Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wormrot- Noise EP

As soon as the words “corporate sponsorship” and “grindcore” appear in the same sentence, it’s natural for the punk in all of us to cry foul and start spouting some nonsense about “the Man,” “subjugation” and “ideals.” And to be honest, most of the time, said punk would be absolutely right.

The fact that I find an exception in the partnership between Wormrot and Scion A/V for this EP (as well as those with bands like Gridlink and Harvey Milk for their live series) has little to do with what I think of Scion or their parent company in any corporate terms, and fuck-all to do with the purchase or sale of automobiles. The sole reason rests with the fact that Wormrot (and other bands that Scion A/V has worked with) make great music, and the Scion folks recognize that and know enough to stay the hell out of the way.

One of the few criticisms that have been leveled at this year’s Dirge, Wormrot’s standout sophomore LP and yet another great year-end contender in a year of excellent records, is that there wasn’t a large amount of measurable growth from the band’s breakout 2009 offering, the much-lauded Abuse. Sure, their extensive touring schedule showed in Dirge’s tightness and polish, and there were riffs and blasts galore, but other than some production differences, you could play the two LPs side-by-side and more likely than not miss the changeover.

This EP bucks that trend by offering 5 songs that, while sonic kin to Dirge and clearly born from the jam-based writing style the band tried out on that record, come packed with a shifting bag of sonic tricks that make these some of the most chameleonic yet patently Wormrot songs that the band has released thus far.

Opening the EP is the feedback-soaked freight train punk of “Loathsome Delusions,” a fairly traditional Wormrot grinder that crams speedy, metallic riffage and one of the galloping, three-quarters time punk sections that the band favors into its structure without feeling cramped or forced. Careful listeners (or those who listen to the EP on repeat) will notice that Noise pulls a Finnegan’s Wake move, making the feedback from fifth track “Perpetual Extinction” Ouroboros onto the opening squall of “Loathsome Delusions” for a neat, cyclical effect that’s just one of the many well thought-out decisions the band makes over its 5 minute, 11 second runtime.

Middle track “Outburst of Annoyance” spews thrash-scented riffage all over you, then drops in a circle pit-forming breakdown so that vocalist Arif can get all Shawn Johnson on your ass. As the rest of the bands skanks away, Arif busts out vocal back handsprings and aerials, shifting from several varieties of shouted vocal to growls and highs, sometimes all with the same breath.

The band pulls out all remaining stops for breathtaking closer “Perpetual Extinction.” After a meaty, lightspeed opening, Rasyid and Fitri trick you into saying “Aw fuck, a breakdown?” before laughing their asses off and playing fast again, a trick they pull off in one form or another for a large portion of the song. Next, the band shit on your expectations once again by managing to navigate dropping a thrashy, Iron Maiden-esque lead solo into 30 seconds of the song’s 1:11 run time without a scintilla of cheesiness, which is something I’ve straight-up never seen before in this sort of balls-out grind.

The highest compliment that I can pay to a free release such as this one is to say that I wish that I could buy it, not only so that I could have a physical copy of another of Arif’s consistently amazing album covers (you can find more examples of his fantastic artwork here, including a drawing of H.R. Giger’s classic Alien creature) but because it just is that good. The continuing upward trajectory that the band is on makes me drool for what a third LP would sound like; if it even nears the level of this release, Noisear’s already-finished fourth full-length is going to have stiff album-of-the-year competition in the year to come.

For anyone who hasn't grabbed this slab of digital goodness yet, you can find it here at the Scion A/V site.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Defeatist / Triac / A.S.R.A. - 3-Way Split

Band break-ups, like any other kind, almost never go as smoothly as it seems they will. [Note: You have no idea the willpower it took not to reference “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” in this lede.] After a band’s official break-up is announced, it’s not unusual to hear announcements for one last EP, or a farewell tour, or in this record’s case, even a split, a few months later.

In the case of A.S.R.A. this split has been more than a few months in coming (since they’ve been broken up, what is it, almost 3 years now?) It collects a set of 6 tracks the band recorded before splitting up, along with new material from NYC grinders Defeatist and Baltimoreans Triac for an explosive split LP that’s one part fond farewell and two parts vehicle for a pair of still-rising stars.

