Metal Music Reviews

HATESPHERE HateSphere

Album · 2001 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Hatesphere" is the self-titled debut full-length studio album by Danish death/thrash metal act Hatesphere. The album was released through Scarlet Records in April 2001. Hatesphere was formed under the Cauterized monicker in 1993, but changed their name to Necrosis the same year. They released three demos under that monicker before changing their name to Hatesphere in 2001.

So it´s safe to say that these five guys aren´t new to the scene or to playing their instruments even though this release is their debut album, and that´s obvious when listening to the album. The musicianship are on a high level on all posts. Lead vocalist Jacob Bredahl delivers aggressive and raw shouting vocals with passion and conviction, while the rhythm section play powerful solid beats and the two guitarists deliver both tremolo picked riffing, more thrashy rhythmic ditto (even a couple of excursions into more groove oriented territory), and a blistering solo here and there too.

Stylistically Hatesphere play a combination of melodic Gothenburg influenced death metal and brutal thrash metal. Think of a mix of early Soilwork and early The Haunted and you´re halfway there. It´s first and foremost about aggression and power though, so the melodic element of the band´s sound is secondary to that, which also means that this is not a melodeath album, even though it bears traits of that genre. The material are generally well written, but also a bit one-dimensional and as a consequnce the tracks can be hard to tell apart even after several listens. So while the music is catchy and powerful while it plays, it´s not anthemic enough in nature to stick beyond that.

The sound production is raw and powerful (credited to Jacob Hansen and Hatesphere). It´s a suiting professional sounding production for the music featured on the album. "Hatesphere" is upon conclusion a both powerful and promising debut album and while there are some issues with the material being slightly one-dimensional, it´s not a major issue in this type of music, and overall it´s still a great album deserving a 3.5 star (70%) rating.

ILLDISPOSED Sense The Darkness

Album · 2012 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Sense The Darkness" is the 11th full-length studio album by Danish death metal act Illdisposed. The album was released through Massacre Records in September 2012. The regular version features 11 tracks, while the digipack version features 2 bonus tracks ("War" and "Desire").

The music on the album is in the trademark groove oriented death metal style that Illdisposed have more or less played since day one. They´ve added more contemporary sounding keyboards and melodeath traits along the way, but they´ve always sounded like themselves. On this album the keyboards aren´t present and in that respect it´s a more "regular" sounding death metal album, but still more contemporary sounding than old school. Bo Sommer´s distorted and effect laden deep growling, the groovy riffs and the predominantly mid-paced heavy rhythms are in place, and "Sense The Darkness" in many ways feels like another day at the office.

The songwriting is solid (yet not outstanding), the musicianship are strong, and the album features a powerful sound production that suits the music well (although to my ears the clicky bass drum sound doesn´t do the music any favours). Yet the album doesn´t stand out much in the band´s discography and the tracks have a tendency to sound a bit too much the same. It´s solid enough, but not more than that. It´s obvious that Illdisposed have the skills, and backed up by Massacre Records, the money for a strong sound production, so it´s in the songwriting department they could improve.

They sound too comfortable, too at ease with what they do, and I think "Sense The Darkness" suffers because of it. To my ears it lacks bite and passion. It´s still a reasonably strong death metal album though and while my words are probably a bit harsh, a 3 star (60%) rating is still deserved.

SHED THE SKIN Harrowing Faith

Album · 2016 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Harrowing Faith" is the debut full-length studio album by US, Ohio based death metal act Shed the Skin. The album was released through Hells Headbangers Records in May 2016. Shed the Skin was formed in Cleveland in 2011 and their first release was the "Rebirth Through Brimstone" EP in 2014. "Harrowing Faith" was mixed and mastered at Unisound Studios, Sweden by Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity, Nightingale, Witherscape...etc.).

The material on the 12 track, 38:53 minutes long album is relatively standard early 90s influenced death metal. It´s well performed, very well produced (the sound production is powerful, clear, and detailed), and the songwriting is decent too. It´s in the latter department where Shed the Skin could improve though. As written the material is decent enough in terms of being powerful and brutal death metal (mostly mid-paced with both brutal growling vocals and higher pitched screams), but when "Harrowing Faith" has finished playing, I don´t really remember any tracks off it. That´s not unusual for a death metal album, and it´s not always a major issue, as long as the album is enjoyable while it plays, and "Harrowing Faith" certainly is that, but I can´t help thinking of the album as a release with some brilliant moments but also a lot of generic ones. It just doesn´t stand out much.

When that is said, "Harrowing Faith" is still a quality release on most other parameters, and as mentioned above entertaining while it plays. So while my description above may sound a bit negative, "Harrowing Faith" is overall a pretty strong debut release by Shed the Skin. The lack of hooks mentioned above is meant as a constructive criticism in terms of Shed the Skin hopefully adding more catchy moments to future material. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

WHIPLASH Power and Pain

Album · 1985 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 7 ratings
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Unitron
"Thrash, to kill! Blood, will spill!"

Forming back in 1983 under the name Jackhammer, the New Jersey thrash/speed metal act renamed to Whiplash only a year later, although both names fit well with their sound. They electrified thrashers in 1985 with the release of their debut studio album, whose name of Power and Pain describes what these guys are coming to deliver. Despite being from the US, Whiplash has a lot more in common with the early material from German Teutonic thrash bands like Kreator and Destruction than most US acts, although Kill 'em All-era Metallica should be noted as a valid reference point.

Whiplash you will get after thrashing to the band's incredibly rapid attack. Rivaling Razor when it comes to pure aggression and speed, frontman Tony Portaro's riffs pierce the skin and speed through your veins like motorcycle gangs on the highway. Portaro fills the vocal spot also, viciously barking out mosh pit calls. Amongst all the ripping solos and shredding, there's a tight rhythm section to keep it all together. The whole album will spit through your skull, but highlights definitely include "Stage Dive", "War Monger", "Spit on Your Grave", and the colossal "Red Bomb" which punches you in the gut with it's opening riff.

If you want a classic thrashing from one of the more underrated bands of the US thrash scene, check out Whiplash's Power and Pain. It's a pure, raw, all-out, no-bullshit romp through the pit. Who needs to dive in the pool, when you can Stage Dive? Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

BUCKETHEAD Bermuda Triangle

Album · 2002 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The year 2002 was the beginning of the prolific years for BUCKETHEAD as it was the first time he released more than one solo album within a 365 day period and after dipping his toes in the fertile ground of metal meets electronica cross-pollination in the 90s he finally went full force with “Funnel Weaver” which included metal guitar riffs and licks mixed with drum sample loops, sound effects and electronic accoutrements. On BERMUDA TRIANGLE he takes those ideas and evolves them from the initial stages that made “Funnel Weaver” sound like a rough draft for something greater. Add the turntable and hip hop extraordinaire Extrakd to the mix and you have a recipe for one of the coolest avant-electronica tinged metal, rock and folk this side of that scary sector of the Caribbean where planes and ships have been vanishing from the face of the Earth for eons.

BERMUDA TRIANGLE indeed has a theme going on, well at least as far as the titles are concerned which all correspond to the sea, sailors and all things associated with the mysterious sector of the inner Atlantic Ocean. Everything about BERMUDA TRIANGLE is a major step up from “Funnel Weaver.” The tracks are more developed even though not necessarily longer however a couple do top the four minute mark. Also they are more diverse in style, mood and dynamics with lots of genres being jostled around like an empty bottle of rum on the poop deck as some like “Flight” are raucous filthy metal guitar riffs with hyperbolic drum tempos while others such as “Seas Of Expanding Shapes” consist of acoustic guitar chords strumming along with twitchy glitchy electro-beats bobbing up and down like a buoy in a stormy night. Also included are wildly freaky electronic effect tracks such as “The Triangle Part 1: Extrakd” which utilize all kinds of tricks and trinkets for bizarro mondo electro-dynamics.

What’s also cool about this one is that the music consists of a diverse sonic palette as well lots of vocal samples. Out of the 19 tracks you will here metal, blues, rock, funk, folk and healthy doses of avant-garde. The creativity is off the charts on this one and despite this being highly experimental in nature has the right kind of hooks to sink in deep from the first listen. Oh, and the production is top notch as well! BERMUDA TRIANGLE remains one of my favorite early BUCKETHEAD albums since it is consistent, varied and really takes the listener on an uncharted journey. The electronic parts are just as clever as the compositions and skillfully utilized that everything seems to fall into place. With few stumbling blocks i find this to be a highly satisfying release that shows BH at his peak in the electro-fusion world. Many of my favorite early albums are when he collaborates since he tends to hook up some of the most fertile musical minds in the biz. BERMUDA TRIANGLE has it all. Plenty of mysterious, awe-inspiring freaky types of tracks and nice subdued somewhat “normal” types to pacify the listener’s jittery nerves. This one makes me want to book a cruise from Miami to Bermuda and watch episodes of Gilligan’s Island today!

BUCKETHEAD Funnel Weaver

Album · 2002 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Long, long ago before the infinite series of PIKEs became the new reality for BUCKETHEAD, there was a time when the chicken lover released only one album per year. However that trend did not begin with the PIKE series. Oh no. It started back in 2002 when a whopping four albums were released and BUCKETHEAD’s 7th album “FUNNEL WEAVER” was the first of the year which would spark a trend that would never let up and in fact only exponentially increase as time elapsed. To be fair BH was involved in many side projects and with other bands like Praxis, so to say he was merely sitting on a nest hatching his own eggs would be erroneous.

Right from the beginning it was apparent that BH had a love for DJ electronica as much as his passion for classic metal riffing and although the electronica had always been a part of the music, on “FUNNEL WEAVER” it becomes a key element of the it. This album is very strange in that it consists of an hour long play list of 49 tracks with each hovering around one to two minutes in length and the longest only a mere 2 min 54 sec. Despite the number of short tracks, they all share the same theme. These instrumental tracks are mostly based on heavy metal guitar riffs, licks and occasional solos revolving around electronic samples and drum machine loops with a few vocal samples dispersed randomly throughout.

Some of these are pretty cool with clever riffs spliced up with house beats and bizarre samplings of sound effects but i have to say that 60 minutes of it gets a little tiresome. On the plus side is that no track outstays its welcome since its a constant parade of guitars and electronic beats mixing it up. Overall this one presents lots of interesting ideas but in the end it all feels a little hollow like these are all demos for developing other tracks that never went anywhere. Not one i listen to often but occasionally break it out just because it takes me to a strange musical world that only BH could have come up with.

OPETH My Arms, Your Hearse

Album · 1998 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 92 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
After recording the first two albums with the same band line-up and the same producer in the same studio, Opeth underwent a big change in direction. To begin with, both drummer Anders Nordin and bassist Johan De Farfalla left the band and the drum stool was taken over by Martin Lopez. Though Martin Mendez was to take on the bass player role, he was not able to learn all the bass parts for the new album prior to the recording and so Mikael Akerfeldt played all the bass. This isn’t so much of a surprise as Mikael was originally hired for the band as the new bass player back in the early days. Frederik Nordstrom became the new producer and the album recorded over two months and in three studios in 1997 and released a year later on Candlelight Records.

With all these changes, the band’s sound was altered dramatically. I feel in a way we could compare the differences to Deep Purple’s “Shades of Deep Purple” and “The Book of Taliesyn” versus “In Rock”. The psychedelic/progressive/hard rock style of these first two, very similar albums gets replaced by thundering, loud heavy rock on “In Rock”. Likewise, I see “Orchid” and “Morningrise” as a nice pair with melodic riffs and long songs broken down with frequent acoustic interludes while “My Arms, Your Hearse” is so much heavier, has shorter songs, and incorporates acoustic and clean electric breaks into the structure of the song more fluidly.

Basically, Opeth have not only added a ton of extra weight to their guitar sound but also Mikael’s death vocals have gone from a shredding roar from the back of the throat to a deeper, guttural roar. The music just packs that much more sonic wallop.

In a way, this album set the blue print for the next few Opeth albums. A conceptual piece, the album flows naturally from song to song and includes some brief instrumental tracks as well as the melodic, organ-backed epilogue aptly titled “Epilogue”. The acoustic parts are well mixed with clean electric guitar breaks which don’t stand apart from the heavy music like on the first two albums but instead feel like a natural progression of the song. On the first two albums, the heavy music would just stop and a simple Medieval or folk acoustic melody would direct the next course of the song. On MAYH, the acoustic guitars often play along with the heavy electric guitars and it feels more natural when the more melodic and less raucous parts progress within the song. The songs have also become shorter with not a single track clearing 10 minutes.

Reading some reviews and the comments of critics, there are those who give this album much praise. At first it failed to captivate my interest because I couldn’t pick out any songs that really stood out, except of course the obvious short instrumental tracks like “Prelude” (simple piano piece) and “Madrigal” (short but very different clean guitar instrumental). Later, however, once I had all the Opeth albums and I started mixing up playlists and choosing songs, I discovered that I really liked “April Ethereal”, “When”, “The Amen Corner”, and “Karma”. “Demon of the Fall” is really heavy and with totally demonic sounding vocals in the first half but later turns into a Zeppelin-esque folk-like bit that then alternates between heavy and melodic metal with the strummed acoustic parts coming in and out. Mikael’s clean vocals here and on other songs are much better than previously because he is singing with more energy. His clean vocals on the first two albums lacked confidence and energy and sometimes sounded timid and barely adequate. On this album here we get the Mikael that we know from later releases.

In the end, even though this album doesn’t contain any of my ultimate fav Opeth tracks, I do very much enjoy letting this one play through from start to finish and as well, I can easily throw a track on a mixed playlist. Welcome to the birth of the classic sound of Opeth!

MYRKUR M

Album · 2015 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 9 ratings
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Warthur
Ignore the purists throwing their toys out of the pram for the various sins against kvlt black metal orthodoxy Myrkur commits. (She's a woman! She used to be in an indie pop band! She brings ethereal folk influences into black metal! The album actually has decent production values!) The presence of Ulver mastermind Garm behind the production desk should be all the clue anyone needed that this wouldn't be your typical straight-ahead black metal release.

Nor is Garm's presence a mere act of tribute; the blending of folk elements and black metal that Myrkur indulges in is reminiscent of early Ulver in its choice of musical elements to intermingle, but unique to Myrkur in how this fusion is actually accomplished near-seamlessly. The upshot is that Myrkur is picking up the baton where Ulver left it when they shifted away from black metal, but running in a decidedly different direction with it - one which has a distinctive sound all of its own. Those out to drag down this album should think again: there will always be purist projects out there trying to recreate Transilvanian Hunger for the millionth time, but for any genre to not stagnate it needs new ideas and directions, and that Myrkur brings to the table in spades.

