Left Hand Path
#003: Helloween



everything has its opposite. For the righteous, there are the wicked; for the lucky, there are the unlucky, and for those that live, there are those that die. The ancient Hebrews gave us yamin; the ancient Romans, sinister. Inevitably, these words grew into even more divergent connotation—that of the Right Hand Path and that of the Left Hand Path. This monthly column will celebrate all that resides in the shadow of the left, regardless of religious allegiance or format.


AURORA BOREALIS


England’s Aurora Borealis has unleashed ludicrously varied recordings over the past four years. Depleted from its coffers have been the likes of USBM, Crebain, ambient, Ginnungagap, and wholly unclassifiable music such as Moss and Wolfmangler. Andrew Hartwell and Tony Sylvester, the Laurel & Hardy duo, which accounts for the creative vision behind the label, managed to field a few questions about aesthetics, armor and Liberace—while both still at work.

When was AB birthed? Was it a joint venture from the outset? What was the impetus behind the label's creation?

Andrew Hartwell: I wanted to do something and had been thinking about getting something going as I had some funds. Tony had similar plans but had no money, so it made sense. It was just a desire to put out exceptional objects, in terms of sound, incongruity (is that a word?), and design/packaging. From a personal level, it’s deeply satisfying to get these things out.

Tony Sylvester: September 2002—Hartwell had been using the AB moniker for design work, clothing manufacture, and other projects before then, but that's when he suggested to me that we do a label together—over sandwiches at the New Piccadilly Cafe if memory serves. We'd known each other for a time and I guess he hoped that my low-level involvement in the music industry would come in handy.

AB is one of the more visually obsessed labels extant. From website to packaging, it seems that an extraordinary amount of time is spent on aesthetics. Do either one of you come from an art background? If so: How has this informed and/or guided AB's aesthetic sense? Does AB suggest packaging for its releases, or is that solely up to the artist?

AH: I am visually obsessive. For the website, I got a Canadian web designer friend of mine who I have worked with before to do the basics to my design and then I learnt some html and just update it myself and add bits and pieces—like the audio of the wolf growl. Incidentally, I think Blackie from Voivod's company hosts the site. Kvlt.

As for art, its something I have always been into, painting leather jackets at school, etc. I think it’s really difficult to grow up listening to metal and not be affected by the amount of visual information. I used to browse LP sleeves after work everyday at the local record shop after school as I waiting for my mum to collect me when she finished work. I particularly remember liking Saxon's Crusader sleeve and I think Armored Saint. I was pretty into armor I guess! Anyway, I never really got to do art at school or college, so I don't have any qualifications or anything, but have worked in advertising before, so it’s generally creative I suppose. I started doing T-shirts about 10 years ago and have had some pretty decent success with that, some design work followed for some Japanese stores and labels and I started doing some stuff that was pretty occultic and looked like metal merch really, but without a band. There was tie-in with an art exhibition that a friend of mine did and Aurora Borealis sort of came into being, and gradually morphed into the record label. I'm really particular with the label having a look, a vibe, but without it being overbearing and without being too overtly any one style—I prefer vague notions and suggestion to things being totally defined.

As for sleeves, with Ginnungagap, obviously Stephen [O’Malley] is in charge of all that and knows exactly what he wants. Moss, too, have a strong aesthetic, and then I usually try and work to what they want and add ideas and techniques. Hopefully this will be evident in the Cthonic Rites vinyl when it eventually comes out. Sometimes it’s about matching the right artist or illustrator to the right job: When Smolken said he wanted a literal illustration for the Wolfmangler gatefold version of Dwelling in a Dead Raven for the Glory of Crucified Wolves, it was an easy job—French is the man! I love the whole art side of the label, and trying to make the most interesting thing that you can. This doesn't usually coincide with financial viability.

TS: The raison d'etre for the label is to create beautiful artifacts: Whole, complete packages that feel satisfying to manufacture. Andrew has the art background, but we both have a shared sense of aesthetics for sure—and an appreciation for the highbrow and the lowbrow, which we mix with scant concern for taste and decency.

AB is certainly one of the more eclectic labels in existence. Do both of you work consciously towards stylistically carrying AB's output? Is the output representative of the types of music that both of you listen to? Is there a single release that both of you are the happiest with?

AH: Hmm. I just like to work with people that I like (even if I have not actually met all of them). I guess the criteria for me are that it’s interesting and has some merit. I don't want to make anything for the sake of it. If it’s obscure as fuck, sounds horrendous, and is commercial suicide (in the bigger picture) then all the better as far as I'm concerned. That’s it really.

As for personal listening, it varies a lot, I go in phases too, where I'll get super obsessed by something for a while. The usual obsessive music fan behavior, I think. I think I have a greater threshold for "outsider" BM than Tony... I'm thinking Dead Reptile Shrine and Circle of Oroubouros particularly—oh, and Gauhaert. Tony is generally more the music boffin than me in the classic sense and I can be incredibly close-minded if I want to be. Hurrah!

