Standing tall among giants.
Whitechapel have carved out a nifty position for themselves as the deathcore band it’s ok for “real” metal fans to like. Their sound has always contained a darker quality and shown greater consideration for technicality and traditional death metal elements than most of their likewise-massively-ear-gauged, deathcore brethren, and it’s a distinction that continues on their fifth album, Our Endless War.
More Like Phil Bozeman-crush, amirite?!
The mesh-shorts brigade would have you believe Whitechapel peaked with their second album, This Is Exile (2008), and went soft thereafter, but it’s the Acacia-Strain-with-blast-beats styling of it’s follow-up, A New Era Of Corruption (2010), where your humble reviewer jumped on board, and their 2012, self-titled album that had him hemorrhaging praise for them.
Whitechapel was an expansive and cohesive album – like none the band had even approached before – that perfectly melded the overbearing grit and brutality of deathcore with everything that’s good about modern metal – at once more sprawlingly complex and accessible. Whitechapel was and is the future of mainstream death metal (for a given value of mainstream). Our Endless War thus had a lot riding on it and, while not quite matching up to the ridiculous benchmark set by its predecessor, for the most part it delivers.
Things get off to a monumental start with “Our Endless War,” one of the most vicious and destructive songs the band have ever penned, that is surprisingly reminiscent of Machine Head’s “Clenching The Fists Of Dissent” as much for its ham-fisted message of political dissatisfaction as its rabid barrage of blistering thrash metal.
The title-track is, however, rather non-indicative of the overall sound of Our Endless War, which is otherwise characterized by a densely slow, considered groove – akin to that of Chimaira’s The Infection or even (spiritually) Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction – evident in the Meshuggahed-out djent of “The Saw Is The Law” and the hard-hitting “Let Me Burn.”
“THE SAW IS THE LAW!!” (+10 toughness)
Our Endless War hits a snag about half-way, with “Worship The Digital Age” and “How Times Have Changed” – the former starting off promisingly before revealing itself to be over-reliant on its basic groove and coming off as severely undercooked (what with the seemingly random fadeout and whatnot); while the latter features a section where the guitars drop out, allowing, bassist, Gabe Crisp and, drummer, Ben Harcerlode to take center-stage, which far overstays its welcome and when Whitechapel’s three guitarists do kick back in its so unceremonious as to be entirely ineffectual.
Still, Our Endless War’s back-half sees a return to the more coherent aggression of its beginnings – in “Psychopathy” and “Blacked Out,” before the touching “Diggs Road” – and is, over-all, a successful continuation of the world-beating intent laid down by the self-titled record. Vocalist, Phil Bozeman is in top form, and the three-pronged attack of Savage, Wade and Householder proves itself a severely undervalued asset, laying down consistently impressive and intriguing leads atop their compact rhythms.
Our Endless War isn’t the masterpiece that their self-titled record was, or even the genre classic This Is Exile, but it remains a triumphant record that only furthers Whitechapel’s stranglehold on modern, extreme metal.
And the saga continues…
Originally starting out as an offshoot of one of the then leading symphonic metal bands, After Forever, Epica have far surpassed what the previous band had been able to achieve. In a very crowded genre, the band around Mark Jansen has taken the sound that had been revolutionized by Norwegian Theatre of Tragedy back in the mid-nineties and ran with it, expanding it into a highly layered mix of power, death, gothic and symphonic metal, adding more than one progressive tendency and a world class singer in Simone Simons. Over the course of nine years and six albums the Dutch sextet carved their own niche within the genre, garnering rave reviews left, right and center – much deserved I might add. Now anno 2014 we have reached album number 7 with The Quantum Enigma, continuing the elevated titling of albums and the question remains – can they keep up their impressive string of high quality releases?
To have an exceptional talent like Simone Simons on the microphone helps for sure, but she would be lost, if what is happening behind her could not live up to her performance. And one thing is for sure, Epica do not take the easy route to symphonic metal, for that they have too many changes and especially too many growls, yet they still manage to keep this stream of mass appeal that probably is part of their success and that sets them apart from many of their colleagues.
Even the intro goes beyond the often atmospheric keyboard swaths and is bombastic, dramatic and dense, setting you up for the first track to hit and “The Second Stone” continues the dramatic note in an epic yet heavy track that brings us the whole vocal gamut, from big choirs to Simone’s powerful voice and finally the growls of Mark and Ariën. And everything in this song screams Epica, up to the beautiful slowed down chorus, where we are treated to an exceptional vocal line that puts most of the rest of the genre to shame! A grandiose start to this album, now are they setting the scene or themselves up for failure by putting such a strong track at the beginning.
And “The Essence of Silence” does what we can expect from the Dutchmen – surprise you. Heavy, modern riffing with growls tears you out of your bliss (and potentially any expectation going with the title of the song), but it is woven into more symphonic metal with choir and Simone’s vocals, yet showing a very different side of the band. This is also one of these occasions I had mentioned before, where the casual symphonic metal listener might be thrown off a bit, but to me it is part of what makes Epica so special, because they masterfully combine these technically at-odd elements into tense and dramatic songs, at times transcending the borders between symphonic metal with growls and melodic death metal with choir and female vocals without sacrificing the album’s musical integrity (see “Victims of Contingency”).
