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Marmite Metal - 60%

cetacean, March 19th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2013, Digital, Independent

I feel like I owe this album a review, if only because I mentioned it tangentially in another review and had only bad things to say, despite the fact that I enjoyed it upon first listen and still do, in spite of its challenges.

As far as actual compositions go, most of the material in here is vintage !T.O.O.H.!, albeit marred by a noticeable decline in songwriting quality. Tracks like "Prбvo" and especially "Kokarda pэchy," (the latter one of the most menacingly melodic songs I've heard in a long time) wouldn't have seemed out of place on Řád A Trest, had they also benefited from the same production and performance practices. However the bulk of the album is occupied by weak material. "Demokratickй шeљenн" and "Marљ pucfleku!" have interesting moments, but they come buried in a LOT of slower music that is either cringeworthy or (more often) boring. The three "older" songs re-recorded in the band's "new" style, though inferior to the originals, are the most solid tunes on the album for what it's worth. The remaining metal tracks are forgettable, "Lizzie" is an interesting clean interlude and the untitled "instrumental" song (a shooter-styled video game soundtrack in 6/8) is probably best listened to first to set the stage for the weirdness that is to come.

If it seems like I'm dancing around the production and overall sound that characterizes this album it's because the matter deserves at least a paragraph unto itself. This album is very avant garde in the sense that the musicians appear to have chosen ugliness over beauty every time the choice presented itself, self-consciously taking every opportunity to destroy the album as thoroughly as possible. Production-wise, this attitude manifests itself in the barely recognizable and unnatural guitar tone that sounds like the dry signal from a cheap distortion pedal before reamping (though an extant YouTube video shows the band doing a creditable job of recreating the sound live so there may be more complexity at play). The bass and keyboards are equally synthetic, only moreso because they are literally synthesized - both sounding like patches ripped from a SNES cartridge. And the drums are replaced with very cheap and low-quality samples with no differentiation (i.e. a single sample for the snare, a single kick drum, etc.) defeating any chance of them sounding like an actual instrument. And of course the vocals are this weird folksy sing-songy sort of Sprechgesang consisting mostly of first- and second-takes (one track ends with a terrible high note and audible laughter in the background just before the sound cuts out).

The really amazing thing about this album is that any of it succeeds at all despite looking like such a car wreck on paper (and sounding like one at first listen, if I'm honest). With the possible exception of Necrophagist, I can't think of any other band who could have contrived to make so much genuinely good music out of such bat-shit crazy sonic material. And so the inevitable disappointment comes when it does, ironically, not from the sound of the album but from the songs on it not being very good. Granted the band took the worst possible sound and ran pretty far with it, which deserves some credit, but at the end of the day they've still produced an LP containing two good songs, three covers, and a lot of skip-bait.

!T.O.O.H.! - Democratic Solution - 50%

Avestriel, May 2nd, 2016

Every once in a while, I'll turn to my reviews, knowing full well that there are more empty drafts than a sane person should have (I reckon). For every other review, there's this one wordless draft for an album, some old and some new. I sometimes use them as placeholders, as post-it notes of what I should maybe try reviewing, so whenever some time goes by without any new interesting releases or without suddenly wanting to write about a particular album, whenever I feel the reviewer urge but have nothing in mind, I'll check here first, see what albums I thought were maybe worthy of reviewing once, see how if I feel different, see if it sounds like fun, see if I have anything at all to say. I did that today

I entered my profile and checked my reviews. I browsed for about three seconds and stopped at one. I see the date on the draft: December 23rd, 2013. I see the name on the draft: !T.O.O.H.! - Democratic Solution. I see the rating, which is 50%. Surely this cannot be.

There were, to my surprise, two paragraphs already written. First one was about context, mainly: "[...]2013 is not quite yet done proving itself to be the great year of great (oft disappointing) comebacks[...]". Oh boy. That was three years ago and it just keeps happening. What about the album, though? "[...]like a collection of a studio EP and (honestly unnecessary) bonus tracks in the shape of re-recorded songs from their previous output[...]". Ouch. Yeah, I see how that could make it a crappy release, but what about the music itself, the compositional and timbric aspects of it rather than whether it was worth it or not? My point is, man, are they weirder or tamer?