As for the shop, that’s pretty much just me. Same criteria as the label—I love sharing things I like: Urfaust, Drudkh, and the old Battlecruizer stuff I used to carry and Satanic Warmaster, Tiermes.

TS: I agree—we take a perverse pride in having the scope to release as many different things as we do, but ultimately I think there is a sense of cohesion—even if it seems a little illogical on the surface. The fact we are of the same age and had similar musical influences growing up informs what we do now for sure.

If you drew a Venn diagram of both our tastes, then what we release would sit fairly firmly in the middle. This is probably true of what we carry in the webstore, too, although that is more likely to reflect Andrew's tastes than my own.

As for a single release: Jo Ratcliffe's art for the Integrity Palm Sunday LP turned out greater than I could have imagined, and I cannot wait to see the Wolfmangler LP all complete—two of the best illustrators we know (Alex Tucker and French) made art for that. Every time Andy shows me a finished sleeve idea, I beam like a proud father.

What direction do you see AB taking? Do both of you approach releases on an ad hoc basis or is there a long wish list of artists that you pull from? Which artist/band would you most like to work with that you haven't yet?

AH: Same direction as at present I hope. Otherwise I'm not interested. It’s pretty much ad hoc, although I do hassle people if I want to do something with them, usually to no effect! Apparently Liberace is dead though, so he's off the hook. No one comes to mind, I'm perfectly happy with what we have done so far and what’s coming up. I hope that we can work further with L'Acephale; they have some incredible material recorded and are very cerebral.

TS: [Where are we headed?] Fuck knows… There's no master plan, but there always seems to be a healthy backlog of bands that have tentatively agreed to work on something for us... Even if we didn’t agree to anything new, we have enough records coming out to last the next 12-18 months or so.

More than anyone else right now, I would like to work with Daniel Higgs. I have been a fan of his art and music for getting on for 15 years now, and have had the pleasure to work with Lungfish and to help put on an exhibition of his art last year. Now that he is making solo music as well, there may be a better chance for collaboration. I sincerely hope so.

I also have a mild obsession with one day seeing the music that Alejandro Jodorowsky and Don Cherry worked on for the soundtrack of the 1973 opus The Holy Mountain released in some way. A new print of the film has just been completed and is showing at film festivals right now, so there may be plans afoot for a release as it is. Fingers crossed.






Archgoat – Whore of Bethlehem
[Hammer of Hate]

One of Finland's earliest known black-metal groups, Archgoat had been active since the late Eighties until their breakup in 1993. Whore of Bethlehem marks their first ever full-length record comprised of all new material. What several bands have since latched onto, sounding dated and at the expense of an individual thought, Archgoat authenticates. The kind of primitive, blank, seemingly mindless energy directed out from the drum work anchors the intention—possessed and animated like the hellish toil of a medieval fresco—humorless, miserable. The sound is back-lit by infrequent keyboard drones as rhythms gallop and grind with a punkish simplicity that underlines every violent stroke. Repetition multiplies the intensity. Retaining the unpolished sound of their early releases, de-stressed guitars move in tones of ominous density with an earthly decomposition of voices and tempo that circles through each track as if tied by a chain. A surprising and fitting end-note to the region's legacy.
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


Bestial Mockery/Unholy Massacre - Eve of the Bestial Massacre
[Agonia]

Swedish black metallers Bestial Mockery and Brazilian horde Unholy Massacre split this release on Polish label Agonia. Bestial Mockery weighs in with five tracks of short and sweet old school flavor (think Bathory), with appropriately lo-fi sound quality—nothing earth-shattering, but the feeling is there. Bassist Devilpig died recently of alcohol-related causes after a fight, but, strangely, the band only announced this in a comment buried on its MySpace. Not to be confused with the Virginia outfit of the same name, now-defunct Unholy Massacre contributes four tracks of blackened death metal with 80s, reverbed-out production. Again, old school is the MO here; these guys have obviously listened to their Celtic Frost. Despite the primitive vibe, there's some interesting guitar work. Overall, a nice split that makes up for in atmosphere what it lacks in polish.
[Listen / Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Bloodlined Calligraphy - Ypsilanti
[Facedown]

Ally French's debut with Bloodlined Calligraphy, last year's They Want You Silent, was absolutely ripping. Equal parts thrash and hardcore punk, with hints of Southern groove, the album showcased French as one of the fiercest female vocalists around. Ypsilanti is the band's new ode to its hometown, and it's a mixed bag. The songwriting is tighter, but it's also lost the unpredictability and idiosyncrasies that made TWYS so dangerous. The one-note breakdowns are predictable, and, sadly, there's no Southern groove. On one song, the band even succumbs to the Swedish riffs and clean vocals that every damn metalcore band does—nooooooooo! When the band does turn up the thrash, like on "America's Next Top Model" and "They Want You Silent," the results are smoking. But in general, the band plays it too safe; it's capable of so much more. In this-just-in news, French and drummer Matt Carter have left the band, so perhaps its next incarnation will live up to its potential.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Burning Skies - Desolation
[Lifeforce]

