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KRAANIUM Slamchosis

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Any album which starts with Cameron Britton (as Edmund Temper in the superb series ‘Mindhunter’) saying “it’s not easy butchering people, it’s hard work”, just has to be interesting and that is certainly the case here. That isn’t the only lift from that series, as various quotes make their way into the album, and it shows just how intense this is when these are the times when it lightens up a little. This is brutal death metal, their fifth album, and it is a full-on metallic onslaught from the first note to the very last. It grooves, it moves, and it hits the brain like a runaway express train. They do slow it down at times, and let the drums move to the centre while the guitarists have a rest, but all this is just a deliberate ploy so that when they come back it feels even more brutal than it was before.

It is a piledriver of an album, everyone in perfect sync to create riffs incredibly intense, and then over the top is singer Jack Papp Fahlberg Christensen, who is an incredible find. This is his first album with the band, taking over from founder Martin Funderdud who sadly took his own life in 2017, but Martin’s guitarist brother Mats is still there, driving the band onto new heights. I haven’t heard much from the band prior to this album, but this is one of the best examples of the genre I have come across in quite some time. If ever there was an album to lose the dandruff to then this must be it. Over the top in every area, the use of words from ‘Mindhunter’ adds additional polish and shows their thought processes at play. One of the songs, “Gratification Through Annihilation”, even takes its title from one of the lines. The line at the beginning of “Larva Infested Cum Sluts” (okay, so maybe it’s not all that polished – reminds me a little of Spinal Tap), is one of my favourites of the whole series, and I can still “see” the scene quite clearly.

This is quite some beast, and now it is out of its cage you can’t say you haven’t been warned. Intense, disturbing, superb.

ELUVEITIE Ategnatos

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There have been a lot of metal bands making an impressive resurgence in recent years, following either long periods of inactivity, or a big lineup change that initially seemed like a major setback. One such band to enter a new era recently is Swiss folk/melodeath band Eluveitie, who had released six great to excellent albums during their first twelve years of existence, before announcing some huge lineup changes in 2016, the biggest of which being the departure of Anna Murphy (Vocals, Hurdy Gurdy) and the addition of Fabienne Erni (Vocals, Mandola, Harp.) One year later, the band would release Evocation II – Pantheon, the long-anticipated sequel to their first ever acoustic folk release. However, while I found that album is enjoyable enough, it left me desperately wanting to hear how their new lineup would sound on a heavier album, so when the band’s eighth full-length release, Ategnatos, was announced, I was excited to hear how it would turn out. Now that it is here, it has not only exceeded my expectations: it has become by far my favorite Eluveitie album to date, and one that represents all aspects of their music perfectly, while also showing small signs of evolution.

Eluveitie essentially has two main aspects to their music: The heavy, melodeath infused sections where frontman Chrigel Glanzmann leads the way with his epic, varied growls, and the softer, more epic and melodic folk passages. The two often intersect on many tracks, and I generally find these tracks to be the band’s best works, with the mix between harsh and clean vocals, along with the heavy guitar work and extensive folk melodies, coming from many different unique instruments, all coming together to create something special. Stylistically, Ategnatos delivers more of what any fan of the band would want, with many straight-forward, hard-hitting melodeath passages, a fair amount of softer passages where Fabienne steals the show with her light, yet very powerful and emotional vocals, and a ton of sections where the two styles come together for something truly amazing. There are also some sections where the guitar work goes a bit into metalcore territory, though this is handled very well, and adds an extra level of intensity, without taking things too far, and there are also a ton of nice softer sections, as well as a couple of more danceable, somewhat pop-ish tracks, where Fabienne really gets to shine. Performances are strong across the board, as always, with Chrigel and all musicians, both old and new, doing a great job, while Fabienne really gets to shine in her first full album (Evocation II was very light on vocals) and proves to be an excellent addition to the band. The production is also top-notch, with all the different elements coming together perfectly, and it all sounds wonderful together.

As great as everything sounds, the most impressive part of the album is how the songwriting manages to be both incredibly varied and extremely consistent, with some of Eluveitie’s most dynamic songwriting to date, as well as some of their catchiest, most satisfying songs in quite some time. The title track (which also serves as the lead single) kicks things off in typical fashion, with a brief narrative section, which introduces the album’s overarching theme of rebirth (a very fitting theme, considering the band’s circumstances) and then there’s an extended sequence of folk instrumentation and choral vocals, before the guitars eventually take over and the band charges ahead with their classic melodeath sound, as Chrigel mixes high and low growls together wonderfully during some fun verses, and Fabienne joins along during a fun, soft chorus. It’s a very nice track and does a great job of alternating between speedy, intense melodeath passages, and more melodic folk sections. It’s an excellent indication of what to expect from the album.

I’ll divide the rest of the album into three categories, starting with the heavier, more melodeath focused tracks. First up, we have “A Cry in the Wilderness”, which starts out with nice folk instrumentation and percussion, before speeding ahead during some intense, fast-paced verses. It has a nice combination of folk instrumentation and heavy guitar work, and is a very heavy and fun track, with Chrigel delivering some epic growls, especially during the chorus. The most intense track, though, is “Mine is the Fury”, a short but absolutely brutal track, which has the most frantic, hardest hitting verses, as well as an intense, somewhat groove infused middle section. It does make use of some great folk melodies, but it’s a very hard hitting track, overall, and quite the fun one as well. A couple of tracks later is “Worship”, a track which has some epic folk melodies as well as some narration and it’s probably the most melodic of the Chrigel dominated tracks, but it’s still fast and very heavy at points, especially during the verses, while the chorus is more melodic, though Chrigel still delivers some very powerful, lower pitched growls, which work great. Lastly, we have “Threefold Death”, which has some beautiful vocals from Fabienne during soft passages at the beginning and near the end, but for the rest of its duration it’s rapid-fire, pulverizing melodeath track, with more very heavy guitar work, and epic growls from Chrigel.

