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metal music reviews (new releases)

CANDLEMASS Death Thy Lover

EP · 2016 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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"Death Thy Lover" is an EP release by Swedish doom metal act Candlemass. It´s the band´s first release featuring new original material since the release of the "Psalms for the Dead" album from 2012. The EP was released through Napalm Records in June 2016. "Death Thy Lover" features a new lead vocalist in Mats Levén as Robert Lowe left Candlemass in 2012 after a six year stint with the band. Levén had shortly been a member of Candlemass in 2006 before Lowe joined, so he is not completely new in that respect.

Levén is of course known for his vocal contributions to artists like Krux and Abstract Algebra (both of which also featured Candlemass bassist Leif Edling in the lineup), Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Fatal Force, and Aeonsgate, just to name a few of the projects he has been involved in, so he is quite the prolific singer and definitely a worthy replacement for Lowe. Stylistically "Death Thy Lover" is exactly what you´d expect it to be if you´re already familiar with the last couple of releases by the band (new lead vocalist or not). It´s crushingly heavy yet relatively melodic doom metal (with occasional traditional heavy metal leanings), and feautures both powerful riffs and rhythms and catchy choruses.

The EP opens with three tracks featuring vocals and then closes with the instrumental "The Goose". All four tracks are of high compositional class and it´s hard not to be impressed by the high standards of Candlemass. Add to that high level musicianship and a powerful and clear sounding production, and "Death Thy Lover" comes off a great quality release. Featuring a total playing time of 25:28 minutes you also get a fair deal of quantity for your money, and a 4 star (80%) rating is therefore fully deserved.

ZEALOTRY The Last Witness

Album · 2016 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"The Last Witness" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Boston, Massachusetts based death metal act Zealotry. The album was released through Lavadome Productions in April 2016. Zealotry was formed in 2005 and released their debut full-length studio album "The Charnel Expanse" in 2013.

Stylistically "The Last Witness" pretty much continues the technically well played and relatively brutal death metal style of "The Charnel Expanse". It´s murky and often dissonant, it´s pretty chaotic, and relatively brutal death metal, and it´s artists like Immolation and to a lesser extent Incantation who come to mind. So the music features that distinct dark and twisted occult sound, which makes artists in this part of the death metal spectrum such an intriguing listen. The band are well playing and the sound production is also fairly well sounding. The material is slightly one-dimensional and bleak in nature and not many tracks stand out. Something which is further enhanced by the one-dimensional, unintelligible, and rather toneless growling vocals. Given enough spins the memorability level rises, but "The Last Witness" is not an easily accessible release. There are occasional changes to the sound when a guitar solo or an acoustic section breaks the chaotic dissonant monotony, but those moments are few and far between.

So upon conclusion "The Last Witness" isn´t a revelation and it´s as such not a very unique sounding release either, but it is well performed, well produced, and reasonably well written, which means that it´s enjoyable while it plays, but doesn´t stick much longer than that. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved though.

SABATON The Last Stand

Album · 2016 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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With some bands, writing a review can be challenging, as you never know what to expect from them, except that they will never repeat themselves or do anything predictable. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum you have Swedish power metal band Sabaton, a band who nailed their sound down wonderfully on their full length debut Primo Victoria, and while they’ve made minor tweaks to their sound over the years, they’ve proven to be as reliable and consistent as a band could possibly be when it comes to sticking to their established sound and delivering a great album every time. Basically, every time Sabaton releases an albums their fans can expect epic heroic war anthems based on historical events, filled with epic vocal lines and ridiculously catchy choruses. This has been equally true on more straight-forward albums like the quick, to the point and absolutely addicting Heroes and more experimental works like the epic concept album The Art of War. Their previous album Heroes in particular has the special distinction of being my most played album of the last decade, if not longer, so I was excited as I could possibly be to hear what the band had in store with their seventh full length release The Last Stand. In short, the band didn’t quite match their best efforts this time, but they still delivered yet another excellent release,and one that I’d gladly take over the vast majority of melodic metal out there.

