REVIEWS OCTOBER 2010: THE ABSENCE, BLOOD AXIS, FLAYED DISCIPLE, MEGADETH LIVE, SWASHBUCKLE AND MORE

By on 14 October 2010

We get sent about a gazillion albums a month, all worthy of being reviewed in our pages, but sadly there just isn’t enough paper in the world to contain our hungry scribe’s random musings on the month’s aural offerings. So for you online carrion here are some of the carcasses of musical meat to pick at:

THE ABSENCE
‘Enemy Unbound’
METAL BLADE
We should do a feature on the melodic death metal factory, a fly-on-the-wall documentary reporting on the production line, where those steroid, Gothenbuggered Maiden riffs judder their way along the conveyor belt while the quality control officer performs a head count on super-shred legato solos. It’d be an eye-opener, watching label execs at work, constructing a perversion of death metal that is all the more sellable to those weak, lily livered saps who need some widdly squawk to get it into their noodle that death metal is, like, worthy, and totally musical. Well kudos to The Absence for their genetically perfect performance – no bum notes here. They’ve recovered from losing drummer Justin Reynolds to injury, entrusting original stickman Jeramie King to vacuum-pack the beats. Acoustic interludes, extended solos, all of it so damned worthy, yet wholly extraneous. Argh! Enough of this manicured, dispassionate nonsense. These riffs have been reheated a million times already. Factory work is sexier than this.
[3] JONATHAN HORSLEY

ACTION BEAT
‘Beatings’
TRUTH CULT
The commanding influence of New York City no wave runs through Action Beat like a virus. This is first evident by the sleeve of ‘Beatings’, the second album by the Milton Keynes-area octet: a photo of slender, shaggy-haired men in a kitchen plastered with gig posters. One man is nude from the waist down and is covering his wang with a banana. The published photographic evidence of the no wave scene depicts a lot of this kind of goofery, offsetting the serious and arty image it more commonly carries. So it is with Action Beat, whose musical force comes via multiple guitars and drumkits hammering away in psychic unison. The effect is like latter day Boredoms, with the intangible conceptualism excised and replaced by a cheery last-gang-at-closing-time swagger; tone wise, the almighty clang seems in thrall to Band Of Susans or pre-fame Sonic Youth. Songs often go nowhere, yet intentionally so, and a journey to the centre of the guitar is still a journey.
[7] NOEL GARDNER

BLOOD AXIS
‘Born Again’
TESCO/STORM
Appropriately melodramatic, Michael Moynihan titles the first Blood Axis studio full length since 1995 ‘Born Again’. While predominantly folk, BA’s stern delivery maintains, expressing clenched rage (towards modernity) or earnest longing (towards ‘the first age, when faith and right were maintained by free will and not by law’). Moynihan’s recitations bear on BA’s scope for better when emitting a sense of nobility and charisma, for worse when limiting emotional engagement. This tense restraint does elevate ‘Born…’ above neofolk’s obliviously lackluster average, especially when finally broken on ‘The Path’, movingly sung by Annabel Lee. Apolitically poetic lyrics by kooky occult Hitlerite Miguel Serrano will nevertheless upset the PC police, a dubious achievement when the price is disrespecting Hermann Hesse (among others) by making him Serrano’s equal bedfellow. Additionally, leaving a single word (‘reich’ = kingdom/empire) in Hesse’s poem non-translated, it seems Moynihan can’t resist temptation to provoke, further disrupting an otherwise mature album.
[7.5] AVI PITCHON

THE BRISTLES
‘Reflections Of The Bourgeois Society’
SWITCHLIGHT
After last year’s excellent comeback EP, ‘Union Bashing State’, The Bristles return with a full album that suggests they’re well and truly back and firing on all cylinders. Veterans of the Swedish hardcore scene of the early ’80s (they were responsible for the much loved ‘Don’t Give Up’ and ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ EPs), their current sound is still fuelled by the manic intensity that so ignited Scandinavian hardcore in the first place, although nowadays their politics are better informed, and there’s considerably more substance to their material. There’s a definite hint of ‘…Bedtime’-era Dead Kennedys about tracks like ‘Weapons Of Mass Destruction’ and ‘Illegal Alien’, but this is basically very European in feel, having more akin with Raw Power or BGK and their ability to make distorted noises into powerful as fuck punk rock anthems. They hit the brakes for a spot of heavy dub on ‘Justice’, but for the most part this tears along like it’s 1982 and GBH came from Stockholm.
[7] IAN GLASPER

