The dog days of summer are here, and that’s usually reflected in a lighter than normal release schedule from record labels. August is going to be ANYTHING BUT with a slew of releases from major acts coming down the pike, but, until then, we managed to find a few albums that would otherwise be easily overlooked.
WITHERING SOUL – ADVERSE PORTRAIT
Chicago’s very own Withering Soul plays melodic black metal, but, before you move on to the next review, Withering Soul artfully avoids most of the pitfalls of the genre. Melodic black metal has been mostly relegated to the dustbin (thanks to Dimmu Borgir), but Withering Soul avoid the cheese with a mostly riff driven affair on Adverse Portrait. A few keys make appearances, but are mostly muted as much of the music makes use of well written riffs. So much so that Withering Soul approaches the boundaries of blackened thrash; albeit, a much cleaner form than that of, say, Aura Noir. Give this one a few songs, though; Adverse Portrait gets increasingly catchier and better the deeper in you go.
HUMANGLED – PRODROMES OF A FLATLINE
Prodromes Of A Flatline follows 2010’s Fractal’s lead, now improved through some stouter production, although the end result is still not groundbreaking or overwhelming. Humangled’s best quality lies in its ability to sit nicely in the cracks between the progressive and the vintage, with an open sound that isn’t too oppressively brutal and with time shifts and instrumental twists that steer clear of the noodly. Picture a Xerox copy of the middle ground between mid-period Death, early Pestilence, and Humangled’s fellow Italians in the underrated Electrocution, and that’s Prodromes – there, but borrowed and a bit degraded. Andrew Goreds’ growl is serviceable, but not amazing; Luke Scurb’s riffs can be described the same way, his tone stout but not suffocating. Bassist Matt Prandex provides some fretless work that slides beneath, adding color that isn’t just riff-aping lowness. A good record; respectable and worthy of a taste for anyone with a serious passion for semi-technical death metal, but tragically, when it stops spinning, it will likely prove as unmemorable.
WOMBBATH – DOWNFALL RISING
In case you thought the old-school Swedish death metal revival was dying out, it’s not. Ever. Wombbath keeps the flame alive with Downfall Rising. Wombbath, at least has a legacy in the genre, releasing an album back in ’93, but only one member of the current band remains from the original lineup. It would be convenient to dismiss this record, but it refuses to suck. This is more than competent Swedish death in all its HM-2 soaked glory. The band recalls Grave with its thick grooves and uncluttered arrangements, but there is some blasting brutality here that gives the record a real kick in the ass. If you’ve still got a thing for the Stockholm sound, you could do a lot worse than Wombbath.
LEAVE SCARS – CHAINS OF REDEMPTION
Thinly-veiled Dark Angel worship, or unashamed psychological ploy to prey on nostalgia? It’s a little bit of both and a whole lot of neither for this Belgian unit. While the moniker will forever link them to that legendary band, there is enough here musically to give them their own identity – just not a very strong one. Leave Scars doesn’t let its passion for old school thrash keep it from elements from the genre’s modern incarnation or even the mid-90s groove version, which keeps things from sounding too derivative. The crisp production makes it a great listen, but the songwriting leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not necessarily that the riffs aren’t catchy or that the lyrics are banal, it’s that nothing leaves a real lasting impression. So while there is enough here to be positive about, only time will tell if its enough to bring one back to this or any subsequent album.
WOODEN STAKE – A FEAST OF VIRGIN SOULS
Eschewing expectations of retro-vibed, occult-themed, spooky doom, San Diego’s Wooden Stake gives the genre a death metal slant and distinctly sinister horror backbone. There’s no cloak of mystery here, though; Vanessa Nocera (bass/vox) and William Wardlaw (guitar/drums/primary songwriting) attack with a between-the-eyes bludgeon. Nocera’s cleans have traces of Jessicka Addams and Shirley Manson (dig the harmonies in “Rise From The Bleeding Coffin” and “Dragged Through The Rotted Catacombs”), but her rasps stand out. Wardlaw dials in the (relatively) faster tempo tunes (the galloping title track), but likewise knows when to slow down and drench with atmosphere (“Alzbeta: The Devil’s Bitch”). The concept storyline transforms Elisabeth Báthory into the demon Alzbeta, pitting the Countess against a pair of female vampires in what ostensibly sounds like straight-up turf war (hard to say who’d be the “Bloods” in this case). However, my main curiosity: Madame LaLaurie abruptly appears toward the end in “1440 Rue Royale” because… um… she’s another murderous woman?