Friday, July 30, 2010

My take on two recent “controversial” albums… Part II

Nachtmystium Addicts: Black Meddle Part II



(Century Media Records)

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: I really liked Assassins: Black Meddle Part I. The reason is twofold. First, I have a certain fondness for classic rock, particularly Pink Floyd and related bands. Whenever I stray from metal (not often; in fact, almost never), I’ll enjoy the heavier and psychedelic sides of classic rock/ proto-metal. Bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Yes, and even semi-goofy stuff like The Moody Blues or Blue Öyster Cult, have always been in my “admire” list, even if I don’t listen to these bands with any regularity anymore (I did listen to a fair amount of WCKG in Chicago when I was growing up).

Second, simply put, Assassins… is a well written album, a great blend of near-post-black metal and psychedelic/ classic rock with dynamic songs, great variation, and an original approach. The album works for me, and I gave it a stellar review for Live 4 Metal when it was first released. I should also note that, unlike a lot of listeners, I also like Doomsday Derelicts, the recent in-between albums EP. In short, Nachtmystium are a great band (naysayers of these albums be damned; this is wholly my opinion), bring it live, and I desperately tried to ignore the bad press surrounding Addicts: Black Meddle Part II over the last few months.

So, I finally bite the bullet and listen to Addicts…; I’m disappointed. Not because Nachtmystium have completely moved away from their black metal roots (that was to be expected as it has become obvious that Blake Judd feels the need to scratch an artistic itch), but simply because the songs are just bad. As I expected, Addicts… is firmly treading the ground of the 70s/ arena rock era with lots of mid-paced songs with dreamy riffs and effects, a decided lack of modern heaviness, and psychedelic and/ or progressive rock touches. This would’ve all been fine if the songwriting was strong, and it’s not. To me, the album sounds forced; that is, it’s as if Judd is more concerned with convincing his listening audience that the urge to scratch his itch is also relevant to our experience; the lack of good, well crafted songs notwithstanding. That’s the problem with Addicts...; that is, so strong is this feeling to me that I wonder if the other members of the current version of Nachtmystium have completely bought into this idea, or are just going along with the hope that Judd will eventually guide Nachtmystium back to its strengths.

Truth be told, there are a couple of decent tracks here, such as the opener “High on Hate” and "Ruined Life Continuum," and the desperate themes of drug addiction do come through, but I find moments in the album to be damn near unlistenable, as well. The much maligned “No Funeral” sounds like old Yes to my ears (not disco, as has been mentioned), but is wholly derivative of that classic era and cannot stand up on its own. There are few flashes of interesting passages here and there over the course of Addicts…, but, so disappointed am I about midway through that I literally had to switch to something else prior to finishing the album.

I’m left wondering if Addicts… is going to be lowered to the depths of Cold Lake, St. Anger, The Unspoken King, and so on in the minds of most of the metal community. I do hope that is not the case, though, as I’m choosing to view Addicts… as an honest attempt to do something different that is just not very well executed. To me, it’s not as if Judd’s reasons for Addicts… are disingenuous, such as attempting to cash in by lightening up and so on, but, I do hope that he has scratched that itch and decides to return to his strengths with future albums.

Nachtmystium MySpace

Century Media Records

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My take on two recent "controversial" albums... Part I

Lawless Darkness by Watain and Addicts: Black Meddle Part II by Nachtmystium have generated an enormous amount of conversation (example) within our community over the last few months. Because neither album was given to me as a specific assignment, I’ve waited quite awhile before listening to either. Here’s my take on Lawless Darkness

Watain Lawless Darkness



(Season of Mist)

To an atheist, there’s no difference between the nonsense espoused in the lyrics and interviews by the members of Watain, and the drivel of christian preachers, islamic imams, and so on. Religious fundamentalism, the most irrational of ideologies that maintains a large number of adherents, has the capacity, and will, to destroy human civilization. Religious “moderates” are merely taking the easy way out, and are still enablers of the most radical of their faith (see Harris).

Unlike christians and muslims, though, satanists (yeah, yeah, a number of black metal musicians will say that they adhere to this or that related theology, but it’s just the same nonsense), and what have you are not a threat to civilization because they do not wield political power. At worst, they’re a nihilistic distraction for a small amount of people; a pale, almost safe, version of the “true” (a loaded word) sense of evil wielded by consolidated, organized religion (recent examples here, here, and here). I’ll freely use the word “evil” as morality has been usurped by religion (Clarke).

