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metal music reviews (new releases)

CELLADOR Off the Grid

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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It’s always exciting to see bands that have either been long thought dead or have been on a very lengthy hiatus, seemingly quiet for years, make a sudden comeback and release a new album. That isn’t entirely the case for American power metal band Cellador, admittedly, as they had been hinting at a new release for quite some time, but after their highly praised debut Enter Deception was released in 2006, they weren’t heard from again until they reappeared in 2011 with a new lineup and released an EP, Honor Forth. Since then, the band had largely been quiet again for a while, but now after over 10 years of anticipation, they are finally set to unleash their second full-length album, Off the Grid, and I can assure fans that it most certainly delivers!

A lot has changed for Cellador over the years. Obviously, the previous vocalist Michael Gremio left before Honor Forth was released and guitarist Chris Petersen, the only original member remaining, has taken over the mic. No other members who played on Enter Deception appear on Off the Grid, so obviously, it’s safe to expect a much different sound this time, but while I certainly wouldn’t call this album a carbon copy or even a logical continuation of its predecessor, it’s not exactly a radical departure either. Instead, it feels like the band has retained their focus on pure, speedy power metal and their knack for neatly balancing between heavy riffs and melodic vocal lines, but their approach feels a bit more polished and more mature this time.

Where Enter Deception fell on the more extreme and silly side of the genre, often being compared to the likes of Dragonforce, as while it was entirely guitar driven a lot of the melodies felt similar, this release actually feels closer to classic Euro power metal in how a lot of its riffs sound, though the band has also included some keyboards to give the album a bit of a modern feel. With that being said, while keyboardist Diego Valadez does a nice job and gets to do some great solos, for the most part his keyboards feel more secondary, mostly in the background and giving way to the duo guitars, which dominate with some pretty heavy riffs at times, though there’s also some very melodic playing at points as well. There isn’t much experimentation here, with most tracks being straight-forward speedy power metal with addictive choruses, and all tracks fall around the 3-5 minute range, so it’s a very focused, no nonsense kind of release, that certainly doesn’t waste the listener’s time.

I was initially worried about the change in vocalist, as I wasn’t too pleased with Chris on Honor Forth, but on the new album, I find he does a pretty solid job. He has a fairly deep, powerful voice and mostly stays in mid range, only occasionally stretching for some higher notes. His voice fits in pretty well with the music, though I find he’s best when using his grittier vocals, as sometimes when he tries to go for higher notes he ends up sounding a little bit over the top, such as on “Good Enough”. It’s the sort of thing that fits in well for power metal, though it doesn’t sound all that great. Aside from that, though, he does a pretty good job throughout the album and carries the melodies well, especially on tracks like “Shadowfold”, “Wake up the Tyrant” and “Swallow Your Pride”.

The songwriting is fairly straightforward, with few surprises, though in this case that works fine as every song is great and everything flows together well enough that it’s certainly an easy album to listen to in its entirety over and over. Opening track “Sole Survivors” instantly kicks in with some classic metal riffs and moves along at a breakneck pace right out of the gate, making it the kind of instantly satisfying track you’d expect to hear at the start of a power metal album. The riffs are great and Chris does a solid job on the chorus, so it gets the album off to a flying start. I won’t list all tracks on this album in detail, as most tracks are fast, hit a nice balance between being heavy and melodic and have addictive choruses, so to mention everyone in detail would be pointless, but suffice to say even tracks I won’t mention much like “Break Heresy”, “Shimmering Status”, “Swallow Your Pride” and the title track are all excellent tracks.

Moving on to highlights, the first track that really impresses is “Shadowfold”, which starts off with a thrashy lead riff that carries on through the opening verse, before giving way to a very melodic chorus, and then in the second verse the keyboards actually take over for a bit, which makes for a nice change of pace, and the solo section features both guitars and keyboards and is excellent. Probably my favorite track on the album. Right after that is “Wake Up the Tyrant”, another track which has some slightly thrashy riffs, and as usual moves along at a very fast pace, with intense verses that give way to a very epic and super catchy chorus. Another one of my favorites and the solo section is awesome, probably the best on the album. Coming after the one oddball track on the album, which I’ll get to in a bit, “This Means War” is back to business and is another one of the faster, heavier tracks, feeling very much like a classic power metal track. Closing track “Running Riot” is another super fast track, where the verses are very addictive and fun, and the chorus is frantic and very enjoyable, though I do think it’s one of the times where Chris goes a little bit overboard with vocals. Still a great track, though, and a fun way to end the album.

Lastly, we have “Good Enough”. This track immediately stood out to me as feeling a bit weird, as it starts off at mid-tempo, with some bouncy rhythms and is much more keyboard driven, so I instantly knew something was off. Then the chorus comes in and while it’s super fast paced as always, Chris sounds extremely over the top and it feels like a pop track. It made me wonder if the track was a cover of some sort and after a bit of research I discovered that it is, in fact, a cover of aa Cyndi Lauper hit, which makes sense. Reviewing it on its own merits, the track feels like a bit of an oddball, though it did eventually win me over, and when you consider it’s a cover of a pop song, I think the band did a nice job of keeping some of the feel of the track while also sticking somewhat within their usual sound. So overall, a pretty cool cover.

