Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling

What the hell is a Rare Field Ceiling?

Yellow Eyes’ fourth album Immersion Trench Reverie was one of my black metal highlights of 2017, so I was pretty excited for the follow up. Rare Field Ceiling (what does that even mean lol) is a much thicker mixture of dissonance than its predecessor. While it’s a good effort, I can’t help but be left a bit cold, if only because of the weight of expectations. Rare Field Ceiling eschews the alpine atmosphere that kept me coming back to Immersion Trench Reverie. While I’ve enjoyed it each time I’ve listened to it, this one hasn’t become a staple in my black metal listening diet the way its predecessor has.

The Skarstad brothers, who lead the band, have said that leading up to the album there have been a series of devastating health crises in their family (God, I wish that wasn’t so relatable), and that it couldn’t help but have a big impact on the album. I think this makes a lot of sense. While you still have some subtle melody, as well as samples of bells, women’s choirs and the like, this is a much darker album than Immersion Trench Reverie. The production is intentionally rough and muddy and they lean much harder on their dissonant side than their melodic one. While Immersion Trench Reveries brought to mind images of forests and mountaintops, Rare Ceiling Fan almost has the atmosphere of an industrial wasteland. Actually, it reminds me a lot of the movie Stalker where it’s still in sepia and they’re sneaking through the industrial section leading up to the zone.

Yellow Eyes have long had an obscure streak, but I find the song titles to be particularly amusing here. With song titles like “Light Delusion Curtain” and “Nutrient Painting”, thematically they can be as obscure as the music sometimes proves to be. The production here is raw and muddy, the songs structures atypical and everything kind of congeals into this thick, molassesy stream of dissonance. We do have some off-kilter melody penetrating the murk, and it’s a welcome inclusion. Mike is as good as always on the drums, and the rasps are strong and pained. The album is a very dreary affair that kind of ends up blurring into one experience, rather than there being standout songs.

It’s pretty funny that one of the brothers takes on gigs like making commercial Christmas music for Reese Peanut Butter Cups commercials. The swirling shroud of dissonance that comprises Rare Ceiling Fan is about as far away from that world as you can get. While this does not reach the towering alpine peaks of Immersion Trench Reverie, it is still a welcome addition to the Yellow Eyes discography. Featuring a much more dreary and opaque vibe, it is good at what it does an still one of the stronger black metal albums I’ve heard out of 2019.

Rating: 80%

Type O Negative – The Origin of the Feces (Not Live at Brighton Beach)

Mostly redundant, entirely hilarious

When discussing Type O Negative’s major releases I often forget that The Origin of the Feces even exists. That’s not because it’s bad – far from it, the material here is amazing – but this is the one major release they have where no new ideas are introduced and no progression of any sort is made, to the extent that I don’t even consider this a main studio album despite this being a collection of studio material. It’s more of a foot note in their discography than anything else, and it doesn’t mean a whole lot when divorced from Slow, Deep and Hard and by extension the two Carnivore albums. If it does represent anything, it’s possibly the greatest example of TON’s sense of humour across their entire discography, as this release is literally one giant joke.

The Origin of the Feces is for the most part re-treads of various tracks from Slow, Deep and Hard. ‘I Know You’re Fucking Someone Else’ is ‘Unsuccessfully Coping…’, ‘Gravity’ is ‘Gravitational Constant…’, ‘Kill You Tonight’ is ‘Xero Tolerance’ and ‘Pain’ is ‘Prelude to Agony’, which is about 36 minutes of this 51 minute tracklist. These songs are abrupt collisions of goth/doom and crossover/thrash that bring excellent riffs, keyboard lines and a bitter, ugly attitude courtesy of Pete’s amazing vocals, which range from a hardcore-tinged shout to more conventional singing to go with the more melodic strains of the music. While this material is of quality, this is pretty much the main reason this is their weakest release; though there are differences between the originals and these versions the basic musical foundation here is a straight up rehash of their debut, with no substantial musical progression or new material being presented, merely alternate takes on songs listeners have heard before.

There are differences, of course – these certainly sound more like live performances despite not being live. The sound of the music is as if they were playing in a large room of some sort, with more reverb and space in the sound. The performances differ too, with the riffs and keyboards perhaps having a slightly different sense of melody or the drumming being slightly different in its timing. The vocals are particularly different – Pete often delivers lyrics slightly off the mark or at a different pitch, if he even delivers them at all. The songs are often truncated too, with ‘Kill You Tonight’ being played here as both a two minute track and a 7 minute reprise and ‘Pain’ being a bit under 5 minutes in length. The most notable difference however is the crowd noise found throughout the songs, consisting of fans jeering and booing in a studio to be recorded and added to the songs. Honestly, the back and forth between the verbal abuse of the crowd and Pete is one of the only aspects of this release that truly makes it worthwhile; it’s actually goddamn hilarious. Highlights include when ‘Gravity’ is interrupted due to a supposed bomb threat targeting the venue, the very opening moments which is just the crowd chanting ‘You suck!’ and when the band gets bottled by one of the crowd, but honestly it’s all just one giant laugh.

