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SOILWORK Verkligheten

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Verkligheten" (which is the Swedish word for "Reality") is the 11th full-length studio album by Swedish metal act Soilwork. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in January 2019. It´s the successor to "The Ride Majestic" from 2015, although the 2016 compilation album "Death Resonance" bridges the gap between the two album releases. There have been two lineup changes since "The Ride Majestic (2015)" as drummer Dirk Verbeuren has left to join Megadeth and has been replaced by Bastian Thusgaard and bassist Markus Wibom has been replaced by Taylor Nordberg.

Stylistically "Verkligheten" is the sound of Soilwork through and through. Melodic death metal in the most accessible and polished end of the scale. Labelling the music death metal is sometimes actually a bit misleading, although there definitely are some pretty hard edged and even semi-brutal moments on the album (but they are few and far between). Other parts are so catchy and accessible though that we are closer to pop/rock melodic territory than we are to metal and there are also several of the riffs and rhythms on the album which are hard rock and heavy metal influenced rather than death and thrash metal oriented. Soilwork are however incredibly skilled composers who are able to combine all the sounds and influences into a sound that is unmistakably their own.

If you´re familiar with any of the predecing releases (maybe except for the first two which are harder edged), it´ll take you two seconds after lead vocalist Björn "Speed" Strid sings his first words, to identify that it is Soilwork you are listening to. While remaining relatively consistent Soilwork have still managed to develop and refine their sound over the years and continue to do so on "Verkligheten".

There are several standout tracks on the album and only a couple of quality "fillers". Highlights to my ears are tracks like the powerful "Arrival", "Bleeder Despoiler" (the start/stop riffs throughout the song are really great), and the ultra melodic "Full Moon Shoals" (where Strid reaches a new level of melodic excellence), but "Stålfågel" (which features some very well delivered clean female vocals by Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy), the hard edged "The Wolves Are Back in Town", and the closing "You Aquiver" are also tracks which stand out.

"Verkligheten" also features a top notch sound production, and upon conclusion it´s yet another high quality release by Soilwork. It´s quite frankly amazing they are able to continue releasing albums of this quality and what is even more amazing is that they are still capable of challenging themselves as songwriters while still maintaining a signature sound this far into their career. Soilwork are one of those artists where lineup changes haven´t always been a bad thing, as the lineup changes have often meant that the band have been able to take their music in different directions (in small steps). Always under the musical guidance of Strid though which has ensured continuety. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

SOULFLY Ritual

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Max and the gang are back with their eleventh album, the third to feature his eldest son Zyon on drums (the line-up is completed by Marc Rizzo on lead guitar, flamenco guitar and bassist Mike Leon, plus loads of guests). The last Sepultura album was their best for years, and here we see the ex-leader of that band pulling together what is probably their finest release since 2000’s ‘Primitive’. It is aggressive, powerful, pummelling, with the underlying groove taking nothing away from the ferocity of the attack, yet there are also some native sounds at the beginning of the title track which makes one think of the mighty, incredible, “Roots, Bloody Roots”. This is an album to get all sweaty and aggressive in the mosh pit, as the guitars crank it up, while percussion and drums combine to create something very special indeed.

But just when it is getting all too much for the head to take, and there is a need for some respite, we are treated to “Demonized” which starts life as an acoustic flamenco guitar track. “Fluff” anyone? On never really knows what is going to happen, with traditional flute leading into “Blood On The Street” while closer “Soulfly XI” simply doesn’t sound as if it belongs on any album which involves a Cavalera. Gentle, restrained, delicate yet passionate and emotional, this is not the style of music one would expect from someone who brought us ‘Chaos A.D.’. This is a superb album from Soulfly, and although I said it is their finest since ‘Primitive’, it may actually be superior to both that and the debut, quite a statement I know. I haven’t been this excited about an album from Max since the debut Cavalera Conspiracy album, he and the band are truly back to form. One not to miss.

SHINING Animal

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Jørgen Munkeby (saxophonist and guitarist, a graduate of the Norwegian Academy of Music) has long been the driving force between Norway’s jazz-metal collective, Shining. Over the years they have broken down musical barriers and have refused to be categorised into any particular style of music, as they mixed progressive, technical metal, jazz, avant-garde and experimental sounds. But now he is back with something different “I was tired of doing the same thing,” he explains. “I was done with ‘Blackjazz’ and wanted to create something new and exciting. I needed a change. I’m finally at the point where I have nothing to lose and everything to win. We had 360 degrees to play with so we could’ve gone in any direction. This new record is more Muse than Meshuggah, more Ghost than Gojira, and more Biffy Clyro than Burzum!”

It is all over the place as one might expect from the quote, and given Shining are known for having the sax as a key instrument it is somewhat surprising for one not to make any appearance anywhere on this! Devin Townsend has been an obvious influence, as have Linkin Park, and it is when the guys are really pushing the envelope with downtuned guitars and stacks of groove that they really make the listener stand up and take notice. It is mainstream for the most part, and it will be interesting to see how hardcore fans view this, as while it is an okay album, it is never really much more than that, and certainly not one which would be expected from him/them. It is almost a case of treating this as a brand-new band, and while the sound is very modern and powerful, for some reason it feels as if it as all been produced at the same level and consequently there just isn’t enough drama for it to be consistently interesting.

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Get Your Fight On!

EP · 2018 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Get Your Fight On!" is an EP release by US California based thrash/crossover/heavy metal act Suicidal Tendencies. The EP was released through Suicidal Records in March 2018. Although "Get Your Fight On!" is labelled an EP release by the band, it features 10 tracks and total playing time of 44:55 minutes.