Overall, Off the Grid is a great comeback album for Cellador, which retains the core power metal sound of their debut, while also feeling much more polished and more mature. It’s hard to say if I think it’s a better release than Enter Deception on the whole, but it’s definitely a logical release for the band to put out right now, and I think longtime fans of the band should be happy with it. I’d recommend it to all power metal fans who want something straight-forward, fast and furious, and with some great vocal melodies, as that’s what this album delivers.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/03/15/cellador-off-grid-review/

BUCKETHEAD Pike 256 - Meteor Firefly Net

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 256 - Meteor Firefly Net / 13th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 4 tracks / Clocks in at 29minutes 42seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Image From The Void” (5:53) enter the slow and echoey guitar with a slight distortion and joining it is a bass and drum that weaves a melody and steady rhythm that maintains a somewhat slow pace as a lead guitar embellishes the melody even more. After a slight slow breakdown the melody picks up steam and the distorted chords hold for a while as the other instruments take a break. Nice guitar work but predictable chord progressions and nothing remotely surprising. Nice track but nothing outstandingly interesting either “Mountainous Mine” (7:08) begins slow and sweet with twangy clean guitar, intermittent bass and cymbals with an ambient backdrop but then abruptly changes into a mid tempo rocker with somewhat of a swinging sensation as the power riffs rock and roll. The track has all the traditional song fixings as it has somewhat of a chorus / verse / bridge type of construction although the main emphasis is on the melody and the guitar licks, fills and solos that embellish it. Ultimately it ends up wearing out its welcome despite an ok way of kicking things off

“Meteor Firefly Net” (9:56) also begins with a slow and almost folky type of clean guitar with an ambient backdrop albeit the bass and drum slowly ooze in early on. The guitar then breaks into some sort of rockabilly type riff before erupting into metal riffs and screeching solos. The chord progressions make interesting melodic build ups that change keys and time sigs occasionally as well. Everything builds to a frenetic crescendo and then suddenly changes back to the soft and serene elevator folk that began the track but of course, this is a BH PIKE and not for long. It erupts full fire into blistering metal riffs and guitar wankery once again but then has some progressive changes where it keeps the monotony at bay and the interesting mood enhancing elements fresh and exciting. Once again the fury is extinguished by placid dreamy clean guitar interludes with floating ambience before inevitably, you guessed it! Back into the moshpit where dragons bang their heads in the dead of night. This title track is by far the most sophisticated on the PIKE and despite having an oft dreaded lengthy time length has more than enough oomph to keep this one on full attention alert throughout its entirety. Excellent track!!!

“Nail Bridge” (6:45) starts with an unusual heavy riff that sounds like a progressive metal version of a cartoon theme song and then alternates the heavy riffs with higher register licks. After a bit of energy is expended it slows down and does a little melodic dance with clean guitar, bass and less frenetic drums. Of course nothing lasts long in BHland so as you probably guessed, IT GETS LOUD AGAIN!!! This one is pretty cool and it’s all because of the strange exotic musical scale that is utilized to give a rather bizarre feel to the whole thing. Another winner!

This one is a mixed bag. I find the first two tracks rather mediocre but not horrible either. The last two tracks are quite creative and deliver a musical punch. Very nice indeed and a rare glimpse into BH’s ability to deliver pleasing melodies with unorthodox creativity turned up to the max. I wish the whole PIKE was like these two finales. Since together they constitute almost 2/3 of the PIKE i’ll give this one a 3 but it would be higher if the first two excited me in any way

BUCKETHEAD Pike 255 - Abominable Snow Scalp

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 255 - Abominable Snow Scalp / 12th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 7 tracks / Clocks in at 29minutes 20seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Abominable Snow Scalp” (4:10) begins with a heavy metal epic riff sounding like something from the 80s with a similar type of melodic march incorporating crunchy chops with solos and fills. Very decent but would sound better with vocals as it seems like the missing dimension. Near the two minute mark it slows down with some nice arpeggiated guitar work and then picks up steam again with some ruff-and-tumble riffage. Very traditional metal sounding here

“Floorascents” (3:02) after a huge pause between tracks, this one finally jumps in with a similar 80s style classic metal sound complete with the melodic crunch of the riffs and nice fret work that has a rather epic style of flavor. It also has a rather 70s hard rock with bluesy touches as well that is amplified by a bluesy solo

“Headless Reflection” (6:32) begins with a rather Hendrix inspired sound effect but quickly jumps into heavy metal riffs with some jittery Van Halen type runs all peppered with quirky BH styled solo runs. This one has some nice changes and makes a nice mix of classic 80s metal with 90s industrial and alternative type styles

“Pluriverse” (3:22) is mellower than previous track with an anthemesque type melodic development and then changes it up between softer and harder passages. Another nice track that focuses on the melody instead of acrobatics

“Crator Ridge” (5:29) is a harder and heavier 90s grungy sounding alternative metal track with some more focus on classic 80s metal melody. It has a nice run of lead guitar. Towards the middle a nice slide and slower passage that really adds some variety to the track. The chord progression is slightly progressive and sounds a bit jazzy at times. One of my favorite tracks

“Door Along the Wall” (1:58) is a short little heavy metal rocker that has nice riffs but ultimately comes off as unnecessary filler

“Pincushion” (4:47) is even more upbeat with heavy riffs and sizzling solos and keeps up a frenetic pace with hyperactive riffs throughout its entirety. Nice melodic delivery and changing of riffs, licks and solos. Very well done

This is a well done PIKE that shows BUCKETHEAD’s mastery of traditional metal styles and focus on the melodic aspects of music with nice counterpoints to keep it interesting. While many of his PIKEs are rather by-the-numbers or extremely experimental this one shows how well he can pull out the classic tricks as well. I’m loving this one and one of my faves of 2017