Beyond the humour, the only other main draw here is the various tracks that are exclusive to this release. ‘Hey Pete’ is a reworking of ‘Hey Joe’ and it’s about as good as a cover could turn out; the band do a great job of making the song their own, turning it from a laid back psychedelic track into a gloomy doom metal number with lyrics to fit Slow, Deep and Hard‘s concept of murdering your ex over infidelity. The reissue features a cover of ‘Paranoid’ (one which lacks much of the faux-live trappings of the rest of the songs here) – the band pull a similar trick here by turning this speedy rocker into a 7 minute morose and downtrodden doom metal song and it goes over amazingly. It beats out most of their material up to this point and is perhaps a precursor to their more overtly doom metal-influenced albums down the road. The sole new original song here is ‘Are You Afraid’, which is a little over two minutes of goth rock, containing the sort of lush keyboard work, gentle bass-baritone crooning mixing with agonised screaming and tender atmosphere that would come to define TON’s later, more famous albums. Critically, all of these new tracks show the band going in a more pure goth/doom direction and as such they are the only times they really undergo any progression from their debut; it’s a shame that they make up less than a third of the runtime.

As if the original cover of Pete’s hairy anus wasn’t enough of an indicator, this is obviously not meant to be seen as a serious work from the band at all and indeed it isn’t for the most part, being a rehash of their old songs for a joke. This does have some value for the sheer humour on offer and the few new tracks here are certainly interesting, but otherwise this is one of the only non-essential and unnecessary releases in their catalogue. It’s fun for sure but most of these songs were done better a year prior, and honestly this makes far more sense as an addendum to their debut than as a standalone release. All this said however, it is quite a testament to the quality of TON’s music and sense of humour that they can just play their old songs more sloppily on a new release while getting fans to tell the listener that the band suck and still have it turn out better than most artists could even dream of.

Rating: 70%

Isis – Mosquito Control

‘Poison egg, the implement…’

Isis’ label-backed debut EP Mosquito Control is in retrospect highly reflective of their transitional nature. This is not the sound that we would hear on Panopticon, which says a lot when 3 of that album’s 5 performers also made this. It’s also an early peak for the band, being a very consistent and complete work for such a young band’s debut EP. It’s not what the band became famous for innovating or that original but it shows off an outfit that clearly had the talent needed become something even more, something truly special. And that’s not to take away from this release; it may not be what put them on the map but it’s still a fantastic listen.

Mosquito Control is a crop of tracks that are some of the heaviest and most crushing in Isis’ entire catalogue, with the band playing a rather mid-tempo sludge metal style with a lot of hardcore worked in there and some shots of doom metal at points. ‘Life Under the Swatter’ is a noisier, somewhat faster track and very frenetic that has a lot more hardcore influence and is laced with a jittering, busy drum performance and the hisses of the mosquito swarms alluded to in the lyrics, while ‘Hive Destruction’ sees the band throwing in more groovy, traditional sludge metal riffing while keeping the pace up. Whatever the band go for they have the chops and ideas to pull it off; the guitarwork is consistently busy, interesting and helps drive the song forward with the drums playing a supporting role by matching the complexity, texture and tone of the riffing. The vocal style here is unique to this release in their discography; Aaron Turner’s vocals here are a powerful and intense shout/rasp/shriek that matches the searing instrumentation behind them, and they’re some of the gnarliest vocals he would ever deliver.

The band varies up each song nicely, bringing in multiple contrasting sections such as the tense ambient bridge of ‘Life Under the Swatter’, the groovy doom/sludge breakdown of ‘Hive Destruction’ or the acoustic intro of ‘Poison Eggs’, as well as a good number of riffs and changes in tempo. Critically, the band can weave all of these together and progress effortlessly from one part to the next in a controlled fashion, not coming across as incoherent or choppy which would subtract from the crushing, oppressive atmosphere found throughout this release, which is generated through a combination of excellent songwriting and strong execution of the music (especially the riffs.) The production is great too; everything sounds very large, clear, crisp and heavy. The low end of the bass consistently rumbling away in the background gives the music more weight, while the drums pound hard and the guitars have a thick and sludgy tone to match. It’s all mixed well too (the guitars are slightly above the drums but below the vocals), helping to bring out the most in the music.

