Metal Music Reviews

KRAANIUM Slamchosis

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Any album which starts with Cameron Britton (as Edmund Temper in the superb series ‘Mindhunter’) saying “it’s not easy butchering people, it’s hard work”, just has to be interesting and that is certainly the case here. That isn’t the only lift from that series, as various quotes make their way into the album, and it shows just how intense this is when these are the times when it lightens up a little. This is brutal death metal, their fifth album, and it is a full-on metallic onslaught from the first note to the very last. It grooves, it moves, and it hits the brain like a runaway express train. They do slow it down at times, and let the drums move to the centre while the guitarists have a rest, but all this is just a deliberate ploy so that when they come back it feels even more brutal than it was before.

It is a piledriver of an album, everyone in perfect sync to create riffs incredibly intense, and then over the top is singer Jack Papp Fahlberg Christensen, who is an incredible find. This is his first album with the band, taking over from founder Martin Funderdud who sadly took his own life in 2017, but Martin’s guitarist brother Mats is still there, driving the band onto new heights. I haven’t heard much from the band prior to this album, but this is one of the best examples of the genre I have come across in quite some time. If ever there was an album to lose the dandruff to then this must be it. Over the top in every area, the use of words from ‘Mindhunter’ adds additional polish and shows their thought processes at play. One of the songs, “Gratification Through Annihilation”, even takes its title from one of the lines. The line at the beginning of “Larva Infested Cum Sluts” (okay, so maybe it’s not all that polished – reminds me a little of Spinal Tap), is one of my favourites of the whole series, and I can still “see” the scene quite clearly.

This is quite some beast, and now it is out of its cage you can’t say you haven’t been warned. Intense, disturbing, superb.

ELUVEITIE Ategnatos

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There have been a lot of metal bands making an impressive resurgence in recent years, following either long periods of inactivity, or a big lineup change that initially seemed like a major setback. One such band to enter a new era recently is Swiss folk/melodeath band Eluveitie, who had released six great to excellent albums during their first twelve years of existence, before announcing some huge lineup changes in 2016, the biggest of which being the departure of Anna Murphy (Vocals, Hurdy Gurdy) and the addition of Fabienne Erni (Vocals, Mandola, Harp.) One year later, the band would release Evocation II – Pantheon, the long-anticipated sequel to their first ever acoustic folk release. However, while I found that album is enjoyable enough, it left me desperately wanting to hear how their new lineup would sound on a heavier album, so when the band’s eighth full-length release, Ategnatos, was announced, I was excited to hear how it would turn out. Now that it is here, it has not only exceeded my expectations: it has become by far my favorite Eluveitie album to date, and one that represents all aspects of their music perfectly, while also showing small signs of evolution.

Eluveitie essentially has two main aspects to their music: The heavy, melodeath infused sections where frontman Chrigel Glanzmann leads the way with his epic, varied growls, and the softer, more epic and melodic folk passages. The two often intersect on many tracks, and I generally find these tracks to be the band’s best works, with the mix between harsh and clean vocals, along with the heavy guitar work and extensive folk melodies, coming from many different unique instruments, all coming together to create something special. Stylistically, Ategnatos delivers more of what any fan of the band would want, with many straight-forward, hard-hitting melodeath passages, a fair amount of softer passages where Fabienne steals the show with her light, yet very powerful and emotional vocals, and a ton of sections where the two styles come together for something truly amazing. There are also some sections where the guitar work goes a bit into metalcore territory, though this is handled very well, and adds an extra level of intensity, without taking things too far, and there are also a ton of nice softer sections, as well as a couple of more danceable, somewhat pop-ish tracks, where Fabienne really gets to shine. Performances are strong across the board, as always, with Chrigel and all musicians, both old and new, doing a great job, while Fabienne really gets to shine in her first full album (Evocation II was very light on vocals) and proves to be an excellent addition to the band. The production is also top-notch, with all the different elements coming together perfectly, and it all sounds wonderful together.

As great as everything sounds, the most impressive part of the album is how the songwriting manages to be both incredibly varied and extremely consistent, with some of Eluveitie’s most dynamic songwriting to date, as well as some of their catchiest, most satisfying songs in quite some time. The title track (which also serves as the lead single) kicks things off in typical fashion, with a brief narrative section, which introduces the album’s overarching theme of rebirth (a very fitting theme, considering the band’s circumstances) and then there’s an extended sequence of folk instrumentation and choral vocals, before the guitars eventually take over and the band charges ahead with their classic melodeath sound, as Chrigel mixes high and low growls together wonderfully during some fun verses, and Fabienne joins along during a fun, soft chorus. It’s a very nice track and does a great job of alternating between speedy, intense melodeath passages, and more melodic folk sections. It’s an excellent indication of what to expect from the album.

I’ll divide the rest of the album into three categories, starting with the heavier, more melodeath focused tracks. First up, we have “A Cry in the Wilderness”, which starts out with nice folk instrumentation and percussion, before speeding ahead during some intense, fast-paced verses. It has a nice combination of folk instrumentation and heavy guitar work, and is a very heavy and fun track, with Chrigel delivering some epic growls, especially during the chorus. The most intense track, though, is “Mine is the Fury”, a short but absolutely brutal track, which has the most frantic, hardest hitting verses, as well as an intense, somewhat groove infused middle section. It does make use of some great folk melodies, but it’s a very hard hitting track, overall, and quite the fun one as well. A couple of tracks later is “Worship”, a track which has some epic folk melodies as well as some narration and it’s probably the most melodic of the Chrigel dominated tracks, but it’s still fast and very heavy at points, especially during the verses, while the chorus is more melodic, though Chrigel still delivers some very powerful, lower pitched growls, which work great. Lastly, we have “Threefold Death”, which has some beautiful vocals from Fabienne during soft passages at the beginning and near the end, but for the rest of its duration it’s rapid-fire, pulverizing melodeath track, with more very heavy guitar work, and epic growls from Chrigel.

On the softer side, there are three nice interludes throughout the album, which are mostly pure Celtic folk, and transition nicely between full-length songs. The first softer full-length song is “The Raven Hill”, which is one of the purest folk metal tracks on the album, with some nice Celtic folk melodies laying the backdrops for a more relaxing, though still intense track. Chrigel growls during the verses, while Fabienne delivers some nice vocals during the chorus, as well as during the intro, and it’s a very melodic, very beautiful track overall, with some especially great folk instrumentation throughout the track. One particularly unique track is “Ambiramus”, a fun, more pop-ish track with some very danceable melodies, as the folk instruments have a catchy, almost electronic sound to them, that is only really noticeable on this track. it’s a soft track, with slow verses and a very upbeat, extremely catchy chorus where Fabienne delivers some of her most powerful and inspired vocals on the entire album. It was definitely a great choice for a single and is one of the best songs on the album. Near the end of the album, “Breathe”, is another very beautiful track with a heavy focus on folk melodies. It does have some heavy guitar work, especially during the instrumental section in the second half, but it’s a slower paced, very melodic track overall, where Fabienne really gets to showcase her smooth and beautiful, yet very powerful voice. It could end up being one of the less liked tracks on the album, but it’s actually one of my personal favorites, due to how relaxing and catchy it is, as well as how amazing the vocals are throughout. Lastly, the album closes off with Eclipse”, a soft outro type track, which takes the main melody and lyrics from the previous track, “Rebirth”, and allows Fabienne to run with it, resulting in another stunning vocal showcase.

While both the heavier and softer tracks are amazing, the tracks that strike a balance between the two tend to be among my favorites. First up, following the title track and an interlude, is “Deathwalker”, a track which has some very heavy, slightly metalcore infused guitar work during the verses, while still having some beautiful folk melodies, as well as a very fun, upbeat chorus where both vocalists work together wonderfully. Similarly, “Black Water Dawn”, does an excellent job of alternating between heavy and softer passages, especially during the chorus, while the verses move along a decent, but not an overly fast pace, and have some intense growls. The chorus, though, is very melodic and gives Fabienne some room to work with, while the instrumental section in the second half is heavy, intense and really cool. On the softer side, but still having some intense growled sections is “The Slumber”, which has some more excellent folk melodies throughout, and it’s a slower, very calm track overall, with some heavy growled parts during the verses, and some beautiful, soft melodies during the chorus, which is dominated by clean vocals. The last full-length song on the album is “Rebirth”, which is the first song releases from the track, but it came out about a year and a half ago, so it’s hard to really call it a lead single. If anything, it initially served more like a tease at what fans could expect to hear from the band in the future. Either way, it’s an absolute stunner of a track, and probably my favorite on the album, again alternating wonderfully between speedy melodeath sections, with a slight touch of metalcore during some slower, pounding sections, as well as a very melodic chorus, where Fabienne gets to shine. The instrumental section in the second half is absolutely epic and spectacular, while the ending is also perfect and serves as a great lead into the aforementioned closing track, which ends the album wonderfully.

When Eluveitie announced their major lineup changes a few years ago I was concerned, and wondered whether they would be able to retain their high quality, but now that I’ve heard Ategnatos, I’m very pleased to say the band has stormed back in a wonderful way, producing possibly their best, most dynamic release to date! It strikes a perfect balance between their classic melodeath elements, as well as their epic Celtic folk sound, and it serves as an excellent full debut for new vocalist Fabienne Enri, while still allowing frontman Chrigel Glanzmann to shine as much as ever before. Longtime fans of the band should be pleased with the album, while fans of either folk or melodeath are highly recommended to give it a listen, as it’s likely to be among the best albums from either genre released this year.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/04/06/eluveitie-ategnatos-review/

COHEED AND CAMBRIA Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures

Album · 2018 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
2018’s Unheavenly Creatures, (or to give it its full title ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’) is modern prog masters Coheed And Cambria’s 9th full-length studio album. It follows up from their 2015 record The Color Before The Sun, which departed from their Amory Wars concept album series, and Unheavenly Creatures sees the band return once more to their sci-fi comic book concept.

Don’t worry if you haven’t been following the story, which is already out of order with various prequels and side stories, as the songs are that catchy anyway you don’t have to follow the story as closely as some other concept albums. It’s a nice touch if you are paying attention, but the band have always been more than just a story, they aren’t a gimmick band and the music, vocals and sound have always been just as noteworthy as the concept.

Musically; The Color Before The Sun was also a bit of an evolution which saw some new territories covered, with big stadium rock riffs and bubblegum melodies. Unheavenly Creatures incorporates parts of that, while also leaning more on the style the band were going for on the two Good Apollo albums from 2005 and 2007.

The vocals, the production and lead guitars are all superb and continue the long tradition of interesting and memorable songs that are easy on the ear, but come across as progressive when you look at them more closely. The band have all the hooks of the catchiest pop punk bands, all the solos of the catchiest NWOBHM guitar masters and an ear for production that always makes them sound humongous. This album is no exception. Just listen to the powerful opener ‘The Dark Sentencer,’ when Claudio sings ‘‘Kiss your lover with that filthy mouth you fucking monster’’ you just want to scream along with it like you’re on top of a cliff in the November Rain video.

That being said, its not an instant album, in fact it is 79 minutes long, so there is quite a lot to get through and it can take a lot of spins to really sink your teeth in to, but there is a lot to love if you are willing to give it the time.

For a band who, in my opinion, haven’t released a bad album yet, it can be quite hard to make a recommendation to an outsider. That being said, the general public would seem to suggest Year Of The Black Rainbow and The Afterman Descension from 2010 and 2013 respectively are the band’s least impactful works, whereas the public would advise In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth 3 and the lengthily titled Good Apollo, Tonight I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (commonly just called ‘4’ or ‘Good Apollo’ for ease) are the ones to check out first… at this point I can’t really imagine not loving a Coheed album, but just in case, I would say don’t pick this as your first one. Pick up 3, 4 and Afterman Ascension at a minimum before getting this one.

Once you are an established fan though; this is not an album you want to miss. Some of these choruses will bounce around your head for days. Some of the guitar lines are as memorable as the average band’s choruses. The first four songs alone have more memorable moments than most albums. In fact, take any four songs in a row, the first four, the last four, any four in between. Even the slower moments like ‘Queen Of The Dark’ pop on this. If you want to dip your toes in, some of the highlights include ‘True Ugly,’ ‘All On Fire,’ ‘Toys,’ and ‘Unheavenly Creatures.’

EDGE OF SANITY Euthanasia

Demo · 1989 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Euthanasia" is the first demo cassette tape released by Swedish death metal act Edge of Sanity. The demo was self-released in November 1989. The tape was released with three different artwork colour variations. One with a black/white cover, one with a red/black cover, and one with a blue/black cover.

"Euthanasia" features 5 tracks and a full playing time of 10:52 minutes. "Return of Consciousness" is a short intro, but the remaining four tracks are "regular" death metal tracks. This is of course early death metal and therefore there are strong thrash metal leanings in the music too. Many of the riffs and rhythms are more in the thrash metal camp than in the death metal ditto. Dan Swanö´s vocals are death metal growls though. The intro, "Pernicious Anguish" and "Disrupting the Inhabitants" are exclusive to this release, while "Human Aberration" would appear in a re-recorded version on the band´s debut full-length studio album "Nothing but Death Remains (1991)", and "Incipience to the Butchery" would be featured in a re-recorded version on the band´s second full-length "Unorthodox (1992)".

The musicianship is decent for a first demo, but not everything is played as tight as it could have been. Swanö had not yet developed his disctinct sounding intelligible growling vocal style either, so his vocals here are more standard unintelligible growling. The material is overall of a relatively good quality and especially the two tracks which made it unto studio albums display that even this early on Edge of Sanity had some pretty unconventional ideas, although in small doses on this release.

The sound production is raw and lo-fi, but the band have gotten the most out of the recording equipment they had at their disposal, and "Euthanasia" is generally listenable. Upon conclusion "Euthanasia" is certainly a promising first demo by Edge of Sanity and considering the time of release, the music is quite advanced for a death metal demo. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

SUFFOCATION Reincremated

Demo · 1990 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Reincremated" is a demo cassette tape release by US, New York based death metal act Suffocation. The demo was self-released in July 1990. Suffocation were formed in 1988 and "Reincremated" is their first release. It was also their only demo release, as they were soon discovered and signed to Relapse Records for the release of the "Human Waste (1991)" EP.

"Reincremated" features 3 tracks and a full playing time of 8:37 minutes. "Human Waste" was included on the "Human Waste (1991)" EP in the exact same version, and both "Involuntary Slaughter" and "Reincremation" were featured in re-recorded versions on Suffocation´s debut full-length studio album "Effigy of the Forgotten (1991)".

The recording quality is very raw and noisy, but it´s still audible what´s going on, and there is a unique brutal charm to it, that´s reserved for death metal demos from that time period. While the sound production is unpolished and raw to say the least, it´s still obvious how well playing Suffocation were even this early on in their career. The level of brutality is also really high considering when this was released. At the time Probably only rivaled by the likes of Cannibal Corpse and Immolation.

So while this certainly isn´t a professional recording and there are issues here and there as a consequence of that, it shows from the start that Suffocation knew exactly what they wanted and that they had the skills to do it. I´m not sure brutal technnical death metal was born with this release, but it´s arguably one of the earliest examples of the style. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

NEGURĂ BUNGET Sala Molksa

EP · 1998 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 3 ratings
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After the debut album “Zîrnindu-să” was released in 1996, NEGURĂ BUNGET went from a duo to a trio after guitarist Sol Faur (Cristian Popescu) joined the group and offered his own sensibilities which heightened the Romanian folklore and creativity clearly absent from the debut. The new lineup released their first material in 1998 in the form of the EP titled SALA MOLKSA which found not only a better production job that allowed the atmospheric possibilities to match the creepiness of the darkened Carpathian fog from which the band took its name but also found the band incorporating the wealth of Romanian folk music into the compositions that teased the synthesizers into emulating traditional flutes as well as adding more diverse dynamics, tempos and variation.

SALA MOLKSA consisted of five tracks each titled in the impenetrable Romanian language which makes it all the more mysterious and as nebulous as the cloud covered forest that surround the band’s native city of Timişoara. With a second guitarist, NEGURĂ BUNGET took the extreme metal to new heights. The guitar fury was turned up to the max, the bass lines were now separated as to be heard under the buzzsaw guitar feedback and the drumming became more ferocious with a new found purpose rather than just keeping the beat. Most importantly the compositions were more nuanced with more progressive developments and most importantly the keyboards were balanced as to provide an eerie sonic haze and evolving light years beyond the cheesy kid stuff from the debut album.

Not only had NEGURĂ BUNGET turned up the black metal riffage to Bathory level but achieved a balance with the atmospheric touches that would make Emperor proud as the symphonic orchestration mix harmoniously with nary a flaw. Best of all the tracks were no longer predictable second wave black metal and each track stood proud on its own as it ferociously fused the fury of the Scandinavian northlands with the dark and macabre folklore of the Carpathian occult world. On SALA MOLKSA, NEGURĂ BUNGET displayed their potential well and were finally hinting at the magical musical mojo was lurking beneath the surface and awaiting a more refined approach that would result in albums like “OM.” Add to that a huge leap in technical proficiency that showed the musicianship hitting their stride.

SALA MOLKSA is a frenetic beast that no longer feels like the ugly stepchild of the bigger, badder and better produced black metal leaders of the north but rather a declaration that a new brand of black metal has stepped into the ring and taking the roller coaster ride in a new direction. This EP was that statement that launched NEGURĂ BUNGET into the position as Romania’s best musical output Timişoara’s other claim to fame, the 70s progressive rock band Phoenix. While “Zîrnindu-să” showed a fledgling band getting its feet wet, SALA MOLKSA shows a band coming of age and although not creating the magnum opus of their career, nevertheless conjured up an excellent slab of atmospherically fueled black metal fury that crafted four strong ferocious tracks and a short ending track that pointed listeners into the direction of where things were going.

