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metal music reviews (new releases)

LEE AARON Power, Soul, Rock N' Roll - Live In Germany

Live album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
It is strange to realise that this is the first official live album from Lee Aaron, given that she has been fairly constant on the live circuit and released the anthem ‘Metal Queen’ back in 1984! During her 2017 German tour the concerts at Balingen and Nuremberg were recorded and now form the basis of this CD-DVD set in Digipak. Given I haven’t heard any of her material for some years I was somewhat surprised just how well her well-known numbers have aged, and the new material certainly doesn’t sound out of place beside them. This is the same as it always was, commercial hard rock with some great hooks and a singer who wants to be taken seriously for her music and not just her looks, although it must be said THAT magazine cover from 1983 did her image both harm and good at the same time.

Muscially this album feels a little like a dirty secret, no-one wants to admit owning it or even liking it but put on “Metal Queen” and it is impossible not to have a smile on your face. But I found I was really enjoying a lot of the material here, with “Tomboy”, "Barely Holdin On" and "Whatcha Do to My Body", in particular really standing out. I’m still not sure of the opener, her take on “Mistreated” as it doesn’t really work for her style but she has balls for going for it. All in all a fun album, and sometimes that is what we really want from our music.

LACUNA COIL Black Anima

Album · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Lacuna Coil are back with their ninth studio album and I for one am very pleased indeed. There has been another change in line-up, in that drummer Ryan Folden has departed after four years in the seat to be replaced by Richard Meiz (Genus Ordinis Dei). His role, along with that of guitarist Diego "DD" Cavallotti and Marco "Maki" Coti-Zelati (guitars, bass, keyboards, synths) is to provide the musical backdrop and muscle for the two people at the front of the band, namely Christina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro. Along with songwriter Marco they have been there since the very beginning of the band in 1997, and they just seem to be getting better and better.

When there is a need for a song to become bombastic, epic and over the top, then it is there in spades, but there are also times when they are more reflective, but t often doesn’t last too long. The bottom end builds a foundation which would allow a double-height Burj Khalifa to be built on it, with guitar, bass and drums combining to create a solid wall of sound. The keyboards sometimes provide additional lightness and melody, but there are others when they too join in the fun to create a sold slab of metal which may only be lightened by the contrast of Christina. There again, it may just be a force for Andrea to show he is never going to play second fiddle and that it is the mix and combination of the two very different singers that makes this band what it is, combined with the epic songwriting and performance of Marco and the others.

They shift from maelstrom to beauty, back again, or off in a new direction, and all the listener can do is smile. The very first time I played this I started to think this may actually be their best release yet, even better than the first three albums (which are all classics in their own right). Scabbia says: “This record was really written around our live performances. The songs we enjoy playing live the most are the heavier ones. So, when we started writing, the songs naturally were heavier. We have more growls (for Andrea) and epic parts (for me), too.” Epic, awesome, totally essential.

KXM Circle of Dolls

Album · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
KXM is comprised of dUg Pinnick of King’s X on vocals/bass, George Lynch of Lynch Mob/Dokken on guitars while Korn’s drum maestro, Ray Luzier, rounds out the powerhouse trio. The band takes its name from the combination of the member’s other projects: K from Korn, X from King’s X and M from Lynch Mob. KXM formed in early 2013 when dUg, George and Ray spoke about trying to jam together, and this is now the third full-length album since then. I must confess that I really enjoyed this, much more than I ever thought I would, and I am sure this is down to a combination of the soulfulness of dUg’s vocals, the darkness of the overall sound and the commercial lightness and hooks thrown into the mix.

I have never really been a fan of Korn, they didn’t do much for me, have never heard much Lynch Mob (although have been a fan of Dokken over the years) and it did take me quite some time to get into King’s X, but this release really is something which easy to listen to and get inside of, while also having many layers of depths and all of them are dark. It is edgy, with a refusal to conform to anyone’s expectations, and comes across as alternative and interesting. While all the musicians are on good form, as one would expect from people who have toured incessantly, it is the vocals which really make this stand out, combined with Lynch being far more restrained than I have heard him before – he is certainly not being the shred in your face master I had come to expect. This release may well surprise a few people, it certainly surprised me.

IN MOURNING Garden Of Storms

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
2019 saw the Swedish band back with their latest album, ‘Garden of Storms’, which saw them complete the trilogy which started with 2012’s ‘The Weight Of Oceans’. It also saw them with a new rhythm section as bassist Pierre Stam departed (leaving singer/guitarist Tobias Netzell as the only founder member still involved) to be replaced by Sebastian Svalland (Pain (live), Letters from the Colony, Lindemann (live)) while ex-Katatonia drummer Daniel Liljekvist also left, after just one album, and was replaced by Joakim Strandberg Nilsson (Faithful Darkness, Nonexist, ex-Moorgate, ex-Thrive, Wolves Within). Recorded with Jonas Kjellgren, who was responsible for the sound of the band's early albums, the band says it is the: "most solid, honest and complete album to date, in times where things seem to scatter and change a lot around us".

To me this album shows them move even more into different areas, with metalcore raising its ugly head among others, and to me this feels far more disjointed and less of a complete piece of work than the last one. Playing them back to back, there is no doubt this feels more commercial and softer in many ways, although they can bring the pain when they wish to, and the movement feels more clunky and not as polished. It is a much harder album to get inside, just because the listener feels they are being pulled from place to place, but more in a way that makes them seasick than in a pleasant journey where one is taking a rest at times. It feels less honest and more contrived, and while still an interesting album in many ways, it is quite a long way removed from the last one.

