Friday, May 29, 2009

G&P Review: Jesus of Nazareth/Exploding Meth Lab

Jesus of Nazareth/Exploding Meth Lab
The Seed Mouth Collection
Crucial Blast
Neil Gaiman has excavated no few nightmares during his prolific and unsettling career, but the one that has always stuck with me was “The Doll’s House” arc of his masterwork The Sandman. Who other than Gaiman would take the apotheosis of human evil on earth – serial killers – and set them in a convention replete with serial killing discussion groups, fanboys seeking autographs and fading codgers reliving their salad days. That the setting is just so banal heightens the horror. (And for crossover goodness, read Jamie Delano’s “Family Man” arc from John Constantine – Hellblazer to find out why a keynoter missed the convention.)
Like the crazed murderer shindig anonymously checking into your local no tell motel, The Seed Mouth Collection is an unsettling alliance of two similarly twisted musical minds. Jesus of Nazareth (Jake Cregger of Triac) and Exploding Meth Lab (featuring Mason of Enemy Soil) both trade in nihilistic power electronics anti music intent on excoriating lizard brain level terrors from the darkest recesses of your skull.
Jesus of Nazareth’s album-opening six songs don’t stray too far from where The Shame of Being a Child left off: blasting drums providing scant purchase for white noise shrapnel cannons and digitally warped samples that bleed from song to song, creating a scrolling canvas of brief stabs of interweaving noise mining a rich vein of ore in your ear canal with a diamond bit power drill.
Exploding Meth Lab (go Google that one day for some inadvertent hilarity)turns in a single, lengthy malignantly metastasizing song (“Exploding Meth Lab Soup Kitchen”) that seethes through the air waves like randomly spinning the radio dial in hell. It’s disorienting, assaulting, abrasive, and that’s probably the point.
After assaulting each other for about 20 minutes with the rusted out junk in Tetsuo the Iron Man’s driveway, the noisemongers’ album-closing five song tag team is a (relatively) quiet collection of songs that aim for unsettling rather than outright abusive. Playing their strengths off of each other, the collaborative tracks are like the soundtrack to a wordless avant-garde student horror film shot on grainy, black and white digital camera through the fetid underbelly of some crumbling European city. Let’s say the Sedlec Ossuary just outside of Prague.
While The Seed Mouth Collection is an effective pairing of two like-minded practitioners of musical misanthropy, the question I still haven’t settled in my mind after more than a month is whether I actually enjoy it. While I anticipate The Shame of Being a Child will get regular re-airings, Seed Mouth, I think, will taunt me from its spot on the same shelf, questioning just how extreme my musical tastes are willing to go.

[Full disclosure: Jake Cregger kindly passed along a review copy.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

G&P Review: Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth
The Shame of Being a Child
Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Columbian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
Hiro used to feel that way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this is liberating. He no longer has to worry about trying to be the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken. The crowning touch, the one thing that really puts true world-class badmotherfuckerdom totally out of reach, of course, is the hydrogen bomb. If it wasn’t for the hydrogen bomb, a man could still aspire. Maybe find Raven’s Achilles’ heel. Sneak up, get a drop, slip a mickey, pull a fast one. But Raven’s nuclear umbrella kind of puts the world title out of reach.
Which is okay. Sometimes it’s all right just to be a little bad. To know your limitations. Make do with what you’ve got.

Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash
Pages 271-272

The ongoing arms race that is the world of underground metal has driven musicians to employ bizarre tunings, shred in exotic time signatures and push drum machines well beyond manufacturers’ performance recommendations all in the vain hope of, however briefly, being crowned the baddest motherfucker on the planet.
Not that I’m saying Jesus of Nazareth (aka Jake Cregger of Triac) will be laying claim to that particular title any time soon, but the potent mix of drum machine powered grindcore and scathing anti-music white noise power electronics capably bends two divergent yet equally extreme offshoots of the metal family tree into a single hybrid, robust sapling.
Mr. Stephenson’s pithy thoughts on badassery aside, Jesus of Nazareth’s power electronics grind actually bears draws far more from another sci fi icon’s oeuvre. Miniaturized squalls of white lightening FX box implosions, relentless electro-thump drum machine grind over J. Randall tonsil scrapings share a kinship with J.G. Ballard’s meditations on the meat-meets-machinery realities of post-industrial society.
Stretching Agoraphobic Nosebleed interludes into whole songs would make The Shame of Being a Child an otherwise enjoyable experience, Cregger pulls a nifty little trick halfway through his second album.
The entire albums swings on the fulcrum between the techno-martial drumbeat of grindcore core of track 11 (songs lack titles) and song 12’s contemplative ambient reverie. Though the demarcation isn’t perfect (song 16 is yet another lightspeed horrorscape) the majority of The Shame of Being a Child’s latter half is composed of longer pieces that channel a far more uplifting emotional tenor. That pivot is like an electro-grind Irreversible. The Shame of Being a Child transitions from fulminating nightmare noise to something altogether more beatific and exalting, ending the album on a transcendent note that betrays the cold, emotionless façade that mars so much of grind and electronic music.

