Metal Music Reviews

BODY COUNT Body Count

Album · 1992 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.19 | 13 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Ice-T had already shown his appreciation for metal and punk on his hip hop classic “The Iceberg / Freedom Of Speech… Just Watch What You Say” with the music of Black Sabbath introducing the album alongside Jello Biafra giving a speech about the impending police state. On his followup “O.G. Original Gangster” he cleverly advertised a new track called “BODY COUNT” which introduced the band of the same name where along with Ernie C (lead guitar, acoustic guitar), D-Rock the Executioner (rhythm guitar), Beatmaster V (drums), Mooseman (bass) and the two Seans: E Sean (sampler, backing vocals) and E. Mac (hype man, backing vocals), he and his posse were determined to jump back into the rock universe that most black musicians had abandoned for the safer ground of soul, funk and hip hop.

On the debut album BODY COUNT, Ice-T and gang followed in the footsteps of T’s solo album’s stylistically and lyrically only they left behind the funky beats and rapped lyrics (mostly) and traded them in for a metal and punk infused musical outburst that took elements of thrash, punk and trad metal and incorporated the hard hitting hip hop subject matter of inner city life. BODY COUNT took everyone by surprise. It shocked the hip hop community which mostly eschewed the world of rock music and strived to separate itself (despite Run-DMC bringing hip hop to the masses with tasty guitar riffing tunes). Of course accusations of selling out plagued Ice-T at this time but he politely reminded his fans that rock WAS black music with its origins stemming from Chuck Berry, Little Richard and of course the great Jimi Hendrix.

With a brash bravado ever present on all his albums, BODY COUNT unapologetically tapped into the world of heavy metal where the band was also condemned for trampling on sacred cows. Metal purists hated this album and when the band played an impromptu appearance opening for Metallica and Guns N Roses in 1993, the band was plodded with dirt clods. Hard to believe but in a genre that is all about shock and awe, many were not open minded enough to allow an all black band to express themselves in the context of heavy distorted guitar oriented music that whites had come to dominate throughout the 80s. Despite the haters, the album still generated a lot of interest following in the footsteps of another black band, Living Colour who had put African-American oriented heavy rock back on the map with their phenomenal debut “Vivid.”

Ice-T generated controversy wherever he went and flipped the middle finger with glee and on BODY COUNT he only continued his “fuck the world” stance and in the process created one of the ugliest albums of his career in a good way of course. The album is bookended by two slams of cops. The introductory skit of “Smoked Pork” finds a cop unwilling to help a downtrodden black man and ends up dead whereas the original version ended with the anthemic “Cop Killer” that triggered the wrath of the entire American police force. All the controversy generated enough pressure for the band to remove the song off future releases that was subsequently replaced by “Freedom Of Speech” which sampled a Jimi Hendrix groove and once again featured Jello Biafra along with Ice-T delivering biting criticism over the state of true freedoms in a country that claims to protect them.

This album is really awesome! Despite the lack of technical musicianship or extraordinary metal talent, this is a lot of fun and displays a lost spirit of music delivering a message. The album is divided up amongst extremely serious topics such as the saddening plight of the African-American communities being left to rot in ghettos, left to battle each other to the death with gang shootings and drug escapism running rampant. This theme is most evident on the title track, “Bowels Of The Devil” and “There Goes The Neighborhood,” but Ice-T has no problem injected a lot of humor into an otherwise bleak outlook on the American culture. “KKK Bitch” is a hilarious sequel to Ice-T’s “The Girl Tried To Kill Me” which narrated an unbelievable tale of a near fatal experience with a dominatrix, however in this case it’s about having nasty sexual relations with the daughter of the KKK! Likewise, one fo the funniest tracks in music history, “Evil Dick” demonstrates how men in general are mere slaves to their master slaves, their saluting members of the priapic libido army.

Ice-T originally rejected the idea of joining his friends’ metal band because his singing voice isn’t exactly the best and that perhaps is the weakest aspect of the album but i couldn’t think of a better rapper to have been involved in this project than Ice-T. His lyrical biting critiques and adept play on words adds a whole other dimension to this music that is missing from most metal bands which more than makes up for the lack of technical prowess. Despite not being the best singer, Ice-T does the job with an interesting mix of singing, semi-rapping and spoken narrations. The rest of the band ain’t bad either. The music mixes thrash metal, punk rock and more classic 80s metal. Ice-T spends the majority of the album critiquing the fucked up American scene but also pontificates against drug use on the melodic well-sung “The Winner Loses” and preaches against racism against whites on “Momma’s Gotta Die Tonight.”

While the controversy behind the track “Cop Killer” may have gotten this album more attention than it would’ve otherwise, the fact is that BODY COUNT is an infectiously well executed album that delivers hard hammering thrash riffs, epic trad metal melodies and brilliantly composed lyrical content. Subjects like voodoo, black ghetto life and African-American subject matter that are completely absent in most metal albums of the era are strewn all about BODY COUNT and make this a fascinating listening experience without sacrificing the true authentic metal experience. Metal purists who don’t like this can go fuck themselves. This album is brilliant on many levels. While the band would continue on and release not so brilliant albums, on this one they shine like no others of the other. A true alternative metal experience that doesn’t get enough love.

MEGADETH United Abominations

Album · 2007 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.41 | 68 ratings
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martindavey87
Following on from 2004’s triumphant return from hiatus (actually, retirement, to be precise), Megadeth’s 2007 album, ‘United Abominations’ sees the band continue along with a renewed vigour, as Dave Mustaine and a fresh line-up charges on with the thrash metal sound of old, proving that Megadeth can still maintain relevance in the new millennium.

Stylistically, this isn’t much different than its predecessor, ‘The System Has Failed’, however, while that album was mostly a Dave Mustaine solo effort with a bunch of guest musicians, ‘United Abominations’ comes from a band united (no pun intended). It’s clear that there’s a chemistry amongst everyone, and a high standard of musicianship. Brothers Glen and Shawn Drover (guitarist and drummer respectively) have already crafted a name for themselves with their band Eidolon, and bassist James LoMenzo has cut his teeth with an impressive résumé which includes the likes of Black Label Society, David Lee Roth and Tim “Ripper” Owens.

And the results are evident immediately, with some of the bands most furious guitar riffs, and an interplay not seen since the days of ‘Rust in Peace’ back in 1990. The music is incredibly tight, and Dave Mustaine’s vocals are as vicious and hate-filled as ever.

If there was any doubt that Megadeth’s comeback was a flash in the pan, then tracks like ‘Sleepwalker’, ‘Never Walk Alone... A Call to Arms’, ‘Washington is Next’, ‘Pray for Blood’, ‘Amerikhastan’ and a rather unnecessary but still pretty cool re-recording of their 1994 hit ‘A Tout le Monde’ are all proof that Megadeth are well and firmly back to their thrash metal roots, with ‘United Abominations’ being another high-quality album among an already impressive discography.

RAMMSTEIN Liebe ist für alle da

Album · 2009 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 18 ratings
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martindavey87
2009’s ‘Liebe ist Fur Alle Da’ is the sixth studio album by German industrial rockers Rammstein. It comes four years after the fairly disappointing and disjointed ‘Rosenrot’, and not only does it completely make up for that last blunder, but it firmly establishes the band, not only as the absolute kings of industrial metal, but as one of the more prominent bands of the entire metal genre.

The most notable difference between ‘Liebe...’ and the previous two releases, ‘Rosenrot’ and 2004’s ‘Reise Reise’, is the production, in which here, Rammstein are a lot heavier, with a more clear and precise sound. The last two albums seemed a bit “muddy” in places, whereas in ‘Liebe...’ there is a better clarity and focus, taking the band right back to the sound of their 2001 masterpiece, ‘Mutter’.

As always, there’re some monstrously crushing guitar riffs which are interspersed brilliantly with keyboards, giving the music plenty of variety, at times either heavy or soft, with dance and electronic influences. Vocalist Till Lindemann pushes his voice harder than ever, from gentle singing to booming roars. But it all works to give the group their own distinctive sound.

With some of Rammstein’s heaviest, most intense or most interesting tracks, such as ‘Ich Tu Dir Weh’, ‘Rammlied’, ‘Pussy’, ‘Haifisch’, ‘Waidmann’s Heil’ and the title track, it’s clear that the German’s are still at the top of their game, and with the usual controversial lyrics, imagery, music videos and live theatrics, ‘Liebe ist Fur Alle Da’ is a sure stamp that Rammstein belong in the upper echelon of metal bands.

LIVING COLOUR Stain

Album · 1993 · Funk Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 11 ratings
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Warthur
Like the preceding Time's Up, Living Colour's Stain doesn't quite deliver up a standout song on the level of the anthemic Cult of Personality, and like Time's Up it adds even more thrash metal influence to the band's funk and jazz-tinged metal foundations. In fact, the dial on the harder-edged and darker influences is dialled up enough to elevate the album above Time's Up somewhat - whilst there's no smash hit on there, there's also a substantially higher level of quality overall, and in terms of the heaviness and complexity of the material involved they aren't quite as enamoured of technical complexity as jazz-death outfits like Atheist were at the time, but they wouldn't be embarrassed sharing a stage with them either.

TODESSTOß Ebne Graun

Album · 2017 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
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Warthur
Todesstoß's Ebne Graun offers perhaps the most bizarre album cover I've seen for a while - it's your standard depressive black metal imagery of Death standing over a shrouded corpse in a coffin in a wasteland, except Death is wearing a galaxy-spangled glam rock jumpsuit and RAWKIN' OUT on a day-glo guitar, and a mystery glow is kindled within the shrouded form. The music you get here is similarly bizarre - a mashup of the glum atmosphere of depressive black metal, the epic track lengths and slow movements of funeral doom, and a slice of weird synthesiser tinklings for spice. Like the cover, it's a weird mixture of elements, but it kind of works.

DOWNSIID The Evolution of Ghetto Rock

Album · 2007 · Rap Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
Fancy that, a rap-rock band in 2007. Career suicide right there. If 2004 saw the nu metal subgenre clinging on for dear life as new musical trends preceded it, then by 2007 it was well and truly dead and buried. And while many of the bands who’d had some level of success over the genres peak years had enough name value to at least stagger along comfortably, bands like Downsiid were screwed from the outset.

Which is a shame, actually, as 2007’s ‘The Evolution of Ghetto Rock’, the debut album by Texan five-piece rap rockers Downsiid, isn’t a bad album, and showed that even though nu metal was dead, there was still plenty of bands out there blending rock with hip hop and using simple song arrangements to produce some great music.

With a variety of hard-hitting raps, shouts and singing, along with heavily de-tuned guitars and plenty of groove, ‘...Ghetto Rock’ is a throwback to those nu metal bands that were always a step below the upper echelon of groups, but had a decent hit or two that gave them some level of success. In particular, Sevendust and Nonpoint come to mind. There’re plenty of electronic effects used to give the music some flavour, and a nice mixture of heavy, pumping songs with softer, acoustic ones.

Unfortunately however, with no notable hits or career milestones, you’re not likely to stumble across these guys unless it’s by accident (in my case, I saw this CD for £1 in a second-hand shop and took the gamble that it looked like something I’d enjoy), which is a shame, because songs like ‘No Rain’, ‘Texas Get Up’, ‘Grab the Cash’, ‘I’ and ‘Take Out the World’ are all pretty good, and show that the genre was still alive and well, even if it wasn’t the mainstream juggernaut it once was.

SAVATAGE Believe

Boxset / Compilation · 1998 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.57 | 3 ratings
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martindavey87
‘Believe’ is a 1998 compilation album by American metal band Savatage. It was only released in Japan, and focuses primarily on the bands 90’s output, most notably with cuts from the studio albums ‘Handful of Rain’ and ‘Dead Winter Dead’, as well as the two live albums ‘Japan Live ‘94’ and ‘Ghost in the Ruins: A Tribute to Criss Oliva’. With that in mind, while it serves its purpose well as some kind of 90’s commemoration, it’s a bit of pointless and uninspired release.

And what’s up with that lame cover art?

Still, for what it’s worth, Savatage are one of my all time favourite bands, and the material on offer here is still bloody brilliant! From hard rockers like ‘Taunting Cobras’ and ‘Handful of Rain’ to symphonic epics such as ‘Chance’, ‘This is the Time’ and ‘Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)’, while there are other songs from the studio albums that are missing, these are still great tracks. Plus, you get the song ‘Believe’ from the ‘Streets’ album, which is always a fan favourite.

And as for the live tracks... well, I’ve always been a sucker for studio albums, but still, you’ve got the likes of ‘Edge of Thorns’, ‘Gutter Ballet’, ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ and ‘The Dungeons Are Calling’, so there’s some good stuff there too.

But as a whole, looking at this album in retrospect, it’s pointless. There are other Savatage compilations that do a fantastic job of covering the bands entire career. Whereas this one is best left for the absolute, most die-hard and committed collectors, like me, and even then, I’m never going to listen to it.

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness

Album · 1995 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 4.60 | 23 ratings
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Necrotica
One of the best traits Billy Corgan has always had as a songwriter is that he’s incredibly skilled at making mountains out of molehills. Much like Bruce Springsteen, he has the ability to take the mundane and transform it into the most grand and sweeping thing you’ve ever heard. Back in the 90s, he took the genre of alternative rock and injected it with a sense of artistry and grace that immediately set The Smashing Pumpkins apart from the majority of their grungy, down-to-earth peers. And let’s be clear here: it’s not like the band were strangers to grunge or alternative metal themselves. Songs like “Cherub Rock,” “Zero,” and “Quiet” are all infused with a murky, dirty tone and downtuned guitar work that act as a piledriver to the ears. However, as pretentious as Corgan might have been (let’s be fair here, he was… and still is), he knew that adding a heightened level of grandeur to his chosen genre would make his band stand out. Gish and Siamese Dream were already building up to the peak of this evolution, especially the latter which would become known as a classic in its own right. And even through the group’s inner turmoil, the classic lineup remained (Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlain, James Iha, and D’arcy Wretzky) to cut their second - and arguably their final - classic. But back then, was anybody really prepared for a full-blown 2-hour double disc by these guys?

I’d imagine not. Even as double albums go, 2 straight hours is a lot to ask of someone’s time - especially when hearing Billy Corgan’s nasally whine throughout that duration. So it’s quite astonishing, then, that nearly every moment has an important place in Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Granted, it should probably go without saying that - with a duration as long as this - there’s really no stone left unturned. Alternative rock, progressive rock, symphonic rock, art rock, shoegaze, psychedelia, grunge, and heavy metal are all fairly represented at different times, altogether sculpting one of the most eclectic works of the 90s. But the artistic growth of the band (or more specifically, Billy Corgan, considering he wrote the vast majority of the record) doesn’t stop there. Much like a play or a film laced with intermissions, Mellon Collie is separated by two different acts: Dawn to Dusk and Twilight to Starlight. A number of songs play into this concept as well, such as “We Only Come Out at Night” naturally appearing in the second disc to represent the twilight or the beautiful piano-driven opening title track lifting the figurative curtains to signify the coming of dawn. As for the lyrics themselves, each song acts as a specific little vignette or a small puzzle piece; this isn’t really a concept album in the traditional sense (there’s no actual arc or storyline), but rather a grand jigsaw puzzle composed of miniature stories that correlate in some way to their respective discs.

As such, the relationship between tension and release is one of the biggest draws of Mellon Collie. Because of the wildly varying dynamics, the album constantly goes back and forth with its bipolar nature like a seesaw as it traverses through every facet of the band’s experimental tendencies. “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” and “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” like to swell and build their dynamics to satisfying conclusions in a progressive rock fashion, while tunes like “Tales of a Scorched Earth” and “X.Y.U.” present the band in its ugliest form with pummeling metal riffs and furious blasts of guitar feedback. Likewise, there are plenty of delicate ballads that help mitigate the intensity of the propulsive rockers, as one might expect on such a long-winded journey. Notably, two of these are the only songs not written by Billy Corgan himself: guitarist James Iha wrote the album’s closers, “Take Me Down” and “Farewell and Goodnight,” both of which close out their respective sides in a serene manner. But that’s not to say they’re the best ballads on offer; in my mind, the gorgeously layered dream pop number “By Starlight” easily wins in that regard. “Cupid De Locke” is another highlight, using unorthodox percussion in the form of saltshakers to propel its easygoing rhythms and flighty tempo. As I mentioned before, tension and release is what makes Mellon Collie so consistently fun to listen to. It’s all about the different yins and yangs of volume and style, all countering each other in fresh new ways. If you want the best showing of this, listen to “X.Y.U.” and “We Only Come Out at Night,” which play back-to-back and yet contrast each other in every way. The former is a brutal Melvins-esque jab of sludgy alternative metal, and the latter is a quaint ballad with a light swing rhythm. How the latter follows up the former so well, I’ll never know.

I’ll be completely blunt about this: I’m not normally a fan of double albums. With so much content to pack into one recording, it almost seems like a guarantee that you’ll encounter something that should have stayed on the cutting room floor. It’s a problem that’s plagued quite a few albums in the past, including (in my opinion, at least) The Beatles’ self-titled White Album and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. This is the way I see things: if you’re going to stuff your record with more than one disc full of material, you’d better make sure to bring your A-game and take special care in every track to make sure it has a purpose. There might be a few weaker cuts on Mellon Collie (“Love” and “Beautiful” come to mind), but there was never a time that I thought they actually crippled the album in any severe way. Considering this is a 28-track record with 121 minutes to its runtime, it’s insane to think that even the throwaways are still as well-written as they are. If you gave “Love” and “Beautiful” to an album from a lower-tier alternative rock band from that era, they might have been considered highlights; think about that.

There was once a time when I thought Siamese Dream was The Smashing Pumpkins’ true peak, with Mellon Collie at a close second. However, that opinion has been slowly reversing with the passage of time. The more time I’ve given this album to grow and cultivate in my eardrums, the more its phenomenal consistency and emotional potency have also grown. Moreover, Mellon Collie just feels important. Alternative rock needed something this grandiose and diverse, whether the practitioners or listeners of the genre wanted to dispute that or not. Such a fully-realized masterwork only comes around once in a lifetime, and you’d be wise to lend an ear to its timeless tunes if you haven’t already.

