Metal Music Reviews

DEAD KENNEDYS Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death

Boxset / Compilation · 1987 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.46 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
I've always felt that the Dead Kennedy's most creatively fruitful period ended around the time of Plastic Surgery Disasters, and I guess Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death is fairly convincing evidence of that. Of the seventeen tracks on this collection of non-album material, only *two* were recorded after 1982 - and one of them is a comedic re-do of Buzzbomb from Plastic Surgery Disasters. (The other one is an uninteresting cover of I Fought The Law). Not that I'm complaining at all - the other fifteen tracks are top-flight stuff, showing the full diversity of the band and featuring some neat spoken word bits from Jello. (Most impressive is Night of the Living Rednecks, an impromptu live performance necessitated by a guitar breaking mid-song.)

DEAD KENNEDYS In God We Trust, Inc.

EP · 1981 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.38 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
Aside from We've Got a Bigger Problem Now, a do-over of California Uber Alles with a lounge jazz opening section, In God We Trust Inc. is dedicated to one thing and one thing alone: playing the fastest, rawest, most stripped-down hardcore punk the Dead Kennedys could muster. With Jello Biafra vomiting forth his lyrics at a frantic pace his social message can get lost unless you're a careful listener, though at its best - as on Nazi Punks Fuck Off - the message is quite unambiguous. Most recent CD versions of Plastic Surgery Disasters include this EP as bonus tracks, and are greatly enhanced for it.

THE COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINERS Forensic Fugues and Medicolegal Medleys

Album · 2002 · Goregrind
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Goregrind is that not so cuddly mix of grindcore and death metal but more often than not it sounds a lot more like the former with only traces of the latter but what really sets this demonically possessed noisefest from the rest of the extreme metal pack is its utter obsession with all things putridly disgusting! Whether it be bizarre mutilations, diseased decaying corpses with maggot colonies or just good old fashioned forensic pathology, goregrind is the place to run to when melodic death metal has just become too tame for its own good.

This little prickly subgenre got its start in the 80s with Carcass and its shocking slap in the face debut “Reek Of Putrefaction” which when compared to the hairspray friendly metal bands that were in heavy rotation on MTV must’ve been quite disturbing indeed. Carcass followed up with the equally demented “Symphonies Of SIckness” but then sorta got tired of the whole shtick and moved on to a more technically infused variation of death metal. The band itself grew tired of it but many fans wanted more and the style continued on with an ever growing legion of noisemakers squealing out lyrics recited from an anatomy textbook.

One of the downfalls of this style of music is that it all starts sounding the same unless any given artist can find some way to stand out. Well that where THE COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINERS comes into the picture. Formed in Scotts Valley, CA just north of Santa Cruz, this trio that has consisted of Dr. Jack Putnam, MD (drums, vocals), Dr. Morton Fairbanks, MD (vocals, guitar, bass) and Dr. Guy Radcliffe (bass, vocals) started as a mere goregrind era Carcass cover band but the most remarkable thing of all is that they claim to be legit medical doctors who were either fully licensed MDs or in the medical school final stages. Of course they soon got bored with just covers and decided to continue on where early Carcass left off. After an early lineup with an EP sampler, this band released its debut FORENSIC FUGUES AND MEDICOLEGAL MEDLEYS in 2002.

Admittedly derivative and existing as a fictitious band that continued what Carcass may have done after “Symphonies Of SIckness,” THE COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINERS does indeed sound exactly like 80s Carcass with those wickedly distorted grind riffs, squealed and snorted vocals and all the best goregrind subject matter as evidenced in tracks like “NH2(CH2)4NH2 & C5H14N2 (Putrescine & Cadaverine)” and "Algor Mortis: The Linear Rate of Cadaveric Cooling.” In fact this sounds so authentic it makes you wonder if this was actually Carcass releasing material under a different band name and of course there has been much speculation about the authenticity of the whole MD shtick given the band’s website was found out to be owned by a member of Exhumed.

Nevertheless the band claims it’s the real deal often posing for photo ops even if they have never played live. The gray-haired dude is the bassist who was 63 years old when he did an interview on MTV about the whole thing. So whether or not this is the biggest hoax in grindcore history or the final infiltration of the metal universe into the most unlikely of establishments remains to be seen but one thing is for sure and that is if you just have never gotten over Carcass moving on to tech death and you really, really wanted more of what they had to offer with their timeless classics of the 80s then you really, really must hear what THE COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINERS have amputated from the past. No new albums since 2007 so that means this band only released two actual albums. Perhaps they saw the limitations as well.

BLOOD INCANTATION Hidden History of the Human Race

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 9 ratings
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Warthur
Album cover that could have been ripped off a 1970s sci-fi paperback? Check. Themes pulled from the likes of Erich Von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods" schtick? Check. Song titles, lengths, and even compositional structures which could be prog rock numbers from a lesser-known band of the 1970s? Check.

But don't be fooled - Blood Incantation's Hidden History of the Human Race isn't some sort of attempt at straight-ahead retro-prog. Instead, it takes the song structures of classic prog and applies to them the sonic toolkit of technical death metal, yielding a short but sweet 36 minutes of mashup mayhem which sets Blood Incantation as a band to watch.

DEAD KENNEDYS Plastic Surgery Disasters

Album · 1982 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.88 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
Leading off with a side of lean, fast-paced, hyperkinetic material along the same lines as In God We Trust Inc. before devoting the second side to longer but no less frantic material - think Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables on steroids - Plastic Surgery Disasters is another essential album from the Dead Kennedys. Standout tracks include the relentlessly catchy Buzzbomb and Terminal Preppy, the epic narrative of Riot, and the wide-eyed screaming paranoia of Government Flu. The next two Kennedys studio albums would find themselves bogged down with a dulled wit and diminishing returns on the music side, so for me Plastic Surgery Disasters marks the end of the golden age of the Dead Kennedys.

DEAD KENNEDYS Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

Album · 1980 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.58 | 7 ratings
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Warthur
An audacious throwing down of the gauntlet to the rest of the punk scene, challenging one and all to even try and outdo this one, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is a lightning-fast, viciously satirical and blindingly angry album notable both for Jello Biafra's razor-sharp wit (Kill the Poor is one of the few punk songs which you could describe as "Swiftian" with a straight face) and the band's exceptional technical ability. Check out, for instance, the spacey intro to Holiday In Cambodia, where the band briefly recapture the sound and sonic approach of early Pink Floyd before the start of the song bursts forth.

A DREAM OF POE Sorrow for the Lost Lenore

EP · 2009 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 2.25 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Edgar Allen Poe has gone down in history for his poems set to musicality, stylized language and supernatural atmospheres which is why his subject matter so perfectly fits into the modern day world in the terms of inspiration for certain metal bands, particular the more macabre and lugubrious subgenera of doom metal and gothic metal. Without any covert references the Portuguese band A DREAM OF POE set about to worship its favorite American poet from their not so dark and mysterious starting point of the Azores located west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s no wonder that this location was too cheery and the band eventually relocated to the more dismal setting of Scotland.

The band’s debut EP titled SORROW FOR THE LOST LENORE is a reference right out of Poe’s famous narrative poem “The Raven” first published in 1845 which would set the tone for this band’s goth doom march that has so far included a demo, two EPs and four albums. The band has primarily been masterminded by Miguel "Bruno Spell" Santos (multi-instrumentalist) with Paulo Pacheco contributing lyrics. This EP only contains five tracks two of which are covers. “Gentle Whisper” is a cover track of Morbid Death, another band emerging from the Azores and “For My Fallen Angel” is a cover of the project’s most obvious point of reference - My Dying Bride.

There’s not much to say about this except that if you ever wanted to hear a blatant My Dying Bride clone that is inferior in every way then A DREAM OF POE is the nightmare you’ve been looking for. I’m not sure how anyone could accept this as a real project since it sounds like a cover band even on the three original tracks. This is basically slow doom metal with an atmospheric component that replicates the mid-90s My Dying Bride experience in every way except the vocals are substandard and not up to the task of creating a true goth doom vibe and the music is rather lazy as well with boring drum beats not to mention the mix is somewhat weak. The best track on here is the My Dying Bride cover itself but offers nothing to make it distinct from the original. In fact it sounds like a rough draft.

While SORROW FOR THE LOST LENORE isn’t a horrible listening experience in its own right, the derivative display of unoriginality swallowing up a playing time of 40 minutes gets boring really fast. All this really accomplished was for me to want to revisit My Dying Bride’s string of excellent albums that shows the true goth doom metal thing is done in all its splendor. A DREAM OF POE fails to find its own niche in the world and instead resorts to ripping off another more famous band’s style without even adding a single shred of originality. This is not a band i wish to explore further as it seems the albums simply retread the basic template already laid down on this album and no matter how well they have been improved, this is still very much a band that has not found its own way.

EAGLES PREACH Rule Number One

Demo · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Rule Number One" is the first and only demo cassette tape by the relatively short lived Danish, Odense based thrash metal act Eagles Preach. The demo was self-released in 1990. Eagles Preach were formed in 1989, released this demo tape and then disbanded. While the rest of the members of the lineup would fade into obscurity, guitarist Perle Hansen would soon join the more prolific Invocator as their new lead guitarist, playing on both the "Weave the Apocalypse (1993)" and the "Dying to Live (1995)" albums by that band.

The 4 tracks on the demo are in a very standard US influenced thrash metal style. The instrumental part of the music is as such well performed and the sound quality is decent for a demo too, but lead vocalist Carsten is the type of thrash metal singer, who sounds like he´s not sure he wants to be there. His vocals lack power and conviction, and his screams sound pretty terrible. He has a kind of singing/talking way of delivering his vocals and a very limited mid-range voice, that does absolutely nothing for the music. It´s not the worst I´ve ever heard, but it´s definitely not great either.

The material are decent but pretty standard for the genre, and as this is a 1990 demo tape, it´s hard not to think the music style sounds a bit dated. It´s pretty obvious why this demo tape never amounted to a label deal. At that point, this type of music was simply on the way to be out of fashion, and when the quality isn´t higher than the case is here, and the material aren´t particularly original sounding either, the odds were simply against Eagles Preach succeeding. A 2.5 star (50%) rating is warranted.

WITCHERY Don't Fear the Reaper

Album · 2006 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Don't Fear the Reaper" is the 4th full-length studio album by Swedish heavy metal act Witchery. The album was released through Century Media Records in March 2006. It´s the successor to "Symphony for the Devil" from 2001. The lineup who recorded "Symphony for the Devil (2001)" is intact. Sharlee D'Angelo (bass), Patrik Jensen (rhythm guitars), Richard Corpse (lead guitars), Martin Axenrot (drums), and Toxine (vocals).

Stylistically the material on the album continue the band´s trademark blackened heavy metal/speed metal style and there are very few surprises in that department. If you´re familiar with the preceding releases and enjoy them, chances are good you´ll enjoy this one too. The music is a combination of traditional heavy metal, speed metal, thrash metal, black metal, and an occasional touch of death metal ("Crossfixation" is for example death metal oriented). The black metal element is mostly due to Toxine´s raw and raspy vocal style, because the instrumental part of the music is predominantly traditional heavy/speed metal. An act like Mercyful Fate often comes to mind. The dark and occult nature of the lyrics and the general imagery surrounding Witchery also point in that direction.

The material on the 13 track, 45:58 minutes long album are well written, powerful, and effective. The album features three instrumentals, where especially "The Wait of the Pyramids" is worth a mention, but tracks like "Stigmatized", "Crossfixation", "Cannon Fodder", and especially "Ashes" (because of the dominant use of keyboards) also stand out on an otherwise stylistically consistent release.

"Don't Fear the Reaper" is well produced too, featuring a powerful, raw, and detailed production, which brings out the best in the material. The high level musicianship is another asset, and paired with the high quality songwriting (which often has a great memorable anthemic quality to it), "Don't Fear the Reaper" is another great release by Witchery. There´s bite and conviction behind the delivery and just the right amount of aggression mixed with intriguing ideas. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DEAD KENNEDYS Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

Album · 1980 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.58 | 7 ratings
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UMUR
"Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables" is the debut full-length studio album by US punk rock act Dead Kennedys. The album was originally released through Cherry Red Records in the UK in September 1980, and only later saw a US release through lead vocalist Jello Biafra's own label Alternative Tentacles.

Stylistically the music on the album is a combination of punk (even a couple of harder edged hardcore moments), 50s rock´n´roll, and a touch of surf music. Jello Biafra has a very distinct sounding voice and a powerful and raw yet still melodic way of singing. The 33:06 minutes long album features 14 tracks (some versions include the bonus track "Too Drunk to Fuck"), which are all between 1 and 3 minutes long. Highlights include "Kill the Poor", "Drug Me", "Califonia Über Alles", "Holiday in Cambodia", and "Viva Las Vegas", but all material featured on the album is of a high quality.

While the tracks are predominantly pretty simple and vers/chorus structured, Dead Kennedys understand the importance of details and variation (well...at least varied for the style), and add to that great humour and biting sarcasm while still producing some thought provoking politically charged lyrics, and you have a punk album extraordinaire. The music is played with raw aggression and great intensity but it´s not primitive by any means. In fact these guys can play, and although it often sounds like the tracks are recorded in one take, or maybe in a few takes, the music sounds tight. The sound production is raw and has an authentic "recorded live in the studio" feel to it, which suits the equally raw music well.

It´s no wonder "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables" is often mentioned among the most important American punk albums and Dead Kennedys are considered one of the most prolific acts on the scene, because this album reeks class, an anarchistic and adventurous spirit, and raw authentic intensity, which is hard not to be impressed by. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

WHITE WARD Love Exchange Failure

Album · 2019 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
White Ward's Love Exchange Failure has an album cover which looks like it might belong to, say, one of M83's ambient-synthpop releases, perhaps from around the same era as Before the Dawn Heals Us. As with the likes of other groups in the corner of atmospheric black metal called "blackgaze", appearances can be deceiving: this remains an album with a strong black metal presence.

It's not, by any means, purist black metal - rather, it's a broader sort of blackgaze-postrock-dark jazz soundscapearama, a musical mashup in which the sounds and techniques of black metal are merely part of the sonic toolkit that White Ward bring to the table - an essential enough part of the toolkit that those interested in the experimental reaches of the genre would likely be interested, but there are other important tools here too (the aforementioned postrock and jazz influences), to an extent that if you greatly prefer your black metal albums to be black metal all the way through without a break the quieter interludes may bug you. (That said, of course, atmospheric black metal in general isn't averse to including such elements on an album, so really that's a caveat which applies to the entire subgenre.)

NAZARETH No Mean City

Album · 1978 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.92 | 14 ratings
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Unitron
"Call off your dogs for I am no fox"

While Hair of the Dog is probably Nazareth's definitive album, No Mean City is the apex of the Scottish heavy metal band's sound before switching to a more pop rock style in the 80's. No Mean City, while including a few softer rock songs as the band always has, is perhaps the band at their most vicious.

This is heard best in the closing title track, with its menacing atmosphere. McCafferty is at his most aggressive, especially with the caustic delivery of such lines as the aforementioned that opens up this review. That coupled with the rapid atmospheric guitar riffing that evokes a proto-black metal sound, makes for an ominous finale. Claim to Fame as well, this time a heavy stomp, is a great surge of anger through song.

Songs like Just to Get Into It and Simple Solution (The latter's probably my favorite on the album) makes me wonder why they dropped the metal come the 80's. Simple Solution especially, sounds like it could've come straight from an 80's metal album. Its infectiously catchy chorus brings it right up there with Saxon and Judas Priest classics as one of metal's best melodies.

Like other late 70's heavy metal albums, No Mean City has a perfect balance between the bluesier 70's with the sound of the beginning of the next decade. One of the band's best, and an end of an era, for the band wouldn't bring metal back into their repertoire until much later.

BÜTCHER 666 Goats Carry My Chariot

Album · 2020 · Speed Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 3 ratings
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Nightfly
Until a few weeks ago I’d never even heard of Butcher. After hearing a couple of advance tracks off 666 Goats Carry My Chariot, their second album, I immediately went in search of their first, Bestial Fukkin Warmachine and was so impressed I ordered the pair of them straight away.

Butcher come from Belgium, a country I don’t have too many metal albums from with only Bathsheba, Saille, Aborted and Enthroned coming to mind. Butcher doesn’t sound like any of them. What we have here is a very retro 80’s sounding blend of speed and thrash metal with a bit of black metal borrowed from Darkthrone thrown in here and there. This stuff is manic from the histrionic often high pitched vocals of R Hellshrieker to the music which is very busy and fast most of the times. Guitarist KK Ripper unleashes an impressive barrage of riffs, licks and solos, the kind that drew me into this kind of extreme metal back in the 80’s.The rhythm section of bassist AH Wrathchylde and drummer LV Speedhammer tie it all down, though their playing is equally busy and at times this frantic melee sounds on the verge of all falling apart, which is not a criticism and is a measure of their skill in holding it all together. It all adds to the retro vibe aided by an analogue (I presume, it certainly sounds it) production. You can imagine this is how the band sound on stage as it has very live feel without loads of overdubs in the guitar department.

