Posts Tagged ‘ Thrash Metal ’

Interview: Rockabul


When you think your band is going through difficult times, wait until you see the story of the Afghan metal band District Unknown. Their story, as chronicled in the documentary ‘Rockabul‘ by the Australian film maker Travis Beard, is simultaneously one of a band trying to find its sound and simply one of young people trying to survive and find their place in a politically unstable country. Prior to its screening at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, I was given the opportunity to sit down with Beard and talk about his involvement with this special project.

Beard’s involvement with District Unknown and the Afghan music scene is not just one of casual interest. He lived in Afghanistan from 2006 until 2014 and with his band White City, he was at the heart of what became known as the expat party scene. “In 2002, the Americans came in, the Taliban fled and there was relative peace until about 2006 or 2007“, Beard explains. “We refer to it as ‘the golden time’. It was a time when Kabul was safe, you could move around pretty easily and that is why the expat party scene flourished. After that, I guess things sort of started to decline, but it wasn’t until 2011, when the Americans and the NATO forces announced that they were handing over the keys to the city, that it got worse and worse every year. They gave the security back to the Afghan forces, which is the police and the military. That means they were manning the checkpoints. Because Afghanistan is full of corruption and because it’s a very troubled country, those checkpoints didn’t work and attacks escalated. I constantly keep an eye on the news and it’s just going from bad to worse, which is really sad.
There’s this kind of catch-22: you don’t want to have this occupying force, but at the same time, once they leave, the country goes into a bigger mess. This country’s been a crossroad for a lot of conquerors and people moving their empires through and therefore, it’s been troubled for a long time. It’s not just something the Americans caused or the Russians before them. It’s just been a troubled part of the world because of where it’s positioned. Unfortunately, Afghans have bore the brunt of that for thousands of years.
What drew you to Afghanistan in the first place?
We refer to it as the Afghan bug. It’s an itch you get from experiencing the country. A lot of people fall in love with it. I fell in love with it. And some people end up staying there for many years. I guess that’s what happened to me. I was exposed to it, I fell in love with it and then I just couldn’t get out of there until the shit really hit the fan and I had to leave.

Growth trajectory

Despite being featured in the film himself, the real protagonists of ‘Rockabul’ are District Unknown. In essence, their story is not much different than that of other bands. As the viewer, you can see them evolving from an enthusiastic, but also directionless group of youngsters to a group of guys that work on their dreams together. The discerning factor is, of course, their location, which creates a lot of difficulties that western bands never get to experience. “I had a studio where you could practice music. There weren’t many places to do that“, says Beard. “They walked into my studio and I just pressed record and I got that first day. And the second day, and the third day and so on. The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t a film maker. I was a photographer. So there was a dual kind of evolution or growth trajectory between us. They were learning how to make music and be a band. And I was learning how to make films. And we grew together. Almost at the same pace. You see us grow as a collaborative team and it all comes together when they go to India. That is kind of their pinnacle regarding their performance. And they really peaked.
They weren’t the most popular band in Afghanistan, but they were the most dynamic. When you saw them perform on stage, the other musicians thought: these guys aren’t that good, but the crowd is going mental! That was the energy. it was all about the energy. You don’t have to be the best musicians around, but if you give off enough energy, the audience will respond. And it worked for them. It was a great path to follow. I was very lucky that they walked into my house and that they allowed me the access they did.

