Friday, February 19, 2010

Sovereign Descent

Almost a year ago, Umlaut read THIS live review of Landmine Marathon (click HERE for another review of the same show). To make a long story short, just click HERE and HERE for the story about where that review led me last year. As 2010 is getting up to full speed, The Rock Godz have already determined that Umlaut should follow Landmine's Year Of Living Dangerously up close and personal... and for that I say "Amen".

For the newbies, Landmine Marathon and their brand of Metal was spawned in the desert kingdom of Phoenix, Arizona. Over the past 4 years they've released 2 full length albums, a split CD with Scarecrow, and a split 7" with The Funeral Pyre. On March 16th Prosthetic Records will unleash Landmine's new album Sovereign Descent.

The band’s lineup is as classic as it gets, with Ryan Butler and Dylan Thomas (Yes, cue English Literature double take...) on twin Jacksons driving the ship, Mike Pohlmeier (drums) and Matt Martinez (bass) bolting down the bottom end and bringing things up to ramming speed, and Grace Perry as your cruise director. Landmine is a band that is solidly a sum of its parts. I know, that generalization can be said about any band, but with Landmine I feel that needs to be stated since so much attention is usually focused on only 1/5 of the band. When you read something about Landmine, 9 times out of 10 it almost always is a variation of two points:
  • "They sound like a vintage Earache band…"
Photo by Jeremiah Cooper

Of course, Grace is “the face” of Landmine Marathon and onstage she's the blasting cap that gets everything going, but she’s not simply "the girl" who is only pursued for magazine covers. Grace writes all of the band’s lyrics so she is literally the voice of Landmine, but is anybody listening to what she's saying? I hope so... Ironically, I was given access to the lyrics of the band’s new album Sovereign Descent a good 3 weeks before I heard it. It was an interesting way to preview an album, but it played right into my English Major background.

When I was given an advance copy of the album earlier this week and was finally able to hit “Play”, all of the words that had been nasty blunt instruments instantly became nasty edged weapons. The guitar work of Ryan and Dylan is grounded in grindy old school Metal melodies and dynamics but glued together with a stare down Hardcore Punk attitude. Matt (bass) and Mike (drums) nail it all down on the (inverted) cross with the same old school Metal and Punk aesthetic. Each Landmine album has featured a different rhythm guitarist (Dylan joined the band shortly after the release of 2008's Rusted Eyes Awake), which means each album has had a slightly different axe tone to them (at least to my ears). All have been brutal, but in slightly different ways... but on Sovereign Descent I think the band has finally found the lineup mix that really conveys their Metal message in a superbly focused way.

Okay, so with just about a month to go before it's official release, here is Umlaut's track-by-track gut reaction to the album that is Sovereign Descent:

The track starts with a slow fade in... For the first 1:00 minute of the song it’s like watching a stranger calmly approach you as they slowly twirl a baseball bat (or an axe handle… or a pipe… or a shovel..) in preparation for swinging it really hard… but you’re transfixed by the stranger's image and you don’t (can’t!) move. Then the song kicks in and the baseball bat (or an axe handle… or a pipe… or a shovel..) hits you in the face… and Landmine continues to hit you in the face for the next 40 minutes. When I first read the lyrics to this song my first thought was literally “Woah….” The lyrics are unexpectedly personal, which makes the song’s fury all the more compelling.

Shadows Fed to Tyrants
Starting at the 0:01 second mark things go like this: Guitar grind > scream > snare hit > detonation. At the 1:50 minute mark I involuntarily raised my right index finger and gave the universal hand gesture for Pit Action. This song has that feeling of being in an overcrowded, “one way in / one way out” death trap club. Man, I hope a fire doesn’t break out in here…

Foul Revolt
A classy Hardcore stomp driven by a tasty main riff and some solid “get in the pit” drumming by Mike. The air really gets moving at the 1:15 minute mark and it was hard not to stand up and throw my chair against the wall when the tasty main riff kicked back in to close out the song. This is like the PB&J of the album... simple but tasty.. but how did broken glass get into this sandwich?