HOUR OF PENANCE Misotheism

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
This Italian band may have no original members left, but guitarist Giulio Moschini has been there since before their second album, 2005’s ‘Pageantry For Martyrs’, and everyone on this their eighth album all played on 2017’s ‘Cast The First Stone’ as well. Apparently misotheism means either "hatred of God" or "hatred of the gods", so they’re not very happy with whatever deity you believe in, and that’s absolutely fine. They started off as a blackened death band all those years ago, but like many have changed their approach as they have worked through the ages, but whereas they were generally seen as a brutal death metal act, to me they have moved far more into the technical death metal area. This is an album that any fan of Nile (me! me!) will be taking a very serious listen to indeed. It has to be played loud, really loud, to get the full benefit of a rhythm section who are mixing and moving in multiple ways and refusing to always concentrate on blast beats and brain numbing attacks but can swing t around and even stop playing altogether if that is the right thing to do. Then at the front you have Moschini and his partner in crime Paolo Pieri (who also provides the vocals). These two have been twisting their complex riffs and lines together for nearly ten years now, and it shows. This is complex and complicated uncompromising death metal played by four guys who really have the chops.

This is music full of aggression, full of rage and hatred, from a band who are living it, not just playing at it. They mix and move, but if they had done it a little bit more then they may have ended up with an even better album than the one they did, but even as it stands this a great testament to a band who have now been around for more than 20 years and show no signs at all of slowing down and may only just be getting into their groove. Well worthy of investigation by those who enjoy the genre.

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metal music reviews (older releases)

UFO Force It

Album · 1975 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 22 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
I don’t know how I missed getting into this band! Maybe “Miss Demeanor” just didn’t attract me? If I had heard this album in the eighties, I would have been hooked for sure. Yet somehow, in spite of loving Pete Way’s band Waysted and having a couple of Michael Schenker albums, I never picked up UFO. I bought the debut a few years back solely because it was a hard rock album of 1970 and it’s an okay album. It has it’s moments. Later I bought “No Heavy Petting” because I heard that “Lights Out” was a great album, but listening to it on YouTube, I didn’t get a rush. The previous album sounded way better to me and I rather like it. So at last I got around to getting another UFO album and my choice was this one, “Force It”. What’s with all the faucets in the album art? Imagine “faucet” and “force it” being said in a British accent.

From what I have heard, this might just be UFO’s most rock out album of the seventies. Later albums seem to lean on melody more than punch unless I've just not heard the right songs. On this album, I think we have some of the best rockers and riffs not only in the UFO catalogue but stand out tracks from the seventies hard rock scene.

“Let It Roll” is a great start. It’s remarkable how much Michael Schenker’s guitar reminds me of the Scorpions considering that he’d only played on the debut album. The melodic part is a nice touch. Perhaps it’s too soon to go pretty but the hard rocking music returns. It even gets rather heavy in parts!

“Shoot Shoot” is a fun rock song that has one awesome riff that crops up after the chorus. Again, very Scorpions in style but with a great groove to it. Damn that’s a good one, that riff!

The third track has to be the ballad. It’s almost predictable on some seventies albums. “High Flyer” is very pretty but it makes me think that this is a song a fictional band might play in a movie, the song where the girlfriend looks lovingly at her boyfriend on the stage. Then we get another kick ass rocker with “Love Lost Love”. It’s a melodic hard rock song with Schenker really exercising those lead guitar breaks. Holy tube socks but this is really good hard rock!

The album was produced by Leo Lyons of Ten Years After, and for “Out in the Street” he brings in band mate Chick Churchill to play some electric organ. I think it works great with UFO’s sound, the softer organ sound contrasting with the crunchy guitar. Phil Moog shows he’s got power and finesse in his vocals. And then we get another power house hard rocker with “Mother Mary”. I can’t get over this guitar sound! Schenker is really a key to the power behind this band.

There's more great hard rock with “Too Much of Nothing” and "Dance Your Life Away". The final track, "The Kids'", doesn't slow down and slips in some nice piano work between the power chords. But then the track curiously goes into a melodic and atmospheric instrumental called “Between the Walls”. It’s an unexpected way to end an album of kick ass rockers. Once more, I'm hearing a Scorpions guitar. It's interesting to think that so much of the Scorpions sound may have come from the younger Schenker brother who left after one album!

I think the selling point for me on this album is clearly the guitar sound and Michael Schenker’s playing. His solos and his riffs are fantastic! The rest of the band are great. Phil Moog is a stand out vocalist and perfect for that kind of hard rock with strong melodies and ballads. But if they’d had a lesser guitarist they wouldn’t have sounded so awesome on this album. You can thank Leo Lyons too for his great work.

This has become one of my new favourite old albums!

WORSHIP OF KERES Bloodhounds for Oblivion

EP · 2016 · Traditional Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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WORSHIP OF KERES is an up and coming traditional doom metal band from Lake Shasta, CA which is just north of Redding. As of early 2020 this band has still not released a full-length album but has so far put out two stellar EPs. This debut titled BLOODHOUNDS FOR OBLIVION was released in 2016 and only contains three tracks that up to 17 minutes but what a nicely done set of tracks this one is!

