Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Cannibal Corpse - Vile (1996)


Upon its release in May 1996, the fifth Cannibal Corpse L.P. was surrounded by some amount of controversy. Chris Barnes had been kicked out of the band and replaced with George Fisher, only known for his work as part of the very mediocre Monstrosity. Along with the new frontman was a new logo, which looked awful. As such, Vile was under closer scrutiny than any of their previous records. The end result was quite disappointing. 

While one would think that Death Metal vocalists are much more interchangeable than someone like King Diamond or Rob Halford, the truth was that many considered Barnes to the driving force behind the band. He drew the logo, came up with concepts for the cover art, wrote all of the lyrics and did all of the interviews. Even though his 'cookie monster' vocal style seemed rather generic by this point, changing the voice of any band is always a tricky move. His replacement didn't help matters by giving a rather half-hearted and weak performance. He failed to either match up to his predecessor's work or to stand out on his own and really leave his mark on the album. Anyone could have taken his place and done a better job. He honestly sounds like any Cannibal Corpse fan trying to do a Chris Barnes impersonation. 

Musically, Vile follows the approach of The Bleeding, in some instances. Whereas the last album sacrificed some of the 'brutality' of the earlier offerings to focus on atmosphere (with songs like "Return to Flesh" and "Force Fed Broken Glass"), the bulk of Vile feels a little more technical and this doesn't really work so well. There are some decent riffs here and there, like the tremolo bit in "Perverse Suffering", though the majority of the track is dull. Similarly, there are very brief parts in "Bloodlands" and "Orgasm Through Torture". Songs like "Disfigured" and "Eaten from Inside" sound like rehash from previous records, something of which Cannibal Corpse would go on to build their entire career. 

By 1996, it appeared that Death Metal had pretty much run out of steam and all of the classic albums were already at least a few years old. None of the bands seemed to really have anything left to contribute, other than to just rehash what had already been done. After hearing the Created to Kill recordings, it is clear that the fifth Cannibal Corpse album was destined to be boring, no matter what (and Six Feet Under's second full-length proved that Chris Barnes had allowed his voice to completely deteriorate and should have quit making music). People can blame the new vocalist or the different logo as the only reasons why Vile is looked down upon, but the fact is that it's just not very good. Making an album of regurgitated ideas, spiced up with extra technicality, was never going to work. If you're a fan of this band, stick with the earlier albums; not just because of the vocalist or the logo or any reason other than that Cannibal Corpse said all that they had to say with those first four records. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Transilvania - Morbid Majesty (2015)


Usually, I steer clear of modern bands and releases, with very few exceptions. However, an acquaintance recently brought to my attention the Austrian Black Metal band, Transilvania. It was said that their September 2015 demo tape, Morbid Majesty, would be right up my alley. Recommendations are often tricky, as I am often a bit too selective, but the old school vibe lured me in, right from the start.

Musically, this could best be described as Black/Thrash, in the vein of old Desaster. Even the vocals are very reminiscent Okkulto's performance on A Touch of Medieval Darkness. The musicianship is rather sloppy, but that actually benefits this style and adds to the raw feeling. Fortunately, the production is gritty and unprofessional, which is exactly what is needed for this sort of music. One of the biggest mistakes made by a lot of 'retro' bands is that they play a bit too tight and have a sterile, modern sound to their albums, thus ruining the whole thing.

"On the Back of Satan's Stallion" and "One Night in Salem" include some pure Black Metal riffs, but these are brief and soon give way to Teutonic-inspired Thrash, which dominates most of the recording. The majority of the riffs are purely '80s-inspired and, along with several of the solos, hearken back to the middle of the decade. For the most part, the songs maintain an intense pace, but there are times when things relax just enough to let the riffs breathe a bit and to accentuate the dark atmosphere, such as in "Moonlight Sorcery". There are even moments that are a little more melodic, showing some old Mercyful Fate influence, perhaps. Rather than just utilizing harsh Black Metal vocals over traditional Thrash riffs, the members of Transilvania do well in composing songs that seamlessly transition from one style of riff to another to create an obscure and hellish feeling.

Morbid Majesty is a great little demo, oozing the sort of old school vibe found on classic records from Destruction, Tormentor, Sabbat, etc. Hopefully, Transilvania will manage to record more material in the near future and, more importantly, maintain the same raw and evil feeling as found on their debut release. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Funeral Mist - Darkness (1995)


Only being familiar with their 2003 full-length Salvation, Funeral Mist is a band that I wrote off a long time ago. It's strange, as I would normally check out demo recordings, but the material on that album was so unappealing that there didn't seem to be any point in doing so. Eventually, someone recommended that I give a listen to their 1995 demo, Darkness. While it's not exactly anything special, it's much better than the later works issued under this name. 

