Metal Music Reviews

VADER De Profundis

Album · 1995 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 14 ratings
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UMUR
"De profundis" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Polish death metal act Vader. The album was released through Croon Records in September 1995, three years after the release of their debut full-length studio album "The Ultimate Incantation (1992)". While a four-piece lineup were credited for recording the debut, it was in reality only recorded by Piotr "Peter" Wiwczarek (vocals, guitars, bass), and Krysztof "Doc" Raczkowski (drums). Those two remain from the lineup who recorded "The Ultimate Incantation (1992)", but Jaroslaw "China" Labieniec has been added as a second guitarist (one of the guys who were credited but did not play on the debut album).

Stylistically the instrumental part of the music has become more death metal oriented than the more thrash metal oriented death metal sound of "The Ultimate Incantation (1992)". The rather dominant Slayer influence is still there (in particular in the screaming atonal lead guitar work), but I hear a more obvious (early) Morbid Angel influence in the way the riffs and drums are constructed and played. Wiwczarek raw throaty semi-growling delivery sets Vader a bit apart though, and although I mention the influences above, the material on "De profundis" are not a clone of those influences.

The material on the 9 track, 34:07 minutes long album are relatively well written, but the tracks aren´t easy to tell apart, and the music style is a bit one-dimensional. It´s not a major issue considering this is a death metal release, but a few more hook laden moments wouldn´t have been a negative. One of the great assets of the album is the solid musicianship. Everything is delivered with fierce energy and raw conviction, and I´d like to give a special mention to drummer Krysztof "Doc" Raczkowski for his performance on the album. He is a fast and skilled drummer, and especially his blast beats sound really tight.

"De profundis" features a sound production, which is raw, powerful, and detailed. The snare drum has a rather distinct tone, which probably wouldn´t have sounded that great in other types of music, but here it serves the purpose that you are able to hear every snare drum hit, even during the really fast blast beat parts. So upon conclusion "De profundis" is a good quality death metal release by Vader. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

UNCLE SLAM Will Work For Food

Album · 1993 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.43 | 3 ratings
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"Will Work For Food" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, California based crossover thrash metal act Uncle Slam. The album was released through Restless Records in January 1993. It´s been almost 5 years since the release of the band´s debut full-length studio album "Say Uncle (1988)". The three-piece lineup who recorded the debut album is intact on "Will Work For Food": Todd Moyer (vocals, guitars), Simon Oliver (bass, backing vocals), and Amery AWOL Smith (drums, percussion, backing vocals). While it may appear that there have been no lineup changes in the period between the two album releases, Simon Oliver was actually out of the band from 1988-1991 and in that period first Louie Mayorga (Los Cycos, Suicidal Tendencies) and then Angelo Espino (Bitch, Heretic) took over the bass duties.

Stylistically the material on "Will Work For Food" is a slightly more mature and thrashy continuation of the crossover thrash metal style of "Say Uncle (1988)". The powerful and raw sound production makes the music sound sharp, heavy, and aggressive, and it´s a clear upgrade from the less powerful sound of the predecessor. Todd Moyer has a raw sandpaper delivery, and the tracks feature one raw and powerful riff after another. While Uncle Slam don´t sound exactly like their contemporaries (at least not in a clone type way) they do belong the the same crossover thrash metal school as artists like Suicidal Tendencies, Beowülf, and Excel.

The material on the 11 track, 40:33 minutes long album is well written and quite effective. It´s hard edged, aggressive, and raw. Raw lead vocals, riot gang shouting backing vocals, fast- and mid-paced heavy riffs and rhythms, and a generally healthy focus on cathiness. You don´t have to listen to the album many times to be able to sing along to most of the tracks (at least the chorus parts). Tracks like "Hangin' In The Hood", the title track, and the rather unconventional but really great cover of "Dazed & Confused" by Led Zeppelin, are some of the highlights on the album, but there are only few unremarkable tracks on the album, and it´s overall a pretty strong release.

It´s not perfect though, and while the sound production is mostly of a good quality, it does feel like a bit of an odd choice to put an effect on the vocals, to make them sound like they were recorded in an empty bathroom. The drums could have featured a slightly more organic sound too, but other than those minor sound related issues, "Will Work For Food" is a relatively well sounding release. It´s not groundbreaking within its genre (considering this was released in 1993, the crossover thrash metal scene wasn´t exactly experiencing its heyday), and you won´t hear anything here, you haven´t heard before, but it´s a solid release and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is definitely deserved, and may even be a bit too low.

ULVER Metamorphosis

EP · 1999 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.58 | 2 ratings
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"Metamorphosis" is an EP release by Norwegian music act Ulver. The EP was released through Jester Records in September 1999. It bridges the gap between the band´s fourth and fifth full-length studio albums "Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell (1998)" and "Perdition City: Music To An Interior Film (2000)".

"Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell" was quite the departure from the band´s black/folk metal past, featuring an avant garde/experimental rock/metal style, but "Metamorphosis" proves that Ulver were far from finished developing and changing their sound. Stylistically the 4 tracks on the 25:17 minutes long EP are experimental electronic music, which is predominantly instrumental but occasionally also features vocals. In retrospect it was obviously Ulver experimenting with electronic effects, sounds, rhythms, and technology in preperation for working on and recording the material for "Perdition City: Music To An Interior Film (2000)", but back then it was a bit of a shock release for most fans.

To others it proved what they had long known, that Ulver were an unpredictable act, composing and playing exactly the type of music they wanted, without regards to the wishes of the fans and the critics. They even adress this in the sleeve notes to the EP, explaining that they don´t see themselves as a black metal band anymore, and that they think of the early part of their discography as a stepping stone to something else.

"Metamorphosis" is an ambient release. It´s not slow and droning all the time (only "Of Wolves And Withdrawal" fully falls under that catagory), but both mid-paced and even upbeat at times, featuring some busy programmed drums. Layers upon layers of sounds and effects make up the tracks, which according to band founder Kristoffer Rygg were slowly developed as a result of improvisations in the studio. As a consequence you´ll have to look long for conventional vers/chorus structures or catchiness in general. It´s music featuring interesting ideas, but to my ears they seem a little random and a bit more structure and a few more catchy moments could have made this a more memorable listen. I´m not blown away by what I hear (the closing 8:55 minutes long "Of Wolves And Withdrawal" is a downright tedious affair), but a 2.5 star (50%) rating is still warranted.

DEATHORCHESTRA Symphony of Death

Live album · 2020 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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"Symphony of Death" is a collaboration album project by Russian technical death metal act Buicide and the Olympic Symphony Orchestra. The album was independently released in December 2020. "Symphony of Death" is a live album recorded May the 4th, 2019 at the Opera Concert Club in Saint Petersburg. All material on the 7 track, 36:14 minutes long album are cover tracks of influential Florida death metal act Death. The album´s release date was deliberately chosen to coincide with the 19th anniversary of Death founder Chuck Schuldiner's death. "Symphony of Death" is available in both audio format and a DVD video format.

This is obviously a tribute album enterpreting Death´s music with the addition of a symphony orchestra. Honestly when I first heard about the project, I didn´t expect much, but I´ve been pleasantly surprised, and the combination of the technical death metal and the symphony orchestra works really well. It should be mentioned right away, that "Symphony of Death" is fully intrumental, and that the vocal melodies/lines are handled by the orchestra. Again it works like a charm. I like the fact that it´s audible that this is a live recording with audience noise, yet the sound production is still clear, detailed, and powerful. Buicide are well playing and do the songs great justice, and Olympic Symphony Orchestra manage to add some intriguing symphonic arrangements to the tracks.

There is a wealth of great material to chose from in the Death catalogue, and 7 tracks aren´t much, but I think they´ve picked some great tracks for the album in "Voice of the Soul", "Crystal Mountain", "Zero Tolerance", "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow", "Spirit Crusher", "Destiny", and "Pull the Plug".

"Symphony of Death" is the kind of project which could easily have failed badly, but DeathOrchestra manage to present intricate versions of the original material and "Symphony of Death" is ultimately a great tribute to Schuldiner and I´m sure he would be proud of- and grateful for the gesture, had he still been alive. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT The Symbol Remains

Album · 2020 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.06 | 4 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
So here we have a classic band of the seventies whose fortunes declined in the eighties, who were in disarray throughout most of the nineties, tried to get back in gear in at the turn of the century and who then carried on mostly as a classic rock band playing their classic tunes. Then after 19 years of silence from the recording studio, Blue Oyster Cult drop a new release. The title, "The Symbol Remains" seems less like a victory shout and more like confident statement made through weathered and grim lips with a knife edge of a smile. "It's 2020. BOC is still here."

I was curious. I had never been a huge fan, but my musical travels brought me to BOC Base on a few occasions, allowing one or two more albums to nestle into my collection. My recent reacquaintance with the much-derided "Club Ninja" exposed me to the new album's cover. Somehow, I felt it had to be good.

Of the original line-up, only the two guitarists and principal singers, Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom remain. That's something important though as what defines a band's sound is mostly in the vocals and lead instruments, as well as the songwriting. And to my delight, I feel that this is very much a Blue Oyster Cult album!

The band's familiar heavy side opens the album with "That Was Me", a song that I thought was a reflection back on a "career of evil". At this age, I think this song is very suitable and it is executed in the familiar style of Blue Oyster Cult.

The next two, "Box In My Head" (about his brain), and "Tainted Blood" (a vampire song) continue that familiar sound and style. Obviously, the two legendary members are that much older and the sounds of the instruments and recording is very modern, but they deliver songs worthy of the legendary band name.

I'll confess, though, that partway through the album, it begins to sound more like a generic old dudes' rock album. While at the start I felt it was without a doubt a BOC album, by the middle I thought had I heard this without knowing who it was, I don't think I would have even suspected that I knew what band it was.

Fortunately, once we reach "Stand and Fight" we know who put out this platter. It is actually a heavy tune, perhaps in the sense of classic heavy metal of the seventies but again with a modern sound. "Florida Man" is pretty good, but "The Alchemist" is totally a Blue Oyster Cult track with the heavy guitars, some piano, and an epic tale of fantasy and a quest. Had the album ended here (and I expected that it would as I was listening while walking and not looking at the track list), I would have applauded the band.

However, there is yet another track, and another, and another. It became a game to guess if I had heard the final track yet. I would think, "Now there's a great conclusion to a song and a great way to finish up the album." But then another track would begin. Not that the last five tracks were bad or dull. There are still some very good ones there and some even better than those in the middle of the album where I was wondering if I would recognize the band. I suppose after 19 years, the band had enough material for a 60-minute album. But I personally feel the album could have been more cohesive and more like a BOC album if some of the songs - three or four - had been relegated to CD/download bonus tracks that were separate from the rest of the songs.

My impression is that Blue Oyster Cult have released a surprisingly good album for a mature band. They keep the BOC flame burning for us with songs that both musically and lyrically are congruent with the classic sound of the band.

Any disappointments would be in two or three tracks that could have been either left off or come after the main album track list. I think the album would have had more of a wow impact at somewhere around 10 or 11 tracks.

Overall though, it's a solid release!

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT Club Ninja

Album · 1985 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.12 | 16 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Blue Oyster Cult were on the top of their game in the early eighties. They’d scored a huge hit with “Burnin’ for You”, they had contributed to the soundtrack of the animated film, “Heavy Metal”, and they’d been touring with Black Sabbath. Unfortunately, things would start sliding for the band. Drummer Albert Bouchard was fired, seeing the first change in the classic and long-running line-up. Then came the disappointing sales of 1983’s “The Revolution by Night”, which failed to reach gold. By the time the band was ready to record their tenth studio album, keyboard player Allen Lanier also parted ways with the band. Former manager, Sandy Pearlman was called in, perhaps in hopes of restoring something from the band’s classic days.

As the band had done in the past, outside songwriters were contacted to write some of the lyrics, and one song, “White Flags” was a cover song from the Canadian Leggatt Brothers 1981 album. Pearlman was very meticulous about the sound he wanted from the band and some of the eighties pop sounding percussion and synthesizers were at his insistence.

“Club Ninja” was for many a big disappointment, even though the song “Dancing in the Ruins” became a minor charting hit. The road of fortune from here on would lead to the band losing bassist Joe Bouchard, the confusing “Imaginos” album that was not meant to be a BOC album, the band being released from CBS, and ultimately, Blue Oyster Cult spending most of the nineties without releasing any new material.

“Club Ninja” was my second BOC purchase after “The Revolution by Night”, so you could say that my introduction to the band was through two of their lowest rated and ranked albums. At the time of the release of “Club Ninja”, I was getting into more extreme heavy metal all the while balancing my musical taste with more melodic glam metal and hard rock. “Club Ninja” surprised me. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. There were the hard rocking and heavy guitars but there were also bright, eighties pop synth sounds which I still cringe at to this day. There was dramatic music with really catchy vocal melodies but there were also electronic drums which I have never cared for much. Did I like the album?

I found certain songs intriguing as they offered something new or at least rare in my cassette collection. That jangly eighties guitar sound I didn’t like actually sounded pretty good on “Perfect Water”, and in spite of the keyboard sounds, I felt the song drawing me back for repeated listens, eventually becoming one of my favourite tracks on the album. It had a mysterious and also beautifully serene atmosphere to it. Not one band in my music collection had a song like this.

