mike Bjella, Butler’s songwriting partner in Wellington, who stepped into the vacant four string slot before recording on Setting Fire started.
Though only recorded a year after Misery, Butler’s guitar playing had matured, giving Unruh a more expansive and confident edge. Butler was able to build off the meandering introductory riffs of both “Finite” and “Faded Tattoos,” fully incorporating their themes into the whole song despite Unruh’s penchant for sudden downshifts and spontaneous blasting.
What may have been Unruh’s most compelling trait was its anchor in everyday life. Where other metal bands were content with escapist fantasies of Satan, dragons or violent revolution, Unruh managed to turn a journalistic eye on the traumas, triumphs and tragedies going on around them without sliding into tuff guy/you stabbed me in the back hardcore cliché. The domestic dispute sample that kicks off “Complex” is disturbingly believable while “Layman’s Gallows” is the story of a laid off factory worker told in the spare, honest prose of Hemmingway.
While Unruh would only release one more song on a split with Creation is Crucifixion before internal turmoil pulled them apart, Setting Fire to Sinking Ships rightly remains a milestone of metal and hardcore.
Fittingly for a band from Phoenix, what was to rise from the ashes of Unruh would be just as spectacular.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Razing Arizona: Unruh (Part 1)

Inarguably the greatest family tree in metal is Napalm Death, which counts Godflesh, Jesu, a million Mick Harris solo albums, Cathedral and Carcass among its progeny and cousins while intermarrying with Benediction, Extreme Noise Terror, Righteous Pigs, Terrorizer and Unseen Terror. From that initial teenage trio we’ve gotten a lineage of bold experimentation and rough hewn gutter level artistry that’s unsurpassed in metal.
Though it may not boast as varied and lauded a pedigree as its British relations, America can boast its own idiosyncratic family tree of forward thinking metallions who continue to mold masterpieces out of punk, metal and sludge.
And it was birthed in Arizona of all places.

Misery Strengthened Faith
King of the Monsters
Named for a New Jersey spree killer from the 1940s, these skate punks’ unassuming debut album was the kind of hardcore and metal crossover record that you would expect to find on Prank right about this time, sharing more than a little musical headspace with Damad’s Rise and Fall.
Crust punk riffs played at grindcore speeds with an undercurrent of sludge dynamics, Unruh’s Misery Strengthened Faith built on the concussive assault shown on their earliest 7-inch, comp and split appearances, furthering refining the band’s mix of abrasive metal and atmospheric breaks and musical white space.
Guitarist Ryan Butler and the band’s ever shifting roster of bassists used their instruments like bludgeons, creating cudgels of sound while drummer Bill Fees mixed up his sheer speed with the kind of fills and deft touch unusual for a punk band.
The ominous build of “Ugly Inside” combusts with a scorched desert heat that once again dissipates, leaving a sizzling mirage in its wake while “Jab Job’s” neck-snapping grind-to-sludge transition hinted at the kind of artistry that would follow. Album closer “Fear and Loathing Among the Working Class’” no tempo guitar scrimshaw could have grace just about any Stephen O’Malley.
Lyrically, frontman Mike Edwards had a knack for stripmining blue collar unease – both religious and economic – on songs like “Fear and Loathing” and “Salt Lake of Fire and Brimstone.” The black eye sludge of “Rebirth of Family Values” stalks the album like a drunken, abusive – yet overly religious – father who takes Proverbs’ warning against sparing the rod a little too literally.
For all of Misery Strengthened Faith’s innovation, though, it was merely a taster platter for what would come next.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Life of Bryan: Grind’s Premiere Drummer Just Tries to Keep the Beat

