CD Reviews: Slough Feg, Astrosoniq, Mr. Death, Viking Skull, We Insist!, Varg and Nocturnal Depression

Slough Feg, The Animal Spirits (Profound Lore)
Sometimes you just wish the cards fell a little differently. If they had, maybe Slough Feg (or sometimes the Lord Weird Slough Feg) would be one of the biggest metal bands in the world.  Here’s a group that’s been together for 20 years and have now just released their eighth full length, everyone of them excellent. That’s right, not a stinker to be found in the Slough Feg catalog.

You can attribute their lack of mainstream recognition partly to the odd name, partly to the lyrical content which features mainly folk tales and fantasy themes and partly to the fact they are too good for radio to play.  They combine traditional metal with NWOBHM and some classic rock to bring a thoroughly rockin’ sound to everything they release.  The Animal Spirits is no different.

I don’t know if the group will ever make another album as good as 2000′s Down Among the Deadmen, but they keep trying and getting close.  The chug-a-lug rhythm of “Free Market Barbarian” is one of the finest moments on this disc as is the mid-tempo classic feeling “Lycanthropic Fantasies.”  And the absolute ferocity in the two minutes of opener “Trick the Vicar” gets you in the mood to headbang right from the start. The second half of the record is a little slower paced than previous releases and can drag a little at times but overall The Animal Spiritsis absolutely another disc from Slough Feg worth giving a listen or two.

(And tell me the cover to this record isn’t totally awesome and creepy as hell!)

Astrosoniq, Quadrant (Exile on Mainstream)
Boy, this one shocked the hell out of me.  This dutch band has been around for a decade now and Quadrantis their fourth full length but this is the first one I’ve ever heard.  The album starts out with a subtle keyboard intro before moving into stoner rock land.  After a nice stoner tune with a very distorted guitar (“Cloud of Decay”) this is where Astrosoniq flip shit on its ass.

Third track, “As Soon As They Got Airborne” is one of the best fourteen minutes I’ve sat through in a while. The piece starts and ends with some movie quotes with a space travel theme and in between you get varying styles.  For a while it feels like it’s going to be this spacey instrumental with a ’70s sounding riff and organ taking up the first five minutes. It’s around that mark that the rock guitars and vocals kick into full gear and I picture some astronaut playing air guitar while doing flips on the moon.  Near the 11-minute mark they repeat the title out over a super funky rhythm before ending with more movie clips in what becomes the easiest to digest mega-track in a while.

Bassist Erik de Vocht takes the vocal reins on “Lured” which has this funkadelic like keyboard throughout the piece which turns to a super fuzzed out guitar in the chorus.  Then there’s “Bloom” who’s basic rhythm is centered around a pedal steel(!) with a monstrous Queens of the Stone Age like chorus holding the song together.  And there’s a fucking head trip called “Zero” which is both Astrosoniq and a group called Zeus playing the song, one in the left channel and one in the right except for in the chorus when both versions are together in both channels. Listening through headphones is really kind of cool, remove one earbud and you get one version, remove the other and you get another.

Though definitely rooted in stoner metal, Quadrant is all over the map musically but there’s no point where one style feels out of place at all.  The next to last track (“Bored”) is kind of silly and the final one (“Sin”) is somewhat bland but if those two weren’t on the disc, it would be a contender for album of the year. Even with these two, it’s still mighty good.

Mr. Death, Death Suits You (Agonia)
Thankfully Mr. Death isn’t a smooth jazz group or that name would be kind of awkward now.  They are indeed a death metal band and by the name one would think they are the death metal band as I have never said “Mr. Entombed” or “Mr. Carcass” before.

Death Suits You is the follow up EP to their first album, Detached from Life.  Keeping the masses happy while they record their next record due in 2011, this is six tracks of death varying between brutal and slightly groove based.  Most Swedish death metallers have that buzzsaw sound to their guitar work and Mr. Death is no different though it’s not quite as prevalent as on most of their peers albums.  Death Suits You brings the hard hitting riffs and with the longest track just crossing the four minute mark they waste no time in pummeling you.  The growls are a perfect fit and each track has just enough variation from the previous one to keep it interesting. Frankly, I’m just glad this doesn’t suck because I’m in no mood to hear Mrs. Death nag me about it.

Viking Skull, Heavy Metal Thunder (Restricted Release)
This Sunday, Sunday, Sunday at Philadelphia Raceway Park…

Fantastic beer-chuggin’, alcohol-fueled, motor-biking rock ‘n’ motherfuckin’ roll is what Viking Skull make.  Heavy Metal Thunder brings together their first EP (Chapter One in ’03) and their first LP (Born In Hell in ’05) neither of which saw a US release, along with five extra tracks (most from their Blackened SunriseEP in ’07).  Since this is a compilation of previous work and he only appears on a handful of the later tracks, I won’t hold it against the band that CKY drummer Jess Margera is the drummer (he got the band back together after they broke up after all) and these guys are pretty fucking awesome anyway, so I really have no reason to.