I read the second paragraph and it was an absolute tragedy. Absolutely every aspect of the music was shat on, sometimes crudely, sometimes almost poetically (as much as I can manage anyway. It was short and ended abruptly, though, so I have no idea where I was going with it, and whether there was some sort of turnaround, some sort of redemption that would warrant that pitiful 50%. That's it, I listened to the music again and decided to finish this unfinished business. I also wanted to find out what was so terrible about it, because the album had completely escaped my consciousness some time ago.

Wow, yeah, it's all coming back. The cheesy singing, the awful keyboards, the 8bit sound of the drums and guitars, the subpar technicality (not just by !T.O.O.H.!'s standards; subpar by the standards of any tech death), the awful mix. Yes, I remember now how irredeemable this recording is, and why I struggled with it so much I quit this review halfway. Still, either I used to be nicer or 50% is too much. Maybe I didn't want to "hurt" the band, since I love their first three albums so much. I know I feel mildly betrayed in a way only a band can make you feel, especially with the touchy subject of comebacks, but I guess I didn't have the heart to be completely merciless with a band I love.

This is a band deflated, a bona-fide dinosaur, the caricature of that which once was. The music is not even good enough to warrant the existence of any other band of the last 15 years. The thrashy and square riffs are either repetitive in ways that would make a Finnish black metal musician get annoyed or so childishly "tech" that you can almost write the score as you listen along. And that's simply not a good thing when it comes to the style, no matter how much of an avant-post-experimental fuck you are. It simply does not work. This is not even semantics. The keyboards are early-Rammstein-meets-Dauði-Baldrs-tier, and some of the chuggy riffs are too. The singing is of particularly painful notice, being mostly clean singing, almost shouting and the very, very occasional growl lost here or there. The pub-like hymns and the loud-in-the-mix thin-voiced crooning make it almost too embarrassing to bear through, but you do it, in the end.

Whenever the music actually seems to be reaching a place of greatness, and for a moment you go from hating what you're hearing to bearing it to enjoying it, the moment is absolutely ruined by any of a number of factors, either poor songwriting, an absolutely terrible vocal part, an equally terribly mixed solo right in front of the mix breaking the small window of time in which the music was almost great.

Nice guitar work on Lizzie, though. Kudos.

There's merit in this, I know, no matter how smothered by all the terrible elements it is. For one, I have never, ever in my life, heard anything like this, and I can see how this album could have turned out great had it been handled with the proper care and thought. Heavy and thick guitars, more natural sounding drums, a better vocal take/mix, and the complete ditching of all things keyboards would have come together to deliver at least a decent EP. The new versions of old songs are completely inexcusable and I hate the very fact that they exist. From time to time, the guitars actually do something interesting and, especially during mid-paced sections, we can actually hear and enjoy it. This leads me to think this was some sort of lazy Sunday afternoon jam/compositional warm-up for the boys, that was eventually turned into an "album" in a loose and careless way and likewise produced/released. This would actually be good news and would let me enjoy the album, or at least enjoy it in the way it would be meant to be enjoyed: As a joke between friends.

Otherwise this is irredeemable and I see no reason for this to exist. !T.O.O.H.! you cunts, you teased us with a return for years after delivering three of the most outstanding albums in all of death metal and you gives us this? I know you can do better, and after this, you better do, or I'll proceed to do absolutely nothing for three years and then complain about it in a review no one will read. Know that it hurts me more than it hurts you, because it's actually true this time, hey.

In the end, though, I decided to leave the 50% instead of lowering it a percentage or twenty. As I said, I can't even think of anything that sounds like this, and, while I think novelty and originality are not the same thing and gimmicks are exactly that, I do see myself keeping this album close to me, in the same way I keep other terrible albums close to me: They're the rare breed of so-bad-it's-good albums that are such a caricature of whatever it is the authors thought it was, you can't help but smile.

!T.O.O.H! awful for words - 0%

lord_ghengis, December 22nd, 2013

Yes, I'm reviewing this almost entirely so I can make that awful, awful pun. But not completely though, it also gives me a chance to use my first ever 0% score! *Trumpets sound in the distance*

I'm actually a little disappointed in doing this for my first zero. I'd always assumed that when I did a minimum score review that it'd be a grand statement; something I could deeply analyze and break apart on many different levels, creating a sprawling epic of critical slaughter showing how the album fails musically, sonically, thematically, technically, creatively, ideologically and any other number of ways it causes suffering upon this beautiful world...

