Powermad, Part II

Powermad, cover image (hi res)Powermad has a new album coming out; here’s info about that.

Here’s where I wrote about Powermad almost five years ago.

Their full catalogue is now available to buy. No more piracy for you, unless that’s your thing. They’re the pinnacle of the thrash-metal “movement” of about 1990, which “nadir”-ed once grunge blossomed to the point of being on the cover of Time magazineAbsolute Power is a great record. Listen to it. Love it. Buy it, you piece of shit– you have nothing more holy in your life.

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Earth, Primitive and Deadly

Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon. Opens in medias res-ishly with unusually-straightforward (for Earth) metal riff (an awesome one) occasionally punctuated by sitar-like guitars draped over it, then some thirds and/or minor thirds wafting across the sound field, barely noticed, not unlike irony in the south, or the sweet smell of the little sugar in a proper Earl Grey. Heavier than their last two records (three, really; it’s the Kill Bill dilemma: is it one movie in two parts, or two movies? One, I think, so by that rationale, I’m talking about Earth’s last two records, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, and Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light. Got that? Sure you do; you’re a smart kid), and a bit more rhythmic, in that there’s a bit less rubato and the whole liquid, gooey sonic mess is more coagulated, hangs together more tightly, and in that, comes off as even heavier, even more ominous. It’s nine minutes, nearly, but you don’t notice: the mark of good writing/composing. Last twenty seconds it lumbers downward, knees failing the sonic behemoth, the aural leviathan, and the clangor and clamor of the percussive pandemonium roiling downward into dust from which it shall be indistinguishable, like a detonated building, the roof suddenly so much nearer sea level….

No idea about that title, though.

There is a Serpent Coming. Sounds more like the previous records, though vocals enter after about a minute; reinforces Earth’s similarity to a sick, Crimean cholera hospital blues preacher (just imagine it: Jesus, do I have to conjure all the imagery here?)– his choir’s behind him, lapsteel to feedback singers, all fading into this, their slow inexorable death from the dysentery-spewing disease….

Or maybe radiation poisoning. Yeah, that simile works better. Radiation poisoning. Their gray-blue skin mottled with dehydration and cellular Armageddon, smiling from the morphine. Fading…. Out.

From the Zodiacal Light. Also with the singing; the female singer works a bit better here; overall, not as good as the instrumental tracks. Grows on you, especially the “swelling” vocal styles, which seem like the sonic equivalent of molten gold in a lava lamp, swimming up into pitch so slowly you doubt it’s gonna happen, but every four bars, always does. Something like waiting for every sunrise with the tiny, tiny chance that the great burning ball in the sky won’t make it up in time. Title? As is the norm with Earth, they almost all sound like they’re intentionally oblique/cryptic, like nearly everything Pandoran psychos say out in the Borderlands. This one’s twelve minutes, but around the eight-minute mark, you do notice the length. By twelve minutes you wish it was as succinct as Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. The song.

Even Hell has its Heroes. Now that’s a title. That’s a title. That’s what I’m talking about. That title is fresh, funky, fly, the bomb, bootylicious and dope. No diggity. Seriously, no diggity. Sounds almost like acoustic Sunn 0))) –no surprise considering their bassist– one chord; don’t even need to call it a “tonic” since there aren’t other tones, okay there are, but they’re pretty frickin’ rare. I’m going for colorful exaggeration here, people. If I said, “Mostly in E, but drops to D for a second, then goes back to E,” your eyes would prolly glaze over. Amirite? Also, occasionally hits a F. Also nearly ten minutes, but it’s a fun ten. It’s a fun ten.

Rooks across the gates. Opens with alien wind chimes. You half expect a green, radioactive Mr. Burns to show up and wish you love. Then, without warning, an absolute Goddamn flurry of third chords flitting about each other, sometimes seemingly not in tune, yet somehow working, the dramatic tension making the final resolve more satisfying, like the click into place of a seatbelt, or the slide on an automatic. Like a kaleidoscope that ever so rarely becomes one color, then back, to all the varieties in light, competing for space/ dancing.  Also with the singing of devils, deals, loss, regret, nostalgia, twilight sojourns. Of just kingdoms long dead from treachery.

Of barbarians in the distance, and barbarians… at the gate.

The entire song is the last note of lesser songs– just ringing out, fading, across nine minutes instead of the thirty seconds you might expect.

I’m writing this at work; the setting is encouraging me to be more prolix. More loquacious. Verbose, even. I’m also trying to look annoyed –so I look busy– as I enjoy the afterlife damnation out of this record.