BUCKETHEAD KFC Skin Piles

EP · 2001 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
“KFC SKIN PILES” is basically a collaborative effort of BUCKETHEAD with Extrakd and Bryan Mantia that focuses on DJ turntables mixed with experimental guitar and lots of movie samples with “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” getting the lion’s share of attention. While the music ranges from funk and rock to even Disneyland themes (“Pirate’s Life For Me”), this short EP is designed to be broken out for dance raves and housequake party action. Samples from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” can also be heard.

While this isn’t my favorite type of album, it’s perfectly suited for what it’s intended for. Yeah, it’s a tad repetitive but once you’re all lubricated at a social event and ready dance on the tables, who gives a flying fuck. Danceability aside, this EP is ok but even within the dance genres that are numerous there exist better albums to crank out since there’s too much diologue that breaks the flow and the virtuoso guitar assaults come from left field and distract from the intended mission. Think of this more as an experimental dance party and you’re on to something. Intriguing in an experimental industrial way but not totally satisfying either.

FIRST BAND FROM OUTER SPACE We're Only in It for the Spacerock

Album · 2005 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Modrigue
FIRST BAND FROM OUTER SPACE is a young band influenced by 70s' HAWKWIND and the stoner rock movement. Their first album "We're Only In It For The Spacerock" delivers a raw, energetic and powerful psychedelic metal. Heavy cosmic Jam into the universe!

The record opens with experimental old school synthesizer sounds which makes you immediately take off from Earth, to announce "Sannraijz", a catchy trippy metal tune with reverb effects. The baby of you-know-who's "Space Ritual"! Besides, "Sometimes Going Too Far is The Only Way to Go" ressembles a little HAWKWIND's "Time We Left this World Today". The disc continues with "Sannraijz 2", a pretty interesting acoustic version of the song featured before. However, the highlights here are undoubtedly the last two tracks.

The title song features 20 great minutes of instrumental dark space rock improvisation with musical and rhythm changes, alternating peaceful and powerful movements. This jam is sometimes reminiscent of SUBARACHNOID SPACE. The cosmic trip ends with the heavy "Make yourself heard for the sake of the world", a mini space rock epic with beautiful flute playing.

"We're Only In It For The Spacerock" is highly recommended to space and stoner rock fans, especially HAWKWIND, PINK FLOYD and early MONSTER MAGNET lovers.

FIRST BAND FROM OUTER SPACE Impressionable Sounds of the Subsonic

Album · 2006 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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Modrigue
Impressive hawks of the stoner rock

The Swedish band has quite evolved from their first release, and it shows. The line up has grown, the music is less raw, less chaotic, more structured and displays a larger variety of instruments. Vocals are more fluent and more spacey, due in part to the addition of a female vocalist. "Impressionable Sounds of the Subsonic" features top-notch stoner and space rock. A mindblowing cosmic journey exploring all types of planets!

As in "We're Only in it for the Spacerock", the album begins by setting up the atmosphere with synthesizers, guitars, drums and flute. The introduction sounds like a heavier version of ELOY. It goes on with "Utan Att Veta" which is maybe one of the best stoner tunes of the century. Powerful and freaky! The whole disc rocks and transports you in another universe far far away. From efficient heavy stoned riffs to relaxing moments through psychedelic sounds and acoustic pieces, from trance rhythms to bongos, through beautiful and angry flute playing, "Impressionable Sounds of the Subsonic" has nearly all! One can hear by moments influences from HYDRIA SPACEFOLK and PORCUPINE TREE. The disc finishes in an empty region of cosmos with an Hawaiian guitar jam.

One of the best space and stoner rock release. If you like 70s' HAWKWIND, HYDRIA SPACEFOLK, MONSTER MAGNET and PINK FLOYD, this album is for you!

FIRST BAND FROM OUTER SPACE The Guitar Is Mightier Than the Gun

Album · 2009 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Modrigue
This third album from the Swedish space rockers shows a little inspiration inflexion compared to their previous opuses. With only three long tracks (four in the CD edition), the compositions has become less melodic, more stretched and improvised. "The Guitar Is Mightier Than the Gun" also marks another change with the discrete incursion of new elements for the band.

The opener and shortest song of the disc, "Demons & Haze", is simply one of the best compositions from the Swedishs. Best passage of the record, it possesses a powerful space stoner rock introduction with an unusual rhythm and vocal flow. Bombastic! The rest of the song is slower and features spacey keyboards reminiscent of Tim Blake. "Turn Left to the Mexican Barbeque" starts with a calm acoustic guitar, to continue with a heavy space metal jam with female vocals. Enjoyable, but we already heard better from FIRST BAND FROM OUTER SPACE. The 23 minutes title track is a little unusual for the band. Not entirely space rock or stoner, this piece alternates soft floyd-ish, psychedelic improvised and joyful cheesy moments. The middle part is too long and the music doesn't seem to go anywhere. Finally, the overall result is average.

The CD edition includes a 16 minutes long bonus track, "Smokin". This is rather a patchwork of different extracts than a structured composition. The song contains long calm passages, nervous moments, short middle-eastern melodies and HAWKWIND-esque touches. Not essential and also a bit lacking musical direction, but more convincing than the title track.

"The Guitar Is Mightier Than the Gun" is a little unequal and incoherent. The band wanted to evolve and emancipate from their initial stoner / HAWKWIND roots by proposing something new, which is a good thing. However, these novel elements are, on the one hand, stretched space rock improvisation (which has been done before in the 70's), and, on the other hand, soapy symphonic passages. The melodies are also less present than on their great previous album "Impressionable Sounds Of The Subsonic". The only remarkable track of the record is the opener "Demons & Haze".

Enjoyable if you like space rock and HAWKWIND, but not the best place to discover the band.

EPICA The Holographic Principle

Album · 2016 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.87 | 9 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I can’t put my finger on it, but there is definitely something that lifts this 2016 album to a higher plane than the one that came out just two years earlier. The intensity is still at the very high level, but Simone seems to be more in control on this one, as opposed to sometimes being swept away. It is bombastic, it is massively over the top, and the guitars have reined in just ever so slightly, although at times they still race off like bolting horses that have been given their heads. It is an overpowering aural assault on the senses, and I love it. The closest way I can think of describing it is like being at a version of Handel’s “Messiah” with full choir and orchestra, but with Slipknot also being involved!

I was playing these two albums back to back the other day, and even without looking I knew when this one had started as there is a definite lift, a step up in just about everything. Symphonic over the top progressive metal just doesn’t get any better than this. This is not something that can be played as background music, but rather demands full attention of the listener at all times, as this is all-consuming, and not for the fainthearted. I really do hope that the guys decided to come down to this part of the world for a show one day, as they must be incredible in concert. This is essential, nothing more, nothing less.

EPICA The Quantum Enigma

Album · 2014 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 19 ratings
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Kev Rowland
here is one word to describe this 2014 album that rises clearly above all others, “Intensity”. The production on this album seems to have brought everything together at the highest volume possible, so much so that the listener is quite drained by all of it. Singer Simone Simons has a quite stunning voice, but to be honest she is sometimes drained out by the choir and also by the rest of the band so that she actually loses some of the impact. This is a real shame, as the album as a whole is an incredible piece of work, much more metallic than the band to which they are most often compared, Nightwish, with the twin guitars locked in and riffing hard. They are also more downtuned and there is the feeling that this a guitar based-band first and foremost, as opposed to keyboard-based. Of course, Epica have a second singer in Mark Jansen who favours death growls as opposed to the ‘proper’ singing of Marco Hietala, so there is a very different feel between the two acts.

In many ways I actually prefer Epica, as the intensity is palpable: here is a band that are all firing on all cylinders, rushing to the end, taking no prisoners. Sure, I would have preferred to have Simone’s vocals higher in the mix, but perhaps I’m being just a little picky? This is a symphonic metal band who concentrate on the latter more than the former, and that’s just fine with me.Yes, they slow it down here and there, but it is when they are at full gallop with the band playing hard and the choir singing their hearts out, and Simone striving to rise above it all, that they are at their very best.

MARDUK Dark Endless

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.41 | 9 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
MARDUK released their dirty full-length debut “DARK ENDLESS” in1992 after their blasphemous demo “Fuck Me Jesus” the previous year and continued with their feet in both the black and death metal worlds much like other early black metal bands like Darkthrone. Black metal elements include Andreas Axelsson shouted and screamed anguished vocal style, blasphemous anti-Christian lyrical content as well as the black metal fashion statements of spiky leather things and corpse paint and while the music itself is more remnant of old school death metal, it also exhibits at this early stage some of the transitions of becoming black metal with buzzsaw guitar frenzies and blastbeat drumming madness. On the composition side of things though this does indeed sound a lot like old school death metal of the early 90s with heavy distorted riffing and the stylistic meanderings throughout the album. The band added a second guitarist in the form of Magnus Andersson as well.

This debut album by MARDUK is a mixed bag for me as it seems that the two styles of metal are more of a hindrance for a cohesive whole sound than one would hear on more developed blackened death metal as heard by bands like Behemoth. After a rather sinister sounding piano piece that sounds super creepy and twisted, “DARK ENDLESS” seems to fall in a stale rut fairly quickly but still manages to pack enough punch to keep the album from totally falling into the abyss. While the compositions seem to be more sophisticated than some of the contemporary black metal bands of the era, unfortunately the musicianship is a little lackluster at times with Joakin Grave’s percussion standing out as the weakest link.

While MARDUK has never been one of the most original bands in the black metal world, they have persevered for their tight wickedly evil black metal style that has come to perfect the old school black metal sound that they would adopt after this debut album. However, on this one things just sound off as the their fusion prowess was clearly not firing on all cylinders. “DARK ENDLESS” in the end comes off as a decent raw and filthy early blackened death metal album with all the shock and awe one would expect but ultimately fails to deliver the goods in an ultimately satisfying way. Despite the lack of perfection on this one, it’s a decent listen and i simply love the album cover! Wisely they would abandon the death metal side of their equation and ultimately master the black metal side quite well.

PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS Feed the Rats

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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aglasshouse
Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but seven different pigs.

What Pigs (x7) are in a nutshell is a louder-than-life stoner rock band, in a very similar vein to Motorpsycho, Wolfmother, or maybe even Black Mountain. This is evident from the short track listing, composed of three long amalgams of frenzied panic and mental decomposition in song form. It should be noted though that this Motorpsycho comparison is more directed towards the 90's form of the band, such as Lobotomizer or even Trust Us, as Pigs (x7) doesn't carry the baggage of prog-rock subtleties (or perhaps in this case unsubtleties) of MS's more recent material, instead opts for the more amateurish, noise aspects of what composed much of Motorpsycho's earlier sound.

Don't get the wrong idea though, because I believe Pigs (x7) and their debut Feed the Rats are able to stand out from their influencers, no matter how many various lines can be drawn between them. As mentioned before there is a short track list, unsurprisingly of three songs, two of which are 15 minute (or more) behemoths of drugged-up strength. Even though they are different in run-times, they still revolve around a similar formula -- to assault you with a fuzzy clout on your eardrums. Pigs (x7), like many heavy stoner rock shit-bands, have a sole objective to hit you with as much sound as possible until it knocks you dead, no matter how long it may take. I do believe this was achieved, at least at certain points. 'Icon' in particular had several extremely enjoyable moments, but unfortunately due to it's length I doubt I'd find myself casually listening to it. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't find myself taking a sit-down like I do with many other even longer stoner albums. The double-guitar cacophony of Sam Grant and Adam Ian Sykes becomes almost enchanting in their monotonous crunching, aided by the pained howls of Matt Baty (who's voice is uncannily akin to Steve Brooks of Floor).

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs is an oddly-named but very enjoyable unit whose expression of their craft is very sonically enticing. A no-holds-barred band with a raucous attitude awaits within the embrace of the painted pastor.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 257 - Blank Slate

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 257 - Blank Slate / 14th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 6 tracks / Clocks in at 30minutes 19seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Blank Slate” (5:54) starts with a cheery anthemic guitar lick and a beefy bass and drumbeat and then ups the ante with some serious distortion and alternative metal riffage. The main gist is the less distorted intro lick inserts itself into the more distorted grungefest from time to time and the two styles switch off. After a while it picks up speed a little more and has a bridge type of change-it-up. Not a bad track. Has some good songwriting on this one

“Opened To The Air” (6:57) begins with a cleaner more subdued guitar and subtle cymbal action. It stays warm and cozy for a while as a melody takes its time to slowly unfold. After a long two minutes of warming up the drums get a little excited but then NOTHING! Well nothing new that is. It reverts back to cute and cuddly lullaby time again. Was hoping for some dynamics shifting around but this one stays in the clouds with no earth, wind or fire to be found. Well some electric guitar work does finally make an appearance at the end but too little too late and this one is waaaay too long

“Wind Of Hollow” (3:30) begins suspiciously close to the last track only this one is more ethereal with ambient swirls of sound swishing around in the background. The tempo is slightly more upbeat but still in the land of lollygagging. Still though, the atmosphere is more Floydian and therefore a space rock vibe complete with Waters and Gilmour guitar worship in action. Tempo remains fairly mid-paced at the peak of things

“Task In Trunk” (3:30) is another on clean guitar and slo-mo mode. Drums seem a little too strong for the light and fluffy stringed instruments. Melody seems to be canned as it sounds like a gazillion other tracks in the PIKE series. Meh

“Solar Staple” (7:31) offers a much needed uptempo step up from the dreamy filling of this PIKE. It begins with a feisty drumbeat and bass accompanied by a jittery guitar riff and then some power chords kick in. It continues a receptive chord sequence that eventually allows the lead guitar to take the stage to solo around. Another predictable and overdone style of PIKE track at this point. Meh

“Lockun" (2:57) totally goes against the grain and cranks out some ferocious thrash metal with staccato chord and blistering blitzkrieg riffs that remind me of classic Pantera before turning into a spidery guitar lick that slips in between thrashy riff sections. While not the most brilliant track of BH’s career, this IS the best track on this PIKE but too little, too late to save this PIKE from being a cold turkey. At least there’s one track that i truly love and this is it!

