Sunday, March 31, 2013

Weekly Drinks 3/31/13

Greetings readers. Some of you may have noticed that my beer reviews have been slightly less popular than my music reviews. While I'm not eager for popularity necessarily, the popularity of a post does reflect the interests of my readers. With this in mind, I'm changing the nature of my beer-related posts yet again. Unless I experience something quite interesting, I'm going to round up the beers I consumed in any given week with a brief description. This spares me the trouble of writing lengthy reviews for every drink I have and it spares my readers a series of beer posts when it's obvious that most of us are here almost exclusively for extreme music. I'm not sure if this will always be a Sunday thing, but I'm eager to get this started and I think it'll be good fun for all of us. That said, here's what I've been drinking this week.

Evander Brown Ale (Cigar City)
This one has a beautiful caramel body with a thin, almost nonexistent head. The aroma is rather subtle, but the flavor here reminds me of a blunter, more spiced version of the pumpkin beers that show up in the fall. The pumpkin itself is absent, but nutmeg and cinnamon are absolutely dominant flavors in this thin and delicious brown ale. The aftertaste settles in with a light cocoa flavor, somewhat reminiscent of some darker beers I've enjoyed recently from these guys. I'm not always into things that remind me of pie, but this is worth checking out if you're into the style.

Zinneke Belgian Style Stout (Smuttynose)
This beer is ridiculous. It's like somebody made it just for me. I'm not a big whiskey drinker, but bourbon barrel beers just really seem to do it for me. The sweetness of the Belgian yeasts plays nicely with the bitterness of the whiskey barrel as they blend smoothly into a really well-rounded and tasty stout. It's dark, heady, and refreshing. Some people only drink stuff like this in cold weather, but I'm sitting on my sunny porch and loving life right now. Highly recommended, as most Smuttynose Big Beer Series release are.

Positive Contact (Dogfish Head)
This beer is a collaborative effort with and a tribute to rapper Del The Funky Homosapien. While hip-hop and related genres aren't my specialty, I feel the man's legendary status is well-earned and this beer does proper justice. A light and smooth drinker with surprising spice and sweetness from a pairing of cider and cayenne flavors (among many others). Perfect for warm evenings spent in the company of friends. I listened to a tape by No Pleasure in Life while drinking this, but the song this was named after makes quite a good soundtrack too.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Uvikra- "Bi" CD (badGod Music)

For some reason, some people like black metal to follow a traditional formula and never deviate from it. To these people, sounds that were good twenty years ago are still the law for newer artists. While I love traditional black metal and own most of the classics, I fail to see the logic in this mindset. For me, black metal really excels when it achieves such a level of rebellion and chaos that even its own community isn't sure what to make of it. The second black metal becomes predictable, it stops being dangerous. With this in mind, Lithuanian one-man monstrosity Uvikra is dangerous. Not because sole member Loikav going to dominate the world with his music, and not because he's going to hurt you. No, Uvikra is dangerous because it moves through black metal's territory without ever firmly committing itself to a particular set of sounds.

The album starts off in a rather unassuming fashion, yet quickly makes its way onto a riff-hopping madness that lingers around only long enough to tempt the listener with a moment or two of understanding. Many bands find a riff or two and set them to work for the better part of a song, yet Uvikra seems almost fearful of stagnation. If the song begins to feel melodic or familiar, it will almost certainly disintegrate into filth. Conversely, and a little more uniquely, many of the ugliest sections of this album crawl upwards into something resembling melody and beauty. Pairing the album's title with this sonic duality, it's almost as if Uvikra intentionally finds the beauty in the agony and the horror in the sterile and strives to share each of these sensations with the listener. It makes for an unsettling yet rather enjoyable album of primitive and angular black metal. It neither follows tradition nor charts wholly new ground, but each piece of music presented here is almost entirely separate from the rest of black metal as a whole.

This album is currently available for purchase from badGod Music. If dissonance, chaos, and fuzz are familiar vocabulary words in your musical selections, this album will soon find a happy home in your heart. It may not make sense, and it certainly won't always be a comfortable experience, but that isn't the point. By the time "Bi" has finished, you won't know up from down.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Heavy Breath- "Muddy Life" (Self-Released/Battle Stag Records)

This may be one of the posts that deviates most from my regular regimen of lo-fidelity recordings filled with indiscernible instrumentation and muddled vocals, yet it's one I'm happy to share with my readers. I actually heard about Connecticut hardcore weirdos Heavy Breath through a bizarre string of comments on twitter, of all places. Someone had referred to them as the "craft beer of hardcore" or something of that nature, and it piqued my curiosity as a fan of both extreme music and delicious beers. Indeed, as someone who has listened to hardcore for years (big surprise, I know), I've become extremely picky in regards to all things punk-ish, yet there is something refreshingly intoxicating about these three songs. It's currently 3:30 in the afternoon, I'm drinking a beer already, and I'm grooving hard to this album. You should do the same.

