Coroner – Mental Vortex

Swiss death metal Coroner1991 Noise Records

One of the all-time great death metal albums and probably THE most underrated and overlooked.  I’ll never forget buying this CD right before a peaceful vacation trip to Arkansas in 1991.  I literally bought the CD as I was heading out of Baton Rouge for some time in the mountains in Arkansas to camp, hike and look for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park (I found one, too…a quarter carat).  It still makes me laugh to this day that this CD was basically my soundtrack for quality time with nature.

I followed Coroner from the time I saw the video for Masked Jackal on MTV, as there was something different about them that drew me in to their sound.  While their first 3 albums got progressively better (No More Color really set the table for this feast), there was no way to be entirely prepared for the total brilliance here.   Heavy as hell, tight as Stewart Copeland’s snare drum head, razor sharp, technically superb and an absolute embarrassment of (hook) riches, Mental Vortex sounds every bit as fresh today as it did in 1991.  Some music is so well done that it just transcends everything.

Starting off with Divine Step, Coroner showcases a true rollercoaster of rhythm and velocity, never collapsing into the sometimes hysterical and meandering speed-for-speed’s-sake that made previous albums a tad uneven.  This disc showcases a band firing on all cylinders and finding a sound they can call their own.  Whereas thrash and speed metal bands at the time often lost all of their power when they sped up the tempos, here Marquis Marky commands all velocities with equal power.   After the the speedy and stop-on-a-dime tight opening track, we get the first taste of Coroner’s relentless power groove on Son of Lilith…which is improved upon even more on my fave track Semtex Revolution.

I have only come across one list of essential thrash metal bands that has includes Coroner, much less this album in particular…I’m sure there must be more, but this is the only one I’ve personally seen.   Damn if every song on this disc isn’t almost letter perfect…the kinds of riffs you dream about and then can’t remember when you wake up.  Not a wasted track or a wasted note to be found anywhere and Tommy T. Baron’s performance is pure Guitar Hero from razor-sharp riffs to his technically dexterous yet amazingly melodic solos.

Phat grooves and tight, rhythmic riffs that will be stuck in your head for years.  Arrangements and constructs are just perfect.   Even an ill-advised but quite bold cover of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) by the Fab Four (Phab Phour?) comes off with a nudge, a wink, a punch in the gut and some melody that makes it work in its own weirdly charming way.  Elsewhere, this is simply Coroner’s finest hour where the planets aligned and everything sounds progressive yet effortless.

Absolute masterpiece.  And right up there with Obituary as two of my all-time favorite death metal band names.

Rating:  5 out of 5
Download Corner’s Mental Vortex

Buy Coroner’s Mental Vortex CD

Testament – Dark Roots of Earth

Testament 2012 Nuclear Blast  2012 Nuclear Blast

Man, there’s nothing better than hearing a metal band you loved in the 80’s and 90’s sounding more juiced and inspired than ever on a new release 20 years later.  I remember back in 1987 when I bought their first album The Legacy (an album which initially scared the bejeezus out of me with its dark imagery) and I was blown away by the interplay between guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson on songs like Burnt Offerings.  I honestly wasn’t as blown away by the songs on the album, but it was obvious that there was immense talent in the band and I was hooked.

Hooked enough to buy every release since then.  I really thought they were the band that threatened to make The Big Four (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax) The Big Five.  Though it never quite happened, Testament earned immense respect and produced a bevy of cool albums in the years after.  While I was totally disappointed when the classic Testament lineup eroded (beginning with the departures of axe wiz Skolnick and drummer Louie Clemente), I was equally thrilled when Skolnick returned for The Formation of Damnation a few years back.  To say I’m thrilled with Dark Roots of Earth would be an understatement.

Skolnick and Peterson have never sounded more juiced and Dark Roots of  Earth is quite possibly the best album Testament has ever recorded.  This is a band thoroughly in love with the sounds they’re creating and obviously having a blast creating them.  Kicking off with powerful opener Rise Up, this album  just never lets up and it’s chocked full of everything that has made this band special from the very beginning.  Lead throat Chuck Billy (cancer survivor…YEAH!) turns in one of his very best and most inspired performances, as does the whole band really.

