We here at Nine Circles endeavor to bring to you, our devoted readers, as much razor sharp insight and commentary into the hidden pockets, nooks, and crevices the extreme metal world can offer. We have burrowed into the underground scenes of Singapore and the Philippines, profiled some of the best and darkest metal labels around, and even reviewed a record or two.
But even our exacting eye and archeological know-how can’t dig up every release that comes out in a year. Sometimes things get lost in the panoply of splits, reissues, cassette only demos and 800g quadruple sided splattered with the tears of an angel vinyl exclusive. Who knows how these obscure nuggets missed our Sauron gaze? Lack of marketing funds? Little social media presence? It doesn’t matter, for in today’s edition of Nine Circles ov… I attempt to shed some light on these obscure, little known bands…
…Lord knows they could use the exposure.
Body Count – Bloodlust: I saw a lot of the metal community giving Bloodlust and Body Count in general a hard time, but truth be told I really dig this record. A lot of that is just Ice-T and his personality coming through. “All Love is Lost” is so angry it reaches comical proportions. I can’t get through it without laughing, and I love that about the song. Tepid guest appearances and weird spoken intros aside (although I dig the intro to the Slayer covers as well as the covers themselves) the music is solid modern metal with a tight lock in the rhythm section. Lyrically songs like “No Lives Matter” and “Black Hoodie” resonate better than anything Body Count has done in a long while, and it comes together in their best album in years.
DragonForce – Reaching Into Infinity: I’ll be the first to admit that DragonForce’s musical histrionics never appealed to me. I can understand why they got as big as they did in the day; there’s no doubt Herman Li and Sam Totman are monsters on their instruments, and nothing on Reaching Into Infinity will quell that notion. And yet there are hints Reaching Into Infinity starts to break the notion of their “video game” songwriting – arrangements are reigned in (somewhat, this is DragonForce after all), and while the ridiculous over the top solos are there, they usually don’t derail the song, something that happened all too often in the past. Marc Hudson feels his most comfortable in the vocal seat, turning in a really solid performance, especially on “Astral Empire” which is a standout. This isn’t a 180° for the band, but if you’ve gotten tired of DragonForce over the last couple of albums Reaching Into Infinity just might bring you back.
Immolation – Atonement: There’s a reason I listed Immolation’s newest as one of my most anticipated albums of the year, and you can hear the reason right in the first minute of opening track “The Distorting Light.” This is classic death metal done right, sharp and brutal and technical with a simple clarity of purpose: to rip your face off. Immolation are one of the few progenitors of this sound that are doing it even better than when they started out, and this is going to be a monster to beat out for death metal record of the year. Ross Dolan has a voice like gravel dipped in blood, and Robert Vigna is crafting some of the best riffs this side of the universe. I can’t get enough of this record.
Kreator – Gods of Violence: I don’t have the same blinding love and devotion to the early Kreator albums that some people do, but there’s something about Gods of Violence that doesn’t quite stick with me. Maybe it’s the raging anthemic choruses that feel a little too singalong ready for my tastes. Tracks like “Satan is Real” and “Totalitarian Terror” hit some fist pumping moments that almost recall power metal in its uplifting moments. Lyrically Mille Petrozza is still hitting all the anti-authoritarian notes and screaming for justice: if nothing else I think he gets a raw deal on how forward thinking (if slightly on the nose) his lyrics are. Guitar-wise dude is still a certified killer, but I wish there was something more I could cling to on this record. Maybe it’s a grower, we’ll see..
Mastodon – Emperor of Sand: I’ve said it with Life of Agony, I’ve said it with Metallica, and I’m gonna say it again with Mastodon: they don’t give a fuck if you wish they’d go back to the early, heavy sound. Emperor of Sand is all over the map in terms of touch points from the band’s previous output, and yet there’s a cohesiveness that was missing from the bland Once More ‘Round the Sun that not only keeps the styles from diminishing the album, but makes it better with each lesson. A loose narrative thread runs through the record, but is really tied together by the theme of death and loss as perceived through the band’s exposure to friends and loved ones with cancer. There’s an anger and passion here in songs like “Sultan’s Curse” and the massive closer “Jaguar God” that grab you and hang on through every twist of riff and lead. It’s not Leviathan Part II, it’s not a slimmed down Crack the Skye. It’s where the band’s collective head is at and I’m totally down with it.
