Friday, October 11, 2013

Blast Eats: Closet Burner Late Night Snack

Bloomington, Indiana's Closet Burner are a queer/pro-queer hardcore band with a blistering, bordline-fastcore sound and refreshingly pro-queer/anti-oppression ideologies. In this edition of Blast Eats, Matt, the band's vocalist, fills us in on his short, fast 'n' tasty solution to a day of greasy, unsatisfying utility eating.

xMattx's "Get Your Fuckin' Greens After A Long Day of Eating Greasy Garbage On the Go" Late Night Snack

What you'll need:
Bread
Veganaise
Sriracha
Your choice of greens

A piece of lightly toasted bread with veganaise and sriracha folded around a fat mound of greens. Nom.

Check out Closet Burner's Bandcamp to hear their excellent self-titled 12" from last year and grab yr. own copy.

Agents of Abhorrence- Relief



For some time now, Australia’s Agents of Abhorrence has been a part of that post-Discordance Axis pack of grindcore bands extrapolating the game-changing New Jersey band’s melodic innovations into strange new forms. Now, for the first time, with new album Relief, Agents of Abhorrence expands past that and other influences into its own skin, and to say the results are the best thing the band has ever released only scratches the surface.

The somewhat tinny, hyperactive band of former releases has reshaped its component parts into a full, mature force. Blastbeats abound, as always, but rough, earthy warmth pervades this new material. Relief has a warmer, more naturalistic, fuzz-toned sound in contrast with the brittle, icy quality of 2007’s Earth.Water.Sun. Space is a commodity in limited supply here, but the buzzing tone that fills it between notes sounds surprisingly great.

Since its last release, 2010’s split with Roskopp, vocalist Grant Johns left the band, to be replaced by Roskopp bassist/vocalist Jacob Winkler. Winkler’s voice is a gruff, ground-level affair, but he still manages the occasional texture change and acrobatic maneuver. At first, the absence of Johns’ higher-register screaming takes some adjustment, but the vicious mids and lows delivered by Winkler suit the new material so well that Johns is barely missed.

Ben Andrews’ riffs swarm and divebomb, occasionally embracing the odd groove. On the second portion of Relief’s title track, he even give in to some pulsing, deliciously Rob Marton-esque repetition. “Bad News” and “The Mistake Again Made, the Proof Again Put,” both from the album’s back half, also find Andrews mining Marton’s circular Discordance Axis playing style, the latter containing some of Andrews’ best writing of the album.

Max Kohane turns in a tight, crisp, exhilarating drum performance. As with many of grindcore’s drumming greats, his playing is adept enough that he could just as easily find work with a jazz ensemble as he could a hardcore outfit. While I’ll admit that his is a name that hasn’t come up in my past conversations about grind drumming, the blastbeat Max Roach act he pulls here means that is likely to change.

Relief is a dirty, fiery blast of a record that catapults Agents of Abhorrence from another great Australian grindcore band to one of the country’s best. The album’s success puts AoA second only to The Kill in terms of furious, tight, grindcore for grindcore’s sake blasting, and those bands, along with thedowngoing and a growing handful of others, continue to prove that Australia is a major player in the ongoing global arms race for louder and faster that is grindcore. 2013’s album-of-the-year candidates are numerous (see Cloud Rat, Sick/Tired and Cara Neir’s albums from this year for starters, as well as the looming possibility of Gridlink dropping Longhena before the year is out) but if this album doesn’t at least make your list, you haven’t been paying attention.


Relief was released by 625 Thrashcore and Psychocontrol, and you can still find vinyl copies from A389, Ebullition, Interpunk, and others.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

MERV- Demo 2012




MERV, a sludge and grindcore band hailing from Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, is part of an increasing group of British Columbia bands (including Six Brew Bantha, Violent Restitution, Mass Grave and AHNA) that offers compelling evidence of the province as the next go-to destination for creative (and often destructive) extreme music worldwide. Musically, MERV sits on a continuum somewhere between many of these bands, and serves as a key piece to anyone interested in understanding (if such a thing even exists, or needs to) the BC extreme music "sound" at this point in time.