All 3 bands bring their most violent, noisy material to the party, making you glad that at least two of these groups are still making music.

Defeatist sound more spontaneous here than either the songs collected on Sharp Blade Sinks Deep Into Dull Minds or those featured on debut LP Sixth Extinction showcased, balancing their characteristic modernist grindcore technicality with a healthy dose of visceral bite to compliment the always-present anger and frustration. Songs like “At Fault” spiral around themselves, repeating guitar lines snaking above and below sections of desperate, extended screaming. The band is at their best here on “Eyes over Teeth,” the briefest and fastest of their contributions, stirring what starts as a grind-punk assault into an angular, many-jointed riff-fest that fans of Discordance Axis will feel right at home with.

The split also collects some of the best material Triac has released so far, showcasing both the band’s blasting grind side and unhinged, sludged-out, punky side (hell, even their blasting side is unhinged-as-fuck) in equal measure. Of the band’s four offerings, the band’s fevered “Police Story/Car Jack Ferry” medley (the Black Flag standard, followed by what I’m fairly sure is an original) and the throat-shattering grindfest “Grab Everything That Kills” hit hardest, giving me the best reason to date to look forward to a new Triac full-length. Part of digesting new Triac material, from first LP Dead House Dreaming to the Blue Room EP and their songs on This Comp Kills Fascists Vol. 2, has been tracking their growth as a band, watching an array of disparate influences and interesting ideas gel into a sound that can be called uniquely their own. With these songs, it feels like that arc has been completed, as I could listen to the noise-rock-indebted snarl and stutter collected here and know within a few listens precisely the band that I was hearing.

A.S.R.A, the band featured third on both sides of the split, sound more balanced here than on the predominately mid-paced doom-crust/Assuck-meets-DxAx mash on LP The Way of All Flesh or the pig-squealing, too-thick deathgrind soup featured on This Comp Kills Fascists Vol. 1. However, at some points A.S.R.A. still sounds like a band at war with itself; awkward pig squeals derail the last few seconds of the otherwise awesome “False Memories,” and other songs fall prey to strange transitions and other construction missteps that, while they can be chalked up to the fact that the band broke up soon after the recording of these songs, still somewhat detract from A.S.R.A.’s portion of the proceedings. Overall, it’s great to hear “new” A.S.R.A., even if every song isn’t perfect, and the fact that they’re now defunct makes it hard to offer more than surface criticism of their efforts collected here.

With perhaps the exception of the Triac songs, this is by no means an essential release. In the best light, this record can be view as an introduction, both to the back catalog of all three bands as well as the already growing number of future releases from the two still-functioning ones. This split is like running into old friends at a funeral: you’re glad as hell to be together, but just can’t help wishing that the circumstances were better.

Defeatist have just released a new LP, Tyranny of Decay, available at their bandcamp, and Triac’s latest release, the four-song Always Meant to Hurt You EP, is available as a 7” through a389 Records.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Psychic Limb- Queens

Ask me. Go ahead, you’ve read the post title. Just get it over with. Ask me, “Nigel, how exactly does a limb go about being psychic?”

My answer? I haven’t a fucking clue.

Okay, phantom limb I can handle. Psychic friend I think I’ve got covered. But Psychic Limb leaves me at a loss. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a cool thing to name a band, but beyond an arm that can tell the future or a leg that can read minds, I have no clue what practical definition the phrase could possibly have.

Lucky for the band, however, the sense or lack thereof involved in their chosen name has absolutely no discernable bearing on the music they make (the lack of track titles suggests that naming things in general is sort of an afterthought for the band, similar to a certain noisy Swedish favorite of mine.) Said music, I might add, happens to be really, really good.

Psychic Limb play grindcore with a thick hardcore punk accent that will appeal as much to Converge fans as it will those of Siege or Phobia. The record’s opening track offers a fair template for the other eleven, as a squalling wall of feedback is broken by a series of crisp snare taps that launch into a mildly angular, hyperspeed punk snarl of a song (Queens’ second-longest at 1:08, a good 10 seconds of which is consumed by feedback and guitar strums.)

