Monday, May 30, 2016

Destruction – Under Attack

To call Destruction an institution in thrash metal still doesn’t do justice to how great this band truly is. Everything they released from their debut EP through to “Release From Agony” is nothing short of a masterpiece. If you can make your peace with the fact that their early work cannot be topped, then the last 16 years of their career becomes much more interesting. The band has consistently pumped out enjoyable albums, all to varying degrees of quality, but with none that are truly lacking. “Under Attack” is the next such offering, and comes after a reasonably long 4 year break.

The band wastes no time as they kick things off with the brutal title track. Unsurprisingly, this song features an overload of charged up, thrashing riffs. While the band has had the tendency to go mid-paced in recent years, that is not the case on this song (nor does it really dominate the record either). There’s plenty of speed on “Under Attack”, and that’s a primary reason why it is among the more enjoyable recent Destruction albums. Tracks like “Generation Nevermore”, “Dethroned” and “Second To None” similarly present a barbaric aural assault, with some of the more interesting riffs that Mike Sifringer has cooked up in recent years. While Mike delivers the riffs, there are a slew of guest guitarists on this record to amp up the soloing, including former member Harry Wilkins, and every single one of them nails it by providing some of Destruction's best lead playing in a long time..

The most surprising moment of the record is “Getting Used To The Evil”, which is a quasi-ballad. It isn’t exactly a sap-fest, but it starts off quieter, and the consistent intermingling of clean and distorted guitars makes for a nice contrast on an admittedly one-dimensional record. Other highlights include the cover of Venom’s classic “Black Metal”, which is a nice modern take on the song that doesn’t feel tired, as well as the updating of “Thrash Attack”. Bands rerecording songs is usually not a great sign (though this track didn’t appear on the band’s rerecording of greatest hits, “Thrash Anthems”), but this just works. It adds a familiar ending to an otherwise solid record. 

And that’s really the story of “Under Attack”; it’s an enjoyable modern Destruction record. You know the drill by this point in their career, and this record doesn’t set out to change that. The riffing does feel more inspired than some of their other modern albums, though this album can’t quite keep up with my personal favourites of “The Antichrist” and “Day of Reckoning”. Some of the later songs on the album don't manage to hold up as well as some of the earlier stuff though. Nevertheless, this is a band that forever has my respect because of their commitment to thrash, and I’ll be buying every single album until they call it quits. Horns up to Destruction for making “Under Attack” another worthy purchase!

Be sure to check out and like Destruction on Facebook!

"Under Attack"
"Getting Used To The Evil"
"Second To None"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Untimely Demise Interview

One of the best thrash albums of recent years, "Black Widow", was just released by Saskatchewan's Untimely Demise. These guys offer one of the most interesting and unique brands of black/thrash I've ever heard. The band gave a great interview a few years back, so I wanted to contact them again to get some insight on their new record, as well as their upcoming Canadian tour. Many thanks to Murray and Matt Cuthbertson for this great interview!

Skull Fracturing Metal (SFM): It's been about 3 years since the release of your last record. What has Untimely Demise been up to in that time?

Murray Cuthbertson: The band has been extremely ambitious and active in the last 3 years since our last interview. Touring in Europe for the first time ever was a watershed moment for our group. In May of 2014 we played a 2 week tour of Europe, consisting of 9 shows and fests in Leeds and London, UK, Oberhausen, Aalen, Hamburg, Dresden & Siegen in Germany, as well as playing in Brussels with Pestilence for their final show. It was a surreal experience getting to support our friends and mentors from Florida Death Metal legends 'Massacre' and it is something that was key in building our band name out there. We also toured with Into Eternity in 2013, which was a blast and great bonding experience - Matt now actually plays guitar in the band and Bryan from IE drums with us, so I think that tour was the crux of bringing together our current lineup. Another highwater mark was playing support for Death-To-All, Obituary, Massacre and Rivers of Nihil in Western Canada in late 2014, which was an absolute dream come true. Again, playing with people that have influenced us so heavily was a boon and it was nice getting to know everyone and have some beers. Also noteworthy in the shows department would be playing direct support to Sacrifice and Razor at Manitoba Metalfest in April of 2015. Just had a few killer gigs with Zimmers Hole in Edmonton and Calgary last weekend which ruled and helped us get ready for our upcoming Cross Canada tour with Act Of Defiance (ex-Megadeth/Shadows Fall/Scar The Martyr) that starts with our CD release show in Saskatoon on May 28th. We are going all the way out to Quebec and back for a total of 13 shows (half with AOD and the rest as headliners). Can't wait to defend the FAITH!

