Metal Music Reviews

HELLOWEEN Walls of Jericho

Album · 1985 · Speed Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 66 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Tucked in amongst the diversifying sounds that were emerging in the 80s, the metal world found one German band in particular finding a way to carve out a new niche now called power metal by taking the melodic influences of bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and marrying them with a ferocity emerging in the fledgling thrash metal movement as was gestating by the likes of Metallica and Slayer. HELLOWEEN, while most notable for their “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” power combo which pretty much raised the bar high from the very beginning actually had dabbled in the more raw and primeval world of speed metal on their debut album WALLS OF JERICHO. Released in 1985, HELLOWEEN was a new breed of band that was quickly taking the traditional sounds heard in the NWOBHM, emphasizing the melodies, deemphasizing the punk influences and adding more aggressiveness, virtuosity in guitar solos as well as the speed, which have earned this particular transition period as being tagged speed metal.

WALLS OF JERICHO, released in October 1985, can be seen as a mere extension of their debut eponymous EP which was released in April 1985 and were only separated for limitations of time length on vinyl LP records at the time. The album has two significant track listings. The original vinyl contained a mere nine tracks beginning with the title track but as soon as CD technology became common place the album was reformatted in 1987 to include the eponymous EP to provide the first five tracks as well as the bonus track titled “Judas” which very much takes a cue from the great “Judas Priest” not in style and compositional methodology but equally shows how the band had diverged from the sound as much as it shows the similarities at this point. So intertwined are the combo effect of the debut EP with the debut LP that most newer releases don’t even bother to distinguish how the tracks were really separate releases in the beginning.

HELLOWEEN was a different band at this point. Before Michael Kiske would join the band as the vibrant poster child vocalist for the entire power metal scene that the band launched with their “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” fantasy albums, vocals were performed by Kai Hansen who offered a more gritty raw 80s metal sound to the band. His style was very similar to Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson without the distinguished operatic perfections. Like many an 80s metal band, lyrics were based in fantasy, morbidity and just plain fun as well (“Gorgar” is about a pinball game whereas “Heavy Metal (Is The Law)” provided a mindless anthem for fans to sing along about how great it was to bang their heads to metal music! How innocent were those days! Musically WALLS OF JERICHO shows a great deal of derivative tracks such as “Phantoms Of Death” which shows a “2 Minutes 2 Midnight” Iron Maiden type of riffing at first only to become a Judas Priest type of track reminding me a bit “The Sentinel.” Many other tracks are clearly linked to the NWOBHM heroes of the days but tracks like “Guardian” already show a clear deviation from the pack with pure power metal attributes and a prognosticator of exactly where the band was steering their sound.

The debut album by HELLOWEEN is hardly a perfect one for it does have a rather inconsistent selection of tracks that sometimes ring too close to their influences and sometimes surprise as to how far the band had already developed their sound at this point. From the production side of things, WALLS OF JERICHO is much less polished than the albums that immediately followed. This one is a filthy raw metal affair, one that serves it well for a debut as it gave HELLOWEEN the proper street creds to build their sound upon. When push comes to shove, i have to admit that WALLS OF JERICHO is hardly the most sophisticated album of the era dwarfed by the greats of the day as well as by the band's own following masterpieces but there is truly something special about WALLS OF JERICHO. It has an energy and feel unlike anything else of the era. True that bands like Omen were in the same camp, but no one else pulled it off quite like HELLOWEEN. When it comes down to it this is simply an enjoyable album to listen to even if one can intellectually find flaws in the analysis, at least it is quite the enjoyable album for me.

DECAPITATED Anticult

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
The demise and resurrection of Decapitated is well documented in the realms of death metal with the tragic death of guitarist Waclaw "Vogg" Kieltyka’s brother Witold "Vitek" Kieltyka, drummer extraordinaire in a bus crash in 2007. Then vocalist Adrian "Covan" Kowanek has still not made a full recovery from his injuries. The previous year the band had released perhaps their best album Organic Hallucinosis, the only one to feature the vocals of Covan. Forward to 2011 and Vogg returned with a new line-up and Carnival Is Forever, an album marking a considerable change in the band’s sound that wasn’t well received by some fans.

Not surprisingly Anticult is clearly in the tradition of the last two albums but with added groove. I’ve heard a lot of talk lately that Decapitated have abandoned death metal and turned into a groove metal band. Well this clearly isn’t the case – sure, this has more groove than Blood Mantra, in fact more than any album they’ve released but go back and take a listen to Organic Hallucinosis or The Negation and you’ll find groove. Though the balance has been tipped Decapitated are still making technical death metal. The sound of Anticult is huge – very percussive and I don’t just mean Mlody’s driving drum patterns but also new boy Hubert Więcek’s bass and Vogg’s razor sharp riffs. Rafał Piotrowski’s vocals echo this with his aggressive staccato delivery. The album of course was going to live or die by Vogg’s guitar playing and he delivers on all fronts with jaw dropping riffs, licks and some incendiary soloing. Earth Scar is my pick of the bunch and as good an example as any as to define Decapitated’s current sound with driving double kicks behind precision riffing and a brutal ending with the snare mirroring the riff to perfection rounding it off.

If you still mourn for the old style Decapitated then forget it – this is a different band and they clearly aren’t planning on making any U-turns. Out the last three, including this, I’d say I’d still rate Blood Mantra as my favourite, an album I gave four stars to, but in all honesty I couldn’t award Anticult any less.

SUMMONING Lugburz

Album · 1995 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.36 | 8 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
After the explosion of the second wave of black metal in the 90s, it seemed that everyone was getting in on the act. What started as an aggressive noisy means of expressing disdain for Christianity and espousing hatred in the world turned into a free for all by the mid-90s with ever growing diversification in lyrical content creeping more towards fantasy than fury. SUMMONING was not a Scandinavian act but rather emerged from the icy Alpine terrain of Austria, well Vienna on the edge of the Alps to be more specific, but the point is that black metal had pretty much made its mark on the entire continent of Europe if not the entire world quite yet. SUMMONING like many other bands adopted the Mayhem turned Darkthrone approach of musical expression in order to disguise their true intentions as many a 90s black metal band did in order to launch their own creative outlets into new musical arenas. SUMMONING like many a metal band that began as a “pure” and “unadulterated” black metal band would evolve their sound fairly quickly and usurp unconquered territory in the musical spectrum. LUGBURZ is the debut album by SUMMONING and in all reality is the only “true” black metal album from the band before they would take black metal elements and unapologetically mix them with atmospheric soundtrack symphonies that would allow them to break into the music world on their own terms.

SUMMONING was created by Silenius, Protector (Protector Of All Endless Sleeps formally at Satanic dinner parties) and Trifixion (Of The Horned King) in 1993 and released a few demos that led up to LUGBURZ which is Black Speech (a fictional language created by J.R.R. Tolkien) that really means Barad-dûr which is the Dark Tower on Middle-earth in the Lord Of The Rings novels. The title and subject matter of Tolkien’s fictitious universe began right at the very start and the mood is set right away on the very first medieval folk inspired intro “Grey Heavens” which right off the bat tells the listener that they are in for a melodic ride through the darkened lands, perhaps the only thread of sanity when it seems eminent that the ring of power will utterly usurp control of Middle-earth and all living beings will be enslaved into the clutches of Sauron. As the first “real” track “Beyond Bloodred Horizons” commences with a lo-fi aesthetic that utilizes the expected 90s kvlt sensibilities that incorporate buzzsaw frenetic guitar riffs, liquid bass lines that merge into the guitars and the schizophrenic screams that are sure to raise the dead just in time to suffocate the Orks in full glory. Also unique to this debut album is the use of a real drummer. Trifixion is the only carbon-based lifeform to perform percussion on any SUMMONING album as he would be replaced by a drum machine starting with the followup “Minas Morgul.” Careful listeners will note that this guy provides a unique stamp on this album as well. This isn’t a blastbeat saturated album at all but rather one that carefully crafts its percussive magic in mysterious ways that at many moments offers a nonchalant methodology of keeping rhythm but adds fills and breaks when needed. Of course this is a black metal album and blastbeats are present.

Far from being a generic clone of the initial divaricators of early extreme metal especially of the black metal branch of perpetual expansion, after delving deeper into the compositional sounds that make up LUGBURZ it’s quite easy to differentiate their musical direction to the point where in hindsight to recognize LUGBURZ as a prognosticator of their future sound albeit nobody could have foreseen exactly how far they could have taken it. For me the main difference between SUMMONING and contemporary acts of the day is their use of the folklore musical scales and Tolkien subject matter as well as the sublime use of keyboards to add a more subdued element of melody at this point. True that the guitar, inaudible bass, psychotic vocals and hyperactive drums are firmly placed into the realms of the black metal world however the keyboards create a subdued pacifying effect that don’t dominate at the forefront as was heard in bands like Emperor or Dimmu Borgir. SUMMONING was doing their own thing from the get go. While frantic in overall nature LUGBURZ has moments of tender reflection as with the unexpected piano transition in the middle of “Flight Of The Nazgul” and the dominating keyboard effects that steer the beastly effects of “Dragons Of Time.”

Personally i believe that LUGBURZ is a woefully underrated album in the magnificent discography of SUMMONING. I can actually understand the psychological dichotomy and reactions of the diverse black metal universe in regards to this debut release. First of all i can see that the fans of the later albums tend to be more attracted to those epic video game soundtrack themes that recur in a hypnotic thematic unfolding while the black metal elements dance somewhat in the background which is really a form of black metal “light.” And on the other hand the hardcore kvlter-than-thou types will want to punish SUMMONING for “selling-out” by using a drum machine and creating what they deem “un-kvlt-music.” Personally i am not as judgmental and appreciate both aspects of the band. While SUMMONING would truly continue the lesser emphasized aspects on LUGBURZ and find a pot of gold where no pot had sprouted before, i am truly enthralled by the mesmerizing beauty of LUGBURZ as it’s not the mere generic clone of an album that it’s made out to be.

Just an interesting piece of trivia. Some of the guitar riffs actually sound like video game melodies especially from the 8-bit era (think Super Mario Bros). This subtle effect was not only given steroids for the hypnotic effects of future SUMMONING albums but also inspired fans such as Xexyz whose debut album “Primeval Mountain” album cover not only replicated the black mountain seen on the cover of LUGBURZ but also utilized the same overall franticness in both vocals and musical delivery that only he (Xexyz is essentially the one-man band of Rev) recreated to recreate a version of this album and used chiptune video game sound effects in lieu of the keyboards which i my opinion works quite well. Whether LUGBURZ becomes your favorite SUMMONING album or not (not necessarily mine), it certainly should not be missed as it is an essential piece in the birth of the SUMMONING experience but beyond that i actually LOOOOOVE this album a lot! It is the SUMMONING experience at its most primeval black metal roots and although i truly adore the soundtrack experiences of SUMMONING that follow, i’m very grateful for this album as it is utterly unique in the SUMMONING canon and for that matter the entire black metal world experience.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 268 - Sonar Rainbow

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 268 - Sonar Rainbow / 25th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 4 tracks / Clocks in at 29minutes 35seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead.

