#004: Silent Night, Deadly Night
elcome to the fourth and year-end installment of Left Hand Path. Despite our fledgling status, we’ve managed nearly 80 reviews and two interviews in our brief time span. The column has lost one writer, Whit Strub; and gained another, Todd DePalma. Metal, too, suffered great losses: Notably the suicide of Dissection frontman Jon Nödtveidt and the disbanding of New York’s Khanate. In the wake of these losses, however, were potent and—in some cases—reassuring efforts by the Old Guard: Slayer, Celtic Frost, and Iron Maiden. Their dedication is humbling; their commitment is unmatched.
What does the year-end bring? Lists, of course, and a few exegetical remarks. A good many of those noted have already been reviewed in Left Hand Path; perhaps a good many remain.
Much lies ahead for the Path: We will continue to review obscure and challenging music—as well as interview label proprietors and musicians. But others will be admitted into the fold. String assassin Patrick Delaney and thee metal warlord Dirty Jase will assist the Path in the near future with contributions of their own. We look forward to their unique perspectives. Without further ado, the Best of 2006…
Antaeus, Blood Libels LP [Norma Evangelium Diaboli]
Ares Kingdom, Return to Dust CD [Nuclear War Now]
Catacombs, Into the Depths of R’lyeh CD [Moribund]
Celtic Frost, Monotheist CD [Century Media]
Dolorian, Voidwards CD [Wounded Love]
Earth, Live Hex CD [aRCHIVE]
Images of Violence, Degrade The Shapeless CD [Ossuary Industries]
Repugnant, Epitome of Darkness CD [Soulseller Records]
Summoning, Oath Bound CD [Napalm Records]
Thralldom, A Shaman Steering the Vessel of Vastness CD [Profound Lore]
For me, the year of 6-06-06 passes by with all of the sensationalism the omen could entail and little of the fiery aftermath. The last 12 months were far from uneventful. Finland's Demilich, remembered through the genius of their only record, Nespithe, completed a tour of the United States and retired with some long overdue notoriety. We celebrated a National Day of Slayer as the evil ones delivered their latest wartime volley—vocalist Tom Araya donning whiskers of a spider-hole era Saddam—and most shocking of all, Jon Nodtviedt blew his brains out in what became a far more solemn affair than the cranial stew soirées of old. Yet the potency of actual releases left something to be desired as all genres struggled for something defining among the ever-increasing flood of copycats, soporific avant-garde collaborations, and conspicuous novelty packaging.
Death Metal was kept alive through an unusual mixture of artists both at home and abroad. In a discussion earlier this year Texas-based tattoo-artist Jon Zig was quick to make a distinction between death in life and in art. Zig is also one of the more recognizable cover artists in the genre, offering his own sick skills to groups like Disgorge, Deeds of Flesh, Averse Sefira and most recently, Suffocation's self-titled album. On Degrade the Shapeless released by the "Skingraver" and his own band Images of Violence, those familiar and often viscous portraits of mortal agony are given an added dimension and intensity, driven by the heated friction of strings, unrelenting drum fills and foaming bark of Zig himself. A blood-red inferno that's finished in just under 23 minutes.
In Stockholm, Sweden, Repugnant sought the posthumous release of their debut record Epitome of Darkness only to be eclipsed by the Relapse-backed Death Breath, featuring inspirational ex-Entombed member Nicke Anderson. Although they trace back nearly the same influences (Repulsion, Possessed, Nihilist, Celtic Frost, Entombed), it's Repugnant that is most convincing and overwhelmingly heavy in their approach. Ten tracks are filled like a chuffing corpse-train; its witching thrash riffs speeding ahead the bass guitar's industrial wreckage and drums like an angry dinner party of Evil Dead rejects. Although a bit difficult to track down, it is rewarding for those who enjoy their metal (like their women) of a certain vintage...