Everything about SALA MOLSKA is a step up from its predecessor. The melodies are more hauntingly beautiful, the black metal ferociousness is unhinged and electrified manyfold and the pacing of the tracks keeps this one interesting for its entire run. The EP was released initially on cassette in Romania and the following year found a release on CD. It also was included on the 2004 Box Set in its entirety and after NEGURĂ BUNGET rise to success was re-recorded and released once again in 2008. The EP appears on the band’s Bandcamp page and both versions are presented side by side for comparison. Frankly i’m not too keen on re-recordings but whatever. This original is just fine by me. Black metal doesn’t need to be and on the contrary actually works better in a lo-fi setting. Musically this one is brilliant and sonically the textures meld together perfectly. A huge leap forward indeed.

NEGURĂ BUNGET Zîrnindu-să

Album · 1996 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 7 ratings
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Emerging from the Carpathian forests of Western Romania in the city of Timişoara, the early makings of NEGURĂ BUNGET were forged from the ashes of a band called Makrothumia when the two members: Negru (Gabriel Mafa) on drums and Hupogrammos Disciple (Edmond Karban) on guitars, vocals, and keyboards joined forces to create the new band Wiccan Rede in 1994. Under this early moniker, the duo released the “From Transilvanian Forests” demo before changing their name to the more familiar NEGURĂ BUNGET. The new name was taken from the black fog coming from the surrounding forests and thus the band’s goal was to construct an atmospheric style of black metal that reflected that concept.

Sallying forth to fulfill their mission, Negru and Hupogrammos Disciple crafted their debut album ZÎRNINDU-SĂ (Nightshade) which was recorded in only 20 hours at the Magic Sound Studio in Bucharest which explains why this album sounds a tad rushed. Initially released as a cassette only in their native Romania, the album saw a US release in 1998 on CD but wouldn’t find a newer release until it appeared on the 2004 Box Set where it was remastered. Another re-recorded version emerged in 008 with a bonus CD that included both the old and new versions. Both versions exist side by side on the band’s Bandcamp page for comparison but basically this debut gives little clues as to the progressive black metal mastery that NEGURĂ BUNGET would conjure up on the following albums “'n crugu bradului” and “OM” as it chugs out fairly standard black metal mileage of the era.

Following in the wake of the Scandinavian dominance of the second wave of 90s black metal, NEGURĂ BUNGET was very much playing keep up with their brethren to the north. While ZÎRNINDU-SĂ already displays a fairly unique atmospheric backdrop that would continue to evolve, the aggressive buzzsaw guitar distortion with frantic tremolo picking, a blastbeat drumming style and raspy vocals set below the distorted orotundity was pretty much the status quo of black metal by the year 1996 when this was released. While the progressive touches are light years away from the magnanimity of the future releases, there were already a few more complex riffing styles and compositional tricks that made this a tad more progressive than the likes of what Darkthrone, Immortal or Mayhem were doing at the time.

The album consists of eight tracks that exercise the same formulaic approach for the entire run. While the duo are more than competent with the mechanical chops of the guitar riffing, buried bass and melodic constructs, the biggest problem is that the keyboards are set too high in the mix and sound a bit cheesy as they fail to resemble the darkened misty forest that they claim to draw inspiration from but rather like cheap thrift store keys used for a grade school project. Likewise the songs themselves fail to ignite any excitement as they all tend to sound the same half way through the album with melodic developments that pretty much copy and paste and add a few screams in different places.

This was clearly a rough draft that was simply pumped out to get a product on the market. When compared to the following “Sala Molksa EP” that came out two years later that began to add the Romanian folk musical touches, this one just sounds too generic for its own good but it’s not really that bad either. This debut while not essential by any means is certainly an interesting listen as to ascertain how quickly NEGURĂ BUNGET evolved from a meh extreme metal band to the hottest item in all of Dracula’s Carpathian empire. The band would emerge as Romanian metal band #1 in a few short years but as far as this debut was concerned, you can pretty much skip to the following EP to get to the good stuff.

NEOANDERTALS Neanderthals Were Master Butchers

Album · 2007 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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One of the stranger finds in the death metal universe is the Estonian band NEOANDERTALS that formed in 2003 near the eastern village of Otepää by bassist / vocalist Rain Pohlak along with drummer Roland Seer. The next year they filled the lineup with guitarist Toomas Keermann joining the ranks but he would soon leave before any recording time took place. The duo decided that they would from then on perform a brutal style of death metal with absolutely no guitars whatsoever and thus created a sound that consists of only bass, percussion and vocals. The freedom from the dominant guitar sounds gives this an deep brutal hellish sound unlike any other death metal band i’ve personally experienced.

As it turned out, the sound suited the band’s thematic lyrical content quite well which focused around the world of the ancient neanderthals. Why the moniker is spelled as it is remains a mystery to me but after the duo got their feet wet on their demo “Neander Valley” they were ready for primetime and released this debut album NEANDERTHALS WERE MASTER BUTCHERS in 2007. This is supposed to be a concept album that focuses on the darker side of neanderthals that mixes anthropology with death metal fantasies. The stories capture the gloomier side of neanderthal behavior such as defleshing, burial rites, their butchering habits and the classics like decapitation and of course the rise of neo-neanderthal zombies!

Despite the concept it’s unlikely you’ll understand a fucking thing because this is death metal, baby! And staying true to the genre, the guttural growls are incomprehensible however what is unusual about this band is that this barbaric experimentalism is actually quite suited for a primeval frolic throughout the bass driven sonosphere. What NEONDERTALS deliver is an incessant pummelation of technical death metal drumming and extraordinarily brutal bass antics, the likes of which give my fingers blisters just listening to this stuff. While the avant-groove is laced in technical wizardry, there are moments when a groove metal chill out in comparison is allowed to calm things down. After listening to this for a while it also seems that the vocals really start to sound like a caveman making metal music if such a thing could happen.

The album is appropriately short for a brutal death metal album just shy of the thirty minute run and like most other guitar oriented bands existing in this niche, this one is laced with fury and fire and mostly sounds the same from one track to the next at least to the untrained ears. While the timbres and tones are almost exclusively in the lower reaches of the bass, there are a few moments when Rain delivers some bass solos on the highest registers possible which offers some interesting contrast. The drums are just on fire the whole time. This really does sound like chaotic caveman music! This unique guitarless death metal is interesting in a couple of ways. On the positive side, it really allows the bass and drums to thrive in a way not possible with a guitar but on the flip side don’t offer up as much variety as the guitar can muster up. Still though, not a bad slog through the frenetosphere and definitely unique sounding.

TESA Heartbeatsfromthesky

Album · 2008 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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TESA formed in the Latvian capital city Riga in 2005 from members of the bands In.Stora, Kriegopfer and Les Corte before mastering the fine art of the progressive post-metal / atmospheric sludge metal that found them on the top of the European scene. This power trio consists of Dāvis Burmeisters (guitars), Kārlis Tone (bass guitar, vocals) and Jānis Burmeisters (drums, vocals) who have been quite successful over the last decade at European and Russian tours and festivals with the most famous gigs playing with the US sludge metal pioneers Neurosis as well as the more drone oriented Canadian band Nadja.

The band released two EPs in the form of 2006 combo pack “Depo” and the eponymously titled release. Two years later found the debut full-length HEARTBEATSFROMTHESKY (alternatively written as HEART BEATS FROM THE SKY) which consists of six untitled tracks that conspire to create a larger than life atmospheric sludge metal experience. The band’s main influences include not only Neurosis but also Shora, Grails, Nadja, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and even Converge. While categorized as metal, the band seems to spend as much time in post-rock territory as with the more energetic metal bombast. For the most part this debut album is instrumental with a few subdued screamed vocal parts emerging from the ruckus.

While not dissimilar to bands like Isis, Russian Circles and other post-metal bands, TESA dishes out lengthy soundscapes that plod along at mid-tempo and offer sublime mixes of textures, darkened melodies, ambient soundscapes, hypnotic repetitive loops and touches of noise all dressed up in a stellar production. What makes HEARTBEATSFROMTHESKY stand out from the post-metal pack is the unique mix of the destructive riffs that contrast with a ridiculous amount of layers of guitar sounds and atmospheric soundscapes that offer a slight doom metal touch. While the pure metal parts are rare, when they do emerge the guitars erupt into a pyroclastic flow of distorted head banging riffage that eclipses the mostly dominant ambience of the album’s 32 minute run.

TESA dish out the kind of post-rock that would surely please in a live setting as the cyclical grooves reverberate across a packed stadium however in the creativity department they implement the status quo of a post-rock album in a metal context and don’t actually stand out from the many other bands ranging from Cult of Luna and Rosetta to Jesu. In fact they are probably less diverse than any of the aforementioned as the formula sticks to the playbook. The biggest draw on HEARTBEATSFROMTHESKY is surely the impeccable production and mixing job that makes this a real treat to listen to. While the vocals are subdued under the sheer magnitude of the fiery instrumental section, they can be heard creating interesting counterpoint harmonies when used. Overall this is a decent slice of post-metal but one i’d hardly call overly essential either.

ANUBI Kai pilnaties akis užmerks mirtis

Album · 1997 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 2 ratings
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The Scandinavian nations clearly dominated the 90s black metal scene when it seemed like even every small village in Lapland had its own church burning miscreants sonically torturing souls with their bombastic distortionfests, however they weren’t the only game in town. While different strains of black metal began to splinter with acts like Summoning from Austria excelling in symphonic atmospheric varieties and Greece’s Rotting Christ mustering up a more rawer evil form, the Eastern European block had its share of interesting bands that still remain obscure even today. While the tiny former Soviet nation of Lithuania hardly comes to mind in any contemporary music scene, it too had a few nuggets to share with the world however with the glut of music pouring from every nook and cranny of the world by the turn of the millennium, it’s no wonder this little nation got drowned out.

One of the more interesting extreme metal acts to emerge from this tiny nation on the Baltic was the Kaunas based ANUBI. The band was formed as far back as 1992 by guitarist Slrp and his drummer / brother Renofer who were initially more interested in psychedelic music than metal but that all changed when the eccentric vocalist Lord Ominous a.k.a. Ptah (Martynas Meskauskas) joined the band. With a penchant for the more extreme and noisy varieties of music the band was attracted to the darkness and vitality of the burgeoning black metal scene across Europe. After a few demos where they developed their strange mix of black metal mixed with various musical genres such as progressive rock, dark ambient, jazz and homegrown Lithuanian folk music, the band crafted their one and only album KAI PILNATIES AKIS UŽMERKS MIRTIS “When Death Will Close The Eyes To The Full Moon.”

In many ways ANUBI were the black metal answer to Slovenia’s Devil Doll. With a dramatic flair for musical variety augmented with the charismatic singer Lord Ominous, ANUBI still remains a rather unique stylistic approach in a sector of the metal universe that has seemingly splintered into every conceivable direction. With black metal as its musical template KAI PILNATIES AKIS UŽMERKS MIRTIS is a hard beast to nail down otherwise as it is the exemplary example of experimentation and creativity so absent from much of what was called black metal in the 90s. With raspy vocals, heavy distorted guitar riffs and an overall darkened vibe, it’s tempting to file ANUBI in the black metal camp, but it seems that there are more non-metal elements than the metal itself. Some tracks eschew the metal altogether in favor of a psychedelically tinged version of local folk music.

In its near one hour wake KAI PILNATIES AKIS UŽMERKS MIRTIS finds the most unlikely elements blended into the metal madness. The guitar riffs find themselves accompanied by trippy slide guitars, a psychotic ukulele, a demon possessed saxophone and even an angry accordion not to mention a plethora of field recordings and a vibrant violin. Unlike the blastbeat fueled anti-Christian fury of bands like Darkthrone, ANUBI drift along in a mid-tempo march through atmospheric sound factories that create a more contemplative and dreamy (albeit hellish at times) stroll through the darkened woods. Reminding me of more contemporary bands like France’s Penseé Nocturnes,” ANUBI could possibly be the first black metal band to implement a darkened cabaret aesthetic with the drunken piano rolls that find their way into tracks such as "Kai Pilnaties Akis Užmerks Mirtis.”

The album is all the more mysterious since the tracks and the lyrics are in the Lithuanian language which along with neighboring Latvian exist in their own language family and remain defiantly distant from their closest Indo-European cousins. If i were to tag this myself, i’d call this psychedelic black metal because it’s one of the trippiest black metal releases i’ve ever heard. The atmospheric touches are thick and sinister, the guitars while heavily distorted are rather nonchalant in their delivery and basically provide a black metal canvass to paint the myriad sonic elements upon. While the occasional organs and chanting can give a liturgical feel to the overall sound, this is never more true on the closing “Tarp Akmens Ir Veidrodžio” which creeps over the 15 minute mark making it the progressive highlight of the album and where the most obvious comparisons with Devil Doll take place.

For black metal purists, this must’ve have been unholy blasphemy as ANUBI adhered to no orthodoxies of the day but merely took elements from across the musical spectrum and copy and pasted where it was seen fit. It would certainly be more appropriate to label KAI PILNATIES AKIS UŽMERKS MIRTIS as a dark psychedelic album with black metal as one of its ingredients as it drifted too far away to satisfy the tunnel vision antics of the status quo and while i’ll readily admit that i wish the album was significantly heavier at times to create some sort of extreme contrast, i cannot deny that ANUBI crafted one of the most unique metal albums of the entire 90s that comes off as some sort of demonic opera or a gothic graveyard anthem. While the balance between atmospherics and metal may lean more towards the former, it does work quite well. Unfortunately the band would come to an end with the tragic death of the irreplaceable Lord Ominous who drowned while fishing on Lake Michigan in the USA in 2002. While the band never would release another album, this one little artifact is a must for lover’s of the avant-garde with metal touches.

VIRGIN STEELE The Black Light Bacchanalia

Album · 2010 · US Power Metal
Cover art 2.94 | 12 ratings
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Way back in the eighties, there was an advert somewhere near the back of Circus magazine (or was it Hit Parader) for an album by a band called Virgin Steele. It was their second album, and the text quoted a review of their first album which expressed that it was "the album Judas Priest should have made." The original American releases of both albums were not available in Canada; however, two albums with different cover art and different track listings were to be found, and I snapped them both up fairly soon. Aside from the rough production, specifically for the debut, I though the music offered a lot of metal thrills, and there was no mistaking the outstanding high shrilling shrieks of singer David DeFeis.

The third album was "Noble Savage" and I'm afraid it was less to my liking. I dropped interest in any further releases, and though I stopped to check out the band's CDs several years later, the cover art convinced me that Virgin Steele had become darker and more sinister. I forgot about them.

Perhaps because I bought the second album, "Guardians of the Flame" on CD around 2010, "The Black Light Bacchanalia" showed up in recommended albums on my Amazon page. Curious, I ordered it and was rather surprised. Here was David DeFeis still puncturing eardrums with those shrieks that were high enough to challenge any first grade elementary school girl on the playground. The music was still metal, but there had been an obvious evolution in the Virgin Steele sound. I decided that i liked it, but didn't love it. Good enough for the one album; no hurry to get any others.

And now it's 2019. For the last two months, I've had my ears buried in eighties thrash metal, old school death metal, and the second wave of black metal. I've begun dabbling in power metal and slowly, little by little, adding to my doom and stoner metal collection. And for some reason, I suddenly felt like listening to "The Black Light Bacchanalia" again.

Thoughts! Impressions!

On this album, Virgin Steele are power metal by lyrical topics and presentation, not to mention the essential inclusion of keyboard piano or keyboard orchestra. But the music is not like the group sing-a-longs of some bands or the speedy and precise agility of others. In fact, I can't help but feel this album is more like a theatrical performance, with DeFeis playing the lead role of the protagonist and the lyrics serving as his monologue when speaking to himself or his enemies. To read here on MMA that Virgin Steele play "romantic-barbaric" metal really hits the minion on the head. The music is bold and at times forceful but it more often has a graceful caress to it than straight out brutality and force. It is the Noble Savage, swinging his sword sunward and striking a symbolic pose with pectoral muscles bronzed in the sun.

Though there are some cool riffs as well as some tremolo picked chords backed by double kick drum, there are plenty of chords struck and left to support the vocals. The drums can be a flurry of sticks at times but often they hold a modest place keeping a steady beat. My feeling at one point was like the music is a bit like driving a standard transmission sports car down a city street: sometimes you can speed up and swoop around in traffic but more often you're changing gears, slowing down and speeding up just a little as you deal with traffic and intersection lights. Again, the reason seems to be that the music is a theatrical performance with the lyrics and vocals taking the lead role.

DeFeis tends to sing in a calm, smooth voice throughout most of the songs. It's almost like the lines are meant to be whispered with conviction but need to be sung. He throws in some snarls and growls but more like a wild cat and not like thrash metal sneers and barks or death metal roars and bellows. He can also sing in a higher register and again does so softly as if to serenade the sorceress. Then there will be another one of those sky high notes.

The songs have a pretty decent length and at times almost seen more like progressive metal or symphonic metal. The keyboard piano (which I distinguish from real piano) does more than offer safe, pretty notes and in a track or two it takes over for the rhythm guitar as the primary instrument of melody. Some dramatic symphonic blasts give a grandness to certain passages.

I'm not familiar with Virgin Steele's releases between Noble Savage and 2010 so I can't compare my impressions here with other albums. But I feel thrilled enough by my return visit to have ordered another Virgin Steele album. This music is not for everyone. It doesn't have the rush and charge of thrash metal, the pulverizing assault of death metal, or the cold grimness of black metal. There might be too many abrupt changes in the music without a steady supply of full-on metal power for some folks. It does not have enough of that power metal conqueror swing to it. But if you've come to hear some of Virgin Steele's story telling and drama, then this album offers some rewards.

