Death in June
by Gary Spencer

Seth Putnam (1968–2011)

On June 11, longtime Anal Cunt frontman Seth Putnam died from an apparent heart attack at the age of 43. This news was quite shocking, and being a big fan of the band, I was very bummed hearing this unexpected announcement. For those unfamiliar, Anal Cunt was formed in the late-80s and existed in some shape or form right up to the day of Putnam’s death. Often considered a grindcore act, the band took that sub-genre several steps further into the realm of “noisecore,” as much of their earlier material was totally improvised on the spot, had no song titles and was sometimes devoid of any actual lyrics or what most people consider to be “music” of any genre. A considerable majority of their songs ran a total time of five seconds or less, and the band often employed recording methods that left their records sounding like an amplified blender—a blurred whirlwind of grinding guitars, jarring blast beats and, of course, Putnam’s signature scream and (no pun intended) death growl. When Putnam did actually label the band’s tunes with song titles and sing actual lyrics, those words were often crass, gross. morbid and downright offensive to sensitive listeners. Songs like “I Became a Counselor So I Could Tell Rape Victims They Asked for It,” “Women: Nature’s Punching Bag,” “I Sent Concentration Camp Footage to America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and “I Made Your Kid Get AIDS. So You Could Watch It Die” are prime examples of Putnam’s artistic depravity. However, Putnam also exhibited a wicked, but clever, sense of humor in his work, with some of my favorites cuts being “Recycling Is Gay,” “Living Colour Is My Favorite Black Metal Band,” “Stayin’ Alive (Oi! Version),” “I Lit Your Baby on Fire” and “Locking Drop Dead in McDonalds.” (Zing!)

I had the pleasure of seeing Anal Cunt live a few times, and they were equally earsplitting and humorous in the flesh. My favorite story was when they played at Bernie’s in Columbus and Seth was baiting the crowd. “So we just got back from tour with Dillinger Escape Plan. You guys like Dillinger Escape Plan?” A handful of clueless attendees took the bait and were like, “Yeah!” So Putnam continues, “Yeah, you like Dillinger Escape Plan? Okay, this next song is called ‘Dillinger Escape Plan Is a Bunch of Fucking Faggots!’” Yep, Seth Putnam was a one of a kind character in the world of extreme metal, and I know in some circles it’s not considered cool to like Anal Cunt and all they represent, but I don’t subscribe to such rules. The band was designed to shock and offend, and if you can’t stomach that then you should avoid it. I personally appreciate their gumption and brazenness in taking musical and conceptual risks in the name of keeping metal from being totally serious and humorless, and for those reasons I raise my chalice high in Seth Putnam’s name. Rest in peace brother, you entertained the hell out of me.

And with that said, let’s get caught up on some album reviews.

Assaulter, Boundless! (Metal Blade)
Assaulter is an Australian group that features members of Destroyer 666 and Razor of Occam amidst its ranks, and Boundless! is the band’s second full-length release. This being the first record I had ever heard by the band, I really wasn’t sure what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by the music within. Boundless! is a fairly accessible slab of mostly mid-tempo blackened thrash punctuated by the occasional Middle Eastern–styled motif or guitar riff. Unlike, say, Nile, Assaulter’s incorporation of Eastern tones comes off as a lot less cloying and in turn a very natural sounding element of their musical attack. Topping all this off is S. Berserker’s snarly growl—extreme enough for fans of vokills, yet clear enough to be deciphered by the naked ear. Boundless! didn’t floor me right away, but upon multiple listenings it grew on me like a fungus. I now consider it to be a favorite of 2011 and an album that doesn’t resemble much else out there, an often rare feat in the metal’s strict musical confines.

Cerebral Bore, Maniacal Miscreation (Earache)
There are probably more than a few of you reading this wondering, “Earache Records is still around?” To be honest, I kind of thought the same thing upon receiving a copy of Maniacal Miscreation, Cerebral Bore’s full-length debut for the legendary British metal imprint. What we got here is some blasting, grindy death metal with stop on a dime tempo shifts. A lot of the music reminds me of Carcass (circa Symphonies of Sickness), but tighter and more technical. Nothing earth-shattering in that respect, but perhaps the most curious aspect of Cerebral Bore is their female vocalist Simone Pluijmers, not just for the novelty of a woman doing death metal vocals for an extreme metal band, but because if you did not know this fact while listening to the album there’s no way a listener would have any idea that it was a chick rattling off all the deep, throaty rasps that make up Cerebral Bore’s vocal component. Like I’ve said, Maniacal Miscreation is in no way reinventing the death metal wheel, but they do a damn good job keeping that wheel spinning by executing the style with technical excellence.