DREAM THEATER Distance Over Time

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
When I first started getting into metal, one of the very first bands I checked out was American progressive metal band Dream Theater. They were the ones to really get me into prog, as I enjoyed many of their albums, starting with Octavarium, Awake and Train of Thought, before eventually checking out their full discography and loving most of it, with Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, in particular, being one of my all-time favorite albums. While I’ve become a fan of many other prog bands over the years, DT are the ones who started it all for me, and so every time they release a new album I get excited, waiting with bated breath to hear what they will come up with next. Their previous release, The Astonishing, was an extremely polarizing release, to say the least, as it took the band in a much lighter, more rock-infused direction than normal, being a massive 2+ hour concept album that at times even felt like a Broadway musical. I personally loved it and considered it to be possibly their very best effort to date, but to say most fans disagreed with me, would be a major understatement. Following such a divisive release, it’s no surprise that the band decided to re-think things a bit, which led to a tour where they focused on classic releases, particularly their breakthrough album Images & Words, and then when it came time to release a new album, they looked to the past to help create a new release that could hopefully win back folks who were disappointed with the previous release. That upcoming release, Distance Over Time, is now almost here, and while it’s been teased as a “return to the roots”, it has turned out to be an album that has the elements fans would expect from the band and does a solid job of providing some entertaining songs, but it doesn’t quite capture the magic of many of the band’s classic releases, nor does it push their music forward in a significant way.

If I could describe Distance Over Time with one simple phrase, it would be “back to the basics”. Compared to The Astonishing and some of the band’s other more ambitious releases, this one feels surprisingly simple and straight-forward, focusing on all of the band’s main aspects at their surface level, without digging too deep or without throwing in too many surprises. Fans who’ve been disappointed with some of the band’s recent albums may enjoy this one a bit more, as it’s by far their heaviest release since at least Black Clouds & Silver Linings, with almost every song having some pretty heavy, chunky lead guitar work from John Petrucci. At the same time, the band has always done a great job of mixing together heavy and melodic passages, with all of their classics featuring a perfect blend of the two, and so obviously that is still true of this release, with Petrucci providing some excellent melodic guitar work to go along with the heavier passages, as well as some typically excellent keyboard work from Jordan Rudess. I find the band is at their best when allowing one element of their music to dominate for a while, without losing sight of the rest of their sound, which is something they’ve pulled off wonderfully in the past, while this release doesn’t really go one way or the other for very long on most of the tracks, instead opting to blend heavy and melodic passages together near seamlessly. This has led to some mixed results, with some tracks pulling it off a whole lot better than others. One thing’s for sure, though: Petrucci and Rudess, along with bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Mangini, are exceptional musicians, among the absolute best in the world with their respective instruments, and so everything is performed to perfection, with the sound production being equally flawless.

One surprising aspect of Distance Over Time is its length. Looking through the band’s discography, it’s their shortest album since their debut, When Dream and Day Unite, and is only their third release to clock in at under an hour (excluding bonus tracks, that is), which is quite surprising for a band known to make their albums over 75 minutes. Even more surprisingly, it joins the aforementioned debut and The Astonishing to become just their third release in 14 albums to not have any tracks over 10 minutes (though the latter can be disqualified from this, as it’s a concept album meant to be treated as a whole, where the other two are entirely song focused.) For a band known to make epic, long and complex tracks, this comes as quite the surprise, to say the least. With all things taken into consideration, it feels to me like the band went out of their way to make a more accessible album, without turning to outside sources as they did on the previously ill-fated Falling Into Infinity. There’s still plenty of excellent, highly technical instrumental work, of course, and a few tracks do have some of the more complex arrangements longtime fans would expect, but it definitely feels like the band has stripped their sound down to its bare essentials at this point, which has made for an entertaining, but somewhat disjointed album. Songwriting is fairly hit and miss, though most tracks are at least solidly enjoyable, and it certainly isn’t as wildly inconsistent as the likes of Systematic Chaos, Octavarium or the aforementioned Falling Into Infinity. However, the most disappointing thing about this album to me, is that by going back to the roots of their sound in such an extreme way, it feels like they’ve both ignored any of the evolution they’ve gone through over the years, as well as taken away a lot of the things that make their music so special.

Another area where the release is a bit mixed is the vocals. Unlike many fans, I’ve always considered James LaBrie to be an excellent singer, and he has contributed heavily to some of my favorite works by the band, with The Astonishing, in particular, is one of my favorite performances from him to date, as it allowed to really showcases many different aspects of his voice, and he was clearly fully invested in the lyrics, which led to some amazing vocals from his all around. On this album, I find his vocals to be a bit all over the place, though some of this has to do with an increased use of vocal effects on his voice, which seem more noticeable than usual, as well as the fact that some of the vocal melodies on this release just aren’t that great, unfortunately. However, there are still some tracks where he gets to shine, and there are moments where he’s clearly invested in the lyrics and gets to deliver some great vocal melodies. If anything, his vocals, like the album, on the whole, are simply a bit more inconsistent than I’d like, though they’re still quite good, more often than not.

And of course, the most important aspect of any album is the songwriting, which is where this album is solid, but not up to par with any of the band’s best releases, or even most of their albums in general. Unlike most fans, I’ve quite enjoyed each of their past several releases, with Systematic Chaos being their last release I would consider less than great. This album is considerably better than that one, thanks to the songwriting never falling as low as that one did in places, but it still rarely reaches the heights the band is capable of. They sure were spot on with their picks for lead singles, though, with opening track “Untethered Angel” being a very fun, hard-hitting track that strikes a perfect balance between heavy and melodic, while “Fall into the Light” is just as good. The former opens with some very melancholy guitar work from Petrucci, before quickly exploding and turning into a heavy mid-paced track, with the keyboards lending a dark atmosphere to the proceedings. Vocals are solid during the verses and pick up big time during the chorus, which speeds up and has some excellent vocal melodies, managing to be very catchy and melodic. As always, the track has an extended and highly impressive instrumental section in the middle, as well as a very nice outro performed mostly by Petrucci. The latter track is almost the reverse of the opener, in that it starts out with some very heavy riffs, clearly inspired by Metallica, as many of Petrucci’s riffs are, before speeding up and turning into a pretty fast-paced and fun track during the verses. Once the chorus hits, though, the track slows down and gets very melodic and atmospheric, with some excellent vocal melodies and more strong vocals from LaBrie. The track does an excellent job of blending metal and rock, with some excellent soft passages in the second half, where Petrucci showcases some beautiful, highly emotional guitar work, to go along with the already soft chorus. In between those two tracks is the slightly less successful “Paralyzed”. It’s a more modern sounding track, opening with some very heavy, modern sounding riffs. It moves along at a rather slow pace and feels pretty basic throughout, like the kinda song that could be played by some random band off the streets. Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s a solid track, as the verses are solidly engaging, and the build-up to the chorus is great, but overall, the track just feels like it’s far beneath the band’s capabilities, with the end of the chorus, in particular, being incredibly underwhelming, and it only gets worse at the end of the track, when it becomes highly repetitive and annoying. The verses and a really good instrumental section, with more melodic and beautiful soloing from Petrucci, are enough to salvage the track, but not nearly enough to make it particularly special or memorable.

Moving along, the band follows up “Fall into the Light” with another excellent track in “Barstool Warrior”. This one has a very classic DT feel to it, with some very melodic guitar work that definitely would have fit in great on Images & Words, mixed in with some even more beautiful melodies where the guitar tone feels similar to the outro to “The Ministry of Lost Souls”, which is one of my personal favorites by the band, despite being on a largely uneven album. The track is fairly laid back throughout, being one of the band’s more melodic and more prog rock infused tracks, but it’s very beautiful throughout, with some excellent vocal melodies and a very strong chorus, as well as the always great instrumental work. If the band wanted this album to be a return to the roots then this track is definitely one of the best cases of them pulling that off to perfection. Next is “Room 137”, the first song written by Mangini since he joined the band. In fact, with Mangini and Myung contributing to the lyrics, that leaves Rudess as the only member not to do so on this album, which is interesting, as the past three releases have been largely written by Petrucci, with a song here and there written by LaBrie, so I guess it’s nice to see this album being more of a team effort. Anyway, “Room 137” is, unfortunately, the worst track here. It starts off inoffensively enough, with more dark and heavy guitar work during the first verse, which only gets better during the second verse where its enhanced by some excellent backing keys. The chorus is also pretty decent and very atmospheric, and obviously, the instrumental section is great. Sadly, there’s one vocal section that pops up a couple times, where it sounds like LaBrie’s attempt at the intro to the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and between bad sound mixing and just poor arrangements in general, the result is unbearably bad, and is easily one of the worst things I’ve ever heard from DT. It’s bad enough to completely ruin an otherwise solid (if not great) track. Thankfully, that is the only real dud of the album, and things pick up again with “S2N”, another very classic DT sounding track, mixed in with some weird voiceovers near the beginning. Once it gets going it’s a mid-paced track, with some fairly heavy guitar work, though it has a slight rock feel to it. The track moves along at a nice pace, being fun and somewhat upbeat, but not particularly fast. It has a great chorus, as well as some excellent keyboard work from Rudess throughout, and it has a very heavy, outstanding outro from Petrucci, that helps close things out in a great way.

Moving towards the end, the band delivers an absolute masterpiece in “At Wit’s End”, which is one of the tracks written by LaBrie. I mention that only because it’s by far the best-sung track on the album, with some very emotional lyrics, as well as a strong, very powerful performance from LaBrie, where he’s clearly fully invested in the lyrics. The track, which is the longest in the album, clocking in at 9:20, is very much a mini-epic, in that it packs in about as many highlights and surprises as one would expect from a lengthy track, without actually going over 10 minutes. It opens with a long, hard-hitting intro from Petrucci, before slowing down with a nice, melodic opening verse, which then gives way to an amazing, very melodic and beautiful chorus, where LaBrie is in absolute top form. The pace picks up for a heavy, very intense second verse, with some very hard-hitting riffs, and this gives way to a kind of secondary chorus, which is also very nice, though much more intense than the main chorus. After that, we get an excellent extended instrumental section, with some of the best work from Rudess on the album, as well as more excellent shredding from Petrucci, and then the music calms down for a bit, leading to a very nice almost ballad-like sequence, with more very soft and excellent vocals, and of course more amazing guitar work, and then the track has an extended intro, with more great vocals and melodic leads, before a long, dramatic fade out. It’s definitely the kind of complex, dynamic and highly engaging track I love from the band, and it’s easily the best on the album.

Following the longest on the album, we have the shortest in “Out of Reach”, a nice ballad with some more soft and melodic guitar work, as well as some strong vocals from LaBrie. It has a very strong chorus and is a nice track overall, but it feels like it just starts to pick up steam, before suddenly fading out and then ending, before it has time to fully develop. Closing out the album is “Pale Blue Dot”, the second longest track on the album. It isn’t quite as epic as “At Wit’s End”, but it’s still an excellent track in its own right. It opens with some nice ambient keyboards as well as some voiceovers, which lasts for around a minute, before some more chunky guitars kick in, as some more epic keys from Rudess, which have a slight symphonic feel to them. The song stays heavy during the verses and moves along at a good pace, though the highlight of the track is the epic symphonic keys from Rudess, which actually get even better as the song goes on. The chorus is rather subdued, but also very nice. It’s a fairly straightforward track, with a fairly standard structure, though it has an excellent, extended instrumental section in the middle, as well as one last amazing outro from Petrucci to close out the album. The digipak version of the album has a bonus track called “Viper King”. It’s a rather upbeat and fun track, with a bit of a classic rock feel to it. In fact, I initially wondered if it was a cover track, but it’s actually an original, written by LaBrie. It’s a fun, fast-paced track, with a really catchy chorus. It’s another more accessible track, which doesn’t really showcase the band’s talents, but for a bonus track it’s a lot of fun, so I can’t complain.

I always have high expectations for Dream Theater, and while Distance Over Time is a very good release, overall, it doesn’t fully meet those expectations. I’ve admittedly been a bit hard on the album, so much so that the final score below may be hard to believe, but that’s large because I love the band so much and I expect better from them. With that being said, as a “back to basics” sort of album, it’s a highly enjoyable release, and it certainly contains traces of all the elements fans of the band have come to love, even if it doesn’t have anything over 10 minutes, or any instrumental tracks. The songwriting is a tad more inconsistent than I’d like, but there’s definitely more winners than losers here, with even the worst track being mostly fine outside of one huge misfire, while the four best tracks are all amazing, and every bit as good as I expect from the band. Overall, it’s an album I’m sure any longtime fan of the band will enjoy, and those disappointed with the direction the band took on The Astonishing will most likely enjoy this one a lot more, while any prog fan who’s somehow never heard of the band should find this a good enough place to start, as it has all of the band’s main elements, while being a bit more accessible than most of their other albums. Personally, I hope this more restrained approach is a one-time thing and that they dial up the epic again next time around, but for what it is, I’d still take it over anything from most other prog bands, so it’s still a winner, in my book.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/02/09/dream-theater-distance-over-time-review/

MALEVOLENT CREATION The 13th Beast

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
It was very sad news last year when it was announced that Malevolent Creation vocalist Brett Hoffmann had passed away after a battle with colon cancer. The 13th Beast, their 13th studio album naturally, comes only 6 months after his passing suggesting that the current line-up was already in place before his death. There’s been plenty of musicians through the ranks of Malevolent Creation over the years and there’s a completely new line-up here since 2015’s Dead Man’s Path with original guitarist Phil Fasciana the only person left.

Fortunately as is immediately apparent on opener End The Torture that it doesn’t seem to have made a lot of difference to the overall sound of the band. The 13th Beast continues their tradition of aggressive Death metal with thrash overtones. It’s all pretty full on relentless stuff with only occasional dips in tempo but the albums stuffed with great riffs preventing any feeling of monotony setting in. You’ll find a few less than stellar albums in the bands mid-period but the last few albums have all hit the spot for me and The 13th Beast follows suit and is as good as anything they’ve released in the last 10 years to my ears. Whilst few songs particularly stand out this is more a mark of the overall quality than any particular weakness in any of them though End The Torture and The Beast Awakened may just be my pick of the bunch for no other reason than the strength of the guitar riffs.

All the new guys do the name justice and play really well with drummer Philip Cancilla being particularly impressive with his dexterity on the usual array of blast beats, fast fills and speedy double kick patterns. New vocalist Lee Wollenschlaeger, who’s also on guitar, has a lower register than Hoffmann and more one dimensional in his delivery but is certainly an adequate replacement.

No great surprises here then but Malevolent Creation’s reputation thankfully remains intact with a great death metal album to get the year off to a good start.

METALLICA Through the Never

Live album · 2013 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 6 ratings
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martindavey87
Right, you know the deal. It’s Metallica, and it’s a live album, which means live versions of songs we’ve already heard countless live versions of. ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘One’, ‘Fuel’, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘Battery’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Creeping Death’ etc, etc... Whether it’s on previous live releases, singles b-sides, live DVD’s, or the fact that Metallica record every show to download from their website anyway, we’ve already heard live takes of these tracks plenty of times.

And I mentioned ‘Master of Puppets’ twice just now. Were you paying attention?

Take heed though, for ‘Through the Never’ isn’t just another live album (well, it is, but let me explain). It’s also the soundtrack to their live “movie”, which is a bit of a weird concept, but fair play to them for trying something new. A live concert interlaced with movie footage that the band had had shot, featuring actors and telling a narrative based around a roadie for said concert, it wasn’t a massive success for the band, but this live album on its own merits is still very good.

Because yeah, essentially, movie aspects aside, this is just another live album.

Released in 2013, it shows that the band still sound great live, which is a venue in which Metallica has always flourished. With a well-rounded set that incorporates most of their major hits (sixteen tracks is pretty limited by Metallica standards, but they did the best with what they had), it’s got a good sound, and everyone’s on top form.

Overall, this isn’t an essential album to own, although it’s very good, and has a very well-rounded and easily digestible set for any newcomers, but ultimately, Metallica have released other live albums that are more in-depth than this, making this serve as nothing more than something for collectors and fans to own.

SEPULTURA Beneath the Remains

Album · 1989 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 86 ratings
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UMUR
"Beneath the Remains" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Brazilian thrash metal act Sepultura. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in September 1989. Sepultura was formed in 1984 and released an early death/thrash hybrid in "Morbid Visions (1986)" and followed it up by the more purely thrash metal oriented "Schizophrenia" from 1987. By that time very few outside Brazil had heard of Sepultura, but that would radically change when they were picked up by Roadrunner Records, who gave "Beneath the Remains" a worldwide release. An almost instant hit among thrash/death metal fans the world over, "Beneath the Remains" to this day remains one of the seminal thrash metal albums in the brutal end of the scale.

Stylistically the music is aggressive and energetic thrash metal with the raw barking vocals of Max Cavalera in front. While the music is thrash metal to the bone, Sepultura was often associated with the early 90s death metal scene, and there are indeed some death metal traits to be found on "Beneath the Remains". The death metal influence is predominantly a result of the Morrisound Recording sound production courtesy of Sepultura and Scott Burns. "Beneath the Remains" was recorded in Nas Nuvens Studio, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in December 1988, but mixed at Morrisound Recording, Tampa, Florida. It´s one of the first thrash metal releases to be graced by such a meaty, brutal, and heavy sound production, and the sound made the album stand out upon release.

Of course that wouldn´t have been enough, if the songwriting didn´t follow suit. But the material on "Beneath the Remains" is generally very well written and memorable. Personally I´ve always felt that the first part of the album is slightly more memorable than the second part of the album, and especially tracks like "Inner Self", "Stronger Than Hate", "Mass Hypnosis", and the title track stand out. The quality and catchiness of the remaining tracks are really high too though. The greatest asset regarding the material is probably that it has a unique sound. Many artists can play and write moderately interesting material, but Sepultura wrote material for "Beneath the Remains", which sounds original. You know almost instantly that it´s them playing when you hear the music.