So, then, as an atheist with no regard for satanic beliefs, why even listen to black metal? Besides the emotional response that I have to the music, black metal mocks religion by becoming a parody; therefore, it is relevant to me as it does serve to denigrate. That may not be a good enough explanation for some, but it is what it is.

All of that said; I like the music of Watain, including Lawless Darkness, their most melodic, accessible album to date. The accessibility of the album is obviously calculated given the amount of exposure and critical acclaim granted to Watain with Sworn to the Dark. Orthodox black metal, all of a sudden, becomes a part of the greater musical zeitgeist. Harsher acts such as Funeral Mist and Marduk will never reach this level of exposure.

I notice immediately that Lawless Darkness is just rock music gussied up as orthodox black metal. Sure, there are lots of blasts, harsh vocals, a slight fuzziness to the production, and so on; that is, all of the aesthetics are here, but the song structures are typical of rock music. Choruses, guitar shreds and solos, lots of melodies, you name it, but, strip away the aesthetics of black metal, and we end up with fairly bombastic rock music that really has no emotional resonance.

Lawless Darkness is slick; a professional effort with precise musicianship and well written songs, but with a nearly 80-minute long album, the songs all kind of blend together with few that stand out. You’ll certainly enjoy and admire the album as you listen, but I found the “after experience” to be nonexistent; therefore, I’d be very surprised to see Lawless Darkness grace many top ten lists this year.

Season of Mist

Watain will try to sell you something at…

The Temple of Watain

or,

at the Watain Official MySapce

I encourage you to peruse…

The Reason Project

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beer motif...

Mäax Six Pack Witchcraft



(Abyss Records)

Beer, Motörhead, Venom, and beer appear to be the raison d’être for Mäax, a down and dirty quartet from Indiana. Toss Welcome to Hell and anything by early Motörhead into a blender, add some low-fi production values, and you get the gist of Six Pack Witchcraft pretty quickly. Although the band logo and song titles such as “Go Fuck Yourself” and “Bastards” suggest Motörhead as opposed to Venom, the opposite is true as musically Mäax are closer to the trio from Newcastle. All suitably well done and you can very nearly smell the urine and vomit on the floor.

Mäax MySpace

Abyss Records

Speaking of beer…



You can’t go wrong with a sweet and light Belgian Blond Ale called Lucifer from Riva Brouwerij (Moortgat). I’m telling you, the beer selection at the Whole Foods in El Segundo is getting better by the day…

Skull reviews...

Angmar Zurück in die Unterwelt



Others...

Godless Rising Trumpet of Triumph



Satan's Host Assault of Evil... 666 DVD

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Brief Blasts in Paragraph Form: Part X

A four hour roundtrip on jammed freeways and 90-plus degree heat in SoCal on a Friday afternoon means only one thing; that’s right, four albums of searing funeral doom.

Ramesses Take the Curse



(Ritual Productions)

OK, so I began with the most accessible album of the four with the latest full-length, and also, come to think of it, the most accessible album from British trio Ramesses (by way of Electric Wizard). Always harder hitting than their forebears in Electric Wizard, Ramesses have always reminded me a bit of Eyehategod with heroin-drenched riffs, a booming sound, and screams aplenty. Take the Curse is, quite smartly, a varied release with bludgeoning, drawn out sludge, a few softer moments with a slight touch of psychedelics, and an up tempo track or two. I’ve never been head over heels about Ramesses, but Take the Curse is a great way to start things off, and I’ll be back to it soon enough.

Ramesses MySpace

Ritual Productions

Monarch! Mer Morte



(Crucial Blast)

Monarch! are droning funeral doom of the Sunn O)) variety, but are not nearly as dynamic as the reigning kings of the genre. That said, though, Monarch! do a decent job of holding my interest with glacially slow chords, huge resonating spaces, and muted vocals consisting of the requisite, grating screams. There’s not a Hell of a lot of variation with the two tracks on Mer Morte, but, Monarch! keep the length to about 34 minutes. I suspect that this trio goes over quite well in a live setting, as they do hit the brown notes quite well. Note that this is a Crucial Blast reissue of the album, originally released in 2008 on Throne Records.

