Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cryptopsy - Cryptopsy

Released September 11th 2012 by Candlelight Records

Cryptopsy's self titled album is one of the year's most controversial topics in death metal. 4 years ago they released what has become one of the most universally hated albums in all of extreme metal, and one of the most blatant examples of a modern sellout album. The Unspoken King (more commonly referred to as The Unspoken Shit or The Unspoken Dong, take your pick) was perceived as an insult by the band's longtime fans, to the point where death threats against Mounier and the rest of the band were quite common. This was a much worse sellout than Metallica's Black Album. In terms of disappointment I'd rate it up there with the alltime shitstains like Discharge's Grave New World and Morbid Angel's Illud Divinum Insanus. I really can't remember the last time I've seen the metal community so ardently unite against and vehemently reject a band of Cryptopsy's status based on one album.

Luckily the The Unspoken Cock was a catastrophic failure, alienating and antagonizing old fans and failing to enthrall the Hot Topic crowd, which led Cryptopsy to take a step back and really evaluate where exactly they belonged in extreme metal. The self-titled album, despite the crappy artwork, stupid song names (and bad lyrics) and the continued presence of the prettyboy singer that 15 year old girls were supposed to swoon over, is an apology album from the fans' perspective. I think what really happened is that Jon Levasseur rejoined the band and wrote the entire album start to finish, which is why this is at the least their best album since the last complete album he wrote (And Then You'll Beg, 2000).

 The songs on "Cryptopsy" are most reminiscent of the Mike Disalvo albums musically. They are less rooted in the structural traditions of death metal that grounded and many would argue consummated None So Vile (NSV) and Blasphemy Made Flesh, but they are chaotic, sporadic and sound very much like the same band that made those albums. Post-NSV Cryptopsy has never been proficient at or really very concerned with constructing songs that are structurally coherent in a traditional sense, so a lot of what happens on this album feels rather random at times. Some fans enjoy this, others (me) care less for it. For example the third track "Red Skinned Scapegoat" features an actual jazz break about three quarters of the way through the song, which seems pretty cool until you start asking yourself why it's there and can't find a real answer. There are more similar moments on 'Cryptopsy' that will make you scratch your head if you try to think too hard about them, they just sort of exist to sound neat or technical or complicated, which is sort of what Post-NSV Cryptopsy was about anyway. I suppose I should admit right now that NSV and BMF are where my heart lies with this band, and 'Cryptopsy' doesn't really try to emulate those albums. It retains certain rhythmic aspects and riffing techniques that are reminiscent of NSV, but in terms of melody, atmosphere and arrangement it's quite a lot different and those who are predominantly instrumentally inclined will be the most likely to enjoy the compositions here.

The production of the guitars is decent, but there was too much high end frequency cut from the guitar; this album doesn't possess the razor sharp sound of the tremolo picking from previous albums which is probably one of the band's most recognizable sonic signatures. Everything else sounds about like what you'd expect on a modern death metal album. There's a fair amount of compression, the drums sound like everyone else's drums except they're being played by someone with a severe case of ADHD (not really a bad thing, although there are times you wonder if the songs would fit together better if he'd just chill the fuck out and keep time for the instruments or enunciate with his snare like he did so well on previous albums). The best sounding thing about the album is the bass guitar, which is consistently audible and expertly played.

Probably the most controversial decision Cryptopsy made in recording this album, beyond having Christian Donaldson produce it (he was responsible for TUK sounding like shit even before you considered the music they were playing), was keeping Matt Whatshisface in the band as the vocalist. As Mike Disalvo and Martin Lacroix learned before him, filling the shoes of a guy named Lord Worm is pretty much impossible, never mind if you were the cute centerpiece of a deathcore sellout album made for 16 year olds. I'm sure Whatshisface still sounds like small woodland creatures being raped to old school Cryptopsy fans on this album, but to everyone else and the people like me who stopped caring a long time ago, he now sounds pretty much exactly like Sven de Caluwe of Aborted. It's not my favorite vocal style, but it isn't poorly done (or produced) either. There are no clean vocals and there's not a lot of his high register showcased here, it's mostly a lower inhale scream which is done pretty well. His rhythmic delivery is pretty standard (like Disalvo) and he lacks the theatricality of Worm, and while maybe I would call the vocals boring, I wouldn't call them bad or imply they bring the album down on their own like a lot of other reviewers have suggested.

'Cryptopsy' doesn't really do much in the way of pacing, there are no extended interludes or interlude songs or even any songs that aren't completely fucking spastic. Luckily the band knows not to overstay its welcome, and the album is only 8 tracks and about 35 minutes long. Once you start going past 30 minutes on a death metal record you start testing the listener's patience, you either better be writing a masterpiece (and a masterpiece this is not) or something epic in nature that implicitly contracts a listener's attentiveness for over a half hour, so to me ending this album in 8 tracks is one of the smartest decisions the band made.

