Metal Music Reviews

HAMMERFALL Dominion

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Swedish heavy/power metal band Hammerfall have become very reliable over the last 22 years, releasing one great album after another, without showing any signs of slowing down. They first splashed onto the scene in 1997 with their critically acclaimed debut, Glory to the Brave, and ever since they’ve been both very prolific and consistently entertaining, proving themselves to be one of the absolute best in their field. While I tend to enjoy some of their albums more than others, they always manage to have their fair share of excellent tracks on every release, and so I always look forward to hearing new music from them. I was particularly impressed by their previous release, Built to Last, which proved to be a big return to form following the much-reviled Infected, and the solid but somewhat underwhelming (r)Evolution. Their eleventh full-length release, Dominion, is nearly here, and after several spins, I can safely say it not only improves upon its already excellent predecessor, but it’s an amazing album in its own right and one that can easily stand toe to toe against any of the band’s best works!

Hammerfall has a pretty distinct sound at this point, striking pretty much a perfect balance between 90’s-early 2000’s Euro power metal, with slight modernization here and there, and some classic heavy metal. The only album that didn’t quite fit that description was Infected, which had a much darker, slightly heavier and more modernized sound, overall. Dominion, however, continues where Built to Last left off, showing the band at their most melodic, and the most energetic they’ve been in quite some time, channeling their younger selves at times, while still having some sight modern twists, as well as a couple of their heaviest songs to date. The guitar work is, of course, excellent, as always, with some amazing melodic lead guitar work, some great solos, and some very heavy riffs, and while there are times where the music takes a slightly modern twist, for the most part, the songs have a very classic feel to them, which works perfectly. There are a few points where the music approaches Infected levels of heaviness and darkness, but the band always counters it with some excellent, uplifting vocal melodies, and so anyone turned off by that release should not be disappointed by this one. As far as pacing goes, the album is very much what any Hammerfall fan should expect from the band, with a perfect mix between speedy power metal, some slower, hard-hitting heavy metal, a couple of tracks which alternate between the two, and a couple of ballads. Perhaps the strongest aspect of the release, though, is the vocals, with Joacim Cans sounding clearly at the top of his game, delivering the kind of epic, soaring power metal vocals he’s always excelled at, and especially shining during the choruses, which are easily some of the band’s catchiest, most melodic and just plain best in quite some time. Production and performances are of course excellent across the board, as always, and everything sounds perfect.

Leading up to the release, the band has delivered three singles, all of which would suggest a move away from their typical power metal sound, though all three of them are excellent tracks, in their own right. First up, lead single “{We Make} Sweden Rock” is a rather upbeat, moderately paced heavy metal track, with a slight hard rock feel to it. It has some nice heavy riffs throughout the verses, which give way to a very melodic, extremely catchy chorus, and while the lyrics may be a bit cringy for some, the performances and overall songwriting are more than strong enough to help make it a winner, and the guitar solo and chanting in the second half are quite excellent. The second single is “One Against the World”, which starts with some pretty cool modern sounding keys, before slowing down and turning into one of the band’s heavier tracks. The verses plod along at a slow pace, but with some very powerful guitar work, and they do a great job of building towards the typically great, uplifting chorus. The track picks up in the middle, with an epic speedy section that brings classic Iron Maiden to mind, and then it only speeds up further from there, going into full power metal territory for a truly awe-inspiring final run through the chorus. The third and most recent single is the title track, another very hard-hitting track, with a killer lead riff that falls somewhere in between Black Album era Metallica and classic AC/DC, as well as being some of the band’s most brutal guitar work ever, aside from Infected. The track moves along at a fairly slow pace, with calm, melodic verses, enhanced by some cool choir vocals chanting the name, and then the chorus comes in and is beautiful, with some of the band’s best vocal melodies of all time, and some very funny lyrics. The solo section in the middle is also epic and brings back some of the heavy riffs from early on. Overall, it’s my favorite song on the album, as as well as probably my favorite heavy metal track they’ve ever made, aside from maybe “Patient Zero”, from Infected.

The singles may cause fans to expect less power metal on the album, but thankfully that is not the case at all. First up, we have the explosive opener, “Never Forgive, Never Forget”, which starts with a nice soft intro, where the music immediately gives off a slight old Western vibe, and this remains throughout the entire track. Following that intro, the tempo immediately picks up, with the verses galloping along at a fast pace, while the chorus is very fun, melodic and quite fast-paced, with the track only briefly slowing down for some nice instrumental work in the second half, followed by an extremely fun and intense vocals section, which gives way to some great solos. Two tracks later, “Testify” is the heaviest of the power metal songs here, moving at a fast pace throughout and delivering some pretty crushing riffs, with a slightly modernized sound, overall. The highlight of the track is the chorus, with some pretty cool gang vocals delivering the title. It’s very fun and intense track, overall. On the more melodic side of things, “Scars of a Generation” has a very classic Hammerfall feel to it, moving at a nice pace with some moderately paced verses, before going full throttle for a very speedy, yet extremely melodic chorus, which is sure to please many power metal fans. It’s a very fun track, with some awesome vocal melodies, and is one of my favorites. The last two speedier tracks on the album are “Bloodline” and “Chain of Command”, both of which strike a nice balance between being fast-paced, melodic and having some heavy riffs and very melodic, catchy choruses, as well as some great instrumental work during the solo sections. Both tracks also have some excellent choral vocals throughout, and both are excellent tracks, overall.

Aside from the singles, the only real heavy slower track is “Dead by Dawn”, which has more of a classic Hammerfall sound to it, with some pretty heavy riffs during the verses, but with more of a traditional feel to them, while the chorus is quite fun and intense, and has some more great choral vocals. On the softer side, Built to Last ended with the incredible power ballad “Second to None”, which the band decided to follow up on this release with “Second to One.” While this track isn’t quite as epic as the aforementioned masterpiece, it’s still a very nice ballad, starting with some nice piano work and vocals, which remain throughout the first two verses and chorus, before guitars take over for a very emotional solo. The chorus is excellent, and the verses do a good job of building up to it, while the instrumental work is excellent. It doesn’t have any speedier passages or any real metal elements, at all, unlike “Second to None”, but it’s an excellent ballad, in its own right. Closing out the album is the second ballad, “And Yet I Smile”. This one starts with some excellent melodic guitar work, and it’s a slightly heavier track, overall, with some nice bursts of heaviness, particularly in the second half, while still clearly falling into power ballad territory. It balances nicely between soft and heavy sections, with Joacim delivering some brilliant vocals throughout, especially during the chorus, the instrumental section is extremely well done. Overall, it’s a very strong, if somewhat predictable, way to end the album.

For the longest time, I used to consider Hammerfall as one of those “singles” bands, where each of their albums would have maybe 2-5 excellent songs I played over and over, while ignoring the rest, but over time I’ve grown to enjoy almost all of their work, and while some of their albums do still feel a bit inconsistent, the band has proven their ability to deliver some great, more consistent releases over the years. Dominion is yet another triumph, with some of their best tracks to date, including some excellent speedy power metal, some slow, crushing heavy metal with excellent vocal melodies, and a couple of excellent ballads. Longtime fans of the band should be very pleased, while anyone looking for some fun heavy/power metal is highly recommended to give this album a shot, as it’s one of the band’s best works to date!

Originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/08/10/hammerfall-dominion-review/

BLACK SABBATH Vol 4

Album · 1972 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 118 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
BLACK SABBATH had a phenomenal three year run with the first three albums “Black Sabbath,” “Paranoid” and “Master Of Reality” taking the world by storm and virtually single-handedly launching a new heavier form of gloomy doom fueled rock to the world. As the band became more famous and falling deeper and deeper into the trappings of rock stardom so too did the pressures take hold and it was precisely at the time when the band was entering the studio to record the fourth album unexcitingly titled VOL. 4 the drug addictions were starting to take their toll. As the good life became ever easier to grasp hold of, the temptations of too much of a good thing were starting to stifle the creative processes that had made BLACK SABBATH a household name in a very short time.

Lots of changes were in the works for SABBATH members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. Firstly the band let go of producer Rodger Bain and Iommi took control over the production process citing that Bain wasn’t capturing the band’s true potential. And so the alternative fab four headed into the studio in Los Angeles with speaker boxes filled with cocaine and set out to take the band to the next level on its own terms and those terms would be a focus on the heavier guitar riff filled doom and stoner metal of the first three albums with a few experimental touches. Fueled with drugs and ambition the band members discovered a new life in the sin city of LA and Geezer Butler recounted in a Guitar World interview in 2001 that this was the point where the classic lineup began its inevitable slow burn to implosion.

VOL 4 comes off as a very uneven album after the sheer perfection of the band’s first three efforts. Apparently an outside producer was need to organize and babysit these kids in a candy store as VOL 4 comes off as a fairly by the books affair with a few random numbers thrown in for variety’s sake although Iommi’s producer plaudits aren’t too shabby in and of themselves. Of the album’s ten tracks, the opener “Wheels Of Confusion / The Straightener,” “Tomorrow’s Dream,” “Supernaut,” “Snowblind,” “Cornucopia” and the closing “Under The Sun / Every Day Comes And Goes” follow the same playbook rules that got the band noticed in the first place. Those being catchy heavy psych guitar hooks drenched in distortion with a bluesy bad boy boogie style of cyclical riffing that trades off energetic hooks with slow plodding doomy power chords. A few interesting upgrades occur. The opener displays an excellent melodic extended dual guitar solo effect that carries the track past the eight minute mark. The closer finds some extended compositional skills that flirt with progressive rock.

The other tracks all stand out as territories unexplored by SABBATH at this point. The first is the unexpected sappy ballad “Changes” which finds no heavy metal at all but is rather a piano accompanied by a symphonic backing with lyrics that lament about Bill Ward losing his wife. Clearly attempting to cash in on the maudlin crowds and possible commercial crossover, the track is widely deemed as one of the most out of place songs on any early SABBATH albums and was thankful jettisoned from live performances after the following tour. If the track wasn’t bad enough, it left an impression on Ozzy who would add similarly insipid ballads all throughout his future solo career and the song would eventually years later *gasp* be rerecorded by Ozzy’s daughter Kelly. Gag icon please. Another head scratcher arises from the electronic experimental piece “FX” which honestly goes nowhere and also seem like a drug induced decision to win over some of the emerging electronica crowds that were gathering steam around the same time.

The other two tracks “Laguna Sunrise” and “St. Vitus Dance” are much better but also sound a bit out of place on a SABBATH album. The former sounds a bit like something off of Led Zeppelin’s “Houses Of The Holy” with a bit of SABBATH grit but is only an acoustic guitar instrumental with more symphonic backing much like the short intermissions of “Master Of Reality” only more chilled and folky. “St. Vitus Dance” jumps back into heavy distorted rock but has a bit more of a groove to it but also seems to never gather the steam that it needs to really go where it hints at and a clear indicator if it hasn’t already proven obvious that SABBATH were very much on automatic pilot while the spent half of their budget on drug binges.

Out of the first six essential BLACK SABBATH albums i have always found VOL 4 to be the weakest of the bunch and despite the attempts to experiment in myriad directions, the least effective as well. It’s difficult to be too harsh on this classic album because it does deliver quality early heavy metal tunes in full regalia and as an attempt to take things into a more streamlined hard rock approach VOL 4 does deliver. The problem is that the album is sandwiched between several better albums before and after that sound more cohesive, more professional and infinitely more interesting from a musical standpoint. Personally i loathe the cheesy ballad “Changes” and the half-baked attempt at making an electronic instrumental that stood out with “FX” only displayed the bad judgement fueled by the incessant cocaine abuse. While the band were pleased with themselves, the critics and fans weren’t as much since the band had lost a bit of that dark and mysterious edge. The tracks presented here came off as rather tame in comparison. However despite the fumbles, VOL 4 still comes off as a doomy riff fueled early heavy metal classic.

RED Red

Album · 1983 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Amongst one of the true obscurities in the world of progressive rock has to be from this UK band simply titled RED that went against the grain in the early 80s. Instead of riding the new wave of neo-prog that was emerging with bands like Twelfth Night, IQ or Marillion, RED was defiantly into the no nonsense jazz-fusion sounds of the 70s however they were equally intrigued with a heavy rock bombast rarely heard in this style of music. The band seems to have formed in the early 80s and spent the year 1982 recording this one and only self-titled album but had an understandably difficult time finding a record contract due to the changing times and the band’s anachronistic stylistic approach that was a good six to seven years too late.

RED was the quintet of Dennis Fitzgibbons (guitar), Jerry Soffe (bass), Mark Ambler (keyboards), David Holmes (percussion) and Frank Hockney (drums) and by the time the band found a home on Jigsaw Records for this debut they had split up and moved on to other projects. After the album was released they had a short reunion with Phil Bastow replacing Ambler on keyboards in the hopes of recording a second album but after an endless series of delays, the band threw in the towel once again never to be heard from again. Needless to say with the current trends of new wave, post-punk and heavy metal fully en vogue that RED never had a chance and the album fell into obscurity as quickly as it emerged. The album has only been released just once on its original vinyl eagerly awaiting a proper reissuing in the 21st century.

Musically, RED pledged allegiance to the complex progressive rock era of the decade prior with a tight-woven heavy rock brand of jazz-fusion with moments of dreamy space rock intermissions and some funky grooves as a side dish. RED was somewhat unusual in that it donned hard rock clothing but had a total jazz-fusion underbelly. While the funk and fusion elements usually carried out by keyboards of the 70s were fully present, they were expressed with heavy guitar riffs and sizzling solos as if John McLaughlin had joined Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters” era lineup and inserted a little of the heavy rock elements of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The album alternates between highly complex and angular avant-jazz workouts to more just good ole get down and dirty funk laced simplicity.

The album is completely instrumental with some hefty bass grooves, frenetic jazz guitar workouts and heavy drumming. Keyboards are present but for a jazz-fusion band of the era they are quite subdued and provide more of an accompanying atmospheric ambience rather than take the lead but every once in a while such as in the middle of “Turbo Tortoise” overcome their shyness and take the front seat. If i had to compare RED’s stylistic approach to any of the 70s acts i guess the earliest Brand X albums are the best comparisons which makes sense considering the band’s UK origins. So little info about this band exists that it’s not even known from which part of the UK the band was from or anything about its history.

While i doubt RED will ever dethrone the legendary great works of Miles Davis, Return To Forever, Herbie Hancock or the Mahavishnus as best fusion album of the era, this is by no means just a curiosity. RED delivered some serious chops on this one and the album is quite unique in its approach and in dire need of some 21st century rediscovering. The uniqueness of the incessant jazz-fusion approach augmented with a contrasting heavy rock bombast may very well have been the influence behind more modern bands like Tribal Tech and others who dish out some serious guitar chops with their fusion. Whatever the case, RED proves that not all obscurities are throwaway albums and that there is a never-ending treasure drove of gems out there awaiting their proper day.

VLTIMAS Something Wicked Marches In

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 6 ratings
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UMUR
"Something Wicked Marches In" is the debut full-length studio album by multi-national death metal act Vltimas The album was released through Season Of Mist in March 2019. Vltimas was formed in 2015 by guitarist Rune "Blasphemer" Eriksen (Mayhem, Aura Noir, Nader Sadek). Eriksen conceived the idea of the band and wrote some material which he send to drummer Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy, Nader Sadek) and asked if Mounier would be interested in joining, which he was. Shortly after Eriksen contacted vocalist David Vincent (Morbid Angel, Genitortures), who was fresh out of his second stint with Morbid Angel, and thus the trio lineup who recorded "Something Wicked Marches In" was completed.

With Vincent on vocals it´s almost impossible not to think of early 90s Morbid Angel, and references to that band and that era of death metal actually aren´t completely off when describing the sound on "Something Wicked Marches In". Eriksen´s black metal past and influences shine through on some of the riffs, but other than that this is old school influenced death metal through and through. It´s technically well played, but not with a focus on technical playing. The complexity of the riffs and rhythms are more a means to an end. Vincent predominantly uses his distinct sounding and intelligible growling vocal style, but there are clean vocals on the album too, which are sung in a deep kind of gothic rock/metal style. It´s nothing which takes away the focus from the death metal brutality and authenticity of the music though, just a little extra dark spice, which works perfect on the album and provides variation and atmosphere to the music.

The material on the 9 track, 38:22 minutes long album are well written, detailed, and intriguing death metal. Multible riff styles are employed, the guitar solos are very well played, and Mounier´s drumming is powerful and creative (the album features many breaks, tempo changes, but also great restraint as Mounier understands when to play more simple, when that is called for). While all tracks feature catchy hooks which return more than one time during a track, the song structures are a bit more adventurous than your regular vers/chorus formula structure, and the creative song writing ideas and intriguing compositional details make "Something Wicked Marches In" an interesting and entertaining listen throughout. Highlights include the opening title track, "Monolilith", and the delightfully fast-paced "Truth And Consequence", but all tracks on the album are more or less of an equally high quality.

"Something Wicked Marches In" features a well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. There´s the right balance between power, clearness, and an organic touch. So-called supergroups often fail to deliver what the names and previous output by their members often promise, but Vltimas are, based on "Something Wicked Marches In", a shining example of the opposite, where a supergroup actually works and produce a memorable release. "Something Wicked Marches In" reeks class in every way possible and a 4.5 star (90%) rating is fully deserved.

FLAW Vol. IV Because Of The Brave

Album · 2019 · Nu Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
I really enjoyed the 2001 debut album Through The Eyes from Kentucky Nu Metal band Flaw, they were always one of the more underrated bands from that particular subgenre and the quality of their debut is up there with any of their more famous peers. I saw them live in 2002 and they were really good. Maybe the market was just saturated, at the time, maybe they didn’t get the right exposure, who knows? Maybe the manager didn’t land them the right tour…who knows? All I know is it sure as hell wasn’t for lack of brilliant songs that they aren’t as big as they should be. The follow up, Endangered Species was pretty good, but it came out when Nu Metal was falling off the map and hardly anyone heard it. I wanted it but didn’t ever find it in any music stores at the time, and this was before the internet was an obvious way to get albums. I’m sure you could, but I didn’t think of it yet.