EVERGREY The Atlantic

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I’m not sure, but I think the last Evergrey album I heard prior to this one was ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’, which came out in 2006, but apart from bassist Johan Niemann the line-up is exactly the same as it was back then. Tom S. Englund provides vocals and guitars, and he is joined by Henrik Danhage (guitars), Rikard Zander (keyboards) and Jonas Ekdahl (drums). Back in 2004, when reviewing ‘The Inner Circle’ I said, “They are more to the metal end of the prog metal genre than their contemporaries, and the result is a type of music that is extremely loud and heavy while maintaining the melody and invention of the genre.” In very many ways that is still true today, except there are passages when they show they can hit into ballads when the time is right.

They are a very heavy band, with harmony vocals, loads of commercial hooks and a production which takes off the rough edges without ever losing the majesty of the performance. They have a huge sound, and one can imagine Devin Townsend being involved with production, as they convey images of Muse with Opeth yet still hitting mainstream hooks and sounds. Unlike certain bands from their hometown of Gothenburg, they continue to delight, and show no sign at all of moving away from their determined path. I do regret missing out on the last four studio albums, and if they are nearly as good as this, I see I have some investment to undertake. Twenty years on, Everygrey are still delivering the progtastic metallic goods.

ELUVEITIE Slania

Album · 2008 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 17 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Formed in 2002, Eluveitie ((/ɛlˈveɪti/ el-VAY-ti)) is a Celtic folk metal band from Switzerland, who use both Swiss and Celtic instruments alongside electric guitars and drums, while their songs are performed in a mix of languages which add to the timelessness of their sound. It was with their second full-length album, ‘Slania’, they started to make an impression on the wider scene, and at the end of 2018 Nuclear Blast released a tenth anniversary edition which has been extended from the original 12 songs to 19, with the inclusion of demos, alternate versions, and an interview. I should also make mention of the cover, where the young girl with the sword from the original has now aged ten years. These days there are quite a few bands pursuing the metal/folk path, and given I love both genres independently of each other, one would expect this style of music to be perfect for me, but unfortunately I often find it contrived, losing the majesty and beauty of both instead of combining together in a whole. That can certainly not be said of ‘Slania’ though, which is still as pummelling, uncompromising and forceful today as it was when it was originally released.

Bands in the genre need to listen to this as a perfect example of what can happen when everything is perfect. By now the band had honed their sound, and had had some success so were confident, and with guitars turned up loud and whistles and folk elements combining in a way so that one never overshadows the other, this really is a delight. The sound mix on this is extraordinary, so metal guitars never lose their edge or power, yet the acoustic guitar sounds right at home next to them, providing a beauty which heightens the force and doesn’t diminish it. It is as if Horslips had been transported from the Seventies and joined forces with a death metal act to create a many headed monster, where everyone vies for dominance but somehow it all stays in perfect harmony.

When this was originally released it was seen as one of the highlights of the genre, and ten years on nothing has diminished the beauty. I had forgotten just how good this is, I won’t make that mistake again.

NOTHNEGAL Decadence

Album · 2012 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Despite being located in the middle of the Indian Ocean almost 1000 km from the Asian continent south of India and Sri Lanka and with a population that doesn’t even exceed 500,000, the atoll rich nation of the Maldives has produced more than its share of extreme metal bands which is usually not the case for a nation with a predominantly Muslim population. Coming from the capital city of Malé (which is a trip to see as it’s literally a city filled with skyscrapers contained on a tiny island) is the melodic death metal band NOTHNEGAL which was formed by guitarist Hilari after leaving the band The Mortuary.

After a few personal changes and the release of the 2010 self released demo “Antidote of Realism,” the band resulted in the current lineup of Alfan (lead vocals), Fufu (lead vocals, lead guitar), Hilari (lead guitar), Battery (bass), Marco Sneck (keyboardist Kalmah, Poisonblack ) and Keven Talley (drummer, percussionist of Six Feet Under, Dååth, Chimaira, Dying Fetus and Misery). Somehow the band attracted the attention of the famous Finnish producer Anssi Kippo who has worked with heavy hitters such as Children of Bodom and Norther amongst others and he produced the band’s debut album DECADENCE which won several awards in their homeland as well as finding them on tour in Europe with bands like Finntroll, Samuel and Rotting Christ.

DECADENCE is a modern melodic death headbanger that cranks out groovy Fear Factory type riffing and pummeling drum antics along with an audible bass that distinguishes itself as well as the shouted death growls but what really stands out are the loads of keyboard effects that add eerie atmospheres and give the album touch of industrial feel. Despite emerging from one of the most foremost tropical paradises where the sun is a plenty and the seas around are the most beautiful shades of blue, this should sound like an exotic specimen of metal with some kind of indigenous touches but that’s not the case at all. In fact it would be impossible to distinguish this band from any other similar styled melo-death band from Europe or the US.

Overall DECADENCE is a well performed and excellently produced album that ticks off all the right attributes for its subgenre of choice but what’s lacking are memorable compositions. For melodic music, the melodies aren’t really catchy enough to distinguish themselves from each other and the album suffers from a bit of sameness after it’s done, however it’s a compelling example of how extreme metal has blossomed in the most unlikely places that many haven’t even heard of. I mean, anyone been to the Maldives lately? True that the last two tracks change things up with some clean vocals but i don’t find it works out too well. Despite the lack of variation, the electronic effects are what saves this one from falling into the bland generic mode as they tend to give more independent form to an otherwise by the book melo-death approach. Impressive how the band emerged from nowhere and got noticed. Hopefully a better followup will emerge.

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Still Cyco Punk After All These Years

Album · 2018 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" is the 11th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash/crossover/heavy metal act Suicidal Tendencies. The album was released through Suicidal Records in September 2018. It´s the successor to "World Gone Mad" from 2016, although the two full-length studio albums are bridged by the "Get Your Fight On!" EP from March 2018. Since the EP was recorded guitarist Jeff Pogan has left.

The title of the album is a pun on the band´s 1993 release "Still Cyco After All These Years" which in part is a re-recording of Suicidal Tendencies self-titled debut album from 1983. The reason for the pun is that "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" is also a re-recording of a debut album. This time around it´s a re-recording of Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir´s solo debut full-length studio album "Lost My Brain! (Once Again)" from 1996. The tracklist is in a different order to the original and the band have opted to omit the two tracks "Cyco Miko Wants You" and "Ain't Mess'n Around", but have included "Sippin' from the Insanitea" instead, which wasn´t on the original release. To those who miss the brilliant "Ain't Mess'n Around", the re-recording of that song is available on the "Get Your Fight On! (2018)" EP.

Other than a different track order, a more contemporary sounding production job, and some minor rearrangements of the material, the tracks on "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" are generally pretty true to the original material from 1996. These are good quality punk/hardcore songs, but it´s up for discussion how necessary it was to re-record them, when the originals were already well performed and well produced. Sure this is an almost completely different lineup recording the material to the lineup who recorded the material for "Lost My Brain! (Once Again) (1996)", but that´s really not enough to justify the recording and release of "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years". A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is still deserved though, as this is some good quality material, but personally I´d much rather listen to the originals.

INQUISITION Incense Of Rest

EP · 1996 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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While INQUISITION formed in 1989 as a thrash band in Cali, Colombia sounding more like Sodom and Kreator, frontman Dagon felt the thrash world had gotten stagnant and found the black metal scene more to the style of his liking. While the band released the “Anxious Death” EP in 1990 while still in Colombia, the band which consisted of Dagon (vocals, guitars), Cesar Santa (bass) and John Santa (drums) completely changed from the trash metal sound on that EP and veered towards a black metal sound influenced by early Bathory, Burzum, Immortal and the Polish black metal scene once Dagon relocated to Seatlle, WA in the USA where they would finally release the second EP titled INCENSE OF REST.

INCENSE OF REST is only a nineteen minute EP that consists of five tracks and serves as a transition album of sorts between the pure thrash years and the more familiar black metal style that would gel on the debut full-length release “Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult” Despite the cheesy synth-laden intro, the EP bursts into lo-fi black metal fairly quickly however at this point a couple things remain from the past. Firstly the riffing if more akin to thrash albeit darkened and more evil sounding and secondly Dagon’s vocals hadn’t yet taken on the more familiar croaking sound but rather take on various personas ranging from a deep raspiness, to a high pitched raspy scream as well as a few clean vocals strewn about.

The harsh thrash leanings are most prevalent on “Encounter In The Deep Shadows” with the chugga chug riffing but the atmospheres are definitely darkened and heading into the black metal turf as this track displays a rather cheesy sounding keyboard tag along. After moving to the US, the band basically become a duo with Dagon handling guitars, bass and vocals and John Santa on drums. “Visions Of The Pagan Lord” take a more early Nokturnal Mortem approach with introductory synth lines but are fairly brief before it turns into lo-fi black metal with thrash leanings.

The strangest track on board is the closing instrumental “Meditation Before The Kill” which implements clean guitars and a flute which sounds more like a new age album of some sort and doesn’t fit in at all. While not a perfect specimen of the black metal scene by any means, INCENSE OF REST is a decent slice of raw thrash infused black metal with all the lo-fi demeanor one could hope for and except for the silly instrumental closer shows INQUISITION inching closer to the classic sound that would take the underground metal world by storm in a couple years. Dagon had a hard time keeping bassists and it was at this point where the they simply carried on without one and hired a session musician whenever needed.

SUFFOCATION Surgery of Impalement

Single · 2004 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Surgery of Impalement" is a sampler single by US, New York based death metal act Suffocation. The single was released through Relapse Records in April 2004. "Surgery of Impalement" features two tracks from the "Souls to Deny (2004)" album and one track from the "Despise the Sun (1998)" EP.

Sampler singles are usually used by labels as a promotional tool to promote a forthcoming full-length studio album (typically send to radio stations, webzines, and magazines for reviews). In this case "Souls to Deny (2004)", which was Suffocation´s first full-length studio album in 9 years. The last being "Pierced From Within" from 1995. The long time between albums and a band split-up between 1998 - 2002 were probably contributing factors to why the label felt a promo sampler was necessary.

As a promo "Surgery of Impalement" is slightly odd because of the inclusion of "Funeral Inception" from "Despise the Sun (1998)". There´s no logical reason for including a track from 1998 to promote a 2004 album release, other then the fact that it´s a brilliant death metal track done the brutal and technically well played Suffocation way. But that´s also true for the two tracks from "Souls to Deny (2004)". The different sound productions are slightly distracting, but it´s not a major issue as both the track from "Despise the Sun (1998)" and the tracks from "Souls to Deny (2004)" are very well produced.

So upon conclusion "Surgery of Impalement" is a nice little release by Suffocation, but as it doesn´t include anything that hasn´t been featured on other more readily available releases, the value is still a bit limited. The quality of the music, the high level performances, and powerful sound productions are still worth something though, and therefore a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

HELSTAR Remnants of War

Album · 1986 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 16 ratings
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UMUR
"Remnants of War" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US heavy/power metal act Helstar. The album was released through Combat Records in August 1986. Although "Burning Star (1984)" received a lot of positive reactions, Helstar had a lot of issues with personal struggles within the band and with their management, and lead vocalist James Rivera and guitarist Larry Barragan decided that changes were needed and replaced the three other members of the lineup who recorded the debut album. Guitarist Tom Rogers was replaced by Robert Trevino, bassist Paul Medina was replaced by Jerry Abarca, and drummer Hector Pavon was replaced by Rene Luna.

Lineup changes or not, the traditional heavy metal sound of "Burning Star (1984)" is more or less continued on "Remnants of War". At least to a certain extent, because Helstar have developed their style a bit since the debut and they are slightly more hard edged on "Remnants of War", which features US power metal leanings. The musicianship is on a high level on all posts, but that was the case on the debut too, so the most significant upgrade is in the songwriting department. The material on "Remnants of War" simply reeks class. It´s raw, powerful, and memorable heavy/power metal and the skillful delivery of the music further enhances the feeling that you´re experiencing something pretty special. The riffs are powerful, the solos well played and melodic, the rhythm section rock solid and relatively adventurous for the style, and James Rivera delivers his distinct sounding vocals with both conviction and great passion. His piercing high pitched screams are great but he is able to sing in lower registers too.

Recorded at Mad Dog Studios, Venice, California, USA, with producer Randy Burns, "Remnants of War" features a powerful, detailed, and well sounding production, which suits the music perfectly. So upon conclusion "Remnants of War" is a quality sophomore studio album by Helstar and to my ears a clear step up from the otherwise great debut album. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

XENTRIX For Whose Advantage?

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"For Whose Advantage?" is the 2nd full-length studio album by UK, Preston based thrash metal act Xentrix. The album was released through Roadracer Records in August 1990. Xentrix were formed under the Sweet Vengeance monicker in 1985, but changed their name to Xentrix in 1988. They recorded four albums before disbanding in 1997. There have been no changes to the lineup since "Shattered Existence (1989)". Xentrix filmed a promotional video for the title track.

Stylistically the music on "For Whose Advantage?" is pretty much a natural continuation of the the music featured on "Shattered Existence (1989)". It´s technically well played thrash metal with more than one nod towards late 80s Metallica. The high level musical performances are definitely one of Xentrix greatest assets although lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Chris Astley doesn´t have the most interesting voice. It does make the vocal part of the music slightly one-dimensional and flat sounding, but it´s not a major issue. Just a part of the music, which could have been better. However it´s interesting to note that Astley´s more hard rock oriented vocal performance on the cover of "Running, White Faced, City Boy" by Gillan is quite convincing. The instrumental performances are generally of a high quality. The rhythm section is rock solid and rhythmically relatively varied, and the guitar riffs, harmonies, and solos are precise, powerful, and catchy.

The sound production is powerful, clear, and detailed, and suits the music perfectly. So in many ways "For Whose Advantage?" is a high quality thrash metal release. Xentrix doesn´t have a very original sounding style though and paired with the rather dull vocals, it´s a minus in my book. So I´d say it speaks volumes of the quality of the rest of the features of the album when a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is still deserved.

VLTIMAS Something Wicked Marches In

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
We’re already a quarter of the way through 2019 and although there’s plenty of time yet, apart from a small handful, I haven’t been overwhelmed by the quantity of great death metal on offer so far. Enter Vltimas then who have come along at just the right time to give a much needed injection of classic death metal. The members of this band, which hopefully won’t turn out to be a one off side-line, should need little introduction to fans of extreme metal. They are David Vincent - ex-Morbid Angel, Flo Mounier – Cryptopsy and Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen – ex-Mayhem. Having not listened to a lot of Mayhem, or his other bands for that matter, it is Eriksen that is the unknown quantity here from my point of view but the other two have both featured on some of the most essential death metal albums ever released.

Whilst so called supergroups can often add up to less than the individuals taking part that is certainly not the case here. Something Wicked Marches In is an absolute blast from start to finish without a weak track on offer. The playing is phenomenal. Of course Flo Mounier’s credentials as one of the greatest death metal drummers is not in doubt and he turns in an incredible performance displaying his trademark speed and dexterity. David Vincent is one of the best and most recognisable growlers in the business, his work with Morbid Angel made him a legend but why’s he not also playing bass here? All guitar duties are handled by Rune Eriksen and it is he, no doubt partly through my lack of past experience that provides the biggest surprise and turns in a phenomenal performance.

The nine songs don’t really sound like any of the bands that they’re generally associated with though Vincent sounds like you’d expect so you can’t help thinking Morbid Angel. Not surprisingly Eriksen brings a blackened touch to his riffs with plenty of tremolo picking and a healthy dose of dissonance injected too. It’s really his guitar work that defines the songs as his riffs are never less than inventive and captivating. When he gets into serious tremelo picking he impresses with a blur of notes but then will shift into something simpler and heavier in a flash and then into atmospheric arpeggios. It’s this variety that really makes the album. Of course Mounier’s blur of blast beats, breakneck speed fills and double kick drums backs it all up to perfection so Eriksen can’t take all the credit. Vincent’s vocals too are also integral to the success of the album as his clear growl attests. Picking favourites is not easy as with all great albums overall consistency is essential and present here but if pushed I’d go for Last Ones Alive Wins Nothing, Everlasting and Praevalidus as pick of the bunch, between them perfectly encapsulating the scope of this great band.

I really hope this doesn’t turn out to be a one off project as this band is too good to leave us with only one album. As I said earlier I’m not familiar with most of Eriksen’s work so can’t comment but as far as Vincent and Mounier go, neither have been involved in anything as good as this for some time despite the last couple of Crpytopsy EP’s being rated very highly by me.

HEIR APPARENT The View from Below

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"The View from Below" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US power/progressive metal act Heir Apparent. The album was released through No Remorse Records in October 2018. Heir Apparent formed as far back as 1983 and released their debut album "Graceful Inheritance" in 1986, to a generally positive reception and more than one raving review in the contemporary metal press. It took the band three years to release their sophomore album "One Small Voice (1989)", and unfortunately for the band their window of opportunity had closed, and they disbanded in 1990. They had a short reunitement in 1998, and reunited again in 2000 playing sporadic shows. They recorded a demo in 2003 but other than that and a couple of compilation releases, there has been no new output from Heir Apparent since the release of "One Small Voice (1989)", making "The View from Below" the band´s first studio release in 29 years.

