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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brutally good, as usual, January 17, 2011
This review is from: Paracletus (MP3 Music)
With "Paracletus," mysterious avant-garde black metallers Deathspell Omega further secure their position as one of the most unique and adventurous of metal bands. The terrific "Fas" remains a remarkable achievement, but it was perhaps a stylistic dead end--repeating that murderous onslaught could prove wearying. Thus, "Paracletus" takes a slightly more accessible approach, as was predicted with the "Chaining the Katechon" EP. There is more midpaced material here, the drumming is not quite as suffocatingly dense, and DsO even thrown in a few memorable vocal lines. Of course, this is only the mildest mainstreaming of their sound--anyone not interested in extreme metal would find this an unbearable cacophony. Thus, the heart of the band remains, and this is still an extremely sophisticated and meticulous bit of extreme metal. Deathspell Omega is simply a band without peers--no one else even tries to do what they do. Few could likely pull it off.

"Paracletus," as the final chapter of their trilogy, is another conceptual work best viewed and consumed as a whole. Thematically, it seems to describe the apocalypse of their theological system, with the world crumbling to a lifeless waste w/o any later renewal. Or maybe not, it's hard to say, but, whatever the case, the lyrics have an overwrought theatricality that matches the extremity of the instrumentation. The music itself proves to be the most grandiose they've written since SMRC, particularly in the post-metal interludes that can build to a symphonic intensity. (Some have called this a distillation of their various approaches, a reasonable description.) The purely metallic material uses a layered production style that gives the bass a prominent role and changes the general feel of the album. The more modest tempos give the rhythm section room to breathe, where the drums perform unconventional and faintly tribal patterns, while the bass is appropriately solid, providing an even foundation for the oddly shaped and accented drums and guitars. (The drumming isn't, perhaps, quite as terrific as on "Fas," but the anonymous drummer is still of the first caliber.) Similarly, the guitarwork moves more towards formless dissonance and shrieking Gorgutsian noise. As a whole, this is more atmospheric than their recent material, that is to say, atmospheric during the intense moments along with the somewhat more toned down material. That said, DsO leap into pure "Fas" style mayhem more than occasionally, particularly during "Phosphene" and "Devouring Famine."

Any conceptual work needs to maintain momentum continuously, and "Paracletus" has no major weak points. "Wings of Predation" provides a strong, forceful opening of DsO-standard brutality and ear-shredding guitars, while the following "Abscission" showcases their more mid-paced but equally dense approach. (The latter even have some quite memorable vocal lines.) The ten-minute pair "Dearth" and "Phosphene" are an album centerpiece, and contain some of their most rapid and effective alternations between post-metal minimalism and the most purely black metal style guitarwork of theirs in recent memory. DsO also save some surprises for the second half, with the surprisingly groove-oriented and straightforward "Have You Beheld the Fevers?" and the magnificent, nearly instrumental closer "Apokatastasis Panton," which provides a triumphant mix of black metal and post-metal sound along with being a pitch perfect conclusion to the album.

As for downsides, well, the artwork isn't up to their standards. (These are high standards, as "Fas" has perhaps my favorite art of any album.) Otherwise this is another intense, detailed, intelligent and impeccably technical release from the masters. Check it out.

14 used & new from $0.60

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not much else like it, December 15, 2010
This review is from: Danzig (Audio CD)
Though grand assertions of personal malevolence are hardly rare in the metal world, few approach the declaration in a manner quite like Glenn Danzig does here. With his third major band's debut, Glenn's punk roots have disappeared almost entirely, replaced by a sparse, blues metal sound that places Danzig's remarkably forceful vocals front and center. Though the punk world is not known for producing first-rate vocalists, Danzig's marvelous work here places him on the list of the great hard rock/metal singers. Danzig's effort here rather reminds of a more gruff version of the other pseudonymous metal legend whose name begins with D, the sadly departed Ronnie James Dio. While the instrumental aspects of each band are very different, the singers share a similar appeal--both are extraordinarily expressive and fill the potentially ludicrous music with genuine passion. All the credit, however, does not belong to the vocals alone, and the sinisterly minimalist instrumental attack matches provides a fitting base for Danzig's theatrical musings.