For the uninitiated, Sabaton is known for writing songs about historic battles, and while all their albums deal with similar themes, they tend to focus on different events or on different aspects of war each time. On the Last Stand, perhaps unsurprisingly, the songs all deal with countries fighting against insurmountable odds and struggling to hold out to the very end, some succeeding and some failing. As such, the lyrics are very epic even by this band’s standards. Musically, the band has changed very little over the years. This is still the same kind of ultra melodic power metal they’ve played since the beginning, with the occasional use of symphonic elements and occasional heavy sections, but it’s the hooks and huge vocal melodies that dominate the tracks. Recent albums Carolus Rex and Heroes saw the band dropping the tempo down a little bit in comparison to their earlier albums and this is true of The Last Stand as well. In fact, perhaps my only disappointment with the album is a lack of those blazing fast scorchers, like “Night Witches” from Heroes or “Ghost Division” from The Art of War There’s still some speed here, of course, but on most of the tracks the tempo feels a bit more restrained.

One element of the band that has never been restrained in the least is the voice of Joakim Brodén. He has a rather unique voice for the genre, as most power metal vocalists tend to have much higher main registers than him, and yet he also doesn’t fit in with the more raw, all out aggressive singers of the genre like Chris Boltendahl or Andy B. Franck. Instead, he has a very deep voice that instantly stands out, be he uses in it a very nice way, singing in a way that enhances the melodies greatly, and his style really lends itself well to the huge sing along choruses the band is known for. In short, he’s the perfect fit for the band, and one of my absolute favorite singers.

I already somewhat hinted at it earlier, but the first couple times I heard the opening track “Sparta”, I was a bit disappointed. Just looking at that name and knowing how the band usually opens their albums I had been expecting one of their fast paced, immediately gripping openers, and instead I got something that felt a bit toned down and lacking the energy I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong: It’s an excellent track, and after several listens it’s grown on me a lot, but it certainly isn’t the kind of song the band has opened all their other albums with. It’s a mid tempo track, driven by keyboards and it uses the synths in a pretty cool way, giving the track a symphonic feel, and this combined with the epic “oohh” “aahh” chants throughout certainly make for a great track. Likewise, on first listen “Last Dying Breath” didn’t do much for me, but over time it has become a favorite. It’s another mostly mid paced track, though it has more of a focus on guitar riffs, and it’s chorus is quite epic. It speeds up towards the end, and that section is fantastic.

Obviously, many fans have heard “Blood of Bannockburn” by now, and for me this is the track where the album officially kicks into high gear. It’s the first up tempo track of the album, though it still feels a little restrained, but what makes it work is the awesome marching drums at the beginning that keep building and building until the song takes off, plus the use of bagpipes throughout and the choir vocals all help give it a bit of a Scottish folk music vibe, which fits perfectly with the lyrics. The track had been an instant favorite since the first time I heard it, and it still is, though for some reason I keep thinking I’ll hear “In the name of God” at the end of it. For those who don’t get that comment, I’ll explain it in a bit.

Following a brief interlude track where a solider talks about his experiences, we get another early release track “The Lost Battalion”. This one is much slower paced and is very much dominated by the synths, which give it a bit of a retro feel. It’s a very laid back track, but man is that chorus ever something special! The chorus is repeated several times throughout the song, but it only gets better and more epic as it goes on, easily one of their catchiest and best choruses to date, which is saying a lot. Speaking of great choruses, I can’t possibly leave out the title track. It’s another mid paced track, but it feels special from the very beginning, as the verses do a great job of building up momentum, and then the chorus is just insanely good, and is in fact the best on the album. Later in the track, an amazing, breathless vocal section gives way to the highlight of the album, and something fans viewing the early release videos on Youtube would be familiar with: The absolutely glorious last 30 seconds of the track, where Joakim delivers some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard from him. And yes, this is what I was referring to earlier when I talked about “Blood of Bannockburn”.

