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DIRT WOMAN The Glass Cliff

Album · 2020 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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DIRT WOMAN is a newer stoner metal band from Ocean City, Maryland from a state that has had more than its fair share of stoner / doom metal bands (think Spirit Caravan,The Hidden Hand, Earthride, Obsessed). Featuring the lineup of Avery Mallon (drums), Kearny Mallon (guitar) and Gabe Solomon (guitar), it’s the addition of female lead singer and guitarist Zoe Koch that sets DIRT WOMAN apart from most similar minded stoner doomers.

There are a few instant reactions to this band and its debut album THE GLASS CLIFF. First of all, lame band name but cool cover art. Not sure what bands are thinking when they come up with completely unremarkable monikers but perhaps they were all stoned! Hehe! Whatever the case, DIRT WOMAN really knows how to crank out some high octane fuzz fueled guitar riffage laced with plodding rhythmic drives and monotonous and oft hypnotic spacey effects.

Of the five tracks that almost engulf an hour of your life, three race well past the thirteen minute mark so what you can expect on THE GLASS CLIFF is a series of receptive bass grooves that slowly cascade of accompanying guitar riffs that vary from soft echoey highlights to full-on distortion and din making raucous. While set back in the mix, Zoe Koch’s vocal style still emits a distinct feminine vibe as if some high priestess was piercing the veil to offer advice from another dimension only reached through licking toads or something.

With twin guitar action stampeding throughout the album’s run, DIRT WOMAN is heavy like Electric Wizard but also has touches of Black Sabbath inspired riffs and other traditional doom metal stalwarts like Saint Vitus but everything resonates in a reverberant fuzz-drenched fury more like Sleep’s classic stoner metal meltdowns. The strength of the album is its apparent study of the craft and it doesn’t deviate from the stoner metal norms which after a near hour’s worth of stoner fuzz also is its downfall as the tracks become monotonous.

While there are just enough variables to keep THE GLASS CLIFF from generating the more tiresome ennui, the 13 minute tracks do churn on a bit too long for their own good. Out of the lot, my favorite is the closing “Starhawk” which offers the most melodic variations of the album as well as showcasing Koch’s vocal style beyond a droning shout through the din. While i can’t say DIRT WOMAN is on my list of favorite up and coming bands, i have to say at least that this band’s debut full-length THE GLASS CLIFF is an enjoyable listen although drowned in the sea of similarly minded acts that are a tad more exciting.

EGREGOR Pachakuti

Album · 2020 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Emerging from the far northern Chilean city of Arica, EGREGOR has so far released two albums beginning with 2015’s “Karma” and took off many years to craft the followup. Finally after setbacks due to the pandemic and other world madness, EGREGOR at last returned in 2020 with its sophomore offering PACHAKUTI which features more progressive compositions and higher octane metal heft than its debut and it’s making some waves around the world.

Led by guitarist Richard Iturra, the band is completed by bassist Alejandro Heredia, drummer Rodrigo Cerpa, guitarist / vocalist Giancarlo Nattino and the divine feminine charm of Magdalena Opazo on vocals. The band comes off somewhat as the Latin American version of Epica with lush symphonic orchestration, chugging metal heft and strewn out compositions that offer the possibilities of mixing in Andean folk music influences into a standardized from of European extreme metal.

The title PACHAKUTI is derived from the Aymara language with PACHA meaning “earth” and KUTI meaning “return" with themes revolving around the mythological world of the ancient South American indigenous peoples. The entire album is performed in the Spanish language so unless you speaka the lingo then you no get it, dig? Musically EGREGOR engages in a thick mash up of metal styles along with symphonic and folk influences. Atmospheric dominance is ubiquitous on PACHAKUTI with lush symphonic backdrops providing the heft of the album’s epic stature with the chunky metal parts merely adding a bombastic contrast.

While Magdalena’s feminine charm dominates the album’s sensual side, Giancarlo Nattino provides more extreme vocal contributions with angsty screams thus providing the classic beauty and the beast approach. The tracks are highly melodic steeped in not only contemporary metal chops oft from melodic death metal bands such as Arch Enemy but tinges of Andean flavors infused into the melodic scales. The dynamics vary between lusher piano driven ballad moments to the more dramatic chug-infused guitar riffing with the occasional guitar solo thrown in for good measure.

