Monday, July 31, 2017

Death Metal Epic Book II: Goat Song Sacrifice by Dean Swinford (ATLATL Press)



It seems like forever ago that I reviewed Death Metal Epic Book I: The Inverted Katabasis for a site that no longer exists. (2013!) So here's a little recap before we get to Book II: Goat Song Sacrifice.

Death Metal Epic follows our protagonist David Fosberg navigating post-high school life as a death metal guitarist in Miami during the heyday of Floridian death metal. Tape trading, fanzines, no internet. You get the idea. His band, Valhalla needs to fulfill their contract with Plutonic Records but the rest of the band split for college and gave up on the DM dream. Typical. Happens all the time.

David just happens to hook up with Juan, an eccentric fellow with some great ideas. Together they craft a very experimental album that satisfies the label enough that they are sent on a promised two week tour in Europe. Great, right?

The tour is a fool's errand. A way for the label to get Valhalla off the books and out of their hair. A disaster from the start, David and Juan quickly abandon the tour altogether. In the meantime, David meets with Nekrokor, a mysterious black metal musician and label owner who originally hated Valhalla's “life metal” but now wants to take the rechristened Katabasis under his wing. Book 1 ends with Fosberg taking a chance and staying in Europe to try and make his music dreams come true.

Book I (and Book II) are full of references to classic death metal bands as well as plenty from other subgenres. Swinford places these in such a way that -- and really, shapes David as a character -- exposes the metal culture as outsider culture. Which it is. But it also shines a light on how deeply passionate fans can be no matter how ridiculous it may seem, as anyone reading this probably knows from an insider's perspective. Swinford has struck the perfect level of self-awareness with Fosberg. Fosberg himself is even quite skeptical about just how INTO it some of his compatriots are. He, when you get right down to it, just wants to play some metal.

Nonetheless he faces the challenges of his new environment head on. Juan stuck around in Belgium too and their lives continue to intersect. I'm trying not to give away too much of the story here! The ethos of Fosberg's new associates, Nekrokor, Nordikron and Svart (and Juan to an extent) and their band Desekration can seem fairly ridiculous but it gives (at least to me) an accurate portrayal of that scene in the early '90s. Death metal is getting old and tired, black metal is the total death. They take the darkness very seriously, at least on the surface. I mean, how serious can you be when you still live at home with your mother, Svart?

It's relatable though. Think about it. How “cool” would metal be if those involved didn't put on some kind of act? You can't take your book store persona (Fosberg's old job) on the stage. Lame. Even for me, I talk one way when I'm writing a review of some nefarious filth cut to wax the colour of eternal darkness splattered in the blood of innocents, and completely different when I'm shooting the shit with pals. Even if I'm talking about the same thing. Swinford exposes that duality even if the characters in the book don't want to admit it.

Character-wise we see Fosberg coming out of his shell. He's living on a different continent, trying to immerse himself in a different culture, and still chase the metal dream. That's a far cry from feeling trapped in a dead-end job in the swamps of South Florida. He's even putting old loves behind him. Sort of. We'll have to wait until Book III to see how that plays out.

All the strengths of The Inverted Katabasis are replicated in Goat Song Sacrifice; Swinford's intriguing, relatable and interesting characters, his deep knowledge of both metal history and the locations described (he grew up in Miami and studied in Ghent, Belgium) and his way of describing it all with just the right amount of detail. You can picture it all but it doesn't distract from the story.

The story itself is a page turner. It's easy to read for us neanderthal metalheads and our more learned peers should still find themselves engaged. Digging a little you'll find out that more than a little of the Epic is autobiographical. No goat sacrifices that I know of though. Knowing that puts a different spin on how you read the books. Swinford didn't just do his research, he lived it.

I highly recommend the series. Where else are you going to read death metal fiction? Ya, I thought so. Prepare a worthy offering and receive Death Metal Epic Book II: Goat Song Sacrifice!


-->
P.S. There's a cliffhanger at the end of this one too. Damn you, Dean!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fuzzorama Records Label Feature: 2016 Releases!




Swedish label Fuzzorama Records has been around since 2003 but you're forgiven if you've never heard of it. I have to forgive my myself as I've only been aware of their rock solid catalog for a few years now. That seems kind of impossible since the label is owned and run by none other than Truckfighters! How was I not on board in 2003?

As one would expect the Fuzzo roster is loaded with bands that share some (read: a lot) of stylistic similarities with the riff generators running the show. 2016 only saw three releases on the label (plus a live Truckfighters album) but quality over quantity wins every time. When you're done checking out the three releases featured below dig a little deeper starting with We Hunt Buffalo and Deville. Solid, solid stuff.

Hail the fuzz!

Valley of the Sun – Volume Rock

I've talked about this release before but in the intervening months nothing has changed. Volume Rock is still the perfect title for the album as it a) does totally rock and b) needs to be cranked to 11. It's an inoffensive, groove laden bitch of an album. Apparently this Cincinnati product has been around for a while (2010) but I'm just hearing about them now. Shame.