I liked the first album very much, which I’d played a few times before getting this, but on 666 Goats Carry My Chariot they have raised the bar with an even stronger collection of songs. I don’t suppose you’ll hear much new music like this this year so lap it up, you won’t regret it.

VIO-LENCE Eternal Nightmare

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 11 ratings
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UMUR
"Eternal Nightmare" is the debut full-length studio album by US, San Francisco based thrash metal act Vio-Lence. The album was released through Mechanic Records in 1988. Vio-Lence were formed in 1985 under the Death Penalty monicker, but changed their name to Vio-Lence the same year. The first years saw some lineup changes, before the lineup finally settled when guitarist Robb Flynn (who came from Forbidden Evil, which he helped found) who replaced founding member Troy Fua. The remaining members of the lineup are Dean Dell (bass), Phil Demmel (guitars), Sean Killian (vocals), and Perry Strickland (drums).

Stylistically the music on "Eternal Nightmare" is a fast-paced and aggressive type of US thrash metal. Artists like Slayer and Dark Angel come to mind, but Vio-Lence are ultimately quite different because of the rather distinct sounding vocal style of Sean Killian. He is the definition of a "Love him or hate him" type vocalist. While he delivers the usual raw staccato type thrash metal vocals too, his dominant vocal style is a semi-clean singing with some odd drawn out and out of tune notes. It´s not melodic by any means and most of the time it sounds like he is stumbling over the words, because he has to sing a lot of lyric lines over a short time. So yeah I understand those who can´t stand his vocals (they are indeed pretty odd), but personally I find them both original and quite charming too. They are what make Vio-Lence something special on the 80s US thrash metal scene.

The instrumental part of the music is very well played too. The rhythm section perform their parts with conviction and great power, and the two guitarists deliver one aggressive thrashy riff after another and play some intense fast guitar solos too. A prime example of mid- to late 80s US thrash metal. The sound production is raw and unpolished, which suits the material perfectly. It could however have packed just a bit more punch, but overall it´s a great sound for the material.

The material on the 7 track, 35:19 minutes long album are well written and effective (the band recorded an 8th track titled "Torture Tactics" for the album, but the label refused to release the album if that track was included, because of it´s offensive lyrical content, so it is not included on the tracklist). The tracks are relatively complex without losing any power or being sophisticated beyond featuring more sections than your regular vers/chorus structured songs. A couple of tracks into the album the overall style becomes a bit one-dimensional, but that´s not uncommon for similar contemporary artists, so it´s not a huge issue, but a bit more variation between tracks could have elevated "Eternal Nightmare" to a higher level.

Upon conclusion "Eternal Nightmare" is a quality release and a promising debut album by Vio-Lence. The musicianship is strong, the sound production relatively well sounding, and the material is aggressive and effective. Because of Killian´s vocal style, the album even features a slightly original sound for the style and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

VICIOUS RUMORS Demo II

Demo · 1983 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Demo II" is as the title suggests the 2nd demo cassette tape by US, California based heavy/power metal act Vicious Rumors. The demo was self-released in May 1983. Since the release of the first demo there have been a couple of lineup changes as guitarist Jim Cassero has been replaced by Chuck Moomey, and drummer Jim Lang has been replaced by Don Selzer. Vicious Rumors were formed in 1979 and released their first demo cassette tape in 1982. The track "In Fire" was also featured on the first demo in a shorter and less developed version.

Stylistically the 3 tracks on the 13:37 minutes long demo continues the heavy/US power metal style of the first demo. "Steeler" is a relatively hard edged heavy/US power metal track (and probably the track which resembles the band´s later more defined US power metal style the most), while "In Fire" is a more melodic traditional heavy metal track greatly influenced by Iron Maiden. "I Can Live Forever" has a more hard rocking feeling to it´s tradtional heavy metal sound and it reminds me a bit of contemporary Judas Priest.

It´s obvious the band have developed their songwriting and playing skills since the first demo, and the sound quality is also slightly better on this demo than on the first. It´s still pretty lo-fi and unpolished though. The three tracks show that Vicious Rumors were still working on finding their own sound, but despite the stylistic inconsistency of the tracks, they are all quality material and a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted. Certainly a promising demo release.

VICIOUS RUMORS Demo I

Demo · 1982 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Demo I" is as the title suggests the 1st demo cassette tape by US, California based heavy/power metal act Vicious Rumors. The demo was self-released in 1982. The lineup at this point consisted of Gary St. Pierre (vocals), Geoff Thorpe (guitars), Jim Cassero (guitars), Jeff Barnacle (bass), and Jim Lang (drums).

Vicious Rumors were formed in 1979 and although they are primarily known as a US power metal act, the early 80s were a bit too soon to be tagging anything US power, and the 2 tracks on the 6:39 minutes long demo are also more traditional heavy metal type material than US power. It´s pretty hard edged though, and references to the most intense and aggressive Judas Priest aren´t all wrong.

The demo features a pretty lo-fi sounding production, and while such productions can sometimes provide equally raw and unpolished music, it´s not really the case here. The sound quality is simply of such a low quality that it´s disturbing for the listening experience.

Given the lo-fi sound quality it was actually a bit surprising to learn that the track "One Way Ticket" off this demo was picked to be featured on the 1984 Shrapnel Records "U.S. Metal Vol. IV" compilation, but on the other hand, if you can look past the abysmal production values, it´s obvious that Vicious Rumors are a talented bunch of guys and the songwriting isn´t the worst either, although at this point pretty immature and lacking a personal sound. A 2.5 star (50%) rating is warranted.

SHAKRA Mad World

Album · 2020 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Time Signature
They still rock...

Shakra's latest album "Mad World" marks their 25th anniversary and, if anything, this album show that they still rock.

Roaming the transition region between hard rock and traditional heavy metal, Shakra offers up solid rockers, rich in melody, groove, power, and catchiness. It may be old-man rock, but it's tasty old-man rock with crispy guitar riffs, powerful drumming and rocking guitar solos that hit the spot. Overall, the music on the album is uplifting and full of energy and extremely enjoyable. Just check out the catchy title track 'Mad World', the high energy opener 'Fireline', or groovy 'When He Comes Around'.

The production is crisp, and neither the musicianship nor the production has any flaws. I can imagine that some people might find Mark Fox' slightly raspy vocals a bit annoying, but I really can't imagine any other singing style being a better fit for the music on this album (also, his voice reminds me of my dad's rock 'n' roll singing voice, because - yes - my old man is a rock singer, how cool is that?). Of course, that means that Mark Fox scores a couple of extra points from me.

To be honest, I was on the fence about giving this album 4 stars, but, heck, I enjoy listenening to it so much that I think that 3.5 is just too cheap! Listening to this album equals a mighty good time.

ANVIL Legal At Last

Album · 2020 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Time Signature
Metal house...

Canadian metal legends Anvil have another album for you in the form of the weed-celebrating "Legal at Last".

Musically, we are dealing with old school heavy metal falling somewhere between Motörhead and Black Sabbath, with tracks like 'Legal at Last' and 'Chemtrails' being reminiscent of the former and 'Plastic in Paradise' and 'Said and Done' leaning towards the latter. Shying away from any type of sophistication, Anvil's main contribution on this album to the universe of rock lies in simple, but not simplistic (because there are a couple of tempo shifts and things like that), hard rocking metal songs revolving around solid and dynamic drumming coupled with balls-out rocking riffs. Oh, and there's a bass too.

This is not an album where Anvil reinvent themselves, and some might criticize their lyrics for being banal, but these old boys have something to say, and so - let them say it. Personally, I don't really care about weed and things like that, but if that's important to Anvil, let them write songs about it. In terms of the music on the release, the album is pretty good, I think: booming metal by boomers, I guess.

In sum, there's not much new under the sun on this album, but if you enjoy old school rock 'n' rolling heavy metak, you're bound to have a good time listening to Anvil's "Legal at Last".

BROTHERS OF METAL Emblas Saga

Album · 2020 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Time Signature
Healthy viking cheese...

Tapping into the mythology of their Scandinavian heritage, Swedish Brothers of Metal recently released their second full-length in the form of "Emblas Saga". The album is a tour de force of epic folk-power metal.

The opening track is more of a spoken word introduction, setting the scene for the rest of the album. Fans of Manowar's 'The Warrior's Prayer' will probably like this introduction, because it has a similar atmosphere to it. It's too cheesy for my taste, and when I first heard this track, I expected the album to be your typical Euro-trash cheesy power metal.

Thankfully, my expectations were subverted, because there is almost nothing wrong with the music on this album.

It is larger than life, to be sure, and has that European power metal feel to it. However, Brothers of Metal never o overboard and manage to strike an almost perfect balance between the powerful metal sensibility of older power metal (think Running Wild and Helloween) and the over-the-top approach of contemporary European power metal. Personally, I particularly like how Brothers of Metal inject old school traditional metal into their style. I mean 'Chain Breaker' might as well have been a Judas Priest song, and 'Powersnake' vaguely reminds me of Maiden's 'Blood Brothers'.

There is an underlying folk metal feel to this album, but rather than throwing everything and a million kitchen sinks in here, Brothers of Metal mostly distil their folksy side to essential melodies, many of which - while super catchy - also inherit the melancholy of traditional Scandinavian folk music. There are occasional bursts of folk instrumentation that are both in a dynamic contrast to and a relation of coherence with the power metal side of the album.

It's not the case that the album is totally cheese-free. You can't have European power metal without some cheese. I mean that's like ordering a double cheese burger without cheese. There's plenty of cheese, but it's good cheese with healthy fats and all that. Many of the song openings take on a slightly-over-the-top epic and folky nature but it's not ridiculously indulgent. If you want an example of good cheese, just listen to 'Theft of the Hammer' which is the musical version of a quality burger with a grass-fed beef paddy, double cheedar, extra goat's cheese, and lots of relish. It has several vocal layers, a sympbonic feel, and is overly epic, but it works. For another quality cheeseburger, check out the closing track 'To the Skies and Beyond' which is in may ways the perfect conclusion to this album. Most of the songs on this album feature epic elements, but it never goes awry.

One thing that doesn't work for me is the gruff viking-style semi-spoken vocal style that one of the male vocalists utilize; in fact, I would be perfectly satisfied if Ylva Eriksson took care of all the lead singing. But that's just me. I can see how the male vocals do fit into a viken-esque style of metal. In terms of musicianship, there's nothing wrong with the album. There are some pretty amazing guitar solos to enjoy, and plenty of kick-ass metal riffage. Ylva Eriksson has a voice that suits this style of music perfectly, and delivers some outright beatiful singing in the opening of the title track. The production is crisp, professional and epic.

I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed listening to this album, given that I normally find folk metal, viking metal, and contemporary European power metal in general to be a tad silly. Maybe it's the songwriting displayed on this album, or maybe it's the musicianship. Could be the catchy choruses and compelling vocal melodies. Perhaps the production. Or maybe Brothers of Metal simply appeal to my own Scandinavian heritage in a way that connects with my inner viking. Who know? I just know that I like this album... which I totally didn't expect.

I tip my viking helmet to you, Brothers of Metal. Well played, brothers and sisters, well played.

PSYCHOTIC WALTZ The God-Shaped Void

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 4 ratings
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While the Brits may have created both progressive rock and heavy metal with King Crimson and Black Sabbath taking rock into two distinct yet completely different directions an amazing 50 years ago, it was the USA where the idea to link these two styles together really took off with bands like Watchtower and Fates Warning taking the complex compositional approaches of KC and dressing them up in the energetic and distorted dressing of the heavier aspects of metal music. Amongst the first wave of the progressive metal scene that rocked the 80s USA in the underground circuit was San Diego’s Aslan turned PSYCHOTIC WALTZ which began in 1986 and took the nerdy side of metal off guard with its lauded debut “A Social Grace.”

While the US spawned the first examples of prog metal, it was unfortunately not these bands’ homeland where they found interest in their innovative styles so bands like PSYCHOTIC WALTZ were virtually ignored at home while making the most waves in the part of the world where both prog and metal began in the first place. Yup, you guessed it, Europe! The band made a name for itself touring overseas which cemented their position as one of the most innovative prog metal bands of the era and went on to release four albums: “A Social Grace” (1990), “Into The Everflow” (1992), “Mosquito” (1994), “Bleeding” (1996). While productive and passionately engaged, the band called it quits after lackluster sales and the final straw came when the band was sued by an actress who claimed her appearance in the making of the video for “Faded” caused her to suffer partial blindness due to the lighting involved.

With the ever growing interest in more progressive music however, PSYCHOTIC WALTZ have gone down as prog gods with their forward thinking albums that sounded like no other. While not exactly reaping the fruits of their hard work during the initial run, this bands’ albums have become quite popular ever since and eventually reunited in 2010 with its original lineup of Dan Rock (guitars/keyboards), Brian McAlpin (guitars/keyboards), Ward Evans (bass), Norm Leggio (drums), and Devon Graves (vocals/flute/keyboard), originally known to fans as Buddy Lackey. With no new album the band started to tour opening for Nevermore and Symphony X on The Power Of Metal tour. While a new album was planned, nobody expected these guys to take 10 whole years to make it happen but finally on 14 February 2020 here it is!

Sounding as if they were picking up where “Bleeding” left off, PSYCHOTIC WALTZ returns with THE GOD-SHAPED VOID which took seven years to create and actually a miracle that it got created in the first place considering that Buddy Lackey currently lives in Austria and the rest of the band have full-time jobs and families to contend with. Not counting the archival odds and sods 1999 release “Dark Millennium,” THE GOD-SHAPED VOID is the fifth installment in the band’s canon. Needless to say, this cast of five who are well in their 50s now are not the same band that they were 30 years ago when the debut album was released, however the band jettisoned the Watchtower inspired technical thrash metal riffs before they even broke up for the first time. What GOD-SHAPED VOID delivers is a much darker atmospheric slice of psychedelia tinged progressive metal without the emphasis on rampaging tech wankery.

We were treated to a sampling with the first official video “Devils And Angels” which pretty much was a preview for the entire album’s worth of material presented. In this way, GOD-SHAPED VOID has the most in common with the band’s last 90s album “Bleeding” so in that regard this one literally picks up where that one left off and although it’s a much less aggressive album than their 90s run, still sounds like the next logical step that could’ve easily been inserted into the turn of the millennium timeline so i would guess that much of the material has been gestating in the heads of the musicians even if they hadn’t received the recording process until much later.

While THE GOD-SHAPED VOID will not dazzle you with the flashiness of “A Social Grace” or “Into The Everflow,” neither has it gone Leprous on us and abandoned metal altogether. While the tech riffs have been tamed into heavier power chord rampages that are more akin to alternative metal, for the most part this band is still on top of its game only with the focus on the sound textures, atmospheric ambience and lyrical deliveries where Devon Graves hasn’t lost any of his vocal fluidity or powerful range. Likewise both guitarists Dan Rock and Brian McAlpin deliver some excellent guitar work on tracks like “Back To Black” which cranks out power stomps as well as soloing. While the chaotic dissonance of the past has been traded in for a more accessible melancholic style that is less frenetic and simmering on progressive light, the tracks are amazingly consistent as the melodies are solid, the hooks are instantly piercing and the production both captures the intricate sounds of the band’s heyday but offers a crisp clean modern dimension that allows the nuanced atmospheric components to shine.

It’s always a gamble to revive a classic band after so many years have gone by but it’s obvious on THE GOD-SHAPED VOID that PSYCHOTIC WALTZ still carries the torch that keeps the passion for their music alive and although the band has matured a bit, this one carries a lot more emotional delivery than the more technically infused early albums. With so many newer metal bands sounding lost in the sea of generic wannabeism or spiraling out into experimental inaccessibilities, it’s exciting to find a classic band like PSYCHOTIC WALTZ time traveling into the present to show the whippersnappers how old school metal can be so exciting when done right and everything comes together quite spectacularly on this beautiful comeback album. What makes this album work so well is that PSYCHOTIC WALTZ never did the same album twice and i for one am happy that they didn’t just retread their past glories and evolve the music into the new world while adapting it from the last album they left behind. If you loved the early albums, Crimson Glory, early Queensryche or other prog metal bands that focused on the melodic side of thing above all else then THE GOD-SHAPED VOID will not disappoint one bit!