The EP features two Cyco Miko covers (both re-recordings of tracks which originally appeared on Mike Muir´s 1996 solo album "Lost My Brain! (Once Again)", one The Stooges cover, three original Suicidal Tendencies tracks, and four different versions of the Suicidal Tendencies track "Get Your Fight On!". One version is the original studio version from the band´s 11th full-length studio album "World Gone Mad" from 2016, one is an acoustic version of the song, one is an instrumental version featuring a bass solo, and one is an instrumental version featuring a guitar solo.

Stylistically the material on the EP is Suicidal Tendencies as they´ve sounded on the last couple of releases. It´s quite the eclectic mix of crossover thrash, hardcore punk, and funky rhythms. Mike Muir´s vocals are as distinct sounding as ever and defines the band´s sound, but the instrumental part of their music is also very well performed by all involved.

The material is powerful and varied, and although I would normally not find four different versions of the same song on the same release very interesting, it actually works really well here. "Get Your Fight On!" may not be a groundbreaking release by Suicidal Tendencies, but it´s a good quality release well worth your time if you are a fan. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

IRON FIRE Beyond the Void

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There are some great power metal bands who seem to be going largely unnoticed, despite consistently making great albums, with one of my favorites being Danish band Iron Fire. I’ve been a fan of the band since their 2010 release Metalmorphosized, which marked the beginnings of a more modernized sound for the band after their past releases were all fairly traditional European power metal albums. They especially blew me away with the more progressive, symphonic and just plain epic Voyage of the Damned, though sadly that one wasn’t too well received, and the band took a bit of a break afterward. However, over four years later the band returned in 2016, with Among the dead, a hard-hitting collection of heavy/power metal tracks, that while being more straight-forward compared to its predecessor, was still intense and left me extremely satisfied.

Now, the band is set to release their ninth full-length album, Beyond the Void, and it is yet another killer! Fans of Among the Dead should know exactly what to expect, as the lineup remains unchanged, and musically this is a direct continuation of that album, with the same kind of raw, hard-hitting power metal, mixed with some classic heavy metal and some occasional thrashy riffs. While Among the Dead was a concept album revolving around a zombie apocalypse, Beyond the Void deals with many different lyrical themes, but otherwise, it’s pretty much more of the same, to the point where a couple of tracks feel eerily similar to tracks from the previous release, though the songwriting is consistently strong enough for that to not be a big problem.

Performances are as strong as always, with the guitar work being as heavy as before, though there are some more melodic passages compared to the previous album, and these are very well done, drums are mostly fast and furious and well done, and of course Martin Steene’s deep and raspy vocals are as strong as ever, with the faint hints of extreme metal vocals he showed on the previous album continuing to creep in from time to time. Production is also top notch and powerful sounding, as expected. Songwriting is generally fast-paced, intense and plain fun, with the occasional slower track and one ballad to offer up some variety. This is the kind of album, though, where you won’t be surprised very often, but it’ll keep you consistently entertained, with excellent riffs, some great melodies, powerful vocals and just some really fun, highly addictive songs.

Following a brief intro, the title track kicks in and is very similar to the title track of Among the Dead, with everything from the lead riff to the chorus feeling oddly familiar, to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it much at first, but over time it has grown on me. Anyone who hasn’t heard the previous album should be entertained immediately, as it’s a fast paced, hard hitting power metal track, with fun verses, thrashy riffs, and a strong, catchy chorus. On the more interesting side, “Final Warning” is a slower building track, featuring a pummeling main riff, heavy verses which march along at a decent pace, and a light, melodic chorus, which picks up the pace as it goes along. It has great, emotional lyrics about destroying the Earth, and is a very good song overall. My favorite song on the first half, and probably the whole album, is “Cold Chains of the North” a fast, hard-hitting track which has more of those thrashy riffs, as well as a frantic, but very melodic chorus, with some pretty cool gang vocals, and some excellent lead vocals from Martin. It’s a very fun, catchy and highly energetic track, which just gets everything right.

Keeping the momentum going, “Wrong Turn” has some of the thrashiest riffs on the album, along with hard-hitting verses, and a basic, but the very fun chorus. Two more speedy tracks are up next, with “Bones and Gasoline”, which has soft, melodic passages during the intro and verses, which remind me a bit of some classic Metallica songs, while the chorus is speedy and fun, and “Old Habits Die Hard”, a more melodic but very speedy track, where Martin uses some of his harsh vocals throughout, and does a great job, as always. Both songs are straight-forward, and pure fun, just like pretty much every song on the album. The lone ballad of the album is “Judgement Day”, which has some beautiful, melodic guitar work, calm verses where Martin uses some of his softest vocals ever and sounds great, and another powerful, epic chorus. It has a great solo in the second half, but the highlight comes a bit before that, with a more intense, yet still melodic section, with some of the best vocals on the album, along with the line “recreate a world without hate, and bring me back to 1998”, which cracks me up every time I hear it.