This PIKE is totally pleasant but unthrilling suitable for background music but pretty ho hum and uninspiring. Nothing original, just recycled PIKE ideas that weren’t really needed to be repeated

STEEL PANTHER Lower the Bar

Album · 2017 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
So… Four albums in, and if you don’t get the Steel Panther joke by now, you’re never going to.

The formula is quite simple. Steel Panther have the sound, look and attitude of so many of the hairspray abusing bands of the past, but instead of beating around the bush singing songs about cherry pies, roses with their thorns, and white snakes going off again, Steel Panther deal in genuine, unadorned pornographic filth. It is the perfect piss take revenge for teenagers of the 80s (yes, you’re probably in your 40s by now) who got sick of sitting through those endless lame hair metal videos to possibly catch a rare-as-hens-teeth Megadeth or Iron Maiden or Motörhead video. If those pussies were going to whine about their girlfriends, while often wearing exactly the same hair and make-up AS their girlfriends, they could have at least described what it was like to have sex WITH a girl! It would have gone some way to making up for the limp, derivative music.

So that is what Steel Panther delivers. ‘Lower The Bar’ lowers the bar on common decency right from the first track. “Goin’ in The Backdoor” is a none-too-subtle ode to anal sex. Michael Starr asks very politely “Hey baby, do you mind if I dip my nuts in your chocolate?” “Anything Goes” lists a number of highly unlikely, uncomfortable, and possibly illegal sexual acts including “Steal a Saturn 5 and fuck an astronaut/Zero G anal and weightless cumshots”. “Poontang Boomerang” examines the societal difficulties of short term sexual relationships, and the unintended infatuations resulting from such liaisons.

“That’s When You Came In” is the compulsory power ballad, replete with strings, acoustic guitars, and finds Starr lamenting “After all the critics said, our debut record was our peak/Now I couldn't hit the high notes/Sometimes I couldn't even speak” and life was starting to seem futile and pointless, until he once again met the girl of his dreams, who “…came in and blew me… You blew me away”.

The rest of the albums continues in a similar grubby style. It is childish schoolboy humour. It is full of dick jokes, treats women as sex objects put on this planet only to please men, and panders to every teenage boy’s most unrealistic masturbatory fantasy. Steel Panther differs from hair metal of the 80s only in it being completely honest. The band don’t pretend to be doing it for any reason other than to have a good time and get laid. The parody is pitch perfect. Anyone who finds it offensive is getting exactly what they deserve. The godfathers of 80s glam Cheap Trick showed they appreciate the sideways tribute, with singer Robin Zander contributing back-up vocals, and a transvestite appearance in the video, to the cover of “She’s Tight”.

As an album, this isn’t earth shatteringly brilliant. Sure, the song writing and execution are infinitely better than many of the hair metal pretenders it is extracting the urine from, but if you know anything about Steel Panther, you already knew that would be the case. Fans will love it. The humourless won’t. Critics will be divided. Some people will say the joke is wearing thin. Steel Panther won’t give a flying fuck.

OBITUARY Obituary

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.51 | 4 ratings
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Nightfly
I must admit that I don’t usually get excited at the prospect of a new Obituary album, interested yes but rarely more than that. Considering their importance in death metal, one of the originals etc, I find this strange to say the least. First of theirs I ever bought was Cause Of Death back in 1990 (didn’t hear Slowly We Rot until later as it happens), generally regarded as one of their best and my penchant for Celtic Frost style guitar riffs certainly helped me enjoy that but John Tardy’s strangled growl wasn’t an easy listen for me, though time has tempered that feeling and his voice for that matter. Since then I’ve heard good and not so good Obituary and there’s at least a couple of their albums I don’t recall hearing at all. Now don’t ask me why but some reason my interest was piqued by this eponymous new release and I even pre-ordered a vinyl copy. I’m really glad I did as it’s brilliant!

There’s no particular reason why this self-titled album should be better than the last few as they haven’t deviated from their formulaic no-nonsense traditional death metal with groove approach. It’s Obituary doing pretty much what they’ve always done. That Celtic Frost guitar sound is still present - not quite as obvious as in the past, though there are moments where it’s unmistakeable and Tardy’s vocals are less extreme these days too. Why it’s so good is for starters the production is spot on - Clear and powerful with everything sitting well in the mix. Mostly though it’s a killer collection of songs that make it. Ten songs at only thirty three minutes is a short album but fortunately they don’t waste any of it. Brave and Sentence Day make a strong start. Both pretty pacey, packing powerful and memorable riffs and the pair of them all done in less than five minutes. There’s also the slower groove based stuff the first being A Lesson In Vengeance and features some fine lead work from Kenny Andrews. End It Now is the best of both worlds with its fast rolling triplet kick drum pattern though slowing down for a more groove orientated section. Without going into every song individually the rest of the album maintains the high standards set early on making it one of, if the not the most consistent Obituary album since the early days.

If you’re looking for innovation look elsewhere, there’s no great leap in style from past Obituary but if you enjoy this band this is an essential album for you. Right now I’m enjoying this more than any Obituary album and put it up there with their best no problem. My only complaint is at the length of the album the bonus track No Hope on the CD could have easily fit on the vinyl version too.

TODESSTOß Hirngemeer

Album · 2015 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
In the world of avant-garde metal there are many crazy albums. There are many downright weird albums. And there are also albums like Hirngemeer (2015) by German act Todesstoß, which sound like something straight out of a nightmare and are completely fucking unhinged. The release is the seventh full-length album released under the moniker, but the first with an extended line-up. Joining founder and previous sole member Martin Lang is Euer Gnaden (bass) and Flesh of L (vocals). Hirngemeer (apparently meaning Brainworm if Google Translate is accurate), contains just three tracks but lasts for a massive near seventy-five minutes of music.

The album should come with a warning sticker telling potential listeners not to approach unless they are feeling brave and open-minded. In every traditional sense of what music is supposed to be, Hirngemeer just isn't it. It's three tracks clock in at 28:25, 34:05 and 12:18 respectively and on the surface nothing seems particularly structured and certainly not good in the usual way that music is supposed to be, but it's all an illusion. Pay closer attention to what's happening and there's a method in the madness that's actually quite out in the open, with some true genius in the instrumental work from the two instrumentalists, especially the bass of Euer Gnaden. Martin Lang does everything else, including liberal use of a harmonica on opener Verwehung, while Flesh of L spews the German language lyrics, sometimes like he's been possessed by a demon, at others like he's desperately trying to escape its menacing clutches and is utterly terrified about what it might do to him. It's depressive black metal at its core, with many other elements detectable the more the album is listened to, notably funeral doom metal and ambient ideas, but seems more designed to drive its listener to madness than suicide.

That's the first track at least, the second and longest Narbenkäfig is surprisingly more restrained on its use of these elements, though it still maintains a lot of them and a general air of menace. And it goes on for such a long time that it really does present the impression that they'll be no escape from whatever hell Todesstoß are trapped in. Finally, the shortest of the three tracks is Strom der Augenblicke, which actually takes the album in a non-metal direction to finish the bizarre journey off but is of course no less dark and creepy for the lack of metal elements.

Hirngemeer is just too crazy to be an album that many could enjoy on a regular basis, but I admit to finding a strange kind of fascination with it. It's something that you could listen to a dozen times and still not really understand and I think that may even be the band's intention. You're not meant to understand the album. It's a window into a warped mind, one you wouldn't want to own but is kind of eye-opening to visit and an album that's quite unlike anything else I've ever come across, not even the other Todesstoß album I've heard, Ebne Graun (2017), which is comparatively sane and structured. Listen to this when you reach the point where you feel that you've heard everything else black metal has to offer.

MYRKUR Myrkur

EP · 2014 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
Myrkur (2014) is the debut EP release by Danish one woman black metal act Myrkur, which is both the name of the artist and the pseudonym used by its sole musician. There's been a bit of mystery surrounding the identity of Myrkur but most sources seemed to believe that it was the work of Amalie Bruun, a singer/songwriter and a member of the pop act Ex Cops (as well as a model), which seems to have now been confirmed. Her story is not your typical when discovering a new black metal act on the scene and fortunately the music on the debut EP of Myrkur tells a similar story.

The most notably thing about the music on Myrkur is that vocals do not play that much of a major role in the sound. Musically Myrkur treats her listeners to some well crafted atmospheric black metal that is actually pretty relaxing stuff to immerse yourself in, especially when you consider that what vocals are here are actually sung cleanly in a choral fashion rather than delivered in a black metal rasp. Not that those are entirely absent from the EP but Myrkur is definitely a case where the music is undeniably black metal but clean vocals outweigh the growls. Her vocals also feel like a part of the overall atmosphere of the music rather than the element that leads the songs. Like an extra instrument if you prefer.

I've heard music that had strong black metal roots but used clean vocals before but Myrkur is the first time I've found something that near enough fully embraces that mix, especially from the musical point of view. Not that Myrkur spends all of her time accompanied by raw riffs and blast beats, far from it, Frosne Vind for example isn't even a metal track, but a short folksy piece. The mix of ideas proves effective, making Myrkur an impressive first release from Myrkur. I think I'd like to hear her incorporate more of a traditional black metal vocal approach in addition to her singing in the future, but I'm eager to hear where she takes her music on a full-length basis, which is already being worked on. This is a nice little EP though as is so a 4 star rating seems fair.

MYRKUR M

Album · 2015 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 9 ratings
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adg211288
M (2015) is the debut album by US based Danish one woman black metal act Myrkur. It follows up the self-titled EP that was released in 2014. Initially surrounded in mystery, the identity of Myrkur's sole musician was quickly revealed to be Amalie Bruun, previously known as one half of a pop duo called Ex Cops. It's a pretty big jump she's made in her music career, to go from pop to black metal. On her first EP I thought she presented some interesting ideas, but also a fair bit of unrealised potential. However I did enjoy the Myrkur EP quite a bit so the release of M is something I've been looking forward to for some time now.

Before I move onto the music found on M proper, there's a little something I feel I need to address right from the get go. If you are in any way a black metal purist stop reading right now and go back to whatever uninspired lo-fi black metal act you currently find so kvlt and interesting: Myrkur's M will be beyond you and you may even find it offensive the way Myrkur thinks outside the box when it comes to black metal conventions. I've already seen this sort of narrow-minded criticism aimed at the album before it was even released and some have even called it hipster black metal and said things like 'the only people rating this are the same people who thought Liturgy's Aesthethica was any good'. That's probably the biggest insult that someone could say about M and also one of the most unfounded. I've heard Aesthethica and it's truly one of the worst black metal records I've ever come across. A completely messy and repetitive affair (even by black metal standards) with maybe enough good ideas on the whole record for them to have crafted one decent track. M is exactly the opposite. Worse still I've also seem some outright sexist comments aimed at Amalie Bruun, which is of course totally uncalled for, even if her take on black metal is not your thing. It's things like this that make me fucking ashamed to call myself a metalhead, especially one who appreciates black metal where the tolerance level seems to be at its lowest.

And it's really too bad if you are one of the people who has already written Myrkur off without a proper listen to her music, because in M she's produced one of the most interesting black metal records I've heard for quite a while. Not since Hail Spirit Noir's Oi Magoi (2014) have I been this interested in a new black metal release, the better part of two years ago.

One of the biggest ways that Myrkur changes up the way she does black metal is that she uses a lot of clean singing. Clean vocals certainly aren't unheard of in black metal, but here it's pretty much her main vocal style, though there are more black metal style screams on M than there were on the prior EP. Amalie's voice has this ethereal sort of quality to it, which works well against the atmospheric black metal backdrop, to the point that to my ears she actually makes it sound valid to use exclusively clean vocals in a black metal context. But she does scream too and when she does the music can turn pretty damn aggressive with it, such as in Hævnen. Her vocals are pretty much incomprehensible, but that's a problem a lot of growlers have, whether it's in black or death metal or another context entirely. I tend to think of them as being an extra instrument in the atmosphere that Myrkur creates, and her two voice styles work equally well in that manner, while also finding a perfect balance between the two.

Some folk influences creep into the sound, particularly during the first two songs. They are naturally of a darker and melancholic kind than the lively, happy kind of popular folk metal bands and are a nice addition to the music. There are also some forays into other metal genres that add variety to the atmospheric black metal sound. Hævnen has a kind of doom feel with its heavy, slow guitars but more notably is Mordet where Myrkur teams up with former Arch Enemy guitarist Christopher Amott to produce a much more in your face and direct metal assault that edges the music into thrash metal territory. Such a track may seem rather out of place on paper but I personally like it. It works to stir up the pace of the album effectively and as such doesn't harm the album's flow in any way. The combined atmosphere that has been created with all these different ideas is really easy to get immersed in. The actual instrumentation may often seem simplistic but that's black metal for you. It isn't about being showy and certainly doesn't need to be in order to be impressive.

M isn't an overly long album, just shy of 37 minutes, but I feel it accomplishes quite a lot in that time. It isn't perfect by any means; there's a bit too much of that 37 minute running time given over to interlude pieces like Vølvens spådom and Nordlys for one. There's quite a focus on piano and choral parts in such times, which work to a point but are slightly overused in my opinion. I'd like to have heard a few more actual songs because as it is I actually got to hear five of these in the run up to the album, which didn't leave overly much to discover upon release. M is however high quality debut album from Myrkur, even with its faults. 4.5 stars and quite possibly the best black metal release you'll find from 2015.

MYRKUR M

Album · 2015 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 9 ratings
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Unitron
Myrkur - M

"M" is the debut studio album and overall second release (excluding singles) from black metal musician Myrkur. I was absolutely blown away by Myrkur's 2014 EP release, so I was eagerly awaiting a full-length studio album from her. I initially loved it, then was a bit disappointed, now back to loving it.

"M" pretty much continues the atmospheric black metal-folk hybrid of the EP. A big thing that makes Myrkur stand out in the black metal genre is her extensive use of clean vocals, which appear in both the shredding black metal sections and Scandinavian folk passages. There is of course a mix of clean vocals and stark black metal screams but I'd probably say that the clean vocals appear more then the screams or at least equally, already giving it a unique sound.

