This Week’s Best Albums: July 3, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: July 3, 2012

Each week, editor-in-chief Chris Force and music editor Scott Morrow choose ALARM’s favorite new releases for This Week’s Best Albums, an eclectic set of reviews presenting exceptional music.

Nile: At the Gate of Sethu (Nuclear Blast)

"The Inevitable Degradation of Flesh"

Nile guitarist and occasional vocalist Karl Sanders has been living death metal for as long as the genre has existed. From a brief but storied stint living with Morbid Angel to Nile's breakthrough in 2000 with Black Seeds of Vengeance, Sanders has been there. It is then all the more remarkable that his songwriting and lead playing have been ratcheted up another notch for Nile's newest full-length, At the Gate of Sethu.

Listeners have reasonable expectations of what they're getting when they pick up a Nile album: guttural voices chanting lyrics based upon ancient Egyptian texts, a torrent of Middle Eastern modal riffing, inhuman drumming with copious cymbal accents, and interludes of melody played on traditional Egyptian instruments. Sethu will not disappoint anyone expecting these things.

But Nile's songwriting shows a sharpened focus. Whereas songs on previous albums often have been seasoning on a large riff salad, each track on Sethu is easily discernible. This is a result of a conscious effort to tighten up the songwriting process, one that Sanders has described as a kind of introverted jam session.

Nile fans also may hear a different vocal timbre and assume it's new bass player Todd Ellis. Instead, it's actually Sanders, and he describes the new technique as a happy accident of the extensive demoing process.

Though many bands have a period of creative prosperity at the beginning of their careers, and then struggle to maintain the status quo afterward, Nile has shown impressive creative and technical progress on its seventh full-length album.

- Todd Nief

Primate: Draw Back a Stump (Relapse)

"Silence of Violence"

Featuring members of Mastodon, Brutal Truth, and The Despised, Atlanta's Primate is a new hardcore super-group — a furious bastard child birthed by hardcore, punk, grind, and metal. Heavy-music geeks quickly will recognize the names of vocalist Kevin Sharp and guitarist Bill Kelliher, but the rest of the lineup is no less impressive or important in crafting the band's maiden opus.

Originally, seven of the ten tracks on Draw Back a Stump were released as a limited run of the same name by the band. Quickly realizing Primate's potential, Relapse has come to the rescue for the rest of us, now offering Draw Back a Stump as an international release with three brand-new tracks.

Musically, the album is power chords and D-beats galore as the quintet muscles through 10 high-speed, old-school tunes in 20 minutes. But there also are touches of sludge and tinges of the south; “The Silence of Violence” has some positively Down-sounding hammer-ons and string bends. Draw Back a Stump passes in a flash, and though it only scratches the surface of the band's potential, it's an exciting introduction.

- Scott Morrow

Mike Patton & The Ictus Ensemble: Laborintus II (Ipecac)

Recorded live with The Ictus Ensemble in 2010 at the Holland Festival, Laborintus II is the latest recording credit from the eternally unpredictable Mike Patton. The three-part offering, written to celebrate Dante's 700th birthday, actually is the work of experimental Italian composer Luciano Berio (as inspired by poet Edoardo Sanguineti).

It's the latest record pulling Patton towards the worlds of orchestras, classical music, and film scores, but listeners expecting something like Patton's Mondo Cane project (of 1950s and '60s Italian orch-pop tunes) or like his soundtrack to The Solitude of Prime Numbers will be thrown for a loop. Berio's piece is an experimental and asymmetrical work, more reminiscent of Patton's efforts with John Zorn — fragmented, capricious, and alternately dissonant and melodic.

Set to music, the lyrics sound like a high-drama narrative, twisting and turning as tension builds and releases. (The poem itself plays with Dante's themes combined with texts from TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, Sanguineti, and the bible.)

Much of Laborintus II pushes and pulls against the boundaries of experimental and classical, as Patton narrates in Italian while sopranos exclaim in tandem. At a few brief climaxes, the music bursts with the power and feel of a jazz ensemble, and for a good stretch during "Part Two," the music reaches its loudest and densest points with a lengthy free-jazz stretch. Shortly thereafter, the piece's electronics bring themselves to the fore amid a chaotic but intricately composed passage.

By the time "Part Three" begins with a gong, the apex has been reached; the following five minutes serve as an aural denouement. Though the narration isn't a "story," the listener can't help but feel like he or she's at the end of a journey — one, as the piece's closing whispers suggest, that seems to end ominously.

- Scott Morrow

Honorable Mentions:

Beak>: >> (Invada)

Rise & Fall: Faith (Deathwish)

Teenage Bottlerocket: Freak Out! (Fat Wreck Chords)