artifact 010: faster disaster

After a few months of doing this, it’s been revealed (by their own admission!) that certain segments of the Black Rain Twitter voting populace base their selections entirely on the cover art.

stunned-jinder-fans-backlash-6

I know.

I guess that’s to be expected, especially when we’re exploring the third tier. Most well-adjusted-ish humans left these junk-ass albums in the cutout bin sixteen years ago, and it’s a little ridiculous to presume that someone would fire up Spotify to see if Carcariass was just an egregious typo before casting their ballot. So here we are…
poll 9

…travelling back to 2002 with Soilwork vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid’s side project, Terror 2000, and their sophomore release, Faster Disaster.

By this time, Soilwork had begun the process of slowing things down considerably. Their first two outings, Steelbath Suicide and The Chainheart Machine, were high-octane melodeath cornerstones. But with A Predator’s Portrait and Natural Born Chaos (the band cranked out four LPs from 1998 to 2002), Strid introduced the dreaded CLEAN VOCALS and Soiwork transitioned into more deliberate tempos to accompany them.

Thus, “Speed” had to look elsewhere for more…speed. Enter Terror 2000.

Referring the band as a “supergroup” would be generous: it featured members of Darkane, Face Down (“best known” as Marco Aro’s other band), and Construcdead, as well as a guy called “Nick Sword.”

But this wasn’t meant to be some towering statement of metallic achievement, it was an outlet where they could drop the artistic pretense of their main bands and just THRASH, in that supertight, hyperpolished Swedish way. They wanted to go fast.

Who wants to go fast?

10Jbv7

Fine.

Melodeathness: 3

Okay, so as we established earlier, Terror 2000 was a thrash band made up of melodeath dudes, and unfortunately, when melodeath dudes tried to do things that weren’t melodeath, the results are generally not good. Faster Disaster was not the exception.

The opening riff shows promise, but once the “Back With Attack” reaches the chorus of “we’re back! with the Terror 2000 attack!“, it’s pretty clear that despite their professed love of speed, this is gonna be a long-ass ride.

The second song,”Formula Flame Feast,” is about Formula One racing.

The third song, “Headrush,” is about headbanging.

And then the rest of the songs are just…piles of metal cliches set to stale Scandithrash riffing.

Now, these themes are intentionally bad–because Terror 2000 is a joke-ass side project–but not they’re not quite bad enough to be good, you know?

This is all in pretty stark contrast to the band’s following (and final) album, Terror For Sale, in which the band focused less on the thrash framework and more on producing legitimately amusing tracks like “King Kong Song” and “Liquor Saved Me From Sports.” On Faster Disaster, though, the jokes aren’t obvious enough and the riffs can’t elevate the flat humor.

ANYWAY, this isn’t a melodeath record, per se, but similar to Darkane (see a pattern here?), if you tried to call this thing “thrash” in 2002, some knuckledragging, walking bulletbelt in a Destroyer 666 t-shirt would’ve tried to piss in your shoes.

So it defaults to melodeath I guess.

Deathstyle: 6.5

1281_photo

Dammit, there’s that shitty leather jacket again. That’s three posts in a row now.

The only people that wore those things were guys that were still rocking JNCO khakis and those sweaters with the one stripe across the chest WAY past their expiration date. Dude looks like he’d sell you coke (but it’s actually meth) and then smoke you up with shwag in the back of a Ford Taurus.

As for Speed’s cohorts, they’ve got the melo-look down:

tt2000

Levi’s 567s. Pendant necklace. Wallet chains. Plain black t-shirts. Sunglasses indoors.

Standard-fucking-issue. Points for consistency here, but holy fuck these dudes are boring. No wonder no one gives a shit about this genre anymore.

Artistic Badness: 10

LOOK AT THIS SHIT

terror2000

Sweet christ that is glorious.

Thanks to da share zone, this is might be the only thing we’ve covered so far that has gotten better with age.

THIS IS WHY WE’RE HERE. I hope you’re happy.

Vitality: 1

Look, this album fuckin honks, but 2005’s Terror For Sale was less of a disaster, and served as a sanctuary for Speed Strid fans that (rightfully) hated Soilwork’s asstastic Stabbing the Drama, which was released the same year.

Give it a go if you’re feeling adventurous, but leave Faster Disaster in the dust.

 

artifact 008: in the halls of awaiting

insomnium8

In the interest of fairness, let’s establish something right away:

I think Insomnium is overrated.

They’re a Good Band, for sure. “The Day it All Came Down”  (that chorus!), “The Killjoy,” and the majority of the tracks on Above the Weeping World qualify as elite melodeath. They do their thing and do it well.

But any Insomnium recommendation since roughly 2009 has left something to be desired.