While you may think that the folk passages and black metal sections are completely separate from each other, they actually play in unison often throughout the album. Just take a listen to songs like 'Hævnen' and 'Onde børn', the former being one of my favorites from the album, and you'll hear how both styles work together to bring a unique blackened folk metal sound. Speaking of folk, the short folk songs that transition to other songs are among the most beautiful on the album, some featuring great piano work along with Myrkur's calming vocals. There is some variation besides the black metal and folk, as the songs 'Skøgen skulle dø' and 'Jeg er guden, i er tjenerne' both have elements of doom metal which fit in perfectly with the rest of the sound of the album. The song 'Mordet', which features Chris Amott of Arch Enemy on guitar', is an amazing combination of killer thrash metal and stark black metal. This is probably my favorite on the album.

I usually don't mention other criticisms of albums in my reviews, but I feel like I should mention it here. I've seen a lot of comments about how this is "hipster black metal" and even some comments attacking Myrkur as a person. Regardless of opinions on the music here, I think the comments against her are very rude and mean-spirited and completely unwarranted. As far as the "hipster" comments go, I find this in no way "hipster", I simply see Myrkur as doing something new with the genre.

Overall, while I still prefer her debut EP, "M" is still an amazing album and I highly recommend this album to anyone who enjoyed the debut, really enjoys black metal and folk, or wants to get into black metal. Myrkur's music really got me into the genre, and I can't wait to see where she goes with her next release. Hope you found this review helpful.

(Reposted review due to accidental deletion, originally posted April 2016.)

DYNFARI The Four Doors of the Mind

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Dynfari plays black metal influenced, heavily atmospheric music, and since their formation as a duo in 2010 this Icelandic has grown to become a full band. Their music shifts and moves between many different styles, and this their fourth album is also a concept, and one that so much thought has gone into it that the only way to explain it is to allow singer and guitarist Jóhann Örn do so himself.

“It would be a cliché to say that this album is a journey. But it explores a subject that's been an inspiration to countless heavy metal lyrics. Though here, instead of depicting pain, madness and death as something ugly or morbid, it is construed as something beautiful and important. Some would say that it's counter-intuitive that the first half of the album includes the most obvious black metal influences, while that part deals with the doors of sleep and forgetting, while the more mellow, beautiful second half is about madness and death. But it is quite logical and intentional. While sleep and forgetting are the first reactions to pain, sometimes they are not enough, and pain is still thriving. In such circumstances, it is not until you reach the doors of madness and death where you will ultimately find peace.

The last song of the album exemplifies this, where at first it seems as if death is something eerie or even scary, but it is then accepted and welcomed as something beautiful and inevitable. There is nothing to fear in a state of bliss and peace. This song actually used to have the working title "Geislun" ("Radiation") which is a concept closely related to illness and death, making sense in relation to the idea of acceptance of one's fate and in that process finding calmness through it.

Of course, the core of these ideas on the album's concept are not mine, but a combination of two sources. Firstly, the poetry of early 20th century Icelandic existentialist Jóhann Sigurjónsson, and secondly contemporary fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss' theory put forth in his novel "The Name of the Wind". Coincidentally, the archaic word "Dynfari" is a name for wind or storm. Furthermore, the Icelandic poet Jóhann Sigurjónsson has the same first and last name as myself. Seeing the similarities in comparing his poetry to the idea in Rothfuss' book, it just seemed too much of a coincidence not to do anything with it. The music we were creating at the time was very much in tune with these musings and heavily related to my personal state of mind. So, as I was finding it difficult to relate my own writing at the time to our music, this seemed to fit so perfectly that it was impossible to let it go.

Some might ask what makes an Icelandic man in his 20s to want to dabble in writings about pain and devote his music to the subject. The truth of the matter is that I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and as a by-product of it and its treatments I have endured pains that some medical experts describe as more painful than childbirth. I am quite healthy now, having found the right balance between three different kinds of medication. But I have found it difficult to not relate my music creation somehow to this fact and the philosophical mind games it induces. Even in the wake of intense pain, it is the battle against your mind that is the most challenging one. The battle for positivity is a constant one - and it is just a little bit funny that one of the most successful strategies on that battlefield, I've found, is accepting your fears, accepting your fate, and believing that while the current situation may be beyond bloody shitty and intense, there is ultimately peace to be found. It is the only thing that is certain. No matter what.”

It is a mesmerising album, full of depths and hidden layers in the music alone, before one starts considering the lyrical backdrop to all of it. There are small incidentals within the album, which refreshes the ears – cleansing the musical palette, before the band are back at full force. This lightness provides real contrast to the darkness either side, which reinforces the power and presence of the rest of the material. The combination of the two writers' thoughts is embodied in the union of the drive of black metal with more traditional soundscapes of acoustic guitar, accordion, flute and bouzouki.

If you are a fan of atmospheric black metal then this is essential.

OVERKILL The Grinding Wheel

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 8 ratings
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Unitron
"I grabbed a tape from the floor of the car, jammed it in the dash it played Highway Star. With a foot of lead and that Chevy hop, never gonna stop!"

The Mean, Green, Killing Machine is back with The Grinding Wheel, so Let's All Go to Hades to listen to the Finest Hour. We listeners may get into some Goddamn Trouble while taking The Long Road, but forever Shine On. Come Heavy as The Wheel spins while the Red, White, and Blue waves. Overkill's back after a bit longer of a wait than usual, and it's worth it. As this is simply one of the greatest albums the band and music itself has ever produced.

Opening with the rampaging thrash of "Mean, Green, Killing Machine", this album pretty much never lets up with speedy rapid thrashings and groovy swaggering. The no-bullshit romp and stomp of the track "Goddamn Trouble" is essentially Overkill's own Highway Star and just makes you want to step on the gas and blast away to some tunes that are on absolute fire. This is a band that's been around for well over 30 years, but has more energy than most modern bands can claim to have. Take the rampaging punchy thrash that the band has been blazin' through since 2010's Ironbound, and mix it with a southern bluesy swaggering groove and a bit of Iron Maiden-esque epicness, and you got this killer record.

It's pretty much impossible to pick highlights, as every song slays and has an unbelievable amount of energy. Just try and not to get pumped and ready to conquer the world when listening to this album. Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth gives one of the greatest vocal performances ever, spitting both epic and energetic fun vocal lines. It's impossible to not chant along to songs like "The Long Road" and "Red, White, and Blue" with the delivery of lines like "We're goin' down the mountain, boys" and "Give us liberty, or we can give you death!". D.D. Verni's basslines are just as fantastic as always, and keeps a catchy as hell rhythm section with Ron Lipnicki absolutely walloping the drum kit like there's no tomorrow. Dave Linsk and Derek "The Skull" Tailer both shred and swing like the thrash masters they are, and are among the very best. The thrashings are brutal, the bluesy grooves are just swingin', and the epic moments couldn't be more epic. The title track that closes the album is the definition of a fantastic finale, it maintains the crunch and speed in places of the rest of the album all the while being a nearly 8-minute epic worthy of classic Iron Maiden or Rush's Cygnus X-1. The orchestration and vocals will send shivers down the spine at the end of the massive conclusion to The Grinding Wheel.

As much as some bands may try, nothing says consistent like Overkill, with only Anvil coming close to matching the classic thrash metal act's consistency. Overkill goes beyond consistency though, and makes one of the greatest damn albums ever made. It's an equal to The Years of Decay, which is another one of the greatest albums ever made. If you are a fan of real, no-bullshit metal, listen to this album. You know, even if you just need a reminder about what metal is, Overkill is metal in it's most powerful form. Even on their sixteenth studio album, Overkill continues to deliver the old school thrashing goods. Just like those lyrics from "Goddamn Trouble", Overkill ain't never gonna stop. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

FILTER Short Bus

Album · 1995 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 3 ratings
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Unitron
In the land of industrial rock and metal, many bands get unfairly compared to Nine Inch Nails. While those who are more familiar with the genre will find that these comparisons are often silly and nonsensical, these are probably simply due to NIN being the one that really "made it big". Sure, other bands have had their fair share of popularity over the years, but NIN remains the most remembered and popular.

One of the many industrial rock/metal bands to get these comparisons was Filter. True, frontman Richard Patrick was a live guitarist for NIN before forming Filter, but Patrick felt there was something missing in Reznor's sound. Once you finish the first song on the album, the hit "Hey Man, Nice Shot", it's quite apparent. That which was missing was a crushing metallic slab of guitars, blended with menacing industrial soundscapes. This continues throughout most of the album, think less NIN and more Godflesh and Pitchshifter. The crunch of the riffing, drum grooves, and screeching industrial distortion all makes it fit right in line with the classic industrial metal sound, while also having just the right amount of that misanthropic angst that industrial music had at the time.

The aforementioned hit that opens up the album is of course probably the top highlight, but there's many other songs here that slam your face into the pavement. "Under" is one of the best of these, with an awesome pummeling groove. The two surrounding songs of "Dose" and "Spent" are also among the highlights and deliver with great force. All of these mentioned songs along with "Gerbil" and "White Like That", all have this absolutely massive guitar and colossal drum sound blended with Richard Patrick's raging screams, which is this album's strength.

Unfortunately, not all these songs display the power riffage and edgy screams that this album is great for. Right after a crushing number like "White Like That", you get a double-whammy of pathetic whimpers in "Consider This" and "So Cool" which both fall flat on their faces. The former has electric guitars, but they may as well not be there, while the latter is an acoustic ballad that sounds like a rejected Porcupine Tree ballad. "Stuck in Here" is another one of these tracks, but maybe a bit less annoying.

Despite there being a few terrible tracks, all the punchy groovy industrial behemoth tracks make up for those mistakes. If you're looking for an industrial metal album that balances out the heaviness and distortion of Godflesh and Pitchshifter with the extra edge of alternative metal, Filter's Short Bus delivers. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

GIGAN The Order of the False Eye

Album · 2008 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
After emerging from the chaotic primeval lava pools that spawned other surreal metal mayhem in the form of pioneer bands like Gorguts, Mithras, Portal and Deathspell Omega, the power trio who adopted the name GIGAN, the prime nemesis that made Godzilla have very, very bad days, released their debut EP “Footsteps Of Gigan” but quickly followed up the following year with their first full length album “THE ORDER OF THE FALSE EYE” on Napalm Records. This band is a power trio from Tampa, FL who can deliver a massive inundation of chaotic sound that gets lumped into the world of technical death metal mostly due to the usual death metal techniques such as insane growling vocals accompanied by heavy distortion all gussied up with palm muting, tremolo picking and the ubiquitous blast beat percussive drives however GIGAN have found a way to merge these aggressive extreme metal attributes into the surreal world of psychedelia with traces of electronica and drone noises to paint a surreal sonicscape upon which to display their extreme metal creations.

The trio consists of the seasoned veterans left-handed guitarist / bassist and founder Eric Hersemann (Diabolic, Hate Eternal), Randy Piro (vocals, guitars, theremin) and Danny Ryan (drums and percussion.) The music heard on “THE ORDER OF THE FALSE EYE” is the type of surreal metal madness that could drive the uninitiated utterly mad as the unrelenting noisefest is the name of the game only to be broken by periods of oscillating electronic pulses that seem to be the driving underpinning of the intergalactic journey and lyrical fascinations that GIGAN takes us on not dissimilar to the 21st century thrash metal kings Vektor. The opener “Undead Auditory Emanations” displays GIGAN’s full metal regalia displayed in relentless pummeling riffs and blast beats trading off with technical jazz drumming wizardry in strange new ways that keep the pace fast and driving with snarling angry vocals and Hersemann’s unique spastic guitar slides and technical bass workouts.

“THE ORDER OF THE FALSE EYE” is one of those albums that didn’t win me over upon a listen or two. No way. This one required a multitude of listens to allow its abrasive nature to percolate under my skin and only after nailing my attention span to the wall did it at last penetrate into my consciousness. This is not an album of catchy riffs or predictable song structures in any way, shape or form. This cacophony is almost formless in nature with only a solid rhythmic pulsation driving the music from beginning to end which finds itself most noticeable with the non-metal segments utilizing electronica and theremin sounds to create an ambient and oscillations of noise. Likewise the aggressive nature of the extreme metal simply flows over these underlying elements and creates a very bizarre stream of consciousness to say the least. Call it no wave metal if you will.

Upon first listen it does come off that the tracks don’t have enough variation to them but dig beneath the surface and it’s quite the opposite. While tracks do sound quite similar in the dynamics and tempos on display, the compositions actually have quite the variation of mangled and jarring progressively laced death metal riffs that have a blackened veneer with a psychedelic frosting which occasionally emerges from the din to send the listener into a pacified trance before the pummelation of the extreme metal once again arises from the abyss. This album consists of eight vocal tracks that are indeed quite similar in stylistic appearances but offer different glimpses into their psychedelic take on extreme metal and consist of 2/3 of the album. The final ninth untitled track is a 21 minute plus sprawling surreal metal fantasy instrumental which focuses on the pulsating electronics and abrasive guitar weirdness with lots of sliding and alienating licks while the drums exhibit periods of techy jazz outbursts and many moments of simple rhythm maintenance. This album was a hard one to win me over but it finally has and remains one of the absolute strangest of the strange in the extremities of surreal technical metal. Highly recommended for adventurous listeners who love to hear things that they had never even considered possible.

CELLADOR Off the Grid

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It’s always exciting to see bands that have either been long thought dead or have been on a very lengthy hiatus, seemingly quiet for years, make a sudden comeback and release a new album. That isn’t entirely the case for American power metal band Cellador, admittedly, as they had been hinting at a new release for quite some time, but after their highly praised debut Enter Deception was released in 2006, they weren’t heard from again until they reappeared in 2011 with a new lineup and released an EP, Honor Forth. Since then, the band had largely been quiet again for a while, but now after over 10 years of anticipation, they are finally set to unleash their second full-length album, Off the Grid, and I can assure fans that it most certainly delivers!

A lot has changed for Cellador over the years. Obviously, the previous vocalist Michael Gremio left before Honor Forth was released and guitarist Chris Petersen, the only original member remaining, has taken over the mic. No other members who played on Enter Deception appear on Off the Grid, so obviously, it’s safe to expect a much different sound this time, but while I certainly wouldn’t call this album a carbon copy or even a logical continuation of its predecessor, it’s not exactly a radical departure either. Instead, it feels like the band has retained their focus on pure, speedy power metal and their knack for neatly balancing between heavy riffs and melodic vocal lines, but their approach feels a bit more polished and more mature this time.

