Sunday, April 29, 2012

Album Review: Napalm Death - 'Utilitarian'

Anybody interested enough to read this shitty review probably knows the story already, having heard it from every critic and fan in cyberspace everytime these guys release something. Band invents the genre and coins the term 'Grindcore', band supposedly loses it's way four albums into their career in an exploration of influences and sound, and then band is rebirthed...Well I wouldn't call it so much a rebirth as it was more like a violent bursting forth from the womb, eviscerating it's host on the way out and never looking back. Napalm Death took the "slower", industrialized sonic density of their sound from the mid-nineties (often referred to as the "Facepalm" years by elitist naysayers) and infused it into the speed and raw brutality of the bands early career noise in a stride that began with 2000's 'Enemy Of The Music Business'. Utilitarian is the group's 7th record since the so-called 'rebirth' and 14th over-all not including cover albums, and it is the sonic equivalent of an 800 Horse Power Steamroller barelling down on you at 80 MPH in a dead-end alleyway. The album is loud, suffocating, and magnanimous. The production on Utilitarian is clean but the guitars still have enough of that reverb layer to make that trademark tone instantly recognizable as Napalm Death even before Barney starts barking all over the madness. And he sounds more pissed off than ever, and more comfortable than ever, to the point where you start to wonder if this is just how the brummie talks these days. 2009's 'Time Waits For No Slave' was a good album, but my biggest complaint is it's length. It feels like a majority of the songs on that disc could have been cut in half, and probably should have been as it clocks in at over 50 minutes. I also wonder if that's why the amazingly thrashtastic 'De-Evolution Ad Nauseum' is strategically placed as the album's closer to suck you back in. If you're one of those people who can maintain through 50 minutes of that kind of intensity without a problem then that's just the dulled down state you live in all the time and you're being robbed of the kind of release this music can give you when dosed correctly. 'Utilitarian' is a shorter album, and it's peppered with the kind of subtle experimentation that helps create checkpoints between the blasting and forces songs to stand out even on first listen. The album opens with an instrumental intro, which works because it's not something Napalm Death over-use on every album, and it does exactly what it's supposed to do: help prepare your central nervous system to adjust to the kind of sounds you are going to be hearing at a much faster pace. Then 'Error In Signals' lunges into an all-out grind assault, Greenway's rabid bark exchanging lines with Mitch Harris' wet shriek - a formula that never gets tired throughout the duration of the record. The utilization of instruments and guest vocals that would normally be alien to grindcore always helps to keep the sound fresh, as was the case on both 2005's 'The Code Is Red' and 2006's 'Smear Campaign'. On 'Everyday Pox' there is the shriek of a berzerking saxophone weaving in and out of the cacaphony of churning riffs and savage percussion. Almost sounds like a goose getting pummeled by Herrera's double bass. It only adds to the intensity. One of the few times the band let their boot off your throat happens in the grandiose middle of 'Fall On Their Swords', where Greenway seems to channel the congealed gay love child of Peter Steele and Burton C. Bell in a goth baritone verberating over tribal toms and Jesu-esque shoegaze string plucking. 'Quarintined' is arguably the catchiest track on the record, where the cadence like yell of 'Quarantined' changes it's pattern over striding guitars during the chorus before stomping itself back into d-beat grindcore, and 'Nom de Guerre' is a relentless blast-beat ridden destroyer that burns itself out in a little over a minute, in remastered classic Napalm Death style. As with the aforementioned 'De-Evolution Ad Nauseum', ND save one of the best for last in 'A Gag Reflex', a sonically bad-assed swaggering riff opens and closes the track leaving you hungry for more - and then you get it in the bonus song 'Everything In Mono' - one of those "bonus" tracks that they must have thrown in there because they knew it was too good to leave off but had to put it as a bonus after so many arm chair quarterback losers such as myself bitched about Time Waits For No Slave being too damn long - because a bonus track doesn't count, right? Anywho, the track is a sonic anvil falling on you over and over again like John Madden running a Looney Toons cartoon, especially the (Metallica) 'One' -esque middle tirade. God forgive me for that reference.
And those are just the checkpoints! The rest is a filler-free pummeling of the ears. Forget all that phase bullshit, this collosus stands as possibly one of their best albums. I guess to put it short (toooooo late), if you dug Smear Campaign, with it's speed, heaviness, and sonic clarity - this is the closest thing to it in sound, only the writing and variety within the album surpasses it. Here's to another 14 albums please.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Album Review: Beaten To Death - Xes and Strokes

