Reality shows have a special hold on America. The entertainment channels are chock-full of people crying, screaming, fighting, being overly drunk and just plain embarrassing themselves for the benefit of the viewer. And is the metal world any different? Sure, we here at Last Rites like to hold our noses up and posture as better than the rest of you, which we are, but there’s no doubt that intra-band drama possesses a certain brand of panache that attracts our attention from time to time.
We all remember when our once heroes, the boys in Metallica, broke down on camera for Some Kind of Monster. Their tears welling up, their inner turmoils and longheld grudges boiling over during professionally mediated therapy sessions enchanted us. These were heroes. Legends of our youth. Statuesque Adonises immune to the ordinary day-to-day struggles of the average metalhead. Sure, it humanized them, but it also ruined a whole bunch of the experience for many of us. For, to knock these demigods off their platforms, making them something mortal was to peer at something we shouldn’t see. Say, for example, an elderly man squatting down, coughing while attempting to open a pickle jar. There are certain things you can’t unsee.
But, Metallica are not the only major band to let out their inner issues. Thanks to social media, the breakups of even “underground” acts are similarly vindictive and public. Take the breakup of Agalloch for instance. Members of the band were able to clearly express their opinions and takes via Facebook for all the world to see, digest and attempt to make sense of.
Then came the bombshell feud between David Vincent and Trey Azaghtoth’s mother on Facebook. As Vincent attempted to make a Spanish language version of Morbid Angel, changing only the color of the logo and ostensibly stole compositions written by Trey, his mother stepped in to protect him launching an epic Facebook rant that captivated our small corner of the internet. It was certainly hilarious and a nominee for “Best Online Moment 2016.” But isn’t there a darker fallout? One that perhaps damages the fans?
Morbid Angel, about to embark on a U.S. tour that includes a stop at the once highly attended Maryland Deathfest, has made the announcement that they will be playing no, absolutely none, not one, song from the David Vincent era of Morbid Angel. That means that all tracks, without exception, from Altars of Madness, Blessed are the Sick, Covenant, and Domination will be left off in their entirety. Certainly Formulas Fatal to the Flesh and Gateways make for an enticing setlist but tracks that almost every fan desperately wants to hear (e.g. “Immortal Rites,” “Pain Divine,” “Day of Suffering,” “ Blessed are the Sick / Leading the Rats” and so many more from our Morbid Angel Devil’s Dozen) will be left off. And who suffers from that? Spoiler alert: THE FANS.
But, we have only ourselves to blame (and definitely not Trey’s mom). Our interest in the more dramatic, non-musical, side of the endeavors of our metal heroes has only fueled their fire. We have fed directly into their desire to publicly spill their grievances and to, perhaps inadvertently, involve the fans in these disputes. Publications have touted breakups, monetary disagreements and the ousting of an entire golden era of Morbid Angel, as headline news. Fans have rabidly clicked on the articles, salivating over what could be happening behind the scenes. This fan bloodlust probably isn’t directly responsible for Morbid Angel’s upcoming setlist choices, but it’s hard to not see some connection to the personal rift and online drama of it all.
So, we have to make a decision. Those of us who write, edit, run blogs and even the fans who simply consume the artform. We have to decide what is most important to us. Will it be the music? The end-product that is timeless? Or will we choose to wallow in the moment posting on messageboards and speculating over the percolating gossip and disputes. I, for one, will choose to honor the music first, especially when the people choose to be fickle, age poorly, and hold way too many grudges for my taste.
At any rate, without further ado, this month we feature releases from Foreseen, Cromlech, Warcrab, Speedclaw, Sabbath Assembly and Windswept.
Foreseen – grave danger
The last album from these Helsinki crossover punks was a pleasant surprise for me – a rager of thrashing punk, blistering riffs offset with grooving skanks, somewhere between Cro-Mags and early Kreator. So maybe it’s just that I had too high of an expectation for Grave Danger, or maybe the surprise is lessened now, but this one just doesn’t hit me quite as hard as Helsinki Savagery did. Still, if you’re a fan of the Power Trip power trip, then there’s plenty of fun to be had in the NYHC beatdown of “Bloodline,” or in the Slayer-y riffs of “Chemical Heritage,” or the groovy thrashing of “Downward Spiral.” Grave Danger isn’t going to set the world on fire, but there are definitely far worse ways to spend a half-hour than this…
cromlech – iron guard
The best part about Canada isn’t the politeness or the poutine or the mullets or the brewskis or the Oilers or the rippers jumping a pile of badgers on a ’77 Enticer, it’s the heavy metal, particularly of the underground variety. No matter which particular branch chubs your bub, there’s an unsigned Canadian act that plays a version that rattles Valhöll’s rafters, and Toronto, Ontario’s Cromlech does just that for the epic doomsters running about. Iron Guard is music to accompany weekends spent boiling leather and worrying over the honour of fallen brothers, as long as you can do it within a span of 27 minutes. Raw, rude and real, like Morton Downey Jr. blowing smoke into an “atmospheric folk doom” squad’s face; like a Heavy Chains Records version of Solstice and Doomsword getting crushed beneath an avalanche of Battle Hymns and Heavy Metal Maniac LPs.