Back in time we go. A truly historical release out of the pile, Peaceville Record's two-disc Autopsy DVD set, Dark Crusades includes several live performances by California's seminal death metal group between 1993-94 including their final show together and a home-video recording of the band rehearsing back in 1988. Autopsy was founded by drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert shortly after working on Death's Scream Bloody Gore and helped establish, as much as anyone at that time, modern death, doom, and gore-grind alike—mutating from the short-adrenaline bursts of hardcore punk and Sabbath's clambaked jams on classics like Mental Funeral and Severed Survival and here with gruesome vigor as they plow through songs inside some jaundice stained bedroom lined with mattresses, passing tin and grass in between the muck of instruments. All of the footage is hand-held which might be a chore for some but it feels appropriate to watch them spill on what are still essentially archaic shreds of tape. Cameos by Dutch maniacs Pestilence, Incantation, and Paradise Lost are seen throughout, along with plenty of goofing around in the studio, tour footage and taking hits off a 'Snowbong" to round out disc number two.
Of the better but only decibel-related discs this year was Archive’s Earth: Live-Hex, which, despite dating the event a year and a day ahead of time, remains magisterially perfect. I remember the show at the Knitting Factory well. Everyone was standing. What for? Drummer Adrienne Davies projected an extreme image of delay behind the kit, glowing in a dense blue crossing into red light, but otherwise, the bass is what you're after and the best place for that is on the floor. There I sat with my back to the wall beside many rolling cups. The angry groan of speakers testifies to an effective recording, only periodically broken up by Dylan Carlson's gentle thanks (if blind-folded, you'd swear it was Crispin Glover issuing the twang and din). And here is thanks returned: happy to relive these in solitude either brooding over a glass of Beam or else unleash them unsuspectingly into the night and murder crickets on my lawn.
And here is something you never thought of before: A troupe based out of Estonia has taken 12 songs by the original Black Sabbath lineup and covered them in the austere style of Medieval/ Renaissance music. Rondellus’ daring work, Sabbatum achieves its goal with awesome proximity and faithfulness to the originals, even while exchanging sweet leaf for frankincense. The picks are intriguingly broad, spanning at least one cut of every release up until Never Say Die! Replacing the Gibson SG with harps, lutes, frame drums and the hurdy gurdy renders Sabbath’s older, more blues-inspired work with a more Celtic mood while the epic movements of “War Pigs” and other mystical suggestions on “After Forever” and “Symptom of The Universe” become brooding meditations—projections of an eerie light through shaded cloisters. Aside from the music, my favorite part is that every song is transcribed in that most metal of all languages: “Plenetarium Vegatio,” “Rotae Confusionis” and ” Magus.” Fuck yeah!
Lesser, but greater still, listeners with more symphonic tastes are urged to find Oath Bound from the long standing duo and career-purveyors of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Summoning. Although it’s their sixth full-length, it’s as good an introduction as any, focusing on dramatic choral passages, balmy synthesizers that evoke both ancient woodwinds and a Kingly march forward with wonderful but not altogether “pleasant” confluence of goblin voices against strings at the frontier. Similar to Dead Can Dance in their fantastic quasi-new age approach and underlined by a Wagnerian idyll that expertly forges the aesthetics of Heavy Metal and Black Metal together, Summoning are unwilling to “grow up” as it were, but sets forth a vision that storms the mundane and feeds the Romantic heart.
Although the mighty Antaeus, spreading the diabetes, perpetually downed the year’s end, Finland’s Dolorian has created the most seductive imprints on record. Masterminded by Anti Haapapuro (Halo Manash, I Corax) Dolorian’s third album, Voidwards is born from constellations of liquid Doom. It has a kind of Lynchian ideal of cool that drips from jazzy counterbalance of monstrous bass acoustics, steady reverberations and susurrate voices to emphasize fragmented dream-scenarios doubling as lyrics. Transferring the protracted tempos out of the electric and into classical guitar pieces and ambient conceits of pouring water conveys a theme of rebirth in contrasts of sound and force that finds total release through an invocation of the mythic Naga sea-serpent. A lucid if repetitive album, it marries its concept to image and sound with a grace that leaves you completely in lure of its terrifying idea.