In Greek mythology the KERES (plural of Ker) were female death-spirits that personified violent death and were drawn to bloody corpses on battle fields so as you can imagine WORSHIP OF KERES crafts a subject matter that is quite dark and based in the occult and other nightmarish tidbits of horror. The music is primarily based in old school death metal particularly from the 80s (think Pentagram, St Vitus, Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General etc) but the band dabbles a bit in NWOBHM as well as thrash for brief moments of time.

BLOODHOUNDS FOR OBLIVION contains three tracks: “Book 1,” “Book 2” and “Book 3” and each connects to the other quite nicely. The music’s procession is a doomy stomp that builds in intensity as it ramps up. The guitar tones are nice and fuzzy but distorted into full metal decibalage. The highlight of the band’s sound for sure are the haunting vocal performances of Elise Tarens. Female fronted doom metal as been all the rage in recent years and it does seem that the slow tempos of doom metal cast the perfect sonic spell for a witchy musical experience.

This EP really comes off as if it’s one single track segmented into three chapters yet it’s not exactly prog or anything but the band has definitely mastered the art of subtle changes in order to keep the music interesting on a more active level but this is a very receptive style of doom metal that generates cyclical melodic loops and uses the dynamics and tempo changes to change things up. This is a really compelling album that portends a band that’s on its way to better days and with the band’s signing to Svart Records it’s very likely that this band won’t be a secret for too much longer. I for one look forward to a full album’s worth of material.

KISS Hotter Than Hell

Album · 1974 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.37 | 29 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
I’ve never been a big KISS fan. I had a couple of the eighties albums on cassette in the eighties and in the last couple of years I bought “Lick It Up” and the debut. I actually found the debut kind of interesting and liked three, maybe four tracks. The other tracks were alright. But I heard that the debut was not the strongest album even though it’s held in fairly high regard compared to some albums. I watched a video where one fellow was listing some of his favourite hard rock albums of the seventies and he mentioned that this, “Hotter Than Hell”, was his favourite KISS album of that decade. As I often have the same opinion or close to the same as this guy, I went and ordered KISS’s second album.

The CD notes said that the debut had been a disappointment, unable to capture the vitality of the band’s live act. This album was said to be a grand improvement. After the first listen, however, I felt the album was totally unmemorable except for perhaps one track, possibly two. A second listen didn’t make it sound better. “Hotter Than Hell”? This album doesn’t even get hot enough to keep toast warm, I thought. So I put on my reviewer cap and gave the album one more listen, a careful one!

The opening track, “Got to Choose” is pretty mild. It’s mid-tempo, lacks any thrill and rush, and in no way hints that this is supposed to be a band with a spectacular live act. The song lyrics are pretty lame, too. It’s about a guy who finds out his girlfriend might leave him for another guy. So she “has to choose”. Deep, man.

The album does improve, though. “Parasite” is a little heavier than hard and sounds like it could go somewhere when played on stage. But “Goin’ Blind” is goin’ bland and just another throwaway power ballad. The title track should be a thrilling rocker I imagine but I isn’t. It starts with one of those typical hard rock riffs: power chords, pause, power chords, pause. But I’ve heard it a lot of times and done way better. The lead break is the only thing that kind of stands out.

“Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll” is alright and we are actually starting to rock out more. A typical blues-based rocker, it reminds me a little of Rush’s debut album. It’s not my favourite approach to seventies rock but the song moves. Then there’s “All the Way”, which is surprisingly not about “going all the way”. This song strikes me as KISS trying to do a hard rock song a little differently from the rest of the album. There’s some cowbell! It’s a good follow up to the previous track because at least now we seem to have gotten our asses of the couch even if it's just to confirm the track number.

At last I feel the band is making use of the dual guitars and bass when we reach track 7, “Watchin’ You”. Good riffs and musical structure. I am now finally warming up to this album! Then with "mainline" the band decides to do a southern rock-styled song that sounds like something I’d hear on a Nazareth album, like “Gone Dead Train” from “Show No Mercy” except Nazareth were better at it. Who is doing the vocals here? Ace?

“Comin’ Home” (these guys don’t like the “g” in the present continuous). What happened? This sounds like a demo! Paul Stanley sings this fun-ish rock song with a melody. Maybe something you’d hear from Cheap Trick. Then we get another heavy track, possibly one of Gene’s, with “Strange Ways”. It’s not bad but sounds very familiar, it doesn’t particularly stand out for originality. I get the impression that KISS were better at wearing make up and costumes than they were at writing and recording songs. Maybe that's why they were most popular among my friends when we were 9 years old.

It’s okay, I guess. There are some tracks that are worthy of adding to a seventies’ mixed playlist or that should be good live. Perhaps that was KISS’s strong point after all: their live shows. I have plenty of albums in my collection that totally rock out, songs that make you want to do scissor kicks and punch the air. This album needs to be cranked at a frat party and then only certain tracks played. Perhaps it’s best for people loaded on beer and hormones. Or am I too finicky?

TAARMA Beyond the Cemetery Gates

Album · 2008 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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While many of us still associate black metal with a bunch of misanthropic miscreants from Scandinavia, the truth of the matter is that black metal has long left its cradle and become a global phenomenon and not just in North America and Japan. The genre has even taken off in the most unlikely places whether it be the Chinese band Be Persecuted, Kekal from Indonesia, Shub Niggurath from Mexico or even Inquisition from Colombia just to name a few. But even stranger yet is when this style of metal with screamed vocals, tremolo guitar distortion and blastbeats most often dished out in lo-fi hellish production appeals to some region of the world where nobody has even heard of much less visited, then things enter the Twilight Zone.