They’re certainly very talented and have never released a straight-up bad album. But like many of the arguably overcelebrated acts still banging out thrash and crossover [veterans and youngbloods alike; don’t tell me that Overkill and Kreator still have something to say while scoffing at Power Trip, gramps], they’re awarded bonus points for carrying the torch of craftsmanship amongst the ruins of a largely dead genre. Mors Principum Est, Omnium Gatherum, and Insomnium go from “solid” to “exceptional” in the eyes of the publics when the talent pool has all but evaporated.

See? Look at this shit:

poll8

I can see why you might’ve glossed over The Duskfall, but come on, y’all. Yyrkoon and Detonation fucking wreck shit. WE COULD HAVE HAD RIFFS TOGETHER.

Instead, you’ve saddled me with Even More Tales From The Thousand Lakes. 

Or at least that was always how I viewed this thing. But it’s been  10 years since I fired up Insomnium’s debut, let’s see if something has been in these halls all along.

[A]waiting for me. 

RcR27WE

Melodeathness: 7

This record marks a turning point for the genre. In a couple of years, lesser (yet still quite accomplished) acts like Noumena and Be’lakor would look to the somber, deliberate gait of these earlier Insomnium works for inspiration. This is where melodeath got serious, leaning more towards…well, Finland.

So, while unquestionably melodeath, Insomnium’s work on In the Halls of Awaiting has just as much in common with the Gothenburg sound as it does the early-aughts output Novembers Doom, Daylight Dies, or Swallow the Sun, despite being significantly more uptempo.

And in the first few tracks here, you can tell they were trying to find their footing, using pickslide superglue to patch disparate passages together, each one with carrying a flavor culled from a specific influence. It’s not terribly cohesive.

‘Til you get to “Dying Chant,” anyway, and it peels a whole slab off the 1000 Lakes hog:

Holy shit y’all HAVE I MENTIONED HOW MUCH THIS SOUNDS LIKE AMORPHIS’ ACCLAIMED 1994 ALBUM TALES FROM THE THOUSAND LAKES YET

But it’s great! Until about three minutes pass and you notice (again) that Insomnium still didn’t know how to construct a song in 2002.

Deathstyle: 5

Dark Tranquillity’s Euro-gangster vibe on Projector must’ve made a hell of an impression, because they’ve got that turn-of-the-century “this is also a shirt” leather jacket look on lock:

insomnium8

These are sad, serious young men that could also sell you a great pair of Rockports.

Artistic Badness: 2

The album title really doesn’t make sense. Setting that aside, by melodeath standards, this is a classy-ass album cover:

insomniumcover

That a band is getting praise for just throwing some fuckin blue trees on the cover should tell you all you need to know about the state of heavy metal graphic design at the turn of the century. Again, though, Insomnium established a turning point here. The era of the Niklas Sundin knockoff was coming to a close, and they were one of the first to leave it behind.

Vitality: 6

In the Halls of Awaiting sounds exactly the same in 2018 as it did in 2002: Like a solid debut from a promising young band.

“Dying Chant” is fun as hell (by stone-faced Insomnium standards, anyway), and there’s some fast, burly shit on “Black Waters” and “The Bitter End” that really showcase vocalist Niilo Sevänen’s standout growl. But there’s nothing here they didn’t do better on their next two albums.

If you like Insomnium a lot, you’ll like this Insomnium record. If you’ve never heard Insomnium, go fire up Above The Weeping World.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are Yyrkoon and Detonation records that need some attention.

artifact 007: projector

Our last poll was a hot one, as a revered Arch Enemy record was narrowly thwarted by Dark Tranquillity’s controversial Projector in a battle of straight ’99s:

poll7

[Avid lurkers may have noticed that there wasn’t a separate post announcing this poll; those are usually done for the benefit of Facebook users, but I deactivated that shit because your racist aunt from Edina doesn’t give a fuck about melodic death metal. So if you want in on the next one, follow me.]

The albums above offer a glimpse into a pretty fantastic year for heavy metal. Conventional wisdom in 1999 leaned pessimistic about the state of the genre, however, as we were in the throes of nu-metal’s rise (Slipknot and Static-X released their debuts, Limp Bizkit went TRL, and Machine Head tried tagging along) while stalwarts like Kreator and Darkthrone were fumbling with the likes Endorama and Ravishing Grimness. (Not to mention, this was the year that Metallica and Megadeth unleashed S&M and Risk.)

But the year still gave us classic American output like World Coming Down and The Gathering, and across the pond, the melodic death metal scene was swelling to full strength. Yet as their contemporaries In Flames and Soilwork were busy honing their respective sounds into the most concise, direct incarnations possible, Dark Tranquillity took a bold detour.