The four songs on this demo are sludge metal stretched out over a grindcore framework, resulting in one of the more synergistic examples of this pairing of styles in recent memory. Sure, it's stoner fuzz propped up next to eardrum-popping blasts, but with both halves fully formed and shouldering the weight of the songs equally. In the sludge and doom sections, MERV is a band fully committed to that style, but, more importantly (because so many bands get this part wrong), their grindcore counterparts are of the highest speed and intensity. Where so many who dabble in melding fast and slow splice their sludge with midpaced Nasum-isms, the band differentiates itself by making many of its "fast parts" truly fast, allowing for a sharper contrast between the two speeds.

"Baptized" opens as a classic grinder, exhibiting a bludgeoning singularity of purpose straight out of the Insect Warfare playbook. As artful pauses and swung notes start to creep in, the song becomes an agony of Southern riffs and phrasing, channeling misanthropic greats like Grief and the untouchable Eyehategod. Enter the song at either its first 30 seconds or its last minute, and you'd think it was either a grindcore song or a sludge metal song, respectively. This is MERV's real strength, and one that could make them great if expanded upon in the future.

Aside from several brilliantly brief, pace-adjusting breakdowns, "Wrought in Depths of Time" is a 47-second stampede of barks, riffs and blasts. Here, pace-adjustments are a strength, rather than a copout: the song melts triumphantly into its final lurch, using the sudden change's drama to augment the moment.

The band ditches the stylistic point/counterpoint of the previous songs for stoned, swampy closer "Runes," the demo's sole moment of complete sludge metal subsumption. Led by a catchy Southern riff, it's a believable Eyehategod impression that works independent of the hybrid style of the rest of the material. While enjoyable, however, it's not one of the strongest moments featured here, highlighting the fact that MERV's biggest draw is its exploitation of extreme music's in-between places. Remove themselves farther from this conceit, and the band risks losing our attention.

Laid here are the building blocks for a weedgrind band of the highest potency. The buzzy stoner rock guitar adapts remarkably well to the Salt Flats trial that is grindcore. The band's other members show an equal flair for musical diversity; vocals (delivered by new Violent Restitution vocalist Jessica) run effortlessly through growls, barks, high screams and black metal-styled shrieks, the drumming sounds equally natural attending to time-keeping and atmospheric needs as it does jumping hurdles in search of the perfect blast or fill, and the bass rumble rounds out the slowed-down heaviness while keeping its tone from muddying the attack of the fast parts.

At the bottom line, this is an excellent demo, but a demo nonetheless. This is a highly listenable taste of what the band is capable of, but it will take a crystallization of that promise on future releases to prove that the band has the staying power of its British Columbia contemporaries.

Stream or download MERV's Demo 2012 below from Bandcamp.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Nønsun- Good Old Evil




Lviv, Ukraine’s Nønsun plays a style of doom metal mixed liberally with drone, sludge and modern post-metal. As the years have progressed, the meanings of these aforementioned genres have come to denote an assortment of things, and, seemingly in answer to that fact, this band, on points throughout its 48-minute Good Old Evil “demo,” manages to cover most of them.

“Jesus’ Age,” after a beginning blast of noise and feedback, lumbers into a doom metal plod that’s anchored by vocalist Goatooth’s full-throated roar. Droning noise rushes back over the song, like the ocean reclaiming the coast, but after roughly a minute guitars, drums and vocals re-enter the song with a devastating, YOB-style heaviness, complete with bluesy stoner metal soloing that is undeniably indebted to that band's sound. The push-pull between drone and metal continues, with long stretches of both commingling beside one another. Out of the final stretch of metal, the drums and guitars begin to pick up speed for a bashing, almost punk section that collapses into molasses-drenched doom and feedback.

