Memoriam-Requiem For Mankind

Man, if ever an album was a complete and total palate cleanser, this would be it.  Just back to basics, mid-tempo classic European death metal done in such a fine fashion that all I could do during my first listen was just sit back and nod in recognition.  Well done, boys.  Well done.  It’s nice to hear a death metal album that isn’t so focused on speed and is happy to tread that middle ground of grind without becoming abrasive.

So, it took me a bit, but I finally jumped on the Memoriam bandwagon.  I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t do so from the get go, but seeing as how prolific these dudes have been from their formation (formed in 2017 and have put out an album every year of existence), I decided it was high time to finally give them a legitimate shot.  Basically known as the post-Bolt Thrower band of Karl Willets, Memoriam really follows in the same footsteps that Bolt Thrower laid down.  Lots of songs about warfare delivered in Willets’ crusty and weather-beaten English growl.  The guitars just lay down an absolute warm blanket of percussive riffs that seem to hit that perfect semblance of everything heavy metal is and should be.  This is simply a heavy metal album.  Raise your fist and be counted and go buy this fucker today.

4 flip flops out of 5

Allegaeon and Exmortus at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX 7/10/2019

Death metal banger in the middle of the week.  Pretty decent crowd showed up for this one in both numbers and in rowdiness quotient.

Allegaeon.  The awesome band with the weird name.  I really dig these guys quite a bit not only for their super duper metal chops, but also for their down-to-earth and almost goofy stage presence.  It’s hard not to root for band of guys that just seem like they really enjoy what they are doing on stage.  I’ve seen them do their thing live a number of times now, but I believe this is the first headlining gig that I’ve seen them perform.  So, it was nice to see them go longer than a 30 minute set for a change.  Once again, they showed live why they are at the pinnacle of bands in the technical death metal realm.  The technical chops are all just off the charts, but it never comes at a sacrifice to the songs.  The songs are still catchy and memorable and never succumb to being pure musical wankfests.

Opener Exmortus (or the Sex Tortoise as Allegaeon’s singer, Riley McShane referred to them) is kind of an interesting beast of a band.  In presentation, they kind of come across as being from the power metal world with their synchronized headbanging and weird dueling guitar antics.  But the sound they bring is more of a thrashed flavored death metal.  Probably leaning more on the thrash than on the death side of things.  Even though I’ve never completely warmed up to this band, their set last night was very energetic and engaging.  I kind of understand the buzz surrounding these guys.

Allegaeon

Allegaeon

Exmortus

Howling Sycamore-Seven Pathways to Annihilation

I’ve got to be honest.  I’m actually kind of surprised that we have a second album out of Howling Sycamore.  I mean, I’m happy about it because their first album from a couple of years back was a pleasant surprise.  But it just seemed like this was a project that really sort of formed in a haphazard sort of way and it didn’t feel like this was a permanent type of project.  Well, shows how much I know about things.

This latest effort from the band (core members Davide Tiso-guitar/bass, Jason McMaster-vox and Hannes Grossmann-drums) is pretty much in line with the sound of the debut, but in a more linear presentation.  That first album was just downright odd.  Odd in a good way.  Maybe unique is a better word.  It was a challenging mass of progressive, avant-guarde metal.  The new one continues the soundscapes of the first one in that it is very soaring and epic metal, but it doesn’t feel as though there are as many surprises or as interesting curveballs thrown on it.  Still, it is a very solid album and an enjoyable listen.  I still feel that both Howling Sycamore albums contain Jason McMaster’s best vocal performances of his career.  Just flat out strong.  Hopefully these guys will continue on in growing their discography.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Cave In-Last Transmission

doo, doo, doo, doo

That’s how this album starts.  Quiet.  Haunting.  Unassuming.  Perfect for a farewell album of sorts.

doo, doo, doo, doo

Final Transmission.  The album title represents a bit of a farewell to a fallen band member and, possibly, to the entity known as Cave In.  On March 28, 2018, bassist Caleb Scofield died tragically after his pickup collided with a concrete barrier located at a toll booth stop in New Hampshire.  What we have here is the final results of preliminary work started by Cave In for their upcoming album which was cut short by Scofield’s death.  Luckily, Scofield had played enough material to have his final recorded performances be included on every song included on this latest release.

All in all, this is a really nice send off.  Bittersweet and subdued for the most part, the band has cobbled together a choice selection of songs that reflect both the melancholy air of losing someone and also acting as a celebration of his musical creations.  It remains to be seen if the band continues forward (Nate Newton of Converge is stepping in to play bass) or if this is truly the swan song for the band as a recording entity.  If this is truly the last album we receive from the band, it is definitely an ending note in which the band can be proud.

4 flip flops out of 5

Baroness-Gold & Grey

So, we find Baroness wrapping up their color-themed string of albums with Gold & Grey.  And let’s just start with the above artwork of John Dyer Baizley on this one.  It really feels as though his cover art for each album just continues to get better and better with this current one being the pinnacle of his work so far.  Simply stunning art.  It would be awesome to have a collection of all five album covers.