Overkill – The Grinding Wheel: So, the other side of the coin is the band that knows what it does, knows how to do it, and just keeps doing it, fast and mean and better than anyone else. Motörhead did it, and Overkill is still doing it, and doing it without really losing any of that bite in over 30 years. The Grinding Wheel rips out of the gate with “Mean, Green Killing Machine” and that tight as hell sound I first experienced as a kid with 1988’s Under the Influence is right there, as is the singular snarl of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth’s voice. If you’ve come for experimentation and genre splicing you’re free to browse another aisle; Overkill are here to thrash your face off and if you don’t like or feels this kind of thrash attack has lost its potency in 2017, then may I direct you to one of the band’s appropriately named titles…
Pallbearer – Heartless: Oh man. I tried to write about this when it first came out, but then every social media presence and their brother started with the stink of “yeah, but it’s not really METAL, is it?” and the bullshit arguing and posturing proceeded with vim and vigor. I’m too old to give a shit whether this is considered a “hot take” or just more of the same garbage that passes for online discourse (edited later to note that at this point in the article I had consumed my third whiskey and was feeling ornery. Apologies). All that and I’m still not sure if I prefer Heartless to Foundations of Burden. What I do know is that opener “I Saw the End” might be my favorite song they’ve written – the harmony vocal at 4:23 that hits on the “all your hate disown” lyric melts me, and the solo that ends the track is simply amazing, emotive technical and perfectly carrying the track to its end. Yeah, “Lie of Survival” drags a bit for me, and for the life of me I can never remember “Cruel Road.” But then the album closes with “A Plea for Understanding” which might be my second favorite thing they’ve ever done and I realize that whatever you want to label Heartless, front to back this thing has heart in fucking spades.
Yeah, I went there with that tacky line. Sue me.
Royal Thunder – Wick: And now I have to swallow my own shit, because yup: I was one of those folks who wasn’t too keen on Royal Thunder’s Crooked Doors because it wasn’t as heavy as their awesome self titled EP or debut CVI. We all have a lot to learn, you know? Anyway, Wick comes along and blows me away with the first song “Burning Tree,” filled with subtle eastern touches and HOLY CRAP – no really, Mlny Parsonz’s vocals are on another level here. Musically the band has moved into a desert blues rock vibe that has a simplicity and directness that really allows the focus to sit with the way Parsonz voice moves the song. The “heaviness” such as it is rests with her delivery, with the way the band accompanies the vocal delivery on songs like “The Sinking Chair” or sits back PJ Harvey style on “April Showers.” In the end Wick is still something I’m wrestling with, but the fact I continue to want to wrestle with it provides some indication as to its merit.
Sepultura – Machine Messiah: I honestly don’t understand why people completely dismiss the Derrick Green-fronted Sepultura…is what Max Cavelera doing any better? Soulfly? REALLY? Anyway, this album is pretty damn cool. I really like the clean vocals that open the album and title track and how it launches into this massive slab of heavy. “Phantom Self” has some of the tribal rhythms going on and it feels like the loss of Igor Cavelera isn’t missed as much – the drumming is tight as hell and Andreas Kisser is having a bast emulating at different moments Meshuggah, progressive metal and even old Sepultura in an attempt to address his fears of the growing reliance on machines in our everyday lives. “Iceberg Dances” is a crazy instrumental that has a bit of that power/progressive metal guitar hero vibe to it, and the rest of the album does a good job of rocking hard. Check out the drumming on “Resistant Parasites” and tell me these guys are washed up (reading this later I realize at this point I am bordering on useless due to intoxication. The album’s really good guys – check it out). Really, you still wanna complain? Go listen to whatever nu-metal banal whatchamacallit Max is cooking up with the Soulflies or something. I don’t know…
…On the other hand, he did co-write that awesome insane Body Count track “All Love is Lost” so, you know…
What am I trying to say with this? I don’t know…we focus so much sometimes on the underground in an attempt to look like we know the “real” scoop when it comes to metal that we blind ourselves to some really good music. We’re so wrapped up in what’s “metal” and what’s underground and what’s “KVLT” that even when we joke about it we’re still reinforcing these weird online social cues in an attempt to secure favor with an imaginary elite when in reality I look at what’s happening around me and all I want to do is come to the media I consume with an open mind and heart and hope that there’s something there that touches me. And if it does, maybe I can spend a few words talking about it in a way that it’ll touch someone else, too. I know I’ll fail more than I’ll succeed, but somewhere along the way of wanting this Nine Circles ov… to cover a few mainstream releases the site missed in the last few months this is starting to turn into a plea to stop and listen:
There’s more to be gained with sharing your passion than sharing your wit. There’s something to be said about understanding the difference between opinion and perspective, and trying to share something that manages to penetrate whatever shell you and I put up to get through our day and connect, whether it’s with a piece of music or something else.
But what do I know, right? I like that Body Count album so who knows?
I’m sure you can find these albums anywhere. Just don’t pirate them, okay?