BUCKETHEAD Pike 254 - Woven Twigs

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 254 - Woven Twigs / 11th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 9 tracks all titled “Twigs” / Clocks in at 30minutes 02seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Twig 1 (3:10) begins with a quickened brooding bass line with a guitar creating textures above it while a drum slowly joins in and then the guitar becomes heavy metal riffage before breaking into a sizzling solo and alternates between creative riffs and solos. The guitar parts are quite interesting as it changes up the general melodic patterns with different time signatures, tempos and patterns. The weak part is that the drums sound canned from a machine. As it goes on funk guitar enters the picture as do those clean echoey arpeggiated fills against a silent backdrop. Towards the end classical guitar even enters the soundscape

“Twig 2 (3:30) as with many of these PIKEs that use a single title for all the tracks, these run together imperceptibly and could qualify as one continuous album run. “Twig 2” simply continues the change-it-up approach as this one enters funk territory, blues licks and heavy metal riffs with hyperactive solos. As time elapses, the styles change up more often and sometimes metal riffs are accompanied by clean funk guitar or squealing solos

“Twig 3” (2:54) although imperceptible as a new track does begin with a heavier riff and then starts changing around with clean sections alternating with heavier ones. The usual suspects as heard previously only mixed up in different orders and new creative touches with soloing and time frenzied tempos

“Twig 4” (2:13) likewise bursts back into metal riffs with some clean guitar licks filling in the cracks. This one is short but has some amazing guitar workouts with speed-of-light solos accompanying jazz guitar chords and tripped out licks that come and go

“Twig 5” (2:48) also changes the previous track into a heavy monstrous crusher of metal and then floats on with a rather ordinary riff but abruptly turns to funk with some grungy slide guitar behind it. Of course nothing plays out too long anymore so after a few measures it’s time for some slower doomy type of metal only with some frenetic solos along for the ride and then time for some clean freaky echoey guitars again and so on and so forth

“Twig 6” (3:24) continues the tradition of beginning the track with a return to metal riffs but soon becomes rather progressive with all kinds of guitar antics whizzing around like a decapitated beast in the throes of battle. It continues with funk, blues, metal and slinks around like a caffeinated cobra in a tent filled with vermin

“Twig 7” (3:23) continues as slow creepy echo guitar with some pick slides for extra tension. It picks up steam but remains dark and mysterious until it erupts into metal riffs with some funk chords thrown in and then solo time! Towards the end the different guitar styles play together and then plays chameleon again often

“Twig 8” (4:19) continues as a heavy stomping riff monster with the same cheesy drums but then turns into a solo and then changes into the echo guitar thing and then changes again and again and again! This one is nice as it changes the melodies, the tempos, dynamics and everything

“Twig 9” (4:21) continues as a heavy metal rocker with those same cheese drums and i think you can safely assume by now that things change it up and often! And you would be correct to do so and this last segment of the “Twig” tales predictable follows the unpredictable with all the usual suspects juxtaposed into twisted tales of sonicity.

This is the type of album i love most by BH as he displays his guitar playing skills and why he is in the top of his game however this one has particularly annoying drum machine percussion that really needed some attention paid to the dynamics and playing for that matter since the guitar parts are well executed as is the bass with some creative tricks oozing out as well. My favorite type of BH style PIKE but not balanced enough to get the highest honors

PURE WRATH Ascetic Eventide

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Indonesia musician Januaryo Hardy is not someone whose music I have personally encountered before, but it seems that even at just twenty-three years old at the time of writing that he's already built up a quite impressive CV within the scene of brutal death metal. He is a member of the groups Cadavoracity (playing bass and doing drum programming) and Omnivorous (doing vocals) and has a solo project within the style as well, Perverted Dexterity. He also has a number of mixing and mastering credits to his name, mostly for fellow Indonesian artists (he is the owner of Insidious Soundlab).

Hardy's latest musical venture of his own is a second solo project. It may carry the rather corny and angry sounding moniker of Pure Wrath, a name that kinda implies something in the ballpark of his other work, or at least something quite violent sounding, but the cover art of debut album Ascetic Eventide (2017) alone should be enough to tell prospective listeners that this project marks a departure from the brutal death metal pastures of his other groups. The artwork brings mind to nature themed black metal acts such as Winterfylleth and Saor and that's exactly the kind of music the album contains: Januaryo Hardy has released his first attempt at an atmospheric black metal album.

I say attempt, but really that sells what Januaryo Hardy has created a bit short, as Ascetic Eventide is quick to show that it's a stunning debut record for the Pure Wrath project. Hardy shows that he's very adept at creating excellent atmospheric black metal right off the bat with the opening Colourless Grassland and then continues to deliver across a further five tracks. Expect in addition to traditional atmospheric black metal guitar rhythms some use of folk elements, haunting piano parts and ambient sound effects that really promote the whole naturalistic vibe. The formula isn't changed up all that much across the six tracks but at forty-three minutes the total length of the album is about right for it to work very well at being something the listener can lose themselves in for a time. The highpoint for me personally though is the closing track, Between Water and Winds. Here, Pure Wrath goes all out and ends up creating a mini-masterpiece of the genre.

You'd think that Hardy had spent all his time creating atmospheric black metal rather than the very different style of brutal death metal based on Ascetic Eventide. The album sees me coming away with the thought that it's one of 2017's most surprising gems of the atmospheric black metal genre. I'm definitely eager to hear more from this project now.

