Wednesday, November 12, 2014

G&P Review: Body Hammer

Body Hammer
II: The Mechanism of Night
The Path Less Traveled

Books and films revel in trilogies because the story follows the accustomed three-act structure. The first stage introduces the characters and sets them on the road to the second act in which they confront the antagonists and finally the resolution where all of the narrative threads are brought to a close. The second act will likely feature some of the best drama and action as the protagonist grapples with seemingly unbeatable odds, but by the same token it also can be the most unsatisfying phase of a story because there’s no resolution. That’s why the ending of The Empire Strikes Back sucks so much (that’s right I said it; it needed to be said).
Music is not particularly strong on narrative so these topics don’t come up often, but it makes a handy conceptual framework for appreciating Body Hammer’s second album, II: The Mechanism of Night, after one-man nightmare master Ryan Page revealed it’s the second installment in a planned trilogy based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Prior album, Jigoku, Virgiled us through hell as the songs were slowly eviscerated from electronic grind nightmares to free form, more abstract meditations on sin and punishment.

With The Mechanism of Night, the journey into purgatory is far more fitful and fraught. “The Iron Bough” sets the penitent tone from the outset with a flagellating wave of percussion, but unlike its predecessor, The Mechanism of Night gives play to full on grind catharsis. In fact the grind elements are sparse and widely spread out between tidal bashings of electronic waves of suffering and atonement. So that will be the first obstacle for the casual grind fiend looking for a quick blastbeat fix.
The second pitfall is inherent in the very nature of three-part story structure: the middle act is often the least satisfying entry on its own merits. But the nature of narrative, the second act ends with no resolution. Instead, our protagonists are usually left at the mercy of their foes, the promise of victory is still obscured by future obstacles. The Mechanism of Night has a similar shortcoming in that it works best when paired with its predecessor  – elements of “Body Blockade” and “Clawing at the Skin of God” nod back to themes and execution of Jigoku’s “The Bystander Effect.” The Mechanism of Night’s best elements are those that build toward tension but fail to release into catharsis such as the coven incantations of “A Presence” or the penultimate nihilistic hellscape “A Foregone Conclusion.” Where Jigoku’s primary musical tendency was from tightly wound chaos to bleeding out into noise, The Mechanism of Night is more sporadic and halting as it lurches from grind to noise.
 In the context of Dante’s controlling metaphor of a journey from Hell to Purgatory and ultimately up the mountain toward Paradise, it makes sense. But there’s probably a pretty good argument to be made that having to know all of that context in advance to enjoy a piece of music indicates a failure of execution, but once the connection is made the intention becomes clearer and the journey is rewarding, even if lacks resolution. To be continued.

[Full disclosure: I received a review copy.]

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Three’s Company: Reconfigured and Reinvigorated Backslider Are All About That Bass, Motherfucker

Photo by Suren Karapetyan
Sorry, two's company, and three's an adult movie.
John Turturro in Brain Donors, 1992

