Chimp Spanner – All Roads Lead Here EP

Chimp Spanner

All Roads Lead Here EP
Basick
You may remember when I reviewed Dutch tech-metallers Textures’ new album ‘Dualism a while back, I refused to use a certain ‘word’ aimed to encapsulate their sound. This stance remains today. That doesn’t mean I won’t stop covering such bands, as evidenced by this particular review of the latest EP from Chimp Spanner, the project created entirely by guitarist Paul Ortiz. Ortiz does shy away from that particular label and prefers to describe Chimp Spanner as ‘ambient/progressive metal’. ‘All Roads Lead Here‘ is Chimp Spanner’s second release for Basick Records, following 2010’s ‘At The Dream’s Edge‘.
I’ll be honest, I was a little bit behind the curve when this whole movement gained momentum, not because I closed myself off from it – I’m more than aware of it – but it fell from my focus in the face of other sounds I’ve been covering at the time. The truth however, is that ‘All Roads Lead Here‘ trips up several times over the course of its six tracks, either from being too flashy or too much like a video game at times to seriously enjoy. On top of that, the seemingly repeated use of that chuffing chord really begins to grate after a while. It was fine when Meshuggah and a few other bands were doing it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one sick to the back teeth of hearing it done over and over again.
I’m not going to rip into Ortiz or his work for that particular dislike. There’s times that ‘All Roads Lead Here‘ does come up with enjoyable and nice shredding riffs and occasionally welcoming showmanship. Those times are just too few. The ‘Mobius’ trilogy delivers the best hope of this EP being a success, particular ‘Mobius Part II’, which maintains enough energy and focus not to get mired in weedly-weedly (too much) and chugger notes. I’ve listened to it a few times since and admittedly its a grower. The remainder of the time, it feels lacklustre and when it starts to sound like a cover of a classic Nintendo chiptune (‘Cloud City‘ could easily have been a contender on the Super Smash Bros. soundtrack). That this experience occurs more than one makes it difficult to take ‘All Roads Lead Here‘ seriously at all, and I enjoy video game themed bands.
Ortiz does happen to create music for computer games, advertising and the like, so it’s not really a surprise his work holds some sway over the direction of his musicianship. I don’t doubt he has passion for his cause, and he is one hell of a guitarist, but I personally find Chimp Spanner to feel devoid of any depth of soul, of feeling. Not nearly good enough to be great, but nowhere near bad enough to be a disaster, this particular release gets the dreaded ‘fans of the genre will love this’ accolade, with the only the occasional thrill for the rest, who will probably stick to F-Zero and Metroid if they want a video game soundtrack.
Peter Clegg
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Oblivionized – Nullify the Cycle

Oblivionized

Nullify the Cycle EP
Grindcore Karaoke
Guildford mentalists Oblivionized have been skewing metalheads’ faces a new one for the last few years with their brand of molten brutal technical deathgrind, and following some impressive live shows of late, they’re back with a new EP entitled ‘Nullify the Cycle‘. Oblivionized’s initial output showed promise, but ‘Nullify the Cycle‘ is but a taste of not only what they are capable of, but how far they can branch out too.
The first two tracks are an all-out assault on the senses. ‘The Nullification of Philanthropy’ fades into focus in the first few seconds, menacingly building into a full-fledged attack, which upon its arrival leads to all kinds of dizzying chaos. ‘Cycle of Deprivation’ follows straight-up and again smashes your face six ways from Sunday. Anyone loyal to Oblivionized from their earlier material won’t be surprised, though it’s a definite step-up from ‘Abhorrent Evolution‘. The major surprise here comes on the final song, the EP’s title-track. Beginning at first with some deep growls warped over an ambient, dark industrial noise, the remainder of the song is played out with a slightly trepidating piano melody before clean, haunting vocals sing out the rest of the song. It’s in stark contrast to Oblivionized’s usual sound but it works. The only criticism I would perhaps have is that on a three-track EP, with the first two playing out a tech-death apocalypse, it feels slightly out of place, though you can’t fault the quality of the song.
Oblivionized certainly have the tools to reach the head of their pack. ‘Nullify The Cycle‘ displays a level of brutality and maturity present in bands twice their age, and on this evidence you’d have to say one or two of the bigger extreme labels ought to be having a sniff. And seeing them so willing to spread their wings (on this occasion at least), the prospect of a full-length from these guys is tantalising.
Peter Clegg

Beneath the Massacre – Incongruous

Beneath the Massacre 
Incongruous
Prosthetic

The metal scene is absolutely flooded with bands of a technical variety, and it goes without saying there’s a fight to get to the very top. Based on their previous record, ‘Dystopia‘, I wouldn’t count Montreal, Canada’s Beneath the Massacre in that upper echelon, as my expectations for that record were somewhat dampened by a lack of creativity that stifled the promise shown on their debut effort ‘Mechanics of Dysfunction‘.

