Sunday, August 28, 2011

Compilation Review: The Phoenix Born of Fire Volume One Sampler

So, as I'm stuck inside awaiting a potential hurricane that may or may not affect my neighborhood whatsoever, I might as well curl up in my recliner and offer my take on some news that I find far more exciting:

Last week, the Boston Phoenix, in cooperation with O'Briens Pub's bi-monthly metal night, Born of Fire (which I still haven't been to, but O'Briens is a cool little place), put together and released a free sampler featuring tracks from 15 contemporary Boston metal bands. Some of them are fucking great. Some of them, not so much. I'ma go through 'em track by track and offer my two cents.

Disclaimer: If I hate on yr band, don't hold it against me. I'm an average metal fan and a below-average musician. The shittiest metal musician is probably still more talented than me and you really shouldn't care what some guy on the internet says about you anyway.

Track One: Revocation - Cradle Robber
This one here? Not the most auspicious start. It kinda just sounds like generic tech-death metal to me. The vocals are decent enough in the verses, but in the chorus they get downright obnoxious. It never particularly goes anywhere either. The lead guitar work is so cheesy it hurts. It's well produced and features some competent musicianship for this kinda thing, but, y'know. It's technical death metal. If you're not into that, this is gonna be downright unlistenable, and if you are, you've probably already heard a thousand songs that sound like this.
Verdict: Lame. 2/10

Track Two: Ramming Speed - Perdition
I fucking love Ramming Speed. I used to go to high school with their former lead guitarist, Ricky Zampa (good dude), and as such I got into them on the ground floor with the excellent "Full Speed Ahead" seven inch. As far as I'm concerned, these guys do the whole 'thrash revival' thing better than anyone else. I got to see them live about six months ago with Doomriders, and they totally bring down the fucking house. I'm not sure where this song is from; it's not on the track listing for their full length, "Brainwreck," or their new EP, "Always Disgusted, Never Surprised" (neither of which I have yet, for some reason). It's a pretty excellent piece of D-beat, though, and it does a pretty good job of showing what these dudes are all about.
Verdict: Super fun. 9/10

Track Three: Doomriders - Come Alive
This song's kinda old, having been released in 2009, and I feel like it's shown up on about a thousand comps since then, but what the hell, it's a great tune. Doomriders, as far as I'm concerned, are the best thing to happen to metal in at least a couple years. "Darkness Come Alive," the album this title track comes from, was my album-of-the-year for 2009, beating out even the towering "Axe To Fall," by labelmates Converge. Their music is totally un-self-conscious, staying just shy enough of cheesy for dour metalheads to take seriously, while still embracing metal cliches to enough of an extent to be fun as hell. This song in particular features one of the better Danzig impressions of the past decade.
Verdict: Excellent. 10/10

Track Four: Motherboar - II. Amphibious
I've seen these guys' name around a bit lately. It's certainly an arresting band name. The music, less so. It kinda sounds a bit too derivative of Mastodon and their ilk of groove-oriented stoner-thrash or whatever the fuck you call all those bands. The tone is great, and the singer sounds exactly like Sean Ingram, which is a huge positive. The breakdown about two minutes in is kinda interesting too, but not enough to really make me want to catch a show by these guys or anything.
Verdict: Not great. 4/10

Track Five: Cave In - Vicious Circles
I love Cave In to probably an unhealthy degree, but I kinda feel like they don't really belong on this comp. I mean, they've been around since the late '90s, making them far more established than any of the other bands. That being said, their new album "White Silence" is ridiculously good, easily their best since 2000's groundbreaking "Jupiter" and their heaviest since 1999's "Until Your Heart Stops." This track, in particular, brings them closer to their mathy hardcore roots than any other on the album, making it a good pick for the comp, even if it seems to kind of defeat the purpose of showcasing up-and-coming bands.
Verdict: Good song, odd choice. 9/10

Track Six: Death Ray Vision - Not For Glory
Never heard of these guys before, but this is pretty solid. I mean, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it's really well done neo-speed metal. I fucking love the bass tone, in particular. The vocals don't do a whole lot for me, but I can live with 'em. I like the chorus, especially the weird sort of ethereal backing guitar. Yeah, I'd definitely pay five bucks to see these guys.
Verdict: Pretty cool. 8/10

Track Seven: Acaro - This Treachery
Eeeeh... I dunno, dude. This just sounds like sub-par Black Dahlia Murder and that's about the nicest thing I can come up with to say about it. The drummer does good blastbeats I guess? Technical death metal and melodic death metal both have to be pretty goddamn excellent to appeal to me whatsoever, and this is a little of both, which just terrifies me.
Verdict: Not good. 1/10

