Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zyklon-B - Blood Must Be Shed [1995] (EP)

It's always fun to make arbitrary guesses on what a collaboration between numerous giants would sound like if they'd ever put out a disc, though the rarity of such collaborations usually kills the inspiration to come with different combinations. What would, for instance, a concoction of Van Drunnen, Chris Reifert, Steve DiGorgio and Bob Rusay of Cannibal Corpse sound like if they ever jammed in a garage? Well, I'd kill to hear a few pieces from that combo, but what we have here is unfortunately (and fortunately) not a collaboration between these four but another quartet coming from the deep, somber woods of Norwegian black metal. Zyklon-B is probably one of the heavy metal projects with the shortest lifespan to date, with their main material centered around this 10 minute mini-disc that reeks of nothing but delirious, haunting and spectral black metal of the rawest sort, straight out of Norway when the genre was at its pinnacle, and what's more is that this isn't merely a handful of songs recorded by a group of angry teens that decided to pay a homage to their co-existing countrymen by putting on a load of corpse paint and by picking up a few battered guitars; what's utterly stimulating about the brief ''Blood Must be Shed'' EP is that it was written, and performed by some of Norway's leading tyrants of profanity: Ihsahn, Samoth, Frost, Draug Aldrahn.

The quartet, or better known collectively as Zyklon-B, are nothing short of frenetic here, with their musical profundity for pure, Scandinavian black metal displayed with stark vigor and fervor, and the sheer straightforwardness of this EP makes it not only one of the most dissolute, uncontaminated specimens the genre has in store for us, to this day. Don't get me wrong, this was actually nothing too special, even for 1995 standards, when all the giants of the scene were releasing their magnum opuses and newer, more emergent acts were just throwing in new sounds and perspectives to the genre's freshly carved out trajectory, and the four titans of this EP were nothing if not opposed to being eccentric, but ''Blood Must Be Shed'' is simply caustic, nullifying fun. There actually few black metal bands at the time that were this to-the-point with their riffing patterns and progressions, because even the bluntest of bands had something fairly different buried withing their music, so this may be one of the few releases that had a major impact of the late coming Canadian extremists Revenge and Conqueror. So bloodied are the guitars are production qualities that Zyklon-B would probably sound like your run-off-the-mill Revenge duplicate if it wasn't for the atmospheric qualities of traditional Norwegian black metal.

That's right, even though ''Blood Must Be Shed'' sounds like a cheap interpretation of war metal, it is in fact not. There's plenty of atmosphere and aura that adheres throughout the barely sufficient 10 minutes that we are presented with, and what I love about this is that most of the atmospheric tenets are enlivened by Ihsahn's unsurpassed dominion of synthesizes. He sounds just as prominent as in Emperor's flawless debut offering, though perhaps with less frequent implementation. Samoth, who roams the guitar riffs, is masterful in conveying the Norwegian sounds, having played in Gorgoroth, Emperor and Satyricon among others, Frost's drumming is also tasty; perhaps nothing out of the ordinary but will vicious, fast, and convincingly sharp, and Aldrahn of Dodheimsgard has a the inflection of a punk-induced madman screaming his lungs out as if he were upfront of Mayhem's ''Deathcrush''. The riffs are, as told, intense, like a virile bombard of razors just as deadly as the rest of the music; which is utterly relentless, unbridled. The depictions of warfare and atomic annihilation are a somewhat novel theme in black metal (at least in 1995), and I did enjoy the small helping of sound tracks, like in ''Mental Orgasm''; a brief nuclear explosion concluding the track and then rushing onto the next, and then to the rampart finale, ''Warfare'', which ends likewise as ''Mental Orgasm''.