Cut another 15 years forward to 2019, the band have gone through line-up changes (Wikipedia lists 19 ex-members, that’s up there with Cradle Of Filth and Annihilator for turnover), solo albums, a self-produced album and a reunion/comeback. The second album since their comeback, Vol. IV Because Of The Brave is now out, and it reminds me once again what a solid and dependable band Flaw are. It reminds me what an excellent vocalist Chris Volz is. It reminds me how entertaining Nu Metal can be when its done right.

It’s a decent album. 35 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome. Fair production job. Good solid songs. A typically excellent vocal performance from Chris Volz. There’s also a few surprises. ‘Wake Up’ for example sounds a bit more like Korn than Flaw. The album closer, ‘Lest We Forget’ is pretty interesting too. Its sort of mid paced alternative metal with spoken word kind of reminds me a tiny bit of what Queensryche were doing on American Soldier.

Highlights include the opening one-two punch of ‘Persistence’ and ‘Walk The Line’ as well as single ‘Conquer This Climb’ (which seems to be a bit more modern and almost slightly Djent flavoured for the first few seconds before it turns to the classic Flaw sound – but with a rather tasty guitar solo).

If you have any inclination to check out Flaw for the first time, then obviously, go for their by now classic debut first. This is good but its not as good as the first two albums. But if you are a fan you can relax knowing the band are still here, still putting out music, and aren’t disappointing. Overall; A welcome addition to the Flaw catalogue, if you are into that sort of thing (which I certainly am).

VARIOUS ARTISTS (GENERAL) Speed Kills - The Very Best In Speed Metal

Album · 1985 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
No compilation is quite definitive of a genre.

Think about it. One of the most famous compilations in all of metal is the 1980 album “Metal For Muthas”. This album exemplified the essence and feel of the NWOBHM, a scene which combined an invigorating new take on metal combined with the DIY ethos of the punk scene. It was a great starting place for the scene, but definitive? The NW in the acronym stands for new wave. Nutz had been releasing albums for six years. The stands for British. E.F. Bands was Swedish. And the HM is, of course, heavy metal. Toad The Wet Sprocket and the aforementioned Nutz let the team down here. There was some excellent stuff on this album, like Iron Maiden, Praying Mantis, Samson, and Angelwitch, but Geoff Barton, he who coined the tongue twisting NWOBHM acronym, rated this album a lowly two out of five. He called the album an embarrassment, and “metal for masochists”, because it basically missed the point of the NWOBHM. Perhaps “Metal For Muthas” was too ambitious, or the whole scene too wide and amorphous to be covered by an album or two (the second inferior volume followed later the same year). Think of the names missing here – Def Leppard, Saxon, even Diamond Head.

However, compilations were a hugely important promotional tool for underground music scenes. Many punk scenes the world over did a great job of getting their sounds out there through the art of the compilation. There would be unexpected hits and inexplicable misses, but compilations were often the best way to get music to a wider audience when there was zero chance of radio play or mainstream media coverage.

As the NWOBHM faded, the winners departed on world tours, the losers went back to their day jobs, and another embryonic scene started to bud and blossom. It was more international than the NWOBHM, but was still a bottom-up groundswell, and borrowed a bit of the punk sound as well as the ethos. That was the speed metal movement, or as we know it in hindsight now, thrash metal. The first compilation to include this new style of music was volume 1 of Metal Blade’s long-running “Metal Massacre” series, released in 1982 and featuring a band called “Mettallica”. Yeah, Metal Blade’s forte was metal, not spelling.

By 1985, this scene was really starting to come into it’s own, and a handful of independent labels were starting to grow some impressive rosters. Through cross promotion and co-operation, British label Music For Nations managed to secure tracks from some of the more important independent metal labels and almost put together a genre defining compilation. Almost...

If you run through the roster of bands here, you find Venom, who along with Motörhead were really the grandads of thrash metal. You get three of the not-yet-labelled Big Four (it seems that label arose in 1986). There’s Celtic Frost and Possessed, without whom doom, death, and black metal would be very different beasts to what we know now. You get Exodus, who were a bit late out of the starting gate. There’s a track from Canadian space cowboys Voivod, before they went full cyberprog. The most obvious gap here is the German one. Yes, there’s Destruction at the top of their bestial game, but the rest of the German biggies are missing – no Kreator, no Sodom, no Helloween (Helloween belonged in that company in those days, and Tankard was still a year off releasing their debut album). So not a perfect definitive roster, but pretty fucking impressive in it’s own right. So what’s actually here?

First track “Metal Merchants” by Hallows Eve is probably the easiest to digest stepping stone for a traditional metal fan stumbling across this album. It’s a perfect cross between NWOBHM melody and the new-fangled speed metal tempo. The noodling riff and militaristic snare of the introduction (actually a separate track called “Valley of the Dolls”, but run together here as one song) pulls the listener in before the smack in the face of the main song bursts into full on thrash riffing overlaid with NWOBHM leads.

Hallows Eve really doesn’t prepare the listener for the next track. Exodus’ “A Lesson In Violence” is just what it says. This song is violent as fuck. Paul Baloff’s vocals are vicious and full of hate for the uneducated. There are a lot of ifs, buts, and maybes which have dogged Exodus’ career. Forget them and soak up the metallic fury here instead.

Destruction’s “Bestial Invasion” is a good choice here as it is a lot darker than the catchier “Mad Butcher”. There was an element of Venom worship in some of Destruction’s early material, but Schmier’s vocal style is quite different to Cronos, and this is far more technical than what Venom was famous for, and showed a band which had carved out it’s own evil little niche.

Bulldozer is the least known band here, having formed in 1980. If even recognised at all, these Italian thrashers are often remembered as second rate, but “Insurrection of the Living Damned” is the blackest song here (yes, even more so than Venom), and their evil sounds have attained a strong cult following in the black metal underground. Alberto Contini’s gruff vocals are particularly impressive, and this track showed a band confident enough not to have to play flat out all the time.

Metallica sounds streets ahead of everyone else here. “Fight Fire With Fire” is professional and clear sounding, and fast as fuck, sharp, and vital. If you don’t know this song, you probably shouldn’t be reading this review, so no use in describing it. Where did this band go? And how the hell do you follow the most intense song of Metallica’s career? Well, with Slayer, quite obviously. While it’s not stated here, and hasn’t ever really fully been clarified, this sounds like the in-studio-live version of “Evil Has No Boundaries” from the “Live Undead” EP. It’s barely controlled chaos. The lyrics and image are cheesy, but it’s executed so convincingly that listeners forgot to laugh at them. A young Tom Araya sounds particularly gleeful here.

Possessed kick off side 2 (This was 1985. CDs were ridiculously expensive to produce, and most metal labels couldn’t afford to press them, so you had vinyl or cassette) with “Pentagram”. It is Satanic and evil sounding enough to have caused a Christian panic, complete with backmasking and and an evil sounding riff.

Exciter was right there when it started, one of the first handful of thrash metal bands to release an album, not far behind Metallica and Slayer. Yet “Riders From Darkness” is the weakest track on this entire album. It’s earnest but silly speed metal, and really demonstrates why Exciter are a footnote in metal history and not remembered as a major player.

The version of “Black Metal” included here is not the same as the one from Venom’s classic second album of the same name. The production has been tightened and sharpened, which removes the blackened rough charm of the original. Fear not though, this makes up in power what it lacks in raw energy, and isn’t a disappointment.

Speaking of raw, Voivod’s “War and Pain” is bleeding edge, with lacerating guitars, weird, crashing riffs, and nasty, incomprehensible vocals. Voivod has never been an easy or comforting band to listen to, and fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

You can’t keep a good Dave down, and Megadeth’s “Rattlehead” is a storming track. Technical, sharp, and fast, nevertheless it’s not as heavy as Metallica. And this is the last time you’d see the two bands on the same bill for 25 years. Never mind, listening to Dave Mustaine trying to out-do his former bandmates is always a pleasure.

“Into The Crypts of Rays” is a bit faster than most Celtic Frost songs, but this is a speed metal compilation after all. The song perfectly displays the proto-death metal riffing and Tom G. Warrior’s signature death grunt, and is a strong finish to a classy collection.

The best thing a compilation can do is to whet the listener’s appetite to explore further. “Speed Kills” teases and titillates like a lingerie ad on a bus stop. You want more? Go get it. Just keep your state of arousal under control in public.

POSSESSED Revelations of Oblivion

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.74 | 3 ratings
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Vim Fuego
When Possessed went through their various bust ups, there was a feeling among fans that the band’s true potential was never fully realised.

Through the legendary “Death Metal” demo, the influential “Seven Churches” album (NOT the first death metal album. No, it just fucking wasn’t, even if this site says it is!), the slightly more polished “Beyond The Gates” (which has one of the stupidest album covers ever), and the mellower “Eyes of Horror” mini album, Possessed had created a small, powerful, but occasionally patchy catalogue of evil, high energy thrash.

The band first split in 1987, not long after the release of “The Eyes of Horror”, with a variety of fates befalling the various band members. Guitarist Larry LaLonde joined fellow San Fran thrashers Blind Illusion, and then to rock weirdos Primus. Guitarist Mike Torrao continued with the Possessed name, but the band’s reputation had declined to the point where they suffered the indignity of playing support to an up-and-coming unsigned band by the name of Machine Head. Bass player/vocalist Jeff Becerra was shot in 1989 during a robbery, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Swept away in the great metal purge of the early 1990s, it seemed this legendary band had died young and left a beautifully ugly corpse.

But then an unusual thing happened. Possessed came back from the dead. “Revelations of Oblivion” is the result. The wheelchair-bound Becerra decided that 32 years was long enough for the world to be without a new Possessed album, so put together a band, wrote some songs, and recorded this little beauty. It all looks so easy when written like that...

When the creation of this album was first announced, the naysayers were quick to jump in with opinions on how bad it would be. After all, there’s only one original member left in the band, often not a great recipe for success. However, the most important element is the one that’s left – Becerra’s distinct shout/scream vocals. Have you ever tried singing sitting down? No, not just at a birthday party or in church (eek!), but really SINGING. Ever notice that professional singers always stand? Look at opera singers, choirs, and pretty much any band or performer you ever see. Singers stand. Why? Because that’s where the power comes from. Volume and breath control comes from being able to stand and move freely. See where this is going? Jeff Becerra is confined to a wheelchair. Listen to his vocals. The difference between 2019 and 1987 is negligible. Yeah, studios, recording methods, technology and all that shit have advanced immeasurably in those three decades, but you can’t work wizardry unless you have the right noises to work with in the first place. Becerra still sounds angry, evil, and most importantly, powerful. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of what he has achieved here.

And the naysayers can fuck off. “Revelations of Oblivion” finally realises the full potential of what Possessed always threatened. No, this won’t have the impact or influence that the band’s earlier work did, mainly because there’s a shit-ton more top quality extreme metal in the late 2010s than there was in the late 1980s. Extremity has sprouted in numerous black, dead, grinding, and technical directions since that time, and any single release now will have a more specific audience than back in Possessed’s initial run. However, if old school thrash which dabbles in cartoonish Satanic themes is your thing, then you won’t top this.

“Chant of Oblivion” is ye olde traditional spooky intro track. Tolling bells fading in with spooky horror movie orchestration and chants. So far, so clichéd, so fucking good!

And then the album bursts straight into the speedy evil “No More Room In Hell”. The first and most obvious thing is that while the sound is sharp and clear, it’s distinctively Possessed. No one else wrote or played wrist snapping riffs like that. Spiky, sharp guitar riffs, courtesy of Daniel Gonzalez and Claudeous Creamer, fly off each other. And that’s the great thing here. There’s nothing these two do which would have been out of place if done by LaLonde and Torrao. It’s Possessed, done in the style of Possessed.

Drums were always the weak link in the original Possessed line-up. Mike Sus was enthusiastic, but never very technically proficient, and couldn’t quite keep up with the rest of the band. No longer. Well, Sus is no longer in the band anyway, having gone on to become a psychologist, but drummer Emilio Marquez doesn’t miss a beat, which is a dreadfully clichéd way to describe a drummer, but this guy is faultless and powerful, and clichés become clichés because they fit.

Drums and guitars aside though, this is really the Jeff Becerra show. “Damned” has a great vocal melody, with rapid fire rhyming couplets, which gives it a weird evil Dr Seuss feel, but it’s near flawless. “Shadowcult” features a wicked chant. “The Word” blasts in with a great opening riff, but as soon as Becerra’s rasp hits, it’s obvious the guitars are only there as a vehicle for this voice.

In 2006, Celtic Frost surprised the metal world with “Monotheist”, easily their strongest album, a decade and a half past their supposed prime. Strongest, yes. Most influential, no. It was never going to be since times had changed. The same thing has happened here with Possessed. “Revelations of Oblivion” is stronger and more consistent than anything Possessed created in the 1980s, but despite finally realising the band’s full potential. it’s not going to have the impact of the previous albums. Unlike Celtic Frost though, let’s hope Possessed don’t call it a day after this.

RAMMSTEIN Made in Germany (1995 - 2011)

Boxset / Compilation · 2011 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
‘Made in Germany’ is a compilation by German industrial metal giants, Rammstein. Released in 2011 (the clue’s in the title), it features sixteen of the bands biggest and most powerful tracks, and is a well-rounded career retrospective for the sextet at that point in their career. However, as is always the case with these types of collections, the quality of the track list is subjective, and in my opinion, there’s an abundance of missing material!

But that comes down to my own personal tastes, and while there’s a few songs I’d have taken out and replaced with others, as a whole, this is a solid album which represents the band well. Full of bombastic and over-the-top hits such as ‘Du Hast’, ‘Sonne’, ‘Ich Will’, ‘Pussy’, ‘Amerika’, ‘Engel’, ‘Links 2 3 4’, ‘Mein Herz Brennt’ and album-exclusive track, ‘Mein Land’, there are so many awesome songs here that ‘Made in Germany’ still packs one hell of a punch, and will satisfy fans of the group or will make a fantastic entry point for newcomers.

However, while the track listing is fantastic, let’s look at some of the cons of this album. There’s a few fairly subtle edits that take away from the songs. While there’s nothing too severe, one notable exception that irks me is the awesome intro to ‘Du Riechst So Gut’ being cut in half. Not cool. There’s the obvious omissions, which comes down to personal taste again, but where the hell is ‘Feuer Frei’ or ‘Ich Tu Dir Weh’? But the biggest letdown is a bonus disc full of remixes. Sure, these things are normally more of a novelty, but for the most part, none of these remixes are really all that great, barring two; ‘Sonne’ remixed by Clawfinger is pretty good, and amazingly, a Scooter, rave-inspired mix of ‘Pussy’ is incredible, and saves that disc from becoming completely pointless.

Never mind all of that though, as the pros easily outweigh the cons, making ‘Made in Germany’ a fantastic album! While it will no doubt feel dated over time, as most compilations do, it does still hold up well, and the quality of the material on offer is of a high standard. Definitely worth a spin or two!

DEATH Human

Album · 1991 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 103 ratings
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martindavey87
Okay this isn’t going to make me any friends... but this is my review and I can only share my honest opinion...

Yuck. What is this?

I was heavily into thrash metal in my early teens, and while I don’t sway very often towards the heavier and more aggressive side of metal these days, I still like many of the artists that I’m already a fan of. So here I am many, many years later, and it’s time to get stuck in with one of the main metal subgenres that has always eluded me; death metal. And what better place to start than one of the most revered and beloved bands of the genre? Death.

But this? Nope! Not into it! I mean, the playing is incredibly intense and these guys are all incredibly proficient at their instruments, with pinpoint precision and accuracy, and there are a couple of decent riffs. But most of it is just way too fast and lacks any kind of melody. Ditto for the vocals. Angry, growly stuff, which is fine if you’re into that, but for me, I need some kind of melodic vocal line that I can sing along to!

Aw well. I tried, and I know I’ll get flayed alive for this review (metal fans can be so annoyingly passionate sometimes, it’s just a review, come on guys, chill!), but there we have it. I gave Death’s ‘Human’ multiple listens, and it’s just not growing on me. What can I say? I’m only human.

HADES Resisting Success

Album · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Resisting Success" is the debut full-length studio album by US, New Jersey based thrash metal act Hades. The album was released through Torrid Records in 1987. Hades was formed in January 1978 by guitarist Dan Lorenzo. The band´s first release was the "Deliver Us from Evil" single from 1982. in the following years Hades released several minor releases like demos, splits, and singles, before signing to Torrid Records for the release of "Resisting Success".

Stylistically the music on the album is a combination of thrash, speed, and heavy metal. Some tracks are culled from the band´s 1984 demo, their 1985 live demo, and "The Cross / Widow's Mite" single from 1985, so it´s only natural that this is not a 100% pure thrash metal assault, but instead also features some more "old school" speed/heavy metal elements (tracks like "Legal Tender" and "The Cross"). There´s even a semi-progressive mini epic featured on the album in the 9:10 minutes long closing track "Masque Of The Red Death". Common for all tracks are the great raw energy but also the great melodic sensibility which is present throughout. Especially lead vocalist Alan Tecchio pulls in the more melodic direction with his high pitched screaming vocals. He also sings in a more gruff staccato type thrash metal vocal style though. The guitars play both raw thrashy riffs, heavy/speed metal type riffing, melodic themes, and there´s even a raw rock´n´roll feel to some of the material, like it´s the case on "Sweet Revenge". The well played guitar solos are also worth a mention.

While the material is stylistically slightly inconsistent, it´s not a major issue, and the diversity of the material isn´t something which disrupts the flow of the album too much (although the progressive leanings of "Masque Of The Red Death" isn´t their finest hour). The sound production on the other hand is a bit of a deal breaker. It´s not terrible by any means, but it is very raw and unpolished, and sometimes details go missing in the mix. As "Resisting Success" is generally a bit more sophisticated thrash metal release than the average ditto, a more clear sounding production would probably have suited the music better, but as mentioned the sound production isn´t lo-fi or of a really bad quality, it just could have been better. There is some quality material featured on the album though and the musicianship is also of high class, so a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is still deserved.

