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SECRET SPHERE The Nature of Time

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Some twenty years after their debut, Italian melodic symphonic act Secret Sphere are back with their ninth studio album. Very much at their heart is founder guitarist Aldo Lonobile, but with singer Michele Luppi (also currently serving as keyboardist and background vocalist for Whitesnake) coming on board in time for their 2012 release ‘Portrait Of A Dying Heart’, the band have changed so that there are also now some more progressive elements to their sound. Italy seems to produce many strong melodic rock bands, and Secret Sphere are very much in case point. This release highlights their skill in composing highly orchestrated songs and introducing their foray into a new age of heavy rock and metal music. High class songs with amazing choruses, big vocals, majestic orchestral arrangements, and amazing, mind-blowing, guitar heroics are the order of the day. ‘The Nature Of Time’ explores the "back to life" concept, an inward looking search of the self that can positively impact everyone's everyday life.

It is polished, and produced to within an inch of its life, and that is possibly the only really flaw for me, in that the band never breaks out of the self-imposed constraints, so that the spark is often missing. That can’t take away from some great performance and some wonderful songs with superb vocals, but it needs some additional vitality and forcefulness. Some will probably view this as a masterpiece, but I could do with something a little more raw.

GENOCIDE GENERATOR III

Album · 2017 · Grindcore
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
At its heart, grindcore is really a very uncomplicated, honest form of music. Take an idea and some instruments, smash them together as hard as you can, and record the carnage. All too often, the result is a dreadful, tuneless sludge, as evidenced by the mountainous slagheap of unloved and unlovable demos polluting the grind scene. Yes, good on the bands for having a go and getting something out there, but some quality control would be nice.

Every so often though, the crushing weight of carbon black detritus produces a diamond. Bavarian band Genocide Generator is one such gem. ‘III’ is a fairly simple album. The bug-eyed hand-drawn zebra on the cover of this album is a welcome change from the usual grind standards of mangled internal organs and copro-perversity. This album features two guys with a singular vision, creating razor sharp, slightly metallic grindcore. The duo squeezes in the odd industrial and electronic element to churn out their self-named “grindustrial” music. Unlike many bands, these guys don’t rely on their machines for their extremity or brutality, but merely to enhance their sound, like The Berzerker minus the silly masks and most blatant death metal elements.

It all seems quite straight forward. Two Germans playing hard, fast, loud music. Grind away for a couple of minutes, finish, repeat. But just be a little careful, because these guys have a few tricks just to stop the listener getting too settled. ‘III’ is actually Genocide Generator’s second album. In keeping with the industrial theme, there are no song titles on the album. Instead, each has a two digit number. There is no human meaning to it, the numbers being the anti-musical machine’s code. But really, do individual songs matter? This is an album to be listened to in its entirety. It’s not a huge stretch, at just over 18 minutes, but it’s like an intense rollercoaster which only ever hurtles downward. It spirals and loops, without ever slowing. A drum machine gets thrown into the terminal velocity plunge, but gets left behind. There are other machines of loving gracelessness thrown in too, but where they end and the cyborg musicians begin is lost in the maelstrom.

This is sharp grind with a clear cutting sound, like Wormrot at their razorblade best. Unlike Wormrot though, there is enough of a metallic tinge for curious metal fans too. There are heavier albums, and there are faster paced albums, but many of those are to be endured rather than enjoyed. ‘III’ is one of those rare finds where it satisfies the base desire for brutality, but leaves you wanting just a little more.

NICKELBACK Feed the Machine

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Necrotica
I’m going to confront the elephant in the room head-on: no, this is not a grand reinvention of Nickelback’s tried-and-true style.

As much as many people want to see that (and seem to be expecting it), it might be too much to ask a band with such a recognizable comfort zone to immediately pull a 180-degree turn into new territory. But before you walk away from this review, keep listening. Feed the Machine, while pulling the same old stops for a Nickelback album, is easily the band’s most refined and energized product since their breakthrough hit Silver Side Up. Yep, after a whole 16 years of nonstop mockery and hate mail, Chad Kroeger and his band of post-grungers have decided to give us something a bit more dignified and well-written. And, all things considered, this is not a bad album by any means. If anything, it’s a somewhat solid mainstream rock offering with strong hints of alternative metal strewn about. One wishes the band’s potential could have been touched upon years ago, but you know the old saying: “better late than never.”