The band’s superb grasp of dynamics and pacing mean that not every moment in the album’s 9 minute, 35 second run is at light speed, but neither does it boast the now-clichéd sophomoric sludge number. Songs like track 2 shift seamlessly from punky dirge breakdowns to frenetic blasting and back again, while keeping the momentum perfectly balanced. Track 9, the album’s longest track (only a second longer than the first track) allows the listener another rare moment of breathing room with its similarly slow opening, only to gallop forward soon after into full-on grind mode, aided by echo-y, megaphone-esque shouting vocals near its middle.

Of course, my favorite tracks on the album are the ones that straight-up blast, but even those songs are handled in a varied and creative manner. An excellent stop-start breakdown opens track 7, which stumbles its way into a viciously paced hate-fest rounded out by a truly violent vocal performance, with the whole thing ending before you have time to catch your breath. Track 11 gallops forward on a circular opening riff, launches into full-out blast mode, downshifts into a finger-pointing mid-paced lope and then rides a bass break into a pit-inducing breakdown peppered with Converge-eque angular riffage that closes the track.

I’ve been struggling to find fault with this album since I started writing this review, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there just really aren’t any. Even the lame “I wish it were longer” excuse doesn’t work here, because even under ten minutes, it just feels complete. Fuck you if you call it an EP, as well; full-length is as much a state of mind as a length of time, and this just happens to be one of the best LPs released this year. I’m already hungry for whatever these talented, vitriolic Brooklynites have to serve up next.

The band isn’t on any of the usual social networking sites, but you can order this excellent LP here. If you’re one of those try-before-you-buy types, a quick Google search will find you a download; I usually don’t openly support piracy in my reviews, but I know that one or two listens will probably be enough for you to order a copy of your very own.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grindcore/Extreme Music Radio Show 8/25/11

As promised, here are the links to my grindcore/extreme music radio show (mostly grind and some doomy/black metal stuff thrown in for good measure) from midnight to 2 on Wednesday night. I'd originally uploaded them in .wav, but considering the fact that those uploads ended up totaling around a gig, I decided I had to re-up them as 320 mp3s instead. This will be my last metal show of the summer, and one of the last radio shows I'll do until I (I hope) come back and do a few shows over winter break, so I hope you folks like it. There's a couple of slip-ups that I apologize for in advance (like the part where the hard drive I'm using doesn't recognize the Noisear song I'm going to play and I have to play station liners for like 2 minutes until we fix it) but I had a whole lot of fun doing it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gridlink- Orphan

“He played the most dreadful music that could possibly be imagined by the most fiendish mind of man. He deafened us with the sheer fabulous ugliness of his music. He made our flesh crawl and bristle with his noise. Mum’s face began to twitch. I kept jerking. A strange smell, as of a rotting corpse, or of a great animal in the throes of death, rose from the music, and occupied the room. It was incredible.”
-Ben Okri, The Famished Road (1991)

“At the moment the face is horribly distorted, especially the eyes. The whole body and the features of the face work with convulsive jerks and contortions. A terrible, indescribable scream that is unlike anything else breaks from the sufferer. In that scream everything human seems obliterated and it is impossible, or very difficult, for an observer to realise and admit that it is the man himself screaming. It seems indeed as though it were some one else screaming from within the man.”
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot (1869)

Had this been any other year, the fight for top grindcore album come December would’ve been a bare-knuckled brawl. A nearly unprecedented number of the genre’s modern purveyors released excellent LPs this cycle, and the Iron Chef-level of accomplishment on the best of them would’ve meant a hair’s breadth difference between the first, second and third place position, had Jon Chang’s elite grindcore commando squad not loosed this 13-minute, precision-guided salvo broadside through their hulls, rendering further discussion unnecessary.

Ever since my frenzied first listen some 4 months ago, I’ve known that 2011’s album of the year had already been chosen for me. Of course, there was at first some denial on my part; surely some other album could come in the next 8 months that would shake this grind masterpiece from its throne, relegating it to second or even third place? Yet as the weeks wore on, my enthusiasm for Orphan just never seemed to wane, and its unshakeable supremacy was further cemented as weeks and then months of listening allowed me to unpack more and more of the intricacies that compose this compact musical dynamo of a record.

