I have attempted to write this review three times now. And yet I get halfway through it and I realise it has been futile. Maybe I will do the same this time, but I feel it needs to be out there anyway. I have been a huge Mastodon fan since 2004; the first moment I heard ‘Leviathan’ I knew I was in the company of something special, something quite different. The metal head in me was in love with the stomp of ‘Blood and Thunder’, whereas the more intuitive side of my musical appreciation knew there was more to be found. It became one of my favourite records ever, and I positively lusted after its follow up, ‘Blood Mountain’.
Now that was a head fuck of a record. For a number of listens I didn’t even realise how good it was, I was more in awe of the new moments or weird stuff I noticed with every listen. At first I didn’t like it, after 20 listens it had become an album so good that I don’t think even the band had realised it.
And so to ‘Crack the Skye’. Where to begin with it? Well, it is immediately recognisable as Mastodon. As with French death metal titans Gojira, they are able to mess around with so many ideas and yet retain that unique sound that brings their name to your lips instantly. Opening track ‘Oblivion’ follows a tradition of ball busting openers to Mastodon albums, and yet while not really possessing the power or thrust of ‘Blood and Thunder’ or ‘The Wolf is Loose’, it engages with a more melodic sweep, it feels HUGE in the biggest sense of the word. Mastodon’s full progressive streak sways and lifts throughout, with a solo that drifts amongst the clouds and mountaintops.
Second track ‘Divinations’ opens with a banjo. A banjo, you read that right. In the same way that the ‘laser gun’ vocal streak from ‘Circle of Cysquatch’ completely baffled you, so does this. From there it bursts into more recognisable Mastodon territory, stomping Southern metal riffing wrapped in a tornado of drumming virtuosity from Brann Dailor, the primitive roar is bread and butter to any fan of the band. ‘Quintessence’ follows with some excellent melodic guitar lines, and flashes of psychedelica shine through as the ethereal theme takes full effect; it swirls amongst the heavier riffs, infusing them with mystique. It is also evident in the eastern tinged ‘The Ghost of Karelia’, whose opening would have slid perfectly onto an album by say, Melechesh or Absu.
But it is the 10 minute epic ‘The Czar’ that provides the creative pinnacle of, not only the album but possibly the career of Mastodon. Otherworldly notes peel and fade off as a melodic, mournful guitar line sits amongst ambient bass and lyrical drumming. It is the concept of the death of Rasputin, adding yet more atmosphere to the mystic feel of the record. In fact, it is this track that truly embodies that feeling of the uncertain that you’ve felt creeping into you since you put this CD on. Don’t lie, its been there, waiting for just this moment.
It is quite a feat to include metal, hardcore, psychedelica and 70’s prog rock into the one album without it feeling contrived in any way. Yet Mastodon only use each element in their arsenal when and if it is needed. They have somewhat restrained the animalistic fury that saw the majority of ‘Remission’ and ‘Leviathan’, deciding to explore new and more exciting territories. There is a lot more melodic vocals which harmonise together, and considering the more spiritual and introspective direction of this album that is probably the best thing. I sometimes find it difficult to connect to real emotion when it is roared at me, and yet the heartfelt soar of ‘The Czar’ and epic closer ‘The Last Baron’ ring with just that feeling.
Mastodon have managed to do the impossible; create yet another piece of essential metal that cracks and ripples with intensity and yet cannot be pinned down, will not be tethered to this Earth, but is destined to live amongst the ether from which it has been forged. For those of us who thought ‘Blood Mountain’ could not be topped, we were wrong…
I’ve been in quite a thrash mood recently. Classics by Exodus, Testament, Forbidden and Sodom mixed in with more recent fair like the Haunted and Dew Scented have taken over my iPod in recent days, and I finally managed to find a copy of the newest Kreator album, ‘Hordes of Chaos’. As part of the German big 3 alongside Destruction and Sodom, Kreator are responsible for some of the best European thrash has to offer as opposed to their Bay Area cousins. ‘Endless Pain’ is a personal favourite of mine, but I was slightly disappointed with other releases by the band. It appears that Metallica and Testament have not been, however, the only thrashers to be rejuvenated in old age.