The oddest thing about Feed the Machine, and the reason that it ultimately falls short of greatness, is that it straddles multiple styles in a seriously imbalanced way. Hearing the heavy downtuned - and even surprisingly progressive - metal anthem “The Betrayal (Act III)” coupled with bland ballads like “Every Time We’re Together” and “Song on Fire” might end up causing rifts in Nickelback’s already-polarized fanbase, just as the varied levels of lyrical quality could as well. That said, the variety is still fun once in a while. The intro to the cheesy rocker “Must Be Nice,” while pretty standard for Nickelback’s typical cock-rock fare, is so groovy and bluesy that the flaws are much less noticeable by comparison. The heavier moments found on songs like the title track and “Coin for the Ferryman” are aggressive as hell in this outing, and they occasionally contrast well with the sappy balladry that causes the album’s tonal imbalance. The band have also upped their game on the musicianship front; while famed Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt has to carry the solo duties on “For the River,” Chad Kroeger and Ryan Peake are able to bust out some decent solos and melodies in their own right. While the rhythm section is as boring as it’s always been, the increased chemistry and personality of the guitar work were a neat surprise.

The truth is, the best moments on Feed the Machine are the ones in which the band throw their old mainstream shackles away and just embrace metal. The ballads here sound both tired and dated, and simply don’t suffice in a discography that’s already drenched in tired ballads. In fact, I swear the chorus of “After the Rain” rips off the main melody to “Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida. And as I mentioned, some of these songs sound ridiculously dated. The uptempo power ballad “Silent Majority,” while at least exuding some energy, sounds like it came straight from an old post-grunge edition of Now That’s What I Call Music that would have been popular in the mid-2000s. It offers nothing new or interesting, and just results in another skippable tune for the listener to filter out. With this in mind, I must still admit that some of the experiments on the album result in highly rewarding payoffs. The two biggest here are the chunky, aggressive riffing of “Coin for the Ferryman” and the progressive metal stylings of “The Betrayal (Act III).” These songs completely abandon the band’s old cliches to deliver something that’s honest-to-god fun and steeped in genuine effort. They’re heavy, they have memorable riffs, and they present the true stylistic stepping stones in this experience.

For the first time in quite a while, I didn’t really know what rating I’d give Feed the Machine or whether to recommend it. This is a classic case of Nickelback giving us really nice songwriting and concepts before shooting themselves in the foot for making stupid decisions at the cusp of greatness. I will say that the positive aspects of Feed the Machine are some of the best things I’ve ever heard from this band, but they really need to decide whether to move forward with these changes or to replant themselves in the past. This half-and-half deal isn’t quite going to cut it, and it might end up warding off more of their fanbase than the usual Nickelback record because of it. But, because of those positives, I think Feed the Machine deserves a slight recommendation at the end of the day. It may not sway ardent haters, but those who are genuinely interested in hearing the band touch up their sound and try some new things might find something they enjoy.

ICED EARTH Incorruptible

Album · 2017 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 5 ratings
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adg211288
With their last album Plagues of Babylon (2014) having, let's be fair, a rather lukewarm reception (especially following the praise heaped on Dystopia (2011), current vocalist Stu Block's debut with the band), a lot is riding on US power/heavy/thrash metal act Iced Earth to really hit one out of the park with Incorruptible (2017), their twelfth main studio album. Four singles have been released prior to the full album, each showing the band in a bit of a different light. Seven Headed Whore was an immediate thrashy headbanger. Raven Wing was initially a disappointment but turned out to be one of those slow burn type of tracks. Great Heathen Army proved to be highly addictive, with this reviewer streaming the song off of Spotify about two dozen times in the run up to Incorruptible's release. Finally Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862) turned out to be long, fast, epic and catchy piece that it was impossible not to be instantly won over by.

Four tracks out of a total of ten from the album. Had Iced Earth showed their hand too early and served up all the album's best cuts as singles? Well, yeah, they kinda did, but I guess that's one way to sell your album. The rest of the material here has been a bit like Raven Wing in respect to the tracks being slow burners, requiring a few listens to open up before they can really be appreciated. There's a few of the remaining tracks that have come to stand out over the others, such as Black Flag, which could easily be a Running Wild song thanks to its pirate theme, and also Defiance, but the trinity of Great Heathen Army, Seven Headed Whore and Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862) have remained untouchable. These three are Iced Earth gold.