After laying the groundwork for the genre on their first three records (especially The Gallery and The Mind’s I) Dark Tranquillity found themselves ahead of the curve; as the melodeath core was growing stronger and putting down roots, they were already itching to experiment. And when extreme metal bands are ready to “expand their sound,” that usually means one thing:

Clean vocals.

The band was pretty roundly lambasted for their appearance on Projector; most of the chatter around the old Metal-Rules.com forums consisted of some variation of “they’re pussies and they suck now” (it was the Vince Russo era, after all), so I overlooked the band almost entirely while in the initial throes of meloinfatuation.

Mikael Stanne’s cleans here are robust–if a bit frosty–and instead looked backward to old trends rather than glomming onto new ones. Yeah, they weren’t “metal” cleans in the trad/power vein, but they sure as shit weren’t the nu-mumble or Affliction-bling style(s) that In Flames and Soilwork would respectively employ a mere three years later.

On Projector, Dark Tranquillity went all Depeche Mode on us. And while that was completely unfashionable in 1999, we’re currently living in an age where darkwave, synthpop, and whatever the hell that new Ulver record was are revered by ‘heads and regular-ass humans alike. So despite failing to find a home upon its release, this thing holds up pretty damn well.

And, after getting this out of their system, the band was ready to get back to kicking the shit out of shit in 2002 with Damage Done, reclaiming the Gothenburg throne while In Flames went off and started dressing like janitors.

Melodeathness: 7

Dark Tranquillity IS melodeath, and despite the experimentation here, they never let that go. This is commendable and ensured a full-on fan revolt, but in a way it also hindered the styleshift, at least academically. The metallic rigidity bolts straight through the new wave-isms, and it never feels like the band truly lets go and embraces the challenge. Projector is an experimentation, but a guarded one, often lacking the emotion and vulnerability that propelled the outsider acts they’re culling influence from.

The savage, death metal contrasts on “Undo Control” and “Nether Novas” go a long way towards making Projector one of band’s most dynamic works, so the riff retention isn’t a misfire, by any stretch. But by fully-embracing the new elements, a full-blown ballad like “Day to End” might’ve taken on new life instead of coming across like a glorified interlude.

Artistic Badness: 4

Wow, I can’t believe we made it through seven entries without coming across Niklas Sundin cover art.

Dude always saved his best stuff for his own band, and the new logo he put together here is crisp and timeless. The cyborg/demon/cherub thing in the middle though?

dt_proj

Yuck. No.

Deathstyle: 3

Since this was their SERIOUS ARTISTIC STATEMENT period, the band decided to go with “classy leather” for this excursion, employing those wide-lapel jackets that kept your local mall’s Wilson’s Leather in business through the Y2K crisis:

dtliveproj

They looked like dorks.

Vitality: 9

Damn straight, Darkane Enthusiast. Time has been kind to Projector.

Trouble is, there’s no timeline where it comfortably exists. It blends two styles that didn’t align then and don’t necessarily align now. Melodic death metal and darkwave have never been cool at the same time.

It’s a niche record in a niche subgenre. But it’s a damn good one.

artifact 006: the only pure hate

When someone starts a metal blog that only focuses on albums that were released 20-ish years ago, pinpointing the source of the nostalgia isn’t an exact science. Yeah, the Black Rain mission statement professed a desire to prop up an underappreciated era, but really, no sane metal fan is going to dive headfirst into a dead subgenre if they aren’t somewhat disillusioned with the scene’s current trends.

So here we are. A month removed from the 2017’s death and mired in a transitional rut. Favorite bands are growing long in the tooth, and even the ones that presumably have something left in the tank (Primordial, Anaal Nathrakh, etc.) struggle to generate excitement; you can only repeat the same variations on a theme and re-paste the same logos on festival lineups for so long before attention drifts.

So you look to what’s new and see what you might’ve missed.

But what’s new is actually…pretty old. Or pretty ugly. Or just too damn serious. PROOF:

  • People still like OSDM
  • Sounding like Pallbearer can still get you places if you put a wizard on it
  • Sludge/doom is still a thing because curating SICK TONE and stretching one killer-ish idea across eight minutes is the best way to cover for your vocalist that just goes BARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR-UHHHHHHHHH
  • The avant-garde weirdos that are actually pushing the genre into new territories don’t sound like they’re having any goddamn fun

All things considered, the month-long break we took for year-end list mining wasn’t a success.

diaz

But lo! A handful of PRESTIGE ALBUMS came out last month! What treasures await?!

