metal

Ektomorf: kickass metal music from Hungary

Ever since I met my wife, who is of Finnish descent, ten years ago, I have delighted in sharing with her new metal bands from Finland. Of course, finding metal bands from Finland is like finding a Starbucks coffee shop in the United States: they are everywhere. In fact, I read somewhere that Finland has the most per-capita metal bands of any country worldwide, which I totally believe. Those Scandinavian winters, and tales of Vikings and Norse gods, must be very conducive to metal music.

But, what about me, someone who is of Hungarian and Italian descent? Now, I am aware of a few Italian metal bands, one of the most popular being Lacuna Coil, of course. I was never aware of any popular metal bands from Hungary, however, until a few days ago, when I randomly stumbled onto some Ektomorf videos on YouTube.

And, wow, what a fucking awesome band! Imagine some stripped-down “nu-metal” such as “Roots” era Sepultura, and Soulfly, but with their own Roma (Gypsy) influences on it. Incidentally, they seem to get a lot of hate just for sounding so similar to Soulfly (frontman Zoltán Farkas does sound a LOT like Max Cavalera), but so what? Most metal music is unintentionally derivative as hell nowadays, especially in the United States. There’s only so many riffs that you can play, especially when everyone is downtuning. Sepultura undeniably influenced many bands worldwide. In fact, they were one of the first metal bands outside of the “Big 4” that I had ever heard, when Chaos A.D. was first released.

Think about it: metal is the ONLY musical genre which basically sounds the same no matter where you are from. Rock music is predominantly from the U.S. and U.K., rap music is almost solely a U.S. export that has influenced people worldwide, and pop music has its own certain touches that distinguish its nation of origin, even if the basic formula of writing a popular song remains the same. But, no matter where you come from, if you are checking out a metal band, you can be guaranteed that it’s going to be motherfucking METAL.

Ektomorf is seriously great, though. I’ve always been partial to simple, stripped down hardcore, punk rock, and metal music, which they effortlessly deliver. Now, don’t get me wrong, they can play. They can rip out some nasty guitar leads. Farkas is even endorsed by guitar manufacturer ESP, and has one of the most awesome signature guitars that I’ve ever seen. Daniel Szabo, the drummer, locks into some killer grooves and beats his drumkit like it stole something (their former drummer Robert Jaksa was also awesome). The entire band plays with such passion and energy that I can’t help but like them.

Zoltàn Farkas holding his signature ESP guitar

Admittedly, I haven’t heard all of their music yet, but the albums “Black Flag” and “Fury” are fucking fantastic. Some songs in particular of theirs that I like are “War Is My Way”, “Aggressor”, “You Can’t Control Me”, “Black Flag”, and “Souls On Fire”. They have many songs and videos on YouTube to check out, but almost no Internet presence otherwise, beyond a Wikipedia page and random articles. That, more than anything, is what pushed me to write this article (even though I only write sporadically nowadays, I still get a considerable amount of viewers from Hungary, and Europe in general). If you are an Ektomorf fan reading this, I salute you. And, in the off chance a member of the band reads this, I want to thank you, for giving me some kickass metal music from Hungary to listen to!

"A fém soha nem fog meghalni!"

P.S. pardon the loose Google Translate transliteration 🙂

P.P.S. If anybody wants to recommend other bands from Hungary to check out, I’d appreciate it!

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MUSIC REVIEW: The Acacia Strain, “Gravebloom”

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Good old TAS, the OG’s of nihilistic downtuned modern metal music. Ever since their inception around the turn of the millenium (has it been almost 20 years already?!?), they have been kicking our collective asses. In their first 10 years, they released three legitimate classics: 2006’s “The Dead Walk” (is there anything heavier than the beginning of “4×4”?”); 2008’s “Continent”, which was/is 10/10 perfection from beginning to end; and 2010’s “Wormwood”, which would begin a shift from the mid-tempo malevolence into the slower, doomier sound that they are known for now.

Now it’s 2017, and there are probably hundreds of bands out there operating from The Acacia Strain’s influential musical template. So, what do they do? Why, record and release “Gravebloom”, of course, which certainly ranks among their best albums (released June 30th on Rise Records).

It opens with “Worthless”, a self-loathing song set to swirling guitars which has a surprising dynamic shift around the 2:45 mark. Things don’t get any happier: the indictment of society on “Plague Doctor”, exploring how to not be a model citizen on “Model Citizen”, the funereal dirge of “Cold Gloom”, and the Deftones-esque dissonant wall of sound on “Abyssal Depths”.

“Bitter Pill”, “Dark Harvest”, and “Calloused Mouth” pick up the tempo and are more reminiscent of the old-school TAS sound that we all know and love. “Dark Harvest” in particular is musically and lyrically reminiscent of the awesome “Holy Walls Of The Vatican” off of their previous album Coma Witch.

The lyrics of Vincent Bennett alternate between suicidal desperation and hostility towards the corruption of society. When he screams “We exist inside a wasteland / Rolling fields of agony / Bodies hanging lifeless / In a forest of dying trees / The last great disciple of the human race / Slipping through the cracks of time and space” on Bitter Pill, he paints a dystopian picture that is bleak, yet defiantly in acceptance of its fate.