For many listeners, myself included, "Danzig" may not make that strong of an impact upon first listen. Few widely released albums have a more basic, demo-like production/sound: J. Christ's lone guitar has a plain, not terribly heavy distortion and the rhythm section is strictly utilitarian. Initially it all sounds a bit the same, but soon the vocal hooks ingratiate themselves and the instrumental subtleties are revealed, all while a uniform and quite effective atmosphere is maintained. Though everything here qualifies as a kind of atmospheric blues metal, Danzig and company ring a few twists from the formula, as in "Am I Demon," which brings a slightly punkish energy to the album, the somewhat gothic "End of Time," which predicts some of their later work, and "She Rides," which has a kind of lithe sleaziness distinct from the other tracks. ("She Rides" is apparently a stripper favorite, which comes as no surprise.) The album as a whole, however, is dominated by midpaced, catchy rockers like "Twist of Cain," "Mother," and the Zeppelin-esque closer "Evil Thing," all of which have a quality vocal hook and powerful main riff containing the best of Christ's back-to-basics style. The production also hides a few details that add immensely to the album, such as the barely audible backing/harmony vocals that pop up sporadically, the female choir that emerges in a few choruses and even a little bit of horn in "Soul on Fire." (One of the best tracks, by the way.) The album does lose a little momentum as it progresses, with weakest tracks "Possession" and "The Hunter" coming in the second half, but it never truly bogs down and has no definite filler.

It is, perhaps, best that there aren't too many other albums out there quite like "Danzig." Even the rather similar "Danzig II" has a richer, somewhat more dynamic sound. But, as a one shot deal, the kind of hyper-minimalism displayed here is quite effective. Check it out.

The Square
The Square
DVD ~ David Roberts
Offered by Paint it Orange
Price: $6.38
60 used & new from $0.98

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Things Fall Apart, August 26, 2010
This review is from: The Square (DVD)
Noir films obsess over unintended consequences, on the destruction that may proceed from the slightest failures of foresight or from simple chance. This notion is best illustrated in the literary forebear "The Maltese Falcon," where Spade reflects on Flitcraft, a seemingly normal, happy man who one day abandoned his job and family after nearly being crushed by a falling beam. The truth, Flitcraft realized, was that the seeming solidity of his world was a lie--all could be lost in an instant for no reason at all. So, he abandoned this world, abandoned regularity and left it all behind. In Nash Edgerton's feature debut "The Square," Raymond Yale (David Roberts), an ethically dubious construction manager, decides to begin anew as well, not for any philosophical reasons, but rather because he is tired of his wife or, at least, much more interested in the lovely young Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom [a ridiculous name, even by Dutch standards]), a neighbor from across the cove in their small Australian town. Raymond would actually prefer to simply keep seeing Carla on the side, but Carla wants to escape her loutish, criminal husband Smithy (Anthony Hayes), and gives Raymond an ultimatum. Raymond finally relents, and they decide to fund their escape by relieving Smithy of a few hundred thousand ill-gotten dollars, and covering their theft by hiring the shady Billy (Joel Edgerton, co-writer and brother of Nash) to burn the Smith house while the town collectively takes part in Christmas festivities. This seemingly straightforward plan, however, goes horrifically awry and, in a vision rather more moralistic than that of the Darwinian-minded Hammett, Raymond and Carla soon find that the beams are falling with disturbing regularity. Many viewers will be incredulous that Murphy's Law could be applied with such speed and merciless consistency, but this is part of the film's fun, seeing how everything falls apart so completely. More significantly, while chance is clearly against all those involved, the human motivations remain clear and believable. They repeatedly fall into traps, but we can see how and why they wandered into them.

