Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Evil Madness - Maze of Souls

From the metal underground of Chile comes one of the more brutal bands in a long line of young thrashers. Though they’ve been around since 2003, Evil Madness released their first album, “Maze of Souls”, in 2010 and they use it as an opportunity to deliver some very primitive raw thrash. These guys are undoubtedly fans of early Sodom, Destruction, and Celtic Frost, where razor-sharp guitars, simplistic riffs, and putrid vocals reigned. The only fair semi-modern comparison would be to Colombia’s Witchtrap, but Evil Madness definitely has their own flair to things. 

The best place to start is the vocals. As you might imagine, they’re hard to decipher and very rough sounding. In fact, it’s almost as if the singer was singing too loudly for his microphone, or he was singing too close into the mic. This is apparent because the vocals often sound unclear and somewhat crackly. This technique was obviously done on purpose to achieve a certain effect, and it works within the context of the album. Behind these shouting vocals are riffs that won’t amaze, but certainly are appropriate. Many of them take influence from the NWOBHM, but are played faster and with more aggression. There isn’t a lot of stereotypical downpicking or chugging on this album; instead, the band uses a lot of those early death metal riffs where there is tremolo picking on one note that is accented by a power chord at the beginning and ending of each new note. This is where the Witchtrap comparison comes in, because both bands use a lot of the same style of riffing. There isn’t a lot of melody on the album, though there are guitar solos and a few flares of lead guitar. In general, however, “Maze of Souls” is meant to be a punishing affair from start to finish. As you might expect, this means the songwriting leaves much to be desired. There are some cool riffs (such as the mid-paced ones found in the middle of “Poison”), as well as the odd catchy chorus (“Mad Attack”), but you won’t find yourself with much recollection of the past 40 minutes when this album is over. The drums are relatively solid (though a bit predictable), and the bass pops out at times, but ultimately, it is the energy and passion of the band that make this album worth hearing. If you crave raw black/thrash, “Maze of Souls” is essential listening.

Be sure to check out and like Evil Madness on Facebook!

"Mad Attack"

Final Rating
3.75/5 or 75%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Iron Dogs - Free and Wild

Hailing from Canada, Iron Dogs is a primal force of speed metal. Adorned with bullet belts and the influences of their underground heroes, this current 2-piece band has just unleashed their second record, “Free and Wild”. Though I have no doubt this will be an instant hit with fans of the 80’s heavy metal and USPM scenes, this record actually did not have such an effect on me. It is clear that there is a certain punkish DIY charm to the album, but that doesn’t mean its flaws can be ignored.

The first major issue with this record is the production, and more specifically, the guitars. Not only are the guitars louder than everything else, but they are completely powerless. To call them razor thin doesn’t quite do justice to how poor the guitar tone is. And this doesn’t even apply to the lower-end; it’s only when more melodic bits show up that this tone is frustrating. It sounds amateurish, and despite being no expert musician myself, I could get a far more impressive metal tone out of my own rig. The other issue with the guitars is the dependence on melodic licks as opposed to riffs. There are definitely a ton of riff-driven parts to this record, but every single song is littered with melodic leads to the point of redundancy. Normally, I have no issue with leads like this, but some of these leads are less than impressive. Any musicians out there will know that when they first got started, they came up with melodies that didn’t make a ton of theoretical sense, but they also didn’t sound good. This can include things like using tons of chromatic sequences of notes, as well as using less common choices for harmonies, and Iron Dogs do both of these often. To clarify, I’m not saying it’s a problem when bands don’t follow music theory, but it’s usually pretty easy for a riff to pass the “ear-test”, and I suppose that these melodies did for Iron Dogs, but they don't for me. If the band laid off on the constant melody, this record would be far better for it. 

To be fair to Iron Dogs, they have a lot of things going for them. The vocals are great. They are a prime example of someone who is not the most technically skilled, but puts in a lot of effort to give a convincing performance. In that sense, their vocalist reminds me a lot of Lips from Anvil because there is a lot of character in the singing on this album. The other great thing about “Free and Wild” is its Motorhead-like energy. The songs are upbeat, raw, and fairly stripped-down. You aren’t going to be wowed by the prowess of the musicians, but the band doesn’t set out to do that. Despite my complaints, this is a band with a lot of potential, and there’s no doubt that “Free and Wild” will appeal to a very specific crowd. If you have any interest in the heyday of old-school heavy metal, give this record a chance.

