Metal Music Reviews

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM No Place for Disgrace

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 18 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
No Place For Disgrace is the sophomore full-length album by the cult US Thrash Metal band Flotsam & Jetsam. It was released in 1988 as their old bandmate Jason Newstead was working on Metallica’s …And Justice For All album.

The Phoenix, Arizona band’s musical style here is mostly more or less a direct continuation of that found on their fondly remembered debut album Doomsday For The Deceiver. Its quickfire but not Slayer levels of fast. Its not succinct but never progressive. Its got melody but isn’t overly sugary or radio-pleasant. It reminds me a little bit of Death Angel’s The Ultraviolence at times.

Highlights include the Title Track, especially when it breaks down to a soft section where singer Eric AK describes a man killing himself via hari kari (hence the album’s artwork) as well as the brief instrumental ‘The Jones’ and ‘I Live, You Die’ which is perhaps the fastest song on the album and has some of the finest guitar work.

On an interesting note, there is a rather odd decision here to cover Elton John’s ‘Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting’ which does hold some gimmick value but doesn’t really match the rest of the material.

Compared to some of the more famous bands like Exodus or Anthrax or Overkill or Megadeth, Flotsam & Jetsam are maybe lacking something in character, however they are far from the most generic or forgettable band to play Thrash. A possible exception to this would be the very fun, PMRC-baiting track ‘Hard On You’ which is arguably the catchiest track they’ve made to this point. For me this track, as well as the improved production job, arguably tip this album over their debut, which admittedly was more charming than this at least.

If you like Thrash and want to try something less obvious, this is definitely worth checking out. If you are interested in the band, this is definitely the first album of theirs I’d recommend for you check out (unless you’re just in it for the Newstead connection in which case although some songs were still co-written by him here, the debut he actually plays on is the more obvious way to go).

ANTHRAX Live: The Island Years

Live album · 1994 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.55 | 7 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Live: The Island Years is a live album by the American Thrash Metal legends Anthrax, it was released in 1994 as a sort of finale or closure of the band’s successful and critically acclaimed Joey Belladonna era, as the band had recently started a new era with John Bush.

It is not one continuous concert all the way through but rather it is two sections; firstly the soundtrack to their Live Noize video, recorded in concert in California in 1991 and then there is a second section which was recorded for radio in New York, live in the studio, added on at the end. You can think of it as two shows cobbled together or you can think of it as them adding some extra value for money onto Live Noize… its up to you.

It is a bit jarring the change between one show and the next, and again the change in sound between the two recordings and productions and mixes, but this is still less jarring than one of those live albums where there’s a different show from a different city as every track, and you do get two well flowing shows in and of themselves.

In terms of track listing, there’s two tracks from their ‘Killer Bs album (A Kiss cover in ‘Parasite’ and the smash hit Public Enemy cover/collaboration ‘Bring The Noise’ fleshed out by Flava Flav who guests here singing part of his own ‘Too Much Posse.’). There’s also one Neil Turban era tune in the form of ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’. The rest of the material is drawn from their four Joey Belladonna era albums. There’s thirteen tracks in total, although annoyingly Spreading The Disease era gem ‘A.I.R.’ is for some reason randomly split across two tracks in an awkward way, which also makes the track order on the back wrong as it doesn’t take this split into account. There’s still thirteen songs however because ‘Too Much Posse’ is not on its own track by itself.

I guess you could complain that four of the tracks are covers (if you are counting ‘Too Much Posse’) or that maybe some of your favourite songs aren’t included but then that’s offset by having a lot of the big singles and concert favourites from Among The Living and Persistence Of Time such as ‘Caught In A Mosh,’ ‘Indians,’ ‘I Am The Law,’ ‘In My World’ and ‘Keep It In The Family’ and a few surprises too. (Hey, who’d have expected a deep cut off of State Of Euphoria? But the album closes with ‘Now Its Dark’).

That’s some great live Thrash Metal from such a classic band during their golden period. In terms of performance, things are accordingly entertaining. Its got a great live feel and isn’t slick or heavily overdubbed and squeaky clean. It feels fun and raw and realistically live (without sounding rough or ramshackle either by the way). The guitar solos have a real energy and aren’t exactly the same as on the albums, Joey singing Neil’s song is interesting, the band having fun geeking out to Kiss is interesting, its all got a sort of atmosphere of fun. I guess they were the band who were noted for always laughing and for example dressing up in beach shorts instead of making themselves grim and serious.

Yes it came out a bit too late and might’ve appeared either like a cash in or like a snub to the Bush era to some fans. Yes, the packaging may seem a bit rushed and cheap. Yes it is two shows mashed together and one of those is in a studio not a proper concert. Yes, 30% of the setlist wasn’t written by Anthrax. However if you like Anthrax and want to hear the band live back in their heyday its still an absolutely worthwhile addition to your collection. There’s some great tunes, some fiery performances, a fairly decent amount of content and a more than adequate live sound job. I feel it does a good job of sitting as a nice full-stop on the Belladonna era.

There are better Anthrax live albums available nowadays; Music Of Mass Destruction (with Bush circa We Have Come For You All) and Alive 2 (from the 2005 Belladonna reunion tour) are particularly recommended. If you only have a limited interest or amount of money then this wouldn’t be the main one I’d recommend, but if you do have an predisposition to check this out I’d definitely state ‘don’t be put off, give it a go!’

ARGUS From Fields of Fire

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
My introduction to Argus came with their second album, Boldly Stride The Doomed, an album that received such universal praise it was impossible to not want to check it out. My initial impressions were good but it was to take a few plays before it really hit home with its combination of doom and old school metal. After a while though I couldn’t leave it alone and it became a firm favourite in my collection. Its follow up, Beyond The Martyrs arrived in 2013 and listening to that after BSTD I have to admit it was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, it was good, sometimes very good but they’d reduced the doom element which might have been part of the reason but overall some of the songs lacked that killer punch, only occasionally reaching the greatness of its predecessor.

Roll on to 2017 and From Fields Of Fire arrives on my doorstep. See, I still had enough faith to buy it without hearing first and I’m very happy to say that I don’t regret it. After the short acoustic instrumental Into The Fields Of Fire, Devils Of Your Time is a good omen of what’s to come. The old school metal vibe of past work is retained as it moves along at a fair pace, rolling double kick drums pushing it along overlaid by compelling staccato riffing and a well thought out solo, i.e., not just a blur of fast notes. Brian ‘Butch’ Balich’s vocals are the icing on the cake, an excellent singer in the classic 80’s metal mould of which there aren’t enough of these days. This is epic stuff! The galloping As A Thousand Thieves is more of the same, maintaining the momentum and only marginally missing the mark set by Devils Of Your Time. As the album progresses it becomes clear that the doom element that added greatly to Boldly Stride The Doomed has been pretty much ditched, but this time it’s not missed as they’ve really upped their game on the strength of the compositions as one after another the hook laden songs keep coming. By today’s standards this is not particularly heavy when you compare it to the more extreme metal that’s prevalent. This album screams 1980’s in style and delivery and if it had come out then it would have seemed heavier and they’d have been massive. However, there’s not too many bands doing this stuff, particularly so well, at the moment so it’s like a breath of fresh air with an organic production in keeping with the vibe.

This album beats Beyond The Martyrs, not only because the songs are better but also with its sheer consistency, with no weak tracks to speak of. As with most albums though it has its highlights. One of these comes mid album with the eleven minute plus Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors which has plenty in common with Iron Maiden in their more epic moments – the Maiden comparisons being nothing new to this band. This dynamic and dual guitar work of Dave Watson and Jason Mucio is key to this and indeed the whole albums overall success. Another highlight is the slow build of No Right To Grieve, the only time anything approaching doom appears. For the most part its slow and melancholic and whilst it throws in a few doomy power chords it’s not doom per se.

Argus have really excelled expectations here. I never doubted it would be good but with From Fields Of Fire they’ve made an album at least the equal of Boldly Stride The Doomed. Some may even think it better. For me, I’m on the fence.

MONGE Monge

Demo · 2013 · Black Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Holyfuckingshit!

THIS is the reason I listen to metal. Occasionally, just very occasionally, something is thrown at you which is so unexpected and so intense it reinvigorates your lust for metal. As a rule, I’d rather listen to a noisecore demo which sounds like someone has thrown a pizza on a turntable and then dropped the needle on it than to subject myself to almost anything from the black metal underground. Atmosphere is something to breathe not listen to, symphonies are best kept for orchestras, and the old gods are as praiseworthy as the tooth fairy.

And so I approached Monge’s self-titled demo with much trepidation, investigating only because it is a side project of Brazilian grindcore band Facada.

The acoustic intro “Descending into the Deepest Abyss of the Self and Deny the Creator of Lands and Seas” is pretty ho-hum. Silly title, competently performed, but nothing much to write home about.

But then, “The Doctrine of Transcendental Invocation” blasts out of the speakers, and “Monge” is transformed into something sublime. All preconceptions are instantly vaporised. This is red-meat-dripping-blood raw black metal, a direct descendant of early Bathory and Mayhem. As with all the best raw black metal, it has buzzsaw guitars, lightning fast drums, and throat shredding vocals. The five tracks following the intro stick strictly to this formula, but it is hardly formulaic, because it is so viciously, convincingly carried off.

The only time this formula seems to change even slightly is on “Summoning the Lords of Tragedies Storm”, which seems to veer more towards crust-tinged grind, punctuated with incredible black metal blasting, and fades out into the only atmospheric passage of the entire demo, a rumbling rainstorm.

The cover of Rotting Christ’s “The Signal of the Evil Existence” is the coup de grace. The song is a perfect choice, made all the more so as the Greek gothic black metal masters began their humble existence as a grindcore band. Monge make it their own.

These three grind freaks could teach even the most frostbitten and grim tr00 kvlt high priest of black metal that the darkness and evil can still return without the extra-curricular fuckwittery of church burning, murder, and National Socialism. This is truly inspiring, violent extreme metal.

ACCEPT The Rise of Chaos

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Accept’s last album, ‘Blind Rage’, reached #1 in Germany and Finland, as well as several top 10 positions; Czech Republic, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and last but not least, the US. For a band that released their debut back in the Seventies, and have been following a fairly uncompromising path ever since, that is quite an achievement. So why change something that obviously works? This is straight forward basic heavy metal that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1983’s ‘Balls To The Wall’, but they know what their audience wants. One thing I have always liked about Accept is that one knows exactly what the album is going to sound like when the CD gets into the player, and by using Andy Sneap as producer one is also guaranteed that the production quality is going to be of the very highest order.

If you like Accept then you’ll enjoy this, and if you haven’t come across them before as you have been residing down a hobbit hole, then basic HM doesn’t get any better than this. Good and solid without being essential.

SEPTICFLESH Codex Omega

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
As the Greek economy continues to crumble into the eternal fires of Hades threatening to take down the entire European Union in its wake, a few signs of life still resonate from the fertile Hellenic soils amongst the olive stomping ceremonies and the esoteric speeches of Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis explaining in great detail how in vivid detail of how we’re all just plain fucked. There is no doubt that extreme metal bands were ahead of this umpteenth wave of eternal doom and pessimism on the nature of humanity’s utter stupidity and some such as Greek’s own SEPTICFLESH have constructed a soundtrack or two in its honor even in the most remote nooks and crannies of this here global village.

Although the list of symphonic death metal bands isn’t huge ( i think the list only includes Aeternam, Arch Of Hell, Atrocity, Brymir, Dark Lunacy, Dawn Of Tears, Depressed Mode, Dissonance In Majesty, Dominia, Empyrean, Eternal Tears Of Sorrow, Ex Duo, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Gorgon, Hollenthon, Inactive Messiah, Irreversible Mechanism, Kalisia, Karlahan, Mayan, Meadow’s End, Mechina, Odes Of Ecstasy, Ouroboros, Persefone, Red Descending, The Monolith Deathcult, SEPTICFLESH, Serenity In Murder, Shade Empire, Sidious, Skyfire, Waltari, Whispered, Whorlion, Wintersun, Vesania, Xerath ) because of the short time it has had to branch off of its parent death metal world, SEPTICFLESH was well ahead of this game in the field of having incorporated symphonic touches to their extreme metal passions all the way back on their second album “Έσοπτρον” in 1995.

Since then the band has dipped in and out of the symphonic atmospheric world of metal and opted for death doom or Gothic metal at times but starting with 2003’s “Sumerian Daemons,” the band latched onto a symphonic death metal sound all their own. Whereas some of the aforementioned bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse for example went for a brutal death metal approach with a philharmonic aggressiveness to back it up, SEPTICFLESH went for a more traditional death metal sound with an orchestra to primarily add atmospheric touches. Following three years after their tenacious symphonic taste of bombast “Titan,” the Greeksters conjure up another dose of high octane fueled death metal meets a full orchestra on their 10th studio album CODEX OMEGA which pretty much continues down the path of full return without much to add, however when the elements of impending doom lifted so gracefully by the Czech Republic’s FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague, gosh the apocalypse just doesn’t seem so bad!

SEPTICFLESH are masters of codifying the opposing forces of bombastic death metal and lush symphonic classical music into allies which united somehow bring a form of musical harmony to the universe. Stylistically CODEX EFFECT isn’t much different than the previous offering “Titan.” Both contain exquisitely hideous cover art, death metal bombast punctuated by the charismatic growls (and clean vocal declarations) of Spiros Antoniou and death metal riffing and percussive blastbeats that could conjure up ALLLL the mosh pitting demons of the world. They also contain the most sensual atmospheric symphonic effects possible even accompanied by a complete choir that despite existing on polar opposites of the musical spectrum somehow perform the great dance together although both musical realities are in reality subordinate to the nexus of Antoniou’s beastly and charismatic domination.