Speaking to the new record itself: the level of musicianship, songwriting and hunger is at an apex with the writing, recording and release of our 3rd full length album, Black Widow. The amount of time, thought and effort invested in this record is significantly greater than anything we have done in the past. We sought to juxtapose brutality and beauty with the construction of this album insofar as the heavy riffs and passages are always balanced with intricate classical/jazz sensibilities that make it memorable and listenable to the beholder. Introducing a virtuoso drummer, that being Edmonton's ambidextrous Bryan Newbury of Into Eternity, has really elevated the sonic attack of the group. His impeccable double kick, blastbeat and jazz-influenced percussive approach makes the songs standout from our previous releases. Matt's singing, lead and rhythm playing is sicker than it has ever been on this album - he laid down about 35 solos on the album which makes every track sound super complete and punishing. Speaking to my bass playing, I have really worked hard to bring my game up on Black Widow, looking to make the basslines lock in with the drummer and always trying to compliment the frontman's musical statements. This also marks the first time as a metal band that we have recorded entirely in Saskatchewan. We love working with ex-Megadeth guitarist Glen Drover (who produced our last 3 albums) but many factors outside of our control led us to make this a 100% Saskie production. It was an absolute pleasure recording in Regina with Into Eternity/Third Ion producer/guitarist Justin Bender handling engineering and co-production duties. His keen ear, knowledge of the recording software, and dedication to our subgenre of metal made the process a joy. Working with him at Blue Door Studios and Retro Sleep studios allowed us to be extremely meticulous in the the recording, mixing and mastering phase of this project. Having ex-Megadeth and current Act Of Defiance drummer, Shawn Drover contributing guest drums to the thrasher 'Anticolonizer' is a cool moment on the album that really bolsters the exposure possibilities for this independent release. Also having my brother's Into Eternity guitar genius bandmate Tim Roth playing an epic guest solo on 'Calling Me Back From The Light' is something people should take note of. Finally, the vocals Matt tracked for this album blow everything else we've done out the water. Each track has a unique vocal approach, jumping back and forth between clean powerful thrash singing tantamount to the work of Testament and his harsher 'Death' influenced timbre. With all of this said we are totally stoked to get this album released and tour in support of it.

SFM: How did you find the writing and recording process different from the previous albums?  
Matt Cuthbertson: This is the first album where album where every song was written and demoed without a drummer present as Bryan was not officially a member of the band yet and he lives in Edmonton. I would pick tempos, then come up with a collection of riffs that worked together and would then record a rough demo on our digital multitracker. These were sent to Bryan and he composed the percussion a head of time. A couple days before we hit the studio in we jammed out the tunes at our place in Stoon to make sure we all had the same vision for this album.
As far as recording goes, 'Black Widow' is the first album we've recorded in Saskatchewan and the first time Untimely Demise has worked with Justin Bender. I personally had recorded some vocals for a song I did with Glen Drover called 'Walls of Blood' and I'd also layed some solos down for the new Into Eternity album 'The Sirens' but this was a first for UD. 
Some of the biggest differences in the recording process between 'Black Widow' and our previous albums would be the layering of my vocals. We double tracked all of the distorted singing and then added some more traditional thrash tones as well as a few falsetto lines for texture. 
Another first was the re-amping of the rhythm guitars. Everything was tracked digitally with JB in Regina and we sent that to Ryan Forsyth in Winnipeg where he ran through tracks through a Revv amplification generator and the end result is the killer organic rhythm tone that we have on the album.