In addition to the fast-paced thrash metal riffing, and the mid-paced heavy grooves, the music also features a couple of atmospheric parts, and some blistering solo work. The latter is both fast-paced screaming chromatic solos and more melodic themes and solos. The musicianship is strong and although Max Cavalera is a pretty one-dimensional vocalist with greatly accented vocals, his voice and phrasing still suits the music well.

So upon conclusion "Beneath the Remains" is arguably what you´d call a thrash metal "classic". It´s not that there aren´t artists out there who hadn´t released more ferocious material before this album was released (Slayer, Possessed, Kreator/Sodom/Destruction, and Dark Angel, just to mention a few), but Sepultura still managed to put a more brutal twist on thrash metal that helped build a bridge to death metal without being death metal, and that was something pretty new at the time. At least in the perfected form as it´s heard on "Beneath the Remains". A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

SANCTUARY Into The Mirror Black

Album · 1989 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 16 ratings
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UMUR
"Into The Mirror Black" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US power metal act Sanctuary. The album was released through CBS/Epic Records in late 1989 (Europe)/early 1990 (US and Japan). Sanctuary were formed in 1985 and released their debut full-length studio album "Refuge Denied" in 1987. The album was quite successful and also received some additional attention as a result of Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) acting as producer. A few years down the line and Sanctuary were ready with a new batch of original tracks. This time they chose Howard Benson (Motörhead, Apocalyptica, Sepultura) to produce. It´s interesting to note that Joe Barresi is credited as engineering assistent on the album. Barresi later became quite prolific and has worked with artists like Tool, Isis, Melvins, Kyuss, Soundgarden, and Enslaved.

Stylistically the music on "Into The Mirror Black" continues the US power metal style initiated on "Refuge Denied (1987)". It´s quite hard edged, pretty heavy, and even thrashy at times, but ultimately still closer to power metal than to thrash metal. In addition to heavy riffs, blistering solo work, and heavy and more up-tempo rhythms, the music features the distinct sounding vocals of Warrel Dane. While the music is both well played and well written too, it´s the vocals which make the whole difference. They are the defining element of Sanctuary´s sound, and the feature in the music which makes Sanctuary stand out on the scene. Compared to the dominant use of high pitched vocals on "Refuge Denied (1987)", Dane´s vocals on "Into The Mirror Black" are a bit more varied with use of lower registers too. He still screams and sings in a very high register when that is called for though.

Sanctuary released a promotional video for "Future Tense", which is understandable as that particular track kicks off the album in great heavy power metal style and also is among the highlights of the album. It´s apparent from the get go that the band have stepped up in all departments. Songwriting, musicianship, and production values. There is great bite, aggression, and conviction in the delivery of the music and paired with the relatively powerful sound production the album comes off as a high quality product. The lyrics are also worth reading, dealing with both politics, organized religion, and more personal issues. So "Into The Mirror Black" is all in all a great quality sophomore album by Sanctuary. Sadly it would also be their last album before disbanding in 1992. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

AC/DC Rock Or Bust

Album · 2014 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.20 | 15 ratings
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UMUR
"Rock Or Bust" is the 15th internationally released full-length studio album by Australian hard/heavy rock act AC/DC and the first since "Black Ice" from 2008. The album was released through Albert/Columbia Records in November 2014. Since the release of "Black Ice (2008)" and the subsequent tour there´s been one lineup change as original rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young was diagnosed with dementia and as a consequence retired from the band. He is replaced here by his nephew Stevie Young. Stevie had previously filled in for Malcolm on AC/DC´s 1988 U.S. tour, when the latter was treated for his alcohol dependency.

It wasn´t the only drama occuring during the writing and recording of "Rock Or Bust", as drummer Phil Rudd decided to turn up 10 days too late for the recording sessions and nearly got himself kicked out of the band. His eviction from AC/DC eventually happened anyway though as a consequence of Rudd being arrested in early November 2014 for attempting to procure the murder of two men and for drug possession. The most serious charges were later dropped but as Rudd did receive a house arrest sentence, he was unable to tour with AC/DC in support of "Rock Or Bust" and the band decided to recruit Chris Slade instead. Slade also played with AC/DC from 1989 to 1994 and appeard on "The Razors Edge (1990)".

Stylistically the music on "Rock Or Bust" is more or less AC/DC as they´ve always sounded, but that´s really no surprise by now. While they´ve always released quality material, development of sound stopped many years ago. You always know what you´re gonna get when you put on a new AC/DC album. It´s blues based hard rock/heavy rock with a hard rock beat, blues based heavy riffs, blistering blues based solos by Angus Young, and Brian Johnson´s unmistakable rusty voice in front. So when you can´t say much new about the musical style, it´s the quality of the songwriting that´s of most interest. Angus Young apparently constructed most of the tracks from bits and pieces left over from the recording sessions of previous albums, which would make sense since one part of the main songwriting team retired. That´s not audible at all though, if such a songwriting method should suggest a drop in quality, as the material on "Rock Or Bust" is generally both catchy, powerful, and memorable. It´s hard to argue that the songwriting style isn´t slightly one-dimensional, and while all tracks are enjoyable while they play, there are only a few really strong tracks featured on the album. That´s nothing new when it comes to AC/DC releases though.

It´s not audible that the guys in AC/DC aren´t exactly youngsters anymore either. Johnson screams/sings with as much power as he has always done, the rhythm section and new rhythm guitarist Stevie Young plays raw and intense, and the guitar solos by Angus Young are as energetic, well played, and inspired as ever. The sound production is also both powerful and raw, so upon conclusion "Rock Or Bust" is yet another quality release by AC/DC. It´s more of the same though, so depending on how you feel about that views may vary. Personally I enjoy the album a lot, but I don´t count it among their strongest releases and it doesn´t shake my foundation either, but a 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved.

BLASPHEMY Gods of War

Album · 1993 · War Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 5 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
BLASPHEMY may have been one of the more influential bands of the early years of extreme metal by crafting the first example of what would be called war metal, war black metal or bestial black metal but they were hardly the most prolific band around. The band formed all the way back in 1984 in Vancouver, BC, Canada but didn’t even release the first demo until 1989 and the debut album “Fallen Angel Of Doom” until 1990. It took three years to record the followup GODS OF WAR and then it was only slightly over 20 minutes long. All re-releases have included the demo “Blood Upon The Altar” tagged to the end to make it a full-album’s length.

GODS OF WAR doesn’t deviate too much from what was laid down on the debut but did find a new bassist joining Satan’s team with Ace Gustapo Necrosleezer and Vaginal Commands. As far as i know i think BLASPHEMY initiated this trend of ridiculous stage names within black metal and the core metal subs that would catch on. One of the main reasons for a delay in a sophomore release was the souring of relations with the Wild Records label which despite “Fallen Angel Of Doom” selling fairly well, failed to pay any royalties to the band for it. The band sought out a new label and ended up on the well established Osmose that had already found success with bands like Samuel, Massacre, Immortal and Pan.Thy.Monium.

Focusing more on the grindcore influences of Repulsion and the hardcore punk of Discharge, BLASPHEMY crank out an even more intense slap in the face of aggression with GODS OF WAR. As succinct as the playing time is the album runs on full throttle for its brief 20 mintute tirade. The guitar riffs are on fire as they whiz up and down the scales with Morbid Angel inspired squealing solos and heavier percussive drive that makes GODS OF WAR sound like a true soundtrack for the battle field. Nocturnal Grave Desecrator and Black Winds’ guttural growls are more diverse this time around despite never approaching intelligible and the overall song structures are more varied with slow churning doom riffs finding a place amongst the buzzsaw down tuned chugging riffs.

Just as they were getting started, BLASPHEMY took a hiatus in 1994 and wouldn’t regroup until 1999. The band has always been a bit unusual but remained so for even as they got back together have still never released another studio album to date, however they have released a few live albums as well as a couple more demos. GODS OF WAR takes BLASPHEMY to the next step but it’s rather disappointing that it was cut off in the middle of the album and then never has found resolution. Perhaps it all lends an air of mystery around the band that debuted the wonderful world of war metal, which i guess is fitting since the music is just as unstable and ready to collapse under its own weight. Nevertheless, GODS OF WAR is the perfect followup even if it’s way too short.

BLASPHEMY Fallen Angel of Doom....

Album · 1990 · War Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 7 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The fiery pits where the earliest black metal bands were forged were sparing in their early yields of fledgling bands developing the style that didn’t quite scratch the itch on Venom’s earliest recordings. While Scandinavia was the hotbed of second wave black metal taking the world by storm with Bathory and Mayhem crafting the earliest known sounds to be called true black metal, half the world away in Vancouver, BC, Canada another band had its hand in crafting its own cacophonous sonic terror. BLASPHEMY formed all the way back in 1984 but wouldn’t release the first demo “Blood Upon The Altar” until 1989. While Bathory and Mayhem were responsible for unleashing the first black metal recordings onto an unsuspecting world, BLASPHEMY was still in its embryonic stage gestating the most brutal and aggressive noisefest possible.

The wait was worth it since BLASPHEMY crafted the earliest sounds that would be deemed war metal (also known as war black metal or bestial black metal). This band took the aggressive, the cacophonous and the chaotic to even more extreme levels by following in the footsteps of some of the 80s most intense metal bands like Sodom and Possessed along with early grindcore like Repulsion as well as the death metal sounds of Autopsy, Sarcófago and early Sepultura. After the demo was released BLASPHEMY followed up with the debut FALLEN ANGEL OF DOOM the next year with cover art so vile and blasphemous that the style of a war metal bands to come would copy the tricolor schematic of black, white and red with monstrous depictions of Satanic beasts and anti-Christian themes. And according to Terrorizer magazine, this album is heavier than the entire forests of Canada falling on your big toe.

BLASPHEMY was a quartet and donned unusual Gwar-like personas with terrifying stage names like Black Hearts of Damnation and Impurity (drums), Nocturnal Grave Desecrator and Black Winds (bass, lead vocals), Traditional Sodomizer of the Goddess of Perversity (rhythm guitars, backing vocals) and the crazed lead guitarist Caller Of The Storms who happened to be one of the very few black guitarists who would forsake the world of funk and hip hop and join the ranks of the noisiest legion of sonic terrorists the early 90s had to offer in the world of black metal. With subject matter steeped in Satanism and demonology, BLASPHEMY became one of the most revered bands in the underground extreme metal scene and was signed to the Wild Rags label while touring the US.

FALLEN ANGEL OF DOOM is a short blast in the hellfire pits of early war metal with surreal intro effects that lead into down-tuned hellish fury that finds frenetic power chords, blastbeat percussion and low guttural growls coalescing into distorted monstrous dinfests with punk infused brevity. Breaking out the squealing solos, Caller Of The Storms displays how the war metal segment at the black metal store has much more in common with old school death metal than Scandinavian contemporaries that utilized trebly lo-fi tremolo picking as the primary means of expression. At the time this debut album was released, BLASPHEMY had no competition in the war metal but soon their influence would spread far and wide with bands like Beherit, Archgoat and Impaled Nazarene quickly joining the deathened black metal pits from whence this vile din of perversity found life.

Like many other artists who develop a new style, BLASPHEMY’s debut FALLEN ANGEL OF DOOM has become a classic for its infidel influences on the entire extreme metal scene that would follow. Despite its classic status the album wasn’t rereleased for over a decade and finally found new life in 2007 on the Nuclear War Now! label. While not the best example that black metal has to offer, the incessant deathened core influences that BLASPHEMY mashed into the second wave black metal sounds are staggering and about as extreme and sacrilegious as music could get in 1990, a year when both black metal and death metal were barely out of the cradle. Not my favorite but still a classic.

DREAM THEATER Images and Words Demos 1989-1991

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 4 ratings
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martindavey87
The third instalment of Dream Theater’s official bootleg demo series covers my favourite album of all time, or at the very least, one of them; 1992’s ‘Images and Words’. Like before, this is something that would be best reserved for the die-hard fans, and normally something that I’d not pay too much attention to myself, since I’d rather listen to the actual studio release. But since these are demos for the greatest album in history, my interest is slightly more piqued than usually.

Similar to previous demo releases, this album is split into four parts. First there are instrumental demos, recorded by the band on a four-track Tascam tape recorder, followed by vocalist audition demos. These could be of interest to long-time fans, as it features three different vocalists who all tried out for the band. A highlight here is a very raw version of ‘A Change of Seasons’ which features different lyrics, vocal phrasing and musical arrangements.

Then there’s ‘The Atco Demos’ and finally, pre-production demos, and this is where the songs really take shape. There’s not many differences compared to the finished product, besides a more polished sound, but I guess it’s kind of cool to hear the bands versions of these songs before they were properly recorded.

Of course, at the end of the day, who’d honestly choose to listen to these demos of varied quality, when you could simply listen to the actual album itself? I’ll tell you who... nobody (and possibly a bunch of nerds trying to be cool or something). However, as is always the case with these official bootlegs, they’re only really for the most dedicated of fans, especially as, if you’re like me, you’re only likely to listen to it a couple of times before leaving it to collect dust in your mum’s attic.

PANTERA Reinventing Hell: The Best of Pantera

Boxset / Compilation · 2003 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.27 | 3 ratings
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martindavey87
‘Reinventing Hell: The Best of Pantera’ is a 2003 European compilation album by groove metal legends Pantera, who had been on hiatus at the time of its release, and would officially disband a year later, following the tragic killing of guitarist Dimebag Darrell.

Pantera have always been a bit of an odd one for me. Highly revered by the metal community, I’ve always struggled to see what all the fuss was about. While their hit singles have been absolute bangers, I find the bulk of their albums consist of filler material, and the band really not all that they’re hyped up to be.

But that’s where this compilation comes in, because it features literally all the hit singles. Every major highlight from each of their 90’s albums is here (ignoring their earlier 80’s hair metal material), leaving out all the filler and subpar tracks. With the likes of ‘Cowboys From Hell’, ‘Domination’, ‘Walk’, ‘Mouth For War’, ‘I’m Broken’, ‘Cemetary Gates’, ‘Revolution is My Name’, ‘This Love’ and ‘5 Minutes Alone’, this truly is a sonic tour-de-force of heavy metal brutality.

And each song truly represents the best the band has to offer. Dimebag Darrells crushing guitar riffs are complimented by Phil Anselmos monstrously aggressive voice, which on the albums at times become nothing more than incomprehensible grunts and shouting, yet here, with the right material, truly show how intense and powerful he could be.

I’ve never been the biggest Pantera fan, nor will I ever be, but this album pretty much has all the hits on it that I like. Plus, it comes with a DVD featuring all the bands promo videos! Outdated and unnecessary today, I know, but still a nice little touch, anyway. As blasphemous as it may sound to fans, I consider this, ‘Reinventing Hell’, the essential Pantera album.

BLIND GUARDIAN Somewhere Far Beyond

Album · 1992 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.32 | 52 ratings
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martindavey87
Blind Guardian’s fourth studio album, ‘Somewhere Far Beyond’, was released in 1992, and follows on from the bands previous three albums, in which this is mostly generic power/speed metal, but with outside influences creeping in. Prior to this the band had dabbled with folk and Gaelic influences, and here the band incorporates subtle medieval and pop influences.

Overall however, this is still very much a power metal album, and much like the bands prior efforts, I struggle to really pick out many highlights. The production has been improved, making the music heavier and giving it more clarity and depth, but the writing overall is still pretty lacking, with most songs having uninspired guitar riffs and bland melodies throughout.

Now, I know this is sacrilegious, but hear me out! I swear, I do love Blind Guardian! But this is a simple matter of taste. I love the bands later material, the epic, orchestral and progressive stuff. So perhaps this is what these earlier albums are missing? Because all I’m hearing here is one speed riff after another.

If I had to pick out any highlights, opening track ‘Time What is Time?’ is decent enough, and ‘Theatre of Pain’ introduces some of the more orchestral elements that the band would really excel at, but ultimately, probably the most memorable track from this album is a cover of Queen’s ‘Spread Your Wings’, which, while Blind Guardian do a great job of this, truly making it sound like one of their own songs, it also speaks volumes about the quality of their own material, at this point, anyway.

To any fans that are furious at my blasphemy, I swear, I love this band, I really do! But it would just seem that these earlier, straight-up power metal albums just aren’t for me. Bring on the concept albums and orchestras!

GUNS N' ROSES G N' R Lies

EP · 1988 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.95 | 28 ratings
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martindavey87
Released in 1988, just one year after the absolutely monumental ‘Appetite for Destruction’ made Guns ‘n’ Roses one of the biggest bands on the planet, ‘G N’ R Lies’ is an EP which consists of four previously released live tracks and four acoustic tracks.

The first four tracks, taken from the previously released ‘Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide’ EP don’t really do much for me. There’s a cover of Aerosmith’s ‘Mama Kin’, but... meh. The band is in good form however, and you can feel the attitude and energy just oozing out of every guitar chord and vocal screech, but as there’s no studio versions of these tracks, again... meh...

The next four tracks are all acoustic songs, and this is where the EP really shows its worth. ‘Used to Love Her’ and ‘One in a Million’ are okay acoustic rockers, though nothing massively memorable, and there’s an acoustic remake of ‘You’re Crazy’, a song from the bands aforementioned debut album. Then of course, there’s ‘Patience’, the only song from this EP to receive a single release and promo video. With its personal and touching lyrics and catchy-as-hell chorus, this is the true standout moment from this disc.

I’m not the biggest Guns ‘n’ Roses fan in the world, and only own this as I have the rest of the bands discography on CD. Overall, ‘Lies’ is an okay EP for what it is, but isn’t really worth too much attention if you’re only a casual fan. Personally, I’d rather listen to ‘Appetite...’ again.