Incorruptible is a very balanced album from Iced Earth with several faster and hard hitting USPM tracks and some more mid-paced and melodic heavy metal orientated material. Seven Headed Whore is the only really thrashy number, though Great Heathen Army also hits bloody hard and fast. The production on such tracks is really beefy and heavy in the riffs and it sounds really pummelling. The lead guitar work from new guy Jake Dreyer is crystal clear though and sounds excellent. Iced Earth have found a great addition to the group in him. His solos really stand out across the whole release. Stu Block is also on great vocal form, delivering a mix of aggressive clean vocals and high register notes. The opening scream of 'Valhalla' in Great Heathen Army is absolutely insane.

Incorruptible is overall an extremely solid Iced Earth album. It could probably do with another really hard hitting USPM track to really knock some socks off, but even with the whole slow burn thing taken into consideration I'd judge this to be the band's best album since Stu Block took over as lead vocalist. Unlike Plagues of Babylon there's no loss of steam in the second half and I think it even edges one up on Dystopia, though that's a real close call.

MUNICIPAL WASTE Slime and Punishment

Album · 2017 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


I’m not sure just how long I’ve been a fan of these guys, but it’s been a while. In some ways, they remind me of Tankard, in that people only see the humour and fun they have, and forget that behind it all there is a damn good band who know exactly what they are about and what they want to achieve. It has been quite a while since their last album, but they’ve still been on the road and have also added an additional guitarist to their ranks to provide them with an even harder and punchy sound. They are still playing thrash/speed metal with a large nod to hardcore, and I have no problem with that at all. To me they always sound as if they have straight out of NYC, even though they’re from Richmond, Virginia, as they have the same sort of feel as many of the bands from that city.

The recording process was different this time around, in that bassist Phil Hall engineered it so the band could record the album themselves before sending it off to Bill Metoyer (known for his work with Slayer, W.A.S.P., Lizzy Borden and Dark Angel) to be mixed. They certainly sound tight, and the result is an album that may not be driving any new boundaries, or even be fashionable any more, but when it comes to recreating the scene of the late Eighties the n few do it much better than this. Turn it up.

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OPETH My Arms, Your Hearse

Album · 1998 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 92 ratings
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Necrotica
The sky is dark and dismal, rain plummeting as if to cover every surrounding inch of earth. Soon, a lone piano enters to fully flesh out the mood. A few melancholic chords are played, and the scene is set. From the distance, a crescendo of cappella vocals gets stronger… stronger… stronger…

...and from this point forward, Opeth would rewrite the blueprints of progressive metal for the next decade.

My Arms, Your Hearse was a turning point for the Swedish metal act. It’s the very reason we were able to have masterpieces like Still Life and Ghost Reveries in the first place, as it’s the opus that cemented Opeth’s standing as one of extreme metal’s titans and foremost innovators. But beyond just its legacy, My Arms, Your Hearse still stands strong as its own powerful creation because of its near-seamless blend of death metal, black metal, progressive rock, folk, jazz, and blues into one cohesive offering. The twin guitar attack exhibited by Mikael Akerfeldt and Peter Lindgren got more fluid, and while Johan De Farfalla was sadly absent from this point onward, Akerfeldt himself filled in the cracks nicely on bass. On top of that, we also got a new longtime addition to the group with drummer Martin Lopez, whose musical chemistry with the rest of the band is staggering on this release (and most subsequent releases, I might add).

Whereas predecessors Morningrise and Orchid often seemed like a bunch of great ideas strung together in an arbitrary fashion, My Arms, Your Hearse builds upon much more conceptual and coherent groundwork. Because of this, the songwriting is often incredibly flowing and focused, with each idea progressing into the next in a logical way. This also makes for a lot of emotional peaks and valleys, especially when the band sways between death metal savagery and folk-like contemplations. Some of the quartet’s finest moments of melancholy and sheer melodic catharsis are on display here, such as the mindblowing finales of “When” and “Demon of the Fall.” But the reason these moments work so well is the balance of moods and dynamics on offer. For instance, the decision to have the reflective acoustic folk ballad “Credence” after “Demon of the Fall” provides a contrast that’s as beautiful as it is stark. The way it calmly rests as a lonesome trench between two of the album’s heaviest tracks provides a nice moment to sit back and rest before the brutality comes back. And even the brutality is multi-faceted in its own unique way, right from the jazzy a cappella chord that kicks off “April Ethereal” to the densely layered guitar chords in the doom metal portion of “The Amen Corner.”