Skolnick originally left Testament because he wanted to explore other less metal musical terrain, and I really believe the band is better for it.  What he brings to the music now is that much better, and that’s saying a lot when you consider the quality of Testament’s songwriting.  Peterson is more of a co-lead guitarist now and Dark Roots benefits from the two guitarists having a better chemistry than ever.  Hell, this band has been bleeding talent from the early days, as evidenced on their absolutely killer metalized cover of Aerosmith gem Nobody’s Faultquite a feat by a band that at that point was still proving themselves.

Witness Native Blood, True American Hate, Cold Embrace and Throne of Thorns, all delivering in spades and showing Testament to be a band with much more to offer…hopefully for many years to come.  This is a guitar hero album in the best way.   Many bands from Testaments early era are pretty much nostalgia acts, but these guys are perhaps more vital than they’ve ever been.  Whatever the journey that’s gotten them to this point, it’s been worth it.

Squarely heavy metal (once again in the best way), Dark Roots of Earth is one of those albums that could truly earn these guys a whole new legion of fans.  If you don’t like metal, you probably won’t like this album, but if you do like metal you’ll want to give this one a good thorough listen.  It’s so good that you’ll probably find yourself wanting to check out their back catalogue,

It’s also so good that you may find that it outshines their fine collection of recordings.   I haven’t been this stoked about a Testament disc since Low.  Welcome back, guys!

Rating:  4.5 out of 5
Download/Buy Dark Roots of Earth and other Testament music


The Sword Are Back With “Apocryphon” October 22nd!

It seems like forever (though it’s only been 2 years) since the mighty Warp Riders was released and I missed the chance to see The Sword at the Chameleon in Lancaster because the drummer abruptly left the band.

Well, The Sword are preparing to release their much-awaited followup CD “Apocryphon” on October 22nd.  All we have is this just-released snippet right now, so enjoy it while we count down the days to the release.  You can preorder the CD now at The Sword’s official website  Enjoy Abysmally…and thank you Dr. ChadRock for the heads up on this!

Click here to pre-order/buy Apocryphon (Deluxe Edition)

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Meshuggah – Koloss

2012 Nuclear Blast Meshuggah Koloss




2012 Nuclear Blast Records

I’ve been a longtime fan of this bunch of Swedish virtuosos going back to 1995’s Destroy Erase Improve.  I’ve regarded the followup CD Chaosphere to be their best and have listened to it hundreds of time over and over while doing my geek work during the day.  It’s as atmospheric as it is powerful and is like jazz to me (albeit jazz with a sledgehammer).

While I have every Meshuggah release and honestly like them all, 2005’s Catch Thirty-Three and 2008’s obZen (while being very well done) just didn’t resonate with me like their other releases.  I decided that for my Abysmal ears, Chaosphere was their creative peak and I should just enjoy the fact that this is a band that will keep delivering solid releases for years to come.

Then came Koloss, the 2012 release that has basically reorganized the billions of cells in my brain.  There’s no other band quite like Meshuggah, and they’re the very best of their genre as proven on Koloss.  And Koloss just might be their very best album to date.

“I Am Colossus” kicks off the album in style and sets the tone for the entire disc.  Dizzying and heart-palpitating rhythms are the order of the day with the remarkable Tomas Haake continuing to confound and amaze with his complex polyrhythms which the band hone into tight songcraft that really should be impossible.   Seriously…that this music can even exist is testimony to the immense talent of the band.

Highlights of the album for me are “Marrow” with lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal’s jazzy Allan Holdsworth-isms working magic against a heavy and hypnotic backdrop, “Swarm” with my fave rhythmic barrage on the album, “Do Not Look Down” with its brutally (down)tuneful staccato riff and some brilliant lead work from Thordendal, and first ‘single’ “The Demon’s Name is Surveillance” whose rhythmic power was my first hint that Koloss was going to be a special album.