Philadelphia grind-violence dervish duo Backslider has brewed an exquisitely nasty racket since 2008 with the bare necessities of drums, guitar and throat-rending shrieks. And guitarist Logan and drummer Patrick were content. Early failed experiments in adding a third wheel only cemented the twosome’s desire to keep things concise. Anybody who braved the glass shard maelstrom of their audio assault would be hard pressed to argue otherwise.
Backslider could have continued cranking out immaculate music based on the binary concept and we all would have applauded slack jawed (just as soon as we recovered from the concussions they inflicted). But earlier this year Backslider unexpectedly rounded out their assault by bringing in bassist Jake.
“At first we were pretty much not willing budge on the topic. Jake was pretty persistent,” Patrick said. “I lived in Florida for a year in 06-07 and met Jake during that time. He's been in tons of bands, toured and recorded a bunch so he's no rookie. I can remember seeing him at a show before he joined in Philly, and him asking about it. I remember explaining to him that we were so used to operating as a two piece, it was more of an issue of that than anything and I had no doubt he could do it, but we would just jam and see how it went. Jake is a capable and great bass player so I knew he could do it no problem. After a few practices we caved.”
Jake was even more dogged about earning a seat in Backslider’s van after he heard the impressive Consequences album.
“I feel like at that point Patrick and I felt like it was time to branch out and start taking things more seriously,” Logan said. “We had a couple jams with him and it went really well. He's been doing this shit for years and he's no weakling.”
With Consequences, Backslider had broadened their repertoire, breaking up the speed freak brutality to repeatedly whack you upside the head with a sock full of Sacajawea dollars, taking their time to savor your pleas for mercy.
“I distinctly remember a conversation that Patrick and I had a couple of years ago, around the time that we were writing for the Nimbus Terrifix split 7-inch, that we decided we don't need boundaries and if we wanted to play fast, we were gonna play fast as fuck, but also if we wanted to play slow, we were gonna do that as well,” Logan said. “Since then, we've opened ourselves up to many different styles, and I think that we're better musicians now than we've ever been. It's more satisfying and fun, the world doesn't need any more 'powerviolence' clones.”
In that same spirit of no frontiers and no fucks given, adding Jake to the roster has also allowed Backslider to stretch their musical muscles and explore tones and timbres previously untested.
“As far as writing, his involvement and ideas have really opened things up for us, we're able to do things that we've never even thought to try before, and it sounds pretty unreal,” Patrick said. “The heaviness is more pronounced and the range of tones we're able to get balances out the sound, so much so that I wish we would've had a competent bassist all along.”

Maladapted Motherfuckers.

Backslider’s new configuration will get its first in your face work out soon once the newly minted trio puts the final touches on the upcoming album Motherfucker.
“As of right now we're about 75 percent finished with writing for the LP, it's going to be called Motherfucker and it's going to be just that,” Logan enthused. “There are a lot of things going on in these songs that are completely uncharted territory for us and they seem more like actual songs that move and grow as opposed to fastcore farts. There's still plenty of blazing fast hardcore but the arrangements are more prolonged and abstract. I don't recall a lot of the writing process for any of our records, except for the heated arguments during the Consequences practices. I can say that, for me at least, this is the most fun it's been to write for Backslider.”
After some personal and intraband turmoil leading up to Consequences, Patrick also said Motherfucker sees Backslider at their most focused. Not only has adding Jake rounded out the band’s sound, but his voice in the practice space is also pushing Backslider to be their best, the drummer said.
“I just put together a ‘discography so far’ of all of our material, and I like all of it. But, I think what we've got coming is crushing it all,” Patrick said. “Yeah, the Consequences writing period was a rough spot for us. We were busy as a band and also had a lot going on personally at the time too. It was our first longer release and we beat the crap out of ourselves getting it together. We were satisfied with the result. I think not only having a bass to pull the low end together but, having a third voice and opinion also is refreshing for us. The writing process has been fun so far, and coming together really well.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

G&P Review: Kaiju Daisenso

Kaiju Daisenso
Kaiju Daisenso
Tokyo Fist

The writers of the upcoming Godzilla and Pacific Rim sequels should sit down and take notes after a few spins of New York megafauna Kaiju Daisenso’s rubble shaking record: get straight to the fucking monsters. Nobody drops a 10-spot at the local cinema to listen to a bunch of whiny humans blather on. We’re there for the hot monster-on-monster action, so don’t fuck around and get right to the carnage.
It’s a lesson Kaiju Daisenso, featuring former members of Unearthly Trance, Serpentine Path and Helen of Troy, have indelibly seared into their souls with atomic breath. Their self-titled EP is a Rodan divebomb of no-bullshit, Ghidorah groaning grind. At 10 tracks (including a couple brief scene-setter pieces), Kaiju Daisenso lasts about as long as the King of the Monster’s screen time in the latest Hollywood reboot. But unlike the film, Kaiju Daisenso don’t pad it out with a bunch of bullshit nobody wants to see, so you’ll definitely be coming back for more.