Speaking of layering, the production values are spectacular. Frederik Nordstrom captured the essence of a raw extreme metal recording while letting each instrument move and breathe as if having a life of its own. The “clear-meets-murky” approach was a great choice, retaining just the right amount of melodicism and accessibility while still letting the sheer intensity of the heavy moments shine through. Case in point: during the chugging one-note riff in “April Ethereal,” check out how those lead guitars are playing at two separate octaves above the simple riff. The combination of the eerie leads and the crushing nature of the breakdown is exquisite, and the same goes for the complex riff patterns that cover a good chunk of “Demon of the Fall.” The harmonies are bleak and depressing, a good fit for the relentless guttural vocals and the aggressive rhythm guitar assault. There’s even some jazz influence in the guitar chords during its finale! Really, the only criticism I’d level at the record is that “Karma” and “Epilogue” weren’t quite the best pieces to end on. “Epilogue” feels like it could have been cut in half, and “Karma”’s death metal sections get a bit overlong and bland, particularly during its ending.

It’s fascinating to think we’d eventually (arguably) get an even more brilliant album with Still Life, but I like to consider My Arms, Your Hearse the album that made it possible in the first place. This was the true stepping stone, the record that brought Opeth to a new level in both their music and their acclaim as one of Sweden’s most promising metal acts at the time. My Arms, Your Hearse is a masterwork steeped in brutality and despair, and it hasn’t aged one bit with time.

VOIVOD Killing Technology

Album · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 28 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
The elixir that Voivod concocted in the late eighties might be rejected by some for being distasteful, too caustic, too alkali to swallow. For others, however, Voivod's three releases between 1987 and '89 are an intoxicating brew. Hailing from Quebec, a bastion of progressive music in the seventies, and being fans of hardcore punk and heavy metal, Voivod created their own unique sound in heavy metal. While bands were becoming darker, heavier, faster, more technical or more polished and slick, Voivod smartly sat upon their own vision of sound and dropped "Killing Technology" in 1987, a very surprising follow up to their speed/trash sophomore album, "RRROOOAAARRR".

From the first song, the title track, the band flies right in the face of metal expectations with a high-toned, garage band guitar sound and speedy riffing that resembles a chicken clucking. Though there are heavy chords and passages to be found on the album, guitarist Piggy (Denis D'Amour RIP) often chooses to go for a higher-tone guitar sound rather than blast us away with doom and thunder. Given that much of the song themes are about science fiction, this metallic sound sits very well. In fact much of the music is easier to imagine being played inside a cramped and unkempt, scavener/pirate type space vessel than seeing the band perform back here on the good green earth.

Denis "Snake" Bélanger delivers the vocals of a hardcore punk singer in a speed metal environment but there's a human side that is screaming through the mechanical environment of the ship's interior pictured on the cover. He packs such energy in his delivery and simultaneously infuses that human punk theatric in his barks and bellows. I really find his vocal work entertaining.

The song lyrics often sound like a B-grade sci-fi movie. I guess it can't be helped as the band members are all francophones and doing their best to write songs in English. But then again, maybe that B-grade sci-fi impression is what they were going for. It does give the album a charm and appeal.

One of the incredible things about this album though is the prog element. When I heard this in 1987, I had no idea about progressive rock. I knew only metal. But these songs were doing so many things differently and some of the weird chord changes, time signatures, tempo changes and what not captured my attention even if I didn't understand it. It sure doesn't sound like what you'd normally expect when you think of prog metal from the eighties or from any time for that matter. Voivod are unique to be sure.

I love the bass! Jean-Yves "Blacky" Thériault always gets his bass feature on at least two songs during this period of Voivod's career and you can hear it abruptly jump in on "Tornado" and "This Is Not An Exercise" and open "Overreaction". The drumming is overproduced and the production unpolished, but again it works to the benefit of the atmosphere.

Favourite songs of mine are "Order of the Blackguards", "This Is Not An Exercise", the title track, "Ravenous Medicine", and "Forgotten In Space", each of which have something in them I love to hear even 30 years later. The vocals, the themes, the outlandish guitar chords and riffs, the bass, the drumming, they all make this a memorable album for me. I'd personally rank this a full five stars but it's true that not all the songs are out-and-out winners and so I'll temper my excitement and give it four.