Moving into the final sequence of the album, “To Hell and Back” is another frantic, hard-hitting track, with some very heavy and intense verses, as well as one of the more traditional power metal choruses on the album. It’s yet another very energetic, highly addictive track, of the sort the band excels at in this stage of their career. My favorite of the final four tracks is “One More Bullet”, a slower, heavier metal based track, with heavy verses, and an intense, but very melodic and catchy chorus, with more nonsensical, but fun lyrics and the guitar solo near the end is really cool, as well. The track has a classic heavy metal feel to it, in an awesome way and is one of the catchiest and most addictive tracks on the album. The last full speedy track on the album is “The Devil’s Path”, another thrashy power metal track, with a great mix between clean and semi-harsh vocals, as well as more excellent thrashy riffs, and a fun chorus. The track sounds pretty similar to “Tornado of Sickness” from the previous album but still manages to be great in its own way. Closing out the album is “Out of Nowhere”, another classic heavy metal sounding track, with more laid back, but enjoyable verses, and an upbeat, very fun chorus, with some excellent vocal melodies. It speeds up towards the end and gets very epic during the final run through its chorus, before closing out softly and ending the album on a high note.

Iron Fire is one of those bands that will probably never get the attention they deserve, but they manage to consistently put out great, hard-hitting power metal albums at least once every few years, and Beyond the Void is no exception. It largely builds on the more modernized, somewhat thrashy sound they started on Among the Dead and offers up the kind of heavy, energetic and highly addictive power metal the band specializes in, while also mixing in a bit of classic heavy metal on some tracks. Fans of the band’s previous album should love this, while fans who prefer their earlier albums may again be disappointed, but anyone unfamiliar band and looking for some hard hitting, fun heavy/power metal with a slightly modern twist, should definitely give this one a shot, as it’s definitely one of Iron Fire’s finest works to date!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/10/iron-fire-beyond-the-void-review/

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MESHUGGAH Contradictions Collapse / None

Boxset / Compilation · 1998 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Combo packs are always cool because more often than not you get a good deal that includes some rare or hard to track down tracks that have been out of print for a while but often such compilations throw you a curve ball by advertising one thing and only delivering an incompletion of the entire package. Such is the case with the 1998 MESHUGGAH compilation that combined the 1991 debut album “Contradictions Collapse” with the following 1994 EP “None.” The original release by Nuclear Blast was only available in digipak but has since been released as a regular CD as well as vinyl 12”.

This compilation contains all eight tracks from the original “Contradictions Collapse” plus the extra track “Cadaverous Mastication” which appeared originally on the debut self-titled EP (also known as “Psykisk Testbild”) but has been tacked on to later versions of MESHUGGAH’s debut full-length album. While this is fine and dandy, what irks me is that the EP “None” only appears with the first four tracks while the fifth “Aztec Two-Step” has been eliminated due to time limits since it skirted close to the eleven minute mark. While some have stated they find the track annoying, i personally love it and find the “None” experience incomplete without it. Other than that the album flows along with both releases appearing in order of original release.

One thing i do appreciate about this combo pack is that it represents in full contrast the great leap of technical prowess that MESHUGGAH undertook during the three year period between. The debut found the band still stuck in their early Metallica worship years with many riffs lifted directly from albums like “Master Of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All” although the band was starting to unleash the latent experimental freakery which at the time was still kept on a leash. The difference between the last track of “Contradictions Collapse” and the leading “Humiliative” from “None” is stark as it clearly displays how progressive, technical and experimental the band had become as it shed its thrash dependencies and sallied forth into the brave new world of djent-ology.

Since “None” is incomplete, this is really just an edition of “Contradictions Collapse” with four bonus tracks but four really good bonus tracks that hopefully will lead to acquisition of the actual EP in its entirety. While many may not really care if a mere one track is missing, especially from an EP which is often regarded as supplemental, then this is not a bad way to go but for me, “None” is the far superior release and deserves to be experienced in its entirety. I understand why these sorts of comps are released considering many wouldn’t bother to track down the EPs that lurk between the cracks but it totally irritates me when such comps represent themselves as being the complete editions at hand but take liberties in editing out relevant material. Oh well.

MESHUGGAH None

EP · 1994 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 7 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
MESHUGGAH has never been the most prolific of bands and that was quite apparent even in the beginning. While the debut EP emerged in 1989, it took two years to release the first album “Contradictions Collapse” and it would take three more for the next chapter in the MESHUGGAH universe to unfold and with the release of yet another EP in the form of 1994’s NONE, the band took another significant leap into the djent fueled progressive angularity of the future. While clearly rooted in the Metallica leaning origins, by this time the influences are more distant as the band had started to extend past the thrash leanings of Slayer, Metallica and Sepultura.

One of the major differences came in the form of a fifth member as Mårten Hagström joined the team as rhythm guitarist so that Jens Kidman could focus exclusively as vocalist. This minor tweaking of the lineup allowed for a radical change in the band’s direction as not only was Kidman let off the leash to break free from his James Hetfield limitations and expand into new territories but the addition of Hagström’s rhythmic staccato styled riffing was exactly what MESHUGGAH needed to break their infatuation with late 80s Metallica worship. The result is that NONE is really the beginning of the classic MESHUGGAH sound that would only continue to evolve into the surreal avant-metal beast that would be fully unleashed on “Destroy Erase Improve.”

The EP that slightly surpasses the half hour mark starkly contrasts with its predecessor as the opening “Humiliative” begins with surreal spacey effects accompanied by the robotic hypnosis of the classic MESHUGGAH chugs that essentially launched a new guitar style called djent, an onomatopoeia for the distinctive high-grain, distorted, palm-muted, low-pitch guitar sound that debuts right here on NONE’s first track. Despite the thrash leanings still present, they are seriously teased into more inventive creatures with progressive time signatures, innovative guitar soloing and some of the jazz-fusion elements slowly oozing into the band’s overall sound. Add to that there are some seriously adventurous percussive outbursts and bass grooves that deviate from the simpler status quo of “Contradictions Collapse.”

The track “Ritual” debuts the jazz-fusion guitar intros and sounds like the band also went for lower string tunings which results in a darker, more sinister feel. While on this track Kidman does evoke a hint of James Hetfield inspiration, as does the general melodic riff, the band are also displaying how they are separating from the earlier albums by creating a more cacophonous storm of dissonance as the melody is slowly drifting away into a parallel universe and would emerge more disfigured once it arrives on the following “Destroy Erase Improve” album.

While that track and the more Pantera laced groove metal elements of “Gods Of Rapture” connect MESHUGGAH to its trash metal origins, the true leap in innovation comes to fruition on the frighteningly bombastic hypnosis of the near eleven minute closer “Aztec Two-Step” which demonstrates how MESHUGGAH was walking the tightrope between the thrash oriented early releases and the much more experimental and challenging albums to come. The track runs the gamut of tech thrash, progressive djent and delves into weird changes that would be a MESHUGGAH trademark of the future however the lengthy periods of silence at the end are annoying.

NONE was released on both CD and cassette in 1994 but also appeared on the compilation simply titled “Contradictions Collapse & None” however buyer beware! This comp only contains the first four tracks and doesn’t include the most experimental wild ride “Aztec Two-Step” but yet contains the track “Cadeverous Mastication” which wasn’t on the original “Contradictions Collapse” album and only tacked on later. It actually appeared on the debut EP in 1989, so my advice is to seek this one out in its original five track format. NONE is the moment when MESHUGGAH came of age and although not as perfected as what was to come, still signified a band that had shed its love affair with its influences and stepped up to the plate with some of the most bizarre metal to emerge in the early 90s.

MESHUGGAH Contradictions Collapse

Album · 1991 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 20 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
While many metal bands have spent a career recycling the riffs and musical styles of other artists, some who start out that way actually latch on to their own sound and take the world by storm with innovative and out of the box approaches. Metallica took the world by storm in the 80s as they unleashed a unique mix of thrash metal, classical harmonizing and extreme metal assault and while bands like Testament have been churning out one alternative Metallica album after another for decades, MESHUGGAH on the other hand who started out worshipping the altar of albums like “Master Of Puppets” and “..And Justice For All” moved on into more progressive pastures.

The band was founded all the way back in 1987 by guitarist Frederik Thordendal and vocalist Jens Kidman and were no doubt influenced by the American thrash scene given its world dominating presence. The debut self-titled EP which is also known as “Psykisk Testbild” was the grand declaration that MESHUGGAH had the chops and stamina to be the best Metallica clone in the universe and pulled it off with ease yet it never occurred to the Thordendal and team to include even a lick of originality and despite its best efforts, the band just simply created an alternative universe release that seemed to have been slipped in between the “Masters Of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All” timeline.

Following the short little EP of three track by two years MESHUGGAH finally released their debut album CONTRADICTIONS COLLAPSE in 1991 and at long last started to show a little individuality as the band ratcheted a few significant steps up the creativity totem pole which would ultimately lead them to finding their niche as one of the world’s leading progressive extreme metal band that hybridized death, thrash and progressive metal with healthy doses of jazz-fusion and the avant-garde but this debut album despite a major leap forward still suffers from many too close to the source moments as the band hadn’t quite distanced themselves from the 80s American thrash scene. b The album also debuts Tomas Haake on drumming duties after the departure of Niclas Lundgren.

CONTRADICITONS COLLAPSE is quite unique in the MESHUGGAH canon as it bridges the gap between the Metallica clone origins and the extreme technical wizardry that would soon follow. This technical thrash metal workout begins to branch out from the world of Metallica and starts to employ not only the progressive metal angularity of future releases but also includes the percussive drum pattern influences of other genres such as hip hop and industrial dance. There is also a lot of alternative metal riffing and for the most part the drumming styles are less bombastic than on future albums. The album originally contained only eight tracks with the ninth “Cadaverous Mastication” taken from the debut EP and tacked on future releases.

Right from the start with the first surreal introductory guitar fueled cacophony of “Paralyzing Ignorance,” it’s clear that MESHUGGAH was moving into a stranger new arena of metal but the track reverts back to a standard thrash metal paradigm with choppy guitar riffage, blasting bass and drumming as well as a clearly James Hetfield style of vocal shouting. Despite the more loosely constructed tracks many of the heavy riffs are very similar to Metallica riffs such as “Battery” or “The Shortest Straw,” however MESHUGGAH begins to surprise even at this early stage and meanders into more progressive arenas. Little tidbits such as the sitar on “We’ll Never See The Day” show the band flirting with the bizarre but only for fleeting moments.

While the thrash riffing and vocals are highly derivative, it often sounds like MESHUGGAH is on the verge of breaking into their bizarre surreal metal style that characterizes albums such as “Chaosphere” but yet for the most part the band gets cold feet and never strays too far as if they were afraid that it would lead them into the world of uncommercial ventures. Ironic that when they finally let the freak flag fly is when they really captured the world’s attention. I dunno. I want to like this one more but it basically falls into three categories: Sounds like really good Metallica. Sounds like stoned Metallica. Sounds like Metallica on a mix of mushrooms, peyote and LSD. In the end this isn’t a bad album at all but the many riffs lifted and Hetfield vocals just rub me the wrong way and impede my enjoyment of the album as a whole.

