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Thursday, February 05, 2009

CD Review: Maegashira - The Stark Arctic

Maegashira - The Stark Arctic
2009 Spare Change
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Doom metal is expressed visually and aurally through different translations. Pulp fantasy depictions are one means of doom's outlandish expressionism, while psychedelic swirls and translucent monochromes are another. Howling jackals, cracked skulls, naked succubi, all fair game with doom, which has become more extendable and pliant over the years since the days of Saint Vitus' general unacceptabilty by a riskless rawk crowd of the eighties.

Let me tell you something. The minute I laid eyes on the cover of Maegashira's The Stark Arctic and its hapless tapestry of varied white and emotionless pastels, a few things came to my mind: One, that I freakin' hate winter, beautiful as it can be on a Saturday afternoon when everyone's home and the tea kettle's blowing and football season's in its crowning phase, just as hockey begins to get interesting in its long and winding second half. All that, and still winter is so goddamned depressing. Two, a deep, slate gray winterscape has a capacity to drag you into a vertigo-like tailspin of perplexing infinity to the point you could be walking half a mile in the shit and feel like you've been marching in a swoon for hours. Three, you're subconsciously on guard for unattended Siberian Huskies that quite likely harbor spidery aliens inside ready to tear your spleen out.

How can you not find an appropriate doom sensation from The Stark Arctic simply based on its outer presentation, much less the bombastic dirge contained within? As if giving raging voice to the barren tundra of frostbitten hostility, JJ Koczan (also editorial overlord of Metal Maniacs magazine) blares vehemently overtop his band's slick 'n sudsy guitar licks and head-slamming sludge riffs.

Koczan's sweltering yelps and demonic ralphs overtop Maegashira's otherwise rocksteady grime on the uptempo-downtempo switcheroo of "Carribou Crossing," the crunchy din of "Baggage Claim/Skin Slip" and the noisome "Hi From Jersey" are not quite what you're expecting from a traditional doom outpouring. Forcing you to intake Maegashira's sonic expenditure at a nastier toll, Koczan blatantly wedges his group's syrupy songs into a blustery funnel ushered violently by his uncontrolled yelling.

Harrowing note sequences are found on The Stark Arctic amidst the mire-slogged chord deliveries, such as the opening stanza of the 22-minute gunk epic "Back to Muro." "Muro" is so calculated in its icy savagery it waits for just the right moments after plucking lines of false security in order to peel your vulnerable ear canals open with which to let Koczan wallow cruelly inside. Consider the effect similar to the class clown catching you off-guard in the midst of a hazy afternoon trance by screaming purposefully into your reverie.

As brutish as the sumo wrestler's lumbering girth from which Maegashira derives its namesake, don't expect The Stark Arctic to be graceful whatsoever. You will be pushed beyond your tolerance if the mix of abusive yelling and belching overtop laced-out doom threads is too much to process.

On the other hand, The Stark Arctic is as frigid and oddly captivating as falling astray in a frozen no man's land where only a brackish sound this ugly could capture the mood so appropriately.

Rating: ***1/2

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