Thursday, October 25, 2012

Monomaniac Volume One

It’s easy to forget how awesome compilations can be. Most of them that any of us bought would be more useful as coasters, but for every 10 hastily-assembled, all-album-tracks wastes of space, there’s one thoughtful, well-curated collection that features the right balance between exclusive tracks from well-known bands and pleasant surprises from lesser-known acts and manages to further our experience as fans of the featured genres.

This compilation, put together by Panos Agoros from Dephosphorus/Blastbeat Mailmurder and created as a split 7” collection of compilation-exclusive songs that total a minute each per band, (spoiler alert) sits comfortably in the latter category.

Opening side A is the always-excellent Cloud Rat, who delivers a scorcher called “Finger Print v1.” A perfect way to begin the festivities, the song spends most of its runtime in destructive, hateful blasting mode, leaving around 20 seconds near its end for a sludgy, deliberate and equally destructive finale.

Next finds thedowngoing in a typically off-kilter mood, with three blistering noise-grinders that together clock in under a minute. The relatively mid-tempo “Littered” is the first of their contributions, and serves as a nice transition from the sludginess of Cloud Rat’s track by waiting until its second half to gear up into full-on grinding. Following that is an alternate version of ATHOUSANDYEARSOFDARKNESS track “Floorboards” that is only 1/3 as long as the original but every bit as intense with its shifting, technical aural abuse. Closing out thedowngoing’s contribution is “Hibakusha (Reprsise),” a brief, distorted number that shifts from death metal vocals and heavy, metallic riffing to piercing shrieks and a circular, Discordance Axis-style riff that ends the song.

Detroit’s angry powerviolence comes next, with a track by the deceptively-cheery name of “Birthday Party.” This is the kind of song that destroys live. After a tension-building opening riff, a tom-centric roll around the drum set transitions into the song’s main riff, which is shortly buoyed by blasting drums and then the band’s pushed-to-the-limit shouted vocals to create a circle pit perfect storm.  After a few seconds, that gives way to a minimal combination of blasts and shouts, punctuated by the occasional stab of guitar, and a brief punk section rounds the whole thing out. It’s all over in a little over 30 seconds, but this brief taste is a pretty good indicator of what you can expect from the band’s other material.

The Noisiest Track of the Comp award goes to Sete Star Sept for their typically blown-out, screeching noisegrind as featured on “Why Not Intersect.” The track is a seething, rolling wave of abrasive noise out of which traditional instrumentation occasionally floats, and if you told me that Kae’s bass was a noise synth I wouldn’t think twice about believing you. Kae’s vocals are the track’s most distinct feature, and the growls and shrieks exhibited here poke their heads highest above the noise. This brief, abrasive track puts Sete Star Sept more in line with Japan’s legendary guitar-less (and bass-less) noisegrind act World than I’ve ever heard them, and this track should cause interest in both their more noisy material (such as the recently-released-on-Fuck Yoga Vinyl Collection 2010-2012) and their more formalistic grind-noise (last year's LP Revision of Noise).

Ryan Page’s Body Hammer project makes its triumphant return here with “Dog Star Man,” a track that exhibits that project’s dual focuses, namely brief pulses of intense grindcore and moody, atmospheric patches of doomy ambience. This track manages to blend the two better than 2009’s Jigoku, and it leaves me itching to hear that album’s followup, which Page is reportedly working on.

The last track on the A side, “The Weapons of the Proletariat,” comes from the heavily death metal-influenced (if not entirely death metal) Greek grindcore band Head Cleaner. Vocals are predominately a commanding growl which is occasionally punctuated by harsh screams, and are the most forward element of the track. While starting on a brisk death lope, the track locks into a groove built around a circling riff and headbangs its way to near-conclusion until the bpms pick up slightly for a layered-vocal finale. Though I would consider it the least successful addition to a stellar compilation, this is a track that is engineered to fit right in the sweet spot of certain groove-oriented extreme music fans.

Diocletian’s blackened death metal opens side B with “Traitor’s Gallow,” a dirty piece of extreme music which, with a shortened runtime to fit with the Monomaniac series’ theme, comes off like blackened Repulsion. The compact format suits the band surprisingly well, and means that a Horrified-esque slab of cemetery deathgrind could be quite a good look for the band’s next LP.

The Howling Wind lives up to its name with “Bewilderment,” an echoey, occult gust of US black metal with vocals so low in the mix that it’s not 100% clear whether they’re there at all or just a trick of the aesthetic. While one guitar shreds along with the drums, another solos for practically the whole track, which makes this black metal duo in line with the genre’s classic tradition of creating a soundscape independent from the sum of its parts. The atmosphere they conjure on this track is enticing enough to make me curious about what their material is like in longer form.

Newcomers Sempiternal Dusk, whose only other output is a just-released cassette that boasts 2 tracks over 24 minutes, serve up a tidy minute of fast, aggressive death metal that boasts technical riffage and is lithe enough not to get bogged down in structural woes while changing up its game several times to keep things interesting.

