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metal music reviews (new releases)


Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Perhaps more than any other extreme metal band on the scene the Rome based Italian band FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE has been the most instrumental in keeping the symphonic branch of death metal in the spotlight and three years after the release of the band’s previous album “King,” returns with a brand spanking new slab of molten technical infused death metal along with the expected piano, choral vocals and operatic symphonic touches. VENENO (Italian for “poison”) is the band’s fifth overall full-length release and it carries on exactly how one would expect, that being an equal rich tapestry of classical music components that scanned the horizons of the past and channeled the compositional fortitude of the masters such as Paganini, Bach, Mozart and whoever else the trio led by Franceso Paoli could incorporate. Of course, for us brutal death metal lovers, it is the bombastic roar of the guitar, bass and drum that created the harsh counterpoints that was the draw with the orchestral parts providing Dr. Jekyll aspect while the Mr. Hyde metal created a neoclassical death metal firestorm.

While VENENO follows suit, what’s instantly noticeable is how the orchestral parts have been tamped down a few notches and take a backseat to the fiery metal fury as heard on the opening “Fury” which completely eschews the long-winded orchestral classical build ups and just gets down to business with heavy crunchy death metal guitar riffs pummeling along at breakneck speed. In fact this is the album that emphasizes the orchestral parts the least of FLESHGOD’s decade long string of albums as they don’t really become a major tour de force until the fifth track “The Praying Mantis’ Strategy” which is a short intermission and respite from the distortion fueled metal that dominated the soundscapes prior with only faint background traces. The symphonic elements carry over to “Worship And Forget” and then slowly retreat to the backdrop again however careful listening reveals that these classical elements are always lurking in the background and the main impetus for constructing the melodic flow, it’s just that on VENENO they are suffocated by the pummeling death metal aspects which gives this album a different feel than its predecessors.

Another aspect that differentiates VENENO from the past is that album hosts a couple of guest musicians with Veronica Bordacchini on vocals and newbie Fabio Bartoletti on more guitars with Francesco Ferrini handling piano and orchestrations, newbie Paoli on vocals, guitars and drums and Paolo Rossi on bass and the sporadic clean vocals that pop up. Once again FLESHGOD creates an album that is graced with the perfect production job that allows the beautiful clean aspects to reverberate perfectly with the filthy raw bombast of the death metal that doesn’t sound too polished. Perhaps it comes off as a little muddy at times, especially in the opening tracks but i think that’s what the band was going for this time around. A full string quartet, a classical percussionist and a Baroque choir provide the symphonic touches and once again seamlessly meld with the death metal. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the album is the closest thing to a ballad the band has ever created in the form of “Pissing On The Score” which starts off as an opera with Veronica Bordacchini’s diva tenor vocal talents taking the lead and then turns into a beauty and the beast duet. The track sounds more like something from Phantom of the Opera and never integrates the death metal. Hmmm… could these be a new phase? If so i don’t like it but it’s not bad as a one off for contrast.

All in all, VENENO is yet another exciting chapter in the FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE universe that continues the band’s now rather infamous mashup of death metal and classical elements and tweaks them into a slightly different sounding album. VENENO is by no means going to win over any fans who have already fled the growly vocal fueled bombast of the death metal paradigm but neither will it offend those who have already signed up for the fan club. VENENO delivers all the expected goods and despite a feeling of the recycled riffs and overall feel of been there done that, VENENO cranks out enough spontaneity to keep my interest while retreading the rather lonely niche of performing extreme bombastic death metal with a full symphonic orchestra integrated. The performances on VENENO are top notch and although the ballad is the one track i could live without, the album is chock full of beautiful melodies and ugly brutality all swirled together like a copulating yin yang sign at the circus and for me that’s good enough. While the actual album ends with the Chopin inspired title track which is mostly a piano workout, some albums include two bonus tracks including the Rammsteain cover of “Reise Reise” which is quite an interesting take on the German industrial band’s 2004 song from the album of the same name. VENENO is yet another great album from FLESHGOD!


