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Witchrot are a four-piece stoner doom band from Toronto. They released a four-track, self-titled ep back in 2018 then underwent a bit of an upheavel, bassist Peter Turik moved to guitar and he and vocalist Lea Alyssandra Reto were joined by new bassist Cam Alford and drummer Nick Kervin. This lineup are responsible for the band's first full-length, Hollow. The album is a much more focussed affair than the psychedelia-laced ep and is much better for it in my opinion, the former sounding at times more like an extended jam session.
The album kicks of with my favourite track, Million Shattered Swords - the gentle intro with Lea crooning softly soon erupts into a mighty doom riff and we are off on a crushing journey of psychedelic heaviness as the band maximise both volume and distortion to debillitating effect, the vocals soaring majestically over all this sonic devastation. They take the (increasing jaded-sounding) female-fronted stoner doom template and feed it steroids, bringing in some real sludgy heaviness to add to the groove-laden stoner riffage. Lea Alyssandra Reto's vocals are especially powerful, reminding quite a bit of one of my favourite female vocalists, Mia Zapata of punk band The Gits. The engine room of the rhythm section is strong, especially the bass which often has a driving, kinetic quality. The drums, sadly, could be a little better produced, they sound a bit muted and muddy to me and often struggle to make an impression. Still, this is a pretty impressive debut effort from a band who are trying to put a bit more oomph into the stoner doom scene and to which end they have been quite successful.
Well, it's taken 28 years for me to finally get round to Earth's legendary debut. The reason for this tardiness on my part is that my introduction to the band was via 2008's The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull, an album which I found so extremely boring and tedious that the very name Earth became anathema to me. So here we are in 2021 and buried within September's Fallen playlist was the opening track of Earth 2, Seven Angels, which when I heard it for the first time made me realise that I had made a terrible misjudgement of the band, a mistake which I would have to rectify in very short order.
Earth 2 is an album that is virtually impossible to review without resort to metaphor and hyperbole. As these are my preferred modes of expression usually, I don't intend to depart from this norm. This is an album that is as much a tactile experience as an auditory one. I imagine the absolute best way to experience it is through a huge Marshall stack at bowel-voiding volume. I can't escape the feeling that there is more going on than you can actually hear, in the same way as the majority of what's happening in the universe is undetectable to the human eye: gamma radiation, x-rays, infra-red light and dark matter all being invisible to us humans, I suspect that there are sonic waves produced by this that are too low a frequency to be heard and instead are felt, just like when the hairs on the back of your neck inexplicably stand up due to some undetected and unsuspected stimulus. It's almost like the album is a black hole's event horizon that once breached, inescapably draws you further into itself, crushing with unimaginably immense gravitational force for the heaviest experience in the universe.
It is ironic that a band called Earth produce music that, better than anything else I have heard, replicates how I imagine the majority of the cosmos would sound if it wasn't in vacuum. Within it's grooves I hear the death of stars and the demolition of galaxies, for what I can only describe as a transcendental and meditative experience. I'm not sure that any other album has ever launched my imagination onto a more vivid journey than Earth 2. I am fortunate that I live on a north-west facing hillside and get to see some fantastic sunsets. I am already anticipating sitting in a garden chair playing Like Gold and Faceted as the sun begins it's descent below the horizon, and letting the track become the soundtrack to the dying of the day.
Drone metal is absolutely not for everyone and neither is Earth 2. This is atmospheric music that truly is as much sensation as sound. It is very simple and repetitive, but is particularly affecting to those who "get it". Are there any riffs? Not really - well there are, but they are so slowly realised that they appear only as single chords sustained and built upon to amass into nothing less than a natural force. I'm sure there are plenty of people, including fans of doom metal, who find drone in general and Earth2 in particular boring, but for me this album is one of the most profound musical experiences I have ever had. I'm just cursing myself that it took me so long to submit to it's gravity, but I suppose it's better late than never.
I'm quite selective with thrash metal. I like the genre when it's heavy and technical at best. I don't feel up to exploring more of the Big 4 beyond a few songs at the moment. Yet I'm still up for bands that aren't as big as the big ones but take influence and are closer to my generation. This is where bands like Demolition Hammer come in. So despite the horrific cover artwork that might've inspired the aftermath of the "This is fine" dog, what you're gonna witness is some of the most intense thrash around!
That's the kind of intensity Exodus and Slayer don't have, but the intensity those bands have get more credit. For Demolition Hammer, they've added a lot of catchiness and violence that should reach the top of thrash mountain to avalanche away any naysayers. 30 years before this review, Tortured Existence was quite a metal underground hit album, at a time when most other thrash bands started disbanding or (d)evolving into the dreaded groove/nu metal. Needless to say, Demolition Hammer would fall into both traps a few years later. But before that impending fate, they've released some of the most savage thrash with a few influences from the rising death metal scene.
This headbanging thrash marathon opens with the insane ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery". The more insane "Neanderthal" has killer music that would make you wanna f***ing destroy everything in sight. That song and "Gelid Remains" stomp around with riffing that could cause massive earthquakes if blasted through a thousand loudspeakers. The dueling solos shine as well there.
"Crippling Velocity" is one of the more violent songs here in an effortless blend of fast thrash riff-fury and heavy passages of crushing chaos. So speedy as f***! The entirely memorable "Infectious Hospital Waste" is probably one of the catchiest songs in thrash with a chilling breakdown. Though not as catchy as the more melodic "Hydrophobia".
"Paracidal Epitaph" has thick monstrous bass in presence, performed by frontman Steve Reynolds besides his usual decimating vocals. "Mercenary Aggression" springs through comprehensive aggression harder than a fist in the b*lls, though not in the same heavy weight as those previous couple tracks. For anyone wanting an extra 6 minutes of thrash fury, check out the monstrous bonus track "Cataclysm" that continues of the brilliance of the frontman's vocals and bass.