Then there was “White Flags”. A song packed with tension and spots of release sometimes simply through a keyboard effect but more so with the break into the chorus. One of my favourite parts was the organ bit that follows the, “Take me away! Yeeeaaahhh!” part. When I finally heard the original version recorded by the Leggatt Brothers, I was disappointed that there was no organ part.

“Shadow Warrior” was a wonderfully ominous and dark track with lyrical imagery typical of the band’s works – a kind of future, science fiction / fantasy tale. And “Madness to the Method” had this dynamiic piano solo in the song’s dramatic conclusion. “Spy in the House of Night” also was not my usual cup of tea but somehow strangely attracted my ears. In fact, the only songs that I thought were a little silly were “Make Rock Not War” and “Beat ‘Em Up”, mostly for their atrocious meathead rock band-sounding titles. Musically, they were actually not so bad except for the keyboard sounds.

I finally bought this album on CD and listened to it for the first time in about 30 years. I was surprised how much I remembered of the songs. I must have listened to this album more than I thought because I felt like I was listening to an old classic or an old favourite. True, I still flinch at some keyboards parts and “Beat ‘Em Up” is still a goofy title. But I found that I actually really like this album! In fact, I think one of the things I appreciate about it now more than before is the prog element. In the mid-eighites, prog was carefully concealed beneath the pop flash of former prog kings or in the more complex music of some metal bands. “Club Ninja” on the other hand grasps hard and heavy rock, pop sounds and melodies, classic rock, and progressive flare (heavy organ and dramatic piano solos plus seven-minute songs with sci-fi and fantasy concepts) and sets them all out on the table. The album was costly to produce and took nearly a year to put together under the strict guidance of visionary Sandy Pearlman. In the end, the results were probably more baffling to most people who couldn’t make sense of what the band was trying to do. My opinion is that Blue Oyster Cult created an album of intelligent lyrical content, music of atmosphere, drama, energy, and dark and light, and many modern sounds that captured both the light, popular side and the harder-edged rock side.

Having this album back again, I appreciate it even more now after decades of exploring heavy and progressive music much, much further. For fans of heavy music, this album cannot be said to be an excellent addition to any heavy metal collection. It’s really a matter of preference in this case. I give it four and a half stars out of my own taste, but for this site, I’ll give it three.

АСПИД Extravasation

Album · 1992 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 5 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
One of Russia’s most significant contributions to the classic thrash metal scene, the band Аспид (Aspid) was only around for a short time and delivered one sole album and although the band was pretty much an exotic curiosity during the time in which it existed roughly from 1988-97, this Volgodonsk based technical thrash metal powerhouse has more than stood the test of time and often ranks high on best thrash metal lists of the 1990s.

Existing at the time when the Soviet Union underwent a complete collapse and the former republics that once constituted the empire were going their separate ways, ASPID is a prime example of a group of young ambitious musicians overcoming the daunting odds of getting its product to market and eventually capturing the attention of the entire international metal scene. Originally released under the title Кровоизлияние which translates as “Hemorrhage,” the vinyl only release wouldn’t find its way onto a remastered CD until 2007 when it was retitled “Extravasation.”

Due to the fact this one was released twice, first in the Russian language and then in English, word has it that on the remastered versions the production was also sped up giving that version a completely different style. For the record, i’m reviewing the original version which appears in the Russian language with the decent but not outstanding production job. However for raw extreme metal, production is not a priority as i always prefer outstanding musicianship over any bells and whistles and in the compositional department, ASPID were indeed seasoned veterans of technical thrash metal.

Кровоизлияние featured eight tracks beginning with the trippy keyboard dominated atmospheric intro. The real meat of the album follows with the ten minute “Он пришёл (Аспид)” which exposes the band as a competent tech thrash metal band in the vein of Coroner and Sadus and fits into that category of metal that sounds like thrash metal evolving into death metal much like early Death, Hellwitch or Obliveon. While the twin guitar attacks are clearly in the thrash metal department with stomping riffs and sizzling guitar solos courtesy of Alexander Sidorchik, the complexities are verging on progressive metal but don’t quite step over the line into that arena.

Graced with an energetic delivery system completely with rampaging rhythmic bombast and technical uncommon time signatures, at least for thrash metal of the era, Кровоизлияние is a satisfying display of feisty uncompromising thrash metal fury unleashed in a satisfying ever-changing procession of variations that keep the album from ever sounding like it’s in danger of stagnating. “Там где ночь” for example displays that perfect mix of “Rust In Peace” era Megadeth with a more ferocious speedy attack in the vein of Sadus but with the fine-tuned finesse of the likes of Coroner.

Unavailable to Western nations for the first half of its existence, ASPID is now considered one of Russia’s most prominent contributors to the early metal scene and while bands like Aria were clearly Iron Maiden imitators, ASPID deftly blended its influences into a steaming hot cauldron of molten metal more than ready for primetime. The only problem was that the band never released a followup thus leaving this sole artifact of the chaotic 90s as its only proof that it existed but if a band is going to drop one bomb on the world and then disappear forever, they couldn’t have done much better than Кровоизлияние which is a brilliant display of Russian metal made all the more exotic by the lyrics in the mother tongue.

ANGRA Rebirth

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.64 | 35 ratings
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lukretion
Rebirth: it would have been hard to find a more fitting title for Angra’s fourth full-length album, the first after the band split in two and was left for dead at the time by many specialized magazines. Singer Andre Matos and the entire rhythm section comprised of Luís Mariutti and Ricardo Confessori departed to form Shaman, leaving guitarists Kiko Loureiro and Rafael Bittencourt to pick up the pieces. The duo recruited Felipe Andreoli (bass), Aquiles Priester (drums) and Edu Falaschi (vocals) to try and keep the Angra ship alive. But the album does not feel like a rebirth just in terms of its revolutionized line-up. It is also a musical rebirth, after a record, Fireworks, that was probably too ambitious for its own good and ultimately felt a bit like a mixed bag.

Rebirth does not waste any time to let the listener know that things have changed. In this sense, opener (after the obligatory orchestral intro) “Nova Era” is a strong statement of intents. The Brazilian folk experimentations of the past line-up are considerably toned down (though they still surface on a couple of songs) in favour of a more direct and fast-tempo speed/power metal approach that immediately showcases the talents of the new line-up, particularly of drummer Aquiles Priester and singer Edu Falaschi. Although Falaschi does not have the unique charm of Matos’ voice, his range is impressive and his crystalline delivery shows that Angra have found an excellent substitute for their iconic former singer. Elsewhere the album moves in more progressive territories, with songs (“Millennium Sun”, “Unholy Wars”, “Running Alone”) built around complex structures, tempo changes, extended instrumental passages, and great orchestral arrangements, courtesy of Günter Werno from German prog metallers Vanden Plas.

These tracks are what elevates Rebirth above the standard power metal sound that one can find aplenty on albums released in the late 1990s / early 2000s. At the same time, the music is more streamlined, direct and powerful than what typically characterizes a prog metal release. In this way, Rebirth walks the fine line between the two worlds, pleasing fans of standard European (and especially Italian) power metal as well as those of more progressively-inclined bands like Queensrÿche and Dream Theatre.

In large part, Rebirth is a success story as the tunes are pleasant, accessible and at the same time sufficiently varied and multifaceted to keep things interesting. But, as a prog metal aficionado, I cannot help but miss the drive to experiment and push things forward and in unexpected directions that had characterized the earlier work of the band. It is particularly songs like “Acid Rain”, “Heroes of Sand” and “Judgment Day” that haven’t aged very well: lacking a strong melodic presence and deprived of interesting forward-thinking moments, these tracks fall a bit flat and bog down an album that remains nevertheless better than average.

[Also posted on progarchives.com and metal-archives.com]

AVATAR Hunter Gatherer

Album · 2020 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
One never knows what one is going to get with Avatar, as while they may have started life as yet another Swedish death metal act, they have broadened their horizons greatly since then. Their last album, 2018’s ‘Avatar Country’ was the second-largest independent album in North America upon its debut, reaching #4 (Hard Music Albums), # 8 (Rock Albums), and #25 (Billboard 200 Current Albums) with one major rock outlet even declaring it a heavy metal ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’. While I can never see myself going that far, there is no doubt there is something both strange and compelling about their music.

In 2020 they released their eighth studio album, ‘Hunter Gatherer’, which saw them record with all of them playing in the studio together as if they were onstage, and then putting it down on two-inch tape. When they go for it they really hit hard, but in “A Secret Door” we get groove/death metal along with Roger Whittaker-style whistling, guitars being played like mandolins, huge riffs and hooks which sees them move into the likes of Linkin Park. It is commercial but given what they are doing it really shouldn’t, as there is no way this mess should work, yet it does. Some bands have tried to move out of the Swedish death scene and failed miserably, yet these guys really have managed to bring something together which is mixing loads of many styles and somehow having it all make total sense while also never really settling. One never knows what is going to happen next as they can be in full flight and then drop into some keyboards or just blast along and never change, coming across more as power metal than anything else, but always with a heavy bottom end. Fans of the band have become used to never knowing what each album is going to sound like, and while I cannot speak for the whole of the back catalogue I can see that this one is worth checking out as it brings together nu metal, groove metal, melodic death, industrial, and the kitchen sink.

HEATHEN Empire Of The Blind

Album · 2020 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 4 ratings
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"Empire Of The Blind" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Heathen. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in September 2020. It´s the successor to "The Evolution of Chaos" from 2010 and while it hasn´t been 19 years like it had been between "Victims of Deception (1991)" and "The Evolution of Chaos (2010)", 10 years between album releases are still a lot of years and a long waiting time for the faithful and dedicated fans. Not surprisingly there have been a couple of lineup changes since the predecessor as bassist Jon Torres has been replaced by Jason Mirza and drummer Darren Minter has been replaced by Jim DeMaria. Guitarists Lee Altus and Kragen Lum, and lead vocalist David White, remain from the lineup who recorded "The Evolution of Chaos (2010)".

Apparently 10 years between album releases and changing the rhythm section haven´t changed much, because "Empire Of The Blind" more or less sounds like it could have been released a year after "The Evolution of Chaos (2010)" and it could easily have been released by the exact same lineup, although Heathen seem to have gone for a slightly more concise songwriting approach on this one, as the tracks are generally shorter than on the predecessor.

Stylistically Heathen play a melodic yet still powerful style of thrash metal. White can both sing raw and more melodic, sometimes even touching US power metal styled vocals. He definitely wouldn´t be out of place on an Iced Earth album or anything in that vein. The instrumental part of the music is technically well played, varied, and very interesting in terms of the powerful playing rhythm section, the razor sharp thrashy riffs, but also the many melodic leads, harmonies, and guitar solos. The guitar work on the album is nothing short of amazing.

The material is well written, varied, and effective, and "Empire Of The Blind" also features a powerful, clear, and detailed sound production (courtesy of Zeuss), which suits the material perfectly. In other words a consistently strong and high quality thrash metal release. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER Miasma

Album · 2005 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 5 ratings
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"Miasma" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Michigan based death metal act The Black Dahlia Murder. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in July 2005. It´s the successor to "Unhallowed" from 2003 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as drummer Cory Grady has been replaced by Zach Gibson.

The material on "Miasma" pretty much continue the melodic death metal style of "Unhallowed (2003)". It´s sharp, predominantly fast-paced and energetic melodic death metal, and features both deep growling vocals and high pitched screaming vocals. It´s all delivered by skilled musicians who are more than capable of handling their instruments with great conviction and passion. At 10 tracks and 33:48 minutes of playing time "Miasma" doesn´t overstay its welcome and the relatively short playing time is perfect for this release. The Black Dahlia Murder simply don´t write varied enough material for much longer releases. It´s a criticism which sounds much harder on paper than it is actually meant, because if you give "Miasma" enough spins, the tracks begin to stand out a bit more. Ultimately a bit more variation between tracks could have made "Miasma" a more memorable release though (the same can be said about most of the band´s albums).

With that out of the way each track featured on the album is still an incredibly powerful and catchy listening experience on an individual level. Not a single track is of a sub par qaulity to the rest, and the consistent quality of the tracks and the skillful delivery of the material are some of the greatest assets of the album. "Miasma" features a powerful and detailed sound production too, which is another great asset and upon conclusion it´s a high quality album through and through. The lack of variation between tracks is a minor issue, but not enough for me not to grant the album a 4 star (80%) rating.

SEANCE Awakening of the Gods

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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"Awakening of the Gods" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Seance. The album was released through Pulverised Records in January 2009. Seance were formed in 1990 and released two studio albums before disbanding in 1998. Three of the five members who played on the band´s second full-length studio album "Saltrubbed Eyes (1993)" reunited in 2008: Miqūe Flesh (drums), Tony "Toxine" Vargfrost (guitars), and Johan Larsson (vocals, bass). They added second guitarist Rille Rimfalt to the ranks and recorded "Awakening of the Gods" as a four-piece.

Stylistically Seance pretty much pick up where they left off on "Saltrubbed Eyes (1993)". It´s relatively diverse death metal, with quite a few thrash metal influences in the riffs and rhythms (and even the occassional traditional heavy metal/hard rock influnced moment), but also a few nods towards deathgrind. The latter is a minor part of the band´s sound, but there are a couple of fast blasting parts featured on the album, which point in that direction. It´s not an album which follows a particular style/scene sound (for example old school Swedish death metal, or the more technical US variant), but it´s not a unique sounding release either. The vocals are deep growling, but the growls are unfortunately a bit one-dimensional in style. The instrumental part of the music is very well executed.

