(DGR delivered a tome of reviews so massive that we decided to serialize it throughout the week so as to avoid fracturing your spine beneath its weight. This is Part 3.)
On occasion we find ourselves backlogged with albums that we want to write about but seem never able to find the time to do so. Sometimes this results in multiple review ideas getting tossed and never revisited, and at other times you get posts like this one as we deseperately try to hammer out a whole bunch of reviews about EVERYTHING that we’ve been listening to.
In this case that means 13 different releases, unsorted by genre and from all varying walks of all things heavy. So, with the floodgates now fully open, let us wade further forth into the rushing waters of heavy metal to recommend some stuff that perhaps might have flown by you.
LiK – Carnage
Every once in a while I pull the curtain back to reveal what the reveiw-writing process is like on this end, and Lik’s newest album Carnage provides the occasion for one of those times. It has been exceedingly difficult for me to review this album, not because Carnage is bad but because I have a very hard time with albums that are very clear about what they are trying to be, and when they nail that note so specifically and so well, it’s hard to talk about them without coming off as being on some sort of high horse.
The point: I completely understand why people love Carnage, I completely understand why this album is popping up on people’s year-end lists, and with a roster of band members who have at one point or another floated through Witchery and Bloodbath (to name a few), it’s easy to say that these guys know exactly what they are doing. But there’s something about Carnage that makes me feel like I can see the gears turning, and so I am fully aware from moment one that Lik (which translates to ‘Corpse’) are joining the revival of the old school, distortion-fueled buzzsaw-guitar and rhythmic thud-pounding Swedish death metal of the early ’90s, and they are frighteningly good at it.
The blade-obsessed Carnage (there’s a lot of knives on this disc) is one of those albums perfect for a death-metal-shuffled playlist. Each of its ten songs stands on its own, beginning punctually and ending more so, often on one thundering last hit. At around thirty-five minutes, Lik have compiled a damned good mix of ten songs, all of which have realized the sort of primal power that seems ingrained in the constant whump-whump-whump sound that drives the rhythm section of this sort of music.
“To Kill” and “Rid You of Your Flesh” lead the hard-charging affair, both at around three-and-a-half minutes and feeling like two takes on the same subject. That pair sets the tone for much of Carnage — that high-speed and near-ceaseless tempo runs through much of the disc as a whole, with the guitar ranging from Sawzall to angry insect nest with few breaks in between. The bulk of the tracks stay within the three-and-a-half minute range, with only one song going under, in the form of the two-minute grinder “Cannibalistic Infancy”, which sounds like a condensed version of the apocalypse put into song form, and two songs that sail over, the main highlight of those being the five-and-a-half minutes of dooming slow crawl that makes up “The Deranged”.
The song following that, “Only Death Is Left Alive”, actually proves to be something of an album highlight in large part due to the delivery of the “Only death is left alive!” shout that immediately rips into a guitar solo. It’s easy to see that the whole song builds over and over to the next “only death is left alive!” shout, but that is what proves to be the fun part about it. And therein lies the key phrase: Carnage proves to be a ton of fun.
The willingness to recognize and accept Carnage as genre-fare is key to the experience. Lik know what they’re doing and execute upon it terrifyingly well; the three-piece set out to make their second disc a distortion-crunching death metal event and they did so. Lik play well within the confines of their genre and construct a fortress from very familiar pieces, so if you’re seeking some classic-sounding Swede-death, then Lik have you covered. Just try not to visualize the gears turning too much, lest you wind up taking forever to write a review on it as well.
Deconstructing Sequence – Cosmic Progression: An Agonizing Journey Through Oddities of Space
As one of the many science fiction fans on this here site, it has been an absolute joy watching heavy metal embrace its cosmic dorky side over the past seven or eight years. While a lot of albums tend to conjure up images of Tim Curry yelling ‘SPAAAACE’ in the Red Alert games, the fact that these bands are swinging for the fences like they are and just being incredibly ambitious is something I am almost always liable to encourage.
Released in the first third of the year (March on Bandcamp, January physical), Cosmic Progression: An Agonizing Journey Through Oddities Of Space (henceforth, Agonizing Journey, lest my fingers fall off) is the group’s first album, following two EPs that were released in 2013 and 2014. Agonizing Journey is massive, weighing in at a little under an hour and full of prog-death metal that gets plenty of mileage out of its spacey synthesizers as well as multiple narrated points, small voice-overs, and a ton of death metal growling to complete the bands cosmic journey.
