Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some album reviews and general misanthropy

Note: I love powerviolence/crust/grindcore/d-beat. I also love black metal. I HATE deathcore. Death metal rules.

I was talking to a friend of mine last night about how, in his opinion, it's unfair to hate on a band simply because they belong to a particular musical genre; he feels that one should give each individual group a chance and evaluate them based on their own merits (or lack thereof). I definitely see where he's coming from, but come on - I'm convinced there are some genres/subgenres/styles out there that deserve nothing but scorn. Case in point: nu-metal, female-fronted symphonic/gothic metal, and everyone's favorite whipping boy, deathcore.

I gave deathcore a chance back before its heroes' logos were splashed across every high school kid's emaciated chest and its particular brand of sonic insult was blasting through every pit ninja's Ipod. I still dig Devourment, and have always been more than okay with Dying Fetus & Suffo's breakdowns, but that's about as far as I can go. I don't understand the appeal. Breakdowns can be cool, but not when you base an entire fucking song around them. If you like death metal PARTS, why don't you just write death metal SONGS instead of cherry-picking the bits you like best and mashing them up into something so unnervingly generic I worry about our youth's cognitive skills? There's a lot more that can be said on the subject (and probably will) but I'll spare you any more of my vitriol for now.

Keeping that in mind, check out a couple new reviews I did for Hails & Horns.

ENEMY SOIL [[sidebar]]
“Casualties of Progress”

Powergrinding into oblivion

Richmond, VA’s drum-machine noiseterrorists Enemy Soil disbanded in 1999, and it’s a damn shame they did. The world could use another balls-out straight-up grindcore outfit around to show the influx of newjack irony-grinders out there how shit’s supposed to be done. Luckily, Relapse have continued with their spate of quality reissues by putting out Enemy Soil’s “Casualties of Progress” EP, complete with unreleased songs and a Napalm Death cover. Remastered by Scott Hull (whose project Agoraphobic Nosebleed once counted Enemy Soil mainman Robert Johnson amongst its members), the nine tracks on this album careen by at warp speed. In true fastcore fashion, the damn thing’s over in sixteen minutes. For those who aren’t familiar with Enemy Soil, shame on you – you call yourself a grindfreak? For those who are, you should know what you’re getting into here: viciously primitive, mercilessly fast, crusty, powerviolent grindcore with sociopolitical lyrics, backed by the drum machine from hell. An essential piece of extreme metal history from a band of innovators who freed the drum machine from the techno ghetto, and an absolute must-have for everyone who wishes Dropdead were still together. IN GRIND WE CRUST, motherfuckers! (Kim Kelly) (Relapse/www.relapse.com)

BLOODBATH [[sidebar]]
“Unblessing the Purity”

Everything Mikeal Akerfeldt touches turns to gold. Gory, blasphemous, Jesus-hatin’ gold.

Bloodbath, everyone’s favorite Swedish death metal standard-bearers, are back with a four-song EP and a decimating live DVD (discussed elsewhere in the issue). I for one would rather that they stop futzing around and just put out another goddamn full-length already, but when even an EP knocks the wind out of 90% of the other death metal releases that came out this year, I’m almost afraid of what will happen when the Bloodbath gang get their shit together and unleash hell yet again. As per usual, this supergroup’s had a few lineup changes between this and the monstrous “Nightmares Made Flesh.” This time, Dan Swano jumped ship and was duly replaced by Per Eriksson, Mighty Mikeal’s back on vokills, and Peter Tatgren is but a distant memory. Musically, Unblessing the Purity” reeks of Entombed, Dismember, & pre-hippie Amorphis, just beefed up a bit with a greater emphasis on technicality, atmosphere, and more varied tempos. Akerfelt sounds positively demonic on “Blasting the Virginborn,” while “Weak Aside” is utterly owned by the sickest guitar solo this side of Stockholm. My only gripe is that this EP is slightly lacking in the catchiness department – the riffs stick in your head well enough, but this one’s sadly bereft of “Eaten Pt. II” (though I’ll keep on hoping!). You’ve got our attention, boys – now make with the full-length.


Abomination and desolation.

This band is fucking stupid. Deathcore-by-numbers from the kind of dudes who almost certainly describe what they play as “brutal technical death metal,” which means they really dug that Necrophagist guy’s record and think sweeps are awesome. Also, breakdowns. Lots and lots of breakdowns. This sort of shit makes me feel so old; when I was this band’s fans’ age, I was getting into Morbid Angel and Bathory, not Waking The Cadaver and Abigail Williams. I don’t understand the appeal of deathcore, but gosh darn does it sell. Catalepsy’s Stillborn debut opens with a weird industrialized-machinery-in-an-old-abandoned-factory-populated-by-Orcs intro that leads into a roar of “I will destroy,” then the inevitable breakdown. Then they do it again a bunch of times, except without the intro (except for the acoustic interlude on track six). That’s it. That’s the album. They don’t even have the requisite cred-giving, tortured-looking thrash/death metal longhair lurking in the background of their promo pics to metal ‘em up. Sorry to break it to you, kids, but you’re not destroying shit – just perpetuating it. (Kim Kelly) (Stillborn Records / www.stillbornrecords.com)