"Awakening of the Gods" features a raw and powerful sound production, and the songwriting is also of a decent quality. That doesn´t mean that it´s an outstanding release by any means, but it´s a solid release, which is enjoyable enough while it plays. It´s pretty much the same feeling I had listening to their preceding releases. Solid death metal, but not outstanding. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

PYREXIA Age of the Wicked

Album · 2007 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Age of the Wicked" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, New York based death metal act Pyrexia. The album was released through Unique Leader Records in January 2007. It´s been 10 years since the release of "System of the Animal" from 1997, but while the band didn´t release anything in those years other than the "Cruelty Beyond Submission" compilation in 2004, they were far from inactive as they teamed up with Trevor Peres (Obituary) in 2000 and released "The Cleansing (2001)" album under the Catastrophic monicker. It was a relatively short lived project though and band leader/guitarist Chris Basile soon opted to continue with the Pyrexia name instead. Basile is the only remaining original member of the band, and in fact he is also the only remaining member of the lineup who recorded the predecessor.

Somehow the material on "Age of the Wicked" still sound like Pyrexia though. Brutal technical death metal with a hardcore edge. The latter is as dominant an influence here as it was on "System of the Animal (1997)". An integral part of the band´s sound. While Pyrexia are probably tired of being compared to Suffocation, it is the most obvious reference, although the hardcore influences are more audible when it comes to Pyrexia. The vocals are for example not conventional growling, but more a combination of growling and deep aggressive hardcore shouting (no screaming core vocals) and many of the heavy grooves are also hardcore influenced, although they are presented in a death metal context.

The material on the 10 track, 30:04 minutes long album is relentless in its intensity and brutality. It´s like being punched in the face throughout the full playing time. There´s not a second wasted on breathers, and it´s almost impossible to sit still while being treated to one aggressive and groove laden brutal track after another. It´s sharp, it´s hard edged, and it´s furious and raw...but it´s also a bit one-dimensional. Not that the band aren´t good at incorporating tempo changes and breaks, but it´s still not an album where the tracks stand out much.

It´s not a major issue and the band have also wisely kept the playing time at half an hour, which means the album doesn´t overstay its welcome, but a little more variation and hook laden moments wouldn´t have been a negative. "Age of the Wicked" features high level musicianship and a raw and well sounding production, so while there is a small issue with the songwriting being a bit one-dimensional, it´s still a quality release deserving a 3.5 star (70%) rating.

THE DEAD DAISIES Holy Ground

Album · 2021 · Hard Rock
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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The Dead Daisies have had a revolving door of members since their eponymous debut in 2013, the only ever present member being Australian guitarist David Lowy. Practically a who’s who of hard rock, members who’ve come and mostly gone include bassist Marco Mendoza, vocalist john Corabi, keyboardist Dizzy Reed, guitarist Doug Aldrich, drummer Brian Tichy and drummer Deen Castronovo as well as some high profile guests like Slash and Jimmy Barnes. The band have so far released four never less than solid studio albums, the pick of the bunch for me being 2016’s Make Some Noise. After 2018’s Burn It Down vocalist John Corabi and bassist Marco Mendoza jumped ship. A great loss to any band but the perfect time to bring in Glenn Hughes, replacing both of them in one go. Hughes and Aldrich already have history, the guitarist having played on one of his solo tours back in 2015 I believe it was, one of the dates in Newcastle I was lucky enough to have seen.

It’s clear from the off that bringing in Hughes was the smartest move the band could have made. As soon as the title track Holy Ground kicks in its apparent that he’s had a big influence on the band’s sound. Of course there’s his vocal. I’ve long held the belief that his powerful and soulful delivery is the finest in rock but on a musical level a lot of the songs could have sat comfortably on many of his solo albums. Holy Ground is undoubtedly the bands finest album to date but all the credit can’t be given to Hughes who with one or two exceptions has made his strongest albums in band settings – Trapeze, Deep Purple, Hughes/Thrall and most recently Black Country Communion. The Dead Daisies are on fire here with eleven songs of hard hitting rock bursting with big riffs and powerful hooks backed by top notch musicianship. Every song here is a killer, even the seemingly obligatory ballad Far Away that closes the album which Hughes’s soulful vocals fit perfectly and Aldrich reels off perhaps his best guitar solo on the album. There’s also a cover of Humble Pie’s 30 Days In The Hole. The Daisies seem to have at least one cover on every album but here they make the song their own adding power to the original and also featuring Castronovo sharing vocals, a fine singer in his own right.

It’s perhaps on the other nine tracks where the real gems lie though where the band really kick ass, heavier than they’ve ever been. The songs, mostly mid-pace, have plenty of groove and are driven along by the powerful Hughes/Castronovo rhythm section overlaid by Aldrich and Lowy’s crushing and infectious riffs. Favourites include Like No Other (Bassline) for strongest hook and a pummelling dirty bassline and perhaps Hughes’s finest vocal performance on the album. Then there’s Unspoken, the first song unveiled by this line-up and a grand statement of intent that really made me very impatient to hear the rest. Righteous Days is another highlight for the same reasons that I’ve already mentioned above but as I already said, every song here is a killer.

In view of the many line-up changes this band has had and Hughes seems to get itchy feet fairly often, I really hope this incarnation can hold it together for a few more albums as they work so well together and it’s hard to see how they could improve on this formula they’ve developed. An early contender for album of the year for sure.

THERION Leviathan

Album · 2021 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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It’s hard to believe that THERION began as a somewhat generic sounding old school death metal band when it was founded by Christofer Johnsson all the way back in 1987 but after a sluggish beginning which step by step morphed into full-blown symphonic metal by the time the 1996 album “Theli” wooed the critics and hi brow metalheads into the cult, THERION had done the unthinkable and crafted a brilliant new metal sound that took metal music further into the world of Western classical and opera than ever attempted. The results were riveting and brilliant and catapulted the band to international fame.

THERION kept this momentum going all throughout the 2000s with one excellent album after another that slightly reinvented the overall recipe laid down on “Theli” however beginning with “Sitra Ahra,” Johnsson was obviously getting bored with the band’s signature sound and started experimenting and while the albums thought the 2010’s were interesting, they lacked the focus and enthralling hybridization effect that album’s like “Secret Of The Runes” and “Gothic Kabbalah” had so perfectly captured. This all led up to the band’s most ambitious effort yet, 2018’s triple album “Beloved Antichrist” which tamped down the symphonic metal a few notches and instead delivered a whopping 3-hour rock opera.

While the project sounded like a good idea in writing, the results were very lackluster as the album lacked any sort of cohesive gratification despite exhibiting brilliant performances in bits and pieces. The album was a huge flop and fans were wondering if perhaps THERION should call it a day and go start a philharmonic orchestra somewhere in an undisclosed location in the Swedish countryside. The fiasco that was “Beloved Antichrist” pretty much kept fans wondering what THERION’s next move was going to be and finally in 2021 we have a new album that makes it all so clear just what that next move is. In short THERION has proposed another ambitious project only this time it will disperse its grandiose visions in a three album set that will be released by the following LEVIATHAN sequels in 2022 and 2023.

This is basically what we call damage control as Johnsson is obviously not going to disband the profitable cash cow called THERION which has an international following and dedicated fanbase. LEVIATHAN (bad album title considering the mega-popular Mastodon album) pretty much backpedals to the band’s style around the turn of the millennium and could easily fit anywhere in between “Vovin” and “Sirus B.” What is presented here is a tried and true and very well performed collection of eleven tracks with an impressive lineup of various vocalists, both male and female sopranos delivering divine operatic performances accompanied by sizzling metal guitar, bass and drum backing. As always at this point in THERION’s career, this is a big budget production with a great number of guest musicians and extra instrumentation that includes hammond organ, violin and lots of drumming diversity.

As far as a THERION album goes, LEVIATHAN is indeed a return to form and pretends that the whole “Beloved Antichrist” backlash was just a bad dream however at the same time these grounds have already been covered and no matter how well these tracks are performed (and they are perfectly executed), it just feels like THERION has gotten stuck in a certain moment in its career that it will never escape from due to the fact that the band is popular and therefore obligated to kowtow to the fanbase. Despite these apprehensions to continue down a more experimental path, as a true THERION fan myself, i’d prefer to have the band release experimental flops like “Beloved Antichrist” than to retread that which has already been accomplished two decades ago. THERION will always be a band i have a soft spot for so i can never rate an album this beautifully performed very low but it certainly doesn’t get any extra love for creative growth. This is about as THERION by the books as it gets still though LEVIATHAN is quite an enjoyable album.

MEGADETH Countdown to Extinction

Album · 1992 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 122 ratings
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"Countdown to Extinction" is the 5th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Capitol Records in July 1992. It´s the successor to "Rust in Peace" from 1990, which was an album, which received a lot of critical acclaim. While the material on "Rust in Peace (1990)" were primarily written by lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine, "Countdown to Extinction" features more contributions from the rest of the band and it´s obvious the lineup of Dave Mustaine (vocals, guitars), Dave Ellefson (bass), Nick Menza (drums), and Marty Friedman (guitars) had now settled a bit more into the role of a permanent band. "Countdown to Extinction" went on to become Megadeth´s most commercially successful album, selling more than 2 million copies (US double platinum status).

Stylistically the material on the 11 track, 47:31 minutes long album is generally less thrash metal oriented and not as fast-paced as the material on its predecessor. There are quite a few more traditional heavy metal elements and more focus on melody on "Countdown to Extinction" than the case was on "Rust in Peace (1990)". When that is said Megadeth were never the most savage thrash metal act on the scene, and all preceding releases also feature a healthy dose of tradtional heavy metal elements and focus on melody. This time around it all just sounds a bit more planned and structured, which means the tracks are generally instantly accessible and catchy. That doesn´t mean this is simple music by any means. The songwriting is very sophisticated, and there are many intriguing compositional details featured throughout the album. The lyrics are also quite interesting, dealing with topics like politics, environmental/social issues, and consequences of crime/punishment.

The musicianship are on a high level on all posts. Mustaine´s voice and singing style will always be an aquired taste, but he arguably provides the band´s music with something unique. He has audibly honed his skills on this release, and he now "sings" more than ever. The rhythm section play organic and sharp, the riffs are powerful and delivered with skill and precision, and the lead guitar work is stunning.

One of the greatest assets of "Countdown to Extinction" is that each and every track featured on the album stand out, and while tracks like "Skin o' My Teeth", "High Speed Dirt", and especially the iconic "Symphony of Destruction" are probably some of the most known tracks off the album, all tracks are highlights worth a mention. You honestly can´t say that about that many album releases. While every track is unmistakably the sound of Megadeth, there is also great stylistic diversity between the tracks. Some are relatively fast-paced and energetic like "Skin o' My Teeth", "High Speed Dirt", and "Ashes in Your Mouth", some are mid-paced and heavy like "Symphony of Destruction" and "Architecture of Aggression", some feature great focus on melody like "Foreclosure of a Dream", "This Was My Life" and the title track, and some feature twisted humour and a different take on thrash/heavy metal like "Sweating Bullets" and "Psychotron".

"Countdown to Extinction" is produced by Dave Mustaine and Max Norman and the album features a clear, detailed, and powerful sound, which suits the material perfectly. So upon conclusion "Countdown to Extinction" is another high quality release by Megadeth. They already left a bit of their frenetic fast-paced thrash metal sound behind on "Rust in Peace (1990)", but "Countdown to Extinction" is an even less thrash metal oriented release. At least in the respect that it´s a much heavier and only occasionally fast-paced album. Megadeth haven´t however lost any of their appeal here, and although "Countdown to Extinction" overall was the most mature and sophisticated release by the band up until then, there is still plenty of aggression and heavy riffs featured on the album to satisfy most thrash metal fans. A 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.

OVERKILL Immortalis

Album · 2007 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.29 | 17 ratings
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"Immortalis" is the 15th full-length studio album by US, New York based thrash metal act Overkill. The album was released through Bodog Music in October 2007. It´s the successor to "ReliXIV" from 2005 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as drummer Tim Mallare has left and has been replaced by Ron Lipnicki. Randall Blythe (Lamb of God) guests on vocals on "Skull and Bones", singing with Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth. A promotional video was shot for "Skull and Bones".

Stylistically the material on "Immortalis" continues the thrash/groove/heavy metal style of "ReliXIV (2005)". "Blitz" sounds as driven and rock´n´roll badass as ever with his rough voice and screaming vocal style, and the rest of the band also deliver their parts with the right amount of conviction and passion. This is obviously a skilled and seasoned band playing and right from the opening track "Devils in the Mist" to the closing track "Overkill V" we´re treated to high level performances.

The material is well written too and compared to the predecessor, "Immortalis" features a few more tracks which stand out. This along with a relatively well sounding production, makes "Immortalis" one of the better albums in the less remarkable part of Overkill´s discography. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

DROTTNAR Stratum

Album · 2012 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.55 | 3 ratings
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"Stratum" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Norwegian extreme metal act Drottnar. The album was released through Endtime Productions in October 2012. It´s been six long years since the release of "Welterwerk (2006)", and I was beginning to think that Drottnar had folded, but they return on "Stratum" with exactly the same quintet lineup who recorded "Welterwerk (2006)".