The perfection of this album's execution is matched only by its unoriginality. The production is clear, the band is tighter than a constipated sphincter, and, most importantly, there are tons of pick squeals. But despite its brutality, the album manages to pass by without a single memorable song. Basically, this is Misery Index without the melodic flair. The riffs are death metal, but the vocals and breakdowns have a tinge of hardcore punk. Otherwise, there's a whole lot of talkin' loud and sayin' nothing.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Cancer Bats - Birthing the Giant
[Abacus]

Death 'n' roll meets hardcore punk—imagine, say, Bane or Comeback Kid covering Entombed or Motörhead. The first reference point for this kind of stuff is Doomriders, but Cancer Bats are less bluesy and more straight-ahead. In fact, this Toronto band dispenses entirely with the one-note breakdowns that plague hardcore. It's mostly two-stepping business here, as the band plays with undeniable energy and groove. I haven't heard an album this fun in a while. The tones are meaty, the mix is nice and dirty, and the swinging riffs owe some debt to Appetite for Destruction. The liner notes come on glossy paper and feature classy band photos and very literal artwork depicting the title. Crack open a beer and start your next party with these jams.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Circle of Ouroborus - Shores
[Northern Sky Productions]

As black metal's creative well continues to evaporate, bands are more actively combining different genres within their mournful and or minimalist chemistry. Finland's Circle of Ouroborus has chosen from various UK splinter scenes, turning out dark plums of occult-inspired death-rock for their debut record. But despite a relatively faithful cover of Joy Division's "She's Lost Control,” Shores sounds like nothing so much as The Fall's Dranet slowed down a few rpm, a drowsy dead end ride.
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


Glenn Danzig – Black Aria II
[evillive]

It's just not Halloween without Glenn Danzig. Following up his billboard placing debut as a solo instrumentalist, Black Aria II carries on Jersey Elvis' spooky keyboard gimmick through twelve tracks of the same: B-grade Gothic pieces fixed with some sinister valkyrie shrieks and even a little death-moaning from the man himself. It used to be that in his waning, weight-gaining years you could at least say he still wrote some cool song titles. But while I realize he's shooting for the whole Lilith mythos, titling a track "Shidden" was probably the wrong direction to go in. Who is out there listening to this and for what purpose? The very thought of it seems illegal. This Halloween, go old-school. Before you cue up the Misfits, find a copy Morbid Angel's Blessed Are the SickM, rip "Doomsday Celebration" and start the mix out right.
[Todd DePalma]


Dog Fashion Disco - The City Is Alive Tonight: Live in Baltimore
[Rotten]

Hot on the heels of Dog Fashion Disco's amazing Adultery, Rotten Records has reissued this live album from last year. Dog Fashion Disco is basically a more grounded Mr. Bungle. Thus you get circus keyboards, short attention spans, Mike Patton-esque vocals, and so on. But Dog Fashion Disco writes dark, twisted songs one actually remembers. This disc memorializes an essentially perfect show. The crowd is hyped, the band is tight, the banter is loose, and the mix is clear. Skip the day-in-the-life documentary on the accompanying DVD in favor of the concert film. You'll wish you had been at the show. There's underwear thrown onstage (which gets worn for a good part of the show), a sax/flute player, and brief quotes of Van Halen, Nirvana, and Slayer. At one point, singer Todd Smith orchestrates a mini-Wall of Death; at the end, he brings audience members onstage for a giant moshpit party. A constant theme running through the DVD is poverty, so do the band (and yourself) a favor and pick this up.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]

Drifting Collision - External Paranormal System [demo]
Humanless Recordings]

From Thralldom’s ashes reconfigures this anguished cunt of war—a confrontational birthing of frustration and belligerent wrath. This is Thralldom stripped of its skin, slick, primordial, chasing lung collapsing screams with amplifier ache; mud and shell bridges of ambience that disintegrate under the flame and boil and bubble in rich black pits. Songs are tied to flesh and blood, truth and prophecy, the phoenix and the whore. Their sound is hopelessness, impressions of a diseased world and a preoccupation with the eradication of its excesses. Resistance is hewed in stark and brutal ways, with respiring guitars and thundering drums, electric storms of white noise, atonal hail ventilating each song’s shape. Voices compete and destroy one another; fricatives and phonemes drowned in a deep cold babble. There is no reception, nor diversion. Killusion’s preoccupation with eschatology and science—fact and fiction—is in overdrive, as is his ability to create brutally original music. If you want something done right the first time, apparently you must do it yourself. Recommended.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Enthrallment - Smashed Brain Collection
[Grindethic]

