May In Metal, Part II: Havok, Furze and the Diablo Swing Orchestra
To me, Havok is the finest thrash band in existance right now so anything that makes its way to my ears is expected to be fantastic. Time Is Up was my favorite record of 2011 and these guys have been touring behind that record for what feels like forever at this point, including opening for Sepultura most recently. Somewhere in the midst of all of that, they recorded two new originals and a cover tune for release on an EP to hold people over until the next album.
As an ’80s fan I was kind of hoping that by titling their record Point of No Return, they were going to do a thrash cover of the Nu Shooz tune but my thirst for that to happen still goes unquenched as the title track is a blistering, speedy track led by some fantastic bass work. “Cradle to the Grave” follows that, which has more of a focus on the riff and solos than anything else. In fact, it contains what is probably the best soloing Havok has ever done.
Interestingly enough, one of the cover tunes is a reworking of the classic Sepultura track, “Arise” which I’m sure they can’t possibly play on tour before Sepultura hits the stage. The track is a bit one dimensional and somewhat boring – maybe the first time I’ve said that about something Havok put out in years. But then the EP closes with a blend of “Postmortem and Raining Blood” of course by Slayer, released as an iTunes only single back when the last disc came out. While no one matches the speed and total intensity of Slayer, Havok puts their signature guitar sound on it and crank out a pretty fantastic medley even reaching a few of those Tom Araya high-pitched screams now and again.
Point of No Return blows by but it’s thrash, what do you expect? Buy it, love it. Havok is the future of thrash.
“Postmortem/Raining In Blood”
Often referred to as an enigma, elusive and a shadowy being, Woe J. Reaper, the mastermind behind Furze is a weird dude. From the time he released his first demos back in ’98 until the present day, Furze records have gotten odder and odder at every turn. There are pluses and minuses to this. On one hand, Furze’s brand of black metal is really unlike anyone else’s and adventurous listeners could say he’s pushing the genre forward to places it hasn’t been before. On the other, a slew of odd instruments, oises and unconventional black metal can be tough to understand and drive people away.
I think a lot of people expected Furze to be much bigger within the metal scene than they are. Honestly, that can be said for pretty much any black metal band that brings something different to the table though, as the genre lacks variation for sure. While Reaper hasn’t flipped the genre on its ass, he does keep it on its toes. With every release, the first words uttered in reviews just like mine are “odd,” “weird” “strange” etc…something that has both plagued the artist and helped him become that shadowy figure. At this point in his career, I see a new Furze record coming and I have to listen just to see how weird it is. Maybe that’s the intrigue that he wants from his listeners.
Psych Minus Space Control may actually be his most listenable record though. It’s not easy to listen to by any means, but there’s no given point where I desire to turn it off like I do with every other album of his. The roots are certainly in black metal but masked and torn to shreds admist a swirling psychedelic vibe throughout the record. I can definitely go back to early Sabbath with this disc especially on the first two tracks, “Occult Soul, With Mind” and “Psych Mooz Space Control.” With the former there’s a darker doom element to the track with what could be a flute playing in certain parts. The latter song is wildly intriguing as not only does it seem like a fantastic acid trip but there are parts of the song where each instrument just takes over. His guitar work gives way to the bass in the forefront at times and at other times some really different sounding percussion with what is either a ton of cymbal work and cowbell or pots and pans crashing together. I wouldn’t put that past him. There’s a trumpet in there as well, almost bringing a lighthearted feel to an otherwise dark track. “Reaper Subconscious Guide” (yes, that was the name of his last album) is pretty straightforward on the surface with some fantastic ’70s rock riffs and upbeat drumming but when you put the headphones on and listen, the sublteties in the percussion as well as some creepy atmospheric keyboard (?) add a dimension that you don’t get if you aren’t paying attention.
Psych Minus Space Control is only five tunes clocking in at 43 minutes and the only time Woe J. Reaper sings is on “When Always Ready,” the closing track. The tracks were composed over the span of ten years of sessions but with material dating as far back as 1992. In most cases that would be somewhat of a compliation or outtakes but that doesn’t seem out of place at all for him to come up with something and store it for a decade or two until he finds the right spot for it. And since he plays, records and goes straight through with artwork and packaging himself, there’s no one else to worry about other than himself. Something does tell me though that there’s no one reading this to see if they should bother or not, if you know the name you made up your mind before I even started.
In one of the rare occasions where the name of the band perfectly describes the sound of them, this eight piece orchestra creates the most danceable metal tunes ever recorded. Normally, when you see that a band has a full brass section, a cello and an opera singer taking the lead vocals, you don’t think metal but Diablo Swing Orchestra definitely deserve the metal horns high.
Preferring to be called “Riot Opera” rather than metal, the craziness of this record starts right with the cover art. Looking like the box art to a Disney movie, Pandora and her friend are trying to get the spiked bat away from the clutches of the Pinata, which just happens to be have a live snake head! Then the picture of the band features seven gentlemen and a lovely lady all dressed in black looking much like something my mom might like watching. Opening track “Voodoo Mon Amour” definitely brings the swing up front, with catchy, danceable rhythms and upbeat horns. But then, the darkness starts to kick in. “Kevlar Sweethearts” has a metal guitar riff throughout the track and “Exit Strategy of a Wrecking Ball” starts off heavy and then mixes it up back and forth between that and stuff you’d hear on a Disney soundtrack before finishing up with the fiercest riff on the disc. “Mass Rapture” has a metal vibe to the whole tune while still featuring the horn section front and center.
I can’t remember the last time I wanted to headbang to opera but with Pandora’s Pinata, that’s exactly what you get. I have to think that the live show is probably fantastic as for a band like this as CD’s never really seem to capture the true spirit but it’s still the most fun metal record you’re going to hear this year.
Albums currently on the potential best of 2012 list:
Christian Mistress, Possession
Goatwhore, Blood for the Master
Human Toilet, Human Toilet
OSI, Fire Make Thunder
Terrorizer, Hordes of Chaos
Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum
Woods of Ypres, Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light