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GIGAN The Order of the False Eye

Album · 2008 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 2 ratings
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After emerging from the chaotic primeval lava pools that spawned other surreal metal mayhem in the form of pioneer bands like Gorguts, Mithras, Portal and Deathspell Omega, the power trio who adopted the name GIGAN, the prime nemesis that made Godzilla have very, very bad days, released their debut EP “Footsteps Of Gigan” but quickly followed up the following year with their first full length album “THE ORDER OF THE FALSE EYE” on Napalm Records. This band is a power trio from Tampa, FL who can deliver a massive inundation of chaotic sound that gets lumped into the world of technical death metal mostly due to the usual death metal techniques such as insane growling vocals accompanied by heavy distortion all gussied up with palm muting, tremolo picking and the ubiquitous blast beat percussive drives however GIGAN have found a way to merge these aggressive extreme metal attributes into the surreal world of psychedelia with traces of electronica and drone noises to paint a surreal sonicscape upon which to display their extreme metal creations.

The trio consists of the seasoned veterans left-handed guitarist / bassist and founder Eric Hersemann (Diabolic, Hate Eternal), Randy Piro (vocals, guitars, theremin) and Danny Ryan (drums and percussion.) The music heard on “THE ORDER OF THE FALSE EYE” is the type of surreal metal madness that could drive the uninitiated utterly mad as the unrelenting noisefest is the name of the game only to be broken by periods of oscillating electronic pulses that seem to be the driving underpinning of the intergalactic journey and lyrical fascinations that GIGAN takes us on not dissimilar to the 21st century thrash metal kings Vektor. The opener “Undead Auditory Emanations” displays GIGAN’s full metal regalia displayed in relentless pummeling riffs and blast beats trading off with technical jazz drumming wizardry in strange new ways that keep the pace fast and driving with snarling angry vocals and Hersemann’s unique spastic guitar slides and technical bass workouts.

“THE ORDER OF THE FALSE EYE” is one of those albums that didn’t win me over upon a listen or two. No way. This one required a multitude of listens to allow its abrasive nature to percolate under my skin and only after nailing my attention span to the wall did it at last penetrate into my consciousness. This is not an album of catchy riffs or predictable song structures in any way, shape or form. This cacophony is almost formless in nature with only a solid rhythmic pulsation driving the music from beginning to end which finds itself most noticeable with the non-metal segments utilizing electronica and theremin sounds to create an ambient and oscillations of noise. Likewise the aggressive nature of the extreme metal simply flows over these underlying elements and creates a very bizarre stream of consciousness to say the least. Call it no wave metal if you will.

Upon first listen it does come off that the tracks don’t have enough variation to them but dig beneath the surface and it’s quite the opposite. While tracks do sound quite similar in the dynamics and tempos on display, the compositions actually have quite the variation of mangled and jarring progressively laced death metal riffs that have a blackened veneer with a psychedelic frosting which occasionally emerges from the din to send the listener into a pacified trance before the pummelation of the extreme metal once again arises from the abyss. This album consists of eight vocal tracks that are indeed quite similar in stylistic appearances but offer different glimpses into their psychedelic take on extreme metal and consist of 2/3 of the album. The final ninth untitled track is a 21 minute plus sprawling surreal metal fantasy instrumental which focuses on the pulsating electronics and abrasive guitar weirdness with lots of sliding and alienating licks while the drums exhibit periods of techy jazz outbursts and many moments of simple rhythm maintenance. This album was a hard one to win me over but it finally has and remains one of the absolute strangest of the strange in the extremities of surreal technical metal. Highly recommended for adventurous listeners who love to hear things that they had never even considered possible.

FLOOR Loanin' / Figbender

Single · 1993 · Doom Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Floor started their career in the year 1993, releasing their debut single 'Loanin'' to the local Miami music scene. What this particular song and it's B-side 'Figbender' presented was an unprecedented brand of heaviness, one that I believe remains unparalleled today. While not nearly as professionally mixed as their 2002 debut, a factor that greatly contributed to the massive sound and really allowed them to tune it down farther, what this particular single still shows a prototype of what Floor would come to be acclaimed for. Shrieking, dying-animal like screams (granted which got much more clean in the future),spine-crushingly heavy riffs, and the occasional tortured whine of guitar feedback. If this is what you got and you weren't expecting it, I just don't know what to tell you. A one Clint Sutton appears as the gargantuan skin-slammer on this record, but he was replaced with Jeff Sousa a year or two after this release. Either way, Floor shows that it still acted as an extremely cohesive unit even in their earliest days.

OPETH Morningrise

Album · 1996 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 82 ratings
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Opeth’s sophomore effort was released by Candlelight Records in June of 1996. It follows the groundwork laid by the debut, “Orchid”, and is very similar in style and sound. Basically, the same four musicians - Mikael Akerfeldt (vo/g), Peter Lindgren (g), Anders Nordin (dr), and Johan De Farfalla (bass) returned to Unisound Studios with Dan Swano as producer once again. As a year had passed between the recording and the release of “Orchid”, the band had already begun work on the material that would eventually surface on “Morningrise”.

Stylistically, both albums employ the same approach of composing songs of ten minutes’ length or more with the melodic heavy guitar riffs punctuated by acoustic guitar interludes and hoarsely screamed death vocals that occasionally permit clean vocal contributions. The songs tend to be more like journeys with the music of each song usually moving on to new territory rather than revisiting early riffs and melodies. The two differences that stand out the most for me is first that “Orchid” came with two short instrumental tracks while “Morningrise” instead delivers a 20-minute epic in “Black Rose Immortal” and the other is that the echoing reverb on the guitars of “Orchid” has been almost wholly dispensed with here. This reduced reverb makes the production sound cleaner and a bit more up to date as I felt “Orchid” came across more like a mid-eighties recording.