TAARMA is yet another one-man band that produces a gloomy mix of depressing atmospheric black metal enveloped in a distorted wall of sound in the vein of Xasthur and other depressive metal bands. The sole member is the aptly named Black Emperor Jogezi and he lives in the extremely remote city of Zhob in Baluchistan which is an area of Pakistan that sits on the border with Afghanistan and has been the hot potato region of the world for eons as the two nations have fought over its territories. The devastation that has ensued through all the conflicts has left permanent psychological scars on its peaceful populace with little or not escape from the aftermath. TAARMA which means “darkness” in the ancient Brahvi language reflects this emotional trauma perfectly.

Jogezai is an ex-member of the band Black Arts but moved on to form TAARMA in 1999 and has released a series of lo-fi torturous demos in the far flung region of Pakistan that was virtually unknown to any outsiders until 1884. So far TAARMA has only released three very hard to find full-length albums with this one BEYOND THE CEMETARY GATES being the second. It was released in 2008 independently as a cassette only edition. Only 200 copies of this album were made and it’s not even very easy to find a place to listen to this on the internet as the audio streaming seems to disappear without warning. TAARMA’s themes revolve around the usual suspects such as death, depression and bleakness but rather than suffering from frigid winters and snooty Christians, TAARMA draws its influence from Afghan folklore due to the fact that Zhob is considered to be an Afghani city under the occupation of Pakistan.

The music on BEYOND THE CEMETARY GATES is about as claustrophobic and lo-fi as you could hope for. This is the stuff black metal purists get all hot and bothered over and for good reason. TAARMA is heavily influenced by the American band Xasthur and with a monotonous repetitive death march that is accompanied by buzzsaw fueled droning guitars, drums that alternate between apathetic and agitated blastbeats, minimalistic keyboards and a tortured raspy vocal rage that aggressively strives to emerge from the suffocating din. The music is unique in the fact that it sort of swarms like a plague of locusts rather than just make a clearcut procession. The guitar drones and the keyboard ambience merge together for the most part and rather than making distinct transitions to different chord progressions, they seem to just slide in out of tune.

This is truly horrific music that reflects the harshness of existing in a very remote region of the planet devastated by eons of conflict and the incessant suffering that follows. Jogezai certainly isn’t alone in the world when it comes to making this style of tortured soul music but in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where such music is literally unheard of and in some cases can result in severe condemnation if not imprisonment is quite unique indeed. In the end this is nothing new under the sun except for the fact it comes from some remote outpost in the Pakistani desert but neither is it without its merits. This truly feels like some sort of dark mirage is descending upon the land where all traces of hope are extinguished as if some spiritual war has been lost and the victors’ intent is fixed on eternal enslavement of the soul. This is really spooky stuff! There’s a depth to TAARMA that often seems insincere in many depressive black metal bands.

KILLER CLOWN Killer Clown

Boxset / Compilation · 2015 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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KILLER CLOWN was one of many many many metal bands that arrived too late to the 80s party to find any real success. This band from the desert town of Ridgecrest, CA formed in 1991 just in time for the grunge scene and alternative everything 90s to arrive which changed the entire musical landscape and shut the doors for a once thriving classic metal market. This band was very much rooted in the 80s heavy metal style of Judas Priest, Saxon and other twin guitar attack metal bands.

Starting out as Tyrant, the members of James Johnson (vocals), Mike Stanley (guitars), Brandon Ernest (guitars) and Ron Cram (drums) discovered that the moniker was already quite popular and the more established bands from Germany and the US already staked their claims on this one so the band searched high and low for a new band name and came across it in a very weird way. Apparently one of the band members’ kids was wreaking havoc with the equipment and he had messed up hair and a toy knife. He got the nickname KILLER CLOWN which ultimately became the band’s new name!

Having formed when they did and given their isolated location in the middle of the Mojave desert, KILLER CLOWN never released an album but they did record two demos, “Show Us To The Circus” which came out in 1991 and “All Bets Down” which was released in 1994. The band never officially broke up but sort of went on a permanent hiatus until the 21st century when the internet allowed old relics from the past to be experienced by all. Interest in their demos began to rise and ultimately resulted in the two demos being released as this eponymously titled compilation album which appeared on the Greek label Psycho-B Records and released in 2015.

Given the amateur status of these tracks, KILLER CLOWN had already honed its chops and played some really good 80s style metal and although not exactly original or groundbreaking in any way, mastered the art of crafting catchy hooks and strong melodic performances with tight instrumental interplay with heavy twin guitar attacks, thumping bass grooves and excellent drumming. Even James Johnson’s vocals were perfect for the part. If you ask me there’s a more epic sound to KILLER CLOWN and i’d say they sound closer to bands like Manilla Road rather than Judas Priest, Saxon or other NWOBHM acts.

While not professionally recorded, this compilation was remastered and could be considered a veritable album but still sounds crude and raw. The tracks that appeared on the two demos are not in the same order as the originals but rather the two demos are mixed up randomly so it’s impossible to distinguish which track came from which demo. The band was as adept at crafting nice acoustic arpeggiated intros much like the early Metallica albums as it was in unleashing exquisite metal bombast with heavy guitar riffs, nice solos and well thought out compositions that added all those extra touches of mastery.