On to the music enclosed.  I have really been a fairly big supporter of this band over the years and I still feel happy with my choice of naming Yellow & Green the album of the year back in 2012.  However, Baroness’ last album, Purple, kind of fell flat on my ears.  There were some decent moments, sure, but the material just never quite elevated to the level of creativity laid down on Yellow & Green.  After sitting with Purple for 3+ years now hasn’t done much to change my opinion on it.

So, here we find ourselves years down the road from the last album and I’m really hoping that the time spent away has helped the creative juices flow and that this latest platter will end up being something special.  We have one new personnel change of note in that this is the first album to feature Gina Gleason on lead guitar after she replaced longtime guitarist Pete Adams.  So, to start, let me say that I feel like the new album is a step in the right direction and it feels like the material has a bit more heft than from what we heard on Purple.  However, it still doesn’t quite reach the level of magic that was Yellow & Green, let alone Red or Blue.  The biggest problem isn’t with the songs themselves, but with the mixing and production.  Simply put, the mix is just muddy as shit and it absolutely kills the songs.  The guitars are just shoved so far back in the mix that it is downright hard to make out what Baizley and Gleason are doing, especially on many of the more uptempo songs.  For whatever reason, the decision was made to put the bass and drums way out front at the expense of everything else.  In addition, there is just a layer of distortion thrown over the entire production that simply makes the entire album sound as if it was recorded in a cavern.  And, during the entire process of listening to the album a couple times through now, it just absolutely drove me nuts.  Because all I could think is “How good would these songs be if they had the production values of their past albums?”  Are the songs being destroyed by a shitty mix?  It sure as hell feels so.  As stated, the mix kills the more uptempo songs more than the slower and acoustic-based ones and, as a result, the softer moments on the album are the more memorable ones.

In addition to the mixing issues, you’ve got 17 tracks in total with around 11 of them being proper songs.  You’ve got around 6 small instrumental segues in between songs that are classified as individual tracks but really feel more like filler ideas that didn’t make it into actual songs.

I don’t know.  I’m really disappointed with this one.  Primarily, because I really feel like the presentation of these songs could have been done in a much better fashion.  It just feels like a missed opportunity.

3 flip flops out of 5

Plague Vendor-By Night

So, I saw these guys put on their live show a couple of months ago and it was one of those eye-opening experiences.  These guys put on an absolutely electric experience in person and their frontman, Brandon Blaine, just exudes a charisma from the stage this is just downright infectious.  Now, at the time of that show, I hadn’t spent any time at all listening to their recorded output.  So, the big hairy question here is this:  Can these guys harness all of that live energy from their stage show and translate it into the studio atmosphere and onto their subsequent album?

The answer is yes and no.  I was hopeful right out of the gate with album opener, New Comedown, is just an infectious slab of pop-punk majesty that simply makes me want to jump around like a 20-something and smash shit.  Which is kind of what punk music is designed to do.  So, cool.  The entirety of Side A of this album is pretty damn catchy and is a good rockin’ time.  The second half of the album loses a little bit of its early momentum and the album seems to run a bit out of steam by the time the last cut comes around.  But here’s the thing:  I can see all of these songs being ratcheted up greatly in a live setting.  I just have a feeling that this band is never going to be entirely able to replicate how they perform their songs live.  This is one of those bands whose reckless abandon style of playing is always going to outpace their studio work.  After witnessing them live, I just can’t see how they can ever measure up in the studio without having that live-without-a-net sense of danger that comes with their live show.

All in all, this is a solid stab.  Buy the album and then just steel yourself for having these songs nuked into another stratosphere once you witness them live.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Death Angel-Humanicide

Hell, yeah!  We’re back to the wolves with hats album cover motif.  Harkening back to The Dream Calls for Blood in 2013, I guess this is going to be a running theme for Death Angel.  I’m not really sure why they went away from it on their last album, The Evil Divide or why they have decided to go back to it now.  I know it’s got to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing sort of deal, but it just looks like they are wearing hats.  Anyway, Wolves With Hats!!  Excellent!

By this point, Death Angel really isn’t a band anymore.  They’re a goddamn institution.  These guys started when they were teenagers in the 80s and since their reformation in 2001 they have been an absolute model of consistency.  It’s a shame that the thrash bands from the 80s that aren’t in the so-called Big Four don’t get quite as many accolades for their contributions to the foundations of the classic thrash sound.  Even though their early career only resulted in three full albums, the absolute onslaught of quality albums produced since their reformation should solidify these guys in the halls of metal history.

The new album slots right in with the remainder of their material from the 2000s.  It’s tight and focused.  It’s just a solid fucking metal album.  Cavestany and Aguilar are just tearing things up on the guitar and Mark Osegueda is really turning into one of the warm blanket voices going in metal today.  His voice has just aged like a well-worn leather jacket.  He can still hit the highs as he did in his younger days, but there is a crusty battle-weary edge to it now that really gives his sound some character.  He’s been through the trenches and has come out the other side and it just gives all of the songs a little more heft and substance.  Even though the album doesn’t have any major changes in sound from their previous releases, there is a bit of a brighter metal sheen to some of the guitar sounds throughout.  It feels in a way that they tried to hit a bit more of a traditional metal sound on this one.  Kind of some Maiden and Dio influences running through a few of the songs.  Overall, this is just another album you should own.  Death Angel is just an institution and shouldn’t be overlooked.

4 flip flops out of 5