DELAIN Apocalypse & Chill

Album · 2020 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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In a recent review, I commented on the importance of naming an album, and how some bands tend to be more creative with their album titles, while others tend to play it fairly safe. I’ve seen plenty of interesting album titles in recent years, as well as plenty of forgettable ones, but one that instantly raised my eyebrows upon seeing it is Apocalypse & Chill. Yep, that is indeed the title of Dutch symphonic metal band Delain’s sixth full-length release, and it sure is a strange one. Oddly enough, though, upon listening to the album, the name actually starts to make more sense, as it both gives an idea of what to expect from the lyrical concepts, as well as accurately describing the music pretty well.

I’ve long seen Delain as a band that consistently releases some very good albums, and I’d definitely consider them one of the more important symphonic metal bands in the world at this point, but I find their albums never quite reach the levels of some of my favorites in the genre. This continues with Apocalypse & Chill, though I do think it’s one of their most consistent releases to date, as well as by far their most interesting and unique.

Stylistically, Delain has always struck a nice balance between heaviness, light symphonic elements and beautiful vocals from Charlotte Wessels. Apocalypse & Chill takes all of these elements to the extreme, with almost every track alternating between some of their most aggressive guitar work to date, as well as having some of their catchiest, most melodic choruses and vocal sections, and while the symphonic elements still aren’t as grand as the likes of Nightwish or Epica, there are some pretty big arrangements on some tracks. For the majority of the album, the band alternates nicely between some pretty modern sounding, at times brutal guitar work, and some very nice keyboards, which are at times very flashy and modern, while at other times they’re more relaxing and atmospheric. While all musicians do a great job, it’s clear keyboardist Martijn Westerholt and vocalist Charlotte Wessels are the main focus of the album, with both delivering their absolute best performances to date. As usual, the production is fantastic, with all instruments sounding clear and powerful, and whenever orchestration is used, it’s mixed in perfectly with everything else.

While Delain has always had great musicianship and excellent vocals, I find their songwriting is generally solid, but not quite top tier. This continues somewhat with Apocalypse & Chill, though I do think this album is possibly their most consistent release yet, as while there’s only one track I’d consider a masterpiece, there are no weak tracks, and every song is great in its own way. The album opens with “One Second”, which is either the second or third single released depending on how you view things (I’ll explain in more detail later.) Either way, it’s a nice, fairly simple track, where the guitar work is heavy, but in a fairly subtle, understated way, with some very flashy keys being the main focus of the music, while Wessels is accompanied on vocals by guitarist Timo Somers, who delivers some very powerful slightly animated vocals during the chorus, where he excels. It’s a solid track on its own, and it gets the album off to a nice start.

Next is “We Had Everything”, a rather fun and upbeat track, which has some very nice, trance infused keys, which again drive the music, though the guitar work is a bit more prominent here, and it does get pretty heavy in between vocal sections. Wessels shines on this track, singing very lightly during the verses, utilizing her higher register, and then delivering some very soft and smooth vocals during the fun and catchy chorus. The instrumental work is nice throughout the track, with the guitar solo in the second half, in particular, being very melodic and epic at the same time. Things slow down slightly with “Chemical Redemption”, a track that again alternates nicely between some crushing riffs and rather light keys, with the verses, in particular, using the keys more for atmosphere and extra flavor, while the chorus is nice but a bit understated compared to most other tracks on the album. The highlight of the track is a very melodic, very beautiful guitar solo, which leads into some pretty epic orchestral arrangements.

The second (or first) single from the album is “Burning Bridges”, and to me, this stands as by far the best on the album, as it utilizes on aspects of the band’s sound perfectly, and I’d say it’s one of the band’s absolute best songs to date. It opens with more brutal guitar work, accompanied by some epic symphonic arrangements, which carry on throughout the track. The verses move by at a quick pace, with some rather light guitar work, powerful lead vocals, and more epic orchestral backing, and then the chorus comes and is absolutely fantastic and extremely epic, with some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard from Wessels. The real highlight, though, comes in after the second run through the chorus, where some very intense and powerful harsh vocals are used, for the first and only time on the album, and that’s followed by an epic instrumental section, where the orchestral elements are really pushed to the front. While I do think the track hints at elements that could have been used more throughout the album, I also think that only having them on this track helps it to stand out a lot more, and ultimately, it ends up feeling like the one track where everything just comes together perfectly.

After that stunner of a track, “Vengeance” is a bit more typical, though still pretty fun. It moves along a solid pace, with some rather light and melodic guitar work, as well as more symphonic arrangements. The catch to this track is that vocal duties are split between Wessels and Beast in Black vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos, who sounds as wild and energetic as always. The two work together well, which makes for a fun chorus, and while track overall isn’t spectacular, it is a lot of fun. Another standout is “To Live is to Die”, which utilizes some very futuristic sounding, industrial style keys, which serve as the main driving force, though the guitar work is also fairly heavy at points. It’s a pretty dark and atmospheric track, with Wessels again delivering some very powerful and emotional vocals. One track which really demonstrates the concept of the album well is “Let’s Dance”, with some rather grim lyrics being overlapped with repeated proclamations of “it’s a beautiful day”. While it does make for an interesting effect and is an interesting idea, I do find the repetition to be a bit much, and so the verses are rather irritating to sit through. The chorus is quite fun and catchy, though, the very heavy guitar work is quite good, so the track still ends up being solid, overall, if not one of my favorites.

More heavy guitar work follows on “Creatures”, which comes pretty close to sounding like later Evergrey during its intro, though it does soften up a bit during the verses, with some very dark sounding keys, and the track overall has a rather bleak feel to it, which is somewhat countered by beautiful vocals, and an excellent chorus. It’s yet another track where the whole “Apocalypse & Chill” idea fits in quite well. The one ballad of the album is “Ghost House Heart”, either the third or fourth single. It’s another very atmospheric track, which makes nice use of some soft piano work, and more orchestral arrangements. It’s a very nice track, with some great moments, but it never fully takes off, instead simply remaining a solid track throughout. The first track released from the album is “Masters of Destiny”. However, whether or not it’s actually the first single is debatable, as it was originally released as a single for the early 2019 EP Hunter’s Moon. Either way, it’s easily the most epic track on the album, with the orchestrations and choral vocals being pushed to the max, while the guitar work is fairly subtle and not the main focus. Instead, it serves as an excellent vocal showcase for Wessels, who delivers some of her most powerful vocals to date, especially during the spectacular chorus.

The last heavier track on the album is “Legions of the Lost”, another excellent track, which alternates nicely between heavy guitars, soft verses, a very melodic and beautiful chorus, and it mixes in some very nice keys and orchestral elements, at times. The last vocal track is “The Greatest Escape”, a softer track, which almost feels like a ballad during the verses, where Wessels is accompanied only by some light keys, though it does become slightly heavier and more upbeat during the chorus, which is quite beautiful. Closing out the album is a full-length instrumental track, “Combustion”, which is, in fact, the longest track on the album. It’s a very beautiful track, once again moving from some soft sections with some very nice keys and piano, as well as having some very heavy guitars, especially in the middle. It has plenty of memorable moments, and it certainly closes the album out quite effectively.

Despite the rather strange name, Apocalypse & Chill is another great album from Delain, which showcases all aspects of the band very well, alternating between some very heavy, modern guitar work, to some rather flashy, upbeat keys, some epic orchestrations, some very catchy choruses and vocal melodies, and some very beautiful sections. Fans of the band are sure to be pleased with the album, while any symphonic metal fans looking for a fun album with some great vocals would also be highly recommended to give this album a listen, as Delain has proven themselves to once again be a consistently great band.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2020/02/08/delain-apocalypse-chill-review/

THERION Beloved Antichrist

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 2.61 | 5 ratings
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In short, THIS ALBUM IS BORING AF! Read on if you want to know why

THERION has been around forever at this point at least by metal standards having formed all the way back in 1987 and made a name for itself in the early years by climbing the ranks of the Swedish death metal scene by incrementally releasing one slightly more experimental album followed by another. Some say that founder and creative mastermind Christofer Johnsson was seriously smitten after hearing the choral sections on Ozzy Osbourne’s classic 1981 track “Diary Of A Madman.” Randy Rhoads of course was one of the pioneers of the neoclassical sounds and had he not perished prematurely could’ve possibly been the mastermind of a band like THERION but it was Johnsson who saw the higher potentials of mixing classical music with heavy metal and well, the rest is pretty much history with a never-ending supply of metal divas rocking to Orff inspired Wagnerian pomp fortified by Iron Maiden guitar gallops.

The classic years of THERION started with 1996’s “Theli” where the band suddenly dropped all death metal pretenses and went full on symphonic classical mode and in the process took the world by storm by taking the neoclassical shtick to the next logical level by incorporated massive symphonies, choirs and mining the opera catacombs of their wealth to incorporate dramatic vocal grandeur in a heavy metal context. The results sorta made your hair stand up as it was bold, refreshing and utterly unthinkable! The formula remained fresh and vital all the way up to the band’s 13th album “Gothic Kabbalah” which was released in 2007. But then it seems everything started going down the ole crapper. Not only did the entire musical cast part ways leaving Johnsson to reinvent the band once again but the main man himself was suffering from the physical battles scars of the demands of live performances. He suffered intense neck and shoulder pain as well as spine disc herniations. Not only did he temporarily lose his ability to perform but seems all that divine inspiration that made THERION such a fan-damn-tastic band to experience just sorta up and left!

Starting with 2010’s “Sitra Ahra” THERION was a completely new beast but all the vitality of the past had somehow disappeared with the rest of the band and suddenly for the first time it sounded like THERION was just going through the motions with a by-the-numbers generic delivery of been-there-done-that material. Obviously the wells of inspiration had run dry so Johnsson decided to take a stab at recording an album of classic French pop songs adapted to metal on 2012’s “Les Fleurs Du Mal” which was a slightly more interesting albeit divisive endeavor albeit a far cry from the classic THERION years. With inspiration clearly waning Johnsson decided to finally unleash his ultimate end game vision of what THERION could be. While this project has always been about the gleeful fusion party where operatic divas and headbangers unite under one flag, nobody really considered THERION to haver released a true bona fide metal opera with OPERA in all capital letters.

After “Fleurs Du Mal” Johnsson focused on a side project called The Luciferian Light Orchestra which basically created a less metal version of “Gothic Kabbalah” which set the stage for the next project by THERION. Having had the idea to finally take THERION to its logical conclusion with a fully developed metal opera, Johnsson began working on what was meant to be his most ambitious project yet and in 2018 it finally came to light as the triple album set BELOVED ANTICHRIST which consisted of a whopping 46 songs based on “A Short Tale Of The Antichrist” by Vladimir Solviov. Somehow he forgot the “short” part of the tale and expanded the story to include 27 characters played by 15 vocalists and while this may sound a lot like what Arjen Anthony Lucassen has crafted in his project Ayreon, let’s just say that this one doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

The opera is described as a theatrical presentation in which a dramatic performance is set to music and originated at the end of the 16th century in Italy with many historians claiming Jacopo Peri’s “Dafne” being the first example of 1598. That means there have been over 500 years of opera in existence. Some of the most popular examples are Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo,” Purcell’s “Dido And Aeneas,” Handel’s “Julius Caesar” and Gluck’s “Orfeo Ed Euridice.” Having dropped most of the metal characteristics of yore like an impotent headbanger who lost his viagra, this can only be considered a metal OPERA by the most fertile of imaginations but if you’re looking for some juicy guitar riffs or anything resembling the band’s past glory, your expectations will fall flatter than silicon boob job gone horribly wrong. This is an opera album through and through and not a very good one at that. Never have i heard 46 consecutive songs sound so mind numbingly bland in all my life. To be fair there is metal to be heard but it’s so dreadfully dull and mostly absent with only a few tracks thrown here and there.

Needless to say THERION does nothing to add to the opera legacy not even by the tiniest despite limp noodle metal music being inserted into its format. This is basically a traditional opera in every conceivable way with only some rock and metal music being snuck in for the sake of calling this a metal opera. In reality this 3 album set is a chore to sit through but as a THERION fan i felt it was my duty to listen to the entire thing all the way through although with an initial sense of trepidation having a keen sense of what to expect. There are no metal vocal styles, only the traditional clean sung opera variations. The three albums are woefully paced with no rhyme or reason or any sense of dramatically buildups to some climax. Badly paced and woefully lacking any sort of interesting musical hooks, all THERION can do is retread past glories by piling on extra layers of fluff to create a false sense of achievement. Flatulent guitar riffs, incessant Pavarotti worship tenors and divas sounding like they need bowel movements endlessly persist for a staggering ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY THREE MINUTES :o

What we have here is an impressive piece of work but on paper only. Everything about this is impressive. Hell, just the fact that it exists is one for the history books but when all is said and done BELOVED ANTICHRIST is a three hour blackhole that sucks three hours out of your life never to be retrieved. If that isn’t the ultimate act of evil, i don’t know what is! In summary, the only thing that comes to mind when i struggled through this one is that the once mighty THERION has finally gone off the deep end. I could think of a million ways to make this boring dross more entertaining but it is literally the epitome of an opera set on autoplay with no end in sight. Despite all the talent and efforts that went into this one, it is utterly devoid of soul and the whole thing feels forced for the sake of its mere existence. I’ve never been a huge opera fan but at least when i do occasionally experience some of the classics i can feel the passion behind the creative process that went into them. In this case i only feel a band that has lost its way and gotten a distorted sense of grandeur that is attempted but woefully lost. Please, Christofer! Let it go! THERION needs to rest now. Hint hint. No! Mommy! Make it stop! AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Did i mention that THIS ALBUM IS BORING AF?

THERION Sitra Ahra

Album · 2010 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 23 ratings
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With “Gothic Kabbalah,” THERION reinvented its sound once again by adding not only elements of Gothic metal but added some extra servings of progressive rock which made the album stand out amongst its rich canon of opera infused metal madness. The party kids set out for one more tour but then everybody in the band parted and no more THERION as we know it. Instead of calling it quits founder and creative leader Christofer Johnsson opted to start from scratch and create a whole new version of THERION. Gone were the massive choirs, mega symphonies and tributes to fat ladies with horned helmets and instead was a more refined sound of what i would deem a THERION smorgasbord of past ideas however a few tricks up Johnsson’s sleeves remained and this album shows a few new developments.

Amongst the new peeps on board, Snowy Shaw of Mercyful Fate and Dream Evil fame was back as one of the many vocalists along with ex-Candlemass vocalist Thomas Vikström and a few newbies like Christian Vidal on guitar and Lori Lewis as the only female vocalist. In fact there are only eleven musicians and vocalists on the band’s 14th album SITRA AHRA which makes it the most trimmed down of any. Perhaps the logistics of all those massive live shows were the primary impetus for this newer version of THERION to emerge. Whatever the case the title refers to a perceived realm that is the opposite to holiness and is a concept from the Jewish Kabbalah which Johnsson mined for many of his lyrical escapades. In that regard SITRA AHRA is business as usual but this album does sound a lot different than any THERION album that preceded despite lots of ideas being mined from the past.

The main way i see SITRA AHRA is that it’s like a THERION rhapsody of its own past. While the number of musicians and vocalists are fewer, the operatic choir structure still functions as so and many of the heavy metal guitar riffs sound like they were borrowed from albums like “Theli.” Just check out the fast tempos and guitar gallops and solos on “Kings Of Edom” and it’s right off of that album. Once again Middle Eastern melodic touches decorate the song structures and although the keyboard aspects are tamed down the album still generates some atmospheric presence and the occasional psychedelic rock outburst. Piano runs are also presented at various moments to create a contrast effect but not super common. There is also more of an effort to change things up more often so the 11 tracks on SITRA AHRA are more varied than earlier albums.

This is a more progressive album than most with the longest track “Land Of Canaan” lasting over ten minutes and delivers some of the most varying sound on the album. Starting out with some sort of Tibetan bowl sounding instrument, the track breaks into mid-tempo metal but also has elements of groovy 60s surf rock before jumping into progressive metal with eerie wordless vocals from Lori Lewis who makes this album sound a lot like some of earlier Aryeon albums. The track jumps from metal to flute led folk that then jumps into Parisian cafe music which is totally new to THERION and would inspire them to follow up with the album “Fleurs Du Mal” which covers old French pop songs. This song is the perfect example of how weird this album is. It goes from metal to French cabaret and starts to remind me of a more metal version of Cirque du Soleil especially after you see the band photos all dressed up in their attire. Somewhat cool and somewhat cheesy, this track symbolizes both the pros and cons of SITRA AHRA.