Quite a few things have happened on the metal scene in those years and of course also within the Heir Apparent camp. Naturally and not surprisingly there have been a couple of lineup changes since the release of "One Small Voice (1989)". Lead vocalist Steve Benito has been replaced by Will Shaw and keyboard player Michael Jackson has been replaced by Op Sakiya. The remaining part of the lineup who recorded the predecessor are bassist Derek Peace, guitarist Terry Gorle, and drummer Ray Schwartz (who in the band´s original run went under the name Ray Black).

"Graceful Inheritance (1986)" was a decent quality US power/heavy metal release, while "One Small Voice (1989)" took the band´s music in a slightly more progressive direction. The material on "The View from Below" is a continuation of the US power/progressive metal sound of the predecessor, but it´s generally a far more intense, dark and heavy release than anything the band have released before. Shaw is a more than capable replacement for Benito, and he delivers a strong and passionate vocal performance throughout the album. He is able to hit the high notes, but also capable of singing more raw vocals (not extreme by any means of course).

Keyboards still have an atmosphere enhancing place in the soundscape (sometimes providing the music with an epic feel), but it´s not the type of album where any instrument stand out above the others. All instruments and vocals are well balanced in the mix. It´s a well sounding, professional, and powerful production job, which suits the material perfectly.

The material on the 8 track, 45:05 minutes long album are well written, featuring strong vocal melodies and catchy moments. It´s predominantly slow- to mid-paced music, but "Savior" is a slightly faster-paced track, which fully showcases that Heir Apparent also master that type of musical expression. In their 1980s heyday Heir Apparent were often mentioned along artists like Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, and Fates Warning, but it´s especially the former mentioned and their mid- to late-1980s output, which is a valid reference. "The View from Below" features some of the same almost futuristic features as Queensrÿche´s 1986 "Rage for Order" album. Upon conclusion it´s a brilliant release on almost all parameters possible. Not genre defining nor pushing the boundaries of US power/progressive metal, but it´s a high quality release deserving a 4 star (80%) rating.

THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

Album · 1969 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 4 ratings
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Arthur Wilton Brown may not be a household name compared to the likes of other 60s pioneers such as The Doors, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix or even Led Zeppelin, but has probably had just as much influence on countless other artists who followed in his footsteps after he set the world on "Fire" (as well as his head) with his pioneering proto-prog, proto-shock rock and proto-metal wizardry that he conjured up with his very first artistic expressions in THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN. This was the band name as well as the name of the self-titled debut which remained the band's only album until a reunion would find new life starting with 2000's "Tantric Lover" (excluding the archival release "Strangelands" in 1988). The rest of his output was released under his own name with some guests appearing on the bill along the way. While musically paving the way for many more to follow, this charismatic shock jock of horror is more remembered for his live eccentricities that earned them the title as one of the most shocking performers of the psychedelic rock scene.

While starting out somewhat normal growing up in Whitby, England and studying philosophy and law in Leeds later in life, the 60s offered BROWN the chance to nurture his wild side as he became one of the most outlandish and flamboyant figures to have emerged from the psychedelic rock era which included his famous head dressing that he would ignite and perform fully aflame during his live performances. This outrageous behavior is what got him noticed and still remembered some half century later, but during the day it also got him in a lot of trouble with self-inflicted injuries, property damage run amok, apocalyptic shocking material and to top it off was booted off the Jimi Hendrix tour for his reckless shenanigans. Not content to simply light his head on fire, he would also strip naked and let it all hang out so to speak, a feat that got him arrested in Italy and banned from even setting foot on stage in other parts of the world. THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN seemed like the perfect descriptive moniker for this unhinged lunatic.

All of these wild man antics naturally caught the attention of record companies as well and BROWN signed on to Pye Records where he and bandmates Vincent Crane (Hammond organ, piano), Drachen Theaker (drums) and Nick Greenwood (bass) would record and release their one and only self-titled album in 1968. The album received a bit of a boost due to The Who's manage Kit Lambert sitting in as producer with Pete Townsend on associate production. The album was a surprise hit on both sides of the Atlantic when the first single "Fire" catapulted to the #1 spot in the UK and shot all the way up to the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 not to mention significant success all over the planet. The album musically was based in the catchy pop hook laden psychedelic rock of the era with an energized with a groovy bass line, bombastic organ soloing and BROWN's four octave vocal range including an over the top falsetto that would give birth to the heavy metal style of Rob Halford in Judas Priest, King Diamond in Mercyful Fate and Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden.

Stylistically THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN album was laid out like a rock opera which included a more commercial side one followed by a slightly more experimental side two. The album was basically built around the concept of the first single "Fire" laid out in poetic prose and ambitious musical delivery, although the full rock opera effect was truncated and tamed due to the technological limitations of the day, the band more than made up for this lack of album ambitiousness with their lavish live settings where BROWN engaged in numerous costume changes and donned his famous face paint appearance that would also prove influential with artists such as Alice Cooper, Kiss, King Diamond and the entire black metal world that would essentially adapt the entire BROWN playbook and adapt it to the modern day. The album, while not a fully fledged opera, nevertheless provided a prototype of progressive rock hot on the heels of The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's" album and remains one of the key pivotal albums in ratcheting the rock paradigm into more sophisticated levels of musical mastery.

THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN album is flawless in how it creates the perfect atmosphere with the keyboard rich opener "Prelude / Nightmare" which finds a dreamy flute being replaced by a groovy bass driven rock beat and heavy organs offering a spooky overtone to the classical virtuosity that Crane dishes out. For the most part BROWN sounds a lot like Frank Zappa in vocal tone but had the ability to drop to extremely low bass notes and then whizz up the scales to hit high falsettos and blood curdling screams. He had the perfect intuitive drive of how to alternate singing, narration or just knowing when to just scream his ass off. There are even moments that sound like Robert Plant well before Led Zeppelin was even in its infancy. Some tracks are connected with orchestrations with some such as "Fanfare / Fire Poem" creating a tension building interlude that connects the opener to the powerhouse single "Fire" a track so catchy and built on unexpected changes that an unsuspecting public was defenseless against its persuasive charm. The album was primarily written by BROWN and Crane but includes two covers in the form of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You" and James Brown's (no relation!) "I've Got Money."

The intensity of this CRAZY WORLD period was too much to sustain and like a super nova star simply exhausted its fuel supply not too long after getting started. Due to all kinds of mishaps and creative differences, the band completely fell apart during the tour. Firstly, Theaker was morbidly frightened of airplanes and could not tour. He was replaced by Chris Farlowe and then Carl Palmer but everything else turned south very quickly and the band called it quits. But like a super nova that explodes, it created the star seedlings to spawn new life elsewhere. After disbanding, Carl Palmer would join Vincent Crane to form Atomic Rooster, Theaker would join Love and then Rustic Hinge while Nick Greenwood would join up with Steve Hillage to form Khan. BROWN himself would create Kingdom Come as well as pump out a few solo albums during the 70s. The influence of this one shot band though would extend to the present day in the trifurcated tree that extends into progressive rock, shock / glam rock and heavy metal. No small feat for a short lived but over the top act that was only in operation for a mere few years. The band is legendary but the album is a mesmerizing as the tracks offer many moods, tempos and dynamics to keep it enthralling throughout its entire listening time that offer a mature mix of psychedelic rock, R&B and pop with classical touches.

While perhaps the overall sound is dated as it could never be mistaken for anything other than the time period it was created with it's somewhat cliche organ sounds, psychedelic rock constructs and album layout, THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN does exactly what it is supposed to and takes the listener back to the year 1968 and delivers a collection of ten tracks that still sound as interesting as they must've back then. While rooted in the psychedelic rock sound of the era, this album implements interesting creativity in the nooks and crannies that must've driven the record company CRAZY! If BROWN hadn't been constricted by external forces this album may have been far more progressive, far more outlandish and the CRAZY turned up several notches, but even as it stands, this is a brilliant display of the late 60s underground scene that just happened to spawn a surprising top 10 hit around the world. The 2010 remaster is well worth the price of admission with a bonus CD that includes the B-sides of the singles as well as demos, mono mixes and a few extras. Even today, 50 years later after its release, THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN sounds fairly unique with BROWN's eccentric vocals standing out. This is a true classic.

OPETH Orchid

Album · 1995 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 76 ratings
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When it comes to progressive extreme metal, no story would be complete without a reference to Sweden’s OPETH, a band that started out as just another pioneering death metal band from the Swedish underground but would soon blossom into one of the most unique metal bands of any genre. While long associated with Mikael Åkerfeldt who has been the only member to appear on every single OPETH release, the band was actually formed in 1989 by the original vocalist David Isberg who after finding a lineup would soon solicit band membership from former Eruption band member Åkerfeldt. For whatever reason the other band members rejected this decision and soon departed and the pair were left together to start anew.

Interestingly the band name came form the word “Opet” which was taken form the Wilbur Smith novel “The Sunbird” and is the name of a fictional Phoenician city in South Africa which translated into “City Of The Moon.” After a ridiculous amount of personnel changes, the whole thing became too much for founder Isberg who left the band in 1992 which allowed Åkerfeldt to take control of the project and the rest is history. After the tumultuous start Åkerfeldt took the bull by the horns and recruited the new lineup of guitarist Peter Lindgren, percussionist / pianist Anders Nordin and bassist Johan De Faralla. OPETH was quite lucky in the fact that they circumvented the whole demo thing after Lee Barrett of Candlelight Records offered to sign the band with a mere exposure to a rehearsal.

OPETH were also fortunate to have tutelage of the metal veteran Dan Swanö who participated in not only the production and engineering but also provided the necessary funding and mentoring of what he deemed a promising talent emerging. While 1994 was spent developing the band’s sound and recording the debut ORCHID, the album finally emerged in May 1995 to mixed reviews. Riding the initial explosive underground growth of both the death and black metal scenes as well as the progressive rock revival of the early 90s, OPETH was one of the most audacious bands to emerge in the mid-90s with roots in all of the above and delivered an epic progressive death metal sound well beyond the scope of other extreme metal contemporaries. ORCHID was both bellicosely brutal as well as tenderly melodically beautiful.

Unlike the following OPETH releases, ORCHID is a far more diverse album that introduced the reverie of classic 70s progressive rock wrapped up in blackened death metal clothing that allowed complex epic length tracks to unfold on ever-changing journeys that embarked on heavy death metal riffing, folk music, subdued acoustic classically inspired guitar parts and piano parts along with death metal growls, black metal shrieks and even clean melodic vocals. The mood is one of complete depressive annihilation with pummeling distortion and frenetic vocal insanity to sublime twin guitar sweeping melodies that evoke calmness, placidity and the light of eternal hope. This rollercoaster ride is a true metal mood swing as the alternating dynamics sound as bipolar a concert that would feature Morbid Angel playing with Simon & Garfunkel.

ORCHID is the test of perseverance and patience as the original album clocks in close to 66 minutes and most later releases contain the early underproduced demo “Into The Frost Of Winter” as a bonus track. The inclusion as a bonus was a wise move as it demonstrates how quickly the band had grown from a brutal raw black / death metal band to the sheer sophisticated prowess of this debut studio album where five of the seven tracks exceed eleven minutes, one is close to ten and the only two short tracks are the acoustic interludes of “Silhouette” and “Requiem.” Åkerfeldt was obsessed with the occult during these years and likewise the lyrics are dark and twisted about Satanism and evil and likewise the downtuned guitars and overall sound was created to accompany the gloominess of the underworld.

In many ways ORCHID encapsulates the entire career of what OPETH would become on the more successful following albums. The brutal death prog that mixed extreme metal and 70s progressive rock was already fully developed as were the myriad ingredients of heaviness with folk, classical and even jazzy extra touches. While i may be in the minority, i truly find ORCHID to be the most captivating album of OPETH’s entire discography as it embraces a wider spectrum of sounds that would be jettisoned for the more streamlined albums to come. One of my biggest complaints about the majority of OPETH albums is that the percussion is tamped down to simply keep the beat of the compositional flow. Not so on ORCHID where fully fueled bombast is allowed off the leash as much as it is tamed into submission.

Likewise this is the album that is allowed to express the most extreme examples of death metal with faster tempos, blastbeats and absolute fury delivered in Åkerfeldt’s unique vocal style. While many may find this one a bit too long for its own good, i find the opposite true as it more than any other OPETH album has enough changes in the tempos, dynamics, intensity and stylistic shifts that allow the melodies to exhibit extreme beauty and the bombast to pummel the senses. Even within the greater OPETH canon, ORCHID is utterly unique and single-handedly launched a completely new strain of death prog just at the time when bands like Dream Theater and Anglagard were reviving the progressive rock scene from its lengthy slumber. Yes, i stand in a lonely room but ORCHID is the epitome of what i consider the perfect OPETH sound and there is not one track that doesn’t shine as brilliantly a supernova in the heavens above. A woefully underrated masterpiece to my ears.

MAGNUM Live At The Symphony Hall

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1980, I was perusing the singles at my local branch of Woolworths, and saw a double live single by a band I had never heard of, but it was only 50p! Looking at the photo on the rear they appeared to be a rock band so thought I would give it a try. I took it home, played it, and was then straight back down the shops to purchase the latest album, ‘Marauder’. None of the four songs were contained on the live album, but I was immediately a fan of everything I heard. At the time I had no idea who they were, but on the basis of that album I ordered the first two, ‘Kingdom of Madness’ and ‘II’. From here on I was a fan, grabbing each album when it came out, but I don’t think even the fans were expecting the majestic might that was ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ in 1985. During the Eighties/early Nineties I saw them in concert multiple times (the first time I ever saw IQ was when they supported Magnum!), but until the last studio album must confess to having heard nothing by the band since 2004’s ‘Brand New Morning’. Nothing to do with the band, but moving to the other side of the world meant I just lost touch with what they were doing.

But when I realised they had a new live album out, then of course I had to get it. Guitarist Tony Clarkin and singer Bob Catley are of course still there, without them both this could never be Magnum, and bassist Al Barrow was working with them when Magnum stopped with Tony and Bob forming Hard Rain and has been in the band ever since. I am sorry to see Mark Stanway left in 2016 after many years of service, as I always felt he was a much under-rated keyboard player, but here he has been replaced by Rick Benton while drummer Lee Morris joined in 2007 when Thunder’s ‘Arry felt he could no longer commit. By now surely everyone knows what they are going to get from a Magnum concert. They have cornered the market in British pomp rock, and the way the keyboards and guitar link are really like no other. Tony has never enjoyed playing solos, so these are few and far between and are far slower and more melodic than one would expect from a guitar hero, as instead he provides the crunching riffs everyone enjoys so much. Just listen to the crowd joining in during “How Far Jerusalem”, not letting even an extended bass solo slow them down too much. This was their first gig in Birmingham for a while and was at the end of a 42-date tour, so both they and the crowd were on fire.

The older numbers such as “Don’t Wake The Lion” are still my favourites to honest, just because I know them so very well indeed. Guest Tobias Sammet (Avantasia, Edguysounds like he also had a great time when he appeared for ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’ to provide additional vocals, just like he did for the track’s studio recording. It is a wonderful album, with Bob showing that hitting 70 has had no impact whatsoever on his vocals – he is one singer I have always been impressed with as he is always in total control, and again proves it in spades. One problem of a band who have been going for so many years (formed in 1972, first album in 1978) is the amount of material they have available when it comes to a setlist, so there are always going to be favourites missing. But I never thought I would hear a Magnum concert without “Kingdom of Madness”, and it doesn’t appear to have been on the set list for when this was recorded on 19th April 2018. But that really is a small moan, Magnum have always been a great live band, and 40 years on from their debut they prove it yet again.

BURNING WITCHES Hexenhammer

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.19 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Burning Witches are an all-female quintet from Switzerland, and I do wonder if they would have managed to get signed to label as powerful as the mighty Nuclear Blast if their gender hadn’t been a factor. Girlschool were/are a mighty metallic force to be reckoned with, and have released some stunning albums over the years, but Burning Witches have returned with their second release with something that, at best, can be said to be both pedestrian and boring. Here is a band destined only ever to be the support on tours, and not the headline, unless there is a significant change in their approach. They come across more like a modern-day German power metal outfit than anything else, but without the force and dynamics. The sound is really very good, but when that is the best thing on an album then one has to start to worry.

Get all the way through to the end and one comes across the only cover on the album, Dio’s mighty “Holy Diver”. At least in some ways this shows how important the performance is, as in terms of notes this is fairly similar to the original, but in terms of how it is played it really is chalk and cheese. I have nothing against female singers, or female bands in general, to me it is all about the music and in this case the album is sadly lacking. It may not be awful, but there is nothing here that makes me think they will ever make it out of the middle of the second division.

KRUDO Demancial

Album · 2012 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Demancial" is the debut full-length studio album by Chilean power/thrash metal act Krudo. The album was released through Digmetalworld in January 2012. Krudo were formed in 2001, so it´s been quite a few years before they´ve been able to put out this debut.

In terms of musicianship that´s audible too, because these guys are incredibly well playing/singing, which is usually something you get from practicing for a number of years before releasing anything. Stylistically the music on "Demancial" is a combination of US power- and thrash metal with some nods toward groove metal and progressive metal. I´m reminded of artists like Biomechanical and One Machine, which are also artists who combine those genres. The most important difference here being that Krudo have chosen to write lyrics in their native language.

Krudo´s combination of US power- and thrash metal is quite a potent one and at times pretty raw and hard edged with lots of double pedal drumming, heavy aggressive riffs, and a lead vocalist in Cristián Arriola who delivers his US power metal type vocals in a very convincing manner. The harshness of the sound is never at the expense of melody though, and "Demancial" is overall also a relatively melodic release, which in addition to it´s harsh moments feature some dynamic less powerful moments too.