FISHBONE Give a Monkey a Brain and He'll Swear He's the Center of the Universe

Album · 1993 · Funk Metal
Cover art 4.67 | 5 ratings
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FISHBONE really stepped things up with their 1991 classic “The Reality Of My Surroundings” by adding stealthy doses of alternative metal to their already electric palette of ska, punk, funk and soul which allowed the band to experiment in myriad directions beyond the hyperactive funk ska of their earlier years. The band experienced minor success with that album which reached as high as No. 49 on the Billboard album charts, but sadly FISHBONE didn’t quite break free from their cult status as one of the sharpest badass fusion bands that delivered the social commentary of gangsta rap dressed up with the goofiest sense of humor and outstandingly brilliant compositions played by seven of the dopest musicians in the entire rock scene.

Two years later they followed up with the fourth full-album GIVE A MONKEY A BRAIN AND HE'LL SWEAR HE'S THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE which gets my vote as one of the coolest album titles in all of rock history. Stylistically FISHBONE continues expanding their musical tentacles into the furthest reaches of what they had been known for but also crafted a darker more inauspicious lyrical delivery with biting critiques of society and life under the perpetual thumb of the US empire. Unlike the smooth delivery of the previous album, GIVE A MONKEY with its incessant delivery of disparate musical styles proved to be too much for the fanbase and the album despite its utter brilliance got panned by the critics and went over the heads of the fans despite the fact that the metal was more metal, the funk tracks were funkier than ever and the humor while tamped down was still lurking under every cadence in a less in yer face manner.

It is so true that the album lacks the cohesiveness of its predecessor and instead GIVE A MONKEY exercises a series of mood setting units. The album slaps you in the face with the two heaviest tracks “Swim” and “Servitude” with the thundering grunge distortion and frenetic metal riffing with pummeling percussive drive dripping with snarling attitude. Considered the heaviest tracks of FISHBONE’s entire canon, they deliver an unexpected douse of heavy metal that nothing on “The Reality Of My Surroundings” even came close to. However, after the two headbangers, the freneticism cools off a bit with “Black Flowers” providing more of a transitory metal ballad type of energy despite the darkened lyrical content free of any cliche love song antics. The track provides some stellar church organ as well as ending with a sort of “Hey Jude” type of outro that loops around for a lengthy time. After these three heavy guitar units rear their ugly heads, the band surprisingly reverts back to their origins with the hyperactive ska funk track “Unyielding Condition” which also hosts stellar vocal tradeoffs.

The Funkadelic and Parliament funk rock influenced prowess continues on the sarcastic “Properties Of Propaganda” but the band throws another curve ball with the return to the heavy metal in “The Warmth Of Your Breath” but also breaks out some serious off-kilter funk riffs which makes this the ultimate funk metal track of all time IMHO. The album turns sombre with the funk and horn sections in “Lemon Meringue” and “They All Have Abandoned Their Hopes,” two tracks that are upbeat in sound but provide downer lyrics as does the guitar driven “End The Reign” which drops the funk and ska and focuses more on a standard hard rock sound in mid-tempo. The strangest track on the album is clearly “Drunk Skitzo” which features a funky groove and some completely unhinged vocals that leads to a frenetic jazz section with guest musicians Branford Marsalis providing a sultry sax freakout. The ending is augmented by atonality, weird sound effects and a dip into the truly surreal.

The album ends with the return to a nice mix of the church organ, rock guitar and bass and funky groove underbelly with the two closers “No Fear” and “Nutt Megalomaniac” which after a playing time of over 64 minutes always leaves me wanting more. This album may have been a let down at first following the perfection of “The Realities Of My Surroundings,” but in time this one has emerged to be just as prophetic and utterly addictive. The melodies are infectious, the compositions are divine and the performances are outstanding. The lyrics are tantamount to a brilliant hip hop album only dressed up in rock / funk / ska / metal clothing. Not to mention the mesmerizing album cover that folds out into one of the coolest astrological art scenes in music history. This album doesn’t have a bad track on it and although it doesn’t flow as perfectly as it should, the collection of disparate tracks is a perfect one and while certain tracks may hook you instantly, they all will if you give this album enough spins. Somehow, some way, this one has weaseled its way into my top 100 albums of all time.

Sadly the album failed to generate the momentum that carried FISHBONE to the next level and fizzled out at No. 99 on the album charts. The album was simply misunderstood and lacked the instant connection factor that so many modern music fans require. The financial frustrations of carrying on were too much for several members and the two primary songwriters guitarist Kendall Jones and keyboardist / trombonist Chris Dowd would leave the band after this album. The band continued in name but the magic had been lost as starting with the following “Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge” having much simpler song structures that were clearly trying to generate a pop hit or two. This is the end of the line for the classic FISHBONE era and together with “The Reality Of My Surroundings,” GIVE A MONKEY A BRAIN AND HE'LL SWEAR HE'S THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE is a bona fide masterpiece of musical accomplishment. Woefully underrated this one is. I simply cannot understand why others don’t find this to be one of the greatest rock albums of all time.

ICED EARTH Alive in Athens

Live album · 1999 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 7 ratings
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‘Alive in Athens’, released in 1999, is the first live album by American power metal band Iced Earth, and is an absolute marathon of a release, with a staggering duration of three hours split over three discs. Highly regarded by fans, ‘Alive...’ sees the band draw as much material as possible from their five previous studio albums and cram it into two nights of live music at the Greek capital. But is it really as good as people make it out to be?

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good album. The quality of the audio is fantastic, with some songs sounding nearly identical to their studio counterparts, and there’s a lot of incredibly strong material, from earlier hits such as ‘Iced Earth’, ‘Angels Holocaust’, ‘Cast in Stone’ and ‘Stormrider’ to later numbers such as ‘Burning Times’, ‘Watching Over Me’ and the ‘Something Wicked’ trilogy.

So what’s the problem, you ask?

It’s just so bloody long!

Simply put, that’s it. Iced Earth are a great band, but three hours in one go is a hell of a mouthful, with most songs sounding similar to the one before. The musicianship is fantastic, with every track performed to perfection, but there’s not really anything that stands out in particular. There’s nothing overly interesting in terms of crowd interaction, or adding anything new to the compositions. It literally is three hours of repetitive Iced Earth tracks, one after another, with crowd noises thrown in between.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t a terrible album, but the overwhelming duration is a huge detriment, and seeing as I’ve always preferred studio albums anyway, I can’t see myself choosing this over any of their studio releases.

CHRIS CAFFERY Pins and Needles

Album · 2007 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
2007’s ‘Pins and Needles’ is the second studio album (or third, depending on whether you consider ‘W.A.R.P.E.D.’ a compilation or not), by American heavy metal guitarist Chris Caffery. Best known for his work with Savatage and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Caffery’s solo work is a lot heavier and aggressive than any of his bands, and following on from his previous solo efforts, we’re in for plenty more heavy goodness.

Brimming with skull-crushing guitar riffs and Caffery’s rather unique vocal phrasing with angry, cynical and sarcastic lyrics, ‘Pins and Needles’ continues to demonstrate why the man is such an underrated player and writer. Without the restraints and expectations of mainstream record labels, Caffery is given free-reign to rant and speak his mind to his heart’s content.

But unlike its predecessors, which were solid albums from top-to-bottom, the quality of the music on ‘Pins and Needles’ does tend to drop a bit towards the end, especially when you consider that this album consists of fifteen tracks, there’s bound to be a bit of filler material in there.

But for good material, there’s still an abundance of tracks here that hold up well to Caffery’s previous work. ‘Pins and Needles’, ‘66’, ‘Chained’, ‘It’s S-A-D’, ‘Reach Out and Torment Again’, ‘Y.G.B.F.K.M.’ and ‘Mettle Eastern’ are all exceptional songs, and bonus track ‘Once Upon a Time’ ends the album on an uplifting note, which might seem odd and out-of-place, yet Caffery pulls it off effortlessly.

Overall, ‘Pins and Needles’ isn’t quite as good as 2004’s ‘Faces’ or 2005’s ‘W.A.R.P.E.D.’, but it’s still a pretty solid release with enough highlights to make it worth a listen or two, and if you like your music heavy and full of attitude then you won’t be disappointed.

BLACK DEATH Black Death

Album · 1984 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Black metal has become one of the most popular and shapeshifting forms of the entire metal universe starting out as a form of Satanic reverie with heavy distortion and muddy lo-fi production conjuring up the sonic demons that have taken over the entire planet, however before Bathory, Mayhem and Darkthrone, there was another type of black metal altogether and although it’s loud and obnoxious like any good metal should be, this type of black metal wasn’t quite the facepaint and tremolo picking in praise of Satan type. This distinct style of black metal began all the way back in 1977 by a band called BLACK DEATH. I call this black metal because this was in fact the world’s first band where every member was an African-American thus technically this was the world’s first black metal band! Stylistically, this was more in the vein of the classic 80s sound and emulates bands like Judas Priest and other NWOBHM metal bands but it does evoke a sense of evil in the vein of early Mercyful Fate.

After the death of Jimi Hendrix who pioneered much of what would evolve into hard rock and heavy metal, it was surprising that very few musicians of African descent gravitated to the style. A few bands such as Thin Lizzy found a front man in the form of Phil Lynott but a heavy rock band consisting of ALL blacks? Unheard of until BLACK DEATH came along. While this Cleveland, Ohio band holds that title of first, claims have been made by the Los Angeles based Sound Barrier, another all African-American band that was around during the same early 80s period. True that Sound Barrier released its debut album “Total Control” in 1983 a year before BLACK DEATH released its eponymously titled debut, however BLACK DEATH was formed three years earlier and released three demos starting in 1981 as well as appearing on the 1983 various artists compilation “Cleveland Metal.” The band’s first recording “Outcast” found some airplay on local radio in 1980.

So the clear winner of this disputed claim belongs to BLACK DEATH which formed in 1977 with Greg Hicks (guitar), Phil Bullard (drums), and Clayborn Pinkins (bass). Guitarist and vocalist Reginal Gamble aka Siki Spacek filled the lineup in 1978 however Pinkins was murdered in 1979 and after a brief stint with a replacement finally ended up with Darrell Harris as the bassist that would form the lineup on the band’s one and only album that emerged in 1984. Musically BLACK DEATH was in that stage where 70s hard rock had upped the tempo and the distortion and created a grittier guitar riff based mayhem that was part Black Sabbath, part Judas Priest, part Mercyful Fate and part epic early US power metal in the vein of Brocas Helm or Manilla Road. The mix while not always seamless was powerfully performed with heavy driving guitars and bass and a stellar drumming style of Phil Bullard. The band cranked out a true headbanger of an album with seven strong melodic tracks that was released with the earlier two track EP “Here Comes The Wrecking Crew” as a 7” 45 RPM.

If there is a weak link it’s clearly the vocal style of Siki Spacek whose style takes a little getting used to but he actually has a fairly eclectic range. While he mostly performed in a brash bravado with a heavy growly voice almost Motorhead-esque in style, on “When Tears Run Red” he sounds a lot like Vince Neil from Motley Crue while on “Fear No Evil” he plays up his best Rob Halford and King Diamond. The album unfortunately didn’t lead to much success but showcases an amazingly diverse set of tracks with the lengthy nine minute closing title track bringing the more epic approach to its full climax. The band had a knack for crafting cleverly tight compositions that maintained a strong sense of melody, an even stronger range of dramatic metal fortitude and clearly had its hands of the pulse of the current metal scene by soaking in as much into their own style. Sadly the band wouldn’t be able to take things to the next step and the world would have to wait a few more years for Living Colour to emerge as the first successful all black heavy rock band.

For all its metal cliches and classic period feel, BLACK DEATH could certainly crank out the classic 80s metal like any other. This is a beauty of a beast that is heavier than the contemporaries. Although the band sounds like Judas Priest at times, the stellar bombast of the percussion gives this a fuller metal sound than the classic Priest albums of the era. What’s really cool is how BLACK DEATH takes the different Sabbath sounds and trades off with Priest, Manilla Road and Mercyful Fate. While the styles aren’t completely integrated into their own style quite yet, the tracks still emerge as addictively satisfying listens and this album has surprisingly grown on me. Despite the fact that these guys are all African-American, you could never tell from simply listening to this album. This album is as bad ass as any British invasion band that was emerging. While it may be a mystery as to why more black musicians don’t join the ranks of the metal world, it’s really cool to hear a band like BLACK DEATH that did just that and cranked out one truly impressive album styled in early 80s classic heavy metal and did it so well. Oh, the production is weak, but in my opinion gives it that awesomely authentic underground rawness, so i actually like it that way. Don’t miss this one, it’s better than you would think!

PORCUPINE TREE Signify

Album · 1996 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.30 | 15 ratings
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Necrotica
I've always been fascinated with music artists who frequently reinvent their sound and yet maintain quality and freshness in their work regardless. While so many artists fail to make waves in the commercial or critical department when slowly transitioning into new territory, others make a complete 180° turn and succeed greatly whether by knowing the musical landscape or by just pure luck. Then you have Porcupine Tree, who have had three radical reinventions and been very well-received for all of them. You have the psychedelic era (when they weren't even a full group yet), the alternative era, and the progressive metal era; as of now, none of the band's albums (even debut On the Sunday of Life) have been terribly received and most of them receive high marks. However, one album that never seems to fit into the grand scheme of things is the band's sole transitional album Signify; while considered by many to be part of the psychedelic era, the album seems to combine the past and future sounds of the group almost perfectly. True to this statement, the album also remains one of their best and most balanced works; it not only depicts how far Steven Wilson had come with his musical project, but also depicts a promising and vast future for a now-complete group.

As suggested by that last sentence, this is indeed the first Porcupine Tree album with a full band to perform with Steven Wilson. Right from the opening of the surprisingly heavy title track, there's a strengthened sense of unity and focus in the material; while the trippy arrangements and vast soundscapes of previous records return here as well, they aren't always the main focus this time around. As suggested by the shorter running times of the songs, a lot of musical fat is trimmed and the psychedelic aspects are a bit toned down, but instrumental tracks like "Idiot Prayer" and "Intermediate Jesus" play with the group's spacey side with extended atmospheric jams. One of the best things about this album (one thing that plagued previous records by the band) is that there's a great stylistic balance; the album combines multiple genres and sounds, but distributes them all very well. You've got the first real song "Signify" (the first track is just an intro) which kicks things off with a hard-hitting riff and gets the listener pumped, only to be followed by a beautiful ballad in "Sleep of No Dreaming" as well as multiple improvisational jams and other ballads. "Sever" is the track in which the harder-rocking sound comes back into play, and it's brilliantly placed in the middle as a good way to kick up the volume at just the right time. This is some of the best song placement I've ever seen/heard on a record, and it's great to hear so many well-done switches in the band's sound.

Beyond that though, the real treasure of this album is its appreciation of atmosphere. This is one of Porcupine Tree's darkest records, but the moments of hope (despite there not being many) come at the right moments. For instance, closer "Dark Matter" is pretty damn depressing in terms of lyricism, but the guitar solo that follows the verses and choruses is absolutely beautiful and even inspiring as the dynamics increase and the instrumentation becomes less isolated. "Sever" and "Idiot Prayer" are perhaps even more important dynamically, as the more aggressive moments are placed among softer moments to give the listener moments of reflection in between the heavier portions. Of course, the band still shine most when those trademark melancholic Porcupine Tree ballads rear their heads; "Every Home is Wired" is still the song that impresses me the most, making the most out of guitar and keyboard layering to bring out some gorgeous textures. The psychedelic jam that concludes the song never hurts either. "Sleep of No Dreaming" is also notable, featuring an organ-sounding keyboard performance from Richard Barbieri to illustrate the song's musical backdrop as Steven Wilson gives one of his most emotional vocal performances.

The only gripe I can think of is that, despite great song placement, there's not quite as much musical consistency as the band's best records. Interludes like "Light Mass Prayers" or "Pagan" aren't really needed and can kill the pace of some of the album. If that's the worst thing about the record, though, then there isn't much to complain about. This is a superb way to end Porcupine Tree's psychedelic era and usher in the alternative era of their sound. All in all, it's a wonderful transitional album.

JIMI HENDRIX Electric Ladyland

Album · 1968 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 24 ratings
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THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE may have had a short shelf life having only existed for four years and crafting three albums but they really knew how to make things count and take things to the next level on each subsequent release. The final chapter of the power trio that consisted of JIMI HENDRIX on vocals and guitar (and various other instruments such as comb and tissue paper kazoo!), Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums resulted in one of the most complex and enduring albums that the late 60s had to offer. In addition to the trio’s dominate instrumental prowess on the third and final album ELECTRIC LADYLAND, there was a whole army of guest musicians and production personnel involved making this one of the most expensive albums to have come out in 1968 and with eleven musicians and vocalists adding touches of flute, saxophone, Hammond organ, piano, 12-string guitar, congas and backing vocals, it’s also one of the most diverse and magnanimous sounding albums of the band’s three album career.

Keeping things in the same cosmic flow as their previous two albums, the EXPERIENCE continued in the lines of the psychedelically fueled blues rock that alternated between hard rock, blues and funk that added jazz touches. The indefatigable JIMI HENDRIX himself spent countless hours recording and re-recording tracks and then polishing them into pure perfection to the point where his perfectionist tendencies which coupled with the open invitation for friends to join in on the studio time led to a break in the professional relationship between HENDRIX and the man responsible for his initial success, Chas Chandler. The track “Gypsy Eyes” alone took 50 takes in 3 sessions to record. Despite the magnanimous nature of what went into the recording and production values, ELECTRIC LADYLAND sounds as if it was created in an impromptu performance as it flows fairly naturally from beginning to end, production techniques excluded of course.

So fertile was HENDRIX’s output that there was enough material to create a double album and at a playing time of over 75 minutes, was quite the commitment for the fans to wrap their heads around but nonetheless ELECTRIC LADYLAND instantly shot to the top of the charts and generated the band’s only top 40 hit in the US with the Bob Dylan cover of “All Along The Watchtower,” a track that Dylan himself has admitted to being a vast improvement over his original. While the public enthusiastically supported the new album, the critics who had trouble finding a way to relate to the album weren’t so kind but was the decades have elapsed and new generations have discovered the ambitious nature of this album, it has since been deemed one of the greatest rock albums of all time as it effortlessly coalesced the disparate elements of funk, blues, hard rock, jazz and psychedelia under one anthemic banner.

