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UNLEASH THE ARCHERS Apex

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Although I was a little late to the party that is Canadian power metal act Unleash the Archers, only discovering the band through their third full-length album Time Stands Still (2015), it only took that one album for me to rank the group among the acts I consider the most promising out of power metal acts formed (or at least released their first full-length) within the last decade. A storming guitar driven work with some of the most powerful female vocals in the genre from Brittney Slayes, it ended up being my top rated power metal album of 2015, ranking ahead of even Blind Guardian. No small feat, that. Apex (2017) is Unleash the Archers' fourth album. The group has seen a line-up change since Time Stands Still with a bassist switch from Kyle Sheppard to Nikko Whitworth but otherwise the line-up of the previous album remains intact. The album was mixed and mastered by the prolific Jacob Hansen.

If there was one issue that nagged me about Unleash the Archers' previous album Time Stands Still right from the off, it was that despite the strong power metal sound they had and the excellence of their lead singer they still felt the need to throw growling vocals into their music every so often. It's such a common thing to happen now even in genres like power metal that I'm sure there are many listeners that don't even bat an eyelid to hearing growls in these genres and as Unleash the Archers actually started their career as more of a melodic death metal act perhaps it is to be expected that they wouldn't cast off their roots completely, but their presence in this band's music ended up bugging me more than most. Though the growls used by Unleash the Archers weren't exactly disruptive in any way, as they have been for other artists (such as those on French heavy/power metal act Nightmare's The Aftermath (2014)), it really did beg the question of what purpose they were there to serve by that point. The album was a power metal album. Power metal does not typically have or need growling. It is however only testament to the album's strengths that it still ended up the best power metal album of 2015 to my ears.

Fast-forward to Apex. Like it's predecessor it is a power metal album. It also has the exact same problem: growls. It is my impression that there maybe are a few less this time around, but why are they here at all? They certainly don't add any kind of edge to the music. As far as melodic power metal goes Unleash the Archers provide more than enough edge to set them apart from the crowd within the boundaries of their actual genre by avoiding the whole 'cheesy keyboards' type of cliché that has long been the subject of many jokes and even outright scorn from metalheads of other genre persuasions. I really wonder why the band do it. After all, those growled lines are all lines that aren't being sung by Brittney Slayes. When an artist has a vocalist of this calibre and they play a genre that doesn't traditionally use growling, why it's nigh on a crime against good music. Ironically though it's some clean male vocals from guitarist Andrew Kingsley during eighth track Earth and Ashes are actually a little more unwelcome, since his voice lacks the same power as Brittney's.

However Time Stands Still managed to rise above these issues, and even two years later is still an album I play regularly and can immediately recall any track from, so in that respect if Unleash the Archers can deliver more of the same then that won't actually be a bad thing. To a point the band do just that, with the highlights being Awakening, The Matriarch, Call Me Immortal and the closing title track. But all told the album's tracks don't assert their own individual identities as well as I'd have liked to hear, while False Walls even seems to be a little long at just over eight minutes, though the band pull off a similar length with the title track flawlessly. That one is a very good example as exactly why this band doesn't need those growls: Apex is the best and most epic song here, and it doesn't use them. Neither does the prior Call Me Immortal, which is a great example of a power metal song of a more mid-length with a catchy chorus.

Unleash the Archers' musicianship is of course extremely solid both rhythmically and with the lead guitar work. Brittney Slayes sounds fantastic once again. Even the growls, unnecessary though they might be, are very well done and the clean, polished production work suits the band's style perfectly. However because of the song selection Time Stands Still remains the more memorable album. Apex however is a very good supplementary work for those who already have the previous and want more from where it came from.

THE DOOMSDAY KINGDOM The Doomsday Kingdom

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Swedish musician Leif Edling may be most famous for being the founder and main writer for major doom metal act Candlemass, but it more recent years he's been furthering his doom metal brand with another project, Avatarium and has two studio albums to that name already with the release of the third, Hurricanes and Halos (2017) imminent at the time of writing this review. Further enhancing his doom metal CV now is The Doomsday Kingdom, whose self-titled debut album appeared a couple of months before the third Avatarium album. Edling founded the project initially as a second solo outing following the project under his own name that spawned the album Songs of Torment, Songs of Joy (2008). He released the Never Machine Demo EP (2016) as a solo project, with a few guests to help along the way, but afterwards The Doomsday Kingdom evolved into a full band.

Avatarium fans will of course be familiar with Marcus Jidell, who again joins Leif Edling as the group's guitarist, with Edling taking on his usual bassist role. For a drummer they've brought in Andreas Johansson of Narnia, Rob Rock and Royal Hunt fame. Together the three have crafted some top quality traditional doom metal music full of heavy, prolonged riffs but also a sense of melody and an energetic attitude. Putting the finishing touches to their sound is their vocalist Niklas Stålvind, better known as the frontman of the heavy metal act Wolf, whose fans will get to hear this great singer in a bit of a different context on The Doomsday Kingdom. He certainly sounds at home within the doom metal genre, delivering powerful, often quite raw clean vocals. No better example of how well everything the group has going for them works is the third song, A Spoonful of Darkness. Now this is really what I want to hear when I think of traditional doom metal! Great vocals, heavy riffs and a menacing atmosphere without any cheapening of their brand by borrowing any elements from extreme metal.