As with its predecessor, the songs on “Morningrise” follow a similar pattern of heavy-acoustic-heavy-acoustic so closely that you can almost set your watch to when the first acoustic break is going to come up. However, one subtle difference that I felt I picked up on is that “Orchid” tends more towards a simple and often sparse Mediaeval style most of the time while on “Morningrise”, it sounds to me as though the guitarists were more willing to let some beauty stand out front their plucking. As such, I found during my latest listen to the album that some acoustic parts offered more to enjoy. At first, a song like “The Night and the Silent Water” seemed over-burdened with acoustic passages but now I feel they serve their purpose more than I had first supposed. The final stretch of this song, from the 7:34 mark, reminds me a lot of Anathema’s “Alternative 4” and the final repeated guitar riff also brings to mind the 1970 album by T.2. “It’ll All Work Out In Boomland”, which I read that Mikael has in his drastically enormous record collection.

One of the things I like about this line-up of Opeth is that the bass guitar is often given a bit of spotlight time. Sometimes it takes a lead role over the acoustic guitars as in parts of “Advent” and other times the electric guitars just stop for a moment while the bass continues with the riff for a couple of bars. You can hear this at the 3:12 mark in “Nectar”. Another thing I noticed once again is how the two rhythm guitars will play harmonized riffs with one guitar playing a simple riff while the other follows the riff but with more emphasis on melody, utilizing other notes in the chords. Both albums feature this kind of melodic riffing and it shows that this death metal band are not content to simply churn out searing riffs for the sake of speed or sonic brutality.

The centrepiece of this five-track album is the epic number, “Black Rose Immortal”. This song receives a lot of praise from Opeth fans with one review stating it was the one track that made “Morningrise” worth having. As to be expected, the song is a blend of heavy and melodic metal passages bridged with acoustic sections. I had concerns that this track might not just come off sounding like an extended version of what Opeth had already established as their song-composition style. Interestingly though, I feel this song has more emphasis on the heavier aspect of the band towards the beginning, and then more on the acoustic guitars in the latter half of the song.

Actually, even though this song has failed to impress me as much as it has some reviewers and critics, I cannot deny that it includes some terrific music. There’s a Celtic-inspired riff around three minutes and the lead guitar at around 8:20 sounds like an eighties thrash band with an Iron Maiden influence. At 9:20, the band even reprise the volume dial guitar playing that I enjoyed so much on “The Apostle in Triumph” from “Orchid”. The instrumental sections in this track also carry on for longer, giving them a place in the track as a part of the lengthy composition rather than just a moment of repose before the next heavy segment. My one complaint is that the final minutes of the song go from acoustic stretch to short heavy sprint and then back to acoustic stretch and back to heavy sprint, the song wrapping up rather unexpectedly and unceremoniously with the final riff being reduced to a repeated melody on electric guitar that gradually fades into its own echo.

The true surprise for me is the final track, “To Bid You Farewell”. To start with, it plays through some simple but beautiful acoustic guitar melodies with the bass guitar following the six strings and the drums playing a simple snare drum rim tap. The acoustic guitars continue well beyond the beginning of the vocals and I am left wondering when the dual heavy guitar riffing will suddenly take over. Yet contrary to expectation, around the 2:50 mark and before the vocals come in, the acoustic guitars establish a new melody that begins to make the song sound more like a track from an early seventies folk/rock fusion prog band. This is no surprise as by this time in Mikael’s life, if I understand correctly, he was working in a record shop and his boss had turned him on to all kinds of seventies prog. By 6:11 a dreamy wah-wah guitar enters and we are really into the seventies’ trip. In a way, I almost feel like this was an early Iron Maiden number that never made the debut because “Strange World” took its place instead. At 7:05 the guitars at last become electric and the vocals are double tracked for a harmonized effect. The track wraps up peacefully and it is then that you realize with a degree of astonishment that the death vocals never turned up once!

I had initially pegged “Morningrise” as slightly less interesting than “Orchid” but now I feel both albums are equally strong and to a much lesser degree equally weak though the two don’t share the same weaknesses. These two albums are very different from everything and anything else Opeth would put forward thereafter; however, they do have a lot to offer for the curious music lover. I enjoy them both as the completed first chapter in Opeth’s album history.

AMORPHIS Under The Red Cloud

Album · 2015 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.47 | 17 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Formed in Helsinki in 1990, Amorphis have moved from being a death metal act to one that has incorporated many different styles and textures. A song could be “straight” death metal, but also containing flute, or a rock song could be based around a piano and acoustic guitar, with a low baritone vocal instead of a gruff death growl. So, they have become a band that are masters of many sounds, and in 2015, they kicked off the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’. Although they were touring hard, they kept retuning to the studio to write and record their twelfth album with famed producer Jens Bogren (Soilwork, Kreator etc.) etc.) at his Fascination Street Studio in Örebro. The result of this two-month recording session was once again a heavy, melodic statement, called ‘Under The Red Cloud.’ During the recordings, the sextet was joined by some famous guest musicians: Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie) played flutes on “The Four Wise Ones”, “Death Of A King” and “Tree Of Ages”, Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth) provided percussion on “Death Of A King” while Aleah Stanbridge (Trees of Eternity) sang guest vocals on “The Four Wise Ones”, “Sacrifice” and “White Night”.