"The Square" is a somewhat difficult film to review, as the reviewer must reveal little. Many have compensated by comparing it to earlier works, particularly "Blood Simple." This is indeed apt even beyond the obvious fraternal debut collaboration on a severely noir-oriented thriller angle. Significantly, Edgerton and co. take a Coen-esque hyper-cinematic and slightly postmodern approach (though in a non-winking manner), reinforce the drama via delicious black humor, and even the sparse solo piano that often drives the score reminds of "Blood Simple"'s minimalist soundtrack. The Australian setting, however, makes "The Square" stand apart somewhat from its antecedents. Though perhaps I'm alone in this, my exposure to Australian film have given me a quasi-mythical view of the country as being somehow more brutal and raw then the rest of the Anglosphere. This is no doubt hyperbolic if not an utter fabrication, but this vision is reinforced and expanded by "The Square," where this Australian town seems a sort of grotesque recasting of the stereotypical image of the American south, filled with steamy intrigue and hardened rednecks bearing antisocial hair. (The mullet budget on this film must've been enormous.) Thus, it is appropriate and familiar, yet still somehow new. Similarly, Edgerton expands the visual palette, mixing standard noir high-contrast and emphasis on night, shadow and rain with a dusty, gray-brown color scheme that oozes sleaze and treachery. (Indeed the film is so smudged and muted looking that I wondered if the theater had turned down the bulb, though viewing the DVD proved this was not the case.) Despite the low-budget and 16mm film stock, however, the film is quite smooth and professional, filled with terse, hard-edged performances and edited down to a sharp, tightly knit narrative. (This efficiency is made even more evident after viewing the 25 minutes of deleted scenes on the DVD.) The film is not exactly fast-paced, but it has an unrelenting intensity to it--everything seems to matter, and does. (That said, the film still has the odd little touches that make a movie stand out, such as the peculiar subplot about the adulterous pair's similarly enamored pet dogs.)

The main criticism viewers will have of "The Square" is from a human interest angle. There are no heroes, as Raymond is a cheater and corrupt businessman (he receives kickbacks from contractors) even before they embark on the scheme, while Carla is little more than an adulterous cipher. (Quite an attractive one, though. Mentioned that before did I? May well do so again before the review is done.) Though I can't deny that Raymond is a bad guy, I'll admit to sympathizing with him. While films of this sort often suggest that venal sins lead to those of a mortal nature, Raymond doesn't really become more malevolent as the film progresses, but merely has the world collapse around him. As soon as the arson goes awry and Raymond begins receiving mysterious cards demanding cash for silence (but about what? He has many secrets), he is paralyzed, hopeless. Other reviewers have compared the film to a nightmare, the sort where you perform some terrible deed and spend the rest of the dream awaiting and fearing your punishment. (And, of course, failing at simple tasks and having absolutely everything go wrong is another common dream theme.) The resemblance is indeed uncanny, and the dreadful sensation it imbues draws me deep into Raymond's plight even if, objectively speaking, he seems to be asking for some sort of rebuke. (Many others, however, receive rather unwarranted retribution.)

I've been pretty cagey here by necessity, so I'll throw in a few honorifics. In short, "The Square" is the best thriller since "No Country For Old Men" and perhaps the best thrillers of the 00s apart from that film. Discover it now before the other cult film aficionados find it and be hipper than the rest.

Grade: A
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2014 12:24 AM PST

The Final Frontier
The Final Frontier
Offered by B68 Solutions Limited
Price: $11.35
53 used & new from $5.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 7/10. The Maiden we know, August 26, 2010
This review is from: The Final Frontier (Audio CD)
While "The Final Frontier" marks the reformed Iron Maiden's second decade, 1995's "The X-Factor" remains the stylistic template for Harris and co. Though many obsess over Dickinson's absence, "The X-Factor" also introduced a darker, slower, somewhat more cumbersome IM that had been hinted at on "Fear of the Dark." All of the slow builds, extra-extended middle sections and more grinding, less galloping rhythms that have dominated latter day Maiden found full voice on Bayley's debut, and with each new release it becomes more evident that this is simply how Maiden writes music now. There's nothing, for sure, wrong with this formula and it has engendered many successes, but it also provides a muted effect--lengthier, more ponderous songs combined with less memorable songwriting means less bang for your buck and less enjoyment per minute. Still, while every recent Maiden album and "The Final Frontier" in particular could use some judicious editing and perhaps a few infusions of energy, the core songwriting remains pretty solid, with enough soaring choruses and searing guitar lines to make "The Final Frontier" more than worth a listen for most metalheads.