Badgers Bane. No apostrophe. A morose, down-tuned pop band’s requiem. That they play, not one written for them. Aaron Copeland’s requiem mass written on laudanum.

Link to Earth’s Bandcamp

Clawing Into Black Sun, cover

Wolvhammer, Clawing Into Black Sun

For the lazy: Clawing Into Black Sun is a “covers-type” album by a doom/black metal band. Think Graveyard Classics-type records done by Nachtmystium, except… Wolvhammer are good enough songwriters to make this seemingly-“covers” album an original work. This is a covers album done by a band from an extreme metal genre who are actually great songwriters.

Opener, “The Silver Key,” nice intro, and nice dynamics– gives the blast beats time to work and time for the listener to heal.

“Lethe,” track two, ambient sounds effects, not unlike Salome’s only record, brief, then “Death Division,” the most straightforward, “rock”-ish track here, a bit like something off Wolverine Blues. Borderline catchy, like Sisters of Mercy on Quaaludes. Sounds like a less-indulgent Nachtmystium. Played acoustically, you’d probably never notice this was metal. It might come off as more morbid alt-country, something like Sturgill Simpson.

Arvo Pärt‘s doomy black metal. Doom rock? Death and roll?

“Slaves to the grime,” “The Desanctification,” are, to put it mildly, quite rocking tunes….

“In Reverence” rageful, ends hauntingly

This is not black metal, it’s too crude and slow: black stone, not black rock– black monolith?

All the songs are fairly long; “Death rock” works as a descriptor; almost like an emo, 120 minutes-type of band that’s too angry and despairing to write music that won’t scare off their intended audience. They’re too intense to pull off emo. Heehee. Nachtmystium-like. Jeff Wilson, guitarist, is ex-Nachtmystium. So, figures.

“A light that doesn’t yield.” Thin, abstract, flatted-third type chords that sound like Jack Johnson warped through a Absinthe-stained glass. Builds and builds and seems to progress, but inevitable doesn’t. A good thing: highlights the despair of the underlying emotions. Trapped. Claustrophobic. Gregorian blackened death rock. Listen with earphones, and your skull will resound with these hymns like a mausoleum echoing with the hymns of mourners long departed the overgrown sepulcher. Jesus Christ that was poetic.

The building chants at the end of the song should be awesome live.

“When the edge of the razor is what you need.” The adaptable, ever-evolving dirge.

“Clawing into black sun.” Simple, stone chords (not metal) over a r-tard-played primal beat. For when you wake up in a new place and realize it’s hell. And there’s been no mistake; you’re supposed to be there. Sounds like something off Assassins.

“Black! Black! Black! Black!” nice. Like the 1954 Richard Matheson short story, “Dance of the dead,” e.g., “To flesh insensate!” etc. Like that generation’s plaints of despair, of agony, of redemption. Prayers.

Black, ashen prayers. And Clawing Into Black Sun knows how to end. It just stops. No ambiance, no echoes, just… done.

It’s a consistent sound: the baleful cries of your very tissues when they’re infected, or burning, or cancerous; when, if you’re being honest with yourself, you realize that you were poorly designed for life.

Music that teaches you how to die.

Jesus Christ. I’m gonna go watch Good Luck Charlie on Netflix now for some ear bleach.

Stream Clawing Into Black Sun

 

Zoetrope, A Life of Crime, cassette cover

Long lost cassettes: Zoetrope’s A Life of Crime, Holocross’ Holocross and CJSS’ Praise The Loud

So– let me tell you a story….

A story of a teenage metalhead, and this– of some many, many years ago.

My family lived in, we’ll say, Location X. My dad’s family, however, was from Location Y. Periodically, about once a year, we’d go to visit his parents in Y.

It was a long drive. To pass the time (especially as I hit 12 and/or 13 and got really into metal), I brought a Walkman (look it up, kids) and a pseudo-leather case that held 10 cassettes for said Sony device.

During the trip, there was an obvious halfway point– said point contained a Jerry’s restaurant, and a video game arcade that had both Space Harrier and Dragon’s Lair.

One one trip, probably around 1987, I brought my pseudo-leather cassette holder with my Walkman into said arcade (after having slaughtered a Jerry’s hamburger, two orders of french fries and two desert orders– I was a fat kid); I played Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, and finally Dragon’s Lair (which was insanely hard, ending faster than fast), coupled with Space Harrier.

