REVIEW: Swampcult - The Festival

SWAMPCULT
THE FESTIVAL
TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY


The Festival is a multi-part take on Lovecraft's short-story of the same name by the wonderfully obscure SWAMPCULT. I've read the original myself, as I own far more Lovecraft collections then a person should, and a lot of the details are here – albeit a lot of liberties were taken with its scope. Whereas the original is painfully straightforward, much like a good deal of Lovecraft's tales - and no doubt the main reason why it never became as popular as his more fleshed out tales- SWAMPCULT tries to infuse a bit more purpose into it all. In fact, the CD release even includes a set of story cards to match the tracks and help fill you in on their version of the story. It's insanely clever and wildly entertaining to follow everything – it draws you in just like Mercyful Fate or King Diamond did with their story-based albums. Better yet, it's more than a loose story concept, you'll actually know what is going on if you follow the lyrics.


There isn't really that many bells, whistles, or theatrics here, however. You are pretty much getting what you'd expect from a band going by the name SWAMPCULT. It's filthy, yet somewhat basic, stuff. With the first couple of songs, the band sticks to a rather straight-forward, usually chuggy, riff and runs with it until the song is over.  It doesn't really give a good impression as to what to expect from The Festival, especially when you're hearing something that initially sounds rather plain and uninteresting. Thankfully that all changes rather quickly as the album begins starts get rather boisterous around the third or so track. In fact, at this point the vocal style becomes extremely reminiscent of Tom G. Warrior's Hellhammer days, almost to the point of duplication at times. Tracks like 'Chapter III – Al-Azif Necronomicon' sound like they could be right at home on Apocalyptic Raids – albeit they are far better produced. It's almost as if, at this point, you're less being told a story and more being given a sermon by some demented priest. That being said, the wonderful story focus suffers somewhat as the vocals become far more muddy, albeit more suitable for the genre. Likely, you'll be too caught up in the music and mayhem, at times, to really pay attention to what is going on with The Festival story-line.


Story based albums are always some of the best and best remembered as well, but when you pour a bevy of low-fi filth and wailing vocals atop it all – it can only get better (for me, at least). This isn't exactly the most original concept but it is highly effective, but even if it wasn't – the music itself is good enough to keep things going. High praise for SWAMPCULT's The Festival!

REVIEW: Pyromancer - Demo MMXV


PYROMANCER
DEMO MMXV
GODZ OV WAR


I don't usually judge a band, project, or artist by the quality of their demo. To me, a demo usually is the absolute base version of their work -a musical doodle, so to speak- and, as such, its not always fair to judge something that might change drastically over time. Then again, not all demos are as good as Pyromancers; not all albums are even as good as what I've heard on Demo MMXV. Yes, this means that I have yet again stumbled upon something which adds yet another exception to one of the many 'rules' I have established when it comes to reviewing albums.


This Demo is, for a lack of a better definition, black metal with a big bloody splash of death thrown in for good measure. Certainly, Pyromancer has quite a few influences at work with their album -no doubt the typical few that every black metal group or project swears by- but makes up for the typical tropes with a bevy of Celtic Frost styled bravery. Not that there are any pop song covers on this (though seriously Pyromancer, a black metal cover of 'Take on Me' would be legendary), but Demo MMXV really does include a few non-typical stylistics that you rarely see nowadays – especially since those devout to the sub-genre now shun change in general, for no apparent reason. Songs will, without rhyme or reason, suddenly switch gears and go-full on death metal. A change that should be abrupt and unfitting, but really shows that most of the differences between death and black are either superficial or strictly to do with certain vocal styles.


I personally loved the obscure contrasts within Demo MMXV. I feel that they added a lot of spirit, but that's not to say that the more pure blooded affairs present on this album are sub-par in any way. The Pyromancer duo seem to have a firm grasp on their chosen sub-genre and they know exactly what black metal should sound like. Yes, the production is bare-bones and dirt-poor but not so much as to, say, sound like the whole album is being played in a closet three rooms away. Xul at Studio Hell hit the mark with the low-fi filth-laden quality of it all, sacrificing none of the charm whatsoever.

Bloody, filthy, and full of PURE OCCULT FIRE!


REVIEW: Like Animals - Feral EP

LIKE ANIMALS
FERAL
SELF-RELEASE


'Core' genres are a tough game nowadays, be it metalcore, deathcore, or mathcore; a popular thing to hate on, due to the usual over-production and generally shallow 'easy' lyrical content. Even more-so, the target audience is more then usual teenagers, and those of us who've left that phase of our lives, sometimes not all that gracefully, harbor bitterness towards music which harks back to those turbulent times. I'm not saying there aren't things to love, some of my own favorite bands are metalcore (I.e. BLEEDING THROUGH and THE AGONIST), but yeah – core is a tough genre.