On the softer side, there are three nice interludes throughout the album, which are mostly pure Celtic folk, and transition nicely between full-length songs. The first softer full-length song is “The Raven Hill”, which is one of the purest folk metal tracks on the album, with some nice Celtic folk melodies laying the backdrops for a more relaxing, though still intense track. Chrigel growls during the verses, while Fabienne delivers some nice vocals during the chorus, as well as during the intro, and it’s a very melodic, very beautiful track overall, with some especially great folk instrumentation throughout the track. One particularly unique track is “Ambiramus”, a fun, more pop-ish track with some very danceable melodies, as the folk instruments have a catchy, almost electronic sound to them, that is only really noticeable on this track. it’s a soft track, with slow verses and a very upbeat, extremely catchy chorus where Fabienne delivers some of her most powerful and inspired vocals on the entire album. It was definitely a great choice for a single and is one of the best songs on the album. Near the end of the album, “Breathe”, is another very beautiful track with a heavy focus on folk melodies. It does have some heavy guitar work, especially during the instrumental section in the second half, but it’s a slower paced, very melodic track overall, where Fabienne really gets to showcase her smooth and beautiful, yet very powerful voice. It could end up being one of the less liked tracks on the album, but it’s actually one of my personal favorites, due to how relaxing and catchy it is, as well as how amazing the vocals are throughout. Lastly, the album closes off with Eclipse”, a soft outro type track, which takes the main melody and lyrics from the previous track, “Rebirth”, and allows Fabienne to run with it, resulting in another stunning vocal showcase.

While both the heavier and softer tracks are amazing, the tracks that strike a balance between the two tend to be among my favorites. First up, following the title track and an interlude, is “Deathwalker”, a track which has some very heavy, slightly metalcore infused guitar work during the verses, while still having some beautiful folk melodies, as well as a very fun, upbeat chorus where both vocalists work together wonderfully. Similarly, “Black Water Dawn”, does an excellent job of alternating between heavy and softer passages, especially during the chorus, while the verses move along a decent, but not an overly fast pace, and have some intense growls. The chorus, though, is very melodic and gives Fabienne some room to work with, while the instrumental section in the second half is heavy, intense and really cool. On the softer side, but still having some intense growled sections is “The Slumber”, which has some more excellent folk melodies throughout, and it’s a slower, very calm track overall, with some heavy growled parts during the verses, and some beautiful, soft melodies during the chorus, which is dominated by clean vocals. The last full-length song on the album is “Rebirth”, which is the first song releases from the track, but it came out about a year and a half ago, so it’s hard to really call it a lead single. If anything, it initially served more like a tease at what fans could expect to hear from the band in the future. Either way, it’s an absolute stunner of a track, and probably my favorite on the album, again alternating wonderfully between speedy melodeath sections, with a slight touch of metalcore during some slower, pounding sections, as well as a very melodic chorus, where Fabienne gets to shine. The instrumental section in the second half is absolutely epic and spectacular, while the ending is also perfect and serves as a great lead into the aforementioned closing track, which ends the album wonderfully.

When Eluveitie announced their major lineup changes a few years ago I was concerned, and wondered whether they would be able to retain their high quality, but now that I’ve heard Ategnatos, I’m very pleased to say the band has stormed back in a wonderful way, producing possibly their best, most dynamic release to date! It strikes a perfect balance between their classic melodeath elements, as well as their epic Celtic folk sound, and it serves as an excellent full debut for new vocalist Fabienne Enri, while still allowing frontman Chrigel Glanzmann to shine as much as ever before. Longtime fans of the band should be pleased with the album, while fans of either folk or melodeath are highly recommended to give it a listen, as it’s likely to be among the best albums from either genre released this year.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/04/06/eluveitie-ategnatos-review/

COHEED AND CAMBRIA Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures

Album · 2018 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
2018’s Unheavenly Creatures, (or to give it its full title ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’) is modern prog masters Coheed And Cambria’s 9th full-length studio album. It follows up from their 2015 record The Color Before The Sun, which departed from their Amory Wars concept album series, and Unheavenly Creatures sees the band return once more to their sci-fi comic book concept.

Don’t worry if you haven’t been following the story, which is already out of order with various prequels and side stories, as the songs are that catchy anyway you don’t have to follow the story as closely as some other concept albums. It’s a nice touch if you are paying attention, but the band have always been more than just a story, they aren’t a gimmick band and the music, vocals and sound have always been just as noteworthy as the concept.

Musically; The Color Before The Sun was also a bit of an evolution which saw some new territories covered, with big stadium rock riffs and bubblegum melodies. Unheavenly Creatures incorporates parts of that, while also leaning more on the style the band were going for on the two Good Apollo albums from 2005 and 2007.

The vocals, the production and lead guitars are all superb and continue the long tradition of interesting and memorable songs that are easy on the ear, but come across as progressive when you look at them more closely. The band have all the hooks of the catchiest pop punk bands, all the solos of the catchiest NWOBHM guitar masters and an ear for production that always makes them sound humongous. This album is no exception. Just listen to the powerful opener ‘The Dark Sentencer,’ when Claudio sings ‘‘Kiss your lover with that filthy mouth you fucking monster’’ you just want to scream along with it like you’re on top of a cliff in the November Rain video.