Monarch! MySpace

Crucial Blast

Trees Freed of this Flesh



(Crucial Blast)

The Sunn O))) worship continues with the latest from Portland’s Trees, entitled Freed of this Flesh. Like Monarch!, Trees play it safe with a rather short 28 minute album of two tracks. Once again, we have huge chords, resonance galore, and tortured howls, resulting in an album that, like Mer Morte from Monarch!, doesn’t really approach the dynamics of Sunn O))), but is well done as it is. I found the second song in particular, “Ashes,” to be quite good.

Trees MySpace

Crucial Blast

Fistula Goat



(Crucial Blast)

Coming full circle, I finished my journey with an EP entitled Goat from Ohio’s Fistula. Essentially an Eyehategod-clone, at least, to these ears with this EP, Fistula pile on the sludge laden riffs and tortured, Williams-esque vocals. Tempos range from the necessary dirge to a hardcore gallop. Goat is my first exposure to Fistula, and lacks the great songwriting that is really necessary to hold my interest in this genre. Not bad, but not great.

Fistula MySpace

Crucial Blast

These subgenres are a bit off of my beaten path, but the songwriting still needs to be there for me to have an emotional response. With that in mind, take these four releases and place them into two categories: sludge and drone. Of the sludge albums, Ramesses caught my ear, and Trees in drone.

Recently reviewed...

Ov Hell The Underworld Regime



Whourkr Concrete



...including my review of...

Valdur Raven God Amongst Us




Just announced…

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Brief Blasts in Paragraph Form: Part IX

Here is a quick look at three demos co-released by Dark Descent Records and Skeleton Plague Records. Each is released on cassette and limited to 200 copies.

Dark Descent Records

Skeleton Plague Records

Decapitation Undead Carnage



Decapitation, from Sweden, play OSDM with a sloppy, 80s-era thrash metal touch, sort of like very early Sepultura. The four-song demo is raw, yet well produced with a powerful sound. Vocalist Dave Grayve hits some high notes in his screams, and there are even a few moments of Black Sabbath-inspired doom mixed in with the blasts. A few hasty guitar solos further add to the old school vibe. Promising.

Decapitation MySpace

Horrendous Sweet Blasphemies



Philadelphia’s Horrendous sound as if they fell off of a bus at the doorstep of the Sunlight Studios, circa 1990 or so. Pure, Swedish OSDM heavily reliant upon early Grave and Dismember, Sweet Blasphemies greatly benefits from a titanic sound. Nothing fancy, but Horrendous nail the aesthetic, write good songs, vary the approach with tempo changes, and even add a moment or two of melody.

Horrendous MySpace

The Wakedead Gathering Tenements of Ephemera



The Wakedead Gathering is a one man project from Cincinnati playing a dark, twisted, and moody form of death metal influenced by early Morbid Angel and Immolation. Tenements of Ephemera, technically a self released full-length debut, is chock full of swirling guitars, menacing vocals and odd time changes. The OSDM revival has not really been concentrating upon this form of death metal, and The Wakedead Gathering may have found a niche. Rather than relying on programmed drums like many other death metal projects consisting of one person, Andrew Lampe of The Wakedead Gathering appears to physically play all of the instruments.

The Wakedead Gathering MySpace

All three demos are definitely recommended with the best of the bunch being... Horrendous!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Brief Blasts in Paragraph Form: Part VIII

More short reviews...

Blood of Kingu Sun in the House of the Scorpion



(Candlelight Records)

The members of Drudkh switch roles and styles to form a wholly different animal in Blood of Kingu. Drudkh guitarist Roman Saenko delivers the vocals rather than Thurios (who also plays guitar here). The keyboards of Drudkh aren’t present; therefore, Blood of Kingu hits with considerably more force. Rather than playing Drudkh’s patented form of progressive pagan/ black metal, Blood of Kingu is a bit more straightforward as a near blackened death metal experience. The music is fast and furious with lots of riffing, the blast-oriented drums are loud and crushing, and Saenko’s vocals are considerably deeper than those of Thurios. The guitars still have a bit of a low-fi buzz, and there are a couple of weird effects combined with some tempo changes for atmosphere. Unlike albums from Drudkh, Sun in the House of the Scorpion probably won’t end up in many year-end top ten lists, but is solid and well written, nonetheless. I found the cover art to be striking, as well.

