Metal Music Reviews

AMON Sacrificial

Demo · 1989 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Sacrificial" is the 2nd demo cassette tape by US, Florida based death metal act Amon. The demo was self-released in 1989. Amon were formed in 1987 and recorded two demos (including this one) before changing their name to Deicide. A name change which took place in late 1989 just prior to the recording of Deicide´s self-titled debut full-length studio album "Deicide (1990)". All material from the demo is available on the "Amon: Feasting the Beast (1993)" compilation by Deicide.

The material from the "Sacrificial (1989)" demo were recorded in a professional recording studio and feature a very well sounding production. The sound quality is actually not far from the sound quality of the recordings on "Deicide (1990)", and most of the demo tracks also sound more or less like they do on the debut album. There are small differences though. For example in how the guitars sound/are played and the lack of samples on "Carnage in the Temple of the Damned". The vocals are also presented in a more stripped down version and doesn´t feature as many effects as they do on "Deicide (1990)". Overall the quality of the material and the recordings are very high and this demo could well have been released as a regular studio release.

So the songwriting is powerful and inspired, the sound production professional and very well sounding for a demo (better than on a lot of death metal studio albums from that time), and the musicianship is also on a high level on all posts. Razor sharp and fast-paced guitar riffs and screaming atonal solos, fast precision drumming, and Glen Benton´s distinct sounding intelligible growling in front. He was a force to be reckoned with in those days and among the more unique sounding growling vocalists from that time. His higher pitched "demon" screams aren´t that dominant on this release.

Listening to "Sacrificial (1989)" it´s no wonder Roadrunner Records signed Deicide. Tracks like "Lunatic of God's Creation", "Crucifixation", "Carnage in the Temple of the Damned", and "Dead By Dawn" are high quality death metal tracks with a unique sound and considering the time of release, this is groundbreaking material. It´s not often I give a 4 star (80%) rating to a demo release, but in this case it´s fully deserved.

AMON Feasting the Beast

Demo · 1987 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Feasting the Beast" is the 1st demo cassette tape by US, Florida based death metal act Amon. The demo was self-released in August 1987. Amon were formed in 1987 and recorded two demos (including this one) before changing their name to Deicide. A name change which took place in late 1989 just prior to the recording of Deicide´s self-titled debut full-length studio album "Deicide (1990)". All material from the demo is available on the "Amon: Feasting the Beast (1993)" compilation by Deicide.

The material featured on the "Feasting the Beast" demo is pretty raw and unpolished death metal with brutal thrash metal leanings (I hear a nod or two towards Slayer). Both "Day of Darkness" and "Oblivious to Nothing" are great tracks, and "Sacrificial Suicide" is also a quality track. It´s all very lo-fi and noisy and Glen Benton´s distinct sounding intelligible growling vocals are on an early stage of development at this point. All three tracks from the demo would be re-recorded and appear on Deicide´s eponymously titled 1990 debut album ("Oblivious to Nothing" was retitled "Oblivious to Evil" though).

With a more clear and powerful sound production "Feasting the Beast" could have been a bit more interesting, but considering that the material was written and recorded in 1987, it´s interesting from a compositional point of view, as it´s very brutal and fast-paced for the time. This is not just brutal thrash metal (although there are thrash metal leanings) like most of the contemporary death metal releases actually were, but instead a genuine death metal release, which there aren´t that many of from 1987. A 3 star (60%) rating is warrented.

DEICIDE Legion

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 26 ratings
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UMUR
"Legion" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Deicide. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in June 1992. Deicide enjoyed great success with their 1990 self-titled debut album and was at this point already considered one of the most prolific US death metal acts. Therefore the anticipation among fans and press were huge when "Legion" was finally released.

Stylistically "Legion" continues the blasphemous/anti-christian themed death metal of the predecessor but with a slightly more technical approach. The pace is predominantly very fast, and the material is raw and aggressive. 8 tracks distributed over a 29:04 minutes long playing time and then it´s over almost before you know it. Deicide deliver their music with great conviction and a burning passion. Fast-paced precision drumming, fast aggressive riffs and screaming atonal solos, and Glen Benton´s brutal growling/higher pitched screaming vocals in front. There´s the right authentic brutality and mean bite to the proceedings. Compared to the debut album the more technical playing is just one of the changes. Glen Benton´s vocals have also changed quite a bit. He still delivers both deep growling vocals and higher pitched screams, but his growling vocals are more the barking throaty type growls (completely intelligible) than the more brutal growling of the debut album. According to the liner notes it´s a consequence of no pitch shifters or harmonizers being used on the vocals on "Legion". Uncompromising as ever, and probably to proactively defend his new vocal sound against critical comments from reviewers, Glen Benton wrote these words in the liner notes: "This album was recorded with no harmonizer on my vocals, so for all my vocal critics, SUFFER".

The material is generally well written, but there aren´t as many catchy and memorable tracks as the case was on the debut album. The focus here seems to be more on brutality and the technically more challenging playing. Tracks like "Satan Spawn, the Caco-Daemon", "Dead but Dreaming", and "Trifixion" are still quite memorable though, and there´s nothing on the album which isn´t of a relatively high quality. There just aren´t as many tracks which stick as there are on the debut. The sound production is handled by Deicide and Scott Burns, and not surprisingly "Legion" therefore features a pretty classic sounding Morrisound Studios production. Powerful, raw, and brutal. The rhythm guitars are maybe placed slightly too low in the mix, which means the drums, the bass, and the vocals are quite dominating, but it´s not really much of an issue.

Upon conclusion "Legion" is a high quality death metal release. It shows development of style since the debut and while I personally don´t think it quite reaches the heights of it´s predecessor, it´s still a great sophomore album by Deicide, featuring high level musicianship, a powerful and brutal sound production, and good quality songwriting (although some tracks could have been a bit more memorable). A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

CYNIC The Portal Tapes

Boxset / Compilation · 2012 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"The Portal Tapes" is a full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Cynic. The album was released through Season of Mist in March 2012. It´s not really a Cynic album though and it was probably only released under the Cynic monicker to capitalize on the wave of success that Cynic were riding after their comeback in 2006. The material featured on "The Portal Tapes" were originally recorded under the Portal monicker after Cynic disbanded in 1994. Although Cynic split-up Paul Masvidal (guitars, vocals), Sean Reinert (drums), and Jason Gobel (guitars) opted to continue playing together and formed Portal with Cris Kringel (bass), and female vocalist/keyboard player Aruna Abrams. Portal recorded enough material for a full album, but the project ended up shelved until 2012 when Season of Mist picked it up and released it under the Cynic monicker.

Stylistically there are many similarities between Cynic and Portal, but there are also some fundamental differences. First off Portal features female clean vocals as well as male clean vocals, and no extreme distorted vocals. Next there are no hard edged riffing or anything remotely aggressive about the music. The material on "The Portal Tapes" is a dreamy atmospheric/new age type of music with fusion oriented rhythms as the foundation (maybe new age fusion isn´t the worst description). There´s an almost ethereal spiritual quality to the proceedings, which song titles like "Karma´s Plight", "Cosmos", and "Mirror Child" also suggest.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Aruna Abrams is a skilled vocalist, and Paul Masvidal´s sedated dreamy vocals compliment her well. It´s all very pleasant sounding and relaxing but by no means simple or easily accessible. You´ll have to dig for hooks and the tracks aren´t instantly easy to tell apart either. The latter is a slight issue to my ears, and the songwriting could have prospered from a bit more variation and more catchy moments. The album is very well produced, featuring a clean, clear, and detailed sound, which suits the atmospheric music well. So while the music doens´t make as much impact as it could have, "The Portal Tapes" is still a pretty interesting release for fans of atmospheric music with fusion rhythms and clean female/male singing, and the high level musicianship and professional sounding production pull in a positive direction too. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

MASTER Collection Of Souls

Album · 1993 · Death Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Collection Of Souls" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US death metal act Master. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in 1993. It´s the successor to "On The Seventh Day God Created... Master" from 1991. Since the release of the predecessor session guitarist Paul Masvidal has returned to Cynic and he is replaced here by two new guitarists in Brian Brady and Jeff Kobie. The remaining part of the lineup, who recorded the predecessor, are lead vocalist/bassist Paul Speckmann and drummer Aaron Nickeas. "Collection Of Souls" marks the end of the band´s partnership with Nuclear Blast Records.

Master was always a pretty simple old school death metal act with thrash metal leanings, and that sound is as such continued on "Collection Of Souls". It´s even more simple this time around though and there are also quite a few nods toward punk. On the preceding releases by the band there were always at least one or two memorable tracks, but the material on "Collection Of Souls" is a bit of a shallow experience, with next to nothing to hold on to. It´s never a sign of good health when the most memorable track on your album is a hideous slaughter of "Jailbreak" by Thin Lizzy (which on a funny sidenote is credited to Paul Speckmann and not Thin Lizzy)...

...add to that some sloppy playing (Speckmann´s vocals are pretty weak on this release too), and powerless unpolished production values, and "Collection Of Souls" ends up a very mediocre release by Master. After two decent releases they hit rock bottom with this one, and a 2.5 star (50%) rating isn´t all wrong.

QUIET RIOT One Night In Milan

Live album · 2019 · Glam Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
One night in 1981, I made my way to a hotel, to see the band who was playing there. When I got in I walked up to the incredibly small stage, looked at the complete backline of floor to ceiling Marshalls, looked at the size of the amps either side of the stage, then checked again just how high the ceiling was (not very), and knew it was going to be loud, very loud. At 11pm four ex-skinheads from Wolverhampton took to the tiny stage, and promptly tore it up. There will only ever be one Slade, a band that wrote hit after hit, and were metalheads through and through. Quiet Riot have made a career on trying to be Slade, and within the 15 songs on offer there are two Slade covers, but neither are as good as the original. To be honest, Quiet Riot aren’t as good as Quiet Riot used to be, and then with a sound engineer who has gone missing in action the result is a mess.

The line-up features both Frankie Banali on drums and bassist Chuck Wright, who both performed on ‘Metal Health’, guitarist Alex Grossi, who has been in the band for 14 years and new singer James Durbin, who was on 'American Idol' during the tenth season. This doesn’t feel like a live album, more like a good quality bootleg, and it is obvious there has been no “cleaning up” whatsoever. The drums are way too high in the mix, so much so that Banali is often more to the fore than Durbin. Durbin has a good rock voice, just needs to understand his stage patter was out of date in the Eighties, let alone now, and I could quite happily go without hearing him shouting to the crowd, saying how amazing Franke Banalie is etc.

There aren’t many highlight to be fair, as this is an album to be endured as opposed to enjoyed. “Thunderbird” is performed with a piano for the first time since it was recorded, but the Slade songs don’t hit home as they should, “Bang Your Head” doesn’t have the power it deserves (I still have the single I bought at the time!), and the rest are, well, not something to be proud of. The sound is not nearly as clear as it should be, the audience microphones are missing in action, as are the backing vocals, but the drums are always there. Pass.

ESTRADASPHERE Buck Fever

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Out of all the bands to find Mr Bungle as the primary influence in their genre skipping schizoid madness to making music, perhaps none was more successful in its endeavors than the Santa Cruz, CA based ESTRADASPHERE and after the band’s debut “It’s Understood,” the band returned the very next year to unleash its second electric cauldron of every genre and the kitchen sink in the form of BUCK FEVER. And if the comparisons to Bungle and its offspring project Secret Chiefs 3 weren’t already apparent then the production help of Trey Spruance on this sophomore album will only cement the connection but after all several members had already played with Spruance so the family reunion continues.

The debut album already displayed a knack for unbridled ferocity in genre skipping, fusion blending and the drop of the hat schizoid shifts from relaxing massage music to death metal and everywhere in between. BUCK FEVER continues all of this and takes it all even further by covering several styles of jazz, klezmer, surf rock, doo-wop, chiptune video game music, disco, funk, avant-prog and three styles of metal: black, death and grindcore. The entire album is the genre purists nightmare come true and the most representative successor of the Bungle legacy after that band’s retirement in 2000. The band who plays on BUCK FEVER consists of only five musicians but between them they cover a whopping 40 plus instruments which gives this album a rather busy sound.

It all starts off with a title track that that alone covers many ground but remains in a 60s sort of surf rock mode with Bungle’s “California” album as a prime source of inspiration with catchy booty shaking dance grooves, kitschy 60s pop charm and a horn section that’s on fire during the uptempo swings. The tracks vary considerably as “The Dapper Bandits” jumps into Balkan gypsy jazz number but finds itself wending and winding through jittery progressive time signature shifts and even a polka section. The next track is one of my favorites, the atmospheric black metal “The Silent Elk of Yesterday,” with haunting female vocals and arpeggiated psychedelic guitars leading in the melodic blasts of heavy guitar riffs. It’s more like a mix of black, alternative and classic 80s metal with sizzling solos and eerie ambience.

After the black metal bombast, “Crag Lake” is a cute little 8-bit chiptune video game track that reminds me of Frogger as the little froggie hopped up the lily pads to get to the other side. “Meteor Showers” jumps back into a very experimental Balkan gypsy jazz / polka track but also mixes in some metal, chiptune and ska but ends as a 60s Baroque pop track in the vein of the Beach Boys complete with excellent harmonies by many of the members along with an authentic sax solo. These guys can really pull it all off effortlessly. “The Bounty Hunter” is another jazzy Balkan folk track, “Super Buck ii” is a lounge jazz cover of the Super Mario Bros 2 video game theme and a damn good cover as well! “Millennium Child” reminds me of the Mike Patton ballads on the Bungle “California” album except Dave Murray dishes out blastbeats most of the duration.