‘Hordes of Chaos’ is a great modern thrash album that doesn’t try to over play technicality or speed; instead it is content to rely on quality riffing and song writing. Kreator recorded this live in the studio, and have recaptured some of their earlier intensity without losing the more potent elements from the previous two albums. In fact, sonically ‘Hordes of Chaos’ is more similar to ‘Enemy of God’ than ‘Coma of Souls’, but the early hunger seems to be back, and it shows with surprisingly sophisticated songs played at blinding pace. The opening title track opens with great melodies before ripping into a classic Kreator riff, and this follows into the anthemic ‘Warcurse’, which is very catchy.
But the best parts of this album come when the band decide to mess about with the traditional thrash template and see what they can come up with. Hence the very NWOBHM esque opener to ‘Demon Prince’, or the atypical riff style of ‘Absolute Misanthropy’s intro. In fact the final three tracks, ‘To the Afterburn’,'Corpses of Liberty’, and the aforementioned ‘Demon Prince’ all seem to have a Priest/Maiden esque quality to them; duelling Eighties twin guitars explode into a full on thrash attack, complete with a chaotic solo, a melodic solo and a more headbanging slower section.
Other album highlights include the galloping ‘Escalation’ and the brooding ‘Amok Run’, which throws all thrash rules out the window in the same way Metallica did with ‘Fade to Black’. It’s nowhere hear as good, but then again, what thrash ballad ever has been? The band mix that with some good thrashing riffage, and some soaring melodic sections later on. There are, of course, some issues with the album, namely the less than stellar lyrics (see ‘Amok Run’) and the rhythm guitar occasionally seems to sound a bit muffled, which dampens the overall power of the album.
Overall ‘Hordes of Chaos’ is another old school thrash triumph; the work of a band whose legacy generally has overshadowed their later work. If they had worked out with the muddy guitar sound, it could have been perfect. But the band should be content that their new album has all the riffs and quality to be a 2009 hallmark. Great stuff.
Testament were one of these second tier thrash bands that were never given as much exposure as their massive cousins, the Metallicas and Slayers of this world. It was nothing to do with a lack of talent or good thrash songs. It was the fact that, as good as ‘Practice What You Preach’ and ‘The New Order’ were, they were no ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Peace Sells’. I believe its an unfair comparison to make; bands like Testament, Death Angel, Overkill or Exodus were never going to be able to challenge the genius of Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer or Metallica, but all have still written albums that are thrash classics. Testament’s ‘The New Order’ is certainly one of those.
Opening with ‘Eerie Inhabitants’, this album shows a great maturity in song writing. The track contains an excellent mixture of acoustic interludes, arpeggios and nice clean riffing. The apocalyptic title track is next, showcasing yet more great, memorable thrash riffs, a lot heavier than the opener, and the tougher sounding vocals really fit the theme. ‘Trial by Fire’ ignites violently and hurtles off in a more intense Slayer style thrash, yet retains that catchiness that should permeate through all great thrash albums.
Then we hit ‘Into the Pit’. Possibly one of the best thrash anthems ever written, even though its theme is genocide and not moshing! Thrashing technical riffs combine with catchy refrains, face melting solos and thundering drums. ‘Hypnosis’ is a more chilled out interlude, showcasing some more melodic leads before melting into the best track here; ‘Disciples of the Watch’. Definitely my favourite thrash song of the past few months, its moody intro sets itself up for a storming attack, and it doesn’t disappoint.
The main feature of this album is the excellent soloing by Alex Skolnick. He has the uncanny knack of being able to peel off melodious leads, and give solos either the speedy quality or a more emotional touch. Every one here is brilliantly suited to the song, and the instrumental sections are also impressive. I did find ‘Nobody’s Fault’ and ‘Day of Reckoning’ to be slightly forgettable, not that they weren’t great tracks but I needed an extra spin for them to become memorable. It is only a small fault though, rectified by the good but overly long outro ‘Musical Death’. Great idea but probably twice as long as it needed to be.
‘The New Order’ is an awesome thrash album. Fact. It contains one of the strongest opening 4 tracks of any classic thrash album, and while it may tail off a bit later on, tracks like ‘Disciples of the Watch’ and ‘The Preacher’ are still pretty great songs. Any self respecting thrash fans owns this, any new thrash fans should have this on their list.