01. Ludicra, Fex Urbis Lex Orbis
02. Enslaved, Ruun
03. Katatonia, The Great Cold Distance
04. Jesu, Silver
05. Deicide, The Stench of Redemption
06. Agalloch, Ashes Against the Grain
07. Year of No Light, Nord
08. Cannibal Corpse, Kill
09. Converge, No Heroes
10. Dolorian, Voidwards
2006 was the year of the metal geezer. Celtic Frost, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Voivod, Cannibal Corpse, and Deicide all put out albums worthy of their names. The last two benefited from new lineups, with Jack Owens moving from the former to the latter to team up with Ralph Santolla for the shredding-est metal album this year. Voivod was a poignant success story, as the band lifted deceased guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour's riffs off his hard drive and wrote a strong album around them. Iron Maiden slowed down and went moody, Slayer sped up with Dave Lombardo's return, and Celtic Frost surpassed all expectations with the monolithic Monotheist.
American youngsters could have learned a thing or two from their elders. The so-called NWOAHM (New Wave of American Heavy Metal) continued to succeed commercially, but failed to offer much creatively. Lamb of God and Killswitch Engage churned out variations on their signature sounds, Mastodon put out a critically acclaimed mess, and Trivium dropped an absolute dog of an album in a blatant bid for sales. Even if Shadows Fall releases a stellar record next year, American metalcore has run its course, and hopefully the industry will respond accordingly.
Hybrid vigor may be the answer, as Ludicra, Enslaved, and Agalloch infused black metal with vibrant thrash, prog, and folk influences. Ludicra turned in a beautifully seething blast of urban angst in Fex Urbis Lex Orbis, while Agalloch beat the Norwegians at their "wintrier than thou" game. Even the kids in Glass Casket, and, surprisingly, Bleeding Through spiced up their fusions of metal and hardcore punk with black metal.
Finally, the French put themselves on the metal map with quality death metal from Yyrkoon and Gorod, and black metal from Merrimack, Antaeus, and Blut Aus Nord. After years of word-of-mouth buzz, Gojira was perhaps the breakthrough of the year, as its immense "Strapping Young Lad and Morbid Angel join Greenpeace" sound got widespread recognition. Scandinavia and America are still the metal centers of the world, but perhaps not for much longer.
The Autumn Project - A Burning Light
And you thought Mono songs took a while to get going. The Autumn Project are even more patient, allowing a full eight minutes of delicate clean guitar, bass, and keyboard musings to build up to the first appearance of distortion. The band doesn't reach climax so much as extended tantric orgasm, repeating the same few chords through massive volume, rolling drums, and keyboard swells. Afterglow settles in and heart rates decrease, only to lead to the next bout of, er, noisemaking. Small-big-small is de rigeur in atmospheric metal now, but the dilated timeframes and lack of vocals emphasize sound, not song. This record is very dynamic; sometimes it's "is this thing on?" quiet, and sometimes it's so comparatively loud you'll jump to the volume knob. Fans of Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, dig in.
The Concubine - Abaddon
The Concubine play a wild melange of technical death metal, melodic death metal, hardcore, and practically the rest of the metal kitchen sink. Their songwriting is extremely disjointed, with chugging riffs, blastbeats, abstract melodies, and the occasional breakdown all vying for attention. Though they don't necessarily add up to a whole, the parts are compelling, especially the complex, jazzy chords. At its peak, this New Jersey quintet recalls Arsis and later Death, so it's not lacking in inspiration, only focus. However, the album is only half an hour long, so the band's ADD doesn't get tiring; in fact, it's kind of charming.