“Satan’s Soldiers Syndicate”

I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. Mid-to-fast-as-fuck-paced, fuzzy, Satan-fellating, Venom-worshipping, thrashy black metal is my shit, and Desaster fit that bill with relish. These guys are something of a hidden gem; they formed the same year I was born (1988, if you must know) and are about as old school as it gets, but oddly enough, it seems like no one’s ever heard of ‘em. Hopefully their latest opus will put ‘em back on the black metal map and rally the old guard who remember the demo days. This is essentially a straight-forward black/thrash assault, well-executed and honest. Standout track “Tyrannizer” made me fall in love with this kind of music all over again– a strong mid-paced melody marches grimly forward, tempered with the kind of vocals sure to make Tom G. Warrior long for his mascara-and-leather days and a menacing groove that will NOT be ignored. Fuck. This record rules. Thrash ‘til death! (Kim Kelly) (Metal Blade/www.metalblade.com)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

NADJA Live Review

Live Review for Metal Maniacs
Kim Kelly

New York City’s Knitting Factory isa great place to see live music, especially given the fact that at any time, there can be as many as three very different and wholly separate shows going on behind that unassuming brick façade. The real fun comes between sets, when the sweaty masses make a break for the smoking section outside and one is free to observe what happens when a bunch of hip hop fans, metalheads, hipsters and more are corralled behind a rope and forced to share the same six-foot stretch of concrete.
In more practical terms, its low lighting and hushed atmosphere lend themselves surprisingly well to performances by heavier bands. Tonight’s show was no exception. Experimental doom duo Nadja took the stage shortly after ten, and proceeded to woo the audience into a collective trance with their blissed-out drone-pop. Between poking fun at themselves (“Hey, we’re called Nadja and we’re from Canada…eh?) and fiddling with the pile of effects pedals that rested atop a small table onstage (effectively serving as the band’s third member), Nadja concerned themselves with spinning a sonic web of texture and hypnosis, ensnaring all who stood still to witness it. Layer after layer of fuzzed-out drone crashed over us like so many ocean waves, building in intensity over and over again only to break and drift back into ambient calm. They continued in this vein for the entirety of their set, which felt like it lasted a century even though the clock only counted out thirty minutes.
To be honest, this sort of music is always hit or miss in a live setting – sometimes it’s transcendent, sometimes it’s alright, and sometimes, well, it’s about as exciting as watching grass grow. As far as fans of the style are concerned, Nadja definitely falls into the former category, but by the end of their third and final song, I could see some members of the audience beginning to get a bit antsy. I’d been under the impression that Nadja were headlining, so imagine my surprise when Grails took the stage and kicked up the energy by about a half dozen notches with their Pitchfork-approved brand of eclectic instrumental jams. I wouldn’t call it metal by a long shot, and honestly, I still don’t see what all the buzz is about, but the kids seemed to be eating it up. More “world music meets post-doom” than anything else, Grails mix semi-exotic instrumentation (sitar, harpsichord) and plenty of Eastern influence with soft keys, violin, and harmonica, then inject it into psychedelic drone-rock. Adventurous to be sure, but I still think Nadja should have headlined.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Possessed live review