IN FLAMES The Jester Race

Album · 1996 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 34 ratings
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UMUR
"The Jester Race" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Swedish melodic death metal act In Flames. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in February 1996 (Licensed from Wrong Again Records, who In Flames were contractually obligated to). There were quite a few lineup changes between the band´s debut full-length studio album "Lunar Strain (1994)" and the "Subterranean (1995)" EP, and there have been quite a few changes again on "The Jester Race". In Flames finally settled with Anders Fridén as their permanent lead vocalist. Fridén had worked with artists like Septic Broiler, Ceremonial Oath, and Dark Tranquillity before joining In Flames. The band didn´t have a permanent drummer on the previous releases either, but that was fixed here too as Björn Gelotte joined the lineup. The usual suspects are Glenn Ljungström (guitars), Jesper Strömblad (guitars), and Johan Larsson (bass).

Stylistically the music on "The Jester Race" continues the melodic death metal style with ethnic Scandinavian folk leanings which the band also played on the two previous releases. The band´s sound is a bit more developed here and the songwriting slightly more memorable too, but you´ll find few surprises on the album if you´re already familiar with "Lunar Strain (1994)" and "Subterranean (1995)". In Flames were on to something special with those releases though, so there are probably very few (if any) complaints about the musical direction on "The Jester Race". Anders Fridén continues the trend of high pitched screaming/growling vocalists, and you´ll be exposed to fast-paced and very melodic harmony guitar riffs and solos, fast- and mid-paced heavy beats, and acoustic sections too. The folk influence is mostly heard in the acoustic parts, but many of the epic guitar themes also reek traditional Scandinavian folk melodies.

"The Jester Race" is a consistent release both in terms of the musical style and in regards to the quality of the compositions. From the opening notes of "Moonshield" to the closing notes of "Dead God in Me", the 10 track, 40:27 minutes long album features high quality melodic death metal played by skilled musicians. The album is well produced too, featuring a powerful and raw sound production, which suits the material well. Upon conclusion there´s been a positive development of sound since "Subterranean (1995)", and paired with a better sounding production, and a band who have honed their playing skills too, "The Jester Race" is a high quality sophomore studio album by In Flames. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

GRAVE Back From the Grave

Album · 2002 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Back From the Grave" is the 5th full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Grave. The album was released through Century Media Records in October 2002. It´s the band´s first release since "Hating Life" from 1996. Grave never officially disbanded but just had an 8 year break in activities, but "Back From the Grave" is still regarded as their comeback album. As far as comeback album titles go I can´t think of a more suiting one than "Back From the Grave". "Hating Life (1996)" saw Grave end on a bit of an odd groove metal oriented note, which was quite different from the old school Swedish death metal style, they originally played. At that point they were a two-piece consisting of Ola Lindgren (guitars, bass, vocals) and Jensa Paulsson (drums). Both are still part of the lineup on "Back From the Grave", which also features Fredrik Isaksson (bass) and Jonas Torndal (guitars). The latter was part of the original Grave lineup from 1989-1992, where he handled the bass duties.

The material on "Back From the Grave" are not devoid of brutal grooves (in fact the album is loaded with them) but the music is still pretty far from the sound on "Hating Life (1996)". This is instead old school Swedish death metal with a good portion of brutal groove. It doesn´t sound completely retro and those who only enjoyed "Into the Grave (1991)" and "You'll Never See (1992)", aren´t guarenteed listening pleasure here. To my ears the sound on "Back From the Grave" is closer to the sound on "Soulless (1994)", although in no way af copy of that sound. So basically a successful mariage between old school Swedish death metal and brutal groove metal.

The material on the 10 track, 43:13 minutes long album is consistent in both quality and style. Nothing is sub par or sticks out too much, although tracks like "Rise", "Dead Is Better", "Resurrection", "Thorn to Pieces", and "Bloodfed" are small highlights. The band are well playing and the growling vocals are intelligible and delivered with the right amount of aggression. "Back From the Grave" is also a very well produced album featuring a brutal heavy sound, so upon conclusion it´s a quality release and a great comeback album by the band. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

WITHIN TEMPTATION Resist

Album · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.71 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I have been a fan of this Dutch outfit for some fifteen years, since the release of their third album ‘The Silent Force’, so when I realised they were back with their seventh (it has been way too long since ‘Hydra’) I was incredibly excited as I have always loved the vocals of Sharon den Adel and their symphonic almost gothic approach to metal. Then I listened to it. According to Sharon, “After ‘Hydra’ we didn’t feel inspired anymore, up to a point where for the very first time we could see the end of the band coming near. After so many years of making music, only creative inspiration and innovation can motivate you to make a new record. And a very long break, no hasty decisions plus refilling your battery with new experiences. Like I did with recording my solo record ‘My Indigo.’ It eventually turned the tide. Our hunger to create and innovate awoke again. With this record, we’ve taken inspiration from modern music and gave it a face - a very dark one. Sometimes it feels that today’s pop music lacks a rebellious edge. Our main goal was to collect pieces from sounds we did like and roughen it up as much as we could. ‘Resist’ is our take on metal in a new way: to give modern music its rebellious edge.”

Which is all well and good, and I always want bands to change and move, but this just feels too artificial, where production and manipulation of sound has become more important than the end result. I am sure, I hope, that when these songs transfer to the live environment then they will be quite different, but as they stand at the present, they lack emotion and direction. The keyboards sound as if they have come straight from the electronic realm as opposed to the symphonic, the music feels ragged with sharp edges, and although Sharon’s vocals are as strong as ever, here they don’t have the impact they used to. I am sure there are plenty who will be pleased with the new direction of the band, but it just doesn’t work for me at all, and will watch with interest what happens with the next album. But given it has taken five years for this one to be released, I’m not sure when/if that will happen.

ROTTING CHRIST The Heretics

Album · 2019 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.61 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I was fairly late hearing Rotting Christ for the first time, but even I have been a fan for twenty years now. It is incredible to think that Sakis Tolis (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and his brother Themis (drums) formed this band as long ago as 1987, and now in their thirty-second year they have surely produced an album which is going to make the metal world sit up and take notice. The Greeks have brought in a couple of guests to help out and have then somehow produced one of the most incredible melodic black metal albums I have ever had the privilege to hear. The album opens with monks in their cloisters, a voice describes heretics, and then suddenly the band are crunching into “In The Name of God”. This is one of the most blistering, melodic and heavy black metal numbers I have come across as the riffs blast through in perfect unison, crunching everything into mush beneath the sheer power.

It is an incredibly brutal album, yet it is wrapped in symphonic majestic black metal power, a real iron fist inside a silk glove as it is incredibly commercial yet totally uncompromising all at the same time. That this has been picked up by music buyers and has catapulted it into charts all over the world is not a surprise to me, as any metalhead who hears this (no matter what subgenre they normally listen to) will just be blown away. Irina Zybina makes her presence felt on “Vetry Zlye” with some delicate additional vocals, adding yet another touch of class to what to my ears in a faultless album. I have been playing this a great deal, and I just can’t tire of it, each and every time I listen to it I am blown away by the sheer scale as this is something that feels to be far more than just music. This is a real force, an artistic creation which is monstrously beautiful. Now if only they could tour down here so I can hear this in the live environment then it would feel complete. This is one of the most important albums within this genre ever released, as it cuts through and across so many areas and is an amazing achievement.

BLACK SABBATH Master Of Reality

Album · 1971 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.36 | 166 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
BLACK SABBATH has not only gone down in history as one of the greatest rock bands EVER and not only for being the primary reason metal music exists today AND also not because the music was so damn good but ALSO in how this band moved on so effectively from one album to next and in the process paved the way for a ridiculous amount of sub-genres to form in the following decades. The “other” fab four of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward dropped not one but two bombs on the unsuspecting world with their self-titled debut and then with “Paranoid” in 1970. Each only took a mere two days to record but their legacies have reverberated well into the 21st century. Only a year later the band was already shifting gears with the third album MASTER OF REALITY.

Due to the heavy touring schedule that immediately followed the previous albums, Iommi was suffering from finger pain due to the stress on his deformed finger tips that were severed during an accident years earlier. While this was fortuitous for the future headbangers of the world in that his misfortune turned an innovative adaptation into the world of heavy metal, the truth is that it also took its toll on his ability to perform. Being the guitar god innovator that he was, Iommi found a way out by taking yet another step to ease his discomfort as the music evolved into ever more challenging stylistic changes. One of these adaptations was simply down tuning his guitar on some of the heavier tracks and in the process invented even more styles of heavy metal in the forms of stoner and sludge that wouldn’t really find new life for over 20 years.

MASTER OF REALITY found the band off the road and having some time on their hands to experiment. The success of the first two albums and the tour also guaranteed a much heftier budget to play with and in the process this third album benefited from both more time and much more money. Rodger Bain would return as producer along with future Judas Priest associate Tom Allom joining in on engineering. The bigger budget meant a fuller sound and the band’s playful experimentalism allowed the music to diversify past the heavy metal shock rock that graced the first two albums. The album lived up to all expectations and was a major commercial success and clearly showed that BLACK SABBATH was no fly by night act. The band handled success quite well and utilized every opportunity to enhance the creative process. The world has never been the same since and neither would the “other” fab four.

The most obvious precursor for the stoner metal world single-handedly comes from the opener “Sweet Leaf” which opens with a coughing Tony Iommi after toking on a joint. After two albums of nihilism, the occult and impending doom and gloom, MASTER OF REALITY seemed like a therapy session in comparison with the sweet herb providing the zone out substance de jour. After the adolescent tuning out session of the opener, the band gets down to some serious heavy metal business as it jumps back into the political critique and anti-religious zealotry so prevalent on the first two albums. “After Forever” also displays a bigger and fuller sound with heavier distortion and a more clearly delineated bass lines distinct from the guitar. Bill Ward also developed a more staunchly independent style of drumming and the overall sound is darker due to the forced down-tuning of various songs. Ozzy pretty much stayed the same which added a bit of stability to an otherwise evolutionary thrust into a more psychedelic and even progressive outburst of creativity.

The album also hosted two short acoustic finger-picked guitar tracks that served as intermissions. Both “Embryo” and “Orchid” offered a veritable contrast between the longer heavy metal tracks that ranged from aggressive stomps to jamming sessions which allowed Iommi to crank out some stellar guitar solos. These short tracks have sort of a Scottish jig jerkiness to them. Three tracks were downtuned 1 1/2 times: “Children Of The Grave,” Lord Of This World” and “Into The Void” and allowed Iommi the comfort to expand his guitar playing skills and thus are more explorative than many of the other heavy metal tracks. These tracks also followed the first two album’s thematic approach with lyrical content that preached anti-war, mutual love and protests about injustices in the world in general. Of course this album was quite 420 friendly according to its participants. Wink and nod.

Perhaps the strangest track on the album is “Solitude” which recalls the mopey distortion-free contemplation of “Planet Caravan” from “Paranoid.” This track not only displays an exclusively clean guitar delivery from Tony Iommi but also finds him expanding his duties of playing flute and piano. The delay effect on Ozzy’s vocals, the mid-tempo pace and the hypnotic bass groove give this track a very psychedelic effect and the lack of percussion places this more into a freak folk category of music than anything remotely heavy metal, a trait that would continue throughout SABBATH’s career as well as being adopted by Ozzy as a solo artist. The grand finale “Into The Void” ends the album with gusto as heavy distorted guitar in the typical wickedly melodic style finds guitar stomps, sinister riffs, solos and features some early metal guitar gallops that pretty much spawned the careers of future bands like Metallica and the entire thrash scene.

While it’s hard to choose a favorite SABBATH album from the first six essentials, my personal favorite is this one. MASTER OF REALITY not only stands up over the test of time and can be played at any moment and as many times as i want but it also was one of the first albums that really got me to sink my psyche into the master SABBATH reality. While i wasn’t around to experience this first time around, it exudes a rather timeless display of how great music doesn’t have to rely on technical prowess or even excessive speed to be effective. This music perfectly evokes the emotional responses it summons. No one could ever argue that Tony Iommi was the greatest guitarist of all time or even that Ozzy Osbourne was the best vocalist but no one can deny that this band conjured up some serious sonic demons that possessed the soul for all eternity. This is truly one of the best albums ever to have been recorded and best of all BLACK SABBATH had a few more gems in them before the pressures of it all took its toll.

OVERKILL The Wings Of War

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Overkill are back with their 19th studio album and show no signs at all of slowing down. They have a new drummer since ‘The Grinding Wheel in Jason Bittner, but given he has played with the likes of Shadows Fall, Anthrax, Toxik plus Flotsam and Jetsam his metal credentials are definitely established, and he drives the band from the back (even though the actual drum sound is more than a little suspect). D.D. Verni and Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth will soon be gathering in their pension, having formed the band as long ago as 1980, but even guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek "The Skull" Tailer will soon be celebrating 20 years, so here is a band with incredibly longevity and consistency. They have long since stopped trying anything significantly different, and as soon as the Overkill logo is sighted then one knows that here is thrash as it should be played, hard and fast and little in the way of anything fancy.

I was a huge fan of their last album, which I felt was the best of their career to date, but this one hasn’t grabbed me in the same way at all. It is okay, in fact it’s quite good, but it doesn’t have that touch of brilliance and class from the last one. I can’t put my finger on it, not sure if it is the songs, the arrangements or the production, as Bobby certainly hasn’t changed his approach and his rough-edged vocal style is still at the centre of all they do. I can’t imagine them ever releasing a bad album, but for me this certainly isn’t as essential as some of their others.

SLIPKNOT (IA) We Are Not Your Kind

Album · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.36 | 3 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
I’ve said it before, but I don’t think in my life I have listened to any album more than Slipknot’s 1999 debut. I got into the band my first year of high-school and for my generation they were the biggest and most important band in the world, the way Metallica and Maiden were for people starting school in the ‘80s, or Pantera were for people starting school in the ‘90s, or Zeppelin and Kiss were for people starting school in the ‘70s.

Slipknot were more than a band; they were so much more in my mind. I can’t count on two hands the number of pictures I drew of them, or discussions I had with school friends about them or magazines I bought just because they were in it. The first time I saw them live, on the Iowa cycle at Belfast Odyssey Arena, is one of the most memorable concerts I have ever been to. I don’t want to throw around terms like life-changing in my old and cynical age, but if I was to apply such an epithet to any band, Slipknot would be the one.

To some extent I like everything they have ever done. I am a bit of a lifer and so this review isn’t exactly going to be impartial or unbiased. But I am not 100% blind and unwilling to think critically either so I’d like to say you can trust what I say. I will admit All Hope Is Gone is not as good as the others. I’ll be happy to admit that there quite a few lyrics I dislike and sometimes Shawn’s video projects are a bit too arty and pretentious and that maybe a straighter take might do the band more favours. I’ll even admit that some songs I like have choruses I dislike even if the rest of the song is enjoyable. (‘Sulpher’ for example has a chorus I always seem to resent, as it represents the band going a bit too far away from what made me like them in the first place). I did get a bit sceptical when a few too many clean vocals started creeping in and what were amazing and refreshing moments of clean (‘Me Inside’) amongst the heaviness became the norm and it started to seem almost every song had to have a radio chorus.

A lot of people aren’t so keen on the band’s last two albums, All Hope Is Gone and .5 The Gray Chapter, so you can expect the reviews for this will all certainly feature some kind of ‘return to form’ or ‘best since’ line or two. Now; as I said, I like every album Slipknot have ever made (and probably every song too, its just some parts I am not keen on)… but I both can and can’t see why this ‘return to form’ thing is going to be so prevalent.

Now; I think The Gray Chapter is brilliant. I’ve been reading a lot of negative things about it online in the build up to We Are Not Your Kind’s release. I don’t agree with the narrative that it was a rushed or undercooked or too much like Corey’s other band Stone Sour. Tracks like ‘Custer,’ ‘Sarcastrophe’ and ‘The Negative One’ are rabid and savage, and even though I sort of resent them, I can’t deny the radio moments like ‘The Devil In I’ are damn catchy… However; In the same way I initially hated ‘Psychosocial’ when I first heard it for the big clean radio chorus that felt like a change in what the band was trying to be and what they represented, I can see how the cleaner moments on the Gray Chapter would put people off. I mean in isolation I like almost every one of them anyway, but I just wish on principal that on the last three albums there were a few more ‘Disasterpeice’ and ‘Metabolic’ style choruses and a few less ones like those of ‘Dead Memories’ and ‘Before I Forget.’ I reckon a lot of other older fans feel the same way.

We Are Not Your Kind seems to be blowing a lot of people’s skirts up for its heaviness and brutality. There is plenty of it on here. ‘Orphan,’ ‘Red Flag’ and ‘Nero Forte’ all connect like a haymaker to the face. Corey did say in interviews while it was being written that it reminded him of Iowa and on these songs you can sort of see why he might have thought that if they were the ones he was working on at the time.

But this album has plenty of clean moments too. Hell; the first real song (track 2) on every other Slipknot album is always one of the fastest, heaviest, most brutal ones on the record, and yet here, track two is the big single ‘Unsainted’ with its absolutely huge radio chorus and festival sing-along intro. So the public’s different reaction to ‘Gray Chapter and We Are Not Your Kind can’t just be about heavy vs. clean.

One thing that is clear is that the songs on this, their sixth official studio, album are just really good. It might be that simple. The first distorted verse to ‘Unsainted’ is fierce as honey badger and the drums throughout are really impressive and energetic. The way Jay flails sideways into the china cymbal at unexpected times reminds me of what made the band’s debut so damn exciting.