“Sonar Rainbow” (11:27) the longest track begins with an ambient flow and echoey clean guitar which insinuates a possible non-rock type of album but lo and behold a guitar jumps in and then like lemmings so does the bass and drum section. It continues to jam on building up a melody but slightly before the three minute mark slows down back to the echoey guitar type of intro but only for a while as a guitar solo erupts for a while. As it continues it becomes a repetitive sequence of guitar chords with a bluesy guitar solo around it. The production is pretty cool as the guitar sounds are processed in interesting ways that give a crisp unusual type of distortion to them, however the music is just like a gazillion other PIKEs that have this same jamming around a repetitive chord sequence. Personally i find it a bit boring

“The Maddening Of Mercury” (6:56) begins with a heavily distorted guitar riff that is downtrend and sounds rather monstrous with a few little squeals stuck in and then a guitar solo sputters all around it. The riff becomes a bit more chaotic. This one has a really cool hellish sound as it’s all murky and highly cacophonous. When a guitar solo erupts again the riffs take a break but they come back soon enough. I like this one a lot. It has a rather loose compositional style with all kinds of different counterpoints that aren’t predictable unlike the previous track. The bouncy distorted riffs have some jittery time signatures that seem a bit erratic as well. Half way through it changes it up and creates a more frenetic riff meets solo sequence. Lots of changes and dipping into strange surreal segments. Nice.

“Debris” (2:37) is a jittery little number that hops, skips and jumps around like a decapitated chicken but then settles into a steady beat and rhythm with crunchy guitars but also deviates into little dissonant segments that last a while before moving on. There is a dissonant relationship between the riffs and the lead guitar. Also very progressive in its time signature run. Another cool track.

“Venomous Fog” (8:35) starts out ambient like the first track but then jumps into a heavy guitar riff. After it properly introduces itself it quiets down for a few seconds. This one sounds much like the beginning track with a repetitive sequence of chords that allow the lead guitar to wank over although they appear less often at first and let the riffs simply do their rhythmic thang. It basically alternates between the heavier passages and then quiets things down for a while. The melodic development remains constant for the entire track. Another been there, done that a million times before type track. Not bad but fairly meh.

The first and last tracks are meh but i love the second two enough to give this three stars.

KING CRIMSON USA

Live album · 1975 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.60 | 6 ratings
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FMOTP
I'm a little surprised at the lack of reviews/ratings for King Crimson's USA. I once read a statement by Maynard James Keenan calling King Crimson the biggest musical influence on Tool. By the time USA was released, centering on tracks from the 3 previous albums, metal was clearly a large part of King Crimson's musical recipe. These are great performances of great music. My favorite tracks are the two bonus songs from the 2002 reissue; it's the version to get. I haven't heard THE NIGHT WATCH or THE GREAT DECEIVER compilations for comparison, but I think the sound quality of USA is perfectly acceptable. The only consideration that reduces my rating of USA, for the MMA website, is its place on the "metal" scale.

NECROT Blood Offerings

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Although they’ve been kicking around for quite a few years now, releasing three demos that were eventually brought together for the compilation album The Labrinth, Blood Offerings is in reality Necrot’s first studio album.

Necrot play old school death metal. Now these days if you’re going to release an old school death metal album it had better be good if you want any hope of being anything other than an also ran as it’s already been done to death (no pun intended) numerous times before. Fortunately Necrot haven’t wasted the last six years and released an excellent album of solid as a rock no frills death metal. Bolt Thrower immediately come to mind with their thick chunky riffs, not over-playing the speed card but most important of all memorable riffs that stay firmly in your head. Sure these guys can play fast when required but they’re smart enough to realise that an album of relentless blast beats can become a bit dull so they change the time/tempo regularly, even slowing it down to almost, but not quite, a doom pace occasionally. The old school vibe is helped by the organic production with a drum sound that sounds powerful and real. The Blade kicks things off and by death metal standards the pace is measured but packing plenty of punch with rolling kick drums and some killer hooks. It proves to be an album highlight but it’s far from downhill from here as most of the album is similarly compelling as perfectly demonstrated on Rather Be Dead which immediately follows. And so it goes – I keep expecting the quality to dip but pleasingly it doesn’t, well not to any great extent anyway, with only Beneath not hitting the spot fully. The standard of musicianship is excellent including some strong guitar solos and great drumming. The vocals are standard death fayre but well done nevertheless.

Overall then, a great start with hopefully even better to come in the future and it impressed me enough to order a vinyl copy – what better recommendation can I give. Check them out if you’re after some old school death metal that still manages to sound fresh and vibrant, you won’t be disappointed.

MOTÖRHEAD Inferno

Album · 2004 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.14 | 20 ratings
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Warthur
Everyone remembers Whorehouse Blues from this one because it's Motorhead's left turn into rootsy blues. The studio version here is OK, though if you were lucky enough to catch them performing it live it doesn't measure up to that. (There's some production treatment on Lemmy's voice to make it sound a bit more like an old-timey recording which feels a bit heavy-handed.) Preceding this interesting experiment is a set of fairly standard Motorhead songs which largely hold up, though the very clean mid-2000s production values makes them feel a bit sanitised compared to their rough and ready early years. Still, if you want proof that Motorhead could simultaneously still surprise you and still deliver exactly what you want out of a Motorhead album this later in their career, Inferno offers it.

FATES WARNING Disconnected

Album · 2000 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 38 ratings
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Warthur
As with A Pleasant Shade of Gray, Disconnected had Fates Warning working as a core creative trio of Alder, Matheos and Zonder, with Joey Vera and Kevin Moore working on a guest musician basis. Whilst some prefer the preceding album, I admit that I quite like this release.

On the surface, it comes across as one of those millennial "Oooh, the Internet is scary, will it truly offer us a closer connection to each other or will it all leave us more disconnected and isolated?" concepts that proliferated back in that slice of time after the Internet had become ubiquitous but before Facebook and other social media platforms had definitively answered the question. ("Yes, the Internet will connect you to other people and their innermost thoughts and feelings. You will quickly get sick of them.")

The genius of the album is that rather than approaching the subject like they have an axe to grind, or limiting themselves to that narrow concept, Fates Warning instead take it as a jumping-off point to explore all sorts of different types of interpersonal connection and disconnection, being wise enough to realise that actually, interpersonal connection tends to pan out differently for different people. Some songs, such as One, outright celebrate the emotional bonds between people - others note how they can be mentally draining and sometimes you *need* your alone time to recharge your batteries, whilst others are sung from the point of views struggling to reach out.

It's kind of like its Rorscharch blot of a cover. Some might see it as capturing two people seeking intimacy but being blocked from it by the very devices they have chosen to apply to themselves (or have been forced to by circumstance); I see it as a happy scene of two gasmask fetishists finding each other in a world where it's never been easier to find someone who shares your kinks.

Musically, we're dealing with a nicely matured version of the 1990s Fates Warning sound, the band entering the new millennium with the confidence to simply sound like themselves and not worrying about then-current trends in metal. (Then again, given the rise of nu-metal between Pleasant Shade and this, deciding not to go down that route may have been a no-brainer - I've got nothing against nu-metal, but I can think of few styles less compatible with Fates Warning's approach). The combination of all these features makes Disconnected, for me, the best Fates Warning album since No Exit.

VATTNET Settler

Album · 2015 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 4 ratings
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Warthur
The artwork for Settler by Vattnet Viskar (who'd drop the "Viskar" after this release) seems unusually bright and sunny for a black metal album, which prompted raised eyebrows at its release, but don't be fooled - we're not quite out of the howling darkness yet. See, the cover art depicts Christa McAuliffe, one of the astronauts who died in the Challenger disaster, on a zero-G training flight, so if you want gory, firey death, there's an implication of it right there.

But as others have noted, the album isn't solely about that. Following the trend in American atmospheric black metal bands to broaden the emotional palette of black metal-inspired music, Vattnet Viskar use the disaster to contemplate themes of exploration, competition, and the sacrifices people make for both. As you might expect, some Deafheaven-esque blackgaze influences make it in here and there, and the spaceflight theme prompts the band to seek to not only inspire terror but also convey an awe of the cosmos.

It's all well and good, and not as far from black metal tradition as purists might make out - cosmic and space themes have crept into black metal frequently over the years, and Darkspace have made a career out of just that - but the fact that the album isn't the major sonic departure from precedent that purists were afraid it would be is, in and of itself, a bit of a disappointment. Yes, there's sludge and blackgaze influences creeping in here and there, but all too often it slips back to a more generic atmospheric black metal sound, which when you consider the more audacious space trips groups like Darkspace and Progenie Terrestre Pura have each offered in their own distinct way feels like a missed opportunity.

It's still a very solid four-star album, but I feel like Vattnet have yet to truly break free from the atmospheric black metal pack. You only need to listen to one album from those other bands I've mentioned to get a really firm idea of what their sound is; I'm still not sure I know what the Vattnet sound is.

SAILLE Gnosis

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 5 ratings
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Warthur
Melodic black metal ruminating on the musicians' personal occult interests is hardly new - Dissection were all about that, after all - but on Saille's Gnosis they offer a solid and enjoyable example of the form. Guest performer Dries Gaerdelen's keyboards and other features add some tasteful symphonic touches, but these are neither bombastically prominent enough to drag the album into symphonic black metal territory or clumsily heavy-handed enough to overwhelm what the rest of the band is doing.

With the sort of tributes to Biblical fallen angels, Norse gods, H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley that have littered innumerable metal albums over the years, you'd think that this would have entered the realm of utter cliche, but whilst there's nothing lyrically new under the sun here, musically there's plenty for melodic black metal fans to sink their teeth into.

RUNNING WILD Death or Glory

Album · 1989 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 36 ratings
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Warthur
By this fifth studio album, Running Wild had left their rough around the edges early speed metal releases in their wake, and had successfully claimed the uncharted power metal realm of Pirate Metal Island for their very own. Having done two studio albums and one live album in this full-on pirate-happy style, it's safe to say that by this point they'd settled into this new direction for the band and committed to it wholeheartedly, and it shows here with the confident set of songs.

Running Wild's pirate schtick seems to strongly divide audiences - some people love it, some people find their take on the subject cheesy, and some landlubbers just don't like pirates; I'm in the second category, but even so I have to acknowledge that this is a rather fun early power metal album which offers an accessible point of entry into Running Wild's particular aesthetic universe.