SFM: One thing I really loved about “Black Widow” is the fact that it’s almost overwhelming in terms of the sheer number of guitar solos. Was this meant to be an increased focus of your music on this record?

Matt: A lot of the more intricate well composed solos were written at the same time as the rhythms of the songs. One of the many things I learned from Glen was that you listen to your song after its been recorded and find the parts that could be enhanced by a solo or lead melody. As well, I like composing half of my solos and freestyling half so the music sounds more diverse almost as if there were two different guitarists playing them. All in all, the fact of the matter is, the old school thrash/death metal that we like has always had lots of solos and that is the sound we are going for.

SFM: The new album has quite a few guest musicians on it, including Shawn Drover. What was the process of getting these guys involved, and how did you enjoy working with them?

Murray: It was a lot of fun incorporating guest musicians into this album as it adds more variety to an already eclectic album. We brought in Shawn Drover while he was still playing in Megadeth. He had a few weeks off of his intense 'mega' schedule and was doing some studio drumming in Ontario with Glen at Eclipse Studios. Glen called us up and said there was an opportunity to get Shawn involved in some session drumming for the album to which we gladly jumped at. We sent demos of a bunch of tunes on the album that we felt would compliment his percussion style. He chose 'Anticolonizer' and after we sent him a scratch guitar track that we recorded with Mike Lefebvre at The Sweat Shoppe studios in Saskatoon, Glen tracked and engineered Shawn's drums which they recorded in Ontario. It was very cool having him gracing our album with his playing and helped build a cool international buzz on sites like Metal Hammer UK and Bravewords. When he said that he liked the band and that it was fun to be recording 'real metal' again we knew that was gonna rock the boat with his (at the time) current band; little did we know that him and Chris were about to leave Megadeth for good months later. As for guest lead players, we knew right away that we wanted to get Matt's bandmate and our good friend Tim Roth from Into Eternity onboard as he is, in my humble opinion, the metal Mozart of Canada. Tim happily responded to our request and in a short 2 take session laid down a massive solo at the end of 'Calling Me Back From the Light' which really compliments Matt's solo that precedes it. For bringing Justin on board it was something that we all just cooked up in the studio and thought it would be fun to get his lead style on the song 'Cancer of the Heart' - it was a joy to have him play on the album and we love what he brought to it both as an engineer and as a guest player. Finally, with our current best pal and former guitarist Sam Martz, we had him play the leads that he had already been playing with us live on the road whenever we played 'Anticolonizer' and 'Calling' live during the DTA tour and other live actions. Sam is a stellar George Lynch influenced player and it was a shame that after playing in so many bands over the years he had never played on a widely released album. Sam tracked his leads in Winnipeg with Ryan Forsyth of Dissolution, a magnificent player and insanely talented engineer (work with this guy if you can people). Ryan also reamped all of the rhythm guitars on the album to give them a punch organic feel through his Revv Generator 120 amp setup - it sounds sick, listen for yourselves, and yes, if you are listening Revv we would love an endorsement cause we love the way your products sound.
SFM: I always thought that Systematic Eradication was one of the more unique cover arts done by Ed Repka, whereas 'Black Widow' is a little more traditional to Repka's style (but still awesome). What was the process for coming up with the cover art?

Murray: Ed's distinctive artwork for our band has always been a keystone that holds everything together and draws people to the band that would have otherwise been oblivious to Untimely Demise's music. He is the man! Ed gives us a lot of latitude as to what we want just the only stipulation is that the art has to work with the title and make sense. After writing all of the songs for the album we started sifting through the track titles and looked for one that was simple and monolithic. Black Widow just made sense to us. I had written the lyrics a few years back after being fascinated and shocked by the epidemic of female Chechen suicide bombers - I like the brutality of the music to be matched by equally incendiary lyrical content; essentially it is art imitating life, not the other way around. I sent the title to Ed as well as the song and lyrics as he likes to work things into the piece that is derived from the music itself. We agreed that we wanted it to be hard-hitting but cartoonish enough that it wasn't too serious (hence the gigantic rack). Then right after the art was complete the Paris attacks unfolded which worried us (we have friends that live there and were literally 2 blocks away from the epicenter of the attacks), but then we realized that people that like our music will buy the album and those that are offended wouldn't have supported us in the first place. Ultimately, we value human life and unfortunately the atrocities that occur in our world will never end. As metal musicians we have an obligation to report the news without bias or sugarcoating. When we received the final art we were 'blown away' with the impeccable job that Ed did - the characters, colour scheme and perspective is classic Repka which speaks for itself. We hope to have it pressed on vinyl soon after we sell out our initial CD run. 
SFM: The last record was released on Punishment 18 Records, but I believe this one was an independent release. What caused you guys to go the independent route again? Are you still looking for a label for this album?