“Trampoline Klan” is yet another chiptune track. “Burnt Corpse” is a very short burst of brutal death metal immediately followed by another cheery 30s jazz styled number in “Rise N Shine.” “Bride of the Buck” has a spoken narration over new age keyboards and my vote for the worst track on the album. “A Very Intense Battle” is the longest track on the album at 8:40 and starts off with a heavy muddled mix of keyboards, guitars, bass and drums and some spoken narrative in the background. It evolves into a grindcore / death metal hybrid with atmospheric keyboards and progressive time signatures zigzagging every now and again. As the title suggests, it is indeed very intense. “Green Hill” is another chiptune track and at this point one too many. In fact by the time i get to this part of the album it feels too long as neither the disco fueled gypsy jazz number “Feed Your Mama’s Meter” nor the finale “What Deers May Come” with a silly skit about the theme seem like filler.

Overall ESTRADASPHERE cranked out an excellent followup as they navigated through the genre list like pros but the repetition of certain ideas ruin the surprise factor and the length of the album should’ve been trimmed to around 45 minutes and this would’ve been a much more effective experience but for the most part this is quite the enjoyable slice of Bungle fever taken into the next century and proves that this band has all the chops and sense of humor to pull it off however due to the album’s inconsistency in no way dethrones the Bunglers from their perch as quirkiest prog artist since Zappa. This will surely not appeal to everyone since you have to be able to hang with the myriad genres that are juggled but for those of us who love left field twists and turns to who knows where then you can’t go wrong with ESTRADASPHERE and BUCK FEVER is a worthy successor to the eclectic wild ride of the debut.

FALLUJAH Undying Light

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 2.79 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Undying Light" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, California based metal act Fallujah. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in March 2019. It´s the successor to "Dreamless" from 2016 and features two lineup changes since the predecessor as guitarist Brian James has left (and hasn´t been replaced making Fallujah a four-piece on this release), and lead vocalist Alex Hofmann who has been replaced by Antonio Palermo.

Fallujah have changed their style a lot over the years, starting out a technical deathcore act and later shifting to an atmospheric technical/progressive death metal style, and "Undying Light" sees Fallujah changing things again. With Palermo on board the vocal style is now fully fledged aggressive metalcore screaming, and there are no traces of the band´s deathcore/death metal past in the vocals anymore. While the music still features heavy riffs and rhythms, there is also very little in the instrumental department of the album which reveal Fallujah´s deathcore/death metal beginnings. The music is now best described as atmospheric metalcore with heavy angular riffs. The only trace of death metal is the melodic death metal riff featured on "Sanctuary".

The band are well playing and the sound production is clear, professional, and detailed, so on most parameters "Undying Light" is a quality release. The songwriting is very generic though. There´s nothing on this album you haven´t heard before, and unfortunately also heard better. Some of Fallujah´s past releases have been pretty intriguing combinations of atmosphere and heaviness, but this time around the band haven´t managed to produce enough memorable riffs and vocal hooks for the material to stick. Upon conclusion "Undying Light" isn´t a terrible release, but it´s not a particularly remarkable one either. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

SAVAGE MESSIAH Demons

Album · 2019 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
I’ve read a few things about Demons, the new Savage Messiah album and previous release Hands Of Fate, that make the point that after starting their career as thrash metal hopefuls and making a pretty good job of it, that they have in recent years adopted a more mainstream heavy metal stance. It has been seen as a somewhat backwards step and they are the worse for it. Firstly I find this idea total bollocks. Not that the above is not true but the view that heavy metal is somehow inferior to thrash metal. Now I like thrash as much as the next man but I equally have a fondness for well-played heavy metal and Demons is certainly that.

The album kicks off with Virtue Signal and after a power metal infused start retreats into more typical heavy metal. It packs considerable punch as well as plenty of melody. Next track What Dreams May Come is probably a contender as an example of what the naysayers are getting at. Nevertheless despite its mainstream leanings it’s a likeable enough song with a strong melody. The band occupies similar territory in other songs on the album such as Parachute, The Lights Are Going Out and Until The Shadows Fall, but they’re all played with conviction and not a weak one amongst them. There are still plenty of songs that kick ass and whilst this is primarily a heavy metal record thrash infused riffs are still evident at times even if they may not dominate whole songs. Pick of the bunch would be Heretic In The Modern World, Under No Illusions, Down And Out and Rise Then Fall, all with strong hooks and melodies without sacrificing power.

The band are all good players with a nod to drummer Charly Carreton who gives a fine performance with plenty of inventive fills and rhythmic shifts. Their ace up the sleeve comes in vocalist Dave Silver, a great metal/rock singer in the traditional sense. Kind of a Jon Bon Jovi for metal with more balls. Yes, good clean vocals are hard to beat.

While I’m not overly familiar with all Savage Messiah’s albums I’m enjoying Demons as much as any of them I’ve heard. If traditional heavy metal is your thing you really ought to check this out and I’m definitely going to go back and check out those albums I’ve missed in their back catalogue.

CRAFTEON Cosmic Reawakening

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
I have no idea where this 2017 album came from, but somehow it has made its way from Denver, Colorado all the way to Oxford, New Zealand. From what I have been able to discover, this is the only release to date, although according to their FB site they have been working on the next album. Their music is based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, while the name ‘Crafteon’ itself is a play on words of "Lovecraftian" and "aeon”. The band have a suitably unusual logo, interesting artwork, all wear corpse paint and have given themselves suitable names, so we have Lord Mordiggian (vocals, guitar), Fthaggua (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ithaqua (bass, backing vocals) and Rhagorthua (drums). It all adds up to one thing, right? Black metal. Well, yeah, but…

Although their music is based within the black metal genre, it is way more melodic than one would normally expect and incorporates elements of power metal and bring in early Metallica and even Amon Amarth. Some of the guitar solos are straight out of the “normal” heavy metal area, while the bass is deep and raw enough to sound as if Ithaqua has been studying the works of Chris Squire. Lyrically, Mordiggian (or Josh Mortensen to his mum) has an interesting approach that initially he wanted to write lyrics based on Lovecraft, but felt he was unable to do this justice. So he used what was in the public domain and turned Lovecraft’s words into lyrics, amending where there was no other choice. Overall this is an incredibly accessible album, and one I can imagine people coming to even if they are not normally interested in the genre. Melodic at all times, yet still keeping true to certain elements of black metal, with vocals which have been influenced by Darkthone, and plenty of riffing, it is certainly interesting. I do think the drumming could have been more powerful and provide more balance and dynamics instead of relying so much on double bass drum pedals, but I am somewhat surprised they have yet to be signed as they have a powerful image to go with the music so it will be interesting to see how they progress with the next one.

ARTERY ERUPTION Reduced to a Limbless Sexslave

Album · 2003 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Ever since Suffocation introduced the world to the extremes of brutal death metal, bands from far and wide have been finding new ways to take death metal into even more ridiculous extremes and from those attempts emerged the slam death metal sub-genre which basically teased the technical speed wizardry of the guitar riffs into slow chugging globs of distorted sound. Since Devourment unleashed what has been called the first true slam death metal album with “Molesting The Decapitated,” it seems that the floodgates have been opened and the arms race to create the most disgusting sounds and most ridiculous album cover art has been in play ever since.

While much slam death metal tends to sound a little generic with the same old ideas recycled time and time again, a scant few albums do stand out from the legions of morbid sick minds that dream this stuff up. The Clovis, CA based ARTERY ERUPTION released what is considered to be one of the more essential examples of this disturbed form of music that somehow emerged from the cracks between where death metal, grindcore and lo-fi retardation from bands like Faxed Head lie. ARTERY ERUPTION followed the trend of outdoing Cannibal Corpse for the most outrageous album and track titles along with ridiculous over the top cover art. REDUCED TO A LIMBLESS SEXSLAVE is the debut and was released in 2003 and the music is as fucked up and hilarious as the lovely album cover!

While REDUCED TO A LIMBLESS SEXSLAVE may sound like the status quo of incessant noise and mindless aggression to the uninitiated, there are a few differences to ARTERY ERUPTION’s approach. True that the pig grunted vocals which expel unintelligible utterances reek of been there done that as do the tidal flows of chunky down-tuned slam death guitar riffs, but this album also displays some other guitar tricks such as slides, pseudo-proggy breakdowns and an irascibly chaotic delivery system. What stands out most of all though is that the guitar and bass are muddled into a murky down-tuned quagmire of distortion, the percussion sounds more like the drummer only known as Brian decided to play on any pots and pans that he could find in the kitchen and therefore the percussive drive is nothing more than a tinny delivery of beats to accent the muddled metal madness but there are also subdued blastbeats lurking under the din so i guess there are two drum parts. There are also bursts of tin pan percussive fury!

Slam death has become one of metal’s greatest dumping grounds for not only the macabre and morbid but also has emerged as a great source of sardonic grotesque immature humor which takes all the most disgusting and hilarious ideas possible and throws them in a blender. Just a glance at some of the titles like “Rage-Induced Infant Assfuck,” “Jacking off on an Inside-Out Butthole,” “Getting a Woodie in Your Sweats and Setting It on Fire” is enough to disgust and delight all at the the same time. While many slam death albums are clearly lacking in imagination, REDUCED TO A LIMBLESS SEXSLAVE somehow keeps my attention for its duration with silly movie clip narrations with emotive tugs of background music and then just a slugfest of pig grunts, unleashed slam aggression and well perversion turned up to 11 and beyond but most of all this is just fucking hilarious!

SILBERBART 4 Times Sounding Razing

Album · 1971 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Straddled between the peak years of prog rock and the heavy psych 60s, Germany’s Varel (by the North Sea) based SILBERBART (Silverbeard) was formed in 1969 by guitarist / vocalist Hajo Teschner who spent the latter half of swinging 60s in a band called Tonics which to his dismay resided on the commercial end of things which pleased him not. After his Tonics bandmates jumped ship and joined the James Last band, Teschner decided to pursue a more adventurous route in the nascent Krautrock years and after combining forces with percussionist Gerd Bäker and bassist Peter Bahrens the newly founded SILBERBART resorted to playing cover songs by Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the band whose sound was most vital to SILBERBART’s future independence, Cream.

Once Bäker departed and was replaced by the jazz drummer Peter Behrens, Teschner was finally allowed to nurture his latent inner freak and the true SILBERBART unfolded into the mysteries that composed the early 70s in all its avant-garde majesty. While accelerating towards the future, the trio remained anchored to the heavy psych rock antics of the past and in the process created one of the stranger albums to come out in the early years of the Krautrock scene. While never really finding an audience outside of Northern Germany, SILBERBART nevertheless quickly gained a reputation as one of the loudest bands in the world for their brash proto-metal guitar stomps laced with fuzz and adrenalized distortion that were perfectly accented by a heavy percussive bombast and independent bass lines which accented the band’s unique fascination with atonality between instruments.

SILBERBART recorded its one and only album 4 TIMES SOUND RAZING in April 1971 live in the studio and despite the intentions of only recording demos in reality was recording the four tracks that comprised the full-length debut. These experimental demons were based on the early 70s blues rock and heavy metal but found no problem in engaging in complete musical meltdowns, freeform nosedives into the farthest extremes of psychedelic trips and bizarre noise based chaos that generated atonal clusters of sound that were bound together sole by the rhythmic drive of the drums. I do believe SILBERBART actually prognosticated the New York based no wave movement of the late 70s but i somehow doubt that any of those bands could have been exposed to these stylistic deviations presented on 4 TIMES SOUND RAZING however the album did appear on the Nurse With Wound list in 1979 so who knows.

4 TIME SOUND RAZING has four goofily named tracks and although it begins like a typical blues inspired hard rock album of the era on the opening “Chub Chub Cherry,” the band introduces oddball insertions into the status quo but don’t really let the freak flags really fly until the second and longest track “Brain Brain” which at 16 minutes plus, begins as an airy falsetto driven slow atmospheric psychedelic groove that sounds like a throwback to the Summer of Love but then after a few verses and choruses totally freaks out at makes a hairpin spin into a high tempo chaotic swirl of bombastic noisy heavy metal that sounds like a herd of elephants stomping over a concert of rock musicians but the band regain control and channel it into a more familiar Amon Duul II styled Krautrock jam. The track continues to jump all over the place and reminds me a lot of Gnidrolog’s debut album “In Spite of Harry’s Toenail” which wouldn’t be released for another year and in England. I think it’s the atonal independence of the instruments that makes this connection. But then again Alice Cooper’s debut “Hello Pretties” fits the bill as well.

The 10 minute “God” is more of a heavy psychedelic metal rocker and probably is the most “normal” sounding track but still goes left field into warm fuzzy guitar sequences, Ginger Baker sounding drums, Led Zeppelin-esque guitar solos with Guru Guru heavy feedback with freeform jamming added for good measure. While Teschner’s vocals are fairly reserved on this album compared to the crazy instrumental workouts, at times as in the middle of “God” he hurls some blood curdling screams out of the speakers enough to scare the bejesus out of you the first time you encounter this sonic exorcism! The track then totally derails and starts to zigzag all over the place. The track ends with an assault of heavy guitar chords, bluesy slides and atonal riffs running amok.