The sound production is professional, detailed, and powerful, which suits the music well. At 10 tracks and 68:56 minutes "Demancial" is a bit long though, which is a minor issue and in my opinion it´s an album which would have worked better with a shorter playing time. Krudo´s sound is quite massive and requires attention, which can be a bit hard to swallow for nearly 70 minutes. Other than that luxury problem (which probably isn´t even an issue to most people), "Demancial" is a high quality US power/thrash metal release, featuring high level musicianship, well written compositions, and a well sounding production, and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

KONKHRA Malgrowth

Demo · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Malgrowth" is the 2nd demo cassette tape by Danish death metal act Konkhra. The demo was recorded and mixed at Red House Studio in October 1991, and self-released in November 1991. Three tracks from the demo would also appear on the "Stranded (1992)" EP in the exact same versions ("Lustration of the Need", "Spread Around", and "Deathwish").

The material on the 5 track, 20:21 minutes long demo is death metal with snarling aggressive vocals. It´s technically well played, and relatively well composed. The opening track "The Deadmoon" is the most memorable and intriguing track on the demo, and the quality of the other tracks aren´t quite as high as on that track, but they still work pretty well. The sound production is decent, but the guitars could have prospered from a more powerful and raw production. The same with the drums and the bass.

So the quality is a bit up and down. It´s still pretty obvious why Konkhra was offered a label deal on the grounds of the demo though, because there is a lot of promise here and even a hint of something original. It´s just a bit raw and unpolished at this point. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

KING CRIMSON Islands

Album · 1971 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.38 | 28 ratings
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I

KING CRIMSON took the world by storm by unleashing an upgraded form of art rock that would be penned progressive rock and would forever change the coarse of rock music while launching an arms race of rock music that quickly increased the sophistication, however the band despite its brilliant debut “In The Court Of The Crimson King” was not only prolifically eclectic but quite volatile. It wouldn’t take long for various members to butt heads about which particular style to emphasize and which direction the band should steer towards. While the band had only released the debut in October 1969, a restless ambitiousness possessed those who stuck around and 1970 saw two more albums, “In The Wake Of Poseidon” and “Lizard” which explored even more eclectic sounds. It was at this point that bassist Gordon Haskell and drummer Andy McCulloch were finding Robert Fripp’s avant-garde tastes too much to handle and were more interested in remaining in a more focused blues rock arena, but Fripp was having none of it and after an acrimonious kerfuffle, the two split and a new version of KING CRIMSON arose from the ashes.

S

Despite a burgeoning prog rock scene just two years after it all began, Fripp was having trouble finding suitable replacements as many of his picks were in other commitments. John Wetton had joined Family, Bryan Ferry was off to Roxy Music. After the monumental task of filling the slots, the role of new lead vocalist and bassist was awarded to Raymond “Boz” Burrell who ironically didn’t even know how to play bass at the time and learned how in order to join the band based on his skills as a rhythm guitarist. He wouldn’t last long in KC and would go on to join Bad Company. The position of drummer was given to a relative unknown named Ian Wallace and then KING CRIMSON spent 1971 recording their fourth album ISLANDS which was released in December on Island Records. Another feature of this new lineup was that they were capable of playing live which KC hadn’t done since the short-lived first lineup after the debut. The band spent 1971 touring and recording before the new albums even released.

L

ISLANDS is the oddball in the already eclectic canon of this hard to categorize musical entity. With the new members on board, so too came their musical sensibilities but the main drive was the differences in musical tastes that founding members Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield were undergoing. Fripp was moving to a harsher dissonant sound that would peak on the future “Red” whereas Sinfiled was more interested in the softer orchestral jazz collaborations that Miles Davis performed with artists such as Gil Evans, thus making ISLANDS the most overtly jazzy album of KC’s career. In fact ISLANDS has many unique qualities absent from other KC albums. Not only does it feature the only foray into the world of chamber rock string ensembles on “Prelude: Song Of The Gulls” but finds an overall more atmospheric approach that in some ways is an early example of what post-rock would eventually become, namely a chamber rock plethora of instrumentation that creates non-rock music in atmospheric textures.

A

Clearly a mellower affair than the previous heavier rockers, ISLANDS finds a tug-of-war in action where Fripp’s heavy guitar antics flare up in tracks like “Sailor’s Tale” but find themselves subdued beneath an airy-fairy gentleness of a totally relaxed vocal style of Burrell whose hypnotic bass playing surely giving rise to this proto-post rock effect. Once again the five official band members were joined by a few extra session musicians including the ferocious piano attack of Keith Tippett as well as a more pronounced use of the cornet and oboe. Given that the jazz elements are the main focus, the squawking saxophone is ubiquitous and the under represented bass flute finds some key moments on ISLANDS as well. All in all, the strange elements vying for control make this totally unique as the different instruments find themselves performing unconventional roles but somehow create a larger sum of the parts that takes the listener to some journey into the heavens above as displayed by the album cover art of the Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius.

N

“Formentera Lady” kicks off the album in a near ten minute hypnotic groove of a repetitive bass line and avant-garde backing of the callithump of various instruments that freely float around but the following “Sailor’s Tale” provides the closest thing to a true rocker with a boisterous attempt by Fripp to deliver some angular guitar workouts as well as a more energized Ornette Coleman styled saxophone workout. The album teeters on the precipice of order and chaos with moody melodies struggling to find full fruition and extreme bouts into noisy angularity at its most delicate balance on “The Letters.” The most cheery and melodic track comes in the form of the Beatles-esque “Ladies Of The Road” which delivers a rather catchy ear hook and even culminates in some amazing vocal harmonies but not without a hypnotic bass groove that ushers a frenetic sax and irritable guitar along the way. This is probably the track where all the styles on board coalesce the most sublimely.

D

After the chamber rock string ensemble fluffer of “Prelude” Song Of Gulls,” the album ends with the vocal jazz title track that begins with a gentle piano and almost sedate bass flute as it slowly drifts into higher gear but never really sets the world on fire but still finds away to drift on for over nine minutes as it engages in a rather cyclical melodic flow much like modern post-rock with a jazzy talking sax that punctuates the otherwise serene and hypnotic atmospheric haze. There is also a hidden track after a few seconds of silence that simply finds the band in the studio practicing. ISLANDS was probably the toughest nuts to crack of the early KC albums as it took a long time for it to sink in. While still not my preferred album of choice when rocking to the Crimson ones, it is nevertheless an interesting specimen of progressive rock that tackles jazz-fusion, symphonic chamber music and twisted illogical art rock all rolled up into one. It’s almost as if this was a precursor of what Talk Talk would conjure up in the late 80s with albums like “Spirit Of Eden,” a bold musical statement that allowed the textures and ambience of the instruments paint an impressionist aural experience.

S

This is one of those divisive albums where some claim it to be the pinnacle of the KC sound and others the exact opposite calling ti the biggest disappointment. I started out as the former but have come to terms with this interesting musical spectacle, that is understanding it on its own terms and not imposing my will of what it should’ve been. This is a subtly beautiful album that admittedly takes a lot more time to warm up to but seems to make more sense with a fair amount of listens. Once again, the turmoil that was KING CRIMSON would find band members not seeing eye to eye and the lifestyle choices of drug using band members led the sober Robert Fripp to drift away into his own world which caused the band to break up but as is well known, Fripp would regroup in a couple years and deliver a completely new third major lineup of the band and release the completely different “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic” which would allow much of the rock aspects to once again reign. While it took some time, warm up to ISLANDS i did and once i did, it shed a new light on its place in the rock history books.

BLOODBOUND Rise of the Dragon Empire

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It’s very common for bands within similar genres to influence one another. In fact, many bands are often influenced by those from within completely different genres. Bands borrowing ideas from another is quite common and can work quite well, as long as the band in question is willing to put their own unique touches on the music, to make it stand out. However, there’s always a tight line one must walk in such a case, so as not to fall into outright impersonation, or worse, plagiarism.

One band who has been clearly wearing their influences on their sleeves in recent years is Swedish power metal band Bloodbound. They initially started out with their own sound, being one of the heavier power metal bands around, but they’ve evolved a lot over the years, with their sixth album, Stormborn, in particular marking the beginning of their current brand of symphonic infused power metal, clearly influenced by Sabaton. Where that album and its successor, War of Dragons, showed clear influences of the aforementioned band on many tracks, however, their upcoming eighth full length release, Rise of the Dragon Empire, comes dangerously close to total impersonation at times, with some tracks feeling unmistakably familiar. However, the band has managed to work their magic, and put in enough of their own unique qualities, as well as continued with their usual excellent songwriting, in order to craft yet another excellent album, even if it does feel like a slight step down from their last couple.

Stylistically, Rise of the Dragon Empire is very similar to War of Dragons, with the band softening their sound even further, giving way to a largely keyboard dominant sound, with a continued emphasis on huge vocal melodies and epic choruses. The biggest change to the sound is the inclusion of some minor folk elements, which appear here and there on some tracks, though they’re most noticeable on “The Warlock’s Trail” and the closing ballad “Reign of Fire”. Aside from the slight issues of musical plagiarism, which I’ll get into in a bit, the songwriting is consistently excellent once again, with a continued focus on fun, catchy and very melodic power metal, with some symphonic influences, just as one would expect from a follow up to the band’s most successful album to date. Performances are strong across the board, with dual guitarists Henrik and Tomas Olsson, keyboardist Fredrik Bergh and vocalist Patrik J. Selleby all being in top form, as always, with the latter occasionally sounding a bit softer than usual, to fit the tone of the music, though he can still carry an epic chorus just as well as ever.

I usually do my song by song breakdowns in order, but for this album I’ll start with the slightly problematic tracks and slowly work my way up to the highlights, to end the review on a more positive note. First up, while the track is excellent in its own right, being a very melodic, somewhat upbeat track with some slight folk influence in the guitars, it doesn’t have the energy or speed one would expect from an opening track by this band. It does have an amazing chorus, though, except that Patrik sounds slightly quieter than normal, and doesn’t seem fully engaged. Two tracks later is “Skyriders and Stormbringers”, where right from the start of my first listen, my plagiarism detector went off, with the opening bars of the chorus being oddly familiar, and then once the opening verse starts, the main drum beat kicks in and it feels so similar to “Carolus Rex” by Sabaton, it’s just really hard to shake it off and fully enjoy the track. However, the chorus itself is absolutely spectacular once it kicks in, and over time, once I was able to get over the obvious impersonation, the song has managed to grow on me a lot, with the highlight being an incredible sped up passage in the middle, and that’s by far the freshest sounding section on the track.

The Sabaton soundalike marathon continues on “Blackwater Bay”, a slow, largely keyboard driven track, which has some very epic choral vocal during the verses, as well as a very fun and catchy chorus, It’s a slower paced track, very much in line with what the aforementioned band has been doing a lot lately, though it does have enough memorable moments to help make it stand out, so it doesn’t suffer as much from the comparison as “Skyriders and Stormbringers”. The last song that feels extremely familiar is “Giants of Heaven”, a speedier track where the opening riff really feels like it could have been taken from the likes of “Solider of 3 Armies”, “Poltava” or “Counterstrike”, among others, though there are some strong, epic symphonic elements to help distinguish it a bit, and the verses are explosive, while the chorus is every bit as epic and catchy as always, so it still ends up being an amazing track. Honestly, all four of these tracks are excellent in their own right, but I felt I had to mention how familiar they feel, as fans of the band in question may be taken a bit off guard, and think they accidentally put on the wrong album, or something.

Moving into more positive territory, “Breaking the Beast” is a fun, hard hitting heavy metal infused track, with some surprisingly heavy riffs during the opening, as well as during the excellent chorus, while the verses are melodic, but keep the momentum going nicely. It’s not quite amazing, like many of the other tracks here, but it’s still a very satisfying track, overall. Closing ballad “Reign of Fire”, is one of two more folk infused tracks here, with folk melodies dominating the music throughout, and it’s a very beautiful track, with calm, slow building verses giving way to an epic chorus, where Patrik goes all out and sounds amazing, especially near the end of the track.

And now, it’s time to mention the true killers, starting with lead single “Slayer of Kings”, a fast paced track, which starts off with a calm, melodic intro section, before the band quickly speeds things up and keeps the momentum going with some blistering riffs, thundering drums and epic vocals during the verses, before giving a way to a slow, but super melodic and unbelievably fun and catchy chorus. This is the kind of track the band excels at, and they really knocked it out of the park on this one. Two tracks later, “Magical Eye” is a more symphonic influenced, but still fast paced track, which is a bit lighter, but still has some great riffs, as well as an incredibly addictive chorus, fun verses, and an excellent guitar solo in the second half.

The most folk infused track here is “The Warlock’s Trail”, a mid paced stomper of a track, which uses its folk melodies very nicely during the chorus, while having some epic, fun verses. The chorus in particular is one of the best here, though, with a very cheery tone, epic vocals and a strong folk influence, to help make it absolutely wonderful, with the last run through being especially amazing. Near the end of the album is “Balerion”, another very speedy, highly symphonic track, with a slight neoclassical feel in the guitar work. It’s one of the fastest tracks here, while still having some great keys, and the chorus is again outstanding, while the verses are fast, furious and a ton of fun, and the guitar solo near the end is very epic and well played. The highlight of the track is an amazing stop/start section right near the end, and the ensuing final run through the chorus is awe inspiring.

My favourite track on the album, though, is “A Blessing in Sorcery”, another very speedy track, which definitely has some of that Sabaton influence in the keys, but unlike the other tracks I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t remind me of any particular tracks, instead using those influences in a more subtle way to craft something even more epic and unbelievably addictive and catchy, with the chorus in particular being one of the best sing along choruses I’ve come across in quite some time, while the rest of the song moves at a great pace, and is very melodic and epic, as well, with the choral section in the middle being particularly unforgettable. It’s simply the band at their absolute best, and is definitely an early 2019 highlight, as well as one of my favourite Bloodbound songs to date.

I was initially a bit disappointed with Rise of the Dragon Empire, due to some of the tracks feeling dangerously familiar, but once I got over that and started digger a bit deeper into those tracks, as well as focusing more on the album’s highlights, it ended up growing on me, and has proven itself to be yet another excellent album from Bloodbound. It doesn’t quite match Stormborn or War of Dragons, but it’s still a highly addictive, very melodic album, with some amazing choruses, as well as being the band’s most varied album in quite a while, continuing with the symphonic elements of its predecessor, while adding in some subtle folk elements. Fans of the band should love it, and fans of the more melodic, keyboard driven side of the genre are highly recommended to check this album out, as Bloodbound continue to be one of the best in the business, even if their influences are starting to become a bit too obvious, at times.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/16/bloodbound-rise-of-the-dragon-empire-review/

TESLA The Great Radio Controversy

Album · 1989 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.86 | 14 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Sacramento, CA based TESLA caught the attention of the hard rock and metal world in 1986 when they successfully upgraded the 70s heavy rock sound with elements of 80s metal and found great success with the debut “Mechanical Resonance.” In the midst of the glam metal saturation that constituted the latter half of the 80s and early 90s, TESLA stuck to their guns and continued to develop their sound into more creative territory as well as sticking to their no nonsense image more akin to 70s rockers rather than the hairspray overkill of their contemporaries. Nevertheless, despite it all, TESLA still got lumped into the overall glam metal scene since musically speaking, the band delivered strong catchy compositions based on blues based melodies laced with an upgraded 80s energetic delivery complete with guitar solo wankery. This naturally found them on tour with artists such as David Lee Roth, Alice Cooper, Def Leppard and Poison which found even greater exposure.

By the time the band released their sophomore album THE GREAT RADIO CONTROVERSY, the band whose name and album title paid homage to one of history’s greatest scientific minds also improved much of what was started on the debut. With a much larger fanbase by the time this album was released in 1989, the band found even greater success as it not only raced to Billboard’s top 20 but also surprisingly spawned a top ten hit with “Love Song” which ironically hit the the top ten simultaneously with The Cure’s top ten hit of the same title. Despite the band not exactly fitting into the status quo imagery or lyrical content, they found their greatest moments at this time when all their stars aligned and they delivered the most consistent album of their career. THE GREAT RADIO CONTROVERSY delivered the goods and was what classic rock dreams were made of, namely strong tightly woven songs that delivered instantly catchy hooks, heavy rock grit and excellent performances from the band’s competent musicians.

“Hang Tough” instantly displays how TESLA improved their unique style as it begins with Brian Wheat’s beefy bass line before the twin guitar attack from Tommy Sketch and Frank Hannon ushers in Jeff Keith’s unique vocal style. Once this intro track hooks you, the tracks just keep getting better with clever sound effects that usher in many of the tracks but never deviating from the hooky heft of the guitar riffs and the vocal counterpoints. Tracks like “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)” with its innovative use of slide guitar within a metal song context as well as a more developed lyrical concept of a more existentialist nature allowed TESLA to display how they were on a higher musical plane than the silly shallowness of many of the glam acts that were popular during the day. Likewise, Hannon delivers some of the most exciting guitar solos on this track but is quite innovative on the album’s entire run. “Be A Man” also relies heavily on guitar slides as it pontificates the essence of true masculinity.

While tracks like “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” and “Did It For The Money” may sound more like B-side KISS titles, the tracks in fact exude some of TESLA’s creative mojo with innovative riffing styles, instrumental interplay and a strong sense of melodic and harmonic deliveries. While the two singles “Love Song” and “The Way It Is” are sing along ballads, they are exquisitely designed with more complexities than say a Bon Jovi or Poison ballad of the era and are an exception rather than the rule for a predominately heavy rock album that delivers the hard rock goods. “The Way It Is” co-written by drummer Troy Lucckketta eschews the cheesiness of 80s metal ballads and exudes a genuineness unmatched in the era. While all the tracks have instant hook values, perhaps the strongest of the lot are not only the aforementioned “Heaven’s Trail” but “Makin’ Magic,” “Paradise,” “Lady Luck” and “Flight To Nowhere.” While the heavy rockers are all stellar examples of 80s heaviness, the ballads are equally compelling.

