The Axe Has Fallen

•November 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

axe

Converge “Axe to Fall” (2009, Epitaph)

It has been a bit of a wait, but new Converge finally arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago.  Mr. Postman dropped off a nifty little package that contained the latest from the Massachusetts hardcore/metal/noise/whatever-the-fuck-else legends, Converge.  Even complete retards can bet their overflowing drool cups that Axe to Fall is some seriously mean shit.

For a band that has been operating for so long, touring relentlessly, and just generally walking around with a sense of badassery– it’s not hard to see how Converge might suffer a bit of burn out.  While I think the level of guest contributions on Axe to Fall is a bit too high, and can occasionally serve to dilute their ten-ton-laser-of-destruction-based approach, this album still sees the band forging onward, pushing into new territory.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

The album’s most discussed tracks, “Cruel Bloom” and “Wretched World” both feature guest spots.  Steve Von Till of SuperPomo favorite, Neurosis guests on the former, while Mookie Singerman of Genghis Tron guests on the latter.   These songs end up sounding a lot like the contributor’s respective bands, although “Cruel Bloom” has a bit of a weird Tom Waits/Man Man thing going on.  While these tracks are an interesting diversion, they don’t have the pull of the more punishing material on Axe to Fall.

Converge may be getting along in age, but they still flay and wear the majority of hardcore and metal bands’ skins for evening wear.  Take your pick– the brain-searing calculus outburst of  “Dark Horse,” the torrential downpour of vitriol on “Worms Will Feed,”  or the old-fashioned brutality of the title track.  The Converge that has battered and bruised us for so long is alive and well.

Axe to Fall is a much more interesting, abrasive, and generally enjoyable album than No Heroes.  Converge is to be applauded for continuing to push their sound in new directions that result in this album being their most diverse to date.  The diviersity comes at a price– Axe to Fall lacks the cohesion that made Jane Doe and You Fail Me hallmark albums for the collective. Axe to Fall may have more guests than a hip-hop album, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of 2009’s most notable albums, regardless of genre.

Buy it at Deathwish
www.convergecult.com

Bloody Fuckin’ Panda Summon Me Some DOOM

•September 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Bloody Panda / Summon (Profound Lore, 2009)

Bloody Panda is a band that has been ripping shit up for about a minute, so not too many people know about them. Rolling out of a secret New York underground sarcophagus constructed by the shadow government financed and founded by the Rockefellers in 1930, Bloody Panda’s droning funeral doom is as black as midnight on a moonless night. Their second full-length album Summon is out now on Profound Lore, so you should go buy it.  Buy a copy for your friends, too.  It doesn’t matter if they don’t like metal.

These are crushing death rattles from the caved-in chest of a goliath.  In desperation, blackened wings sprouting from the back of the shunned god, the straying feathers raining down plague and pestilence on man.  These grim waltzes drag unrelenting tension like ten tons of rock being hauled by a lone man with a rope tied to his waist.  Much like the 1980s New York electric death marchers Swans that precede them, Bloody Panda excels at crafting harrowing walls of low-end guitar destruction and evangelistic doomsaying.  The intensity never wavers even on songs like the 21-minute “Miserere,” where the unconventional, possessed howls and shrieks from Yoshiko Ohara claw their way through macabre keyboards and foundation-shaking guitar chords.

Summon builds upon Bloody Panda’s debut Pheromone, taking their ferocious-yet-somber doom expressions to even greater heights. The doom genre may be an increasingly crowded place these days, but Bloody Panda is in a tier of their own.  Highly recommended.

MP3: “Miserere” (9-minute excerpt)

Buy it @ Profound Lore

And Now for Something Completely Different…

•April 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

paranoid

Pulling Teeth “Paranoid Delusions/Paradise Illusions”
(2009, Deathwish Inc.)

This is quite a way to cleanse the palate after blogging about psych-drone for the better part of two weeks.  Although I haven’t been digging a lot of the more recent offerings from Deathwish, I still have tons of love for the label and many of the bands that call it home.  Pulling Teeth is an interesting case.   I’ve always liked the band, but I’ve never really felt like they were reaching their potential– until now.  On “Paranoid Delusions/Paradise Illusions” Pulling Teeth puts all of the pieces together to become so much more than just another hardcore band with Slayer solos.

Pulling Teeth’s previous album “Martyr Immortal” showed signs that the band was beginning to evolve beyond the confines of the hardcore genre.  “Paranoid Delusions/Paradise Illusions” makes the full transformation.  Although the band will still drop into uptempo thrashcore passages and fire off explosive guitar solos, there is a new focus on exploring the dynamics of sludge, prog, sampling, and even noise elements.  “Ritual” spends much of its time repeating a nasty doom riff and tends to skew into spaced-out textures in its closing moments.  Fans of the band’s previous works should find a lot to like about  “Bloodwolves,” which hits about as hard as a body flung onto the pavement from a speeding automobile.  Again demonstrating their maturation as a unit, Pulling Teeth reigns in the intensity, dropping the attack in favor of soaring guitar melodies to close the track.

