Review: Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

Album: Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

Release date: 9/13/2011

Label: Southern Lord Records

This new movement of American black metal continues to intrigue me. Wolves in the Throne Room is no exception, and Celestial Lineage, their fourth studio-length album, is as Norwegian of a record as any American native can get. Celestial Lineage is a very raw, yet organically produced recording that harkens to the symphonic qualities of Emperor and the unrelenting ambiance of Darkthrone.

The emotion put into Celestial Lineage gives it an almost post-hardcore quality to it that fans of Isis (Aaron Turner contributes some vocal pieces to the album) and Red Sparrowes will appreciate. However, it is very far from being an experimental fusion the way Liturgy’s Aesthethica was. This is a more conventional black metal album that pays tribute rather than redefining something stagnant. Songs stretch an eternity with blackened fingers and sustained keyboards, guitars and vocals, and the album’s high level of distortion emphasizes its ambiance by octaves. There are layers of moods here.

Kvlt elitists will appreciate this work as a peace offering for what Aesthethica may have disrupted in its unconventionality. Celestial Lineage is a luscious piece, calculated in spirit and surging with emotion. A great effort.

Favorite track: Astral Blood

Star Rating:

8 out of 10 stars

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Review: Deicide – To Hell With God

Album: Deicide – To Hell With God

Release date: 2/15/2011

Label: Century Media Records

Following a string of mediocre-to-average recordings, To Hell With God is probably Deicide’s best album in 15 years. The perfect and quintessential death metal album, Once Upon the Cross, has since become a relic; a fairy tale from decades past. The new album from the Florida quartet delivers to the patient.

This is a different band playing To Hell With God. Deicide has since parted ways with the original guitarists, the Hoffman brothers, in 2004, and has since brought in Kevin Quirion (Order of Ennead) and Jack Owen (Cannibal Corpse, who else?) to fill their shoes. Both men do an excellent job in shredding thick-and-tremolo riffs, the signature Deicide guitar tone, although the songs themselves do have an obvious neo-Cannibal Corpse influence. Steve Asheim still blasts on drums, and Glen Benton still barks his anti-Christian doctrines like an unchained hellhound.

With different guitarists come different styles of playing, and although Owen and Quirion are excellent replacements, their presentation of the material doesn’t seem to compare to the unholy trinity of the first three albums: Deicide, Legion, and the aforementioned Once Upon the Cross. I don’t think that many death metal albums do; Deicide’s ability to structure a perfect, conventional verse-chorus-verse death metal song/album has been part of the reason they’ve been a gateway band for new metalheads. If I were to initiate a new recruit to this genre, would I play this, or Once Upon? Most likely Once Upon; it’s a superb work that has aged like freaking Cher.

I’m not saying To Hell With God is bad, in fact it’s great. I think I’ve been spoiled by the early-Hoffman era of Deicide and it’s very difficult for me to break that mentality. I also blame Vital Remains, a band that had taken off with Deicide’s concept post-Once Upon the Cross, and their amazing ability to write epic death metal sagas. Should you buy this album? Sure, just don’t expect Dechristianize.    

One word review: Better.

Star Rating:

7 out of 10 stars

Review: Pathogenic – Cyclopean Imagery

Album: Pathogenic – Cyclopean Imagery

Release Date: 8/21/2011

Label: Self-released

 

The result of a one-night stand between Meshuggah and Symphony X, Pathogenic’s Cyclopean Imagery is an ultra-technical, polyrhythmic exercise of not only music theory, but of the listener’s stamina. The question is not how long the album is, but of how your brain can formulate the complexities of progressive metal.

Of this strange hybrid of band influences, Cyclopean Imagery sounds less like Symphony X playing Meshuggah and more like Meshuggah playing Symphony X. The result is a severely technical recording, filled with insanely meticulous patterns, start-and-stop time signatures, and blistering atonal riffs. It is clear that Pathogenic has put a large emphasis on quality throughout the recording, as it sounds and feels great being played on a good car stereo.