You gotta love the global nature of extreme metal—here, an English label (Grindethic) collaborates with a Spanish one (Grotesque) to put out death metal from Bulgaria. The cartoonish, gory artwork gives away the contents—straight-up, old school death metal a la early Cannibal Corpse. Thus, you get low growls and technical bits with the requisite blastbeats and tremolo picking, but there's also plenty of thrash-inspired groove. This stuff easily holds up against what was coming out of Florida and New York in the early '90s. The drums sound thin and the kicks are "clicky," but overall the sound isn't bad for a production of limited resources. There's also an awesomely low-budget video, as well as footage of the band tearing it up at some dive in Bulgaria. These extras really add to the B-grade horror movie vibe here. Bigger metal labels won't touch this stuff, but if you dig hard enough, you'll exhume underground gems like this.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Exitium - Outsourcing Morality
[Deepsend]

Pissed-off, socially conscious grindcore—either you're with it or you're against it. Bands usually approach this from a crust punk or death metal angle; Exitium falls into the latter camp. While the songs are short (12 in 26 minutes), they take metallic detours through the occasional pick sweep, pinch harmonic, or cookie monster vocal. However, there is a convincing "Papa bear, little bear" dual-vocal interaction in the classic grindcore tradition. Towards the end, the songs open up in terms of technicality, though such displays are short and brutal. The recording is pretty bad, but in a good way. All the instruments and vocals are intelligible, but the midrange is messy and hairy. That's OK, though; it actually adds tension to the material. Even Scott Hull on mastering can't do much with this, and that's fine. The artwork, too, is low-budget but tastefully laid out. Overall, this is scrappy and ferocious, like a rabid Jack Russell.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Eyes of Ligiea – A Fever Which Would Cling to Thee Forever
[Paragon]

"Be silent in that solitude, which is not loneliness," consoles Poe at the approaching hour. "For then the spirits of the dead, who stood in life before thee, are again in death around thee, and their will shall overshadow thee; be still." Invoking the poet's own sullen ghost, Georgia's Eyes of Ligeia release from one knot into the next this intricate and obscurant album, balancing the caricatures of author and genre. The group may allude to the older aesthetics of European doom metal but here all the "right" notes have disappeared, removing also the "right words.” Cancelled hopes sink into mystery among the rasps and web-line of the guitar, a theme that converges upon the economical display of Murnau and Doré. Re-acclimation follows. There are moments of doubt, hesitant entrances into sound as faded shapes appear within its patulous candelabra-esque tone. It has a greater ambience, unbound by verse or melodic satisfaction—which can be both a charm and a curse—but for now escalates the sense of discovery with a very tragic sense of weird.
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


Fear Before the March of Flames - The Always Open Mouth
[Equal Vision]

This is one of the most involved productions I've ever encountered. The silver-toned artwork comes on heavy stock paper, bookended by plastic transparency sheets. The production is killer—heavy, clear, layered, tons of interesting stuff in the stereo spectrum. The CD comes with a trailer for a feature-length documentary on the making of the album. In short, all parties involved went all-out here. The result feels like it, 46 minutes that feel twice as long, in a good way. After repeated listens, I'm still not sure there are actual songs here. What I am sure of is that these 15 tracks make for some fascinating textures. There are Converge-style angular metallic hardcore, indie rock bits, glistening emo bits, sensitive acoustic moments, and practically everything in between. This could be a mess, and probably it is, but electronic touches throughout help provide continuity. And despite its extremely disparate sounds, the album conveys a general mood—desperate. I have no idea if the band intended this, but the tracks flow together so well that they suggest a central concept. The absence of printed lyrics, then, is frustrating. The band's previous album got very mixed reviews, and one gets the sense they're out to prove something. They succeeded—it's just unclear at what.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Giant Squid - Metridium Fields
[The End]

It's no exaggeration that no other band sounds like Giant Squid. If one had to assign a genre, "art doom" might do. As the massive 20-minute jam "Metridium Field" proves, this Austin-by-way-of-Sacramento troupe can sling lumbering, downtuned riffs with the best of them. However, that's only the foundation. With clean tones, keyboards, accordion, and trumpet, Giant Squid often veers into delicate, folk-inflected territory. The keyboard work is rich and atmospheric, and the male-female vocal harmonies are haunting. Metridium Fields is actually a re-recording of the self-released debut that got the band signed to The End. For a debut, this album has amazing depth—fans of Mono and Pelican will have much to like here.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Guapo - Twisted Stems
[Aurora Borealis]

Aurora Borealis sends a whisky soaked fist into the ass of expectations with this bizarre gem. Far from Metal, Guapo takes a load off, eschewing the tendency to explode in mighty paroxysms, instead feeding the corpse of Cool Jazz fistfuls of laudanum and dragging it into the marsh for an ugly execution. Bass figure ignore the carnage; piano pounds moodily; chains and gongs and cymbals rattle and bong and sizzle. Tight snare presses pop around the clicking tones of an autoharp. A locomotive cuts through the track, scaring off quail in blasts of speckled brown scatter. Brushes slip over skin breaking like weary legs against sun-choked brush. The mystery persists. Dedicated to Athanasius Kircher and damn near as macroscopic.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Guttural Secrete - Reek of Pubescent Despoilment
[Unmatched Brutality]

