Summer Metal Jamz
by Gary M. Spencer

Wussup headz?

Hope you all had a great Fourth of July holiday. Me, I partied a bit much, hence I’m behind on getting you this early July edition of Extremities. Not much to report on the news or live music front, so let’s dive in with a slew of album reviews!

Boris, Heavy Rocks (Sargent House)
Boris is easily one of the most prolific artists in contemporary alternative music with each record being somewhat different from other records in their extensive back catalogue. I discovered this band by seeing them open for Sunn0))) in New York, and they blew me away with an ear-piercing, loud-as-fuck, high-energy mix of punk, noise, psychedelia and metal. I picked up their Pink LP and was soon hooked on both the record and the band. Since then, I’ve picked up several of Boris’s prior and subsequent releases, and while most of them are very good (2008’s Smile being particularly fantastic), none have come close to equaling the fuzzy, droning, metallic excellence of Pink.

Earlier this year, I got wind that Boris was about to release a second album under the title of Heavy Rocks (they’d previously released an album with that title in 2002), which for whatever reason had me hoping that Boris was about to make the proper follow-up to Pink. Well, what we got in 2011’s Heavy Rocks is more of the same that Boris has been up to in recent years: drowsy, slow, droning, noisy, shoegazer psych-rock epics and faster, somewhat poppy and somewhat simplistic, metallic punk rockers with repetitive lyrical motifs. In this regard, Heavy Rocks is certainly more comparable to Smile than Pink. But musical styles aside, is Heavy Rocks a worthwhile record? Depends on what you think of Boris’s musical forays within the last three years. If you like the dichotomy of musical variety presented on Smile, you should enjoy this even though it isn’t quite as good as said album. As a whole, it is kind of disjointed and doesn’t really have an identity as a standalone recording. Regardless, it seems to me that with Boris, who have released a total of four albums already this calendar year, the more albums they put out the more diminishing the returns are. Perhaps, they need some time off from making music or maybe they shouldn’t release every single musical idea they come up with. Just my opinion.

Bringers of Disease, Gospel of Pestilence EP (Translation Loss)
Relative newcomers to the USBM scene, Dayton’s Bringers of Disease have signed on with Translation Loss to introduce themselves with their debut EP, Gospel of Pestilence. Beginning with a blurry, quasi-blast beat driven song called “Doomed to Flames” which introduces Logan Madison’s alternately shrieking and snarling vocals, the album doesn’t disappoint. Bringers of Disease have their feet firmly planted in old school black metal—no frills, no keyboards, no female vocals—just straight to the gut tunes with hooks, choruses, and intelligent breakdowns. Song titles like “Your Prayers Remain Unheard” and “Our Final Reward in Hell” should give you a clue what these guys are up to lyrically and conceptually. While Bringers of Disease may not be a household name now, with the right promotion and exposure the band could easily become one of the best bands the U.S. has to offer to the new millennium of black metal.

Hate Eternal, Phoenix from the Ashes (Metal Blade)
For those of you who were grossly disappointed by the new Morbid Angel album (and judging from the vitriol exhibited on Facebook there are a lot of disappointed fans out there), you should redirect your ears to the newest album by Hate Eternal, featuring ex–Morbid Angel guitarist Erik Rutan. If you’re in the mood for a blasting, grinding, furious catharsis, then Phoenix from the Ashes is for you. Listening to the album is akin to being bludgeoned in the eardrum with a sledgehammer: it’s fucking brutal music played at an earth-scorching pace. The band is tight and occasionally reminiscent of Demigod-era Behemoth. In other word, if you need a record to renew your faith in that is good and right with death metal, this is it. You won’t be disappointed.