Where Enter Deception fell on the more extreme and silly side of the genre, often being compared to the likes of Dragonforce, as while it was entirely guitar driven a lot of the melodies felt similar, this release actually feels closer to classic Euro power metal in how a lot of its riffs sound, though the band has also included some keyboards to give the album a bit of a modern feel. With that being said, while keyboardist Diego Valadez does a nice job and gets to do some great solos, for the most part his keyboards feel more secondary, mostly in the background and giving way to the duo guitars, which dominate with some pretty heavy riffs at times, though there’s also some very melodic playing at points as well. There isn’t much experimentation here, with most tracks being straight-forward speedy power metal with addictive choruses, and all tracks fall around the 3-5 minute range, so it’s a very focused, no nonsense kind of release, that certainly doesn’t waste the listener’s time.

I was initially worried about the change in vocalist, as I wasn’t too pleased with Chris on Honor Forth, but on the new album, I find he does a pretty solid job. He has a fairly deep, powerful voice and mostly stays in mid range, only occasionally stretching for some higher notes. His voice fits in pretty well with the music, though I find he’s best when using his grittier vocals, as sometimes when he tries to go for higher notes he ends up sounding a little bit over the top, such as on “Good Enough”. It’s the sort of thing that fits in well for power metal, though it doesn’t sound all that great. Aside from that, though, he does a pretty good job throughout the album and carries the melodies well, especially on tracks like “Shadowfold”, “Wake up the Tyrant” and “Swallow Your Pride”.

The songwriting is fairly straightforward, with few surprises, though in this case that works fine as every song is great and everything flows together well enough that it’s certainly an easy album to listen to in its entirety over and over. Opening track “Sole Survivors” instantly kicks in with some classic metal riffs and moves along at a breakneck pace right out of the gate, making it the kind of instantly satisfying track you’d expect to hear at the start of a power metal album. The riffs are great and Chris does a solid job on the chorus, so it gets the album off to a flying start. I won’t list all tracks on this album in detail, as most tracks are fast, hit a nice balance between being heavy and melodic and have addictive choruses, so to mention everyone in detail would be pointless, but suffice to say even tracks I won’t mention much like “Break Heresy”, “Shimmering Status”, “Swallow Your Pride” and the title track are all excellent tracks.

Moving on to highlights, the first track that really impresses is “Shadowfold”, which starts off with a thrashy lead riff that carries on through the opening verse, before giving way to a very melodic chorus, and then in the second verse the keyboards actually take over for a bit, which makes for a nice change of pace, and the solo section features both guitars and keyboards and is excellent. Probably my favorite track on the album. Right after that is “Wake Up the Tyrant”, another track which has some slightly thrashy riffs, and as usual moves along at a very fast pace, with intense verses that give way to a very epic and super catchy chorus. Another one of my favorites and the solo section is awesome, probably the best on the album. Coming after the one oddball track on the album, which I’ll get to in a bit, “This Means War” is back to business and is another one of the faster, heavier tracks, feeling very much like a classic power metal track. Closing track “Running Riot” is another super fast track, where the verses are very addictive and fun, and the chorus is frantic and very enjoyable, though I do think it’s one of the times where Chris goes a little bit overboard with vocals. Still a great track, though, and a fun way to end the album.

Lastly, we have “Good Enough”. This track immediately stood out to me as feeling a bit weird, as it starts off at mid-tempo, with some bouncy rhythms and is much more keyboard driven, so I instantly knew something was off. Then the chorus comes in and while it’s super fast paced as always, Chris sounds extremely over the top and it feels like a pop track. It made me wonder if the track was a cover of some sort and after a bit of research I discovered that it is, in fact, a cover of aa Cyndi Lauper hit, which makes sense. Reviewing it on its own merits, the track feels like a bit of an oddball, though it did eventually win me over, and when you consider it’s a cover of a pop song, I think the band did a nice job of keeping some of the feel of the track while also sticking somewhat within their usual sound. So overall, a pretty cool cover.

Overall, Off the Grid is a great comeback album for Cellador, which retains the core power metal sound of their debut, while also feeling much more polished and more mature. It’s hard to say if I think it’s a better release than Enter Deception on the whole, but it’s definitely a logical release for the band to put out right now, and I think longtime fans of the band should be happy with it. I’d recommend it to all power metal fans who want something straight-forward, fast and furious, and with some great vocal melodies, as that’s what this album delivers.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/03/15/cellador-off-grid-review/

BUCKETHEAD Pike 256 - Meteor Firefly Net

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 256 - Meteor Firefly Net / 13th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 4 tracks / Clocks in at 29minutes 42seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Image From The Void” (5:53) enter the slow and echoey guitar with a slight distortion and joining it is a bass and drum that weaves a melody and steady rhythm that maintains a somewhat slow pace as a lead guitar embellishes the melody even more. After a slight slow breakdown the melody picks up steam and the distorted chords hold for a while as the other instruments take a break. Nice guitar work but predictable chord progressions and nothing remotely surprising. Nice track but nothing outstandingly interesting either “Mountainous Mine” (7:08) begins slow and sweet with twangy clean guitar, intermittent bass and cymbals with an ambient backdrop but then abruptly changes into a mid tempo rocker with somewhat of a swinging sensation as the power riffs rock and roll. The track has all the traditional song fixings as it has somewhat of a chorus / verse / bridge type of construction although the main emphasis is on the melody and the guitar licks, fills and solos that embellish it. Ultimately it ends up wearing out its welcome despite an ok way of kicking things off

“Meteor Firefly Net” (9:56) also begins with a slow and almost folky type of clean guitar with an ambient backdrop albeit the bass and drum slowly ooze in early on. The guitar then breaks into some sort of rockabilly type riff before erupting into metal riffs and screeching solos. The chord progressions make interesting melodic build ups that change keys and time sigs occasionally as well. Everything builds to a frenetic crescendo and then suddenly changes back to the soft and serene elevator folk that began the track but of course, this is a BH PIKE and not for long. It erupts full fire into blistering metal riffs and guitar wankery once again but then has some progressive changes where it keeps the monotony at bay and the interesting mood enhancing elements fresh and exciting. Once again the fury is extinguished by placid dreamy clean guitar interludes with floating ambience before inevitably, you guessed it! Back into the moshpit where dragons bang their heads in the dead of night. This title track is by far the most sophisticated on the PIKE and despite having an oft dreaded lengthy time length has more than enough oomph to keep this one on full attention alert throughout its entirety. Excellent track!!!

“Nail Bridge” (6:45) starts with an unusual heavy riff that sounds like a progressive metal version of a cartoon theme song and then alternates the heavy riffs with higher register licks. After a bit of energy is expended it slows down and does a little melodic dance with clean guitar, bass and less frenetic drums. Of course nothing lasts long in BHland so as you probably guessed, IT GETS LOUD AGAIN!!! This one is pretty cool and it’s all because of the strange exotic musical scale that is utilized to give a rather bizarre feel to the whole thing. Another winner!

This one is a mixed bag. I find the first two tracks rather mediocre but not horrible either. The last two tracks are quite creative and deliver a musical punch. Very nice indeed and a rare glimpse into BH’s ability to deliver pleasing melodies with unorthodox creativity turned up to the max. I wish the whole PIKE was like these two finales. Since together they constitute almost 2/3 of the PIKE i’ll give this one a 3 but it would be higher if the first two excited me in any way

BUCKETHEAD Pike 255 - Abominable Snow Scalp

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 255 - Abominable Snow Scalp / 12th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 7 tracks / Clocks in at 29minutes 20seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Abominable Snow Scalp” (4:10) begins with a heavy metal epic riff sounding like something from the 80s with a similar type of melodic march incorporating crunchy chops with solos and fills. Very decent but would sound better with vocals as it seems like the missing dimension. Near the two minute mark it slows down with some nice arpeggiated guitar work and then picks up steam again with some ruff-and-tumble riffage. Very traditional metal sounding here

“Floorascents” (3:02) after a huge pause between tracks, this one finally jumps in with a similar 80s style classic metal sound complete with the melodic crunch of the riffs and nice fret work that has a rather epic style of flavor. It also has a rather 70s hard rock with bluesy touches as well that is amplified by a bluesy solo

“Headless Reflection” (6:32) begins with a rather Hendrix inspired sound effect but quickly jumps into heavy metal riffs with some jittery Van Halen type runs all peppered with quirky BH styled solo runs. This one has some nice changes and makes a nice mix of classic 80s metal with 90s industrial and alternative type styles

“Pluriverse” (3:22) is mellower than previous track with an anthemesque type melodic development and then changes it up between softer and harder passages. Another nice track that focuses on the melody instead of acrobatics

“Crator Ridge” (5:29) is a harder and heavier 90s grungy sounding alternative metal track with some more focus on classic 80s metal melody. It has a nice run of lead guitar. Towards the middle a nice slide and slower passage that really adds some variety to the track. The chord progression is slightly progressive and sounds a bit jazzy at times. One of my favorite tracks

“Door Along the Wall” (1:58) is a short little heavy metal rocker that has nice riffs but ultimately comes off as unnecessary filler

“Pincushion” (4:47) is even more upbeat with heavy riffs and sizzling solos and keeps up a frenetic pace with hyperactive riffs throughout its entirety. Nice melodic delivery and changing of riffs, licks and solos. Very well done

This is a well done PIKE that shows BUCKETHEAD’s mastery of traditional metal styles and focus on the melodic aspects of music with nice counterpoints to keep it interesting. While many of his PIKEs are rather by-the-numbers or extremely experimental this one shows how well he can pull out the classic tricks as well. I’m loving this one and one of my faves of 2017

BUCKETHEAD Pike 254 - Woven Twigs

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 254 - Woven Twigs / 11th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 9 tracks all titled “Twigs” / Clocks in at 30minutes 02seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Twig 1 (3:10) begins with a quickened brooding bass line with a guitar creating textures above it while a drum slowly joins in and then the guitar becomes heavy metal riffage before breaking into a sizzling solo and alternates between creative riffs and solos. The guitar parts are quite interesting as it changes up the general melodic patterns with different time signatures, tempos and patterns. The weak part is that the drums sound canned from a machine. As it goes on funk guitar enters the picture as do those clean echoey arpeggiated fills against a silent backdrop. Towards the end classical guitar even enters the soundscape

“Twig 2 (3:30) as with many of these PIKEs that use a single title for all the tracks, these run together imperceptibly and could qualify as one continuous album run. “Twig 2” simply continues the change-it-up approach as this one enters funk territory, blues licks and heavy metal riffs with hyperactive solos. As time elapses, the styles change up more often and sometimes metal riffs are accompanied by clean funk guitar or squealing solos

“Twig 3” (2:54) although imperceptible as a new track does begin with a heavier riff and then starts changing around with clean sections alternating with heavier ones. The usual suspects as heard previously only mixed up in different orders and new creative touches with soloing and time frenzied tempos

“Twig 4” (2:13) likewise bursts back into metal riffs with some clean guitar licks filling in the cracks. This one is short but has some amazing guitar workouts with speed-of-light solos accompanying jazz guitar chords and tripped out licks that come and go

“Twig 5” (2:48) also changes the previous track into a heavy monstrous crusher of metal and then floats on with a rather ordinary riff but abruptly turns to funk with some grungy slide guitar behind it. Of course nothing plays out too long anymore so after a few measures it’s time for some slower doomy type of metal only with some frenetic solos along for the ride and then time for some clean freaky echoey guitars again and so on and so forth

“Twig 6” (3:24) continues the tradition of beginning the track with a return to metal riffs but soon becomes rather progressive with all kinds of guitar antics whizzing around like a decapitated beast in the throes of battle. It continues with funk, blues, metal and slinks around like a caffeinated cobra in a tent filled with vermin

“Twig 7” (3:23) continues as slow creepy echo guitar with some pick slides for extra tension. It picks up steam but remains dark and mysterious until it erupts into metal riffs with some funk chords thrown in and then solo time! Towards the end the different guitar styles play together and then plays chameleon again often

“Twig 8” (4:19) continues as a heavy stomping riff monster with the same cheesy drums but then turns into a solo and then changes into the echo guitar thing and then changes again and again and again! This one is nice as it changes the melodies, the tempos, dynamics and everything

“Twig 9” (4:21) continues as a heavy metal rocker with those same cheese drums and i think you can safely assume by now that things change it up and often! And you would be correct to do so and this last segment of the “Twig” tales predictable follows the unpredictable with all the usual suspects juxtaposed into twisted tales of sonicity.

This is the type of album i love most by BH as he displays his guitar playing skills and why he is in the top of his game however this one has particularly annoying drum machine percussion that really needed some attention paid to the dynamics and playing for that matter since the guitar parts are well executed as is the bass with some creative tricks oozing out as well. My favorite type of BH style PIKE but not balanced enough to get the highest honors

FLOOR Loanin' / Figbender

Single · 1993 · Doom Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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aglasshouse
Floor started their career in the year 1993, releasing their debut single 'Loanin'' to the local Miami music scene. What this particular song and it's B-side 'Figbender' presented was an unprecedented brand of heaviness, one that I believe remains unparalleled today. While not nearly as professionally mixed as their 2002 debut, a factor that greatly contributed to the massive sound and really allowed them to tune it down farther, what this particular single still shows a prototype of what Floor would come to be acclaimed for. Shrieking, dying-animal like screams (granted which got much more clean in the future),spine-crushingly heavy riffs, and the occasional tortured whine of guitar feedback. If this is what you got and you weren't expecting it, I just don't know what to tell you. A one Clint Sutton appears as the gargantuan skin-slammer on this record, but he was replaced with Jeff Sousa a year or two after this release. Either way, Floor shows that it still acted as an extremely cohesive unit even in their earliest days.

OPETH Morningrise

Album · 1996 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 82 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Opeth’s sophomore effort was released by Candlelight Records in June of 1996. It follows the groundwork laid by the debut, “Orchid”, and is very similar in style and sound. Basically, the same four musicians - Mikael Akerfeldt (vo/g), Peter Lindgren (g), Anders Nordin (dr), and Johan De Farfalla (bass) returned to Unisound Studios with Dan Swano as producer once again. As a year had passed between the recording and the release of “Orchid”, the band had already begun work on the material that would eventually surface on “Morningrise”.

