Steel Bearing Hand – Slay In Hell

Genre: Death/thrash Metal | Label: Carbonized Records
Location: Dallas, Texas | Listen: Bandcamp



Death/thrash is one of my favourite metal hybrids, as I can’t resist the combination of fast, energetic riffs next to the downright extreme and brutal tendencies of death metal. Some of my all time favourite bands like Deceased and Ares Kingdom have been masters of the genre for decades at this point. Enter Steel Bearing Hand – a Dallas, TX based band that are bringing the fucking riffs, and their sophomore record has been one of my favourite albums of 2021. Every thing that I like in metal is here, and they do it with powerful conviction.

“Slay in Hell” has only six songs, but clocks in at 40 minutes, with the first couple tracks acting as total rippers before the band really starts to flex their songwriting abilities with the latter four songs. Their songwriting reminds me of Sacrilege’s “Behind the Realms of Madness” quite a lot in terms of feel, rhythmic approach, and structure. Often times, a simple riff with get played with a midpaced feel, and then kind of pick up to something a little more intense, before letting loose into a fast punk or even blasting feel. It’s a perfect catch-and-release approach, and the parts seem to all center around an idea and just embellish it as iterations go on. There’s parts that plod like Amebix/Axegrinder, there’s double kick death metal grinders like early Bolt Thrower, and there’s just downright thrashing parts.

As mentioned, the first two tracks are more compact and keep it pretty up tempo, as they both are under 4 minutes. By “Tombspawn,” we get a little more variety with some slower parts as a breather, but it’s not long until Steel Bearing Hand busts some blazing fretboard work again. Scope that opening Sacrilege like lick in “Per Tenebras Ad Lucem.” The way they bring it back at the end of the song (after an array of riffs with fast and tight picking) is great too, as the the two guitarists start harmonizing it and bringing it up higher and higher for effect. Evidently, these guys are fantastic guitarists, as both the rhythm and lead parts are played with a high level of skill. Much like the precise picking on these fast paced riffs, the solos are dazzling too. Steel Bearing Hand absolutely brings it when it comes to killer guitar solos, and it just feels fucking metal, reminding me of the deadly solos the godfathers of death/thrash I mentioned earlier are known to have. “‘Til Death and Beyond” probably highlights this the best with it’s multi-solo section at the end, utilizing dive bombs, smooth runs, and tight tapping.

“Slay in Hell” is a rather clear sounding record, but it still feels filthy thanks to its high gain guitar tone that just reeks of heaviness. All the palm muting and picking patterns come out really well, and the parts where things slow down (especially in the epic 12+ minute closer, “Ensanguined”) still end up having enough sustain and power to sound massive. Likewise, the drums sound massive, and there’s great clarity with every fill. A lot of this record is dominated by double kick beats, and they all come through really well thanks to the competent recording. The bass is easy to find without taking away from the guitar tone – you can really feel it filling out that low end, and there’s a well balanced amount of clang that shines through for that added percussive force. Furthermore, there are some really nice production touches throughout, such as background keys for atmosphere in some of the slower parts, giving it that apocalyptic crust feel akin to bands like Filth of Mankind. There are other little flourishes like the odd dive bomb or vocal echo when a new part comes in, things like that to spice it up.

I can’t say enough good things about this record. It does all the things that make enjoy metal in the first place, from the punky thrashing parts, to the tremolo riffs with blast beats, to the electrifying lead playing, and to the use of dynamic songwriting. The whole record feels so complete the way it starts off with a couple thrashers, and then closes off with a big epic full of gloomy atmosphere. I honestly don’t know how this band’s debut didn’t end up on my radar, but Steel Bearing Hand has made quite an impression on me with “Slay in Hell”. Kudos to Carbonized Records for putting out such an awesome package, as even the artwork feels like a crusty death/thrash masterpiece.

