Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cower - Mind Over Matter (2012)

Full Length, Howling Mine / Vendtta / Television Records
December 21st, 2012

Genre: Sludge/Hardcore
Region: USA

I've become obsessed with Cower over the past few months, this record in particular but even more their split with Thou (who's members really dig this as well). I'll be putting up the rest of their catalog eventually but Mind Over Matter deserves a little more time first. I said it pretty concisely in my list so lets see if I can mess it up here.

Cower are definitely flying under the radar despite their odd accessibility, putting out four records so far all of which are really good as I found out. This one is at the top with their split. Their grand, usually upbeat style of stoner-sludge hardcore is difficult to not enjoy and has mad staying power.

I think they're sometimes a four piece but usually a three piece, drummer Logan and bassist Jakob providing both clean and scratchy punk shouts. The important thing about the cleans is that they're melodic without becoming cheesy or overdone. That doesn't mean everyone will like tit of course. Tons of thick riffs sometimes filtered through tremolo and flang effects bringing a little stoner psychedelia into the mix but never oversaturating the riffs; it remains fuzzy and loud. Cower also offer a lot of aggressive punk energy that can quickly part the dope cloud and stir shit up nicely.

Mind Over Matter has a lot of variation even if you want to boil it down to just sludgecore. Listen to "Skylids" which is loud and anthem-like and also quiet and bluesy., it's ridiculously catchy from every angle and one of my favorites on this. "The Secret Garden" has similar qualities but it's arranged a little differently so as to make shit fresh, ending up with another hypnotizing song with a sick build from the beginning. Those bass lines are engrained into my mind.

Then check out something like "Fungus Summer": a pretty acoustic balad that turns into something much more once the drums and bass creep in. Even from "The Secret Garden" you leap into something much different directly afterwards. It changes over to a bouncy almost southern rock near the end before slipping into the pure hardcore "404" which only progresses into a more sludgy Converge section at the end. This is the mark for the next track "A Rocket Man's Reality" which falls right in line with the first two mentioned as it carries that Converge-twang for only a few quiet moments, yet again morphing into a swampy sway.

As on previous releases each song shows that Cower does these genres extremely well separately and fused, with passion and making them just internally enjoyable. Another example of this is in "The Lonely Road" which is a bit dark but clear cut hardcore while "Fifteen" sounds like something out of the fastcore punk '90's or maybe Touche Amore these days; high speed, frantic with a bit of a screamo vibe by the end without the vocal style. The final track might be my pick though. "Moving Day" is just so heavy and hypnotizing, from the scratchy punk intro to the  heavy rhythms and cadence of as he shouts along jerkily, it really couldn't get much better you'd think until the slow fade and build at the end.

Admittedly you might get a different impression from the first track "Cops" as it is deceptive for the first half of the song, more obtuse and angular hardcore then most of what Mind Over Matter sounds like; though these elements are certainly incorporated. The switch is made and like that the stoner-sludge influence takes over at the same pace. Its even more palpable from "Cowboys Pt. 2" (appropriately titled) onward. They do some of this mid song flips in other tracks like "Thieves of the Night" which becomes very melodic and chilled, grooves pulsing and vocals turning clean, as well as in "A Rocket Man's Reality".

Cower on each release have brought this accessibility to a manageable/tasteful level, as with the experimentation, so there's no way you can't enjoy it even if you're on a strict diet of kvlt. A sludgy Cave In is what I would describe it as except I'm getting far more consistency and enjoyment out of Cower than Cave In.

This doesn't have a physical release yet but considering the fact that all their previous records made it on to wax and cds you can bet this will, and probably from Television Records too. Possibly Howling Mine or Vendetta in Europe if I had to guess. For now it's up on bandcamp as a pay-what-you-want download along with the rest of their discography (which I will also be posting in the future) so please give these guys what you can if you like what you hear.

DOWNLOAD (Zippyshare)
DOWNLOAD (Mediafire)
DOWNLOAD (Bandcamp)

Crawl - Demo (2011)

Demo, Self-released / Unsigned
July 11th, 2011

Genre: Noise/Sludge/Doom Metal
Region: USA

The album cover is simple, the moniker evoking some kind of Nails copycat riding on the blackened sludge wave. Don't be fooled though. Crawl is very deserving of the title, a new Khanate-esque mutant that fans of patient, surgical heaviness will want to take note of. Crawl is one guy with a bass and drums making bone-scraping sludge in Texas unlike much out there right now. I don't remember how I came across this whether by random search or through email request but I found the link today and popped this demo on, resulting in me being surprised and subsequently squashed.