Stylistically, both albums employ the same approach of composing songs of ten minutes’ length or more with the melodic heavy guitar riffs punctuated by acoustic guitar interludes and hoarsely screamed death vocals that occasionally permit clean vocal contributions. The songs tend to be more like journeys with the music of each song usually moving on to new territory rather than revisiting early riffs and melodies. The two differences that stand out the most for me is first that “Orchid” came with two short instrumental tracks while “Morningrise” instead delivers a 20-minute epic in “Black Rose Immortal” and the other is that the echoing reverb on the guitars of “Orchid” has been almost wholly dispensed with here. This reduced reverb makes the production sound cleaner and a bit more up to date as I felt “Orchid” came across more like a mid-eighties recording.

As with its predecessor, the songs on “Morningrise” follow a similar pattern of heavy-acoustic-heavy-acoustic so closely that you can almost set your watch to when the first acoustic break is going to come up. However, one subtle difference that I felt I picked up on is that “Orchid” tends more towards a simple and often sparse Mediaeval style most of the time while on “Morningrise”, it sounds to me as though the guitarists were more willing to let some beauty stand out front their plucking. As such, I found during my latest listen to the album that some acoustic parts offered more to enjoy. At first, a song like “The Night and the Silent Water” seemed over-burdened with acoustic passages but now I feel they serve their purpose more than I had first supposed. The final stretch of this song, from the 7:34 mark, reminds me a lot of Anathema’s “Alternative 4” and the final repeated guitar riff also brings to mind the 1970 album by T.2. “It’ll All Work Out In Boomland”, which I read that Mikael has in his drastically enormous record collection.

One of the things I like about this line-up of Opeth is that the bass guitar is often given a bit of spotlight time. Sometimes it takes a lead role over the acoustic guitars as in parts of “Advent” and other times the electric guitars just stop for a moment while the bass continues with the riff for a couple of bars. You can hear this at the 3:12 mark in “Nectar”. Another thing I noticed once again is how the two rhythm guitars will play harmonized riffs with one guitar playing a simple riff while the other follows the riff but with more emphasis on melody, utilizing other notes in the chords. Both albums feature this kind of melodic riffing and it shows that this death metal band are not content to simply churn out searing riffs for the sake of speed or sonic brutality.

The centrepiece of this five-track album is the epic number, “Black Rose Immortal”. This song receives a lot of praise from Opeth fans with one review stating it was the one track that made “Morningrise” worth having. As to be expected, the song is a blend of heavy and melodic metal passages bridged with acoustic sections. I had concerns that this track might not just come off sounding like an extended version of what Opeth had already established as their song-composition style. Interestingly though, I feel this song has more emphasis on the heavier aspect of the band towards the beginning, and then more on the acoustic guitars in the latter half of the song.

Actually, even though this song has failed to impress me as much as it has some reviewers and critics, I cannot deny that it includes some terrific music. There’s a Celtic-inspired riff around three minutes and the lead guitar at around 8:20 sounds like an eighties thrash band with an Iron Maiden influence. At 9:20, the band even reprise the volume dial guitar playing that I enjoyed so much on “The Apostle in Triumph” from “Orchid”. The instrumental sections in this track also carry on for longer, giving them a place in the track as a part of the lengthy composition rather than just a moment of repose before the next heavy segment. My one complaint is that the final minutes of the song go from acoustic stretch to short heavy sprint and then back to acoustic stretch and back to heavy sprint, the song wrapping up rather unexpectedly and unceremoniously with the final riff being reduced to a repeated melody on electric guitar that gradually fades into its own echo.

The true surprise for me is the final track, “To Bid You Farewell”. To start with, it plays through some simple but beautiful acoustic guitar melodies with the bass guitar following the six strings and the drums playing a simple snare drum rim tap. The acoustic guitars continue well beyond the beginning of the vocals and I am left wondering when the dual heavy guitar riffing will suddenly take over. Yet contrary to expectation, around the 2:50 mark and before the vocals come in, the acoustic guitars establish a new melody that begins to make the song sound more like a track from an early seventies folk/rock fusion prog band. This is no surprise as by this time in Mikael’s life, if I understand correctly, he was working in a record shop and his boss had turned him on to all kinds of seventies prog. By 6:11 a dreamy wah-wah guitar enters and we are really into the seventies’ trip. In a way, I almost feel like this was an early Iron Maiden number that never made the debut because “Strange World” took its place instead. At 7:05 the guitars at last become electric and the vocals are double tracked for a harmonized effect. The track wraps up peacefully and it is then that you realize with a degree of astonishment that the death vocals never turned up once!

I had initially pegged “Morningrise” as slightly less interesting than “Orchid” but now I feel both albums are equally strong and to a much lesser degree equally weak though the two don’t share the same weaknesses. These two albums are very different from everything and anything else Opeth would put forward thereafter; however, they do have a lot to offer for the curious music lover. I enjoy them both as the completed first chapter in Opeth’s album history.

PURE WRATH Ascetic Eventide

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
Indonesia musician Januaryo Hardy is not someone whose music I have personally encountered before, but it seems that even at just twenty-three years old at the time of writing that he's already built up a quite impressive CV within the scene of brutal death metal. He is a member of the groups Cadavoracity (playing bass and doing drum programming) and Omnivorous (doing vocals) and has a solo project within the style as well, Perverted Dexterity. He also has a number of mixing and mastering credits to his name, mostly for fellow Indonesian artists (he is the owner of Insidious Soundlab).

Hardy's latest musical venture of his own is a second solo project. It may carry the rather corny and angry sounding moniker of Pure Wrath, a name that kinda implies something in the ballpark of his other work, or at least something quite violent sounding, but the cover art of debut album Ascetic Eventide (2017) alone should be enough to tell prospective listeners that this project marks a departure from the brutal death metal pastures of his other groups. The artwork brings mind to nature themed black metal acts such as Winterfylleth and Saor and that's exactly the kind of music the album contains: Januaryo Hardy has released his first attempt at an atmospheric black metal album.

I say attempt, but really that sells what Januaryo Hardy has created a bit short, as Ascetic Eventide is quick to show that it's a stunning debut record for the Pure Wrath project. Hardy shows that he's very adept at creating excellent atmospheric black metal right off the bat with the opening Colourless Grassland and then continues to deliver across a further five tracks. Expect in addition to traditional atmospheric black metal guitar rhythms some use of folk elements, haunting piano parts and ambient sound effects that really promote the whole naturalistic vibe. The formula isn't changed up all that much across the six tracks but at forty-three minutes the total length of the album is about right for it to work very well at being something the listener can lose themselves in for a time. The highpoint for me personally though is the closing track, Between Water and Winds. Here, Pure Wrath goes all out and ends up creating a mini-masterpiece of the genre.

You'd think that Hardy had spent all his time creating atmospheric black metal rather than the very different style of brutal death metal based on Ascetic Eventide. The album sees me coming away with the thought that it's one of 2017's most surprising gems of the atmospheric black metal genre. I'm definitely eager to hear more from this project now.

VANGOUGH Warpaint

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


I can’t remember how we first got in touch, but singer/guitarist Clay Withrow and I have been in contact since the time of their stunning debut ‘Manikin Parade’ some eight years ago, and I have been fortunate enough to hear all their albums, of which this new release is their fifth. The first thing I noticed is that the rabbit is back, having been on the front of their third album ‘Kingdom of Ruin’, and the EP ‘Acoustic Scars’ (where he was joined with the raven from the debut). But here he seems to be way more menacing, ready for the battle that is coming as suggested by the album title. Vangough are quite a rarity in the prog field, in that firstly they are a prog metal band without a keyboard player, but also, they are a trio. Now, that’s not too uncommon in some ways, as often a trio will double up on instruments in the studio, but while Clay may have put a few guitars on the same track, all we are getting are drums (Kyle Haws), bass (Jeren Martins), guitar and vocals. Before I get into the music I must also comment on the production, which is superb. There is real separation in the music, and songs such as “The Suffering” just blow away the listener with the move from gentle acoustic notes that have been plucked and gently fade to hard riffing. It is also great to be able to clearly hear the bass and drums, and the impact they are having on the song structures. This isn’t a wall of mud turned up loud, this is finesse played with skill and care.

They have been cutting their teeth in the live environment, and it comes through on this album as it is easy to imagine all those songs moving well onto a stage. After a raucous performance at the annual ProgPower USA music festival in 2014, they set out on their first North American tour with Pain of Salvation and the following year with Fates Warning. The learnings they have taken from these tours have been invaluable, and (nearly) forgives them the four years it took from ‘Between the Madness’ to this one. Here we have a prog metal band with technical influences that aren’t afraid to shift tack quite abruptly within a song, and to be punishingly heavy when it is required or more quiet and reflective as the mood takes them.

I have been playing this album a lot since I first had the opportunity to hear it, and although I’ve never been a fan of a rock band fading out a song (as on the aforementioned “The Suffering”), it does lead into the very different “Gravity” which goes from gentle into a Muse-inspired belter so I think I’ll forgive them. I gave their debut five stars as I was so incredibly impressed, and now is the time to do the same again. Awesome. Why not pop over to https://vangough.bandcamp.com/album/warpaint and give it a listen, I know you’ll agree.

AMORPHIS Under The Red Cloud

Album · 2015 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.47 | 17 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Formed in Helsinki in 1990, Amorphis have moved from being a death metal act to one that has incorporated many different styles and textures. A song could be “straight” death metal, but also containing flute, or a rock song could be based around a piano and acoustic guitar, with a low baritone vocal instead of a gruff death growl. So, they have become a band that are masters of many sounds, and in 2015, they kicked off the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’. Although they were touring hard, they kept retuning to the studio to write and record their twelfth album with famed producer Jens Bogren (Soilwork, Kreator etc.) etc.) at his Fascination Street Studio in Örebro. The result of this two-month recording session was once again a heavy, melodic statement, called ‘Under The Red Cloud.’ During the recordings, the sextet was joined by some famous guest musicians: Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie) played flutes on “The Four Wise Ones”, “Death Of A King” and “Tree Of Ages”, Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth) provided percussion on “Death Of A King” while Aleah Stanbridge (Trees of Eternity) sang guest vocals on “The Four Wise Ones”, “Sacrifice” and “White Night”.

The result of a band prepared to experiment, a producer who knows how to capture the best of guys prepared to play loud and hard, plus additional guest musicians, resulted in an album that is very special indeed. It is no surprise to see that they consequently toured with Nightwish and Arch Enemy on the same bill, as they are the perfect link between the two. They always maintain a high level of melody, and move between different genres (often within the same song), so that they can drop from folk metal into melodic death into metal and then even move into something softer if that is where the music takes them.

Released in September 2015, the album was viewed as a great success, with their first ever chart entry in United Kingdom and Australia, as well as their highest ever entries in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. In August 2016, at ‘An Evening With Friends’ at the Helsinki Festival in Huvila, the band performed a very special set list with guest musicians and friends “We were honored to take part in the Helsinki Festival in Huvila, so therefore we wanted to do something special for that particular night,” states guitarist Tomi Koivusaari. “The gig itself happened in a large tent in the very centre of Helsinki on a late summer evening. The Huvila-tent has quite long history, so there was already some excitement in the air beforehand. We wanted to invite some guests to be featured on that show - musicians we already had worked with during these years and musicians we have a huge respect for, so Sakari Kukko, Pekko Käppi and Anneke van Giersbergen joined us on that evening with friends. Originally, Aleah Starbridge was supposed to join as well, as she sang on the ‘Under The Red Cloud’ album, but sadly she passed away before that. It was surely a night to remember!”. These shows are now part of the new tour edition, as the original album »now has two additional bonus songs as well as the live tracks from Helsinki.

The live set starts acoustic guitar, violin, saxophone and piano, and one really does have to stop and realise that this is/was a death metal act. The vocals are certainly not one would expect from a band of that genre. This was a special night, and any time I can listen to Anneke van Giersbergen perform is going to be alright with me! This was already an excellent album, and the additional CD has ensured that those who haven’t already purchased this need to rush out and get it now, if not sooner.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 253 - Coop Erstown

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 253 - Coop Erstown / 10th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 5 tracks / Clocks in at 29minutes 44seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Coop Erstown” (7:24) starts immediately with a frantic distorted guitar and a fast pace that feels a bit jittery and takes no time to erupt into a frenetic guitar solo that is sorta bluesy but also a little off kilter. After a bit more metal riffage also lollygagging through the land of distortion, it takes a turn into slightly off time sigs and more wild solos. Everything seems a bit off with this one but that’s what gives it a unique personality as the style itself is fairly typical for BH and these offnesses are what keep it interesting for me

“Tinkertrack” (6:32) begins hard and heavy with crunchy metal riffage and a hella beefy bass. The riffs turn into a solo and alternates the two styles. The solos are very melodic and less jittery than the previous track but it does manage to create some off-kilter time sigs and slight dissonance at time. This is a frenetic track with craploads of energy being expended. The way this one is constructed is also of interest as it is slightly off in many ways but still highly accessible. Another interesting track for BH who keeps the bluesy alternative feel fresh all the way thru

“Quadruple Chicken Barn” (4:27) breaks out da funk, mon! Heavy bass but clean guitar that worships George Clinton but ratchets up the technical wizardry to BH levels. Tasty funky groove augmented with clever solos makes this a fun little number with a chicken stuttin’ feel like none other

“Clay Hen” (3:42) takes things back into heavy metal territory with heavy crunchy riffs and alternates with more treble oriented licks and solos. Somewhat progressive chord progressions make this a little more interesting than other PIKEs that utilize this same type of style

“Rooms of Brooms” (7:40) slows things down a lot and delivers an echoey clean guitar effect with some sort of melody that reminds me of Christmas songs :/ Well, only a little. It remains clean with a bass and slow drumbeat and continues to repeat the melodic development that remains calm and placid for the most part but at the end is joined by a ever quickening guitar solo that provides the only break from the monotonous chord progressions. This one is fairly unexciting

Not a bad PIKE except for the last track but it’s also not a blow-yer-socks-off one either. It’s a pleasant enough listen but hardly the best eggs in the chicken coop

BUCKETHEAD Pike 252 - Bozo In The Labyrinth

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 252 - Bozo In The Labyrinth / 9th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 6 tracks / Clocks in at 30minutes 27seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Mirrors Of The Sleeping Mind” (7:36) takes off in Rancho Relaxo with light fluffy guitars, subordinate bass and dreamy drum patterns that float by like Easter chicks in an Easter basket down a serene brook in a pastural setting. A melody has been initiated in slo-mo and takes it’s sweet time to develop but an ambient background wahs its way into the picture. The tempo picks up with that notorious echo guitar effect and then. After a while. A solo erupts around the same melody that had been established from the beginning. It gets more energetic and builds steam but the chord sequence stagnates and remains the same progression in a looped effect. It continues as such with bluesy solo intact. I await some sort of break from the predictability but pulling hard on the nigh rein only prolongs the misery. Meh

“Cliff Faces” (4:39) begins a tad more energetic with grungy distorted guitars and bass and drums in energetic mode from the get go but has some interesting breaks with slide guitars and staccato action. Echo guitars become more pronounced further on but ultimately this is another track that has a predictable repetitive style of riffing in alternative metal mode with some solos and a few surprises. Meh as well

“Flooded Ballroom” (7:00) is even more grungy and sounds like a Soundgarden track at first but then bursts into a true BH riff shredder. The distortion is extra thick at least for the riffs but the breaks are cleaner. The riffs sound very 70s hard rock in style with a 90s veneer to the distortion. Solos are also very 70s bluesy hard rock in style but overall this is a decent but average BH track that doesn’t need to go on as long as it does

“Branch” (2:25) begins soft and sensual with clean guitars but when the drums come in they’re particularly aggressive in comparison. The guitar turns to that clucking style as ambient swirls float in the background. Bass is quite subdued but there.

