Metal Music Reviews

MORTAL VISION Mind Manipulation

Album · 2021 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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"Mind Manipulation" is the debut full-length studio album by Ukraine thrash metal act Mortal Vision. The album was released through Redefining Darkness Records in October 2021. Mortal Vision formed in 2019 and released the "Madness of Messiah" single in October 2019.

The two non-album tracks featured on the "Madness of Messiah" (2019) single show a band heavily influenced by late 80s/early 90s death/thrash Sepultura (and to a lesser degree 1987-89-era Sodom), and the material on "Mind Manipulation" continue that formula too. The riff style, the solo style, the drumming, and the lead vocals, which sound a lot like Max Cavalera, are all features of the band´s music that lead your thoughts toward the Brazilian band and the late 80s/early 90s era of their discography. So it´s difficult to talk about Mortal Vision without mentioning Sepultura, and "Mind Manipulation" is not an album you put on to listen to something new and innovative.

But while this is hardly unique music, Mortal Vision thankfully slay in the execution of their material. These guys are hard-edged, aggressive, and very well playing/singing, and the tracks are also well composed and effective death/thrash tunes, that you can both bang our head to and mosh around breaking furniture in your house to. Death/thrashy sonic violence performed with passion and conviction.

Featuring 8 tracks and a total playing time of 33:25, it´s a short, to-the-point type of release, and it´s not the most varied release out there. In fact it´s slightly one-dimensional and the songs don´t quite stick the first time you listen to the album. They sound a bit too much the same, but as mentioned above this is still high quality death/thrash metal performed by a well playing unit, and as the music is packed in a powerful, raw, and well sounding production too, this is a good quality debut release by Mortal Vision. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

PAKENI Celestial Mechanics

Album · 1999 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"Celestial Mechanics" is the debut full-length studio album by Finnish goregrind/death´n´roll act Pakeni. The album was released through Napalm Records America in 1999. It´s the successor to the 1996 "Detergent Bubble Bath" EP. Unfortunately "Celestial Mechanics" would be the band´s sole full-length album in their original run. Pakeni formed in 1992 and released two demos, an EP, and this album before disbanding.

Stylistically the material on "Celestial Mechanics" is a dark and energetic death´n´roll style. Pakeni included Carcass influenced goregrind elements on their early releases, but those influences are more or less gone on "Celestial Mechanics" and only the band´s death´n´roll influences remain. Pakeni are an incredibly well playing, tight, organic, and groove oriented band, and they deliver their death´n´roll with a great charm and gleam in the eye, but personally I miss the unique combination of Carcass influenced goregrind and stoner metal/death´n´roll, which was featured on the two preceding releases. That combination and the odd sonic experiments that the band also incorporated on those releases, are what made Pakeni unique, and it´s hard not to feel that "Celestial Mechanics" in comparison is a slightly more generic release (sounding a little like a more adventurous Furbowl).

"Celestial Mechanics" is well produced feauturing a warm, heavy, and organic sounding production, which suits the organic nature of the material well. Upon conclusion "Celestial Mechanics" is a good quality death´n´roll album by Pakeni, but it´s not at all what I had hoped for coming to the album after listening to "Virgin's Delirium" (1993) and "Detergent Bubble Bath" (1996), which are both very unique and unusual releases. Still a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

PAKENI Detergent Bubble Bath

EP · 1996 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Detergent Bubble Bath" is an EP release by Finnish goregrind/death´n´roll act Pakeni. The EP was released through Morbid Records in 1996. It´s the follow-up release to the band´s two 1993 demos "The Silent Majority" and "Virgin's Delirium".

Stylistically the material on "Detergent Bubble Bath" continue the odd and unique combination of Carcass influenced goregrind and stoner metal/death´n´roll, but this time around with even more experiments that go beyond those music styles (female backing vocals and saxophone parts occur). Pakeni are definitely one of the more unusual acts out there, but despite combining elements which really shouldn´t work together, that´s exactly what Pakeni make them do. Heavy stoner metal/death´n´roll riffs, heavy grooves (and the occasional blast beat), the occasional use of organ/piano, and goregrind/death metal vocals performed by an energetic and well playing band. That´s the unique sound of Pakeni. The only other band from those days I can come up with at the top of my head, which was as crazy and unconventional as Pakeni is Disharmonic Orchestra.

"Detergent Bubble Bath" features a well sounding production job, which provides the perfect platform for the material to shine. Upon conclusion "Detergent Bubble Bath" is a great first label release by Pakeni and great follow-up to the promising "Virgin's Delirium (1993)" demo. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

PAKENI Virgin's Delirium

Demo · 1993 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Virgin's Delirium" is the 2nd demo by Finnish goregrind/death´n´roll act Pakeni. The demo was independently released in 1993. It´s the successor to "The Silent Majority" demo released earlier the same year. Pakeni formed in 1992 and released two demos, an EP, and an album before disbanding.

Stylistically this is one of the more unusual extreme metal demos I´ve come across, as Pakeni combine Carcass goregrind influences with stoner metal/death´n´roll elements (strongly influenced by their fellow countrymen in Xysma), and as if it´s a perfectly natural thing to do, they also on occasion add melodic and epic keyboard sections. I don´t think I´ve ever heard anything quite like this before. Needless to say this is a pretty unique sounding recording, and featuring a well sounding and detailed demo quality sound production, you get to hear all the details of this bizarre glory of a demo.

What this demo does so well, is that it not only combines musical elements which shouldn´t go well together and make them gel, but also manages to disply the strong musical performances as a result of the well sounding production job. The deep growling vocals has the right morbid and juicy tone to them, the drumming is busy and groovy, and the many heavy and groove laden stoner metal riffs combined with the goregrind lyrics and fast-paced death metal/grindcore parts, create an odd overall sound, but it works. A high quality release this one fully deserving a 3.5 star (70%) rating.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 304 - Rainbow Bridge

Album · 2022 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD has been quite erratic in releasing PIKEs in the last couple of years but it seems like 2022 is when the chicken lover is turning on the spigot once again to let the PIKEs flow! PIKE 304 - RAINBOW BRIDGE features four tracks and only reaches over the 27-minute mark. This one is the second release in 2022 and is the typical PIKE of being digitally downloadable and featuring BH playing all instruments.

The opening title track is a rather generic affair featuring one of those heavy rock riffing sessions and sounds like pretty much a gazillion other eggs that have already hatched. Some of BH’s PIKEs are heavy enough to qualify as metal but this one is a little bit more laid back and should be considered heavy alternative rock. The title track is a throwaway in my book. I’ve long grown weary of redundancy. 
“Toy Museum” is quite a different story however and is quite refreshingly new. Something about the combination of the atmosphere, the guitar tones, the unique style of riffing and steady beat that makes this one a real treat. It has some nice gurgling guitar effects which sort of replicate turntablism. It’s also the longest track at over 10 minutes. BH’s instrumentals are so hit and miss. This one is a hit.

“Water Molecule” is a funky hard rock number that sounds something like the Red Hot Chili Peppers may have conjured up in the 1990s only without the bass guitar antics of Flea. The guitar riffs though are more rooted to 1970s bluesy hard rock like Aerosmith, Robert Trower or UFO. It’s officially OK but nothing outstanding either. It’s a little feistier and fast tempoed than 70s hard rock and this track straddles on the line of being metal and hard rock.

“Invisible Trees” continues the bluesy hard rock riffing but a bit calmer than the previous track. Basically same pattern with guitar riffs, muffled bass and uninspired drumming. This one is probably the most authentically 70s sounding hard rock track. The problem with this is that the lack of vocals make this sound a bit empty. That’s the problem with many of these PIKEs actually. If there are trees somewhere i can’t see them!

Another mediocre PIKE here. Once again, nothing offensively bad or unlistenable but nothing that will blow your mind either. “Toy Museum” is the best track and the only one that offers something a bit different otherwise this sounds like one of those assembly line PIKEs that will be quickly forgotten at least by my ears. Oh well, i’m sure another PIKE will hatch soon. Until then, hasta la vista!

ROTTING CHRIST Ade's Winds

Demo · 1992 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"Ade's Winds" is the 4th demo by Greek death/black metal (later black/gothic metal) act Rotting Christ. The demo was independently released on cassette tape in the autumn of 1992. It bridges the gap between the May 1991 EP "Passage to Arcturo" and the band´s debut full-length studio album "Thy Mighty Contract" from November 1993.

The demo features 2 tracks and a total playing time of 11:20 minutes. Both tracks from the demo appear in re-recorded versions on "Thy Mighty Contract" (1993). The music style is a continuation of the death/black metal style which was initiated on the October 1989 "Satanas Tedeum" demo and continued and further developed on the May 1991 "Passage to Arcturo" EP. Although Rotting Christ are often associated with black metal, this is not your typical blasting black metal release with harsh snarling vocals. It´s rather an atmospheric and predominantly mid-paced type of death/black metal. The occasional use of horror tinged keyboards only further enhance the occult and at times epic atmosphere of the band´s music.

The musicianship is still the weak link, and the clumsy drumming and not particularly developed lead guitar work aren´t that interesting to listen to. The vocals sound really great and Rotting Christ definitely have some strong songwriting ideas too, so there are definitely positives to mention here. "Ade's Winds" features a relatively well sounding demo quality sound production, which isn´t perfect, but does present the material in a decent way. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

ROTTING CHRIST Passage to Arcturo

EP · 1991 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.09 | 3 ratings
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"Passage to Arcturo" is an EP release by Greek death/black metal (later black/gothic metal) act Rotting Christ. The EP was released through Decapiated Records in May 1991. 1990 didn´t see any releases from Rotting Christ so the last release before this EP was the "Satanas Tedeum" demo from October 1989.

Stylistically the over a year long recording break, has meant a maturity in the songwriting, but "Passage to Arcturo" still sounds like the natural successor to "Satanas Tedeum" (1989). It´s maybe slightly more black metal tinged (the guitar sound on both releases have that thin black metal sound to them), but the music is still a combination of death metal and black metal elements. Labelling this a pure black metal release would be wrong (personally I think this release swings more towards death metal). Just listen to the vocals, which are predominantly death metal growling. The band again incorporate the occassional horror tinged keyboard part (and even piano on "Gloria De Domino Inferni"), which enhances the dark an occult atmosphere of the music. "The Forest of N'Gai" is an example of the use of keyboards, but they appear more frequently here than on the preceding demo.

"Passage to Arcturo" features a raw demo quality sound production, but it´s not bad sounding at all and you´re able to hear every instrument and vocal part in the mix. If anything the relatively lo-fi sounding production values only add to the authenticity and occult atmosphere of the EP. Upon conclusion "Passage to Arcturo" shows progress and development from Rotting Christ, and although it´s not a perfect release (the musicianship is still a bit untight, and the spoken work sections unnecessary and a bit cringe worthy), it´s a good quality death/black metal release. A 3 star 60%) rating is warranted.

ROTTING CHRIST Satanas Tedeum

Demo · 1989 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"Satanas Tedeum" is the 3rd demo by Greek death/black metal (later black/gothic metal) act Rotting Christ. The demo was independently released on cassette tape in October 1989. Rotting Christ started life as a grindcore act and that´s also the music style heard on their first two demos "Leprosy of Death" (November 1988) and "Decline's Return" (January 1989), but things have obviously changed a lot since the release of "Decline's Return" (1989).

Stylistically the material on the 5 track, 17:11 minutes long demo is death/black metal. The vocals are death metal growling and I´d predominantly label the instrumental part of the music death metal too, but there are some black metal traits in the music pointing in the future direction of the band ("The Nereid of Esgalduin" is for example a black metal tinged track, although the vocals are death metal growling). Atmospheric (horror tinged) keyboards occasionally play a role in the music and to great effect.

"Satanas Tedeum" features a well sounding demo production, where all instruments and vocals are audible in the soundscape. The demo reeks a dark and occult atmosphere, and it´s one of the great assets of the release. Considering the low quality of songwriting (or at least the one-dimensional nature of it) the band displayed on the first couple of demos, "Satanas Tedeum" comes off as a very impressive release, and it did lead to the band being signed by Decapitated Records for the release of the May 1991 EP "Passage to Arcturo". A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

ROTTING CHRIST Decline's Return

Demo · 1989 · Grindcore
Cover art 1.50 | 1 rating
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"Decline's Return" is the 2nd demo by Greek grindcore (later black/gothic metal) act Rotting Christ. The demo was independently released on cassette tape in January 1989. It´s the successor to the "Leprosy of Death" demo from November 1988.

