Sunday, February 15, 2015

Napalm Death "Apex Predator - Easy Meat"

Napalm Death Apex Predator - Easy Meat

By: Chris Davison

Readers may be aware of the recent furor in the media regarding the claims by Fox “News” (US) that the city of Birmingham, England, had become a haven for radical extremists bent on broadcasting their furious message. If only they’d made the clarification that they meant Napalm Death, maybe they’d have been right! I make this their sixteenth full length album, excluding EPs and compilations, which of course means that Napalm Death have run a whole lot of experience since Scum erupted in 1987 and changed extreme music forever.
I am a fan of Napalm Death – though it is fair to say that I prefer their output since their move from Earache Records (aside from Harmony Corruption; that is). Their records have become a reliable indicator of furious, uncompromising grindcore. All of which serves to make Apex Predator - Easy Meat all the more remarkable. This is undeniably Napalm Death with all the hallmarks of their work – beyond intense grinding riffs, devastating drums, grumbling bass set to “attack” and the unmistakeable vocals of Barney Greenway. 

However, this time things feel different. To put a finger on it, Apex Predator... feels much more focused, lyrically and musically, while being more dynamic than their recent albums. It is also, by some considerable margin, their heaviest album by some distance. This is not a metric based on blasts per minute, nor upon the speed of guitar licks, but in terms of the atmosphere and feel of the album.

Apex Predator.... is an album that is perfect for the times in the UK. Having lived through the early 1980s in the UK, today feels very similar in tone. The economy is depressed, there is a pervading sense of helplessness and apathy from the political classes, while a fragmented and docile population snaps and bites at each other.  In setting the tone for the album, opener “Apex Predator – Easy Meat,” a slow, almost industrial sounding intro which appears to be narrated by Davros (creator of the Daleks, nerd-fans) with the words,

“Tenderise chunks of a weakling

Claim on bare bones for bleaching

Thousand yard stares 

For the meeting”

This is an indictment of the “free market” and the grinding of the weak for the corporate elite, and is a lyrical theme that continues with the blasting “Smash A Single Digit,” with the lyrics, “Non-reflective minions / who must labour and perish.” This is a band that is angry at the status quo, and it is an anger that perfectly captures the zeitgeist.

The clattering “Metaphorically Screwed” takes a fairly conventional punky beat, but then mixes things up with a funky mid-section that gives way to a swaggering crescendo, while Barney describes how the easy jargon of the modern age and consumerism has a sleep-inducing effect. “How the Years Condemn” is a stomping reflection on the absence of need for an invisible friend as the years advance, with a (relatively!) fragile discordant guitar which adds to the plaintive mood of the track. “Stubborn Stain” is perhaps the most typical Napalm Death track on the album, which again talks of the corporate disinterest in the suffering of its workers.

“Timeless Flogging” with the odd, mechanistic jarring time signatures gives way to a furious whirlwind of blastbeats and light-speed riffing, with some notably deft bass work. This is a song that describes the dehumanisation of the worker through repetitive, machine-like modern production line work. “Dear Slum Landlord,” with the choral vocal effect and Godflesh-ian crawl does what it says on the tin, but brings to my mind the empty vacuum that lurked at the heart of The Special’s “Ghost Town”. “Cesspits” has a lurching, aggressive pace that propels it with the force of a rabid dog, while “Bloodless Coup” argues that revolutions often lead to more repressive regimes, all set to an authentic old-school hardcore beat.

“Beyond The Pale” and “Stunt Your Growth” both horrify as much as they fascinate with their unflinching and uneasy listening. The latter, in particular has a middle section that is set to ignite pits when played live. “Hierarchies” brings to mind the punked-up metal of Benediction’s “Killing Music,” while “One-Eyed” asks questions regarding the role of television and who funds the tranquilising produce? 

Finally, “Adversarial / Copulating Snakes” – at over five minutes an epic for a Napalm Death song, ably ends the album, acting as a neat full stop and inviting the listener to press “play” for another go at the album – an effect I have found myself doing time and time again since getting the album. That the final track features a riff that is – erm – “inspired by” Procreation Of The Wicked” has nothing to do with it!

Those of a right wing nature are not going to enjoy the lyrical content of Napalm Death on this album, though they are a band that have never been afraid of covering politics in their music. Apex Predator... is all the more remarkable that a band that have been going for almost thirty years can still produce an album so cohesive, interesting and demanding at this stage in their career. It certainly isn’t anything like an easy listen, but be honest – when did that make for interesting music?

Clearing the decks of various reviews....

Ascension The Dead Of The World

I couldn’t make the Black Metal Warfare tour after all, but you can bet that I’m on board for...