This one was a surprise and had KILLER CLOWN emerged five years earlier very well could’ve found itself on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball but the music industry has always been a cruel one and the band would not even release a single album in their day. Given the renewed interest and the benefit of a long requested release, the band reformed in 2014 but has not yet released any new material. Whether that is their destiny remains to be seen but for an obscure album that nobody has heard of this one is of high musical quality albeit could use a better production job and perhaps a few more modern touches to make it stand out a bit. A pretty cool set of demos that displays exactly how many talented bands have existed and never had the chance to take their musical visions further.

XANTHOCHROID Blessed He with Boils

Album · 2012 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 8 ratings
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XANTHROCHROID was formed in 2005 in the Orange County, CA city of Lake Forest by Sam Meador (keyboards, acoustic guitar, piano, mandolin, melodeon, autoharp, bass, accordion, Irish flute, orchestrations, vocals), Matthew Earl (drums, percussion, flute, Irish whistle, recorder, mandolin, keyboards, orchestration), Bryan Huizenga (bass), Brent Vallefuoco (guitar) and David Bodenhoefer (guitar) and like many contemporary progressive metal acts has blurred the line between exactly what constitutes a metal act and what does not. First of all if you are wondering what the band name means, it is an anthropological term that refers to a person having fair hair and a pale complexion but beyond this dictionary meaning i have no idea how it relates to this project.

This band is the perfect example of how modern labeling systems fail to keep up with the innovative hybridization of musical genres. Is this black metal? Is this Celtic folk? Progressive rock? Well, all of the above actually. Sometimes simultaneously and sometimes each genre exists in a vacuum. Needless to say that the metal tag is only a partial descriptor as is any other for that matter. There really needs to be a label of eclectic metal or eclectic folk / metal / rock or some other tag to convey that no particular genre dominates however for some reason metal’s mighty bombastic heft seems to dominate in that regard but whatever. Let’s just call this highly innovative music that samples from many other bands and weaves all the influences into a tapestry of innovation that ultimately gets titled BLESSED HE WITH BOILS which is the debut album by XANTHROCHROID.

This is epic cinematic material going on on BLESSED HE WITH BOILS. The opening track “Aquatic Deathgate Existence” sounds like some sort of Pagan ritual acoustic Celtic instrumentation with an atmospheric etherial spectral presence and haunting choral vocals. The track sounds more like a darkwave modern classical piece that Dead Can Dance would release but beginning with the title track XANTHROCHROID jumps into extreme metal territory but this isn’t ordinary metal by any means. The sounds straddle somewhere between the symphonic black metal of Emperor or Ihsahn but with a progressive time signature frenzy that is more like a sped up version of Opeth but to my ears sounds more like the jittery freneticism of Deathspell Omega at least as far as the unorthodox avant-garde chord progressions are concerned. The alternating growly / raspy / clean vocal style also sounds a lot like Enslaved’s more progressive works. Add a few liturgical chants and you got an eclectic mix here.

As well as the angularity of the black metal works the band totally drifts off into progressive folk on tracks like “Winter’s End” which eschew any metal leanings whatsoever and truly finds this band crossing boundaries without any hesitation and therefore the only connecting thread of continuity of BLESSED HE WITH BOILS is the focus on the melodic developments which are consistent from beginning to end albeit with oddball progressive time signatures but not so avant-garde that you can’t follow them upon a single listen. There was a lot of effort placed into this album to keep the musical flow diverse and ever changing which are the characteristics that interest me the most in music and is a result of the various band members contributing different levels of experience to the musical whole which adds a democratic sort of vibe to the album’s run without it feeling disjointed or farfetched. The musicianship is quite competent with special kudos to the percussive drive of Matthew Earl but all the musicians step up when called.

BLESSED HE WITH BOILS offers an entire spectrum of progressive rock / metal / folk leanings with extraordinarily bombastic metal in contrast with the lush purity of folk and everything in between. Certain passages are easily digestible and fall well outside of the parameter of progressive anything but then there are moments such as on “Long Live Our Lifeless King” where the Ihsahn progressive metal madness kicks in and avant-garde jittery time signature deviations pummel the senses yet carry a melodic underpinning that is impossible to fall under its spell. While XANTHROCHROID does tend to borrow more than create on BLESSED HE WITH BOILS, i cannot deny that this isn’t a very interesting album that has an impeccable flow from beginning to end. Derivative in many ways for sure but exceptionally enjoyable nonetheless.

IN MOURNING Afterglow

Album · 2016 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
In Mourning were formed back in 2000, and this 2016 album was the second in a trilogy, following on from 2012’s ‘The Weight Of Oceans. It was the first album to feature ex-Katatonia drummer Daniel Liljekvist, and the band commented: "It’s a bit more complex than our previous albums and it has got a bit of a different sound than the older ones, a bit more alive like a band and maybe not always as studio corrected as our earlier material. However, the foundation of the music is still what we’ve always done, and the key elements are pretty much the same but with some new additions and a few new twists and turns of course". Over the years their sound has evolved from a band who was primarily death metal into one which is far more progressive. They mix and meld doomy metal-riffs, blasting drumbeats and deep growling vocals to calm breezes of clean flowing melodies and harmonies and this makes for an album which is both uncompromising yet accessible at the same time.

There are many who are going to compare them to Opeth, as they have come from similar backgrounds and in many ways have followed similar paths, but In Mourning have stayed far more metallic while also being adventurous. They can move from Nile-type complexity and density to gentleness and calm with ease, somehow always ensuring the journey continues to make sense. When they are being reflective then one relaxes, it doesn’t matter that the maelstrom is going to come back, for now just enjoy the tranquillity as the band takes us on a journey. More than heavy enough to satisfy the metalhead, yet truly progressive and moving around for those into prog metal. The mix of melody and aggression is very well done indeed, yet when they wish to go in for the kill they do so at pace and speed.

