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VILLAINY Villainy II: Dim

Album · 2016 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"Villainy II: Dim" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Dutch extreme metal act Villainy. The album was released through Listenable Records in January 2016. Villainy was formed in 2010 and released their debut full-length studio album "Villainy I" in 2013. "Villainy II: Dim" features 11 tracks and a full playing time of 60:41 minutes. All tracks are new original compositions except "The View from My Ivory Tower", which also appeared on "The View from My Ivory Tower" single from 2014. It is however not the same version of the track, which is featured on this album. The version of the track on "Villainy II: Dim" is about twice as long as the original single version, which means it clocks in at 12:26 minutes, making it the longest composition on the album (it´s only available on the CD version of the album).

Stylistically "Villainy I (2013)" was quite a diverse release with elements from both black, thrash, traditional/speed metal, and doom metal featured in the music. That tendency is continued on "Villainy II: Dim", which is an even more varied and adventurous release than it´s predecessor. This time around a tag like progressive extreme metal isn´t all wrong either. Villainy have pretty much forged a sound of their own albeit predominantly with the use of traditional heavy/thrash/speed/doom metal elements. Celtic Frost comes to mind, although that´s mostly because of the eclectic nature of the band´s influences, rather than Villainy sounding like the legendary Swiss band (Voivod is another valid reference). Like the case was on the debut album, Villainy successfully combine their influences into a coherent style, and "Villainy II: Dim" is not an album that´s all over the place, despite what the above description might sound like.

So we´ve established that the music is pretty eclectic and that it´s one of the strengths on "Villainy II: Dim", but it´s not the only asset on the album, which also features strong musicianship, and a powerful, clear, and detailed sound production, which suits the music perfectly. Villainy is a power trio type act featuring Jeroen Pleunis on bass, Reinier Vrancken on vocals and guitars, and Bram Keijers on drums, but they´re able to create quite a lot of sound with that constellation. It´s raw and brutal, atmospheric, blackened and doomy, and melodic and melancholic, at various points throughout the album.

The 11 track, 60:41 minutes long album (10 track, 48:15 minutes long without the CD bonus track) features quite a few instrumentals and instrumental sections in other tracks (the album is a concept album in three chapters, where the instrumentals sometimes work as breathers or bridges between tracks), and the vocals are generally sparse. When they do occur they make quite an impact though. Vrancken is an aggressive snarling vocalist with a mean caustic delivery and to my ears his performance here deserves a special mention. The instrumental part of the music is also very interesting though, and paired with the rather unconventional song structures (I´ve read others call them messy and badly constructed, but I find them refreshing and playful), "Villainy II: Dim" is quite the intriguing sophomore album by Villainy. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

ROB ZOMBIE The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser

Album · 2016 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Rob Zombie - The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser

"The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser" is the sixth studio album from industrial metal musician Rob Zombie. One look at the incredibly long album title and tripped out psychedelic album cover, you may at first think this is some acid-fueled neo-psychedelic album but this is total classic Rob Zombie weirdness.

Instead of the style the title and cover, the music is groovy industrial metal just like the majority of Zombie's solo albums. 'The Last of the Demons Defeated', 'In the Age of the Consecrated Vampire, We All Get High', and many other hilariously long titles are all groovy industrial with catchy hooks and crunchy grooves. However great those are, my favorite songs are the ones that mix it up a bit. My favorite, 'In the Bone Pile', has a surprising melodic chorus which really makes it stand out. The hilarious 'Well, Everybody's Fucking in a U.F.O.' sounds like the demonic spawn of Primus and Ministry, which in this case is great and some real fun. 'Get Your Boots On! That's the End of Rock and Roll' mixes in industrial groove with some classic hard rock riffing. 'Super-Doom-Hex-Gloom Part 1' sounds straight out of a 90's electronic album.