Here's the deal: Heavy Breath are one of those bands that can't be easily pigeonholed. I hear bits and pieces of many bands I love,with everything from the experimental leanings of Refused to the urgency and climactic builds of pageninetynine to the addictive vocals that remind me of newer heavyweights Ladder Devils. This is just such a good fun time that I can't really give it a name. Heavy Breath seem just as content locking into the deconstructed groove about three minutes into closing track "I'm a Motherfucking Weak Man" as they are throwing out complex, primal punk assaults. There's also a massive degree of classic rock and roll swagger that makes me think back to the days of truly dangerous rock, when bands like The Stooges were giving parents nightmares.While there are only three tracks presented here, they slam pretty hard and each has enough memorable sections to make them familiar by the second listen. I've enjoyed this album easily half a dozen times in the past week, since it's brief length makes it the sort of album I play twice at a time. It doesn't feel stale or derivative; it feels like a bunch of guys getting together and making music that they really enjoy and love.

While some of my more extreme readers may not find much here, fans of rock, hardcore, punk, and pretty much anything Alternative Tentacles-y will really dig this. This album is available for download at the price you see fit, so the biggest risk you have to take is a small amount of space on your hard-drive. Rumor has it Battle Stag Records will be releasing this on vinyl at a currently unannounced point in the future, so keep your eyes open. I recommend listening on high volume with a hoppy or bitter beer. Dig it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Oak Aged Mocha Stout (Peak Organic Brewing Company)

Peak Organic Brewing Company is one of those breweries that has long been on my radar yet never in my fridge, cabinet, or stomach for some reason. Today I decided to change that. While my diet as a whole isn't organic or wholly healthy and environmentally conscious, I try to seek out organic options and I figured this would be as good a place as any to begin my first organic beer review. Although I'm an equal opportunity imbiber, I am often most comfortable when dealing with dark, heavy beers, so I decided that the oak aged mocha stout would be a fantastic introduction to this brewery, and I feel that this was the right decision.

While the beer tastes far more strongly of coffee than chocolate, there is a slight sweetness to offset the bitter hints that come with each sip. Something tells me that the chocolate involved here is a bit darker than the average mocha syrup one might find at a corporate coffee chain. For me, the bitterness is welcome, but for folks wary of the darkness of stouts, this might not be the best introduction to the style. Instead, what Peak have presented is a full-bodied, well crafted coffee stout with a few other subtle characteristics that are quite pleasing to my palate. The alcohol content sits high at 8.4% yet hardly bites the tongue in any way other than the typical intensity of such a beverage. I don't feel this drink is quite as heavy as many similar peers, but to me that isn't much of an issue. Instead, the smoothness adds to the seductive beauty and danger of this fantastic drink.

Monday, March 25, 2013

a death cinematic- "Corrosions of Traveled Daydreams" CS (Tycho Magnetic Anomalies)

Just over two months ago, I was fortunate enough to interview a death cinematic, who briefly made mention of a future cassette release from Tycho Magnetic Anomalies. Such a short time later, I find that a copy of this cassette has made its way into my hands (and many other copies are available for purchase), and I'm finding myself surprised once again by an artist whose music has already been in my thoughts for years. As always, a death cinematic has outdone himself with both presentation and music. This is his first cassette release, and he has transitioned quite nicely from digital to analog with this album.

a death cinematic has always had an audience with the drone metal community despite lack of any direct "heavy metal" sections in the songs, but the very first moments of "Corrosions of Traveled Daydreams" consist of a nearly galloping riff that lasts just long enough to disintegrate into cleaner, gentler territory than I've usually heard from this artist. The contrast between two new extremes presented here had already gained my interest, but even without context of a death cinematic's other releases, this album impresses me. Clean guitars seamlessly integrate with the hum of gently rolling drones, and melancholic notes stretch slowly across percussive static. Despite the melody so often displayed, this is not so much a reflection of joy as it is the aural equivalent of the last glimmer of hope. These are not songs for the victorious nearly in the sense that these are songs for survivors. If there is any beauty at all, it is only in the knowledge that the world will continue its course regardless of humanity's intentions. Desolation and rebuilding have long been at the heart of a death cinematic's sound. With this release, the two have merged into a sort of functional emptiness. From soft to entirely jagged, the sounds and colors swirl and  soar through a bleak and unchanging landscape. The world a death cinematic shares here may be covered in soot, but its rivers still run and the roots of the trees still grow. The song titles and sonic paintings tell of a human race that has lost itself in a way that would make Cormac McCarthy smile, if he's capable of such a thing. There is little good left in humanity, and nature will eventually undo our messes when we finally finish destroying ourselves, at least if I've been listening properly.