Live Review for Metal Maniacs Magazine
Kim Kelly

So I just moved to Brooklyn, home of Malcolm X, “Brooklyn-style” pizza, and more skinny-jean-wearing hipsters than you can shake an ironically angled stick at. You’ll also find Europa, a Eurotrash dance club that moonlights as a metal Mecca, occupying a dingy block in this particular little slice of New Yawk. Every few weeks, an influx of black leather and long hair pours into the neighborhood, confounding tourists and, by now I’m sure, leaving the natives wholly unimpressed. Europa’s the kind of place that has curtains of beads separating the bar from the johns, with flashing blue lights, candlelit corners, and a reputation for hosting shows that carry on until the wee hours of the morning – a rep I was wholly unaware of when I decided to hit up a show there on a Sunday night. Not just any show, either; a nine-band thrash “fest” (meaning, “We booked too many bands, so we’re gonna charge you thirty bucks and you’re gonna like it”), featuring the “reunited” incarnation of Possessed.
The show started late, with Philly warlords Sacrificial Blood kicking off the festivities. Their basement-tested thrashitude kicked off the first (and last) circle pit of the evening, and led into a slew of similar, but slightly less-interesting nouveau thrash bands that probably tear shit up in their respective hometowns. Cleveland’s Midnight stood out, partially for their immensely-satisfying brew of thrashy black metal, but mainly because they insisted on wearing executioner-style hoods during their set (might explain why the drumming was so sloppy, eh?) and led up to the first “big band” of the night, Rumpelstiltskin Grinder. The Philly thrash brigaders tore through a couple new songs before they were unceremoniously cut off – turns out the show was running a bit later than anticipated. It’s a damn shame, as I’d say they’re one of the more underrated bands out there today. Blood Feast and Sadistic Intent served up some perfectly serviceable, if not damn good, vintage death/thrash but failed to get my neck snapping; one can only listen to the same riff so many times without wishing for some experimental free jazz or something to liven shit up (or at least some blastbeats).
Mortician are ridiculously heavy live, but I just could not take them seriously, what with Will Rahmer jerking around up on stage like a meticulously-groomed robot. The man’s a walking bicep. You’d think that playing bass in a uber-groovy death metal band would give the guy some rhythm, but sometimes…logic doesn’t work?
At War whipped the crowd into a frenzy, playing classic thrash that hasn’t aged a bit in their twenty years of boozin’ and ‘bangin and thoroughly proved that, to hell with trendy “retro” bands - the heart and soul of thrash metal lies within the old guard. There’s really nothing else like it.
Now, we all know that Possessed circa 2008 is not quite the Possessed of days of yore. An entirely different band plus one founding member does not a reunion make,
but try telling that to Jeff Becerra. Wheelchair be damned, he was still thrashing like it was 1985, and his voice - the guttural, throat-shredding rasp that launched a thousand death metal bands – was nastier than ever. Becerra and the Sadistic Intent boys tore through a full range of classics, including plenty off Seven Churches (“Evil Warriors” in particular slayed) and ending, of course, on the immortal “Death Metal.” He was more or less incoherent between songs, and was obviously far from sober, but whenever the music kicked back in he was right back there, screaming his heart out like only he can and, as is more than fitting, acting like a soul possessed. Bands become legends for a reason, and seeing Jeff Becerra that night was all the proof one could ever need that Possessed is one of those bands. Let him tour with whoever the fuck he wants; I don’t care if the next Possessed tour has David fucking Bowie on bass. I’ll still be there in the front row, banging my head, throwing the horns, and wishing I’d been born twenty years sooner.

Toxic Holocaust *cover story*

My first cover story :)
TOXIC HOLOCAUST for Resound Magazine
Kim Kelly

Thrash and black metal are like peanut butter and chocolate; as separate entities, they’re great. Combined, they’re an unparalleled symphony of perfection, and if ingested in unhealthy quantities…they’ll fuck your stomach to hell and back and leave you crying for Mama. It’s a delicate balance that must be struck; too much thrash, and you lose black metal’s menacing Satanic atmosphere, but if you throw too much of the black stuff into the mix, you lose the sense of urgency and circle-pitting fury that makes thrash so much fun. Many bands try to whip up that elusive recipe successfully, but most end up burning themselves pretty badly, or just falling flat. Luckily, the ones that get it, really get it.
Case in point – Seattle, Washington’s own Toxic Holocaust serve up a heaping helping of blackened thrash metal that’s sure to satisfy the hungriest thrashers and most ravenous black metal warriors alike. The man behind the bullet belt and shades, Joel Grind himself, took time out to answer a question or two about TH’s upcoming Relapse debut, An Overdose of Death, and shed some light on what keeps the toxic waste flowing.
Since the band’s inception in 1999, Grind has unleashed some nineteen splits, EPs, demos, and compilations upon the unsuspecting masses with Toxic Holocaust, as well as acting as a live/session member for a variety of other bands, including Gravewurm and Japanese legends Abigail. The new record will be Toxic Holocausts’s third full-length. Joel seems unperturbed by his superhuman productivity rate – when asked how he manages to find time for all of that thrash, his response was short and sweet: “Just loving doing it, ya know. I never looked at any of it as a chore, it was all fun and is continuing to be fun. Why do it if you don’t like it?”
As any hesher with internet access and a pair of reasonably-intact eardrums can tell, thrash metal is the new big thing to hit the metal scene. Well, sort of. Thrash has been around for decades now, with the late greats doing their best to stay true and its more valiant survivors holding strong to past glories, still making badass music and killing it live through thick and thin. Now, kids who were born the same year Bonded by Blood was released have grown up, donned the requisite white Reeboks and vintage Overkill shirts, and started up a new wave of “old school” thrash metal bands. Some of them are awful, some of them have potential, and some are actually pretty damn good. It’s a great and terrible time to put out a new thrash metal album; you could either sell a ton of records and ride the new wave, or get swallowed up in the masses of patched jackets and unwashed hair that’s been clogging up the market for the last year or so.
Luckily for Grind, Toxic Holocaust has an instantly-recognizable sound that sets the band apart from the legions of like-minded thrash outfits that are out now. His songs seem to draw equally from the first wave of black metal and the glory days of thrash metal - Bathory, Hellhammer, Sarcofago, Venom. You can hear all of these bands (especially Bathory, who Grind cites as his main musical influence) in TH’s sound, alongside the more “typical” thrash elements. “I play music that I like to hear, it has a lot of elements of those bands but also a lot of punk too. Toxic stuff is always simple to the point Metal.” When faced with the unavoidable question about the latest trend to hit the metal scene (you guessed it, “retro” thrash), Grind is ambivalent. “I have no idea if it’s back or whatever, I like the enthusiasm, I just hope that I don’t get lumped in with any kind of fad. I’ll still be here after it’s over.” So where did that toxic blend of black, thrash, and attitude come from? “Hanging out with kids in the neighborhood, skateboarding and getting tapes from their older brothers. Stuff like Megadeth, Nuclear Assault and D.R.I. were constant staples. I started this band because at the time, there weren’t many bands still playing music like this.”
TH has been largely a solo project since its inception, with the addition of live members for shows and tours and guest musicians on several releases. As of now, Grind has put together a full band, adding two former members of Rammer and setting his sights on a full-scale invasion of the US of A. His first victory? Securing a spot on the unbearably-highly anticipated At The Gates reunion show, playing alongside Darkest Hour and friends Municipal Waste, the latter of which he has to thank for that sweetest of sweet spots. “Me getting on that tour had all to do with the guys in Municipal Waste. ATG were looking for an opening band, and the Waste guys suggested us. Those guys have really looked out for us, and we love touring with them. We always get along well, and there’s always some sort of rude behavior going on.” Grind reveals that his next undertaking will be going out with Overkill, and then continuing to tour his balls off!
After releasing his past material on a number of smaller labels, it turns out that the road to Relapse was less long and hard than simple and direct. “I think what led me to working with Relapse was the demo I did in 2007, It had some of the tracks from the new record on it. Relapse has been great to work with, it seems like they are the same page as I am when it comes to where I want Toxic to go in.” Complemented by some sick-ass cover art, courtesy of an up-and-coming artist called Halsey, An Overdose of Death is due out this fall.