The album is hardly a one trick pony though. Some songs have an even more upbeat feel to them. It's doom, but not necessarily gloom. While more straight-forward doom metal in direction compared to the last Avatarium album The Girl with the Raven Mask (2015) a few elements creep in that seem quite Avatarium-like, such as some light progressive and even psychedelic flavours behind the riff driven doom metal. The Sceptre is another clear album highlight in this regard, featuring a 7:19 minute long running time and some extended instrumental work where the song really goes off on a tangent in true prog style, featuring a moog solo from guest Joakim Svalberg, before returning to the song's familiar structure that it had been at previously.

The first of a double dose of new Leif Edling material for 2017, The Doomsday Kingdom may actually be the album for his fans to get their doom metal kicks this year rather than Avatarium, if the two songs released in the run up to their next album are anything to judge by. Of course they might just be holding some more full-on doom metal material back for the full album release, but in any case it would be inadvisable to pass up a copy of The Doomsday Kingdom. Edling's long history with doom metal has made him a true master of his craft. If you like doom metal and especially any of his various projects within the genre, then this is a must have.

AVATARIUM Hurricanes and Halos

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Although the band was only formed in 2012 by Soen guitarist Marcus Jidell and Candlemass chief Leif Edling, the guys are already back with their third album. The label describes them as where Black Sabbath meets soul and The Devil’s Blood meets Old School Rock, but they’re wrong. Produced by Marcus Jidell himself, while David Castillo (Katatonia, Bloodbath, Opeth) recorded and mixed it in the famous Ghost Ward Studios, and mastering undertaken by Jens Bogren (Soilwork, Sepultura), here we have an album that was probably a little dated forty-five years ago. What we have here boys and girls, is classic Uriah Heep, with Rickard Nilsson’s Hammond Organ linking with Marcus Jidell’s guitar in a way that is so very reminiscent of Ken Hensley and Mick Box, while Jennie-Ann Smith is different in her approach to the great David Byron, but channels him alongside her Maggie Bell approach.

This is warm, it is heavy, it is comforting and to someone my age also incredibly familiar in its approach. Those first five Heep albums were all classics in their own right, and this should also be judged in the same vein. The absolute standout is “Medusa Child” which twists and turns in many directions during its nine-minute long journey, even bringing in some children singing, while the guitar moves between leaden Iommi-style soundblasts into lighter territory, diving and swirling so that the listener isn’t always sure what is going to happen next. It almost seems as if a few different songs have been taken to pieces and then thrown back together as one, but it works incredibly well. Overall, this is a really enjoyable album, one that any fan of Seventies rock combined with Sabbath doom and a great production would do well to seek out.

MESARTHIM Presence

EP · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 3 ratings
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Australian atmospheric black metal duo Mesarthim have quickly become a productive group since the release of their debut full-length album Isolate (2015), with no less than six new releases put out during 2016; their second studio album .- -... ... . -. -.-. . (Absence), a single (added as a bonus track to physical releases of Isolate) and four EP's. 2017 has already seen two of those EP's put together for a physical release compilation, The Great Filter/Type III, and now their first new material of the year, Presence. It is a three track EP containing about twenty minutes of music.

Much like the Pillars (2016) EP was said to be a concluding release to what the band started on Isolate, Presence is said to do the same for Absence. The key difference is that Pillars really did feel like more of the same as Isolate but Presence feels quite different to Absence, also being more fresh in respect to the group's entire discography. There are similar elements of course and if anything it's closer to Isolate and Pillars than any of the releases put out since, but it also feels like a band taking their sound a step further. The cosmic vibes of their atmospheric black metal sound are still here, but it's even more psychedelic and trance-like than ever before, with the synths being used more dominantly than ever, including extended full-on synth sections where the metal elements get removed entirely, as in Eschaton Part I, which also adds some atmospheric female vocals to the music during the metal parts. The band's usual growling vocals barely get a look in. More familiar ground is Eschaton Part II and the title track, where the metal gets removed only in briefer dosages.

Presence is easily the most genre boundary pushing release from Mesarthim yet. It might be fair to say that for some listeners this EP may be the point where the duo finally went too far, but for my part I'm as enchanted as ever by their majestic sounds mixed with a harsh yet atmospheric black metal backdrop, yet equally enthralled in the moments where they remove the latter. In fact, this may even be my favourite EP from Mesarthim to date. A superb twenty minutes cosmic trip.

MECHINA Progenitor

Album · 2016 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Metal Music Archives Reviewer's Challenge: Album selected by DippoMagoo.

A new release from the US metal act Mechina is like something akin to a ritual. Starting with their second release Conqueror (2011), every subsequent new album has been released on New Year's Day. With the exception of 2012, they've also released a new album every single year on this date and we can probably put 2012 down to them gaining momentum. Progenitor (2016) is their sixth album. For my part it is my introduction to the group's music. There is also an instrumental version of the album available but my review will stick to the main, original release with vocals.

