Guess Who’s Back (Down)

The first hardcore bands must have been completely nuts.

Think about it. These bands were made of people who looked at the extremity of punk, with all its in-your face anger and impromptu  piercings and thought “You know, this doesn’t go far enough. This city deserves a better class of criminal.” That’s like looking at Channing Tatum and thinking you could be a better male stripper or looking at Kim Jong-Un and thinking you could be a  better egotistical asshole. It’s a mix of ambition and madness and you’d better succeed or you’ll look like an idiot. Well, with the Kim Jong-Un thing you’ll probably look like an idiot either way, but that’s beside the point. The point is that hardcore was a rousing success, and that first generation of  mad visionaries paved the way for a musical  genre that has not only survived, but percolated through the consciousness of the heavy music  scene to create a system of subgenres and derived genres that looks like  the royal family tree. And even today, straight-up hardcore  has lost none of its power, as Back Down have demonstrated on their new EP, Pushing Forward.

At its core hardcore is still all about delivering an aural beatdown, and leaving nobody in any doubt that somewhere out in the world there are things you’re pissed at. And you’re going to express that by shouting at them and playing steel-plated riffs. I can respect the approach, especially when it sounds this good. Back Down have nailed the core sound of hardcore (sorry). The riffs have that satisfyingly meaty tone that is so necessary  to good hardcore and they  are all written with impact in mind, from the lightning-quick chuggathons to the pieces designed to show off the almost supernatural sustain the band are ekeing out of their instruments. Added to  this is an ability to write satisfyingly boppable and catchy breakdowns, a vital ingredient in the hardcore secret sauce. It’s all  incredibly well executed, little changes and twists constantly thrown into the mix to keep the listener interested and the music far above the typical hardcore. The aggression is underpinned by a drum performance that is in constant control of the song dynamics and topped with punchy, almost unhealthily enraged vocals that make the EP’s 20 minutes an experience perfectly suited to help you work out some anger issues. Or develop some, depending on your disposition. Regardless, Pushing Forward is a nicely crafted collection of crunchy fun that gives me high hopes for what Back Down will come out with next. The title track is embedded below and you can listen to the full EP on Back Down’s Bandcamp.

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Bone Gnawer? I Barely Even Know Her

The list of good stuff with Cannibal in the name is pretty short. And deservedly so, because cannibals are dicks. Anyone who takes it as an invitation when you tell them “eat me” is far too dangerous to be out in normal society. Or at least they would have been whenever the last decade was that people actually said “eat me.” Eh, they’re probably still too dangerous to go mainstream. So for now we’ll have to take the precious few morsels of cannibal related pop  culture we can find. Let’s see. There’s death metal band Cannibal Corpse, for whom their name might be the least scary part of the overall package (Just go read the song titles on Tomb of the Mutilated). There’s cult horror film Cannibal Holocaust, the film that was found footage before it was cool, and was banned because authorities thought it was an actual snuff film. And now we have Cannibal Crematorium, the latest album by Singapore death metal band Bone Gnawer, as another example to point to whenever someone asks “Cannibals, what are they good for?”

Cannibal Crematorium is thick on the atmosphere, opening up with a mix of samples of screaming, begging and the sound of chainsaws. This works perfectly to establish the overall mood of the album, with its gory lyrics, old-school horror vibe and straight-ahead approach to death metal carnage. However, straightforward isn’t always a bad thing and the chuggathon riffs mixed with frequent sound samples means the album has foreboding oozing out of its eye-sockets. It also helps that Bone Gnawer are accomplished at writing simple yet memorable riffs, and know how to occasionally interject some notier sections without compromising on the instant appeal. These sections help to break up the songs a little, giving them a more interesting flow  and memorability than your standard death ‘n roll band. The overall effect is of a band who know exactly what they are doing. They want to make you curl up into the fetal position, and they have the skill to use any musical tool they please to accomplish the task. They just happen to have picked a rusty corkscrew, because that’s the best tool for what they want to accomplish. And as it turns out, the rusty corkscrew is bloody good at making you rock out. Which is handy, because it also sucks at opening wine bottles.

Cannibal Crematorium might not be the most complex death metal album, but Bone Gnawer have succeeded in writing an album that drips horror and is great fun. It’s not one for the music snobs, but anyone who enjoys the simple pleasures of well-written and produced death metal will have a good time with the cannibals. Modern Day Cannibal is embedded below and you can feast on the full album on Bone Gnawer’s Bandcamp.