ELECTRIC LADYLAND crafted a much denser and sophisticated compositional approach than either “Are You Experienced?” or “Axis: Bold As Love.” While clearly still rooted in the bluesy heavy rock riffing and guitar soloing showmanship style that had propelled HENDRIX into the limelight, the album shows a rock band evolving past the limitations of what a rock band was considered to be and much like The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” which changed the musical landscape the year prior was in the forefront of experimental techniques that included extensive use of backmasking, chorus effects, echoing and flange. Likewise the 15 minute long “Voodoo Chile” presaged the entire progressive rock revolution that would become official once King Crimson launched their ground zero detonating “In The Court Of The Crimson King” the following year. In short, ELECTRIC LADYLAND had the simplicity and hooks to draw in the crowds and the subtle complexities to keep them coming back for more.

Eclectic and diverse, ELECTRIC LADYLAND showcased HENDRIX’s own sundry stylistic approaches. While some tracks like “Voodoo Chile” exorcised his deepest inner blues, others like “Come On” focused on R&B whereas “Crosstown Traffic” was more in the acid hard rock camp. “Little Miss Strange” was one of the few tracks to feature Mitch Mitchell on lead vocals and is a strange little 60s beat pop song tucked into the layers of psychedelically tinged externalities that provide the unifying factor. HENDRIX seemed to realize that this would be his magnum opus as his attention to this exhaustive labor of love only became apparent to the world that his works were indeed the makings of a mad genius who ceaselessly toiled over his worktable to create the next addition to his musical canvas. With a message presented in the album’s final track “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” that said “If I don't meet you no more in this world, then I'll meet you in the next one, and don't be late, don't be late” makes you wonder if HENDRIX didn’t know on a higher level that his days on Earth were limited.

Having not been around for the original release of this magnificent album has been one of my biggest hurdles in appreciating its brilliance as i’ve had to work my way back through the timeline to wrap my head around the mindset that launched the whole 60s psychedelic rock scene in the first place. While any progressive rock or metalhead who delves deep enough in the way back machine will ultimately end up here, it does not mean for a second that the album will be regarded in such high esteem. The album has to be not just heard but EXPERIENCED on a higher plane to truly understand. It’s almost a transcendental meditative experience in its own right once the left-brained antics of comparison to those who were influenced by this era are allowed to dissipate. Overall the album comes off as a dream sequence at rock concert where the performers exist in multiple dimensions simultaneously and are able to connect on a cosmic level superseding the 3D limitations of the Earth plane. Something struck a chord with the fans. ELECTRIC LADYLAND remains the JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE’s most successful album of the mere three album career and one that may not transcend the time it was created but on the contrary takes the listener back to the best aspects of what made the era so great.

HELSTAR Burning Star

Album · 1984 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 14 ratings
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"Burning Star" is the debut full-length studio album by US heavy metal act Helstar. The album was released through Combat Records in 1984. Helstar were formed in 1981/1982 in Houston, Texas, and released a demo in 1983 before being signed by Combat Records for the release of "Burning Star".

Stylistically the music on the album is traditional heavy metal. Artists like early Iron Maiden and Judas Priest are valid references but Helstar put an American twist on the sound. It´s not US power metal yet though, as it´s still rooted too much in traditional heavy metal for that. The band are very well playing, and I especially noticed the many incredibly well played guitar solos and the strong vocals by James Rivera. The latter has a strong voice and a commanding delivery. He sings raw heavy metal type vocals and spice it up with som piercing high pitched screams. The rhythms and the guitar riffs are fairly standard for the genre, but still of a high quality.

The sound production is unpolished and raw, which is to be expected from a heavy metal album release from 1984. The sound suits the material well. All material on the 8 track, 35:05 minutes long album are well written, powerful, and cathy and upon conclusion "Burning Star" is a strong debut album by Helstar. The average age of the band members were supposedly around 19 years at the time, which makes the album an even more impressive release. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is well deserved.

DISMEMBER Pieces

EP · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.76 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Pieces" is an EP release by Swedish death metal act Dismember. The EP was released through Nuclear Blast Records in October 1992. It bridges the gap between the band´s debut and second full-length studio albums "Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)" and "Indecent & Obscene (1993)". The success of "Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)" meant that Dismember were among the most prolific death metal acts out of Sweden in the early 90s, and Dismember did a lot of touring in the wake of that, which meant they only had time to write enough material for an EP and not for a full album, which is the reasoning behind releasing "Pieces".

The EP features 6 tracks and a full playing time of 15:56 minutes. The opening track is a short intro and the band have opted to include "Soon To Be Dead" from "Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)", but the remaining four tracks are new original material. Stylistically the new tracks continue the old school Swedish death metal style of the debut album, although they are generally slightly less catchy than the material on "Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)". The songwriting quality is still relatively high though, and the material is also performed with the right amount of rawness and authenticity (but not necessarily in the most tight manner).

Production wise "Pieces" is a raw and unpolished release. The guitar tone is buzzing and a bit messy, which sometimes means that what is being played becomes a blur, and it´s like everything is recorded a bit too high and as a consequence sounds slightly distorted. It´s of course an aquired taste if such a harsh sounding production is something you´ll appreciate, but personally I think Dismember took the rawness a bit too far on this release.

So upon conclusion "Pieces" is a step down in quality from "Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)", even though it isolated seen still is a relatively good quality old school death metal release. It´s not a release you can´t live without and I´d always recommend listening to "Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)" before this one, but still a 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong.

WITCHERY Symphony for the Devil

Album · 2001 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Symphony for the Devil" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Swedish metal act Witchery. The album was released through Necropolis Records in September 2001. It´s the successor to "Dead, Hot and Ready" from 1999. Witchery was always a sort of project act as all involved also had other obligations with artists like Mercyful Fate, Arch Enemy, Opeth, Bloodbath, and The Haunted, but they´ve found time in their busy schedules to write and record "Symphony for the Devil".

Stylistically "Symphony for the Devil" is generally more of the same, so if you´re familiar with the blackened heavy/speed metal style of the preceding releases you´ll find few surprises here. In this particular case familiarity with the sound isn´t an issue though as Witchery deliver their music with a burning passion and great conviction. These guys are incredibly well playing but they are also skilled composers, who understand how a song affects a listener. The material on the 12 track (some versions omit the two closing tracks), 46:49 minutes long album is powerful, raw, and catchy blackened heavy/speed metal. So it´s both hard edged, fast, heavy, and more melodic (actually not far from the sound Mercyful Fate had in the 90s, just featuring extreme vocals). The blackened part of their sound is mainly due to the raspy vocal delivery, because other than that, and a limited amount of sections in the instrumental part of the music, this is traditional heavy/speed metal more than anything else.

The atmosphere is dark and occult which is further enhanced by the lyrical content. The sound production is clear, powerful, and raw, bringing out the best in the material. So upon conclusion "Symphony for the Devil" is yet another strong album release by Witchery and it´s certainly not audible that this project probably wasn´t the first priority for some of the members at the time. The songwriting is top notch, the musicianship on a high level, and the sound production is professional and well sounding, so all in all a 4 star (80%) rating isn´t all wrong.

CANCER Shadow Gripped

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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"Shadow Gripped" is the 6th full-length studio album by UK death/thrash metal act Cancer. The album was released through Peaceville Records in November 2018. B>Cancer formed in 1987 and were part of the early UK death metal scene along with artists like Carcass, Benediction, and Bolt Thrower. They released four studio albums before disbanding in 1996. They reunited in 2003 and released the "Corporation$" EP in 2004, and the full-length studio album "Spirit in Flames" in 2005. Cancer disbanded again in 2006, but reunited once more in 2013.

So "Shadow Gripped" is the second comeback album Cancer have released in their career. "Spirit in Flames (2005)" didn´t exactly stir up the ocean, so it´s probably taken the band a few years to lick their wounds and come up with a new comeback plan. Lineup wise "Shadow Gripped" features the original three-piece lineup, who recorded the band´s debut album back in 1990: John Walker (vocals, guitars), Carl Stokes (drums), and Ian Buchanan (bass).

Stylistically it´s also an obvious stab at going back to the roots, as Cancer play a pretty basic death metal style with the occasional thrash metal leanings. It´s not exactly "To the Gory End (1990)" number two though, and it´s audible that a lot of water has run under the bridge since the early beginnings of the band. "Shadow Gripped" features a dark and not very dynamic sound production, and the fierceness and brutality of the early releases of the band aren´t present here. Or at least only in small doses. "Shadow Gripped" does feature some catchy moments (particularly the shout/growl along choruses on seveal of the tracks), but overall it comes off a bit flat and uninteresting.

I know words like those read really negative, and they of course aren´t meant as positives, but it shouldn´t be read as if "Shadow Gripped" is a bad quality release, because it certainly isn´t. It´s just not a death metal release which stands out in the vast number of releases which come out every year, and considering the legendary status of a band like Cancer I simply expect more from them. It shouldn´t come as a surprise of course, as Cancer have changed their style with each release though the years, and not always with great end results. "Shadow Gripped" is more interesting than its direct predecessor, but doesn´t reach the quality of the band´s early output and therefore a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

CYNIC Humanoid

Single · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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"Humanoid" is a digital one-track single release by US progressive metal act Cynic. The single was released through Season of Mist in January 2018. It´s the first release with new original material since the band´s third full-length studio album "Kindly Bent to Free Us" from 2014. I expected the single to be a successor to a new studio album in 2018 but at this point (January 2019) a full year later, Cynic still haven´t released their fourth full-length studio album. Since the release of "Kindly Bent to Free Us" there´s been a major lineup change as drummer and founding member Sean Reinert left in 2015. He is replaced here by Matt Lynch, who has some pretty big shoes to fill.

Stylistically "Humanoid" sounds a bit more like the progressive metal oriented material on "Traced in Air (2008)", than the more progressive rock oriented material on "Kindly Bent to Free Us (2014)", but it´s not a particularly heavy track. Paul Masvidal only sings using his clean voice, and his almost sedated and slightly melancholic vocal style is probably as much an aquired taste as always. He has the sort of voice and singing style which would fit perfectly on an alternative rock album.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts, and the sound production is professional and detailed, so while "Humanoid" to my ears isn´t a mind blowingly great track, as it brings little new to the Cynic palette, and therefore doesn´t stand out much in their discography, it´s still a good quality atmospheric progressive metal track like only Cynic can make them. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

TARDIGRADE INFERNO Mastermind

Album · 2019 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Coming from the musically rich city of St Petersburg, Russia is the extraordinarily zany and creative band TARDIGRADE INFERNO which formed somewhere around 2016 and released one self-titled EP and has been somewhat quiet for a few years. The year 2019 has barely had time to warm up and the band finally unleash the very first debut full-length MASTERMIND which displays the band’s unique mix of alternative metal with dark cabaret circus music. Add in sprinklings of death metal, thrash and power metal and you have one of early 2019’s most promising new acts.

The word “TARDIGRADE” can refer to either a variety of slow-moving microscopic invertebrates or it can simply be an adjective that means slow-moving or slow in action. I have no friggin’ idea how this applies to this band since this is high energy metal and there is relatively little info about this band on the net as i can’t even find any sort of biography whatsoever, however i can say that this band has found a unique sound right off the bat. However if i had to compare TARDIGRADE INFERNO to any other band it would definitely be Diablo Swing Orchestra as it has the same cartoonish feel and the singing style of lead vocalist Darya Pavlovich sounds a lot like both AnnLouice Lögdlund and Kristin Evegård of DSO.

Musically though this band doesn’t break out the jazz instrumentation or even circus accordions but rather delivers a metal music heft piled on top of dark cabaret and circus melodies alongside the bouncy festive rhythms that are associated with the greatest show on Earth. The metal bombast is mostly carried out by the power chord slapping staccato style accompanied by circusy keyboard runs but different metal variations come into play however mostly in an alternative metal down-tuned power chord rampage. While Darya Pavlovich’s vocal range stays more in clean vocal cabaret mode, she occasionally screams in metal style reminding me of Arch Enemy for short stints but unfortunately not nearly enough! The circus bounces are always under the surface despite heavy metal thunder stomping fast numbers or slower subdued moments.

While i’m constantly reminded of Diablo Swing Orchestra, TARDIGRADE INFERNO isn’t nearly as daring and out there and is rather restrained in comparison. While the music is definitely quirky and playful it doesn’t change the sound up nearly often enough although there are moments such as on the title track where death growls and guitar solos enter the picture, otherwise Darya is pretty much on cutesy Gwen Stefani mode and reminds me a bit of the 90s band No Doubt only with more metal bombast. While a band to look out for as the members become more comfortable with this stylistic fusion approach, this debut is a great start with elements of ska, gypsy swing and the dominant dark cabaret sounds keeping the album infectiously catchy and light-hearted without skimping on the metallic angst.

Favorite song: “We Are Number One”

PAN.THY.MONIUM Khaooohs & Kon-Fus-Ion

Album · 1996 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 7 ratings
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PAN.THY.MONIUM, the side project of Swedish extreme metal veteran Dan Swanö cranked out the debut EP and first two albums out fairly quickly in the early 90s but as Edge Of Sanity became more popular in the blossoming extreme metal underground, Swanö focused most of energy in that direction as well as divvying up his energies into other bands like Godsend, Nightingale, Maceration, Overflash, Subway Mirror and even a neo-prog project called Unicorn. The man was obsessed and Sweden’s answer to Mike Patton’s restless pursuit of the next project. Despite his full plate, he found time in his busy schedule to release the last chapter of the PAN.THY.MONIUM trilogy which ended in 1996 with KHAOOOHS AND KON-FUS-ION.

For this last installment in the PAN.THY.MONIUM multiverse, the band (same lineup on all four releases: Robert Karlsson “Derelict” (vocals), Dag Swanö "Aag" (lead guitars, soprano saxophone, “noises,”) Robert Ivarsson "Mourning" (rhythm guitars), Dan Swanö "Day Disyraah" (basses, keyboards), Benny Larsson "Winter" (drums, cymbals, percussion)) continues their unique avant-garde take on the possibilities of marrying progressive rock with death doom metal and implement both aspects of the earlier albums into their grande finale. While the debut “Dawn Of Dreams” focused more on the progressive touches in a death doom context, the sophomore followup “Khaooohs” experimented more with textures, tones, timbres and sound effects.

KHAOOOHS AND KON-FUS-ION only contains four tracks however the closing “In Rememberence” is nothing more than one minute of silence whereas the penultimate “Behrial” eschews the metal paradigm altogether and creates a swirling synthesized symphony of some sort of darkwave chamber rock that lasts nearly seven minutes which leaves only two tracks of recognizable music that represent the true frenetic and fertile ground of the PAN.THY.MONIUM sound established on the previous recordings which continue the process of taking the listener to an entirely bizarre parallel universe where none of the established rules apply. Although there are only two “real” tracks, they are both quite lengthy and clock in at over 30 minutes.

“The Battle Of Geeheeb” begins with doom metal riffing and bluesy guitar licks before the chugging and death growls regurgitate from the underworld with the eerie atmosphere oozing out and the percussive drive outlining the main frame of the musical drive. The track displays not only the rotisserie of stylistic changes with electronic effects and psychedelic segments but also deliveries plenty of progressively infused angularities with time signature rich freneticism between the chugging riffs and just plain weird moments when everything stops and a lone saxophone squawks up a storm. The whole thing does evoke a battle where the guttural death growls are directing and orchestrating the army of sound to attack some unknown enemy.

“Thee-Pherenth” becomes even more unstable with doom riffs, down-tuned acoustic guitar arpeggios and a more dirge-like snail paced tempo but doesn’t waste much time jumping into jazzy metal territory with a bizarre dance of time signature rich jitteriness that grows in intensity. The KHAOOOS part of the equation is balanced out by melodic guitar licks and subtle keyboard backdrops to keep some sort of anchoring process to the unhinged metallic fury. KON-FUS-ION lurks around every corner as the heavy metal bombast can switch to a segment of weird sound effects or psychedelic meanderings but bounces back with bluesy metal shuffles. While a “constant menu of variations” is the de facto motto of PAN.THY.MONIUM, this track seems to dish out more than the usual portions and all the better for it.

While Swanö saved his best avant-garde beasts for last, the problem with this album is that it only contains two lengthy gems and two tracks that are really unnecessary. For greater effect, the synthesizer rich “Behrial” which is more or less a mood enhancer should have been inserted between the two real stars of the show and then shortened by about half. The last track which is a minute of silence should’ve just been removed or some sort of weird frenetic finale that went out in a bang. Of course, the band could not predict the illogical nature of this once translated into the modern era of ripping CDs onto hard drives but still, it seems like a wasted opportunity. Unfortunately only two of the tracks are of masterpiece status and the other two are filler. A great conclusion to one of extreme metal’s most interesting bands but a bad ending for what started out as one of the band’s best albums. Still worth the price of admission for the first two tracks.

PAN.THY.MONIUM Khaooohs

Album · 1993 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 5 ratings
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Dan Swanö’s side project PAN.THY.MONIUM may have started out as a way to unleash his avant-garde tendencies that wouldn’t jive well in Edge Of Sanity but the whole thing wasn’t really meant to be something that had a long shelf life and despite the band only releasing one EP and three albums in the 90s, the band sure knew how to let each album speak for itself and create a completely new sound on each. All three albums (and EP) had the same lineup which allowed the band to mature as a cohesive unit and mature they did as the second album KHAOOOHS takes things several notches higher than the debut “Dawn Of Dreams,” well, at least in terms of weirdness.

The band continued to use aliases despite having revealed their identity, but let’s face it. Äag aka Tom Nouga is a lot freakier than Dan Swanö (bass, keyboards, effects), Day DiSyraah the same for Dag Swanö (Dan’s elder bro, lead guitarist, organist and baritone saxophone player), Mourning for Robert Ivarsson (rhythm guitarist), Winter for Benny Larsson (drummer and violinist) and Derelict for Robert Karlsson (vocals). The gang is back for round number two and takes things to a new level and succeeds in keeping the staples of their overall sound intact without repeating what came before.