In addition to the expected heaviness and passages of enveloping noise and feedback, some surprising bits of melody find their way onto the album. Moments like the second half of "Rain Have Mercy," with its elegiac-sounding riffs and soloing and spoke-sung vocals, reveal  how far-reaching Nønsun’s sound is within its chosen genres. Though less representative than “Jesus’ Age” of what Nønsun does most, “Rain Have Mercy” might be the best track to introduce the average listener to exactly what the band can do. Though I love how huge and angry the former is, there's a transfixing emotional nuance to the latter that draws me to it individually, even if I don't have the time for a listen to all 48 minutes of the demo.

Nønsun’s strengths, as mentioned above, are in the way it fits together the extreme influences that encompass its style. It follows, then, that Good Old Evil’s weakest point is the nearly 7-minute rolling drone that is “Message of Nihil Carried by the Waves of the Big Bang,” which contains little-to-no genre mixing and only the barest changes in tone or mood. As with other drone and noise compositions on extreme punk and metal records, the emotional flatness of “Message” belies the peaks to which these genres can be carried by veteran practitioners.

After the droning of “Message,” closing track “Forgotten is What Never Was” makes a slow transition back into doom metal, beginning with noise and piano and working up to an ancestral stomp, out of which only occasionally bubbles growls or chanted vocals. Little more than a mesmerizing exercise, the 11 minutes of “Forgotten is What Never Was” feel longer than the 18 of “Jesus’ Age,’ and while its slow, atmospheric progression makes it a stronger piece of music than the drone work that precedes it, it joins that work in being part of the weaker second half of what is otherwise an excellent first release.

Overall, this is a band with a ton of promise. The impressive amalgam of extreme genres (on both the metal and noise sides of that spectrum) represented on the first half of the release, if reigned in with a slightly tighter compositional leash and carried over the final two tracks, would have made the word "demo" completely unnecessary here and elevated the band from "awesome, can't wait to hear how they improve next time" to a plain old "that's awesome."

Stream Good Old Evil below and/or download it for free from Nønsun's Bandcamp. [Note: The band sent me a download of the album.]

Monday, March 4, 2013

Grinding Halt / Suffering Quota- Split 7"




Grindcore's Internet-era globalization, while maligned for disintegrating the thrill and discovery of organic networking and tape-trading within the punk scene, brings the unquestionable advantage of leveling the playing field for bands outside of stereotypically accepted scene loci like North America and the UK. A non-US or UK band no longer has to be attached to a prominent label (or any at all) to gain international exposure, which, scene politics aside, is nothing but a great thing.

All this to say, then, that had the Internet never existed, I would never have heard this pair of Netherlands bands (or seen their satisfyingly colorful 7" cover art). Grinding Halt and Suffering Quota feel like children of that globalization, both in the musical styles they integrate into their sounds and because of the still-amazing fact that I'm listening to their music hundreds of miles away from where it was made, not thanks to label plugs or tape trading or letter-writing, but simply because of the magical musical equalizer that is Bandcamp and services like it.

Grinding Halt’s side opens with the lacerating “Kaaskopen,” a shrill-vocaled, heavy-riffing piece of grinding fastcore that morphs into a rich, Southern sludge metal after a mid-song bass break. Initially unassuming, repeated plays reveal the sophistication it takes to blend the whole thing together so effortlessly. While these sorts of structure aren’t new, the track feels organic, and each section would work as well on its own as well as it does as a part of a greater whole.

The standout track from either side, it is also a blueprint track for the duality in Grinding Halt’s approach. Their other two contributions (“Knuffelverzet” and “Bedrog”) are predominately in a groovy, Southern sludge style à la Thou, with a hardcore punk accent to the vocals and instrumental performances.  The punk hybridization is also present in the tracks’ lengths, as only one exceeds 2 minutes (and then just barely), and their shrewd songwriting gives the tracks a sense of being well-honed song nuggets rather than stunted throwaways.