And it is…easily their best since Chaosphere and one that you can just put on and let ‘er play without skipping anything.

That the album comes to a close on an eerily beautiful and chill instrumental “The Last Vigil” is testimony to the band’s intelligence and use of dynamics and atmosphere.  This album is a flat-out classic and a definite contender for Most Truly Abysmal Album of 2012.

A word of warning for the uninitiated:  If you’re not into the heaviest side of metal and not of the mind to try it out, you’ll probably be turned off.  Truth is, with music this extreme there’s a fine line between good and bad to the untrained ear.  There’s plenty of crappy music that calls itself extreme metal…Meshuggah sets the bar for both power and quality.  I can’t say that I like Koloss any better than my beloved Chaosphere, but I can’t say I like Chaosphere any better, either.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Click here to download/buy Koloss by Meshuggah.

Clutch – Live in Flint, MI & Live in Melbourne, AU

2004 River Road Records              2007

I recently came across these gems from my favorite band online and I’m just stunned.  Though I should have known they would be excellent.

Both discs are worth seeking out if you’re a Clutch fan.  Being a proud veteran of numerous shows, I can confidently say they’re both fine documents of Clutch live and up close, and “Heard It All Before” is kinda special due to the fact that our fave Maryland boys recorded it live on their first Australian tour.

One of the discs, however, stands out as absolutely one of my favorite live albums of all time, and that’s Live In Flint, MI.  Recorded live at the Machine Shop in front of a rabid crowd, it documents a two hour show from the “Blast Tyrant” tour and features material from all their albums, as well as some cool B-sides like “Hoodoo Operator.”

The surprising highlights for me, though, were the tunes from the self-titled “Clutch” CD from 1995.  I was originally not a huge fan of that disc, due to what I feel is a powerless drum mix that doesn’t do Jean-Paul “The Master” Gaster justice, and really an overall mix that lacks power and crispness.  With said power and crispness, those tracks are my overall favorites here, with “Rock and Roll Outlaw” just leveling the place and “Tight Like That” translating well to a heavier live format and providing the perfect chaser for “…Outlaw.”   “Escape From the Prison Planet” and “I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth” show up in powerful form here, as do “Big News I” and “Big News II.”

Honorable mention goes to “Walking in the Great Shining Path of Monster Trucks” and exemplify how well the inimitable Neil Fallon is able to make these older tracks work with his newer vocal stylings, as they were recorded with his old monotone growl on the studio versions.  The more modern Clutch tunes from “Elephant Riders” through “Blast Tyrant” sound as excellent as you would hope, too.

I’ve flown many, many times to and from Louisiana to spend time with my children and I can’t tell you how many times this has been my music of choice to get my mind off of my fear of flying.  Dozens easily.  One of those few live documents that actually makes you feel like you’re a part of the celebration not apart from the celebration.  The proudly face-melting mix makes you feel like you’re right there…you can almost smell the sweat.

For Clutch fans, this is a must have.  For the uninitiated, “Live in Flint, MI” is a great introduction to a superb rock band and will undoubtedly have you hungry for their back catalogue.

Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Movie Break: Quite Possibly The Greatest Music Documentary Ever. Complete: Behind the Music

Today I stumbled upon what is quite possibly the funniest video I’ve ever personally seen in my life.  To quote Dave (the delightfully sarcastic and witty narrator)…“I cannot begin to describe to you what you are about to see.  I would like you to take one moment and picture the absolute worst band you’ve ever seen in your life.  And there is no way…NO WAY you could have conceived of anything as bad as this.”

Even with the detailed (and Complete-ly relevant) 4 minute intro, I still could not believe what I was seeing and hearing.  It is truly beyond description and you have hereby been warned:

I have laughed uncontrollably and absolutely to tears a handful of times in my life, and this video is responsible for probably the most uncontrollable and convulsive laughter I have ever experienced.  Nothing can prepare you for what you will see here.