Mechina's style of music is usually called a kind of industrial metal, specifically cyber metal. This actually puts me at a bit of a disadvantage (or maybe an advantage, depending on my point of view I suppose) in reviewing one of their albums, because my experience with industrial metal begins and ends with Rammstein and I really don't find anything relatable between the two band's styles based on Progenitor. The other side of the band is of course their symphonic metal elements, which is a style I am familiar with so I will pretty much have to look at this album as a symphonic metal album.

Featuring a mix of growled and cleanly sung vocals, some being by guest female vocalist Mel Rose, Progenitor comes across as something that takes a little bit of everything from the wide range that is the spectrum of symphonic metal, meaning there are epic moments, extreme moments and more commercial moments to be found within it. The extreme moments can even lean a bit towards death metal while the band also have an inherent catchiness to their songs that makes me think more of power metal, though their metal elements themselves never go along with these vibes.

The symphonic elements are ever-present in the band's music but they are not too over-dominating either. That's probably because they have to share the stage with some more electronic based work that I guess is where Mechina's relation to industrial/cyber metal comes into play. I do think the band overall fit the mould of symphonic metal a bit better though, as there are times in the music on Progenitor that it seems the electronic side is just a bit too buried within everything else that's going on. It feels much more dominant on a track such as Cryoshock, but overall doesn't seem to really be a main element in the music unless of course you're also supposed to count some rather mechanical sounding guitar riffs (which I'd simply attribute as sounding excessively modern if I was listening to this album with zero prior knowledge) and some vocal work that sounds like it may have been recorded for a dance record.

Whatever genre you want to call Progenitor, it's undeniable that it's a pleasant enough release to listen to. But for something that supposedly belongs to a genre (cyber metal) I've never listened to before I find myself disappointed by how familiar most of it feels. It's a very modern sounding release that seems to tick all the cliché boxes for a modern metal album. Even though it's the first Mechina album I've heard it gives me an impression that this must surely be Mechina by numbers. There's nothing to dislike about it (unless you're really adverse to electronic influences in metal in which case you'll probably hate this) but that really, is the problem. It doesn't invigorate me enough to even say I dislike it. It's just an album I heard and expect to forget about by this time next week.

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SKIN YARD Skin Yard

Album · 1987 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
REVIEWER'S CHALLENGE chosen by Unitron

-------------------

Although it wouldn’t come into fruition until the 90s when bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains added pop elements to the overall sound and elevated it as the most popular form of rock music of the decade, grunge rock was in reality a more raw and gritty form of alternative rock that splintered off of the wider post-punk garage band movement all the way back in the early 80s coming to life in the far northern American city of Seattle in the days when the world was seemingly fixated only on the scenes emerging from Los Angeles and New York City. Some of the earliest bands to adopt the new term grunge were Green River, The U-Men, The Fluid and Screaming Trees. While the sound would be polished as time progressed, at the earliest stages it was very much a a sloppy hybrid of punk and metal with ample influences from indie noise bands such as Sonic Youth. Riding in the waves of these early offshoots was another Seattle based band SKIN YARD which formed as early as 1985 and despite having never found the success that they deserved managed to be quite influential in the works of everyone from Soundgarden, The Melvins and even Screaming Trees and Green River who emerged before them.

The band was formed by Daniel House (bass) and Jack Endino (guitar) and quickly joined by Ben McMillan (vocals) and Matt Cameron (drums) and soon after began their live performances opening up for U-Men. Like many genres, grunge showed a huge display of diversity in the early days before it was polished into commercial perfection in the 90s sound that made it palatable for public consumption. Serving as one of the earliest examples of the Seattle grunge scene, the debut album SKIN YARD is chock full of various ungrungy influences ranging from the obvious punk bands such as Black Flag, indie noise rock a la Sonic Youth as well as with traditional heavy metal acts like Black Sabbath. Also there is a strong nod to David Bowie in McMillan’s vocals, progressive touches from Pink Floyd (just listen to that intro to “Epitaph For Yesterday”) and King Crimson. Funk guitar which is quite prominent, reminds me of some of those early Cure songs and at times there’s a detectable U2 guitar style as heard on The Edge’s earliest offerings that seeps into the grooves as well. For those familiar with only the 90s grunge scene, it will come as a complete surprise as to how much more sophisticated the style was at this stage when it even contained elements of psychedelia (just check out that trippy sliding guitar on “The Blind Leading The Blind.”)

While a polished product this early example of the genre is not, it is impossible not to hear the snippets of familiar sounds that would be heard on later acts that would capitalize on this early prototype. What SKIN YARD delivered at this early stage of their career is far from the slick poppified Nirvana type albums that dominated the 90s. This on the other hand very much displays a strong connection to the alienation of the post-punk movement with ample amounts of other influences creating a dynamic display of diversity that in reality only shares a highly distorted alternative guitar approach with the more successful grunge acts that followed. It also serves as a reminder that grunge didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It was a very much a continuation of several earlier shifts away off of musical branches that date back to the 70s and thus SKIN YARD provided that awkward transition between two different worlds which more often than not gets ignored in favor of those who copied and added the pop elements later.