But I can't, because this just sounds horrid.

I could theoretically point out that fundamentally this still retains many of the old creative sounds and riffing concepts that made the band work so well are still there beneath all the strange production and compositional choices. I could praise the band for fighting through a bad label experience, a long break without music, and dealing with the diagnosis of a mental disorder to a major member. I could speak about how the band's deliberately jarring, confusing and unpleasant to the ear musical ideas are in many ways solid reflections of the mental disorder itself, making it a grand artistic statement that aims beyond simple listenability.

But I won't, because this just sounds horrid.

The horrendous awfulness of this album is partly due to production, partly due to various song writing choices and partly due to vocals, but it all comes together into a perfect storm of sounding as bad as anything ever has. The sound on here is somewhere in between bad real instrumentation and a bad digital renditions of fake instrumentation, but doing neither fully enough to not be the absolute rock bottom of both worlds. It fails to have any sort of authenticity to thrive as a real, musicians in a room playing music, natural album. Nor is it really foreign from traditional sounds to really work as a wholly industrial and robotic sound. I've heard people say it sounds like some guitar simulation program which attempts (poorly) to replicate notes entered into it, and that pretty much makes sense. This mostly sounds like a synthesizer without any of the correct tones built into it trying desperately the replicate a metal song's notes, but failing because all it can do is go "blub blub blub" over and over again.

There's effectively no tonal range between the blubs created by whatever instrument or program created them, so the utter insanity of their riffs has been stripped down to more timings rather than the crazy shifting mess of weird notes. I remember playing a PS1 game which let you make electronic music which had files as big as your memory card and about 200 sound effects. It had one electric guitar sample that just went Brreeeeoooooonnnnnnngggggg of the course of a bar, and that was it. I'm pretty sure 13 year old me wrote songs using that one terrible sample and clunky controller based sequencing that were better than this.

Lending further weight to the concept that the whole pile of garbage was written on a keyboard found in a Czech dump is the fact all signs of lead guitars and real drumming have been entirely excised, instead they've replaced the lead harmonies with stupid circus keyboards. That's right, the type of musicians that could use the higher strings of their guitar to create a melody like the end of "Kali" have decided the awaiting fans of deranged European tech grind have really just wanted to hear some campy, vapid carnival tunes apparently.

Seemingly aware of the terribleness of the either fake guitars or repulsive real guitars, they've been mixed as low as humanly possible. Sadly the only stuff they can get mixed under are those shameful carnival synths, dinky and thin programmed drums which don't seem to have any bass, and the worst vocals this side of... fucking anything. These vocals are absolutely embarrassing. Replacing the already kinda hit and miss crazy chicken howls are the same chicken's attempt at clean vocals. He manages to to be simultaneously toneless, annoying and bored sounding all at once. There is no sloppy charm or anything here, it's just bad. Unforgivably, painfully bad.

I can't find a single, solitary single second on this album that I find remotely passable and listenable. Not one fucking second. For comparison to how dire things have to be for me to write off every single damned second of a release, I'm willing to admit Apocalypse, former MA resident Shadow of Death's toilet bowl of a raw BM project, actually had some ok riffs at the starts of songs, only falling apart when he needed to try to change riffs or tempos because it was outside his skill level, causing his songs to collapse into embarrassing wrecks. This is a musician who released several demos of music before he had learned how to move his fingers in anything close to timely manner, and I can still find seconds of passably mediocre work in his output. I can't find that here, and that's terrible.

I suppose you could say there is some level of compositional care and classic !T.O.O.H! zaniness buried under the sound, but that's kinda like having a knockoff Microsoft Sam read Shakespeare out of a Babelfish translation. I get a little bit of a feeling this was some kind of attempt at a Peste Noire styled "intentionally silly/bad" rendition of their general concept, but it features no charm in its awfulness, only abhorrence. They even seem to channel PN's deliberately shitty masterwork Ballade cuntre lo Anemi Francor by attempting a few intentionally sloppy sounding LA-LA-LA's like the magnificent "La mesniee mordrissoire" on the opener and a few other tracks such as "Kokarda pýchy", but they don't have any sort of charm to go with it so they just sound like sloppy shit. They just haven't dragged along the sort of personality and life into their robotic sounding asspile to be able to get away with music this atrocious.

