By Gregory S. Burkart
If we managed to whet your appetite for razor-edged metal with a look at the latest offerings from Draconian, Emigrate and Type O Negative, then strap yourself in for the next round of major havoc, as we take a look at more March releases on the extreme end of the spectrum, guaranteed to rock your skull into tiny fragments.
Having reformed in 2001 after a 10-year separation and warming up with 2004's modest success The Art of Dying, those beloved icons of Bay Area Thrash known as Death Angel ? who rose through the ranks alongside Metallica and Exodus (and whose bootleg tapes passed from pocket-to-pocket) ? joined up at Dave Grohl's Studio 606 last year to churn out their fifth album Killing Season, which weighed in this month at eleven impeccably-produced, incendiary tracks ranking among the band's best work since the release of The Ultra-Violence nearly two decades ago.
The production has a warm, analog feel despite big-studio gloss, and never sounds overly processed (over-production is a thrash no-no), despite being sonically far removed from the band's underground demo-circulating days in the mid-'80s. The guitar tonalities called forth from the guys here cover a wide spectrum, with precise rhythm and biting attack. The arrangements are intricate but tight; lead guitarist Rob Cavestany asserts his well-deserved godlike reputation for precision chops, and Mark Osqueda's vocals cut through the mix like a finely-honed blade. This is pure late-night, jump-on-the-bed air guitar fodder?
These cuts are all pretty much golden, but there are definite high points: the opening one-two punch of ?Lord of Hate? and ?Sonic Beatdown? rains flames from on high with truly awesome riff action, and a particularly amazing solo from Cavestany is the chief highlight. ?Soulless? takes me back to the band?s ?80s heyday, ?Steal the Crown? is pure old-school rock ?n? roll at its finest, and ?When Worlds Collide? features excellent vocal contributions from nearly the entire band. But it?s the minimalist rhythm-guitar structure and a truly demented filter-sweeping lead that makes ?God vs. God? one my all-time favorites, despite being a slight departure from the band?s classic form. Decide for yourself if this is a good thing, but I think it?s just right. Like all the cuts on Killing Season, it?s a sign Death Angel has recaptured their former glory without simply re-treading their past successes.
Also with plenty of talent and adept technical wizardry on tap, but a serious dearth of discipline when it comes to uniting their chaotically disparate musical elements, UK-based metal outfit Biomechanical nevertheless garnered quite a bit of positive attention with their previous release (their second album overall), The Empires of the Worlds. The sheer audacity issued forth by lead member/vocalist John K (aka Yiannis Koutslelinis) is worthy of respect ? after all, he somehow managed to put this album together despite the departure of virtually every other member of the band. With the assistance of a new lineup (featuring ex-Dragonforce bassist Adrian Lambert), John continued his apocalyptic metal blitzkrieg unabated with Cannibalised, which continues a loosely conceptual trilogy begun with Empires. Confusing, chaotic, exasperating... call Biomechanical what you will, but at the end of the day you'll have to admit their work is certainly not boring.
Cannibalised features a production style more than a little reminiscent of Strapping Young Lad (but lacking the sardonic humor of SYL frontman/producer Devin Townsend), particularly in its wide sonic range (pushed far into the extremes of the left-right channels), saturated reverb, monolithic orchestra sweeps, frequent time-changes and pneumatic-drill percussion ? but especially obvious in John K's schizophrenic vocal style, which darts from a Rob Halford power-metal falsetto to an enraged snarl. Genres collide violently throughout the album's 48 minutes ? everything from early '80s shred-happy arena rock to grimy southern-fried metal to Nevermore-style doom riffs ? and tend to spontaneously combust despite all attempts to fuse them.
Still, if you're open to being throttled about the face with a bubbling strew of disparate elements and themes, provided they're expressed with musical skill and verve, there's actually quite a thrill listening to these tracks, and I have to confess a guilty attraction to any music executed with this level of overblown audacity. The real challenge is in trying to pinpoint specific tracks when you're listing to music that crosses so many genre lines at the same time ? and at breakneck speed ? as it becomes hard to tell where one song ends and the next begins. But not to worry, I'm here for you.
I?m particularly excited about the arrival of Meshuggah?s crushing new album Obzen, and if you?re brave enough to tackle the mind-bending sounds issued forth from these Swedish purveyors of white-hot math metal, then you?re in for a treat.
Notorious for meticulously interlocking alternate rhythm patterns (courtesy of drummer/songwriter Thomas Haake), rapidly-evolving riff structures, impossibly low guitar tones (thanks to custom-made 8-string guitars), and the enraged, harsh vocal style of frontman Jens Kidman, Meshuggah first caught the ears of mainstream audiences on The Osbournes as the band whose CD Jack played to sonically assault some obnoxious neighbors. This reference was featured on the packaging of the band?s 2002 CD Nothing, and sales got a sizable boost in the US. Their profile continued to rise after some high-profile North American tours, and they gained prominent placement on Fuse?s Uranium (before the channel went emo) and MTV?s Headbanger?s Ball, despite some fairly esoteric creative moves ? such as the EP ?I? and the album Catch Thirty-Three, each of which consisted of a single unbroken track.
Their sixth full-length release, Obzen continues the band?s exploration of existentialist and metaphysical themes about human identity and alternate realities, but this time moves slightly away from their mathematically precise style and lyrical abstraction, towards a more traditional form? for them, anyway. To those whose ears are unaccustomed to Meshuggah?s trademark style, this music will still be a tough nut to crack ? but ultimately worth exploring.
Many tracks on this go-round indicate a trend toward speedier buzzsaw riffs, but with some surprising dynamic dips in mood into swirling, ambient psychedelia and progressive rock-style soloing from lead axe Fredrik Thorendal ? ?Bleed? is a great example of this wider sonic canvas. There?s plenty of 8-string action in the rhythm guitars, diving deep into the brown tones on the title track (where the guitars are so low I wouldn?t be able to find the key if it weren?t for Dick Lovgren?s bassline) and the truly evil-sounding ?Lethargica.? Thorendal does some elaborate, almost robotic neck-tapping effects in ?This Spiteful Snake,? and Lovgren?s bass pattern threatens to split the floor at the midpoint and end of ?Pineal Gland Optics.?
By far the best track ? and one of the band?s finest moments ? is the epic, 9? -minute ?Dancers to a Discordant System,? the hardest-hitting on the album in terms of weight, intensity, and dynamics. Kidman?s vocals go from a hiss to a scream, and Thorendal?s insanely dancing, ever-busy lead lines weave razor-thin threads throughout the song?s evolving forms. Classic stuff.
Although I?m still partial to what is arguably their masterwork Future Breed Machine, this is still a step in the right creative direction ? embracing some more classic song structures while losing none of the intricately calculated menace that is this group?s calling card. But don?t take my word for it ? if you?re quick, you can preview all nine tracks at their Myspace page.