A song about the dehumanisation and exploitation of workers should probably sound a bit angry so the topic is in safe hands with Brummie grind gods Napalm Death. In recent years they’ve been making some of their best ever music and Smash A Single Digit from 2015’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat is a masterclass in furious extremity. It’s dissonant and explosive with a superbly thrashy climax and an intense, vital performance from vocalist Barney Greenway. Napalm Death have been making excoriating noise for decades now and show no signs of taking a break.
I’m not a big fan of the most recent Virgin Steele album Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation but I still occasionally hanker for it. The opener Lucifer’s Hammer is classic chest-beating metal and Persephone is a grand retelling of the Greek myth that ranks up with the band’s best material. And do any of you remember the mysteriously anonymous 80s speed metal band Exorcist? Well, it turns out they were Virgin Steele all along and on this album they finally own up to it, reworking two Exorcist songs Queen Of The Dead and Black Mass in power metal fashion. It’s great stuff and a lot more rifftastic than the preceding VS album The Black Light Bacchanalia. But that album had a romantic, overblown grandiosity that proved fascinating and rewarding and Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation has none of that richness or consistency. The shifts from the Exorcist tracks to piano balladry like Hymns To Damnation to bizarre raunch metal like Demolition Queen and Glamour make for a disjointed listen and the overlong arrangements and dark, moody atmosphere means promising tracks like Delirium and Devilhead come across as dreary. If you’re a Virgin Steele acolyte like me there are just enough bright spots here to make it worth your time but everyone else will find Nocturnes a long, colourless night that will most likely send them to sleep.
It’s officially summer now but winter darkness reigns eternal in the heart of the HMOverlord so here’s Winterland by Copenhagen’s Demon Head. Taken from their 2015 album Ride the Wilderness, we’re in firmly retro territory here, harking back to the vintage proto-metal of Pentagram or even the heavier bluesy bands like Fleetwood Mac. The band’s sound is refreshingly clean and warm, the heaviness coming from the doom-laden riffs and delivery. And Ferreira Larsen’s excellent Bobby-Liebling-meets-Glenn-Danzig vocals are cultishly addictive. It’s great stuff from a very promising debut album. If you like this, the bands entire digital discography can be acquired very cheaply via Bandcamp and keep an eye out the follow-up album Thunder On The Fields, due out in April 2017.
The covers albums is almost always a dodgy proposition but I couldn’t help but hold out some hope for Danzig’s Skeletons. Partly because… Glenn F. Danzig! But also cause I knew the Evil Elvis was going to choose some interesting material to put through the metal wringer. And it’s the choice of material that saves Skeletons from being a total stinker. The performances are pretty ropey: flat vocals, lifeless drums and relentless guitar squealies along with a flabby sound that’s devoid of dynamics. There are dicey renditions of Sabbath’s N.I.B, Aerosmith’s Lord of the Thighs and ZZ Top’s Rough Boy, while a surprising choice, sounds like your drunken Dad commandeering the microphone at a wedding. Dad, stop! But Danzig gets bonus points for doing all these tracks his own way and, when you’ve got Glenn M. F. Danzig doing The Everly Brothers’ Crying in the Rain, it’s hard not to get a kick out of that… however much it sounds like the karaoke of your darkest fears. It’s worth having Skeletons just for that and its opening trio of tunes: Dave Allan and the Arrows’ Devil’s Angels is bashed out in delightfully Misfits-y style; the obscure soundtrack curio Satan (Theme from Satan’s Sadists) is brilliant and tailor-made for Glenn – “I was born mean, by the time I was 12 I was killing, killing for Satan”; and his cover of Elvis’ Let Yourself Go is a stomping taster for his planned Elvis EP. It’s definitely for fans-only but, for them, it’s a flawed-but-loveable glimpse into the great Fonzig’s interesting and eclectic influences. And if you’re not singing “I was borrrrn mean…” in the shower every day after hearing this, you’re a better man than me.
As Obscene Entity power into the climatic riff of the track Insanity Binds, someone shouts the word “fuck”. Now, normally that kind of posturing would have me rolling my eyes, thinking of Lars Ulrich. But the particular moment at which it is exclaimed, after the band have just powered through a veritable maelstrom of death metal riffs before returning successfully to the song’s main riff, it comes across as totally genuine. Even triumphant. You find yourself totally behind them. Fuck!
I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the joy of Obscene Entity’s debut album Lamentia.
Loosely based around the theme of mental fragility, this intense and heartfelt album pulls you down a rabbit hole of tortured death metal. The album starts off with the Gojira-fronted-by-Jeff Walker assault of Planetary Devastation. It’s a good, solid opener but the album kicks into another gear as Hymns of the Faithless veers from a dizzy, swirling riff midway through the track into a groovy, stop-start breakdown. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you gurn like Phil Anselmo. Listen to this on the bus at your peril.
And from there on the album just seems to intensify, the band continually adding new elements and styles. The title track has a whirling dervish riff and ringing chords that bring to mind Emperor and Euphoric Vanity employs some guitar progginess in a wonderful Chuck Schuldiner vein. The twin vocals of guitarist Matt Adnett (also of Shrines) and bassist Calum Gibb keep things varied throughout: ranging from brute Behemoth growls to hoarse blackened snarls. But the top honours go to drummer Luke Braddick. For an album this vehement, it’s remarkably hooky and those hooks are powered and enhanced by Luke’s dynamic and tasteful playing. Throughout, the band plays a modern style but has a classic sensibility and chemistry: constantly reining themselves in, allowing space for all the parts to have maximum effect. This quality, aided by the powerfully clear production from Dan Abela, only adds to the album’s power and intensity.
There are a lot of approaches and influences on Lamentia and my only concern is that the band haven’t quite found their unique voice yet. But it’s never derivative and the prospect of the band developing and finding that voice on future releases is tantalising. But until then, there’s plenty to enjoy and gurn at in Lamentia. It’s unreconstructed death metal performed with remarkable skill, piss and vinegar. Expect to see this in my end-of-year Top Ten, it’s a fantastic debut. Fuck!