For all its magnanimous glory though, where PACHAKUTI falls short is in its ability to really stand out from the legions of similar minded prog metal acts that have appeared in great numbers in the last 20 years or so. Taking cues from various bands ranging from Epica, Nightwish and other female led symphonic metal bands, EGREGOR unfortunately doesn’t really strike me as a band that has much to offer outside of the fact they sing in Spanish and incorporate a few local folk flavors to the mix. Likewise Magdalena’s vocal range just doesn’t seem to have enough gusto to tackle the more operatic demands that this style of music requires to make it a compelling musical experience.

In the production department EGREGOR excels with beautiful lush atmospheres seamlessly blending together along with a well-defined separation of the sensual cadences with the more aggressive metal orotundity however most of the tracks are rather forgettable as EGREGOR doesn’t deviate significantly form the pre-established European model of status quo symphonic metal. Nevertheless PACHAKUTI is a decent albeit underwhelming slice of symphonic metal that showcases Chilean acts finding influences from North American and European extreme metal bands. While PACHAKUTI is hardly a bad listening experience, it seems the lofty goal of some sort of concept album isn’t matched by the actual results. Lots of room for improvement but certainly a band on the rise when compared to the lackluster “Karma” that preceded.

THE GLORIOUS DEAD Into Lifeless Shrines

Album · 2020 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Old school death metal is an extreme style of music that never seems to get old and as the 21st century finds death metal exploding into myriad directions, some stalwarts of its origins remain faithful to some of its earliest stylistic approaches. THE GLORIOUS DEAD is one such act that hails from Traverse City, Michigan and was actually founded as far back as 2008 by T.J. Humlinski (bass, guitar, vocals) and Marty Rytkonen (guitar) after which together released “The Burdensome Ceremony of Interment” EP in 2009. After numerous attempts of getting a stable band together, the lineups continued to fall apart and the project sat inactive until 2017 when the band was revived with a renewed invigoration of passion for the classic sounds of early 90s death metal.

Notable for catching the essence of doom metal with death metal tempos and gnarled viscous riff attacks, THE GLORIOUS DEAD has mined the inexhaustible wellspring of inspiration laid down in death metal’s initial dominion over the extreme metal world in the early 1990s. Taking a cue from bands like Grave, Obituary, Runemagick, Purtenance, Convulse, Bolt Thrower, Incantation, Immolation, Morbid Angel and Entombed, THE GLORIOUS DEAD has emerged as a powerhouse tribute to these early pioneers and includes not only Humlinski and Rytkonen back at the helm but includes bassist Chris Boris and powerhouse drummer Chris Fulton whose percussive prowess anchors the band in the contemporary technical death metal world while evoking the reverie of the classic old school era.

After another short EP titled “Imperator of the Desiccated” was released in 2019, the band had honed its chops to craft its long-awaited full-length debut INTO LIFELESS SHRINES which emerged from the crypts in September 2020 and features 13 crushing displays of cavernous doom inspired death metal that really could easily fit into the scene three decades ago. Displaying a classic old school stomp at breakneck speeds, THE GLORIOUS DEAD channels the zeitgeist of classic Grave or Obituary but runs the gamut of Incantation plodding death-doom to the blackened crossover effects of bands like Hypocrisy. Most noticeable however is the band’s fascination with the Finnish blackened death playbook of Convulse and Purtenance along with some Swedish death doom charm a la Runemagick.

While retro death metal is a dime a dozen these days, i’m always willing to explore the endless sea of swarming distorted chugs in order to find the next best thing under the pike and although THE GLORIOUS DEAD doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with its exquisitely designed tribute to the masters of yore, this powerhouse quartet certainly has done its homework and crafted an excellent slice of quality death metal in the spirit of the classic era without sounding dated. Tracks like “The Ruin Of The Flesh” allow progressive elements to seep in and the band excel at crafting a nice diverse palette of riffing styles and rhythmic plentitude while Humlinski smooths it all out with his consistent guttural growls. Add to that the ugly tone of the album is evoked with the creepy instrumental intro “Sollum Mortis” and the occasional synth extras allow the subdued atmospheric darkness to peek through the din.

While THE GLORIOUS DEAD clearly favors a vintage sound over any sort of explorative measures in the vein of modern pioneers like Blood Incantation, the band pulls it off so well that it’s obvious that these guys’ live, breath and evoke a true passion for the classic death metal sounds of yore. While at 55 minutes, the album may be a tad too long to hold its energetic display of grandmastering bravado, but i can’t honestly say that there isn’t a single track on here that is subpar to any classic death metal album out there as THE GLORIOUS DEAD has meticulously combed the coffins and assimilated every nuance in the book to forge a sharpened sword of piercing retro death metal thus making this one of my favorite death metal picks for 2020 as it has a satisfying re-listening value. While nothing groundbreaking, this one was truly a surprise in its consistency and ability to channel the zeitgeist of yore so clearly.