“Head Tear of the Drunken Sun” ends the album and saves the weirdest for last! It immediately takes that honor as it enters with a series of ferocious guitar slides and then enters blues rock territory with Teschner doing his best Creedence Clearwater Revival vocal tribute. While the guitar riffs begin more like something off of Deep Purple’s “In Rock” complete with sizzling guitar solos, it eventually breaks down into an ethereal Comus like freak folk with echoey clean guitars and spooky haunting sounds in tandem including what sounds like chimes or bells of some sort. The freakiness builds in intensity with guitar sounds sliding and whizzing like the LSD has kicked in. Is this Can’s “Tago Mago?” Wow. Sure sounds like it but this is more metal oriented and one of the earliest examples of what could be truly called psychedelic metal which could rightfully be compared to the bizarre funeral metal antics of England’s modern day Esoteric at least instrumentally speaking. After completely switching gears back into sober heavy rock, the track finishes in the bluesy rock style which it began with.

This is a wild ride for sure and utterly unique for its simultaneous intensity on two completely different levels. While many bands were pushing the heaviness and others were going full force into psychedelic, SILBERBART somehow found a way to incorporate both aspects into their sound without sounding forced. It really does sound like a band that went to practice but dropped some acid before the set however the lysergic influences only intermittently affect their playing and the result is 4 TIMES SOUND RAZING. Too weird for even the proggers of the era, this band didn’t last long at all and broke up soon after. While remaining a complete mystery for decades, the 2012 reissue finally added some liner notes to give some important history. This is a must for any adventurous Krautheads who love both the heavy rock strains as well as the psychedelic trippy ones. You can think of this as the most psychedelic band that took the late 60s along for the ride and in many ways lives up to the potential of the sounds that were never fully realized by bands like Cream, Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly. This is a delicious and demented album but a ridiculously fun one at that!

VENOM Storm the Gates

Album · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 1.75 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
What were you doing in 1979? Me, I was 16 years old and desperate to discover more about the new metal movement which was literally sweeping the UK at the time, and at the forefront of that was the magazine Sounds. I and many others used to get it every week (grief, a weekly music newspaper, we were so lucky) and devour what Deaf Barton was discovering, and although I was sending off for records from bands, by far my favourite label was Neat Records in Newcastle. They had so many incredible bands, with my favourite probably being Raven, and then they had Venom. I can’t have been the only one wondering what on earth was going on with these guys, creating sounds an image which was like none other. Those first three albums are some of the most important ever release in the history of metal, spawning sub genres like no others, and it felt as if Cronos, Abaddon and Mantas could do no wrong.

Of course, since then there has been a rather convoluted band history, but for the most part Cronos has been there belting his bass and providing his vocals, while guitarist Rage and drummer Danté have been by his side for the last ten years. I wasn’t too sure of Venom the first time I heard their music, but over the years have become a firm fan and was relishing listening to this. However, when one realises that easily the best thing about the album is the cover art, then we’re in trouble. Let’s talk about the production, or rather let’s not – the reason bands used to sound bad was due to poor equipment and not enough money, surely no-one these days deliberately goes out of their way to record something that sounds like this? Songs. Yes, there are songs, but they are boring without and fire and are way too repetitive. It almost feels as if there was an album which had to be recorded, so let’s get it done and get back out onto the festival circuit before Venom Inc. (featuring Mantas, Demolition Man (Tony Dolan) and Kling (Abaddon left last year)) steal all the thunder and bookings. On the basis of this, it may be too late.

SLOW IV - Mythologiæ

Album · 2015 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
This album was originally released in 2015, then it was followed up by an ambient version in 2016. A new album was released in 2017, also independently, and they have now signed to Code666 and re-released their fourth album yet again. However, due to various reasons they had to re-record various parts, and then it was remixed, so for the third time in four years we are faced yet again with a new version of the same album. I don’t think I have come across a situation quite like this before, but here we are. I find it interesting when reading either the press release or reviews of this album, as they are described as atmospheric funeral doom, yet I can quite easily imagine someone who hasn’t read those saying that this album is mostly black metal. I have read a review where they state that singer Deha’s vocals are as doom as anything they have ever heard. To my poor abused ears, they are black metal, or possibly blackened death metal, as opposed to doom, which just goes to show how music is subjective to the listener and many bands just refuse to fit into whatever neat boxes we want to put them in.

Putting the whole of the last paragraph to one side, here is a band who live up to their name and produce some of the slowest music one can imagine. This is ambient, atmospheric, bleak and compelling. In some ways they remind me of Rakoth, in others Negură Bunget, while Burzum is also something they have obviously been paying attention to, all of it slowed down so that if they played at a lower tempo they would actually be going backwards. This is not music which could ever be played in the background or when something else happens, as if the listener does that then this will just blend into the ambient sounds around them and they will just stop hearing it altogether. It needs to be listened to in the dark of night, with no lights visible (although a distant candle might be nice), glass of red wine (an Otago Pinot Noir would work well) to hand, and just fall into the dark and rather threatening world of the Belgians. Worthy of close attention indeed.

POSSESSED Revelations of Oblivion

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.55 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
Regarded by many to have spawned the death metal genre, Seven Churches, the debut album from Possessed released way back in 1985, whether you agree with that or not was certainly a brilliant and highly influential album. Whilst not bad by any means the follow up Beyond The Gates saw the band retreating into more standard thrash territory. Apart from an EP in 1987 that was pretty much it. Although active again as a live band since 2007 it’s taken some time but finally thirty three years later Possessed are back with a new album though vocalist Jeff Becerra is the sole remaining member of the original band.

The new Possessed remain largely true to the band’s sound of old but whilst Seven Churches despite being generally well played could be a bit sloppy in places. Not surprisingly, the new band come across as much tighter having the benefit of time and modern recording and production techniques at their disposal not to mention being great musicians. After a short intro the album kicks off proper with No More Room In Hell, a song I’d heard a while back being released as a pre-album taster. It comes in all guns blazing, fast with razor sharp and extremely busy guitar riffs. Equal parts death metal and thrash it’s a brilliant statement on intent. Becerra whose vocals are better than they ever were has assembled a fine band that does the Possessed name justice. Guitarists Daniel Gonalez and Claudeous Creamer’s riffs twist and turn with power and precision as well as playing some jaw dropping solos – these guys can shred with the best of them, drummer Emilio Marquez lets rip with a barrage of fast fills and rolling double kicks and bassist Robert Cardenas provides a solid but highly dextrous bottom end.

Hearing this a while back and being mightily impressed had led me to expect great things from the album to come. Fortunately I wasn’t to be disappointed as whilst there’s not really anything here that tops No More Room In Hell much of the rest of the album is as good or not far behind, following track Dominion being a case in point keeping things going at the same breakneck tempo and displaying equal precision. This is the case for most of the album with the tempo rarely slowing down and when it does like on Demon it’s never for a whole song. Faults? None really but at fifty four minutes it’s quite an exhausting listen with little variation in tempo so perhaps a couple of songs shorter might have worked better, but a minor issue.

Some may consider it sacrilege but I believe Possessed have not only equalled their debut, but actually bettered it. This is going to be up there with my albums of the year for sure come December. Hopefully it won’t be another thirty three years before we get another one.

SADUS A Vision of Misery

Album · 1992 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 8 ratings
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UMUR
"A Vision of Misery" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Sadus. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in March 1992. It´s the successor to "Swallowed in Black" from 1990. Sadus had been relatively successful with "Swallowed in Black (1990)", but gained even further notice from the metal scene when bassist Steve DiGiorgio was asked to join the recording lineup of the groundbreaking "Human (1991)" album by Death. After finishing up his work with Schuldiner and co., he was back in Sadus for the recording of "A Vision of Misery".

Stylistically the music on "A Vision of Misery" continues the furiously fast-paced, aggressive, and technically well played thrash metal style of "Swallowed in Black (1990)" (albeit with quite a few more mid-paced sections than before). It´s slightly less frenetic this time around though, and there is a bit more sophistication to the songwriting too. The guitar solos are for example a bit more memorable than on the predecessor and occasionally even feature a hint of melody. The tracks also feature more catchy hooks, although it wouldn´t exactly be the truth calling this accessible music. This is still first and foremost very aggressive thrash metal played with great technical skill. In other words, it´s unmistakably the sound of Sadus. They are branching out a bit though and tracks like "Machines" and "Deceptive Perceptions" show a side of them we haven´t heard on the preceding releases. A less aggressive, more atmospheric and varied side.

As mentioned the musicianship is on a high technical level. Sadus are a really well playing act, from the pounding aggressive drumming, to the razor sharp fast-paced guitar riffs, to the rapid dog snarl of the vocals, to the fretless bass playing. Everything is delivered with tight precision yet with great organic sensibility. The well sounding production follows suit. It´s raw, organic, and powerful sounding. Quite a bit more detailed than the sound on the predecessor, and upon conclusion "A Vision of Misery" is a step up from the previous releases by the band. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

OLIVER MAGNUM Oliver Magnum

Album · 1989 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.24 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Oliver Magnum" is the eponymously titled debut full-length studio album by US, Oklahoma based heavy/power metal act Oliver Magnum. The album was released through New Renaissance Records in 1989. Oliver Magnum were formed in 1983 and released a 1986 demo before being signed for the release of this album. It turned out to be their sole studio album as they disbanded in 1997 without releasing any further albums.

Stylistically the music is a combination of traditional heavy metal and US power metal. A combination of "The Warning (1984)"-era Queensrÿche and 1982-1985 Iron Maiden is a fairly valid description of what the music sounds like. Oliver Magnum are very well playing musicians with tons of skill, and every note is delivered with great conviction and passion. While the instrumental part of the music is powerful and tight, the vocals by James Randel take the music to a higher level. His predominantly high pitched delivery is powerful but he can also sing more raw type vocals, which brings nice variation to the vocal part of the music.

The material on the 8 track, 38:56 minutes long album is well written, relatively catchy, and above all highly energetic. While most tracks are hard edged heavy metal tunes played in a fast pace, there are also both mid-paced heavy parts, and some atmospheric clean guitar parts featured on the album. "Evilution" is for example quite the epic track, which features clean guitar parts. The album is well produced featuring a powerful, detailed, and clear sound. The snare drum has a bit of a "thin" sound, but other than that, this is a very well sounding release.

Upon conclusion this is probably an album that came a bit too late to make any real impact on the scene. This type of metal wasn´t exactly in fashion in 1989 (had this been released just a few years before it would probably have received quite a bit more praise), but it´s actually a real shame, because it´s a high quality release through and through. It doesn´t feature anything you haven´t heard before and in that respect there is a lack of originality, but on the other hand Oliver Magnum are both skilled musicians and composers who know how to write and play a great heavy/power metal track, so I´m gonna let the lack of an original sound pass this time around. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

SADUS Certain Death

Demo · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Certain Death" is the second demo cassette tape by US, California based thrash metal act Sadus. The demo was independently released in 1987. It features 2 tracks and a full playing time of 9:54 minutes. "Hands of Fate" would make it unto Sadus debut full-length studio album "Illusions (1988)", while "Number One" is exclusive to this demo. The tracks from the demo are also available in remastered versions on the "DTP Demo 1986" compilation released through Hammerheart Records in May 2003.

Stylistically the music on "Certain Death" continues the raw and fast-paced aggressive thrash metal style of the "D.T.P. (1986)" demo. "Hands of Fate" is a classic Sadus track with fast pounding rhythms, fast breaks, frenetic guitar riffing and screaming solos, and Darren Travis high pitched raw voice and an almost hysterical delivery on top. "Number One" is a bit different as it´s a fully instrumental track. Both tracks are well written and effective.

The sound quality is not as high as on the preceding demo, which is of course slightly disappointing, but it still has a raw charm and powerful sound, which suits the material well. Upon conclusion "Certain Death" is not as interesting as the "D.T.P. (1986)" demo, and two tracks aren´t that much to judge by if this was meant to be send to labels shopping a deal, but it is still a pretty good quality release and a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

SABATON Carolus Rex

Album · 2012 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 16 ratings
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Kev Rowland
‘Carolus Rex’ was originally released in 2012, a concept album about Sweden’s 17th and 18th century empire, with a special focus on the rise and fall of Charles XII, the tragic king who devoted his whole life to war but could not prevent his empire’s downfall. They were the first Swedish metal band to gain platinum status in their home country, and it was recently certified as quadruple platinum, so it has been reissued with new artwork, additional tracks and even blu-ray discs. I always think of this as the beginning of the Sabaton at the top of their particular power metal tree, although strangely enough I have always preferred the albums which followed this.

The powerful riffs, strong anthems and vocals are of course all in place, but it never really has the spark which is so prevalent on the later works. Strangely enough, the live album which followed this and includes plenty of these songs is probably the one I would suggest people listen to first when coming across the band before moving on to ‘Heroes’ and ‘The Last Stand’. There are some bonus songs on the new version, including a Sabaton-ised version of “In The Army Now”. It may fit with their lyrical vision, but it certainly doesn’t fit musically! Made me smile though. Sabaton have released great albums throughout their career, and while I don’t think this is one of them it is still certainly worth investigating in the new expanded versions.