Album · 2019 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 2 ratings
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Perhaps Arctic Thunder was just something Darkthrone had to get out of their system - a necessary creative purging before moving on to this. Old Star sounds much more like the followup to The Underground Resistance that a lot of us were expecting than Arctic Thunder does. Whereas the latter album felt more like "blackened heavy metal" than a full-on black metal release, this time around Darkthrone deliver up black metal with a strong influence from the genre's roots in thrash (via Bathory or Venom) and traditional heavy metal (via Mercyful Fate), with more of an emphasis on the thrash this time than on Arctic Thunder. I wouldn't put it above The Underground Resistance, which I consider to be the pinnacle of Darkthrone's current sound, but it's pretty damn good in its own right.

BEAST IN BLACK From Hell With Love

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Right after the departure from his former band Battle Beast, Beast In Black’s founder Anton Kabanen recruited new companions in the way of high-pitched vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos (Wardrum), bassist Mate Molnar (WISDOM), guitarist Kasperi Heikkinen (U.D.O.) and last but not least drummer Atte Palokangas (Thunderstone), who officially replaced Sami Hänninen in early 2018. Their debut, ‘Berserker’ was well received, and now they are back with the follow-up, ‘From Hell With Love’. With a similar name to his last band, as well as the cover artist who worked on the debut Battle Beast album, ‘Steel’, Kabanen is making sure everyone knows he is following in a similar vein of symphonic power metal. Some of these songs, or at least bits of the songs, are really very good indeed and show just what is possible, but as for the rest…

Okay, let’s agree to just take the keyboards out the back and put them in a crusher. There are just way too many Eighties sounds and styles for my brain to process and as for the beginning of “True Believer”, if anyone remembers “Popcorn” by Hot Butter and thought we never hear the like again, well you were wrong. As for the synth drum roll in the same song, combine this with the over the top sugar harmonies and I felt not only was I in a timewarp but I was about to be very ill. I keep reading rave reviews of this album so guess I’m in the minority again, but I know this will never again desecrate my eardrums.

OVERKILL The Wings Of War

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 4 ratings
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"The Wings Of War" is the 20th full-length studio album by US, New York based thrash/heavy metal act Overkill. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in February 2019. It´s the successor to "The Grinding Wheel" from 2017 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as drummer Ron Lipnicki has been replaced by Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall, Anthrax, Toxik, Flotsam and Jetsam).

"The Wings Of War" pretty much continues the energetic and raw thrash/heavy metal style of "The Grinding Wheel (2017)" (and the style on quite a few albums before that one), with hard edged thrash/groove/heavy metal riffs, blistering solos, and a strong playing rhythm section. It´s sharp, it´s raw, and it´s powerful. The icing on the cake is as always the rusty "fuck you" attitude loaded vocals by lead vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth. His voice is like listening to nails put through a grinder but at the same time he is able to put enough melodic hooks and catchy phrases into the songs, to always keep a good balance between the raw and the more accessible.

There´s little out of the ordinary featured on "The Wings Of War" but all tracks are of a relatively high quality. Highlights include the opener "Last Man Standing", the heavy groove laden "Distortion", and the fast-paced and energetic "Welcome to the Garden State", but all tracks are pretty much of an equal quality and catchiness. The band are as usual incredibly well playing and obviously very passionate about what they do, and that´s one of their greatest assets.

Upon conclusion "The Wings Of War" is yet another high quality release by Overkill and I´m still amazed that they can continue to produce music of this quality, keeping in mind this is their 20th full-length studio album. There have been small ups and downs in quality over the years, but they are more or less the definition of solidity. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DEATH ANGEL Humanicide

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When the title track kicks off the album one starts to wonder if they are in the right place, as it is incredibly Maidenesque, but soon the interplay stops and the guitars are being riffed and again we are exactly where Death Angel want us to be, deep in the world of thrash. This is serious thrash metal, with loads going on with the carpal tunnel guitars, but just listen to Damien Sisson and what he is doing with the bass. He is providing counter melodies, nuances here and there, while at others he is firmly locked in with drummer Will Carroll to provide the heartbeat and foundation of the band. Simply put, this opening five minutes in some of the finest thrash one will ever come across, from a band who have been together in one form or another since 1982!