Stylistically the material on "Stratum" continue in a similar technical black metal style to the style on "Welterwerk (2006)". The world war II themed lyrical concept is gone here though, and the lyrics on "Stratum" are more focused on despair and philosophy. The latter with a Christian angle, although the lyrics aren´t preachy or tasteless praises to the Lord. They do suggest though that believing in something greater than yourself could be a way out of the despair and sadness of this world. Wether you believe in that attitude or not, I think it´s a fair opinion and personally I don´t feel like I`m being preached to.

I remember listening to "Welterwerk (2006)" and experiencing a sense of disbelief that I was listening to a technical black metal release. That´s not something you´ll hear everyday. Not that black metal can´t be well played and quite technical in nature, but it´s seldom one of the primary focuses of the style. Drottnar are a very different beast though and there is great focus on technical fusion influenced playing on both "Welterwerk (2006)" and on "Stratum". Although not as obviously jazzy (nor as insanely complex), a black metal version of Atheist isn´t the worst comparison I could make. The unfortunately rather obscure Polish band Shadows Land is another valid reference.

Drottnar are not only a very well playing unit, handling quite technical playing with what seems like ease, but they also write some pretty intriguing music. Loads of tempo changes and breaks, odd fast-paced technical moments (which sometimes remind me of early Mastodon), dissonance, and the rare more atmospheric section. The vocals are a blackened type of aggressive snarling. "Stratum" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sounding production too, so upon conclusion it´s a high quality release by Drottnar. I´m not sure why it took 6 years to release (apparently it was already recorced in 2009), but it was worth the wait. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

VOIVOD The End of Dormancy

EP · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"The End of Dormancy" is an EP release by Canadian progressive/thrash metal act Voivod. The EP was released through Century Media Records in July 2020. It´s a 3 track, 22:31 minutes long release, featuring a version of "The End of Dormancy" from "The Wake (2018)" (the band´s preceding album release) with added trumpets, saxophone and trombones titled "The End of Dormancy (Metal Section)", a live version of the same track and a live version of "The Unknown Knows" (the studio version of that track is featured on "Nothingface (1989)"), recorded at Montreal Jazz Fest 2019. A video was also released for the new brass version of "The End of Dormancy".

The inclusion of the brass arrangement to "The End of Dormancy" works really well and gives the song a bombastic quality. Voivod experimentet with string arrangements on "The Wake (2018)" (on "Iconspiracy" and on "Sonic Mycelium") and now with a brass arrangement on "The End of Dormancy", see them come out as victors. I´d not give that trend up just yet as those experiments definitely provide some spice to Voivod´s already adventurous songwriting approach. The live version of "The End of Dormancy", which also features the brass arrangement, and the live version of "The Unknown Knows" are both well performed and both also feature a good quality live sound.

Listening to the same track twice on a release (although in two different versions), is seldom something which pleases my ears and I can´t say this EP changes that. So while the quality of the performances, the material, and the sound quality of both the studio track and the two live tracks are of a high quality, the EP as a full listening experience does suffer slightly from the live version of "The End of Dormancy" directly succeeding the studio version on the tracklist. I think it would have worked better if "The Unknown Knows" had been placed between the two versions of the title track. So there´s nothing wrong with the content of the release, but a good tracklist flow is important too, and that´s where this EP score low. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still fully deserved.

SABBAT The Dwelling

Album · 1996 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 22 ratings
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Extreme metal can be accredited to early 80s bands like Venom, Hellhammer and early Bathory each of which showcased a mix of proto-thrash, proto-black and proto-death metal styles before all the respective subgenera would splinter off into various directions. Japan’s SABBAT (as opposed to the English band of the same name) formed all the way back in 1983 and was heavily inspired by these bands, especially Venom and while all those bands would evolve as the 80s ceded into the 90s, SABBAT sorta maintained that evil as fuck mix of 80s speed metal, proto-thrash and first wave black metal.

For that reason i’ve never been a huge fan of this SABBAT but there are exceptions and the album i return to the most is this exquisitely designed hour long single track titled "The Melody of the Death Mask" which not only features a brilliant display of an ever-changing musical callithump of various musical styles under the auspice of blackened thrash metal but also features one of my favorite album covers in all of the metal universe! The cover art does pretty much prognosticate what you should expect with THE DWELLING as well. While rooted in the same blackened thrash noise metal that SABBAT had latched onto since the beginning, THE DWELLING is a masterwork composition more in the vein of an epic classical opus from a time long ago.

While the 59:48 album is just shy of an hour’s playing time, it is amazing in how it crafts that much playing time off of a few simple melodies that are teased out into different directions with lengthy bursts of blackened thrash metal passages and cemented together with more tender transitions such as the acoustic classic guitar sequence that occurs about the half way mark. Another brilliant feature is the psycho piano parts towards the end and the coolest thing of all is that the whole shebang is played by the trio of Gezol (bass, vocals), Temis Osmond (guitars, vocals, keyboards) and Zorugelion (drums). The overall effect of these subtle changes that alternate with completely different stylistic approaches is very much in the vein of how Jethro Tull crafted an album’s worth of changes with a single theme on their masterpiece “Thick As A Brick.”

THE DWELLING begins with a catchy melodic hook that is nurtured for a while in a classic heavy metal approach fortified with thrash metal heft and then allowed it to shift gears a bit and slowly morph into a different series of riffing. The tempos change around with some crafty instrumental parts, tasty guitar solos and when the vocals do chime in they supposedly revolve around a concept but i’m honestly not sure what it is and can’t seem to find any info about it and in the long run doesn’t really matter since the music is completely enthralling and in a big way. For an hour’s worth of playing time for one sprawling track it would be very easy to lose track but somehow despite all odds SABBAT succeeds in keeping the album engaging.

My only minor gripe is that some sequences do play on a bit too long as the band milks certain ideas for this is actually not very common. The usual status quo is to embellish an idea and its possibilities and then shift on to something similar but different. For example after the first twenty minutes winds down, the music suddenly bursts into a new thrash metal sequence that continues on with different guitar solos, varying drumming patterns and tempo changes. Despite THE DWELLING bringing Edge of Sanity’s lauded “Crimson” to mind, this one is not particularly progressive at least in terms of crafty complexities and time signature changes but it is very artful in how it stitches together various compositions and fuses them into one monstrous musical adventure. By far my favorite SABBAT album and one that only gets better each time i give it a spin.

BOREALIS Fall From Grace

Album · 2011 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.45 | 7 ratings
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The sticker on the shrink wrap said "for fans of Kamelot, Evergrey..." and one more band. My impression is that this sounds like classic Symphony X meets Evergrey. According to a couple of reviews I read, this album is the midpoint of Borealis's transition from a power metal band to a progressive metal one.

Vocalist Matt Marinelli really does sound an awful lot like Tom S. Englund of Evergrey. The guitar sound is full, the bass adds appropriate weight, synthesizer is used as a support rhythm instrument or to give a symphonic feeling. The songs don't strike me as being too overly from the power metal fold and more - really more! - like Evergrey, though I have only one Evergrey album.

The music here is really solid, melodic heavy metal. There are some speedy or heavy riffs but contrasted with the symphonic sounds of the synthesizer and the strong vocal melodies. The progressive aspect is more in the song structures or playing skill rather than being an overt display of time-signature juggling or technical hocus pocus. I do agree that this is, from a musical and song-writing perspective, a very good album. Like, done by professionals who really know what they want to achieve. The main problem I have is how similar it sounds too Evergrey. I can't help but feel that I'm listening to an Everygrey recording!

Special mention should go to the acoustic track, "Watch the World Collapse", which is a lovely track and a nice diversion from all the heavy numbers. Then there's the bonus track, "The Journey" which is such a perfect wedding song and seriously must have been written as one!

This and the follow-up album, "Purgatory" are Borealis's two highest rated albums, scoring in the nineties on Encyclopedia Metallum. I think it's a solid product but the more I listen, the more I hear Tom S. Englund, and that might be putting me off the album more and more because the singer should be developing his own voice. That and I like Evergrey but don't love the band.

EPITAPH Epitaph

Album · 1971 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Three and a half stars for the heavy metal content, but actually I quite like this album. Since I turned 50 early this year, I decided to check out albums in my collection that were released the year I was born, and then I went ahead and ordered about a dozen more. Epitaph was a band that showed up as an early seventies heavy rock, hard rock outfit, but when I listened to samples on YouTube, I wasn't convinced that I needed to add their albums to my collection. Then I got this album and I'll say that I am pleasantly surprised!

Nearly every band that played heavy rock or fell in with the first wave of heavy metal - now respectfully known as proto-metal - was not consistently heavy and intense. Most bands had one or two killer heavy tracks, a couple more that included heavy parts, and then the rest of the songs would be boogie rock, blues rock, an acoustic ballad, a folky number, and maybe something not so heavy but possibly proggy. This album isn't one of the few exceptions. However, it thankfully avoids some of the cliches that can frequently heard on American or British releases.

The opening track "Moving to the Country" features a grooving riff with slightly distorted guitars that sounds like early Eloy. It soon changes into a swinging bluesy number similar to early Wishbone Ash. However, at 3:15 there's a guitar solo that sounds suspiciously like finger tapping or at least a sequence of notes that sound similar to a tapped solo. That perked up my ears. The rest of the track revisits some of the more heavy rock sound that kicked off the song.

"Visions" is a slow track with strings or Mellotron that sounds a bit like "In the Court of the Crimson King" or a Moody Blues-inspired song. "Hopelessly" carries over from the hippy melodies of 69/70 before changing into a bass-grooving, upbeat jazz-tinged rocker like some early Uriah Heep. Then there's "Little Maggie" which a fun, southern rock-ish, track that gets rocking like Mountain or early Grand Funk Railroad. This one puts a smile on my face once the guitar solo starts carrying on.

"Early Morning" is the epic track that appears on many albums of the early seventies and it is in this track where the early heavy metal atmosphere rises through the rock. It's a slow number at first that builds the tension a little before releasing some intense drumming and guitar work. After the 8-minute mark we're into that sweet heavy rock of the 1969-72 era.

The original album is over here but the four CD bonus tracks are really worth mentioning because aside from the single version of "Visions" each of the tracks feature more of that scratchy wah-wah's guitar, hard-hammered riffs and intense drumming. "I'm Trying" once again brings to mind Wishbone Ash while "Changing World" actually nears Black Sabbath territory with some hard and heavy chords in one part while otherwise just being a showcase for speedy guitar rock with some heavy bass lines and frenetic drumming. This track is the best pick for an example of early seventies heavy rock.

Epitaph's debut is not going to make it to the top ten heavy albums of 1971 but it has a decent set of varying styles of guitar rock tracks which include some of those early heavy examples that I love to seek out. Overall, it's a pretty cool album and one that will get repeat listens simply because I enjoy listening to it.

STRIKER Play to Win

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.38 | 4 ratings
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Last year I picked up my first Striker album, their sophomore album "Armed to the Teeth". Thinking it was a great album, I went ahead and bought "City of Gold". That was a great album as well, so next I got "Stand in the Fire". This pattern continued until I had all six albums.

Striker began as a speed metal band with vocalist Daniel Cleary sounding a bit like Bruce Dickenson back on their "Road Warrior" EP of 2009. It's my opinion that from "Armed to the Teeth" onwards, Striker has reached a consistency of producing excellent album one after the other while showing interest in expanding their style. Previous albums included speed metal, thrashy-sounding, intense tracks, trad-metal, and more recently songs with strong, catchy melodies such as "Heart of a Lion" from their self-titled album of 2017.

Their latest release of original songs (there was a live in studio album released in 2020) is 2018's "Play to Win" and this album shows the band embracing much more strongly the melody-driven approach. Though the opening track "Heart of Lies" sounds like the Striker we've come to know and love, it soon becomes apparent that there will be no intense, speedy songs of angst or fighting to stay ahead. This album gives us more slower songs (but no true ballads), more clean guitar, some synthesizer even (!), and loads of ear-worm melodies. Think back to the latter half of the eighties with bands like Warrant, TNT, Waysted ("Save Your Prayers"), Lee Aaron ("Bodyrock"), and other bands that came out of the glam metal era but without the cock rock approach to song-writing.

Songs like "Head First", "On the Run", "The Front", the title track, "Standing Alone", "Heavy Is the Heart", and "Hands of Time" - heck, nearly the whole album - have these great melodic choruses that just stick into your head and you wake up in the morning with them playing. In fact, the only track to really deviate form this is the heavy and ominous-sounding "Summoner".

If you're a fan of the more intense, speedy and aggressive Striker of past albums, this one will be a shock. I read that the band made a conscious decision to branch out with their repertoire and record an album of more melodic songs. For someone who went through high school with albums like "Whitesnake", "Dirty Rotten Filthy Sticking Rich", "The Great Radio Controversy" by Tesla, "Perfect Timing" by McAuley Schenker Group, and other bands that probably fit more into the melodic hard rock or melodic glam metal scene than the trad-metal scene, this album delivers a whole new selection of great songs to rock out with and sing along to.

When recently making a playlist of my favourite Striker songs, this album along with "Armed to the Teeth" had the most tracks selected. However, in the last couple of days I'm finding I like practically every track on here. In fact, I'm thinking to order this CD for my best friend who always loved this kind of metal more than the extreme stuff.