90%

Favourite Albums of 2021

Every year, I hear less and less albums, and I barely cracked the 30 mark this year. As such, I missed out on a lot of albums and am still playing catch up. Regardless, I enjoyed most of the new releases over the past year, and there really was only one album I didn’t enjoy (which was the new Asphyx). My top 15 picks, in alphabetical order are:

Altered Dead – Returned to Life (Death metal from Victoria, BC)
Anatomia – Corporeal Torment
(Death/doom from Japan)
Antichrist Siege Machine – Purifying Blade
(War metal from Richmond, VA)
Bootlicker – s/t
(Hardcore punk from Vancouver, BC)
Decrepisy – Emetic Communion
(Death metal from Portland, OR)
Dream Unending – Tide Turns Eternal
(Death/doom from Toronto, ON/Boston, MA)
Excruciating Pain – s/t (Grindcore from Vancouver, BC)
Fossilization – He Whose Name Was Long Forgotten
(Death metal from Brazil)
Languid – A Paranoid Wretch in Society’s Games
(D-beat from Edmonton, AB)
Mortiferum – Preserved in Torment
(Death/doom from Seattle, WA)
Outre-Tombe – Abysse Mortifere
(Death metal from Quebec City, QC)
Phrenelith – Chimaera
(Death metal from Denmark)
Sijjin – Summerian Promises
(Death metal from Germany)
Steel Bearing Hand –
Slay in Hell (Death/thrash from Dallas, TX)
Worm – Foreverglade
(Death/doom from Florida)

Death metal, and especially death/doom seemed to be strong this year. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who knows what I like. I should make special note that the Languid LP is a very bias choice since I engineered it, but I actually enjoy listening to it quite a lot, and am very proud of the sound I was able to get out of that band. There are some other great releases on Dark Descent Records (who did the Anatomia album) I enjoyed such as Grave Miasma, Craven Idol, and Malignant Altar, but I just haven’t given many listens to the latter since it came out late in the year. The drummer of one of my bands, Azath, also put out an incredible technical death metal record with Aenigmatum. There were a couple compilations that I loved too, including Vancouver post-punks Spectres non-album material and a demo comp of Infestation, the former band of former Cryptopsy vocalist Mike DiSalvo.

Archagathus – Canadian Horse

Genre: Grindcore | Label: To Live A Lie
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba| Listen: Bandcamp

archagathus canadian horse

Bursting onto the international grind scene in the mid 2000’s, Winnipeg’s Archagathus fostered a cult following with a series of split 7″ records throughout the rest of that decade, including releases with better known names like Death Toll 80k, Unholy Grave, and Agathocles. Staring in 2010, the band started to put out recordings in the 12″ format, starting with “Atrocious Halitosis from Nauseated Disgorging” that year, and then “Coffee Grinder” in May of 2011 (which was initially recorded in 2008). These LPs are much more on the raw side of things, in contrast to “Canadian Horse,” which dropped a mere 3 months after “Coffee Grinder.” I’m not sure what the band considers their first proper full length, but it might as well be “Canadian Horse” as it displays their brand of mincecore with much more focused production and sound. As such, this LP is what I would recommend to any grindcore fan who hasn’t heard the band yet.

The core of Archagathus’ sound unsurprisingly comes from the great Belgian band, Agathocles. They play old school grindcore with a focus on simple songs and engaging lyrics. These songs usually revolve around a relatively simple punk riff that gets backed by a polka-thrash beat, until it inevitably crescendos into the expected blastbeats and d-beats. With such a basic approach, Archagathus’ strength lays in their ability to construct each song with catchy/powerful riffs that never overstay their welcome, all while contributing to the infectious momentum of the record. These 17 songs last a mere 23 minutes, so there is no time wasted on bringing forth quality riffs, and the overall performances are really tight.

The Prince of Mince, also known as Dan Ryckman, performs the main instruments on here, and does so with a high degree of tightness and skill. There’s no time to show off in these songs, but it’s very clear that Dan can play, and play at a high level he does. He is not alone on this recording, as he is joined by his usual partner in crime, Joe Warkentin, who contributes vocals and guitar as well. Between the two, they employ quite a range of vocal styles. I’ve touched on this with previous Archagathus reviews, but this really helps establish a much needed dynamic across this record. There are moans, yells, screams, growls, gurgles, and all sorts of crazy vocal sounds coming out of these two grind freaks. Furthermore, their efforts are aided by guest vocalist Sébastien Dionne of Dahmer on a few tracks.

One of the things that really sets this apart from Archagathus’ discography is the quality of the production. Much of the previous Archagathus discography is appropriately raw for mince/grindcore, but there was obviously much more focus going into making a great sounding record with this full length. Dan has done a lot of killer recordings for bands in Winnipeg, and it’s easy to see why with the results of “Canadian Horse.” The drums are impactful and clear with no distracting tones, and the guitar and bass occupy their own space and sound nice and heavy. They’ve had some excellent sounding records since the release of “Canadian Horse,” but this one certainly feels like a benchmark for excellence.