I ended up tired. We were nearly 100 miles away (in the family Taurus station wagon, you see), when I actually noticed that I’d left behind my cassettes.

By the time we got back to said spot, the cassettes were long long LONG gone.

Over the next few years, I managed to get 7 of the 10 cassettes back (often in CD or MP3)– but three eluded me. Three held my interest as nearly mythical albums that I’d failed to find.

Three that were, in retrospect, the personification of the metal god, whatever his name, in cassette/ CD form (you know how you exaggerate your memories).

Three that were missing– up ’til recently [Over 20 Goddamned years!]

God bless the internet.

God bless piracy.

The long-missing trio were, obvies by now, Cincinnati’s CJSS and their Praise the Loud, Chicago’s Zoetrope and A Life of Crime, and Ohio’s Holocross and their self-titled work.

CJSS’ Praise the Loud is actually now available on iTunes, but both Holocross and Zoetrope’s master works are only available when pirated, e.g., via Mediafire.com.

I’m not suggesting you do anything; I’m not advocating a course of action for you– I’m  just saying.

Highlights here: “Out of Control,” “Land of the Free,” and “Praise the Loud,” though pretty much any track on here works– CJSS was the combination of musician’s last names Chastain, Jenkins, Skimmerhorn, and Sharpe– the “Chastain” being one David T. Chastain, a lesser-known guitar hero of some repute. Proof that you can actually write good songs that are based on very-difficult-to-play main riffs.

Regarding Zoetrope (pronounced zoey-trope or, if you’re wicked into phonetics: ˈzəʊɪˌtrəʊp )

I saw their drummer/ vocalist, Barry Stern, live in 1991– when he was playing drums for Trouble (who were opening for Savatage) and their Rick Rubin-produced self-titled masterpiece. He was truly great.

Zoetrope, meanwhile, was his neglected baby. A Life of Crime came out on Combat records and cassettes (remember Combat?)– and it was Punk speed and attitude + metal fury and detuned power. It equalled pure awesome.

Opener “Detention” sports a main riff that was, weirdly, the same first riff-ever that I “wrote” back in the ’80s– and there’s not a bad track on here (although the lyrics from “Promiscuity” are pretty laughable)– highlights are “Unbridled Energy,” and “Hard to Survive.”

amazon.com link for Life of Crime

Holocross, on Holocross, sound like Repulsion playing Raven or Anvil. I’m actually a little surprised that this one has held up as well as it did– I remember thinking, as a teenager, that this one seemed a little over the top. And yet it seems absolutely understated, listening to it now (minus the super-high Halford yelps that periodically pop up). Also, the guitar tone is sick (very, very ’80s: “scooped” with all the mids gone, and just the highs and the lows present). Highlights: “Warpath,” and “Ptomaine.”

Meshuggah, I cover

Meshuggah, I

I like bands I don’t get. I like authors whose work I have to struggle to understand. I feel it makes me smarter in the long run to have to run, intellectually, to keep up.

Meshuggah, I feel 100%, make music specifically designed to make you have to fucking sprint to keep up.

God bless you, Swedes: bless you for not pandering to the lowest common denominator. Bless you for going straight up your own asses for the sake of the exploration of art.

Yanno, I go out of my way to find “weird,” i.e., statistically anomalous music, art and literature– I’ve studied Asian and African music and their use of micro-tones (i.e., notes outside the typical Western 12, i.e., the notes between The Notes), and though these can sound quite odd to my Western-trained ears, Meshuggah is much weirder.

And, even for Meshuggah, I is weird: constantly changing, many rhythms at one time (I want to be the first reviewer of Meshuggah to not use the word “polyrhythms” in the write-up*), asymmetrical time signatures (e.g., 3/4 or 6/8), and so on.

It’s an EP, it’s 21 minutes, it’s one song. It’s weird as shit, but it’s fascinating.

Listen here:

*Well, shit.
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The Haunted, rEVOLVEr

“No Compromise,” “99,” and “All against all” are the best,with “No compromise,” easily in the top 20 of my favorite songs songs of all time– which actually led to this review: I figured, “If this song is on this album, the whole thing must be worth investigating, right?” And you know what? It is.

rEVOLVEr is the perfect marriage of singer Peter Dolving’s manic lyrical brilliance coupled with an unusual/off-kilter delivery and his hardcore punk-ish-but-not-somehow sounds, and the Björler twins’ thrash-death tastic riffing and soloing; both were balanced here– after this record, Dolving jumped the shark (he’s the hardcore punk who was too off-med/weird to front a band in 1988); but time had not yet finally caught up with him here.

cd-novo-importado-the-haunted-revolver_MLB-F-3084090143_082012Dolving was, essentially, the Agnostic Front/ Cro-Mags‘ unmedicated frontman with, essentially, At The Gates. Nice production, too: ultra-clear, like Arch Enemy‘s: must be a Swedish thing.