There’s also a good amount of variation across the track list; every song here has an identity of its own with the epic, more melodic opener ‘Poison Eggs’ setting the stage with its fantastic build-up from its acoustic intro to the meat of the track, where the band cycle through the main riff and slower breakdown sections along with an ambient build-up to a heavy finish. ‘Life Under the Swatter’ and ‘Hive Destruction’ are shorter in both size and stature and while they are the lesser songs here, they do still keep the energy up and bring their own aforementioned ideas into the fold. ‘Poison Eggs’ and its more epic, atmospheric scope is in retrospect a hint towards their future direction but a much larger hint is the closer and my personal favourite track ‘Relocation Swarm’. It’s an experimental epic that dwarfs even the opener at nearly 12 minutes in length, one that in both structure and feel foreshadows their later post-metal material. The first 4 or so minutes consist of ominous, chugging doom metal verses laden with barely audible sampled narration and brief, sparse vocals from Aaron, before a drop-out section featuring more samples gives rise to another chugging doom riff and agonised shouts from Aaron as the band pile on more and more noise, continuing on for the remainder of the song until the band is consumed entirely by this noise. It’s a gargantuan finish to this amazing EP and this song is honestly one of Isis’ very finest; up there with the likes of ‘Altered Course’ in terms of scope and impact.

Mosquito Control is an excellent first volley from an amazing band. They’d make more innovative music down the road but the purity of vision and the near-perfect execution of it on display here is something to behold. Even the lyrics are a cut above most bands, with the band’s visions of mosquito swarms alluding to human societies and how they can be controlled and crushed. This EP is not something to be passed up on – it’s essential for any fan of Isis to see where they come from artistically and any fan of sludge metal or hardcore.

Rating: 95%

Ministry – Filth Pig

‘He sleeps with both eyes open…’

Filth Pig is an understandably maligned and divisive album as it is by no means an easy listen. It marked a considerable departure from the three albums that preceded it, which were fusions of industrial music with rock and metal that had earned them critical praise and commercial momentum. Filth Pig meanwhile was met with negative reviews, a disappointed fan base and poor commercial performance. It could be called a trend-hop given some of the influences present and the departure from their trademark industrial metal sound, though other influences present and the resulting complete package points more towards an experiment that many would argue did not pan out. On the contrary, I firmly believe this to be a very successful shift in the band’s sound and one of their very finest albums; even if it isn’t iconic or influential like what preceded it.

There are a few different influences that run throughout the music here, but the foundation is essentially a significantly slower take on the industrial metal of Psalm 69, though Al’s vocals remain a uniformly distorted, harsh shout and there is little sampling to be found here. The pounding of the drum machine here occurs at a significantly slower tempo and the thrash-inspired guitar riffs of old have morphed into droning, lumbering sludge riffs, replete with guitar feedback, tremolo and a sense of melody that ranges from traditional to off to non-existent. Comparisons to Streetcleaner-era Godflesh can be made in how uncompromisingly heavy, slow and brutal the music is, though it possesses a significantly more melodic and human touch and a sense of groove that wasn’t present on that starkly mechanical effort. Sludge and alternative metal are the influences responsible for this – on many tracks here there are significant nods to Alice in Chains and Crowbar. Most of the music operates with this blend; a sort of heavy/sludge/industrial metal hybrid that is uniformly slow, droning and crushing. Following on from these influences the atmosphere here is relentlessly negative and dark, being a combination of the bitter world-hating of Eyehategod and early Godflesh as well as the drug-addled and meaningless self-loathing of Alice in Chains (fitting, given that Al’s heroin addiction fuels the darkness on display here.) Ultimately this combination is so effective thanks to simple yet evocative instrumentation and similarly blunt and effective lyrics. The songs here are haunting and powerful; conveying perfectly what was going through Al’s head at the time from laser-focused hatred of those who wronged him to unhealthy obsession with a past lover to drug-fuelled nonsense.

The album is remarkably consistent in terms of quality, tone and style, and throughout the album the production is excellent with the music boasting a massive, sludgy guitar sound and heavy, pounding drums that give the music a lot of punch, along with a great mix that lets everything come through clearly while not making the sound too mechanical or clean. ‘Gameshow’ stands out as being the most atmospheric, melodic, depressing and drawn out song on the album, even featuring one of the few instances of Al’s forlorn clean singing. This is clearly by design – to overload the album with strung out sorrow would reduce the impact of it. Most of the remaining tracks here are less sorrowful, harsher, more direct and more atonal takes on the same sound, most notably ‘Crumbs’, ‘Lava’, the title track and ‘Useless’. The opener ‘Reload’ is an even more direct and blunt take on this sound; it’s a fairly brisk and noisy track with a particularly crackling beat and a ruthless, vengeful attitude espoused in the lyrics.

A few songs towards the end here do have some other influences worked into them, however – ‘Dead Guy’ has an almost-rapped cadence to the vocals and a very Helmet-esque groove, and while it has the potential to be a tacky and misguided trend-hop it goes over very well, sacrificing none of the feel or songwriting quality present here. ‘The Fall’ is in some respects more in line with their older material, with its booming drum machine and less sludge-influenced riffing, though the gigantic guitar tone and the blunt, defeatist lyrics still makes it fit snugly into the album. Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’ is transformed from a quaint country rock song into a coke-fuelled obsessive plea for a woman to stay the night – it stands out for its remarkably joyful riff during the chorus and the prominent acoustic guitar line during the verses, and is about as good a cover as can be as the band really make it their own, fitting in well here both thematically and musically. ‘Brick Windows’ is an uptempo psychedelic industrial/alternative metal track that juxtaposes its negative lyrics with its bizarrely upbeat, melodic main riff, giving a bittersweet and hypnotic note to end the album on.