This New England 6-man group has existed since 2004, and before this album there was only one other recording in existence, an EP from 2005. The band looks much younger than its musical capabilities, which are far more experienced than most bands out there today (alongside Animals as Leaders). The lower rating I’ve given Cyclopean Imagery (begrudgingly) has nothing to do with the energy and technicality this band displays. Unlike Animals as Leader’s excellent self-titled recording from last year, the diversity from track to track on Pathogenic’s release is non-discernable.

This is a tired but true complaint for most heavy metal albums, and one that is difficult to shake. Every song feels like a stack of polyrhythmic beats layered atop alternations of (very good) clean and dirty vocals. However, the fact that each song sounds like this is amazing; how Pathogenic can separate and memorize one song from the next reaffirms an appreciation of progressive metal, and the people who play it. This is a very good, yet pigeon-holed album you may or may not understand.

Best track: Fish Frenzy

Star Rating:

 

7 out of 10 stars

 

Review: Vader – Welcome to the Morbid Reich

Album: Vader – Welcome to the Morbid Reich

Release date: 8/12/2011

Label: Nuclear Blast

Another Polish death metal group to have lost a drummer prematurely, Vader breaks through the grave with lightning speed and delivers their best album in years with Welcome to the Morbid Reich. This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it powerhouse of a death metal record shreds with resurgence. This is their ninth studio album and their first in two years, though it seems longer.

When I first heard this album in my friend’s car I swore this was a different band until I heard Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek’s recognizable (and decipherable!) vocals.  And this is a different band. Vader has always maintained an unbridled speed and energy on each record, but with Welcome to the Morbid Reich, many of my complaints with the group are answered. The monotony that many of their later albums have treaded is not here. Each track is separable, yet inseparable to the quality of the completed album. This rocks through and through.

This is a loud and fast recording. Vader has always been regarded as one of the fastest death metal (and to a very, very small degree, thrash) bands on the planet. They prove themselves worthy of the title on Welcome to the Morbid Reich, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing is played out like a blistering event horizon. What I mean to say is the whole album is very fast, but there are some parts that are just fast. You’ll be skull-banging all throughout.

The songwriting and production of this album screech quality. Welcome to the Morbid Reich is great enough to be considered a mainstream metal release and definitive of its genre. It’s played by the best of the best, who are best in what they do. This is a strong candidate for album of the year and strongly recommended.

Best track: Decapitated Saints

Star rating:

9 out of 10 stars

Review: Autopsy – Macabre Eternal

Album: Autopsy –Macabre Eternal

Release Date: 5/31/2011

Label: Peaceville Records

What a fun band. I mean that with utmost sincerity. It’s good to see Bay-Area based Autopsy back together because death metal is sorely lacking their presence. It’s been a long 16 years since Shitfun came out in 1995, and since then members of the death metal group had sought other musical endeavors, Abscess being the most noteworthy. If you’ve never listened to this group and you like death metal, you MUST listen to Autopsy’s earlier releases. Most people consider the Severed Survival/Mental Funeral collaboration to be their best work, but my pick goes to Acts of the Unspeakable. Someday I’ll write an archive review of that particular album and I will most likely give it a perfect rating.

There is not one band that can even closely emulate Autopsy’s sound. This is a band of a million riffs. Listening to their earlier work you’ll be amazed at how many different licks and solos form each song. Nothing sounds alike. Their reuniting album, Macabre Eternal, is no different.

Most comeback albums sound different and it’s so evident it distracts the listener. Not the case here. Macabre Eternal fares extremely well in Autopsy’s prolific discography. If you were to play this immediately following an album from the 90’s, you wouldn’t notice the lapse in time. It’s definitely a nostalgia piece, however, but if you’re a fan of this group, you won’t mind.

Going back to the millions of riffs this band comes up with, it’s crazy. There’s nothing boring about this album at all. It’s not anywhere as fast as modern day death, although when Autopsy first released Severed Survival, it was arguably the fastest and heaviest recording at the time. The guitar tone isn’t too thick but it sounds right, because it belongs to this group. And the solos shred. Chris Reifert, drummer and lead vocalist (and the original drummer of Death), has one of the most unique voices in the genre, similar to John Tardy’s (Obituary) but never as outlandish. Misinterpreting his lyrics is very funny; when my friend and I first listened to “Deliver Me From Sanity,” we both swore Reifert was growling the line “the dirty skin around my balls.”