The result of a band prepared to experiment, a producer who knows how to capture the best of guys prepared to play loud and hard, plus additional guest musicians, resulted in an album that is very special indeed. It is no surprise to see that they consequently toured with Nightwish and Arch Enemy on the same bill, as they are the perfect link between the two. They always maintain a high level of melody, and move between different genres (often within the same song), so that they can drop from folk metal into melodic death into metal and then even move into something softer if that is where the music takes them.

Released in September 2015, the album was viewed as a great success, with their first ever chart entry in United Kingdom and Australia, as well as their highest ever entries in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. In August 2016, at ‘An Evening With Friends’ at the Helsinki Festival in Huvila, the band performed a very special set list with guest musicians and friends “We were honored to take part in the Helsinki Festival in Huvila, so therefore we wanted to do something special for that particular night,” states guitarist Tomi Koivusaari. “The gig itself happened in a large tent in the very centre of Helsinki on a late summer evening. The Huvila-tent has quite long history, so there was already some excitement in the air beforehand. We wanted to invite some guests to be featured on that show - musicians we already had worked with during these years and musicians we have a huge respect for, so Sakari Kukko, Pekko Käppi and Anneke van Giersbergen joined us on that evening with friends. Originally, Aleah Starbridge was supposed to join as well, as she sang on the ‘Under The Red Cloud’ album, but sadly she passed away before that. It was surely a night to remember!”. These shows are now part of the new tour edition, as the original album »now has two additional bonus songs as well as the live tracks from Helsinki.

The live set starts acoustic guitar, violin, saxophone and piano, and one really does have to stop and realise that this is/was a death metal act. The vocals are certainly not one would expect from a band of that genre. This was a special night, and any time I can listen to Anneke van Giersbergen perform is going to be alright with me! This was already an excellent album, and the additional CD has ensured that those who haven’t already purchased this need to rush out and get it now, if not sooner.


EP · 1991 · Grindcore
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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"Buio Omega" is an EP release by US, Illinois based goregrind act Impetigo. The EP was originally released on 7" vinyl through the The Whisper In Darkness label in 1990. "Buio Omega" bridges the gap between the band´s debut and 2nd full-length studio albums "Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (1990)" and "Horror of the Zombies (1992)". Impetigo were formed in 1987 and released a couple of influential demos in the late 80s. They are often mentioned among the seminal US goregrind acts.

It´s probably wrong to call an act, that is widely considered seminal in their sub genre, generic and lacking an original sound, but that´s more or less how I would describe Impetigo on "Buio Omega". The music, on the 4 track, 10:07 minutes long EP (All tracks were featured in their original versions on "Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (1990)"), is strongly influenced by the early releases by Carcass and I think I hear a couple of nods toward early Napalm Death too. Because of the goregrind image and lyrics Carcass predominantly comes to mind. Impetigo generally have a more humourous B-Horror movie way of writing lyrics which is also obvious from reading song titles like "Dear Uncle Creepy" and "Bitch Death Teenage Mucous Monster From Hell". Although this is undeniably gory and vile, it´s also supposed to be fun (in a bizarre way).

The musicianship are generally sloppy and the material sounds like it´s primarily written for shock value rather than for cathiness or longivity. The sound production makes the music sound muddy, dark, and noisy. The vocals are loud in the mix and vary between unintelligible deep growling, more aggressive intelligible growling, and higher pitched screaming. The pace varies between slow parts and eruptions of blast beat sections. Very noisy and unless you are into this type of goregrind also a bit hard to appreciate. Impetigo may be a seminal act on the US goregrind scene, but they quite frankly sound amaturish and I´m on the verge of calling this a poor release. I´ll settle with a 2 - 2.5 star (45%) rating and recommend that you listen to other US goregrind acts from that era before this one. Acts like Repulsion and Nuclear Death come to mind.

IRON MAIDEN The Soundhouse Tapes

EP · 1979 · NWoBHM
Cover art 3.59 | 12 ratings
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"The Soundhouse Tapes" is the first EP release by UK heavy metal act Iron Maiden. The EP was released through the band´s own label Rock Hard Records in November 1979. The original vinyl version of "The Soundhouse Tapes" was limited to 5000 copies, which were sold by mail order alone. The three tracks featured on the 11:28 minutes long EP ("Iron Maiden", "Invasion" and "Prowler") were originally recorded on New Years Eve of 1978 along with "Strange World" for a demo tape the band used to send to venues to book gigs. Before recording the demo Iron Maiden had a hard time finding gigs, but 1979 proved to be a fruitful year for the band, who played lots of shows and received great responses from the audience. The band were often met with a demand for recorded material by the fans after the shows, and that´s how the idea to release "The Soundhouse Tapes" was born. So the three tracks ("Strange World" was left off the EP, because the band weren´t satisfied with the production values on that particular track) featured on "The Soundhouse Tapes" are actually demos.

"Iron Maiden" and "Prowler" were both re-recorded and included on the band´s 1980 self-titled debut album while "Invasion" was re-recorded and included as a B-side on the "Women in Uniform (1980)" single. Both "Iron Maiden" and "Prowler" appear here in more or less the versions that you´ll hear on the debut album, albeit in more raw sounding and slower paced versions. "Invasion" is slightly less heavy metal oriented and reminds me a bit of early Rush. It´s not as catchy or infectiously aggressive as the other two tracks and it´s obvious why it wasn´t included on the debut album, but chosen as a B-side track on a single instead.