Since Deconstructing Sequence‘s subject matter covers such a massive expanse, so too do the events in this disc, and the music follows suit. Agonizing Journey has multiple stellar events taking place within its lyrics, growing in scale alongside the music. The album makes a show of traversing galaxies, and along the way destroys planets and stars, and eventually a galactic collision takes place. Song ranges stay well above the five-minute range and Deconstructing Sequence pack many of those moments with a multitude of hammered-out blasts and constant guitar grooves, adrift in a wall of spaced out synthesizers to move things along.
There’s never truly a ‘quiet’ moment across the whole disc and songs occasionally become vessels for the grander story more so than stand-alone singles to rock out to. If there is one solid throughline, it’s that Deconstructing Sequence are massive fans of the relentlessly punishing hyperspeed blast and use it constantly to propel each song forward. But since the songs across this disc travel in so many different directions, almost every section is a surprise – considering the hammering the listener takes in the opening segments of “Lifeforce Awakens”, the bouncing swing of the opening of “V4641 Sgr” comes as a surprise before it too is annihilated in a cosmic burst of hyperfast death metal. It returns about halfway through the song, which is about four minutes into the seven minutes of galactic spaghettifying the song portrays.
It’s that sort of swinging for the fences that makes a disc like Agonizing Journey exciting, though. It isn’t one of those albums you can have pop up at random; it’s a near-requirement that you listen to it front to back because although songs can stand out on their own (“My Way Through The Stars” and its constant melodic freakouts is a pretty strong example once you get past the opening narrative bit), hearing each track spill into the next can make the album into a pyrotechnic event. Agonizing Journey is an album that, much like its stellar subject matter at times, is incredibly dense. It is also one that is absolutely worthy of deep exploration.
Quasarborn – The Odyssey To Room 101
While we’re doing oddyseys and journeys (and SPAAAAAACE), lets right one of our earlier wrongs of the year: Never checking back in with Serbian prog-thrash group Quasarborn to see how their debut album, The Odyssey To Room 101 (released in mid-May) turned out. We had covered the band’s Quasarborn TV video release last year as part of a massive round up but since then have been relatively quiet on that front.
Thrash, admittedly, is something of a blind spot for this site. We basically have a handful of favorites and will notice absolute standouts among newcomers but overall we’ve never had a fully dedicated thrash person here. However, Quasarborn’s multifaceted approach to the genre grabbed our attention, as the band would go from more obvious thrash sections to straightforward death metal, to even some gloriously melodic bits with hefty groove behind them. It was that stretching of their wings that got our attention, and so May’s release of The Odyssey To Room 101 was eagerly looked forward to… right before we drowned ourselves in the glory of Summer metal festivals on each coast of the US for about two weeks.
The three songs encompassed by the group’s Quasarborn TV performance make an appearance here, set in the first half of the album with few changes — though it is certainly nice to hear a studio take on them, as impressive as the live runthrough was. The circle-pit riffing remains intact, though. From moment one Quasarborn rip right into it with “Crash Course In Life”, and that song kind of lays out the blueprint for the whole disc with a tiny bit of old school flavor arriving through the vocal front. After that is an intro for some reason, which makes it seem like “Crash Course In Life” found its way onto the album suddenly, but it makes for a great addition.
“Escape Into Reality” proves to be a back-half highlight of the album, although it certainly benefits from being amplified by the three-minute instrumental of “Transcendence”. “Escape” runs the gamut of genres, moving to the blastier side of thrash for a good chunk of its run, and the apocalyptic sound combined with its overall fast tempo makes that song shine very brightly amongst its peers.
The actual “Odyssey To Room 101” song clocks in at a hefty eight minutes and Quasarborn really make a run at it with that song, throwing everything they possibly could into the writing pot there. A brief choral bit over a galloping riff transitions into an epic blast that makes the band sound far larger than than they are in its opening minutes, and from there Quasarborn continue to build upon each element. By the time you hit the ‘please just let me die…’ melodic segment of the song you quickly learn why they decided to name the album after that song. The solo segments alone are inspiring enough to make that one stand out.
Early pacing issues aside, Odyssey To Room 101 is a near master-class in angular prog-thrash. Tons of circle pit riffage, a multitude of differing vocal styles, a million finger-melting solos, and one hell of a final song make this one not to miss.