As I mentioned, there are a lot of catchy moments throughout this record. Songs like “Brain: Dead?” with it’s roaring vocal patterns and blastbeat-backed riffs are hard to ignore, and the punky feel of tracks like “Sexy Grinder” are just so easy to get into. There’s an infectious bounce due to the polka beats used throughout, such as “Fuck the System,” which of course contains some pretty easy to catch lyrics that stick. The album’s closing track, “The Night Wolf,” also contains some insane vocals, and it’s Autopsy-esque doom intro gives it that extra little bit of something unique to make it stand out on the record that much more. Each track has something to grab onto, these are just some of examples of the stand out moments to me.

I really can’t say enough good things about this record, and it’s been on constant rotation for me since I first discovered Archagathus a couple years after this album’s release. I honestly think this band is one of the best Canadian punk/grind/metal bands, and I’d easy rank them at the top along with bands like Six Brew Bantha and Massgrave. Everything about “Canadian Horse” hits just right, from its improved recording, to its tight performances and killer songwriting. I’d even go as far to say that these guys are objectively better than Agathocles, with whom the basis of their sound is formed from. Their discography is pretty huge at this point, so it’s quite a daunting task to know where to start, so again, I would highly recommend this as a starting point as it just does everything right when it comes to grindcore.

90%

Languid – A Paranoid Wretch in Society’s Games

At the onset of the pandemic we’re living in, I spent a weekend recording Languid’s 5th official release. This is their second full length album, containing 12 tracks of blistering d-beat/raw punk madness. I put a lot of attention to detail into this recording, from putting new skins on the drums and making sure we liked how they were sounding in raw form, to being meticulous with the mixing. The band are extremely easy to work with, as they are well rehearsed and proficient when it comes to tracking. Personally, I feel this is my best recording to date, so play it loud. The label sold out of the LP already, so you’ll have to contact the band for a copy.

Disciples of Power – Mechanikill

Genre: Death Metal | Label: MindtGash
Location: Edmonton, Alberta| Listen: Bandcamp

disciples of power mechanikill

Edmonton, Alberta is a desolate wasteland located in the Canadian prairies, farther north than all other major cities in Canada. It’s a working class city that has produced a lot of music throughout the decades, and there have been many notable metal acts that call Edmonton home, as I do myself. Disciples of Power were one of the first metal bands to make their mark from this city, and rightfully so. Their first three albums are all crucial listening for any technical thrash or death metal fans as far as I’m concerned, and deserve to be talked about when it comes to Canadian metal. However, in the case of 1996’s “Mechanikill,” I feel like the band lost focus and I really just can’t get into this record.

Disciples of Power initially started as a technical thrash band, but started to veer towards death metal as the 90’s began with their next two albums. “Mechanikill” steers itself in a different direction by implementing an almost progressive like feel to it. There are certainly a lot more mellow, atmospheric, and melodic parts throughout this album than previous Disciples of Power material. What makes this frustrating is that it’s just not executed very well in terms of songwriting. The songs often feel like they’re building up to something, but they just never get to that point of break-neck speed metal. As soon as they build a part up, they do some start/stop stuff into some other part that feels unrelated and disconnected to what just happened previously. This happens over and over in a linear progression with many of these songs, and the band never really comes back to any parts for any sense of coherence. Furthermore, a lot of these parts feel like I’m listening to someone just shredding over top of kind of generic moods and atmospheres. Don’t get me wrong, mainman Hart Bachmier is an incredibly talented guitarist, and his solos are pretty amazing, but some of the stuff that he’s playing over just feels like it’s there for him to play over, rather than being a powerful part unto itself. He utilizes tons of moods and effects to give these parts some identity, but I still fail to latch onto any even after repeated listens.

