Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Death Metal Tuesday - Torture 2012

25 years and 12 albums worth of death metal is an impressive achievement in itself, but the fact that Cannibal Corpse has remained so consistently dedicated to the genre that they helped make infamous back in 90-91 is something else all together.Cannibal is basically death metal’s answer to Slayer: year-after-year, album-after-album, they never risk alienating their original fan base. I can appreciate this, as Cannibal has never made me suffer through a Illud Divinum Insanus, or a Swansong, or aInsineratehymn. At the same time, it is starting to feel rather redundant and lifeless. 

I was skeptical when Barnes parted ways in 94, but Corpsegrinder finally converted me with Bloodthirst and then Gore Obsessed in 2002. It think Owens’ departure in 2004 has left a bigger hole in the band however. How do they keep things fresh and avoid repeating themselves? Well, the simple answer is: they don't. Cannibal fans expect consistency and that is what they get. Torture is Corpse-by-the-numbers with no real surprises. Starting with 2006’s Kill, I’ve started to feel like they keep writing the same album over and over. I just find it hard to imagine anyone in the pit before their show saying “man, I hope they play tons of shit off of Torture.” And I wonder how Mazurkiewicz and Webster feel when, after a block of new stuff live, Corpsegrinder announces “Skull Full of Maggots” and the crowd acts like the headliner finally took the stage.

The technical aspects and the production of this album is solid. My true hangup with the newer Corpse stuff is the sterility - it is so precise and technically sound, that it really lacks a personality. The songs are delivered with surgical precision and are plenty rocking, there are choice riffs, brutal vocals, and plenty of change ups. “Encased in Concrete” has some life, but then there is “Scourge of Iron,” “Intestinal Crank,” or the serialism of “Rabid” that just sounds like they’re stringing notes and words together out of habit more than anything else. I

Again, the Slayer metaphor is appropriate: You can’t knock a band that has stayed true to form and vision for 20+ years. So, I’m not knocking them, I’m just bored, and I feel like it’s their boredom that’s the problem. It also might be a deeper, philosophical issue regarding aging. Seeing my adolescent heroes grow old and tired, reminds me that I’m growing old and tired. Torture isn’t awful - I can put it on and not turn it off out of frustration, but I also won’t notice anything until it stops playing and my attention is drawn to how quiet it is now. 2 out of 5.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Death Metal Tuesday - Jester Race

In Flames is a band that has received a ton of flack for their change in musical direction. Over the years, they’ve enjoyed a sizable surge in popularity which inevitably alienated their original fan base. In Flames fans are polarized into two camps - pre or post 2002’s “Reroute to Remain.” That album marks the band’s completed shift to a more commercial sound - abandoning their melodic death metal roots for a more “groove metal” approach. 

If you’ve read this blog before, it is probably no shock that I tend to fall into the first group of fans - believing their death metal sound was superior. I understand bands need to evolve, but I just can’t hang with that new stuff. The personal affront that some fans take at the band’s shift, speaks to the strength of their earlier material. 

As Swedish death metal was evolving and splintering off into other sub genres, there was talk about the emerging “Gothenburg sound” which combined the traditional elements of Swedish death metal, with the melodic guitars of more traditional metal forms (specifically, Iron Maiden). This sound would eventually become what we call “melodic death metal” nowadays, but the key bands (At the Gates, Dark Tranquility, and In Flames) had no idea what they were starting - as far as they were concerned, they were just playing Swedish death metal with a twist.

In Flames’ debut, “Lunar Strain” has a rough production and menacing vocals from Michael Stanne (sounding akin to At the Gates’ Lindberg). On “Jester Race,” they clean up the sound, boost the lows, and bring in Anders Friden for vocals. All the elements that made “Strain” effective are enhanced and bolstered here, but the song writing is the real key. Opening track, “Moonshield” starts with acoustic guitars and transitions into a riff that is more harmonious and melancholic than heavy. There is immediately a noticeable departure from anything that could be construed as traditional DM, however the guitars are still crunchy as hell. There is an emphasis on catchy, traditional metal melodies that makes it sound both old school and fresh at the same time. Check out those major scales on "Goliaths Disarm Their David's," or the instrumental, "Wayfaerer." This is the most positive and upbeat sounding death metal there is - it's a crazy contrast. Of course, now this shit has been done to death, but in 96 this was revolutionary stuff. 

Every once in a while, a band gets in a spot where they are in the zone and simply can’t do anything wrong. In Flames’ 1996 sophomore effort, “Jester Race,” is one of those albums. This is on par with Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign in Blood, Death’s Symbolic, or Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence. It is re-playable to a dangerous degree (perhaps annoying others). After this one came the mighty Whoracle which is great, but not as consistent. After that… It was a somewhat rocky trip downward. 5 out of 5.