Thursday, June 21, 2012

Abnormality - Contaminating the Hive Mind (2012; Sevared Records)

Abnormality have been kicking around for what seems like many years at this point, though it's really only been about 5 or 6 years since their first demo. I remember hearing them for the first time as a student interning at the university radio station. Mallika and co. would stop by infrequently, and, whether the occasion was a live show or an interview on radio, generally come off as the definition of "class acts." Hell, it was that radio station's headquarters where I bought a t-shirt directly from the band all those years ago. I think I sported it at MDF this year, too... look, now I'm getting all teary-eyed and nostalgic. Thanks guys...

Also, damn, look at that cover art.

Ahem... right... onto the music? I honestly don't think I can believe my eyes here; I actually have on my desk a copy of the Abnormality FULL-LENGTH ALBUM. This is a time I thought would never come. It's also over 30 minutes long and features 8 brutal as hell, spastic, sometimes-slamming, always-relentless twisters of deathgrind technicality. The CD opens with a blistering drum whirlwind with an equally off-kilter and fucked-up riff grinding away in the background. I particularly like the attention to bass the production has; I can hear a lot of slappy pops and things like that which show me the bassist is doing more than just following everything the guitarists are doing. The middle of the song sees the guitar doing a bit of flourishing lead-work, though it is quickly quelled and flows right back to the rolling, heavy and oppressive sound found earlier in the track, punctuated by staccato snare blasts and a lot of loud-as-hell kick drum.

One thing that is cool here that very rarely gets love in slam or brutal death metal in general would be tight vocal phrasing and great, evocative lyrics. Mallika is, of course, an awesome vocalist, but I never noticed that her lyric writing skills are almost on-par with her expressive growling and screaming. Most of the verse lines actually rhyme or come close (though they do use a lot of similar diction at times; not really a big deal and more of a truism than criticism, honestly), and if they don't, they tend towards similar phrasing so that the vocals actually hit cadence during verses. I just love this kind of shit; it isn't typical "bluuurgh" or pig-squeal stuff, there's thought going into vocal patterns and attention to how they fit into the music.

"A Chaos Reserved" also has a pretty nifty solo, and I like the lurching breakdown right after that incorporates phasing on the rhythm guitar... neat and clean effect that makes the track stick out in my mind. "Fabrication of the Enemy" sounds a little bit Colombian, as the blasting is of the gravitational variety and
 the riffs are bizarre and squeaky-clean. There's an American-ness to the production, but its glossy sheen doesn't really bury anything, instead opting for fairly loud compression that attempts to give head-space to every instrument. There are times when the kick drum is really much too loud, especially when it is overlapping with the snare during blasts, and I miss a lot of what the cymbals are doing, but the suffocating aura exuded by ten tons of gravity blasts every track quickly remind me that I don't particularly care. This track even has a funeral-ish slam that really comes straight out of nowhere and descends to a semi-old-school death metal with way over-the-top kick and a nice solo. Parts of "Taste of Despair" sound a bit like older Despised Icon, though the way vocal patterns and riffs are formulated remind of Malignancy and Suffocation, respectively. "Schismatic" has a great intro, very moody (acoustic guitar), but it drops that aspect like a cheap whore and goes full-blast until finding a comfortable groove at just about 2 minutes in.

 "Shooting the Messenger" has this weird, awesome empty part a little over a minute in which kicks the proceedings up a notch by proceeding to a thrashy riff/drum combo (going double-time compared to normal thrash) before dropping into a nice, thorough slam and back to the previous thrashing. At this point I'm a little tired of the soloing, as it is a bit shreddy, unmemorable and kind of dull, but I really dig the riffs and how they repeat for almost exactly the right amount of time nearly without fail. "Contaminating the Hive Mind" is blustery, a virtual beatdown in audio form... the whole part that ends with the title drop is incredible vocal phrasing and pacing; perfect. A sort-of backwards-sounding breakdown follows that up, and they do repeat the chorus one more time before dropping into an intense slam featuring the indomitable Matti Way doing guest vocals. His performance here does, unfortunately, seem a bit phoned-in, but the music that's backing it up provides the bread-and-butter that I'm looking for in a closing track, so I don't quite mind.