Despite the length constraint, diversity is Monomaniac Volume One’s greatest asset. This is Past close out the compilation with “Catatonia,” a ritualistic sub-minute chunk of what is ostensibly black metal but consists of Liturgy-esque chant-singing, buzzing picked electric guitar and some ominous cymbal work. Though certainly an unusual submission on the surface, it’s a perfect way to round out the collection.

Agoros’ Monomaniac Volume One fulfills its promise, with a slew of short, exciting tracks that will cement old loyalties and most likely forge new ones.  It delivers a jolt of adrenaline to the dying art of the compilation, and we can only hope the already-announced Volume Two lives up to the successes of this first installment.

Monomaniac Volume One is out now on Blastbeat Mailmurder, and available digitally through Bandcamp as a pay-what-you-want download.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Blast Eats: Violent Restitution Lunch Party

This Blast Eats feature has been one of my favorite things I've done with the blog in recent memory, and the coolest part about it has been, unquestionably, the variety not only of the recipes submitted but also in the points of view of the people who have submitted them. People and food both rule for basically the same reason: there are just so many different kinds, and they're all equally cool in drastically different ways. This installment is further proof of that, as Sarah, guitarist for Vancouver grinders Violent Restitution, walks us through a lunch of some of the band's typical eats while on their most recent tour.


These are the items we mostly ate while on our 6 week cross-Canada tour. Items can be dumpstered, some bought. Bread and some produce should be garbage-available, though and we managed to dumpster a half full container of flaxseed oil and that shit is expensive, so score.

Chickpea Grind Sandwich/Kale Wrap
Carrot-Hot Sauce Blast-wich ( Pebbles' specialty)
Iced Mincer (Obviously not for van eating! But when you can take over someone’s kitchen. )

What you need -

Canned chickpeas ( unless you aren't on the road and would rather soak vs canned )
Nutritional yeast
Salt + pepper packages stolen from fast food restaurants
Kale (optional)
Flaxseed oil (optional)
Apple Cider Vinegar (optional)
Pickles (optional)
Tofurky Italian sausage (optional)
Large Carrots
Hot sauce of choice
Dairy Free Iced Dessert of choice
Oreos of some sort

Chickpea Grind Sandwich/Wrap – Beat-by-beat breakdown

-Open and drain canned chick peas onto sidewalk and place into large bowl. You can try to wash them if you want, if not the left over goo-water should make for a farty ride.
-Mash with fork, if you don't have a fork like we did sometimes, you can attempt to use a spoon but it really sucks.
-Add some flaxseed oil
-Add finely minced Tomato
-Add finely minced avocado, or mash into it
-Add Nutritional Yeast
-Add salt and pepper
-Add apple cider vinegar
-Add optional pickles  ( we had pickles towards the end of tour and it was the coolest )
-Grind and mince together

Put a slice of kale on the sandwich, add mash and if you’re so lucky to have tofurky sausage, slice up and place on bread.

For kale wrap, obviously just wrap it in some kale.

Carrot-hot sauce blast-wich, Specialty of Pebbles the drummer.

1 slice of bread wrapped around a carrot. Add Hot-sauce to desired amount. Ingest.
More enjoyable if you have not showered since tour started (actually).

Iced Mincer

1 Container of Dairy alternative frozen ice "cream" emptied into a saucer.
Grind up the Oreos using a potato masher, hammer, fist or whatever you have.
Finely mince banana into mixture.

Mash together, put in container and return to freezer for 20 minutes.

Serve with Oreo cookie, and a slice of strawberry if you’re so lucky to have access to one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cloud Rat/Republic of Dreams- Split LP

As a writer, it’s hard not to fall into patterns, especially when taking as specific a focus as “extreme music blogger,” an emphasis that deals in often-similar styles and textures. While these patterns are evident in the writing of me and others in many places, one of the worst might occur when writing about split albums.

For whatever reason, splits tend to be more or less glossed over by music writers, reduced mostly to a competitive structure that assesses which band out-performed the other and whether the loser is an outclassed upstart or an old fogey that simply lost its mojo. This approach ignores the fact that splits, when done right, can be more like full-length albums with a different set of performers on each side (sound familiar, Scum fans?) and it takes an excellent example of the form, like this split LP between Cloud Rat and Republic of Dreams, to jar me and my compatriots from debilitating reviewer lethargy.

Michigan’s Cloud Rat opens its side with the sludgy post-metal of “Burning Doe,” a move that simultaneously bucks expectations and accentuates the strength of the band’s songwriting. While an example of the “slow opening song” trope found on From Enslavement to Obliteration and scores of albums after it, the song is remarkable for two things: firstly, with its Isis-indebted quiet-loud structure, buoyed by blasts near its middle section, it is the rare instance of that trope that doesn’t crib stylistically from early Swans; secondly, it’s one of even fewer examples that has re-playability tied to its own merit and not simply the notion that, “Hey, it’s a grindcore band playing slowly!”

