(As Andy Synn did before him, DGR seems to be making a late-season effort to get caught up on planned reviews before year-end LISTMANIA drowns us all. Three reviews today, and some undisclosed number of further ones ahead.)
What you are reading is the beginning of a feature that has taken way too long and gotten way out of control. Meant to be like its older band-roundup-review siblings in the shorter review realm, the reviews in this post become the subject of a whole lot more talking and yapping since I found so much to enjoy on each release. As a result, the finish line continually moved further and further back.
In fact, the Beyond Creation review was about half-written by the time our own Andy Synn posted his (alongside his review of Gorod’s Aethra for those who missed out) and almost wound up being deleted so as to not commit the NCS “Sin” of double-talking over each other. But pride won out on that front, because I was waaaaaay too fucking proud of the opening paragraphs to let it go, which naturally meant one needed to run his mouth for another….ten. You can see how this is playing out.
Needless to say, there are a few other reviews forthcoming that will have us traveling the world, hopefully to catch us up with all of the music that has washed over us in the past few months (not likely! there’s been so much!) in the form of big name releases, celebratory collections, even an alternate universe debut album from a local Sacramento group. What you’ll find here, therefore, is only the start, beginning with some late-September/early-October releases and carrying on from there.
BENIGHTED – Dogs Always Bite Harder Than Their Master
France’s Benighted and their frantic branch of death and grind are something of a favorite in the NCS halls, so we were very excited at the prospect of the group’s 20th anniversary EP Dogs Always Bite Harder Than Their Master. Shockingly enough, the way the EP is constructed actually feels a whole lot like the group’s music as a whole, tugging in three different directions and shambling forward under the sheer force of their weight, more so than with a chosen sense of direction. Consisting of three newer or never-before-heard studio tracks, one cover song, and basically a whole live EP stitched onto the end, Dogs Always Bite Harder Than Their Master is an interesting proposition from multiple fronts.
The three previously unreleased songs start off the affair, going for a one-two-three hit combo of “Teeth And Hatred”, “Martyr”, and the titular “Dogs Always Bite Harder Than Their Master”. The three tracks blur into one another, flowing at a similarly high-speed style and vocalist Julien Truchan ripping his way through every song.
“Dogs Always Bite Harder Than Their Master” is the longest of the three tracks, clocking in at four minutes and making its two predecessors feel positively petite at three minutes and two. “Dogs Always Bite Harder Than Their Master” is all over the Benighted map, shifting through multiple tempos and moving from the expected high-speed assault to the occasional dirge, and actually like the two preceding songs, is somewhat bass-guitar-driven for a bit. The vocal attack is multi-pronged, with two backup guest vocalists (who also make appearances during the live segment of this EP) joining Julien in order to add to the feeling of words and voices piling over one another in a desperate attempt to escape, which Benighted have adopted as one of their hallmark sounds.
“Teeth And Hatred” is the most straightforward of the three — while “Martyr” throws its weight around a bit during its three minutes, though its bass-guitar-driven, hyper-blasting nature, with a high-and-low vocal interplay that never seems to let up, make it feel like Pt. II of “Teeth And Hatred” before it. Save for one gigantic groove that closes things out, “Teeth And Hatred” is near non-stop acceleration and wall-to-wall ‘BREEEEEEEEE’, so pretty much exactly what you’ve come to this band to find for years.
When it comes down to cover songs, though, despite always going into them with the knowledge that Benighted are a known quantity with a guaranteed sense of “good and capable” when it comes to how they will turn out, I always wind up realizing that I never knew how much I needed Benighted’s take on that specific song before. A lot of this can be credited to the band’s approach of absolutely annihilating the vocal front, between both Julien and whoever decides to join in the cacophony on backing vocals; for some reason that never fails to make one smile.
Case in point: This time around the group decided to tackle melo-death classic “Slaughter Of The Soul” — a risky proposition for those who’ve made the track into one of heavy metal’s sacred cows over the years. The song has long become an anthem and at this point it’s hard not to imagine someone who wouldn’t get excited by the count-off into the “GO!” yell. Yet despite starting off playing it fairly straight, Benighted then proceed to take the song and do what they do best with their cover tracks — which is butcher it and re-arrange the insides so that it better befits their style.
Thus, we have now been gifted a version of “Slaughter Of The Soul” that is propelled forward by blastbeats (because one has to) and a gigantically and gloriously dumb brutal-death/slam segment moving forward right into the middle of the song. While it is not a revelatory cover that is going to blow your mind with its hot and fresh take on an old song, it does fit in with Benighted’s collection of other covers, which boils down to having a lot of fun for three-to-four minutes just beating the crap out of something.