Arckanum feature

A Flaming Sword of Vengeance: Underground Black Metal’s Darkest Flame
Kim Kelly

“Black metal.”
There was once a time when those words had the power to strike genuine fear into a nation’s collective heart, to inspire sensational headlines, to garner hatred and deep mistrust. It was once downright feared, exactly as its practitioners intended it to be. This was before the music was tainted by commercial greed and transformed by outside influences, before the genre’s forefathers left this world or turned their backs on their musical roots, and before modern production techniques and Headbanger’s Ball made black metal “safe.”
Some say that things were better, more real, in those days, while others look to the future of black metal with great anticipation. Whatever your stance on the subject, know this: there are still some bands out there who adhere strictly to the old ways, who shun ProTools and worship the cosmic fury of a dark lord instead of the almighty dollar. There are still some who really MEAN what they kill their throats to say. Case in point: the Swedish necrowarfare of Arckanum, presided over by sole member Shaamatae. He was gracious enough to take time away from his latest opus, Antikosmos (Moribund) to answer some questions and cast a shadow over the methods behind the madness.

Kim Kelly:Tell me about Antikosmos, your new album. What significance does the title hold? Is there any sort of theme or unifying conceptual thread that ties the album together?

Shamaatae: ANTIKOSMOS represents my anti-cosmic worship of the dark gods and Chaos. It is a religion with a foundation in Chaos-Gnostic belief. I chose to work with the Old Norse giants and traditional praxis, and therefore I have written the full album in Runic Swedish, the mother language to ancient and modern Swedish. The album is a total dedication to the anti-cosmic essence which from Chaos intrudes the cosmos – to incinerate it! Hail Surtr – The Black One with the Flaming Sword of Vengeance!

I understand that Arckanum is currently a one-man project; is this by choice, by necessity, or for some other reason? Do you plan on expanding the lineup in the future, or you content with Arckanum as is?

I am alone in Arckanum because I am Arckanum. Any other influence would kill the atmosphere and sound of Arckanum. I need to be alone in this band to create this harsh and raw sound. There will never be any more members in Arckanum. The day I want members, I will end Arckanum and start a new band (kind of what I did with The Hearsemen!)

What is your writing/recording process like? Who handled production duties on the record?
Normally I write all guitar-riffs at home and at my rehearsal place, and improvise the drumming in the studio, but for the ANTIKOSMOS album I pre-recorded the guitar-tracks and used a metronome, to which I played drums while recording. The drumming was still improvised, but this time I had the guitar-arrangements pre-recorded to play to. It was kind of an experiment, and luckily it turned out to be smooth. I was the producer, and I always am. Tomas at Sunlight Studio just recorded the album.

The production on Antikosmos is definitely very raw and“orthodox”-sounding, by black metal standards at least. Why do you choose to record your music in such a manner when there are a variety of modern techniques available that some say render low-fi recording more or less obsolete? I personally prefer the more DIY approach, as do many fans of this style, but I’m curious as to your reasoning behind using it.

Black metal is supposed to be raw and harsh sounding, and for Arckanum, this is a very important elements. I want people to feel the hatred in my production, so I chose to let it be simple and raw.

The first track on Antikosmos, “Svarti,” is a very ritualistic-sounding, menacing wall of ambient sound, overlaid by the sound of a voice speaking. Several similar tracks can be found on the album, as well; what’s the story behind them?

The ambient tracks are my ritualistic songs on the album, as ANTIKOSMOS itself is a Chaos ritual; all songs are dedications to the dark gods. The introduction is the opening ritual, the “Blóta Loka” song is an anti-cosmic Loki ritual, and the outro is the closing ritual.