I wish I could point out some kind of major compositional flaws in this, but really other than being a bit stop start heavy and being less chaotically fun with the drumming, I can't really make out enough from the actual riffs and song writing forms to pinpoint massive failings beyond being quite flat. This goes “blub blub blub” while a bored eastern European man groans terribly over the top alongside randomly jovial and bouncy keys and every passing second of this is the new worst thing I've ever heard. I can't think of any grander failing this has beyond being the worst thing to happen to ears since the Ugandan parasitic brain tunneling tarantula went extinct. This may have been created with the utmost level of artistic clarity and creative free thinking, it's just completely and unforgivably horrid.

Something Truly Unique - 90%

Ozymandias24, December 20th, 2013

If you listen to this album hoping for another Order and Punishment or Pod vládou biče, then you are bound to be disappointed. The insane catharsis of their previous albums isn't present here. Despite this, I would still urge you to open your mind and grant this album some of your time. Listen to it like its an ambient album, and you might find the atmosphere to be a musty breath of originality.

This is a truly strange piece of music. !T.O.O.H! have always been a strange band, but this album is strange even for them. Their earlier works were complex and noisy affairs, even compared to most metal. Full of syncopated rhythms, melodically rich eastern influenced riffage, goofy czech shrieking, and well wrought bass lines, their sound was like tripping on acid while being beaten with dead animals in the sewers of Prague, but having a good trip anyway. Democratic Solution is equally weird, more unique, but dramatically different in mood.

Clearly this band has aged. This album is a great deal more mellow than their previous work. They sound as if they're gamely trudging along, still in the same mindset as before, but too decrepit and shortstaffed to devote the vitriol and catharsis they did in their previous work. So they crutch upon computers and electronics, but the oddity of their melodies, composition, tone, rhythms, and vocal delivery remains, however subtly different in character. Now the vocals are mostly a older, dire chanting. The guitar tone is a great deal more fuzzy and indistinct, but it seems to me a cultivated indistinction, atmospheric in a rigidly strange way. Their rhythms are still jarringly syncopated, but now they have a decidedly more stiff feel. The melodies are very reminiscent of their older work, and are altogether of good quality, and keep the sound from growing too stale.

This album is unlike any other remarkably unique album I've heard, chiefly because it isn't trying to impress you with its originality. It isn't trying to be fresh, it feels like it isn't trying at all, it's simply existing. It sounds like a faded photograph looks. And yet, it remains completely original and unique, utterly unlike any other music I've heard. You'd think sounding old would be dichotomous with originality, and yet I believe this album has achieved that aging originality without any of the traditional contrivances of atmospheric music.

I give this album a high rating because it isn't often that I hear something this strange, noisy, unpleasant, and unique that retains this much of a captivating quality. I find myself nodding along with the music, muttering, and looking over my shoulder. Its a kind of trance I've only experienced with this album, and I doubt I'll experience it with any other.

"Open-Minded" fan likes the bad experimental album - 84%

MutantClannfear, December 17th, 2013

Despite their properly punctuated name taking an irritating amount of manual dexterity to type on a computer (seriously, just try it and you'll see what I'm talking about), !T.O.O.H.! have always been a band I really, truly loved. The band's breed of manic yet beautiful, vaguely oriental tech-death is wholly separate from basically anything else the DM scene has ever tried to create, and you can easily see why - because it'd be fucking hard. The band are so delicate in their writing that it's essentially impossible to replicate - the way everything comes together so well, and the way the band function well on their own terms permeates all their music. Well, depending on who you talk to, there's at least one exception to the band's generally commendable track performance: enter Democratic Solution.