"The Final Frontier"'s sci-fi artwork is gaudy and cheesy even by Maiden standards, but this goofy cover does hint at the new flavors found in this iteration. Most noticeable, if not most interesting, is the futuristic, vaguely industrial flavor found in the introduction "Satellite 15" and continued in the more airy and spacious "Starblind." Still, these new hints are mere garnish on the template. Indeed, "Satellite 15," while somewhat interesting, could stand to be chopped or, better, given its own track to prevent it from dragging down the more immediate material of the album's first half. Epic heavy though the album is, the listener is treated to a number of more concentrated efforts in the opening half, with the straight forward, catchy title track and the rather brisk if somewhat faceless "The Alchemist." Best however, are the first single "El Dorado," a soaring galloper of the first-rate (though needlessly bloated by a minute of so), and the magnificent ballad "Coming Home." (The latter has perhaps Dickinson's finest vocal performance of the last decade.)

The second half, however, is wall-to-wall epics, with the shortest track coming in near 8 minutes. I, surely, have nothing against metal epics, but they must be used more sparingly. That said, the overall songwriting steps up and every track is interesting, though not, perhaps, 100% consistent. (See the tonally exotic but somewhat meandering "Isle of Avalon" and "The Man Who Would Be King," which is Maiden's definitive "fun 6-ish minute track needlessly expanded to epic length.) Most immediately striking is the aforementioned "Starblind," with a tense, fierce vocal performance from Dickinson and numerous spiraling leads to match the jagged, off-kilter riffing. "The Talisman," however, is the best track on the album, which, after the acoustic intro, leaps into a "Ghost of the Navigator" epic rocker mode and keeps pushing for the final 7 minutes. Finally, we get a bit more distinctive flavor in the folk-tinged closer "When the Wild Wind Blows." This is a quintessential piece of modern Maiden--an 11 minute epic that builds with extreme care and never really jumps out at the listener. And yet, with care one kind find plenty of stirring vocal melodies and a smoothly, calmly varying mood that makes the track more than worth your time.

At bottom, whether one enjoys "The Final Frontier" is a question of listener fatigue. Some Maiden fans have wearied of the band's current approach and somewhat diminished songwriting abilities, and I doubt "The Final Frontier" will win them back. However, if you've found the last decade or so to be worthwhile, "The Final Frontier" will likely give you something more to enjoy.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2010 1:13 PM PDT

Humanoids from the Deep (Roger Corman's Cult Classics)
Humanoids from the Deep (Roger Corman's Cult Classics)
DVD ~ Doug McClure
Price: $16.98
31 used & new from $12.00

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh fish, August 4, 2010
It's tough to believe that "Humanoids From the Deep" isn't more of a cult item. After having heard about it for years but not caring to shell out big bucks for the out of print DVD I finally caught it on IFC and was pretty much blown away. Few films display such a goofy, straight faced audacity, and while it loses some impact on repeated viewing there still isn't a lot out there quite like it. It's a little on the slow side, I'll admit, but damn does it deliver in the end and has just enough spice through the early going to keep you watching. Mandatory viewing for all horror buffs.

Normally I'd delve a bit into plot and character and so forth, but I'll keep that to a minimum. Suffice it to say that in a small Northwestern town they've been screwing with nature and now there're some nasty salmon-men with an insatiable lust for human females. (The humanoids also kill people too, pretty much just for the hell of it.) There's also a bit of "Jaws" style conspiracy and some pro-Indian material to bolster the film's environmentalist credentials, but none of this matters much. (It does seem to take the faintly superstitious environmentalist message more seriously than most of your "revenge of nature" flicks, though this ain't saying much as most of them clearly didn't give a damn about such stuff.) More important than the specific plot is the rather pieced together nature of the film. As has been documented extensively and is rather obvious from merely watching the film, Roger Corman and New World Productions re-worked it somewhat after director Barbara Peeters finished the major shooting. Thus we have a peculiar mix of Peeters' silly but still self-serious eco-horror pic and Corman and second unit director James Sbardellati's more teen- and sex-oriented exploitation horror. These elements actually play off one another very well, with the spontaneous and random scenes of grue and nudity being all the more striking and amusing in contrast to the sometimes unrelated narrative. And when it all comes together in the orgy of violence at the film's climax, well, it's quite the sight. (And the coda, which most of you probably already know about but which I will not reveal, is deliriously ridiculous/derivative. It contains quite possible the least convincing hand puppet in all of film.)