They couldn't be a more perfect fit for the label. They've got all the Fuzzo touchstones that are expected; riffs, groove, tone and that intoxicated/intoxicating vibe. There are no frills. Just straight up rockin'. There's dynamics though. Their movements from big sky openness to heavy-handed throwdowns are fluid and clean. Speaking of clean, that's how the vocals are.

Not just clean though. Ryan Ferrier has range! The kind of range that recalls vintage-era Chris Cornell. In fact, fans of Soundgarden's older (pre-Superunknown) material shouldn't find anything to complain about here.

Valley of the Sun have a real sense of drive. Their ample energy and sweet solos push and pull at the listener in equal measure. It's a weird sense in that you want to remain in place and take it in but it compels you to move. Not just the constant head nod/bang and toe taps. But move toward some sort of transportation and let the tunes rip as you cruise down an empty highway with the vocals moving you in a different way on tracks like “Speaketh” and “Land of Fools”.

Valley of the Sun and Volume Rock aren't doing anything new or innovative but that's really okay. If you just want to listen to fuzzed out riffs, bone-shaking bass and purposeful percussion, and not get screamed at, you don't need anything other than this. Just give this baby all the volume you've got and set your spirit free!

Truckfighters – V

V is, you guessed it, the fifth album from riffsters Truckfighters. Releasing your own band's albums give the boys a freedom to do whatever the hell they want (even though V is sub-licensed on Century Media, which is likely the reason it's not on bandcamp) and for this one Truckfighters have ventured off the path a little. You're still going to get a bevy of riffs and a warm, fuzzy tone that's just dialed right in, man. But this album feels and sounds a little more mature. This different approach has been met with some negativity and that's not without warrant. But that's typical of any band that evolves really. Also, sources must be considered. ie. YouTube comments for one.

Where V differs from the norm is in how they have stretched things out. At seven songs over 47 minutes that put the average song length at almost 7 minutes. A little long for stoner rock, eh? Well, Truckfighters have added some prog into the mix. Sections that feel more jammed out work into the structure, lengthening the tracks. Plus there's some straight up slow, pretty parts (“Storyline”). Sure, it's a different energy and depending on mood it could drag you down but you can't expect the same thing every album. I read once that Josh Homme loves these guys and look how diverse his career is.

If you listen close you'll hear the progressive influences, especially in the bass. “Hawkshaw” in particular features a bass line walking along a trail blazed by Tool. It's pretty great. You could follow that with some comparisons to Anciients in how they incorporate prog elements while still nailing tone. When Truckfighters aren't laying back they've still got ample crunch. And those riffs! No matter how you feel about V you can't fault the plethora of riffs coming at you.

Tone, riffs and groove are what we've come to expect from the Swedes, but this time they fleshed the plan out giving it more substance, and a maturity that some people (not just YouTube trolls) apparently aren't ready for. I'll admit at times my attention wandered (more than usual) but then Truckfighters will come in with some bangin' riffs to bring me right back. You just have to be patient and remember, they can only make Gravity X once.

Asteroid – III

Asteroid is another band who have been around a while but have just made their way to my ears. And truth be told, sitting down to write this is perhaps the first time I've listened to III sober. It's a stoner rock album after all! Or heavy psych. Pick your descriptor. Either way if you haven't already separated yourself from reality, III might just do it for you.

Listening clear headed does nothing to harsh the mellow or bring you down from the inevitable high Asteroid provide. It's the same sort of feeling you get from older Witchcraft or (a long lost favourite) Mammoth Volume. Everything just unrolls in its own good time spreading grooves and a raw, vintage tone far and wide. Not that they can't amp it up a little but for the most part they're content to soothe rather than slam. But that rollicking riff on “Wolf & Snake” mated to the soulful solo? Hot damn! That's fire, man!

That's a good track to highlight the dynamics on III though. After that high energy passage it gets low and slow, burning with a dirty tone and doomy riff. Contrast the earthly and sub-earthly facets against the heavenly heights Asteroid can reach with delightful melody, spacey atmosphere and soaring vocals and you've got one killer stoner rock album that begs repeat listens.

III captures a retro sensibility as well. Other than production value (Which is aces in this case.) you could drop this into 1972 and no one would bat an eyelash. Ok, “Them Calling” might blow some minds. The low end tone of this is incredible which enhances the bluesy, Sabbathian riffs. It's a balanced heavy and the chorus feels empowering and would be particularly endearing to fans of The Sword (pre-High Country).

III gets better with every spin. It's addicting and oh, so smooth. It grooves at all the right times, rocks when it has to and trips with every smoked-out second that hazily rolls by. This was easily one of the best stoner albums of 2016. Break out the bell bottoms and get those Coven and Wicked Lady records on standby.

There you have it, the 2016 Fuzzorama Records releases all in one handy place! Rock on!