However, despite the similarities between CODEX EFFECT and “Titan,” there remains one fundamental difference. That being that despite everything “Titan” had going for it, it was lacking in the most basic prerequisite of all, namely interesting compositions. Apparently the band got the memo about this trivial little faux pas and decided to correct the matter in the three year gap and succeeds in creating a very listenable album indeed.

One of my main gripes with SEPTICFLESH is that they produce outstanding music that culminates on the first side of the album and then slowly fizzles out into generic forgetfulness. They seem to be the symphonic death metal version of Soundgarden who suffered a similar fate. On CODEX EFFECT, the band seems to have paid attention to the pacing of the myriad elements involved in the project in order to make an easier to follow album’s length of material. I find the material on CODEX EFFECT to be some of the best the band has ever conjured up and granted that they are merely perfecting their style rather than adding any new experimental touches, i find this to be a satisfying listen from beginning to end unlike the majority of the prior canon.

At this point SEPTICFLESH is an institutional force in the death metal world having been around for well over a quarter of a century and while some band’s peak and fizzle out and fade away into obscurity, SEPTICFLESH on the other hand takes notes on their past mistakes and opts to learn from them rather than ignoring that they existed. CODEX EFFECT shows the band on top of their game with not only some of their best death metal hooks laid down to digital form but likewise construct some of the most conducive philharmonic shadow effects that perfectly gel with the greater groove. CODEX EFFECT is a great return to form after a rather lopsided “Titan” and a series of albums that while great initially seem to run on autopilot after several tracks in. I’m finding this to be a great comeback and a reality check in realizing the shortcomings of previous works and how they could have been better.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION BCC IV

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
I absolutely loved Black Country Communion and was gutted when they split up. Their music was so fresh, vibrant and energetic despite its obvious homage to the past and they really were just about the best Hard Rock band doing the whole ’70s-worship sound of recent years. All three of their albums from before their split have at least five songs that are among my favorite ever songs and which are better than just about any of the classic ’70s band’s modern output for my personal taste.

How happy was I then, when I heard they were getting back together. I remember reading on Blabbermouth all around the time of their split (and yet again when California Breed, a band with some of the same members, formed) about how lead guitarist and occasional singer Joe Bonamasa was too famous and busy in his own right to give Black Country Communion the time, as his schedule simply wouldn’t allow it. I remember hoping for the day he’d have the time again. Well, thank goodness its all sorted and we have more from this band. You can see the phoenix on the cover illustrating the band’s reformation.

There’s a certain magic when Glen Hughes, Jason Bonham, Derik Sherinian and Joe Bonamasa get together, (only heightened by ‘fifth member of the band,’ producer Keven Shirley). The bass and drums match styles perfectly, the keys accentuate the vocals so well, the guitar and key solos fit well together, both vocalist’s styles gel, the guitar works so well with the rhythm section. Its all so perfectly balanced, and thanks to the roomy production it all sounds so big and warm.

Basically; this reunion record has a lot of expectations to live up to. On first listen its nice to hear they are keeping up the same style of music and doing the same sort of thing. Its not suddenly taken a rap or electronic turn, they haven’t chucked it all away and went pop or something. Its exactly what you’d hope for, stylstically.

There’s plenty of depth, characther and a fair bit of variety. A lot of the tracks stretch out a bit, many lasting seven or eight minutes. There’s a nice balance of slow and fast, of hard and soft, of thoughtful and of instantaneous. There’s moments that lean a bit more into each of the member’s individual territories and there’s moments when its a mixture of all.

After knocking you over the head (no pun intended) with two mid paced Hard Rockers, for example, they drop a very interesting folky number. If you liked ‘The Battle Hadrian’s Wall’ then you are sure to dig ‘The Last Song for My Resting Place.’ If you like things a bit slower, sexier and well, blusier then at the album’s midway point they drop ‘The Cove’ which has some seriosuly good guitar and very atmospheric keys. Eight-minute album closer ‘When The Morning Comes’ starts out on a slow and sombre note before kicking off.

If you like the band at their faster and heavier however (think ‘The Outsider’ or ‘Confessor’) then they’ve got that here too, on ‘Sway.’ ‘The Crow’ does it too, sounding initially like a rip-off of RATM’s ‘Bulls On Parade’ before hitting the gas and running away with the speed.

I think my favourite track has to be either ‘Over My Head’ with its fun stop-start verses and its catchy ‘yeah-e-eah’ hook, or else ‘Awake’ which doesn’t really sound like anything they’ve done before, it starts off jaunty and almost indie rock but has a kind of ‘Achilles’ Last Stand‘ vibe in the verses and then goes into a full-on Yes meets Dream Theater solo-trade-off.

Overall; BCCIV had a lot of high expectations to meet, and luckily it holds up really well. They do what they do best, they try some new things, they balance all the different shades of their sound well and present an entertaining record that keeps you guessing but that fits together into a stylish hour long journey. The quality of the material is damn strong, the musicianship is exemplary, the production job is of course perfect and even though I’m biased and just glad to have the band back, I’d say this is absolutely good enough to sit alongside their previous work. I’d recommend checking it out if you’ve ever been a fan!

RUINS Ruins - Hatoba

Album · 1994 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
While the unhinged drummer Tatsuya Yoshida is often referred to as the Japanese version of Christian Vander for his avant-garde crazed and adrenaline fueled take on Magma's zeuhl contributions to the musical world, on this particular early collection of recordings (1991 - 1993) where he hooked up with experimental and psychedelic noise rocker Omoide Hatoba, he created a very, very strange and bizarre album that will surely leave anyone who dares to enter these realms with the lingering question of if most of this could actually be called music! While zeuhl rhythms dominate the majority of RUINS releases, on this one it is the pure essence of noise rock laced with the extreme and utmost experimental features that could leave the uninitiated running away in sheer terror. On this release there is no doubt that RUINS (sometimes referred to as RUINZHATOVA) runs side by side with label mates the Boredoms in creating the most bizarre and extreme sonic expressions possible all the while maintaining a humorous journey through the unexpected. If you think RUINS in general produces some of the most asymmetric angular bizarreness in the experimental rock world on their "normal" albums then you really need to check out this freak-a-zoid world of the oblique and free form psychosis rock that equally eschews the norms at every step similar to the early Boredoms albums while worshipping the cult of unconventional and placing pandemonium on center stage with a crown royale gracing its riotous presence.

This album is (for the most part) a series of short attitude filled with short punk (in attitude) mode tracks that come and go rather quickly most lasting less than a minute but some reaching the unthinkable three minute mark. Sometimes some thrash metal is added, sometimes weird sound effects, but always highly unstructured musical creations that offer glimpses into the musical ward of an insane asylum but somehow always finding a glimmer of resolution. Graced with ridiculous track titles like "Macrocosmic Microcassette," "We Are All Frozen Stiff," "United States Of Stink Bug," "Geeg Geeg Geeg," the short but sweet post-punk meets avant- prog tracks that deliver all kinds of bizarre twists and turns ranging from funk guitar to chanting to heavy distorted punk / thrash guitar to acoustic psychotic folk that makes me think of Tiny Tim during an acid trip. Everything about this album is meant to be jarring as one idea simply harpoons the previous down. While not quite to the level of early Boredoms where things change by the second, this callithump of creativity at least has the decency of staying somewhat stable for enough time to grasp what is going on.

While the first 25 tracks are an interesting sonic rotisserie of one bizarre idea after another, the true test of the listener's patience comes from the very last track "Rock + 1 (Challenge Your Face)" which lasts a staggering 24 minutes and 51 seconds! This is a true shocking contrast to the in-yer-face punk fueled shorter tracks that make up the first half of the album. The last track could possibly qualify as the most unlistenable piece of, a hem, "music" ever recorded down to tape (as it was in 1991 when this was recorded). This long and surprisingly LOOOOONG track is nothing more than a totally bizarre and wild a cappella ride that has the pseudo-form of creating melodies that has many vocal parts delivering the most bizarre interpretations of monkeys, dog wining and chicken clucking. It goes on for a staggering 20 minutes adding counterpoints and occasionally bizarre and weird echo effects. It's the kind of stuff you can't believe you are hearing! After those 20 minutes, it actually does some weird instrumental things and then turns into the first track of the first album by Italian avant-garde jazz fusionists Area ("Luglio Agosto Settembre Nero")

Just when you think it will never end, it does. This album is definitely a 10 out of 10 on the experimental bizarre-omater. It challenges all notions of what music is. It disturbs the senses like an atheist at a sacred religious ritual. It is Copernicus to the Catholic Church. It's just wild. It all sounds like a fun-fueled event that was caught on tape and subsequently released to the public. Everyone on board is having a very good time as evidenced by the laughter on board. This is free form rock of the highest degree with a healthy dose of Zappa humor on board despite the desire to utterly eschew every orthodox rule of established rock ethics. This is a must hear but will hardly be something that demands repeated listening, however there is something subtly addictive to this if you are an adventurous music lover and i would highly recommend this for everyone to at least check out once. While hardly essential, it is nonetheless strangely satisfying for those seeking out the most bizarre and heterodox musical creations to be heard.

RUINS II

EP · 1987 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
RUINS released their second EP a year after the first and doubled the length by upping the time length to over 20 minutes! They also changed up their sound quite a bit. This begins totally different as it has a mix of melodic bass lines that have a rather subdued effect although the drums are chomping at the bit for a major energy explosive release. After the short opening “Human Being” which belies their true nature, the appropriately titled “Entropy” unleashes the full RUINS effect with Kimoto Kazuyoshi abusing his bass and Tatsuya Yoshida going wild on his retrospective drum kit. Both men scream and holler like animals being violated in test labs and the mix of chaotic zeuhl rhythms and avant-punk chaotic dissonance destroy the musical landscape like a tsunami erasing entire coastal villages.

The main difference between the first EP and RUINS II is that this one has more moments of reflection and contrast in the form of straight forward melodic and rhythmic intros and snippets of sanity between the free-for-all noise rock meets avant-prog and zeuhl rhythms although they are short and to the point but at least recalibrate the listener’s perception before taking the chaotic train to nowhere. The slower parts are much more in line with noise rock bands like Sonic Youth or The Jesus Lizard despite the wild and unhinged vocals but when the duo jump into the swirling eddies of brutal avant-prog they create a maelstrom of time sig tornadoes and unrelenting brutality that the listener finds difficult to believe that only two guys are creating. RUINS II is a step up from the debut in that it has more layers of sound, more diverse musical approaches and is slightly more accessible but still would be deemed extreme noise by the uninitiated who happened upon this.

Although origianally a 10 track EP, it has been released on CD with 19 extra tracks under the titled "Ruins II & 19"

RUINS Ruins

EP · 1986 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Although intended to be a power trio the Japanese band RUINS (there’s an Australian band of the same name) ended up as consisting of only two members: drummer/vocalist Tatsuya and bassist of which there have been four in the history of the band. On this debut EP that to date has only been released on 7” vinyl finds Kawamoto Hideki handling bass duties. Therefore there is no guitar to be heard but rather a cacophonous noise rock production that utilizes the Magma inspired zeuhl rhythms as inspiration but at this point these guys were into free improvisation with highly distorted bass tones, frenetic brutal prog workouts and screamed, shouted and screeched lyrics that were created in their invented language (the Magma connection runs deep).

On this short but sweet debut release that came out in 1986 they manage to cram six tracks into a 10 minute and 17 second release. The whole thing comes off as an avant-punk type of sound actually as the bass gallops so fast that it sounds like a guitar frenzy at times and some of the rhythms remind me more of a Dead Kennedys on speed than anything Christian Zander pumped out however the Magma influences are quite pronounced in the vocals even if the blatant instrumental aspects hadn’t quite conjured up the sophistication to evoke their favorite prog superstars. RUINS is the logical beginning of this band that has always been about speed, distortion and avant-bravado. This EP was never released on CD but is on YouTube and many of the tracks are on the compilation “1986-1992” however “Crisis,” “Catastrophe” and “Nocturne,” half the EP is missing. This is decent but nothing totally unexpected or overly different than their more easily obtainable 90s releases.

FATES WARNING Inside Out

Album · 1994 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 34 ratings
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martindavey87
The follow-up to the highly successful 'Parallels', 'Inside Out' is almost identical in sound and style to its predecessor, so much so that it is often regarded as "Parallels Part 2", though I find it is an unfair assumption as this album does contain material of some merit, even going as far as to say it's some of the bands tightest and most consistent songwriting.

Musically, this album follows on where 'Parallels' left off, which a strong emphasis on duel-guitar melodies that allow both players to shine, Mark Zonder's incredible drumming that adds so much flavor to the music, without dominating or taking too much spotlight, and Ray Alder's vocals which truly peaked here, especially in terms of range and capability.

The production is neat and tidy, with no musician being given preference. It does a good job of being a metal album, while also emphasizing the melody of the band.

With songs like 'Outside Looking In', 'Monument', 'Pale Fire', 'The Strand' and 'Face the Fear', it's clear that 'Inside Out' is an underrated classic, which is often overshadowed by the strengths of what came before. It's got some of the bands strongest material and is definitely a worthy addition to the collections of metal and prog fans.

DALI'S DILEMMA Manifesto For Futurism

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 10 ratings
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martindavey87
After hearing and falling in love with the song 'Within a Stare', I was determined to find this album on CD. I had read other reviews for 'Manifesto' online, and the common opinion was that this album was a "bland, generic, Dream Theater clone". Nothing too much to get worried about then, since this seems to be the typical description for most prog metal bands these days.

I wouldn't go as far as to say this is bland and generic, but whilst the album starts off with some amazing tracks, about halfway through it tends to drop dead, and leaves you feeling like you've been listening to the same song on repeat.