TESLA were the real deal. The music was from the heart and not slick and gimmicky like many trying to cash in on the trends. This still gives it a relevancy three decades after this album’s release in 1989. While a song or two about the great Nikola Tesla would have been appreciated, the band nevertheless were enslaved by the record companies of the day and skirted a fine line between complete innovation and commercial delivery but it’s this perfectly walked tightrope act that allows this one to work so incredibly well. THE GREAT RADIO CONTROVERSY may be less heavy than its predecessor or the following studio album “Psychotic Supper” but exhibits some of the 80s most innovative tracks in all of the heavy metal / hard rock world. While this album would prove to be the pinnacle of TESLA’s career before the grunge takeover a few years later, the album has aged surprisingly well. This is one of my favorite examples of melodic hard rock / heavy metal of the entire 80s with 13 really strong tracks that flow together perfectly. This album finds that band at their creative peak as well as in top form in the performances. In other words, this album is outstanding!

WITHERFALL A Prelude To Sorrow

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When I first heard the second album from this American progressive/power metal act I was instantly reminded of Iced Earth, especially the period when Tim Owens joined forces with Jon Schaffer. It was only on reading the press release that I realised that main songwriter, guitarist Jake Dreyer, has been a member of that band for the last few years as well. Was he chosen for Iced Earth as he was already performing and writing in that style, or has his day job rubbed off on him? Either way, this is an album which fans of Schaffer are going to be very interested in indeed. Both he and singer Joseph Michael (Sanctuary, Midnight Reign) have been there since the beginning in 2013, and are showing no sign at all of slowing down.

The one thing that does let them down at times is the consistency and quality of the material, but there is no doubt at all that these guys can play, and drummer Steve Bolognese may have only joined in 2017 but his experience with the likes of Ross The Boss shines through. Michael has a great range, able to power up and hit high notes quite easily with no loss of force, and the guitars are huge both in the riffing and shredding stakes. But even after playing this album multiple times, all I can ever remember about it is when it finishes is that it reminds me of Iced Earth, but without the depth in quality when it comes to material. Good, but certainly not essential.

WARREL DANE Shadow Work

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
On December 13th, 2017, Warrel Dane passed away in São Paulo while recording the follow-up to 2008’s ‘Praises To The War Machine’. ‘Shadow Work’ was supposed to be an 80 minutes long opus and while all instruments had been recorded, Warrel passed away before completing all vocal tracks. But, enough had been tracked during pre-production and the actual recording for everyone to band together and release an album which is a little more than 40 minutes long. Is this what Warrel would have released if he had still been around? Probably not, but is it just a tribute to the ex-singer of Nevermore and Sanctuary? In many ways it is, but it is also far more than that. In reality this is a bloody enjoyable album, one where Warrel had travelled to Brazil to record with Brazilian session musicians, and created a piece of art which is superb.

There is a groove underlying this, combined with very heavy guitarwork and basslines, with the drums powering it all along. His emotional vocals show his years of operatic training, as he allows his natural baritone to provide warmth and depth, rarely moving up the register. His vocals are at the forefront, but never to the detriment of what is happening around him, and given this is an unfinished album in many ways one can only wonder how massive this would have been if he had been able to do everything he had wanted with it. A fitting bookend to his musical career, this is an album that lovers of atmospheric progressive metal should seek out as it is well worth hearing.

UNEARTH Extinction(s)

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Can it really be 20 years since these guys started to make a name for themselves by playing anywhere and everywhere, either at their own gigs or supporting others (I seem to recall one tour when one aim was to amend their name on the dressing room at every gig, ‘Bunearth” was quite popular). Although the rhythm section may have changed over the years, singer Trevor Phipps and guitarists Ken Susi and Buz McGrath are still flying the flag for over the top metalcore as they have through all the years. It is one of my least favourite metal genres, as many of the bands lumped in here seem to forget the metal bit and concentrate on producing something which seems way too commercial. No-one can ever accuse Unearth of that, as their music is always incredibly heavy and producer Will Putney (Thy Art Is Murder, Body Count, Every Time I Die, Suicide Silence) has created something which deserves to be permanently played at 11.

Fans of Lamb of God, Meshuggah, Whitechapel and even Trivium are going to get a great deal from this. They are turning it up, tuning it down, and refusing to conform to anyone’s idea of what should be coming from this genre as this is brutal, uncompromising metal. Sure, they take breathers here and there, but all this does is emphasise just how intense they are when it all comes back in. Chris O’Toole keeps the bottom end nailed, but a very special mention must be made of drummer Nick Pierce who not only hits the drums incredibly hard, but also uses more bass driven sounds than many drummers which keeps everything in the low register. There are many wannabe’s out there who wish they could be half as tight and as heavy as this, 20 years on and Unearth are still knocking it out of the park. This is a very special album indeed.

MESHUGGAH Contradictions Collapse / None

Boxset / Compilation · 1998 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Combo packs are always cool because more often than not you get a good deal that includes some rare or hard to track down tracks that have been out of print for a while but often such compilations throw you a curve ball by advertising one thing and only delivering an incompletion of the entire package. Such is the case with the 1998 MESHUGGAH compilation that combined the 1991 debut album “Contradictions Collapse” with the following 1994 EP “None.” The original release by Nuclear Blast was only available in digipak but has since been released as a regular CD as well as vinyl 12”.

This compilation contains all eight tracks from the original “Contradictions Collapse” plus the extra track “Cadaverous Mastication” which appeared originally on the debut self-titled EP (also known as “Psykisk Testbild”) but has been tacked on to later versions of MESHUGGAH’s debut full-length album. While this is fine and dandy, what irks me is that the EP “None” only appears with the first four tracks while the fifth “Aztec Two-Step” has been eliminated due to time limits since it skirted close to the eleven minute mark. While some have stated they find the track annoying, i personally love it and find the “None” experience incomplete without it. Other than that the album flows along with both releases appearing in order of original release.

One thing i do appreciate about this combo pack is that it represents in full contrast the great leap of technical prowess that MESHUGGAH undertook during the three year period between. The debut found the band still stuck in their early Metallica worship years with many riffs lifted directly from albums like “Master Of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All” although the band was starting to unleash the latent experimental freakery which at the time was still kept on a leash. The difference between the last track of “Contradictions Collapse” and the leading “Humiliative” from “None” is stark as it clearly displays how progressive, technical and experimental the band had become as it shed its thrash dependencies and sallied forth into the brave new world of djent-ology.

Since “None” is incomplete, this is really just an edition of “Contradictions Collapse” with four bonus tracks but four really good bonus tracks that hopefully will lead to acquisition of the actual EP in its entirety. While many may not really care if a mere one track is missing, especially from an EP which is often regarded as supplemental, then this is not a bad way to go but for me, “None” is the far superior release and deserves to be experienced in its entirety. I understand why these sorts of comps are released considering many wouldn’t bother to track down the EPs that lurk between the cracks but it totally irritates me when such comps represent themselves as being the complete editions at hand but take liberties in editing out relevant material. Oh well.

MESHUGGAH None

EP · 1994 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 7 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
MESHUGGAH has never been the most prolific of bands and that was quite apparent even in the beginning. While the debut EP emerged in 1989, it took two years to release the first album “Contradictions Collapse” and it would take three more for the next chapter in the MESHUGGAH universe to unfold and with the release of yet another EP in the form of 1994’s NONE, the band took another significant leap into the djent fueled progressive angularity of the future. While clearly rooted in the Metallica leaning origins, by this time the influences are more distant as the band had started to extend past the thrash leanings of Slayer, Metallica and Sepultura.

One of the major differences came in the form of a fifth member as Mårten Hagström joined the team as rhythm guitarist so that Jens Kidman could focus exclusively as vocalist. This minor tweaking of the lineup allowed for a radical change in the band’s direction as not only was Kidman let off the leash to break free from his James Hetfield limitations and expand into new territories but the addition of Hagström’s rhythmic staccato styled riffing was exactly what MESHUGGAH needed to break their infatuation with late 80s Metallica worship. The result is that NONE is really the beginning of the classic MESHUGGAH sound that would only continue to evolve into the surreal avant-metal beast that would be fully unleashed on “Destroy Erase Improve.”

The EP that slightly surpasses the half hour mark starkly contrasts with its predecessor as the opening “Humiliative” begins with surreal spacey effects accompanied by the robotic hypnosis of the classic MESHUGGAH chugs that essentially launched a new guitar style called djent, an onomatopoeia for the distinctive high-grain, distorted, palm-muted, low-pitch guitar sound that debuts right here on NONE’s first track. Despite the thrash leanings still present, they are seriously teased into more inventive creatures with progressive time signatures, innovative guitar soloing and some of the jazz-fusion elements slowly oozing into the band’s overall sound. Add to that there are some seriously adventurous percussive outbursts and bass grooves that deviate from the simpler status quo of “Contradictions Collapse.”

The track “Ritual” debuts the jazz-fusion guitar intros and sounds like the band also went for lower string tunings which results in a darker, more sinister feel. While on this track Kidman does evoke a hint of James Hetfield inspiration, as does the general melodic riff, the band are also displaying how they are separating from the earlier albums by creating a more cacophonous storm of dissonance as the melody is slowly drifting away into a parallel universe and would emerge more disfigured once it arrives on the following “Destroy Erase Improve” album.

While that track and the more Pantera laced groove metal elements of “Gods Of Rapture” connect MESHUGGAH to its trash metal origins, the true leap in innovation comes to fruition on the frighteningly bombastic hypnosis of the near eleven minute closer “Aztec Two-Step” which demonstrates how MESHUGGAH was walking the tightrope between the thrash oriented early releases and the much more experimental and challenging albums to come. The track runs the gamut of tech thrash, progressive djent and delves into weird changes that would be a MESHUGGAH trademark of the future however the lengthy periods of silence at the end are annoying.

NONE was released on both CD and cassette in 1994 but also appeared on the compilation simply titled “Contradictions Collapse & None” however buyer beware! This comp only contains the first four tracks and doesn’t include the most experimental wild ride “Aztec Two-Step” but yet contains the track “Cadeverous Mastication” which wasn’t on the original “Contradictions Collapse” album and only tacked on later. It actually appeared on the debut EP in 1989, so my advice is to seek this one out in its original five track format. NONE is the moment when MESHUGGAH came of age and although not as perfected as what was to come, still signified a band that had shed its love affair with its influences and stepped up to the plate with some of the most bizarre metal to emerge in the early 90s.

MESHUGGAH Contradictions Collapse

Album · 1991 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 20 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
While many metal bands have spent a career recycling the riffs and musical styles of other artists, some who start out that way actually latch on to their own sound and take the world by storm with innovative and out of the box approaches. Metallica took the world by storm in the 80s as they unleashed a unique mix of thrash metal, classical harmonizing and extreme metal assault and while bands like Testament have been churning out one alternative Metallica album after another for decades, MESHUGGAH on the other hand who started out worshipping the altar of albums like “Master Of Puppets” and “..And Justice For All” moved on into more progressive pastures.

The band was founded all the way back in 1987 by guitarist Frederik Thordendal and vocalist Jens Kidman and were no doubt influenced by the American thrash scene given its world dominating presence. The debut self-titled EP which is also known as “Psykisk Testbild” was the grand declaration that MESHUGGAH had the chops and stamina to be the best Metallica clone in the universe and pulled it off with ease yet it never occurred to the Thordendal and team to include even a lick of originality and despite its best efforts, the band just simply created an alternative universe release that seemed to have been slipped in between the “Masters Of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All” timeline.

Following the short little EP of three track by two years MESHUGGAH finally released their debut album CONTRADICTIONS COLLAPSE in 1991 and at long last started to show a little individuality as the band ratcheted a few significant steps up the creativity totem pole which would ultimately lead them to finding their niche as one of the world’s leading progressive extreme metal band that hybridized death, thrash and progressive metal with healthy doses of jazz-fusion and the avant-garde but this debut album despite a major leap forward still suffers from many too close to the source moments as the band hadn’t quite distanced themselves from the 80s American thrash scene. b The album also debuts Tomas Haake on drumming duties after the departure of Niclas Lundgren.

CONTRADICITONS COLLAPSE is quite unique in the MESHUGGAH canon as it bridges the gap between the Metallica clone origins and the extreme technical wizardry that would soon follow. This technical thrash metal workout begins to branch out from the world of Metallica and starts to employ not only the progressive metal angularity of future releases but also includes the percussive drum pattern influences of other genres such as hip hop and industrial dance. There is also a lot of alternative metal riffing and for the most part the drumming styles are less bombastic than on future albums. The album originally contained only eight tracks with the ninth “Cadaverous Mastication” taken from the debut EP and tacked on future releases.

Right from the start with the first surreal introductory guitar fueled cacophony of “Paralyzing Ignorance,” it’s clear that MESHUGGAH was moving into a stranger new arena of metal but the track reverts back to a standard thrash metal paradigm with choppy guitar riffage, blasting bass and drumming as well as a clearly James Hetfield style of vocal shouting. Despite the more loosely constructed tracks many of the heavy riffs are very similar to Metallica riffs such as “Battery” or “The Shortest Straw,” however MESHUGGAH begins to surprise even at this early stage and meanders into more progressive arenas. Little tidbits such as the sitar on “We’ll Never See The Day” show the band flirting with the bizarre but only for fleeting moments.

While the thrash riffing and vocals are highly derivative, it often sounds like MESHUGGAH is on the verge of breaking into their bizarre surreal metal style that characterizes albums such as “Chaosphere” but yet for the most part the band gets cold feet and never strays too far as if they were afraid that it would lead them into the world of uncommercial ventures. Ironic that when they finally let the freak flag fly is when they really captured the world’s attention. I dunno. I want to like this one more but it basically falls into three categories: Sounds like really good Metallica. Sounds like stoned Metallica. Sounds like Metallica on a mix of mushrooms, peyote and LSD. In the end this isn’t a bad album at all but the many riffs lifted and Hetfield vocals just rub me the wrong way and impede my enjoyment of the album as a whole.

The album was re-released with the following EP “None” and while CONTRADICTIONS COLLAPSE doesn’t constitute a horrible album per se, it doesn’t help that when played with the much more advanced “None” following, it only makes it more clear how immature this album is in comparison to the highly technical and innovative albums like “Chaosphere,” “Nothing” and “Catch Thirtythree.” For true fans, you will inevitably come to this debut eventually and it does offer some excellent tracks like the awesome “Choirs Of Destruction” that is the closest thing to their more modern style as it cranks out the unique chugging format after a downer acoustic guitar intro and a surreal vocal intro but even this one reverts back to the alt meets thrash that focuses on Metallica’s dual classical guitar harmonizing melodies. Better things to come but a decent competent debut even if it’s not outstanding.

MESHUGGAH Meshuggah (Psykisk Testbild)

EP · 1989 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.69 | 5 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
While Europe pioneered the extreme metal scene with bands like Venom and Hellhammer with the help of the hardcore punk scene from artists such as Discharge and Amebix, the USA actually fostered in the most successful bands that developed a new form of metal called thrash. Slayer, Anthrax, Medgadeth and Metallica, the big four, launched an entire new metal paradigm and it was time for new bands to follow in the footsteps of a new American strain of extremity.

Scandinavia would become the hotbed for even stranger forms of metal and in the coastal city of Umeå, Sweden, one of the future bands that would deliver one of the strangest forms of technical metal of all. MESHUGGAH formed all the way back in 1987 by guitarist Frederik Thordenal and vocalist Jens Kidman and were no doubt influenced by the American thrash scene given its world dominating presence.

Before the band would become world famous themselves for the unique hybridization of death, thrash and progressive metal with jazz elements, MESHUGGAH was clearly in full Metallica worship mode on their early albums and after the two founders recruited bassist Peter Nordin and drummer Niclas Lundgren, the band would release the first eponymously titled EP in 1989 but has gained the nickname PSYKISK TESTBILD for its hypnotic black and white psychedelic album cover.

While only an EP of three tracks that slightly exceeds the nineteen minute mark, MESHUGGAH proved they had the chops to be the best Metallica clone in the biz. Copping the staccato riffing bravado of the “…And Justice For All” album with the heavy thrash of “Masters Of Puppets,” this EP was certainly a grand declaration that this Swedish band was well on its way to be reckoned with. The only problem at this stage was the overt lack of originality despite the decent production job and outstanding musical talent.

While the introduction to MESHUGGAH was only issued as a 12” vinyl record limited to a1000 copies it’s very unlikely anyone will come across this unless they are a true collector willing to shell out some dough however the tracks were later reissued and included on the compilation “Rare Trax.” This short debut is also the only release to feature drummer Niclas Lundgren before long time member Tomas Haake would take over as drummer. While showing great promise, this is really one for the collector’s only. Despite the great musicianship displayed, this is a Metallica clone all the way.

SOILWORK Verkligheten

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.11 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Verkligheten" (which is the Swedish word for "Reality") is the 11th full-length studio album by Swedish metal act Soilwork. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in January 2019. It´s the successor to "The Ride Majestic" from 2015, although the 2016 compilation album "Death Resonance" bridges the gap between the two album releases. There have been two lineup changes since "The Ride Majestic (2015)" as drummer Dirk Verbeuren has left to join Megadeth and has been replaced by Bastian Thusgaard and bassist Markus Wibom has been replaced by Taylor Nordberg.