First of all, there is no 21 minute behemoth track that swallows up half the album. Instead there are 11 tracks that range from 50 seconds to over 8 minutes, however the intro “I Manes Seen Dog En Skugga,” I Vindens Vald,” “Ekkoeece” and “Khaooohs II” are merely sound effect collages to augment the weirdness factor without much musical value. The rest of the album is very much in the death metal camp but pretty much refrains from the dirge-like doominess of “Dawn Of Dreams.” The riffs exist in a much more quickened tempo with only a few slow downs into doom territory, however the compositions are a lot more avant-garde and hop, skip and jump all over the place.

What’s the same: death doom riffing with the same grungy tones and stompitude although the tempos are more adrenalized this time around. The death growls are ubiquitous and still quite unintelligible. The bass slinks and slithers all around but generally follows the melodic drive. The keyboard provide the adequate atmospheric touches to keep things murky and drenched in melancholy. What’s different: the composiitons are all over the place. There is less emphasis on making this scary and more focus on just making everything fun. There are bluesy rock shuffles in death metal tones, more electronic effects and overall instrumental tradeoffs that sound more like electronica than metal. Dan Swanö clearly had been sampling many styles of music to create this. Even some of the guitar solos are more like bluegrass than metal. The Mr. Bungle of death metal?

The band had moved far from typical old school death metal of the day. This album is more like a collection of bizarre amalgamations of musical genres that only uses death metal as the external packaging. The compositions themselves are quite avant-garde and have no connection to bands like Morbid Angel for example. While the music is much more experimental, there are also some things i don’t like about this album. Firstly, the guitars tend to repeat the same chugga chug more often than not and the drumming is a bit lazy as there are no blastbeats. In that way, it’s more like a sludge metal release but the vocal guttural growls are clearly deathened to the max. So, KHAOOOHS is an incredibly unique and creative album although it isn’t what i would call perfect.

While i love most of what is on display, there are still a few factors that i always wish they would do differently but in the end this sophomore release is an excellent followup to the already experimental debut “Dawn Of Dreams.” KHAOOOHS emphasizes melody above all else and the ear worm hooks are quite strong on this on although the band try to obfuscate them under the bantering din and extreme avant-garde freakery, however the bluesy guitar solos and melodic hooks are the underpinning to the whole shebang even as the weird off-kilter shenanigans proceed without restraint. It seems to me that this album eschews the progressive time signature freak outs in exchange for bizarre dynamics shifting into strange new concoctions however in the end this album is much weirder with jazzy touches interpolated in the nooks and crannies as well as post-punk industrial sensibilities lurking in every corner. Brilliant i do say.

PAN.THY.MONIUM Dawn of Dreams

Album · 1992 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 5 ratings
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PAN.THY.MONIUM - Dawn Of Dreams 1991 4 stars

PAN.THY.MONIUM was one of the earliest projects of Dan Swanö, who has become one of Sweden’s most prolific veterans of extreme metal and this band served as a side project apart from his regular death metal gig in Edge Of Sanity with PAN.THY.MONIUM allowing a more experimental and avant-garde approach by taking death doom metal into more progressive arenas. The band started out anonymously with Dan’s older brother Dag Swanö along with drummer Benny Larsson from Edge Of Sanity with Robert Ivarsson (rhythm guitars) and vocalist Robert Karlsson completing the lineup. The band members all had pseudonyms and remained mysterious with untitled tracks that began on the 1990 demo “Dawn” and the debut EP “Dream II.” With the release of the first full-length album DAWN OF DREAMS in 1992, the band had finally revealed their identities but still opted for untitled tracks however they all have since been renamed on later reissues.

While Edge Of Sanity was just joining the early old school death metal club, PAN.THY.MONIUM was an altogether different beast despite being grounded in the same death metal scene at its core. This band cranked out heavy doom inspired death riffs with unintelligible guttural growls but also had a murky atmospheric dread that sculpted the bombast into something even more menacing and with the addition of the supplemental sounds a saxophone and violin, the project took extreme metal into completely unexplored realms. The compositions took great liberty in expanding the death metal paradigm as well with Dag Swanö’s lead guitar antics taking many shapes including traditional bluesy shuffles, thrash metal palm muting punchiness and just plain weird experimental touches. Since the song titles were non-existent and lyrics indecipherable, the album relied on atmospheric interpretations and the vocals used were just another instrument.

The opening track which takes up nearly half the album is a monstrous progressive behemoth. It begins with a ticking of a clock and a saxophone sequence which makes you think this is a John Zorn album or some other avant-garde jazz artist but once the doom metal riffs start chugging away and the death growls howl into the night, it’s time for good old fashioned Swedish death doom metal. The track starts off sounding like generic old school death metal but the frenzy of progressive time signature outbursts soon find more confidence to express themselves and the track begins to meander all over the place. The heavy metal bombast is pacified by the atmospheric keyboards which sometimes sound a little cheesy but are quite effective in elevating the overall mood setting into a bizarre hybrid of space rock and extreme metal. Touches of jazz are inserted when least expected and despite the dominance of the metal aspects finds ways to shift the focus including eerie psychedelic spoken word segments. Sounds like Swedish so i guess there are some meaningful narrations.

After the near 22 minute opener, the following six tracks may be shorter with the longest just shy of the six minute mark but in aggregate pull off the same varying instrumental gymnastics as the first track with the heavy metal guitar riffing alternating between dirge-like doom and the more upbeat death metal freneticism. In some cases there is more attention given to catchy melodic keyboard rolls that are implemented in an extremely spooky and alienating manner. While the remaining tracks pretty much finds new variations on the similar themes, the last one is perhaps the weirdest and most daring as it implements all the different sounds the album had to offer in concentrate. It begins with a heavy percussive stomp and almost whispered death growls but really pulls out the avant-garde punches with a series of sax squawks, post-punk bass attacks and sound effects taken to the max.

PAN.THY.MONIUM was and remains one of the most unique sounding extreme metal bands even within the prolific lengthy list of projects that Dan Swanö has involved himself in throughout the last few decades. This band not only expanded the boundaries of the nascent paradigm that was gestating into both the death and doom metal worlds of the old school era but also borrowed liberally from 70s progressive rock as well as the most experimental edges of post-punk and electronica. Add the John Zorn sax squawks and you have the perfect recipe for something completely out of the box. The band put out three full-length albums which incrementally ratcheted up the progressive and experimental features laid down on DAWN OF DREAMS. While the band’s signature sound reached its apex on 1996’s “Khaooos And Kon-Fus-Ion,” the startling hybridization of sounds had already gestated into its full Frankenstein form on this debut. This is a highly entertaining and satisfying slice of adventurous experimental metal not to be missed by those who crave such things.

Renamed titles:

Untitled 1 = Raagoonshinnaah (21:49)

Untitled 2 = Eepitaffph (5:51)

Untitled 3 = Sieegeh (4:03)

Untitled 4 = IV (3:06)

Untitled 5 = Zenotaffph (2:42)

Untitled 6 = Amaaraah (4:26)

Untitled 7 = Ekkoecce (3:00)

PAN.THY.MONIUM Dream II

EP · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DREAM II is a short EP and the first official release of PAN.THY.MONIUM led by Dan Swanö better known for his involvement in Edge Of Sanity. This short EP of four track debuts much of the stylistic approach that the band would further develop on the three full-length albums that followed.

The band was formed by Dan Swanö (aka Day DiSyraah on bass, keyboards, effects) and his brother Dag Swanö (aka Äag aka Tom Nouga on lead guitar, organ and baritone sax) along with Edge Of Sanity member Benny Larsson (aka Winter on drums) and lead vocalist Robert Karlsson aka Derelict and Robert Ivarsson aka Mourning on rhythm guitar.

The band already showed promise on the demo “…Dawn” and really start to evolve their progressively tinged death doom metal sound on DREAM II. Many of the riffs and ideas on this EP were recycled and appear liberally on the debut album DAWN OF DREAMS which is obvious by the ticking clock effect that begins both this EP and the first album

DREAM II displays the signature sound that would carry the band all throughout their brief 90s existence. PAN.THY.MONIUM was totally an anonymous band at this point and no one had any idea that Dan Swanö was the mastermind behind the project when this came out. All four tracks are also untitled which made this band a bizarre mysterious addition to the expanding extreme metal world of the early 90s.

Graced by heavily distorted death doom metal riffs and indecipherable gutturally growled vocals, the tempos are faster than the dirge-like contemporaries and also implements spooky spectral atmospheres through the stellar work of the keyboards. While the death doom aspects are dominant, there are also thrashy chugging riffage as well as progressive outbursts of time signature rich angularities.

It’s not too difficult to understand how albums like “Crimson” evolved as Edge Of Sanity’s magnum opus when listening to PAN.THY.MONIUM. Even at this early stage a young Swanö was already heavily influenced by not only the most extreme aspects of the metal universe but equally at home with the progressive rock influences of the 70s.

This album displays all the metal madness accompanied by the avant-garde extras which include call and response monster vocalizations, ethereal electronic intermissions, various guitar riffing styles, keyboard attacks more at home on an Emerson, Lake and Palmer album and outstanding compositional fortitude. This band was light years ahead of the pack in terms of complexity. Whereas most doom based metal plodded along, PAN.THY.MONIUM was very much about variations. A spectacular and brilliant first offering.

PAN.THY.MONIUM ...Dawn

Demo · 1990 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Out of the many projects that extreme metal veteran Dan Swanö has been involved with over the years, perhaps PAN.THY.MONIUM which was created mysteriously and anonymously was one of the most experimental and fascinating. The project was formed with his elder brother Dag Swanö and Edge Of Sanity member Benny Larson (drums, violin) and some other friends. They all went by pseudonyms in the beginning. Dan Swanö was only 17.

Dan started this project at the age of 17 with some friends and released this demo DAWN which was never released to the public but ultimately blossomed into a veritable side project. While just a virtually rough draft, DAWN created the basic death doom metal sound that would remain the core sound of PAN.THY.MONIUM as the band became more progressive. On this demo however, it’s pretty much straight forward death doom metal which was in its infancy but even at this point Swanö was adding experimental touches most prominent in the eerie atmospheric keyboards.

For a demo this is pretty good even if a tad generic but the production and mixing is above average for a homegrown project of the era and the crushing riffs and hellfire death growls are in perfect form. The atmospheric accoutrements work quite well as they don’t diminish from the brutal heaviness and instead supplement a mood setting dread. One of the few early death doom metal bands to venture into more experimental realms and what a great start right here.

Although this demo was never officially released in its own right, it is available on a physical format on the 2010 vinyl “….Dawn + Dream II” on The Crypt label and again in 2015 on Dark Symphonies on both vinyl and CD. The band would follow up with an EP and three full length albums. One of the most interesting extreme progressive metal bands of the 90s.

MESHUGGAH Catch Thirtythree

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 34 ratings
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From the "wall of sound" section of my collection comes Swedish metal kingpins, Meshuggah, with their fifth full length LP-CD and first attempt at a concept album, Catch-33. Released approximately 3 years after the less than enjoyable LP Nothing, the shift in album structure to a continuous piece on Catch-33 was prefaced a year earlier with the EP I, not only in its compositional presentation, but also in its lyrical theme. I may be completely off base as the lyrics contain enough metaphoric ambiguity, and there is a significant amount of interpretative discussion to be found on the internet about Catch- 33, that the concept of I appear to be expanding on the concept of self, inner struggles/paradoxes and pitfalls of defining self in reflection of others. To a lesser extent, one might even look at Catch-33 as a microcosmic extension of the concepts used in guitarist Fredrik Thordendal's Sol Niger Within. The ideas expressed in these thick metaphors are abundant with images of self being the primary perpetrator of psychological torture, even in the chemically stable mind. The summation of ideas seems to be presented early on in the album in one of its most recognizable lines, "The struggle to free myself from restraint, becomes my very shackles". Many of these ideas are expressed in the basic ubiquitous teachings of Zen philosophy and the core tenets of Buddhism. From a delivery standpoint, it is understandable that many may feel the ideas and depth of concept are lost in the profoundly distorted and incomprehensible screaming vocals of Jens Kidman. But in the case of Catch-33, there is a dichotomy in that loss of understanding by the listener is the representation of what is conveyed by that soft inner voice that speaks in paradoxes and generates the internal torment of confusion and loss of self. Instrumentally the band uses 8-string guitars for an extremely thick bottom end. The processing of the guitar sound is peculiar in that even during the most distorted sections the lowest guitar sound less like the distortion of amplification overdrive and more like two metal pieces (wire/fret) vibrating against each other. This creates unconventional accents in the rhythmic patterns that are mimicced frequently today, but were very unique at the time of this release. Thordendal's typical Holdsworthian soloing style is used primarily as a texturing tool throughout the album. A particularly unusual aspect of this album is that Tomas Haake's drum tracks are actually programmed rather than recorded. Haake explains that this occured in the writing process, the programming was used for laying down the guitar tracks and the band as a whole decided the samples "sounded really good" and just went with it. Interestingly, they did perform some of the Catch-33 material live with Haake playing. Catch-33 is separated into tracks for indexing purposes, but is presented as a single composition with different movements that seem irrespective of the track assignments. The composition displays a great deal more dynamic contrast than previous work. And while the use of "quiet" parts are nothing new to a Meshuggah album, they are never quite as extended as they are delivered on Catch-33. Nor are they ever delivered with as much of an avant-garde musical approach. Previous songs like Unanything, Acrid Placidity had a more generic "this is the mellow song on the metal album" feel to them. Even later, The Last Vigil, approached the use of undistorted strings in a similar vein, but did not come close in the complexity of musical idea. The sections of particular note I am speaking of are at the end of the tracks In Death...Is Death and Sum. There are a couple shorter undistorted sections, but these are the two longest. Each has intertwining guitar patterns and both contain some of the eeriest, most sinister sounding passages in the body of Meshuggah's work. I should hope that Thordendal and Mårten Hagström will employ more of this approach or even explore a separate project in the future. There is something truly majestic about that style. And even the percussive portions of the music display a depth of musical understanding that exceeds that of bands considered in the same paradigm. From the rhythmic structures that use multiple time signatures simultaneously, to use of jazzy dodecaphonics (12-tone), Meshuggah was, and continue to be unbound by expectation. When taking into account Meshuggah's body of work I find Catch-33 at the forefront of my appreciation for its unconventionality, diversity, and thoughtfulness. It is held from the regard of masterpiece outside of the metal world simply by the vocals. And as I stated previously, there is a fundamental value to that style in the story.I believe that the listener who is up for a challenge will find a very deep and rewarding experience in the intricacies and complex build of this mammoth construction. 4.5 stars.

XYSMA The First and Magical

Album · 1993 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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Although XYSMA started out as one of Finland’s first grindcore bands near the city of Turku, the band’s involvement with the Swedish death metal scene altered their development substantially as one can hear from the detour on the early demos to the eclectic mix of death, doom and grindcore on the debut “Yeah!” The band befriended one of Sweden’s more popular death metal bands, namely Entombed and with the success of their 1993 “Wolverine Blues” the Entombed inspired a whole new legion of followers with the strange newfangled musical hybrid. That would be the silly titled death ’n’ roll tag which took the death metal traits that included guttural growls and heavy distorted guitars and married them with compositional constructs of 70s rock and roll and heavy metal.

XYSMA jumped on this bandwagon and while elements were present on the debut, the band went full death ’n’ roll on the sophomore album FIRST AND MAGICAL. Gone were the Napalm Death influences and in was a unique mix of Carcass sounding death metal mixed with 70s blues oriented hard rock. Hardly a combo one would consider to attract a new legion of followers. In fact, out of all the subgenera of metal that were splintering off in the early 90s, this is the one that probably attracted the fewest newcomers mostly because it doesn’t really sound very compelling unless the elements are balanced just right. While Entombed did a pretty good job on “Wolverine Blues,” they didn’t really manage to follow up with anything of equal stature.

As far as XYSMA’s take on this weird combo style, they pretty much follow the Entombed playbook and created a similarly fashioned sound. While XYSMA had great potential in what they crafted as their own unique style, they always seemed to botch up aspects of their albums that made it a bumpy ride. Same goes for FIRST AND MAGICAL which starts off with a rather silly sound check sequence that bookends the entire album. After the initial head scratching moment, “One More Time” starts off as 70s hard rock which makes you think the band had abandoned metal altogether however after a few measures it finally adds the death metal bombast. Despite the awkwardness it does demonstrate perfectly as to how the two styles are mixed. Once the groove is established and the death metal moments are churning out, a psychedelic keyboard appears that makes this album a tad surreal.

All in all, the tracks that sport the death ’n’ roll tag are not bad at all. The groovy hard rock aspects keep a nice melodic flow while the pummeling percussion and riffs add the proper bombast as does Janitor Mustasch’s growly death vocals. The band had really stepped up the musical tightness since “Yeah!” Mustasch and Olivier Lawny provide the stellar twin guitar attacks as they simultaneously create the double melodic counterpoints that keep the groove on. The biggest head scratcher comes in the form of the all acoustic “Can’t Imagine Your Death” which sounds like a completely different band. In fact it sounds like some rejected track off of Led Zeppelin III as it has a similarly styled guitar chord progression but lacks the intensity of anything the great Led Zep cranked out not to mention Mustasch’s vocals sound ridiculous.

While XYSMA does a decent job tackling the death ’n’ roll style of death metal, i can’t say that this is a style of death metal that really works for the most part and although the album is mostly played spot on, the compositions themselves seem to be lacking in some unknown substance that is needed to spice them up. Add to the fact that the silliest moments sort of derail the entire flow of the album which means this album doesn’t stack up against some of sub’s greatest moments that bands like Entombed and Gorefest dished out. There are some great moments on this one and at a short playing time of just over 31 minutes it doesn’t wear out its welcome either. It’s just not compelling enough to call great.