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Crypt Sermon "Out Of The Garden"

Crypt Sermon Out Of The Garden

(Dark Descent Records)

By: Chris Davison

As a reviewer of advancing years and cynicism, it has been a somewhat trying couple of years for those of us with a bent towards doom metal. As with all genres of metal, once the bandwagon starts a-rolling, the general quality of output seems to drop. I have noticed a surge of bands calling themselves “doom;” though, to be frank, most of it is merely leaden, sludgy aural soup. The spirit of true doom is more than just playing slowly and down tuned. It is an atmosphere and an invocation of the spirit of heavy metal from a purer time.

…And so, receiving Out Of The Garden, the debut full-length from Crypt Sermon, did provide me with some angst. Was this to be another album of grizzly, side-parting bearing youths drenching everything in fuzzy tones? NO! Thank your deity of choice, this is not the case! This is a bloody excellent album for all of us who have a hankering for the true, epic doom of bands such as Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus. Crypt Sermon have a similar knack for producing the goods, with powerful, triumphant and downright majestic riffs.

Brooks Williams has a traditional metal voice, possessing enough grit to carry off the aggression required to back up the twin guitar work of Steve and James, yet with enough class to be able to join the pantheon of singers such as Rob Lowe and Matts Levens. As you would imagine, the rhythm section of Mellor (bass) and Enrique (drums) is similarly tight, and the songwriting as a whole is completely top notch

There is enough gravity and serious intent behind the songs to propel them from being slow, snooze-fests to colossal works of fantasy-laden story telling. At the moment, Crypt Sermon perhaps weigh slightly too heavily on the influences of their forebears, but, to be frank, when it works this well, such as on the massively infectious “The Master’s Bouquet,”  who cares? Out Of The Garden is a fine collection of seven epic hymns to all that is true, and all the better for it.

New reviews....


Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Crown "Death Is Not Dead"

 The Crown Death Is Not Dead

(Century Media Records)

By: Chris Davison
Ah! The re-re-return of The Crown, one of the best bands of the late nineties and the early two thousands! To say that Sweden’s The Crown have had a tortured history is a slight understatement. Originally calling themselves Crown Of Thorns, the band released two albums under that monicker in the mid nineties before being forced to change names due to a christian band of the same name threatening a lawsuit (typical). It wasn’t until 1999’s Hell Is Here opus that I jumped on board, their first album as The Crown. It was their next album, the tremendous Deathrace King, that would see them hone their sound; an unholy mix of ultraspeed thrash metal riffs, Motörhead attitude and death metal rhythm section

Following the success of Deathrace King however, things started to go a bit…well, wrong. 2002 saw none other than former At The Gates frontman Tomas Lindberg replace Johan Lindstrand on the vocals for Crowned In Terror, which was also a brilliant album, but without the defining vocals of Lindstrand, not quite the band which I had come to love. 2003 saw the release of Possessed 13, once more reunited with Lindstrand, a greatly underrated piece of work,with a balls-out early Metallica/ Motörhead thrash inspired sound that completely seemed to slip under the metal radar. 

2004 saw Crowned Unholy, a remix of Crowned In Terror with Lindstrand on vocals and with redone guitars and drum sounds – which divided opinion, (and mightily pissed off Lindberg, as I recall), but to my ears at least, sounded much more like The Crown as a consequence. The final release from the classic line up was the triple DVD release 14 Years Of No Tomorrows, which I bought immediately, completely annoyed that such an excellent band had been ignored by so many people, and that they had slipped into ignominy.

A couple of spin-off bands happened – Marko, the riff-master of the group founded the dark metal outfit Angel Blake, who went on to have two albums, while Johan began One Man Army and the Undead Quartet – a raging thrash outfit who had four decent, if not Earth-shattering albums. In the meantime, The Crown reunited in 2010 – minus Lindstrand and with former God Macabre bassist Jonas Stahlhammer on vocals for the “comeback” album entitled Doomsday King, which in itself was a solid album, but again lacking the chemistry and magic of former The Crown releases.

Yet here in 2015, the main core of the band is back together – Lindstrand on vocals, Marko on guitars (and drums for the recording of the album, it seems), and Magnus on bass, joined here by Robin Sorqvist, of Impious. I honestly hadn’t been so excited for an album release in a very long time. How does it fare against the illustrious, if tempestuous discography of the band?

Reign” is the obligatory instrumental opener, a tune that is destined to play on the house PA before the band enter the stage. Brooding, dark and slowly paced, it has classic hints of menace before the real onslaught begins…

Headhunter” is a classic opening track from The Crown with an insistent drum beat giving way to one of those riffs, and the deafening roar of Lindstrand before the thrash begins. With the lighting speed guitar melodies alongside the urgent bass work, it’s no surprise that this should be the first single from the album.