THOU The Helm Of Sorrow (with Emma Ruth Rundle)

EP · 2021 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Necrotica
Something I’ve always loved about Emma Ruth Rundle is her versatility and willingness to do whatever the hell she wants musically. She's done everything from ambient to folk to doom to sludge to post rock to just about everything in between, and pretty much every project she’s brought her style to has flourished and succeeded in its own way. Whether it be her unique guitar work in post-rock group Red Sparowes or her more mellow folk-laden solo work, her greatest idiosyncrasy as a songwriter is the fact that her career never becomes static. Case in point: collaborating with Thou. On paper, it seems like a strange combination; I can’t think of a band Rundle has worked with that’s more crushing and intense than Thou, and you’d almost expect the latter’s sludgy riffs to be at odds with her singing and playing style. But such is not the case, as the “beauty-meets-brutality” aesthetic is exactly what makes this project work.

The Helm of Sorrow is an excellent continuation of the sound Rundle and Thou built together with last year’s May Our Chambers Be Full, still keeping with the latter’s melding of sorrow and intensity. The biggest thing that this collaboration benefits from is the members’ keen sense of dynamics; the music is meticulously composed to account for all the right emotional peaks and valleys, as is important for a lot of doom and post metal. In fact, opener “Orphan Limbs” is almost entirely based around Rundle singing cleanly over soft droning passages, whose guitar is reminiscent of Red House Painters’ brand of slowcore (Down Colorful Hill in particular). Only at roughly the last minute does the band erupt in a volcano of steamrolling guitars and shrieking vocals, and the long buildup just heightens the resonance of the payoff. This is the first time on the entire album we hear this level of intensity, and the slow build within the grim ambiance effectively keeps you on edge the whole time. But this isn’t the only way the dynamics of the record are experimented; “Crone Dance” is pretty much unceasing in its ferocity, and yet Rundle’s lovely vocal inflections add a strange melodicism to such an unrelenting series of sludge riffs. It helps, too, that the guitar tone is absolutely incredible here; it strikes a wonderfully odd middle ground between violent and textured, so you get something that’s equal parts harsh and compelling. And when Rundle and Bryan Funck start singing together on the remaining two tracks “Recurrence” and “Hollywood" (the latter being a Cranberries cover), it starts bringing to mind a certain approach that quickly got run into the ground in a lot of gothic metal: the “beauty-and-the-beast” approach. But I find there’s a difference here, as it feels like it’s done much more in service to the atmosphere rather than to be gimmicky. The downcast riffs are constantly emitting a sense of despair while the mix of clean and harsh vocals brings that perfect balance of sadness and anger; it really feels like I’m listening to “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Pt. 1” by Agalloch again for the first time.

At this point, it surprises me a bit that Emma Ruth Rundle hasn’t been fully brought onboard as a member of Thou yet. Their respective approaches to these records seem meant for each other, and it’s a wonderful feeling when styles that are normally meant to clash can be brought together so beautifully. Let’s hope we can get another full-length of this kind of music, because 21 minutes - even for an EP - simply feels too short for how great the material is.

DEFILED Infinite Regress

Album · 2020 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Infinite Regress" is the 6th full-length studio album by Japanese, Tokyo based death metal act Defiled. The album was released through Season of Mist in January 2020. It´s the successor to "Towards Inevitable Ruin" from 2016 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as bassist Hiroaki Sato has been replaced by Takachika Nakajima.

Stylistically the material on "Infinite Regress" are unmistakably the sound of Defiled. Brutal technical US influenced death metal with a twist. The twist consists of the fact that Defiled are inherently old school and often have more in common with acts like Autopsy and early Deceased than they have with the more technical part of the early 90s death metal scene and artists like Suffocation and Gorguts. But...Defiled still play a very technical death metal style with loads of tempo changes, unconventional riffs, and a generally adventurous approach to songwriting, so the comparison above should not be misunderstood as if this isn´t music with at least some focus on technical playing.

One of the greatest strengths of "Infinite Regress" is the raw and organic way the music is delivered. These guys are human and they want you to know it. The raw, powerful, and organic sounding production job supports that sentiment too, and "Infinite Regress" is generally far removed from most of the more clinical and sterile sounding contemporary brutal technical death metal releases. Highlights include "Divide and Conquer" (the drumming is brilliant on this one), "Tragedy" (old school to the core), and "Centuries". Predominantly because those tracks stand out as a bit different from the remaining tracks, but all material on the album are of high quality.