Perhaps my words have been a bit abstract here, but when dealing with music of this nature, I find concepts and feelings become stronger than genres and ideas. a death cinematic works just as much in textures and blurred sounds as with defined song structures and discernible instrumentation. To limit a review to simply touching upon the musical characteristics would be a disservice to music that is created with such a visual and conceptual approach. In fact, accompanying this album are a set of photographs and vellum prints, along with a poem, an etched wood box, and decals with the album cover's trademark dead bird. The entire experience of this album is both humbling and impressive, and demonstrates an expertise that I hope to witness again soon. This release has been limited to a mere 60 copies, yet some are still available from the label at this time. As a reviewer and lover of music, it's my duty to recommend you purchase this before they sell out.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jason Hodge- "Hope Has Abandoned Us" Cassette (Enemata Productions)

Sometimes when examining an album, I get the feeling that there's a greater context to the music than might initially be given. Whether it's lyrical themes for some bands or a larger sense of purpose associated with a particular album, knowing the background story can deepen one's appreciation for a piece of music. Jason Hodge's recent release,"Hope Has Abandoned Us," is absolutely an album whose value and weight grow immensely with proper background information. This cassette was recorded during a dark period in his life shortly following the death of his grandfather and the flooding of his surviving grandmother's home. While many artists would be content to merely use grief or frustration as a catalyst for creating something, Jason Hodge decided to record a large portion of this album in the abandoned building, utilizing items found in the house as part of this cathartic and dense recording.

The A-side contains the track "Carried on Crippled Wings/Forcing Pieces to Fit," which is a dark and seething journey that makes me envision a world entirely in grayscale. Musicians whose works fall under the general umbrella of "noise" often tend to feel disconnected, but Jason Hodge's music seems personal, urgent, and even somewhat desperate and frustrated. There is a tension that impresses itself upon the listener. This isn't harsh noise, nor is this mellow drone. What this music does is convey emotions in a genre that often lacks them. If anything, I feel almost overwhelmed by the swelling sounds presented in this first side, which attack like waves against a flimsy barrier. As hasty structures tend to do, the sound barrier gives way after a few minutes to a rolling terror of lower frequencies akin to the engine of an aircraft or the base of a waterfall. The rest of the song continues as some sort of violent deterioration, with scraping percussion fighting with the rolling noises of water or heavy machinery for aural dominance until everything has been ruined and the chaos slowly fades beneath its own weight. The intensity is unparalleled without resorting to some of the easy shock tactics of the genre, which is what makes this tape so compelling. Even at its most aggressive, this album never becomes a barrier of assorted frequencies, nor does a violent vocalization ever make an appearance. Not that those ideas or sounds are necessarily bad, but many artists fall back on them as safety nets where bolder sounds might have worked just as well. The B-side here is home of "Hymn for a Hollow Body," which appropriately enough is a slightly more tonal track, although it is entirely cold and distant, with much of the song's first few minutes sound something like echoes of wind in a cave. The song progresses into an almost mechanical howl which constructs a great rolling emptiness of sorts, a center of nothingness in the song around which all the other sounds revolve. By the time this turbulent tape has ended, the subtle hum of speakers conveying silence is a welcome comfort in which I bask for a few minutes. In a way, the phantom sounds constructed by my brain after this album are almost the perfect counterbalance to the chaos it inflicted. I feel that perhaps this whole album was designed with such a purpose: to force so much pain out that nothing but cathartic bliss remains by the end.

Copies of this tape are currently available from Enemata Productions and are well worth obtaining while they're still available. Keep an eye out for Jason's upcoming releases; he's a very efficient and productive musician and he seems to pop up on new labels all the time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hunahpu's Imperial Stout (Cigar City Brewing Company)

I never thought I'd get to write a review of the legendary Hunahpu from Cigar City, but my roommate was lucky enough to obtain a bottle for household sharing. This beer is released one day each year for the public's consumption, and the crowds come in from all around the country. Last year I remember speaking to folks who had traveled down from New York, and I somehow I doubt they had the farthest journey. Blessed with a near-perfect track record with ratings of 100 from pretty much every beer resource, this drink's growing legend seems intent on competing with Pliny the Elder. Regardless, when this showed up in my home, I knew I had to try it.

Hunahpu pours dark, heavy, and with one of the thickest and darkest heads I've ever seen. This beer isn't just a stout, this is a stout for people who like it dark and heavy. In other words, this is possibly one of the most worthy brews featured here. The chocolate aroma is intoxicating, just in case the 11% alcohol isn't high enough. The smoothness of the beer masks the heaviness well, although a heavily roasted flavor lingers on the back of my palate as I swallow each sip. Obviously this beer is being shared between four people right now, and it's still strong enough for each of us. While it tastes good enough to hoard, it's strong enough and worthy of sharing. I doubt most of you will have the opportunity this year, but keep an eye on Cigar City's website and make travel plans for Hunahpu's Day 2014. I promise it'll be worth it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Echtra- "Sky Burial" CD & Total Negation- "Zur späten Stunde | Zeiträume" CD (Temple of Torturous)

By this point, many of my readers may have noticed that I love finding new things. They may not be things that are new to others, but I enjoy a new experience here and there. When Swedish label Temple of Torturous emailed me two separate new releases of theirs, from two groups I'd never even heard of before, I was quite intrigued. While some may view unknown or unfamiliar bands and sounds as an issue, I took this as an invitation to find something new and exciting. I'm happy to state that I was quite right, as both of these unique albums have impressed me thoroughly in their own ways.