TODD LA TORRE Rejoice In The Suffering

Album · 2021 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
[Warning: My most listened-to artist of the past 12 years by a large margin according to statistics from Last FM is Queensryche, so if you expect a review without mentioning Seattle’s finest, you may have to look elsewhere].

Rejoice In The Suffering is the debut full-length studio album by Todd La Torre, the man most famous for being the singer on the past three Queensryche albums (and drummer on the latest one too!) and who was in Crimson Glory before that.

It was released on Ratpack records and self-produced, but with help from bassist/guitarist/keyboardist Craig Blackwell, with mixing and mastering duties capably handled by Chris “Zeuss” Harris (Chimaira, Hatebreed, Shadows Fall, Overkill, Heathen, and the past two Queensryche records).

Now obviously, the first question you may be wondering is, “does it sound like Queensryche?” And the answer is a non-committal “sort of, a bit, in places, but also no.” Having the man who has been the revitalising force in the band and voice of their records for the past decade will obviously draw some comparison, as will tapping Zeuss who worked on their albums. That being said, the album feels like Todd wanting to use all the ideas he has that don’t quite fit in the Queensryche formula, or that might be too much of a departure if he did. This is not a Hard Rock record, this is not a Prog Metal album. This is a Metal album with a capital M.

The album is heavier, harder, faster and less progressive than 90% of the Ryche’s output, and because Todd doesn’t have to fit in with an established sound, his voice is much less like Geoff Tate’s than it is on Ryche records. While still sounding like himself, he really shows off all different sorts of voices here, from Rob Halford Screeches to that Bruce Dickinson/Ian Gillian talk-sing, to Chuck Billy melodic bark, to a few death growls and at one point an almost Dani Filth style creepy storytelling voice blended with a Johan Hegg roar, on one of the bonus tracks (“One By One”). Don’t let me dropping all those names capsize the boat or deflate your enthusiasm though, this is not to say the album is Todd-does-karaoke, Todd himself would probably be shaking his head if he were ever reading my comparisons; its just my limited language skills describing how broad the range of styles he covers is, he has his own unique spin on all of these voices.

What about the music? Where does that fit in with? Well, to be honest, it reminds me a lot of the newest Andy Sneap-helmed albums by Accept, Saxon and Priest at times, but some songs on the other hand (like “Critical Cynic”) are a little more punchy and staccato with that crunchy guitar sound that modern Prong albums have, but also wouldn’t be out of place on a Five Finger Death Punch album, the sort of thing you get when you take Fear Factory’s mechanical style and make it more organic.

The semi-ballad “Crossroads To Insanity” on the other hand is exactly the sort of thing Queensrcyhe have been doing lately, and probably the one to try first if you aren’t into heavier material. I feel like this one could have just sat happily on The Verdict. Its not really representative of the whole album though, if you want to get sort of the average sound of the record, listen first to the crunchy mid-paced title track, and then to the speedier, thrashier “Vanguards Of The Dawn Wall” which is probably the hardest, heaviest number and closer to Testament than Queensryche. This song shows me why Todd deserves a solo album, as he utterly nails this track, but it would never have fit on The Verdict or Condition Human. Now imagine something mid-way between the two and you’ll get a ballpark idea for where the album sits most of the time.

Todd handles the drums himself and does a great job (he was a drummer since a young age), mixing in a bit of flare with also not overplaying and aforementioned Graig handles the riffs; doing a very solid job of it, serving the songs well. There are some brilliant guitar solos too, particularly on the album closer (not counting bonus tracks) “Apology.”

Good production, check. Good stylistic direction, check. Good music, check. Good vocals, check check check check check.

I don’t know if the album will still be listened to and talked about in 5, 10 or 20 years. I don’t know if Todd’s solo career will be an ongoing thing, or if this is just a one time pandemic-era release of steam while Queensryche can’t tour. I don’t know if I am just unduly fond of it due to being a massive Toddryche fanboy, but I do know that in and of itself, this album is well worth your time right now, and a stirling showcase of a master vocalist demonstrating a broader range than he gets to in his day job. Being selfish, I hope it doesn’t interfere in Queensryche in any way, but other than that one caveat, I have nothing but good things to say about this.

ENTOMBED Left Hand Path

Album · 1990 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 30 ratings
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Good god. Death Metal was born in the late 80’s, but most of that stuff isn’t a huge leap away from extreme Thrash and Black metal of the same decade. Even the albums that had broken from carrying clear Thrash influence still sound like a genre in development. This beast sounds like it could have been released yesterday.

Entombed took one step back and two forward. They slowed down a bit, and instead of trying to outdo their peers with technical prowess or blistering intensity, dug themselves a grave and adopted a truly sepulchral sound. Insanely downtuned guitars with a sludgy buzz sound like they’re cutting through a murky swamp, while the rhythm section lays tight and varying beats that pound at a steady mid-tempo (by extreme metal standards). The vocals are the deepest growls laid to record by 1990, and there is a very cold, grave atmosphere that runs somewhat contrary to the genre’s roots in hellfire. The blue cover could play into this as much as the band’s icy homeland – but this is unmistakably the closest to true, cold death that Death Metal had ever gotten at the time

JUDAS PRIEST Painkiller

Album · 1990 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 134 ratings
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Painkiller. I don’t think anyone saw this coming from Judas Priest, one of the tamer metal bands, some 20 years into their career. I can’t imagine the insanity this caused when it dropped in 1990.

I can only look at it now. And now even now, it remains an absolute beast of melodic Speed Metal with more than a few of the genre’s most memorable riffs ever put to record. Halford’s iconic voice becomes a shredding cry here on a much different level than he had ever done before. The drumming flows into Power Metal territory with its constant double bass pummeling, and the guitars weave intense melodies that flirt with Thrash but lean more towards epic stylings rather than dark. And yet, the music and vocals are very aggressive, but almost upliftingly so. Perhaps triumphantly is a better word, as this album is a remarkable triumph of metal and indisputably Judas Priest’s finest hour.

MEGADETH Rust in Peace

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 228 ratings
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Nothing Megadeth did in the 80’s really struck me as all that amazing (no, not even Peace Sells…) but Rust in Peace is almost as incredible as the legends tell.

Megadeth has long avoided my praise due half to Dave’s poor vocals and lyricism and half to the total absence of real feeling in the otherwise impressive playing. Here, the band improve their already strong technique to enter Tech Thrash territory at times, but much more importantly they add a heavy dose of intelligent and evocative melodies that serve the song instead of simply showcase talent. The first few tracks have earworm riffs for days, just galloping one after another, only stopping for equally fantastic solos.

Dave’s vocals aren’t good here, however, he has found the sweet spot in making them work with the music, and most of the time they work really well. Holy Wars is the best example, as he switches between angry snarling about government, to a rough, desperate croon that actually sounds pained when playing the role of The Punisher lamenting what he’s been through. His voice doesn’t always hit right, but here it works much better and more often than anything they’d done prior. The lyrics range from very good to not so great, but they almost always manage to be better than the shallow words of their 80’s output.

There’s so much energy and good technique that even the weaker songs on the album are quite good. However, it is certainly a glaring weakness that side A is so, so much better than side B. Once you get halfway through, you’ve very little to look forward to in comparison of the awe-inspiring material that starts you off. In terms of high points though, this album reaches heights that are absolutely deserving of its praise.

BATHORY Hammerheart

Album · 1990 · Viking Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 48 ratings
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Bathory (Quorthon) is the type of band that is always innovating. They managed to invent 2 completely original styles of metal, Black Metal with 1984’s Bathory, and Viking Metal 6 years later on Hammerheart. They toyed with this style on 88’s Blood Fire Death, and finally the genre came into fruition here.

While this album is amazingly unique for its time, I do find a slight step down from Blood Fire Death, which is odd because the bookend Viking Metal tracks of that album were my favorite. It turns out, slower paced epic Viking Metal doesn’t feel as powerful without a ton of Blackened Thrash pummeling you in between. Hammerheart has some truly epic songs that amaze (One Rode to Asa Bay is a masterpiece) but the majority of the material doesn’t leave me in the same awe as say, Blood Fire Death or A Fine Day to Die. Since this album is much more uplifting and much less dark, the riffs aren’t really evil or sinister; rather, they are just there. In all honesty, I can’t remember any notable riffs off the album, as it puts much more emphasis on atmosphere and Quorthon’s vocals. The rhythm section is slow and monotonous, but it does create a martial mood befitting the themes.

Off of those notes though, this is still a fantastic album, and Quorthon’s vocals are actually quite awesome. He’s evolved from a pure Black Metal shriek to what sounds like a haggard yell very capable of hitting and holding notes, which was necessary to make the jump from Black to Viking Metal. The atmosphere is effective and the backing vocals provide a great sense of grandeur to the whole package. The songs individually are not always Bathory’s greatest, but the album as a whole works very well due to these connecting themes.

TROUBLE Trouble

Album · 1990 · Traditional Doom Metal
Cover art 2.73 | 9 ratings
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Trouble’s self-titled is considered the band’s best work, but I consider it a large step back. To be clear, it’s still one of the best Trad Doom albums of its era, but that’s partly the problem. The Skull and Run to the Light were making bounds and leaps towards true Doom – the depressing, emotional atmosphere, the crushing riffs… They were certainly the closest the 80’s came to true Doom, and they were masterpieces.

Trouble is simply the band falling back into groovy Trad Doom territory. The progress of their last few albums is thrown aside in favor of a more “fun” traditional album. The songwriting is simplified, and there’s more focus on vocal melodies. Lyrics tend to be somber, but the delivery isn’t. In fact, it sounds like the band’s having a great time. Good for them, but I don’t want my Doom to sound like that!

All those gripes aside, I have to reiterate it’s probably the best pure Trad Doom put to record by the turn of the decade. Songs are interesting, varied, and fun. Eric Wagner sounds better than ever, though I prefer his more desperate delivery on earlier releases.

PANTERA Cowboys From Hell

Album · 1990 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 115 ratings
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Another one of the biggest shocks of the 90’s. Sleaze metal losers Pantera decide to reinvent themselves as some sort of cowboy metal saviors, become about 3 times as heavy and start cranking out sludgy mid-tempo riffs as if they’d been doing it all along. The drumming, despite being the same guy as always, takes on a much different flavor here, making way more use of double pedals, Thrash beats and occasionally some technical prowess as well. Phil’s vocals evolve from the generic Glam croon of the last album into some rancid, dehydrated desert monster hell bent on ripping your face off.

All in all it’s just one of those huge wtf transitions that somehow went from the worst aspects of machismo in music to the best. There is little substance here, but there’s some great fun and ass kicking music that was without peer in 1990.

PSYCHOTIC WALTZ A Social Grace

Album · 1990 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 37 ratings
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Psychotic Waltz’ debut album A Social Grace is a high-quality Prog Metal affair with nice splashes of Power Metal and Heavy Metal, and an overlying fantasy/philosophical nature to it. The technique and songwriting are above average, with each musician having a good amount of precision and skill to show off. There are also a decent amount of simpler, beautiful segments and speedy aggressive parts that break things up nicely.

As far as Prog Metal goes, it’s pretty generic, which is a fair bet for anything this old, but everything is done well and there are no weak tracks barring the interlude. Nothing groundbreaking, no masterpiece, but a very fine cut of metal indeed.

YNGWIE J. MALMSTEEN Eclipse

Album · 1990 · Neoclassical metal
Cover art 3.27 | 20 ratings
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Yngwie begins the new decade with his most mainstream release yet. It’s a pretty smooth transition from Odyssey – the AOR and simplicity turned up a bit. It starts off pretty dull, and a good portion of the tracks are unmemorable anthems. The lyrics are quite poor, though they’ve never been great.

It’s not all bad, though – Eclipse is the first album where Yngwie uses his guitar to start layering simple yet effective melodies in almost New Age style. They play off keys and vocal harmonies, and there are some moments where all the sound comes together in really nice ways. Vocalist Göran Edman actually steals most of the songs, as for once Yngwie doesn’t do a whole lot of shredding and soloing. I won’t lie, these songs are about as uninspired and passionless as radio pop, but Göran certainly doesn’t lack ability, and he’s got a few fantastic hooks here. The album also ends with a string of really strong material, meaning it leaves a poor first impression, but a much stronger lasting one. I liked it more with each listen.

Overall – some of his worst, but also some of my favorite material from Yngwie.

BLASPHEMY Fallen Angel of Doom....

Album · 1990 · War Metal
Cover art 3.12 | 8 ratings
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Blasphemy released the first War Metal album in 1990 by mixing Black Metal’s thin production and dissonant riffing with mid tempo sections of meaty Death Metal and deeper growls akin to the later genre. Aside from the invention of a new subgenre, it’s really nothing special. The music is fine quality with some great riffs and impressive solos, the production is quite awful with drums obscuring most of it at times, and the whole package is relatively average.

It’s unfortunate how low the guitars are in the mix. I feel that with a better production job this album could be great, but the riffing here is about as audible as bass on a Grindcore album. An enjoyable album for a pure bestial mess of aggression, but no masterpiece.

PRIMUS Frizzle Fry

Album · 1990 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.72 | 33 ratings
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Primus help launch a new decade of metal with a release going against a lot of what 80’s metal was. Frizzle Fry was not exactly a parody album, but it combined silly and nonsensical themes, goofy vocals, and technical prowess.