The guys jut refuse to let up from here on in, and although I loved their last album ‘The Evil Divide’ there is no doubt this one has seen them lift it to a new level. Each song contains real intensity and desire, as they show there is still real venom and passion in all they do. Here is a band who have stuck to their roots and have brought something which reminds me in many ways of Testament’s ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ in the way that it shows a classic band taking the movement to a new level. This is class from start to finish, with hooks, anthemic choruses, even the use of a piano, as they strive to drive the genre onwards and upwards.

Death Angel were there at the very beginning and show no signs whatsoever of slowing down or throwing in the towel. This isn’t a band who are going to keep touring the world living on past glories, but are creating new glories for a whole new generation of fans. Superb.

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YOB Elaborations of Carbon

Album · 2002 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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The chiefly British slang term YOB refers to a rowdy, aggressive or even violent young man but in the musical world of metal it refers to the Eugene, Oregon based band that was founded in 1996 by vocalist / guitarist and band leader Mike Scheidt who would undergo a few lineup changes over the two decade plus career that is still going strong. Crafting a sound that fits perfectly with the bad boy moniker, YOB has been instrumental in creating a unique fusion of the triumvirate of traditional doom, stoner and sludge metal with the extra elements of psychedelic space rock and occasional progressive elements.

After a short eponymous EP released in 2000, the band signed to 12th Records in Spokane, WA and recorded and released this debut ELABORATIONS OF CARBON which finds the trio of Mike Scheidt (vocals, guitar), Lowell Iles (bass) and Gabe Morley (drums) cranking out a stomping slo-mo stampede of metal fury that delivers an abundance of slow plodding doom ridden guitar riffs with all the peachy fuzzies of an entire orchard decked out with an interesting decorative display of creativity in action. The album contains only six tracks that stretch out just over the 70 minute mark with the monstrously long “Revolution” sneaking over the 17 minute mark and the insomnia inducing “Asleep In Samsara” which is just shy of 17. This is a band in no hurry as the members nonchalantly exhibit their miscreancy in high decibalage.

Through this parade of darkened thick doom riffs that plod along in a detuned defiance, YOB creates the ultimate paradox of hypnotic repetition and head banging uproar and includes Black Sabbath darkened doom, Neurosis infused slamming sludge and Sleep inspired stoner steadfastness. Scheidt’s vocals almost sound like a higher version of Ozzy Osbourne’s nasal articulations as well as some of the riffs imitating the great Tony Iommi’s. Between riffing rampages however there are often slower less distorted segments that exhibit an atmosphere setting sometimes with vocals spoken or sung and sometimes just an instrumental interlude with clean echoey guitars to cleanse the palette of the grimy build up of the incessant chug-fest. Sometimes it just gets truly weird in a psychedelic haze.

While YOB is much better known for its more sophisticated albums to come, ELABORATIONS OF CARBON is nevertheless a decent beginning and although it lacks the production value of the Abstract Sounds years, it more than makes up for it in the DIY rawness of a primeval metal band getting its feet muddy in the mucky murky sludge and at this point YOB already had a firm grasp on its evolution and doesn’t sound like the legions of stoner rock / metal bands that exploded onto the scene in the 90s and beyond. YOB is certainly not a technical type of band but rather provides a viscous soundscape as to get lost in even if it at times its brutality is as heavy as hell especially heard on outrageous bombastic tracks such as “Pain of I” which sounds like an early Neurosis having a hissy fit. All in all, an awesome debut that points the band in the right direction!