This demo is only 15 minute long over five tracks but these four minute chunks of cold sludge drag in the best way possible. Each untitled song is like a glacier collapsing on top of you, suffocating and biting with every lead-weighted strike of the bass strings, distorted and sterile almost taking on an industrial feel — the breaths of silence adding an abrupt ambiance and heightening the creepy atmosphere. All this makes four minutes feel like it's swollen to ten from the raw stomping Crawl dish out.

Very loud, machine-like rhythms through fuzz and feedback, the percussion blending with the slams of the bass into a blurry and menacing bombardment; in the slower moments its more martial. The most straight forward track is probably the first one, which breaks into a more normal gait in the middle but is book-ended by savage eruptions. 'II" and the following tracks make use of silence more before delving into the down-tuned churn that I'm very much loving. It gets really blown out sometimes which embellishes the heaviness sometimes.

Both that and "III" are songs that bend slow, plodding riffs and the rising static distortion while shaking bass lines are left to grow and rattle the soundscape apart. "IV" takes the approach of oldschool swans on "Coward" with gravel bass jerks to a halt with the drums, eventually becoming far noisier than those early influences.

Crawl have some unreal industrial heaviness on very simple terms and I suggest you give this demo a listen. They kind of give off a power-electronics/death industrial feeling but in a different context.

Crawl offers this frigid record for free on bandcamp so throw him a few dollars if you want and you can check their store for physical copies. A second record Mine Maille Shone Not The Light of Death (a live recording) is pressed on limited tapes over at Murder/Suicide Incidents, which I'm sure I'll be reviewing soon. Follow the blog. Big recommendation especially for lovers of harsh heaviness like Swans, Khanate, and Whitehorse and shit.

DOWNLOAD (Bandcamp)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

West Coast Round-Up #1: B.C. Grind & Hardcore Part I

My previous post about the Vancouver group Ahna kind of resulted from a renewed interest in the underground on the west coast of Canada, specifically because I'll have been back on this coast longer than I have been in the past 4 years. So excuse this local focused and semi-indulgent round up of a handful of good grinders from B.C. and if it's not your thing then don't worry, more posts are coming. I think it fits in well with catching up on 2012 too.

It's strange growing up on Vancouver Island and just when you've become more invested and interested in underground music, you move to Toronto. That basically happened to me, and understandably from there I became more observant of the metal and hardcore scene in Toronto than I ever was of the one back west. Even when I was in B.C. I was in a place where it was an ordeal to go to a decent show (local or otherwise) even if I had known where and when, or was interested in music bands around me were putting out. I was a little underage as well so that wouldn't have helped.

What I'm getting at is I'm ashamedly very unfamiliar with the B.C. underground music culture where. I did know of and love a few acts (such as Skagos, Baptists, and Mitochondrion) however despite my geographical disconnect for so long I know I can do better.

In that spirit I plan on attending more shows when I can while I'm here, I've only been to two here compared to the hundred I've seen in Toronto. Even then in those two I came away with two great locals outside of Mitochondrion: Griefer and Ahna, plus others like sludge makers Hoopsnake. I'm kind of annoyed because I just missed a Despise You show with five bands I'm writing about here, a perfect chance to ease into things, meet people, and pick up some records while avoiding increased shipping costs.

This post will deal with releases under the punk umbrella but I intend to get some local doom, sludge and death/black metal together if I find enough enjoyable records. What you'll find below are some of the grind and punk bands I've been enjoying lately from my home province.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Braveyoung - Sunday, December 31, 1995 (2013)

Single, Self-released
February 12th, 2013

Genre: Post-Rock/Ambient
Region: USA

I love Braveyoung. I loved them when they were Giant, but what they've done as Braveyoung far surpasses their earlier projects as you can plainly hear when listening to We Are Lonely Animals.

This is a new-ish single they just released and my is it radiant. Braveyoung have definitely blown my expectations away with this, not that I would have reason to be apprehensive because these guys are creating some of the best minimal, angelic, sometimes depressing post-rock right now. It's just that in any case a single usually doesn't spark much excitement for me.