Be sure to check out and like Iron Dogs on Facebook!


Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Noisem – Agony Defined

With the recent release of their debut album, “Agony Defined”, and their involvement in the The Black Dahlia Murder tour, Noisem is a band that has popped out of nowhere quite quickly. What is less known, is that this album was actually released as “Endless Aggression” last year when the band was known as Necropsy. Band history aside, listening to “Agony Defined” it was immediately clear that this is a record for the old-school thrash fans. That doesn’t mean simply hashing out Exodus riffs with crystal clear production (though I love that stuff too). Rather, Noisem deliver astonishingly authentic sounding late 80’s/early 90’s death/thrash. Think Solstice, Demolition Hammer, and Sadus, and you’re on the right track. The production is perhaps the most convincing aspect because there isn’t a single modern element to it. Instead, the band sacrifices clarity for unrelenting brutality. Take the track “Mortuary”, for example. Vocalist Tyler Carnes yells out endlessly, to the point where you start to wonder how long a verse can truly be. It’s very reminiscent of those Demolition Hammer moments where you are bombarded with mouthfuls of words. Unlike their skull fracturing heroes, however, you won’t need a dictionary to decipher Noisem’s lyrics.

Where “Agony Defined” is most like the old death/thrash classics (in particular, Sadus’ “Illusions”), is in its unbelievably short, yet completely satisfying length. The album is under 26 minutes, and the longest track clocks in at a little over 3 and a half minutes, yet this album is remarkably satisfying when it finishes. There is so much aggression, speed, and violence delivered in this sub-half hour record that you are never left wanting for more content. Though this approach generally foregoes songwriting in favour of brutality, this is once instance where that is perfectly acceptable. “Agony Defined” is the type of record that you can throw on and thrash out to, without worrying about getting bored. In fact, just around the time that you might be ready for something a bit more memorable, the band comes up with “Split From The Inside Out”, which is far and away my favourite track. The chorus of this track really displays how perfectly crunchy the guitar tone is, as well as how vicious Carnes’ vocals are. Ultimately however, this track is a microcosm of the album, just with slightly better songwriting. Nothing about this short experience is weak, and you’d do yourself a massive disservice if you miss out on Noisem’sAgony Defined”.

Be sure to check out and like Noisem on Facebook!

"Voices In The Morgue"
"Split From The Inside Out"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Deeds of Flesh - Portals To Canaan

For the better part of 20 years, California’s Deeds of Flesh has delivered uncompromising, pummeling brutal death metal. In 2013, they put out their 8th full-length record, “Portals to Canaan”, and it falls right in line with what you might expect at this point. As a very casual fan of the band prior to my experience with this new record, it was easy to say that “Portals to Canaan” delivered exactly what I thought the band was about. From the opening riff of the first track, you are immediately hit by a relenting groove before being thrown into a surge of technicality and heaviness. This short explanation describes the vast majority of the album. There were some surprises for me. I didn’t expect there to be a number of sections with voice-overs and strange sampling. There’s also some decent use of melody in the lead guitars (such as in the ending of the first track).

It’s worth expanding on the simplistic definition of brutal death metal given above, because Deeds of Flesh definitely do this differently from some bands. For one thing, there is a healthy variety of beats in the drumming. This record isn’t simply 40+ minutes of blast beats (though it does feature about that much double bass). The vocals are not of the gurgly kind, but rather, a more old-school approach with some influence from the more brutal bands of the early 90’s (Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse, namely). The guitars provide the greatest array of different sounds, as they range from the unbelievably groove-oriented riffs into particularly technical, before delving into a solo. Cross something like The Faceless with Suffocation and Pathology and you would get an apt picture of the guitar work on “Portals to Canaan”.   

There is a strong extra-terrestrial theme to the album, as certain sections feature robotic/alien-like sounds over top of very muted, rhythmic chugging riffs. The ending of “Entranced In Decades of Psychedelic Sleep” is the best example, but a number of tracks display this sound. In some respects it does make the band stand out, but on the other hand, it really doesn’t add any value to the music (unless you can somehow connect with it on an atmospheric level, but I certainly can’t). Overall, “Portals to Canaan” is a respectable brutal death metal offering. Deeds of Flesh doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but they didn’t set out to do so. The songwriting is fairly good given the general monotony of the style, but you’ll need more than a few listens to fully digest this album.