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The Shardborne Supremacy


It’s a great week to be Irish. We have shown that we have the ability to compete with the best of the best. We have kicked ass, and made out voices heard internationally. We have been given an icon to gather around after a few tough years in which we were little more than an object of pity and centerpiece in cautionary tales about hubris. The Celtic tiger may be dead, but our spirit didn’t die. That’s right, Limerick instrumental metallers Shardborne have unleashed their wickedly inventive album Living Bridges upon the world.

Oh, and the Conor McGregor thing was pretty cool too I guess.

In general it has been an incredible year for Irish music, with the release of Living Bridges marking the third Irish metal album released since January which has a strong chance of ending up in my end of year top ten. Murdock’s Dead Lung contained mathcore twisted enough to  cause nosebleeds and No Spill Blood’s Heavy Electricity gave me cramps in my foot-tapping muscles with the power of its groove. And now Shardborne have carved themselves out a piece of my neural real estate with their dazzlingly intricate progressive metal opus. It is an album where the only thing that can be expected is the unexpected. Riffs are bent around bizarre time signatures, the variations on themes are constant and song structures sit on the verge  of freeform writing. The craziness and creativity may leave you counting beats to keep up, but the album is also capable of great beauty. The melodies are absolutely gorgeous (check out the opening of fifth track Mind The Gap) and besides  the more straightforward (I use the word very loosely) metal riffs there are lush chord arrangements that  give the album a sense of vertical depth. The musicianship on display here  is humbling, and the level of detail gives the lots of replay value, beyond its immediate appeal as a rocking prog album.

I also have to give special mention to the production on the album. It is a strange experience for me, knowing after the first ten seconds of an album that I was probably going to enjoy the whole thing, but the quality of the mix was clear even in that short time, and only impressed me more as the music progressed. Living Bridges is  a busy album, with complicated, angular parts overlapping each other constantly. The production takes what could dissolve into unlistenable mush if not handled carefully and makes it sing. Every part is clear, the harmonies sound through perfectly (especially considering the amount of distortion) and when it’s time for a heavy riff, you may lose teeth. It’s this sound that lets both the beauty and the heavy edge of the album shine through as they work their  magic.

Shardborne have written something special here, something to stimulate your love for both metal and gentle progressive soundscapes. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year so far. Much of the country is feeling a swelling pride in their homeland because of what Conor McGregor did in the ring Saturday, and while I appreciate  the dedication and grit he demonstrated as much as anyone, nothing this year has made me feel more proud to be Irish than how much we have punched above our weight musically. The playthrough video of opening track Not That, Axis is embedded below, and you can find the full album on Shardborne’s Bandcamp.

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Come Drift With Me And E.


It’s Sunday. Chill out time. Justify it however you want. I’m using my busy week of house-hunting and car-shopping as an excuse. Christians out there can use the Sabbath. You know how the commandment goes. “Remember the Sabbath, because you’ll never be able to remember the night before.” My knowledge of other religions is a bit more sparse, but I’m sure  there’s some justification you can use. You’re taking a day of meditation. The universe is a gaping existential void and thus there’s no point in doing anything on Sunday anyway. It’s your karma. Satan says so (You can use  this  one to justify practically anything to yourself, it’s always fun noticing how  the coldest countries have the most church burnings). Regardless, grab yourself some E. and gather round for some nice relaxing introspection. No, not that type of E. I meant the mysterious post-rock band whose new EP Tides Of Novae forms a perfect wash of fuzzy warmth to carry you through a dozy Sunday evening. Or half an hour of it at  least.

Carrying the same wall of noise approach favored by bands like Cult Of Luna, the songs on Tides Of Novae progress at  the speed of continental drift or anything Steve Reich writes. The riffs themselves are glacial, but detailed, and while they may take a  while to get where they’re going, the journey is worth it. The production is filled with little electronic oddities to spice things up, background blips and beeps giving the music a sense of density and otherworldliness. This mood amplifies  the music’s hypnotic quality, by which I mean it’s absolutely perfect music to zone out to. The combination of  the drone and slowly evolving music makes it one of those albums that leave you with the feeling that time has barely passed. It’s suited to both close listening and unintrusive background music, a very cool place for an album to sit.

