Sucker For Punishment: Fire Up the Chain Saw!

When a veteran band finds its second wind working with a certain producer, it’s totally understandable if they decide to stick to that same collaboration for an extended period. Cannibal Corpse went through it in the wake of the stunning success of 2006’s return-to-form Kill; realizing they had found a perfect partner in producer Erik Rutan they proceeded to record two more albums with him, 2009’s Evisceration Plague and 2012’s Torture. While there’s nothing wrong with settling into a comfortable routine with a producer a band knows well, as long as the music holds up, it’s even more admirable when a bunch of old fogeys, many of whom are very set in their ways, decide to change things up, force themselves outside their comfort zones, and try something new. For the band’s 13th album Cannibal Corpse decided to work with Mark Lewis, best known for producing DevilDriver and The Black Dahlia Murder, and true enough, he puts the five members through their paces on A Skeletal Domain (Metal Blade). It’s not as if Cannibal Corpse ever lacked energy or ferocity, but there’s a snarl, a bite to this album that Torture might have lacked. The new songs attack, it’s as simple as that, with guitarists Pat O’Brien and Rob Barrett sounding taut and unrelenting, driven by Paul Mazurkiewicz’s strongest drumming to date. Most interestingly, it’s O’Brien who emerges as the star of this album, as his five tracks are among the highlights. “High Velocity Impact Spatter” is built around nimble, sneakily catchy staccato riffs, “Sadistic Embodiment” is pure Slayer worship to the point where it shames anything Kerry King has written over the past decade. The title track features a terrific, doomy riff that’s a neat little departure for the band, “Funeral Cremation” is classic, chugging old-school death metal, and the brilliant “Hollowed Bodies” alternates from massive headbanging grooves and dexterous tech death flamboyance.

Barrett steps up in a big way, too, as his “Ice Pick Lobotomy” and “Kill or Become” feature the wickedest hooks on the record. In fact “Kill or Become” has the potential to be a real fan favorite thanks to a crazily catchy chorus that will have everyone hollering, “Fire up the chain saw!” And an album like this needs hooks like those, anything to make it stick out among all the other strong death metal albums out there, of which there’s been no shortage this year. A band can’t rely on shock value alone, and over the past decade Cannibal Corpse has greatly improved its songwriting while moving from profane lyrics to darker, but no less graphic, storytelling. It’s always satisfying when the progenitors of a certain style of music come along and embarrass bands half their age, and A Skeletal Domain proves that Cannibal Corpse is still as relevant and vital to death metal as they ever were.

Also out this week:

Aevangelist, Writhes In the Murk (Debemur Morti): There’s nothing wrong with a band making every effort to create the scariest, most harrowing metal album imaginable, but this release by the Florida band is so scatterbrained, so unnecessarily busy that its ambition is its ultimate undoing. While there are moments where you’re struck by a quirky combination of death metal and dark ambient music, it’s always just that, a fleeting moment in a song that’s too long on an album that’s far too long. It’s an interesting curiosity, though. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Albez Duz, The Coming of Mictlan (Iron Bonehead): Equal parts Fields of the Nephilim and Type O Negative, this second album by the German band suffers greatly from a lack of originality, the vocal affectations of Alfonso Brito Lopez doing the same old mopey Andrew Eldritch shtick that Peter Steele did and not bringing anything unique to the music. Stop imitating and be yourselves, guys. If you can’t, then stop wasting everyone’s time.

The Contortionist, Language (eOne / Good Fight): These guys continue to play their instruments very well, but mimicking Between the Buried and Me is getting really, really old.

Crucified Barbara, In the Red (Despotz): In the tradition of Girlschool and Rock Goddess, these Swedish woman have always excelled at scorching, classic heavy metal, and this fourth album is as bruising and energetic as you’d expect from them. Led by Mia Coldheart, who can belt out the vocals with the best of them, the foursome tears through eleven songs that range from the searing “I Sell My Kids For Rock ‘n’ Roll”, to the impassioned “Don’t Call on Me”, to the powerful “To Kill a Man”. It’s heavy rock ‘n’ roll at its most badass. Don’t miss out on this one.

Ides of Gemini, Old World New Wave (Neurot): The Los Angeles trio has improved with each release, and this follow-up to 2012’s Constantinople continues that graceful evolution. A stark blend of black metal-derived guitar riffs, rigid, martial beats, and the haunting, gothic vocal harmonies of bassist Sera Timms and drummer Kelly Johnston-Gibson, this album washes over the listener, feeling simultaneously comforting and unsettling. Better yet, there are moment that see the band exploring more hook-oriented material, such as the contagious “Black Door”, which makes you wonder just how much the band’s 2013 tour with Ghost B.C. had an effect on them.