Be sure to check out and like Deeds of Flesh on Facebook!

All of it

Final Rating
3.75/5 or 75%. 

Written by Scott

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Untimely Demise Interview

It's been a couple of months since the last interview, but I'm back with another interview from an awesome thrash band: Untimely Demise. I recently reviewed their new album, "Systematic Eradication", and it is an essential 2013 thrash release. Below is my interview with bassist Murray Cuthbertson. Enjoy!
SFM: Hey guys! Congratulations on the release of your new record, “Systematic Eradication”! It was really impressive!
Murray Cuthbertson (MC): Thanks Scott!

SFM: Let’s start with the making of the new record. Did you guys want to or try to different “Systematic Eradication” from your previous album, “City of Steel”?

MC: With our new album we sought to make the songwriting the paramount focus. We wanted all of the songs to be dynamic and have their own individual sonic characteristics and lyrical themes. The band continues to strive for a balanced blend between old-school thrash (Bay Area,Teutonic and Canadian) and Chuck Schuldiner-esque death metal, that highlights intricate solos, bludgeoning technical riffs and some clean bridges that allow the tunes to breathe. Just writing the best metal compositions possible was the only guideline, where we weren't too concerned about following the thrash or death template, nor have we ever in the past. With this one it wasn't just the guitar that was the steering the proverbial ship as we wrote certain songs around inspiration garnered by a drum or bass line. A finished album that was heavier, more technical and listenable than our last release was what we feel we have achieved with 'Systematic Eradication'.

SFM: Both of your records are relatively short (sub-35 minutes). Do you guys create a lot of songs and pick out the best 7 or 8, or do you just spend a lot of time writing fewer tracks?

MC: The finest classic thrash metal albums have always been shorter than a traditional heavy metal or rock record, like Slayer's Reign In Blood for example and the early Megadeth releases. Back in the mid-2000's our band was writing more of the epic length songs that were 6-8 minutes and we found that those could get repetitive and tedious for the listener. The band wants to be concise in our songwriting and be able to make our musical point early in a song. Quality over quantity is what we aim for in our albums and that is what makes them shorter than some groups discs. Usually we won't finish writing a song if it isn't up to our personal standard and it hasn't passed the live crowd 'mosh test'. Once we have 8 songs that we are happy with and feel are solid and album worthy that is when we make arrangements to enter the studio.

SFM: Glen Drover was involved in the production of both records. How did you guys get connected with him as a producer?

MC: My brother Matt (lead guitar/vocals) and I had seen in the fall of 2008 that Glen Drover, who had recently left Megadeth, was opening a private studio and was taking on select clientele. Since we were (and still are) such huge fans of Megadeth and loved what he had done production-wise with his and Shawn's (Drover) band Eidolon, we decided to contact him via Myspace about recording an EP. He checked out some of our previous demos and live videos and liked what he saw. He called me up one day and we had a good half hour chat about recording and our musical views. He said 'you know I'm all the way out in Ontario' to which I replied 'Right on, I guess we should pack our bags and take a trip out East'. Basically, from there we sent him a deposit and flew to Toronto a few weeks later and started recording. And the rest is history!

SFM: I took guitar lessons from Glen Drover for about a year back around 2009-2010 and he’s a phenomenal player. As a guitarist, I was really impressed with his unbelievable legato technique. What impressed you about him as a producer that made you guys want to work with him again?

MC: Many things impress us with Glen, both as a person and as a musician/producer. His playing is without a doubt above reproach and unique in a world of copycats. We knew from the beginning that this was someone that knows exactly what thrash metal production is supposed to sound like. The fact that he is a huge fan of the music and possesses eclectic tastes was another 'selling feature'. Glen works very quick in the studio and uses positive reinforcement throughout the sessions. He has been able to give good advice on things as simple as ending a solo on a different note for example. His notoriety as a metal legend has also helped our albums get noticed, where people and reviewers might not of checked them out if not for the Drover namesake on the production credits. Everyone in our band has learned a lot musically under the mentorship of Glen, especially my brother Matt whose personal guitar style, lead playing and tone is inspired by him. When Glen offered to, and contributed, guest solos to our songs (along with Matt's) we were honoured and knew that he was taking a personal stake in making these the best tunes possible. Not every producer would do that but Glen is a jazz man – a true musical collaborator. Ultimately, we get along with Glen very well and have had a blast every time we have recorded with him and the friendship that has blossomed from there is something we treasure.