When you get a TAS album, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Aside from the occasional shift in song dynamics, Gravebloom pretty much sticks to the sound that The Acacia Strain is known for. And let’s be happy they did, because they have released one of the top metal albums of 2017.

 

The Grammy Awards disrespect metal music, yet again

I don’t watch the Grammy Awards, or any celebrity awards shows for that matter. It is basically a way for narcissists to feel even more delusionally self-important, and for the rest of us to live vicariously through their questionable wardrobe choices.

The 2017 Grammy Awards had 2 notable mishaps, however, and both were over 2 of the biggest metal bands in existence: Metallica and Megadeth.

-Upon winning a Grammy for Best Metal Performance (“Dystopia”), Megadeth were summoned to the stage to get their awards. And what song should play on cue, but Metallica’s “Master Of Puppets”? For those who are unaware, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine has had an acrimonious history with Metallica, and even after he left Metallica, he would claim that Metallica stole uncredited riffs from him…up to the Master Of Puppets album. Nowadays, Dave and Metallica get along decently well, and I’m sure he can look back and laugh about this, especially since this is his first Grammy despite being nominated 12 times before this year.

-Metallica performed “Moth Into Flame” with Lady Gaga…which seems positively ridiculous, even though Lady Gaga is a fan of Metallica. Anyway, Lady Gaga was introduced as the sole performer while Metallica stood on stage, and when they started playing, James Hetfield’s mic wasn’t working properly, leaving Lady Gaga to solely sing the lead vocals until the mic feed got fixed. Hetfield was so pissed that he threw his guitar at the guitar tech after the performance. And, who could blame him?

This isn’t the first time that the Grammys have disrespected metal music:

-In 1989, the Grammys first recognized metal music as a category…and they awarded the inaugural Grammy for Best Metal Performance to Jethro Tull, who were never a metal band.

-In 1993, Nine Inch Nails would win for “Wish”, despite NIN not being a metal band (they beat out Helmet’s “In The Meantime”, which is one of the best and most influential metal songs of the 1990’s). NIN would win this award again in 1996.

-And, in 2015, comedy band Tenacious D would win for “The Last In Line”, beating out a true metal nominee in Motorhead (whose frontman Lemmy would pass away 10 months later, in December 2015). At least Motorhead had already won in 2005 for “Whiplash”…yes, a Metallica cover song.

Luckily, most metal fans could care less about the Grammy Awards. But if you are going to actually nominate and give awards to metal musicians, at least take the time to do it right. The Revolver Golden Gods awards show is a good example, even if the Golden Gods has been increasingly ridiculous itself lately.

MUSIC REVIEW: Metallica, “Hardwired…To Self Destruct”

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Metallica is, and has been, the biggest name in metal music ever since they formed back in 1981. For 35 years, they have stayed consistently heavy, despite some minor detours back in the 1990’s with the hard rock and blues inflected Load albums. With their previous album Death Magnetic, they had some promising moments. The hype for Hardwired, therefore, was massive, especially with the first two singles they put out: “Hardwired” and “Moth Into Flame”, which are both fantastic; “Hardwired” with its unabashedly throwback sound, and “Moth Into Flame” which sounds like it could have been the number #1 single off of their Load-era albums.

The consensus thus far is that Hardwired…To Self Destruct lives up to the hype. I will go one further: not only is it a serious contender for metal album of the year, but it is easily one of Metallica’s top 5 albums. They are firing on all cylinders, and the songwriting is diverse and fantastic.

It opens with the song “Hardwired”, which is about as old school authentic Metallica as one could wish for, with its thrashing guitars and two-step drumming. “Spit Out The Bone” is another thrash masterpiece, which features a similar riff to the one that hardcore punk legends Bad Brains used on their song “Sailin On”. “Moth Into Flame” is a well-written song which is as catchy and melodic as it is inducing to headbanging. “Confusion” is another song that sounds old school, that is reminiscent of Ride The Lightning-era songs, and it is an updated version of the anti-war “One” from And Justice For All. In fact, most of the album has an old school sound to it. If Master Of Puppets is your favorite Metallica album (which it is to most people), then you will not be disappointed, and you will be pleasantly surprised.

There are really no bad songs on Hardwired…To Self Destruct. Everything flows together well, and the album sequencing is perfect. James Hetfield still has the best guitar-picking hand in metal, and he bangs out 8th or 16th note riffs as easily as Kirk Hammett nails amazing leads. Lars Ulrich, for as much backlash as he gets, still has his trademark drumming which is heavy on fills and offbeat cymbal hits. And Robert Trujillo is still holding down the low-end, giving Hardwired a tight rhythm section to anchor the blazing guitar work.