It’s a shame Filth Pig is such a criticised album; it is understandable that many would be turned off by music that is so bitter, hopeless, self-loathing and otherwise negative but the sheer strength of the material here clearly never shone through for most. This is easily one of Ministry’s best albums: it’s an atmospheric masterpiece and a landmark album for the band and metal in the ’90s. This is not an album that grows on a listener quickly (it certainly didn’t for me), but give it time and plenty of listens and the music might just win you over.

Rating: 100%

Kataklysm – Temple of Knowledge (Kataklysm Part III)

When knowledge isn’t power

I suppose Temple of Knowledge demonstrates a couple of things – for one, all the passion and technical ability in the world mean absolutely nothing without taste. It also demonstrates that flaws can come in all different shapes and sizes – sometimes an album is a grand failure due to a whole host of negative qualities coalescing into something diabolical, and other times as demonstrated here a singular flaw can be so massive it utterly ruins an album. There is plenty of praise to give to Temple of Knowledge, and on paper it only really suffers in two departments – but the music is so wounded by these flaws the album manages to be one you can skip out entirely.

This is a straight-ahead death metal album instrumentally, and a very technical one at that. The music walks a very fine line between incoherent and highly technical. Every song is loaded with riffs, with every track shifting between them every few seconds – they range from having a dark undercurrent of melody to being more straightforward and thrashy to being more orthodox and atonal to being more grooving and bouncy. Regardless of style however the riffs here are consistently memorable and strong and keep the energy of the songs up, and the variation in styles stops the album from running together or a song from stagnating or becoming one-note. The drumming is similarly active, with the drum performance here being loaded with fills, blasting, double-bass and more conventional straight beats to suit the riffs and pace of the song. This consistently shifting instrumentation is a demonstration of incredible restraint and songwriting talent on the band’s part, with nothing ever devolving into a total mess or losing focus. A song will flow from A to B in a chaotic but ultimately structured and coherent fashion, going through enough twists and turns to qualify the music here as being progressive. On an instrumental level this is a truly savage and ruthlessly aggressive effort, but getting past this is where it falls down. A minor quibble I have is the production; everything sounds dry and flat, the guitars sound muted and the drums and vocals are a little too loud. Certainly, this doesn’t sound nearly as heavy or crisp as Sorcery did, which is a shame as it doesn’t do the material here justice. While the riffs are aggressive and strong the guitar tone saps them of their impact somewhat, and the guitars are buried a bit by the rest of the band.

To get to the elephant in the room however – Sylvain Houde sounds like garbage. Euphemisms like ‘insane’, ‘psychotic’ and ‘inhuman’ get thrown about when describing his performance here and in sense that’s true – you’d have to be utterly insane to record vocals this poor and consider them worthy of being on a studio release. He pukes, rants and growls incoherently over every last second of the album with no restraint, taste or regard for timing; he totally throws off the coherency of the music by endlessly ranting over it. Compounding his lack of timing is that multiple vocal tracks are frequently used, with growls being layered with shrieks or rasps in such a way that the vocals have even less of a sense of timing. His performance itself is very weak too – his low growls sound haggard, his rasps sound thin and strained and these are accompanied by occasional utterly comical sounding yelps and similarly weak hardcore barks (these sound especially horrible when he tries to throw in a vocal melody of some description.) Admittedly he isn’t helped by the dry sound of everything but at the end of it all he still sounds terrible, and as he’s mixed so loudly and never shuts up his voice is totally inescapable. He sounds so bad he turns what could have been a stellar and savage slab of death metal into a mess, as well as burying the guitars due to the mixing. He turns the album from being something that has to be endured for the right reasons to being an endurance test for all the wrong ones.

I can appreciate that people might enjoy the vocals for what they represent – unhinged insanity – which makes how they sound easier to stomach, and that combined with the incredibly savage and no-holds-barred instrumentation it would make for a unified package, but it just isn’t doing it for me. There’s no way around the fact he sounds utterly terrible by any measure and honestly no amount of excusing his performance as ‘brutal’ and ‘insane’ will change that. This album has many merits, but its major flaw is so fundamental and inescapable that it becomes a complete write-off.

Rating: 40%

Annihilator – Alice in Hell

A technical exercise

Alice in Hell is the album upon which Annihilator’s reputation rests for many; hailed as a speed/thrash classic in the genre’s waning years, it is seen as their creative zenith before a gradual descent toward the bottom of the barrel. Despite this however, it’s an album that consistently failed to elicit any sort of reaction from me. It isn’t that there isn’t quality here, because there most assuredly is, but more that there’s an intangible factor to it that is fundamentally lacking, something that prevents me from connecting to the music at all. To give a brief run-down of what that music sounds like, this is a technical speed/thrash metal album. It isn’t technical in the sense of it being loaded with shredding, unusual time signatures, off kilter drum patterns, odd song structures or the like, but more that the riffs on this album are pretty much speed/thrash riffs that jam as many notes as possible into a given space. This may sound superficial or not that impressive but quite honestly, the riffs on this album are remarkably detailed, varied, and well-constructed, and there are quite a few in a given song. Pound-for-pound this album is up there with the likes of Rust in Peace or Killing Technology for masterful, flawless guitarwork; it is truly a milestone for thrash riffing.