Murray: Necessity and commonsense always dictates the trajectory of our business decisions with this band. We love the crew at Punishment 18 records as they are 100 percent dedicated to the dissemination of thrash metal and are very appreciative for their help in spreading our music in Europe. We could definitely see working with them again in the near future. Once all of the work was complete on Black Widow, Matt and I sat down and looked at all the options and realized that the way to get this album out in the most 'timely' manner would to be going back to the DIY independent route; we already composed all of the music, raised the money through our own personal contributions, an arts grant through Creative Saskatchewan (wonderful organization) and a successful crowdfunding campaign to record, mix, master and press the album, then commissioned the Repka art and layout so for a label to get involved they would have to be able to give us a deal that would help shoulder some of the financial burden that has been crushing us over the last few years of touring. We shopped the album to all major and solid independent labels and still don't have an offer that we feel is suitable. Like with 'City Of Steel' we are expecting that the band will be picked up by a label and the album will be reissued on a wider scale. For now we enjoy having control over our intellectual property/masters and when we make a sale the money immediately goes towards paying off the debts incurred bringing 'Black Widow' to fruition. Long story short: we are looking to partner with a label that believes in the band and wants to work with us to take it to a higher echelon. Until that happens we are happy to have the album out and be touring on it rather than holding our breath waiting for this industry to figure things out.

SFM: What can fans expect of your upcoming tour with Act Of Defiance, and then the solo dates that follow in terms of mixing in the new album with the old stuff?

Murray: Good question, Scott! We will be playing the 'hits' off of Systematic Eradication, like The Last Guildsman, Navigator's Choice and Spiritual Embezzlement, but other than those songs the focus is the new album tracks and a secret cover that people will have to attend to shows to find out about. We are quite proud of all of our previous releases, but simply put, Black Widow is better, and thus we want to take this opportunity to showcase what makes our band unique and a contender in the metal scene. Rather than forcing Bryan to have to emulate Scott Cross' nuanced drums from the previous 3 albums (Scott rules by the way in case people didn't already know that) we wanted to let Bryan engage with the music that he actually arranged the drums for. The technicality and moxy of the new songs justify loading up the set with them. When you are playing with players as accomplished and dangerous as Chris Broderick, Matt Bachand, Henry Derek and Shawn Drover you want to make sure to bring out the armour-piercing tunes live.

SFM: I've also heard rumblings of some dates with Besieged. Is there any truth to this?

Murray: Myself and Matt are good friends with the Besieged brothers Nolan and Tristan Smit from our extensive time playing in Winnipeg and we all thought it would be cool to get the clans playing together on an ultimate next generation Canadian thrash tour. Both their band and our band have always had line-up issues and we talked together about Nolan playing 2nd guitar for us on tours while Matt and I would help with guitar and bass duties for them. At present other commitments are preventing both of our bands from touring together but never say never. We have so much respect for those guys and are bonded by blood, so if something arises at the right time for us to all work together we will contact Skull Fracturing Metal immediately.

SFM: As a reviewer, I have to say I was really impressed with your attitude towards promoting the new release. It isn't often that bands are willing to mail copies of the album to writers/journalists, and based on what I've seen on Facebook, you guys sent quite a few copies around. Could you speak a little bit about your strategy for promoting the new album?