I recently read a number of interesting articles all about grindcore, and one in particular about goregrind. It appears, at first glance, to be a generally easy genre to dissect (pardon the pun). Hurl lightning pace brutal riffs into clattering drums and a vocal attack that sounds like Cookie Monster with a severe phlegm problem together, enclose within lyrical content of the type that would more suit a pathological report, and wrap up in an album sleeve that portrays some of the most disgusting images you can imagine. I’m not entirely sure how much I enjoy this genre; musically I think the heaviness is fantastic, but the totally indecipherable lyrics and ‘pig squeals’ are a bit off putting.
But there are albums that may make me change my mind on this. ‘Surgical Assault’ may be one of them. The album refuses to go completely hell for leather, possessing a more malevolent grinding chug with some extremely heavy breakdowns. It is sludgy, downtuned and filthy, which to be honest is great. The vocal attack mixes the aforementioned pig squealing with brutal growls and the odd manic scream to keep it interesting and varied.
For such a short release, the band also manage to keep it fresh by injecting new elements; ‘Vast Illumination’ creeps up on you with a protracted opening of bass and drums, an eye of the storm moment before a winding guitar line begins flowing from the speaker. It’s a rare glimpse of melody, and bodes well for any future work by this band. ‘Defleshed’ reminds me of early Dying Fetus, its a pretty powerful track with heavy slam riffing in between the speedier sections. ‘Inertia’ comes across as Pig Destroyer wrestling with All Shall Perish; the lightning pace crossing with brutal deathcore breakdowns, and the towering closer ‘Vaginal Secretion’ takes off in similar style before entering a lenghty ambient section, again showing off the many strings to this band’s bow.
As grind/goregrind/deathcore albums go, ‘Surgical Assault’ is pretty damn good. The band have a lot of potential to be able to write excellent material without becoming stale and boring. The mournful lead on ‘Vast Illumination’ is evidence of that. And maybe you can’t understand anything the guy says. But you can imagine it’s gotta be pretty brutal to sound like that. Recommended.
I write this review after coming in from a walk in the night time snow. It’s March in Glasgow and yet the snow is falling all around, whipped into icy blasts by the wind, then settling onto the ground to become the freezing puddle in my worn out trainers. It is somewhat cliche, I must admit, to listen to black metal in the snow, especially an album as unsubtlely wintry as this one, but yet it feels natural.
‘Sorrow’ was the final album from Ukrainian pagan black metallers Hate Forest, a band who were never shy of a cold, raw attack. They never had the production values of Dimmu Borgir or Emperor, the mystique of Mayhem or the icy, regal assault of prime Satyricon. What Hate Forest excelled at was the ambience; the harsh, monotonous rhythms becoming almost hyponotic in their intensity. This provides the perfect backdrop for the howling vocals, which hit you like that frosty wind when you leave the safety of a building and venture out into the open blizzard. Yet the vocals are never overused, there is always room for the riffs to weave their wintry tapestry without the distraction of lyrical content. They sit clear in the mix, which is dry and dust but suits this type of thing, and sound like some Lovecraftian creature crawling from the abyss.
It is not a particularly long album, in fact during that short walk from my girlfriend’s flat I listened to the entire thing; at 32 minutes it may never compete with grindcore length but it is compact, succinct. The songs cut out and start abruptly, no hanging around with fade outs, acoustic intros or anything approaching accessibility. Coupled with the mercilessly cold vocal delivery, it completes a rather inhuman sound; calculating, psychopathic, almost machine like.
It feels odd to compare a work of such harsh, cold music to the tender glow of a snowy landscape, even when its the unforgiving grey of inner city Glasgow. But there are subtle parallels. Facing such a raw, elemental force is harsh, its painful and damn if your extremities don’t sting afterwards. But it possesses a cold majesty that when you look closely enough, you can truly appreciate its beauty. Hate Forest may never be beautiful, but metal fans who can find the inner beauty in the frozen wilderness of black metal could do much worse than this. A frost bitten gem.