DARKESTRAH Turan

Album · 2016 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Kyrgyzstan isn't a country exactly well known for its metal bands. A quick online search for example reveals under a dozen ever known to have released anything. Best known of these bands is black metal act Darkestrah, who have been around since 1990 and have released six full-length albums, the latest being this one, Turan (2016). With long-time vocalist Kriegtalith now out of the picture, the band recorded the album with a session vocalist, Merkith, who now seems to have become their permanent replacement.

The music on Turan is atmospheric based pagan black metal. The use of synths and cello gives the album some lightly symphonic touches, though nothing up to the level associated with actual symphonic (black) metal. Some folk influences show themselves every now and then and when they do they err towards what I assume must be the traditional music of Kyrgyzstan, which gives Turan some unique flavours, heard prominently in tracks such as Erlik-Khan. Some of the additional instruments used alongside the traditional metal setup and cello are the mandolin and temir-komuz, the latter of which is a new one on me and I had to look up what it was. Apparently it's a Kyrgyz jaw harp. The band's style isn't always so overt as on Erlik-Khan and other tracks require a focussed listen to make out the fine details that give each track its identity.

Turan is a six track album with a total playing time of 52:24 minutes, with the shortest composition being Gleaming Madness at 6:59 minutes. The longest the album gets up to is its opener One with the Grey Spirit (10:22), however this track's first half basically serves as a really quite drawn out introduction for the release, the kind other bands may have made a separate track on the album, so once the whole band actually get going it doesn't seem to be such a long song after all. To my ears it's a little too long to wait for things to really kick off. It's one of those cases where it makes me want to yell at the band to get on with it.

The long introduction aside, Turan is still a very substantial album from Darkestrah. Solidly written and performed while also offering up some ideas that I've not heard a metal band doing before (this also being my first experience of Darkestrah's music – it won't be the last). The real issue holding the release back is that the music does tend towards a mid-paced tempo which coupled with the long track durations does make some of them, such as the 9:46 Bird of Prey, seem a bit elongated and could either do with a few minutes shaved off, with perhaps an extra track or two then substituted to make up the total time, or some additional experimentation with the traditional instruments, because those parts are certainly the most interesting aspects of the album that sets the band apart from the crowd.

SLAYER Haunting the Chapel

EP · 1984 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 23 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Slayer are considered one of the Big Four thrash metal bands that helped establish the sub-genre, with bands like Exodus (possibly the oldest) and Testament also following close behind. But of the Big Four, two were typical Bay Area thrashers and one was a rare East Coast-bred thrash pack. Only Slayer sang about Satan and Hell, and no one seemed to have Tom Araya’s quake-inducing, biker barks. Though known for giving off the occasional tympanic membrane puncturing scream, Araya was less about shouting into the mic as he was about trying to make you fear the demon hordes as they charged at you from the furious sounds of Slayer’s explosive music. Listening to “Haunting the Chapel” now, I feel Slayer has less in common with Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth and fit in more at a dinner party for Kreator, Venom, Bathory, and Possessed.

This was my introduction to Slayer back in 1984 and thanks to my enjoyment of this album I was quick to pick up “Hell Awaits” (though strangely I never got “Show No Mercy”). The three songs on this EP have an intensity and fury to shake down pillars and stone walls. The band know that they want to be fast but still deliver a structured approach betraying their NWoBHM influences. On the re-issue, the additional track “Aggressive Perfector” sounds more like a band trying to outpace a late-seventies Judas Priest speed-burner with guitar solos loosely based on classic JP and Araya wailing a high Halford-ish note at the end.

This is quite an excellent little package of songs. Though the production quality lags behind the intensity of the music, the ambition to blow open the Gates of Hell is very clear as Hades.

POSSESSED Seven Churches

Album · 1985 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 16 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
I was in my front yard, pulling up weeds and plugged into my Walkman when my girlfriend came up and leapt upon my back, snatched the headphones off my heads and clapped them over her own. She began banging her head in mocked exaggeration, saying, “Oh, yeah, heavy metal!” Little did either of us know that the music on the cassette would later be regarded by many as the first death metal album.

Back in 1985, Possessed were just another thrash metal band on the Banzai label in Canada. The speed was there as it was to be expected. In fact, Possessed seemed more hell bent for speed than most other bands. At least Metallica and Slayer and the likes could slow down for some monsters riffs. Possessed only did that twice on the album. Jeff Becerra’s vocals were darker and more evil, suitable for a band named Possessed, but after hearing Tom Warrior’s barbarian bellow, Quorthon’s sinister Popeye croak, and Tom Araya’s demonic howling, this was just another crayon colour in the box.

