It can be bizarre. It can also be off-putting. But it’s an entirely new realm of the sub-genre that can afford some great new bands and masterpieces to listeners. The power metal scene has really blossomed since the arrival of X Japan in the ’80s, and since then it’s been taken to new heights and limits.
What war is this?
To give this review context, Wovenwar are a band comprised of a good portion of the members from metalcore champions As I Lay Dying. With Tim Lambesis spending some time behind bars for trying to have his wife killed by a hitman, the rest of the band decided to kick it forward with this project. Considering how much I enjoyed the last As I Lay Dying record (and the last few as the band seemingly got better and better with time), I was intrigued by this project and took up the opportunity to review it immediately. The self-titled effort from Wovenwar isn’t exactly what I was expecting.
The direction with the last handful of As I Lay Dying records had the band moving towards a more aggressive, complex, and heavier sound. That trend is somewhat deviated for this debut from Wovenwar. Sure the instrumental portion of the album is still decently layered for metalcore with melodic leads, some chunk riffing, and some decent drumming to keep up the hardcore influenced energy, but it’s definitely a band looking to establish their ‘own’ sound. “All Rise” really utilizes the combination well to kick off the album on a strong note. Hell, even the vocals have some great melodies to add, seemingly more hard rock inspired with 95% of them being melodic and only using screams as backing punctuation in a few tracks like “Profane” and “Archers” while his crooning highlights the ballad leaning tracks like “Father/Son.” On paper, Wovenwar reads like a fantastic melodic metalcore album.
That’s on paper though. The actual execution of Wovenwar comes off as increasingly tepid and formulaic particularly in the writing. To be upfront and perfectly frank, far too often this record lacks balls. Part of the value in metalcore is the ‘core,’ the energetic outpour of headbanging riffs and fist pumping rhythm work. Wovenwar seemingly caters more to the radio friendly fans of As I Lay Dying who thought that screaming and nose breaking riffs were a bit too edgy. So if you’re going to pull away from those, you better have some catchy hooks, right? Well, this album seemingly lacks a lot of those too. The melodies are by-the-book and seemingly forgettable, watered down by the bands hard rock like elements.
Wovenwar is talented and you’ll hear the various parts touch on the proper places that they could reach, but the truth remains that their debut is an utterly forgettable record that rarely touches on the balance of crunch n’ catchy that made metalcore a fun genre for those willing to bite on it. For someone that loved the direction that As I Lay Dying was heading, Wovenwar comes off as a pretty big disappointment in their attempts at moving to more melodic pastures.
Way beyond br00tal def metuhl, brah.
It’s perhaps an oddball way to kick off a review of a death metal album, and I’m pretty damn sure this is the first and only time the names Nadine Gordimer and Gorgasm will feature side by side in the same article, but humor me for just a second. For those in the know – literary and politics geeks, I’m looking at you – Nadine Gordimer, famous South African writer and Nobel Laureate for literature, died July 13 at age 90. Her writings helped elucidate to the outside world the harsh realities brought to bear on South Africa, and South Africans, by decades of Apartheid. She was famous for applying Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci’s concept of the interregnum to the SA context (specifically the period of mass uprisings in the 1980s that eventually led to the country’s liberation in 1994). The interregnum, in this context, refers to a limbo of sorts – a period of great upheaval in which the old order was dying but a new epoch had not yet been born. In her words, this period of uncertainty gave rise to “a great diversity of morbid symptoms.”
Looking at the creative and stylistic trajectory of death metal, I cannot help but note the relevance of the late Gordimer’s words. Of course death metal has never evolved along a linear line but it’s hard to argue that the genre doesn’t find itself in an interregnum of sorts. The old order has died. So many different creative avenues have been explored, from the pinpoint precision of Nile and Origin, to the feral black/death fusion of Behemoth, to the jarring explorations of atonality and dissonance by the likes of Pseudogod and Bölzer. With no clear indication of what would constitute a new era/order, the “morbid symptoms” of death metal’s interregnum manifest through the atavistic and oft haphazard reversion to the genre’s nascent days, with the primal rumblings of ancient Demigod, Incantation and Disembowelment providing a veritable oasis from which many of today’s practitioners seem all too happy to drink. The old is the new. Limbo. Stasis. Ossification.
Where does Indiana’s Gorgasm fit into this (morbid) equation? Well, they just keep doing their thing. A “thing” that, on paper at least, carries all the hallmarks of your average brutal death metal band: booming gurgled vocals, a fair bit of East Coast groove and slam, a smattering of pinch harmonies and lots of blasting. Hell, if anything, this particular strand of death metal has been stuck in creative limbo-land ever since the dying strains of Suffocation’s Effigies of the Forgotten but the devil is in the details, as they say, and in the case of Destined to Violate the details add up to something much more than your by-the-numbers death metal release. Granted, this album is in no way a watershed release for either band or genre, but, like fellow veterans Immolation, they have a knack for squeezing enough bite and variety out of their chosen style as possible. The overt slam/groove approach of their cult Stabwound Intercourse EP has given way to a sound that sits pretty comfortably between the technical and brutal ends of the spectrum and, as was the case with 2011’s Orgy of Murder, this thing is peppered with a shitload of melodies (by brutal death metal standards anyway).