In terms of what I know about modern technical death metal, 'Cryptopsy" is a solid return to form for the band. I consider this album superior to (obviously) The Unspoken Turd, Once Was Not (which I didn't hate as much as others did), And Then You'll Beg, and perhaps even Whisper Supremacy, but after that there's the still a huge gap between this and the first two albums. Compared to other bands playing "technical death metal" (enclosed in quotes because who knows what the fuck that really means) I do prefer Cryptopsy's style which comes off more interesting than masturbatory, in contrast to a lot of the other death metal out there that seems more concerned with being technical than being death metal. Still though, this is far from the pinnacle even within its own subgenre, I'd refer someone to Spawn of Possession long before I'd refer this album if they were asking for "tech death" recommendations, but it is better than most of the shit being released. Personally I'm just not the biggest fan of this kind of music - it lacks pretty much any form of blasphemy, darkness, morbidity, and all of the other things I listen to death metal to hear. However, like a crack addict who just hit rock bottom, Cryptopsy needs some positive encouragement after destroying their fanbase and failing to cash in on their attempted sellout. The attempt at an apology on this album is genuine, and while I can't say I really love this album, it's even more difficult to say that it sucks when you compare it to other technical death metal releases this year.

Grade: B-

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wratherprayer - The Sun of Moloch: The Sublimation of Sulphur's Essence Which Spawned Death and Life

Released June 13th 2012 by Nuclear War Now! Productions

The first thing I noticed about Wrathprayer compared to other black/death bands they're supposedly similar to, is that Wrathprayer actually have songwriting abilities. Their riffs flow from one to another smoothly, the band's transitions maintain momentum expertly without droning on and on. Musically I don't really think there is much black metal happening on this album, for better or worse it's death metal with a few conventions borrowed from black metal, particularly in terms of the atmosphere, vocals and production.

The production is rather good considering what the band was after, you have the cavernous depth and salted guitar tone needed for a black/death metal type sound, but the angularity and dynamics of the guitars are preserved so that the riffs are easily distinguishable from one another, unlike the type of production you'd find on a more classic black/death album like, oh I don't know, Fallen Angel of Doom. For this reason I expect the production on The Sun of Moloch to be a dividing point. If you're really a fan of the production jobs on the typical "war metal" albums you'll probably find The Sun of Moloch to sound way too clean, whereas if you listen to primarily death metal you'll count the production job as a positive aspect of the album.

When you start looking underneath the layers of production, you'll find that Wrathprayer's music draws a lot of influence from bands like Incantation. The riffs are primarily tremolo spam and they aren't shy of using pinch harmonics, but they avoid monotony with a lot of clever transitions and variation from the drumkit which when done correctly, as it is done here, can make the same riff sound completely different with a different rhythm driving it on the kit. The riffs themselves sound a lot like something Incantation or Immolation might write, banking on mostly diminished and augmented intervals with intelligent chromaticism. The production job makes it sound like these songs are emanating from a steadily splitting fissure in the earth rather than being up in your face directly, but ultimately my point is that if you gave this album a Dead Congregation-like production it'd still sound awesome in a completely different way. There is real worthwhile musical substance here, something black/death, especially the kind NWN seems to commonly stock, often lacks.

Despite the quality of Wrathprayer's debut album, there are a few points to find fault with. First is the production of the drums - I don't mean to say they are poorly produced, but I would've liked to hear a more cavernous reverb or distorted sound on the skins (snare, toms) as opposed to their rather thin sound on the record. Secondly is the presence of the intro and outro atmospheric soundbytes, which I'm just personally not a fan of in death metal or black metal. The "Prayer" tracks that open and close the album are good, but the abbreviated clips that open and close a few tracks have never appealed to me, no matter which band tries it. Usually it just strikes me as a cheap way to convey an atmosphere the band can't achieve with their instruments. I'd rather have such external clips worked into songs on a more synergistic or macroscopic scale.

Lastly, and the greatest reason I'm giving this album an A instead of an A+, is that as good as The Sun of Moloch is, it's pretty derivative and isn't really a groundbreaking album in my eyes. Everything Wrathprayer does here, they do well, but they're doing things have been done before by plenty of bands before them. In terms of new old school metal, innovation isn't really the focus though, it's doing the same thing the bands of the past did, but better, whether that means a new combination of old school influences, better musicianship or a superior modern production that brings out the best elements of the genre we couldn't hear on the older records. Wrathprayer succeeds in all of those respects to a certain degree. Highly recommended if you are a fan of the blackened death metal style, or even a fan of old school death metal with a casual interest in the black/death scenes of South America (or Canada for that matter).

Grade: A

Monday, August 27, 2012

Blog housekeeping

Next year of school is going to start in like a week, so I might delete a bunch of older blogs so that this thing seems more organized.