Dolving doesn’t do as well —nearly as well– while being slower, or softer, or singing over acoustic pieces; his pompous overstatement –not unlike Danzig’s, one suddenly forefront– overshadows his fury. It’s rare on this album, however, and quickly forgotten. It does become a problem on later releases, but that’s beyond the scope of this review.

“All against all,” and the bonus tracks “Fire Alive,” and “Smut King” reflect the very-distant but still-present Pantera image; the spirit of Vulgar Display of Power, but without the somehow-complete prostration thereto:

“Abysmal,”  at about 3:45, fades out, with regret, like Trouble’s “All is Forgiven,” and just as hauntingly….

“99”: the best of the reverse-gallop thrash tunes, and/or an even tighter Sepultura– tight solos, though however rare, and ones suggesting restraint– sounds like, almost, a Sepultura/ Vio-lence covers album: the best of the fury of youth, coupled with the best songwriters that they love.

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Tidbits: the various, the sundries, the miscellaneous, the whatevers.

dev_randomEvery decade or so, at least for me, I hit a “dry spell” as a music listener and/or reviewer. No one album sounds that great, rocks my world, whatever– hence the four-month absence of Sawtoothwave from the “new article” section of Awesome Websites Monthly.

I finally figured that, since there were no full albums worth reviewing, on this, my birthday in the early/mid/late 40s, I should hip you to what I have actually been listening to whilst I get up, or work out, or wash dishes, or fall asleep, or whatever. Sound good?

And maybe, just maybe, these tracks are extra good because they pierced my shell of indifference, my equivocal soul, my hemming-and-hawing eardrums….

So, in no order:

Carcass’ “Thrasher’s Abbatoir,” and “316L Grade Surgical Steel,” from Surgical Steel: blistering thrash-cum-archetypal death metal, ferocious as fuck, played by experts.

Hail of Bullets’ “Pour La Mérite,” and “Dak” from III The Rommel Chronicles: a lumbering granite Godzilla, destroying the earth and teaching you about World War II German commanders all the while.

Finnish thrash-ish band Stone’s “Get Stoned,” from Stone: catchy power metal/ thrash that went on to influence bands like Children of Bodom. Great stuff.

Skeletonwitch’s “Burned From Bone,” from Serpents Unleashed: typical Skeletonwitch, in that it’s thrash/black/power metal’s heavy yet disco-ish fury in less than three minutes.

Pelican’s “The Tundra,” from Forever Becoming: if the whole album were like this, it would be as awesome as their greatest album….

Sting’s (I love Sting and every ounce of his pretentiousness, you shut your damn face) “What have we got?” from The Last Ship: add some distorted guitars to this and it would be Týr’s greatest song EVAR….

Speaking of which, Týr’s “Hold the heathen hammer high,” and “Trondur I gotu,” from By the Light of the Northern Star: pagan metal that is an inspiring as a pre-battle pep-talk from a renegade Norse warlord. Fair warning: play either one and you’ll hum it for weeks; it will be more of an earworm that anything Kahn could have devised.

Shining’s “Healter Skelter,” from Blackjazz, and “I Won’t Forget,” from One One One: tenor sax as jazz that really loves metal, much like….

Peter Brötzmann Octet’s “Responsible/ for Jan Van de Ven” from The Complete Machine Gun Sessions: jazz, as metal as it gets.

Fontanelle’s “Traumaturge,” from Vitamin F: if Miles Davis, specifically the Miles Davis from Bitches’ Brew, wanted to make some metal– and rub some funk on it.

Tribulation: anything from The Formulas of Death, but you’ll only need one tune.

Eric Church’s “Smoke a little smoke,” from Caught in the act: Live— this country outlaw ends his tune about wine and weed with the main riff from Sab’s “Sweet Leaf” (love the audience’s collective What the fuck?)– what more do you need to know?

Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan”: a 32-minute opus of revolving licks and paeons to marijuana and altered states in general.

Finally, we have Sloath’s newest work (though it was recorded at the same time as their first album, one of my favorites of all time): “The Deep Rift IV.” Just listen.

I’ve been me and this is my time. Thank you very much, I’ve been great.