PANTOMMIND Shade Of Fate

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 8 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
PANTOMMIND, formerly known as Lavender Haze is a Bulgarian progressive metal band from Gabrovo that made some waves in the mid-2000s when they released a couple albums and played with popular bands like Fates Warning and Helloween. The band was formed all the way back in 1993 but didn’t release this debut album SHADE OF FATE until 2005, however they did release a demo titled “Farewell” in 1999 in their native Bulgaria. SHADE OF FATE however was released on Sensory Records, one of the world’s excellent prog labels and launched this band to a much larger international audience. The band was also well known at the ProgPower Festival that took place in Baarlo, Netherlands and garnered a minor following after a couple of strong albums that were released separately and then again as a combo package.

While gestated in the far Eastern section of Europe, PANTOMMIND was obviously gazing westward for its inspiration and having formed in 1993, it’s obvious that Dream Theater and Fates Warning were clearly at the top of the list. Upon first listen, SHADE OF FATE may sound like any other Dream Theater clone band trying to check off the progressive metal attributes in perfect form and to be fair, there is much in common such as the Tony Ivans’ distinct operatic vocals that fly into perfect form and sail high into the heavens above and back. Also on board are the twin guitar attacks of Pete Christ and Peter Vichew who simultaneously offer chunky staccato riff attacks with atmospheric almost neo-prog wizardry with the occasional virtuosic soloing skills of a gifted neoclassical stalwart.

Perhaps the most distinct factor is the keyboard work of Sunny X who paints a more ethereal picture by adopting the styles of bands like Vanden Plas and Sun Caged. The band displays an excellent command of the progressive metal compositional style which nurtures highly addictive melodic drives into meticulously designed progressive constructs that showcase the more intricate influences of bands like Savatage, Crimson Glory and Psychotic Waltz. While not as musically adventurous as bands like Dream Theater, PANTOMMIND rather prefers to keep things well balanced without any long periods of virtuosic wankery. Strewn about the harmonic and melody rich soundscapes are crunchy guitar riffs, rich tapestries of time signature workouts, keyboard rich tone clusters and the chugging polyrhythmic bass grooves of Dido with the power drumming prowess of Drago to match.

Upon first listen i was expecting a much heavier sound similar to bands like Symphony X or even early Queensryche since there is much mellowness interspersed between the heaviest metal displays of bombast. After a few spins though, i was hooked. What PANTOMMIND lacks in overt originality they more than make up for with extremely strong and consistent compositions that take the best aspects of the progressive metal sound and dress them all up with excellent instrumental interplay accompanied by an outstanding production and mixing job that allows the instruments to complement each other to perfection. Add to that the perfect progressive metal vocal performances of Tony Ivan and it’s no wonder why PANTOMMIND captured the hearts of so many upon the release of this debut, no doubt because this is a brilliant interpretation of Western prog metal in the most passionate display of bravado.

Not sure why my CD has two extra tracks titled “Forgiving Tears” and “Virtual Ghost” which don’t appear on most databases but these bonus features are actually more creative and more dynamic than the 11 tracks that precede it so i highly recommend obtaining SHADE OF FATE as a single album with these extra gems rather than obtaining the combo pack of SHADE OF FATE and the following “Lunasense.” Despite nothing really jumping into any sort of experimental originality here, SHADE OF FATE is impeccable in how each track seamlessly flows into the next and balances the heavier and softer passages so well. Perhaps Bulgaria isn’t the world’s foremost bastion of progressively infused rock and metal but they sure did good by exporting PANTOMMIND to the rest of the world.

METAL CHURCH Damned If You Do

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 7 ratings
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Kev Rowland
With Mike Howe back in the band, there has been a renewed sense of purpose and vigour and following on from a live album in 2017 the band came back in 2018 with another studio release. There has been a change in the ranks, as the band parted ways with drummer Jeff Plate who felt he could no longer commit the time required, and after touring with Stet Howland (ex-WASP) behind the kit he is now a full-time member of the band. He has slotted right in and this is in many ways a straightforward continuation from ‘XI’. I still have problems coming to grips with the fact that Mike Howe wasn’t involved with the scene for so long, as he has a great voice and it really feels as if he has never been away.

This is a even more basic album than the previous one, just straightforward heavy metal designed to cure all dandruff, and they continually hit the bottom end as if they are the logical successor to Judas Priest. It is hard to imagine they didn’t grow up in the steel factory environment of Birmingham which had such an impact on the likes of Priest and Sabbath, and there is little American here in terms of sound, straightforward crank it up and hit it hard metal. There may be more polish than one would hear from a NWOBHM band, but there is no doubting these guys have a massive affinity with the genre. It really is like going back in time before the metal scene splintered in so many different directions, comforting and fun. Five guys doing what they do, turning it up and belting it out, and there is no doubt at all that Metal Church are well and truly back in the groove.

DEATHSPELL OMEGA The Furnaces of Palingenesia

Album · 2019 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Palingenesis or PALINGENESIA is the concept of rebirth which is used in disparate subjects such as philosophy, theology, politics and biology but also appropriately applies to one of the metal universe’s most mysterious avant-garde blackened bands that lurks in the shadows somewhere in Poitiers, France, namely DEATHSPELL OMEGA. Having begun as a mere Darkthrone inspired clone, the first rebirth found this band taking the world by storm with the lauded trilogy of albums that not only created some of the most technical and adventurously progressive black metal workouts in the known universe but single-handedly advanced the Satanic metaphysical principles of the black metal paradigm to an advanced occult theology that relied heavily on the themes of French surrealist Georges Bataille and the German idealist Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel but nonetheless reanimated them in extreme metal grandeur. The results were simultaneously eerily frightening and deviously delicious.

Having released six albums, several EPs and splits that pretty much found DOS sticking to their established paradigm, the band returns for their seventh official full-length album THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA which finds the power trio of vocalist Mikko Aspa, bassist Khaos and guitarist Hasjari emerging from the scenes in order to provide yet another bantering boisterous assault of unadulterated evil. While no drummer is credited, this anonymous entity returns to the pummelation power throne for another round of jazzy progressive blastbeats as well as the standard laissez-faire percussive drive that finds THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA revisiting the DOS playbook as well as integrating new unexpected sources of inspiration into its ever expanding liturgy of the darkened metaphysical tomes of the esoteric underworld.

Opening with the by now familiarity of spidery jangled guitar dissonance on “Neither Meaning Nor Justice,” the album begins much like “Paracletus” as it gets right down to business with the raspy vocal utterances emerging from the post-metal cyclically looped riffs in a mid-tempo prowl. Right off the bat, the subtleties are apparent as to how this album slightly differs from the previous releases. While the shock and uniqueness of DOS has long worn off and the avant-garde bombast and stylistic idiosyncrasies have become inured to the hardened musical masochists, the band constantly seeks new methods to infuse clever new twists and turns into the overwrought orotundity which loses none of its frenetic and soul searing prowess. Heavier atmospheric murkiness lurks over the compositions in opposition to previous albums. While ambience and mood enhancing electronica have always served the dark side well, on this album they work in tandem to steer the pearlescent obliqueness into more dynamic chunks of the blackened expressionisms.

While 2016’s “The Synarchy of Molten Bones” sounded more like a summary of the most aggressive attributes of the DOS stylistic approach, THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA engages the post-rock and psychedelic softer aspects and the extremes of “Fas-Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum.” Dare i even say that many of the compositions on PALINGENESIA are slightly less demanding at least in the frenetic display of zigzagging through various angularities and tend to focus on the post-rock / cyclical riffing loops that display variations through dynamics and instrumental interactions that ratchet up the tension to pyroclastic explosive bouts of bombastic bravado. While the standard DOS expectations are the status quo, “Standing on the Work of Slaves” comes off as distinct in that it has a nonchalant military march sort of percussive drive as well as a more standard tremolo display of black metal guitar fury.

With 11 songs that clock in near the 45 minute mark, DOS recorded this album live in the studio and mixed it all on analog gear which continues the band’s fascination with classic 70s progressive rock only expressed through the lens of the Satanic underbelly of the black metal exemplar that brings forth the demonic dementia of the philosophical underpinnings. For those well steeped in the sonic psychic attacks of the DEATHSPELL OMEGA idiosyncrasies, THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA will continue the journey into the belly of the beast for another well established display of black metal magic performed through the menacing skull-crushing antics of one of black metal’s most ambitious and consistently terrifying underground realities and while THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA may not usurp the majesty of the impacts made by the Satnaic trilogy albums, it certainly does not disappoint in keeping the DOS ferocity alive and well. This band is in no danger of selling out or becoming a parody of themselves and while i find this album less compelling than those that preceded, it certainly warrants the essential status within the band’s ever expanding continual canon.

PAPA ROACH Infest

Album · 2000 · Nu Metal
Cover art 3.21 | 11 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
PAPA ROACH formed in Vacaville, CA in 1993 and then released a few EPs as well as their debut album “Old Friends From Young Years” on their independent label Onion Hardcore but for all intents and purposes those early albums were all but forgotten when the band got signed to the DreamWorks label where they debuted with the most successful album of their career called INFEST. During the millennial change the alternative 90s were still going strong and PAPA ROACH hit the right note with a Nirvana inspired grunge sound that incorporated Korn infused nu metal elements as well as the predominately rapped lyrics that were made popular by Rage Against The Machine. Add to that INFEST had a funky vibe too that seems to have taken a note or two from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

While many nu metal bands were cranking out the albums around this time, PAPA ROACH had a knack for crafting extremely catchy songs that had heavy metallic hooks and a dynamic production that made the tracks on INFEST utterly irresistible to many but as much love PAPA ROACH was finding success on the charts with an album that would eventually sell 3 million albums, the backlash against this nu metal style from traditional metalheads was fierce. Love em or hate em the floodgates opened once the band’s single “Last Resort” hit the airwaves. The track perfectly summed up the angsty turn of the clock millennial feel accompanied by a groovy bass heft, heavily distorted power grunge chords and Jacoby Shaddix’ youthful energetic style that was capitalizing on the current hip hop metal hybrids which were all the rage (against the machine).

INFEST is the culmination of personal tragedies represented in the lyrics along with extremely well placed tracks that were polished with excellent production techniques that were used as another instrument. The tracks are all quite different from each other with extremely melodic hooks as the common denominator. While other bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park had a similarly styled mix of disparate sounds that were a grab bag of what the alternative 90s offered, PAPA ROACH actually pulled off an album that kept each track interesting enough to stand on its own outside of the context of the others and yet the album had an incredible flow that kept the listening experience vibrant from the opening title track to the closing “Thrown Away.” While many a metalhead was giving this band a heaping pile of hate, the band was laughing all the way to the bank as INFEST shot up to #5 on the Billboard charts and launched the band into a successful touring schedule.

As a Bay Area resident, “Last Resort” has been a staple on alternative rock radio for years and to be fair has been played to death and i never really bothered to check this album out since nu metal wasn’t exactly my favorite style either, however as a fan of Korn and a few tracks here and there by other bands i finally decided to check out this album and i was quite surprised at how much i loved it. Every track is infectious and although it comes off as a teenage angst rap metal marathon, more careful listening will reveal a highly developed sense of rhythmic layers and everything flows together quite perfectly. The album is quite heavy although the guitar chords are heavily distorted and sound more like grunge. There are clever uses of echoes, syncopations and the production is just perfect. The album ends a little strangely with clean vocals and a reggae rock ending that sounds more like Sublime, another 90s phenomenon. Haters will hate but when an album is this great i can’t help but love it.

METAL CHURCH XI

Album · 2016 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 13 ratings
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Kev Rowland
When Metal Church entered the studio to record their eleventh album the line-up was the same it had been for some years, except that frontman Ronny Munroe had decided to step down after ten years in the band. Kurdt Vanderhoof wasn’t sure if wanted to continue with Metal Church at this point, but then wondered if Mike Howe may be interested in picking up where he had left off twenty years before. Mike was in the band from 1988 to 1995, singing on three albums, and once he had heard the material he was back. What is unusual, is that apart from singing with Heretic prior to joining Metal Church, Howe has rarely recorded or performed, so he was coming back into the pit some twenty years on from leaving it, yet it sounds as if he has been performing with the band for years.

Howe has one of the strongest and finest voices in metal, while Vanderhoof has been providing metallic riffs in this band for nearly forty years (apparently a young Lars Ulrich even auditioned at one point), and having Howe back has given him a new sense of purpose and energised everyone involved. This is classic metal, nothing fancy or genre breaking here, just guys playing good old fashioned heavy metal with strong hooks, riffs, load of leather and denim. I can smell the sweat coming out of the speakers, as this is the music I grew up, horribly hot halls with way too many people and far too much testosterone, speakers blasting and an audience wanting to be blown away by what was happening on stage and a band surrounded by Marshalls prepared to do just that. Music like this is a comfort blanket, nothing weird is going to happen, it is metal nothing more and nothing less. Yes, there are some acoustic guitars here and there, but don’t worry, they are just to provide emphasis to the electric ones, which are the ones that really matter. Superb.

MEATHOOK Crypts, Coffins, Corpses

Album · 2019 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
With a bandname, album title, album artwork, and even record label name providing a few clues, it was rather safe to say that this was an album of brutal death metal before it even hit the player. This is their third album, and with a band built around three brothers, it perhaps isn’t a surprise that they hit so hard. In some ways they remind me of Cryptopsy, but far blunter and raw. The production is also deliberately lo-tech, so there are times when it feels like the ears are being assaulted by a wall of sonic mud. There is a groove underpinning what they are doing, which makes this feel very much like an album from the early days of the genre as opposed to what is happening these days.