Echtra is the guitarist/vocalist of black metal heavyweights Fauna, among a handful of other groups with which I'm not yet familiar. His work here seems slightly more meditative and personal, with this album, "Sky Burial,"  focusing on the need of each individual to make peace with his or her own mortality. The practice of sky burial is a Tibetan tradition wherein the recently deceased is left in a specific location that has been designated for the decomposition and disposal of human remains. The body is left to the elements, where it is often consumed by predatory birds. As the soul has left the body, there is no need to honor its former home according to this tradition. In a similar fashion, Echtra creates a fluid representation of chaos and peace with this album. There is a focused sort of deconstruction that occurs here, with sparse vocals occasionally dotting a deserted landscape of textured guitars and dense keys. As each of the two tracks are simply halves of a greater single performance, they blend together into one massive, cathartic piece of music. I find myself listening to this album as I fall asleep at night, yet when I listen during the day, I find it invigorating. Something about this is familiar and comforting, much like the understanding of death itself, yet it is never dull or tiresome. The Temple of Torturous release of this album includes a DVD of the only live performance of "Sky Burial," which dates back to 2008. While I haven't yet seen the live performance, I can say that it will be worth watching if it captures even a fraction of the beauty and intensity presented on this album.

Switching things over to Total Negation, we're presented with two EPs packaged as one full-length album. While many bands release separate albums that are essentially the same, these two EPs are easily distinguished from one another, so I'll review them separately. The first four tracks belong to the "Zur späten Stunde" EP, which explores the intense moments the mind often experiences right before body and mind drift into sleep. Opening track "Einkehr" sets the stage appropriately with clean yet dissonant leads creating psychedelic atmospheres over fuzzy and dense chords and howled vocals. The darkness here isn't suffocating, but there is an eerie uncertainty that forces the music onward, deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole of one's own mind. The overall feeling here is dark and uncomfortable, but with a faint glow around the edges. Moving on to "Zeiträume," a sequel of sorts, Total Negation explores the textures and sensations of dreams themselves. For first listens, I try not to read the press information lest I be swayed. Despite this, I instantly picked up on some instruments that are unconventional for black metal. Sure enough, both melodica and vibraphone are featured prominently here, showcasing both creativity and skill with composition. This doesn't sound or feel like a half-hearted attempt to "transcend" black metal, nor does this feel like an amateur musician playing with an idea. "Zeiträume" is a creative and engaging testament to the potential within sole member Wiedergaenger's grasp. Crunchy guitars and foreign instruments play in unison at times, adding depth to the heaviness of the more metal moments, while at other times the two sets of instruments seem to dance around each other, both at odds and working in a peculiar sort of harmony. While there's a confusing element to these four tunes, I would say that I prefer the vision displayed here. These four songs are unique and beautiful in a most remarkable way. A solid example is presented on closing track "Traum," which leaves things off on a perfect note. This release will be packaged as a sole compact disc, but the music here should be more than sufficient reason to consider purchase.

Both of these albums will be released from Temple of Torturous on March 31st. The label has recently announced that distribution in the United States will be done through Unholy Anarchy, but I'm not entirely sure when the album will be sold through the distributor. In the meantime, save your pennies and get ready for these two incredible albums.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Brux Domesticated Wild Ale (Russian River/Sierra Nevada)

Today's chapter of the Black Metal and Brews saga focuses on a beer that was purchased for nostalgic purposes. I may have mentioned in the past that I lived about a thousand feet from the legendary Russian River Brewing Company when I was twenty-one years old. My minimal knowledge of beer didn't prevent me from visiting and drinking many a delicious brew at happy hour. In fact, I give great credit to those folks for helping nourish my rapidly growing love and appreciation for beer. Sierra Nevada, too, was another brewery that stood out for me as one of the most consistently enjoyable breweries that I could find readily available at most beer retailers. Now that I live across the country, finding a beer with the Russian River name is almost impossible. I guess I have Sierra Nevada's distribution capacity to thank for this beauty finding its way into my possession.

This collaborative Belgian-style ale is intended to be a beer that can be kept and aged in the bottle, but I'm enjoying it after a mere two months of ageing here in my home. The flavors are light and citrusy, with elements more typical of a cider or champagne, although without the fizzy nature of the latter. Do not interpret the subtlety and lightness for simplicity though, as this beer has a lot more going on than the average lighter beer. As the label indicates, these flavors grow and shift over time, so it's no surprise that there are already many subtle hints of spices hiding throughout each sip. I find this to be perfectly representative of my enjoyment of beer itself in relation to these two timeless breweries. I almost feel that we've all grown together as beer drinkers and that this is a byproduct (yet by no means a culmination) of many years of happy drinking. At 8.3% alcohol by volume, this is certainly a beer I recommend sharing with a friend, which is (once again) perfectly related to the friendship that brought about this beer's creation.