  • Watain’s Trident Wolf Eclipse proved that they’re still more about posturing than potency, yet the release set them up nicely for a US tour with over-the-hill shitheels Destroyer 666; the people that go to Mayhem shows to chuck sieg heils at Hellhammer must be stoked
  • Mammoth Grinder’s new one is fine but Underworlds was better
  • Both Robb Flynn and Phil “Aitch” Anselmo released albums in 2018 and certain segments of the population actually expected them to be enjoyable (they’re not, you fucking rubes, stop doing this)
  • Portal and Tribulation secured their spots in the next Decibel Top 40

Conclusion: Metal is still boring!

(Unless you’re Hellripper. Hellripper kicks ass.)

Now that we’ve utilized Black Rain’s brief hiatus to establish that heavy metal is going through it’s WWF 1995 phase…

…let’s fast-forward to 1998.

A Canorous Quintet won the last poll, besting No Fashion labelmates Ablaze My Sorrow for the featured slot. The percentage gap is a bit deceiving due to low voter turnout because no one remembers a damn thing about any of these records:

poll6

…but dammit, all these albums are cool as hell, especially the Ebony Tears, so if you wanna brush up on your third-tier melojams for the next go-round, this is a solid slate to start with.

The modestly-monikered A Canorous Quintet was/is comprised of journeymen that, among other ventures of varying success, logged hours with acts like Amon Amarth and October Tide. The Only Pure Hate brought their initial run to a close after only two proper LPs, but the band recently reformed and self-released a live album three weeks ago (it’s on Spotify and it sucks) after spending over a decade toiling in the Metal Blade bargain bin under the equally uninspiring name This Ending.

This isn’t the most exciting resume, admittedly. Literally no one gave a shit about This Ending, so why should anyone care about the band’s early struggles?

Because they weren’t struggles. Some prospects peak early. A Canorous Quintet is one such prospect.

By modern melodic death standards, The Only Pure Hate is super raw in its execution. Acclaimed bands of the latter days–Insomnium, Be’lakor, Wolfheart–employ a regal, refined, arguably rigid approach. If they represent the …And Justice For All / Rust In Peace era, A Canorous Quintet is whips around in melodeath’s Rrröööaaarrr / Endless Pain phase.

And that fuckin rules hard.

Melodeathness: 8

Cool thing about this record is that it’s wholly nestled into the genre, yet something of a convergence of microstyles; there’s some Jestery folkstuff on “The Void,” blistering, blown-out Scandithrash on “The Complete Emptiness,” and sick Sacramentum-ish blackness on “Land of the Lost.” It’s a bunch of young dudes throwing a bunch of rad shit at the wall without leaning on the alternate picking rifftropes that lower-card acts would crutch themselves on. This is melo as fuck, but it’s not following the rules because they really hadn’t been nailed down yet.

However, song titles like “Embryo of Lies,” “Everbleed,” and “Realm of Rain” are straight fuckin archetypal, so they did their part.

Artistic Badness: 5

Yeah, there’s some bad shit here. The logo sucks. The font they used for the song titles and album title sucks. If anyone could figure out what the cover image is supposed to be, it would also be accused of sucking.

The package isn’t horrific, tho, it’s just low-budget and forgettable, which makes it decidedly less fun. And, sadly, another reason why this band’s reputation has been collecting dust.

Deathstyle: 8

This is some good shit right here:

acanourous

Got that basic melodeath look down–middle-part Jesus hair, plain black t-shirts, one tribal tattoo strategically pointed towards the camera–but with some sick studded belts and gauntlets thrown into the mix. Keeping it old-school while still nailing that wispy, forlorn mopestyle. Quality.

Vitality: 7

 

This ain’t essential. I didn’t fire this thing up and immediately kick my own teeth down my throat and choke on my Lady Doritos for sleeping on A Canorous Quintet for 19 years. But this is a super-underrated melodic death metal offering. Nasty tone, a wicked vocal delivery, a blackened edge (there are blasts!)…this is high-quality, high-speed shit right here. “The Complete Emptiness” goes especially hard.

Fire it up.

darkane redux: schuler’s angel

[Last week, things didn’t go so well for Darkane, but maybe…just maybe…Insanity wasn’t the best place to start. So I’m taking the week off and handing the reins to Twitter’s most prominent Darkane enthusiast, Schuler Benson, who makes the case for the band’s 1999 debut, Rusted Angel.]

Darkane’s sophomore release, Insanity, recently got a much-deserved reaming on Black Rain Artifacts, and that was just over its art. And while longtime Darkane fans seem split down the middle about this, I’m inclined to say the shitty cover is woefully indicative of the songs on Insanity. When I go back and listen to it now, the whole album feels rushed; recently-acquired singer Andreas Sydow still had some settling in to do, and the mentality behind the songwriting favored straightforward thrash numbers broken up by long lulls and needless interludes. Insanity is a passable melodic death metal record, but what makes it feel like a dud is where it’s sandwiched in Darkane’s discography. The band followed it up with the successful Expanding Senses. And before Insanity came Darkane’s debut, Rusted Angel, a masterful combination of the already-established Swedish melo-death blueprint and the deathy thrash of Kreator and Destruction. Rusted Angel has only gotten better with age, and somehow it’s still somewhat overlooked.