SFM: Another individual that was involved with the new record was Ed Repka. It looks like you guys got him to do something pretty different compared to what he has done in recent years. How do you like the work he did for the new record?

MC: Having another industry stalwart like Ed Repka has helped get Untimely Demise recognized. We have so much respect and admiration for him, and his work with Megadeth and Death is legendary. Like Glen, we contacted him out of the blue and have been working together since 2009. As far as cover concepts we give Ed all the creative latitude that he needs on our album covers. The cover creation process involves us sending him the album title/theme and some of the tracks. He is very insistent that the cover art has to fit the album title. In this case he took the sci-fi/50's horror movie angle, which we approved of. Escape from Supermax (final track on the album) was the track we sent him and he tried to incorporate some of the lyrics into the cover scene. We definitely love what he has done for us as an illustrator, and again, like with Glen, he brings positive attention to the Untimely Demise name; album listeners instantly know that they are going to get a thrash/death metal album when they see his iconic, nuanced illustrative style.

SFM: “Systematic Eradication” was released on Italian label Punishment 18 Records. This label is on a roll in my eyes, as it seems like they put out brilliant thrash records constantly. What drew you guys to this label? Were there any complications in releasing the record on an Italian label, rather than a North American one?

MC: I was contacted by Marita at Punishment 18 records back in January of 2009 when we had just begun previewing our 4 'Full Speed Metal' EP tracks on Blabbermouth and Bravewords. We were offered a record deal by them but turned it down because we were looking for a North American agreement at the time. Nonetheless, I recognized that they were passionate about thrash metal, Megadeth (hence the name of the label) and Repka cover art, as our we, so I felt that we would be working with them at some point in time. Then when we independently released our first full-length 'City Of Steel' in December 2010, it was our friends in Japan (shoutouts to Tatsumi at Rock Avenue Records and Miki at Rock Stakk) and Punishment 18 that bulk purchased the album and helped spread our music around overseas. We could tell that they were serious about supporting our band and kept that near our heart. Upon leaving our previous label we sought to find another deal with someone that was personally invested in making the band succeed and sure enough it was Marita and Corrado at Punishment 18 that came through. With them we have strong international distribution, especially in Europe where we want to continue building our following. For North America people can buy the album from us through our Big Cartel merch site http://www.untimelydemise.bigcartel.com/ , so that is fine with us. A North American deal someday would be great, but we cannot wait around for these fence-sitters while we want to go out and get things done today.

SFM: Despite being Canadian, I have to admit that I know pretty much nothing about the metal scene in Saskatchewan. I know there are great bands from Alberta (Striker!), but what are some of the best bands from Saskatchewan? Is the scene there pretty active, or is it lacking in terms of show turnout and bands?

MC: Fuckin' Eh, Striker rules and we have been good friends with them for the last half decade! To answer the question, Saskatchewan has an exemplary metal scene with a plethora of bands from all ends of the aural spectrum. Progressive Death Metal juggernauts 'Into Eternity' are our favourite Saskatchewan metal band by far, but I would also include Lavagoat, Wrathed, Singularity, Rehashed, Shooting Guns, Kelevra and many others in there. We have definitely seen the scene grow in Saskatoon over the last 5 years and it is kick ass in Regina too. Show turnouts here on weekends are strong and even midweek shows can be huge. Our last couple shows in Saskatoon have been soldout events (200+ people for a bar show), which speaks for itself. Per capita we have a stronger than average scene and have had great opportunities to play support for bigger touring bands because of it. A lot of touring bands will comment that they are impressed with the venues, bands and strength of the scene in our hometown, remarking 'this has been the best show of the tour'.

SFM: Now that the album has been released, what are the band’s immediate touring plans?