Fans looking for pure speed can look forward to “Rorke’s Drift” and “Hill 3234”. Both of these are very fast paced tracks that are a bit heavier compared to the rest of the album, and they certainly would have fit in great on earlier Sabaton albums. Likewise, “Shiroyama” is an up tempo track that feels very similar to some of their past songs, but it’s the kind of song they do so well, I can’t possibly complain about it feeling too familiar. On a similar note, I was initially surprised by how similar “Winged Hussars” sounds to the title track of The Art of War, with its main synth line sounding very similar and its chorus also reminding me greatly of that track, but repeated listens have shown it to the kind of mid paced track the band has always been great at, so again, it’s familiarity doesn’t bother me in the least just because it’s so damn catchy and addictive. Lastly, we have the closing track “The Last Battle”. This track threw me at first, as that name and the fact that it’s the final track on the album had me thinking it would be blazing fast and full of killer riffs. Well, that isn’t the case. Instead, it’s another mid paced track, heavily dominated by synths which give it a bit of a pop feeling at points, but while I was initially unimpressed, once again it turned out to one of those super catchy tracks where the melodies won me over in the end.

At just under 37 minutes, The Last Stand is one of those albums that’s extremely easy to put on repeat and get lost in for a while, and it’s certainly a very addictive album full of catchy and heroic war anthems just like its immediate predecessor. It may not live up to that album or other Sabaton classics like The Art of War and Primo Victoria, but it’s still another fantastic album full of memorable choruses and huge vocal melodies that won’t be easy to forget. Obviously, it’s a must hear for longtime fans of the band, and it’s also highly recommended for all fans of melodic metal, especially those looking for some catchy choruses to go along with epic lyrics about historic battles. Sabaton is just one of those bands that never disappoints, and The Last Stand is no exception.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2016/08/20/sabaton-last-stand-review/


Album · 2016 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"II" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Denver, Colorado based death metal act Vale of Pnath. The album was released through Willowtip Records in June 2016. Vale of Pnath was formed in 2005 and released a self-titled EP in 2008 and their debut full-length studio album "The Prodigal Empire" in 2011. There have been quite a few lineup changes since the release of "The Prodigal Empire (2011)" as bassist David York has been replaced by Alan Parades, guitarist Mikey Reeves has been replaced by Eloy Montes, and lead vocalist Ken Sarafin has been replaced by Reece Deeter. The only remaining members from the lineup who recorded the predecessor are guitarist Vance Valezuela and drummer Eric W. Brown.

Stylistically the music on "II" is a continution of the technical/progressive death metal style of "The Prodigal Empire (2011)", which means lightning fast riffing/leads featuring neo-classical leanings, insanely technical drumming, and some relatively convincing growling/occasionally higher pitched snarling vocals. References to artists like Obscura, Beyond Creation, and Augury are valid. Quality wise we´re also in that league, and "II" features more than one jaw-dropping moment of technical wizardry and powerful playing.

The album features a clear, powerful, and detailed sound production too, and paired with some relatively memorable songwriting, and high level musicianship on all posts, "II" is another great technical/progressive death metal release by Vale of Pnath. "The Prodigal Empire (2011)" didn´t stand out as one of the most unique sounding releases in the genre, and while "II" isn´t the most original sounding release either, I think Vale of Pnath have taken small steps in developing a more personal sound on this one. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.


Album · 2016 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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As much as a good instrumental section can really get me going on an album, I rarely find myself too interested by fully instrumental releases. That's why, for me at least, an artist such as Germany's The Spacelords are a rare find; an instrumental artist who not only enthral with their music, but do it in such a way that adding any sort of vocals to it would most likely ruin the entire experience. Liquid Sun (2016) is their fourth album.

While The Spacelords primarily play space rock, they can actually be pretty heavy and hard rocking while doing so. This is more evident in the second and third of the album's three tracks than in the opening title track, which features a gradually building atmosphere that initially gives no clue about the band's hard rock influences but steadily increases in heaviness until it fully emerges in its latter stages and from there until the album's conclusion The Spacelords find a perfect balance between spacey atmosphere and delivering some great riffs as well. With just three songs their writing tends towards a longer mark on Liquid Sun, but even with some aspects of the music repeating many times over as they move their compositions forward I don't feel as if any ideas outstay their welcome.

