REPLACIRE, The Human Burden (2012, self-released)

The skull:
The rendering of this artwork is generally excellent. The background red/orange and the scaly gray of the skull work really well together. We’re a bit torn including this image, however, because of the appearance of a spinal column, but since we like this artwork and music as much as we do, we’ll give it a pass. However, we hate to burst the artist’s bubble, but there’s a little problem with the eyes. Should we tell him they’re in the wrong place, or let him carry on believing it’s all as it should be? Doesn’t he know?

The music:
In a world where sterile blast-attack tech-death is all the rage, Boston band Replacire come as a bit of a breath of fresh air. This is truly progressive death metal, inspired in equal measure, I’m guessing, by the meat-and-potatoes forefathers as by myriad other, stranger bands, in and outside of the death metal realm. If you took the groove, melodies and song craft of Last Crack, the nimbleness of Elements-era Atheist, random moments of Leprous-ness, and the cleaner passages off the last two Akercocke albums, and then  (nope, I’m not done yet) deftly threaded them through a band whose basic foundation recalls something like early Gorguts meets Malevolent Creation, then you’re getting in the basic ballpark of what Replacire does. Each member steps up and delivers an excellent performance, and for material this complex, they craft it in a way that’s never too overly or overtly complicated. The digestibility of this stuff shows exactly why Replacire are a special band with a vision that’s rare in modern metal. It’s a bit worrying that we’re in the second half of 2014 and they haven’t released a follow-up yet, because they clearly have so much more to give, based on this excellent display. Let’s hope they’re still around, but if they changed the band name, that wouldn’t be so bad.
— Friar Wagner


METALLICA, Harvester of Sorrow  (1988, Vertigo)

The skull:
Although he would become one of the most copied rock culture artists ever, the wanna-bes have yet to dilute the greatness of Pushead in his prime. One of the most frequent tools in Pus’s kit was bone; bones ripped from all over the skeleton. Here we have but one skull, qualifying it for inclusion in the Skullection. It’s a fine one too. In the hands of a lesser talent, this could have looked pretty stupid, a fist punching through the top of a skull, holding scales (scales of justice, apparently). The skull looks absolutely wrecked from this probably quite painful ordeal. And there are bandages too. Pushead loved bandage as much as he loved bone. It’s not clear if it’s the arm or skull’s neck that’s bandaged, maybe both, but it kinda looks like neither. I’m thinking the skull is resting on a bandaged tree stump. Yeah, shit gets pretty surreal in Pushead-world. And who knows from where the hand originates? Best not to question these things. I’ll bet it was the record label’s decision to lay this image over the crinkled black stuff in the background. Probably pissed Pushead off at time, but then again, record labels have done much, much worse to desecrate an artist’s version. An A- then.

The music:
Little band outta L.A./San Fran here, never quite got the recognition they deserved. Sound sorta like Gaskin. This 12″ single from 1988 features one of the least interesting songs from that same year’s …And Justice for All, although even the worst on this album is listenable, serviceable, clinical thrash, or in this song’s case, half-thrash. This is one of those Metallica songs that buckles down at half speed and attempts something throbbing, or at least, with its infamous “implied bass” production, let’s say “heavy” instead of throbbing. And it achieves that aim, succeeding as a solid example of where the guys’ heads where at in 1988 and where they would go next. And with Metallica, the good and the bad, you always get a ton of personality from each player. I’ll always stand up for Lars Ulrich’s drumming. He’s not a technical mastermind, but he’s got what many clinicians lack: style and character. His approach is a huge ingredient for what makes Metallica Metallica. People who say they wish Metallica had a better drummer are nuts; it would no longer be Metallica. James Hetfield delivers some of his best lyrics with a menacing sneer, and the solo is one of Kirk Hammett’s most direct, sounding like it was lifted from the Kill ‘Em All sessions. He lays off the wah pedal for once, delivering a short and sweet passage that’s more thematic than solo-y. Favorite moment: James snarling “infanticiiiide.” Elsewhere on the EP, Metallica prove my opinion that they are the best cover band of all time. About 95% of the songs they choose to cover end up sounding absolutely fresh in their re-molded state (one of the best but least known is their bold reinterpretation of Iron Maiden’s “Remember Tomorrow”). The b-side of this slab contains two killer covers: the systematic rape of and power infusion given to Budgie’s “Breadfan” and a totally majestic treatment of Diamond Head’s “The Prince.” So lookie here, an addition to the Skullection boasting a truly killer skull on the cover and equally high-quality music inside. A rare convergence! (Incidentally, I believe Friar Johnsen will be saying the same thing of Overkill’s The Years of Decay, skull328, which comes before this one, but which I have not read yet.) The Council are getting drunk on mead, guzzled out of mugs made of human skulls, of course…these are high times for Big Dumb Skulls!
— Frair Wagner