Where this album falls down is the feel of the music – for all the technical mastery going on here riff-wise, the music leaves the listener cold. It is a remarkably sterile album, more so than most others in the tech or prog metal realms, and for all the aggression and energy here the music inspires nothing in the listener beyond a detached appreciation for the riffing. The problem is that these songs really do not feel like songs, or at least they don’t feel like they were written as songs. What this sounds like instead is a glorified guitarist’s riff tape, one that somehow got distributed by a label and features accompaniment from a backing band. Despite the guitarwork being fashioned into structured songs with verse-chorus structures, every track here feels like an arbitrary collection of riffs. It’s not that the album is guitar-focused, as most metal is driven by the guitars, but more that the guitars here aren’t just one part of a collective unit. Instead, they *are* the entire band, and not even in a fashion similar to shred as on a good shred album there’s an emotional experience that is conveyed by the guitar theatrics on offer, whereas there is no journey to be had here.

These songs exist as vehicles to deliver riffs, and while in a sense that’s what a lot of good thrash metal does here it’s done in the most mechanical, unsatisfying way possible. Something like Rust in Peace has riffs woven into actual songs and have drum parts, leads and vocals to suit them and add to their impact. Meanwhile the drumming, solos and vocals here are serviceable but they could be removed and the impact of the music would be the same. The vocals are gritty shouts and shrieks with a level of expression and flamboyance typical of ’80s metal; Randy here is certainly an entertaining frontman but even with the guitarwork to back him up he feels entirely extraneous to the album. The same goes for the drumming, which for all its double bass and fills and general sense of energy adds nothing to the album. Neither of them contributes anything to the music, because honestly it feels like there is no music here. There are structured songs, into which riffs are placed, but they leave the listener so cold they flat out do not come across like them – it feels like you could swap the places of the riffs in two given tracks and the effect either track had would be the same. This isn’t a problem with production and/or performances either; everything certainly sounds clear and punchy and everything is delivered competently enough – the vocals even being rather exuberant – and it isn’t as if the music is lazy. It certainly takes a lot of creativity, passion and talent to make riffs like these, the problem is they aren’t put together in an interesting way.

I realise I’m in the minority on this album, and that the criticisms here might be arbitrary and point to something vague, but there is no other way to convey what is wrong here – it has both the style and substance of any number of classics from the time but it still manages to lack something. Music should elicit some sort of emotional response in the listener, and this album never does that. For all its shrieking vocals, double bass, wild soloing and endless stream of riffs, this fails to feel like anything more than riffs arbitrarily plugged into 8 identically structured arbitrary compositions. It manages to be so sterile it doesn’t even feel like music; it merely feels like a technical exercise from a talented guitarist. I can absolutely recommend this to any metal guitarist who wishes to hone their technique or learn how to make some truly amazing riffs, but beyond that there is no enjoyment to be had out of this. Alice in Hell is one of the greatest collection of riffs in all of metal but as music, this is truly an unmitigated failure.

Rating: 50%

Megadeth – Youthanasia

‘And they’ll set me free…’

Given the more commercially-inclined, tamer and safer nature of Countdown to Extinction compared to its predecessors, along with its somewhat scattershot and transitional nature, it would only make sense that Youthanasia would be a more concrete change in direction, which is very much the case. Youthanasia is a more consistently accessible and streamlined effort than its predecessor, but this move did in fact pay off both quality-wise and on a commercial level. Youthanasia is not only a stronger effort than its predecessor, but it outshines nearly all of the stylistic diversions other ’80s metal mainstays underwent in the ’90s. It’s a remarkably successful experiment and shows that the band was capable of making good and even great music that didn’t rely solely on aggression and complexity. I’d even say that to this day it remains Megadeth’s last truly high-quality album; Cryptic Writings has enough good material to be worthwhile, but nothing they’ve done since comes close to even that.