Liquid Sun will no doubt continue to stand out as one of 2016's biggest surprises for me; the kind of album that comes out of nowhere and ends up ranking among the year's best releases. The Spacelords are clearly well versed in their cosmic craft and have created something really captivating here; it's a very easy album to sit back and just allow it to carry you off into the cosmos, while also being something for fans of hard rock to appreciate. Vocals very much not required.

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HELSTAR Burning Star

Album · 1984 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 10 ratings
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Burning Star is the debut studio album from US Power/thrash metal band Helstar.

Helstar is one of the few artists I can think of who's every single album is a masterpiece, and of course Burning Star was the album that started it all. This was the first album I had heard from the band, as well as perhaps the first metal album I owned myself. I grew up listening to classic hard rock, heavy metal, and thrash, but after Aerosmith and Rush really got me into music I had found Helstar at random. It was the greatest random find possible.

The music here is a mix of US power metal, classic heavy metal, speed metal, and a bit of proto-thrash metal. Already on their debut, Helstar had their own pretty unique sound with a wide range of metal styles. While you can hear influence from bands such as Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest, and Rush (The Rush influence is especially heard in the beginning of "Run With the Pack"), the band manages to muster up their own distinct sound. The guitar riffs are razor-sharp, the drums are powerful, and James Rivera's vocals are absolutely killer. Just listen to his vocal performance on "Toward the Unknown", and that song is one of many reasons why he's among my favorite vocalists.

Already on the debut with the song "Dracula's Castle", there is lyricism based around vampires, which would return as the concept album "Nosferatu". The rest of the lyrics follow your usual 80's metal lyricism of darkness, fantasy, etc. The title track, with it's menacing shredding, is reflected incredibly well with the sci-fi cover art. It really makes you feel like your flying through the stars, involved in a chaotic space battle.

This album holds a special place in my heart as not only an amazing album but also as the first metal album I ever owned myself and listened to a lot. I hadn't of listened to it in a while, but coming back to it I'm glad I still hear the magic. A classic, as well as one of my favorite albums of all time. Do yourself a favor and check this album and this band out.

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BARREN EARTH Curse of the Red River

Album · 2010 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 15 ratings
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Released in 2010, Curse Of The Red River is the debut album from Barren Earth. A band consisting of already experienced musicians from the likes of Amorphis, Kreator, Moonsorrow and Swallow The Sun.

Curse Of The Red River is a progressive melodic death metal album that seems to be influenced quite a lot by Opeth. Not only do they mix the death growls with clean vocals, they also have that light and shade and mix acoustic elements alongside heavier riffing and the music simply has a strong Opeth feel at times too. It has to be said though that while the clean vocals are adequate they aren’t in the Mikael Akerfeldt league. No problem though as Barren Earth more than make up for this with some very strong compositions, the prog elements adding plenty of twists and turns keeping things never less than interesting with many exceptionally compelling moments of musical interplay too. There’s also a heavy dose of melody. In fact even before I realised the band featured the ex-keyboard player of Amorphis – Kasper Martenson, I was thinking that those big keyboard driven melodies reminded me a lot of that band, particularly later era Amorphis. A bit strange this though as Martenson was a member in the earlier days, when they were a somewhat different beast. Perhaps his influence lives on. There’s still a healthy dose of heavy riffing though so don’t get the idea that this album doesn’t contain its share of heavy moments which is shown to best effect by a powerful production.

Barren Earth have gone on to make two more albums since this one, both good albums in their own right but I’d say Curse Of The Red River remains my favourite.

KATATONIA Sanctitude

Live album · 2015 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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"Sanctitude" is a live album/DVD release by Swedish progressive/alternative rock/metal act Katatonia. The album was released through Kscope Music in March 2015. "Sanctitude" bridges the gab between the band´s 10th and 11th full-length studio albums "Dethroned & Uncrowned (2013)" and "The Fall of Hearts (2016)". It´s a split release featuring both an audio disc and a concert DVD of the same show, filmed and recorded May 16th 2014, in London's Union Chapel as part of the "Dethroned & Uncrowned (2013)" tour. In addition to that the DVD part of the release also features a documentary titled "Beyond the Chapel", which among other things features interviews with both Anders Nyström (guitars) and Jonas Renkse (vocals). "Sanctitude" is also available on vinyl, featuring only the audio material.