PROGENIE TERRESTRE PURA oltreLuna

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.83 | 6 ratings
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Warthur
Progenie Terrestre Pura are probably secretly aliens. Sure, they claim to come from Italy, but they give the game away with this album. See, Earth people typically wouldn't consider psybient and other electronic/ambient genres to be a natural fit with black metal - even in the world of atmospheric black metal, which has been known to dabble in the synthesiser from time to time - and they certainly would have picked up on the fact that if every member of your band has a role in working the synthesisers and/or drum machines your metal credentials are going to be questioned by purists.

And yet here they come with this bizarre industrial-black-ambient head trip to the outer reaches of the galaxy, taking the listener through a calvacade of different moods ranging well beyond the usual cold misanthropy of black metal, and they expect us to believe they're just ordinary human beings like the rest of us? Come off it, Progenie Terrestre Pura: just 'fess up and give us the secrets to faster than light travel so we can go visit your home planet and learn where you learned to play like this.

OBITUARY The End Complete

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 17 ratings
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Warthur
Having hit their brutal stride on Cause of Death, Obituary took a "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" approach to The End Complete, offering up nine more morbid meditations on the lapse into oblivion and putrescence that awaits us all. At 36 minutes it certainly can't be accused of outlasting its welcome, and to be honest this was probably a smart move - otherwise the lack of significant musical development over Cause of Death might have become an issue. As it stands, to a certain extent The End Complete boils down to "Cause of Death, only with Allen West back in the guitar position", and on balance that's all it really needed to be.

NASUM Human 2.0

Album · 2000 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.66 | 8 ratings
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Warthur
Grindcore often goes with a lo-fi aesthetic that leads some to conclude that it's just a morass of unpolished noise. Any grindcore fan probably has a portfolio of albums they could play you to try and dispel that impression, but one of the best for this purpose might be Nasum's Human 2.0. Nasum smash the notion that grindcore necessarily implies poor production values by presenting a very clean sound, in which the technicality of their compositions can be teased out - particularly on the longer songs - whilst not compromising an inch when it comes to that good old screaming, bellowing grindcore rage.

SAVATAGE Fight For The Rock

Album · 1986 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 2.58 | 18 ratings
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martindavey87
Aw no... What happened here?!

Savatage were doing so well after the release of 'Power of the Night', an album that gave them real credibility in the metal community, so how do they follow it up? With a hard rock album!

Granted, there were circumstances in play beyond the band's power that forced 'Fight for the Rock' into being, and in all fairness it's not as terrible as it's often made out to be by fans, but it certainly sticks out like a sore thumb among the groups discography. And my God, that cheesy as hell cover doesn't help matters!

Despite the AOR-inspired compositions, Criss Oliva's trademark riffing is still firmly in place, and brother Jon Oliva's vocals still soar as powerfully as before. But for the most part, the songs just don't have that same spark that previous releases did. The "metal " energy just isn't there. And while some of the songs are still fairly decent, there's just a lot of generic 80's cheese to sift through first.

Let's try to be optimistic for a moment though, and look for the positives. 'Fight for the Rock' itself is a pretty good song, and a rerecorded 'Out on the Streets' is a nice treat, though not really one anyone in particular asked for. 'The Edge of Midnight' is a solid Savatage track, if you can just tolerate its awful keyboard intro, and 'She's Only Rock and Roll' has some vintage Savatage riffing going on. But there's also some complete drivel such as 'Day After Day' and the fact that almost every song has some incredibly God-awful 80's synths going on. Can't win 'em all, I guess.

Thankfully this would remain nothing more than a small blip on Savatage's radar, as they would quickly go on to return to their original metal sound and release some of their finest music. Buy this one if you're a collector, shut up, accept it for what it is, and let's all just get on with our lives.

SAVATAGE Power Of The Night

Album · 1985 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.21 | 27 ratings
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martindavey87
Savatage's second album, and third overall release, is an improvement upon its predecessors, with every aspect of 'Power of the Night' being a step up from what the band had done before. The songwriting was more confident, the musicianship was more mature, and the production was a lot more polished, giving the album that perfect 80's metal sound (and there's nothing wrong with 80's metal dammit!).

The most obvious highlight here is the title track, which not only stands on its own merits as one of the bands better songs before they went all "classical metal", but honestly, it's one of their finer songs period. And while other tracks such as 'Warriors', 'Hard for Love' and 'Unusual' may be standard 80's metal pomp and circumstance, they're still pretty kickass anthems that indicate the talent and potential within this band.

Guitarist Criss Oliva truly shines here, showing a mastery that should have put him on par with heroes such as Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen, but whom sadly that legendary status had always eluded him. His flair for dramatic guitar playing is truly amazing to listen to, and fans of 80's metal (there's that term again), including subgenres such as power and thrash metal, will enjoy this shred masterclass.

If you're a Savatage fan (cheesily referred to as "Savafans", I believe), then 'Power of the Night' belongs in your collection. It's not the bands best work by far, but it's an early indication of the quality of music they were capable of writing, and would certainly establish them as a band worth keeping an eye on.

"Raise the first of the metal child".

SAVATAGE The Dungeons Are Calling

EP · 1984 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.16 | 14 ratings
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martindavey87
After the release of their 1983 debut, Savatage were quick to follow up with this EP, 'The Dungeons Are Calling', that consists of songs that were originally recorded for 'Sirens', but left off due to time restraints.

Overall the selection of tracks is good, but these are pretty much leftovers from the bands previous release, and that's exactly what they sound like. 'City Beneath the Surface' and the title track are standout songs that prevents this EP from being a complete waste, but the rest of the songs are pretty average, especially when compared with Savatage's later material.

As with their first record, the production could be better, but it's raw, grittiness suits the music perfectly, giving it a distinctive 80's metal sound.

'Dungeons' has since been released with 'Sirens' on one CD, "how it was meant to be", according to Savatage mastermind Jon Oliva, which is probably just as well, because as a stand-alone release, I don't think there's much worth picking up here unless you're a dedicated member of the Savatage Legion.

SIKTH The Future In Whose Eyes?

Album · 2017 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
SIKTH took the progressive metal world by surprise when they debuted their unique and demanding debut release “The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait For Something Wild” in 2003 which along with the avant-garde tendencies of Meshuggah changed the coarse of djent guitar styled extreme progressive metal in the early 21st century. This Watford, England based band emerged seemingly out of nowhere and showed the world a new way of melding the avant-garde with progressive rock and metalcore. Despite being cited as major contributors to the djent guitar sound and dizzying mathcore freneticism, SIKTH only released two albums in a four year span and then suddenly disappeared into the ethers of the underground only to let a whole slew of imitators (think of bands like Periphery) to fill the newly created vacuum. In 2015 the band dropped a little teaser of an EP called “Opacities” which showed that they were still in top form and ready to jump back into the mosh pit and fight it out with the newbies on the block. Finally in 2017 we see the long waited third release THE FUTURE IN WHOSE EYES? which emerges a full eleven years after the last full length album “Death Of A Dead Day.”

One of the main reasons for the band’s initial demise in 2007 was the fact that the duo vocal team of Mikee Goodman and Justin Hill had left the band to pursue other musical endeavors and since a great deal of SIKTH’s signature sound is utterly dependent on this one-two vocal punch, the band called it quits lest they sound like any old metalcore band with progressive leanings out there. The band rekindled their connections when Goodman returned but Hill had apparently jumped ship for good, so in with the new blood and Joe Rosser makes his debut as the second vocalist. The album also has been released in two formats. There’s the original release with 12 tracks and the Earbrook Edition that has two bonus discs, one of re-imagined tracks and another of the entire album in all instrumental form. Whaaaat?!!!! Now who wants to hear an instrumental album of SIKTH? The vocals are half the fun! I’ve forsaken this bonus pack and stuck with the originally intended program.

As the album begins with “Vivid,” it sounds like SIKTH never went away as the combination of Goodman’s socially conscious lyrically prose bursts out in schizophrenic screams with the combo effect of Dan Weller and Graham Pinney’s duo guitar onslaught of blistering core based guitar riffing. The rhythm section of James Leach on bass and Dan Foord hammering out precision percussion is fully aflame as well. SIKTH is back and means business. “Century Of The Narcissist?” only continues to ramp up the frenzy and sounds very much like SIKTH’s comfort zone as heard on previous albums only incorporates a nice mix of both screamed and clean vocals with a rather alternative metal type of riffing approach. “The Aura” displays a new style for a full album SIKTH album although was present on the EP “Opacities” as baritone poetry is read introducing yet another blistering metal assault to the senses. At this point it’s clear that SIKTH has mellowed out a bit as they have incorporated a lot more slower passages that mix and mingle with the bombastic as fuck trademark maniacal madness that they are known for.

“The Ship Has Sailed” is yet another short poetic prose with dark ambient musical accompaniment that ushers in yet another progressive metal / metalcore frantic mashup. By the time we get to “Cracks Of Light” it is apparent that the spoken poetic prose mixed with the clean progressive metal style is here to stay as the hardcore elements are deemphasized and only appear in certain proportions in the mix. While these developments were laid out on the EP “Opacities,” it is now quite apparent that the band has been working on fusing these elements into their new style which takes the balls-to-the-wall aggressiveness all the time and allows the music to expand into a more diverse arena. Depending on your reaction, you could possibly deem this as an attribute of “selling out” or simply “maturing.” Perhaps it’s a bit of both considering three singles have been released from this one, however bands need to move on and find a new relevant way to express themselves and metalcore is not exactly the easiest of metal genres to expand one’s tentacles into new arenas. SIKTH prove on THE FUTURE IN WHOSE EYES? that they can still stand ground with the best of the newer metal bands out there.

True that this one doesn’t have the same whoah factor that the first two albums did and it took me a few more spins to appreciate but once it sinks in, the results are stunning in how they have mixed and melded hitherto unthinkable aspects into their musical mania. In addition to the newer elements already mentioned, there is a very mature approach to the production standards which is quite professionally and pleasantly executed. After a skeptical start with this album, i think it has grown on me to the point i’m actually glad that SIKTH have returned. With the more dynamic effects of pacing the aggressive elements that intermittently commingle with more ambient and more subdued alternative metal approaches, SIKTH have found yet another avenue of musical delivery which is very different than their earlier albums where it was 100% adrenaline firing at full speed with more subdued respites later on. Here they maintain a flow of different energy levels that ultimately works quite well. While this album does tend to lack some kind of major high that blows me away, i can’t fault it in any way as well. It seems that it was only my unrealistic expectations that kept me from initially warming up to it. After accepting it for what it is, i’m quite enamored by the maturity of composition and musical performances.

SEVEROTH Forestpaths

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Ukrainian musician Severoth is a busy man, having released four albums in 2016, each for a different project: the band Endless Battle and their third full-length Roots of All Evil, the dungeon synth solo project Galdur and it's second album Age of Legends, the black metal solo project Морок and its second album In the Dungeons of Mind and finally the second album of self-titled and presumably flagship project Severoth, Самітність. His first and so far only album of 2017, Forestpaths, is a follow-up to this one.