Youthanasia takes the most melodic, mid-tempo heavy metal strains of Countdown to Extinction and runs with them for the entire album; there are no leftover thrashers like ‘Ashes in Your Mouth’ or ‘Skin O’ My Teeth’, this is a heavy metal/hard rock album the entire way through. The songs here are some of the simplest, traditional and most stripped down they’ve been up to this point; but not stripped down in a fashionable ’90s alternative rock sense – more by having very orthodox ’80s hard rock tendencies. Verse-chorus structures, groovy metal/hard rock riffs, straight beats and simpler drumming all around, classical and melodic soloing and a very traditional sense of melody underpin the meat of this album. It would be easy to see this as a regressive, tepid and dated attempt at commercial hard rock based on that description but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Underpinning this album’s success is that *every last riff* here manages to be excellent. Despite, or perhaps due to, sticking to such a tried and true, traditional sound, every last riff is simple yet effective – evocative and ear-catching melodies are all over these songs, as are the memorable grooves these riffs have. For all their simplicity, the riffs here are remarkably intelligent in their construction, to the extent that they have the same sense of being crafted to perfection like the guitarwork on Rust in Peace does. Possibly the best example of this is the principle verse riff and chorus riff of ‘Addicted to Chaos’ – it’s as if they were crafted with keen attention paid to the classic metal and rock riffing styles from years gone by. The leads throughout the album are rather old school; with a keen ear for melody and being flashy without overdoing the technicality or going on for too long, they consistently form excellent contrasting sections within songs or act as interesting details when scattered throughout tracks. The drumming is a similar story too; it seems simple on the surface but it complements the grooving of the riffs and is laden with interesting patterns here and there – this is evident from the very first seconds of the opener ‘Reckoning Day’. The drums sound heavy and powerful and the guitars have a thick and meaty tone that serves this style of less nimble, heavier and more percussive riffing well.

Another consistently remarkable quality of the album is that every last song manages to be very catchy – in their adherence to verse-chorus structures and by writing the best hooks possible these manage to be easily some of the catchiest songs in the band’s discography. Critical to this quality is that Dave Mustaine’s singing here is genuinely good, possibly the best it has been and would ever be. Up until now his voice has never been good but it managed to work on the early Megadeth albums as thrash really just needs attitude, power and energy from a vocalist, while on the more vocally orientated and melodic tracks Countdown to Extinction he definitely sounded quite odd, though anyone at this point is used to his strange voice so it still wasn’t an issue. Here however, no such excuses have to be made; while his distinctive snarling and kooky nasality is still present he can really hold a tune and pulls off plenty of great vocal melodies here. The album also shows off a new found emotive range and versatility to Dave’s voice, with him pulling off gritty anger as well as he has before but also more sorrowful and passionate moments too, all while not relying on attitude alone to get by. The verses and especially the choruses here make great use of this, and while some hooks stick more than others every single song has memorable lyric after memorable lyric and excellent vocals all around.

While most of this album does sit firmly in the realm of mid-tempo heavy metal/hard rock, there are a couple of outliers to give a little variety. ‘À tout le monde’ is the token ballad here, and while it can be considered a shoot for radio play (one which paid off) what results is a very poignant and touching ballad. Dave’s lyrics while simple, hit hard and his singing is genuinely emotionally compelling; this song is perhaps the best example of the versatility he displays on the album. The song features an earworm of a chorus along with lush acoustic guitars and excellent soloing as ever, and despite its lack of reliance on heavy and hard riffs the song remains engaging throughout. ‘Victory’ is a more up-tempo track and the closest thing to a thrasher here – it’s a fun little song that displays the same strengths as everything else, and its lyrics refer to numerous titles from the band’s back catalogue up to this point. It’s a more blood-pumping track that makes for a good note to end on.

It’s easy to write off this album as yet another commercial effort in the wake of Metallica, or just Countdown to Extinction but with no holdovers from the old days. However, I think a better way to look at it is a refinement of Countdown to Extinction‘s formula to produce a more consistent work that succeeds where its predecessor sometimes fails. It’s the sound of a band using their raw talent as well as learning from the past to fully transition into a new genre, while sacrificing none of the music’s quality or personality as well as improving in some regards. Do not skip this one out, if you’re after a really good heavy metal album this is it.

Rating: 88%

Obituary – The End Complete

Lame

While The End Complete may be an album that sold very well in its day, and is fondly remembered as one of the band’s better albums, to me it’s always listened like a pale imitation of the successes Obituary had before it. It’s the sound of a band running into a creative brick wall as they attempt to replicate their older albums with little success, resulting in a mediocre and redundant effort that signalled the start of an incredibly long barren stretch in the band’s discography. It’s a totally uninspired (and uninspiring) album that offers nothing to challenge the listener at all, whether they’ve heard their older albums or not.

The End Complete is very much a stylistic replica of Cause of Death, which is what holds this release back. While that certainly isn’t a bad formula to copy (though Slowly We Rot is the superior of their two genuine classics) the execution leaves something to be desired. The same style of Celtic Frost-inspired brutal, tense, atmospheric and mid-tempo death metal is attempted here, but the band does not have any fresh riffs to put into the songs or any new and interesting ideas or song structures to progress their formula, and what results are 9 inferior and redundant retreads of what the band had done before. The songs here never challenge or excite the listener by doing anything beyond alternating between boring mid-tempo riffs and slightly less boring faster riffs over and over; there are no curveballs here to speak of. None of the riffs are really ear-grabbing or interesting (certainly not nearly as much as past efforts) and the band can’t even get by on aggression alone as nothing is performed with much intensity or vigour. When the band speed up the music develops some kind of pulse but the mid-tempo drudgery that defines a lot of this makes the album very boring to listen to on the whole.