Blood of Kingu MySpace

Candlelight Records

Killgasm/ Shitestrom/ Valdur Split Burning Your Churches To Ash, Fucking Your God Up Her Ass



(Necrovomit Productions)

… and the horse you rode in on! OK, the only reason I’m giving this one a brief look is the presence of Valdur. Like the recent 7” Demon Wisdom single, the two songs here by Valdur are merely a warm up for the imminent drop of Raven God Amongst Us, the highly anticipated new full-length from Valdur. The two songs, “Berserrker” and “Thor’s Hammer,” have already appeared elsewhere, but provide a nice contrast between Valdur’s rather raw beginnings (“Thor’s Hammer,” from the self-titled debut full-length) and the bludgeoning force that they are now beginning to mature into (“Berserrker,” appearing on the recent single). The other two bands on the split, Killgasm and Shitestrom (note the spelling) are forgettable and amateurish (Shitestrom are, by far, the better of the two, and Killgasm’s misogyny gets boring fast), but I should note that Killgasm’s main man is the graphic artist responsible for the layout of the new Valdur full-length.

Necrovomit Productions

Triumfall Antithesis of All Flesh



(Forces of Satan Records)

Serbia’s Triumfall seem to be about 12-15 years behind the times with their debut full-length. Antitheis of All Flesh is pure late 90s symphonic black metal with a muddy production. Think early Dimmu Borgir around the time of Stormblast and you’re on the mark. Lots of melody and keyboards to go with the theatrics, and there are a couple of decent songs here, but nothing to get excited about as the Dimmu Borgir classic is far beyond this album. Symphonic black metal has been played out for quite awhile, and, thankfully, there’s really no hint of a resurgence taking place, Triumfall’s release notwithstanding.

Triumfall MySpace

Forces of Satan Records

Quest of Aidance Dark Are the Skies at Hand



(Pulverised Records)

Here’s a fix up, six-song EP from Sweden’s Quest of Aidance, a death metal/ grindcore hybrid with a penchant for the Predator movies (there are a few innocuous weapons sound effect samples thrown in). Two of the songs previously appeared on Fallen Man Collection, an earlier EP that is a reworked version of an earlier demo, and the remaining four songs are originals to Dark Are the Skies at Hand. The first song, “Distant World Arrival” from Fallen Man Collection is, by far, the best song on this short EP with a blast of down tuned guitars and guttural vocals. The next two tracks, originals with a change in guitar tone, are also all out blasts, but appear to be programmed and lack an organic quality. As a complete waste of time, two instrumentals (just sound effects and, seemingly, movie soundtrack samples) are next and take up a full seven minutes. The last song is similar to the first, and is decent enough. However, there are only about three minutes of music here worth your time. You’ll probably have a hard time tracking this one down, anyway as Dark Are the Skies at Hand is limited to 1000 copies on 10” vinyl. I’m at a bit of a loss as to understand why Pulverised Records passed out promos of this one.

Quest of Aidance MySpace

Pulverised Records

Suicidal Angels Sanctify the Darkness



(Sonic Unyon Records/ Nuclear Blast Records)

Greece’s Suicidal Angels hold the banner of Teutonic thrash metal very high, indeed. Sanctify the Darkness is a very catchy sped up version of mid period Kreator with fast riffs, a galloping pace, and vocals that are a dead ringer for Angelripper of Sodom. All of it is played very well, and you’ll definitely find yourself nodding along, but there is a huge problem with this release, namely the wholly sterile production. As Cosmo would say, the production is “hyper compressed” with very clean sounding guitars, a barely audible bass, and very tinny sounding drums that should really pop, but don’t. If Suicidal Angels adopt a more organic sound in the future, they could be monstrous as I find myself liking this album despite the shitty production.

Suicidal Angels MySpace

Nuclear Blast Records

Sonic Unyon Records

Chaossworn Chalice of Black Flames



(Abyss Records)

Sweden’s Chaossworn play a totally generic form of melodic death metal on a three song EP from Abyss Records that totally lacks any energy, punch, or hint of menace. Apparently, Dan Swanö was involved in the recording, but I can’t see why he’d bother except for the chance to pick up a paycheck. Boring as Hell, about the only thing praiseworthy here is passable musicianship and a sort of cool logo. Ugh.

