Album Review - Sarcastic Burn Victim - Blood & Stomach Pills 

The outer fringes of the jazz and extreme metal worlds collided sometime ago. The freer side of the jazz genre is well documented where as improvisation in metal has remained a very small part of a hugely popular musical style. If grindcore is a subculture in its own right, then the more freely improvised noisecore is a subculture within a subculture. Pressings of recordings are often only done in double digits. 

An influential collaboration between improvisers from both sides of the musical fence is the album Guts of a Virgin. Recorded in 1991, John Zorn and Bill Laswell joined with Mick Harris under the name Painkiller to produce a punishing slab of vinyl. The extremity also crept into the artwork, with copies being destroyed by customs agents in the UK under the obscene publications act. 

A lineage can be traced from Painkiller to the work of Sarcastic Burn Victim, with many stops in-between. The sextet take elements of doom metal, black metal, grindcore, noisecore, harsh noise and free improvisation and deliver them with a sense of humour which also has a long tradition in noisecore. Subjects in the genre range from the leftist politics of Sore Throat to the controversial topics of the Meat Shits. In between there are bands such as Yes Means Yes and Stench of Death. The music of Sarcastic Burn Victim may sound evil to the uninitiated. However, their tongues are planted firmly in their cheeks with song titles such as Natural Born Testicle and We’re Eating Lieutenant Dropping’s Friends

Zara Skumshot’s vocals vary between nasty black metal snarls and guttural death metal rumblings. When the vocals are unaccompanied, they take on a particularly devilish character. When placed over a wash of electronic noise, they sound like a radio transmission from Hell. If Khanate collaborated with Merzbow then they might sound nearly as demented as this. 

The saxophone varies between the sound of guitar feedback and and that of a caged rat who is desperate for freedom. The frantic high register flurries instantly reminded me of the Music Improvisation Company and some of their more thematic improvisations. The saxophone is an instrument which is capable of great sonic variety. Compare the silky, vibrato heavy sound of Ben Webster with the work of Steve Lacy. The instrument does not sound at all out of place in a grind setting. Its paint stripping possibilities can be fully explored. 

Everything on this recording is shrouded in a strangely absorbing fuzz. Imagine what it would be like to listen to a band while your head is inside a detuned television set. We can assume this is the work of noise makers Dr Age and Rupel. 

The tracks are all relatively short, some being more akin to noisecore blasts with very little discernible riffage. While controversial vocalist Seth Putnam may have scoffed at the idea of his music being compared to free jazz, this record is a point scorer for those with an opposing opinion. The record is not just noise and free improvisation. Guitarist Jason Cineration is not afraid of a heavy riff to separate his spasmodic rants. 

As the reader may have gathered, the names of the members are hidden behind darkly comedic alternate identities. A tradition dating back decades in the extreme metal scene. 

Although jazz has been mentioned several times during this review, Sarcastic Burn Victim would be more likely to appear at the Obscene Extreme Festival than they would at your provincial jazz club. The combination of violent music with comedic themes is the aural equivalent of watching a Laurel and Hardy film where the set floor is covered in broken glass. 

John Marley

Single Review - Deathmace - Coffin' Maggots  

The metal world has moved into two distinct camps. Youtube is flooded with displays of attention grabbing virtuosic wizardry which push the boundaries of instrumental technique to the limit. On the other hand, there are those who revel in the tradition of death metal. It is not necessarily created purely for nostalgia or to profiteer from those who look back with rose-tinted spectacles. It is out of a love for the punishing music, the colourful imagery and the hidden humour that has entertained metalheads and annoyed moralists for 30 years. Deathmace sit comfortably and unashamedly in the second camp and they have crawled out of the swamp to deliver two tracks of raging old-school thrash. 

Coffin’ Maggots is a driving mid-tempo stomper which is seemingly influenced by Michigan grindcore gods Repulsion. Yuma Murata barks the lyrics like a dog who is growing frustrated with being tied up. As the lyrics are about the body being consumed by maggots, it is appropriate that Murata punctuates each section with a vocal vomit. The track kicks into gear with a blasting final section where drummer Andy Hayes demonstrates his impressive death metal technique. 

Nuclear Soul Stealer, written by fellow Yorkshire men The Vexed, tells a furiously brief tale of annihilation. One that has been told many times before but which metalheads are still more than happy to hear. It’s the death metal equivalent of primary school children sitting around the teachers ankles waiting to hear Alice In Wonderland one more time. The listener is pushed head first in to a classic thrash rhythm which accelerates into a blasting snare for the choruses. The track breaks down to the sounds of Jack Bamber’s crunching bass tone. Screeching guitars hover round him like radioactive atoms, ready to turn his insides to liquid. 

Both of these tracks have pop arrangements. I don’t mean they are likely to collaborate with Kylie. They have a familiarity of verse-chorus structure which so much modern death metal lacks. This makes the tunes catchy, memorable and, dare I say it…fun. Deathmace are celebrating the history of a music which they obviously love and understand and are doing it with originality. In a world of constant progress it is good for the mind to hear something new, yet familiar. My only complaint is that I listened to it digitally. Where is the cassette release? 

John Marley

Album Review - Pressor - Weird Things  

Opening with swirling, hypnotic synth sounds, Russian quartet Pressor put the listener in a trance-like state which is both nightmarish and fascinating. A full production allows the riffs to resonate through your core and stimulate the primordial senses. Many of the riffs on Weird Things are doubled by a synth sound which gives the music an apocalyptic ambience, immediately bringing to mind the work of doom metal monoliths Asva. 

