Album art for Expulsion's Nightmare Future.

Album Review: Expulsion – Nightmare Future

Whenever big-name musicians drop a world-quaking collaboration, is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? I asked myself that question time and again throughout the entirety of Nightmare Future, the first album by newly formed punk/crust/grind supergroup Expulsion, which enlists the legendary talents of Matt Olivo (Repulsion), Matt Harvey (Exhumed), Menno Verbaten (Lightning Swords of Death), and Danny Walker (Exhumed, Phobia). Writing songs that works to each members’ individual talents can’t be easy, but you’ll be pleased to know that Expulsion proves it can be executed with merciless ease.

It’s always tempting when supergroups rely too much on the individual talents of its members (noodling around in look-at-me solo sections to the detriment of the songs). But the genres Expulsion plays around in aren’t known for unnecessary flash, and Nightmare Future reflects this with succinct, deadly-simple song compositions that are like shots of pure adrenaline. Danny Walker uses a blast beat-heavy playing style that propels each of the album’s seven songs, unexpectedly interjecting them into frantic half measures between d-beats and dynamic crashing. Matt Harvey’s buzzsaw guitar riffs augment the assault with sulphurous tremolo patterns, though on songs like “Total Human Genocide” he occasionally drops out entirely to let Menno Verbaten’s bass, which rumbles in the bottom level, to come into the spotlight. And on each song, Matt Olivo spews lyrics of the end times like a doomsayer, his toxic delivery demanding your undivided attention. Nightmare Future might be short, but there’s enough song variation and dynamics packed in every track to keep you clinging to every split-second.

It’s worth noting that Expulsion has been described by PR circles as delivering a “vile brand of 80s sickness.” It strikes me as interesting then that the production comes across cleaner than an operating room table. The blasts punch through with powerful clarity, and the bass is a gritty, audible delight. Those aren’t bad qualities, but Nightmare Future sounds unabashedly modern, and I think that’s worth noting for fans who like their crust and grind a little more, well, crusty and grindy.

It must be tough having a prominent musical pedigree — even more so when collaborating with others of similar talents. But when it all comes together as well as it does on Nightmare Future, there can be few complaints among creators or fans. Expulsion shows us what happens when talented individuals accomplish something great, and it just so happens to be a glorious vision of a future ending in swirling, all-consuming flames.

Nightmare Future is out July 11th via Relapse Records. Old-school skateboard grind to your nearest record shop or digital dealer and expulse your wallet of funds to buy it.

Album Review: Power Trip – Nightmare Logic

At first listen, Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic sounds for all the world like your typical thrash throwback — a pandering, nostalgia-laden love-letter to a decades-saturated genre. So why the fuck am I enjoying it so much?

It proudly wears common thrash trappings like whammy bar-wankery, retro reverb, time-twisting tempo changes, and syncopated percussive punching ripped right from Ride the Lightning and other damned-obvious source material. And after multiple listens, I still can’t pinpoint any effort Power Trip has made to modernize what they’re doing on Nightmare Logic. Therefore, I have to conclude that this Texas quintet has written an honest-to-God goddamned good thrash album.

Album art for Power Trip's Nightmare Logic.

“Soul Sacrifice” riffs with Exodus-esque enthusiasm before breaking into a Slayer-like sprint. “Executioner’s Tax” rolls like thunder toward a passage of Ulrich-ian tom pounding, building up tension to return to a lightning-crack chorus. “Waiting Around to Die” — with its palm-muted to open-note picking pattern and hazy production — could fit right at home on So Far, So Good… So What! (and even fits better, if you remember that “502” exists). It’s all stuff we’ve heard before, but even Power Trip’s previous effort, 2013’s Manifest Decimation, didn’t get it this right.

What Nightmare Logic does so well is harness the infectious energy — the no-nonsense, fluff-free, often-imitated intensity — of the primordial Big Four and Co. and injects it full to bursting into nine solid songs.

Aside from a few lo-fi, analog-sounding synth intros and outros, there’s barely a wasted second on the entire thing. Each song flows seamlessly between vicious verses, killer choruses, headbanging bridges, and dynamic breaks. Certain riffs occasionally get milked (the outro of “If Not Us Then Who” comes to mind), but it never takes too much of our time before we’re tearing into another track. Even the tacked-on second-verse solos — their inclusion more a regretful courtesy to the genre than anything truly noteworthy — serve the higher purpose of stoking the reignited flames and keeping the old-school metal momentum going. Strange, then, that for all their efforts in recreating the past, Power Trip’s tunes are so good at moving us relentlessly forward.

Above all, the thing that would sell any Bay Area ‘banger on Nightmare Logic (and Power Trip as a whole) is the vocalist. We’ve endured thrash singers for years, we know what to expect: sharp, rapid barks, accenting the attack of the guitars. And although lyrically it’s nothing special, Riley Gale’s vocal delivery would have stood out even in ‘85. His brazen hardcore howls, occasionally dragging deliciously behind the beat, are pulled off with charisma and confidence. He’s not carrying the band by any means, but he’s a hurricane force to be sure.