Darkness is quite under-produced, possessing a raw sound very typical of demos of this period. At times, the guitars have sort of a buzzing/whirring sound, which actually suits the atmosphere. It shares a few similarities with Horna's Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu rehearsal.  Fortunately, this tape features Typhos (later of Dark Funeral and Infernal) on vocals, rather than the annoying Arioch (who only handles bass duties here). The overall sound is fairly muddy at times, but you can still manage to hear everything that is going on. 

The best songs on here are "Dreams of a Time Before Time" and "In Black Silence". The opener is much better than anything that follows, building some unrealistic expectations and giving way to a small measure of disappointment. The latter utilizes a bit of synth, giving somewhat of a horror vibe. Many of the riffs seems to take inspiration from bands such as Emperor and Marduk, leaning more toward the former. The keyboard interlude, "In the Shadows I Wait", may not be all that necessary, but its inclusion doesn't hurt anything, either. The guitar melodies found in songs like "Funeral Mist" and "Blasphemy" (as well as the overused synth in the latter) give the music a lighter feeling, losing the dark and evil vibe that such a necro recording could have created. 

All in all, this is a fairly average recording. It is weaker than other Swedish Black Metal demos of the time, such as Moloch's Cutting Holy Throats or Härskare av den svarta natten by Skuggmörker. It should, of course, be of interest to those who are searching for solid mid-90s Black Metal. That said, Darkness is only remarkable in any manner by comparing it to Funeral Mist's better-known (and incredibly awful) releases. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

King Diamond - The Eye (1990)


The fifth King Diamond L.P. was recorded in Sweet Silence Studio (of Ride the Lightning fame) and released in October 1990. As with Conspiracy, this album pales in comparison to Fatal Portrait or Abigail; however, The Eye was my first King Diamond album, so it holds a fair amount of sentimental value.  

It was a cold October night when a girlfriend of mine came by to interrupt my homework. In her bag, she had a handful of CDs, some of which I was either already familiar with and others that seemed entirely uninteresting. One album stood out, however, that being The Eye. For whatever reason, though I loved the old Mercyful Fate material, I'd not bothered to seek out any of King Diamond's 'solo' albums. Upon hearing the opening riffs and vocals of "Eye of the Witch", I was hooked. 

The best songs on this record feature very memorable riffs, quite similar to Conspiracy. Nevertheless, with the abundance of keyboards and clean guitars that are utilized throughout the album, The Eye comes off as a but softer than its predecessor. Tracks like "The Trial (Chambre Ardente)" and "Two Little Girls" are fairly weak and are yet another example of how concept albums tend to let the story dictate the flow of things, rather than the music itself. Placing these, essentially, 'throwaway tracks' so close to the beginning of the L.P. really kills the momentum before it even had a chance to build. Some of the other songs don't seem fully strong enough to stand on their own, like "Into the Convent" and "Father Picard". In fact, this is probably true of every track aside from the opener and "Behind These Walls". That said, despite a few speed bumps, the album works really well as a whole. The Eye still possesses a strong '80s Metal feel, due to the style of riffs and the solos. King's voice is also in good condition on this recording, with some quite infectious vocal lines, such as those found in the aforementioned "Behind These Walls" and "The Curse". Special mention should be made of the brief instrumental track, "Insanity". It does so well to create a really sombre atmosphere and its placement on the album works very well. 

The Eye marks the end of King Diamond's classic period. The strongest songs on here are probably "Eye of the Witch", "Behind These Walls" and "1642 Imprisonment". Truth be told, The Eye is an album that is much more effective when listened to in its entirety. Though it might be difficult to properly assess this record, due to the nostalgia factor, it would be fair to say that it's a solid release and definitely worth checking out.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

King Diamond - Conspiracy (1989)


King Diamond's fourth full-length, Conspiracy, was released through Roadrunner Records in August 1989. This L.P. features the same lineup as its predecessor and was recorded at the same studio, but is vastly superior. The feeling from Fatal Portrait and Abigail is definitely gone forever, but this is a very solid album. 

Conspiracy continues the story from "Them" and, though the first part seemed quite weak, turns out to be a much more interesting concept this time around. Unlike the previous album, none of the tracks here feel like filler that only exist to prop up the lyrics. While some songs are certainly stronger than others, each one is able to stand on its own. The album is filled with very epic riffs and memorable vocal lines, especially the opening track "At the Graves". The much more robust production really suits the material, as well. The guitars sound much more dynamic, as opposed to the flat sound of "Them". In a sense, the guitars are more geared toward the large-budget stadium rock sound, reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne's No Rest for the Wicked. It's heavier, but not in the same way as an album like Abigail, which had a sharper and more metallic guitar tone. 