I could  drone on, but in this case the music is rather self-explanatory. E. have written a hypnotic EP that’s ideal for listening to when you need some quiet time, and I highly recommend the  experience.  Hand Of Mercury is embedded below and you  can find  the full album on E’s Bandcamp.

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Gaza: Is The Swans Still there?

Today’s I’m going to write about one of my favorite albums, an under-appreciated classic. Actually, I’m not surprised it hasn’t seen enough acknowledgement. I’m even hesitant about writing the recommendation, because I have mixed feelings on subjecting anyone else to  such a crushing assault on your soul. But it’s worth it. That was the power of Gaza: the ability to create a strange mix of excitement and dread normally only felt by someone who has shouted that they want to get off the rollercoaster, or sexted Danny Trejo for a dick pic. They wrote music that didn’t want  to be your friend. It  was like being attacked by a hobo with a rusty syringe, barely coherent gibberish and spittle flying from his mouth as he attempted to perforate you. But then, when you looked in his eyes, you realized he was completely sane. That he was smarter than you. That maybe you were the monster. It was this sense of existential horror that Gaza’s music captured perfectly, especially on their bludgeoning first album, I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die.

Attempting to fit Gaza in a genre would require a research grant and six months, but they do share a lot in common with the earlier metalcore bands like Converge. Indeed, core genres constitute a lot of their lineage. Heavy shades of mathcore and grindcore can be seen in the album’s dark color palette, but also a sense of disappointment curdled into rage which is closer to crust  punk. What I just wasted all those words attempting to say is that Gaza’s sound is unique, defined more by a  mood than a pre-drawn musical template. And all the sludgy, angular, dissonant riffs, queasy drones and sickening gurgles on the album serve it perfectly. Hope never pokes its head out for a moment, as the album constantly lives up to the nihilistic promise of its title, and the visceral, ugly song names like Hospital Fat Bags. This is what commitment sounds like. The only catchy hooks the album has are the ones it stabs you with. It is a piece of art, built on integrity, truth and a twisted but brilliant sense of musicality.

Of course, the harsher truths of life are boring. Entertaining art is truth filtered through a sense of creativity and the creativity on show here is spectacular. There may be no hooks but there are hundreds of  incredible ideas, beautiful in their expression of misery. Often, the most noticeable, fascinating riff will have a stack of little extra  details piled on top of it and even more submerged beneath. It is an album that rewards close listening with its almost  fractal nature, extending all the way  up from the spider-like drumming  to the endlessly brilliant guitars and the abrasive vocals. Atmospherics are everywhere, little human noises of pain and suffering tucked into the  backdrop of songs to accentuate the nauseating feel of the vomited-into-the-mic vocals. This richness lets the album survive many listenings without giving up all its secrets, and makes  the process of discovering them an absolute joy, even as the heavy mood bears down on you.

I’m hitting my word limit, but I can’t say enough nice things about this nasty, nasty album. Gaza may have went their separate ways, but we can still admire the stark majesty they  created with their violent masterpiece of a debut. Album opener Calf is embedded below and you can experience the full album on Gaza’s iTunes.

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Don’t Mess With Southern Front

Honestly, who really takes tourism slogans seriously? City of lights? I’ve got lights at home, and they come with a switch for when I need to get some shut-eye. The Emerald Isle? Maybe if we could roll back a  hundred years of urban expansion. Sin city? Okay, that one makes sense as long as you can afford it. These slogans are often relics of  the past, echoes of some long forgotten advertising campaign, like the radiowaves carrying  an old Coke ad past a distant star. It seems like only one slogan has survived unscathed, still intoned with pride by locals. Everything’s bigger in Texas. Steaks. Beers. Hats. And now metal. Southern Front have burst forth from the Texan metal scene with a saddlebag full of outsized riffs, and on latest LP Death Throes, they prove that they’re definitely not afraid to use them.