As the show is from the tour supporting "Dethroned & Uncrowned (2013)", which is an acoustic version of "Dead End Kings (2012)", it´s no surprise that "Sanctitude" features a predominantly acoustic show, with focus on acoustic guitars and vocals, but with the occasional use of percussion and programming/keyboards (and the occasional use of electric guitar lead themes). The setlist is culled from various releases in the band´s relatively large discography. The oldest track is "Day" from "Brave Murder Day (1996)", but tracks like "Tonight´s Music", "Teargas", and "Gone" also represent the older (although not early doom/death part of the band´s discography), while tracks like "In the White", "Undo You", "Unfurl", and "The One You Are Looking for Is Not Here" (featuring Silje Wergeland from The Gathering on vocals), represent the latter part of the band´s discography (up until then). A mid-period album like is represented by no less than four tracks in "One Year from Now", "Sleeper", "Omerta", and "Evidence".

The band´s performance is more or less flawless and Renkse, who is naturally the center of the attention, is skillfully backed up with harmony vocals and choirs by both Nyström and session guitarist Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief). The DVD part of the album shows a relatively relaxed band but also a pretty introvert one, and it´s not many words that are said between the songs. Renkse is an incredibly paatos filled and emotive singer, but his stage performance has always been a bit shy and lacking presence. Katatonia let the music speak for itself instead, and when you can do it with this high level of professionalism and impactful emotional delivery, you don´t necessarily have to engage too much in audience communication. When that is said Renkse communicates more with the audience here, than I´ve ever heard him do before, and he generally just seems to be enjoying himself, which contributes greatly to the relaxed atmosphere of the show.

"Sanctitude" features an organic and well sounding production and overall the CD/DVD set is a high quality release, immortalizing a speciel event in the band´s career. Some tracks naturally translates well to the acoustic versions, while others have been re-arranged a bit, but none of them lose their original melancholic atmosphere and they all work pretty well. To my ears highlights include "Teargas", "One Year from Now", "Day" (which is about 100 times more interesting in this version compared to the original), and the beautiful "Idle Blood" (that melody is enchanting...). So upon conclusion "Sanctitude" is another high quality release by Katatonia and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

KATATONIA Brave Murder Day

Album · 1996 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 23 ratings
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"Brave Murder Day" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Swedish doom/death metal act Katatonia. The album was released through Avantgarde Music in July 1996. There have been a couple of lineup changes since the release of "Dance of December Souls (1993)", as drummer/lead vocalist Jonas Renkse has switched to clean vocals (only used sparingly on the album), and left the growling vocals to guest vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth). Bassist Israphel Wing is out of the band and the bass is therefore handled by Blackheim in addition to his guitar playing duties. Fredrik Norrman has been added to the lineup has a second guitarist. Edge of Sanity frontman Dan Swanö (here working under his pseudonym Day DiSyraah) plays all keyboards on the album. "Brave Murder Day" was also recorded at Swanö´s Unisound Studio with Swanö handling engineering.

"Brave Murder Day" was originally send to be pressed without having been mastered and it was not until the 2006 Peaceville Records re-release of the album that it was properly mastered. The Peaceville Records version includes the "Sounds of Decay (1997)" EP as a bonus. Other re-releases feature the "For Funerals to Come (1995)" EP and the Russian label Irond Records released a version were both EPs are included. As a consequence of the lack of mastering the original version of the album features some sound issues (low audio output and lack of EQ fixes), but it´s nothing too distracting and the sound production is generally well sounding and suits the music well.