Still, that hasn’t stopped this brutal crew from ploughing forth. New album ‘Incongruous‘ is another 11 tracks of brutal technical death metal from the French-Canadians, and long time fans and indeed those who simply have BTM on their radar shouldn’t expect anything different to before. The guitars weedle, squeal and dizzy more than ever before, as the quartet blast their way through eleven punishing tracks. Songs such as ‘Hunted’ and ‘It’ breathe menace and punishing complexity. It’s still the same old same old, a problem in that everything risks bleeding into one another, but Beneath The Massacre have wisened up a little, showing improved intelligence and less reliant on breakdowns, which were too numerous on ‘Dystopia‘ and too one-dimensional. Even when they do go for the chug there’s a little more invention, giving them a sharper edge.

All said and done, ‘Incongruous‘ is a step up from ‘Dystopia‘, despite being largely more of the same. There’s still a few kinks here and there but for the large part, there’s improvement. It won’t set the world alight, but its a positive sign of a band maturing into an effective killing machine. They’re not such a known name over here, especially with so many tech heads about and after two full lengths as well. ‘Incongruous‘ ought to at least ensure that doesn’t stretch to three.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘Incongruous‘ here 

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Plague Rider – Genetic Devolution

Plague Rider

Genetic Devolution
North-eastern UK quintet Plague Rider describe themselves as a technical death metal band, conceived in February last year by core founder members, guitarists Jake Bielby and Dan Alderson, and drummer Matthew Henderson. Following the odd line-up change, the line-up was soon completed by vocalist Jamie Brown and bassist Lee Anderson, and their four-track debut demo, ‘Genetic Devolution’, soon followed.
Genetic Devolution’, made available by the band at the very back end of 2011, isn’t the finest demo I’ve ever heard, in terms of production quality or all-round end product, but there’s still plenty of potential to be found. There’s plenty of ideas but occasionally it appears to run out of steam, the instrumental ‘Nocturnal Awakening’ being one example which perhaps could’ve done with a little more variation within less time. They do hit the mark on a couple of occasions though, the title track opening with an interesting spoken word intro eerily proclaiming that ‘the world is a much more interesting place with people like you in it…’, before vocalist Jamie unleashes a blood-curdling scream to kick off a thoroughly pounding song. The same can be said of the self-titled end track, ‘Plague Rider’, which benefits in much the same way the title track does; from being more direct and not so exhaustive.
Currently Plague Rider seem a little rough around the edges, which is no bad thing at all at this stage. Their death metal does have a few technical flourishes but doesn’t go too weedly-weedly and does seem to feature more of a distinct death-thrash sound, very much the sum of their influences. The band are aiming to record their debut album in 2012 and looking to perform at plenty of gigs up and down the country as they work towards that goal. Despite its occasional flaws, this is still a solid, indeed savage demo and well worthy of any curious metal fan’s interest, and a sound base for these guys to work from.
Peter Clegg
Last.fm(demo also available here)

Loincloth – Iron Balls of Steel

Loincloth
Iron Balls of Steel
Southern Lord
2012 is still young and already we’ve received in our inbox the first new album of the year, from latest Southern Lord signees Loincloth. With a title such as ‘Iron Balls of Steel’, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume what lies within is the chest-beating, fist-pounding true heavy metal made famous by the likes of Manowar and …erm… Manowar! However, that’s not strictly true; despite featuring two members of legendary death/doom metal act Confessor (in guitarist Cary Rowells and drummer Steve Shelton), Loincloth’s approach mixes beefy heavy metal riffs into a progressive/technical stew. And sadly, stew is quite appropriate – cos personally, I found it’s a little difficult to pick out anything that stands out about ‘Iron Balls of Steel’.
Don’t get me wrong, riff wise, there’s plenty of them, every song supplying a beefy chug, brimming with time changes, tempo changes, stop start rhythms, etc. It just feels completely lacking in direction. The lack of vocals is one thing – it shouldn’t necessarily matter in this day and age whether a metal band has a vocalist or not. But a lot of this album’s songs don’t even clock in above two minutes, leading to a primarily ‘interlude’ feeling to some of the tracks; where they do spread their legs a little, there’s nothing particularly interesting going on, everything melding into a mush. At times, they could actually do with a singer. More appropriate, they could do with a few more ideas. Other instrumental bands, for example, Serious Beak (whom we recently reviewed) thrive on keeping the listener on their toes, even injecting a bit of atmosphere. You don’t bemoan their lack of a singer as their train is constantly rolling. Loincloth’s instru-metal is cold and only occasionally splutters into life, doing little else besides; a critical downfall.
Progressive metal has been given plenty of technical sheen over the last few years and while I don’t doubt Loincloth’s passion for their music, really I don’t see how it compares to the more natural, often younger bands of today who pull this off with more flair and supreme skill, whether you like them or not. For a band containing former members of Confessor, I’m sure they won’t care for a review like this, and I don’t particularly enjoy savaging albums; but the fact is, there’s not really much good I can say about this album. And yes, admittedly I bought the press garb, and wound up disappointed.
Peter Clegg