Orphan seems essentially designed to ramp up every aspect that made 2006’s Amber Grey a masterpiece in its own right. Takafumi Matsubara, also guitar mastermind of Japan’s underrated technical grind powerhouse Mortalized, has upped the band’s guitar composition in both complexity as well as catchiness (an aspect oft-overlooked in grindcore songwriting,) crafting songs that perfectly marry the technical with the memorable instead of jumping off the deep end of wankiness as many “mathcore” and technical metal groups tend to do.

In response to the upgrade in songwriting, the other aspects of the band have been beefed up as well. Former Human Remains members Steve Procopio (who acted as touring guitarist for Discordance Axis when Rob Marton was out of commission) and bassist Teddy Patterson do an excellent job of filling out the band’s sound, adding punch without sacrificing an ounce of rawness or energy. Blastbeat wunderkind Bryan Fajardo returns to the drum stool with his chops cranked up to 11, and even he’s had to make some changes to cope with Matsubara’s frenetic fretwork. Formerly the king of the single-pedal blastbeat, he had to learn to play double-kick just to keep up with the relentless bpms this record cranks out. Even vocalist Jon Chang shows increased versatility this go-round, exhibiting his full range of techniques from shrieks to deathgrowls and to several surprising gradations in-between.

Ever a font of vitriol, from his work in Discordance Axis to the present, Chang has upped the anger, pain and frustration to a fever pitch on this release. Vocally, it’s rarely more visible than in the black metal-inflected, tortured-wolverine-spewing-acid delivery on “Scopedog,” one of many anime-indebted narratives to be found on the record (the song itself named after a character from the long-running VOTOMS series.) He also employs a clearer, almost barking technique for some lines, making lyrics like the title track’s “Somewhere in between we’ve lost ourselves” surprisingly understandable right from the first listen.

His penchant for violent revenge returns in full force on this record, perhaps most evident on standout closing track “The Last Red Shoulder” (named after a VOTOMS OVA and another of many anime references on the record): “I want to hear you scream until it becomes the flat drone of tinnitus / Until the ground is Pollacked with your offal and blood.” However, the lyrics boast more than just extreme music’s requisite gore; they also exhibit a pain and fragility more common to heart-on-sleeve singer-songwriters than grindcore lifers, exhibited in these lyrics from the title track: “I never wanted this distance / This distance between myself and the rest of the world / Unanswered voicemails[,] the cursor hangs anxiously / Waiting for words that never come.”

Lyrically, Orphan also boasts some of Chang’s most accomplished writing to date. Aforementioned album closer “The Last Red Shoulder” boasts particularly evocative, imagery-laden storytelling that weaves a violent, emotionally intense war narrative. While clearly influenced by the mech combat of some of his favorite anime, these lyrics, like much of his work, seem to carry a deeply personal undercurrent. These lines from the song’s opening genuinely gave me chills when I first cracked open the gatefold for a peek at the lyrics sheet: “Rotor wash stirs the desert / Only a shadow of myself / Covered in the grey powder that once was people / Gore spattered chassis are matted by acid rain.”

The record offers a surprise treat for grindcore purists in the fantastic “Cargo 200,” a blistering 7 seconds that will go down in history as one of the finest micro-songs ever written, in grind or any other genre. More than just primal therapy, the song proves that there’s still life in a trick that’s become something of a genre cliché roughly two-and-a-half decades after “You Suffer” blipped its way into our music-consuming consciousness.

While I could go on, dissecting all of the layers that make the album great track-by-track, it seems futile, especially after the excellent coverage it's received within the blogsphere and the surprisingly positive reception it’s received from some corners of the mainstream metal press. Additionally, considering the track record of Chang and the rest of the band, if you were going to pick this record up you most likely had the good sense to do it months ago, and anything I would have to say either for or against it would be fairly useless.