This debut has seen two substantially different releases with different track listings, so depending on which one you have heard could very much affect your like / dislike of this album. For example: the track “Burning The Candle” appeared ONLY on the original vinyl release while “Gelatin Babies” and “Bleed” appeared on both the CD and vinyl reissues. “Out Of The Attic,” Skinstruction,” and “Red Tension,” “The Birds” and “She Shook Me Cold (David Bowie cover and live)” are found on the CD only. Personally i would only rate the original release as the other tracks have a little too much David Bowie and funk guitar influence going on to be considered grunge. The original album track list also displays a more accurate portrait of where the grunge scene was at in the 80s. While i’m sure SKIN YARD will never gain the popularity of 90s the behemoths of polished grunge, they should at least be experienced as to hear how the genre unfolded in its origins. On top of that the band had an interesting way of blending their influences and steering them into a recognizable 90s arena although not fully so at this point.

PARADISE LOST Shades of God

Album · 1992 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 21 ratings
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UMUR
"Shades of God" is the 3rd full-length studio album by UK doom metal act Paradise Lost. The album was released through Music For Nations in July 1992. Their first two albums were released through Peaceville Records, so a label change has taken place. But other changes had happened too and in many ways "Shades of God" signals the start of a new era for Paradise Lost (or maybe more correctly the start of the transition to a new era). Not in the lineup though, as the lineup, who recorded the first two albums, is still intact.

It´s more in the sound and style of the actual music that you´ll hear the difference from the earlier more doom/death metal oriented albums. While he would pursue an even more clean type of singing on subsequent releases, Nick Holmes already began the vocal transition on "Shades of God", which features a semi-growling delivery and a few more goth type clean vocals. The overall music style on the album is still doom/death metal though. There is a strong emphasis on lead guitars and lead guitar themes throughout the album, and "Shades of God" is probably the Paradise Lost album which features most guitar leads and guitar solos. It´s still heavy, doomy, and occasionally brutal, but always melodic and drenched in an omnipresent melancholic atmosphere.

The complexity of the song structures is another change that´s quite prominent compared to the earlier releases, and at times tracks like "Crying for Eternity", "No Forgiveness", "Your Hand in Mine" and especially the 9:14 minutes long "Daylight Torn" even touch progressive territories because of it. Some tracks are a bit more straight forward like "Mortals Watch the Day" and "Pity the Sadness", but even those are quite intriguingly structured. The most accessible track on the album is the closing track "As I Die". It was not included on the vinyl version of the album, which is a bit odd, as it went on to become an underground hit for the band, but the album is over 50 minutes long even without "As I Die", and long running times seriously decrease the audio quality of vinyls, so that might be the reason for leaving out "As I Die" on the original vinyl version.

The musicianship are generally on a decent level, with especially the vocals by Nick Holmes (and his lyrics) and the lead guitars by main composer Gregor Mackintosh, as some of the highlights and strengths of the band´s sound, while drummer Matthew Archer again drags the collective performance down. His drumming style is clumsy and too simple for its own good. Once he plays a fill on a track, you can expect to hear the exact same fill being played whenever a fill is called for again on that track. No variation and a very stiff and uncomfortable playing style. It´s not a major issue because of the generaly low pace of the music, but I can´t help think what a more refined and skilled drummer could have added to the music.

"Shades of God" features a rather distinct sounding production. The guitar- and bass tone and the drum sound aren´t necessarily that well sounding with the ears of today, but it was not considered an issue in 1992, where the album was generally regarded as a well produced release. Personally I think the sound suits the music perfectly and when those two features go hand in hand in perfect harmony, I´m not gonna complain about minor technical sound issues. It´s probably an aquired taste anyway.

Overall "Shades of God" is another quality release by Paradise Lost and it shows great development of the band´s sound. So at this point in the band´s career, all three of their studio albums featured a very different sound, and it was obvious at this point, that Paradise Lost were still searching for their own unique sound. Thankfully they produced some really great albums in the process including "Shades of God". A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

TRIVIAL ACT Mindscape

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Mindscape" is the debut full-length studio album by Norwegian progressive metal act Trivial Act. The album was released through FaceFront Records in 1997. Trivial Act was formed in 1992 as Cemetary Gates but changed their band name to Trivial Act in 1993. In terms of output "Mindscape" is their only official release, but they did actually record a second full-length album, which was released as a demo in 2001. At that point bassist Steinar Krokmo and drummer Stian Kristoffersen had however begun a new adventure with the subsequently more successful Pagan's Mind. None of those two play on "Mindscape" though where the bass is handled by Svend Ole Heggedal and the drums by Erik Wroldsen (the latter would join Red Harvest in 1998 for a longer stint.