Cruel Policy
I liked how the mid-song riff echos back to the classic Landmine song ‘Skin From Skull’ (a track from the band’s last album Rusted Eyes Awake that first ran on a 2007 split CD with Scarecrow). I'm also into the one second blast of silence that comes 2:54 minutes into the song, which serves as a sucker punch just before a short but calculated shiv-in-the-shower solo by Ryan. Then the song sprints to the finish as you bleed out on the cold, wet tile with a bar of soap shoved in your mouth.

Justify the Suffering
Umlaut is claiming this song as his initial favorite track of the album. Pounding hooves of Metal, like the chariot race in Ben Hur. Around and around in the bloody dust this song goes… crushing all... around and around.. bloody dust.. Take your hands off me you damn dirty Romans! Ryan’s guitar solo eloquently serves as the spear that ends the suffering of the wounded and the broken.

Photo courtesy of NoCeiling Photography

Steadfast Hate
A 7:00 minute journey inside a blackened heart. The first epic 4:00 minutes is the sonic equivalent of being drawn and quartered… slow… painful… the guitars going in one direction…the drums and bass slowly inching in another direction.. and the vocals pulling in yet another direction.. dark... slow... pain….then more pain… Then the release as limbs are liberated from the body and Matt kicks in with a rare vocal at the 4:22 minute mark and Dylan severs whatever is left hanging with his solo. Magnificent.

Chained by the Same Fate
After the abattoir of the previous song, the Thrash release of this track is downright liberating. Work it off, dude… stay loose... but keep moving. Pit Etiquette is in effect. I can imagine bones being broken during this song, but the wounded better get carried out before Ryan's guitar solo ends, because it's the closest thing to a slow moment in this track.

Flood the Earth
Slow and grindy as the room slowly fills up with Landmine volume... Then panic sets in as you realize the volume is up to your neck... but then suddenly a moment of clarity hits and you give into the volume and swallow it and slip under the surface... Your lungs explode.. but it's all good. I'm intrigued by the lyrics... with its references to wives.. mothers.. daughters.

Rise with the Tide
The track starts with a tide of guitar harmonies and double bass rolling in and out… before a wall of sound knocks you over and carries you out to sea. The ocean is unforgiving... as is this song. The album began with the sonic equivalent of the slow swinging of a baseball bat (or an axe handle… or a pipe… or a shovel..) and it ends with Grace’s voice disappearing abruptly at the end of the track... Gone.

As I type this I've listened to Sovereign Descent on the home stereo, on the computer, on an iPod, and in the car in order to really get my head into it. It's 40 minutes of profound brutality and the production is more unrelenting than I was expecting it to be. Also, I'm somewhat fascinated by all of the references to water in the lyrics since this band, and this album, and these songs were spawned in the desert... cue Dune.

He who controls the spice, controls the Metal.

Note for the Music Geeks: Sovereign Descent was mastered by Alan Douches (Mastodon, Converge, Dillinger Escape Plan) and the cover art was done by the legend Dan Seagrave (Entombed, Morbid Angel, Suffocation). Also, the lacquers for the vinyl release are being cut by the same dude who did the same for a little album called Damaged by some band called Black Flag.

Anyway, there you have it... Umlaut doesn't attempt to be a "serious" journalist very often, but Landmine Marathon really shoved my head into a wall over the past year. It's been awhile since I've gravitated towards a Metal band and immersed myself in their music to this extent. I can't really explain why, but I've been in this Music Geek business long enough to recognize bands who are "The Real Deal" to me and Landmine are The Real Fucking Deal. They're a genuine band, but there is nothing subtle about them and I love that. Landmine are a genuine band who will happily hit you in the face with a baseball bat (or an axe handle… or a pipe… or a shovel..)... because it's for your own good, pussy.

Be a cool kid and order Sovereign Descent HERE and see Landmine as they tour this year. Also, stay tuned next month for Umlaut's road trip rants as I march off to war with Landmine Marathon in the foreign lands of Ohio and Texas.

Trivia: The Arizona state motto is Ditat Deus (Latin: "God Enriches"). Ironic... Discuss amongst yourselves.