That being said, its not an instant album, in fact it is 79 minutes long, so there is quite a lot to get through and it can take a lot of spins to really sink your teeth in to, but there is a lot to love if you are willing to give it the time.

For a band who, in my opinion, haven’t released a bad album yet, it can be quite hard to make a recommendation to an outsider. That being said, the general public would seem to suggest Year Of The Black Rainbow and The Afterman Descension from 2010 and 2013 respectively are the band’s least impactful works, whereas the public would advise In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth 3 and the lengthily titled Good Apollo, Tonight I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (commonly just called ‘4’ or ‘Good Apollo’ for ease) are the ones to check out first… at this point I can’t really imagine not loving a Coheed album, but just in case, I would say don’t pick this as your first one. Pick up 3, 4 and Afterman Ascension at a minimum before getting this one.

Once you are an established fan though; this is not an album you want to miss. Some of these choruses will bounce around your head for days. Some of the guitar lines are as memorable as the average band’s choruses. The first four songs alone have more memorable moments than most albums. In fact, take any four songs in a row, the first four, the last four, any four in between. Even the slower moments like ‘Queen Of The Dark’ pop on this. If you want to dip your toes in, some of the highlights include ‘True Ugly,’ ‘All On Fire,’ ‘Toys,’ and ‘Unheavenly Creatures.’

EVERGREY The Atlantic

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I’m not sure, but I think the last Evergrey album I heard prior to this one was ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’, which came out in 2006, but apart from bassist Johan Niemann the line-up is exactly the same as it was back then. Tom S. Englund provides vocals and guitars, and he is joined by Henrik Danhage (guitars), Rikard Zander (keyboards) and Jonas Ekdahl (drums). Back in 2004, when reviewing ‘The Inner Circle’ I said, “They are more to the metal end of the prog metal genre than their contemporaries, and the result is a type of music that is extremely loud and heavy while maintaining the melody and invention of the genre.” In very many ways that is still true today, except there are passages when they show they can hit into ballads when the time is right.

They are a very heavy band, with harmony vocals, loads of commercial hooks and a production which takes off the rough edges without ever losing the majesty of the performance. They have a huge sound, and one can imagine Devin Townsend being involved with production, as they convey images of Muse with Opeth yet still hitting mainstream hooks and sounds. Unlike certain bands from their hometown of Gothenburg, they continue to delight, and show no sign at all of moving away from their determined path. I do regret missing out on the last four studio albums, and if they are nearly as good as this, I see I have some investment to undertake. Twenty years on, Everygrey are still delivering the progtastic metallic goods.

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Still Cyco Punk After All These Years

Album · 2018 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" is the 11th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash/crossover/heavy metal act Suicidal Tendencies. The album was released through Suicidal Records in September 2018. It´s the successor to "World Gone Mad" from 2016, although the two full-length studio albums are bridged by the "Get Your Fight On!" EP from March 2018. Since the EP was recorded guitarist Jeff Pogan has left.

The title of the album is a pun on the band´s 1993 release "Still Cyco After All These Years" which in part is a re-recording of Suicidal Tendencies self-titled debut album from 1983. The reason for the pun is that "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" is also a re-recording of a debut album. This time around it´s a re-recording of Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir´s solo debut full-length studio album "Lost My Brain! (Once Again)" from 1996. The tracklist is in a different order to the original and the band have opted to omit the two tracks "Cyco Miko Wants You" and "Ain't Mess'n Around", but have included "Sippin' from the Insanitea" instead, which wasn´t on the original release. To those who miss the brilliant "Ain't Mess'n Around", the re-recording of that song is available on the "Get Your Fight On! (2018)" EP.

Other than a different track order, a more contemporary sounding production job, and some minor rearrangements of the material, the tracks on "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" are generally pretty true to the original material from 1996. These are good quality punk/hardcore songs, but it´s up for discussion how necessary it was to re-record them, when the originals were already well performed and well produced. Sure this is an almost completely different lineup recording the material to the lineup who recorded the material for "Lost My Brain! (Once Again) (1996)", but that´s really not enough to justify the recording and release of "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years". A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is still deserved though, as this is some good quality material, but personally I´d much rather listen to the originals.

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GRAAL Sigullum Naturae

Album · 1998 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
By the 1980s metal was an established force to be reckoned with and while Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were becoming household names, other bands were seeking more adventurous avenues to unleash their metallic fury upon. While Celtic Frost was the first extreme metal band to go hog wild into the avant-garde, other bands like Finland’s Funcunt and California’s Mr. Bungle were crafting ever more bizarre metal music. Once the 90s hit it seemed like the floodgates opened for alternative everything and suddenly bands like Old, Pan.Thy.Monium and Faxed Head were going into ever weirder places. While these bands were influential in a wild and woolly way, it was probably the Norwegian band Ved Buens Ende with the landmark album “Written In Waters.” that gave permission to the more extreme black and death metal bands to reach for the stars.

After that seminal release, avant-garde and experimental metal began to flourish all over the globe with bands like Japan’s Sigh and Lithuania’s Anubi popping up, but perhaps one of the absolutely strangest metal bands to have emerged from the 90s came from the unassuming city of Sumy located in the northeastern part of the Ukraine. The band GRAAL evolved from the experimental death metal band Brainstorm which released two demos and unleashed their one album SIGULLUM NATURAE in 1998 which seemed to be the year when avant-garde metal reached a new pinnacle with strange new works by Gorguts, Maudlin of the Well, Unexpect and !T.O.O.H! hitting the scene. However sometimes the strangest things come in strange unheard of places and in the case of GRAAL, they delivered one of the weirdest metal packages even to this very day.