The music on "Mindscape" is guitar/vocal driven progressive metal or in other words 80s influenced progressive metal without keyboards. There is a strong power metal influence in the music too and especially the vocals and the occasional use of choirs in the choruses lead my thoughts in that direction. The material on the 10 track, 69:34 minutes long album (the Japanese version features two bonus tracks), are well written and very well performed. It´s obvious that these guys are both skilled composers and even more accomplished musicians. The vocals are powerful and delivered with great conviction (reminds me slightly of Dio at times), the guitars are both hard and edgy, and more melodic and intriguing, and the rhythm section are tight and deliver an impressive precision attack.

While there are technically complex sections on the album, the music is not as such focused on that aspect of playing music. Instead "Mindscape" is generally a very melodic oriented album (examples of the most melodic tinged material on the album are found in tracks like "Rainbow Valley" and "Vanish"), where the technical playing is a means to an end, instead of being forced technical noodling. There are no odd sections put in for the sake of it, and when the band put in progressive parts, it´s always done in a tasteful manner.

"Mindscape" is a self-produced affair, and taking that into considering, the album is well produced, featuring a both powerful and clear sound. We´re so used to hearing keyboards on almost every progressive metal release these days (and back when this album was released too), that the soundscape sometimes feels a bit "empty", but it´s actually refreshing to hear a progressive metal release with some "room" in the mix.

Overall "Mindscape" is a quality release, but the fact that the band´s brand of progressive metal arguably sounded a bit old fashioned in 1997, probably sealed their fate, and the release of the album more or less went unnoticed by most fans of the genre. If you enjoy melodic progressive metal with strong power metal leanings (and no keyboards), this might be the release for you. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

NILE Ithyphallic

Album · 2007 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 29 ratings
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UMUR
"Ithyphallic" is the 5th full-length studio album by US death metal act Nile. The band changed label from Relapse Records to Nuclear Blast Records before the release of "Ithyphallic", so this is the band´s first release on Nuclear Blast Records. "Ithyphallic" was released in July 2007. It´s the successor to "Annihilation of the Wicked" from 2005 and features the same core trio lineup as the predecessor: Karl Sanders (vocals, guitar), Dallas Toler-Wade (bass, guitar, vocals), and George Kollias (drums).

The material on the 10 track, 49:51 minutes long album pretty much continue down the same brutal technical death metal style of "Annihilation of the Wicked (2005)". "Ithyphallic" is a bit more direct and not quite as epic as "Annihilation of the Wicked (2005)" though which will probably bring joy to some and disappoint others. The 10:01 minutes long closing track "Even the Gods Must Die" is quite the epic track though and "Ithyphallic" is in no way a raw and simple death metal release. Compared to other similar releases this is still quite epic music. The lyrical themes are as usual about ancient Egypt/occultism and we´re presented with exotic song titles like "Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks From He Who Is in the Water" and "Laying Fire Upon Apep". The relatively intelligible growling vocals by Dallas Toler-Wade are a great asset to the band´s music. They are placed higher in the mix than the case was on "Annihilation of the Wicked (2005)" and they are generally very effective. Brutal, aggressive, and rhythmically powerfully delivered. Karl Sanders as always performs unintelligible growling vocals to compliment Toler-Wade´s commanding performance.

The musicianship featured on the album is astonishing to say the least. Drummer George Kollias high energy precision playing is beyond impressive. He plays things on this album that shouldn´t be possible. But don´t fear that he sounds like a machine. He is one of those rare technical death metal drummers who are able to put a human touch to his precision playing. A unique force, who is able to provide the band´s music with the right amount of extreme intensity. The rest of the band are of course also very well playing and one technical yet brutal and catchy guitar riff are performed after another.

While I wrote above that "Ithyphallic" isn´t as epic as it´s predecessor, the album is still very atmospheric and quite epic at times, which is one of the great assets of this album. To apply atmosphere to brutal music like this is no easy task. The fact that Nile change pace often during their tracks also helps bring great variation to the music. Just as the case was on "Annihilation of the Wicked (2005)" the tracks can be told apart after a few listens. It´s not an easily accessible release, but it´s a rewarding listen given the right amount of time and spins. So while I may not be able to hum along to the tracks, they still feature rhythmic hooks and recognisable moments, which provide the material with a rare death metal catchiness.

Producer Neil Kernon has been brought in again and he has created a brutal yet detailed and very powerful sounding release. "Ithyphallic" features the perfect sound to match the intensity and brutality of the material, but still with a detail level which suits the epic nature of the material too. Upon conclusion "Ithyphallic" is yet another high quality death metal album by Nile and it´s hard not to be impressed by what the band has conjured up this time. I´m not sure if I think "Ithyphallic" is quite as interesting conceptually as "Annihilation of the Wicked (2005)", which was an album with a really excellent flow, but it´s definitely up there with "Annihilation of the Wicked (2005)" and fully deserves a 4.5 star (90%) rating.

BURZUM Hvis Lyset Tar Oss

Album · 1994 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 51 ratings
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I find this is a difficult album to rate. Burzum's third studio album is often considered a masterpiece of Norwegian black metal and sometimes of heavy metal all together. It was inspired by a view outside into the darkness of a Norwegian night and creator Varg Vikernes recorded the four tracks for this album before the second album was released.