With an album title like this, you know what you're in for—brutal death metal with gory lyrics, cookie monster vocals, and blastbeats galore. "Razorized Ball Gag," "Larva Masturbation," and "Feminine Skin Suit" are the more genteel song titles here. Obviously, Cannibal Corpse trod this ground first. But while CC always seemed to be taking the piss, Guttural Secrete just might be serious. Some websites place the band's origin in Henderson, NV, which might explain some things, as there's fuck-all to do there. The lyrics are frighteningly blunt, making CC's Chris Barnes look like a poet. Even I, Mr. Death Metal 24/7, blanched. The riffs are heavy and technical, much in the vein of Suffocation. Porn and horror movie samples add atmosphere throughout. Surprisingly sensitive clean tones provide variation near the end of the album—only to succumb to the inevitable hail of blastbeats.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Heinous Killings - Hung with Barbwire
[Unmatched Brutality]

Ohio's Joe Wolfe did this album by himself, which is impressive considering the inhumanity of it. The liner notes earnestly say, "Remember, it's not about Satan and it's not about pussy, it's about brutality!" This is brutal death metal indeed, with no frills and no solos—just blastbeats, downtuned riffs and some of the lowest cookie monster vocals ever recorded. Either Wolfe has legs like pistons or the drums come from a machine. I'm leaning towards the latter, as the kicks sound "clicky" and the snares are a bit "tappy." At times, the vocals have a distorted, broken-up effect on them—either that, or Wolfe makes some strange noises with his mouth. The mix is skewed in favor of the guitars, and the whole thing has a homemade vibe, but that only makes the package more disturbing. It takes a truly sick mind to come up with stuff like this.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Jazzkammer - Metal Music Machine
[Smalltown Supernoise]

Scandinavian noise duo drops two consonants and reassembles familiar metal tropes inside a rigid, noise-structured LP. Despite founder member Lasse Marhaug's credentials (Norwegian male, tape-traded with members of Emperor and Mayhem in his youth) Metal Music Machine is nothing if not opportunistic. There are significant parallels between the noise genre and black metal, most are superficial and none are a revelation. (Sunflower, at least, managed to link the two without being too obvious) What's of concern here is the extreme self-consciousness on the one hand, of both bands and labels that promote music as entirely genre-applicable, bordering on parody. And on the other, of "metal" bands that cater to an audience that normally wouldn't want a goddamn thing to do with it, pushed by the kind of writers/promoters that feel they need to sugarcoat and even apologetically account for what makes metal…metal. Jazkamer lies somewhere in between: acquiring the requisite font and aesthetic only to pick the theme apart piece by piece. Faintly nostalgic tremolo picking extends into absurd lengths of time, contrasted with a very Khanate feel for space. Rumbling Jazz fills substitute for blast beats and multi-tracked growling nonsense fills the cracks. Disregarding the Savage Pencil cover art, it's all too indifferent to condescend. The album is both mercantile and intelligent, the performance organic but unemotional – its atmosphere only clinical exhibition; a novelty career moment. And that's just swell, so long as a career isn't made out of it. If anything, it sweetens the air after enduring Sunn and co. compare bowel movements for 53 minutes.
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


Moss/Wolfmangler - Protected by the Ejaculation of Wolves
[Aurora Borealis]

The three dents that make up England’s Moss donate two sprawling tracks that are positively dance floor friendly compared to their full length, Chthonic Rites. Trademark nebulousness is lightly treaded; these pieces waste little time pumping blood and fleshing out face. Drums, guitar and gargled vocals waltz as one instead of splattering over a meadow as so many hundreds of gallons of flat black paint jettisoned from a bomber’s deep wide belly. “Abortion Clinic” does fall out towards the mid mark, but the preternatural chill achieved by the full-length is on holiday. Wolfmangler, the logical result of Polish degenerate D Smolken’s cold hard coupling with wood and strings, is fine and fucking dandy, as a transliteration of Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Country Boy can Survive” breathes a new black breath. Violin, double and electric bass set the table, an onyx slab covered with candle wax and cerebrospinal fluid. Vocals creep from their holes and scatter around the blubbery bass figures like starving vermin, filthy grey manes wound tightly around their ribcages. Bass bodies buzz and crackle as dry brown conifers held captive by drought. Smolken’s voice slinks in and out of the drowsy din, often allowing for moments of reflective beauty. For such massive and hearty sounds, there is a depressing fragility that hangs over their ponderous hem and haws—the pelt of a diseased deer, its skin bruised; fur clumped willy nilly in bug eaten patches. While not wholly representative of Moss’ potency, this disc is an able introduction for the aforementioned, and a small triumph for Smolken’s Wolfmangler.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Nominon - Recremation
[Deathgasm]