In this project Severoth plays atmospheric black metal of the heavily ambient influenced kind. It's raw and cold, though not to the level of an album like Striborg's Autumnal Melancholy (2008). The ambient elements are a prominent feature and the main source of melody within the release, with the black metal guitar work severing more of a backdrop role while Severoth delivers some rather primal sounding growls over the top. I, at least, cannot follow a word of the lyrics and I think that would be true even if they weren't in Ukrainian but that's part of what makes a release such as Forestpaths work. You're not necessarily supposed to understand the words, but be entranced by the experience and as an album the six track release certainly does that, with its artwork also providing a great depiction of the kind of atmosphere the music conveys. I'd imagine taking it deep into the woods on a cold, snowy night would be the way to experience the full effect.

Like with many albums of its kind there is some blurring together of the individual tracks on Forestpaths due to there being little change in style on each track, but my experience with it is that Severoth succeeds more in this regard than others have thanks in no small part to the ambient elements, which have some wonderful melodies. Opener Мікрокосм particularly stands out in this regard, though I recommend that the album be experience as one complete journey. It's biggest change in overall style comes right at the end of the release during the second half of closing track Чумацький шлях where, the black metal now removed from the music entirely, the ambience takes on a decidedly folksy sound that lasts until Forestpath's conclusion. It's a nice section of music, but if there's a fault to be had with the album as a whole it's that Severoth made us wait that long to hear it. It would have been nice to hear more exploration of that sort of thing earlier in the album. All in all though Forestpaths is a very pleasing release from Severoth, so I have to say that this only acts as a minor niggle for me.

DROTTNAR Welterwerk

Album · 2006 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Welterwerk" is the debut full-length studio album by Norwegian extreme metal act Drottnar. The album was released through Endtime Productions in April 2006. "Welterwerk" is lyric wise upon initial listen a World War 2 concept album, but there is a bit more to it than that. There seems to be a political and social agenda to the concept as well. The World War 2 atmosphere is further enhanced by the band posing in vintage soldier uniforms in the booklet and of course as a consequence of song titles like "Victor Comrade" and "Niemand Geht Vorbei".

The music on the album is technical black metal (or maybe technical blackened death metal is more correct) and in my experience that´s not a music style many artists practice. Imagine a combination of the twisted, gloomy and industrial tinged progressive black metal of "Supervillain Outcast (2007)" by Dødheimsgard and the technical extreme metal of "Unquestionable Presence (1991)" by Atheist and you´re half way there. The playing is on a high level by all involved. Technical precision drumming, sharp and twisted riffing (lots of dissonance) and an aggressive and raspy sounding vocalist in front. The tracks are generally complex and not necessarily memorable upon initial listen. The power of the music and the technical skills of the players are features that you instantly notice though and the tracks do start becoming more recognisable the more you listen to them, so it´s not necessarily a major weakness, but maybe a question of patience and repeated listens. Sometimes the fact that music is not instantly catchy and memorable only adds to it´s longivity, and that´s certainly the case here, as "Welterwerk" is the kind of album that you can put on and find new details on every time you give it a spin.

Most tracks on the album are in the furiously fast played and aggressive technical black/death metal style that is the band´s predominant style, but the track "Victor Comrade" is quite a bit different from the rest and works both as an album divider and as a "breather" among the busy technical riffing and chaotic atmosphere of the rest of the tracks. There is a kind of World War 2 movie soundtrack atmosphere to it with samples of people talking, a trumpet playing the lead melody, sirenes sounding, and bombs falling.

The 9 track, 52:04 minutes long album is a very well produced affair. The sound is detailed, powerful, and perfectly designed for the band´s chaotic, technical, and aggressive music. So upon conclusion "Welterwerk" is a very strong debut album by Drottnar. An incredibly aggressive and technically well played release, that they can rightfully be proud of. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

CLUTCH Clutch

Album · 1995 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.99 | 10 ratings
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UMUR
"Clutch" is the self-titled 2nd full-length studio album by US hard/stoner rock act Clutch. The album was released through Eastwest Records in May 1995. Clutch started out as a hardcore band, and their debut album "Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes, and Undeniable Truths (1993)" still featured quite a few hardcore traits although it´s mostly a hard rock/stoner rock album.

The hardcore elements are now completely gone from the band´s sound, and "Clutch" is a hard rock/stoner rock album through and through. There are still some badass attitude moments on the album, that might have been born in their hardcore youth, but we´re predominantly treated to southern influenced bluesy hard rock with a psychadelic stoner rock edge. It´s quite heavy at times, but the album is overall quite dynamic with both vers/chorus structured hard rockers, and more experimental/psychadelic tinged tracks.

The material on the 13 track, 55:05 minutes long album (the Japanese version of the album feautures the bonus track "Apache") are generally of a good compositional quality, and several tracks are really strong. It´s not all tracks that are equally remarkable, and if you ask me, I think the album overstays it´s welcome by a couple of tracks, but then again if you take each track and listen to them one by one, they are all quite entertaining, so maybe it´s the overall flow of the album that doesn´t always work that well.

The musicianship are as always one of the great assets when listening to a Clutch album. Neil Fallon is an incredibly skilled vocalist with a strong voice and a passionate delivery, and his performance on this album is even a bit more varied than on later releases, because he still occasionally sings more raw vocal styles here. The rest of the band are also very well playing. A tight yet organic sounding unit. The instrumentation is guitars, bass, drums and vocals, but there are a few tracks featuring organ, courtesy of session player Richard Morel.

The album is packed in a well sounding, powerful, and organic sound production, which suits the music perfectly. So overall this sophomore album is another high quality release by Clutch and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

EXELOUME Fairytale of Perversion

Album · 2011 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Fairytale of Perversion" is the debut full-length studio album by Norwegian thrash metal act Exeloume. The album was released through ViciSolum Records in May 2011. Exeloume was formed in Trondheim in 2007 and released a couple of demos before being signed. Probably courtesy of their common past in Godsend, guitarist Tom "Welhaven" Wahl has brought in prolific Swedish musician/producer Dan Swanö to mix/master the album. Swanö also delivers guest vocals. The album features a guest guitar solo by Andy LaRoque (King Diamond) too, so Exeloume have made full use of their good connections.

Despite the Ed Repka cover artwork, which more or less screams old school thrash metal, the music on "Fairytale of Perversion" actually sounds a bit more up to date. Especially due to the professional, clear, and powerful sound production, but also because of the more technical approach to riffing and drumming, and because of the aggressive thrashy vocals. The latter mentioned features both a screaming "core" edge and an occasional semi-growling element.

The music on the 12 track, 43:56 minutes long album doesn´t exactly sound like the music of any other particular act, but it´s not terribly original or unique sounding either, it´s just a well performed, well produced, and relatively well written (the material could for the most part, have been a bit more catchy and memorable) take on contemporary thrash metal and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

POWER TRIP Nightmare Logic

Album · 2017 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.24 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Nightmare Logic" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Texas based thrash metal act Power Trip. The album was released through Southern Lord Recordings in February 2017. Power Trip was formed in 2008 and released a demo and two EPs before releasing their debut full-length studio album "Manifest Decimation" in 2013. "Nightmare Logic" features the same lineup who recorded the predecessor. Chris Whetzel (bass), Riley Gale (vocals), Nick Stewart (rhythm guitar), Blake Ibanez (lead guitar), and Chris Ulsh (drums).

Stylistically "Nightmare Logic" is the natural successor to "Manifest Decimation (2013)" as it features a similar raw and powerful thrash metal sound, but adds a bit more quality to the songwriting and also features a sound production which is of a higher quality than the production on the predecessor. The basis of the music is still hard edged thrashy riffing, screaming chromatic solos, hard pounding powerful drumming, riot gang choir vocals, and Riley Gale´s raw shouting vocals in front.

The material is obviously written to make the listener bang his/her head and to mosh in the pit, and the tracks are generally both powerful and quite catchy. It´s almost impossible to not scream along to tracks like "Executioner's Tax (Swing of the Axe)" and "Firing Squad", but the album is overall very consistent in quality and all tracks on the album are worth listening to.

Power Trip aren´t exactly the most original sounding band and artists like Exodus, Slayer, and late 80s/early 90s Sepultura are valid references. It´s not a major issue, but it´s in that department Power Trip could move up a level, and with the qualities they have, it could be possible at some point. For now "Nightmare Logic" is a high quality thrash metal release and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

JUDAS PRIEST Rocka Rolla

Album · 1974 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.56 | 77 ratings
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Judas Priest's 70's albums are usually cast in bronze as some of the earliest and most high-quality developments of heavy metal that have ever been. Not only did they expound on Black Sabbath's discordant proto-doom by evolving it into a faster, more explosive version of itself, but albums like Sad Wings of Destiny, Stained Class, and Sin After Sin all paved the way for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that would dominate the Western charts for years to come.

It's hard to deny how beloved these albums are. They're practically legendary. All except for one. One that sets itself apart from Priest's 70's repertoire in both its obscurity and its strangeness. Funnily enough, it also happens to be the band's breakout first album.

1974's Rocka Rolla is a musical enigma. This isn't to say the music is impossible to understand, because it's not. For one, the album is much more progressively slanted as prog was in sort of phase two as bands like Rush emerged in the same year in the wake of the late-60's uprising. This can be seen on best on the sprawling eight-and-a-half minute long epic 'Run of the Mill' with the Floyd-esque guitar tuning and spacey vibes permeating the first chunk of the track. At the same time however, much of Rocka Rolla is infinitely more laidback than a tightly-strung album like Sad Wings, both lyrically and musically. The swaggering, bluesy knuckle-duster-knockout 'Rocka Rolla' especially exemplifies this side, wherein a young Rob Halford channels Bon Scott's greasy punk aura to deliver one of the oddest moments in Priest history. It maligns itself with any subsequent song Priest put out, but goddamn does it rock.

Not only in this way does Rocka Rolla set itself apart from other 70's Priest albums, but it also does so with it's sheer off-the-wall musical makeup. This is really where the main criticisms of the album come into play, as with an album such as this many are quick to claim it as underfocused and maldeveloped, and in most cases I would tend to agree. I suppose though that where this branches off is honestly dependent on personal taste. I personally love the elements Priest cobbles together on the album- the softspoken and melodious humdrum of 'Caviar and Meths' (an Al Atkins tune which, due to time constraints, had to be neutered from fourteen to two minutes), the snappy, riff-laden heel-clickers like 'One For the Road' or 'Cheater', etc. This is all without yet mentioning that Rocka Rolla showcases what I believe to be one of Priest's finest moments in their entire career- 'Dying to Meet You'. This particular song is divided into two sections: the first being a low-pitched Rob Halford lamenting over dual guitars shifting from muddy and pounding to austere and subtle with satisfying drum fills by one-timer John Hinch taking up the background. The song then shifts to it's second part, a rollicking rocker similar to the title track, and is also reminiscent of 'The Ripper' from Sad Wings with an early showcase of Halford's high notes, albeit in bluesier fashion.