Quite amazingly, given that the preceding two albums are some of the most atmospheric OSDM albums ever recorded, this thing has no atmosphere to speak of – a consequence of the lacklustre material being delivered in a tired-sounding way. The band simply go through the motions here and deliver an uninspiring take on what should be a foolproof formula; even those who haven’t heard Cause of Death would find this to be a severely underwhelming and also-ran album. The production doesn’t help either, with everything sounding remarkably quiet and soft. There’s no low-end to the sound at all, the drums sound like plastic and have no real impact, which is a shame as the drum performance here isn’t bad; it just has to complement substantially inferior material. The guitars meanwhile sit in the middle of a lot of space with a tone that isn’t terribly thick or distorted. It makes the music sound more tired and stale than it already is, as well as even less heavy or intense than it could have been. The production woes combined with the lack of good material and performances makes for music that sounds very meek, which isn’t a word I’d ever thought would describe a death metal album. The only aspect that really holds up is John Tardy’s vocal performance; his distinctly disgusting, high-pitched puking growls that are splattered all over the music are as strong as they were before.

The End Complete is a creatively stagnant bore of an album that offers nothing to actively engage the listener. At best it is death metal-flavoured background noise, or something that sounds like the work of a third-rate Obituary clone. The band do nothing to further their sound here, it’s as if they tried to make this sound as mediocre and same-y as possible. Amazingly, their following album World Demise is a step up from this; at least something new was attempted there, even if it doesn’t always work – this meanwhile sits in their discography like Cause of Death‘s malnourished, deformed twin. There is nothing of interest here, move along.

Rating: 48%

Extreme Noise Terror – Damage 381

No longer cursed to crawl

Damage 381 is a ripper of an album, and it would be, given what it represents for the band. It features Barney Greenway, who had just been kicked out of Napalm Death due to his frustrations over the mid-tempo, grooving direction taken on Fear, Emptiness, Despair and Diatribes, a sound he had almost no part in (outside influence had impacted the musical direction.) Extreme Noise Terror’s then-former vocalist Phil Vane had been convinced to leave ENT and join ND, leaving the former with no vocalist. ENT had just come off of re-recording their debut for the third time so it’s safe to say they too felt frustrated with the direction of their music. Barney joined the fold and the result of this swap was an album clearly born out of a desire to rekindle a flame that had died out with time.

From start to finish, the band waste no time in delivering 33 or so minutes of absolutely blistering and explosive deathgrind. Every last song here is loaded with furious and fiery performances all around. Barney’s growls and grunts here are lower and heavier than what he did on any of Napalm Death’s groove albums, and his voice contrasts well with Dean Jones’ higher shouts, with the two frequently alternating throughout songs and both of them delivering very powerful and rapid-fire performances. The riffs here are an even mixture of death metal, hardcore punk and grindcore, in a similar stylistic mould to Utopia Banished or Harmony Corruption and the drumming is very active, consisting of numerous long stretches of blast beats and double bass as well as simpler, slower beats spiced up with many fills.

The band frequently mix it up in a song to produce something multi-faceted that keeps the listener on their toes and interested, with songs consisting of fast, blasting grind-inspired sections with up-tempo death metal material and slower, more grooving sections. Whatever the style, the music never fails to deliver great riffs and interesting, propulsive drumming. While the band doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, they really don’t need to as everything is so tightly and convincingly performed it manages to be fresh and interesting throughout – the album never fails to deliver intense and inspired performances as well as track after track of supremely heavy deathgrind, with no song or the album coming close to overstaying its welcome. The production is punchy and clear, with the sound accentuating the guitars and drums nicely and giving them the impact they need.

Sadly this union with Barney was not to last – Phil was booted from ND for not making the grade and Barney was asked to return to the band, but this wasn’t a fruitless situation. Aside from this album, which is the band’s finest hour, ND clearly started listening to Barney more on following albums as their music’s intensity increased, before leaving Earache with the turn of the millennium and shifting to a purer death/grind sound. As great as the legacy this situation had on ND’s music is, this album is honestly even better than a lot of what ND has done since then – do not skip this one out.

Rating: 90%

Type O Negative – Slow, Deep and Hard

Agony and ecstasy

Slow, Deep and Hard is an odd place for Type O Negative to start out, as it’s honestly not a whole lot like what would end up putting the band on the map. Rather, this listens more like the last Carnivore album – while there are certainly elements to the music here that weren’t present in Carnivore’s music (ones that would end up on Bloody Kisses) this still has a lot of influence from those old albums and the feel of it is certainly much more in line with them too. It isn’t so much a bridge between the two bands as even with these extra influences its closer to Carnivore than anything TON would put out, but in retrospect the indication of a new direction is certainly there.