A key scene in your registration of the concert in India was the friction between frontman Youssef and his predecessor Lemar about the representation of Afghanistan. Was there ever any disagreement between you and the band about that scene?
We had contracts signed with every member. I wouldn’t have gotten that access if they hadn’t allowed it in the first place. And when we got to the India situation, it would have been so easy to cut that as in: they finish the gig, the crowd’s screaming and we cut to a plane flight or them in bed and that’s the end of it. But there was something else. There was the tension of the two frontmen being on stage together for the first time. Lemar was the man who ran that band. He was very vocal and very passionate about his country, whereas Youssef is the classic kind of frontman who just wants to rock out. He wanted to have a good time and he wasn’t interested in politics. And they butted heads. That was an interesting thing to watch from a filmmaker’s perspective. I wanted to show the reality of what happened after the concert, because there was a lot of expectation at that concert and things boiled over. It’s not always sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Especially if you’re a band from a country like Afghanistan. It’s good to show that and not just have a clean cut of all the highs and not show the lows.
You have filmed the band and the scene for seven years. How do you decide what makes the cut?
There were members that didn’t make the cut, there were other recordings that didn’t make the cut, there’s another half a dozen concerts that didn’t make the cut, there was the in-band fighting about really silly stuff… It’s just not that interesting. Every band fights. we know that. It was more about the cultural exchange and the cultural challenge for them in the country. It’s hard to squeeze that into ninety minutes. There was talk at one point of doing a mini-series, which I kind of laughed at, but we definitely had enough content for that. It’s just one of those things, you’ve got ninety minutes, you make do with what you’ve got. And I hope that we’ve got as much of the story across in that.
Yesterday we had a press screening and Youssef was present. That was the first time anyone in the band was seeing the film. And I watched him more than I watched the film itself. He just had a smile on his face. He said he relived all those memories and saw the truth in what happened. That’s all I ever wanted. I wanted to try and relate the fact as close as possible. Obviously you’ve got a narrative and an audience that you want to entertain. You don’t want to lose them. But at the same time, the five most important audience members I have is the band. And after that, the second most important audience I have is the Afghan and expat community that were there along with the band. Before I even go to an international audience, that’s what I sort of had to tick off, to verify that this film is what it represents.

Intervention

With all of the political and religious tensions in the area, were some of the ideas you proposed to the band too reckless?
There is a fine line between brave and reckless. And I think the only way to succeed in such an environment is to serve that fine line. And I served it, whether it be with festivals or taking the show on the road. Or having musicians in my house every day, because I lived in a residential area. I didn’t lived in a compound protected by security and the normal kind of precautions that the western community did. I lived like Afghans did. With the Afghans. So that frequency in my house was also a risk, because it doesn’t take long for the neighbors to know what’s going on. The neighborhood talked. We got kicked out of houses, because we were playing music. And there were situations where Afghans would be pulled aside and they’d be questioned: what’s with the foreigner you work with?
So when you’re putting on concerts and doing these events outside of the so-called safety zone, or ‘the bubble’ as we referred to it in Kabul, you have to push that envelope. Otherwise you don’t get result. I always asked the boys: do you want to do this? Do you want to go on these adventures and so-called wacky ideas that the westerner is coming up with? They were never forced. Sometimes they’d say yes and other times some obviously said no. There’s a lot I didn’t put in, because a certain person didn’t want to be shown or it was just too much.
For me, the biggest issue or the biggest concern I ever had was a fatality at one of my events. At least I can say that didn’t happen, but I saw it happen after I left at the venue I worked at for many years. We didn’t want something like that to happen and ruin the whole legacy. There would be someone saying: oh yeah, that’s the guy who ran all those festivals and got twenty kids killed. We did it to create a platform for them to be able to express themselves with no limits. With no rules. They could just say what they want on stage. It was a peaceful project and I hope that’s how it will be remembered.

How do you maintain a certain degree of neutrality if you’re so close to the subject?
Politically, I’m very much outside the system in my lifestyle. I’m quite left of center, but because Afghanistan is such a complex situation, I was really adamant and quite focused on not giving my opinion on the situation. I’m an outside observer in a very complex situation with many players. And I wanted the Afghans to speak about their views and perspectives on the situation. Because it’s their country. Some of the band members weren’t interested in politics – particularly Pedram, the drummer – whereas other members were. You kind of just have to let it come out organically and therefore hope that the audience takes enough parts of information from the film to make their own assessment.
We know that the Americans intervened, but the fact of the matter is: their intervention had vertain influences on the country. Culturally, politically and economically. District Unknown would not have existed without that intervention. They would have been into metal, but they would never have had a platform. And that’s why the Americans sponsoring our concert was very important to highlight in the film. We took that money from the Americans. It was not a comfortable deal, but I knew what I was doing. At the same time, without those funds from the Americans and, in later years, other western embassies, we would never have had that platform. We analyzed this in the narration. I talked about myself being part of the war machine. And we kind of just pulled it back. If you represent the Obama perspective, the embassy perspective and the Afghan perspective, I think the audience is intelligent enough to come to their own conclusions.
Regarding to neutrality with the band: that’s impossible. As soon as you walk in with a camera, everything changes. That’s quintessential documentary making 101. There was no way around it. But the good thing is: because I was a musician and because I was running the scene with a couple of other collaborators, I was always kind of there. Because of that, it wasn’t as different as it could have been. I think that’s where I got a lot of the visceral and fly on the wall moments in the film from, because I was there every day and they were in my house every day. And so you get shit after a while, just because it’s there. It’s right in front of you.