How important is this ritualistic element to your music?
Very important. The first thing I do on an album is write the lyrics/ ritualistic homage. Every single detail, from music to layout, is my devotions to the anti-cosmic Chaos gods. As a Satanist there is no other way.

What is the underlying purpose behind Arckanum?
- To plant Frǽ Hyrrokini!

What sort of topics do you discuss in your lyrics? As an English-speaking person, I’m incapable of understanding what you’re saying, but I know that you are known for your devotion to the pagan god Pan; is it safe to assume that much of your lyrical content focuses on this deity and your relationship therewith?

The ANTIKOSMOS album is a Chaos ritual; it praises the dark giants of the underworld to come and start war with the cosmos, to burn down all, and to free the true spirits.

What are your thoughts on Satanic black metal bands, and those who merely claim to be Satanic? How important is ideology to this sort of music, in your opinion? Could you respect a band that created absolutely mind-blowing, flawless music, but were Christian? How about it they were NS/racist/White Power?
Arckanum is purely Satanic and I think black metal should be hateful, an adversary. Christians have nothing to do in this scene; such an attempt would only be pathetic. What are they angry at? What do they hate? What do they sing about? To keep their pee-pee in their pants till they are married? Are they angry at all people that refuse to join their hypocrisy-parade? That Jews make more money than them? That Satan WILL burn their weak spirits?
The whole racist thing I don’t understand and defiantly don’t agree with.

Your vocal style is very extreme, even as far as black metal goes; how did you develop your voice, who inspired you to begin singing this way, and how do you maintain your health while singing in such a physically- taxing manner?

No-one, I just sang and this is how it came out, ha ha ha… I have never tried to form it or improve it. I sing till I spit blood (no exaggeration) and I can’t normally talk for a day or two after recording. Maintaining health, ha ha, are you kidding me? This is black metal, if it doesn’t hurt something’s wrong…

Without whom would Arckanum not exist – i.e. which bands, artists, and elements have influenced you in terms of this project?

Mid 80’s thrash and black metal. Satanism made me open my eyes to the more harsh music around the beginning of the 90’s. Old rehearsal tapes with Polish, Swedish, and Norwegian black metal fed my hungry flame when I started Arckanum. Hand-drawn hate with lousy recorded rehearsal songs! Fuck, that is inspiring, even today!

Who would you consider to be your musical peers?

I would say Watain or Dissection – because anti-cosmic Satanism lures my spirit.

What type of non-metal bands do you enjoy listening to?

Wow, that is a lot. Good music is good music; I listen to a lot of 20-30´s jazz and dark Satanic ambient.

Where do you see yourself (and Arckanum) in ten years? In twenty?

My self will be much stronger and wiser, since I will have been drinking much of the black poisonous waters in the underworld.

What’s next for Arckanum after Antikosmos is released? Do you have any shows planned, or do you prefer to abstain from live performances?

No live, that’s how it is. Right now, I have no plans. You never know what Arckanum do next.

Any final thoughts or parting words?

Check out my other band www.thehearsemen.se, we have just recorded our debut album and we are looking for a good label! Also check out my books that I am writing: “PanParadox: Pan Towards Chaos”, “GullveigaRbók”, and “URAM”, read about my authorship on my website www.vexior.se. And always visit the Arckanum website www.arckanum.se and the Arckanum myspace www.myspace.com/officialarckanummyspace!

Abysmal Dawn feature

Feature for RESOUND Magazine
Kim Kelly

Since releasing their Relapse debut, Programmed to Consume, Abysmal Dawn have been turning heads and snapping necks with their dizzying blend of technicality and balls-out groove, redefining the definition of “modern death metal” and shredding the false as they go along. “Art always reflects our life and times, and I think this record depicts the desperate times we’re all in, “ says Charles Elliot, vocalist/guitarist of the LA death metallers. I managed to track down him down between the band’s recent West Coast run with Victimas and Fields of Elysium and their upcoming dates with Origin and Misery Index on the Relapse Contamination tour next month. Like they always say, there’s no rest for the wicked.

So, could you give me a brief history of the band, for those who are not yet familiar with Abysmal Dawn? I know that you guys formed around 2003, and after releasing your first demo, immediately began to attract attention.

The band was formed in November of 2003 by Jamie and Terry and I. I had played in another band called Inhuman Visions when I was still a teenager with Jamie. We went our separate ways for a while and them talked about getting that band back together. The founding guys weren’t really into the idea so Jamie and I formed our own thing. Terry was an old friend of Jamie’s and he knew a couple of Inhuman Visions songs. We tried him out and never looked back. At fist it was my intention to just be the guitar player and find a singer. We had one rehearsal with Dan from Crematorium on vocals but it soon came apparent that he didn’t have the time. In hindsight maybe he wouldn’t have been the best choice stylistically but we thought he was a great singer and could do a lot of different voices. By the time we did our fist demo in October of 2004 with our friend Sacha from Intronaut recording us, I was singing. In the end I think it was best because I always had an idea of what I wanted the band to be a about lyrically. In November of 2005 we recorded our first album “From Ashes,” which Crash Music licensed from us. We did an amazing tour with Six Feet Under, Krisiun and Decapitated and were lucky enough to play with reunited legends like Emperor and Immortal. That pretty much brings us to today. So far it’s been a great ride.