CIRITH UNGOL Frost and Fire

Album · 1981 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 10 ratings
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While the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) was gaining steam in jolly ole England in the 70s with bands like Judas Priest and Saxon gestating the stylistic approach into the behemoth musical style that would overtake the metal saturated 80s, similar bands existed elsewhere whether it be Germany’s Scorpions cranking out similarly minded heavy rock tunes or even Argentina’s Pappo’s Blues however there was a huge scene in the USA as well with bands like Riot, Alkana and Bang in the forefront of more metal infused hard rock. Add to that list another legendary act, namely CIRITH UNGOL which formed in 1971 in Ventura, CA and was well known for its fantasy based lyrics and power metal leanings long before its 1981 debut FROST AND FIRE.

While this band was in the same league as the early pioneers of the NWOBHM such as Iron Maiden, Angel Witch and Def Leppard, given the exclusionary premises of the ill-fated descriptor, such American based bands have been since been fitted with the tag of early US power metal which isn’t without its merits but hardly adequate. The decade of music that spanned from the band’s formation in 1971 and its debut a decade later is perhaps one of the most dynamic ten years in all of music history. The band started with the lineup of Greg Lindstrom (guitars, synthesizers), Robert Garven (drums), Jerry Fogle (guitars) and Pat Galligan (bass) as Titanic with an interest in playing hard rock that was similar to Mountain and Grand Funk Railroad and after changing their name to CIRITH UNGOL which refers to the mythical tower in the Tolkien universe. For this debut the lineup was Greg Lindstrom (guitars, synthesizers), Robert Garven (drums), Jerry Fogle (guitars) and Michael Vujea (bass) and Tim Baker on vocals.

FROST AND FIRE was hardly regarded as a classic at the time of release and although the album cover art by Michael Whelan suggests a connection to the rather mediocre animated flick “Heavy Metal” which came out the very same year of 1981, CIRITH UNGOL’s album is much more interesting than the lame soundtrack that supported that rather ho hum film. This debut album is sort of an anomaly in the CIRITH UNGOL canon as it’s more rooted in traditional heavy metal than the following albums that are slower that adopt many characteristics of doom metal. This one is much more diverse but generally speaking employs faster tempos and is much easier to latch onto upon a single listen. The opening title track is the perfect example as it implements a catchy rhythmic groove, guitar riff and captures the spirit of the early NWOBHM scene perfectly. Augmented by the rather idiosyncratic vocal style of Tim Baker, CIRITH UNGOL immediately stands out as an act that is utterly existing in its own paradigm and yet it was not only influenced by the past but provided a lot of inspiration for the bands to come.

While based in the as expected sword and sorcery fantasy world of early metal that was the norm, FROST AND FIRE exceeds in its ability to take heavy metal into unexpected terrain. Added to Baker’s idiosyncratic stylistic approach as vox box in chief, the album just plain rocks with seven disparate tracks that all partake in implanting a different approach. While the title tracks bursts onto the scene with a brash bravado, “I’m Alive” is a bit reserved but a careful analysis will reveal a close connection musically speaking to Iron Maiden’s “Revelations” on the “Piece Of Mind” album revealing how the mighty Maiden had its ears pricked far and wide to capture the sonic displays from afar. “A Little Fire” on the other hand finds CIRITH UNGOL as the borrowers of past ideas as it really does evoke a bit of Jimi Hendrix’s classic “Fire” albeit teased out into contemporary sonic regalia. “What Does It Take” may catch some flack for the cheesy synth sounds and slap bass effects that makes it sound like a new wave hit on MTV but personally i love this track as it adds a bit of contrast to the business as usual. Despite sounding as if it could’ve emerged as a harder edged song by The Cure, despite the synth-laced atmospheres delivers all the metal creds in abundance.

“Edge Of A Knife” displays a rather proto-metal sound that seems like it emerged from the band’s earliest days but offers a chorus that sounds an awful lot like Judas Priest’s “Breaking The Law” so it goes without saying that CIRITH UNGOL was a fan of the NWOBHM even if they as a band emerged before its official inauguration into the world of heavy metal. “Better Off Dead” starts off with a drumbeat that ushers in a funky bass groove way before funk metal was a “thing” but also seems to add a few parts that Cinderella took liberties in borrowing on their single “Somebody Save Me.” Just check out the “Shot o’ gasoline” part of Cinderella’s single. The album ends with the very unique sounding instrumental “Maybe That’s Why” which sounds somewhat like as Lynyrd Skynyrd song progression at first but then engages in a unique guitar stum-athon with bluesy licks and despite sounding out of sync with the rest of the album displays the band’s interest in varying styles of musical format. Pretty cool if you ask me.

For some reason, CIRITH UNGOL’s debut album FROST AND FIRE gets panned a lot for not being on the same league of the more focused “King Of The Dead” and “One Foot In Hell” but i guess i’m in the minority in actually liking the different styles on display on FROST AND FIRE which display a band in a free-for-all modus operandi of just doing whatever the fuck these band members want to! Granted a lack of focus can diminish from an experience but nothing on FROST IN FIRE does just that. Everything on this debut is kept within a certain parameter of focus but yet allows a bit of creative mojo to ooze out from the big bang of creative explosive music magic. For that i love this debut by CIRITH UNGOL and all i can say is that the naysayers probably have never heard this album (in remastered form of course) on a ridiculously expensive stereo system on a road trip. OMG! After experiencing this album in a much more intimate setting, i TOTALLY upped my appreciation. Just sayin! Classic classic classic!!!! BTW the eighth track “Cirith Ungol” on many releases is a BONUS track on reissues. Nice but from the doomier side of the band’s sound beginning with the next album.