You know what else makes this album so good? (Now; I’m not saying it wasn’t there on the last two albums, but…) on this album the amount of time given over to the band’s extra members and how high they are in the mix seems to be higher on this record. Lots of Sid’s DJ scratches. Lots of additional percussion from the two extra percussionists. Lots of samples and sounds from the mysterious Craig. It feels like this album really goes out of its way to justify having all nine members and revels in what makes Slipknot unique… After the massive success of Vol. 3 and its radio singles and ballads, it felt like on the follow up, All Hope Is Gone that the band were trying to be more of a ‘normal’ band instead of celebrating their uniqueness. Here they seem to shine a spotlight on them more often.

What else is great is that the band aren’t afraid to do new things. ‘Birth Of The Cruel’ for example sees the band discover ‘90s Groove Metal, and lean into the sort of riffs and drum beats that would fit on Burn My Eyes or Chaos Ad at times, with bendy riffs, and stomping jarring rhythms. Obviously through a Slipknot filter, but still…

I think the best thing about the album though might well be the fact that Corey isn’t holding back with his vocals so much. On the first album he screamed his head off so much that we were told he wasn’t allowed to talk between shows so he could rest his voice. By the time Vol. 3 came around he had to find a way to scream without damaging his voicebox and came up with the new voices that he has been using on that and all subsequent albums. It feels at times though that on this album (and maybe ‘Custer’ off of the last album… because as I said, I don’t get the hate for that one) that Corey is back to shredding his throat to pieces like back in the glory days. Some of the vocals on ‘Red Flag’ and the start of ‘Orphan’ could be straight out of ‘People = Shit’ or ‘The Heretic Anthem’ and that is the sound I fell in love with all those years ago. That was a big part of the initial magic that hooked me in and made me such a lifer for this generation defining band. Corey howling himself hoarse is just one of the best noises in all of heavy music and its nice to hear it so much again.

The production is also good, it keeps the mix clear without losing the frenzied and chaotic feel too much on the heavier tracks. You can hear each beater on the kick drum, you can hear the bass under the vocals, but you can also tune out and just be swept away in the energy of the whole thing. It doesn’t feel like the edges have been sanded down too much.

One little minor niggle against the album is the exclusion of the track ‘All Out Life’ (which was separately released back around Halloween 2018, but it contains the title line ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ repeatedly chanted). Admittedly; There was one bit I didn’t like in it, where they slow down and there is the spoken word ‘‘I will not…’’ section that was a bit similar to the intro of ‘Pulse Of The Maggots.’ Otherwise however, that track was quite a rager. I really love how driving the first verse is and when he sings that ‘’the horizon is coming like a hellbent killing machine’’ you really feel this sense of urgency and momentum. I have just added the track in as number 15 on my iTunes and phone so I get to hear it every time I hear the album (which has been pretty much non-stop since release). If you want it on CD though, you’d have to buy the special Japanese bonus track edition. Bit of a shame though that everyone doesn’t just get it as standard, because it’s a great song that I’ve really grown to love and it fits into the album well.

I feel it’s a bit weird to leave it out, as the biggest complaint I have about The Gray Chapter is that it needs just one more heavy song to balance the album out. It’s a bit frustrating to see them make the same decision again. I mean don’t get me wrong; I like ‘A Liar’s Funeral’ and ‘Not Long For This World’ and their atmospheric build ups. (Slipknot have always been the master of that, with the likes of ‘Gently’ and ‘Skin Ticket’ in the good old days, and ‘If Rain Is What You Want’ recently). But what right-minded metal fan wouldn’t want the majority of a Slipknot album to be flailing double kicks and gnarly riffs?

Now I don’t want it to be exclusively speed and power. Slipknot’s diversity is as big a draw as their ferocity. The band have always had a creepy experimental side (often driven by Shawn) to balance out Joey and Mick’s love of Deicide and Morbid Angel. All the way back to ‘Tattered And Torn,’ ‘Frail Limb Nursery’ and ‘Scissors’ from the debut and evolving into things like ‘The Virus Of Life’ and ‘Danger Keep Away (Extended Version)’ they have been balancing out the aggressive songs with nightmarish moments. They have also been experimenting with clean and subtle moments on recent albums like ‘Killpop’ and ‘Goodbye.’ So you can sort of see the legacy and evolution there and so it isn’t a total bolt out of the blue, when this album takes the cleans and mixes them with the creepy to come up with a new sound. I have read a lot of reviews of this record saying this record is dominated by experimentation. You can sort of see why. The album is full of creepy nursery rhyme-meets-experimental electronic tracks. ‘Death Because Of Death,’ ‘What’s Next,’ ‘My Pain’ and ‘Spiders’ for example come across at the same time as being both something that the band has never done before but also as a continuation in their long line of broadening the scope of their albums by adding in something more esoteric.

This album is certainly diverse; you have the four aforementioned quiet creepy ones, you have the two above-mentioned atmospheric ones, a selection of ragers as discussed prior, the huge big radio single with the surprisingly heavy verses and great drumming to open the proceedings. There’s also ‘Critical Darling’ which toes the line between radio and rager with its chorus reminiscent of Alice In Chains’ track ‘God Smack,’ and then there’s the album closer ‘Soloway Firth,’ which is a sprawling, strangely structured and winding song that goes in many different directions and which requires a good few listens to even pin down and follow what’s going on. Its not prog, but its certainly not three-chord trick, verse-chorus-verse, rock either.

All in all it is a very interesting listen (even without adding in ‘All Out Life’ for heaviness sake). I don’t want to go and say ‘’The best album since…’’ because I am really fond of all their albums, but it is certainly really good. Really, really good in fact. As a bit of an over eager fan it certainly satisfies, but objectively it is a damn fine record with a good flow, a good balance of different directions, a good sound and fantastic vocal performance. It not only meets my high expectations but exceeds them.

EIKENSKADEN The Black Laments Symphony

Album · 2001 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
EIKENSKADEN is one of the many projects of Stefan Kozak of Metz, France. Other bands he has been involved with are Azerlath, Bolverk and Mystic Forest, the latter of which is what began this project in 1998 after that one ended. Mystic Forest only really got to the demo phase of band projects by the time this one was formed but continued in conjunct with this one. EIKENSKADEN has released four albums to date before truncated the moniker to simply SKADEN. This debut album THE BLACK LAMENTS SYMPHONIE came out in 2001.

Kozak’s interest in EIKENSKADEN was to create a more theatrical classical take on the black metal sound. The usual black metal elements are found in abundance such as tremolo picked guitar riffs, heavy buzzsaw distortion and raspy unintelligible lyrics screamed from under the din along with energetic deliveries that offer blastbeats and raging fury however the chaos is channeled with the order of neoclassical underpinnings which offer a much more melodic black metal experience than the average pissed off second waver.

The project consists of only two members. Kozak plays all the usual instruments which includes guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and piano and Gabriel “Gaabh” Palmieri plays only the lead guitar solos which there are plenty of. In addition to the relentless black metal bombast are soaring atmospheric melodies and introspective moments were classical piano rolls are left in solitude to conjure up a lugubrious melancholy. There are also doomy slower riffs that allow power chords to sustain while a lazy percussive backbeat allows the atmospheric wailing of the lead guitar to slink up and down spaced out musical scales.

While Kozak’s other band Mystic Forest was focused more on atmospheric constructs complete with female vocal parts, EIKENSKADEN is completely dedicated to thick noisy black metal that is married with neoclassical melodic compositional approaches which proves that the black metal aisle of the metal supermarket is the most adaptable to almost anything thrown at it. It almost always sticks and the infusion of Chopin piano chops and progressively infused guitar wails work quite well despite stealing a little thunder from the scary aspects that the genre can muster up.

Second wave black metal purists only interested in Satanic ritual music or evil as fuck bombast will probably hate this as much as Dimmu Borgir gets trashed but if you don’t mind an interesting mix of something that may resemble Symphony X more than Darkthrone at least in melodic flow then this isn’t a bad album at all. There’s enough black metal darkness to keep this from being too cheery but at the same time this style of music will never come close to be tagged depressive black metal either. A very cool hybrid but in the end not really enough variations in the album overall to make it absolutely essential either. This is an interesting album indeed that sits somewhere in between.

MAGNUM Chase The Dragon

Album · 1982 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.37 | 10 ratings
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Warthur
Recorded in 1980 but only released in 1982, Chase the Dragon is a landmark album for Magnum for many reasons. For one thing, it's the first of their albums to be graced by the delightful fantasy artwork of Rodney Matthews, who'd work closely with the band on numerous later releases and here establishes striking images which he'd keep coming back to in the Magnum cosmos - why, that combination of distant city, desolate plain, and spooky tree would be reflected on the cover of Escape From the Shadow Garden.

In addition to being the album where Magnum's distinctive cover art aesthetic really came together, Chase the Dragon is also the album where their sound came into its own. In retrospect, perhaps 1982 was the perfect year to release something like this, with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal wave riding high and the neo-progressive rock movement bubbling up through the underground.

It's not that Magnum quite belongs to either of those movements, but they seem to occupy a unique musical space all of their own which hovers in a somewhat AORish region partway between the two styles. They have enough synthesisers, fantasy lyrics, and occasional instrumental flair to put one in mind of neo-prog, without ever quite leaning enough on prog influences like Uriah Heep or embracing long, complex song structures sufficiently to really be any flavour of prog, neo- or not.

Likewise, whilst they have a boisterous energy reminiscent of the NWOBHM and traditional heavy metal (which are also fields not averse to fantasy lyrics), they don't quite go heavy enough to cross the boundary between hard rock and metal. (If they did, it feels like they'd land somewhere near Dio.)

On paper, it feels like such an act would end up falling between two stools, failing to be sufficiently one thing or the other and pleasing nobody. Instead, Chase the Dragon is a delightful album which will have something to appeal to fans of the lighter ends of traditional heavy metal or neo-prog alike - and if you happen to dig both, as I do, you'll probably absolutely love it. Soldier of the Line is an excellent album opener, one of those songs which will have you reaching for the "back" button when it ends so you can listen to it over and over again despite yourself, and the rest of the album retains a high standard throughout.

This was apparently a make-or-break moment for Magnum, due to the shaky reception of Magnum II throwing them off-kilter a little; in retrospect, they pulled out exactly the album they needed to produce here. You can count me as a freshly-minted Magnum fan on the strength of this album alone.

SAVATAGE Edge Of Thorns

Album · 1993 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 46 ratings
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martindavey87
Highly revered by fans and often regarded as the bands finest work, 1993’s ‘Edge of Thorns’ is a pivotal album in Savatage’s discography. It’s the first album to feature new vocalist Zak Stevens, with Jon Oliva stepping away from the mic to focus on keyboards and songwriting, and most notably, it’s the final album to feature guitar hero and founder Criss Oliva, who was tragically killed by a drunk driver six months after the release of this album.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the band either. Already fighting an uphill battle against changing musical trends, the band were managing to continually improve with each release, and while following 1989’s ‘Gutter Ballet’ and ‘1991’s ‘Streets: A Rock Opera’ itself would seem a daunting task, the band rise to the challenge with this, one of their most polished and well-rounded releases to date.

With its great production and overflowing with fantastic musicianship, ‘Edge of Thorns’ sees the band step away slightly from the more classical leanings of their previous few releases, and focus more on a metal-tinted hard rock edge. Which is fine, as it’s still a solid album full of memorable tracks. The likes of ‘Edge of Thorns’, ‘He Carves His Stones’, ‘Follow Me’, ‘Damien’, ‘Lights Out’ and bonus track ‘Forever After’ makes this one of Savatage’s strongest releases.

While the band would go on to new creative heights, this was probably their commercial peak. With metal in the mainstream being completely dead by this point, any momentum the band had garnered up until now would slowly squander over the next few years, and while the 90’s would see the band release some of their best and most ambitious works, at this point they would firmly enter the realm of being a cult band. ‘Edge of Thorns’, really is the end of one era and the start of another.

VOLBEAT Rewind, Replay Rebound

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
I am not the oldest Volbeat fan, I only discovered them last year at Download Festival 2018, but I have been listening to them absolutely non-stop ever since.

Volbeat cds for birthday and Christmas, Volbeat t-shirts under my work clothes pretty often, Volbeat on the car stereo during every road trip to visit relatives, Volbeat in the car ride to work almost every work day. Overall; I’ve listened to over 2,900 times in the past year. Something that few other bands can boast. Since records began in 2011 (when I started tracking it via LastFm), they are my 9th most listened-to artist. So basically; I’ve listened to them more in one year than I have some of my favourite ever bands, almost any other band in fact, in the last 8 years.

So you could say, that coming into this new album, which is the first new one to be released in my time as a fan (not counting the amazing live album, Let’s Boogie! Live from Telia Parken), that I was more than a little excited.

…So imagine my surprise when the first time I listened to it, I didn’t really care for it. At all.

Now, that was partially my own fault, first of all I was lifting weights on a red hot Summer’s day, with a noisy fan on while I did so, so maybe it wasn’t really hearing it in the best conditions. Additionally; I was beyond hyped, so I wasn’t really going in with realistic expectations.

Having listened to it a good few more times, some of them while driving, some while exercising and some just sitting there in a quiet room paying close attention, it has definitely grown on me more.

There are some stand out tracks that I am really happy to have in my Volbeat collection and which I would be excited to see live. ‘Die To Live’ is probably the best of them. I mean, how could it not be, featuring as it does guest vocals from the mighty Neil Fallon from Clutch. It is a jaunty up tempo rock n’ roller with tinkly piano reminiscent of Illusion era GnR and fun saxophone reminiscent of the Boomtown Rats but a basic bouncy pop punk structure for the rest of the song that wouldn’t be out of place on a mid period Green Day or Rancid album. Real fun tune.

There is also the singles ‘Parasite’ which is a 40 second punk statement with punctuated vocals and oodles of energy, and ‘Leviathan’ which is just an absolute sing-along anthem up there with previous gems like ‘Heaven Nor Hell’ or ‘Thanks’ or ‘Lola Montez’ in the Volbeat-sound-like-fun stakes. The band are always great when Jon gets pounding on the floor toms. It is the kind of smile-inducing big stadium shouter that makes you remember how fun Rock Music is when you are 13 years old.

Another great thing about the album is the lead guitar work, Michael and Rob’s lead guitar lines and solos are utterly majestic at times (think the Guitar solo from Anthrax’s ‘Safe Home’ and you’ll know what I mean)… the kind of magical guitar solo that transports you to another place.

That said. I don’t think I would be out of place in saying this is the band’s worst album. Well, if not worst, then, least good. The first point against it in my book is really subjective, but it is just not heavy enough. There’s maybe two Metal songs on it. ‘The Everlasting’ and ‘Cheapside Sloggers’ (with guest guitar from Exodus’ Gary Holt!) are the heaviest tunes, but they stand sort of alone in that front… and even ‘Cheapside Sloggers’ is only Metal in the second half once the guitar solo section kicks it up a notch.

The second thing against it is they re-use a lot of things from previous albums. Single ‘Pelvis On Fire’ for example will be real good fun if it is the first Volbeat song you ever hear but it is exactly halfway between ‘Devil Or The Blue Cats Song’ and ‘Sad Man’s Tongue’ and you kind of feel they are ripping themselves off a little bit. Haven’t I heard that vocal melody before? Hasn’t he done an Elvis voice before? That slow down speed up thing sounds familiar.

The third thing, again subjective, is that they do too much of the overly earnest big American radio rock style. On the previous album they did it a bit on tracks like ‘Goodbye Forever’ or on the album previous to that, with ‘Cape Of Our Hero’ but they did it really, really well and in small doses. Here they do it so much it kind of overwhelms the album. They do inject Volbeatness into those songs, but just not enough for my tastes. It makes the album sound a bit bland. Usually a Volbeat album is a rollercoaster going from sounding Psychobilly, to Pop Punk to Groove Metal to Stoner Metal to 1950s Rock N’ Roll to Metallica-Worship and back again, all in a seamless package where it all flows together and you don’t even realise its weird that bagpipes have entered the mix.

On this album it feels like a radio rock album with a few detours. Initially at least. The more I listen to it the more I get into it. I also feel like me saying they do too many radio songs is a bit like Millicent Stone in the TV show Bunheads telling the ballet dancers they are doing too much of a certain step (when she herself has no knowledge of dancing). And saying there isn’t enough metal is a bit silly when the tracks I have said where the best songs, ‘Die To Live,’ ‘Parasite’ and ‘Leviathan’ are in no way metal and are still brilliant. And some of my all time favourite Volbeat songs from across the discography like ‘Lola Montez’ and ‘Sad Man’s Tongue’ and ‘Still Counting’ aren’t metal either.

That’s perhaps a conflicted mess of a review. To summarise I would sum it up thusly, the gut reaction was negative but its a grower and although I would certainly not make it your first Volbeat album unless you love earnest radio rock, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a disappointment and it has at least 5 or 6 songs I am really happy with and will be happy to include on future playlists, and would be happy to see live. However; if all you liked about Volbeat was the heavier side of them, like ‘Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza,’ ‘Slaytan’ and ‘Wild Rover Of Hell’ …then maybe this album might not be an instant hit with you either.

YGG Ygg

Album · 2011 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Kharkiv, Ukraine is quite the prolific nook of Eastern European black metal with many bands emerging from its proximity however a closer look will yield the discovery that many of the same artists are involved in many different band projects and the atmospheric black metal YGG is the perfect example. This band so far has released one self-titled album which emerged in 2011 and has remained silent ever since. This is basically a side project of Nokturnal Mortem with bassist / vocalist Vrolok and drummer Odalv hooking up with the newbie / vocalist / guitarist Helg to create a slice of repetitive yet hypnotic atmospheric black metal unlike Nokturnal Mortum and more in the vein of the Russian band Walknut.

Yes, this is a trio but despite only bass, drums, guitars and vocals listed on most credits, there is also plenty of other sounds including something called the vargan or Russian Jew’s harp in intros especially in the annoyingly long 5 minute intro of the album which should be a dead giveaway as it reminds me of Nokturnal Mortem’s equally long intro on “Goat Horns.” Likewise since this is atmospheric black metal there are lots of keyboards albeit kept in the backdrop. Credits are unknown but they are so simply played that anyone could pull off the task of performing them making the identity of the musician irrelevant. The term YGG is interesting. In the Urban Dictionary it is an abbreviation of “You Go Girl” while another musical group of the same name is a trio of MCs that is short for: You Get Grime or You Grime Gods. This one is probably short for Yggdrasil.