Chaossworn MySpace

Abyss Records

Humangled Fractal



(Abyss Records)

Abyss Records immediately redeem themselves with Fractal by the hilariously named Humangled. Humangled, from the cesspools of Tuscany of all places, play a meat and potatoes form of sloppy, OSDM at a moderate pace. A deep, bottom heavy approach aids the cause greatly, as Humangled are only passable songwriters. There is a certain amount of quirkiness to the delivery, however, with some rather weird timing, and guitars that almost drift out of sequence with the drums, intentionally or not.

Humangled MySpace

Abyss Records

Recently reviewed...

Sorgeldom Inner Receivings



Full Power of the Riff Fest Flyer...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Interview: Heathen

Dan Hinds conducted the following interview via email with David White of Heathen. Originally, the interview was intended for publication at The Plague, but Dan has placed The Plague on indefinite hiatus. I briefly wrote for Dan at The Plague, so the interview is being published here.





1. The new album is quite impressive in all aspects: songs, performances, production, and artwork. Were you pretty happy with how it came out and did it evolve much over the course of putting it together?

We’re very happy with the way that the album came out. We worked on it for over a year making sure it was exactly the way we wanted it to be. I think the band’s sound has evolved over time naturally but we basically picked up where we left off with Victims of Deception.

2. It has been several years since Recovered. Why the long wait for The Evolution of Chaos to finally emerge?

Well, we did a demo of some new songs in 2005 and then toured Europe with Nuclear Assault. Following that, it took a while to get the recording deal finalized and then solidify the lineup. We didn’t want to rush anything out and took our time with writing and recording everything, as well.

3. How has the songwriting dynamic changed in the band from the early days?

Lee Altus still writes the majority of the music and I write almost all of the lyrics. Kragen Lum also contributed three songs and a set of lyrics to the new album, and Jon Torres contributed one song. In general, we all know what Heathen should sound like and really try hard to make sure that the music is killer, so nothing’s really changed in that regard.

4. How much work goes into creating the vocal melody lines and do those tend to come before the lyrics or after?

The riffs and overall song usually come first, then the vocal melodies and then the lyrics.

5. I wanted to ask about the inspiration for a couple of the lyrics on the album, starting with “Red Tears of Disgrace.”

“Red Tears...” is really about how humans are destroying the Earth with pollution, over-consumption and landfills. It’s really a caution to people to think about the environment and to do everything that we can to save it.

6. Another one that stands out is “A Hero’s Welcome.” Can you say a bit about how that came together and what inspired it?

Lee really wanted to have a song dedicated to the troops and this song sounded like the perfect one for that concept. This song is really an ode to all soldiers from countries around the world that are fighting in wars past and present to show appreciation for their sacrifice.

7. You did some great covers on the first two albums (and, obviously, on Recovered), but none on the new album. Was that a conscious decision, to have this one be 100% Heathen material?

Yes. We had one cover on each of the first two albums and then put out a CD with a bunch of covers. We really wanted to focus on our own original material this time and had a ton of great material to work with.

8. The artwork for The Evolution of Chaos is killer. Can you tell me a bit about how the concept came together and how you hooked up with Travis Smith?



Travis is actually a friend of Kragen’s and has done all of the artwork for his band Prototype’s CDs. Kragen contacted him, gave him the song titles and lyrics and the overall theme of the album sort of came together. We’re all really happy with the way that it came out.

9. Has The Evolution of Chaos been released on vinyl or will it be?
Yes, The Evolution of Chaos was released on vinyl in Europe and is available online through the Mascot Records website and some online retailers.

10. Going back a little, what happened in the wake of Victims of Deception that caused Heathen to break up? That was such a great record, it should have been huge!

It was a killer album and we were all more than pleased with it. Roadrunner loved it as well, but had a hard time promoting it as grunge became more and more popular. I think we could have kept things rolling if we had done more touring for the album, but who knows.

11. Now that everyone is older and has families and whatnot, how difficult is it to get together to write, rehearse, record and tour?

It can be difficult to schedule things. We all have families and live in different areas of California. We manage to find a way to make it work, though, even if things move a little more slowly than we’d like sometimes.

12. It seems like the Thrash of the Titans show back in 2001 was the impetus that really revitalized the Bay Area thrash scene and got several of the bands back in action. Was that a big part of why Heathen is here today, or do you think you would have come back together anyway?

That’s really what kick-started the band’s reunion. We got such a great response from Thrash of the Titans and then got the offer to play Wacken. That’s the moment when we really started to think about doing this again.