This album is over an hour long, and it’s just so unfocused. Bachmier seemed to really have the reigns on this album in terms of writing and playing, and I feel that may have been detrimental to the songwriting process. Perhaps if they had worked on this more as a band, or with a different producer at the helm, these songs could be worked into something that has a sense of purpose. As far as I’m concerned, a lot of the material here just feels like an excuse for someone to show off their technical prowess. Even in the first track, “Wings of Suicide,” there’s these random noodling parts that seemingly come out of nowhere, and it’s just the bass and guitars doing some things in unison. The title track gets into this territory, and by this point in the record, it’s a tired routine that desperately needs some energetic riffs.  “Symphonic Animosity” is even worse, and doesn’t even get off the runway. Quite honestly, the only memorable part of this record occurs at about 4:30 in “Inside (Circles of Sickness)”, as that lead melody is really catchy and will surely satisfy any heavy metal fan.

Not everything is bad about this record – Dean Relf’s drumming is phenomenal as always, and the way this record was put together is impressive when considering all the different kind moods and effects that are going on here. But this kind of thing can’t save the overly drawn out and linear songwriting, and it just doesn’t give me that death/thrash goodness that their previous releases did. Funny enough, I think bands like Blood Incantation have successfully done what “Mechanikill” tries to do – it employs riff after riff in a linear fashion, but each riff develops in some logical sense, and it also has all the crazy solos and atmospheric parts that could easily draw comparison to this weird little Canadian metal album. I know some of my older friends who grew up with Disciples of Power will disagree with my take on this album greatly, but as far as I’m concerned, this is just a frustrating album to listen to, and you’re much better off with their first three albums.

55%

Chairman – Demonstration II

One of the more unique projects that I’ve worked on, Chairman are a bunch of punks from the future, but they’re influenced by some pretty old bands. Drenched in synthesizers, and driven by bass, 80’s acts like Devo come to mind. The drums (and possibly bass) of this EP were tracked back in October 2020, with the rest of the music being completed throughout spring/summer of this year. Clint Hoekstra lent his recording services to the band as well, tracking some guitars, synths, and all of the vocals. The final product was both mixed and mastered by me.

Hoopsnake – Snowmanmoth

Genre: Doom Metal | Label: Independent
Location: Squamish, British Columbia| Listen: Bandcamp

hoopsnake snowmanmoth

The western province of British Columbia has produced a lot of heavy bands, and there’s no shortage of bands within the doom metal realm over there. Hailing from Squamish, a town just north up the coast from Vancouver, Hoopsnake have been playing their own brand of Sabbath influenced riffs for over a decade. Their second full length, “Snowmanmoth,” may be their finest hour yet, as it perfectly captures the massive sound that this trio conjures up with a wall of amps and a drum kit with the largest kick and toms possible.

For those not familiar with the band, their sound is very much in the stoner metal realm, taking use of blues scales much like the forefathers of the genre, and playing them with focus on groove and slower tempos. The heavy metal influence feels a lot more pronounced on this record than their previous releases, and with the inclusion of a ZZ Top cover, it’s clear that Hoopsnake lives on a diet of classic rock too. They use these influences to their advantage and it really gives these low tunes riffs just the right feel in the rhythm section that make them instantly infectious. Dave’s solos are super bluesy and definitely have classic rock written all over them. The last track even features some really psychedelic stuff in the intro, pushing the band into more new territory, but never taking it too far where it doesn’t feel like a Hoopsnake record.

For a stoner band, Hoopsnake sidesteps tradition in the vocal department, and don’t use any sort of clean singing. They really push it to the extreme, as bassist Shane has a low pitched growl opposite of guitarist Dave’s high pitched screams. It’s such a classic dynamic more commonly found in extreme metal bands, and it further gives a contrast with the groovy music behind it. Their lyrics are just as dynamic as the songs themselves, as they feature tales of mythical beasts (the title track), life on the road (“Scorpion”), skateboarding, and obviously drugs.

As mentioned, Hoopsnake have a massive live sound thanks to an abundance of amplifiers, and thankfully that sort of feeling is reproduced on this record. This was recorded at Rain City Recorders by Jesse Gander, keeping tradition with their previous vinyl releases. Everything that comes out of that studio sounds full, clear, and genre appropriate, and “Snowmanmoth” is no exception. Seeing as the band are just a power trio, a clear and present bass tone is essential, and it’s certainly full and powerful on this recording. The drums feel as massive as they are physically, without any muddy interference.

