KAOS, Kaos Among Us (2003, Oblivion Entertainment)
Fashioning a chaos symbol out of swords was an inspired idea, and of course cramming them through a skull was the right thing to do. I like the bonus spiky flails as well; they have no business being there, and that’s what makes them work. But I could have done without the generic background of brown and fire. The whole thing looks like an ad for a Games Workshop product, and though that was pretty cool when Bolt Thrower did it in 1989, whatever metal cred being able to field a 3000 point Chaos Space Marine army might have once established, now you just look like some video game dweeb when you lay on the grimdark too thick.
When I first started spinning this, I thought it was pretty good modern rethrash, if a bit heavy on the crossover elements. I mean, it’s not awesome, and it’s not original by any stretch, but it’s got the fire and energy of a band who at least believe they’re doing more than recreating the sound of a scene they were too young to have experienced firsthand. But then I looked up the release date and saw that this came out long, long before the current trend for mosh exhumation, and it all started to make sense. In fact, Kaos started turning out demos in 1988, making them an honest-to-god first wave thrash band, even if it took them until the year 2000 to release a proper album. Imagine if Sadus started drifting toward hardcore after Swallowed In Black, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Kaos sounded like circa 2003. Not too shabby! Unlike 99.999% of today’s young thrashers, Kaos obviously have more inspiring source material in their record collections than Exodus, Slayer, and Ride the Lightning. The vocals are like a blown-out holler, none too pleasing, and no one is going to accuse Kaos of breaking new ground on their riffing, but this album was clearly made by lifers who knew what they were doing. As I get older and more jaded, I more on more rely on these gut-level inferences about a band’s intentions, which I know is not rational, but whatever. Kaos aren’t awesome, but better them than Toxik Holocaust.
— Friar Johnsen
THE MASS, Towards Darkness (2004, Great White North)
Now what do you think that snake is doing up there? Skulls, as we know, are often found levitating above cemetaries and whatnot, and of course it’s not uncommon for swords to arrange themselves behind such floating skulls. Walk through any graveyard and you’re likely to see such a scene. But then there’s this snake all wrapped around that shit, and barely holding on, to boot. What’s his game? Is he lying in wait for his prey, the unsuspecting mourners he expects to file past these crooked and ancient headstones? Or is he maybe playing a trick on some of his snake buddies? Did he call them up and say, “Yeah, dudes, meet me under the floating skull. I got something awesome to show you!” knowing full well that his serpentine pals would just slither there on their bellies, like they always do, never thinking to look up? And then when they’ve all been waiting for like 10 minutes, wondering when the fuck he’s doing to show up, BAM! He drops on them yelling “Booga booga!” and scaring the shit out them. That’d be a real fucking gas, right?
Doomy death metal or deathy doom metal, take your pick, The Mass trade in more sophisticated riffs than the fuzzed-out Sabbath-worshipping stoner doom crowd, but can’t at all compete with the paralyzing dirge of true doom death masters like Morgion. Nor do they capture the gothic solemnity inherent to the best albums from, say, My Dying Bride. No, The Mass just plays really slow. And they sometimes play with a real lack of weight, as when the single guitar switches to clean melodic lines or a lead, and all that’s left to hold down the fort is a fizzy bass and the incredibly dry drums. I suppose it’s to their credit that they don’t attempt to fill that empty space in the studio when they know they can’t bring it live (having only a single guitarist), but still, when the rhythm guitars go away, it feels like some of the band just left the room. The Mass aren’t terrible, but they are pretty dull, and while I’d take them over pretty much any band to whom the descriptor “sludgy” could be fairly applied, I’d probably just as soon listen to nothing.
— Friar Johnsen