Not much to say about this album. If you are familiar with atmospheric black metal then you’ve heard all this before. While the subject matter is Pagan in nature, the lyrics are unintelligible with the usually raspy screams emerging from the din. The musical flow is a lot like early Burzum with a focus on a stream of hypnotic flow of atmospheric black metal bombast rather than any sort of actual diversity in how the composiitons proceed. Unlike many black metal albums the bass and guitar are clearly separated into their own while the vocals are sort of frantic like early Summoning. The atmospheric elements are only audible during the more subdued moments but are present throughout the album’s hour plus 4 minute run. This album is often considered the unofficial followup to Walknut’s one and only album “Graveforests And Their Shadows” which came out in 2007 although there is no relationship other than the stylistic similarities.

YGG created a mixed bag of an album for my tastes. Everything is perfectly executed with the subdued tremolo picked energetic outbursts, better than usual percussive bombast and by the books screamed vocal outbursts but in the end nothing about this album really stands out from the legion of black metal bands that have come and gone over the years. There is nothing remotely epic as heard on Nokturnal Mortem’s best offerings however this is an interesting album in that despite the lack of creativity perfectly exhibits an atmospheric black metal approach that is flawless in its execution and therefore offers a perfect hypnotic trance inducing hour’s worth of atmospheric black metal hypnagogic splendor. Slightly better than average but not exactly a classic either. YGG needed to find some ways of differentiated itself from the multitude of Burzum copycats. Didn’t happen except for maybe a bit more intensity.

NICKELBACK Dark Horse

Album · 2008 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 2.41 | 13 ratings
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martindavey87
By 2008, Nickelback were undoubtedly two things; one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, and also one of the most hated. Despised by metal fans and too heavy for pop fans, Nickelback are one of those bands that have their audience and knows what works for them. And so here, with 2008’s ‘Dark Horse’, we see the band continue to tread safely with what made them one of the biggest bands on the planet.

However, take heed, for “treading safely” doesn’t mean they’re coasting and resting on their laurels, because ‘Dark Horse’ is arguably one of the bands best albums. With consistently strong tracks throughout, this album is brimming with highly energetic rock anthems and catchy, radio-friendly ballads that are incredibly easy to listen to. It’s this simple, yet infectious, songwriting style that make Nickelback so easy to get into.

Of course, haters will hate, but if you give the Canadian quartet a chance, there’re some absolutely solid tracks here that sound great! Driven by heavy, beefy guitar riffs and a thumping rhythm section, Nickelback’s formula is simple, yet, in a world where musical virtuosity is running amok, sometimes you need to strip it all down and stick to the basics. Dirty, raunchy songs with dumb lyrics that primarily focus on love, sex, parties and occasionally a meaningful, introspective ballad, sometimes less really is more.

And this is never more evident with the likes of ‘Something in Your Mouth’, ‘Burn It to the Ground’, ‘Next Go Round’, ‘S.E.X.’, huge hit ‘If Today Was Your Last Day’, ‘Gotta Be Somebody’ and one of my personal favourites, ‘Just to Get High’. With excellent performances by all involved (as always, Chad Kroeger is incredibly underrated as a vocalist), ‘Dark Horse’ is a powerful album packed full of hard rock goodness. Flying by at a brisk 44 minutes, it’s easy to digest and is a great example of why Nickelback shouldn’t be judged merely by their unfair reputation.

MEMORIAM Requiem for Mankind

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
When Memoriam released their debut album “For The Fallen” in 2017 I was expecting great things from them. After all they had two former members of Bolt Thrower in their ranks, the best death metal band to come out of the UK. Whilst it had its moments I was somewhat disappointed – it was certainly heavy but lacked the Sledgehammer bludgeon and strong hooks Bolt Thrower always delivered. Follow up “The Silent Vigil” likewise and felt a bit rushed arriving the following year with a weak production. For album number three, released only a year later again, they have finally nailed it.

The first thing you notice about “Requiem for Mankind” is the production. Here they’ve hired the services of producer Russ Russell and it’s really paid off. The sound is big and for the first time they’ve really captured some of that Bolt Thrower bludgeon. Not only that, but as is immediately evident from opener “Shell Shock” they’ve got the riffs to back it up. Here they really crush and hit hard with just enough melody for them to get firmly under the skin. It’s mainly mid-tempo stuff, injected with groove, also like Bolt Thrower, heaviness taking precedent over speed. Best of all, they keep it up for the whole album with every song earning its place. The band turns in a strong performance – guitars, bass and drums all sounding crushing with Scott Fairfax’s guitar work being particularly good. There’s quite a bit of war themed stuff here but the lyrics also get political on the self-explanatory “Austerity Kills” and delivered with conviction by Karl Willetts.

Despite my earlier comments the first two albums weren’t bad, just ordinary. Here though Memoriam have released an album that can stand head and shoulders with the best death metal the year has to offer. Here’s hoping that album number four, due in 2020 if their current prolific streak keeps going, is just as good if not even better.

DARKSTAR Heart Of Darkness

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Heart Of Darkness" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US/German progressive metal act Darkstar. The album was released through Institute Of Art Records in 1999. Darkstar is a project initiated by Siggi Blasey (Sequencing, Sampling) from German progressive metal act End Amen and guitarist Dan Rock from US progressive metal act Psychotic Waltz. John McKenzie performs drums on the album and Danik Thomas plays the bass. "Heart Of Darkness" was recorded in late 1998. Partially in San Diego and partially in Frankfurt.

Stylistically the material on "Heart Of Darkness" continue down the same ambient/atmospheric progressive metal road as the material on the band´s debut full-length studio album "Marching Into Oblivion (1995)". Only this time around there are some tracks on the album which feature vocals (both male and female). The album is dominated by instrumental tracks though. Epic sci-fi atmospheres, melodic guitar themes, huge synths and sequencing, and the occasional sample (there´s for example a George Bush sample from the Gulf War on the opening track "Dark Paradise"). Although the instrumental tracks generally work better than the material featuring vocals, it´s not without it´s charm that Darkstar have opted to include vocals. To my ears "Flight To Nowhere" is THE highlight of the album though. A pretty amazing instrumental that builds towards a harmony guitar finale, which can´t help lead the listener´s thoughts toward Psychotic Waltz in their prime.

While "Heart Of Darkness" is overall well produced and features a layered and detailed mix, it unfortunately suffers from exactly the same issue as it´s predecessor did. The drums and the bass simply aren´t that well sounding. The former doesn´t feature the most pleasant sounding tone and the latter is more or less buried in the layered mix. It doesn´t help that both the drums and the bass aren´t playing anything which add to the music either. They work solely as a solid rhythmic backdrop to the atmospheric keyboards and the melodic guitar themes. It´s not a huge issue, but it´s not exactly a positive feature either.

Upon conclusion "Heart Of Darkness" is a relatively interesting sophomore release by Darkstar and while I don´t think it quite reaches the dark sci-fi majesty of it´s predecessor, it´s still more than worth a listen. Dan Rock is a phenomenal guitarist with a floating personal style and guitar tone, and his playing on this album is worth the price of admission alone, but the material is generally of a good quality too and despite a few issues with the sound production and the anonymous playing of the rhythm section a 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved.

ANAAL NATHRAKH The Codex Necro

Album · 2001 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 8 ratings
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UMUR
"The Codex Necro" is the debut full-length studio album by UK, Birmingham based extreme metal act Anaal Nathrakh. The album was released through Mordgrimm Records in November 2001. Anaal Nathrakh was formed by Irrumator aka Mick Kenney (all instruments) and V.I.T.R.I.O.L. aka Dave Hunt (vocals) in 1998 (bassist Leicia was also briefly a member of the lineup in the demo days). The band released a couple of 1999 demos ("Anaal Nathrakh" and "Total Fucking Necro") and the 2000 compilation "Total Fucking Necro" (a compilation of their two demos), before recording "The Codex Necro".

Stylistically the music on "The Codex Necro" is a combination of black metal, grindcore, and industrial metal elements. It´s a pretty extreme and very intense listening experience. Fast blasting programmed drums, high speed black metal type tremolo picking, and raw screaming distorted vocals in front. It´s not your regular raspy black metal croak though, but a far more extreme type of screaming, which at times sounds like someone is torturing V.I.T.R.I.O.L.. It´s a punishing listen and initially also a rather chaotic one. Initially it may also come off slightly one-dimensional, but the longer into the album you get, it becomes obvious that Anaal Nathrakh is not a one trick pony. Haunting atmosheres, heavy riffs ("The Technogoat" and "Incipid Flock"), and industrial darkness ("Paradigm Shift - Annihilation") are some of the elements which make "The Codex Necro" a more diverse listening experience than it may initially appear to be.

The album is well produced (including the programmed drums), featuring a raw, unpolished, and powerful sound, which suits the equally raw and brutal asssault of the music perfectly. This is not for the faint at heart, and even seasoned extreme metal listeners might find this a very extreme listen, but examined a bit more thoroughly it´s also a relatively sophisticated and clever album. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DEVIANT PROCESS Narcissistic Rage

EP · 2011 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Narcissistic Rage" is an EP release by Canadian death metal act Deviant Process. The EP is an independent release from 2011 and it´s the first official release by the band. Deviant Process were formed in 2008 under the Psychic Pain monicker. They changed their name to Deviant Process in 2009.

The music on the 2 track, 15:17 minutes long EP is technical/progressive death metal. Multible tempo changes, complex structures, militant precision playing, and a growling vocalist in front. There´s the occasional atmospheric section thrown in for variation, but the music is predominantly busy and relatively brutal. The songwriting is of a pretty high quality, although Deviant Process haven´t exactly composed material which stands out as particularly original sounding compared to other contemporary artists.

The sound production is powerful and clear sounding, suiting the material well. The musicianship is on a high level on all posts, so all in all "Narcissistic Rage" is a good quality debut release by Deviant Process. Although it´s certainly promising, the lack of an original style is a slight issue, but a 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved.

PISSGRAVE Posthumous Humiliation

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Having lived and worked on farms most of my life I think I’m a pretty good judge of the gory and gruesome.

I have picked swarms of maggots from the putrefying flesh of living animals. I have been splattered in grey matter (yep, calf brains) and guts, bathed in piss, and showered in shit. I have removed rotted placenta and foetal material from the birth canal of a half-ton beast. I have cleaned up two inch deep jellied blood from euthanised sheep. I have killed animals with blunt force and firearms alike (clarification: never, ever for fun - always from necessity). I now work as a medical writer, dealing with pictures of gonorrhoeic genitalia, ulcerated eyes, suppurating sores, and scathing skin rashes. Blood, pus, viscera, excreta, it’s all part of life. Someone has to deal with it, and quite often that someone has been me.

Pissgrave have achieved something with the cover of their second album “Posthumous Humiliation”. They caused me to look away in disgust. Yep, the cover of this album is utterly revolting. Well done!

Why “well done”? Because it’s hard to get a reaction of disgust out of me, without resorting to inhuman and inhumane cruelty (I don’t go looking for torture and murder for fun). While the victim of the illustration here is obviously dead, it looks like the result of a violent accident rather than a willful act of violent depravity. Cannibal Corpse left the imagery of a hammer smashed face to the listener’s own imagination. Pissgrave brought that image to life... er, death.

And after a cover like that, you’d probably expect a vile mishmash of formless near noise, right? Not this time.

Pissgrave’s thing is some pretty fucking solid death metal, accented with guttural beyond goregrind vocals. This differs from your usual loose labial grinding gore mess in that it’s tighter than a gerontonecrophiliac’s nutsack at the site of a plane crash full of senior citizens. The music is structured, and the riffs are actually pretty fucking good. If you’ve ever thought “I wonder what Autopsy would sound like if they had been a bit faster and tighter”, then here’s your answer. Of course, part of Autopsy’s charm is the way the band always skirted the edge of total disaster, but still...

Pissgrave’s riffs are tight and focused. This is proper death metal, and while not up to the quality of something like Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel (what is?), it’s streets ahead of the heavy-for-heavy’s sake deathcore/slam multitudes. There are solos in the frantic Rick Rozz style of old school Death and Massacre, strings squealing on the verge of snapping. The drums aren’t mindless blasting or a robotic mechanical rattle. Don’t worry – there’s more than enough blast beats and double kick drums to go round, but there’s enough space left in the mix for contrast and definition.

The vocals are the big point of difference. The pitch-shifted guttural growl is amped and fuzzed within an inch of white noise oblivion, almost completely blown out. A lot of grind bands do this by accident with a mushy, muffled sound. In this case, it’s voice as instrument, like John Tardy’s early Obituary efforts, except a shitload faster, and more mangled and manipulated.

Pissgrave are really at their best when they hit a high speed groove, like in second track “Canticle of Ripping Flesh”. The music is frenetic and chaotic, but from it a sub-melody emerges. It’s the kind of groove death metal pioneers hit, and new school tech-deathsters miss. That’s why a lot of people still love the old shit and get left cold by a lot of the new stuff. It brings death metal to life. And despite the dead bad luck of the unfortunate cover model, this is an album full of life. True, the “life” is probably gangrenous, highly infectious, and purulent, but this is an album which is much smarter than it may appear at first glance. If you’re brave enough to take a second glance, Pissgrave have distilled the essence of old school death metal and spiced it up with some new school flavours.

Just don’t look at the album cover while trying to eat...

KAYO DOT Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue

Album · 2006 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.32 | 28 ratings
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After the original breakup of Maudlin of the Well, Toby Driver found a new direction to steer the avant-garde smorgasbord that mixed art rock, post-rock and progressive rock together in the cauldron with extra servings of extreme metal mixed into the pot but Driver didn’t waste any time putting together a new band that could carry these avant-garde tendencies to the next level. KAYO DOT was assembled in 2003 with Driver himself behind the steering wheel and a welcoming debut release called “Choirs Of The Eye’ on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records. Several Maudlin members also went along for the ride and together they created one of the most unique sounding albums of the entire 2000s. “Choirs Of The Eye” was part modern classical, part post-rock, part chamber music and part avant-garde metal. While the debut album caught the world’s attention and instantly brought KAYO DOT into spotlight at least in terms of the prog rock and metal underground, Driver decided to take the band into even stranger arenas from then on.

Arriving three years later, the surreally named DOWSING ANEMONE WITH COPPER TONGUE delivers the bizarre avant-garde fortitude that the title suggests. With a label jump to Robotic Empire Records, the band continued the intricately designed sprawling compositions and took them into even more bizarre and complex experimentation with a huge army of instrumentalists delivering an orchestra of bleak sonic oppression that exhibited a truly labyrinthine fusion of modern classical, avant-garde jazz, post-metal and chamber rock. It was clear that KAYO DOT’s instant popularity wasn’t heading in a more accessible direction and on the contrary DOWSING ANEMONE WITH COPPER TONGUE is one of those albums that requires a multitude of listening experiences preferable in a wide range of moods to really find its way under your skin but ultimately casts a long-lasting spell as it slowly sinks into your psyche like a parasitic hookworm!

While classified as metal, the heavier parts are intermittent with much focus on the slithering slow chamber rock and jazzy touches ratcheting up the tension in the same fashion as any good Godspeed! You Black Emperor style of apocalyptic post-rock however KAYO DOT’s sophomore album exudes a much more interesting turn of events with violin solos unleashing haunting melodies over a dark atmospheric backdrop of guitars, viola, trumpets and keyboards. The drums and the bass provide the rhythmic drive as with most rock bands but the tempos and time signatures ratchet up often with zigzagging riffs, sudden start / stop syncopation and jittery uncertain gloomy mood enhancing timbres that climax in explosive outbursts of dissonant power chords unleashing their fury in metal bombast. Out of the five lengthy tracks, the shortest running time of “Aura On An Asylum Wall” still hovers near the eight minute mark while the soul crushing bombast of “…On Limpid Form” soars to a majestic eighteen minute run. This is an album to savor slowly as it requires full active participation in its ever-changing stylistic sequences.

DOWSING ANEMONE is quite a different beast than “Choirs” as each track is independent of the other and has a distinct personality trait. While the opening “Gemini Becomingt The Tripod” delivers a distinct metal bombast as heard on “Choirs,” the following tracks focus much more on the chamber rock, jazz and 20th century avant-garde attributes of avant-garde classical musical scores. The metal bombast returns on the lengthy “…On Limpid Form” which strangely builds up a textural whirlwind of jazzy melodies with indie rock sensibilities until it creates a monstrous roar of heavy metal thunder that carries it far and wide. The time signatures on this album are off the chart as each track employs a wide range of off-kilter compositional counterpoints with a tapestry of instrumental interaction that is phenomenally performed in manners hitherto unheard. This music is startling and dramatic and sounds like it was beamed down from another world.

Personally i have always preferred this second album to the first and anything KAYO DOT has down to the Maudlin of the Well material that preceded. This album simply takes me to places i never knew existed and that is exactly what avant-garde music is supposed to achieve only this isn’t experimentation for its own sake but rather an interesting new way of achieving a full compositional experience with everything tweaked in order to create an alienating effect. While i absolutely love the chamber-jazz-metal-art-rock that’s on display, i still find the vocals to be quite weak on several occasions. While they are perfect in some contexts, particularly the more aggressive moments, it’s during the really slowed down and whiney parts they are awful and this effect is on full display, unfortunately for much of the final track “Amaranth The Peddler” which exercises the weakest aspects of the bands and crafts them into an entire track. Seriously if it weren’t for the closer i would rate this much higher and had it been cut off it would still be a 40 plus minute listening experience. As much as i love DOWSING ANEMONE WITH COPPER TONGUE it pales in comparison to the even more dynamic perfection of the following “Blue Lambency Downward” album.

