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OPETH Pale Communion

Album · 2014 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.90 | 12 ratings
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Pale Communion (2014) is the eleventh full-length album by Swedish former extreme progressive metal act Opeth. While Opeth certainly haven't been shy about producing the more progressive rock orientated releases in the past, Pale Communion is the first time that such a release from them has followed another one, in this case Heritage (2011). It's obvious in this case that Opeth have moved on and become a different band to that which made fan favourites like Still Life (1999), Blackwater Park (2001) and Ghost Reveries (2005). Obviously this is extremely bad news for fans of Opeth's special brand of extreme progressive metal and anyone who was hoping that the band would return to their usual (sorry, old) style following Heritage are going to have every reason to be upset given the direction taken on Pale Communion.

This isn't exactly Heritage Part II but neither is it a metal album in any shape or form. It reminds me a little more of Opeth's earlier progressive rock record Damnation (2003) than it does Heritage but it isn't exactly a carbon copy of that album either, though there are certainly more nods to both those albums than anything that featured death growls. The music has more of a rocky edge to it than Damnation but as far as something this progressive goes it somehow seems more one dimensional than Heritage did. The musicianship is of course highly competent and as always I really enjoy Mikael Åkerfeldt's clean singing, but there's also something about the album that causes my attention to wander after a few tracks and that wasn't a problem I had with either Heritage or Damnation.

While fans of progressive rock who always thought Opeth were wasting themselves on extreme metal are probably going to be lapping up the current more progressive yet not at all metal incarnation of the band, I have to consider that I ultimately write reviews for metal sites and while I did enjoy Heritage enough to give it a 4.5 star rating back in 2011 even considering the same point of view I just don't get the same spark from Pale Communion in order to recommend it too highly. It's a good progressive rock album but even when solely compared to Opeth's own Damnation and Heritage Pale Communion just falls short of the standards I expect from these guys and unless it suddenly grows on me years down the line I feel confident to say that right now, this is the weakest album they've ever done.


(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/opeth-pale-communion-t3739.html)

ANATHEMA Distant Satellites

Album · 2014 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.01 | 9 ratings
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"Distant Satellites" is the 12th full-length studio album by atmospheric rock act Anathema. The album was released through Kscope in June 2014.

"Distant Satellites" treads an alternative/semi-progressive atmospheric rock path that is similar in sound and style to it´s predecessor "Weather Systems (2012)". The music is polished, dreamy, and slow building. Usually starting out mellow and then slowly building towards louder and more intense climaxes. The by now trademark melancholy of the band´s music is as prevailent here as it´s always been. This is not depressive music though and although it´s not exactly happy music either, there is an uplifting spirit about the whole affair, that makes "Distant Satellites" a predominantly light melancholic album rather than a dark depressive one.

The male vocals by Vincent Cavanagh and the female vocals by Lee Douglas are the center of attention on the album and they share the spotlight equally. Atmospheric keyboards and guitars, and a well playing rhythm section complete the band´s sound. Anathema have also included some electronic drumming on the album, which to my ears is a very successful move.

The first part of the album features organic drums, but when the 7th track "You´re Not Alone" kicks in, the music style changes a bit as a result of the electronic drums. It becomes more ambient and I´m reminded of artists like Massive Attack and Morcheeba. The short instrumental "Firelight" continues the ambient sound and the title track which follows is also quite ambient and features electronic drumming. The latter reminds me a lot of Coldplay and could in an edited version (this version is 8:17 minutes long) easily get radio airplay. It´s the perfect example of how far Anathema have come since their early doom/death metal days. It´s not unusual for Anathema to tweek their sound during an album. They did the same on "Weather Systems (2012)". They do it skillfully though which means that their core style and atmosphere are intact throughout.

"Distant Satellites" is packed in an organic and pleasant sounding production which fits the music perfectly, and all in all it´s another high quality release by Anathema. If I have to voice a minor complaint it would be about the lyrics, which are at times a bit too simple, naive, and starry eyed, and not exactly written with the greatest finesse. I´ll even go as far as to call them teenage-angsty, which is a bit odd to me, as I know these guys (and girl) are in their 30s/40s. Oh well...they are fortunately sung by strong voices and wrapped in beautiful melodies, so it is a minor complaint and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is still deserved.