The album starts off really strong with a bunch of extraordinarily catchy and well crafted tracks but starts to taper off on the second side. “2012” displays the darker tone with a party metal kinda vibe with all the singers joining in. The violin gives it a melancholic feel. There are many heavier tracks on this one like “Cu Chulain” which starts out menacing but then shifts to a feel good singalong session. Kinda goofy actually. “Din” is the most effective metal track with an incessantly sped up riff and one of the few moments where growly vocals are used on a newer THERION release. “The Shells Are Open” sounds like some sort of psycho-gypsy music but reveals more of the same French cabaret music with operatic singers in unison over a metal groove. The whole thing reminds me of a metal version of the can-can. The closing “After The Inquisition: Children Of The Stone” is somewhat of an underwhelming closer. Clocking in over 7 minutes it’s mostly a sleepy space rock song with Pink Floyd styled guitar and bass in concert with the vocalists having a good sing-song affair. It makes me feel like everyone is going to break into singing “It’s A Small World.” Psychedelic organ is cool but it’s kinda corny.

This album isn’t bad by any means but it does feel like THERION is one step away from running out of ideas. There’s just enough vim and vigor left to create an album’s worth of material but much of it sounds recycled and although the French music themes and more liberal use of progressive rock are the saving points, it still comes across that THERION’s best days have passed. Perhaps the band would need more time together to gel but despite the great performances some of the material that starts off really strong often devolves into campy goofiness. When all is said and done, this is certainly no throwaway album and worthy of any addition to your collection. The strongest tracks, mostly on the first part of the album are worth the price of admission alone but this is an example of an album that could’ve been trimmed down a bit to make it a more satisfying listen. Perhaps a 45 minute album instead of a 61 minute playing time would’ve been much more interesting. Nevertheless THERION still found a way to stay relevant for a little bit longer.

THE OCEAN Aeolian

Album · 2005 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.72 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Aeolian" is the 2nd full-length studio album by German sludge/post metal/hardcore act The Ocean (sometimes referred to as The Ocean Collective). The album was released through Metal Blade Records in November 2005. "Aeolian" is the second part of a two album project that started with "Fluxion (2004)". As far as I understand the tracks for the two albums were written and recorded during the same sessions, but the band (or the label?) decided to release the most atmospheric and orchestral material on "Fluxion" and the more aggressive and direct material on "Aeolian".

...it´s definitely an interesting approach and to my ears "Fluxion" started the project pretty successfully. "Aeolian" is definitely the harder edged ugly monster sibling. The level of aggression and the amount of chugging riffs are much higher on "Aeolian" than the case was on "Fluxion", and "Aeolian" is not at all as atmospheric or as sophisticated as "Fluxion" either (although not completely devoid of atmospheric moments). We´re still dealing with fairly technical playing and complex compositions, but the emphasis is on aggression and heavy riffing. The vocals are predominantly raw and shouting type sludge/hardcore vocals. There are as many as 6 different vocalists who contribute to the album, so the vocal style also changes from deep semi-growling, to harsh hardcore screaming, to aggressive barking.

While all material on the 10 track, 55:32 minutes long album is well written and performed, there is a slight identity crisis heard throughout the album, and it´s like The Ocean can´t decide if they want to play metal or hardcore (there are several predominantly hardcore oriented tracks on the album). There´s even a wiff of metalcore/melodic death metal featured at one point, so it´s not a stylistically consistent release. Wether that´s a weakness or a strength is up for discussion, but personally I found the band´s adventurous approach to musical styles relatively intriguing, albeit not always equally successful. Highlights include "The City in the Sea" and "Inertia", which are the two tracks that bookends the album. Especially the latter is a great track, but all material on the album is of a good quality.

"Aeolian" features a well sounding and powerful production, which suits the material well and the musicianship is on a high level on all posts. So upon conclusion "Aeolian" is through and through a high quality release. Compared to it´s sister release "Fluxion", "Aeolian" is slightly less interesting though, but a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is still deserved.

THERION Gothic Kabbalah

Album · 2007 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 28 ratings
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With the 2004 double album releases “Lemuria” and “Sirius B” immediately followed by a two year tour that found THERIOIN putting on 106 shows around the world including the ProgPower Festival in the UK on March 21, 2006, it would seem that THERION would not have the time to craft more material for another album but band founder and leader Christofer Johnsson was insanely prolific and a song writing machine along with the Nieman brothers and not only crafted enough material for the next album but enough to make it a double one. After several albums since “Theli” which launched THERION into the big leagues with its new brand of symphonic metal that added massive symphonies and choirs, the time was ripe for a change and that’s exactly what the fans got with the 13th album GOTHIC KABBALAH.

As the name of the album implies, GOTHIC KABBALAH takes THERION’s symphonic metal sound more into the world of Gothic metal as if Type O Negative joined the crew and this was the result. In 2006 Christofer Johnsson announced that he was retiring from singing duties therefore Mats Levén of Yngwie Malmsteen fame who performed on the “Lemuria / Sirius B” albums took the role of ghoul in chief with his dracula inspired vocal style at the forefront. A second singer was recruited with Snowy Shaw of Mercyful Fate and Dream Evil along with three female singers, Katarina Lilja, Anna Nyhlin and Hannah Holgersson. GOTHIC KABBALAH also found the number of musicians involved trimmed down considerably although in addition to the four main members of THERION there are still eleven guests involved.

This is the least symphonic of THERION’s output since the pre-“Theli” years although there are still elements of the choirs and a few classical instrument sounds but overall GOTHIC KABBALAH is much more in the Gothic metal camp with the symphonic elements set to simmer. Thematically this album is dedicated to the Swedish mystic Johannes Bureus who invented a philosophy called GOTHIC KABBALAH which mixed the alchemy, astrology and magic of the 17th century with the ancient runes and Norse gods. The lyrics of the album narrate in great detail the themes of the texts written by Bureus. Another notable musician on this one is Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep who plays keyboards. The trimmed down symphonic, orchestral and vocal domination of previous albums ramped up with a more aggressive guitar sound and an overall darker atmospheric presence makes GOTHIC KABBALAH one of the most unique sounding albums in the THERION canon.

One of the most noticeable differences in this double album is that the tracks are some of the most progressive that THERION had done at this point. While each album was fairly unique in certain ways, each retained the basic characteristics of 80s styled heavy metal mixed with classical symphonies and operatic choirs along with the extra accoutrements of ethnic folk music and other minor elements. On GOTHIC KABBALAH the metal parts are much more progressive and for the first time the companions are more labyrinthine and graced with more time signature deviations. While gothic metal is clearly part of the mix it’s not as much so as true goth bands and although dominant not ubiquitious. Often the vocalists are simply trading off parts more like an Ayreon styled rock opera album. Occasionally creeping through are touches of various folk melodies, both Western and Middle Eastern. The album is quite diverse with many different songs taking on different roles and therefore one of the most unusual of THERION’s career.

True that this one could have been trimmed down a bit. I think that if this would’ve been released as a single disc it would’ve been a much stronger album but this one is a grower nonetheless. Personally i find the second disc to be the stronger of the two with the first one engaging in too many long-winded even whiny tracks such as “The Perennial Sophia.” Unfortunately the weaker tracks are in the forefront which may drive off many from hearing the album out in its entirety but IMHO it all picks up big time with “The Wand Of Abaris” as the tracks become more cleverly crafted with interested dynamic shifts that find bombastic metal in interplay with the toned-down symphonic touches and more adrenalized vocalists. The folk melodies add a sense of timelessness and the eerie atmospheric touches give this one a mysterious vibe that fits perfectly into the world of the occult. The closing “Adulruna Rediva” is probably the most classical sounding and reminds you how much Johnsson was inspired by the sounds of Karl Orff especially works like “Carmina Burana” only with a sense of Wagnerian pomp.

Admittedly GOTHIC KABBALAH was a little put offing for me in the beginning but one that has grown on me and although i find this double disker to be a little lopsided with the cream of the crop appearing on the second half, it’s overall a compelling listen that stands out in the THERION canon for its unique mix of styles and the more progressive touches. This would also pretty much be the end of the line for the classic THERION lineup. In 2008 after the massive touring schedule the band announced that its core group of musicians were going their separate ways. Johnsson continued the THERION brand name but none of the albums that followed would ever have the same magnificence that the run from “Theli” to GOTHIC KABBALAH captured. Some of THERION’s best works on this one and although not all tracks are created equal none are horrible either but an editing process that culled a few would’ve made this an even better album as a single album. After all at 83:37, the track list simply could’ve been trimmed of a couple of the weaker tracks and made a single album. Still though, i love this one for the most part despite its flaws.

THERION Sirius B

Album · 2004 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 29 ratings
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The period around the “Secret Of The Runes” album was one of the most prolific for Christofer Johnsson and his symphonic metal project THERION who not only had released a string of successful albums with “Vovin” being the largest seller of the lot but also engaged in a massive tour that would yield a live album called “Live in Midgård.” During this period Johnsson along with the Niemann brothers (Kristian on guitars and Johan on bass) amassed an amazing amount of material to work with. With 55 unreleased songs in the coffers, THERION picked out the strongest which resulted in 21 of them being released at the same time. Instead of simply cranking out a double album per se, it was decided to release two individual albums instead. Both “Lemuria” and its counterpart SIRUS B were released on 24 May 2004 both as single albums as well as a twin-pack with two titles.

Since these two albums were released simultaneously the obvious question of which one comes first in the discography. No chicken and egg scenario here as they were released exactly at the same time so it seems that through the sophisticated occult practices of contacting demons or a scryer or whatever sort of supernatural forces intervened, it was decided that the alphabetical method was the determining factor and therefore “Lemuria” is officially THERION’s 11th studio album and SIRIUS B is officially the 12th album even though they appear as a double album twin-pack as well. SIRIUS B is the longest of the two which squeaks past the 57 minute mark while “Lemuria” is a bit shorter by just floating by the 42 minute mark. Both albums are characterized by their own subtle differences but roughly speaking are in the same camp.

To call these two works ambitious is an understatement. On these two recordings there were a total of 171 musicians involved in one form or another which included the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra as well as a 32-member choir. These two albums found a new lead male vocalist with Mats Levén who had worked with many artists before most notably with Yngwie Malmsteen and a continuing guest appearance of vocalist Piotr Wawrzeniuk. LEMURIA follows in the footsteps of “Secrets Of The Runes” with the heavy metal aspects of the band’s sound in the forefront. But then again any given THERION album from “Theli” on incorporates a massive sound spectrum of classical symphonic elements, choirs. While “Lemuria” refers to a mythological sunken continent, SIRIUS B goes all cosmic on ya and flirts with the notion that the star Sirius actually has a twin called SIRIUS B. Like “Lemuria,” SIRIUS B’s concepts span a wider range of occult themes and mythology.

Musically SIRIUS B is one of the most integrated examples of cross-pollinating the heavy metal bombast and operatic classical symphony with choral grandiosity. In that regard it’s much more like “Secret Of The Runes” but not quite as bombastic for its entirety with an in again out again approach to the metal guitar heft which leaves it much more like “Deggial.” Instrumentally SIRIUS B differs a bit from “Lemuria” with the addition of a church organ and mandolin but does incorporate some of the psychedelic prog rock sounds of a Hammond organ. While SIRIUS B is the typical THERION album with lots of metal guitar, bass and drums it’s the mix of the different elements that takes it on a slightly different journey than the previous albums. Firstly there are bizarre intros to many of the songs along with other electronic processed vocals and guitar riffs which are often in the form of Pantera-esque groove metal busyness

This is also perhaps the release with the fewest number of vocalists but the album comes off more like an Ayreon style of rock opera with the vocalists involved trading off more often rather than amassing a huge polyphonic vocal attack. In addition to the groove metal bombast there is always a lingering atmospheric backdrop of the keyboards and like every THERION album delivers irresistibly catchy melodies that are augmented by the sheer immensity of the massive number of participants. THERION albums are like musical formats of occult and mythological text books and SIRIUS B covers a wide range of topics such as Kingu in “The Blood Of Kingu”, the Sumerian monster, the Pharaoh Akhenaten in “Son Of The Sun,” the controversial Russian sect of Christiany called Khlysti in “The Khlysti Evangelist” as well as topics from Greek mythology, Hinduism, east African folklore, Semitic gods, Armenian mystics and mythology from a group called the yazidis. Whew!

It takes a few spins to differentiate THERION albums as they all pretty much adopt the same basic characteristics but just like different recipes in the kitchen amount to a different mood that results from the changing around of things or the subtraction of this or the addition of that. SIRIUS B indeed sounds like a cosmic type of album that makes me think of what a new age metal opera would sound like if that terminology is even adequate. The album has a liturgical vibe imbued with the classical operatic choirs and the ethnic folk that bows down to the rampage of metal when it enters the scene and some electronica sounds that pop in. The main difference of both SIRIUS B and “Lemuria” sounds to me that the psychedelic organs give this more of an Age of Aquarius type feel that reminds me of the late 60s and early 70s so therefore there are more classic golden era prog sounds to these two releases with SIRIUS B having the edge over “Lemuria” just a smidge. Any way you shake it, this wham bam thank you m’am double release of 2004 is another set of faves in the THERION canon as there are not disappointing tracks although there is nothing here that dramatically stands out either. THERION is all about consistency and delivers again on the 2004 combo pack.

THERION Lemuria

Album · 2004 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 25 ratings
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The period around the “Secret Of The Runes” album was one of the most prolific for Christofer Johnsson and his symphonic metal project THERION who not only had released a string of successful albums with “Vovin” being the largest seller of the lot but also engaged in a massive tour that would yield a live album called “Live in Midgård.” During this period Johnsson along with the Niemann brothers (Kristian on guitars and Johan on bass) amassed an amazing amount of material to work with. With 55 unreleased songs in the coffers, THERION picked out the strongest which resulted in 21 of them being released at the same time. Instead of simply cranking out a double album per se, it was decided to release two individual albums instead. Both LEMURIA and its counterpart “Sirius B” were released on 24 May 2004 both as single albums as well as a twin-pack with two titles.

Since these two albums were released simultaneously the obvious question of which one comes first in the discography. No chicken and egg scenario here as they were released exactly at the same time so it seems that through the sophisticated occult practices of contacting demons or a scryer or whatever sort of supernatural forces intervened, it was decided that the alphabetical method was the determining factor and therefore LEMURIA, which refers to the other sunken continent like Atlantis, is officially THERION’s 11th studio album. It does get a little confusing since the two albums were released as a twofer as well as separately but they are indeed separate albums and each has its own personality despite being culled from the same repository. LEMURIA is the shortest of the two and only exceeds past the 42 minutes in contrast to “Sirius B” which just skirts past the 57 minute mark.

To call these works ambitious is an understatement. On these two recordings there were a total of 171 musicians involved in one form or another which included the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra as well as a 32-member choir. These two albums found a new lead male vocalist with Mats Levén who had worked with many artists before most notably with Yngwie Malmsteen and a continuing guest appearance of vocalist Piotr Wawrzeniuk. LEMURIA follows in the footsteps of “Secrets Of The Runes” with the heavy metal aspects of the band’s sound in the forefront. But then again any given THERION album from “Theli” on incorporates a massive sound spectrum of classical symphonic elements, choirs and on this one even includes some ethnic instruments such as balalaikas, a domra and even a little proggy mellotron and Hammond organ. While the title suggests a concept album, LEMURIA is all over the mythological map covering Greek themes (“Typhon,” “Abaris”), Germanic (“Futhark”), Aztec (“Quetzalcoatl”), Gnostic (“Abraxas”) and even closer to home Swedish occultism with the track “The Dreams of Swedenborg” about 18-century occultist Emanuel Swedenborg.

While LEMURIA emphasizes the heavy metal thunder for much of its playing time, it’s actually more like “Deggial” in that it has lots of softer parts like acoustic guitar arpeggio segments, classical non-metal moments but alternates with more bombastic bravo however the metal is often more brutal as on “Secret Of The Runes.” Basically THERION takes established formulas and changed up the recipe ever so slightly. Every tune is crafted extremely well as you can expect instantly catchy classically inspired melodies rocking it out with classic 80s metal that showcase those classic Iron Maiden guitar gallops as well as other elements from hard rock, doom metal and even a faint reference to the band’s death metal origins at times such as blastbeats, tremolo guitar picking or even a growl or two but mostly this is just another excellent display of symphonic operatic metal that spares no expense. There is even a Rammstein sounding track with the closing “Feurer Overtüre / Prometheus Entfesselt ! ”

ULVER Drone Activity

Live album · 2019 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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Warthur
Ulver's musical interests bounce around all over the place - we're talking about a group whose discography ranges from the rawest of raw black metal to dark folk music to synthpop, after all - so it's nice of them to give this release an apt title to tip us off to what to expect.

Though a live album, Drone Activity consists of all-original material. Don't think "drone" in the sense of, say, Ulver buddies Sunn O))) - instead, think "drone" in the sense of some of the mid-1970s work of progressive electronic masters like Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulze. Heck, the album is even structured like Tangerine Dream's Zeit, with its four electronic ambient pieces occupying a timespan which would, were this to get a vinyl release, have each track taking up a side of a double album.

