Three of the world’s most overbearing death/myth/alienation units dropped records in the last couple of months. A chin-scratching factor: Cephalic and Nile sound most comprehensible not on my expensive monitors at amp-frying volume, but on my $40 computer speakers at decibel levels a kid’s parents wouldn’t challenge -- or on rinkydink headphones, even. This complex music, it seems, is being mixed for simplicity, like the way 45s were made for 1960s AM radio. I predict that in the future, the top albums from the present era will be revisited in versions that we, in prehistoric times, used to call “hi-fi.”
Cephalic Carnage, “Xenosapien” (Relapse). As in life, frantic beats at the beginning defer midway to restive groans, midtempo surges, tortured bestiality and deliberate hostility; while tempos slow, power grows. Speed-etched guitar keeps things itching; a touch of dub-echoed sax is an inspired contrast. Believe it or not, these Colorado stoners are serious about control, and they snap their obsessive puzzles together with a pyramidic precision that never sounds anal thanks to the kitwide reach of drummer John Merryman. This may not be my favorite Cephalic album, but it slams, for sure.
Nile, “Ithyphallic” (Nuclear Blast). George Kollias’ drums, by contrast, are so tightly stretched, distinct and mechanistic that they’re practically a cartoon of modern metal. But this ends up a listenable, deeply textured and all-around superior Nile album thanks to Karl Sanders, a tech-renowned guitarist who nevertheless balances the canvas with a completely human arsenal of riffs and ear-grabbing solos. The riffs: smeary chords; wobbly Zep grease; heave-ho slave labor; despairing souls. The solos: sliding loosely; keening over pitched battle; a short one yanked out like a length of intestine. Plus: as usual there’s a beautifully jangly acoustic dance, and Sanders’ epic bent is in full evidence with a couple of extended multi-part overtures. “Ithyphallic” is ancient warfare on the big screen, and you can taste both bloody triumph and miserable destruction. Music in service to communication, artfully worked out. Bravo.
Behemoth, “The Apostasy” (Century Media). Here’s war that’s all about dense collison, with Inferno’s muscular drumming the star, and there’s plenty of bottom if you want it. When Nergal’s blunt guitar riffs are less inspired, he adds dimension with a gong, a balalaika, or male and female chorals. But the best number is “Inner Sanctum,” a real song (recorded October 31!) that makes a dramatic change from moody melody to boot-stomp to giddy victory celebration. Noted Polish jazzman Leszek Mozdzer, who contributed the subtly chiming piano, can be seen on a YouTube video filmed during the session. “I guarantee you,” says Mozdzer, slouching over his baby grand, “there is not a single metalhead who will get this.” You owe me a beer, dude.