This is dark, as if the swamp thing has come to life and is going to take you in his fetid embrace, cutting off all light and hope, as you drown in a world of nightmares. The first time I played it I really wasn’t sure, nor the second, and then I realised the problem – I wasn’t playing it loud enough. This is an album which really appreciates volume, so why not share the “joy” of Meathook with your neighbours. It like being caressed by a sledgehammer…

BATHORY Nordland II

Album · 2003 · Viking Metal
Cover art 4.21 | 15 ratings
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Warthur
Nordland II offers up the second crop of songs from the same sessions which yielded Nordland I. For my money, I like this one just a bit better. Both albums are in Bathory's epic viking metal style, but whereas Nordland I seemed to put a bit of a Hollywood soundtrack spin on it to give it a bit more of a widespread appeal, this album feels like it has more aesthetic callbacks to Bathory material past.

Quorthon didn't know he would die before producing another Bathory album, but if you asked him to craft a final album to conclude his career, I suspect it wouldn't be that much different from Nordland II. As an album with one foot in the cutting edge of his final viking metal sound and one foot in earlier iterations of that sound, it's as good an aesthetic retrospective as you could hope for. Flights of valkyries speed thee to Valhalla, Quorthon.

YOB The Illusion of Motion

Album · 2004 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.47 | 6 ratings
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For The Illusion of Motion, YOB set up shop at the corner of doom metal and stoner metal. They've got enough of the former to take pleasure in some real slow, heavy riffs, but enough of the latter to put a bit of a skip in the album's step - things never slow down to an absolute, total crawl as they might do with a more funereal or po-faced doom metal release, but instead have just a pinch of the psychedelic and hard-rocking about them. This adds just enough extra energy to keep things hopping along and the ideas developing. That corner of doom and stoner I talked about is a pretty busy one, but I can recommend YOB's wares for the discerning consumer.

THY CATAFALQUE Tűnő idő tárlat

Album · 2004 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 5 ratings
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Thy Catafalque's Tűnő Idő Tárlat takes the electronic dabbling of the preceding Microcosmos even further, with some sections resembling full-on electronic dance music - but fear not, the Hungarian folk and black metal influences that inform subsequent and previous works by the group are rarely all that far off. The end result is a sort of black metal-via-Nine Inch Nails blend, with the abrasive elements of black metal somehow reconciled with the more catchy end of the industrial music spectrum. Thy Catafalque are juggling an awful lot of different ideas here, and whilst they don't quite bring them all together into a single whole, they come close enough that this is a notable success.

ANAL VOMIT Demoniac Flagellations

Album · 2004 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Sometimes a metal band just doesn’t give a flying fuck and simply wants to crank some seriously evil shit. Take a little of the origins of Venom, the filthy proto-death metal of early Sepultura and Slayer as well as the incessant rage of early Morbid Angel and add a little war metal of Blasphemy and just making some fucking noise. The Lima, Peru based ANAL VOMIT did just that and as the band’s name suggests, this is a no nonsense evil as fuck monster of a metal band that just wants to flip the word a million middle fingers.

The band formed in 1992 but didn’t release this debut album DEMONIAC FLAGELLATIONS until 2004 but successfully and staunchly retained an old school death metal sound that kept some thrash elements such as the rhythmic pummelations as well as the evil grit of black metal. Lyrics are both in English and Spanish. The band conjures up a true blast from the past when Slayer was still considered the most evil band in metal and naked virgins about to be sacrificed by a goat head Satan donned in blood red album cover ink was da bomb!

While i was expected some generic crap with a name like ANAL VOMIT i’m actually pleasantly surprised with this one! The riffs are ferociously angry as they gallop at the speed of light and sound like a blend of grindcore and a more blackened form of early Morbid Angel. Noizer’s vocal style is off the chart evilly demented and comes off as a bestial ravenous garbled subdued scream and the bass and drums are in almost permanent blastbeat mode. There are a few samples for sound effects and squealing guitar solos that definitely reminisce of the early death metal squalor of Morbid Angel but the overall feel is much faster and far more evil than anything from the early 90s. Once in a while Noizer sounds like a mutant castrato!

After twelve years of depravity and record deals gone wrong, the band managed to release a few splits as well as even more lineup changes but once this spawn from the fiery pits of hell finally dropped this bomb on the word in 2004 and has been on a rampage ever since. These guys really made it sound like a depraved drug induced cult that joined the Mayhem fan club and were ready to commit mass murder. This is a brutal death metal experience in a bleak blackened war march to the death. While i can’t say this is ridiculously original, it is a ferociously fun little beast of incessant metal bombast. ANAL VOMIT, who’da thunk it?

SADUS D.T.P.

Demo · 1986 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"D.T.P." (or "Death to Posers") is the first demo cassette tape by US, California based thrash metal act Sadus. The demo was independently released in 1986. It features 6 tracks and a full playing time of 17:45 minutes. Some of the tracks would make it unto Sadus debut full-length studio album "Illusions (1988)", while others are exclusive to this demo. The tracks from the demo are also available in remastered versions on the "DTP Demo 1986" compilation released through Hammerheart Records in May 2003.

Stylistically the music on the demo is frenetic high energy thrash metal delivered with bite and aggression. Darren Travis has a high pitched raw voice and an almost hysterical delivery, which is quite extreme and probably a bit of an aquired taste, but it surely sets Sadus apart from other contemporary artists. The instrumental part of the music isn´t overtly original but it´s well played and the songwriting is solid too.

For a 1986 thrash metal demo, the sound quality is pretty great, and the material is well presented in a raw and detailed sound production. So overall "D.T.P." is a promising first release by Sadus. Being familiar with the band´s later material it´s actually quite interesting how much of their "trademark" sound is already in place this early on. Steve DiGiorgio´s bass is not as high in the mix as on later studio output, but other than that, this sounds like "classic" Sadus through and through. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

SADUS DTP Demo 1986

Boxset / Compilation · 2003 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"DTP Demo 1986" is a compilation album by US, California based thrash metal act Sadus. The compilation was released through Hammerheart Records in May 2003. "DTP Demo 1986" features the 6 tracks from the 1986 "Death to Posers" demo, and 2 tracks from the 1987 "Certain Death" demo. Some of the tracks would make it unto Sadus debut full-length studio album "Illusions (1988)", while others are exclusive to the demos (and now this compilation, which features remastered versions of the original demo tracks).

Stylistically the music on the compilation is furiously fast-paced and aggressive thrash metal with a snarling and screaming high pitched vocalist in front. It´s like listening to a steroid pumped and out of control version of Slayer/Dark Angel. Sadus were arguably rather extreme for their time. The 8 tracks on the 27:46 minutes long compilation aren´t terribly original in style, and Steve DiGiorgio´s future dominant bass attack, is only heard sporadically on this release, but the high quality of the performances, the solid songwriting, and the relatively well sounding production, are positive assets, and it´s certainly a worthwhile release for fans of the band. The more casual listener is advised to start with one of the studio albums before giving this one a listen.

The material from "Death to Posers (1986)", which is the oldest material on the compilation, is surprisingly the most well produced, while the 2 tracks off the "Certain Death (1987)" demo aren´t as well sounding, but still decent in quality. Upon conclusion a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

SUFFOCATION The Close of a Chapter

Live album · 2006 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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"The Close of a Chapter" is a live album release by US, New York based death metal act Suffocation. The album was originally independently released in 2005 limited to 50 CD copies and the digital download option, but Relapse Records picked it up for a label release in late 2009. The 13 tracks on the 64:05 minutes long album is the full unedited performance of the band´s Quebec City show on the 2005 tour supporting their 2004 comeback album "Souls To Deny".

To those not familar with Suffocation they are one of the originators of brutal and technically well played death metal. Predominantly unintelligible growling vocals, massive meaty riffs and chaotic screaming solos, and a rhythm section delivering loads of tempo changes, breaks and ultra heavy breakdowns, and generally just impressive technical playing. That´s what Suffocation has been about since day one, and that´s what they are about on this live album too.

The tracklist includes songs from all four studio albums released up until then and from both the "Human Waste (1991)" EP and the "Despise the Sun (1998)" EP, so it´s arguably a good representation of Suffocation´s discography up until 2005. Classic tracks like "Infecting the Crypts", "Catatonia", "Pierced From Within", and "Breeding the Spawn", along side tracks from "Souls To Deny (2004)", which at the time was the latest studio album by the band. There is good audience interaction between the tracks as lead vocalist Frank Mullen makes sure to tell the audience how happy Suffocation are to play for them. He also encourages moshpits, and just genereally keeps the show flowing all the way through. Anyone who´s seen Frank "The Hand" Mullen live knows what a great and passionate character he is, and it´s apparent here too.

It´s not only an unedited performance but also what sounds like a raw and more or less unedited sound production. I wouldn´t call it lo-fi, but it is pretty unpolished and not always clear sounding. So you get a pretty good idea of how a Suffocation show sounds like in real life. Warts and all. The thing is though the musical performances are pretty much flawless. Suffocation have always been an extremely well playing act and their performances here are "just another day at the office" in that respect. Upon conclusion I´d say that the sound quality could have been slightly better, but overall "The Close of a Chapter" is a solid and authentic sounding live album by Suffocation and a 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong.

OPPROBRIUM The Fallen Entities

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 2 ratings
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"The Fallen Entities" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US death/thrash metal act Opprobrium. The album was released through High Roller Records in February 2019. It´s the successor to "Mandatory Evac" from 2008. Opprobrium were originally called Incubus, and released two albums under that monicker in the late eighties/early nineties, but were forced to change their name because of trademark issues. If you count the two Incubus albums, the band have only released five albums in their 30 years of existence, so they can´t be accused of being particularly productive. All instruments and vocals on "The Fallen Entities" were recorded by the Howard brothers, Moyes M. Howard (drums) and Francis M. Howard (vocals, bass, guitars).

"Dark Days, Dark Times" opens the album with dark and heavy death/thrash riffs and rhythms and Francis M. Howard´s aggressive raw vocals on top, and the rest of the album pretty much sounds like that with some variation in pace and the occasional guitar solo to put a little spice to the music. Stylistically that´s more or less a continuation of the style on the two direct predecessors, and less like the style on the two Incubus albums, although there are hints of the early days here and there. Opprobrium are a well playing band, but if I have to mention a minor detail I would have done diffently it would be creating bass lines that don´t follow the guitar riffs one-to-one, and placing the bass in the mix so it can be heard. In that regard it´s a bit too audible that the focus has almost solely been on the drums, guitars, and vocals, and to my ears it sounds a bit like the bass is a necessary evil or an afterthought to Opprobrium. They aren´t alone in making this mistake as many extreme metal albums either feature no audible bass or a bass which just follows the guitar, but it needs to be adressed here, as I think "The Fallen Entities" could have been a more dynamic and quite frankly better album, had more focus been given to the bass lines.

That minor complaint aside, the material on "The Fallen Entities" is both relatively well written, powerful and aggressive death/thrash, and it´s performed with the right amount of passion and conviction. Other than the lack of bass in the mix (which doesn´t mean the production lacks bottom end heaviness), the sound production is actually also very well sounding. Raw, brutal, and powerful. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

HATE ETERNAL Upon Desolate Sands

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Having cut his teeth with Ripping Corpse and Morbid Angel, Erik Rutan formed Hate Eternal in 1997, since when he has been pursuing his own brand of Florida-style death metal which is both technical and brutal. There may have been some line-up changes over the years, but bassist J.J. Hrubovcak has been there for a decade now, and new drummer Hannes Grossmann has fitted in really nicely. The first three tracks are setting the listener up for the rest of the album, allowing the ears to bed into the complexity and nuances, then when the fourth song “Nothingness of Being” kicks in, the band allow themselves to become even more brutal, as well as more diverse, complex and really kick it on.

From here the band play as if they are possessed, with “All Hope Destroyed” surely one of the fastest introductions they have ever attempted – it is no wonder they pause for breath before they dig into the main event! Erik Rutan has been driving this band for more than twenty years, and it feels like they are gaining ground as opposed to falling away like some of their peers. This is death metal at its finest, and the only thing to do is keep turning it up and feel the pain. Brilliant.

FUTURES END Memoirs of a Broken Man

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.29 | 6 ratings
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Despite releasing a single album in 2009, FUTURES END is still officially a bona bide active band and has been touted as a supergroup due to the fact that several members were in various metal bands in their career however that might be a stretch. The band was formed in Martinez, CA by guitarists Christian Wentz and Marc Pattison. Both Wentz and Pattison played in the Tampa, FL based Circle II Circle but the other lineup is what makes progressive metal fans salivate.

Along for this wild progressively infused power metal ride are drummer Joe Allen who has played in various bands including Dragonlord, Masqued, Sadus and Testament. Also on board is Zero Hour vocalist Fred Marshall but the true star of the show is bassist Steve DiGirogio who has played with long resume of metal acts: Artension, Autopsy, Charred Walls of the Damned, Control Denied, Dark Hall, Death, Dragonlord, Futures End, Iced Earth, Painmuseum, Roadrunner United, Sadus, Scariot, Soen, Testament. There were also a few guest musicians. Supergroup? Maybe, but whatever.

Hitting the market in 2009, FUTURES END caught the attention of the prog metal community with its so far only release MEMOIRS OF A BROKEN MAN which was received quite well and won all kinds of accolades for the stellar performances displayed. This is a concept album about a man who returns from war, falls into depression and becomes an alcoholic. His only friend commits suicide and he spirals deeper into the ultimate depression but ultimately if you pay attention the lyrical content, the story ends with a positive resolution which is what everyone wants from such a traumatic ordeal i would guess.