Don't think this is a full-on pastiche of Tangerine Dream, however; the aesthetic of Ulver's vampiric cyberpunk works of yesteryear is thick on the ground here, the band simply using a Tangerine Dream-esque format as a springboard for improvisation in their own distinctive style. The end result is another compelling release from a band who are never less than interesting.

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT Club Ninja

Album · 1985 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.15 | 14 ratings
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Warthur
The Blue Oyster Cult tendency to push their pop flirtations a little too far for the fans they won with their heavier work to stomach strikes yet again here. Club Ninja is to their 1980s output what Mirrors was to their 1970s output - an album where the distinctive Blue Oyster Cult weirdness which remains present on their better pop albums threatens to disappear.

However, whereas Mirrors had some interesting sonic experiments, even if they were quite un-Cultish sonic experiments, here the band spend entirely too much time adopting the sound of utterly generic mid-1980s rock. It's entertainingly and competently done, mind, which is why I don't rate this lower than I do, but at the same time it's highly jarring if what you are expecting is something which sounds like Blue Oyster Cult.

That said, Method to the Madness and Where the War Comes seem to include sniffs of that distinctive Blue Oyster odour, and there seems to be an overarching idea here - a recurring theme of the allure of violence - but to really unpack that further, you'd need to listen to this album a lot, and it's a love-it-or-hate-it prospect - or, rather, a like-it-or-hate it prospect, since I think you're more likely to go "Eh, yeah, this is pretty good" than you are to say "This is FANTASTIC!"

THERION Secret of the Runes

Album · 2001 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 28 ratings
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The turn of the millennium was a productive time for THERION with several albums released since its international breakthrough with “Theli” in 1996 with each new studio album changing up the band’s recipe of hybridizing heavy metal thunder with Wagnerian operatic pomp with symphonic splendor and charismatic choirs. On the band’s tenth album led by the indefatigable frontman Christofer Johnsson, SECRET OF THE RUNES continues the swing of the pendulum back to the metal side of the band’s equation with grittier guitar hooks that are more in the forefront than any album since the band’s death metal days. This is a concept album based on Norse mythology where the songs describe the nine worlds that flank a central tree called the Yggdrasil.

With each album getting ever more ambitious, SECRET OF THE RUNES continues where “Deggial” left off and not only amplifies the guitars a lot more but includes new subgroups of musicians. In addition to the four core members that provide the metal heft, this one has a choir of eight members along with six guests who provide vocals, cello and violin. If that wasn’t enough there is a string ensemble of eight musicians, a woodwind ensemble of three and a brass ensemble four. Despite violins, violas, tubas, trumpets, French horns, flutes, bassoon and many many more instruments adding to the immensity of it all, SECRET OF THE RUNES remains a cool cucumber throughout its entire running time by keeping everything in place and only put in use for moments when it is most effective to do so.

The overall feel of SECRET OF THE RUNES is a more bombastic metal album that implements folky musical scales to create a rather ethnic vibe unlike previous albums with the classical and choir effects adding a more epic contrast to the folk metal underpinnings. Each track is divinely crafted to stand out from the pack and the tracks range from high tempo (“Ginnungagap," “Muspelheim”) to dreamy vocal choir led rockers that implement the metal guitars as a caustic backrdrop (“Midgård,” “Ljusalfheim”) and everywhere in between. Generally speaking metal provides the main rhythm section while the classical elements provide divine atmospheres and mood builders that rise from the heavy amplification but every song is really distinct and despite these commonalities all emerge as separate but equal.

By this point THERION had crafted more polyphonic stylistic shifts with complex vocal counterpoints playing out in tandem with metal guitar heft and folky flutes. The recipe seems so simple when experienced but the mind boggling process of how these disparate sounds could play so well together is quite impressive. Any of these tracks would sound right at home as purely metal, completely classical or just simple folk. THERION succeeds on SECRET OF THE RUNES in the layering effect where each element plays off the other while maintaining a basic melodic flow. The uncanny mix of growly death vocals occasionally make a return while lush flutes slowly flutter around. Much of the album seems to rely on a busy percussive groove that’s only noticeable when the drums are allowed to shine without the suffocating effects of the plethora of tones, timbres and melodic scales.

Once again in the metal department it seems that classic metal like Iron Maiden and Scorpions type riffing are the most preferred with tracks like “Vanheim” reminding me of Maiden’s classic tune “To Tame A Land” in its bouncy metal stomp. However despite the similar riffing style takes on a completely different persona with a massive choir directing the melodic flow in differing directions. This track also has one of the most energetic guitar solos as Kristian Niemann shows off his best shredding skills. “Helheim” is perhaps the scariest as it starts with a hypnotic bass vocal chant with frenetic female operatic divas answering in terror.

SECRET OF THE RUNES is the most successful example of THERION finally blurring the lines between metal and classical opera. While one side or the other seemed to dominate on previous albums except for “Deggial” where the two worked together in tandem but yet favored one or the other in alternation, this album shows the two styles in perfect harmony along with the extra magic of the ethnic folk that one would associate with the classic sounds that would date back to the days when such Norse mythology was being created. The ending title track describes the moment when you learn the SECRET OF THE RUNES and your consciousness becomes a god. This grand finale cranks out the galloping guitar riffs, mix of male and female vocals and lots of celebratory bringing the exciting musical journey to a dramatic and satisfying close. If you’re lucky you have the two extra bonus tracks which includes the Scorpions cover of “Crying Days” and Abba’s “Summer Night City,” the latter of which is performed amazingly well.

THERION are in no doubt the masters of mixing heavy metal music with classical symphonic elements in the absolute perfect way and the fact that Johnsson finds new ways to breathe life into each and every new album is uncanny. SECRET OF THE RUNES is one of the heavier albums in the THERION canon although not always heavy with fast tempos but rather heavy in the rawness and power of the guitar stomps, doom metal sustain or the riffs themselves but there are many uptempo segments that are amongst THERION’s heaviest. The ability of the folk and classical instruments to adapt to the domain of the metal is also impressive. While “Theli” was a classic in its own right and the following albums were of high quality as well, personally i find SECRET OF THE RUNES to be the absolute pinnacle of the THERION sound with one well composed track after another. Everything just seems to work on this one as the recipe has reached its apex moment. It goes without saying that for those who do not fancy opera and classical elements in their metal, this album won’t change your perspective but if you’ve already fallen for this unique musical Frankenstein then i can’t think of a better example then this particular album.

THERION Deggial

Album · 2000 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 23 ratings
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After the guitar galloping mix of metal and symphonic classical opera on “Theli,” THERION catapulted itself into the metal big leagues and quickly went on tour but after a couple albums of leftovers and the much mellower vibe on the true followup “Vovin,” it seemed THERION was mellowing out and gravitating more towards the opera and neglecting its metal head banging duties. On the band’s ninth album DEGGIAL there is a quickened beeline back to the metal aspects of the band that helped it evolve into its unique hybrid in the first place. DEGGIAL (or Dejjial) refers to an evil figure in Islamic eschatology which will purportedly come into being and pose as the true Messiah and so THERION once again addresses the metaphysical and occult themes as it has from the beginning.

At this point band leader Christofer Johnsson had become very aware of how stale this sort of metal opera thing could become and was taking the time to innovate interesting compositions that set the perfect balance between classic metal guitar riffs inspired by old school metal such as Iron Maiden, Did or Accept but was also careful not to repeat styles too often and therefore was finding grittier sounds mined from more progressive thinking metal bands like Celtic Frost or Voivod. While still completely steeped in the expected operatic classical sounds that defined their new style of symphonic metal, DEGGIAL consists not only of four band members at this point but includes four guest musicians, eight members of the choir and an orchestra that finds another eleven musicians adding their stamp to the ornate tapestry of sound that emerges from the eleven tracks presented.

What sets DEGGIAL apart form albums like “Theli” and “Vovin” is that it finds some sort of middle ground between the two extremes. “Theli” has always seemed like a metal album where the operatic elements are competing for domination and “Vovin” on the other hand feels like the operatic touches won the battle while they kept the metal heft on a leash. On DEGGIAL the two disparate styles have signed a truce and conspire to eke out the best of each other with no competitive bravado dampening the ceremonious harmonic possibilities. On the metal side of the equation, the guitar, bass and drumming are more diverse as they tackle elements of classic 80s metal, alternative metal as well as moments of thrash, speed metal and gothic rock. For the classical choirs, there is a lot more emphasis placed upon more integrate harmonies that usually involve a male and female counterpoint with the rest of the vocalists occasionally creating a more polyphonic approach.

There are also more wind instruments on this one with flute, oboe as well as heavier brass with a French horn, flugelhorn, trumpet and tuba. While many tracks in the recent past mostly were set on simmer with mellow folk or slow ratcheting divas singing over softly strummed guitars or the exact opposite with blistering metal with guitar solos, DEGGIAL offers many styles within individual tracks. “Seven Secrets Of The Sphinx” begins with a heavy guitar riff and male tenors but is then joined in by a rather progressive psychedelic keyboard run and woodwinds, a clear sign that the compositions have been crafted in a way that is much more inventive. Just in the first track alone there are many different movements with varying guitar riffs, vocal performances as well as uses for the other instruments. This only continues throughout the album as “Eternal Return” follows with a slow vocal choir performance accompanied only by a violin and double bass but then drifts into a folk sound and then again breaks out the Maiden inspired metal riffing.

The title track is one of the stranger ones as it adds some sort of sound effect that sounds like a Jew’s harp along with the choirs. The track is slow and sensual but the towards the end cranks out some crushing metal heft with the divas and violins joining in the quickened pace. While both heavy and softer passages are readily available, DEGGIAL delivers the exact right juxtaposition of opposite polarities and paces things extremely well. “The Flight Of The Lord Of Flies” is THERION’s answer to “Flight Of The Bumblebee” and is a feisty rocker that rocks the violin, soprano vocals and guitar shredding. It’s short and sweet and makes a great introduction to the heavy metal thunder of “Flesh Of The Gods” which finds Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kürsch on vocals along with the operatic divas minus the classical instrumentation. The lengthy “Via Nocturna (Part I and II)” at just shy of 10 minutes is the most progressive track as it sounds like an authentic metal opera that mixes metal segments with unadulterated opera, folk and progressive rock. The album close with a cover of Orff’s “O Fortuna” from his famous cantata “Carmina Burana.”

For my money, DEGGIAL is a step up from both “Theli” and “Vovin,” both of which were excellent in their own right but on this one the creative juices were dialed up a few notches where every inspiration from both the metal universe and the annals of the world of classical and opera where also raided. The way that the music works in tandem is absolutely brilliant and there are only a few moments where i feel a few notes were misplaced and it derails the flow but those are few and far between. For the most part this one is smooth sailing and Johnsson proves that he had the mojo to take things to the next level instead of constantly retreading on the success of “Theli” and “Vovin.” While DEGGIAL won’t sound radically different from previous albums in many ways, to a trained ear that listens to the detailed elements and how they interact it is quite staggering. For the casual listener this will come across as a highly melodic mix of classic heavy metal with a symphonic orchestra and talented choir. Either way, this is a divine and dramatic recording that ranks high on my list of THERION favorites.

MINISTRY Twelve Inch Singles: 1981-1984

Boxset / Compilation · 1985 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Warthur
This album-length compilation is, arguably, really more of an EP with a bonus remix EP tacked onto the end, since you are presented here with four original songs - each of them a significant early Ministry single - along with four remixes of them, and to be honest I tend to stop listening before the remixes kick in.

By far the best song on here is Everyday is Halloween, a far more successful goth anthem than anything on Ministry's uncharacteristic debut album With Sympathy. (Yeah, Al and pals are still mimicing the British goth pioneers, but they do a better job of capturing the scene's attitude and producing something which might have done heavy duty on turntables at the Batcave club back in the day.) The other songs on here are more transitional pieces towards Ministry's more well-known industrial style.

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT The Revölution By Night

Album · 1983 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.52 | 15 ratings
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Warthur
Blue Oyster Cult may be primarily revered as proto-metal and hard rock pioneers, but a broader look at their discography reveals that there's always been this tension between the heavier and poppier sides of their sound, with one aspect or another usually holding sway over any particular album.

Take, for instance, The Revolution By Night, the first studio album put out after the original, classic lineup that had endured from their debut to Fire of Unknown Origin had come to an end. Sure, four of the five classic members are here, with newcomer Rick Downey taking Albert Bouchard's spot on the drum stool, but that's not the only thing that's different - this time, the band have gone even deeper into a 1980s pop sound than they were on the previous album, with synths and reverb aplenty.

This will shake anyone who was highly invested in the heavier side of the group's music - but as I become more accustomed to the pop side of BOC's music, I find that it's an interesting album in its own right. They might not be heavy any more, but they're still weird - dropping more UFOlogical references in opening track Take Me Away to remind us that they're still not your typical 80s pop group. The 2012 remaster makes the album sound more palatable than it has in a long time.

THERION Crowning of Atlantis

Album · 1999 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.13 | 14 ratings
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The followup for “Vovin” was supposed to be an EP or at least that’s what Christofer Johnsson wanted it to be due to the lack of time for preparing new material after the Vovin Tour. Of course THERION’s record company Nuclear Blast had other plans and to capture the momentum of the band’s ascent into the big leagues of the metal universe, pushed them to crank out more material for a full album’s worth. The result was a rather haphazard attempt of covers, a remix and live performances from the tour and much like the album “A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” was basically a mixed grab bag of new material along with stuff that probably should have been held back as bonus tracks for later rereleases.

Despite the compilation type of feel, CROWNING OF ATLANTIS is still considered THERION’s eighth overall studio album but only contains three new tracks and a remix of “Clavicula Nox” from the previous “Vovin” album. The three live tracks include “To Mega Therion” from the “Theli” album, “Black Sun” from “Vovin” and “The Wings Of Hydra” from the “Lepaca Kliffoth” album. While there are only three new tracks and four if you count the remix, the cast of THERION is still quite a large group with an army of guest musicians, choir members along with the regular band and Indigo orchestra. The album’s content was basically salvaged from various recording sessions that spanned from 1997-99 so it’s no wonder that this one basically feels like a leftovers album.

The covers include “Crazy Nights” from Loudness, “Thor (The Powerhead)” from Manowar and “Seawinds” from Accept. Ralf Scheepers from Primal Fear is the guest vocalist on the first two and these covers are decently done in their original heavy metal splendor without any THERION styled orchestral or choir elements added. They are faithful to the originals but seem rather pointless really. Why bother unless you’re going to add some new life to them? There is more of a classic 80s metal feel even in the original as well. The new material beings with the opening title track which borrows the primary riff from Iron Maiden’s classic track “Powerslave” at least in the verses and then the choruses bust out the symphonic and orchestral splendor. While it’s all done well, the Maiden riff just makes me want to listen to the album of the same name.

“Mark Of Cain” is a decent track but sounds like a leftover from the “Vovin” album with heavy power chord guitar riffs, folk metal extras on guitar that crushes on mid-tempo. The focus of keeping things more metallic diminishes the role of the classical elements on this one. The “Clavicula Nox” remix is basically slows things down with a classical piano roll but then finds the male choir members busting out their operatic fine tuned baritone voices that alternate with the sopranos along with more chugga chug guitar work. The piano plays the role of butting in and crafting a softer sound that then gets sped up again by the guitar riffs. Decent but basically just mellows out the original. “From The Dionysian Days” starts with a hyperactive classical piano part with the divas singing their hearts out with the tenors following. This one is catchy and brings out the best of the THERION sound. IMHO the best track on this one.

One for the fans for sure. Material presented is definitely of decent quality even if much of it seems rather forced. Given the circumstances of the clash of will between artist and label, it’s no wonder this is not the phenomenal followup to “Vovin” that the fans were surely expecting. Good for what it is but certainly not the most essential chapter of the THERION canon. Luckily the band would refocus and release another string of high quality albums beginning with the following “Deggial.”

THERION Vovin

Album · 1998 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 38 ratings
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THERION emerged from the cauldrons of the extreme world of death metal in its early beginnings and then slowly transmogrified itself incrementally through a series of early albums that resulted into the complete blossoming of an entire new category in the metal universe now tagged as symphonic metal. With its 5th album “Theli,” THERION went for the gusto by adding two massive choirs to the metal instrumentation of guitar, bass drums and keyboards and along with some classical programming and epic compositions to paint their musical canvas upon, a new style of metal swept the globe and put THERION on the map. While many metal bands have tried to duplicate this feat including Metallica’s disaster “S&M,” nobody has done this sort of musical Frankenstein better than THERION.