SLEEP The Clarity

Single · 2014 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Against all the probabilities, Sleep returned after a hiatus of 16 years, releasing a new song through the 2014 Adult Swim Singles – remembering that is free for download. Many acts return years after disbanding, and we all know that most of these returns weren't worth the wait...

But rejoice, fans of Sleep, you all can get high again! The line-up is not the same, since the original drummer left the band. Some people felt this loss, but I couldn't see the difference, really! The musicianship shown in this song, named The Clarity, is excellent. Many nods to Black Sabbath and the 70's hard rock/proto-doom bands, with a generous dose of psychedelia in the last half.

This song is recommendded for the stoner/doom metal fans. Check it out!

MINDMAZE Back from the Edge

Album · 2014 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 3 ratings
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Back From the Edge (2014) is the second full-length album by US metal act MindMaze. Having released their debut album Mask of Lies (2013) independently the band have moved up in the world and Back From the Edge is released through Inner Wound Recordings. The band have also added bassist Mike LePond to the line-up, a notable musician best known for none other than the mighty Symphony X among others. Additionally the band has garnered some high profile guest appearances such as Jens Johansson of Stratovarius adding a keyboard solo to Moment of Flight and Matt Johnsen of Pharaoh adding a guitar solo on The Machine Stops.

I'm going to take a little time out from my usual review structure to apologise to my readers, as I had made the promise to try and cover some other genres for a time after realising that a good majority of my current group of 2014 release reviews were for power metal albums. A follow-up to the excellent MindMaze debut Mask of Lies was always high on my personal hype list for the rest of this year, but I thought I'd be safe with my promise when a promo for the album came my way, as in my opinion Mask of Lies was mainly a traditional heavy metal album with power metal and progressive metal leanings, more so the latter than power metal. Turns out though that Back From the Edge is not a heavy metal album, but a progressive power metal album. So sorry readers, the promise is going briefly on hold.

Wait...I'm really not all that sorry about that, for in Back From the Edge MindMaze have produced an album that is possibly the best case of genre evolution I've ever heard, changing the band from a good heavy metal band to an excellent power metal band.

While there are some moments on Back From the Edge that are more like straight-forward power metal songs, such as the lead single Dreamwalker, the album is mostly made up a perfect blend of power and progressive metal ideas so while you'll be getting plenty of those speedy power metal riffs to propel the music along the guitar playing by Jeff Teets in particular has a tendency to veer off into more complex ideas, with the occasional use of keyboards adding another layer to the sound, though the band usually stick to a typical song structure, with most on the album clocking between the four and six minute marks.

At the other end of the spectrum though there are a couple of longer tracks, namely The Machine Stops and Onward (Destiny Calls II). The latter is obviously a follow-up to the closing track from Mask of Lies. It's these longer songs of course that really bring the progressive side of the music out, and Onward (Destiny Calls II) is especially impressive, even including some flute usage that gives the song a very slight folksy vibe. This is the most progressive song on the album and is probably the only one here that I'd call a progressive metal song over a power metal song and despite being the power metal maniac I am, it's also my favourite.

Back From the Edge is quickly impressive for the same reasons that made Mask of Lies such an great debut, but the difference is where Mask of Lies seemed a little unsure about what the band wanted to be, Back From the Edge is a focussed piece of work with strong musicianship all round, amazing energy, and powerful vocals by Sarah Teets. MindMaze have been a pretty unknown entity on the metal scene up until this point, but Back From the Edge is the album that sets out to change that, and will if there is any justice in the world.

I mentioned earlier about trying to leave off power metal reviews for a while because of the large amount I've done this year, but what I neglected to say is that only one of those albums was awarded a top tier score, and folk-power metal albums like that one (Elvenking) are nearly always more recognisable as folk metal releases so really Back From the Edge is the first power metal from 2014 that is a power metal album before it is something else (in this case progressive metal) that I've felt the need to go up to the top tier for. Back From the Edge is really everything fans of female voiced power metal could want, and I don't feel like I'm overhyping it by putting up a perfect score. Consider me blown away by the massive progress MindMaze has made in such a short time since their debut.


(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/mindmaze-back-from-the-edge-t3734.html)

HATRIOT Dawn of the New Centurian

Album · 2014 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Dawn of the New Centurian" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US thrash metal act Hatriot. The album was released through Massacre Records in February 2014. Hatriot was formed by (at the time) former Exodus lead vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza and features two of his sons on bass and drums. The lineup on this album is completed by Kosta Varvatakis and Justin Cole on guitars. The latter mentioned has replaced Miguel Esparza, but other than that, the lineup who recorded "Heroes of Origin (2013)" is intact.