Most significant, however, are the monsters themselves. They're an early effort from FX genius Rob Bottin and while philistines will complain that they aren't convincing (such people have no concept of art), they represent a trio of the most endearing rubber suit monsters ever to grace the screen. (We've got one basic monster, one with a tail and one with extra long arms.) Considering the limited budget they are quite impressively detailed, some of the slimiest, bumpiest fish monsters ever conceived. The choreography and motion of the monsters is somewhat more limited (they mostly just kinda bear hug their victims to death), but the suits themselves are good enough to compensate for such limitations. And as for the most controversial element, i.e. the monsters raping of mostly naked women, well, this is absolutely hilarious. The humor doesn't have a lot to do with rape per se, but rather the stunning effect of presenting this taboo event in such an absurd manner. I could go on about why being deeply offended by such a display makes you an uptight moron, but those who believe this are pretty impervious logic, so what's the point? (Reasoning is highly phallic and the Goddess doesn't approve it in the least, don't ya know?) Anyway, the film came out 30 years ago, so the massive cultural damage it generated via the depiction of rubber-suited men grinding against scantily clad females has already occurred. All we can do is pick up the pieces and try to restore the shattered lives.

Anyway, though the exploitation elements are key, the other angles are better than you might think. The acting isn't too bad (though lead Ann Turkel sometimes mangles her oft ludicrous dialogue) and Peeters' direction is competent if somewhat flat, at least until the final massacre. The film runs a scant 77 or so minutes minus the credits, so you don't have enough time to get bogged down in the surrounding material even if it, again, doesn't totally come alive until the last act. There's enough blood and monsters and molesting in those last 20 minutes for a half dozen mediocre exploitation films, however, and that's what really counts.

Finally, this new Shout Factory DVD seems to be of pretty high quality. It's extended ever so slightly (though the added decapitation is pretty unimpressive) and looks pretty decent for such an old and cheap film. I dunno how it matches up to the older versions, but they aren't readily available now anyway.

Again, an exploitation horror classic. Not to be missed.

Grade: A-
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 9, 2010 8:04 PM PDT

5 used & new from $36.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best metal debuts ever, May 20, 2010
This review is from: Melissa (Audio CD)
Though short-lived in their first incarnation, Danish metallers Mercyful Fate had an indelible impact on the metal world, releasing two of the finest metal LPs of the first half of the 80s. Though initially most famous for front man King Diamond's ludicrous satanic posturing, the musical achievements of "Melissa" and "Don't Break the Oath" remain remarkable long after the lyrics have become comically dated. With "Melissa" MF pushed on the innovations of late 70s Judas Priest, adding even greater theatricality, intensity and sonic detail to the intricate twin-guitar attack plus schizophrenic, octave-hopping vocals pioneered by Halford and co. This kind of overblown metallic theater isn't for everyone, but MF do it about as well as one could hope.

"Melissa" comes crashing out the gate with "Evil," an all-time metal classic. This one highlights all of the bands strengths, with myriad crunching riffs and some impressive melodic leads buttressing Diamond's delirious vocal exercises, where he snarls and shrieks with abandon. (The lyrics to this one are delightful too.) The songwriting here is consistently riff-oriented (in contrast to much Diamond solo material), which means Diamond's wild vox must change inexplicably as he fits his lines into the dense material. (See the epic, shifting "Satan's Fall," where Diamond includes catchy line after line despite the ever changing, linear structure.) While Diamond would later emphasize his falsetto range and lower snarl, here we see much more of his more conventional range, more of a straight, classic metal voice. (This is another particular strength, as Diamond's weird vox are most interesting in contrast to more normal singing.) To match Diamond's vox, MFs instrumental section mixes it up nicely as well, sometimes displaying a taste for atmospherics, as in the moodier, even gentle title track, and the terrific gothic middle break to the otherwise propulsive "Into the Coven." Despite the generally proggy approach, they occasionally cut down on the sophistication to deliver a more straight forward track, as in the amusing "Curse of the Pharaohs" and the, dare I say it, sonically rather commercial "Black Funeral." (This is most memorable for the lines "All hail Satan! / Yes, hail Satan!" just in case anyone had yet to discern Diamond's position regarding Satan.) Most significantly, none of these 7 tracks would remotely qualify as filler, each delivering both instrumentally and vocally.