With a massive tour and a robust work schedule to craft such lofty visions, the pressure found many of the musicians jumping ship leaving founder and band leader Christofer Johnsson to once again pick up the pieces and reinvent his baby with a whole new collection of hand picked musicians to bring his ambitious cross-pollinating musical visions come into fruition. To fill the gap and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the band’s formation as well as the obvious cash run, THERION released the album “A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” which contained leftovers from “Theli,” a few cover tunes and the non-metal soundtrack for Johnsson’s own crafted indie film. While chock full of interesting musical gems, this was a mere supplemental stop on the THERION highway.

As the sole captain of the ship, Johnsson admits that when crafting the next true release VOVIN, he basically wrote it as a solo artist and merely employed the musicians to record however as the sole songwriter for past albums it is just one of many cases where a single member of a band is actually the true brains behind the project but with the band leaving every album or two it becomes more public and undeniable. VOVIN pretty much continues down the path laid down by “Theli,” in this case meaning eleven tracks mixing the expected heavy metal bombast with the symphonic classical instrumentation and choirs. Although basically a solo project in the development process, VOVIN hosts eight guest musicians, another eight members of the choir and still five more members of the Indigo Orchestra who adapted the orchestration.

Thematically, VOVIN follows the interests of Johnsson’s fascination with the occult and is more evident once you learn that VOVIN means dragon in the Enochian language which is a language used in the occult and was known to be the language of choice in the journals of John Dee who was a magician at the side of Queen Elizabeth I. In many ways VOVIN takes the THERION sound laid out on “Theli” to its logical conclusion with no expenses spared to craft a lush epic sound that finds the simplicity of classically infused melodies spun into sophisticated orchestrated splendor. The major difference in terms of sound between “Theli” and VOVIN is that the former was much more energetic by delivering those famous Iron Maiden inspired guitar gallops while VOVIN is a much mellower affair slowly drifting by on simmer for most of its running time with feisty metal bombast only occasionally finding its way into the mix such as on “Wine Of Aluqah” and “The Wild Hunt,” the latter of which is on full speed metal mode.

Despite the large number of participants on VOVIN it surprisingly sounds sparse and never for once feels like there are too many chefs in the kitchen. While engaging in sophisticated classical grandeur, THERION crafts a sound that finds many of the moving parts in unison with subtle harmonic overtones that create a much larger than life sound rather than engaging in knotty polyrhythms or angular avant-garde excesses. For all the excesses of sound, VOVIN is a very smooth sounding album where each microcosm is an extension of the next and although the metal bombast is set to simmer for the most part, even in the lushest softness of the acoustic guitar arpeggio led segments, the vocals are led by the soprano divas Martina Hombacher and Sarah Jezebel Deva whereas the vast number of others follow suit. A few tracks like “Mourning Star” and “Black Diamond” are pure magic.

Overall VOVIN is a strong album with no bad tracks however it’s the lack of metal heft that leaves this one sounding a bit too mellow for its own good. While “Theli” cranked out all the metal fury, VOVIN is set on a more laid back tone and also has more of a gothic feel to it rather than any connection to the death metal roots or even the classic 80s metal sounds of Judas Priest or Iron Maiden with the exception of a few tracks. For that reason this one just doesn’t rock my boat like the albums that bookmark it. Still though, VOVIN delivers a stellar cast of seasoned performers who craft an interesting network of metal / classical fusion sounds into easily digestible catchy hooks and after all it’s the vocal choirs of THERION that really shine and on VOVIN that is no exception. It’s just that with a title that refers to a dragon i’d expect a bit more fire striking fear into the populace below but with the lack of the metallic fury as heard on “Theli” this one sounds a bit too safe for the majority of its run. Still though, other than that slight gripe, VOVIN is a strong instantly lovable album. Think of “Theli” as metal triumphs over opera and VOVIN as the exact opposite.

THERION A'arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming

Album · 1997 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.44 | 8 ratings
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Following the breakthrough success of “Theli,” the moment when once and for all THERION ditched its death metal roots and became one of the world’s first and foremost pioneers of orchestral symphonic metal that adopted full choirs and classical arrangements which found massive orchestras for live performances, THERION decided to release an odd album as a followup. Having been a member of the Dragon Rouge occult group, founder and band leader Christofer Johnsson never missed an opportunity to intertwine an esoteric meaning into his works. The following year in 1997, THERION released A’ARAB ZARAQ LUCID DREAMING, the first part of the title referring to the Qliphah which corresponds to the Sephirah Netzach on the Kabbalah’s tree of life. The second part of the title adds a little humor as the fans probably thought they were dreaming when they put this album on for the first time.

This is not a new album of material by any means but rather a collection of leftover tracks, cover songs from other artists as well as the unreleased soundtrack to “The Golden Embrace” that appears solely under the Christofer Johnsson moniker. The leftover tracks were culled from the unused sessions of the “Theli” album while the cover songs are from the Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Running Wild and Judas Priest. “Symphony Of The Dead” is a new instrumental version of the track that appeared on the “Beyond Sanctorum” only castrated of all its death metal prowess and adapted to the new world of THERION’s symphonic metal sound. The selling point on this one was that it was released for the 10th anniversary of THERION’s formation but we all know that it’s basically a wink and a nod for cashing in on the band’s much deserved success.

Like many grab bags of such material, A’ARAB ZARAQ LUCID DREAMING should be considered supplemental THERION material rather than an essential cornerstone of its diverse canon. Personally i could live without the cover tunes with Iron Maiden’s “Children Of The Damned” being a considerably weak example of a classic cover song ruined but there are many fine tunes to be found on here as well. “Black Fairy” offers a unique songwriting technique that creates an intricately designed methodology from morphing from verse to completely unrelated chorus and the bouncy, keyboard stab rich “Enter Transcendental Sleep” sounds like something that really should have been found on “Theli” as some sort of extended interlude. Also of high quality are “The Quiet Desert,” “Down The Qliphothic Tunnel” and “Up to Netzach / Floating Back” which are as good as anything from THERION’s actual albums.

The last seven tracks are from “The Golden Embrace” soundtrack for the short 19 minute indie film that was the one-man project from Christofer Johnsson himself. While of high quality, these tracks ditch the metal altogether and instead display a more restrained mix of dark ambient and symphonic orchestral sounds which are more in the realms of chamber music than anything resembling rock. Along with the classical music workouts are the operatic vocals with extra emphasis on the synthesized keyboards which play the role of the “busy” parts that normally would be fulfilled by the metal guitar, bass and drums in THERION. These tracks are credited to Johnsson exclusively but are hauntingly beautiful and in all honesty are worth the price of admission alone.

If the soundtrack part was released as an EP it would easily be a four star album and likewise with the extra odds and sods of loose fodder from the “Theli” sessions. That album easily could have featured an extra disc of such bonus material and made it all the better. Of all the tracks on this one i really could live without the Iron Maiden and Running Wild cover tunes but the Scorpions’ “Fly To The Rainbow” and Judas Priest’s “Here Comes Tears” aren’t that bad at all. Likewise the opening “In Remembrance” is a weak track and the worst to begin the album with which possible has turned many off. All in all this is an interesting collection of material and a must for THERION fans but a miss for those who don’t want to dig so deep. After all, as good as the extra material is, there’s nothing substantially different than what one could experience on “Theli,” “Vovin” or “Secret Of The Runes” for that matter so this is a just above good addition but not absolutely essential either and in case it’s not obvious, you really gotta love choral music and classical in general for this to gel in any way!

THERION Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas

Album · 1993 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 16 ratings
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After the band’s second album “Beyond Sanctorum” was released, THERION started playing live and the process of taking it to the road led to the entire band quitting except for founder Christofer Johnsson who had to start from scratch and create a new band. While the previous album was basically a trio with some guest musicians here and there, on the band’s third album SYMPHONY MASSES: HO DRAKON HO MEGAS (Greek for “The Great Dragon”), Magnus Barthelsson was brought in for guitars, Andreas Wallan Wahl for bass and Piotr Wawrzeniuk on drums. In addition to that another label change was in place due to Active Records needing to slim down so the band via another label Megarock ended up on Nuclear Blast where they’ve remained ever since. This stability factor helped transmogrify THERION from a Swedish death metal band into the powerhouse symphonic metal band that they are known for today.

THERION was formed all the way back in 1987 as a rather run of the mill death metal band straight out of the Stockholm Swedish scene which distinguished itself from the Gothenburg scene by focusing more on raw punk sounds rather than melodic catchiness however on the band’s second album “Beyond Sanctorum,” Johnsson was getting more experimental with touches of progressiveness finding their way into the mix. By the time THERION got to its third album SYMPHONY MASSES it was time to let loose and it was obvious at this point that existing as a typical “normal” death metal band was definitely not in the cards. This album while still rooted in the same old school death metal style that cranked out all those lightning fast tremolo picked riffs, blastbeats and regurgitated lunch vocals also added large doses of traditional doom metal, gothic rock, progressive rock, jazz and even Persian and Arabic folk. Likewise there were lots of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest traces of classic 80s metal finding their way into the mix. The keyboards had also been given larger tasks beyond merely presenting a spooky atmosphere and the symphonic tendencies were beginning to emerge.

Thematically Johnsson was mining the occult world of a magical order called Dragon Rouge, an occult society which he was a member of hence the title which refers to a chant used at the end of rituals which is intended to conjure up Draconian forces. Oooo spooky! While “Baal Reginon” starts the album off more or less in the vein of the previous death metal albums, “Dark Princess Naamah” starts to deviate from the pattern significantly with slower plodding doom metal chords sustaining however THERION doesn’t really get into death-doom per se but rather alternates between slower doomy parts with high tempo death metal outbursts. This one shows a more melodic side of the band shining through and shows some of the first signs of some of the song structures that would find themselves to be the metal underpinnings of the later albums with massive choirs and symphonic elements however on this one it’s all about puke monster vocals.

“A Black Rose” has more of a shuffle that mixes the death metal with strange sounding industrial and classic metal with groovy stomps and bizarre processed vocals. “Symphoni Drakonis Inferni” is the first THERION track to use the keyboards as a primary player in the band’s sound as it delivers a little showdown with the guitar before the track turns into a gothic doom metal one that alternates between slow and fast tempos. Sounds like a great Halloween song actually! “Dawn Of Perishness” also delivers a stampede of guitar riffs that sound somewhere in between classic metal and death metal with some thrashy elements. The parts with the guitar solo are more in vein of the Iron Maiden gallops which also would be utilized to perfection on later symphonic metal releases. “The Eye Of Eclipse” sounds more like a Celtic Frost sort of tune from the earlier albums with some experimental keyboards thrown in.

“The Ritualdance of the Yezidis” is the most unorthodox track on this one with Satanic vocals that sound like gurgles from the depths of hell. The riffs are more like power metal actually but the death metal feel is maintained. Strange sounds bubble up in the middle of the track as the metal ends abruptly and then all of a sudden it’s like rockin’ the casbah as Persian traditional music with metal drumming finishes it out. “Powerdance” tries to counter its effect with a groove metal tune with death metal vocals. Sounding something like early 90s Pantera with thrash metal elements, it is a cool track that also adds Iron Maiden gallops and soloing. “Procreation Of Eternity” follows suit. The ending “Ho Dracon Ho Megas” adds an epic soundtrack feel as ti meanders through several styles. It begins with a doomy atmospheric dirge like march with crazed lyrics that sound like a supernatural ritual is being performed. Then it’s like a bugle call to action as the metal picks up and the keyboards erupt into a true symphonic metal sounding track and in retrospect paints the picture of the dramatic flair and operatic nature of albums like “Theli” and after.

Despite all the elements on board on SYMPHONY MASSES: HO DRAKON HO MEGAS they are all balanced to perfection and the result is the most appealing early album out of the four pre-“Theli” years at least for my liking. The diversity and experimental nature of this album is quite compelling even though the band has still retained its ties to the early death metal years from whence it spawned. Much of this album does indeed sound like it was inspired by occult ceremonies as it has an epic over the top feel that one would imagine in such scenarios only amplified by the brutal bombast of both slow blood curdling doom metal and the quickened pace of death metal frenzies. This is definitely a mature album even if THERION hadn’t quite found its true calling yet. While the band would go on to international success, this album did win over the critics and the underground death metal crowd for its bold and unrelenting refusal to carry about business as usual. This is some highly innovative out of the box thinking that would lead THERION to continually expand its unique sound into more refined arenas.

THERION Beyond Sanctorum

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 16 ratings
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THERION released its collection of demos as a debut album called “Of Darkness” in 1991 but realized the outdated material had no chance of breaking through the already crowded Swedish death metal market so immediately began work on the followup BEYOND SANCTORUM which came out the following year. While still rooted in the Stockholm death metal scene which stemmed from the hardcore punk scene more so than the American Tampa style, BEYOND SANCTORUM continues the rawness of the debut that employed a buzzsaw guitar tone, down-tuned guitar riff attacks along with the incessant tempos, blastbeats and tortured vocal guttural growls.

BEYOND SANCTORUM however expanded the band’s generic qualities by adding some of the nascent elements that would continue to expand until it would become a major pioneer of the world of symphonic metal. First of all the composiitons on BEYOND SANCTORUM are much more diverse and offer both progressive rock and classical music perspective in how some of the tunes are laid out. Added to that the band added keyboards to create cold atmospheres as well as scant use of female vocals and some Persian folk music, both of which would become major staples of the band’s sound once they reinvented themselves.

This was also the point where THERION evolved past the by then cliche themes of morbidity, horror and gore and zombie apocalypse type material and ventured into the occult with particular emphasis on H.P. Lovecraft writings although at this point the growls are still pretty much unintelligible so they could be singing about American housewives having Tupperware parties in the 1950s and no one would know the difference but nevertheless the focus on the more esoteric subject matter is what would transmogrify THERION from a run of the mill death metal band to the innovative orchestrated symphonic metal band that would launch them into the limelight as one of the true innovators of metal music.

“Of Darkenss” was really a one trick pony which resulted in well performed old school death metal however none of the tracks really stood out. Of course it really was a collection of demos from the 1987-89 timeline and found inspiration from the most nascent sounds of the scene. On BEYOND SANCTORUM that has been corrected as the song structures are much more varied and experimental. There are moments of slower doom metal, more time signature deviations as well as unexpected deviations from the norm. While not quite considered a tech death metal, THERION was well on their way to crafting truly complex music that would grow incrementally on the following albums. Likewise the guitar solos avoid the Morbid Angel squeals and innovate some truly out of the box displays of creativity.

The true leap of progressiveness is fully realized on the eleven minute “The Way” which wends and winds through many different riff changes and chord progressions but firmly remains in the context of highly aggressive Swedish death metal. The addition of the keyboard sounds and other surprises makes this the most compelling track of the album. Guitar riff tradeoffs and some of the guitar gallops of later THERION fame also debut here. Overall BEYOND SANCTORUM is a great leap forward for THERION that engages in a much more diverse range of sounds. The early traces of female operatic vocals are briefly introduced on “Paths” and the attention to detail makes this one a much more interesting death metal experience than the debut although it’s basically rooted in the same old school death metal sounds.

THERION Of Darkness...

Album · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 2.80 | 12 ratings
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Although THERION which emerged from Upplands Väsby, Sweden are considered one of the pioneers of mixing metal music with full-blown arrangements of orchestra instruments, choirs and classically trained musicians which created an entire new section at the metal supermarket called symphonic metal, the band began as something completely different. From the start, the THERION project has been the baby of founder Chritofer Johnsson who started this band all the way back in 1987 only under the name Blitzkrieg but would soon change it to THERION which was mined from the Celtic Frost album “To Mega Therion” with the moniker being the Greek word for “beast.” And that’s exactly what this early version of THERION was all about, namely extreme bestial metal that fell squarely into the death metal world.

While the band’s sound was inspired by the thrash metal of early Metallica and Slayer, the band was more attracted to the occult themes of early Venom and the punk infused fury of Motorhead. After a couple of demos titled “Paroxysmal Holocaust” and “Beyond The Darkest Veils Of Inner Wickedness,” THERION released one 7” demo turned short EP in the form of “Time Shall Tell” however that musical specimen became irrelevant since all of the tracks were included on this debut album OF DARKNESS. In fact most of the tracks on this first offering were pretty much left over from the late 80s which must’ve given it a very proto-death metal sound considering it emerged in the year 1991 when the death metal sounds of Morbid Angel, Death, Atheist, Incantation and too many more to count had already evolved into myriad different directions.

Considering what THERION would become in a few short years when the lauded “Theli” was released in 1996, there is really absolutely nothing at this stage to connect it to that groundbreaking fusion of disparate musical styles. OF DARKNESS pretty much plays by the old school death metal book of the late 80s with heavily distorted guitar riffs churning out at breakneck speed, the occasional Morbid Angel guitar squeal solos, blastbeat drumming frenzies and of course the posted by Satan guttural growls which unintelligibly morbidity, perversion and general dystopia. The tracks were all mined from the 1987-1989 timeline so this was pretty much a get it recorded and put out already type of album that served as getting the band’s name out into the greater extreme metal world.