Sunday, December 31, 1995 is definitely a shining exception. Released in the hope of raising money for their next (and quite haunting) EP Will The Dust Praise You this is a very rich, warm and loud six minute sunrise over snowy mountain peaks. The initial rise of clean reverb and cycling bass, noise, and cymbals leads to an eruption of life-affirming upbeat horn-like blasts from the guitar; fuzzy and thick as it's modulates slightly. The drop off comes quickly and a final noisy build begins which is even more beautiful than the last; the end however is more coarse and disturbing.

Braveyoung have unleashed a gem, mighty and impressive, perfect length and absolutely bursting with feeling. It envelops you in an atmosphere of triumph that lifts you off the ground towards the sun.

Here is a cry for the support of a group making beautiful and unique music. From their site:

we have posted a previously unreleased piece of music titled “Sunday, December 31, 1995″ for download on our official bandcamp page. we are doing a pay what you want in hopes that you find it worth a few rupees. all proceeds go directly to helping fund the self release of our forthcoming EP titled “Will The Dust Praise You” (scroll down to listen to the streaming EP). obivously more than anything we want you to have this, and listen to it, and share it. so go get it.

It is pay what you want so you can get it for free, but I encourage you to support these guys. Even if you do get it for free share the bandcamp link around. I want to see the EP released and if you've listened to it too you probably do too.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ahna - Empire (2012)

Full Length, Choking Hazard Records
September 18th, 2012

Genre: Experimental/Drone/Sludge/Doom Metal
Region: Canada

Here's a case where I missed something that a) should've made a few of my lists last year, and b) I should've been on top of because I've been aware of Ahna's presence since I saw them open for Mitochondrion a few years back. Once again I find I'm kicking myself for being more oblivious than I think I can be when it comes to great local bands hammering out interesting sounds.

And that is definitely what Ahna are doing. They're a two piece — a dude on bass and a chick on drums/vocals — from Vancouver who since at least 2008 have been crafting an intriguing blend of drone and doom lightly coated in black metal and crusty powerviolence; what they've dubbed "drone violence". Very bare bones, very simple in structure and concept, and very heavy, jarring and strange.

Despite this being only 20 minutes Ahna have made every second captivating, intimidating, loud, and harsh. Their sound is quite recognizable. Empire really shows that you can birth doom that crushes without going over six minutes per song (of which there are five here), and still make it a unique experience without being gimmicky or pretentious.

I've only heard some of their previous material (plan on catching up immediately) but the impression I get from the blend of styles and lyrical content there's a very oldschool punk 'lefty' ethos surrounding their records, which makes sense given the general vibe of B.C. So if you're into that it's definitely a bonus. The tone of Empire is serious for sure and that comes across in all aspects here, thankfully they do it well without hammering you over the head.

What strikes me most now, and indeed when I saw them live, is Anju's vocals. While both members contribute in this department, Anju's are immediately what you focus on and could be the deciding factor of your enjoyment level of their rituals. Not only is she handling the percussion (powerful and solid) but she does so while emitting some of the most ear-splitting, visceral, and loud vocals I've heard in a while. They're on the higher pitched side and resemble fulminating cries of a furious demon, enunciating very clearly as she recites raw hymns about history, war, injustice, imperialism, etc. often in a Canadian context.

Her vocals are balanced out by the low death rasps of Graham who handles the bass duties, pounding out some ugly riffs both slow and doomy and occasionally fast, blackened and crusty. The main ingredient of the songs on Empire are enormous wrecking-ball blows of doom but as you progress through it the blackened and punk influences seep in without being offensive. Arguably you can even hear the powerviolence (boardering on screamo) influence in Anju's vocals, in terms of pitch and tone.

The title track and "Mental Corrosion" shows the mixture I mentioned in action. On "Empire" the pace picks up as the bass spews rumbling, crusty lines after the first minute, while on "Mental Corrosion" the black metal attack bleeds into a few moments of punk galloping, and a full blown avalanche by the end. Her rasps have a definite blackened texture without a doubt, just listen to "Shouts In My Ear". In fact in that one the approach is quite angular and the quick blasts of grind between the doom make for a very dynamic song.