All in all, "Melissa" remains a metal classic, and mandatory listening for all metalheads. Check it out.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 15, 2010 2:43 AM PDT

World Without End
World Without End
4 used & new from $20.94

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sonic excess in its purest form, April 30, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: World Without End (Audio CD)
This is exactly what "true" black metal should sound like. Lotsa the BM bands I hear aren't really all that intense--buzzing bee guitars, cardboard drums, "oh dear I've got a tummy ache" vox. "VVorld VVithout End" is just insanely heavy. The guitars are screaming. Screaming. The drums aren't the most sophisticated thing in the world, but they've got punch and don't rely on the not even particularly fast blasting that dominates some influential records. (Transilvanian Hunger, if you didn't guess.) And Drakh's vox are insane, easily the best I've ever heard on a BM album, perhaps the best on any extreme metal album. About a quarter of it is just wordless screaming, though his conventional, distorted rasp is first rate too. All taken together, this is some of the most ferocious, unrelenting metal I've heard.

This album is not about songwriting, though they do mix it up between hyper-speed blasting and some midpaced stuff. Oddly enough, it most reminds me of "Reek of Putrefaction." Not that they sound very similar, but that they're carried by pure noise. Flatout aural violence is the attraction. Still, individual tracks stand out. Opener "Eden Belovv" starts with perhaps the strongest riff on the album, while "VVytchdance" manages too pound away at the same crunchy, midpaced riff for about an eternity w/o getting old. (If it's truly intense enough you can get away with that.) "Ascent From Ghoulgotha" has the tiniest scraps of melody in the middle section, and the title track is a true endurance test. (I mean that in the best way possible.) 16 straight minutes of pounding, black metal madness. You wouldn't think they could up the ante at this point, but they pull it off.

This album is simply monstrous. Highly recommended.

12 used & new from $7.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warning: The Arctopus may take your sanity, April 30, 2010
This review is from: Skullgrid (Audio CD)
With "Skullgrid," New York-based band Behold . . . the Arctopus take tech metal to its furthest extreme. Unencumbered by vocals or conventional notions of melody and structure, BtA create one of the most maddeningly dense and chaotic metal albums ever, leaving landmark works like "Calculating Infinity" and "Obscura" completely in the dust. Compositions swirl, the instruments seemingly chasing one another, moving from unison to harmony to call and response to counterpoint spontaneously, running down blind alleys, turning back without warning, without much repetition or obvious sense. Clocking in at not much over half an hour, this metallic jazz explosion refuses to slow down, to back down, to give the listener any quarter. In short, it is awesome, in both senses.

If you're even reading this you probably already know of BtA unconventional use of a Warr guitar to go with the usual electric guitar and drum kit. This combo gives them a unique sound beyond their unusual compositions, with even the lower end of the Warr being brighter and vaguely futuristic sounding when compared to a bass, and the absence of vox/regular bass gives the mix more room to breathe. Though they, of course, don't limit themselves to the one Warr and electric, the songwriting works substantially on the interplay between Marston's Warr and Lerner's electric, with phrases bouncing back forth, being picked up and completed in an interplay so dense few metal duos would even fantasize about attempting it. That said, Charlie Zeleny's drumming is perhaps the most striking element. While tech metal drummers often have an enormous amount of musical ability to go with a by the book style, Zeleny is truly a one of a kind. This is partially the production--"Skullgrid" has unquestionably the most explosive drum sound I've ever heard. (The snare is simply apocalyptic.) When Marston and Lerner slow it down a bit, Zeleny can almost be guaranteed to still lay out a cacophonous din of death metal blasting or fusionesque snare abuse. He is simply devastating, though he has, sadly, left the band now.

Perhaps most notably, BtA still manage some surprisingly varied songwriting. After the mindbogglingly elaborate throat clearing that is the title track, BtA launch into "Canada," the most accessible comp here, for what that's worth, with a surprisingly pretty, chiming middle section interrupting the jerking madness that dominates the track. Conversely "Of Cursed Womb" is perhaps the least accessible track, with a repeated lead fingering exercise contrasting some of the most percussive, pulverizing rhythm work, while "Scepters" provides the purest, heaviest metallic aggression on the album. While they aren't much for melody, BtA do have a sense for atmospherics. Oddball epic "You Are Number Six" cuts down on the pure technicality to present a mix of Neurosis-style post metal and Weakling-esque epic BM before guitar lunatic Mick Barr throws in 30 notes a second solo in the frenetic final minutes. In somewhat the same vein, "Some Mist" centers on a mass of chiming, reverberating notes that create a truly unsettling mood before launching into typically labyrinthine, maddening jazz-metal licks. And then you have the semi-epic closer "Transient Exuberance," which manages to combine pretty much all of the above. Every track truly does have a distinct personality, even if all falls somewhere on the "manical cacophony" region of the musical spectrum.