Possessed were about being fast, Satanic, and frightening. Few songs expressed much technically and there was no subtlety outside of the opening guitar reproduction of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” piano theme. To many, this is just a thrash album that pointed in the direction of death metal to come. To others, the unpredictable guitar solos are too wild and unformatted to be true thrash. The fact that there’s a song called “Death Metal” might also be reason to call this album the first of the subgenre. In a YouTube video tracing the musical roots of death metal back from 1990, the 10-minute journey winds up with “Fallen Angel” from this album. But as the liner notes to the re-issue suggest, “death metal” or “black metal” (the distinction had not yet been made clear) could be heard in the music of Hellhammer, Bathory, Kreator, Destruction, Death, Sodom, and Slayer. It was the primordial soup of extreme metal that would produce not one but two sub-genres with “Seven Churches” emerging as a death metal sign post.

Though the production often gets criticized, this is one of those albums that lets you forget about the sound quality as you listen. The guitars attempt speeds so fast that drummer Mike Sus cannot manage more than a standard thrash metal, fast snare beat. Some kick drumming is going on there at times but not like what we’d hear soon. The song writing is pretty typical of the time: shout “666!” a few times and roar evilly about Satan and Hell. Well, it's possible there were deeper lyrics as someone in the band was big on reading if I recall an old interview correctly. Nevertheless, as a historically significant album and a look back on thrash metal and extreme metal in the mid-eighties, this is a little gem to have.

CELTIC FROST Morbid Tales

EP · 1984 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 22 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Several years ago I was thinking about where my musical preferences would take me next, and as nothing presented itself, I began considering buying some of the old albums I once owned on cassette in CD version. While Quiet Riot, Ratt, and Motley Crue left me thinking, “Nah,” I soon found myself excitedly checking out more extreme metal bands on Amazon. Celtic Frost’s “Morbid Tales” and “To Mega Therion” were top contenders in the shopping cart.

I used to love going to the local record shop and seeking out new metal releases. Heavy metal was rather popular in my city and the store had created a heavy metal corner, and releases on Banzai Records were sure to hold material worth snatching up. Thus it was that I found the septagram with five swords and a skull adorning the cover of “Morbid Tales”, an album that was soon home with me and in my cassette stereo.

Man, what a sound! Celtic Frost crossed the speed of thrash (or at least speed metal) with slow, heavy riffs, and a vocal style that was even more gravelly than Lemmy or Chronos. Thomas Gabriel Warrior had a voice that, in its efforts to follow in the bellowing roar of Motorhead and Venom, came across even deeper, more ominous, more forbidding, and more sinister.

My favourite song back in the day was “Procreation of the Wicked” for its positively heavy and doomy, sluggish, anvil-pounding pace; however, recently I have been enjoying “Nocturnal Fear” for Warrior’s diaphragm-forced “Oogh!” which actually gets revived in the throat of Mikael Akerfeldt on some Opeth songs. It seems, though, that the song with the most influence here must be “Dethroned Emperor” as I recently discovered on YouTube cover versions by at least 46 different bands!

It’s interesting now to look back 30 years and more and see how Celtic Frost could be so influential in the forth-coming black metal and death metal scenes. The music is a bit loose, the vocals off due to their brutishness, the solos unvarying high-speed wha-wah pedal assaults, and the double bass kick drumming not used to full capacity. But the album is just so good in all its brutal honesty. Celtic Frost were going to make their statement in metal and by all things dark and barbarous, they did it!

BUCKETHEAD The Elephant Man's Alarm Clock

Album · 2006 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
As the year 2006 rolled on, the strange artist known as BUCKETHEAD was releasing multiple albums per year with his 17th overall solo offering THE ELEPHANT MAN’S ALARM CLOCK as the first of three for the year. Yet another album recorded in The Slaughterhouse with Dan Monti and Albert lending a hand in the production process as well as Del Rey Brewer contributing some of the songwriting of the all instrumental three quarters of an hour long plus experience. There are a few scant words uttered by Bootsy Collins. As any true BUCKETHEAD fan knows, there are a gazillion different styles of his playing ranging from the sappy slow and melodic resulting in utter gagdom all across the spectrum to the most convolutedly complex weirdness every recorded, at least on Earth. THE ELEPHANT MAN’S ALARM CLOCK has become one of the more popular albums in BH’s early egg laying days for it fits on that wide spectrum somewhere in the middle of the extremes with highly accessible melodic approaches nestled in all of the avant-garde weirdness we’ve come to expect.