Stylistically "Dawn of the New Centurian" continues the strongly Exodus influenced old school US thrash metal style which the band also played on "Heroes of Origin (2013)". It´s not only the distinct sounding raw voice and convincing snarling delivery of Steve "Zetro" Souza, that makes one think of late 80s/early 90s Exodus, but very often also the riffing style. So this is not for listeners who want to hear something they haven´t heard before, but for fans of old school US thrash metal delivered by enthusiastic and skilled musicians.

The material are for the most part well written and catchy, but to my ears there is a slight drop in quality compared to the strong debut (too many tracks don´t really stick). The sound production isn´t as strong as the sound production on the debut album either, and that also has some effect on my overall impression of "Dawn of the New Centurian". Overall it´s still a pretty strong album release by Hatriot and fans of the style should of course give it a listen. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

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NEUROSIS Through Silver in Blood

Album · 1996 · Sludge/Post-metal
Cover art 4.35 | 32 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
NEUROSIS continues their steak of innovative metal music on their 5th studio album THROUGH SILVER IN BLOOD. They boldly continue their experimental path by upping some of their traits but also retain others. For example, they still use a little bit of the sampling utilized on the previous album but don't overdo it. Where they excel on this most popular album of their entire discography is in the delivery of the most intense sludgy metal riffs ever created with some intense tribal drumming patterns that are unlike anything metal at this point had incorporated into its mix. In fact some of the drumming reminds me of electronic music mostly associated with psytrance, psybient and other non-metal genres but NEUROSIS freely borrows here and there and successfully fuses it all with some of the most wicked sludge riffing ever! They also master the art of slow hypnotic atmospheric construction. Slow acoustic passages build up to intense aggressive punk-inspired shouted ragefests.

This is a perfectly balanced album that delivers all the right ingredients in the proper proportions. An epic affair if I do say. Although the main instruments include the usual metal suspects such as guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, there is also the occasional appearance of bagpipes, cello and violin. This is a post-metal masterpiece that flows brilliantly from beginning to end. Another one of those albums that rubbed me the right way upon first listen but consistently grows on me more every time I listen to it. Once again NEUROSIS doesn't rest on their laurels. They know exactly how to evolve from one album to the next taking risks by adding new elements but never deviating so far from their core sound as to totally alienate any dedicated followers. With a sound so successful I am thankful that they have chosen to retain a core sound as their template because it is a successful one that deserves a lot of room for exploration.


Album · 2001 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 5 ratings
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Sinner is the debut album by alternative metal band Drowning Pool.

The thing I like about Drowning Pool is how they take the sounds of such bands like Sick Puppies, Mudvayne, and Godsmack and mash them into this badass sound. Sometimes, this is very hard for a band to do correctly, and Drowning Pool did it 100% right. Or at least it was good enough for them to spawn 4 more studio albums, and 1 hit live album.

Although this album paved the way for DP's popular albums, it still has a slight blandness to it. A lot of the songs are kind of repetitive, and rarely change. Not to say that it degrades the album in any way, but it does slightly diminish the album's quality.

This is a nice piece of alt metal that I would encourage anyone to pick up if they see it.


Album · 1993 · Metal Related
Cover art 2.20 | 5 ratings
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Porcupine Tree-Up the Downstair

After the odd space rock joke of 'On the Sunday of Life', Porcupine Tree seemed to continue in that direction except it may not have been a joke anymore. Something about this album just seems off to me.

I can enjoy 'On the Sunday of Life', it's a good album for what it is and can be kind of funny at times. 'Up the Downstair' just took the same mood and atmosphere from the previous album and added some crazy riffing and more spaced-out jams.

The album begins with a catchy 'Synesthesia', which keeps the same keyboard melody through the entire song and it can get tiring. Wilson does give some great solos in this song. 'Always Never' is a nice heavy song, but the beginning has pretty bland guitar riffing sounding like it would fit better in an IQ album then a PT album. The bridge has some really good heavy riffs though, and at the end of the song Wilson plays another great solo. The title track has a very long beginning with catchy bass, until the heavy rocking riffs come in. It just drags on for a bit too long in my opinion. 'Not Beautiful Anymore' is definitely my favorite from this album, it's a fast and heavy spaced-out jam but it's short and sweet. I can't forget the 11 minute long 'Burning Sky'. A much better version of the title track, it mixes things up enough to keep it interesting and the crunching guitar riffs are great of course.