Bands like LIKE ANIMALS though, they seem to be pressing through nonetheless. This trio seems to be proud of where they are, and they aim for a more pure sense of the mathcore genre – especially with FERAL (which is the fourth in an 'animal' themed EP series.) Firstly, this EP does not bask in production values and absolute clarity in content. Everything sounds very true, like what you'd hear if you went to a live show rather then something laden in computerized effects and heavy keyboard work. Perhaps that is a product of the 'feral' theme, but I find that it works and experiencing 'raw' mathcore is extremely interesting, albeit  a bit odd.


You can pretty much expect the song-writing aspect of a band like LIKE ANIMALS, of whom have apparently played over 400 shows, to be pretty tight. These guys know how to play and they do so almost flawlessly. I found myself extremely impressed with the guitar and bass work, and since there isn't a whole lot of over-production, the bands skill is far more evident – though I'm pretty sure there is some layering, considering there are only three people at work here. As far as the drums, they seem rather standard fare – despite a healthy bit of boasting regarding their apparent 'spastic' nature. Honestly, they do what they need to do and not much else. There really isn't anything wrong with that, just nothing special. I really feel that, for a band with so much experience, not a whole lot of creative things are at work here. Sure, lyrical content and thematic focus is the main show here, but can you blame me for expecting a little bit more?


This EP does have a severe weakness though, which happens to be the singing vocals. At times they click, while at others the singer sounds as if he is droning on without much aim. This is also where the under-production rears its uglier side, at times the vocals actually feel as if the vocals are atop of the music, poorly blending into the tracks. I don't think LIKE ANIMALS intended this, but it really draws attention away from FERAL's better aspects. Things aren't always bad though, some songs actually have the feel of early THE AGONIST or DILLENGER ESCAPE PLAN albums, but those that don't – such as 'Lions Share' - just fall extremely flat and drag the entire songs down. Its a shame, really, since a lot of effort has been put into the lyrical themes of FERAL, but when the actual singing doesn't work – it makes a song pretty ineffectual. On the flip side, the harsher vocals are always excellent and always fit where they should.


I'll be honest, FERAL really isn't for everyone and it doesn't really do everything right. It's part of a series of EP's with extremely clever ideas behind them and has the potential to be the fantastic but this release just doesn't reach far enough to hit the intended mark. I love it's straight-forward sound, its DIY nature, and I can get behind all that, but I don't find FERAL all that special.

REVIEW: Heathen Beast - Rise of the Saffron Empire (EP)

HEATHEN BEAST
RISE OF THE SAFFRON EMPIRE
TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY

Political events within both the USA and Canada often leave us North Americans jaded and confused. Electing new officials usually boils down to who can lie best about who, what, how much money they have, and how fanatical their backers truly are. It has come to the point that media tycoons can take the stand simply because of their wallets, making the entire political system a joke. I don't really need to mention how bad, how thoroughly immature and shortsighted, it all is because you've definitely seen enough of it on your Facebook posts or Twitter. That being said, however, both Americans and Canadians seem to forget that they live in a rather safe environment. One that allows the expression of dislike, even hate, towards their government - and the ability to simply not participate when it comes to most governmental activities. Meanwhile, bands like Heathen Beast put themselves in danger by simply writing a three track EP about their disdain towards a terrible political situation. Yes, there are places where you don't even have the right to express your opinions through lyrics.

That being said, the fear and despair towards this situation does transfer into 'Rise of the Saffron Empire' very well. It makes for a very genuine  and inspiring experience, if not one that makes a person feel a tad guilty. There is just something about a band making a EP in lieu of their livelihood and lives. for the love of music, that puts everything in perspective. You can feel the sadness, almost melancholy, in the music as the band does their best to put their feelings towards a flawed, yet unmoving, system out in the open.

Rise of the Saffron Empire, though simple musically, is extremely captivating in its hybridized sound. Combining traditional Indian instrumentation with black metal stylistics (i.e. walls of distortion and gritty, ugly, vocals) is a truly genius idea and works surprisingly well. I'd never thought that a black metal track could sound so good without a traditional drum-set, but there exists one of this EP and it is truly fantastic - truly original. I'm simply blown away. The remaining tracks, however, are more traditional black metal fare, but of the highest possible quality.

As of writing this, it seems that Rise of the Saffron Empire may be Heathen Beast's final release. This is saddening, as I've fallen in love with what I've heard by them, but completely understandable considering their situation. Not a group to missed, even considering their brief existence.