[Full disclosure: Jake Cregger kindly passed along a review copy.]

Monday, May 25, 2009

Roger and Me

I’m not one of those trite make-lemonade-out-of-lemons kind of guys, but losing all my blog notes has not been the unmitigated disaster it could have been. To be honest, I felt like I was getting in a rut and was feeling lethargic and uninspired. Despite what my typo-riddled gonzoid editing may suggest, I actually try to plan and write my blog about a month ahead. So that means I often work in furious bursts with lengthy downtimes where I don’t really spend much time writing, and it’s in those lulls that I often feel the worst malaise.
My computer’s death came during one of those lulls where I was casting about for inspiration, and I found it in a counterintuitive source but one of my primary influences: Roger Ebert (and not just because we both married incredible black women).
Along with grindcore and 19th Century Russian literature, film completes the triumvirate of my passions. There’s a reason I reference so many films when I write about music. Trying to communicate the emotions aroused by something as abstract as music, it helps to be able to liken it to a known emotional quantity and film serves as a ready lingua franca.
If all you know of Ebert is the lame thumbs up/thumbs down/thumbs up your ass show from the 1980s, then you have been missing one of America’s most thoughtful and enthusiastic connoisseurs of film. Someone who is able to dissect Orson Welles’ technical mastery with a coterie of film students one day and voraciously consume the vapid, throwaway humor of something like Next Day Air with equal energy and set down in simple, evocative language just what it is about celluloid – or now digital video – that has captivated him for more than four decades.
Enthusiasm – that’s the takeaway here. I’ve been flipping through a couple of Ebert’s books lately where he dissects some of the greatest films – from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Roshomon – to explain why they are cultural markers and unpack the techniques that may only register subliminally while you watch.
Sure I subscribe to Decibel and troll the interwebs voraciously consuming other people’s thoughts on the music we all love and I pick apart the most talented writers to try to reverse engineer their thinking, learning from their offerings.
But my polestar remains Roger Ebert, a man whose proletarian prose (in the very best and most accessible sense) and infectious energy and cosmopolitan film consumption are unequalled by any other critic, professional or heartfelt amateur, in any other medium. Though it escaped me temporarily, it’s Ebert’s profound joy for his chosen medium that I hope to recapture as I dive back into the simple pleasures of metal played as fast as humanly possible.
That’s my goal: simple joy. Roger Ebert overflows with it, and it’s enough for me to forgive the fact that he hated Blue Velvet.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I'm in Ur Hard Drive Fucking Up Ur Files

Ahh, technology. So our computer died. Not that it was much of a surprise. We bought a replacement a few months ago, but we were still in the process of moving over some files. Like the next three weeks' worth of posts I'd written. Oh, and things like our vacation pics and half of our wedding photos. Doh.
So with a little luck the friendly nerds at Geek Squad will be able to salvage Ol' Bessie long enough for me to slide all my notes over to a jump drive. Otherwise, I'll be desperately trying to rewrite everything. And that really sucks since I'm only a third of a way through a trio of truly intriguing musical adventures featuring Jake Cregger.
Anyhow, things will likely be slow around here for the next week or so while I get this straightened out. Meanwhile, I recommend you avail yourselves of all the other intelligent people out there (conveniently listed to the right). Hopefully I'll be back up to regular posting speed in a few days.