Their EP may be short, but Kaiju Daisenso wring every monster moment out of every second with a master’s class in economical composition that honors just about every incarnation of Godzilla and friends from the horrific to the goofy (Just not Godzuki goofy. We all have our limits.). Just as they settle into a sweet grind groove, Kaiju Daisenso close out the EP’s first side with the UFO warble of “Hedorah Attack.” Flipping the record finds one of the many Mothra songs repurposed as a side two intro in “Infant Island Blues” before being nuked away by the major chord chaos of a rampant Godzilla on “Atomic Breath.”
I may have mentioned my love of kaiju eiga a time or two before, and Kaiju Daisenso hit that perfectly sweet spot between the campy rubber suited matinees of my childhood and the visceral darkness of the original Gojira. The only thing holding the EP back from perfection may be a bit of mud clinging to the guitars that blurs the riffing, but it’s the pickiest of nits because Kaiju Daisenso will lay your inner Tokyo to waste.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy.]

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Seventh Seal

And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer [it] with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
And the smoke of the incense, [which came] with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast [it] into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.

Revelation 8:1-5

Happy seventh blogaversary, G&P.
Like Barry Bonds and Mark Maguire’s homerun records, this blogaversary will always come with an asterisk (unfortunately not that Asterisk*) next to it since I basically took half a year and just fucked off. And since I’ve decided to give this yet another go, no one could accuse me of being prolific. But G&P keeps creeping along as I find the time between work, family and a toddler who seems to have skipped a grade and jumped straight to the terrible twos and then taken up permanent residence there. While I don’t have the time or energy to bang out three or four posts a week like I used to (at this point three or four a month would be a triumph), I still have this weird urge to scribble the words about the grind and send them out to the interhole in the hopes of reaching likeminded mutants who have this insatiable need to grind and the analytical compulsion to take the music apart, poke around in its innards and figure out how it all works. Setting out to write the greatest grind blog on the internet is a bit like aspiring to be the tallest guy in Munchkinland, but that’s my dream and fuck it I’ll give it a shot.
I’m genuinely grateful that you guys have stuck around despite all the ups and downs and long silences lately. I hope never to lose appreciation for the fact that all of you take time out to stop by to talk about this stuff with me. It’s a privilege to find a community that shares my interests and has provided me the support and feedback necessary to keep going. So, as always, thank you to all of you. I really do appreciate it all.
So hopefully things can pick up a bit in the next year.  I’m balls deep in my next in-depth project story (and it’s slowly kicking my ass) and I have a couple of interviews up my sleeve coming in the not too distant future (i.e. between now and the inevitable heat death of the universe). Mostly I hope I can keep finding new ways to look at grind that spark my interest and hopefully yours too. I’ll keep plugging away at G&P as long as I can find the time and energy because the interest is there on my part and hopefully yours too. I’ll write some more just as soon as I beat this pasty guy in chess. Or maybe Battleship.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mimetic: Attack of the Discordance Axis Clones

If The Inalienable Dreamless were a child, it would be old enough to start high school this year.
In the nearly decade and a half since Discordance Axis gifted the world a masterpiece and then summarily retired, the New Jersey trio has gone from that band that few had heard of and even fewer liked to a significant touchstone in grindcore. A whole generation of grind musicians has grown up with Dave Witte’s tendon-testing speed, Jon Chang’s upper register screech and pop cultural fixations and particularly Rob Marton’s uniquely phrased guitar parts as part of the musical heritage they have inherited. That influence is coming to fruition as a recent of wave of Discordance Axis clones.
“I think that we identified with Discordance Axis because they're different from other grindcore bands,” said Jonathan Thompson, whose band, Vertigo Index, cribbed both their name and style from one of Jouhou’s songs. “Despite the fact that they do adhere in some sense to the sort of the grindcore blast-heavy template, they really managed to do so in a way that was forward thinking. Rather than rehashing the bands that came before them, they took their ideas and morphed them into something that was wholly their own. That is, they were able to write short fast songs that still feel like songs rather than simply bursts of aggression. Their song writing skills, specifically on The Inalienable Dreamless, are unparalleled in grindcore. While the songs are still ferocious in their own right they contain more interesting tonal characteristics than the simpler fast power chords and blast beats of their contemporaries.”
But for Discordance Axis, after years of being marginalized, seeing other bands adapt their sonic template is a bizarre reversal.
“I have always found it surreal that DA has any kind of following today given how completely people were disinterested with us when we existed,” Chang said. “It seems like the music has influenced people in the form of bands, individuals or other artists who have nothing to do with music.”
Cloning is intrinsic to musical evolution. Nobody would be grinding now if it weren’t for shamelessly ripping off Siege, Napalm Death and Repulsion. Hell, Carcass has been cloned more times than a Mandalorian bounty hunter. Indeed, Discordance Axis’ first album, Ulterior, owed a significant and obvious debt to From Enslavement to Obliteration.
“In the case of clones or cover bands, I hope those people are getting their sea legs and working to eclipse what we did. I know when we started we were very influenced by the Scum, SOB-split era of Napalm Death, SOB, Assuck and Anal Cunt, but we found our own voice in time,” Chang said.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