Stylistically the music is doom/death metal, but ultimately quite different sounding to the doom/death metal style on "Dance of December Souls (1993)". Gone are the blackened elements (although Åkerfeldt´s vocals at times touch that territory) and the occult atmosphere of the debut album, and instead a deeply melancholic atmosphere and a dark heavy rhythmic foundation have taken their place. Some tracks have a repetitive almost ritualistic element to them but changes always happen to great effect, so repetitive sections never become tiresome. "Day" is a track which is quite different from the remaining material on the album, as it´s a quiet song with Renkse singing clean lead vocals. It´s melancholic and a bit monotone, and it´s obvious it´s an early experiement with clean vocals (which reminds me a bit of The Cure). Renkse sounds neither confident nor comfortable singing clean vocals at this point. The shoegaze influenced section on "Rainroom", which features clean vocals too, works a bit better. The growling vocals are delivered with raw power and great conviction though and Åkerfeldt deserves praise for his performance on the album.

Other than "Day", which stands out as very different from the rest of the material, the 5 remaining tracks are all doom/death metal featuring simple heavy beats (almost too simple if you ask me), heavy downtuned riffs, melancholic lead themes, and an overall epic atmosphere. The tracks feature rather unconventional structures, and while riffs and memorable hooks do return during the tracks, the tracks aren´t vers/chorus structured, and therefore a bit more adventurous than usual. "Brave" for example features three long consecutive sections, before section number one returns to close the track. Tracks like "12" and "Endtime" also feature what I would characterize as progressive structures. Both tracks are also quite dynamic with both epic heavy sections and more melancholic quiet clean/acoustic guitar sections.

While Katatonia have a pretty unique sound, I hear quite a few nods toward early Opeth and especially early Paradise Lost, which must have been a great influence on Katatonia´s music. Listen to the guitar lead theme about 1:30 minutes into "Murder", and tell me that doesn´t sound one to one like a lead theme from "Gothic (1991)" (the sophomore studio album by Paradise Lost). Katatonia even get the guitar tone right. When that is said it is seldom during the album´s playing time that the Paradise Lost influence is that blatantly displayed, and as mentioned Katatonia generally have an easily recognisable and original sound.

Upon conclusion "Brave Murder Day" is a quality sophomore studio album by Katatonia. 1996 was probably not the best year to release an album in this style, but it is often mentioned as a seminal album in the doom/death metal genre, and rightly so. Katatonia took their music to a higher level on "Brave Murder Day" and despite a few sound production issues, and a few moments where their influences shine through a bit too much, this is a quality release featuring a unique sound and style. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.


Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 2003 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.52 | 8 ratings
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I don't think many bands can say one of their EP's is among their best work, as most EP's tend to be a taste of what's to come. However, with alternative metal/rock band Porcupine Tree it was kind of the other way around. In Absentia showed what was to come, adding in more metal elements than the band had already had, Futile showing that sound bloom.

Futile gives you two songs from each side of Porcupine Tree, the crushing and depressive alternative metal in songs like "Orchidia" and the title cut, and the soft bittersweet alternative rock of "Drown With Me" and "Chloroform". The title cut easily takes the cake as the best on here, as well as the band's best song. With slow brooding riffs, galloping acoustic segments, muscular drum work, catchy chorus, and a bridge with great contrast between electric and acoustic guitar makes this a real modern metal classic. Also included is a live version of "Hatesong", which is pretty good.

If you're a fan of alternative metal/rock and want something that's short and sweet, check this EP out. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

TRIVIUM The Crusade

Album · 2006 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.13 | 16 ratings
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The best album Metallica never made?

After releasing Ascendancy, which is now regarded as a classic metalcore album, the band decided to mostly abandon the metalcore sound in favor of thrash metal. Trivium were certainly no strangers to playing thrash, as Ascendancy featured quite a nice blend of metalcore, thrash, and melodic death metal. However, the band apparently never listened to bands that screamed so thought, "Why should we?". So, the band came to thrash.

While this is mostly thrash, the band does draw on classic heavy metal and groove metal at times. Personally, I find it best when they combine thrash with classic heavy metal or groove. A couple great examples are "Anthem (We are the Fire)" and "To the Rats". The former is a great fist-pumping metal anthem, and the latter is a groovy thrash track sounding like a mix of Metallica and Pantera. "Becoming the Dragon", despite sounding a bit too Metallica at times, is certainly also one of the best.