These Swedes get together and make it right: Recremation is a great record heralding in a minor Death Metal renaissance of sorts that ostensibly began with Peruvian bangers Mortem and their vivisection of the holy that was De Natura Daemonum. Those looking for a reason need not look further than the six strings. Nominon guitarists Juha Sulasalmi and Christian Strömblad are blessed with strong rhythmic sensibilities and forge creative and often exhilarating leads. Couple this with fiercely inventive drumming from Perra Karlsson and Recremation moves with luxurious authority. Sulasalimi and Strömblad take turns slowing and speeding up the process, rending a remarkably clipped and razored sound from their guitars, mixing classic riffs with Death Metal’s mathematical precision. The lines that empower “Hordes of Flies” and “The End Written in Blood” are as cascading and majestic as anything that Ivar Bjørnson has written; melodic and forceful, they are invasive and mesmerizing, pulling the rest of the song along in a tide of tireless rhythm. Recommended.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Passion - The Fierce Urgency of Now
[Goodfellow]

This is vicious, metallic hardcore punk, with occasional spikes of dissonance that suggest a more conservative Converge. There's not much in the way of songwriting, but the sheer force and energy of the delivery keep things moving; no sterile click tracks here. The vocals are extraordinarily blown out/distorted. This seems on purpose and helps convey "fierce urgency," but so much time in the red gets numbing after a while. As its name and album title suggest, the band isn't about irony. The obligatory song about hardcore punk is aptly called "Get in the Van": "No matter how long the ride may seem, once we get out of that van and see your faces, we are reminded of why we leave our lives behind." Other songs address political themes, with riot police photos to match. The understated artwork adds a nice touch.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Silencer – Death Pierce Me
[Autopsy Kitchen]

Despite the efforts of some to convince Americans that Sweden is not populated entirely by the offspring of Jonas Persson, the country's musical export, with the ritual-suicide of Dissection front-man Jon Nodveidt not yet sponged from memory, continues to power such grisly mythology. The trio of Silencer released only one album in 2002 before, or so the legend goes, vocalist Naatramn was institutionalized in a mental hospital where he presently resides. This re-release of Death—Pierce Me comes in anticipation of the maniacal Naatramn's return...Sort of. As the website of his current Diagnose:Lebensgefahr project explains, the new music, " is a co-operation between Nattramn and the Växjö Psychiatric Ward and Växjö Health and Insurance office." As a companion piece to groups like Shining and Bethlehem, Silencer reflect a kind of bathetic and textbook mania, streaming with fits of falsetto screams pinching through voluble bass and feedback while cold white arpeggiations of guitar and piano foreshadow a post-script imprisonment. But if it's depression we hear, no empathy comes ready or willing. With little else offered besides the fatal wish, the album's true test is actually convincing you there's a final act to look forward to. Fool me once, I guess
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


SunnO))) & Boris - Altar
[Southern Lord]

East meets West in a recoding short on ideas and long on time. And that time is indeed difficult to endure, with impotent six-string rumbling, toothless riffing and sexy, preening female vocals all as half-baked as the concepts that spawned them. Both Boris and SunnO))) currently enjoy a do-no-evil status with the uncritical masses; the truth is that they've both released some decent—even great—records, but their formal obsessions disallow them from creating something as content rich as their earlier works in this "fortified" duo incarnation. Instead, they lazily reheat the same meal, which has lost its savory flavor over time. The odor that surrounds the musical recycling is not without its discolored fangs: these are the same sets of incisors that Wakeman and Howe donned like plastic vampire teeth back in the Pleistocene, churning out one grandiose record after another, holding fast to quasi-mysticism, ethno-academic musical traditions and self-indulgent takes on instrumentation as earned rite. With Altar, several co-conspirators are brought under the tent to make merry: The Honorable Joe Preston, Kim Thayil and Jesse Sykes among them. Preston's contribution garners the most interest, resulting in the 53-minute EP's only listenable track. Soundgarden great Thayil is criminally imperceptible; Sykes is prominent and confrontational, her voice rubbing up against the calves like a cat that hasn't seen wet food in a week. The guitars offer stark counterpoint to all of Sykes' "subtlety," churning out charts built upon a thousand ways to go nowhere; as if someone hipped Sunn's core duo to early AMM, and they've found no reason not to attempt tin-eared emulation while holding their horned hands high. Some will call this record fresh, diverse, cathartic or brooding. It is emphatically none of these: The only thing worshipped at this Altar is the collective ego of this hopefully short-lived collaboration.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Throne of Katarsis - Unholy Holocaustwinds
[Paradigms]