The talented band's earliest incarnation is mainly what the quality of this album is owed to. The aforementioned John Hinch is a fantastic drummer, with his off-kilter, almost jazz-like playing that makes even the most simple of moments on this album seem intricate. I do agree with the band's decision to dismiss Hinch though. Although I think that Glenn Tipton's words of him being "musically inadequate" might have been a bit harsh, his style was not very well suited to the band's heavier future as opposed to someone like Alan Moore. Rob Halford needs no introduction, but I will say that the lower octaves he hits were scarcely replicated in the band's future endeavors, which I find unfortunate because they are pretty good. I quite enjoy Ian Hill's pounding performance on 'Dying to Meet You' especially on the second part, and of course the dual ripcord guitar duo that is Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing are a force to be reckoned with, even with their more synthesizer-fronted sound before their evolution.

Well, this was a bit of a ramble. But in all honesty I've listened to Rocka Rolla more times than I can count and it's always remained a staple in my favorite records, even if it might not be the heaviest nor the most high-quality Judas Priest record to exist. To say I have a soft spot for it may be a gross understatement- I fuckin' love it.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 267 - Thoracic Spine Collapser

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 267 - Thoracic Spine Collapser / 24th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 8 tracks / Clocks in at 29minutes 36seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead.

“Thoracic Outlet Syndrome” (2:58) starts things off with a heavy processed riff crunch that has a quickened tempo, a rather thrash oriented chugga chug and then adds some lightning fast guitar licks to the mix. It continues with a rather detached proggy float through time signature alley but then turns into an electronica frenzy before letting a mask melting guitar solo erupts. It reverts back into industrial thrash land. Towards the end it breaks into funk rock. A lot of mileage covered in this short monster

“Thoracic Sprain” (2:59) jumps into echoey heavy distorted riffs that sort of skip like a record as well. Instantly guitar solos erupt into an energetic frenzy before it becomes more of a psychedelic space metal echo guitar show but wait! It then goes somewhere unexpected. No way! Basically this one jumps all around from slower passages to heavier ones and changing the riffs, rhythms and basically everything as it moves on. Sort of a medley of BUCKETHEADLAND. Passages can range from total cacophony to little melodic rock bits

“Nerve Compression at T4” (3:54) changes over and adds even more zest and zeal to the energetic parade through strange metal riffing. This one is more of monster stomp type of riffing but then becomes more of a heavy distorted arpeggio followed by an ever changing rotisserie of changin’ it up styles. The segments are getting shorter and generally last only 30 seconds or so. They all have a few things in common: heavy, distorted, noisy and demented. Of course there is the occasional slow burner only fleetingly so

“Nerve Compression at T5” (4:08) begins with a heavy blues riff that sounds like a more caffeinated version of Stevie Ray Vaughan but of course that doesn’t last long and soon a serious bass funk groove erupts as does frenetic guitar solos. At this point it’s impossible to predict where these roller coaster tracks will lead you but this one tends to stay within the rails of blues rock, funk rock with only occasional outbursts into alt metal and weirdo left field ventures

“Nerve Stability at T6” (3:48) begins totally different with a robotic distorted bass groove and only a little atmospheric guitar frosting while metallic noise fuzz looms in the background. Very ominous and industrial feeling with the pace of sped of doom metal but very hypnotic until it takes a sharp turn into faster blues oriented hard rock with a guitar solo. At least for a while before it begins the spiral down another adventurous coaster track. Tempos speed up and then slow down. Complete musical breakdown and then eruptions into new styles with different instrumentals changing up their roles. Heavy blues rock makes the most appearances in this one. Ends with echoey space guitars and riff finale

“Complete Shutdown of Central Nervous System” (4:09) begins with an off-kilter guitar riff that has odd time sigs and then bursts into crunchy metal riffing and then the two styles alternate. After a frenetic venture into noise rock, it changes into funk rock and then a sizzling solo bedazzles before more blues rock enters the coop.

“Thoracic Park (home of the most spine shattering roller coasters)” (2:36) actually does have sort of a soundtrack quality to it as it chugs along in a mega-metal funk type of way. The bass riff is off the charts as the guitar adds licks but ultimately takes over with a cute little thematic riff session. The metal guitar parts are down tuned and this one actually continues an overall theme and melody throughout its existence unlike some of the other aimless tracks

“Rejuvenation Chamber” (5:04) is completely different for this PIKE. This starts out with ambient electronic swirls with a subdued guitar slowly unfurling a molasses flow paced melody. BUCKETHEAD’s ambient tracks are hit and miss with more missing the mark but this one is actually pretty freakin’ good. It has a very nice melody that is carried out by the interaction of the guitar riff but augmented by the ambient synth sounds. It is very ethereal without bass and drums. It’s like a meditative cloud sweep through the skies and after a noisy, chaotic PIKE, quite the surprise.

Not bad. Although this style of PIKE has been done many times before. BH has been perfecting his chaotic roller coaster rides in BUCKETHEADLAND to make a more balanced feel to his preferred madness of choice. Although the genre styles and avant-garde adventusisms are in full effect, there is something more gentle about how this Frankenstein is stitched together. As the PIKE progresses it gets ever more frenetic but the final track offers a nice little musical valium pill to assure the listener that everything is all right and that it was just a musical coaster ride that is now over.

MOTÖRHEAD 1916

Album · 1991 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.58 | 29 ratings
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Warthur
Motorhead don't do bad albums, but that doesn't mean every one of their releases was a classic. 1916 is a solid album of Motorhead-style rock 'n' roll - that's what Lemmy always called their music at gigs, and in some respects the production and compositional approach on here really teases out that side of their sound - this is perhaps best audible on the triptych of I'm So Bad (Baby I Don't Care), No Voices In the Sky and Going to Brazil. That's cool if it's an aspect of the band's character you're particularly keen on, but if you can take it or leave it the album can feel a little lightweight next to monsters like Bomber or Overkill.

After this set the album begins to get bogged down; Love Me Forever is a slow ballad which mostly illustrates why people tend not to think of slow ballads when they think of Motorhead, whilst Angel City seems unusally vapid by Motorhead standards. Closing number is a serious-minded tribute to the dead of World War I, which by itself is an interesting number, but it's both very uncharacteristic of the band and doesn't really seem to fit the rest of the album, feeling incongruous as a result.

In short, the album is a bit of a mixed bag. Were it all like the rock-and-roll focused material of side 1 I'd probably give it three stars, since it's in a style I'm not keen on but which is clearly competently done, but as it stands the patchy second side drags it down another half star.

EMPYRIUM Songs of Moors & Misty Fields

Album · 1997 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.34 | 8 ratings
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Warthur
Dialling back on the symphonic elements of their debut album, leaning on the folk metal aspects more and teasing out the doom metal undercurrents of their sound, on their second album Empyrium produce what may be the finest release of their metal-oriented years. With the next album onwards, they would shift into the dark folk territory they already find themselves on the threshold of here, but this last incorporation of metal aspects into their sound is quite excellent, and sets a precedent for musical territory later explored by the likes of Agalloch. An enchanting 45 minutes and an album that truly deserved to put Empyrium on the map.

MEGADETH So Far, So Good... So What!

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 99 ratings
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Warthur
It's not that So Far, So Good... So What! is a bad album through and through - Into the Lungs of Hell, for instance, is one of the best thrash metal instrumentals out there. It's just that when it's bad, it well and truly shits the bed. The botched cover version of the Sex Pistols' Anarchy In the UK, in particular, is such a toe-curlingly cringeworthy moment that it largely ruins the first side for me - it doesn't help that Set the World Afire is a bit overlong. The second side makes up for lost ground to some extent, but overall the album is a bit of a huge mess, the product of lineup instabilities and out-of-control behaviour which meant that whilst there are some good songs on here, it simply can't hold a handle either to the two preceding albums or to the upcoming masterpiece of Rust In Peace.

BOSSE-DE-NAGE Bosse-de-Nage (III)

Album · 2012 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Bosse-de-Nage (2012) is the self-titled third full-length album by US atmospheric black metal act Bosse-de-Nage. These guys had, up to and including this album, taken the curious approach of calling every full-length they released self-titled, so this album is more commonly known as Bosse-de-Nage III or simply III to differentiate it from Bosse-de-Nage (2010) and Bosse-de-Nage (2011), the latter being also known as II. They eventually broke this trend with their next full-length, All Fours (2015).

On III Bosse-de-Nage play the post-black metal form of the atmospheric sub-genre, which means tons of post-rock influences in both the heavy and softer sections of music, with no reliance on keyboards to create an ambience. For the most part the band's style is tastefully crafted and intriguing, very occasionally even hinting at an underlying progressive influence, though there are equally a couple of moments during the album's six tracks where it does seem as if their ideas could have used a little trimming down in order to become more coherent compositions, the tracks being mid to long length. The longest is The God Ennui and I'd say that this is especially evident there. But overall the band's music is very pleasant, with the exception of the intentional use of feedback to begin and close the release. That's pretty uncomfortable. Bosse-de-Nage aren't the only band of their kind I've heard make use of feedback and I struggle to understand what the deal with it is. Fortunately they limit it to the start and finish only.

What further characterises III as a record is its vocals. Primarily growled with some spoken words used in some places, the style used by frontman B. pushes Bosse-de-Nage's style away from the soothing post-black metal journey of the instrumentation and into the zone of depressive black metal. There's no better way to describe how his growls sound than to say that it seems as if he's upset about something all the time. This is even to the point that there are some instances in the album where it sounds like he's quite literally bawling his eyes out about something in growling form. I'm not sure what that could be but he sounds so fucking distraught about it that it actually makes those parts of the album difficult to listen to. It's like one of those really awkward moments when you're out in public and someone, usually a kid not getting their way, is making a scene. I find it highly doubtful that this is the image Bosse-de-Nage were intending to conjure up, but that's my impression of what these parts sound like.

Overall though, there's much more to praise here than not and maybe some listeners will find the vocal style appealing, though for my part I do think it detracts a bit from my total enjoyment of the album, which I have to describe as a difficult listen. That's not an uncommon occurrence with depressive black metal release of course, it's often part of the point. III is however such an album that hasn't yet managed to reward me for sticking with it as much as I'd like, though it's impossible not to acknowledge it as a very solid work from Bosse-de-Nage, despite a few issues.

HELSTAR Burning Star

Album · 1984 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 12 ratings
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Warthur
Helstar's debut album finds them bursting straight out of the gate with a solid selection of early 1980s-style US power metal songs. Were it not for the cheesy, rudimentary cover art of a spooky wizard on the front cover of the original Combat issue of the album, you'd be hard-pressed to guess that this was just their first album rather than the release of a seasoned, experienced band who'd mastered their craft. (The wizard artwork was replaced by the far superior spaceship illustration on most editions.)