Quite possibly the greatest music documentary ever made.  And please watch the whole thing…the narrative comments are totally worth it, as are the interview bits.  It’s a shining cautionary tale of how practice sometimes doesn’t make anything remotely close to perfect.

So, to quote the should-be legendary documentarian Dave…

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…COMPLETE

Rating:  10 (ten) out of 5

New Amorphis Video “You I Need”

My favorite Finnish band is back with another disc of some of my favorite sounds on the planet.  Amorphis is really a world unto themselves, and their new CD “The Beginning of Times” continues with their use of the Finnish national epic poem “The Kalevala” for inspiration.

To amazing effect.

This is the first video from the disc, which was released on June 7th.  A full Abysmal review is forthcoming, but in the meantime enjoy this taster.

Abysmally, of course….

Amorphis The Beginning of Times CD art

Amorphis – Magic and Mayhem (Tales from the Early Years)

File:Amorphis - Magic & Mayhem.jpg 2010 Nuclear Blast

I remember in high school and college talking with my bro Dr. Peto about how cool it would be if Iron Maiden went back and re-recorded their self-titled debut and Killers with Bruce Dickinson on vocals. Of course that never happened but man would it have been cool.

One of my absolute favorite bands is Finnish band Amorphis, and they just seem to get better and better with age. Further proof of this, as if 2009’s Skyforger wasn’t enough, is their new/old CD Magic and Mayhem – Tales From the Early Years.  New/old because they’ve re-recorded material from their early years…namely from The Karelian IsthmusElegy.   Some purists may scoff at me saying this, but everything is the better for it.

That’s not to slag the original recordings because they were excellent for sure, but there’s no denying the band sounds truly better than they ever have and the old material sounds better with Tomi Joutsen’s vocals. He is an absolute one-of-a-kind vocalist and the best thing that ever happened to this band.

Black Winter Day” was the song that initially made me a fan of Amorphis back in 1993, and I’m still in awe of how superior this re-recording is both production-wise and because of the inhuman vocal performance of Tomi Joutsen.  His deliberate and powerful roar is balanced by an equally powerful melodic voice that will have you shaking your head at the fact that both are from the same singer.

Their tongue-in-cheek cover of The Doors’ classic “Light My Fire” was a cool novelty when they originally recorded it during the “Tales From The Thousand Lakes” sessions, but it’s even better here and comes across as less of a mere novelty and more of an honest re-working of it in frightening Amorphis style.

In all, there are 3 remakes from The Karelian Isthmus, 5 from the classic Tales From the Thousand Lakes, 4 from Elegy and the aforementioned Doors cover as a bonus track (the original version is from the Black Winter Day EP).  Every single track is an improvement on the original.  Again, that’s not to slag the originals…it’s just that a once really good band is now great.

Highlights for me are Drowned MaidExile of the Sons of Uisliu, Sign From the North Side and the absolutely stunning reworking of My Kantele, which hypnotizes me the same way The Tea Party’s “Sister Awake” does.  I’ll stop right now before this gets any more ridiculous than it already is, because there’s no other band that consistently leaves me awestruck like Amorphis.  I honestly can’t believe what they have accomplished here.

Raging CD cover art, too…especially when you know the story behind the giant pike fish, as told on the song “Majestic Beast” from last year’s Skyforger CD.

Rating:  5 out of 5

CLICK HERE TO BUY Magic & Mayhem: Tales From the Early Years AND OTHER AMORPHIS MUSIC

Amorphis – Skyforger

skyforger_kansi  2009 Nuclear Blast

Every so often a band comes along whose greatness can’t be denied.   Amorphis is one of those bands.

Some hardcore fans still pine for the days of “Karelian Isthmus” or “Tales From the Thousand Lakes,” and the latter still stands as my favorite from Amorphis.   Possibly not for long.

Ever since the superb “Eclipse” from just a few years ago, I feel that Amorphis has hit a stride that finds them simply unable to write a weak song.   Their entire catalogue is worth a listen, as they really haven’t ever written a bad album.  Starting out as  pure extreme band with “…Isthmus,” Amorphis has evolved into perhaps the greatest band of their genre.   Their middle years were marked by consistent, though same-ey, releases until they melded the aggression of old with their melodic leanings of new on the aforementioned “Eclipse.”