QUEENSRŸCHE The Verdict

Album · 2019 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"The Verdict" is the 15th full-length studio album by US prog/power metal act Queensrÿche. The album was released through Century Media Records in March 2019. It´s the successor to "Condition Hüman" from 2015 and the third studio album by Queensrÿche featuring lead vocalist Todd La Torre after Geoff Tate was fired from the band. Drummer Scott Rockenfield had a child and after the touring cycle supporting "Condition Hüman (2015)" chose to take a leave from the band to care for his child. However when it became time to record "The Verdict", Rockenfield did not feel ready to begin playing with Queensrÿche again, and as the rest of the band felt it was time to record a new album, they had to look for an alternative solution on the drum post. Fortunately La Torre is not only a brilliant vocalist but is also a very capable drummer, and therefore the band opted to let La Torre record the drums for the album, instead of bringing in a session drummer.

Stylistically the material on "The Verdict" continue the melodic US power/heavy metal style of the two direct predecessors (which also feature La Torre on vocals). All three albums are actually very similiar in sound and style, and while I was relatively satisfied with the first couple of La Torre-fronted Queensrÿche releases, we´ve come to a point, where it would have been nice with an album which doesn´t sound almost one to one like the last couple of releases.

No one can dispute the high quality of the music though (including me). Queensrÿche are a very well playing act and La Torre is a top tier heavy metal vocalist. "The Verdict" is well produced too, featuring a relatively powerful and detailed sound, which suits the music well. So it´s the songwriting which lacks the last catchiness and memorable hooks. Some tracks of course stand out more than others, and the band also try a few new things on the album, but there are simply too many tracks on the album which are very similar in style and sound, and which don´t stand out. A 3.5 star (70%) is still deserved though.

SABATON The Great War

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes, even my favorite bands will leave me a bit disappointed, which happened with Swedish power metal band Sabaton in 2016. They’ve been among a short list of my few absolute favorite metal bands for close to 10 years now, so I always have sky high expectations for them, which means even an album that could merely be called “very good” instead of “incredible” will leave me feeling somewhat disappointed. Sadly, that’s what happened with their sixth full length release, The Last Stand, as while it was still a highly enjoyable release, with a few particularly amazing tracks, it felt a little low in energy and inspiration compared to normal, and it had some songs that simply never grabbed me the way the band usually does. Despite that slight setback, I was excited when I heard the band had a new release coming in 2019, and I was hoping they could get back on track and blow me away once again. Early indications, from the first single as well as hearing the concept of the album, had me very optimistic, and now that I’ve listened to their seventh full length release, The Great War, 20+ times, I can officially say that whatever happened last time did not happen again, as this release represents the Swedes at their best, most energetic and most fun, while also having some truly powerful and awe inspiring moments!

There was a slight lineup change in between albums, with guitarist Thobbe Englund departing and being replaced by Reinxeed singer/multi-insturmentalist Tommy Johansson, who of course does a fantastic job, as always. I’m not sure if it’s specifically because of his presence, or just a general burst of inspiration, but the performances on this release feel even stronger than normal, with some otherworldly good melodies at times, as well as some of the most inspired solos I’ve ever heard from the band. They’ve always been known to have some incredible memorable choruses, but on The Great War, even the verses are infectious, as well as the bridges. In fact, there really isn’t a moment on the entire album that isn’t memorable or epic in some way or another. With all that being said, though, it’s still fairly similar to their previous few releases stylistically, in that the tempos are generally a bit more restrained compared to some power metal bands. In fact, the tempo rarely goes full speed on this release, aside from on a couple tracks, but instead, most tracks end up feeling fairly upbeat and move along at a pretty nice pace, without fully speeding up. It very much reminds me of Heroes, with how the songs are short, straight to the point and move along at a good pace, with each track having plenty of memorable moments, while all going by quickly enough to let the album flow from highlight to highlight.

As with many of their previous releases, The Great War is a concept album, and in that regard, the band has really gone above and beyond with how well they’ve covered their main theme. Obviously, all Sabaton songs (with a few exceptions) are about historic battles in one way or another, with most albums tending to focus on one specific theme. This time around, they’ve chosen to make an entire album focused on World War I, which is obviously a very important, logical topic for the band to tackle, and they’ve done it perfectly, covering many important moments, as well as historical figures, units and the like. While all their albums have very good lyrics, I think this one might have their best yet, just due to the important of the topic, as well as because of how well they’ve covered it. The album really feels like it flows together perfectly, and the concept helps everything to feel unified, while still allowing each track to stand out in their own way, which is pretty much exactly what I want from a concept album. Obviously, the production is as perfect as always, all musicians do an amazing job as always, and Joakim Brodén’ deep, powerful yet melodic vocals are as epic and amazing as always.

While I’ll always love Sabaton’s core sound and Joakim’s voice, their songwriting tends to be one of their biggest strengths, as well, so I was hoping The Great War would deliver in that area, after The Last Stand was a bit disappointing, and thankfully it does. Similarly to Heroes and The Last Stand, it’s a fairly short album, containing 11 tracks and clocking in at just under 39 minutes, which causes the tracks to fly by in a hurry, and of course that also makes it very easy to play the album several times over in one sitting, to really dig deep into it. Kicking off the album is “The Future of Warfare” a fairly slow paced, atmospheric track with some excellent keys throughout. The verses move along fairly slowly, but are filled with some very strong vocal melodies, while the chorus opens up and is very fun and epic, as always, while the solo section in the second half is very energetic and a lot of fun. It’s a very catchy, very enjoyable opener, and it kicks the album off quite well. Next is “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, a slightly speedier track, with a very classic feel to it, including a main melody that feels like it could have come straight from the band’s “Metal” trilogy of songs, spread across their first two albums and Coat of Arms. This feel is especially true for the main keyboard melodies, and it sticks around for most of the song, while the guitar work is a bit heavier than on the opening track, the verses move along at a pretty nice pace, the chorus is extremely infectious and catchy, the bridge is awesome and very inspired, and of course the guitar solo in the second half is excellent. It’s an awesome track, overall, and an early album highlight.

Things only get better with “82nd All the Way”, another speedier track with some excellent keyboards, as well as some nice melodic guitar work. It moves along at a slightly relaxed, but nice pace during the verses, with more excellent vocal melodies, and then the chorus is quite fast and it’s simply a treat, with some awesome keys, awesome vocals and some amazing melodies, and just like the previous track, there’s an excellent bridge, which gives way to a very melodic and fun guitar solo in the second half. The first real slow track on the album is “The Attack of the Dead Men”, and it has a slightly unique feel to it, with much darker, more atmospheric sounding keys, and indeed the track has a fairly grim feel to it overall, and the band pulls it off quite well, with slow, but heavy verses and a fairly strange but quite interesting build up to the chorus, which is of course every bit as upbeat, melodic and super catchy, as always. The track has a particularly inspired instrumental section, which goes on for quite a while, with some very classic sounding melodic guitar work, as well as possibly the heaviest, most technical passage on the album and it’s one of the highlights of the album for sure. Next is “Devil Dogs” and it’s yet another instant classic. It again has a familiar feel, opening with an epic tease at the chorus, before the pace picks up during the opening verse, which contains some very epic choir vocals, as well as some heavy riffs, and the song moves along at a nice pace, with another huge, epic chorus, as well as a very fun instrumental section, preceded by an epic, triumphant vocal section, which is followed by an over the top, but quite funny voice over, as well as more excellent solo work.

Next is second single “The Red Baron”, and some fans may not have heard the normal album version yet (for reasons I’ll explain near the end of the review), which contains an epic hammond organ recreation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Little Fugue in G Minor” during the intro. Following that, the track introduces a rather playful keyboard melody, that has a bit of a swing feel to it, and it carries on throughout the track, giving the track a very cheerful feel. The song moves along at a fast pace, with very fun verses, one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard so far this year, and it has yet another excellent instrumental section, with more playful keyboards and some excellent melodic guitar work. Following that is third single, “Great War”, which is one of the slowest, yet also most epic tracks on the album. It moves along at a slow pace during the verses, with more atmospheric keys and strong vocals from Joakim, and then the chorus is of course unbelievably powerful and epic, with strong symphonic elements and some excellent choral vocals, to help give it a more dramatic feel. The pace picks up again with “A Ghost in the Trenches”, which is one of the faster tracks on the album, with a nice gallop to the verses, as well as another very upbeat, very fun chorus, and more great instrumental work throughout. It’s definitely one of the catchier songs on the album.

The band did something which I think may be unprecedented with lead single “Fields of Verdun”, by having cello metal band Apocalyptica record a cover, and then releasing that cover a couple days before the release of the original track, itself. The cover was actually an amazing, very beautiful and atmospheric piece, with a nice use of varying tempos, while the Sabaton version is fairly straight-forward, very fast paced and quite fun, with an excellent, super catchy chorus, a very strong guitar solo, and fun verses. Both versions of the song are excellent, and it’s easy to see why it was picked as the first single. The last full length song on the album is “The End of the War to End All Wars” and it’s another very epic track, opening with some soft piano and slight symphonic elements, before turning into a full blown symphonic metal track, which gets more and more epic as it goes on, complete with some orchestral elements and some very epic choir vocals. It’s definitely one of the most epic, cinematic tracks the band has done, while still fitting their style perfectly. Verses are fairly dark, atmospheric and a bit heavy, while the chorus is extremely fun and theatrical, with the choirs taking full charge, and there’s a very epic, classical flavored guitar solo in the second half (I suspect it is taken from a classical piece, but I can’t figure out which it is) and overall it’s a very beautiful, powerful track, which gives way to an outstanding ending to the album. This outstanding ending comes in the form of “In Flanders Fields”, a choral performance of the classic poem, written by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. It’s a very beautiful cover, done entirely a Capella, with a choir, and it’s an absolutely wonderful way to end the album.

Before concluding this review, I’d like to point out that there are actually two version of the album: A normal version, which has all tracks uninterrupted, as well as a “History Version”, which includes some narration. The latter effectively makes the album feel similar to The Art of War, with a woman briefly introducing the topics for each track, and these narrations are fairly brief, so as not to disrupt the flow too much, while giving a bit of insight and historical context for each track. For the most part, the songs themselves are exactly the same on both versions, except that the History Version removes the Hammond organ intro for “The Red Baron”, and that’s the version the band used for their video. I generally prefer the normal version, for its overall flow, but the History Version is definitely worth a listen or two, for the narrations.

Sabaton will always be one of my all time favorite bands, with even a disappointing album like The Last Stand still managing to entertain me time and time again. Thankfully, though, The Great War is a big return to form, containing the same mix of speedy and slower tracks as Heroes, along with the seamless flow of that album, moving from highlight to highlight, while also having a very important concept, and executing it to perfection, with optional narration, excellent lyrics, and a stunning ending sequence. At the same time, there are plenty of amazing individual tracks here, as well, so anyone just looking for some addictive power metal, with little care for the lyrical themes, will also find a lot to enjoy here. It’s too early to say where it ranks among my all time favorite albums, but The Great War is definitely one of my top three favorites from Sabaton, along with The Art of War and Heroes, which is already saying a lot, and it’s far and away the best album I’ve heard in 2019 so far, with any upcoming releases having next to zero chance of topping it.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/07/15/sabaton-the-great-war-review/

SIGH Infidel Art

Album · 1995 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 9 ratings
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SIGH’s connection to the world of second wave black metal is in many ways more circumstantial than musically related but throughout its multi-decade career and indeed displaying some of the characteristics that the Norwegian scene delivered in abundance, the band has continued to evolve its unique hybridization effect that really took off on this second album. The discovery of this band can be attributed to Euronymous of Mayhem, one of Norway’s premiere forces of black metal terror that the world wasn’t ready for. After hearing this bizarre hybrid of musical styles that mixed European black metal with symphonic and classical elements enshrouded in the avant-garde, Euronymous quickly signed the fledgling act to his infamous Deathlike Silence Records where the trio of Mirai Kawashima (vocals, bass, keyboards), Shinichi Ishikawa (guitars) and Satoshi Fujinami (drums, percussion) released the debut album “Scorn Defeat” but to the band’s dismay Euryonymous would soon die and the label would go down in flames with him.

Back the drawing board but having gained some momentum with a single release due to the band’s early idiosyncrasies that easily stood out amongst the burgeoning packs filling up the wolf’s den and found a new home on the British based Cacophonous Records where they would soon release the second album INFIDEL ART. The fact is that SIGH has never truly fit into the black metal scene even from the very beginning but on “Infidel Art” it was obviously that they had no interest in trying to adapt to that cookie-cutter description and instead opted to explore a wide new arena of possibilities and in the process of going down this path has become one of Japan’s most interesting bands to exist within the greater metal paradigm with one album after another showing yet another distinct persona that never seems to find an end to the variations and experimental touches that this band has nurtured every step of the way.

While still generally dropped into the black metal category for convenience’s sake, INFIDEL ART doesn’t exude the typical rage and boisterous angst that the early 90s delivered in the second wave scene. Instead it mixes the elements of black metal that include the filthy raw guitar distortion and raspy vocal style with Western classical infusions that offer long drawn out symphonic piano motifs with many moments more reminiscent of Frederic Chopin than anything Darkthrone or Emperor ever created. There is a clear sense of nonchalant meandering on SIGH’s second offering especially with the tamped down tempos that offer more glimpses of doom metal than the blackened blastbeats or tremolo picking styles almost ubiquitously implemented in the style of the era. Add to that a clear sense of progressive sensibilities that allowed the compositions to spiral into sophisticated layers of tones, timbres and labyrinthine constructs that eschewed the predictable tritone fury and instead created journeys into a more surreal sonicscape.

With two distinct album slices called “SIde Terror” and “Side Funeral,” INFIDEL ART opens with “Izuna” which displays some connections to the black metal world, it doesn’t take long for the copious piano rolls and symphonic touches to usurp the existential angst and instead create a lush form of progressive rock. Tracks like “Desolation” get even weirder as it lollygags slowly down a lamenting trajectory at a funeral doom metal’s pace only accompanied by lush atmospheric orchestration, classical piano riffs and even eerie theremin sounds creating a haunting vibe. The vocal performances eschew singing for the most part with some sort of declarative poetic prose only half-sung which after listening to this so closely after reviewing Dødheimgard’s magnum opus “A Umbra Omega,” it becomes perfectly clear exactly where the inspiration behind that album originated from which makes SIGH a significant early band of influential prowess for the avant-garde splintering off bands of the black metal world who also quickly tired of the one-dimensional nature of the most simplistic paradigms and went for the avant-garde jugular.

The longest track “The Last Elegy” at 10 and a half minutes begins like a symphony from the 1700s in all its authenticity before morphing into a doom metal monster that sounds a bit like My Dying Bride only with classical keyboards replacing the lugubrious string sounds of the violin. The track ratchets up both the metal and symphonic touches as well as becoming more progressive with a continuing parade of musical motifs building intensity with interesting call and response vocal sections as well as a more upbeat Black Sabbath guitar riffing section. The album continues with not one but TWO more tracks that just miss the ten minute mark with a continuation of the classical music motifs fortified by both doom and black metal styles all decked out symphonic touches and progressive build ups that explode into thundering climactic resolutions. I’ve never considered INFIDEL ART to be one of SIGH’s best works but after a few more listens lately this album has gotten under my skin and for those who aren’t black metal purists and appreciate the dexterity of genre juggling so perfectly performed then you can’t go wrong with this album. Not quite as adventurous as some of the future albums but what this album lacks in sheer diversity of musical styles, it more than makes up for in top notch compositions that find the perfect balance between beautiful melodies and metal bombast although tamped down to the doom metal variety for the majority of the album’s run.

LED ZEPPELIN Led Zeppelin

Album · 1969 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.18 | 98 ratings
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Dellinger
What a great solid debut for a band, no wonder they became one of the greatest bands so fast. Even though not all of it's songs are among my favourites from the band, there's no denying they are all strong ones. Going from blues, to folk, to hard rock, even to sort of psyquedelic, it is varied and enjoyable. My absolute favourite here is "Babe, I'm gonna leave you", a very hard rocking one even if it is full of acoustic passages. "Dazed and Confused" is another great hard rocker, and "Your time is gonna come" and "Black Mountain Side" are a pair of nice folkier songs. All in all, I can hardly think of many more bands that started their discography with such a strong release.

KORN Korn

Album · 1994 · Nu Metal
Cover art 3.68 | 32 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Perhaps more than any other band other than Nirvana, KORN (stylized as KoЯn) completely changed the world of metal music with a style that was equally loathed as it was eagerly embraced by an appetite for everything alternative in the early 90s. This Bakersfield, CA band only formed in 1993 and after one simple demo tape and a few live gigs already found itself with a record contract and was releasing its first album from the very next year in 1994. This was the era when glam metal and everything 80s was being thrown out the window and suddenly anything that sounded new and alternative was skyrocketing up the charts and laughing all the way to the bank. KoЯn was very much riding this new wave of deemphasizing hairspray fueled bands that cranked out cheesy ballads along with high-fueled guitar solos which started to get a little stale by the early 90s and KoЯn positioned itself to jump on the scene at the very right time.

With its eponymous debut album KoЯn dropped a bomb on the world with a completely new metal paradigm that put the ultimate face on the exploding world of the everything alternative world of the 90s. With the appearances of a schizoid hip hop group playing a down-tuned grunge funk, this band adopted the aggressive guitar angst of alternative metal and mixed into elements of hip hop, funk, industrial and grunge. One of the more notable attributes of the nu metal sound was the use of seven-stringed guitars that were down-tuned to sound more like a bass. The use of DJ’s and samplings also blurred the lines between electronic music like techno and turntablism and once KoЯn dropped its bomb on an unsuspecting world, the aftermath left old bands in the dust with glam metal going extinct and older extreme metal bands following in the wake by crafting more alternative sounding albums throughout the 90s. Coupled with the creepy themes like child abuse, drug use and bullying, this album struck a few nerves at the time.