FUTURES END delivered a bombast power metal album infused with progressive twists and turns that take things a little further. The band has rightfully been compared to bands like Symphony X and Dream Theater but in all honesty isn’t quite as creative as either band. Melodically the band is quite strong and technically as well with hard driving power grooves that display the member’s most ferocious chops. Creatively though, MEMOIRS OF A BROKEN MAN falls short as there really isn’t enough divers elements to warrant a 70 minute bombastic metal experience. While a few slower moments occur, FUTURES END delivers a balls to the wall Dragonforce inspired speedfest from beginning to end.

First flaw is that this album is way too derivative of Symphony X with its neoclassical guitar runs, heavy guitar riffing and vocal style. Second flaw is that the tracks are too similar. While the final track “Powerslave,” a remake of the classic Iron Maiden track is perfectly performed, it seems totally incongruous with the overall concept and thematic flow. In the end, this is a satisfying technical display of musical chops but i sure wish that it would’ve been honed into a more interesting listening experience. All that is missing is some original content. Oh well, the desire to cash in on popular sounds is nothing new but this album is a testament to why so many bands fail to carryon on after an initial wow factor. Definitely worth a listen if you can’t get enough Symphony X inspired technical prowess but unsatisfying if you want an album with staying power.

KING CRIMSON Larks' Tongues In Aspic

Album · 1973 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 73 ratings
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There are many existential quandaries that the universe teases us with on a daily basis so it can be quite unnerving when your favorite musical artists create some more for you! I speak of KING CRIMSON’s lauded fifth album LARKS’ TONGUES IN ASPIC. If you were like me upon first exposure to this eccentric and innovative album then you were wondering what in the world is ASPIC? Well, culinary types may know the answer but in reality the word has two actual meanings. Firstly it is a clear jelly typically made of stock and gelatin and used as a glaze or garnish or to make a mold of meat, fish, or vegetables and secondly we have to put on our botanist’s cap to realize that is either of two species of lavender, Lavandula spica or L. latifolia, that yield an oil used in perfumery. So which of these does this bizarre title refer to? I am eternally striving to figure this out but i digress before i even start.

KING CRIMSON is one of the most revered bands in all of the progressive rock playbook and one of the reasons why this band could do no wrong for many during the first leg of this band’s career is that Robert Fripp and whomever he was collaborating with would consistently crank out one album after another with little or nothing in common. One of the biggest reasons for this is that the lineup changed often and as a result pretty much every album in the beginning featured a completely different musical cast and Fripp as the de facto band leader wisely molded any particular album’s thematic underpinnings to the strengths of whichever cast members were in the KING CRIMSON show at any given moment. While members came and went since the debut “In The Court Of The Crimson King,” the band completely melted down after 1971’s “Islands” leaving only Fripp to carry on the name and create a new band from scratch.

Fripp was a magnet for talent and had no problem recruiting a new batch of veritable prog stalwarts eager to play with the already legendary band that single handedly launched the big bang of prog in 1969 with the lauded debut. The lineup that appeared on LARKS’ TONGUES IN ASPIC would result in being a wise choice as it would prove to be a fairly stable lineup until the band’s first dissolution after “Red.” Bassist / vocalist John Wetton joined the team after having previously played with Mogul Thrash, Gordon Haskell and Family. Violinist David Cross made his debut here and fresh out of Yes, drummer Bill Buford found a new home in one of prog’s early powerhouses adding his extraordinary drumming talents and taking KC into new music territories. Also joining ranks was percussionist Jamie Muir of The Music Improvisation Company projects (with Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and Hugh Davies) who only played on this one album. While the only one of the team who didn’t continue on with KC, it was his interest becoming a Bhuddist monk that led him to leave the music world for a monastic lifestyle.

For once Fripp took a little more time to craft the next phase of the KC’s career. After stuffing four extremely demanding albums into a three year timespan, Fripp was more than ready to take a deep breath and plan the next move carefully. The new incarnation of the band crafted yet another masterful album that got back to the band’s progressive rock origin’s after “Islands” ethereal space music. LARKS’ TONGUES IN ASPIC may have been more rockin’ but still as eclectic as ever with lots of inspiration of both Easter and Western European classical traditions, jazz and free improvisation. LARKS’ TONGUE is also unique in that it has two full time percussionists with Bill Bruford handling drums, timbales, cowbells and wood blocks and Muir adding different styles of ethnic percussion and a wealth of assorted items not normally associated with music. The result was an interesting mix of more accessible elements mixed with avant-garde strangeness much like the debut album.

The original release of LARKS’ TONGUE IN ASPIC consisted of only six tracks with the opener and closer creating a two part suite of sorts that was interrupted by the creamy filling in between. The two title tracks would ultimately continue on to other albums. “Part III” would emerge on “Three of a Perfect Pair” and “Part IV” on “The Construction of Light.” “Part I,” the longest track on the album is the most intense as well as it starts with a series of metallic clangs and what sounds like those wind chimes before the track shifts into a series of varied passages that showcase Robert Fripp’s angular guitar antics along with David Cross’s virtuosic violin playing. While the many shades of percussion are many, the driving force of both parts is clearly the heavy metal guitar riffing that provides a groove to latch onto before Fripp dives headfirst into the world of avant-prog weirdness. Another thing i have noticed about the LARKS’ suites is how the main percussive drive seems to have inspired the modern day drumming style of sludge metal with its sparse percussive bombast that punctuates certain rhythmic timings.

The mid-section is just as varied as the title track suites themselves. Of the four tracks, John Wetton provides vocals on “Book of Saturday,” “Exiles” and “Easy Money.” The first track which is perhaps the most accessible track with an easy to follow vocal melody backed up by jazzy psychedelic meandering but obviously crafted into some sort of avant-groove. “Exiles” while starting out in the clouds and venturing through murky atmospheric turbulence ultimately lands and creates another vocal led number that alternates with the orchestrated space effects. In some ways, this track is the only track that resembles what appeared on the preceding “Islands.” The track “Easy Money” bursts out some of the best guitar tones in the entire KC canon with grungy hisses emerging in fully distorted power chords while Wetton does some sort of vocal dance around the pounding bass and heavy percussive drive. The track which is about the antics of a snake oil salesman finds a way to incorporate a funky rock beat within a greater jazzified complexity with somewhat lighthearted lyrics that keep the album from drowning in darkness. In all honesty, the vocal tracks have always proved less compelling but add the human touches to keep this album from drifting out into space.

My favorite track has to be the excellently packaged “The Talking Drum” which masterfully weaves together tribal percussion with Eastern violins and a mean dirty avant-counterpoint of the guitar that dances around the dominant groove which hypnotically ratchets up the tension with a frenzy of sounds growing ever louder until the track merges with the second LARKS’ TONGUE suite that takes the album out with a bombastic metal guitar, screeching violin and incessantly caffeinated percussion that climaxes in a purely cacophonous din. Wow. What did i just hear? This album is not the easiest listen for sure. In fact it’s taken a long time for me to appreciate it. While some tracks stood out at first, others took their sweet time gestating in my soul but after a ridiculous number of listens, the complexities of KC started to settle and make themselves at home in the musical rolodex in my mind. This is a very weird and charming album to say the least. Inspirational for jazz, metal, prog and the avant-garde noise rock bands to come. Fripp had already shown his true genius at this stage but on LARKS’ TONGUES IN ASPIC he clearly showed that there were no limits in its sheer magnanimous nature. Jelly or lavender? I still don’t know. Knowing Fripp and his KC project, it will remain an eternal mystery just like how this album came to be. Maybe the LARKS know.

SUNN O))) Monoliths & Dimensions

Album · 2009 · Drone Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 15 ratings
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Warthur
With monologues from Attila featured on three of its four tracks, one might expect Monoliths & Dimensions to follow up the approach of Black One (Black Two, in other words). It isn't quite that, and nor is it quite a followup to Oracle, an EP released in the midst of the recording sessions for this. Compared to both it's more orchestrated, more ephemeral, a more serious chase after the "monastic plainsong meets drone metal" concept than they've ever presented before, with excursions into dark ambient and even avant-garde jazz - listen, for instance, to the plaintive brass at the end of Alice, the album-closing tribute to the late Alice Coltrane, perhaps symbolising John welcoming her to eternal rest.

HAMMERFALL Legacy of Kings

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.57 | 17 ratings
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Kev Rowland
When HammerFall released their second album in 1998 they were following up from the incredible success of their debut, and cemented it with ‘Legacy Of Kings’ which charted in multiple territories including Top 20 in Germany and their home country of Sweden. Nuclear Blast have now released a boxed set containing two CDs and a DVD (which I haven’t seen), with loads of additional material which makes this a “must purchase” for any fan. The ’20 Year Anniversary Edition’ contains the original album (remastered of course), along with singles/bonus cuts which were available in other territories, live versions from recent tours, and what is probably the most interesting for real fans, rehearsal demo material from 1998. It is certainly interesting to compare those songs with how they sound on the original album!

HammerFall rarely fail to deliver, and this is certainly no exception with their take on power metal which at times also brings in a folk element, always with loads of bottom end and great vocals. It is interesting to hear them cover Helloween’s “I Want Out” as while a good version it doesn’t contain the power and emphasis of their own material, while I am still not sure why they recorded “Man On The Silver Mountain”, but they don’t do bad (and it is a brave man indeed to take on Ronnie). I am sure that most metalheads will already have this album in their collection, but while waiting for the next album (which should be out in a few months), this is well worth investigating again.

PENDRAGON Kowtow

Album · 1988 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.08 | 4 ratings
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While PENDRAGON’s debut album may have landed without crashing, it didn’t exactly land on two feet as it was a mix of AOR dross cross-pollinated with high class Marillion inspired 80s neo-prog. The sophomore effort which came out three years later in 1988 found the band completely wiping out altogether. Despite the band starting to gain some momentum with the neo-prog sounds that would emerge in the 90s on the debut, on KOWTOW the band made a complete retrograde and in the process dumped its weakest albums of its career much less the neo-prog universe in general. This was the first album to see the debut of keyboardist Clive Nolan who had only worked with a band called The Cast at this point and while Nolan has been one of the bigwigs in the world of symphonic prog ever since, on this debut one could hardly guess that fact in any way, shape or form.

Not only did Nolan replace keyboardist Rik Carter but Nigel Harris was also replaced by percussionist Fudge Smith who would also stick around for the next eighteen years up until 2006. Pretty much considered PENDRAGON’s absolute worst effort, KOWTOW went off the rails and created the ultimately bad AOR infused album with only a few progressive moments. While everyone knows neo-prog is in the pop oriented sector of the prog supermarket, KOWTOW takes things to the ultimate extreme and dishes out a bunch of sappy overweening tracks that fail to take into account that good AOR music requires two vital elements. Number one: catchy well crafted pop hooks which are woefully missing from every track included here and number two: a competent vocalist that can focus the attention on the lyrical content. Neither are present here and while Nick Barrett would improve his vocal talents, here he falls woefully flat.

While the album is primarily a batch of irritating crappy pop tracks that are rich in tinny keyboard sounds and lifeless drum programming, the album’s saving grace is the decent but yet unremarkable “The Haunting” which hints at the more sophisticated epic themes that would emerge on the next album “The World.” There are also the occasional jazzy touches (by session musicians) with on “I Walk The Rope” and “2 AM” that unfortunately remind me more of Kenny G than Miles Davis. Barrett’s vocals have a very strange quality of sounding like a mix between a less talented Geddy Lee mixed with the Clash’s Joe Strummer at times and at other times hint at achieving some sort of deliverable goods but doesn’t quite cut the mustard leaving behind an unfulfilled promise where all the proper fluffing was delivered but no climactic resolution.

There are only so many ways to express how bad an album is. While i can understand why neo-proggers would want to craft some commercial success after once great legendary prog bands like Yes and Genesis were tearing up the pop charts and supergroups like Asia were raking in the bucks off their popification of prog, someone forgot to explain to PENDRAGON at this point that the songs would have to be irresistibly infectious and in the case of KOWTOW it is exactly the opposite. This is a difficult listen and i’m a very tolerant music lover to be fair. While i try to find any redeeming value in any given album i experience, KOWTOW is truly one of those absolute worst of the worst and a true burden to sit through for this review. Soulless and as plastic as Barbie’s bosom, KOWTOW is as bottom of the barrel as any album with the prog tag could possibly sink. To be avoided at all cost and a useful torture device for your enemies. Their heads will explode like the aliens on the movie “Mars Attacks!”

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Lights... Camera... Revolution!

Album · 1990 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.40 | 17 ratings
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Warthur
You say the revolution will not be televised? Suicidal Tendencies beg to differ! This album finds the band having evolved far from the skate punk of their debut and so deep into crossover thrash territory that, depending on exactly where you draw the line, they risk busting out the other side into straight-up thrash territory, with Mike Muir's vocals retaining a bit more of a hardcore punk style to them as a reminder of the band's origins.