The music style is still a raw and aggressive type of grindcore, loaded with heavy hardcore sections, and loads of noisy and furiously fast-paced blasting. Like the case was with "Leprosy of Death" (1988), the material on "Decline's Return" was also recorded live at the band´s rehearsal space (on the 25th of January 1989), but unlike the first demo, the lo-fi sounding (non)-production of the material on "Decline's Return" makes it an almost impossble release to listen to. I can hear a distored rumbling bass somewhere in the mix, a vocalist shouting, and maybe a cymbal here and there, but other than that this is just a muddy and dark collage of noise.

While the musical influences are obviously still acts like Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror, the band´s lyrical approach has shifted towards goregrind Carcass territory which song titles like "Baptised in Phlegm", "Pneumonovascular Carcinogenesis", and "Embryonic Necrocannibalism" are a testimony to. 10 tracks and a total playing time of 9:30 minutes and then the demo is over, and in this case it´s hard not to feel some sort of relief. I don´t hesitate to call this sonic violence on the ears and there are probably not many out there, who will be able to appreciate a recording this raw and extreme. A 1.5 star (30%) rating is warranted.

ROTTING CHRIST Leprosy Of Death

Demo · 1988 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"Leprosy of Death" is the first demo by Greek grindcore (later black/gothic metal) act Rotting Christ. The demo was independently released on cassette tape in November 1988. Rotting Christ formed as far back as 1984 under the Black Church monicker but changed their name to the current one in 1987.

While Rotting Christ would soon turn towards a black metal oriented sound they play a raw, noisy, and fast-paced grindcore style on "Leprosy of Death". The demo features 9 tracks and a total playing time of 8:51 minutes. All material was recorded live during a rehearsal on the 11th of November 1988. The instruments don´t always sound like they are in tune, and there are feedback noise too, but it all just adds to the authenticity of the compositions. The music style is strongly influenced by early Napalm Death and other extreme grindcore/crust punk/hardcore artists of that era like Extreme Noise Terror, and S.O.B.

"Leprosy of Death" is a pretty extreme recording in every way possible. It´s recorded live in a rehearsal space and therefore the sound production is lo-fi and noisy (but actually still pretty well sounding), the performances aren´t exactly tight, and the songwriting is one-dimensional, but it´s as authentic as they get in terms of experiencing youthful anger and frustration through music. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

CARCASS Torn Arteries

Album · 2021 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.34 | 17 ratings
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"Torn Arteries" is the 7th full-length studio album by UK death metal act Carcass. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in September 2021, almost to the day 8 years after the release of the preceding album "Surgical Steel" from September 2013. Carcass have been quite busy in the intermediate years though, touring the world and trying to profit as much as possible on their long awaited comeback. In addition to touring, the band have also released the "Surgical Remission / Surplus Steel" EP in 2014 and the "Despicable" EP in 2020, so there have been some new material for the fans between the two album releases. "Despicable" (2020) ended up being released as a gap release because Carcass didn´t want to release "Torn Arteries" during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was originally planned for a summer 2020 release, and the band had already released the teaser single track "Under the Scalpel Blade" in December 2019 to promote the release of the album, but as things turned out, they opted to push the album release little over a year.

"Under the Scalpel Blade" is included on the tracklist of "Torn Arteries", but other than that track, which was both released as an individual single and as part of "Despicable" (2020) (and is an absolutely brilliant track), all other tracks are new original compositions. Stylistically the material are unmistakably the sound of Carcass and you´ll hear elements on the album which will remind you of "Surgical Steel" (2013), but also elements from the three albums released from 1991-1996 ("Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious (1991)", "Heartwork (1993)", and "Swansong (1996)"). Sharp, aggressive, and melodic death metal with both thrash metal and tradtional heavy metal leanings. The lead vocals are predominantly handled by vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker (in his usual raw and aggressive snarling vocal style), which has been the case since the early 90s, but guitarist Bill Steer actually contributes a few of his low growling vocals too a few times during the playing time, and it´s a treat to fans of the early albums.

"Torn Arteries" is probably the most varied Carcass album yet, and stylistically it´s arguably a little inconsistent. When you opt to put a death´n´roll influenced track like "Dance of IXTAB (Psychopomp & Circumstance March No.1 in B)" on the same album as a death metal/goregrind track like "Under the Scalpel Blade" (the 9:42 minutes long "Flesh Ripping Torment Limited" also stands out as a unique song on the album), some listeners are bound to find either the former or the latter most interesting and hoping to hear more of the same, but if we´ve learned anything from Carcass over the years, it´s that they write and release exactly what they feel like witing and releasing. They are not an act who you can count on releasing formulaic albums. So "Torn Arteries" is not necessarily an album which will hook you on first listen. It takes time and an effort to listen to the album and hear all the details and let the different stylistic features sink in. Overall all tracks of course still sound unmistakably like Carcass. The vocals are described above, and the same with the death/thrashy riffs, but the many well played guitar leads and harmonies also deserve a special mention. Steer has again produced many memorable and powerful lead guitar moments.

The album features a darker and more organic sounding production that the more clinical, sharp, and sterile sound production on "Surgical Steel" (2013), and that production choice suits the material on "Torn Arteries" well. Upon conclusion it was worth the wait as "Torn Arteries" is a high quality Carcass album. It´s familiar enough to please the fans, but still features enough development and small experiments with sound and form to keep Carcass relevant. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DEMIANS Mute

Album · 2010 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.63 | 11 ratings
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"Mute" is the 2nd full-length studio album by French progressive rock/metal act Demians. The album was released through Century Media Records/EMI Records in June 2010. It´s the successor to "Building an Empire" from 2008 and as the case was on the debut album Demians is still the one-man project of Nicholas Chapel who handles all instruments and sings all vocals on the album (although two guests appear on a couple of tracks).

Chapel is a skilled musicians, so if you didn´t know, you wouldn´t notice that he plays all instruments, because there are no weak or sub par performances on "Mute". Everything is played with the amount of skill needed and with the right passion and conviction. His vocals are strong and pleasant, although he doesn´t have the most unique sounding voice. Stylistically the music is alternative/progressive rock, which is often similar in style to Porcupine Tree and other artists in that vein. But other influences also pop up on occasion like the Soundgarden influenced "Feel Alive", or the Sigur Rós and Radiohead influences heard on some of the mellow melancholic parts of the album.

The album opens with the longest and probably most progressive song in "Swing of the Airwaves", and while Chapel visit progressive territories at other times during the album´s playing time, "Mute" isn´t the most progressive album out there. It focuses more on emotion, dynamics (heavy/mellow), and melancholy, and in that regard it´s a nicely atmospheric release. It´s an album which reeks professionalism in all departments. High level musicianship, a well sounding production job, and well written material. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

LED ZEPPELIN In Through The Out Door

Album · 1979 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.93 | 64 ratings
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Dellinger
Just like Presence, I find this album more annoying than anything... without much of the hard rock songs that I love from them, let alone the epic ones. But unlike Presence, this one doesn't have a song as great as "Achilles Last Stand" to save it. I don't give it one star because there is "In the Evening", which is good, as well as "All my Love", but still they are not at the same level of their greatest songs from previous albums. It's a shame that this would be the last album they would record before the end of their career.

BARREN EARTH Our Twilight

EP · 2009 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 5 ratings
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"Our Twilight" is an EP release by Finnish doom/death metal act Barren Earth. The EP was released through Peaceville Records in November 2009. Barren Earth was formed in 2007 by bassist by Olli-Pekka Laine (Amorphis). He had composed material which didn´t fit any of the other projects he was involved in and decided to form a band to record his material. Having been a member of Amorphis from 1990-2000, Laine had been an integral part of the Finnish metal scene and had many contacts within the scene, which made it possible for him to recruit seasoned musicians like guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö (Waltari, Kreator), lead vocalist Mikko Kotamäki (Swallow the Sun), guitarist Janne Perttilä (Põhjast, Rytmihäiriö, Moonsorrow), drummer Marko Tarvonen (Moonsorrow, October Falls), and keyboard player Kasper Mårtenson (Amorphis) for the project.

The EP features 4 tracks and a total playing time of 22:26 minutes. Stylistically this sounds very much like mid-90s Amorphis, which of course makes sense, since two of the members of that band from that time are part of the lineup on "Our Twilight". This is doom/death metal with 70s progressive rock leanings and strong, epic, and melancholic melodies. There is a touch of Scandinavian folk too, and again it´s hard not to think of mid-90s Amorphis. The vocals are predominantly death metal growls, but there are also several clean sung parts on the EP. Barren Earth are obviously both seasoned and skilled musicians, and "Our Twilight" reeks professionalism that you won´t find on many debut releases. Although the band don´t often stray from their musical path, the addition of Yli-Sirniö to the lineup, does result in a couple of more unconventional musical ideas (it would be strange if a member of Waltari didn´t act out just a little bit), but they are incorporated successfully into the main musical style of the album.

"Our Twilight" is a heavy and atmospheric release, and that´s one of the greatest strengths of the EP. Barren Earth balance brutal heavy doom/death metal parts with their 70s progressive rock influences very well and creates a big epic soundscape in the process. All tracks are enjoyable and memorable compositions, but I have to mention EP closer "Floodred" for it´s death metal brutality and epic clean sung parts, and "Jewel" for it´s progressive middle section. The sound production is massive, layered, and ensures the right environment for the material to shine, and upon conclusion "Our Twilight" is a quality first release by Barren Earth. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

GORGUTS Obscura

Album · 1998 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 42 ratings
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Necrotica
Was anybody actually ready for an album like Obscura back in 1998? Watch any early live performance of these songs on Youtube, and what you’ll see is a crowd that’s practically motionless. They’re not moshing, instead just stunned and transfixed at the bizarre dissonance and calculated chaos playing out before them. In the same year that other tech-death landmarks such as The Sound of Perseverance were being released, Gorguts had already left the archetypal trappings and conventions of the genre far behind with an avant-garde metal masterwork that stood - and still stands today - as a monument to mental anguish and turmoil.

I get the sense that much of the confusion and surprise surrounding Obscura stemmed from the sheer leap forward from its predecessor. The Erosion of Sanity is more sophisticated than Considered Dead, sure, but it’s still a relatively straightforward death metal album. No one could have predicted something like Obscura; imagine if Death released Individual Thought Patterns immediately after Scream Bloody Gore. So what happened? Well… Steeve Hurdle happened. Luc Lemay might be the co-founder and bandleader of Gorguts, but he’s never going to find a better wingman than Hurdle. The duo’s combined artistic vision led to a level of experimentation and twisted chemistry that can’t be matched anywhere else in the group’s catalog; if you have any doubts of Hurdle’s involvement in this partnership, the liner notes credit both him and Lemay with the “artistic direction” of Obscura.

And what an artistic direction this is. All of death metal’s stereotypical traits and tropes have been thrown out the window in favor of abstract lyrics, strange chord structures, and ever-changing time signatures. Instead of being technical for technicality’s sake, however, Gorguts use their musical toolkit as a means of communicating intense feelings of dread, despair, and viscera. While the songwriting is impressive, the way these emotions and thoughts are conveyed through the songwriting is what makes it so effective. It’s as if every weird bout of dissonance and every alien guitar squeal is another layer of sanity being ripped away from the listener. Of course, the vocals are also a massive contributor to this. If Lemay sounds demented and savage - which he does - Hurdle acts as his tortured and agonized counterpart. Every time Hurdle lets out a lyric, even if it’s not particularly disturbing, he transforms it into a twisted and ugly affair with his horrible retching and heaving. And what’s so wild about all of this is that the record makes more and more sense with repeated listens; what seems like chaos starts falling into place once you let the deliberate nature of the songwriting and execution sink in.

Of course, I don’t want to leave bassist Steve Cloutier or drummer Patrick Robert out of the picture either; the fact that they can make sense of the musical madness on Obscura and play these crazy riffs so impeccably is a feat unto itself. Their precision and technical acumen is a perfect foil for Lemay and Hurdle’s insane ideas, leading to a lot of chemistry between all members. Everyone is locked in with each other, which is absolutely necessary for an album that could go flying off the rails at any given time. Obscura reminds me a lot of Calculating Infinity by The Dillinger Escape Plan in that regard; both records have a habit of letting chaos and control coexist in strange and creative ways. Sometimes the two mingle, and sometimes they clash with each other. Still, one thing is for certain: the members of Gorguts are ridiculously talented. As for the lyrics, they’re a substantial step up from the band’s previous output; the gore and social commentary of yesteryear were now replaced with writings on existentialism, spiritualism, and - you guessed it - despair. In any case, they prove to be just as abstract and peculiar as the music they’re accompanying, which seems appropriate.