Recorded in 2004, mastered in 2006 and repackaged by the excellent Paradigms label, Throne of Katarsis works further to blur the line between Folk and Black Metal by moving effortlessly from electric to classical acoustic guitar, resubmitting the same riffs in interesting and provocative ways. Bands like Sigrblot, Sapthruan and relative newcomer L’Acephale have worked in a similar fashion, laying Black Metal bare as some type of new folk music. Grimnisse’s guitar is frenzied and potent, with Vardalv’s hearty percussion stomping down the harmonic lines much in the way Fenriz transformed Darkthrone’s early Death Metal riffs into Black Metal simply by trouncing the breath out of them. Grimnisse is a spectacular player, balancing merciless repetitiveness with shimmering harmony, segueing into forlorn acoustic passages that recall both Spaghetti Western and harsh medievalism. Final track “Skogen’s Kall” is equally comprised of field recording, keys and vocal recitation. The sounds of a trek through the Liarland Forest—birds calling, feet kicking up leaves and earth—are softened with eerie ambience; Grimnisse’s recitation is part Tuvan throat trawl, part maniacal despondency. The effect is predictably morose, slowly unnerving—a fitting conclusion to a rich and rewarding recording.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Throneum - Decade of Necrostuprumical Madness
[Deathgasm]

Contrary to this record’s title, Throneum has been around for six years, wreaking havoc with taut and genuinely aggressive Death Metal that benefits greatly from a refreshing enthusiasm and devotion to the genre’s war chest. Decade is a 23-song compilation of prior recordings, most of which differ little, showcasing torn throat vocals, scorching guitar work and unrelenting battery. With nary a selection reaching over four minutes, Throneum scream and slash through each song, applying gruff vocals in contrast to anguished shrieks; snare and cymbal rumble and crash; guitar that digs itself into deep ditches and rises quickly, shaking worms and dirt from its crusty form. Certainly not a weak link in the batch, and that’s saying something in a time when banal form is king over content.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Totimoshi - Ladron
[Crucial Blast]

Run bongwater-soaked '70s hard rock through Melvins and Sleep, sprinkle touches of blues and pop on top, and you have Totimoshi. This Oakland, CA trio does the stoner Sabbath thing as well as any band, but stands out with tones ranging from acoustic to twangy to fuzztones at 11. The group has a fearsome live reputation, and the nicely natural production (by Helmet's Page Hamilton) hints at that. However, Ladron is often surprisingly sensitive; its dynamics make it quite listenable. If you don't want your sludge to succumb to full-on doom, this is your record.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Veil of Maya - All Things Set Aside
[Corrosive Recordings]

If Americans do anything well in metal, it's mixing it up. Of course, that's resulted in some horrible "-core" hybrids in recent years. But when it works, as is the case here, then varied influences come together to form one big unclassifiable ball called "metal." This Chicago band is named after the Cynic song, although its sound has little in common with Cynic's jazz/death metal fusion. Imagine a square with technical death metal, chaotic Converge-esque weirdness, melodic Swedish metal, and hardcore as corners; Veil of Maya sits right in the middle. Sure, many bands have these influences, but few synthesize them this well. Edgy dissonance morphs into melodic riffs, only to lead to insanely technical bits followed by crushing breakdowns—and it all feels natural. These guys aren't wasting their time with emo haircuts or bullshit clean vocals. It's just one killer riff after another, aided by an awesome mix that drips with jagged midrange. In a time of increasingly sterile productions, it's refreshing to hear a mix that isn't afraid to smear things. The performances burst with energy, and a few well-placed solos add further electricity. The whole thing has a hack-and-slash quality that's quite invigorating. There's even a bizarre crunk coda that shouldn't work, but absolutely does, seamlessly segueing from metal to hip-hop—it must be heard to be believed. Two horns way, way up for this debut.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Vermin - A Nihilistic Swarm
[Deity Down]

This is technical death metal from the Netherlands, and it's done absolutely right. The influence of Suffocation looms heavily here, but in a good way. From the masters, Vermin has learned the importance of switching tempos. Thus, there are plenty of the requisite blastbeats, but they're balanced by slower sections with various feels. In fact, some of the grooves near the end are positively Meshuggah-esque. The guitar work is interesting throughout, with cool left-right tradeoffs and hammer-on trills. The recording is a bit sterile; a lot of care obviously went into the production, and perhaps it's a little too careful, but it sounds good overall. This is the first release from Deity Down, and the label has gone all-out, adding two videos (including a making-of documentary) and a picture gallery to the CD. The videos are somewhat primitive, with cheesy editing, but they help the material come alive, and it's always neat to see the studio process. Hopefully there's more to come from both the label and band.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Wolf – The Black Flame
[Prosthetic]