Monday, May 18, 2009

G&P review: Triac

Blue Rooom
With all due respect to my good friend Apoctosis, Baltimore is a shit hole. This may be my D.C. bias showing, but seriously, if you wanted to give Maryland an enema, Bal’mer is where you stick it, hon. John Waters and a world class aquarium cannot make up for the fact that pretty much every bit of sleaze and violence you saw on The Wire was true. Maybe it’s the disease, corruption and choking ozone that permeates the ironically named Charm City that powers local residents like Misery Index and Quills.
Like their contemporaries, Triac specialize in raging kidney shots that split the difference between grind and hardcore like Capitalist Casualties and Excruciating Terror ripping up the greatest basement show ever.
But Triac aren’t content to beat you in a foot race on Blue Room. Just about every hardcore band has that one sludgy song. You know that long ass one that usually comes toward the end of the album and cools everything out. Triac lightly skip over that landmine by liberally sprinkling down tempo bruisers in between Jake Cregger’s (the pickled nun’s anus that powered the recent Drugs of Faith demo) blast beats for a far more varied mugging.
Like Wellington or Unearthly Trance’s crustier scabs, downshifted Triac seem to relish working you over with a tube sock full of useless Sacajawea coins. David Lynch-referencing (grok the distorted Dennis Hopper mug on the cover) almost-title-track “In the Blue Room” rides an oily tide of ringing Neurosis notes – those high, piercing wails that have served the San Franciscan treats so well over the years. “Isolation Tank” sways from creeping insanity to full psychotic break with the same emotional fragility that elevates Trap Them’s punch.
I can’t fathom why anyone would voluntarily live in Baltimore, but like Unsane and the Bowery, Triac manage to channel their environment crafting a soundtrack that speaks to their surroundings.

[Full disclosure: Jake Cregger kindly passed along a review copy.]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Rzeznia

Mathematic Grind
Remember the first George Bush? A demon to the left at the time, Bush Pere (whose wife would be a shoe in for the Nobel Peace Prize if she had swallowed more often during their early marriage) seems like a downright likeable guy and canny commander in chief in retrospect. And at a time when a neutered Republican Party can’t seem to form a coherent policy position that doesn’t rely on further tax cuts on the plutocracy, it’s especially delicious to hear defunct Poles Rzeznia kick off Mathematic Grind with the classic “Read my lips” sample that sank the elder Bush’s political career.
But don’t worry about the false advertising of the album’s name. Unlike fellow countryment Antigama, Rzeznia will not be asking you to whip out your Texas Instruments T-84 graphing calculators during their half an hour workout of scabbed over Repulsion bass and pathological Carcass gurgles. There’s not too much here that a five year old couldn’t calculate on one hand; and that’s not a pejorative.
Unlike Antigama, whose Large Hadron Collider-core is intent on inverting the laws of physics, Rzeznia spice their traditional grind outbursts with stabs of left field weirdness. “Rzeznik” double-foots the brake to make way for a mid-song atonal a capella break while the band lets off some steam (gas?) with the belched vocals of “Tek-kno L.”
Padding out Mathematic Grind’s brief, to the point 11 song running time, Selfmadegod’s reissue includes a slew of live tracks and cutting room floor tidbits of varying sound quality that capture the essence of the band’s rough throated bass jud assault. Be warned, though, the vocals get obliterated in most of the extras’ murky mix.
Rzeznia could be ferocious when they set their mind to traditional grind (a cover of Brujeria’s “La Mignet” is a bass-led brick bat assault in a blind alley on the wrong side of Krakow) they were a ferocious outfit that more than justified their album’s severed limb artwork. But these clown princes with a conscience also slipped a comedic mickey into the typically dour Eastern European grind scene.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

G&P review: Fleshgod Apocalypse

Fleshgod Apocalypse
For all the badass posery and just fucking musical chops it takes to play death metal at anything approaching a competent level, I’m continually surprised at just how insecure and defensive its practitioners can be. Way back in the alphabet of album titles Morbid Angel was giving liner notes shout outs to classical composures and just about every tech death band of the ’90s felt compelled to name drop some obscure jazz performer as though acceding to what the musical snobbery classes considered the apex of composition somehow elevated their art.
Featuring members of Hour of Penance, Fleshgod Apocalypse are otherwise skilled musicians who squander a killer band name and Marco Hasmann’s neo-Dan Seagrave cover art by awkwardly shoe-horning classical music samples into what is otherwise enjoyable, excellently produced b-grade death metal.
Sure, the popular perception of metal is it’s music made by Neanderthals for troglodytes, but dropping a completely unrelated string section at the close of “As Tyrants Fall” with no real connection to the preceding bludgeon fest does not make your case for elevating metal’s musical merit. Each time Fleshgod Apocalypse try to cram in a piano run or misplaced bit of classical noodling it pulls you out of album, reminding you that this is not meant to be an enjoyable half an hour of music but rather a manifesto extolling death metal’s virtues.
The band comes closest to incorporating classical arrangements into their repertoire on “Sophistic Demise” with its trilling, continuously spiraling central guitar line, but the band plays to its strengths as a lumbering mountain of death metal on “At the Guillotine” or “Requiem in St. Minore” without all the faux classic froo fraw.
Guys, take a deep breath, think this through and heed your mom’s advice and just be yourself.