But to answer my original question: no, people were not ready for Obscura back in 1998. There’s a reason Gorguts are commonly cited as pioneers of avant-garde metal; nothing sounded like this back then, in the technical death metal genre or otherwise. If the album had proven anything, it was that many of their contemporaries were already being left in the dust artistically. Because of Obscura, extreme metal would simply never be the same again.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 303 - Castle of Franken Berry

Album · 2022 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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BUCKETHEAD’s first PIKE of 2022 has taken some inspiration from the awful sugary monster breakfast cereal that has those sickening sweet artificial strawberry flavors mixed with those foodlike substances called marshmallows. CASTLE OF FRANKEN BERRY is the 303rd PIKE installment released on the 11th of January, 2022 and features the chicken lover pulling his usual shtick of playing all the instruments.

This one clocks in at just over 27 minutes and features only two tracks. The first is the near 19-minute “Enter The Sky Walker” which features a long drawn out bluesy hard rock approach. Sounding something like an instrumental early 80s AC/DC track with more 70s hard rock blues licks added in from time to time. This is one of those repetitive by the numbers type tracks with a time length that doesn’t justify the ideas presented. Sure an atmospheric breakdown here and there but overall a lengthy instrumental jam that provides decent background music but not very interesting particularly if you’re like me and have heard every album BH has created.

The title track is much shorter at 8 minutes and 19 seconds. This one is much heavier jumping into metal territory. Faster tempos and more crushing riffs start it out but then it sort of loses a bit of steam but offers a lot more variety in the first two minutes than the tedious opener does. This one showcases a lot more of BUCKETHEAD’s riffing prowess at high speeds. There’s a thrash metal quality to the riffing styles but doesn’t really go full on thrash with the drums and bass. Come to think of it this entire PIKE is missing some of the background atmospheric touches that many recent PIKEs have employed. This one is a lot more interesting than the first track but still a little too long for what it has to offer however if you really dig these chunky riffs than why not have an extended version?

After 2021’s final PIKE which was my favorite in a long time, this one is a bit of a let down. While the second track is quite enjoyable, the first one just feels a bit underwhelming for my tastes and considering it’s 2/3 of the PIKE, the entire PIKE experience is somewhat lessened for my listening enjoyability. Fortunately nothing about this PIKE reminds me of the artificially flavored crap breakfast cereal that has been poisoning children for decades! While BUCKETHEAD proves he can continue some great riffs on his first PIKE of 2022, unfortunately he also showcases his inconsistency in quality and lack of creativity. Good album. Nothing more.

DREAM THEATER Once in a LIVEtime

Live album · 1998 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 37 ratings
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Warthur
Dream Theater have made gargantuan live albums part of their schtick now, so it's weird to think the first of these was Once In a Livetime, since it captures the band at a rather unrepresentative moment in their history. After all, Falling Into Infinity is one of the less well-received albums - I think it's alright, but a clear stumble compared to the preceding three albums (and the Change of Seasons EP), and part of that was because the band were being tugged in different directions in a tug-of-war between commercial leanings and prog purism which would eventually resolve with the monster success of the Metropolis Part 2 concept album, where they demonstrated that they could do both at once.

What you end up getting here is a live album which certainly leans on the "metal" side of Dream Theater's prog metal equation, but the combination of its sheer length (two and a half hours!) and the nature of most of their back catalogue means that their prog chops end up being well-represented anyway. In addition, whilst the band might have needed to please studio executives in the studio, in the live context they were still throwing in a healthy dose of improvisation and soloing.

This is, of course, the main live album from Derek Sherinian's stint in the band, and hails from towards the end of his tour of duty. When he's on form and gelling with the rest of the band, his presence is certainly helpful in making the album stand out in the mountain of Dream Theater live output - after all, even if the band have gone over a lot of the same ground in later live releases, they haven't exactly included many Derek Sherinian keyboard solos on those.

At the same time, however, there's some spots where you start realising why Sherinian's time in the band just wasn't working out. There's a few too many moments where his keyboards are either a little overwhelmed by what the rest of the band is doing, or absolutely dominating everything, and he seems to struggle to find the sweet spot in between those extremes. It doesn't happen so often to derail things, but it happens just often enough that I notice it. Of course, it isn't necessarily clear whether this is the side effect of occasionally shaky sound quality - there's a mild fuzziness which creeps in at points on the recording, at least to my ear, and it's especially unflattering as far as Sherinian's keyboards are concerned.

On the whole, it's a solid live album which delivers a fat chunk of music and finds Dream Theater giving a lot of great material a spin in a configuration that you won't find on most of their other live releases, and when you put all that together that earns a good solid four stars - but there's just enough hiccups to stop it going beyond that.

JUDAS PRIEST '98 Live Meltdown

Live album · 1998 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 15 ratings
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Warthur
As I said on my review on it, Jugulator was a good 1990s metal album, but not a great one, and it didn't really sound like a Priest album. '98 Live Meltdown, the first live release from the Ripper Owens-fronted era of the band, does a fair amount to course-correct.

Of course, it certainly helps that on a 24 song setlist, only five come from Jugulator, and they're largely buried in the middle of the set. The remaining 19 songs are various Priest classics, distinguished from previous renditions largely by Ripper being on vocals instead of Rob Halford.

It's here where Ripper really gets to prove himself. Sure, in terms of the instrumental backing, the team of Tipton, Downing, Hill, and Travis do the excellent job playing these we expect of them, but Ripper's ability to tackle the Halford-material establishes him as an impressive vocalist in his own right. You can tell why he was a successful frontman of a Priest tribute group before getting his chance with the real deal, because he has a similarly impressively wide range as Halford himself, but he's able to put just enough of his own take on the material that he's not just in tribute act mode.

As for the Jugulator material, the band do a good job of choosing the better songs from that album to perform, and offer renditions which bring them a little closer to the classic Judas Priest sound. Indeed, the quality of '98 Live Meltdown does have the side effect of making seem Jugulator seem all the worse by comparison. Perhaps the production was off, or perhaps the band went into the studio too soon and needed a little more time to workshop and refine the material before setting it down, but either way I prefer these live versions to those we got on the studio album.

Whilst I'm not sad that Rob came back to Priest - the greatest gig I've attended in my life was probably their Bloodstock 2021 headlining set - '98 Live Meltdown does go some way towards rehabilitating the Ripper years for me. I wouldn't give it more than four stars - it's a solid but not groundbreaking set based largely on Priest classics, and the patchier Jugulator material does pull it down - but I wouldn't give it less either.

NATIONAL NAPALM SYNDICATE National Napalm Syndicate

Album · 1989 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"National Napalm Syndicate" is the eponymously titled debut full-length studio album by Finnish thrash metal act National Napalm Syndicate. The album was released through Parlophone Records in September 1989. National Napalm Syndicate formed in 1986, originally using the National Napalm Storm monicker but changed to the current one that same year.

"National Napalm Syndicate" started out playing a raw and savage type of thrash metal influenced by the German trio of Sodom, Destruction, and Kreator, but also by Bathory and Hellhammer. They slowly started incorporating some crossover influences and also a strong Bay Area thrash metal influence over the course of their four demo tapes, and therefore the music style on "National Napalm Syndicate" is a combination of more than one thrash/crossover metal style. Some tracks are raw and savage sounding thrash metal while others feature more hardcore influences and while they are still pretty raw thrash metal tracks, the mood is slightly less dark on those tracks. The material are generally pretty fast-paced (although heavier mid-paced sections are also common) and aggressive though (featuring some nicely energetic drumming). The vocals vary between an aggressive snarling vocal style (which is the vocal style used on their early releases) and a more typical shouting/talking crossover thrash metal vocal style. The lead guitar work deserves a mention too. Not that it´s particularly dominant, but when leads occur, they are very well played and bring dynamics and texture to the music.

Quite a few of the tracks on the album are re-recordings of demo tracks from the band´s demo days. Every track from the January 1988 "At the Time of the Fullmoon" demo are included in re-recorded versions. The album features an organic, raw, and sharp sounding production job, which suits the material well. The intensity of the music is brought out and showed to the world through the production choices made, and it´s a perfect sound for the material featured on the album. It may not be the most unique sounding thrash metal release, but the savage energy and the high level musical performances make it a damn entertaining one. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

NATIONAL NAPALM SYNDICATE Painful Ten Hours

Demo · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Painful Ten Hours" is the first demo by Finnish thrash metal act National Napalm Syndicate. The demo was independently released on cassette tape in March 1987. The material featured on the demo was recorded at SM-Studio, Oulu, Finland, on the 14th of March 1987. National Napalm Syndicate formed in 1986, originally using the National Napalm Storm monicker but soon changing to the current one. They are considered one of earliest extreme metal act from Finland.

Extreme in this case should not be understood as if National Napalm Syndicate were an early black metal or death metal act, but they are definitely in the more extreme end of the thrash metal spectrum. Raw, aggressive, and primal sounding thrash metal strongly influenced by the early releases of Sodom, Destruction, and Kreator, but also artists like Bathory and Hellhammer. Lead vocalist Vesa Ruokangas has an impressive raw snarling vocal delivery, and his performance here is definitely one of the highlights of the demo (reminding me of early Quorthon, although a slightly less blackened version).

The 3 tracks on the 12:37 minutes long demo are all performed by a well playing band, who understand how to handle their instruments and the demo also features a relatively well sounding demo sound quality, so there´s lots of promise found on "Painful Ten Hours". The primal energy and the raw aggression carry the songs forward, but it wouldn´t have been as effecful if the band weren´t as well playing as they are. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

SPASME Deep Inside

Album · 2000 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Deep Inside" is the debut full-length studio album by Canadian death metal act Spasme. The album was released through Neoblast Records in 2000. Spasme formed in 1994 and released the 1995 "Traumatisme" demo (and an almost identical demo in 1999 titled "Deep Inside"). Only guitarist Mathieu Marcotte remains from the lineup who recorded the 1995 demo. The most notable addition to the ranks is lead vocalist Martin Lacroix, who would subsequently join Cryptopsy in 2001, touring with them and recording the 2003 "None So Live" live album before being asked to leave again in 2003.

While "Traumatisme" (1995) showed that Spasme had more up the sleeve than your average technical death metal act, "Deep Inside" takes that approach much further. It´s a dynamic, creative, and relatively varied technical death metal release. It´s brutal alright and new vocalist Lacroix has a deep but intelligible aggressive growling vocal style, which is brilliant, but the music is also loaded with breaks, tempo changes, atmospheric parts (the subtle use of keyboards is effectul and create atmosphere), and adventurous songwriting ideas. It´s no surprise that a technical death metal act is well playing and the skills are through the roof, but it still deserves a mention how well playing Spasme are and how many unconventional ideas they incorporate in their songs while still maintaining an element of catchiness.

I´m afraid the sound production leaves just a little to be desired and while it´s not a major issue, the album does sound a little thin, and could have prospered from a more meaty and brutal sound. The thin sound gives the album a demo recording quality aura, and while that´s maybe a bit too harsh when evaluating the sound production, I have to mention it.

Don´t be put off by my description of the sound production though, because "Deep Inside" is a technical death metal release which deserves a lot more attention and while it doesn´t quite possess what it takes to be a classic in the genre, it´s still a great album. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is fully deserved.

SPASME Traumatisme

Demo · 1995 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Traumatisme" is the first demo release by Canadian death metal act Spasme. The demo was independently released on cassette tape in 1995. Spasme formed in 1994 and released this demo (and an almost identical demo in 1999 titled "Deep Inside"), and their debut full-length studio album "Deep Inside" in 2000 before disbanding in 2002.

The material on the 6 track, 20:43 minutes long demo is technical and relatively brutal death metal. The growling vocals are expressive and aggressive but also intelligible, and generally a great asset to the band´s sound. Spasme are a technically very well playing band, and especially the drumming by Jocelyn Beaupre is quite impressive. The material is relatively catchy for music this brutal, and although this isn´t the most unique sounding release in the genre, Spasme have something a little different to them, which makes this a promising first release. Breaks, tempo changes, and brutal riffs and vocals (and an audible and quite busy bass), but also short atmospheric parts which work as breathers. There´s even the use of keyboards at the end of "Secte" and "Sickly Deranged", which are only used for a few seconds, but still to great effect.

"Traumatisme" features what I´d characterize as a good demo quality sound production. It´s clear enough to hear all details, but still sounds a little like it´s recorded in the room next door. Upon conclusion it´s a pretty impressive demo release, and if the sound production had been just slightly better sounding, my rating would probably have been a little higher, as the music is very interesting and effectful. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

STYGIAN DARK Gorelords of War

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"Gorelords of War" is the debut full-length studio album by multi-national death metal act Stygian Dark. The album was released through Old Shadows Records in April 2021. Stygian Dark´s lineup features guitarist Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Those Who Bring the Torture, Down Among the Dead Men...etc.) and lead vocalist Dave Ingram (Benediction, Bolt Thrower, Down Among the Dead Men), bassist Alwin Roes (Abyss, Dead End), and drummer Jon Rudin (Those Who Bring the Torture, Dead Sun...etc.). So it´s definitely a seasoned crew, who have previously worked together in other constellations and projects.