The live segment of Dogs Always Bite Harder Than Their Masters is where the value proposition gets interesting. Recorded not too long ago in Lyon, France, the anniversary show for the band features a who’s who of different vocalists who have guested on Benighted works over the years. This includes people like Aborted’s Sven du Caluwé further tying the two bands together, and on his second appearance on this EP, Ben Wright from Unfathomable Ruination, Arno from Black Bomb A reprising his role in the song “Cum With Disgust”, and Shining’s own Niklas Kvarforth for the song “Spit”, who at this point has done so many different live vocal takes on songs that this version of “Spit” is nearly unrecognizable in places from the one that appears on Necrobreed proper, meaning one could probably have a sizable collection of different Kvarforth live tracks, as every inhuman noise and wretched moan the man makes is different from the last time, as if he were a black metal version of Phish.
The pacing of Dogs Always Bite Harder Than Their Masters can feel a little all over the place at times as you transition from the newer collection of songs to the one cover track, and then to the whole live EP that the group bolted on to the end of it. As a celebration of all things Benighted it definitely focuses on the group’s most recent history. The party of different guest vocalists appearing on the live segment especially insures that the band mostly stick to material from Carnivore Sublime and Necrobreed. The “Slaughter Of The Soul” cover is fun for what it is, as it revels in its almost joyous slaughtering of the song before deciding to play it fairly straight in the back thirty or so seconds, and the live segment is interesting just to hear the spectrum of different inhuman sounds that can be uttered from both main vocalist and the guest crew (especially the aforementioned Niklas Kvarforth).
Since Dogs is so paritioned into segments, it also makes it easy to recommend that you really get what most interests you. If you don’t enjoy live stuff, the first half is a great collection of studio songs and far more bass- and rhythm-driven than one might expect from the band, and if you do, then the whole EP is great. Either way, it’s hard to turn down more from the Benighted crew if you’ve really enjoyed their most recent output.
CHTHONIC – Battlefields Of Asura
The amount of time I’ve spent whip-sawing back and forth about how much I enjoy this album has been immense. Were I able to physically quantify how back-and-forth my opinion has gone on Chthonic’s latest, from “immensely solid” to “solid with some stunning moments on it”, I could be transformed into a perpetual motion machine.
It’s interesting that Chthonic consider their newest album Battlefields Of Asura to be a prologue to their two previously released discs from a conceptual standpoint, as musically Battlefields Of Asura feels like the summary of efforts between those two, completing a triptych focused on political revolution and mythology while completely sealing Chthonic’s own transformation into something of a hybrid symphonic melo-death/folk metal project. Battlefields Of Asura also does away with a lot of the build-up that previous albums had, instead moving much faster than what we might expect from a Chthonic disc. There’s an intro, eight songs, and then an outro that ties the whole affair together. It hits very fast, and often you’ll find Battlefields cycling back around to its lead-in song again before you even notice. Surprising, given that almost forty minutes of music can appear to be a pretty stacked disc at the outset.
The reason Battlefields Of Asura seems to move so fast is that this collection of songs in particular feels like some of the most unified Chthonic material to date. It’s the most recognizable that it has ever been and all the tracks seem to be harnessed together not only by the album’s common theme but also by a musical through-line, driven largely by a ton of keyboard and synth work, as well as guitars that really seem to let lose this time around, leading to a couple of surprisingly melodic solos that seem to manifest from nowhere to ride alongside some quick-moving riffwork. The album also includes plenty of choirs, guest vocalists, and various folk instrumentation — including a ton of erhu to add extra melodic layers — to gallop alongside the band themselves to make Battlefields Of Asura sound just as massive as the group’s previous discs did.
A couple of issues do arise with Chthonic’s one-dense-block-of-music approach on Battlefields Of Asura. Since the disc serves as a conceptual prequel to previous albums and also takes on the mantle of being a musical summation of the discs prior to it, there’s a sense that Battlefields Of Asura is overwhelmingly familiar, which just can’t be shook. Chthonic do experiment throughout the album, including a middle instrumental to go along with its intro and outro, but the songs themselves are full of Chthonic hallmarks — which is predictably great if you’ve enjoyed previous efforts, but doesn’t quite make the album shine as brightly as it could.
The handful of experiments outside of the solid melo-death approach that Chthonic take actually do make things interesting, and one particular standout is the harsher guitar-driven approach of “One Thousand Eyes”, which at times dances dangerously close to chainsaw death metal. The opening block of “The Silent One’s Torch” and “Flames Upon The Weeping Winds”, however, take on the job of welcoming fans back into the Chthonic fold, and they hew very closely to the paths tread on prior albums B˙-Tik and Takasago Army, just with some much more prominent synth work.