"The Soundhouse Tapes" is ultimately a pretty decent first recording by Iron Maiden although the later more professional studio versions of the tracks sound much better and are also more aggressive due to the higher pace and the more distorted guitar sound. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

ATTOMICA Disturbing the Noise

Album · 1991 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Disturbing the Noise" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Brazilian thrash metal act Attomica. The album was released through Cogumelo Records in 1991. Attomica had temporarily been a four-piece on "Limits of Insanity (1989)", with bassist André Rod also taking on the vocal duties on that album, but on "Disturbing the Noise", Attomica are back in a five-piece constellation again. André Rod solely concentrates on playing bass on this album and new lead vocalist is Fábio Moreira. There´s been a change on the guitarist post too as João Márcio Francis has replaced Pyda Rod as the band´s second guitarist. Besides André Rod, guitarist João Paulo Francis and drummer Mário Sanefuji are the usual suspects in the lineup.

With a different lead vocalist on each of the band´s first three albums, Attomica naturally hadn´t settled on a sound that they could say was their own. The debut features a savage blackened old school thrash metal assault, while "Limits of Insanity (1989)" was a more technically oriented thrash metal album with a very high pitched and monotone vocal style on top. On "Disturbing the Noise" the sound has changed again, and this time around the music is reminiscent of the more aggressive and fast-paced 80s Slayer and especially mid-80s Dark Angel. It´s safe to say that by 1991 that wasn´t exactly the most original thing to play, but Attomica are convincing and deliver their music with both decent skill and passion.

New lead vocalist Fábio Moreira is a pretty standard raw type thrash metal singer with a staccato delivery. he is nothing out of the ordinary, but he gets the job done and compared to the monotone and brain meltingly high pitched vocals by André Rod, he is a 100% upgrade to Attomica´s music. The instrumental performances are raw, unpolished, and reasonably skillfully delivered. Pounding, fast, and powerful drumming, fast-paced thrashy riffing, and some blistering screaming atonal solos, are some of the ingredients in the band´s music. The sound production is raw and powerful and suits the band´s music perfectly.

After the rather weak "Limits of Insanity (1989)", I didn´t have high expectations to the quality of "Disturbing the Noise", but Attomica pull it off pretty great on this one, delivering a quality raw and aggressive thrash metal album and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

OPETH Orchid

Album · 1995 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 72 ratings
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So here we have the very first Opeth album, released by Candlelight Records in 1995 but recorded in the spring of 1994. By the time Opeth hit the studio, none of the founding members remained in the band, the last one, David Insberg, having left two years prior. On the current roster were a young Mikael Akerfeldt (vo/g) who was joined by Peter Lindgren (g), Anders Nordin (dr/piano), and Johan De Farfalla (bass/backing vo ) for the debut.

This album and its successor, “Morningrise”, show Opeth as they never would sound again. Though labeled as death metal with some black metal aspects, Opeth were from their first platter already showing prog tendencies. The songs are mostly over ten minutes and are composed in multiple parts with tempo and meter changes, not to mention the frequent acoustic breaks. I’ll admit here that my knowledge of death metal is rather sparse and lacking and so I did a bit of research, first reading the Wikipedia article on death metal and discovering that I already was familiar with its origins (which as it turns out are close to those of black metal). In the eighties I had in my cassette collection albums by Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Possessed, and it was these bands among others that inspired both the death and black metal movements. To further educate myself, I found a playlist on YouTube with 224 videos of old school death metal and I listened to the first two dozen songs. From those I conclude that early death metal was fast like trash but featured growled, or perhaps more accurately roared, guttural vocals. This matched my loose impression prior to hearing the album. When someone somewhere commented that early Opeth albums were more straightforward death metal, I imagined something like early Gorguts: fast, technical, and brutal.

The guitar sound strikes me as rather primitive for the day. Though we are talking mid-nineties here, the distortion sound, the tone, and the use of delay are similar to albums I picked up in the eighties. The one that comes to mind most readily is an EP by Ruthless. The guitars have a rawness to them and sound a bit high tone compared to the city-leveling, bombastic, full-on distortion whump! of later albums like “My Arms, Your Hearse” and “Blackwater Park”. But the dual guitars play complex and melodic riffs that more than once remind me of Paul Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden. This cannot just be me because I read someone describe the guitar playing as Celtic-influenced and I have read the same appraisal about Iron Maiden.

Rather amazingly, this debut death metal album opens with a 14:10 mini-epic that introduces more than a couple of harmonized dual guitar riffs for the first 2:20 of the song before the vocals finally come in. Around the 3-minute mark the speed picks up, but with more emphasis on slower melodic riffs I feel the music is more akin to early nineties thrash bands like Sacrifice, Slayer, or Annihilator because raw speed has given way to complexity in music and song structure. The first acoustic break comes at 3:48 and get used to it because this is what the band is going to build its career on: frequent acoustic breaks in heavy songs. True to melodic form, the lead guitar parts are not wailing or shredded but exude a taste for style and feeling over volleys of notes.

Three of the next five tracks are all lengthy numbers featuring more melodic riffs, a few speedy sections, some wonderful mid-eighties early death metal heavy riffs, frequent exploitation of acoustic guitars, and some noteworthy bass guitar highlights. There are moments, especially in “The Twilight Is My Robe” when the acoustic passages become frequent to the point of redundancy, I felt at first, the uniqueness and surprise quickly wearing off. However, by the end of the song the quick binges of speedy heavy parts actually seem more like the breaks while the acoustic parts carry the weight of the song.