I gotta say "Colony", "Empire", and "Declaration" are my favorites here. The vocals are particularly overwhelming and passionate on "Declaration", piercing you physically as the bass feedback drones and throbs, the pace grinding to a hault over noise. A perfect song to cauterize this short but weighty slab. "Colony" is really just one riff that bulldozes onward at different levels of heavy but the cadence and rhythm builds so nicely it feels like there's more going on. "Empire" has some wicked blackened howls from Anju much different from her more clear invocations, providing a nice change.

In conclusion I want to apologize to my Canadian brethren in Ahna for not being more astute last year (or indeed the past few) and giving some props on my 2012 best of Canada list at the very least, because Empire is an absorbing, scornful record that should get more attention and support. Certainly from Canadians.

They're playing a few shows in the coming months so I want to catch one of them, but for now I'm playing catch up on their stuff and the west coast scene in general. I think one of the reasons I wasn't more aware of Ahna even after I saw them was just due to the nature of their sound and my own lack of expectations. Took some time to process while I was focused on seeing Mitochondrion close the show I guess. I remember circling their merch table contemplating buying something but decided not to, and this has come back to haunt me several times; I'm sure you're all familiar with that scenario.

Anyway you can buy copies of this from Choking Hazard Records or on the west coast from Scream // Writhe, and I highly recommend you do. You can download it (name-your-price) from bandcanp too which I've linked below.

DOWNLOAD (Bandcamp)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fetocide - Repetitive Patterns (2007)

Full Length, Self-released

Genre: Technical Death Metal
Region: Germany

Alright guys, someone has to help me out on this one. I first started posting here back in 2009 and it was around that time when I stumbled on Fetocide's 2005 record Redefine. This was a debut tech death record from a unknown band that was seemingly designed to please me, renewing some faith in the existence in a Cryptopsy/Iniquity level quality tech death band with it's own style that didn't break up or turn to shit.

So naturally I posted it up here. This was way back before I wrote much and I should probably review it for real at some point. I think it may have been one of my first posts.

Not long after that I read that the drummer had been injured and the bands was inactive for a time. Skip up to now: I return to Redefine after a long time, and upon tumbling down a short internet trek I discover that somehow Fetocide released a second record, an EP and a split since I last checked. All of which (except for the split) were apparently out when I was spinning their first album excessively but eluded my attention somehow...

How the fuck did Repetitive Patterns just materialized years after it was supposedly released without me knowing and without being listed in their discography? I mean considering I discovered their debut long after it (and this) was released you'd think if it was listed (and I never saw it) or in existence I would've seen that shit.

The only logical explanation is time travel.

Anyway you can imagine how surprised, excited and apprehensive I was once I saw this was waiting for me all this time. Redefine was a very sober and pleasing mix of technical and brutal death metal with stunning musicianship and interesting, creative writing. Naturally I have been very curious to know if any follow up Fetocide made would blow me away as much as the debut.

And the answer is... a pleasantly surprising yes. Prepare for a much needed injection of technical brutality. Slightly shorter than Redefine, Repetitive Patterns is another impressive exercise in tempered ferocity which has gone unrecognized.

It doesn't change much in the formula they established on Redefine which is absolutely alright with me. Instead over these nine tracks Fetocide once again show their uncompromising, focused dedication to quality face-stomping death metal that varies nicely; making use of gallops and pinched harmonics in the Iniquity tradition (though favoring brutal death placement and timing).

On that note, the guitar work here is so sharp, tight, fast and creative; pulling gold out of a tired genre. Very few solos (maybe two) and the riffing is complex with conservative use of taps and sweeps, choosing to rely on angularity and a chunky, fast attack. When those elements are used they are usually restrained and timed well so shit doesn't sound like a chaotic wank fest.

You can hear the influences in the final product but as is the case with good musicians they morph those into something quite their own. Examples of this ability bearing fruit are all over thus record, but specifically "Veracity Rejected" and "Slave" which plow over you with a multitude of styles in a cohesive, captivating, and brutal bludgeoning. "Slave" is another example: less than two minutes but packed full of tasty riffs.

