Thursday, January 31, 2008

Best of 2007 - from #70 to #66(6)

70. viaje a 800 - 'estampida de trombones'
[review published on issue #159 of Terrorizer magazine]
After a long silence, Spaniards Viaje A 800 return with their unusual take on stoner rock. Despite the relative conventionality of their music, very clearly influenced by Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and Kyuss, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly sounds different about them. Indeed, the Spanish lyrics give it an air of exoticism that is rare in this sort of music, but the riffs are hypnotic enough for the language to be quickly forgotten after a couple of songs. Perhaps it’s the fact that Viaje A 800’s songs are more direct, less hazier, less stoned if you will, than your typical stoner rock. They not only avoid the drugged out, long repetitions common in some other bands of this kind, but there’s in fact an almost punk-like immediacy in the rockier songs like ‘Zé’ or ‘Patio Custodio’ that is very satisfying. ‘Estampida De Trombones’ is the chance to listen to an example of how to give a tired genre a new, subtle twist, while still rocking the house down.

69. yakuza - 'transmutations'
[review published on issue #163 of Terrorizer magazine]
Shape shifting isn’t the half of it, as each song on ‘Transmutations’ twists the album further into uncategorizable territory. There’s the dreamy jazzy structures of the sax-lead ‘Egocide’ exploding halfway into Patton-esque metal cabaret, the Neurosis worship of ‘Raus’, the pitch-black doom of ‘The Blinding’ or the devastating 2-minute death metal blast of ‘Steal The Fire’. Just to name a few. Call it a mess and give it 5/10, right? Well, wrong. It sounds crazy when write descriptions of each song like that, but when you’re actually listening to it, it doesn’t feel that insane. Yakuza aren’t a crazy grind band shooting in all genre directions just because they have ‘jazz influences’, and all the songs have the band’s very distinctive mark on them, regardless of their stylistic clothing. It will take some listens, but you’ll eventually discover a subtly structured record that knows when to chill out and when to go for your throat. A great record that is both brutal and intelligent.

Yakuza - 'Egocide'

68. unsane - 'visqueen'
The somewhat hard-to-define, vicious post-hardcore sound of Unsane has been slowly but surely developing, and all of their albums have been a challenge to fans, who don't expect anything less from this NY-based band. 'Visqueen', their first album for Mike Patton's Ipecac label, goes some way to taking the Unsane sound to a new extreme, as the creepy desolation that was always present on their past records is very emphasized here, but all without losing their trademark rumbling power. Take opener 'Against The Grain', where everything that makes Unsane great is represented - the song is intimidating in its relentless and incisive heaviness, but also releases a quantity of unease and razor-sharp angst that makes it feverishly intense. The rest of the album falls a few inches short of this genius opening blast, but stays close enough to make all of it mandatory both for Unsane fans and for those who like uneasy aggressive music. To top it all off, Unsane throw a last-gasp curveball with 'East Broadway', an eight-minute almost ambient piece that'll scare the shit out of you and makes the wait for the next album a very exciting one.

Unsane - 'Against The Grain'

67. trap them - 'sleepwell deconstructor'
No big review needed for this. 'Sleepwell Deconstructor' is the sound of the pissed off, the frustrated, the angry. It's what you put on when you've had enough of all the shit in the world and you want to start breaking things. It's no surprise that there are members of December Wolves in this ('Completely Dehumanized' is one of the most vicious albums ever) and that the original name of the project was Trap Them And Kill Them. The feeling of letting out aggression is nearly palpable because this isn't just random noise, it's uncontrolled aggression released in a controlled form, much like Pig Destroyer's awesome 'Phantom Limb' (more on that a bit further up the list...) it bashes your head in with minute-long death-crust-grind missiles. All of the songs are highlights, and then there's the equivalent to that last untitled song on 'Phantom Limb', or even Converge's 'Grim Heart / Black Rose', in the form of the five-minute long 'Deconstructioneer Extraordinaire', the one rest in pace in the middle of all this chaos, that nevertheless keeps the violence-inducing levels way up there anyway. A crazy album that'll tire you just by listening to it.

Trap Them - 'Swine Into Silk'

66(6). the howling wind - 'pestilence & peril'
[review published on issue #164 of Terrorizer magazine]
Killusion could have released ‘Pestilence & Peril’ under the guise of Thralldom still, and it wouldn’t shock anyone, since The Howling Wind is a direct progression from the oblique take on black metal that was the trademark of Thralldom. However, it also makes sense that this should be an entirely new project, since that progression leap is indeed a large one. ‘Pestilence & Peril’ is more obviously black metal than Killusion’s previous work in Thralldom, but not black metal in the orthodox kind of way. The spaced-out feel of the guitars actually recalls that dead stump in the genre’s evolutionary tree that is the late 90s Moonfog releases such as Thorns’ debut or Satyricon’s ‘Rebel Extravaganza’, but much dirtier and murkier. The closest comparison to ‘Pestilence & Peril’ is Aura Noir’s ‘Deep Tracts Of Hell’. There is the same alternating between quasi-doom (some Unearthly Trance there too!) stomping horror and faster songs, but always maintaining that greenish, menacing toxic haze. In what seems to be quickly becoming a norm in Profound Lore releases, this album feels dangerous. There is an underlying viciousness to all these songs that projects the intended atmosphere of terror with great effectiveness, but the main factor for that is the caveman-like muffled production. A bit like the label’s previous release, Portal’s ‘Outre’’, ‘Pestilence & Peril’ doesn’t sound either necro or crunchy – it sounds like you just put your ear to the ground and heard the bestial roar of an unknown beast miles beneath you. Animalistic it might be, but the album is also very well structured. Take a song like ‘Virulence 33’, for example, in which the relentless , abrasive pace that shreds your face for five minutes is abruptly cut short half a minute from the end, leaving you all alone with a few discordant sounds that segue into the spooky interlude, ‘Southaven’. When you’re finally feeling safe, the mid-paced hell of ‘Stealth Eugencis' wrecks your nerves all over again. You’ll be on edge for the duration and you’ll love every minute of it.

The Howling Wind - 'Stealth Eugencis'

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