XUL Malignance

Album · 2012 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 3 ratings
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The metal universe continues to evolve and then splinter off into new sub-genera but then these distinct styles often cross-pollinate and a completely new distinct style emerges from the unholy union. There’s power this, symphonic that and then voila symphonic power metal! Well, same thing happened with black and death metal. While early death metal bands were distinguishing themselves from thrash, bands like Sweden’s Dissection were adding the blackened elements of Bathory and Mayhem to their punishing death metal compositions and a new (unofficial) genre was gestated into existence. Even within the blackened death metal scene there are two distinct styles. There’s the fusion where the black metal elements reign supreme and this style is referred to as war metal (also war black metal or bestial black metal) and the other being melodic black death.

Of the most recognizable blackened death metal bands of the melodic variety in the noughts has been Poland’s Behemoth whose distinct tirade of black metal suddenly crossed over into death metal turf starting with its 1999 album “Satanica” and continued rampantly up to 2009’s “Evangelion.” Another distinguished band that has perfectly mastered the Behemoth sound of this era and made it their own is the Vernon, British Columbia based XUL, whose name is a dead give away as to its primary influence is as the moniker is derived from the title which is a track off of Behemoth’s landmark 2005 album “Demigod” which featured the bands most aggressive and technical vital performances of its career before slowly drifting elsewhere due to Nergal’s health problems. XUL is one of those bands that REALLY delivers the goods with its 2012 debut album MALIGNANCE. The album was originally self-released and then found a much more fitting remastered re-release in 2015 on Redefining Darkness Records complete with completely different cover art.

XUL formed in the backwoods of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada in 2008 with the lineup of Marlow Deiter (bass), Lowell Winters (drums), Wallace Huffman (guitar), Bill Ferguson (guitar, vocals) and Levi Meyers (vocals). XUL deliver a no nonsense style of bombastic blackened death metal much like Behemoth dished out on “Demigod” with all the rampaging energetic drive, outstandingly sharp dueling guitars with sizzling uncompromising riffs and melodic squeal laden solos. The bass and drums provide the frenetic rhythm section with a ferocity reserved only for the most ambitious adrenaline seekers making to Possessed’s “Seven Churches” or the albums from Dissection as well as the aforementioned Behemoth era. The vocal rage of Meyers is a dead ringer of Neural at his most blackened and deathly and although the Behemoth comparisons convey a lot of the band’s overarching goal, XUL succeeds and sounding like more than a mere Behemoth clone. The compositions are similarly structured but engage more melodic bursts of rhythmic drive and frequent calming down effects of acoustic guitar segments.

The original 2012 album contained eight tracks but the remastered 2015 re-released offered the bonus track “Venomous Inquisition” which was re-recorded from the demo. All the tracks are monstrous powerhouses with none really standing out over the others. The flow of the album is as debilitating as the best of the old school death metal classics and the musicianship is as good as it gets. The melodic touches keep the tracks accessible but this is some of the most brutal sort of death metal you can experience however the blackened touches definitely give this a raw and underground feel. I’ve experienced both the original album as well as the remastered second coming and the newer one is definitely of a more professional production quality without sounding too polished. For anyone who loves the relentless blackened death metal of Behemoth’s “Demigod” era, then this will be right up your alley. It’s almost like the album they never released and redone by a band in another dimension. Faithful yet not a complete clone. Personally i love this sound. It’s catchy and dramatic for the entire ride.

DARKTHRONE Arctic Thunder

Album · 2016 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 7 ratings
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The Underground Resistance saw Darkthrone adopt a sort of "blackened heavy metal" approach, combining their usual grim darkness with juicy riffs reminiscent of the more hard-edged 1980s traditional heavy metal bands. It was pretty good too - a sort of return to the first wave of black metal's approach, with the lessons learned from subsequent decade to hand to add spice.

Arctic Thunder, however, doesn't succeed quite so well. The heavy metal dial is turned up even further, the black metal is dialled back a bit but for the vocals, and perhaps worst of all, whilst the music is entertaining enough, it's not more than that. The overall experience is a bit like sitting in on a practice session of your buddy's band who play in his garage and drink beer and tend to drink a bit more beer than they play actual music and are cool with that, but do a decent job of turning out the material and might have done something more interesting with their talents had they applied themselves.