Second track blast-force “Parachute” opts to skip the subtleties and stomp the accelerator out of the gate, offering a memorable, no-nonsense 51 seconds of sweet-spot grind. The song is equally tight instrumentally and in terms of construction. This is what well-made grindcore does: take whatever time it needs to prove its point and then stop. There’s no dignity in wearing out your welcome, and stretching ideas farther than they need to go is as painful to the listener as it is the song structure.

Cloud Rat’s range within their chosen form never ceases to impress me. The stuttery opening riff on “Moving Mouths,” the sludge-courting heavy punk of “Keba” and the transition from blasting grindcore to vocalist Madison's acapella singing on “Stench of Sage” interact side-by-side perfectly without so much as a raised eyebrow. For some time now, Cloud Rat have been among the best active groups in modern grindcore, so the fact that this is their best material to date should indicate something pretty significant.

Republic of Dreams, who occupy the other half of this split, are a German and Polish screamo/emoviolence  three-piece with a focus on the fast and intense side of that spectrum. Grindcore fans looking for a screamo gateway drug will find it in this band, who serves as an excellent foil to the emotional, nuanced grinding of a typical Cloud Rat release.

The contribution from Republic of Dreams is a lean, frenetic bunch of songs, keeping an average length around a minute-and-a-half.

“There’s No Bullshitting Here” opens the side, and begins with a disturbing, minute-long soliloquy seemingly plucked from a horror film (though I can’t place its origin). The sample’s wracked closing scream blends into feedback and punishing chords that dance in off-kilter, disorienting patterns befitting the foggy streets and howling, feral inhabitants detailed by the sample’s breathless narrator. The track plays out like a harrowing chase, complete with pauses, backtracking and an abrupt, violent conclusion.

One of the screamo genre’s most striking features is its marriage of melodic sensibilities to hardcore punk’s standard unrelenting noise. “An Enlightened Macho is Still a Macho” is brimming with noodly earworm riffs but kept grounded by snappy hardcore drumming and emotive, varied screams.

Closing number “(Your) Banality is Evil” slashes out of the gate for its first 20 or so seconds, before sliding into a meditative-but-energetic instrumental section that builds the requisite tension for a final burst and subsequent collapse. Through use of minimalism and repetition, the track builds a beautiful end-of-record momentum that doesn’t suffocate the listener and the band uses just enough negative space to mandate an immediate repeat listen to the whole record.

In the case of both bands, there is more happening lyrically than your typical freeze-dried political straw man arguments or overdone, consequence-exempt violence.

Cloud Rat’s lyrical focus is deeply personal, and sometimes it’s possible to only grab snatches of meaning from the poetry. It seems almost like prying to dissect these songs in a review, but many seem to deal with painful experiences having to do with religion and spirituality, abuse and gender issues. Yet while clearly packed with underlying significance, it’s possible to simply enjoy the lyricism of lines like these from “Burning Doe”: “The leaves have this curl to them; / Racing past, golden hues like wisps of a horse tail not yet fenced in.” There is always more to unpack and discover in these songs, and vocalist/lyricist Madison is quickly proving herself as one of grindcore’s finest writing talents.

For Republic of Dreams, most lyrics are some combination of social and philosophical musings, with an alternately broad and personal bent. Songs from their side deal with machismo, impartiality, social change and a range of other topics, and include the added bonus of commentary on each song from the band’s lyricist. One of the more interesting is the economics-focused “(Your) Banality is Evil”: “Your ‘invisible hand’ is a force of regression / (Taking from the many, giving to the few). / Your ‘trickle down’ is (drop by drop) killing people. / Can you still believe all that nonsense?”

The LP’s packaging makes this a crucial release not just as music but as an artifact. While the individually screen-printed cover means that every copy won’t be an exact replica of the above digital image, it serves as a healthy reminder that this record is made for no one but you and the people who produced it; no intermediaries, no compromises. The booklet is beautifully laid out, and besides the lyrics contains a number of striking visual art pieces. Everything (the covers, the booklet and even the stickers that designate the sides) displays the same amount of care and it feels important. Punk is feeling like something matters and this is punk to its eyeballs.

Because of the quality found across its 20-minute runtime, this split feels truly collaborative. “Winning” or “losing” the record doesn’t apply here, because these artists feel like they’re on the same team. As a result, they manage to produce what is one of the best releases of the year and a must-buy album for dedicated extreme music fans.

You can purchase the split from IFB Records in the USA or React with Protest Records in Europe, or on Cloud Rat's upcoming US tour with thedowngoing.

[Note: Cloud Rat sent me a copy for review.]
[Edit: In the original version of this review, the phrase "vocalist Madison's acapella singing" read "(sampled?) singing" because I was unsure of the origin of the vocal that came after "Stench of Sage," and the phrase "effects-assisted stuttery riff" in the same paragraph was changed to "stuttery opening riff" in reference to the guitar work on "Moving Mouths" because I was unsure how the effect was produced. Guitarist Rorik has graciously informed me that the vocal on "Stench of Sage was Madison performing "Gloomy Sunday"("Szomorú vasárnap"), or "The Hungarian Suicide Song", and the guitar effect that opens "Moving Mouths" was produced not through an effects pedal or other artificial means but through an alternate picking technique.]