The album closer “Paradise Illusions” demonstrates the biggest departure for Pulling Teeth.  A 9+ minute excursion through societal decay, this piece is probably the greatest moment to date for the band.  Beginning with nature samples and light, pitched-out synth gurgling, it’s pretty clear right away that this isn’t going to be like anything Pulling Teeth has done before.  Clean guitars and actual clean singing make their way into the picture, giving one the impression that things are going to go ape shit pretty soon– but they do not.  Pulling Teeth drops everything, careening the song into samples of human despair backed by somber bass guitar.  Suddenly, the piece collapses into a sludgy dirge, vocalist  Mike delivering apocalyptic premonitions until a final guitar solo emerges to burn the whole thing down.

“Paranoid Delusions/Paradise Illusions”  is a defining moment in the career of a young band. This is an album that vaults Pulling Teeth into the top tier of the Deathwish roster.  Although some will complain that the album is a bit on the short side, no one should let that deter them from hearing one of the best releases extreme music has to offer so far this year.  Recommended.

Listen to “Bloodwolves” on MySpace

Pulling Teeth Official Website

Hear more and purchase @ Deathwish Inc.

Natural Snow Buildings “Daughter of Darkness:” Part Five

•April 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

At last we have reached the end of our long journey.  Now five tapes deep, only two sidelong pieces remain of this once intimidating box.  The duo comprising Natural Snow Buildings, Gularte and Ameziane find closure in these final optimistic movements.

Side A on cassette five contains “Devil’s Fork,” which begins as a gentle piece of psych-drone filled with the same hope radiating from the tracks on cassette four.  Cleanly picked guitars are interspersed at the top of the mix, coasting along tiny waves of synth flutter, later giving way to delayed swipes of guitar wash.  Again, a feeling of a warm, yet bittersweet longing for the past is brought to life through these tones.  Natural Snow Buildings are not content to simply idle away the rest of the album wallowing in nostalgia.  The fading sun on the dusk suddenly explodes into a ball of fire with swirling guitars, tambourine clashes, and towering choral arrangements.  Although the proceedings become rather intense, we are pulled back away from the flames only to watch them burn out harmlessly.

Now we reach the end of the album– “The Invisibles.”  Opening with a more caustic nature than the last few tracks, the piece leans heavily on big drums and female chants.  Pulsing with spiritual enthusiasm– you could probably dance to this.  I wouldn’t recommend throwing it on a playlist for your next party though.  Unless your party happens to be on a burial mound where you and your friends smoke opium and read the Necronomicon.  Once the party is over, the track drops into a formless binge of guitar distortion before again being picked back up by periodic drum hits and jangling percussion.

It’s difficult to condense one’s thoughts on an album as expansive as “Daughter of Darkness.”  This box contains a huge emotional spectrum– moments of intense fear, regret, longing, and happiness are all drawn out through these tracks.  I can’t seem to shake the feeling that this album sounds like a companion piece to a great spiritual journey.  Along the way, we encounter our hopes, fears and dreams.  Although a lot is learned about the world around us, the greatest discoveries are internal.

I will probably never be able to listen to this album from start to finish in one sitting, but I have the utmost respect for what Natural Snow Buildings have accomplished with “Daughter of Darkness.”  To have the foresight and patience to construct such a coherent series of pieces that unfold over the course of six hours is quite a feat.  Well done– now how about a reissue?

Download “Daughter of Darkness” Cassette Five

Oh, and yes, this isn’t the last of “Daughter of Darkness.”  The band recently released a “Part V” despite actually being the 6th tape in this series.  Stay tuned for that one.

Natural Snow Buildings “Daughter of Darkness:” Part Four

•April 7, 2009 • 2 Comments

Somehow I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  After four hours of arctic climbs and dances with the dead, we are entering the final stirring movements of Natural Snow Buildings’ almost indescribably epic “Daughter of Darkness” box.  Two roughly half hour pieces comprise cassette four, which unsurprisingly takes us in a completely different direction than anything we have heard up to this point.

There was some question at the close of tape three that the oppressive atmosphere Natural Snow Buildings had spent the last hour or so crafting would continue to linger– that is not the case.  Cassette four opens with “Will You Die for Me,” a supremely calming, ambient drone piece that lifts the black clouds.  Introspective and gorgeous, this piece completely shifts the mood of “Daughter of Darkness” as the album enters its final stages.   Beautiful layers of synth casting themselves high into the bright blue sky.  There were times when I wished this song would not end.

Luckily, “Black Pastures” continues this  pastiche.  Still heavily reliant on lush synth texturing, this track adds vocal arrangements and some light percussive elements.  These vaporous drones recall pleasant memories of people and places lost to our past.  Waking to see the sun rise and realizing that at this moment in time, everything is exactly as it should be.  Simply moving.