To call Rusted Angel the band’s first album isn’t entirely accurate; while it was their first recorded output under the Darkane moniker, the band’s core songwriters, guitarist Christofer Malmström and drummer Peter Wildoer, had already been playing together for years, first in the early ’90s as Demise, then as Agretator, the lineup of which dissolved in 1998. Malmström and Wildoer’s history together accounts for Rusted Angel’s odd duality of seasoned and confident steadiness mixed with an urgent and fresh immediacy. The instrumentation, further fleshed out by Jörgen Löfberg and Klas Ideberg, is muscular and melodic, instantly catchy but complex enough for rewarding repeat listens.

For my money though, the true hero of Rusted Angel is Lawrence Mackrory, a jack-of-all-trades musician in the Swedish metal scene, whose vocal performance here set a new bar for singers like Peter Dolving and Jens Broman (who’d later also do a stint in Darkane), sticking to neither screaming nor clean singing, but occupying a shaky in-between territory that’s as unpredictable as it is satisfying. Honestly, I’d argue that Mackrory’s performance was so original—and became such a crucial element of Darkane’s ouvre—that when he left the band after recording just one album with them, the remaining members’ highest priority in a new frontman was finding a convincing Lawrence Mackrory knock-off… and whether you wanna hear it or not, that’s pretty much what Andreas Sydow was.

So let’s talk about the songs. Wildoer recently relayed on Facebook an anecdote about the night he and Malmström got together to begin writing in earnest what would become Rusted Angel. Wildoer says that the two of them were in love with how “Blinded By Fear” opened, and they let that affinity direct the writing of “Convicted,” which, following an operatic instrumental intro track, ended up opening Darkane’s debut. “Convicted” and “Bound” both ride the fence between melo-death and just-plain-death, kinda like a mixture of Subterranean’s melody and The Winterlong’s faster bits. “A Wisdoms Breed” and “Chase For Existence” have similar makeups, but display the band slowing down the pace just a bit for emphasized theatricality. Then there’s “July 1999,” probably the album’s fastest track, boasting some impressive downpicking, blazing double-bass from Wildoer, and a possessed-sounding Mackrory hollering about Nostradamus or something. The fact that, style-wise, the band is relatively all over the place is actually one of Rusted Angel’s strongest assets. But it’s not just what they’re pulling and where they’re pulling it from, it’s how they’re putting it all together.

According to Wildoer, it was the tail end of 1997 when he and Malmström started writing the record, so in addition to At The Gates, they were surely already familiar with Hypocrisy, Dark Tranquillity and the rest of the bands who’d go on to form the subgenre’s top tier. Melodically, they were taking their cues from some choice artists. But the influence of Darkane’s forerunners, Agretator and Demise—an all-out death metal band and a thrash act, respectively—can be felt through the death/thrash in these songs, too. Also, in addition to Darkane, another Helsingborg band was picking up momentum, and even lent Darkane their singer for a brief time. It ultimately didn’t pan out; Darkane wound up with Mackrory, and the other singer, one Björn “Speed” Strid, would return to his main gig, Soilwork.

speed
oh, what could have been!

Another thing Rusted Angel introduced that’d come to define the band’s sound is the heavy inclusion of orchestration and operatic vocals. While orchestral/choral accents and flourishes aren’t too hard to find in melodic death metal, songs like the title track and “Frenetic Visions” feature them prominently. And honestly, if there’s anywhere the album falls short, it’s when the orchestral elements overshadow the band and create cracks in the record’s flow. They’d eventually get better at balancing it out on later albums.

On the whole, Darkane is pretty slept-on compared to a number of their peers. The band’s lineup has remained the same, instrumentally, since Rusted Angel. Andreas Sydow performed vocals on three Darkane albums (I haven’t mentioned Layers of Lies, but it’s Sydow’s best with the band). And Construcdead’s Jens Broman lent his voice to one, 2009’s much-maligned Demonic Art (which is actually my favorite Darkane release, fucking @ me, you think I haven’t taken shit for it already?). Then, following Broman’s exit, our homie Lawrence Mackrory returned for 2013’s The Sinister Supremacy, a solid, catchy slab that seemed to get zero promotion, at least stateside. Peter Wildoer’s also gone on to do some excellent work as a hired gun drummer, including providing percussion for Old Man’s Child’s choice Slaves of the World, as well as auditioning for the Slayer vacancy left after Dave Lombardo’s most recent exit. According to the band’s Facebook page, Malmström underwent surgery fairly recently to repair a torn ligament (or something) in his finger. It would appear that now he’s on the mend, and hopefully we’ll end up with some new Darkane at some point in the near future.