The combo effect of funk and metal has always proven to be a strong suit for Mr BH and there is plenty of both on this energetic release that provides ample amounts of head banging fury along with the expected avant-guitar solos while funk bass rules the roost for significant chunks of playing time and bandmate from Praxis in the form of Bootsy Collins even makes a cameo appearance on “Bird With A Hole In The Stomach” where he adds a monstrosity of a space bass solo at the end. An unusual feature for BH at this point anyway is the four part “Lurker At The Threshold” which is a dedication to H.P. Lovecraft. While it may sound like a prog behemoth in writing, all four tracks clock in under ten minutes and go through several BH styles such as slow and mellow melodic introducing features that slowly ratchet up the temp ladder with funk guitar, heavy distorted riffing and guitar solos.

The track “Droid Assembly” is worth mentioning as it has that classic detached groove that i could totally envision BH doing his famous dance to. The electronica based drum sound is followed by a series of angular avant-garde-isms that create a unifying factor of danceability while avant-prog guitars and bass lines flounder all over the place. The cutely named “Fizzy Lipton Drinks,” a reference to the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” starts out with an industrial metal type of groove but quickly becomes one of those riff and solo numbers but also jumps into an avant-parade of strange riffs, grooves and guitar squealing as if a pig were sacrificed in the making of this production. Unfortunately the track ends with an annoying bout with silence before a *hidden track* appears. I hate these but was a very nought-y thing to do in the early years of the millennium. After enduring a forced period of meditation we finally get a total funkified only affair with Bootsy Collins making a return and BH adding some counterpoint guitar licks which goes on for a few minutes allowing the two to really get down and dirty.

THE ELEPHANT’S ALARM CLOCK is yet another excellent album in the early BH years when he was only getting started releasing multiple albums per year. While many tout this one as one of his absolute best, i find it a little repetitive at times and doesn’t come close to the mind blowing diverse elements and avant-grooviness of album’s like “Monsters And Robots.” After all, “normal” is for mere bands that didn’t obtain their strange and otherworldly powers in chicken coops. This album is nonetheless a great introductory work to BH’s overall early works and a mandatory edition for those more into his less adventurous and more in tune with melodies and established rock and metal elements in music. It’s certainly an excellent album even if it doesn’t rank high in my own personal world but one thing IS for sure and that is that it is indeed a captivating listen throughout its entirety.

IN FLAMES Sounds from the Heart of Gothenburg

Live album · 2016 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Like many metalheads I’ve always had a soft spot for the melodic death metal of Swedish band In Flames. They have built a massive reputation over the years, and their live shows are renowned for their intensity. But, due to living at the end of the world, and not having easy access to music magazines, I don’t always keep up with the scene as I should, and it has been a while since I last heard any of their material. What we have here is a live album, released in 2016, of a 2015 concert from their hometown, so I settled down, plugged in my headphones and turned it up.

A few songs in and I started searching the web to see what other people were saying about this album, and everyone seemed to be agreed that this is just a tad short of awesome, and mighty fine on so many levels. This means that I must be the only one who thinks the guitars are too low in the mix, and that the drums and vocals are taking too much prominence, and that the material simply wasn’t what I was personally expecting. Much of this is from the latest albums, which admittedly I hadn’t hard, but I swear there are times when they morphed into a heavy version of My Chemical Romance, which isn’t what I was expecting at all! Of course, they aren’t the first band to change since they first started, and they have been around for a long time (and have released a couple of other live albums to boot), but this isn’t an album I could get into and enjoy. Looks like I’m in the minority, won’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. For fans only.

ELECTRIC WIZARD Let Us Prey

Album · 2002 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 9 ratings
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UMUR
"Let Us Prey" is the 4th full-length studio album by UK doom/stoner metal act Electric Wizard. The album was released through Rise Above Records in March 2002. It´s the last album to feature the band´s original lineup of Jus Oborn (vocals, guitars), Tim Bagshaw (bass) and Mark Greening (drums), before bandleader Jus Oborn completely revamped the lineup before the recording of "We Live (2004)", leaving him the sole remaining member of the original trio. "Let Us Prey" is one of those really hard albums in a band´s discography as it was released on the heels of Electric Wizard´s most iconic release "Dopethrone (2000)". People always talk about sophomore albums being the hardest to release because of fan expectations, but releasing your first album after a massive success like "Dopethrone (2000)" is probably worse and must have been a daunting task for the band.