I stumbled across a video from these guys for the title track off of their debut album Xes and Strokes. It's basically the five of them rocking out in what is probably a rented out rehearsal space. The song held my attention long enough to win me over at the one minute mark when the melody-tinged drop chord grind does a sudden shift of gears and turns into a palm-muted stompfest that makes you want to boogie the fuck out, complete with bass and drum breakdown. The band separates themselves from the pack by utilizing a lot of high end melody within their sound, riffs that wouldn't be alien to an Arch Enemy song if you tore away the blastbeats pushing it forward from behind- it works for them, and even more so because of it's juxtaposition to the big ugly fat guitars and guttered out bass that keep the band's sound down and dirty, think of that first Korn album on trucker speed (two for two on the bad metal references). For me personally, some of the best moments in Grindcore happen when a band's disfigured and violent sound breaks away from it's own grip for just a brief moment, and opens up the wound enough to show a glimpse of something almost beautiful within the carnage. The almost majestic riffage towards the end of Brutal Truth's 'Dead Smart', or the desperate vulnerability that's exposed both musically and vocally in the second half of Pig Destroyer's 'Towering Flesh' are good examples. BTD accomplish this at the end of 'A Souless Alarm', when the grind halts to an eerie harmonic that is built upon with orchestrally choreographed volume knobbery (think Metallica's To Live Is To Die -HAT TRICK!!!), and then rolls forward into a percussively driven jam-out moment at the end. While I do compliment the band on messing around with melody and still keeping it grind, the formula just isn't strong enough to keep my attention throughout the entire album, as some tracks just fall into the mediocre after the half-way point once I got used to hearing it and I may as well be listening to the monotony that is Leng Tche'. But at the same time there are moments when the music makes you want to move, and sometimes the simplicity of the punk formula just fuckin' works the best, as evidenced in their opener "Pointless Testament", the actual music lasts less than a minute and the track beats you down with really just one main riff. "On Running" is another bad ass tune that works well mainly because it's still fresh early in the album and teeters back and forth between a happy little blast-tainted melody and stuttering breakdown power-chording (I know it ain't a word).  The vocals are pretty straightforward and typical for the genre, low to high, with little variance at both ranges, but the emotion is there. The tracks on the album vary from just over a minute to just under three, so with only nine tracks the band does a great job of not wearing out their welcome and wrapping it up in 18 minutes and some change. Production is top notch, and the drums sound clean and powerful against the downtuned guitars and dirty bass. I get the feeling that Beaten To Death got the final product to sound exactly the way they wanted it to. I wonder how many groups hit the studio unable to match the sounds in their head and end up resting on their laurels or embracing it and changing a bit of the writing to fit into the sound better. The band also must have some good pals that majored in film editing because they've got three high quality straight-up cool videos available for your perusing on youtube where it's them just grinding their shit, including the aforementioned "Pointless Testament". I always dig when a group puts so much work into a video for a song that short. These dudes aren't anything I'd rave about in line at the next Weekend Nachos show but they are still good at what they do and aren't weighing down the scene with run-of-the-mill mediocrity, I'd definitely recommend them to anyone looking for something decent and new. I think Beaten To Death is one of those bands that will either win me over or lose me on their next release, and as of now I'm looking forward to hear where they go. Check out the video for 'Xes and Strokes' below, and then follow the links to watch 'Pointless Testimony' and 'Winston Churchill': It's a fun lil' watch.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

'Why You Do This' - a documentary of life on the road as an extreme musician.