Instead, consider this more a love song to a record I've grown extremely attached to and should’ve reviewed months ago, as well as perhaps a re-introduction to me as a blogger, since now that I’ve completed my degree and am settling into post-college life I plan to start publishing reviews of grindcore records (as well as some from other genres) at least weekly. Midnight Wednesday evening I'll be airing a grindcore radio show from my alma mater's radio station, which you can stream here when the time comes, and which I'll also be posting a mediafire link for either early Thursday morning or later during the day on Thursday or Friday if you can't listen live.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Coolrunnings- Babes Forever EP

I'm not quite certain what still draws me to skateboard culture. Despite not being able to land so much as an ollie, years of friends that skate, skate videos, skate-themed music, thrasher musicians and skate-related films (especially the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys) and video games (the cheesy-yet-endearing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series) have erected a special place for skate culture in my heart. This fondness is only compounded by images and accounts of the '70s and '80s, whose washed out stills and footage offer more to me in raw character than any modern high-powered camera could ever hope to provide.

In that case, it's no surprise that I instantly gravitated to the cover of Coolrunnings' Babes Forever EP; that naked, bronzed woman on her '80s-style board is, to me, the perfect image of freedom, and I'd tack it up on my wall if I could. However, before even setting eyes on the cover, I'd already fallen in love with Coolrunnings' sound, and all because of one song, the evocatively-titled “When I Got High With You.”

Opening simultaneously with a reverb-laden drum machine beat and a dreamy synth fade-in, “When I Got High With You” is the type of song that I instantly gravitate toward. Soon following the opening, the drum machine is bolstered by the beat's true heart, some looping, echo-y, harp-esque keyboard plinks that are forever attached mentally for me to the soundtrack to a certain cave level in Super Mario World, no matter their similarity or lack therefore to the music from the level itself. Vocals enter at about 25 seconds, and stay in close proximity for the rest of the song. The final barb of the hook is the lyrics, whose opening quatrain is “I don't know what I was dreamin' 'bout/When I woke up at two/Spent the whole night drinkin'/And just thinkin' 'bout when I got high with you.” It's that combination of triumphant slackerdom and pure nostalgia that really drew me to this song, and that same formula is carried through an EP's worth of sonically diverse and on the whole intriguing material.

The first noticeable thing about album opener “San Dimas Oasis,” is its difference from “When I Got High With You.” Sonic non-uniformity is sort of a theme amongst Coolrunnings songs, but an equally unifying thread running through the remaining five tracks could be “five songs that don't sound like 'When I Got High With You.'” “San Dimas Oasis” brings immediacy in place of the other song's slow burn, showcasing the band's unique keyboard-friendly post-punk meets surf rock style. Its lyrical themes remain familiar, with sleeping, relationships and wistfulness covered as heavily in this track as the former. “San Dimas Oasis” offers a better look at the rest of the band's talents, with jangly, tropicalia-meets-post-punk guitar lines reminiscent of Abe Vigoda circa Skeleton. The guitar work rounds out the band's sound, and the strength of “San Dimas Oasis” is enough to make it okay that the band didn't write the same (excellent) song over and over for the length of an EP.

“San Dimas Oasis” ends abruptly, and we smash-cut to the EP's eponymous second track. We're launched directly into a minute's worth of high-energy keyboard and drum work, until a left-turn sudden fade into an “Ooooooh, oooooh” vocal line that opens the song proper. The song loses most of the energy built up in the intro, and the opening lyrics “Don't want to think that I'm just a friend/It's not the way that I'd thought it'd end/Let's drink some whiskey, let's get fucked up/I'll fill your glass, you fill my cup” don't hit as strongly as others on the record. Further lyrics also reveal another quirk of Coolrunnings' style, a tendency toward strange, oblique storytelling choices such as “Do you remember we got so drunk/And I asked you to be too good to me.” The song's chorus, “I love you forever/I want to show you that I mean no harm/Babes forever/I want to show you that I mean no – ” along with more of those sweet guitar lines are the song's saving grace, forgiving structural oddities and lyrical quirks with pure catchy, head-nodding goodness.