It's not a bad album, mind - it's fun when you're in the right mood for it - but we know that Darkthrone can do better, even in this general style. Three and a half stars, on the verge of losing that half star at that.

THE PLADS Domine Deus

EP · 1983 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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THE PLADS was an oddball band for the early 1980s. This Ketchikan, Alaska based act with little to no information to be found, strangely seems to have started off as a new wave / power pop act and released a single titled “Calling Girls” in 1982 before adopting a more heavy metal styled approach without actually leaving the new wave aspects behind. The result was a strange musical hybrid of two completely different styles of music that existed side by side but never cross-paths except as separate distinct videos on MTV.

The band’s only release was the 1983 EP 7” vinyl release DOMINE DEUS which displayed classic NWOBHM elements such as on the excellent “Domine Deus” while some tracks like “Amen” sounded more like metallic versions of Oingo Boingo songs complete with the Danny Elfman goofy voice antics. What the album lacks in stylistic consistency, it more than makes up for in super catchy hooks and nails both the metal styles as well as the new wave ones. Despite the NWOBHM tag that many put on this though, the music isn’t really heavy enough to be considered bona fide metal and by today’s standards is really just hard rock with new wave tendencies.

The overall quality of the music is really good and the band had a knack for ridiculous catchy hooks with the musical talent to back it up. Unfortunately the band disappeared nearly as quickly as it emerged like the misty fog that blankets Southeastern Alaska. This sole release has never seen a reissuing and remains an underground obscurity and commanding hefty prices for any copies that happen to end up on the market. This is definitely one i would love to see re-released with any bonus tracks that may still be lurking in the shadows. A real gem actually.


EP · 2013 · Deathcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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AWAKEN ANTAGONIST is a band that formed in 2011 in Fairbanks, Alaska and has only so far released this one 2013 self-titled EP and a full-length follow up in 2017 titled “Shepherd of Plagues.” The lineup of Tyler Martin (vocals), Kris Larson (drums), Jesse Gill (guitar), Sean Pederson (guitar), Jacob Marcy (bass, vocals) and Mark Redinius (bass) has remained steady ever since.

This band skirts and often blurs the line between deathcore and melodic death metal. On the deathcore side of the equation, the bombastic focus is on the breakdowns and blastbeats and on the melodic death metal side there are beautiful guitar harmonies with melodic flows that keep the whole thing accessible. Lots of guitar chugging as well that has some thrash elements at times. Lyrics are grunted, shouted, spoken and also are growled in the typical death metal fashion.

Along with the core and death elements, there is also a groove element and an occasional atmospheric backdrop that adds some contrast. Basically AWAKEN ANTAGONIST is a little more varied than the average deathcore artist and this eponymous EP debut is quite the catchy little compilation of four tracks. The band makes use of staccato patterns, palm muting and while the melodic elements provide a hook, they are buried beneath the frenetic barbarity of the heavier aspects.

Deathcore is a style of metal that is very hit and miss for me but AWAKEN ANTAGONIST certainly found the right recipe for an interesting mix of different strains of extreme metal. While often debut EPs only serve as a mere demo for the full-album to follow, this one is a completely different set of tracks and is the perfect gateway drug into this rare example of an extreme metal band coming from the frosty northern regions of the US in the Alaskan city of Fairbanks.

DEATH ANGEL The Evil Divide

Album · 2016 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
For those unaware of their history, Death Angel were formed back in 1982 in San Francisco, and at one time every member of the band was a blood relative. Lead guitarist Rob Cavestany is the only person still there, and when he formed the band, he was only 14! Lead singer Mark Osegueda didn’t join until a few years later, but the two of them have appeared on every Death Angel release. They will probably always be best remembered for their 1987 debut ‘The Ultra-Violence’ and their third album, ‘Act III’, but Death Angel are one of those bands who don’t know what it is like to release a bad album. Apparently, they are seen as an influence by Metallica, shame we can’t say the same for those guys.

Second guitarist Ted Anguilar joined when the band reformed in 2001, while the rhythm section of Damien Sisson (bass), Will Carroll (drums) both joined in 2009, so by the time of this 2016 album they already had plenty of road miles plus some albums behind them. Guys, the word for the day is “thrash”, which has been associated with these guys throughout their whole career and they see no reason at all to change tack now. In 2018 I was fortunate enough to see these guys support Sepultura, and for me they were the band of the night. Old favourites were aired alongside numbers from this album such as opener “The Moth”, and they certainly stood up well among the likes of “Thrashers”. They know how to slow it down, such as on “Father of Lies” where there is a delicate and restrained bridge and guitar solo, but this is all about thrash metal and putting the hammer down, and when they do there are few who can touch them.

They may not have reached the heights of bands they inspired, but they have stayed true to the faith and this is yet another great example of Death Angel showing everyone they are still here and are refusing to go away, and if they want to use acoustic guitar to provide an emphasis they will!


Album · 2015 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 7 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Roope Latvala of Finnish thrash metal band Stone joined Children of Bodom in 2003, after guitarist Alexander Kuoppala decided to leave. This was the only line-up change since the band changed their name from Inearthed back in 1997, but prior to the recording of this album in 2015, Latvala also left. Instead of trying to get someone else into the band in time for the album, it was instead recorded as a quartet for the first time. Given that all these guys were playing together for at least the last 18 years, and drummer Jaska W. Raatikainen and singer/guitarist Alexi "Wildchild" Laiho formed that band back in 1993, the loss of one member doesn’t seem to have phased them too much.

It was back in 2003 when I first came across the band. I had missed out on their first three albums, but ‘Hate Crew Deathroll’ and the opening cut “Needled 24/7” was an immediate hit with me. As for their version of “Oops I Did It Again” (which can be found on their 2009 ‘Skeletons In The Closet’), it is simply awesome and even my kids enjoyed hearing that one in the car. For some reason I don’t think their take on melodic death or melodic black metal has ever really gained the plaudits and attention it should have (although in fairness I do live at the other end of the world and music press is limited, to say the least). This is technical music, incredibly tight with very high note density, and keyboards that may be sat at the back providing a symphonic curtain for the music to be placed against or can be taking the lead in a very metallic manner.

These four guys basically grew up together, firstly in the same small community in Finland, and then on the road together and it shows. This is music which relies totally on everyone knowing their place and combining together to create something special. Laiho may not have another guitarist to play against but he can either trade licks with himself or Janne Warman who is always there when he needs him. I have to smile each time I play “Hold Your Tongue” as it reminds me so much of Slipknot in one sense, and not at all in another.

Melodic, metallic, over the top yet with commerciality, Children of Bodom are still one of the top acts from Finland and this shows why.

AVANTASIA Ghostlights

Album · 2016 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.29 | 10 ratings
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Kev Rowland
OK, I admit it, I’m a sucker for Tobias Sammet and his side-project Avantasia. I’m not the only one either, as he always manages to bring in loads of other names to help him out. Given he is a singer of some repute it is always interesting to see who else comes along to give him a hand, and here we see the likes of Geoff Tate, Dee Snider, Michael Kiske, Bob Catley, Jørn Lande and others. He has developed his own style of symphonic rock, which owes more to Magnum than any other single band, yet what threw me here was the opening song, “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose”, which immediately put us straight into the world of Jim Steinman, even down to the female backing vocals. From here on in it is an interesting ride as his take on symphonic, overblown and even Wagnerian metal links closely with Steinman, never losing the Magnum ties but also bringing in more than a hint of Nightwish.

