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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Anti-Schlager Supremo

Kreator - Phantom Antichrist
2012 Nuclear Blast Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

It might be offensive to utter Kreator and "schlager" in  the same breath.  Schlager music has had its ups and downs in the German mainstream and most of the pop-friendly schemes of schlager are as un-metal as Katy Perry or LMFAO.   However, if you have a look back at fifties and sixties schlager concocted in Germany, a large chunk of it was hunkered around a nationalist sense of pride, solidarity and unquestioned conformity.  Of course, this was all depending on what side of the Berlin wall you sat back then, thus making German schlager a sick joke on the front.  Thank God for Can, Amon Duul and yes, even Kraftwerk. 

What does any of this have to do with thrash lords Kreator, you're no doubt asking?   Welp, have a listen to their 13th studio album, Phantom Antichrist and see if there isn't a rousing call-to-arms planted all over this sucker.  Of course, the rally call is as nihilistic as ever as Mille Petrozza and his shred team summon speed freaks and death worshippers to the apocalypse--the same one they've been doing since 1985's Endless Pain.  Phantom Antichrist spits on religion, yeah, but so what?   So does 98% of the other artists in this genre.  It's the not-so-subtle hilarity undermining Petrozza's creed of chaos that sticks out the most on Phantom Antichrist--aside from the fact it's one fast sumbitch.

"Death to the World," "Victory Will Come," "United in Hate," and "Until Our Paths Cross Again" carry stomping, flag-raising vibes aimed directly at the same metalheads listening to Pleasure to Kill, Terrible Certainty and Extreme Aggression back in Kreator's formative years as they do the new breed latching onto them as of the retro-minded Enemy of God and Hordes of Chaos.  It's gonzo how Petrozza and Kreator have evolved zero thematically, Renewal and Cause for Conflict notwithstanding, yet no matter laughable it is to hear how we're legion united on "Civilization Collapse," it's all so freaking kickass.

Kreator has been on a roll since Enemy of God and if that album reignited this band's passion, consider Kreator right back where they were on Coma of Souls:  precisioned, finessed and in full command of their excelled powers.  Still, Phantom Antichrist has that underlying hummable schlager kick beneath music that is mostly blazing fast and always sinister.  Anti-schlager is for sure the more appropriate idiom, as Mille Petrozza somehow manages to coax his listeners to pound their noggins and sing along to his gospel of atrocity.  Listen to the first marching breakdown on "Few, the Proud, The Broken."  Yes, it's motherfucking schlager, man, but it's metal schlager and very few thrash bands can step up to this level of proficiency and erase the cheesiness all away as Kreator does.  

As ever, the solos defy gravity and Phantom Antichrist stays in fifth gear more than it doesn't, yet  the tempo mix-ups never burden the album.  They're too catchy to complain about.  The intro to "Your Heaven, My Hell" is Gothic and weirdly Marilyn Manson-like before the cut takes on a louder power metal feel well in harmony with Kreator's Teutonic brethen (and upcoming tour mates), Accept. 

Pre-release hype for Phantom Antichrist had camp insiders stating the album was going for the spirit of Coma of Souls and it succeeds admirably in honoring that era.  Better, Phantom Antichrist is its own beast, one to stand the test of time for the band's devout.  While Terrible Certainty remains this writer's personal favorite Kreator album, it's too much to expect that sort of singular full-on speed in 2012.  What we get out of Kreator, though, is more than enough thrash than we deserve and better, we can take comfort that Mille Petrozza sounds every bit the manic, mosh-happy bitter pill he always has.  Take the pill with the schlager in this case.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fanfare For the Thinking Automaton

Fear Factory - The Industrialist
2012 Candlelight Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Let me say this about Fear Factory:  there is perhaps no more exhilirating band you can crank down a lonely stretch of highway at 4:00 a.m.  The seismic flush Fear Factory has always projected in their massive history is served best through wide-open channels where nothing impedes the portals to their grinding digi-euphoria.  To slip on a Fear Factory album is a commitment to hyperspeed, thus an open road is your best friend with these guys weaving triplicate-happy mechanized mayhem amidst empty double lanes.

Empircally proven by this writer between two ultra-early morning drives with Fear Factory's 1995 mechanized opus Demanufacture and followed by their latest offering, The Industrialist, there can be no doubt a giddy co-habitation exists between four-wheeled horsepower and four-stationed tech metal hydraulics.

Dino Cazares is back in the Fear fold alongside mainstay growler Burton C. Bell.  That's the main headline to The Industrialist aside from this album being a full-fledged concept album about artificial intelligence taking over an unjust world it has judged and sentenced from its advanced microprocessors.  Of course, there's a familiar charge and grandiosity lending textural grace to the smartbomb messiah Bell and Cazares wind to life for Fear Factory's eighth album.

 The Industrialist is a strict hearken back to Demanufacture and Obsolete.  Period.  The title song, "Recharger," "Virus of Faith," "Depraved Mind Murder" and "New Messiah" all slip into retro-minded shredfests which immediately put their longer-term fan base into a happy place.  On "God Eater," however, there's a tread into the less quickened arena of Digimortal.  Yes, Fear Factory's more recent albums Archetype, Transgression and Mechanize have steadily brought the band back into the good graces of the metal community, yet The Industrialist makes no pretentions that tried and true wins the day.

While Fear Factory has now stood to be judged on the merits of only two original members coming into The Industrialist, Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera must be puzzled how their replacements Byron Stroud and Gene Hoglan have been so effectively assimilated into Fear Factory.  It's not unfair to consider the latter constituents as replicants, or at least proficient blade running shredders who convincingly play into Bell and Cazares' hefty mathematic schisms.  Thus The Industrialist becomes a snug fit amongst the band's vintage catalog.  This album is escalated by the smartness of its primary principals and their willingness to give the headbanging core that supported this group when they busted into the first Mortal Kombat film precisely what it wants.

Granted, this is not doing much to move Fear Factory forward, considering they were once viewed as the most progressive metal act in the land.  The Industrialist settles more for crowd-pleasing than actual evolution.  Worse, the laborious coldwave-gusting finale stretching out of the prolonged outro of "Religion is Flawed Because Man is Flawed"  into "Human Augmentation" ends up being a bit of a downer after so much galvanized fun beforehand.  Artistically-speaking, you get what Bell and Cazares are up to by having their robotic muse methodically overthrow homo superior, but it's far too reserved, morose and uninteresting to leave a proper impact.

Prior to this hapless slow plunge into a dystopic hellhole, at least Fear Factory pounds, maims and ejects as fastidiously as they ever have.  Entertaining for the most part, breathtaking in portions, The Industrialist is a somewhat satisfying, mostly cautious return to the real which will appeal to many, if not all.