Graf Orlock - Destination Time Yesterday
Tons of profanity + quotes from action movies = awesome. Graf Orlock fires off angry, somewhat socially conscious grindcore with more screaming and cursing than drunk sailors with Tourette's. When in "Panic at the Galleria," the vocals disintegrate into two guys yelling at each other, "Fuck you! No, fuck you!," mankind reaches either its zenith or nadir of achievement. By itself, this approach only goes so far, but when every song sports one-liners from action movies, the album vaults into the land of the sublime. Point Break, Falling Down, Road House, Robocop 2, Predator, Terminator, and Terminator 2 are but a few of the movies sampled. This is easily the best use for Ah-nald in recent years. NSFW, but will have you ROTFL.
The Hope Conspiracy - Death Knows Your Name
Converge frontman Jacob Bannon's Deathwish, Inc. notches another strong release. In true Deathwish fashion, it's a family affair, with Bannon on art design, Kurt Ballou (Converge guitarist) on production, and Nate Newton (Converge bassist) on backing vocals. Like labelmates Modern Life Is War, The Hope Conspiracy specialize in the uneasy payoff. The band unfurls rolling, mid-paced two-steps that break down to throbbing bass lines and build up to cathartic climaxes. Emotive chords gird scorched earth vocals and mantra-like lyrics, with the last track dissolving into feedback and harrowing dissonance. Ballou provides his trademark warm, thick, and electric production.
Microwaves - Contagion Heuristic
If kitchen appliances came to life and formed a band, this would be the result. Grinding, groaning, swirling, and buzzing sounds emanate from this Pittsburgh trio, with the help of a particularly nasty bass synth. Seasick, dissonant guitars churn away on top of primal drums and "someone left the amp on" electrical hum. Imagine Hella and The Mae Shi getting together to cover Cryptopsy, but ditching the idea 40 beers later in favor of Birthday Party, with one guy off in the corner making whooshing noises on a synth and another guy bleeding, having somehow cut himself on a cymbal. Horrible to the senses, and horribly addictive.
Oath to Vanquish - Applied Schizophrenic Science
Oath to Vanquish has been causing quite a buzz in the death metal underground. This Lebanese trio stays within genre bounds, but explores them thoroughly, running from blastbeats, tremolo picking, and technical riffery down to doomy dirges and moody clean tones. Suffocation and mid-career Carcass come to mind, but the synthesis of influences is smooth and accomplished. The riffs are strong and meaty, leaving space for fluid bass work. Vocals trade off between midrange rasps and cookie monster growls, with the latter sometimes panned around the stereo spectrum for an interesting effect. Surprisingly strong production ties the package together. Despite song titles like "Toxic Bowel Manoeuvre" and "Sulphuric Semen," this debut is musically quite mature. Perhaps death metal might have some life in it yet.
Ratos de Porão - Homem Inimigo Do Homem
Imagine Slayer, Nasum, and Discharge in a brawl, and you have Ratos de Porão. For 25 (!) years, this Brazilian band, whose name means "basement rats," has mixed thrash, hardcore, and crust punk into a brutal hybrid that makes most death metal seem soft. The band's discography is long and shadowy; this is maybe its 12th or 13th album, and it shows no signs of letting up. The drumming pushes the beat so hard, the songs are like runaway trains. But the band keeps things in control, if barely, as metallic riffs, grinding chords, and thrash and D-beats fly around at incredible velocity. Singer Gordo's midrange growl is as strong as ever, with plenty of gang vocals and screams behind him. The production is natural-sounding, letting guitars bite and drums snap. Highly recommended.
Resection - Zenith
Ultra-brutal death metal ain't the brainiest of music. Usually, this sub-sub-genre deals out downtuned riffs, cookie monster vocals, and endless blastbeats with little regard for hooks or melody. Resection is guilty as charged on all counts, but this German band isn't the typical grunt-and-gargle outfit. Sure, they do the requisite pig squeals, but close listening reveals a varied array of low growls. The band is amazingly tight, with proggy odd meters and almost-groovy riffs. The vocals, of course, are more sounds than words, but the sociopolitical lyrics are surprisingly intelligent. Technical yet efficient, this debut stands out in a field swamped with Cannibal Corpse clones.