Straight from your first glimpse of the cover, Frizzle Fry looks like an absolute joke. What you find inside is only halfway so, because in the songwriting and ability department, Primus take themselves very seriously. It’s no secret that it’d take a real expert to not only play, but come up with this stuff. There’s Math Rock and Experimental influence all over this thing. However, one thing Primus is not quite good at is writing a good riff, or a good guitar solo, or really anything musically memorable. The songs do their thing, dance around chaotically with some impressive technique and then leave nothing to remember them by.

The vocals, lyrics, and themes are a big weakness here for me. It’s all just too silly, never clever enough to make me laugh but annoying enough to take away from the music. The vocal style doesn’t make use of any nice hooks or melodies either, further instigating the issue of songs having no memorably strong moments.

LARD The Last Temptation of Reid

Album · 1990 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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Oof, this one is really something. Lard, as you might suspect from the name, are a crazy, sarcastic, quirky, and humorously aggressive mess of a beast. Vocalist Jello offers manic, almost parody-like commentary on real life going-ons in a bizarre but endearing vocal delivery. The band is pretty great, and despite being repetitive and simple, they create some awesome beats and razor cutting riffs that you don’t mind hearing looped. The album is delicious in the same way an excessively greasy, heart attack inducing burger might be. And thus the name fits…

Unfortunately, there’s way too much time here devoted to gimmick songs (Literally half the record time) that it can’t be great. When they do straightforward rocking, it’s awesome. When they do avant-garde novelty stuff, it’s just… bad.

CLOUD RAT Cloud Rat

Album · 2010 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Named after the cute little nocturnal rodents native to the forests of the Philippines, this CLOUD RAT is anything but cute and cuddly. Formed in 2009 in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan this band has released a number of earache inducing EPs, splits and compilations but only a few actual albums but this is a grindcore band where such distinctions blur and albums are hell bent for leather to be as bombastically brief as possible.

This self-titled release was the debut which came out in 2010. With 11 tracks it only amounts to 17 1/2 minutes of playing time and for the most part features extreme screaming over heavily distorted grind guitars that explore not only the expected high tempo speeds of the core genres but also features some slower doom metal moments with exaggerated distortion. The album sorta runs together in a well-thought out flow.

The track “Sinkhole” for example cedes into “Yama” which features a nice mid-album intermission with clean guitar chords echoing away with spoken word poetry which is on the weirder side of things cutest of singer, screamer and band philosopher Madison Marshall who happens to be a girl! Female fronted grindcore isn’t very common but she pulls it off with ease. What’s cool about this short little album is that it goes well beyond the usual one dimensional approach of grindcore and incorporates moments of sludge metal, crust punk and screamo.

Michigan has long been a hotbed for every style of music imaginable and it’s obvious that even extreme caustic metal has found a reinterpretation within this state’s boundaries. CLOUD RAT easily covers the grindcore basics but goes well beyond the call of duty and for that i find this band to be a rising star of sort albeit resorted to the underground despite the tiny mammal it derives its name from sitting high in the canopy of tropical forests. This is a nice mix of dissonant jangle chords set on slo-mo with aggressive outbursts. Bitchin.

RIVE Sorg

Album · 2016 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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One of the many one-man black metal bands out there these days, RIVE which is the project of Danthor Wildcrow stands out somewhat for coming from the extreme northern Norwegian archipelago Svalbard which sits way up in the Arctic Ocean. This whole chain of islands only has a population of about 3000 inhabitants and given that the winters are long, cold and utterly desolate, it’s not surprising to find that depressive black metal has found its way into the hearts and minds of the angsty youth who’ve had enough of chance encounters with polar bears.

As RIVE, Wildcrow has released one EP and this so far only full-length album titled SORG however both the EP “Trist” as well as SORG have two versions each, one with vocals and one just instrumental. In Norwegian RIVE means “tear” as in what you cry and SORG means “grief” as in what you feel when you’re stuck on a big fucking icy landmass in the middle of fucking nowhere and want to get the fuck out. This bleak procession through nine tracks will blacken 50 1/2 minutes of your life and attempts to make you feel as bleak and hopeless as a polar beat stuck on an iceberg.

Like most depressive black metal, this stuff churns on at mid-tempo with caustic guitar riffs punctuated by clean guitar downtime with occasional bursts of energy that include blastbeats and full black metal fury. The vocals are basically some primeval screams that are as unintelligible as a mouthful of marbles and isn’t too far in style from established depressive black metal acts like Sweden’s Shining, Xasthur or Trist. The music is as expected - cold, hypnotic, detached and noisy. Despite the despondent and repetitive nature of this style of black metal, RIVE does deliver a nice mix of various tempos and Debbie downer doses of depression.

Nothing revolutionary here in the least but for those who just can’t get enough of monotonous metal apathy fueled by explosive outbursts of black metal majesty then you could do worse than RIVE’s so far sole full-length release SORG however it’s unfortunate that there’s also not much on this album to differentiate it from similarly minded bands that fixate on suicide, nihilism, self-hatred and unrelated misery. While not my favorite style of black metal, checking out an album or two now and again hits the spot and this Svalbard act has all the right ingredients to take things to the next level provided he can thaw out long enough to deliver the goods.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM When the Storm Comes Down

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.35 | 14 ratings
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"When the Storm Comes Down" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US thrash metal act Flotsam and Jetsam. The album was released through MCA Records in May 1990. It´s the successor to "No Place for Disgrace" from 1988 and features the same lineup who recorded the predecessor.

Stylistically the material on "When the Storm Comes Down" continue the thrash metal style with melodic tinged vocals of the predecessor. Heavy thrashy riffs, powerful thrashy rhythms, skillful lead guitar playing, and Eric A.K.´s distinct sounding powerful voice in front. Eric A.K. is a bit of an atypical thrash metal singer, as he doesn´t just deliver rough staccato vocals, but actually sings. And he is an incredibly skilled singer too. Expressive, aggressive, raw, melodic, and occasionally pretty high pitched, he can do most things with his voice and he is generally a great asset to the band´s sound.

The 11 track, 49:33 minutes long album opens with the powerful "The Master Sleeps" and although both "Burned Device" and "Deviation" feature other less thrashy influences (while still predominantly staying in thrash metal territory) they are both pretty great tracks too. "October Thorns" continues in a slighty heavier mood with a crushingly heavy and catchy main riff, but with "No More Fun" things turn a little weird with a funky influence, that really doesn´t become Flotsam and Jetsam.

The remaining part of the album is generally of a good quality too, but "When the Storm Comes Down" is not an album which blows me away throughout. There are some absolutely brilliant moments featured on the album and the musicianship is on a high level on all posts too, but the rather odd sounding production, and a couple of more forgettable tracks, mean it doesn´t quite reach the heights of it´s two predecessors. It´s still a quality release on most parameters though and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

SABBAT History of a Time to Come

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.32 | 12 ratings
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In the world of metal music there were two bands called SABBAT, and both very respected with many similarities and many differences. The first SABBAT to form was the Japanese band form Kuwana, Japan however although the band was founded as far back as 1983, that SABBAT wouldn’t release any material until their debut album emerged in 1991. This other SABBAT which formed two years later in 1985 was from Nottingham, England and was the first of these two bands to release an album. This debut HISTORY OF A TIME TO COME emerged in 1988, three years before the Japanese SABBAT so therefore this could rightfully mean that this SABBAT wins!

Both band’s name is derived from the Pagan witch’s ritual that refers to a gathering of practitioners who perform witchcraft and other rituals and this British SABBAT was certainly enamored with such themes and crafted three albums around them before splitting up only six years after they began. While thrash metal isn’t the bailiwick of English bands emerging in the 1980s, SABBAT was considered one of the big four of the thrash metal scene which also included Acid Reign, Onslaught and Xentrix but out of all these bands i’d pick SABBAT any day as the most original of the entire British thrash metal scene.

While the band only released three albums, each is quite different with this debut HISTORY OF A TIME TO COME the most rooted in traditional 80s thrash metal magic. This first lineup included the guitar riff attacks of Andy Sneap, bassist Frazer Craske, drummer Simon Negus and the band’s most original aspect which came in the form of vocalist Martin Walkyier who not only delivered some outstandingly wicked sounding vocal performances somewhat in the vein of Annihilator but was also the main contributor of the Pagan lyrical themes that ultimately proved to be to much for the other band members who slowly exited the scene and ultimately ensured a short shelf life for SABBAT. Despite all this chaos, SABBAT remains one of the pinnacles of the British thrash metal scene.

There are a few elements that make HISTORY OF A TIME TO COME a riveting 80s thrash metal experience. First of all the band really knew how to create excellent thrash metal music with catchy melodic hooks that found the instrumentation of guitars, bass and drums in perfect unison but what really set this band apart from virtually every other were the brilliant lyrics and distinct vocals of lead singer Martin Walkyler who not only endowed SABBAT with a timeless popularity that will continue to eternity but continued with his next band Skyclad which was pivotal in crafting some of the first folk metal. Walkyler’s vocals were quite unique as he was able to capture that thrash metal vocal style perfectly and provided the optimal center figure for the music to wrap itself around.

This album brilliantly begins with an intro with all kinds of sound effects that set the tone before the thrash metal bombast begins. This is a very melodic early metal experience where all of the instrumentation supports an overall melodic construct and in that department SABBAT excels with one catchy track after another but also delivers in the ferocity of the cutting edge contemporary metal artists of the day. The album is extremely clever in how everything is placed. For example the intro of “For Those Who Died” begins with a spoken word dialogue that features a judge asking “How do you plead” while the plaintiff responds “Not guilty” which repeats and fades out while the judge saying guilty fades in. Oh, and did i mention those fucking kickass vocals? Geez, those are the first thing you’ll notice about this album and also the very aspect that will keep you coming back for more!

SABBAT’s three albums are very different from each other but this is the one that captures the pure essence of early thrash metal and one of my favorite examples in the entire genre. Everything just works here so well. The lyrics are intelligently designed, the musicianship is excellent and the melodic constructs are instantly addictive. Whether you subscribe to Pagan lyrics or not is beside the point as well. Walkyier’s lyrics are utterly brilliant in how he conveys his message. While not perfect, this is definitely one of my favorite 80s metal albums and although this second SABBAT album “Dreamweaver” seems to get more love, it’s this one that i return to the most.

MACABRE (IL) Murder Metal

Album · 2003 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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"Murder Metal" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, Illinois based death/grindcore act Macabre. The album was released through Decomposed Records in September 2003. It´s the successor to "Dahmer" from 2000, although the band did release the "Morbid Campfire Songs (2002)" EP under the Macabre Minstrels monicker between the two full-length albums.

As opposed to it´s predecessor, which was a concept album, where all tracks followed the life and crimes of US serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, "Murder Metal" is, like "Gloom (1989)" and "Sinister Slaughter (1993)", composed of individual tracks each telling the story of various serial killers and murderes. So the overall lyrical concept hasn´t changed and stylistically "Murder Metal" also feels like the natural successor to "Dahmer (2000)". Both albums feature similar sounding and very powerful Neil Kernon productions, and a rather adventurous (yet still relatively simple) combination of thrash, death, and grindcore, and various other influences ranging from folk traditionals to nursery-rhyme type melodies. The vocal part of Macabre´s music has always been one of their greatest assets, and something which made them stand out, and that trend continues on "Murder Metal", where the vocals vary between deep death metal growling, a more aggressive type of growling, high pitched hysterical screaming, and various types of clean vocals.

The instrumental part of the album is very well performed too. The guitars are sharp, the bass is clearly audible in the mix, which helps cement how talented Nefarious really is, and Dennis the Menace is nothing short of a drummer extraordinaire. The way he drives the music forward and is in complete control of making rhythm- and tempo changes in the most natural fashion, is an absolute joy to listen to.

"Murder Metal" features 13 tracks and a full playing time of 44:19 minutes. As something a bit different the album closes with the 12:48 minutes long "Fritz Haarman der Metzger" (featuring German lyrics and a slight black metal influence). A track length which is highly unusual for a band who usually write songs between 1 and 3 minutes long. It´s not a long "epic" track though (although there actually are a couple of epic moments featured on the track) and it stops after 5 minutes, which are then followed by 5 minutes of low noises, before a "hidden" track kicks in for the last 2 minutes of the track. To my ears the low noise section is a bit of a shame and slightly annoying. Especially considering the brilliance of the two other parts of the track. But that is about my only complaint when it comes to "Murder Metal", which is otherwise packed with high quality material. It´s raw, powerful, and quite unique sounding, and should appeal to those who prefer their extreme metal to sound unconventional.

It´s hard to pick highlights, as all tracks deserve equal praise, but the above mentioned "Fritz Haarman der Metzger", "Fatal Foot Fetish", and "Morbid Minister" are to my ears some of the standout tracks. I´d also like to give a special mention to "The Hillside Stranglers", which features part of the same chorus melody and lyrics as were also featured on "The Vampire of Düsseldorf" from "Sinister Slaughter (1993)". That´s what the late Frank Zappa would have referred to as conceptual continuity, and it works pretty well here. Who would have thought that Frank Zappa and Macabre were kindred spirits. Of course they both made a spoof of the cover artwork for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)" by The Beatles, but still...the point here being that there is more to Macabre than meets the eye/ear.

Upon conclusion "Murder Metal" is another high quality release by Macabre, and considering the extremely high quality of "Dahmer (2000)", it´s safe to say the band were on an artistic roll in those years. "Dahmer (2000)" still stands as the peak/masterpiece of their career, but "Murder Metal" isn´t far behind, and a 4.5 star (90%) rating is fully deserved.