Upon conclusion "Infinite Regress" is through and through a high quality death metal release. It´s not often you´ll come across death metal acts with a unique sound these days, but thankfully we still have artists like Defiled to prove to the world that intriguing, adventurous, and unconventional death metal is still being produced (while still maintaining old school death metal credibility). A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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PANTERA Far Beyond Driven

Album · 1994 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 54 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It is safe to say that when I first came across Pantera with their fifth album, 1990’s ‘Cowboys From Hell’ I was not impressed, and over the last 30 years have recognised there have been some good songs from within their canon, but have never gone as massively overboard as many. So, when I was perusing the Warner Bros promotional site and came across this double CD reissue from 2014, celebrating the 20th anniversary of an album seen by many as being a classic, I thought why not? There is no doubt that Pantera these days are viewed by many as being an incredibly important band within the genre, and Dimebag’s death has only secured that notion, but listening to this with fresh ears more than a quarter of a century after it was recorded, one can only wonder why that is still the case.

The guys were all very good musicians, and in Anselmo they had an aggressive and over the top singer, while Dimebag was obviously influenced heavily by the likes of Tony Iommi, but where are the songs? There is little here which gets into the brain and sticks there, the result being that if this was a new album by an unknown band one wonders what the critics would think of it. Of course, the Pantera diehards will say this is a hugely important release, even more so that it has been remastered and paired with live songs from Donington which include classics such as “Fucking Hostile”. The only problem is that the recording is bootleg quality at best, and one gets the impression it has been deliberately left like that. Having delved back into the world of Pantera for the first time in aeons, I cannot say that I am any wiser as to why they are held in such high regard, as this is not the classic many hold it out to be.

SORCIER DES GLACES Sorcier des Glaces

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Sorcier des Glace are a veteran black metal band from Quebec who have seven albums to their name, one of them having been released three times once as a re-recording and once more as a compilation of the original recording and the re-recording.

Formed by Luc Gaulin (drums) and Sebastien Robitaille (a.k.a. Sorcier des Glaces - Sorcerer of Ice) (vocals, guitars, bass) in 1997, SDG's recording career got off to a slow start as both Gaulin and Robitaille were in the progressive power metal band Moonlyght. Their second album spent seven years shelved before finally being released in 2006.

This self-titled release is the duo's sixth full-length album (not counting the re-recording of their debut) and for it they tackled the daunting task of creating one single 50-minute track. I say daunting because there are more then a few ways that this could have gone wrong, one of the most obvious hazards being that of creating a track that sounds like it should have been separated into individual tracks, another being the creation of a track that just becomes tedious as the band tries to fill an album by stretching out ideas.

In fact, the review on Metal Archives offered the criticisms that the band was not as creative as in their younger days and that the album sounded like several tracks stitched together. With these sentiments in mind, I wondered if my decision to order this CD had been without unwise as I had only decided to add it on to the order of SDG's 2020 release. The fact alone that this is a 50-minute track reminded me that I have only ever listened to Edge of Sanity's "Crimson" twice exactly because it requires 45 minutes of un-interruption. Should I have picked an older album?

I settled in to the task of digesting this massive beast of a track during my morning commute, promising myself that I wouldn't fiddle with Facebook or twiddle tiles on Words With Friends. I'd just let the music take me away and hopefully I wouldn't be checking the time too often.

Much to my relief and delight, I found the entire track a pleasure to hear. Yes, the music does change as it would had it been composed as individual tracks; however, I felt the changes natural and appropriate, just as Opeth introduce changes to riff and tempo in some of their longer songs. There are some breaks with a clean electric or acoustic guitar taking over from the typical black metal style, and in one part we can hear footsteps in the snow as a transition. But each transition seemed very smooth and natural to me, and the main "song" parts never stretching on for too long. Even a couple of the atmospheric moments that could have overstayed their welcome soon gave way to a sudden blast of black metal riffing.

The general style of Sorcier des Glace is heavily inspired by the Norwegian scene of the early and mid-nineties but there is a frequent-enough use of clean electric and acoustic guitars to change up the music and as well, there are some parts that are closer to classic heavy metal riffing or at least not the typical second wave style.

I never looked at the time once and so it was a surprise to me when after some sombre chanting, the track ended. I had expected it to continue a little longer. That's a good indication that I found the music varied enough and enjoyable enough that I didn't lose interest or get bored.