[Full disclosure: Willowtip provided me with a promotional review copy.]

Monday, May 11, 2009

G&P review: Ulcerate

Everything is Fire
A name change may be in order for these Kiwis because their third album and Willowtip debut does anything but singe an acid hole in your stomach lining, In fact, this may be the most soothing death metal album I’ve heard in eons.
I missed the band’s prior two offerings (there’s a reason this isn’t called Death and Punishment) but I’m starting to think I need to broaden my musical horizons a skootch.
Drawing from Neurosis’ murky palette of constantly shifting grays spiked with lambent flashes of burnt umber concussion fulminating through the eye of every storm, Ulcerate manage to distill the familiar tension/release pattern of Isis and their ilk through a distinctly death metal prism. I don’t think I’ve heard a death metal album this expressive and emotional since the late, unsung Mindrot’s cacophonous bloodlettings. On the technical front, the band packs all the chops of a prime Nile, but has the common courtesy to play at a recognizable tempo that allows appreciation of their musical mastery.
And Ulcerate know how to orchestrate both a good song and a compelling album experience. Smack at the fulcrum of Everything is Fire, “Caecus” alights the stairs of the celestial tower before razing the limitless horizon with a blastbeat holocaust finish. The dry sinew and snapping tendon sound of “Tyranny’s” bass line is could launch a thousand burning ships in its own right.
Where a lot of your patience testing lesser Isis clones will talk about their music as a journey rather than a destination, Ulcerate clearly have a goal in mind. Everything if Fire doggedly leads you through its labyrinthine moods and tones on the way to the title track, an eight minute tour de force that recapitulates and then overshadows everything that went before, moody interludes slaughtered by Ragnarok riffing only to spiral to even more glorious cyclopean peaks. It’s the soundtrack to Lovecraft’s night terrors.
This is not the kind of band where you download a track or two to listen to at your leisure. Everything is Fire is the kind of album that demands your full attention and repeatedly listens and rewards your devotion with worlds of emotion and majesty.

[Full disclosure: Willowtip provided me with a promotional review copy.]

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Tumor Circus

Tumor Circus
Tumor Circus
Alternative Tentacles
There’s a Bush presiding over ill-thought out Middle Eastern adventures from the White House, tabloid headlines and nightly newscasts are pretty much indistinguishable and people are losing their shit over the swine flu. Sound familiar? While that may read like a quick recap of the past six months, Tumor Circus prove that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Essentially a post-Dead Kennedys/pre-lawsuit Jello Biafra fronting Steel Pole Bathtub, Tumor Circus were a one off collaboration melding that familiar punk screech and scalpel sharp satirical verve with early
’90s brand noise rock. While lacking the heft of contemporaries like the Melvins or Helmet, Tumor Circus scrape the chrome off of abstract Frankenchrist side A-style guitar meanderings giving Biafra a new platform from which to pontificate.
The broader musical foundation gives him more room to explore new lyrical and vocal themes as with the crack pipe cowboy yelp of “The Man with the Corkscrew Eyes” or the black hole wail of “Calcutta-a-Go-Go” with vocals cutting against the steel door slam of the guitars.
While Biafra’s inimitable sarcasm teases and cavorts, he actually steps back from the political tirades (George H.W. Bush’s masturbatory introduction to Skull and Bones on “Hazing for Success,” aside) that built his rep to fulminate against sensationalist reporting on “Take Me Back or I’ll Drown the Dog” or sneer at viral apocalypse on “Swine Flu” (the whole reason I pulled this album out in the first place recently).
As a one shot album, Tumor Circus still holds up pretty well almost two decades later, but there are the occasional misstep like the 15 minute assisted suicide dirge of “Turn of the Respirator.” Pushing Jello’s already shrill vocals into even more nut-clenching, nerve shredding territory over top the kind of repetitive drone that reminds you that not everyone can hang with Earth or Sunn O)))’s no tempo trudge.
That aside, there’s always room for Jello.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Nashgul