The album closes as epic as it begins, with both the aforementioned 'The Last of the Demons Defeated' and finale 'Wurdalak' both having a very epic feel to them, the latter ending with some mellow piano. The album has a very short running time, of only just over a half-hour, but that just cuts out any filler that may have otherwise plagued the release.Overall, if you like silly or b-movie horror related lyrics and groovy industrial metal, this is one hell of a catchy album that is a perfect way to satisfy that taste. Hope you found this review helpful.

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BEASTMAKER Lusus Naturae

Album · 2016 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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A fairly new band from California, Beastmaker impressed former Cathedral singer Lee Dorrian enough with their self-released EP, You Must Sin, to sign them up to his Rise Above Records. Anyone familiar with this labels stable of artists will hardly be surprised as it’s the kind of doom infused retro metal that Rise Above excel in. More akin to the likes of Black Sabbath and Pentagram than the weed soaked fuzzy groove of Electric Wizard, hell, it even has the cheek to open with church bells like Sabbath’s debut; there’s confidence for you.

Whilst this trio don’t exactly bring anything new to the table it doesn’t really matter when the 12 compositions are this good as one compelling riff follows another. Clean vocals, like a slightly lower register Ozzy are welcome and preferable in this type of doom than the growls employed by some bands in the genre. There’s some tastefully restrained atmospheric guitar arpeggios interspaced between the heavy riffing adding dynamics and interest too. Whilst no track in particular stands out, it’s a measure of the quality on offer here rather than any weakness.

Overall, a great debut album and anyone with a taste for the likes of Sabbath, Witchcraft, the Sword and Pentagram should check them out pronto.

LASCAILLE'S SHROUD The Roads Leading North

Album · 2016 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Okay I don't normally write a review like this, so it's probably best to consider this review as a temporary one with a proper review coming later, but circumstances have pushed me to make this one exception.

The Roads Leading North is the third album by the US one man progressive metal act Lascaille's Shroud. It is currently being crowd-funded via IndieGoGo to get physical copies to happen, as well as t-shirts. The two month campaign made steady progress in the first month, getting over the half way mark. All seemed to be going smoothly and according to plan. Then without warning the campaign stalled. It now has just two weeks left and still needs, at the time of writing, $805. Otherwise it won't be able to go ahead. And that will be a real shame. I was personally inspired to back the album based off the strengths of the two previous Lascaille's Shroud albums. I put down my money for the previous successful campaign for Interval 02: Parallel Infinities - The Abscinded Universe (2014) and never regretted it (in fact musician Brett Windnagle even gave me a copy of the debut album Interval 01: Parallel Infinities - The Inner Universe (2013) for free – cheers again Brett) and I've been confident even since that The Roads Leading North was going to be equally worth it. To get the CD to me it does cost a bit more than a normal album would be priced here in the UK, but you have to consider that with a Lascaille's Shroud album you're getting material enough to be two album's worth by the majority of other artists. So the value for money is high, if you had any concerns about the shipping cost if you live outside the US.

Today Brett uploaded the whole album to stream via YouTube, which I'm sure he hopes (the same as I do) will garner the required interest he needs to make this campaign a success. I backed as soon as I could, so I didn't need convincing at this point, but what the stream does is re-affirm for me that backing the campaign is definitely not a mistake.

As I said, this isn't a proper review. I will eventually delete this and post a real review. I'm writing it as I listen to the over two hour long stream and am currently on the seventh of fourteen tracks and wanted to put my initial thoughts out there to try to help draw attention to the campaign. I'm sure I won't be the only one gutted if this release gets condemned to be digital only.

The music I've heard so far is both familiar for Lascaille's Shroud but also seems more evolved. The parts that use clean vocals now sound to be firmly rooted in power metal. Plenty of melody, fast riffs, and awesome clean singing, though overall this is certainly still an extreme metal album. The production feels even more polished and professional, which makes the music feel even more epic than ever before. Synths are used in both symphonic and electronic manners in different parts of the album, so all elements that I'm come to consider staples of the Lascaille's Shroud sound are present and correct. Compared to previous albums this one does give the initial impression of being less rooted in actual death metal and more in progressive metal with a mix of harsh and clean vocals. Not unlike classic Opeth in that the influence of death metal is there and strong, but it's something more. Note that I am not otherwise comparing this album to Opeth.