Throughout these tracks, Mikael’s death growl is harsh and demonic, sounding like his vocal chords are being given a good shredding while the lead guitars eschew shredding altogether and stick to being melodic and emotive. There is still room for some great trad metal guitar moves in places. On the down side, the clean vocals here often sound weak as though they were deemed a necessary part of the songs but no fully adequate singer was available. Mikael would certainly perform clean vocals much better later on down the road.

There are two short instrumental pieces. “Silhouette” is a piano composition by drummer Anders Nordin. It could have been rather pretty but I feel the playing is clunky and graceless. The keys are pounded throughout and the tempo seems ready to derail at inappropriate times. “Requiem” is an acoustic guitar number with bass guitar, and despite the band’s insistence on working in acoustic guitar sections into their songs, this instrumental is unremarkable.

The true highlight of the album for me is in the final track, “The Apostle in Triumph”. Beginning with an upbeat acoustic piece, it sounds like something that might have been an outtake from Led Zeppelin’s third album, hand drums and a restless bass guitar adding to the interest. Then bizarrely, the music fades out and for two seconds there is only silence. Another acoustic composition begins, and you might be wondering here what has happened as “Requiem” was followed by two more acoustic only bits. But “Apostle” is a mighty track of 13 minutes with some ominous guitar riffs and brutal vocals. Much more emphasis goes on the heavy music than on any other track, I presume. At 7:25 a huge surprise is dropped on our cochleae with an instrumental segment that features a guitar that sounds more like a viola. I suspect it is played by adjusting the volume dial but done with such a speed and agility that I would not be surprised to hear another technique had been employed. After the first two listens to this album, this song had cemented itself as my favourite track of the album and one of my top ten favourite Opeth tracks, at least until I acquired more albums when the list had to be expanded to a top 20.

Though Opeth would go on to release many excellent albums later on, this earnest debut, though a little rough in a few spots, establishes the band as more than just another death metal outfit. Rankings of Opeth album usually put “Blackwater Park” or “Ghost Reveries” at the top but at least one list I found has “Orchid” in the number one position.

A more straight forward death album this is not. These four young men produced quite an achievement in their early days as Opeth and set their course for progressive melodic death metal.


Album · 2001 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.59 | 7 ratings
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As far as household names of melodic black metal go, then Norway's Windir is right up there with Sweden's Dissection, arguable the style's pioneer. They were the brainchild of one Terje Bakken, known as Valfar, who started the band in 1994. Windir's is one of the genre's tragic tales though, as in 2004, while journeying to his family's cabin in Fagereggi, Norway, Valfar was caught in a snow storm and never made it. His body was discovered three days later in the Sogndal Valley near the town of Reppastolen, where he had died of hypothermia. He was just 25 years old at the time of his death. Although Windir was only able to exist for a decade, four well regarded full-length albums were produced. The third of these was 1184 (2001), where for the first time Valfar had expanded his project into a full six strong group and switched primarily to English lyrics instead of the Sognamål Norwegian dialect.

Compared to all the other Windir full-length albums, 1184 is also the most unique and experimental one among them. Windir, with their choice of lyrical themes and cover artwork, had the air of Viking/Pagan styling about them but that didn't stop Valfar and company from trying some new things on 1184 that weren't really in context with that, such the use of electronic elements, most notably on the final track Journey to the End. This may somewhat explain why fans are said to have been a bit divided by the album at the time of its release, as compared to the prior Sóknardalr (1997) and Arntor (1999) this one also features some departures, featuring less developed folk ideas and being more in line with the so called Viking metal sound, with some really rich sounding ambient synths being used, which you can hear right away in the opening track Todeswalzer. At its heart though, 1184 remains very much a melodic black metal album, guitar based and lively and even a bit thrashy in some places. I struggle to really follow the vocals of Valfar himself but they're delivered with an infectious sort of energy that makes me instantly dig what the band are doing. I also find that their choice of guest clean vocalist to be an improvement on the first two albums, with Cosmocrator replacing Steinarson.

With albums like 1184 to his name, Valfar left a small but amazing legacy that few melodic black metal acts will ever hope to match. The key tracks on this one for me have to be the epic Destroy, which instantly strikes as an absolute beast of a track, and also Dance of Mortal Lust which is made of the same stuff. The closing Journey to the End is also deserving of another mention as it's the most surprising track, initially starting as a typical Windir song but then at about a third of the way through it changes into ambient/electronic music, which actually displays some really good melodies. It's the kind of moment that makes you sit up and wonder if you really just heard the band do that. It's surprises like this that make, for my money at least, 1184 the best of Windir's four albums. I'd consider this one an absolute essential for anyone with even a small interest in black metal to purchase.

METALLICA Beyond Magnetic

EP · 2011 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 18 ratings
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BEYOND MAGNETIC was released between the excellent DEATH MAGNETIC and HARDWIRED TO SELF DESTRUCT. DEATH MAGNETIC is one of my favorite Metallica albums, but critical consensus varies considerably. Your take on this EP may fall in line with what you think of DEATH MAGNETIC. The sound of BEYOND MAGNETIC is similar to the earlier album; my favorite track here is "Just A Bullet Away". I think "Rebel of Babylon" overstays its welcome.

The musical skills of the band are well documented, so I'll only single out Lars Ulrich. I'm not a musician, but I don't quite understand the disdain normally directed at him. "The Day That Never Comes" and "All Nightmare Long" are enough to convince me that the drummer knows what he's doing. This EP doesn't break new ground but Metallica doesn't need to at this point. On the whole, BEYOND MAGNETIC measures up the usual high standard set by one of the most innovative bands in metal history.

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