13. The past few years have seen an explosion of new bands coming out that play in the style of classic thrash metal. What is your take on this movement and have you heard any bands that really stood out as being exceptionally good to you?

I think it’s great that there’s a resurgence of thrash metal music. We’re definitely thankful that it has kind of synched up with our return to the scene. At this point a lot of the younger bands are really starting to find their own direction and sound. It will be really interesting to hear some of the bands in a couple of years as they evolve.

14. In this age of declining music sales, does Heathen survive more from touring and merchandise sales or has that really changed much for you guys?

When we go on tour we definitely survive based on money made at shows, mostly from merchandise. I think we’re in the same boat as most bands at this level where we don’t really see anything from the record companies and the album sales.

15. I think Heathen is the only one of the original big Bay Area thrash bands that I never got to see live. Do you have any tour plans that might bring you through Washington or Oregon this year?

We’re working to try and get a US tour together right now. It’s hard to make a US tour work financially without some support from the labels these days. With some luck we’ll be up in Washington or Oregon later this year.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, it is much appreciated!

Thank you for the great interview and for your support of Heathen!

Heathen MySpace

Mascot Records

My coverage of the Exodus/ Heathen show from last month...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The reference...III and IV

Here are two astronomy references in metal that are in constellations most associated with late Spring and early Summer. As Summer progresses; that is, in the Northern Hemisphere, now is your chance to check these out, if you’re so inclined. First, a description of the star Arcturus, the nom de guerre of the atmospheric, avant garde Norwegian black metal project featuring Garm, Hellhammer, and other luminaries (the cover art of their seminal debut, Aspera Hiems Symfonia, has nothing to do with the star Arcturus, by the way).



Arcturus is the third brightest star in the sky, and is also known as Alpha Boötis, the brightest star in the constellation Boötes (the Herdsman). Arcturus is an orange giant star, a star that was once similar to the Sun, but greatly advanced in age. Arcturus’ mass is only slightly larger than that of the Sun, and is a good physical example of what will happen to the Sun approximately 5 billion years from now. Essentially, Arcturus is now in the process of swelling to become a red giant. A nice comparison...



Arcturus is a bit unusual in that its velocity with respect to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy is different than that of other stars that are nearby to the Sun (Arcturus is about 37 light years from the Sun, which, in galactic terms, is right next door). The Sun and all of our galactic neighbors are essentially moving together as they orbit the galactic center. Therefore, you would expect all of the stars nearby to have roughly the same velocity (speed and direction) with respect to the galactic center. Not so with Arcturus. This probably means that Arcturus is an interloper of sorts, probably originating in another galaxy that has long since been cannibalized by the Milky Way. Esoteric details of the chemical composition of Arcturus also support this hypothesis.



The album cover for Arcturus’ most recent full-length, Sideshow Symphonies from 2005, is noteworthy as a reinterpretation of the plaque included on the sides of the Pioneers 10 and 11 spacecraft, launched in the early ‘70s as the first flyby missions to Jupiter and Saturn, each currently on one-way journeys out of the Solar System. The plaques were made possible by the ever-optimistic Carl Sagan (a hero), and are intended as a greeting to “anyone” who may encounter the probes (see Starman and Star Trek: The Motion Picture for possible scenarios based upon the Voyager spacecraft, launched later, which expanded upon the plaque to include a gold record).

The Pioneer Plaque with explanations...



Arcturus, being the third brightest star in the sky, makes it very easy to find, even from a city (in fact, it is easy to mistake Arcturus for a planet). For Northern Hemisphere observers, Boötes will be a bit to the South and West after dusk, but still high in the sky (Southern Hemisphere observers will see the constellation Boötes upside down and to the North and West). Print out the July sky dome below. Hold the printout overhead and face South. I have boxed Boötes for you. Arcturus will appear distinctly orange.



Here is some further detail of the region from my Pocket Sky Atlas...



The next reference is from the cover photograph of the album The Dark Gods by French black metal band Foudre Noire. The cover is a HST photo of M64, also known as the Black Eye Galaxy, in the constellation Coma Berenices. Coma Berenices is just West of Boötes, marking the constellation as one best seen in the Spring.