Even after listening to this one, it’s not quite clear exactly what you just experienced. Yes, there are plenty of black and death metal elements going on throughout the 43 minute run but there are equal amounts of psychedelic and progressive rock, snippets of circus music, flamenco, freeform jazz and just weird atmospheric technical bizarreness turned up to 11. Despite the extremely weird nature of this one, it was still officially released on the Moon label although it has only been released once on cassette. The album can now be readily heard on Kitsch Magik’s Bandcamp page. Unlike the Mr Bungle albums that preceded which were more goofy and jovial, GRAAL crafted a strange brooding mix of dark ugliness despite the genres jumping around and time signature deviations firing off like AK-47s. Like Ved Buens Ende, dissonant melodies are a major element that accompanies the heavily distorted black metal guitars, shrieking vocals other extreme metal orthodoxies.

What’s completely against the grain on this one is the inclusion of flute runs which is a reflection of the band’s affinity with Krautrock and some have stated that Brainstorm was the epitome of Krautrock dressed in death metal clothing. Add to that the progressive rock tendencies to incorporate King Crimson styled jazz-rock into the context of say early Enslaved with thick atmospheric layers of sound clouding up the skies. Despite the rambling segments that can resemble the most tortuous constructs of avant-prog bands like Henry Cow, GRAAL still managed to keep things mostly fitting into the extreme metal territory by adding enough extreme metal riffing and brutality to keep things from completely spiraling out of control which displayed a fair amount of restraint considering at many moments the album sounds as if it will completely derail into complete formless noise.

This one is really too weird for words. It must be experienced to be understood and not just once. For all its weirdness it makes me think of some sort of mushroom worshipping black metal band would come up with after one too many psychedelic trips, where all the lines between the psychedelic 60s and the extreme metal 90s suddenly merge in the timelines and this is the result. This will surely be too weird for many who like a sense of pattern recognition handy to process the musical procession but for those who crave the most deranged and depraved sorts of metal music that there is to be heard then this one will satisfy that craving for sure.

EDGE OF SANITY Euthanasia

Demo · 1989 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Euthanasia" is the first demo cassette tape released by Swedish death metal act Edge of Sanity. The demo was self-released in November 1989. The tape was released with three different artwork colour variations. One with a black/white cover, one with a red/black cover, and one with a blue/black cover.

"Euthanasia" features 5 tracks and a full playing time of 10:52 minutes. "Return of Consciousness" is a short intro, but the remaining four tracks are "regular" death metal tracks. This is of course early death metal and therefore there are strong thrash metal leanings in the music too. Many of the riffs and rhythms are more in the thrash metal camp than in the death metal ditto. Dan Swanö´s vocals are death metal growls though. The intro, "Pernicious Anguish" and "Disrupting the Inhabitants" are exclusive to this release, while "Human Aberration" would appear in a re-recorded version on the band´s debut full-length studio album "Nothing but Death Remains (1991)", and "Incipience to the Butchery" would be featured in a re-recorded version on the band´s second full-length "Unorthodox (1992)".

The musicianship is decent for a first demo, but not everything is played as tight as it could have been. Swanö had not yet developed his disctinct sounding intelligible growling vocal style either, so his vocals here are more standard unintelligible growling. The material is overall of a relatively good quality and especially the two tracks which made it unto studio albums display that even this early on Edge of Sanity had some pretty unconventional ideas, although in small doses on this release.

The sound production is raw and lo-fi, but the band have gotten the most out of the recording equipment they had at their disposal, and "Euthanasia" is generally listenable. Upon conclusion "Euthanasia" is certainly a promising first demo by Edge of Sanity and considering the time of release, the music is quite advanced for a death metal demo. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

SUFFOCATION Reincremated

Demo · 1990 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Reincremated" is a demo cassette tape release by US, New York based death metal act Suffocation. The demo was self-released in July 1990. Suffocation were formed in 1988 and "Reincremated" is their first release. It was also their only demo release, as they were soon discovered and signed to Relapse Records for the release of the "Human Waste (1991)" EP.

"Reincremated" features 3 tracks and a full playing time of 8:37 minutes. "Human Waste" was included on the "Human Waste (1991)" EP in the exact same version, and both "Involuntary Slaughter" and "Reincremation" were featured in re-recorded versions on Suffocation´s debut full-length studio album "Effigy of the Forgotten (1991)".

The recording quality is very raw and noisy, but it´s still audible what´s going on, and there is a unique brutal charm to it, that´s reserved for death metal demos from that time period. While the sound production is unpolished and raw to say the least, it´s still obvious how well playing Suffocation were even this early on in their career. The level of brutality is also really high considering when this was released. At the time Probably only rivaled by the likes of Cannibal Corpse and Immolation.

So while this certainly isn´t a professional recording and there are issues here and there as a consequence of that, it shows from the start that Suffocation knew exactly what they wanted and that they had the skills to do it. I´m not sure brutal technnical death metal was born with this release, but it´s arguably one of the earliest examples of the style. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

NEGURĂ BUNGET Sala Molksa

EP · 1998 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
After the debut album “Zîrnindu-să” was released in 1996, NEGURĂ BUNGET went from a duo to a trio after guitarist Sol Faur (Cristian Popescu) joined the group and offered his own sensibilities which heightened the Romanian folklore and creativity clearly absent from the debut. The new lineup released their first material in 1998 in the form of the EP titled SALA MOLKSA which found not only a better production job that allowed the atmospheric possibilities to match the creepiness of the darkened Carpathian fog from which the band took its name but also found the band incorporating the wealth of Romanian folk music into the compositions that teased the synthesizers into emulating traditional flutes as well as adding more diverse dynamics, tempos and variation.