Now, I should definitely get to the critical and possibly scathing segment of my review: part of me finds each of these songs a little too distended; it's almost like they're constantly outliving their given shelf-life, yet at the same time trying to convince you that they're not and that there's more (and interesting) material to come. Only sometimes do they really make good on that promise, though (though the majority of the time, this is quite the brutal, enjoyable romp, don't get me wrong). I found it amusing that it even sounds like the solos are trying to hurry the proceedings up, making everything seem the longer overall. They even show up at essentially the same time during every song in which they appear. I can't really get by that for this album, unfortunately; it is impenetrably, irrevocably brutal but a bit harrowing and haranguing on the whole. It seems weird, then, that I would long for an Abnormality full-length and then trash their desire to write longer (and more) songs, but it really sort of becomes a sticking point when the songs themselves are overbearing to some extent, especially the one-dimensional drum production which goes tickety-tock too much, too often.

This has some awesome chops all over the place, and almost every song is tighter than [insert brutal euphemism for something tight here], Mallika is as usual a wonderful vocalist (and apparently also quite the writer), and everyone in this band clearly knows their way around brutal deathgrind with a keen eye towards lack of relenting, so there sure are a bunch of positives here. But this is a duality, a push-and-pull with the issues that I find so often in debuts, and there are glorious moments when they struggle and succeed to rise above it all. For the next material this band puts out, I hope there will be more than awesome moments, or, hell, even more than awesome songs. I want there to be awesome purpose, an awesome album that defies conventional logic and blows minds, not just eardrums. And if any band can do it, it's our local heroes in brutality, Massachusetts' own Abnormality.

*preferably with a reference to virgins or something... I dunno, whatever you slam kids say these days

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kraanium - Post Mortal Coital Fixation (2012; Comatose Music)

Slam fans, I think we might have a classic on our hands. Kraanium's newest full length is that good.

It's probably premature to call this a classic just yet, but Post Mortal Coital Fixation is the best album I've heard this year by far. It's a huge step forward for the band and vaults them forward to the top tier of current slam bands.

In the past I've always been fond of Kraanium, if not as big a fan as some. They wrote catchy, compulsively listenable slam with tinges of thrash in their breakdowns. It wasn't the most interesting material, but it got the job done and the band played with a lot of energy and passion. That'll last a band a few albums, but even slam death bands need to evolve (if only slightly) to keep people coming back album after album. That's why so many bands are one and done, or worse, release progressively worse music.

Kraanium avoided that fate here by turning to a more serious and mature (well as mature and serious as this genre gets anyway) approach. Post Mortal Coital Fixation is not as in your face as the past two albums, but that's a good thing. Kraanium attack with an inexorable assault of slow breakdowns, and writhing riffage. The trash stylings remain but are less prominent, in favor of a darker tone to the breakdowns. This reminds me a lot of Infernal Revulsion's Devastate Under Hallucination, which was a classic in its own right. Post Mortal Coital Fixation has a sense of darkness and foreboding, that enhances the crushing nature of the breakdowns.

It is obvious from this album that Kraanium really understand what makes this genre of music so good. Taken as individual parts slam is pretty simple and straightforward and that's fine. But it is incredibly gratifying when a band can take those parts and create something more - a particular feeling. That feeling where you just want to start banging your head. That feeling that only metal fans understand. No particular song or riff stands out above the others, but that's because they all work together to create an incredibly powerful album.

My only worry is that fans who loved Kraanium's previous albums might not be able to get into this one as quickly, due to its higher bar of accessibility. If you are feeling this way I urge you to give it a few more chances. This one is definitely worth it. I fully expect it to be near or at the top of my best of 2012 list.