COMO MUERTOS
‘Cronica Del Dolor’
DEADLIGHT
After two extremely well-crafted demos saluted in these very pages (can you hear the age-old ‘why the fuck are those guys still unsigned?’ echoing?) our Gallic butcher boys, completed for this recording by Kronos’ drummer, once again prove that they are so much more than your average groovy, old school death metal act. Besides the unusual choice of the Spanish language to vomit their gruesome tales, they’re like the Technicolor version of all of those underground acts that seemingly regurgitate the same old horror movie samples and Impetigo riffs. They may use roughly the same basics but they’ve expanded it tenfold, with a bigger than thou sound boosted by a few black, grind and even perverted rock ‘n’ roll elements. But the most striking thing about ‘Cronica Del Dolor’ is its coherency; from its comic-like artwork to its lyrics and even stage set-up, the band have put on a marvellous spread to make this twelve-tracker a grotesque yet sublime tribute to man’s most twisted ways.
[8] OLIVIER ‘ZOLTAR’ BADIN

DIAMOND HEAD
‘Live At The BBC’
UNIVERSAL
Consisting of four radio sessions; three from the band’s heyday in the early 1980s, and their now celebrated set supporting Metallica at the Milton Keynes Bowl in 1993, this material marks the complete surviving BBC sessions from this prolific Midlands outfit (apparently there were possibly more but the BBC in their infinite wisdom copied over  the masters). Understandably it’s the earlier material that’s stronger, with storming sessions from the Friday Rock Show, Reading Rock in 1982 and a late ’82 BBC concert. Running through classics like ‘Borrowed Time’, ‘Am I Evil?’, and Lightning To The Nations’, you can understand just why a band like Metallica holds them in such high esteem. By 1993, with only half the original line-up, the material doesn’t come across quite as strongly as in their NWOBHM heyday, but the fact that it’s included anyway provides fans and completists with all the available session material at their disposal to digest at will. A killer package for a killer band.
[7.5] JEREMY MILLER

DISKREET
‘Engage The Mechanicality’
SIEGE OF AMIDA
With a name akin to a Satanic menstrual aid, Diskreet kick down the door and rip the faces off anyone in earshot… with some pretty meat and potatoes death metal. There’s nothing truly awful about ‘Engage The Mechanicality’, it widdles and blasts in all the right places, but those right places have been, er, widdled in before. It’d be remiss though to completely dismiss the record, as it’s stuffed to the guts with chunky ass riffs, wiry leads and machine gun drumming. There’s also a most welcome utterance of ‘FUCK YOU’ that seems to fly straight out of nowhere, causing this jaded hack’s chapped lips to curl upwards in slight mirth. There’s no way this will make its way to the top of anyone’s year end list (apart from Diskreet’s mums probably) but it’s a mildly engaging bit of tech-death. Special mention must go to the artwork, which is a heady amalgamation of Gears Of War, Metroid and Fisher Price.
[6] WADE CHANDLER

FLAYED DISCIPLE
‘Flayed Disciple’
SELF-RELEASED
Often without realising how geographical metal can be, there are patterns constantly emerging and one of the more recent stereotypes is that a lot of UK based death acts are leaning more into ‘core’ territory. With that said, Flayed Disciple create a new gory stench in the British air, with their more thrashing death metal from the Southwest.  After a roaring reception on the Bloodstock Unsigned stage this summer, the boys are back with their second EP including two new tracks full of lyrics your missus is sure to love in her next Valentine’s card – try ‘Ejaculate While Killing’ to start. The vocalist displays a myriad of low gutturals and alarming shrieks, but this doesn’t mean they’re not generic. The guitars replace breakdowns for more creepy solos, helping tunes such as ‘Exodus’ spurt through the four track disc, however again some riffs are pretty universal and there isn’t much progress between the old and new Flayed Disciple.
[5] LILY RANDALL