As far as what kind of thrash we're looking at... imagine if peak-era Anthrax (singalong moments and all) went substantially darker with their lyrics, and you'll be somewhere in the right region. On the whole, a hell of a fun album. I'd say any thrash metal fan will find plenty to enjoy here, but if you come at crossover thrash from the hardcore punk end of the spectrum, you may need to adjust your expectations accordingly.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM The End of Chaos

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Like most metalheads, I’ve always had a warm spot for Flotsam and Jetsam, and I would expect most to have a copy of their debut ‘Doomsday For The Deceiver’ in their collection (grief, it is more than 30 years old now!). Destined both always to be remembered as the band Jason Newsted left to join Metallica, and to never gain the heights many expected of them, I came to this album not having heard any of their recent material. Singer Eric A.K. and guitarist Mike Gilbert where there for the debut, while bassist Michael Spencer was the original replacement for Newsted, while second guitarist has been in place for five years and it is only veteran drummer Ken Mary who is a newbie.

What strikes one immediately is the sheer force and power of the guitars, as the production is incredibly strong with real depth. Musically this is melodic power metal which is closely aligned to thrash, as the band happily straddle the genres and allow Eric to show he has lost none of his prowess over the years. This is an incredibly polished release, and to me that is the one aspect which I felt was wrong as it has been honed just too much, smoothed and crafted within an inch of its life and to my ears it would have been far better if it had been left raw and there wasn’t quite so much in the way of harmony vocals and saccharine. I am sure that onstage this will be quite a different beast and I would have much preferred to have heard it that way.

QUEEN Live At The Rainbow '74

Live album · 2014 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 4 ratings
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Warthur
Everyone knows that Queen were a fine live act... but god daaaaamn, were they amazing in their early years! Live at the Rainbow '74 captures not one but two complete shows (some truncated editions exist - ignore them), the first from the Queen II tour and the second from the Sheer Heart Attack tour.

As a London-based group, the Rainbow was something of a home turf for Queen, and the rapturous response they receive from the crowd is rewarded with a fine performance each night. I would actually give the Queen II set the edge - not only does it showcase just how much excellent material there is on the first two Queen albums, but it also seems a bit tighter. By the Sheer Heart Attack set they are already adapting to a different musical direction, and the somewhat longer set begins to flag.

Evidently, they were struggling to find a balance between keeping the set at a reasonable length and including everything they wanted to throw in there, a problem which would only become more acute as their parade of hits grew longer. The Night At the Opera setlist, as captured on the A Night At the Odeon live album, would be trimmed back appropriately; if you picked up that live set too then between that and this you'd have more or less the perfect sampling of live Queen from their early almost-prog/not-quite-metal days.

THE OCEAN Precambrian

Album · 2007 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 18 ratings
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Precambrian offers up two distinct musical trips, with an overarching theme concerning the earliest phases of Earth's formation. Hadean/Archaean offers about 20 minutes of direct aggression; Proterozoic offers an hour of more contemplative atmospheric sludge metal veering into progressive rock or New Age music at points. The full 80 minute package is, to be honest, a bit of a chore to listen to - but break it up into its two component parts and select the piece which suits your current mood better, and the overall package is substantially improved. Let's say it's a three star album packaged with a four star album - but which is which will hinge on the tastes of the individual listener.

BUCKETHEAD SIGIL Soundtrack

Boxset / Compilation · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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BUCKETHEAD has been rather low key in the last couple of years as he’s probably kicking back in the Bucket-Cave after exhausting himself from the explosive frenzy of activity during the earlier part of the decade when he released something like 300 albums in a few short years. Or maybe he’s just recharging his batteries! Brian Patrick Carroll is of course not only a chicken loving eccentricity but is without a doubt an extremely versatile and talented musician who has inspired many far and wide with his mold of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk mask and signature KFC pale upon his head.

One of his biggest fans has been John Romero who created the classic 90s video game Doom which in the year 2019 is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary. In honor of this landmark occasion, Romero has decided to go all out and create a deluxe boxed set that adds on new levels to the Doom game in the form of SIGIL which will surely please fans with eight new regular levels, one new bonus level, an epic boss fight and the most difficult episode yet to emerge. Of course all of this needed a new soundtrack and as he has spent countless hours programming code to the music of BUCKETHEAD, which Romero deemed the perfect sort of sounds to exist side by side with his masterful classic video game extensions.

The SIGIL SOUNDTRACK isn’t exactly a custom made score for the Doom universe’s latest installment but rather is a compilation of tracks from the massive PIKE series with the sole exception of the opening track, “Romero One Mind Any Weapon” which is the only new track to be featured. Romero’s hope was to introduce BUCKETHEAD to a wider audience and although many have heard of this mysterious legend, many still probably have never been exposed to his music, therefore this SOUNDTRACK is more like an introductory compilation of sorts.

“Romero One Mind Any Weapon” (9:04) -The only new track displays the avant-garde metal intensity of BUCKETHEAD’s earliest albums when he emerged in the 90s on such albums as 1992’s “Bucketheadland.” This track conveys a standard classic metal approach with lightning fast metal guitar riffing that keeps a “normal” metal groove in place but with a BH track creeping past the 9 minute mark, you’re bound to get a pocketful of electronic weirdness, progressive off-kilter breakdowns and a mix of sizzling solos and ambient mood enhancers. And of course there’s a touch of funk! This track is sort of a tribute to BUCKETHEAD as it has a dash of this and a dash of that which makes up the chicken lover’s lengthy career. While the track isn’t unusual from anything from his past, i can understand why this makes a wickedly cool addition to the SIGIL experience.

“13th Floor (7:15) from PIKE 118 - Elevator - I can understand why this track was chosen. It’s a heavy rocker that has a marching into battle drive to it. The track goes through a series of nice emotionally charged passages with elegant soloing and an epic feel. A great choice for SIGIL.

“Buildor 2 (13:43) from PIKE 224 - Buildor - This track utilizes a Pink Floydian Gilmour type of space rock guitar lick before being joined by another distorted power chord guitar and then it totally mellows out back to a space guitar lick, ambient background and very slow drumbeat. This tracks basically goes on and repeats the riff, adds solos, takes breaks with ambient passages and follows the traditional PIKE playbook but has found its true calling on SIGIL.

“The Patrolman” (7:30) from PIKE 8 - Racks - This track starts out with a clean guitar lick and more energetic drum beat joining it. It lets the melody gently unfold but this is one of those tracks that doesn’t really go anywhere. It is predictable and by the books without any improper freakiness. It’s too much like something off of the “Electric Tears / Sea” albums and sounds like a leftover track or something. OK as an active listening experience but perfect for the multi-tasking of video game playing.

“Cold Frost Part 6” (5:10) from PIKE 205 - 2 Days Til Halloween: Cold Frost - This is a snippet of the dark ambient releases from 2015’s Halloween countdown. Now this is prime video game music as it has a Twilight Zone feel with icy darkened atmospheres and spooky chilling effects. While many didn’t like these ambient releases, i find the electronica of BUCKETHEAD to be some of the most refined and interesting of all.

“Melting Man Part 2” (6:38) from PIKE 10 - The Silent Picture Book - This track is one of those distorted and mellow ballads which also is not very engaging actively but is a nice chill pill for intense video game action.

“Far 5” (10:41) from PIKE 266 - Far - This track begins with an atmospheric ambience and begins immediately with heavier guitar riffs along with the space rock sounds. A guitar solo is finally allowed to erupt into a sped up bluesy frenzy. Although this one has more of rockin’ feel, it still is nothing more than a repetitive loop of a few chords that continue on with soloing over the main rhythm.

“Poseidon 4-6” (16:56) from PIKE 264 - Poseidon - Like the PIKE from which these three tracks are stitched together here, they seamlessly transition together. A nice mix of heavy rock with crunchy riffs, licks and solos with some downtime for ambient sections and other deviations from the norm.

“Fastpass” (7:03) from PIKE 231 - Drift - This track starts out slow and mellow with a synth, a slow guitar and it sounds like it’s gonna be one of those Pink Floyd slow tempo bluesy guitar tracks. Yep. Continues as the same style and doesn’t really go anywhere interesting. Nice tones and does have chord changes but BH has done this much better before. OK but not OMG

At a running time of 84 minutes, this one might be a little too long for many as an active listening experience but as a series of musical experiences in conjunct with the SIGIL playing it is perfect! I think many of the PIKEs were too simply constructed for active listening experiences but make perfect background music for a multi-media project such as this. BUCKETHEAD Pikes have found their calling at last and Romero has expressed interest in incorporating more of the chicken lover’s music into his future projects. All in all this is a decent introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the PIKE series but personally i enjoy the more adventurous and experimental sector. For those not so adventurous as i, this is a decent PIKE 101 stepping stone into the greater universe but for true fans this will be of little interest with only the first track providing new material.

MYRATH Shehili

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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MYRATH return from its North African hideaway with the fifth album SHEHILI thus proving that this Tunisian band that has made a career out of mixing Middle Eastern folk music with metal is in no danger of going away any time soon. In fact this quintet plus session musicians has only become more famous internationally since its 2006 formation however despite the band’s exotic flair that has caught the rest of the world’s attention, these guys still don’t resonate very much in their native lands. It’s been three years since MYRATH released “Legacy” which found the band taking a softer less progressive approach than on the preceding “Hope,” “Desert Call” and “Tales of the Sands.” SHEHILI emulates “Legacy” with lush symphonically embellished power metal inspired metal tracks that wrap themselves around the classic Arab sounds of the Sahara.

Unlike MYRATH’s earliest albums which focused on the metal aspects of the band’s idiosyncratic fusion, SHEHILI continues the thick atmospheric cloud covers of “Legacy” and crafts more accessible pop hooks that take a blatant dip into the mainstream with catchy sing-songy melodic hooks with simpler compositional constructs that add some power metal heft but focus a lot of attention on more AOR flavors that demonstrates that the band is clearly going for the mainstream breakthrough jugular which is what makes this album a little weak compared to the earliest powerful displays of metal music that has now been tamed into one trick camel races all the way to the top of the charts.

On the positive side of things, vocalist Zaher Zorgati still delivers a powerful vocal charm and is perfect for the type of music that MYRATH has conjured up. The other winner is the strong symphonic string section that includes the usual menagerie of instruments such as the violin, viola and the new which is a Persian flute that is prominent in most forms of traditional Middle Eastern music. Also included are traces of lute and elegant piano arrangements that add touches of Western classical teased into the Eastern sounds. The symphonic touches overall are what define SHEHILI much more than the rather subordinate heavy rock aspects that barely even qualify for metal any longer. The production is also perfect as it allows each little sound to find its own space without intruding on the others.

Ah, i loved early MYRATH. The five-piece metal band from the far flung non-metal lands of Tunisia who dared conjure up metal mirages with local flavors. The early albums were powerful and delivered all the goods while weaving it all together in highly progressive ways. Most of those complexities have been replaced at this point with easy on the ears flavorings that keep most of the tracks sounding rather similar in approach. The formula is rather simple. Recycle the same Eastern musical scales, add a bit of guitar heft with the only occasional solo along with a rather subordinate bass and drum rhythm section. While Zorgati is clearly the star of the show with his passionate and intricately designed vocal style, the rest of the music falls rather flat compared to the earliest offerings.

MYRATH have obviously fallen into the trap that many bands do as they flirt with commercial success and by that they lose the passion that was generated in the beginning when the music was intended as a statement rather than a means of economic opportunity. While many bands find a way to balance these two acts by having a few more commercial tracks and some more sophisticated experimental and progressive ones, MYRATH have chosen to create a rather monotonic album’s worth of 12 tracks where the overall feel of the individual songs doesn’t really advance. It all sounds like a series of reshuffling with a few minor bursts of bombast for a little contrast. It’s clear form the videos that this band is aiming for the mainstream and that involves healthy amounts of cheese to pull it off. While the sound of the band is clearly intact, there’s just not enough going on on this new album to get me really excited. Personally i want the old MYRATH back. This just feels shallow. Not bad but not great either.

DEATHSPELL OMEGA Mass Grave Aesthetics

EP · 2008 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.60 | 6 ratings
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DEATHSPELL OMEGA are notorious for releasing EPs between their full-length albums, however this band has also released non-album material on multi-band splits starting as far back as the year 2000, the same year as the band’s debut album “Infernal Battles.” The sprawling sonic banter that has been titled MASS GRAVE AESTHETICS made its first debut all the way back in 2005 on the four-way split album “From The Entrails To The Dirt” which was featured as the last track following the bands Malicious Secrets, Antaeus and Mütilation. While this originally was released between the first two installments of the Satanic trilogy albums, the 19 minute 43 second track was released independently as a 2008 EP between the second two episodes of 2007 “Fas-Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum” and 2010’s “Paracletus.”

The track’s epigram was directly taken from the writings of the French satirical poet, anarchist, polemicist, essayist, and translator, Laurent Taihade whose works caused quite a societal stir in 1890s Paris. This excellent track would make Monsieur Taihade proud as it showcases DEATHSPELL OMEGA’s supreme rule over the black metal domain with yet another chilling and crushing mix of dark ambient atmospheric creepiness in unholy cahoots with highly technical buzzsaw pyrotechnics blessed by dark angels and Satan himself. The mid-2000s were DSO’s most innovative time when they found their own calling and the right techniques for breaking through the crowded black metal world. MASS GRAVE AESTHETICS sits comfortably side by side with “Fas-Ite..” as it incorporates all the same diverse masteries of dark psychological warfare via fear porn in the form of sonic intensity.