This is a man whose first two albums under this name were called operas, and the fourth was a symphony, so it has always been plain to his listeners as to what inspires him and drives him on. Somehow he has managed to keep both careers going, as while this 2016 release was a follow-up to 2013’s ‘The Mystery of Time’, there was an Edguy album in between (2014’s ‘Space Police’), and here in 2019 he shows no sign at all of slowing down just yet. Highlight for me is the final song on the album, the delicate and wonderful “A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies”. With an introduction which could have come from ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’, Bob Catley takes the first verse with aplomb, and when Tobias joins in then we are taken into a Magnum classic. Tobias may sing the second verse, but this sounds as if it was written for Catley, one of the truly great singers of our time (when he recorded this, he was in his late Sixties!). I can listen to this one song all day, as two singers combine together to take Magnum in a different more symphonic direction, and I love it.

BATUSHKA Litourgiya

Album · 2015 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 3 ratings
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Times have certainly changed. Black metal emerged from the underground world in the 1980s with the first signs of life coming to fruition with bands like Bathory and Mayhem engaging in a rather misanthropic rage with a vehement emphasis on anti-Christianity. The genre quickly became known as the Satanic section at the metal supermarket but as soon as the full swing of the 90s second wave hit, bands were beginning to experiment with varying supplemental sounds and subject matter which even resulted in the ultimate paradox of Chrirstian black metal dubbed “unblack metal” first attempted by Australia’s Horde and while it would take a few years for the process to fully unfold, by the 2000s there would be as many atmospheric blackened metal bands lamenting about Paganism and ecology as there were those still engaged in the occult and black arts.

Samples from traditional Christian liturgical sounds in black metal also extends way back to the 90s when bands like Ulver juxtaposed orthodox Gregorian chants within the tapestry of the fury and bombast of black metal and once the flood gates were opened it seems that every black metal act since has been trying to find a way to make the darkness and the light dance together with some results better than others. While perhaps France’s Deathspell Omega has proven the most successful in integrating these chants into the darkened bleakness of bantering buzzsaw guitar metal, another band that has successfully integrated the two aspects surely has to be Poland’s Батюшка (BATUSHKA) whose debut album Литургия (Litourgiya) found the perfect recipe for a steady stream of Russian Orthodox Church litanies wrapped up in the usual black metal suspects of distorted tremolo guitar picking, blastbeats and raspy no fucks given vocal bantering.

While the band has split into two separate entities in recent years, this early version began in Białystok, Poland in 2015, a city that straddles the border of Poland and Belarus and contains as many ethnic Russians, Belarussians, Jews and other minorities as it does Poles. The city has always been a crossroads of sorts for immigrants and in the region has been exposed to a wide variety of traditions. BATUSHKA which consisted of Krzysztof Drabikowski [aka Христофоръ] (guitar, bass, vocals), Bartłomiej Krysiuk [aka Варфоломей] (vocals), Marcin Bielemiuk [aka Мартин] (drums) created a style of music with a passion that lay in the realms of black metal however found that the Eastern Orthodox liturgical music shared many characteristics with the more modern antithesis and set out to fuse the two as had never been successfully amalgamated before. The result was the bands debut Литургия (Litourgiya) which literally translates as “Liturgy.”

LITOURGIYA is a musical statement of contrasts. A Polish band chanting in Russian. Orthodox Christian liturgies surrounded by the suffocating subversiveness of the fiery fury of black metal. A sense of ancient timelessness in cohorts with a style of music that is clearly rooted in the modern era. While this sounds like a recipe for disaster and to be honest it really could go down in flames in so many ways, BATUSHKA carry it off with relative ease. In fact, BATUSHKA make it sound downright natural and makes you wonder why someone else hasn’t pulled this miraculous hybrid off sooner. The album consists of eight tracks with each titled “Ектения (Yekteniya)” which means “Litany” followed by a subtitle. The album begins with the dominant forces of the Christian liturgical sounds with the black metal taking a back seat and slowly ramps up the black metal dominance as the album plays on. The contrast between the clean vocal chants and raspy black metal screams trade off perfectly with each side of the equation holding its ground throughout the album’s 41 minute run.