Righteous Jams - Business as Usual
Business as Usual lives up to its name, with ten cuts of well-meaning but underachieving old-school hardcore punk tinged with rock 'n' roll. The sound skips over hardcore's recent flirtation with thrash and death metal, so the tempos are slower than today's hardcore. The lyrics are gritty and honest, but the riffs don't have the crunch to match. From the simple artwork to the sterile production, the whole package feels undercooked. Judging from the liner photos, this band has much more force live.
Seemless - What Have We Become
Former Killswitch Engage singer Jesse Leach's Seemless is a big change from his former gig. The band plays bluesy hard rock so straightforward, it's anachronistic. Think Corrosion of Conformity minus the quirks, with touches of Kyuss and Soundgarden. Indeed, Leach's mighty pipes have some Chris Cornell in them. His thick, soulful voice is almost too good for the riffs, which, though driving, are pedestrian. The playing is technically flawless, although the sterile production muzzles it. Material like this should be dirty, with teeth, but the drums constantly fight over-compression. Leach's spectacular vocals save the day, as he hits the right notes with all the right inflections.
Teeth of the Hydra - Greenland
So many retro-style bands ape Black Sabbath's riffs, but few actually capture the feeling. Teeth of the Hydra do, but update the sound with gruff vocals, a few more notes in scales, and modern production. Riffs are fuzzy and huge, while drums piledrive underneath. The production is brawny but edgy, capturing definition and heaviness in the drums. Vocals occasionally have over-the-top delay for an old-school, psychedelic vibe. Songs vary from bluesy stomps to thundering waltzes to the requisite plodding dirges. Orion Landau contributes gorgeous sea green artwork that matches the aquatic/mythological lyrics. This year's Leviathan?
Antaeus, Blood Libels LP [Norma Evangelium Diaboli]
Earth, Live Hex CD [aRCHIVE]
Hallows Eve, History of Terror CD Boxset [Metalblade]
Heresi, Psalm II: Infucso Ignis CD [THR; Hydrahead]
Kylesa, Time Will Fuse Its Worth CD [Prosthetic Records]
Negative Plane, Et in Saecula Saeculorum CD [The Ajna Offensive]
Nominon, Recremation CD [Deathgasm Records]
Repugnant, Epitome of Darkness CD [Soulseller Records]
Unearthly Trance, The Trident CD [Relapse]
Villains, Drenched in the Poisons CD [Aurora Borealis]
Wolfe, Wolfe CD [Fire of Fire]
THE BEST OF THE REST
Battletorn, Burn Fast 7” [Mad at the World]
Darkthrone, Too Old, Too Cold EP [Peaceville]
Drifting Collision, External Paranormal System CD-R [Humanless]
Villains, Live at CBGBs CD-R [Humanless]
Graves At Sea, Documents of Grief CD Reissue [20 Buck Spin]
Reencarnacion, 888 Metal Picture Disc Reissue [The Ajna Offensive]
Throne of Katarsis, Unholy Holocaustwinds CD Reissue [Paradigms]
Metal has an undeniably circular quality to it; it never fails to let the listener know where he or she comes from. Getting reacquainted with Hallows Eve was as enjoyable as it was nostalgic. The History of Terror box set collects the full oeuvre including demos and live material; there’s even a bonus DVD holding the wealth of the northeastern campaigns. Guitarist David Stuart waxes macroscopic via liner note essay; his pen captures what was, what could have been, and what made it all possible. The music indeed is as powerful as Stuart recalls, with the Death & Insanity and Monument albums showcasing nearly perfect Thrash Metal: explosive leads, harmonic hooks, propulsive drumming, boyish rage tempering shouted vocals. The guitar work is eerily close to Master of Puppets, …And Justice For All era Metallica, which is all the more shocking considering that Hallows Eve’s work predated Metallica’s by three to four years. “Metal Metchants,” the aforementioned “Monument,” and the anthemic “Lethal Tendencies” show Hallows Eve at full power—a potency that has not waned with age. Highly recommended.