MC: The band has had a busy 2013 year, touring Eastern Canada in March, Western Canada this past summer with Into Eternity, as well as support shows for Skeletonwitch, 3 Inches of Blood and Goatwhore. We just had two hugely successful album release shows in Saskatoon and Winnipeg and are now making plans for 2014. We are working on Europe right now, in addition to Canadian touring that will occur. There are a couple other things up our sleeves but we are not privy to tell at this point in time. We will keep the Skull Fracturing team apprised of any developments.

SFM: Your sound is an interesting combination of thrash/death/black metal. Is it fair to say you guys are primarily a thrash band first? Where do you draw your influences from?

MC: I think because we like to implement speed into each of our songs that would position us to be deemed a thrash metal band. Every song is going to be comprised of a lot of thrash riffs without a doubt. If we are only allowed to identify as one subgenre of metal it would have to be thrash. With that said, in order to move forward and progress as a band we didn't want to get pigeonholed into just one facet of metal – we are heavily influenced by the band Death and the Florida Death Metal scene, and hence we wanted to institute those elements in our songwriting as well. Matt and I really like European Melodic Death Metal and Black Metal and felt that those flavours could work in our songwriting schemes. Everyone in the band is a through and through metalhead, and we like everything running the gamut from Judas Priest to Suffocation. The Bay Area and German thrash scenes have inspired us a lot but we feel that every subgenre of metal can fit into our sound, we just give it the 'Demise' treatment.

SFM: Any last words for the fans out there?

MC: Thanks for supporting us and spreading the word about the band! We appreciate it immensely and realize that without you we cannot exist. Tell your local brick and mortar record stores to stock Untimely Demise albums! Please continue to come to our live shows/tours, enjoy the music and scoop a shirt or disc off us when you can. Like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/UntimelyDemiseMetal) and follow us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/UntimelyDemise1) We look forward to playing for you live in the new year! 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Brain Dead – Menace From The Sickness

5 years after their debut record, Italy’s Brain Dead is back with a second album of willful thrashing force. Given the band’s location, name, and album art, it should be no surprise that they are signed to the consistently awesome Punishment 18 Records. The band lives up to their thrash roots quite well; in fact, that’s about all they do. Being named after the classic Exodus song, it is clear that Brain Dead are big fans of Gary Holt’s awesome riffs, and that is an influence that is rampant throughout “Menace From The Sickness”. It almost feels like most other thrash influences are ignored in order to attain Exodus’ wicked sound (mostly the sound they had during both Zetro eras).

Menace From The Sickness” tends to have a wide variety of speedy and mid-paced riffs, but the golden rule on this record is that each riff must be crushingly heavy. As if taking direction straight from classics like “And Then There Were None” and “The Toxic Waltz”, Brain Dead manages to deliver immortally heavy riffs that aren’t just based on playing fast. Aside from the opening of the title track, there is little attention to including large amounts of melody, and even that brief moment is immediately forgotten when the next brutal Exo-riff comes in. As you could predict, these riffs tend to feature plenty of chugging down picking interlaced with huge power chords and some higher notes on occasion. At times, it truly is remarkable how well Brain Dead has captured this sound; the aforementioned title track, alongside “Final Truth” and “Eye of the Cyclone”, does the best job of emulating Holt. 

Ironically, it is Exodus’ current weakness that I feel plagues Brain Dead as well. Most of the tracks on the first half of the record reach the 6-minute range, and that’s simply too long for a band like Brain Dead. They don’t focus on creating the most memorable songwriting, so it would be more effective to deliver shorter, more straightforward blasts of aggression-fuelled energy. At times, it feels like the songs just go on without any specific direction. That’s not to say anything on “Menace From The Sickness” is bad, because it certainly isn’t, but there is no need for this album to be 51-minutes long. There are a few standouts, however. Most of the entire second half of the album is quite impressive. “Pay For A Better Life” is the single, and it’s easy to see why. It is sure to be stuck in your head for at least a little while. The two tracks that follow, “Menace From The Sickness” and “Final Truth”, have some of the best riffs on the record. Ultimately, however, this album is really only for the die-hards of newer thrash. It is not original in any sense, and it lives and dies on the quality of its riffs. Devout fans of Exodus should definitely give this a shot though.

Be sure to check out and like Brain Dead on Facebook!

"Pay For A Better Life"
"Menace From The Sickness"
"Final Truth"

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott