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metal music reviews (new releases)

CHEVELLE Niratias

Album · 2021 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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ssmarcus
Alt-metal veterans Chevelle are back with their fifth studio album... to debut in the top 10? Huh? When did they drop all these mega successful albums? Where the hell have I been? Surely most of those must have been released in the early to mid 'oughts - right? Well... no. Apparently this is already the third top 10 since 2014!

While I fondly remember growing up listening to Chevelle's 2002 debut Wonder What's Next, much of its charm faded fast as I grew to appreciate more technically sophisticated metal and progressive music. Too heavy to be remain commercially relevant but too simplistic for proper metal fans, I hardly would have expected Chevelle to survive rock's fall from commercial dominance in the almost two decades since their debut. And yet here they are, nine albums in and more successful than just about any of their alt-metal and post-grunge peers could ever have hoped to be. How did Chevelle do it?!

I am not familiar enough with band's back catalogue or business history to fully answer this question. But Chevelle's latest release, NIRATIAS, which demonstrates the band's commitment to growth as musicians and songwriters, firmly solidifies, in my book, Chevelle's place amongst modern hard rock's elite "survivors," approaching the inner circle of artists like The Foo Fighters, Deftones, and Tool.

As the album's cover art and psyched-out title suggest, NIRATIAS, an acronym for Nothing Is Real And This Is A Simulation, is an album with near progressive ambition. On tracks like "Mars Simula" and "Self Destructor," big and melodic riffs are accompanied by playfully soaring vocals. The riffing and bass on "Peach" and "Ghost and Razor" are unmistakably but tastefully Tool inspired. So epic and triumphant was the track "Remember When," I was praying the band would, by the end, segue into a reprisal of the "Send the Pain Below" chorus.

The record's weakness lies with the various pyschedelic interludes and piano-based spoken word closing track. While the verdict is still out on the artistic merit of these passages, they do not substantially detracts from the overall experience of listening to this record.

EVERGREY Escape of the Phoenix

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 4 ratings
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ssmarcus
In all honesty, it would be difficult to attempt and try to add anything to the analysis of this record that has not already been expertly argued by Angry Metal Guy's Steel Druhm in his recent review (can't seem to leave a URL in the text here, so just google it). Starting with his concerns regarding the expected post-lockdown explosion of new music and Evergrey continuing to push their unique but repetitive brand of "mope-core," the writer ultimately comes to the conclusion that, on Escape of the Phoenix, Evergrey actually manages to tighten their song writing and put together an improvement on their formula.

With all that mind, I simply wish to add that if there is any artist I genuinely want to hear in our still healing almost post-lockdown world, Evergrey is certainly one of them. Of the legacy prog metal giants, Everygrey really was the only one that could consistently tap into the melancholy and angst many of us felt as a teenagers growing up in the early 'oughts. As COVID catapults us as adults back into the same sea of emotions, I am grateful to have a strong Evergrey record to help us steer through it.

It is worth mentioning that I strongly disagree with Steel Druhm's take on James Labrie's duet with Tom Enguld on ""The Beholder."" The harmonies the duo generate in the bridge are absolutely gut wrenching. While it is short lived, it constitutes one of the emotional climaxes of the record.

Escape is a record that has fewer moments of prog-greatness when compared to 2019's The Atlantic. But overall, its hard not see this as a stronger and tighter record than its predecessor. When Fans eventually evaluate the band's legacy, I believe it will be Escape that stands up as the strongest record from this phase in the band's discography. "

SOEN Imperial

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 4 ratings
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ssmarcus
Imperial is Soen's second release in just under two years. While it is tempting to explain this seemingly short album churn time as the result of the band spending more time in lockdown than on the road in 2020, Soen is actually one of the few bands in metal today that has consistently released new albums almost every two years. Indeed drummer, founder, and principal songwriter Martin Lopez has confirmed that most of the music on Imperial was written shortly after the release of Lotus and before the China virus lockdowns.

Given the condensed time frame of song composition, I am not surprised by the music on Imperial sounding very much like another reiteration of the same Soen formula originally conceived of on 2017's Lykaia and perfected on 2019's Lotus. In fact, its easy to view this release as a B-Sides project from the previous two records. Of course the Soen formula, with its emphasis on punchy groovy riffs, moody vibes, and big melodic choruses, is an effective one. And Imperial certainly lives up to the potential inherit within the formula.

Soen is usually regarded as a progressive metal act not a standard heavy metal one. While I don't care much for gatekeeping, I genuinely feel Soen's music is best characterized as solid and well-grounded heavy metal proper. In all likelihood, the progressive moniker took hold owing to Martin Lopez having been an ex-Opeth member as well as the group's propensity for sounding like Tool on their earliest releases.

Ultimately, whether or not a fan will consider this a great record or "merely" a good record will depend on what extent they're expecting a band to evolve its sound. You can certainly count me a someone who very much sets that standard for the bands I like. And as much as I believe the chorus on "Monarch" to be the best the band has ever put to tape - a truly impressive feat when you consider just how many great choruses this band written and performed - I still would have liked Soen to explore some new territory in their post-Lotus output.

CRYPTIC SHIFT Visitations from Enceladus

Album · 2020 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 8 ratings
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UMUR
"Visitations From Enceladus" is the debut full-length studio album by UK, Leeds based progressive death/thrash metal act Cryptic Shift. The album was released through Blood Harvest Records in May 2020. Cryptic Shift formed in 2012 (originally as Crÿptic Shift) and have released a string of minor releases (demos, singles, and the 2016 "Beyond the Celestial Realms" EP) before recording and releasing "Visitations From Enceladus".

Stylistically the material on the 4 track, 46:35 minutes long album is sci-fi themed technical/progressive death/thrash metal. Cryptic Shift play a rather chaotic, structurally complex, and often dissonant extreme metal style with elements from both thrash metal, death metal, and progressive metal in the more extreme end of the spectrum. It´s highly progressive music and a bit inaccessible too. The listener is immediately pummeled by the 25:57 minutes long album opener "Moonbelt Immolator", which is an incredibly complex track featuring many different sections and atmospheres. The vocals are predominantly raw shouting thrash styled vocals or growling death metal vocals, but the album also features other types of vocals like spoken/talking sections and robotic effect vocal sections. Because of the use of dissonant chords Voivod are an obvious influence, but Cryptic Shift play a much more technical and challenging music style than the Canadians ever did.

"Visitations From Enceladus" features a raw, powerful, and well sounding production job, which suits the material perfectly. I especially enjoy the sharpness of the snare drum, but also how clear every guitar note is heard in the mix. I´m a bit more in doubt how much I enjoy the actual music though. To my ears the material are almost too inaccessible and the tracks lack catchy moments and memorable riffs. The vocals are also a bit too low in the mix and while they get the job done, they don´t really shine or make much of an impression.

The shorter tracks on the album are a bit easier to follow than "Moonbelt Immolator", and my initial impression of the album being a structurally chaotic mess is a bit lessened when listening to a track like "(Petrified In The) Hypogean Gaol". A little less focus on playing a million notes and incorporating hundreds of different riffs and rhythms on every track and a little more focus on memorability could have done the trick, but as a debut release there is still lots of promise here. When Cryptic Shift learn to trim the fat and produce more catchy moments there may be greatness ahead. Sometimes less is more. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

SWEVEN The Eternal Resonance

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 7 ratings
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UMUR
"The Eternal Resonance" is the debut full-length studio album by Swedish progressive death/black metal act Sweven. The album was released through Ván Records in March 2020. Sweven was formed in early 2020 by former Morbus Chron lead vocalist/guitarist Robert Andersson. Morbus Chron split-up in 2015 after releasing an EP and two full-length studio albums. The last studio album was titled "Sweven (2014)", which is obviously where Andersson picked the name for his new project. Before forming Sweven, Andersson and his former Morbus Chron bandmate Edvin Aftonfalk both performed live with Entombed, and Andersson even appears as a guest vocalist on the legendary Swedes "Clandestine" live album from 2017.

Playing with Entombed hasn´t rubbed much off on Andersson though and the music style on Sweven is more a continuation of the progressive death/black metal sound of the "Sweven (2014)" album by Morbus Chron. The death metal elements have been scaled back though and the progressive elements and atmosphere are more in focus but Andersson´s vocals are still snarling/growling, so because of the vocal style this is still death/black metal in some respect, but not much else on the album point in that direction. While the material on "The Eternal Resonance" are generally much more progressive and challenging, an act like fellow countrymen Tribulation have some similar features in their music.

"The Eternal Resonance" is an intriguing release and it´s an album deserving more than one spin, before forming an opinion about it. There is a lot to absorb but it´s not complex like some of the more inaccessible progressive releases can sometimes be. It´s a dark and atmospheric release, and it´s generally very dynamic with both mellow sections and more heavy and death/black metal influenced sections. The album is packed in a dark and organic sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. The hour long album is an adventurous journey through abstract landscapes and gloomy lights, and it´s actually a bit hard to describe exactly how it sounds. My best try would be a dynamic, dark, and atmospheric type of metal with snarling/shouting death/blackened vocals presented in progressive song structures. Labelling/describing the music aside, it´s a high quality release with a unique sound and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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MEGADETH Risk

Album · 1999 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.55 | 68 ratings
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UMUR
"Risk" is the 8th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Capitol Records in August 1999. There´s been one lineup change since "Cryptic Writings (1997)" as drummer Nick Menza has been replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso (Suicidal Tendencies, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth, White Lion...), thus ending the most stabile lineup in the history of the band (and the lineup most fans think of as the "classic" Megadeth lineup).

While fans often point to "Risk", when speaking of low points in Megadeth´s career, it´s interesting to note that it´s actually only slightly less heavy than "Cryptic Writings (1997)" and overall sounds unmistakably as Megadeth. Stylistically the material on "Risk" is hard rock oriented heavy metal. The title of the album probably stems from the fact that Megadeth at that point in their career wanted to take some risks with their music, and in this case that meant pursuing an even more radio friendly sound than what they had done previously. They did something similar on "Cryptic Writings (1997)" and succeeded in doing so, but "Risk" was generally not received with praising reviews and many fans also felt the band had moved too far from their thrash/heavy metal roots.

To my ears the difference in style isn´t that big from "Cryptic Writings (1997)" to "Risk" though. Sure there were a few harder edged thrash metal oriented tracks on the former and none of those on the latter, but most of the material on "Cryptic Writings (1997)" is melodic heavy metal rather than thrash metal, which can also be said about the material on "Risk". There´s maybe an added melodic sensibility and an instant catchiness to the material on "Risk", but that´s about it if comparisons have to be made to its direct predecessor.

The material on the 12 track, 51:38 minutes long album are generally well written, melodic, and catchy. Some tracks feature fairly heavy riffs and rhythms like "Insomnia", "The Doctor is Calling", and "Crush ´Em", while other tracks like "Breadline" and "I´ll Be There" feature a softer almost mainstream appeal. Even the most heavy tracks also feature catchy melodic sections though and "Risk" is generally not a very hard edged release.

The album features a well sounding production, which suits the material well, and "Risk" is on most parameters a quality release. While it may not be as heavy as some fans would have wanted I think it´s obvious the band put a lot of hard work and dedication into the project, and it shines through that they are passionate about the material. The performances are flawless and Dave Mustaine sings better than ever, so the musicianship is top notch. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

MEGADETH Cryptic Writings

Album · 1997 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.22 | 73 ratings
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UMUR
"Cryptic Writings" is the 7th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Capitol Records in June 1997. It´s the fourth and last album to feature Megadeth´s arguably most successful lineup, as drummer Nick Menza would leave the band while touring in support of the album. He was initially forced to leave the tour because of a problem with his knee, which required surgery and hospitalization. According to Menza he was fired by vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine, while still in the hospital recovering from surgery. Jimmy DeGrasso (Suicidal Tendencies, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth, White Lion...), who had filled in for Menza while he was in the hospital, was hired as the band´s new drummer.

"Cryptic Writings" is the successor to "Youthanasia" from 1994. While not selling quite as well as "Countdown to Extinction (1992)" did, "Youthanasia (1994)" was stil a commercially very successful release for Megadeth, selling more than a million copies. "Youthanasia (1994)" saw Megadeth moving in a more accessible and maintream oriented heavy rock/metal direction, and that style is continued on "Cryptic Writings", which was deliberately written with the aim of getting rock radio airplay. The band´s new manager Bud Prager adviced Mustaine to alter his lyrical approach to not alienate a mainstream audience and also to write more conscise radio friendly material.

With that in mind it´s not surprising that the 12 tracks on the 47:12 are predominantly easily accessible vers/chorus structured heavy rock/metal tracks. The trace of the band´s thrash metal past are on "The Disintegrators" and on "FFF", which both feature a relatively fast pace and some thrashy riffs. Other than those two tracks, the album only features mid-tempo heavy rock/metal tracks with a strong emphasis on melody and cathiness. Some tracks like "Trust", "Almost Honest", and "Have Cool, Will Travel", stand out a bit, but most tracks on the album are pretty standard quality heavy metal tracks and nothing out of the ordinary or particularly memorable beyond listening to the album. In that respect "Cryptic Writings" suffers from some of the same issues as "Youthanasia (1994)" did.

"Cryptic Writings" features a clear, dry, and a bit clinical sounding production, which would probably have suited hard edged thrashy material better than the heavy metal tracks featured on the album. A more organic sounding production job would have suited the material better.

So upon conclusion "Cryptic Writings" is a decent quality release by Megadeth with both some well written material but also some material which isn´t as remarkable. The playing is as always on a high level, and Mustaine´s vocals are as distinct sounding as ever too (and as much as ever an aquired taste), and objectively seen the sound production is professonal and well sounding too. Therefore a 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong, although "Cryptic Writings" definitely is the least interesting release out of the four recorded by this Megadeth lineup.

MEGADETH Youthanasia

Album · 1994 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.68 | 97 ratings
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UMUR
"Youthanasia" is the 6th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Capitol Records in November 1994. It´s the successor to the majorly successful "Countdown to Extinction" from 1992. A tough album to follow up, but while "Youthanasia" didn´t sell quite as well as "Countdown to Extinction (1992)" did, it was still a huge commercial success for the band. The early- to mid 90s were arguably the peak of the band´s success and "Youthanasia" was released at the height of it.

All did not go smoothly within the band though, and there were frequent fights between the band members over the creative control of the songwriting, which lead vocalist/guitarist and band founder Dave Mustaine had been the driving force behind since the inception of Megadeth. Mustaine ended up giving the other members more influence on the songwriting, and "Youthanasia" as a result is probably the most "group" oriented release in the band´s discography. Most preceding Megadeth releases feature at least some older riff ideas or tracks, but "Youthanasia" was solely written in the studio as a collective.

While "Countdown to Extinction (1992)" certainly wasn´t the most thrashy of thrash metal albums, it still occasionally featured some pretty intense thrash metal riffs and rhythms. It featured quite a few traditional heavy metal leanings too though, and it´s down that road Megadeth continue on "Youthanasia". In fact "Youthanasia" features next to no riffs and rhythms which could be put in the thrash metal catagory. Mustaine now also sings more and shouts less, and the material on the album are predominantly accessible vers/chorus structured heavy metal, featuring heavy mid-paced riffs and rhythms, skillfully played guitar solos and great harmony work, and catchy choruses.

Highlights include "Reckoning Day", "Train Of Consequences", "The Killing Road", and the title track. The power ballad type track "À Tout Le Monde" should of course also be mentioned among the standout tracks. Doing something this melodic and mainstream was a first for Megadeth. It´s overall not an album with tracks standing out that much from the rest, as the quality and consistency of the material are generally high, and even the least remarkable tracks are still of a good quality.

"Youthanasia" features a well sounding, organic, and detailed production, which suits the more traditional heavy metal direction of the material. Upon conclusion it´s a high quality release by Megadeth, which earned them new fans, but probably also alienated a few older ones. The most concervative thrash metal listeners, who hadn´t already jumped ship after "Countdown to Extinction (1992)", probably did so after listening to "Youthanasia". It´s most certainly the sound of a band who have moved on, and that´ll always divide the waters. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

CLUTCH The Elephant Riders

Album · 1998 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 4.34 | 11 ratings
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Unitron
"Could'a been a ladybug on a windchime, but she was born a Dragonfly"

It has always been difficult for me to talk in writing about albums I love dearly, and communicating how much something connects with me on an emotional and personal level. Especially an album that isn't just a favorite album, but the all time favorite. For years my all time favorite album was Helstar's Burning Star, an album that I still love a whole lot and is still among my favorites, but not the top. I never thought it'd ever be topped, I was sure it would always remain. The passion and songwriting on that album is fantastic, but The Elephant Riders kept climbing and climbing as time went on and speaks to me in so many different ways.

I've always really liked The Elephant Riders since I first heard it, but I didn't know how much I would come to love it and how much it would inspire me directly as a songwriter and completely change my idea of what lyricism and songwriting mean.

The Elephant Riders has this very homey production, warm and inviting like a nice fireplace on a brisk day. It brings out Dan Maines's fittingly warm and fuzzy basslines to their fullest, and Tim Sult's guitar tones are simultaneously massive like the elephants they're riding and clean like freshly fallen leaves. Jean-Paul Gaster's drums ignite the total groove that all instruments thrive in. Clutch perfects a blend of southern blues and metal that was almost lost when the stupid idea that blues can't make metal came about. These riffs curbstomp that idea. I used to be more closed-minded and didn't like brass instruments, but the horns in Muchas Veces, hidden track 05, and especially instrumental Crackerjack completely changed that with the trombone adding a lot to these already fantastic songs and helped me start to appreciate these great instruments.

This whole album and band brings me nothing but pure joy, but vocalist Neil Fallon inspires me like no other musician has. He can sing beautifully melodic like the 70's blues and metal vocalists that probably influenced him, and also forceful and rough like his grungy and sludgy contemporaries. His lyrics and songwriting though, that's where he has no equal. Abstract, but not in the philosophical sense, this is passionate poetry. These are words and phrases that work and flow perfectly together, even if they don't make any sense. The vocals become another instrument, and as a songwriter myself, taking that approach to lyrics is incredibly fun and rewarding. The lyrics that open this review, from the closing The Dragonfly, are among my favorites on display, but the whole album is a treasure trove of fantastic rhymes and storytelling.

I've rambled enough, art doesn't get any better than this.

HELSTAR A Distant Thunder

Album · 1988 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 22 ratings
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UMUR
"A Distant Thunder" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US power/heavy metal act Helstar. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in November 1988. Prior to the release of "Remnants of War (1986)" almost the entire lineup was changed, and again on "A Distant Thunder", there have been a couple of lineup changes as guitarist Rob Trevino has been replaced by André Corbin, and drummer Rene Luna has been replaced by Frank Ferreira.

Stylistically we´re more or less treated to a natural continuation of the US power/heavy metal style of "Remnants of War (1986)". James Rivera´s strong vocals and commanding delivery is the main focus of the music (he sings both raw and high pitched screaming vocals), but the instrumental part of the music is skillfully delivered too. A powerful pounding rhythm section, hard edged heavy metal riffing and melodic lead guitar work are some of the ingredients of the band´s sound.

While most tracks on the 9 track, 43:13 minutes long album are energetic and hard edged US power/heavy metal tracks, the album also features a couple of more mellow melodic parts, and a cover of "He's a Woman - She's a Man" by the Scorpions. The latter closes the album and fits well with the rest of the tracks. Some of the highlights include "The King is Dead", "Abandon Ship", and the epic "Winds of War", but all material on the album are of a high quality. "A Distant Thunder" is well produced too, featuring a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which brings out the best in the material. Upon conclusion it´s a high quality US power/heavy metal release and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

NUCLEAR DEATH ...For Our Dead...

EP · 1992 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"...For Our Dead..." is an EP release by US grindcore act Nuclear Death. The EP was released through Wild Rag Records in 1992. It follows the release of the band´s third full-length studio album "All Creatures Great and Eaten" from earlier the same year. Re-issues of "All Creatures Great and Eaten (1992)" feature the four tracks from "...For Our Dead..." as bonus material, which is probably the easiest way of getting access to the tracks.

Stylistically the material on "...For Our Dead..." could also well have been recorded during the same sessions as the material on "All Creatures Great and Eaten (1992)" in terms of sound and style. It´s filthy, noisy, and raw grindcore with gore lyrics, delivered in an organic and authentic fashion. The sound production is suitably lo-fi and murky and this is a release which wins on savage gloomy atmoshere rather than on technical details and polished production values. It feels like been dragged screaming to the darkest depths of hell by an aggressive growling beast. That beast being lead vocalist/bassist Lori Bravo who has one of the most aggressive and intensely hateful vocal styles on the scene. The instrumental part of the music is also quite extreme and occasionally pretty interesting in the way the guitar riffs are constructed and in the way the drums are played. It´s definitely music with a few unconventional twists and turns.

"...For Our Dead..." is a short release featuring only 4 tracks and a full playing time of 9:04 minutes, but with music this extreme a shorter and more intense listening experience is sometimes preferable to what can often become a tedious monotonous experience when having to sit through 30 noisy and one-dimensional grindcore tracks. Nuclear Death always understood that quality is more important than quantity and "...For Our Dead..." is another example of that.

So upon conclusion the short EP is a high quality grindcore release. It´s meant for an audience who prefer their grindcore filthy, gory, noisy, murky, and savage to the bone, and if that´s your poison "...For Our Dead..." is a mandatory listen from one of the seminal artists in the genre. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

SIX FEET UNDER Graveyard Classics

Album · 2000 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 2.45 | 7 ratings
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UMUR
"Graveyard Classics" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Six Feet Under. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in October 2000. It´s the successor to "Maximum Violence" from 1999. "Graveyard Classics" is not a "regular" studio album with original material, but as the title may suggest it´s a cover album featuring Six Feet Under´s take on classic heavy metal and hard rock tracks by artists like AC/DC, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Dead Kennedys, and Venom.

While the instrumental parts of the tracks are kept fairly true to the originals (although the album of course features a heavy death metal production), the vocals are brutal growling courtesy of Chris Barnes. Not all tracks work equally well and not surprisingly it´s the tracks, which were the most hard edged in their original form, which transform best to Six Feet Under´s sound. Tracks like "Piranha" by Exodus and "In League with Satan" by Venom (the Savatage cover "Holocaust" also holds up surprisingly well). Tracks like "Smoke on the Water" and "Purple Haze" function less great.

"Graveyard Classics" is both well produced and well played, but upon conclusion it is one of those albums where the novelty wears off around the middle of the album. Playing death metal covers of tracks which normally feature vocal lines which are sung and generally highly memorable melodies, just becomes a bit monotonous, and while Chris Barnes vocal performance is actually pretty strong on this album it just isn´t enough to save the day. "Graveyard Classics" is still a relatively good quality release though and a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

TRISTANIA World of Glass

Album · 2001 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 9 ratings
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lukretion
Released in 2001, World of Glass is the third full-length album of symphonic gothic metal band Tristania. The band went through a small but significant line-up shakeup just before the recording of the album, when singer, guitarist and main songwriter Morten Veland separated from the band due to personal and musical differences. Although many feared his departure would have potentially earth-shattering consequences for the band, the new album does not show any signs of strain or weakness from the band, as we will see shortly. However, Morten’s departure did leave Tristania without someone able to perform extreme vocals, which led the band to enlist the help of Trial of Tears’ growler Ronny Thorsen, who appears as a guest musician on this record. The rest of the line-up is unchanged relative to the band’s earlier albums, with Vibeke Stene providing soprano-like vocals, keyboardist Einar Moen and guitarist Anders H. Hidle taking charge of most of the songwriting, and drummer Kenneth Olsson and bassist Rune Østerhus forming a steady and groovy rhythm section. Guest singers Østen Bergøy and Jan Kenneth Barkved contribute clean vocals and Pete Johansen (The Sins of Thy Beloved) adds his unmistakable violin flourishes.

What is not unchanged, though, is the band’s musical direction. Tristania have never been afraid to experiment and push the boundaries of the symphonic gothic metal genre already in the early years of their career, but this album is perhaps the band’s first significant point of departure from the genre’s typical sound. This takes the form of an injection of multiple disparate influences, from industrial metal, to electronica, to the liquid, vaguely Floydian gothic rock of bands like Tiamat. There are also hints of avant-garde metal, bringing to mind the likes of Arcturus and Ulver. These multitude of influences are all weaved into the band’s trademark brand of “beauty and the beast” gothic metal that plays on dramatic shade-and-light contrasts, enhanced by the alternation between operatic female vocals and male vocals (both blackened growls and clean gothic croon) and by the inclusion of symphonic elements through the use of keyboards, string instruments, and choirs. It makes for a varied and exciting ride, as the listener is never quite sure where the album is taking them next.

The quality of the compositions is high throughout. There is complexity and depth in Tristania’s music, well beyond the simple verse-chorus structure one can find in many albums of lesser bands in the genre. Most songs exceed the 6-minute mark, and go through a number of twists and turns on their journey. Yet, Tristania have a great ear for catchy melodies and manage to insert at least one or two memorable hooks in nearly each song. This makes the music easy to like and assimilate. I consider the combination of complexity and accessibility one of the hallmarks of great music, and World of Glass certainly excels in this domain.

The album is a treasure trove of interesting and exciting musical ideas. The alien-sounding vocal melodies that appear on the chorus of “Hatred Grows” never fail to leave me blissfully open-mouthed. Subtle electronic arrangements give songs like “Lost” and “Selling Out” a very modern feel, halfway between Samael, Therion and Arcturus, while towards the end of “Crushed Dreams” Tristania experiment with a surprising combination of techno groove and operatic choir. “Tender Trip on Earth” is a gorgeous gothic anthem, featuring a great clean vocal performance by Østen Bergøy. Meanwhile, “Deadlocked” dances between Vibeke’s beautiful vocal melodies, free-form violin soloing, and a hallucinated avant-garde male choir. But it is on “Wormwood” that the album perhaps reaches its highest point. This is a complex track moving back and forth between elegant Carmina Burana-like choirs, emotional violin solos, blackened sections with some great deep growls by Ronny Thorsen, and Vibeke’s stunning clean singing.

Vibeke’s performance on this album is nothing short of amazing. Among the many soprano-like vocalists that populated the line-ups of many gothic/romantic bands, Vibeke stands out as one of the most expressive and talented singers. She is able to perfectly modulate her voice to fit the various moods of the song, from ethereal operatic vocals, to Kate Bush-like dramatic upper register singing (“The Shining Path”), to warm mid-range vocals (“Deadlocked”). The rest of the band is no less impressive. The contribution of keyboardist Einar Moen deserves special praise, though. His arrangements are always so tasteful and interesting as he juggles with everything his instrument can play, from futuristic out-of-space sounds, to trippy programmed loops, to 70s-infused swathes of Hammond (“Tender Trip on Earth”). Truly captivating stuff!

If there is one thing that I find slightly unfortunate about this album is the production. Listening to World of Glass in 2021, it is clear that the album has not aged as well as it could have given the quality and forward-thinking nature of the music, and the reason is that it suffers from a slightly dated and subpar production. The thin drums and tinny guitars, in particular, make the album feels somewhat plasticky. As I listen to it, I keep wishing for more sonic depth and more power.

Other than that, World of Glass is a pretty awesome album. If gothic metal is your poison of choice, you simply must give this album a spin. It encapsulates everything there is to like about the genre, from the excellent combination of male/female vocals, to the alternation between gently acoustic parts and heavy, hard-hitting sections, to tasteful symphonic arrangements. It also offers more than one breath of fresh air, by subtly incorporating a wide range of influences, from electronica, to industrial metal, to avant-garde metal. The end result is a varied and exciting record that takes the right amount of creative risk to sound different, while staying true to the band’s roots. Highly recommended!

CAR BOMB Mordial

Album · 2019 · Mathcore
Cover art 4.75 | 4 ratings
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ssmarcus
There are certain alignments in nature that, when they occur, demand a bit of humanity’s fickle attention and wonder. And much like a solar eclipse or seeing a flipped coin land on its side, an album whose cover art perfectly aligns with the music on that album is one such alignment. And Car Bomb’s Mordial is one such album.

Like the cover art, the music on Mordial is chaotic. Patterns come into existence only to flutter apart under the force of their own instability. There is a certain beauty to both the art and the music but they’re twisted in such a way that they are basically unsettling more than they are beautiful.

Mordial continues in the technical extreme metal, djent and mathcore footsteps of its predecessor Meta . But by incorporating more melodic, twisted as they are, and experimental passages, Mordial successfully breaks from the monotony I would feel when listening to Meta straight through. In short, Car Bomb have out done themselves yet again. These guys are at the top their game and are, at this juncture, untouchable.

CAR BOMB Meta

Album · 2016 · Mathcore
Cover art 4.14 | 3 ratings
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ssmarcus
Car Bomb is the living embodiment of everything New York-based music could ever aspire to be. The band simultaneously captures the ferocity of the native working-class hardcore punk scene while also realizing the high-brow art rock aspirations of New York’s saturated indie hipster rock scenes. But unlike your average hardcore or indie rock outfit, Car Bomb is actually compromised of exceptional musicians with the technical and musical chops to actually pull off something genuinely novel and refreshing. And, in the case of Car Bomb, their talents have allowed the band to fashion a unique and highly technical, even by today’s standard, form of extreme metal, djent, and mathcore.

Meta is an absolute head trip from start to finish. The mind-bending rhythms and tone defying riffs are guaranteed to knock any metal head of their feet. Unfortunately, like so much extreme metal, the album can be a chore to listen through straight through. Monotony invariably sets in at some point despite all the genuine novelty in the song writing. This record is best enjoyed piecemeal.

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