When all is said and done the mysterious BATUSHKA represents a new paradigm within the black metal world and one that is the antithesis to its one-sided origins. The demonstrative efforts presented display the fertile cross-pollinating abilities that continue to emerge in the once one-trick pony metal sub-genre and the best thing of all is that the metal aspects of the album are in no way compromised for the sake of what may sound like a gimmicky side show. Perhaps my only complain is that the album does seem to resonate as a little samey as it plays on with the same metal riffs reemerging track after track but in the end this is a brilliant slice of black metal vs Christian liturgical chanting in the ultimate musical death match ever and in a day when it’s harder to stand out from the pack than ever before, it’s actually quite the accomplishment.

THY CATAFALQUE Sublunary Tragedies

Album · 1999 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
THY CATALFALQUE has been going strong now for over 20 years and continues to find new refreshing ways to reinvent itself with each subsequent album but yet retains a distinct avant-garde style that sounds like no other. The project is basically the artistic endeavors of Tamás Kátai (vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass) who has led the project through the decades with an ever-changing cast of guest musicians however János Juhász (guitar, bass) was also considered a full member during his tenure from 1998-2011. The duo formed THY CATAFALQUE in Makó, Hungary but since then the project has moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. The term CATAFALQUE refers to a decorated platform or framework on which a coffin rests in state during a funeral which is the perfect moniker for this unique darkened band that mixes filthy aggressive black metal with industrial and ambient sounds along with healthy doses of homegrown Hungarian folk.

While Kátai has incrementally increased the sophistication of THY CATALFALQUE and thus earning the project the highest plaudits within the world of extreme metal for its sheer intensity and experimentation, the band began more or less as a second wave black metal band with symphonic and orchestral touches much in the vein of early Emperor only with a unique paprika fueled Hungarian twist that included a touch of the avant-garde. This debut album SUBLUNARY TRAGEDIES displays the band at its rawest and primeval with ferocious black metal riffs engaging in breakneck tremolo picking, explosive blastbeat drumming frenzies all drenched in Hungarian folklore and rhapsodies on fire. While the black metal aspects are perhaps the most fiery and frenetic of the project’s lengthy career, the more diverse elements emerge from the extensive use of keyboards that not only provide the darkened frigid atmospheres but also includes industrial heft as well as danceable electronica.

SUBLUNARY TRAGEDIES is a powerhouse of seven tracks that creates the ultimate Jekyll & Hyde musical scenario. On the black metal side, this is frenetic uptempo fury that is unleashed and sounds like a rabid dog on fire much like the first Possessed album however there are slow contemplative atmospheric brooding sessions as well as middle of the road mid-tempo variations. While the atmospheric black metal tones and timbres are fairly standard, the underpinnings of Hungarian folk music that is infused in the musical scales gives an eerie and exotic flair that allows the compositions to feel more epic than say the standard Darkthrone or Immortal albums. The metal is brutal and raw yet the album comes off as if it were a Bartok sort of classical album in many ways. The two aspects are at war with no clear resolution as to which side actually prevails. It is the dance of darkness and light much like the universe above and around. While the metal stampedes like a standard second wave band from Scandinavia, the time signatures and progressive touches take it somewhere else completely.

While THY CATAFALQUE has become world renowned for the exemplary releases that peaked from “Tűnő Idő Tárlat” to “Rengeteg,” these earlier recordings are just as compelling provided you can appreciate the lo-fi DIY efforts of an ambitious avant-garde black metal band during its nascency. While many metalheads either love the lo-fi no nonsense approach or prefer the more polished sounds of a production job, i actually embrace both sides of the equation. Black metal is one of those genres that can sound really outstanding either way and in the case of THY CATAFALQUE i think that these early lo-fi albums resonate just as well as the slicker accomplishments that followed. After all, it’s the compositional skills that really win me over with this band and in that department THY CATAFALQUE hit the ground running with its unique folk fueled orchestral black metal sound. After all is said and done, i find SUBLUNARY TRAGEDIES to be an outstanding slab of experimental black metal that shouldn’t be missed if you have already checked out the later albums.

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