The crappy addendum of ''Blood Must Be Shed'', ''Total Warfare'', which stretches the original length of the recording by nearly 6 minutes is utterly repelling, a completely useless remix of ''Warfare'' with additional sound effects and samples that I still find irrelevant. Nevertheless, if you get the original copy and not the 2004 reissue, the you'll succeed in refraining from it. Thanks to this rather random collaboration, we get a taste of what some sparsely scattered Norwegian black metal musicians can conjure if they ever left their bedpost. ''Blood Must Be Shed'' explores nothing, except perhaps the most destructive, ravenous facets of black metal, imbued with the raggedly interesting theme of nuclear warfare, and in its carnivorous fit of rage, listeners are likely to feel just as enraged as the band members while they were recording. In all, even when the entirety of its components are taken into consideration, ''Blood Must Be Shed'' is not willing to be more than an acidic mini black metal album, hardly deviating from the norm, but, if truth be told, I don't think any of the band members were aiming for something with spectacular grandeur. It's absolute belligerent fun that doesn't hide its true colors.


Final Rating
Awesome [7.8/10]

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Holy Terror - Terror and Submission [1987]

Perhaps the reason both of Holy Terror's albums are considered cult classics today is that their sound deviated greatly from their surrounding peers, and it still feels fresh today. The Californians never once shied from exhibiting their own, versatile influences, and, having an odder spectrum of influences from their counterparts who shamelessly aped Slayer, Exodus, Possessed and Metallica, I imagine they had a hard time coping with their difficulties that arose over the fact their sound was peculiar and the quite thrash machine-gun, especially considering many bands were still at their crude beginnings in 1987. Holy Terror formed in 1986, just one year prior to the release of their megalithic thrash classic, and afterwards, in 1988, they would release a sequel, ''Mind Wars'', also a tempered current of atmospheric thrash, right before disbanding in 1989. Holy Terror is now nothing but an addendum in history books, much like many of the emergent thrash acts that popped up in that period, but they've given us two wondrous classics for a multitude of glorious neck-snapping sessions, the former one being the better.

The Californians had a tight, punchy formula arranged from the start, guaranteeing triumph from the very start. Unlike so many other vile speed/thrash attractions of the time, who filtered the nasty, gritty violence of their chords with insatiable stupor, Holy Terror maintained their control with articulate diligence, and kicked asses just as intensively as, say, Toxik (''World Circus'' era), Necropolis, Blessed Death and other East Coast cults that literally sprinted with their guitar work. Of course, that's not just it. There is a delicious sense of professionalism sandwiched amid a passionate cry towards the glories of the mosh pit, and the five-piece merely play a simple helping of filthy speed/thrash here; the guitars are loaded with atmospheric considerations and can often burst into more epic proportions of thrash metal, somehow similar to the US power metal acts of the time. There is a subtle sense of western ambiance as well, certainly something you don't come across frequently, even in today's standards; a fluid, tempered set of gears motioning in a way as to allure a huge range of thrash aficionados, all rupturing through the static rawness of the core parameters of the recording.

Yes, ''Terror and Submission'' is that good. The rumbling tenacity of the rapid riff progressions are only matched by the accuracy of more complex patterns that are stitched to the broader forms of riffing to render them further interesting. I'm sure that listeners who were only mildly taken by the bulldozing plethora of riffs found themselves deeply immersed in a sea of Keith Deen's spectacular vocal performance. I'm totally going to sound like I'm kissing his ass here, but fuck, his timbre is one of the most original in the field of thrash;  a hoovering range of blessed high-pitched screams that I find to be the principle ingredient to Holy Terror's cult status and atmospheric, almost ''apocalyptic'' touch. Just take ''Tomorrow's End'' as an example; the dual guitars grind their way to the atmospheric pinnacle of the album, showering the listener with a blistering rain of tremolos, all while Deen is vibrating sonorously above them, a completion of the near-flawless tune for the apocalypse. Of course, ''Tomorrow's End'' is hardly my favorite piece here. The title tracks progresses with immaculate speed and efficiency, a viscous ray of melodies constantly protruding from the stomping barrages of base rhythm, an exercise of the traditional power metal formula, practiced upon a speed/thrash basis. ''Alpha Omega - The The Bringer of Balance'' is my favorite tune out the entire 42 minute thing, and having raped the replay button with that one, I can safely say that it's one of the foremost individual speed/thrash pieces out there.