TERRORIZER World Downfall

Album · 1989 · Deathgrind
Cover art 3.68 | 12 ratings
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Emerging from the cesspools of 80s extreme metal, the Los Angeles based TERRORIZER were one of those bands that took the logical next step by incorporating the grindcore fusion of heavy metal and hardcore punk and added even more extreme death metal elements to the mix. The band had a short first run having only been around from 1986-89 and squeaked out only one album WORLD DOWNFALL which was only released by Earache records after the band had already called it quits.

The band’s short history was more of a brief gathering rather than a long term band project and had this debut album not become an underground classic, the band would probably never had reformed in 2005 and then again in 2009 to release several newer albums. While TERRORIZER had a short time when they played live, they benefited substantially from the late 80s underground cassette trading world that was catapulting extreme metal bands into the next stage of popularity.

Founded as the trio of vocalist Oscar Garcia, guitarist Jesse Pintado and drummer Pete Sandoval, the band picked up Alfred Estrada who was replaced by David Vincent on bass before recording WORLD DOWNFALL at the request of Earache Records who saw the band’s potential in the burgeoning underground grindcore metal world. With the cover art and overall sound clearly borrow from Napalm Death’s album “Scum,” TERRORIZER simply took the music to the next level of extremity with heavier distortion, faster tempos and death metal growls and blastbeats.

While not quite sticking to the micro song standards of less than one minute in length tracks, the sixteen tracks still retain a rather hardcore punk attitude with tracks ranging from over a minute to no more than three and a half. While other bands like Nuclear Death, Azagthoth and DNF had experimented with the fusion of death metal and grindcore earlier, it was TERRORIZER along with the Chicago based Macabre that really brought the new deathcore subgenre to the forefront of the late 80s diversification of extreme metal.

Despite not being the first to craft the deathcore fusionary possibilities, TERRORIZER is often credited as having done so. WORLD DOWNFALL pretty much follows the standard grindcore characteristics of Napalm Death and early Carcass that borrowed crust punk compositional styles augmented with more extreme metal bombast. This is one of those cases where the classic status has somehow tried to make this album into one of those magnificent albums of the ages but i stand with those who find this album a bit tedious and overrated.

Firstly, TERRORIZER was NOT the first to adopt this style of death metal / grindcore hybrid and the delivery of the album comes across as extremely monotonous. The band clearly added the more ambitious instrumental prowess to carry across their ability to play the music on a higher technical level with blitzkrieg deliveries of extremity and aggression, however where WORLD DOWNFALL is severely lacking is in the compositional department as all the tracks whizz by sounding like only slight variations of what came before ( a trait that plagues many “core” albums).

For the most part the riffs are identical, the percussive bombast doesn’t deviate too much from the status quo and the grooves, once established, pretty much deliver the exact same semi-melodic output for the entire album’s run. In fact i can’t think of a single thing that this album brought to the metal table that hadn’t already been done before. While WORLD DOWNFALL has gained the reputation as one of the great extreme metal albums of the 80s, i find it rather monotonous and uninspired which apparently the band members themselves agreed as they would all jump ship soon. David Vincent and Pete Sandoval soon joined Morbid Angel. Jesse Pintado moved on to Napalm Death and Oscar Garcia to Nausea. Good but not great.

XE-NONE Dance Metal [Rave]olution

Album · 2008 · Trance Metal
Cover art 1.00 | 1 rating
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The trance metal world grew out of the industrial section mostly influenced by the Neue Deutsche Härte (New German Hardness) movement of the 90s that was made popular by Rammstein and as the 21st century began, many new artists were undertaking the complete fusion of electro-industrial and techno with the bombast of metal. While Rammstein started the ball rolling with their Einstürzende Neubauten meets Nine Inch Nails industrial metal heft, newer bands like Blood Stain Child and Russia’s XE-NONE crafted a fusion more dominated by the electronica side of the equation.

Having formed in Kirov, Russia in 2004, XE-NONE took the electronic sensibilities of electronic dance music with extreme metal riffing along with a few death growls. The two founding members Lexy Dance (vocals, programming) and Newman (syntthesizers, programming) cranked out a few shorter EPs before releasing their debut album DANCE METAL (RAVE)OLUTION which sounds exactly as the title suggests, namely dance floor friendly electronic grooves with heavy bombastic power chords and guitar riffs.

Overall the band exudes a rather generic dance music style with a rather generic metal bombast. What makes the band sound somewhat unique is the dual vocal attack of EvilAnn’s operatic clean vocals exchanging with the extreme metal growls and grunts of Lexy Dance. Trance metal is characterized by a fast tempo ranging between 130 and 160 BPM and XE-NONE keep a quickened pace throughout their (RAVE)OLUTION. In accordance with the definition of this sub-genre, XE-NONE keeps things melodic with pop hooks and provide a more uplifting feel than is typical of the grimier world of industrial metal.

DANCE METAL (RAVE)OLUTION is ultimately quite the boring affair. Generic dance metal programmed loops offer a never changing repetitive series of synthesized riffs and beats with the accompanying lackluster vocal effects of EvilAnn and Lexy. The pop hooks are rather blah and the album goes on way too long. EvilAnn’s operatic vocals sound completely out of place and the metal riffs are wimpy. This is really uninspiring in pretty much every possible way. This isn’t really a sub-genre that appeals to me tremendously not because it doesn’t have potential but because it’s performed in such a lackluster way. If you want good trance metal check out Infected Mushroom’s “Legend Of The Black Shawarma” but this one is a big boring blah.

BABYMETAL Babymetal

Album · 2014 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.61 | 10 ratings
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Metal is an interesting genre of music indeed. Despite its nearly half century of expanding its sonic tentacles in virtually every direction of the musical spectrum, it has nevertheless for the most part managed to keep itself confined in a self-imposed box of sort. With very few exceptions that are more regarded as “novelty” rather than “true metal,” the genre has remained steadfast in the darkened section of the music store and although the paranoia and social outrage of early Black Sabbath has expanded into the more extreme arenas of Satanism, murder and suicide, the genre has pretty much followed the general trend of remaining a slap in the face for those unaccustomed to its ugly characteristics molded into various shades of palatability.

Then every once in a while, some act dares to break these unspoken conventions and finds a polarizing effect of utmost praise for its original and fresh approach as well as gag inducing condemnation for crossing those nebulous invisible barriers a tad too far. While one gimmick seems to work for a certain band, the next may fail to walk that precarious tightrope act and have a completely different outcome. Such is the case with Japan’s BABYMETAL who emerged in 2014 after gaining independence from serving as a sub-unit of the Japanese idol group Sakura Gakuin. With the idea that the metal market is saturated with not only the old school acts still in existence but countless new strains of the genre, the band was marketed just as was sushi which delivered something completely new to the multi-decade paradigm.

While BABYMETAL is fronted by a mere trio of female teenagers looking more like the next candidate for a tween pop band blasting on headphones far and wide through Japan’s youth, the band is in fact consists of a multitude of musicians and lyricists which creates a more varied sound than would be possible if a mere small group of artists were in charge. BABYMETAL started the trend of taking the unlikely companions of heavy metal and J-pop and mixing them together which means cute cuddly girl vocal pop with serious metallic bombast along for the ride. While tagged in some camps as “trance metal,” a sub-genre that mixes clean melodic styles with melodic death metal, silky smooth symphonic elements and electronic dance music, BABYMETAL delivers a more specialized sound that is known as “kawaii metal,” also known as “idol metal” or “cute metal” on their self-titled debut album which invaded the metal scene in 2014.

This little sub-sub-genre of “kawaii metal” specifically refers to the fusion of heavy metal bombast with J-pop melodies that incorporates everything from hip hop and dance music to bubblegum pop and dubstep. The metal aspects can range from death and industrial to speed, power and classic 80s. Despite the utter contempt heaped upon this band from the old school metalheads who don’t fancy crossing those invisible lines into the world of “cuteness” in their metal, BABYMETAL nevertheless has been quite successful with this debut selling over 100,000 copies in Japan alone and finding a larger audience around the world. These high school age girls have already embarked on many world tours and whether you love em or hate em, BABYMETAL is a band that has managed to capture the attention of just about every metal fan out there, a rare unifying factor almost unheard of in the 21st century.

Yes, BABYMETAL is a gimmick for sure but so is pretty much everything out there. It’s a given that when certain bands whether it be My Dying Bride, Overkill, Pantera or Metallica break free from the style that brought them to the world’s attention find visceral reactions against the sudden change and more often than not revert back to their true and tested style that the fanbase loves to much. Musically this is metal through and though. The bombast of the incessant guitar riffing, death growls, percussive blastbeats and general orotundity pays homage to the world of extreme metal perfectly however it will be the cutesy attack of J-pop melodies and clean girlie vocal charm of Su-metal (Suzuka Nakamoto), Yuimetal (Yui Mizuno) and Moametal (Moa Kikuchi) that will leave the old schoolers shaking their heads in disbelief.

Despite all the downright disdain casted toward this style of music, BABYMETAL in reality cranks out a rather innoxious form of pop metal that while not the cream of crop of pop infused metal hooks is by no means as bad as it’s made out to be. While not exactly my preferred style of metal, i can’t help but find this a refreshing addition to the mostly testosterone fueled metal universe. Cute cuddly J-pop melodies snuggle up with hardcore metal fury. Now that’s not something you won’t hear everyday! Perhaps we should call this “Hello Kitty metal!” A few factors of this debut do keep its originality dampened. Firstly, the tracks tend to start sounding the same as the album approaches the one hour mark. There could have been more variation to keep my interest as many of the tracks start sounding samy. So in the end, i won’t pretend that i have joined the fan club and am anxiously awaiting the next BABYMETAL tour since this is in the same camp as say Dethklok, but it’s certainly no throwaway metal either. The J-pop meets metal possibilities need some more work but offer a new slice of the metal universe to expand upon.

UNICORN HOLE Twenty Pieces O' Shit From Twenty O' Seven

Album · 2007 · Cybergrind
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UNICORN HOLE - Definition : Not so different than one's corn hole, only referring to a Unicorn's corn hole. Spewing rainbows & other fantasy type%^ish.

Grindcore and South Park worship with electronic embellishments all under one roof!

Cybergrind anybody? UNICORN HOLE has some of the best!

20 fucking awesome examples of immaturity jetting by in less than 10 minutes!

Screamed vocals, grind^core metal freneticism fucking with you mind!

ELECTRONIC wankery in full effect!

Song titles that take longer to read than track lengths!

From South Carolina, so hurricane strength intensity!

Chiptune? Metalcore? Grindcore? Me not know :o

Summary:

This is basically a declaration of not giving a flying fuck.

This core designed album is about giving the middle finger to everythoing.

Fuck conventions, even metal ones.

Electronic based grindcore with dripping attitude.

Not too bad really.

Definitely a rainbow killer.

Mission accomplished.

Fuck yeah.

Blip.

:/

MOONSORROW Kivenkantaja

Album · 2003 · Viking Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 19 ratings
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MOONSORROW had already come a long way after starting as a laughable lumpen gathering of pissed off stray cats that found their way into the lo-fi underworld’s recording studio but quickly found that black metal sounded a tad more original when played with Nordic folk and quaint drinking songs. While not the inventors of the style, the band nevertheless channeled its potential into more fertile grounds and added epic atmospheres, irresistible melodies and legendary subject matter revolving around Norse mythology, paganism and the world of the Vikings. While concocting a satisfying anthemic and heroic style on their first two albums “Suden Uni” and “Voimasta Ja Kunniasta,” MOONSORROW suddenly got the progressive bug and created an even more intense larger than life album with the third release KIVENKANTAJA (“Stonebearer") which showcased a triumphant evolution in compositional fortitude and a knack for pulling out all the punches. Folk tinged extreme metal would never be the same.

In addition to the now established folk remedies and black metal bantering MOONSORROW found a new source of inspiration from neighboring Sweden in the form of Bathory’s Viking metal classic “Hammerheart.” Gone are the blatant drinking song jigs in grim reaper fashion and in are more nuanced compositions that offer the grandiloquence of galloping guitar riffs, epic percussive drive, synthesized cumulous cloud covers and chanting vocal exchanges that alternate between the raspy harsh metal vocals of Ville Sorvali and the powerful clean vocal style of Henri Sorvali backed up by a cranking choir effect. Vikings may have been Norse in origin but MOONSORROW with Finno-Ugric origins proves they have what it takes to summon the proper aural spectres to join their Western neighbors in a good game of pagan ritual worship and pilfering plunder but despite the Viking metal tag so carefully attached to their resume, the band itself insists that their style is nothing more than “epic heathen metal.”

Epic indeed right from the getgo as vocal chants and atmospheric creeping is suddenly rudely interrupted by the twin guitar stomping power of Henri Sorvali’s and Mitja Harvilahti’s pristine precisionism as they navigate the choppy progressive Viking waters and chug out the percussive counterpoints in rhythmic mode save the stray guitar solo fluttering into the sonicscape. Likewise the melodic development is provided by the one two punch of the myriad vocalists in cahoots with the keyboards which provide not only the proper ambient brume of mood setting schemata but also cranks out the extra touches of horn instrument sounds as well as wild woodwinds. Sticking to the Viking metal playbook despite contempt for the term, MOONSORROW bedazzles and enchants with the lush tapestry of folk instrumentation heard from the accordion, jew’s harp and fiddle (through the dirty little finger’s of guest musician Jaakko Lemmetty "Hittavainen.) Add the fretted and fretless bass of Ville Sorvali, the multitude of electric, acoustic and 12-string guitar strums and the percussive prowess of the skin and cymbal smasher in chief, Marko Tarvonen and most a exciting sonic storm is guaranteed to please the metalhead’s sensibiltiies.

Stretched out into five tracks of epic heathen metal splendor, KIVENKANTAJA is stuff that far reaching progressively inclined metal dreams are made of. While the Gregorian chant rich opening “Rauniolla (At The Ruins)” provides a rather gentle false sense of tranquility, the following “Unohduksen Lapsi (Child Of Oblivion)” provides the proper soul crushing metal bombast to keep the headbangers happy all the while layers of synth-drenches atmospheric touches ooze by in the background as the guitars stomp their way into the heat of battle. KIVENKANTAJA is where the classic sound of MOONSORROW gelled into its permanent state of awesomeness as all the ingredients and simmered down into a delectable stew of metal palatability. While the album keeps a great pace of mixing the heavier elements with the softer more sensual folk remedies, the final track provides a departure with a pure Pagan folk ritual along with the feminine divine goddess charm of guest vocalist Petra Lindberg. KIVENKANTAJA is equally as divine without missing a beat and cemented MOONSORROW’s status as one of the premier folk metal bands of the millennium.

THE HAUNTED Made Me Do It

Album · 2000 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 5 ratings
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"Made Me Do It" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Swedish thrash metal act The Haunted. The album was released through Earache Records in October 2000. There´s been a couple of lineup changes since the self-titled debut as lead vocalist Peter Dolving has been replaced by Marco Aro, and Adrian Erlandsson has been replaced by Danish drummer Per M. Jensen (Invocator, Artillery).

Stylistically the music on "Made Me Do It" more or less continues down the same path as on the self-titled debut. That means aggressive thrash metal with occasional melodic death metal traits. Slayer is the most obvious influence, but there are naturally also some traces in the music of the Björler brother´s former act At The Gates. The change on the lead vocalist spot isn´t that obvious as Peter Dolving and Marco Aro at that point had a relatively similar vocal style. Distorted and aggressive raw singing that occasionally touches semi-growling territory. Aro also experiements with clean (well...effect laden) vocals on "Hollow Ground" and succeeds in doing so.

"Hollow Ground" is as a result one of the standout tracks on the album, but tracks like "Bury Your Dead" and "Leech" could also be mentioned among the highlights. All material on the 11 track (the Japanese version features a bonus track), 36:09 minutes long album are of a high quality though and "Made Me Do It" is overall a consistent quality release. It´s relatively varied too with both fast-paced thrashers, and more mid-paced heavy tracks. A few tracks even feature some atmospheric moments.

Another great asset is the skillful delivery of the music. While everything is delivered with militant precision there´s also a great organic touch to the playing, which provides the material with an important human touch. That is further enhanced by a raw, powerful, and organic sounding production, which suits the music perfectly. So upon conclusion "Made Me Do It" is a quality sophomore studio album by The Haunted, that isn´t terribly different in sound and style to their debut album, but which still comes off as more developed and catchy. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

FATES WARNING Chasing Time

Boxset / Compilation · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 7 ratings
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"Chasing Time" is a compilation album by US progressive/power metal act Fates Warning. The compilation was released through Metal Blade Records in July 1995. Fates Warning were formed under the Misfit monicker in 1982 but changed their name to Fates Warning in 1984. Up until this release they had released seven full-length studio albums. Each of those albums are represented with at least one track on "Chasing Time" (some with more). In addition to the original studio tracks "Chasing Time" also features a two previously unreleased tracks in "At Fates Fingers" and "Circles". The former is an instrumental and re-arranged version of "At Fates Hands" from "Perfect Symmetry (1989)" while the latter was recorded in 1993 but shelved. Some parts of the track would later appear as part of other tracks on "Inside Out (1994)". On a maybe less interesting note "We Only Say Goodbye" from "Parallels (1991)" appears here in a remixed version.

So "Chasing Time" is more or less a best of compilation with a few rarities thrown in to make it a worthwhile purchase for the hardcore fans of the band too. The latter part of the band´s audience need not go out of their way to get "Chasing Time" in my opinion though, as the rarities are only moderately interesting. "Chasing Time" is more a release for the casual listener, who gets an easy way to get into Fates Warning without having to listen to seven full albums of music, and for that purpose the compilation works really well. You get a fairly good idea of the music style on each of the band´s releases. The tracklist is not chronological, which might confuse new listeners, but to my ears the choice to arrange the compilation like that actually works pretty well. You can always argue if the right songs where picked for the tracklist or not, but as it is it´s a pretty good presentation of Fates Warning up until 1995. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

VEKTOR Outer Isolation

Album · 2011 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 34 ratings
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"Outer Isolation" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US thrash metal act Vektor. The album was released through Heavy Artillery Records in November 2011. It´s the follow up to the critically acclaimed "Black Future (2009)", which really put Vektor´s name on the map. Vektor were formed under the Locrian monicker in 2003 but changed their name to Vektor in 2004. They released the "Demolition" demo album in 2006, which is often mistakenly considered their debut album. Like the case was on "Black Future (2009)", several tracks from "Demolition (2006)" have been re-arranged and re-recorded for "Outer Isolation". More specifically "Fast Paced Society", "Venus Project", and "Tetrastructural Minds".