“The Chambers” (4:06) sounds like a 70s Van Halen inspired grungy guitar riff monster but rather weak in comparison to the greats of that era and for BH who has done this style many times at this point. Sounds a little flabby like it needs to go on a diet in order to have a little more stamina. Just an average track and fairly unremarkable

“Bozo In The Labyrinth” (4:41) erupts in a super heavy metal riff with bizarre monster noises in the background and then starts changing up the riffs a bit while remaining fast and heavy but just when you think it’s gonna get even heavier it suddenly morphs into an acoustic almost flamenco type of feel but then jumps into progressive tech extreme metal and then back to the gypsy flavored acoustic style and even after a huge pause stays in that style until it’s time for metal again! Heavy riffs with irregular time sigs and monstrous sprawls of riffage finally give way to an alien sounding guitar solo but then suddenly jumps back into acoustic wonderland. This is by far the best track on this PIKE. After mediocre tracks, this one saves the day and is interesting and exhilarating and even includes all the styles of the tracks before and delivers them with gusto. Great track but too late to save the album from an overall ho hum feel

IMPETIGO Buio Omega

EP · 1991 · Grindcore
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Buio Omega" is an EP release by US, Illinois based goregrind act Impetigo. The EP was originally released on 7" vinyl through the The Whisper In Darkness label in 1990. "Buio Omega" bridges the gap between the band´s debut and 2nd full-length studio albums "Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (1990)" and "Horror of the Zombies (1992)". Impetigo were formed in 1987 and released a couple of influential demos in the late 80s. They are often mentioned among the seminal US goregrind acts.

It´s probably wrong to call an act, that is widely considered seminal in their sub genre, generic and lacking an original sound, but that´s more or less how I would describe Impetigo on "Buio Omega". The music, on the 4 track, 10:07 minutes long EP (All tracks were featured in their original versions on "Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (1990)"), is strongly influenced by the early releases by Carcass and I think I hear a couple of nods toward early Napalm Death too. Because of the goregrind image and lyrics Carcass predominantly comes to mind. Impetigo generally have a more humourous B-Horror movie way of writing lyrics which is also obvious from reading song titles like "Dear Uncle Creepy" and "Bitch Death Teenage Mucous Monster From Hell". Although this is undeniably gory and vile, it´s also supposed to be fun (in a bizarre way).

The musicianship are generally sloppy and the material sounds like it´s primarily written for shock value rather than for cathiness or longivity. The sound production makes the music sound muddy, dark, and noisy. The vocals are loud in the mix and vary between unintelligible deep growling, more aggressive intelligible growling, and higher pitched screaming. The pace varies between slow parts and eruptions of blast beat sections. Very noisy and unless you are into this type of goregrind also a bit hard to appreciate. Impetigo may be a seminal act on the US goregrind scene, but they quite frankly sound amaturish and I´m on the verge of calling this a poor release. I´ll settle with a 2 - 2.5 star (45%) rating and recommend that you listen to other US goregrind acts from that era before this one. Acts like Repulsion and Nuclear Death come to mind.

IRON MAIDEN The Soundhouse Tapes

EP · 1979 · NWoBHM
Cover art 3.59 | 12 ratings
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UMUR
"The Soundhouse Tapes" is the first EP release by UK heavy metal act Iron Maiden. The EP was released through the band´s own label Rock Hard Records in November 1979. The original vinyl version of "The Soundhouse Tapes" was limited to 5000 copies, which were sold by mail order alone. The three tracks featured on the 11:28 minutes long EP ("Iron Maiden", "Invasion" and "Prowler") were originally recorded on New Years Eve of 1978 along with "Strange World" for a demo tape the band used to send to venues to book gigs. Before recording the demo Iron Maiden had a hard time finding gigs, but 1979 proved to be a fruitful year for the band, who played lots of shows and received great responses from the audience. The band were often met with a demand for recorded material by the fans after the shows, and that´s how the idea to release "The Soundhouse Tapes" was born. So the three tracks ("Strange World" was left off the EP, because the band weren´t satisfied with the production values on that particular track) featured on "The Soundhouse Tapes" are actually demos.

"Iron Maiden" and "Prowler" were both re-recorded and included on the band´s 1980 self-titled debut album while "Invasion" was re-recorded and included as a B-side on the "Women in Uniform (1980)" single. Both "Iron Maiden" and "Prowler" appear here in more or less the versions that you´ll hear on the debut album, albeit in more raw sounding and slower paced versions. "Invasion" is slightly less heavy metal oriented and reminds me a bit of early Rush. It´s not as catchy or infectiously aggressive as the other two tracks and it´s obvious why it wasn´t included on the debut album, but chosen as a B-side track on a single instead.

"The Soundhouse Tapes" is ultimately a pretty decent first recording by Iron Maiden although the later more professional studio versions of the tracks sound much better and are also more aggressive due to the higher pace and the more distorted guitar sound. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

ATTOMICA Disturbing the Noise

Album · 1991 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Disturbing the Noise" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Brazilian thrash metal act Attomica. The album was released through Cogumelo Records in 1991. Attomica had temporarily been a four-piece on "Limits of Insanity (1989)", with bassist André Rod also taking on the vocal duties on that album, but on "Disturbing the Noise", Attomica are back in a five-piece constellation again. André Rod solely concentrates on playing bass on this album and new lead vocalist is Fábio Moreira. There´s been a change on the guitarist post too as João Márcio Francis has replaced Pyda Rod as the band´s second guitarist. Besides André Rod, guitarist João Paulo Francis and drummer Mário Sanefuji are the usual suspects in the lineup.

With a different lead vocalist on each of the band´s first three albums, Attomica naturally hadn´t settled on a sound that they could say was their own. The debut features a savage blackened old school thrash metal assault, while "Limits of Insanity (1989)" was a more technically oriented thrash metal album with a very high pitched and monotone vocal style on top. On "Disturbing the Noise" the sound has changed again, and this time around the music is reminiscent of the more aggressive and fast-paced 80s Slayer and especially mid-80s Dark Angel. It´s safe to say that by 1991 that wasn´t exactly the most original thing to play, but Attomica are convincing and deliver their music with both decent skill and passion.

New lead vocalist Fábio Moreira is a pretty standard raw type thrash metal singer with a staccato delivery. he is nothing out of the ordinary, but he gets the job done and compared to the monotone and brain meltingly high pitched vocals by André Rod, he is a 100% upgrade to Attomica´s music. The instrumental performances are raw, unpolished, and reasonably skillfully delivered. Pounding, fast, and powerful drumming, fast-paced thrashy riffing, and some blistering screaming atonal solos, are some of the ingredients in the band´s music. The sound production is raw and powerful and suits the band´s music perfectly.

After the rather weak "Limits of Insanity (1989)", I didn´t have high expectations to the quality of "Disturbing the Noise", but Attomica pull it off pretty great on this one, delivering a quality raw and aggressive thrash metal album and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

OPETH Orchid

Album · 1995 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.63 | 72 ratings
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So here we have the very first Opeth album, released by Candlelight Records in 1995 but recorded in the spring of 1994. By the time Opeth hit the studio, none of the founding members remained in the band, the last one, David Insberg, having left two years prior. On the current roster were a young Mikael Akerfeldt (vo/g) who was joined by Peter Lindgren (g), Anders Nordin (dr/piano), and Johan De Farfalla (bass/backing vo ) for the debut.

This album and its successor, “Morningrise”, show Opeth as they never would sound again. Though labeled as death metal with some black metal aspects, Opeth were from their first platter already showing prog tendencies. The songs are mostly over ten minutes and are composed in multiple parts with tempo and meter changes, not to mention the frequent acoustic breaks. I’ll admit here that my knowledge of death metal is rather sparse and lacking and so I did a bit of research, first reading the Wikipedia article on death metal and discovering that I already was familiar with its origins (which as it turns out are close to those of black metal). In the eighties I had in my cassette collection albums by Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Possessed, and it was these bands among others that inspired both the death and black metal movements. To further educate myself, I found a playlist on YouTube with 224 videos of old school death metal and I listened to the first two dozen songs. From those I conclude that early death metal was fast like trash but featured growled, or perhaps more accurately roared, guttural vocals. This matched my loose impression prior to hearing the album. When someone somewhere commented that early Opeth albums were more straightforward death metal, I imagined something like early Gorguts: fast, technical, and brutal.

The guitar sound strikes me as rather primitive for the day. Though we are talking mid-nineties here, the distortion sound, the tone, and the use of delay are similar to albums I picked up in the eighties. The one that comes to mind most readily is an EP by Ruthless. The guitars have a rawness to them and sound a bit high tone compared to the city-leveling, bombastic, full-on distortion whump! of later albums like “My Arms, Your Hearse” and “Blackwater Park”. But the dual guitars play complex and melodic riffs that more than once remind me of Paul Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden. This cannot just be me because I read someone describe the guitar playing as Celtic-influenced and I have read the same appraisal about Iron Maiden.

Rather amazingly, this debut death metal album opens with a 14:10 mini-epic that introduces more than a couple of harmonized dual guitar riffs for the first 2:20 of the song before the vocals finally come in. Around the 3-minute mark the speed picks up, but with more emphasis on slower melodic riffs I feel the music is more akin to early nineties thrash bands like Sacrifice, Slayer, or Annihilator because raw speed has given way to complexity in music and song structure. The first acoustic break comes at 3:48 and get used to it because this is what the band is going to build its career on: frequent acoustic breaks in heavy songs. True to melodic form, the lead guitar parts are not wailing or shredded but exude a taste for style and feeling over volleys of notes.

Three of the next five tracks are all lengthy numbers featuring more melodic riffs, a few speedy sections, some wonderful mid-eighties early death metal heavy riffs, frequent exploitation of acoustic guitars, and some noteworthy bass guitar highlights. There are moments, especially in “The Twilight Is My Robe” when the acoustic passages become frequent to the point of redundancy, I felt at first, the uniqueness and surprise quickly wearing off. However, by the end of the song the quick binges of speedy heavy parts actually seem more like the breaks while the acoustic parts carry the weight of the song.

Throughout these tracks, Mikael’s death growl is harsh and demonic, sounding like his vocal chords are being given a good shredding while the lead guitars eschew shredding altogether and stick to being melodic and emotive. There is still room for some great trad metal guitar moves in places. On the down side, the clean vocals here often sound weak as though they were deemed a necessary part of the songs but no fully adequate singer was available. Mikael would certainly perform clean vocals much better later on down the road.

There are two short instrumental pieces. “Silhouette” is a piano composition by drummer Anders Nordin. It could have been rather pretty but I feel the playing is clunky and graceless. The keys are pounded throughout and the tempo seems ready to derail at inappropriate times. “Requiem” is an acoustic guitar number with bass guitar, and despite the band’s insistence on working in acoustic guitar sections into their songs, this instrumental is unremarkable.

The true highlight of the album for me is in the final track, “The Apostle in Triumph”. Beginning with an upbeat acoustic piece, it sounds like something that might have been an outtake from Led Zeppelin’s third album, hand drums and a restless bass guitar adding to the interest. Then bizarrely, the music fades out and for two seconds there is only silence. Another acoustic composition begins, and you might be wondering here what has happened as “Requiem” was followed by two more acoustic only bits. But “Apostle” is a mighty track of 13 minutes with some ominous guitar riffs and brutal vocals. Much more emphasis goes on the heavy music than on any other track, I presume. At 7:25 a huge surprise is dropped on our cochleae with an instrumental segment that features a guitar that sounds more like a viola. I suspect it is played by adjusting the volume dial but done with such a speed and agility that I would not be surprised to hear another technique had been employed. After the first two listens to this album, this song had cemented itself as my favourite track of the album and one of my top ten favourite Opeth tracks, at least until I acquired more albums when the list had to be expanded to a top 20.

Though Opeth would go on to release many excellent albums later on, this earnest debut, though a little rough in a few spots, establishes the band as more than just another death metal outfit. Rankings of Opeth album usually put “Blackwater Park” or “Ghost Reveries” at the top but at least one list I found has “Orchid” in the number one position.

A more straight forward death album this is not. These four young men produced quite an achievement in their early days as Opeth and set their course for progressive melodic death metal.

WINDIR 1184

Album · 2001 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.59 | 7 ratings
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As far as household names of melodic black metal go, then Norway's Windir is right up there with Sweden's Dissection, arguable the style's pioneer. They were the brainchild of one Terje Bakken, known as Valfar, who started the band in 1994. Windir's is one of the genre's tragic tales though, as in 2004, while journeying to his family's cabin in Fagereggi, Norway, Valfar was caught in a snow storm and never made it. His body was discovered three days later in the Sogndal Valley near the town of Reppastolen, where he had died of hypothermia. He was just 25 years old at the time of his death. Although Windir was only able to exist for a decade, four well regarded full-length albums were produced. The third of these was 1184 (2001), where for the first time Valfar had expanded his project into a full six strong group and switched primarily to English lyrics instead of the Sognamål Norwegian dialect.

