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.

Funebrarum – The Sleep of Morbid Dreams

Genre: Death Metal | Label: Cyclone Records
Location: Clifton, NJ| Listen: Bandcamp

funebrarum the sleep of morbid dreams

If you were a death metal fan in the 2000’s, there’s a good chance you stumbled upon New Jersey’s Funebrarum. This American death metal group eschewed all modern death metal trends of that decade – you wouldn’t be labeling this as brutal or technical death metal, nor was it melodic like many of their Swedish counterparts. Instead, Funebrarum were at the forefront of a wave of bands that were playing dark and cavernous death metal with its influences in many early 90’s bands. As the decade closed, Funebrarum released their sophomore album in 2009, “The Sleep of Morbid Dreams,” which has certainly stood the test of time all these years later.

Funebrarum is from New Jersey, so it’s pretty easy to attribute their sound to the NYDM scene, and to a point that’s accurate. It is comparably dark to bands like Incantation, utilizing doom metal sections and inhumanly low vocals. However, it is Finnish death metal that seems to be the primary influence on “The Sleep of Morbid Dreams,” as they share a common sense of dark melody, rhythmic feels, and knack for hooks with their Finnish counterparts. It’s easy to hear bands like Abhorrence, Convulse, Disgrace, and many others in these low tuned riffs. Often, they’ll utilize an evil sounding melody that’s over a fairly simple chord progression, and the kind of scales they use really relate it back to these Finnish greats. Hell, there’s even a quirky, Demilich like riff before the doom part later in “Beyond Recognition.”

Among many of the bands playing cavernous death metal around this time, Funebrarum certainly had a knack for having hooks in their songs, and they would do this by pairing a riff with plenty of identity, with a simple repeated vocal pattern. “Grave Reaper,” a track from a previous split with Interment, is a fan favourite due to its caveman bounce and recognizable chorus. Meanwhile, other songs will pair these absolutely flesh ripping tremolo riffs that carve out infectious patterns with yet another catchy vocal pattern. “Incineration of Mortal Flesh” is a prime example of this, you won’t miss the title of the track if you didn’t read it before hand. Likewise, the epic track “Nex Monumentum” gets away with doing this on a couple different parts, and they both really hit that sweet spot of where death metal should hit.

While a lot of these low tuned, cavernous death metal bands of this time would purposely present their music with raw or murky production, this not the case with Funebrarum. This is by no means a “modern” sounding recording, as there are no typewriter drums to be heard here. That being said, it is a fairly clear recording, and despite the low tuning, it’s not hard to distinguish the powerful bass and the heavy guitars from one another. The kick drums are present without being distracting, and the the toms are really in your face too. There’s some nice production touches like the keys in “Nex Monumentum” which add to that gloomy Finnish atmosphere even more. Overall, this is a fantastic sounding record that emphasizes the power of the riffs and performances without sucking the life out of it or making it too murky.

It’s been a dozen years since “The Sleep of Morbid Dreams” came out, and further established Funebrarum as one of the premiere bands in this era of death metal. By taking a huge amount of Finnish death metal influence and some remnants of NYDM, this record has a sound that just hits right when it comes to death metal. Many fans, myself included, have been anxiously awaiting the follow up record, as the few shorter releases they’ve released in the meantime have only heightened the anticipation. As such, there’s no better time to give this record another listen if you haven’t in a while, and I’m sure you’ll find it’ll set the bar pretty high for the follow up record that’s due out this year.

90%

Ignivomous – Death Transmutation

Genre: Death Metal | Label: Nuclear War Now
Location: Melbourne, Australia| Listen: Bandcamp

ignivomous death transmutation

The trajectory of death metal has taken many twists and turns over the years, with many off-shots becoming popular, while other styles dying and later being revitalized. Back in the mid 2000s, you could find many “death” metal bands pushing the style further into melodic, technical, or brutal realms. The more straightforward and “pure” sounding death metal bands either died off or just weren’t as prominent anymore. Not to say it was entirely dead, as bands like Incantation never strayed too far from their roots, but it sure felt like its heyday was over. This was soon to change later in the decade, as a lot of new bands started popping up that were highly influenced by the likes of the previously mentioned Incantation, focusing on dark and cavernous atmospheres. Once such band from Australia, Ignivomous, was at the forefront of this resurgence, and their debut album has held up extremely well over time.

“Death Transmutation” had a decent amount of hype before it came out. Ignivomous had previously released a demo to critical acclaim in the underground, and they dropped a 7″ the year before the album. Needless to say, the hype was well deserved, as not only does it capture that brooding atmosphere that is so often associated with the “caverncore” bands that started popping up at this time, but the focus of quality riffs is really what made Ignivomous worth coming back to time and time again. A high level of musicality is executed here, with a variety of riffs and feels. Take the title track, for example – a doom laden mid section (complete with the expected pinch harmonics) gives way to some layered guitars that create a feeling of spiraling into the abyss as they interact with each other.

Of course, the main appeal of death metal isn’t just how heavy it is, because ripping tremolo riffs at high speeds is just as crucial. “Noneuclidean Maelstrom,” for example, displays these riffs against a variety of drum beats, which are further varied to keep the songs from being monotonous. Chris Broadway employs a jackhammer style of blastbeats kind of like Suffocation, as opposed to the scissor blast that you’d hear in Incantation. He does a lot of double kick beats too while avoiding dragging things out, such as during the solo section in “The World Upon Nihil.” Again, songs like this employ some dual guitar work to create some tension and depth to the song. The band originally featured two guitarists, but one quit before the album, so Sean Hinds essentially pulls double duty by playing both parts.

One of the stand out features of “Death Transmutation” (and Ignivomous’ discography in general) is its disdain for modern production. This recording feels really honest – there’s not a lot of emphasis on clicky drums, the guitars have a natural air to them, and nothing seems like it’s been overly squashed. Don’t confuse this for an amateur recording – they seem to have been conscious enough to EQ out the undesirable elements that any professional would normally take care of, such as the hollow boxy tones that are usually found in the drums. You can still hear the kicks and everything, but it just sounds very natural, as if the band consciously wanted to defy the overly clinical sound that plagued so many brutal and technical death metal bands throughout the decade.  Sometimes I wish the toms had a little more boom to them, but it’s by no means a deal breaker.

After all these years, I still find “Death Transmutation” just as enjoyable as I did when it first came out. Hell, maybe I like it even more now, because it stands as a cut above a lot of other cavernous death metal bands that were coming out at the same time, and that can be directly attributed to the strength of the music itself. Between the ripping fast tremolo riffs and doom sections, Ignivomous keeps a delicate balance in their songs, and the more raw approach to production gives it a suffocating atmosphere that is perfectly suited for evil death metal. I sometimes find myself forgetting I own this album because I have to store it with my 7″ records due to the extra large booklet, but whenever I do remember to bust this one out, the inner Incantation fanboy in me is completely satisfied. “Caverncore” often gets mentioned with an eye roll when discussing modern death metal, but I assure any curious readers that this album has stood up against the test of time and should be welcomed into any death metal fan’s collection.

88%