The right film

The subject matter of the film draws comparisons to Viceland’s 2007 documentary ‘Heavy Metal In Baghdad’ about the Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda. Did that film influence you at all?
Absolutely! I saw that film when it came out and I’m not going to beat around the bush: I’m not a fan of Vice. I never was a fan of Vice. It was their first feature film, it got them their street cred, but it was a piece of shit. I mean… They’re clearly extreme tourists and that’s it. We lived in Afghanistan. We didn’t just nourish the scene, we were the scene. And when I saw the film, I was already mentoring District Unknown and I thought: I want to make the other film. The right film. The film which is what Vice kind of just flirted with and then turned into the typical mass news media sensation.
The funny thing is: it comes up in a lot of conversations. I’m not afraid to talk about it, because I believe our film is a lot stronger than that. And in a sense it did inspire me: it inspired me to make a better film. Or at least a truer representation.

How important was it to represent the expat scene in the film?
That was an important factor, because without the expat scene, you would never have had the music scene flourish. Because that was the safe zone where they could do it. And we slipped those Afghans in under the radar, to be become a part of that scene. And eventually, the Afghans wanted to perform to their own audience. And you see through the film the evolution of the scene and the fact that we have Afghans playing to Afghan audiences. That was obviously our ultimate goal. You want to be influencing your peers, not just a bunch of westerners that are ultimately going to leave the country. It was integral to show that part. As much as it was excessive. And a lot of the expat party scene is quite wrong in an ethical or moral sense when you’re an Islamic republic like Afghanistan. But that was the truth. That’s what they were doing every day or every weekend. So I tried to give a taste of the expat scene without going overboard, because the film is really about the Afghans rather than the expats.

Advertisements

Album of the Week 14-2018: Skyclad – A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol


Before folk metal became synonymous with heavy drinking songs – that being either heavy songs for drinking or songs for heavy drinking – Skyclad managed to blend folk and heavy metal in an intelligent and reasonably complex manner. For the British band, the folk influences were there to enhance the engaging riff work instead of the other way around and in Martin Walkyier, they had the best lyricist in metal. Each of the first five albums is great, but while others may point towards ‘Prince Of The Poverty Line’, ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ is the one I return to most.

With ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ being Skyclad’s second album, it was still very much rooted in the NWOBHM and thrash metal history that Walkyier, guitarist Steve Ramsey and bassist Graeme English had in bands like Sabbat and Satan. However, the addition of violinist and keyboard player Fritha Jenkins to the line-up meant that the folk elements were promoted from novelty to a full part of the arrangements in a spectacular manner. In fact, songs like ‘Karmageddon (The Suffering Silence)’ and ‘Salt On The Earth (One Man’s Poison)’ have some incredible harmonies for the violin and two guitars.

Despite arguably being the first band in the genre, Skyclad’s early work may have some trouble being considered folk metal by current fans of the genre, save for ‘Spinning Jenny’. Then what is it? It’s not quite thrash metal, though the intensity and the tempos are there and while it’s considerably more complex than classic heavy metal, calling this progressive metal would be a step too far. Still, how ‘A Broken Promised Land’ moves from intense riffing to a tranquil middle section and back is very likely to please fans of all aforementioned genres rather than alienating all of them.