Musically, we're talking catchy, raucous celebrations of pop culture, hedonism, and a bit of "Leather and Lust" - classic 1980s metal subject matter, in other words. The great thing about Helstar is that they can take that well-trod material and make it sound just as awe-inspiring and exciting as it was when you first heard someone singing about it, and even at this early stage of their career they'd already got the hang of that trick.

NEUROSIS The Word as Law

Album · 1990 · Hardcore and crust
Cover art 3.51 | 7 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
It took three years for NEUROSIS to finally release their second album THE WORD AS LAW after a few personal changes but still with the triumvirate founders of Scott Kelly (guitar, vocals) and Dave Edwardson (bass) and Jason Roeder (drums). THE WORD AS LAW is a transition album of sort that while mostly stationed in the hardcore punk world as was their debut “Pain Of Mind,” the band ramp up their experimental tendencies quite a bit. While only four musicians were present on the debut, there are five on this sophomore release. Steve Von Till replaces Chad Salter on guitar and Simon McIlroy joins the team to add keyboards, tapes and sampling effects and while the atmospheric focus is far from the bizarre world of their next album “Souls At Zero,” it is a bit more obvious of the direction the band would meander albeit with 20/20 hindsight vision. THE WORD AS LAW takes the hardcore punk approach of the debut and steers it more into experimental post-hardcore territory with an emphasis on the instruments taking separate roles in the musical process.

While the guitar continues the monstrosity of punk riffing, the bass takes on a more active role with not only supplemental support but unique grooves that create distinct counterpoints to the main guitar driven rhythms. Likewise with the drum rolls of Roeder as he takes liberties to give a more jazzed up heavy metal approach to the percussion side of things instead of lazily adhering to the traditional punk approach. The track “Tomorrow’s Reality” actually sounds more like the doomed sludge metal that the band would become famous for rather than the punk world they were quickly leaving behind. Although it has a rather punk feel in timbres, tones and tenaciousness, it has a nonchalant sludge effect in tempo and cranks up a diverse rotation of chord changes and a more quickened punk section that has a rather alternative metal approach in the bass and drums even bringing a little funk to the table.

“Common Inconsistencies” debuts their unique atmospheric style in the intro that takes feedback and effects and dips into a hardcore world of surrealism before getting cold feet and retreating back to the Fugazi style post-hardcore comfort zone. While the vocals on THE WORD AS LAW are very much in the angry shouted anarchy side of things, i can actually hear where Sikth got inspired by the short but unsweet “Insensitivity” which contains the blueprints for the frenetic vocal style that Sikth would make a career out of proving that NEUROSIS inspired in many ways even at this stage. The final track “Blisters” is perhaps the only thing close to the progressive experimental metal they would perfect in the future. This track is performed in mid tempo, has a steady flow but has some progressive time signatures although it also feels like a proto-impression of the post-metal they would have a hand in developing. Despite being somewhat unique, it is a little too jittery for what they’re grasping for.

THE WORD AS LAW has come out in two significant forms. Firstly in its LP version that contains the eight original tracks but the 1991 CD release added a whole seven extra tracks that included four re-recorded tracks from “Pain Of Mind” which placed them in the more interesting transitional phase of the band’s career and fit in with this album quite well. It also includes three extra tracks, one being a cover of Joy Division’s “Day Of The Lords” and another sneak peek into their lesser known side project Tribes Of Neurot with a hidden untitled seventh track that features over ten minutes of ambient guitar feedback and multi-dimensional freakiness. Personally i think the edition with the bonus tracks is definitely the version to seek out. These tracks are in many ways better than the album itself but THE WORD AS LAW shows a significant improvement over the debut even if it pales in comparison to the awesomeness that follows. starting with the phenomenal “Souls At Zero.”

ETERNITY X Zodiac

Album · 1994 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
Oh boy... this is a funny one... Eternity X's 1994 debut is a concept(?) album, based upon... you guessed it, the zodiac star signs!!!

And it is utter nonsense.

The music is boring and uninteresting. The technical ability is there, but everything seems so bland and formulaic. The lyrics are complete balderdash which don't really make any sense. Or maybe they do but the music is so devoid of excitement that it's impossible to follow.

A lot of the songs are too short for anything to really shine through, and on top of that, they all sound the same. You can clearly hear how passionate vocalist and main songwriter Keith Sudano is by his performance, but that just serves to make me somewhat pity the guy for how dedicated he seems to this album. I mean, it's laughable how serious this record is.

To add to the unintentional comedic value of 'Zodiac'... the most memorable song is probably bonus track 'Fast Forward'. It's a six-minute bass solo that is about four minutes too long, and while it does have some nice melodies in it, it gets repetitive fast. Sadly, there is probably an Eternity X fan out there somewhere that is desperately trying to seek out this rare bonus track (funnily enough, a edited, shorter version of this song will appear on the bands follow-up release. Yay!).

It's so hard to figure out what the hell this album is really about. I can only assume that it's meant to be some super inspiring introspective journey of self-discovery... but ultimately it just takes itself way too seriously.

DEREK SHERINIAN Black Utopia

Album · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.91 | 8 ratings
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martindavey87
With an all-star lineup featuring some stellar musicians, this album almost feels like a bit of a letdown. Main man Derek Sherinian takes a backseat to endless guitar acrobatics by some of the world's most renowned players, yet it all seems rather dull and uninspired.

Now, I love heavy music, I have a bit of a taste for what's called "fusion", though I could never totally come to grasps with what that really means, and enjoy a bit of guitar shredding. But none of it seems coherent on this album. You have guys like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Lukather, Al Di Meola and Zakk Wylde all on one record, and yet, with the exception of a few passages, it feels like they're all just going through the motions.

There's an abundance of great riffs though, which is evident in massive headbangers like 'The Sons of Anu' and the title track, 'Black Utopia', while songs like 'Starcycle' and 'Gypsy Moth' have some nice, exotic flavors to them. But overall, while none of the tracks are bad, I struggle to really listen to any of them all the way through without being bored.

And then of course, there's Mr. Sherinian himself. The fact I've discussed the guitar playing more than the keyboards pretty much goes to show how low-key Sherinian's performance seems to be. Or perhaps I'm just struggling to pay attention. As a whole, I do feel kind of bad giving this album such a low score, but I struggle to justify to myself rating it any higher.

PALE MIST Spreading My Wings into the Abyss That Calls

Album · 2016 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Spreading My Wings into the Abyss That Calls (2016) is the second full-length album by UK depressive black metal act Pale Mist. The solo project of Glomor, he's released an EP and a split in the time since the debut album Where the Darkness Is Praised (2012) was released. The album was originally released on CD and digital formats by Sinister Stench Productions with a limited cassette release following in 2017 through Heidenwut Productions.

The album opens with Through the Thick Fog of Misery and Woe, an instrumental that slowly builds up the album towards it's first vocal track, which is the title track Spreading My Wings into the Abyss That Calls, which is noticeable more aggressive than the former, where the guitars have quite a jangly tone, which is repeated in other tracks of the album including the eighteen minute long Embraced by the Pale Mist. I rather like the tone of those parts actually; they give the record what in my experience of the black metal genre as a whole is an atypical sound. There are also quite a few more clean tone parts used on the album as well, including a second instrumental, Gazing, Opening the Barriers. When used in the tracks with vocals though the clean parts when combined with the growls create a surprisingly dark vibe, more so than the heavier parts of the album manage. The album's finale is The Welcoming Glow of the Moon, another long track at just over twelve minutes.

Though the album as a whole does fit the mood of a depressive black metal release due to its rather bleak sound and a semi-raw production it's overall a lot more accessible than some such bands are. Glomor sticks to using growls, albeit fairly tortured sounding ones, and doesn't throw any of those wailing and whimpering like clean vocals that some DSBM bands like Taiga or Todesstoß use. You know, the kind that can really grate on one's nerves after a while. Fortunately there's none of that nonsense here and Spreading My Wings into the Abyss That Calls is a better album for it. I didn't hear of this album until after the year of its release, but I definitely count it as one of my best 2016 finds from after the event.

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT Heaven Forbid

Album · 1998 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.12 | 13 ratings
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Unitron
The last decade of the twentieth century weren't exactly the kindest years to classic rock acts of the 70's. Albums from these bands weren't very well-received, therefore they usually fade into obscurity. I mean, not many people are talking about albums like Heart's Desire Walks On or Van Halen's Balance these days. Most of these albums are forgotten, and often for good reason. One album from a classic 70's rock band that was forgotten, but I find to be a surprisingly great album, is Blue Öyster Cult's 1998 studio album.

Being the band's thirteenth studio album and (at the time) their first in a decade, it would be expected that Heaven Forbid would just be another bland album that tries to recapture past glories. However, it presents itself as a surprisingly varied album. Of course there are quite a few stale moments that just sound uninspired, but there is thankfully an equal amount of fresh, catchy, and just plain enjoyable songs.

The album opens right up with what may be the band's heaviest song, "See You in Black", which almost reminds me of something that could be on a Metal Church album. The driving main riff is pure classic heavy metal, and is up there with the band's best. "Hammer Back" and "Power Underneath Despair" are a couple more heavy metal-oriented tracks that are among the highlights. "Still Burnin'" is a great old school hard rock track, while an oddball is "Real World". This almost sounds straight out of a Phish album, with one of the catchiest acoustic guitar hooks I've ever heard.

While it's no Tyranny and Mutation, Heaven Forbid is a pretty great album. There are some mediocre moments on the album, but that's to be expected from a 90's album from a classic rock band. If you're a fan of classic hard rock and heavy metal, this is well worth the listen. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

ULSECT Ulsect

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
As soon as Fall To Depravity, the opening track on the eponymous debut album from Dutch death metal band Ulsect kicks in, it’s pretty apparent that we’re not going to be in for an easy listen. This band features a couple of members of Dodecahedron for starters, an avant black metal band who as it happens I only discovered a few months ago. Well you could say that Ulsect are the death metal equivalent.

So what you get here is those chiming dissonant guitar riffs that seems to be quite a thing these days. Now I’m all for a bit of this sort of stuff and have albums by the likes of Deathspell Omega and Gorguts (an immediate reference) in my collection but it’s fairly easy to descend into total chaos without structure when playing this avant style. Fortunately Ulsect have the necessary chops and writing skills – they’re not new at this after all despite this being their debut, to pull it off. Kings of the atonal riff for me are Immolation but Ulsect aren’t anything like them being a much looser proposition. Their riffs chime and resonate and are soaked in atmosphere with the black metal leanings of guitarist and drummer Joris Bonis and Jasper Barendregt showing through though at times they tighten things up with some unison syncopated rhythms. This is great stuff and Ulsect create an uneasy tension in their music, seemingly on the verge of falling apart at any minute but the inventive drumming of Barendregt holding it all together nicely.

