Category Archives: Metal

JK Flesh: Posthuman

JK Flesh: Posthuman
3by3 (2012)

When people start talking about adding guitars to electronic beats my eyes glaze over while I ponder the likes of Korn, Linkin Park and Marilyn Manson. However, on Posthuman JK Flesh (another alias of Godflesh/Jesu perpetrator Justin. K. Broderick) does a fine job of blending the darker realms of dance music with doom infused metal. Posthuman reminds me of my University years at the end of the nineties, when I spent every other weekend at a Drum n’ Bass party somewhere. In those days Drum n’ Bass was a dark beast far removed from the high-NRG, synthesised squall of today’s radio friendly acts like Pendulum. Back then the sound was menacing and evil, the beats were intricate and Dub’s ambience was a significant influence.

Posthuman flirts with Breaks, Drum n’ Bass and Burial-style Dubstep but the overall vibe isn’t up-tempo enough for the dance floor. Likewise metal traditionalists will also find themselves disappointed The tracks are structured like ‘dance’ numbers – intro, beat drop, break, beat drop, outro – but the atmosphere is of Doom and noise. Broderick rightly keeps the ‘riffs’ to a minimum. Instead he drags blackened clouds of feedback and discord out of his guitars, painting a suffocating atmosphere. This isn’t a pleasant listen, especially the handful of songs that feature his heavily processed vocals, which stab like jagged noise shrapnel.

When I picked up this album from Polyester Records (the Flinders Lane store has so much more variety than the original store) the Weirdo noise/Black Metal guy who works there said, “this is awesome, but it’s a little bit 1990’s”. He’s right, but that’s probably what appeals to me. Posthuman should probably feel claustrophobic and menacing but instead it fills me with a sense of nostalgia. It’s a head-on collision between my metal-headed tweens and hedonistic twenties.

New Release: KEN Mode – Venerable

KEN Mode: Venerable
Profound Lore (2011)

I havent been this blown away by a metal record since Pig Destroyer’s Phantom Limb back in 2007. So thank god that Brandon Stousy’s ‘Haunting the Chapel’ column over at Stereogum put me onto KEN Mode. Stousy used to write Pitchfork’s ‘Show no Mercy’ column back when that site actually covered an interesting range of music……

Anyway, KEN Mode are a trio from Winnipeg, Canada making a sludgy, hardcore infused guitar racket that tips its hat to various facets of metal without succumbing to the genre’s hysterics and cock posturing. They merge the extreme punk of Slayer’s Reign in Blood and the groove oriented chug of The Melvins’ heaviest moments with the frothy twang of DIY acts like Big Black and Fugazi. KEN Mode surge from deep riffage to high end guitar jangle in the blink of an eye, everything hooked on a dirty, distorted bass that’s so detuned you can hear its strings slapping about. Vocalist Jesse Matthewson has a diverse voice that thankfully avoids any of the metal norms –  a distorted growl on Book of Muscle; a flippant yelp on Wicked Pike; a Henry Rollins circa Black Flag on Ugliest Happy you’ve Ever Seen.

Wikipedia describes them as everything from sludge metal to post-hardcore to noise rock, and while Wikipedia isn’t the most reliable of sources there’s certainly some truth in that combination (whatever post-hardcore is). Venerable is a deathrace through backwoods swamps where hillbillies play banjos on dusty porches. It’s a shit load of fun and demonstrates that there’s plenty of life, intelligence and experimentation left in heavy guitar music yet.

Digging: Heirs – Fowl

Heirs: Fowl
Denovali Records (2010)

Here’s one of those records that I find myself wanting to dislike yet continue to push play in an attempt to figure out why. Perhaps it’s the production, which is a little too polished for its blackened, ominous tone. Maybe the problem is that I often feel like instrumental rock has only one trick up its sleeve – loud/soft dynamics. More likely it’s tracks two and three (Burrow and Tyrant respectively) that bug me. Both owe a debt to Mogwai the size of Ireland and Greece’s financial crises combined, and could easily slip into any Mogwai album since Happy Songs for Happy People.