Kylesa returns: With two drummers. The complexity of To Walk a Middle Course remains. If anything, the structures this time out are even more labyrinthine; dual percussion serves both a foundational role and as provocateur. Where the guitars once prodded and often perplexed each song’s rhythmic sensibility, the drummer is now anointed dictator, setting pace; not necessarily “keeping” time, but perforating it, allowing more space for the others to spread out in. Time Will Fuse Its Worth is a more aggressive album than its predecessor; it’s also more melodic. “Between Silence and Sound,” “Ignoring Anger,” and “Hallow Severer”—despite their heaviness—are swift of foot, quick and tuneful songs that loiter more than linger. Lyrically, Kylesa remains concerned with illusion and identity, stagnancy and possibility, imperfection and anger. Laura and Phillip and Michael deliver the lyrics with passion and power, and the incidental noises that often surround their screams soften their bite: the synth that opens “The Warning;” the piano that opens “Ignoring Anger;” the martial breakbeat that concludes “Between Silence and Sound:” These flourishes show a band unafraid to challenge convention and genre restraint as they continue to create music of terrifying beauty and unlimited strength. South Georgia, represent.
Battletorn is another post-punk anomaly that would rather completely fucking destroy that spend time deciding if it’s more Metal or Punk. Omid and William make music as it should be made—with relentless verve and power. Whereas most “duo” bands are either cleansed by technique’s bland loofah or “heavy” by way of studio tinkering, Battletorn works wonders with what it has at its disposal. A basic drum kit, electric guitar, Marshall stack, and a lot of lungpower gives standard thrash-punk structures new life. “Songs” are brief blasts; vocals, guitar, drum and cymbal collide like Karp covering Black Flag’s “Thirsty and Miserable” over and over again at twice the speed. Omid shreds chords under William’s trucker speed stomp. Hi-hat and snare shatter around implorations: Remember! Let It Ride! Let Go! This is the tenor of early D.R.I., Aggression, and SSD filtered through the unruly sensibility of thrash metal—a sound often mimicked but rarely proffered so convincingly and so devastatingly well. The candle that burns brightest burns quickest: Burn Fast.
From New York’s trash strewn streets comes Villains. Like Florida’s Negative Plane, Villains makes music from the time forgotten: a locus of denim and suds, stashed pints, and schwag bags. It’s not that Drenched in the Poisons was recorded in a vacuum; it’s that the members of Villains have little-to-no regard for acquiescing to the metastasizing white-belted horde frothing for limited releases of “High Metal Art.” Where there is no compromise; there is no quarter. “Sickness of Snakes” rolls out of the gate, flicking tongued guitars, snarling vocals, skins and brass as hotwired streetcleaner on a midnight joyride. “Trampled” transliterates Slayer’s “Captor of Sin” for the wee-hour express train crowd. There is no brown bagging. Thick lines of coke and meth are hoover’d up bullish, inflamed nostrils. The vacant, shocked white stares look on as scab-faced whores make ten dollars the hard way, heavy hips creaking and groaning under piss-colored light. Desecrator’s screams are short struggles. Killusion and Teeth divebomb and neigh and roar. Witchwhipper sets percussive waves in motion, coughing up torrents of double-bass bomb, soaring cymbal and snare combinations that slash and rip and gouge. The title track is Villains at full strength, full of Beam, beer, and bud, a miasmatic hormonal monster of thrash hatred. Villains is not policemen; they are the bad guys with the curlicue mustaches. Highest recommendation.
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]
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[Left Hand Path tips its collective hat to Nordic Cave-Artist Kalle Runeson for permitting use of his “Ritual” drawings in this article. Click here, here, here, and here for larger versions of each.]
Left Hand Path #002
Left Hand Path #003
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-12-18