SALA MOLKSA consisted of five tracks each titled in the impenetrable Romanian language which makes it all the more mysterious and as nebulous as the cloud covered forest that surround the band’s native city of Timişoara. With a second guitarist, NEGURĂ BUNGET took the extreme metal to new heights. The guitar fury was turned up to the max, the bass lines were now separated as to be heard under the buzzsaw guitar feedback and the drumming became more ferocious with a new found purpose rather than just keeping the beat. Most importantly the compositions were more nuanced with more progressive developments and most importantly the keyboards were balanced as to provide an eerie sonic haze and evolving light years beyond the cheesy kid stuff from the debut album.

Not only had NEGURĂ BUNGET turned up the black metal riffage to Bathory level but achieved a balance with the atmospheric touches that would make Emperor proud as the symphonic orchestration mix harmoniously with nary a flaw. Best of all the tracks were no longer predictable second wave black metal and each track stood proud on its own as it ferociously fused the fury of the Scandinavian northlands with the dark and macabre folklore of the Carpathian occult world. On SALA MOLKSA, NEGURĂ BUNGET displayed their potential well and were finally hinting at the magical musical mojo was lurking beneath the surface and awaiting a more refined approach that would result in albums like “OM.” Add to that a huge leap in technical proficiency that showed the musicianship hitting their stride.

SALA MOLKSA is a frenetic beast that no longer feels like the ugly stepchild of the bigger, badder and better produced black metal leaders of the north but rather a declaration that a new brand of black metal has stepped into the ring and taking the roller coaster ride in a new direction. This EP was that statement that launched NEGURĂ BUNGET into the position as Romania’s best musical output Timişoara’s other claim to fame, the 70s progressive rock band Phoenix. While “Zîrnindu-să” showed a fledgling band getting its feet wet, SALA MOLKSA shows a band coming of age and although not creating the magnum opus of their career, nevertheless conjured up an excellent slab of atmospherically fueled black metal fury that crafted four strong ferocious tracks and a short ending track that pointed listeners into the direction of where things were going.

Everything about SALA MOLSKA is a step up from its predecessor. The melodies are more hauntingly beautiful, the black metal ferociousness is unhinged and electrified manyfold and the pacing of the tracks keeps this one interesting for its entire run. The EP was released initially on cassette in Romania and the following year found a release on CD. It also was included on the 2004 Box Set in its entirety and after NEGURĂ BUNGET rise to success was re-recorded and released once again in 2008. The EP appears on the band’s Bandcamp page and both versions are presented side by side for comparison. Frankly i’m not too keen on re-recordings but whatever. This original is just fine by me. Black metal doesn’t need to be and on the contrary actually works better in a lo-fi setting. Musically this one is brilliant and sonically the textures meld together perfectly. A huge leap forward indeed.

NEGURĂ BUNGET Zîrnindu-să

Album · 1996 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 7 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Emerging from the Carpathian forests of Western Romania in the city of Timişoara, the early makings of NEGURĂ BUNGET were forged from the ashes of a band called Makrothumia when the two members: Negru (Gabriel Mafa) on drums and Hupogrammos Disciple (Edmond Karban) on guitars, vocals, and keyboards joined forces to create the new band Wiccan Rede in 1994. Under this early moniker, the duo released the “From Transilvanian Forests” demo before changing their name to the more familiar NEGURĂ BUNGET. The new name was taken from the black fog coming from the surrounding forests and thus the band’s goal was to construct an atmospheric style of black metal that reflected that concept.

Sallying forth to fulfill their mission, Negru and Hupogrammos Disciple crafted their debut album ZÎRNINDU-SĂ (Nightshade) which was recorded in only 20 hours at the Magic Sound Studio in Bucharest which explains why this album sounds a tad rushed. Initially released as a cassette only in their native Romania, the album saw a US release in 1998 on CD but wouldn’t find a newer release until it appeared on the 2004 Box Set where it was remastered. Another re-recorded version emerged in 008 with a bonus CD that included both the old and new versions. Both versions exist side by side on the band’s Bandcamp page for comparison but basically this debut gives little clues as to the progressive black metal mastery that NEGURĂ BUNGET would conjure up on the following albums “'n crugu bradului” and “OM” as it chugs out fairly standard black metal mileage of the era.

Following in the wake of the Scandinavian dominance of the second wave of 90s black metal, NEGURĂ BUNGET was very much playing keep up with their brethren to the north. While ZÎRNINDU-SĂ already displays a fairly unique atmospheric backdrop that would continue to evolve, the aggressive buzzsaw guitar distortion with frantic tremolo picking, a blastbeat drumming style and raspy vocals set below the distorted orotundity was pretty much the status quo of black metal by the year 1996 when this was released. While the progressive touches are light years away from the magnanimity of the future releases, there were already a few more complex riffing styles and compositional tricks that made this a tad more progressive than the likes of what Darkthrone, Immortal or Mayhem were doing at the time.

The album consists of eight tracks that exercise the same formulaic approach for the entire run. While the duo are more than competent with the mechanical chops of the guitar riffing, buried bass and melodic constructs, the biggest problem is that the keyboards are set too high in the mix and sound a bit cheesy as they fail to resemble the darkened misty forest that they claim to draw inspiration from but rather like cheap thrift store keys used for a grade school project. Likewise the songs themselves fail to ignite any excitement as they all tend to sound the same half way through the album with melodic developments that pretty much copy and paste and add a few screams in different places.