Novelist David Foster Wallace hit upon an ingenious idea in his hefty tome Infinite Jest: at some point in the near future corporations will be able to buy the naming rights to individual years. So instead of 2009, this would be the Year of the Perdue Wonder Chicken. With that inspiration, I say we all pool our scratch and retroactively buy up 2008 at a reduced price and rename it the Year of Bryan Fajardo’s Unfuckwithable Blastbeat.
If there were ever a candidate for grindcore’s equivalent of the Hart Memorial Trophy, it would be Fajardo for his wrist-shattering efforts to out-Witte drumming ubermensch Dave Witte. The year 2008 alone saw the guy backstop Discordance Axis-Jr. Noisear, bolster Phobia’s live presence, help Kill the Client notch a new personal best and still found time to collaborate with Jon Chang on GridLink (which I heard put out a decent enough album). In addition to a day job like you and me.
Shit, my arms are tired just typing that and I guarantee you I wasn’t moving at 200 bpm while Jon Chang shrieked at me to go even faster.
“It gets pretty crazy when I have two tours booked and they coincide with each other,” Fajardo said. “And flying all over the country is just part of the game.”
In a slight twist on Edison’s formula for success, Fajardo has risen to the top of the grind heap through 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent location. Seems like that guy is always in the right place at the right time when top flight bands come calling.
Case in point: being invited to perform a Discordance Axis cover with Noisear for the Our Last Day compilation (the leftovers from which ended up on Pyroclastic Annhialation) opened the door for Fajardo to slide into GridLink during one of that band’s well publicized personnel reallocations.
“Well, they were having problems finding a drummer that was able to pull off the speed they needed with out adding too much,” Fajardo said. “I pretty much kept to Chang’s ideas but was able to add my own styles.”
And it’s not just those of us outside looking in flipping over Amber Gray’s psychotic mix of Discordance Axis and neon flashing, pachinko hall, cold coffee in an aluminum soda can Japanese goodness. Somebody else got a tad fanboy over Matsubara’s post-Mortalized shred as well.
“I am pretty happy with the way it all turned out,” Fajardo said. “The music is just as intense as we planned. I must say the guitar playing on the record is what makes it one of my own favorite grind releases. Matsubara is amazing!”
And remember what we said earlier, if you’re gonna score prime grind real estate, it’s all location, location, location.
“It was pretty easy hooking up with the KTC dudes,” he said. “I actually live in the same city as these guys so we have more time to focus on writing and keeping the bands sound up to par. As far as input on writing, ee all put in equal creative freedom. I knew I wanted this record to be more intense and tighter than the previous efforts. It also helped that I got back from a tour with Phobia a day before we started recording Cleptocracy so I was pretty warmed up.”
That easy transition went both directions.
“He loves playing music. That's all he wants to do,” Kill the Client mouthpiece Champ Morgan said.
For all the intensity you hear on vinyl, Morgan said Fajardo remains zen when it’s time to hit the studio or pile into a van for a show, which probably helps him juggle the kind of course load that would crush your average college freshman.
“Brian, or ‘Fajita' as I like to call him, brings real precession and power to KTC.,” Morgan said. “He's very, very technical and knows what he wants to hear in the songs. He really has a great feel for grind music and in that he strengthens the backbone of what we are as a band. His speed is sickening. That's all I can say. I watch him sometimes just wondering how his hands and feet move that fast.”
So to sum up: Fajardo anchored the best grind release of 2008, backstopped an unappreciated legend of American metal on stage and propelled Texas’ finest to new heights of rectal ripping goodness. Oh and Noisear plan to grace us with new issue by the close of 2009 as well as the second installment of the finest compilation series since the crucial Cry Now, Cry Later albums.
“[Noisear] are writing new material for a full length that will be released on Six Weeks hopefully by the end of the year. Also recording for the next This Comp Kills Fascists Vol. Two on Relapse,” Fajardo said.
And somehow this drummer doesn’t see himself as the current king of the blastbeat heap.
“I don't really see myself as a top contender in the grind world but I appreciate that people are noticing what I do,” Fajardo said.
Modesty is all well and good, but at this rate, we may have to save up to rename 2009 after the guy as well.

Monday, February 2, 2009

G&P review: Narcosis

Best Served Cold
The Narcosis boys could really learn a few lessons in P.R. Slogging through their meandering liner notes to discography Best Served Cold, I’m left with the impression they didn’t particularly care for most of their recordings, they couldn’t hold a line up together and that the band never had a clear identity or vision. But I guess if you’re reading that, they’ve already got your $15 so the joke’s on you.
Time was when Earache equaled quality grind. If you’re nostalgic and think Best Served Cold marks some return to the glory days of 1989, you’re going to be disappointed. I couldn’t tell you the last Earache album I bought and I’m beginning to remember why.
These young Brits clearly imbibed Napalm Death and Unseen Terror with their mother’s milk and a few pints of bitter, and while they make an adequate racket and near sound barrier speeds, I just never get a firm sense of who or what Narcosis were actually trying to be and after reading their liner notes, I’m not sure they ever had a clue either.
While Narcosis in various incarnations was a deliciously bass-heavy grind outfit, they just never gelled as songwriters to make their particular brand of noise compelling, especially on the 10 minutes spent feeding a gerbil into a woodchipper that was “With a Sickening Thud.”
Lame attempts at ha-ha funny song titles that even a post-coma Seth Putnam would leave on the cutting room floor (“If Being a Cunt was People, You’d be China,” “Just Because They Say Christ When You Walk Into a Room Doesn’t Make You Jesus”) just come off as tired and derivative. While, the faux Carcass and Man Is the Bastard artwork inside is indeed clever it’s just one more symptom of the same disease.
Too often this overlong collection becomes the grindcore equivalent of elevator music: something that just buzzes in the background.
While Best Served Cold is certainly economical in these tough times, dishing up nearly 80 minutes of grind over 51 tracks, only the songs from the Romance album, which are smartly placed front and center, are really going to be worth repeated listening. Many of the EP and horrifically tinny live tracks collected here also just regurgitate songs you may or may not have heard the first go round. Really, how many versions of “Screaming I Hate You While I Slit My Own Throat” does one person need?
Money’s tight these days so Brutalex has agreed to share. Save your ducats.