Most Metallica albums (and most albums in general) usually have filler or throwaway songs, if only one or two. Hardwired, on the other hand, has no such moments: every song was obviously considered a potential single, and stands alone on their own merits. Further evidence of this is the fact that Metallica released music videos for EVERY song on the album, which is a genius marketing move that will further the perception of Hardwired… being a great album from beginning to end. The last Metallica album that was 10/10 from start to finish was the “Black Album”, and the only other album that could be considered that would be, obviously, Master Of Puppets.

Hardwired…To Self Destruct is easily the best Metallica album since the “Black Album”. And, if you aren’t a fan of the Black Album, for whatever reason, there’s this: Hardwired… is Metallica’s most thrash metal album since the 30 year old Master Of Puppets. Hardwired is a brilliant album, and will certainly stand among Metallica’s finest musical moments.

MUSIC REVIEW: Crowbar, “The Serpent Only Lies”

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Kirk Windstein stated that he wanted Crowbar to be the 2016 version of Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. While this may seem blasphemous to anyone unfamiliar with the New Orleans sludge metal band, the comparison is apt, even if you ignore the Led Zeppelin “No Quarter” cover off Crowbar’s 1993 self-titled album.

Kirk Windstein (guitarist, songwriter, vocalist) is called the “Riff Lord” for good reason. He has written literally hundreds of killer riffs, and songs for them. Any fan of Crowbar would likely agree: there are no bad Crowbar songs, there are only ones that are better or that are favored more by the fans.

With their new album, Crowbar is still as powerful as ever, especially with the return of Todd Strange on bass. The Serpent Only Lies sounds like a continuation of their previous album Symmetry In Black, and it has many similarities to the albums Lifesblood For The Downtrodden and Sonic Excess In Its Purest Form (which are my 2 favorites), with its Sabbath-like slow dirges and cold, unrelenting grooves. As I Heal is a mid-tempo monstrosity with some musical and lyrical similarities to New Dawn from LFTD, and To Build A Mountain from SEIIPF. Plasmic And Pure opens with a pounding Tommy Buckley drumbeat, which breaks off into a jackhammer riff and an angular chorus, and the opening is reminiscent of the song Walk With Knowledge Wisely from Symmetry In Black. I Am The Storm and The Enemy Beside You brings to mind the almighty Motorhead with their grooves and power. On Holy Ground opens with some catchy lead guitar playing, and sounds like vintage Alice In Chains on steroids.

In the aforementioned Rolling Stone interview, Windstein mentioned how metal bands used to write great hooks and choruses. This is another thing that differentiates Crowbar from most metal bands: they are able to bring melody from dissonance, catchiness from chaos, and light from shade. They can certainly write some killer choruses, and aren’t afraid to break up the bludgeoning riffs and to dial down the distortion in order to make their songs more melodic.

Which is kind of like what Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin used to do. The Serpent Only Lies is yet another Crowbar masterpiece, and is highly recommended to any metal fans out there.

MUSIC REVIEW: Korn, “The Serenity Of Suffering”

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Who would have thought that Korn would still be one of the biggest bands in music in 2016? Ever since dropping their groundbreaking S/T album in 1994, Korn have been at the forefront of what we all know as “nu-metal”. Korn popularized a lot of the nu-metal trademarks: the downtuned and dissonant riffing of James “Munky” Shaffer, eerie lead guitar playing of Brian “Head” Welch, the rhythmic backbeat of drummer Ray Luzier (but started with original Korn drummer David Silveria), the powerful low-end bass of Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu, and the singing/screaming/scatting of Jonathan Davis.

Ever since their albums Follow The Leader and Issues, Korn have taken some interesting music routes, most notably with the dubstep of The Path Of Totality. With their new album The Serenity Of Suffering, however, Korn have released an album which surely ranks as among their best.

They have gotten back to their core sound, and most of the album oscillates from the high-polished catchy groove of Follow The Leader to the raw anger of Issues. The first single Rotting In Vain is good, but the entire album is just as good. Everything Falls Apart, The Hating, Please Come For Me, and Black Is The Soul in particular stand out to me as well-written songs that show Korn at their finest and heaviest.

I believe the reason that they’ve gotten back to form is because of the return of Brian “Head” Welch. He is a great guitarist and a fantastic songwriter (check out his album with his Korn hiatus band Love And Death, which is an underrated album). Their previous album The Paradigm Shift was promising but weak in spots, but The Serenity Of Suffering is much better. In fact, in my opinion it stands up to their early albums, and any fan of Korn will automatically love this album.

Page Hamilton is the next David Bowie

Well…no, not really. Although, if you were unfamiliar with the metal band Helmet before hearing their latest song Bad News, you would be forgiven for thinking that, since it sounds like David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, just with more distortion.

Which is somewhat shocking, but not too shocking for long-suffering Helmet fans who feel that Page Hamilton should have retired the Helmet name after the Aftertaste album. When I think of Helmet, I think of drop tuned power chords, crazy ass guitar solos, and groove. Not David fucking Bowie, man!

No disrespect to Bowie (RIP) intended. No disrespect to Page, either. Bad News is actually a decent song. And it does have a crazy ass guitar solo, so there’s that.

It’s just another anachronism in the Helmet catalog, that’s all.