In later years, the atmosphere on Skyclad’s songs would frequently move into bitter irony. Here, most of the material is still quie angry and aggressive, really bringing out the best in Walkyier’s diction. His gruff bile spitting can hardly be accused of possessing a wide range, but it does give the already impressive riff work on songs like the atmospheric ‘Men Of Straw’ and the incredible ‘R’vannith’ a little extra push. ‘The Declaration Of Indifference’ is the biggest masterpiece here, as everything simply works: Walkyier’s word play, Ramsey’s pulsating riffs and an incredible climactic build-up towards its spectacular chorus.

Creating a whole new subgenre isn’t something every band can claim doing, but I doubt if that was ever Skyclad’s intention. ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ never sounds like a band trying to be clever, instead just focusing on making the best album possible. My only minor quibble with the album is that it closes with ‘Alone In Death’s Shadow’. This dark, doomy ballad is quite good, but doesn’t work as a climax. ‘R’vannith’ would have been my pick. Apart from that, there hardly is anything to complain about here, unless you passionately disagree with Walkyier’s fairly left-wing views. But even then, there’s too much excellent music to let this go by unnoticed.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Declaration Of Indifference’, ‘A Broken Promised Land’, ‘R’vannith’

Renewed Noise: Voivod


When BMG Rights Entertainment secured the rights to the legendary German heavy metal label Noise Records, it was celebrated by a bunch of entertaining compilations. “Amazing” would be one step too far, because they contained nothing new for those who followed the label during their glory days – roughly from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties – but good enough to remind us why it was such a good thing that they put bands like Skyclad, Running Wild and Kreator in the market. A compilation of Canada’s immensely creative Voivod made came later, which is now followed by full reissues of their three Noise releases.

Contrary to the compilation albums, the reissues of ‘Rrröööaaarrr’ (I’m not making this up), ‘Killing Technology’ and ‘Dimension Hatröss’ do contain a wealth of bonus material that was previously either not or very limitedly available. All three releases consist of 2 cd’s and one dvd. This often means that the band or label has cleaned the vaults and just threw every poor quality recording they could find on there. While that is true for a majority of the video footage on the dvd’s, the bonus cd’s all feature soundboard recorded concerts with a surprisingly good sound quality.

Most of these live tracks are from demos and fan club releases that the band has released throughout the years and that might explain why they sound so good. Sure, they’re a little rough around the edges – the ‘No Speed Limit Week-End’ live show that comes with ‘Rrröööaarrr’ is almost too raw – but they’re release-worthy. In fact, the live cd that comes with ‘Dimension Hatröss’ – entitled ‘A Flawed Structure?’ – is more or less on par with the official 2011 live album ‘Warriors Of Ice’. Not only is every instrument loud and clear; the mix is quite balanced, though it does favor the late Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour’s guitars. But then again: who doesn’t?

So should you be getting these re-releases? I would say that ‘Dimension Hatröss’ is indispensable. Though my favorite is still ‘Nothingface’, ‘Dimension Hatröss’ is the essential Voivod album. It’s where they first stretched their sound well beyond the boundaries of thrash metal, creating a progressive sci-fi metal sound that made them a truly unique band. And the bonus live recordings are a very worthy addition to any metal collection. The live footage on the bonus dvd isn’t as good, but at least the entire album is on it in demo form, as well as some of drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin’s cool artworks.

As for the other two: ‘Killing Technology’ is a brilliant progressive thrash record and its bonus live cd ‘Spectrum ’87’ is raw, but very listenable. By all means, get it if it’s not in your collection already, because it’s one of the best thrash albums of its time. That leaves ‘Rrröööarrr’. A record I have to be in the mood for, as it’s basically all fast, all loud, all heavy, all the damn time. It’s good that the album is easily available again, but don’t let it be your introduction to Voivod. If it is, you may not understand what all the praise is really about.

These reissues all come with fairly extensive booklets with essays by UK music journalist Malcolm Dome, decorated with quotes from interviews with all four original members. And while it is a bit awkward to see D’Amour quoted as if he is still alive – he died in 2005 – the booklets do offer a bit of interesting information about the recordings of the albums and the circumstances Voivod found itself in during those years. The band is allegedly planning to record its fourteenth album later this year and if it will be anywhere near as good as their last two releases, that is really good news. Until then, this is a very pleasant way to rediscover the sonic evolution they went through in the mid to late eighties.