Murray: Well we we know that luck is the residue of design so we feel that every disc you send out is like buying a lottery ticket - good things can happen when you have a solid album and get it in the hands of the right girl or guy. Being raised in Saskatchewan has made tenacity and a hardwork ethic intrinsic in our approach. We have so many friends and family members that work their asses off everyday to accomplish their goals and raise their families so we have garnered significant inspiration from their approach and applied it to music - not just in terms of playing but also in the operation of the business. We have a policy of always being approachable to everyone and reaching out whenever we can. Sending out copies to labels, mags, radio, likeminded bands and agents has yielded great results in the past so we continue to follow that template. The best way to get people to buy into you is to improvise, adapt and overcome all obstacles. We are huge sports fans too so that ethos of always regrouping and giving 100 percent has to carry over in all aspects of Untimely Demise. As far as sending out copies of our album, it only takes one to make a huge difference so like a gambler at a craps table we are letting it ride 24/7.

SFM: What sorts of things are you guys listening to these days?

Murray: All of our old favourites (Megadeth, Death, Kreator, Sacrifice, etc) never get too far away from the CD player or turntable but for new(er) stuff it would be Exmortus, Act Of Defiance, Generichrist, Planet Eater, Striker, the new Obscura, Gruesome, Obituary's Inked In Blood, The End (Florida) and a zillion other albums I can't think of right now. I was talking to Gene Hoglan in Calgary last week about him completing drums for the new Testament album and I must say from what he was telling me I can't wait to hear that release. Never can stop listening to Maiden and Priest either - they fucking own.

SFM: Thank you again for taking the time to do this interview! Any last words for the fans out there?

Murray: Buy our new album 'Black Widow' direct from the band on Bandcamp here: , get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and come check us out on tour. Thanks for your continued help and keep supporting local bands by attending shows and snagging merch - that is what keeps the metal scene alive.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Maze of Terror – Ready to Kill

Few album titles are as apt as Maze of Terror’s debut full-length, “Ready To Kill”. From start to finish, this record continually punches you in the face with sheer aggression, and just doesn’t stop. Though there are a variety of twists and turns throughout the 55-minute journey, this album is grounded in face-ripping thrash. The spitting blackened vocals take things to a darker place, resulting in a record that just doesn’t let up.

From the onset of “Rotting Force” it becomes immediately clear that Maze of Terror’s riffs are just a cut above many other bands’. This track’s main riff is both incredibly memorable and hard-hitting (which is only further emphasized by the blasting drums), switching between rhythmic quarter notes, and speedy tremolo picking. The next song, “Lycanthropes”, shows that Maze of Terror can deliver the groove. Once the song takes off, the drums lock into an insanely tight section, driven by fast double bass, with a tame rock beat over top. This is something you just don’t hear enough of in thrash, or really metal as a whole. Shortly after this, Maze of Terror returns to their thrashy ways, and spends much of the remainder of the song annihilating you with riffs. “Violent Mind of Hate” is another track where the band explores new territory, as the song opens with a punky drumbeat and bass line before exploding into a full-on thrash assault. Most songs do tend to have at least one distinctive feature like this, making the entire record worthwhile.

The core theme of this record is hatred. Every single thing about “Ready To Kill” sounds incredibly angry, and this authentic emotion translates well to an enjoyable listening experience. The band has no qualms about launching into lengthier musical sections, or doing the exact opposite and unleashing 1,000 words per minute. Everything about this band sounds like they want to break your neck, and they certainly accomplish the musical equivalent of that. Most often this is done because of the sheer speed at which most songs on this album move, but even some of the more mid-paced parts rock incredibly hard. 

The production is a major strength for “Ready To Kill”. The guitars are thick, and drowning in distortion. It makes already heavy riffs feel like they’re dragging the world down with them. Everything sounds good enough that you can’t really complain about it, but not so good as to lose that old-school feel. If there’s any complaint I have about this record, it would be that it’s a bit long. But even despite being nearly an hour, it doesn’t have any bad songs or weak moments. It’s just a lot to digest, especially considering the nature of the music. Nevertheless, this is among the more impressive thrash offerings as of late, largely due to the unique riffs that appear all throughout the album.

Be sure to check out and like Maze of Terror on Facebook!

"Rotting Force"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott