SHOW YOUR FACE, Unleash (2011, self-released)
When I was a kid, sometimes in the course of my roughhousing I would knock down and break one of the dozens of decorative skulls that festooned our home (and which I assume are common in most American households), on discovery of which my mother would spank me and yell, rhetorically, “Do you think skulls grow on trees?” Well, if only I had this cover to answer her with, I could have increased the severity of the beating by at least 200%!
I always think of tough-guy metalcore as being a distinctly American phenomenon, with maybe some Germans getting involved. But never Greeks! Greeks should be making weirdo black metal or cheap-sounding prog metal or maybe retro true metal. It’s what they do best! Not that Show Your Face are bad at metalcore. They’re pretty good, actually, and their vision of metalcore is for sure a lot less floofy than the American standard. There are no clean vocals (although there are a few sorta “sung” moments, but the voice remains tough), and the lyrics don’t seem to be overly concerned with the singer’s pain. Show Your Face deal with pain, but only the kind they intend to inflict on other motherfuckers. Really, “metalcore” might be a bad label, but I don’t know what else to call this sort of thing. It’s somewhere between every modern descendent of Pantera and Hatebreed, with some melodic Swedish influences thrown in for good measure (without ever going full In Flames.) It’s all very well done, but still quite boring. About the only song that really did anything for me is the brief instrumental “Minus 56,” with its odd syncopated grooves and slinky tapped guitar line. For those 2 minutes, I’m almost willing to believe that Show Your Face could grow up and our of their adolescent rage. Maybe if I were a lot younger and considerably more angry, this kind of music would appeal to me, but as it is, I have very little interest in fucking shit up these days.
— Friar Johnsen
PLAGUE WIDOW, Plague Widow (2012, Buriedinhell)
Very “Darkthrone” in aesthetic, this cover pushes two buttons that, for this Friar, separate a killer skull cover from a dumb skull cover. I have a particular fascination with skulls that have an entanglement of roots underneath them, a fascination I didn’t even know I had until starting this ridiculous project. But there it is. Those roots are beautiful, seeming a “dust to dust” sort of commentary — “back to the earth from whence we came,” that sort of thing. The other button-pushing bit of coolness is the black rust dripping down the skull’s face, especially the streaks under the right eye which look like black tears. I’m totally into that too. (This blog is one of deep personal discovery for some of us!) With the geometical patterns framing the background and lending a cosmic sort of vibe, and that awesome if generic logo that’s nearly un-readable (but easy work for us logo codebreakers), you’ve got a cover that’s not big or dumb yet worthy of entrance into the hallowed Skullection.
“I don’t go in for this kind of grindcore meets black metal stuff,” an alternate-world, metal-loving Ron Swanson might have said. It’s a big deal in some corners, but it often comes off totally sterile and insincere. And totally fucking boring. Sacramento’s Plague Widow, however, are for real, and this nine-song, 15-minute EP wipes the floor of lesser hipster bands trying to do this same thing. Think about Insect Warfare playing Marduk covers, maybe. Plague Widow does everything right — the recording is powerful, punchy and crisp, their playing abilities are on the level of, say, Brutal Truth, and the multi-level approach reveals a mastery of everything from Disrupt-ish old school grind to blast-attack death metal to the dissonant string-scraping of a more technical black metal band. It’s all dark as hell, an imposing sound that cannot really be criticized, because the band achieves what they’re setting out to do, and they do it with total authority. They’re a very young band, too, so I suppose their tiny discography (this EP and a split) will grow immensely over the years. Ultimately, this is just plain impressive, whenever you’re in the mood for this kind of tormented calamity.
— Friar Wagner
FACESHIFT, Chokehold (2007, Black Lodge)
Classy cover. Logo and artwork bordered in rectangle and square, it’s all about an
orderly aesthetic. The skull hangs in a mist of various shades of gray, wearing an afro of dead trees. Sorta like a Chia Pet skull for the goth metal set. It’s an interesting and somewhat creative piece of art. A different sort of image from the norm we usually see ’round these parts.
From looking at the artwork, the band name, the label and the members’ origins, I assumed this would be melodic death metal. And it sorta is, just minus the death. Faceshift plays melodic metal that sounds like a mixture of latter-day Sentenced and newer Nocturnal Rites, only not as good, and with a vocalist that has absolutely no edge whatsoever. This is a single, so the only song it offers is “Chokehold.” It’s a polite stab at accessible, infectious melodic metal, but far too nice and harmless, lacking any kind of depth. Very “assembly line” in its approach and dull mid-paced momentum. This song is, in fact, so incredibly squeaky clean it’s barely metal. The dudes come from a heavier and longer-running band called Eternal Oath, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and allow them into the hallowed halls of Big Dumb Skulls. The ultimate verdict: cool artwork for a pretty weak song. Incidentally, this song also appears on their Reconcile album, which features two skulls joined by the same sort of dead trees seen on the cover of this single. Continuity, man, continuity.
— Friar Wagner