And then they surprise by a Chinese inspired calm instrumental interlude in “The Fifth Guardian”, which serves as an oasis of quietude among the dramatic arrangements, a beautiful cinematic breather before we dive back into the symphonic maelstrom that is The Quantum Enigma. “Chemical Insomnia”, the song that picks up from the interlude, exemplifies pretty much everything Epica stand for, with the constant changes of tempo, intensity and heaviness, but forming it into a grandiose whole. The closing trio unites the whole gamut, with “Canvas of Life” playing the character of the ballad, “Natural Corruption” being the dramatic rollercoaster and 12-minute epos “The Quantum Enigma – Kingdom of Heaven Part II” the epic mammoth closer.
To come back to my initial question – yes, Epica have managed to continue their impressive string of high quality releases with The Quantum Enigma, the kind that many other related bands strive to achieve once in a lifetime. The Quantum Enigma is big, theatrical, deep, dramatic and epic, constantly challenging the listener while still giving instant gratification, symphonic metal as it should be!
Tying another one off.
It looks like a 16-year hiatus is just what the doctor ordered for Oakland’s Autopsy, death metal pioneers who apparently have little intention of slowing their momentum since returning with 2010’s The Tomb Within EP and their lauded 2011 comeback album, Macabre Eternal. After releasing last year’s The Headless Ritual, another faithfully horrific limb of grisly death highlighted by tracks like “Slaughter at Beast House” and “She is a Funeral,” the quartet have reemerged from the crypt with Tourniquets, Hacksaws, and Graves – oh, my – a record that continues their trend of abattoir nostalgia and terrific cover art (Wes Benscoter).
If you’re well-versed in the trade of Autopsy, then surprises should be at a minimum with Tourniquets, Hacksaws, and Graves. The band ply death metal with a concerted focus on graveyard ambiance spliced with meaty riffs and devilish solos. Autopsy have never needed aid in penning riffs, and they don’t here, wielding a mortician’s case of 90’s death metal cutlery and sharpening the saws with a modern edge. As they have across their careers, Autopsy thrive off of their ability to transport the listener to the scene of a funeral or massacre, toiling at a pace never too far from that of a mid-tempo jaunt. It’s old school from the old school and these things, as you know, rarely change.
Saying that, one of the more unconventional songs on Tourniquets, Hacksaws, and Graves must assuredly be “Deep Crimson Dreaming.” Coolly strummed and wisely drummed, Chris Reifert’s gurgles and a lolling bass from Joe Allen not only lend the song a distinct beauty to its melancholy madness, but it allows it to sound completely different from its rattling brethren. Follow-up “Parasitic Eye” nearly follows suit before eventually ghost-riding into territory a tad more familiar, although it exists as one of the album’s speedier four minutes. “Burial” moves at a dragging pace, offering up a template of fat riffs, plodding drums, and a foggy atmosphere before the casket drops and all goes haywire in the last minute or so.
The impetus to listen to or, perhaps, purchase Tourniquets, Hacksaws, and Graves lies in Autopsy’s ability to create horror-show death metal with a strict old school flair, never overdoing the splatter or the jump-scares, intent on balancing both. There’s pungency and there’s talent, and the band utilize them effectively, although the final result never really makes the listener coil back from stench or versatility. Tracks like “The Howling Dead” and “After the Cutting” cough up precisely the type of slogging and ghastly grue Autopsy fans should be eager to delve into.
Live at Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo, Norway on March 28th 2014
Live at John Dee in Oslo, Norway on March 19th 2014
Author: Dayal Patterson
Publisher: Feral House
Fuoco Fatuo is an Italian doom and death metal act hailing form Varese, north Italy. The band formed in 2011 and recently released their first full length album The Viper Slithers in the Ashes of What Remains through Iron Tyrant. The band consists of Fabrizio on drums, Ken on bass (also a member of Into Darkness) and Milo on guitar and vocals (also a member of Funest). The members of Fuoco Fatuo recently sat down and answered some questions for The Metal Observer.
Live at Mavericks in Ottawa, Ontario on February 13th, 2014.
Live at House of Blues in Houston, Texas on February 8th, 2014.
Live at Mavericks in Ottawa, Ontario on February 7th, 2014.
Finnish doom / death metallers Kuolemanlaakso have completed their sophomore album, Tulijoutsen, which is slated to be released on February 28, 2014 through Svart Records. The Metal Observer was given the opportunity to question the band on their recent accomplishments as well as what fans can expect in the future, among other topcis. Usva (bass) and Laakso (guitars and keyboards) were kind enough to provide some insight into their world.
While 2013 seems to a rather scatter-shot kind of year for many genres, thrash metal seems to still be going at full speed when it comes to upcoming new bands and classic bands continuing their relentless existence. With slightly under 180 albums listened to that could be tagged as thrash in some form or another; my queue this year was a mighty one indeed. The following list required much more thought and deliberation then many years previously and it made for a rather unique one to say the least.