FLESHWROUGHT
‘Dementia/Dyslexia’
METAL BLADE
Considering the mayfly maturation rate of the deathcore generation, the first supergroup is probably a matter of months away, which makes amicable knockabout Fleshwrought the equivalent of Mick/Mitch Harris’ Defecation. Though musically the work of multi-instrumentalist Navene Koperweis (Animosity, The Faceless and meandering ambient metallers Animals As Leaders) , most of the shouting space on the sticker will go towards trumpeting the involvement of Job For A Cowboy vocalist Jonny Davy, which seems a fair trade considering the copies you’d expect it to shift as a result. Typically for prodigious technical metal without the peer review process that comes from an actual meatsack band to rein in the fretboard calculus, ‘Dementia/Dyslexia’ is solid, if stiff, Meshugganic riff battery. Idiot kneejerk purists will be delighted to learn there’s nothing remotely ‘core about it, but idiot kneejerk purists will be infuriated by the reminder that it’s perfectly possible for ‘proper’ death metal to be dull as well.
[4.5] JOE DENKER

THE GREEN EVENING REQUIEM
‘Decomposer’
ANTHROPIC
When a band can’t be pigeonholed that’s a good thing, and when listening to The Green Evening Requiem it’s very difficult to pin their sound down as it touches post-rock, black metal, prog and death. They blend and bend the genres and sub genres into a hybrid metal monster, and while at times it is storming, crashing and cascading along with an importance and immediacy that is admirable, at others it’s almost like a lost mutant child, not knowing which of the many mothers spawned it and subsequently they never really hit a combination that they can call their own. This is not by any means a bad thing, it just maybe lacks a persona that sums up the band. They are the bastard sons of the metal universe, they now have to find a way of honing the various gene pools into something extra special.
[6.5] ALEX BONIWELL

IN THE MIDST OF LIONS
‘The Heart Of Man’
FACEDOWN
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if a band is going to do deathcore today, it will have to be pretty bloody amazing to stand out from the indistinguishable and characterless ‘core scene. So just why these five kids from across the Atlantic thought doing the exact opposite would work for them remains something of a mystery. Not only are you greeted with horribly generic breakdowns and thoroughly unremarkable riffs, they even throw some melodic fretwork into the mix for good measure. The result is a product that sounds bland and uninspired, which somehow makes even the short 36 minute disc sound like an eternity. We’re sure each band member is extremely adept technically, but guys, how about you make a record that shows off your skills rather than a collection of clichés that we all heard three years ago?
[4] MICHAEL VAUGHN

KAMELOT
‘Poetry For The Poisoned’
KMG
At a time when power metal seems to be undergoing some kind of steady, humiliating creative disintegration, the rise and rise of Kamelot, in terms of reputation at least, is one of few rays of light bursting through ominous black clouds. Increasingly the band that genre geeks hold up as evidence that, you know, it’s not all bollocks-deep in cheddar and utterly mindless, the Americans have produced several great albums over the years and ‘Poetry For The Poisoned’ demonstrates that they remain both mindful of their status and wary of drifting into more superficial realms. Exploding into life with the casually brutal ‘The Great Pandemonium’, which comes replete with death growls from Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, this is another multi-faceted quasi-concept affair wherein each song knows its place and contributes a slightly different shade to the narrative spectrum. The strongest songs, ‘The Zodiac’, ‘House On The Hill’ (featuring Epica’s Simone Simons) and the epic, four part title track, are up there with Kamelot’s best.
[7] GRAHAM ELLIS

MEGADETH
‘Rust In Peace Live’
UNIVERSAL
As kids, we found that if we synced up and simultaneously hit play on Metallica’s ‘The God That Failed’ and the very similar ‘Dawn Patrol’ from ‘Rust In Peace’, the only disparity in the perfect stereo effect was the drumming. Now, twenty years after its original release, try doing the same thing with ‘Rust In Peace’ and ‘Rust In Peace Live’. Dave and Dave and the other two shred and yowl through the album in strict sequence – nothing as unprofessional as interruptions, improvisations, or talking – and not a single note is misplaced. Only the occasional roar from an approving crowd shifts phase with that C90 in our 1990 bedroom. Given what ‘Rust In Peace’ represents both in metal and the Megadeth canon – the ultimate triumph of form, a competition-annihilating display of speed and technique (if not necessarily emotion) – to do anything else would miss the point. But, honestly, you don’t need this. Buy Mustaine’s new autobiography instead. It is much funnier.
[4] DAVID MCNAMEE