That's not to say this is a bad album, in fact, there are some incredible compositions here that definitely make this a rare gem worth owning. The problem is that for every classic, there's a rather dull, lifeless filler song. Sadly, Dali's Dilemma never had the chance to rectify this with a follow-up album, as this was their only release. At least, at the time of writing this review the band have long-since split up. Still, as far as debut albums go, this one is still pretty decent, and shows a band that had a lot of potential.

With such highlights as 'Within a Stare', Miracles in Yesteryear', 'Despite the Waves', 'This Time Around' and the short-but-sweet piano ballad 'Whispers', this is still an album worth checking out, even if it isn't anything you've never heard before.

KAMELOT Dominion

Album · 1997 · Power Metal
Cover art 2.95 | 17 ratings
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martindavey87
The band’s debut 'Eternity', despite being nothing more than standard 90's power metal, had some pretty cool moments in there. Unfortunately their follow-up album, 'Dominion', is more-or-less the same thing, only with all-round weaker and less memorable songs.

However, with that said, there are two highlights for me, which is 'Song of Roland' and 'We Are Not Separate'. At this point both of these songs are stronger than anything else Kamelot recorded on this album or its predecessor. Sadly they're just not enough to save the whole album from being anything more than "good".

An all-round good power metal album, not really for anyone other than Kamelot diehards though. The best is yet to come.

3 INCHES OF BLOOD Battlecry Under a Winter Sun

Album · 2002 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.48 | 6 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
With heavy galloping guitar riffs right out of the 80s came Victoria, BC’s answer to 80s power metal for a new millennium leaving no influential rock unreturned and shamelessly tethering it to their underbellies to unleash the anthem metal fury of a time gone by. While heavily fortified with every New Wave Of British Heavy Metal sound possible with Maiden-esque guitar gallops, dungeon and dragon fantasies of early Dio, US power metal gusto reminding me of Brocas Helm or Manilla Road, the feisty band 3 INCHES OF BLOOD meant business taking their passion for the art to points of well…. ridiculousness!

Forming in 1999 and unleashing their debut BATTLECRY UNDER A WINTER SUN in 2002, the band quickly found a newfound niche in cleverly crafting their NWOBHM approach with the unexpected lo-fi production values and occasional demon shrieking of black metal courtesy of the duo vocal machines of Jamie Hooper who handles the demon parts and Cam Pipes who does his best intermediate version of Rob Halford and King Crimson.

The duo succeed in screaming their throats out as the duo guitar attack and bass and drum punishment tackle the epic battles in fantasy lands worshipping everything 80s epic with a more darkened image update in a punkish black metal lo-fi approach. Approaching this album left me with a less than lackluster expectation as this band seems to get little respect, is rated rather poorly and after all, hasn’t there been enough genuine metal from the 80s without a need for nostalgic retread?

Well, lo and behold i was quite surprised how easily i digested this little raucous romp through the feisty curiosos as they channeled the greats of yesteryear. While this is hardly the most original amalgamation of sounds ever composed it certainly has a decent entertainment value as it brings to mind various great bands of the past but yet doesn’t sound exactly like any of them.

Pockmarked with pummeling speed and power metal gallops, 3 INCHES OF BLOOD’s debut album is a retro stampede into the world of Orcs, chaotic thrones and blazing fires. Laced with addictive riffs and screaming dueling vocalists often rendered audibly inseparable, BATTLECRY UNDER THE WINTER SUN is a surprisingly listenable journey into the retro promised lands that deliver all the expected skeletal onslaughts and curses of lighthouse keepers.

GREAT WHITE Great White

Album · 1984 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.36 | 6 ratings
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aglasshouse
If it weren't for the fact that Great White emerged from the United States, I would certainly confuse this release to be a part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement of the early-1980's. This is because it's clear from their first record that Great White not only synthesized sounds from contemporary glam acts like Mötley Crüe and Quiet Riot, but also from emerging European groups such as Accept and Iron Maiden. This could be because the history of glam metal and the NWoBHM are very similar and happened at similar times, though on different continents.

But what differs Great White's 1984 breakout from albums like Killers or Breaker is the more pronounced hair metal nature of the record; from Jack Russel's catchy vocal hooks to punkish melodies, Great White channels the fabulosity of glam enough to differentiate them from their "darker"-in-tone European cousins. This also goes for lyrical value which, while not seemingly as brash and promiscuous as something Crüe might come out with, is still beautifully cheesy like on songs like 'Bad Boys'.

When it comes time to get heavy though, Great White certainly deliver. 'Substitute''s rollicking drum interlude interspersed with a chugging dissonant riff, the slowly rumbling and oddly dark 'Streetkiller"- these are just a few examples of how Great White uses the glam tradition of being able to please a stadium to bring an enjoyable (and often surprisingly intimidating) performance throughout. Though I will confess that Great White are prone to breaking the great atmosphere they create with awkward segues into uninspired cheesecake sections of pretty-boy rock, admittedly similar to what most glam-style bands do, which are presented seemingly as more of obligations than for sake of actual substance.

Great White's debut is much like a sore thumb compared to the rest of their discography. It's much more heavy, pugnacious, and raunchy than the more commercial style that they would go on to adapt. It remains a rather obscure and underappreciated piece of the sprawling puzzle that is 80's metal.

ANNIHILATOR Set the World on Fire

Album · 1993 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.97 | 30 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
After putting out two of the most outstanding and essential Thrash Metal albums of all time in the form of 1989’s classic Alice In Hell and 1990’s Never Neverland; Canada’s best Thrash band (well, in my opinion anyway, we can debate it another time) took their time getting a third album out. The first two albums were largely written in demo form before the band were even signed or (at least before their second record was out) and just perfected over time. An album a year. Nice. Next time round there was more time needed to build up a full record’s worth of material though.

Always a band for constant line-up changes, Annihilator once again saw a big shift in membership. Jeff Waters, band leader, lead guitarist and occasional singer basically IS the band in the way Trent Reznor is to Nine Inch Nails or Josh Homme is to Queens Of The Stone Age or Dave Mustaine is to Megadeth. Jeff obviously stayed, as did bassist Wayne Darley even though he supposedly didn’t actually play on the album. This album features however their third singer in three albums (Coburn Pharr replaced here by Aaron Randall, though Pharr still gets writing credits on some of the songs) their third Rhythm-guitarist in three albums (Neil Goldberg replacing Dave Davis) and their second Drummer in three albums (the lovable Ray Hartman replaced by Mike Magini – now of Dream Theater fame!) and even then, he’s one of three drummer on the album because Ray is still on two tracks and there was yet another drummer on the ballad. With all these line up shifts its like watching Cradle Of Filth’s early career or something!

I suspect that there are some reasons why a lot of people didn’t receive this album as well at the time and again why it isn’t remembered just as fondly as the first two. First reason; constant line-up shifting can give an impression of being muddled and unfocused. Second reason; ballad included, can give impression of selling out. Third reason; came out in 1993 after the glory period of Thrash was over and everyone either sick of it or was told to listen to something from Seattle instead by the press.

Do you know what’s not a reason though? The music. This album is bad ass! From the heavier tracks like the stomping Title Track, the crazy-ass technical workout ‘Brain Dance’ (an absolutely amazing song spoiled only slightly by its silly comedy section in the middle) as well as the speedy ‘No Zone’ to the more shreddy, softer, hard rock jams like ‘Sounds Good To Me,’ ‘Snake In The Grass’ and ‘The Edge’ which show a different side of the band, this stuff is all gold! I remember the first time I read the back of their Greatest Hits CD it said ‘Canada’s Answer To Metallica/The Van Halen Of Thrash Metal’ and I thought well I get the Metallica reference but this album is the first time where I really hear the Van Halen coming out… ‘Don’t Bother Me’ is some serious guitar workout, with that skiffly off-the-rails Van Halen feel, only with the chug and power of Thrash behind it.

The absolute best moment on the album for me however has to be the incredible ‘Knight Jumps Queen’ which is tied with Exodus’ ‘Braindead’ as the catchiest and most memorable Thrash song ever released! That main riff! It sticks in my head for days!

For me, Set The World On Fire is a great record. Its a bit more varied than their previous work. Not just as heavy as often, but in terms of songwriting quality, in terms of musicianship and in terms of fun it ticks all the right boxes. This album is a real winner and vastly underrated. If you haven’t already go on, give it a go! If you have before, give it another chance!

MYRKUR Mareridt

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.23 | 6 ratings
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adg211288
It's fair to say the M (2015), the debut full-length album by Danish atmospheric black metal/dark folk solo project Myrkur, the moniker of musician Amalie Brunn, made quite a splash in the metal scene when it was released, albeit one that resulted in a decidedly mixed reaction. While M was nothing if not a divisive album, it's obvious that a lot of the criticism it received got well out of hand, to the point that some of the album's detractors even launched personal attacks on Brunn as a musician and as a person. Fortunately Brunn seems to have been quite thick skinned to it and rather than be perturbed she's now back with her second full-length album, Mareridt (2017).

Mareridt is in some ways similar in M, but it's also very different once you get into it. The biggest change has to be that Myrkur has used a lot more pure folk elements this time around to the point that I'd even say these make up around half the album, what with full folk songs like Crown included and the influence cropping up in at least a small way in almost every track. There's still enough metal here to think of Mareridt as a metal album though. Most of the metal songs use atmospheric black metal rhythms, though that actually only means that four of them do; Måneblôt, Elleskudt, Ulvinde and Gladiatrix, as Mareridt, Crown, De Tre Piker and Ketteren are all pure folk songs, which leaves only three further tracks on the album that don't belong primarily to either genre. The atmospheric black metal parts, when present, feel much more honed and focussed this time, making them easier to recognise even with Myrkur's atypical use of clean vocals as her primary singing style.

The metal parts on Mareridt are more varied compared to M though thanks to a greater presence of doom metal influences, something I detected only ever so slightly on M. They're much more pronounced here, particularly on the tracks The Serpent and Funeral, the latter of which proves aptly named for its style as it seems closer to funeral doom metal to me than anything. Slow, heavy, subdued and sombre work and easily the darkest sounding song on the album. It also features Chelsea Wolfe on vocals and guitars. It's a short song, as are all the songs on Mareridt, lasting only three minutes, but it's enough to show that the two ladies work well together. One can only hope this will one day lead to a proper collaboration between the two. It's just screaming to happen with this track, which barely scratches the surface of what may be possible if they joined forces for a whole album.

Regarding the vocals, there are actually less growls on Mareridt than ever before in Myrkur's music, only really being used in a major way on singles Måneblôt and Ulvinde (with a little bit in the background on Gladiatrix). With those two tracks released first it was actually really surprising how growl-free the rest of Mareridt is, but maybe that is for the best. Myrkur does decent growls, particularly the ones on Måneblôt are easily the best and fiercest she's ever done, but clean singing is where she excels. Her ethereal voice works equally well with her folk music tracks, but also against the atmospheric black metal guitars. She's proof, if any was needed by this point, that it's perfectly possible for at least the atmospheric branch of this particular genre to exist without the traditional vocal style. With that said, the growled parts do really add some extra punch and if there's a criticism to be had it's that the album could do with a couple more of these moments. But only a couple more.

While the lower amount of metal may lessen Mareridt's appeal to the metal crowd, the album flows between its soft and heavy parts incredibly well, feeling natural and not forced. While I regard M highly, Mareridt certainly feels a lot more refined and ultimately comes across as the stronger release. While there are individual track highlights to be had, namely Måneblôt, Elleskudt, Funeral and Ulvinde, the overall short running time makes it a very easy album to experience in one sitting and that's the only way to do it if you want to hear all the elements work just right. The only real eyebrow raising moment is it's finale, Børnehjem, which features a voice over that sounds like a demonic little girl. It's basically an outro fortunately, but it makes me feel as if the audio track of a cheesy horror film got mixed in by mistake. I don't think it sounds bad, more like out of place with the rest of the release. Still, I can't hold the final 2:22 minutes against Myrkur when the rest of Mareridt is such quality work. It probably won't win over her most fervent haters, but those who enjoyed the self-titled EP (2014) and M, as well as acoustic live release Mausoleum (2016), are sure to find much to enjoy here.

DREAM THEATER The Majesty Demos 1985 - 1986

Demo · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.68 | 6 ratings
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martindavey87
Definitely one for the collectors and die-hard fans, Dream Theater's official bootleg release of 'The Majesty Demos 1985-1986' is split into three sections;

The first part of the album consists of instrumental demos and covers. It's Dream Theater, so the playing is amazing, even at a young age. There's no keyboards or vocals, and as this was recorded by the band themselves on an 8-track tape recorder while at college, the quality is, quite understandably, naff.

The second section contains a number of brief, 20-second "songs", which are pretty much parodies of the band 'Stormtroopers of Death'. Mike Portnoy will shout a brief sentence, John Petrucci will shred out a quick guitar lick. Done. It's not cool, it's not funny, and it's not clever. A bit pointless having this on the disc, but whatever...

Then there's the section that really counts; The 'Majesty Demos' themselves. The sound quality is alright, considering the band recorded this themselves in the 80's, it's not terrible. The vocals are pretty cheesy though. Songs like 'Another Won', 'Your Majesty' and 'Two Far' are fairly decent, and it's a shame they were never officially recorded on a future studio release (although a few live appearances have popped up over the years), but the demo quality will deter me from ever coming back to them.

The musicianship and the tightness of the band is no doubt incredibly impressive, and perfectly reflects all the countless hours these guys spent jamming together while at college. Overall however, the bulk of this disc is just the core members, Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci and John Myung, jamming. And if it isn't all that interesting to me, a die-hard Dream Theater fan, then it definitely won't appeal to the more casual listener.

ANGUISH Symmetry

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.30 | 4 ratings
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martindavey87
Like a lot of German progressive metal bands, Anguish didn't stick around long enough to make much of an impact or to gain any kind of recognition. Which is a shame, because 'Symmetry', their second and last album is pretty decent.