VAN HALEN Van Halen

Album · 1978 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.30 | 97 ratings
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VAN HALEN has been without a doubt one of the major forces in modern music having debuted all the way back in 1978 with this stunningly energetic and off-the-wall self-titled debut that kept hard rock relevant in a time when punk rock, disco and new wave were taking over the world. The eclectic quartet of lead vocalist David Lee Roth, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Mike Anthony literally swooped onto the music scene and forever altered its course and would ultimately spawn the glam metal scene of the 80s although VAN HALEN itself was a much more interesting act than any mere imitators as the band was larger than life mostly due to the wild antics and brash bravado of frontman David Lee Roth along with Eddie Van Halen’s virtuosic guitar antics that took hammer-ons and lightning fast soloing to unthinkable stunning levels.

While VAN HALEN would go on to sell over 80 million albums worldwide making it one of the top selling bands of all time, like any other this band had humble beginnings. After having moved from the Netherlands to Pasadena, CA as kids, Eddie and Alex took up music at a very young age and as is well known, Eddie started on drums and Alex on guitar until one day they suddenly switched instruments and never looked back. The brothers formed its first band The Broken Combs as early as 1964 playing in backyard parties and then changed the name to The Trojan Rubber Co and then in 1972 formed a band called Genesis and played for a couple years in which time recruited Roth as vocalist and Anthony as bassist. Once they discovered that another band Genesis already existed (remember this was before the internet!), they quickly changed the name to Mammoth but Roth insisted that the name VAN HALEN had a certain ring of success to it. Wow, he was right!

After establishing itself as an energetic and charismatic band that found regular gigs at clubs like the Whisky a Go Go (the photos on the album cover are from that venue), VAN HALEN caught the attention of Gene Simmons of KISS and once Warner Bros. producer Ted Templeman caught the band live, it was recording contract time and the band was headed for the big time fast. The album was mostly recorded live in three weeks time to keep that authentic band sound from sounding too overly produced. The album was released in February 1978 and quickly shot up the charts with songs like “Runnin’ With The Devil” and the remake of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” becoming instant classic rock radio hits that have been played ever since. The album has since been certified diamond having sold more than 10 million copies.

Opening up with “Runnin’ With The Devil,” VAN HALEN immediately established itself as a bad boy band with playful mischievous intent and the ability rock like nobody else ever had. The track begins with Michael Anthony’s pounding bass groove which signifies the band’s emphasis on melodic grooves above all else but once the fiery guitar and drum sections let loose, both the Van Halen brothers fire off their best chops but of course it’s the flashy charismatic charm of Roth that steals all the attention his way. Having established the band’s sound which in many ways was a typical if not upgraded hard rock not too overly distant from what had been happening all through the earlier 70s, the album is followed by the thundering intensity of “Eruption” which at only a minute and forty-three seconds immediately established Eddie Van Halen as the king of rock guitar thus giving him that instant guitar god status for his fiery pyrotechnic virtuosity. Basically the track took the basic intro from Cactus’ 1970 track “Let Me Swim” but added blood-curdling squeals, tremolo bombs, hammer-on gymnastics and unparalleled tempos that would give birth to the legion of guitarists that spawned the countless forms of more extreme metal to come.

Having dropped the nuclear bomb on the listener with the mostly guitar oriented “Eruption,” the band reverts back to, well a band with the following Kinks cover of “You Really Got Me” which takes it to the wild 70s with heavier guitar heft and sizzling solos along with Roth’s talent of turning everything into a Vaudeville extravaganza. This track was released as the fist single and reached #36 on the Billboard singles charts and paved the way for a many cover tunes to follow on following albums. This is one of those songs that i swear is being played somewhere in the world at any given minute of the day but displayed the band’s love of classic rock music that they could easily adapt into the repertoire. It is well known neither the band itself nor Ray Davies who wrote it have claimed that they really liked this version. The band was disappointed that the Warner Bros chose a cover as their first single but considering it all worked out they probably no longer care!

“Ain’t Talkin Bout Love” is a two-chord blast of energetic guitar bravado that started out as a spoof of a punk song. VAN HALEN was notoriously vocal in their disdain for punk rock and even went as far as posing as a punk band called the Enemas in 1977 where they claimed they were from Scotland and they talked shit about the punk rock scene before the band was quickly booted from the stage. Despite the song starting off as a punk rock parody somehow it took on a life of its own as Eddie added lightning fast riffing along with Roth’s sensual sensibilities coming out of the woodwork. This one has also become a classic rock staple. Next up is the heavy metal rocker “I’m The One” which kept the adrenaline supply surging despite the track actually taking on the characteristics of a swinging showtune piece which only becomes obvious when the band steps out and Roth is left to employ a rather competent “Bop bada, shoobe doo wah, bop bada, shoobe doo wah” vocal performance.

