album review

Whoa, what is this?

You ever seen the Robert Redford movie “Sneakers?” There’s a scene where the character Whistler (played by one of the all-time great character actors David Strathairn,) figures out that the computer hardware his crew stole is the most powerful decryption tool ever created; that possessing it gave him complete access to every secure network in the United States. Whistler’s reaction, accompanied by a symphonic crescendo, is “Whoa.” That’s how I feel about Warbringer’s new album “Empires Collapse.”

If I've learned anything about black metal over the years, it's that it's as much about an ethos as it is about music. Black metal has become a philosophy for people who don't understand what philosophy is (I'm a philosopher, so I'm allowed to say that). The legions of black metal bands, and the fans who pledge allegiance to the crusty heaps of brutality they create, use music as sort of a religion. Instead of worshiping a deity, they grovel at the feet of misanthropic noise.

Chemistry, or the study of the composition, properties and behavior of matter, was not a favorite subject of mine in school but I do enjoy mixing things together to see what happens. So, lets break out the blender. Combine equal parts thrash, hardcore and punk, add a splash of anger and a generous amount of distortion. Now grind that mother. Pour the mixture into an album cover featuring a syringe-toothed cobra, surrounded by eyeballs and you've got yourself the "Chemistry of Consciousness".

Not being a thrash fan, nor of a certain age, the name Sepultura exists to me as an artifact of history. I've read about the band's tumultuous history, but having not lived through the controversy it created, nor being retroactively interested in the music the band made, I have no opinion to offer on the subject, nor any biases one way or the other to color my opinion on this record. Sepultura, for all they have accomplished, and the legacy they've created, is just another band to me.

Consistency is a difficult thing to deliver, particularly over a long period of time. To churn out a high caliber or product over and over again, particularly in the arts, where one must constantly find new inspiration, is a herculean task, and attaining or failing consistency has been the respective hallmark and demise of countless artists and musicians over the last couple centuries. Soulfly, still the bedrock of Max Cavalera's current musical career, has been extremely successful at continually turning out a product that fans will recognize, embrace, endorse and consume.

The origins of hard rock and heavy metal lay in the blues (Black Sabbath started out as a blues band, after all), yet I have never found much appeal in that particular form of music. Whether talking about the original wave of blues artists, or the later blues revivalists, or the blues-rockers who use it as a way to sell lousy rock records, none of it has ever made an impact with me. I find that funny, since I tend to specialize in all manner of downbeat and depressing art. For whatever reason, the blues has eluded me.

When I take a step back and try to figure out what's going on in the world of metal these days, two radically divergent things become apparent. There's a schism going on, with a set of bands trying to move us forward into whatever god-forsaken trend is going to take over the world next, while another set is trying to move us backwards to a time when music was simpler. I tend to cast my lot with this latter group, the bands that ache for a time when 'studio magic' meant making people believe a warlock was helping you record, not a computer playing your parts for you.

Those who know me know I am a huge fan of so-called old-school thrash. It was the soundtrack of my adolescence and became the outlet for my teen angst and rebel nature. Among the bands who helped destroy my still developing neck was Death Angel. With that background, you can imagine my excitement when the new release from Death Angel, "The Dream Calls For Blood", came across my desk.

Some things don’t change. It remains difficult to discuss the long career of Monster Magnet without using the word ‘circuitous.’ Born into obscurity in the wilds of New Jersey, Dave Wyndorf’s band toiled for years, eventually landed a major radio hit with “Space Lord,” was on everyone’s lips for twelve minutes, then it faded just as fast as it had come. A period of infighting and lineup shuffling followed, but through it all the name Monster Magnet persisted.

I don't like to do so, but Argus is a band that I will forever think of as connected to another similar band. It's not fair to either of them, but Argus and Sinister Realm came about at roughly the same time, I discovered them concurrently, and they play similar enough music on the same schedule that it's hard for my mind to separate the two. Both of them released debut albums I was quite fond of at the time, at the first heights of the traditional metal resurrection.