Southern Front’s sound comes closest to the quintessential New Wave of American Heavy Metal. A combination of thrash metal bite and groove metal punch, it’s perfectly suited to delivering knockout metal hits. The interplay between the two styles really helps the flow of the music. Thrashier riffs provide a little more fire and fury for faster sections, and the groovier riffs are all about the slower, bop your head rhythms. Then there are riffs at all points on the continuum in between as well, making the fusion of the two genres feel seamless and natural. The band  are well-versed in making both styles original, catchy and impactful, with an armory of guitar parts that hit like a sledgehammer, slamming drums and powerful, gut-churning vocals ensuring that each musical idea is expressed with the right tools. They also aren’t afraid of guitar solos, providing horns in the air guitar hero moments on songs like Burned Awake. In combination with tight songwriting skills, the overall package is an immediate, giant metal sound that maintains its quality through the whole album

Southern Front’s new album might not be subtle, but they have produced a work full of huge, fun, wall-of-death metal that will keep your neck muscles strong and give your neighbors headaches. Burned Awake is embedded below and you can listen to the full album on Southern Front’s Bandcamp.

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Obscurus Codex: Little Green Men Write Epic Black Metal


There’s a pretty standard list of deities black metal bands worship. The genre has been around long enough that whenever a goat (or cat in the city I guess) is sacrificed to Satan, Cthulhu or Beelzebub, nobody bats an eyelid. Except maybe the poor kittie/ kiddie’s owner. In any case, one god you don’t see a whole lot of sacrifices to, at least not of the ceremonial kind with a dagger, is Xenu. Black metal has something primitive in its bones, something that feels the need to film its videos on mountaintops and in forests. Giant fucking spaceships are  going to stretch the budget a tad. Russian instrumental metallers Obscurus Codex are here to change that, with  their future facing heavily electronic black metal proving a perfect accompaniment to the worship of your chosen space deity.

The approach on their latest release, Eschatology, is as eclectic and varied as the stars in the sky. Passages of steely black metal with furious drumming are intertwined with sweeping orchestral pieces and even occasional bouts of beeping electronica. Fortunately, this unusual approach is the ideal vehicle to carry the mood of the sci-fi themed album. There is a feel that a mind  unfettered with human ideals of what music should be has stitched all these styles together into a spellbinding tapestry of noise. Some of the individual parts on the album can be a little drab in contrast to the more exotic sections, but they all maintain the hypnotic power that gives the album much of its mystique. The production is the oddest part of the album’s appeal for me. On almost any other album I’d call it a bit thin, sounding just a little bit too computerized to give the music full impact. But given the overall sense of alien strangeness the album goes for, it works. It adds to the overall atmosphere of something just a touch beyond humanity, and, whether by design or accident, it actually ties the whole album together.

Eschatology is an album that creates beauty in musical probing and sheer weirdness. Unlike anything else I have heard, it is worth checking out for its spine-tingling uniqueness alone, and the perfectly formed atmosphere is the icing on the green glowing cake. Album opener “Grand Galactic Empire of Fleshless Beings and Their Machines” (I didn’t name the song, okay) is embedded below, and I highly recommend listening to the full album on Obscurus Codex’s Bandcamp.

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Idiots’ Odyssey Episode 19: 10% Is Bullshit

This week on the Idiots’ Odyssey my horse wins the Spider-Man race, Hollywood is so desperate for good scripts they’re getting them from Stanley Kubrick’s rotting corpse and the world is finally ready for a black superhero, just as long as there’s a white version of the same superhero in the same fucking film. I know equality is a thing that tends to happen one step at a time, but I didn’t know they had to be baby-steps. Video’s below, I’m going to go lie down until my eyes stop rolling.

Sunday Metal School 3: Envig

Hey, welcome to Sunday metal school. This is the series where I introduce  you to metal bands that provide a nice accessible entry point to the genre. Usually the format is that I’ll explain a little about the band and any  interesting points about them and how they relate to metal history before I break down their sound a little. But with Envig, there’s a tiny issue with that. The most interesting thing about the band (apart from the fact that the music is some of the  best  fun I’ve had listening to death metal this year) is that they’re a ghost. Up until about a week ago, as far as I can tell, they didn’t exist. And that’s fascinating to me. Bands don’t just  have to fight the record labels and the public to get their music out there. They have to fight themselves. Most bands who release an EP this polished have a trail of musical footprints leading up to the point where  they had finally gotten their shit together. A few small live performances. A Facebook page to connect with local fans and bands. Bedroom recordings posted on Soundcloud. But in Envig’s case, as far as my Google detective skills tell me, there’s nothing. Even their logo, cool as it is, seems deliberately designed to obscure the band’s name. So all I can tell you is what precious little I can learn from their Bandcamp page. Their name is Envig. They come from Lidköping in Sweden. And their cracking demo, Warmachine, has appeared from nowhere to awaken your inner death-metal addict.