Now don’t get me wrong… Darkane isn’t At The Gates or Soilwork, but they’ve contributed some of the better music under the melo-death umbrella, and they somehow seem to get less recognition than some of their weaker cohorts (fucking Mnemic had a better deal and better distro/promo way longer than they deserved, but hardly anybody in the U.S. even knew The Sinister Supremacy came out, which is just fuckin’ perverse). If you haven’t heard Darkane before and you’re looking for a good place to start, or if like Jordan, it’s just been a while and you’re wondering if you missed something your first time around, Rusted Angel is a killer place to start. Sharp riffs, impassioned vocals, not completely terrible cover art, and tone for days. Listen up.

Schuler Benson is a writing instructor and PhD student at the University of South Carolina where he studies rhetoric and its capacities in addiction recovery, as well as forces his colleagues and students to listen to shit like Darkane. Tweet at him at @schulerbenson.

(more) 3rd tier terror: torture, plague, etc.

The latest poll is now live, featuring some early releases from some lesser-loved acts that still have a ton of firepower. Lots of extremely bad cover art here, continuing the trend  set by Darkane last week and upholding the late ’90s reputation for hideous visuals. Early melodic death metal is apparently home to the PSOne era of heavy metal cover art.

For your consideration this week:

  • Ebony Tears – Tortura Insomniae
  • Ablaze My Sorrow – The Plague
  • A Canorous Quintet – The Only Pure Hate
  • Orphanage – By Time Alone

VOTE HERE.

Vote hard.

Vote…once.

artifact 005: insanity

Insanity, indeed! Last week’s poll was a heated two-way race, with Kalmah’s debut Swamplord falling just shy of overtaking Darkane in the 11th hour:

poll5

Learned a few things from this one. First, putting Julie Laughs Nomore in the second tier based on the strength of their material was a mistake. After earning, like, two goddamn votes, they’ve been relegated to the third tier to romp around with the rest of their poorly-distributed kin.

Second, the people that like Kalmah and Darkane reeeeeeeeeally like Kalmah and Darkane….which gave me hope! Neither of these bands really clicked for me in their heyday, despite significant critical acclaim for albums like The Black Waltz and Expanding Senses. But maybe, backed by the long-simmering hype of their proponents and armed with a  weathered set of ears, I could muster up a new appreciation for the act that would emerge victorious.

So.

Darkane won.

S4IwWPN

Okay. If I’m being honest, the only Darkane releases I was really interested in re-cracking were Rusted Angel and Expanding Senses. The latter because it got pushed HARD in Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles back in the day (which was basically my 2nd bible to Metal Maniacs and earned hella nerd points for hanging 10s on overproduced bullshit like Evergrey), and the former because it was lauded on message boards for being “the good one” on virtue of it being 1) the debut, and 2) pretty thrashy before they got all LAME AND GOTHENBURG

Fast forward to my preparation for this lil venture: neither of these albums were available on Spotify. The majority of my listening is done on Spotify these days, because it has Chromecast capability and that’s what works best for my living room setup.

(If you have a problem with these methods, kind reader, I’m sorry, but please don’t try to use this as a platform to shame me into buying physical releases so I can play them on some awkward, unwieldy, outdated contraption. I like being able to switch between porn, wrestling podcasts, Lost in Vegas reactions, and Beaten to Death videos in FULL SURROUND SOUND with a mere swipe of a handheld device. If you prefer your musical consumption to be as elaborate and arcane as possible, fine. That shit is on you.

Speaking of arcane, I came across this little tidbit on M-A during my exhaustive research for this record:

darkandarcane

AH! So it’s not pronounced DARK-ain, but dar-KANE. Interesting!)

Anyway, back to my point. I went with Insanity for the poll instead of Rusted Angel because I thought Insanity was on Spotify while Rusted Angel wasn’t. But lo and behold, I go to write this thing, and I was either sorely mistaken, or the record labels had turned the tables. No Insanity. So I fired it up on YouTube, which is a myspace-ass way to listen to music.

Verdict: It kinda sucks!

On paper, Insanity has all the tools. It’s a hybrid of melodic death and that impossibly-tight Eurothrash that was done so well in the early aughts by the likes of Carnal Forge, Dew-Scented, Corporation 187, Hatesphere, et al. Plus, it’s got a palpable Strapping Young Lad influence running through it, in both the half-yelled pseudoclean vocal affectations and the manic tempo changes.