ANNIHILATOR Bag of Tricks

Boxset / Compilation · 1994 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.19 | 3 ratings
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"Bag of Tricks" is a compilation album by Canadian thrash/heavy metal act Annihilator. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in October 1994, only a few days after the release of the band´s fourth full-length studio album "King of the Kill (1994)". The latter was released through Music For Nations, after Annihilator was dropped by Roadrunner Records following the commercial failure of "Set the World on Fire (1993)". Apparently Roadrunner Records still had the rights to release archive material, because "Bag of Tricks" features a combination of rare and unreleased demo and live recordings from the years 1986-1991. Jeff Waters is credited as producer, so "Bag of Tricks" was probably, at least to some extent, released by mutual consent.

"Bag of Tricks" features three tracks from the 1986 "Phantasmagoria" demo ("Ligeia", which was the fourth track on the demo was left off because of CD time restraints). The "Phantasmagoria (1986)" demo was the demo which secured Annihilator their recording deal with Roadrunner Records, and it features guitarist Jeff Waters on vocals, but "Bag of Tricks" also features pre-production demos of tracks from both "Never, Neverland (1990)" and "Set the World on Fire (1993)", some varying a great deal from the final studio versions. Especially because the pre-production demo tracks for "Never, Neverland (1990)" feature Randy Rampage on vocals (among them the tracks "Back to the Crypt" and "Gallery", where only sections of the songs ended up being used on the title track for the final album) and the pre-production demo tracks for "Set the World on Fire (1993)" feature Coburn Pharr on vocals (among them a track titled "Fantastic Things", which didn´t make the final cut for the album). Both vocalists had been replaced by other singers on the final studio versions of the tracks. As bassist Wayne Daley handles vocals on "Fantastic Things" and Waters handles the vocals on the early demo tracks, there are actually vocal contributions from four different vocalists on the compilation.

In addition to the 1986 demo tracks and the pre-production demo tracks from "Never, Neverland (1990)" and "Set the World on Fire (1993)", "Bag of Tricks" features a remastered version of "Alison Hell" (from the band´s debut full-length studio album "Alice in Hell (1989)"), an extended mix version of "The Fun Palace" (which is 30 seconds longer than the album version on "Never, Neverland (1990)"), and four live tracks. "Human Insecticide" features Randy Rampage on vocals and was originally featured on the 1990 Roadrunner Records compilation album "Thrash The Wall", while "W.T.Y.D.", "World Salad", and the AC/DC cover "Live Wire", feature Coburn Pharr on vocals. The two former were previously released on the April 1991 "Stonewall" single, while the latter is previously unreleased.

Stylistically the music is melodic thrash metal/heavy metal, delivered by technically skilled musicians. The sound production varies from relatively lo-fi on the early demo tracks, to pretty good sound quality on the remaining tracks (including the live tracks). Needless to say that a compilation of rare and unreased demo and live material is usually a hardcore fan item, and that goes for "Bag of Tricks" too. The overall quality of the compilation is relatively high, but it´s not a good starting point for the uninitiated. A 3.5 star (70%) is deserved.

JEFF LOOMIS Plains of Oblivion

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.41 | 7 ratings
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UMUR
"Plains of Oblivion" is the 2nd solo album release by US guitarist Jeff Loomis. The album was released through Century Media Records in April 2012. Loomis released his debut full-length studio album "Zero Order Phase" in 2008, while his then main band Nevermore was on a break in activities. Loomis (and drummer Van Williams) however left Nevermore in April 2011, and as it would be a few years before he would join Arch Enemy, this second solo album was his main project in 2011/2012. Loomis performs all basic guitars on the album, but is helped out by a couple of guest guitarists like Chris Poland (OHM, Megadeth), Marty Friedman (Megadeth), and Tony MacAlpine (Planet X, Steve Vai). The bass is performed by Shane Lentz (Ys, Kamikabe), and the drums are played by Dirk Verbeuren (Aborted, Soilwork, Megadeth). In addition to that the album features a couple of guest vocal performances by Ihsahn (Ihsahn, Emperor) and Christine Rhoades (who also collaborated with Loomis in Nevermore).

The material on "Plains of Oblivion" are predominantly instrumental tracks focused on the guitar playing by Loomis, which is of course only natural as this is his project. Thankfully Loomis does not neglect the remaining parts of the compositions, which are well arranged and features powerful riffs and rhythms. The tracks featuring vocals are also great for the variation of the album, although the instrumental tracks are ultimately the most interesting ("The Ultimatum" being one of the highlights. The playing on that track is insane..."Escape Velocity" could also be mentioned here). Loomis playing is both virtuosic, fast, raw, and powerful when it needs to be, but also tasteful and melodic, so the instrumental tracks are quite varied, and it´s not only guitarists who should be able to enjoy the music, but also more "regular" music listeners. The vocal tracks are of course also a contributing factor to that.

Christine Rhoades sings lead on "Tragedy and Harmony" and on "Chosen Time", but the limited edition of the album features two more tracks with her vocal contributions. Ihsahn sings lead vocals on "Surrender", which provides the album with a brief extreme metal moment (the album is generally pretty heavy though, and there are several extreme metal influences in the instrumental work too). So "Plains of Oblivion" is overall a high quality release with high level musical performances by all involved, a powerful and detailed sound production, and memorable compositions, which are not just aimed at showing off Loomis considerable skills on a guitar, although we of course treated to loads of great guitar work throughout the album. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

AD NAUSEAM Imperative Imperceptible Impulse

Album · 2021 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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AD NAUSEUM hit the ground running in the world of avant-garde tech death metal in 2015 with its lauded “Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est” which proved to be the second coming of Gorguts’ classic “Obscura” wrapped in completely new clothing. With bantering wails of sonic swarms of atonal and jagged guitar riffs teased out into unthinkable detachment, AD NAUSEUM proved they were worthy successors and pretty much handed honorable post doctorates in “Obscura” studies which they so successfully took to the next level in the world of avant-garde metal excess.

If any band can be accused of nerding out to the max, surely it’s this quartet of unorthodox musicians hailing from Scio, Italy which is just a hop, skip and a jump from the city of Venice. Having gotten the unrelenting angst out of their system after a debut album that excelled in a relentless attack so frighteningly intense that it was advised to avoid for those who were faint of heart, after six long years AD NAUSEUM returns with its second coming in the form of IMPERATIVE IMPERCEPTIBLE IMPULSE and as well as leaving the Latin locutions behind, so too does AD NAUSEUM jettison the full speed throttle that dominated the debut.

While the 20th century integral serialism and avant-garde classical underpinnings of the debut rarely peeked out of the bantering din, IMPERATIVE IMPERCEPTIBLE IMPULSE showcases a more relaxed AD NAUSEUM that has allowed less abrasive moments of contemplation to intermingle within the incessant metal brawl that continues the bantering din of the Gorguts playbook. Album #2 features six tracks, all of which exceed the eight minute mark with “Coincidentia oppositorum” racing past the twelve. With a running time of 57 minutes, IMPERATIVE IMPERCEPTIBLE IMPULSE offers a more balanced approach laid down on the debut with an extraordinary attention to details that displays this band’s outstanding commitment to crafting some of the most forward thinking avant-garde metal of the decade.

While still steeped in tech death clothing with growly vocals, aggressive technical guitar wizardry and abrasive atonalities, AD NAUSEUM has like many of its contemporaries in reality drifted off into a totally new world of extreme metal that doesn’t really fit into the established orthodoxies of death, black, sludge, progressive etc metal. While currently only the term avant-garde can really fit the bill, AD NAUSEUM continues the death metal immediacy with the Deathspell Omega abstractness and Meshuggah-like disscontempt of established paradigms. On this sophomore release, AD NAUSEUM pretty much takes all the features of the debut and amplifies them severalfold.

This is the kind of metal monstrosity that has alienated a lot of traditional metalheads for sure as this type of experimental abstractness has totally left the gravitational pull of classic metal approaches and ventured into unknown territory where it seems there is no end in sight as these types of bands venture ever further into the unexplored terrains. AD NAUSEUM seems to have perfected a balancing act here as it delivers unrelenting brutality in the form of atonal dissonance riff barrages wrapped up in progressive tech death clothing however the moments of non-metal shine through much more brightly and feature interesting orchestrations that evoke a keen sense of 20th century classical composers ranging from Arnold Schoeberg and John Cage to free dissonance and experimentalism of Charles Ives and Edgard Verèse. Metal bands like this are truly the new avant-garde classical. There are more moments on this one that remind me of Kayo Dot or Maudlin of the Well than album #1.

This is truly abstractionist’s paradise as AD NAUSEUM really understands the dynamics of metal-in-opposition and develops their post-Obscura-ism even further. Graced with a keen attention to production values as well as over-the-top metal dynamism, this band has truly mastered the true intent of avant-garde extreme metal and showcases a more mature album although many will be instantly alienated by the jagged uninviting soundscapes presented. Advanced metal who study calculus for fun. This is not the instantly warm and fuzzy metal of decades prior but rather the ultimate expression in nerd metal run amok. Personally i love this shit and AD NAUSEUM has unleashed a brilliant followup to its already ambitious debut.

AD NAUSEAM Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est

Album · 2015 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Ever since Gorguts spawned its unorthodox soul crushing “Obscura” onto the world in 1998 there has been an arms race of sort by adventurous tech death metal bands to take such otherworldly atonal entanglements of sonic terror ever further down a rabbit hole so riddled with avant-garde aggressiveness and tortuous labyrinthine nihilism that in comparison to established scenes of extreme metal, these new cutting edge wizards of convoluted complexity sounded like invading alien forces more than anything within the established metal universe. So thereafter bands like Ulcerate, Pyrrhon, Portal and Mitochondrion unleashed equally abstract brutality dressed up in death metal dissonance and 20th century classical integral serialism with frenetic spectral fearfulness, trepidation and utter dread.

One of the newer kids on this block is the Italian band AD NAUSEUM which emanates from the Venetian region’s city of Schio. Having formed in the year 2011, this ear abusing team of four which includes Andrea P. (guitar, vocals), Matteo G. (guitar, backing vocals), Andrea S. (drums) and Matteo B. (bass) graduated from Obscura University and received honorary PHDs for all things deranged and drenched with dissonant dementia. This band spent four long years crafting their ugly aberration of musical mischief which resulted in the delirium that became this debut release NIHIL QUAM VACUITAS ORDINATUM EST which translates into some sort of arcaneness like “Nothing Was Ordered To Empty,” a title that perfectly sums up the head scratching vagueness that this procession of jangled guitar attacks and technical time signature rich jitteriness employs to bestow a temporary lapse of reason and entices the listener into a bizarre new quantum realm where the normal rules of physics do not apply.

While technical death metal has evolved in myriad directions, this is by far the most extreme journey one can embark upon within one of the already most extreme branches of the metal universe. AD NAUSEUM insinuates a nauseous roller coaster ride of sound which it more than delivers as this frantic crushing rampage of sonic swells relentlessly barrages the senses from every possible vector like a sailing vessel lost at sea during the most intense category 5 hurricane extinguishes all hope of survival. This is a wild ride with the intensity of Frodo and Sam marching through Mordor with the intent to rid the world of the ring of power but only to find its will is superior with a cold reptilian intent to dislodge any familiar sanity and cast it into a pool of Promethean fire so intense that mere mortals will melt into the primary elemental components that form the known universe. Yeah! Something like that! Hehe. Touted as Gorguts’ lauded masterwork “Obscura” revived, NIHIL QUAM VACUITAS ORDINATUM EST truly does evoke that glorious milestone of metal music like few others have succeeded in doing.

Graced with eight outlandish tracks that consume over 55 minutes of your precious life-force, AD NAUSEUM relentlessly delivers an incessant attack on all “normalcy” of what metal music is or was i should say, about. With jagged razor sharp bantering guitar riffs pummeling arrows of atonality and a compositional fortitude based in 20th century classical composers which is only brought to life during the rare moments of the metal bombast taking a breather, the John Cage piano experiments and chamber music string sections expose the underbelly of a sophisticated giant lurking beneath the orotund decibelage so utterly intense that it truly sounds as if it was designed to wake the dead and some sort of zombiefication ritual that if nothing else will leave your soul in utter decay. This is truly some seriously chaotic technical music here unlike any other and well worthy of the title of being the next “Obscura” however the beauty thereof lies in the fact that this sect of soul sucking tumult is exquisitely designed and provides a suborder of hypnotic underpinnings that allows one to connect to this much in the way one could connect to the occulted inner workings of “Obscura.” Yes, AD NAUSEUM has done their homework well and crafted a beautiful ugliness fit for those who have always secretly desired a triumvirate unholy unification of Gorguts, Ved Buens Ende and Deathspell Omega.

ACCEPT Too Mean to Die

Album · 2021 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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If someone asked me to define pure classic heavy metal, the first thing that comes to my mind is the German band, Accept. Their classic run of 1980s albums is still fresh and entertaining to this day, and their reunion era with the new singer Mark Tornillo is somehow just as good, or even better (very few heritage bands can say that, maybe only Kreator are making better albums nowadays than in the 80s). For example; Their 2012 album Stalingrad was one of my albums of the whole decade, and the follow up to that Blind Rage is just as good.