The secret  to Envig’s immediate appeal, in spite of their bone-crunching heaviness, is that the music has much in common with crust punk. Their songs follow the classic verse-chorus-verse and the riffs  are often crafted from simple musical building blocks. There are plenty of times that the riffs feel like a crust band with death metal leanings and a coating of musical grime layered on top to amplify the grim effect. Also, despite the mysterious nature of the band itself, the music doesn’t obscure its purpose behind walls of complexity. Everything is right  there on the surface. If a part is meant to be creepy, you will find it creepy. And when a part is meant to get you moving, there is an excellent chance you will give yourself whiplash.

This straightforward, punky approach to death metal is underlined by the band on final track Booze, Violence and Misery, a cover of a song by Swedish crust punk crew Warcollapse, but the effects are everywhere on the album, from the compact song lengths to the defiant bark of  the vocalist. The combination of death metal kick with punk hookiness gives the album an earnest, irresistible appeal that translates into an urgent impulse to hit the replay button. And that’s the best thing about the album. It’s a stomping death punk party piece that keeps inviting you back. It’s music to  rock out to in your car while passing drivers wonder what the hell that nutjob’s nodding so vigorously at and music to use as your alarm clock the next morning. This is what a shot of musical adrenalin feels like.

Envig have a brilliant little demo here. With music this catchy and blunt, I’m not surprised that they just dropped the  mic and walked away. Opening track Warmachine is embedded below and you can stream the full demo for free on Envig’s Bandcamp.

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Blaze Of Perdition Will Set Your Eardrums Alight

One of the things that surprised me when I started digging into death metal is the diversity of the genre. To someone who had only heard the one-dimensional (though super rad) assault of bands like Deicide and Cannibal Corpse, it seemed counter-intuitive that musicians exploring jazz or folk or gentle soundscapes would choose to align themselves with the genre most likely to scream in your face while describing how it was going to hack you open with a bonesaw. Now it seems clearer  to me why that should be the case. And by that, I mean I have formed my own crackpot theory on the matter. Death metal is about extremity. It’s about making nasty noises and telling nasty stories, either of which could make people’s ears bleed on their own. But within that extremity, there is a freedom.

When your music makes the masses turn their backs, you no longer have to worry about them. Instead you can concern yourself with creating exactly the sound you want to hear, and putting it out there for the people who want to hear it too. Death metal carries the message that you are doing whatever it is you’re doing for its own sake. And so of course it has attracted bright musical minds who didn’t want to be reigned in by the confines of other genres. If you want to make music free of those shackles, death metal is a fine place to start. This explanation is always somewhere in the back of my mind whenever I hear a band who are taking the death metal sound and doing something different with it. Blaze Of Perdition, for example, have borrowed elements of the genre to fuse with a black metal core and doom metal finish for an album that’s equal parts caustic, somber and rocking on their latest release Near Death Revelations.

Near Death Revelations, despite its complicated genetic make-up, can be summed up in one word: heavy. Which is unusual, considering that the album contains several clean passages. However, the band infuse even these moments with a brooding ominous vibe. At times they almost feel heavier than the most vitriolic black metal riffage on the album. This isn’t a slight on the riffs either. Blaze Of Perdition have written some wicked earworm guitar parts here, from slow building trudging doom riffs to intense, violently picked black metal scorchers. The contrasting parts seem carefully chosen and placed to give the album a real sense of flow within its variety and at no point does it suffer from its case of multiple personality disorder.

Indeed, its madness is fascinating, the music breathtaking in the avenues it is willing to take, from strange angular riffs to the almost toneless guitar parts in the outro to When Mirrors Shatter. The trip through the album blew me away with the amount of sounds I heard in there that I had never heard before, or never heard combined in that way. The sense of experimentation is constant, and the thing that impressed me the most about the album is that even with the amount of inventiveness and odd parts, the songs still work musically, both feeling coherent and containing all the heavy hooks needed to provide a more visceral metal experience. Integrity meets craft here, and the two combined make for a great album.

Near Death Revelations carries all the insanity, weight and horror its title implies, but rocks you as it does so. Blaze Of Perdition have crafted a black metal album that works from all angles, and deserves your attention. Into The Void Again is embedded below and you can check out the full, spectacular, album on Blaze Of Perdition’s Bandcamp.

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