This was clearly a rough draft that was simply pumped out to get a product on the market. When compared to the following “Sala Molksa EP” that came out two years later that began to add the Romanian folk musical touches, this one just sounds too generic for its own good but it’s not really that bad either. This debut while not essential by any means is certainly an interesting listen as to ascertain how quickly NEGURĂ BUNGET evolved from a meh extreme metal band to the hottest item in all of Dracula’s Carpathian empire. The band would emerge as Romanian metal band #1 in a few short years but as far as this debut was concerned, you can pretty much skip to the following EP to get to the good stuff.

...? .​.​.​!

Album · 2012 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The strangely named …? (pronouned as DOT DOT DOT QUESTION MARK) is actually the solo creation of Luke “Lou” Kelly of Ukiah, CA, USA where he plays all the instruments and performs all vocals. So far the only material to emerge from this idiosyncratic bizarre project is the sole album titled …! (pronounced as DOT DOT DOT EXCLAMATION POINT). Obviously a home project and available exclusively as a download on Bandcamp, this project is the ultimate tribute to the bizarre weirdness of Frank Zappa, Primus and most of all Mr Bungle.

Although this release has 10 tracks, the punk fueled energetic delivery keeps them on the shorter side with the longest only hitting the two and a half minute mark but like Mr Bungle’s most ambitious efforts such as on “Disco Volante,” …? is a genre jumping beast implementing everything from surf rock guitar, to gypsy ska punk, vocal standards, psychedelia, circus and cartoon music along with hardcore punk and even moments of death metal.

The juxtaposition of goofy non-serious lyrics embedded within highly sophisticated musical deliveries, some of which are quite progressive and mind-blowing is very much out of the Bungle playbook complete with crazy tracks like “One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten” which as it sounds is only a track about counting up to ten!

This little EP is all over the place. There’s Balkan gypsy swing punk, country bluegrass, ska, indie rock, operatic vocals, death metal growls, cartoon music, circus punk and it’s really about as avant-garde as can be with the goal seemingly to be even more extreme than Mr Bungle. On this front it works quite well and it actually hangs together very successfully throughout, however where this release fails is in the creativity department. Despite throwing in everything and the kitchen sink, it all comes off as nothing more than Bungle worship.The way the genres skip, very Bungle. The silly nonsensical humor, very Bungle. The punk, metal and ska intonations, once again very Bungle.

A very noble effort indeed as the production and mixing are skillfully mastered and the heavy distortion is seamlessly melded with the more orchestrated parts and this was truly a pleasure to experience however given the lack of originality, this will never be seen as anything other than a very competent tribute however if you’re really itching to check out a worthy Bungle successor then this is certainly worth the short time. It packs a punch into every second of playing time and doesn’t mess around. I truly would love to see …? develop into a formidable artist in its own right.

NEOANDERTALS Neanderthals Were Master Butchers

Album · 2007 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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One of the stranger finds in the death metal universe is the Estonian band NEOANDERTALS that formed in 2003 near the eastern village of Otepää by bassist / vocalist Rain Pohlak along with drummer Roland Seer. The next year they filled the lineup with guitarist Toomas Keermann joining the ranks but he would soon leave before any recording time took place. The duo decided that they would from then on perform a brutal style of death metal with absolutely no guitars whatsoever and thus created a sound that consists of only bass, percussion and vocals. The freedom from the dominant guitar sounds gives this an deep brutal hellish sound unlike any other death metal band i’ve personally experienced.

As it turned out, the sound suited the band’s thematic lyrical content quite well which focused around the world of the ancient neanderthals. Why the moniker is spelled as it is remains a mystery to me but after the duo got their feet wet on their demo “Neander Valley” they were ready for primetime and released this debut album NEANDERTHALS WERE MASTER BUTCHERS in 2007. This is supposed to be a concept album that focuses on the darker side of neanderthals that mixes anthropology with death metal fantasies. The stories capture the gloomier side of neanderthal behavior such as defleshing, burial rites, their butchering habits and the classics like decapitation and of course the rise of neo-neanderthal zombies!

Despite the concept it’s unlikely you’ll understand a fucking thing because this is death metal, baby! And staying true to the genre, the guttural growls are incomprehensible however what is unusual about this band is that this barbaric experimentalism is actually quite suited for a primeval frolic throughout the bass driven sonosphere. What NEONDERTALS deliver is an incessant pummelation of technical death metal drumming and extraordinarily brutal bass antics, the likes of which give my fingers blisters just listening to this stuff. While the avant-groove is laced in technical wizardry, there are moments when a groove metal chill out in comparison is allowed to calm things down. After listening to this for a while it also seems that the vocals really start to sound like a caveman making metal music if such a thing could happen.

The album is appropriately short for a brutal death metal album just shy of the thirty minute run and like most other guitar oriented bands existing in this niche, this one is laced with fury and fire and mostly sounds the same from one track to the next at least to the untrained ears. While the timbres and tones are almost exclusively in the lower reaches of the bass, there are a few moments when Rain delivers some bass solos on the highest registers possible which offers some interesting contrast. The drums are just on fire the whole time. This really does sound like chaotic caveman music! This unique guitarless death metal is interesting in a couple of ways. On the positive side, it really allows the bass and drums to thrive in a way not possible with a guitar but on the flip side don’t offer up as much variety as the guitar can muster up. Still though, not a bad slog through the frenetosphere and definitely unique sounding.

TESA Heartbeatsfromthesky

Album · 2008 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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TESA formed in the Latvian capital city Riga in 2005 from members of the bands In.Stora, Kriegopfer and Les Corte before mastering the fine art of the progressive post-metal / atmospheric sludge metal that found them on the top of the European scene. This power trio consists of Dāvis Burmeisters (guitars), Kārlis Tone (bass guitar, vocals) and Jānis Burmeisters (drums, vocals) who have been quite successful over the last decade at European and Russian tours and festivals with the most famous gigs playing with the US sludge metal pioneers Neurosis as well as the more drone oriented Canadian band Nadja.