Stylistically the material on "Gorelords of War" is early 90s influenced death metal, and both of Ingram´s 90s bands Benediction and Bolt Thrower should be counted among the influences on Stygian Dark. In fact the opening title track reeks a Bolt Thrower influence that´s so obvious that it´s almost too much. The quality of the songwriting is unfortunately not on the high level of the influences, and I´m afraid this is one of those Rogga related projects where he brought his B-game riffs. It´s solid old school death metal, but you´ll find very few riffs and song sections, that you´ll be able to remember when the album stops playing. Ingram does everything to alter that and bring some quality to the project, and he occassionally succeeds with some commanding growling vocals and memorable lyrics, but it´s simply not enough, when the instrumental part of the music is so mediocre...and it´s not only the riffs, the drumming is also sterile and too simplistic in nature to stir up any emotions in me but indifference.

"Gorelords of War" also features a sound production, which leaves something to be desired. It lacks the rawness and organic power that is so important for music of this nature. Again the word sterile is unfortunately the word I´d chose to describe the sound production. When all is said though, "Gorelords of War" isn´t a bad quality release, and I did partially enjoy it while it played, but considering the musical capacities involved in the making of this album, it´s hard not to be a little disappointed by the end result. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

JUDAS PRIEST Jugulator

Album · 1997 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.29 | 58 ratings
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Warthur
Jugulator kicked off a new era for Judas Priest with a new lead vocalist, with Ripper Owens attempting to fill the boots of the almighty Rob Halford. That's one of the toughest roles to fill in metal, and in retrospect it was inevitable that a certain chunk of the fanbase would never accept Ripper as lead vocalist of the band, no matter how good he was.

And let's be clear - Ripper's not bad! He makes sure to slip in a scream or two early on in the opening title track to reassure us that he can indeed pull off something comparable to Halford's range, and I'd actually say his vocals might be the closest part of this album to "classic Priest". You see, as well as taking on a new vocalist, Priest took this opportunity to take on a new sound - a sort of doom-y groove metal approach with a healthy dose of Metallica influence, much more reminiscent of then-modern sounds in metal than of the classic Priest sound (or of the high-intensity variant of it which they'd premiered on Painkiller).

Now, I've nothing against bands experimenting with their sound (though some experiments would be better off left on the cutting room floor, rather than making it onto a record) - but this does mean that the vocals and instruments on this album are working at cross-purposes. Ripper's trying to sell us on the idea that he can deliver old-school Judas Priest vocals like Halford could, whilst the musical backing is saying "this ain't the old Judas Priest any more, we've got a whole new deal going on".

It's no surprise that Jugulator gets a bad rap, then. Fans might have accepted Judas Priest trying out a bold new sound if Halford were still fronting the band, and they might have accepted Ripper as the new vocalist if his first album with the group had more continuity with the previous sound of the group than this one does, but changing the singer and changing the musical style at the same time was most likely a bridge too far.

Is it a good Judas Priest album? Probably not, because beyond the odd yell from Ripper it's got almost none of the stuff you go to a Judas Priest album hoping to hear beyond being broadly in the metal genre. Is it an entertaining 1990s metal album? I'd say so - but not to the extent that it made any great contribution to the genre. And when you're a band of the stature and age of Judas Priest, any album which doesn't either push the genre you co-created forward or at the very least evoke the spirit of your classic material is going to be a tough sell. Jugulator is OK, but it's not much better than OK.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 302 - Cyborgs, Robots & More

Album · 2021 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Something about BUCKETHEAD’s infections with robots seems to bring out the best in his musical abilities and finally after quite some time, the chicken lover has finally hatched an egg that’s interesting (at least to my ears!) Emerging from the coop on the very final hours on the last day of 2021, PIKE 302 - CYBORGS ROBOTS & MORE unleashes my favorite sounds of the entire year! Woohoo!!!!

This PIKE slinks past the 29-minute mark and in that regard not too overly different than what has been the case for years. This one features four tracks with the longest being the opening “Cyborg” which hits the 13 1/2 minute mark and features a somewhat new sound to BUCKETHEADLAND. This one has taken the world of alternatives metal and added some interesting new chops to the mix including some new atmospheric backdrops. Just when i think BH has lost all his musical mojo he proves he is still able to unleash something new and actually relevant to the world of heavy rock / metal. This is also the most progressive music BH has released in 2021 with lots of time signature changes and an expanded compositional flow. The mix is pretty spectacular as well with lots of echoes, guitar tones and an infinite supply of creative prowess. Why in the world do i have to endure a sea of mediocrity to wait for these moments of glory? Signed - pissed fan :/

“Robot” follows suit with the same strange atmospheric mix of interesting guitar distortion, keyboard backings and drum, bass and guitar action. Finally BH isn’t afraid to offer some guitar antics that allow his true genius to emerge. The syncopation of the drums with the guitar parts, bass and atmospheric keys is off the chart here! This is part metal, part psychedelic rock and part freak show! OMG two tracks in a row that really rock my world at BUCKETHEADLAND? Pinch me i must be dreaming!

Just when i think the PIKE sure has to derail like they usually do lately, “& More” actually continues my interest! Whew :D While less bold and experimental than the previous offering, it still provides a satisfying guitar based groove that utilizes both power chords and heavy licks. It works and sets itself apart from what came before!

“Woodens Warm-ups” takes the choppy guitar palm-muted effects into different territory yet. Interesting melodies, synergy of guitar, bass, drums and atmospheric keys and an unpredictable journey into a fully fueled compositional approach that isn’t predictable! OMG, can this be true? While this is my least favorite track on this PIKE it’s by no means a throwaway track. It continues the flow of what sets this PIKE apart with satisfying results.

Wow! This PIKE is exactly the reason i stick around and keep listening. Yeah, i’m not thrilled that i have to endure seas of mediocrity to get to nice gems like this one but isn’t that really what life is all about? Sure it’s more annoying in terms of music but i signed up for the review every BH album so here i am. This one is by far my favorite of 2021. Very interesting in how BH mixed the different instruments and the compositions themselves are of high quality. While not a bonafide masterpiece by any means, this is certainly one i will return to in the future. Thanks for laying this golden egg, Buck Buck!

ENSLAVED Caravans to the Outer Worlds

EP · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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"Caravans To The Outer Worlds" is an EP release by Norwegian progressive black metal act Enslaved. The EP was released through Nuclear Blast in October 2021. It succeeds the release of the band´s 15th full-length studio album "Utgard" from October 2020, and features the same quintet lineup as the album. It´s not unusal for Enslaved to release EPs with additional non-album material. The two 2011 EPs "The Sleeping Gods" and "Thorn" are other examples of that.

"Caravans To The Outer Worlds" features 4 tracks and total playing time of 18:12. The opening title track is a progressive metal track, and it´s quite the catchy and memorable track, which could easily have been included on "Utgard" (2020). The track features everything you´d expect from a contemporary Enslaved song, like raspy/clean vocals, vintage keyboards/organ, 70s progressive/psychadelic rock influences, organic rhythmic playing, and of course a dose of atmospheric black metal. It´s one of the stronger and more remarkable tracks I´ve heard from them in a while. "Intermezzo I - Lönnlig Gudlig" follows and it´s a dark, brooding, and atmospheric instrumental.

"Ruun II - The Epitaph" is the third track of the EP. Although this one features clean vocals by keyboard player Håkon Vinje, it´s a continuation of the dark, gloomy, and almost psychadelic tinged style of the preceding track. It´s repetitive and hypnotic in nature, building an ominous atmosphere. The use of choirs and organic acoustic instruments deserve a mention here. "Intermezzo II - The Navigator" concludes the EP and sounds like Enslaved playing a Hawkwind song. Great driving psychadelic space rock. It´s no surprise that Enslaved pull it off with ease. At this point in their career it´s the most natural thing in the world to them.

Upon conclusion "Caravans To The Outer Worlds" is a high quality EP release by Enslaved. It´s less polished and slightly more experimental in nature than the material on "Utgard" (2020), and that approach suits Enslaved well. They´ve always been best when they added a bit of organic grit to their releases, and "Caravans To The Outer Worlds" is one such release. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

MOONSPELL Hermitage

Album · 2021 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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lukretion
Blessed be the Top Albums of the Year lists! Preparing mine for The Metal Observer forced me to look back at a bunch of 2021 albums that I had overlooked at the time they were initially released. Among them there is Hermitage, Moonspell’s 12th full-length studio album (I am not counting Under Satanae that contains re-recordings of the band’s early material). In the 1990s, the Portuguese goth metallers were one of my favourite metal bands, but I somehow lost touch with their obscure art at some point during the late 2000s. Hermitage, however, gloriously reminded me why I was so in love with Moonspell during my teens: it is a superb album, dark and elegant, full of variety and class, that builds on the band’s classic sound but also ventures in new directions, subtly merging together gothic metal, extreme metal and modern progressive rock.

I have to confess that, when I gave Hermitage its first spin, it wasn’t instant love. The album sounded slick and classy, but also hazy, understated and difficult to grasp. None of the melodies or arrangements stood out. The album flowed away pleasantly, but I felt there weren’t enough moments that really grabbed my attention and pulled me in. Curiously, the same had happened to me with another Moonspell’s album, released exactly twenty years ago: 2001’s Darkness and Hope. I remember it took me many spins to fully appreciate that album, pretty much for the same reasons I initially struggled to connect with Hermitage: the melodies felt too subtle and elusive and the atmospheres too understated, to the point that the album seemingly lacked a strong character and identity. It was only after a half-dozen listens that Darkness and Hope finally opened up to me and I could fully appreciate its delicate and obscure beauty, for which I still consider it today one of the best albums by the Portuguese combo. Mindful of that experience, I decided to persevere and kept playing Hermitage until the album finally clicked with me. And, boy, I am so glad that I did.

Hermitage is an album that only a band as classy, talented and experienced as Moonspell could have written. “Mature” is probably the word I am looking for. The record oozes sophistication and aplomb as it takes the listener to a dazzling journey through different shades of dark rock anchored in the band’s classic gothic sound, but modernized with a multitude of different influences, from modern progressive/alternative rock, to psychedelia, to jazz and electronic music. All these influences are blended together with disarming simplicity, relying on minimalistic arrangements and a warm, stripped-down sound that exalts the essence of each song.

The album’s first five tracks are extraordinary, in this respect. They each explore a distinct sonic niche without failing to retain strong cohesiveness and consistency. “The Greater Good” flirts with the dark alt/prog metal of bands like Soen and Anathema, with muscular grooves and hypnotic guitar riffs, while retaining a strong gothic allure that explodes in the surprisingly heavy finale. “Common Prayers” shifts weight towards more traditional gothic rock atmospheres, while “All or Nothing” is a delicate slowburner that lulls its way through groovy drum patterns, bluesy guitar riffs and a gorgeously Floydian solo, conjuring up visions of smoky jazz clubs after midnight. Meanwhile, the almost punkish title-track brings to the fore the band’s black metal roots, and “Entitlement” harks back to the tasteful experiments with electronica that Moonspell also attempted previously in their discography (for instance, their 1998’s Sin/Pecado album).

The second half of the album is perhaps a tad less spectacular. It contains two slightly lacklustre instrumentals (though the cold piano arpeggio of “City Quitter” provides a spellbinding album finale) and a song, “Apophthegmata”, that builds on an interesting atmosphere but ultimately does not develop into much more. However, we are also treated with what is probably the best track of the LP, “The Hermit Saints”. Pretty much like the album opener, this song takes Moonspell’s classic gothic sound and reimagines it through the lens of modern alt/prog rock: Ricardo Amorim’s bouncy guitars frantically buzz their riffs over a tapestry of groovy basslines, majestic organs and shifting drum patterns (new drummer Hugo Ribeiro deserves a shout-out here for a stellar performance, perfectly balanced between muscularity and coloration), while Fernando Ribeiro switches back and forth between a deep, velvety croon and his abrasive semi-growls, creating an intoxicating final mix. The album also closes strongly with “Without Rule”, probably he Hermitage’s most surprising song, with its lysergic vibes that hark back to early Pink Floyd and 1970s psychedelia.