In 2021 the long running band have put out their sixteenth full-length studio album, and the fifth of their modern Tornillo-era. Like the other albums from this era it is released on Nuclear Blast, and boasts an absolutely banging production job from Andy Sneap (who has done some great work with the best Saxon, ‘Priest and Testament albums of the modern era).

There has been some line-up shifts in recent years, as essential members Herman Frank and Stefan Schwarzmann left before the previous album, The Rise Of Chaos, and now iconic bassist Peter Baltes has departed too. I can imagine a few fans being worried about how that will affect the sound and direction.

Luckily main-man Wolf Hoffman is still going strong, and the Tornillo/Sneap dynamic over Wolf’s signature style ensures a sense of continuity. Christopher Williams on drums and Uwe Lulis on guitar are still here from the previous record (and the live album before that) and both of those guys are pretty dialled into what Accept should sound like anyway, which also helps it all still feel like Accept should feel.

If you have heard any album since Blood Of The Nations, you will know stylistically what to expect here. They’ve settled into a specific style and are pretty much just fleshing out every variation of that theme they can think of without straying too far, kind of like how Motorhead did for their final five or six albums, or what Saxon have been doing on their three or four most recent records. There are fast, medium and slow paced variations. There are melodic, blunt and medium intensity variants. There are rocking and metallic stylistic variants. Some songs may have a bit of a neoclassical section here, or a singalong section there. But at the end of the day, they’ve hit upon an excellent formula and they’re working it to maximum effect one album after another now; There’s lots of speed metal, lots of hard rock and a few tiny tinges of thrash and power metal in small doses for flavour now and again.

If you want to know what this album (or indeed the last four albums sound like), check out the brilliant tracks “Not My Problem,” “No One’s Master” or the title-track “To Mean To Die.” Plenty of good tunes here to keep existing fans happy. This stuff is exactly what I love about the band.

For the band’s more rock, less Metallic side, “Overnight Sensation” is a blast, and the amusing lyrics about social media influencers kind of serve as a spiritual sequel to the previous album’s “Analogue Man.” If you like the band when they add a bit of classical music into the mix, then “Symphony Of Pain” is also worth checking out.

How does this album fit into the band’s catalogue overall? Well, it isn’t my number-one favourite, but it is no disappointment either. I think of words like “solid” or “dependable” which may sound like damning with faint praise, but that isn’t the case. They have released better albums, that’s just the burden of being a brilliant band with a stellar catalogue. There may perhaps be one or two songs that come across as filler, and furthermore because they’ve used this formula for several albums now nothing feels particularly wow-ing or fresh which can sometimes have an impact when ranking records, but as a whole it is just another damn solid set of songs in a style I’ve come to love for the last decade, and still as well produced and performed as ever. If it was a Deep Purple album, it would be Who Do We Think We Are. Still awesome, but maybe not the one that makes it into all the lists.

Will it make my album of the decade list like Stalingrad did? Maybe not. Will it be my number one album of this year? Possibly not either. But do I still recommend you buy it? You bet I doa. If you liked Rise Of Chaos, you’re going to like this, it is as simple as that. At least half the album I can’t wait to add to playlists or see on live albums.

[Ps. As a side note, every time I look at the green album artwork with a pissed off looking serpent and a lightning forked-tongue, I always wonder if it was originally made for Overkill, like maybe the single art for Electric Rattlesnake? Kind of like how Obituary’s Cause Of Death album cover was originally either made or at least suggested for Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains].

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST The Thule Grimoires

Album · 2021 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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It’s been four years since the one-man act Alexander von Meilenwald has released anything under his THE RUINS OF BEVERAST project but a four year gap is pretty much the norm as Mellenwald clearly favors quality over quantity of material not to mention the two splits that emerged in 2020 with Mourning Beloveth and Almyrkvi. THE THULE GRIMOIRES is the sixth full album experience from the mighty BEVERAST which has consistently cranked out a slew of highly sophisticated and enticing examples of extreme metal that continue to defy classification. Is it atmospheric black metal? Is it death-doom? Or is it avant-garde progressive? Well, throw in all of the aforementioned and a healthy dose of dark ambient in the proper doses doused with the fertile creative mind of a dedicated musician and voila, you have the recipe for some highly innovative 21st century metal in the making.

THULE refers to the location farthest north in ancient Greek and Roman world but with the advent of the concept ultima THULE acquired a metaphorical extensional meaning of any place beyond the borders of the known world, a perfect concept for the murky blackened sonic storm of sound to wrap themselves around especially when paired with the term GRIMOIRE which is a textbook of magic and serves as an instructional guide on how to create magical objects such as talismans, amulets as well as a guide for casting spells and summoning supernatural entitles ranging from diving angels to hellish demons. THE TULE GRIMOIRES as a concept offers a glimpse into a terrifying world beyond our comprehension where demonic wizardry and the realities of the hellish underworld provide the inspiration for this collection of seven sprawling tracks that collectively exceed the 69 minute mark.

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST albums are notorious for being lengthy atmospheric compositions that embark on darkened journeys and employ the sounds of various metal styles as well as ambient sounds to craft an otherworldly soundscape that perfectly synchronizes with the subject matter at hand. THE THULE GRIMOIRES is no exception in continuing this tradition however the beauty of this project is that Mellenwald never relies on the copy and paste method for crafting new music magic. THE THULE GRIMOIRES features the recognizable black metal guitar fuzz, the sprawling ten minute plus compositions teased out into meandering musical form as well as the expected extreme metal vocal style of previous BEVERAST offerings. This album however adopts more of a gothic metal approach with clean ghoulish vocals often replacing the raspy growls and calm icy slow tempos inching the album along in death-doom procession.

With less emphasis on the overall metal elements of THE THULE GRIMOIRES, Mellenwald casts his gaze on the potentials of a production job that amplifies the grimness value with oscillating guitar distortion, engaging atmospheric contrapuntal sound swarms as well as placing the focus on the flow of the album and the overarching psychological effects rather than on any particular track. The album is technically demarcated by the chapters Aurora, Than and Sad Chapel and is noticeable less bombastic than previous albums and in many ways sounds like a more experimental version of Type O Negative during the gothic excursions to Transylvania and back. Despite the black metal tag awarded, THE THULE GRIMOIRES feels the least black metal of the entire BEVERAST canon as blastbeats are for the most part tamped down in favor of a plodding procession into the darkness with guitar chords sustained in glacial drone metal perpetuity.

While i cannot honestly declare THE THULE GRIMOIRES to be the most exuberant or compelling chapter of THE RUINS OF BEVERAST canon, i can definitely appreciate that Mellenwald doesn’t simply rest on his laurels and continuously crafts a completely differing musical experience from one album to the next, a talent he has showcased ever since his Nagelfar days. As with all BEVERAST releases, this is not one to rush through and to expect it to sink in immediately. This dense package of sounds is so intricately designed that you could probably drive yourself crazy analyzing the minutia but despite the lack of the desired bombast of yore, still comes off as an interesting and unique excursion into the gothened RUINS OF BEVERAST universe and one that is worthy of attention for those who love the more modern high brow compositional fortitude of experimental metal.

EVILDEAD United States of Anarchy

Album · 2020 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"United States of Anarchy" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Evildead. The album was released through Steamhammer in October 2020. It´s the successor to "The Underworld" from 1991. Evildead disbanded in 1995, and had a reunion in 2008 which lasted until 2012 where they disbanded again (this period spawned only one recording from the band in the 2011 "Blasphemy Divine" single). Evildead reunited a second time in 2016 and resigned to their former label for the relase of "United States of Anarchy".

Lead vocalist Phil Flores, guitarist Juan Garcia, and bassist Karlos Medina, remain from the lineup who recorded "The Underworld (1991)", while guitarist Albert Gonzales and drummer Rob Alaniz are new in the band.

Stylistically Evildead play an aggressive, mid-to fast-paced type of thrash metal with crossover leanings. Flores sometimes sound very similar to Billy Milano (S.O.D., M.O.D.), and other times like the most raw moments produced by Russ Anderson (Forbidden). Needless to say his voice is strong and his performance powerful and raw. There are loads of riot gang choir vocals throughout the album too. The lyrics are often political in nature. Opening track "The Descending" talks about the unfairness of the US political system and corruption (the line "It just a game to the billionaire" says a lot), while "Napoleon Complex" is aimed directly at former president Donald Trump (at least that´s how I interpret the lyrics).

"United States of Anarchy" is an album loaded with killer thrash metal riffs and new drummer Rob Alaniz is a great asset to the band´s sound. He has a powerful playing style, driving the music forward in an energetic and aggressive fashion. I didn´t sit still one second of the 38:35 minutes long playing time, maybe except for the awkward clean guitar lounge jazz intro to "No Difference", which was completely unneccesary if you ask me. Yeah we now know you can play other styles than thrash metal...now get on with the thrashing!!!

Evildead are an exceptionally well playing band, and they understand how to compose a 3-4 minutes long effective and concise thrash metal tune, designed to make your head bang and your body move (while that´s not the case with the B-52´s cover "Planet Claire 2020", it´s still a great cover song and a nice variation on the album). They excel in both fast-paced thrashing and mid-paced heavy grooves and as "United States of Anarchy" also features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, it´s through and through a high quality release and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DISMEMBER The God That Never Was

Album · 2006 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.61 | 5 ratings
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"The God That Never Was" is the 7th full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Dismember. The album was released through Candlelight Records in March 2006. Almost to the day two years after the release of its predecessor "Where Ironcrosses Grow (2004)". The core lineup of David Blomqvist (guitars), Fred Estby (drums), and Matti Kärki (vocals) is intact since the predecessor, but bassist/guitarist Martin Persson has been added to the lineup for the recording of "The God That Never Was".

Stylistically the material on the 11 track, 35:33 minutes long album is pretty much Dismember as they´ve sounded since day one. Old school Swedish death metal with the occasional melodic section. "The God That Never Was" is predominantly a pretty brutal album though, and Dismember don´t exactly sound like a bunch of seasoned and tired guys. There´s nothing wrong with the passion and energy level of the delivery. The sound production is raw and powerful, but quality wise pretty standard for the genre, and "The God That Never Was" is in many ways Dismember by the numbers. It´s not their best release (which will always be the debut album), and it´s not their worst either, but it´s not an album which stands out much in their discography.

Not many tracks stand out (maybe except for the melodic instrumental "Phantoms (of the Oath)"), but the the quality of the material is still relatively high, and I´d place "The God That Never Was" in the better half of the band´s output. Decent songwriting, strong musical performances, and a suitingly raw and powerful sound production amount to a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating.

FLESH MADE SIN Dawn of the Stillborn

Album · 2004 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Dawn of the Stillborn" is the debut full-length studio album by Dutch thrash metal act Flesh Made Sin. The album was released through Karmageddon Media in November 2004. Flesh Made Sin were founded in Tilburg in 1999 and released two demos before being signed for the release of "Dawn of the Stillborn".

The music style on "Dawn of the Stillborn" is a brutal type of thrash metal, which often sounds almost eerily like "Hell Awaits (1985)"-era Slayer. The vocals are a death/thrash rabid dog snarling, but the riffs, the rhythms, and the guitar solos reek of 1985 Slayer. The sound production is also suitably raw and organic, which provides the material with the right environment to shine...

...and shine it does, if you can look past the obvious Slayer influence. Flesh Made Sin are skilled musicians who know what they do, and the material on the 8 track, 37:55 minutes long album are also well composed. It´s seldom outstanding, but definitely solid and very enjoyable thrash metal in the raw end of the spectrum. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ELECTRIC WIZARD Black Masses

Album · 2010 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.43 | 13 ratings
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"Black Masses" is the 7th full-length studio album by UK stoner/doom metal act Electric Wizard. The album was released through Rise Above Records in November 2010. There´s been one lineup change since "Witchcult Today (2007)" as bassist Rob Al-Issa has been replaced by Tas (Real name Tasos Danazoglou).

Stylistically it´s more or less a continuation of the stoner/doom metal style of the predecessor. It´s filthy, distorted, dark, psychadelic, and occasionally quite aggressive. Electric Wizard have always been masters of striking a good balance between crushingly heavy occult themed darkness and psychadelic stoned out jamming. Sometimes it has worked wonders and sometimes it´s been a little less successful. "Black Masses" features both excellent moments and less interesting ones. Typically the more structured parts of the tracks on the album work really well. Aggressive, distorted, and desperate sounding vocals by lead vocalist/guitarist Jus Oborn, crushingly heavy riff and rhythms, all packed in an organic and raw sounding production, which suits the music perfectly. Most tracks have a tendency to drag on for too long though, often closing with what seems like endless repetition of the same riffs/rhythms layered with feedback noises and psychadelic effects. It works well for a minute or two, but then those sections overstay their welcome. The inclusion of the dark droning 8:49 minutes long instrumental "Crypt of Drugula", which closes the album, is also a bit hard on the ears of the listener who just wants something recognisable to hang on to.

When that is said I always praise uncompromising artists, and Electric Wizard definitely belong in that catagory. They obviously play exactly what they want to, when they want to, and although they have a basic musical formula, which has worked well for them for years, they don´t necessarily try and replicate their greatest successes. Upon conclusion "Black Masses" is another quality stoner/doom metal release by Electric Wizard and although it may not be their most innovative album nor their most high quality work a 3.5 star (70%) rating is still well deserved.

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