MY UNCLE THE WOLF
‘Flush’
CARGO
With a debut of catchy NOLA swamp rock, with Jimmy Bower of all people as producer and bass player, we had My Uncle The Wolf all figured out, or so we thought. ‘Flush’ is ample evidence we didn’t. Last year’s EP was rather strange, but ‘Flush’ is different to the point of being disconcerting, both for old and new listeners. There’s hints of that Southern stoner rock still in ‘Grinning Hyena’, but there’s also a lot of Queens Of The Stone Age going on, a blatant Joy Division homage with ‘The Last Emperor’, a quiet post rock-like track in the vein of Grails and frequent Eastern-tinged harmonies. It’s less crazy than it sounds and while it’s not cohesive by any means, especially not for fourteen tracks in 55 minutes, they’re all great songs and ultimately hard to fault. So, guys, now we know you’re awesome musicians on a whole bunch of styles, can you just focus a bit more when you do the next one?
[7] JOSÉ CARLOS SANTOS

NEGLIGENCE
‘Coordinates Of Confusion’
METAL BLADE
Vocalist Alex may have hardly spent twenty years on Satan’s Green Earth, but the boy already sounds like he could beat Chuck Billy’s ass with one hand while killing and skinning a moose and cooking it over an open flame with the other. Sadly, our young frontman’s piping bellow is the only remarkable aspect of the second album by these Slovenian thrashers. Actually, check that; it’s remarkable how Americanised they sound, how competent the musicianship is and how they’ve got their finger on the pulse of how to sound more like Heathen than Heathen do. ‘Coordinates Of Confusion’ is remarkable in its unremarkable-ness as just about every note on the album is a rehash of what came screaming out of the third wave of Bay Area thrash. Granted it’s played with stunning aplomb and sounds absolutely massive, but if you haven’t already heard this a hundred times over, especially in light of thrash’s five year ‘revival’, you’re not trying hard enough.
[5] KEVIN STEWART-PANKO

NETHERBIRD
‘Monument Black Colossal’
SCARECROW
When Sweden’s Netherbird released their debut full length ‘The Ghost Collector’ two years ago, it ultimately disappointed for its lack of originality and a tendency to sound like a watered down Cradle Of Filth meets Dimmu Borgir, with a lack of an interesting concept to grasp onto. Sadly, this is the same for their second effort ‘Monument Black Colossal’, which is even more exasperating due to the slight hints of something better lurking beneath that never really materialises. You can’t fault the slick production or the musicianship on show, but the actual song structures are predictable and easily forgettable, with ‘White Noise Sky In Overdrive’ being the only highlight, touching slightly on Dissection’s malevolent style. Vocalist Nephente has an impressive range that isn’t always used fully, adding to the feeling that this band is still on the verge of something great. A frustrating release that is best avoided, from a band to (still) keep a beady eye on for the future. 
[5] PAUL FLOYER

SHRAPNEL
‘Hellbound’
SELF-RELEASED
They are Shrapnel, they are blackened thrash metal, they wear spikes and they hail from the dark, icy glaciers of, erm, Perth, Australia. Still, with an album titled ‘Hellbound’ and songs including ‘Friday Night Thrash Attack’, ‘Trample The Altar’ and ‘Six Pack Attack’, it should be no surprise to find that this is all good, beer swilling fun and games that has as much in common with Municipal Waste as it does Skeletonwitch. Lyrically, ‘Hellbound’ ticks most boxes, with a healthy cocktail of Satanism and alcohol putting words to a page that is soaked with some delightfully high octane shredding (see ‘Hang On The Cross’ and ‘Six Pack Attack‘) and a triumphant, chest-beating atmosphere that sets the tone nicely for a very fucking rock ‘n’ roll party. Final track ‘The Power Is Mine’ is probably the weakest of the lot, but that’s easily forgivable. Shrapnel might not be reinventing the wheel, but they’ve at least given it a damn good thrashing.
[8] MERLIN ALDERSLADE

SWASHBUCKLE
‘Crime Always Pays’
NUCLEAR BLAST
Like Jimmy Carr’s massive face, The Simpsons and flat-top haircuts, pirate metal is a joke that’s gone on far too long. Sticking a comedy “aaaaaar!” singer onto your tunes is an increasingly shitty way to detract from your pretty obviously musical shortcomings. It’s doubly strange in the case of Swashbuckle, because there are moments on ‘Crime Always Pays’ where the music is actually pretty good, albeit in a boring, generic way. There’s definitely a frustrated band member here coming up with some nice chuggy riffs, but chap, you’re playing fucking pirate metal. The last ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ film was out three years ago, and it was fucking pump. Pirates are out. Vikings are the new black or something. In Swashbuckle’s defence, they’re much better than Alestorm, but that’s like saying you’d rather have a cactus lodged in your anus than a blunderbuss. There are some good moments, but it’s mostly no, no, no and a bottle of cum.
[5] WADE CHANDLER