Compared to all the other Windir full-length albums, 1184 is also the most unique and experimental one among them. Windir, with their choice of lyrical themes and cover artwork, had the air of Viking/Pagan styling about them but that didn't stop Valfar and company from trying some new things on 1184 that weren't really in context with that, such the use of electronic elements, most notably on the final track Journey to the End. This may somewhat explain why fans are said to have been a bit divided by the album at the time of its release, as compared to the prior Sóknardalr (1997) and Arntor (1999) this one also features some departures, featuring less developed folk ideas and being more in line with the so called Viking metal sound, with some really rich sounding ambient synths being used, which you can hear right away in the opening track Todeswalzer. At its heart though, 1184 remains very much a melodic black metal album, guitar based and lively and even a bit thrashy in some places. I struggle to really follow the vocals of Valfar himself but they're delivered with an infectious sort of energy that makes me instantly dig what the band are doing. I also find that their choice of guest clean vocalist to be an improvement on the first two albums, with Cosmocrator replacing Steinarson.

With albums like 1184 to his name, Valfar left a small but amazing legacy that few melodic black metal acts will ever hope to match. The key tracks on this one for me have to be the epic Destroy, which instantly strikes as an absolute beast of a track, and also Dance of Mortal Lust which is made of the same stuff. The closing Journey to the End is also deserving of another mention as it's the most surprising track, initially starting as a typical Windir song but then at about a third of the way through it changes into ambient/electronic music, which actually displays some really good melodies. It's the kind of moment that makes you sit up and wonder if you really just heard the band do that. It's surprises like this that make, for my money at least, 1184 the best of Windir's four albums. I'd consider this one an absolute essential for anyone with even a small interest in black metal to purchase.

METALLICA Beyond Magnetic

EP · 2011 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 18 ratings
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FMOTP
BEYOND MAGNETIC was released between the excellent DEATH MAGNETIC and HARDWIRED TO SELF DESTRUCT. DEATH MAGNETIC is one of my favorite Metallica albums, but critical consensus varies considerably. Your take on this EP may fall in line with what you think of DEATH MAGNETIC. The sound of BEYOND MAGNETIC is similar to the earlier album; my favorite track here is "Just A Bullet Away". I think "Rebel of Babylon" overstays its welcome.

The musical skills of the band are well documented, so I'll only single out Lars Ulrich. I'm not a musician, but I don't quite understand the disdain normally directed at him. "The Day That Never Comes" and "All Nightmare Long" are enough to convince me that the drummer knows what he's doing. This EP doesn't break new ground but Metallica doesn't need to at this point. On the whole, BEYOND MAGNETIC measures up the usual high standard set by one of the most innovative bands in metal history.

HELLOWEEN Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2

Album · 1988 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 108 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Say you’re a German heavy metal band, and in 1987, you released an album called “Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1”. It is a melodic metal tour de force, spawning the band’s debut single, garnering great critical acclaim, and racking up immense praise from fans. What do you do next? Simple. You release “Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2”, and completely blitz the previous album.

Helloween intended to release the two “Keeper of the Seven Keys” albums as a double album, but the band’s record company forced them to split the release. It hardly matters now, because no self-respecting Helloween fan would be without both albums. However, it made “Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1” seem a little silly, because the title track wasn’t on it. The record company interference has also long been thought to be a key factor behind Kai Hansen’s departure from the band after this album’s release.

Helloween were often unfairly compared to Iron Maiden during their early career. The similarities were pretty superficial. Yes, both bands had two guitarists, a great singer, an ear for melody, and a penchant for crafting epic masterpiece songs. But that’s where the similarities end. For anyone whose ears aren’t painted on, it’s quite obvious both bands play different styles of metal. Iron Maiden redefined what was meant by heavy metal, taking Judas Priest’s British steel and Black Sabbath’s never say die attitude to new heights. Helloween, heavily influenced by The Scorpions’ animal magnetism, injected melody into thrash metal like no other band before them.

Some of these songs are among the greatest examples of melodic thrash you will ever hear. Yes, this style of metal now gets the label power metal, but back in 1988, it was still called thrash. The brief instrumental “Invitation”, a bombastic military march, replete with brass, and an angelic choir, leads into the muscular main riff of “Eagle Fly Free”, and the album is off and running! The choppy rhythms of Hansen and Michael Weikath are driven by drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg’s double kick drum barrage and Marcus Grosskopf’s virtuoso bass. Over it, Michael Kiske weaves an allegoric tale, with a soaring eagle chorus.

“Rise and Fall” follows the same formula, except the chorus is even more magnificent, more sing-a-long-able, and Kiske hits some glorious high notes. “Dr Stein” was released as the album’s first single, and on the surface seems like a song about Dr Frankenstein. A closer examination of the lyrics however, reveals a more political theme. Musically, it is a cheerful, bouncy thrash/power-pop song, and even offers a pipe organ break Dr Phibes would be proud of. “We Got the Right” changes the pace somewhat, a driving, serious power ballad with stratospheric vocals.

For some strange reason, Helloween seem quite adept at writing memorable songs, but their titles are far from inspiring. “You Always Walk Alone” is a great song, with incredibly strong vocal melodies, a variety of very different guitar solos, and a stunning percussion performance by Schwichtenberg, but has such a forgettable, bland title. “March of Time” and “Save Us” all suffer similar fates- damn fine songs, but ditch-water dull titles.

The Kai Hansen penned “I Want Out” was the album’s second single, and to this day, remains Helloween’s biggest and possibly best song. The opening riff is instantly recognisable. The chanted chorus is powerful, and the refrain of “I want out/to live my life and to be free” speaks volumes to so many people on so many levels about so many situations. It could have been speaking of the political situation of the still divided Germany, to a teen weighed down by the angst of his age, a prisoner or slave desiring freedom, or perhaps Kai Hansen’s desire to untie himself from the band.

So how do you follow a career defining single? With a career defining saga of course! The scope of the multi-faceted, near-14-minute fantasy “Keeper of the Seven Keys” rivals Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (there’s that comparison again!) for scope, if not quite for execution or composition. While somewhat shorter than Lord of the Rings, it is a tale of travels and treasure, and demons and deception. Whether it is to be taken at face value or there is a deeper meaning, it’s a ripping yarn told in song.

And what do you follow that with? Well, depending on the version of the album you have, either contemplative silence, which leaves you wanting to replay the album again, or “Save Us”. While not a bad song in itself, probably the closest to a conventional thrash song on offer, it doesn’t work at the end of the album, seeming like a tacked on left-over, or a Japanese b-side. It is neither, originally being the seventh song on the album. It has been stuck there in one of those unfathomable decisions made when the album was remastered.

“Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2” marked the end of an era for Helloween. Founding member Kai Hansen left the band soon after its release, and forged a successful career with his own band Gamma Ray. Helloween also abandoned the fantasy driven melodic thrash the band had pioneered, instead committing near career suicide with the post-modern silliness of “Pink Bubbles Go Ape”, and the radio rock infused “Chameleon”, before returning to their power metal roots. The Keeper of the Seven Keys legend was eventually revisited in 2005 with “Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy”, but the band has never quite recaptured the magic. It matters not, because “Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2” still exists, and expecting Helloween to better it is the definition of insanity.

AZARATH In Extremis

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Azarath were formed in Poland by drummer Inferno (Behemoth) in 1998, initially as a trio, and immediately caught attention with their death/black metal assault. Over the years there have been some line-up changes, and currently Inferno is accompanied by Bart (Armagedon, Damnation) on guitars, Necrosodom (Anima Damnata, Deus Mortem, ex-Infernal War) on vocals and guitars, as well as Peter (ex-Lost Soul) on bass Their music has been described as a "demonic mutation of Krisiun and Behemoth with shades of Immolation", and their death metal has large amounts of black metal influences as well, straddling the genres and being masters of both. The only thing wrong with this album is that it has taken so long to arrive! It has been six years since the last album, and I really don’t want to wait another six years for the next one.

There are times, such as on “At The Gates of Understanding” where the attack is completely brutal, completely over the top, with frenetic drumming and riffs yet it still contains a black metal element that gives it a twist away from the normal and an additional touch of class. This is one of the most impressive albums of this style of music I have ever come across, and it is one that I have had real issues getting off my player so that I could listen to one of the many others that I had to review. This may be only forty minutes long, but is a masterpiece and absolutely essential

OVERKILL The Grinding Wheel

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 8 ratings
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Kev Rowland
2017’s ‘The Grinding Wheel’ saw the same line-up as their previous outing, but there is something different about this album which I can’t really put my finger on. Is it the overall production sound? Well, the final mix was conducted by the maestro Andy Sneap, so maybe that’s it. Or is it the urgency and passion that is really coming from this album in spades? Is it the quality of the songs themselves? I give up. I have most, if not all, of their albums and this is their finest yet. A band that started back in 1980 shouldn’t really be producing their finest work nearly forty years later! But here it is, and a delight it from the start through very nearly to the end (more on that later).

Bobby Blitz and D.D Verni are still writing all the material, but here they have stepped it up a notch and there are audible nods to bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath as well as peers such as Testament and Exodus. The chorus to “Our Finest Hour” is “I'll be your conscience I'll be your guide, I'll be the black-hand that stops your genocide, I'll be the understanding undisputed power, I'll hold your hand in this our finest hour”. As they say, it is their finest hour, with loads of power, and this has a hook that makes me want to play it again and again. Some of the others are a bit more tongue in cheek, such as “Let’s All Go To Hades” where they deliberately slow it down for the introduction before speeding up again - reminiscent of some old NWOBHM numbers. This is one that makes me smile each timer I hear it.

My only major groan of the album itself is the title cut, which is the last song on the album. It ends by fading out into a few delicate notes. I have no idea what is going on here, or why, but is no way to end a thrash album. But, in some ways that seems a minor quibble on what is a very fine album indeed. Turn it up, play it loud, this album deserves to be treated with respect.

OVERKILL White Devil Armory

Album · 2014 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 13 ratings
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Kev Rowland
There aren’t many bands who have it made it to their eighteenth album, let alone a thrash act, but this 2014 release is just that. Okay, so only singer Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni have been there throughout, but they have kept the flag flying high, and the current five-man line-up came together in 2005, so it’s not surprising that they know what they are doing. Unlike some bands who broke through in the thrash scene (mentioning no names, but they used to have Dave Mustaine in their ranks), these guys have stayed true to their roots and haven’t moved musically a long way from their 1985 debut.

With Overkill, the listener always knows what they are going to get, and in many ways they are a load of fun, but to my ears this album is nothing more than that. It’s good, it’s solid, it’s strong and tight, but nothing more than that. There is nothing on here that really makes it stand out from any of their other albums, and there’s the issue. If you enjoy thrash metal, then you’ll enjoy it while it’s on, but is there anything essenial on here that will make you go back and play it again? That’s a very different question, and not one that I am sure I can answer.

EVERGREY The Storm Within

Album · 2016 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 7 ratings
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UMUR
"The Storm Within" is the 10th full-length studio album by Swedish power metal act Evergrey. The album was released through AFM Records in September 2016. It´s the successor to "Hymns for the Broken" from 2014, which by many is considered a comeback album of sorts, because lead vocalist/guitarist Tom Englund reunited with drummer Jonas Ekdahl and guitarist Henrik Danhage after a lineup turmoil in 2010 meant that those two left Evergrey. Apparently the marriage is happy again though because "The Storm Within" features the exact same lineup who recorded "Hymns for the Broken (2014)".

Stylistically the music on "The Storm Within" pretty much continues the anthemic power metal with a melancholic atmosphere, that Evergrey also played on the predecessor. In fact this is unmistakably the sound of Evergrey with Tom Englund´s distinct sounding vocals in front, melodic and occasional thrash metal oriented guitar playing (the thrash metal riffs are more an influence rather than a dominant element of the band´s sound), supporting keyboards for texture, and a powerful and tight playing rhythm section. The quality of the performances is high throughout. Here I´ll have to give a special mention to Henrik Danhage´s guitar solos. He is a brilliant guitar player, and his solos on this album definitely help elevate the music to higher levels.

The songwriting is generally top notch professional too. Tracks like "Distance", "In Orbit" (featuring Floor Jansen of Nightwish), and the atmospheric title track (which reminds me quite a lot of Anathema) are among the highlights, but "The Storm Within" is overall a pretty consistent quality release. The only track which doesn´t quite reach the high quality of the rest of the material is the saccarine power ballad "The Paradox of the Flame" (a duet power balled with Tom´s wife Carina Englund). When Evergrey touch that territory is when they are worst.

"The Storm Within" features a powerful, detailed, and well sounding production, which suits the music perfectly and upon conclusion it´s another quality release by Evergrey. There´s not much development of sound, and I could have done with a few more tempo changes as most of the tracks don´t leave mid-pace, but on a whole it´s still a very professional and well sounding release, and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating isn´t all wrong.

RITUALIZATION Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
With so many new bands coming along and new albums from old bands for that matter it’s easy for something to pass you by. France’s Ritualization have been kicking around for a while now with a couple of EP’s released in 2011 and 2013 and even earlier demos which I haven’t heard. Fortunately I’ve picked up on Sacraments To The Sons Of The Abyss, their recently released debut album. Fortunate because it’s pretty damn good.

After the suitably dark intro Conjuration of the Howling Depths it’s we’re into Last Rites Of The Damned and it’s relentless barrage of riffs and blastbeats make for a strong statement of intent. I’m not hearing anything particularly original here – they’ve no doubt been brought up on the old school death metal of the likes of Morbid Angel and Incantation but this stuff is played with such energy and conviction it’s hard not to be won over. They wisely slow it down now and then like on the intro of Herald Of Betrayal, one of the albums strongest moments as it happens, but this album’s largely a blackened death metal wall of sound. The vocals are typically low death growls but a black metal rasp occasionally rears its head. The standard of musicianship is excellent - inventive guitar solos but it’s more about the complex intricate riffing that’s constantly shifting as ferocious drums follow suit. This album is pretty much relentless from start to finish with the exclusion of the aforementioned Intro and outro Ashes Pouring From The Chalice, an effective way to open and close things. At 43 minutes it’s just about the right length, gets in there and kicks the shit out of you and buggers off. Perfect!

Whilst I was initially impressed it took a few plays for STTSOTA to fully reveal itself. There’s a hell of a lot going on in these grooves but it’s shaping up already to be one of the best death metal albums of 2017 so if you like your death metal on the black side you should really check these guys out. As a side note my vinyl copy came beautifully packaged with an album sized booklet and poster.

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