"Skullgrid," of course, has a fairly specialized audience, and even many tech fans may conclude that they take things too far. This was, perhaps, my initial reaction--when I first listened to this about 2 ˝ years ago I was pretty intrigued, but wasn't sure how well it would hold up. Would, once the novelty wore off, the songs ever actually sink in? For me they did, and I'm somewhat surprised to say that I now find this to be among my favorite tech-metal albums. At the very least, every techhead owes it to himself (definitely himself) to give this at least one listen, to see what their limit is. Cause if they have one, this probably crosses it.

Option Paralysis
Option Paralysis
Price: $9.15
47 used & new from $1.00

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another decade, another brilliant DEP album, March 23, 2010
This review is from: Option Paralysis (Audio CD)
With "Option Paralysis," The Dillinger Escape Plan, one of extreme metal's most unpredictable groups, release a somewhat predictable album. Though it contains refinements and slight variations on their sound, there isn't much here that one couldn't imagine on a previous release. As a raving fanboy for the last 8 or so years, I would hardly want DEP to radically alter their sound, mind you, but there's little use denying that they are currently filling in and adding color to their niche, rather than truly expanding it. Fortunately, other aspects that remain from prior releases are the impeccable musicianship and an unsurpassed songwriting sense for a technical band. DEP have here, more than on "Miss Machine" or "Ire Works," achieved a balance between the kinetic, rhythmically baffling avant-garde jazz-metal of "Calculating Infinity" with their more melodic and industrial/electronic influenced side. All this makes "Option Paralysis" a first-rate summation of DEPs career thus far, and while I'm not yet prepared to ascertain its relative position within the DEP canon, I am ready to declare it another blistering, 5 star masterpiece. (That's 4 in a row, for those keeping score . . .)

DEP's oft-changing lineup has been mixed up again with the addition of Billy Rymer on drums. Neither Pennie or Sharone seem easy to replace, but a collaborative as talented as DEP surely has the pick of the crop when it comes to new members, and Rymer is more than up for the task. As I have heard others suggest, Rymer seems to be more of a pure rock drummer than his more jazz-inflected predecessors, but he can still manage the absurd time signatures and changes with dexterity while adding perhaps even more brute force. The rest of the group remains the same, with bandleader Weinman apparently filling in all of the guitar duties and the underappreciated Wilson getting a bit more room in the mix this time to show off his considerable talents. (This has the best production since their debut, imo.) Most notable, however, is Puciato's continued improvement. While I've always thought he was often unjustly and sometimes idiotically criticized (he's too muscular!), he's undoubtedly developed better control and range than previously, and blends into the cacophony with ease.

At ten tracks and over 41 minutes, "Option Paralysis" is DEPs longest and most balanced record. While "Ire Works" was perhaps slightly short on the pure tech-metalcore mayhem, here DEP set the record straight with a longer batch of "Calculating Infinity" style crushers. "Endless Endings" replicates the sound of that classic most perfectly, with some of their most elaborate riffs and unbelievable drum thunder giving way to some smoother but still incredibly frenetic atmospheric jazz material, while "Room Full of Eyes" has among the noisiest, most uncontrolled guitarwork in their catalog. They do mix things up a bit more on this material than in the past, with some relatively simple, bludgeoning break in "Good Neighbor" and the smooth, jazzy piano that accompanies the middle of "I Wouldn't If You Didn't." This pure mathcore material is all ferocious and expertly executed, and if it isn't quite as devastating as the best work on "Calculating Infinity" well, neither is anything else.