Iron Balls of Steel’ is released on Monday 16th January, 2012. Pre-order it here

Remembering Chuck Schuldiner – 10 years on

Today marks ten years since a brain tumour claimed the life of Death guitarist/vocalist, and all-round death metal pioneer Chuck Schuldiner, at the age of 34. It’s fair to say that his legacy and influence are stronger than ever, with countless up and coming bands arguably inspired by Schuldiner’s ever evolving take on the style he played a huge role in creating.
The recent reissues of landmark Death albums ‘Human’ and ‘Individual Thought Patterns’ are living proof that Death’s music has stood the test of time. I finally got round to listening to the reissue of ‘Human’ just a couple of weeks ago and not only does it sound as fresh as did when it was released (and indeed, when I first heard it for myself around eight years ago), but its so darn heavier than the majority of (death) metal (or what passes for it) these days. Everything about Death’s Human-era line-up was firing on all cylinders when that album was recorded. As Chuck steered death into a more technical, progressive future, he also changed his approach and insisted on recruiting session musicians, as opposed to being part of a full band as per the first three Death albums. And in guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert, both of cosmic progressive death metallers Cynic, he had two candidates who were absolutely ideal for the role, while bassist extraordinaire Steve DiGiorgio (of Sadus) completed the line-up. Such a line-up underlined Chuck’s perfectionism, but Death wouldn’t be Death without Chuck’s attention to detail.
Individual Thought Patterns’ continued Death’s progressive trend, again enlisting DiGiorgio, and replacing the Cynic guys with Gene Hoglan on drums and King Diamond’s legendary guitarist Andy LaRoque. Schuldiner further pushed the boundaries of what could be done with death metal, throwing into jazzy bass rhythms and supreme technicality than was more than ably performed by his backing band, especially so by DiGiorgio. It even turned Hoglan into the in demand name for numerous metal bands to call upon, such was the performance and the album’s impact.
I’ve only put primary focus on those albums given their recent reissuing. Death’s legacy reaches far beyond these albums, of course; their entire discography reads essential, and is full of classic metal anthems, namely ‘Zombie Ritual’ (from 1987’s ‘Scream Bloody Gore’); and Crystal Mountain (from 1995’s ‘Symbolic’) just to name a few. Add to that the numerous bands and musicians who can count Death and Chuck Schuldiner as an influence and the evidence speaks for itself. Chuck Schuldiner was a progressive visionary, a talented genius and unconstrained by the boundaries which seem to shackle so many of Death’s descendants today. 10 years on from his death, Chuck Schuldiner remains death’s metal’s most important figurehead. Keep on rocking Chuck, wherever you are.
Peter Clegg

Revocation – Chaos of Forms

Revocation

Chaos of Forms
Relapse

Despite accumulating a cavalcade of plaudits for their previous albums, swallowing up top positions in year-end lists like Sebastien Vettel snatching pole positions, Revocation can consider themselves unlucky not to have risen to the cream of the crop unlike recent metal success stories such as Mastodon, Kylesa, The Black Dahlia Murder, The Dillinger Escape Plan, etc. Their music is certainly on a par with those bands at least, possessing a care-free swagger fuelled by main man and guitarist David Davidson’s style and sheer confidence that most rock ‘n’ roll bands would give their right arm for, never mind heavy metal bands.

Revocation can best be described as a technical death/thrash metal band, but to describe this trio in these terms is scraping the barrel slightly. ‘Chaos of Forms‘ is certainly their most complete record yet, surpassing their previous albums for ambition and even quality by some distance. ‘Chaos of Forms‘ could not be a more appropriate title, as Revocation churn, skronk, twist and waltz and more whilst effortlessly blasting away the competition in virtuostic fashion.

It’s death metal, with thrash elements, technicality, classical flourishes and a hard rock swagger. The majority of what they do is aggressive, tight as Ken Bates’ chequebook, with catchy nuances and hooky riffs all over the place. ‘Cradle Robber’ offers the first chance for an anthemic chorus , but not before a savage blasting and a devastating riff. This track and the songs either side of it are Revocation at their most primal, delivering pure technical riffs and shreds, mixing up thrash and death metal beats and all with killer precision. Even when they’re not going full speed ahead, things are glorious, the closing melodic monotone to ‘Conjuring The Cataclysm’ being a particular highlight as it backs Davidson’s screams.

Revocation then start to show a more experimental side from then onwards, ever subtle at first, before going full throttle for the outrageous. The title track itself showcases most of ‘Chaos’…‘ characteristics, absolutely on the front foot at first…before suddenly stepping back around the 2:30 mark with a spacey solo, and a virtuostic melodic section follows that to immense effect. The following song, ‘The Watchers’, going all Dillinger Escape Plan one minute a la the ‘Ire Works‘ album, and stunning with a Hammond organ solo straight after that. The charm beyond that is that nearly every song is a potential anthem – Revocation certainly know what makes a killer song, and do possessing a melodic edge without sacrificing heaviness, and not for the sake of airplay either.

The brilliance of this band is there to behold – although they’re not unique in that they do share similarities with similar bands of the moment, they’re smart enough and ambitious enough to stand out. Not too flashy to become pretentious, essentially heavy and brutal without sounding the same as the other 99%. That I’ve listened to this album numerous times and have yet to find a discernable flaw is a testament to the level of performance on this record. A must-have.

Peter Clegg