Chthonic do send things out on a show-stopper, though, as “Millennia’s Faith Undone” is a suitably epic closer to a disc that spends much of its run-time building up into the song’s final explosion. Featuring guest vocals from singer Denise Ho during the song’s chorus, “Millennia’s Faith Undone” is one of the few songs on Battlefields Of Asura that transcends past the solid-Chthonic songwork demonstrated on the album into something much larger. The band themselves seem aware of just how much power that song wields, having done two versions of the track — the more vicious and violent lightning strike as it appears on Battlefields Of Asura and a calmer, quiet, and more mournful version of the song that the group released as a single.
In some ways, Battlefields Of Asura seems almost constructed around that song. Given that it serves as album closer can make subsequent runs through the disc an amusing exercise of finding different elements that would find their way into the album’s final act. There is something of a strange pacing to Battlefields‘ closing act, though, as it goes from an instrumental into the militaristic martial anthem of “Carved In Bloodstone”, then into the album’s finale, and then into the two minutes of quiet ambience that make up “Autopoiesis”.
Since Battlefields Of Asura takes us across familiar battlegrounds, it’s hard not to recommend the disc to fans, as that sense of familiarity is a double-edged sword. It is great, as the group have really found a groove and, having now settled into it, have built a collection of solid songs from ingredients that they’re used to using. When Chthonic are in their comfort zone and plying their trade it’s hard not to give into the fire and ferocity behind the band and enjoy how vocalist Freddie Lim‘s shriek seems to claw its way past the rest of the band.
The rhythm section finds itself a little subdued this time around as the band travel further and further down a path where the guitar work is very much brought up-front, so the battering behind the band tends to “go with the flow” more often than not — outside of the occasional extra booming percussion that pops up as a welcome surprise from time to time, making Chthonic sound like they’re backed by a literal army and not just the large collective of vocalists that the group have on hand for backing choir work.
Instead, we find ourselves with a much more melodically playful guitar and keyboard segment, which as mentioned above can give way to some very surprising and very enjoyable guitar solos alongside each grinding guitar riff. It’s those segments that keep Battlefields Of Asura interesting, even while it sails in familiar waters. As a cap-off to a trilogy of discs it is a solid listen with a handful of fantastic tracks, but is also very recognizable as a musical sibling to previous albums.
BEYOND CREATION – Algorythm
The paths that bands carve through their respective genres can sometimes prove to be as interesting as the music they make. As a genre explodes and more groups form, witnessing how bands who were in the first few waves of said explosion elect to change and morph themselves throughout their career can make for an interesting discography exploration. The technical death metal genre is an example, one of the quickest and most explosive genre manifestations out there, and now well into having established its own genre-hallmarks and calling cards.
Now within the age where we have groups formed who were influenced by the ones before them, the tech-death genre has seen both rapid iteration as well as rapid landmarking, meaning that over time it has become increasingly easy to recognize what style a band are playing, as well as feeling like a genius for being able to pinpoint what label they might be attached to, depending on how much -core aspect has wormed its way into their sound.
How groups choose to differentiate themselves can sometimes be a bigger story than the music itself, standing alone. Some bands choose to compete in an increasingly psychotic tech-death nuclear arms race with speed and near relentless riff-writing being the coda by which they live, and others poke, prod, push, and bend at the very amorphous genre-blob that is tech-death as a whole, slamming in unexpected instrumentation, interludes, and in general throwing everything they have in their armory at each song, leading to a weird fusion of progressive technicality that can make for some absolute journeys over the course of their albums.
Then there’s Beyond Creation, whose new disc Algorythm feels remarkably sage by comparison — as if the Montreal-based tech-death group had become some form of death metal woods-druids in the four years between their new album and 2014’s Earthborn Evolution, sent to us to provide the wisdom of all things arcane and to show how an album can grow naturally from the seeds that were planted on the disc before it.
Hindsight being what it is, we probably should’ve taken the fact that Beyond Creation chose to release a music video for the song “Earthborn Evolution” four years after that album’s release as a sign for what their newest album Algorythm was going to sound like, as many of the songs feel sprouted from the same seed that birthed the song, and thus are expanded upon here. Multiple passages throughout Algorythm evoke the tapped-out passages of “Earthborn Evolution”, and the multitude of such segments can often make the instruments feel like they’re running a relay race, with one guitar picking up the baton from another and continuing into the next few minutes of musical exploration.