While I'm under no illusions that a German prog metal group called "Anguish" were destined to become stadium headliners, I do think it's a shame this band didn't stick around, as the potential is evident on this record that this band could have come up with some pretty good stuff, given time to develop and mature, of course.

Typical with the genre, this album is full of complex compositions and odd time-signatures. However, I like that Anguish don't focus too much on virtuoso musicianship and have a more "song-heavy" style, with lots of emphasis on keyboards. Some great examples can be heard on tracks such as 'N.E.W.', 'Dreaming', 'Obsidian Lies' and the title track.

'Symmetry' may seem like another generic prog metal release, and in all fairness it mostly is, but that doesn't make it a bad album. If you can find it cheap, give it a chance, and discover for yourself that it's definitely a worthy addition to any collection.

ETERNITY X The Edge

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 9 ratings
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martindavey87
Eternity X are a band I have highly ridiculed and mocked in the past. Most notably for the fact that their previous albums, 'Zodiac' and 'Mind Games' take themselves way too seriously, which itself, wouldn't really be much of a problem, if the music wasn't so boring and uninspiring. Oddly however, while 'The Edge' isn't really any different stylistically or lyrically (other than a stronger presence of keyboards), it's an album I thoroughly enjoy.

Must be the keyboards, right?

Main songwriter and all-round focal point of the band, Keith Sudano, has clearly put his heart and soul into this record. The music is well composed, with plenty of ambitious tracks and intricate passages, as well as some very personal and emotional lyrics. The musicianship is tight, with the usual progressive metal traits all here in full force, such as long track durations, interesting guitar riffs, crazy time signatures and a vast use of different sounds. There's plenty of instrumental acrobatics allowing for everyone to shine ('The Edge Part 3' is an interesting example of this) and there's a strong symphonic element to the music too.

Some of the highlights from this album include 'Imaginarium', 'The Edge of Madness', 'The Confession', 'Baptized by Fire', and parts two, three and the "Legacy Reprise" section of 'The Edge'. The album is consistently strong from start to finish.

'The Edge' is an ambitious release that will certainly take some time to get into, but will be worth the effort. It's funny that I like it as much as I do, since it's nothing overly different than what had come before, but there's just something here that resonates with me. It's a shame that Eternity X would go on to disband and Keith Sudano would take a leave of absence from music, because for all the flack I've given this band for their previous releases, this really is a brilliant album, and could have led to great things if they'd continued down this path.

SAGA Trust

Album · 2006 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.27 | 3 ratings
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martindavey87
2006's 'Trust' was my introduction to Saga, coming across the album cheap, and having heard of the band before, I thought it'd be worth checking them out.

I'm glad I did.

From the opening moments of the first song, I knew this band were something slightly different. Best described as some kind of hybrid between progressive rock and AOR (adult-oriented rock... oldies stuff), Saga have a very interesting sound, which relies heavily upon the synergy between guitarist Ian Crichton and keyboardist Jim Gilmour. Both men complimenting each other perfectly to create something which is better than the sum total of its parts.

The album is well-produced, with a clear sound that gives everyone ample space to shine. Vocalist Michael Sadler's warm voice cuts through perfectly without sounding strained or out of its element. His is a voice perfectly suited to this style of music. And a thumping bass gives the music plenty of groove.

'Trust' was released after a string of albums that failed to please critics, and while they didn't really stray from anything they'd done before, something clicked with this record that started to give the band their second wind, almost 30 years into their career! Songs like 'That's As Far As I'll Go', 'Back to the Shadows', 'It's Your Life', 'Ice in the Rain' and 'Footsteps in the Hall' all go to show that Saga aren't ready to be counted out yet.

AMORPHIS The Karelian Isthmus

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.35 | 21 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Once again, I have Banger TV on YouTube and its Lock Horns program to thank for pointing me to yet another band that I felt interesting enough to merit purchasing an album. On the episode about early death / doom metal, Amorphis' name came up, and as I had already heard about their "Land of a Thousand Lakes" album from checking out compilation and "best" videos on YouTube, I began sampling albums in an effort to decide which to buy first. My choice was "Land of a Thousand Lakes", but thriftiness prevailed and I bought the cheaper debut album, "The Keralian Isthmus".

This is also yet another case of me learning something through a heavy metal band as I was unfamiliar with the Keralian Isthmus and its history. The album, however, is not about that; I had to check Wikipedia.

The re-issue of the debut I have also includes five songs from the "Privilege of Evil" EP that the band recorded around the time the original project called Abhorrence was dissolving into Amorphis. Thus, even though three songs appear on both albums, they have a different sound from "The Keralian Isthmus" with one of the most noticeable being that the EP version of "Vulgar Necrolaty" has a different vocalist and a death metal-styled guitar solo.

The album's begins with a short acoustic guitar track and from there on its heavy electric guitars all the way. The music typically follows a mid-tempo speed but does have both faster and slower moments. Each song generally changes rhythm and tempo a few times, making any individual track interesting to listen to. You can expect chugging heavy guitars, barre chords, and riffs comprised of melodic, single-note-picked riffs. Sometimes I am reminded of Iron Maiden's melodic guitar riffs though the actual melodies played by Amorphis are different in style, and I'm sure there's a bit of Celtic Frost in "The Sign from the North Side". The vocals are the deep, guttural style, and the double bass drums are used more to enhance the feeling of speed in the faster moments. With song titles like "Black Embrace" and "The Lost Name of God" you might wonder about any black metal influence in the roots of the band. The production of the main album is good enough for an early nineties, metal debut, the EP tracks sounded a little rougher.

The album is a good listen overall, though I found that even after three or four times through I wasn't checking out any song titles. That's because the songs, which pack various riffs, styles, and tempo changes in each song, end up becoming not so obviously distinguishable from one another. They each play like a mini version of the album. When you hear the guitar melody at the end of "The Pilgrimage" followed by the guitar melody in "Misery Path", you could be easily misled into thinking it was the same song sped up a little.

For that reason, "The Karelian Isthmus" is a good enough album to listen to but doesn't have any truly outstanding tracks. I could recommend "Vulgar Necrolatry" as the song to listen to but really nearly any track is a good introduction to the album.

I have listened to some of the band's later material and they have really evolved their sound drastically. Comparing "Sky Forger" to this album, you'd think they were two entirely different bands!

A good album for slower, more complex death metal with elements of doom and also melodic riffs. Three solid stars!

AYREON The Source

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.88 | 11 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Metal’s artisan of ambitiousness Arjen Anthony Lucassen returns with his project AYREON taking time off from his other musical projects Star One, Guilt Machine and The Gentle Storm to embark on yet another sonic journey into the world of science fiction, where he unleashes yet another concept album that is a prequel to 2008’s “01011001” laid out in his usual monstrosity of a double album with an army of guest vocalists and musicians to play the proper roles in his larger than life metal operas. As a prequel, THE SOURCE tells the origins of the Forever which is an alien race that is a key force in the overall storyline. The two discs are separated into four Chronicles with each telling different timelines in the story. The are broken down into - Chronicle 1: The Frame, Chronicle 2: The Aligning Of The Ten, Chronicle 3: The Transmigration and Chronicle 4: The Rebirth and the album is graced with beautiful artwork, extensive liner notes and an overall packaging that goes above and beyond the call of duty for any dedicated artist. Lucassen has really been upping the bar with each and every release and shows no signs of releasing his feet from the gas pedal. His passions are ablaze and THE SOURCE displays it all in full regalia.

While AYREON is accustomed to mostly new cast members changing things up on any given album, THE SOURCE makes use of plenty of returning performers which include James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder), and Russell Allen (Symphony X), together with newcomers such as Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), which makes a whopping total of eleven main vocalists. Add to that the extraordinary musicians involved which include Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever) – grand piano and electric piano Mark Kelly (Marillion) – synthesizer solo on "The Dream Dissolves"Maaike Peterse (Kingfisher Sky) – cello, Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big, Racer X) – guitar solo on "Star of Sirrah,” Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, ex-Asia) – guitar solo on "Planet Y Is Alive!,”Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged) – guitar solo on "The Dream Dissolves,” Ed Warby – drums, Ben Mathot – violin, Jeroen Goossens (ex-Pater Moeskroen) – flute, wind instruments, and of course, Arjen Anthony Lucassen himself on electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, synthesizers, Hammond, Solina Strings, all other instruments. I just had to list all these performers to let it sink in, the monstrosity that this beautiful album is!

THE SOURCE incorporates more aspects of the metal world than the usual AYREON project. While most indulge in heavy doses of folk rotation with the same recurring female vocalist, an aspect that has left me a little cold in the past, this album on the other hand keeps the musical jukebox flowing and never lets one style dominate for too long. While the folk influences are ever present, the retrospective styles of the performers are in full effect with much emphasis on progressive, power and classic metal with even some excellent to Queen harmonies and some extreme metal touches as well in the excellent “Everybody Dies” that is straight out of the progressive rock playbook with classic 70s Wakeman-esque keyboards, Freddie Mercury spots and time signature breakouts run amok (amongst tons of other styles and influences). It really seems like every little detail was cogitated upon before the final release was allowed to see the light of day. The only complaint i have about this fine album is that some of the tracks on the second track outstay their welcome a however it’s a minor quibble indeed. THE SOURCE is one to be experienced as words cannot convey the sheer magnitude of its accomplishments. The works are not only a rock and metal encyclopedia in scope and style but a testament to how to write, arrange and produce an album.

It seems that Lucassen’s talents caught up to his grandiose ambitions starting with “01011001” and progressively have been becoming more refined ever since. THE SOURCE not only displays the AYREON project having tightened up all the loose ends that have always bugged me but shows a maturing and steps away from the more progressive rock world and ups the energy level by keeping the album more in heavy rock mode. THE SOURCE is the first AYREON album on the Mascot Label Group and the digital release of the albums will follow. THE SOURCE is yet another modern day AYREON album that clearly demonstrates what made the early albums so weak in comparison as one track is crafted into the next and all cast members roles are cleverly placed in the perfect sequence of things. It’s no wonder the such staunch fans are as excited for a new AYREON release as are fans foaming at the mouth for a new season of Game Of Thrones! THE SOURCE is truly a brilliantly complex yet completely accessible metal opera that eschews the long drawn out filler pieces of the band’s earlier moments. At this stage i have been indoctrinated into the AYREON fan club and look forward to the next chapter of metal sci-fi digest - AYREON style!

DARKHER Realms

Album · 2016 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.48 | 3 ratings
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Necrotica
One thing I've always loved about album art is how it reflects the music within. Of course the music should also speak for itself, but album covers can still give a taste of what's to come when done correctly. So, reader, I make this request: just look at the art for Darkher's debut album Realms. A woman with a black cloak looks down, as if in grief or simply melancholy, as she's enveloped in different shades of gray encompassing both the sky and the ground. A mass of storm clouds can be seen up above, and there's an aura of bleakness to the overall picture. After giving Realms repeated listens, I can certainly say that it lives up to its album cover in every way.

To clarify things, here's the deal: Darkher is considered the alias of a singer-songwriter known as Jayn Wissenberg, hailing from Yorkshire, England. In actuality, Darkher are currently a trio, the other members being guitarist Martin Wissenberg and drummer Shaun "Winter" Taylor-Steels (according to Facebook, at least). However, Jayn is definitely the heart and soul of this project; she's the vocalist, the primary guitarist, the producer, and the lyricist, so it's fair to say that she's the driving force. When you get to the music itself, Realms is a gothic experience with elements of doom metal, folk, post-metal, and ambient music; the atmosphere ranges from deeply melancholic to eerily unsettling, and there never seems to be an uplifting moment to be found. By far, the best aspect of the record is Jayn herself. Her vocals are simply wonderful, with a haunting and almost operatic quality to them, and they're layered over the music with a large amount of reverb. This works especially well in songs like "Hollow Veil" and "Wars," in which her evocative voice clashes with the metallic doom-laden guitars just perfectly.

Despite a consistently dark and grim atmosphere, there's still variety and genre-bending to be found. Realms happens to be one of those records in which the metal elements don't necessarily outweigh the softer moments. In fact, the intro "Spirit Waker" and the interlude "Buried Pt. 1" rely entirely on dark ambient instrumentation to establish the desired atmosphere; the latter is especially effective because of how Wissenberg's drawn-out vocals meld with the dreary soundscapes. Needless to say, it's a great fit for a song called "Buried." Of course, there's also "Buried Pt. 2," which builds on its predecessor with more frequent dynamic shifts and murky electric guitar riffing mired in incredibly slow tempos. But unfortunately, the one big problem I have with Realms has to do with the tempos in general. As much as the slow riffing and long instrumental buildups assist in enveloping the listener in the album's world, it also causes the record to be slightly homogeneous after a while. For instance, "Foregone" mostly relies on one particular motif as it builds and builds into a clangorous climax of pounding guitars and drums, but the sluggishly paced buildup feels a bit tedious and dull. At the very least, the track probably shouldn't have been the longest on the album at over 7 minutes. Regardless, the record still ends on a strong note with the fittingly-titled "Lament." It's one of the strongest pieces on the album because of its softer dynamics, and the acoustic guitar balladry is beautifully combined with Jayn's droning vocal performance. Ending Realms with something more somber and folk-influenced was a nice change in pace after the doom/post-metal material preceding it.

Honestly, as a debut, this is extremely impressive. It's gorgeous, intense, doomy-as-hell, and it takes pride in engulfing your ears in incredibly thick layers of darkness. Again, much of the album's quality comes from Jayn Wissenberg's sheer talent and charisma, especially behind the mic. Between her hypnotic vocal performances and the post-metal-oriented instrumental work, Darkher have proven that establishing a strong atmosphere and focusing on subtle songwriting shifts are among their strongest talents. The downtrodden beauty is really something to behold, and it'll be interesting to hear how they follow it up next time around.