“Jamie’s Cryin” is another beloved classic from VAN HALEN that has also been on heavy rotation for over 40 years now and was only made all the more popular when 80s rapper Ton-Loc sampled the guitar riffs for his mega-hit “Wild Thing” in 1989. This track showed a more serious side of the band and recounts a tale of a girl named Jamie who had a one night stand with some undisclosed guy with whom she tries to kindle a bonafide relationship only to find the guy has not interest. This high school drama has resonated with audiences from the moment it was released. While VAN HALEN straddled the border between hard rock and heavy metal, they mostly veered toward the hard rock side of the equation but VAN HALEN I (as it’s often called) does deliver the metal goods on the tracks “Atomic Punk” and the closing “On Fire” which turns things up a few notches and delivers the incessant guitar rampage, fast tempos and proper metal bombast.

The tracks “Little Dreamer” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” provide the blueprint of how VAN HALEN would often skirt the line between hard rock and melodic pop with strong vocal harmonies and emphasis on the melodic groove over the flashy virtuosity of the heavier songs. These types of tracks also display the excellent vocal counterpoints of bassist Michael Anthony whose backing vocal duties added a whole extra layer of melodic flavor to the mix. “Little Dreamer” in particular showcased Eddie’s excellent guitar playing to find a solid grounding in a simple melodic flow without the pyrotechnic excesses while Roth was allowed to deliver some heart-string tugging vocals that would become the band’s style of delivering the more pop infused ballads. The backing oooo’s and aaaah’s also showed the band’s love of the classic vocal harmony bands of the 60s .

One of the best tracks of VAN HALEN’s career came in the form of “Ice Cream Man” which is a cover of the rather unassuming blues song from John Brim recorded in 1954 and turned into a veritable VAN HALEN classic. The track begins with the rare acoustic guitar performance of David Lee Roth as he plays contemporary folk dude but then taken into the stratosphere as the band bursts in and rockets off to heavy rock heaven. The track was a favorite of Roth which he performed regularly before joining VAN HALEN and displays his love of boogie boogie blues sounds that he brings to life in a rather Las Vegas strip nightclub performance. The song perfectly encapsulates the band’s fondness of double entendres as the lyrics of “Ice Cream Man” quickly reveal themselves to have nothing to do with tasty frozen treats. While the track adheres to its bluesy stomps that made it so Chicago bluesy cool AF, the musicians deftly adapt it to the world of hard rock and Eddie even crafts the perfect mind numbing solo to its irresistible charm.

VAN HALEN I is indubitably one of the classics of the heavy rock world with its audacity to take the world of hard rock into arenas hitherto unthinkable. Thinking outside of the box while maintaining the integrity of the genre with its bluesy hard rock underpinnings that nurtured irresistibly addictive melodic hooks is what propelled VAN HALEN to the top of the music scene virtually overnight. Tarnished only by its popularity of being played to death, VAN HALEN I still is one of the most entertaining albums in the world of rock music and although i have to stay away from this album and band for long bouts of time due to overdosing on many of the classic songs on here, once i throw this album on after a few years it still retains all that magic that made it so special upon first exposure. While this album was historically innovative beyond anyone’s dreams at the time of release, i never rate albums on that aspect alone but rather on how well the album hold’s up in its own right. Despite all the years of glam rock bands that borrowed a thing or two from VAN HALEN, this album still remains the best of the style and was never topped by even the band itself. This was their crowning achievement where every track is perfect. If i could change only one thing i would put “Ice Cream Man” as the last track so that the final words would be “all my flavors are guaranteee-eeeee-eee-eeeeeed to satisfy!”

BUFFALO Volcanic Rock

Album · 1973 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 9 ratings
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The sound of metal in the early 70's made a comeback in the 90's, with bands under the labels of grunge, stoner rock/metal, and some doom metal bands all essentially bringing back the dark, dirty, and bluesy sound of the music that they probably grew up listening to. Bands like Black Sabbath and Budgie have been shown plenty of appreciation, with bands all across the metal scene covering them. The Australian heavy metal band Buffalo's only got a couple to my knowledge, grunge bands Cosmic Psychos (covered Sunrise) and Screaming Trees (covered Freedom).

Volcanic Rock has lived on to become a cult classic to many fans of early metal and the grungy 90's, and it's the album that sounds most grunge before grunge was a named genre. If Soundgarden was around in the 70's, this might just be what they'd sound like. The main riff in The Prophet even brings to mind Soundgarden's Searching With My Good Eye Closed. Out of the big B's of early metal, If Blue Cheer was the wall of distortion, Black Sabbath was the brooding darkness, and Budgie was the upbeat speed, Buffalo was the heavy heart and soul of metal.

Thunderous riffing rains down as Dave Tice sings his heart out. He has so much of both bluesy soul and gravelly metal attitude, and sounds like no other metal vocalist of the era. Freedom and The Prophet especially display this sound combo perfectly. It really wasn't until vocalists like Chris Cornell and Pepper Keenan for this kind of bluesy passion to see a return to metal. After the vocals, it's the bass from Peter Wells that stands out to me, particularly the massive sound of Freedom. The band isn't always lumbering though, they can pick up the pace as heard in opener Sunrise and closer Shylock. The latter closes the album in such a raw fashion, with John Baxter's furious riffing being unrivaled, and Jimmy Economou's drumming is excellent.

I could go on and on about how much I love this album, the melodies, the riffs, the emotion expressed, all so good. In my opinion, this is not only the best metal album of the 70's, but the best album of the 70's. Any fans of 70's metal and 90's grunge/stoner-type metal should not be without this cult classic.

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