I'm not sure if this is going to be a limited or permanent release, so I recommend jumping on this treat as soon as you're capable. As the flavors are intended to change over time, I urge you to grab at least two bottles so that you can experience the beer's growth as your own palate expands. Perhaps we'll all check back in on this one in a year or two and compare notes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Crowhurst- "Death Van" CS/LP (Static Reason/Placenta Recordings)

I awoke today with an anxiety in my mind that wouldn't go away.  There has been a high pitched noise in my bedroom for a week now, and it's really started to trouble me. My sleep is restless and my thoughts are hazy. I often feel like I'm not really present because I'm so exhausted. When I put on Crowhurst's "Death Van," I felt like somehow the inner uneasiness and tension had fallen out of my brain and into my computer's speakers. From the trippy and slightly disturbing artwork to the scattershot approach to noise that Crowhurst is making their name with, a ride in the Death Van takes you through pretty much any experience you can imagine.

From the opening track "Enter the Death Van" on, things are ugly, but not in the chaotic sense that such an album title would imply. Instead the noises roll through and around the listener as a slow and constant waves of sound, bringing one in and out of a claustrophobic sort of madness filled with sharp sounds and feedback. After a while, rather than feeling fear or horror, a dull euphoria sets in. By this point, you've given up on hope and instead you've embraced the insanity--this is the point where Crowhurst excels. When one is forced to find solace in the bleakest of places, Crowhurst is able to effectively guide the listener in any direction. With the help of more than a couple friends, (almost every song here has multiple guests), Crowhurst drives the Death Van full of listeners on a guided tour of Hell in a way that's almost comforting. When we are able to look fear and misery in the eye, we are able to make peace with them. At its peak moments, this album takes the hideous and makes it beautiful.  By the time we've all been beaten into submission, the gag is taken from our mouths and the chains are undone. An almost blissful rendition of the Death in June classic "Rose Clouds of Holocaust" provides a final moment of comfort and beauty, much like the last ten minutes of mental function before brain death occurs. The end is abrupt, yet haunting, leaving you with only one option: to enter the Death Van once again and repeat the cycle.

This album goes on sale on vinyl from Placenta Recordings and cassette from Static Reason on Friday, March 15th. Getting this is pretty much mandatory if you're at all interested in noise, drone, or just bizarre experimental music of any sort. Downloads aren't available from the Crowhurst bandcamp, but a full-album stream can be heard to help you realize just how rad this album sounds.

19 Original Colonies Mead (Chatoe Rogue)

Well, it's time for another first here. I've had a couple bottles of mead in my day, but it's been quite a while, and I've always served them warm, with cinnamon sticks and the whole nine yards. Normally purchasing a bottle of something that claims to be mead that says "serve chilled" would make me slightly anxious, but I've been drinking Rogue's beers for a long time and they've earned my trust. While this is slightly different from my typical understanding of a mead, I'm drinking this and finding it to be quite enjoyable.

This light, sweet, grape-y mead is perfect on a sweltering day like today. The champagne yeast used in this beverage really shows, probably above all of the other ingredients, and it works nicely for a change of pace from my usual habit of dark, dense, beers. While I'm not sure what category this drink should actually be filed under, I'm quite sure it's an enjoyable and not overly alcoholic (5.2% ABV) drink that works perfectly for my palate on a lazy afternoon.  I also have to give extra props to Rogue for cultivating their own honey for this delicious beverage and for keeping their list of ingredients simple. In today's world of overly processed, chemical-infused foods and drinks, it's refreshing to know that I'm consuming something a little truer to humanity's diet of days past. If only all the food we consumed was so simple, perhaps we'd be a healthier and happier society.

This one's been available for a hot minute from what I've heard through the grapevine, but I only first saw it here in Florida a week or so ago, so I recommend grabbing this if and when you find it. If it does happen to stay on shelves for a while, you'll have more opportunities to get it, and if it's a quick seller, you'll be one of the lucky few to enjoy this treat. If you don't live in such a hot region as I do, I recommend hanging onto this beer for a few months until the first truly warm days of spring or summer start to beat down on you.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Curseworship- "Curseworship" (Self-released)

Today's submission comes from the dry, desolate wastes of Salt Lake City, Utah. I've always been of the opinion that any city that is primarily ruled by religion or conservative values is inherently good for making ugly music as a form of rebellion, and Curseworship seem eager to prove me right. This trio has released a three-song album that would terrify the piss out of any clergyman unfortunate enough to witness it. If the band's name or the three inverted crosses gracing the album's artwork don't make it apparent, these guys have definitely chosen to side with the darkness.

Leading the way into Curseworship's madness is the appropriately named "Summoning."After a brief feedback introduction, the stage is set for some straight up ugly, crawling death metal with some static noise elements thrown in just to make things even more unsettling. The cave man stomp here is thick and well-executed rather than simply aping Obituary as many similar bands tend to do and the rhythm is tight and driving. When the band decides to pick up the speed about halfway through, it's somehow surprising yet the transition feels organic rather than forced. The second track starts off with yet another surprise, a light and melodic introduction that turns into a distorted mess of a song that lingers slightly longer than its predecessor. Closing this beastly album out is the sixteen-minute long horror of "Goat of a Thousand Young (Raising From Hell)." This album is full of surprises, but nothing surprised me more than this track. The eerie power electronics that wormed their way throughout the previous two tracks have finally taken over by the time this monstrosity unfolds, leaving a huge slab of dense noise as Curseworship's final offering to the listener. Rather than finding this a bit uninspired or simple, this is a hair-raising way to end the album and I approve.