Hermitage is so rich and diverse, and yet at the same time so refined and restrained, that it takes time and patience to properly take in all of the album’s different shades and contours. A superficial listen may even confuse its subtlety and elegance for demureness or lack of character. Jaime Gomez Arellano’s sober and natural production adds to this false first impression, as the detailed production work only fully blossoms on repeated listens, as one learns to appreciate the exquisite balance in the mix between the different instruments and the overall sonic clarity.

As such, Hermitage is most definitely a grower, albeit one that thoroughly deserves your time investment. When the album finally opens up, it is deeply intoxicating with its obscure romantic atmosphere. The quality of Hermitage that I probably appreciate the most is how fresh, modern and exciting the record sounds while at the same time retaining Moonspell’s classic sonic identity. This stands in defiance to Fernando Ribeiro’s own words in promo interviews, where the singer questions whether the band’s time may be coming to an end. If anything, Hermitage shows that Moonspell are still a fresh and very relevant voice in today’s metal, nearly 25 years since they have moved their first steps in the scene. This is a massive achievement for the Portuguese band, and one that not many of their peers can claim to have fulfilled.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

SENTENCED The Trooper

EP · 1993 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"The Trooper" is an EP release by Finland, Muhos based death metal act Sentenced. The EP was released through Spinefarm Records in October 1994. It bridges the gap between the band´s second and third full-length studio albums "North From Here" (1993) and "Amok" (1995). The material was recorded in 1992 prior to the release of "North From Here" (1993) (except "Awaiting the Winter Frost", which is culled directly from said album), but not released until two years later.

The EP features 4 tracks and a total playing time of 21:02 minutes. The title track is a cover of the iconic Iron Maiden song, delivered here in an energetic and faster blackenced death metal fashion, with lead vocalist Taneli Jarva delivering his snarling aggressive blackened growling attack. The next track is probably the most interesting song on the EP for most people as it´s a non-album track appearing here for the first time, and it´s also a pretty brilliant track to boot. "Desert by Night" is just one of those tracks where you wonder why the band didn´t find a place for it on an album release.

"In Memoriam" is culled from the March 1992 "Journey to Pohjola" demo, and features Miika Tenkula on vocals. It´s a bit of an odd choice for this EP, as it´s the most old school death metal sounding track on "Journey to Pohjola" (1992) and the track on the EP farthest from the style on "North From Here" (1993). The fourth track is as mentioned above "Awaiting the Winter Frost" which appear here in the same version as it appears on "North From Here" (1993).

An EP release like "The Trooper" should be listened to a reviewed in the context of how and when it was released, as today it´s more or less redundant as the material has been included on reissues of albums and on compilation releases and as a result have become more readily available to the fans. Back then only "Awaiting the Winter Frost" was a track that most people knew, and although Sentenced´s cover of "The Trooper" appears a little rushed and sounds like something recorded in a good demo quality, you still get "Desert by Night", which is quite the brillant track, and of course "In Memoriam", which is a great doom/death metal track too, although it maybe feels a little out of place in this EP. A 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong.

SENTENCED North From Here

Album · 1993 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 8 ratings
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UMUR
"North From Here" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Finland, Muhos based death metal act Sentenced. The album was released through Spinefarm Records in June 1993. It´s the successor to "Shadows of the Past" from December 1991, although the two studio albums are bridged by the March 1992 "Journey to Pohjola" demo. Sentenced only landed a one-album deal with Thrash Records for the release of "Shadows of the Past" (1991), and as they had already moved on to a new sound and style, when the debut was released, they felt the need to record a demo showing fans and labels their new direction. Spinefarm Records eventually payed attention, and signed the band for the release of "North From Here".

Since the release of "Shadows of the Past" (1991) and the "Journey to Pohjola" (1992) demo a rather significant lineup change has taken place. No members have left and no new members have joined, but lead vocalist/lead guitarist Miika Tenkula very suddenly and without notice informed the rest of the band (on the way to play a gig), that he would no longer be performing vocals for Sentenced, as he wished to solely concentrate on playing lead guitar. Bassist Taneli Jarva had previously performed some backing vocals, and it was quickly decided that he should step up and be the band´s new frontman in addition to playing bass.

The change on the lead vocalist spot is audible as Jarva has a more blackened growling delivery compared to the more traditional growling vocals of Tenkula. Both are great vocalists though, and Jarva was definitely a good choice to take over from Tenkula. While the change on the lead vocalist spot should arguably be the greatest change since "Shadows of the Past" (1991), it´s actually the instrumental part of the music which has changed the most. Coming from playing a doom/death metal oriented old school death metal style, to playing a melodic, aggressive, and highly technical blackened death metal style like Sentenced play on "North From Here" is so major a change, that you probably wouldn´t have guessed it was the same band releasing the two albums if you didn´t know it (and the same main composer writing the music).

"North From Here" features a sharp, raw, and intense sounding production, which helps make the material shine even more than it already does. "North From Here" is loaded with killer riffs, blistering melodic guitar work, the above mentioned well performed blackened death metal vocals by Jarva, a cold and dark atmosphere (I´m slightly reminded of Dissection and their ilk), clever use of atmosphere enhancing keyboards, and intriguing and memorable songwriting. The pace is generally high and it´s very energetic and technically challenging music. If the early releases by Sentenced featured a strong late 80s Death (the band) influence, the technical playing and sometimes the riffing style on "North From Here" owe a lot to the more technical early- to mid 90s death metal output of the Florida band. it´s all just influences though and Sentenced have created quite an unique sound on this album. It´s through and through a high quality release and occassionally even a jaw-dropping one and a 4.5 star (90%) rating is fully deserved.

SENTENCED Journey to Pohjola

Demo · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Journey to Pohjola" is a demo release by Finland, Muhos based death metal act Sentenced. The demo was independently released on cassette tape in March 1992 and bridges the gap between the band´s debut- and second full-length studio albums "Shadows of the Past" from December 1991 and "North From Here" from June 1993. It´s a bit unusual for a band to record a demo so shortly after releasing their debut album, but Sentenced´s deal with Thrash Records was only for one album, and they felt the need to record a demo which showed their development, since most of the debut album featured re-recorded demo material written in their formative year(s), and the band had more or less already moved on to another sound when the debut was released. Out of the 3 tracks on the 14:24 minutes long demo, only "Wings" would make it unto "North From Here" in re-recorded form.

Right from the opening notes of "Wings" the stylistic change is heard. Lead vocalist/lead guitarist/main composer Miika Tenkula sings in a slightly higher pitched and more aggressive growling register, and the track features a more cold sound borrowing heavily from black metal, while still being a death metal track. The guitar riffs are now also more melodic and the material are generally faster-paced (although there are also doom/death metal parts found here) and more technical in style compared to the old school death metal sound of the debut album.

In terms of production values "Journey to Pohjola" is a professionally recorded demo, and no one would have objected if the demo had been released as an EP instead. That´s how well sounding the material is. Powerful, intense, and detailed are words which are valid to describe the high quality sound production. This would be the last Sentenced release to feature Tenkula on vocals, as he very suddenly and without notice informed the rest of the band (on the way to play a gig), that he would no longer be performing vocals for Sentenced, as he wished to solely concentrate on playing lead guitar. Bassist Taneli Jarva had previously performed some backing vocals (which he actually does on this demo), and it was quickly decided that he should step up and be the band´s new frontman in addition to playing bass. So in many ways "Journey to Pohjola" is a transition release from the band´s old school death metal releases to the more technical and melodic sound of "North From Here" and the lead vocalist change was just another development of the band´s sound in those years. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is fully deserved. Through and through a high quality demo recording this one...

SENTENCED Shadows of the Past

Album · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.44 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Shadows of the Past" is the debut full-length studio album by Finland, Muhos based death metal act Sentenced. The album was released through Thrash Records in December 1991. Sentenced was founded in 1988 under the Deformity monicker and played thrash metal, but changed their name to the current one in 1989, and with the name change also the musical direction from thrash to death metal. The "When Death Join Us..." demo from November 1990 was the band´s first release and the "Rotting Ways to Misery" demo followed in June 1991. Both cassette tape demos which showed a very young band (15-18 years old when recording the demos) with both great playing skills and a good understanding of composition. There have been one lineup change since the demo days as bassist Lari Kylmänen has been replaced by Taneli Jarva.

"Shadows of the Past" was recorded and mixed at Tico-Tico Studio, Kemi in October 1991 with producer/engineer Ahti Kortelainen, which is where the band´s two demos were also recorded. All 6 tracks from the "Rotting Ways to Misery" demo were re-recorded and included on the album. Although the "When Death Join Us..." demo actually features a track titled "Shadows of the Past", no songs from that demo appear on this album.

Stylistically the material on "Shadows of the Past" is more or less the epitome of old school early 90s death metal. Not just the Scandinavian sort, because the music features a lot of different influences. I hear a lot of late 80s Death (the band) influences, maybe a bit of contemporary Morgoth, and also quite a few early Paradise Lost influences, as well as influences from the late 80s/early 90s Swedish scene. It´s actually a great strength to be able to create an album with so many different stylistic elements and make it work. Sentenced are an incredibly well playing band though (the oldest member of the band was 18 years old at the time of recording this album) and they deliver a heavy (even doom/death heavy at times), brutal, yet still occasionally melodic tinged death metal attack with both great passion and conviction. Every member of the band deserves a mention for their strong musical performances, but lead vocalist/lead guitarist/main songwriter Miika Tenkula does deserve a special mention for his intense and aggresive growling vocals, and for his strong and intricate lead guitar work.

While the Finnish death metal underground was very active in the late 80s/early 90s, producing quite a few demos, splits, and EPs, "Shadows of the Past" was one of the first full-length studio album releases from the scene, along with the 1991 debut albums by Xysma, Funebre, and Convulse. In that sense Sentenced are arguably one of the pioneers of the scene, and would also grow to become one of the most successful Finnish metal acts of the 90s along with Amorphis. While the band would never again release anything resembling the sound of "Shadows of the Past", as they had already moved on to other musical styles at the time of the album´s release, it´s still a high quality old school death metal album, and it´s highly recommedable to fans of the genre. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is fully deserved.

SENTENCED Rotting Ways to Misery

Demo · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Rotting Ways to Misery" is the 2nd demo by Finland, Muhos based death metal act Sentenced. The demo was released on cassette tape in June 1991. It´s the successor to the "When Death Join Us..." demo from November 1990.

Although the same quartet lineup from the first demo remains and there are only little over 6 months between the two demo releases, Sentenced evolved at a rapid pace in the early years. The high level technical playing skills are even more pronounced on "Rotting Ways to Misery" and the songwriting is more varied and slightly more unique. It´s not more unique than that though, as you can still hear a strong late 80s Death (the band) influence in the music, but now Sentenced have also incorporated an audible death/doom metal influence from especially early Paradise Lost. The melancholic lead guitars and the heavy riffs and rhythms point in that direction, while the up tempo sections are more technical in style and influence, and are closer in style to he sound of the "When Death Join Us..." (1990) demo.

The 6 tracks on the 34:33 minutes long demo are old school death metal to the bone though, so the word technical should not be misunderstood, as this is in no way technical death metal. The high level of playing and skill involved are just amazing and Sentenced are an incredibly well playing unit...especially considering their young age (16-18 years old when they recorded this demo). Everyone in the band deserves a mention, but lead vocalist/lead guitarist/main composer Miika Tenkula does stand out with his intense growling vocals and skillful lead guitar work. Especially the latter is high class and deserves attention.

Recorded and mixed at the TICO-TICO Studio in Kemi, Finland, 8th-9th of June 1991 (the same studio where the band recorded the first demo) with producer/engineer Ahti Kortelainen, Sentenced have achieved what I would characterize as a professional demo sound quality. It´s both raw and brutal, but also clear and detailed enough for all instruments and vocals to be audible in the soundscape.

It wouldn´t be long before Sentenced were contacted by French label Thrash Records, who signed the band for the release of their debut full-length studio album "Shadows of the Past" (released in December 1991). An album which features all 6 tracks from "Rotting Ways to Misery" in re-recorded versions. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating it warranted.

SENTENCED When Death Join Us...

Demo · 1990 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"When Death Join Us..." is the first demo by Finland, Muhos based death metal act Sentenced. The demo was released on cassette tape in November 1990. The band was founded in 1988 under the Deformity monicker and played thrash metal, but changed their name to the current one in 1989, and with the name change also the musical direction from thrash to death metal. Muhos is a town in nothern Finland and although both thrash and speed metal acts existed in the northern part of Finland, Sentenced were one of the first (if not the first) death metal act from the northern part of the country (the Turku and the Helsinki scenes were active slightly earlier with releases from artists like Xysma, Funebre, and Abhorrence).