“Bedrog” is pulled straight from the closing song handbook, as it is heavy, driving and feels like a recapitulation of the side’s previous sounds. With groovy Southern progressions and impassioned, frantic shouting, it shows a glint of that mournful, end-of-the-world quality found in many of the best album-ending songs.

Grinding Halt’s approach is upon first listen unusual, as the switch from grindcore to sludge metal (but never, on this release, back to grindcore again) seems to defy conventional wisdom. However, after some time spent with the songs, the progression feels natural, and a well-curated continuation in a similar direction could yield exciting results.

A batch of thick, mosh-ready grindcore songs from Suffering Quota occupies the B side. “No Lust For Life” is a beatdown masquerading as a thrashing hardcore song, and the singer sounds like he’s screaming the title in your face, with veins popping out on his neck and spittle flying from his mouth. Once the song reaches its stride near the 50 second mark, the whole affair picks up considerably, abandoning the mosh for the blast until a repeat of the opening “chorus” finally melts into a closing vocal sample.

“Goodbye Self Awareness” is both the shortest and the tightest track among their offerings here. It recalls, while considerably less outré, Total Fucking Destruction’s most straightforward and punishing moments, or a genetic experiment between Noisear and PLF. Its barreling pace and frantic vocals mark it as a standout among Suffering Quota's tracks and a worthwhile starting point for those put off by the sometimes mid-paced, meaty sound of the band's other songs. 

These are songs that sound manufactured for the pit veteran, not the BPM fiend, and those looking for innovation or alienating speed would do better searching elsewhere. However, those seeking well-produced, tough-sounding grindcore for those “I want to break stuff” days that we all have will find a lot to like about Suffering Quota's andrenalized death-thrash grind.

The transition from one side to the other is neither perfect nor overly jarring, and this certainly isn't the most unlikely pair of bands to share a split. The contrast between the two bands' production styles (Suffering Quota's sound is fuller and better-produced) makes the switch from one to the other noticeable, but in a few seconds the change is a non-issue.

Overall, this 7" is a fair introduction to two Dutch bands previously unknown to me. Neither band's output here has made me rush out and fill myself in on their back catalogs (I am, however, eyeing this pretty hard), but it has most definitely put the pair of them on my radar.

Stream or download Grinding Halt and Suffering Quota's Split 7" below or purchase the 7" from Give Praise in the US or Parade of Spectres in the UK.



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ash Borer- Bloodlands 12"




One of the more interesting paths in the last decade of extreme music has been that of the genre of black metal. After older groups largely became mired in the pristine offerings of orchestral black metal, newer bands began to shift their focus, pinpointing their favorite aspects of the genre, from its formative years on, to take it to strange and as-yet-uncharted places.

This specialization and hybridization within the genre spawned, among a host of others, Arcata, California's Ash Borer. They excel at extracting black metal's most astral and most abstractedly occult moments and stretching them across a canvas of trance-like, long-form song structures. Nowhere in their catalog is this approach and its lineage more apparent than their Bloodlands 12", the follow-up to their critically acclaimed second LP Cold of Ages.

The first sounds on the album, from A-side track "Oblivion's Spring," have more to do with what we think of as black metal in an atmospheric sense than a sonic one. Echoey, chiming guitars and a haunted-house organ synth pad wind into and out of synch with one another, creating a mood that feels pulled straight from the eerie opening credits of a horror film. Tension mounts with each introduced phrase and variation, but no blood is shed in the first few minutes of the song.

That all changes when the track suddenly jump-cuts from that creepy (but relatively clean) introduction to a full-out, distortion-wrapped black metal sprint. What gives this shift an organic quality is the fact that the organ riff employed in the introduction is carried over into the firebombing extreme metal core of the song, tying the ambient, otherworldly aspects of the band ably into the violent, immediate ones.