By today’s standard’s this one sounds pretty generic for all its ferocity and stellar musicianship that at this stage included Johnson on vocals and guitar, long THERION lead guitarist Peter Hansson, Oskar Forss on drums and Erik Gutafsson on bass. Even on the remastered versions of OF DARKNESS the eight original tracks still sound like demos that have merely been spruced up a bit and newer versions also contain some of the other demo versions. At this point there are zero clues as to where THERION would take the metal world and unfortunately OF DARKNESS despite it’s adequate job of cranking out quality death metal doesn’t quite muster up the songwriting chops to create memorable tracks that stand out from one another therefore this debut is nothing more than an incessant rampage of riffs and blastbeats gussied up with hissy fit vocal rage. If the fully matured symphonic metal stage of THERION is where you want to start then skip this noisy beginning and head straight to “Theli.”

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT Extraterrestrial Live

Live album · 1982 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.05 | 13 ratings
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Warthur
Culled from various concerts from the Cultosaurus Erectus and Fire Of Unknown Origin tours, Blue Oyster Cult's Extraterrestrial Live is a surprisingly adept blend of the band's past and then-present. Whilst not as ferocious as On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, it's still in an energetic hard rock style - the dark, murky early material gets a little pep in its step, and the more polished, poppier new material gets a little rawer and harder, and the result is that the two sort of meet in the middle to yield a setlist where decade-old material like Hot Rails To Hell sits naturally next to fresh fruit like Black Blade.

CYNIC Carbon-Based Anatomy

EP · 2011 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.77 | 21 ratings
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After giving the metal world a huge boost of more technically dazzling jazz-fusion workouts on its debut album “Focus” which remains an undisputed classic in the proggy metal section of the supermarket, CYNIC quickly called it quits and went on a 15 year hiatus at least as a brand name. Founding members guitarist / vocalist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert immediately went in the direction of ambient laced alternative pop in the indie rock band Æon Spoke while bassist Sean Malone went the opposite direction into the proggy jazz-fusion instrumental band Gordian Knot. Both bands released a few albums in the 90s and all was amicable with both Reinert and Masvidal appearing on Gordian Knot albums however the creative differences were vast.

Come 2006 and Masvidal decided to reform CYNIC and played a few gigs around Europe. The magic was rekindled which led to a new album that resulted in the lauded late but finally there followup “Traced In Air” which pretty much provided the perfect triumvirate effect of “Focus” era CYNIC merged with the atmospheric spiciness of Æon Spoke and the gnarled technical jazzy workouts as heard from Gordian Knot. While the death metal had been toned down several notches, several moments reminisced of the early days when the Tampa scene was still smoking hot. After “Traced In Air” things got a little weird. Instead of releasing another album, two years later the “new” CYNIC instead released an EP titled “Re-Traced” which reinterpreted four tracks from “Traced In Air” that took the bands sound closer to the world of Æon Spoke than early CYNIC but since this was just considered a little experimental blip between albums, metal fans just shook it off as one of those things.

Still awaiting a new album with the hopes of revisiting the “Focus” years, CYNIC surprised again with yet another EP titled CARBON-BASED ANATOMY to emerge in 2011 (11/11/11 actually) with only six tracks that amounted to only a mere 23 minutes of playing time. It was clear that the Æon Spoke side of the equation was here to stay when an unused track (“Homo Sapiens”) from that band resurfaced as the title track. Out of the six tracks only three pick up where “Traced In Air” left off with the remaining three tracks sounding nothing like CYNIC at all, well at least not in such a way as they are presented. “Amidst The Coals” begins the playlist and upon first listen you wonder if you popped in the wrong disc as this sounds like some sort of ambient new age music! Yes, an ambient airy melody takes you into the ethers accompanied by Amy Correia from previous CYNIC albums offering a traditional icaro which is a magic song performed by Amazonian indigenous tribes in order to provide medicinal healing sessions.

The ambient prayer circle of the intro slowly fades into the more upbeat title track which instantly shows an uncanny production job of how each track seamlessly flows into the next on this EP which essentially makes this a six act suite of sorts. Along with the ambient synth sounds Reinert’s jazzy drumming attacks slowly ushers in the vocals which find Masvidal’s unique vocal style somewhere between U2’s Bono in his passionate delivery and Toby Driver from Kayo Dot in eccentricity which in tandem finds a wider range of softer tones that bring the CYNIC sound into higher dimensions but still no metal! Well, that’s what you begin to think until the four minute mark and then suddenly some heavy chord stomps and sizzling guitar solos remind you that CYNIC is, well at least WAS a metal band! Perhaps an ambient ethno-metal band at this point but enough to squeak into metal databases anyways!

The track is followed by the Ravi Shankar sounding “Bija!” which finds a sitar and tablas in conversation with female vocal chants however the melody is the same as the bridge of the title track and thus the subliminal connections have been made and then it sinks in on what a magnificent journey CARBON-BASED ANATOMY is for all its brevity! The next two tracks “Box Up My Bones” and “Elves Beam Out” both deliver the metal goods at last but are in no hurry to do so. Like the other tracks they begin with slow clean guitar arpeggios and atmospheric bliss before breaking out the bass grooves, percussive jazz lessons and guitar distortion. If you’re looking for a connection to the “Traced In Air” album then you’ve found it at last and it does not disappoint however remember that you are in a cloud city now and that metal is just an after thought. Outbursts of heavy riffs and guitar solos crank out in full bombast but all in all this EP has demoted them to side notes rather than the star of the show.

As the EP ends with some kind of new age tribute to Enya with “Hieroglyph,” Correia now recites a poem of cosmic grandeur as the atmospheric ambience swirls around her words as if zephyr winds were caressing Isis in mid-flight. And then a couple of minutes later the whole shebang is over. No doubt this may come off as a disappointment for those expecting a headbanging experience and that was even my initial reaction however this is a work of subtleties and sort of grows on you once you just bathe yourself in all its glory. While the metal bombast is set to simmer, the technical prowess of the musicians is on high although it does alternate between Brian Eno ambient textures and sounds more like Gordian Knot than early CYNIC. From a progressive rock perspective, this is an excellent album but for those who aren’t so forgiving when the metal has been forbidden from making contact with the pedal then you will have to go back to “Focus” to get that fix. While admittedly a step down from the magnanimous masterpiece that resulted in “Traced In Air,” CARBON-BASED ANATOMY is still very much a compelling piece of work in its own right.

CYNIC Traced in Air

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 57 ratings
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It’s hard to convey some two decades into the 21st century what a big deal CYNIC’s landmark album “Focus” was back in 1993 when it single-handedly shattered the playbook of death metal and took the fledgling genre into the world of jazz and electroncia. Part Morbid Angel, part Mahavishnu Orchestra and part Massive Attack, this Miami based band basically launched a whole new strain of what would be coined jazz-metal and then called it quits. The consequences of “Focus” being thrown into the limelight of underground extreme metalheads was that it upped the bar several notches in the proficiency department and while band’s like Death and Atheist were in the fusion game as well, CYNIC took progressive metal into a completely different dimension with “Focus” which remains a high mark to which technical metal music wizards still strive to emulate.

Despite dropping one of metal’s most revered albums onto on unsuspecting world, CYNIC quickly disbanded as they were working on a second studio album due to musical and personal differences. Jason Gobel (guitars), Paul Masvidal (guitars, vocals) and Sean Reinert (drums) continued together and formed a short-lived band called Portal (before the Australian band of the same name came around), bassist Sean Malone formed the fusion-metal band Gordian Knot and then Reinert and Masvidal formed yet another band called Aeon Spoke which was more of a pop album centered around an acoustic emo style. The former members of CYNIC happily went their own ways for almost 15 years but some of the members were starting to feel that they had unfinished business to take care of in the world of CYNIC and in 2006 Paul Masvidal announced that CYNIC would reunite to play at various metal and rock festivals. With no new album the band played songs from “Focus” the band Portal as well as a few covers and the new song “Evolutionary Sleeper.”

The new band minus Gobel decided the time was right to resurrect CYNIC and finish the material started for a sophomore album that never made it the first time around. With new guitarist Tymon Kruidenier, CYNIC finally released its second album TRACED IN AIR in 2008, fifteen long years after “Focus.” While expectations were cast upon that debut masterpiece as a reference point as to where the band might develop its new sounds, the fact that there was a 15 year delay and several other band experiences in between meant that TRACED IN AIR was more like the sum of all that came before and as the title indicates is more focused on an AIR-y feel as opposed to a knock your socks off death metal extravaganza. While still steeped in massive molten metal guitar antics, TRACED IN AIR was more of a light technical display of jazzy chord progression displayed in echoey arpeggios that set the tone for the eruptive heavier elements to follow and not the other way around. There were less dueling twin guitar leads and more focus to layering effects of polyrhythms and guitar tones.

From the chaotic swirls of “Nunc Fluens” that sound like the band acting as a receiver channeling the ethers to like a radio station, the rhythmic chaos slowly coalesces into the jazzed up guitar riffs that reassure that the band was still in the metal camp however brief they may be before the unadulterated jazz guitar intro of “The Space For This” sets an overall tone for TRACED IN AIR as Masavidal delivers his tender clean vocals in a subdued passionate plea, a style that he implements throughout the album that only harkens back to “Focus” with Kruidenier’s growly vocal accompaniments limited to backing supplement contrasting effects. The beauty of TRACED IN AIR is how it effortlessly transmogrifies from placid spaced out jazz guitar runs to blistering jazzy fusion metal with Reinert’s drumming virtuosity often taking center stage. As with focus, a feminine vocal counterpoint finds its way into key moments as to soften the raging rampages of the metal aspects as Amy Correia takes the place of SAonia Otey.

While “Focus” was fairly scattered, TRACED IN AIR is actually the more “focused” album of the two as the album displays a perfect mix of disparate elements which finds each track running into the next and the softness and bombastic playing together like well behaved children at a Christmas play. It’s clear that the chemistry was on fire once again and CYNIC crated an unbelievable successful comeback with this menagerie of technically infused jazz-metal that while not as revolutionary as the band’s first album was unbelievably relevant for the time of its release. Gone are the vocoder effects and thus this album is less alienating and more intimate but the bursts of angularity are steered into jazzy harmonies and melodies that keep the entire album feeling unified. This is one that may disappoint upon the first listen if you have already gone gaga over “Focus” but as i’ve listened to this many times over the years, it’s one that grows on you in a completely different way. Drop the comparisons and meditate on TRACED IN AIR on its own terms and it quickly becomes clear that this is a flawless album that delivers another magic moment in the world of progressive metal and the production is flawless.

SAVATAGE The Wake Of Magellan

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 43 ratings
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UMUR
"The Wake Of Magellan" is the 10th full-length studio album by US power/heavy/progressive metal act Savatage. The album was released through Atlantic Records in September 1997 (not released until April 1998 in the US). It´s the successor to "Dead Winter Dead" from 1995 and features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor. Just as the case was with "Dead Winter Dead (1995)", "The Wake Of Magellan" is a concept release with all tracks making up a story. It´s essentially the story of an old Spanish sailor who sails his ship into the Atlantic ocean to die, but ends up saving a stowaway who has been thrown overboard from another ship, and his realization that all life is precious and that he should cherish his life instead of trying to commit suicide. It´s slightly deeper than that though as the main story is based on two real life events: The murder of Irish reporter Veronica Guerin (murdered while fighting the drug trade in her homeland) and the Maersk Dubai incident where a captain threw three Romanian stowaways overboard in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

"The Wake Of Magellan" is composed and structured much like you would imagine a heavy rock/metal Broadway musical would sound like. The two opening tracks "The Ocean" and "Welcome" are an almost arch typical Broadway musical show style opening, with the latter even featuring the lyric line: "Welcome to the Show". Ever since "Gutter Ballet (1989)" and especially "Streets: A Rock Opera (1991)", Savatage have incorporated more and more theatrical/musical style moments to their albums (on some albums more than on others) and it was almost inevitable that they would one day end up releasing an album like "The Wake Of Magellan".

It´s of course no surprise that Savatage are able to pull off doing something like this with what sounds like a natural ease. They have always been incredibly skilled and clever composers and equally brilliant musicians. The album concept works pretty well and "The Wake Of Magellan" is a dynamic and varied listen. From quiet piano/vocal moments to bombastic keyboard laden heavy rock/metal, Savatage can do it all. Zachary Stevens has a powerful voice and he is able to sing both mellow and melodic and more raw and hard rocking with the same amount of conviction. Original lead vocalist/keyboard player Jon Oliva has a few lead vocal songs on the album, which he also did on the last couple of releases, and we´re instantly reminded of how great a singer he was/is. Not to take too much away from Stevens, who is very talented and gifted singer with a great powerful voice, but Oliva is just a world class vocalist with a unique voice and singing style, and his performances on the early Savatage are not easily matched.

"The Wake Of Magellan" features a well sounding and detailed production, which suits the material well, and upon conclusion it´s another high quality release by Savatage. While the album certainly has its heavy riffs and hard rocking rhythm sections, it´s not Savatage most heavy release, and it´s probably very much up to the ears that hear if the listener will be able to enjoy the theatrical/Broadway musical style direction the band have taken on the album. Personally I would have prefered a lot more raw and heavy moments to the mellow piano driven story telling sections/tracks, but that´s a subjective view, and objectively seen "The Wake Of Magellan" is a high quality release and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is more than deserved.

THY CATAFALQUE Naiv

Album · 2020 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
THY CATALFALQUE is a project that’s been around for quite a while now having formed all the way back in 1998 as a symphonic black metal band and then getting more experimental as time carried on by incorporating more external influences such as electronica and homegrown Hungarian folk music from founder Tamás Kátai’s home nation before relocating to Scotland. The band which has essentially been Kátai and his sidekick guitarist Juhász János then released several albums as a duo up until 2011’s “Rengeteg” when Kátai went it alone with only selected guest musicians for each album thereafter. The rotating cast of guests has made each THY CATALFALQUE album sound quite unique so it’s never predictable as to which elements of music will dominate any particular album.

Early on in 2020, avant-garde metal band THY CATAFALQUE releases its ninth album NAIV. After the interesting changes of the doom metal drenched “Meta” and the overly abundant use of electronica and lack of metal on “Geometria,” NAIV returns with a nice mixture of all the disparate elements that makes THY CATAFALQUE so utterly unique even within the vastly populated universe of modern metal. While long ago drifting away from any sort of black metal orthodoxies, this act has nonetheless never strayed too far from its roots by keeping a finger or two on the pulse of the primordial pools from whence it sprang forth. NAIV doesn’t necessarily jettison the abundance of electronic effects and noises as heard on the previous album but rather returns some of the metal dominant bombast however any fan of this unique band should know by now, track by track, THY CATAFALQUE delivers the unpredictability of a schizophrenic seance.

Once again eschewing genre labels, NAIV like previous albums creates a unique fusion of the Hungarian folk melodies with black metal riffs, electronic atmosphere and also includes some surprising jazzy touches that remind me of bands like Norway’s Shining. Kátai handles the expected vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards and other exotic instruments such as the citera and darbuka while a huge cast of characters joins him for this musical treat. In addition to the excepted bass and drums there are also two guest vocalists with the feminine charm of Martina Veronika Horváth (ex-Niburta, SallyAnne, Nulah) finding its way throughout most of the album. There are many classical instruments such as the cello, viola, violin and even classical guitar as well as many ethnic sounds from a quena flute, out and other Eastern European instruments. On the jazz side of things there are occasional outbursts of saxophone and even a trombone.

Starting out with black metal buzzsaw guitar effects, “A bolyongás ideje” launches NAIV straight into the realms of the metal universe unlike the rather tame predecessor “Geometria” which seemed to lounge in the chill electronica section of the music store for far too long. Despite the heavy bombast of the guitar riffs, the sensual female vocals and folk melodies craft a pacifying folk metal vibe with occasional outbursts of proggy keyboard runs that are straight out of the 70s symphonic prog playbook. While sounding a bit like an 80s AC/DC riff at the beginning, “Tsitsushka” actually takes on a cool atmospheric cloud cover while the guitars clammer away more akin to a caffeinated surf rock band than black metal but it gets even more estranged from the opener with the inclusion of a horn section. “Embersólyom” calms things down quite a bit with dark ambient sounds shrouding a mysterious flute emerging and then breaking into an electro-folk-rock groove which takes on a tango type of rhythmic drive.