The band released two EPs in the form of 2006 combo pack “Depo” and the eponymously titled release. Two years later found the debut full-length HEARTBEATSFROMTHESKY (alternatively written as HEART BEATS FROM THE SKY) which consists of six untitled tracks that conspire to create a larger than life atmospheric sludge metal experience. The band’s main influences include not only Neurosis but also Shora, Grails, Nadja, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and even Converge. While categorized as metal, the band seems to spend as much time in post-rock territory as with the more energetic metal bombast. For the most part this debut album is instrumental with a few subdued screamed vocal parts emerging from the ruckus.

While not dissimilar to bands like Isis, Russian Circles and other post-metal bands, TESA dishes out lengthy soundscapes that plod along at mid-tempo and offer sublime mixes of textures, darkened melodies, ambient soundscapes, hypnotic repetitive loops and touches of noise all dressed up in a stellar production. What makes HEARTBEATSFROMTHESKY stand out from the post-metal pack is the unique mix of the destructive riffs that contrast with a ridiculous amount of layers of guitar sounds and atmospheric soundscapes that offer a slight doom metal touch. While the pure metal parts are rare, when they do emerge the guitars erupt into a pyroclastic flow of distorted head banging riffage that eclipses the mostly dominant ambience of the album’s 32 minute run.

TESA dish out the kind of post-rock that would surely please in a live setting as the cyclical grooves reverberate across a packed stadium however in the creativity department they implement the status quo of a post-rock album in a metal context and don’t actually stand out from the many other bands ranging from Cult of Luna and Rosetta to Jesu. In fact they are probably less diverse than any of the aforementioned as the formula sticks to the playbook. The biggest draw on HEARTBEATSFROMTHESKY is surely the impeccable production and mixing job that makes this a real treat to listen to. While the vocals are subdued under the sheer magnitude of the fiery instrumental section, they can be heard creating interesting counterpoint harmonies when used. Overall this is a decent slice of post-metal but one i’d hardly call overly essential either.

ANUBI Kai pilnaties akis užmerks mirtis

Album · 1997 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 2 ratings
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The Scandinavian nations clearly dominated the 90s black metal scene when it seemed like even every small village in Lapland had its own church burning miscreants sonically torturing souls with their bombastic distortionfests, however they weren’t the only game in town. While different strains of black metal began to splinter with acts like Summoning from Austria excelling in symphonic atmospheric varieties and Greece’s Rotting Christ mustering up a more rawer evil form, the Eastern European block had its share of interesting bands that still remain obscure even today. While the tiny former Soviet nation of Lithuania hardly comes to mind in any contemporary music scene, it too had a few nuggets to share with the world however with the glut of music pouring from every nook and cranny of the world by the turn of the millennium, it’s no wonder this little nation got drowned out.

One of the more interesting extreme metal acts to emerge from this tiny nation on the Baltic was the Kaunas based ANUBI. The band was formed as far back as 1992 by guitarist Slrp and his drummer / brother Renofer who were initially more interested in psychedelic music than metal but that all changed when the eccentric vocalist Lord Ominous a.k.a. Ptah (Martynas Meskauskas) joined the band. With a penchant for the more extreme and noisy varieties of music the band was attracted to the darkness and vitality of the burgeoning black metal scene across Europe. After a few demos where they developed their strange mix of black metal mixed with various musical genres such as progressive rock, dark ambient, jazz and homegrown Lithuanian folk music, the band crafted their one and only album KAI PILNATIES AKIS UŽMERKS MIRTIS “When Death Will Close The Eyes To The Full Moon.”

In many ways ANUBI were the black metal answer to Slovenia’s Devil Doll. With a dramatic flair for musical variety augmented with the charismatic singer Lord Ominous, ANUBI still remains a rather unique stylistic approach in a sector of the metal universe that has seemingly splintered into every conceivable direction. With black metal as its musical template KAI PILNATIES AKIS UŽMERKS MIRTIS is a hard beast to nail down otherwise as it is the exemplary example of experimentation and creativity so absent from much of what was called black metal in the 90s. With raspy vocals, heavy distorted guitar riffs and an overall darkened vibe, it’s tempting to file ANUBI in the black metal camp, but it seems that there are more non-metal elements than the metal itself. Some tracks eschew the metal altogether in favor of a psychedelically tinged version of local folk music.

In its near one hour wake KAI PILNATIES AKIS UŽMERKS MIRTIS finds the most unlikely elements blended into the metal madness. The guitar riffs find themselves accompanied by trippy slide guitars, a psychotic ukulele, a demon possessed saxophone and even an angry accordion not to mention a plethora of field recordings and a vibrant violin. Unlike the blastbeat fueled anti-Christian fury of bands like Darkthrone, ANUBI drift along in a mid-tempo march through atmospheric sound factories that create a more contemplative and dreamy (albeit hellish at times) stroll through the darkened woods. Reminding me of more contemporary bands like France’s Penseé Nocturnes,” ANUBI could possibly be the first black metal band to implement a darkened cabaret aesthetic with the drunken piano rolls that find their way into tracks such as "Kai Pilnaties Akis Užmerks Mirtis.”