One thing I really appreciate is the quality of the recording. It is very well done. I understand the trve kvlt black metal should sound like it was recorded in a Norwegian basement on a handheld tape recorded but I prefer a cleaner production. I like to hear the sound of the instruments well and not muddied or clipped.

This is my second Sorcier des Glace album after their third one and once again I am pleased with my purchase. From what I've heard of their latest album, this band continues to sound good after over 20 years, despite what some people have to say. I think "Sorcier des Glaces" is a success and a great album!

THE FIFTH SUN The Moment of Truth

Album · 2002 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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One of the few metal bands i’m aware of to emerge from the extreme frigid lands of northern Minnesota, THE FIFTH SUN emerged from the small city of Bemidji in 1991 with the band name Consumed with the three primary members of Bryan Horn (vocals, guitar), Shawn Mattila (guitar) and John Eggers (drums). Although it would take 10 long years to get to this debut album THE MOMENT OF TRUTH, the band moved to Portland, Oregon in order to find exposure to a much more appreciative audience but nothing came of that journey and the band ended up back in Minnesota where after two albums it would disappear completely into the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

In many ways, THE FIFTH SUN is the USA’s answer to Amon Amarth with chugging beastly guitar riffs coalescing with the bass, drums and guttural growls into something rather melodic. AND there’s a reason that Minnesota’s pro American football team is called the Vikings! That’s because the weather and European immigrants from Scandinavia seemed to flock here way back when. THE MOMENT OF TRUTH features nine tracks that clock in over 38 minutes and feature a competent display of melodic death metal with a few technical touches just to give it some spice. Stylistically the album is fairly uniform in presentation without really deviating from the regularly scheduled program but overall not bad in doing so.

This is a fast paced album with rampaging riffs at fast tempos. The guitar tones are heavily distorted and the death metal presented is out of the old school death camps only more fine-tuned to craft an overarching melodic presentation. Influences as cited by vocalist / guitarist Brian Horn include Death, Edge of Sanity, Testament, Entombed, Obituary, Slayer and Sepultura but as already stated, THE FIFTH SUN evokes more of a Swedish melo-death vibe than anything from Tampa or Brazil. The album is consistent in its pummeling attacks and crafts a satisfying rampaging metal stampede with just enough melodic touches to keep the hooks alive. The technical wizardry is actually quite subtle as it mostly revolves around complex key changes, riffs out of place and incessant tempos but nothing crazy in the vein of Death.

While many may consider THE FIFTH SUN very derivative in many ways, the album is actually excellently performed if not in any way original. The musicians deliver a tight-knit set of tracks that doesn’t deviate for a moment throughout the album’s playing time. The guttural growls are wickedly evil sounding and keep this album from sounding too polished and same for the production. A few non-death metal moments emerge to offer some contrast but for the most part it’s a death chug-fest with a few melodic guitar sweeps along the way. For a melo-death album this one is actually quite well executed although THE MOMENT OF TRUTH won’t score high for any groundbreaking moments. Juggling the balance between melo-death and tech death may sound a hard nut to crack, THE FIFTH SUN does a really great job on this even if the overall impression may not blow you away.

MELVINS Six Songs

EP · 1986 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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While bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden often erroneously get credited for the advent of grunge and alternative forms of metal, in reality another Washington act like Montesano’s MELVINS was taking elements of hardcore punk, classic rock and heavy metal and mixing it all together as early as 1983 when the band was formed by longtime members Buzz Osbourne (vocals, guitars) and Dale Crover (drums) both of whom have been in the band since its formation.

In addition to the alternative grunge scene that would take the world by storm a decade alter, MELVINS were also instrumental in forging sludge metal which has become quite popular in the last few decades as it successfully bridged the gap between hardcore punk and doom metal with its heavily distorted guitar sounds and contrasting slow-down tempos that together offered a unique abrasiveness hitherto unknown in the world of heavy metal.

The band took a few years to hone its sound but by 1986 it unleashed its first release in the form of the EP titled 6 SONGS which threw the disparate genera of hardcore punk, noise rock, grunge and doom metal into the cauldron and crafted the very first example sludge metal at least sludge metal that was fully developed as punk bands like Black Flag often are cited as offering the first clues of where extreme punk and metal were heading.

6 SONGS was originally released as a vinyl 7” and was followed by another EP titled “10 Songs” in 1991 and eventually were released together as the compilation “26 Songs” in 2003. While this EP does play an important role in developing the sludge metal style historically speaking, what is offered here is more akin to unpolished DIY garage punk that incorporated some doom metal elements to make it stand out from any other release of the era and for that it is revered far and wide for its innovative out of the box thinking.