How does your history with Jamie Boulanger, with whom you’d previously played in Inhuman Visions, help contribute to the writing and guitar-playing in Abysmal Dawn?

We’ve been playing together for so long we just lock in together I think. We both listen to similar bands as well but maybe I have the more eccentric tastes. I write the vast majority of the music but Jamie writes as well. For his songs I usually end up arranging them mostly for vocals and adding a few riffs. I’m sure he hates me for it (laughs). Other than that I think our styles of lead playing have always complemented each other very nicely.

You guys are a fairly young band, yet with about five years under your belt, you’ve already played with the likes of Exodus, Incantation, Hate Eternal, Exhumed, and tons of other highly-respected, kickass bands. Abysmal Dawn’s rise to the top has been nothing short of meteoric; to what do you attribute your success?

I don’t know really, I think it’s just been a hard work ethic. I’ve always tried to push the band to do things in a timely manner and not just wait for things to happen. Both “From Ashes” and “Programmed to Consume” for example were both self-financed recordings. “From Ashes” was licensed to Crash Music and we had already started recording “Programmed…” when Relapse approached us. I think if you’re always looking forward and working hard, as long as you have some sort of talent good things will happen.

Your first album for Relapse has recently been unleashed upon the metal masses, and has already been making waves. How did you guys end up on Relapse in the first place?

Well we had just decided not to do our next record with Crash Music and to record the album ourselves, as I said. About half way through the recording process, while I was still finishing up lyrics, they hit us up. We were talking to a few other labels at the time but they were the ones that we were most hyped on and they seemed the most eager to work with us as well. It was somewhat of a surprise that they contacted us really. They’ve sort of shifted away from death metal over the years while still putting out great music. It’s just an honor to be on a label that has put out so many great death metal bands like Nile, Incantation, Origin, Dying Fetus, Misery Index, Morgion etc. over the years. I hear a lot of people say they think it’s really great that they still acknowledge those roots and signed a band like us too. So far being on the label has been really great.

What can you tell me about the album title, and overall concept behind the lyrics/music? “Programmed to Consume” is definitely not your run-of-the-mill blood, guts, and gutted girls death metal record!

I grew up listening to a lot of bands with gore and satanic themes but I always wanted to sort of stay away from that, at least in the traditional sense. We have a song like “Grotesque Modern Art” for example that deals with an artist that uses his death as his final masterpiece. The concept may be gruesome but it’s not especially graphic and it has more to say with the story rather than just being an attempt at shock. “Compulsory Resurrection” toys with the idea of cloning Jesus and the affect a man made deity would have on the Christian faith. In the song my conclusion is that a lot of people would lose faith when they see he’s just a man, but there will always be those fanatics who blindly hold on. Over all I think the lyrics deal with my misanthropic views and how we’re controlled by society. The title of the album not only make mention of how we’re brainwashed into becoming consumers but also how mankind consumes everything in it’s path. The idea that we’re a cancer without a cure runs throughout the lyrics. A lot of what I’m saying is really rooted in these dark times we’re in today.

What was the writing and recording process like for “Programmed to Consume”?

This record came together much quicker as opposed to “From Ashes.” That album was written over a period of a couple of years and actually had two songs on it from 2000/2001 that were intended for Inhuman Visions. After being on the road for almost a month and a half I personally felt very inspired to start writing another record. Coming back home after that tour was a bit rough as well. I had no job and a lot of personal problems. That dark period really brought out a lot out of me in a much shorter amount of time. Not being enslaved to the daily grind of a 9 to 5 allowed me a lot of time to think about things. By the time we actually got into the studio we were ready to make a much more pissed off record. Art always reflects our life and times and I think this record depicts the desperate times we’re all in.

In a way I think the studio vibe was a bit more laid back though. We recorded with John Haddad who had done the first one, but his new studio was based out of his house. There was more to do around his place when we weren’t recording and we had much more time for this record. “From Ashes” was actually recorded and mixed in only 10 days so we spent some pretty long days in the studio. This time I think we did about 16 8 hour days of tracking total. John did a little bit of mixing and editing while I took about a month to finish the lyrics as well. We also had time to add things like intros, keyboards and little effects that we didn’t have time to do before.

I have to say the first couple of days were rough though. John had a lot of problems with his new studio since no one had recorded there yet. We lost out on a few days for the drums, which would have been helpful. The first day we were supposed to start recording was the day that Vitek (Decapitated drummer) passed away. That was some pretty harsh news for us. We had gotten to know him pretty well on that tour and became good friends. Those guys even stayed at my house when they came through on the “Summer Slaughter” tour. That was the last time I saw him. He’ll be sorely missed. I really hope Covan gets better soon and they continue on because they’re a great band and group of people.

Abysmal Dawn plays death metal, but draw from a variety of influences, especially thrash and black metal. How long did it take you guys to hit upon this particular sound – what made you say “Yeah, that’s it, that’s Abysmal Dawn,” ?