Stylistically "Verkligheten" is the sound of Soilwork through and through. Melodic death metal in the most accessible and polished end of the scale. Labelling the music death metal is sometimes actually a bit misleading, although there definitely are some pretty hard edged and even semi-brutal moments on the album (but they are few and far between). Other parts are so catchy and accessible though that we are closer to pop/rock melodic territory than we are to metal and there are also several of the riffs and rhythms on the album which are hard rock and heavy metal influenced rather than death and thrash metal oriented. Soilwork are however incredibly skilled composers who are able to combine all the sounds and influences into a sound that is unmistakably their own.

If you´re familiar with any of the predecing releases (maybe except for the first two which are harder edged), it´ll take you two seconds after lead vocalist Björn "Speed" Strid sings his first words, to identify that it is Soilwork you are listening to. While remaining relatively consistent Soilwork have still managed to develop and refine their sound over the years and continue to do so on "Verkligheten".

There are several standout tracks on the album and only a couple of quality "fillers". Highlights to my ears are tracks like the powerful "Arrival", "Bleeder Despoiler" (the start/stop riffs throughout the song are really great), and the ultra melodic "Full Moon Shoals" (where Strid reaches a new level of melodic excellence), but "Stålfågel" (which features some very well delivered clean female vocals by Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy), the hard edged "The Wolves Are Back in Town", and the closing "You Aquiver" are also tracks which stand out.

"Verkligheten" also features a top notch sound production, and upon conclusion it´s yet another high quality release by Soilwork. It´s quite frankly amazing they are able to continue releasing albums of this quality and what is even more amazing is that they are still capable of challenging themselves as songwriters while still maintaining a signature sound this far into their career. Soilwork are one of those artists where lineup changes haven´t always been a bad thing, as the lineup changes have often meant that the band have been able to take their music in different directions (in small steps). Always under the musical guidance of Strid though which has ensured continuety. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

HERETIC Torture Knows No Boundary

EP · 1986 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Torture Knows No Boundary" is an EP release by US, Los Angeles, California based heavy metal act Heretic. The EP was released through Metal Blade Records in December 1986. Heretic were in their original run a rather short lived act who formed in 1985 and disbanded in 1988. They released "Torture Knows No Boundary" and the "Breaking Point (1988)" debut full-length studio album before splitting up. The latter features Mike Howe on vocals. Howe would join Metal Church and shortly after Heretic disbanded. On this EP the vocals are handled by Julian Mendez though. The material on "Torture Knows No Boundary" was re-released in 1991 as part of the compilation album "The Don't Turn Your Back!! & Breaking Point".

Stylistically the material on the 5 track, 17:54 minutes long album is traditional heavy metal through and through. Heretic is mostly known as a US power/thrash metal act, but that´s not the case here, as "Torture Knows No Boundary" features a more old school yet still raw and powerful heavy metal sound. Julian Mendez is a relatively strong vocalist with a raw delivery, and the band are well playing too (although the drums occasionally sound a bit untight). Hard rocking riffs and solos and a powerful pounding rhythm section.

The EP features 5 tracks a and a full playing time of 17:54 minutes. The first four tracks are "regular" heavy metal tracks, while the closing title track is an instrumental with both clean guitars and some blazing solo work. It shows another side of Heretic and brings some variation to the EP. The sound production is raw and powerful, suiting the music well. Upon conclusion "Torture Knows No Boundary" is a promising first release by Heretic. It does sound slightly old fashioned for a 1986 release, but that doesn´t make it less enjoyable. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

AVATAR (FLORIDA) City Beneath the Surface

EP · 1983 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"City Beneath The Surface" is an EP release by US, Florida based heavy metal act Avatar. The EP was released through Par Records Inc. in September 1983. Avatar were formed in 1979 but changed their name to Savatage in 1983. "City Beneath The Surface" was actually released after the name change (Savatage debut album "Sirens" was released in April 1983), but under the Avatar monicker. It features 3 tracks off Avatar´s 6 track demo cassette tape "Living for the Night" from February 1983: "Sirens", "City Beneath The Surface", and "The Whip". The former track was included on Savatage "Sirens (1983)" album while the latter two were included on the "The Dungeons Are Calling (1984)" EP (also released under the Savatage monicker).

Stylistically the music is traditional heavy metal performed with great skill, energy, and conviction. Jon Oliva has a strong voice and a raw delivery and paired with the hard hitting and organic sounding rhythm section, and the incredibly skilled guitar playing by Criss Oliva, that makes for a very successful cocktail. Considering that this is a 1983 recording, the sound production is also pretty well sounding. Detailed, organic, and raw, which is a perfect fit for the material on the 3 track, 12:23 minutes long EP.

So upon conclusion "City Beneath The Surface" is a quality release by Avatar. The whole name confusion thing and the fact that the three tracks are available on Savatage releases too (and in better recording quality), doesn´t change the fact that viewed upon as an individual release "City Beneath The Surface" is still a worthy listen. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

MOONSPELL Irreligious

Album · 1996 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 20 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
While many second wave black metal bands jumped on the bandwagon and rode the wave of the template set down by bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone like a surfer in the Hawaiian Islands, some bands that started out that way jumped in and felt more like Jamaican bobsledders so they decided the status quo wasn’t quite for them. Such is the case for the Lisbon, Portugal based MOONSPELL that emerged in 1994 with the debut EP “Under The Moonspell” as a decent but indistinct black metal band but by the time they released the first full-length debut “Wolfheart” a year later, the band started to find its own niche in the quickly exploding scene. While still steeped in black metal, MOONSPELL laced it with a healthy dose of gothic metal inspired by bands like Tiamat, Type O Negative and The Gathering along with some various strains of European folk which together created a rather unique sound in the metal world.

Despite this early development of their own making, MOONSPELL abandoned this metal hybrid as quickly as it had established it and on the sophomore album IRRELIGIOUS, the black metal was totally jettisoned altogether with much of the folk music thrown by the wayside as well. What was left was a more gothic rock infused style that while tamping down the metal in general and replacing it with eerie Gregorian chants and symphonic organ sounds, still had enough metal mojo to qualify it as a metal band but in general, the gothic touches produced a more stylized production job that relied on a tapestry of instrumental sounds to create gloomy atmospheres and romantic visions of Romanian castles with blood thirsty counts on the hunt for another fix. The metal, while still quite abrasive at times had been reserved only for crescendoes and contrasts from the otherwise symphonic dominant melodrama.

The difference between IRRELIGIOUS and “Wolfheart” is stark and immediate as the album begins with a soundtrack sounding intro called “Perverse… Almost Religious” which takes spooky church organs and choral chants to evoke a full moon lit night journey into the graveyard and beyond. As “Opium” begins the nosedive into the world of everything goth, it’s also noticeable that the black metal guitar distortion has been replaced by a slicker guitar fuzz that plays in tandem with a hypnotic bass groove and slowed down percussive drive. Likewise, vocalist Fernando Ribeiro almost abandons any harsh screamed vocals except for the most dramatic moments and opts for romantic spoken poetic prose along with the clean Type O Negative style that sounds like Count Dracula has decided to make a mini-opera about his perverse proclivities.

“Wolfheart” displayed a strong sense of melodic hooks and IRRELIGIOUS continues this trend with eleven strong tracks that create instant gratification but it’s really the compositional flare that makes this such a strong album. The carefully timed developments of the dynamics, tones, timbres and bursts of aggression work out incredibly well and no moments feel like they wear out their welcome nor do they feel rushed. This is just one of those albums that teeters on the balance between too pop and too dark but somehow has enough elements of both sides of the spectrum to please. The tracks are diverse with some ranging on the slower side like “Ruin & Misery” which exudes a slow oozing use of keyboards, crunchy guitar riffage and nonchalant tempo changes. The musicians also show some extended range in their playing abilities. While the drummer simply known as Mike more or less just keeps a beat, on tracks like “For A Taste Of Eternity” he shows a flare for extremely complex polyrhythms and percussive dominance.

Overall the keyboards and samples of Pedro Paixão play the dominant role with the recording of Aleister Crowley reading his own poem “The Poet” on the track “Awake” which exemplifies the occult feel of the album as a whole. IRRELIGIOUS is a nicely paced album that is ultimately an atmospheric gothic rock album with metal touches that take it to heavy heights at key moments. The alternating forces of the symphonic rock and the more sonorous metal sections works quite well as do the stylistic percussion changes and guitar sounds that range from echoey clean to the intemperate unleashed loudness. MOONSPELL was one of those bands that couldn’t quite decide where they wanted to stay for long and despite crafting a cleverly cool and wickedly wild ride with this goth metal classic, the band would change things up again and get more experimental on the following “Sin / Pecado” but for this one at least MOONSPELL proved that they had an incredibly keen sense of what it takes to craft the perfect sensual sensibilities that make a great goth rock / metal album.

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Symphony Of Enchanted Lands

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 38 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Italy’s Luca Turilli and Alex Starapoli pioneered the new subgenre of symphonic power metal in creation on the 1997 RHAPSODY debut “Legendary Tales” which set their mystical medieval folklore laden lyrics to a unique mix of symphonic classical and baroque music, power metal and Celtic folk that was drawn out to epic scopes and to which the band RHAPSODY has always referred to as film score metal for its high fantasy polished and hard driving operatic sound circus. The band returned the following year to deliver the stellar sophomore release SYMPHONY OF ENCHANTED LANDS which fine-tuned the melding alchemic musical principles into a greater cohesive whole.

One of the main complaints about the debut was that the metal was only intermittent as sprawling classical tinged folk laden symphonic marches swallowed up vast amounts of real estate with only partial metal satisfaction for head banging pleasures. SYMPHONY OF ENCHANTED LANDS more than corrects that and offers a much greater presence of the power metal elements in the vein of classic Helloween augmented with the tighter control of the classical symphonic prowess that makes this second offering a much more energetic listening experience as it traipses through the mystical musical worlds of dragons, orcs, mages and Middle Earth sensibilities.

While RHAPSODY’s style may sound cliche by today’s standards, this Italian band was the one that kicked off this epic over-the-top symphonic power metal thing. So true that power metal does have its share of cheese and RHAPSODY is no exception with the strident operatic vocals of Fabio Lione wailing over the soaring neoclassical guitar shredding, power metal hooks and Celtic jigs meets J.S. Bach musical interludes but the stellar performances of the musicians pretty much blew everyone else away in the scene during the 90s and with a whopping sixteen guest musicians playing everything from mandolins, balalaikas, oboes and violins to marching drums and harpsichord, it’s almost as if this entire performance was done by a group of classical trained musicians moonlighting to their favorite metal style.

The saga begins with the epic soundtrack intro of “Epicus Furor” which not only introduces a Carl Orff sort of classical bombast but displays one of the most epic elements of the entire album, namely the outstanding choir sections that build up the momentum and lead to the metal fury of “Emerald Sword.” Different tracks focus on different musical genres as the lead musical flavor. While the “Emerald Sword” rips through the metal orotundity, the following “Wisdom Of The Kings” breaks out the folk melodies that incorporate stellar baroque keyboard stabs into the mix and flawlessly weaves the magic of pastoral lands, metal power angst and classical nights at the opera. Both Starapoli and Turilli trade off with virtuosic neoclassical soloing and Lione delivers a soaring vocal charm that despite being the strongest element of the band’s sound somehow fits into the larger scheme of things.

Despite some of the best tracks of RHAPSODY’s career such as the thirteen minute progressive closing title track which summarizes the entire album in a mystical amalgamation of the disparate genres presented, the album has its moments that don’t quite work so well. While the baroque meets folk interlude “Heroes Of The Lost Valley” starts off as a sweet soiree of a folk meets baroque encounter of the days of yore, the narrative part brings out all the cheese with some contrived poetic prose that sounds like an intro to a video game tutorial. However despite a few moments where the cheese factor is turned up to ridiculousness, for the most part it’s tamped down in favor of some intricate melodic interplay of the main instrumental prowess of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums with the army of supplemental sounds mainly serving the introductory parts.

Despite more emphasis on the power metal, by no means was this at the cost of the symphonic classical elements nor does it mean the folk and other instruments have been diminished one bit. It’s just that things had been integrated into a much larger picture that fits into the grandeur of the epic tale at hand. RHAPSODY were the masters of alternating between heavy bombastic metal and lush classical passages and back again with elements of folk, vocal choirs and even symphonic prog that keeps the music interesting enough for repeated listens as it chugs along and then at the drop of a hat smoothly drifts around like a feather on a zephyr breeze. RHAPSODY developed their unique style early on but on SYMPHONY OF ENCHANTED LANDS, the band created a more mature version of it and would remain amazingly consistent in their run of albums that followed. Better in many ways than the debut but a few speed bumps keep it from being perfect as well.

SOULFLY Ritual

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Max and the gang are back with their eleventh album, the third to feature his eldest son Zyon on drums (the line-up is completed by Marc Rizzo on lead guitar, flamenco guitar and bassist Mike Leon, plus loads of guests). The last Sepultura album was their best for years, and here we see the ex-leader of that band pulling together what is probably their finest release since 2000’s ‘Primitive’. It is aggressive, powerful, pummelling, with the underlying groove taking nothing away from the ferocity of the attack, yet there are also some native sounds at the beginning of the title track which makes one think of the mighty, incredible, “Roots, Bloody Roots”. This is an album to get all sweaty and aggressive in the mosh pit, as the guitars crank it up, while percussion and drums combine to create something very special indeed.

But just when it is getting all too much for the head to take, and there is a need for some respite, we are treated to “Demonized” which starts life as an acoustic flamenco guitar track. “Fluff” anyone? On never really knows what is going to happen, with traditional flute leading into “Blood On The Street” while closer “Soulfly XI” simply doesn’t sound as if it belongs on any album which involves a Cavalera. Gentle, restrained, delicate yet passionate and emotional, this is not the style of music one would expect from someone who brought us ‘Chaos A.D.’. This is a superb album from Soulfly, and although I said it is their finest since ‘Primitive’, it may actually be superior to both that and the debut, quite a statement I know. I haven’t been this excited about an album from Max since the debut Cavalera Conspiracy album, he and the band are truly back to form. One not to miss.

SHINING Animal

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Jørgen Munkeby (saxophonist and guitarist, a graduate of the Norwegian Academy of Music) has long been the driving force between Norway’s jazz-metal collective, Shining. Over the years they have broken down musical barriers and have refused to be categorised into any particular style of music, as they mixed progressive, technical metal, jazz, avant-garde and experimental sounds. But now he is back with something different “I was tired of doing the same thing,” he explains. “I was done with ‘Blackjazz’ and wanted to create something new and exciting. I needed a change. I’m finally at the point where I have nothing to lose and everything to win. We had 360 degrees to play with so we could’ve gone in any direction. This new record is more Muse than Meshuggah, more Ghost than Gojira, and more Biffy Clyro than Burzum!”

It is all over the place as one might expect from the quote, and given Shining are known for having the sax as a key instrument it is somewhat surprising for one not to make any appearance anywhere on this! Devin Townsend has been an obvious influence, as have Linkin Park, and it is when the guys are really pushing the envelope with downtuned guitars and stacks of groove that they really make the listener stand up and take notice. It is mainstream for the most part, and it will be interesting to see how hardcore fans view this, as while it is an okay album, it is never really much more than that, and certainly not one which would be expected from him/them. It is almost a case of treating this as a brand-new band, and while the sound is very modern and powerful, for some reason it feels as if it as all been produced at the same level and consequently there just isn’t enough drama for it to be consistently interesting.

LÄÄZ ROCKIT Nothing$ $acred

Album · 1991 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 4 ratings
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"Nothing$ $acred" is the 5th full-length studio album by US, San Francisco, California based thrash metal act Lääz Rockit. The album was released through Roadracer Records in November 1991. It´s the successor to "Annihilation Principle" from 1989. There have been quite a few lineup changes since "Annihilation Principle (1989)" as guitarist Phil Kettner has been replaced by Scott Sargent, bassist Willy Lange has been replaced by Scott Dominguez, and drummer Victor Agnello has been replaced by Dave Chavarri. The only remaining members from the lineup who recorded "Annihilation Principle (1989)" are lead vocalist Michael Coons and guitarist Aaron Jellum.

Lineup changes or not "Nothing$ $acred" is another natural step for Lääz Rockit in the process of changing their style from heavy/speed metal, which they played on their early releases, to the more thrash metal oriented sound (though still with the occasional nod towards traditional heavy metal) on "Know Your Enemy (1987)" and "Annihilation Principle (1989)". On "Nothing$ $acred" I´d label Lääz Rockit 100% thrash metal though.

The 10 tracks on the 42:17 minutes long album are energetic, raw, and "in your face" thrashers, with powerful verses, catchy choruses and riot gang vocal sections, killer riffs and solos, and a really well playing rhythm section, who drives the music forward with great intensity and skill. The only track which is a bit different from the rest is the power ballad "Nobody´s Child". A song type Lääz Rockit also masters and delivers with great conviction. There are several standout tracks featured on the album, and I´ll mention "In the Name of the Father and the Gun", "Into the Asylum", and "Suicide City" among them.

The musicianship is of high class throughout the album and in addition to the skilled instrumental performances, lead vocalist Michael Coons also deserves a mention. He is gifted with a strong voice and his delivery is both passionate and convincing. If I have to make comparisons to another vocalist it would be to "Blitz" from Overkill. It´s not like they are clones or anything like that, but there are quite a few similarities in sound and delivery.