Make no mistake: These are all very good touchstones. But despite a strong foundation and some clever tricks, Insanity is plagued with a stale sameness almost from the first minute, never really kicking into fuck-yeah gear despite drummer Peter Wildoer’s best efforts. A lot of cool elements are at play here, but for whatever reason, none of it really clicks, and most of the stuff on display has been done better by other bands.

Melodeathness: 5

Is it thrash? Nope! Is it melodic death metal? Nope! Would some hopeless nerd writing a review of a completely unrelated record on Metal-Archives make a passive-aggressive stab at it for being “gothenburg bullshit” for no reason? Yep!

Artistic Badness: 10

Holy shit this is one of the worst album covers I have ever seen.

Thomas Ewerhard, may this be the horrible crown upon your litany of atrocities.

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Deathstyle: 3

I mean, it HAD to be too early to be doing the invisible fruitgrab thing ironically, right? Right?

In 2001?

Anyone?

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Vitality: 2

Look, people voted for this album and apparently think that it is good, but not only is this a lesser Darkane effort, it’s also pretty fuckin far from the most savage melodeathrash offering out there. And let’s be honest, there’s really only so much of that shit you need in your arsenal.

Interestingly, a couple of the Darkane dudes crafted a pretty cool album in this vein outside of Darkane, putting the Devin Townsend Project’s Ryan Van Poederooyen behind the kit while shifting Peter Wildoer to vocals.

Rec’ing this album kinda breaks the parameters of this project’s intended purpose, but fuck it. You’ll be better off with Non-Human Level instead:

return to tier two: draining the swamp

There’s really no cohesive theme to this week’s selections, I just tried to spread things out a bit stylistically while avoiding repeat appearances. (I don’t think I could handle seeing 2 different Gardenian albums take a loss within the span of a little more than a month.)

All of these bands were on the cusp of breaking through commercially at certain points in their respective careers–meaning that they were probably within shouting distance of being tacked onto the bottom of a Children of Bodom-led package tour–save for Julie Laughs Nomore, who were really fucking good yet distro’d like complete shit.

For your consideration this week:

  • Callenish Circle – Graceful…Yet Forbidding
  • Darkane – Insanity
  • Julie Laughs Nomore – When Only Darkness Remains
  • Kalmah – Swamplord

VOTE HERE, VOTE HARD. The winner will get covered early next week, like we do. See you then, humans.

artifact 004: the final chapter

No, this isn’t the last post, and no, this wasn’t Hypocrisy’s last album, either. The Final Chapter edged out Soilwork’s Steelbath Suicide in a hotly-contested battle last week, so this false finish is our first artifact out of the gate for 2018.

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My first exposure to Hypocrisy was their 1999 self-titled album, which I purchased at a Best Buy in Duluth, Minnesota (along with In Flames’ Colony and Cradle of Filth’s Cruelty and the Beast) with a fistful of teenage Christmas cash. All three records had profound effects–and I still spin them regularly to this day–but the Hypocrisy really captivated me by being so varied and outright bizarre. After that intro, I bounced around their discography haphazardly, scooping Into the Abyss upon release, rolling back to Abducted after that, then finally stumbling into The Final Chapter sometime in my early 20s.

Somehow, I had ended up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin by then. A friend from high school was going to school there and needed a roommate; I was looking to escape a vapid, ill-fitting social circle and start fresh, so I packed up and headed south. The pretense was to “go back to school”…you know, to give in to the pressures of parents and elders because everyone involved was convinced that they knew what the hell they were talking about. (They didn’t, but it wasn’t their fault. Everything is a scam.)

Like most directionless twenty-somethings, I ended up wasting a bunch of money on tuition so I could pay lip service to societal norms (“why, yes, I am in college, Random Judgmental Prick, how do you like selling insurance for a living?”) and became a drunken asshole for three-plus years while I tried to figure out who the hell I actually was.

Quickly realizing that my part-time gig as the Biscuit Guy at Red Lobster wasn’t going to fund my nightly blackouts, I acquired employment at the Menards distribution center. Specifically, “Building 10,” where we processed all the junk that the various stores in the home improvement chain sent back. Used pallets, broken landscaping block, defective products, whatever.

It was brutal, 2nd-shift work, and I was too naive at the time to realize how exploitative it was. Mandatory overtime was a regular thing, as were shift extensions to 1 or 2 am without warning. Bathroom breaks were unpaid; we had to punch out to activate the metal turnstile that blocked the entry to the restroom, which was strategically positioned across from the managers’ desks. Covering up workplace injuries was actively encouraged, not just because a lost-day injury would be a knock against our building’s safety-hours stats, but any hospital visit had the added bonus of a drug test, which basically every employee was guaranteed to fail. The consequence was immediate termination.