Track Eight: Panzerbastard - Gods, Thugs, And Madmen
This is another one of those band names I've seen around a lot. Musically, it's not half bad. Cheesy as fuck, dirty metal in the vein of Entombed but not quite as awesome. It's a lot of fun, though, and it sounds just nasty enough to feel genuine and not like a put-on. I imagine these guys all have really big beards and probably put on a great show. That Oxford comma kinda bugs me, though.
Verdict: Solid. 7/10

Track Nine: Lunglust - Arrows.
These guys opened that aforementioned Doomriders/Ramming Speed show I saw last February, and I remember them really catching my attention. They suffered that opening-band curse of having the worst sound mix of the night, but they managed to come across as really unique and interesting nonetheless. At the time, they reminded me of a kind of mix between Botch and pg. 99. This track sounds a bit more metal and less hardcore than that description implies, but it still eschews traditional lead guitar theatrics in favor of that hardcore kind of band unity. It's really damn good, too. The singer kills it, and the sludgy guitar breakdown is a near-perfect example of its form. These guys are absolutely a band to watch, they've got a really standout sound and I could see them being huge sooner rather than later.
Verdict: Excellent metalcore. 10/10

Track Ten: Blessed Offal - Seasons in Sepulchral Depths
Let me get this out of the way, since I'm frankly surprised it took ten tracks to get to an example: Metal songs are too goddamn long nowadays. I love Isis, I love Neurosis, but they have a lot of bullshit to answer for. So I see a track on a metal comp that's seven-minutes-plus, I instinctively reach for the skip button. That being said, this song is pretty awesome. It's does the grimy sludge thing well enough that the sudden tempo shift two and a half minutes in comes as a genuine surprise, and surprises are a really precious commodity in modern metal. I really love the vocals, and I really love the band name. "Blessed Offal"? That's just so wonderfully gross. I dig it in a big way.
Verdict: Post-metal done right for once. 9/10

Track Eleven: Scaphism - Slowly Digested Over a Thousand Years
Hahaha, oh man, this rules. So much death metal takes itself so fucking seriously that it's really refreshing to hear a band like this that accepts it for the high-school level goofiness it really is. It's also refreshing to listen to a death metal song where the lyrics are actually understandable, and the lyrics here are hilariously over-the-top gruesome. "999 years to go until this horror ends / my eyes have melted, my balls have popped, my lungs have turned to sludge." Oh, it's also a song about being eaten by the Sarlaac from Return of the Jedi, and opens with a sample of C-3PO saying the song title. This is excellent. I don't know what Scaphism means, but I'll bet it's something gross.
Verdict: Wonderfully juvenile death metal. 9/10

Track Twelve: Razormaze - Miseries of the Flesh
I can dig this. Neo-thrash that doesn't try to be any more than that. It reminds me of Vio-Lence, or maybe some of Suicidal Tendencies older stuff. I like that the vocalist doesn't bother trying for death growls or any of that shit and just gets his Joey Belladonna on. These guys are probably a blast to see live, I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for 'em.
Verdict: Straight outta the '80s thrash. 9/10

Track Thirteen: The Proselyte - Thirty Thousand Feet of Shark
I talked about these guys a bit in my review of the Deafheaven show back in June. I had mixed feelings on 'em at the time, but said I'd give 'em another chance. This song is pretty solid. As I mentioned back then, I really like the vocals, and while I'm not normally a fan of this style of metal, these guys do it better than most. The pre-chorus part has some really cool timing, and as a shark enthusiast I love the song title. It drags a bit once you get past the 90 second mark, though. The harmonized vocals at the end save it.
Verdict: Above-average beard metal. 7/10

Track Fourteen: Black Thai - The Ladder
I like the intro, but once the song starts in earnest about 45 seconds in it gets a lot less interesting. I feel like I've definitely heard this riff before, and the vocals kinda feel like budget-Josh Homme. I find their band name obnoxious too. Like, is it just me, or is that a remarkably stupid pun? I'm not even paying attention to the song, at this point. I'm just reading about sharks on wikipedia. Did you know the Megalodon is theorized to have had the most powerful bite in history, at over 24,000 pounds of force?
Verdict: Average beard metal. 3/10

Track Fifteen: Birch Hill Dam - Colossus
Oh man. The cowbell almost kinda won me over, but this is just bad. The best thing I can say about it is that it doesn't sound like these guys take themselves too seriously, but this sounds like something that'd pop up on WAAF in the early 2000s wedged in between Godsmack and Disturbed. Pass. Big time.
Verdict: No. 1/10

So, overall? Download this compilation. At a rate of 10 ill songs to five bad ones, I'd say the Boston metal scene is in decent shape, and there's a bunch of good free shit here. I even like the album art. Big ups to the Phoenix and Born of Fire for putting this together, and big ups to metal bands for being metal. Always.

-Michael James Roberson

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