Crimes Against Humanity
Questionable names ripped off from ur-nerd texts from J.R.R. Tolkien may be most pronounced among bad black metal bands and even worse power metal offerings, but Mumakil weren’t the only grinders to fail a saving throw verses really bad literature. While Nashgul may spring from source material of questionable merit, these Spaniards are no slouch in the all important department and along with a few likeminded countrymen may be signaling a cultural shift on Euro-grind’s western front.
Beginning in the ’90s the locus of European grindcore was firmly entrenched in northern E.U. countries with a few old Warsaw Pact nations nipping at their heals. But somewhere in the last few years bands like Looking for an Answer, Overnoise, Denak (whose “Estado de Bienestar” gets covered here) and Nashgul suggest the center of gravity for European grind may be decamping for sunnier climes.
Debatable points of cultural import aside, Humanicidio, Nashgul’s collection of splits and singles through 2006 brings the fucking grind. Opener “CNP’s” varying punk and metal moods serve as the band’s business card, neatly summarizing everything these Spaniards can unleash. Before giving way to lumbering double kick, “Mad Max’s” psychedelic swirl could have been swiped from just about any CSSO album.
Slathering on some (admittedly monotonous) guttural vocals, telenovela-quality samples and assorted electric weirdness towards the end of the album tends to drag down the collection, but Nashgul more than redeem their flagging performance with the ripping, 1337 speak, gang chorused snarl of “Fr4ctur4 d3 C0still4.”
For grind this good, I’m willing to overlook the occasional misplaced Lord of the Rings reference, but don’t get me started on how much I hate The Matrix.

Monday, May 4, 2009

G&P review: Mumakil

Behold the Failure
Where 2007’s Customized Warfare was an unexpected cluster bomb of an album, Mumakil made the most of Relapse’s dime for their sophomore full length, turning in a far more visceral album than their previous efforts.
The Swiss misters’ oliphauntine stomp and snarl lace Behold the Failure with a feral, restless energy previously hinted but not quite achieved. The band’s mixture of Pig Destroyer nihilism (“Useless Fucks,” “Pisskeeper”) and Nasum attack has matured mightily in just two years and not just because the band actually named their songs this outing.
Mercifully, frontman Tom has dialed way down on the deathcore exhalation/pig squeal vocals, letting his charismatic bark lead the pachyderm-core assault. Guitarist Jeje’s songwriting has also vastly improved. Where Customized Warfare was an insidious if rather faceless effort, Behold the Failure has more texture and hooks despite being an unrelenting blastbeat frenzy. Despite Jeje and bassist Taverne’s past service in mathcore dervishes Knut, Mumakil will not be belaboring you about the upcoming sludge album they want to release in the future. This band goes to 11, and they never dial it back during all 35 minutes.
But it may be that breathless and relentless sense of acceleration that keeps the band from joining the ranks of the Relapse elite. Despite the piss and venom of their songs, Mumakil simply lack the infectiousness that laces the label’s other grindcore greats.
Grind fiends will cream their filthy jeans at Behold the Failure’s blasterpiece theater, but the album simply lacks the kind of musical hooks that will keep more casual consumers of the style riveted. But after several listens, you just know Mumakil have the potential for that kind of breakout album lurking just over the horizon.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Blast(beat) from the Past: Kataklysm

The Mystical Gate of Reincarnation
Nuclear Blast
Metal and the occult are a partnership as old Black Sabbath, but not many bands delved quite as deeply into the hidden lore of the universe as Kataklysm, whose original frontman Sylvain Houde constructed elaborate tales of the nether realms, establishing the ethos of the sole purveyors of Northern Hyperblast.
While the band has since devolved into generic into another generic death metal band with Houde’s departure and bassist Maurizio Iacono’s ascent to the microphone, The Mystical Gate of Reincarnation found Kataklysm at their most primitive musically, ripping out elaborately arranged song suites about the flimsy barriers between life and death.
Jean-Francois Dagenais summoned elder gods with the guitar solo on “Mystical Plane of Evil” – a lesson in discordance with notes seeming struck at random – while “Shrine of Life” conjures a tribal stomp Obituary guitar chug for most of its running time. Drummer Max Duhamel seems intent on establishing his legacy as a premier metal skinsman from the needle drop with the mechanically tight opening blasts and fills of “The Orb of Uncreation.”
While full length albums Sorcery (which has been reissued with Mystical Gate in tow) and Temple of Knowledge would find the band buffing out its rough production edges in favor of a more palatable sound, The Mystical Gate of Reincarnation remains an overblown classic of the era.
Unfortunately, without the power of Houde’s lyrical flights of fancy and the force of his voice and personality, later Kataklsym albums were marred by ill-advised musical adventuring (the unlistenable metalcore of Victims of this Fallen World) before settling on the death metal most people have come to associate with the band. But the later incarnation lacked the personality and charisma that made early Kataklysm something truly special.