I'm living in residence next year, just because I want to live on campus. I'm sending all of my furniture back home as I won't be able to bring it with me into my tiny room. I have a single bed room to myself, anyone who knows me even on a superficial level knows I'd never be able to share a tiny room with another stranger for an eight months.

My Steelseries 5Hv2 headset pretty much completely died the other night. It was a fine headset while it lasted, but with a lifespan of a little over a year I cannot speak for its durability. It's not like I was throwing it around my room or anything, I take good care of all my computer related equipment. A short developed on the headset's circuit board, affecting the audio wires. Had it been the jack with the short circuit, I could've easily replaced the jack, but since I can't replace the headset's circuit board I went and bought a Steelseries Siberia v2 USB w/ 7.1 sound, and I have to say it's more comfortable than the 5Hv2 (which I considered relatively comfortable to begin with) and more importantly it sounds A LOT better. The sound quality is really, really great compared to what I'm used to. I haven't had a chance to use the mic so I'll have to get my friends to tell me whether I sound different, for better or for worse. I know the frame of the headset looks awkward but it's actually incredibly comfortable, sturdy and lightweight. I had considered trying a different brand, like the new CoolerMaster headsets or a Razer headset, but both models (CM Storm Sirus and Razer Megalodon) both looked like massive, inflexible and heavy headsets in comparison to the Siberia v2, in addition to the Sirus being only 5.1 sound, and the Megalodon being a power hog.

What else have I discovered lately? Well I'm in the process of doing a quick scan of the Western film genre. I might write a blog about it with some firmer opinions later once I've had to the time to watch some more films. The first movie that sparked an interest in the Western genre for me was Million Dollar Baby. Of course MDB isn't a western, but I was aware it was directed by Clint Eastwood (also starring him) and I was extremely impressed with the movie. It remains one of my favorites. Naturally I decided to look into other films Eastwood had directed, and came across 1992's Unforgiven, which was a western. I watched Unforgiven without much bias and immediately loved it for the complexity of its characters and commentary on the mythos of the Old West. I've recently watched all of Sergio Leone's films and love them, especially the last two. Unlike Unforgiven which sort of deconstructed the mythology of the Old West, Leone's films, particularly Once Upon a Time in the West use long shots and powerful musical scores to make legends out of their main characters which generally aren't all that complicated on their own. Generally speaking, the good vs evil tales of desert knights on horses jousting with guns that unfortunately defined the Western genre in its early years do not interest me at all (I usually hate those kind of stories no matter the genre) but the later eras of Western films are actually well worth checking out. How could a film with music like this not be amazing?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

i said i wouldn't finish it

but i did
it was only three verses of lyrics to sing so I figured it'd be a big waste not to go ahead and finish the song:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cover Songs better than their originals

I'm not always a fan of covers, because I like to hear artists be original and unique, but sometimes a band will take a song you love and make it even better often adding their own influence to the song to improve it. Here are some of my favorites:

Original: Slaughterlord - Legion

Even for someone like me who has listened to a lot of obscure metal demos with awful production this is a pretty primal track, both in terms of musicianship and production value.

Listen to how At The Gates - who set the industry standard for metal production standards in 1995 with Slaughter of the Soul updates the sound of the song and makes the song more accessible but still quite vicious. Legion was an awesome song before ATG covered it, but it wasn't played by awesome musicians or produced correctly. I suppose if you aren't versed in thrash or death metal it might still sound like noise to you, but to me the ATG version is crystal clear compared to the Slaughterlord version and gives the song the recording it always deserved.

Cover: At The Gates - Legion

Original: The Beatles - I Am The Walrus

One of the most popular songs ever. I love this song, it's a song you've felt like you've heard a thousand times before the first time you hear it. Maybe that's the Beatles being baked in our cultural DNA.

Boris and Merzbow take this song and drape it in their own artistic styles. The results is a delightfully desultory and dark version of I Am The Walrus. I don't listen to Merzbow by himself, but I think his talents are best realized in his collaborations, especially with Boris where his music can be complimentary and serve as a different layer of complexity. Boris' version is slower and deeper, less campy and more introspective sounding but with all the curious rhythm of the original. I love it. Listen to it loudly, if you don't listen to deep music loudly you aren't listening to it.

Cover: Boris with Merzbow - Walrus

Original: Grave - Into The Grave

Into to the Grave is a seminal track from the Swedish Death Metal scene in the early 90s. Generally when people think of the band Grave, this is the song that they are identified by. Grave never had the melody of Dismember or even Entombed, they were the more primal side of SWE death metal back in the day.

Funebrarum, old school experts making old school death metal with modern production and some modern influences, updated this song into what I think is its ultimate form. Unfortunately the version this user uploaded has some slight clipping which is a shame, but the chaotic array of the instruments in Funebrarum's production combined with the improved samples and musicianship make this an amazing cover.

Cover: Funebrarum - Into The Grave