Subjugation/ Haemophagus – SPLIT
Location: Italy (H) & Turkey (S)
Italy’s Haemophagus are labeled as exponents of “slow” grindcore. This seems as much of an oxymoron as “tall midgets” and “dry water,” and shows how pointless it is to be obsessed on genres. For starters, based on the two songs they’ve contributed to this split, I wouldn’t even consider them to be part of the genre at all. When they’re slow, as in “Hibernated World,” they just seem reminiscent of the doom metal of Conan (although with a lyrical approach considerably closer to what Chris Barnes does with Six Feet Under), while their speedier approach in “Monster in the Park” just seems like a homage to Venom. Far from the blast beats of Napalm Death or Anal Cunt, to name two of the most well-known grind bands, Haemophagus seem to want to be something their music can’t agree with.
Much closer to what people think when “grindcore” comes to mind, Turkey’s Subjucation are all about raw power. Their songs are short, heavy, and to the point. While not pig-squealed, their lyrics are sang in the growling styles of Napalm Death, with plenty of low tones throughout, as well as some occasional “cleaner” growls, like in their song “Under the Whip” (where the voice actually reminded me a lot of that of Watain‘s Erik Danielsson). It’s heavy enough to keep you moving while you’re sitting listening to it, with your legs going up and down as you try to keep up with the machine-gun speeds of the drumset.
The problem that you find in many splits is that the bands being presented together lack the consistency required to make up for a single product. This is precisely the case here, where Subjugation simply blow Haemophagus out of the water in terms of musical coherency and production. While Subjugation were greatly produced (for the genre), Haemophagus came off as being in dire need of someone much better prepared to handle the duties of both production and mixing. It didn’t help that the Italians also failed to pick (and stick with) a style for this split, and instead opted to present two tracks that are not only not that good (although they’re by no means bad) but that also don’t really give a clear idea as to what exactly they are all about.
Great job by Subjugation… an unsatisfactory mark for Haemophagus.
Opensight – Ulterior Motives
As a big fan of Diablo Swing Orchestra, I love it when a band presents something different and unexpected. Despite how many bands pop up every day, very few actually dare to go beyond the “accepted” handful of influences and elements that can be brought into the music. That’s why what DSO, Unexpect and (now) Opensight do is so damn important. They bring variety to a music that would otherwise risk falling into creative stagnation.
From the 8-bit sounds that open the album, to the rock, metal, jazz and blues influences that seem to permeate the whole release, Ulterior Motives is a creative rollercoaster. While melodically I can absolutely see some similarities to the work of DSO, it is also an album that brings memories of Faith No More (granted, this might be the consequence of the occasionally Patton-esque vocals of singer Ivan David Amaya) and, unexpectedly, even of The Blue Man Group (seriously, the ending of “The Chase” really brought some memories).
Of course, not everything is positive. Amaya‘s strength as a singer shines mostly when his voice is coming out strongly, losing a lot of quality when he goes back to a more normal, conversational tone. This is what happens, for example, in the middle of “Vanishing Point”, and it just affects the whole song. His cleaner tone is a bit too nasal for my taste, and I just don’t think that’s the road he should be taking in his music, particularly when his stronger vocals sound much better (the comparison to Patton says it all).
Interestingly, the creativity exhibited throughout Ulterior Motives is not the product of extreme virtuosity or of complex instrumentation. Unlike what other avant garde acts, like Unexpect, have done in the past, Opensight have kept things simple and placed a lot of emphasis in the ambiance and melody. The “jazzy”, “bluesy”, and even “symphonic-y” elements featured in Ulterior Motives are presented in a coherent, catchy and efficient way, ensuring that the overall product does not come off as put together at random.
The production and mixing do such a great service to the music that I can’t help but be amazed at the fact that this is an independent release. If this is what they’re capable of doing on their own, I can’t even being to imagine what they might be able to do when they get the backing they deserve.
I am really, really, looking forward to see what these guys can do.
Dark Hound – Oceans
Location: Tennessee, USA
Dark Hound are all about straightforward heavy metal. Very clearly influenced by the likes of Megadeth in terms of song construction, and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden in their guitar solos, they seem to be all about playing no-frills heavy metal.
While melodically attractive, Dark Hound sometimes fall prey to having a singer that just isn’t capable of carrying a band. When his vocals are clear they are so nasal as to be ridiculous. You know how Helloween‘s Andi Deris sings very nasally when he does ballads? Imagine that in a Megadeth-esque track. Thankfully, singer/bassist ET Brown does not limit himself to that style, and actually indulges in some great growls reminiscent of Kreator (I’d love to hear this man cover “Enemy of God”) that really show where his real power lays. Comparing his clean and growled vocals in “To Know End” should show you exactly what I mean (then again this can also be misused, as in the dialogue-like combination of both styles in “Just as Blind”).
Instrumentally things are kept very simple, and to the point. This is by no means a criticism, since they definitely know how to make it work. At no point did I feel that their music was coming off as derivative, or that they were exhibiting some sort of laziness in their composition. In any case, the solos make up for any complaints that might exist in regards to the music sticking the basics; they are complex enough to be interesting, but without indulging in an unnecessary complexity that breaks the rhythm of things.
The strength of Dark Hound lies in their music. They are able to write very catchy tunes, the kind that in MTV’s heyday would be played over and over (hell, the ending of “Just as Blind”, with its fade-out, seems made for it!), and listening to them it’s a good experience (some exceptions apply, like the occasionally cacophonous “Oceans”), Sadly, the vocals are not always up to the task. When they’re good they’re pretty good, but when they’re bad they’re goddamn annoying.
There’s a lot of potential here, but there’s also a lot to be done in terms of improving. They have the skills do great things, they just need to know where to focus their talents and exploit their best qualities… instead of sticking to their weaknesses.