It’s just something that sort of happened naturally. We never want to limit ourselves to one style in particular. We have a lot of different influences and we aren’t afraid of offending a few purists. To me, I just sort of see everything as extreme music and not so black and white. We hate grouping things into little categories.

What bands would you cite as your main influences or inspirations for this project?

I don’t know about the other guys but me personally some of my main early influences would probably be Death, Carcass, Nile, At the Gates, Testament, Metallica, Suffocation and Dissection. I could go on and on but I think those are the major ones. Those have sort of been absorbed as we’ve added other influences through out the years as well. I think bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide and Sepultura were big for Jamie as well. So if you ever came across some shitty ad in Craig’s list a few years back with those influences maybe it was us (laughs).

So what happened with the Grave/Monstrosity/Abysmal Dawn tour? Are you going to be hopping on another one and coming around to the East Coast according to the original plan?

It just fell apart but I just want to say that it was definitely not the fault of any of the bands involved. We’d love to jump on another full US tour sometime but I’m not sure when that will be just yet. If everything works out maybe in the Fall.

What’s next for Abysmal Dawn after the West Coast tour with Victimas/Fields of Elysium?

We’re going to be doing a three-week tour with Origin and Misery Index that will be mostly West Coast. It should be a great tour and we’re really excited to be touring with such killer bands. After that we hope to land a full US tour and maybe go to Europe sometime next year. If we can’t get over there it’s just more US touring, so hopefully everyone we’ll get a chance to see us at some point!

Back in black.

I've decided to start this thing back up again, thanks in part to an influx of new writing gigs and the kind of free time that summer brings. So without further ado -

Sludge Freaks And D-Beats: Coffins’ Doomed March to Destruction
Kim Kelly
*to be featured in the next issue of Unrestrained! Magazine