Stylistically the music on "Outer Isolation" more or less continues where "Black Future (2009)" left off. It´s technical/progressive thrash metal with sci-fi themed lyrics and imagery. Vektor are strongly influenced by Voivod, but artists like Destruction and late era-Death also come to mind. So the music features a good balance between old school raw thrash metal and more sophisticated technical/progressive elements. The vocals are high pitched screaming which remind me of a higher pitched Chuck Schuldiner (Death) on "The Sound of Perseverance (1998)". That means effect laden and processed to the point where they are bordering inhuman territory.

The 8 tracks on the 51:43 minutes long album are all well written, intriguing, and powerful metal tracks, and while Vektor aren´t completely there yet, they are well on their way to creating a unigue musical style. Sometimes their adventurous songwriting takes them in slightly too many directions, and if I have to mention one small issue it would be that the tracks could have prospered from a few more repeated hooklines. When Vektor incorporate more instant cathiness to their music like they do on for example "Echoless Chamber", they show promise of a more compact and memorable future direction, that could get them far.

"Outer Isolation" features a powerful and raw, yet detailed and clear sound production, which brings out the best in the music. So upon conclusion this is a great sophomore album by Vektor. There´s been development since "Black Future (2009)" but not too much development (which means there is still continuety of sound and style), and "Outer Isolation" very much feels like the natural successor to the debut. As mentioned above I still feel Vektor haven´t completely found their "sound" yet, and they are clearly still in a development phase. Sometimes that´s the phase of an artist´s career, where they produce the most interesting material, but sometimes it´s just part of the journey towards something greater. In that regard it´ll be interesting to see after more album releases from Vektor where "Outer Isolation" places itself in the band´s discography. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

MAGIC PIE Motions Of Desire

Album · 2005 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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As the new renaissance of the progressive rock 90s churned on into the new millennium, it seems everyone was getting in on the act and the Scandinavian countries of Europe produced more than their fair share of some of the best new acts to emerge in the newer waves of the progressive rock world. Norway's MAGIC PIE was one of many to take the retro approach which adopted as many styles from the golden era and piecemeal them together into a fine tapestry of tradition all the while keeping the updated stylistic approaches and superior production values in full play. The band began as a cover band but soon gained enough confidence to begin crafting their own compositions out of the templates of the past masters. They soon released their debut album MOTIONS OF DESIRE in 2005 which was touted as being one of the best prog releases of the year and successfully gained them an instant following by those who would become instantly addicted to their heavy organ drenched riffs and rhythms in well-crafted musical territories where catchy earworms danced side by side with choppy angular prog accoutrements that harkened a blast from the past while tacking on the current passions of the present.

MAGIC PIE is a sextet coming from the south-eastern city of Østfold on Norway's eastern border with Sweden, another nation of seemingly endless musical talents that contributed to the fully fueled prog revival in the 90s with talents such as Ånglagard and Anekdoten. Each musician is a master of his respective instrument with Kim Stenberg leading the way with his crafty guitar oriented songwriting structures feeling equally at home on both happy-go-lucky rhythmic chord strumming or sizzling face-melting solos. Another prominent feature of the MAGIC PIE experience is the prominent use of the dreamy keyboards which emulate organs, mellotrons and all the atmospheric aspects of classic 70s prog. Gilbert Marshall, while a virtuoso in his own right on the keys is in no way a Keith Emerson type but rather focuses on the more ambient textures of Genesis' "Wind & Wuthering" era as well as Deep Purple type hard rock keyboard bombast. There are also many sections that would feel right at home on neo-prog albums as the textures often are superimposed on the band to augment a heightened melodic counterpoint. MAGIC PIE also employs two vocalists. Both Erik Hanssen and Allan Olsen complement each other as they sing in unison or cleverly craft madrigal polyphonies that offer nods to Gentle Giant without sounding like total ripoffs.

MOTIONS OF DESIRE is a lengthy beast consisting of eight tracks clocking in at almost 75 minutes. The opening track "Change" is a truly ambitious monster of a prog track clocking in at over twenty minutes and zigzags through many moods, textures and musical parades, however like the rest of the album is based in melodic rock that is more heavy than not that to me sounds like it inspired by some of the 70s classics like Mott The Hoople, David Bowie and other melodic rock giants, at least in compositional structuring. MAGIC PIE doesn't just stop with their melodic roots as the template but its how they build upon these different riffs and rhythms, tones and timbres and construct some of the most emotional drenching meets technically demanding tracks that have both the ability to weasel their way into your consciousness with their hooks but also bedazzle with their technical wizardry that not only delivers frenetic guitar and keyboard solos but run the gamut of completing the prog lover's workshop course by including crazy time signature change segments as well as polyphonic visions of 70s prog perfection.

Overall i find MAGIC PIE has that post-Morse Spock's Beard or Flower Kings symphonic prog sound as they carry out sprawling melodic segments that morph into different ones at least for the mellow and dreamier aspects of the album such as the neo-prog sounds of the title track and "Dream Vision. The band are perfectly capable of dishing some heavier parts and tracks with the highlight coming on the lightning technical speeds and bombast of "Illusion & Reality - Part III: Final Breath" with all the modern day virtuosity you could ask for. There are also parts such as the alternating rhythms in "Change" that display a rather flamenco rhythmic flare as well as ska rhythms emerging periodically. MOTIONS OF DESIRE contains an additional track "Full Circle Poetry" that is just over fourteen minutes in length as well as a sprawling three part themed chunk of time dedicated to "Illusion & Realty" that between the three tracks hit over the eighteen minute mark which gives this album all the pomp and overweening progitude that caused the genre to peak and ultimately decline during the heyday. MAGIC PIE unapologetically resurrects these ambitious attributes in full glory and runs away with it.

MAGIC PIE seems to catch a lot of flack for seemingly being "souless" and "insincere" as they unapologetically borrow riffs and rhythms that pinpoint to a time in the past but i can't help but to really love this one. Every track flows with the perfect amount of all ingredients finding their way into the mix. While the music isn't designed to create a new direction in prog, it certainly succeeds extremely well in stitching all of the ingredients together and making a bona fide retro prog sound that i find pleasing from beginning to end. I enjoy all the musician's idiosyncratic plays on the past masters as well as the more sophisticated approach of adapting them to the modern age. Both vocalists work in tandem and it's usually impossible to distinguish that there are indeed two vocalists participating. With a knack for interesting compositional zigzags through stylistic changes that intuitively keep the tracks exciting, i find MOTIONS OF DESIRE to be an excellent piece of modern prog that straddles the perfect fence that divides the dreamy folk placidity and the heavy energetic rocking side of their style. MAGIC PIE are genii at melodic flow as they manage to create a super lengthy album (a feature i usually shy away from) and keep me entertained on repeated listens. Strong melodies, strong compositions with respectful reverence to tradition. My kinda album!

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM The End of Chaos

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes, knowing little about a band’s past, and their legacy can be a good thing in helping me to enjoy their newer releases without any expectations or preconceived judgments. Such was the case with American thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam when they released their 2016 self-titled release, which served as my introduction to the band. With nothing else to compare it against, I was pleasantly surprised by the energy, intensity, and overall strong songcraft the veterans were able to deliver on what appeared to a comeback album of sorts. I’ve since briefly checked out some of their past works, and suffice to say, their first two albums, Doomsday for the Deceiver and No Place for Disgrace, are considered classics for a reason, being pure, raw thrash at its finest. Unfortunately, things went downhill after that, with some of their later albums incorporating elements of heavy metal and groove metal, with varying success, and between that and constant lineup changes, nothing the band has done since has even come close to matching their first two releases. It wasn’t until 2016, with their aforementioned self-titled release, that the band finally seemed to be back on track, as it was a full on return to their thrash roots while having a more modern and more polished sound. With that release serving as a great introduction to the band, I was excited to see what they would do next, and thankfully their upcoming 13th full-length release, The End of Chaos, is almost upon us, and it’s certainly a treat!

Like its predecessor, The End of Chaos sees the band continuing with a full thrash sound, except that where the previous release still contained faint traces of their heavy and groove metal elements, this one is nothing but pure thrash from start to finish, rarely letting it up or slowing down in the slightest. If anything, it feels even closer to the band’s origins, while still being as polished and having the modernized sound of its predecessor. There are some slight tempo changes on some tracks, and some of them move at a more moderate pace, but for the most part, this is pure straight-forward, speedy and very hard-hitting thrash, with some excellent riffs, great solos, and fun choruses. There are times where the band injects a bit of extra melody into the songs, which is a nice touch, and overall the album strikes a perfect balance between heavy, uncompromising thrash, while still being accessible and having some excellent vocal lines. It has a very “dumb fun” feel to it, with some of the lyrics being pretty silly and kinda dumb, but in a way that works well for the genre. Thrash obviously isn’t known to have particularly well thought out lyrics, and this album is the same, so fans can expect a ton of F-bombs, a strong tough guy attitude, lots of anger, and just overall nonsense, but in a fun way that fits the music quite well. There’s nothing overly complex or experimental here, as it feels like the band just wanted to make a pure thrash album, and in that regard, they sure succeeded, as the album is consistently great and it moves at a fast pace throughout, with one crushing riff after another.

One thing I especially enjoyed on the previous album was the voice of Eric “A.K.” Knutson”, as he has a very deep, very powerful voice with a ton of grit to It, and it fits the music perfectly. He’s certainly changed a lot over the years, as his voice has become much lower and deeper, but he retains the same power and intensity as ever, and he certainly sounds just as great on this release as he did on the previous one. There are bursts where he tries singing a bit higher, and these are the only times on the album where his voice feels a bit strained, as he just can’t quite pull it off convincingly anymore, but aside from that, he does a great job throughout, and his lower register is certainly as awesome as ever.

While I greatly enjoyed the self-titled release, I found it had a couple spots where it dragged just a bit, as it seemed to peak early, lose a bit of momentum and then it got back on track again in time for the end. The End of Chaos doesn’t have that same problem, as while it does get off to an excellent start, once again, it manages to stay very consistent, with its biggest highlights being spread pretty evenly throughout the album. Opener “Prisoner of Time” is certainly one of my favorites, as it starts off with a nice jam session for the first 40 seconds, before going full throttle and never looking back. Once the song gets going, it settles into a nice rhythm, moving at a moderate to slightly high tempo, with the kind of hard-hitting riffs one would expect from the band, before opening up a for a strong, melodic and very catchy chorus, where Eric really shine. Next is “Control”, a faster song with some even harder riffs, where the band masterfully demonstrates their thrash chops. It moves at a relentless pace through its verses, with some especially nasty riffs during the lead into the chorus, which proves to be one of the most melodic and most catchy on the album. It also has a nice solo section in the middle and is a very fun track overall. The first single is “Recover”, a slightly more melodic track, which still moves at a nice pace and has some great riffs during the verses, as well a nice but very brief solo. My only problem with this track is the chorus, which has a nice main melody, but it keeps repeating the same line over and over, and that’s something I don’t quite like, unless it’s on a particularly hard-hitting thrash chorus, which isn’t the case here, as it’s more melodic, and it just gets too repetitive for my tastes. The song is still great, overall, though.

Next is one of my favorites in “Prepare for the Chaos”, another faster-paced track with some particular punishing riffs. It has an excellent lead into its chorus, with some very hard-hitting riffs and some simple but fun vocal lines, before the chorus itself proves to be more melodic and epic. The verses are very fun, with the second in particular being a perfect example of the kind of “dumb fun” lyrics I was talking about, almost falling into guilty pleasure territory, except the music itself is far too great for it to fully earn that description. The momentum keeps up with “Slowly Insane”, a brief but extremely fast and very aggressive track, with some of the best, most classic thrash sounding riffs on the album. It’s a pure thrasher from start to finish and has an excellent extended solo section, where the two guitarists really get to show off their skill. Overall, it’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album. After that is the darker, but still heavy “Architects of Hate”, which moves at a good pace during its intense verses, before slowing down for a darker, more sinister chorus. It’s not as immediately engaging as some of the other tracks here, but it’s still a great track in its own right. The second single of the album is “Demolition Man”, and it’s another one of those very simple, yet fun, pure thrashers, where the lyrics are kinda silly, but in a fun way that works out well. It’s also another example of strong, heavy verses paired with a melodic and very catchy chorus.

Moving towards the end of the album, “Unwelcome Surprise” is my absolute favorite, as it’s a frantic, very heavy and very powerful track, with excellent thrashing riffs, powerful vocals, and a stupidly catchy (and maybe just plain stupid, but awesome) chorus, where Eric constantly proclaims “I bet you didn’t see that one coming”, and no, I probably didn’t, as it’s certainly an awesome and ridiculously fun track. It has excellent verses, a great instrumental section and probably my favorite chorus on the album, just because of how silly, yet fun it is. After such a big highlight, “Snake Eyes” proves to be solid, but not quite up to par with its predecessor. It’s still as fast, hard-hitting track, though, and it has some excellent riffs and is generally a ton of fun to listen to, I just find it doesn’t really stick with me much in between listens. The only other song here I have the same issue with is “Good or Bad”, a song which alternates nicely between slow verses and a fast chorus. I find the verses enjoyable, but the chorus just doesn’t really hit me the way most other songs on the album do, and Eric’s vocals feel just a bit strained compared to normal, so I usually end up forgetting about the track when I’m not listening to it. In between those two is “Survive”, which does not have that problem at all, as it has a somewhat slow, but very melodic and catchy chorus, which proves to be one of the best on the album, as well as some fast, heavy and intense riffs during the verses. Closing out the album is the short but awesome “The End”, another very hard hitting track, which moves at a blazing fast pace during its verses, before giving way to a slow, melodic and very enjoyable chorus. It’s a great track and it closes out the album in strong form.

I may not have much experience with Flotsam and Jetsam, but I certainly enjoyed their previous release a lot, as well as the bursts I’ve heard of their first two, and The End of Chaos is definitely another killer release, featuring just under 50 minutes of pure, hard-hitting thrash from start to finish. It picks up where the self-titled release left off, and if anything it’s even faster paced and more aggressive throughout. If this album is any indication, 2019 could be a great year for thrash, and either way, it proves again that Flotsam and Jetsam still have a lot left in them, so hopefully, they can keep the momentum going for a few more albums yet!

originally written for myglobalmind.com:https://myglobalmind.com/2019/01/06/flotsam-and-jetsam-the-end-of-chaos-review/

MOONSORROW Voimasta ja kunniasta

Album · 2001 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 13 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Considering themselves “epic heathen metal,” the Helsinki, Finland based MOONSORROW followed in the footsteps of bands like Skyclad and Amorphis to incorporate local folk music flavors into extreme metal and in the process found ways to carve a new niche for themselves. While the band began more as a Norwegian second wave black metal clone, brothers Ville and Henri Sorvali really stepped up their game for the debut “Suden Uni,” which showcased a more sophisticated approach of melding together the aforementioned elements however on their sophomore album VOIMASTA JA KUNNIASTA (“Of Strength And Honor”), MOONSORROW really took a quantum leap in quality and although i didn’t find the debut the least bit uninteresting, on this this one a new synthesis of the disparate sounds certainly did rise to the next level.

While “Suden Uni” was profound, VOIMASTA JA KUNNIASTA introduces the world to a more epic approach of black metal and ethnic folk fusion with a step towards more progressive pastures. One of the distinguishing features of this second full-length offering is the arrival of second guitarist Mitja Harvilahti who along with Henri Sorvali gives the band a much fuller twin guitar attack sound. Dare i say that VOIMASTA JA KUNNIASTA also dishes out much more memorable folk hooks as well? Everything seems to click for the band and their much lauded and idiosyncratic approach to folk metal comes into fruition here. Except for the short instrumental intro, the tracks are quite lengthy ranging from seven and a half minutes to nearly fourteen, however the repetitive folk hooks are mesmerizing even as the black metal bombast pummels the senses.

Generally speaking, MOONSORROW at this stage are clearly a black metal band with the characteristic traits of orotundity that includes incessant tempos, buzzsaw guitar action and tremolo picking as well as shred vocals, percussive blastbeats and muddy distortion however the folk elements take it into an entirely new direction and not just for novelty’s sake. This is a true marriage of ethnic folk and black metal. The folk aspects take the metal into more melodic sophistication that allow the chord progressions to carry a deeper meaning as well as the keyboard rich atmospheric backdrops that have been toned down since the previous album. While “Suden Uni” allowed clean vocal non-metal segments to find their way into the mix, VOIMASTA JA KNNIASTA is pretty much an intense black metal fusion all the way through with only a smattering of acoustic guitar intros and breakdowns popping up from time to time. Clean vocals are reserved for the backing vocals only.

MOONSORROW mastered here a nice collection of five tracks that each have a distinct personality. Some such as “Hiidenpelto - Häpeän Hiljaiset Vedet (”Field of the Devil/The Silent Waters of Shame") focus more on the melodic developments while some like “Aurinko ja Kuu (The Sun And The Moon)” break out a more thrashy metal heft and emphasis on the heaviness without sacrificing the folk intricacies. The true treat is saved for last as the sprawling epic “Sankarihauta (Warrior’s Tale)” begins with sensual ocean wave sounds and slinks on through several developing features which include a health dose of blackened folk metal prowess, a distinct folkened melodic escapade sallies forth into the heat of battle and nice a alternating mix of atmospheric oomf between the metal stomps and acoustic folk inserts. Overall VOIMASTA JA KUNNIASTA is an excellent development in MOONSORROW’s history but personally i don’t think it’s better, just a nice different path to embark upon.

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