In Solitude, The World. The Flesh. The Devil. (Metal Blade)
Swedish pretty boys In Solitude have secured a deal with Metal Blade, and here is their first offering with the label. The World. The Flesh. The Devil isn’t an immediately ear-grabbing listen, but it’s a well-done foray into the so-called “new wave of traditional heavy metal.” In Solitude bears their love for Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate on their collective sleeve, but what sets them apart from most of their contemporaries is the dark, gothic vibe that they bring to the table. Pelle Ahman’s lead vocals are like a cross between King Diamond and Glenn Danzig, with some moments on the record almost sounding like a Samhain outtake. With the record at 50-somet minutes in length, they could have shaved one or two songs off and end up with a leaner, meaner and thusly more impressive record. Quantity rarely outshines quality, kids. But overall, In Solitude has a distinctive flavor, and based on the results of their latest, they have a lot of potential to become a major player in the revival of traditional sounds.

Liturgy, Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey)
Okay, I’m not going to get into the whole discussion over Liturgy frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s “Transcendental Black Metal” manifesto. I try to keep my column free of politics and I don’t really care if some snobby metal elitists consider Liturgy and their ilk to be “hipster black metal.” (Being from Brooklyn certainly doesn’t help deflect such labeling.) What matters most to me is the music, and with that said, I can tell you without reservation that Aesthethica, Liturgy’s second full-length release, is very impressive.

The album begins with some discordant, arrhythmic clanging that is soon kicked out of the way with an onslaught of blindingly fast tremolo picking and blistering blast beats (or “burst beats,” if you prefer Hendrix’s terminology). This song, “High Gold,” seems to epitomize the aesthetics of the rest of the album, which for the most part is lightning fast and disorienting. The mechanics of the band are extraordinarily tight, but if you think that means Liturgy’s Aesthetnica is sterile, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Liturgy seems to be as influenced by post-hardcore and math rock as much as they are influenced by Marduk and Mayhem, and there are moments on Aesthetica where the band reminds me of a black metal Fugazi, with their penchant for locked grooves and always on the money drumming. I’m sure that this last comment will turn off black metal elitists, but to me the introduction of musical elements outside the realm of the genre is often the key to keeping black metal interesting. Aesthethica is a brazen rocker brimming with hooks and memorable breakdowns that will become more immersed in your skull with each listen. So far, Aesthethica is one of the best albums released this year.

Pentagram, Last Rites (Metal Blade)
I don’t know how this one fell through the cracks last month, as the highly anticipated “return to form” album by heavy metal doom legend Pentagram certainly lives up to the hype. In case anyone needs a history lesson, Pentagram has been a practitioner of Sabbath-inspired doom since the early 1970s, surviving numerous metal trends as well as founding member Bobby Liebling’s struggles with drugs and alcohol. There has been a lot of turnover within Pentagram over the years, but strangely it hasn’t affected much of the band’s output, and Last Rites is further proof. It is arguably one of the most focused, consistent slabs of wax that the band has ever released and it easily sits alongside the classic material for which the band is famous. Bobby Liebling is joined by arguably the best guitarist in Pentagram history, Victor Griffi, for the first time in many years, along with some new blood filling in the rhythm section. Yet, these songs sound like they could have been recorded 30 or more years ago. The cuts themselves range from straight-up rockers (“Treat Me Right”, “Call the Man”) to nuanced introspective fare (“Windmills and Chimes”, “Everything’s Turning into Night”). Liebling’s vocals are arguably more impassioned than ever—and that’s certainly not a bad thing. Overall, Last Rites has way more depth than one might expect from a doom band, especially one that’s been through everything that Pentagram has endured. At the least, Pentagram deserves your respect, and if you respect yourself, you should give Last Rites a chance.

Septic Flesh, The Great Mass (Season of Mist)
I’ve had to think long and hard about this review for a variety of reasons. First of all, The Great Mass is by no means an easy album to digest. There’s so much going on here musically that it’s hard to assess in just a few listenings. It is a complex, gothic labyrinth of female and choral vocals accompanied by strings and brass instruments, yet Septic Flesh manages to keep the proceedings on the metal side of things, resulting in an adventurous album that still has enough familiar elements to keep the average headbanger engaged. The Great Mass is admittedly a grower in terms of listenability, but since everything’s clicked with me, I now have no reason to not recommend it. It sure beats the hell out of the newest Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth albums, anyway.