That feeling doesn’t really cement itself until about halfway through Algorythm’s run time. The first segments of the disc have the sense that it isn’t quite sure what sort of album Beyond Creation wanted it to be; and thus the band do a whole lot of throwing everything they have out there. It’s very ambitious from moment one, but the album doesn’t truly discover its identity as a sort of wizened-old man of a tech death album until after you’ve already run through its opening piano instrumental, some hammering tech-death pyrotechnics in the form of “Entre Suffrage Et Mirage”, which somehow manages to become an exercise in the theory of relativity by making a thundering rhythm backed by hyper-fast blast-beats feel mid-tempo and meditative, and then blast through the densely packed, almost-seven minutes of “Surfaces Echoes” and are about halfway through “Ethereal Kingdom”. Only then does Algorythm really begin to finds its sound, which is nice, since by that point you’re four-and-a-half songs in to a fifty-minute journey.
“Surface’s Echoes” does prove to be an early highlight, though, and one of the songs that clearly lays out the building blocks from which many of the tracks on Algorythm are constructed. It is the next “evolutionary” step from its aforementioned relative, and in some ways is also the common ancestor for much of the music that follows it. In the seven minutes that “Surface’s Echoes” asks of you, the song traverses through a variety of different death metal approaches, shifting between sharp and angular grooves, to some genuinely neck-snapping headbanger sections, to a solid death metal drill alongside the utterance of the titular “surface’s echoes” line, and even jamming in the conversational wanderings of the band’s trademark many-note tapped-out segments.
It is something of “THE” Beyond Creation song from which most of the album then grows, itself reflective of what the band had started to play with on Earthborn Evolution. It also serves as an excellent lead-in to the calmer and more staid openings of “Ethereal Kingdom”, which has some standout bass-playing sections that partially feel like they exist solely to assuage people who were worried that one of the larger elements of Beyond Creation might fall to the wayside and weren’t satisfied with the first two volleys from the group. The sweeping and slow-moving melodic passages that segue into the chorus segments of the song are insidious, given just how good they are at getting stuck in one’s head. And so part of the fun of the early segment of Algorythm is enjoying the contrast between its third and fourth tracks.
Of course, Beyond Creation do not exist in a bubble, and so it’s hard not to recognize elements of other tech-death groups worming their way into the band’s sound. The titular “Algorythm” song almost stumbles into a brief and quiet instrumental segment that could’ve fallen out of a song by The Faceless, and “In Adversity” — being one of the shorter songs on the album at sub-three-minutes — has a blunt, Soreption-esque groove in its opening that is almost purpose-built for headbanging. With an album like Algorythm, where it seems like the group are throwing every single thing they have at it, it’s not surprising to hear them walk into other tech-death realms. But it is enough to briefly pull you out of the hypnotic reverie that the band start to lull the listener into. “Algorythm” as a song, though, is another heavily layered track like “Surface’s Echoes” and even contains one monster of a guitar solo that absolutely soars once it gets a solid blast-beat wall behind it for the back bit.
Algorythm’s closing song, “The Afterlife”, is one of the late-album highlights and one hell of a way to close out the record. It is one of the few times on Algorythm when Beyond Creation go for the relentlessly heavy approach. Unlike earlier songs where the group somehow manage to make “fast” seem meditative, “The Afterlife” is a rumbling track from front-to-back, and since it closes out the album. even goes for some extra-symphonic stings at the end of the track to make things punchier and more cinematic.
The multitude of guitar leads that worm their way throughout the song make the whole thing a truly pyrotechnic experience and a masterclass in punishing tech-death songwriting without going fully into the realm of chugging breakdowns. In some ways, “The Afterlife” is almost worth the trip through Algorythm on its own, especially after the six-minute journey of an instrumental that precedes it.
Since there is so much material packed within the fifty minutes of Algorythm it’s hard not to feel a little overwhelmed at first, as Beyond Creation seem intent to lay out every single thing they have written before and then try their damndest to tie it all together. Amongst those fifty minutes there are three instrumentals — two of which are piano segues, and one the aforementioned six-minute journey of wall-to-wall musicianship written solely to make budding guitarists green with envy. That’s not to count the deluxe edition, which contains two more songs, both of which are instrumental as well.
The more traditional tech-deah present here is impressive, however, and hearing how each song can lead into the next one is at times hypnotic, and at other times magical. There are so many different layers to each song that even the more simplistic and straightforward ones are, by a lot of group’s standards, hyper-complicated. The progressive-focused and seven-plus-minute journeys within the album are what really add to Algorythm’s weight, packing way more than seven minutes of material within each track.
Algorythm feels like a natural, if a little wobbly, successor to Earthborn Evolution, and the four-year gap between the two shows. It feels like Beyond Creation spent that whole time writing, and decided that nearly every single bit of that work was going to find its way onto the album, one way or another. If you’re looking for what will likely be one of the most packed albums of the year, full of different paths and stories carved out before you, then Algorythm will absolutely have you covered.