The many evocative aspects of ''Terror and Submission'' transfer a plenitude of moods and imagery into the listener's mind. Yes, it's not so emotionally resonating as an atmospheric black metal masterwork, but it will still conjure portrayals of religious war, the apocalypse and desolation, something that, much like the band's other tenets, is seldom found on other bands. The leads are spurious and unforgiving. They start spurting their content out of nowhere, a delighting discourse through the entirety of the fret board, all of which are courtesies of the two masterful guitarists. I don't see how, after such copious and extensive right hand guitar work, the guitarists still get to keep their fingers, because this is one fucking blistering ride of nostalgia that nobody's bound forget so easily. So angry and forceful and dangerous that blasting this through your stereos on a vigorous car trip with your college buddies would undeniably make someone jump right out of the car, towards escapism and beyond. Yet ''Terror and Submission'' covers a wide enough territory to both decapitate necks and swirl like a controlled, seasoned tempest. It's carefully crafted, the intricacies well applied to the music, and it stands as an enduring thrash classic. Its sequel is also a great record, but the Californians would reach their climax in 1987. Speed and blisters forever.

''Alpha Omega - The Bringer of Balance''
''Blood Of The Saints''
''Evil's Rising''
''Terror and Submission''

Final Rating
Masterpiece [9/10]

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Traitors Gate - The Devil Takes The High Road [1985] (EP)

It's truly a shame how hundreds of obscurities were buried and lost during the clamorous days of early power/heavy metal (1983-1988) simply because they didn't have sufficient outings to burgeon into bigger, more commercially successful groups. For the collector of rarities, however, scrutinizing this particular era in search as such exemplary specimens like the one I have at my hand, must be a wonderful prospect; and, given the time and effort I've spent to randomly exhume this EP among a heap of other, less interesting gems, it truly is. The name Traitors Gate will probably be a novelty for many readers who are reading this review, and admittedly, they were not known to me until a couple of weeks. The band's discography is painfully short: two demos followed by their sole EP and final release, ''The Devil Takes The High Road'', but I need not say that their finest offering is magnificent, good enough to top most of its primordial contemporaries.

Traitors Gate toys with that flamboyantly oblique niche in between classic NWOBHM and sturdy USPM ambition that makes for the tool of old school escapism. Granted, the riffs are nothing superior or utterly convincing in their delivery, but the overall ambiance and aesthetic preferences weave a sort of resplendent aura, and the production is quite clear too, if not perfect. For such a short EP, the three tracks presented showed an outstanding amount of variation, constantly channeling between vibrant melody lines that plod on somewhat mournful ground, bouncing off the edges of contours of the rhythms, which sway fluidly but with a crispy speed metal attachment. As you may expect, the riff-work is composed simply, but shift in accordance with the song structures with such fluent finesse that you don't give as much as a damn about the sheer simplicity of the patterns. Hugh Jones' vocals are high-pitched at all times and resonate with a wondrously balanced level of reverb - he has the potential to shriek his lungs out with a banshee-induced inflection, but he prefers to put less emphasis on harsh vocal deliveries and focuses on a much more NWOBHM-oriented timbre. Still, this doesn't hinder the quality of the EP, as his somewhat romantic vocal embrace has a terrific tinge to the ear on the chorus of ''Love After Midnight'', which sounds a lot like ''Wasting Love'' by Iron Maiden.

The title track sets the stage from the start, commencing with moody, mid-paced intro and then converting itself into a hooking verse riff, and truth be told, the lyrics are quite memorable:

I see a gleam in your eye,
the time is fast approaching.
You say you're flying high.
Already hit the headlines,
as they pump out the news,
of a new Enchanter,
as The Devil takes the high road,
he calls the passers by.

Come with me and we'll go,
faster, higher than any star.
Come with me and we'll go,
faster, higher than any star.