Clawing their way up through the filth and decay of extreme metal’s grimy underbelly comes Coffins, a doom-death power trio intent on utter aural devastation. A friend of mine put it best – “They sound like the bastard child of Autopsy and Hellhammer… getting viciously gangbanged by Eyehategod.” Yeah, that sounds about right. Add in some Winter worship, Amebix adulation, a few nods to Noothgrush and an unhealthy fixation on the end of life and you get Coffins, Tokyo, Japan’s answer to Corrupted (another group of Japanese sludgefucks who hail from sorta-nearby Osaka – stay with me, kids!).
Fresh off a successful maiden voyage to the US of A that included a spot on Sonar’s hallowed stage as a part of the Maryland Death Fest, Coffins frontman Uchino (guitar/vocals) managed to find a moment or two to take a breath and reflect upon his bands mercuric rise to the top of the sludge heap. He comments, “Our first US tour was so awesome! Especially at MDF, where we got a huge reaction from the freaks. The overseas freaks were more straight than the Japanese freaks and I seemed to know how to help them enjoy a metal show. Great!”
He’s not alone in his enthusiastic appraisal - the “overseas freaks” were losing their minds during Coffins’ all-too-short MDF set, myself included. Live, Coffins kicked up some of the more vicious circle pits I’ve ever whirled through; their D-beat/crust influences shone grimly through the darkened venue and called up the ghosts of grinders passed. Those of us who’d had the foresight and luck to catch them at one of their other more intimate East Coast shows were treated to an honest display of sheer amplifier worship and keelhauled sludge the likes of which we haven’t seen since Eyehategod first stumbled out of their opium den and turned up the distortion.
Uchino seemed a bit less enthused about our fine American roadside, er, “cuisine” – “I was surprised that the change of climate is sharper in the US than in Japan, but we were also bewildered by the difference in gastronomic culture. I continue to think that I can't get used to this!” A worrisome thought, to be sure, coming as it does from a man whose homeland boasts the highest number of hot-dog-eating contest winners per capita in the world. Then again, we all know what hellish havoc truck stop burritos will wreak upon a hungry touring bands’ intestines late at night.
Besides their unexpected internal struggle with the East Coast’s idea of quality vittles, it’s been a good year for Coffins. Uchino explains, “When The Other Side Of Blasphemy was released on a German label in 2006 Dave from 20 Buck Spin contacted us asking to license the album for North America, that was our first contact. I knew he had released the Asunder / Graves At Sea split LP so I agreed to the offer. He is very devoted to us and we are satisfied with his work.” Their latest full-length, BURIED DEATH (20 Buck Spin), was recently released by the aforementioned underground savants, and has been making waves on both sides of the pond
The album melds the more doom-oriented crawl of Mortuary in Darkness with The Other Side of Blasphemy’s death-metallic brutality, and includes a rerecorded version of “Mortification to Ruin,” which was originally released as a track on Coffins’ split with The Arm and Sword of a Bastard God. The unbelievably heavy riffage and bare-knuckle primal beats of the song lend it a suffocating aura, and stand out as one of Coffins’ best songs to date. He adds, “This was the first doom song our bass player Koreeda wrote when he joined Coffins, so we decided to put it on Buried Death to commemorate that. He is a big fan of Noothgrush and that influence can be heard in that song.” True that.
Recorded by band ally Shige (ex-Crocodile Skink, Snowline) at The Noise Room and graced once again by artwork from zombie-phile Chris Moyen, Buried Death itself is a behemoth of an album. “Buried Death was intended to be released for our US tour in May. There wasn't much time between deciding to get it finished by then and actually doing the writing and recording. Most of the songs were written in a very short period of time, but this tight schedule brought with it a lot of concentration, and we are satisfied with the result. Buried Death came quite naturally and the rhythm patterns on our past releases were quite singular. This time we focused more on the rhythm patterns and as a result there is more variety in the pacing. This pattern will continue on our next split releases,” says the frontman.
Speaking of splits, Coffins seem hell-bent on living up to the age-old adage of “no rest for the wicked.” With six already under their bullet belts and several more with the likes of Womb, Spun In Darkness, Lobotomized and Stormcrow planned, it’s good to see a band so willing to play nice with others. Their most recent collaboration, a split full-length with Philadelphia-based pornogrinders XXX Maniak, includes an original Coffins tune (“The Cracks of Doom”) and a Cathedral cover (“Ebony Tears”). A comical number of XXX Maniak gems (twenty-two tracks to Coffins’ pair!) rounds out the album, including sure-to-be-Top-40-hits like “Hot Nazi Sluts Have Hot Steaming Guts,” “Perpetually Exploding Uterus,” and “Picking Up A Random Goregrind CD And Acting Out The Cover With The Girl Next Door.” Seeing a generally serious band like Coffins sharing real estate with such (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek nonsense begs the question – what exactly in Uchino grunting about up there, anyway? He demurs, “We don¹t print our lyrics and I generally prefer not to discuss the details. Our past albums were based on horror, evil, zombies, etc. This time the lyrics were just focused on the death theme.” See song titles like “Cadaver Blood” and “Under the Stench” for proof.
Uchino formed the band in 1996, but it wasn’t until several years had passed that Coffins as we know them now came to be. “At the time the band formed we were playing a heavy junk sound like Swans, Scorn and Godflesh. We had some member changes and then evolved to playing doom rock like Cathedral and Kyuss. We broke up for a while and then reformed in 2003. At that point I knew I wanted to eliminate any rock sound in our doom and I changed Coffins into a death metallic doom sound like Winter and Autopsy. With Coffins I am pursuing my ideal sound and things are progressing to a better stage each time,” he says.
Alongside the crushing riffs and punishing bass of filthy doom/death, one can also detect plenty of hardcore, thrash, and D-beat in Coffin’s murky sound. During their live shows, their constant segueing from lurching doom and knuckle-dragging death metal to faster fare spawns plenty of those aforementioned murderous circle-pits, the likes of which newjack retro thrashers and powerviolent scumdogs can only dream.
On Uchino’s musical beginnings: “I started out listening to Venom and Black Sabbath, Metallica and Slayer, then I moved onto more evil thrash from there like Bathory, Sodom, Kreator, Protector, Master and Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. Then soon I came to hear death metal and grindcore like Napalm Death, Repulsion, Death, Morbid Angel and from there to early Cathedral and Winter. I followed Saint Vitus, Candlemass, Trouble, Pentagram and Witchfinder General, and of course I was also hearing hardcore like Discharge, ENT, Heresy and Anti Cimex. Regarding the composition of Coffins songs, the influence of those hardcore bands is very big.”
Taking tips from those very bands, the absolute madness of Japanese hardcore is legendary, as is that of Japanese grind (R.I.P. Insect Warfare!), Japanese noise (Merzbow and Melt-Banana, I’m looking at you) Japanese rock (Flower-Travelin’ Band, latter-day Boris) Japanese black metal (Sigh, Gallhammer) and, well, the list continues. One thing they’ve all got in common is a strange element of “otherness” that they all carry about them. There is no simple, straight-forward Japanese music, at least as far as extreme metal is concerned. You’d think that asking a native about the reasons behind this particular musical phenomenon would yield an answer and satisfy one Westerner’s curiosity, but as it turns out, Uchino is just as puzzled as I am. “I'm not sure, but maybe Japanese culture has had some influence. Japanese people are poor at producing original stuff. However, Japanese people excel in the technology of taking in and processing various materials, so that may be a factor in producing these great bands.”
That propensity for bastardization and backwards innovation is what keeps the Japanese ahead of the pack in more ways than one. It’s interesting to see that, while Coffins are far more than the sum of their parts, their sound is so deeply-entrenched in the past that every gleam of originality comes across as almost a shock. One finds oneself so lost in the ever-so-familiar doomed tempos, deathly gurgles, and crusty d-beats that the idea of Coffins as a modern, even new, band is utterly eclipsed by those familiar elements. So intent are they on dragging you back down into the primeval sludge from whence they themselves crawled, their hapless victims stand no chance of escaping the doomed march of these Coffin beasts.
Know your poison and drink it down; Coffins will be back to suffocate the North American hordes in 2009, and as Uchino says, “Doom on!”