NOCTURNAL RITES Phoenix

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes a band will release an album that at the time upsets their fans so much they want nothing to do with the band anymore, only for those same people to end up badly missing the band over time, hoping desperately that they will one day return with a triumphant comeback album. The latest band to fit into this description is Swedish power metal band Nocturnal Rites, who I was introduced to with their 2007 release, The 8th Sin, an album I actually enjoyed, but many of their longtime fan loathed it and criticized the band for falling into a more commercialized sound. After the release of that album, the band went quiet for several years, making fans think that could be the end. But now in 2017, they have finally returned, ready to release their ninth full-length album, Phoenix, but can they rise from the ashes, or should they have just stayed buried? I’ll go into full details below, but suffice to say, there isn’t a really clear cut answer for that one.

Nocturnal Rites actually started out as a death metal band in their very early days, releasing a couple of demos in that style before changing to a classic power metal sound with their full-length debut, In a Time of Blood and Fire, and they stuck with that sound for three albums, until current singer Jonny Lindqvist joined the band for their 2001 release, Afterlife, and they switched to a more aggressive, somewhat thrashy power metal sound. That album had a fairly mixed reception, but I personally consider it to be one of their best, but again they switched to a more melodic sound for their next few albums, with their 2004 release New World Messiah, in particular, standing out as a career high point. But again, they changed their sound in 2007 for The 8th Sin and that’s when everything seemed to come apart, as while the album still had some power metal elements, it had a much more modernized, very commercial sound that upset a lot of fans and while the songwriting was fun and catchy, it’s not hard to see why many folks felt betrayed by the band.

Which brings us to Phoenix, an album that largely continues with the more modern sound of The 8th Sin, but it comes across as a bit more metal sounding and does have small traces of their old sound. The band went through a couple different lead guitarists in between albums, before bringing in Per Nilsson, best known for his work with melodic death metal band Scar Symmetry. As soon as I heard he was brought into the band I was very interested in hearing what Phoenix would sound like, as while he’s an excellent guitarist, I wasn’t sure if his style would fit this particular band very well. It turns out, I was right to be concerned, because while he certainly does some great work on this album, including some incredible solos, there are many points where he resorts to modern sounding chugs which would fit in great with a band like Scar Symmetry, but they really feel out of place on a Nocturnal Rites album, and bring some of the tracks down.

Stylistically, Phoenix is a very modern sounding album, and I’d describe it more as melodic metal than anything else, as most of the tracks are slow to mid paced, and rely on huge vocal melodies above everything else. The chugs mostly come in quick bursts and most songs are fairly laid back throughout, with occasional heavy sections and bursts of speed, to remind fans they are listening to a metal album, but it’s clear the band has settled into a much more accessible, more radio friendly sound. There’s definitely still traces of power metal left in the music, and I generally find the heavier, speedier sections to be the highlights of the album, but the majority of the time the music is fairly slow paced and very melodic, just as the three pre-release singles would suggest.

I mentioned that the vocals were a huge focus on this album, so obviously the band requires a great singer, and thankfully they have one in Jonny Lindqvist. He has a rather animated voice that I’d describe as an odd sounding mix between Tobias Sammet and Chris Jericho (seriously, that may sound like a bizarre combination, but that’s what I think of every time I hear him,) and he does an excellent job of carrying some of the less interesting songs on the album. He may not be the best singer technically, but what he really excels at is singing with emotion. He always sounds very energetic in his delivery and it’s always easy to tell he’s very passionate about the lyrics, as he puts a ton of emotion into everything he sings, and he is definitely the band’s biggest asset at this point.

With the most positive aspect of the album out of the way, unfortunately, it’s time for a more problematic area, that being the songwriting. Things get off to a rocky start with “A Heart as Black as Coal”, a slow paced slog of a track which has some ugly modern sounding chugs throughout the verses, as well as vocal melodies that give it a strong pop feel, kinda like “Never Again” from The 8th Sin, except that while its chorus is decent, it’s nowhere near as fun or catchy as that song was, instead just kinda feeling like it exists and not doing anything beyond that. The track does have an excellent solo from Per, but that’s the one highlight on an otherwise forgettable track, and one I definitely don’t think works well as either a single to sell an album or as an opening track. Next is the first single, “Before We Waste Away”, another slow paced track, though it has some great melodies throughout and effectively builds to an excellent chorus that instantly got me excited for the album the first time I heard it. Again, Per delivers an excellent solo in the middle and overall this track is a great single and one that really set my expectations high for the album, so it’s a bit of a shame the entire album isn’t on the same level. The third, and so far last, single is “Repent My Sins” another slower track, but again it has some nice melodies and a very passionate vocal performance from Jonny, so while it doesn’t quite hit me as hard as “Before We Waste Away” it’s a pretty great track on its own.

In between that two track is “The Poisonous Seed”, the first real heavy track on the album, and one that offers brief glimpses of the band’s power metal roots. This track has some heavy riffs throughout and has a very dark feel, as well as feeling like a modernized take on their power metal sound, being much harder hitting than anything on The 8th Sin, while still sounding far more modern than any of their prior albums. It also has some light symphonic elements, which are used on a couple other tracks for some extra flavor, and it’s an all around excellent track, where Per really gets to shine with some great riffs and an excellent solo. I kinda wish there were more tracks like this on the album, as his style fits a heavier track like this perfectly, where on some of the slower tracks his chugs just don’t quite feel right. The only other consistently fast songs on the album are the closing track “Welcome to the End” and the bonus track “Used to Be God”. Out of those two, “Welcome to the End” is a very fast, heavy track which effectively uses some symphonic elements, and is definitely a highlight, but “Used to Be God” is actually even better, as it has by far the best riffs on the album, as well as an excellent solo section and an incredible chorus. However, I can see why they chose to make it a bonus track, as it has a thrashy sound to it which doesn’t quite fit the tone of the album on the whole, so if anything it just makes me even more disappointed about the direction they chose to go with many songs on the album, as I’d definitely be excited to hear the band do a full album in the style of this song and “Welcome to the End”, yet I realize that’s totally not what they were going for overall, so it’s obvious me and the band are not on the same page.

In between those tracks and “Repent My Sins”, we get a bunch of tracks that are solid but none of them do a whole lot for me, and they mostly blend together to just become forgettable. Tracks like “A Song For You” and “The Ghost Inside Me” do a nice job of mixing brief faster sections with mid paced verses and solid choruses, but neither track blows me away, while slower tracks like “What’s Killing Me” and “Nothing Can Break Me” feel like weaker versions of tracks from The 8th Sin, with the latter in particular having some modern sounding keys which are oddly distracting and give the track a slight pop feel. Lastly, we have “Flames”, a decent ballad where Jonny delivers some excellent vocals, but musically the track just does nothing for me at all. It has a nice chorus, but throughout the rest of the song, I just get bored, as the symphonic elements and vocals are far more interesting than the basic chugs and anything else that’s going on. Another track where Per doesn’t really fit in for me.

Overall, Phoenix is a pretty frustrating release for me, as there are brief moments where it teases at a modernized power metal sound that I could see working out great for the band, but there are far too many slower tracks where Per Nillson’s chugs don’t really fit the sound, and if not for Jonny’s excellent vocals, I’d probably be getting bored to death. For fans of Nocturnal Rites, this album is tough to judge, as it does have a few excellent tracks that feel fresh enough to stand out, while having some familiar elements, but anyone disappointed with The 8th Sin will also likely struggle with many of the lighter tracks on this album, and I don’t expect many pure power metal fans to be too thrilled, either. Fans of melodic metal who look for excellent vocals and melodies above all else are recommended to give this album a listen, and anyone else should try the singles to see if they have any interest, but again I have to point out for power metal fans, that all three of the tracks most likely to impress is hidden away, with one of them even being a bonus track. For me, personally, Phoenix is a solid album, maybe slightly behind The 8th Sin, but it definitely doesn’t come close to the band’s best works. So, it’s not a total disappointment, but it’s also not really the triumphant return I was hoping for, either. It just kinda exists.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/09/09/nocturnal-rites-phoenix-review/

GIRLSCHOOL Screaming Blue Murder

Album · 1982 · NWoBHM
Cover art 3.35 | 4 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Screaming Blue Murder is the London band’s third full-length studio album, and for me, my favourite so far. I think I’ve read somewhere that the previous two records are more popular because the photoshoots and music videos got a bit more glamourous around this stage and people accused them of following Def Leppard out of Metal and into the mainstream or whatever (and listening to their next album that definitely was a little closer to the truth there) but all these years later the only thing that matters to me is the music.

For me a track like ‘Wildlife’ with its infectious chanting chorus, jaunty bouncing rhythm and lead guitar quality is just undeniable. The band have a bit of a Hard Rock sound, a bit of a Punk sound and a bit of a Heavy Metal sound. All three elements are well balanced. If you want something anthemic and ready for radio there’s the retro sounding rock n’ roll of ‘It Turns Your Head Around.’ If you want something a bit more Metallic to sink your teeth in to, then there’s ‘Don’t Call It Love’ which could be on any of the first four Dio albums to my ears. Hey, what diversity in those three tracks alone! I think that’s why this album just pips the previous two badass ones as my favourite. Its almost as fierce but the diversity makes it even more interesting.

Ok. I get that some people won’t love it a much as the previous records. Some people prefer Kill ‘Em All to Master Of Puppets too. Diffrent Strokes and all that. Screaming Blue Murder is indeed a bit more sophisticated than the two albums which preceed it, which are more raw and charming, which have a bit more ramshakle Motorhead vibe to ’em. This one tries on a few more hats. Its not always pounding speed. ‘Flesh And Blood’ is the kind of rolling tribal prog thing Queensryche would be exploring the other side of the milenium! The guitar solos are a bit more ‘feel’ than ‘flash.’

…But that’s all just an extra layer to like. Its still got the hard stuff when you like to just bang around the room (‘Hellrazor’ has that in spades. As does the bonus track ‘Don’t Stop’ if you get a special edition or reissue). Nigel Grey’s roomy and open production job also keeps this sounding hard and rocking. There’s punkiness in the distorted bass on ‘You Got Me.’ This isn’t exactly a Bananarama album now is it? Its like Motorhead, Sex Pistols and AC/DC blended together, with a fat reverb and a unique vocal style.

For me, this 1982 gem, their third in as many years by the way, is a very strong record. It stands up well alongside the better releases of their contemporaries like Raven, Grim Reaper and Bitch’s Sin. Its not just at that untouchable layer as Maiden, Saxon or Motorhead but its definitely belonging of a spot in the collections of any fan of those bigger bands (alongside their previous two, which are less diverse but more energetic and raw and no less worthy of your listening time!).

DREAM THEATER Live at the Marquee

Live album · 1993 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 42 ratings
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martindavey87
Hey kids! Remember Kevin Moore?! The guy played on Dream Theater's first three studio albums, buggered off, and has since more-or-less completely cut off all ties to the Dream Theater name, wanting nothing to do with the band. So if you wanted to hear what the progressive metal legends sounded like in their early days, playing live with a certain Mr. Moore, then this is likely to be the only chance you'll ever get.

Released shortly after the bands second album, 'Images and Words', 'Live at the Marquee' is a six-track EP which doesn't really do the group or their previous releases justice. It's a nice addition to the collection of any Dream Theater fan, but since most of their live records would go on to become three-disc sets, this one has become pretty obsolete and unnecessary.

With Dream Theater classics such as 'Metropolis', 'A Fortune in Lies' and 'Pull Me Under', there's no denying the tracks are stellar, and considering vocalist James LaBrie would go on to suffer from ruptured vocal chords which would affect his live performances for years to come, it's nice to hear these songs with the youthful energy that the band had at the time.

Overall this isn't a terrible release, but if you're after a true Dream Theater live experience then you're better off looking for 2004's 'Live at Budokan', 2005's 'Score' or 2000's 'Live Scenes from New York'. It's a nice little EP if you come across it, but not really worth the effort unless you must own everything.

THY CATAFALQUE Rengeteg

Album · 2011 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.30 | 16 ratings
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Warthur
This is the first Thy Catafalque album crafted by Tamás Kátai as a solo performer (with guests on vocals and cello), rather than as a collaboration with Juhász János on guitar - and to be honest, if I hadn't looked that up I wouldn't have guessed, because this pristinely produced exercise in blackened avant-metal with ample folk, prog and electronic influences and experimentation feels like a whole-band effort. The entire scope of Thy Catafalque's sonic universe is brought together in album centrepiece Vashegyek, a 14 minute tour de force which should win you over to Thy Catafalque's approach even if no other composition on here does. Pick it up if you like the idea of atmospheric black metal by way of early Tangerine Dream as performed for an Eastern European folk festival.

SWANS The Glowing Man

Album · 2016 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Warthur
A solid followup to To Be Kind, and a substantial improvement on it. Swans' post-rock sound here remains strongly influenced by other artists in this realm - substantial sections of The Cloud of Unknowing in particular make me think of this incarnation of the group as Godspeed You Black Swans! - but the musical twists and turns into other styles feel better judged and the material is less padded out. At points they go to places you never expected to visit with Swans; in particular, at one point The World Looks Red/The World Looks Back shifts gears and starts sounding booty-shakingly funky, but it somehow works within the wider context of the composition.

ARCH ENEMY Will to Power

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.49 | 6 ratings
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Nightfly
When Angela Gossow left Arch Enemy in 2014 it could have quite easily been the end of the band but in came Alissa White-Gluz and stamped her mark on the War Eternal album with an impressive and professional performance as if she’d been there all along, such was the seamless transition. War Eternal whilst having a few weaker moments robbing it of greatness was nevertheless a solid melodic death metal album with a plentiful supply of hooks and strong riffs. Shortly after War Eternal was released former Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis joined the band and I was eager to hear what the first studio album to feature him would be like as he never failed to impress me with his incredible playing in Nevermore.