Dotma, Sleep Paralyses (Scarlet)
Sleep Paralyses, the debut full length by Finnish quintet Dotma, is mature and sophisticated. Yep, what we got here is a slick, big sounding symphonic power-metal album punctuated by crunchy and melodic guitars, sweeping choruses, strings, keys, choirs, and the occasional flute accent. And all this is topped off by lead singer Johanna Lesonen’s soaring soprano. Lesonen spends the majority of the record singing in her glorious high register, but her voice is mixed well so as to not overpower the music behind it. All well and good, but buyer beware: this album is a grower. It took several spins before the complex arrangements and subtle melodies clicked with my brain. Indeed, during the first few sittings, none of the songs on Sleep Paralyses stood out. Per capita, this disc plays out like one long symphony, each song feeling more like a movement in the grand scheme of things as opposed to individualized songs. I get the sense that it is a concept album of sorts, though I can’t swear to that, as my promo copy didn’t come with a lyric sheet. But I can tell you this: if you love gothic or symphonic metal, then you shouldn’t sleep on Dotma.

Echtra, Paragate (Temple of Tortuous)
Coming out of the Pacific Northwest, Echtra is a one-man ambient project that’s been active for several years, yet only has two full-length releases under its belt. Echtra’s newest work, Paragate, is a dark and disturbing soundscape divided up into two supposedly separate, but fluidly connected, parts. The album starts off with a hauntingly hypnotic acoustic riff that is then slowly surrounded by blackened ambience of drones and feedback. From here, the album ebbs and flows, plaintive acoustic guitar and distant vocal woes working against the constant dark threat of a haze of distortion ready to drown out the meditative folk. And just to keep the listener on his toes, there’s even a black metal segue blasting two-thirds of the way through Paragate, complete with hoarse grunts, tremolo picking, thundering bass and clubbing drum handiwork. After some dueling interplay between the distorted electric and acoustic guitars, Paragate floats its way to conclusion, leaving the listener with a feeling like they might have subliminally exorcised a demon out of their system.

Havok, Time Is Up (Candlelight)
For this edition’s seemingly requisite retro-thrash review, we’ve got Colorado’s Havok with their second full-length, Time Is Up. Havok’s musical influences are the usual suspects: Exodus, Destruction, Megadeth and so on, hardly a bad thing in my book. The band is tighter than a fat chick in skinny jeans, with thrashy riffs and killer breakdowns to spare and an occasional punk rock sing-along chorus for good measure. And for once the lyrics aren’t all about topics like war, disease, toxic waste, etc. Good work, gentlemen! In the end, Time Is Up places Havok near the top of the thrash-metal mountain, and I bet they kick ass live too.

Within Temptation, The Unforgiving (Roadrunner)
Over the last few years or so, Within Temptation has become one of the top dogs in the world of female-fronted, symphonic goth metal, and with very good reason. Their last few albums (The Silent Force, The Heart of Everything and The Black Symphony) were brimming with glorious production, bombastically infectious songs, dark lyrical themes, and of course, the powerful vocal range of frontwoman Sharon den Adel. So when I heard that the newest Within Temptation studio album was going to be a concept record based upon a comic book, I began to have my apprehensions about what the songs and music on The Unforgiving would be like. Upon seeing the artwork and the way the album was being marketed, it appeared to have “sell out” written all over it.

Boy, was I relieved when I finally listened to The Unforgiving for the first time. While the songs are definitely poppy and straightforward and the band’s gothic leanings have been scaled back, there’s still plenty of symphonic strings, choral vocals and keys enriching the atmosphere behind the band’s already formidable core. And much like their other recent studio albums, The Unforgiving has a handful of obvious (potential hit) singles on its hands. Album opener “Shot in the Dark” starts out slow and brooding before hitting its stride with a classic sweeping chorus. “Faster” is an uncharacteristically simple, roaring hard-rocker with yet another huge, anthemic chorus. If there was any justice in this world, it would be a big crossover hit. “Where Is the Edge” is a soaring, mid-paced, dramatic number and might be the best vocal performance by Sharon den Adel on the entire disc. And then there’s “Sinead.” I never thought I’d characterize a Within Temptation song as danceable, but I guess there’s a first time for everything, right? The track starts slowly, but then erupts into a fist-pumping chorus set to a disco beat laced with glammy ’80s electronics providing the melodic counterpoint to the swelling, metallic guitars. But old fans, don’t worry, there are also a handful of gothic ballads to be found here, and these songs are particularly memorable. There’s still an amount of histrionics and melodrama going on here, much like on previous releases, but that’s par for the course in this sub-genre, and although not admittedly, most Within Temptation fans probably consider such overkill part of their charm. On a song-for-song basis, The Unforgiving is arguably the band’s most consistent album yet. Still, while I give props to Within Temptation for daring to take some creative chances and having them pay off way better than expected, I still hope they will bring back more of that gothic feeling to balance out their newly found pop flirtations.