If you're just dropping into the !T.O.O.H.! saga - the band underwent some record label-related strife after the release of their previous album Order and Punishment, and dissolved as a result. They came back years later, seemingly possessing a new-found phobia of metal guitar distortion, and created... well, this. I will admit, this has a totally different sound from previous !T.O.O.H.! albums (though not by as much as the disgruntled fanbase seems to have deluded itself into believing) and it took me at least a bit of rumination to draw any enjoyment from it. The first big change is that, as I've said, the heavy guitar distortion one generally associates with metal is totally gone - the band have replaced it with this crunchy, low-end-heavy, electronic, almost industrial-sounding tone that makes all the music on display starkly cold. The snare - or possibly the drum kit as a whole - is programmed and the band make no real effort to provide the sample variance necessary to hide that fact; instead, they seem to be reveling in the clanging, droning effect it has upon the music. As a final piece of dissociation from their past works, the band have excised all their trademark howls and screeches (which most people thought to be one of the most distinctive elements of the band's music) and replaced them with flat, sing-songy, rather goofy clean singing (along with a few growls as occasional accents).

Near the end of the album, the band redo a few of their older songs with the new style, and you can tell pretty easily that the band's new modus operandi doesn't really work with their older material. The band's earlier tracks like "Aura & Ziata" work because of how there's so much air and space for all the instruments to breathe, how it feels more like a living entity than a static-paced song... so when the band lock the tracks firmly in place with a mechanically precise drum performance and eliminate a lot of room for the technical, shiny melodies to breathe, it feels very noticeably awkward, like the band are muzzling the vigor of all their old tracks. This isn't really helped by the fact that, instead of creating sonic depth through intricate dual harmonies like !T.O.O.H.!'s first three albums did, the band have decided to stack these cheesy brass fanfare synths behind the guitars to give them support. On paper, Democratic Solution sounds like a train wreck, and almost everyone has written it off as such. And yet, despite all of this, I'm convinced the album is a success, however mildly, in its own goofy way.

Why exactly does it work? Because !T.O.O.H.!'s songwriting isn't something you can dilute with something like a guitar tone or a vocal style - the band are still distinctly !T.O.O.H.! here and if you showed this material to somebody who were unaware of the band's transformation, I'm sure at least a few comparisons to !T.O.O.H.! would come up. There's no point in mincing words about the nature of this album: with the metal distortion gone and the guitar flair removed, this is basically abstract progressive rock with some metal influences rather than outright metal itself. But the band's trademark positive parts are still here in terms of riffs: there are still pieces of the band's inimitable, beautiful harmonies structured within the songs like near the ending of "Lotrova pomsta" (which work wonderfully with the new guitar tone, actually - it's actually kind of reminiscent of hazy synthpop patches when the band use these sorts of riffs on this album), and the songs still mostly playfully dance around through abstract scales with the band constantly shifting underneath. The acoustic track "Lizzie", if anything, should be proof that nothing has changed within the fundamental writing process of the band. I won't try to pretend this is anywhere near perfect, because the goofiness on this album is admittedly damn near over-the-top and it gets pretty overwhelming at times (more here than on any other !T.O.O.H.! album). The chanting, double-tracked vocals are also kind of underwhelming as well; a few melodies the band use are brilliant, but on the other hand a lot of them are lacking in range or rhythm - they just kinda sound like quiet campfire songs sung by a nerdy gay couple - and a lot of them are just kind of like quiet yelling. All-in-all, this album ends up feeling heavily instrumentally-focused because the vocals never try to become the center of attention, but it doesn't quite have the complexity to make up for it.

On the other hand, this is certainly something totally different from anything I've ever heard before and if !T.O.O.H.!'s ultimate goal with this album was to push their boundaries even further, then they certainly succeeded in doing so without sacrificing their core sound in the process. I hate playing the "open-minded apologist fan" card because people who do so are almost invariably insufferable whiners, but compositionally this is basically the same band you heard on Pod vládou biče, just playing a vaguely electronic, carnival-esque rendition of their music. I've certainly disliked bands for things like a guitar tone or a vocal style, but I think people calling this a total failure for that reason are hinging maybe a biiiiit too much on a predesignated set of expectations. It's pretty sad to think that the band are going out on a note that's inspired such hostility from the metal community at large, but I think if you get past the goofiness and focus on the album's retained traits from !T.O.O.H.!'s earlier era, Democratic Solution is a decent and unique (if not necessarily essential) musical endeavor. Not for the faint of heart.