M64 is about 17 million light years away, and is a spiral galaxy that, like the Milky Way, is a member of the Virgo Supercluster. The galaxy is, more or less, a run of the mill spiral, but does have two unusual features. The first is the very prominent lane of dust and gas within the spiral arms. Star formation takes place inside such structures, and is occurring at a prodigious rate in the lane’s interior. The huge dust lane, being unusually prominent, is the result of a galactic collision between M64 and a smaller galaxy that has since been assimilated (again, galactic cannibalism).

When galaxies collide, gravitational forces compress dust and gas together, and star formation occurs at a vigorous rate. Further observational support of this hypothesis for M64 occurs with the galaxy's second unusual feature. The stars in the outer portion of the galaxy are moving in the opposite direction of those of the inner spiral arms, interior to the dust lane. This huge change in angular momentum from one section of the galaxy to the other is a result of the collision.

The Black Eye Galaxy can be observed through a medium sized telescope of, at least, 8” in aperture. The bright nucleus of the galaxy is easily visible with a dramatic cutoff in brightness as you look at the dust lane. Essentially, you would see a bright smudge of light that suddenly cuts off. Most distant galaxies, such as M64, are usually a disappointment in small telescopes to inexperienced observers, and are often called “fuzzy grey blobs,” as my wife derisively refers to them.

M64 is actually quite close to Arcturus in the sky. Once again, locate Boötes on the July sky dome, and look to the West of that constellation. This time, I have boxed both Boötes and M64...



The easiest way to find the location of M64 is to “star hop” a bit from Arcturus, as Coma Berenices is just to the West of the star. Once again, use the detail from the Pocket Sky Atlas to help. To the South of M64 lies the center of the Virgo Supercluster, readily apparent on the map.



I’m omitting, at least for now, descriptions of the UV photograph of M31, and the gorgeous shot of M42 that appears within The Dark Gods’ CD booklet…

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Brief Blasts in Paragraph Form: Part VII

Is there darkness at the end of the tunnel? Hmmm...

Prosanctus Inferi Pandemonic Ululations of Vesperic Palpitations



(Hells Headbangers Records)

Now, there’s a mouthful, as are the 13 song titles. Never mind the deliberately obtuse title, Prosanctus Inferi are a duo from Ohio playing a really rancid hybrid of black and death metal that sort of reminds me of early Havohej, mostly in J. Kohn’s greasily rasped vocals. The music is rather simplistic and grimy, mostly sticking to a low-fi, old school sound. A short album at only 24 minutes, Pandemonic… is a horrid mess with some really twisted moments of swirling guitar, the music’s best feature, giving a feeling of descending chaos. Cover art by the noted expressionist Francis Bacon.

Prosanctus Inferi MySpace

Hells Headbangers Records

The Royal Arch Blaspheme



(Hells Headbangers Records)

USBM royalty in the form of N. Imperial (Krieg, Twilight, etc.) and John Gelso from Profanatica team up with a new project, The Royal Arch Blaspheme, with a self-titled debut full-length. Imperial’s vocals are suitably old school; that is, another greasy rasp (Havohej, again, comes to mind), and Gelso’s instrumental approach is simple and droning. The drums have a clean sound ranging from a mid-paced tempo to simple blasts without much embellishment. The bass is audible, nicely backing up the simple chord progressions of the guitar. I suspect that the duo’s intent here, particularly Imperial given his involvement in the divergent, Blake Judd-dominated bands Twilight and Nachtmystium, was just to write some old school USBM, albeit with a cleaner sound. Although not ground breaking by any stretch, The Royal Arch Blaspheme are solid enough.

The Royal Arch Blaspheme at Hells Headbangers Records

Various Artists This Comp Kills Fascists Vol. 2



(Relapse Records)

What can you say about a Scott Hull-mentored comp such as this?! A bit more diverse than the grindcore leaning Vol. 1, this is a snapshot of seventy plus songs in seventy plus minutes by up and comers, as well as established legends, including new, exclusive material. Can you ask for better insight into the current state of the underground grindcore/ hardcore scenes?!

You’ll want to punch something while driving really fast.