Power Trip does seem to favor their 75-85 BPM backbeat-banger riffs, but given the nostalgic context these sections never feel out of place — they’re practically made to be played live and get the circle pit brewin’. I can perfectly picture the bridge from “Firing Squad” eliciting the kind of impromptu mosh pit camaraderie that makes you sling an arm around the slippery, sweaty shoulder of the hesher next to you — and him to you — and headbang in unison until both your goddamn heads rattle off.

Nightmare Logic doesn’t surge with unrestrained electricity, or seek to impress us with phenomenal fret- or feet-work (the drummer doesn’t have a double bass pedal). Power Trip wears their influences on their sleeves, and they don’t spend a second trying to convince us they’re anything more than what they are. Instead, Nightmare Logic hits hard and plunges deep, an IV needle pumping us full of magical, time-traveling fluid, miraculously bringing what was once thought dead back to life. This concise, carefully executed package is the real deal.

If you’ve ever argued over whether Metallica or Megadeth was the better band, I can’t imagine you not liking Nightmare Logic.

Support Power Trip and buy Nightmare Logic in the link located above.

Album art for Zeal & Ardor's Devil Is Fine.

Album review: Zeal & Ardor – Devil is Fine

Experimental metal has led us into some creative, quirky, and even downright weird territories. Whenever new genres get wrangled together, boundaries often get pushed in the process. But occasionally, a new idea so far out there comes along, we can’t help but get swept away in its promise of something new.

Devil Is Fine, the first release from New York-based Zeal & Ardor via MVKA Music, takes the two disparate genres of black metal and African American slave spirituals and unifies them under a single banner. Against all odds, Zeal & Ardor aims for the kind of bold genre mashup typically heard in viral parody internet videos, but Devil Is Fine offers such startling authenticity that it stands out as the real deal. Admittedly, some concessions were made to make all the parts work together nicely, but the parts that do work are pulled off so elegantly I can’t help but forgive its shortcomings.

Manuel Gagneux, Zeal & Ardor’s sole composer and instrumentalist, had the daunting task of pulling off this bizarre combination, not just musically but conceptually, too — part of his vision was to sonically express the idea of African slaves rebelling by singing praises to Satan instead of God. And I’m thrilled to say achieves it. His soulful gospel croon on the album’s haunting title track rattles the mic against the rhythmic clank of slave’s chains and a muffled tremolo riff. By contrast, his voice on “Children’s Summon” reverberates in a pseudo-satanic liturgy, which is then overwhelmed by a bluesy chorus of vocal layering that’s heavy with southern soul. Gagneux’s production wizardry smartly attempts to recreate the fuzzy historic sound of both slave-era America and early black metal. It’s a touch that anyone who’s done his homework would know, but one I appreciate nonetheless because they just work so damn well together. The album’s satanic-blues theme is best represented in “What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?”, an upbeat blues tune driven by a simple yet deceptively catchy riff. But it’s the calm-as-murder lyrical delivery (and the morbid words themselves) that makes this track stand out. Oh, and his scream is pretty damn good, too.

Although Zeal & Ardor delivers an entrancing sound, at just over 22 minutes Devil Is Fine is not a meaty release. Of the album’s nine songs, three of them are electronica instrumentals — they’re strangely out of place, which is puzzling considering the rest of the album’s strong sense of identity. And while the well-blended compositions for the other six songs are indeed brilliant, I ultimately found them a little lacking. “Children’s Summon” transitions back and forth from furious melodeath riffing to the aforementioned chanting, which only stands out because it’s in the context of a 3-minute song. Meanwhile, “Blood in the River”, a bombastic, pounding track that ranks among the album’s best seems like a bridge between two other parts that simply don’t exist. Even the title track, an uplifting, ethereal piece that sets the tone for the album seems to build toward a powerful, perhaps even spiritual release… except that release never comes, and the track ends much on the same note it began. I wouldn’t dare accuse Gagneux of already straining his concept to its creative limits, unable to sustain itself for longer than a few precious minutes, but the six legitimate songs are criminally short. Gagneux is like a serpent, tempting us with a poisoned apple that’s just beyond our reach but looks so, so sweet.

I don’t consider us metalheads immune to innovation or novelty, which makes assigning a rating to this release a tad difficult. There’s certainly a greater argument for just what constitutes a “song,” but this isn’t the time nor place for it. In spite of all that, I think Devil Is Fine already qualifies as one of 2017’s essential metal releases purely for its innovative leap into new waters. In fact, I’ll go one leap further and name it an essential piece of modern music, because even if it’s not quite there yet in terms of fully-fleshed-out songs, as a concept and sound Devil Is Fine is impressively executed.

One thing is for sure: whether Zeal & Ardor fizzles out after this release or they mature into something truly spectacular, you’d damn well better believe I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears on them.