Car Bomb. For those of you unprevy to this one-albumed loogie of hate, know that they are a musical force to be reckoned with.  Spawned in the wake of the emergence of the ridiculously pigeon-holed genre-term "Math Metal", this four piece created an albums worth of controlled yet spasmatic ferocity the likes of which raises them above the visionless 'Calculating Infinity' Clones pissing all over the creative original sound. Sure the influence can be heard, but Car Bomb abandons anything even close to resembling a hook or rhythm and instead comes off as a very jagged, very large pill to swallow, arguably more difficult to absorb then even some of the most unhinged Grindcore - arguably. The sound is so sharp, and so combustible, that instead of resembling 11 different tracks it's almost just one long compilation of fits and seizures. A soundtrack to the spewing forth of schizophrenic hate.
How does a band like this survive? Well, seeing as how they hadn't released anything in over 5 years I wasn't sure that they had, until I stumbled upon a documentary titled 'Why You Do This'. Just over an hour long, this short little film (put together by Car Bomb vocalist Michael Dafferner) follows the band on the road as they tread on and continue playing their undigestible brand of music despite what seems to be only a continuing series of disenchanting pit-falls and realizations. It's the usual run-of-the-mill kind of things any underground band has to deal with - playing to crowds of three or four people, automotive difficulties, being ripped off by club owners, continuously losing more money than you make - but for those who've never had the experience it makes for an interesting watch. The narraration throughout the film is mostly pessimistic, as though the whole project itself came to fruition as a result of half a decades worth of being jaded. If you don't take it as tongue-in-cheek halfway thru the doc you may find yourself telling your monitor to "just fuckin' quit then", but by the end you'll see it's not the answer that you're sticking around for but really the search for the answer. The film also uses Lamb of God and Gojira as examples of two groups who were able to claw their way 'tooth and nail' out of the underground to headline their own tour and earn an opening slot playing for Metallica. Poor examples in my opinion as both those bands earn their living on the other side of extreme music's line in the sand due to their sound being so accessible in comparison to a group like Carbomb. Lamb Of God is par for the course with a band like Slipknot, damn good at what they do, but still just a rehash of riffs and ideas that worked years before when Meshuggah, Sepultura and Slayer carved their paths (Phil Anselmo called and said he wants his tough-mumblings-over-tougher-riffs act back Mr. Blythe), but I digress. They were probably the only ones willing or available to contribute interviews and without them there would be an air of hoplessness throughout the film. The doc also includes interviews with members of Bella Morte, The Chariot, and Soilent Green, not to mention a spot-on 'why I do this' summarization about playing extreme music from ex-Death/current Charred Walls of the Damned drummer Richard Christy. The film is an eye opener for anybody that hasn't tried traveling across the country in a shit-box van w/trailer, and makes you thankful that groups like this don't toss their gear into the Ol' Miss while driving over it and call it a day. Can you imagine a world without violent basement shows where the fuse blows every song and Hepatitis C creeps like grave moss through bloody knuckes and abrased skin in mock-jungle temperatures? As I type this from the comfort of the home I own and live in comfortably I tell you that I cannot. So god bless those cursed with the passion for playing extreme music, and sacrificing their own comfort to tread across this country and scrape by with no expectations of ever seeing a light at the end of a tunnel or a multi-million dollar record contract not to mention even a mere 2 minutes on the radio. The film doesn't break any new ground, nor does it necessarily draw you in - but much like the Discordance Axis novella 'Compiling Autumn', the fact that it exists is a bonus. Fans of the scene and the band should consider themselves fortunate that someone was passionate enough about what they do to compile the resources and take the time needed to create it and make it available without profiting. So you should take the time to watch the doc if you're into the scene at all. Check it out below and order yourself a copy here.