My interest in the album came as I sampled Burzum tracks on YouTube and decided that I really liked the artwork. The dirt, single-lane road curving through a forest with an apparently recently deceased man on the side and crows flapping about really struck my thoughts. I had seen such roads in paintings before which my Danish parents had in my childhood home and the blackbird frequently figured in children's stories and rhymes I had heard as a child. But who was this poor deceased man and how long had he just remained at the roadside with no one coming to find him?

Playing the first track, it was the lead riff that comes in at 2:50 along with the drums that sold me on the album. It immediately took me back to my high school days listening to Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Bathory, and even Venom. The production is lo-fi but not so poor as I had imagined it could be. This is yet another case of getting wrapped up in the atmosphere of the album and forgetting the lack of crispness. The repeated three chords on keyboards are rather hypnotic and as the music is repeated for long sections before changing, it's easy to feel under the spell, which is as Vikernes had intended. He claims in the CD notes that he feels music is a kind of spell to cast over people and make them think what you want. Well, I do find it easy to listen to the whole 14 minutes plus of this opening track.

One thing of course is the crazy vocals. This is like listening to the ravings of a poor soul who has been in solitary confinement for too long. It's back-of-the-throat hollering. And yet, I don't actually mind.

I find the next two tracks inspire mixed feelings. "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" is much less interesting musically than "Det Som En Gang Var", though the third track "Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen"recaptures some of the appeal of the first track with a good riff and more variation in the music.

The album takes a dive for me at the last track "Tomhet", a 14-minute track that sounds much like an instrumental composed and mostly played on an 8-bit keyboard. The simple repetitive music that would be trance-inducing were it not for that very dated sound fails to capture my interest throughout most of the 14 minutes. I can appreciate what Vikernes was attempting here but I can skip this one if I'm not in the mood. I mean it's 14 minutes long! And it's not even prog!

A classic it may be, I'm not jumping off the walls for this one but it is good enough. I may or may not choose to get another Burzum album. Kjetil Manheim of Mayhem said in a documentary that he felt Burzum's first album was shit and I can see how it could be considered that way, that Burzum's music is not so great. It might be a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. But I personally give a strong rating to the first track and good points for the third. Perhaps only a must-have if you are into the Norwegian black metal scene.

AMON AMARTH Twilight of the Thunder God

Album · 2008 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 33 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
About a year ago or so, a friend showed me some Amon Amarth videos. Man, were they cool. Really big productions like small movies. I was to learn that one video was actually scenes from a movie starring lead vocalist, Johan Hegg. I finally got around to bringing an album home, this first purchase being recommended by my friend who assured me that this was a great album.

What first struck me about the music was how melodic it often was. It was sometimes like a faster version of Iron Maiden but included riffs like Judas Priest and Accept. Labeled melodic death metal, I personally feel that the music here is more traditional metal with the Cookie Monster-style of deeply growled vocals. Tracks like “Free Will Sacrifice” and “No Fear for the Setting Sun” remind me of Judas Priest and “Live for the Kill” makes me think of Accept.

Another observation is the regular use of very strong battle-song melodies. “Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags” and “Live for the Kill” may conjure up images of Vikings standing in their ship and swinging pumped fists as they sing these songs.

This feels like an album done by a very experienced band who are comfortable where they are. They have reached their comfort zone and are producing a string of above avergae albums. Looking as the ratings on MMA, I see other albums are rated higher and this one. Some songs are really good and the main riff for “Guardians of Asgaard” is an awesome one to easily be hooked on.

Probably not their most groundbreaking album, but “Twilight of the Thunder God” is still a solid piece of work in my opinion.

CRYPTOPSY Blasphemy Made Flesh

Album · 1994 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 18 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
“Blasphemy Made Flesh” is the debut album by Montreal technical death metal band, Cryptopsy. There are three versions: the original 1994 Hammerheart release, a 1997 re-release by Displeased Records, and a 2001 re-release by Century Media, which features a different cover.

This is my first experience with Cryptopsy and I was interested in the band because I had discovered that Montreal had a hot death metal scene going and I decided to check out some groups. After my usual cursory listen on YouTube, I decided to get this album first because of the frequent cropping up of the bass guitar, which reminded me of Quebec metal legends, Voivod.

The sound on my CD copy, the original Hammerheart release, is pretty poor when going from any much better-produced album. First, I have to knock the volume up three clicks, and the sound quality difference between a well-produced, more recent death metal album and this one is enormous. However, like many albums, “Blasphemy” doesn’t sound so bad once you get into the album atmosphere. Like many extreme metal bands of the day, recording quality was frequently pretty poor.