Check this out. Macabre Eternal is the best comeback album to come from this decade so far, closely followed by Atheist’s Jupiter. Morbid Angel, take note, this is what you should have done.

Best track: Sadistic Gratification (this track is over 11 minutes long and a chock full of licks).

Star Rating:

 

8 out of 10 stars 

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Review: Animals as Leaders – Animals as Leaders

Album: Animals as Leaders – Animals as Leaders

Release date: 4/28/2009

Label: Prosthetic Records

Animals as Leaders is a relief. It is assurance that somewhere out there, though a small population, aspiring youths genuinely care about the spirit of music and the ability to play an instrument, and to continue learning and evolving. In a world gone mad with ennui and Rock Band, we need this. I know that I’m cheating a bit because this is a 2009 album categorized in recent reviews, but you really need to give this band, and this album, attention.

Lead guitarist/songwriter Toban Abasi commands his ensemble through an album chock full of progressive metal, ala Dream Theater and Symphony X. For some reason, this album sounds more calculated than anything the aforementioned groups have released. The heavier tracks are strongly derivative of Meshuggah with their insane polyrhythmic beats and downtuned guitars. Animals as Leaders shreds but most often chooses to breeze. The result is more acoustic than synthetic, although my personal preference leans towards the heavier tracks on the CD, such as CAFO and Thoroughly at Home. BTW, no vox on anything here.

Don’t get me wrong; although this is a very progressive recording it has more spirit than most. One can drift easily in between the previously listed barrages and get lost floating down a lulling current. The lighter tracks are VERY reminiscent of Cynic, and are singed with jazz fusion influence. This can be a detracting quality of the record for the more intense listener. I enjoy this sound and spirit, but the heavier tracks tease you and you end up wanting more volume.

Animals as Leaders is an album played by Freshmen turning Seniors. Even if you’re not keen on progressive, just listen to this damned thing anyways; you’re not going to find too many youths playing music like this for long.

Best track: CAFO

Star Rating:

9 out of 10 stars

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Review: Atheist – Jupiter

Album: Atheist – Jupiter

Release Date: 11/9/2010

Label: Season of Mist

Both this review and my next will be covering major comeback albums by highly influential bands in the death metal genre. It has taken both groups over 15 years to release new studio recordings. Only in heavy metal will you find such lengthy lapses. Atheist is a group that has deserved accolades for quite some time but always seems to get it late. Perhaps it was appropriate that Jupiter was released in late 2010, and my review is untimely, having been written nearly a year later.

Atheist’s debut album, Piece of Time, was recorded in 1988, yet sounds much younger. This overlooked and aptly-named piece of time was a remarkable innovation; it merged death metal and jazz fusion seamlessly. The Florida-based group was a direct influence on other local and better-known acts: Death, Sadus, and Cynic being the primary beneficiaries. Those groups colonized an already charted territory; Atheist was its pioneer.

Jupiter is the comeback album fans of progressive death hoped for in Cynic’s Traced in Air, which came up short and quietly. There is nothing acoustic here, and no time for contemplation; the opening measures of “Second to Sun” redefine Atheist’s affinity for whiplash-inducing rhythmic changes. There’s no time to make sense of it all, and by the time you attempt it, you’re thrown into another head-scratching transition. This album has no regard for your neck.

This is a very approachable album in a genre that alienates itself from accessibility. The drumming and guitar riffs are very complex and the remaining components of the genre (particularly the awkward, nasally vocals…what is it with prog death bands having weak vocalists?) are there; they are just blended into digestible puree. Although this is not the heftiest album the genre holds, it is not quick to compromise its sound, and Jupiter is loud enough to reaffirm its solidarity in death metal.

How does Jupiter compare to Piece of Time or Unquestionable Presence? Very well; not once does it sound aging or retroactive. In an evolving metal scene that eschews convention and embraces nonconformity, Jupiter sounds as though it belongs with a younger generation of musicians and listeners. Longtime fans of Atheist will be rejuvenated to hear their group hasn’t converted into a false metal religion. The wee lads and lassies will use Jupiter as a gateway album to discover some of the old relics of the prog death genre. This is a great comeback album. Give Atheist the attention they’ve always deserved.

Best track: When the Beast

Star Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

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