The album was re-released with the following EP “None” and while CONTRADICTIONS COLLAPSE doesn’t constitute a horrible album per se, it doesn’t help that when played with the much more advanced “None” following, it only makes it more clear how immature this album is in comparison to the highly technical and innovative albums like “Chaosphere,” “Nothing” and “Catch Thirtythree.” For true fans, you will inevitably come to this debut eventually and it does offer some excellent tracks like the awesome “Choirs Of Destruction” that is the closest thing to their more modern style as it cranks out the unique chugging format after a downer acoustic guitar intro and a surreal vocal intro but even this one reverts back to the alt meets thrash that focuses on Metallica’s dual classical guitar harmonizing melodies. Better things to come but a decent competent debut even if it’s not outstanding.

MESHUGGAH Meshuggah (Psykisk Testbild)

EP · 1989 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.69 | 5 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
While Europe pioneered the extreme metal scene with bands like Venom and Hellhammer with the help of the hardcore punk scene from artists such as Discharge and Amebix, the USA actually fostered in the most successful bands that developed a new form of metal called thrash. Slayer, Anthrax, Medgadeth and Metallica, the big four, launched an entire new metal paradigm and it was time for new bands to follow in the footsteps of a new American strain of extremity.

Scandinavia would become the hotbed for even stranger forms of metal and in the coastal city of Umeå, Sweden, one of the future bands that would deliver one of the strangest forms of technical metal of all. MESHUGGAH formed all the way back in 1987 by guitarist Frederik Thordenal and vocalist Jens Kidman and were no doubt influenced by the American thrash scene given its world dominating presence.

Before the band would become world famous themselves for the unique hybridization of death, thrash and progressive metal with jazz elements, MESHUGGAH was clearly in full Metallica worship mode on their early albums and after the two founders recruited bassist Peter Nordin and drummer Niclas Lundgren, the band would release the first eponymously titled EP in 1989 but has gained the nickname PSYKISK TESTBILD for its hypnotic black and white psychedelic album cover.

While only an EP of three tracks that slightly exceeds the nineteen minute mark, MESHUGGAH proved they had the chops to be the best Metallica clone in the biz. Copping the staccato riffing bravado of the “…And Justice For All” album with the heavy thrash of “Masters Of Puppets,” this EP was certainly a grand declaration that this Swedish band was well on its way to be reckoned with. The only problem at this stage was the overt lack of originality despite the decent production job and outstanding musical talent.

While the introduction to MESHUGGAH was only issued as a 12” vinyl record limited to a1000 copies it’s very unlikely anyone will come across this unless they are a true collector willing to shell out some dough however the tracks were later reissued and included on the compilation “Rare Trax.” This short debut is also the only release to feature drummer Niclas Lundgren before long time member Tomas Haake would take over as drummer. While showing great promise, this is really one for the collector’s only. Despite the great musicianship displayed, this is a Metallica clone all the way.

HERETIC Torture Knows No Boundary

EP · 1986 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Torture Knows No Boundary" is an EP release by US, Los Angeles, California based heavy metal act Heretic. The EP was released through Metal Blade Records in December 1986. Heretic were in their original run a rather short lived act who formed in 1985 and disbanded in 1988. They released "Torture Knows No Boundary" and the "Breaking Point (1988)" debut full-length studio album before splitting up. The latter features Mike Howe on vocals. Howe would join Metal Church and shortly after Heretic disbanded. On this EP the vocals are handled by Julian Mendez though. The material on "Torture Knows No Boundary" was re-released in 1991 as part of the compilation album "The Don't Turn Your Back!! & Breaking Point".

Stylistically the material on the 5 track, 17:54 minutes long album is traditional heavy metal through and through. Heretic is mostly known as a US power/thrash metal act, but that´s not the case here, as "Torture Knows No Boundary" features a more old school yet still raw and powerful heavy metal sound. Julian Mendez is a relatively strong vocalist with a raw delivery, and the band are well playing too (although the drums occasionally sound a bit untight). Hard rocking riffs and solos and a powerful pounding rhythm section.

The EP features 5 tracks a and a full playing time of 17:54 minutes. The first four tracks are "regular" heavy metal tracks, while the closing title track is an instrumental with both clean guitars and some blazing solo work. It shows another side of Heretic and brings some variation to the EP. The sound production is raw and powerful, suiting the music well. Upon conclusion "Torture Knows No Boundary" is a promising first release by Heretic. It does sound slightly old fashioned for a 1986 release, but that doesn´t make it less enjoyable. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

AVATAR (FLORIDA) City Beneath the Surface

EP · 1983 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"City Beneath The Surface" is an EP release by US, Florida based heavy metal act Avatar. The EP was released through Par Records Inc. in September 1983. Avatar were formed in 1979 but changed their name to Savatage in 1983. "City Beneath The Surface" was actually released after the name change (Savatage debut album "Sirens" was released in April 1983), but under the Avatar monicker. It features 3 tracks off Avatar´s 6 track demo cassette tape "Living for the Night" from February 1983: "Sirens", "City Beneath The Surface", and "The Whip". The former track was included on Savatage "Sirens (1983)" album while the latter two were included on the "The Dungeons Are Calling (1984)" EP (also released under the Savatage monicker).

Stylistically the music is traditional heavy metal performed with great skill, energy, and conviction. Jon Oliva has a strong voice and a raw delivery and paired with the hard hitting and organic sounding rhythm section, and the incredibly skilled guitar playing by Criss Oliva, that makes for a very successful cocktail. Considering that this is a 1983 recording, the sound production is also pretty well sounding. Detailed, organic, and raw, which is a perfect fit for the material on the 3 track, 12:23 minutes long EP.