The more down-tempo “Better Things” brings the EP back on track with a sweet, simple arrangement, setting the stage for the album's centerpiece, the aforementioned “When I Got High With You.” Strong opening guitar lines and an opening hook of “Things aren't what they seem/And nothing's real/I don't wanna feel – /Like I'm not bad enough to deal” cement the album's thematic elements and offers a common ground that makes its diverse structural and instrumental choices make sense.

Sped up fake drums and paranoid 8-bit keys open “Trippin' Balls at Der Wienerschnitzel,” a narration of a bad trip perfectly embodied by its instrumental counterparts. “Denied a ride home/Can I have a ride home?” goes its insistent chorus. While not the album's strongest offering, its themes of loneliness and substance use/abuse follow one of the record's main thematic threads, and its dark, fast feel propels the listener to “Slumberland,” the album's closer and one of several high notes.

With all of its quirks, Babes Forever is a great introduction/sampler platter for Coolrunnings' vibrant, tough-to-quantify slacker style. Since the band's full-length debut, Teenage Tennessee, is due in the next few months, now is the perfect time to get familiar with a band who, judging from their energy and prolific nature, just might be around for a while. A few tracks from the new album, such as the superb “Chorus,” are available for free from Dracula Horse, as well as Babes Forever and the band's other EP, Buffalo.

Standout tracks: “When I Got High With You,” “San Dimas Oasis,” “Slumberland”

Also check out: “Chorus” from Teenage Tennessee, “Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads Cover)” [Purchasable from the band's Bandcamp] and “Burnout” from Buffalo

Monday, January 3, 2011

Temporal Shift: Arsedestroyer- Teenass Revolt

The sheer power of words baffles me. The act of simply supplying a name or a description to a thing has the ability to provide form and purpose to a previously nebulous space, a sort of linguistic birth-giving that wholly alters the thing's existence as long as knowledge of that name or description exists. Perhaps due to this phenomenon, language-using humans tend to fear or simply ignore the nameless or the indescribable. That which is impossible to catalog then, in a sense, ceases to be.

Teenass Revolt, the noise-friendly LP from the Swedish grind madmen in Arsedestroyer, seems to suffer a similar fate when brought under scrutiny by many discerning grindcore fans. Spanning 38 untitled tracks, this utterly unhinged offering rarely receives any sort of attention, save the few diehard proponents that assure that its ugly aural legacy will live on (Beau from Insect Warfare constantly name-dropping it in interviews and on the band's blog is the primary reason I decided to give this album a chance in the first place.) The fact that the tracks offer little or no reference point, unless “that one with the weird Swedish dialog sample” counts, and few aesthetic or ideological cues save the package art, the band name and the album's title, means that the assimilation process for the record is rather unconventional, and may serve to drive off all but the most persistent listeners.

Musically, this is not entirely unfamiliar grindcore territory. One basic reference point could be Sore Throat's Disgrace to the Corpse of Sid, though this is nowhere near the unabashed mimicry of that record that's evidenced on something like Agoraphobic Nosebleed's Altered States of America; song and album structure is entirely the band's own, and there are no blipcore throwaways in attendance here. Arsedestroyer suture a more urgent and destructive tendency to that template, with the assault of Jon Chang's projects at their most lethal and the blown-out production of Rise Above's essential I Love to Relax LP.

Like many of my favorite extreme music offerings, Teenass conjures up its own unique atmosphere of foreboding during private listening. It sounds like the musical equivalent of a grainy foreign snuff/torture VHS, and the strange Swedish vocal samples (the sample which opens the album sounds like it could come from an intensely creepy Swedish rendition of a Three Stooges routine, and later in the album, the band even manages to make a sample of people mewling like cats sound deeply disturbing) add to the linguistic disorientation (provided that you're not fluent in Swedish, I suppose.) What could, in another context, come off as tired gore tropes, are rendered here in skewed and almost impossible to replicate fashion, making this record a solitary experience among years of grindcore achievements.

This album is a shining example of the argument for grindcore-as-aggregate; while individual tracks can more than hold their own, the album as a whole renders that unnecessary. Even lack of songtitles, taken in the long view, seems less of a stumbling-block than a means to highlight the sheer nihilistic beauty represented in Teenass Revolt.