MASS GRAVE AESTHETICS begins with crackling static as if Satan himself had portaled from the depths of hell to attend the performance. The now-standard jangly dissonant guitar riffs that take a post-metal cyclical loop build the tension until the sudden onslaught of dissonant bombast allows vocalist Mikko Aspa to narrate the darkened Satanic diatribe and ratchet up the tension while the nuclear blasts of distortion and percussive pummelation are dropped like a bomb. Sudden stops allow the ethereal surreality of choirs tucked away in the background to shine through for brief moments but when the black metal frenzy begins again, the intensity is increased exponentially as every possible juggernaut of black metal fury is implemented. The pattern continues throughout this near 20 minute experience as dark ambient interludes allow blood-curdling industrial sounds to terrorize and gestate fear but always lead back to the most technically demanding and bombastic black metal outbursts of the entire metal universe.

DSO are masters of contrast and on this one-shot track that contains a whole album’s worth of intensity, the listener is treated to a series of stylistic shifts with an infinite number of guitar variations, bass grooves and percussive outbursts. The band changes things slowly at first like a slumbering salamander creeping through the dampened forest leaves that have dropped as winter approaches yet can burst into uncontrollable rage at the drop of a hat with impeccable time signature changes finding each musician in tandem and delivering lethal doses of orotundity. This is amongst DSO’s most developed works and sits amongst the very top of their canon in terms of not only intensity and technical wizardry but in sheer compositional prowess unlike any others. Like its counterpart “Fas-Ite,” MASS GRAVE AESTHETICS is one of the most frightening musical experiences that one can possible imagine where the darkness recesses of the human mind are pried open and sonic demons are allowed to impishly play mischievous tricks on the frail human psyche. Of course i looooove it!

ARCH / MATHEOS Winter Ethereal

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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WINTER is coming. Oh, wait! It has already come! Emerging seemingly from nowhere in 2011, the early Fates Warning pioneers of prog metal, vocalist John ARCH and guitarist Jim MATHEOS took the world by storm after releasing the stunning collaborative effort in the form of “Sympathetic Resonance” under the moniker ARCH / MATHEOS which in many ways found resolution to the long lost continuation of what Fates Warning would have sounded like had they continued well into the 21st century with ARCH’s vocal prowess still in command. With a classic prog metal sound that was clearly crafted for the modern world, the duo constructed six stunning tracks that took the early prog metal attributes of operatic vocals, heavy zigzagging guitar riffs and compositional complexities and married it all with the darker down-tuned realities of the 21st century.

While the project was never to be intended to be a permanent one, the obvious chemistry that was presented begged prog metalheads far and wide to ponder the possibilities of whether there could be the remotest possibility of a second edition to what would provide the next chapter in this project of such technical wizardry coupled with emotional outpourings. Due to other commitments, particularly on the side of MATHEOS who to this day remains a vital member in Fates Warning’s modern prog metal excellence, no pressures were in play but lo and behold eight long years later and the duo has found themselves releasing the long awaited second coming with WINTER ETHEREAL which finds the dynamic duo in cahoots once again with bassist Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Chroma Key), drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Fates Warning, Spastic Ink) and guitarist Frank Aresti.

And this time around even more musicians came to the party which includes ex-Cynic bassist Sean Malone and two additional drummers, Matt Lynch (Trioscapes) and Thomas Lang (John Wetton, Stork, Paul Gilbert, Eric Gillette) as well as Steve Di Giorgio (Death, Testament, Charred Walls Of The Damned) and bassists Joe Dibiase and Mark Zonder. The guitar distortion is turned up to 11 and the musicians were chomping at the bit to unleash a new slab of highly technical metal that takes the ARCH / MATHEOS to the next level. While the Fates Warning comparisons are inevitable, once again this project finds a way to make the music its own despite the clear throwback to the long lost days when progressive metal existed as a mere collaboration between 70s prog rock and 80s classic heavy metal. And best of all, despite the decades that have elapsed, it’s utterly amazing how well Mr. ARCH’s glass shattering vox box has held up. Is this man fucking immortal or what?

WINTER ETHEREAL cranks out nine hard driving prog metal tracks rooted in the previous century but clearly designed for 21st century consumption. A bit longer than the previous one and clocking in at about 108 minutes, this album bursts into the scene with the crushing “Vermillion Moons” which delivers the expected labyrinthine guitar riffs while taking a few breathers with some slower passages. Clearly on display and man of the hour vocalist ARCH shows off his high capacity pipes in an ever daring feat of vocal majesty which never fails throughout the album’s lengthy parade through the progressively imbued compositions that seem to tackle the usual prog metal melodramatic lyrical esoterica in the fullest sonic regalia. Despite the plethora of musicians on board this time, the album comes off as a tightly woven musical experience with all eyes on the prize, that meaning the overall feel of consistency in this high quality musical sector of the prog metal universe.

Perhaps my only complaint of this dynamic powerhouse of unbridled prog metal passion is that despite the army of newbies in its midst, it doesn’t deviate significantly from the majesty of “Sympathetic Resonance,” as the tones, timbres, dynamics and songwriting techniques follow suit in much the same business as usual. Perhaps the creative aspects could’ve shined a bit more instead of making a second installment of album #1 however if a similar approach is what you’ve been salivating over then WINTER ETHEREAL will not disappoint one little bit as it tackles all the prog sophistication and ethereal nuances that the first ARCH / MATHEOS experience delivered so well. While overall i don’t find this to be the perfect prog metal specimen that came before, it is nevertheless a high quality release that finds these elder statesmen of the genre not losing one bit of their musical mojo, in other words - this is some outstanding modern day prog metal delivering ALL the goods.

ARCH / MATHEOS Sympathetic Resonance

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 50 ratings
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Progressive metal had its origins in the early 80s when heavy metal was a fairly homogenous genre that featured operatic, high pitched vocals with aggressive guitar driven riffs accompanied by a solid bass and drum rhythm section, However certain bands were a bit more adventurous than the status quo and coupled these attributes with the more complex and layered arrangements that were established in the progressive rock that came before. Early on bands like Watchtower and Aslan soon to be Psychotic Waltz were crafting some amazingly brilliant mixes of the best of what the 70s prog and 80s metal scenes had to offer. Amongst these early pioneers included Fates Warning whose earliest albums didn’t quite muster up the technical workouts styles that the prog metal of Watchtower was conjuring up, yet it was still a few steps ahead of the rest of the pack.

Existing on the melodic side of the progressive metal nascency, Fates Warning was considered one of the big three of the genre along with Queensryche and Dream Theater in terms of popularity. The band was formed in 1982 by vocalist John Arch, guitarists Jim Matheos and Victor Arduini, bassist Joe DiBiase and drummer Steve Zimmerman in Hartford, Connecticut. While the debut “ Night on Brücken” displayed blatant unbridled Iron Maiden worship, the band quickly jumped into gear and evolved exponentially on the following “The Spectre Within” where the band developed not only its own distinct sound but found more progressive elements that culminated on the epic length “Epitaph.” Followed by “Awaken The Guardian” Fates Warning only continued to ratchet up the intensity and was poised to break into the mainstream much as Dream Theater would in the early 90s however just as the band was reaching a new apex of the progressive metal paradigm, John Arch left the band.

While Fates Warning would continue, the band jumped into ever greater complexities and as the metal universe splintered into the thrash, death, black and power metal worlds, some of the most adventurous bands incorporated the progressive metal elements that had emerged in the 80s. By the 90s however progressively infused metal albums were all over the placed with bands like Tool existing in the alternative side of the genre whereas bands like Atheist, Gorguts and Ved Buens Ende taking things in the more extreme depths of darkness laid out by Bathory and Morbid Angel. The traditional sounds laid out by Fates Warning and Dream Theater were giving way to more experimental approaches and the more extreme reaches of the metal universe. Fast forward nearly 30 years after Fates Warning was founded, JIM MATHEOS successfully convinced JOHN ARCH out of his musical hibernation and the two began work on a new project together mostly due to the fact that a new Fates Warning album had been put on hold.

The new project simply called ARCH / MATHEOS actually began on ARCH’s 2003 EP “A Twist of Fate” where the chemistry was reignited and the duo knew that a full-length album just had to happen. The result was the 2011 release SYMPATHETIC RESONANCE which inserted itself into the 21st century and brought and with it brought the classic progressive metal styles of the past back into the limelight. The duo accompanied by drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Riot, Halford), Joey Vera (Armoured Saint, Fates Warning) and guitar soloist Frank Aresti crafted an excellent display of retro prog metal delivered with all the fiery passion that accompanied some of the early examples of the genre. Despite three tracks which included "Neurotically Wired", "Midnight Serenade" and "Stained Glass Sky" initially intended to appear on the next Fates Warning album, they were redesigned to fit in with this new project and all the better for it since they fit the style presented here perfectly.

SYMPATHETIC RESONANCE consists of six well-constructed tracks that display the classic operatic vocal style of ARCH who hadn’t missed a beat in his multi-decade absence from the music scene. His lyrical delivery resonates in divine splendor while the music artfully mixes the expected technical workouts with a well balanced emotional performance. The classic prog metal melodic approach infuses the ambitious compositional workouts with all the softer and heavier dynamics falling into place. While the album consists of fairly standard length tracks, the mid-section that consists of “Stained Glass Sky,” “On The Fence” and “Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me),” all exceeding eight minutes in length, takes things full force into the prog-o-sphere with not only extremely heavy guitar riffage but highly demanding compositional approaches that wend and wind through many movements.

No one was expecting this one but when it emerged it took the metal world by storm and reminded a much more diverse metal universe what the classics sounded like and with SYMPATHETIC RESONANCE both ARCH and MATHEOS simply nailed the perfect flow of progressive metal excellence on par with the parent band Fates Warning who had long moved on from this stylistic approach as well as putting some of the young whippersnappers to shame. While rooted in the past, ARCH / MATHEOS were paying attention to the new reality of metal music in the 21st century and in the process eschewed a tinny high pitched production job that plagued many 80s releases. Instead the music sounds dark and downtuned and exists in a murkier world than that of the earliest Fates Warning albums. The music is just perfect as it delivers the perfect mix of excellent musicianship that serves the greater good of a strong emotional connection. Sometimes it takes the masters of the past to remind the world how to make a consistently brilliant flow of music that doesn’t believe in filler tracks and with SYMPATHETIC RESONANCE they did just that.

LOINCLOTH Demo

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Loincloth is an US technical/progressive metal act formed by members of Confessor and Breadwinner. The band was formed in 2000 after Confessor disbanded and released this demo in 2003. 2 of the 4 tracks on the 11:46 minutes long demo are also featured on the "Church Burntings / New Jersey" single also released in 2003. Those two releases were the only releases by the band for many years as bassist Cary Rowells and drummer Steve Shelton returned to Confessor and focused their energy on that band. Loincloth never officially disbanded though and they finally released their debut full-length studio album "Iron Balls of Steel" in January 2012. The album features the same lineup as this 2003 demo. In addition to the above mentioned rhythm section the lineup also includes guitarists Tannon Penland and Pen Rollings. None of the four tracks featured on the demo appeared on the tracklist for "Iron Balls of Steel (2012)".

Stylistically the music on the demo is instrumental technical/progressive metal played by four very skilled musicians. The rhythm section is on fire, delivering varied and powerful technical playing, and the two guitarists follow suit. There are times when the music sounds like 90s Confessor without Scott Jeffrey´s distinct sounding high pitched vocals in front, but this is slightly more focused on technical playing and not as doomy as Confessor. The demo is very well produced, featuring a sharp, powerful, and detailed production, which suits the material well.

The material is well written although not instantly memorable as there are very little in the way of melody featured on the compositions. It´s pretty cold and clinical in that way, which also provides the material with a gloomy futuristic atmosphere. There´s no doubt it´s fascinating and intriguing music seen from a technical point of view, but to those who prefer hook laden or melodic oriented music, this could very well turn out to be a hard challenge. For the style this is a quality release though and considering that it´s a demo, this sounds surprisingly professional. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

SOLITUDE AETURNUS Justice for All

EP · 2000 · Traditional Doom Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Justice for All" is an EP release by US, Arlington, Texas based doom metal act Solitude Aeturnus. The EP was released through Doomed Planet Records in 2000. "Justice for All" doesn´t feature contemporary original material though, as it´s sort of a compilation, featuring 6 tracks from the band´s two pre-album demos "And Justice For All... (1988)" (originally released under the Solitude monicker) and "Demo 1989)". 5 tracks from the former and 1 track from the latter. So "Justice for All" is basically a reissue of the "And Justice For All... (1988)" demo with a bonus track. Some of the material featured on the two original cassette tape demos would appear in re-recorded versions on subsequent studio albums.

Stylistically the music on the EP is epic doom metal and Trouble and especially Candlemass are valid references. The tracks from the "And Justice For All... (1988)" demo features Kristoff Gabehart on vocals while "Opaque Divinity (3/89)" from "Demo 1989)" features Robert Lowe. The latter is a strong vocalist and the Solitude Aeturnus singer who most people probably know as he performs on the "classic" studio albums by the band. Kristoff Gabehart is not without skills though and while his low register singing/talking type vocals aren´t the most appealing, his more powerful and majestic vocals are of a good quality.

The material are well written heavy doom metal tunes packed in an epic atmosphere. There are occasional nods toward traditional heavy metal and thrash metal in the music too. Considering that the tracks are demo material from 1988-89 the sound quality is relatively well sounding. The guitars are slightly thin sounding and there´s a bit too much reverb on the drums, but other than that the EP is well produced.

So upon conclusion "Justice for All" is well worth a listen if you´re a fan of Solitude Aeturnus. The more casual listener is recommended starting with the "regular" studio albums. With that said the quality of the material featured on this EP is still so high, that a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

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