FEARNET March Metal Mayhem! (Part 1 of 2)


By Gregory S. Burkart
Well kids, we?re seriously tearing through the 2008 calendar ? it?s March already, and here in the depths of the FEARnet Music Catacombs?, March Means Metal! Okay, it means lots of other stuff too, but there?s only two months in the year where I can play off so many ?M? words, hence the title of this piece. (Expect more alliterative silliness in May.)

But seriously, folks: I know some of you have been wondering if I'm ever going to dish up some horns-worthy content in these pages, but you can relax now. After a lengthy foray through the black fields of rivet-head-land with reviews of several Metropolis industrial and electronic artists, the FEARnet music denizens have traded in our PVC pants for ripped jeans, black high-tops and Morbid Angel t-shirts (never washed, of course), although personally I gotta draw the line at the whole wallet-on-a-chain thing. Sorry, but that's just wrong.

After a bit of a dry spell, it's turning out to be a pretty good year for metal in all its forms, so I thought I'd back up a bit to recap some notable recent arrivals, take a look at what's on the shelves today (metaphorically speaking), then a peek through the oily black clouds of my magic music 8-ball for a glimpse of the madness to come.

Following the release of Type O Negative?s seventh full-length album Dead Again, and still riding high from their return to fans' good graces (after the disappointing Life Is Killing Me and vocalist Peter Steele's brushes with the law), these politically incorrect drop-tuning doom rockers and their label SPV are jumping onto the DVD-inspired tradition of re-packaging recent CD releases in ?Special Editions? with bonus material (see our review for the recent ?Deluxe Edition? of Cradle Of Filth's Thornography for another example), gambling yet again that fans would be dedicated enough to plunk down more coin for the same album instead of becoming enraged at being forced to double-dip to sustain their habit. Those really interested in separating themselves from their grocery money may want to consider the three-disc vinyl edition of Dead Again, which includes the DVD and even throws in a nifty t-shirt.

Aside from blood-red packaging (instead of the original sickly green), the only real bonus here is the inclusion of an accompanying DVD, which contains footage from the band's set at last year's massive annual Open Air metal-fest in Wacken, Germany (featuring drunken performances of ?Kill You Tonight,? ?Christian Woman,? ?Love You To Death,? ?Anesthesia? and more), videos for the gloomy anti-ballad ?September Sun? and the appropriately epic ?Profits of Doom? (frequently seen on MTV's Headbanger's Ball), behind-the-scenes studio antics, a brief but funny interview with the band, and a bizarre document of guitarist Josh Silver rampaging through Coney Island.

If you're among those with a slightly less than rabid interest in the self-proclaimed ?Drab Four? who haven't actually picked up the original version of the album yet, it's a worthy investment for the clove-cigarette crowd thanks to dusky brown baritone guitar riffs, resonant bass vocals and lots of songs about sex, suicide and self-pity ? all done up (thankfully) with a generous dose of their trademark jet-black humor. Stand-outs include the up-tempo title track, the Sabbath-inspired ditties ?Tripping A Blind Man? and ?An Ode To Locksmiths,? and Goth-punk anthem ?Halloween In Heaven.? If you haven?t taken the plunge yet, now is a good time to check this one out.

You may already be familiar with the hard-hitting, fast-paced Euro-metal of Emigrate, thanks to the prominent placement of their first single ?My World? in the soundtrack and promo videos for Resident Evil: Extinction. If you enjoyed it and are hungry for more, wait no longer, for Rammstein's Richard Z. Kruspe recently released the full self-titled CD from his current side project on the indie Pilgrim label.

Though less electronic and more organic-feeling than Rammstein, Emigrate is still reflective of the same machine-like German precision for which both bands? founder is well-known in European metal, and his familiar style of stacking layers of tightly-synched guitar riffs is still in play. But if bands were machines, Emigrate would be comprised of polished, artfully interlocking sharpened wooden spikes, as opposed to Rammstein?s grinding, flame-belching steel beast. The warmer feeling comes not only from a more traditional (i.e. less industrial) instrumental platform, but also from Richard?s vocal approach. Freed from behind Till Lindemann's beefy baritone, his style is intense, warm and slightly coarse.