Obviously I'm pushing this preliminary review out as fast as I can in hopes of helping Brett draw attention to the campaign, so I can't go into more in depth detail as of yet – that will of course come with my real review – but I'm confident that The Roads Leading North is the best Lascaille's Shroud album so far. I've actually recently been suffering a loss of faith in progressive metal with the majority of releases underwhelming me, but I can tell you that The Roads Leading North goes a long way towards restoring it for me, and I had that impression when not even at the half way mark. I'm also pretty damn sure that this album will be going straight to the high end of my list of 2016 albums, perhaps even to the number one spot.

You can stream the whole album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO-s5bZl-Hk

And the campaign may be contributed to here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-roads-leading-north/x/6219327#/backers

MASTER An Epiphany of Hate

Album · 2016 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"An Epiphany of Hate" is the 13th full-length studio album by US/Czech Republic death metal act Master. The album was released through F.D.A. Rekotz in January 2016. It´s the successor to "The Witchhunt" from 2013.

Stylistically "An Epiphany of Hate" pretty much continues the same old school death metal style with occasional thrash metal leanings as the band also played on "The Witchhunt (2013)". In fact there´s been very little development of sound and style since Master´s eponymously titled 1990 debut full-length studio album. So this is a band who has stuck to their guns and even survived a relocation to a new country (frontman/bassist and band founder Paul Speckmann moved from the US to the Czech Republic in 1999).

The material on the 10 track, 44:23 minutes long album is pretty basic death metal with Paul Speckmann´s reasonably intelligible growling vocals in front. He sounds delightfully pissed on this album although the vocals do become a bit one-dimensional after a few tracks. The quality of the material is pretty high, but seldom out of the ordinary for the style. The band are well playing, and deliver their parts with the right amount of passion and conviction, and the album is well produced too, featuring a raw and powerful sound production.

So "An Epiphany of Hate" is in many ways a good quality old school death metal release, but upon conclusion it suffers from the same issue as many of the other Master albums do. The music is simply not varied enough and it often feels like it´s the same track playing throughout the album. A bit more variation (also in the vocal department) could have made the album an overall more interesting listen, but when that is said, it´s still an enjoyable listen for the style, and a 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong.

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ARENA Contagium

EP · 2003 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.82 | 3 ratings
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I agree with the general consensus regarding CONTAGIUM. This is the better of the two EPs consisting of songs that didn't quite fit onto CONTAGION. The songwriting and general memorability of these four songs is a bit stronger then CONTAGIOUS. It isn't better then CONTAGION, but it's still very good.

Only "The March of Time" overstays its welcome. I suppose "On The Edge of Despair" and "Confrontation" take pride of place over the other two tracks. I was very happy when Arena became a more aggressive sounding band and shortened their songs a bit, which they did during this period. Arena aren't a clone of any other band, but the general description of them as a more metal-sounding Marillion is apt. It was enough to get me to start listening to them. If it piques your interest in Arena, this EP is a very fine place to start.

DARKSTAR Marching Into Oblivion

Album · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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"Marching Into Oblivion" is the debut full-length studio album by US/German progressive metal act Darkstar. The album was released through Institute Of Art Records in 1995. Darkstar is a project initiated by Siggi Blasey (Sequencing, Sampling) from German progressive metal act End Amen and guitarist Dan Rock from US progressive metal act Psychotic Waltz. Oliver Werner performs drums to the album and Martin Iordanidis plays the bass. Travis Smith is responsible for the very time typical computer crafted cover artwork as he also was on the "Bleeding (1996)" album by Psychotic Waltz. There´s a dark sci-fi atmosphere to the cover artwork (and the 20 page booklet), which suits the material featured on the album perfectly.