The album is all the more mysterious since the tracks and the lyrics are in the Lithuanian language which along with neighboring Latvian exist in their own language family and remain defiantly distant from their closest Indo-European cousins. If i were to tag this myself, i’d call this psychedelic black metal because it’s one of the trippiest black metal releases i’ve ever heard. The atmospheric touches are thick and sinister, the guitars while heavily distorted are rather nonchalant in their delivery and basically provide a black metal canvass to paint the myriad sonic elements upon. While the occasional organs and chanting can give a liturgical feel to the overall sound, this is never more true on the closing “Tarp Akmens Ir Veidrodžio” which creeps over the 15 minute mark making it the progressive highlight of the album and where the most obvious comparisons with Devil Doll take place.

For black metal purists, this must’ve have been unholy blasphemy as ANUBI adhered to no orthodoxies of the day but merely took elements from across the musical spectrum and copy and pasted where it was seen fit. It would certainly be more appropriate to label KAI PILNATIES AKIS UŽMERKS MIRTIS as a dark psychedelic album with black metal as one of its ingredients as it drifted too far away to satisfy the tunnel vision antics of the status quo and while i’ll readily admit that i wish the album was significantly heavier at times to create some sort of extreme contrast, i cannot deny that ANUBI crafted one of the most unique metal albums of the entire 90s that comes off as some sort of demonic opera or a gothic graveyard anthem. While the balance between atmospherics and metal may lean more towards the former, it does work quite well. Unfortunately the band would come to an end with the tragic death of the irreplaceable Lord Ominous who drowned while fishing on Lake Michigan in the USA in 2002. While the band never would release another album, this one little artifact is a must for lover’s of the avant-garde with metal touches.

VIRGIN STEELE The Black Light Bacchanalia

Album · 2010 · US Power Metal
Cover art 2.94 | 12 ratings
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Way back in the eighties, there was an advert somewhere near the back of Circus magazine (or was it Hit Parader) for an album by a band called Virgin Steele. It was their second album, and the text quoted a review of their first album which expressed that it was "the album Judas Priest should have made." The original American releases of both albums were not available in Canada; however, two albums with different cover art and different track listings were to be found, and I snapped them both up fairly soon. Aside from the rough production, specifically for the debut, I though the music offered a lot of metal thrills, and there was no mistaking the outstanding high shrilling shrieks of singer David DeFeis.

The third album was "Noble Savage" and I'm afraid it was less to my liking. I dropped interest in any further releases, and though I stopped to check out the band's CDs several years later, the cover art convinced me that Virgin Steele had become darker and more sinister. I forgot about them.

Perhaps because I bought the second album, "Guardians of the Flame" on CD around 2010, "The Black Light Bacchanalia" showed up in recommended albums on my Amazon page. Curious, I ordered it and was rather surprised. Here was David DeFeis still puncturing eardrums with those shrieks that were high enough to challenge any first grade elementary school girl on the playground. The music was still metal, but there had been an obvious evolution in the Virgin Steele sound. I decided that i liked it, but didn't love it. Good enough for the one album; no hurry to get any others.

And now it's 2019. For the last two months, I've had my ears buried in eighties thrash metal, old school death metal, and the second wave of black metal. I've begun dabbling in power metal and slowly, little by little, adding to my doom and stoner metal collection. And for some reason, I suddenly felt like listening to "The Black Light Bacchanalia" again.

Thoughts! Impressions!

On this album, Virgin Steele are power metal by lyrical topics and presentation, not to mention the essential inclusion of keyboard piano or keyboard orchestra. But the music is not like the group sing-a-longs of some bands or the speedy and precise agility of others. In fact, I can't help but feel this album is more like a theatrical performance, with DeFeis playing the lead role of the protagonist and the lyrics serving as his monologue when speaking to himself or his enemies. To read here on MMA that Virgin Steele play "romantic-barbaric" metal really hits the minion on the head. The music is bold and at times forceful but it more often has a graceful caress to it than straight out brutality and force. It is the Noble Savage, swinging his sword sunward and striking a symbolic pose with pectoral muscles bronzed in the sun.

Though there are some cool riffs as well as some tremolo picked chords backed by double kick drum, there are plenty of chords struck and left to support the vocals. The drums can be a flurry of sticks at times but often they hold a modest place keeping a steady beat. My feeling at one point was like the music is a bit like driving a standard transmission sports car down a city street: sometimes you can speed up and swoop around in traffic but more often you're changing gears, slowing down and speeding up just a little as you deal with traffic and intersection lights. Again, the reason seems to be that the music is a theatrical performance with the lyrics and vocals taking the lead role.

DeFeis tends to sing in a calm, smooth voice throughout most of the songs. It's almost like the lines are meant to be whispered with conviction but need to be sung. He throws in some snarls and growls but more like a wild cat and not like thrash metal sneers and barks or death metal roars and bellows. He can also sing in a higher register and again does so softly as if to serenade the sorceress. Then there will be another one of those sky high notes.

The songs have a pretty decent length and at times almost seen more like progressive metal or symphonic metal. The keyboard piano (which I distinguish from real piano) does more than offer safe, pretty notes and in a track or two it takes over for the rhythm guitar as the primary instrument of melody. Some dramatic symphonic blasts give a grandness to certain passages.

I'm not familiar with Virgin Steele's releases between Noble Savage and 2010 so I can't compare my impressions here with other albums. But I feel thrilled enough by my return visit to have ordered another Virgin Steele album. This music is not for everyone. It doesn't have the rush and charge of thrash metal, the pulverizing assault of death metal, or the cold grimness of black metal. There might be too many abrupt changes in the music without a steady supply of full-on metal power for some folks. It does not have enough of that power metal conqueror swing to it. But if you've come to hear some of Virgin Steele's story telling and drama, then this album offers some rewards.

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