By anyone’s standards this is a very good album, all the more remarkable it being their debut. Definitely a band worth keeping an eye on for those into this sort of thing and a band I’ll watch with interest in the future.

IN FLAMES Battles

Album · 2016 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.84 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland


It is always interesting to research bands such as In Flames on the web, as to say that they have upset a few people with their change in musical direction is something of an understatement. Like many others, I was incredibly impressed with these guys when they burst out of Sweden in the Nineties, so it was something of a shock to come across them again many years later and discover just how far they had changed. Now, change isn’t necessarily bad, and it can often be good, but then there are also the concerns that the band haven’t changed so much as having left the planet altogether and gone into a new universe. Possibly one where they have been starved of oxygen which could explain what they are doing now.

But, I think the largest issue here is that the band is called “In Flames” and there is a skull on the cover. If one discounts those two then it is possible to view the band in a quite different light, and think of them more as a strange My Chemical Romance and Killswitch Engage hybrid. This is Alternative Metal with a larger emphasis on the former than the latter, and the result is something that feels created and false, as if it has been written solely for radio play and charts, as opposed to anything that the band believes in. They may say “we are the truth that hurts the most” in “The Truth”, but the real truth is that here is a band that has lost their way and while they have probably gained a great deal of new fans as a result, the old ones are long gone.

EDGUY Monuments

Boxset / Compilation · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
here can’t be many bands around that can lay claim to be celebrating their 25th anniversary with three original members who have yet to reach forty years old, and to have had the same line-up for more than twenty years. But, that is the case with Edguy, who were formed when singer Tobias Sammet and guitarists Jens Ludwig and Dirk Sauer were just fourteen years old. To celebrate reaching this milestone, Nuclear Blast have released a double CD compilation containing five new songs, plus a collection of “greatest hits” plus B-sides and rarities. They have also released this as a limited-edition package which includes a DVD of a 2004 show plus all their promos, and a book crammed full of photos. But, I’ll put up with a digital download of the music, as Edguy always know what they are doing, and they do it mighty fine.

Tobias may keep going off to work with his other project Avantasia, but Edguy allows him to return to what he does so well, providing stunning vocals on the top of a traditional heavy metal attack. The first song that gained Edguy some acclaim was of course “Vain Glory Opera”, and it still sounds as good now as it did when it was released nearly twenty years ago! The music may have become more complex since then, but there is always room for anthems, and apparently, they have played this song at every show since then. Edguy have never pandered to what people feel they should look like to sound like, and even have a name that annoys some people (as with Lynyrd Skynyrd, they are named after one of their teachers), but they’re still going strong. They will be out on the road again soon promoting this album, but if you have ever wondered what these guys sounds like, then this twenty-eight track two-and-a-half-hour long collection is a great way to do it.

DYING FETUS Wrong One to Fuck With

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Dying Fetus have created quite a stir over the years, releasing some important albums on the way, and finally having a stable line-up is paying dividends as the trio are back with what is to my poor abused ears, easily their most comprehensive album to date. John Gallagher (guitar, vocals) formed the band in 1991, with bassist/vocalist Sean Beasley joining in 2001 and “new boy” drummer Trey Williams keeping the seat warm since 2007, and there is never any room to hide in a trio and when a band has been together for ten years they know what they are doing, and that is very much the case here.

Brutal death metal is what Dying Fetus have always been about, and with both the band name and album title they are showing that there is no change this time around, and why should there be? They have obviously been influenced by Cannibal Corpse, yet Nile have also had an impact, as has Napalm Death as the guys keep their form of death metal just this side of grindcore. It is intense, it is over the top, with absolutely no room for compromise, yet somehow the ten songs all feel quite different and don’t wash out in the way that some albums tend to when they follow the same musical path throughout. There may not be much room for light on this album, but somehow the different shades of brutal black convey enough power and difference to make this album stand out.

There have been some incredibly strong and powerful death metal albums coming out recently, and this is another to be added to the list.

DECAPITATED Anticult

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


When a band is formed at music school, the chances are that the guys behind it know what they are doing with their instruments, and this is how Polish technical death metal act Decapitated burst onto the scene more than twenty years ago. Since then they have released albums, suffered tragedy (in 2007 their tour bus collided with a truck, and drummer and founder member Witold "Vitek" Kieltyka died from his injuries) and been through line-up changes, so that only guitarist Waclaw ‘Vogg’ Kieltyka is still there from the beginning, but they show no signs of slowing down. There has been a slight line-up change since the last album, ‘Blood Mantra’, with bassist Hubert Więcek (Banisher), officially replacing Paweł Pasek last year. Hubert is normally a guitarist, and that is his role in Banisher, so he has a different approach to many bassists and has really locked in with both Vogg and drummer Michal Lysejko, allowing singer Rafał ‘Rasta’ Piotrowski to get on with what he does best.

Although this is still death metal, it isn’t nearly as “pure” as could be found in the band’s early days, as they have combined death, thrash, rock ‘n’ roll, even black metal, and atmospheric parts together. I am also convinced that it was no accident that they chose Daniel Bergstrand to be involved with the mixing and mastering, as there is a distinct Meshuggah flavour to much of this. It is heavy, it is loud, it is raw, and it is most definitely passionate. This is music with balls, attitude, attack, and a refusal to conform, and all power to them for that. They included many first takes on this album, including many of the solos, and the vitality and power shines through in everything they do. They are planning on touring throughout the world to promote this album, and I can only hope that they include New Zealand in that list as this is a band I really want to see. This is superb.

BLIND GUARDIAN Live Beyond the Spheres

Live album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Blind Guardian have been at the top of the power metal game for quite some time now, having been formed as long ago as 1984, and they show no sign of slowing down just yet. A decision was taken to record all the shows from their 2015 European tour when they were promoting ‘Beyond The Red River’, and then from those gigs they selected the best versions of each song and have now released it as a triple CD set which is more than two and a half hours long! This is their third official live album, but is going to be viewed by many as their most complete due not only to its length, but that the setlist is one which includes virtually all the songs that any fan could want. Is “The Bard’s Song” on there? Of course, and “Mirror Mirror”, “And Then There Was Silence”, “Nightfall, “Wheel Of Time” – all up there are twenty-two songs on the set, all played as only Blind Guardian can play them, and performed in front of avid audiences who wanted to sing just as much as Hansi Kürsch.

These days the band may only be Hansi (vocals), André Olbrich (guitars), Marcus Siepen (guitars) and Frederik Ehmke (drums), with the line-up being completed by session musicians Barend Courbois (bass) and Mi Schüren (keyboards), but these guys are refusing to sit back and relax, and instead keep waving the power metal flag for everyone to see. When it comes to this style of music there is no-one who does it any better, and this album captures them in their native element, onstage in front of their fans. This album is simply indispensable if you like this style of music. www.nuclearblast.de

ATTILA Chaos

Album · 2016 · Deathcore
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


So, Attila are back with their seventh studio album since their debut in 2007, and they are still peddling the same brand of deathcore that either makes them a great band or not, depending on your opinion. To say they are immature is probably one of the politer ways of describing them, as they roll out a string of words designed to offend in “Public Apology”, and I just kept thinking that it might appeal to me if I was fifteen years old again – although I still think I had better taste in music when I was that age. Their music also owes a great deal to Korn and bands such as Limp Bizkit, although not nearly as good (and I must confess to not being a fan of LB either).

Some of the songs do show some promise and even some originality, with the more death-oriented “Obsession” being a case in point, but there is just too much banality and pandering to hopeful radio play to make this an album that I will ever suffer again now I have written about it. That they have made it to the seventh album says something their perseverance, and possibly something about the target audience, but this isn’t for me.

FALLS OF RAUROS The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood

Album · 2011 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 9 ratings
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Warthur
Atmospheric black metal bands of nature-loving anarchists from the USA aren't just limited to Wolves In the Throne Room - Falls of Rauros have also been plying their craft for quite some time, and The Light That Dwells In Rotten Wood is a masterful work. The album largely rests on the three longer pieces, with shorter folk-influenced interstitials acting as pallete-cleansers. With mild post-rock influences in its compositional approach, this is a credible entry to the stable of atmospheric black metal albums hailing from the USA; I don't think it hits any major creative breakthrough, but it's a good listen and a solid release in this particular style.

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA The Butcher's Ballroom

Album · 2006 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 26 ratings
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Warthur
Diablo Swing Orchestra's basic schtick was pretty well codified on this debut album: take some lukewarm metal, apply influences from prog and swing, ladle on some operatic vocals and serve with melodrama. It's fun and all, but I find it wears thin over the course of an entire album taking this general approach. The Orchestra is clearly a technically gifted crew, though, and individual songs are enjoyable in small doses, but it feels like a mash-up too far - like if they did opera-swing, or metal opera, or swing metal, it'd work better than this attempt at operatic swing metal.

The album was made freely available via Creative Commons, though, so no harm in checking it out to see if it's more to your taste than mine.

FIRESPAWN The Reprobate

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Firespawn are a band, a death metal supergroup even, born from a desire to play more brutal and complex death metal than their day job bands. Vocalist L-G Petrov and guitarist Victor Brandt (Entombed A.D.), drummer Matte Modin (Defleshed), bassist Alex Friberg (Necrophobic) and guitarist Fredrik Folkare (Unleashed) to name just some of the bands these guys have played with. Back for their second outing, with the same line up as on their 2015 debut Shadow Realms, the Reprobate sees them consolidating the positive start made on their debut.

I remember Shadow Realms receiving mixed reviews at the time, though I greatly enjoyed its energy and strong collection of songs with intricate riffing and compelling hooks. The Reprobate whilst not exactly showing any changes in style and maintains (not surprisingly) the Swedish influences improves in the writing department delivering a collection of songs more brutal and technical than before. Not that this in itself makes them better but whilst Shadow Realms had plenty of killer riffs a few less memorable moments made for the occasional lull. Here though from opener Serpent Of The Ocean onwards the intensity rarely lets up, the band seemingly out to silence any naysayers of the debut. The playing is incendiary, the songs nearly always busy with some fantastic guitar work both rhythm and solos and Petrov’s vocals if anything are even more guttural. The rhythm section of Modin and Friberg lay a solid as a rock foundation though busy and complex as well when required. Best of all though a strong consistency is maintained throughout.

The Reprobate has many old school death metal traits but a sharp and modern production clearly mark it as an album of the times and one of the better death metal releases of the year so far. It wasn’t immediate though as the hooks took a few plays to come through as this is pretty busy stuff, so don’t give up on the first listen as this albums well worth quite a bit of your time.