Album of the Week 15-2017: God Forbid – Earthsblood


God Forbid’s last album with their original line-up – and penultimate altogether – was the record on which they truly outdid themselves. In quite a litteral sense too. Starting out as a musically tight, but not particularly surprising metalcore band, the quintet gradually evolved into an excellent contemporary heavy metal band on ‘IV: Constitution Of Treason’. It’s that album’s follow-up, however, that is a truly unique work. Though most of the separate elements are familiar – hardcore, melodic death metal, thrash metal and progressive metal most prominently – the combination is what makes this a one of the very few modern day metal masterpieces.

So what to call the music on this album then? Well, it’s definitely modern metal in the sense that it contains downtuned guitars, significant hardcore influences and the vocal interaction between frontman Byron Davis’ harsh shouts and guitarist Dallas Coyle’s melodic cleans. ‘Earthsblood’, however, is more ambitious than what even some of God Forbid’s better peers – such as Shadows Fall – were attempting. The band’s mission here seems to be to seamlessly blend all of their influences and while history has proven that approach to often be a recipe for an incoherent disaster, it miraculously works for almost the entire playing time of the album.

Nowhere is the band’s ambition more obvious than during the more progressive moments. ‘The New Clear’, for instance, sounds like nothing God Forbid has ever done before, with its subdued vibe somewhat reminiscent of Opeth and ‘Elegy’ era Amorphis. Closing tracks ‘Earthsblood’ and ‘Gaia’ – the two longest tracks on the record – are more traditionally proggy in their dynamics, alternating between God Forbid’s trademark thick, heavy riffs and more atmospheric passages. Standout moments are the acoustic guitar sections on the former and Dallas Coyle’s mood-defining one-note vocal harmonies with himself on the latter. A final punch delivered in style.

But even the band’s more familiar heavy approach sounds great here. ‘War Of Attrition’ is probably the most typical God Forbid song on here, but more impressive are the surprisingly melodic ‘Walk Alone’ – a 21st century interpretation of traditional heavy metal – the viciously thrashy ‘Shallow’ and the strong, dark opener ‘The Rain’, which has a brilliant build-up in tension. ‘Empire Of The Gun’ has some nice dramatic twin guitar work and an incredible chorus built upon Dallas Coyle’s clean vocals as a perfect juxtaposition to the heavily stomping riffs and Davis’ hardcore barks in the verses. It could have been a successful single on alternative radio.

Ultimately, God Forbid started to fall apart after ‘Earthsblood’. Dallas Coyle left the band, that released one more somewhat underwhelming record and disbanded shortly afterward. Maybe the frustration of not being able to outdo this record may have been a part of that, but whatever the reason, some bands don’t even get to make an album this good. I feel that God Forbid is often dismissed by older metal fans as one of those bands that profited from the hype created by the likes of Lamb Of God and Killswitch Engage, but the truth is that none of those bands ever cared so little about what type of music they were supposed to make and ended up with an album as spontaneous and pleasantly surprising as ‘Earthsblood’.

Recommended tracks: ‘The New Clear’, ‘Gaia’, ‘Empire Of The Gun’

Album of the Week 11-2017: OverKill – W.F.O.


Like many of their peers, OverKill faded to the background a little when the nineties reared their heads. Unlike their peers, however, OverKill continued to make quality records. A complaint often heard is that the band focused too much on groove following their classic ‘Horrorscope’ album. And while the next record ‘I Hear Black’ did in deed have a lot of Black Sabbath-inspired grooves, its follow-up ‘W.F.O.’ is one pissed-off record which merges an almost punkish aggression and some of the most varied songwriting in the band’s history. Looking back, only its 1994 release date keeps it from being considered a classic.