While currently only available as a "pay what you like" download from Curseworship's bandcamp page, this album is tentatively scheduled to be released on cassette through Crucial Blast sometime this spring, so keep an eye out. I know I'll be first in line.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ramlord- "Crippled Minds, Sundered Wisdom" LP (Hypaethral Records)

Some of you may remember Ramlord as that band I once used the word "crushing" to describe too many times. Some of you may also remember that I think "crushing" is an awesome thing that doesn't happen enough in the reviews I write. Specializing in lo-fi black metal often leaves me with a lack of solid headbanging, skull-crushing tunes. Luckily Ramlord exist so that I may write about their boozy, chaotic blackened crust madness and get my daily recommended dose of crushing. To say that this new album is a positive expansion on the material presented on their split with Cara Neir is an understatement, and I'm pretty stoked on it.

I often feel the need to write from the perspective of an educated, intelligent, well-spoken individual, but with music this raw, I feel that flowery speech would detract from just how ferocious this is. Listening to this takes me back to the days when I hung out at basement shows and drank as much cheap beer and whiskey as I could before burrito cravings set in. The difference here is that Ramlord don't seem intent on creating fun for their listeners so much as they are hellbent on imparting bleak fury. I'm nodding my head along while I listen to the album, but I'm also kinda stuck on the fact that I'm going to die one day. All the lyrics seem to lead me back to the impermanence of mortality and the futility of believing in something beyond this world. It makes me just want to dig into the music all the more, clinging to every hideous moment because this music itself is bursting with life, almost in defiance of death. The frantic pace of the music, the harshness and humanity of the vocals, the energy creates a sort of pessimistic beauty. Another thing that really works for this is Ramlord's complete lack of commitment to any one niche within the greater genres of crust, metal, or whatever else you'd call their music. Thirty-second facemelters like "Enslaved" exist in some sort of twisted harmony with the eight-minute closing nightmare of "Extinction of Clairvoyance (Part Two)," which is a continuation of the aforementioned split with Cara Neir. This whole album gives me way too much to digest, but I can say with complete sincerity that I'm okay with a bit of sonic uneasiness. I've always been into discomfort and struggle in music, so the massive quantity of chaotic and cathartic experience here gives me something hearty to sink my teeth into.

So this slab of viciousness has already been available for digital download for about a month, but I'm a total slacker. The benefit of me not posting this until now is that if you're super cool and preorder the record (for a measly fifteen bucks), you've only got to wait about a month for it to ship out. So what are you waiting for? You could have this album for free, or you can be one of only 100 awesome individuals to own this depressing mess on vinyl. I'm part of the second group; will you join me?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

100th Post Commemorative: A Retrospective Glance at A Pregnant Light's Discography

It's been just shy of seven months since I started this blog, and I realize I haven't had much occasion to geek out on one of my personal favorite artists, A Pregnant Light. Since this is my 100th post, I feel it's important for me to share something I love, regardless of ease of purchase. A Pregnant Light was one of the first artists that helped me rediscover my love of extreme music, specifically in the analog format, and their discography has grown rapidly over the past year or so. Initially I declined to review new APL releases, as they often sold out before I'd receive my copy in the mail. With APL's home label, Colloquial Sound Recordings, deciding to repress a few tapes and open up certain releases for digital sale, I feel that there is no better time than the present for me to do a retrospective review of this compelling artist's brief yet prolific career.

I was fortunate enough to discover this band before their first cassette, The Feast of Clipped Wings, had sold out. Upon hearing the sample of the opening track, "Under Consult of the Dragon," I was immediately sold on this band's ferocious mix of melodic hardcore and aggressive black metal. The urgent pace set on this album has its roots in hardcore punk, yet the jagged and beautiful riffs here seem to come from a darker, more introspective place. Another remarkable thing that caught my attention was the completely reckless and passionate vocal style, which has a cathartic intensity that is seldom found in black metal, more often reserved for masochistic groups like Pig Destroyer or Converge. Despite the sense of vulnerability I find within this album, I can't help but feel like these songs have become my own personal anthems of strength, helping to overcome things I had once imagined as insurmountable. While A Pregnant Light has released many fantastic cassettes since this first assault, this album still holds a high position in my heart and its personality and the quality of personal strength can be heard in most of APL's other offerings.