Iron Reagan, Tyranny of Will (Relapse): Throwback thrash for the ADHD set, two-minute blasts of fun crossover tunes led by Tony and Phil from Municipal Waste. Personally I greatly prefer Municipal Waste, but this is some effective, lively DRI worship by some of the best thrashers in the business.

Myrkur, Myrkur (Relapse): What’s even funnier than watching underground extreme metal denizens get their collective knickers in a twist over the “validity” and “authenticity” of supposed one-woman black metal project Myrkur is just how pedestrian this oddly hyped Relapse release sounds. There are times when the pretty voice works well alongside the harsh arrangements (“Nattens Barn” is promising), but from the faux-lo-fi sound to the awkward songwriting, this record is nowhere near the level it should be, considering the amount of attention it’s getting. Skip this and wait to see if whomever’s behind this thing is capable of something a lot better.

Noctem, Exilium (Prosthetic): Once again the Spanish band feels it’s necessary to drown out some decent black/death metal with triggered drums that totally overwhelm the music. It’s a real shame, too, because the guitar work is at times exceptional, but the band would rather distract you with migraine-inducing blastbeats that hammer in your head ad nauseam. Again, a total waste.

Reverorum Ib Malacht, De Mysteriis Dom Christi (Ajna Offensive): This is by far the worst metal album I’ve heard all year. But if you want to spend 71 minutes listening to incoherent, lo-fi racket by these “Catholic black metal” fellas, by my guest.

Shooting Guns, WolfCop Soundtrack (RidingEasy): In the wake of 2013’s gargantuan Brotherhood of the Ram, the Canadian band was commissioned to channel their inner Goblin and create the soundtrack to the often brilliant B-movie WolfCop. Being a band with riffs up the wazoo, they pulled it off in typically boisterous fashion, serving up a good 18 tracks that are mostly song fragments, alternating from the riff-oriented to synthy ambient sounds, that hold up on their own very well. Although it’s not the band’s defining work, and their inspired doom cover of Gowan’s “Moonlight Desires” for the film hasn’t been included, there are some wicked jams here, enough to leave you hoping they’d do more soundtrack work in the future. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Slash, World on Fire (Dik Hayd): You’ve got to hand it to Slash, he’s quietly built a good thing with his collaboration with singer Myles Kennedy and backing band The Conspirators, creating consistently strong barroom rock ‘n’ roll. There’s none of the comical ambition of Axl’s Guns ‘N’ Roses, just good, simple, energetic tunes that evoke the ‘70s and ‘80s, smartly avoiding the post-grunge trap that many retro rockers fall into. That’s no excuse for the man and his cohorts to carry on for a whopping 17 songs, but thankfully there are songs like “Wicked Stone” and “Shadow Life’ to leave immediate impressions.

Sons of Crom, Riddle of Steel (Debemur Morti): I wish the music on this Swedish band’s debut album reflected the rather snazzy cover art more accurately, but instead this attempt at epic/Viking heavy metal falls short of the mark. There are moments where you can sense this reaching the level of Atlantean Kodex, but the songwriting lacks focus, the production lacks the bombast this music needs, and the singing just isn’t consistently strong enough.

Stallion, Rise and Ride (High Roller): A year ago I raved about the self-released debut by this German band. It’s only fitting that Stallion’s new album comes out on old-school label High Roller, and Rise and Ride continues the momentum that last release started. They’ve since expanded to a proper four-piece band, and you hear it on these tracks, which continue in the same spirited, Exciter-derived direction as before, with singer Paul hitting the high notes like this style of music demands. The lovable “Canadian Metal” from last year’s Mounting the World makes a repeat appearance, but the rest of the tracks are new, highlighted by “Wild Stallions” and “Wooden Horse”. I sense a pattern.

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This is usually the spot where I throw in a new album that’s not metal but might be of interest to open-minded metal fans out there, but instead this week I’m singling out the spectacular new Criterion BluRay release of David Lynch’s surrealist cult classic Eraserhead. Part dark comedy, part dystopian nightmare, what has helped Eraserhead endure for nearly 40 years is the fact that Lynch has fully explained the film’s meaning beyond, “a haunting dream of dark and disturbing things.” Instead, he leaves it up to the individual to decide for him or herself what this weird tale of Henry Spencer, his grotesquely deformed offspring, the Lady in the Radiator, and the Man in the Planet is all about. It’s a beautiful piece of art, immaculately shot over several painstaking years, made even more disturbing thanks to the innovative soundtrack by Lynch and Alan Splet, which critics have smartly connected to the subsequent dark ambient movement. This new restoration looks absolutely gorgeous, and comes with equally beautiful packaging, tons of extras, and even a calibration guide created by Lynch to make sure the film looks as great as possible on your screen. This is a must-own.

Follow me on Twitter at @basementgalaxy 

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