Musically, the compositions here are miles ahead of those found on "Them". The aforementioned "At the Graves" is just a massive beast, perhaps a little too long, but still a monumental track and a good one from which to build the rest of the album. Songs like "Sleepless Nights", "Amon Belongs to Them" and "Victimized" are bursting with the same sort of energetic riffs that will easily hold your interest. As well, King's voice is still in good form here and provides a lot of memorable moments. "A Visit from the Dead" may be the most melodic and complex track on here, along with "Something Weird". It begins with a quiet section that then gives way to some very Abigail-esque riffs. These combine with King's haunting falsetto screams to create a rather dire feeling. "Let It Be Done" and "Cremation" also do well to maintain the horror vibe. 

While it cannot compare to the first two records, Conspiracy unquestionably deserves to be considered part of King Diamond's classic period. It's a very solid album that does well to correct the mistakes made on the previous release. After the very first listen, it's quite likely that many of these riffs and vocal lines will remain in your head for a while. Though none of the tracks can really match up to the intense and epic opener, there's not a bad song on here. This is definitely recommended.

Friday, October 28, 2016

King Diamond - "Them" (1988)


Released in June 1988, "Them" is the third full-length from King Diamond and the first since the departure of guitarist Michael Denner. Though often praised by critics, this is actually the weakest record from King Diamond's classic era. From the songwriting to the theme to the production itself, various elements combine to make this a rather mediocre and forgettable L.P.

"Them" really sticks out like a sore thumb, when compared to the likes of Abigail, Conspiracy and even The Eye. The production is very weak and flat, lacking the power and dynamics of the aforementioned records. Strangely, this sort of sound was used once again, years later, on The Spider's Lullabye. The change in studios was not the only detriment. 

As with its predecessor, "Them" is a concept album, but one that really misses its mark. I'm not generally a fan of concept albums in the first place, but Abigail was much better in terms of the story and the songwriting. On that record, each song is still strong enough to stand on its own, musically. However, "Them" seems to contain a lot of filler, only there to serve the dull storyline. As well, King's vocals seem to have jumped the shark a bit, with the range of voices going too over-the-top, especially considering that he is screaming about a mentally-ill grandmother and cups of tea. It's just impossible to take any of this seriously. 

Regarding the music itself, the best song on here is "The Accusation Chair". This is the only one on here that I feel could easily stand on its own, apart from the album as a whole. "Welcome Home" and "Mother's Getting Weaker" have their moments, though the chorus (and title) of the latter is just unbearably lame. The rest is just incredibly dull and pointless. The riffs feel interchangeable and there's hardly any real focus. Most of the material on here just serves as a generic backdrop to the idiotic story and plethora of voices. This feels like something that was just thrown together in a hurry.  

"Them" has long been overrated by those with a less discerning taste. This represents a real drop in quality from Abigail. When exploring the classic albums from King Diamond, be sure to skip over this one and move on to Conspiracy. There's nothing of value here. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

King Diamond - Abigail (1987)


While Fatal Portrait felt, in some ways, to be connected with Don't Break the Oath, the final traces of Mercyful Fate seem to have faded with that L.P. Released in October 1987, the iconic Abigail is often considered to be the definitive King Diamond record. Unlike the previous full-length, the band's second outing is a full concept album, and features minimal input from guitarist Michael Denner, while Andy LaRocque gets a few credits for the first time. For various reasons, Abigail feels like the real starting point for King Diamond's 'solo' career.

The music is very dynamic and goes well with the story being told. The songwriting is brilliant, as is the arrangement. Each idea flows into the next, flawlessly, as does each song, one after the other. Every riff, solo and vocal line is exactly as it should be. King's falsetto style was never again used to such perfection. For some, this can be a dealbreaker and you either love or hate his vocals. For me, his voice is best at a high volume, enough to shatter your skull. He does a great job adding drama to the proceedings, and many of the vocal lines are as powerful and memorable as the riffs themselves. Unlike later albums, such as the awful "Them", each composition is strong enough to stand on its own, rather than only working as part of a greater whole as is often the case with concept albums.  

The production is very clear and powerful, suiting this style of music. It definitely lacks the slight murkiness that was present on Fatal Portrait, sounding as if the band had quite a budget to work with. My personal preference tends to lean more toward the debut but, that said, there's really nothing wrong with Abigail. King Diamond's first two records definitely deserve to be considered classics and are highly recommended.