While the production could be a little better it doesn't hamper the overall quality. In the vocals department Fetoicde range from monstrous and guttural, to deep barks, and clenched grunts and the bassist (as in the previous record) manages to escape the gravity of the other members on occasion, no less complex in his playing. Oh and the drumming here that is quite impressive at times, often breakneck, thundering kickers, sometimes like in "Non Entity" at the halfway point the kickers are blinding

I think the only difference is a little more brutality, there's a notable increase in (amazing) slams buffering the technicality (such as on "Eaten" near the end, "Non-Entity"'s final quarter, and throughout "Unfocussed"). It increases it's very vague, extraterrestrial Wormed-esque vibe that I definitely feel.

This is absolutely on par with their first record and I highly recommend it. Addictive slams and impressive instrumentation with restraint. I feel as though bands like Fetocide are a dying breed, not because tech death is dwindling — it's as bloated as any genre right now. I say that because they're that very special flavor of tech death that I fell in love with so long ago when I first heard Iniquity and Cryptopsy, and which I still subconsciously chase with very few successful finds (oh Led Astray...).

If you want a copy I don't know exactly where to get their merch, if you search their page it's probably there, I may have missed it. I can't recall where I picked up a copy of Redefine right now but if I find out I'll update this. For now they offer it for download on their site but I've put two alternate links to make it easier.

DOWNLOAD (Zippyshare)
DOWNLOAD (Mediafire)
DOWNLOAD (Official Site)

Hell - Hell III (2012)

Full Length, Eternal Warfare

Genre: Doom Metal
Region: USA

Having spent a little more time with Hell's recent full length it has begun to grow on me as much as their first record and their split with Thou. In fact it's easily in the top 20 last year (definitely in the top 5 doom releases) and would've made it high on said list of mine had I allowed myself to spend more time with it.

Often on this album Hell slowly start sounding closer to black metal, especially in the long stretches of tremolo riffs and drawn out rasps. Still  they somehow retain a full on doom pace, heaviness, atmosphere, etc. without resorting to bland funeral laziness. Hell still very much have their own sound and it's even more emphasized here. There's quite a bit of successful experimentation with the use of violins and string instruments and varied dramatic vocals in the second track, never forgetting to make it all bleak and crushing.

Overall at least half clean, harmonized, sorrowful builds echoing alone before drums, bass, vocals or distortion are introduced, which isn't completely off from their past stuff but still threw me a little. III balances the frigid quiet with the explosive tremolo wandering and dissonant doom very well, the simple structures and intensity of the rhythms combine with well crafted writing (maybe their best following their split) and come out with an under appreciated smoldering doom gem.

Only two tracks this time, structured similarly and clocking in at just under 20 minutes each. Both are honed, very strong pieces of charred doom that will collapse mountains if played loud enough. "Mourn" takes a few minutes to climb on clean melancholy before plunging into a very sick series of tremolo attacks, which lose momentum and collapse into a moaning abyss of feedback and down-tuned ugliness.

And then, right when you think its ended a reconstruction begins to take place over top the distant howls, leading into the second side of the tape. "Decedere" opens with another clean reverby passage, the tone a bit different but entirely groovy; accompanied by violins. This is a another wonderful slow build as the tone changes again to almost

Following a silence we start to ascend through mournful chords, before feedback bleeds in to claim the song. The main riff here is mesmerizing, feeling slightly crooked in it's depressive gait, made even more so by the operatic vocals — intensified by a dialed-up pace, altered by tremolos and powerchords to bring the heaviness to higher level. There's a switch midway to some serious fuzzed-out doom trudging (by way of Joe Preston), sampling and noise, a final spiraling push (which has some serious atmospheric black metal characteristics), before lonesome and clean finale.

All of which will sweep you into the darkness guaranteed.

Hell's III is probably a grower for some, as it was for me strangely. I should've liked this immediately but I think the inclusion of operatic vocals put me off instinctively despite enjoying other elements. It could've just been an illogical bout of low expectations. Anyway if you give it a chance it will flatten you.

This is one to check out for sure. Right now the cassette version is sold out, but since every previous release has been pressed on wax I'm assuming this will be too. I would also assume it's going to be Pesanta Urfolk, Gilead Media, Eternal Warfare, or their label Woodsmoke who will press it so watch those for updates. Or buy and stream it on their bandcamp.

DOWNLOAD (Zippyshare)
DOWNLOAD (Mediafire)