Cryptopsy’s sound is heavy, brutal, and pummeling. The guitars are really low, so much so that the bass guitar notes really pop out at times, especially when the bass gets a brief solo break (solo here meaning playing alone for a bar and not lead). What I appreciate is that the band can employ both very high speed playing and slow down for some very heavy, crushing riffs. I have also noted that Cryptopsy know how to play slow and heavy and keep the drums in tempo. Many bands I have heard recently will play medium tempo music but have the bass drums and snare going full tilt. It sounds great usually but sometimes seems unnecessary. On this album slower playing often means a slower beat. Conversely, sometimes the drums strike at a fairly slow tempo while the guitars are going nuts. These changes in speed, though, are good for appreciating the some of the riffs and guitar work.

Vocalist, Lord Worm (Dan Greening), delivers really deep, guttural barking and some mega-screams that are as frightening as a storm banshee trying to enter your room on a blustery night to wake the dead. At first I was a bit put off his vocal style because I seriously could not pick out anything he belch-roared. I looked at the lyrics for a track like “Open Face Surgery” which reads:

“I’ve learned to control my thoughts / Ever since I recognized the first eavesdropper / Those who listen in on my thoughts / My logic, my sanity”

But what I can pick out at best sounds like: “Wudaboit, biddatboit, budahboit, biidah! Weahbuot, biddahbuot, buadbuit, biidadut!” There are times when I think I can almost decipher the gruff utterances and follow along with the lyrics, but then the vocalizations stop when I’ve only reached the third line of a four-line verse. Song after song, I really have not one iota of a clue what words comprise the lyrics of these tracks. Reading the lyrics and listening to the songs I feel like the lyrics are the translations of an angry Neanderthal’s ranting. But I actually don’t mind. Listening to the whole album straight through it all becomes part of the sonic experience. A funny thing, even the spoken lines in one track aren’t easy to pick out. “Serial Messiah”, by its opening church organ notes and a meekly speaking youth uttering, “Get off me you bastard”, would seem to be about Catholic priests who prey upon young boys. But we hear hurried footsteps, a door open, and the youth’s attempt at defiance, and then this is followed by a deep voice saying what sounds like “I need gas for the lawn!” Or maybe it’s “I need ask for the Lord”. I am totally unsure. But again, I consider the vocals part of the entertainment factor so I’m okay with them.

The only real complaint I have is that the snare drum is mixed quite loud compared to the much lower-toned guitars and so sometimes it seems the dominant sound in the mix is the high-speed snare drum playing which leaves the guitars just deep rumbles barely discernable above the percussion and demonic barking.

I’m curious about some of the band’s more recent albums. This first offering has its strengths, mostly in the actual music played, but the production needs improvement. Not a total winner but good enough to merit further investigation into this band.

HAKEN The Mountain

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.23 | 41 ratings
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Nightfly
Metal Music Archives Reviewer's Challenge: Album selected by mlkpad14.

My introduction to Haken came with their second album Visions released in 2011. Very impressed I was too – here was a band that had the chops of Dream Theater, who were clearly an influence but were writing more interesting music than that band had released for some time. Discovering their debut later I found the quality of songwriting nowhere near as strong though it had its moments.

The Mountain is the bands third album, of four so far and it’s pretty much neck and neck with Visions for their best work. Certainly the production is excellent and an improvement having a more natural sound than the processed sound of Visions. Musically it follows in the footsteps of past work - complex prog metal with plenty of dynamics and strong melodies interlaced with the occasional quirky moment. Just listen to the mid song instrumental section on In Memoriam for a jaw dropping demonstration of what these guys are capable of and few others are. The album though is littered with many more equally dextrous moments which are rarely less than captivating. All this wouldn’t count for much though if they didn’t have the songs to carry it. Fortunately they do, vocalist Ross Jennings managing to inject plenty of melody over the complex music which can also be pretty melodic at times though at its best when they go out on a limb in the many instrumental passages. The best of these apart from the afore-mentioned In Memoriam tend to feature in the longer pieces like Cockroach King, Falling Back To Earth and Pareidolia. The light and shade moments strategically placed between these wilder moments work nicely pacing the album well and keep the band from disappearing entirely up their arse with too much musical masturbation.

The standard of playing from all is not surprisingly virtuosic but special mention goes to drummer Ray Hearne who manages to out-Portnoy Mike Portnoy with a dazzling display of dexterity and power. One of my favourite drummers playing in any genre of music today.

After The Mountain I found 2016’s Affinity somewhat of a disappointment mainly in the instrumental workout department despite some solid moments. For now I’d recommend this as the best place to discover Haken if you’re a newbie.

CAVITY Supercollider

Album · 1999 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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666sharon666
Metal Music Archives Reviewer's Challenge: Album selected by aglasshouse.

With some albums you only need to take a glance at its artwork or the artist's logo to make a reasonable guess about what sort of music it is. With albums like Supercollider, the third album by American metal band Cavity, I'd have guessed wrong if I hadn't already been told. You can no more judge an album by its cover than you can a book. I'd have guessed at something in the post-grunge line looking at either the original cover or the 2002 reissue over, but I'd have been dead wrong. But then who could have guessed that this rather unassuming and (in my view) interesting style of cover would be hiding some heavy, semi-doomy, sludge metal?