The origin of Darkstar is that Dan Rock vocalist/guitarist Uwe Osterlehner (Deathrow) during Psychotic Waltz 1992 european tour supporting their "Into the Everflow (1992)" album. Psychotic Waltz toured with German technical thrash metal act Deathrow who supported their "Life Beyond (1992)" album. The two musicians formed the End Amen project, which released "Your Last Orison" album in 1992. End Amen also featured Siggi Blasey in the lineup and that´s how Siggi Blasey and Dan Rock met (The close ties to the End Amen project are further strengthened when listening to the opening title track on "Marching Into Oblivion", which share both samples and a few other ideas from the "End Amen" track off the "Your Last Orison (1992)" album).

A couple of years later Siggi Blasey and Dan Rock formed Darkstar and recorded the material for what was to become "Marching Into Oblivion". Recorded in Germany in 1995 in a renovated WWII bomb shelter, the album showcases the two musicians mutual interest in ambient and synth heavy progressive metal. "Marching Into Oblivion" was recorded while Dan Rock was still active in Psychotic Waltz, and it was sold from the merchandise stand on that act´s 1996 tour supporting "Bleeding (1996)".

The music on "Marching Into Oblivion" is as mentioned above ambient (occasionally touching new age territory) and synth heavy instrumental progressive metal. A big part of the sound on the album is the use of samples, synths, and sequencing. Dan Rock´s guitar riff style from the two Psychotic Waltz albums "Mosquito (1994)" and "Bleeding (1996)" do come to mind while listening to "Marching Into Oblivion" but the material on the album is generally a bit more simple and repetitive than anything Psychotic Waltz ever released. The ambient sound occasionally reminds me of artists like Mike Oldfield and Robert Miles. The music is generally very melodic, with dreamy and epic guitar themes and swirling spacey synths.

Although the music, at least to some extent, is progressive metal you shouldn´t expect adventurous rhythms, complex song structures, or too much heavy riffing (it´s occasionally pretty heavy though). Instead this is atmospheric and melodic, quite repetitive, yet very innovative and rather unique. Dan Rock is not only a technically highly skilled guitarist but also a very creative one, and his playing on this album is in his trademark style. Lots of use of the vibrato arm and sliding notes which give the music a laid back floating sound. The sequencing, and the extensive use of synths and samples, provide the music with a melancholic and at times relatively dark atmosphere.

The sample from the "Aliens (1986)" film, which is used in the title track, where Sigourney Weaver screams at the top of her lungs: "Bishop! God Damn You!", is very effective. There are also other samples from the film featured on that track. "Confusion On A Grand Scale" features several samples from the Jonestown tragedy, and not only is it one of the heaviest tracks on the album, those voice samples really give the song an eerie feel. Other standout tracks on the album are the dark ambient "A New Beginning" which have some repetitive tribal type drums. It´s a very repetitive and ambient dark track, which works really well. "Alone" is another strong track which is a powerful and melodic highlight and the "Darkstar" track deserves a mention too.

While the synths, the sequencing, and the samples work to perfection, and the virtuoso guitar playing by Dan Rock elevates the music to an even higher level, I can´t say the same about the rhythm section. They quite frankly play some really simple and repetitive rhythms and bass lines, which aren´t that interesting. It sometimes sounds like the drums are an afterthought, and that not much creative hours have been put into creating the rhythm patterns. So if I have to mention a minor issue regarding "Marching Into Oblivion", it´s definitely that part of the album, which comes to mind.

The sound production is multilayered and quite intense. Again there´s an issue with the drums though which features a sound which lacks dynamics, and which overall just doesn´t fit with the rest of the music. The bass is too low in the mix and simply drowns in the multible layers of synth, sequencing, samples and guitars. So "Marching Into Oblivion" isn´t a perfect album by any means, but the minor issues aside the music is still for the most part innovative and often quite beautiful dark ambient progressive metal. Darkstar have a unique sound and that´s always a plus. It´s the kind of album that can be used both as background music and as a more focused listening experience. So it features a good balance between pleasant atmosphere and intriguing complexity. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.


Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.76 | 16 ratings
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"Unorthodox (1992)" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Edge of Sanity. The album was released through Black Mark Productions in July 1992. Edge of Sanity was formed in 1989 and relatively quickly released their first demo cassette tape "Euthanasia (1989)". A second demo cassette tape followed in 1990 titled "Kur-Nu-Gi-A (1990)", before the band was signed to Black Mark Production for the release of their debut full-length studio album "Nothing but Death Remains (1991)".

The debut featured a fairly technical and slightly progressive take on old school Swedish death metal and that music style is continued on "Unorthodox (1992)". The progressive tendencies have been taken up a notch though and especially "Enigma" is a fully fledged progressive death metal track. It´s the first track in the band´s discography to feature clean vocals (albeit only in a short section) and it also features a relatively adventurous structure and a level of complexity seldom heard in old school Swedish death metal (at least in those days).

"Unorthodox (1992)" is a pretty varied album though, and not everything is as sophisticated as "Enigma" ("Everlasting" and "When All Is Said" are two of the other more progressive oriented tracks on the album). The old demo tracks "Incipience to the Butchery" (from "Euthanasia (1989)") and "Beyond the Unknown" (from "Kur-Nu-Gi-A (1990)") are for example pretty standard old school Swedish death metal (which certainly doesn´t mean they aren´t of a high quality), but even an old demo track like "The Day of Maturity" (from "Kur-Nu-Gi-A (1990)") features some pretty progressive ideas. And that´s the strength of "Unorthodox (1992)". Edge of Sanity successfully balance between progressive ideas and old school death metal brutality. Highlights include "Enigma", "In the Veins / Darker Than Black", "A Curfew for the Damned", "Everlasting", "When All Is Said", and "Dead but Dreaming" (I have a weakness for "Incipience to the Butchery" too).

The musicianship is on a high level throughout. Not only are Edge of Sanity a well playing band, there´s also a rare attention to compositional detail present on the album, which provides the music with a distinct sound and a high memorability factor. Dan Swanö´s distinct sounding intelligible growling vocals are a major contributor to the catchiness of the material, as he understands the importance of effectful hooklines and phrasing. When you can´t sing a melody (which is damn near impossible when you are growling), there are other effects to use for catchiness and he successfully implements those.

"Unorthodox (1992)" features a powerful and well sounding production. One of the trademarks of the band´s sound, which is the two different distorted guitar tones, is heard throughout. Upon conclusion "Unorthodox (1992)" shows a band in stylistic development. At this point still rooted very much in their original old school Swedish death metal sound, but occassionally dipping their toes in the more progressive oriented death metal style they would fully embrace a couple of albums down the line. In addition to the intriguing songwriting, the high level musicianship, and the well sounding production, "Unorthodox (1992)" should especially be noticed for how unique it sounds compared to contemporary releases by artists like Dismember, (early) Entombed, Unleashed, and Grave. Although it is part of that scene it´s still in many ways vastly different. A unique listening experience and a 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

SUFFOCATION Despise the Sun

EP · 1998 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 3 ratings
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"Despise the Sun" is an EP release by US, New York based death metal act Suffocation. The EP was released through Vulture Records in 1998. It bridges the gap between the band´s third and fourth full-length studio albums "Pierced From Within (1995)" and "Souls to Deny (2004)". Suffocation disbanded shortly after the EP was released. They reformed again in 2002 with a modified lineup (and released their comeback album "Souls to Deny" in 2004). The lineup on "Despise the Sun" includes new drummer Dave Culross (Malevolent Creation, Pyrexia), who replaces Doug Bohn. "Despise the Sun" was recorded at Cove City Sound Studios in New York and was produced by Scott Burns.

The 16:34 minutes long EP features 5 tracks of crushingly brutal and technically well played death metal in the trademark Suffocation style. Production wise and also on other parameters I´d say that the sound and style on "Despise the Sun" remind me the most of "Pierced From Within (1995)". In other words a natural successor to that album. And that´s definitely not a bad thing. Few can deliver brutal technical death metal with such conviction and passion as Suffocation. If you ask me they are one of the few acts in the really brutal part of the death metal genre that actually stand out with a unique sound. The fact that Frank Mullen´s ultra brutal growls are actually slightly intelligible only makes the listening experience that more intense. And intensity is certainly a good word to describe what this EP is about. It´s actually a downright punishing listen. The playing is relentlessly energetic wether it is blasting sections, mid-paced sections or the über brutal breakdowns that are also featured in the music. To my ears highlights are the title track and the re-recording of "Catatonia". A track which originally appeared on the "Human Waste (1991)" EP.