So upon conclusion "City Beneath The Surface" is a quality release by Avatar. The whole name confusion thing and the fact that the three tracks are available on Savatage releases too (and in better recording quality), doesn´t change the fact that viewed upon as an individual release "City Beneath The Surface" is still a worthy listen. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

MOONSPELL Irreligious

Album · 1996 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 20 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
While many second wave black metal bands jumped on the bandwagon and rode the wave of the template set down by bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone like a surfer in the Hawaiian Islands, some bands that started out that way jumped in and felt more like Jamaican bobsledders so they decided the status quo wasn’t quite for them. Such is the case for the Lisbon, Portugal based MOONSPELL that emerged in 1994 with the debut EP “Under The Moonspell” as a decent but indistinct black metal band but by the time they released the first full-length debut “Wolfheart” a year later, the band started to find its own niche in the quickly exploding scene. While still steeped in black metal, MOONSPELL laced it with a healthy dose of gothic metal inspired by bands like Tiamat, Type O Negative and The Gathering along with some various strains of European folk which together created a rather unique sound in the metal world.

Despite this early development of their own making, MOONSPELL abandoned this metal hybrid as quickly as it had established it and on the sophomore album IRRELIGIOUS, the black metal was totally jettisoned altogether with much of the folk music thrown by the wayside as well. What was left was a more gothic rock infused style that while tamping down the metal in general and replacing it with eerie Gregorian chants and symphonic organ sounds, still had enough metal mojo to qualify it as a metal band but in general, the gothic touches produced a more stylized production job that relied on a tapestry of instrumental sounds to create gloomy atmospheres and romantic visions of Romanian castles with blood thirsty counts on the hunt for another fix. The metal, while still quite abrasive at times had been reserved only for crescendoes and contrasts from the otherwise symphonic dominant melodrama.

The difference between IRRELIGIOUS and “Wolfheart” is stark and immediate as the album begins with a soundtrack sounding intro called “Perverse… Almost Religious” which takes spooky church organs and choral chants to evoke a full moon lit night journey into the graveyard and beyond. As “Opium” begins the nosedive into the world of everything goth, it’s also noticeable that the black metal guitar distortion has been replaced by a slicker guitar fuzz that plays in tandem with a hypnotic bass groove and slowed down percussive drive. Likewise, vocalist Fernando Ribeiro almost abandons any harsh screamed vocals except for the most dramatic moments and opts for romantic spoken poetic prose along with the clean Type O Negative style that sounds like Count Dracula has decided to make a mini-opera about his perverse proclivities.

“Wolfheart” displayed a strong sense of melodic hooks and IRRELIGIOUS continues this trend with eleven strong tracks that create instant gratification but it’s really the compositional flare that makes this such a strong album. The carefully timed developments of the dynamics, tones, timbres and bursts of aggression work out incredibly well and no moments feel like they wear out their welcome nor do they feel rushed. This is just one of those albums that teeters on the balance between too pop and too dark but somehow has enough elements of both sides of the spectrum to please. The tracks are diverse with some ranging on the slower side like “Ruin & Misery” which exudes a slow oozing use of keyboards, crunchy guitar riffage and nonchalant tempo changes. The musicians also show some extended range in their playing abilities. While the drummer simply known as Mike more or less just keeps a beat, on tracks like “For A Taste Of Eternity” he shows a flare for extremely complex polyrhythms and percussive dominance.

Overall the keyboards and samples of Pedro Paixão play the dominant role with the recording of Aleister Crowley reading his own poem “The Poet” on the track “Awake” which exemplifies the occult feel of the album as a whole. IRRELIGIOUS is a nicely paced album that is ultimately an atmospheric gothic rock album with metal touches that take it to heavy heights at key moments. The alternating forces of the symphonic rock and the more sonorous metal sections works quite well as do the stylistic percussion changes and guitar sounds that range from echoey clean to the intemperate unleashed loudness. MOONSPELL was one of those bands that couldn’t quite decide where they wanted to stay for long and despite crafting a cleverly cool and wickedly wild ride with this goth metal classic, the band would change things up again and get more experimental on the following “Sin / Pecado” but for this one at least MOONSPELL proved that they had an incredibly keen sense of what it takes to craft the perfect sensual sensibilities that make a great goth rock / metal album.

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Symphony Of Enchanted Lands

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 38 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Italy’s Luca Turilli and Alex Starapoli pioneered the new subgenre of symphonic power metal in creation on the 1997 RHAPSODY debut “Legendary Tales” which set their mystical medieval folklore laden lyrics to a unique mix of symphonic classical and baroque music, power metal and Celtic folk that was drawn out to epic scopes and to which the band RHAPSODY has always referred to as film score metal for its high fantasy polished and hard driving operatic sound circus. The band returned the following year to deliver the stellar sophomore release SYMPHONY OF ENCHANTED LANDS which fine-tuned the melding alchemic musical principles into a greater cohesive whole.

One of the main complaints about the debut was that the metal was only intermittent as sprawling classical tinged folk laden symphonic marches swallowed up vast amounts of real estate with only partial metal satisfaction for head banging pleasures. SYMPHONY OF ENCHANTED LANDS more than corrects that and offers a much greater presence of the power metal elements in the vein of classic Helloween augmented with the tighter control of the classical symphonic prowess that makes this second offering a much more energetic listening experience as it traipses through the mystical musical worlds of dragons, orcs, mages and Middle Earth sensibilities.