Will To Power will not hold any surprises (well there may be one) for fans of the band as for the most part it’s pretty much business as usual. Loomis as expected proves to be a great addition with plenty of jaw dropping shredding. Musically it’s a similar mix of melodic death/power metal as War Eternal and equally good. After the short intro Set Flame To The Night, The Race comes in firing on all cylinders featuring compelling riffing and a fantastic Loomis solo proving immediately what a great addition he is and is a good omen of great things to come hopefully. Like War Eternal however there are one or two less than stellar moments. I’d already heard The World Is Yours and the first thing that struck me about it was how much better it would have worked with clean melodic vocals on the chorus. A bone of contention I sometimes have with melodic death metal, at least when it really ups the melody quotient is how much better it could sometimes be with clean vocals. Of course some melodic death metal bands already mix it up and do it but I know it could be sacrilege to some fans of the band. Well what do you know, on the semi-ballad Reason To Believe White-Gluz sings cleanly and bugger me, she’s really good too. Maybe they didn’t want to over-do it and risk alienating a sizeable part of their audience but a bit more of this could have raised the bar on a couple of the songs. As a song it’s not one of the best but the vocals save it. The Eagle Flies Alone is merely an ordinary piece of mid-paced melodic metal. If a strong vocal melody had been added it could have been so much more. Now don’t get me wrong, Ms White-Gluz is a perfectly able growler and it works fine on the more balls out stuff and I’m not suggesting that all death metal bands should go and get a more traditional singer, as I said I’m just talking about the particularly melodic stuff.

Anyway enough controversy and back to the album. Overall I’d say the second half is the strongest – Murder Scene kicks ass and I always enjoy a galloping kick drum pattern as used on First Day In Hell. In fact there’s no shortage of good songs with strong hooks on side two of my vinyl copy with no weak moments to speak of. My Shadow And I is particularly impressive with drummer Daniel Erlandsson putting in a particularly fine performance. Album closer A Fight I Must Win is another highpoint with its memorable riffing and groove and the brief addition of strings to the intro and outro add some colour.

Hats off to Arch Enemy for not being afraid to use clean vocals then. If I was them I’d expand on this next time as they’re a strong and welcome addition. Not essential then, but nevertheless Will To Power is another very good album that whilst unlikely to be the favourite of most people who’ve followed the band shouldn’t disappoint either. I’m still waiting though for the masterpiece that I know they have in them.

CONCEPTION Parallel Minds

Album · 1993 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.66 | 15 ratings
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martindavey87
'Parallel Minds', Conceptions second album, vastly improves upon its predecessor. The songwriting seems more confident, with more interesting guitar riffs, a good use of keyboards and vocal melodies that seems more in sync with the music.

Sadly however, despite a few highlights, it's still a rather forgettable record.

Song's like 'Roll the Fire', 'And I Close My Eyes', 'Water Confines' and the title track are all decent enough, but the truth is, this is nothing more than generic progressive/power metal. There's countless other things out there that are so much better and memorable, that I never find myself coming back to this.

It's not a terrible release, and it does have its moments, but ultimately, let's face it, the only reason worth buying this today is if you're a fan of Roy Khan, who's post-Conception career would see him garner worldwide fame with the band Kamelot.

ETERNITY X Mind Games

Album · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.05 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
Eternity X are back for round two, with 'Mind Games', the follow-up to their debut release, 'Zodiac'. It's a bit of an odd one really, because while certainly a step up from its mediocre and boring predecessor, which took itself way too seriously, 'Mind Games' itself, is also mediocre, boring, and takes itself way too seriously.

Musically and sonically, everything's pretty much the same here as before, though at least they didn't do another concept album based on the zodiac star signs (what the hell was any of that about anyway?). But sadly, 'Mind Games' itself, despite one or two brief moments of goodness, is a mostly lacklustre affair, with boring, introspective lyrics, and rather static guitar riffs, that just sound like they're trying to be complex for the sake of it.

Onto the positives... if they can be considered as such... 'Faith' is an alright track, though it has a God-awful intro, and bonus track 'Switchblade' isn't half-bad... though the fact that a "bonus track" is considered one of the better songs speaks volumes about this album.

It's a shame, because vocalist, band leader and songwriter Keith Sudano is clearly very passionate about what he's writing, evident especially in his vocal performances, but the music itself just isn't very interesting. And with lyrical nuggets of joy such as "Mr. Suicide - grab his hand he'll take you on the ultimate ride", it's clear that this is nothing more than a self-indulgent cheese-fest.

ATROPHY Socialized Hate

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
This album won't be for everyone, but if you like the following sentence, I'd recommend giving it a square go: 20% Coma Of Souls, 20% Forbidden Evil, 10% Handle With Care, 50% The Legacy. ...Interested? If so, read on. 

Atrophy were one of many late '80s bands pumping out Thrash Metal. They were sometimes associated with Sacred Reich and Flotsam & Jetsam due to geography, although they had more of a Bay Area sound (and specifically, Testament worship) with some Teutonic Thrash tinges and the tiniest wee bit of a crossover Thrash influence.

Now, if you know your Thrash, you'll know that there's several tiers of both quality and when-you-should-check-em-out that most fans can broadly agree on. Individual preference and media exposure in your territory may make you disagree on some placements but the overall theme is usually agreed upon. There's of course the very Top tier of Thrash, the stuff you usually get into first, is probably objectively the best and the stuff that makes you fall in love with the subgenre. Stuff like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Overkill, Exodus, Testament and Kreator. The definition of Thrash for many.

There's then the second-highest tier, the stuff that you bought purposefully because it was Thrash and that is still fairly successful and famous but not just as much; stuff like Annihilator, Forbidden, Heathen, Vio-lence, Death Angel, Dark Angel, Sodom, Destruction, Early Sepultura, Sacred Reich, Nuclear Assault. The real guts of Thrash fandom for many.

There's a third that only real Thrash fans love, you'll find it in list of best Thrash albums ever, but not in the general lists as much. When major outlets cover Thrash this stuff is ignored but when people in the know really nerd out on Thrash this stuff comes up. Stuff like Whiplash, Razor, Onslaught, Paradox, Devastation, Rigor Mortis, Morbid Saint, Toxik, Xentrix and Hirax. And; of course, Atrophy. Then there's a tier or three below that of diminishing fame (and some say diminishing quality, others vehemently deny that however) but you get my jist by now.

I bring this up really to illustrate where Atrophy fit in and in so doing also how likely you are to enjoy them. If you like Thrash enough to get into multiple bands from the third tier then this is worth serious investigation. If you only want the absolute best or most famous stuff this may seem a bit too derivative for you. If you don't like Thrash at all then never worry your pretty head about Atrophy because I don't think they'll be your cup of tea anyway. How could they be really? They are basically one of the purest distillations of the Thrash formula ever to form a band.

Atrophy don't play the kind of Thrash that's closer to NWOBHM in sound, nor the kind that is a direct close precursor to Death or Black Metal, nor even the kind that's Punky and ramshackle. They aren't a progressive variation on Thrash. They don't have any happy melodic Power Metal tendencies. Its pretty straight down the line Thrash with no thrills and little diversity (but done perfectly!).

What it lacks in a unique sales pitch (hey check out the band with the funk influence or the orchestra etc.) it makes up in consistency, quality and ferocity. All the compliments you can level at Testament's debut album The Legacy all work for Atrophy's Socialized Hate. The razor-sharp riffs, the creative and powerful guitar leads, the intros, the barked hard low vocals, the relentless drumming. Atrophy also specialize in really good lyrics (well, except the silly one off joke song Beer Pong, but you can let that slide as the rest is so good).

Songs like the Title Track, the opener 'Chemical Dependency' and the fabulous three-song run of 'Product Of The Past' 'Rest In Pieces' and 'Urban Decay' are just really strong, really entertaining and really pure Thrash Metal, and if that's your bag then Socialized Hate is worth adding to your collection. Sure, it might not be your first Metal album or your first Thrash album (or even your fifteenth) but if you love this stuff and want more, but more that is still great and not just more for the sake of it, then... y'know... Socialized Hate, innit.   

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT Liquid Tension Experiment 2

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 36 ratings
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martindavey87
'Liquid Tension Experiment 2' picks up exactly where its predecessor left off, reuniting John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, with Tony Levin of King Crimson and Jordan Rudess, who would join Dream Theater shortly after the release of this album. Noticeable immediately is how much more complete and richer this record sounds when compared to the bands first outing. Not as self-indulgent, nor full of improvised jams, the songs sound a lot more structured, organized and consistent.

As you would expect, the musicianship between the four members is astounding, with everyone being given ample opportunities to show off their skills. "Often imitated, rarely duplicated". Few artists have this kind of connection with one another. These guys are all masters of their respective instruments.

While this album is overall a stronger release than their debut, there are still a few weak tracks. In fact, it's the last three songs that slow things down a lot, as the first half, in particular, 'Biaxident', 'Another Dimension', 'When the Water Breaks' and in my opinion the groups finest work, 'Acid Rain', are all instrumental classics that are rife with incredible technical playing.

Of the two Liquid Tension Experiment albums, this is definitely the better one. Less pretentious than the first, 'Liquid Tension Experiment 2' is a fine slab of instrumental progressive metal. Fans of Dream Theater will no doubt need this in their collection, but it's diverse enough that even casual prog fans will enjoy it.

IRON MAIDEN Best Of The Beast

Boxset / Compilation · 1996 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.90 | 12 ratings
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martindavey87
Iron Maiden's first major compilation album, released in 1996, may seem dated today, but it contains some of the bands strongest and most memorable material up until that point, and seeing as this was released after Bruce Dickinson initially left the band (he'd rejoin them in 2000), this perfectly summarizes what many consider to be the groups "golden era".

As is always the case with compilations, there's the argument for which songs should have been included and excluded, and in this regard 'The Best of the Beast' pretty much covers all the essentials. There's maybe one or two things I'd have preferred, perhaps at least one Paul Di'Anno-era song to be featured (there is one, but it's a live version sang by Dickinson), but that isn't too much of a detriment to the overall product.

Featuring all the classics such as 'Aces High', 'Run to the Hills', 'Can I Play With Madness', 'Be Quick or Be Dead', 'Fear of the Dark', 'The Number of the Beast' and 'The Trooper', this is a great starting point for newcomers to the band (and I say this from experience, as this was my first Maiden album).

There's some fantastic artwork used for the covers and inlays, with plenty of photos, lyrics and liner notes in the booklet, and seeing as it featured most of Maiden's early hits, this makes for a nice overall package for fans of the band. However dated it may seem today, it's still a worthy addition to the collections of die-hard fans.

VADER Necropolis

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 11 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
My second Vader purchase, following the "less is more" purchasing scheme. Effectively, spending less money per CD (i.e. cheaper CDs) means being able to buy more. Yes, there were two other albums I wanted more but decided to go instead for a highly rated album that was under ¥900 from Amazon's marketplace.

I was really thrilled about my first purchase, "Revelations", and after sampling various Vader albums on YouTube, I concluded that pretty much any album would be a suitable follow up. And true to expectation, "Necropolis" delivers just about everything I loved about "Revelations". Same brutal, heavy guitars; same aggressive attack on the drums; and most importantly, same Piotr "Peter" Wiwczarek scary, angry biker vocals.

The album includes eleven tracks, many of which run under three minutes and a couple under two minutes, so this is not an album about long conceptual songs. Still, some of the tracks flow from one to the next, suggesting there could be some concept, maybe. Two of the tracks are not actual songs. "The Seal" is some deep chanted word that sounds like "zuel" or "zoo" and some deep, ominous chuckling, and "Summoning the Futura" is a summoning rite conducted on a stormy night with booms of thunder.

The rest of the tracks are quite similar really: crushing, explosive metal played either at mid-tempo or high speed. I think the combination of Wiwczarek's vocals, the heavier-than-Slayer guitars, and the percussive assault make any of these songs stand out as pretty fecking awesome heavy music. I am tempted to point out that there is no real deviation from the formula established by the band. Based on the two albums I own plus what I have sampled, I could suggest that Vader are the KISS of death metal, meaning they release album after album without any surprises. These guys don't appear to be heading towards prog or goth metal anytime soon, or bringing in any piano or harmonica. It expect there's just brutal, heavy, sometimes fast, non-technical, non-complex death metal. It could almost make owning more than a few albums redundant, but I really like the sound of this band so much that I have ordered a third album and I'm eyeballing at least two more.

One thing I don't like however is the 2:30 seconds of empty space after the rather awesome "Where the Sun Drowns the Dark", which is then concluded with some guitar effects and an impossibly deep growl. I despise blank spaces at the end of albums, especially when the last song is a good one.

If you've never heard Vader, this album might not be the first anyone would recommend, but it does give a very good idea of how the band sounds and what they're about.

MAYHEM De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive

Live album · 2016 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


There is no doubt that ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ is one of the most important black metal albums ever released, and was awarded the #40 spot on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time, where it stated “…Mysteriis… remains a singularly potent document, its expressions of alienation and nihilism lent an icy severity by Aarseth’s lacerating guitar buzz, session vocalist Attila Csihar’s arcane croak and presentation of Dead’s lyrical gothic terror and the pummelling drums of Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg).”