BEHEMOTH Evangelion

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 23 ratings
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Warthur
Just think - had Nergal not been successful in his battle with leukemia, this could well have been the very last Behemoth album. Luckily, as things stand it was just the herald of a brief hiatus for the band that come to a close with the release in 2014 of The Satanist - an album which I feel probably benefited from them taking a bit of downtime, the years of recovery not only allowing Nergal to heal but also allowing the entire band to recharge their creative batteries. It's not that this is a bad album so much as this is exactly what we've come to expect from 2000s-era Behemoth - solid, technical blackened death metal delivered without too many surprises. It certainly scratches the itch, but the same's true of several of the preceding albums and it doesn't do much to make itself stand out.

ASUNDER A Clarion Call

Album · 2004 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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Warthur
Funeral doom and death-doom are two subgenres which share a lot of DNA - both have included harsh vocals from time to time, for instance, and both are build on chunky, slow riffs. Asunder for the most part take the funeral doom metal approach, offering us a selection of epic compositions whose riffs glide over you like glaciers, but also seems happy to borrow influences from the world of death-doom. For instance, Alex Bale-Glickman's cello is an interesting addition to the ensemble deployed in a manner which reminds me of early My Dying Bride's use of violin. A solid and interesting release which scratches my funeral doom itch, this debut album tantalises with its hints at hybridising these two child genres without quite going all the way.

DARK MOOR Project X

Album · 2015 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than that moment where an album finally finally connects with you for the first time after multiple attempts, when previous reservations are put aside and you’re just swept away by the music. I had one of those experiences with Project X, the tenth full length album from Dark Moor, one of my absolute favorite symphonic metal bands at this point. Most previous Dark Moor albums managed to impressive me right away, with their two most recent efforts Ancestral Romance and Ars Musica especially leaving strong first impressions, so I was a bit concerned when by the end of my first listen, Project X had left me scratching my head, wondering what in the hell I had just listened to. A couple listens later and I was already starting to get into it, and then by the end of my sixth listen I finally understood what the band was going for, and from that point onwards it has become one of my favorites by the band.

For longtime Dark Moor fans, their previous album Ars Musica may have seemed like a big departure from their normal sound, toning down the power metal elements which had been dominant on their earlier albums and taking the band in a much lighter, more dramatic direction with an even bigger focus on symphonic elements and choirs. I was curious to see whether the band would continue with this style or go back to their older sound, so I was somewhat caught off guard when the brief intro track of Project X started off with modern sounding keyboards, and the rest of the album only proved to be even more surprising, on first listen. I will say it right now, to get it out of the way: Power metal fans hoping for the neoclassical symphonic power metal style of their early days will probably want to avoid Project X, as at this point that style seems to be a thing of the past and the band is clearly moving on to new things. For anyone else, though, and especially for fans who prefer their epic symphonic arrangements and choral sections, the album is a must hear.

After that rather surprising intro, the first full song “Abduction” is a fun little opener that mostly sticks to the band’s formula of upbeat power metal with symphonic backing and choir vocals, and in comparison to the rest of the album, it feels like a more modernized take on the usual Dark Moor sound, complete with cheesy but fun sci-fi lyrical themes, which carry on throughout the album. After this point, though, the album takes a turn for the weird with the super theatrical track “Beyond the Stars”, where the choirs are in full force, and along with the piano and symphonic elements, they overpower the guitars, making for a much lighter track than one would expect so early on the album, though the melodies are fantastic and Alfred Romero’s dramatic vocals work incredibly well with the choirs, which have more of a gospel choir feel to them than usual. Yeah, you read that right: At times the choirs sound like they’re coming straight from a church and this feel is only heightened as the album goes on, and is one of the things that initially left me feeling confused. This song also serves as a great example of where the band is now, as the music is constantly driving along at a reasonable pace, so much so that calling it slow or mid tempo would be wrong, but it certainly doesn’t match the speed or energy of classic power metal, either. It’s more of a light symphonic infused brand of melodic metal, which works very well for the band.

The next track “Conspiracy Revealed” is a bit faster and the guitar riffs at the beginning give it a slight edge, which carries on throughout the track. Which brings me to one element of the band I’ve always appreciated, that is very much a factor on Project X: The guitar work of Enrik Garcia. As always, his guitars can be very understated, allowing room for the keyboards, vocals and symphonic elements to be the main elements, but on every track he allows himself to shine for brief periods, and he does an amazing job of it. Songs like “Abduction”, “Beyond the Stars” and “Bon Voyage” have some fantastic melodies and melodic solos, while on “Conspiracy Revealed” and“Gabriel” he injects a bit energy to the songs with some great riffs. The latter in particular starts off with the heaviest guitar work on the album, and it turns into one of the faster, more power metal oriented tracks, as well as one of my favorites.

Most tracks have at least occasional heavy sections and bursts of speed, but it’s the vocals and symphonic elements that win out most of the time. Another personal favorite is “I Want to Believe”, a ballad where the early sections allow Alfred to showcase his ever improving vocals, and then as the song goes on the choirs become more and more central to the song, until it turns into something incredibly epic and larger than life. Some of the songs have a bit of a broadway musical vibe to them at times, as well as some Queen influences, where everything just gets insanely over the top and cheesy, but in delightful ways.

I especially notice this on “Bon Voyage”, which starts off as more of a laid back mid tempo track, until about halfway through when the choirs kick in and it turns into something very theatrical and super cheesy. I was initially put off by this, but over time I’ve found myself blown away by just how impressive the arrangements are and just how epic the whole thing sounds, in a delightfully cheesy sort of way. Likewise, the closing track “There’s Something in the Skies” initially turned me off, as after its soft piano driven first half, it suddenly takes a turn into musical like territory, with an end sequence that may bother some people with its rather odd and unexpected lyrics, though after several listens the song has grown into one of my favorites, even though I’d consider it about as far away from usual Dark Moor as they could possibly get, without outright trolling their fans. If anything, it just shows the band fully willing to evolve and take risks, as this track in particular, as well as much of the album in general, is certainly not something I would have imagined the band doing around six years ago when I first heard their music, but in some warped kind of way it just works.

Even the weird extended intro and outro of “Imperial Earth” work, and the itself is another excellent mid tempo symphonic track with occasional heavy bursts and an extremely awesome chorus. The one other song I haven’t mentioned yet is “The Existence”, a super melodic mid tempo track that would have fit in great on “Ars Musica”. It’s less theatrical than some of the other tracks, but it’s an excellent track and it fits in well with the overall modern style Dark Moor is going for nowadays.

While I was initially disappointed by Project X and its experiments with gospel choirs as well as its increased emphasis on a more theatrical sound, several listens have left me blown away by what the band has pulled off, and if anything I now consider it one of my favorite Dark Moor albums. Fans of their earlier albums may be in for a rude awakening, but fans of symphonic metal and melodic metal in general are highly recommended to give it at least a few listens, as it’s proven to be by far my biggest grower of the year.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: (http://myglobalmind.com/2015/10/30/dark-moor-project-x-review/)

Note: This is actually an old review I wrote a couple years ago, yet somehow never got around to publishing here until now, which is odd for me.

FATES WARNING Inside Out

Album · 1994 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 33 ratings
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Warthur
Fates Warning's Inside Out takes the overall compositional approach of Parallels and gives it a rather more harsh and edgy production style, which feels like an attempt to hop on board the sort of grimier aesthetic that had become popular in the mid-1990s. Between this and the fact that this doesn't really show much development over Parallels (to the point where if you presented this as a collection of off-cuts from the Parallels sessions, perhaps with a remix to suit the smoother production of that album, you could probably persuade people that was the case), and this just doesn't feel like such an essential part of the Fates Warning discography.

INCUBUS (CA) S.C.I.E.N.C.E.

Album · 1997 · Funk Metal
Cover art 4.58 | 7 ratings
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Unitron
While Incubus gained a huge surge of popularity with the release of their 1999 album, Make Yourself, the band already had two EP's and two studio albums under their belt before they reached alternative rock stardom. However, if you're getting into these early releases from the band, don't expect it to sound anything like what the band is mostly known for. This is eclectic funk metal at it's finest.

Along with the equally amazing Enjoy Incubus EP from the same year, S.C.I.E.N.C.E. is, simply put, an explosion of creativity. For starters, there's an incredibly wide range of styles here. It ranges from many styles of metal, funk, hip-hop, lounge, and even a bit of trip-hop. All of these styles are blended seamlessly, always sounding like they naturally belong together. Each song stands out perfectly on its own, even if it's just with a little unique embellishment. An example of this is the slight middle-eastern influences on the opening track "Redefine".

Each musician is in absolute top form, delivering one of the best albums of the 90's. Brandon Boyd gives one of his best vocal performances on this album, especially on "Glass", "Nebula", "Deep Inside", and "Calgone". Dirk Lance earns his place among the bass gods on this album, and S.C.I.E.N.C.E. is one of the best bass albums out there. Listen to any song on the album, and you'll get some of the tastiest and funkiest bass licks available. "Glass" of course has some of the best, as does the smooth "Deep Inside". Jose Pasillas II absolutely slays on drums, displaying insane amounts of syncopation. Mike Einziger is a riff making machine, even bringing in some hooks that edge pretty close to thrash on songs like "Favorite Things" and "Calgone". Finally last, but not least, is Gavin Koppell. While some may find the turntables annoying, his electronic embellishments and turntables add a lot to the uniqueness of the album.

It's almost impossible to pick highlights due to how the album has a perfect flow and every song could be called a highlight. What I can say, is that "Glass" is probably my favorite Incubus song. "Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song)" is probably the song that stands out the most in style, as it takes a break from the metal, taking on a lounge-funk sound that is catchy as hell. "New Skin", which was originally seen on the Let Me Tell Ya 'Bout Root Beer EP from 1995, is incredibly catchy as well. The only slightly weaker moment on the album is "Magic Medicine", but even that song works within context of the whole album.

The lyrics and even the title showcase the same boom of creativity. At first the lyrics seem absurdist, after all, what else would you expect from and album title that's an acronym for Sailing Catamarans Is Every Nautical Captain's Ecstasy? However, once you look into them more, some of them can be interpreted as clever metaphors. Going back to the opening track of "Redefine", there's lyrics such as "Imagine your brain as a canister filled with ink", which don't make much sense until lines like "I'm sick of painting in black and white" come in. Even if the lyrics don't make any sense, you will still find yourself singing along anyways. Best examples for me are "Glass" and "A Certain Shade of Green". "Deep Inside" very well may have one of the greatest lines in music history, with "I know exactly where we are...the fuck are we?".

This is an album that takes multiple listens to fully sink in, and I'm still noticing different things every time I listen. Once it does sink in, this is one of the best and most eclectic funk metal albums. While Incubus would make a couple more fantastic albums later, this is a one-of-a-kind that should be essential listening for any bass and funk fan. One of my all time favorite albums. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

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