INTEGRITY: HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL/DEN OF INIQUITY/PALM SUNDAY

(MAGIC BULLET RECORDS/VICTORY RECORDS/DARK EMPIRE/SPOOK CITY RECORDS; reissues 2015, original releases 1995/1993/2006)

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Cleveland, Ohio’s Integrity have been crushing the masses with their signature brand of occult tinged metallic hardcore for nearly 30 years. Along with Earth Crisis and fellow Clevelandites Ringworm, Dwid Hellion and Company essentially created the metalcore sub genre (though all of those acts shun the overused term today). Naturally, when I heard that Magic Bullet Records would be releasing a remastered version of the seminal HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL, along with a collection of rarities and demos called DEN OF INIQUITY and a live offering from 1992 (which wasn’t unleashed upon the world until 2006) entitled PALM SUNDAY, I was beyond stoked.

Integrity, 1995 (photo credit TINA BRUGNOLETTI)

Integrity, 1995 (photo credit TINA BRUGNOLETTI)

HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL sees Integrity embracing their metal influences to the fullest. Crushing riffs are brutally weaved with dynamic drum beats, only to be crowned with Hellion’s maniacal growl and conceptually dark lyrics. The punk aspects aren’t completely absent from HUMANITY… , but they’re definitely overpowered by the metallic riffage and more complex song arrangements commonly found in the annals of mid ’90s metal. The real treat of this reissue is the clarity and cohesiveness of the remaster. The guitars are brought to the forefront, with the vocals being dialed back from their original overpowering state. Tracks such as “Hollow” and “Jagged Visions” have a much more dynamic feel, finding their true sound twenty years after their initial release. The album is brought to an end with an apocalyptic sermon narrated by Hellion, backed by an eerie soundscape that is creepy enough to make Damien Thorn piss his jam-jams.

Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2011) (uncredited photo)

Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2011) (uncredited photo)

Second up in this trilogy of Holy Terror is DEN OF INIQUITY. A collection of EPs, splits, live cuts and rarities, DEN… , by nature, is a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the songs here are solid, hiccuped with the occasional misstep. The problem isn’t the content itself, but due to being a compilation of songs spanning over a decade, the pacing, at times, feels wonky and disjointed; live tracks mingle amongst studio recordings, with stylistic changes laced throughout leaving the listener feeling a bit confused.

Finally, PALM SUNDAY is a live set recorded in 1992 at the now defunct Peabody’s in the band’s hometown of Cleveland. Antagonistic and vehement, Hellion whips the crowd into a fervor whilst belting out an array of tunes from the bands 1991 effort THOSE WHO FEAR TOMORROW, along with the rarities “Rebirth” and “Live It Down” (both of which are included on the aforementioned DEN OF INIQUITY collection).

Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2013) (uncredited photo)

Integrity (Dwid Hellion, circa 2013) (uncredited photo)

Integrity are one of the most legendary acts in all of underground heavy music. They’ve influenced countless acts the world over and have remained a cornerstone in the aggressive music scene for nearly three decades. If you’re a fan of punk, metal or hardcore, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this reissue of the iconic HUMANITY IS THE DEVIL, with DEN OF INIQUITY and PALM SUNDAY being reserved for die hard Integrity completists only. All three records are available at www.magicbulletrecords.com.


GREY SKIES FALLEN: THE MANY SIDES OF TRUTH

(Xanthros Music; 2014)

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THE MANY SIDES OF TRUTH is the sixth release by New York’s Grey Skies Fallen (the previous five are offered as free downloads at the band’s website, www.greyskiesfallen.com). The album, clocking in at less than 40 minutes, is as varied as the region from which the band hails. The overall feel is epic metal, but there are also brilliant swatches of doom, progressive and folk – elements that push to the fore in totally unexpected ways and at unexpected times throughout the course of the seven tunes. Whether this adventurous envelope-pushing is due to the maturity that comes from nearly 20 years as a band or from the two new members (Joe Sanci and Tom Anderer, guitar/vocals and bass, respectively) is a subject that I’ll leave to be debated by others; the salient point here is this: Is the record any good? Well…

The opening track, “Ritual of the Exiter,” is close to ten minutes of virtually perfect progressive folk metal. It starts in a slow, hypnotic fashion, with kinda creepy, mantric-like vocals buried low in the mix. Nearly half way through, the song proper is introduced, featuring two voices: One clean, the other harsh with a weird, robotic quality. Stun-gun guitars – the type popularized by Zak Wylde and other like-minded players – are on open display before breaking off into a quiet interlude. The respite, sweet though it is, is short, as a powerful Maidenesque instrumental section – complete with keyboards and full-throated chants – charges to its terminus. The drums and guitars are top-notch throughout, making for a fine opening salvo.