In the song's last half, the riff explored in the intro returns, but is at this point incorporated into the black metal meat of the song for a middle-paced buildup that caters equally to the part of the brain interested in repeated hooks and the ancient, primal one that feeds on music's violent, pummeling tendencies. Its eventual degradation into melting, howling drones sees both of these aspects of the brain evolved into oblivion, leaving the listener adrift in a post-mental wasteland that recedes in a long, siren whine at the song's close.

On the record’s b-side follows the aptly-titled “Dirge,” an atmospheric, swirling lament that builds at a more measured, deliberate pace than the introduction to “Oblivion’s Spring.” Where the instrumental opening of that piece felt like it was moving toward something and its draw was as a vehicle for reaching that goal, the purpose of “Dirge” is in the journey itself. Like time-lapse footage of a flower blooming, the track thrives in individual moments, unfolding slowly to reveal a whole.

“Purgation,” the b-side’s second half, is a blackened, accelerating slow burn that builds momentum around an undulating, circular riff. Around the halfway mark of the nearly 20-minute second side, the band slides into a galloping traditional black metal style (still hearkening back on occasion to that riff) that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Emperor’s first LPs. However, to quote the excellent and massively over-quoted William Butler Yeats poem, “the centre cannot hold,” and within minutes the onslaught is reduced to a single guitar, buzzing against the emptiness. A thick doom metal carapace forms around the riffing, which gives way to mid-paced, headbang-inducing black metal and another inevitable return to the nullifying womb of piercing feedback.

As well-liked as last year's Cold of Ages was, one of the complaints it received was that it seemed to lack some of the aggression and presence found on previous releases. While those hoping for another "Rest, You are the Lightning" may be disappointed, Bloodlands does sport a purer, more satisfying sound, thanks in part to its being recorded live and mixed down to 1/2" tape. This is the first of Ash Borer's records to be produced in this way, as the previous LPs were both recorded onto 2" tape and mixed digitally, resulting in a warmer overall sound and a more immediate delivery than any of their previous releases.

What most impresses about Ash Borer is the way in which they can manipulate the black metal form while remaining firmly rooted in that genre. Despite divergence into drone, doom and ambient instrumental territory, their sonic aesthetic stays tied to the isolated, individualistic outlook of black metal, in a stronger sense than many “roots” black metal groups of the present day.

Bloodlands sees the further growth of the band, past the transitional qualities of Cold of Ages into something darker and more expansive. There’s no road map to where Ash Borer goes from here, which only makes it all the more exciting to follow them there. 

Bloodlands is out April 15th on Gilead MediaStream "Oblivion's Spring" below. [Note: Gilead Media sent me a download for review.]




Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cloud Rat- Moksha




No album is more charged with a greater degree of both potential success and failure than a band's so-called "breakout record." Touted as the moment that a band is poised to "break out" to a larger audience, it is just as often the moment that a band's former fans choose to break ranks with them over an actual or imagined change in sound or approach.

With that being said, Cloud Rat fans, promise me that you won't run in fear when I tell that you that this album is unquestionably Cloud Rat's breakout moment. This is the point that fence-sitters and more casual grindcore fans will stand up and start to take notice of this talented Michigan band, but said moment is achieved not by removing elements of their former sound but by expanding their musical focus while improving upon the elements that made them great in the first place.

First track "Inkblot" opens with 25 seconds of echoing, haunted ambient noise that is cut through by a simple-but-massive thrash-grind riff delivered by guitarist Rorik. With a sound like a door being kicked in, vocalist Madison and drummer Adrian join in, blowing the record open in the tradition of album openers like Disrupt's "Domestic Prison" and His Hero is Gone's "Like Weeds." By the halfway mark, the track shifts into screamo-influenced territory, and it ends on a guitar-minimal hardcore punk note.

A melodic opening riff peeks through a black metal-grade wall of distortion on "Widowmaker," and within seconds the band is in full blast mode. A dark, snaking riff transitions the song into close-quarters, mid-paced hardcore that closes with an ambient coda similar to the opening of "Inkblot."