Totaling 13 tracks across its fairly brief running time, the songs are short, simply-structured and get right down to the business of kicking your ass. They?re not all winners, to be sure, but with so many to choose from, there?s plenty of worthy material. Standouts include ?Wake Up,? which barrels through your speakers like a Max Max vehicle with a slavering maniac at the wheel; on the flipside, ?In My Tears? employs phase-y, close-miked vocals for a prog-metal ballad with symphonic fills and robust layering reminiscent of '80s-era Ozzy. ?New York City,? an ode to expatriate Kruspe?s adopted home, is pure Stooges-era Iggy Pop, simultaneously gritty and uplifting, with some great vocal harmonies; ?This Is What? is a slab of good old industrial metal a la Ministry (complete with distorted vocals, minimalist riffs and tribal rhythms). Fans who got to screen selected tracks early showed a preference for the moody ?Babe,? but for my coin, the album?s best track is ?Blood,? and not necessarily because it?s the most Rammstein-like of the bunch ? although it is.

If you prefer your European metal with a slower-tempo and a Gothic progressive/doom feel, and are comfortable with ?Beauty & Beast? vocals (i.e. pretty female singer croons angelically, crusty male singer opts for the Cookie Monster approach), you can?t go wrong with Draconian?s new release Turning Season Within from Napalm Records. This Swedish outfit formed over a decade ago as satanic-themed death metal, then changed gear post-2000 toward a slower, moodier and more romantic sound, to their ultimate benefit.

Songwriter/vocalist Anders Jacobsson tackles themes of lost love, death, regret and more death, rendered exquisitely by female singer Lisa Johansson (who joined the band in 2002 for their first official album, Where Lovers Mourn) thanks to a creamy, full-toned voice enhanced by some beautiful harmonies. (Jacobsson handles the requisite demonic growls). The soundscape is supported by no-nonsense, slow doom riffs and wrapped in silky, elegant synth washes ? and the production, courtesy of Jens Bogren and David Castillo (who have also worked with Opeth), is top-notch. Although I?ve become increasingly tired of ?angel vs. devil? vocal trade-offs, occasionally a band reminds me of the qualities which drew me to genre pioneers Tristania back in the mid-'90s, when this style was fairly new. Draconian is one of these bands, and for the most part they manage to make that approach fresh.

I was impressed by nearly all of the tracks, starting with the dreamy, epic foundation of opening cut ?Seasons Apart.? The mood is generally consistent, conforming to a general theme of demonic love ballads ? an odd concept which thankfully works in this case ? but there?s a fairly wide emotional range across the songs. More introspective, lush-sounding works like ?Not Breathing? and ?Bloodflower? impress with sweeping string interludes, rich chord progressions and excellent vocals, but it?s the massive, thunderous funeral march of ?The Empty Stare? and the startlingly robust riffs of ?Earthbound? that linger in memory and invite repeat listening. ?The Failure Epiphany? reveals the obvious Opeth inspiration with its ? time signature, and a title that sounds more than a little like ?The Leper Affinity? from Blackwater Park. The only weak points come when Jacobsson becomes too self-consciously poetic in songs like ?Morphine Cloud? and spoken-word closer ?September Ashes,? but that?s a minor quibble for me, as the other tracks make Turning Season Within well worth your investment.

Be sure to check these pages again for part 2, where I?ll scoop you on the latest from Bay Area thrash icons Death Angel, the chaotic ecstasies of Britain?s Biomechanical, and the long-awaited new release from Swedish math-metal wizards Meshuggah. So stay tuned, kiddies ? the onslaught has just begun!