They´ve chosen the right path though, as they´ve opted not to make a clone of the predecessor, but instead go for a slightly more accessible phychadelic tinged doom/stoner metal sound. The vicious aggression and darkness of the predecessor have also been toned down considerably and overall "Let Us Prey" is a more warm and pleasant listening experience. But don´t misunderstand that as if Electric Wizard have gone all mellow or anything like that, because that´s certainly not the case. You´ll still find crushingly heavy beats and riffs in spades on this album, stoned guitar soloing over jam packed sections, bleak moods, and Jus Oborn´s characteristic distorted "low in the mix" vocals. The organic musicianship has to be mentioned, as it´s a real asset to the album. These guys sound like real human beings playing and not machines hell bent to deliver militant precision. Electric Wizard understand the importance of delivering this type of music with an organic "live" feel, and they succeed well in doing that on this album.

Most tracks on the 6 track, 43:51 minutes long album are doomy yet groove oriented stoner rockers, but "We, the Undead" is slightly different sounding as it features a generally faster paced tempo and a clear punk influence and "Night of the Shape" is a rather psychadelic sounding instrumental featuring violin and a piano motif. While the doomy riffs are sometimes repeated many times during the tracks, before being followed by a new riff, and the tracks are at times dragged out because of it, the repetition is a means to an end, and when the band finally change riff or something new happens, it provides the music with a powerful release effect. The repetition also works to successfully build the generally dark atmosphere of the album.

The album is packed in an organic, heavy, and fuzzed out sound production, which suits the music perfectly. "Let Us Prey" is all in all another high quality doom/stoner metal release by Electric Wizard, and while it doesn´t quite reach the incredible heights of it´s predecessor, it´s still a mandatory listen for fans of the band, and a recommended listen for fans of doom/stoner metal in general. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

KREATOR Coma of Souls

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 39 ratings
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UMUR
"Coma of Souls" is the 5th full-length studio album by German thrash metal act Kreator. The album was released through Noise Records in November 1990. Kreator were at the peak of their popularity at this point, having released the very successful "Extreme Aggression" in 1989 and the equally successful concert video "Live in East Berlin" in early 1990. Since the preceding studio album Frank "Blackfire" Gosdzik has replaced Jörg Trzebiatowski on guitars. "Blackfire" came from a stint with Sodom, and is also featured on the "Live in East Berlin" video. No less than 5 promotional videos were released for tracks featured on "Coma of Souls". Kreator obviously must have been satisfied with the sound production on "Extreme Aggression (1989)", because they opted to record "Coma of Souls" in Los Angeles with producer Randy Burns, which was also the case with the predecessor.

And there are quite a few similarities between the two albums. The way the tracks are constructed and especially the sound productions feature many similarities (although more polished on "Coma of Souls"). "Coma of Souls" is the more sophisticated release and "Extreme Aggression (1989)" is the more raw and aggressive album of the two, but it´s not completely wrong to call them sibling albums.

The music style is aggressive yet melodic thrash metal. The flair for melody had already surfaced on "Extreme Aggression (1989)" albeit in smaller doses than the case is here. The material are generally catchy, relatively easy to understand without being simple, and well written. Tracks like "When the Sun Burns Red", the title track, "People of the Lie" and especially "Terrorzone" stand out as highlights, but "Coma of Souls" is overall a very solid effort by Kreator. The band´s vicious aggressive nature may have been tamed a bit in favor of more melody and sophistication in the arrangements, but "Coma of Souls" is still a relatively aggressive album.

The musicianship are generally on a high level, with some strong solos and riffs being played and some convincing aggressive rabid dog snarling delivered by Miland "Mille" Petrozza. Drummer Jürgen "Ventor" Reil is like an elephant in a glasshouse though. His playing style is so predictable, "stiff" and clumsy, that it´s at times bordering comical. It´s tolerable because the rest of the music is so well played, but he doesn´t add anything positive to the sound.

Despite that little issue "Coma of Souls" is overall a high quality release by Kreator, and while I personally prefer the more savage aggression of "Extreme Aggression (1989)" to the more sophisticated and polished sound of "Coma of Souls", the latter still deserves a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating.

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