The six songs on this record touch so many complementary influences but it all sounds cohesive and catchy, and the longer songs never overstay their welcome. If you’re into the usual stoner doom bands like Electric Wizard and Sleep, “Snowmanmoth” is a must buy record, and Hoopsnake’s discography is worth a dive into as well. You’ll have to buy the album directly from the band, as they put out their material independently, but it’s a worthwhile purchase. There’s a cool booklet filled with art, lyrics, and tour photos that really capture the spirit of this band. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them live on many occasions, and this record was an instant buy as soon as I was able to get my hands on it.

85%

Anatomia/Grudge/Coffins – Doomed to Death, Damned in Hell

Genre: Death/Doom Metal | Label: Grindmind Records
Location: Tokyo, Japan| Listen: YouTube

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Back in 2007, Japanese death/doomers Coffins were exploding in the underground, hot of the heels of their sophomore album, “The Other Side of Blasphemy.” Before releasing their third LP, they released a string of splits, including a three way split with two other Tokyo based death/doom bands. I bought this CD solely because of Coffins, but came to love the entire hour long duration. Anatomia and Grudge both brought complementary yet unique approaches to death/doom for their contributions to this split. Each band brings about 20 minutes of material, thus giving a nice representation of each, but a fully digestible amount at that.

Anatomia opens up the split with five tracks of Autopsy worship. This was only their third release at the time, and also my introduction to the band. While preparing to review this split, I ended up listening to their full lengths, and unsurprisingly, it has the most in common with their debut album. Simply put, there is a huge emphasis on the slower side of Autopsy here, complete with the same type of drum beats and riffs that established the seminal death metal band’s sound. There’s even some punkier midpaced parts like on “Necrocannibal Instinct” that reek of Autopsy too. The vocals are low and dark, and backed by a massively heavy guitar tone. The drums sound like they were recorded with a focus on a natural room sound, which gives these tracks a certain rawness, but that works well with the Autopsy influence.

The most mysterious band of the split, Grudge, appears in the middle. This was also my introduction to the band, and as far as I can tell, Grudge had previously released more grindcore oriented material prior to this. As a result, remnants of grindcore can be found all over their four tracks, but they are clearly aiming to play death/doom with these songs. To my ear, Winter sounds like the main influence for their death/doom approach, as they pound away and low tuned Celtic Frost riffs with similar feel punky feel, and dive into slow sections in the same vein as well. However, they throw in a healthy amount of sloppy blast beats, and utilize plenty of vocal styles that have Agathocles written all over it, especially some of the more drawn out “moaning” ones. The result is fairly unique, and the Agathocles influence is further pushed by the raw and heavy production.

Finally, Coffins closes out this split with three original tracks plus an Asphyx cover. As previously mentioned, Coffins had already released a couple full lengths, and put out three other splits the same year as this one. I always felt that Coffins were at their best around this period of time, and they struck a great balance between slower, crushing songs, and more energetic d-beat songs. “Cremated Remains” falls into the former, while “Stillbirth” is a straight forward example of the latter, really driving itself with a nice d-beat pace. The addition of the Asphyx cover is also great, and Coffins always seems to have excellent selection when it comes to cover tracks. There are no surprises here, just infectiously catchy and pounding death/doom.

Every time I decide to revisit this split, I’m always satisfied with it. Despite its length, it’s the perfect amount of time to showcase three bands playing the genre but with totally different approaches. Anatomia’s Autopsy worship is on full force here, and they’ve since gone on to have quite a successful career since, releasing a respectable amount of splits in addition to some full lengths on better known labels. Grudge hasn’t released anything since, making their grinding death/doom performance on here a standout in their small discography. Coffins, of course, has remained active over the years with many more releases, and this is one of many that cemented my fandom for them back in the mid/late 2000’s with their signature brand of d-beat laden death/doom. “Doomed to Death, Damned in Hell” is a choice split, and shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle of both Coffins and Anatomia’s large discographies.

85%

Death Knell – Inhumanity

Sophomore recording by this punky Calgary thrash band, once again recorded and mixed by me. Much like their debut recording, I drove down to Calgary and we laid the tracks down in a single weekend. Once I was up in Edmonton again, I reamped the guitars through both my Peavey and Marshall amps. This was all done about a year ago, right before the pandemic shut down everything. Really pleased with how this turned out!

Hyphema – Putrid Mutilation

Goregrind project I mixed for a couple friends. Tracks were raw and took a bit of work to get it this way.