‘W.F.O.’ is basically OverKill turned up to eleven. Their trademark punky thrash attitude is amplified by an abrasive production job – harsh guitars, a prominently rumbling bass – that may be somewhat off-putting in the beginning, but turns out to have its charms as well. The riff work oozes with anger and energy and appear to attempt breaking free from the confines of your speakers, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for nuance on this record. In fact, its versatility is rivaled only by the seminal records ‘Horrorscope’ and ‘The Years Of Decay’. And maybe, just maybe, ‘Killbox 13’.

The album bulldozes into gear with the adrenalin monster ‘Where It Hurts’, which is one of my favorite OverKill openers to this day. There’s very little subtlety in the song, but enough to hear the fantastic interaction between the guitars and the rhythm section, which don’t necessarily blindly follow each other. This level of aggression is retained for thrash monsters like ‘They Eat Their Young’ or more punk influenced material like ‘Fast Junkie’ and ‘Supersonic Hate’. ‘Under One’ already signals in the more modern influences that OverKill would flirt with on their following records, but not without the trusted OverKill approach.

Surprisingly, the album does get a lot more melodic at times. ‘R.I.P. (Undone)’, an acoustic instrumental dedicated to the memory of Savatage’s Criss Oliva, is quite unique in that respect, featuring Rob Cannavino on the acoustic guitar and Merritt Gant soloing his heart out on top of that. ‘Bastard Nation’ feels like a disillusioned – and better – nineties equivalent to ‘In Union We Stand’ and ‘The Wait – New High In Lows’ combines the two extremes. The best is saved for last; ‘Gasoline Dream’ is a dark, brooding monster of a track with a climactic finale that remains one of the band’s best songs to this day.

Even though they are rare, strong thrash records have been released deep into the nineties and ‘W.F.O.’ is definitely one of them. Ironically, the prominent feel on the album is a disillusionment similar to the one expressed on many of the grunge records that were big at the time, OverKill just chooses to express it with pure, uncut anger rather than a feeling of despair. The result is an album that is OverKill through and through; its streetwise aggression is part of what makes the band – and this album in particular – so unique. Highly recommended those who need their blood to rush again.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gasoline Dream’, ‘Bastard Nation’, ‘Where It Hurts’

Album of the Week 06-2017: OverKill – The Grinding Wheel


As legendary as earlier OverKill albums like ‘Horrorscope’, ‘The Years Of Decay’ and debut album ‘Feel The Fire’ have become, it’s a fact that even in the 21st century, New Jersey’s finest has released some quality material. That’s why a new OverKill album is always something to look forward to. In fact, recent albums like ‘White Devil Armory’ and especially 2010’s incredible ‘Ironbound’ have increased the thrashing intensity, which in combination with their punkish vigor and relentless grooves account for excellent contemporary thrash metal. And while ‘The Grinding Wheel’ doesn’t quite reach that level, it’s another worthy addition to the band’s discography.

Initially, I was a bit underwhelmed by the first tracks that surfaced. While I really like the chorus of first single ‘Our Finest Hour’, the verse riff was lifted note for note from the superior ‘Electric Rattlesnake’ and opening track ‘Mean, Green, Killing Machine’ had an interesting middle section with Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s cleanest vocal performance in years – something he repeats in a few other tunes on the album – but also felt a bit like OverKill going through the motions. While neither are among my favorites, they admittedly make a little more sense within the context of the album.

Especially the second half of the record contains a few gems. ‘Red White And Blue’ for instance, a ripping, hardcore-infused thrasher in the same vein as ‘Pig’ on the previous record. The closing title track is an epic work of art comparable in style and atmosphere to ‘In The Name’ and the classic ‘Gasoline Dream’. That gothic doom-like outro is unlike anything OverKill has ever done before. ‘The Wheel’ is another masterpiece; it goes through several distinct movements – with especially that brooding verse riff being beyond amazing – without ever feeling disjointed. Three tracks that end the album on a great note.

But there’s more. ‘The Long Road’ is classic OverKill meets Iron Maiden’s triumphant twin guitar melodies with Dave Linsk – who truly outdoes himself on the entire record – soloing wildly over it. The groovy ‘Come Heavy’ shows the band’s Black Sabbath influences even more obviously than their tendency to switch to something completely different halfway through the songs. Out of the songs with more subdued tempos, ‘Shine On’ takes the cake. Partially because the thrashiness of the riff contrasts wonderfully with the relatively laid-back rhythm. ‘Let’s All Go To Hades’ is the most punky song of the bunch and while I generally prefer the band’s more metal material, the dual lead vocal harmony is excellent.