While RHAPSODY’s style may sound cliche by today’s standards, this Italian band was the one that kicked off this epic over-the-top symphonic power metal thing. So true that power metal does have its share of cheese and RHAPSODY is no exception with the strident operatic vocals of Fabio Lione wailing over the soaring neoclassical guitar shredding, power metal hooks and Celtic jigs meets J.S. Bach musical interludes but the stellar performances of the musicians pretty much blew everyone else away in the scene during the 90s and with a whopping sixteen guest musicians playing everything from mandolins, balalaikas, oboes and violins to marching drums and harpsichord, it’s almost as if this entire performance was done by a group of classical trained musicians moonlighting to their favorite metal style.

The saga begins with the epic soundtrack intro of “Epicus Furor” which not only introduces a Carl Orff sort of classical bombast but displays one of the most epic elements of the entire album, namely the outstanding choir sections that build up the momentum and lead to the metal fury of “Emerald Sword.” Different tracks focus on different musical genres as the lead musical flavor. While the “Emerald Sword” rips through the metal orotundity, the following “Wisdom Of The Kings” breaks out the folk melodies that incorporate stellar baroque keyboard stabs into the mix and flawlessly weaves the magic of pastoral lands, metal power angst and classical nights at the opera. Both Starapoli and Turilli trade off with virtuosic neoclassical soloing and Lione delivers a soaring vocal charm that despite being the strongest element of the band’s sound somehow fits into the larger scheme of things.

Despite some of the best tracks of RHAPSODY’s career such as the thirteen minute progressive closing title track which summarizes the entire album in a mystical amalgamation of the disparate genres presented, the album has its moments that don’t quite work so well. While the baroque meets folk interlude “Heroes Of The Lost Valley” starts off as a sweet soiree of a folk meets baroque encounter of the days of yore, the narrative part brings out all the cheese with some contrived poetic prose that sounds like an intro to a video game tutorial. However despite a few moments where the cheese factor is turned up to ridiculousness, for the most part it’s tamped down in favor of some intricate melodic interplay of the main instrumental prowess of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums with the army of supplemental sounds mainly serving the introductory parts.

Despite more emphasis on the power metal, by no means was this at the cost of the symphonic classical elements nor does it mean the folk and other instruments have been diminished one bit. It’s just that things had been integrated into a much larger picture that fits into the grandeur of the epic tale at hand. RHAPSODY were the masters of alternating between heavy bombastic metal and lush classical passages and back again with elements of folk, vocal choirs and even symphonic prog that keeps the music interesting enough for repeated listens as it chugs along and then at the drop of a hat smoothly drifts around like a feather on a zephyr breeze. RHAPSODY developed their unique style early on but on SYMPHONY OF ENCHANTED LANDS, the band created a more mature version of it and would remain amazingly consistent in their run of albums that followed. Better in many ways than the debut but a few speed bumps keep it from being perfect as well.

YACØPSÆ Sanitys Dawn / Yacøpsæ

Split · 2003 · Grindcore
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
17 March 2019. Today was supposed to be a happy day. Today I was supposed to see two of my favourite bands, of which I have been a fan for 30 years. Unbelievable as it may have seemed in 1989, Slayer and Anthrax were coming to Christchurch, my nearest city! The city where I work. The city where I was educated. The city where I have lived so much of my life.

It is also St. Patrick’s Day. Even though Patrick is my real name and I’m far from a saint, it’s not a day for celebration. Today is not a day for happiness.

Slayer and Anthrax are not coming. I am not going to a concert. I am not going to hear some of my favourite songs performed live. I am not going to feel that incredible, uplifting experience of an insane mosh pit with hundreds of like-minded people. This is not the reason for the lack of happiness. It would be selfish and trivial to express anger or sadness just because of a cancelled concert.

Two days ago, on 15 March 2019, an unspeakable act of mindless terrorism ripped my city apart. A hate-filled thug took it upon himself to try to start a war, either religious or racial, but completely pointless. He murdered 50 people peacefully at prayer.

50 of our people.

50 people with families, friends, workmates.

50 people with hopes, aspirations, dreams.

50 people.

50 lives.

50.

This is still unfathomable. Unbelievable. How could it happen here? This is a city which has endured earthquakes in the past. How much more does a city need to suffer? Many of those murdered were refugees, escaping war or religious intolerance in their own shattered homes – Somalia, Fiji, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kuwait. These people had resettled here, supposedly because New Zealand is a peaceful country, free from religious persecution and violence.

No longer.

A cowardly white supremacist piece of shit deliberately targeted Christchurch’s peaceful, valued Muslim community. He murdered people at prayer in their mosques, simply because of their religion and the colour of their skin. He murdered helpless, defenceless people. Women. Children. Elderly. I know. I have seen this atrocity. This animal filmed himself shooting defenceless people. No one should see members of their community murdered, but I watched this video because there should be those who bear witness to this crime so it will not be forgotten. It is the most disgusting, disturbing thing I have ever seen. It won’t be forgotten, because I won’t forget.

At a time of despair like this, it’s hard to know what to do and how to cope with it. I am lucky, because I have a loving family around me. But still, how do you cope with your own thoughts? I have taken out some of the feelings of helplessness and frustration through physical activity – a chainsaw is a great physical outlet. But still, sometimes you just need to see something positive or cheerful, just to try to lift your spirits. Sitting at my computer I can see some things I like, which help. There are posters on my wall – Iron Maiden, Metallica, Ronnie James Dio, Stallone and Snipes in Demolition Man. There are two plastic dinosaurs on my desk, a reminder of my brother’s wedding three weeks ago. And there are CDs I have left lying on my desk, some of my favourite things. There’s Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt”, a cheap old Jasper Carrott album, Lou Reed and Metallica’s “LuLu” (I don’t care what anyone else thinks, it’s a comfort to me) a seven disc set of The 12th Man, a Slap-A-Ham compilation called “Fiesta Comes Alive”, “Van Halen I”, “Pure…metal” (which is pure shit!), and the one which really cheered me – “Yacøpsæ/Sanitys Dawn”.