G&P Review: Keitzer

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Matthew 24:6

The Last Defence
FDA Rekotz

A Midwestern town is in flames after cops dolled up in surplus military gear stormed out in force to put down protests after an unarmed black kid was shot by the police. America is easing its way into yet another war in the Middle East with an incremental build up that should make anyone with a passing familiarity with the history of Vietnam queasy. Israel and Gaza’s millennia-old internecine squabble is on again. Russia seems to be determined to reunite the old Soviet Union with Ukraine being first on the agenda.
It’s a fraught and violent time. Keitzer’s latest, The Last Defence, is a fraught and violent record that reflects its era. It may just be fortuitous (if that’s really the word) timing, but the downer news cycle synchs up perfectly with the Germans’ latest missive of relentless, bellicose negativity. The Last Defence is a single-minded beast that moves with the implacability of armored battalions cresting a battlefield. Every song rumbles along with the same Bolt Thrower chug by way of Nasum blast, and while the album may lack for variety, each of the 14 songs is like an incoming artillery round. From the sinuous, Nile-ish opener “Bellum Indicere” straight through the final shock of “…Before Annihilation,” Keitzer mine the sorry state of the world for inflammatory material. Just reading the song titles is likely to provoke PTSD in anyone who has spent time in a war zone: “Exist to Destroy,” “Forever War,” “Next Offensive” and “Glorious Dead” are dispatches from realms where bomb craters are more common than elementary schools with a soundtrack to match.
Musically, Keitzer do not deviate from the death-grind nexus that they’ve honed on past albums. If you’ve heard and enjoyed them in the past, then will offer up another 40 minute cluster bombing of the sound that’s served them so well. 

[Full disclosure: I received a download for review.]
The Last Defence

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

G&P Review: Vertigo Index

Vertigo Index
Posthuman v1.1

They’re named Vertigo Index. Do I really need to explain where these information snipers are coming from? On the off chance it’s not obvious, this carcass lottery from the remains of Bastards and Scum Guilt come apart together come together alone to worship at the altar of Jouhou. But in a refreshing twist, their damage style hews close to the Discordance Axis template without slavishly recapitulating the past.

Rather than going for another reincarnation, Vertigo Index shine brightest when they dial back the mimetic elements and take the Discordance Axis influence in new directions. Their best riffs indeed bathe in Rob Marton’s love of odd tones and musical tension, but through attrition Vertigo Index deliberately slow them down, putting one of this century’s fastest bands on a ruin trajectory with ominous sludge slog. EP standout “No Fate But What We Make” slows down a Marton-style riff to allow you to savor the odd interplay of the notes and the way they warp and bend through repetition and sustain. It’s a great, smart use of an influence without straight up mimicry. That’s not to say they can’t blast when needed. “Mother Boxx” tries to shove a Witte-grade blast beat through a 57 second aperture of pinholes, squeezing a career of acceleration into a super dense minute and it works splendidly.
In the increasingly crowded realm of Discordance Axis tribute acts, Vertigo Index are probably better than The Parallax View, about on par with Syntax but not quite as good as Asterisk*. Still, it’s a solid 3 out of 5 on the Kim Novak scale for a promising first effort.