In an effort to understand my conundrum I listened to Pelican’s Australis today. The whole post-metal thing is a genre I haven’t been able to fully appreciate yet (does anyone else think that Neurosis are a bloated mess?) and I was thinking that Fowl might bear some of the genre’s trademarks. But Heirs don’t have any of the bombastic riffery found in the post-metal world. When the distortion pedals are stamped on, their guitars billow into a cloudy murk much more akin to Grey Daturas. This is especially the case on the record’s closer Drain, starting with a ringing guitar drone that builds and builds into a frantic Animal-from-the-Muppets style drum explosion beaten out in a time signature twice as fast as the blackened and buzzing guitars. Drain forgoes catharsis by fading into silence instead of reaching any foregone conclusions and for that it’s a fucking riot of a ride.

Heirs play a similar game on Dust, where five minutes of slinky bass and restrained drumming unfolds into a dizzying array of guitar melodies and then deconstructs itself back into silence. Men offers up bubbling electronics and tribal rhythms that eventually merge into the shifting sands of Daydream Nation era Sonic Youth. It’s these more precarious tracks that keep me coming back.

I like the doomy, charred ambience of Fowl, which reminds me of Grails minus the dusty psychedelia. And something has to be said about the cover art, which is completely at odds with the heavy sludge made by the band. Cruising the interwebs I found plenty of people ripping into Heirs for the artwork on the album, but the art school kid in me actually applauds them for not succumbing to the stoner, skull n bones image that so many of these bands parade.

Coming back to my opening point, I guess it’s Heirs’ unwillingness to identify themselves with any particular scene and its signifiers that makes Fowl an intriguing listen. I mean, one of their guitarists looks like he’s stepped out from a Tom of Finland drawing for chrissake. I don’t have a problem with their mysteriousness, lets just hope they don’t cross the border into contrived.

New Release: Slayer

Slayer: World Painted Blood
American Recordings (2009)

‘Heavy Metal’ was my introduction to the world of music. I must have listened to Slayer’s genre defining trilogy of albums – Reign in Blood, South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss – thousands of times. In fact I still listen to Reign in Blood pretty regularly; that record has more in common with modern Noise and experimental rock than you might be willing to admit. But, I digress.

I haven’t bought, or heard a new Slayer album in years, certainly not since Seasons in the Abyss. But the amount of talk about World Painted Blood, and the return of Rick Rubin on production duties, had me intrigued.

Songs about serial killers: check. Tracks that devalue religion: check. Manic guitar solos: check. Dave Lombardo’s fucking awesome drum skills: check. Everything that you want and have come to expect from a Slayer album is here, and it’s enjoyable in a lot of ways, but the overall effect falls just shy of what they’ve achieved in the past. They guys are in the grips of middle age now, juggling families with demonic possession and head banging. It’s not fair to begrudge the fact that they might not be as driven by fury as they once were. Still, World Painted Blood lacks the oomph of its predecessors. Tom Araya’s vocals sound forced instead of menacing and lyrically Slayer aren’t as in-your-face as they used to be either.

Beyond that, Rubin’s production has rinsed out the grittiness of their early records. The guitars don’t buzz the way they should. The drums aren’t strong enough. On a few occasions Araya turns to spoken word, in a voice that calls to mind Nu-Metal. Likewise the Drop-D tuning on Not of this God could almost be a Slipknot riff. The beauty of Slayer has always been their punkish, anarchic roots but the polished sound of World Painted Blood defies this.

Even so, is the album any fun to listen to? Hell yes. It makes me want to don black denim, Reebok pumps, flannel, grow my hair, crush beer cans with my teeth and play air guitar. Sure, it lacks the character and vitality displayed by the band during the peak of their career, but nor can you expect a band that’s been around for 25 years to keep pumping out classic records. And I tell you, there’s far worse Metal out there than what’s on World Painted Blood. Just ask I Killed the Prom Queen and their brethren.