Following an album as fast and passionate as The Feast of Clipped Wings would prove challenging for most bands, but with the subsequent split with black noise artist SADOS entitled The Sky Conspired Against Thee Before Thy Bones Had Dried, APL proved to be a band with more than one voice. Rather than dialing in a track or two that might not have fit on the first album, APL offers up the monstrous "Draining Fragrance," which fills its nearly ten minutes in length with a sonic journey through a familiar ferocity and a new sense of self-restraint, tension, and uneasiness. The song begins as if it's caught in the midst of a storm yet soon finds a source of shelter, a place from which the song grows and climbs through valleys of ambiance and textured melody upward towards a massive peak before crawling away to die in solitude. While the b-side of the tape belongs to SADOS, to ignore their involvement in this release is folly. "Frail" is a beautiful yet chilling fusion of power electronics and fuzzy black metal that serves as a surprisingly appropriate pairing with APL's soaring contribution. The purity of the atmosphere SADOS craft is supreme and I'm eager to hear more from this artist, who seems to have been dormant since this mighty release. This tape is neither available for purchase nor download at the moment, but keep an eye out for this gem. It's well worth obtaining.

APL's third offering is another split, this time with UK horde Obscure Lupine Quietus. APL's two tracks here present more of the black metal aesthetic than either previous release, but are still distinctive much like any other APL work. "Burning Basin" opens things up with a relentless energy, and "On A Banquet Table" follows up with well-arranged majesty, presenting the closest thing to atmospheric black metal I've heard from thisartist. While not necessarily the darkest album APL has released, these tracks feel most appropriate when played after the sun has set. Flipping the tape over presents Obscure Lupine Quietus, who contribute two tracks of raw, mid-paced black metal perfection. "Ascension Through Cold Mists" lives up to its name with shrill aggressive vocals and icy leads carving themselves into memory with vicious precision. While this is the only OLQ release I've heard, I'm certain that their others are equally chilling and worth my while. The second edition of this magnificent tape is currently available, so snag it while you can.

As if the many faces of A Pregnant Light aren't already apparent with the first three releases, the fourth tape, entitled Live to Tell, pays direct homage to one of popular music's most polarizing divas, Madonna. While the second press of this tape is now available with a fourth track, I don't yet own a copy of the newer edition and am therefore not qualified to discuss the nature of this newest offering, but the three tracks on the original version show a band just as unafraid of criticism as Madonna herself. While the black metal community might shun an artist for releasing a tape like this, I've always viewed extreme music as a place of both rebellion and acceptance. If our community cannot embrace an act of rebellion against itself, perhaps we're becoming a bit closed-minded. The two original tracks here highlight a dark beauty that is commonly found in post-punk and new wave, as shown on "Possession of Diamond," which incorporates these uncommon melodies without losing sight of A Pregnant Light's trademark intensity. The Madonna cover features guest musicians from Amber Asylum joining in to create a stunning rendition, complete with haunting organ and female vocals exploring another new territory for this adventurous band.

After a tape like Live to Tell, A Pregnant Light had pretty much set a standard for unpredictable yet high quality music. While anything would seem expected at this point, the bar was raised yet again shortly after with two new tapes released at the same time. With greater quantities than the other new release, Death My Hanging Doorway, is a 21 minute offering of futility and passion. If previous epics hadn't already made it apparent that A Pregnant Light exists with the primary purpose of generating pure expression, this album takes all prior sonic blueprints and melds them together into something so intense that it leaves me exhausted. This album makes a stronger representation of unified sound, with the drums showing more clarity and variation than ever before, creating the sensation of a full band more than many solo artists could hope to achieve. If any album from A Pregnant Light sounds like inner turmoil, this is it. There's an almost ambitious element to the pain presented here, a ritualistic negativity of sorts, but not necessarily a release from whatever suffering is at the music's core. The first edition came bound with rope in a unique and beautiful presentation, and is available from Handmade Birds. Copies of this tape's second edition are available again, and I strongly recommend purchasing one while possible.

Released at the same time as Death My Hanging Doorway, but in a limited edition of 33 is quite possibly A Pregnant Light's most surprising release, Most High Place. The three tracks on this cassette are by far the darkest things I've heard from this artist, although anything resembling the punk and metal aesthetic is absent here. If Death My Hanging Doorway was a self-punishment of some sort, Most High Place is where A Pregnant Light has hidden away to recover in the shadows. The disarming quiet here reminds me of The Cure circa Faith or perhaps even the most reflective moments of early Nine Inch Nails. Stripped electronic percussion and sparse guitars provide a smoky backdrop for distant vocals that exist somewhere between a whisper and a distant rasp. Black metal fans might scoff at this album, but I find it to be a dark refuge from all chaos outside of myself. No samples of this album exist for the public's ears, nor is this tape available for purchase. The first edition came packaged in an envelope with cards hinting at the album's message. Perhaps a second edition will shed even more light at some time.

Not two weeks after the dual release, A Pregnant Light released St. Emaciation, which is something of a return to the style presented between the first two releases.The fur-clad woman on the cover hints at the dichotomy of beauty and ugliness presented within as she wears the skin of another creature while attempting to convey sensuality. The two tracks here are melodic and swirling pieces of gorgeous, mid-paced black metal. "Creation Rhythm" has the steady pace of a heartbeat driving its beauty onward. "Fertility Cult" is even slower, a crawling testament to A Pregnant Light's mastery of extreme atmospheres. This is currently available as a digital download and is well worth the investment.