The 2002 version of this album also brought some changes to its tracklist, adding in two extra ones, Xtoone and ...Who Doesn't Even Know Yet? For some reason the original final song of the album, Almost Blue, was removed in this edition of the album. It's this version of the album that I have listened to. The album has however had another reissue, this time on vinyl, in April 2017 which restores the original 1999 tracklist.

Cavity aren't a band who mess about with their song-writing. Their main focus is heavy, fuzzy riffs. Vocals play a prominent role as well, but their do seem secondary to the guitars. They aren't a showy band though; there isn't any lead guitar to speak of in their music and their writing style tends towards a short track duration. Tracks two (Set in Cinders) through six (Threshold), don't even hit three minutes. Just heavy riffs, with the occasional added bit of full-on doom slowness. I'd also say it has a few stoner metal moments, a genre that some of the band's other albums seem to be more heavily associated with. Here it's just flavour though, like with the doom metal. Supercollider is otherwise a straightforward sludge metal record, out to do one simple job: make those riffs as heavy as possible.

I think they do a pretty decent job at that, but with that said, if you're listening to albums looking for a lot of variation then you won't find too much of it here. As I said before, Cavity aren't a flashy band, so the closest thing you'll get a change of pace with is probably Inside my Spine where the vocals are harsher and more traditional growling rather than the hardcore shouts and raw singing used elsewhere. Xtoone's style also stands out as a bit different but as I said before, this song doesn't exist on the original 1999 version of the album and my honest opinion is that its rather throwaway, so it beats me why the 2002 version added it.

Cavity don't play a style of music I listen to very often but as far as my taste in sludge metal goes they certainly display a raw kind of charm that as a metal fan I find difficult not to smile about. 4 stars.

SOUNDGARDEN Ultramega OK

Album · 1988 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.14 | 16 ratings
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Unitron
"All your fears are lies"

The late 80's were one of the best times for metal in my book. Thrash Metal was at it's height, and the grunge, stoner rock/metal, and death metal scenes were all kicking off. The metal scene in Washington birthed many now classic bands, with one of those bands being Soundgarden, one of the greatest metal acts of the late 80's and early 90's, and of all time. After contributing to the Deep Six compilation (which also featured grunge/sludge metal pioneers Melvins) and releasing the Screaming Life EP in '87, the band unleashed their debut studio album in 1988.

Unlike most metal bands of the late 80's, Soundgarden had zero elements of thrash or the hair bands, and instead contributed to the slowly growing doom/stoner/sludge metal genres birthed all those years ago by Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer. Soundgarden featured the fuzzy distortion of old school psychedelic rock, the dark crushing riffs of Black Sabbath and Budgie, the attitude of The Stooges, and the screaming siren of vocalist Chris Cornell that was reminiscent of 70's classic rock vocalists such as Robert Plant and Burton Cummings.

UltramegaOK is a raw, rough, rockin', and varied debut. It really takes all of the band's influences together, and makes each song stand out with it's own sound. The album opens right up with the groovy rockers "Flower" and "All Your Lies", which are among the band's best early cuts. The former has one of Kim Thayil's grooviest hooks, rumbling bass from original bassist Hiro Yamamoto, Matt Cameron's always tight drumming, and Chris Cornell's beautiful melodies. The band was already in top form on this first record. "Beyond the Wheel" and "Incessant Mace" are pure doom metal, and absolute favorites of mine and classics of the genre. The former is a haunting dirge with some of Cornell's most spine-chilling screams, and the latter song's crushingly heavy riffs sound straight from the riff master himself, Tony Iommi.

"He Didn't" has a main swirling riff that is quite reminiscent of the ominous theme song of The Twilight Zone, which fits perfectly in a metal setting. The band brings it to a speed metal pace with the shredding "Nazi Driver" and "Head Injury", with the latter being a bit punky. Both tracks have absolutely groovin' bass runs, rampaging razor-sharp guitar riffs, and Cornell's raw siren screams dominating those and most of the album. Soundgarden has done many amazing cover tunes, and this album's cover of the blues classic by Howlin' Wolf, "Smokestack Lightning", is no exception. It's a masterpiece of soulful blues metal, with Thayil delivering metallic blues riffs with much conviction and Cornell really shows his amazing vocal range here. He goes from a bluesy croon throughout most of the song to high-pitched screams that rival Rob Halford's vocals on the early Judas Priest albums.

You may be wondering what's with the weird album name, and it partly has to do with the production. The band didn't think the production turned out all that well, hence the name UltramegaOK. I personally have no issue with the production, I think it fits perfectly fine with the raw and dirty heavy metal that this album displays. The album was remastered though, so even if it does bother you, it sounds a bit cleaner on the 2017 remaster.

Even on their first studio album, Soundgarden made a masterpiece. There are a couple of minor issues, those being the short interludes that just act as a few minutes of filler. "Circle of Power", which is a more hardcore punk-sounding track with Yamamoto on vocals, kind of breaks the flow a bit but it's still a good song that sits in okay with the variety of the album. If you're a fan of old school 70's metal, classic blues rock, grunge, or doom/stoner metal, do yourself a favor and check this album out. It's a near perfect album that deserves more attention. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

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