You may or may not have heard, but Heavy Metal at About.com is no more. I was a fixture at the site for nearly a decade, and the short form album review format made up the bulk of our reviews. My intention is to bring Fast Rites to you more often. Frankly, I find that the short form of a review; that is, 100-150 words, is more conducive to many more releases than the long form. Seriously, do you really need to read 700 words about the new album from Shed The Skin? Probably not. Do you need to know about Shed The Skin? You bet, especially if you frequent buffets that serve up meat and potatoes death metal. If I wrote 700 words about a run of the mill meat and potatoes death metal band, even one that’s good, then I need more things to do in my life. But, I’ll happily write 100 words. See below.
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SHED THE SKIN – HARROWING FAITH
Released on Hells Headbangers Records, Harrowing Faith is the debut full-length from Cleveland’s Shed The Skin. Anchored by Kyle Severn from Incantation along with a couple of members of Ringworm, Shed The Skin appears to have deep connections to various other projects from the region. I caught Shed The Skin’s performance at MDF a month ago, and I liked what I saw and heard. Sure, as described above, this is meat and potatoes death metal with tons of riffs, gruff vocals, and mid-paced gallops that occasionally uptick into blastbeats, but the songwriting and riffs are solid, and you’ll find yourself nodding along. Shed The Skin is a bit cleaner than Incantation and it’s nothing you haven’t heard before; but, it’s enjoyable enough. So much so that Shed The Skin was worth standing out for in the noonday sun at Edison on Sunday.
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VEX – SKY EXILE
The untimely demise of Agalloch brought tears to many eyes, but, San Marcos, Texas’ Vex is ready to take up the mantle. The Texas hill country seems an unlikely place to produce soaring, epic, melodic death/ pagan metal, but that’s the case with Sky Exile, the third full-length from Vex. Sky Exile picks up where Memorious from 2013 left off with plenty of melody, a mid-paced tempo, gruff vocals, and an epic sweep. Comparisons to Agalloch are warranted as Vex approaches that level of songwriting excellence by interweaving melodies within touches of brutality. Along with Obsequiae, Vex is one of the more dynamically interesting bands to emerge from the American heartland.
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MENTAL COMA – FRAGMENTS OF DEMOCRACY
Danish bands aren’t often known for their fast hitting thrash as country’s scene produces a bunch of artsy stuff and references Hamlet a lot (I made the second one up). Mental Coma break that mold by offering some old school, blistering heavy metal thrash. While the track length might be all over the board (from two minutes to over ten), the approach is relentlessly straight-forward and quick. We’re talking early Slayer, Kreator and Testament with a touch of Sepultura now and then. The most unique aspect of the album is the vocals, effectuating a sort of skinhead, punk-style assault featuring clearly annunciated lyrics delivered in a hoarse, hardcore-style voice. And the guitar! Whoo! There’s some sick licks throughout. It’s an album you can enjoy when turned all the way up to eleven. It’s beyond enjoyable, energizing, and inspiring. So, crank it!
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GRAVE DESECRATOR – DUST TO LUST
They say rest does a body well. I imagine that is doubly true if that body resides in a jungle climate. Brazil’s blackened death metal beasts Grave Desecrator took a full six years to relax, imbibe, ritualize, and generally write some of the most vicious, soul-tearing tracks of its existence. Dust To Lust, the third full-length, finds Grave Desecrator making somewhat of a paired down version of Grave Miasma and the like. But, the blackened death metal of Grave Desecrator is more stripped down. Raw. It’s got the Brazilian tough that you expect from bands following the lineage of Sarcófago and Insulter (who never changed their name to Sexthrash). Grave Desecrator pulls zero punches with its in your face death metal and European, blastbeat-style black metal. The album is rife with shreds, kicks, snares, whammy dives, and simply brutal vocals. You’ll lust for this album.
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BUSHWHACKER – THE FALSE DILEMMA
WOAAHHH!!! YEAAAAHHH!!! OK, so has nothing to do with Luke and Butch, but that name sure is a grabber, ain’t it? The music is, too. The False Dilemma is the culmination of growth that started with the well-played but underproduced self-titled debut, and then took a giant step forward with the ambitious Fish Guy EP (one track, twenty-plus minutes). Musically, Bushwhacker is not easily classified. It’s a rather mesmerizing hybrid that I’ve not heard the likes of before, riff heavy and with heavy riffs. Initially I would have said a High On Fire meets Carcass sound, but then I realized the latter is due only to a similarity in vocal style. Then Bushwhacker toss in some black metal stylings and throw everything off. Then there are the tempo changes, the loud/quiet dichotomies, the varying progressions… it’s quite remarkable, really. Not many bands are bold enough to wear this many styles and influences on their collective sleeves, and even fewer are able to do it so seamlessly. So, rather than try to pigeonhole Bushwhacker, just call it “heavy”. Just like their non-namesake, Bushwhacker keeps coming at you like a battering ram and forces you to take a licking.
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HIGH FIGHTER – SCARS AND CROSSES
Ever since The Sword decided to quit playing metal and became a 21st century version of ZZ Top, I’ve found myself reaching for new favourites when it comes to bluesy stoner metal. I was hopeful regarding High Fighter, as some of my favourite acts recreating fuzzed-out 70s worship in the past 10 years have been female-fronted (i.e. Windhand and The Devil’s Blood).
Scars And Crosses does a passable job of scratching that itch. The vocal performance isn’t my favourite, particularly during clean moments, but the mix of vocal styles gives the record some needed variety. This one is all about grooves and riff worship, and High Fighter packs in some chunky head banging moments. There’s not much that’s groundbreaking or original, but if you’re looking for some hazy new tunes to add to your playlist, you could certainly do worse.
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MIZERY – ABSOLUTE LIGHT
This San Diego-based hardcore outfit harks back to the glory days of crossover, with a sound heavily redolent of DRI and Suicidal Tendencies, mixing the directness of NYHC bruisers like Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front with the bouncy thrash of Anthrax. Though it’s not at all an original take on a now-thirty-year-old formula, Mizery’s thrashing, skank-worthy spin on metallic punk is executed with the appropriate passion and spirit. Of course, your enjoyment of Absolute Light will depend entirely upon how much more throwback, 80s-styled crossover you want in your collection. Me, I’m not burned out yet, so I’ll take all I can get, and you can certainly get worse than this skate-punk-metal mash-up.