"Widower" invariably gets the most attention of the more melodic material. Most notable for a discordant yet gorgeous piano solo from Mike Garson, Puciato also shines on this one, though I think he's even better on the relatively conventional "Gold Teeth on a Bum," which has perhaps my favorite vocal melodies of any DEP track. Most impressive of the more varied tracks, however, is the first single "Farewell, Mona Lisa." This is one of DEP's most fully realized tracks, moving from pure speed to more atmospheric material before the bludgeoning close. It could be trimmed slightly, but it displays a surprising ability to force their madness into a more coherent form. We also have "Chinese Whispers," one of their more conventional tracks that largely replicates a typical post-hardcore sound, albeit with a little odd time trickery thrown in. Not their best track, but is works and shows a slightly different side to the band. Finally, the album closes with "Parasitic Twins." DEP have done electronic and industrially flavored tracks in the past, but none have been as purely atmospheric and melodic as this. It's actually a relative weak point, but it stands out stylistically and thus makes an intriguing coda.

Needless to say, "Option Paralysis" won't likely convert anyone who disliked the band before. But if you need more of the fix on The Dillinger Escape Plan can give you, well, here's another dose. Check it out.

Snakes for the Divine
Snakes for the Divine
Price: $11.76
45 used & new from $5.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riff-pushers High on Fire continue to deliver, March 7, 2010
This review is from: Snakes for the Divine (Audio CD)
After eschewing the sludgy murk of their early work with the classic "Blessed Black Wings," Matt Pike and co. of High on Fire have settled into a nice groove, stylistically speaking. Those who picked up their previous two albums will find few surprises on "Snakes for the Divine," and it is, perhaps, even a bit back to basics after the mild experiments of "Death is this Communion." Just how much HoF of this sort you need is always up to you, but Pike remains, as has been stated in who knows how many times, one of the preeminent riff masters of the era, and too much experimentation would just obscure six-string delights guaranteed on any new HoF release. You can argue about the production and the pacing a bit, and there are cases to be made, but the foundation remains as solid as ever, so much that, even at this early date we should consider ourselves lucky to hear a better pure, old-fashioned metal machine released this year.

Since the last few HoF have been so similar stylistically, minor changes in production are very noticeable, and "Snakes for the Divine" has arguably the weakest sound of the three. As others have noted, Pike's guitar is somewhat underpowered. I find these to be minor quibbles, though, because the sound is still so vastly superior to most metal these days. Nowadays every drummer needs to be a processed, death metal cyborg (which works fine for DM, by the way) and the rhythm guitar cuts an impossibly precise edge. Riff-driven metal needs a little more looseness, as found in the flowing, shapeless rhythm work and Kesnel's drumming is pleasantly organic-sounding. I wouldn't call the sound raw, really, but neither is it lifelessly precise.

Anyway, the sound is good, the riffs are good and, unsurprisingly, the songs are good too. The surprisingly sprightly lead opening of the title track kicks off perhaps the first true riff epic of the new decade. Pike mixes his tasteful minimalism (note the endless, straight alt picking and pounding, repeated chords) with an acute melodic sense (this album has perhaps his best leads) along with his trademark, simplistic yet surprisingly infectious vocal melodies. Matz and Kesnel are not to be outdone, with the former providing surprising color on the bass and the latter again proving why he is among the most under appreciated drummers in metal, taking a fairly straight forward style and playing it to the hilt, propelling everything to the next level of intensity. HoF never quite match this opener, but we don't have any throwaways either. Most immediately notable are the gloomier, doomier numbers, "Bastard Samurai" and "How Dark We Pray," with the former combining icy, delayed guitars and Pike's most envenomed vocals, while the latter epic creates a truly foreboding atmosphere, with Kesnel's tribal drumming giving shape to the long drone. Most of the rest are somewhat faster, doom tracks with a bit of a thrash edge to give them energy. The strongest is the rather ferocious, triplet-heavy "Ghost Neck," while "Frost Hammer" is the most dynamic piece here besides the title track, though I would not have chosen it for the first single. Many modern metal albums like to outstay there welcome, but HoF keep it tight here, with only 7 full tracks coming in at 46 minutes, and there is hardly a wasted moment on the album.

While "Snakes for the Divine" is perhaps not as immediately striking as some other HoF albums, they continue to display an impressive consistency. Perhaps, at some point, the formula will wear thin, but we ain't there yet. Check it out.

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