Sequenced third-to-last is a cover of the Neil Young classic "The Needle and the Damage Done," and in many ways this song is the record's emotional apex. The cover is arranged in a style that integrates the original's texture into Cloud Rat's approach, alternating between a clean-sung version (with vocals from all three members) that stays true to Young's haunting, minimal recording and a vicious, distorted hardcore version that boils angrily out of the pain and loss encapsulated in the lyrics. While by no means the fastest, heaviest or by any stretch the most extreme performance found here, it remains among the most resonant.

The trait which especially characterizes Moksha (and which is in part responsible for its success) is its variety. While indisputably a grindcore record, no track here is colored merely by a grindcore palette. Besides the already-touched-upon swatches of punk rock, hardcore, screamo and various styles of metal, shades of traditional rock, folk, noise, drone and post-rock blend to form a rich mosaic that is all but unprecedented in both scope and detail elsewhere in the genre.

Cloud Rat embrace cross-genre arrangements like a blastbeat-fueled incarnation of the Beach Boys circa 1966. Changes in style occur often across these 13 tracks, but always in an organic (if sometimes sudden) manner. Rather than the choppy, spastic lurches of your average kitchen-sink-grindcore band, these songs always feel at their core rooted in punk rock, even when exploring its most astral reaches.

If anything close to a wrong step is to be found on this LP, it is the soft, ghostly instrumental title track that closes the album, performed by Adrian and musical partner Thomas Oakley as the noise/ambient duo Found Letters. While perfectly enjoyable on its own, the piano and lost-souls drone of the track gives the album a feeling of dissolving rather than ending, and its nearly 7-minute length diffuses a bit of the energy built up on the preceding tracks. It's a minor criticism, and does little to shake the record's instant-classic status, but it's a flaw that could be easily resolved with a change in sequencing or by engineering a more structured climax for the existing song.

Even more than their willingness to experiment both structurally and sonically, Cloud Rat are defined by the bare, unrelenting emotion found in their music. Without lyrical context, each player's performance conveys the anger, pain and suffering that is at the heart of their musical power.

Accompanied by vocalist Madison's lyrics, however, that raw emotion is channeled and honed into a weapon. Focused alternately on the social and deeply personal, her lyrics shift effortlessly between poetically abstracted and smack-in-the face literal. While cloaked in some degree of anonymity, lyrics like these found on "Inkblot"reveal enough to be at once powerful and deeply disturbing:  


"Dresses dancing against a boundless breeze.
Orgasm rolling forth...
Big yellow buses. Big purple bruises.
Breaking nails, dirt hiding under.
You know just where to touch me."



Other tracks, like "Widowmaker," have lyrics that are as aesthetically beautiful as they are arresting and personal: 


"Scars resemble the wilderness.
A marbling of reflected light.
Obscure and perfect she floated to me."



On "Infinity Chasm," a song penned jointly by Rorik and Madison, a parent laments the eventual and inevitable separation from a child by death. The song, detailing Rorik's own fears as a father of a nine-year-old daughter, benefits from its lyrical straightforwardness by the fact that most listeners will be instantly able to connect to its themes of love, loss and lamentation about this beautiful, terrible, stupid fucking world we all inhabit.

This album is a moment that Cloud Rat has been working up to since its first material, though only now that it has been fully realized is it clear that this is what the band had been reaching toward with their excellent string of previous releases. Not only is it the best release in the band's catalog, Moksha is a frontrunner for 2013 album of the year, and whether you're new to the group or a fan since the beginning, this is an essential record for this and any year following.


Moksha is available on vinyl (with a free download card) from Halo of Flies Records in the US, and for pre-order through 7Degrees Records  and React with Protest Records in Europe. The band will also have copies of the record available on their European tour, and dates for that can be found here. Download links and lyrics to past Cloud Rat albums can be found here.