“Számtalan színek” continues the ethnic flavors only sounds more like it’s rooted in Balkan gypsy folk only with blistering black metal guitar accompaniments that when dropped out sounds more like a movie soundtrack. In many ways this style of black folk metal reminds me of Greece’s Rotting Christ on some of the newer albums. The violin and viola presence on this one really sets it apart from the other tracks. “A valóság kazamatái” begins with a jittery computer generated sounding keyboard intro before bursting into hefty black metal bombast but it’s accompanied by the folk melodies emerging from the keyboards. When the guitar parts are dropped the folk instruments stand out and the percussive drive begins to sound more like a bigbeat techno album. The layered effects are perfectly mixed and the sounds that come and go add the proper contrast at the exact perfect times.

“Kék madár (Négy kép)” takes the ethnic influences to the most extremes as this one sound like a gypsy wedding somewhere deep in Bosnia but then picks up with a bizarrely contrasting flute run that sounds more like 70s Focus than Jethro Tull along with electronica drumming styles and with no metal guitar sounds to be heard sounds like the project went Opeth on us and abandoned the metal altogether, at least temporarily. Actually they abandoned the rock altogether on this one as the track starts to sound like a heartbeat with flute. Luckily “Napút” brings back the metal heft but trades off with a more techno sound. It then gives the mic to Martina who add the ethnic touches. Nice beefy guitar sounds but at this stage of the game it’s obvious that the metal guitars play a subordinate role to the ethnic and electronic sounds. However just as i say that “Vető” comes along and delivers the heaviest guitar sounds of all with thrashy palm muted beefcakes pounding away while Martina sings her little heart out. It’s a nice contrast between the hyper-masculine and sensual feminine. Beauty and beast of a different name.

“Szélvész” ends the album on a more folk than metal note but the guitar heft does deliver. It’s obvious at this stage of THY CATAFALQUE’s lengthy career that the metal isn’t the most important element of its sound and that it’s all about juxtaposing disparate genres with the Hungarian folk elements being the most prominent. The magic of NAIV is in the production values and how well all these melodies are crafted into nice smorgasbord of sounds. While not substantially different than previous albums, this one seems to have catchier hooks, greater contrast between bombast and sensual touches and is just more satisfying than the lopsided feed of “Geometria” as all the elements unfold in an organic manner and nothing seems forced. Overall THY CATAFALQUE creates the perfect recipe where the gritty metal aspects sit well next to the timeless folk melodies and futuristic electronic and ambient sounds. Although this isn’t primarily a metal album, the last track adds some of the only raspy black metal vocals to be heard. This is a solid album from beginning to end if you dig this sorta thing.

NOCTURNUS AD Paradox

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 6 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
NOCTURNUS has always been the odd band out in the old school death metal world. Founded in the prolific Tampa scene era where early pioneers Deicide, Obituary and Death were breaking free from the thrash metal cocoon, this band led by Mike Browning formed after his stint with the early years of another Tampa legend, Morbid Angel. Right from the getgo Browning had a different vision for his new baby which meant jumping off the bandwagon of bloody and gory awe and heading to space for more sci-fi inspired themes. Along with this thematic shift so too did the musical direction. In 1988 the band added the unheard of instrument of keyboards to its death metal orotundity and by 1990 had created a unique specimen in the death metal universe with “The Key” which crafted a thematic journey of a cyborg traveling back in time to assassinate Jesus Christ terminator style! The album is a classic and a personal favorite as well.

The band squeaked out a second album, “Thresholds” before friction broke the band up however despite Browning founding NOCTURNUS, he hadn’t trademarked the brand name so his sneaky colleagues did so behind his back, kicked him out and continued on. They released one more album titled “Ethereal Tomb” in 2000 before the backlash forced them into retirement. The whole NOCTURNUS project had pretty much been assassinated just like poor JC in “The Key.” It’s fair to say that nobody ever expected a return to the early days when old school death metal was rampaging across the Floridian peninsula like Hurricane Andrew on a very bad day. Come 2013 and Earache Records decided to re-release “Thresholds” for the first time and when all was said and done Browning’s following band After Death began to play under the name NOCTURNUS on a Mexican tour as well as for Deathfest 2014 where they played “The Key” in its entirety. To avoid legal actions the band name was quickly changed to NOCTURNUS AD and that’s where this album comes in.

PARADOX pretty much picks up where “The Key” left off and makes good on all those squandered opportunities of what should have been only at the same timeline as the original. With all the evolutions in death metal over the past 30 years, it’s amazing that Browning could put together a worthy successor to the classic that has only gained more avid followers as time elapses. The band went as far as to record the album in full retro regalia down to the production. This truly sounds like it was recorded as the followup to the 1990 classic and even the theme is a continuation of the cyborg terminator run amok in a post-apocalyptic era. Even the AD part of the new moniker signifies a sequel to cover art’s instant wink and nod to the past glories. However despite insinuating “The Key Part 2,” this is really the band After Death under a new banner of allegiance. This band consists not only of Mike Browning on vocals and drum abuse duties but finds the twin guitar attack from Belial Koblak from bands like Acheron, Dethroned and Godless along with Demian Heftel from Brutality, Astaroth and Contorted. The bass duties are carried out by ex-Obituary member Daniel Tucker with keyboardist Josh Holdren adding all those spooky synth sounds and trippy intros.

Attempting a retro rehash of a classic like “The Key” is risky business for sure but given the unfair nature of being kicked out of your own band, it seems fans may be a tad sympathetic and willing to give this a chance at least it was the case for me. What i wasn’t expecting though is how well done and down right fun this album is. True that it shamelessly transports back to the 90s and recreates a near blueprint of “The Key” in every possible way but let’s keep a couple things in mind here. This IS an album about time travel and all so why the fuck not, however none of this would amount to a rat’s mangy ass if the album wasn’t really, really good and that it is. In a world where technical death metal has become as complex as some of the most demanding classical scores throughout history, it is refreshing to hear an album that simply cranks out the old school charm without crafting works so nebulous that it requires a few listens just to sink in.

PARADOX as good as it is does not match up to the original “The Key” but is much better than i ever could have hoped. With a tight cast of musical maestros who are more than competent on their respective instruments, the powerful bombast of the twin guitars, bass, drums and subtlety of the swirling synth lines conspire to create one of the most satisfying comeback albums of recent years. All the ingredients for a find retro death metal album are here in great abundance. The composiitons are all crafted to perfection and the riffs are memorable and best of all the variations are clever and laid out in such a way so that the album never becomes monotonous. While newer death metal albums are tending to go into more psychedelic arenas, NOCTURNUS AD returns to the brutal bombast of the no nonsense era with the extra keyboard elements adding all those cosmic touches that make this a spectacular release with pummeling energetic deliveries and a compelling example of picking up the pieces decades after everything fell apart. Will this band strike again? Hard to say if the band will leave this time and another name change is in order but in the meantime we got at least one album out of the NOCTURNUS AD brand name.

SMOULDER Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring

Album · 2019 · Traditional Doom Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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Warthur
There's a thick field of traditional doom metal bands singing about retro-fantasy subjects with women on lead vocals these days, but I guess fair's fair: back in the early days of metal hard rock was a bit of a boy's club, and if redressing the balance sounds this good sign me up.

Packed with lyrical references to classic fantasy - from Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard, and C.L. Moore to Dragonlance - the album has something of a variable mixing job (the vocals can get lost a little, which is a shame), but nonetheless takes the listener on a journey into the barbaric border region between traditional doom metal and classic heavy metal. (I detect a certain amount of classic-period Manilla Road influence which is especially welcome.)

SIGH Hangman's Hymn: Musikalische Exequien

Album · 2007 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 15 ratings
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UMUR
"Hangman's Hymn: Musikalische Exequien" is the 7th full-length studio album by Japanese progressive/experimental metal act Sigh. The album was released through The End Records in June 2007. It´s the successor to "Gallows Gallery" from 2005 and not surprisingly the two albums sound very little alike (which would actually have been unusual as most Sigh are pretty different in style and sound).

"Gallows Gallery (2005)" saw Sigh play a twisted form of power/heavy metal with very few nods towards their black metal past, but "Hangman's Hymn: Musikalische Exequien" brings back the raw black metal vocal style and a slightly harder edged basic sound. Of course Sigh haven´t stagnated or gone back to the roots, as they are an ever changing and developing act, and this time around they are opted to challenge themselves by making a symphonic tinged black metal album. They´ve used symphonic elements before, and it´s been obvious on preceding releases too that lead vocalist/keyboard player Mirai Kawashima is a classically trained musician/composer, but on "Hangman's Hymn: Musikalische Exequien", Sigh go all in on the symphonic concept.

You would think with a band covering as much musical ground as Sigh manage to do, that they would fail once in a while, but listening to "Hangman's Hymn: Musikalische Exequien" it´s abundantly clear that it´s not this time around. Sigh pull off playing symphonic black metal with the same ease as they have managed to play raw and savage old school black metal, avant garde/progressive black metal, psychadelic progressive black metal, and power/heavy metal on their preceding releases.

The basis of Sigh´s sound is still guitars, bass, drums, and snarling blackened vocals, but "Hangman's Hymn: Musikalische Exequien" is loaded with symphonic orchestral keyboard arrangements and choirs, which work well with the raw backing. "Hangman's Hymn: Musikalische Exequien" is a concept release divided into three parts, and the overall theme is religious (God, Satan, good vs evil type story), with use of bits and pieces from "Requiem" (liturgical service of the Roman Catholic Church).

Upon conclusion "Hangman's Hymn: Musikalische Exequien" is yet another bold, creative, and adventurous release by Sigh. Clever songwriting, powerful delivery of the music, and a professional and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly. It´s through and through a high quality release and a 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved.

BLACK SABBATH Black Sabbath

Album · 1970 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 167 ratings
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UMUR
"Black Sabbath" is the eponymously tited debut full-length studio album by UK, Birmingham based heavy metal act Black Sabbath. The album was released in Europe through Vertigo Records in February 1970. It saw a US release through Warner Bros. Records in June 1970. The US version features an alternative tracklist to the original European version, replacing the Crow cover track "Evil Woman" with an additional Black Sabbath original titled "Wicked World". The tracklist change makes sense as the band were never that happy with the inclusion of "Evil Woman", but they were pushed by their then manager to include the track, as he felt the album otherwise lacked a song with commercial appeal (and if he was shooting for a radio hit single, he was probably right).

The album was recorded in one 10-hours long session in October 1969, and it was predominantly recorded live in the studio, with lead vocalist Ozzy Osbourne recording his vocal tracks simoultaniously with the recording of the instrumental tracks. The band then spend a few hours doing some overdubs (a few vocal overdubs, the bells, thunder and rain sound effects opening the title track, and the double-tracked guitar solos on "N.I.B." and "Sleeping Village"), and then the album was more or less done. Although the contemporary music press was largely unenthusiastic about the album, it was a commercial success for Black Sabbath and after its US release, sold more than a million copies.

"Black Sabbath" is in retrospect THE seminal release which started the heavy metal movement. Although at it´s core it´s pretty much a really heavy blues rock album, there is a dark occult atmosphere to the album (which is further enhanced by the creepy cover artwork and lyrics about Lucifer and other dark themes) and some very heavy distorted riffs and rhythms, which were more extreme than similar features on the output by other contemporary heavy rockers like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Uriah Heep. The most heavy and dark moments on this album simply transcend the term rock and belong to the then new born genre heavy metal (which it probably wasn´t labelled back then).

The album opens with the dark and doomy title track, which for contemporary ears must have been an extremely heavy track. But "The Wizard", "Behind The Wall Of Sleep", "N.I.B.", and "Sleeping Willage/Warning", are also quite dark and heavy tracks. Listening to "Evil Woman" it´s understandable the band didn´t feel it fit with the rest of the material, as it features a less heavy and lighter mood. "Wicked World" is arguably a better choice, featuring a similar heavy impact and dark atmosphere to the other tracks on the album. The album is packed in a dark, heavy, and organic sounding production, which suits the music perfectly. This one is not only a classic, it´s a great album featuring high level musical performances (real persons playing/singing, warts and all), a well sounding production, and powerful and creative songwriting. A 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.

SIGH Gallows Gallery

Album · 2005 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 16 ratings
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UMUR
"Gallows Gallery" is the 6th full-length studio album by Japanese progressive/experimental metal act Sigh. The album was released through Candlelight Records/Baphomet Records in October 2005. It´s the successor to "Imaginary Sonicscape" from 2001 and there´s been one lineup change since the predecessor as drummer Satoshi Fujinami plays bass and guitars on this album, and new drummer Junichi Harashima has been added to the lineup. The remaining part of the lineup are Mirai Kawashima (vocals, keyboards, organs, sampling...etc.) and Shinichi Ishikawa (guitars).

But it´s not so much the lineup changes which make the headlines here, as "Gallows Gallery" is yet another left-turn stylistic change from Sigh. If you´re familiar with the preceding releases in the band´s discography you´ll know that Sigh have pretty much changed musical style between each of their releases. To begin with little changes between releases and gradually much bigger changes between albums...culminating in the release of the avant garde, psychadelic, atmospheric heavy metal album "Imaginary Sonicscape (2001)", which is as weird as it is exciting. If you thought Sigh would continue down that road on "Gallows Gallery", I can tell you, that you have another thing coming...

...because suddenly it seems like Sigh have decided to release a power/heavy metal album. Gone are the harsh blackened vocals from their past releases, and instead the vocals are clean, and there are harmonies and choirs. The vocals aren´t angelic clean or high pitched though, but more akin to for example the vocals on a Running Wild album. So they are still relatively raw and not necessarily what many would label pretty. The strong Japanese accent also add something different to the vocals, and personally I find the accented vocals quite charming, but I can understand those who wouldn´t be able to appreciate them.

While the primary music style on "Gallows Gallery" is power/heavy metal, this is a Sigh album, and not surprisingly the band twist conventions and explore boundaries of the power/heavy metal genre, so while there are many recognisable power/heavy metal elements featured here, you have probably never heard an album in the genre which even remotely sounds like this. Drums, bass, guitar, and vocals, are complimented by the use of various keyboards, synths, and organs (and some other instruments like Gong, Sitar, and Tibetan Bells), and a generally very adventurous approach to songwriting. The material are well written, catchy, and energetic, but some tracks sound a bit the same (the melody lines are similar as are the riff style and rhythms), but the band do incorporate some surprises to keep the album varied (an example is the slow, atmospheric, and psychadelic tinged "The Tranquilizer Song").

"Gallows Gallery" features high level musicianship and a decent quality sound production (a bit thin sounding, but still decent), and upon conclusion it´s another high quality release by Sigh, who must be praised both for their boldness and for their complete disregard for genre conventions and expectations from their fans. The fans are of course by now used to expecting the unexpected, but you still have to be a very open-minded music listener to be able to appreciate such major musical changes between releases. Those who have stuck by the band through their many transitions, will probably stick by them on this release too and be rewarded for their loyalty, because "Gallows Gallery" is a grower and while it is very different from anything Sigh have released before, this is still unmistakably the sound of Sigh. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

IHSAHN After

Album · 2010 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 40 ratings
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UMUR
"After" is the 3rd full-lengh studio album by Norwegian progressive metal artist Ihsahn. The album was released through Candlelight Records in January 2010. It´s the successor to "angL" from 2008. All instruments and vocals are handled by Ihsahn, except the drums which are played by Asgeir Mickelson and session musicians Lars K. Norberg and Jørgen Munkeby who perform fretless bass and saxophone.

Stylistically "After" is a natural continuation of the progressive metal sound on "angL (2008)". Ihsahn sings both raw blackened vocals, but also performs strong clean vocals, and the instrumental part of the music is a sophisticated and very dynamic combination of progressive metal/rock and various more extreme metal oriented elements (and the occasional nod towards avant garde). Both the vocal and the instrumental performances on the album are of a high quality and generally just reek class. References to artists like Opeth, Enslaved, and Leprous are valid.

While Ihsahn certainly isn´t the most extreme of artists, there are still some relatively hard-edged moments, and his raw snarling vocals are also pretty rough and probably wouldn´t be easy to appreciate, if you´re not accustomed to extreme metal vocals. The music also features both melodic sections, and some melancholic atmospheric moments though, which should please fans of atmospheric progressive metal/rock. So it´s safe to say the material is varied and loaded with contrasts. Dark/light, loud/quiet, hard-edged/mellow. Ihsahn masters most elements to perfection.

All material on the 8 track, 53:04 minutes long album are well written and memorable. While all tracks are equally strong and nothing is sub par on the album, the 10 minutes long "Undercurrent" is to my ears one of the highlights. "After" features a powerful, clear, and detailed sound production, which suits the material well, and upon conclusion it´s another high quality release by Ihsahn, showing both enough development to keep the fans excited, but also consistency of sound and quality. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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