As an entertaining listening experience though i don’t personally find it very satisfying as it is poorly recorded and the tracks aren’t very developed. Not that that’s a bad thing but i’m not a huge MELVINS fan to begin with and there is nothing on this unpolished first offering that particularly stands out as outstanding craftsmanship. As a key pivotal moment in metal history, 6 SONGS is truly noteworthy and should be experienced by all who are interested in the phylogeny of sludge metal but honestly if you’re looking for a primo sludge metal experience you’d have to fast forward to 90s when bands like Neurosis, Acid Bath, Eyehategod and even the MELVINS itself took the subgenre in more interesting directions.

CORONER No More Color

Album · 1989 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.30 | 30 ratings
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UMUR
"No More Color" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Swiss thrash metal act Coroner. The album was released through Noise Records in September 1989. Coroner was formed in 1985 and released their debut full-length studio album "R.I.P." in 1987. They are widely regarded as one of the seminal thrash metal acts on the Swiss thrash metal scene along with artists like Celtic Frost, Poltergeist, and Messiah. The three-piece lineup which recorded the debut album and "Punishment for Decadence (1988)" is intact: Tommy T. Baron (Tommy Vetterli) on guitar, Ron Royce (Ron Broder) on bass and vocals, and Marquis Marky (Markus Edelmann) on drums.

On "No More Color", Coroner continues the technically well played thrash metal style of "Punishment for Decadence (1988)", but add a few more progressive ideas and a generally more adventurous approach to the compositions. None of the aggression or rawness of the predecessor is lost here though, and "No More Color" is still a pretty intense thrash metal album. The band are incredibly well playing, and there are some jaw-dropping moments featured on the album. It´s especially the guitar playing by Tommy T. Baron, which is out of this world. His tone, his dexterity, his speed, and his choice of notes are very effective and quite tasteful. Marquis Marky and Ron Royce deliver very convincing performances too and the latter´s quite distinct vocal style provides that part of the band´s music with something unique. He has a talking/singing raw vocal style, featuring an understated aggression, that´s rather unconventional.

The material on the 8 track, 34:21 minutes long album is relatively varied, while still staying within the band´s core style. So while the music features quite a few adventurous/progressive ideas and sections, it´s not like Coroner suddenly shifts into jazz rock/fusion mode or they play extented instrumental sections or anything like that (although some of the guitar solo sections go through several tempo/section changes). Everything is neatly arranged and fits well within the band´s technical thrash metal style. While I think of the whole album as one long highlight, I´ll mention tracks like "Read My Scars", "why It Hurts", and especially "Mistress of Deception" as standout tracks.

The whole thing is packed in a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly. Every instrument is placed perfect in the mix, which results in a sound which does the music as much justice as possible. The guitar tone is fierce, the bass has a great powerful sound, and the drums feature a powerful organic sound. The vocals are placed slightly low in the mix, but that´s always been Coroner´s style, and once you get used to it, it only adds to the uniqueness of the album.

Both "R.I.P. (1987)" and "Punishment for Decadence (1988)" are great albums, but to my ears Coroner were only honing their skills and songwriting craft on those two releases and ultimately just warming up to this beast of an album. "No More Color" is intense aggression, technical superiority, and songwriting originality in one package, and there´s really nothing like it out there. Coroner hit gold here and I consider "No More Color" a technical thrash metal masterpiece. A 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.

ANNIHILATOR Never, Neverland

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.44 | 75 ratings
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"Never, Neverland" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Canadian thrash/heavy metal act Annihilator. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in September 1990. There have been a couple of lineup changes since the band´s debut full-length studio album "Alice in Hell (1989)" as lead vocalist Randy Rampage has been replaced by Coburn Pharr and guitarist Anthony Brian Greenham was replaced by David Scott Davis. Greenham was credited for playing on "Alice in Hell (1989)", but actually didn´t perform. Instead all guitars were handled by Jeff Waters. "Alice in Hell (1989)" was a major artistic and commercial success for Annihilator and it was always going to be hard to make a follow-up to such a highly regarded release.

Stylistically Annihilator continue the thrash/heavy metal style of their debut album, only this time around slightly less savage and a good deal more sophisticated. The material on the 10 track, 44:03 minutes long album still features sharp thrashy riffing and energetic powerful rhythms, but the melodic heavy metal part of the band´s sound is more dominant here than on the predecessor. The album features many harmony guitar sections, incredibly fast-paced and melodic guitar solos, and quite a few interesting compositional details, which ensure a good deal of variation throughout the playing time.