KoЯn’s debut album had somewhat of a slow start commercially and while sales weren’t stellar in the beginning, the band did launch a tidal wave of nu wave metal bands that followed. With acts like Coal Chamber and Limp Bizkit getting into the act the genre was picking up steam rather intensely and KoЯn’s debut album finally hit the album charts and subsequently was certified gold. While forming in Bakersfield, the band moved together in Huntington Beach in the LA area where they crafted all the songs for their debut and even at that stage were attracting crowds just from the rehearsals in their garage which clearly was a sign that the band was honing in on the zeitgeist of the era. It seems that Nirvana pretty much changed the musical compass to point towards anything with a grungy sound and KoЯn took that sound into completely different areas.

While many consider this debut to be the band’s best effort, i’m completely in opposition to those claims as i find that the band hadn’t really quite honed its own idiosyncratic sound so perfectly quite yet. While the down-tuned dueling guitar riffs, the grungy yet funkified bass and atmospheric backdrops had already gestated into the mid-tempo nu metal style that eschewed guitar solos and focused on heavy syncopation and Jonathon Davis’ agro-metal vocal deliveries coupled with the detached introverted utterances, the KoЯn exhibited many of its influences clearly on its sleeves as well. Sometimes a little too clearly for my personal liking. True that the album has the rawest nu metal sound before the sub-genre became quite popular and subsequently over-produced but i personally find that the albums that had all slick production techniques to suit this style of metal quite perfectly. Commercial yes and in many cases pathetic, but KoЯn is one of the bands from this era that i actually like quite much.

The album starts off fairly well with the bass driven funk grooves, twin guitar assaults and the insane asylum vocal styles that alternate with the sedated semi-whispers. The tracks all have that classic nu metal nonchalant way of keeping things mid-tempo but heavily distorted with a rather unimpressive percussive drive that merely keeps the beat. One of the more interesting aspects of KoЯn is the use of bagpipes as heard on the beginning of “Shoots And Ladders.” The band certainly came up with an original sound however as the album carries on it becomes more obvious that one of the primary influences was “The Real Thing” album by Faith No More at least in the guitar riffing department with Davis’ cleaner vocal styles emulating Mike Patton on many occasions.

Overall KoЯn’s debut album is not a bad one and single-handedly change the metal paradigm throughout the 90s. Personally i find this debut to be a bit on the long side with a few too many Faith No More worship sessions and the irritating silence that finds creepy abused kid sounds into the seventeen minutes is a bit too much. I think the band’s future releases are much more interesting and more diverse however there’s no denying that it all started here and that the earlier tracks starting with “Blind” up to “Shoots And Ladders” are all pretty cool. This is actually an album that i wafer on quite a bit. Sometimes it sounds brilliant and other times it completely turns me off but as a music critic who judges things fairly by their merits it do have to say that this is fairly unique and even the nu metal acts that jumped on the bandwagon didn’t display their brand of alternative nation with the same amount of finesse. This is lower on my list solely due to the fact that the string of albums that follow are much more consistently pleasant.

STONED JESUS First Communion

Album · 2010 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 5 ratings
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STONED JESUS is one of the legions of stoner metal bands that has emerged since the genre took off in the early 90s when bands like Sleep and Earth were really starting to slow things down in the metal world which created a whole lot of breathing room for fuzzy doom metal riffing to reverberate to high heaven (or hell) and focus on gloomy atmospheric constructs over compositional fortitude. While most of the early bands like Kyuss, Electric Wizard, Trouble, Melvins, Sleep and Elder were from the English speaking world, other nations quickly jumped on board with bands like Boris from Japan, Spiritual Beggars from Sweden and Italy’s Ufomammut. Add to the list a whole bunch of acts that from behind the former Iron Curtain and there seems no end in sight.

One of these bands that emerged from the remote outbacks of Eastern Europe was the wickedly cool named STONED JESUS which formed in Kiev, Ukraine where they took the traditional doom aspects of early Black Sabbath and married it with the heavier psych and stoner qualities of more recent bands. The band was founded in 2009 by Igor Sydorenko (guitar, vocals), Nik Kobold (bass) and Alexander EphirZ (drums). The band released a demo soon after forming and wasted no time cranking up the guitar riffs and channeling the zeitgeist of early Sabbath. The debut album FIRST COMMUNION emerged in 2010 on the Solitude label. After the band’s sound expanded past the homeland, the album was released on the German label Nasoni which launched these guys into the international playground.

Now a former Soviet nation is hardly the first place that comes to mind when considering Sabbath inspired stoner metal but the guys in STONED JESUS have done their homework quite well and proudly display their amazing delivery of Anglo-oriented 70s inspired doom and gloom. FIRST COMMUNION is a retro sounding album through and through and could actually pass as some lost early session of Black Sabbath. First of all, Igor’s vocal style is a dead ringer for Ozzy Osbourne and nails all those nasal articulations perfectly. Likewise his guitar riffs evoke the earliest occult fueled grooves of Tony Iommi although his guitar playing is limited to riffing without too many accompanying solos. In fact many of the four tracks, three of which exceed the ten minute mark are in for the slow burn, that meaning cyclical riffs repeat almost ad infinitum until the hypnotic spell is finally broken by a chord change or some vocal utterances.

The bass and drum provide the grooves while the guitar generally adds higher register counterpoints. It really does sound like a Sabbath rehearsal circa 1969 where someone resurrected the primitive recordings and remastered them with cleaner production values and then laced with all the stoner modernisms heard in more modern bands like Sleep or Electric Wizard. Stoner metal can be rather generic and STONED JESUS certainly falls into that trap on FIRST COMMUNION. For my money this is way too derivative of early Sabbath and although the band imitates the early pioneers to great effect, what this trio fails to delivery are classy compositions that find new layers of doomy stoner vibes to layer upon the influences of yore. While i have to admit that stoner metal is not my first love in the metal universe, the best bands within its jurisdiction have really stood out for a reason and STONED JESUS unfortunately fails to do just that. A nice hypnotic background sort of music but as an active listening experience i find this album a bit ordinary.

NILE Black Seeds of Vengeance

Album · 2000 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 25 ratings
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"Black Seeds of Vengeance" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US death metal act Nile. The album was released through Relapse Records in September 2000. There have been a couple of lineup changes since the release of "Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka (1998)" as drummer Pete Hammoura was forced to leave Nile as a result of an injury he sustained while touring in support of the debut album. He plays on "To Dream of Ur", but other than that the drums are played by session drummer Derek Roddy (Malevolent Creation, Hate Eternal, Council of the Fallen, Serpents Rise...). Second guitarist/vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade is new in the lineup. The lineup is completed by Karl Sanders (guitars, vocals, keyboards) and Chief Spires (bass, vocals) who are the only remaining members from the lineup who recorded "Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka (1998)". Only a few months after the release of "Black Seeds of Vengeance", Chief Spires would also jump ship.

So "Black Seeds of Vengeance" was created in a period of lineup turmoil, but that´s not really audible when listening to the album, which is cleverly crafted and skillfully played. The album features 12 tracks and a full playing time of 42:55. Some tracks are fast-paced, technical, and initially quite chaotic sounding like "Defiling the Gates of Ishtar" and the title track, while others are more heavy and epic like "The Black Flame" and "To Dream of Ur". In addition to the "regular" metal tracks, the album also features shorter instrumental middle eastern sounding interludes. The ancient egypt lyrical themes are explained in detail in the booklet which features extensive liner notes for each track. Along with the generally dark atmosphere, the middle eastern instrumental parts, the in depth description of the lyrics provide the overall listening experience with great impact.

The band are highly skilled musicians, and every note is played with great passion and conviction. High speed precision drumming, fast-paced guitar riffs and screaming atonal solos, and brutal growling vocals delivered by three different vocalists. The vocals are predominantly very low range and unintelligible, but there is the occasional word or phrase which are intelligible. The sound production is generally powerful, raw, and detailed, but a more organic bass drum sound and a more intense guitar tone, could have made it even better. Those are only minor issues though, and "Black Seeds of Vengeance" is overall a great sounding release.

So upon conclusion "Black Seeds of Vengeance" is a high quality sophomore studio album by Nile, which sees them developing their sound even further towards something unique. It´s raw, filthy, and chaotic sounding, but at the same time highly sophisticated and structurally complex, which is a hard balance that Nile strike perfectly. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

NUCLEAR ASSAULT The Plague

EP · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 10 ratings
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"The Plague" is an EP release by US, New York based thrash metal act Nuclear Assault. The EP was released through Combat Records in 1987 (recorded late 1986/early 1987). It bridges the gap between the band´s debut- and second full-length studio albums "Game Over (1986)" and "Survive (1988)". The most known track from "The Plague" is probably "Butt Fuck" (which was later retitled "You Figure It Out"), which is dedicated to Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil. Nuclear Assault felt that should have been Neil´s punishment while imprisoned for his late 1984 vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol conviction. Instead Neil was only sentenced to 30 days in jail (of which he only served 15), had to pay a million dollar compensation to the surviving victims of the car crash, and had to do 200 hours of community service.

Stylistically "Butt Fuck" is also a bit different from the rest of the material on the 6 track, 22:15 minutes long EP, as it´s a humourous song which comprise fast-paced hardcore sections, and a pretty silly blues rock middle section. The remaining tracks follow the raw hardcore influenced thrash metal with speed/traditional heavy metal leanings that the band also played on "Game Over (1986)". The opening instrumental "Game Over" and "The Plague" title track stand out the most, but the quality of the material is consistent throughout.

The EP features a raw and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly, and the musicianship is also on a high level on all posts, so upon conclusion "The Plague" is a quality EP release by Nuclear Assault. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

RUSH Hemispheres

Album · 1978 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.34 | 121 ratings
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"Hemispheres" is the 6th full-length studio album by Canadian progressive rock act Rush. The album was released through Mercury Records (US/Europe)/Anthem Records (Canada) in October 1978. It´s the successor to "A Farewell to Kings" from 1977. Rush completed their 9 months long tour in support of "A Farewell to Kings (1977)" in May 1978, and after a very short break, entered Rockfield Studios in Wales in June 1978 with producer Terry Brown, to begin work on material for "Hemispheres". The band entered the studio with no pre-written material and worked tirelessly to write and record throughout June and July 1978, after which they were finally allowed some time off from recording and touring.

Stylistically the material on "Hemispheres" continue the progressive rock style of the predecessor with some natural development of style and sophistication. "Hemispheres" features four tracks. The 18 minutes long "Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres" filled side 1 of the original vinyl version of the album, while the two shorter rockers "Circumstances" and "The Trees" filled side 2 along with the 9 minutes long instrumental album closer "La Villa Strangiato".

"Hemispheres" is a well produced affair and it´s mostly not audible that the band were rushed into the studio with next to no written ideas for songs. But on the other hand neither "Circumstances" nor "The Trees" are the most remarkable tracks in the band´s discography, so maybe the songwriting was rushed just a little bit. The highlights of the album are definitely the long epic i>"Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres" and the playful instrumental "La Villa Strangiato". Even those two tracks could also have featured a more fluent structure, as they are both obviously created using many shorter compositions/pieces of music. I know that´s how Rush also wrote earlier long epics like "2112" and "Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage", but here it just seems more pronounced.

With that minor complaint out of the way, "Hemispheres" is overall another high quality progressive rock release by Rush, and a natural successor to "A Farewell to Kings (1977)". Rush are incredibly well playing and lead vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee reaches helium heights with his voice here like he would never do again. "Hemispheres" is Rush most progressive hour, and after this album they would tone down the progressive playing style a bit and focus on a more subtle (or at least less focused on technical playing) progressive rock style (with exceptions). A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

КРОДА Поплач мені, річко...

Album · 2004 · Pagan Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The Ukrainian black metal scene has been quite prolific since the dawn of the nation’s independence from the Soviet stranglehold that ended in the early 90s. While bands like Nokturnal Mortem, Drudkh and Lutomysl may be the most recognizable names of the scene, there are literally dozens more that are lurking in the underground of one of Europe’s most prolific regions outside of Scandinavia. The Lviv based KRODA has been around since 2003 and in that time span has produced some fine high quality epic folk infused Pagan black metal with catchy melodic hooks that takes the listener into the darkened Pagan ritualistic lands of the Carpathian mountain range.

Formed by Eisenslav (vocals, bass) and Viterzgir (guitars, bass, folk instruments, keyboards), the moniker KRODA ( КРОДА ) was chosen and taken from Old East Slavic language which means “The Fire of Burial Bonfire” which refers to the point when the souls of deceased warriors were set free through the burning process. At this stage the band was only a duo. This debut release Поплач мені, річко... (Cry To Me, River...) was released in 2004 on Stellar Winter as a cassette that only found 1000 copies being recorded but has since found its way onto both CD and vinyl along with bonus tracks on a variety of record labels.

Поплач мені, річко... (Cry To Me, River…) was not an early demo release but rather a full-length album that contained eight tracks and a running time of 48 minutes. Similar to other atmospheric black metal bands, KRODA implemented the standard black metal goods such as hyperspeed tremolo guitar riffing, blitzkrieg blastbeat drumming and the expected raspy vocals buried beneath the pummeling resembling more the croaking raspiness of Inquisition rather than the frenetic screams of the Norwegian scene. The uniqueness of the band however comes from the beautiful Ukrainian folk melodies brought forth by the keyboard runs that add the gloomy mysterious fog of atmospheric cloud covers. Adding to the folky flavors are the flutes which exude the Pagan ritualistic vibes that act alone or with the addition of the metal bombast.

While all the instrumentation is performed by just Eisenslav and Viterzgir, the album has a full-band sound where all the elements are perfectly fused together much like neighboring Negura Bunget’s stellar contributions with its own brand of Pagan folk black metal. Despite being an early album by a duo that had only been together for a year, the album sounds well seasoned with excellent compositions that find the somewhat new age flute runs and the orotundity of the black metal coexisting in an unthinkable truce. The production is perfectly crafted as well with only the occasional keyboard run sounding a bit cheesy but overall they keys are integrated quite well and create the perfect murky backdrop to the stampede of the galloping guitar riffs. Add to that the bass is actually audible as well, which is fairly good thing for a muddy distortion-fest like this. Also the drumming is not only frenetic and relentless but is also quite varied which gives the album an even greater intensity.

The band’s tracks at this stage are all in the native Ukrainian language but the themes primarily deal with heathenism, history, nature, traditions and the favorite subject of black metal, anti-Christianity. The album is uncanny in that it pretty much has two distinct things going on. The Pagan folk is always fluttering around in the background while the black metal creates a counterpoint around it but the flute and keys have moments when they are allowed to pierce the veil and become the emphasis whereas mostly the metal parts are the dominant force. This is an excellent debut by one of the Ukraine’s more talented metal bands and a great beginning for a lengthy career that continues. While other bands like Nokturnal Mortem use folk music as a flavor to wrap around the metal, it seems as if KRODA do the opposite and craft the black metal riffs around the folk melodies. A perfect example is the instrumental Hypocrisy cover “Apocalypse” that ends the album with a slowed down symphonic cooling down with only guitar chords that eschew the freneticism of the album’s prior tracks. Great album!

YOB Elaborations of Carbon

Album · 2002 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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The chiefly British slang term YOB refers to a rowdy, aggressive or even violent young man but in the musical world of metal it refers to the Eugene, Oregon based band that was founded in 1996 by vocalist / guitarist and band leader Mike Scheidt who would undergo a few lineup changes over the two decade plus career that is still going strong. Crafting a sound that fits perfectly with the bad boy moniker, YOB has been instrumental in creating a unique fusion of the triumvirate of traditional doom, stoner and sludge metal with the extra elements of psychedelic space rock and occasional progressive elements.

After a short eponymous EP released in 2000, the band signed to 12th Records in Spokane, WA and recorded and released this debut ELABORATIONS OF CARBON which finds the trio of Mike Scheidt (vocals, guitar), Lowell Iles (bass) and Gabe Morley (drums) cranking out a stomping slo-mo stampede of metal fury that delivers an abundance of slow plodding doom ridden guitar riffs with all the peachy fuzzies of an entire orchard decked out with an interesting decorative display of creativity in action. The album contains only six tracks that stretch out just over the 70 minute mark with the monstrously long “Revolution” sneaking over the 17 minute mark and the insomnia inducing “Asleep In Samsara” which is just shy of 17. This is a band in no hurry as the members nonchalantly exhibit their miscreancy in high decibalage.

Through this parade of darkened thick doom riffs that plod along in a detuned defiance, YOB creates the ultimate paradox of hypnotic repetition and head banging uproar and includes Black Sabbath darkened doom, Neurosis infused slamming sludge and Sleep inspired stoner steadfastness. Scheidt’s vocals almost sound like a higher version of Ozzy Osbourne’s nasal articulations as well as some of the riffs imitating the great Tony Iommi’s. Between riffing rampages however there are often slower less distorted segments that exhibit an atmosphere setting sometimes with vocals spoken or sung and sometimes just an instrumental interlude with clean echoey guitars to cleanse the palette of the grimy build up of the incessant chug-fest. Sometimes it just gets truly weird in a psychedelic haze.

While YOB is much better known for its more sophisticated albums to come, ELABORATIONS OF CARBON is nevertheless a decent beginning and although it lacks the production value of the Abstract Sounds years, it more than makes up for it in the DIY rawness of a primeval metal band getting its feet muddy in the mucky murky sludge and at this point YOB already had a firm grasp on its evolution and doesn’t sound like the legions of stoner rock / metal bands that exploded onto the scene in the 90s and beyond. YOB is certainly not a technical type of band but rather provides a viscous soundscape as to get lost in even if it at times its brutality is as heavy as hell especially heard on outrageous bombastic tracks such as “Pain of I” which sounds like an early Neurosis having a hissy fit. All in all, an awesome debut that points the band in the right direction!

FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE Veleno

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Perhaps more than any other extreme metal band on the scene the Rome based Italian band FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE has been the most instrumental in keeping the symphonic branch of death metal in the spotlight and three years after the release of the band’s previous album “King,” returns with a brand spanking new slab of molten technical infused death metal along with the expected piano, choral vocals and operatic symphonic touches. VENENO (Italian for “poison”) is the band’s fifth overall full-length release and it carries on exactly how one would expect, that being an equal rich tapestry of classical music components that scanned the horizons of the past and channeled the compositional fortitude of the masters such as Paganini, Bach, Mozart and whoever else the trio led by Franceso Paoli could incorporate. Of course, for us brutal death metal lovers, it is the bombastic roar of the guitar, bass and drum that created the harsh counterpoints that was the draw with the orchestral parts providing Dr. Jekyll aspect while the Mr. Hyde metal created a neoclassical death metal firestorm.