Some bands are just impossible to slow down. OverKill is one of them. Where many bands that started around the same time – they’ve been around since 1980 – exist solely on nostalgia, OverKill still manages to push themselves to some spirited performances and a few excellent tracks. And even more amazing is the fact that Ellsworth’s voice never manages to lose any of its vicious power. While ‘The Grinding Wheel’ isn’t the latter day masterpiece that ‘Killbox 13’ or ‘Ironbound’ was, it grew on me after a few spins, by which point it was impossible to sit still. Especially to that triple threat at the end of the record.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Grinding Wheel’, ‘Red White And Blue’, ‘The Wheel’

Album of the Week 45-2016: Gargoyle – Furebumi


If you think Japanese music is weird, this album – or this band, for that matter – isn’t going to change your mind. When I discovered it, however, it provided me with something that I had been looking for a long time: the guitar riffs and intensity of thrash metal combined with a complete lack of inhibitions regarding experimenting with other styles. While the basis is always thrash metal with – more prominently in recent years – power metal melodicism, there’s hints of funk, J-rock, a sometimes punky attitude, Japanese folk influences and a singer who, despite sounding like a rabid dog, always delivers something memorable.

‘Furebumi’ is Gargoyle’s first masterpiece. While ‘Misogi’ was a better debut than many bands can even dream of today, their sophomore record upped the ante in many ways. First and foremost, this is where Katsuji becomes one of Japan’s best drummers. From the vicious blasting in ‘Dilemma’ to the snare rolling madness of ‘Execute’, there was absolutely no better drummer for fast paced music in Japan. His double bass patterns also show massive improvement. Besides that, Gargoyle’s first truly progressive tendencies can be heard on this record. And it’s worth noting that they are ridiculously good for a first attempt.

Opening track ‘Ruika ~Prologue~ / Ounou No Goku’ convinced me of Gargoyle’s greatness right away. The prologue itself morphs from a Japanese folk composition – something also apparent in the downright brilliant outro ‘Ruika ~Epilogue~’ quite logically – into a high intensity thrash metal song with amazing twin guitar melodies. And that’s only the beginning. ‘Halleluyah’, ‘Algolagnia’, ‘Dilemma’, closer ‘Shoumetsu’ and the one minute scorcher ‘Execute’ are all set to destroy everything that dares to stand in their way. The contrast between She-ja’s crushing riffs and his melodically strong lead guitar work gives these songs a longer lasting value than many other thrash songs from the era, as does Toshi’s creative bass work.

But Gargoyle doesn’t just thrash. Initially, I found the upbeat punk metal of ‘Tokimeki’ an odd choice as the second track of the record, but its high tempo and memorable songwriting quickly made it one of my favorites. And then there’s the slow, atmospheric “doom prog” of ‘Ruten No Yo Nite’. The high-pitched female vocals may throw some people off, but it’s a brilliantly constructed song full of interesting riffs and even a violin solo that became the mould that would shape practically every longer Gargoyle track in the future. ‘Naidzukushi’ is a funk rocker and while there aren’t any ballads this time around, the dreamy atmosphere among the heavier riffs of ‘Tell Me True’ provide a more than decent alternative.

While ‘Misogi’ was very promising, ‘Furebumi’ paved the way for a string of classic albums. It’s where all the potential that Gargoyle had was fully realized for the first time and save for a minor dip around the turn of the century, they have somehow managed to maintain their interesting take on thrash metal for almost three decades now. If you are curious about what this weird, but indescribably awesome band is about, ‘Furebumi’ may not be the worst place to start. ‘Tenron’ may be broader in scope and ‘Tsuki No Toge’ may be just a tad more consistent, but it is most certainly a monumental record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ruika ~Prologue~ / Ounou No Goku’, ‘Ruten No Yo Nite’, ‘Tokimeki’

Advertisements