''Shoot To Kill'', as the name suggests, dives into a more aggressive territory, with sumptuously crunchy guitar tones and classic NWOBHM chugs, swerving with simple but immaculate authenticity. Among all the NWOBHM/USPM obscurities I've discovered over the past few weeks, who would have know that this, perhaps the obscurest one of them all, would have appealed to me the most? ''The Devil Takes The High Road'' is no novelty for connoisseurs of NWOBHM or USPM, but it's certainly one worth a collector's time - my only gripe was that the brevity of the EP (some 10 minutes) forced me to listen to it intermittently until I had fully satisfied myself. Otherwise, from the hellish creature riding on horseback, to the catchy lyrics, this is a jumpy, even elegant discourse in NWOBHM and USPM 101 which you shouldn't miss out on.

''The Devil Takes The High Road''
''Love After Midnight''
''Shoot To Kill''

Final Rating
Awesome [8.3/10]

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Terrahsphere - Third In Order Of The Sun [1991]

Though the 90's obviously did not provide with a wealth of thrash that was half as prolific or good as the 80's, emergent acts that culminated during 1990-1993 no doubt have a colorful, even mercurial appeal that I sometimes find to be superior to those of their more olden counterparts. I'm not claiming that New Hampshire thrashers Terrahsphere were bringing a slab of utmost distinction to the table, but they were certainly an enlightening band to come across during the years which thrash was slowly being torn asunder. Terrahsphere's sole album ''Third In Order Of The Sun'' was conducted by the underground entrepreneurs New Renaissance Records, which previously released an abundance of excellent underground obscurities from Soothsayer, Amulance, At War, Blood Feast and Dream Death to name a few; and I believe they found their perfect fit with Terrahsphere, a bristling, busy quartet of madhouse fugitives who don't shy from exposing their sympathy for science-fiction. Well, almost perfect.

You could really assert that the group is drawing influences from a number of suspects: early Toxik, Realm, Megadeth, Norwegian obscures Equinox, Sacrifice, and so forth, but to me they seem like an almost direct translation of Invocator's clinical, surging debut, only stripped up of some of the punch that really rendered the debut so hostile and raucous. Ah yes, the punch. Probably the sole thing that made me malcontent, but thankfully, the band deploys such a myriad of carnal, technical speed/thrash interpretations that it becomes nearly impossible not to succumb to the brisk, curving bevy of sci-fi induced grapple hooks, which take numerous forms of hostility over the coarse of the record, and what's more is that Terrahsphere have a manic vocalist behind all the superfluous machine-gun fire of acute tech-thrash spurts, a frenzied madman whose rupturing vocal cords gyrate between Flemming Ronsdorf of Artillery in his more rowdy days, Jacob Hansen of Invocator and Voivod's Snake. So whether it be the robotic tapping riffs of the opener, the Voivod-like chord progressions of ''Scioreality'' or the finalizing, frivolous leads of ''What Was And Will Be Again'', you've got yourself a genuine futuristic minefield, and every moment is explosive.

The single flare of the opener, ''Re-Emergence Of Atlantis'' is enough to inform the the listener that he/she has just stepped into the chamber of the sovereign of demented pandemonium, but bear in mind that Terrahsphere is not completely about razing, guitars and frenetic vocal output. Terrahsphere set the incomplete fundamentals of a sub-genre that could not reach large heights and would have otherwise boomed into something even more exciting. Sure, technical thrash metal with just faster tendencies is hardly a novel, even for the people of 1991, since Watchtower, Toxik, Deathrow, Hexenhaus and Mekong Delta dropped their pioneering works in previous years, but with the extra aid of fluttering craze behind technically adept guitars something truly attractive could have been born, but the number of bands worshiping the aforementioned acts are low today, so a tiny kindle in the lesser parts of the underground seems to have almost no impact at all.