Captured in Norrköping, Sweden in 2015 during the band’s headlining set at the Black Christmass Festival, the show marked Mayhem’s first time ever playing ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ in full, and luckily even if we weren’t there we can now share the experience. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Tore Stjerna and NBS Audio and produced by vocalist Attila Csihar and guitarist Teloch. I was lucky enough to catch Mayhem at their first ever NZ gig a few years ago, and Attila has lost none of his power to shock and control an audience, and that is very much in evidence here. The album has not been over-produced, so it is still full of the raw and bleak sound that has made them so many fans. Available in digital and streaming formats as well as vinyl, this is a truly essential release for any fans of the genre.

DYING FETUS Wrong One to Fuck With

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Ever since the early days of death metal when Suffocation introduced an unthinkable brutal assault to the adolescent ears of the metal world, such so called brutal death metal bands have been hard pressed to keep their form of sonic assault from becoming one-dimensional in scope. Some bands such as Behemoth kept a large part of their black metal roots, some such as Nile incorporated exotic musical scales and themes to separate themselves from the pack and some such as Maryland’s DYING FETUS chose to keep their old school death metal sound as their template and not only up the brutality but add elements of technical guitar wizardry and slamming deathgrind elements as well. While many brutal death metal bands struggle to find new sources of inspiration, DYING FETUS effortlessly continues to hone their sound well into the 21st century more than a quarter of a century after their formation. On their eighth studio album this band proves that maturity doesn’t necessarily equate a single shred of compromise or stagnation. In fact despite being firmly fixed into the signature sound that the band has been evolving since the beginning, WRONG ONE TO FUCK WITH is one of their most varied and deliberately in your face albums just dripping in attitudinal blood like freshly slaughtered convents of forcefully raped nuns.

The fiery opener “Fixated On Devastation” is ferociously fueled and chomping at the bit to unleash the most headache inducing music possible which perfectly demonstrates the modern DYING FETUS in full fucking glory. Utilizing the neoclassical guitar wankery as introduced by Necrophagist into the death metal world, guitarist and vocalist John Gallagher deftly sets the fretboard on fire with finger breaking face melters that would seem more at home on an Yngwie Malmsteem recording but seamlessly melds them into the chunky down-tuned death metal riffing that trigger the incredible bass plucking skills of Sean Beasley to match his beyond caffeinated march into the sonic battlefields of ararchic distortion disciplined into groove metal oscillations and pummeling frenetic time signature freakouts. Of course, the true star of this show is from the extradorinaiy energetic and beyond human skin abuse of drummer Trey Williams who is the prime mover and shaker who has lifted DYING FETUS into a new level of drum abuse and brutality in this latter phase of their career. His amazingly blast beats, double kicks and drum roll changes at a million miles per second leave me to wonder how many drum sticks and other equipment were sacrificed in the recording process!

While some bands are all about experimentation and evolving their sounds to new levels of progressiveness, DYING FETUS is happy to only subtly change their sound on any given album in effect sticking to what they know best and what they perform with ease, namely some of the most wickedly brutal death metal that the world has to offer. While some DYING FETUS albums leave me leaving a little meh by the time i get to the end of an album 9even the shorter ones), WRONG ONE TO FUCK WITH delivers a plethora of satisfying hook-laden compositions that incorporate the expected frenetic slam riffing, ferocious breakdowns complete with all those pig squeal guitar licks not to mention the neoclassical lightning guitar wizardry guitar solos that are used judiciously and erupt without notice. In addition, Gallagher’s vocals have never sounded more tortured like a sodomized with ice picks Cookie Monster and spews out some of the most vile political disdain the band has ever regurgitated all wrapped up with groove, attitude and in full fucking ferocious monstrosity.

Personally i much prefer the newer releases of DYING FETUS as they take all the band’s history and compile it into a much more satisfying unit not only offering a taste of the old school death metal world from whence they emerged but effortlessly ups the ante not only in the school of skill set and musical maestrohood but engages the most modern production techniques to create a crisp and clean sound without sounding overproduced and sanitized in any way shape or form. WRONG ONE TO FUCK WITH is an excellent brutal death metal album that while clocking in at nearly an hour’s length making it the band’s longest to date never gets fucking boring for one bit. Not to mention it doesn’t resort to any sort of energetic slowdown. This is adrenaline fueled brutal death metal from start to finish. Like all music from this band, it revs me up and makes me wanna abort a thousand fetuses and grind them up into sausage and sell it as sustainably raised happy meat at the farmer’s market, but instead after listening to a whole hour of this i’m simply content to listen to the ringing in my ears after the pummeling punishment that this bloodthirsty and barbarous beast has beset upon my ears.

ASPHYX Incoming Death

Album · 2016 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Newsweek, April 28, 1991 - "The jazz trombonist Ray Anderson noticed some years back that when he sang at certain pitches, his voice split in two. His vocal cords produced one note, and the skin outside the larynx produced a second. The first is a cartoonish Satchmo styling; its shadow sounds like Satchmo through an aerosol can. Together, vying their way through a standard like Duke Ellington's 'I'm Just a Lucky So and So,' they're as queerly beautiful and weird a voice as you're likely to hear."

My trombonist friend let me hear Ray Anderson's unique vocal style back in the early nineties, and I bring it up here because I have never heard anyone sing that way since until now. Well, alright, Anderson sings and Asphyx's vocalist Martin van Drunen does whatever it is death vocalists do: growl, bellow, roar, vociferate. But van Drunen does so with a maniacal-sounding second tone that seems to come from projecting his voice into the far back of his nasal passages, giving his vocal style quality unique to death metal vocal styles. It may give you chills, drive you mad, make you wince, or elicit a bout of uncontrollable laughter. In any case, this vocal sound is not going to be for everyone.

This was not my first choice for an Asphyx purchase. "The Rack", "Last One on Earth" (creepy cover!), or the latest release sounded better from the previews, or rather pre-listens I had. But if I was going to bring home as many new bands to my collection as possible then I had to go for albums under ¥1,000. I chose "Incoming Death".

This is not altogether speedy or technical death metal. The doom elements are strong in the riffs and tempo. The overall sound is really heavy and sometimes it feels like the audio equivalent of lying face down flat on the street while a 500kg weight is dragged back and forth over your body. The only reprieve we get is a solemn acoustic guitar outro to "The Grand Denial" and a similarly forlorn piano outro to "Subterra Incognito". Otherwise it's just absolute unrelenting heaviness to mash your brain to a quivering pulp.

Though much of the album stays fairly Black Sabbath-esque mid-tempo, there are pulverizing moments of slow and thunderous power chords as well as charged speed burners. The title track is a mere 1:56 and has all the grace and subtlety of a nuclear-powered locomotive exploding through the caverns of Hell. The opening track "Candiru", about a fish in the Amazon that enters its prey through the anal orifice and proceeds to eat the delicate innards from the inside, is a perfectly brutal beast to kick off the album. "Wardroid" has one of those crushing riffs that astound because I can't help but be awed by the fact that after 65 years of guitar riff-based music people are still coming up with simple but highly exciting and evocative riffs.

The overall album leaves a favourable impression; however, not every track is a thriller. Personally I find some like "It Came from the Skies" or "The Grand Denial" to be moments where the excitement dips a little. But what keeps me interested are the lyrical topics. Van Drunen's vocals are often clear enough to pick out the lyrics and there's a theme of innocents becoming victims of evil deliberate or initiated through other actions. "The Feeder" had me puzzled at first because it seemed the "feeder" was a woman who lures a man into a romantic relationship where he spends lots of money on her and eventually letting her move in, thus giving her control over his life to her wicked satisfaction. Not very death metal. But the story ends with him murdering her and eating her corpse, revealing the feeder to be the man who lured the woman!

I can't say if this is the best album in Asphyx's discography but I am suitably impressed enough to take a look at ordering one of their older releases, perhaps "Last One on Earth". For really heavy death / doom, Asphyx would be a good band to check out.

ATOMIC ROOSTER Space Cowboy

Boxset / Compilation · 1994 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
I'd certainly never consider myself much of an Atomic Rooster fan, and only bought this album because it was £1 and I thought they'd be worth checking out. With that said, I'm actually surprised at how much I like some of the songs. Often associated with the progressive rock genre, I never figured that Atomic Rooster would sound so funky and jazzy. Very smooth indeed.

While these may not be progressive rock masterpieces, there are a few nice tunes in here which definitely make it worth the pound I spent on it. The main highlight for me being ‘Stand By Me’, a song which I liked immediately upon hearing it. I've also grown rather fond of ‘Don't Know What Went Wrong’, ‘Can't Find a Reason’ and ‘Take One Toke’.

With this being my first exposure to Atomic Rooster, I have no idea how well these tracks hold up as representations of the band, but it's a decent enough album for me.

OSI Office Of Strategic Influence

Album · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.70 | 17 ratings
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martindavey87
Now I love Dream Theater! And I love Fates Warning! And I kinda like Chroma Key too! So when Mike Portnoy, Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore banded together to form OSI and release their debut album 'Office of Strategic Influence', I knew it was an album I had to have!

OSI blends all the elements of each individuals respective bands perfectly. Jim Matheos' unique guitar riffs are as impressive as always, especially when backed by the insane drum skills of Mike Portnoy. And Kevin Moore's eerie keyboards add so much depth and ambience to the album, and whilst his vocals do, at times, seem to drone on, they do suit the music very well. It's a very experimental, at times electronic-sounding take on progressive metal, and it works well!

Highlights include 'The New Math (What He Said)', 'When You're Ready', 'Hello, Helicopter' and the haunting 'Shutdown'. It's evident in the songwriting that these guys all know each other well and have a great chemistry when it comes to working together.

But that's not all! If you own the special edition version which comes with a bonus disc, you're in for a treat! While bonus discs are usually nothing more than excuses to release various different versions of an album at higher prices, this one really is worth the price. 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' and 'New Mama' are both nice little ambient pieces, but the real gem is 'The Thing that Never Was', a 17-minute instrumental track that comprises of all the best parts of the album. Doesn't sound like much, but it's actually a pretty decent little extra.

Overall this is a great album for fans who like their progressive metal to be a little more experimental, and if you're a fan of any of the individual members or their respective bands, you will not be disappointed.

SAVATAGE Poets And Madmen

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 22 ratings
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martindavey87
I remember this one so well. It was the Summer of 2003, and I was 16 years-old. I randomly picked up 'Handful of Rain', with no prior knowledge of the band Savatage. It was alright. Nothing amazing, but one or two catchy songs that stuck with me. Fast forward a few months and I was Christmas shopping with my sister. Having stumbled across a secondhand music shop, I had to have a quick look, and it was there that I picked up 'Poets and Madmen'.

And from here, Savatage would go on to become one of my all-time favourite bands.

'Poets and Madmen' sees Jon Oliva return to lead vocals, and Chris Caffery picks up the bulk of the guitar work after Al Pitrelli had left to join Megadeth. Though not strictly a rock opera like those the band were famous for doing, there is a loose concept behind the music, based upon real-life photographer Kevin Carter. It's not exactly an easy narrative to follow, though it doesn't disrupt the flow of the album either.

With Savatage slowly taking more and more of a backseat to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (a Savatage-related band that was having multiplatinum success), it's evident that a lot of the music here was influenced by the aforementioned group. Bigger and more grandiose than ever before, each of the songs here is a true gem in their own right, with each instrument working in complete synergy to produce some of the bands tightest and most cohesive compositions.

Highlights include 'Stay With Me Awhile', 'Commissar', 'There in the Silence', 'Surrender', 'Back to a Reason', and the centerpiece of the album, the ten-minute 'Morphine Child'. Each song really shows a band at the peak of their creativity, with plenty of crushing riffs, beautiful melodies, classical-inspired passages and the vocal counterpoint harmonies that the band had made their own.

A remarkable smorgasbord of every perfected nuance that had ever given this band their own unique sound, it's a shame that Savatage spent the majority of their career in the "underrated" category, because this album is an absolute masterpiece.

ATHEIST Unquestionable Presence

Album · 1991 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 58 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Yes, I'm a bit of a music history buff, particularly when it comes to early heavy metal. Recently, though, I have become fascinated by the development of the heavy metal subgenres in the 1980's, many of which reached full fruition by the late eighties and early nineties. Death metal, or at least the American take on death metal, strikes me as originally being the Floridian interpretation of Californian thrash metal. Most American death metal recordings I've recently acquired either originated in Florida or the bands were from other eastern parts of the country but moved to Florida.

Athiest were one of the Florida scene bands to emerge in the eighties. Though formed in 1984 under a different name, they became Athiest as death metal was coming into its own in the late 80's and released their debut before the decade was spent. Their sophomore effort, however, is held in particular high regard for its bold steps toward technical death metal. While some bands I have heard remind me of Slayer/Possessed/Kreator, Athiest's sound on this album mostly suggest a more traditional thrash metal root, with early Metallica and Exodus frequently coming to mind. The guitar sound and riffs, as well as the lead solos, are closer to the early thrash sound to my ears; songs like "Your Life's Retribution" and "Enthralled in Essence" suggesting the guitarists honed their chops on "Kill 'em All" and "Ride the Lightning". The vocals too are more aggressive, thrash-like shouting than death metal's gravelly growls.

Thrash metal connotations aside, the more interesting aspect of this album is the giant leap toward technical death metal. Athiest' second album is said to have pushed the technical envelope further and it is very obvious that the band were out to succinctly combine aggressive speed with technical agility. In a way, I find this album to be a perfect bridge between thrash and technical death metal, at once being reminded of Sacrifice's "Soldiers of Misfortune" and Metallica on the thrash side and Cynic and later Death on the death side.

One key element to Athiest's sound was the bass playing prowess of bassist Roger Patterson, who brought incredible technical skill and composition-writing ability. Tragically, he suffered the fate of too many band members when his tour van crashed on the way back to Florida from California in the wee hours, yet another case of the driver pushing himself too far and dozing off at the wheel. The liner notes to the CD's re-release say that had the band been higher profile, Patterson's death would have been as shocking to the metal community as Cliff Burton's.