Since then, they have been on a creative tear with “Silent Waters” and their latest masterpiece “Skyforger.”  The dark beauty and grandeur of this disc is simply beyond my feeble verbal attempts here.  It says a lot when, after following this band for the better part of 15 years, I have to admit that their best music is the music they’re creating in the present.

Quite frankly, leadoff track “Sampo” just might be my favorite Amorphis track ever with its seemless melding of  piano and guitar.  It’s almost unfathomable  how  they have woven melodic piano lines into such heavy music in a way that makes total sense.  I could go on and on, but the truth is that there’s not a weak track to be found here.   Single “Silver Bride” is a fair representation of their sound for any newcomers, melding grandeur and melancholic beauty like no band I’ve ever heard.

The hugeness of their sound is even more incredible given the fact that they’ve always been an indie band here in the US of A…production quality usually reserved for those who have mega-bucks behind them.   Man, this stuff just gives me goosebumps.  I’m sure I sound ridiculous writing this, but this is a truly amazing band with their own sound and talent for miles.  Extra props for Tomi Joutsen’s incredible vocal work melding melody, passion and aggression like no one else.

Now is as good of a time as any to discover this amazing Finnish band who will fill your speaker cabinets like they’ve never been filled before with majestic melancholic beauty and grandeur.  I have to stop now, as the only justice to be served is by listening to this disc for yourself.   No need to mention individual tracks as they’re all stellar.

Rating: 5 out of 5

CLICK HERE to buy Skyforger

7/23/09 Update:  Amorphis has officially outdone themselves as far as the Abyss is concerned.   This is a first…”Skyforger” has usurped “Tales From the Thousand Lakes” in the Ten Most Truly Abysmal CD’s, and has quickly become one of my alltime favorite discs…period.  What they’ve done here just leaves me in awe and I can’t get enough of this sound.   Majestic, melancholic, beautiful, melodic, aggressive…it’s all here in inimitable fashion.   Please buy this disc and help keep these guys in the business of making music.

Amorphis – Tales From The Thousand Lakes

   1994 Relapse

Amorphis is, quite simply, one of my favorite bands.  Their evolution from the pure death metal overtures of their first full length ‘The Karelian Isthmus’ to the amazing grandeur of 2007’s ‘Silent Water’ has been breathtaking.   ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ was the turning point in the development of the Amorphis sound and was the first album I ever heard with a near perfect mix of guttoral vocals and clean melodic vocals.   I don’t know if they were the first to try it, but they were the first to get it right.

Amorphis bases their music on their native Finnish folklore, here basing it on the epic Kalevala.  This album is recognized by fans of the genre as a cornerstone of melodic death metal…some even credit the disc as the true genesis of the genre.  All I know is that it was unlike anything I’d ever heard at the time and it’s an easy inclusion on the 10 Best of the Abyss.

From the first notes of opener “Thousand Lakes” you can just feel that you’re about to be taken somewhere you’ve never been before.  The heaviness of the guitars and the power of the music is actually elevated by the tasteful use of keyboard textures, which often weave counter-melodies in and out of the main song riffs and bring both warmth and a sense of coldness at the same time.

My favorite track here has to be “Black Winter Day,” where the keyboards bring a very distinct fantasy-feel to the music.  I’m just drawn in by those keyboard melodies to this day, and I have to chuckle remembering my ex-wife hearing it for the first time and saying it sounded like irritating Nintendo music.   The world of Amorphis is one of longing, and one of fantasy and grandeur. 

Other favorite moments on this seemless disc are the amazing “Forgotten Sunrise” and album closer “Magic and Mayhem.”  Showing that these Fins have quite the sense of humor, the CD contains a bonus track – a remake of The Doors’ classic “Light My Fire” replete with those guttoral growls.  Death never sounded so sexy! hahahahahaha

Rating:  5 out of 5