The most recent output from A Pregnant Light is the brief and ferocious album, Hear the Slow, Slow Shadow. Recorded in the haze of a drunken afternoon, this is possibly the most stripped down and aggressive thing I've heard from this project to date. Every song flows together, yet each individual piece is abrupt and urgent. Songs like "Down Sanity" linger around long enough to tear out your throat and leave before you've had the chance to realize it. This one's also currently unavailable but will probably see a second release in some format given enough time.

So there you have it. I'm super stoked on this artist's work. Colloquial Sound has always impressed me with the consistency of their artists, but this one in particular has a very special place in my heart and in my music library. The picture above is my complete APL collection. See that shirt? Those are still available as well, and are super comfy, so grab one if you're into it. Anyway, thanks to all of my readers for sticking around this long. I didn't expect to write more than five posts before giving up, but clearly I've been on a bit of a roll. Maybe we'll see a few hundred more in years to come. Thanks everybody, I'll be back with a series of posts very soon.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Minblod- "Apparition and Aberration" CD (Depressive Illusions/Humid Records)

For most of my life, I've had a slight hearing issue. Not the sort of thing you could really diagnose and treat, just the sonic equivalent of everything blurring a little around the edges. It wouldn't surprise me if the extra focus this requires of me has contributed heavily to my great appreciation of listening to the intricacies of music. I listen for the notes between notes, the hidden things that bands might not have even intended for us to hear. When I hear a murky album like Minblod's "Apparition and Aberration," I get a rush from the challenge and the promise of hidden sounds just waiting behind the blur of noise.

Minblod's music works in textures more than individual sonic components. While a determined ear can separate the instruments from each other, the first listen gives little more than a heavy blanket of distortion and shrieks. As the listener focuses, there is almost a calming sensation amid the bleak atmosphere that Minblod creates. The dense fuzz becomes a layer of fog enveloping the listener rather than an obstacle between the music and the listener. Indeed, there is a certain meditative quality to these songs, many of which plod along at a slower pace than is traditionally accepted in black metal. The slow pace paired with the density of the music take the lo-fi template of artists like Xasthur to new depths of isolation, as presented on tracks like "Three Permutations." However, unlike depressive groups who share a similar aesthetic, Minblod seems to be simply acknowledging the inherent chaos in every moment  rather than simply holing up and wallowing in self-pity. Indeed, closing track "Heuristic Construct" has an almost redemptive quality to its relatively mellow ambiance, as if rewarding both listener and artist for surviving the album.

This album is available for download courtesy of Humid Records and will soon see physical release from Depressive Illusion. The album comes on CDr in a DVD case which holds a booklet explaining the philosophical journey on which "Apparition and Aberration" takes the listener. To say that the brief essays contained within are challenging reads would be an understatement, but they detail the artist's thoughts on our ability to observe ourselves using our established tools of perception. This companion booklet really makes the physical release a must-have, so keep an eye out.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Manx- "Blood Chronicles" 7" (Self-Released)

I've been following the musical career of Tommy Meehan for quite some time. While none of his bands, past or present, would exactly fall into the category of extreme metal, almost everything he's created has had an uncompromising attitude and commitment to originality, no matter how absurd the music becomes. From the Mr. Bungle worshiping ADHD warriors The Brockly Tacos to the insanely catchy electronic grind madness of Razzle Blaster, he's always managed to surprise me without losing my interest. When I first heard about his newest band, The Manx, I was slightly apprehensive. Folk punk? That's a dirty phrase, if you ask me. Somehow, despite my aversion to acoustic instruments making their way into punk rock and hardcore, The Manx have created something so fun that genre definitions are irrelevant.

Aside from transcending and eluding the trappings of many of their peers who seem to simply aim for the disaffected pre-college crowd, The Manx seem to actually enjoy playing their music, which allows me as a listener to get a greater enjoyment. Nowhere to be found are generic political statements about capitalism, nor will you find trite love songs about crust punks. What you will find on Blood Chronicles is goblin-slaying madness that would make any "viking metal" group proud. I feel this music has a stronger kinship with Finntroll's acoustic album than with most any group of punks who decided to go acoustic for a change. The musical precision and finesse displayed here impresses in a genre that tends to rely on simple strummed chords, and the inclusion of accordion adds a chantey-like element to every one of these songs. From the waltz of "Husky Tavern" to the hyperactive digital-only(?) instrumental jam, "Bear Cubs in My Pants," this album has enough diversity to keep things fresh from start to finish and warrants repeat listens due to its moderately brief length.

This album goes on sale and ships out today with gorgeous color-in-color vinyl that is well worth the small seven dollar price tag, especially since it's for sale directly from the artists themselves. While this isn't normal Black Metal and Brews fare, give it a shot. You might find (like I have) that trying something new can often yield beautiful results. If you're not ready to make a cash commitment but have a curious nature, don't worry, the band have also offered it for download at the price you like best over at the same link you can use to purchase it.