Obviously, I didn’t want to get fired, so I kept most of my major incidents under wraps with assistance from my immediate supervisors. Among other things: I sprained my wrist throwing pallets (which is a far, far more atrocious activity than I could accurately describe here); opened a pressure gash on my chest after a pallet got caught in an upending machine juuuust the right way and shot back at me like a bullet, literally knocking me on my ass;  I broke my toe when a granite countertop in a cage full of defective products I was sorting unexpectedly cracked in half and landed on my foot.

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Sorting defects was kind of fun, though, because you were basically rummaging through garbage, putting items with certain tags on certain conveyor belts for processing. And while there were used sump pumps and water heaters and outdoor grills to wrestle with, there were hidden treasures, too. Once in awhile you’d score a recently-expired bag of gummy worms, or a pair of work gloves that were in decent enough shape to be duct-taped into duty, or…a portable CD player that still worked!

Since the working conditions were so shitty, no one dared to bring any worthwhile electronics in the building. So we’d mine these potato-ass CD players from the defect cages, get a few days / hours of usage out of them, and chuck them aside when they inevitably gave up the ghost.

It was on one of these jacked-ass CD players that I first heard The Final Chapter, through a pair of foamfuzzy over-ear headphones, as I shrink-wrapped a pallet of defective air compressors.

And back then, I thought it was kind of lackluster. Not a total whiff, by any means. But in my headcanon, there were two things casting a shadow over this record: My colossal esteem for the self-titled album, and the fact that The Final Chapter was a reneged epitaph, a final album that wasn’t. Due to fan response and the reaction they received at Wacken the following year–immortalized on the Hypocrisy Destroys Wacken live recording–they decided to continue, but I couldn’t reconcile this record possibly being GOOD when it was made by a band that was seemingly out of gas. I liked the cover of Razor’s “Evil Invaders,” but dismissed most of the record as containing ideas that were better explored on later releases.

Now? It’s aged pretty damn well, actually.  When this thing won the poll, I was surprised, but respinning it with fresh ears has been enlightening. The Final Chapter has always been regarded as one of Hypocrisy’s heaviest outings (arguably only eclipsed by 2005’s Virus), and that heft pushes straight-up burners like “Inseminated Adoption” and “Dominion” beyond the formulaic.

The best slice of the record is the midsection trio of “Inquire Within,” “Last Vanguard,” and “Request Denied.” The middle track is a speedy little fucker that splits a pair of ethereal, near-Floydian cuts packed with masterful lurchriffing. While I’m generally not a huge fan of mid-paced jams from death metal bands not named Monstrosity or Immolation, Hypocrisy really excels in this realm, and on The Final Chapter, they showed that they had the depth and dexterity to make it work.

Verdict: It’s good! Instead of relegating this to the lower half of the band’s discography, I’d put it up there with Abducted, but below the self-tiled, A Taste of Extreme Divinity, and Virus.

Fuck, Hypocrisy has a lot of albums.

[Before we get to the scores, a note on the anecdote I shared above: Menards has had a long history of legal bullshittery and cultural toxicity–do a quick search of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s reporting over the past couple of decades for evidence–and they’re finally facing some class-action consequences for mistreating their employees. While the CEO of the company is, like many rich old white dudes, a Trump-supporting, conservative shitheel, the fact that he wants to BUILD THE WALL shouldn’t have been the tipping point for liberals to start boycotting his business. His exploitation of thousands of workers for decades should have been. It’s not too late for y’all to scratch beyond the surface of your MSNBC chyrons, but get with the fuckin program already.]

Here we go!

Melodeathness: 6

While no one is ever going to call Hypocrisy a Gothenburg act because they totally have a signature sound, calling them anything other than melodic death metal is…not correct. I mean, blast “Adjusting the Sun” and tell me that isn’t some sweet, sweet melodeath right there. But Hypocrisy are def their own entity, and shouldn’t be pigeonholed.

Too much, anyway.

Artistic Badness: 5

Nothing egregious here, other than, you know, being stuck with an album called The Final Chapter in the middle of your goddamn discography.

Also, photo covers are generally tacky, even if y’all just look like regular-ass metalheads.

Deathstyle: 6

Yep, they looked like regular-ass metalheads. They wouldn’t make the crucial artistic decision to add a mesh t-shirt until the next album cycle:

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Vitality: 8

This is a good Hypocrisy record! And since, largely, the band has transcended scene and place, it stands on it’s own pretty well. Yeah, it’s got that Abyss Studios sound were the guitars are saturated as fuck and you can barely hear the drums, but it still kicks ass.

Is it essential? Not really! But if you like Hypocrisy, this should be in your Top 5.

Play it loud, kids.

 

 

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