Suffocation are not exactly known for writing easy listening material and it does take a while before hooks begin to appear on this release too. However the band stick to their guns and never fall into the "cheap" trap of incorporating melody to make their music more easily accessible. They demand your full attention and by the fiercely aggressive way these guys sound you´re probably better off giving it to them. Effectful songwriting, a powerful sound production, and an extremely well playing band amount to a 4 star (80%) rating.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 4 - Underground Chamber

Album · 2011 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
PIKE 4 - UNDERGROUND CHAMBER shows BUCKETHEAD going craaaazy and exercising his freaky side. The album contains 10 tracks all titled UNDERGROUND CHAMBER (parts 1-10) and they basically flow together creating one long freaky musical listening experience. Well, musical is a subjective term. This is highly experimental music. It is very avant-garde and free-flowing mixing not only hard rock and metal elements but dark ambient, funk and rather psychedelic tidbits as well. Most of all the album just goes left-field whenever it wants without any need for adhering to rules or regulations or attention spans. The album clocks in around the half hour mark at 30:43 and BUCKETHEAD performs all sounds on board.

This is one that most will hate. There are hooks but they disappear and are replaced by non-related hooks or no hooks at all. It’s almost like a sound collage of BUCKETHEADLAND really. I hear different riffs from previous albums and many more that would be recycled on future albums. There is no rhyme or reason as to where metal begins or ends, where electronica is inserted, how tempos flow, really how anything flows. This is true musical liberation. It’s almost like a musical equivalent of what would happen if suddenly all the laws of physics were repealed and gravity no longer functioned. Electrical currents no longer flowed or turned into cucumbers. If cats became llamas and beanstalks started sprouting out of your nostrils. Yeah, it’s that weird. It’s highly surreal but what is magical about this one is how for fleeting moments there are familiar hooks that can catch you but then distorted to extreme weirdness. In fact at times it’s like two TV channels competing for screen time with one winning for a while with a smidge of the other trying to burst through but then in the long run both succumb to a new force that bulldozes over them and then that one too is usurped by something new.

This is only for the most adventurous musical souls out there. I cannot think of many albums that even comes close to this in terms of freedom. It is utterly wild and untamed like a free flowing electron relentlessly bombarding molecules of matter and ricocheting violently off in random directions only to hit another particle which changes its musical frequency. While meandering music is more common in ambient and electronic music, BUCKETHEAD keeps the energy level pretty high on this one. This is mostly high energy and chaotic with guitar solos whizzing about like a possessed saw blade flying through a salad bar or a lemur suddenly breakdancing with Cher. The music on here can be funky, it can be head-banging, it can be placid but the only constant is inconsistency. The solos can sizzle accompanied by electronica and then suddenly become funky and then turn into dissonance.

This is definitely up there in terms of weirdness. Only the early Boredoms albums can compete. The emphasis is on keeping things as unpredictable as possible and in that department is totally successful. This is for sure not the most essential BUCKETHEAD album but i actually like this kind of stuff. It is bold, it is brazen. It is just plain nuts. But that is what i like about it. While some albums reek of predictable and checking off the boxes on a certain list, UNDERGROUND CHAMBER excels in being the anti-check-the-box album. It’s like laying on the ground and watching clouds roll by. Sometimes they form something familiar and cute and friendly but often are muddled and jumbled gibberish. So too is UNDERGROUND CHAMBER. An album so out there and unique that it deserves a special place just for that achievement. Can’t say this is essential but can say it’s really good at achieving chaos. For those who love early Boredoms and bands like Psyopus or Behold…. The Arctopus, check this out. Everyone else, run to the hills.

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