I'm convinced that only Europeans and the embittered still enjoy Heavy Metal. Not Heavy Metal as in the music created directly after the fizzling out of the hippie counterculture, not the cherished records that even now, to those of us born in the Eighties, seem almost ancient. I mean the bands that are still apeing that shit twenty years later. Sweden's Wolf has had a pretty successful career staying true to that formula, arriving at the same time both the American Nu-Metal market took off and European death and black metal groups began to converge toward an openly melodic sound, improved production and catchier song-structure. (Amusing to note that the band's label, Century Media, has licensed this album to California's Prosthetic Records, a label known mostly for catering to a metalcore audience.) When I listen to those early records what I enjoy most, besides the nostalgia and composition of songs, is being able to trace their influence through different categories of music that developed afterwards. Here there is no extension, the reason only to reference and consume and even then they are a disappointment. The Black Flame is "heavy" in a very modern sense—over-produced, stiff and predictable with little dynamics between tracks. But there's guitar solos. In short, if you're unfamiliar with Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate and dozens of other groups from that era (let alone a forgotten British group of the same name), you really cheat yourself becoming involved with this record. For those that are, well, "everybody has their vice."
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


Wolfe - Wolfe
[Fire of Fire Rex]

Glorior Belli’s Infestuus provides the “star power” for Wolfe, a three-man outfit that mopes through seven long tracks of painfully incessant melancholy; guitars brood and fuzz, percussion as rumbling hooves, vocals as gargled vomit. Melodies, when extracted, are timeless and haunting: folk song for the farmer’s workday—frowning cheer at the kitchen table with mulled wine and filthy, broken hands. Differences between tracks are almost imperceptible; subtlety is sacrificed for deliberate repetition, like listening to the river rush for hours after its filled the lungs of your children and taken your family. Wolfe’s dense, depressive quality cannot be played down; this is the band’s greatest weapon and few wield it like this outfit does.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Wolfmangler - Dwelling in a Dead Raven for the Glory of Crucified Wolves
[Aurora Borealis]

The return. This time Wolfmangler comes bearing a trio of basses, electric and acoustic, flute, bassoon, trombone, drum and vocals. Hunting music: Stalking tones and crouching bass therein. A drum beats the strong hearts fighting freeze sequestered to the tree stand. Flute steadies in the crunching of twigs and limbs and leaves wet and sloppy stuck together in a confusion of browns and yellows and searing reds loose and slick like a bloody stool smeared over a hearty spine of emerald moss. Bolts are drawn and released; the elk is dropped and heaves, his breath broken and deep; clouds of it breaking from his nostrils in farts of ghost white. The fat black blade draws into its warm cavity and pulls free—a medusa head of flaccid intestines; the stench of viscera caught in the hunter’s nose like claws. Hands covered in a river run of sticky hot blood. A victorious voice growls and cackles over lowing bass, careful footsteps that return to camp for fire and warm wine. Fires soar in unrepentant winds, crisp orange sparks that dance in the night. Once extinguished the only protection from the ice—bodies foully tangled within the cones of stretched skin tents, their loins soaked in thick sour smut. Early morning brings the star winds and shared ritual; the bones of elk and boar ground down to talc and worn as a tunic. A grey white dress like birdshit hardened in the steady Winter sun. “I live in the back of the woods, you see; a woman and the kids and the dogs and me.”
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Xasthur - Subliminal Genocide
[Hydra Head]

Subliminal Genocide jars loose convenient repressions from aesthetics lectures: Is creativity truly part and parcel to art? Is repetitive creation aesthetic yield or commercial duplication? Chin scratchers the lot of them, and Xasthur’s latest—and last three for that matter—are salient point and fact for any pipe smoking, tweed wearing semiotician worth their salt. Many will preoccupy their selves with Malefic’s prickly estrangement from SunnO))), Inc.; others will wince and bristle at thee dark one hawking his wares within the Hydra Head shop window. And most will skim the subtextural revelation that Malefic’s been recycling songs and repackaging them as new material since 2003’s The Funeral of Being. It’s not that the songs are recycled entirely; it’s that the “sounds” of them are, as Malefic’s growth as an artist is irrevocably stalled in thumb-sucking stage. Exhibit A? The same tonal murk that was kicked up in Telepathic with the Deceased and To Violate the Oblivious is there again; the same “psychedelic” intros and outros slither through beginning and ending, pulsing electric eels cutting through ponds of oil and blood. The same vocals: a night hag covered in kerosene and burned down to a pile of black bones. The same bleating drum machine: a failing heart seizing and going cold. All of which is fine and good, but once one calls into question the creative impetus, the siren of intent is sounded like a big, greasy whale fart. Malefic can scowl, scream, and denounce the living all he wants while wrapped up in his black gown and slipped into his Vans, but it will never change the fact that Subliminal Genoicide is only boring exercise at best, thoughtless spinning wheels at worst.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Submissions
Left Hand Path welcomes CD, CD-R, LP, 7”, DVD, VHS, and cassette releases to be considered for review. Information on the release should be included, if at all possible.

Address [North America]
Stewart Voegtlin
211 Estoria Street SE
Atlanta, GA 30316

Address [Europe]
Cosmo Lee
Dieffenbachstr. 59
10967 Berlin
Germany

[Many thanks to Justin Bartlett for permitting the use of portions of his drawings “Dissecting Christianity” and “Sharks” within this article.]


***


Left Hand Path #001
Left Hand Path #002



By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-10-31
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