“Iblis Bane” shows the swagger and assurance of a band that knows that it can hold its head with the best in the death/ thrash genre. “Acquiring” the melody from Carl Orf’s “O Fortuna”, (though you may know it better from The Omen or from UK “Old Spice” adverts of the seventies!) before the raging chorus, this is a mischievous rager that even manages to shoe horn in a mid-paced, reflective middle section, no doubt so that the crowd can show their approval for the flashy guitar theatrics.

Eternal,” a cover of the Paradise Lost classic from their magum opus, Gothic, is up next. The Crown, of course, are no strangers to cover versions, having covered Slayer’s “Mandatory Suicide” on Slatanic Slaughter Vol.1, and Sepultura’s “Arise” from Sepultural Feast, both compilation albums. An eye raising choice, perhaps – a track from a gothic doom/death band, but one that works particularly well. It’s certainly a slower pace for the Swedes, but one that has more menace and punch than the original, and manages to inject some of their own personality into a classic.

Struck By Lightning” manages to increase the tempo again, with an absolutely stomping main riff that produces involuntary head-nodding. Neat semi-Egyptian sounding riffs erupt here and there in the background, themselves seemingly influenced by the introductory riff to Death’s seminal “Zombie Ritual.” When the band settle into a period of pounding mid-tempo riffing around two minutes in, there is a natural tendency to wait for the raging finale, bit frustratingly it doesn’t arrive until the last forty seconds or so, when the track briefly gets to stretch its legs to the finishing line.

“Speed Kills (Full Moon Ahead)” is, as you might expect, a head-down thrasher, with a macabre atmosphere courtesy of the twisting main riff and percussive bass playing. When the chorus fully erupts, Lindstrand’s voice reminds the listener that he is the definitive sound of The Crown’s vocal delivery.

Herd of Swine” turns up the tempo of the album, with perhaps the fastest drum beat of the band’s career, and some pretty frantic old school beats being smashed. Among the tracks on the album, despite the hectic speed and no-compromises approach to songwriting, this sounds most like one of the more forgettable outtakes from Deathrace King. That’s not to say that it’s a bad track – not at all; in fact I like the Hanneman-esque chops of the guitar on the brooding slower sections in the middle of the track, rather than the less remarkable light-speed blur of the introduction.

Horrid Ways” almost invites comparison to The Haunted in the swaggering, muscular guitar chops and groovy interplay between the axes. It’s certainly The Crown at their most modern sounding, though certainly to my ears the weakest song on the album.

Ride to Ruin” comes clattering out of the speakers like a strung-out Motörhead with their pants on fire. With a don’t-care attitude and a rock n’ roll beat, this is certainly a track that would fit right at home with the sadly underappreciated “Possessed 13” album. It’s a track that’s guaranteed to put a smile on all but the stoniest of faces.

Meduseld,” which Wiki tells me was a city of Rohan in the Lord Of The Rings tales, is a five-minute instrumental workout, which has no small amount of atmosphere, and some tasteful guitar effects that give it a really cool early Amorphis vibe – think a lengthy and updated track from their classic Elegy album to give an indication of the sound.

Godeater” closes proceedings with a gusto. “GOOOOOOOOD-EAAAAATAH!!!” exclaims Lindstrand with a throaty bellow. This has some massive, twisted riffs and tortured rhythms, coming off like the bastard son of Domination-era Morbid Angel and Low-era Testament, with the trademark punked-up attitude of The Crown.

As you would expect, this has a really impressive, punchy and clear production that manages to give each instrument equal billing, with a particular nod to the low-end of the guitars and the grunty, pummeling bass. Is this the album that The Crown fans have been waiting for? Possibly not. It’s slower than they may have been expecting, (though I would argue the better for it), and certainly less single-minded than some of their former albums. I consider this all the better – this is a more mature band, showing a broader range of their own and other influences, and doing what they want. So, while this may not be Deathrace King Mark 2, that’s certainly not what I wanted in any case. This is a perfect examination of their work to date, and an indication that as musicians, they are at the top of their game.

My verdict? Better than Doomsday King by some margin, and it belongs alongside their other works as a superior piece of art.

Editor: You can read my own take on Death Is Not Dead here at Heavy Metal at My take (or knowledge) is not nearly as thorough as that of Chris, but maybe I was a little too harsh in my review? You be the judge.

Clearing the decks of reviews...

A few "shorties"...

Volahn Aq'Ab'Al

Caïna Settler Of Unseen Shores