Although the execution of the riffs is tight and ruthless, they are always engulfed by atmospheric synth sounds. It is as though you are watching a well trained army march through dense fog. A heavy amount of reverb on the vocals allows them to become part of the thick soundscape. The initial bite of the vocals is percussive and aggressive but the reverb forms multiple layers of sound. The vocals sit back in the mix rather than being the primary focus of the compositions. 

If you listen to it with rapt attention, you can easily be drawn in by the blankets of harmony. That is not to say that the pieces have extensive chord patterns. Rather that the multiple guitar tracks, along with the ambient sounds, create several dimensions of subtly changing harmonics. Each instrument moves like sediment in a huge, ancient mountain. Beautiful harmonies presented in a confrontational way have become a feature of doom metal through the work of Pelican, Red Sparowes and their contemporaries. 

Not all of the tracks are performed at a glacial tempo. The title track still uses massive riffs but these are powered by a hardcore punk drum rhythm. Momentarily moving towards the sound of Scandinavian D-beat, Pressor maintain a sense of identity through their uncompromising use of atmospherics. 

On the closing track Hexadecimal Unified Insanity the guitars play fast moving riffs while the synth stays on one note. It is a disorientating experience. This is augmented by guitar parts that creep out of the mix and then disappear as quickly as they arrived. On repeated listens it seems as though one guitar part becomes slightly out of tune. Rather than this being a negative, it gives the riff an added element of tension. It is not out of tune enough to be unpleasant, just enough to increase the menace on an almost subconscious level. 

Weird Things is a perfect storm of thunderous riffing, misty atmospherics and all-consuming aural tornadoes. 

John Marley.

Album Review - TFD - #USA4TFD  

In retrospect, choosing to review this record first thing on a Monday morning may not have been the wisest idea. As soon as you press play, short blasts of noise fly out of the speakers like strategically placed jabs. Before you can compute what has happened, the onslaught begins. You are being pummelled to the floor by a hailstorm of body blows. Did you ever see Rocky III where Rocky gets annihilated by Clubber Lang? Now you can find out what it was like to be Rocky in that first fight. 

Musically, the band largely follow the righteous path of power-violence and hardcore. However, there are just enough unique subtleties in the sound to make TFD stand out from the pack. The drums are played with a high level of precision but they groove with a slightly swung jazz feel. When the traditional thrash riffs appear, they are accented by relentless double kicking. 

The guitar parts are never content to merely double up on each other. They expand across the instrument, alternating high and low registers. This has the effect of filling out the sound whilst avoiding feeling sludgey and bogged down. TFD are more of a small battleship than an oil tanker. 

On tracks such as Grotesque Fornication and Anarchy Chaos Collapse Comedy, the vocals are reminiscent of Hirax Max’s delivery in Scholastic Deth. Nods to the hardcore tradition come in the form of unison vocal shouts, emphasising track titles. There is a great variety in the use of vocal techniques. On Is Your Love A Rainbow, sung vocals underly the piece, bringing an eery atmosphere with them. Ranted vocals melt in to the soundscape like the inner voice of a man descending into madness. 

A great deal of the band’s power comes from the technical execution of the songs. The album is well produced and you can hear all the parts clearly. There is nowhere for the musicians to hide but in all honesty, they don’t sound afraid to me. 

You get the impression that there is a love for classic metal amongst the band. Little clues appear, such as the harmony guitar of Hacksaw and the Germanic thrash wails of Mother’s Meat. 

The journey into madness is complete with the penultimate track Bugs which is a short interlude of spoken word paranoia. I can vouch for the fact that #USA4TFD is a better Monday morning wake up call than any amount of caffeine. There is so much packed in to such a short space of time that your brain can’t possibly ignore it. 

John Marley

Album Review - Deathmace - Bleeding Frenzy  

Vintage thrash metal has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years. New audiences have been lusting over classic 80’s releases and adopting the bullet belt and hi-top look that is synonymous with the genre.  

Some musicians have jumped on the bandwagon, releasing material that has all of the looks and none of the riffs. On a rare occasion, a band comes along that have an obvious passion for the style, adopting the intricacies that are part of its DNA. Deathmace are one of these bands.  

Even the rawest German thrashers of days gone by didn’t just press the accelerator and hit the brakes two minutes later. Listen carefully and you’ll hear subtle riff variations, well placed breakdowns and catchy choruses. Deathmace know this and have used these elements to great effect.  

The band go straight for the throat on the opening track Beyond Dead. Mixing driving thrash, half time mosh sections and precision blast beats, Deathmace take the listener through all of the gears on a thrilling but well controlled journey. As the chorus is barked over a blast rhythm, we hear the first of several catchy chorus lines on the album. Another example being the excellently titled Swine.  

Vocalist Yuma Murata pays homage to thrash metal god Tom G Warrior with a series of vocal vomits that act as a form of percussion. Wordless accents without definitive pitch are placed on the first beat of a new section.  

There is more Celtic Frost worship on the closing track Renatus In Vindicta. Slower moving and considerably longer than the rest of the material, this composition shows that speed isn’t everything when it comes to thrash metal. In fact, the slower tempo shows a compositional maturity that is refreshing after the previous 25 minutes of velocity worship.  

Every track on the album is lean and muscular. More than half of the tracks clock in at under 3 minutes. There is hardly any space for guitar soloing, although the listener is treated to the occasional squeal, manic shred and conclusive dive-bomb.  

Just like the glory days of thrash metal, the market is flooded with forgettable material. This makes it much harder to discover the real thing in a store full of fraudulent produce. Deathmace are true scholars of the genre and on Bleeding Frenzy it is there for all to see.  

John Marley.