So why did this help? Simple. The Yacøpsæ cover. It has a picture of a small child and a baby chimpanzee holding hands. It’s a symbol of unity and friendship. It’s what split records are all about. Different but the same, and together make a single entity. (Admittedly, the Sanitys Dawn cover on the other side has a picture of a policeman being kicked in the head, but I don’t have to look at that.)

And the music is a cheering thing too. Sanitys Dawn kick the album off with their raucous crust/grind sound. This is simple, angry aggressive music. And despite some English song titles, it’s mostly in German, so I have no fucking clue what’s going on! No matter. Guitarist Matthias has a great line in simple, huge sounding riffs. Vocalist Topsy has a bleeding throat screech type of vocal style. Even when he’s screeching in English, he’s incomprehensible. Bassist Prandy contributes vocals on some tracks too, like a rough edged oi punk. Don’t worry – you can’t understand him either!

There is a lyric sheet, which helps well… very little. It looks as if the English language songs have been translated to German, with little knowledge of English. The song “How To Live” has lines like “Sent to jail, you’re non-conform/Fuck the sense of life/Manmade situations/Guilty for this shit you see”. Incomprehensible, angry, and incredibly powerful.

“Act Like Me Or Die” is rabidly anti-American foreign policy. “Call The Garbage Collection” is against manufactured pop music. No “Fed Up” it seems the band are fed up with people who talk shit, like the Pope and hippies.

After 11 tracks of Sanitys Dawn’s noise and chaos, you come to Yacøpsæ, which is, unbelievably, noisier and more chaotic. This incredibly powerful three piece unit look like mild-mannered accountants or computer programmers, but produce some of the most violent noise on the planet.

Stoffel’s guitars seem to rip holes in the space/time continuum, crushing but clear. His vocals are a constant shriek, with little variation, but why change something when it works that well?

Yacøpsæ don’t even bother to try to translate their lyrics. The band are not fluent in English, and have stated very plainly that subtleties of meaning are often lost in translation. You want to know what they are saying? Learn German.

Frank has an incredibly dirty bass sound, which would make Shane Embury envious. Emu’s drums are like a high speed, turbo charged combine harvester. The band’s sound is so massive it’s hard to imagine there are only three of them.

The songs are blast after blast of barely controlled chaos, purportedly covering a number socially aware topics (I don’t know specifically, but it looks like it!), and not a single track even reaches a minute and a half.

This little split is 23 tracks, all over in 31 minutes. It is wonderful, rowdy, positive violence as music. It smashes through your brain and drives out all else.

Then it ends. Cold reality comes back.

So fuck you, you worthless murdering racist piece of shit. You aren’t going to break those of us who are left. We will remember those you took.

And thank you Sanitys Dawn and Yacøpsæ for a small distraction at a time when I needed some comfort.

LÄÄZ ROCKIT Nothing$ $acred

Album · 1991 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Nothing$ $acred" is the 5th full-length studio album by US, San Francisco, California based thrash metal act Lääz Rockit. The album was released through Roadracer Records in November 1991. It´s the successor to "Annihilation Principle" from 1989. There have been quite a few lineup changes since "Annihilation Principle (1989)" as guitarist Phil Kettner has been replaced by Scott Sargent, bassist Willy Lange has been replaced by Scott Dominguez, and drummer Victor Agnello has been replaced by Dave Chavarri. The only remaining members from the lineup who recorded "Annihilation Principle (1989)" are lead vocalist Michael Coons and guitarist Aaron Jellum.

Lineup changes or not "Nothing$ $acred" is another natural step for Lääz Rockit in the process of changing their style from heavy/speed metal, which they played on their early releases, to the more thrash metal oriented sound (though still with the occasional nod towards traditional heavy metal) on "Know Your Enemy (1987)" and "Annihilation Principle (1989)". On "Nothing$ $acred" I´d label Lääz Rockit 100% thrash metal though.

The 10 tracks on the 42:17 minutes long album are energetic, raw, and "in your face" thrashers, with powerful verses, catchy choruses and riot gang vocal sections, killer riffs and solos, and a really well playing rhythm section, who drives the music forward with great intensity and skill. The only track which is a bit different from the rest is the power ballad "Nobody´s Child". A song type Lääz Rockit also masters and delivers with great conviction. There are several standout tracks featured on the album, and I´ll mention "In the Name of the Father and the Gun", "Into the Asylum", and "Suicide City" among them.

The musicianship is of high class throughout the album and in addition to the skilled instrumental performances, lead vocalist Michael Coons also deserves a mention. He is gifted with a strong voice and his delivery is both passionate and convincing. If I have to make comparisons to another vocalist it would be to "Blitz" from Overkill. It´s not like they are clones or anything like that, but there are quite a few similarities in sound and delivery.

Taking all preceding Lääz Rockit releases into consideration and comparing them to "Nothing$ $acred", this album is by far their strongest yet. The sound production is raw and powerful, the musicianship is strong, and the songwriting is memorable. Especially the latter mentioned feature is an element where Lääz Rockit have taken a step up, and it´s not like the preceding releases didn´t feature high quality material, so that´s a quality stamp right there. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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