Now, the reason I feel like those aforementioned songs are the best is because they don't sound like pure Metallica worship, which is the majority of the album. Hell, they even have an eight-minute instrumental in the vein of Metallica's instrumentals. Now, I love Metallica and thrash metal is one of my favorite genres of music, but I'd be lying if I said it isn't annoying when a band sounds almost exactly like another. I kind of have the same issue with Alter Bridge, great musicians, but they just sound too similar to Ra. I'm sure if the vocals were a bit different, it wouldn't be as much of an issue, but vocalist Matt Heafy sounds exactly like James Hetfield in his prime.

However, despite the album sounding too much like blatant Metallica worship at times, there is stuff to enjoy here. If you can separate the two, there are some absolute killer tracks here, such as the more unique songs that I mentioned. If you like thrash and can take some hero veneration, this isn't a bad choice.

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SYMPHONY X Underworld

Album · 2015 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 26 ratings
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I'd always found that consistency was a bit of a weak point for Symphony X, with only V: the New Mythology Suite being much of a keeper among their early work. Then Iconoclast made a very positive impression on me, and now I actually think Underworld has all their previous work beat, offering a true classic of their power-prog metal style. The band have developed a really nuanced sense of when to be a bit more restrained and when to let forth with full force, having learned that cranking things up to 11 for the entire album isn't always the best way - sometimes your assaults hit harder when you give people a bit of breathing space between them.

Whilst Iconoclast was fantastically heavy and Underworld is no slouch in that department, I sense some of their prog inclinations returning to the foreground this time, and I'd be really interested to see where their sound evolves next. To my ears, at least, Symphony X seem to have hit the most consistently high levels of quality they have achieved over their entire career, and I sincerely hope they can keep it up.

SECRET CHIEFS 3 Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini

Album · 2009 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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The special thing about this Secret Chiefs 3 album is that it isn't really a Secret Chiefs 3 album - rather, it's an album fully recorded by one of the several different "satellite" bands which together form Secret Chiefs 3. Specifically, it's the work of the Traditionalists, an outfit designed to pay tribute to the musicians providing great music for Italian horror and thriller B-movies of the 1970s - and yes, that includes a few nods to the funkier side of Goblin, but it also includes nods to Ennio Morricone and still other composers besides. Presented as the soundtrack to a film which doesn't exist, there's no vocals provided so when it comes to sussing out the plot of Le Mani... (whose title reminds me a little of an Italian take on Manos: the Hands of Fate!) we're left to consider the packaging, booklet and song titles - and, of course, the music itself, which is as perfect a tribute to the era as you are likely to find.

SECRET CHIEFS 3 Xaphan: Book of Angels Volume 9

Album · 2008 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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This isn't the first time Trey Spruance and John Zorn's musical trajectories have crossed - Zorn did in fact help produce the first Mr Bungle album - but this is surely their most intimate collaboration. Xaphan finds Secret Chiefs 3 turning their hands to adapting music from Zorn's Masada books of klezmer-derived compositions; this is, in fact, a conjunction of musical forces which makes perfect sense, since klezmer is one of the musical traditions Secret Chiefs 3 has dabbled with in previous albums. The band's technical abilities and diverse instrumentation ensures that the album distinctly sounds like them, whilst Zorn's compositions provide sufficiently meaty challenges for them to get their teeth into.

Because the compositions are all klezmer-based, Secret Chiefs 3 don't get to branch out into quite as many different musical styles as they do on their other albums, though I'm sure some listeners will consider this to be a good thing: what it lacks in diversity, Xaphan more than makes up for in consistency.

SECRET CHIEFS 3 Book of Horizons

Album · 2004 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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Book of Horizons is an important album in the Secret Chiefs 3 discography because it was the first one to overtly set out the idea of the "satellite bands" - the concept that Secret Chiefs 3 was actually a collective of bands who happen to all be led by Trey Spruance, and that explains the very different musical styles involved. Whether that was really the concept from the start or something Trey cooked up on the spot is another question, but either way Book of Horizons is another dazzlingly diverse album from this avant-garde powerhouse running the full range from rock reinterpretations of traditional Middle Eastern music to pounding death metal to progressive passages reminiscent of Goblin's classic horror soundtracks.

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