Taking all preceding Lääz Rockit releases into consideration and comparing them to "Nothing$ $acred", this album is by far their strongest yet. The sound production is raw and powerful, the musicianship is strong, and the songwriting is memorable. Especially the latter mentioned feature is an element where Lääz Rockit have taken a step up, and it´s not like the preceding releases didn´t feature high quality material, so that´s a quality stamp right there. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

THE MISFITS Walk Among Us

Album · 1982 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.19 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Walk Among Us" is the official debut full-length studio album by US punk act the Misfits. The album was released through Ruby/Slash Records in March 1982. I write official above because "Walk Among Us" is actually the third album recorded by the Misfits. "Static Age" (recorded in 1979) and "12 Hits from Hell" (recorded in 1980) were just shelved (the former was released in 1997), and therefore "Walk Among Us" ended up being the official debut album by the Misfits.

The material on the 13 track, 24:56 minutes long album was recorded over the course of various sessions during 1981, but finished in January 1982, where Glenn Danzig remixed and overdubbed (additional guitar tracks) the previously recorded material. Some additional vocals were also recorded and the live track "Mommy Can I Go Out & Kill Tonight?" was mixed to be included on the album.

Stylistically Misfits established their unique sound from the get go. A combination of 50s rock´n´roll, punk, and horror themed lyrics and imagery (which is apparent from song titles like "Vampira", "Night of the Living Dead", "Devil´s Whorehouse", "Astro Zombies", and "Braineaters"). Dubbed horror punk by some. While some tracks like the above mentioned "Mommy Can I Go Out & Kill Tonight?" are pretty raw and touch hardcore punk territory, the material is generally pretty melodic and sing along friendly (examples of that are "I Turned Into a Martian" and "Skulls"). Danzig´s "Elvis meets Jim Morrison" vocal style is rather distinct sounding and provides the material with an original sound.

The recordings are rather raw sounding and occasionally near lo-fi demo quality, but there´s something really charming about the sound, which suits the music perfectly. The rawness and filth of the sound just go hand and hand with the 50/60s horror movie themes and makes perfect sense. Upon conclusion "Walk Among Us" is a great debut album by the Misfits and while it sounds quite immature at times, and the playing is pretty raw and on occasion maybe even sloppy, the band managed to establish a unique sound with their debut album. Only the greats do that. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Get Your Fight On!

EP · 2018 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Get Your Fight On!" is an EP release by US California based thrash/crossover/heavy metal act Suicidal Tendencies. The EP was released through Suicidal Records in March 2018. Although "Get Your Fight On!" is labelled an EP release by the band, it features 10 tracks and total playing time of 44:55 minutes.

The EP features two Cyco Miko covers (both re-recordings of tracks which originally appeared on Mike Muir´s 1996 solo album "Lost My Brain! (Once Again)", one The Stooges cover, three original Suicidal Tendencies tracks, and four different versions of the Suicidal Tendencies track "Get Your Fight On!". One version is the original studio version from the band´s 11th full-length studio album "World Gone Mad" from 2016, one is an acoustic version of the song, one is an instrumental version featuring a bass solo, and one is an instrumental version featuring a guitar solo.

Stylistically the material on the EP is Suicidal Tendencies as they´ve sounded on the last couple of releases. It´s quite the eclectic mix of crossover thrash, hardcore punk, and funky rhythms. Mike Muir´s vocals are as distinct sounding as ever and defines the band´s sound, but the instrumental part of their music is also very well performed by all involved.

The material is powerful and varied, and although I would normally not find four different versions of the same song on the same release very interesting, it actually works really well here. "Get Your Fight On!" may not be a groundbreaking release by Suicidal Tendencies, but it´s a good quality release well worth your time if you are a fan. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

IRON FIRE Beyond the Void

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There are some great power metal bands who seem to be going largely unnoticed, despite consistently making great albums, with one of my favorites being Danish band Iron Fire. I’ve been a fan of the band since their 2010 release Metalmorphosized, which marked the beginnings of a more modernized sound for the band after their past releases were all fairly traditional European power metal albums. They especially blew me away with the more progressive, symphonic and just plain epic Voyage of the Damned, though sadly that one wasn’t too well received, and the band took a bit of a break afterward. However, over four years later the band returned in 2016, with Among the dead, a hard-hitting collection of heavy/power metal tracks, that while being more straight-forward compared to its predecessor, was still intense and left me extremely satisfied.

Now, the band is set to release their ninth full-length album, Beyond the Void, and it is yet another killer! Fans of Among the Dead should know exactly what to expect, as the lineup remains unchanged, and musically this is a direct continuation of that album, with the same kind of raw, hard-hitting power metal, mixed with some classic heavy metal and some occasional thrashy riffs. While Among the Dead was a concept album revolving around a zombie apocalypse, Beyond the Void deals with many different lyrical themes, but otherwise, it’s pretty much more of the same, to the point where a couple of tracks feel eerily similar to tracks from the previous release, though the songwriting is consistently strong enough for that to not be a big problem.

Performances are as strong as always, with the guitar work being as heavy as before, though there are some more melodic passages compared to the previous album, and these are very well done, drums are mostly fast and furious and well done, and of course Martin Steene’s deep and raspy vocals are as strong as ever, with the faint hints of extreme metal vocals he showed on the previous album continuing to creep in from time to time. Production is also top notch and powerful sounding, as expected. Songwriting is generally fast-paced, intense and plain fun, with the occasional slower track and one ballad to offer up some variety. This is the kind of album, though, where you won’t be surprised very often, but it’ll keep you consistently entertained, with excellent riffs, some great melodies, powerful vocals and just some really fun, highly addictive songs.

Following a brief intro, the title track kicks in and is very similar to the title track of Among the Dead, with everything from the lead riff to the chorus feeling oddly familiar, to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it much at first, but over time it has grown on me. Anyone who hasn’t heard the previous album should be entertained immediately, as it’s a fast paced, hard hitting power metal track, with fun verses, thrashy riffs, and a strong, catchy chorus. On the more interesting side, “Final Warning” is a slower building track, featuring a pummeling main riff, heavy verses which march along at a decent pace, and a light, melodic chorus, which picks up the pace as it goes along. It has great, emotional lyrics about destroying the Earth, and is a very good song overall. My favorite song on the first half, and probably the whole album, is “Cold Chains of the North” a fast, hard-hitting track which has more of those thrashy riffs, as well as a frantic, but very melodic chorus, with some pretty cool gang vocals, and some excellent lead vocals from Martin. It’s a very fun, catchy and highly energetic track, which just gets everything right.

Keeping the momentum going, “Wrong Turn” has some of the thrashiest riffs on the album, along with hard-hitting verses, and a basic, but the very fun chorus. Two more speedy tracks are up next, with “Bones and Gasoline”, which has soft, melodic passages during the intro and verses, which remind me a bit of some classic Metallica songs, while the chorus is speedy and fun, and “Old Habits Die Hard”, a more melodic but very speedy track, where Martin uses some of his harsh vocals throughout, and does a great job, as always. Both songs are straight-forward, and pure fun, just like pretty much every song on the album. The lone ballad of the album is “Judgement Day”, which has some beautiful, melodic guitar work, calm verses where Martin uses some of his softest vocals ever and sounds great, and another powerful, epic chorus. It has a great solo in the second half, but the highlight comes a bit before that, with a more intense, yet still melodic section, with some of the best vocals on the album, along with the line “recreate a world without hate, and bring me back to 1998”, which cracks me up every time I hear it.

Moving into the final sequence of the album, “To Hell and Back” is another frantic, hard-hitting track, with some very heavy and intense verses, as well as one of the more traditional power metal choruses on the album. It’s yet another very energetic, highly addictive track, of the sort the band excels at in this stage of their career. My favorite of the final four tracks is “One More Bullet”, a slower, heavier metal based track, with heavy verses, and an intense, but very melodic and catchy chorus, with more nonsensical, but fun lyrics and the guitar solo near the end is really cool, as well. The track has a classic heavy metal feel to it, in an awesome way and is one of the catchiest and most addictive tracks on the album. The last full speedy track on the album is “The Devil’s Path”, another thrashy power metal track, with a great mix between clean and semi-harsh vocals, as well as more excellent thrashy riffs, and a fun chorus. The track sounds pretty similar to “Tornado of Sickness” from the previous album but still manages to be great in its own way. Closing out the album is “Out of Nowhere”, another classic heavy metal sounding track, with more laid back, but enjoyable verses, and an upbeat, very fun chorus, with some excellent vocal melodies. It speeds up towards the end and gets very epic during the final run through its chorus, before closing out softly and ending the album on a high note.

Iron Fire is one of those bands that will probably never get the attention they deserve, but they manage to consistently put out great, hard-hitting power metal albums at least once every few years, and Beyond the Void is no exception. It largely builds on the more modernized, somewhat thrashy sound they started on Among the Dead and offers up the kind of heavy, energetic and highly addictive power metal the band specializes in, while also mixing in a bit of classic heavy metal on some tracks. Fans of the band’s previous album should love this, while fans who prefer their earlier albums may again be disappointed, but anyone unfamiliar band and looking for some hard hitting, fun heavy/power metal with a slightly modern twist, should definitely give this one a shot, as it’s definitely one of Iron Fire’s finest works to date!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/10/iron-fire-beyond-the-void-review/

TÝR Hel

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Some bands are able to consistently deliver excellent albums every time they enter the studio, striking a perfect balance between being familiar enough to keep fans happy, while also adding in new elements and changing just enough to keep things fresh each time. One such band is Faroese power/folk metal band Týr, who are set to release their first album in about five and a half years. I was introduced to them on their fifth full-length album, By the Light of the Northern Star, which served as somewhat of a transitional release for the band, moving away from the progressive folk sound of their early releases and into more of a power/folk direction, with some fairly minor prog elements. The album instantly left me impressed, while the two follow up releases The Lay of Thrym and Valkyrja were both equally amazing, and so the band seemed to be on an unstoppable run. They’ve taken a long time to produce a follow up to Valkyrja, and have gone through some lineup changes, including the departure of longtime second guitarist Terji Skibenæs, who has been replaced by Attila Vörös, but their eighth full-length release, Hel, is finally ready to be unleashed, and unsurprisingly, it’s another fantastic release, with a perfect mix of old and new.

For the most part, Hel continues along the path of its three most recent predecessors, with the speedy power metal elements remaining a major focus, while the folk elements are largely found in the guitar melodies, and the prog elements are still there, but not as prominent as on their first four albums. However, this release is at times a bit more epic and adventurous than the band’s three previous releases, with a couple of lengthier tracks, as well as an increase in instrumental sections, some of which are on the more folk-infused side, while many tracks have a lot of tempo changes and other surprises, so it’s certainly a diverse and complex album, with a lot going on. Performances are strong across the board, with the guitar work being as melodic and epic as ever, while new drummer Tadeusz Rieckmann fits in perfectly, and of course vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Heri Joensen is the start of the show, as always, being in top form with all of his duties.

Týr has always been great at writing consistently excellent songs, while still having enough variety to keep things fresh from track to track, and so it’s absolutely no surprise that Hel proves to be yet another highly varied album, with no less than amazing tracks. It starts off with the incredible opening track, “Gates of Hel”, which starts off with some nice acoustic folk guitar work, before the rest of the band kicks in and the music becomes heavier. The opening verse provides the first surprise of the album, with some pretty epic death growls, which have a slight folk feel to them, and then Heri switches to his ever smooth, yet epic clean vocals for a speedy, very fun and melodic chorus, which proves to be one of the best on the album. The track is mostly fast-paced, though it does have some slower sections during the verses, and while the vocal sections are the highlight, especially the chorus, the instrumental work is top notch as well, with the solo section in the middle being very melodic and well done. It’s easily my favorite track on the album, though that’s not to say things go downhill afterward.

Next is the more simple, but very fun “All Heroes Fall”, a more typical speedy power metal track, which would have fit perfectly on any of the previous three albums. It alternates between slow and speedy passages during the verses, before going full throttle during an epic chorus, and it has some nice melodic guitar work throughout, including a great guitar solo in the middle. It’s a fairly simple, yet very fun track, overall. Next is “Ragnars kvæði”, one of two songs sung in the band’s native Faroese tongue. Along with the closing track “Álvur longer”, it’s said to be based off of a traditional Faroese folk ballad, and that’s certainly easy to believe, as it’s a very beautiful, very melodic track, with some epic folk melodies and tribal drums during the verses, as well as an absolutely fantastic chorus, where Heri delivers some of his softest vocals. The band clearly put in their own flourishes to spice up the track, with an epic and absolutely incredible speedy passage in the second half being the main highlight, and it’s another stunner of a track, overall. Despite having a strange looking name, “Garmr” is sung fully in English, and is a speedier track, with more epic melodies, and a very fun chorus. It’s another track that would fall perfectly in line the past three albums, moving along nicely during the verses, before fully speeding up and become very epic during the chorus.

One of the early release singles is “Sunset Shore”, a nice ballad, which has had very light and melodic guitar work throughout, as well as some epic, powerful vocals from Heri during the chorus. It’s a calm, beautiful track, with some excellent melodies, and it has a strong folk feel throughout, so it definitely feels more in line with the band’s earlier work, while still being epic and fun in its own way. It has a very cool heavy section near the end, which leads to an excellent, but brief, solo, and a great final run through the chorus. Speeding things up again is “Downhill Drunk”, another fairly straight-forward song, which moves along at more of a gallop during its verses, with some pretty heavy guitar work, before opening up with some great melodies and more speedy tempos during its fun, very catchy chorus. One of the more complex and more eventful tracks on the album is “Empires of the North”, which has many tempo changes throughout, and it manages to pack a lot of memorable moments into just over five minutes. It has some mid-paced passages, a slow, but the epic chorus, some very speedy passages, with a strong folk feel to the guitar work, and it has an absolutely beautiful, and fairly lengthy guitar solo in the middle. It’s definitely one of the more progressive tracks on the album, and it manages to be consistently exciting throughout.

Moving into the second half, “Far From the Worries of the World” is pure fun, very upbeat track, as its name would imply. It moves at a slightly slower pace during its verses, with strong folk melodies, before speeding up with a very fun, epic chorus, which certainly lives up to its name by being incredibly happy and serving as a great escape from any frustrations the world may bring. It’s a fun track, overall, with an epic, long instrumental section in the second half, and it’s definitely one of my favorites here. Next is “King of Time”, a rather slow building track, which starts off soft, with some very folk-infused guitar work early on. It stays slow for a while, with some epic melodies, before speeding up and delivering an incredibly epic, melodic and super catchy chorus around two minutes in, and from there it remains a fun, highly engaging track, with some excellent guitar work. Of course, the first single released from the album is “Fire and Flame”, a highly energetic, fast-paced track, with slow, heavy verses, and a very fun, catchy chorus, It’s another track that would have in great on any of the previous three albums, though it has an epic guitar solo in the middle, with an equal amount influence from folk and classic heavy metal. It’s a very fun track, overall, so it serves as a great single.

Nearing the end of the album, “Against the Gods”, is another track that starts off a bit slowly, with a more subdued opening verse, with some powerful vocals, as well as a very melodic and epic chorus, before speeding up during the second verse, and not letting up from that point on. It proves to be a hard-hitting, intense and very energetic track once it gets going, with one of the best choruses on the album, as well as some excellent drum beats. Another one of my favorites is “Songs of War”, which starts off with really epic neoclassical shredding, which leads into a fast-paced, slightly folk-infused opening verse, and then into a slower, even more, folk-infused chorus.

It’s another track which alternates nicely between slow and speedy passages, with an equal amount of power metal folk, and it has more great melodies and guitar work, though those shredding parts are easily the highlights, with the solo section being particularly amazing. Closing out the album is “Álvur kongur”, the second of two tracks sung in Faroese. Its origins as a folk ballad are much less obvious compared to “Ragnars kvæði”, despite some nice acoustic work early on, and a soft opening section, as it speeds up considerably once it gets going, and actually stays fast paced for most of its duration. I’ve never heard the original, but suffice to say, the band obviously must have changed it a lot, as it’s a fun, upbeat track, with a very epic, catchy chorus, though it still has a very distinct Faroese folk feel to it, and it does have some softer passages, here and there. It’s a very epic track, overall, with some amazing guitar work, and it’s certainly a great way to close out the album!

Týr is one of those bands that just always seems to deliver, and they’re currently on a long winning streak, with Hel being equally as impressive as any of the band’s previous releases, largely sticking to the more power metal focused sound that began on By the Light of the Northern Star, while still retaining a ton of the bands traditional Faroese folk elements, as well as having some more progressive arrangements and more extensive instrumental sections compared to their past three albums. This has resulted in an epic, highly diverse album, which is sure to please longtime fans of the band, while anyone looking for some great power/folk metal, is also highly recommended to give the album a listen, as the band’s ever-distinctive sound is on full display here, and works just effectively as ever. It may have taken a long time to come out than previous releases, but it was certainly worth the wait!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/03/tyr-hel-review/

SEVENTH WONDER Tiara

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It has been eight years since the last album from Seventh Wonder, but they are finally back with their fifth studio album with just one line-up change from ‘The Great Escape’. I am not really sure why it has taken so long for them to release this, but I presume the blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of singer Tommy Karevik who also joined Kamelot with whom he has released three albums. But they are back, and in many ways it is almost as if they have never been away. This is very polished melodic rock with symphonic overtones and great vocals (yes, I know they are often classed as prog metal, but while this is a great album, prog metal it isn’t).

Tommy Karevik is recognised as being one of the best frontmen around, and here he is being given the perfect playground. Given that bass player Andreas Blomqvist, guitarist Johan Liefvendahl and drummer keyboard player Andreas “Kyrt” Söderin have all been in the band since 2000 it should be no surprise they lock in well, while drummer Stefan Norgren (ex: Lion´s Share) drives the music along with a much more powerful and dynamic approach to many in this field. This is melodic and powerful, and far heavier than would often be expected from bands on the Frontiers label. Let’s hope it isn’t quite so long until the next one.

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