For the music on this album, Patterson had already come up with all the bass parts, and being the highly skilled player he was, it was not easy to find someone who could play his parts. The band called in Tony Choy of Cynic, perhaps not a surprise as Cynic were another band eagerly pursuing the technical death metal gauntlet. The results are stupendous as the bass playing stands out amidst the intense guitar and drum work. I feel, though, that the bass and guitar levels are rendered a bit louder over the vocals and drums, at least on the re-issue with bonus tracks.

And how about this re-issue? It includes several pre-production versions of songs, which sound as good as the album tracks on my ear buds, and some demos and instrumental versions. Though not essential for appreciating this album, the additional tracks are one of the better bonus collections I have heard.

It seems most consider this a highly important album in the annals of death metal history and I won't be one to disagree. It's an impressive piece of work!

AUTOPSY Skull Grinder

EP · 2015 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
I knew "Severed Survival" was probably the Autopsy album to get but I had recently found that many "classic" and "influencial" albums were also the most expensive. Also, the sound quality of more recent albums was often better than the old school classics. So, in the case of Autopsy, I decided to sample listen to a few albums and pick the one that sounded best and that was also not too expensive. It's no surprise then that the album I ordered was also an EP, explaining why it was cheaper than others.

Thus, "Skull Grinder", the band's most recent release to date from what I can see on MMA, became my introduction to this death metal band that also skirt the edges of death / doom.

Things I like: Chris Reifert's merciless and unappologetic gravel-throated vocals, which are not entirely unitelligible; the guitar sound and some of the monster heavy riffs; the mad drumming by Chris Reifert; and the speed changes within songs.

A lot of death metal bands are about blasting through at high speeds with little time to slow down and stomp on your feet and boot your hiney a few times. Autopsy easily blast you with speed and aggression and then pull back and paddle you silly.

There are two short tracks on this release: "Sanity Bleeds" and "Return to Dead". The first is slower with a simple guitar melody and no drums. Reifert bellows like some diabolical warlord and then we get lots of crazy guitar effects. I can't say that this is one worth stand-alone play. "Return to Dead" comes on sounding like a horror movie theme song done by a metal band. It's got this eerie, demented-sounding melody. More wailing, crazy guitar effects enhance the aura of madness. Again, not a fav but interesting.

The other five tracks, though, sound awesome. Just straightforward Autopsy-style death metal. I might be mistaken but I think they have used some wah-wah on a couple of tracks which almost gives the guitar a retro feel. A possible favourite is "Waiting for the Screams" because it has one of those spine-chilling, doom metal riffs.

My only disappointment is that the album is just an EP. I would have loved a full album of songs like the five that are over three minutes. Now I have two Autopsy albums and I'll surely be checking out a third sometime in the not too distant future.

DECREPIT BIRTH Diminishing Between Worlds

Album · 2008 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 5 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
So, I see here on MMA that these guys formed with the intention of playing brutal technical death metal with influences from the early Florida death metal scene. I am not sure how much of the music on this album reflects the latter; however, the former is firmly in place. This is fast, brutal, and all-over-the-place technical death metal.

I think I stumbled across the band while checking out various death metal artists on Amazon, and Decrepit Birth appeared as a recommended artist. At the time, I was open to anything and a quick listen to them on YouTube left me with the one decision: which album to get. I decided on this, their second album (out of four so far), and for it what is, I rather like it.

I must say that it is not easy for me ever to describe an album like this, nor is it easy to pick out favourite songs. The reason is that the music typically follows the same construct from song to song. We're talking about a single vocalist who roars a deep gutteral vocal, blazing fast guitar leads and complex and speedy riffing, blasting drums with both double-bass pummel drumming and speedy and complex rhythms beat out, or rather thrashed out, on the snare and toms. My guess is that the bass guitar is just as busy. I usually pick out favourite songs by awesome riffs, a cool bass break, a good melody, or some outstanding feature that makes a track distinct from the others, and it is really difficult to do that here. While a pop metal song might be described as a good children's book read out by a dramatic story teller, Decrepit Birth play more like an auctioneer. Of DOOM! Ha, ha!

But seriously, once you start giving each track it's own ear space, there are lots of bits of cool stuff in there. Just listening to the title track now, I can here some wonderful lead guitar melodies and some cool riffs here and there. There's one of the bass breaks I look out for showing up on "Enigmatic Forms". Listen to that mellow, clean guitar opening on "Dimensions Intertwine" that leads into some Nile-like riffing before returning to typical Decrepit Birth style, and then surpise! acoustic guitar! Admittedly though, just skipping through the songs does make the album seem a little repetative. So again, each track needs to be given some ear time to catch when the speed slows down, and great riff drops, and guitar lead goes soaring by, or something different happens. Interestingly enough, there's a track called "And Time Begins" which was the title of their first album.

Like many extreme metal albums I have picked up recently, I find this album sounds good and is fine to listen to front to back and any track can be pulled off for stand alone listen (the last is a short instrumental with, I believe, synthesized strings). But again, it's not easy to call out any particular favourites. The recording quality is good. The album sounds great and is on the loud side, so I usually have to click the volume a notch or two down when the ear buds are in and this comes on.

Recommened for fans of technical, brutal death metal!

CONTRARIAN To Perceive Is To Suffer

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Any album that features George Kollias on drums is always going to pique my interest. One such album is this, To Perceive Is To Suffer, the second full length album from progressive/technical death metallers Contrarian.

Despite the death metal tag to call them that would be over simplifying things. This is not surprisingly really complex stuff indeed and contains elements of jazz rock/fusion amongst the more extreme metal traits. The sound is surprisingly sparse with each instrument clear as a bell, much of the guitar work is relatively cleanly played underpinned by a toppy bass sound and of course George Kollias’s relentless drumming onslaught. Imagine Watchtower if they’d been a death metal band, throw in some latter day Death and you won’t be a million miles away. With Kollias taking on vocals as well, as expected they’re of the death growl persuasion most of the time. The exception being At Fate’s Hands which is cleanly though somewhat weakly sung. Each musician excels in his chosen field with plenty of jaw dropping instrumental work from all with constantly shifting rhythmic structures and blistering lead work. The only problem, as is the case with much of this sort of stuff is lack of memorability. Sure, you can’t reasonably expect an immediate hit from music this complex but it’s an album I admire rather than love, even after a number of plays. Still there’s no denying the skill involved in putting together compositions of this nature and it’s largely for that reason and the excellent musicianship that it warrants 3 ½ stars, ½ a star more than I originally was feeling it deserved.

SAVATAGE Sirens

Album · 1983 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.66 | 26 ratings
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The Crow
Savatage's debut album will not appeal the prog or symphonic metal lovers, but is still a very enjoyable NWOBHM album.

In addition, some of the band's most recognizable virtues are yet present, like the crystal clear Criss Oliva's solos, Jon Oliva's piercing vocals and an overwhelming ability to create catchy riffs, a clear heritage of the brother's admiration for the early Black Sabbath. Maybe the in the text of the title track we can guess the love of this band for fantastic and bombastic themes, but it's really impossible to imagine that this band is the same that after a few years would make masterpieces like "Gutter Ballet " or "Streets".

Sirens starts with a strong riff and catchy vocals, while Holocaust shows the fiercest side of the band, both lyrically and musically. The good level of the compositions is maintained in the splendid I Believe and the powerful Rage, where the drums of Steve "Doc" Wacholz gain protagonism. On the Run, Twisted Little Sister, Living for the Night and Scream Murder are not so good, but nevertheless very listenable, while Out on the Streets flirts with AOR, with a moderate success.

Conclusion: Sirens is not an album for late Savatage fans, because it lacks the complexity and diversity of the grandiloquent rock operas of the 90's. Nevertheless, if you like the New Wave of British Heavy Metal of bands like Judas Priest of Saxon, you should give this record a chance. The Oliva brothers were able to show their ability on vocals and guitars, and of course, the title track is a little classic of the 80's today, while the rest of the album is also pretty good.

I miss you, guys! I still hope that Savatage will come back with full force someday... Call me a dreamer.

Best tracks: Sirens, Holocaust, I Believe.

My rating: ***1/2

DREAMS OF SANITY Komödia

Album · 1997 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 2.02 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
My introduction to Austrian metal band Dreams of Sanity came about with their 2000 release, 'The Game', which is an incredible album and certainly inspired to me to track down the rest of their discography. However, while seeing reviews online that seemed to praise their earlier work as superior, I found myself feeling slightly disappointed by their raw-sounding debut, 'Komödia'.

While I can understand the lyrical themes or imagery that might come with being labelled as "gothic", I've never quite considered gothic metal itself a subgenre. Perhaps I find it too pedantic or pretentious, but I just like to keep things simple. As a result, I consider Dreams of Sanity to be a power/progressive/possibly symphonic metal band. Long, intricate song structures with plenty of exotic musical passages, guitar and keyboard solos, odd time signatures, higher-ranged vocals and multiple songs that follow the same theme... it's all here.

It's just not very good.

The band are tight. They're all very good musicians, and the production is alright, though very raw and harsh compared to the bands later releases. But I just don't find anything really all too exciting in the music itself. The songs all drag on, with seemingly very few moments that actually stand out. Tracks like 'The Meeting' and 'The Ending' are alright, but even they tend to lag at times.

I can't really sum it up any better than this; I like this band, but I'm not a fan of this album. Check out 'The Game' instead.

ENCHANT A Blueprint Of The World

Album · 1995 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.43 | 11 ratings
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martindavey87
One of progressive rocks most beloved cult bands of the 90's, Enchant combine elements of progressive metal along with 80's neo-prog, to gain the perfect balance to appeal to fans of both subgenres. They're an awesome band. They have a very distinct sound, very melodic and easy on the ears, with enough crunch in their music to get heads banging, as well as vocalist Ted Leonard, who I consider one of my all-time favourite singers.

But here's the thing.

Damn, this album took me a long time to grasp. I mean, the first song 'The Thirst' had me hooked instantly, but for some reason the rest of 'em took loads (and I mean loads) of listens until they all finally clicked. And sure, I've come to like a lot of them, especially the first half of the record, but damn, it sure took some work.

The production is definitely of a mid-90's quality, and some of the tracks could do with a little cropping. But it's okay. They're a young band, this is their first album, and while there's definitely room for improvement, they've laid down some very solid foundations for which to build upon for future releases. Songs like 'The Thirst', 'Oasis', 'Catharsis', 'Acquaintance' and 'Nighttime Sky' are all memorable tracks that definitely make 'A Blueprint of the World' a worthy blueprint for this bands sound.

Included with my version is a bonus disc consisting of demos. Nothing special. Not really anything you'd listen to more than once. There is a pretty nifty little number titled 'The Calling' which didn't make the final cut. It's not a huge loss though, and overall this disc might be a great collectable for die-hard fans, but it doesn't really add or detract from the album.

In conclusion; despite featuring some of Enchants best songs, this is nothing more than a "good" debut. It helped establish the band and got their foot in the door, which, at a time when this sort of music was probably the least fashionable thing you could do, isn't such a bad achievement.

DREAM THEATER Images and Words

Album · 1992 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.29 | 201 ratings
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The Crow
This is probably the progressive metal's most important album, and one of the most important albums of progressive music too!

Due to this disc and the later Awake, the progressive genre enjoyed from really good health the last decades, because a lot of people (like me) discovered this way of understand music with Dream Theater. For that I must give a lot of thanks to Dream Theater for revitalizing the progressive music at the beginning of the 90’s.

The album itself it's a true masterpiece. All the songs are magnificent, with a fantastic production and instrumental development. Maybe the keyboards are in a little too 80's way sometimes, but I'm still loving this entire album completely.

Pull me Under starts with a mysterious guitar melody and original keyboards, and soon derives in a very strong guitar riff which are soon accompanied by the great La Brie’s vocals. After that we can hear the typical masterclass of songwriting and variations that this album had in their first albums. Another Day is even better, with a memorable saxophone playing and an outstanding guitar solo.

Take The Time is simply the best Dream Theater's song in my humble opinion, and among the best progressive songs ever recorded. Just incredible! Surrounded it's different from the rest of the album, and maybe for this reason has a special place in my heart. It has some Rush and Saga influences and sometimes it sounds even Neo-Prog for me. Just great!

Metropolis – Part I has another atmospheric beginning leaded by the Kevin Moore’s keyboards and after that, just like Pull me Under we can hear a collection of great riffs which lead to the verses. This composition is more obscure and dramatic than the rest, and a very good central track. I will never forget the first time I heard the instrumental part of this song which begins at 4:17 many years ago. I was blown away! And I’m still amazed of the quality of these musicians.

Under a Glass Moon has a majestic beginning, worthy of the best science fiction film! Then the strong drums beef up the song, which derives in another heavy riff and very original verses with the initial melody. The instrumental development of the song is also fantastic. Another classic of this album with a superb guitar solo!

Wait for Sleep is a slow and beautiful ballad driven by a marvellous piano melody. Here we can also hear the ability of La Brie to sing in lower tones. And Learning to Live is the final masterpiece. Another brilliant piece of pure progressive metal with the best keyboard work of the album, great bass lines and another outstanding example of good songwriting and musicianship.

Conclusion: Images and Words is one of the peaks of progressive and a must for everyone. Even if you don’s like progressive metal, this is a must hearing album.

Last fact I want to comment: James LaBrie couldn't never reach again the great voice and the incredible high notes that he reached in this album. In Awake he sounded rougher and he has been losing his voice along the years for the reasons we all know.

And that’s a pity.

Best Tracks: Pull Me Under, Another Day, Take The Time, Surrounded, Metropolis – Part 1.

My rating: *****

This review was originally written for ProgArchives.com years ago, and rewritten today to be included here.

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