What sets Cromlech apart from their peers is the raw and vigorous manner in which they convince poseurs to leave the hall. While the bulk of this EP pushes the sort of quintessential elements fans of the style have come to expect – noble galloping, exhilarating leads and regal vocals – its true strength is the POWER behind the stretches that punch. Only the closer shows a softness, and even that is managed in a somber, heroic tone. The three songs that precede it show zero fear of hammering downhill at speeds that feel just on the verge of spinning out of control. “Muscular” is a perfect descriptor.
If you can’t do squats in full armor with a 20lb eagle on your shoulder, get the hell out of the kitchen.
warcrab – scars of aeons
U. K. sextet Warcrab features three guitar players. That might bring to mind the harmonized melodies of Iron Maiden or Skynyrd’s dueling solos, but you won’t find much of that on the band’s second album, Scars of Aeons. Presumably, Warcrab added a third guitar, because two weren’t heavy enough. The band’s sound lies somewhere between the lava-thick sludge of Crowbar and the hulking stomp of Bolt Thrower. Great slabs of riffs heave with tectonic force, but, fortunately, they move with something more than tectonic speed. Steady grooves keep the proceedings from getting bogged down in the sludge, and, while there isn’t much harmony, the lead guitar provides enough melody to give the bludgeoning a bit of class. If you like your death metal heavy and not too subtle, Scars of Aeons will do the trick.
speedclaw – iron speed
sabbath assembly – rites of passage
Back when the occult rock wave was cresting, the first Sabbath Assembly crossed my radar for a brief minute – the whole “apocalyptic cult hymns” schtick was a strong one, and the band backed it up with some interesting psychedelia that wasn’t metal at all, but still possessed enough blackness. Problem is: The grip didn’t hold; the wave crashed; the schtick didn’t stick; and I lost interest. Now the hymns have ended, Jex Thoth has given way to ex-Hammer of Misfortune Jamie Myers, and Sabbath Assembly’s last two have gotten more metallic. That’s all for the better, and for the worse. The pervading sense of darkness remains – good, since it’s the Assembly’s calling card – and Myers does a great job twisting melodies into something both unexpected and memorable. Still, with longer songs, they do have a tendency to drag on in their candle-lit-ritual trudge, no matter how many guitar weavings Kevin Hufnagel and new kid Ron Varod inject. Rites Of Passage isn’t a bad record – it certainly achieves the atmosphere it aims for – but like the whole occult rock game, it doesn’t really keep me engaged enough to want more.
WINDSWEPT – the great cold steppe
If Windswept’s debut album The Great Cold Steppe sounds a lot like Drudkh, it is because the band is comprised of 75 percent of the black metal greats. Literally 75 percent. Continuing the Ukrainians’ habit of forming bands that include all or most of the same people, Windswept is missing only vocalist Thurios, with guitarist Roman Saenko also taking up the mic.
The result is an album that sounds very much like the last several Drudkh releases, but with Saenko’s Kjellson-ish rasp in place of Thurios’ more beefy howl. There are still oodles of tremolo riffs and icy chord progressions that build with great intensity, sometimes leaving resolution just out of arm’s reach, and sometimes settling into a softer, more reflective moment. In general, this is a tad more blasty and a tad less sea shanty-y than a lot of Drudkh, but the difference is negligible; the band name could have a much more egregious consonant-to-vowel ratio and no one would blink an eye.
Like recent Drudkh albums, this can’t quite compete with the incredible run of Forgotten Legends through Blood In Our Wells, but also like recent Drudkh albums, it’s still a damn fine little bit of melancholic, melodic black metal. Plus, at under 34 minutes, it’s a helluva lot more efficient than A Furrow Cut Short.