Stylistically the material on "When Death Join Us..." is strongly "Leprosy" (1988)-era Death influenced death metal. Considering the high level of technical playing on the demo, it´s amazing to discover that the oldest band member at the time of recording the demo was drummer Vesa Ranta, who was 17...the remaining members were only 15-16 years old, including main songwriter/lead guitarist/vocalist Miika Tenkula. Tenkula deserves a whole book written about him, as he is one of great unsung heroes of the Finnish death (and later gothic metal) scene, and already this early on showed exceptional playing skills and sophistication in his songwriting. Just listen to the guitar playing on the acoustic intro track "Hallucinations". Is that really a 16 year old boy who has composed and plays that...?

The remaining 4 tracks on the 5 track, 21:17 minutes long demo are more regular death metal compositions. Sharp, brutal, and effectful tracks, with the aggressive and intelligible growling vocals of Tenkula in front (audibly influenced by Chuck Shuldiner). The occasional lead guitar/solo part spices up the music, and shows yet again that Tenkula was far more advanced than his birth certificate reveals. The same can be said about the other guys in the band, who are also very competent musicians for their age.

"When Death Join Us..." features a well sounding production for a demo release from 1990, and upon conclusion it´s quite the impressive first release by Sentenced. Sure they didn´t yet have a unique sound, but there is generally great promise here of future greatness and a 3 star (60%) rating isn´t all wrong.

LAST DAYS OF HUMANITY Horrific Compositions Of Decomposition

Album · 2021 · Goregrind
Cover art 4.41 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Goregrind – invented by Carcass, perfected by Regurgitate, and pushed to the absolute limit by Last Days of Humanity.

Everything Last Days of Humanity (LDOH) has ever produced has been extreme, pushing the boundaries between brutal uncompromising music and formless noise. This is what endears the band to it’s fans, and also deters potential new listeners. Just look at the band’s previous album covers. Gory pictures are the norm among goregrind bands, but LDOH’s album covers take the revulsion to new depths. Human bodies aren’t just mangled but are also decomposing, with images so visceral and disgusting you can almost smell the putrefaction and trigger your gag reflex. This music isn’t something which can just be explored casually.

And the music. It’s fast, distorted, guttural, and really fucking heavy, but often it dissolves into an indistinguishable blur. It’s a nasty, gut-punch kind of a blur, and quite satisfying in it’s own right, but it’s hard to tell where bass, guitar, vocals, and drums all start and end. There have always riffs lurking just beneath the surface, but like the Loch Ness monster, they have proved to be elusive up until now.

Right from the first few seconds, “Hematopoietic System Tissue and Lymphoid Fail” opens with an absolutely massive riff which wouldn’t sound out of place on Carcass’ first two albums, except that it’s crystal clear and monumentally heavy. It seems like for almost the first time in their career LDOH actually had a production budget.

However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Hans Smits’ vocals still sound like a clogged drain in a pathology lab. Clearer production aside, this is still the familiar trademark micro-blast songs, sometimes lasting only a few seconds but run together so it’s often hard to know where one song ends and the next begins. Let’s face it though, this isn’t the sort of music you listen to for individual songs. Other than with the opening track, the only other time this matters is with a suitably mangled cover of Fear of God’s “Running Through The Blood”. Sometimes music emerges from the crimson maelstrom. Otherwise, this album is glorious, gory cascades of shredded, decaying human tissue.

So… is LDOH breaking new ground? No. Is LDOH still pushing the limits? Yes. Is this a contradiction? Maybe. Is “Horrific Compositions of Decomposition” any good? Yes.

PORCUPINE TREE Metanoia

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 1998 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.79 | 9 ratings
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Warthur
The Signify period, which saw Porcupine Tree gelling further as a band (having been more of a Steven Wilson solo project prior to The Sky Moves Sideways), certainly yielded plenty of material beyond the studio album itself. As well as the Coma Divine live album from the tour and the Insignificance collection of studio off-cuts, it also provided us with Metanoia, a collection of live-in-the studio improvised jam sessions which the band indulged in.

Some of the material here would be picked up and used as the basis of more polished tracks - Intermediate Jesus on the Signify album had its backing track derived from an edit of one of these improvisations, for example - but most of this is unique to Metanoia, and all of it is offered in a rather different context.

If you like the more song-oriented side of Porcupine Tree, you won't find that here: what you will find is material remarkably like the sort of spacey, jazzy jams which the early 1970s krautrock scene was fond of turning out. If you like the spacier, less focused parts of On the Sunday of Life or Voyage 34, you're in the right sort of territory, though the Edwin/Maitland rhythm section adds a certain amount of drive to these jams not present in those earlier works which helps ensure that the release isn't just going over old ground.

AT THE GATES The Nightmare Of Being

Album · 2021 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.53 | 7 ratings
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lukretion
I am a late comer to the At the Gates appreciation club, having paid attention to the Swedish icons only since their 2018 album To Drink from the Night Itself. Therefore, when their new record, The Nightmare of Being, was released earlier this year, I finally decided to purchase the CD to properly check it out. The reason why the last two records caught my attention is probably also the reason why some oldtime supporters are giving the band a hard time in specialized webzines and review sites: slowly but surely, the Swedes have started weaving conspicuous progressive rock/metal into their sound, noticeably bastardizing the melodic death metal style they once contributed to create.

The Nightmare of Being brings together three different strands of musical influences. The core of the music is still melodic death metal, built on a foundation of fast guitar riffs that are both razor-sharp and exquisitely melodic, pounding and hypertight drumrolls (Adrian Erlandsson puts in a massive performance behind the drumkit), and Tomas Lindberg’s unhinged, high-pitched growls. While in a few songs At the Gates seem happy to not stray too far from the style that made them famous (most evidently in the initial three songs of the record), elsewhere they enrich the melodeath assault with hints of 1970s hard prog as well as dark wave and gothic rock, conjuring up a hybrid sonic world that it is hard not to find enthralling.

The prog rock influences hark back to the sound of the darkest end of the spectrum of 1970s bands, such as King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator. This is conveyed through the use of the mellotron and other eerie keyboard sounds, as well as sombre real strings and woodwinds arrangements (“Touched by the White Hands of Death”, “The Fall into Time”, “The Abstract Enthroned”). Meanwhile, “Garden of Cyrus” introduces a jazzy saxophone lead, which again brings to mind King Crimson (and particularly their Red album). It should be said that At the Gates are not the only nor the first extreme metal band to look back at the dark progressive rock of the 1970s for inspiration. Ihsahn, Enslaved, and Opeth are three prominent examples of bands that have followed the same path several years ahead of the Swedes. Moreover, these bands have definitely pushed the prog rock influences much more prominently into their sound compared to At the Gates, which instead use the 1970s heritage only to add hints of a new dimension to their artform rather than as a way to completely revolutionize it, like Opeth have done for instance. It is nevertheless fascinating to hear violins, flutes and clarinets weaving in and out of aggressive death metal riffs, especially in tracks like “The Fall into Time” where the band have truly challenged themselves to write music that stretches well beyond the classic melodeath canon. Elsewhere, At the Gates make a more vanilla use of the barrage of classical instrumentation they have at their disposal, essentially as an atmospheric prelude or interlude to their more conventional death metal style. Tracks like “Touched by the White Hands of Death” and “The Abstract Enthroned” are slightly underwhelming in this respect, and they do not strike me as neither very original nor particularly accomplished.

The other element that emerges through the 10 tracks of The Nightmare of Being is an evident penchant for dark wave and gothic rock. This is most apparent on the oppressive yet groovy “Cosmic Pessimism”, a track that builds on a bouncy clean guitar riff apparently inspired to krautrock and bands like Neu! and Tangerine Dream, for what is one of the standout moments of the whole album. Elsewhere, the gothic undertones surface through the use of clean guitar breaks and especially Tomas Lindberg’s half-spoken vocal croon, a style he uses quite often on this record, reminding me at times of Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne.

With all these disparate ingredients thrown into the mix, The Nightmare of Being makes for a varied and engaging listening experience. Not everything on the album is gold, and in fact there are more than a couple of episodes that feel a tad too run-of-the-mill and unremarkable (“The Paradox”, the title-track, “Touched by the White Hands of Death” “Eternal Winter of Reason”). However, when inspiration strikes them, At the Gates manage to give us some striking pieces of music, perfectly balanced between raw aggression and sophisticated melancholy. “Garden of Cyrus”, “The Fall into Time”, “Cult of Salvation” and “Cosmic Pessimism” are all little gems of modern melodic death metal that cleverly push the boundaries of the genre without straying too far from its core essence. The Nightmare of Being is a bit too patchy to be heralded as a contemporary masterpiece, but it nevertheless shows that there is still creative blood running in the icy veins of the Swedish combo, and it will certainly be interesting to see where they will decide to bring this creativity next.

PENDRAGON Once Upon A Time In England Volume 2

Boxset / Compilation · 1999 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.05 | 2 ratings
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Warthur
If you liked the first volume you'll like the second one in this series; if you haven't heard it, then be aware that this is an archival release which was originally compiled with the Pendragon fan club in mind. The production is not brilliant on some of the tracks, there's the occasional tape error, and there's the occasional odd decision when it comes to the running order (why isn't The Black Knight at the end?), but if you're keen on Pendragon and want early, unreleased material then you're in luck. That said, anyone interested in exploring Pendragon's output prior to "The World" should get The Jewel or 9:15 Live before they resort to this.

PANTERA The Great Southern Trendkill

Album · 1996 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 52 ratings
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UMUR
"The Great Southern Trendkill" is the 8th full-length studio album by US groove metal act Pantera. The album was released through East West Records in May 1996. It´s the successor to "Far Beyond Driven" from 1994, which proved to be a great commercial success for the band, but during the tour supporting the album, things began to change between the members of the band. Lead vocalist Phil Anselmo started acting strange and distancing himself from the rest of the band, and his performances also started to suffer. Anselmo suffered from a back injury (sustained because of his energetic live performances through many years), and had begun self-medicating with alcohol, but soon turned to heroin...and that´s when things really went south. Animosity and resentment grew between the four members of the band, to a point where the material for "The Great Southern Trendkill" were recorded at two seperate studios. The instrumental part of the music was recorded in Dallas, Texas, while Anselmo recorded his vocals at Trent Reznor's studio in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Stylistically "The Great Southern Trendkill" also comes off a bit disjointed and it´s definitely Pantera´s most experimental album. The core style is still groove metal, featuring the trademark heavy blues based riffs by Dimebag Darrell. The heavy grooves are however only a part of the sound on "The Great Southern Trendkill", which also features more experimental riff types, adventurous guitar solos, acoustic parts, and a wide range of raw, screaming, and aggressive vocals. Anselmo also delivers some clean vocals on the album, so overall "The Great Southern Trendkill" is a varied release.

"War Nerve", "Drag the Waters" (the only track off the album which was made into a music video), "13 Steps to Nowhere", "Living Through Me (Hell's Wrath)", "(Reprise) Sandblasted Skin", and "The Underground in America" are all groove laden and riff heavy aggressive tracks, while both the opening title track and "Suicide Note, Part II" are faster paced and more experimental in nature, featuring crazy screaming vocals. The album also features a ballad type track in "Suicide Note, Part I" (which wouldn´t have felt wrong if it was placed on the predominantly acoustic "Jar of Flies (1994)" EP by Alice in Chains) and two dark power ballads in "10's" and "Floods". I´m not sure power ballad is the best way to describe the two latter, as they are quite twisted and dark, but it´s the closest to a generic description I can find.

"The Great Southern Trendkill" features a powerful and heavy sound production, which suits the material perfectly, and paired with the strong musicianship, and the adventurous songwriting, the album is a high quality release. It did not sell the numbers that "Far Beyond Driven (1994)" did, and did not feature as many "hits" as the predecessor, but to my ears it´s probably the stronger of the two. It definitely doesn´t show a band who have lost their nerve or will to experiment with their sound, and it ends up being both a weakness and a strength. It´s a weakness because "The Great Southern Trendkill" is not a particularly accessible album nor is it as catchy as much of the material on the last three releases, and at times it does feel a bit incoherrent, but it´s a strength because Pantera still sound hungry, aggressive, and playful. It´s certainly a bold release at this point in their career. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

BOLT THROWER The IVth Crusade

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 29 ratings
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UMUR
"The IVth Crusade" is the 4th full-length studio album by UK death metal act Bolt Thrower. The album was released through Earache Records in September 1992. It´s the successor to "War Master" from 1991. Both "Realm of Chaos (1989)" and "War Master (1991)" helped put Bolt Thrower on the map and made them one of the most prolific death metal acts on the UK scene of the late 80s/early 90s. "The IVth Crusade" further strengthened their position and ultimately was a great artistic and commercial success for the band (in underground terms of course).