This Comp Kills Fascists MySpace

Relapse Records

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Brief Blasts In Paragraph Form: Part VI

My inbox (and mailbox) is still stuffed to the point of overflowing, but, luckily, the summer “doldrums” is upon us with a brief respite in the sheer amount of new releases. Now’s my chance to catch up, as it were, if I ever will…

Culted Of Death and Ritual



(Relapse Records)

A quartet based in Manitoba, Culted are a true product of the digital age with three instrumentalists from Winnipeg, and a vocalist from Sweden who has not met the other three in person. Of Death and Ritual is a four song EP of blackened doom with rasped vocals and music that ranges from an up-tempo, sludge fueled mess of collapsing riffs to droning, near ambient doom. The four songs vary quite widely in tone with sludge appearing early on, only to be replaced by drone and an ambient, cleaner approach. All the while, the horribly rasped vocals, almost whispered at times, keep Culted within the realms of black metal, but I also detect a latter day Celtic Frost influence creeping in the band’s cleaner approach. Intriguing, and I’m motivated to investigate the outfit’s 2008 debut full-length, Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep (a Tennyson reference), also from Relapse Records.

Culted MySpace

Relapse Records

An Autumn For Crippled Children Lost



(ATMF)

This one has been languishing in my inbox for quite awhile. What strikes me immediately about Lost, the debut full-length from the Netherlands’ An Autumn For Crippled Children (AAFCC), is the artwork’s similarity to that of Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital from The Axis of Perdition from a few years back. Like The Axis of Perdition, AAFCC are playing depressive, gloomy black metal, but with a more traditional approach to the music. Ranging from a slow to mid-paced tempo with an occasional droning blastbeat tossed in, Lost consists of buzzing, low-fi guitars, horribly rasped vocals (Malefic of Xasthur comes to mind), ambience, and so forth, but with also a great deal of melody. The melody comes in the form of acoustical guitar passages backed up nicely with some fluid, audible bass, and some mild synthesizer work. For the most part, the music is engaging enough, but I can’t help but begin to think of AAFCC as a sort of Xasthur-lite with the same sort of depressive atmosphere, but not nearly as harsh.

An Autumn For Crippled Children MySpace

ATMF

Masakari The Profit Feeds



(Southern Lord)

Southern Lord, always an eclectic label, has been branching out of late into the crossover/ hardcore/ crust box of genres with a recent album from legends The Accüsed. Continuing the label’s efforts in this direction, Southern Lord re-releases the debut full-length (with Vellum paper, a nice touch), originally released on Halo of Flies, from Cleveland’s Masakari. Playing a fairly clean, semi-melodic form of crust, Masakari are quite metallic, coming across as similar to, say, Attitude Adjustment, with a modern sound (my experience with crust is rather limited, however, as I’m more familiar with crossover). At any rate, the music is good, the lyrics of The Profit Feeds slam the ridiculousness of religion (always a plus), and Masakari never stray too close to metalcore territory. Although not really my thing, Masakari will fit right into Southern Lord’s recent foray into crust.

Masakari MySpace

Southern Lord

Blaspherian Allegiance to the Will of Damnation/ Summoning of Infernal Hordes



(Deathgasm Records)

Deep in the heart of Texas, the old school death metal revival has taken a dark turn. Bands such as Hod, Vasaeleth, Beyond Hell, and now, Blaspherian from Houston have taken the sound begun by giants such as Hellhammer and early Sodom, and have breathed in new life (or reanimated death), so to speak. Murky, down tuned guitars and a mix of tempos ranging from a slow dirge to pre-blastbeat era speed are typical of Allegiance to the Will of Damnation, an EP from 2007 being re-released on Deathgasm Records. As an added incentive, Deathgasm has packaged the EP with the Summoning of Infernal Hordes demo from 2006, and with slightly different artwork. Vasaeleth are probably still the reigning kings of this style from the region, but Blaspherian have the sound down pat, and may give Vasaeleth and Hod a run for their money with a new full-length.

Blaspherian MySpace

Deathgasm Records

Ezurate Eve of Desecration



(Rotting Corpse Records)

Chicago’s Ezurate return with a 15-song full-length, entitled Eve of Desecration, clocking in at 65 minutes or so. Ezurate are basically a Dark Funeral clone, playing fast black metal with good production and a great deal of catchiness. Lots of speed, rasps/ shouts, and some fairly melodic guitar work (including some acoustic passages, quite well done, in fact) all make the requisite appearances. Nothing special, but not too shabby, either, but I suspect that 65 minutes of clone-based black metal will begin to test most listeners’ patience as we’ve heard all of this before.

Ezurate MySpace

Rotting Corpse Records

That's good for now, but I've got some more cooking...

Skull's first review for Live4Metal.org

Gjenferdsel Varde



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