It´s interesting to note that Annihilator have added a couple of their old demo tracks in re-recorded versions: "I Am in Command" from the "Welcome to Your Death (1985)" demo and the title track from the "Phantasmagoria (1986)" demo. They´ve also used sections from "Back to the Crypt" from the "Welcome to Your Death (1985)" demo and the intro to "Gallery" from the "Phantasmagoria (1986)" demo on the "Never, Neverland" title track. The remaining material on "Never, Neverland" was specifically written for the album.

There are several highlights to mention here (including all 5 tracks on Side 1 of the original vinyl version of the album), but I´ll give special mentions to "The Fun Palace", for its extensive use of harmony guitars, "Sixes and Sevens", for its sharp thrashy riffing and great energetic solo section, and of course the almost progressive structured title track, which features some beautiful acoustic work, brilliant solos, intriguing lyrics, and a powerful hard edged middle section. Especially Waters is on fire throughout the album playing one sharp and memorable riff after another, and his solo work is nothing short of amazing. Although I´ve read interviews with Waters where he downplays his skills and calls himself a fast-playing blues guitarist, that´s definitely not the whole truth.

Other highlights include the anti-DIU song "Road to Ruin" (which is quite ironic as Waters had quite a bit of trouble with his alcohol addiction in those days), "Stonewall", and "Imperiled Eyes". "Kraf Dinner" is a bit silly, but still a powerful and energetic track, and "Phantasmagoria", "Reduced to Ash", and "I Am in Command" are also pretty high quality material, although the those tracks (which represent the closing part of the album), don´t quite reach the excellence of the first part of the album.

So "Never, Neverland" doesn´t have any problem matching the high quality of its predecessor. In fact I dare say Annihilator upped the bar on this album and released an even stronger album than the iconic debut. Sure there are a couple of minor issues with the album like the fact that Coburn Pharr doesn´t have the most interesting or powerful voice, or that the sound production lacks a bit of bottom end (especially the drums sound a bit thin), but when it comes down to it, "Never, Neverland" is a completely unique sounding release, featuring some great material and a very well playing band, and a 5 star (100%) rating is fully deserved, despite a few smaller issues.

VEKTOR Black Future

Album · 2009 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 38 ratings
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UMUR
"Black Future" is the debut full-length studio album by US thrash metal act Vektor. The album was released through Heavy Artillery Records in November 2009. Vektor formed in 2002 under the Locrian monicker but changed their name to Vektor in 2004. They released the "Nucleus" demo in 2004 and the album length "Demolition" demo in 2006. The "Hunger for Violence" demo was released in 2007, which was the last demo release before the release of "Black Future"

Stylistically Vektor play a technical/progressive type of thrash/speed metal. It´s like listening to the bastard child of Voivod and Destruction. Fast-paced and aggressive thrash metal featuring screaming high pitched vocals. The vocals are obviously loaded with effects and they sound somewhere between Chuck Schuldiner (late in his career) and Schmier from Destruction. Quite frankly they are somewhat of an aquired taste, and personally I think they are a bit hard on the ears and that they are often taken too much to the extreme (a raw sounding Mickey Mouse on helium). It´s of course my subjective opinion of the vocal style, and I´m sure others will enjoy the vocals greatly.

The instrumental part of the music is very well performed and the tracks are generally pretty long (three of them over 10 minutes in length) and features complex structures and many intriguing songwriting ideas. This is certainly progressive music. Featuring 9 tracks and a total playing time of 68:06, "Black Future" is a long album, and maybe also a bit too long for its own good. It´s not that there´s anything on the album which is sub par in quality, but about half way into the album it feels a little like you´re listening to the same stylistic elements being used again and again. The vocals don´t change much, the riffs are pretty similar on all tracks, and the atmosphere doesn´t change much either, despite Vektor´s efforts to include mellow clean guitar sections, instrumental parts, and other adventurous ideas.

"Black Future" features a raw, powerful, and well sounding production, which suits the music perfectly, and upon conclusion it´s a high quality debut album by Vektor, regardless of my personal issues with the album. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

AXXEN CONNERS Nowhere To Escape Sins

EP · 2016 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
AXXEN CORNERS is an indie melodic death / groove metal band from Antalya, Turkey that has been around since 2008 but since then has only released this tiny EP titled NOWHERE TO ESCAPE SINS that features only three tracks.