"The IVth Crusade" is where Bolt Thrower really came into their own. The first three albums are quite different in sound and style, and in retrospect it´s obvious that the band worked hard on creating their own distinct sound on the early releases. "War Master (1991)" came close, but it´s on "The IVth Crusade" that Bolt Thrower found the right combination of ultra heavy mid-paced riffs and rhythms, deep growling vocals, and war themed lyrics, paired with a powerful and raw sound production, which works perfectly with the material.

The 11 tracks on the 53:30 minutes long album are all consistent in quality and style. The only track which is different from the rest is the closing track "Through the Ages", which features spoken words instead of growling vocals, with Karl Willetts reciting names and years of different wars. So it´s an album where it´s difficult to mention highlights, but the epic opening to the title track is always a winner. "Celestial Sanctuary" could also be mentioned as a standout track, because of the melodic chorus and the catchy vocal lines during that chorus. A bit more variation between tracks could generally have made the album a more interesting listening experience, but it´s not a major issue.

"The IVth Crusade" is upon conclusion the next natural step in Bolt Thrower´s career and overall a quality old school death metal release. As mentioned above a bit more variation could have made it even better, but as it is it´s still a quality release and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

VICIOUS RUMORS Welcome To The Ball

Album · 1991 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 14 ratings
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UMUR
"Welcome To The Ball" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, California based power/heavy metal act Vicious Rumors. The album was released through Atlantic Records in July 1991. It´s the successor to the eponymously titled album from 1989 and features the same lineup who recorded the predecessor.

"Welcome To The Ball" features a slightly harder edged sound and style than it´s direct predecessor, and although the majority of the material are still power/heavy metal, there are a couple of more thrash metal oriented parts found on the album too (an example is album opener "Abandoned"). The darker and heavier sound production also contributes to the feeling, that "Welcome To The Ball" is the heaviest Vicious Rumors album up until that point. The softer and in the case of the latter, more commercially oriented "Children" and "When Love Comes Down" pull in the other direction though, and "Welcome To The Ball" is a pretty diverse album within the confines of the US power/heavy metal genre.

The material on the 11 track, 45:03 minutes long album are overall well written, catchy, and memorable, but the real strength of Vicious Rumors is the brilliant musicianship. They are an incredibly well playing band, and each note and rhythm are played with great conviction and passion. Lead vocalist Carl Albert deserves a special mention as he is a singer extraordinaire and his performance here is among his strongest. He hits the perfect balance between raw and powerful heavy metal vocals and more melodic and paatos filled ditto. Upon conclusion "Welcome To The Ball" is another high quality release by Vicious Rumors and to my ears it would make a great starting point to newcommers to the band. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

IRON MAIDEN Senjutsu

Album · 2021 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 25 ratings
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lukretion
I approached Iron Maiden’s seventeenth full-length album Senjutsu in the same way as I approach all new releases from glorious bands of the past: with a mixture of hopeful excitement and reluctant dread that the new album won’t be anywhere near the glory days of years past. In this sense, Senjutsu turned out to be a pleasant surprise, showing that, even though they are no longer the reckoning force of 40 years ago, Iron Maiden are still a relevant voice in today’s metal landscape. This conclusion is even more surprising if one considers that I have not been impressed by any of the recent releases by the band, including the oft venerated Book of Souls.

So what’s Senjutsu’s secret? In two words: strong songwriting. Yes, it’s that simple. Forty-one years on after they have started their recording career, Iron Maiden can still write memorable heavy metal tunes that are both fun and arousing. The songwriting formula hasn’t changed much over the years: a powerful combination of galloping bass grooves, twin guitar leads and riffs, tight drumming, blazing guitar solos and Bruce Dickinson’s soaring dramatic vocals that often double the main guitar melody. Fast songs alternate to epic, brooding mid-tempos (giving off strong X Factor vibes) and ballads, creating a varied tracklist that keeps things fresh and entertaining. Structurally, the songs are not too complex, despite the lengthy duration of some of them. There are extended solos and instrumental sections, and the lengthier songs feature multiple parts, but it is all very accessible and memorable, only tiptoeing on the line that crosses into progressive metal.

So far nothing new under the sun as far as any standard Iron Maiden album is concerned. The difference compared to the band’s most recent records is that Senjutsu contains a handful of truly inspired songs, with memorable instrumental sections and great vocal melodies. Most of these tracks can be found on Disc 2 of this 81+ minute long double album. “Darkest Hour” is a sublime ballad infused with pathos and drama thanks to Dickinson’s fantastic vocal performance. The emotional solo in the second half of the song is another unmissable moment of the track, and a true highlight of the whole record as well. “The Parchment” is probably the best song off Senjutsu It is a strongly progressive piece, with some daring tempo changes, a spectacular instrumental section, and a fabulous doomsday verse that sends chills down my spine every single time (strong Seventh Son of a Seventh Son vibes here!), showing that Maiden can still bite when they want to. Album closer “Hell on Earth” is another strong contender for best track of the album, twisting between delicate acoustic arpeggios and epic galloping guitar riffs. Disc 1 is slightly more average, but there are some glorious moments there too, like the title-track, a very catchy and easy-listening track that shows how consummate Maiden are as songwriters.

Senjutsu also introduces a couple of unexpected sonic twists, like the surprising bluesy guitars of “The Writing on the Wall” or the vaguely 1970s, Floydian intro of “Lost in a Lost World”. There is nothing that truly innovates or changes the musical direction the band have been following over the past 40 years, but it is nevertheless refreshing to see that Maiden have not lost the appetite for subtle sonic experiments, seventeen albums into their discography.

The rest of the material is slightly less impressive, with tracks like “Days of Future Past”, “”The Time Machine” and even the slow winding “Death of the Celts” coming across a somewhat too derivative and flat. This is probably the main gripe I have with the album: if instead of releasing a double disc of over 81 minutes, Maiden had applied a little more quality control and reduced the material to five or six songs for half the length of the LP, this could have been one of the strongest albums the band has released since the 1990s. Nevertheless, Senjutsu stands tall in the band’s recent discography and represents a true return to form for Iron Maiden.

EVERGREY Escape of the Phoenix

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 5 ratings
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The Swedish masters of dark and melancholic progressive power metal have returned this year with their 12th full-length album in a discography that spans four decades. Driven by the charismatic voice of Tom S Englund, Evergrey developed their unique sound very early on in their discography, with 2001’s In Search of Truth representing a monumental career highlight that still shines bright today. From then on, the Swedish combo has continued to hone their sound, incorporating subtle electronic influences and modern metal vibes, without ever abandoning the signature elements that have defined their music so far: chugging guitars that churn out a myriad of groovy, down-tuned riffs; pounding drumwork that is rich with offbeat fills and flourishes; delicate keyboard and piano interjections creating dramatic contrasts with the guitars and rhythm section; and Englund’s unique voice – dark and gruffy but yet incredibly melodic and emotional.

Escape of the Phoenix does not stray too far from the usual formula the band have been following in the past few records. The songs are perhaps even slightly heavier than what Evergrey have used us to in recent years, with a couple of djenty interjections (“Where August Mourn”) and a good dose of dark metallic vibes that suggest Evergrey have been paying close attention to the latest sonic evolutions of moody progressive metal bands like Katatonia (“Forever Outsider”, “The Beholder”). There are also clear references to modern metal, with not too subtle electronic undertones and catchy vocal melodies that frequently veer towards poppy territories (“Where August Mourn”).

The combination of heavy and soft elements make the album feel varied and dynamic. This characteristic is further reinforced by the diversity of the tracklist, which alternates soft melancholic ballads (“In the Absence of Sun”; “You from You”), majestic mid-tempos (“Where August Mourn”; “Run”), faster pieces (“Eternal Nocturnal), and more complex, progressive epics (“The Beholder”, featuring a cameo by James LaBrie from Dream Theater). The musicians’ performances are strong throughout (with a handful of very tasteful guitar solos), and together with the simple, lean song structure ensure that the album flows away fairly easily despite its long duration of nearly one hour.

Despite these strengths, Escape of the Phoenix is not an album that adds much to Evergrey’s rich discography. There are a couple of songs that stand above average and might just make the cut for a “best of” album (“In the Absence of Sun”, “The Beholder”; “Leaden Saints”). The rest, however, feel very unadventurous and almost written on auto-pilot. There is nothing egregiously bad, but also nothing that will make you jump out of your chair and scream hallelujah. A handful of tracks (“A Dandelion Cipher”; “Eternal Nocturnal”; the title-track ) are slightly disappointing to me, in that they seem to feature a somewhat lazy songwriting, relying excessively on Englund’s voice to carry the song through with big dramatic melodies, while offering very little in the way of instrumental accompaniment (plenty of chugging background guitars, pounding drums and opulent string arrangements, but no exciting riffs or remarkable instrumental moment). But this is also how a lot of modern metal sound like (big on vocal melodies, small on pretty much everything else), so it may please fans that lean towards that particular genre.

To sum up, Escape of the Phoenix is a good, if fairly unremarkable, Evergrey album. If you are new to Evergrey, this is not the place to start as the band have written much stronger albums over their career (for instance, In Search of Truth or Recreation Day). If you are already familiar with the band’s sound, this album won’t change much the way you feel about it. There are some subtle new influences woven in into their sound, pushing the album in modern metal territory, but nothing that changes significantly Evergrey’s overall musical direction. It’s pretty much more of the same, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your inclination towards the special blend of dark, melancholic progressive power metal Evergrey have been churning out for nearly 25 years now.

UNLEASHED Sworn Allegiance

Album · 2004 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 5 ratings
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"Sworn Allegiance" is the 7th full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Unleashed. The album was released through Century Media Records in July 2004. After a longer hiatus Unleashed returned in 2002 with reissues of their early albums and with their 6th full-length studio album "Hell's Unleashed (2002)". "Hell's Unleashed (2002)" showed a band firing on all cylinders again, after a couple of more mediocre album releases and "Sworn Allegiance" continues the positive trend.

Stylistically "Sworn Allegiance" pretty much continues where "Hell's Unleashed (2002)" left off (although the quality of the material is generally higher on this release), and the listener is treated to powerful and energetic Swedish death metal done the Unleashed way. Unleashed were never the most raw and brutal Swedish death metal band, but typically opted for a more defined and unique sound, which is raw enough, but not quite as bludgeoning and savage as some of the output by their contemporary colleagues. Unleashed focus a lot on simplicity and catchiness, and especially the latter is often neglected in extreme metal, but Unleashed understand the importance of that particular feature. While not all tracks on "Sworn Allegiance" are equally memorable and there are arguably a couple of unremarkable tracks scattered on the album (and a couple where the lyrics are bit cringe worthy), there are also some absolutely killer tracks featured on the album with infectious hooklines and memorable riffs like "Winterland", "The Longships Are Coming", and "Long Live the Beast" ("Attack" is also an absolute scorcher).

"Sworn Allegiance" aslo features a powerful and well sounding production, and the performances are strong on all posts. Lead vocalist/bassist Johnny Hedlund seems to have found his second youth after the 2002 comeback and he sounds commanding while delivering his intelligible growling vocals. Drummer Anders Schultz as always delivers a great percussive attack and guitarists Tomas Olsson and Fredrik Folkare churn out one memorable riff after another. I have to mention the many great guitar solos too (courtesy of Folkare) as they are are delivered with great skill and flair for melody. So upon conclusion "Sworn Allegiance" is a high quality release by Unleashed and although not perfect, a 3.5 star (70%) rating is still well deserved.

FORMALDEHYDIST Pickled for Posterity

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Pickled for Posterity" is the debut full-length studio album by multi-national death metal/goregrind act Formaldehydist. The album was released through Metal Bastard Enterprises in September 2021. Formaldehydist features members from England, Sweden, and Denmark. The two most prolific members of the lineup are lead vocalist Dave Ingram (Benediction, Bolt Thrower, Down Among the Dead Men...etc.) and guitarist/bassist Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Ribspreader, Down Among the Dead Men...etc.). Ingram shares the lead vocal duties with Danish singer Mads Haarløv (Undergang, Iniquity...etc.) and British drummer Jon Rudin (Those Who Bring the Torture, Wombbath, Just Before Dawn...etc.) completes the quartet lineup.

Stylistically the material on "Pickled for Posterity" is old school death metal/goregrind, strongly influenced by late 80s/early 90s Carcass and other goregrind artists of that era (Impetigo, Nuclear Death...etc.). It´s obviously an album created with great love and respect for the genre, but also with a great portion of humour. The lyrics and parts of the music (is that a fart or two I hear?) are pretty funny (and of course suitably gory and vile) which songtitles like "Piss Soaked Lingerie (Another One Bites the Crust)" and "Six Six Six Pack (The Number of the Yeast)" perfectly showcase.