Like the recently reformed Skinless, these guys churn out a well-balanced and multifarious brand of brutality that has one eye fixed on the past and the other on the future. To an untrained ear this will undoubtedly sound like every flash-in-the-pan brutal death metal album, but let me reiterate: the devil is the details. The vocals strike a delicious balance between Frank Mullen’s trademark low grunts and the raspier tendencies of Glen Benton back in the day, the production is downright excellent as it highlights both the rumbling low-end and more trebly side of things (with the vocals cutting nicely through both) and there is a playful edge to the songwriting. Instead of incessant blasting many songs go straight for the jugular before chucking in a requisite palm-muted breakdown and then wraps things up with a batch of melodies at the end. “Kuntkiller” (the original title of the album) is a prime example of this approach, darting back and forth between Suffocation-style blasting and soaring lead work (something that also works wonders on “Corpsified” and “Mouthful of Menstruation,” with the former featuring lethal groove-inducing bass runs and the latter slowing things down for some moshpit pain. In between you also have the typical pinch harmonies and percussive grunt approach of “Preserved for Pleasure” and the all-out fretboard mayhem of the title cut.
Cold-hearted elitists will no doubt bemoan the very melodic dynamic of the album, while others might scoff at the polished production job, but as far as I’m concerned this album represents not just the pinnacle of the band’s career (surprising, given that Damian “Tom” Leski is the sole remaining founding member) but also stands as one of the best albums of its kind in years. No, the irony of quoting the esteemed Gordimer in a review of a band that has given the world songs with titles like “Anal Skewer” and “Dirty Cunt Beatdown” is not lost on me, and my inexplicable inclusion of the late Nobel Laureate in this review is no doubt indicative of how difficult it is to contextualize a brutal death metal album in an intriguing way nowadays. But I digress; let me simply end off this long-winded review by saying that musicality trumps br00tality on this album, and for that they deserve kudos.
Just bury it already…
I’d like to start off this review for the latest record from Chelsea Grin by saying this: I don’t hate deathcore on principal. In fact, the Whitechapel release from earlier this year will probably make my list for best of the year. I enjoy hardcore influence in my music and deathcore as a genre has more to offer than a majority of ‘true’ metalheads are willing to give it. Yet, after partaking in Ashes to Ashes, the fourth album from the Salt Lake City band, I have to say that it exemplifies all the things wrong with the genre.
The worst part about Ashes to Ashes is that there is a core potential for Chelsea Grin to really push the boundaries of deathcore. The band throws in a lot of progressive like elements to expand on the cut and dry deathcore sound. The foundation of the band is still very much built on the deathcore concept though. Barking vocals with screeched punctuation, breakdowns galore, and occasional dueling guitar leads just for shits and giggles. The problem with all of these elements is that Chelsea Grin never fits them together in a cohesive and focused manner. 90% of the riffing is breakdowns or breakdown simple guitar work (I don’t care if you occasionally noodle over it randomly like on “…To Ashes”) and the writing just sort of careens haphazardly towards any direction that seems least convenient. Ashes to Ashes wants to be progressive, but it just feels like a tantrum with instruments.
On their previous EP, they experimented with some Cradle of Filth like symphonic elements and layering and it really seemed like the band was pushing towards an expanded sound. Those symphonic and melodic elements remain on Ashes to Ashes in little pieces, but the band seems unsure of how to make it fit together. They sort of pop up here and there in scattered bits, not creating that unifying thread that would have made them work. “Letters” starts off with an almost industrial like synth, but it’s dropped after that (sans a weird moment that’s similar about a minute and twenty seconds in). “Nightmares” leads in with an intertwined piano, melancholic guitar line, and chimes…only to ignore it later. “Waste Away” adds in some almost melodic vocal lines to the screaming and barking for the chorus and polishes with some of those synth elements. Only to have most of them feel forced.
Say what you will about the deathcore scene and even Chelsea Grin, but there is some potential in there for something that will last. Ashes to Ashes, however, has the terrible fortune of being the kind of record that’s memorable, but only for the massive amounts of disappointing choices made on it. It is way too long, lacks any kind of consistency of sound or quality, and simply tries to force the listener along for the ride as the band pummels through the unfocused writing and scattered performances. I still believe there is a solid band to be found in these deathcore forerunners, but it’s not to be fucking found on Ashes to Ashes.
Hans gets up close and personal with Swedish melodic death metal band Meadows End and the whole band joins in to give some insight.
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
― Salman Rushdie
The Million Dollar Grunge Album That Never Was
Tons Of Rock Day 3, June 21st 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 2, June 20th 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 1, June 19th 2014
The Suicide Silence guitarist opens up about the death of Mitch Lucker, getting the band back together, and their badass new record You Can’t Stop Me.
The Metal Observer recently had the chance to speak with the legendary founder and driving force behind Falconer, Stefan Weinerhall. Returning with the band’s eighth studio album, Black Moon Rising, which recently dropped on Metal Blade Records, Weinerhall speaks about the intensity of the new album, his approach to songwriting and influences, among other things.
A star-studded line-up this week, for what’s shaping up to be the penultimate entry in the TMO Singles Roundup series, featuring new music from Opeth, In Flames, Sonic Syndicate, Mastodon and ’68.