While VENENO follows suit, what’s instantly noticeable is how the orchestral parts have been tamped down a few notches and take a backseat to the fiery metal fury as heard on the opening “Fury” which completely eschews the long-winded orchestral classical build ups and just gets down to business with heavy crunchy death metal guitar riffs pummeling along at breakneck speed. In fact this is the album that emphasizes the orchestral parts the least of FLESHGOD’s decade long string of albums as they don’t really become a major tour de force until the fifth track “The Praying Mantis’ Strategy” which is a short intermission and respite from the distortion fueled metal that dominated the soundscapes prior with only faint background traces. The symphonic elements carry over to “Worship And Forget” and then slowly retreat to the backdrop again however careful listening reveals that these classical elements are always lurking in the background and the main impetus for constructing the melodic flow, it’s just that on VENENO they are suffocated by the pummeling death metal aspects which gives this album a different feel than its predecessors.

Another aspect that differentiates VENENO from the past is that album hosts a couple of guest musicians with Veronica Bordacchini on vocals and newbie Fabio Bartoletti on more guitars with Francesco Ferrini handling piano and orchestrations, newbie Paoli on vocals, guitars and drums and Paolo Rossi on bass and the sporadic clean vocals that pop up. Once again FLESHGOD creates an album that is graced with the perfect production job that allows the beautiful clean aspects to reverberate perfectly with the filthy raw bombast of the death metal that doesn’t sound too polished. Perhaps it comes off as a little muddy at times, especially in the opening tracks but i think that’s what the band was going for this time around. A full string quartet, a classical percussionist and a Baroque choir provide the symphonic touches and once again seamlessly meld with the death metal. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the album is the closest thing to a ballad the band has ever created in the form of “Pissing On The Score” which starts off as an opera with Veronica Bordacchini’s diva tenor vocal talents taking the lead and then turns into a beauty and the beast duet. The track sounds more like something from Phantom of the Opera and never integrates the death metal. Hmmm… could these be a new phase? If so i don’t like it but it’s not bad as a one off for contrast.

All in all, VENENO is yet another exciting chapter in the FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE universe that continues the band’s now rather infamous mashup of death metal and classical elements and tweaks them into a slightly different sounding album. VENENO is by no means going to win over any fans who have already fled the growly vocal fueled bombast of the death metal paradigm but neither will it offend those who have already signed up for the fan club. VENENO delivers all the expected goods and despite a feeling of the recycled riffs and overall feel of been there done that, VENENO cranks out enough spontaneity to keep my interest while retreading the rather lonely niche of performing extreme bombastic death metal with a full symphonic orchestra integrated. The performances on VENENO are top notch and although the ballad is the one track i could live without, the album is chock full of beautiful melodies and ugly brutality all swirled together like a copulating yin yang sign at the circus and for me that’s good enough. While the actual album ends with the Chopin inspired title track which is mostly a piano workout, some albums include two bonus tracks including the Rammsteain cover of “Reise Reise” which is quite an interesting take on the German industrial band’s 2004 song from the album of the same name. VENENO is yet another great album from FLESHGOD!

XUL Malignance

Album · 2012 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 3 ratings
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The metal universe continues to evolve and then splinter off into new sub-genera but then these distinct styles often cross-pollinate and a completely new distinct style emerges from the unholy union. There’s power this, symphonic that and then voila symphonic power metal! Well, same thing happened with black and death metal. While early death metal bands were distinguishing themselves from thrash, bands like Sweden’s Dissection were adding the blackened elements of Bathory and Mayhem to their punishing death metal compositions and a new (unofficial) genre was gestated into existence. Even within the blackened death metal scene there are two distinct styles. There’s the fusion where the black metal elements reign supreme and this style is referred to as war metal (also war black metal or bestial black metal) and the other being melodic black death.

Of the most recognizable blackened death metal bands of the melodic variety in the noughts has been Poland’s Behemoth whose distinct tirade of black metal suddenly crossed over into death metal turf starting with its 1999 album “Satanica” and continued rampantly up to 2009’s “Evangelion.” Another distinguished band that has perfectly mastered the Behemoth sound of this era and made it their own is the Vernon, British Columbia based XUL, whose name is a dead give away as to its primary influence is as the moniker is derived from the title which is a track off of Behemoth’s landmark 2005 album “Demigod” which featured the bands most aggressive and technical vital performances of its career before slowly drifting elsewhere due to Nergal’s health problems. XUL is one of those bands that REALLY delivers the goods with its 2012 debut album MALIGNANCE. The album was originally self-released and then found a much more fitting remastered re-release in 2015 on Redefining Darkness Records complete with completely different cover art.

XUL formed in the backwoods of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada in 2008 with the lineup of Marlow Deiter (bass), Lowell Winters (drums), Wallace Huffman (guitar), Bill Ferguson (guitar, vocals) and Levi Meyers (vocals). XUL deliver a no nonsense style of bombastic blackened death metal much like Behemoth dished out on “Demigod” with all the rampaging energetic drive, outstandingly sharp dueling guitars with sizzling uncompromising riffs and melodic squeal laden solos. The bass and drums provide the frenetic rhythm section with a ferocity reserved only for the most ambitious adrenaline seekers making to Possessed’s “Seven Churches” or the albums from Dissection as well as the aforementioned Behemoth era. The vocal rage of Meyers is a dead ringer of Neural at his most blackened and deathly and although the Behemoth comparisons convey a lot of the band’s overarching goal, XUL succeeds and sounding like more than a mere Behemoth clone. The compositions are similarly structured but engage more melodic bursts of rhythmic drive and frequent calming down effects of acoustic guitar segments.

The original 2012 album contained eight tracks but the remastered 2015 re-released offered the bonus track “Venomous Inquisition” which was re-recorded from the demo. All the tracks are monstrous powerhouses with none really standing out over the others. The flow of the album is as debilitating as the best of the old school death metal classics and the musicianship is as good as it gets. The melodic touches keep the tracks accessible but this is some of the most brutal sort of death metal you can experience however the blackened touches definitely give this a raw and underground feel. I’ve experienced both the original album as well as the remastered second coming and the newer one is definitely of a more professional production quality without sounding too polished. For anyone who loves the relentless blackened death metal of Behemoth’s “Demigod” era, then this will be right up your alley. It’s almost like the album they never released and redone by a band in another dimension. Faithful yet not a complete clone. Personally i love this sound. It’s catchy and dramatic for the entire ride.

DARKTHRONE Old Star

Album · 2019 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 2 ratings
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Perhaps Arctic Thunder was just something Darkthrone had to get out of their system - a necessary creative purging before moving on to this. Old Star sounds much more like the followup to The Underground Resistance that a lot of us were expecting than Arctic Thunder does. Whereas the latter album felt more like "blackened heavy metal" than a full-on black metal release, this time around Darkthrone deliver up black metal with a strong influence from the genre's roots in thrash (via Bathory or Venom) and traditional heavy metal (via Mercyful Fate), with more of an emphasis on the thrash this time than on Arctic Thunder. I wouldn't put it above The Underground Resistance, which I consider to be the pinnacle of Darkthrone's current sound, but it's pretty damn good in its own right.

DARKTHRONE Arctic Thunder

Album · 2016 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 7 ratings
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The Underground Resistance saw Darkthrone adopt a sort of "blackened heavy metal" approach, combining their usual grim darkness with juicy riffs reminiscent of the more hard-edged 1980s traditional heavy metal bands. It was pretty good too - a sort of return to the first wave of black metal's approach, with the lessons learned from subsequent decade to hand to add spice.

Arctic Thunder, however, doesn't succeed quite so well. The heavy metal dial is turned up even further, the black metal is dialled back a bit but for the vocals, and perhaps worst of all, whilst the music is entertaining enough, it's not more than that. The overall experience is a bit like sitting in on a practice session of your buddy's band who play in his garage and drink beer and tend to drink a bit more beer than they play actual music and are cool with that, but do a decent job of turning out the material and might have done something more interesting with their talents had they applied themselves.

It's not a bad album, mind - it's fun when you're in the right mood for it - but we know that Darkthrone can do better, even in this general style. Three and a half stars, on the verge of losing that half star at that.

THE PLADS Domine Deus

EP · 1983 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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THE PLADS was an oddball band for the early 1980s. This Ketchikan, Alaska based act with little to no information to be found, strangely seems to have started off as a new wave / power pop act and released a single titled “Calling Girls” in 1982 before adopting a more heavy metal styled approach without actually leaving the new wave aspects behind. The result was a strange musical hybrid of two completely different styles of music that existed side by side but never cross-paths except as separate distinct videos on MTV.

The band’s only release was the 1983 EP 7” vinyl release DOMINE DEUS which displayed classic NWOBHM elements such as on the excellent “Domine Deus” while some tracks like “Amen” sounded more like metallic versions of Oingo Boingo songs complete with the Danny Elfman goofy voice antics. What the album lacks in stylistic consistency, it more than makes up for in super catchy hooks and nails both the metal styles as well as the new wave ones. Despite the NWOBHM tag that many put on this though, the music isn’t really heavy enough to be considered bona fide metal and by today’s standards is really just hard rock with new wave tendencies.

The overall quality of the music is really good and the band had a knack for ridiculous catchy hooks with the musical talent to back it up. Unfortunately the band disappeared nearly as quickly as it emerged like the misty fog that blankets Southeastern Alaska. This sole release has never seen a reissuing and remains an underground obscurity and commanding hefty prices for any copies that happen to end up on the market. This is definitely one i would love to see re-released with any bonus tracks that may still be lurking in the shadows. A real gem actually.

OVERKILL The Wings Of War

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"The Wings Of War" is the 20th full-length studio album by US, New York based thrash/heavy metal act Overkill. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in February 2019. It´s the successor to "The Grinding Wheel" from 2017 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as drummer Ron Lipnicki has been replaced by Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall, Anthrax, Toxik, Flotsam and Jetsam).

"The Wings Of War" pretty much continues the energetic and raw thrash/heavy metal style of "The Grinding Wheel (2017)" (and the style on quite a few albums before that one), with hard edged thrash/groove/heavy metal riffs, blistering solos, and a strong playing rhythm section. It´s sharp, it´s raw, and it´s powerful. The icing on the cake is as always the rusty "fuck you" attitude loaded vocals by lead vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth. His voice is like listening to nails put through a grinder but at the same time he is able to put enough melodic hooks and catchy phrases into the songs, to always keep a good balance between the raw and the more accessible.

There´s little out of the ordinary featured on "The Wings Of War" but all tracks are of a relatively high quality. Highlights include the opener "Last Man Standing", the heavy groove laden "Distortion", and the fast-paced and energetic "Welcome to the Garden State", but all tracks are pretty much of an equal quality and catchiness. The band are as usual incredibly well playing and obviously very passionate about what they do, and that´s one of their greatest assets.

Upon conclusion "The Wings Of War" is yet another high quality release by Overkill and I´m still amazed that they can continue to produce music of this quality, keeping in mind this is their 20th full-length studio album. There have been small ups and downs in quality over the years, but they are more or less the definition of solidity. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DEATH ANGEL Humanicide

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When the title track kicks off the album one starts to wonder if they are in the right place, as it is incredibly Maidenesque, but soon the interplay stops and the guitars are being riffed and again we are exactly where Death Angel want us to be, deep in the world of thrash. This is serious thrash metal, with loads going on with the carpal tunnel guitars, but just listen to Damien Sisson and what he is doing with the bass. He is providing counter melodies, nuances here and there, while at others he is firmly locked in with drummer Will Carroll to provide the heartbeat and foundation of the band. Simply put, this opening five minutes in some of the finest thrash one will ever come across, from a band who have been together in one form or another since 1982!

The guys jut refuse to let up from here on in, and although I loved their last album ‘The Evil Divide’ there is no doubt this one has seen them lift it to a new level. Each song contains real intensity and desire, as they show there is still real venom and passion in all they do. Here is a band who have stuck to their roots and have brought something which reminds me in many ways of Testament’s ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ in the way that it shows a classic band taking the movement to a new level. This is class from start to finish, with hooks, anthemic choruses, even the use of a piano, as they strive to drive the genre onwards and upwards.

Death Angel were there at the very beginning and show no signs whatsoever of slowing down or throwing in the towel. This isn’t a band who are going to keep touring the world living on past glories, but are creating new glories for a whole new generation of fans. Superb.

DEATH ANGEL The Evil Divide

Album · 2016 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
For those unaware of their history, Death Angel were formed back in 1982 in San Francisco, and at one time every member of the band was a blood relative. Lead guitarist Rob Cavestany is the only person still there, and when he formed the band, he was only 14! Lead singer Mark Osegueda didn’t join until a few years later, but the two of them have appeared on every Death Angel release. They will probably always be best remembered for their 1987 debut ‘The Ultra-Violence’ and their third album, ‘Act III’, but Death Angel are one of those bands who don’t know what it is like to release a bad album. Apparently, they are seen as an influence by Metallica, shame we can’t say the same for those guys.

Second guitarist Ted Anguilar joined when the band reformed in 2001, while the rhythm section of Damien Sisson (bass), Will Carroll (drums) both joined in 2009, so by the time of this 2016 album they already had plenty of road miles plus some albums behind them. Guys, the word for the day is “thrash”, which has been associated with these guys throughout their whole career and they see no reason at all to change tack now. In 2018 I was fortunate enough to see these guys support Sepultura, and for me they were the band of the night. Old favourites were aired alongside numbers from this album such as opener “The Moth”, and they certainly stood up well among the likes of “Thrashers”. They know how to slow it down, such as on “Father of Lies” where there is a delicate and restrained bridge and guitar solo, but this is all about thrash metal and putting the hammer down, and when they do there are few who can touch them.

They may not have reached the heights of bands they inspired, but they have stayed true to the faith and this is yet another great example of Death Angel showing everyone they are still here and are refusing to go away, and if they want to use acoustic guitar to provide an emphasis they will!

CHILDREN OF BODOM Hexed

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
The band couldn’t stay as a quartet outside the studio as their sound needs that double hit of guitars, so in 2016 they brought in Daniel Freyberg (ex-Naildown and ex-Norther). It must be a hard job settling in with a group of guys who have been together longer than many marriages, but certainly when it comes to the sound, he seems right at home having spent the last three years on the road with them. Straight from the off on this this record, one thing that is immediately noticeable is the seeming higher presence of keyboard player Janne Warman. Laiho agrees, “Yes, he’s played a big part of every single album, but this time this might seem even more prominent only because of the sounds that he uses. Because the funny thing is that on, let’s say, ‘I Worship Chaos’ or ‘Halo of Blood’, the keyboards were there all the time, but you might not even know that they’re there because he’s doubling my guitars with some insane, super-low octave sound that doesn’t really stick out. So maybe he pops out more on this album, and I guess he has more of a main role in a lot of parts of the songs.”

This album feels more melodic, more commercial in many places, than some of their previous albums and it is hard to know if this is down to the larger emphasis on keyboards, the production, or the new member of the band. Certainly, Raatikainen is hitting the drums as hard as he has for more than quarter of the century, and his double bass blastbeats are there in evidence, but one has to really listen to them as he has been pushed more into the background. The band have used Mikko Karmilla to mix their sound for years, but here it feels muddier and not as clean – it is really noticeable when playing this album straight after the last one, as the sound is quite different indeed. Interestingly the band have also gone back in time and have revisited a song they had recorded before, 2002’s “Knuckleduster”, as it was felt it wasn’t treated correctly first time around. Unfortunately, Laiho didn’t have the lyrics for the verse, so had to write new ones. This is the last song on the album and shows the band with some of their heaviest elements, which contrast well with the keyboards. When Children of Bodom get it right there are few in the world to match them, and even when slightly under par they are one of the best bands in the metallic universe.

Although I would have liked to have heard this with slightly different production, yet again Children of Bodom have produced the goods.

CHILDREN OF BODOM I Worship Chaos

Album · 2015 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 7 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Roope Latvala of Finnish thrash metal band Stone joined Children of Bodom in 2003, after guitarist Alexander Kuoppala decided to leave. This was the only line-up change since the band changed their name from Inearthed back in 1997, but prior to the recording of this album in 2015, Latvala also left. Instead of trying to get someone else into the band in time for the album, it was instead recorded as a quartet for the first time. Given that all these guys were playing together for at least the last 18 years, and drummer Jaska W. Raatikainen and singer/guitarist Alexi "Wildchild" Laiho formed that band back in 1993, the loss of one member doesn’t seem to have phased them too much.

It was back in 2003 when I first came across the band. I had missed out on their first three albums, but ‘Hate Crew Deathroll’ and the opening cut “Needled 24/7” was an immediate hit with me. As for their version of “Oops I Did It Again” (which can be found on their 2009 ‘Skeletons In The Closet’), it is simply awesome and even my kids enjoyed hearing that one in the car. For some reason I don’t think their take on melodic death or melodic black metal has ever really gained the plaudits and attention it should have (although in fairness I do live at the other end of the world and music press is limited, to say the least). This is technical music, incredibly tight with very high note density, and keyboards that may be sat at the back providing a symphonic curtain for the music to be placed against or can be taking the lead in a very metallic manner.

These four guys basically grew up together, firstly in the same small community in Finland, and then on the road together and it shows. This is music which relies totally on everyone knowing their place and combining together to create something special. Laiho may not have another guitarist to play against but he can either trade licks with himself or Janne Warman who is always there when he needs him. I have to smile each time I play “Hold Your Tongue” as it reminds me so much of Slipknot in one sense, and not at all in another.

Melodic, metallic, over the top yet with commerciality, Children of Bodom are still one of the top acts from Finland and this shows why.

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