While the influences come from the late 80s/early 90s goregrind scene, "Pickled for Posterity" is actually more death metal than grindcore. There are blast beats on the album, but the music is predominantly mid-paced and brutal death metal (with the occassional hardcore leanings). Ingram has a distinct deep and intelligible growling vocal style, which is complimented here by the deep juicy growling vocal style of Haarløv. So no higher pitched snarling and aggressive vocals on this album (so much for the Carcass reference).

9 tracks and a total playing time of 24 minutes and the album is over before you know it, but while it´s playing it´s a greatly entertaining release for fans of the genre. It´s well produced, well performed, and well written, but it´s the band members love for the music and the fun they had making the album which shine through the most. I don´t expect a follow-up release from Formaldehydist (but of course be my guest, I´ll definitely give it a listen), but I can highly recommend a purchase of this one if you are a fan of the genre. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ENDARKEN The Plague of Truth

Album · 2021 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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"The Plague of Truth" is the debut full-length studio album by Danish death metal act Endarken. The album was independently released in September 2021. Endarken formed in Copenhagen in 2017, and features members (or ex-members) of several other Danish metal acts like The Kandidate, Billy Boy in Poison, Sinphonia, and HateSphere. The album track single "Insomnia" was released in August 2021, but other than that "The Plague of Truth" is the first release by the band.

Stylistically the material on "The Plague of Truth" is melodic death metal with both snarling aggressive vocals and clean/shouted melodic vocals. The tracks are relatively easy to follow and all feature energetic drumming, melodic guitar riffs, and well played lead guitar parts. The musicianship is solid and although lacking some bite and power the sound production is also decent. The tracks don´t really stick much though, and although the songwriting isn´t of a bad quality, it is pretty standard for the genre, or maybe even a little below standard in some departments. The clean/shouted melodic vocals are for example a bit questionable in quality and execution. It´s not that lead vocalist Tim Nederveen can´t sing or hit the notes right, but he just doesn´t have a particularly interesting voice, and while his snarling vocals aren´t the most interesting either, they are far better than his cleans.

"The Plague of Truth" is upon conclusion a standard quality melodic death metal release, and you´ll be able to find thousands of artists in this style producing music of this quality. Decent but ultimately unremarkable and forgettable. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

MIND-ASHES The Views Obscured

Album · 1997 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"The Views Obscured" is the debut full-length studio album by German technical/progressive metal act Mind-Ashes. The album was released through AFM Records in January 1997. Mind-Ashes formed in 1993 and released the "Soul Manipulation" (1994) demo and the "Thoughts" (1995) EP, before getting signed for the release of "The Views Obscured". The band released two further albums and then disbanded in 2003.

The first thing you notice when listening to "The Views Obscured" is the high level musicianship. These guys are technically skilled and they incorporate loads of that technical skill to their music. To my ears especially two artists come to mind and that´s Sanctuary and especially Death/Control Denied. Mind-Ashes use many of the same types of scales, rhythms, and notes that Chuck Schuldiner were known for using, and may I add on an equally high performance level. The musicianship on this album is at times jaw-dropping virtuosic. The vocals are a combination of raw shouting and slightly more melodic singing and screaming. It´s definitely one of the assets of the album that the vocals are so diverse.

"The Views Obscured" features a sound production, which is clear, powerful, and detailed, perfectly suiting the complexity and sophistication of the music, but still presenting it in a raw and powerful fashion. The songwriting is interesting too, and the progressive song structures are intriguing and keep the listener on his/her toes. I consider "The Views Obscured" a bit of a lost gem to those who are interested in technical/progressive metal and it´s too bad it´s almost impossible to come by anymore. Hopefully it´ll see a reprint one of these days, and a chance for the album to be given a second opportunity to be noticed. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

FEN The Malediction Fields

Album · 2009 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 21 ratings
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One of the early pioneers of what has become known as blackgaze, the London based FEN has been referred to as the English Agolloch and for great reason. Both bands develop lengthy soundscapes that evoke vast desolate terrains that are bereft of hope and fuse the world of atmospheric black metal with post-rock, acoustic guitar passages and nightmarish atmospheres although FEN while following Agolloch’s footsteps, took things into even bleaker depths of depression and without the folk elements.

Formed in 2006 and named after the Fens of East Anglia, the quartet of The Watcher [Frank Allain] (vocals, guitar), Grungyn [Adam Allain] (bass), Theutus [Daniel Spender] (drums) and Draugluin (keyboards) released the EPs “Ancient Sorrow” and “Onset of Winter” before unleashing this ferocious debut THE MALEDICTION FIELDS onto the world. Given the success of the first blackgaze band Alcest, FEN followed the stylistic approach only kept the fiery black metal aspects in tact making their debut sound like an early second wave black metal album that incorporated the world of post-rock.

The seven tracks that make up THE MALEDICTION FIELDS feature atmospheric and ambient soundscapes that alternate between depressive acoustic passages and caustic black metal outbursts and everything in between. While black metal in general is usually uptempo with blastbeats in a furious rampage, FEN opted for a mellower mid-tempo trot. The band has been called the perfect mix of Agalloch, Negura Bunget, Primordial and Burzum but of course that only gets you in the right ballpark. Like many of these bands, The Watcher’s vocals range from raspy screams to clean melodic ones.

Unlike much post-rock and -metal, FEN offers melodic song structures that simply extend the playing times with long repetitive and hypnotic extensions. The track lengths all exceed seven minutes (minus one that misses by two seconds). The song structure also adopts subtle influences from progressive rock with complex arrangements that don’t seem quite so because of the slower ratcheting up effect. Like most bands that fall into the world of blackgaze, this one sort of meanders and implements the harsh tones, timbres and distortion of black metal but basically in the music itself falls into the world of post-rock and mellow prog.

This was highly touted as the next best thing when it was released in 2009 but i can’t say i’m the hugest fan of THE MALEDICTION FIELDS. It’s definitely an interesting and unique experience but it seems lopsided in many ways. While the black metal parts are performed exquisitely, the clean vocal parts are quite weak to my ears. There’s just something that seems to be missing and i can’t quite put my finger on it. The album is also way too long with one too many sprawlers for my liking. The most unsavory parts come when the raspy black metal vocals are singing in tandem with the clean vocals. Some sort of beauty and the beast take that falls flat. Innovative for sure but pleasant to listen to over the long run? Not really. This is definitely one of those albums that once the wow factor wears off it becomes quite average.

NEVERMORE Enemies of Reality

Album · 2003 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 15 ratings
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"Enemies of Reality" is the 5th full-length studio album by US power/thrash metal act Nevermore. The album was released through Century Media Records in July 2003. It´s the successor to "Dead Heart in a Dead World" from 2000 and features the same four-piece lineup who recorded the predecessor. Throughout their career Nevermore were never able to recruit a long lasting second guitarist to compliment Jeff Loomis, although the band´s music was always intented to be played by two guitarists.

"Enemies of Reality" was recorded on a relatively small budget, as a consequence of being the last album Nevermore owed Century Media Records under their original contract. The label wanted the band to sign a new contract before recording the album, while the band wanted to record the album, and then shop around for a new label deal. The situation went on to become frustrating for both band and label, and eventually Century Media Records cut the band´s recording budget to a minimum, which meant Nevermore had to act fast to find a producer and studio time corresponding to the budget they had been given. They brought in former Queensrÿche guitarist Kelly Gray to produce "Enemies of Reality", and it´s one of those producer choices which divides the waters completely.

Both Neil Kernon (who produced the band´s first three albums) and Andy Sneap (who produced "Dead Heart in a Dead World (2000)") were almost universally lauded for their contributions to the preceding album releases, while many fans and critics felt that Gray had created a sub par sound production on "Enemies of Reality". And indeed it is a much more raw and unpolished release than especially its direct predecessor. It´s to the point of being a bit noisy, and even messy sounding, but to my ears it´s not without its charm. In fact I think the chaotic and raw sound production suits the material featured on the album really well. The critics got their will a few years later though when in 2005 "Enemies of Reality" was remixed by Andy Sneap. The remix features a vastly different and more polished mix and it´s pretty surely an aquired taste if you prefer the original sound production or the remixed version of the album. Personally I would never have altered the original as I feel it brought exactly the right rawness to the material...

...material which in most cases are angry, raw, and fast-paced thrashy tracks (except for "Tomorrow Turned Into Yesterday", "Who Decides", and "Noumenon". The two former being power ballads, and the latter being a slow and dark track). As always Nevermore´s music can´t be put into a box, and while there are plenty of powerful thrashy riffs and rhythms featured on the album, it´s a bit more nuanced than that. The music also features melodic US power metal traits and elements from progressive metal. It´s quite dynamic music too featuring both loud heavy parts and more mellow acoustic sections. The musicianship are on a high level on all posts. The rhythm section are rock solid and deliver tight yet organic playing, Loomis is a world class guitarist, able to both shred with the best but also deliver beautiful melodic parts, and Warrel Dane is the icing on the cake. Paatos filled, commanding, and extremely skillfully delivered vocals by the man with the great voice. His vocal lines are often a bit less melodic than on the predecessor, but it probably has a lot to do with the more immediate recording process (many vocal tracks were recorded immediately after recording the instrumental parts for a track, rather than recording all vocals for all tracks, at the end of the recording session).

Upon conclusion "Enemies of Reality" is a bit of the "odd one out" album in the band´s discography. Especially considering the two more successful and lauded albums which bookend it. Personally I always thought it was a nice aggressive kick in the balls (with a few really nice melodic moments to spice things up), at just the right time in Nevermore´s career. They needed to get this album out of their system, to be able to write and record an album as fully developed as "This Godless Endeavor (2005)". I wouldn´t call "Enemies of Reality" Nevermore´s best album, but it´s still a high quality release showing a creative and raw side of the band which works well. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

MORTAL VISION Madness Of Messiah

Single · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Madness of Messiah" is a single release by Ukraine thrash metal act Mortal Vision. The single was independently released in October 2019. Mortal Vision formed in 2019 and "Madness of Messiah" is the band´s first official release. The single features two tracks which are exclusive to this release (they do not appear on the band´s 2021 debut album).

Stylistically this pretty much sums up to 1989 Sepultura worship. Furiously fast-paced and aggressive death/thrash metal, with a lead vocalist in front who sounds an awful lot like Max Cavalera. The riffs are hard edged, both fast-and heavy, the guitar solos screaming chromatic notes, and the rhythm section pound away with great power and conviction. It would be a lie to call this particularly original sounding, but it is damn effective and very entertaining. These guys can play and I don´t think I´ve ever heard anyone come this close to catching the sound of late 80s/early 90s Sepultura before.

The sound production is raw, brutal, and perfectly suiting the materal, and upon conclusion "Madness of Messiah" is a promising first release by Mortal Vision. Sure the lack of a unique sound and the clone factor does drag my rating down just a bit, but Mortal Vision still blow me away with their energy level and fierce aggression and power. That´s worth something to. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

UNLEASHED No sign Of Life

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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"No sign Of Life" is the 14th full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Unleashed. The album was released through Napalm Records in November 2021. It´s the successor to "The Hunt For White Christ" from 2018.

Stylistically you get exactly what you expect from an Unleashed album. Energetic and relatively simple structured old school death metal with predominantly Scandinavian mythology/viking/anti-christianity lyrical themes. The band are as well playing as ever and the material is catchy, effective, and powerful, but if I have to mention one change from the last couple of releases, it´s Johnny Hedlund´s vocal style, which has changed a little bit from his usual snarling aggresive growling towards a slightly more throaty shouting/semi-growling vocal style. It reminds me of how he sounded on some of the less interesting mid-90s releases by the band, and that´s not a positive in my book. It´s a highly subjective opinion though and despite of how I feel about the vocals, they are arguably both powerful and well performed, and I´m sure most listeners won´t have the slightest problem enjoying them.

As usual I have to give lead guitarist Fredrik Folkare a special mention for his contributions. Once again he proves how important he is for Unleashed adding texture, harmony, melody, and some incredibly well played guitar solos to the music, making what could otherwise have been just pretty simple death metal so much more. Just as an example try and listen to what he does on a track like "You Are the Warrior!". But it´s the same on all tracks. If you removed his playing from the album, it would not be nearly as interesting or varied a listening experience.

"No sign Of Life" features a raw, powerful, and detailed sound production, which suits the material well, and upon conclusion Unleashed have done it again...and have released another high quality death metal album. I won´t let my bias towards the vocal style affect my rating and therefore a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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