With track titles like “Beers Drugs and Bitches,” “Rape Pillage and Burn,” “Skulls and Whiskey,” “Dirty Dirty Hole” and “Inject My Woman (with Love)” you know you’re going to have some fun but it’s even more fun to get shitfaced and crank Heavy Metal Thunder up really fucking loud.  This is southern-fried and virtually every song if a riff fest. If I had a beer bottle right now, I’d break it over your head and you wouldn’t even care. You’d just get back up and throw the horns high before throwing me into a table.  Goddamn, I need to grow my hair long and get a denim jacket with some patches on the sleeves.

We Insist!, The Babel Inside Was Terrible (Exile on Mainstream)
It’s not often that I like an album as much as this and yet struggle for the words to describe it. But it’s also not often that I encounter an album that is virtually impossible to pigeonhole into any one genre.  At a minimum I can hear metal, rock, noise rock, free form jazz, punk rock, math rock, pop, some crazy psychedelic shit and I’m sure “post” something-or-other over the course of the 11 eclectic tracks. We Insist! have been getting comparisons to a lot of groups but the only one I think gets even close is At the Drive-In who were rockin’ and very different in their own right.

Really, I just want to know how any group of musicians can get together and come up with this stuff?  I’ve never written a song and I don’t know the mindset, but it seems insane to me that a group of artists could sit down and write tunes this all over the place. Maybe they passed it down the line and everyone just added their own thing, frankly it’s the only way it makes any sense to me.

You know what though? The only real way for you to get a good feel for the record is to listen to it. It’s a good record and even if you don’t find it to be as such you’ll have to at least admit it’s pretty adventurous. If you’re going to venture into this pool I’d start with “Efficiency and Bad Habits,” the wild “In A Maze” and “Custom Device” to get a decent feel for it.  Check out the live performance below to hear “Efficiency” and you’ll understand it way better than the nothingness I just told you.

Varg, Blutaar (NoiseArt)
The word Varg is Swedish for “wolf” and with a menacing bite and thunderous howl so goes Blutaar.  Varg plays a pretty grimy version of pagan metal with the traditional sounds not completely out in the forefront and clearly the basis of all the tracks. In fact, the album fills my gut with black metal chaos over anything else.  But to me, this is genuinely exciting because there’s enough of the viking metal sound in each of the tracks to make the album extremely melodic while still packing a wallop. On the other hand, “Sieg oder Niedergang” brings both the black and viking metal aspects of the group right in your face with a breakdown comprised of an almost traditional heavy metal riff.  So Varg does end up varying the sound here and there to include more of one style over the other.

I wish the album was in English though as the vocals sound pretty killer. They’re produced well and not buried in the mix as I was expecting and despite the singer’s snarl, it’s exciting to be able to really hear what he’s saying. Now if I could get some kind of translation headphones, I’d be in heaven.  Blutaar is a thoroughly entertaining album that should have you both headbanging and ready to destroy someone.  What more could you ask for?

Nocturnal Depression, The Cult of Negation (Avantgarde)
Nocturnal Depression has been around for five or six years now releasing some of the most depressing black metal you will ever hear.  They roam in the small dark back corner of the genre within the “suicidal black metal” niche.

So first of all, I completely understand if you’ve never heard of these guys.  Dark, poorly produced black metal about killing yourself understandably isn’t for everyone.  I’m sure previous records like Soundtrack for a Suicide and Reflections of a Sad Soul scare a lot of people off. But if you’re into black metal in the first place it’s expected that the lyrical content is going to be bleak, just maybe not to this extreme.

The Cult of Negation is Nocturnal Depression’s fourth record and easily their best. The most listenable thanks to the somewhat decent production values and actual song structure, track names like “We’re All Better Off Dead” and “Credo Negativo”  tell you right up front they haven’t lightened up at all.  Take a read of the lyrics from “They” for an example;

“They decrease us all the time until we reach the state of shit / And every word molest our faces into wounds / We take all verbal injuries and keep them inside / The inner rottenness feed the ulcer, bleeding fear.”

Or ones from the aforementioned “We’re All Better Off Dead”;

“We are nothing than empty wrecks / sinking down and reaching the depths into an ocean of despair / We are worthless lives led by our sufferings / Think about our existence: We are all better off dead.”

For the sake of the impact of the record, I’m going to believe that these guys really mean what they say, although if they did, I’d have to think they’d be dead by now. And if they really do, man it must be tough to just hang with these dudes and chill. But either way, the album is a pretty masterful picture of the dark, scary world of depression.  Just don’t expect to walk away from this feeling all sunshine and roses.