And perhaps the blossom of such a sound would have occurred in future years by its creators, but unfortunately, Terrahsphere did not live long enough to shed more light on their aesthetics. ''Third In Order Of The Sun'' has its flaws, no doubt, mostly that it lacked the meat it needed to pack a proper punch and because, despite the proficiency of the guitar work, it's still somewhat held aback, a merely combustive fragment of the albums it vaguely tries to exemplify, but through a voluptuous, though not brutal vortex of cavorting intricacies, bound to each other by cajoling elements extracted from outer space, it makes for a highly vibrant and enjoyable listen, and a reasonably good achievement considering the year it was released. Fluent debut which is second in order of the tech-thrash constraint, bested only by the initiating masters of the sub-genre.

''New Clear Day'''
''Re-Emergence Of Atlantis''

Final Rating
Awesome [8.2/10]

Friday, January 4, 2013

Savage Death - Crucified After The Genocide [2010] (Compilation)

Perhaps one of the most staggering and resonating sojourns into the mid 80's reservoir of extremity can be attained best through the unearthing of classic demos that no doubt had their impact on the local scene, but where later on deterred and trampled into submission with the rising of stronger, to be mainstream acts, but I still feel such obscurities stuck in amid the very ooze of time bear the essence of the true energy of their period. Really, any underrated demo could have served the purpose here, but in this case I've chosen one of my underground favorites, Savage Death. While band's body work is short; only two demos ranging at about 35 minutes, F.O.A.D Records has blissfully uprooted the band from their subterranean prison and has brought the two works of savagery to disposal, all the better for collectors of unveiled antiquities.

And delving into the demos, you'll find that Savage Death's material is hardly a novelty for anyone who has the slightest idea what crudities were being churned up in the US scene back then, but even so compared to many of its contemporaries' axe-work circa 1985-1986, this carries a reasonable level of aggression, extremity, along with all the fundamentals that comprised the anatomy of an average speed/thrash neanderthal. In fact, had the group started their endeavors a year or two earlier, they might have surpassed their fellow countrymen Possessed, all thanks to a roiling, gyrating tone to serve as an arboretum to Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and even some of the earliest crossover thrash examples that laid in the very heart of the US. That being said, Savage Death's compositions are hardly sentient interpretations of precision. The tone is highly muscular in contrast to speed metal bands who took their respective influences from primal power metal and NWOBHM footings, but at the same time it's twangy, high-pitched and takes up the majority of space in the mix, the other quadrants unequally given to the dissipating, feral inflection of the vocals and the raw clangor of the drums.

Despite all the one-dimensional perspective of acquiring belligerence through meat, bones, grime and evil that are highly prevalent in both demos, the 1985 ''Mass Genocide'' and the 1986 ''Crucified In Hell'' have their vague differences that help butter up and radiate the emergence of diversity on the entire compilation of songs. One of the core reasons for this implicit difference may be the change in drummers; as Eric Young picks up the drum sticks in the stead of Dave Marks to do some snare-battering action on ''Crucified In Hell'', a distinction in percussion ambiguously forms, and additionally, the ever schizoid Joe Barrows also makes some slight changes in his rancorous toning. ''Crucified In Hell'' features a stockpile of tremolo wails too, unlike its predecessor, and on the same demo, the band begins a tighter focus on traditional crossover aesthetics, as seen on ''I Impaled Your Mother'' and ''Kill The Posers'', while ''Mass Genocide'' was almost purely devoted the meaty, grinding edge of its hostile brute blade, swinging voluptuously.

It seems like these vandals could have burst and released an expunging debut just a year after their second demo, but sadly, their brief discography never saw the light of a full-length that would have even trebled their potential for creating unbridled blitzkrieg. Yet, I suppose we should be thankful the band released two demos of sheer mid 80's speed/thrash excellence. Even for a critic who takes all his/her music quite seriously, this is a traumatic, raw onset of nostalgia, in which case translates simply into interaction, interaction and interaction. Certainly a sumptuous feast for anyone who gets pleasure out of early Slayer, Metallica, Exodus, DRI, Possessed, and primordial South American textbook examples of death/thrash like Sepultura, Vulcano, Attomica and Dorsal Atlantica circa 1986-1987.

''Mass Genocide''
''The Advisory''
''Evil Dead''
''Savage Death''

Final Rating
Mediocre [7/10]