Of the 6 actual compositions here, 5 of them are towering, mighty epics with multiple distinct sections to them. The simplest way to describe them are lengthy feedback-inflected doom metal numbers with thrash metal/crossover sections spliced in, along with strong goth overtones due to the presence of keyboards and more melodic riffing. Thrash was obviously the backbone of Carnivore’s sound, doom metal isn’t a foreign influence (several tracks across their catalogue played around with it) and even the rare acoustic break here doesn’t feel that dissimilar to the one in ‘Male Supremacy’, but with this release the thrash and doom (the latter sometimes spiced up with goth influence) are in equal parts the core of this album’s sound. It’s as if every element present in their sound beforehand has been extended out and turned up to 11; the occasional gloomy doom passage is now the bulk of each track, the thrash sections are even angrier and more blood-pumping than before and what few tender, melodic moments there were are now found at various key points throughout each song, with keyboards being there to help emphasise them.

Critical to this blend of ideas are the performances themselves, which are excellent. The drumming is unobtrusive but still creative and inventive, managing to keep the beat and throwing in a good few fills and double bass sections while not subtracting from the meat of the album; the guitars and vocals. The thrash riffs here don’t feel at all stale despite this album’s 1991 year of release because Carnivore were one of the progenitors of that NYHC-flavoured crossover thrash style; and indeed none of them would feel out of place on a Carnivore album, being lethally aggressive and memorable. The slower doom metal passages are great too; the more atonal moments such as those found in ‘Der Untermensch’ are heavy and oppressive, hitting as hard as the earliest sludge metal bands that were getting started around the time. The more melodic moments backed up with keyboards are a nice touch of variation and give the album a lot of character, and while the keys here aren’t as lush as they’d be on later albums Josh Silver still does a lot with a little. This is especially evident on ‘Unsuccessfully Coping…’ and ‘Prelude to Agony’, which both take on the larger-than-life quality of something like ‘Bloody Kisses’ at points especially combined with the vocal delivery, the latter having always been Carnivore’s and TON’s trump card. Pete’s vocals here are as captivating and distinctive as the always were and would be. He mixes up his hardcore punk-tinged bellowing during the thrash sections with more tonal work to fit the more melodic sections, and is backed up by gang vocals at various points to great effect (‘I know you’re fucking someone else!’ and ‘Waste! Of! Life!’ are truly legendary moments.) He even starts to incorporate goth-tinged bass-baritone singing that would become a staple of later TON albums, most notably on ‘Prelude to Agony’. His position here as a very flawed narrator is pulled off very well; he truly comes across like a troubled, deranged and sick person. Whatever style he shoots for he always manages to pull off with amazing conviction, and whatever emotion the lyrics are trying to convey he always delivers.

What really separates this from TON’s later albums is the general atmosphere, one that results from how well the band work as a unit and how evocative the music manages to be as a whole – even at its most goth rock-infused this doesn’t have any of the dry, dark, tongue-in-cheek goth vibes of Bloody Kisses or the romantic, lovey-dovey feel of October Rust. Instead, the vibe throughout is a really ugly and dark one, which ties into its concept of murdering one’s lover due to infidelity and then taking one’s own life out of guilt over the act. The feel is much more in line with Carnivore’s deliberately offensive schtick than anything that would follow and the sheer bitterness and hatred on display here is something to behold. The more keyboard-y sections recall those later TON albums a bit more, but the doom sections are crushing, droning and gloomy (and at times bring to mind World Coming Down) while the thrash sections are no-holds-barred bursts of anger. This atmosphere is a big part of why this album works as well as it does, as the songs here are honestly abrupt collisions of crossover/thrash and doom/goth with no real progression between them. Rather than coming across like an incoherent and jumbled mess however, the songs listen more like emotional roller-coasters full of twists and turns, ones that consistently keep the listener guessing as Pete tells his depraved tales of murder and suicide. The music shifts tone with the lyrics perfectly, with the murderous ‘Prelude to Agony’ being the darkest and most crushing song here and the final track ‘Gravitational Constant…’ being a slab of pure, morose goth/doom to fit its themes suicide ideation.

There are a couple of questionable outliers in the track list that are worth mentioning – ‘Glass Walls of Limbo (Dance Mix)’ is a little under 7 minutes of gloomy industrial noise which is underpinned by a singular metallic clattering beat while numerous layers of non-lyrical vocalisations and chants get worked into it. While it’s a pretty interesting mood piece it breaks up the flow of the album somewhat, and given that these sounds are nowhere else to be found on the album it listens like a strange stylistic detour that doesn’t lead to anything or advance the narrative of the album. ‘The Misinterpretation of Silence…’ meanwhile starts a long tradition of humorous interludes on TON albums, and it’s literally 64 seconds of silence. It’s hard to hate a blank canvas but there’s no joke here at all; it flat out did not need to be here. All this said however, this is still a timeless and one-of-a-kind debut that only Pete and the boys could have come up with. Any fan of metal should listen to this at least once; it’s truly one of the greatest and most unique albums in metal, and an amazing start for an amazing band.

Rating: 93%

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