Cassette four is a bit of a redemptive moment for “Daughter of Darkness.”  This sea change marks another stunning turn for the album, and remains another impressive component in an ambitious work that could easily teeter off its perch into lethargy.  This is arguably the best section of this five cassette box.

Only one part remains!

Download “Daughter of Darkness” Cassette Four

Natural Snow Buildings “Daughter of Darkness:” Part Three

•April 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

We reach the halfway point of this titanic album in today’s post.  Cassette three of “Daughter of Darkness” is the darkest portion of this box encountered up to this point.  Unlike tapes one and two, tape three consists solely of two sprawling pieces, a trend that will continue for the remainder of “Daughter of Darkness.”

Much like the beginnings of cassette two, cassette three opens with a bleak movement.  “Santa Sangre Part I & II” makes heavy use of percussion and chanting.  This track feels like a continuation of cassette two’s “Slaves for the After Life,” which I noted as sounding like a celebratory piece of honoring the dead.  There are no traditional guitar breaks or soothing melodies to be found here.  Natural Snow Buildings let the fires of their festival rage on until the flames expire and the ashes smolder.  Extended passages of guitar squall and persistent chanting carry the track to its conclusion.

The transition is smooth into “A Thousand Demons Invocation.”  This murky psych-folk giant uses its explosive loops of intense guitar wail to summon the dead we spent the last few songs celebrating.  Spires of guitar noise burst upwards from the the ground like the dead ravenously clawing their way out of their dirt prisons.  Once the dead have reclaimed the world of the living, they march.  That familiar percussion begins to take hold, and the guitar tapestries return to a more uniform approach.  “A Thousand Demons Invocation” is largely a straight guitar drone piece, flush with undulating waves of distortion and feedback.  Another standout piece.

It’s remarkable that after hours of music, Natural Snow Buildings can still surprise in the confines of a single album.  Cassette three’s enveloping darkness and deep psych-drone exploration manage to grip the listener in a different manner than we have seen on previous tapes.  Ameziane and Gularte continue to trudge forward, challenging and surprising.  They have dropped us deep into an oppressive, moribund space– now we must see if they are willing to help us find salvation.

Part four will be coming soon.

Download “Daughter of Darkness” Cassette Three

Natural Snow Buildings “Daughter of Darkness:” Part Two

•April 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Welcome back for part two of my exploration into the latest hyper-dense release from Natural Snow Buildings, “Daughter of Darkness”  The second tape in a mythical beast greater in stature than the icy peaks climbed on cassette one.  If you’re planning on spacing out to this one, make sure you have plenty of time to spare– the first piece alone extends beyond forty-three minutes.

Ameziane and Gularte open cassette two by twisting the limbs off of the traditional folk piece “Curare,” which closed the first cassette.  Again showing their prowess for building and breaking sounds, they open “Her Face is Not Her Real Face” with a heavy section of acoustic guitar chords and beautiful female vocal chants.  The French duo slowly deconstruct their glorious monument, pulling away each element and filtering it back through broken but still every bit as breathtaking as it once was whole.   We’re only 1/3 of the way through this track.

Reassembly.  Now sullen and wrought with tragedy.  Natural Snow Buildings pick up these fragments and piece them together so precisely it is as if they were never totally dismantled in the first place.  The lovely vocals come back and so do those ominous chords.  Minimal tribal rhythms now accompany the piece, which is seemingly gathering so much weight that it feels as if we may sink into the ground along with it.  Natural Snow Buildings begin to lift the weight before it becomes too much to bear, transforming the track to an exercise in tonal meditation.

Such a stunning piece is not easy to follow, but “Body Double” does an admirable job.  Melodious, conventional guitar-picking and warm drones give it a much more inviting feel than the darker tones featured on the previous track.  Choral work, free form drum and tambourine are added, giving the track an almost overwhelming amount of layers.  A kaleidoscope of swirling, sunny day psychedelia.

After being warmed by “Body Double,” we are again submerged in darkness  on “Slaves for the After Life.”  With a title like that, you had to know twee-pop wasn’t going to be hitting your ears.  More of the same plodding, heavier drones and vocal arrangements that were focal points of “Her Face is Not Her Real Face.”  While the foundations may be similar, the directions are very much divergent.  Natural Snow Buildings quickly drape these morose drones over top of pounding drums and supplement their female vocal sections with male choral sections.  With it’s stomping and slinking percussion this piece feels like a celebration of the damned.  Similar to tape one, tape two closes with a gorgeous piece of more traditional folk music.  Like much of tape two,  focus is again placed on female chorus use and minimal guitar.

Cassette two really sees Natural Snow Buildings finding their footing.  The delicate balance between the serene and the macabre that emerges as a central theme on this tape makes for a captivating listening experience.  Somehow this tape manages to be even more arresting in its imagery and composition than the already-stunning  tape one.

Remember to check back for part three!

Download Natural Snow Buildings “Daughter of Darkness:” Tape Two