Monday, April 11, 2011

Damaura – Fall Before Me . . . Leave No One


There are several ways to smash my skull.

You could use pure power. Stick my head inside a howitzer cannon, load it with powder, insert the shell, pull the chord, and explode fragments of my skull into the atmosphere.

You could use blunt force and bash it to pieces, pulverizing my cranial bones with the hyperbeat destructive force of a jackhammer.

Or you could use finesse, offer me a glass of a fine Zinfandel, get me tipsy, then slip a Mickey into my drink, wait for me to pass out and crush my cranium with a repeatedly bludgeoning sledgehammer.

Or, if you’re Damaura, you do it with a combination of all three.

Leaving a path of destruction throughout the San Francisco, East Bay, Damaura are a heavy metal act that have somehow managed to find that distillation of pure power, sledgehammer-thrash intensity, and neo-prog gentleness and mix it all into one defiantly lethal, skull-crushing combination. I could go on and on about how they bring in thrash elements here, pure black metal destruction there, touches of NWOBHM riffing, and quasi-Opethian ambiance, and try and sound impressive identifying all their metal influences and roots. But fuck that. Damaura are metal. That’s all you need to know. Call it thrash, black, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. What we got is metal through and through. All the way to its savory, rusted core.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not usually the one to be reviewing extreme metal. Usually, I’d pass that task onto the Pope, or Horn, or Pen, or now Cicatriz. Dish them the metal and pick up some warped guitar garage fuzz for my own listening. That’s the standard plan. But not this time. With their multitude of influences, technical skill, and totally warped approaches to bashing out my brains, Damaura have put an armlock on my inner ear and I just wasn’t going to pass this disc along to anyone. Call me a prisoner waiting my execution. It’d be fair.

Starting from the very first explosive second, Damaura come out all cannons blazing. Chris Black and Bernt Strom tear through a thrash riff with enough speed and power that it leaves me breathless. Meanwhile, Dan Cutt trogs through the bass in sweeping runs and Mike Davi punishes the drums with more force than Brock Lesnar taking on Justin Bieber in a UFC Championship match. Super technical riffing and time work is augmented by some searing metal guitar and the vocal attack of a hoard of demons released from the bowels of hell. But listen closely. This isn’t pure punishment and disembowelment here. When the song explodes into the chorus, there’s an actual melody there. A damn-if-you-can’t-sing-along-with it melody. Sure, you’d be singing in your epithelial cell tearing larynx, but damn if you couldn’t sing along. Powerful and punishing for sure, but embed with that extra something that really makes it click.

The one thing that gives me the most trouble with extreme metal is the vocals. The constant spleen-venting death growl just irritates me after a few minutes. I keep wanting to scream back to the bands that (in my mind) the death growl works best as a texture, a contrast, not as the only vocal. Burst it out, growl and spit. I’m good, but mix it up a bit. Give me some clean singing, some rough singing, toss in the growl for emphasis and emotion and you’ll have so much more power than a constant growling roar. Damaura know this. Through these 8 tracks, not only do we get a mixture of metal styles, all mashed into one pulse-exploding whole, but we also get a virtual distillation of all metal vocals: clean, rough, and growled. Chris Black gets most of the credit, having enough touch and finesse to mix up his vocals for different passages, and the band as a whole shares in this by bringing in Jeremy Heatherington to add some cleaner vocals on some tracks. The result is some of the most dynamically diverse metal I’d heard in a while.

“The Catastrophie Ending,” epitomizes this perfectly. Beginning with what can only be described as pure thrash-death, Damaura tear through detuned riffs, monstrous arpeggios, feedback harmonics, and pure menacing technicality, all buried inside the growling moan of a demon unleashed. When the verse kicks in, the riffing solidifies into some pure on solid melodically intense punishment with a rough, but cleaner vocal. By the time the chorus comes, we got not only some cleaner vocal, but even some counter and harmony vocals, and another fuck-if-I-can’t-sing-it melody. This is whiplash inducing destructo-metal of the highest order and tears through these elements with precision and ease. Killer stuff. If real metal were ever to be played on top 40 radio, this would be the hit song of the week.

But there’s more to the band than that. For a metal band to really destroy, not only do they need the vocals and guitar work of a rampaging Hun army, they also need a drummer to slaughter the weak. Do any of you remember the old Spiderman comic book, around issue 100, when Peter Parker mutated and grew 4 extra limbs? Suddenly, he was a truly monstrous 8-limbed spider man. In the comic, this hideous creature was cured and written out, but in reality, the 8-limbed beast lived on, picked up some drum sticks, changed his name to Mike Davi and joined the band. There’s no other explanation for the 4-footed bass drum work and four-armed tom, snare, and cymbal attack. Mike Davi is a mutant. A mutated-insect drumming superhero.

“Vendetta” brings some tasty gang vocals into the mix to break up the song. “Min Mardrom” is infused with mind-numbing runs of NWOBHM-thrash riffery of epic proportions. Then, just when you think you got the band figured out, following a truly beautiful, clean vocal passage, the bottom drops out, and the boys become . . . pretty? Is that jazz? Is that a near-ambient passage lost amidst the chaos and pain? Is there dimension and nuance here? Nicely done.

Then, as if to show that the gentler side wasn’t an aberration, “Son of Anubis” percolates out fully prog-laced and middle eastern in flavor. Don’t worry, the metal is here, dark and deathly, precise and technical, but so is something else. Cleaner vocal passages contrast with the cryptic gasps. Slowed down riffs clash against the hyper-tension. Melody surfaces to the light almost in spite of the band’s efforts to bludgeon. Thrash intense middle bridge. The best guitar soloing on the disc. Middle eastern drumming and gentle guitar. It’s all here and it’s a delicious contrast to the fury.

The rest of the album throws these changes at you. From the brutish pummeling of “The Gift of Desire,” to the radical time changes of “Dispatch” to the full-on post-jazz ambiance of “Ghosts” Damaura keep me on the edge. Waiting. Wondering. Anticipating what will come next.

A self-produced project that sounds anything but.

Metal for skull bashing.

In many different ways.

--Racer

Buy here mp3: Fall Before Me (Leave No One) [Explicit]

www.damaura.com



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