Tortured Existence has some of the most violent thrash I can stand, enough to be able to come back again for more enjoyment. The more popular thrash albums don't quite top this one, and Demolition Hammer would continue the skull-blowing thrash for one more album. But for now, enjoy the fury!
Favorites: "Neanderthal", "Crippling Velocity", "Infectious Hospital Waste", "Hydrophobia", "Cataclysm" (bonus track)
Some titles of releases that I end up reviewing really fit with my situation at the time, do they? A year ago, I finally started listening to Haken after several failed attempts in the prior 5 years. Then after 6 months, I gave up on this band during my death metal departure. But another 6 months later, here I am! So Haken is not a death metal band in any way other than a couple songs with growls, so why did I end up straining from this band? It's most likely because of their melodic progressive rock/metal sound similar to Dream Theater that I've distanced from when I decided to go extreme. Other good but very remote possibilities might include this EP's nude cover artwork, though that's not really the reason at all. Anyway, I'm glad that there's still hope for me to restore my interest in this band!
See, the problem with melodic progressive rock/metal is, despite planting their forward-thinking roots, they heavily rely on imitating Dream Theater. While Haken shines with their tremendous creativity, there are times when they've fallen into that trap. I've made my initial departure from listening to Haken to, as lead vocalist Ross Jennings sang, "escape the past by embracing the future". That line just so happened to be kind of this EP's concept; 3 demo tracks re-recorded with much more focus on progression than imitation. It's as if this trio of songs went to the gym to change from skinny to muscular, all in a 34-minute seamless workout.
"Darkest Light", based on "Blind", takes some hammer-strikes to the anvil to smith heavy prog riff dissonance and unique keyboard atmosphere, creating one of the band's heaviest metal tunes to foreshadow their recent heaviness. The slower atmospheric "Earthlings", based on "Black Seed", uses a mournful clean rock structure with trance-ish vocal patterns. This almost fits well as the penultimate ballad similar to the band's first two albums. Definitely great as the final epic similar to the band's first two albums is the 19-minute progressive beast "Crystallized", based on "Snow", with every perspective the band has tackled, jamming through soft intermissions, keyboard solos, and guitar duels, all in upbeat positivity that shines in the triumphant chorus and bridges. While the lyrics and atmosphere are their own, the track rivals against the title epic of Visions to surpass the grandeur of Dream Theater's Change of Seasons. Speaking of Dream Theater, their former drummer Mike Portnoy hit the gong at the end. Magnificent!
So that was a wonderful ride through the fantastic progressive gold of Haken. Restoration took the normally unnecessary step of re-recording older songs, but made it more interesting by refreshing them with their unlimited inventive abilities for a spectacular performance. Those 3 songs work as an introduction for newcomers and a throwback to the band's introduction for longtime veteran fans. This was almost a reintroduction for me, and I'm glad I still appreciate high-quality progressive rock/metal!
Favorites: "Darkest Light", "Crystallized"
I ventured back to this old favourite from my youth over the last couple of days & found that it still hits the spot. I was majorly into the more brutal end of death metal at the time & the early rise of Suffocation had made a major impact on me so I was actively seeking out anything that could remotely rival the masters of brutal death metal. I found Cannibal Corpse's 1990 debut album "Eaten Back To Life" to be pretty fun without ever really commanding repeat listens but "Butchered At Birth" saw them upping the ante on the brutality significantly by dropping some of their early thrash influences, removing any semblance of melody & drawing forth the deepest & most imposing death metal vocals we'd heard to the time, not to mention one of the most grisly & iconic album covers & some seriously sickening lyrical content. It all added up to a welcome death metal feast for a rebellious teenager like myself.
"Butchered At Birth" is the first essential Cannibal Corpse album in my opinion. It starts off with one of the first genuine hits of the extreme death metal scene in "Meathook Sodomy" which still tears me a new one every time I sit through the swamp of sickening whammy bar noise that makes up the intro. The rest of the tracklisting is very consistent with no weak tracks although the second half of the album definitely sees the quality dropping off a little. It's pretty obvious that the earlier tracks are made up of the band's newer material as they're generally more sophisticated & you easily see that this was a band that was still developing its sound.
The instrumentation certainly isn't quite the finished product yet. The drumming is very repetitive & basic, the rhythm guitar performances can be pretty sloppy at times & the solos aren't exactly theoretically correct but there's an undeniable atmosphere of pure death about "Butchered At Birth" that just resonated with so many of the true death metal fans of the time. Unlike Suffocation's early works from the same year, this isn't a brutal death metal record per se. It's a classic old school death metal album with some seriously brutal vocals & if I'm being honest I think those vocals will ultimately dictate whether this release is a winner or a loser with you. They're the highlight of the record for me personally as I absolutely love their monstrous tone. Despite their indecipherable nature which was completely devoid of melody, Chris Barnes strangely managed to pull off some really catchy phrasing & the excessive violence & gore still rocks my boat to this day. It's just so extreme which is something that I crave in my life.
Cannibal Corpse would create better albums in the coming years but they'd rarely show this level of youthful exuberance. Over the subsequent decades they've become one of death metal's most recognizable, reliable & marketable forces but if you really want to know what they're about then this is the record you should investigate. "Butchered At Birth" changed many people's perceptions on what extreme metal could be, would massively influence the new brutal death metal movement I was about to become a part of & became a gateway for so many pimple-faced teenagers who are now life-long death metal fanatics.
For fans of Deicide, Cannabis Corpse & Monstrosity.