Grey Skies Fallen (publicity photo)

Grey Skies Fallen (publicity photo)

The next track encompasses the next three tunes. Acting as a prelude, “Unroot Transparent Being” reminds me of the opening guitar passages of Metallica’s ”One.” The instrumental features some very nice keyboard work, as well, but nothing more – no bass, no drums. Staying in a Classic Rock frame of mind, the guitar and the groove of “The Flame” brings to mind “Right Now” from Van Halen’s FOR UNLAWFUL CARNAL KNOWLEDGE album, while the vocals are more reminscent of Conrad Lant (Cronos of the English metal horde, Venom). In an odd (but very much appreciated) move for a band like Grey Skies Fallen, this portion of the triumvirate of mayhem is very keyboard heavy. Naturally, that leads into an atmospheric piano intro – rather like the score of an old Gothic movie – to “Of the Ancients,” a majestically evil sounding power metal piece with a well placed clean vocal performance.

A gentle, pastoral guitar piece, “Isolation Point” is full of echo and sustain and awash in feedback that somehow shimmers as it morphs into the main body of track three, a song called “End of My Rope.” This part of the suite careens forward in a bestial manner, with great, gutteral vocals before retreating slightly with a more epic sounding second half featuring clean vocals. “Winter Hand” is a more frenzied and disjointed refrain of the intro piece. This record works on so many levels that checking the “metalhead” box on your resume is not a prerequisite to total enjoyment. The technical efficiency of the players alone is worth the investment; the incredible music is simply a bonus.


ANAGNORISIS: BEYOND ALL LIGHT

(SELF-RELEASED; 2013)

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With a cursory listen to Anagnorisis’ second full length, BEYOND ALL LIGHT, it’s obvious that these guys are very talented musicians with a strong sense of where they’re going and a stronger sense of the sound that’s going to take them there. Dig a little deeper and listen a little closer and you catch a bit of the problem that is endemic of a lot of self-produced, self-released music: The production and the mix seem a bit muddy, particularly throughout the first half. It’s not unlistenable… believe me, I’ve heard worse! There are points where the instruments are practically discernable from each other and the vocals seem to be just low enough in the mix to be an annoyance. Maybe I’m missing something… maybe the band is taking Motorhead’s credo of “Everything louder than everything else” to its ultimate conclusion. Whatever… I did hear enough that I liked to tell you about the good stuff. So…

Anagnorisis (Josh Mumford, Chris Smith, Zachary Kerr, Zac Denham, Samuel Hartman) (photo credit: KURT STRECKER)

Anagnorisis (Josh Mumford, Chris Smith, Zachary Kerr, Zac Denham, Samuel Hartman) (photo credit: KURT STRECKER)

The album is played out as two dark suites of three songs each. The first, encompassing the tunes “Eulerian Path,” “This Cursed Blood,” and “Death Mimics Life,” delivers a brutal display of abuse and despair. Here’s where the mix comes in to play. With the vocals low in the mix, the lyrics lose most of the emotional impact. I’ve heard (and liked) plenty of vocalists who perform in this fashion (gutteral barks sounding as if they emanate from the very bowels of Hell) but… I don’t know. It could be that Zachary Kerr (the band’s former bassist turned front man) has a higher pitched voice than is usually heard in such settings; more likely, it’s just a matter of his voice being buried in the swirling eddy of almost incomprehensible violence coming from the instruments’ unrelenting barrage.

Anagnorisis (publicity photo)

Anagnorisis (publicity photo)

Abyss,” “Bountiful Godless Life” and “Forever Night” comprise the second black suite. It is a distinct sonic improvement over the first half of the record. The vocals are pushed out front… not much, but just enough to make them more understandable. In the context of a better mix, Kerr’s voice and unconventional delivery really grows on you and even, in certain passages, shines. Likewise, the guitars and utilitarian keyboards aren’t faded into the miasmic background, allowing the listener to bask in the precise lead and rhythm work and fluid solos of Zak Denham (who also mixed). It also unmuddies the excellent work of the rhythm section (newest members, bassist Josh Mumford – with both Kerr and Denham adding bass parts, as well – and drummer Chris Smith, ably assisted by keyboardist Samuel Hartman, whose work I’ve already mentioned). Every record I own (the big vinyl things that you have to flip over to hear everything) has a favored side. Though side one of BEYOND ALL LIGHT isn’t bad, it’s side two that’ll get the most spins on my turntable.