TORTURE SQUAD
‘AEquilibrium’
WACKEN
Sixth album for these Brazilian veterans – the first to feature new guitarist Augusto Lopes (a more than adequate replacement for Mauricio Nogueira, who played on 2008’s ‘Hellbound’) – and they’re really on top of their shit now. ‘AEquilibrium’ sounds simply massive, every crunchy guitar chunk and thumping bass drum hit EQ’d to perfection, and the sonic clarity is expertly utilised by the band, who play with an exacting control for such a technical unit. They sometimes get a little carried away with pointless flourishes in their arrangements, but overall this is a swaggeringly powerful modern death/thrash album, albeit well informed by the spirit of prime-time Cancer, Kreator and early Sabbat. Proudly wearing their influences on their sleeves, the lyrics (not to mention the music!) of the track ‘Raise Your Horns’ even reference everyone from Metallica and Sepultura to recent touring partners like Exodus and Overkill As if being signed to Wacken Records wasn’t endorsement enough of their metal credentials…
[7.5] IAN GLASPER

VEIL OF MAYA
‘[ID]’
SUMERIAN
Does guitarist Marc Okubo have epilepsy? It’s the first question that comes to mind as you hear the frenetic riffage that teeters on the edge but gets pulled back just before it falls over the precipice into chaos. Veil Of Maya are the metalcore Meshuggah – it’s heavy and you’ve heard pieces of their puzzle before, but no one has ever dared to, or been capable of bringing it together in such pulsatingly technical fashion. If anything, calling this metalcore is almost an insult because you won’t find any of the single note chugga-chugga breakdowns here. Instead, the focus is on mathematical precision that is still catchy enough to make you mosh while shunning the superfluous (the whole CD clocks in at less than 30 minutes). Fans of technical and progressive metal will find as much delight here as the moshcore kids, and who would have thought that would even be possible?
[8] MICHAEL VAUGHN

WITCHAVEN
‘Terrorstorm’
SELF-RELEASED
‘Terrorstorm’ is the debut full-length of San Bernardino, California based thrash unit Witchaven, whose “black thrash assault” should please any hardcore bullet-belted headbangers hungry for straightforward, no-frills thrash (fans of Hellish Crossfire and the old Wild Rags Demo Series releases should seek this out). Combining equal parts ‘80s early thrash and proto-black metal ‘Terrorstorm’ is playfully loose, raw and uncompromising. Not looking to stand amidst the retro-thrash popular as of late, Witchaven’s sound strikes out with confident intensity and succeeds because their integrity and personality shines through. This isn’t about dazzling technical wizardry although the band are quite proficient, this is about unbridled passion for true thrash and the simple beauty found in the galloping riff on an open E string. Soundbites introduce several songs slanted towards the human condition and associated horrors. For a self-financed effort the production is bright and vibrant. One wonders why Witchaven are not signed to a label, but maybe that will change once ‘Terrorstorm’ reaches more deaththrashing maniacs.
[8] JOHN MINCEMOYER

NUCLEAR
‘Jehovirus’
AUSTRALIS
What’s interesting about Nuclear is that they’re well aware of their roots and proud of them but they’ve never been quite ready to blindly follow them. Those Chileans might wear their influences on their sleeves big time – opener ‘Belligerence’ openly recycles the intro riff from Metallica’s ‘Blackened’ while ‘Asphyxia’ uses pure Slayer harmonics and singer Matias Leonicio sounds like a badly hung over Mille Petrozza – but unlike most of their contemporaries they haven’t chosen to follow one specific sound. Actually, there’s a bit of everything on their third full-length, mastered in the UK by Russ Russell, from Bay Area’s trademark moshing parts, to ’80s Germany’s crudeness and even a hint of hardcore and the occasional death metal growl. A recipe for disaster, unless like Nuclear you firmly stay your course and pack guitar solos on top of each other like there’s no tomorrow. So what could have come out as another faceless mishmash of scattered influences might just be 2010’s solid, face-ripping thrash album.
[7] OLIVIER ‘ZOLTAR’ BADIN

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