This band is actually the duo of Bilge Ozce aka Serpent who handles bass and vocal duties along with Serdar Evren known as Croc who performs guitar, synthesizers and backing vocals. The band displays an interesting mix of melodic death metal with some groove metal heft as well as a bit of black metal especially in the raspy vocals.

While only reaching the twelve minute mark, this full band sounding duo cranks out a seriously high octane dose of extreme metal with a few progressive time signature outbursts finding their way into the mix which most likely qualifies them as on the borderline of progressive metal.

Rhythmically AXXEN CORNERS is straight forward metal bombast with rampaging guitar riffs and pummeling drumming prowess. The tones and timbres are all selected quite brilliantly and the overall effect is fairly unique as this duo stands out amongst the legions of extreme metal bands around these days.

Synthesizers add a subdued yet effective atmospheric darkness however the star of the show is the incessant display of guitar riffs whizzing up and down the scale. Two vocal styles trade off, deathened guttural growls and more blackened raspy screams. While only a short display of deviant madness, i actually love this! It’s fun and to the point. I truly look forward to something new and much longer from this devilish Turkish delight.

VICIOUS RUMORS Soldiers Of The Night

Album · 1985 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.27 | 14 ratings
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"Soldiers Of The Night" is the debut full-length studio album by US, California based power/heavy metal act Vicious Rumors. The album was released through Shrapnel Records in May 1985. Vicious Rumors was formed in 1979 and released a demo cassette tape in 1982 and a second one in 1983 before being signed to Shrapnel Records for the release of "Soldiers Of The Night". Compared to the demo lineups only lead vocalist Gary St. Pierre and guitarist Geoff Thorpe remain. New in the lineup are guitarist Vinnie Moore, bassist Dave Starr, and drummer Larry Howe. The only track from the demos which has been re-recorded for "Soldiers Of The Night" is "In Fire" (which was actually featured on both demos). The rest of the tracks on the 11 track, 38:50 minutes long album are new original material.

The material on "Soldiers Of The Night" is in a traditional heavy metal style, which is fairly standard for the time and the genre. The quality of the material is relatively high and the tracks are generally catchy and powerful heavy metal. Vicious Rumors can arguably write an effective metal tune. The musicianship is also strong and especially the guitarists play some really well played guitar solos. Lead vocalist Gary St. Pierre has a strong voice and a convincing delivery too, so all in all the performances are a great asset to the album. The inclusion of a guitar solo instrumental in "Invader" may be a bit "old school", but on a release like this it works pretty well. The remaining tracks (save for the opening intro track "Premonition") are all relatively standard vers/chorus structured material with vocals.

The sound production is not the strongest production from that time, but "Soldiers Of The Night" is not a bad sounding release either. It just could have been better sounding. Overall "Soldiers Of The Night" is a good quality heavy metal release, which may not be the most original sounding release from those days, but which is still a solid and well played album. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

UNANIMATED In the Light of Darkness

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"In the Light of Darkness" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Swedish death/black metal act Unanimated. The album was released through Regain Records in April 2009. Unanimated was formed in 1988 and released two studio albums before disbanding in 1996. They reunited in 2007 with almost the same lineup as the one who recorded their second full-length studio album "Ancient God of Evil" from 1995. The only lineup change is that guitarist Jonas Mellberg isn´t part of the reunited lineup. He hasn´t been replaced here and therefore "In the Light of Darkness" was recorded by the four-piece Micke Jansson (vocals), Peter Stjärnvind (drums, additional guitars), Richard Cabeza (bass), and Johan Bohlin (guitars). The album features several guest lead guitar performances.

Stylistically it´s like Unanimated were never gone. It may have been 14 years since the release of "Ancient God of Evil (1995)", but "In the Light of Darkness" sounds like the natural successor to the 1995 release, and we´re therefore still treated to melodic black/death metal. Artists like Dissection and especially Necrophobic are valid references. Unanimated were pioneers of this style, and it´s audible when listening to "In the Light of Darkness" that we´re dealing with seasoned musicians/composers.

The material on the 10 track, 45:47 minutes long album is powerful, raw, and quite often features a majestic atmosphere (the occasional Scandinavian folk tinged melancholic melodies are also a feature in the music). Melodic lead guitar themes, varied rhythms, both fast-paced tremolo picking and heavier riff types, and a raw and passionate raspy black metal type vocal delivery on top. The blasphemous/occult lyric themes perfectly compliment the rest of the music. "In the Light of Darkness" is well produced too, and upon conclusion it´s a strong comeback release by Unanimated. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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