Overall, it's not a bad album but it certainly lacks compared to PT's other albums in my opinion. It has too many forgettable songs and the long songs just kind of overstay their welcome in my opinion. 'Burning Sky' and 'Not Beautiful Anymore' are heavy songs that would appeal to the metal-heads, but I would recommend the live 'Coma Divine' for the tracks on this album. If you're a fan of droning space-rock mixed with some heavy metal, you might want to check it out. It's probably my least favorite album by my favorite band.

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HELSTAR A Distant Thunder

Album · 1988 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.80 | 9 ratings
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Helstar-A Distant Thunder

After two pretty good albums, Helstar was able to find a perfect balance of the power, speed, and thrash metal styles they had been using on the previous two albums. Also shown on this album are some prog influences.

When the album begins, you're already shot right into powerful pounding and rolling drums with the opening song 'The King is Dead'. During the chorus, Rivera's lower vocals flow perfectly with the shredding guitar. Rivera's vocals are very well performed on this song, with his higher-pitched vocals being spread out to the beginning, middle, and end. 'Tyrannicide' is another strong track. The shredding guitar at both the beginning and the rest of the song is just amazing. Rivera's vocals here resembles Bruce Dickinson's vocals a bit here. 'Scorcher' is another favorite, with a beautiful acoustic intro. Rivera's vocals really shine here, with his soft vocals flowing perfectly with the acoustics. His scream signals the fast guitar and drums to come in. The bridge is another favorite part of the song, with some Medieval sounding acoustic guitar.

'Abandon Ship' is a big stand-out track, with it being the longest song on the album and showing some prog metal influences. All the instruments compliment each other perfectly, the drums rolling, the shredding guitar, and the bass all blend well together. The bridge is my favorite part of the song, before the guitar solo comes in, Larry Barragan's guitar really shines. Then beautiful acoustic guitar comes in while the electric guitar is still droning in the background, which is something I love to hear. Rivera's vocals and lyrics are very strong, his vocals complimenting the acoustics perfectly. It's definitely the masterpiece of the album.

The lyrics are much stronger on this album, with more inspirational lyrics. The song 'Bitter End' is about freedom. The lyrics for 'Abandon Ship' remind me of an Iron Maiden song, with the lyrics speaking about dreams and exploration.

Overall, this album is certainly essential to any metal collection. Helstar was at their peak, none of the songs are weak on this album. Helstar blends speed, power, thrash, and prog into a perfect blend. Their inclusion of Medieval influences is very unique as well, with it fitting pretty well with Helstar's sound. Highly recommended to any metal collection.

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ASTARTE Demonized

Album · 2007 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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Astarte's fifth and final album Demonized from 2007 is probably the most odd one out that the band ever released. The music on the release was recorded mostly by guest musicians Lycon and Ice with only vocals and keyboards provided by the actual members of Astarte. At least that's how things are credited in the liner notes. I'm really unsure why they would release an album like that but nevertheless Demonized ultimately ended up Astarte's swansong since leader Tristessa died in 2014 before the long planned follow-up Blackdemonium could be completed. As had been the trend with Astarte starting with Quod Superius Sicut Inferius Demonized features some guest vocalists, this time including Angela Gossow, Attila Csihar and Henri Sattler.

Musically this one is a bit different to everything that Astarte did before in that it's quite heavily death metal orientated and also the band's most intense album, which is the main reason why I consider it the odd one out. Rather than being the black sheep of their discography though this is actually probably my second favourite Astarte release after Quod Superius Sicut Inferius. Much like with Sirens I think the vocals by Tristessa may be a bit of an acquired taste but they suit the music I think and stand out more than Kinthia's did on the earlier work. The individual songs stand out more than they did on Sirens which I found to have some repetitive melodies. Especially ones like Mutter Astarte and Lycon are easy highlights. It's sad that we will not get to hear more music from Astarte but at least this final offering was them ending on a high note. In my opinion they are one of the most underappreciated black metal acts to have existed and over the course of five albums covered three distinct moods of the genre; raw, melodic and finally intense. R.I.P. Tristessa.

Attribution: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/astarte-demonized-t3772.html

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